Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Squash Blossoms Tempura with Shrimp

Happy Anniversary, to me! Can you believe it?! It’s been one year today since I first started blogging!!

Because it’s such a special day, I HAD to make something extra special for the event! I’d been wanting to make stuffed squash blossoms for a couple of years now, but just never got around to doing it. Most of you probably don’t know this, but I had been a certified nursing assistant for around 6 years before pursuing my dreams of becoming a chef. And, if you know anything about CNAs, you know that they don’t usually get a lot of free time… I can’t even tell you how many double shifts I worked over the years, or picked up extra hours in addition to my regular shift. Needless to say, this kind of work schedule is not exactly conducive to making yummy treats like stuffed squash blossoms! Or going to farmer’s markets to find said blossoms!
Well, now that I’m working in the food industry, I usually start work in the morning and then get done mid-afternoon, which works out perfectly for the farmer’s market on Wednesday evenings on Broadway in Green Bay. The market opens to the public at 4:00PM, and is two blocks long by two blocks wide with live entertainment and tons of vendors! Broadway is closed off for two blocks, and then a cross street (Hubbard) is closed off, so vendors line up facing the sidewalks (which are wide) and then patrons can walk around the entire radius to check out the goodies. It’s really a very nice setup… Especially considering they even have a wine and beer tent! This IS Wisconsin, after all!! Lol
So, last week Wednesday, my mama and I went to the farmer’s market and had a really nice time! We even found this new-ish, eclectic restaurant, called Three Three Five, that mostly does catering for private parties but is also open on Wednesdays during the market hours. I had the most amazingly refreshing lemonade I think I’ve ever had, a Basil Ginger Lemonade, and then we had an asparagus dish and also an heirloom tomato salad with…wait for it…cherry wood smoked bacon! The presentation was absolutely beautiful, and you could really see the love that went into Chef Chris’ work. I always enjoy admiring the work of fellow foodies! Not to mention, he was a total sweetheart and called his connection with one of the local markets and had them save the last of their heirloom tomatoes for me so that I could make my Heirloom Tomato Pie!! Thank you, again, Chris!

But, back to squash blossoms…

Until Wednesday, I had never even seen them at any of the markets I’ve gone to, so I was pretty stoked to find them when not even looking for them. And they were fairly inexpensive as well, which is always a bonus… So, as soon as I saw them, I scooped up a bunch of them and gave the lady my three dollars! I suppose I could always plant my own zucchini, but I’m not a very patient person. I have three tomato plants (one heirloom, one grape, and one beefsteak), all of which have fruit on them, but none of them have ripe fruit, and the anticipation could just about kill me! Every day, I go out to check on them, but have yet to see any redness going on. I think they’re doing it on purpose… ;-)
Needless to say, I’m not so sure that I could handle any other plants. Although, I would only need one zucchini plant (maybe) to pacify my new love for these little beauties! If you’ve never had a stuffed squash blossom, I would recommend trying it. What’s the worst that can happen?! The flowers themselves really don’t have very much flavor, so whatever you stuff inside them needs to have flavor. And the tempura is great, because it’s so light that it doesn’t overpower anything else and is perfectly crispy. I had intended to make my own tentsuyu, but ended up getting some from a local Japanese restaurant instead after having so much difficulty finding the dashi stock anywhere in Green Bay. If you can make it yourself, feel free to do so! If you can’t find the stuff for it, though, you can usually buy it from a Japanese restaurant, which is just fine. Either way, you should definitely try this!
I had guests from out of town for dinner, and they couldn’t believe how good these were. They live near San Francisco and had never had them either, so I’m glad that we were all able to share the experience!

