April 27, 2011

Cooking the Catch with My Fishing-Fanatic Brother!


Did you think I'd disappeared?? Well, I'm back! Kind of. As many of you know, I'm a bit under the weather after having had surgery last week. I'm happy to report that, as of today, I actually feel sort of like a human being again. But, I'm not back in the kitchen yet and probably won't be for another week or two. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to my brother Bryan.

Now to say that my brother loves to fish is about the biggest understatement one can make.  If he's not working or sleeping, he's pretty much fishing.  Or writing about his fishing adventures on his blog.  Along the way, he's become really great at cooking up his catch.  So in the absence of me being able to be in the kitchen, I thought I'd share a few of my brother's posts that include his methods for cooking up yummy fish dishes.  I'm a fan of shell-fish, but not "swimmy fish" as I say.  Though when Bryan cooks "swimmy fish," even I love it!  Click on the links below to view Bryan's posts on his blog.

Seared Tuna Loin & Fresh Tuna Salad

 Lemon Pepper Swordfish

 Grilled Mahi with Mango Salsa

I hope you enjoy a little glimpse into my brother's world!

April 17, 2011

Carolina (or Redneck ... or Texas ...) Caviar



This recipe was on my "50 Recipes for 2011" project list. So I was excited when I had the opportunity to make a nibble to bring to a wine-tasting party, and immediately thought of this. It's a simple and healthy dip of finely-chopped vegetables mixed with black-eyed peas. Before now, I had always bought this pre-made at the grocery store, but I was really looking forward to trying my hand at making my own.

I've heard this called various different names, including Carolina Caviar, Texas Caviar, and Redneck Caviar. While I think Redneck Caviar is the most humorous name, since I live in North Carolina I'm going to call it Carolina Caviar. Is that okay?

Start by chopping up some sweet bell pepper ...  I used yellow, but you could use red or orange just as well ... purple onion, and cilantro.


Combine this with canned black-eyed peas, and then toss it with a simple dressing of white wine vinegar and canola oil with some salt, pepper, and a touch of brown sugar.  Looking good so far!


Since I knew I was going to be making  this recipe for the first time, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work and grabbed a small container of my usual-go-to store-bought Carolina Caviar.  I wanted to be able to put my home creation to a head-to-head test!  So I put a little of each on a crostini slice ...


... and took a bite.  (Just one at a time, of course.)

Which do you think won this little battle?  The homemade!  While the store-bought is still good, the homemade blew it away!  So, whatever you decide to call it, this quick, easy, and healthy little snack is well worth the effort to make your own.

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Carolina Caviar
Source:  Adapted from The Neely's, Down Home With the Neely's, as posted by She Wears Many Hats

Ingredients
Vegetable Mixture:
2 (15 oz.) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 of a sweet bell pepper (yellow, red, or orange), finely chopped
1/2 of a purple onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped

Dressing:
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. canola oil
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper


Directions
Combine black-eyed peas, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together white wine vinegar, oil, brown sugar, salt, and pepper.  Pour dressing mixture over vegetable mixture and toss to coat.  This may be served immediately or refrigerated to serve later.  If refrigerated, it tastes best if you let it come back to room temperature for serving rather than serving chilled.  Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or baguette slices.

NOTES:
- I think the vegetables included can be adjusted to personal preference.  I may try adding sliced olives and diced fresh tomatoes, which are both included in my former store-bought-go-to version.
- If you don't like cilantro, I would think you could substitute chopped fresh parsley just fine.
- I recommend sticking with the white wine vinegar rather that substituting other vinegar, as white wine vinegar just has a really nice subtle flavor.  With that said, cider vinegar would probably work just fine.


Enjoy!



April 15, 2011

Chardonnay-Butterscotch Blondies & a Pre-Release Wine Tasting


I am a lucky, lucky girl.  I love wine.  Love, love, love it.  And, I just so happen to have some wonderful friends who own a winery.  See, how lucky is that?  And you know what makes me even luckier?  Last night I had the fabulous pleasure of a pre-release tasting of their just-bottled 2009 wines!  These wines just hit the bottle this week, and I had the good fortune of getting to sample them already.  Pretty lucky, don't you think?  And let me just say, they were wonderful.

