Ooh la, la ~ Creme Brulee

wp-image-545739601jpg.jpgI always have been, and always will be a chocolate girl. Chocolate is quite confident about our relationship – it knows it has nothing to worry about. Which is why I am free to share the love; a gingerbread cookie here, a fruit tart there, and never one to discriminate against my French friends, creme brulee.

wp-image-1797215491jpg.jpgThe problem with creme brulee is that it is most often found at expensive restaurants, where they charge a ridiculous amount of money for the two bites they serve you. Which is why I was so excited when I saw a creme brulee kit on the clearance aisle as TJ Maxx. Thank you, TJ Maxx. Thank you, all the people who saw the kit before me who didn’t buy it. And a final thanks to my husband, whose sweet tooth never complains when I try something new.

wp-image-1554265934jpg.jpgBefore I even picked the kit up off the shelf, I had Googled a recipe to see exactly how much work creating the dish would entail. It didn’t seem too hard, so I gave it a try. I used a recipe for Vanilla Creme Brulee as found in the NY Times, shown below.

wp-image-409279096jpg.jpgNotes on the recipe: I doubled the vanilla. I saved the egg whites in tupperware for breakfast the next morning. Beating until light means until the egg mixture becomes frothy – it takes about 10 minutes when whisking by hand. Also, I used the mini blowtorch in the kit to caramelize the sugar instead of the broiler, because, yeah, like I’m passing that up. It turned out terrific! The only thing I would do differently is to use a bigger blowtorch!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups heavy or light cream, or half-and-half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • teaspoon salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar, more for topping

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, combine cream, vanilla bean and salt and cook over low heat just until hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then discard vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, add it now.)
  2. In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until light. Stir about a quarter of the cream into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. Pour into four 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until centers are barely set. Cool completely. Refrigerate for several hours and up to a couple of days.
  3. When ready to serve, top each custard with about a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer. Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Serve within two hours.

Breaded Dijon Shrimp & Lemon Pasta

wp-image-1429283273jpg.jpegI’m a huge fan of pasta, but my husband isn’t, so I’m always trying to devise new recipes that will bring him over to the carb side. This flavorful meal seems to have done the trick.

As usual, I don’t measure ingredients, but rather eyeball everything, which isn’t very helpful when trying to instruct another person how to replicate the recipe, but unlike baking, this is not an exact science. My instructions are for two people, using about 20 medium shrimp.

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First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place a pot of water on to boil the pasta. In a bowl, melt some butter (I use about a half tablespoon), then mix with about 2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard. On a plate, mix breadcrumbs (I prefer Panko style) with some Old Bay, garlic salt, and shaker Parmesan cheese. Dredge the shrimp in the Dijon wp-image-1746117122jpg.jpegmixture, then the breadcrumbs, then place on a baking sheet sprayed with PAM. (TIP – I use my wp-image-675219532jpg.jpegright hand to put the shrimp in the Dijon mixture and then lay the shrimp on the bread wp-image-1895801259jpg.jpegcrumbs. I use my left hand to scoop breadcrumbs over the shrimp until covered and to transfer to the baking sheet. This keeps you from getting your hands too clumped up to work with – only one hand is ‘wet’ and it doesn’t get covered in breadcrumbs.) Bake shrimp at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

wp-image-1535423545jpg.jpegWhile the shrimp are baking, clean and slice mushrooms, shallots and garlic. Because 1) I love garlic, and 2) every way you prepare garlic produces a different flavor, I thin slice about 5 cloves and and skin another 5 for crushing in a garlic press. Wash 2 lemons, thin slicing at least half of one to add to the dish, saving the rest for juice.

 
Place pasta in the boiling water to cook. Put about one tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a large frying pan and melt over medium heat. Add sliced garlic and shallots and crushed garlic, sauteing for 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms and another 1/2 wp-image-72976912jpg.jpegtablespoon of butter, stir, and saute for minute. Add lemon juice and sliced lemons, stir, and saute for another 1-2 minutes, until mushrooms look cooked. Add a small ladle (2-3 tablespoons) of the pasta water. At this point I would usually add spinach, but since I made this impromptu this time, I used a jar of artichoke hearts instead. By the time the spinach (or artichoke hearts) are sufficiently wilted, the pasta should be done cooking. Test, then add to sauteed mixture in pan. (HINT – If you go light when you add the pasta water, you can add the pasta straight from the pot without straining and the flavor doesn’t get too diluted – one less dish to wash!). Dish out portions, add shrimp from the oven, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan. Voila!

(Everyone cooks at their own pace. This recipe takes me between 35-40 minutes from start to finish.)

Fiddle Me This – What’s a Fiddlehead?

