November 29, 2007

Good Things Come in Small Packages

It started with 2 avocados. Just two. I had two avocados that needed eating. Any normal person would have just made some guacamole and called it a day. I, however, am not a normal person. I have to do things the hard way and have to go above and beyond, when going above usually isn’t necessary. That is why, on a normal Wednesday night, the Husband and I were eating hors d’oeuvres fit for the Queen (if I do say so myself.)

It all started with my guacamole:

1 avocado, diced
2 Tablespoons onion, diced (use red onions if you have them)
¼ cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon Cholula hot sauce (or Tabasco, or use a fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced)
1 pinch of salt and one pinch of pepper
½ teaspoon lime juice
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Gently stir everything together and let it sit for about 30 minutes
While the guacamole was melding, I cut out 1½ -inch rounds from two flour tortillas. I baked the rounds for 10 minutes at 350, until they were slightly crispy. Meanwhile, I sautéed ½ pound of shrimp in some butter and olive oil (extra virgin, of course!). Then came the fun part--assembling the appetizers:

Was it worth the effort??? See for yourself:

Except for being a tiny bit hard to handle, these were amazing!

Next came the Mascarpone Tartlets

I started with square won ton wrappers and baked them in a mini-muffin tin for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I began working on the filling. For the base, I mixed equal parts mascarpone cheese and reduced fat sour cream and put the mixture in a pastry bag. For the topping, I gently sautéed julienned bell peppers (red, green and orange) and thinly sliced onions in butter and olive oil. I added a little salt, pepper and Italian Seasoning to the veggies too.

When the pepper and onion mixture was cooled slightly, I piped the cheese and sour cream mixture into the won tons and topped them with the peppers and onions.

DELISH!!! Although the Husband and I agreed that the pointy edges of the won tons were slightly intimidating. Next time, I’ll use round won tons!

Here are the tartlets:

Not the best photo, but here is the final result:

Overall Score: Shrimp and Guacamole Bites: 4.5 out of 5
Mascarpone Tartlets: 4 out of 5.

Queen Elizabeth, you're welcome any time!

November 21, 2007

Calling all Carnivores

Now let's face it-- man (and woman) can only eat so much leftover turkey, so try these short ribs out as a nice change of pace.

I made these ribs and they were one of the best things to have ever graced my (and Drew's) palette. The only words spoken at dinner when I served these were "Oh my god, these are soooooo good!!" over and over again. Seriously, we didn't even do the "Hi honey, how was your day?" thing because we were stuck on "....these are sooooo good!!"

The recipe is easy but takes some time, however, this dish is well worth the wait!

Coffee-Braised Short Ribs
(inspired by Epicurious TV)

4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and ribs discarded
2 cups boiling-hot water
1 medium onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce (or be lazy like I was and use two Knorr Chipotle cubes)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons salt
6 lb beef short ribs
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup brewed coffee (I used 4 shots of espresso)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Soak ancho chiles in boiling-hot water until softened, about 20 minutes, then drain in a colander set over a bowl. Taste soaking liquid: It will be a little bitter, but if unpleasantly so, discard it; otherwise, reserve for braising.

Transfer ancho chiles to a blender and purée with onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, maple syrup, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon salt.

Pat ribs dry and sprinkle with pepper and remaining teaspoon salt. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking, then sear ribs in batches, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer as browned to a roasting pan just large enough to hold ribs in 1 layer.

Carefully add chile purée to fat remaining in skillet (careful--it will splatter and steam) and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Add reserved chile soaking liquid (or 1½ cups water) and coffee and bring to a boil, then pour over ribs (liquid should come about halfway up sides of meat).

Braise ribs in middle of oven until very tender, turning them occasionally, 3 to 3 ½ hours.

November 20, 2007

Hot Stuff

I tried my luck at a rooftop garden this year and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Among other things, I grew countless tomatoes and bell peppers, bunches of herbs, and squash blossoms, but the surprising favorite was the jalapeno.

What was left of my garden died this weekend when the temperature dropped into the 30's but I was able to harvest the last 15 jalapenos from the plant before they turned into frozen brown nuggets. I used these jalapenos to make Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos, which were delicious and a huge hit with the husband. Here is the recipe, which can be easily doubled or tripled:

Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos

20 Jalapeno Peppers
4 oz Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
10 slices Prosciutto, cut in half

Preheat oven to 400. Wearing gloves, slice the jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and the white pith. Next, mix the grated cheddar cheese and cream cheese. Spoon the cheese mixture into the jalapeno halves and wrap them tightly with prosciutto. Secure the prosciutto with a toothpick. Arrange the assembled jalapenos on a baking sheet topped with a baking rack (to allow for any grease to drip off). Bake for about 15 minutes or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy. Serve with plenty of cold drinks...these things pack some heat!

Polish Cooking 101: A Family Affair

I was in the mood for some carb-on-carb action and there is no better way to get that than through carrying on my grandma Em's tradition of Polish cooking. I started out last Sunday morning with the the idea of making a few perogies for lunch but I got a little carried away....

