Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwich

No, this post is not going to get the "Being Healthy" tag.  And, no, it's not within the parameters of my current healthy eating plan.  But you've got to cheat every now and then to stay on track.  And this is the perfect way to cheat.  Spicy, cheesy, crispy goodness.

Originally found this recipe here.  Too add the crunch, he crumbles tortilla chips and grills them into the sandwich.  I went whole-hog and crusted mine in panko crumbs before cooking.  Deelish.

Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Makes one sandwich.

2 jalapeno peppers, halved and seeded
2 slices sourdough or Italian bread (It needs to be a little sturdier than plain old sandwich bread.)
2 tablespoons cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter

Place the peppers on a baking sheet cut side down.

Place the peppers under the broiler and broil until the skins are blackened, about 10-12 minutes.

Put the peppers in a zip-loc bag and let steam for about 20 minutes.  Skin the peppers by removing the charred layers.

Spread the cream cheese on the bread.  Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on the cream cheese and top with the peppers. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and top with the second bread slice. 

Whisk the egg and milk together and place in a shallow dish.  Place the panko crumbs on a plate alongside.

Coat each side of the sandwich in milk and then with the panko.  You want the entire surface covered.

In a sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-low heat.  Once heated (don't let it brown), add the sandwich.  Cook, turning over once, until the cheeses are melted and the outside is toasty brown.  (Don't give in to the temptation to cook at too high a temperature.  You'll burn the coating before the cheese is gooey.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Cointreau Cooler

About a month ago, I went to a mixology class sponsored by Cointreau.  It's already a staple of our bar cabinet, so I was interested to learn new things to do with it.  They showed us a pretty yummy margarita (although this recipe is my current go-to), and this refreshing sipper.  Reminiscent of a Pimm's Cup, it's the perfect things for the patio on these wonderful spring days we're already having.  As a matter of fact, I'm going to mix one right now...

Cointreau Cooler
Makes one cocktail.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle together a strawberry that you've cored and halved, two cucumber slices and a sprig of mint.  Add ice, 2 ounces Cointreau and 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and top with club soda.  Garnish with more strawberry, cucumber and mint if you'd like.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Tuesday Tips from Food Network Magazine

I haven't tried all of these, but  am always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective in the kitchen.  Check these ideas out.
  • Don't just season at the end.  Taste as you go and season in stages to bring the best out of all your ingredients.
  • Respect your fish.  Season it simply and cook it carefully.  And always finish it with a little squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Do you grind your own beef for burgers?  Grind in some bacon for a bit of added fat and a blast of extra flavor.
  • When you cook cauliflower, add a little milk to the salted water to keep it bright white.
  • After you drain your cooked potatoes for mashed potatoes, return them to the hot pan, cover and let steam for 5 minutes.  They will dry out just enough to mash to a perfect texture that soaks up the butter and cream.
  • When cooking pasta and sauce, reserve about 1/4 cup of your pasta water just before draining.  Add it back to the pasta as you sauce it.  It will help thicken the sauce just enough.  Just be careful of seasoning...that pasta water is likely to be salty if you've cooked the pasta the way so many of us do.
  • Here's an easy way to seed a chile. Make four straight cuts down the sides.  You'll have four long pepper slivers with the cluster of seeds remaining in the center.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Southwestern Quinoa Bowl

In my ongoing effort to lose a pound or twp (read at least twenty), I've declared the first day of the week as "Meatless Monday."  No meat at any meal, not even lean stuff like chicken or salmon.  (Yes, I know technically salmon is not meat.  Stay with me...)

I still want to get plenty of protein.  This easy-to-create meal in a bowl fits the bill nicely; the quinoa and black beans are both packed with it.  Plus there's other good stuff like avocado and olive oil. If you're feeling adventurous, you might add corn and/or diced red onion. (Rinse the onion to get rid of some of the bite if you'd like.) And maybe a pinch of cumin or chili powder to the dressing.

Or fix it as is.  I did and it's delicious.

Southwestern Quinoa Bowl
Serves four as a side and two with generous main course servings.

2 cups quinoa, cooked
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped (less if you're cilantro-phobic like my other half)
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to incorporate.  (Or pulse in a bullet-style blender.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes and cilantro. Add the avocado and lime juice and stir to incorporate.

Fluff the quinoa and add to the bean mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle each serving with dressing and serve.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to Serve Wine...

The Dallas Morning News' dining critic Leslie Brenner served up these tips in an article last March.  Ostensibly, the instructions were for restaurant servers, but I think most apply to us at home at the dinner table as well.

Take note...

  • Always pour a taste--for yourself or someone you trust--before serving everyone.  You want to make sure the wine isn't corked, cooked or damaged in some other way.
  • When you pour, leave the glass on the table. Don't pick it up and tilt it like a beer glass as if you're trying to avoid a foamy head.
  • Don't overfill the glass; one third full is about right. Leave the wine plenty of room to breathe.
  • A good host makes sure everyone has enough wine.  But don't get overzealous and overfill.
  • When you come to the end of the bottle, make sure you pour everyone's glass to the same level.
What other tips can you share in the comments below?

