Welcome to HowDoYouCook.com

By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Crispy Chicken Sandwich

During those endless back-to-school shopping trips to the mall, lots of Moms give in to the many, many requests for lunch.  After hearing "I'm hungry" a few too many times, how can we not succumb to all of those requests, especially when you see the Chick-Fil-A sign? Yum.

This is one of the few fast food sandwiches that I enjoy and yes, I know it's fried and not exactly a healthy sandwich, but they just taste so good!  And now you can make them at home.

This is a crispy and perfectly spicy sandwich that is so close, almost exactly, and maybe just a bit better than the mall variety.  With two layers of seasonings you get a combination of hot sauce, lots of pepper and just a bit of cayenne, to create a spicy sandwich with flavor that pops!


This sandwich starts with boneless skinless chicken breasts that are sliced in half horizontally, which allows the chicken fillets to cook quickly.  Next we marinate the chicken in a mixture of buttermilk, Frank's hot sauce and a few seasonings, which adds the first layer of flavor, followed by a quick dredge in seasoned flour.  The addition of a drizzle of buttermilk to the flour mixture adds delicious little crispy pieces to the finished sandwich.  All you need to complete this creation is a whole grain bun, (to keep it a little healthy!), a bit of mayo and a few sliced dill pickles.  Enjoy!!

1-3/4 lbs  Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced in half horizontally

Marinade
1 cup  Buttermilk
2 TB  Frank's Hot Sauce
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Dredging Flour Mixture
1-1/3 cups Flour
1 tsp  Seasoned Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp  Paprika
1-1/2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1-1/2 tsp  Onion Powder
1/2 to 1 tsp  Cayenne Pepper, adjust according to preference
2 TB  Buttermilk

Canola Oil for Frying

Whole Grain Sandwich Buns
Mayonnaise
Sliced Dill Pickles for Garnish

In a medium glass bowl combine the buttermilk, Frank's sauce and the salt and pepper.  Add the chicken fillets to the buttermilk, turning to evenly coat each piece.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours, if needed, turning the chicken occasionally.

In a medium bowl combine the flour and the rest of the dry seasonings and stir to combine.  Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of buttermilk into the seasoned flour, stirring lightly with a fork to create small clumps in the batter.

Use tongs to remove the fillets from the marinade, letting the excess liquid drip off.  Dredge each fillet in the flour mixture, pressing down and turning to coat each side, then place the chicken on a platter.  Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

In a large skillet, heat 1/2-inch of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Carefully add two or three pieces of chicken to the pan, without crowding them, and fry for 4 - 5 minutes or until crispy.  Turn the chicken over and cook the other side for about 4 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear, being careful not to overcook the chicken. Remove chicken from the pan and place on paper towels to drain.  Serve on sandwich buns with mayonnaise and dill pickle slices.  Enjoy!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Yum!  This was a delicious way to use some of the last green peppers from our garden.  Although you could use any type of macaroni and cheese to stuff these peppers, we knew we wanted to use something with a little spice to blend with the bright fresh flavor of the green peppers, so we chose our favorite, Chipotle Gouda Macaroni and Cheese.


The peppers are super easy to make and this is not so much a recipe as just a guideline for making the stuffed peppers.  These make a great side dish, especially for anything grilled, but they are filling enough to be the main part of a meatless meal, served with a small salad on the side.

This is a also great way to get your kids to enjoy green peppers.  (If it's stuffed with a little mac 'n cheese they might just try it!)   Ideally for this dish try to find large green peppers if you would like to serve just one half per person, but if you can only find the smaller peppers, like the ones from our garden, they will work great, too.  My husband was more than happy to take 2 halves, and I think he even grabbed a 3rd before he was finished..lol.

Large or Medium Green Peppers, cut in half, tops cut off and seeds removed
1 TB  Salt
Your Choice of Prepared Macaroni and Cheese, homemade or packaged will work here too
1/2 cup  Panko Crumbs
1/2 cup  Shredded Parmesan  or Romano Cheese

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add salt and then add the pepper halves to the water, pushing them down into the pot.

Reduce heat to medium-high and simmer the peppers until they are just flexible, but not overly soft, about 5 - 6 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the peppers from the pot and place them upside down on a paper towel lined platter to drain.  Allow to cool until easy enough to handle.

In a small bowl combine the panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese, stir and set aside.

Once the peppers are cool, spoon the prepared macaroni and cheese into the pepper halves, pressing lightly to completely fill the peppers.  Sprinkle with the panko and Parmesan mixture and place the peppers in a glass baking dish.

Place the dish of peppers under the broiler for 3 -4 minutes or until browned on top.  Serve immediately and Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chicken Yakitori Skewers

During these hot summer months my favorite dinners are anything prepared on the grill.  Quick, easy and light dinners and you don't have to heat up the house?  Those are things that make every Mom happy and this meal is something the kids will like, too.

This is a twist on the Japanese classic Chicken Yakatori, which when translated literally means "grilled" (yaki) and "fowl" (tori), which refers to marinated pieces of chicken that are skewered and grilled.  By brushing the skewers several times with a glaze of soy, mirin, sake and just a bit of sugar, you get a light but flavorful coating on the chicken and veggies, and the glaze helps keep the chicken moist and juicy.


We included mushrooms, green onions, and green peppers on our skewers but you could easily change this to use whatever ingredients you already have on hand.  Chunks of regular yellow onion, red or yellow peppers or even slices of summer squash would taste great with the soy and mirin glaze.

The skewers tasted delicious served with steamed brown rice and a package of steamed edamame, which cook quickly in microwave packs and are the perfect finger foods for kids. Enjoy!!

1-1/2 lbs  Boneless and Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2  Green Peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
8  Green Onions
16 oz  Mushrooms, any variety such as Portabello or White Button
4 TB  Mirin
4 TB  Soy Sauce
4 TB  Sake
1-1/2 tsp  Sugar
Bamboo Skewers - about 12

Thread the cubes of chicken onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers, alternating with pieces of green onion, green pepper and mushrooms.

In a small bowl combine the mirin, soy sauce, sake and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Heat a grill to medium-high heat and brush the skewers with the glaze.  Place the skewers on the grill and cook for 1 minute then turn and apply a second layer of the glaze.  Repeat this process until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear, about 6 - 8 minutes.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cowhorn Pepper Sriracha Sauce

My garden this year has been full of surprises.  The cucumber vines are still producing 1 or 2 new cukes a day, and I wasn't even sure if they would grow, the purple bell peppers were a total experiment and there are still a few more juicy peppers in process, and then there are these cowhorn peppers.

I had never heard of this type of pepper before finding them at Home Depot this spring.  I was ready to cook with lots of peppers this year so I thought I would give this variety a try.

The peppers grew nicely, with most of the fully ripened peppers coming in at about 7 inches long.  The tough part was waiting for them to ripen.  It took almost 3 months before the peppers turned a bright red, but it was worth the wait. As it turns out, this is a delicious pepper to include in any recipe that you might want a little heat.  The peppers are spicy and, although not as hot as a jalapeno, they have this bright flavor that just pops.  I will definitely be growing these peppers again next year.

Now on to the pepper sauce!

Sriracha sauce is a slightly spicy chili pepper sauce that has developed quite a following over recent years.  In the past it was used mainly for cooking Asian cuisine but now you can find bottles of Sriracha on restaurant tables and it is easily found in most grocery stores.  The sauce can be used plain as a dipping sauce, and adds a little zest to anything from burgers and soups to scrambled and deviled eggs.  (My favorite is to add a few spoonfuls of the sauce when cooking scrambled eggs, then add some spinach and a dash of cheese...yum!)


The pepper sauce is very easy to make and the peppers only require an overnight stay in a simple brine mixture before being pureed and the sauce is ready to serve.

Peppers and garlic in the brine mixture.

If you don't have cowhorn peppers this bring mixture will work fine with other types of peppers.  This recipe makes 2 small jars of pepper sauce so it will give you an idea of how you want the next batch to taste.  By adding more or less garlic, or choosing a different type of peppers you can create a pepper sauce that is just the right level of heat for your family.  Enjoy!!

5 or 6  Ripe Cowhorn Peppers, coarsely chopped
4 or 5  Garlic Cloves, whole and peeled
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 cup  White Vinegar
2 TB  Sugar

Place all of the ingredients, except the sugar, in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the peppers to sit at room temperature overnight.

Place the mixture, plus the sugar, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Puree the mixture with an immersion blender until the sauce is as smooth as you would like.  (A regular blender works fine for this step, too.)  You can completely puree the sauce or leave some small bits and pieces of the garlic and peppers.

Deviled Eggs - A few plain for the kids and a few Sriracha Eggs for the adults
Transfer the sauce to glass jars, cover and refrigerate.  The sauce will keep for at least 3 months in the  refrigerator, and probably longer, but we found so many delicious ways to use this sauce it didn't last very long.  Enjoy!!

             
On the left are the purple bell peppers and on the right are the cowhorn peppers.
   

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Calamari Po'Boy Sandwiches

Until a few years ago I had never tasted calamari.  Growing up in the Midwest, fresh seafood was pretty scarce, and the thought of eating "squid" would have made me cringe, so, I was a little nervous the first time I tried these little rings. Fortunately they had been prepared in a light tempura batter and quickly fried to ensure they were not overcooked, and they were delicious.  (That is the main secret to preparing calamari, don't overcook it or the rings will be rubber bands.)

Since calamari has become so common on restaurant menus, I was looking forward to cooking some at home.  When I spotted calamari on sale at our local fish market, that was just the incentive I needed to give it a try.

For our Calamari Po'Boy Sandwiches we used a double batter.  First the rings are coated in cornmeal, then dipped in an egg wash before being lightly coated in Italian seasoned breadcrumbs.  The result is a crispy coating that cooks fast and doesn't taste heavy.  We used a wok to fry the rings and it worked great to keep the oil at an even temperature, even when cooking multiple batches.


To add a little extra flavor to our Po'Boys we added a few goodies from our garden, a layer of fresh basil leaves and a spoonful of marinated cucumbers.  The cucumbers, with a nice cool sauce, added a delicious contrast to the calamari and all we needed to finish the sandwich was a drizzle of homemade sriracha sauce.

  

The calamari rings were so good my hubby even made his own snacks while he was waiting for dinner.  A piece of calamari, a slice of cucumber, a little basil leaf and a generous drop of sriracha, and he was a happy man.  Enjoy!!

Cucumber Salad

2 large  Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp  Salt
Pinch of Black Pepper
1 TB  Minced Chives
1 cup  Sour Cream
1-1/2 TB  Lemon Juice

In a medium glass bowl combine all ingredients, stirring to evenly coat the cucumbers.  Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Fried Calamari Rings

1 lb  Calamari Rings
1/4 cup  Yellow Cornmeal
2  Eggs, beaten
1 cup  Italian Breadcrumbs
Canola Oil for Frying
Whole Sandwich Buns or Hoagie Rolls
Fresh Basil Leaves, washed
Cucumber Salad
Sriracha Sauce, optional

In a large deep pot, or a wok works great if you have one, heat the oil until very hot and shimmering.

Coat the calamari rings in the cornmeal, shaking off any excess breading.  Then dip the rings in the eggs, then into the breadcrumb mixture.  Again, shake off excess breading and lay the rings on a baking sheet.

Carefully drop the rings into the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 1 - 2 minutes.  Remove the rings with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Place a layer of the basil leaves on the bottom bun, followed by a layer of cucumbers and finally several calamari rings.  A drizzle of sriracha sauce on top adds a little extra spice.  Enjoy!!

Friday, July 18, 2014

99 Fuzzy

We stumbled upon this drink purely by accident, or maybe it was good luck.  Either way this is a delicious cocktail, perfect for these hot summer nights.

When I went to the liquor store to buy some goodies to make our Caribbean Blue Iced Teas, my husband decided to shop with me.  (This should have been a warning to me because this man does not like to shop.)  So off we went.

I was looking for banana liqueur for another recipe I was working on and while I was hunting for the liqueurs, my husband had become the proverbial "kid in the candy store".  He seriously brought me bottle after bottle, and none of them were even close to banana liqueur, just things he thought we might "need".

He had become one of my children right before my eyes.  It was so funny, that I didn't even realize when he brought me this bottle labeled 99 Bananas, that it was not liqueur, but a type of schnapps. So off we went with our shiny bottles, including the 99 Bananas, only to find out the schnapps, in no way, would work in my recipe. Ugh. 


So after a second trip to the store to buy the real banana liqueur, I needed to find a way to use the 99 Bananas.  I loved the name and since it said 99 proof on the label, (hence the name, lol) I didn't think it would be very difficult to come up with a way to use it.  So after a quick search we discovered this recipe and I loved the taste.

