Sunday, February 28, 2010

Classic Banana Bread

I recently learned that John intentionally neglects the last couple bananas of the bunch in hopes that they'll over ripen and inspire me to make fresh banana bread. Lucky for him, I usually take the hint and do just that. There are thousands of banana bread recipes floating around out there but I still come back to the one we always had growing up. Its simple, always moist and tender on the inside and perfectly toasted and crunchy on the outside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together in the mixer: 1 cup light brown sugar 1/2 cup white sugar 1/2 cup butter (softened to room temperature) Next Add the following and mix until incorporated: 3 mashed bananas 2 eggs Into a separate small bowl: 4 tablespoons of butter milk 1 teaspoon baking soda Buttermilk and baking soda react to create a fluffy foam that serves as the leavening agent. Mix this into the batter gently and then add 1 1/2 cups sifted flour and a small pinch of cinnamon. (I like to use 3/4 white and 3/4 whole wheat flour. ) Mix the batter very gently until just incorporated and then add 1 tsp vanilla extract at the very end. Pour the batter into a buttered/floured loaf pan and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove to cool on a wire rack until completely cooled. Last but very important...saw off a big piece of the end to eat warm. Yumm...

Quick Weeknight Spaghetti with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan

We have had an action packed week of cleaning, packing...packing and more cleaning... Fortunately we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with our house hitting the market this weekend! We were certainly working up an appetite but didn't have much time for dinner prep nor did I want to make a big mess in the kitchen (because that would mean more cleaning...) This super easy spaghetti dinner was really delicious and I used only one pot, one cutting board, and one knife to prepare it. First I put the water on for the spaghetti- I cooked about half of a box for the two of us. I always cook it one minute less than the package directions for the perfect al dente texture. While the pasta was cooking, I minced two large cloves of garlic. On the same board I roughly chopped about half of a can of quartered artichoke hearts (not marinated). As soon as the pasta was finished, I drained it into a collander and into the same pot, turned down to medium heat, I drizzled about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and added a small pat of butter as well for extra flavor. As soon as it was melted, I tossed the garlic and artichokes in at the same time and stirred to coat everything with the butter and oil. Next I added a scant teaspoon of an Italian spice mixture that we brought back from Italy. It has red pepper flakes and dried herbs-oregano, parsley, and basil, etc. A tiny pinch of each would do the trick plus some kosher salt and black pepper. I cooked the mixture until the artichokes were heated through and the garlic was fragrant- watching closely to be sure the garlic didn't get much color. I then added the pasta back to the pot and gave it all a toss together. I plated the pasta with a very generous dusting of freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese and buon appetito!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Roasted Green Chile-Chicken Enchiladas