IMG_20160607_183621280_HDRMaybe those of you who are Northerners already know the answer to this question, but for those of you who don’t, let me tell you. First, a little back story. At the grocery store, in the produce section, I kept seeing these . . . things. Things that I could only describe at green little alien coils. Things that did not look like anything that I’d want to put in my mouth.

Only . . . that’s not entirely true. Those of you that know me (or have followed my blog for a while) probably know where this is going. Because you know my secret. You know that I have a habit of being strangely drawn towards eating odd things. There’s really no way to explain it. I’ve always been this way. So while a part of me was repulsed by the strange looking things I saw in the grocery store, another part of me knew that it was my destiny to one day eat them.

I didn’t do any research until the day I put them in my cart. After I brought them home. I had no idea that Fiddleheads are part of the Ostrich Fern, or that they’re rather healthy for you. With some exceptions.

IMG_20160607_190957000_HDRI read conflicting reports, but the bottom line is this – if you want to eat Fiddleheads, clean them well, snip the ends, and boil them for about 10 minutes first, which is what I did before I sauteed them in olive oil with a smidge of butter, garlic, shallots, white wine, lemon juice, and a bit of shaker Parmesan cheese. Then I served them over pasta with fresh grated Parmesan. Not only were they good, but my husband asked when we’d get to eat them again before we even finished dinner. (I have fully completed bringing him over to the interesting side of eating new things.) Mission complete.

Adventures with Asparagus

I like asparagus. Imagine that said to the tune of I like turtles. I know those extra syllables throw it off a little, but you get the idea. I hope. Anyways, I like asparagus, but they tend to be pricey up here in the northeast and they like to try and force you to buy a big bundle which you have to eat immediately or they go slimey and bad and and then money is wasted, and since no one’s going to pay me to film a TV reality series called When Vegetables Go Bad, I  end up putting ginormous portions of asparagus on our dinner plates. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise, just stick with me a bit longer).

So I’m trying this whole growing my own fruit and veggies thing, and I discover that asparagus are not only a perennial, but also that they will survive the snowy winter to come back year after year. The only catch is that you have to wait a few years for your first harvest. So I thought to myself, “You better get started, then.” So I did. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. Going out to my asparagus patch, day after day looking for something, seeing nothing, wondering if an underground rodent stole my crop or if my seedlings were bad. Staring at the dirt, feeling like an idiot, thinking, “I like asparagus,” to the tune of that little zombie kid saying, “I like turtles.” And now we’ve come full circle.

Then, after two months, when I’ve almost given up hope, I see this:

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Looks like an asparagus, doesn’t it. So, instead of staring at the dirt, I got to look at this little guy while I crouched down next to the garden bed and cheered him on. Then this happened:

IMG_20160607_093802632     And this:            IMG_20160607_093752329

Now this:

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And more little asparagi raise their little heads and branch out into weird looking things every day. I wasn’t wasting my time! And the moral of the story is, if you’ve planted asparagus and you’re getting tired of staring at dirt, wait a little longer, my friend. If you plant them, they will come. You just won’t be able to harvest them for the first two or three years. And since I have no idea how to harvest asparagus, that, too, will be an adventure!

Mediterranean Zucchini Salad

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Zucchini. A member of the summer squash family that is low in calories, a good source of fiber and potassium, contains a decent amount of antioxidants, and a bunch of other healthy benefits.

So why wasn’t I eating it more?

Because all the recipes I knew for zucchini were time consuming and labor intensive.

But . . .  zucchinis are great. If you do all your shopping for the week in one trip (like I try to do) zucchinis are one of those vegetables that stay fresh until the end of the week. So I came up with this simple recipe that turned zucchini into a quick and tasty option.

Ingredients:

  • zucchini
  • sweet white onion
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • feta cheese

I throw together a quick salad dressing of:

  • olive oil
  • rice wine vinegar
  • honey or Dijon mustard
  • pepper
  • Nature’s Seasoning
  • basil leaves

mixed to taste.

I use a Tupperware bowl because I always make enough for leftovers (this has become a favorite in my house). I use 2 large zucchini, which makes enough for about 4 servings.

First, mix the dressing or open salad dressing of your choice, chop the onions and sun-dried tomatoes, wash the zucchini and remove the rind. Then, drizzle some dressing in the bottom of the bowl and grate 1/2 of the first zucchini into the bowl using a vegetable peeler. Add a handful of onions, a sprinkling of tomatoes, some feta, and another drizzle of dressing. Repeat the process with the rest of the ingredients, making three or four layers. Then add put the lid on the bowl (tightly) and shake every direction and upside down. Voila! Zucchini ready to eat in less than 10 minutes!

