Monday, May 30, 2011

Wasabi-Sesame Tuna Sushi Bowls

Besides being handed a new recipe to try, one of the advantages of the recipe swap I've been participating in has been seeing some older recipes that I had missed the first time around.  One of these was Seared Wasabi-Sesame Tuna from Oishii, recreated by Sweet Beginnings.

I also love seeing how each person reinvents a recipe and what they serve it with.  While Brianna's cucumber salad looked great, the rice and asparagus that Jaida added made me think of sushi.  And since I don't have sushi-rolling skills, I went with bowls instead.  The contrast of the crunchy, spicy sesame seed coating on the tuna with the cool, slightly chewy interior, all complemented by the creamy avocado and slightly sweetened soy sauce was a delicious and surprisingly quick dinner.

Wasabi-Sesame Tuna Sushi Bowls

What's in them:

1 bunch asparagus
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tuna steaks
wasabi to taste
1/4 c toasted sesame seeds
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 avocado
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and spread washed and dried asparagus on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper, spray with olive oil or cooking spray, and roast until tender and just starting to brown at the ends, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your asparagus stalks.  Set aside to cool slightly.
While asparagus roasts, mix soy sauce and maple syrup, and divide into two small bowls.  Prepare tuna steaks, first rubbing both sides of the tuna with the preferred amount of wasabi.  Pour the sesame seeds onto a plate and press both sides of the tuna into the seeds.  This is also a good time to slice your avocado into 1/4 to 1/2 in slices.
Heat the canola oil over high heat, and sear the tuna about 20 seconds on each side.  Slice the tuna into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices.

To assemble the sushi bowls, layer the half the rice, avocado and one sliced tuna steak into each bowl, fanning the avocado and tuna on top of the rice.  Lay asparagus spears along one side.  Serve with the maple soy sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grilled Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella

The farmers market in our area finally opened a few weeks ago, this year with a new vendor, Blue Ridge Dairy*.  A quick glance through their list of products showed applewood smoked fresh mozzarella, among other goodies like feta and yogurt.  And wow is that stuff good.  So good in fact, that I've made variations on this pizza three times in two weeks.  And I rarely repeat recipes.  If you happen to live in the D.C. area, definitely check to see if they're at yours.

I bought the smoked mozzarella without being really sure what to do with it.  I thought the charring from the grill would complement the smokiness of the mozzarella here, and the concentrated tomato flavor would stand up to the cheese's strong flavor.  In the end, this was a great pizza to highlight what may be my new favorite cheese.

Grilled Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella

What's in it:

1/2 recipe pizza dough (I used this one from the nice people at KAF, love the flavor the beer gives it!)
5-6 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeds removed
3-4 sprigs of thyme
2 tsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 shallot, sliced
pinch of red pepper flakes
4 oz smoked fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 c basil, chiffonade
10-15 turkey pepperoni, sliced into strips
4 oz shredded parmesan
cooking spray or olive oil

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil, and combine tomatoes, thyme and olive oil on it, and season with salt and pepper.  Roast tomatoes flesh side up until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and shallots, stir to combine, and continue to roast until garlic is soft, making sure that garlic does not burn, about 15 minutes more.  Remove thyme stems, and use foil to funnel tomato mixture into a bowl.  Add pinch of red pepper flakes, and using a fork, stir and smash tomatoes into a chunky, thick sauce.  Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.

Separate pizza dough into two balls (I find personal-sized pizzas are easier to work with on the grill), and shape into squares or rounds, leaving them at least 1/4" thick.  Spray each one with cooking spray or olive oil. 

Heat the grill to about 500 degrees, then lay the stretched pizza dough on it oil side down, then turn the heat down to medium high and close the lid for a couple minutes.  Check to see if the dough is solid enough to flip but not really browned on the bottom, and once it is, flip it over using tongs and turn the heat down to low while you layer the sauce, mozzarella, basil, pepperoni and parmesan.  Close the lid, turn the heat up just a bit to medium low, and grill until the cheese it melted, but not browned.  Check the bottom as you go, turning the heat down more if it's starting to cook too quickly.

