Friday, May 31, 2013

Cherry Tomato Margarita

We walked into the liquor store on Cinco de Mayo...
Sounds like the beginning of a great joke, doesn't it?
And they were having a promotion on tequila. Who would have thought?  Ha.
We didn't need any tequila and especially not Jose Cuervo.
But, there were two persuasive gals, with sombero's and stick-on mustaches offering to make a custom label of us to stick on the bottle... for $19.99 AND a free t-shirt.
What a bunch of sap's we are, of course, we fell for the fun of it.  
See below to see our finished bottle and photo.

I got this recipe out of June 2013 Better Home and Gardens.  There are some seriously interesting summer cocktail recipes, so I will do some homework and share what we made and like.  The things I do for you.

We liked this one... different, refreshing and not too sweet.  

NOTE- A jigger is just a measurement, a typical shot glass works perfectly for the correct ratios.

Makes 2

8-10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 jiggers tequila (about 2 oz each, so 4 oz total)
1 jigger orange liqueur, like Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
1 jigger fresh lime juice
1 jigger lemon simple syrup

Muddle the cherry tomatoes in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, use the end of a big wooden spoon to break them up.  Pour in all the rest of the ingredients, fill with ice.  Shake, shake, shake and strain into a salt rimmed martini glass, or poured over ice, if you prefer.

NOTE- Some seeds will get through, if that bothers you, strain it thru a fine mesh sieve.

Here we are hamming it up on our new bottle of tequila label!  I think I look rather fetching in a big ole' mustache!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Easy 7 Minute Microwave Caramels

Soft, chewy, good flavor and all your dental work in place?
Sounds like successful caramels to me!

I've been hearing about microwave caramels for a while.... 
OK, so I didn't hear it, I SAW in on Pinterest!  
I will admit it.  
Still, It was intriguing to me.  I found a bunch of variations online, so I decided to play with the recipe myself to see how it worked out.  I thought this was such an easy thing to do, it's definitely something I am going to make again, and again.  Perfect for the holidays, but this made my whole family happy on a recent family barbecue, so don't wait for Christmas to try it.

You can see that I salted the top of half mine with some flaked sea salt.  Yum... everyone thought I should have done all of it with the salt.  I like choices though... next time I might add chopped macadamia nuts, or something yummy like that. Or dip the finished pieces in melted chocolate...  

II you like very firm and chewy caramel, you might try another minute in the microwave, but be careful, you could be left with a very hard, inedible batch of caramels.
I need to say a couple of things about safety.... this recipe could be really dangerous.  Kick the kids, cats, dogs and anyone else distracting out of the kitchen.  And put down your wine... 
I recommend using a 12 cup bowl (I needed the whole thing with it bubbling up...) with a handle, and even then, use potholders.  This stuff will burn and STICK if it gets on you.  Very serious stuff.  Be careful. 

About the 7 minute combined cooking time... every microwave does vary with power, so if you have a powerful one, you are probably right on with the 7 minute thing, otherwise, I might do a couple extra minutes.  With each 2 minute cooking session, you should see some pretty extreme bubbling.  Stir and repeat microwaving until you are done.  Knowing what "done" is happens to be the hardest part of the recipe. 

Makes a 9x13 pan of caramels, about 80 pieces

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup, like Karo (any color)
1 cup sweetened condensed milk

Prep your pan, I used a bit of butter to "anchor" the parchment paper to the bottom.  I also used spray "Pam" on the glass pan too.

In a large microwave safe bowl (I used a 12 cup with a handle) melt the butter for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. 

Place back into the microwave and cook on high for 2-3 minutes. Take the bowl from the microwave and stir well. 

Continue cooking on high for an additional 2 minutes, remove and stir. 
Cook for 2-3 more minutes. 
Remove from the microwave, stir and pour into a 9 x 13 pan to set. 
Let sit for 8-12 hours at room temperature, or in the fridge. 
Once caramel has set up and is firm, wrap in small pieces of wax paper and store in an air tight container.

I left it to cool for about 2 hours and then in the fridge for a couple hours.  I used a big knife (a cleaver) to cut it into squares. 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Cooking Ideas

Guess what?
I am NOT cooking this weekend.
But if I was sticking around and not off doing some other stuff (more to come on that...) then these are the things I would WANT to make (and eat). 

