Sunday, May 22, 2011

The One Good Thing About Summer

Those of you who know me know that I hate summer. I hate the heat, the humidity, the high electric bills, the bugs and the road construction. Did I mention the horrible, horrible heat? The only thing I do like about the warmer weather is the fresh produce that becomes available. I will go get a bunch of fresh vegetables and roast a huge batch so we have them on hand for meals. For this batch, I used yellow squash, butternut squash, red onion, garlic and zucchini. In the past, I've added eggplant, asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes or yams. This is the type of recipe where you can use whatever you want.

The steps are simple. First, preheat your oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil. Chop up your choice of veggies and spread them in a layer on the baking sheet.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Now, use your hands to mix the batch and coat all the veggie slices. Spread the batch flat on the baking sheet again and bake for about 45 minutes.

Chipotle Pasta

A couple months ago, I ran across a great recipe for chipotle chicken pasta. I decided to incorporate the sauce into another recipe. This dish was originally planned with scallops, but was converted to shrimp when scallops weren’t available.

Shrimp & Pasta in a Chipotle Cream Sauce:
• 1 lb shrimp
• ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• ½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
• 1 clove minced garlic
• 1 tsp brown sugar
• ½ lb cooked linguine
• 1 tbsp butter
• ½ cup chicken stock
• 2 chipotles canned in adobo sauce
• ½ cup cream or fat free half and half
• ¼ cup shredded parmesan

I began by marinating 1 pound of shrimp in ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ½ tbsp apple cider vinegar, a clove minced garlic, 1 tsp brown sugar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a skillet to cook the shrimp. When shrimp is done, remove to another plate.

Add ½ cup chicken stock to the remaining melted butter in the skillet, along with two diced chipotles. Let the chicken stock simmer to about half. Add ¼ cream and ¼ cup fat free half and half. (Or simply ½ cup cream or ½ cup half and half, depending on your preference.) Let the sauce simmer until thickened. Add ¼ cup shredded parmesan and stir until melted. Add cooked linguine to the sauce and toss to coat. Top with shrimp.

You may have noticed that I’ve included a lot of recipes with chipotle. As an explanation, here’s a picture of my husband’s hot sauce collection:

He needs a hot sauce fridge about as much as I need a cheese fridge. Chipotle is a good compromise as far as heat level.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Creme Brulee Cupcakes

A couple weeks ago, I found a cupcake recipe that had to be tried.  There was no question about it.  In the words of 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, my first thought was, “I want to go to there.” (Admittedly, ever since I first heard Tina Fey use that line, it’s been my “go to” response for many an amazing looking recipe.)  What kind of cupcakes could elicit this type of response?  CRÈME BRULEE CUPCAKES.  Yeah, now you understand.

The cupcakes I made actually combined a couple different recipes.  The inspiration for these came from Beantown Baker.  I used their fantastic recipe for the cupcakes. This recipe is for about 24 cupcakes.

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for the egg whites
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons caramel syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together.  In a separate mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately beat in dry ingredients and milk.  Add caramel syrup and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter.
Spoon batter into cupcake papers.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 350 or until a toothpick comes out clean.

*If you’re like me and like to do everything in your stand mixer, you should probably beat the egg whites before starting on the rest of the recipe. 

Once I had found one crème brulee cupcake recipe, I did a quick search to see what else would turn up.  I also found these cupcakes at Une-Deux Senses.  I liked the idea of having actual custard style crème brulee in the center instead of a meringue buttercream.  (I will have to try that sometime though.)  I did use this crème brulee recipe for the centers.  Although it was good, it still didn’t beat my favorite crème brulee recipe I’ve found so far.  The recipe I used for the cupcakes was actually a Paula Deen recipe.  Since she always uses more butter, cream and sugar than anyone on the planet, I’m a little surprised the crème brulee only used about ½ the sugar of other recipes.   Next time I make these, (and I’m sure there will be a next time), I’ll use this recipe for the centers.  I ended up with a little extra crème brulee after I filled the cupcakes, but nobody at my house was complaining. 

Make sure to make your crème brulee early enough that it has time to chill in the fridge.  To fill the cupcakes, I used the cone method of taking a knife & running it in a circle to cut a cone shape out of the cupcake.  I cut the large part of the cone (the top of the cupcake) off to put back on after filling.  Next, use a spoon to scoop in some crème brulee.  Replace the top to make the surface even. 

