Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie

At one point in my life, I became dangerously close to never eating shrimp again. Food poisoning can do that to a person... have you ever had it? If you have, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't... well, consider yourself lucky.

Since this is a preface to a shrimp recipe, I won't get into the gory details about my less-than-appetizing experience. You know, because I want you make this recipe. You need to make this recipe. However I will tell you this: Take special care to ensure that any seafood you make is properly cooked. Or risk the consequences.

Okay, onto more pleasant thoughts. So if there were any recipe that could change my mind about eating shrimp, it's this one. First of all, it's terribly simple. Second, it just tastes so durned good. I'm slightly embarrassed at the amount of shrimp Gabe and I put away the night we made this for dinner.



















I saw this recipe over at This is Reverb, and knew I had to try it... especially since the days are getting pleasantly warmer and we find ourselves grilling at least two or three times per week. You can only make hamburgers so many times in a week, you know? Although... Gabe would beg to differ, seeing as grilled hamburgers rank as one of his favorite meals. But me, I need variety. It is the spice of life, you know. But I digress.

We ate the shrimp straight off the skewers, but I think they would taste really great in a simple salad too. Oh, and the best part about the recipe is the fact that the leftovers taste even better the next day, if that were even possible. Just whip yourself up some cocktail sauce and eat them cold, straight out of the fridge. Bon appetit!

















Ingredients

2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (16 oz.) jar Italian dressing
Old Bay seasoning
2 Tbs. butter, melted
2 Tbs. lemon juice

Directions
Place shrimp in large bowl. Pour Italian dressing over shrimp and shake to coat. Cover and refrigerate about 2-4 hours (we did about 4 hours or so).

Preheat outdoor grill. Meanwhile, skewer the shrimp onto metal or wooden skewers. We used metal skewers; however, if you do choose to use wooden ones, make sure to soak them in water first. Pierce each piece of shrimp on the skewer twice to ensure they don't fall off. Sprinkle shrimp liberally with Old Bay seasoning to your preference.

Toss shrimp onto hot grill and cook about 2 minutes per side, until shrimp is nice and pink. Brush shrimp with mixture of melted butter and lemon juice near the end of the cooking time. Remove from grill, cool slightly, and enjoy!

Note: To make cocktail sauce the next day for any leftovers you might have: Mix together ketchup and horseradish. I don't really have any measurements for you, but know that (obviously) the more horseradish you add, the more spicy the cocktail sauce. Start with a little bit, taste, and add more according to your preference. And then invite me over and I will help you finish them off :)


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you had to think of one treat that reminds you of your childhood, what would it be? For me, it would definitely have to be chocolate chip cookies. They were, by far, my favorite dessert. But I'm not sure what I enjoyed more - eating the cookies after they were baked... or sneaking little bits of raw cookie dough before they were popped into the oven to bake to soft-in-the-middle, crispy-on-the-outside goodness (actually, I'm pretty sure eating the raw dough is better, and I continue to subscribe to that belief today).



















I can remember when I was about eight years old (that corresponds with about second or third grade, right?), my elementary school friend Shannon came over to play for the day. We had a great time carousing in the yard, running through the sprinkler, and probably playing dress-up of some sort. Some time during the afternoon, we both became quite hungry. And lo and behold, my mom had gotten out a bag of cookie dough to thaw in the refrigerator. At that time, she would make up triple or quadruple batches of dough and freeze the extras for later. You had to do these sorts of things with five little ones running around at your feet.


So we both decided to sneak a tiny, little piece from the corner of the bag. There wasn't any way to tell that we had eaten any at all. Right? But then, we just had to take another little piece. Cookie dough is like that, isn't it? Then another... Okay, we better go now. And another...

I think by the time we were done, we had eaten about 3/4 of the bag, but still remained confident that no one would know about our little, mid-afternoon snack. Needless to say, my mother wasn't too pleased to find that we cleaned out the majority of her planned dessert for the day. But I can't imagine she stayed upset for long, everyone knows the power and allure of the raw cookie dough. It's inescapable!