Maybe you just need some inspiration...
I feel personally responsible and don't want you to arrive at that party with a tub of store bought potato salad or a bag of chips.
I mean, it IS Memorial Day, ya know.

I'm not sure about you, but I probably don't do enough due diligence to respect the holiday.  OK... that settles it, I'm going to to find a cemetery and celebrate someone. 
Call us wacky... but I have to tell you, my whole family isn't much into the going out to the graveside thing.  I prefer to honor those that went before me by celebrating life in general and thanking anyone who I know served. It's not hard, just do it.
What are you going to do to honor those who gave this weekend?


My favorite salads for Summer picnic or BBQ:
Couscous Black Bean Salad
Grilled Greek Potato Salad
Greek Panzanella Bread Salad
Quinoa, Cauliflower and Feta Salad
Quinoa with Roasted Corn and Green Beans
Southwestern Edamame Salad
Spicy Coleslaw

Only feel like grilling? These will make almost anything you grill taste great!
Aioli- Sauce Variations & Ideas to Improve Almost Anything!
Steak Compound Butter
Salad Dressing, Versatile/adaptable recipe

Just want some good meat recipes? 
Chipotle Cocoa Pork Tenderloin
Cuban Glazed Pork Tenderloin and Grilled Fruit Salsa
Ranchero Shredded Pork
Simple BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich or Sliders
Greek Chicken Souvlaki and Tzatziki Sauce
Peppered Chicken Kebabs wrapped in Bacon
Three Citrus Tequila Grilled Chicken
Beef Kebabs with Chimichurri Sauce

Want Burgers? 
(Geez, I need to get moving on some new recipes for burgers, I have a bunch in "idea" mode!)
Tandoori Turkey Burger
Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese and Onion Jam

My Favorite Drinks to celebrate that SUMMER is almost here:
Hot, Skip and Run/Jump Naked Cocktail

Coconut Water Martini
Pina Colada Martini
Pineapple Jalapeno Martini Margarita

You are going to have to wait for Labor Day with this one, unless you have some berries in the freezer!
Blackberry Raindrop Martini


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Stuffed Baked Pasta Shells with Easy Homemade Marinara

It all started with a package of big pasta shells. 
I couldn't resist, I had always looked at them but figured it would be too fussy to make.
I was wrong.

About two days before I made this dish, I was rummaging around in my pantry when my package of pasta shells slid out and crashed about 5 feet to my stone floor.  Crap!  I busted up about a 1/3 of the noodles.  Darn my rummaging around anyway!!!  Oh well, I was able to  salvage quite a few of them, and used all the broken bits later on too.

Though this meal is all about the pasta, it really is the the terrific sauce that makes it.  I am sure you have tried a simple, sublime tasting red sauce and wondered how to make it so delicious at home.  
Remember the KISS principle?  Keep It Simple Stupid.
The funny part for me is that I have always over complicated my sauces by overdoing it.  Too many additions, too many spices, too much other stuff.  My recommendation?  Keep it simple.  Either that, or just buy a pre-made sauce.  That works too.

This sauce recipes makes about double that you need for this dish, but it is nice to have leftover yummy sauce for other things.  I stashed my extra sauce in the freezer for later, but, by all means, feel free to halve the recipe if you don't want extras..

One more spot of advice, use more sauce under and over the shells than you think, I felt I skimped a bit on the sauce which was a shame as I had so much.  I was worried of drowning those cute little stuffed shells.  So slather on the sauce and don't skimp on the cheese either!

Serves about 8

Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 onion, minced or 2-3 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1Tbsp basil
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cans crushed tomatoes
Red pepper flakes, optional
Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 12oz pkg of large pasta shells, cooked for about 11-12 minutes (very al dente)
1 15 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1-2 Tbsp basil, minced
1 Tbsp chives, or parsley,minced
1 tsp salt

1-2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

In a large pot, get 4-5 quarts of salted water on to boil.
When boiling, add the noodles and cook about 12 minutes, stirring so they don't stick.
Drain and cool.
These will be somewhat hard still, but that makes it easier to fill them later on.  They will continue cooking in the oven.

To make the sauce,  mince the onions, garlic and any fresh herbs you are using.  I find that a food processor makes short work of that!

Saute them over medium high heat in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, until they start to soften and turn translucent.  Add the cans of crushed tomatoes and the red pepper flakes (if using).  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You may need to keep a lid on the sauce, and it tends to splatter as it is rather thick.  If wanted you can add a little water to keep it at the consistency you want. 