Okay, so here's where I shamelessly plug my friends' winery - Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard & Winery.  If you're in the Charlotte, NC area, I highly recommend a trip out to see them.  I sampled their soon-to-be-released 2009 Chardonnay, Barrel-Aged Chardonnay, Granda (red blend), and Cabernet Sauvignon ... and loved them all.  My favorite (which won't shock anyone familiar with my wine preferences!) is the Barrel-Aged Chardonnay.  I'm a total sucker for a bold, buttery, oaky chardonnay.

Which is probably why I really enjoyed these Chardonnay-Butterscotch Blondies from The Boozy Baker cookbook by Lucy Baker.  Lucy calls them Oak Bars, but I wanted to put the more flavor-descriptive words in there (sorry, Lucy!).  These blondies are rich, moist, and absolutely delicious - loaded with butterscotch chips and cashews, with a splash of Chardonnay yumminess.

Batter with cashews & butterscotch chips

Bake the blondies until they're nice and golden brown, with even a little bit of darkening around the edges.  Don't worry - they'll still be nice and moist.

Golden brown

I made mine with Baker Buffalo Creek Barrel-Aged Chardonnay, of course!  Any barrel-aged chardonnay will work - but be sure to use a barrel-aged one so you get the oaky flavor.  A chardonnay aged in stainless steel won't give the blondies the same rich flavor.  Enjoy!

Yum! ... with 2008 Baker Buffalo Creek Barrel-Aged Chardonnay


Chardonnay-Butterscotch Blondies (aka: Oak Bars)
Source:  The Boozy Baker  by Lucy Baker
Ingredients
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. chardonnay
1/2 c. chopped cashews
3/4 c. butterscotch chips

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray an 8x8" baking pan with cooking spray.

2.  In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3.  Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Beat in the egg and chardonnay.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture just until combined.  Stir in the nuts and butterscotch chips.

4.  Pour batter in the prepared pan.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and just set in the center.  Cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.

Enjoy!

April 12, 2011

Marsala-Roasted Chicken ... the taste of Chicken Marsala done easy!


Want the taste of Marsala with chicken without going through the process of actually making Chicken Marsala? Well ... here's an easy-peasy way to get great flavor (and very tender chicken) with little fuss.
This is one of our favorite meals.  And I love how truly simple it is to pull together.  Start by giving some celery a rough chop and placing it in the bottom of a baking or roasting pan.  This gives the chicken a "bed" to sit on for good roasting, and serves as a little bit of veggie side dish too.
Celery bed

Place your chicken on top of the celery, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it, and then rub on an olive oil & herb mixture.  Put this in the oven to roast for a bit.
Herbed-and-oiled chicken

After about 15 minutes or so, pour half a bottle of Marsala into the roasting pan.  Now, this is very important -- make sure to buy real Marsala that you buy in the wine section of the store, not Marsala cooking wine that you buy with the vinegars and stuff.  Marsala cooking wine is way too salty and won't give the same great flavor.  Real Marsala is usually in the "Dessert Wine" or "Cordials/Aperitifs" part of the wine section.  It's worth seeking it out ... and will typically only run you about $6 or so a bottle.

Roast for about 20 minutes longer.  Hopefully your pan won't look quite as nasty as mine does ... but please don't let the nasty-looking pan scare you.  It's just Marsala spatters, and it does clean up!  (Mark can attest to this - he's our designated dishwasher.)
All done

Serve it up with veggies of your choice - broccoli and baked onions for us.  Yum!  (Note - I'll be posting about the baked onions soon ... stay tuned.)
Serve it up!


Marsala-Roasted Chicken
Source:  Adapted from a Friend

Ingredients
4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or a combination of both)
3 stalks celery, rough-chopped
2 lemons, halved    (in a pinch, I have used just a little bit of bottled lemon juice)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. thyme (fresh or dried)
1 T. tarragon (fresh or dried)
1 T. basil (fresh or dried)
1/2 bottle Marsala wine


Directions
Place celery in the bottom of a roasting or baking pan that's been sprayed with cooking spray; lay chicken on top.  Squeeze lemon juice over chicken; place used lemon halves in pan.  Sprinkle chicken generously with sea salt and pepper.  Mix olive oil with the herbs; rub on chicken.  Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Add Marsala to pan and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until chicken registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Enjoy!

This post is linked with This Week's Cravings hosted by Mom's Crazy Cooking.