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Gator on the Dinner Plate

gatorgator6In keeping with my foray into culinary adventures, I cooked gator for dinner the other night. I had eaten gator before, I had just never cooked it. With a recent victory under my belt (I wouldn’t call the frog legs I cooked a smashing success, but they were a success none-the-less, with a pleasant taste and no one got sick) I was feeling brave. I figured gator2since I had mastered the art of cooking amphibians, I should give reptiles a try. The same store that sold the frog legs, McKinnon’s in Portsmouth, NH, also sold alligator meat, so I bought some and gave it a try.

There were slightly more recipes for gator than frog legs. Like usual, I took what I liked the best from each recipe and made it my own. After cutting the meat into nugget-sized chunks, I soaked it in a mix of milk and hot wing sauce for several hours. I made a beer batter by mixing equal parts beer with flour. I used Shipyard GingerBreadHead, which is seasonal and may also be regional, but made the BEST beer batter that I have ever tasted. (It also made a tasty cooking cocktail with a shot of vanilla vodka in it and a cinnamon-sugar rim.)

gator4gator5I seasoned flour with Old Bay, Nature’s Seasoning, salt and pepper. I used Grapeseed Oil for frying because one of the recipes I read named it and I had some that had been sitting unused in my pantry for forever and this seemed an ideal way to get rid of it. Working in batches, I dredged the gator in the flour mixture, dunked it in the beer batter, and fried it in the oil over medium high heat, turning to brown all sides nicely. I have to say that it came out really good, the best gator I’ve ever eaten. I won’t hesitate to cook gator in the future.


 

beercheddarmustardsauceI also made a cheddar/mustard/beer dipping sauce to go with the fried gator, which was a big hit. It was a little bland, because on this I more or less did follow a recipe. Next time (and I will definitely make this sauce again) I’m going to try adding a bit of Worcestershire, maybe a touch of Tabasco and a pinch of garlic salt.

 

 

Frog Legs – The Other (Other) White Meat

frog5In the spirit of adventure, I like to seize every opportunity available to me to try new things. New places, new experiences, new foods . . . which has occasionally resulted in me putting some strange things in my mouth. I really like snails. Crickets are there for a second, then they’re gone. There are far more normal, mainstream things I’d rather avoid eating, like mayonnaise (strange aversion to it) and Shepard’s pie.

frog4So while at a store in Portsmouth called McKinnon’s, a store that considers itself to be the premiere butcher shop in all of New Hampshire, imagine my reaction when I saw frog legs in their frozen food aisle. I had to try them. I just couldn’t help myself. I put them in the cart (along with a few other ‘delicacies’), paid, and brought them home.

frog3Now, I’ve never cooked something like frog legs before. I actually prefer my exotic foods to be prepared for me. And if you look, there really aren’t that many recipes for frog legs on the internet. So I read the few recipes I did find, came up with a plan, and thawed the legs out. I then soaked the legs in beer for an hour. Why? Soaking can both tenderize and flavor meat. I always give duck an ice-water bath before I cook it to lessen the gaminess.

frog2I seasoned some flour, dredged the legs in it, and sauteed them in a cast iron skillet using a mix of olive oil and butter until they were lightly browned. I removed them from the pan, added garlic, shallots, mushrooms and some white frog1wine, and sauteed until the shallots were cooked. Then I returned the frog legs to the pan, covered it with tinfoil and placed it in the over for twenty minutes at 300 degrees.
frogThe verdict? Not bad. My husband said he liked it, but I thought that they didn’t really taste like anything at all. The meat fell off the bones, which was a bonus, because who wants to be able to say that they stuck a frog’s foot in their mouth and sucked on it’s toes? (Okay, I may or may not have done that very thing just to be able to say it – you’ll never know for sure.) The good news is that I’ve added another food source to my list of low demand food items that I can eat to survive on in case of an emergency (the economy totally collapses leaving the country in a state of dire famine, rampant diseases necessitating an avoidance of public places, terrorism, zombie apocalypse – I won’t starve.)

What strange foods have you tried?

 

Talking Tacos

wpt2There’s something about tacos – they’re fun, they’re tasty . . . they can also be trouble. As wonderful and delicious as they are, the filling can be full of greasy meat, saturated fat, and the amount of calories you’re supposed to eat over the course of a week. But don’t call the wha-mbulance just yet.

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I tried something tricky the other day and got away with it. Better yet, I was in on it and still managed to fool myself. I used veggie protein crumbles instead of ground beef, and it tasted almost exactly the same – maybe even a little better.

wpt1The lack of beef fat was tastefully disguised by extra cheese and guacamole – both  of which I love. True, the addition of extra high fat and calorie toppings may defeat the purpose of replacing the meat with a vegetarian substitute, but this culinary experiment was geared more towards future reference than present benefit. The main purpose of the experiment was to see if my husband would notice. He said he did – but not until after I revealed the box, which was after his first taco had disappeared. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the experiment was a success!

 

Talking Tofu

wptofu1One of the downsides of this aging  thing is that you can’t eat what you used to. It seems like only yesterday that Pepsi and a chocolate doughnut (Entenmann’s, of course) was the go to breakfast of champions. Suddenly I’m being bombarded with enemies like cholesterol and sodium and trans-fats. Since I’m not just in charge of my own health anymore, I figured it was time to start paying attention and do what I could to make my dietary world a healthier place.

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Thus, my friend Tofu was invited into the house. My brief experience with Tofu was during my pre-teen stint at vegetarianism. Impressively, it lasted a year. (Do I have to share that it was abandoned for a McDonald’s cheeseburger?) During this year, I cooked my own meals when my parents had red meat for dinner. I prepared a fair amount of tofu during this time, but I’m pretty sure I just doused it with salad dressing.

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Now, I’m a good cook. I don’t feel the need to be modest with that statement. As good cooks know, you get to forego any modesty about your cooking skills in exchange for sacrificing being able to go out to a restaurant to enjoy a good meal, because most of the time you end up paying too much for a meal that you could have cooked better, and the person across from you keeps reminding you of that. I, of course, retort with my standard reply that every once in a while I require a meal to be served to me, without any effort or clean-up on my part, and if they know another way of that happening, I’d be more than willing to give it a try.

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So, I can cook. And there’s tofu sitting next to a pile of chopped stir fry vegetables on my counter, thus the time has come to back the statement up with some action. I whip together a little Thai peanut sauce marinade, get my pan and utensils out, and then something weird happens. I get cold feet.

Half of cooking is instinct. The other half is experience. I am confident in my ability to know what flavors complement each other, in knowing what method of cooking to use, in knowing what wine to pair with the meal, but how long do you cook Tofu for? Do you just heat it? I tried calling on memory, but my lifespan has almost tripled since the last time I cooked Tofu. So I Googled it on my phone in the kitchen.

I then find out from a helpful blogger that Tofu should be pressed and drained for at least a half hour, if not overnight, before cooking. Whoops. Not gonna happen. The package says to store leftover Tofu in water. It makes no sense. I’m confused. I quickly sliced the Tofu, squished it flat between some paper towels, and read on. She goes on to say that you should then marinade it, so I pop it into my marinade right as I read that the water in Tofu doesn’t like oil, so you should use an oil free marinade. It seems to me that that little gem of advice should have come at the beginning of the sentence, but it’s too late, so I keep reading. I see cornstarch, which is good because I have some, so I pull it out and put some on a plate to dip the marinaded Tofu in.

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By then, I’m bored of reading what I should do. I’m a good cook, I probably won’t mess it up too bad. I’ll cook it until I feel like putting it on a plate. I cooked the Tofu my way, and it was good.

So what was I worrying about? My instincts didn’t fail me. They even whispered to me a surefire way to make the Tofu taste even better next time. Cook it with bacon.

Not for the Chicken Hearted

 

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I like trying new things. And I like to eat. Put them together, and I like to try new things to eat. So when I saw a Groupon for Rodizio style Brazilian Barbecue, I couldn’t pass it up.

rodRodizio is a type of restaurant service in which you are continuously brought new samples of food until you signal the waiter that you have had enough (or just need a bit of a break). Upon sitting, we were brought a couple of wooden pegs which we would use to signal the server –  the green side meaning bring more meat, and the red side meaning stop. The concept was simple enough.

rod1The meat was brought over on metal skewers and was either sliced at the table, or portioned off shish kabob style. An endless parade of meat ensued. Roast beef, sirloin, bacon wrapped chicken, steak, lamb, and sausage . . . until the server arrived with a skewer filled with tiny pieces of meat. Until then, the servings had been quite generous, so we knew this meat must be special. We were then asked if we’d like to try some chicken hearts.

rod3My first reaction was disgust. Chicken hearts? In my mouth? I kept my expression blank as my dining companion asked if they were any good. The server, obviously used to people expressing their revulsion, shyly said that he thought they were the best part of the meal. What’s the point of trying new things if you don’t really try new things? So I opted for the chicken hearts, and to my surprise, they were tasty. A little chewy, perhaps, but with a good flavor.

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The dinner was accompanied by an all you can eat buffet with traditional Brazilian dishes such as feijoada, made with black beans and pork, moqueca, a dish consisting of slow cooked fish, and acarajé which is made from deep fried black eyes peas. After the buffet and trying 12 different types of meat and some grilled pineapple, I was ready for them to pry me out of the booth and roll me to the car. Trying Brazilian style Rodizio barbecue was a fantastic experience, chicken hearts and all! I can’t wait to gorge myself on meat again.