Friday, April 27, 2012

Blueberry and Basil go hand in hand
in 'delicious and refreshing' margaritas

Although it’s raining and miserable outside as I write this, the kind of day where soup is a welcome guest at the table, I’m still in the mood to tell you about a cocktail for a warm spring or summer day – it’s that fantastic.
   Blueberry and Basil Margaritas (click for the recipe) from Saveur magazine are amazing. Delicious and refreshing, those two cliché words often used to describe a good drink, are definitely applicable here.
   It would be a lovely opening cocktail for a backyard shindig.
   It’s the first time I’ve come across such a prominent combination of blueberries and basil in a recipe. Actually, reviewing quickly in my head, I actually can’t recall a time I’ve had the two together in any manner for a dish or drink.
   But they go hand in beautiful hand, believe me.
   The recipe says it makes one cocktail (one generously large cocktail).
   If you want to make more than one, you’re certainly going to want to do part of the recipe in advance, even though that’s not obviously indicated in the recipe.
   The first sentence of the directions says to boil fresh lime and lemon juices and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves (I used Splenda instead), then leave it to cool.
   If you’re going to make more than one cocktail, that step is going to become very laborious very quickly.
   I tripled the amount of juices and sugar in this initial preparation, but it seems to me it could be easily quadrupled and beyond.
   I refrigerated this simple syrup for several hours so it got nice and cold, then brought it out when I was ready to make the margaritas. I measured the syrup to see how much I had, then divided it by three. Each cocktail I made received a third of the syrup.
   For one cocktail, the syrup is poured into a cocktail shaker, along with blueberries and basil leaves. The blueberries and basil are crushed with a spoon; I made sure all the berries had burst before I moved on to the next step.
   The recipe then calls for adding reposado tequila, but I used the tequila we had in stock, the most common kind sold at the liquor store.
   Tequila, Grand Marnier, agave syrup and ice are added to the shaker, and the mixture is shaken. It’s then strained into a highball glass filled with ice. Make sure to shake the shaker to get out all the amazing cocktail mixture.
   I didn’t bother with the blueberry and basil garnish – I served these suckers as is and we enjoyed them immensely.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mint scores well again in spring pasta dish

It never fails to amaze me how delicious mint tastes with pasta.
   Mint is often associated with cocktails and desserts, but it can add a refreshing depth to a plate of pasta as well.
   My most recent outing with mint in pasta was with Fresh Tortellini with Asparagus, Peas, and Mint (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   Once again, the mint played a lovely role in making this spring-season dish delicious, blending perfectly with the goat cheese, peas, pine nuts and asparagus.
   The asparagus was also a highlight of the dish. The recipe’s direction to boil it for two to three minutes is perfect: It yields tender, but not mushy, pieces of asparagus.
   The dish was an absolute snap to make, perfect for a weeknight.
   My husband and I diverged from the recipe slightly by cooking the fresh store-bought tortellini longer than indicated in the recipe.
   The recipe says to boil the pasta, asparagus and peas together for two to three minutes. However, the tortellini package said the pasta’s proper cooking time is six to eight minutes.
   We boiled the tortellini alone for three minutes, then added the asparagus and peas and boiled for another three minutes. This seemed to be a perfect time combination to yield nicely-cooked tortellini and asparagus.
   The recipe calls for shelled fresh peas or thawed frozen peas. I used canned peas.
   After the boiled tortellini, asparagus and peas are drained, they are tossed in a large bowl with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt.
   Toasted pine nuts, chopped mint, and goat cheese are added, and those ingredients are stirred into the pasta until the cheese melts into a sauce.
   Season with salt and pepper if desired and serve.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Queso Fresco Quesadillas become very easy
if you don't make homemade salsa