This drink is smooth and delicious and not overly sweet like you would expect from a schnapps, but a great balance of orange, banana and just a touch of cranberry.  If you enjoy a Mimosa with your weekend brunch, this would make a most enjoyable replacement.

1 oz  99 Bananas Schnapps
1 oz  Triple Sec
4 oz  Orange Juice
Generous Splash of 100% Cranberry Juice

Fill a large glass with ice, add the Schnapps, Triple Sec and orange juice, then add a splash of cranberry juice.  Stir and taste, adding more cranberry juice, if desired.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blackened Amberjack Fillets

Although there are many ways to prepare fresh fish, I love to be able to season a thick fillet of fish with a generous coating of spices and toss it on a hot grill.  Quick, simple and delicious.  And when blackening fish, all of those spices absorb into the fish and all you need is a squeeze of lemon juice on top as a final touch.

Tonight we were excited to try a variety of fish called Amberjack.  This fish has been enjoyed in Florida for a long time, but this was our first chance to try it.

There seems to be a bit of a disagreement among Florida residents when it comes to Amberjack.  I've spoken with people who love it and would gladly trade their catch of red snapper for a string of Amberjack, while others do not care for the taste.  Since I love fish of all textures and levels of flavor, that divide made me even more excited to try this fish and I'm so glad we did.


The Amberjack fillets are thick and dense, somewhat similar to swordfish, so I knew it would hold up to the flavor of the blackening seasoning and it would grill nicely.  The fillet we bought was just over 2 pounds so we cut it in half before grilling, then cut the cooked fish into 6 portions.  (The seasoning  mix would also taste great on salmon or swordfish.)  By cooking the 2 larger pieces of fish, the center  stayed moist and juicy.

The Amberjack had a great flavor, not "fishy" or too strong, but not bland like many varieties of whitefish.  The best part of the seasoning mix we used would have to be the smoked paprika, which added a slightly sweet and smokey flavor to the mix and greatly enhanced the fish.  Smoked paprika is a bit more expensive that regular paprika, but it's worth every penny when you taste the final result.  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 tsp  Onion Powder
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
1 tsp  Dried Basil
1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
1/2 tsp  Sea Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 pounds  Amberjack Fillets (or try with your favorite fish)
Olive Oil
Lemon Wedges for Garnish

Combine all dry spices in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Rinse fish under cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Lightly coat the fish with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with the seasoning mix and let rest for 10 minutes before grilling.

Grill time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish, but we grilled these fillets about 10 - 12 minutes total, over medium-high heat, turning once halfway through cooking.  To check for doneness, cut into the thickest part of the fillet and cook to your liking, or use a fork to gently flake the edges of the fish.

Serve with Chipotle Gouda Macaroni and Cheese and lemon wedges to squeeze over the fish.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dark Chocolate and Cocoa-Rum Cheesecake

Dark chocolate and rum are incredible flavors on their own, but when the two are infused together, you know something magical is about to happen.  That was my first thought when we came across this Exotic Cocoa Dark Chocolate Rum while on vacation in Roatan.

This little island off the coast of Honduras is home to the Roatan Rum Company, makers of several varieties of insanely good infused rum.  Upon entering the shop, you could smell the beautiful aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, and spices.  And then things got really interesting.  We were offered samples of their Roatan Rum Cakes, which are pound cakes infused with Spiced Rum, Banana Rum and 151 Rum, which were all delicious.  To make this visit even better, they offered samples of their infused rums.


After sampling several varieties, and enjoying every single sip, we had a tough decision to make.  We were only allowed to take 2 bottles back aboard the ship, so we chose the The Spiced Rum and the Cocoa Rum.  I could not wait to get home and start making some delicious new recipes with these rums.

My first thought for the Cocoa Rum was truffles, and then I started thinking about a chocolate cheesecake.  So after combining a couple of recipes, we came up with this version.  A crust of graham  crackers and cashews, and the cheesecake a swirled mixture of half chocolate and half vanilla filling.


This is definitely an adult version of cheesecake with a less sweet and more flavorful taste, but the kids liked it just as much as we did.  The creamy texture had just enough rum flavor and the cashews in the crust brought out that island flavor.


If you ever get a chance to visit Roatan, this is one stop that you won't want to miss.  Above are the rums we brought home and we can't wait to make more delicious recipes with these.

  

This is the retail shop for the Roatan Rum Company, and the spectacular view from their door. I think a second visit to this beautiful island is in our future..lol.  Enjoy!!

To Make the Crust
1-1/2 cups  Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 cup  Ground Cashews
5 TB  Unsalted Butter, melted

To Make the Cheesecake Filling
6 oz  Dark Chocolate Chips
1/4 cup  Cocoa Rum (or your favorite rum)
1 lb  Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup  Sugar
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
1 TB  Vanilla Extract
4  Large Eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place the rack in the center of the oven.  Butter an 8-1/2 inch springform pan, making sure to butter the sides.  Cover the outside of the pan with heavy duty foil, shiny side out and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, cashews and butter, stirring with a fork to moisten the crumbs.  Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the springform pan and about half way up on the sides.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the chocolate chips and rum and stir until the chips are melted, about 2 - 3 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Using a stand mixer or a large metal bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.  Slowly add the sugar and continue to blend, then add the sour cream and vanilla and blend until smooth.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Heat a medium saucepan of water to a low simmer.  Place the mixer bowl over the simmering water and allow the steam to slowly warm the cream cheese batter, stirring constantly, until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes.

Dip 1-1/2 cups of the cream cheese batter into another bowl and set aside.  Add the chocolate mixture to the remaining batter and whisk until blended.  Set the bowl back over the simmering water and stir until smooth.

Pour the chocolate batter into the springform pan, smoothing to the edges.  Next pour the plain batter over the chocolate, swirling the plain batter into the center of the chocolate.

Bake the cheesecake for 45 to 50 minutes or until set around the edges and the center is still slightly loose.  (The center might seem a bit under set, but it will firm as the cheesecake cools.)  Cool the cheesecake to room temperature, remove the outer ring from the pan and refrigerate overnight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Caribbean Blue Iced Tea

One of the best things about going on vacation is getting to try a few new cocktails.  Especially those that are served with a juicy piece of pineapple on the rim and a cute little umbrella to add a festive touch.