April 9, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Peeps ... because Peep Brownies didn't work

This weekend I started out making Peep Brownies.  I have a friend who absolutely loves Peeps, and her birthday was this weekend.  So when I found a recipe for Peep-Stuffed Brownies, I knew I had to make them for her.  But here's what I ended up with instead:

Chocolate-Dipped Peeps
See, the brownies didn't go so well for me.  They sounded like they'd be good, but sometimes recipes just don't turn out the way you think they're going to.  Live and learn. 

For the brownies, you first cut some Peeps in half ... the long way ... right between their little eyes.  It made me a little sad to cut them between their eyes!

Poor little Peeps
 Then you place the Peeps on top of brownie batter, ...

Peeps meet brownie batter
 ... pour some more brownie batter over them, and bake them as directed for regular brownies.  Well, I did that.  And what I got was a bizarre looking crater-like brownie surface with burned spots where the Peeps used to be.  Okay - I may have been able to get past the look, but I couldn't get past the texture.  The melted Peeps made the brownies super chewy ... and not in a good way.  So, chock this one up as a failure.

A bit disturbing looking
The bright spot in this kitchen adventure - I had one Peep left over, and decided to wipe brownie batter out of the bowl with it, and then pop it in my mouth.  Now that was tasty!

Peep dripping with brownie batter
 So, after the failed Peep Brownies, this brownie-batter-covered Peep became the inspiration for my next Peep attempt.  Still determined to bring my friend a Peep creation for her birthday, I ran to the store to pick up more Peeps and commenced to make Chocolate-Dipped Peeps.  They worked!  Not only did they work, they were really yummy.

Dipping away!
 After dipping, I placed them on waxed paper to let the chocolate set up.  Popping them in the refrigerator for a few minutes makes this process go even quicker.

Just chillin'
I'm happy to report that my friend loved her Peep treats!


Chocolate-Dipped Peeps
Ingredients
Peeps (I used 30 Peeps)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 T. shortening

Directions
Melt together chocolate chips and shortening.  I melted them in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until smooth.  Dip each Peep in the chocolate mixture, gently shaking off excess.  Place on waxed paper and let chocolate set.  Dipped Peeps may be placed in the refrigerator for a few minutes to help the chocolate set more quickly.

April 5, 2011

Chocolate Eclair Dessert - so easy & so yummy

Can you say comfort food?  And super easy?  And super yummy?  And chocolate-y??  Well, all those things are wrapped up together in this one creamy dessert.  This is one of those been-around-forever recipes.  After one bite, I knew why it's been around forever.  Because it tastes so good!  My mother-in-law introduced me to this dessert just a few months ago, and I'm so glad she made that introduction.

Now, I love to bake, and I certainly don't shy away from complex dessert recipes.  But sometimes I want something tasty that just so happens to be easy, too.  How 'bout you?
Chocolate Eclair Dessert

For this dessert, you start with graham crackers, vanilla pudding, and Cool Whip.  Mix the pudding and Cool Whip together - then resist the urge to eat it all up at this point ... wait for the final product ... it's worth it, I promise.
Pudding mixture

Then layer this fluffy mixture with the graham crackers.  You just lay the whole graham cracker sheets in the pan and spread them with the pudding.  How easy is that?
Super-easy layers!

Once you're done your layers, boil together some sugar with cocoa and milk, and then add some butter and vanilla  ...
Bubbling chocolate

... then pour it over the top graham cracker layer.  Now lick the spoon ... and the pudding bowl ... you deserve it.
Chocolate topping

Refrigerate it over night, and then dig in!  You'll be surprised how yummy and satisfying this super-simple concoction is.  Oh, and Mark says it makes a great breakfast, too.
The final product


Chocolate Eclair Dessert
Source:  My Mother-in-Law
Filling:
2 (3.5 oz.) boxes vanilla instant pudding
3 c. milk
1 (12 oz.) container Cool Whip
Graham crackers

Topping:
1/3 c. cocoa
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. milk
1 stick butter (or margarine)
1 tsp. vanilla

For the filling:  Mix pudding and milk; beat.  Stir in Cool Whip.  Place a layer of graham crackers in the bottom of a 9x13" dish.  Spread 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the graham crackers.  Repeat with another layer of graham crackers and pudding; then top with a final layer of graham crackers.

