Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eat: Tasty Tacos

I must be on a Mexican food craze. How else can I explain two forays into Mexican dishes within 7 days? This week, I found myself drawn to the idea of tofu tacos and began searching for the perfect recipe. If that idea gets you excited, you might be disappointed by this post. I say that because I was ultimately won over by a recipe for spicy chicken tacos. I know, I know, on the surface this does not present as particularly interesting. However, the unique aspects of this dish lie in the details: do-it-yourself seasoning with ten different spices and garnishes like lime and avocado slices. The seasoning really is the star of this meal; it is incredibly flavorful without being too spicy. I would know because I am a total wimp when it comes to spicy foods. So give this dish a try and enjoy!

TIME: 30 minutes (including time to prep garnishes)
YIELDS: 20-25 small tacos

DIY Taco Seasoning...

In a small bowl, mix together:

1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Shredded Chicken Tacos...

3 cups of shredded, cooked chicken
3-4 tablespoons of taco seasoning
¼ cup of water
2-3 teaspoons dried cilantro (or ¼ cup fresh)
20-24 small corn tortillas
Garnishes: whatever you like! I recommend our selections: lime wedges, avocado slices, green onions, peppers, shredded spinach, and diced tomatoes.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the chicken, taco seasoning, and 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally to avoid burning along the bottom of the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes; the sauce should be very thick.

Remove the skillet from heat and stir in the cilantro.

As far as the tortillas go, you have two options: soft or crunchy. If you go the soft route (as I did), you are now ready for taco assembly (and taco enjoyment!). If you would like crunchy tacos, use the following instructions.

First, place a few paper towels on a plate next to your stove. In another large skillet, heat some oil on medium-high heat.

Once the oil is bubbling, add a few tortillas to the pan. Wait 10-15 seconds and then flip them over.

Place some of the chicken mixture down the center of the tortillas (about 2-3 tablespoons, depending on the size of your tortillas). Using heat-resistant tongs, fold the tortillas in half and press for a few seconds allowing them to take shape. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then flip each over to the other side to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Transfer to the plate lined with paper towels. Repeat this process with the remaining tortillas.

This week’s recipe came courtesy of Perry's Plate .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eat: Sweet Potato Cakes with Black Bean Salsa

This week’s recipe for Sweet Potato Cakes with Black Bean Salsa offers a unique blend of flavors and textures. The cakes themselves are subtly sweet and soft with a little kick from green onions. Add to that the cool smoothness of sour cream, zest of lime juice, crunch of raw onion, smack of cilantro, and heat of cayenne peppers. What does all that give you? Quite a culinary experience, that’s what! Preparing the sweet potatoes is the most time consuming aspect of this recipe but the salsa is incredibly easy and quick. So they balance each other out, right?

Although I found this dish while browsing Pinterest, it was adapted from the book Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and Jonathan Lovekin. The original recipe has a few variations from my own rendition. For example, I added some extra heat with dried cayenne pepper instead of chipotle in adobe. This was balanced by the sweet onion I utilized in place of the red onion originally prescribed. I say that as though it were part of my grand culinary scheme, but I just wanted to use ingredients that I already had waiting for me in my cupboard. The most important difference to note is that this is actually a recipe for appetizers: little bitty cute potato cakes ready to be displayed on your finest silver platter. Since I knew my husband and I would consume everything ourselves, I opted to save time by making larger (and therefore fewer) cakes with bigger portions of sour cream and salsa. As always, you are welcome to adjust the dish according to your own edible preferences.

TIME: 1 hour
YIELDS: up to 34 cakes (if using smallest portions)
MY SOUNDTRACK: Brahms' cello sonatas

Sweet Potato Cakes…

2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 green onions, both white and green parts, finely chopped
4-6 tablespoons oil (I used vegetable, but any kind is fine)
4-6 tablespoons butter

1. Begin by steaming the sweet potato chunks for 15-20 minutes. As odd as this may sound, this was my first time really steaming vegetables without using my microwave or an electric steamer. I'm pleased to report it is a snap. You simply fill a pot with approximately 1 inch of water and then place a "steamer basket" or colander atop the water. Bring to a boil, fill the steamer with your raw vegetables (check to make sure they are not touching the water), and cover. You can check the progress by testing a potato chunk with a fork; if it smooshes easily you are good to go.

Tip: I recommend making the salsa while the potatoes are steaming. You can also prepare the other ingredients for the cakes.