Ingredients
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. hot water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. chocolate chips
2/3 c. walnuts (optional)

Directions
In a large bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in egg, then stir in vanilla extract. Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Add to batter along with salt. Stir in flour, and cream of tartar until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two baking sheets. Remove dough from refrigerator and drop large spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire racks. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies (probably closer to three in reality, sans dough sampling)

Recipes courtesy allrecipes.com.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lemon Pepper Chicken Sandwich

Gotta love this summer Friday. Today I got out of work early, which was pretty sweet. It was nice to get an early start to this holiday weekend. We're not really planning on going anywhere or doing much (save for a possible Terminator: Salvation viewing if the weather turns on us... I refuse to go to the movies when it's nice outside), but I'm a-okay with just chilling out this weekend.

After getting out of work and chowing down on some leftovers for lunch, I was initially looking forward to lounging by the pool (yay! It's finally open!). But the weather seemed to have cooled down slightly since earlier this week, so alternate plans were needed. So I took the opportunity instead to catch up on some housework (yes, I'm THAT exciting) - vacuuming and washing my car. You know, that kind of fun. Or not.

So when dinnertime rolled around and a hungry Gabe found his way home, I wanted something quick, easy, and delicious. Enter in: lemon pepper seasoning. With lemon zest, pepper (um duh, thanks for stating the obvious Rita), garlic, and onion flavorings, this stuff tastes great on a variety of meats and salads with only a few shakes. Thank you Lawry's.
















Best part of this meal was being able to enjoy it outside with Gabe with little fuss, enjoying the nice sunshine, warm weather, chirping birds, and each other's company. Nothing better than that.

Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 hamburger buns
Salt
Lemon pepper seasoning
Muenster cheese
Fresh spinach
Tomato, sliced
Mayo and Brown Mustard

Directions
Preheat grill for a few minutes. Meanwhile, place chicken on a large cutting board. Cover with wax paper and pound until chicken reaches uniform thickness (about 1/4 in.). Cover liberally with salt and lemon pepper.

Place chicken on grill (we cooked on a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray to prevent sticking). Cook for approximately 8-12 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink. Place cheese slices on chicken and heat until completely melted. Place on bun with toppings of choice. Enjoy!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Quiche

On Friday, I woke up with an inkling. An inkling to be adventurous, make something new and something somewhat fancy. Something gourmet-y. Ha. You know, sometimes you feel like comfort food (like burger and fries) and other times you just feel like putting in a little more effort for something with a little bit more pizzazz.

Earlier in the week, I had run across a recipe at Pink Bites for caramelized onion and Gruyere quiche. In addition to having a fancy name, it seemed to have some fancy ingredients in it too... and by fancy I do mean e.x.p.e.n.s.i.v.e. Wow, $20 per pound for Gruyere? Whew! Luckily, my local grocery store had some on special (extra bonus since I was planning on buying it full price anyway), and I didn't need a lot of it, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to try out Rita's recipe.



















I think the hardest part about the recipe was that it was slightly time-consuming. Okay for a weekend meal, not okay for a weeknight. We were getting pretty hungry by the time the quiche went into the oven, and I even skipped a few steps. Luckily, the wait was worth it. I love love love onions, and caramelizing them only deepens and intensifies the flavor, and it paired well with the nutty Gruyere and thyme. The only thing I might do differently next time is reduce the amount of cheese and add more eggs, I felt the egg flavor was slightly overpowered by the Gruyere. Overall, it was fun to make and had great presentation. I'm looking forward to trying out some other quiche recipes in the near future, too!

Ingredients
1 pie crust for 9-in pie, chilled
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 large onion, thinly sliced (I used 1 medium red and 1 medium yellow onion)
3 eggs
3/4 cup of milk
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 375° F.

On a floured surface, roll out pie dough and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Trim edges around the pie plate, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Cover pie plate with foil and top with dried beans. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes (removing beans and foil after 20 minutes). Set aside to cool.


Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and thyme, cooking slowly until onions are browned, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs with the milk and season with salt and pepper.

Spread half of the cheese in the pie pan. Add onions and cover with the remaining cheese. Pour egg mixture evenly over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed. Let cool slightly before serving.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fruit and Goat Cheese Salad

By looking at Gabe now, or even when I first met him, one thing you wouldn't have guessed is that he grew up in a farm-like setting. When he was younger, Gabe and his brother worked hard in a gigantic garden to produce fruits and vegetables for the family to eat. They also had a variety of other animals, including chickens, a pig, dogs, and goats among other animals. It's interesting to listen the stories he tells me about butchering 100 chickens for future dinners, milking the goats, or hoeing the garden for several hours every night after school.

Of all the animals, I am particularly enamored by the goats. A few things I've learned. Yes, goats will eat anything you put in front of them. No, goat's milk isn't all it's cracked up to be. Yes, goats will headbutt you if you piss them off. Gabe's family had goats to provide milk, but they also produced homemade goat cheese. I had actually never had goat cheese until a few months ago, and wow, now I wish I would have tried it a lot earlier. Tangy and delicious, and what I would give to try some of the fresh goat cheese that Gabe's stepfather used to make. I'm sure it tasted delicious.

After discovering my newfound love of goat cheese (I like to pick up mine at Trader Joe's - a brand made in Vermont, of all places. I like to tell Gabe I'm supporting his old neighbors), I started looking for more recipes that included this ingredient. I came across this salad from This is Reverb, and the combination of the goat cheese in the recipe and amazing photographs of the salad, I knew I had to try it. I've altered it slightly to our liking, so feel free to do so too!
















Ingredients

spinach
red delicious apple, sliced
orange, cut into wedges (I only include if I have one, which isn't often)
walnuts, roughly chopped
raisins or dried cranberries
goat cheese (plain)

Vinaigrette Dressing (enough for two large salads, scale as needed)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. orange juice
2 Tbs. Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. poppy seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Arrange salad ingredients in bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until well incorporated. Pour over salad, serve immediately.

P.S. This vinaigrette great on just about any salad, but I particularly like it with the fruit in this salad.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies

Lucky for me, we have a TV in our lunchroom at work. And lucky for me, there's a few girls there who love to cook and bake as much as I do. So we flip on the Food Network and catch Paula Deen and Giada De Laurentiis while we eat lunch and discuss what we're making for dinner for the rest of the week and what we plan on making the next week, and the next, and the next.

Although we love to pick on her (doesn't she just seem a little... too... perfect?), Giada's recipes are the ones that we're always making. She's pretty predictable every day.... Did you notice that pretty much every episode includes some combination of the 4 P's: Pasta, Parmesan, Prosciutto, and/or Pancetta? At any rate, her recipes are often very delicious, and I'm glad I get the opportunity to watch. It seems like the Food Network's weekend lineup centers more on those crazy competitions now, which aren't nearly as interesting to me.

One other ingredient that surfaces on Giada's show somewhat often is mascarpone cheese. I recently purchased some of this cheese to try it out, and after using half of a container on my stuffed shells, I needed to use up the rest. After digging around for a while, I came across a great recipe for chocolate mascarpone brownies that has been blogged about several times (I found via Tender Crumb). These are just the way I like my brownies: thick, fudgy, and uber-chocolately. So I just knew I had to make them.
















And wow, am I ever so glad I did. These taste ah-mahzing (just like everyone else who made them has said). I think Gabe agrees too. He started hovering around the oven about 15 minutes into baking these tasty little suckers, and I was slicing them up for him almost as soon as they came out of the oven. Too bad I didn't get a picture of that!

p.s. The original recipe calls for a ganache to top the brownies. I didn't have whipping cream, and I don't think I could have held Gabe off any longer, so I bypassed this step. However, I will still post the ingredients in case you'd like to include it.

Ingredients
1 c. unsalted butter
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 c. white sugar
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. mascarpone cheese, softened
3 large eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 Tbs. whipping cream
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Directions
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter an 8” by 8” square glass cake pan. Set aside.