12 cups of flour, 5 pounds of potatoes, 2 canisters of dried plums, 6 hours of work, and several frantic calls to my mom in NC, my sister in VA, and my Aunts in NJ resulted in 188 perogies.
I had a few of the perogies for lunch but the rest are in the freezer waiting patiently for my family's Polish Christmas Eve Celebration.

November 05, 2007

"F" is for Flavor....and Presentation

OK--I will be the first to admit that these things were UGLY......but they sure tasted good!

These peppers are my version of a dish I had at Range in San Francisco ( while on summer vacation this August. Range deserves their Michelin Star for their Barley and Pecan Stuffed Piquillo Peppers but these definitely come close when you don't have time for a transcontinental flight. [Note: I searched high and low for piquello peppers (which come in jars from Spain) but there are none to be found in Baltimore. I will order seeds and grow piquillo peppers in my garden next year but if you know a store that carries them, please post a comment here so I don't have to wait until then!]

Barley Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Avocado Cream Sauce
(Serves 2)

Barley 'Risotto'

1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup medium pearled barley
1 teaspoon "pollo con tomate" seasoning (found in the Hispanic aisle of your supermarket)
2 cups water
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat and then add the onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add the barley and saute until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and the pollo con tomate seasoning. Stir occasionally until the water with seasoning is absorbed. Continue to add water, a half cup at a time, until the barley is cooked through. This should take about 45 minutes. Once all the water is absorbed and the barley is cooked through, add the Parmesan cheese and additional salt and pepper if needed.

While the barely is simmering, char the skins of 4 poblano peppers over a gas burner or under the broiler. When the skins of the peppers are completely black, place the peppers in a freezer bag for about 15 minutes. After allowing the peppers to steam in the bag, gently remove the charred skins and cut the tips off to remove the seeds and white pith. While the peppers are steaming, begin the avocado sauce.

Avocado Cream Sauce

1/2 avocado
1/4 cup low fat plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
2 teaspoons Cholula hot sauce (or use about 4 shakes of Tobasco sauce)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Add additional yogurt, lemon juice and mayonnaise if needed to make a slightly liquid sauce.

Once the barley is done, stuff the peppers with the barley and top the peppers with the avocado cream sauce, some diced avocado, diced tomatoes and diced onions.
Serve this dish with a Mexican beer (we had Corona Light) or a Margarita.

November 02, 2007

Wine Market Happy Hour

Last night was "Girls Night Out" at The Wine Market in Locust Point. This is the second time our girls group has gotten together there and it definitely won't be the last. The Happy Hour Specials are a steal at $3 per glass of featured wine (they had 2 reds and 2 whites to choose from) and $3 per selected appetizers (there were about 6 to choose from).

I had the featured Shiraz and sampled the Blackened Salmon Bites and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The portions were perfect for Happy Hour and the food, as always, was first-rate. The salmon had a crispy, spicy crust and was cooked to a juicy medium. The sandwich is also worthy of praise. It was made with warm and chewy focaccia and a crispy slice of bacon added a nice crunch. The cheese was perfectly melted and the Dijon mustard (served on the side) rounded everything out.

The retail store is open until the restaurant closes so I was able to pick up a bottle of champagne before leaving. Hopefully Drew and I will pop it open tonight--we hear if he passed the Maryland Bar Exam later this afternoon. (edited: Drew PASSED THE BAR!!! YAY!! CONGRATS HONEY--I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT!!!)

I was a little hungry when I got home and had to settle for chips and salsa, but I was really craving some more Wine Market appetizers. I'll just have to wait until the next Girls Night Out....

Below is the info for the Wine Market. I hope you visit soon and enjoy it as much as I do:
E Fort Ave # 135
(410) 244-6166

November 01, 2007


In between trick-or-treaters, I was able to throw some things together to make a decent meal.

Drew and I had East Indian Chicken, Naan with Yogurt Dipping Sauce and one of my famous "everything" salads with carrot-ginger vinaigrette.

Here are the recipes for the Chicken and Yogurt Dipping Sauce:

East Indian Chicken
Coat 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a tablespoon or two of low-fat mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Sprinkle chicken breasts with a pinch of the following: garam masala, hot madras curry powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Grill the chicken breasts for about 4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the center and juices run clear. Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Once you flip the chicken, throw some Trader Joe's Frozen Naan onto the grill.

Yogurt Dipping Sauce
While the chicken is grilling, mix about 1/2 cup of plain low-fat yogurt with a pinch of each of the seasonings listed above and a dash of lemon juice. Throw in some chopped, fresh cilantro if you have it for a more authentic flavor. Set aside and use as a dipping sauce for the chicken and naan.

We only had Corona Light on hand but a great Indian beer (e.g., Kingfisher) would have been the perfect match!

I recently traveled to Trinidad for work and had an amazing lunch at a restaurant in Port of Spain called Melange. I'm going to try to duplicate the meal at home so look forward to my take on some West Indian favorites soon...