Thursday, January 22, 2015

Spaghetti Squash with Thai Peanut Sauce

I know many of you may not be spaghetti squash believers just yet.  I think the problem is the name.  As my mom has said, don't name something a name that makes it try to be something it isn't.  She has often told me that when I try to serve her something like quinoa fried rice ("just call it Asian quinoa!").  And she has a point.  If you go into eating spaghetti squash expecting a perfect substitute for spaghetti, chances are, you are going to be disappointed.  It's not spaghetti.  It's squash.

Now that we have that settled, this spaghetti squash with Thai peanut sauce is so good, it does't matter what you were expecting.  To be honest, the squash strands are noodle-ish, just a bit more crunchy.  They absorb the peanut sauce flavor, and combined with peanuts and fresh cilantro, there is so much flavor, it's ridiculous.  You can decide whether you want this to be a main dish or a side.  Mark and I ate it for dinner and I was happy that we both loved it.

The sauce really makes this dish, and the great part is, the recipe makes way more sauce than you need.  I, sadly, kept it in the fridge for about a month and then threw it out.  I am still mad at myself for that.  I did eat a little bit of it with pretzels, but could never figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it (besides make more spaghetti squash with it, of course).  What do you like to do with peanut sauce?

Recipe:

spaghetti squash with Thai peanut sauce
from Leelalicious
serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

Ingredients:
1 medium spaghetti squash
olive oil
salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped parsley and cilantro
2 tablespoons crushed peanuts
for peanut sauce:
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
2/3 cup natural, unsweetened peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut sugar (I used brown sugar)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce (tamari for gluten-free)
2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons red curry paste

Instructions:

1) To cook spaghetti squash, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle inside with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place spaghetti squash cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, make peanut sauce.  Place all sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Then turn down to low and simmer for 5 minutes while stirring almost constantly.  Take off heat to cool sauce.

3) When squash is done roasting, take it out from oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Then, using a fork, scrape out spaghetti squash strands.  If your squash is very moist, you might have to place the strands in a colander and pat with a paper towel; I didn't have to.

4) Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Add minced garlic, chopped parsley, and 1/4 cup of the peanut sauce.  Combine.  Add spaghetti squash and crushed peanuts, stir to combine, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

5) Plate and garnish with a little more crushed peanuts and chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gingerbread Pancakes

This may come as a surprise to you, but even though I have mastered difficult recipes, like croissants or spanakopita, there are lots of things that I have never tried.  Easy things.  Things like pancakes.  Or French toast.  Apparently just breakfast foods.  But really, it's weird that I am the kind of girl who bakes for fun, and yet I've never made pancakes.  Don't worry: as of Christmas morning, I am now a pancake expert.

Back to the pancakes.  Before Christmas, Mark worked so much that I never saw him.  I am only slightly exaggerating.  He went weeks without a day off, and many days worked at both jobs.  Finally, Christmas Day was his first time to relax.  Obviously, he slept late, so I took advantage of the extra time in the morning to make him a special Christmas breakfast.  I came up with the idea of gingerbread pancakes; it felt Christmas-y and exciting and would make the house smell nice!  I found a recipe and had everything I needed, so I got to work.

These pancakes are flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, brown sugar, and molasses.  They turn into fragrant, dark, spicy pancakes that are just perfect for a special morning like Christmas.  By the time Mark got up, the oven was keeping a nice platter of gingerbread pancakes warm, and we were able to sit down and have our first Christmas breakfast together.  I think it will probably become a tradition for us.  Maybe next year I will tack French toast :)

Recipe:

gingerbread pancakes
from Williams Sonoma
makes 8 pancakes

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
3/4 cup cold water

Instructions:

1) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, molasses, 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, and the water.  Add the brown sugar mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just blended.  There will still be some small lumps.

2) Place a large griddle or fry pan with low sloping sides over medium heat until hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle and then immediately evaporate.  Brush with some of the remaining melted butter.