While on our cruise, we discovered a little pub serving these Caribbean Blue Iced Teas, and they were just as tasty as they were beautiful.  With coconut flavor from the rum and citrus from the blue curacao, the final touch was pineapple juice and a splash of Sprite.  Be warned, the vodka and gin do add a sneaky punch to this innocent looking drink and my warning is... limit 2! lol


Since we forgot to ask the bartender for the exact recipe, we did a little experimenting with the measurements and our first attempt was perfect!  If you happen to have a fancy cocktail shaker feel free to use that, but a measuring cup worked just fine for us.  Now let's make some Blue Iced Tea!

Fill 2 large glasses with ice and set aside.

In a large measuring cup, combine the following, except the Sprite:

1 cup  Ice Cubes
1 oz  Blue Curacao
1 oz  Bombay Gin (or your favorite quality Gin)
1 oz  Malibu Coconut Rum
1 oz  Skyy Vodka
5 oz  Pineapple Juice, chilled
Sprite, chilled

Mix well and pour into the 2 glasses.  Top each with a splash of Sprite and serve, with or without pineapple slices or cute umbrellas.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Rosemary

Since I've always loved lemon and rosemary together, this dish was an immediate favorite for me and it came together as a bit of an experiment.  I love to cook with chicken thighs because they have so much more flavor than chicken breasts, and they are also much less expensive.  For a quick weeknight meal, tossing a few ingredients together became a very delicious meal.


With a package of chicken thighs, a bit of leftover white wine, some fresh rosemary from the garden and one lemon, this dish was ready to serve in about 45 minutes.

The trick to this dish is to get a really nice seared exterior on the chicken before you turn it over.  (Of course, I had one chicken thighs that lost its skin, so he was the lonely skinless thigh in the middle of the pan..lol)  Once that skin is seared, all of the juices are locked in, the skin gets nice and crispy, and you're ready to build the flavors around the chicken.

8 - 10  Bone-In and Skin-On Chicken Thighs
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Olive Oil
1/2 cup  White Wine, divided
Several Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
1  Large Lemon, cut in half, one half sliced the other half for juicing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Lightly season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, then place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes, without turning.

Reduce heat to medium.  Using a spatula, carefully loosen the chicken without turning and continue to cook until the skin is golden, about 10 minutes.  Pour 1/4 cup white wine over the chicken along with the juice from 1/2 of the lemon, and tuck 2 or 3 springs of rosemary under the chicken.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, pour the remaining 1/4 cup of wine over chicken and cook about 5 minutes longer until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink.  (If you are using larger chicken thighs you might need an extra 5 - 10 minutes of cooking time.)

Remove the chicken from the oven and remove the rosemary sprigs and discard.  Scatter the lemon slices on top of the chicken, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.  Serve with steamed brown rice and roasted asparagus.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Back to Blogging and a Garden Update

After a crazy couple of months, I am so glad to finally get back to working on the web site.  After working from home for 6 years, in March I went back to working in the real world.  Although I'm super excited to be back at work, it has been a bit of an adjustment.

Although only part time hours, I quickly realized that I would have to reschedule the whole family.  From dropping the kids off at school, to arranging their after school activities, to simply finding time to grocery shop, it has been incredibly busy.  But even with all of the changes, we did have time to make some tasty new recipes and those will be popping up here in the next few days, so stay tuned!

To make things even more crazy, the day after school was out we went on our first cruise to the Caribbean.  Like I said, crazy busy.

The Caribbean is a beautiful place and we were able to visit Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, Belize and Mahogony Bay, Roatan, which is a small island off the coast of Honduras.  Of the sites we visited, Roatan was by far my favorite and I'm hoping we can make a return trip in the future.  Here are a few pictures from the trip.

              

Roatan Rum Company - Cocoa Infused Rum and Spiced Rum found there way into my suitcase! Delicious!
        
   

On our return trip, I was a little worried about the garden I had left behind.  Although daily afternoon rain showers in Florida are pretty common, I was hoping all of our springtime plantings had enough water to keep them happy.  We were very pleasantly surprised.


I was excited to find yellow, orange, and juicy grape tomatoes all waiting to be picked along with green and purple peppers.  We even had a few early blueberries that were ripe and ready to eat. Yummy!


To begin enjoying this summer harvest we decided to start with something quick and simple, but delicious. Sliced yellow tomatoes layered with fresh basil leaves and slices of mozzarella cheese with a little salt and cracked pepper, topped off with a drizzle of good quality balsamic vinegar was the perfect side dish for our grilled burgers.  Ahh..let the summer begin!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

San Francisco-Style Cioppino

Cioppino, also know as Italian Fish Stew, is by far my favorite dish.  A combination of fish, shellfish and vegetables in a rich broth of tomato and Merlot wine, the taste is simply remarkable.  

San Francisco's Italian immigrants are credited with creating this delicious stew and there are many variations.  Some versions of this recipe use white wine in place of the Merlot, and there are some changes in the amounts of peppers, onion, garlic or tomatoes that are used.  But what is consistent for this recipe is the need for fresh, high-quality seafood.  So for your best results, try to get the freshest ingredients possible.


For our version of this dish we used large chunks of cod, but you could also substitute halibut or another firm-fleshed fish.  Next we included a generous amount of fresh clams and mussels, along with a few dozen large shrimp with the shells on.  The shrimp are butterflied down the back and deveined, but the shells is left on so they can add lots of flavor to the stew.  Lastly, the beautiful king crab legs and cleaned, cracked and quartered before being added to the pot.

This recipe is made in two steps.  First a pepper sauce base is slowly simmered to create a wonderful  base with lots of oregano and garlic, then the second step you will add the seafood which will cook pretty quickly.  This dish might seem a bit intimidating but it is actually quite fun to prepare.  Having all of your ingredients prepped and ready to cook makes the recipe very easy.

Cioppino is a hearty and delicious meal and is wonderful to serve for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  If you are tired of serving the traditional turkey or ham, your guests will love the change.  Be sure to serve with lots of crusty French Bread, a few bottles of good red wine and lots of napkins. Enjoy!!

3 TB Olive Oil
1 large  Red Bell Pepper, seeded and diced
1 large  Green Bell Pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup  Sliced Onion
3 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Fresh Basil, chopped
1-1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
32 oz can Diced Tomatoes
1  8 oz Bottle Clam Juice
1 cup  Italian Merlot Wine
2 cups  Chicken Stock  or  Water
12 Little Neck Clams
4 Alaskan King Crab Legs, cleaned, cracked and quartered
12 - 18 Fresh Mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1 1/2 pounds Large Shrimp, in the shell - butterflied down the back and deveined..leave the shells on
1 pound Sea Scallops, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
1 pound Firm-Fleshed Fish such as Halibut or Cod

First make the Pepper Sauce base:

Heat the olive oil in a large stew pot over medium heat. Add the peppers, onions, garlic, salt and pepper and saute until tender, about 6 minutes.  Add the basil, oregano, tomatoes, clam juice, wine and broth or water, and bring the mixture just to a simmer.  Adjust the heat to medium-low and simmer with the lid slightly ajar, for 30 - 40 minutes.