Yet another adaptation from Mr. Tyler Florence... Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I've been making these over the past year or two and I keep coming back to the recipe. I particularly love this recipe because its a one-dish-meal, can be made in advance, freezes well and it easily feeds a crowd. It was for all of those reasons I chose to make these enchiladas this past week for a friend that just had a baby. I divided the recipe into two smaller baking dishes versus the standard 9x13, and took half to my friends. I put the other half in my freezer for John and I to eat this week.
We are in the process of trying to sell our house here in Charleston and searching for a new home in Lexington, KY where we'll be moving this summer for John's residency!! While we are absolutely THRILLED to turn the page to this new chapter (and to move home to my family!), but my goodness, it is A LOT of work!! Thankfully, having a home cooked, oven-ready meal waiting on us this week has saved me.
I started with a package of three bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. I drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and roasted on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. I used a meat thermometer to check that they were cooked through, looking for 170 degrees. I let them cool and then removed skins and shredded the chicken by hand. I put it into a Tupperware container and stuck it in the fridge for assembly the following day.
Roasted Green Chili:
1 lb tomatillos (husks removed, rinsed well and quartered)
2 poblano peppers (stems and seeds removed, quartered)
1 large yellow onion (cut into big pieces)
4 cloves garlic (peeled)
I layered the vegetables on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. I drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until everything is softened. (They won't really be brown yet.) I let them cool slightly and then transferred everything to the food processor with:
2 tsp cumin
juice of half a lime
1/3 bunch of cilantro (stems removed)
I whirred everything together in the food processor for about 10-15 seconds-leaving it barely chunky. At this point you have a yummy salsa verde. You could serve it chilled with chips as a snack or as a marinade/dipping sauce for grilled chicken, pork or shrimp. It's absolutely delicious.
For the remainder of the enchilada filling, you need:
1 small or half a medium onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/3 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
I sauteed the onion in some olive oil over medium heat for 6 minutes or so until tender. I then added the garlic and cumin, cooking for a minute longer. Next went in the flour which I mixed well with the veggies before before adding the chicken stock. The flour thickens the stock into a lovely sauce. I used a whisk, stirring constantly over low heat, to ensure there were no chunks of flour remaining. I cooked the sauce for 5 minutes or so before adding my shredded chicken and about half (a little less maybe) of the salsa verde. At this point, I removed everything from the heat to cool some before assembling the enchiladas.
I used Aztec brand tortillas for the first time which I really liked- they are nice and sturdy. The recipe typically makes approx 12 enchiladas so you'll need two packages to be safe. I sprayed my baking dish with Pam (again a 9x13 glass dish or two 8x8 square dishes if you half the recipe) and then rolled them up right in the pan. If you try to fill the tortilla and then pick it back up to place in the dish, everything oozes out the ends. I fill each tortilla with 1/4 cup or heaping spoonful of filling and a generous sprinkle of monterey jack cheese. Its then rolled up and pushed seam side down into the end of the baking dish. Once they are all in, you pour the remaining salsa verde over the top and cover with shredded monterey jack cheese.
If you bake them right away- they only need about 25 minutes at 350 degrees until bubbly and heated through. I cover them with foil for half the bake time then I remove it to brown the cheese a little. If you refrigerate, they'll need 10-15 mins more. If you freeze them, let sit out for a couple of hours and then bake for 45-50 mins.
On the side I serve some combination of fresh chopped cilantro, sour cream, freshly sliced avocado, black beans or a super easy Mexican style rice.
Mexican Style Rice:
*1 cup basmati rice
*1 can Rotel poured into a large liquid measuring cup
*fill the same measuring cup with water until the mixture measures 2 cups
Bring to a boil over high heat in a sauce pan. Cover and cook 15 -16 minutes (per rice package directions) until tender.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crab Cake Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I made a warm crab and artichoke dip to take over to Stuart and Lee's house for Valentine's day on Sunday night, so Monday night, I made another special belated Valentine's Day dinner for John with the remaining half pound of lump crab meat. I posted my family's infamous crab cake recipe last year however this time I stepped out of the box a little bit with a few extra ingredients. We had a DECADENT weekend of eating so I was thinking that a salad for dinner seemed appropriate (even though this was definitely more exciting than your average dinner salad.) I started the roasted sweet potatoes first knowing they'd take 30-40 minutes to cook at 425 degrees. I peeled and cubed two potatoes into a bowl. Over the top I added: 2-3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 tsp honey 1/2 tsp kosher salt 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper I tossed it all together and poured onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray to keep them from sticking. They went into the 425 degree oven, timer set for 20 minutes. 20 minutes in, I flipped them over with a spatula and then they went back in for another 15 or so until tender and golden brown. While the potatoes were toasting, I assembled the crab cakes: 1/2 lb lump crab meat (gently pick through for bits of shell) 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise 1/2 tsp dijon mustard juice of half a lemon 1/2 tsp old bay seasoning dash of Texas Pete 1 egg white 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (more for coating) 1/3 of a red bell pepper, finely diced 1/2 shallot, finely diced 1 tsp capers, drained cracked black pepper pinch of kosher salt I whisked together the mayo through egg white in the bottom of a bowl. I then added the crab meat and let it marinate a few minutes while I quickly sauteed the bell pepper and shallot in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. (Over medium heat for 3 or 4 mins, until tender.) I let them cool a minute and then tossed into the bowl with the rest of the mixture- lastly adding the capers and panko crumbs. I tossed it all together VERY GENTLY to avoid breaking apart the crab. I divided the mixture into four cakes, patted them together and then coated in some additional panko crumbs to hold them together. (NOTE: At first it may seem that they don't want to bind together but the extra panko coating really helps them hold the shape.)
I browned the cakes in a little bit of olive oil and butter in a non stick skillet over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes per side. (Mine got a little browner than I would have liked this time.) You want a golden brown outside and for them to be heated all the way through the inside.
Lemony Dijon Vinaigrette to drizzle over the top of the salad:
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tsp (not quite) dijon mustard
small squeeze of honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Whisk together well until emulsified (oil no longer separates to the top).
Though everything was finished cooking at approximately the same time, I served the salad closer to room temperature. I arranged a generous pile of mixed baby greens and arugula on the plate. (I first tossed the greens with about half the vinaigrette in a bowl.) I placed two crab cakes on top and a few little piles of the roasted potatoes around the outside. I drizzled the remaining vinaigrette over the top to be sure the crab cakes and potatoes had a little extra zing too.
I really enjoyed the sweet potatoes, mixing a little bit of winter in with what might have otherwise felt like a summery dish. And in keeping with the almost-healthy-with-a-hint-of-decadence theme, my sweet hubby brought me some Valentine's Day Chocolate covered strawberries from GODIVA for dessert!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coconut Cake... Again

