Monday, April 21, 2008

Gruyere and Mushroom Pizza

Sometimes simplicity is the best policy.

Gruyere and Mushroom Pizza

1 lb pizza dough, thawed
¾ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
10-12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Allow the pizza dough to almost reach room temperature. This will allow you to roll out a large thin crust.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
Roll the pizza dough into a long rectangle, about the size of legal paper (about 9”x 14”).
Place the dough on your baking sheet and lightly prick the crust with a fork.
Bake for about 6-8 minutes, or until the dough begins to get slightly golden.
Remove from the oven and poke out any air bubbles and flatten the pizza.
Spread the mushroom slices over the pizza.
Sprinkle garlic over the mushrooms.
Top with cheese and a sprinkle of pepper and kosher salt.
Drizzle olive oil over the top.
Bake another 6-8 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown lightly.
Serves 4.
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Grilled Shrimp Tacos

I love tacos. Maybe it's because I don't like being told what to do that tacos agree with me. With a taco, there are no set rules about what you can and can't use as filling. If you only have beans and cheese, have a bean taco. If you want to make a fish taco, there is no cookbook out there telling you that you can't (well, if there is, don't read it.) The point is that you can put nearly anything you want in a taco shell and call it a taco. And no one is going to tell you that you must have a crispy shell, or that it must be a corn tortilla.

I've never had a shrimp taco before, but it sounded good, so I set out to have a grilled shrimp taco and no one was going to stop me. Here's my recipe:

Grilled Shrimp and Black Bean Tacos

1 lb (31-40ct) shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp chili powder
1 ½ tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
½ tsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
6 Skewers, soaked for at least 30 minutes.

1 can black beans (seasoned with cumin and salt to tasted), warmed
Pico de Gallo
12 corn tortillas

Preheat your grill.
Mix the chili powder, lime, and salt to form a paste. Set aside while you prepare the shrimp skewers.
Place the shrimp on the skewers sideways so that each shrimp is pierced through the middle of its tail and the middle of the top, forming a “c” shape on the skewer.
Once all the shrimp have been skewered, brush the chili paste over the shrimp.
Grill for about 4 minutes on each side. (If using an indoor grill pan, grill for 2 minutes on each side.)
Build your taco and eat!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pico de Gallo

"Pico de gallo" means "rooster's beak."
Anyway, I love pico de gallo especially around this time when the weather is warming up, the avocados are in season, and it's too hot to cook inside. Here's my recipe:
Pico de Gallo

2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped red onion
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh jalapeno
2 ripe avocados, diced
Juice of one lime

Combine all ingredients, taking care not to mash up the avocado. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour while the flavors combine.

Serve with chips or on top of tacos.

(I will be serving mine on top of my grilled shrimp tacos)
Notes: Tweak the recipe according to your taste. If you like yours a little hotter, add more jalapeno. If you want more citrus flavor, add more lime. You can even add corn and black beans to make a black bean salsa dip.
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Chocolate Mousse

A craving for chocolate can only be remedied by chocolate. If that isn't already a scientific fact, it should be. Far be it from me to defy my new law of science to resist chocolate when only chocolate will do. This is my first attempt at chocolate mousse, and what I learned is that you must have everything close by and ready, and you must have patience.

Chocolate Mousse

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips because that's what I had on hand)
8 oz cold heavy cream
2 large egg whites
1 oz sugar

Place chocolate in a large bowl and melt over boiling water. Stir the chocolate until melted.
Turn off the heat and let stand.

Beat the cold heavy cream until it begins to form soft peaks.
Whip eggs until they reach the same consistency as the cream.
Gradually add sugar while continuing to whip the egg whites.

Remove the chocolate bowl from the pot and, using a whisk, fold in all the egg whites.
When the whites have almost disappeared, fold in the whipped cream.
Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, but overnight is best.

Note: Seriously, overnight is best. One hour hardly did anything to the consistency of my mousse. I gave up looking at it for the whole day, and I was pleasantly surprised the next day with a creamy but well-set mousse.

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Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

Sometimes you just need barbecued chicken, but Rudy's BBQ and Dreamland BBQ are both too far away.
This recipe uses the slow cooker, which means that you don't have to do much work. And because the chicken is cooked in barbecue sauce, the end result is a deliciously tender chicken sandwich.