*Blue Ridge Dairy has no idea who I am.  I just really love their cheese, and want to share the love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Caramel Sauce

To be honest, I'm not sure I should share this recipe.  It's really too easy, and kind of a dangerous thing to have lurking in your fridge.  I originally made this caramel sauce for these salted caramel blondies (these are amazing, especially if you let the butter brown when you melt it), and had about half the batch leftover.  Since then, it's gone on ice cream, fruit, and, my favorite, with berry sauce and whipped cream on French toast.  And it's not gone yet- anyone have favorite uses for caramel sauce?

I stuck with the recipe on this one, being fairly inexperienced with anything that involves melting sugar.  Be sure to watch the sugar closely, since it will cross the line from perfectly golden to bitter and brown very quickly.  And then you'd be sad.  I also upped the salt, as suggested, since I was making salted caramel blondies anyway.  I really like how the salt keeps it from being too sweet.

Caramel Sauce
from The Joy of Cooking, via Yummy Supper

What's in it:

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch or three of salt

How to make it:

Place sugar and water in a small heavy sauce pan.  Heat over to medium-high heat swirling the pan occasionally until sugar has dissolved.  (Avoid letting sugar burn until completely dissolved.) 

Cover pan, turn heat to high, and boil for 2 minutes.  Remove lid and continue to boil until syrup turns brown around the edges of the pan.  Swirl syrup occasionally until it turns a deep amber.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter, two or three tablespoons at a time.  Stir in cream, then vanilla and salt.  If sauce become lumpy, set pan over low heat and stir until smooth then turn off heat again.

Use immediately, eat a spoonful, or pour into an airtight container (canning jars work well) for later.  Allow to come to room temp, or rewarm in the microwave if it's in an appropriate container, before using.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: How Clean is Your Kitchen?

According to this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, it's not necessarily the cleanliness of a kitchen that makes the difference, but the behavior of the cook.  Obviously, a home kitchen wouldn't be held to the same standards as a commercial kitchen (pets and toddlers would probably be a no-go in a restaurant prep area, but are a normal part of a private kitchen), but there is plenty of overlap.  Frequent handwashing and avoiding cross-contamination by using different cutting boards and dishrags for different purposes are just a couple of examples.

I think my biggest sanitary sin is tasting with the cooking utensil.  I don't do it when I'm cooking or baking for others, but tend to slack off when it's just immediate family eating. 

How clean is your kitchen?  Would it pass a health department inspection? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spinach Balls

I have to admit, I was pretty excited when I saw my recipe for this week's swap from Melissa at I Was Born to Cook.  Spinach balls were always part of the spread at the annual holiday open house my mom always hosted when we lived in Pittsburgh, and so I associate them with all of the happiness and excitement at the holidays.  So much so, in fact, that I never considered making them any other time of the year.  But they really are perfect for spring gatherings, with the freshness of the spinach balancing the salty bite of the cheese.

I did adjust Melissa's recipe a bit, dropping it to two eggs instead of three at the mixture was pretty wet already without the third, and using plain breadcrumbs and adding my own seasonings.  I also went with dried onion instead of fresh, as I wanted the slightly less astringent, sweeter taste here.  Finally, I left out the butter accidentally, but these still tasted great without it.  I popped most of these into the freezer, ready to be reheated the next time an impromptu deck party happens.

Spinach Balls

What's in them:

1 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and really dried.  Seriously, wring that stuff out until it can't be wrung anymore.
1/2 c grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1/3 c unseasoned bread crumbs
2 Tbsp dried minced onion

1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2  eggs, beaten

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix. Roll mixture into small balls (I ended up with 14 1-in balls) and place on baking sheets lined with foil.   Bake for 20 minutes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Mascarpone

By Friday nights, I'm ready for a fairly simple dinner that doesn't take too long to put together, but is indulgent enough to relax with.  We had found some beautiful locally-grown golden tomatoes at the grocery store, and this recipe from Bon Appetit came to mind.  Thinking that these slightly out-of-season tomatoes might taste a little better after cooking a little to concentrate the flavor, I decided that this pasta would be a perfect side dish for the flank steak we planned to grill.  

