Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels

How are we feeling? Have we eaten enough the last few days?  I know I have.  I started eating at a Thanksgiving pace on Veteran’s Day so I should probably get it together before the onslaught of Christmas.

Here’s an easy, light dinner for you (me).

I was pretty nervous about cooking mussels.  My previous experiences with non-shrimp seafood dishes had turned out well (here and here) but I was still anxious.  What if I can't tell if they are open or not and I butcher the 'throw-away-any-mussels-that-don't-open' rule?  What is this debearding business?  How strict is the rule about soaking them in water to remove any salt water?  And so it went. I even planned this dish around vacations.  I purposefully waited until all travelling was over for a bit before making these because I didn't want to cause a bout of food poisoning for Robbie or me.  Bless my heart.
Once we - (let's be honest, this was my paranoia) - once, I figured out the perfect timing to prepare the meal, I ignored my fears that had been harboring (ocean reference!).  I didn't do any debearding as I didn't see anything that seemed to need any debearding and I didn't soak any mussels in water.  Just a quick rinse turned out to be ok for my batch of mollusks.  And, those little suckers are pretty transparent.  This may come as a shock to you, but I could clearly tell the open mussels from the closed ones and was able to throw the latter out accordingly.  

And it's been some time now and no one has gone to the hospital.  I'd say we narrowly escaped that one.  

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup light coconut milk
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Sriracha
1 pound of mussels, scrubbed and debearded (if indeed, you see beards)

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.   (Side note – I love any recipe that lets me use my Dutch oven.)  Add oil to pan. Add shallots and garlic and cook until tender.  Tear your basil.  Stir in coconut milk, water, chicken broth, newly-torn basil, lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Bring this mixture to a boil.  Add your mussels to the Dutch oven and cover.  Cook about five minutes or until shells are open. Discard any unopened shells – whether or not they are open will be very clear to you.

Divide mussels between 2 serving bowls and keep warm. Bring broth mixture to a boil once more and cook for five more minutes.  Divide sauce over each bowl (or until you have your desired amount – it makes a lot of sauce).  Serve with a chunky piece of bread because I hear that is what you do with mussels in order to soak up the delicious sauce.  Rice would also work.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pumpkin Donut Holes

Of course I am going to sneak in another pumpkin recipe a mere eight hours before Thanksgiving which, I believe, is the last legitimate day you can present pumpkin in a dish until September of the following year.   Although I tend to spread this out a little.  I don’t mind a pumpkin bread for Christmas breakfast or some pumpkin spice in August.  I also start listening to Christmas music in October.  No wonder I slide into a moderate depression come January.

I was really excited when I saw this recipe because, let's face it, the prospect of presenting people with Pumpkin Donut Holes?  I could practically hear the gasps of excitement!  And no fryer required – these are baked.  I didn’t have mini-muffin pans so I immediately ran to the nearest Crate + Barrel, used one of the last remaining wedding gift cards to purchase two, rushed home, prepared the batter, spooned perfect little tablespoon-fuls into the muffin pans and turned to put the first pan in my oven.  And the mini-muffin pan didn’t fit. 
So, these little bites are quite resilient.  They baked up perfectly with the oven open several inches and the pan sticking out.   That wouldn’t happen with your regular sponge cake I bet.  The recipe makes a lot of donut holes.  So you could have donut holes for the entire family Thanksgiving morning.  Or on a random August day when you just need a touch of fall. 

Pumpkin Donut Holes

For the Donuts
1 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoons nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup pumpkin puree
½ cup milk

For the Coating:
1 stick butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two 24-cup mini muffin tins.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and milk.  Mix until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Divide the batter into your muffin tins. You may have extra batter.   Obviously, you should use this to make more donut holes.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the donuts pass the toothpick test.  Even with my oven ajar, this took only about ten minutes.  Once the donuts are done baking, let cool for a couple of minutes.  Place your butter in a bowl and melt in the microwave.  Stir your cinnamon and sugar together in another bowl.  Dip each donut hole in the melted butter and then roll it in the cinnamon sugar mixture.   These are best served immediately but I know some folks did not have any trouble eating them the next day.

Adapted from Pennies on a Platter

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pork and Rosemary Stuffed Peppers

I remember the day I discovered the Game Show Network.  I spent hours watching back to back episodes of retro Press your Luck (No Whammies!), Super Password (with that creepy whisper-y voice) and Family Feud (I enjoy episodes featuring all four hosts).  I then introduced the channel to my grandmother, and we would watch the shows together after school.  I am not sure she enjoyed this as much as I did, but she was a good grandmother and humored me.

My favorite shows were the winning combo of $25,000 and $100,000 Pyramids.  A quick run through of how this one worked in case you were doing more important things between the years of 1973 and 1988:  two contestants are paired up with two celebrities (usually the most popular soap opera actor at the time) and a category is chosen by each pair.  Words or phrases associated with that category are described by one player, without saying the word, and the other partner has to name the word being described.  Each word guessed correctly equals a point.  The non-celebrity player with the most points win.  An example of a category could be "Twinkle, Twinkle" and then a clue would be "Something in the sky" and the answer would be "Little Star!" but it has to be yelled enthusiastically and in a staccato-like fashion.  You would now have one point and would go on to guess things like "Your child's eyes," "Christmas lights," etc. -- all from clever clues your partner shouts at you. 