Finish the Cioppino:

The steps of adding the seafood goes very quickly so have all of your seafood ready to go.

With the pepper sauce at a simmer, increase the heat to medium-high, then add the clams, and cook covered over medium-high heat for 4  minutes or just until the clams begin to open. Add the crab legs, replace the cover and cook 2 minutes. Next, add the mussels, shrimp, scallops and fish, and gently push the seafood into the broth. Give the pot a little shake to settle the seafood into the broth, cover the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.  Check  to see if  until the mussels are open, the shrimp are pink and the scallops are just firm.  You might need to add about 3 minutes or so depending on the seafood you are using, but once the shrimp are pink and the fish is opaque you are ready to serve.

Ladle the Cioppino into large heated bowls, making sure to include a generous ladle of broth with each serving of seafood.  Serve with lots of crusty French bread and a bottle of Chianti or a rich Merlot.  You will also want a few large empty bowls around the table for your guests to discard their shells. Makes about 6 generous servings.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chicken & Linguine with Spinach-Parmesan Sauce

Getting a healthy dinner on the table in a hurry is always a challenge, and some nights it's nearly impossible.  But this meal is sure to please everyone in your family and you can have it cooked and ready to serve in less than 30 minutes.

For this recipe we started with boneless and skinless chicken breasts that are thinly sliced, which will allow them to cook very quickly.  Next we made a creamy sauce of spinach and Parmesan cheese that reminds me of a rich, old-fashioned creamed spinach.  And for some extra color and nutrients, we added strips of sweet red bell pepper.  A dash of lemon juice adds just a touch of citrus to bring all of those flavors together.


For this dish we used whole wheat linguine and my kids said they actually like it better than the regular pasta.  With lots of fiber and protein, this is delicious pasta.

3/4 cup  Flour
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Dried Basil
1 tsp  Dried Oregano
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
3  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (about 1-3/4 lbs)
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
3 TB  Olive Oil, divided
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1  Medium Red Bell Pepper, sliced into strips
8 oz  Frozen Chopped Spinach, defrosted and drained (or use fresh, cleaned spinach)
3 TB  Flour
1/2 cup  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream  or  Half and Half
1  cup  Milk  (we used 1%)
1/2  cup  Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
1  13.25 oz Box  Linguine (or pasta of your choice)
Extra Grated Parmesan Cheese for Garnish

Slice each of the 3 chicken breasts horizontally, so you have 6 thin fillets.  By cutting the chicken this way the meat will cook very quickly and allow the meat to be nice and juicy inside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  In a shallow dish combine the flour, salt, pepper, basil, oregano and garlic powder.  Stir mixture to combine. 

Heat a large pot of water and cook the linguine according to package directions until al dente, about 8-9 minutes.  While the water is heating you can get the chicken started.

In a large skillet, heat 2 TB of olive oil until hot, over medium-high heat.  Coat each of the chicken fillets in the flour mixture, place the chicken in the pan and cook about 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.  When chicken is nearly finished cooking, drizzle with the juice of 1/2 of a lemon, and let sizzle for 1 minute.  Remove the cooked chicken to a baking dish, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven until the pasta and sauce are ready.

Using the same skillet the chicken was cooked in, heat 1 TB olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper to the pan and saute for about 4 minutes until veggies are softened, then add the spinach to the pan and saute for 2 minutes longer.  Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and stir to evenly coat.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken broth, stirring constantly until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes, then add the cream (or half and half), milk and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese to the pan and stir.  Reduce heat to medium-low until ready to serve.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and place a portion of pasta on each plate, top with a spoon of sauce, then top with a sliced chicken fillet and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tuscan Peperoncini Chicken with Mushrooms

Peperoncini peppers are a great addition to sandwiches, salads or even pizza, and they are a must for any antipasto platter.  The peppers are not overly hot or spicy, but have a mild flavor and a slight crunch. With those things in mind, I've always wanted to incorporate them into a main entree, and the results were excellent.

We wanted to keep the meal light so we started with boneless and skinless chicken breasts.  By slicing the chicken in half horizontally you get 6 equal portions that will cook quickly, in just a few teaspoons of olive oil.

Next we added lots of veggies.  Onions, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic were cooked until tender, then seasoned with a generous amount of Italian spices, which gives the sauce its rustic flavor.  Next, the peperoncini peppers are added with a little white wine for acidity.   The sauce is completed with a mixture of cornstarch and chicken broth which thickens the sauce just a touch, without making the sauce too thick.  The combination of thyme, oregano and the peppers add a remarkable amount of flavor to this dish while keeping the whole meal light.


We used 8 whole peperoncini peppers for this recipe but add more or less to suit your own taste.  You could also use red or yellow peppers if you have those on hand.  The chicken and veggies were served with a spoonful of sauce over vermicelli noodles, but any type of pasta would work.  Requiring just 30 minutes to prepare, this makes a quick weeknight meal that your family will love.   As a bonus, if you have any leftovers they make a great cold lunch.  Just cut leftover chicken into bite sized pieces, add a serving of pasta and a few spoonfuls of sauce and lunch is ready.   Enjoy!!

3 large  Boneless and Skinless Chicken Breasts (about 1-1/2 lbs)
2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 large  Yellow Onion, sliced
1 large  Green Pepper, sliced
8 oz  Portobello Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 TB  Minced Garlic
8 (or more)  Peperoncini Peppers, coarsely chopped
2 tsp  Dried Oregano, crushed
1 tsp  Dried Thyme, crushed
1 tsp  Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3/4 cup  White Wine
2 TB  Cornstarch
2 cups  Chicken Broth
Cooked Pasta of Your Choice

Lay the chicken on a cutting board and slice each piece horizontally so you have 6 equal portion of chicken.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add the chicken to the skillet and brown for 3 or 4 minutes on each side until the meat is just cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet saute the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the peperoncini peppers, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan and stir.  Add the white wine to the pan and bring the mixture to a low boil.

In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and chicken broth stirring until smooth.  Add the mixture to the skillet and cook until the sauce thickens slightly and comes to a low boil.  Add the chicken and any accumulated juices back to the skillet and heat 5 minutes or until warm.

