Sweet Chile Roasted Vegetables

june 23 010

This recipe is perfect for jazzing up your weeknight vegetables!  Fresh asparagus, sweet grape or cherry tomatoes, and cauliflower are the perfect combination for roasting. Though this marinade isn’t an exact replication of the sweet chili sauce sold in bottles, it has some heat that is balanced nicely by the agave nectar.  (Agave nectar is a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant.  It has become popular as a replacement for other sweeteners, like granulated sugar, because of its low glycemic index.)  If you don’t have agave nectar on hand, you can use honey as a substitute in this recipe.  However, I suggest you give agave nectar a try.  It is a nice alternative to sugar, honey, or syrup in baking, coffee, and savory dishes.

 Sweet Chile Roasted Vegetables:

  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower
  • 24 pieces asparagus, ends trimmed and then cut into 2- inch pieces
  • 1 pint grape (or cherry) tomatoes, cut lengthwise

Preheat oven to 415 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a small bowl whisk all ingredients together except for vegetables.  Set aside.

Cut cauliflower into florets.  Place florets into a large mixing bowl and add half of marinade mixture.  Toss well until evenly coated. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on baking sheet.  Add the asparagus and tomatoes to the marinade and toss to evenly coat vegetables.  Arrange asparagus and tomatoes on the second baking sheet.

Place both baking sheets in oven and roast vegetables for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Serve immediately.

j

 Adapted from Clean Eating magazine.

Grilled Swordfish with Grilled Caponata

j

When the weather is hot and you don’t have central air conditioning, using the oven and the stove are not very appealing.  Even baking something for just a few minutes can turn the kitchen into a sauna.  That is when an outdoor grill can be really handy.  Some people reserve the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers on the weekends only, but there is no reason not to fire up the grill for a quick and healthy weeknight supper.

Unfortunately, the problem of warm weather has not been an issue in Boston.  The last couple of days have been downright cold.  For this dish I stayed in my comfortably warm kitchen and used our grill pan in place of the outdoor grill.  (The grill pan works really well for grilling pretty much everything.)   

Whether prepared indoors or outdoors, this dish is wonderful.  The flavorful chunky vegetables paired so nicely with the firm swordfish steaks.  For not using very many spices, the flavor factor of the caponata was off the charts.   Each bite contained different vegetables—you may get a piece of eggplant and a caper in one bite and then a tomato and olive in the next.  This meal was really satisfying and balanced.  And it is so simple to make!  The caponata is so versatile it could be served on its own as a side or with crackers as an appetizer. 

Grilled Swordfish with Grilled Caponata:

Caponata

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced into rings
  • 4-6 plum or roma tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil, for brushing vegetables, plus 1/2 cup
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup green olives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey

Heat grill on high.  Brush all vegetables with olive oil (or spray with cooking spray) and season with salt and pepper. Grill both sides of the eggplant slices until cooked through, about 8 minutes per side.  Grill both sides of the onion slices until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.  Grill the tomatoes (seed side down) until charred and soft, about 3 minutes.  Remove all vegetables from heat and cut into 1/2 inch chunks.  Put all vegetables into a bowl.  Add the olives, capers, and pine nuts to the bowl of vegetables and use a wooden spoon to toss to combine. 

In a small bowl combine the vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and honey.  Season with salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in about 1/2 cup of olive oil.*  Pour this dressing over vegetables and toss so that all are well-coated with dressing.  Let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.

Swordfish

  • 2-4 swordfish steaks
  • olive oil or cooking spray
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Caponata (see recipe above)

Heat grill to high.  Brush both sides of swordfish steaks with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook swordfish steaks until done, about 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.  Remove from grill and top with grilled caponata. 

j

*I actually didn’t use the 1/2 cup olive oil in the dressing and it was just fine without it.

Adapted from recipe by Bobby Flay on Foodnetwork.com.

Middle Eastern Quinoa with Chicken and Apricots

j

After my first experience with quinoa, I’ve kept my eye out for  other appealing recipes.

My husband wasn’t home the last time I made quinoa so I was interested to hear his feedback on this dish.  He really enjoyed the chicken but the quinoa did not go over as well.  He said he would have preferred this dish over rice.  I can’t say I disagreed with him.  The quinoa was dry and bitter, and my preparation was partly to blame.  Here is what I will do differently next time.  I am certain these small changes will add up to big improvements. 