As I scanned the list of recipes that use queso fresco on the Food Network website, I saw one for quesadillas at the intermediate level.
   Surprised that quesadillas would rank above an easy preparation level, I looked at Queso Fresco Quesadillas (click for the recipe) and found the reason why it was ranked at the intermediate level: It included making a tomatilla salsa.
   Forget that! Store-bought salsa would work just fine, I thought. Without making the salsa, the quesadillas looked like a breeze to prepare – just the kind of recipe that appeals to me.
   Queso fresco is a creamy, soft, and mild unaged white cheese that originated in Spain and is very popular in Mexico. When I saw it recently at the supermarket, I grabbed it, as it’s not always around.
   Mozzarella or Monterey Jack, or a combination of both, are often suggested as substitutes for queso fresco.
   The quesadillas were delicious, with lots of gooey cheese and nice fresh elements from the tomatoes and scallions (green onions).
   The recipe says to crumble the quesco fresco cheese, but the block I had was hard enough to easily grate, so that’s what I did instead. Grated queso fresco was easier to distribute on the tortillas.
   The recipe calls for clarified butter. You can make this yourself (there are dozens of instructional sites online) or buy it in the Indian foods section of the supermarket, where it’s often called ghee. Or, you can be like me and not worry about clarified butter at all. We simply used regular butter and melted it in the skillet, and it worked fine. A silicone brush can be used to spread the melted butter all around the skillet.
   The recipe also calls for six julienned scallions (also known as green or spring onions). This may seem like a lot and that it might provide too much bite, but it’s surprisingly not. Spread out over a 10-inch flour tortillas, it provides just enough extra taste.
   My husband and I skipped the called-for cilantro completely, as we both hate it!
   A quesadilla is made by laying a flour tortilla on a work surface (we used whole wheat tortillas), then sprinkling on grated queso fresco. Thinly-sliced Roma tomatoes (or any type of tomatoes) are arranged over the cheese, then the scallions placed on top.
   Another tortilla is placed on top, and the quesadilla is placed in a skillet or frying pan coated with melted butter. The top is brushed with melted butter. After about two minutes of cooking time, or until the underside is golden brown, the quesadilla is flipped and cooked for about another two minutes.
   After one quesadilla was cooked, my husband put it on a plate in a low oven to keep it warm while the other was cooked in the skillet.
   He put more butter in the pan before cooking the second quesadilla.
   The quesadillas are cut into four to six pieces, and served with salsa and sour cream.

Friday, April 20, 2012

First time having Banh Mi is
satisfying with meatball-filled baguette

I’m was quite sure I’d never had Banh Mi before, so the recipe’s name, Meatball Banh Mi (click for the recipe), immediately caught my attention.
   So did the introduction to the recipe in Eating Well magazine: “This banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is filled with zingy slaw and chicken-and-pork meatballs spiked with fresh herbs.” Sounds good, right?
   Upon further investigation, I found that "Banh Mi" is Vietnamese for sandwiches that combine ingredients that originated in France, such as baguettes, pâté or mayonnaise with Vietnamese ingredients like cilantro and pickled carrots. Pork is the most common meat filling.
   This certainly checked out with Meatball Banh Mi. The recipe calls for baguettes, mayonnaise, ground pork, chile-garlic sauce, water chestnuts, daikon radish, carrots, cucumber and cilantro (although we skipped the cilantro because we both hate it!)
   The resulting sandwiches were fresh and satisfying, and terrific with a cold beer.
   The recipe is a little time-consuming, but not very difficult.
   The slaw is made by tossing shredded carrot, daikon radish, scallion greens (scallions are also known as green or spring onions) and basil with a dressing of fresh lime juice and sugar.
   The meatballs are made by combining ground pork, ground chicken breast, finely-chopped water chestnuts, scallion whites, minced garlic, fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce and pepper in a large bowl, then rolling the mixture into balls. They are baked in the oven.
   A sandwich spread is made by combining mayo and chile-garlic sauce.
   To assemble the sandwiches, baguettes, preferably whole-wheat, are cut into thirds, and then each section is cut in half horizontally. The soft bread in the centre of each piece is pulled out.
   The mayo-chile garlic sauce is spread on each piece of the baguette, then slaw, cucumber, cilantro (if desired) is piled inside. Three meatballs are put in the bottom of each sandwich, and the other half of the bread sections are put on top.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Flatbread pizzas a fresh combination
of flatbread, feta, mixed greens and dill