Place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring butter to just below boiling. Pour hot butter over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Sift in sugar and cocoa powder.

With a wooden spoon, beat in the mascarpone cheese, eggs, and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Gently fold in flour and salt.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Place in preheated oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place pan on cooling rack for 10 to 15 minutes, while you make ganache.

To make ganache, place chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream and butter to just below boiling. Pour hot mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Spread immediately over brownies (cooler ganache will be much harder to spread). Let brownies cool completely (on counter or in refrigerator) before slicing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Apple Brown Sugar Pork Loin

Every Christmas, Gabe and I make a long drive out to the Vermont/New Hampshire area to visit his family and go snowboarding at the many fabulous mountains across the area (something we're seriously lacking here in Michigan).

















During our last trip there, we visited the Perfect Pear, a cute café located right on the Waits River in Bradford, Vermont. While it was much too cold and dark to enjoy the view overlooking the water, we certainly did enjoy our food there.


When I eat out (which isn’t very often… something about spending a lot of money on a meal that I could make much more economically at home), I try to find items that I have not yet made, or probably will never make in the future. At the Perfect Pear, I decided to eat the House Smoked Pork Loin, Granny Smith Apple Chutney, Grilled Jack Cheese Polenta. While I’ve had pork loin several times, I’ve never made it with apples, and polenta is something I’ve always wanted to try.

Needless to say, it was as amazing as it sounds. The pork was moist and delicious, and the apple chutney had a hint of cinnamon, if I recall correctly. And it went surprisingly well with the cheesy polenta square. And wow, they give you a seriously huge piece of meat for only one person. Lucky for Gabe, though, since he got to eat the rest of my meal in addition to his.

Since then, I’ve been meaning to make my own version of pork with apples, and I finally had the opportunity this weekend. My version was adapted from this recipe after reading many of the reviews. Some complained of the dryness of the pork, so I added some apple cider vinegar and St. Julian’s blackberry wine (from a local winery, a gift from my brother) to the roasting pan. Mixed with the apples, the result was an apple-y cinnamon sauce that we spooned over the pork. All in all, a great weekend meal.

















Ingredients

1 (2 1/2 lb.) pork loin

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

3 Granny Smith apples

1/4 c. raisins

2 Tbs. flour

2 - 4 Tbs. brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. fruit-flavored wine


Directions
Preheat oven to 375° F. Place pork loin in large roasting pan. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Set aside.

Peel, core, and finely dice the apples. Place in large bowl and add raisins, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar. Spread mixture on and around pork loin. Cover with wine.

Cover and bake for approximately 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 15 to 45 minutes, or until internal temperature registers at 140° F. Remove from oven, re-cover and let sit for about 10 minutes. Slice pork and serve with pan sauces.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Yesterday, my sister graduated from Michigan State University. So the entire family traversed to and met in East Lansing to attend her graduation and celebrate her achievements. Here's the graduate with her fiance, Adam. I love candids :). Now she's headed to Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday for a four-week study abroad program. Did I mention I'm insanely jealous?!?
















Anywho, since even attempting to find a restaurant to seat over eight people in the area with a wait less than one hour would be asinine, my dad and I brought everything we'd need for lunch and dinner, including subs, chicken spaghetti (courtesy The Pioneer Woman), and chips/dip.

I was also in charge of making some type of dessert. I decided to make some cupcakes since they are easy and single-serving sized, with no plating required. I had made this red velvet cake recipe before and it turned out great, so I thought I'd make it again (stick with the tried and true, it works).
















True to form, they turned out perfect. The cupcakes were yummy and moist, and the cream cheese frosting (recipe via Schweet 'N Savory) was the best. Of course, I'm kind of biased, I absolutely LOVE frosting. I also made some simple little candy melt stars to put on top of some of them, just to dress them up a little more. Although now that I think about it, since she graduated from MSU, perhaps I should have made green velvet instead?

