Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spicy and Sweet Candied Pecans

The other night my husband and I went to one of our favorite steakhouses in Houston, The Taste of Texas. Since we are on a budget (no steak for us!) we ordered the salad bar and split a chicken sandwich :) I could go on and tell y'all how amazing this salad bar is, but I won't take the chance of boring you. Anyways, the salad bar featured candied pecans which truly made the salad. I attempted to replicate the recipe; however, they still need a little tweeking. But I must say they came out so good. These pecans also make great topping for ice cream, a yummy snack, or a sweet gift for any special occassion. Hope you enjoy.

2 cups pecan pieces or halves
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp real maple syrup
2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the pecans on the baking sheet and toast them in the oven until slightly browned and fragrant (about 10 minutes). Stir every couple of minutes to prevent burning and evenly cook. While the pecans are toasting, prepare the coating mixture. Melt butter and put into a bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper. Once the pecans are fragrant, remove form oven and pour the hot nuts into the coating mixture. Coat evently and pour them back onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Make sure to spread them evenly. Bake for another 10 minutes, again stirring every couple of minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven and allow to cool and crisp on baking sheet.

Things I learned:
1. Don't cook pecans in your toaster oven. They will burn, even if you are careful!
2. Pecans are too hot to eat right after the come out of the oven :(


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blackberry Shortbread Bars

Last weekend I had a bachelorette party to go to for my sweet friend, Tess. Each of us girls going were asked to bring a snack and I was assigned a sweet. I was so excited because my hubby has recently begun to complain about the number of treats I always have around the house and I now had a good excuse to make a dessert. If you can't tell I love baking. It is always so fun to see the finished product and it always puts a smile on people's faces. So with all that said, I looked for several days for the perfect sweet that wouldn't be too heavy (because we were going to be in bathing suits on lake austin), would be somewhat healthy (because I'm with a bunch of girls), and, ofcourse, would be delicious (because why waste your time if it's not going to be good!) That's when I decided to make Blackberry Shortbread Bars. Shortbread sounded light and not to heavy, blackberries are healthy for you, and, well, they looked so gosh darn good in the cookbook, Peace meals by the Junior League of Houston.  How could you not like the combination of two classics- fruit cobbler and a bar cookie? Apparently, everybody including myself enjoyed them, but who knows, they could have all been lying. So try it out for yourself. It makes for the perfect spring dessert.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled (the chilled part is very important. See below)
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
16 ounces frozen blackberries, thawed and drained

Crust: Preheat over to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray; set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor for about 45 seconds. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and process with the flour mixture for 30 seconds or unti lthe butter is evenly distributed but the mixture is still crumbly. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the crust mixture to use as a topping. Press the remaining crust mixture firmly into the ottom of the prepared pan. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown; allow to cook for at least 10 minutes before adding the filling.

Filling: Combine the eggs, sugar, sour cream and four in a large bowl. Fold in the blackberries. Spoon the fruit filling evenly over the crust and sprinkle the reserved crust mixture over the filling. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Let cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into bars.

Things I learned:

1. A food processor does not mean a mini processor like mine.
2. When the recipe says chilled, put the butter in the freezer for awhile before you use it or else the crust won't be crumbly and flaky.
3. Don't complain to your husband that he doesn't help enough in the kitchen when he politely turns down an offer to help you make a dessert for a girls weekend.
4. Enjoy being with friends and laugh a lot.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry

Can I just say how much I love Chinese food. I don't really know why...maybe it's because my maiden name is Wang but I could have it for every meal!  Luckily I married a man who has the same love for Chinese food. We have made/tried several stir-fry combos but this was one of our favorites. I found this combination in a Food Network magazine.

Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry
Adapted from Food Network Magazine
12-ounce package extra-firm silken tofu, cubed
1 egg white
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups Stir-fry vegetables (I cheated and bought the pre-cut frozen, you could do all kinds of fresh vegetables)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cloves mixed garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 minced scallions
pinch of salt and sugar (each)

1. Whisk one egg white, 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Toss with the tofu; cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
2. Drain the excess marinade from the tofu. Heat 1/4 inch peanut or vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu and cook until brown on both sides - do not stir. Transfer to a plate; discard the oil and wipe out the pan.
3. Heat the pan over high heat, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons oil, then 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 2 minced scallions and a pinch each of salt and sugar; stir-fry about 30 seconds. Add the vegetables, starting with the ones that take the longest to cook; stir-fry until crisp-tender.
4. Add the tofu and sauce then stir until the sauce is thick and the vegetables and protein are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Thin with chicken broth if needed. Garnish with sliced scallions, peanuts, or sesame seeds.

