Friday, September 28, 2012

Easy Chocolate Truffles (made with cocoa powder)

As most of you probably know by now, I love truffles. The other day I had off for Yom Kippur (the benefits of working for the school system...), and I decided to make a batch of chocolate truffles. I didn't want to spend too much time in the kitchen, so I made truffles that require barely any hands-on time. Unlike the cookie dough, coconut, or sweet cream & walnut truffles, these truffles are not dipped in chocolate. They are simply rolled or dusted in cocoa powder, powdered sugar, nuts, coconut, or anything yummy that you can think of. I chose to roll some in cocoa powder with cacao nibs, and I rolled the others in toasted coconut. Greg loved the truffles, I loved the truffles, my mom and dad loved the truffles, and I think my coworkers loved them too! And, I hope you will also fall in love with these easy chocolate truffles. Enjoy!

Recipe for Easy Chocolate Truffles

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of cocoa powder
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp. of vanilla
Cocoa powder or powdered sugar for rolling
Add-ons for rolling (toasted coconut, cacao nibs, nuts)

Put the butter in a small saucepan set over low heat. Allow the butter to melt completely. Once the butter has melted, stir in the cocoa powder. Stir until the mixture is completely smooth. Increase the heat to medium and immediately add in the sweetened condensed milk. Stir the mixture constantly for about 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and then add in the vanilla. Carefully pour the mixture into a heat safe container and cover it tightly. Place in the fridge for a few hours or more.

When ready to shape the truffles, take out a baking sheet and cover it with parchment paper. Make sure to have your cocoa powder, powdered sugar, or add-on ingredients ready. (I placed about 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and 2 Tbsp. of cacao nibs in a bowl for the cacao nib truffles, and I placed the  toasted coconut in the baking pan for the coconut truffles.)

Use a cookie dough scoop to scoop up some of the truffle mixture. Slightly shape, and then generously dust and roll the truffle in the powder mixture or add-on mixture. Roll with your hands into desired shape. Place the shaped truffle on the parchment paper, and repeat dusting, rolling, and shaping truffles with the remaining mixture until it is gone.

Put the truffles in the fridge to allow them to harden a bit. Once hardened, place the truffles in an airtight container. Store the truffles in the fridge until ready to eat. Makes about 2 dozen delicious truffles. 

Recipe Source: Hershey's

NOTE: To toast the coconut, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place desired amount of sweetened flaked coconut in a baking pan and spread it evenly over the pan. Place the pan in oven & cook for  about 15 minutes, or until coconut is lightly browned. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spicy Sesame Noodles

Last week I was feeling overwhelmed in the evenings because I was trying to juggle my work, school, home, and social responsibilities all at once. In the coming months, I am going to be looking to make more quick and easy weeknight meals (someone please tell me why I decided to go back to school...). These spicy sesame noodles are one of my go to meals when I am feeling pressed for time. They are really easy to make, and I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. Another great thing about this meal is that it barely makes any mess and it is ready to eat within 20 - 25 minutes from start to finish. This recipe was passed on to me 2 years ago from a friend/coworker, and it was passed on to her from her mother.  I love the flavors of the sesame oil, honey, and spicy red pepper flakes. It is so good! If you are afraid of spice, make sure to really cut down on the amount of red pepper flakes that you use in the recipe. The recipe makes at least 8 generous servings of noodles. The noodles can be enjoyed hot, warm, or cold. Make sure to top each serving with toasted sesame seeds or crushed peanuts. Enjoy!

Recipe for Spicy Sesame Noodles 

1/4 cup of corn oil
1/4 cup of sesame oil
1 Tbsp. of chili oil (optional)
1 1/2 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. of dried onion flakes
5 Tbsp. of honey
3 Tbsp. of soy sauce
1 tsp. of salt
1 16-ounce package of spaghetti noodles
3 Tbsp. of toasted sesame seeds or crushed peanuts

Put a large pot of water on the stovetop and set on high to bring to boil (for the spaghetti noodles).

Put the corn oil, sesame oil, and red chili oil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add in the crushed red pepper flakes and onion flakes, stir. Let the oil, pepper flakes, and onion flakes cook for about 2 minutes (make sure to watch the pan while the oil is cooking - you don't want the oil to get too hot). Remove the saucepan from heat. Add in the honey, soy sauce, and salt and mix well. Set aside.

