Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ridiculously offal

Before you think I’ve gone off my rocker and lost my ability to spell, let me define “offal” for those who don’t know. Offal is basically what is leftover from a butchered animal…the entrails, organs and such. To some, offal is a delicacy. To others, a gag-inducing thought.

Rewind to April Fools’ Day. I am not a big fan. Historically, the internet goes insane on April Fools’ Day and you can believe even less of what you read than usual. I find all the “hilarious” pranks tiresome. But what did I do when I saw that Marx Foods was running a Ridiculously Offal Recipe Challenge, with boneless pork rectums as the must-use ingredient? I clicked that link. Why wouldn’t I? That’s a recipe challenge to be seen. Well, they got me. April Fools’!!! Hardy har har. But even though I undoubtedly rolled my eyes, I couldn’t help but chuckle…a boneless pork rectum joke is an April Fools’ prank I can get behind. Even better, to those that had been fooled, Marx Foods was offering to send samples of their premium dried chiles. I guess April Fools’ Day isn’t so bad after all.

My mailbox has never smelled so good as when this package of dried chile flakes arrived. They were smoky, spicy, and so fresh…I couldn’t wait to sample each of them (check out their assortment here). My mind immediately started racing thinking of how I could use these products. Of course they would be fantastic in all the usual ways: sprinkled on grilled veggies or pizza, added to soups and stews, tossed in a stir-fry…I’ve used them in all those ways now and they add fantastic flavor to each dish. But I really wanted to showcase these chiles, specifically the chipotle flakes, which have a rating of 30,000 units on the Scoville scale.

So instead of an offal recipe, I came up with this…

Chipotle Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Spicy Candied Kumquats

Fills 4 small ramekins

Candied Kumquats:
5 ounces kumquats
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon granulated chipotle chile flakes

Panna Cotta:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon granulated chipotle chile flakes

For the candied kumquats: slice the ends off each kumquat and discard, then slice the remaining fruit into 4-5 rounds.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar and chile flakes. Bring to a boil, add the kumquat slices, and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is syrupy.

Let cool and refrigerate. (This recipe makes more than needed for the panna cotta.)

For the panna cotta: In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water. Let sit undisturbed.

Meanwhile, whisk the yogurt and chile flakes together in a large bowl.

Combine the cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, remove the vanilla pod and whisk gelatin into cream to dissolve, then whisk cream mixture into yogurt.

Pour into ramekins and refrigerate at least 6-8 hours, until firm.

To unmold, dip the ramekins in hot water. Slide a knife around the edge and tip out onto a plate. Spoon candied kumquats and syrup over the top.

I got exactly what I wanted with this recipe. The chipotle flavor is very apparent, possibly the star, but the kumquats and vanilla give it a run for its money. Each bite of panna cotta is creamy and slightly tangy, and your first taste is vanilla. Then a smokiness creeps up on you and a very subtle spice makes itself known. If you get a bite with a chile flake, the flavor is stronger. When combined with the spicy candied kumquats, the whole dish explodes with flavor. Kumquats are quite tart and bitter when raw, but when candied they turn sweet and the syrup is almost honey-like. There is still a distinct bitter flavor, but it is mellowed by the sugar. The chipotle balances the sweet and tart with a very intense smoky spice. I could eat the kumquats straight out of the jar.

What did I learn from this experience? The moral of the story seems to be that no matter what day of the year it is, I will always, gladly, click a link that involves something offal. Bonus points if I get an amazing assortment of chile flakes out of the deal.

Thanks to Marx Foods for sending me this assortment of dried chile flakes. Although I received these products complimentary, all opinions are my own. 

Monday, April 25, 2011


Next week marks five months that Andy has been dealing with an orbital pseudo-tumor. Not exactly the kind of anniversary you want to be celebrating.

It has been a long five months for both of us. Included in these five months are more doctors visits than I can even recall, so much uncertainty, tests, procedures, steroids, a biopsy, a whole lot of waiting and seeing, and most recently radiation. I’ve worried more in these last five months than I thought possible. I’ve been both terrified and cautiously optimistic. I’ve cried a whole lot. I will never, ever forget the way I felt when the doctor said it could be cancer. Thankfully, it was not.

Since the steroids weren’t doing their job, radiation seemed to be the best treatment option. Radiation is scary…you feel you shouldn’t have to be doing this if you don’t have cancer. But he did it, and ten treatments later he is finally done. Now the waiting begins again. Meanwhile, as a result, he has been exhausted and feeling awful. He also has a perfect red burn around his eye…picture Petey from The Little Rascals. It’s okay to laugh…he has not lost his sense of humor. I’m not sure I would have been able to keep up such a good attitude if I’d been the one going through this.

