Monday, April 14, 2014

Pineapple-Coconut Cobbler

Of all places, I found this recipe in an ad from a local grocery store!  But, it fit in perfectly with my theme of a Jamaican-inspired menu this weekend as we celebrated our anniversary.  And my celebrated, I mean that I spent 18 hours of my anniversary studying for an exam, and the next day sweating to put in my herb garden while the weather was nice and I had some free time.  My husband and I may not have celebrated in a grandiose way, but we accomplished a ton, and that was fine too!  And what better way to reward ourselves than with this tasty dessert?!  Enjoy!

1 20-ounce can pineapple tidbits in juice, juice reserved
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut rum
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup flaked coconut, divided
1/4 cup butter milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400.  Place 8 ramekins in a large baking pan.

Drain pineapple tidbits, reserving the juice in a small saucepan.  Add cornstarch to the juice and cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring frequently.  Stir in drained pineapple, vanilla, and rum.  Spoon mixture into ramekins (an ice cream scoop works well for this step).

In a large bowl, make the topping.  Combine flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 cup coconut.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, and egg.  Pour over dry ingredients and mix until a stiff batter forms.  Drop batter over fruit filling in the ramekins.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut and sugar.

Bake 15 minutes or until topping is browned and filling is bubbly.

Serves 8.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mango Salsa

Nothing says Island Fever like a fresh tropical salsa!  I love mangos; I love spicy food; and I love bright, fresh, vibrant ingredients on my plate!  I didn't necessarily eat mango salsa on my honeymoon in Jamaica, but this dish instantly took me back to the cool blue water and hot sun of the Caribbean when I made it a few weeks ago. In fact, I loved it so much that I went and bought the ingredients to make it a second time.  This salsa is fabulous on grilled tilapia (the way I served it) but it's also tasty on a plain cheese quesadilla (my lunch the following day) and would likely be amazing over grilled chicken (I haven't tried that yet!).  Or, if putting salad on a main course isn't your thing, simply serve this as a cool summer salad or for chips and dipping when you host your first cookout of the season!

1 large mango, peeled, pitted, and diced (alternatively, drain a few of the fruit cups of prepared mango found in the produce section of your grocery near the bagged lettuce)
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced jalapeƱo
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Gently toss to distribute the flavors evenly.  Serve over grilled fish or chicken at room temperature, or slightly chilled as a salad.

Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook by Arthur Agatston.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Month: Island Fever

Summertime is just around the corner!  It's time for fresh produce from the farmers market, tropical libations with paper umbrellas, and flavors that just explode in your mouth (as my father would say)!  In other news, April marks the month I was married, six years ago.  My husband took me on a honeymoon to Jamaica where we thoroughly enjoyed the spicy flavors of the Islands, warm breezes off the Caribbean, and more than our fair share of fruity concoctions.  To celebrate, I thought I'd share some dishes that remind me of that first week of marriage and the wonderful vacation we enjoyed before we both deployed with the Navy.  Feel free to combine these into one yummy meal, or spread them out to add a little Island Flavor to several dinner...  Yeah Mon!

Jamaican Jerk Salad

Rum Runners

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Favorite Dinner Secrets

My mama loves to cook. As a little girl, I really couldn't be bothered with helping in the kitchen. Sure I'd help mix up cookie dough, but only so I could lick the beaters. And homemade pizza night was fun as my older brother and I stood on kitchen chairs, fighting over who got to wear the vinyl Santa Claus apron my mom has had for who-knows-how-long while we dumped copious amounts of cheese and pepperoni on our make-your-own pies. But no, cooking was not one of my hobbies. Only once, that I can remember, did I volunteer to make dinner on my own (with the help of my older brother). Dad was deployed over Mother's Day, so we made chicken parmesan (with those pre-breaded nasty chicken patties you used to get on Wednesdays in the school cafeteria that were advertised as "Crispy Chicken on a Bun" which may or may not have been accurate), green beans (in which we found a worm...after we started eating them), salad (made from produce that my brother did not prewash), and blueberry muffins (which go so well with Italian food, right?)...

As time went on, I learned my way around the kitchen inasmuch as it was my chore to set the table and later to unload the dishwasher.  In high school I'd sometimes help with dinner prep, but I was usually at track practice or an after-school job.  In college I became a little more active in helping my mom cook, but really I'd just scurry back and forth fetching ingredients, mixing bowls, and other mysterious utensils my mom needed to create that evening's masterpiece.  Once I graduated and found my own apartment, my mom bought me my first cookbook (Rachael Ray!) and helped me outfit my first kitchen with the bare essentials and from there on out, I was pretty much winging it.  I ate a lot of nachos, and the canned ingredients I bought the first time I ever went to the grocery store stayed in my pantry for well over a year, when I moved into my first townhouse.

