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Peppermint Bark

6 Dec

It’s funny how our taste buds change. In the last couple years, I have become so crazy for mint. I used to buy candy canes for decoration, but now I eat ’em all up. And while store-bought peppermint bark is yummy, I knew if I made some from scratch, it would be way better.

I used this recipe, with a fancy bittersweet chocolate and a good white chocolate. And plenty of smashed candy canes. And it’s true. It’s amazing. And like my friend B. says, “It tastes like Christmas!”

Shrimp Remoulade

30 Aug

A few years ago, a friend gave me some homemade tarragon vinegar. In my search for recipes that called for it, I found this one for shrimp remoulade. I don’t know where I got it, so I can’t give credit where it’s due, sorry!

Remoulade sauce has many, many variations, and while the Louisiana kind can be either oil- or mayonnaise-based, it usually has paprika. It is most often served with shrimp, but it also works with crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, or fish.

For me, this simple cold shrimp salad is the perfect summer dinner. And though I make my own tarragon vinegar now, I’ve seen it in the grocery store, so you don’t have to!

Shrimp Remoulade

2 TB Creole (brown) mustard, preferably Zatarain’s

1 TB paprika

1/2 tst cayenne

2 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 c tarragon vinegar

1/2 c olive oil

3/4 c chopped scallions, including 2-3 inches of the green tops

1/4 c minced celery

1/4 c chopped flat-leaf parsley

3 pounds raw medium shrimp

romaine lettuce

Sauce:

Whisk together the mustard, paprika, cayenne and salt in a deep bowl

Beat in the vinegar

Whisking constantly, pour the oil in a slow, thin stream and beat until smooth and thick

Add the scallions, celery, and parsley and mix well

Cover and let rest at room temperature for at least 4 hours

Shrimp:

Shell and devein the shrimp

Rinse under cold water

Bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer in a large pot (add a little salt if you want)

Drop the shrimp in the water and cook uncovered for 3-5 minutes until pink and firm

Drain, let cool, then chill the shrimp until ready to serve

Assemble:

Mound the torn lettuce on individual plates

Arrange the shrimp on top, spoon some sauce on top and serve immediately

I use about 2-4 TB sauce for each salad, so you will probably have some left over. I like to let the leftovers come to room temperature before using.

Chai Spice Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing and Candied Almonds

23 Aug

I’ve been meaning to make carrot cupcakes for so long, but when I got those chai spices for a gift, it seemed like the time was NOW.

The chai spices are meant to be added to black tea. The mix has black pepper, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. If no one hands you a bag all mixed up, you could mix them yourself to your own liking. I used 2 TB total, so if I were mixing, I’d use 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground cardamom, 1.5 tsp ginger and .5 tsp cloves. I’d probably add a dash of black pepper.

I like my carrot cake without some of the usual things like raisins, pineapple or nuts in the cake itself, so I based my recipe on this one from Paula Deen.

Chai Spice Carrot Cupcakes

2 c flour

2 c sugar

2 tsp baking soda

2 TB chai spices or 2 TB combined total of cinnamon, ground cardamom, ginger and cloves

1 tsp salt

4 eggs

1.5 c vegetable oil

3 c grated carrots

1.5 chopped pecans, optional

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients

Add eggs and oil, and blend with a hand mixer until combined.

Stir in carrots and nuts, if using.

Line cupcake tins with paper liners, then fill almost to the top of the liner. Leave about  .25″, as they will rise when baking, then sink back down as they cool. I can’t remember how many I made! Sorry. At least 12, I can say that.

Bake at 375 for 20 min. Cool completely before icing.

I used the same cream cheese icing I used for my red velvet cupcakes. Instead of vanilla, I added .5 tsp almond extract to go with the candied almonds I was putting on top.

Oh! And I shouldn’t be excited about this, but I had my first big recipe experiment fail! I tried making ginger cream cheese icing with ginger simple syrup, but the ginger flavor was not coming through at all. The icing was getting watery, so I tried adding some ground ginger, but that didn’t help. I could feel a bit of heat on my tongue, but no flavor.

I want to try another time with fresh grated ginger. I was also thinking that the cream cheese flavor may have been overpowering the ginger, so I would try a simple buttercream. But like I said before, I don’t do a ton of improvising when I cook, so I felt kind of adventurous to have tried something that simply did not work. It may not make sense to be glad about it, but it felt like a happy first for me.

Now on to the candied almonds.

I used this recipe and they were so easy. I almost didn’t make them, but they were so good that I know I will make them again. I had a ton left over, but they went fast when I took them to work.

I was glad I read some of the comments or I think I would have taken them off the heat too soon. It starts out like this, just nuts in thick syrup, simmering away.

And you wait and stir until the sugar coating on the almonds gets so dried out it has some white color. Once it’s to that stage, you spread them out on a baking sheet and separate any stuck-together ones.

They pretty much come out of the pot looking like that. Yum. I put some in a sealed plastic bag and pounded on them with a meat pounder. After the cupcakes were iced, I dipped the tops into a bowl of the crushed almonds. I added all those cinnamon-y sugar crystals to the bowl, too.

Adam said they were the best cupcakes he ever had in his life, and not as a figure of speech, but really the best cupcakes ever. So there you go!

Panzanella

12 Aug

The idea of a bread salad always sounded good to me, but the reality was soggy bread. Not so yummy.

A recipe from July 2011’s Cook’s Illustrated sounded great, and dealt with the whole mush factor by cubing and toasting the bread before throwing it in with everything else. So, on the bad side, you gotta heat up your kitchen a bit, but on the good side, this panzanella is so delicious.

I wanted to do the classic bread, tomato, olive oil, fresh mozzarella and basil thing…in part because my basil plants are OUT OF CONTROL and I already have a bunch of pesto in the freezer. So I followed their basic recipe but used what I had instead.

Panzanella

Toss 6 cups of cubed baugette in 2 TB olive oil and then toast it on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Chop 2 large tomatoes and drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving the liquid.

Whisk together 1-2 TB balsamic or red wine vinegar, 2-4 TB olive oil and the reserved tomato juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cooled bread and toss to coat. Let stand for 10 min or so.

Add the chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and chopped fresh basil. Eat it up!

This was the best right after I made it, but still good the next day for lunch. And if you are lucky, a little kitty will help you with your leftover baugette.

I gotta say that I get so happily geeked out over Cooks Illustrated! Adam made fun of how it’s written, but I love their scientific approach to cooking, and everything I’ve made has been worth making again. Their lemon bars kill all other lemon bars.

Hollygrove Produce Box

10 Aug

I’m a pretty recipe-driven cook as opposed to an improvisational cook. I give myself credit for being able to pick good recipes, to tweak recipes, or to combine recipes. And while I’m not a picky eater in the sense that I don’t like a lot of foods, I do have strong preferences of how I like dishes or what I like paired together.

I’m OK with that, and I’m usually happy with what I make, but I’d like to move a little bit towards the improvisational end. Be a little more creative, a little more seasonal.

I always thought that getting a produce box would not only get me high quality produce, but would nudge me into some new combinations or new foods. And this week’s Hollygrove Market and Farm box looked so great, I finally bought one!

Peaches, tomatoes, limes, green peppers, eggplant, lima beans, sunflower sprouts, Cajun grain rice, button mushrooms and chanterelle mushrooms! Yum! I like all that stuff.

I’m trying to keep things fairly simple, so last night I sauteed both kinds of mushrooms and made a mushroom and swiss omlette. No hot oven! I was so hungry and tired after work, I didn’t take a picture. Nom.

Dense Chocolate Cake With Whipped Cream and Raspberries

19 Jul

“Dense chocolate cake”- that’s what I googled on Sunday when I had a hankering to bake. I found Nigella Lawson’s recipe for dense chocolate loaf cake and gave it a go.

I’ve been wanting to use some of my frozen raspberries with chocolate cake, and this one seemed so rich it didn’t really need frosting…but who can say no to some whipped cream? Not me, man.*

Adam asked me if it’s supposed to be so gooey. It is very, very moist. Almost like it’s underdone. But I’m into that. And he isn’t much of a dessert person, but he said it’s incredible. So there ya go.

*Kitty Mabel never turns down whipped cream, either.

Vietnamese Bun

15 Jul

I am by no means a Vietnamese food expert, but it is one of my favorite cuisines. Adam isn’t as crazy about it as I am, so it was high time I resumed making some dishes at home so I can get my fix more often.

Bun is one of my favorites, with rice noodles and peanuts on top of lettuce, shredded carrot, and chopped cilantro. (No mung bean sprouts for me, thanks.) And the yummy nuoc cham sauce poured on, and maybe a protein.

This is my first time trying to buy a chili paste I picked out at the Asian market instead of buying a Western version, so it’s not just ground chilies. It has garlic and tamarind and I don’t remember what else, but it still worked great.

For the nuoc cham, you’re supposed to customize your recipe to your own taste, but here’s a starting point:

2 small cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. ground chili paste

1 fresh thai bird chili, minced (optional)

1/4 c. fish sauce

2/3 c. hot water

2 TB lime juice with pulp

1/4 c.  sugar

Mix it all up and adjust to taste! I got my recipe from the book The Best Of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking by Mai Pham. I tend to decrease the sugar and increase the lime.

I must say that mine was a bit strong for my taste this time, maybe because of the brand of fish sauce I chose, but I’ll just add some water next time. I also customized my bun by putting a full cup of the sauce over everything. I just love that stuff, but the lesson is to taste it before you douse your food in it.

Bun with shrimp, lots of peanuts and some fried shallots.

Dessert of quickly-melting vanilla ice cream with ginger simple syrup and a piece of candied ginger. Very yum.