3) For each pancake, ladle about 1/4 cup batter onto the hot surface.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until small bubbles appear and the edges start to look dry, about 4 minutes.  After 3 minutes, lift a pancake to check if the underside is done; do not let the pancake darken too much.  Carefully turn the pancakes over and cook until lightly browned on the other side, about 1 minute more.  transfer to an ovenproof platter and place in the oven to keep warm; do not cover the pancakes or they will get soggy.  Repeat with the remaining batter and butter to make about 8 pancakes, each about 4 inches in diameter.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Peppermint Bark Cookies

Okay, I get it: by this time in January, it feels like the holidays were months ago.  We took the tree down late - last Monday on our snow day - and I miss it.  It feels like the dead of winter (oh wait, it is) without the glitter and glam of the holidays.  And so, here I am, presenting you with a peppermint bark cookie recipe!  Who says peppermint season ends January 1?

This was my entry for our second annual cookie swap, held here at my house for a small but wonderful group. I love cookie swaps: so much fun, so much beauty, and such great cookies.  I always spend a lot of time picking out my cookie swap recipe; I want it to be tasty of course, but I want it to be beautiful.  Wow factor is something that a winning cookie needs.  Plus we have prizes for best and worst tasting, and prettiest and ugliest cookie, and those prizes were fabulous (okay they were combinations of weird gifts from students and strange cooking utensils found at the Dollar Store).

Then I stumbled upon these peppermint bark cookies.  As someone who isn't much of a sweets eater, even I can appreciate peppermint bark.  Kenzie makes the best: white chocolate with Rice Krispies in it to lighten it up and give it more of a crunch, topped with crushed candy canes.  Mmmm.  And these are peppermint bark cookies, so they're really the best of both worlds.

The cookies are dark chocolate with peppermint extract.  The bottoms are lightly dipped in a very thin layer of bittersweet chocolate, with the tops dipped in white chocolate and topped with peppermint candy.  The result of the two differently-dipped layers makes them truly melt in your mouth, and they have such great textures: crunchy, creamy, soft, hard... they are pretty awesome.

The end result?  I won prettiest cookie!  Wahoo!  The elusive tastiest cookie prize was, alas, not mine for the second year in a row.  But even I have to admit that it was amazing to have Rachael be the winner of that award.  Rachael: the girl who never ventures into the kitchen and claims to hate cooking, and yet she won best tasting cookie and said she didn't even hate making them!  Here's to new beginnings?   And peppermint bark cookies! :)

Recipe:

peppermint bark cookies
from Annie's Eats
yields about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
for the cookies:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
pinch of salt
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
to finish:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Instructions:

1) To make the cookies, combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a small bowl; whisk to blend and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.  Blend in the egg, peppermint extract, and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated and no streaks remain.  Form dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 - 2 hours.

2) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut out 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter and place cut outs on prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10 - 12 minutes, just until set.  Let cool on the baking sheet about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

3) Line baking sheets with wax or parchment paper.  Place the bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a few inches of simmering water.  heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  One at a time, dip the bottom side of each cookie into the chocolate.  Use an offset spatula to scrape off the excess, leaving only a very thin layer of chocolate on the bottom of the cookie.  Place on the prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to the refrigerator to chill until the chocolate has set, about 15 minutes.

4) Repeat the melting process with the white chocolate in the double boiler set up.  Use an offset spatula to spread a layer of white chocolate on top of each cookie and sprinkle immediately with crushed candy cane pieces before the chocolate sets.  Transfer to the refrigerator again to chill just until set, about 15 minutes more.  Store in an airtight container.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Thingies

I have made these spicy little numbers twice now.  They are the epitome of perfect party food.  I made them first for Ross' house warming/ ugly sweater party.  It was my plan to see how they went over with my family, and if people liked them, I would make them again for Christmas Eve.  Considering only one was left out of 40, I decided they were a hit, and did end up making them for our family holiday party!

The beauty is how simple these are.  No, they're not jalapeño poppers, there's no breading (gluten-free!) or frying (hence the "thingies" name). You simply slice the jalapeños in half and scrape out the seeds (lots of them like to hide near the stem... I found this out the hard way.  FYI, they are the spiciest part!).  Then fill them with softened cream cheese, wrap them in bacon, and bake.  That's it!  I broiled them the last couple minuets to get the bacon extra crispy.

The second time I made them, Nick made the suggestion to add a little shredded cheddar to the cream cheese.  I did that, and they got rave reviews yet again, so if you're looking for some extra flavor, go for it and add the cheese!  Not too much - I used maybe 1/4 cup total.