Ingredients
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 c. buttermilk
3/4 tsp. red food coloring
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (heaping) c. flour
1 Tbs. cocoa powder
2/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. sifted powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line one muffin pan with cupcake liners (for 12 cupcakes).

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well.

Combine buttermilk, red food coloring, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. In another bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Alternate adding the liquid mixture and flour mixture into the butter/sugar until everything is incorporated.

Pour batter in prepared muffin pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla extract and mix well. Gradually stir in powdered sugar. Feel free to add less than 1 c. powdered sugar for a frosting that is less sweet. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes and enjoy! Adapted from here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Best Steak Marinade

With the weather warming up (on a more consistent basis), tonight was the perfect night to get out the grill. Now, don't get me wrong, we definitely use the grill across all the elements - snow, wind, rain, and sun. However, today we had the opportunity to both grill and eat outside on the balcony, which is a sure sign that summer is just around the corner.

















We prepared a really traditional dinner tonight, with steak, broccoli, mashed potatoes and buttermilk biscuits. Dinner of champions, I tell you. The recipe I'm going to share with you today is the marinade we used (always use, actually) for grilling steaks. Now, I know there are alot of people out there against marinating steaks because it 'masks' the true flavor of the steak. On the contrary, however, Gabe and I think marinades like these make the steak taste fabulous (FABULOUS!) and so we use this particular marinade all the time.

















Ingredients

1 large steak
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbs. brown mustard
3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 onion, sliced

Directions
Mix together all ingredients except steak and onions until fully incorporated. Place steak in large, gallon-sized plastic bag. Pour in marinade. Seal and shake around until fully coated. Re-open bag and add onions. Seal bag, mix again, and refrigerate for 8-10 hours (I usually put this together in the morning for dinner later that night). After marination takes place, cook steak according to your preference. Enjoy! Source: AllRecipes.com

PS... On another note...

We welcomed some new "neighbors" to our little neighborhood...

Now, the mama wasn't too pleased with us hanging around her nest, which is built into a small hole on the outside edge of the balcony. But, we only snapped one or two pictures and left her alone to take care of her future babies.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mama Mia Stuffed Shells with Vodka Sauce

Isn't it frustrating when you make something that looks and tastes amazing in real life, but you can't seem to capture it on camera? That's what happened to me today when I made these awesome stuffed shells.

I've made stuffed shells in the past, but I wanted to try something a little bit different this time. While I knew what I wanted to use for the stuffing, I remembered that my co-worker Wendy makes a tomato-vodka sauce that she loves, and a similar sauce I made before tasted really good. So I thought I would combine the stuffed shells and the vodka sauce and see what I could come up with.

















Well, the fusion of the recipes certainly did not disappoint. With four, count 'em, four types of cheeses, sweet Italian sausage, and the tangy vodka sauce, I'm glad that I made extra. Can't wait for lunch tomorrow, yay leftovers!

However, a few things led to the not-so-great photos. First, I was hungry and these smelled amazing. Second, I didn't have any patience. Third, the sauce covers up the sausage stuffing, so you can't really even tell what they are. BUT... you'll just have to take my word for it that these are super good and need to make them, like, yesterday. It might look like a lot of ingredients and work, but trust me, they are totally worth it.

















Ingredients

1 (12 oz.) box jumbo shells
1 lb. (approximate) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (10 oz.) box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 Tbs. dried parsley flakes
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
1 (28 oz.) can tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1/2 c. vodka
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 c. mascarpone or cream cheese
1 c. (about 8 oz.) mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook jumbo shells until al dente. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook Italian sausage and onion. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Place in large bowl, and cool slightly. Add ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, spinach, dried parsley, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

In another skillet over medium heat, combine tomatoes, tomato paste, vodka, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried basil, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Add in mascarpone cheese, stirring constantly until fully melted and incorporated. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Begin assembling stuffed shells by filling each shell with a spoonful of meat mixture. Place in large baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over shells. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of shells, and place baking dish in oven. Bake until mozzarella is hot and bubbly on top, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly, dish and enjoy!