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

2 chicken breasts, with skin and bone
2 chicken thighs, with skin and bone
1 1/2 cup store-bought BBQ sauce
1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
½ yellow onion, sliced
¼ cup vinegar

Preheat the slow cooker while you trim some of the excess skin from the chicken thighs (there is always just a little too much skin on thighs).
In the slow cooker, combine the BBQ sauce, bell peppers, onion, and vinegar.
Arrange the chicken in the cooker so that each piece is laying flat on the bottom (if possible).
Cover the chicken with some of the BBQ sauce.
Cook on high for 3 ½ hours, stopping midway to turn the chicken (if possible).
Remove the chicken from the sauce, remove the skin and throw away.
Using a fork, pull the meat from the bones. Set the meat aside.
Remove the onions and bell peppers from the BBQ sauce.
Place the pulled chicken back into the sauce and mix to combine.
Serve on a toasted bun with pickle relish.

Makes enough for 6-8 sandwiches.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

I found a recipe for grilled pork tenderloin with pineapple salsa, but I didn't think I would like the rub very much, and the chutney looked iffy. So I chucked the recipe and made my own. I think it was a success, especially the spice rub which was very spicy. And the pork came out tender and juicy - I don't think I've ever had such juicy pork in my life! From now on, pork loin at our house will only be grilled.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

1 lb pork loin
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp chili paste (I get this at the Asian market)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp lime juice

Preheat your grill, and let your pork loin rest at room temperature while you prepare the rub and chutney.

The chutney:
1 small can of pineapple chunks (8 oz)
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2-3 strips of roasted red bell peppers, chopped (or you can use fresh red bell peppers)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp brown sugar

Place all ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and keep at room temperature or store in the fridge.

Combine chili powder, chili paste, salt, sugar, and juices. You'll get something that resembles a thin paste.
Rub the paste on the pork loin.
Place the loin on the heated grill and turn the heat down to med to med-high. (Remember this all depends on your grill).
Grill for about 20 minutes, turning it a quarter of the way so that you get good marks on each side. On the final 5 minutes, turn the heat to med-low. You're looking for an internal temperature of about 145.
Allow the pork to rest under a foil tent for about 10 minutes while it reaches an internal temp of 160.
Slice and serve with the pineapple chutney.
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Update on the Plants

The basil have grown so much that I had to thin them out and move them to more cups (which now take up one half of my bedroom windowsill.) There are two sets of true leaves, and if smell could come in miniature form, that is what these little basil would smell like. I don't know how to explain that any further except that these leaves look and smell like mini basils.

The tomatoes have also grown quite a bit! There are now 8 globes of all sizes growing on the plant. That last picture is a macro picture of the smallest tomato on the plant (about the size of a small pearl).

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Strawberry Napoleon

The boyfriend said I needed more desserts, and the first thing that came to mind was this strawberry napoleon. The first time I had this was at a restaurant where I worked, The Mill Cafe, and I just thought the simplicity of the flavors was so fantastic, it became my favorite dessert. I haven't had one since I was last there almost four years ago. The most difficult part about this dessert is the pastry cream, which is very simple to make, as long as you have your mise en place, all your ingredients within reach when you get started because the thickening process is a quick one. The rest is just a matter of piling deliciousness on top of deliciousness.

Mini Strawberry Napoleons

The ingredients:

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed to room temperature
1 lb fresh strawberries
1/4 c cake flour
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 c milk
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1/2 oz butter
1 c heavy whipping cream
1/8 c confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Other non-food ingredients:
an ice bath in a bowl large enough to fit the bowl in which you will keep your pastry cream
a spatula
a whisk or an electric mixer

First and foremost, take the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it thaw out while you're making everything else.

Next, make sure your ice bath is ready, your butter is cut and set aside, a spatula is handy, and the bowl to which you'll move your pastry cream when it's ready

In a small mixing bowl, sift the flour and sugar together.
In another small bowl, whisk 1/8 cup milk with the egg yolks until well blended. Then add the flour and sugar mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk until smooth.
In a non-reactive (not copper or aluminum) pot, bring the remaining milk and the vanilla to a boil.
When the milk has just begun to boil, remove the vanilla bean and add one third of the egg mixture and whisk quickly to blend (you may want to remove the pan from the heat while you incorporate).
Once it's been incorporated, add another third, whisk, then add the remainder of the egg mixture and return the pot back to the heat and whisk furiously until the mixture thickens. This should happen within 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. You might see some lumps develop but they will go away as long as you continue to whisk quickly.
Remove the pot from heat and fold in the butter.
Move the pastry cream to the final bowl and set the bowl in the ice bath. Cover with plastic wrap (place the wrap right on top of the cream so you don't develop a film) and move into the refrigerator to cool.

While the pastry cream is cooling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the pastry sheet into thirds along the folds, then thirds again. You'll have 9 squares.
Place the squares at least two inches apart on a lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.