I used to play along by turning my back to the TV so I couldn't see the word printed at the bottom and try to guess it before the actual players in the studio could.  I'm sure my grandmother found this just precious.  
When I made this recipe, I thought about how timely it was considering these peppers are stuffed just like turkeys and stockings and other holiday items like my festive skinny jeans (particularly stuffed after all the food I eat).  This made me naturally start shouting random words to Robbie like "Thanksgiving turkeys!", "Christmas Stockings!", "Bell Peppers!" until he got up and left the room.  If only he could have heard the game show theme playing in my head and he would have realized the appropriate response would have been "Things that are stuffed!"  But not everyone spent a large percentage of the afternoons during their youth watching the Game Show Network.  Their loss.  Literally -- Robbie has zero points in this game.

Pork and Rosemary Stuffed Peppers
From Nigel Slater's Tender

1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bushy sprigs of rosemary
2 large tomatoes, chopped
12 ounces chopped pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
5 - 6 medium sized bell peppers
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a pot of water to boil. While water is boiling, cut your peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and white parts.  Drop your peppers in batches into the boiling water and boil until slightly limp, about six minutes.  Set pepper halves onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Pour oil into a saute pan and saute your onion until softened. Remove the stems from the rosemary leaves and chop. Add the minced garlic and rosemary to the onion mixture until soft and fragrant. Stir the tomatoes into the mixture.  Cook for another few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the minced pork and breadcrumbs.  Cook for a few more minutes until the pork is slightly browned.  Remove from the heat.  Divide the mixture into all the pepper halves.  Drizzle with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.  Cook for 35 minutes or until desired doneness.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes

Two weeks ago, we were bracing ourselves for a hurricane.  One week ago, we were following the route of a Nor’easter that would bring us a few inches of snow and now, I can legitimately walk around in short sleeves with this 65+ degree weather. 

Congratulations fall 2012, you are officially the most dramatic season ever. 

In all three weather scenarios, these little packages should be welcomed in all of their creamy, deliciousness with pockets of crunch and a surprise crust of a single Oreo cookie.  Cheesecakes aren’t my usual go-to dessert (they are similar to pies in my book) but these hit the spot.  Not to mention that the recipe calls for a specific number of Oreos that I insisted upon because, let’s be honest, even though I know I’ll only use 5 from the extra package, you can never have too many Oreos. 

They make a perfect side dish to these cupcakes themselves.  And the requisite glass of milk.   Which I may or may not have dipped an entire mini-cheesecake into. 

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes
Adapted from my home girl Martha

42 Oreos
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
Pinch of Salt

Preheat over to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Line up your baking sheets and place muffin liners in 30 wells.  Place an Oreo in the bottom of the 30 lined cups.  If you are working in batches because you have a Lilliputian oven and can only fit one muffin tin in it at a time, go ahead and do this step so you are ready to move one tray in the oven when another tray comes out.  Coarsely chop the remaining 12 Oreos.  Set the crushed Oreos aside.  Slice the cream cheese into large pieces to make it easier to mix and put into a bowl.  With a mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Gradually add sugar and beat until combined.  Beat in vanilla.   Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time and beat after each addition.  Beat in sour cream and salt.  Stir in the chopped cookies by hand.  Divide the batter among your Oreo-based muffin liners.  Bake about 22 minutes or until filling is set, rotating halfway through.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely.   Place in a fairly tight container so that they support each other (but aren’t smashed) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  If you have enough muffin tins and/or room in your refrigerator, chill them in the tins.  

Monday, November 05, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

Things are slowly getting back to normal for the Apt. 1E crowd although I am still working from home due to ‘severe electrical damage’ to our office building.  Seeing the devastation that others in the area have experienced, and continue to experience, makes me thankful though.   And it reminds me to take advantage of the extra quality time with Newt (even though he sleeps in the closet all day). 

In light of last week’s storm, tomorrow’s election, and the pending Nor’easter off the East Coast, I am anticipating that many people will need some comfort this week.  That’s where this recipe comes in.  Your basic tomato soup kicked up a notch but still easy enough that comfort is only a short jaunt-in-the-kitchen away. 

Speaking of Nor’easters - using an apostrophe in the middle of a word is a very under-utilized tool.  A “Nor’easter” sounds a lot better than a “Northeaster.”  Therefore, I present to you an alternatively named, Roasted T’mato and Bas’l Soup.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

2 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Red Pepper flakes
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice your tomatoes lengthwise and arrange, cut-side up, on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour to desired roasted-ness.

Chop your onion.  In a large stockpot, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes, fresh basil and broth to the stockpot.  Stir in the oven-roasted tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes. 

At this point you can use either a food processor (and work in batches – but be careful, it will be hot!) or use an immersion blender (as I did) and puree the soup until slightly smooth (a few chunky tomatoes aren’t a bad thing in this soup).