Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spiked Citrus Shrimp


Love Tex-Mex and even though dinner plans to eat out at a fave Mexican restaurant were cancelled, I couldn't stop the craving! So scrounging for something to fill the bill, I came up with tonight's colorful dinner,the star of which was a Spiked Citrus Shrimp that grilled up a beautiful caramel brown and were as tasty as any I've eaten at any fancy cafe!

Marinade for the Shrimp *serves 2-3

12 - 18 medium to large sized shrimp
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon or lime (I was out of limes but lemon worked fine)
1 large clove minced or pressed garlic
1/3 cup tequila
2 T. Triple Sec
Sprinkle all (very lightly)with Citrus or Lemon Pepper Grill Seasoning
A Good "squiggle" of Agave nectar

(Let sit for about 30 minutes, unless frozen, then marinate for about an hour. I like the raw, frozen, peeled, tail-on shrimp at Sams when I cannot get fresh.)

Grill on grill pan until just golden on both sides. Then pour marinade over all (in grill pan) and let it boil down just a bit.

Serve shrimp over wild rice, pouring a little of the cooked marinade over all. Wonderful with seasoned black beans and corn, with small sides of fresh guacamole, salsa, sour cream (I've been substituting 2% Greek Yogurt for sour cream -- it is delicious!) and tortilla chips. And a margarita to go with wouldn't hurt one bit:)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Balsamic Cherry Glazed Salmon

I loved a salmon dish at the Rialto Cafe in downtown Denver, glazed with a wonderful balsamic cherry sauce. Below is my attempt at approximating the dish and it was, I have to say, delicious! Wonderful served with either wild rice or garlic mashed potatoes and side of asparagus or fresh green beans.

To grill the salmon, I simply rinse and pat the salmon dry and sprinkle lightly with grill or steak seasoning and grill each side in a screamin' hot grill pan with a generous squiggle of olive oil. I prefer my salmon a bit moist in the middle so I try not to over cook. While salmon is grilling prepare this easy rich reduction sauce:

In a medium sized skillet mix:

1/2 c. white or red wine
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar (if you don't like balsamic, a red wine vinegar can also be used)
1/4 c. dried cherries (Or a dried berry mix)
1 clove minced garlic
little squeeze lemon
3 T. cherry preserves (my substitute other berry preserves if you don't have cherry on hand)
1 T. brown sugar

Simmer sauce until it is reduced by nearly half, and getting syrupy. Add salt at this point, to taste. Spoon over grilled salmon.
(Would also be nice to add some sauteed shallots to this dish if you have a little extra time!)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Easy Peppery Shrimp in Citrus Butter Sauce

(Had to borrow a photo as we ate all the shrimp before I could snap a picture!! Mine looked like this with more sauce, more pepper.)
This easy shrimp dish would be perfect to double and serve in a big pan on the patio on a pretty summer eve. Let everyone put some in their bowls and dip hunks of fresh hearty bread into the savory sauce. Perhaps serve with corn on the cob and fresh sliced tomatoes. Could also serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta.

Peppery Shrimp in Citrus Butter Sauce

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Into an oblong pan put generous squiggle olive oil, 1/2 stick melted butter and 2 minced cloves garlic. To this add juice of 1 small orange, juice of 1/2 lemon, juice of 1/2 lime, squiggle of agave nectar (or sprinkle of sugar).

Mix and toss with 1 lb raw shrimp, cleaned and peeled, tail on.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with fresh ground pepper. Slice reserved lemon and lime halves and lay in pretty pattern over shrimp.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until shrimp is just pink.

Ladle shrimp with butter-citrus sauce into flat wide bowls and serve with grated parmesan cheese, and a good hearty bread (toasted is nice) for dipping in butter sauce.

Corn-Ham-Potato Chowder

With Easter approaching, many of us will have tucked some leftover ham into freezer containers. Here's a wonderfully comforting soup to use up the "ham scraps" and is the perfect meal to someone who isn't feeling up to par. How do I know? I was the person who had a bad cold and sore throat this week, but before I got sick, I got in a cooking mood and whipped up a big batch of soup. A couple of days later,wrapped in a blankie, eyes and nose red from the sniffling and sneezing, I looked up from a steaming bowl of the chowder and said to Greg, "I'm so thankful to my well self for making this soup for my sick self today."

All you need to round out the meal is a slice of hearty bread (I love Whole Foods hearty honey wheat artisan loaves, buttered and toasted) and some sliced fruit. Though it is super creamy, by using the method below, it takes very little cream and no flour to produce a nice rich chowder.