Once the water begins to boil, add some salt to the water. Add the spaghetti noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain noodles well and then put them into a large bowl. Pour the oil and honey mixture over the noodles and mix. Serve the noodles hot or allow them to cool to room temperature. Top each serving with crushed peanuts or toasted sesame seeds. Eat with chopsticks, if desired!

To toast the sesame seeds: Scatter the sesame seeds in an even layer on a toaster oven baking pan. Toast in the toaster oven for 5 - 7 minutes. This can be done before you begin making the meal, or it can be done while the spaghetti is cooking.

Recipe Adapted from: Cathy Holcombe (this may be my friend's mother...or it is the 
person my friend's mother got the recipe from)

I know we all have busy schedules. Would you like to share your favorite quick & easy weeknight meal? If so, please leave a comment on this post! Thank you.

*Are you looking for more tasty noodle meals? Check out the recipes for cilantro-peanut pasta salad and soba noodle salad. Both recipes are easy to make & they are delicious!*

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lemon Cupcakes with a Lemon Buttercream Frosting

My friend said the lemon buttercream frosting is "ridiculous in a ridiculously good way!"
Who loves lemon? I love lemon, and I also love this recipe for lemon cupcakes. The cake of the cupcake uses cake flour, which is an absolute must in this recipe - so no substitutions. Cake flour makes these cupcakes light and airy. You can find cake flour in the baking section at most all grocery stores. I use the Softasilk brand of cake flour. The flour is fine, silky, smooth, and perfect for this tender cupcake. Not only is the cake good, but the frosting on these cupcakes is also pretty incredible. Due to popular demand, I took these cupcakes to work last week, and one of my coworkers described the frosting as "ridiculous in a ridiculously good way!" 

I think you will really enjoy these cupcakes. The cake is amazing, the lemon buttercream frosting is ridiculously good, and the candied lemons add a nice touch. The candied lemons are edible - they taste like lemon candy! Yum. 

Recipe for Lemon Cupcakes with a Lemon Buttercream Frosting

For the cupcakes
3 sticks of unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
2 cups of granulated sugar
3 cups of cake flour (no substitutions)
1 tsp. of baking powder
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
5 large eggs
2 tsp. of vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons (save lemons to juice them)
4 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1 cup of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin/cupcake tins with paper cupcake liners.

Add the softened butter and sugar to a large bowl. Beat the butter and the sugar together with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until the mixture is light and very fluffy (about 5 minutes or so).

In a medium bowl, add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda). Sift the ingredients together and set aside.

Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter and sugar mixture. Make sure to beat egg into the mixture on low speed after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest. 

Now beat in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in alternating additions to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture. First add about a third of the dry ingredients to the mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Then add about half of the buttermilk to the mixture and mix on low speed. Continue alternating the dry ingredients and buttermilk into the mixture, ending with the dry ingredients. Make sure that all of the ingredients are well incorporated and that the mixture is fluffy.

Using a cookie dough scoop or small ladle, scoop the batter into each cupcake liner. Fill the liners with the batter almost to the tops, because the batter does not rise much.

Bake cupcakes for 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Once cooled, frost with the lemon buttercream frosting and garnish with the candied lemon slices, if desired. 

(Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes)

For the Lemon Buttercream Frosting
2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
2 - 3 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. of lemon zest
3 cups of powdered sugar

Put the butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer set on medium-low speed, beat together until the butter is smooth and creamy. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, and mix on low until the frosting is at a good consistency for spreading. 

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting Recipe from: Our Best Bites

Recipe for Candied Lemon Slices

1 cup of water
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 lemons 

Wash and dry the lemons. Slice the lemons very thinly, and cut into halves or quarters. Add the water and sugar to a small saucepan. Put the saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon slices to the pan in a single layer and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, then use a fork to gently flip the lemons over. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Pour the lemons and syrup into an airtight container and store until ready to use.

