Sunday, February 27, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake with Moscato Whipped Cream

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I rarely do anything the way everyone else does, especially when it comes to cooking. The first time I ever made strawberry shortcake myself, I didn't really know how anyone else had done it and so I just made up my own way of doing it! Basically, it was just a matter of pureeing one quart of strawberries and slicing another, adding a little bit of sugar, then maybe adding some orange juice or other form of beverage, and serving it over sponge or angel food cake with some whipped cream. It's yummy!
I had bought a two-pound container of strawberries when I went to Sam's Club with a friend the other day, and I've been so anxious for spring to get here that nothing sounded better than making this yummy treat! So, I went about cleaning the strawberries, slicing some of them, and then preparing the others for the blender when I had an idea. I immediately switched gears and went this way instead, which I must say is quite divine!
So, what I did was keep the sliced strawberries as I had them, but the other ones, which had been ready for the blender, I diced into smaller pieces. Then, sprinkled them with some sugar to get all the juices flowing and all that good stuff, and macerated them in my favorite, yummy Moscato d'Asti wine! The wine (I recommend using either the Cupcake or Luccio brand of Moscato d'Asti, but a fruity champagne would work too) goes exceptionally well with strawberries, so it sounded like a match made in heaven. Then, I had the idea to whip up some fresh cream and add some of the wine to that as well. What a brilliant idea!! :-D

Printable Recipe

2 lb. fresh strawberries
3 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
¼ c. Moscato d'Asti
Angel food cake

Moscato Whipped Cream:
2 c. heavy whipping cream
4 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
½ c. Moscato d'Asti

For the strawberry sauce: Wash the strawberries and drain them on paper towels; cut off the stem end. Slice half of the strawberries and dice the other half, place them in a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar, and stir to combine. Cover the bowl and set it in the refrigerator, letting the sugar macerate the strawberries. After a couple of hours, remove the strawberries from the refrigerator and stir them lightly; add in the Moscato d'Asti, cover the bowl again, and place back in the refrigerator for a couple of hours again, allowing the wine and strawberry flavors to marry.
For the Moscato Whipped Cream: Place a metal mixing bowl and metal whisk into the freezer for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Place the sugar into the mixing bowl and add the whipping cream. Whisk just until the cream reaches stiff peaks and then stir in the wine. Store any unused portion in an airtight container for up to 10 hours. When ready to use, rewhisk for 10 to 15 seconds.
Slice the angel food cake, spoon the strawberry mixture over the top, and then serve with a dollop of the whipped cream. Enjoy!! :-)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chicken Taco Soup

Taco soup is not my original idea, however I think it was a great one! I've heard of tortilla soups and things like that, but when I saw taco soup on the menu at a local eatery I was more than a little intrigued and excited. However, my excitement dissipated nearly as soon as the bowl of soup was set in front of me, then completely dissipated after the first bite... Basically, what this place was calling taco soup was nothing more than chili with corn added to it, then served with crackers. I don't know about any of you, but I don't usually eat corn on my tacos and I've never had bread or crackers with them either!
After coming home that night, I looked around on the internet for what I had pictured in my head for taco soup and only came up with dozens of recipes similar to what I had eaten earlier. There weren't even typical taco seasonings in any of the recipes, so I don't really understand what made them worthy of being called taco soup... So, I went about constructing my own version of it, going on the ideas I had conjured up in my head! I wanted to incorporate the taco shells idea but didn't want them mixed in the soup while they cooked, since they would just get soggy. And I love all of the taco fixin's, so I wanted those in there as well, but not necessarily cooked. So, I went about making the meat "base" and incorporating plenty of taco flavor in there that would carry through even with all of the toppings. Basically, I took my basic recipe for chili and changed it up a bit, taking out what I didn't want for this soup and adding what I did want. Then, I just added the typical taco fixin's on top of the soup after I divided it into bowls. The results were amazingly delicious! And you can make this for a party or potluck very easily by just making the soup part and putting it in a crock pot, like chili, and then setting the rest of the ingredients up as if for a taco bar. Who doesn't love a taco bar?!
Don't let the long list of ingredients scare you... Most of them are either the ingredients for the taco seasoning mix, which you can eliminate and use the packaged variety for if you really want (I prefer the homemade mix myself), using one package of mix per ⅓ portion of the homemade version, so three packages. Another large majority of ingredients are for the taco fixin's, which you don't have to use if you don't want to or don't like them. These just happen to be the ones I like... It's all about what YOU like, so make it your own!