Printable Recipe

½ lb. raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, and roughly chopped
½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. salt
White pepper
½ egg white
8 zucchini flowers
Tentsuyu (Tempura dipping sauce)

Tempura Batter:
¾ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. rice flour
¼ c. cornstarch
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1½ c. cold club soda

To make the shrimp filling: Add the shrimp, sesame oil, salt and white pepper to a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg white and continue stirring until everything is thoroughly combined and the egg white is coating everything well. Set aside until needed.
Remove the stigma from the center of the zucchini flowers. Spoon the shrimp mixture into a piping bag and gently pipe the shrimp filling into the zucchini flowers; twist the petal tops to enclose the filling.
Prepare the tempura batter: To make a crisp and light tempura batter, make sure you use ice cold club soda. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then whisk in the club soda until the batter is smooth. (You may cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 hour.)
Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350°F. Lightly dip the zucchini flower in the tempura and deep fry in hot oil until the tempura is light golden and the shrimp filling is cooked through, turning occasionally. Keep warm and continue to deep fry the rest of the zucchini flowers. Serve immediately with tentsuyu.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Pie

This recipe is definitely not one of my own creations, as I’m sure many of you probably already know, if you’re an avid foodie like me and are captivated by anything food related. It’s like those people who are attracted to shiny things! Food is my shiny thing. :-)
The recipe for this lovely little “pie” comes straight from the glossy pages of Food Network magazine. There was a picture of this on the cover of the most recent edition, and I swear it was taunting me as I was trying to grocery shop. Every time I would go down an aisle and pass it in the checkout stands, I stopped and drooled for a few seconds! The picture on the cover is the only reason I even bought the stinkin’ magazine!! But, I’m glad I did, because there are some really good recipes in there.
Since the farmer’s markets have been back, I’ve been frequenting them often in hopes of finding some beautiful heirloom tomatoes specifically for this pie. Well, on Wednesday, I was a lucky girl indeed! Not only did I manage to find enough little beauties for this pie, but we enjoyed some in salads that night too! However, because of the amount of work required to make this, I didn’t get around to it until last night. And, we had guests from out of town, so it turned out to be the perfect opportunity… I had some more guinea pigs! ;-)
I will have you all know, there was not even a single crumb of this stuff left in the pie plate by the end of the meal. I had promised one of my coworkers that I would bring him some the next time I worked, but that’s not gonna happen now! Next time… Of course, you all know me, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Because I worked in the morning, I opted to use an already prepared pie crust to save on time. (Honestly, I hate rolling out pie crust anyways, so it wasn’t a hard decision for me. Pillsbury is pretty darn good at making pie crusts that taste a lot like homemade, and it’s less frustrating for me, so I go with that instead…) I also did some research, and found that Manchego cheese is ridiculously expensive, so opted for a similar substitute which I really love, Parmesan. And, because this is Wisconsin, you KNOW I didn’t stick with their measurements for cheese! Lol
Actually, at work last week, I was given the opportunity to try a new cheese, Morel Mushroom and Leek Jack, which was really good. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I found it at my local market! I had been telling my mama and sister about it for a few days (and a couple of my friends, too), so decided to pick some up. I cut up some for everyone to sample, and then grated some to mix in with the other cheeses. It was sooooooo good! The heat from the oven helped bring out some of the mushroom and leek flavors, which really complimented the rest of the dish. Of course, if you can’t find it or don’t like mushrooms or leeks (onions), don’t worry about it. Use whatever you like best or something you want to experiment with! And, if you’d like, you can find the original recipe, complete with a crust recipe, on the Food Network website.

Printable Recipe

2 prepared 9-inch pie crusts, unbaked
¾ c. plus 3 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2¼ lb. mixed heirloom tomatoes
Sea salt
¼ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
¼ c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
½ tsp. dried thyme
Freshly ground pepper

