Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Edamame Dumplings

I'm a "Happy Hour" kinda person. Though I'm not much of a drinky drink person, I won't turn down a well-made mojito or a fruit-laced margarita. But fill me with too much rum or tequila or any other hard stuff and I won't be having a very pleasant evening. So when five o'clock rolls around, I begin to get a hankering for a nice glass of pinot noir or a chilled glass of Viognier instead. Or an occasional beer... if it's the sort of day that requires an ice cold beverage.

The husband enjoys his occasional late-afternoon adult beverage as well. And he's usually the one asking me what sorts of appetizers I can whip up or dig out of the pantry. Not wanting to fill up before dinner, it's tough to come up with different lighter ideas to serve just two. I find that if I follow a Cooking Light appetizer recipe that serves 4, it meets our needs in serving the two of us!

Our appetizer choice as a prelude to our recent Asian-themed meal: Edamame Dumplings.

Made with won ton wrappers, these are pretty simple to whip up. Frozen edamame is processed with a small amount of spices and then plopped into the center of a wrapper.

Just as ravioli is made, the edges are rubbed with water and then folded over to contain the filling. I do another little rub of water along the edges of the folded dumpling- just to make sure that it's completely sealed. The dumplings are then browned and steamed in a skillet with a small amount of water.

Then they're reading for dipping... into a simple mix of green onions, soy sauce and honey. These steamed treats were perfect for happy hour. A lighter choice, and the filling was excellent with the sauce too. I enjoy popping edamame out its shell and eating it with a bit of sea salt, but I'm not one to make the frozen kind as a side dish. It worked in this dish though- as a quick-to-prepare appetizer. And the best part? Our six year old ate them too (since the green stuff was hidden inside the wrapper!)

With this happy hour we had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc... well, ok... two glasses.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake Pops: A Daring Baker's Challenge

Cheesecake Pops have been popping up all over the internet today. They were the choice for this month's Daring Baker's challenge hosted by Elle from Feeding my Enthusiasms and Deborah from Taste and Tell. The recipe is from Jill O'Connor's darling cookbook: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. Warning: This recipe has a super-high cute factor!

Although I would do just about anything for a slice of cheesecake, I was a little apprehensive about making these... since the recipe yields between 30 and 40 pops! That would be treading on dangerous ground for me. With no desire to add extra inches to my thighs in the midst of shopping for new swimsuits, I decided to divide these treats between two events- the teacher luncheon at my son's school and a PTA meeting that I was hosting at my house.

The pops were created in several steps- Make the cheesecake in a regular cake pan, firm it up in the fridge, scoop it out and place a lollipop stick inside each ball, freeze until firm, and then dip and decorate.

At our local cake decorating supply store, I picked up 4 flavors of Guittard Chocolate Company's A'Peels, lollipop sticks and sprinkles galor. The A'Peels are the little wafer-shaped pieces that melt easily. They don't need to be tempered and they come in a whole bunch of different flavors and colors. Fun for dipping!!

I couldn't resist Guittard's orange flavor since the color was so pretty. It was actually very flavorful too. O'Connor's cookbook picture featured ribbons in her photo of the pops, so I used a variety of ribbons to help decorate mine.

Chocolate was another obvious choice. I dipped a few in sprinkles and tried toffee bits too.

The butterscotch disks were our favorite flavor. They paired nicely with the pastel sprinkles, and I tied on pink bows for added cute factor. I thought these might be fun for a baby shower.

The white chocolate disks provided the most flexibility for added decor. Wouldn't these be perfect for the 4th of July?

These pops were almost as good as a slice of my favorite cheesecake. I kept mine in the freezer for several days- they were quite good when eaten frozen solid. If they're left at room temperature for too long, you might need a fork to finish it as it tends to soften up some.

They were a hit at the teacher luncheon... I received an immediate request to make them for someone's baby shower. I declined (too time consuming!) My PTA friends liked them too and brought some home for their husbands.

The best part about the pops is that they're as delicious as they are adorable.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Caramel Chocolate Nut Ice Cream (hold the nuts!)

It has been warming up again around here... and will get into the upper 90's this weekend! Totally perfect beach weather, but I'm going to Vegas instead for a friend's big birthday bash. Amazingly enough, Vegas (known for its intense dry heat) will only be in the 80's. Still wonderful, pool lounging, ice cream-eating weather (with tropical drink in hand.) Here's a hot weather recipe for you: another recipe from Ina: Caramel Chocolate Nut Ice Cream (I left out the pecans.)

