Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms are an appetizer I have been having for years. This is another one of those recipes I learned from my mom, but can't remember the first time I had these (I was little). They're so easy to make, and the ingredients are fairly simple. It's also an easy recipe to tweak, so feel free to do so. My mom sometimes includes crushed red pepper flakes in the filling for an added kick. Or if she's out of parsley, she will just omit it. Every time she has made them, I loved them, which is why I stole this recipe from her a few years ago.

These stuffed mushrooms make a great crowd-pleasing appetizer. Even during my childhood phase of hating mushrooms I loved this recipe. Not only are the mushrooms a hit, they're also pretty easy to make. It only takes about 25 minutes from start to finish. You could easily double this recipe without any problems if you're serving this to a larger crowd. These mushrooms taste best when they're baked right before you eat them. If you want to prepare part of the recipe ahead of time, make the filling, stuff the mushrooms, and leave them covered in the fridge until you are ready to bake.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

French Onion Soup

Mmmm, onion soup. I could eat bowl after bowl of this stuff. With the dropping temperatures, soup season has officially started and I thought the best way to kick it off was by making a big bowl of French onion soup. It's one of those classic soups that I never get sick of, which is probably party due to the fact that there is delicious melted cheese on top. When this soup was made, three of us managed to finish off the pot, and we could have probably all gone for more (yes, it was that good). This soup tastes like it is made at a fancy French restaurant, but in reality all it takes are some basic ingredients.

I have to confess that when I first put these soups under the broiler, they were in pretty hideous ramekins (see photo below) and I could not imagine that being the final picture of this soup. While in the process of transferring the soup into a mug, the bread sort of drowned and the cheese was hidden under onions. So don't worry, yours will probably look like a real French onion soup, unlike mine. Also, for recipes like this, I usually use up any bottle of red wine that I have lying around.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pecan Pie Cookies

A couple weeks ago I decided I wanted to make pecan pancakes, but then completely forgot about it. This is not surprising at all since I sometimes think I have the memory of a goldfish. I still had a bag of pecans lying around, so I began searching for other pecan recipes. I stumbled upon this cute pecan pie cookies and decided I'd give them a try. They looked like a great autumn dessert so I gave them a test run at our family friend's dinner party. I had already made a lime pie as one of the desserts, as well as rugelach pinwheels, but I figured another batch of cookies wouldn't hurt. These cookies were a hit, even among the picky eaters. The brown sugar in the filling and dough is delicious and the pecans add a great crunchy contrast to the otherwise soft baked cookie.

After years of making desserts for the holidays and dinner parties, I've realized that after a big dinner, people always go for the bite sized desserts. Mini cupcakes or cookies, for example, make great little treats and are always picked up off the dessert table. While pies and cakes get eaten too, people tend not to take a sneaky second round since they're not as easy to grab as an individual dessert. Of course, if you're sitting in front of the cake, it's hard to resist. I've definitely gone back for multiple rounds of cakes when they are placed in front of me, putting me in an instant food coma.

If you're looking for a fun, new cookie this holiday season, give these a try. They last 3 days without drying out if you keep the covered, so you can easily make these ahead of time. The pecan filling is so good that I ate the leftovers from this recipe out of the bowl. I found that the dough for these cookies was pretty sticky, making it difficult to leave a thumb imprint in the rounded cookie pieces. I accidentally discovered that when my finger was coated with some of the liquids from the pecan mix, I didn't have any problems with stickiness. The liquid from the pecans acted as a greasy coating that allowed me to easily reshape the cookie dough rounds.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken

As a rule of thumb I usually tweak recipes that use chicken breasts and substitute thighs. There have been so many instances where I've made a chicken breast dish, like a stir fry or schnitzel, only to realize the meat dried out the next day. I often have leftovers from my dinners, which I love having for lunch, so I like making meals that re-heat well. In this recipe, the chicken breast stayed surprisingly juicy. I made this meal for my dad and I, and he couldn't believe how moist the chicken was. After claiming he wasn't even hungry in the first place, he went back for seconds because he loved they way the chicken was cooked. You can use chicken thighs or breasts, but now you can make this decision based on what part of a chicken you like more since both will turn out great.