Love Cupcakes? Love Coconut? You'll love the recipe for coconut cupcakes!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chocolate Egg Cream

Just like you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge this recipe by its name. There is no egg in a chocolate egg cream. If you are wondering what this mysterious chocolate egg cream is, it is a delicious chocolate beverage that I just discovered. I was flipping through a cookbook devoted to ch
ocolate (lots of great recipes), and I came across the chocolate egg cream recipe. I made it & loved it. What I loved about the egg cream was that it fulfilled my chocolate craving, but it did not seem too rich or indulgent. So, here is what it is - a chocolate egg cream is a fountain drink made of chocolate syrup, milk (I used cream in this recipe), and seltzer water. It originates back to the late 19th century, and it has been a very popular drink in Brooklyn, NY. Now it is a popular drink in my house! I think you will also really enjoy this tasty chocolate treat.

Recipe for Chocolate Egg Cream

2 Tbsp. of chocolate syrup (see recipe below)
2 Tbsp. of cream or half and half
Cold Seltzer water (the fizzier the better)

Put the chocolate syrup and cream in the bottom of a tall glass. Stir the syrup and cream together until it is smooth. Top the glass off with seltzer water. Best when sipped with a straw or spoon.

Recipe for Chocolate Syrup

1/3 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
4 - 5 Tbsp. of very hot water

In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa powder and sugar. Add in 2 Tbsp. of the water and mix until very smooth. Add in the rest of the water, one tablespoon at a time, until a good consistency is reached. Whisk until all of the cocoa powder and sugar are fully dissolved. Store chocolate syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (like it wouldn't be gone by then...).

Recipe for Chocolate Syrup and Chocolate Egg Cream Adapted from: The Essence of Chocolate

For a really quick chocolate egg cream fix, use bottled or jarred chocolate syrup. However, the homemade chocolate syrup only takes a few minutes to make.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Maryland Lump Crab Cakes with a Lemon-Parsley Butter Sauce

Maryland Lump Crab Cakes served with oven-baked potato fries & a spinach salad.
I made homemade crab cakes for dinner on Sunday night. I've made them once before, but it has been a long time since I have been inspired to make them. Well, this weekend I felt very inspired to make Maryland crab cakes...

This weekend, Greg and I participated in a sailboat race to Oxford, Md (ok, Greg participated - I just did my best to stay out of the way)! We got on Fast Forward and left the dock in Galesville, Md early on Saturday and we safely arrived in Oxford around 2 PM. The beginning of the race was quite wild, and I was hoping that the start would be the most exciting part of the day, but the entire race was a crazy ride. We had endured winds of up to 42 mph, and it was kind of (really) scary. Later that night we dined at the Robert Morris Inn, in the Tred Avon dining room. It was a lovely meal with very fun people. After the meal, we headed over to a party at the Tred Avon Yacht Club. At the party, we found out that we placed 9th out of 25 boats in the race!

So, sailing to the Eastern Shore in Maryland inspired me to make crab cakes. On the sail back yesterday, I decided I wanted to make the cakes as soon as we got home. As you might be able to tell, the race home was uneventful. We had less than 5 mph winds & we ended up dropping the sails and turning on the motor so we could get back to dock at a reasonable hour.

Making the crab cakes was really easy. There was not much prep time and they cooked in under 30 minutes. I recommend buying pre-picked crab meat that is ready to eat - this will make the process much easier! Also, make sure to buy pretty high quality crab meat for your crab cakes. The price might make you cringe, but it is worth it. Plus, making crab cakes at home is always much cheaper than ordering them at a restaurant. The going rate for a cake at the Robert Morris Inn was $29! I made 4 crab cakes at home for less than $14. If you want to pay the extra $4 - $5, go ahead and buy the jumbo lump crab meat in place of the lump crab meat. The butter sauce on these crab cakes is also a really nice touch. I drizzled a little on top of each crab cake and then squeezed on some extra lemon juice. So yummy!

Recipe for Maryland Lump Crab Cakes

1 medium egg
1 tsp. of fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp. of dried parsley leaves
1/4 tsp. of kosher salt
a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. of Old Bay Seasoning
3/4 tsp. of Grey Poupon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. of mayonnaise
8 ounce container of ready to eat lump crab meat, drained of juices
6 - 8 saltine crackers, crushed
a small pat of butter for each crab cake

Adjust your oven so that a rack is on the top, closest to the heat source. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Crack the egg into a large bowl and then use a fork to beat the egg well. Add in the fresh parsley, dried parsley, salt, ground pepper, Old Bay seasoning, Grey Poupon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Mix the ingredients together. Fold in the crab meat and mayonnaise and mix. Add in 6 of the crushed saltine crackers and mix well. If the mixture does not appear to stick together well enough for forming into patties, mix in the other 2 crushed Saltine crackers (more if needed).