For the topping:  Bring cocoa, milk, and sugar to a boil; boil about 1 minute, stirring very frequently.  Remove from heat and cool one minute.  Add butter and vanilla; stir until butter is melted.  Pour over the top layer of graham crackers.  Refrigerate over night.

This post is linked with Flash Back Friday hosted by Cookin' for My Captain.

April 3, 2011

Mark's "Hot Snot" Brats

Mark is getting into this blog a little bit, which really surprises me ... in a good way.  His interest is fueled in part by the fact that the only "recipe" of his posted to-date is the #1 top-viewed post on the blog ... yup, the "I Tried Gizzards" post, featuring Mark's cooking, is the most popular post.  So, Mark would like to share another of his cooking adventures - "Hot Snot" Brats, a pressure-cooker recipe he created himself.  He accused me (gently) of not wanting to do this post for fear that he would then have both the #1 and #2 most popular posts.  I am not afraid.  If that turns out to be the case, I will give him the kudos he deserves!

"Hot Snot" Brats
So, when he was all ready for his cooking, he called me into the kitchen to give him a "proper" photo shoot.  He had all his ingredients lined up on the counter (along with his pressure cooker), just as he's seen me do before.  I asked if he'd just put everything there on the counter, or if he'd arranged them like that for a photo ... as I was a bit surprised to see everything lined up like that.  He had put the ingredients out for a photo!  He's so cute!!  I couldn't help but smile.

Pressure cooker & ingredients, ready for their photo shoot!
Then he layered all his ingredients in his pressure cooker ... first sauerkraut, followed by onions, brats, and then fresh jalapenos.  And, yes, I say his pressure cooker because it is absolutely his cooking utensil.  I am scared of it.
Ingredients layered in the pot
Then you drizzle in a good drizzling of olive oil (EVOO, as Mark likes to say!).  Mark says this is a very important step, as it keeps things moist and aids in pot clean-up.
Olive oil drizzle - Mark says this is very important
Next, pour in 1/2 a beer ... cheap and domestic.  The cheaper the better, according to Mark.  While the brats are cooking, drink the other 1/2.  (We wouldn't want it to go to waste, now, would we??)
Adding the beer ... cheap & domestic
Once the pressure cooker is heated up enough to pressurize (the little top knob is dancing), cook for eight minutes.  (If you don't have a pressure cooker, I would think you could simmer the ingredients in beer - it would just take longer.)  Then let the pot cool down.  Once it's cooled a bit, open her up to see your creation.  Mark wanted an action shot of the lid being removed with the steam releasing ... so here it is:
Action shot of the steam-release
Scoop a little bit of kraut, onion, and jalapeno onto your plate and lay your brats on top.  The jalapeno adds a really good spicy kick to the kraut! ... so watch out, this has some bite too it.  That's where the "hot snot" in the recipe title comes from.
Yum!
I really enjoy Mark's "Hot Snot" Brats, so whenever he says he'd like to make some, I don't protest!  As much as I love to cook, I also very much enjoy a night off in the kitchen ... especially when I get to watch my sweet husband cook!

"Hot Snot" Brats
Source:  Mark Original

Ingredients
1 to 2 lbs. bratwurst
About 16 oz. sauerkraut
2 to 4 whole onions, peeled
2 jalapeno peppers
About 2 T. olive oil
1 beer (cheap & domestic)

Directions
Cut jalapenos in half; scoop seeds into sauerkraut and mix well.  (For less heat, skip this step.)  Place sauerkraut mixture in bottom of pressure cooker.  Place onions on top of sauerkraut and then lay bratwurst over the onions.  Place jalapeno peppers on top.  Drizzle in olive oil and then pour in beer.  Seal pressure cooker lid.  Cook for 8 minutes once the pressure cooker top is "dancing."  Cut burner off and let pressure cooker cool down slowly.

NOTES:
- If you don't have a pressure cooker, I think you could simmer the ingredients in beer.  Probably for about 30 minutes?  We haven't tried it, but I think it would work.
- For a "Smoky Hot Snot Brats" version, use a chipotle pepper and some adobo sauce in place of the jalapenos.  The smoky version is my favorite!

This post is linked with This Week's Cravings hosted by Mom's Crazy Cooking.

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