Yes, I started to cook more and more often.  I bought myself a nice set of pots and pans that my mom actually joked she would trade me for her older set.  I still have those pots today, and have added to my collection, even venturing into cast iron!  I started cooking for my parents every so often, and even invited their good friends over for brunch at my new apartment after Mass one Sunday.  When I started dating my husband, I'd cook for him, and since he's still alive and kicking, I guess I have yet to poison him!

Now I have a whole cabinet of cookbooks (not quite the Cookbook Closet that mom has), drawers and crocks full of my own mysterious utensils (some of which my mom threatens to steal when she visits), and four full sets of dinnerware, to include two sets of china...all of which I use (ok, well maybe not my grandmother's china that's been handed down for several generations).

While I've graduated from making recipes exclusively from the 30-minute meal variety and my spice rack has exploded well beyond the bare essentials, I still maintain a few "tricks" up my sleeve.  Let's face it, I'm a busy mother of two small boys, working on a second degree (in nursing, which is no cake-walk), who, while I can now admit that I do enjoy cooking, I also enjoy some relaxation at the end of the day.  And that is where these little secrets come in to play!

There are a slew of amazing products out there now that make the household cook's life so much easier.  Things that while they are prepared, still enable you to make your family a homemade meal with your tastes and preferences in mind.  Things that are versatile and can be changed according to the menu du jour.  Things that I use on a regular basis and have no problem justifying the cost of something I could make on my own simply because they same me at least ten minutes of chopping.  And with that, I present my five favorite time-savers!

Stocks (I always have boxes and boxes of chicken stock on hand, but I also keep some seafood and beef stock too).  I use stock exclusively when making rice or couscous in order to add flavor to an otherwise bland side dish.  Stock is also wonderful as the base to a broth-y soup and even for homemade baby food.  I never buy "broth" as I find it to be watered down and only buy the more flavorful stocks available.  I typically do not cook pasta in stock since the liquid is drained off, but for dishes where the liquid is retained (rice, couscous, quinoa) or mostly retained (orzo), I will use the stock.

Prepared pasta sauces.  I use marinara as the base to spaghetti sauce, and for just about any Italian dish that requires a tomato sauce.  Remember that chicken parm I "made" my mom?  Now I use Prego as the starter to my much improved version of that recipe!  I use it on pizza.  I use it in homemade vegetable soup that just needs a little more flavor (I'm not a big fan of large chunks of cooked tomato in soups).  

Couscous.  This is a favorite starch in our house.  I almost always buy a flavored variety that includes a seasoning packet, but I never "make as directed".  I have several staple recipes that have couscous add-ins, so I mix and match according to my mood or the main course I'm preparing.  I add shallots and onions of every variety, fresh mushrooms, herbs and spices (both fresh and dried) that complement the flavor of the featured protein, nuts, dried fruit (cherries, currants, raisins, apricots) and more.  And, of course, I use chicken stock to cook my couscous.

Flavored olive oil cubes.  I recently discovered Land O Lakes Saute Express and fell in love!  These are great little patties of olive oil and butter seasoned with a variety of popular flavors (herbs, teriyaki, garlic, etc.).  They're a little bit on the pricey side, considering I am never without olive oil and fresh garlic in my kitchen, but they're fabulous for adding flavor to an otherwise bland chicken breast.  Pop a cube of this into a hot skillet and you're ready to saute about a pound of meat!  I usually add extra olive oil and garlic and depend on these just for the boost of butter and herbs.  So far I've tried the Garlic & Herb and Lemon Pepper and both are divine!

Seasoned breadcrumb kits.  I've sung the praises of Kraft Fresh Take before on my blog, and I'll do it again!  These 6-ounce kits are lifesavers for busy moms everywhere.  Use them on chicken, pork, fish, and even vegetables and pasta dishes.  Check out the recipe booklet on the website I linked above and tell me what you make!  I've tried almost all nine varieties.  Unfortunately, the one that intrigues me most, Chili-Lime, appears to have been discontinued since I've never been able to find it in a grocery near me.  Regardless, these kits take Shake 'n' Bake to a whole new level.  Recommended to me by my mama, I've passed on my stamp of approval to both my mother- and sister-in-law as a great stand-by when you just don't have a lot of time to spend on dinner.