I've been reading Jaden Hair's food blog, Steamy Kitchen, for a while. While I have drooled over her Asian recipes for some time now (how good do these dumplings look??), I never gave any of them a try until now. I found that her ingredients were really simple and easy to find, which is always a plus in Asian cooking. Making this dinner is really quick and easy, so you can throw it together on a weeknight after work and not feel too exhausted. Start cooking your rice when you start this recipe and everything should be ready at once. As usual, I served this over my favorite rice- Basmati. I found that there was enough sauce on this dish, but if you love to slather sauce over things, double the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Lime Pie

If you haven't already noticed, I love lemon and lime desserts. I used to be more of a chocolate fan, but lately my taste buds prefer all things citrus. When I came across this recipe, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I'd never made a lime pie before, but this recipe sounded easy, which it is, and the ingredients were really simple. All I needed was a bag of limes and some sweetened condensed milk and I was ready to start. Lime is key flavor in this pie, but the sweetened condensed milk removes the acidic tang, making it the perfect combination of ingredients. I love this so much that I usually make a mini pie in a ramekin so that I can enjoy one right away instead of waiting to share the larger pie with friends or family.

What I also appreciate in any dessert is the ability to prepare it ahead of time. This pie can sit in your fridge for up to 3 days, just don't add the whipped cream until you're ready to serve and make sure to wrap it in plastic. Because of the cooling time required, you can't really make this pie in a rush. If you wanted to have less hand on time you could probably get away with buying a ready-made graham cracker crust and make the filling yourself, just keep in mind that it's really easy to make the crust from scratch.

 This Martha Stewart recipe is based on the key lime pies at a restaurant called Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Martha makes key lime bars out of this recipe as opposed to a traditional pie, so make whatever shape you prefer. Unfortunately, I couldn't find fresh key limes in my grocery store, so I used regular limes and this pie was still amazing. This dessert would be great at a brunch, luncheon, or dinner. I've even had it for breakfast when there are leftovers.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Granny Cake

If you asked me a week ago to bake you a granny cake, I would have had no idea what you were talking about. Was it a cake your grandma used to bake a lot? Maybe it was an old school recipe that dates back to your grandma's childhood? Turns out it is a spiced banana and pineapple cake, which tastes better than it sounds. I stumbled upon this recipe accidentally while searching for different ways to use up ripe bananas. I found so many recipes online that sounded great, but many were based on packaged cake mixes, which I'm not a fan of using if I'm going for the homemade angle. And as much as I love my aunt's recipe for banana bread (and yes, that one will always be my favorite), I wanted to try something different. At first this cake sounded like a hodgepodge of random ingredients, but I decided to try it out anyway. I was curious to see how cloves and pineapple would mix together in a cake, unsure if I would even like it.

Before I could try this cake, I was tortured by the delicious smells coming from the oven, and then again while waiting for it to cool. The original recipe makes a massive cake. I cut it in half and thought it was more than enough for one cake since I was only going to be feeding 3 people with it. What I loved about this cake was how moist it was, and it stayed moist siting out on the counter wrapped in plastic for 3 days. I'm sure this would be an easy recipe to make ahead of time since it is just as good on day two as it is the first. Though it will be hard to ever get me to love a banana bread/cake recipe more than my aunt's, this cake was a nice, flavorful change from the usual.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

No-Knead Overnight Parmesan and Rosemary Rolls

I've made it my mission to become a better bread baker. Anything involving yeast can turn out iffy when I'm around, but hopefully this will not be the case much longer. These rolls were my first attempt at this baking experiment and the result was surprisingly delicious. Earlier this week I picked up a copy of Cooking Light's Best Baking Recipes and knew I waned to try some of their recipes. Not only did the sweets looking amazing, but their breads sounded great too. In the original recipe for these rolls, dried thyme is used instead of rosemary, but since I didn't have any thyme around, I substituted rosemary, which is a flavor I love in breads. I was also relieved that this recipe uses an easy method for making bread since no kneading is required and you don't need to worry about things like over-kneading your dough.