It seems everywhere I turn these days people are talking about gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets.
   Although I haven’t adopted any of those diets, my husband and I try to eat a variety of foods. We try to eat vegetables and fruit every day, whole grains whenever possible, and occasionally legumes and fish.
   When I come across a nice-looking recipe that veers off the beaten food path into vegan and vegetarian territory, I want to try it.
   Flatbread Pizzas (click for the recipe) from BBC Good Food magazine called to me with its homemade hummus spread on flatbread sprinkled with mixed greens, feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and dill.
   It also called to me because it looked very easy to make.
   They were very easy to make, and delicious. If you’re craving something fresh and new, these flatbreads will satisfy that craving in spades.
   The recipe has two parts – the flatbreads pizzas, and a side salad that’s comprised of the same ingredients used on the flatbreads. I thought this was overkill, and so only made the flatbread pizzas. Because of this, I needed only half the amounts of three ingredients listed – the lemon juice, greens and pomegranate seeds. I didn’t bother with the raw red onion at all, as I prefer them cooked.
   The recipe called for Middle Eastern flatbreads – I used naan bread.
   The recipe also calls for “rocket leaves.” Rocket is the British term for arugula.
   Pomegranate seeds are also listed as an ingredient. One of our local supermarkets had these in the produce aisle when they were needed and so I was able to use them, but if you can’t find them, just leave them out.
   Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) are puréed in a food processor with lemon juice, garlic and cumin, along with a few tablespoons of water to get a spreadable consistency with the resulting hummus (spelled the British way, houmous, in the recipe).
   The naan or flatbreads are warmed according to package instructions, then spread with the hummus. Feta cheese, dill, greens and pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over top.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blueberry-Poppy Seed Squares
are so good, people will buy them!

Earlier this week, my husband took some of the Blueberry-Poppy Seed Squares (click for the recipe) I baked to work. When he came home after work that day, I asked how they went over with his co-workers.
   “I sold ’em,” he said with a laugh.
   It was for a good cause, as he was raising money for a major cancer prevention event he is participating in, but I didn’t know in advance he was going to sell the squares.
   I was glad he was able to raise a few bucks for his cause, and it showed that the poppy seed squares were as good as I thought – people were willing to pay for them!
   These squares really are very delicious. There is a shortbread bottom, a poppy seed-cream middle, and a terrific blueberry topping that’s a lot like jam.
   The recipe was quite easy to make, too, but I did have to tweak a couple of things.
   First, the recipe calls for ground poppy seeds, which I couldn’t find – I could only find whole poppy seeds. Because poppy seeds are already so tiny, they are difficult to grind at home – I tried!
   I substituted whole poppy seeds for ground. The recipe called for 1 ½ cups ground poppy seeds, and I used ¾ cup whole poppy seeds instead. It worked perfectly.
   Second, the recipe says to cook the blueberries until they burst, about 20 minutes. I found this only took about 10 minutes.
   The bottom layer of the squares is made by beating unsalted butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (I used an electric hand mixer). Flour and salt are added and combined, and the resulting dough is pressed into the bottom of a greased and floured 9” x 13” metal baking pan. The dough won’t be in a ball when it is mixed; it will be in large crumbs. Simply dump them into the pan and press.
   After baking, the crust is left to cool.
   Blueberries, lemon juice and ground cinnamon are cooked over medium-high heat until the berries burst. The mixture is removed from the heat and left to cool.
   Poppy seeds and heavy cream (I used whipping cream) are mixed together and spread evenly over the cooled crust.
   The blueberry mixture is poured over the poppy seed layer and sprinkled with a streusel mixture of butter, flour, salt, sugar and vanilla.
   After a 40-minute baking time and cooling, the squares are cut and served. They will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lemon-Pepper Fettuccine features
quick, easy version of Alfredo sauce