I heard through the grapevine that our friend Tripp was hoping his birthday might bring a homemade Coconut Cake per the blog post from a few months back. Luci threw his a suprise dinner party on Friday night so I offerred to bring the surprise birthday cake. The last Coconut Cake post was my mother-in-law Claudia's recipe (white cake with a rich coconut filling and fluffy seven minute icing) which is absolutely excellent. This time I decided to try Ina Garten's recipe with a few twists. For the cake: 3 sticks of butter at room temperature 1 2/3 cup sugar 6 eggs 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 1 1/2 tsp almond extract 3 cups flour 1 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 cup cream of coconut 4 oz shredded coconut I first creamed the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Lately I've determined that "room temperature" isn't quite soft enough this time of year so I set the butter out on the counter for 4-6 hours but then I also put it in the microwave at the very lowest setting for 20 seconds. It works perfectly- just barely shiny and soft without any melting what-so-ever. When baking, its really important that the butter and sugar phase is really light and fluffy to ensure a light and airy cake- in this case I beat it in the mixer with the paddle attachment for about 4 minutes. Next I added the eggs, one at time, mixing until encorporated each time- then the vanilla and almond extracts. I was thankful that Ina warned me that it might look curdled at this point because it absolutely did and I might have worried me otherwise. As soon as the dry ingriedents went in, it all came together nicely. I sifted the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then added them a little bit at a time- alternating with the coconut milk. The flaked coconut goes in at the very end, folding in gently before pouring the batter into two 9 inch round pans. I buttered them well and then dusted with flour, the cakes came out rather easily after having cooled 30 minutes on a rack in the pans. So here is the biggest twist... Ina makes a delectable cream cheese frosting that she uses as a filling too but I decided to use Claudia's coconut filling on the inside instead. I sliced each layer in half, creating four layers...more space for the gooey coconut yumminess inside! Filling: 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup coconut milk (had some left in the can) 1 egg 2 Tablespoons flour 8-10 oz shredded coconut 1 tsp vanilla Bring first four ingredients to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking to make sure it doesn't stick. Then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the coconut and vanilla extract. I actually made the cake layers and the filling the night before. Everything should be cooled competely to room temperature before assembly. I assembled the cake right onto the cake stand, sliding pieces of tin foil just underneath the edges first. You can then pull them out gently after you've frosted the cake and the cake stand is still clean. Lastly, I made the cream cheese frosting for the outside: 1 and 1/2 packages of cream cheese at room temperature 3/4 stick of butter of room temperature 2/3 or 3/4 of a box of powdered sugar (I start less and add a bit more if needed) 3/4 tsp vanilla 1/2 tsp almond extract I beat everything together in the mixer until it is smooth and creamy. The hardest part is trying desperately not to each too much of it along the'll need enough frosting to cover the whole cake. **This frosting is perfect on almost any kind of cake. It is really so simple- there's no excuse for store bought frosting unless you're REALLY in a pinch. I do however cheat and use store bought cake with this homemade frosting and you can typically fool just about anyone into thinking you slaved all day. I carefully frosted the cake and then lightly pressed flaked coconut all over the outside to give it that fluffy, snow white coconut cake look. (Ironically, it snowed 2-3 inches that night!! The first real snow in Charleston for years!) I gave the cake about one hour to set up in the fridge before we went over to Tripp and Luci's. It is absolutely best served at room temperature though it should probably stay refridgerated over night. Leftovers were even better the next day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chicken, Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

I'm not sure if it was in the spirit of the Saints Superbowl win or the upcoming Mardi Gras festivities, but I found myself in the mood for some 'Nawlins home cooking this week. I remembered that I had a huge container of homemade lobster stock in the freezer about the same time the cajun hankering set in so I decided on gumbo. It isn't exactly the perfect weeknight meal seeing as it takes a few hours to pull together- but it was well worth the wait until 9pm for dinner. I loosely referred to a Paula Deen recipe found here.