Use a large spoon to scoop out desired amount of the crab mixture and then form with your hands to make a patty/cake. Place the crab cake onto a baking sheet. Repeat until you have used all of the crab mixture (I made 4 regular-sized crab cakes with the mixture). Place a very small pat of butter on top of each crab cake and then sprinkle each one with a dash of black pepper. Place the baking sheet on the top rack of the oven and bake for 12 - 15 minutes. Then, using a spatula, very carefully loosen the bottom of each crab cake from the pan but do not flip. Rotate the pan and cook for another 10 - 12 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown.

Serve with lemon-parsley butter sauce (recipe below) and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Eat with your favorite sides (we had oven-baked potato fries and a spinach salad). Enjoy!

Recipe Adapted from: The Chesapeake Bay Crabbiest Cookbook

Recipe for Lemon-Parsley Butter Sauce

1/2 stick of unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 tsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. of white cooking wine
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
a dash of Sriracha hot sauce

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once butter has melted, add in all of the other ingredients. Simmer together on low heat for about 45 seconds. Drizzle butter sauce on crab cakes or serve on the side for dipping.

Recipe Adapted from: The Chesapeake Bay Crabbiest Cookbook

If you didn't know this already, the state of Maryland is known for its delicious blue crabs. Some people enjoy spending countless hours cracking crabs to get just a little bit of meat out, but I prefer meals made of crab - like crab cakes! I also love crab dip, crab imperial, and crab soups. What food/drink is your state known for? Let me know by commenting on this post!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cookie Dough Truffles & Coconut Truffles (Repost)

Years ago, I would have never thought I would be able to make homemade truffles. Now I am kind of addicted to making truffles! I first learned how to make cookie dough truffles. Since then I've made lemon truffles, blackberry truffles, sweet cream & walnut truffles, plain chocolate truffles, and COCONUT truffles. You can learn how to make truffles too!

The cookie dough truffles are amazingly good and totally addicting. The best part is that they taste exactly like cookie dough covered in chocolate (wow), but there is no raw egg in the mixture, so no worries about salmonella. The cookie dough mixture all sticks together using sweetened condensed milk, which also plays a big role in making them so delicious.

I've been told by coconut lovers that the coconut truffles are way better than Mounds or Almond Joy bars, and non-coconut lovers even go back for seconds. I think it is only fair to add this warning to this truffles posting, so here it is: Once you learn how to make either of these truffles and they are shared with your friends, they will always ask you to make them. Any time you are invited to a potluck, baby shower, wedding shower, or other food-centered event - you will be going with truffles in hand! Enjoy.

Recipe for Cookie Dough Truffles

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup of light brown sugar
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp. of vanilla extract
3/4 cup of semisweet OR milk chocolate chips (mini or regular size)
16 ounces of semisweet baking chocolate squares OR 15 ounces of milk chocolate baking squares

Place the butter and brown sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer set on medium-low speed to cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add in the condensed milk, flour, and vanilla extract to the mixture and mix to incorporate well. Fold in the chocolate chips. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for a few hours.
Once chilled, use a cookie dough scoop to roll the cookie dough batter into 1 1/2-inch balls. Place each ball in a container lined with aluminum foil (you might need more than one container). Cover each container used with foil, and place in the freezer for 2 hours.
When ready to dip the balls, place the chocolate squares into a small saucepan. Place a double boiler filled one-quarter full with water over medium-high heat. Once it begins to steam, place the pan of chocolate on top. Stir the chocolate until it is fully melted. Take one container of frozen cookie dough balls out of the freezer. Remove chocolate from heat. Using a spoon, drop in one or two of the cookie dough balls at a time into the melted chocolate. Fully coat with the chocolate, then drop onto a baking pan lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Repeat steps with the rest of the frozen cookie dough balls. Once all are coated and on the baking pan, place the pan into the fridge to allow the chocolate to harden more. They should be ready to indulge in within 30 minutes or less. Try to eat just one - I dare you!

Recipe Source: Annie's Eats

Looking for more truffle recipes? Try out the recipe for sweet cream & walnut truffles.