A couple of years ago I read an article in Saveur magazine about fettuccine Alfredo and what it really is.
   There is no cream in authentic Alfredo sauce – just butter and parmesan cheese.
   This how fettucine Alfredo was prepared by its inventor, Roman restaurateur Alfredo di Lelio:
   “The dish was prepared tableside, with much theatrical flourish, to the accompaniment of a tenor and a violinist. A tangle of steaming fettuccine, fresh from the pot, was placed on a warm platter dotted with pats of sweet butter. As the heat from the noodles and the platter melted the butter, a smiling and mustachioed di Lelio, clad in a white coat, gracefully lifted and twirled the fettuccine with a gold fork and spoon, pausing to mix in copious amounts of finely grated parmesan.”
   Adding cream to fettuccine Alfredo is apparently an American tweak to the recipe. The Saveur article’s author, Todd Coleman, theorized that “the cream provided a shortcut for achieving the kind of silky sauce created by laborious tableside tossing.”
   I thought of this article as I made Lemon-Pepper Fettuccine (click for the recipe) from Food Network Magazine.
   Although the recipe didn’t have an authentic Alfredo sauce the way Alfredo di Lelio made it, it does have an Alfredo sauce the way many North Americans make it: With butter, cream and cheese.
   The pasta was delicious, with a nice balance of lemon and pepper. The sauce was very easy to make, with no tableside tossing involved – perfect for a weeknight.
   Dried fettuccine pasta (I used Catelli Smart) is boiled and drained, with some cooking water reserved.
   Minced shallot is cooked in butter in a skillet until lightly golden.
   Heavy cream (I used whipping cream), an egg yolk and finely-grated lemon zest (lemon peel) are whisked together in a bowl.
   The heat on the skillet is reduced to low. Grated pecorino cheese is added, then the cream mixture.
   Though the recipe doesn’t specify this, I poured the cream mixture into the skillet slowly, constantly whisking as I did.
   This was in an effort to keep the cream from burning, even though the heat was on low.
   Make sure to constantly whisk the cream until it’s slightly thickened, which takes about two minutes just as the recipe says.
   The recipe then calls for adding two – three teaspoons of freshly-ground pepper, but I only used about 1 ½ teaspoons. Any more would have resulted in pasta that was too peppery for my tastes.
   The pasta is added to the skillet and tossed, with reserved pasta cooking water being added to loosen the sauce if necessary.
   The fettuccine is served with more grated pecorino cheese on top.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ham and Cheese Crescent Sandwiches:
Simple and easy, just the way I like it

Recently one of my personal Facebook pals sent me a cookie recipe, saying the cookies were very good and that I may like to try them, but they might be too easy or simple to make for my tastes.
   What??? I asked incredulously when writing back to her.
   Perhaps I’ve been giving the wrong impression, but really, I’m all about simple and easy recipes.
   Maybe it’s that I cook and bake a lot with a variety of different ingredients that cause people to think I’m all fancy-schmancy in the kitchen.
   But I’m far, far from it.
   I look for recipes that seem reasonable to make. If they look hard or I don’t think I have the patience for it, trust me, I stay away. I want quick yet satisfying recipes to make as I often come home exhausted from work.
   And I’m not above using convenience ingredients such as Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, which I used this past week to make delicious and family-friendly Ham and Cheese Crescent Sandwiches (click for the recipe). Salty ham and gooey cheese were encased in a puffed and golden crust.
   I was looking for a way to use some leftover Easter ham I poached from dinner at my mom’s place, and found this nifty little recipe. I remember how much I loved hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls when I was a kid, and so I thought I’d give these a whirl.
   I used the Grand size of crescent rolls for this recipe, the 11.2 oz (318 g) can instead of the 8 oz (226 g) can called for in the recipe. (The refrigerated seemless dough sheet mentioned as an alternative in the recipe wasn’t at any of our local supermarkets).
   Because I used the Grand size container, I didn’t have to press or roll the dough as the recipe directs. All I had to do was cut the large sheet of dough that comes out of the can into 7 x 5 inch rectangles – no rolling required.
   I did, however, have to press the crescent roll perforations together as the recipe directs before cutting it into rectangles.
   I also didn’t bother cutting the ham thinly, as it was in pieces already and would have been too difficult or even dangerous. Instead, I cut the ham pieces into chunks and put about a fistful on one side of each rectangle.
   If you don’t have any cooked ham on hand, I’m sure deli sandwich ham slices will work just fine.
   I placed half of a thin slice of Swiss cheese on the ham, then folded the dough over and pressed the edges together firmly.
   The pockets were baked for 10 minutes at 375 F.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blobs of burrata cheese are the star of pasta dish