2. Transfer the potatoes to a colander or strainer over the sink and allow to dry thoroughly. Once the sweet potato chunks are cooked and dried, place them in a large mixing bowl. Mash them with a fork or potato masher (if you ever thought to purchase such a thing).

3. Stir in the flour, green onions, salt, and pepper. Resist the urge to use a food processor or else the sweet potato mixture might get gummy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Note: the mixture should be sticky but not wet; add more flour if needed.

4. In a non-stick skillet, heat two tablespoons of oil and/or two tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Form round, flat cakes from about two tablespoons of batter per cake (or more if making larger cakes like I did), and fry four or five at a time for three minutes per side until golden. Transfer finished cakes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and cool. Add more oil and butter to pan between batches as needed, and continue frying a few cakes at a time until all are ready for their toppings.

Black Bean Salsa…

16 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 dried cayenne peppers, chopped
1 small bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup finely minced onion (red or yellow)
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Combine all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.

2. Taste for heat and seasoning, adding more peppers and/or salt as desired.

This salsa can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

To assemble…

Place sweet potato cakes on a serving platter and add a small dollop of sour cream to each. Top sour cream with a small spoonful of black bean salsa.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eat: Praline Pumpkin Cake

Everyone has their preferred season and autumn is definitely mine. What's not to love with all of the changing colors, unpacking of long forgotten sweaters, and multiple federal holidays? Not to mention that the season contains my birthday and wedding anniversary. Here in St. Louis, though, we’ve been enjoying an “Indian Summer” with average temperatures in the eighties. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I'm certainly glad to bask in the extended heat but it just doesn’t feel like fall yet. I have taken a few measures to battle this, including a significant collection of harvest décor in and around my home. I also brought my autumnal motivation to this week’s dish: Praline-Pumpkin Cake. Yes, it is as good as it sounds. Pureed pumpkin, candied pecans, pumpkin pie spice, and caramel sauce should definitely get you in the spirit of fall. Before you know it, you will be whipping up some apple cider and reaching for your warmest slippers and Snuggie.

Be forewarned that this dessert is seriously sugary. Depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is, you may want to skip some of the optional toppings or remember to cut thin slices. I opted to make a round two-layered cake for a more elegant presentation, but this cake could easily be modified for simpler construction in a 9x13-inch baking pan.

TIME: 2 hours & 15 minutes (including baking/cooling time)
YIELDS: 16 servings (small slices)
MY SOUNDTRACK: The Avett Brothers

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1.5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (see below to learn how to make your own)
1 container cream cheese frosting
Optional: caramel sauce, additional chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Stir together the butter (I cut it into smaller portions), whipping cream, and brown sugar. Cook over low heat in a 1-quart saucepan, stirring occasionally until the butter melts. Pour praline blend into two ungreased 8 or 9 inch round cake pans. Sprinkle each evenly with the ¾ cup of pecans.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the cake mix, pumpkin puree, water, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon of the pumpkin pie spice. If using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until moistened then on medium speed 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, stir for several minutes, taking care to break up any lumps.

3. Carefully spoon batter on top of pecan-praline mixture in each pan. The batter will be too thick to pour.

4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool approximately 5 minutes in pans, then remove the cakes and transfer them to a cooling rack. Let them sit for about an hour, cooling completely.

5. Stir the remaining ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice into frosting. Place one layer on a serving plate, praline side up. Cover the top with frosting. Top with the second cake layer, praline side up, and ice the entire cake with remaining frosting. The rough texture of the pecans will make it difficult to frost the cake completely (as you would a traditional cake) but it still presents nicely. An alternative is to use half of the frosting for the middle layer between cakes and the other half on the top of the cake.

Optional: drizzle the cake with caramel and sprinkle additional pecans on top.

This week's recipe can be found on Betty Crocker's wonderful website.

How to make your own Pumpkin Pie Spice…

Mix together:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground all spice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Yields 1 teaspoon

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Eat: Baked Shrimp in Tomato Feta Sauce

My ears perk up at the mere mention of the word “feta”. Maybe that is why this recipe for Baked Shrimp in Tomato Feta Sauce caught my attention while browsing Simply Recipes. Although I’ve salivated over countless recipes on Elisa Bauer's blog, this was my first time actually trying one. I must say that I was pleased with the result. She suggests using an oven-proof skillet as the recipe starts out on the cooktop and transitions to the oven. I, however, do not have such a skillet and have included instructions on how to cope. Despite not being particularly saucy, I served this dish over spaghetti to add a bit more substance to the meal.

