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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Foodbuzz 24×24: Winter Escape, A Tropical Feast

I don’t know what causes it, but I’m ready for warmer weather pretty much as soon as Christmas is over. I miss my flip flops and summer dresses, and I especially miss all the wonderful produce in season during spring and summer. Since spring is still a couple months away, I thought it would be fun to have a tropical dinner party in an effort to escape the bitter cold of January. I wanted everything to give off a tropical feel, so I turned our small countertop bar into the drink area, complete with a tray that eventually held fresh pineapple, coconut and strawberries, plus sugar for rimming glasses. I even bought drink umbrellas. What kind of tropical party would it be without drink umbrellas, right? ;) And since I couldn’t wear my flip flops, I used the flip flop coasters Eric’s sister got us for Christmas a couple years ago.

Ready for drinks!


When deciding what to serve at the party, I knew I wanted each dish to make my guests feel like they were enjoying their meal in a place somewhere much warmer. I mainly focused on Jamaican and Caribbean dishes, with a couple of tropical dishes and drinks thrown in for good measure. There were so many recipes I wanted to try, but I was eventually able to narrow down the menu to include:

Coquitos
Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Kiwi Salsa
Jamaican Beef Dumplings
Grilled Shrimp with Dark Rum Glaze
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings
Tropical Rice
Coconut Lime Cake
Coconut Saffron Ice Cream
Luau Coconut Drinks
Pineappleade
Strawberry Mango Daiquiris

Eric and I tried to make as much as we could ahead of time. The night before the party, Eric made the marinade for the chicken wings while I made the ice cream. The pineappleade also had to be made the night before so that it could sit overnight. We made the plantain chips early in the day Saturday, and they stayed perfectly crisp for the party. I prepared the salsa minus the avocado and added it once our guests arrived. I also baked the cake early in the day so that the glaze would have time to seep into it. I cooked the rice close to the arrival of our guests while Eric was grilling the wings and shrimp. Overall, I’m really happy with how everything turned out, and I’m so thankful that our friends were able to join us for our tropical meal. Though it’s not the best picture (hey, I was hungry!), here’s our table setup:

Table Setup


I absolutely love these coquitos, which were a random find one morning while grocery shopping. They’re like baby coconuts and are a little smaller than grapes. They have a hard exterior and soft, coconutty interior. I couldn’t resist serving them in a piece of coconut shell.

Coquitos


The plantain chips, with a cayenne and lime zest seasoning, were so delicious that Eric and I had a hard time resisting them. It’s lucky we had any left for the party because we definitely snacked on a few while we were cooking other things.

Fried Plantain Chips


As soon as we started cooking these, I knew they’d be my favorite (food) item of the night. The dumplings are simply wonton wrappers filled with a delicious beef filling that includes curry powder, onion and Jamaican hot sauce. We served these with Thai sweet chili sauce, plus extra hot sauce for those that wanted them especially spicy.

Jamaican Beef Dumplings


The glaze for the shrimp made our kitchen smell fabulous. I was so excited about these, and they did not disappoint. They had a sweet and smoky flavor that everyone absolutely loved.  We served extra glaze on the side.

Grilled Shrimp with Dark Rum Glaze


This coconut cake had the most wonderful tropical flavor. With coconut, limes and coconut rum, you know it was good. Though it took Eric taking the coconut outside and hitting it with a hammer and me carefully peeling each strip, the fresh coconut on top was totally worth it.  This cake was definitely a show stopper, and it disappeared in no time.

Coconut Lime Cake


This ice cream is made with coconut milk, coconut sugar and saffron, giving it a truly exotic flavor.  I’ve never made an ice cream from David Lebovitz that I didn’t like, and this one was no different.  Not everyone was a fan, which I believe had to do with the fact that this ice cream has a much different flavor than traditional ice creams and isn’t quite as sweet.  I really enjoyed it, though, and I can’t wait to make something else with the coconut sugar I used in this recipe.

Coconut Saffron Ice Cream


This spin on the classic piña colada might have been my favorite recipe of the night.  It’s got coconut water, coconut milk, light rum and coconut rum.  There’s a ton of coconut flavor packed into this drink, and I felt like I was sipping it on a beach when I drank it out of this coconut.

Luau Coconut


And just to show what a fun time we had, here’s a picture of me and my friend Amanda enjoying some tasty drinks in the cutest pineapple cups that my friends Katy and Juli were nice enough to bring.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share our party with you!  I’ll be posting many of the recipes soon, and I hope you’ll come back to take a look at them.  Spring may be a couple months away, but a tropical getaway is closer than you think! :)



Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

I keep thinking spring is just around the corner. That is, until we get hit with another blast of wintry weather. It was cold and rainy here all day yesterday, and that rain eventually turned into snow. I love soup, but I especially love it on cold, snowy nights. We originally planned on making grilled cheese sandwiches to go along with this, but I decided to make croutons instead. This was the perfect meal to warm us up, and it was fun to eat it while watching the snow fall.

This soup is unique in that it doesn’t use any cream (which I realize is obvious from the name). Cream can really drown out that wonderful tomato flavor, so why eat tomato soup if it doesn’t even taste like tomatoes? This soup gets so much flavor from just a few ingredients. I love it when recipes allow the ingredients to shine, and this soup definitely does that. Instead of cream to thicken the soup, sandwich bread is used. It helps tone down the acidity of the tomatoes and also gives the soup a velvety texture. This soup is a far cry from the canned, condensed variety. It’s rich, full of flavor and is incredibly easy to make. Paired with a salad or grilled cheese, or topped with croutons, it makes the perfect meal for wintry nights.