Monday, March 24, 2014

King Cake

When I was a freshman in college, I lived with a true blue Cajun from New Iberia, LA.  She introduced me to my first ever King Cake and every year thereafter, I ordered this Mardi Gras staple.  One year my parents gifted me with a boxed mix after they went on a college trip to Tulane with my little brother.  This year, I told my husband that I was going to try my hand making one from scratch.  The only problem is that the King Cakes I ordered online had customized fillings (which some New Orleans natives say is an abomination!) and I always chose half apple-cream cheese and half almond.  Trying to find a recipe for something similar online was more difficult than I thought, and eventually I combined several different recipes into this loaf of yum!  Break out your beads and enjoy this King Cake all Season long!!!  Don't forget to bake a baby into the cake!!

1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
3 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest

1 7-ounce tube almond paste
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour
½ cup very finely ground almonds

2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons + 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, enough to make a thick but pourable glaze

yellow, purple, and green fine sparkling sugars

Lightly grease a 10", 4-cup capacity bakeable stoneware ring mold, or a baking sheet.

To prepare the dough: Using a stand mixer with the dough hook, mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together to form a smooth, very silky dough. You may try kneading this dough with your hands, if desired; but be advised it's very sticky and soft. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 hour. It'll become puffy, though it probably won't double in size.

Transfer the soft dough to a lightly greased sheet pan. Pat and stretch it into a 24" x 6" rectangle. This won't be hard at all; it's very stretchy. Let the dough rest while you prepare the filling.

To prepare the filling: Beat the almond paste, butter, sugar, and salt until creamy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated. Mix in the flours.  Dollop the filling down the center of the dough. Then fold each edge up and over the filling till they meet at the top; roll and pinch the edges together, to seal the filling inside as much as possible. Don't worry about making the seal look perfect; it'll eventually be hidden by the icing and sugar.

Form the log of dough into a ring on the greased baking sheet. The dough will be very extensible and will stretch as you handle it, so handle gently and with caution!  Pinch the ends together. Cover and let rise for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises.

Whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water, and brush over the risen loaf. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, then tent it lightly with aluminum foil. Bake it for an additional 30 minutes, until it's a rich golden brown. Remove the cake from the oven, and allow to cool completely.

To make the icing: Beat together all of the icing ingredients, dribbling in the final 2 teaspoons milk till the icing is thick yet pourable.

Pour the icing over the completely cooled cake. While it's still sticky, sprinkle with alternating bands of yellow, purple, and green sugars.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mardi Gras Hurricanes

Let the good times roll with this awesome Hurricane recipe just in time for Mardi Gras!

1 oz white rum
1 oz Jamaican dark rum
1 oz Bacardi 141 rum
3 oz orange juice
2 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 oz grenadine
crushed ice

Combine all ingredients, mix well (shake or stir). Pour over crushed ice in a hurricane glass. Garnish with a fruit wedge if desired.

To make this drink "virgin" substitute ginger ale for the rum.

Rather than making single serving recipes, I measure the ingredients in cups rather than ounces, making a pitcher large enough for a party!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Shrimp Etouffee

Ever since I read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood for the first time, I've wanted to try etouffee, but never had a recipe.  My mama found one somewhere, that she swears by, but I've never been at her house when she made it.  So, when I saw this version, I couldn't wait to try it!  Feel free to change up the seafood to your liking, and experiment with sources of protein that aren't seafood too!  I used frozen shrimp and scallops in mine, and they worked just fine (and were less effort for me to prepare!).  To serve, just whip up a pot of rice:  mix 2 cups rice (I used Texmati Royal Blend with Flaxseed), 4 cups chicken stock, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over high heat; bring to a boil, stir, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup flour
1 onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 red or green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 large tomato, cored and chopped
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound large scallops
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
10-12 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Dirty rice, for serving

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until melted and hot.  Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture changes from light to golden brown.  Adjust the heat to low if the flour burns too quickly (it should be about 5-10 minutes).

Add the butter, celery, bell peppers, and garlic.  Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes more, until the onion is soft and golden, the celery and peppers begin to soften, and the roux turns a reddish brown.  Add the tomato and cook, stirring, one minute longer.

Slowly add 1 cup of the stock, stirring constantly, until all is incorporated.  Add the remaining 3 cups, 1 cup at a time, and combine to form a creamy sauce, about 2 minutes.  If the mixture remains very liquid-y, add some more flour (I had to add another 1/3 cup).  Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is thick.

Add the shrimp, scallops, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, thyme, and basil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the shrimp are bright pink and the scallops are cooked through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm over rice and garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Feel free to mix and match the protein in this dish.  Most shellfish (crawfish, oysters, lobster), as well as chicken, duck, or andouille sausage would all taste lovely!