Monday, February 27, 2012

{ custard toast with creamy bourbon syrup }

Somewhere in the Unwritten Rule Book of Life is a mandate stating that Sundays should begin with a decadent breakfast -- it just makes everything better. And if things are already better, it makes things the best.

Breakfast this past Sunday included bourbon, cream, and vanilla. In the [overused] words of one of my favorite culinary personalities, Ina Garten, "How bad can that be?"

And I think Ina would be totally good with the fact that I continued to eat the remaining spoonfuls of the creamy bourbon syrup left over after breakfast. Gluttony at it's worst (or best?), for sure. But oh, so good.

Next time, I'll use a fancier-schmancier bread. But for an impromptu meal, the everyday sandwich stuff worked just fine.

Custard Toast with Creamy Bourbon Syrup

For toast:
6 slices of bread
6 eggs
1/2 cup of light cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of cinnamon

For sauce:
1/3 cup of real maple syrup
1/2 cup of light (or heavy!) cream
1 tablespoon bourbon (I use Maker's Mark)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sized bowl, whisk eggs with cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat maple syrup over medium high heat. Slowly add cream and whisk continuously until incorporated with syrup and warmed through. Add bourbon and vanilla. Continue to heat until syrup mixture until just past a simmer. Remove from heat as it begins to gently boil. Syrup will slightly thicken as it cools.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.

Dip a slice of bread into egg custard mixture, allowing it to sponge up liquid for about 30 seconds. With your fingers, gently flip over bread and sponge up custard on the second side.

Immediately place bread slice into heated pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until toast is golden. Flip with a spatula and cook the second side of the toast.

Remove from pan and spoon bourbon syrup on top of toast.

Repeat with remaining slices of bread.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

{ not your grandma's grean bean casserole }

Green bean casserole -- an American classic. I made one last night, and it's not even Thanksgiving, and it didn't even have those canned fried onions on top. Oh, and it has cayenne pepper! Talk about walking on the wild side, no?

Acutally, I was watching Ree Drummond's new show on Food Network. In this particular episode, she shared her favorite pot luck recipes. Her green bean casserole had both Ty and I sold: Immediate recipe replication was definitely in order.

One of the few changes I made to Ree's recipe was to blanche the green beans for a longer amount of time than she did, simply because we like them softer, as opposed to super-crisp. Her original recipe calls for a jar of pimentos, but we used a fresh red bell pepper instead, as she calls for in her updated Food Network version. I substituted light cream for half-and-half, added a bit more cayenne, and finally, sprinkled some grated parmesan cheese on top with the panko, just because, well ... it's more cheese! Other than that, it was pretty much amazingly perfect just the way it was written.

The recipe makes a huge batch, so we have leftovers galore. I foresee a week of green bean casserole on the side of each night's menu! And I'm totally good with it.

Green Bean Casserole
(adapted from ThePioneerWoman)

2 pounds fresh green beans, anapped with ends cut off
  • 5 slices bacon, cut Into 1/4 Inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • coursely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • extra milk for thinning, if necessary
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

  • Process
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Prepare green beans by snapping or cutting them in half and cutting off the ends.

    Blanch the green beans: drop them into lightly salted boiling water and allow green beans to cook for about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately shock the beans by plunging them into a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain beans once they're cool and set aside.

    Add bacon pieces to a skillet and cook over medium heat for two minutes. Add diced onion, red bell pepper and garlic. Continue cooking for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bacon is done (but not crisp) and onions are golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

    In a separate skillet or saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle flour into the pan and whisk immediately to evenly mix it into the butter. Cook for a minute or two, then pour in milk and cream.

    Continue cooking, whisking constantly, while sauce thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne, then add the grated cheddar. Stir while cheese melts. Turn off heat.

    Add the bacon/onion mixture. Stir to combine. Pour over green beans and stir gently to combine.

    Pour into a baking dish and top with panko crumbs and parmesan cheese.

    Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and panko crumbs are golden.

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    { coconut banana bread with lime glaze }

    I originally intended to make this as a sweet treat to nibble on at breakfast with a more savory dish.