Serve over vermicelli or angel hair pasta with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes if you like a bit of extra heat.  Enjoy!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fish-Potato Fritters with Garlic Aioli

Whether sweet or savory, I don't think anything could be more of a comfort food than a fritter.  A basic fritter is a small, deep-fried cake made by combining chopped foods, such as corn, crab, or shrimp with a thick batter.  For this recipe we used swai fish fillets as the main ingredient and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes as a base for the batter.  With a little seasoning we had the perfect flavor for our fritters.  You can also experiment with the seasonings in this recipe and add more spice to your liking.  (A dash of cayenne pepper, some chopped jalapeno peppers or a dash of Tabasco will add a nice bit of heat to the batter.)

The fritters are very easy to make.  After poaching the fillets in milk and preparing the mashed potatoes, the two are combined and seasoned, then chilled until you are ready to make the fritters. Then it's just a few minutes to fry them until golden brown.

The fritters would make a nice side dish in place of traditional potatoes but we served them as a main dish with a batch of  7 Day Slaw, a simple tarter sauce and an amazingly wicked Garlic Aioli for dipping.  If you are a garlic lover, the aioli makes these fritters even better.  The  fritters are very kid-friendly, so if you're trying to get your kids to eat more fish, this is a great recipe to try.  Enjoy!!

5 medium  Fish Fillets, (swai, catfish, or any flaky whitefish will work)
1/2 cup  Milk
1/4 tsp  Lemon-Dill Seasoning
5 medium  Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered
2  Eggs
1 tsp  Dried Onion
1 tsp  Fresh Minced Chives (optional)
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 to 4 TB  Flour
Oil for Frying

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium pot, cover potatoes with water, add 2 teaspoons of salt and boil for 10 - 15 minutes or until tender.  Drain the cooked potatoes, making sure you get all of the water drained off.  Mash the potatoes in the pan and set aside.

Place the fish in a glass baking pan, cover with the milk and sprinkle with the lemon-dill seasoning.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork.

Drain the fillets thoroughly and flake the fish apart with a fork, placing the fish in a medium bowl.  Add the mashed potatoes, eggs, dried onion, chives, salt and pepper to the mixture and stir to combine.  Add 3 tablespoon of flour to the mixture and stir.  The mixture should be a fairly thick consistency, so if you need more flour add the extra tablespoon.

At this point you can either chill the entire bowl of fish-potato mixture for 20 minutes and then make the fritters while you are cooking them, or you can pre-shape the fritters, making heaping tablespoon sized fritters, then placing them on a baking sheet and chilling the whole batch until ready to make the fritters.  (I've tried both ways and they work equally well.)

When you are ready to make the fritters, place a large heavy pot over medium-high heat and pour enough oil into the pot so the oil is about 2-1/2 inches deep.  When the oil is hot, around 360 degrees, fry the fritters a few at a time until golden brown and crispy, about 6 - 7 minutes.  Drain the fritters on paper towels, then serve with tarter sauce and Garlic Aioli.

Garlic Aioli

2 - 3  Garlic Cloves, peeled and chopped
1  Egg
1 TB  Lemon Juice
1 tsp  Fresh Parsley or Chives, chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp  Salt
Pinch of Black Pepper
1/2 cup  Olive Oil

Combine garlic, egg, lemon juice, parsley or chives (if using), salt and pepper in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Continue to puree the mixture and slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a mayonnaise-thick sauce.  Serve as a dipping sauce with the fritters or makes a great dip for veggies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream with Walnut Brittle

We've had some fun using our electric ice cream maker in the past making Vanilla Ice Cream with Oreos and even Guinness Ice Cream, which were both delicious.  But today we went with a very adult dessert in the form of Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream with a piece of old fashioned Walnut Brittle on top to give the dessert a little crunch.  This creation could be served to your most sophisticated guests but would be also be great served after a more casual grilled steak dinner.

The ice cream itself is rich and creamy and has that distinctive bourbon flavor, but also the rustic taste of maple syrup. Be sure to use pure maple syrup for this recipe and not pancake syrup, which is loaded with flavorings and sugar.  You need that pure maple flavor to really enhance the bourbon.


We wanted something small and crunchy to top off this ice cream but we didn't want to use a cookie, so I went in search of something a bit different.  Then I thought how cool a piece of crunchy peanut brittle would be on top, and maybe instead of peanuts I could use walnuts. Hmm.  Now I was on to something.

Making brittle from scratch was something I'd never tried, mainly because I've always had this slight fear of candy thermometers.  So I decided to give brittle a try and I'm so glad I did.  The brittle came out of the pan as this boiling, gooey, shiny lava, and after a few minutes it turned into crispy and crunchy brittle that looked like it came from a candy store.  So awesome.

The ice cream and brittle can be made a day or two early so this is a great dessert to serve guests since all of the work can be done before your company arrives. Serving small dishes of this ice cream,  each with a wedge of brittle and a few extra crumbles around the edges, this recipe will make about 10 - 12 servings.  Enjoy!!

Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream

1-1/2 cups  Whole Milk
2 cups  Heavy Cream
1/4 cup  Sugar
1/8 tsp  Salt
7  Egg Yolks
1 cup  Pure Maple Syrup
4 TB  Bourbon

In a medium saucepan combine the whole milk, cream, sugar and salt and warm the mixture over medium heat.

In a medium glass bowl, whisk the egg yolks and set aside.

When the milk mixture is hot, but not boiling, slowly pour one cup of the mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly while adding the milk mixture.  (This will temper the yolks and slowly warm the temperature without the yolks ending up as scrambled eggs.)  Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the milk and cook over medium-low heat while stirring constantly.  Do not boil the mixture, but cook until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for 30 - 45 minutes or until no longer hot to the touch.  (You can also pour the mixture into a bowl to allow it to cool faster.)  When the mixture is cool add the maple syrup and bourbon and stir, then allow to cool completely.

Pour the cooled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers instructions. (This took about 25 minutes for our machine.)  Transfer ice cream to a freezer-safe container and freeze overnight.  Serve with Walnut Brittle crumbles on top.


Walnut Brittle

2 cups  Walnut Halves, broken into big and small pieces
2 cups  Sugar
1/2 cup  Water
1/2 cup  Light Corn Syrup
1/4 cup  Salted Butter, cut into slices
1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Vanilla

Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in a large heavy saucepan.  Attach candy thermometer to side of saucepan and place pan over high heat.  Stir until sugar dissolves, then heat uncovered until the mixture reaches 310 degrees on the thermometer.  (Try not to stir the mixture very often as this will reduce the temperature.  Just stir a few times across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to keep the mixture from scorching.)