I didn't have basil, so for color and some more veggies, I added half a bag of baby spinach that needed to be used.  I did have mascarpone cheese, and inspired by this pasta on Pink Parsley, I added it in, making this pasta just rich enough to kick off the weekend.

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Mascarpone

What's in it:
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz tomatoes of your choice- any size and variety
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
6 oz baby spinach
6 oz pasta shapes
1/4 c mascarpone cheese
3/4 c finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan

How to make it:

Heat 3 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes, season with salt, and cook, covered slightly and swirling pan often, until tomatoes blister and burst, 10-12 minutes. Press down on tomatoes to release their juices. Add spinach and sautee until just wilted.  Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.

Transfer pasta to skillet with tomatoes; set over high heat. Add 1/2 cup pasta water. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until sauce thickens and pasta is just al dente.  Stir in the mascarpone and parmesan and toss until sauce coats pasta, adding more pasta water if sauce seems dry.   Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BBQ Cheddar Burgers with Caramelized Onions

Sarah at Taste of Home Cooking is hosting another great recipe swap.  The theme for this round was sandwiches and burgers, and I got a fantastic burger recipe from Jey at The Jey of Cooking just in time for grilling season.  Now if you follow the link, you'll see that this was originally a meatloaf recipe, but Jey has used this as a burger too.  And what a great idea- all of the flavors of cheese, barbeque sauce and caramelized onions, but without the mess.

I did adapt a little.  Since I don't usually use egg or other binders in beef burgers, I left out the oatmeal and egg from the original recipe, and didn't have any problems with them falling apart on the grill.  I also skipped the extra cheese and sauce on top, since we had plenty of other burger add-ons like pickles, lettuce and tomato.  They were flavorful, juicy, and just all around a nice way to end the weekend.

BBQ Cheddar Burgers with Caramelized Onions

What's in them:

1 1/4 lbs ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 c shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c barbeque sauce

How to make them:

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.  When hot, Add the onions and let cook until golden and soft, about 35 minutes, stirring just a few times.

Meanwhile, add the ground beef, cheddar cheese, and barbeque sauce to a large bowl and, using your hands, mix until combined.  When onions are finished, add to the bowl and, with a wooden spoon, fold in until well mixed.

Form mixture into 4-6 patties, and cook on a preheated grill, about 10-12 minutes for medium-well, depending on the size of your patties.  Serve with buns and your favorite burger toppings.

Monday, May 9, 2011

(Slightly) Healthier Blueberry Muffins

Alexa loves to help bake, and I love to let her, but a ton of baked goods sitting around isn't really good for any of us.  So for this weekend's baking, we started with my favorite blueberry muffin recipe (I love the lemony blueberry jam on top), and made a few changes.  The first swap was white whole wheat for all-purpose flour.  Not a whole lot of effect on taste or texture, but a boost in whole grains.  Next, a few tablespoons of wheat germ added to up the vitamins and minerals.  Finally, no-fat Greek yogurt is subbed for the buttermilk for some extra protein.  Now, with a cup of sugar, these still aren't exactly healthy, but they're definitely more filling, and more nutritious.

And even better, the flavor and texture weren't affected.  These muffins are still moist and tender, and go nicely with a cup of coffee on a weekend morning. 

Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

What's in them:

1 + 1/3 c granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 c frozen blueberries, divided
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp wheat germ
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 c vegetable oil
3/4 c plain no-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 c low fat milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

How to make them:

For the topping, stir together the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 and adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position.  Generously spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of blueberries with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and the lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing the blueberries often.  Continue to cook until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about 1/4 cup, 5-6 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Toss the remaining cup of blueberries into the flour mixture.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and remaining sugar until completely combined.  Whisk in the butter and oil, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract.  