To top it off, I added some vanilla bean buttercream.  This is an excellent recipe. 
2½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2½ cups confectioners' sugar (10 ounces)
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Use mixer with whisk attachment to cream butter. Add seeds from 1 vanilla bean and cream for about 15 secs.  Add confectioner’s sugar & salt and beat until blended.  Add vanilla extract and heavy cream.  Beat until light and fluffy.  I used a Pampered Chef decorator tool to decorate my cupcakes.

I was quite pleased with these cupcakes.  My mother-in-law actually declared them the best cupcakes she’d ever eaten and later described them as “a little piece of heaven.”  These cupcakes do take quite a bit of effort, but they are definitely worth it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Steak with Blue Cheese Caramelized Onion Sauce

For the second year in a row, my sister came to visit for Easter weekend.  Since it’s important to keep tradition, we decided we should grill again this year.  I started brainstorming for something to do with our steaks. Last year, per my sister’s request, we’d basted them in a brown sugar sauce.  This year, my husband suggested blue cheese.  There are some situations where simple works perfectly.  Blue cheese crumbles on a steak is one of them.  Want a fantastic steak?  Here’s the directions:  Cook Steak. Place handful of blue cheese crumbles on top. Eat. 
Simple enough, right? 

We decided to make a creamier sauce.  I ran across a recipe by The Pioneer Woman Cooks for a sauce using blue cheese, cream and caramelized onions.  (If you haven’t figured it out from some of my other posts, caramelized onions may be one of the most versatile foods on the planet.)  Like some other fantastic steak toppers, this sauce is pretty simple to make.  Here’s the step by step:

As our steaks cooked on the grill, I melted about 1-2 tbsp of butter in a sauce pan.  I added 1/2 of a thinly sliced onion and let that cook on low until soft and just starting to brown. 

Now we're to the point where I was supposed to add 1/2 cup of cream.  We hit a small snag there due to the fact the store we had stopped at was completely out.  I guess that's what we get for shopping Easter weekend.  So, we improvised.  I've used fat free half & half instead of cream in quite a few recipes and had it work out just fine. This was no exception.

Let that bubble for about a minute.  Add 1/4 cup of blue cheese.  (That's what the recipe said, but I may have snuck in a little more.)

Stir while the cheese melts.  Once the sauce thickens a bit, pour on top of the steaks.  Now that's a delicious steak!  My sister, who had declared earlier that she wasn't sure she liked blue cheese, was asking if there was extra. 

My Helpers even took turns watching the grill for us. 

S'mores Bars

I’d promised earlier that there would be lots more posts about s’mores recipes.  Well, I’ve finally gotten around to posting a second one. 

People who like to bake all have a similar problem.  Once you’re done baking and have enjoyed one piece of deliciousness, you realize you have a lot of leftovers.  Even though that might sound great, it’s not so good for your health.  Luckily there is a simple solution for this problem.  You find some unsuspecting victims to unload these leftovers on.  I’m not sure victim is the appropriate word, as most of these people are usually more than willing to help you out.  So when the baking urge hit last week, I decided to go with a s’mores recipe that could be easily transportable the next day. 

The amount of s’mores recipes I have bookmarked is ridiculous.  I could probably keep a blog going for awhile on those recipes alone.  Some are more complex than others, but this s’mores bar recipe is one of the easier ones. 

For those of you that bake, you’ll notice that it’s basically a graham cracker topped with a chocolate chip cookie with mini marshmallows mixed in.  I’m always a little skeptical of recipes that try to add chocolate and marshmallow to something and call it a s’more.  Then I realized something.  So what if it’s basically a graham cracker topped with a chocolate chip cookie with mini marshmallows mixed in?  That sounds delicious. 

For this recipe, I used a recipe from Always with Butter.  First, mix up the cookie dough.
Next, lay out graham crackers on a standard size baking sheet.
Scoop out balls of dough onto the graham crackers.  I use a Pampered Chef cookie scoop.  The directions didn't specify, but I put a scoop per square.
After baking for 5 minutes, press broken up pieces of the Hershey bars into the cookies. (I used 2 instead of 3.)  This also gives you the chance to flatten them out so your cookie won't be so round.  Bake for the remaining time.

Once cooled, cut into squares. I was having a horrible time getting good pictures.  It's especially apparent in this picture of the final product.
I think I might try this recipe for regular chocolate chip cookies.  The cookies themselves were fantastic, especially with the cinnamon addition.  For the regular cookies, I’d leave out the marshmallows and use about ½ the cinnamon.  As for the s’mores bars, the graham cracker adds a nice crunch. The graham cracker does tend to get a little soft if not eaten in the first couple days, but the chance of there still being bars left after a day or so isn’t likely.