As is often the case on Recipes That Worked, the dish I’m reviewing in this blog entry began with an ingredient my husband and I found while grocery shopping.
   I saw burrata cheese sitting in the deli section of one of our local supermarkets, so I snapped it up.
   I’d been reading and hearing about this cheese made from mozzarella and cream lately, so I wanted to try it.
   Searching my favorite recipe sites for one that uses burrata, I found Campanelle Pasta with Burrata Cheese, Spinach, Lemon and Toasted Almonds (click for the recipe) on epicurious.
   The recipe looked promising (read: easy to make) so we tried it.
   Success! The pasta was delicious, with burrata the creamy star. (Fresh mozzarella can be substituted for the burrata).
   The recipe said to cut the burrata into chunks, but I found this practically impossible. It is far too creamy for that.
   Instead, I separated the ball of burrata into blobs, and topped the pasta servings with it that way.
   Dried campanelle, for which fusilli can be substituted (we used Catelli Smart fusilli) is boiled, drained and transferred to a large boil.
   Butter and olive oil are melted in a skillet, then garlic, lemon juice and lemon peel are cooked in it.
   Fresh baby spinach and toasted sliced almonds (I toasted them in a small pan on the stovetop) are put on top of the hot pasta, followed by the hot lemon mixture. The pasta is tossed until the spinach is wilted.
   To serve, the pasta is put onto a plate and topped with blobs of burrata cheese.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A rhubarb drink? Yes, yes, yes

The idea of a rhubarb drink intrigued me.
   Rhubarb pie, yes. Rhubarb sauce for meat, yes.
   But a rhubarb drink?
   I saw the recipe for Rhubarb Punch (click for the recipe) in The Harrow Fair Cookbook by Canadians Moira Saunders and Lori Elstone. The authors wrote it was a long-time favorite recipe, served at family gatherings for years.
   I felt compelled to try the recipe out.
   I thought now was a good time to do so, as rhubarb is beginning its season and is showing up in supermarkets.
   However, I used frozen rhubarb as I was unable to find fresh. Frozen was an absolutely perfect substitute.
   The punch was delicious and refreshing. People who like rhubarb pie will fall head over heels for this drink (and almost everyone else will too!)
   The recipe said club soda or ginger ale could be used in the punch. I used club soda, and loved the taste.
   The recipe makes 16 servings, which is terrific for a large gathering, but not for just my husband and I.
   I halved the recipe, using six cups of frozen rhubarb instead of 12. I also didn’t thaw the rhubarb first before cooking it. Cooking it right from frozen, using the same cooking time in the recipe for fresh, is actually better.
   Because I used half the ingredients, I halved the cooking time as well.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a website with a story about The Harrow Fair Cookbook. Scroll down to find the Rhubarb Punch.
   Long strips of orange peel are placed in a large stockpot along with chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb and water. The mixture is boiled for 10 minutes (five if halving the recipe).
   The mixture is strained, leaving the liquid in a bowl or pitcher and the rhubarb pulp and orange zest in the strainer. (I strained the liquid into a pitcher to save room in the refrigerator).
   Sugar (I used an equal amount of Splenda instead) is stirred into the hot liquid and dissolved.
   At this point, the rhubarb concentrate is refrigerated until cold. When ready to serve, club soda is added.
   Since it was just my husband and I having the drinks, I made them individually in glasses. I put ice in each glass, then the concentrate and finally the club soda, then stirred each drink gently. This is the best way to make the drinks if you’re not serving them to a crowd.
   For individual drinks, I used 2.7 oz (82 ml) of rhubarb concentrate and ½ cup (125 ml) of club soda.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Recipe offers a fantastic version
of that treat with snap, crackle, pop