One the mixture reaches 310 degrees, remove the pan from the heat, add butter, walnuts, soda and vanilla, and mix just enough to blend.  Allow the bubbles to subside, then pour the mixture out onto a buttered baking sheet, spreading the mixture into a thin layer using a buttered spatula.  Place the baking sheet in a cool location on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Once cool, the brittle will loosen easily from the baking sheet and can be cracked into smaller pieces for serving.

Note:  This same recipe can be used to make Peanut Brittle or Almond Brittle, using 2 cups of blanched peanuts or almonds in place of the walnuts.  Enjoy!!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Homemade Egg Muffin and a Special Giveaway!

I'm not usually someone who falls for gimmicky items, especially kitchen gadgets. But when I discovered this little Hamilton Beach Sandwich Maker, it was a no brainer.  I was buying one for my husband..lol.  (And it's definitely not a gimmick.)


Yes, he thought that little box under the Christmas tree was some kind of computer part (which he would have loved!), but no. Instead, I bought something really useful. Something he could use every day to make his own breakfast while I tried to get the kids out the door to school.  This was a huge help to me because our mornings are nothing short of chaotic, and now he could easily fix his own Egg McMuffin right here at home.  But to my surprise, the whole family ended up using this little sandwich maker almost daily to make our morning muffin just the way we liked it.  And it's even easy enough for teens to use.

I don't like to post a zillion pictures with my posts but I'm including a few extras here so you can see the pure genius in this sandwich maker.  The possibilities for your morning muffin are endless and you can make each sandwich as decadent or as healthy as you like.  English muffins work best and there are whole wheat or even cinnamon varieties on the market. Bagel thins will also work but you will need to cut them down slightly so they fit inside the cooker.

Here's how it works:  Lay out the ingredients you will be using such as an English muffin, a slice of Canadian bacon, slice of cheese and an egg. You can actually crack the egg right into the cooker or you can scramble the egg and add some seasonings before pouring it in to cook.  A little chopped green onion or chives can be added to the eggs at this point.  If you prefer, you can use just egg whites or an egg substitute.


Step 1 - Place the bottom portion of the muffin into the base of the cooker.

   
   
Step 2 - Add your choice of cheese slices such as American, provolone or Swiss.  You can even add some green pepper or baby spinach to this layer.

Step 3 - Add your choice of precooked meat.  We've tried ham, turkey, pepperoni and salami all with great results.
   

Step 4 - Lower the center griddle portion of the cooker (this is the layer that cooks the egg).  Pour the scrambled eggs into the unit or just crack an egg into the center. Either way works great.

   

This is the coolest part.  As you can see in the picture, after 5 minutes the egg is cooked and the center griddle slides out to the left and lowers the upper portion of the sandwich down onto the lower portion and your sandwich is ready.  Genius!  Just a note of caution, the sandwich and especially the cheese will be very hot so you might want to wait just a minute or two to let it cool.

Cleanup for this cooker is also a breeze and literally takes just seconds to wipe clean with a paper towel.

I reached out to the good people at Hamilton Beach and told them how thrilled we were with this great sandwich maker.  Not only is it a great time saver for busy mornings, it enables you to make a healthy egg sandwich for your kids before they run out the door to school.  And here's the best part, that last picture above is the Hamilton Beach Sandwich Maker we are giving away today.

** GIVEAWAY **

There are 2 ways to enter the drawing with a limit of 1 entry per person.  You can leave a comment at the bottom of this post or leave a note on my Facebook page telling me what combination of ingredients you would like to use in your Perfect Breakfast Sandwich.  That's it!  The winner will be chosen at random at Noon EST, Friday, March 7, 2014.  The winner will have 48 hours to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen.  Good Luck!!

**The winner of the Sandwich Maker is ... Traci via Facebook!!  Congratulations to our winner and thank you to all who entered.  All of the sandwich ideas sounded delicious.


"Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one Hamilton Beach Sandwich Maker mentioned above without compensation to showcase in my blog.  I only recommend products or services that I believe will be good for my readers.  All opinions are always my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, February 24, 2014

English Muffin Bread

This is an old recipe that I found in my Grandmother's cookbook and I've wanted to try it for a long time.  And what better time to make some homemade bread than on a dark and rainy weekend.  With such a short list of ingredients this is also a great baking project for kids.  They will love the smell of fresh baked bread!


This bread gives you a nice crunchy exterior, just like an English muffin, with a light, moist interior, which makes it an ideal bread for jam or marmalade.  I tried this with my favorite blackberry jam and it was heavenly.  The only thing it needed was a cup of tea to go with it.


This recipe was really easy to make and the prep time only took about 5 minutes.  After that the bread needs to rest for an hour or so, then 25 minutes in the oven and you have 2 loaves of warm bread ready to serve.  The bread has a solid texture that is also great toasted.

1 cup  1% Milk
1 cup  Half and Half
1/2 cup  Water
5-3/4 cups  Flour, divided
2  .25 oz pkgs  Active Dry Yeast
1 TB  Sugar
1 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
Cornmeal

Grease 2 - 9 X 5 inch loaf pans with butter then dust lightly with the cornmeal; set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk, half and half and water over medium heat until very warm but not boiling.

Combine 3 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.  (A stand mixer with a dough hook works great.)

Add the warm milk and water to the flour mixture and beat well.  Stir in the remaining flour to make a stiff batter. (If the batter is too sticky, add one or two tablespoons of flour, as needed.)  Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, sprinkle the tops of the batter lightly with cornmeal, cover with plastic wrap, place a light towel over the top and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the bread for 25 minutes, then remove loaves from the pans and cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container.  Bread freezes well for up to 60 days.  Enjoy!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate Cookies with Peppermint Chips

I have a bit of an obsession with homemade cookies.  I love finding new ways to make cookies that are a little bit different and not just an ordinary cookie.  Granted, our Jumbo Oatmeal Cookies are pretty outstanding for a basic cookie, but sometimes I like to make WOW cookies. And what could be better than chocolate with peppermint?

Yes, it's easier to just grab a package of store bought cookie and your kids will certainly eat them, but cookies made from scratch are just so much better.  And if you bake from scratch, you know your kids aren't eating a bunch of preservatives.  What kind of weird chemicals do companies put into a cookie so it can sit on the store shelf for 6 months or a year without spoiling? I think I'll pass, thank you.


