August 22, 2009

Summer Lovin’

I love to cook but I love summer too so during this wonderful time of year, I try to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen so as to enjoy every minute possible outside (hence the lack of posts). When I do finally get in the kitchen, I like to enjoy summer’s bounty at its best--in its natural state--which doens't require much effort and it brings out the best flavor. This recipe is a perfect lunch or dinner entree on those beautiful days that you don’t feel like cooking but are in the mood for summer’s finest.

Nectarine and Avocado Summer Rolls

1 nectarine, thinly sliced
1 avocado, thinly sliced
1 large handful baby spinach or other salad greens
1 breast of chicken, grilled and thinkly sliced or shredded (or 1 breast of a rotisserie chicken, shredded)
8 fresh Basil leaves
¼ cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
dash each salt and pepper
rice paper wrappers

Make the Almond sauce by mixing together the almond butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large microwave-safe container, heat about 1 quart of water until just about boiling. Soak a rice paper wrapper in the water and then remove from water, place on counter top and layer the (1) Nectarines, (2) avacado, (3) Salad greens (4) Basil and (5) Chicken in the bottom half of the wrapper. Drizzle a generous tablespoon of the sauce over the ingredients and wrap the wrapper, starting from the left and right sides then from the bottom up. (Similar to rolling a burrito). Contunue with another rice paper wrapper. Serves 4.

Serve as an appetizer at a cocktail party or as an entrée alongside jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk. Make these vegetarian by substituting more veggies for the chicken.

April 21, 2009

Inside-Out Enchiladas Verdes

Green Enchiladas usually come with green salsa on top but this recipe switches things up a bit and puts the greens on the inside. If you haven’t tried Swiss Chard, this recipe is a great way to try a healthy, new vegetable. If you are already a fan of chard, try this as a vegetarian way to satiate your cravings for South of the Border flavor.

Swiss Chard Enchiladas

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 Large bunch Swiss Chard, leaves and stems separated. Coarsely chop the leaves, finely chop the stems.
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Flour
½ Cup Milk
½ Cup Cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese, grated (or a combo of the two)**
6 Corn tortillas
½-1 Cup Salsa
Salt and pepper
¼ Cup Sour cream (optional)
Fresh Cilantro (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until slightly softened and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan and place them in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the chard stems to the heated sauté pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until they are soft (about 2 minutes). Add the chard leaves (in small batches) until they are cooked down significantly (about 2 minutes per batch).

Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small pot, stir in the flour, and when you have a dry paste, slowly add the milk then cheese. Stir until all the cheese is melted, then pour most of the cheese sauce into the cooked greens. Fill the center of each tortilla, then roll them up, place them seam side down in a baking dish that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray. If using the sour cream, mix it into the salsa, and if not, just spread the salsa over all the filled and rolled tortillas and bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Sprinkle with the fresh cilantro and serve with a Corona.
**Chef's Note: I once used slices of White American Cheese instead of the Jack and Cheddar and the sauce was still really good.

April 18, 2009

Soup de la Casa

I love soup. To me a day is not a day unless I have soup for lunch and when you’re eating all that soup, you need a little variety in flavors. I came across this recipe and thought it would be a perfect way to add some spice to the daily grind.

When looking this over, DON'T judge a book by it’s cover. This soup may not be photogenic, but it’s a great blend of flavors--old and new, and north and south. It’s well worth the minimal effort and don’t worry, it looks a lot better in person!

Spicy Split Pea Soup with Chorizo
Adapted from Bobby Flay Cooks American

1 Package Chorizo Sausages
1 Medium Onion, finely diced
2 Stalks Celery, finely diced
2 Large Carrots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
5 new (red-skinned) potatoes, finely diced with skin on
2 Poblano Peppers, roasted, peeled and finely diced
2 Cups Split Peas
8 Cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth
salt pepper to taste
Sour Cream and Fresh Cilantro for serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions, carrots and celery in a little oil or butter for a few minutes until softened. Add potatoes and peas and water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 45 minutes until peas are falling apart.

Meanwhile, cook the chorizo. Preheat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a drop or two of oil and place Chorizos in the hot pan, turning occasionally until browned on the outside, about 5 minutes. Add ¼ to ½ cup of water to the sauté pan and cover, allowing the sausages to cook through, about 10 minutes. Once the water is absorbed and the chorizos brown again slightly, remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Dice the chorizos and then set them aside.

Cook the peppers. If you have a gas stove, place peppers directly on burner set to medium-high heat and turn occasionally until pepper skin is a charred, solid black color. If you don’t have a gas stove, broil peppers in oven, turning occasionally.

Once the peppers are black all over, place them in a plastic freezer bag and let them steam for about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag and remove the burned skin. It should rub right off. Discard the stem and seeds too.

Once soup is finished, stir in the chorizo and the poblanos, and ladle into bowls. Top with a dollop or sour cream and some chopped fresh cilantro.

It’s not a Cookie, it’s a Fig ……Pizza?

The Husband and I are obsessed with Pizza. He likes to follow tradition, but once in a while, I veer him very far off of the trail of tradition. On this most recent treck, we were both glad that we took the road less taken. The dinner only took about 40 minutes from start to finish but once you have a small batch of fig spread ready, this pizza is a 15 minute meal. A perfect weeknight treat!