Recipe for Coconut Truffles (with or without toasted almonds)
1 14-ounce bag of sweetened shredded flaked coconut
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
3 - 4 Tbsp. of all-purpose flour
2 tsp. of vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp. of almond extract
16-ounces of semisweet baking chocolate squares, broken in half
Toasted almond, whole or cut in half (optional)

Place the coconut, condensed milk, almond extract, vanilla extract, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Mix together until well incorporated. Cover the bowl and put into the fridge for 2 hours or more. Line a few containers with parchment paper. Once the mixture is chilled, use a cookie dough scoop to roll 1 to 1 1/2-inch balls and place each one into the prepared containers. If using the almonds, press one almond in the middle of a coconut ball so it sticks (the ball may flatten, but that is ok). Cover the containers with foil and place in the freezer for 2 hours or longer.
Place chocolate squares into a small saucepan. Place a double boiler filled one-quarter full with water over the stovetop set on medium-high heat. When the water simmers and you see steam, put the saucepan with the chocolate on top of the double boiler. Let the chocolate melt completely, frequently stirring until it is melted. Take one container of the coconut balls out of the freezer. Remove the melted chocolate from heat. Use a spoon to drop one or two coconut balls into the melted chocoalte. Coat entirely with the chocolate, and then place one a baking pan lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Continue dipping until each coconut ball is coated, and then repeat the process with the rest of the frozen coconut balls (taking one container out of the freezer at a time). Once all are coated, place the baking sheet in the fridge to cool and allow the chocolate to harden. They will be ready to devour within 30 minutes or less. ENJOY!

***Original Recipe***

It is always best to use a high quality of chocolate for dipping truffles, but our pocketbooks don't always allow for that. I recommend using the Baker's Brand of semisweet baking chocolate bars for truffles. They are available in the baking section at almost all grocery stores, and they run bout $3 - $4 per 8-ounce package. If you choose milk chocolate for the coating, I recommend the Ghiradelli brand of baking chocolate. It is also sold at most grocery stores, and it run about $3.50 per 4-ounce bar. Don't be tempted to use chocolate chips for dipping the truffles. Chocolate chips have less butterfat and a different melting property, so they don't produce as great of results. Happy dipping! 

Looking for more coconut recipes? You'll love the recipe for coconut macaroons!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal with Caramelized Bananas

Finally, fall weather is here in Maryland. I have survived another hot, muggy, swampy, humid, sticky and (insert other adjectives for disgustingly gross weather here) summer. We finally have gotten relief, and I can smell fall in the air. I could also smell cinnamon in the air this past weekend, after making this delicious baked oatmeal for breakfast.

This baked pumpkin oatmeal with caramelized bananas is so yummy on a fall (or cool September) morning. It is the perfect start to the day. I have made this oatmeal dish several times, and I have been looking forward to being able to make it again (nobody wants oatmeal in the summer time). It smells delicious as it bakes in the oven, and when you eat it, it comforts your soul. This recipe makes a lot, so it's great for a family on a Saturday or Sunday morning, or you can eat if for leftovers during the week. For an extra special touch, top each bowl of oatmeal off with some cream or toasted pecans. Yummy!

Happy Fall to everyone!

Recipe for Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal with Caramelized Bananas

For the caramelized bananas
2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
2 medium bananas, cut in 1/4" slices
2 Tbsp. of dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. of cinnamon
For the oatmeal
1 cup of steel cut oats
4 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
4 cups of very hot water
3 cups of old-fashioned oats (such as Quaker Oats)
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
1/4 cup of maple syrup
3/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of nutmeg
2 tsp. of cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 cup of canned pumpkin
1/2 cup of milk
1 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract

For the caramelized bananas 
-(Make the bananas after mixing together the steel cut oats, butter, and hot water in a large bowl - see steps for oatmeal mixture below)-
Melt the 2 Tbsp. of butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add in the sliced bananas, dark brown sugar, and cinnamon. Toss the ingredients gently and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and turn off the stovetop. Allow the bananas to cool. 
For the oatmeal mixture
Put the steel cut oats and 4 Tbsp. of butter in a very large heat-safe bowl. Pour the 4 cups of very hot water over the oats and butter, and then cover the bowl with tightly with a lid. Let rest for 20 minutes.
-(While the oatmeal is sitting, make the caramelized bananas)-
Once the steel cut oats have sat for 20 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then add in the old-fashioned oats, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves to the bowl with the steel cut oats. Stir well. In a separate bowl, mix together the canned pumpkin, milk, and vanilla extract. Blend the pumpkin mixture into the oatmeal mixture. 
Spread the caramelized bananas into the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Pour the oatmeal over the caramelized bananas. Cook the oatmeal in the oven for 40 minutes. Let the oatmeal cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Recipe Source: Annie's Eats