Printable Recipe

1½ lb. chicken breast
6 Tbsp. chili powder
3 Tbsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. sea salt
4½ tsp. smoked paprika
3 tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. cayenne pepper
32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1 (2.87 oz.) container chili powder
2 qt. tomato juice
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained
Fresh tomatoes, diced
Green onion, sliced
Lettuce, shredded
Black olives, sliced
Shredded cheddar cheese
Guacamole or diced avocado
Sour cream
Tortilla chips or thin tortilla strips

Combine the 6 tablespoons of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, coriander, and cayenne pepper in a bowl; divide the mixture into a ⅓ portion and a ⅔ portion, set aside.
Place the chicken breast pieces in a large stockpot. Mix the ⅓ portion of seasoning mix with a small amount of the chicken broth, stirring well, and pour over the chicken. Pour the remaining chicken broth over the chicken, cover the stockpot with a lid, and simmer until chicken is cooked through. When the chicken is completely cooked, remove from the stockpot and cool until you can handle it easily; shred the chicken with your hands into small bite-size pieces and return to the stockpot.
Mix the remaining ⅔ portion of spice mixture and the chili powder with some tomato juice and whisk until well incorporated, and then add it to the stockpot. Add the remaining tomato juice, tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, and black beans. Simmer the soup for at least an hour to allow all of the flavors to marry and enhance.
When soup is ready, serve it in bowls (make sure to leave some room at the top of your bowl) and top with fresh tomatoes, green onions, lettuce, black olives, shredded cheddar cheese, avocado, and sour cream. Sprinkle with thin-cut tortilla strips or serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Honey Ginger Salmon

Soooooo... Here it is!! This is the salmon that I've talked to a few people about! I've been making this particular recipe for about 8 or 9 years now, and it's one of my favorite ways to prepare salmon.
Now, if you've never had salmon before, you should know a few things first. You should also know a few things if you have had it before but didn't care for it. First of all, no fish should have an overpowering fish smell, it should smell mostly of the ocean. It's going to have some fish smell because, after all, it is a fish, but it should be mild and not especially pungent. When buying Salmon a good way to tell if it’s fresh is to press it with you finger, the flesh should spring back, not leave your fingerprint in it. If you’re looking at a whole salmon - take a good look at its eyes, they should be clear and bright, not sunken and cloudy. The gills should be a deep red colour and the skin shiny and slippery. When you pick up the fish it should feel firm, not floppy like some old rag doll.
Wild salmon is the best and, therefore, usually the most expensive but don’t let that put you off; once you’ve eaten wild Salmon the farmed Salmon pales in comparison. Wild salmon tends to be a darker orangey pink color, the reason being is that the natural diet of a Salmon includes crustaceans. When you pick up a whole wild salmon you’ll notice how firm and lean it is, like a torpedo, caused by the fish using its muscles to swim in the currents and tides of the rivers and seas. Farm-raised salmon is lighter pink in color and more rounded and flabby, the only fighting it’s done is for food amongst the other salmon in the sometimes very crowded farm cages. Did you know that sometimes the farmed salmon color is determined by the fish farmer? Depending what color the farmer wants his salmon to be, he can literally order a color from a chart and the feed manufacturer then calibrates the salmon’s diet accordingly and, presto, a ‘painted by numbers’ salmon! Farmed organic salmon is governed by strict guidelines set in place by Organic institutions such as The Soil Association. The fish is better looked after and the farms regularly inspected. Except for permitted antibiotics and pesticides the fish are largely left to naturally mature and being in larger cages they are a lot happier, healthier and fitter. The cages are also a lot further out to sea thus enabling fresh water to continually wash away the salmon effluence and of course making far better living conditions for the fish. If you are uncomfortable purchasing fish at your local market, thankfully, now that the internet has come into its own, it's never been easier to buy seafood online . There are many small, specialised companies where you can buy salmon and other fish products, most of which ship the items fresh in packaging that also includes dry ice and other methods of keeping the fish cold and fresh.
Modern science has provided evidence which suggests that fish consumption is an important part of a healthy diet because it can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and certain cancers. Additional studies have provided exciting news about the benefits of Omega-3 oils for individuals with arthritis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, lupus erythematosus, asthma, and certain cancers. Research studies have consistently shown that Omega-3 fatty acids delay tumor appearance, and decrease the growth, size, and number of tumors.
Now that you have a lot of the information you need to know, I think salmon deserves a fair chance! If you'd like to know more about salmon, there are hundreds of online resources to assist you in furthering your knowledge.
Another thing that I love about this recipe is that it uses honey in the marinade, and then I also drizzle a little extra honey over the top of the fish before I eat it. The great thing about honey is that it really is a natural sweetener, and it raises your blood sugar slower than any other sweetener product. And, bonus, if you are sure to get the natural "raw" honey, it has an extra little bit of goodness inside... Raw honey contains a natural plant enzyme called amylase, which actually helps aid your body's digestion, especially the digestion of carbohydrates. It's actually a law in Germany that any honey produced for table consumption still has to have the plant enzyme amylase still intact, so if you can get some honey from there that would be even better! In a pinch, though, the American counterpart will do... ;-P Just be sure to ask your supplier if their product is "natural" or "raw" honey, making certain that it has gone through as little processing as necessary. And if you're able to go to Cranfest or anything like that, there are dozens of honey producers to choose from and they all have different varieties. I've gotten cranberry blossom, orange blossom, and regular clover blossom varietals and they are all good. Just make sure that the honey itself isn't actually infused with these flavors. You'll want to ask questions and be sure that the honey you're getting is simply from hives cultivated near an orange grove, cranberry bog, etc. It's generally only a mild difference in flavor, but you can usually always taste it. It's delicious! :-)