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Cheesy Saint Patrick's Day....

I posted a delicious stew recipe yesterday that you might try for St. Patrick's Day, but here's an even simpler celebration idea.  How about an Irish cheese board?  Inspired by an ad from a local wine shop here in Dallas, I spent an evening earlier this week nibbling through several great varieties from the Emerald Isle.  I was sipping wine, but you could go even more authentic and quaff some Guinness if you'd like. And of course soda bread is mandatory...
Here were the three I tried:
  • Cahill Porter Cheddar: Surrounded by brown wax, this Cheddar is marbled with Guinness-brewed Irish porter.  It's nutty and almost sweet...I'm thinking a great after-dinner treat.
  • Fivemiletown Creamery Oakwood Smoked Cheddar:  I love me some smoked cheese. Idiazabal from Spain and smoked Mozzarella from our very own Mozzarella Company here in Dallas are regulars in our fridge and table. This one's yummy too.  Aged for 6 months and then smoked over oak, the cheese is bold and nutty.
  • Tipperary Cheddar: The e-mail said this was a popular choice in Irish homes, and I can see why.  It was my favorite of the three.  Made with the wonderful milk of Tipperary, it was the perfect melding of sharpness and creaminess.  Perfect on its own, on a cracker or with a slice of apple, this one is worth looking for...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish Stew

OK, so St Patty's Day is coming up this weekend.  And I know many of you will be getting your green beer and corned beef on.  Personally, I'm not a fan of either.  (Cabbage?  Irish whiskey?  That's another story.

But this great lamb stew recipe has Guinness in it...a perfect stewy way to honor Ireland. Serve it with some soda bread on the side and Erin go Bragh away.

Irish Stew
Makes 6 servings.

1 pound ground lamb
2 cups sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 pound new potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Guinness stout
4 cups beef broth (preferably low sodium)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Sauté the lamb in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned, 8-10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the lamb and place on a paper-toweled line plate to drain slightly.

Add the carrot, onions, and potatoes to the Dutch oven and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and rosemary.  Stirring often, cook until the paste darkens, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, stirring to coat the vegetables, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pot with the Guinness.  Stir in the beef broth, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Add lamb back into the pot, add the lemon juice and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

It's even better made a day ahead and reheated gently...flavors are even more powerful,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Thought to Live By...

"I don't like gourmet cooking or 'this' cooking or 'that' cooking.  I like good cooking."--James Beard

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grilled Avocado on Toast

I often put avocadoes on my sandwiches.  Or put a couple of slices on cream-cheese-topped wheat toast for breakfast.  I like this idea too.

Brush half an avocado with lemon juice and olive oil.  Grill (a grill pan inside is just fine), cut-side down, for 1 to 2 minutes.  Turn to create crosshatch marks and grill for another minute or so.

Meanwhile, brush a slice of bread with olive oil and grill for about 30 seconds per side.

Top the bread with thin slices of Parmesan and the grilled avocado.  Mash with a fork, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Crawfish Dip

I made a crawfish dip recipe similar to this one for New Year's Eve.  I never posted it, because I just wasn't satisfied with the final results.  It tasted...well, dirty.

I ran across this one last month in Southern Living and decided to try, try again. (And this time I didn't use crawfish tails that I'd had in the freezer for so long.  Bought a fresh bag at the grocery store.)

And it worked.  Try it and see what you think...

Crawfish Dip
From Southern Living.
Makes 8-10 servings.

1/2 cup butter
1 bunch green onions, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 (1 pound) package frozen cooked, peeled crawfish tails, thawed and undrained
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimiento, drained
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
French bread baguette slices

Garnishes: sliced green onion, chopped flat-leaf parsley

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add green onions and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until bell pepper is tender. Stir in crawfish and next 3 ingredients; cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in cream cheese until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Serve with toasted French bread slices.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gussied-Up Potato Chips

Ran across this tip in Martha Stewart and love it...

Spread one large bag (about 5 ounces) of  kettle-cooked potato chips on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake at 350° for 6 to 7 minutes.  You want to see oil appearing on the surface of the chips.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked paprika.), and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Remove the chips from the oven and sprinkle immediately with the cheese mixture.

They are delicious served warm.  But almost as good at room temperature...

Friday, March 09, 2012

Curried Almonds

Not too long ago, I took advantage of a grand opening special at a local Mediterranean market to purchase 4 pounds of whole almonds for around 6 bucks.  I love almonds as a snack, so I've been experimenting toasting them with a variety of spice mixes.  First up was these rosemary and cayenne-laced goodies.

Tonight's version uses curry powder with just enough sugar to make it interesting...

Curried Almonds
Makes about 3 cups.

1 egg white
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound raw, unblanched almonds
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk egg white with spices. Add almonds and stir to coat. Put butter on a large cookie sheet and melt in the oven.
Spread coated almonds on cookie sheet and return to oven for 20 minutes or until lightly toasted, turning almonds now and then to prevent sticking and to even out toasting. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Sometime Winnie the Pooh Says It Best....

"Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day."

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Easy Olive Tapenade

I love it when I discover quick and easy and delicious things.  I have always liked olive tapenade, but never thought to make it myself.  But with a surplus of kalamata olives (bought in bulk at a local Middle Eastern market) after a couple of Greek salads, I decided to put them to use.  Of course, I had pimiento-stuffed olives also (hello, martini), so was well on my way. 
It was a delicious snack on toasted baguette slices.  Would also be a great sandwich spread or combined with a dollop of goat cheese on a cracker.

Try it yourself.  A quick zip in a mini-food processor and you're set....

Easy Olive Tapenade
Makes about one cup.

2/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed olives
1 tablespoon garlic
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (optional, but a nice touch if you have it on hand)
About one tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Place the olives, garlic and parsley in a mini food processor and pulse until chunky.  Drizzle in olive oil with motor running until tapenade is the desired consistency.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tips from Food Network Chefs....

I have gotten lots of use from an issue of Food Network magazine that included about 100 tips from their cooking stars.  I'll admit that I haven't tried any of these yet, but I am intrigued...
  • For better-tasting asparagus, cure the stalks.  Peel them, roll in equal parts sugar and salt and let them sit for 10 minutes.  Rinse off and prepare as desired.
  • Instead of brining your chicken, heavily salt it (inside and out) about an hour before you cook it.  Then pat it dry and roast.  The skin should be crispy and the meat juicy.
  • Grinding your own beef for burgers, grind in some bacon.  It will provide extra flavor and a little fat to keep them juicy.
  • Test to see if your oil is hot enough for frying by sticking a wooden skewer or spoon in the oil.  If bubbles form around the wood, you're set.

Monday, March 05, 2012


Convenience foods.  Usually that means a Big Mac. A frozen dinner full of sodium and saturated fat.  Or a Big Gulp of sugar and caffeine.
But not always.  Use these contemporary convenience foods (and bulk-cooking tips) to keep yourself on the weight-loss track.
  • Rotisserie chicken: Slice it and throw into a salad.  Or shred it and toss with barbecue sauce, Thousand Island dressing, or herbed mayo for a sandwich filling.
  • Precut veggies: They are a little more expensive, but worth it if they keep you on the healthy plan. Take those baby carrots or pre-cut celery sticks and dip them in hummus or warmed peanut butter.
  • Pre-mixed yogurt drinks: Check the fat and carb content, but they can be an easy replacement for your blender-made smoothies.
  • Boil a half-dozen eggs instead of two or three.  Eat them all week with a flavored salt
  • You know this one.  Make a double (or triple) version of soup or sauce and freeze it.  Thaw and add some seasonings or eat as is.  Saves time and calories.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Chicken Liver Pate

Don't click away yet!  I promise you'll like this recipe.  Inspired by the little ramekins of paté that we get at The Mercury here in Dallas, I was intrigued by this recipe I saw on a Chuck Hughes Christmas special on The Cooking Channel.  I served it at a recent cocktail party to rave reviews.  Here's the revised version I came up with...and tune in soon for another variation I served at our Oscars party.

Chicken Liver Paté
Makes about 3 cups.

2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound chicken livers, trimmed
2 small carrots, cooked
2 hard-boiled eggs
A pinch of nutmeg
Toast or crackers, for serving
In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the onions in half of the olive oil until caramelized, about 30 minutes.

In a small pot of salted simmering water, poach the chicken livers for 5 minutes on low heat. Drain on paper towels.

In a food processor, puree the livers with the carrots, 2 hard-boiled eggs and the caramelized onions until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add nutmeg. Push through a fine mesh sieve if desired.

Pack the mousse into a serving dish and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Serve with toasts or crackers.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Chicken Braised in White Wine and Mustard

Not sure what I love about the combination of crisp white wine and mustard, but I am drawn to it.  I like it as a base for steamed mussels and was intrigued by it as the basis for this pretty simple chicken dish.  Serve it with rice to sop up all the great sauce.
(Chicken thighs are best for a recipe like this where they cook low and slow, but they can add fat.  If you'd like, skin the thighs before browning.  Or (and I like this option even better) prepare a day ahead, refrigerate and take the solidified fat off the top before reheating.)

Chicken Braised in White Wine and Mustard
Makes 4-8 servings, one thigh per person.

1 cup dry white wine, preferably Sauvignon Blanc (and of course, pour a glass of the same when you serve.)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-8 chicken thighs, one per person (Take the skin off if you're being extra-healthy.)
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley to garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 450°.

Whisk wine and mustard together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown chicken thigh sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the sliced onions to the Dutch oven and cook until tender and lightly browned, about 7 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan on top of the onions and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the wine/mustard mixture over the chicken and place Dutch oven in the preheated oven.

Cook until chicken is done, about 45 minutes.

Garnish with parsley and serve over steamed rice, one thigh each, with onions and sauce.