COMMENTS: What are your fall weather comfort foods? Let me know by leaving a comment on this post!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Three Tomato Pie

Last week something very exciting happened. I went out into my garden to cut some zinnias, and I noticed that there were TONS of cherry tomatoes on a couple of the tomato plants. I think I started jumping up in down because I was so happy (wow, my life must be pretty boring). Before last week, we had only picked a total of 4 cherry tomatoes at a time off of the plant. Our large tomatoes didn't do well either. Well, I ended up picking about 40 cherry tomatoes from the plants and another 50 just the other day. The cherry tomatoes are obviously late bloomers (I guess they take after me)!

I couldn't not make something with the tomatoes from my garden. I was thinking of making the cherry tomato tart with the basil garlic crust, but then I remembered that my mom had sent me a recipe for this tomato pie. I remember her making the pie a couple times many years ago, and I decided that it might be fun to make. It's completely different than the cherry tart. Instead of mozzarella cheese it uses ricotta, and instead of using basil it uses thyme. It is also healthier than the tart because ricotta cheese is much lower in calories than mozzarella. It's also packed with protein! I would guesstimate that a piece (1/8 of the three tomato pie) has under 250 calories. Not too shabby - especially because it is filling & delicious. I've made it twice in the past week. And, if I get some more cherry tomatoes, I just might have to make it again! Enjoy!

Recipe for Three Tomato Pie

For the crust
1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp. of kosher salt
4 1/2 Tbsp. of vegetable shortening
4 Tbsp. of ice cold water
For the filling
1/2 cup of fresh parmesan cheese, grated
2 egg whites
1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tsp. of dried thyme leaves, plus more for sprinkling
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
freshly ground black pepper
3 - 4 roma tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch slices
6 - 7 yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced (not in half, but in thin slices)
3 - 4 red cherry tomatoes, sliced (not in half, but in thin slices)
1 Tbsp. of Extra-Virgin olive oil
Salt, for sprinkling

For the crust
Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until just combined. Add the 4 1/2 Tbsp. of shortening to the bowl. Pulse, several times, until the mixture because crumby. With the processor running, pour 1 Tbsp. of the cold water through the feed tube. Continue to add more water through the tube until the mixture forms into a ball and leave the sides of the bowl. Gather up the dough and slightly flatten it into a disc. Wrap in saran wrap and put in the fridge for 30 minutes. After about 20 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
After dough has been in the fridge, take it out and place it into a 10-inch pie pan. Press it out evenly over the bottom of the pan and press the dough up on the sides of the pan. Cover the dough with a piece of foil and fold the foil over the edges of the pie pan. Put pie weights on the foil; in the center of the pan. Bake the dough in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, carefully remove the weights and foil from the pan. Place back in the oven and cook for another 6 - 7 minutes. Remove from oven and lower the oven temperature to 330 degrees. Make the filling.
For the filling
Pour the egg whites into a medium-sized bowl (to easily separate egg whites and yolks, use an egg separator). Add the ricotta cheese in with the egg whites. Use a fork to mix the egg whites and ricotta cheese together, until smooth. Add in the pressed garlic, thyme, and freshly ground black pepper (about 5 - 6 grinds). Mix.
For assembling
Scatter the grated parmesan cheese evenly over the bottom of the cooked pie crust. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the cheese. Put the tomatoes on the ricotta layer. Arrange the sliced Roma tomatoes  so they are up against the edge of the crust and overlap them to form a circle. Place all but one slice of the yellow cherry tomatoes right inside of the Roma tomatoes, and arrange them into a circle. Then arrange the red cherry tomatoes inside of the yellow cherry tomato circle. Place the one yellow cherry tomato slice in the last inner circle. Evenly drizzle the one tablespoon of olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle a generous amount of thyme over the tomatoes and sprinkle on some salt. Top with a couple grinds of freshly ground black pepper.
Place the assembled tomato pie in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pie 180 degrees halfway through cooking. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Recipe Adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens

COMMENTS: What is your favorite dish that you like to make with tomatoes? Let me know by posting a comment! 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cashew-Encrusted Mahi Mahi with a Rum Butter Sauce

I love fish. I don't really understand people who don't like fish. I especially don't understand the people who say they don't like fish because it tastes "too fishy." I do think I know what people are talking about, but if a fish is prepared well,  it shouldn't taste fishy. The fish should absorb the flavors of the spices or coatings that it is made with. One of my favorite fish dishes that I have made is this cashew-encrusted Mahi Mahi. I adapted the fish and sauce recipe from the McCormick & Schmick cookbook.