  • Tsk tsk on me, I forgot to rinse the quinoa!  There are “saponins” on the outside of the quinoa which have a bitter taste.  Rinse quinoa in a mesh strainer under cold water before cooking. 
  •  Cook quinoa in chicken, beef, or vegetable broth instead of water.  This will not only increase the moistness of the quinoa, but it will really bump up the flavor factor.
  • This dish did not call for a sauce so the quinoa was not only bitter (due to me forgetting to rinse it) but it was dry.  Next time I will build a sauce from the chutney and broth to pour over the quinoa.

I am not giving up on quinoa, folks!  The flavors of this dish were really delicious.  Just a few “tweaks” and I think it will be right on!  The chutney kept the chicken moist and sweet, while the sliced apricots added some wonderful texture.  The cilantro added a very lovely freshness.* 

If you use a gluten free chutney this meal is gluten free!

Middle Eastern Quinoa with Chicken and Apricots:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 pound chicken tenders
  • 2 tablespoons chutney (I used Major Grey’s)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 6-8 dried apricots, cut into strips
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Side Note: These Sunsweet dried apricots are FANTASTIC.  They are so plump and soft.  They worked really well in this dish.

j

Prepared the quinoa according to the package.  (Don’t forget to rinse it before you cook it!)

While the quinoa is cooking, combine chicken, chutney, and mustard in a large bowl. Toss well to coat the chicken. 

Spray a large non-stick ridged grill pan with non-stick spray and set over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken mixture and cook, turning frequently until the chicken is cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer to a large platter.  Top with chicken mixture, apricots, and cilantro.

j

*Did I mention that cilantro is growing on me?  I used to have the strongest aversion to it but I am slowly enjoying it more and more.  I didn’t think that was possible!

Adapted from The Gluten Free Cooking Expo’s Blog.

 

POM-gria

j

The very generous folks from POM Wonderful sent me several bottles of POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice.  They also sent a very informative fact sheet containing some interesting information about pomegranate juice and the health benefits of drinking it.  Here are a couple of points that I found particularly interesting:

  • “Wonderful” is actually a variety of pomegranates known for its “unique combination of superior antioxidants, delicious taste, and deep crimson color.”  I found this interesting because I thought “POM Wonderful” was just the name of the company! I had no idea it referred to a type of pomegranate.
  • Pomegranate juice is often referred to as “the most potent antioxidant in nature” and is linked to improved cardiovascular and prostate health.

POM Wonderful is 100% juice and does not contain any added sugar.  Each 8 ounce bottle contains 150 calories.  I have been sipping on these adorable little bottles of juice for a few weeks now (in fact I think I can credit them with nursing me back to health during a nasty flu virus). 

Boston weather this week was much less than desirable, but suddenly, on Friday afternoon the sun came out!  I immediately determined it was SANGRIA time. What better way to kick off a beautiful weekend than with a batch of fresh sangria!?  I had a few bottles of POM Wonderful remaining and I knew they would make the perfect addition to my concoction!   

POM-gria is not only delicious, but it is probably the most nutritious a cocktail could possibly be!  The health benefits of red wine have been bludgeoned into our heads—right?  Take that wine and add “the most potent antioxidant in nature” (POM Wonderful juice), raspberries (also touted for their high level of antioxidants), orange and peach slices (hello Vitamin C), and there you have a cocktail worthy of every sip. 

POM-gria (Sangria):

  • 1 12-ounce bottle of red wine
  • 3 oranges, sliced with skin still on
  • 2 peaches, sliced with skin still on
  • 1-2 cups raspberries, frozen or fresh
  • the juice of two limes
  • 2 8-ounce bottles of POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 liter of Pomegranate flavored seltzer (Polar is great)

Put the orange slices, peach slices, and raspberries into a pitcher or container.  Pour wine, lime juice, and POM Wonderful juice over all of the fruit.  Let it sit for at least an hour.  (Over night is best.) Just before serving add seltzer.  Serve chilled.

Eating the wine-soaked fruit is the best part!

j

Banana Pudding Tart

j

A few weeks ago my husband and I spent an extra long wonderful weekend in Tennessee. I had never been to the south before (other than Florida) and I was really excited for fried catfish and all things BBQ!  What I did not anticipate falling in love with was a little something called banana pudding.  Friends, I had NO idea about this southern treasure, however, now that I have experienced it, I doubt will ever be the same. 