 In a small bowl (or the food processor from step 1 above...) Mix the ricotta, the egg, fresh pepper and minced herbs.  Add the salt.  I tasted it to make sure I liked the taste.... but some people may not eat raw egg.  Heck, I eat cookie dough- - same thing, right?  You could add some of the cheese to the filling, but I didn't think about it until later.

Take a cooled pasta shell and fill with the filling.  I used a small cookie scoop, it worked perfectly. Fill each shell and place in a baking dish.

You could make one large pan, like a 9x13, but I elected to use a bunch of small dishes for individual servings.  Oil up each pan and add a thin layer of red sauce ( I didn't do this, but I will do it next time...). Top with more sauce and grated cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until the cheese and sauce are bubbly and melted.

Remember those broken bits of pasta?  No matter, I just layered the broken bits, topped with the ricotta mixture, sauce and then cheese.  

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Watch the smaller dishes, they may be done quicker.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cubano Pulled Pork Pizza

This is my favorite pizza at a favorite local restaurant near us.
I've always liked a Cubano sandwich.
I mean HECK, what's not to love?
Pulled pork, ham, pickles, pepperonicini, mustard and cheese?
Yum... but layer it all up on a pizza, you will achieve a whole other level of happiness.
I love this pizza; to make at home, or to order at our fun place,  The Station Pizzeria in Woodinville, WA. It's not your run of the mill pizza place, and this in not your run of the mill pizza!

I've made this a couple of times, but have been reluctant to post it because I have NOT been happy with my pizza dough.  But franklly, I felt this pizza story really did need to be told with, or without, a recipe for pizza dough.
Just go buy some dough at the store, OR make it with some other recipe.  My recipe for pizza dough has not met my standards of sharing... please stay tuned. I will be delighted to share that when I have it ready.
In the mean time, make this pizza and BE HAPPY!

Makes one 12-14" pizza
1 recipe of pizza dough (Trader Joe's is nice, or make your own!)
1 cup shredded pulled pork
1/2 chopped ham, or thin ham slices
Coarse grain mustard
4-6 slices of provolone cheese
4-6 large dill pickle slices
Pepperoncini  slices (hot pickled peppers)

Sorry for so few instructions, but I think you can get it from the pictures. 
Can't you?
Bake until it's done... ummm, maybe 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees.  
Check it and decide for yourself if it's crisp and bubbly delicious to eat.
I recommend cutting the pizza into quarters and folding your quarter up on the sides like a large pizza taco to eat.  What a wonderful way to really enjoy your dinner!

First step, spread the coarse grain mustard on the unbaked dough, like a sauce. (instead of normal red sauce).

Layer on the pulled pork

Add pickle slices and the ham (either sliced ham, or chopped like shown)

A couple of slices of provolone and some pepperoncini slices. Bake until brown and bubbly!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Derby Martini

Happy Kentucky Derby day!
Here's a little drink that is NOT a mint julep.  Refreshing, eh?
I'm not a person who is big on mint in my drinks, maybe tea, not my cocktail.
This martini has the traditional bourbon (yeah!) and some other good, and different stuff.

Lillet is kind of niche-y. That's a nice way of saying maybe you never heard of it.
But, I think you might like it, so I'm recommending it to you.
First, it's a French and pronounced Lil-lay. An aperitif wine, it's blended with of 85% Bordeaux wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle) and 15% macerated liqueurs, mostly citrus liqueurs from the peels of sweet oranges from Spain and Morocco and the peels of bitter green oranges from Haiti. Lillet belongs in a family of aperitif known as tonic wines because of the addition of a liqueur of Cinchona bark from Peru which contains quinine. Whew, thank you Wikipedia!

Enjoy this with your delightful Derby hat on and enjoy your day!

Makes one martini

1 jigger Bourbon
1 1/2 jigger Lillet
1/2 jigger Grand Marnier (or Triple Sec)
1/2 Lime, juiced
1/2 tangerine, or orange, juiced
Orange Bitters, or Angostura bitters with a twist of orange peel
Garnish with a slice of orange, or a sprig of mint (if desired...)

In an ice filled cocktail shaker, pour in everything except the garnish and shake, shake, shake.
Strain into a martini glass and serve. Now, go watch the ponies.