Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Can you tell I like baking? I like this recipe because it uses ricotta cheese. I modified this recipe from a basic muffin recipe I found; instead of using sour cream, I used ricotta because that's all I had. The substitution made for a denser muffin, which is ok with me. If you like yours a little fluffier, don't use ricotta or sour cream. Use 2 sticks of butter instead or use plain yogurt (not non-fat):

Lemon Poppy Seed Ricotta Muffins

1 ½ c AP flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 stick (1/2 c) butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
Zest of one lemon
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup ricotta cheese

In a small mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and powder, salt and poppy seeds.
In another mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Once creamed, add fresh lemon juice and ricotta cheese and mix well to blend.
Add the dry ingredients and stir till combined.
Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the muffin mix into a muffin tin.
Bake for 20 minutes.

Note: these are not very sweet. If you like your muffins sweeter, use a little more sugar, or make a lemon glaze to top your muffin. A glaze can be made with 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice.
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Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Spring rolls are easy to make and even easier to eat; you just want to make sure you have the proper ingredients. More specifically, you want to make sure you get the right wrapper for your roll. Look for a large plastic package, about the size of a dinner plate, that specifically says "Spring Roll Skin." It's usually made with tapioca flour, so if you're not sure, just look at the ingredient list.

I use zucchini, squash, carrots, shrimp, and mung bean (cellophane) noodles for my spring rolls; this is a recipe I learned from a chef at the Mill Cafe in Birmingham.

The peanut sauce is easy; you just need crunchy peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil and lime juice. How you put those ingredients is entirely up to your taste. I had hoisin sauce and chile paste in the fridge so I used those too. I like mine a little sweeter, so I didn't use much soy sauce or sesame oil.

For the spring rolls themselves:
1 small bundle of mung bean noodles, soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes
2 squash, grated
2 zucchini, grated
2 carrots, grated
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 lb cooked shrimp; if large, then cut into bite size pieces.
1 package Spring roll skins
water for softening the skins

Preheat oven to 350.
Toss the vegetables in the sesame oil; spread a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Allow the vegetables to cool in the fridge while you set up for rolling.

You'll want a deep dish that will hold enough water to cover a spring roll skin. You'll need another dish to place your spring rolls and a damp tea towel to cover them.

Now you're ready: In the water dish, submerge one spring roll skin until it feels soft and pliable. Remove the skin carefully; in the middle of the skin, place your filling (vegs, noodles, and shrimp).
Fold up the two ends, then roll the bottom around the filling tightly and roll up.
Set aside and cover, and continue rolling until you've used up all your filling.

Serve with peanut dipping sauce.

If your towel is damp enough, the skins will stay soft for a few hours. This is definitely not something you want to make hours in advance. After a few hours, the skins will become chewy (not delicious).

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strawberry Shortbread

The thought of making my own fruit Newtons got in my head, and once an idea like that gets stuck in that noggin, there's nothing I can do except try to execute the idea before I can think of much else. I don't think these turned out anything like a fruit Newton, but I still consider it a success. By that, I mean that they were delicious and I ate them all and didn't want to give any away.

I froze some strawberries that I picked at Gnismer Farms in Arlington, and this was the base for my cookie filling. The strawberries were cleaned and cooked with sugar until they were mushy and gelatine-y. Then I made the "shortbread" (I put that in quotes because it's not really shortbread because I substituted 1/2 cup of Neufchatel for 1 stick of butter for a chewier cookie):

2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter (room temp)
1/2 cup cream cheese or Neufchatel
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese. vanilla extract and sugar till fluffly.
Add the flour mixture and mix well. Shape into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.
When the dough has chilled, flour your work surface and roll out the dough out to about 1/4" thickness. Spread the strawberry filling (you can use strawberry preserves or any other preserves you want) across the dough. Fold the dough in half and slice into squares.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the tops of the cookies are golden brown.

Note: Mine turned out chewy because I used the Neufchatel in place of half the butter. If you want yours more like shortbread, use all butter. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze.
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Friday, June 6, 2008

Potato Hash

This is what I had for breakfast today. Yes, I am gloating.

Potato Hash

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 strips of bacon, diced
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped finely
3-4 oz smoked sausage, diced
eggs (however many you want)
green onions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

To speed things up a bit, I diced the potatoes and popped them in the oven for about 3 minutes while I rendered the fat on my bacon in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
Once the fat is rendered, add the onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook another 2 minutes. Add potatotes and cook for about 12 minutes, allowing them to brown on each side but making sure not to let them burn. Season with salt and pepper.
When the potatoes are done enough for your liking, fry a few eggs, and top your potatoes with one and devour.

Note: this is one of those recipes where you can sort through the stuff in your fridge and add whatever you want to add.
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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cedar Plank Salmon

I've always heard of people doing this but I never ventured to try it myself. The thought of putting a piece of wood on a grill and expecting not to have a fire escaped me. I took the plunge, however, and tried it this weekend. I have to say that I was quite pleased with what transpired.

I took a cedar plank (a Christmas present from 2 years ago) and soaked it for about 6 hours. The house smelled like a sauna all afternoon. My sink wasn't big enough to allow me to submerge the entire piece of wood, so I flipped the board every hour or so. (Note to self: don't do that again. Make sure the whole thing is wet the whole time.) Next, I made a marinade for the salmon. I discovered, after the fact, that it really didn't need it, but it didn't hurt it. I saved part of the marinade to use as sauce. I mixed about 1/4 cup dijon mustard, a few teaspoons of olive oil, a few teaspoons of white wine, and a little salt in a small bowl and brushed some on the salmon. The salmon sat out while the grill was prepared.

When the grill got hot, the cedar plank went on the grates. After three minutes on one side (and a lot of wood popping), I flipped it and placed the salmon on the plank. Then the grill cover was shut, and the grill did the rest of the work. The salmon basically smoked/steamed for about 13 minutes. I removed it, and let it sit on the plank for another 2 minutes, then the salmon went on a plate and in my belly.

The great thing about cooking salmon on a cedar plank is that fish stays moist and soaks up a little of the cedar flavor. Just remember that the fish continues to cook on the plank after you've removed it from the grill, so don't leave it on too long or you'll accidentally overcook salmon (an unforgivable act in our household.)

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Smoked Meat - Part II

On our second day of smoking, we smoked turkey breast, baby back ribs, rib tips, smoked sausage , and a brisket. It's almost unnecessary to say much more because the pictures really say it all. Using the same rub we used on the chicken wings, we prepared the various meats and smoked away.

The smoked sausage was ready almost as soon as it was in, the ribs took about 2 1/2 hours, the turkey breasts took around 4 hours, and the brisket took 10-12 hours. Our only mistake was to take the brisket out too early (I remedied that mistake this weekend by putting it in the crock pot with some bbq sauce; 6 hours on slow and it was delish!).

The turkey breast is really great for sandwiches. I have never had such tender turkey breast. The rib tips were awesome, and the baby back ribs were pretty darn good too.

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