Obviously I can't tell you how these are personally, but I can tell you that they were devoured, complimented, scarfed, and even cheered when they were spotted at the second party! :)

Recipe:

bacon-wrapped jalapeño thingies
from Pioneer Woman 
serves 10

Ingredients:
20 whole fresh jalapeños, 2 - 3 inches in size
2 packages cream cheese, softened
1 pound regular bacon, sliced into thirds
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put a cooling rack in a baking pan so the thingies will not cook in the bacon grease.

2) If you have them, wear latex gloves for the pepper prep.  Cut jalapeños in half lengthwise.  With a spoon, remove the seeds and white membrane (or leave them if you like things hot!).

3) If using cheese, mix into the cream cheese.  Smear softened cream cheese into each jalapeño half.  Wrap each half with a 1/3 slice of bacon.  Secure by sticking a toothpick through the middle.

4) Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.  You don't want the bacon to shrink so much it starts to squeeze the jalapeño.  If, after 20 minutes, the bacon doesn't look brown enough, just turn on the broiler for a couple minutes to finish it off.  These are best when the jalapeño still has a bit of bite to it.  Serve immediately.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cuban Spiced Pork Tenderloin and Soffrito Rice

When I bought the pork for yesterday's apple cinnamon pork, I bought an extra one.  I don't even know why I did it.  I never buy extra meat unless there is a definite plan for it because it's so darn expensive.  But I picked up two for some bizarre reason, and found myself staring at it and trying to figure out something exciting to do with it.  Since Mark's less than enthusiastic reaction to the apple cinnamon pork, I decided to stick with something totally savory and maybe a little spicy, since he always says his all-time favorite meat that I have ever made is the BBQ-rubbed pork tenderloin.  I found a recipe from Rachael Ray for Cuban-spiced pork, served with a soffrito rice.

I was intrigued by the rice (obviously more so than the pork!) ; it is cooked in chicken broth and spiced with either saffron or turmeric (I went with the cheaper option), then mixed with chopped bacon, onion and green pepper.  Apparently, soffrito is the base of lots of Cuban recipes and includes bay leaf, cumin and oregano.  Interestingly, none of these are found in the rice, but you just wait.  They're on the pork.

And so is basically everything but the kitchen sink.  Seriously, this pork is not short on flavor.  Similar to yesterday's pork, it gets sliced and stuffed, except not with apples.  The slits get filled with bay leaves and whole cloves of garlic.  Then it gets rubbed with anise, coriander, cumin, the zest of limes, grill seasoning blend. salt, and pepper.  And then it all gets roasted for 25 minutes.

Mark said this pork was far better than the day before's, even if it still doesn't touch his beloved BBQ-rubbed pork.  He said it had a lot of flavor.  And we both loved the rice - even though I was out of green peppers so I know I was missing a big component.  We packed up the leftovers for Nick since I wasn't about to eat pork and Mark won't eat reheated meat (don't get me started).  He gave the same report as Mark: not as good as "the spicy pork," but "two thumbs up."  And he especially loved the rice too!

Today was an unexpected snow day.  Such a perfect belated birthday present.  Year 30 isn't looking so bad!

Recipe:

Cuban spiced pork tenderloin and soffrito rice
from Rachael Ray for the Food Network
yields 6 servings

Ingredients:
for rice:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 3/4 cips chicken broth
1 1/2 cups white rice
2 pinches saffron or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt
for pork:
2 1/2 pound pork tenderloin
4 cloves garlic, cracked away from the skin
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons anise seed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 limes, zested
2 tablespoons grill seasoning (i.e. Montreal Steak Seasoning)
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Make rice: Heat medium pot with tight fitting lit over medium high heat.  Add oil and bacon, and brown bacon.  Add onions and peppers and sauté 5 minutes.

2) Add broth, and bring to a boil.  Add rice.  Cover the pot and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook 15 to 18 minutes, until rice is tender.

3) Meanwhile, make pork: cut 4 slits into each loin and nest garlic and bay leaves into meat.  Place meat on nonstick baking sheet.  Combine the spices.  Coat meat with oil.  Rub spices over the pork and place in oven.  Roast for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let juices redistribute.  Slice and serve with soffrito rice.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Apple Cinnamon Slow Cooker Pork Loin

The trouble with all these meat recipes now that Mark and I live together alone is that there are days when I have only one person's opinion to base blog posts off.  And so for this recipe, I am not sure what to say.  Mark didn't love it, but couldn't put his finger on why.  He just said it wasn't the best.  That's about the extent of what I got out of him.