Fig and Three Cheese Flatbread Pizza

2 Store-bought Naans or other Flatbreads
Fig Spread (Recipe Below)
Blue Cheese, Crumbled
Goat cheese Dollops
Parmesan, Grates
Sliced red onions
Salami or Pepperoni Slices
Chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the desired amount of fig spread on the flatbreads and top them with the cheeses and toppings. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until cheese is slightly melted and flatbreads are crisp.

Fig Spread
1 10-oz Package Dried Figs
1¼ Cup Water
up to ¼ cup Sugar, if desired ( I don’t think you need it)
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 pinch Salt

Remove the stems from the figs and slice the figs into quarters. Add the sliced figs to a saucepan and add the water and the sugar, if using. Bring the figs to a boil over medium heat and let them simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once almost all of the water is gone from the pan, remove the figs from the heat and let them cool slightly. Add the figs, lemon juice and salt to a food processor bowl and process on high for about 2 minutes, adding water as needed until the mixture is the consistency of jam. Refrigerate for up to 4 weeks.

Use the Fig Spread on toast or a sliced baguette, top crackers and brie with a dollop, or slather it on a flatbread and make a Fig and Three Cheese Flatbread Pizza.

March 16, 2009

3.14159265 Day

While hundreds of budding engineers and scientists were reciting the millions of digits of Pi on Saturday, 3/14 (aka Pi Day), I hosted my own little "Pie Day" Celebration and baked a Lemon Chess Pie with the help of my sister who was visiting for the weekend.

No one really knows the origins behind the name “Chess Pie” and there is no other way to describe this pie other than by saying that it tastes like a like a cross between crème brulee, lemon meringue pie and egg custard pie. No wonder this is reportedly one of Bill Clinton’s’s one heck of a ménage trios!

Lemon Chess Pie

1 (9-inch)refrigerated pie shell (or make your own)
1½ cups sugar
½ cup butter (one stick), softened
5 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cornmeal
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter or margarine until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and milk. Add flour, cornmeal, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Mix until smooth. Pour mixture into pastry shell and bake in the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the pie is set in the center and the top of pie is slightly-browned. Let the pie cool before slicing it.

March 08, 2009

Tossing a Salad and Other Fun Kitchen Activities

Spring Break is right around the corner so I’ve been working on getting bikini ready. I’ve been exercising more but have also been eating smarter in hopes of losing those last few pounds of winter weight before I head to Mexico and gain them all back.

In order to lose those last few pounds, I’ve replaced a few traditional dinners of meat, starches and vegetables with some amazing dinner salads. The veggies are great but only because they are dressed to the nines with some of my favorite vinaigrettes.

These dressings are so easy are much better tasting (and better for you) than those additive-laden store bought varieties. Make double batches and keep some in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Dinner Salad with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette and Pan-Seared Sea Scallops

In this salad: Baby Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, Sliced Red Onions, Red Bell Pepper Strips, Carrot Ribbons, Sliced Mushrooms, Gorgonzola Cheese Crumbles, Pecan Pieces and Dried Cranberries.

For the Scallops: Dry each scallop completely with paper towels and then sprinkle with a dash of freshly ground pepper. Heat a sauté pan on medium-high and add about a teaspoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. When oil is hot, gently place the scallops in the pan, careful not to put them too close to each other. Let them cook on one side for 3-4 minutes without moving them (set a timer and back away from the stove or you won’t get the caramelization!). Using a metal spatula and/or tongs, flip them and then let them cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add to a salad tossed with maple-balsamic vinaigrette.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

½ cup tomato juice (or ¼ cup tomato paste and ¼ cup water)
1/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ cup real Maple Syrup
1 Tablespoon fresh Rosemary, Minced
2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2½ Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Combine all ingredients except oil, stirring well. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk until well combined.

Tossed Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette

In this salad: Baby Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, Sliced Red Onions, Baby Carrot Coins, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Pine Nuts and Dried Cherries.

Herbed Vinaigrette
¼ Cup tarragon vinegar (or white wine vinegar and 1 Tablespoon Dried Tarragon)
4 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
2 cloves fresh Garlic, Minced
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon fresh rosemary (or ¼ dried rosemary)
3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with a whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk. Mix until vinaigrette thickens.

A little bit goes a long way with this dressing. Gently drizzle about a tablespoon or two over a bowl of mixed greens and other fresh chopped veggies and toss until all ingredients are lightly coated. Serve with a piece of naan to round out the meal.

February 02, 2009

Hello Cupcake!

We’ve been eating so healthy since New Year’s Day but we needed a break from all the salads and grilled chicken so we decided to go all out for Super Bowl Sunday.

We made the usual (stuffed jalapenos, pigs in a blanket, Carolina pulled pork, Queso Dip, etc.) but the real stars of the evening were the Carrot Cake Cupcakes. Everyone was stuffed by half time but somehow we all had room to do some major damage to the 2 dozen cupcakes I baked.

Keep in mind that this is a very easy recipe to half if you're watching your calories and can’t commit to 24 cupcakes.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups finely shredded carrots (about 4 large carrots)
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz package reduced fat cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3½ to 4½ cups powdered sugar

For the Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 12-cup cupcake pans (use cooking spray if you prefer).

In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon carrots, oil, and eggs) and beat with an electric mixer until all ingredients are combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).

Bake for about 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from pans. Cool thoroughly on wire racks. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store in refrigerator.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in enough of the remaining powdered sugar to reach desired spreading consistency.