My first experience with this pudding from the gods was at a little place called Bobby Qs in Cookeville, TN.   Bobby Qs is known for their “Tennessee Tiramisu” (a.k.a. banana pudding) and after polishing off an entire serving without help from my husband, I understand why.  It was creamy, caramelly, sweet and smooth.  There were wafers strewn throughout providing an occasional and satisfying crunch.  It was heavenly.

Next was at the French Broad River Dude  ranch.  Not only was this place amazing but the banana pudding served family style was to die for. 

Throughout the weekend I continued to sample several more variations of banana pudding—including banana pudding ice cream from Mike’s Ice Cream Fountain in Nashville, TN.  I couldn’t get enough of this stuff!  All of my “research” turned up a few interesting points:

  • the actual pudding in banana pudding should not be banana- flavored—it should be vanilla-flavored
  • “authentic” banana pudding is made with Nilla Wafers
  • there is a great debate over whether the best topping is whipped cream or baked meringue

Honestly, I did not find a banana pudding I did not like.  I made a vow to bring this tradition north, hence this banana pudding tart!

I volunteered to bring a dessert to a dinner party last week and I really wanted to make banana pudding.  However, though it has almost everything else going for it, banana pudding isn’t exactly a pretty dessert.  I settled on a banana pudding tart instead. This tart is an interesting spin on traditional banana pudding and I think it was a nice way to introduce northerners to this old-fashioned southern tradition.

Banana Pudding Tart:

crust

  • 2 cups Nilla wafers, crushed into fine crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all crust ingredients and stir with a fork until mixture is moist, like wet sand. Pour into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and press into an even layer, going up the sides of the tart.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, until crust is just starting to brown at the edges. Cool completely.

filling

  • 3 medium, ripe bananas, sliced diagonally
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan bring the butter, milk, and light cream to a boil. While this mixture is cooking, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and eggs in a bowl and whip using a whisk.

When the cream/ milk/butter mixture reaches the boiling point, whisk in the egg mixture and cook to boiling.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent it from burning.  As it begins to thicken, clumps may form.  Use a whisk to smooth it out. Boil for 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to press the pastry cream through a strainer into a bowl.  Whisk in vanilla extract. Cover the surface with plastic wrap touching the pudding.  (This prevents a film from forming.)  Chill overnight if possible, or for at least a few hours.

caramel glaze

  •  1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk

Boil all ingredients 2-5 minutes or until sugar has dissolved completely.  Cool to room temperature. 

assemble

Be sure both crust and pudding are completely cool.  Spread 1-2 cups of filling into tart shell.  Arrange sliced bananas in a single layer  on top of the pudding and press gently into pudding.  Drizzle caramel glaze over the top.  Let set in fridge for 20 minutes before slicing and serving. (I made the mistake of  not letting the caramel cool and when I squirted it from the bottle the drizzles turned into puddles!)

Adapted from Baking Bites.

Jesse’s Mom’s Chocolate Muffins

j

This recipe has been living in the recipe folder of my email box since March of 2007.  It was then that my former colleague, Katherine, provided it to me.  You see, the mom of Jesse, her boyfriend,  made the most amazing chocolate muffins.  Katherine would bring them to work on a regular basis and she was always kind enough to share.

The shiny tops of Jesse’s mom’s muffins have that perfect chewy texture that houses rich, dense, chocolaty cake strewn with chocolate chips.  These babies are nuggets of muffin heaven.   After the hours and hours I have spent during my life baking in the kitchen, I find it baffling that a recipe that is so straightforward and simple can really yield a product this delicious!

 Jesse’s mom has got it going on.  

(And you can too!)

Jesse’s Mom’s Chocolate Muffins:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground coffee
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 handfuls chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and sugar.  Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder and coffee grinds.  Whisk until combined.  Stir in the melted butter and chocolate chips.

Bake in a muffin tin lined with papers for 15-22 minutes, or until a skewere inserted into the center comes out clean.

Boston Cream Pie (Cake)

m

My dad’s favorite dessert is Boston Cream Pie.  When my mom asked me to make a cake for his birthday, my brain went crazy with ideas but I kept coming back to Boston Cream Pie.  It is his favorite, after all!  I had never made a Boston Cream Pie before, so I researched several recipes before hitting the kitchen. 

