Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shrimp Tacos with Roasted Corn, Black Bean and Mango Salad

I'm sure some of you can relate to what I'm about to tell you. I'm always looking for new recipes and inspiration in the kitchen. And the possibilities are endless out there on the world wide web. Because of that, I have hundreds (not kidding, seriously hundreds) of recipes printed off and waiting to be created. Often times, I just never get around to making them for a year (or three).

On the other hand, there are those recipes that stop you in your tracks. You see one and think, "I need to make this now. Like right now." No ifs, ands or buts about it. The next 24 hours revolves around when I can get to the store to buy the necessary ingredients.

This was the case for these shrimp tacos (via My Baking Addiction). As soon as I saw them, I had to have them for myself! And not a moment too soon! And they certainly didn't disappoint.

While I followed the shrimp marinade pretty much to the tee, I took some liberties with the salsa by substituting my favorite mango-black bean variety. The result was one of the best meals I've had in a while, and I will definitely make these again and again.

2 chipotle in adobo, chopped
1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 lime, zest and juice
2-3 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
flour tortillas
Shredded lettuce or spinach

1 1/2 c. corn kernels
2 tsp. oil
1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. chopped red onion
1/2 c. diced bell pepper (any color combo)
1-2 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped

6 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of pepper

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of chili powder

Soak 6-8 wooden skewers in water for at least 1/2 hour (for skewering shrimp).

Combine first six ingredients. Whisk to combine. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Marinate at least 20 minutes (I did about 2 hours).

To make the salsa, heat 2 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add corn kernels and season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together oil, lime juice, vinegar, cilantro, and spices in a small bowl. Combine corn, mango, black beans, onion, and peppers in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Chill until ready to eat.

To cook the shrimp, preheat grill. Skewer marinated shrimp and grill until cooked, about 2-3 minutes per side.

To assemble, scoop some salsa into the flour tortilla. Top with 8-10 shrimp and shredded lettuce/spinach. Wrap and enjoy!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yellow Cake with Mango Cream Cheese Frosting

Today's my birthday and the first step towards the descent into latter half of my 20s. Not to be completely cliche, but where does the time go? Sometimes I feel the days and weeks are in time warp mode. Time to heed the advice of the great philosopher Ferris Bueller... Time to slow down and take a look around, or else I may miss something.

Regardless, it was a regular, low-key Saturday for us. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Kruse and Muer on Main last night, and today I puttered around the kitchen while Gabe worked his way through some homework. Only a few more days and he'll have completed his Master's degree. No small feat, especially when working full time as well. Certainly, a good reason for him to be proud of himself and his accomplishments.

Of course, no birthday is complete without some kind of sweet treat. I wanted to venture on the road less traveled, and try my hand at something non-chocolately. A travesty to some, I know; however, nothing ventured nothing gained. [...] Right?!?

So the result? A moist yellow cake (via Crepes of Wrath) with mango cream cheese frosting. A fun dessert to make and eat, although I wish the mango flavor would have shone a little brighter. Perhaps I need to purchase some mango extract to help the fresh mango puree along just a touch.

Here's to 26 being my best year yet!

1 c. + 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 Tbs. white sugar
1 tsp. lime juice

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/4 c. mango puree
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3-4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8-inch square pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to incorporate. Add shortening, buttermilk, vanilla and egg. Beat until thoroughly combined, but do not overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make mango puree, combine chopped mango, sugar and lime juice in a food processor. Pulse until fully pureed.

To make the frosting, combine cream cheese, butter, 1/4 c. mango puree and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Beat until fully incorporated. Add powdered sugar until desired consistency and taste is achieved. If desired, add food coloring (gel) to tint your frosting.

To assemble the cake, cut cake in half length-wise. Spread some additional mango puree on top of one half. Top with remaining half. Frost entire cake and decorate as desired. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tomato Pesto Soup

Each year, my dad and brother plant a gigantic garden in the backyard. It's full of wonderful fruits and vegetables, including corn, peppers, tomatoes, grapes, muskmelon, raspberries and more. Here's my dad lovingly tending to his grape plants.

Most of the food gets eaten fresh, straight from the garden. However, the tomato bounty is always plentiful--a little too plentiful sometimes. So at the end of the season, my dad and I (or my sister and I) do a day's worth of canning tomatoes. With around 60 quarts by the time we're finished, I have plenty of jarred tomatoes for homemade spaghetti sauce, chili and soups for the entire year.

So I know that hearty tomato-based soups are a little out of season, but this soup that I came across on the Soup and Dessert blog just begged me to make it (with a few slight alterations). It's packed with protein, fresh vegetables and explosive flavors that will truly satisfy you.


1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. pesto
2 c. cooked and shredded chicken
2 (14 oz.) cans great northern beans
1 (28 oz.) jar whole tomatoes (with all liquids)
3 c. water
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 c. small pasta
1/4 c. ajvar*
salt and pepper
cornstarch + water (for thickening, optional)
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Heat butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add pesto and cook an additional 2 minutes.