I was really happy to come across this recipe. I had tried to encrust fish on my own before, and the results were always disastrous. The coating would never stick and I'd end up practically in tears by the time I was finished cooking the fish - and the meal would usually end up in the trashcan. So much time and effort (and money) wasted. So, when I followed this recipe and the coating stuck, I was ecstatic. I was also excited because it tasted so yummy! It does make a mess and it does take some time, but it is worth it in the end. If you don't want to make a rum sauce, the fish actually is really good without any sauce at all. Or you can find some other sauce recipes online. Enjoy!

Recipe for Cashew-Encrusted Mahi Mahi with a Rum Butter Sauce
2 pieces of Mahi Mahi (about 6 ounces each)
Flour for dusting
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. of milk
1 1/4 cup of unsalted cashews
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
Chopped red and yellow bell peppers, for garnish
Rum butter sauce (recipe below)

First, ground the cashews. Place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the cashews are finely ground. Pour the ground cashews into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the two eggs together. Mix in the 2 Tbsp. of milk. Set aside.
Dust the 2 pieces of fish with flour (make sure the fish is fully thawed and patted dry before dusting). Dip one piece of fish in the egg mixture, and then immediately dip in the ground cashews. Make sure to coat the piece of fish entirely with cashews, then set it on a large plate. Dip the next piece of fish in the egg mixture and cashew mixture, and place it on the plate with the other piece. Place the fish in the refrigerator for an hour. If you are using the rum butter sauce or another type of sauce, now would be a good time to make it while the fish is resting in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook the fish, place the 1/4 cup of oil in a large electric skillet. Turn the skillet on medium heat. Once the oil is hot enough, place the coated fish in the skillet. If needed, adjust the skillet temperature. Cook the fish for about 4 - 5 minutes. Carefully flip each piece of fish and let cook for another 3 - 4 minutes; longer if needed. The cashew crust should be golden brown in color when it is done.
Top fish with the diced bell peppers. Drizzle the fish with the rum butter sauce or serve it on the side for dipping. Serve fish with your favorite sides. It pairs well with plain rice and steamed asparagus.

For the rum butter sauce
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 Tbsp. of light rum
1 1/2 Tbsp. of dark rum
1 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped very finely (seeds and veins for heat; removed for less heat)
1 Tbsp. of sugar
5 Tbsp. of unsalted butter; cold & cut into 1-inch pieces

Cut the vanilla bean down the middle. Place it into a small saucepan. Add in the light and dark rum, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, and sugar. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced to just a couple of tablespoons.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in a few pieces of the butter and stir the butter until it melts. Continue to add a few pieces of butter at a time, allowing it to melt before adding in any more. Keep the sauce on the stove until ready to serve, but do not keep it over direct heat.

Recipe Adapted from: McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant Cookbook - Second Edition

Yes, the picture is a little random - but posting this recipe reminded me
of the sailboat charter trip I took with Greg to the British Virgin Islands.
In BVI, it's not an option to not eat fish or seafood for dinner! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Purple Basil Vinegar

The inspiration for today's post comes from my mother, Lynda. For several years my mom has been making purple basil vinegar, and the stuff is amazing.

Although it might not feel like it outside, summer is drawing to a close. If you would like to capture summer and enjoy it all year long, consider making yourself some purple basil vinegar! You'll be able to enjoy the vinegar in so many ways. It taste great mixed with olive oil and drizzled on tomatoes and cucumbers. You can drizzle the basil vinegar and some oil on sandwiches for extra flavor. The basil vinegar can be used for an incredible vinaigrette for salads. Yum!
If you do not have any purple basil, you can look for some at your local farmer's market.
Or, purchase purple basil plants or seeds at a garden center so you can grow it next year!