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the wet ingredients into the flour-blueberry mixture, being careful not to overmix.  There should be lumps remaining and the batter should be just moistened.

Portion the batter into the muffin tins, using a spoon to create a depression on the top .  Drop a scant teaspoon of the blueberry jam into the each depression.  Sprinkle the lemon-sugar over the top of each muffin.

Bake 17-19 minutes, until the tops are golden and firm.  Cool in the muffin tin 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack before serving.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  This is one of those holidays that I have no cultural tie to, but celebrate anyway because I like the food and drinks.  You know, kind of like St. Patrick's Day.  One of my favorite Mexican ingredients is dulce de leche.  If you've never had it before, it's an amazingly rich, creamy caramel.  It makes a great filling for sandwich cookies (try it between chocolate wafer cookies), pancake or waffle topping, or stirred into hot coffee.

These cheesecake bars are one of my favorite recipes using dulce de leche.  Unlike regular cheesecake, no waterbath is required, and they transport easily for parties, an important factor for Cinco de Mayo.  The sweetness of the dulce de leche balances perfectly with the tanginess of the cream cheese.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Bon Appetit

What's in them:
    Butter or canola oil for greasing pan 
    1 1/2 cups (scant) finely ground graham crackers (from about 10 whole graham crackers)
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    2 8-ounce packages Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
    2/3 cup sugar
    2 large eggs
    1/3 cup purchased dulce de leche*
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/2 cup purchased dulce de leche
    2 tablespoons (or more) heavy whipping cream, half & half, or milk

* If you can't find dulce de leche, you can make your own using sweetened condensed milk.  The easiest (and safest) way to do this is to use your slow cooker.

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat 11x8x2-inch baking pan or glass dish with butter or oil.  Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl.  Add melted butter; stir until coated. Transfer crumb mixture to pan. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake until crust is light golden, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on rack.


Blend cream cheese and sugar in processor until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  Add eggs 1 at a time, processing 3 to 5 seconds to blend between additions.  Add dulce de leche and vanilla; process until blended, about 10 seconds.  Spread batter evenly over cooled crust.  Bake until just set in center and edges are puffed and slightly cracked, about 30-35 minutes.  Transfer to rack; cool completely.


Heat dulce de leche and cream or milk in microwave-safe bowl in 10-second intervals until melted. Stir to blend, adding more cream by teaspoonfuls if too thick to pour (amount of cream needed will depend on brand of dulce de leche).  Be careful not to thin the glaze too much, as you don't want it to be runny.  Pour glaze over cooled cheesecake; spread evenly. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour (glaze will not be firm).   This can be done up to two days in advance, if you can resist them that long.

Cut cheesecake lengthwise into 4 strips, then crosswise into 4 strips, forming 16 bars.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mediterranean Grain Salad

The first time I saw this recipe in Cooking Light last spring, it did catch my eye.  I was looking for more recipes using grains like barley, quinoa and farro, but when a quick skim through the ingredients revealed fennel, I skipped over it, not being a fan of it.  Luckily for me, Josie at Pink Parsley changed things up, omitting the fennel and adding more veggies.

This has been in steady rotation ever since.  It's a great make-ahead, since it tastes better with more time for the dressing to really soak in.  It's forgiving, since you could really use any grain or even pasta here.  This time around, I used a mix of barley and brown rice.  I like to make a batch over the weekend, have it as a side for grilled shrimp or chicken, then eat it on its own for lunch a few times during the week.

Mediterranean Grain Salad

What's in it:

3 cups cooked and cooled grain of your choice- barley, rice, couscous, pasta, etc.
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
2 Tbsp freshly chopped dill
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup grape tomato halves
1/2 cup diced cucumber
8 pitted olives, roughly chopped (I usually grab a variety from the olive bar, but kalamata are a good choice)
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

How to make it:

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, and vinegar in a bowl.  Whisk to combine, and season with salt and pepper.  Add the parsley through feta, stirring gently to combine.  Cover and allow to sit either at room temperature or chilled for at least 30 minutes.  Fold in the walnuts, and serve.