Into your biggest stock pot:

Saute 1/2 chopped onion and 2 pressed cloves garlic in a little butter and olive oil until translucent.

To this add:

1 box (32oz.)good quality chicken or vegie stock
3 or 4 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
Simmer until potatoes are fork tender.

Add 2 cans drained corn (may use frozen or fresh corn if preferred)

Using a ladle carefully put about half stock/potatoes/corn mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour this back into the stock pan and it will act as a natural thickener for the chowder.

Add chopped ham, as much as you like -- 1 to 2 cups.

At this point add up to 2/3 cups half n' half (or until as creamy as you like), season with salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste.

Heat through.

Serve in bowls with sprinkle of cheese, and float a few croutons on top.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Search of The Perfect Brownie... Eureka!

A couple of years ago, I sampled a brownie that I declared, "The perfect brownie!" It was somewhere between cake and fudge-like, buttery, chocked full of nuts, rich and moist but not gummy, in short... chocolate heaven. But I failed to get the recipe. Sigh. After that one ultimate brownie I could no longer abide the taste of a boxed or commercial baked brownie again. I'd skip over the gummy artificial, corn-syrupy tasting chocolate goo that passed for brownies, at most potlucks or picnics.

Yesterday, using a couple of brownie recipes, I came up with the following ... which I found to be ....yes!!.... the PERFECT BROWNIE. It will not help you lose weight, but it will gain you friends.

Becky's Perfect Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 sticks butter

2/3 of a 12 oz. bag of semi sweet chocolate chips (reserve the other 1/3 of the bag for later)

3 oz. (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate (from baking aisle)
Put the above on top of double boiler and melt, stir until combined. (I like to use my big Pyrex glass bowl on top of my stock pan, filled with about 3 inches of boiling water, for this)

In a separate big bowl, combine (you can do all of this by hand, no need for mixer):

3 eggs, beaten well
1 c. sugar
1 T. vanilla

Into the bowl sift: 1/2 c. flour, 1 1/2 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. salt

Pour melted chocolate and butter mixture over all and mix thoroughly.

Chop 1 1/2 c. pecans or walnuts on cutting board, and to the nuts add the leftover 1/3 bag chocolate chips. Sprinkle nuts and ch. chips with about 1 T. flour and toss to coat.

Then, fold nuts and chips into batter.

Pour into greased 11 X 14 inch Pyrex pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then tap on oven rack to remove any air bubbles and finish baking approximately 10 minutes more.

Let cool as long as you can possibly stand to wait and serve with ice cream or ice cold milk!

These are rich, so cut them in small squares... I got 24 brownies out of one pan. I'd rather have one small perfect brownie than 3 gummy brownies from a box. You can also divide and put in Ziploc bags, and freeze them to keep them fresh, and just take one out and microwave a few seconds to get that just-baked brownie treat all over again. I tend to eat less when I freeze cookies or brownies almost right after cooking, because I have to think, "Do I really want to take the trouble to get this treat out of the freezer and pop in the microwave and sit down to savor it?" rather than mindlessly picking at the crumbs and cookies on a plate in the kitchen .

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spinach Manicotti with Homemade Marinara

Mama mia, I'm turning into an Italian grandmother this week! Truth be told, you may have noticed how little I posted to this blog for a few weeks. I was going through a very rough patch but long-awaited good news (such a relief!) put me back in the cooking mood again. It's funny, but I do believe that my desire to cook and experiment in the kitchen, post recipes, and take pictures of dinner is a happiness barometer for me.

Last night, I tied on my apron and put together a spinach manicotti with what turned out to be the best marinara sauce I've ever made. It was a fluke as I just tossed what I had on hand into pots, bowls and pans but the result was so good, I wrote down everything I did quickly before I forgot it.

Here's what I did, but I encourage you to experiment and play with this basic recipe to make it your own.

First, put a big pot of water on to boil and cook about 8 manicotti noodles until just tender.

Next, lets get that marinara sauce started.

Into a blender or food processor, toss:

1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes -- preferably the kind seasoned with basil and garlic
1 small can tomato paste
2 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 - 1/2 of a rough chopped onion
a big handful of fresh basil

3 or 4 medium fresh for frozen tomatoes (when my fresh tomatoes begin getting to mushy for salads, I toss them into a Ziploc bag in the freezer to use for just such an occasion as this!)

Pour mixture into your biggest stock pot so that it can bubble and spurt and not get all over the store.