Add chicken, tomatoes and juices, water, beans and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add pasta and ajvar. Simmer until pasta is soft, about 10 minutes. Add additional salt and pepper as needed. Thicken with cornstarch + water if necessary. Ladle into bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

* Ajvar is a Middle Eastern spread made of roasted eggplant, red bell peppers and garlic. I purchased mine at Trader Joe's (see review of the product here). Ajvar tastes great spread on crackers or pita bread with a tangy cheese, like feta or goat cheese. In this recipe, it added a great depth of flavor to the tomato base.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wilton Cake Decorating Course I - Class I and 2

My birthday came a little earlier this year. My husband signed me up for Wilton's Cake Decorating I course, and purchased a nice little set of decorating tools for me. While my birthday isn't technically for another week, I've already had a blast playing around with various piping tips and bookmarked many of the beautifully decorated cupcakes and cakes scattered across the blogging sphere to try in the near future.

I am taking the course, which consists of four classes, at a local Michael's. While baking and basic decorating isn't completely new to me, I figured for $17, I could pick up some additional skills and tricks from a seasoned instructor.

The first class was very basic, with the instructor reviewing how to make homemade frosting, achieving various colors and consistencies, and basic cake frosting. Nothing monumental here, folks. Our instructor, Sarah, is very friendly and personable.

The second class, which took place yesterday night, jumped right into decorating techniques. We learned about different decorating tips and practiced a few basic piping techniques on our practice boards. This included the round tip, star tip, and some beginning rose work. By the end of the two hour class, we each had (at least partially) decorated our own cakes, which we had pre-made and frosted before class.

Luckily, we were not forced to make the lame cakes presented in the book for lesson 2; instead, Sarah allowed us to bring in a design of our choosing. Since right now, I'm totally digging the retro design scene, I found a cute little retro-ish bird to pipe onto my cake. Cute, as well as practical, since it was not very complicated and I was able to nearly finish by class close.

Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying the class and pleased with my birthday gift this year! I'll check in again next week with the results of Class 3.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cottage (Shepherd's) Pie

A few short days ago, I told you about how my husband had come down with a severe cold. It should be with little surprise that I am now, too. With every last drop of chicken noodle soup now consumed, I had to turn to another comfort food for some relief.

We call this dish shepherd's pie around here; however, its correct name is cottage pie. From what I understand, both dishes are basically the same with the only variation being the type of meat used in the dish. For shepherd's pie, lamb is used. For cottage pie, beef is used.

Regardless of what we call it, cottage (shepherd's) pie is hearty comfort food at its best. Serve with warm biscuits or crusty bread... A perfect meal for warming a sick, old soul on this cold and blustery April day.

5 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 Tbs. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

1 to 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1 pkg. brown gravy mix
1 c. water
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. ketchup
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 carrots, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 c. frozen corn
1 tsp. Italian seasoning

salt and pepper
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil

Preheat oven broiler.

In a medium pot, cover potatoes with cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until completely soft. Drain and mash. Add sour cream, milk, 1/4 c. mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and salt/pepper to taste. Mix to thoroughly combine. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef. Drain any fat, then return to skillet. Add garlic, brown gravy mix, water, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and salt/pepper to taste. Mix well. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Spread evenly into a medium sized casserole dish. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add vegetables, Italian seasoning and salt/pepper to taste. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Spread evenly over meat mixture. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over vegetable layer. Top with remaining 1/4 c. mozzarella cheese. Place in broiler to brown potatoes and cheese, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chicken Noodle Soup

I'll use any excuse in the book to whip up an oversized stockpot of soup. What can I say? I'm a soup fanatic. Even on the hottest of July days, I can be found making a steaming pot of chili or clam chowder. You know how Bubba felt about shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump? That's how I feel about soup!

So when my husband came down with a cold a few days ago (the first in this household all season), I had my excuse. It was time to pull out the classics - nothing makes you feel better than a big bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. The ingredient list may be long, but this soup comes together in a snap.

4 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large leek, halved and thinly sliced
2 c. chopped carrots
2 c. chopped celery
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. flour
2 c. (packed) cooked and shredded chicken
10 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp. dried dill
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 c. egg noodles
1/4 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
additional salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add leeks, carrots, celery, salt* and pepper. Cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add chicken stock, shredded chicken, and remaining seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are barely soft, about 15 minutes. Add egg noodles and parsley, and cook until noodles are soft, about 10 additional minutes. Taste for seasonings, adding additional salt and pepper as needed. Enjoy!

*Note: Feel free to adjust the amount of salt, depending on the type of stock you use. Mine was nearly salt-free, so I needed to add more than usual. It's better to start lower, and add as necessary.