I picked up the Cuisinart ice cream maker from Costco last summer. Glad I did. It sure is fun to whip up a small batch of ice cream in hot weather. Ina's recipe makes 2 quarts, which is far too much for us (and our ice cream maker) so I halved it with no problems.

The recipe is a little strange. The sugar is caramelized in a saucepan. I went lighter on the caramel color since I was afraid it would get to that point where it might burn just slightly and give my ice cream that lovely burnt flavor. You could actually caramelize to the point where it looks quite dark. In any case, it didn't matter in terms of flavor. Anyway, when you pour in the cream, the caramel solidifies into one big caramel chunk. You then have to return it to low heat and swirl it around in the cream until the caramel incorporates into the liquid. It works, it's just weird. I also fiddled with the fat content (successfully.) Ina calls for all heavy cream. I have a hard time with that- so I subbed part of it for fat free half and half to see what would happen.

The result was a creamy, rich ice cream. A little scoop is plenty. The substitution of the fat free half and half (indicated in the recipe link) probably made it slightly less firm that it might have been with using all heavy cream, but it was good that way. I used Lindt truffles for the chocolate chunks (what Ina recommends.)

Here's a little spoonful for you. Especially those of you who are fortunate enough to have some of this nice, warm weather after enduring your cold winters.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tri- Berry Muffins (by Ina Garten)

I'm truly not obsessed with Ina. Really. The fact is that I pull a couple of cookbooks off of my shelf and that becomes my reading material for a while. My 6 year old recently asked me if I could... for once, just read a normal book.

"I read normal books sometimes," I said.

"No you don't, Mommy. You're always reading about recipes."

"Well, that's why they call me RecipeGirl." I explained. "I enjoy finding new recipes." (what I really wanted to say is that Mommy has a cookbook addiction that can't be kicked... and don't tell Daddy.)

(deep sigh) "Promise me that you won't read a cookbook when we're on vacation this summer?"

"Deal." (and I do mean that... !)

I have no idea why this bothers him so much. It's not like I'm taking my cooking magazines with me when I watch his little league games or anything (only sometimes!) No- seriously... finding a balance between blogging, reading other's blogs, my recipe site, exercising, laundry and family is tough. There just aren't enough hours in the day, for sure.

At least the family reaps the benefits of my cooking. I remind my son every day that not all Mommies cook (and how lucky he is, blah blah blah.) I think he mostly just hears the blah blah blah part. But he really does love most of Mommy's cooking and requests muffins often. Ina had a couple of muffin recipes, so I made these gorgeous muffins for breakfast: Tri- Berry Muffins.

The name of the muffins indicates three berries- raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. And since those are all on sale and looking good already 'round here, this was the obvious choice.

Funny thing about these muffins- the sugar is added at the end and folded in with the berries. Interesting, huh? This produces a muffin with a delicious, crunchy exterior without having to make a streusel.

We could hardly wait for these muffins to finish baking. The thought of breaking open a warm muffin and having the hot berries ooze out was almost too much to handle.

They were indeed fantastic right out of the oven (and even a couple of days later too.) A major thumbs up from all family members.

This recipe can be found HERE.

And I'm off to read more cookbooks (because the kiddo is tucked safely in bed!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking Ahead to Cinco de Mayo...

I realize that there are likely many people of the USA (and the rest of the world) who don't recognize this Mexican holiday called Cinco de Mayo. Since I'm located in Southern California, I observe this holiday as very much celebrated- if anything- as an excuse to party, drink margaritas, and consume exhorbitant amounts of chips and guacamole.

Cinco de Mayo is not an American holiday, but it's celebrated on a much larger scale in the U.S. than it is in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the courage of the Mexican people during the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 where 4,500 Mexican soldiers defeated the Mexican traitors and French army of 6,500 at Puebla, Mexico. More Cinco history here, if interested.

We take part in the celebrations every year, and we usually host a Cinco bash. Here are some of our favorite Mexican food recipes...

I'll begin with the most important- drinks! We served these at last year's Cinco party: Spotted Gecko Margaritas. Spotted because of added kiwi, these margies also have mango and pineapple in them. They were a HUGE hit at our party and we ended up running out. They've gotten excellent reviews from others too on the site.

These Flank Steak Tacos are wonderful too- a simple rub, steak grilled, added tomatoes, peppers and onions with desired condiments.

If you're daring enough to make fish tacos (and you should be because they're damn good), try these San Diego Style Fish Tacos. We converted a few East Coast fish-taco-doubters last summer with this recipe. They were weary of trying them but they loved them in the end.

These Chipotle- Glazed Vegetable Kebabs make a wonderful side to a Mexican main dish.