Recipe for Purple Basil Vinegar
A lot of purple basil (stems and all)
A large glass jar that has a lid (don't use metal)
Bottles of seasoned rice vinegar (save vinegar bottles and lids)
A large pitcher
A funnel
A wooden spoon

The amount of basil and vinegar you use will depend on the size of jar you pick. You want to have enough basil to be loosely packed full in the jar; and enough vinegar to cover the basil.

Wash the basil vinegar and shake off the water. Let the basil rest on a towel for a few minutes. Lightly crush the purple basil leaves to release their scent. Loosely pack the basil leaves into the glass jar. Pour the vinegar into the jar so that the basil leaves are fully covered. Tightly cover the jar, and let it sit out for 2 - 3 weeks.

Once the vinegar has set for ample time, prepare the vinegar bottles for use. Soak the vinegar bottles in a sink full of water for several hours, until the labels come off. Then run the bottles through the dishwasher. 

Strain the vinegar through a fine mesh sieve into a large pitcher. To get as much flavor as possible from the basil, press down on the basil with a wooden spoon and allow juices to seep into the pitcher. Use a funnel and pour the vinegar from the pitcher into the clean glass bottles.

Store vinegar at room temperature. Can be enjoyed all year long.
Purple Basil Vinegar in bottles.

Recipe Source: Lynda 

NOTE: For a basil vinaigrette, mix together basil vinegar, olive oil, and 1/2 package of Good Seasons salad dressing mix. For amounts, follow the directions on the Good Seasonings package. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Quinoa, Corn & Black Bean Wraps (or dip)

The other week I went over to a friend's house for a quick visit. She had made a yummy quinoa dip that we ate with chips, and she told me she would email me the recipe. I made the dip at the beach for lunch two times, and then this week I made it for dinner - but I served it in tortillas to make wraps. After making it for dinner, I planned on taking a picture the following day for the blog. Well, Greg had eaten the rest of it for lunch - so I had no picture, unless I wanted to take a picture of the empty bowl he left out...!

I decided to make it again this weekend. Luckily it's really easy to make and doesn't take much time to prepare. I love this meal because it's super healthy and filling. You can serve it for dinner or you can serve it as an appetizer with chips. Greg and I ate it with chips yesterday for lunch. It makes a lot, so if you make it as a dip, consider serving it at a party! Enjoy.

Recipe for Quinoa, Corn & Black Bean Wraps (or dip)

We ate the meal as a dip for lunch the next day! 
1 cup of quinoa, cooked and cooled
2 cans of black beans, drained of juices
Corn kernels from 3 medium ears of corn
3 limes, juiced
1 tsp. of olive oil
1/4 tsp. of kosher salt
1/8 tsp. of cumin powder
a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup of fresh cilantro leaves, torn in smallish pieces
1 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 - 2 avocados, chopped in 1-inch chunks
6-inch soft flour tortillas (if doing wraps)
Your favorite tortilla chips (if making as a dip)

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Once quinoa is fully cooked and drained of excess water, pour it in a separate bowl and set aside to cool.

While quinoa is cooling, use a shearing knife to carefully cut the corn kernels off the cob. Combine the black beans and corn kernels in a large bowl. Once the quinoa has cooled, add it to the bowl with the beans and corn. Add the juice of the 3 limes to the bowl. Add in the tsp. of olive oil. Sprinkle the mixture with the kosher salt and cumin powder. Add in a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Add in the 3/4 cup of cilantro leaves. Stir the mixture to combine all of the ingredients. Cover the bowl, and set in the fridge for about 45 minutes (to allow flavors to meld together). Right before serving, chop up the tomatoes and avocado and add to the bowl. Mix.

If serving wraps, spoon 2 - 3 tablespoons of the mixture down the middle of a tortilla. Sprinkle with extra salt, if desired. Fold the tortillas and serve.

If serving dip, sprinkle the mixture with extra salt, if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

Recipe Adapted from: Foodie Gone Healthy

If you plan on eating more for leftovers the next day, it is a good idea to actually not add the tomatoes and avocados to the entire mixture. Just top the wraps or dip with the tomato and avocado before serving. Tomatoes and avocados don't hold up too well in the fridge overnight! Add extra tomato and avocado the next day before serving again.

*Love quinoa? You might like this CPK-inspired quinoa salad with arugula.*