Now that the weather is starting to cool down, especially in the evenings, there's nothing better than warm bread fresh from the oven (and it's even more gratifying knowing you made it from scratch). If you're new to working with yeast, don't be intimidated by this recipe. I was convinced the yeast did not dissolve properly when I first made these, but I went through with the recipe anyway and made my first successful batch of rolls. If I was able to make these rolls, so can you. My only tip is to eat them all on the first day, which you will probably do anyway, since they get a little harder the next day. If you do have any leftover, just pop them in your microwave for about 10 to 20 seconds and they'll soften up and be warm.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cilantro and Jalapeño Stuffed Shrimp

Whenever autumn begins and the first rainfall arrives, I go into denial that summer has ended. There's nothing I love more than a sunny summer day and I will spend most of my winter waiting for that first warm day of the spring. Since I can't control the weather, I tried to convince my self it's still warm out (which it's not) by cooking a light, fresh dinner. Don't worry, once the weather really cools down I will be eating all sorts of warm comfort foods, but for the time being, I'm still enjoying the flavors of summer. Last night I made these stuffed shrimp and absolutely loved them. The refreshing blend of cilantro, jalapeños, and jumbo shrimp came together to make the perfect last meal of summer. I'm pretty sure after this morning's gray skies and never ending rain showers I will be wanting something warm and fatty for dinner tonight (German bratwurst anyone?).

In the original recipe, 8 shrimp are served as an appetizer for 4 people, but my mom and I ate that amount for dinner between the 2 of us (embarrassing, I know). In my grocery store there are different sized jumbo shrimp, so check the weight at the fish counter since the amount of stuffing and marinade is intended for 1 1/4 pounds of shrimp. If you stick with 8 shrimp but opt for the smaller variety of jumbo shrimp, you can cut back on the amount of filling.

The recipe is surprisingly easy to put together with the help of a food processor and looks beautiful too. I don't suggest preparing any part of this ahead of time since the shrimp will begin to cook in the lime juice marinade if you allow them to soak too long, which will then mess with the cooking time and make stuffing them more difficult. I didn't feel like the thyme added to the flavor of the dish, so if you have it, throw it in, but otherwise don't worry about it. Keeping the shrimp in the shell is meant to intensify its flavor, but if you're serving this to guests and are worried about people getting messy, you can remove it either before or after cooking. Stuffing the shrimp is easier than it looks, and the filling stays put really well during the cooking process. You can either grill the shrimp or fry them with a tiny bit of oil, the end result will be excellent either way.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Moist Honey Cake

I generally only eat honey cake once a year, but it is one of my favorite simple cakes. I've always loved the flavor of honey cake, but found most cakes to be on the dry side (though this never stopped me from eating them). This recipe is the prefect combination of a rich, spiced flavor and moistness. This was also my first attempt at a homemade honey caked and I was thrilled with the results. The cake was better than the ones my local Jewish bakery makes and I have never tried such a moist honey cake until I baked this recipe. I made this cake for both of the Rosh Hashana dinners I went to and it was a hit at each meal. At one of the dinners, there were a couple of honey cakes in the dessert spread and this was by far the moistest.

After trying this recipe, I will definitely be making honey cake more than once a year. Even though this cake is traditionally made for the Jewish New Year, it would be great for any autumn or winter occasion with its cinnamon and honey flavors. It's also really easy to whip together and only uses one bowl, which is always a plus in my book. It may seem like you need a lot of ingredients at a glance, but many of them are things you probably already have at home. Another perk to a cake like this is that you can have it any hour of the day. If there is cake leftover the morning after I bake a batch, I love having a slice with a cup of tea (or coffee if that's your preference). You can also keep this cake for a few days and it will still stay moist, just make sure you wrap it in plastic wrap.

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