What do you call that sweet treat made with snap, crackle, pop?
   Rice Krispie Squares, Rice Krispie Cake or Rice Krispie Treats? Or, don’t forget, you could also say Rice Krispies, with an “s,” in front of any of those names.
   I posed this question to my husband recently, shortly after making an absolutely amazing version of the treats called Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats (click for the recipe).
   In our house when I was a kid, it was Rice Krispie Cake.
   In my husband’s home, it was Rice Krispie Squares.
   In neither of our homes was there an “s” at the end of Krispies, though one would think that’s technically the correct way to say it since the cereal is called Rice Krispies.
   At any rate, the peanut butter version I made recently from Food & Wine magazine is an absolute winner.
   Made with Rice Krispies Gluten Free with Brown Rice, these treats are crisper and less sticky than regular versions – and trust me, that’s a good thing.
   In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say these are the best Rice Krispie treats I’ve ever eaten, and my husband agrees.
   I guarantee they will be a hit at any type of meal or event involving family – lunch, supper, movie night, camping.
   And, like any good Rice Krispie treats recipe, it’s embarrassingly easy to make.
   The recipe calls for coconut oil, which can be found in a well-stocked health food or specialty foods store. It’s in a semi-solid state, like butter.
   A 9 x 13-inch baking pan is lightly greased with the coconut oil.
   In a large pot, three tablespoons of the oil are melted, then marshmallows are added and constantly stirred over low heat until melted. Creamy peanut butter is stirred in.
   The pot is removed from the heat and the Brown Rice Rice Krispies are added and stirred to coat with the marshmallows and peanut butter.
   The mixture is scraped into the pan, and a piece of wax paper is used to press it in evenly.
   The treats are cooled completely, then cut into squares and served.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recipe gets me back with asparagus again

For quite a while until recently, I was off asparagus.
   I ate it a lot until a couple of years ago, when I stopped.
   This happens to me occasionally, and usually because I’ve eaten the food item in question badly prepared after eating it well-prepared for years.
   This happened with asparagus. I had it soft, drippy and yucky somewhere, and it was a bad experience – bad enough that I didn’t want to touch it for a long time.
   But I wanted to get back with asparagus. Those lovely green stalks have so much potential when cooked properly. In my mind, that’s crisp-tender.
   So when I happened across a collection of asparagus recipes in the April/May 2012 issue of Fine Cooking magazine, I decided to pick one and go for it.
   I have always found Fine Cooking to be a good source of trustworthy, delicious recipes.
   I picked Stir-Fried Asparagus and Shiitake with Ginger and Sesame (click for the recipe), and it turned out to be a very good choice.
   The asparagus, crisp-tender just as I like it, was a great match for the other recipe items in the title: Shiitake mushrooms, fresh ginger and sesame seeds.
   It is a lovely spring side dish, and was very easy to make.
   The collection of asparagus recipes offered some good advice about buying asparagus. Don’t buy them if the stalks are small and flimsy. You want the asparagus with wide, firm stalks, and that should not be a hard thing to obtain this time of year.
   Asparagus, trimmed of woody stems and cut into two-inch pieces, are cooked in a skillet with sliced shiitake mushrooms and scallions (also called green onions or spring onions).
   Minced garlic, minced fresh ginger (also called gingerroot), sesame seeds and water are added and ingredients are cooked just a bit longer. Soy sauce and sesame oil are stirred in.