So for this week's cookie surprise, we made a rich Chocolate Cookie with Peppermint Chips.  I found a package of these tiny peppermint baking chips at Target and they worked so well in this recipe, that I went back to the store to buy a few more.  If you are lucky enough to find a few packages of Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips at your local market, scoop them up without hesitation!  These little chips have so many uses and I can't wait to experiment with them in a few more recipes.  They have a slight creamy texture with this bright peppermint flavor.  Here is a picture of the package so you can be on the lookout for the chips.  I'm not sure if these are just a seasonal item or not but I'm hoping these will be available year round.


The chocolate cookie recipe I used is the base recipe for our Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling.  We added the 5 ounces of peppermint chips to the dough (using half of the bag was plenty so you'll have enough for 2 batches) along with the milk chocolate chips.  The classic chocolate and peppermint flavor was so good and not overly sweet, and goes great with a cup of coffee or cocoa.  This is a great tasting homemade cookie that would be something unique to take to your next potluck or school function, and I hope you get a chance to try them.  Enjoy!!

1 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Salt
4 oz  Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1 stick (4 oz)  Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 cups  Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
2  Large Eggs, beaten
4 oz  Milk Chocolate Chips
5 oz  Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips

Preheat oven to 325.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or baking sheet liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate and the butter over low heat, stirring frequently.  Scrape the melted chocolate into a bowl to cool.  Stir in the sugar and vanilla and blend.  Stir in the eggs, followed by the flour mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough, then fold in the milk chocolate chips and peppermint chips.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the cookies slightly and bake for 13 - 14 minutes or until the cookies are firm outside and just a bit soft in the center.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chipotle Gouda Mac and Cheese

Is it ever going to be Spring?  Although it's warmed up a little here in Florida, this has been one chilly Winter, and I'm ready for it to be over.

Since it still feels bit like Winter we wanted a little comfort food for dinner tonight.  We started with a couple of grilled New York Strip steaks, and mac and cheese sounded like just the right thing to compliment the steaks.  But what kind of mac and cheese?  Something with lots of flavor and maybe a little kick of heat to go along with the steaks sounded great.


A while back we made a Penne Pasta with Gouda and Prosciutto that was delicious, but tonight we wanted something a bit different.  So, when I found this Chipotle Gouda Cheese from Boar's Head, I knew this was going to be good.

Gouda is very easy to shred on a grater and it melts almost instantly.  Combining the Gouda with a little montery jack was the perfect amount of spice and flavor I was looking for, and adding the poblano gave the pasta a little extra boost of flavor without a lot of heat.  This was perfect because the Chipotle Gouda has a nice amount of heat on its own and I wanted that chipotle to come across in the sauce.  A sprinkle of panko and Parmesan on top adds just a little crunch to the creamy sauce and a couple of minutes under the broiler will brown the top to perfection.

  

This recipe is super easy and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.  If you want to make a really special pasta dish, skip the box of mac and cheese with the packet of orange powder and make this instead.  You will never want the packaged stuff again!  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Salted Butter
1  Poblano Pepper, seeds removed, diced
2 cups  Half and Half
12 oz  Shell Pasta, or other shape
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp White Pepper
8 oz  Chipotle Gouda Cheese, shredded
4 oz  Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
3 TB   Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 TB  Panko Bread Crumbs

Place 1 quart of water in a large pot and bring to a low boil.

In a large deep ovenproof skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the diced peppers and saute for 4 minutes until tender.

Dip 2-1/2 cups of water from the pot and pour into the skillet, along with the half and half, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Add the pasta and boil for 10 minutes if using the shell pasta (maybe a few minutes less for smaller pasta) or until the pasta is just al dente.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add both shredded cheeses to the skillet and stir to combine.  If the mixture is a little too thick, add about 1/4 cup of hot water to the pasta and stir.

In a small bowl combine the Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs and sprinkle the mixture over the pasta.  Place the skillet under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes or until the top is golden and serve immediately.   Makes 6 - 8 servings.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Whiskey-Cider Pork Chops

Whiskey.  Hard cider.  Thick juicy pork chops.  Do I have your attention?  lol  Nothing tastes better than a perfectly cooked pork chop but with this recipe, your taste buds are in for a treat.  With a little bourbon and some hard cider left over from the holidays we decided to combine the two and, in the process, discovered they make a pretty great sauce.

These juicy pork chops develop their first layer of flavor while they rest in a marinade of whiskey, hard apple cider, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard.  After a few hours, the chops are ready to be browned until the edges are nicely seared.  Then it's time for the next layer of flavor, the glaze.  By simmering the marinade, the whiskey and cider reduce and combine with the brown sugar to create this beautiful shiny glaze for the chops.


When cooking thick pork chops like these you want to make sure that the chops are cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  Cooking to this temperature still allows you to have a slightly pink center in the chops, and it also helps retain all of those delicious pork juices.

   
This meal was delicious served with simple roasted red potatoes, and a little sauce on the potatoes was quite tasty, too.  Prep time for this recipe is pretty quick.  Once the chops have been in the marinade for a few hours, the actual cooking time is only about 25 minutes.  Enjoy!!

1/2 cup  Jim Beam Bourbon
1/2 cup  Angry Orchard Traditional Hard Cider
2 TB  Brown Sugar, packed
2 tsp  Cider Vinegar
1 TB  Dijon Mustard
1/2 tsp  Vanilla Extract
5 or 6  Center Cut Pork Chops, about 1-inch thick
2 tsp  Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Unsalted Butter

In a small bowl combine the whiskey, cider, sugar, vinegar, mustard and vanilla and stir until blended.  Pour 1/4 cup of the marinade into a large ziplock bag, add the chops, and seal the bag, pressing out any excess air.  Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, turning several times.  Reserve remaining marinade.

Remove the chops from the bag and drain on paper towels, then discard the marinade from the bag.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Season the chops with salt and pepper, place in the skillet and cook until seared on both sides but still slightly pink in the center.  Transfer the chops to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet and bring the mixture to a boil.  Cook until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and pour any accumulated juices from the plate back into the skillet.  Whisk in the butter and simmer until the butter is melted and the glaze is thick and shiny.

Remove the pan from the heat and return the chops to the skillet.  Cover the pan and let the chops rest for 5 minutes.  Transfer the chops to plates, slice and serve with a spoonful of sauce over the chops.