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes packed in juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 large slices good-quality sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Directions:
In a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes (if using) and bay leaf. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and their juices. Mash tomatoes using a potato masher, until tomato pieces are all smaller than 2 inches. Add sugar and bread. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and beginning to disintegrate, about 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf, add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth. Stir in broth and brandy (if using). Alternately, transfer half of soup to a blender and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Blend for 2-3 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and 1 tablespoon of oil. Return soup to pot and stir in broth and brandy (if using). Season to taste with salt and pepper and return to a boil. Sprinkle chives over the top of each serving of soup and drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, September 2008

*I’m submitting this post to Branny’s Charity Souper Bowl. For each post she receives, she’s donating $1 to the ASPCA. Since all three of my precious animals are adopted, this is an event that has a special place in my heart. And since I think all my animals are adorable, here are a few pictures. :)

Chloe
Chloe

Rabb
Rabb

Abby
Abby

(Photos of Chloe and Rabb taken by my wonderful friend Holly.)


Garlic and Lemon Pan Fried Chicken

Garlic and Lemon Pan Fried Chicken

Chicken is one of those things that I used to tire of quite easily. When we first started cooking, Eric and I made chicken dishes most nights of the week. Now we’ve got several chicken recipes that we love, and I don’t ever get sick of any of them. There are so many creative ways to cook chicken, but this method (breading and pan frying) might be my favorite.

This chicken starts out with pan-roasted garlic. The garlic is browned and removed from the pan, leaving behind a flavorful garlic oil. The garlic is then smashed and mixed into the breading for the chicken, and the chicken is cooked in the garlic oil. The garlic isn’t as strong as it would be raw, but it still gives this chicken plenty of garlicky goodness. The lemon adds a bright, fresh flavor. The chicken itself is nice and crisp on the outside and incredibly moist on the inside. This chicken is super easy to make, so much so that our side dish (Garlic Rice Pilaf) was almost done cooking when we started the chicken. This is the perfect weeknight meal, and we’ll definitely be making it again soon.

Garlic and Lemon Pan Fried Chicken

Garlic and Lemon Pan Fried Chicken
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 big cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
zest and juice from half a lemon
1 egg
2 chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/3 – 1/2 inch thickness

Directions:
Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until golden brown and softened. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and place in a small bowl. Smash with a fork and set aside.

Combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, rosemary and lemon zest in a shallow dish. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the egg and lemon juice to the smashed garlic and whisk to combine.

Heat the garlic oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken into the egg mixture, then the breadcrumb mixture. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Serve with slices or wedges of lemon, if desired.

Serves 2

Adapted from Elly Says Opa


Stovetop Popcorn

Stovetop Popcorn with White Truffle Oil

I’m a big fan of popcorn. It’s one of my all time favorite snacks. I used to always eat microwavable popcorn, until I tried something different last year. One of our local grocery stores had this popcorn kernels on a cob (it looked like dried corn, basically). All you had to do was put it in a paper bag and microwave. It was so nifty because we got to add our own seasonings to it. Shortly after that, I bought some popcorn kernels at Whole Foods, and that’s what we’ve been using for popcorn ever since.

Stovetop popcorn is incredibly easy and fun to make. It doesn’t even require much more effort than throwing a bag in the microwave, and it’s definitely cheaper than buying packages of microwaveable popcorn. I’ve made popcorn using this method several times, and I can tell you that it’s pretty much fail proof. All the kernels pop perfectly, and none of them get burned. Plus, when you make popcorn this way, the flavor combinations are practically endless! In the mood for something spicy? Add some cayenne and lime juice. Got a sweet tooth? Add some caramel sauce or vanilla sugar and melted butter. I love recipes that can be used several different ways, and this popcorn is a great example of that. I’ve included the recipe for my favorite flavor combination, and I’d love to hear about yours!

Stovetop Popcorn with White Truffle Oil

Stovetop Popcorn with White Truffle Oil
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil (or any oil with a high smoke point)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
salt to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoons white truffle oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (Black pepper is fine, too.)

Directions:
In a 3 quart saucepan (one with high sides), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add salt to taste, then place 3-4 kernels in the pan and cover.

Once those few kernels pop, pour in the remaining kernels, making sure to keep them in an even layer. Cover and remove from heat. After 30 seconds, place pan back over heat. Once you hear the kernels popping, gently shake the pan back and forth over the burner. Keep the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Once popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the lid and immediately pour popcorn into a large bowl.

Add Parmesan, truffle oil and garlic powder and pepper and toss to coat. Add more salt, if needed. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 quarts

Adapted from Simply Recipes


Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie

I seem to be on a cookie kick lately. Last week, it was Nutella Sandwich Cookies. This week, it’s these. I made these cookies for my aunt and little brother because they both had birthdays last week. In an ideal world, I would be able to make them a cake, but that’s not really feasible since we live 10 hours away. I still wanted to send them something special, though. And hey, who doesn’t like getting cookies in the mail (even if they are a week late)? I kept some here for Eric and myself, too, and I’m really hoping he takes the rest of them to his office tomorrow because I cannot stop eating them.

These cookies turned out even better than I imagined. I loved the way some of the buttery toffee bits melted into the cookies. Add some warm and gooey chocolate chips to that, and you’ve got a winner. The only change I made to this recipe was to omit the almond paste. My aunt isn’t a fan of nuts, so I figured it was best to leave that out. I love almonds, and I’ll be using the almond paste next time I make these. At the rate they disappeared, I’m sure next time will be sooner rather than later.

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie

Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped toffee (homemade or store bought)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars together on medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix well. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing on low speed until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in toffee pieces and chocolate chips. Using a cookie scoop, place dough onto prepared pan, spacing about an inch or so apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies (I got 4 dozen using my 2 tablespoon scoop.)

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod