Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Memorial Day was perfect in NYC.  It was 73 and sunny – a great day for grilling and sitting outside.  I decided it would be great to grill up a bunch of meat, and serve macaroni & cheese, bbq baked beans, and cole slaw on the side.  To top it all off, I had to find a refreshing drink that would bring about thoughts of summer, cookouts, and good ol’ fashioned fun with friends.  And since I’ve got a bun in the oven, it has to be virgin :)

There is a fantastic restaurant in Harlem called Evelyn’s Kitchen.  The place is blowing up!  It has definitely become one of our favorite spots to grab brunch or dinner.  You are assured great food but also great drinks!  The owner makes an amazing rosemary mint lemonade and that inspired my strawberry mint lemonade I made for Memorial Day.  Not only was it delicious – it was GORGEOUS!

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

2c sugar
2c + 2.5qt water
15-20 mint leaves plus more for garnish
1c fresh squeezed lemon juice
lemon slices (for garnish)
strawberry slices (for garnish)
lemon-lime soda (optional)

Combine 2c water and 2c sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add mint leaves and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-low once sugar is dissolved.  Heat until it thickens and turns into a syrup (about 10 minutes).  Pour into a separate bowl and discard mint leaves.  Allow simple syrup to cool.

Technique: When making lemonade or iced tea or any sweet drink that is served cold and requires you to dissolve sugar in water, it’s best to make a simple syrup.  Typically it’s made with a 1:1 water to sugar ratio (which I find to be plenty sweet) but you could also use double the amount of sugar to water if you need something potent.  Using simple syrup as a sweetener allows you to steep flavor additions into the sweetener (like mint) and prevents sugar granules from collecting at the bottom of your pitcher. 

Combine lemon juice, mint simple syrup, and 2.5qt water.  Stir to combine.  Add lemon slices, mint, and strawberries to lemonade about 6 hours before you’re ready to serve.

Optional:  Fill glasses with ice, a little lemon-lime soda, and lemonade (and even a little vodka) for serving.

Adding soda to the lemonade really puts the icing on the cake and gives it a “sparkle”.  For adults (and non-preggers) you can add a shot of vodka to the glass.  Our guests had it all three ways and all three were a knockout!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mango Guacamole and Homemade Salsa

"Dip dip dip dip dip!!" That's the chant our tiny gentleman shouts at each meal. The kid is obsessed with dip. He will eat anything with dip on it. And the dip doesn't really matter - ketchup, ranch dressing, tzatziki, you name it, if it's dip-able, he's into it. The grown-ups in the house are also really into dip! Chips and veggies are generally just dip-delivery-devices. Two of our faves are guac and salsa. A dear friend made us these amazing versions years ago and they've been in our regular rotation ever since. These are actually recipes my husband usually makes, but he doesn't write the blog, so there.

Mango Guacamole - recipe from the lovely Susanna
Makes about 4 cups of guac

2 large avocados - about 2 cups
1 small mango - about 1 cup
1/2 a bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (about 1/2 a cup of packed leafs)
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 Roma tomato
1 teaspoon salt
2 limes juiced
1/2 a serrano or jalapeno chili

Mince the chili and onion. Chop the bell pepper, mango and tomato into small dice. Shred the cilantro. Cube the avocado and juice the two limes. Mix all ingredients with the salt. Stir to combine well, but don't mash up too much.

Homemade Salsa - recipe from the lovely Susanna
Makes about 2 cups of salsa

4 Roma tomatoes
2 serrano or jalapeno chilies 
1/4 cup of red onion
1/2 cup packed cilantro leafs
2 garlic cloves
Salt to taste - about 1/2 teaspoon

In a cast iron skillet, or on a griddle, roast the tomatoes and chilies until blackened and the skins are bursting, turning to blacken all sides, about 10 minutes total.

Set the tomatoes and chilies aside until they are cool enough to handle easily. Remove the skins of the tomatoes and chilies - if you like milder salsa, remove the seeds from the chilies (we are into spice and leave them in.)

Add the tomatoes, chilies, garlic, cilantro, onion and salt to a blender. Pulse until well blended and dip-able. We like to be able to see the different ingredients.

These are just delicious dips. And healthy! (We won't talk about the chips.)


Monday, May 20, 2013

Ginger Soy Chicken Breasts with Scallion Rice

I needed a healthy meal.  I was looking for a lean protein, a good-for-you carb, and some green veggies.  So where did I turn???  My stash of Cooking Light recipes.  Cooking Light never seems to disappoint!  Even if the recipe isn’t perfect at first, it can be slightly modified to make it great.  Today, I made Ginger Soy Chicken Breasts.

The original recipe calls for chicken thighs but we normally stick to white meat so I chose to use skinless, boneless chicken breasts.  The original recipe also called for bland chicken (in my opinion).  There were no seasonings, which is a serious NO NO!  I chose to add a salt mix, pepper and a little heat with crushed red pepper.  The spice of the ginger and sweetness of the preserves goes great with the heat from the pepper.

Ginger Soy Chicken Breasts

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp salt mix
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp crushed red pepper (adjust to taste)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ c apricot preserves
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced

Pound chicken to an even thickness.  Season chicken with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add chicken; cook 5-7 mins on each side or until meat thermometer reads 165F.  Remove from pan; keep warm.

Technique: If the chicken is still thick after pounding, it may be best to sear quickly on the stovetop and finish in the oven to avoid the exterior from getting tough.

Add preserves, ginger, soy sauce, and garlic to pan; bring to a boil. Cook sauce 2 mins or until reduced to 1/3 c, stirring occasionally.  Return chicken to pan; turn to coat with sauce.

Scallion rice:

Cook 2c brown rice as directed on package instructions (or using rice cooker).  Add salt, pepper, and margarine to taste.  Mix in ¼ c thinly sliced scallions.  This also works with white rice.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crab and Kale Manicotti

Today was a day of experimenting.  I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted for dinner so I started scanning through my recipes.  I came across one for cheese manicotti.  For any of you who have had cheese manicotti, it can be a somewhat “one-noted”.  At least…for me it is.  All that cheese can be a little overwhelming so I brainstormed what I wanted to add to the cheese in order to give it a deeper flavor profile and make it exactly what I wanted.  Voila!!!  Crab and kale manicotti.

I love Italian food and I love tomato-based sauces so this dish is right up my alley.  Manicotti is just as versatile as stuffed shells.   You can stuff them with anything that comes to your mind.  Really!  If you don’t like crab, try chicken or sausage.  If you would rather not have kale – try spinach.  The possibilities are endless.  Use whatever is in your refrigerator and it will come out just right.  This is a great dish to use for experimenting with different ingredients.  Let me know what you try out…but first…

Crab and Kale Manicotti

8 large manicotti shells
2 ½ c shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1c ricotta cheese
1 ½ c blanched, chopped kale
1 ½ c shredded lump crab meat
¾ c grated parmesan cheese, divided
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp Italian seasoning
1 jar prepared marinara sauce, divided

Techinque: Blanching is a process in which you immerse food (typically a green veggie) in boiling water for a very short period of time.  Then, you remove it and submerge it in a bowl of ice water.  I used this technique for the kale to tenderize it just a tad and give it a bright green color, while still allowing it to maintain a little crunch.  Also, don't forget to remove the tough stems!

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente.  Drain; rinse with cold water.  Let pasta dry on paper towels.

For filling: In a medium bowl, stir together 2c mozzarella, ricotta, kale, crab, ½ c parmesan, and spices.   Mix well using a spoon or your hands.  Using a small teaspoon, carefully stuff pasta shells with crab mixture.

Tip: I recommend using your hands for this.  If the ingredients are cold, they will not combine well with a spoon.  Dig in!

Spoon 1c marinara sauce into prepared baking dish.  The bottom of the pan should be covered but no more.  You may need to add more or less depending on what size pan you use.  Arrange stuffed pasta over sauce.  Pour more marinara sauce over top of pasta until all pasta is just covered.  Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.

Favorite ingredient: My favorite marinara sauce is Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara.  You don’t need to add anything and there are no preservatives.  You will know what every ingredient on the list is and that’s pretty rare with packaged foods.  I use it all the time when I need a little sauce on the side or I need a quick dinner option.

Bake manicotti for 15-20 mins.  Sprinkle with remaining parmesan; bake for 5-10 mins longer.  Serve immediately.

I served this with a side salad and multigrain bread (with butter of course).  It made for a great Sunday family dinner and I took leftovers for lunch on Monday.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Soy Glazed Baked Salmon

I'm a less than confident fish cooker. I fear accidentally serving sushi to my family. I don't always know what flavors really goes with what and I am afraid of the bones. There, I own all of it. But I'm getting better and I'm trying new things. Phew - that weight off my chest is freeing. Anyway, our Whole Foods had a sale and I'm excited about bargain food! I didn't know what I was going to do with these salmon filets, but I knew I needed them. Digging around the Internets I found this Martha Stewart recipe and decided to try it. We all really liked it and it will be in our regular rotation. 

Soy Glazed Salmon - Recipe from Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 400
Serves 2

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
juice from one lemon - about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon white wine (or water)
2 salmon filets (ours were 6oz each)

In a small bowl mix together sugar, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice and wine. In a shallow baking dish arrange salmon filets so they fit without overlapping. Pour the marinade over the filets and then flip to coat all sides. If you're using filets with the skin on, bake skin side down.

Bake about 20 minutes, depending on how big your filets are. Baste twice while baking. 

We ate this with cucumber salad, mango slices and coconut rice.

Cucumber Salad
1 large English cucumber, or regular cucumber partially skinned
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

With a mandolin or with good knife skills, slice the cucumber very thinly. Mix together vinegar, sugar and oil and pour over the sliced cucumbers. Toss with sesame seeds. (English cucumbers have nice, tender skin and I do not peel them. Regular cucumbers have tougher skin and I peel strips off keeping about half the green skin on.)

This was a really easy weekday meal. The salmon was perfect - light, flavorful and a new option for us. 


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Apple Almond Muffins

I LOVE muffins for breakfast!  There are some mornings where I just find whatever fruit and nuts I have, modify my muffin recipe, and make something new.  They are extremely versatile and always yummy.  They go great with omelets, can act as a great brunch menu, or even satisfy a sweet-tooth for those late night snack cravings. 

This time, I used Gala apples and honey-roasted sliced almonds that I get from Trader Joe’s.  These almonds are a kitchen pantry necessity for us.  We put them in everything: muffins, salads, on ice cream…you name it, we have tried it.  Or, you can just take a handful because they are really that good.  Although I used the honey-roasted sliced almonds, you can also use plain sliced almonds and they will be just as satisfying. 

Apple Almond Muffins

¾ c milk
¼ c vegetable oil
1 large egg
2c all purpose flour
½ c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1c chopped apple
½ c honey-roasted sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, oil, and egg.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Mix together.  Fold in apples and almonds.

Tip: Here's a tip that my mom taught me - Sift all of your dry ingredients.  It's makes the batter lighter.

Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until flour mixture is moistened.  Spoon batter into a paper-lined muffin pan.

Note: Do not over-stir your muffins!  Fold in the ingredients just until the flour is wet.  The batter will be lumpy but your muffins will be light and fluffy!

Bake @ 400F for about 15 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Immediately remove muffins from pan and cool on a wire rack.

This recipe made 9 muffins for me.  I didn’t use an ice cream scoop or anything.  You can add more or less batter for more or less muffins.  I like large muffins so recipes that often call for 12 muffins only make 6-9 for me.  Just keep in mind that the cooking time and or temperature may need to be adjusted.  If you’re making 6, you may want to shoot for 17 or so minutes.  If you’re making 12, you may want to shoot for 12 or so minutes.  Always check with a toothpick and it’s better to check earlier than later.