My research turned up so many recipe variations!  In case you weren’t already aware, Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake.   There are many versions of the story of how it came to be and why it is called pie instead of a cake.  Though the details of the stories tend to vary, most agree that it originated at The Parker House Hotel (now called the Omni Parker) in Boston.  I walk and drive by this hotel quite frequently so it is fun to know some major dessert history was made there!  (Fun fact: Boston Cream Pie is the official state dessert of Massachusetts!  What’s your state dessert?!)

I decided to combine a couple of recipes and make a cake that is not 100% traditional for the following reasons:

  • I topped the cake with a chocolate frosting instead of a ganache
  • I made butter cake instead of sponge cake

I chose to use a firm frosting instead of drippy ganache because I wanted a firm surface on which to pipe.  (In the end, however, I decided not to pipe “Happy Birthday” on it because I was pleased with the classic look of the cherry on top!)

I chose to make moist butter cake instead of separated sponge cake because in my experience sponge cake can be super dry.  Dry cake is a pet peeve of mine so I wanted to be sure that wouldn’t be the case here.

I decided to stick with The Omni Parker’s  recipe for the filling, which I was very happy to find on Foodnetwork.com!

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This recipe has three components:

  1. Cake
  2. Filling (Pudding/Pastry Cream)
  3. Frosting

I suggest you make the filling first as you will get best results if it sets in the fridge over night (or at least a few hours.)  Next bake the cakes so they will have time to cool.  Finally, make the frosting and then assemble the three components.

I was extremely happy with the results this mish mash of recipes yielded!  (As was everyone who ate it!)  

  • The cake was unbelievably moist! 
  • The filling was the perfect texture, a little on the egg-y side, but delicious.   (I will definitely use this recipe in the future for trifle and tart recipes!)
  • The frosting was to die for.  It is thick and rich, yet not sickeningly sweet.  (This may just be my new go-to chocolate frosting!) 

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Check out what I made for my dad’s birthday last year—ROOT BEER Iced Vanilla Cake!  (My dad lovvvves root beer!  When I was little he used to take me to the A&W drive-in and the waitresses would roller skate our food and root beers to the car window!  A&W Root Beer is the best! )

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Boston Cream Pie:

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • In a saucepan bring the butter, milk, and light cream to a boil. While this mixture is cooking, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and eggs in a bowl and whip using a whisk.

    When the cream/ milk/butter mixture reaches the boiling point, whisk in the egg mixture and cook to boiling.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent it from burning.  As it begins to thicken, clumps may form.  Use a whisk to smooth it out. Boil for 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to press the pastry cream through a strainer into a bowl.  Whisk in vanilla extract. Cover the surface with plastic wrap touching the pudding.  (This prevents a film from forming.)  Chill overnight if possible, or for at least a few hours. 

     Butter Cake

    • shortening
    • 1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
    • 1/2  cup  butter, melted
    • 8 oz.  sour cream
    • 1 1/2  cups  granulated sugar
    • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
    • 1/2  cup  egg substitute
    • 2  cups  all-purpose flour
    • 1  teaspoon  baking soda
    • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
    • 3/4  cup buttermilk

     Rub shortening on the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans.  Sprinkle with flour.  Set aside.

    Combine 1/2 cup butter and sour cream in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Add granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until well blended. Add egg substitute; beat 2 minutes or until well blended.

    Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sharply tap pan once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350 F for 27-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

    Chocolate Frosting*

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4  cup  butter, softened
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/3  cup  unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 3  cups  powdered sugar, divided
  • Place the cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add cocoa and 1/8 teaspoon salt; beat at low speed until well blended. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar; beat at low speed until creamy. Gradually add remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.

    Assembly

    Do not begin assembly until cakes and filling are completely cooled.

    1. Once ready, slice both cakes evenly in half (into two thinner cakes each) using a serrated bread knife.  Place first cake layer  on cake plate. 
    2. Use a piping bag fitted with a large round tip and fill it with filling.  Pipe a circle around the top of the cake.  Use a spoon to scoop filling from the bowl into the circle on the cake.  (This is a trick I learned from Joanne Chang at Flour Bakery.  By creating this “border” around the cake, you prevent the filling from squirting out when you place the second layer on top.  This is really a great technique and it works like a charm.  Thanks, Joanne!)
    3. Repeat with remaining layers except for top.
    4. Spread chocolate frosting over top of cake using an offset spatula.     
    5. Top with a cherry!

    *This recipe yields much more frosting than you need.  Make some cupcakes to use it up! 🙂

    m

    Recipes adapted from myrecipes.com and foodnetwork.com.