As usual I cut a few corners and made it my own... Chicken, Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo:

1-14 oz package of smoked turkey sausage (think kielbasa but better for you)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb (scant) local fresh shrimp
1 large onion- diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper- diced
1 jalepeno- sliced in half length wise
1/2 cup flour
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4.5 cups homemade lobster stock* (chicken would work too)
1 14oz can stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra

*A nearby school was selling live Maine lobsters for a fundraiser this summer so we did a lobster night with some friends. I tossed the lobster heads and shells into a huge stock pot with onion, carrots, celery, black peppercorns, and fresh herbs. I covered everything with water and cooked it over low heat for 3 or 4 hours to make a rich stock. I strained it well and froze in a large tupperware container.

For the gumbo, I started with my large le Creuset pot over med-high heat. I drizzled some olive oil in the bottom and then browned the chicken (sliced into bite sized pieces first) with some salt and pepper until just golden. I removed the chicken, set aside in a bowl and next browned the turkey sausage (also sliced into bite sized pieces).   Once the sausage had a little color on it (3 or 4 minutes max) I set it aside and started on the roux.

A roux is made of equal parts flour and fat- it is cooked together to form a paste that acts as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, stews, etc. In this case I added 3 tablespoons or so of butter to oil in the bottom of the pan and then sprinkled the flour in. Paula said to cook the roux for 10 mintues, stirring constantly, however 5 or 6 minutes in, it started to burn to the bottom. I was so afraid to ruin the pot, I scooped the roux out and set it aside in another bowl while I deglazed the pot with some water over the heat, scraping with a wooden spoon.

(This helps loosen the burnt bits, its much easier than soap and srubbing actually, though it eventually came to that as well.) Once it was cleaned, crisis averted, I picked right back up where I left off. I put another glug of olive oil into the pot over medium-high heat and then added my onion, garlic and bell pepper. I didn't have any celery on hand so I skipped it. Emeril Lagasse would frown at the fact I left out the third element of the "holy trinity" but sometimes you have to improvise.

I cooked the vegetables 5 minutes or so before adding the roux back in- I cooked it all together another 3 minutes before adding the 4.5 cups of stock. Mixing well to ensure the nothing was sticking to the bottom this time. I added the chicken and sausage back in, brought it all to a boil and then turned the heat down to low. I let it simmer for 40 minutes - it thicken up very nicely. (At this point I tossed the jalepeno halves in whole for a little heat too- I removed them before serving.)

Next I added the stewed tomatoes and the sliced okra, mixed well and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. I was stirring every so often to avoid sticking- perhaps a bit paranoid by this point. Lastly I tossed in the shrimp (raw but shelled and cleaned of course) and let them cook quickly right in the gumbo, five minutes max.
We dished the gumbo over some basmati rice and served with a big slice of warm French baguette and some Texas Pete on the side. YUMMMMY I tell you. It was rich and hearty with a great depth of flavor from cooking it low and slow. (You might notice that I didn't cook it quite as long as Paula instructed but I assure you, it was fantastic nonetheless.) Looking forward to left overs all week!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Salmon Glazed with Honey and Mustard

Quick post. Easy yet AWESOME recipe. Serves 2.
Mix the following into a small bowl:
1 minced garlic clove
pinch kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper 1/5 T course grain mustard
1 T honey
1/4 tsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp carroway seeds (crushed if you can)
Place 3/4 lb, fresh wild caught Salmon in a baking dish (coated well with cooking spray). Salt and pepper the salmon, then top with the mixture. Let sit 20 minutes. Broil for 12 minutes and ENJOY!!!! One of the easiest, most delicious salmon dishes I've made. Serve with brown rice (I tossed in some dried cranberries, toasted almond slices and chopped scallion) and steamed broccoli.