To this mixture add:

1 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 -4 T. brown sugar (Start with 2 and then check to see if you want it a bit sweeter. )
1/4 c. picante sauce or salsa (this adds a nice bit of heat but not too much)
1/4 - 1/2 c. wine (I used red and just 1/4 c. because I don't like a real strong wine flavor, just a hint will do)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring to boil, turn down heat and let simmer for 20 minutes or more until sauce is reduced to thickness desired. This makes more marinara than you'll probably need for this recipe so you can freeze any leftovers to use another time.

As the sauce is simmering and manicotti is boiling, mix together the following in a big bowl:

1/2 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb Italian sausage, cooked and drained
1 16 oz ricotta cheese
3 cups loosely packed fresh spinach chopped (a food processor is handy for this)

(If you want to make this a vegetarian meal, you can sub chopped sauteed mushrooms for the beef. )

When manicotti ready and cooled, fill each "tube" with the beef-ricotta=spinach mixture. I usually just slit open the manicotti, pack it with filling and mash it back together, seam side down. Ladle a bit of the marinara in a casserole dish, and lay filled manicotti side by side. Top with desired amount of marinara sauce then sprinkle top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese is melted and just getting golden.

Serve with an extra ladle of marina and more Parmesan if desired.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Amazing Pesto!

Tonight we had a couple over for dinner and if I do say so myself, the meal was truly wonderful. I made sesame-pecan salmon (recipe is listed under "fish" to the right of this blog), Ceaser salad and sweet potatoes. ( I love The Neely's recipe for glazed sweet potatoes found on the Food Network sight.)

For appetizers I made little toasted crostinis (bought premade and already seasoned and crisped at Whole Foods) topped with a ricotta-goat cheese spread(1/2 & 1/2 mixed together with a sprinkle of grated parm) broiled... then let allowed guests to top with fresh homemade pesto or a little chopped basil-tomato (with a tiny dollop of Ceaser dressing mixed in) for bruchettas. This was my first attempt at making homemade pesto and I have no idea why I've not made it before because... it is wonderful. An immediate hit.

Soooooooo.... let me share that pesto recipe before I forget how I did it!

Two or 3 big (cup size) handfuls of fresh basil or a mixture of basil and fresh spinach (enough to loosely fill a blender or food processor)

1/2 c. pine nuts or walnuts or a mixture (I used a mixture and had to sub pecans for walnuts)

1/2 lemon squeezed

2 cloves fresh garlic

dash salt, pinch sugar

1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese

Mix all in food processor or good blender and as it is mixing, through the hole in the top pour approximately 1/2 c. olive oil or just enough to give it a nice thick pesto consistency.

Can serve as a spread on any kind of hot bread or as the topping for pasta.

Crunchy Sweet & Tart Lemon Chicken over angel hair pasta

(Picture to come!)

I love lemon chicken and developed this recipe after a few trial and errors . One of my absolute favorites now!

(Put angel hair pasta on to boil... as much as you want for 1 -3 people.)

First: Pound 3 boneless chicken breasts until they are flat. (I put mine in a big zip loc bag and mash in a criss cross pattern with the side of a plate as my mother used to do!) Sprinkle a little fresh minced garlic over each breast and "massage" in. Lightly sprinkle both sides of chicken with lemon pepper or citrus seasoning.

In a small shallow bowl mix: 1 c. panko bread crumbs with a good dash of salt and pepper. (May add a little parmesan cheese if you like as well.)

Press each chicken breast, both sides into panko mix until lightly coated. No need to use an egg or even water dip -- the moisture in the chicken is all that's needed for this light coating.

In a large skillet, heat generous coating of olive oil or other healthy oil (1/8 to 1/4 in. deep) to medium high. Saute chicken breasts until golden and crisp on both sides. Remove to a pan or cookie sheet and keep warm in the oven while you make the sauce.

To the skillet drippings add juice of 2 fresh squeezed lemons, 3 T. brown sugar, 1 T. butter, 1 cup of white wine. Let simmer until reduced by about 1/2 and slighty syrupy. Add some capers at this point if you like them. A litle fresh lemon zest at this point is also nice. Taste and salt a tiny bit if needed.

Return chicken to sauce and turn to just coat both sides. Serve over angel hair pasta with about 1 T. of the sauce reduction over the top. (The flavor of the reduction is intense so you don't need much.) Sprinkle with parmesan and serve immediately so the chicken still has the crunch and sauce doesn't have too long a chance to soften it!