For the crust: Place one prepared crust, rolled out into a circle, on your work surface, top with the 3 tablespoons of freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, and place the second crust on top of the cheese; roll the crusts out together into a 13-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9½-inch deep-dish pie plate. Fold the overhang under itself and crimp the edges; pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.
Line the crust with foil, then fill with dried beans. Bake until the edges are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and continue baking until golden all over, 10 to 15 more minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Make the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until they are caramelized, about 25 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, thinly slice the tomatoes; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sea salt in a colander. Let the tomatoes drain, gently turning occasionally, about 30 minutes. Place the tomatoes on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to dry off some of the liquid.
Increase the oven temperature to 375°. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, Monterey Jack, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons each chives and parsley, the thyme, ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper, and the sautéed onion in a bowl; spread in the crust. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the cheese mixture and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with pepper. Cover the edges of the pie crust with foil or pie crust shields and bake until the tomatoes are browned, about 50 minutes. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon each chives and parsley.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seared Sesame Tuna Steaks

Aunt Joanne, this one's for you! :-)

I got the idea for this awesome recipe while watching Food Network one evening (imagine that), and seeing Alton Brown do something very similar. He actually had an entire tuna loin, which I had been unable to find until recently, and he grilled his. I believe he also used more wasabi powder in his, which you are more than welcome to do, but if you’re serving it with something like wasabi mashed potatoes or drizzling a little bit of wasabi aioli over the top, I think it’s best to use the wasabi in moderation. My fellow sushi lovers can attest to the fact that too much wasabi can definitely be a bad thing!
What I really like about this recipe is that the marinade adds a little bit of flavor to the fish. If you buy really good fish, tuna included, it should never smell fishy or “off”. Sometimes, if you buy frozen fish, it has kind of a weird smell, but you can easily remedy that by soaking the fish, any fish, in milk for an hour or so. The acid in the milk absorbs any added smells and tastes… Now, keep in mind, if the fish is bad, there’s no saving it! Please, do not ever try to revive old/bad fish by soaking it in milk, because it’s not going to work and you (or your dinner guests) could possibly suffer from food poisoning. Nobody wants that!
For those of you who don’t know about tuna, I just want to say that, yes, you ARE supposed to eat it rare to medium-rare. In fact, if you overcook it, I’m guessing it will taste very much like that dry stuff you buy in a can at your local market, which needs some mayo to make it taste good. You can ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you that eating rare meat is not generally something I do. I was at dinner with my best friend and her mom and ordered a hamburger that was still very pink in the middle, and I couldn’t even eat it after seeing that. I don’t generally care for steaks because I don’t like them to have any pink in them, which means they usually end up on the tough side. I’m not the kinda girl to condone eating raw meat, at all! But, this time, I will most definitely emphasize how imperative it is. The important thing to remember is that you need to make sure you’re buying sushi-grade tuna, which is most generally always eaten without being cooked at all. Anything given the sushi grade has to be of very high quality, so the chances of getting sick from eating it are slim to none. I’ve eaten uncooked, rare, or medium-rare tuna on many occasions, and have yet to get sick as a result. Try doing that with chicken! ;-P

Printable Recipe

1 c. dark soy sauce
1 c. honey
¼ c. dry wasabi powder
2 (app. 8 oz.) sushi-grade tuna steaks
¼ c. white sesame seeds
¼ c. black sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. canola oil
Wasabi aioli, optional

In a non-reactive (glass) bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, and wasabi powder. Place the tuna in a glass baking dish and pour the sauce around the fish, moving the fish around to coat evenly. Marinate the tuna up to 4 hours, turning the steaks halfway through marinating. Remove the tuna from the marinade and discard the marinade. On a plate, combine the sesame seeds and coat both sides of each tuna steaks with the seeds, pressing gently so that they adhere.
In a non-coated or cast iron frying pan, heat canola oil on medium heat and place the tuna steaks in the frying pan when the oil is hot. For medium rare steak: cook for 2 - 4 minutes, flip and cook for another 2 - 4 minutes. Slice the tuna against the grain and serve drizzled with a little bit of wasabi aioli. Makes 4 servings

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

So, Saturday was the National Day of Ribs and Bacon!! That’s the BEST national day EVER!!!!