It wasn't a regular recipe, but that was what I liked about it: you make slices in the pork loin and slide apple slices into the cuts.  Then it gets drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, and onions get laid on top.  That's it; set it and forget it.  I was intrigued by the sweet and savory idea, and of course by how easy it was.  I did notice that there was no salt, and I would probably add that next time (although there probably won't be a next time since Mark didn't love it and I won't be eating it myself).  I did pair it with some lovely mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts.

Again, I am not sure if this was a total fail or if maybe just Mark wasn't a fan.  I had no idea whether I should even share it!  I decided to let you be the judge yourself.  If you try this, please let me know if it's good or not!

Recipe:

apple cinnamon slow cooker pork loin
from Rachel Schultz

Ingredients:
3 pound pork loin
1 apple, sliced
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 yellow onion, sliced

Instructions:

1) Slice slits into pork loin horizontally about 3/4 of the way through meat.  Fill each slit with an apple slice and drizzle honey over the top.

2) Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Transfer pork to slow cooker.  Layer onions on top.

3) Cook on low 3 - 4 hours.  Serve.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pomegranate Spritz Cookies

How could I forget these pomegranate spritz cookies!?  These beautiful little cookies were what I made while my friends and family made crafts at my Christmas craft night (see yesterday's post on gingerbread whoopie pies for more information on that).  I considered using a cookie press to be quite crafty.  I got the cookie press for Christmas two years ago and yet had never pulled it out to try it.  Why? I have absolutely no idea.  The cookie press is an ingenious invention, particularly for someone who often makes great tasting looks that don't look so great.  I've explained before that I don't excel at making pretty food, so I was pretty thrilled at the idea of using a machine that will make all my cookies look the same, and have them be in lovely little shapes!

For those of you who don't know, cookie presses feel like a toy from your Play-Doh days.  And it also looks a little bit like my inhaler and spacer.  You put your dough inside it and press the trigger to press out a shape - and there are lots of different shapes you can make using different discs.  That's it!  It was fun and easy to use once I got the hang of it.

Now, on to the cookies themselves.  They're the most beautiful red color thanks to 3/4 teaspoon of red food coloring and 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses.  I had picked up pomegranate molasses a few months ago when I saw it at Market Basket with no definite plans for it.  I knew it was a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and baking, so I figured I would put it to good use some time.  I was actually just watching a show on the Food Network this morning that talked about what pomegranate molasses is - it's not molasses at all.  It's really pomegranate juice that has been cooked down and reduced so it's thick, sweet and syrupy (which also means you could make your own if you can't find it in the store).  Mmmmm.  It gives the cookies a really fruity flavor, along with a nice red color.  There's also some orange zest in the cookies to brighten the flavors up.

The end result were these lovely little flower-shaped red cookies with so much taste packed into them, it was insane.  At my craft party, people seemed to like them but not love them - no one was going wild for them, at least.  But then the next day, I brought them up to my grandmother's house for her birthday party, and my relatives scarfed them down.  In fact, my uncle Gary announced they were like potato chips in that it is totally impossible to eat only one.  My aunts and uncles were raving about them wildly and begging me to make another batch!  I had to try some at that point, and I also found them weirdly addictive.  They're sweet and fruity, and small enough that it feels totally acceptable to eat handfuls of them.  If you have a cookie press, go dust it off and try to make these cookies!

Recipe:

pomegranate spritz cookies
from the December 2014 issue of Food Network Magazine
yield 72 cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
3/4 teaspoon red food coloring
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
silver nonpareils for decorating (I didn't think they needed any more decoration so I skipped this)

Instructions:

1) Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the egg, pomegranate molasses, food coloring, and orange zest.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium low; beat in the flour mixture until incorporated. (The dough can be made a day ahead; cover and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before filling your cookie press).

2) Fill a cookie press with the dough according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Press cookies 1 inch apart onto 2 baking sheets.  Decorate with nonpareils.

3) Bake, switching the pans halfway through, until the cookies are set but not browned, 15 to 18 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then loosen with a thin spatula and let cool completely on the baking sheets.  Repeat with the remaining dough.