The best part... Margarita Cake! This lemony cake is topped with a tequila-lime glaze. It's an amazing, different dessert. I'm not a fan of tequila at all and I loved it. It was extremely well-received by our guests. I overheard mumblings of "wow, this is great!" and "what is this? it's delicious!"

So whether or not you will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year, at least this holiday gives you an excuse to plan a great Mexican meal on May 5th. Hasta manana!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ina Garten's Chicken Chili

I wish the weather would make up its mind around here. It's 94 degrees one day, and then we're snuggled up in blankets watching little league games the next. I have to admit that it's nice to have the variety. Some stretches have us waking up to sunny days, blue sky and no humidity for weeks on end. Torture, huh?

Yesterday was one of those chilly little league days. And on chilly days I like to make chili (really, there's no pun intended there!) Ina Garten was my choice with her recipe for Chicken Chili.

I made a chicken chili once before. It was one of those white versions of chili. Didn't like it. I had actually entered it into our community's annual chili contest without even trying it first. I guess I figured that because it was in a cookbook that it would be great. It wasn't. The painful loss was overcome with my 2nd place win in the pie contest though.

A non-traditional chili, it has tons of yellow and red bell peppers as well as fresh basil. It's spiced up lightly with chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes and cayenne. Add more for heat.

Served up family-style with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and Tostitos Scoop chips, this was another great Ina recipe. And my son was duped into eating the veggies within by the fun of scooping up the chili with the scoop chips.

Nice chili for a chilly day :)

This recipe can be found HERE.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ina Garten's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Barbara from Winos and Foodies is hosting the Taste of Yellow Event this year for LiveSTRONG Day. Last year 149 food bloggers participated in this event, and I'm guessing that number will grow exponentially this year as I visit blogs each day that are supporting this event with their yellow food posts.

This event is a one-day initiative to raise awareness and funds for the cancer fight. Unfortunately our family has had its share of cancer. My father succombed to the disease several years ago, and it has taken my grandma and uncle and several friends as well. We have numerous friends and family members who have fought cancer and continue to LiveSTRONG, and we are thankful for that. Thank you to Barbara for hosting this event.

My entry for this event is Ina Garten's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies. My son had great fun pulling all of the yellow M&M's out of the giant bag that I bought. It turns out that yellow isn't the most abundant color in an M&M bag. We ended up with only about 1/2 cup of the yellow guys. As a result, I chose to experiment a little with this recipe.

Ina suggests using high quality semi-sweet chocolate. I used Bakers (just a so-so brand), yellow M&M's and an exotic candy bar that I received in a swap with my Ohio food blogger friend Josie of 1 Kitchen, 2 Dogs and a Girl (thanks Josie!) The exotic bar contained chilies and cinnamon, and I thought that might be an interesting addition to the peanut butter.

I split the cookie batter into three parts and added each experimental element to the mix.

No one else was around, so I had to taste a bit of each (with a dunker of milk, of course.)

The result: The peanut butter cookie itself had a bit of crunch to it. The addition of M&M's is a no-brainer... M&M cookies always rock. The Baker's semi-sweet chocolate... I wish I had bought a higher quality chocolate. They were good, but not excellent. The exotic candy bar... it was an interesting addition with the cinnamon and a very slight flavor of heat with the chilies. I might prefer those flavors in a regular choc. chip cookie. I liked the M&M cookies best.

Dorie Greenspan has a recipe for Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies that I highlighted in my post on Best Cookies of 2007. Dorie's cookies are superior to Ina's in my amateur cookie baking opinion. In Dorie's recipe, she uses cinnamon/nutmeg and bittersweet chocolate, which I prefer. Dorie pretty much has the food blogger world singing her praises with her great baking recipes. I don't wish to give Ina too much flack though because her cookies might be much, much better if you use a good quality chocolate (and peanut butter too!)

Ina's recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies can be found HERE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ina Garten's Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

I tested my luck with another Ina Garten recipe: Orzo with Roasted Vegetables. This was a nice side to our Rack of Lamb.

Oh yeah. This was a good one all right.

Slow roasted eggplant, peppers and onions turned into tender, caramelized morsels. I could have eaten this right off that pan.

The veggies were added to cooked orzo and tossed with a lemony dressing. Add scallions, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil and CHUNKS of feta (not crumbled) and you've got yourself a side salad. It was served at room temperature, but it was just as good chilled the following day.

YUM. Even the boy ate it. Ina scores again!