When I got the invite from a friend on Facebook to participate in this day, of course, there was NO way I could turn it down! I freakin’ LOVE bacon!! And ribs are pretty darn great too! Since it’s such a special day, I got the idea that the two really ought to be combined, in order to fully utilize all of the day’s potential. ;-)
I’ve had this awesome rib rub recipe that I’ve been using for a couple of years, but I decided to make it extra special for this day. There’s this really great little spice store near where I live, and I had been in there for some black sesame seeds for a different meal. I can never help myself so I walk around the store every time I’m in there… Well, I thought I had hit the jackpot that day!! Not only did I pick up the smoked paprika that I needed, I also found some chipotle powder and some really special Applewood smoked sea salt! These would definitely have to be incorporated into my ribs…
Now I needed to get some bacon in there! I did a Google search for Bacon Barbecue Sauce, and I was intrigued by one that came up called Bourbon-Bacon Barbecue Sauce. It was perfect! Of course, the chipotle powder needed to be in there too, and I added my special sea salt, but I kept it very much the same. For the best results, let the sauce sit for a couple of days after making it so that the flavors have time to develop.

Of course, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a spice store near you, don’t worry about it… (But you CAN order products from The Spice and Tea Exchange website, if you really want! :-D) If you’re not feeling so inclined to hassle with trying to find the specialty spices I used, or don’t like spicy food, you can simply omit them (chipotle powder) or use the plain kind (sea salt). I’ve used this recipe many times, without the two special ingredients and it turned out great, so there’s no need to stress about it. Also, this time, I added the garlic and onion powder to my rub, which I’ve not usually done in the past. It turned out great, though!

Printable Recipe

6 Tbsp. smoked sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. ground coffee
3 tsp. Applewood smoked sea salt
2 tsp. pepper
½ tsp. chipotle powder
3 full racks baby back ribs
Olive oil
Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce, recipe follows

Combine the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl. Prepare the baby back ribs the night before; take off the white membrane on the back of the ribs. Place the ribs, meat side up, on heavy duty foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with the dry rub, pressing the rub gently into the meat to help it adhere. Seal the foil tightly into a packet around the ribs. Keep the ribs in the refrigerator until baking time.
Turn the oven on to 225°. Place the aluminum package of ribs on a cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in the oven. Slow cook the ribs for 3½ to 4 hours. Towards the end of the baking time, preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat (or set oven to broil, if cooking indoors) Remove the ribs from the oven and foil. Baste the ribs with barbecue sauce and place on the grill to cook for an additional 15 - 30 minutes, turning and basting frequently. (If you have a doubt if the ribs are cooked, try taking a toothpick and poke the meat. If the toothpick comes in and out easily, then your ribs are ready to enjoy!) Once the ribs are cooked through and nicely coated with barbecue sauce, remove them from the grill. Serve the ribs with some additional barbecue sauce on the side, if you’d like.

Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce:
½ c. small-dice bacon
½ c. finely diced red onion
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 c. ketchup
½ c. apple cider vinegar
½ c. packed dark brown sugar
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. bourbon
2 Tbsp. dark or robust molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tsp. chili powder
1 - 2 tsp. chipotle powder
1½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground mustard
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the bacon in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl; set aside. Reduce heat to medium low, add the onion to the pan, and cook in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 to 60 seconds more.
Whisk in the remaining measured ingredients and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved bacon and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and holds a line on the back of a wooden spoon when you drag a finger through it, about 25 minutes. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper as needed. Store barbecue sauce in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

While paging through an older magazine of my mama's, I came across something that would be perfect with these ribs - Bourbon Smoked Pepper, Sea Salt, and Paprika!! You can buy each spice individually in tins or bags, or even as a set in the tins! How awesome is that?! Too bad I hadn't read the article sooner, because that would have been perfect with these... But, if you wanna go check out the products, and even order some of your own, you can find them on Bourbon Barrel Foods' website! If you get them before I do, be sure to tell me what you think!