While your pastry is baking, slice your strawberries. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, pour heavy cream, peppermint extract, and sugar, and whisk till it forms peaks. (I couldn't find mint leaves at the grocery store, so I added the peppermint flavor directly to the whipped cream). Cover and keep cold.

Once the pastries have finished baking, cool for 5 minutes. Get your pastry cream, strawberries, and whipped cream together and prepare to assemble.

I cut my pastry into thirds, but it was a little difficult to get that third middle layer. If you can only get two, don't worry (you're saving yourself from extra calories anyway). On the bottom layer, spread about a tablespoon (or more if you like) of the pastry cream. Top with strawberries and top with the next layer.

On the top layer, spoon a dollop of the mint cream and top with a whole or sliced strawberry and mint leaves. Serve and enjoy!

Some notes:
You may or may not like mint, so you can always leave out the mint if you don't like it. I like the combination of mint and strawberries, but since I couldn't find any at the grocery store but did not want to sacrifice the flavor, I added it directly to the cream.

In lieu of using cake flour, I used all purpose flour. If you can avoid it, do. There is more gluten in AP flour and I think it is the reason my pastry cream is a little thicker than I would like. The flavor is still great, and if you don't have cake flour, you can lighten the consistency of the pastry cream by folding in some whipped cream (without mint).
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Friday, April 4, 2008

Shrimp Creole

Ahhh...shrimp. Allow me a moment to extol on your virtues. In addition to your versatility, your benefits include providing the eater with Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and niacin. Not to mention that a 3 oz serving of you is a mere 84 calories, nearly half that of a 3 oz serving of chicken (156 cal). Add some tomatoes and tomato sauce and you're talking about a dish that is not only good for you (thank you, lycopene), but it's delicious too. Yeah, I'm talking about shrimp creole.

Shrimp Creole

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced green bell peppers
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14-ounces) can tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Worcestershire
1 teaspoon white sugar
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp flat leaf parsley
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 lb peeled shrimp (uncooked)

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add peppers, onions, and celery. Add a pinch of salt and the chili powder. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, and sugar.
Simmer, uncovered, on low heat for 45 minutes.
Add parsley, lemon juice, and shrimp and cook for 3-5 minutes (just till the shrimp is fully cooked). Add salt and pepper to tasted.
Serve with steamed rice.

At about 177 calories per serving (add another 105 for 1/2 cup of rice), healthy eating doesn't get much better than this.
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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fingers Crossed for a Green Thumb

Being the daughter of a botanist, I would expect that I'd be a little better at growing things. I have good intentions but a short attention span. I have been more patient with my plants lately, and I've surprised myself on how much better (relatively speaking) the indoor plants have been growing, so I thought I'd give herb and vegetable gardening a try.

I'm growing basil from seeds, and this project was started about 4 days ago. The seedlings are pushing through now. You can barely see them, but those little green dots in the brown potting soil are little seedlings. You can see in that second picture, it looks like a baby version of Seymour's plant from Little Shop of Horrors.

Hanging outside my bedroom window is a tomato plant which has also been planted with a basil plant (I cheated and bought a farmer-raised basil). There are two green tomatoes that have grown in the two days I've owned the plant. The instructions say that it takes 70 days to maturity, so I'll let you know on approximately May 9th how the tomatoes turn out.

Wish me (and them) luck!

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Chicken Cacciatore

I've always been reluctant to make chicken cacciatore. It could be because the recipes that I had seen for the dish just seemed to sound like they would taste like chicken and tomatoes. But when I saw Giada make this recipe on Everyday Italian with capers and white wine, I was sold!
I modified the recipe because I forgot to pick up white wine (and it was great without it so that's what the recipe will reflect). Also, instead of using two chicken thighs and two chicken breasts, I just picked up a package of whole cut-up chicken instead.

Chicken Cacciatore
One whole cut-up chicken (leave out the wings), skin trimmed a bit
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 onion, cut into strips
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2
tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons drained capers
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly.
In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and saute till browned (5 min each side)
Remove chicken from the pan and transfer to a plate.

In the same pan, add bell pepper, onion and garlic and saute over medium heat till the onion is tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, capers, broth, and lemon juice.
Add chicken back to the pan and simmer (uncovered) over medium heat for 25-30 minutes.
If the sauce is not thick enough for you, remove the chicken after it's cooked and simmer the sauce for another 5 minutes.
Spoon the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with basil.

I had mine with two slices of Italian bread, toasted and topped with tapenade, but I made orzo for everyone else, and drizzled a little bit of olive oil and about a tsp of lemon juice to add flavor to the pasta.

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