    The problem ... I ended up munching on it all day.

    Breakfast? Why limit yourself?

    Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze
    (adapted from OurBestBites)

    • 2 cups flour
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, softened
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 large bananas)
    • 1/4 cups sour cream or plain yogurt
    • 3 tablespoons apple juice (or milk)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup coconut
    • Topping: 3 tablespoons additional coconut
    • Glaze:  1 cup powdered sugar whisked with 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

    In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended. Add eggs and beat until combined. Add banana, sour cream or yogurt, apple juice (or milk), and vanilla.  Continue to beat until blended.

    Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut.

    Spray 9×5″ loaf pan with non-stick spray and pour in batter. Sprinkle additional 2 tablespoons of coconut on top.

    Bake for about 1 hour, or until a knife or skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Check bread after about 40 minutes. If the top has browned and the coconut pieces are looking toasty, cover top of bread lightly with a piece of foil. Continue baking until done.

    When done, remove pan from oven. Let cool on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes and then carefully remove from pan.

    Whisk together powdered sugar and lime juice and then drizzle glaze over the top. Cool for another 15 minutes before slicing.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    ( freshly-squeezed whiskey sours )

    Using freshly-squeezed citrus in this cocktail makes all the difference in the world. If you don't have a mini-juicer, my unsolicited tip du-jour is to invest in one. The Cuisinart Citrus Pro Juicer that I own can be purchased for about $25. I use mine as much as any other appliance in my kitchen, especially in cocktail-making. It sits right next to my blender, always plugged in and ready for use.

    Now, back to whiskey sours. You know it's a classic cocktail when there's a maraschino cherry involved.

    *One more quick item I want to discuss is the simple syrup. It's another ingredient I always keep on hand for cocktails -- I keep it in a mini glass pitcher in the refrigerator. The standard simple syrup ratio is 1:1 (1 cup of sugar to one cup of water; bring sugar to a boil, simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved; chill before using); however, I use a 2:1 ratio (2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water). It allows me to use less syrup in my drinks, and it's a little bit thicker, which I like. Which simple syrup you use makes a difference in the recipe, as far as how much to add.

    Freshly-squeezed Whiskey Sours
    (adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 3/4 cup whiskey (I prefer Maker's Mark)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately 4 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (approximately 4 limes)
  • 1/3 cup sugar syrup* (2/3 cup if using a 1:1 syrup - see note above)
  • Crushed ice
  • Maraschino cherries

  • Process
    Combine whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and pour in the drink mix 2/3 full. Shake for 15 seconds and pour into glasses over crushed ice.

    Add a maraschino cherry.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    { queso blanco & margaritas }

    I've mentioned before the plight of my southern tastebuds ... a Texan attempting to find decent comida in New England. After resolving myself to the fact that I just wasn't going to magically stumble across any chile con queso up here in the Northeast, I set out to find a version that I'd be able to make at home.

    important sidebar: anyone who, at this point, even attempts to utter the words, "Have you tried Velveeta and Rotel?" needs some serious culinary intervention ....

    Pinterest to the rescue.

    We found and tried a "restaurant style" queso blanco recipe a few months ago, made it, and fell in love with the results. You honestly can't tell the difference between it, and a great queso blanco that you'd order from a place like Escalante's in Houston.

    So, in honor of National Margarita Day, queso blanco, simple cheese and jalapeno nachos (a household family favorite), and frozen margaritas was the entirety of tonight's menu.

    Queso Blanco
    (adapted from penniesonaplatter)

    • 1 1/4 pound block White American Cheese (found at the deli counter; Land O' Lakes brand preferred), cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 1/4 cup diced green chiles
    • 2 pickled jalapenos, chopped
    • 1/8 cup pickled jalapeno juice
    • 2/3 cup whole milk
    • 1/2 cup water
    • pinch of ground cumin
    Combine ingredients in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for five minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. Continue to heat in 2-minute intervals, as needed, stirring until cheese is completely melted.

