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

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.