Printable Recipe

1 tsp. ground or freshly grated ginger
1 tsp. garlic powder or 2 pressed garlic cloves
⅓ c. soy sauce
⅓ c. orange juice
¼ c. honey
1 green onion, chopped
1 (1½-lb.) salmon fillet

In a large self-closing plastic bag, combine ginger, garlic, soy sauce, orange juice, honey, and green onion; mix well. Place salmon in bag and seal tightly. Turn bag gently to distribute marinade. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 5 hours; the longer you're able to marinate the fish, the more flavors will be imparted into the meat. You want to complement the natural flavor of the fish without also overpowering that flavor.
Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat and lightly oil grate.
Remove salmon from marinade, shake off excess, and discard remaining marinade. Grill for 12 to 15 minutes per inch of thickness, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. You can also try cooking the salmon on a wood plank for a little more flavor. Drizzle with additional honey. Makes 4 servings

Monday, February 21, 2011

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

If you've never had quiche, I strongly encourage you to try it. This is my go-to recipe for quiche that I came up with a couple years ago, and I actually make it fairly regularly. The great thing about quiche is that it really is SO versatile!! While I absolutely love asparagus and bacon, other people might prefer spinach and ham, and that is perfectly fine! Although, if you are going to use spinach, I would recommend preparing the spinach in advance as it has a high water content. In order to do this, simply trim the stems and steam the leaves of the spinach; once the spinach has wilted, remove it from the cooking vessel to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze the spinach in the towel to get most of the liquid out. If you don't do this, you'll end up with a very watery quiche, which is not conducive to yummy breakfast times...
Another great thing about quiche is that you can change it even more, making the crust out of different things and thereby making them healthier, if you so choose. Or, you can do away with a crust entirely, if you so choose. However, then this becomes a frittata instead of a quiche... If you are the kind of person who likes to make what is commonly referred to as an "egg bake", then you are essentially making a quiche or frittata, depending if you use hash browns as a crust or not. Quiche and frittata merely sound fancier! ;-)
The first thing you'll probably notice is that this quiche is much thicker than most, that it's more substantial. Well, that's because I happen to be under the impression that more filling is a good thing, especially if it tastes good. If this is all you're going to eat for breakfast, then I think it stands to reason that it should probably be as filling as possible. And like every other recipe, feel free to make this your own! Add a seasoning like basil and mix it with some fresh tomatoes, provolone cheese, and browned prosciutto for an Italian kind of dish. Make it healthier by substituting egg whites for half of the eggs. You are only limited by your own imagination and taste buds!

1 unbaked pie crust (9 in.)
8 large eggs
1 c. milk
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (2.8 oz.) jar real bacon bits
1 c. grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°.
Roll out the pie crust on a floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate; poke a few holes with a fork at the bottom of the dough and flute pie crust as desired. Place another small pan inside to help set the sides while baking, or place a sheet of foil in the shell and fill with beans, rice or pie weights. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the pie shell begins to feel firm.
Mix together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a medium size bowl. Cover the edges of pie crust with foil; pour ⅓ of the egg mixture into the partially baked quiche crust. Bake mixture until the filling begins to set; about 8 minutes. Place the asparagus and bacon on top of the partially cooked eggs already in the pie plate (or mix it into the remaining egg mixture). Pour the rest of the egg mixture over the asparagus; sprinkle with cheese. Bake, with foil still in place around pie crust edges, for about 30 minutes, until puffed and brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. Yield: 8 servings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Basic Pie Crust

I don't know about anyone else, but I have always found homemade pie crust to be a bit of a pain in the ass! For the most part, I just go and buy the little red box of 2 pre-made pie crusts. They're already mixed and rolled out for you, you just have to unroll and take a rolling pin to them a little bit and you're ready to go! Fantastic!!
The only problem I have with them is...chemicals and artificial crap. I know that pretty much everything has stabilizers and everything in them, but I've really been trying to get away from all of the pre-processed crap and eat more natural foods. So, I ventured into making my own pie crust again. I really liked this recipe, which I believe came from Martha Stewart, because the instructions include using a food processor to mix all of the ingredients, which is really quite handy. Another great thing about making your own pie crust is that you get to control what ingredients go into it. So, since I'm trying to eat healthier, I replaced some of the flour with whole wheat flour and used Smart Balance for some of the butter. Like anything else, make it your own! :-)

1¼ c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
½ c. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 - 4 Tbsp. ice water

In a food processor, briefly pulse flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Don’t over mix.
Turn dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold plastic over dough; press to shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).
On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round with a floured rolling pin. Wrap dough around rolling pin, discarding paper; unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of plate (do not stretch dough).
Using kitchen shears, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. Fold under itself to form a rim, and press to seal. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp rim of crust. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 day. Makes 1 9-inch pie crust