    Serve immediately as a dip with tortilla chips.

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    { creamy rigatoni with spicy shrimp in rosemary garlic sauce }

    creamy rigatoni with spicy shrimp in rosemary garlic sauce

    • 1 box rigatoni (16-oz box), or pasta of choice
    • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (frozen works well)
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 lemon, juiced
    • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
    • 1/4 cup light cream
    • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

    Cook pasta according to package directions (al dente).

    Meanwhile, prepare shrimp.

    Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about one minute), being careful not to burn.

    Add shrimp, rosemary and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until shrimp is just pink, or warmed through, about three minutes. Reduce heat to low.

    Add lemon juice and cream. Cook until warm. Add grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

    Serve shrimp sauce over warm pasta and garnish with lemon slice and Parmigiano curls.

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    { boston minis }

    Sometimes a big, full-size cake is just too much of a good thing.

    Ty loves Boston Cream Pie of any kind (including the Dunkin Donuts variety), so when I discovered this recipe for the mini version of the classic dessert, I was pleased as pudding (HA!). It was a perfect Valentine's Day sweet treat that wouldn't ruin our healthy eating efforts for the entire week by taunting us with leftovers from the fridge.

    So yummy -- it was a major hit with the Boston Cream Pie lover in my house. I foresee this being a recipe I'll repeat ... any times.

    Mini Boston Cream Pies
    (adapted from kraftrecipes)

    • 1 package of yellow cake mix
    • 1 envelope (3.4 oz.) vanilla flavored instant pudding
    • 1 cup cold milk
    • 1-1/2 cups thawed whipped topping, divided
    • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate
    Preheat oven to 350ºF.
    Prepare cake batter and bake as directed on package for 24 cupcakes. Cool completely.
    With electric mixer, beat pudding mix and milk about 2 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. 
    Meanwhile, use serrated knife to cut cupcakes horizontally in half. With the same knife, trim the top, rounded layer off of cupcakes so that both the tops and bottoms of the cakes are flat.
    Fold 1/2 cup whipped topping into pudding; spoon onto bottom halves of cupcakes, using about 1 Tbsp. for each.* Cover with cupcake tops.
    Microwave remaining whipped topping and chocolate  squares in small glass bowl on high 1-1/2 minutes, or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until well blended.  Spoon and spread chocolate onto cupcakes. 
    Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (the longer, the better) and serve.   
    *I actually doubled the pudding recipe, as it's my favorite part of the recipe. I ended up with way more than I needed, so as the cupcakes began to cool, I pulled them apart and added another dollop of the cream mixture. Initially, the pudding was too runny to do so and just ran over the side, so I let it set for a while before adding more

    Tuesday, February 07, 2012

    { pink }

    Valentine's Day. I sort of have a love/hate relationship with the whole thing.

    Of course it's nice to dedicate an entire day to those whom you love, but should it take a greeting card industry to mandate such a thing? But I guess the same can be said about any day that's celebrated annually.

    There's just so much pink. And so much sticky. And so much sweet. And so many hearts.

    But there's also chocolate. And champagne. And silliness ... and those are good things.

    Here's a set of cookies I made for the Boston Coast Guard Spouse Association's upcoming bake sale. I hope they're enjoyed by people who love pink, sticky, sweet, hearts -- cause it's all wrapped up in there, baby!

    I Heart Nap Time

    Sunday, February 05, 2012

    { super bowl sunday }

    It's been a while since I baked cookies. After Ty got home in late November, I pretty much took the month of December off -- I was cookied-out, and focused more on family time.

    Recent festivites at Aidan's school provided motiviation to jump back into the cookie world. Friday was the 100th Day of School Celebration, as well a Patriots Fan Day for Aidan and his classmates. I went back and forth between which occasion to focus on for the cookie subject matter, so I left the decision up to Aidan. Of course, he chose Patriots cookies.

    I can't for the day when I get to make Super Bowl cookies for my Houston Texans. But until that time comes, the next best thing was helping Aidan and his New England pals celebrate the Patriots in the big game.