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ina Garten's Dijon- Balsamic Rack of Lamb

Lamb is one of those nostalgic scents for me. I spoke a bit about this when I posted on Basque Lamb Stew. My dearly loved Grandma used to make roasted lamb. She and Grandpa lived on a ranch, which was an amazingly fun place to visit as a kid. After a day of swimming with goldfish in the horse trough, dodging the psychotic rooster, and taking rides with Grandpa around the ranch in his hot pink Jeep... we would open the door to the house and become overwhelmed by the scent of lamb that had been slow-roasting most of the day. It tasted as good as it smelled too. So as a result, lamb has always been a favorite special treat. Last weekend, I treated my family to Ina Garten's Rack of Lamb.

I've made many recipes for rack of lamb. Though it can be on the expensive side, if you're armed with an instant-read thermometer, it's an easy meat to prepare and it's well worth the extra cash. I buy my lamb at Costco- their racks come already 'frenched'- and I've been very happy with the quality.

In Ina's recipe, you just spoon the quickie-marinade over the top of the rack and let it sit at room temp. for about an hour. Then it's popped into the oven for a quick roasting. I have one of these great oven thermometers where you can stick the thermometer in the meat but the part that registers the temperature sits outside the oven. It's an invaluable piece of kitchen equipment for me! If you have one of these, your meat will turn out perfect every time. No guessing needed. No over or under-cooking! You must get one.

The Barefoot Contessa rarely disappoints, and this was no exception. It was unanimous- my family loved this lamb recipe. The flavor was nice, and the meat was tender and perfectly roasted (we roasted it to medium-rare 130 degrees.)

This night, the scent of lamb filled the house and stirred up a few Ranch memories to share during dinner. And hopefully, with all of the cooking that I do, I am creating some nostalgic scents for my own family!

This recipe can be found HERE. For the next week or so I'll be posting a string of Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) recipes that I've been trying.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Tried and True Favorite: Avocado- Pine Nut Salad

I've been making this Avocado- Pine Nut Salad for YEARS. First discovered at my sister's house eons ago while plowing through her loads of cookbooks, this has since become a classic family favorite. Need a great salad for a potluck? This is it. Need a salad that most people will eat? This is it. Need a new side salad for dinner because you're tired of the same old thing? This is it. Want to impress your guests? Can't help you there, but this salad will help.

It's simple, and it's darn good. Many in my extended family and network of friends have now incorporated this salad into their meal rotations. It's that good! When I helped to publish the San Diego Junior League cookbook, California Sol Food, a few years ago- I submitted this recipe for review. We published it as "Summer Salad," and added grilled chicken to the ingredients to make it a main dish salad- it's wonderful that way too.

Pine nuts in anything are ok by me. And toasted... well, if they can make it to the dish before being completely devoured then that's just a miracle. I love toasted pine nuts in a salad. Add some vine-ripened tomatoes, Haas avocados, a sprinkle of mozzarella, and a tangy white-wine vinaigrette and you have this salad.

And since it's a tried and true fave, I'm submitting it to Psychgrad & Giz at Equal Opportunity Kitchen for their Tried, Tested and True blog event.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dark Chocolate Crackles

For many, if there will be dessert... it must be chocolate. My family covets chocolate. I'm more of a vanilla gal. Don't hold it against me, but given a choice- I would take vanilla over chocolate any day. I enjoy chocolate only when it's really, really fantastically good. Only when it's something that is completely worth the calories that will be consumed. I'm a bit manic when I've had too much chocolate too as I can't quite manage my caffeine. One too many bites and I'm off to the land of migraines and darkened rooms. That said, I like to make chocolate treats that I can send off for others to enjoy. This day: Dark Chocolate Crackles.

This recipe makes a good amount (5 dozen) so it was perfect to send off with the boys on a YMCA Indian Guide camping trip. If you're not familiar with Indian Guides, it's a father-son group that is designed to harbor close relationships between the two. They do a lot of boy-type activities together and head out on weekend camping trips once a month with the rest of their "tribe." It's great fun for them, and a quiet, relaxing weekend for me! It also gives me a chance to bake away... and send off goodies that are much-appreciated by the hungry group of men.

A recipe from Fine Cooking, these very chocolatey cookies are filled with three kinds of chocolate and a smidgen of orange zest to set them apart from the rest. You'll need a tall glass of milk to wash it all down. If this doesn't send the already energy-filled boys into a caffeine frenzy then I don't know what will. I'm sure the dads will appreciate me for this one.

A little peek inside shows you that you will indeed get a chocolatey chunk or two inside each cookie.

Chocolate lovers... you'll like this one. Me...? I had my cookie, enjoyed it and will move on to decaffeinated pleasures for the remainder of the day.

This recipe can be found HERE.