Things I learned:
- Do not stir can see in the picture it gets a little mushy and breaks apart
- Forgot to get ginger at the replace use cinnamon and nutmeg with paprika

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mint Tea

Spring is here and its a perfect time to always have fresh ice tea around the kitchen for you and your guests.  My husbands grandmother growing up always made the boys Mint Ice Tea. We tried it for the first time on our own last night and it came out pretty good. I would have appreciated a stronger mint flavor, but it was still very refreshing!

8 cups water
2 tea bags (I use Lipton, but any kind will do)
Sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
10-20 mint leaves

Boil 4 cups of water. Put 2 teabags into pitcher and add boiling water. Add mint leaves and sugar. Let steep at least 10 minutes. You may strain leaves out if you like but we kept ours in. Add remaining 4 cups of cold water and serve over ice.


Garlic Chicken Pasta with Prosciutto

I know, I know. You're probably impressed by the name of this tasty dish. But please don't judge this meal by its title. It really is simple (especially with a helpful hubby) and tastes like something you would eat at an expensive Italian restaurant. This recipe is adapted from The Junior League of Houston's Cookbook, Peacemeals, which has amazing recipes and ideas. Enjoy!

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
10 to 12 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
4 ounces prosciutto, cut into small pieces (I had my local grocery store cut a couple of slices for me in the deli)
1 tablespoon butter
12 ounces farfalle pasta
1/2 cup fresh basil chiffonade, plus additional for topping
*to "chiffonade", just roll basil like a fruit roll up and cut into strips.
1/2 cup prepared fire-roasted red bell peppers, cut into thin strips (I left this out as we currently don't have a grill convenient to roast bell peppers)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano- reggiano cheese, plus additional
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and add to the skiller. Saute until lightly browned on one side and then turn. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is soft and golden, being caregoul not to burn, and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the tomatioes, prosciutto and butter; saute for about 5 minutes more. While the chicken is cookin, bring a large pot of water to a boil; cook the pasta ccording to package directions for al dente. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and cut into bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken to the skillet, stir in the basil and saute until the basil is wilted. Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the chicken-tomato mixture, roasted peppers, cheese and red pepper; toss gently to combine. Top with additional basil and cheese, and serve immediately.

Tips for perfectly cooked pasta
1. Do not rinse cooked pasta; the little bit of starch that is left at the end will add body to the sauce. Instead immediatly toss the hot pasta with sauce to let it soak up the flavor. I have also heard that rinsing cleanses the pasta of what nutrients it contains.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Applesauce & Cinnamon Cupcakes

As a wedding present I got this awesome cookbook called 500 Cupcakes. This was the first recipe I tried and I was super impressed. They are more like muffins though and make a great breakfast. You can also change or add whatever you would like. Any kind of nuts, raisins, or.... well I'm still new to this, whatever else you would add to cupcakes/muffins. I made some with and without pecans (not a raisin kind of girl) and I will say I prefer with the pecans. This was a great recipe and I will be using this cookbook a lot more!

Applesauce & Cinnamon Cupcakes
Adapted from 500 Cupcakes, makes 1 dozen
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. superfine sugar
1 cup self-rising flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) chopped pecans
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) golden raisins
1 small red eating apple, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan (or use paper cups). Place the butter, sugar, flour, and egg in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the applesauce, cinnamon, pecans, and raisins.
2. Spoon the batter into the cups. Lay the apple slices on top and sprinkle with a little sugar. (**see below for apple slices)
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes and cool on a rack. Serve warm.
4. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

**To slice the apples I used an apple divider and then sliced them a couple more times until they were thin enough


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Baked Spaghetti

Ok so once again I'm not doing too well with blogging. I have a few things I've made so hopefully this week I can post them all! Now on to the delicious baked spaghetti. I love homemade lasagna but it takes too long to make when you want something quick. Spaghetti is quick but sometimes it's just too boring. Cue Baked Spaghetti!! Not only is it an easy recipe but it makes so many portions it's perfect if you are having people over or if you want lots of leftovers. Add some garlic bread and a salad and you got yourself the perfect little Italian dinner! Diverti!! (pretty sure that means enjoy in Italian)

Baked Spaghetti
Adapted from
1 (16 ounce) package angel hair spaghetti
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (24 ounce) jar meatless spaghetti sauce
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce and seasoned salt; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, Parmesan cheese and butter. Drain spaghetti; add to egg mixture and toss to coat.
3. Place half of the spaghetti mixture in a 12-in x9-in. x 2-in.  baking dish (brush bottom of baking dish with spaghetti sauce). Top with half of the ricotta cheese, meat sauce, and then mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake 20-25 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.