Cuban Sandwiches and Black Bean Soup

Hello long lost friends! I am officially the lamest blogger around. It has been 8 or 9 days since my last post and I apologize. The good news is that I have a two fantastic recipes to share. Again I was inspired by Tyler Florence to try my hand at Cuban Sandwiches. I happen to L.O.V.E. Cuban sandwiches. For those of you in Charleston, I'm a big fan of the Cuban at Vickery's- and Iacafano's used to have a fantastic one too though I haven't been in years. You can find the recipes here, courtesy of, but I tweaked them a little bit. For starters, Tyler uses a pressure cooker to "slow roast" a pork shoulder for the sandwiches however I cheated a little bit and instead I cooked 1.5 pork tenderloins in the crock pot. I couldn't find a reasonably sized shoulder at the store and the tenderloin is much lower in fat too. I'm fairly confident that it worked just as well. I followed Tyler's lead on the mojo marinade with the following:
*4 cloves of garlic, smashed with knife
*1 medium onion, sliced
*1 cup orange juice (I used Simply Orange, not fresh)
*juice of 1 lime
*1 cup low sodium chicken stock
*2 bay leaves
If you've never had a mojo type sauce, its delicious. Its savory, spicy and citrus-y all in one. Would be a delicious marinade for chicken or fish as well (would leave out the stock in that case). I combined everything right into the crock pot and then seasoned my pork with a dry rub of:
*1 Tablespoon cumin
*1 Tablespoon dried oregano
*Kosher salt and black pepper (fairly liberally)
I let the pork sit for 10 minutes or so before dunking into it the crock pot with the mojo. I cooked it on low heat for approx 6.5 hours. I then let the pork cool completely in the sauce before removing it and pulling it into chunks. I set it aside in a baking dish and spooned some of the cooking liquid over the top for added flavor.
Meanwhile- I made the Black Bean soup for which you need: *1 lb dried black beans
*4 cloves of garlic
*2 medium onions
*1 green bell pepper
*1/4 bunch of cilantro
*1 tsp dried oregano
*2 tablespoons cumin
*1/2 tsp chili powder
*1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
*1 jalepeno
*2 containers low sodium chicken stock
*kosher salt and black pepper First I rinsed the black beans in a colander with cold water and picked through to ensure there weren't any stones or pieces of debris mixed in. Next I cleaned the cilantro and chopped roughly in the food processor. I then added my onion, garlic and green pepper (roughly chopped into chunks first) and processed until everything was finely chopped and well encorporated.
I added the vegetable mixture and my spices to a dutch oven (coated the bottom with olive oil first) over med-high heat and cooked for 7-10 minutes per Tyler's instruction. I then added the black beans and my chicken stock and brought to the soup to a boil before turning it down to med-low. Instead of chopping the jalepeno with the other veggies, Tyler sliced it in half length-wise and dropped it into the soup whole at this point. As the soup simmers (for 1.5-2 hrs or until the beans are tender) the flavor of the pepper is drawn out, giving it just the right amount of heat. (Remove it before serving of course.) I noted that you need to stir the soup frequently to keep beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once it was finished, I gave it a quick hit with my immersion blender. Pureeing some of the beans really added a smoothness to the soup. (Carefully not to go too far though, it starts to look like sludge. As you can see I was toeing the line.)
Before constructing the sandwiches, I also made a crema to garnish the soup- adding the zest and juice of one lime to approx 1 cup of sour cream. Mix well and dollop a-top the soup as you serve. It adds a lovely kick and creamy richness at the same time.
When it was time to assemble the sandwiches, I used 1.5 loaves (cut into three halves) of Cuban bread. Publix actually makes fresh Cuban bread at the bakery (it was kind of narrow which is why I went with two loaves for 5 people). If you can't find it, use a wider, soft baguette from the grocery store. I cut the bread in half lengthwise, schmeared generously with spicy brown mustard, and layered the following:
*sliced deli ham
*thinly sliced swiss cheese
*sliced dill pickles (I used fresh dill pickles, the refrigerated kind)
*the roasted pork tenderloin
I used my pancake griddle- almost to high heat- to toast these to perfection (approx 5 minutes per side), buttering the outside of the bread first. (You'll want to do this while the sandwich is still whole, don't slice into servings yet.) The secret to a good Cuban is the press factor. I placed a large cast iron skillet on top of the sandwiches to accomplish this. (I actually piled a baking dish or two on as well.) This ensures you get a perfectly crispy crunchy outside and the cheese glues all of the yumminess together inside the sandwich. (NOTE: If you are thinking that you might leave the pickles off, DON'T!!! They really make the sandwich, even if you're not a huge pickle fan.)
I cut the sandwich into slices (on a diagonal) and served alongside the black bean soup. It was the perfect chilly Sunday night meal with a few friends.