Let's talk about shrimp. Depending on what you buy at the grocery store, shrimp can take quite a while to prepare with the removal of the heads, shells, and tails. However, shrimp are well worth the extra effort since they are high in calcium, iodine, and protein. They are also good for your circulatory system with low levels of saturated fat and high levels of “good” cholesterol (I will just leave it at that and encourage you to pursue a more detailed LDL/HDL overview elsewhere). Let’s not forget that shrimp tastes good too! An important fact to remember is that overcooking shrimp by even a few minutes can result in a rubbery entrée. Shrimp turn a nice shade of pink once they are cooked through. This is nothing to stress over, just stay near the oven and be a mindful little chef!

TIME: 40 minutes
YIELDS: 4-6 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Cardinals’ game (my husband is a fan)

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (do not drain!)
1-2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 to 1.25 pounds medium-sized raw shrimp, thawed, peeled, and deveined
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
3-5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (preferably oven-proof) on medium heat. Add the onion and cook 3-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the garlic to the skillet and cook an additional minute.

Add the tomatoes (with liquid) and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and let the blend simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should thicken a little bit.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in the shrimp, spices, feta cheese, salt, and pepper.

If you have an oven-proof pan, place it uncovered in the oven and bake approximately 10-12 minutes.

If you do not have an oven-proof pan, simply pour the ingredients into an ungreased baking dish (9x13”) and follow the baking instructions as written above.

When finished baking, stir up the mixture and spoon on top of a plate of pasta or rice. You can also eat it carb-free but you will probably only get 2-4 servings out of the dish. Either way, it is a treat!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Eat: Edamame Hummus and Pita Chips

If you read my post from last week, you know that my Fig & Pear Pizza was quite time consuming and laborious. As pendulums are known to do, mine swung in the opposite direction this week. I decided to give myself a break and try something much easier. Although Edamame Hummus may not be challenging it is definitely still unique and delicious! It is a Japanese twist on traditional hummus, a chickpea-based dip common to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. A healthy and tasty alternative to your usual dips and salsa, it can be served with raw vegetables, crackers, chips, or my favorite: pita chips! Following the hummus recipe, I will explain how easy it is to make your own pita chips.

Since this recipe features a few ingredients that you may not be familiar with, I think it might be wise to briefly discuss these elements. First up is edamame. Edamame are immature green soy beans originating from Japan. They are generally cooked while still in their pods but do not confuse them with peas. Though similar in appearance, their tastes and textures are totally different. I, for one, do not like peas but love edamame. Their popularity has grown considerably over recent years and they can now be found in almost any grocery store.

Up next is tahini. The first time I made regular hummus, I had no idea what tahini was. I assumed it was some sort of seasoning and wandered the spice aisle of the grocery store like a lost child. Turns out, tahini is actually a paste made from sesame seeds and is used in many Middle Eastern dishes. You are most likely to find it in the foreign food section of your grocer. When I purchased it, my only option was a very large jar that will last me through several (several) recipes.

So now that you know a little more about the ingredients, let's discuss what to do with them.

Edamame Hummus…

TIME: 20-30 minutes (includes time to shell the edamame)
YIELDS: 2-3 cups

16 oz. of edamame (typical frozen bag)
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 tablespoon fresh parsley (or 1/3 tablespoon dried)

Cook the edamame according to the instructions on the bag. If you are using fresh beans and don’t have any instructions, I suggest you boil them in salted water for 4-5 minutes. Once cooked, remove the beans from their shells. This could take a while.

Combine all of the ingredients except the parsley and oil into a food processor. Puree until well-blended and smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Stir in the oil and parsley.

That’s it!

DIY Pita Chips…

TIME: 10-15 minutes
YIELDS: 30-36 chips

5-6 pieces of pita bread
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon rosemary
Salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Slice each pita loaf into six wedges.

Combine the oil, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir thoroughly.

Brush the oil mixture onto each pita wedge and arrange slices on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for ten minutes or until edges start to brown. Note: the more oil you put on the slices, the quicker they will go from nice golden brown to burnt black. So keep an eye on the oven!

These dishes are slight variations of recipes found on the Food Network and Group Recipes.