For example: a few nights ago we were sitting outside, cuddled under a blanket, enjoying a low-key evening. Out of the blue, Andy decided to list things in life that he loves. From a very long list, here are some of my favorites: warming up in the sun on the beach, eating a ripe cherry, driving a sports car on a windy road, getting back into bed in the morning, the smell of rain on warm pavement, riding a bike down a hill, and the feeling of weightlessness when you catch a wave. His list made me want to cry. Here is someone who has been struggling daily for five months, and he loves the smell of rain on pavement??? My heart aches for him. I so want him to get better.

Slowly but surely, he has been feeling improvement. His vision has gotten clearer, the pressure over his eye is lessening, and the swelling is going down. The radiation continues to work for the next several weeks, so for now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that soon he will see the end of this long, sometimes painful, always tiresome journey.

Hopefully the next thing we’re celebrating is his complete recovery. Until then, we keep moving forward as best we can. For me, that means cooking. I’ve been trying some odds and ends lately. Shishito peppers was one of those dishes…

Blistered Shishito Peppers

Serves 4 as an appetizer

6 ounces shishito peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice
2-3 tablespoons canola oil

Mix miso, chili garlic sauce, and lime juice together in a small bowl.

In a large sauté pan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat until oil is very hot. Add the garlic, shallots and peppers at once, stirring to evenly distribute. Add in the miso mixture and toss to coat. Let the peppers sit without disturbing so they blister. Toss occasionally to ensure all sides are blistered. Serve immediately.

When I started this blog, I thought I would document all my hits AND misses. I’ve not really kept up with that, not because I don’t have misses (you should have tasted the cake I made the other day!), but mostly because I want this to be a place that showcases the good stuff. Also, it’s a whole lot of work to take photos of a dish I love, let alone one I’m less than thrilled with.

With these peppers, I’m on the fence. They are gorgeous and they do have a nice flavor. I can definitely see the appeal, but I guess I wouldn’t call myself their number one fan. Maybe I overdid it by eating the entire plate (they must not have been too bad, huh?). In moderation, I would happily scarf down a few prior to a meal. The peppers that got very blistered were much tastier than the others, so perhaps I should have let them blister more. I did love the overall taste of the dish, with some spice from the chili garlic sauce and a hint of spice from the peppers themselves. These are not knock-your-socks-off spicy peppers, but have just a subtle bite. Every once in a while, you will find one that hits the back of your throat and makes you cough, which is kind of fun. Overall, I don’t see myself making these weekly, but would not turn them away if they were put in front of me.

It’s very quiet in the house this morning…Andy went in to work and hopes to stay the whole day. He has been home so much lately and I have to admit that I liked it, even though the reason is less than optimal and he just sleeps all day. Of course I want nothing more than for him to be feeling one hundred percent, which means he’ll be gone all day, but I can still miss our days together, can’t I? I’ll just take this opportunity to pout a little… 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not your grandma’s apple pie

I’m not entirely sure either of my grandmothers even made apple pie. My mom tells me that she remembers her mother making the occasional apple pie for my grandfather, and if it was for him, that explains why I never saw any. He was known for hiding his pies from people. Not even his adorable granddaughter (that would be me!) could finagle a piece out of him.

So, although I don’t know what my grandma’s pie actually tasted like, here is how I imagine it:

It would be the quintessential apple pie made with the utmost grandmotherly love. We would have made it together when I was staying for a sleepover, after playing countless games of Cootie and Old Maid, eating cheese puffs, and going to the book store for a special treat in her red hatchback Pinto. She would be wearing her pink, purple and white skirt that I loved so much and wished I could wear. She would never get exasperated or impatient with me when I did something wrong, and would always let me lick the spoon. We might have some fun trying on her wigs or smelling her vast collection of Avon perfumes while waiting for the pie to bake. I would be pleased knowing that later that night I got to sleep in her bed (with Granddad relegated to the couch…maybe he should have shared his pie!), where I would always, and I mean always, wake up with my feet where my head should be. And when the timer went off, and she took the pie out of the oven, the smell would forever remind me of her. (That and the smell of Avon perfume that was slightly past its prime.) The pie would be mounded high with cinnamon-sugar apples, and topped with a gorgeous lattice pastry crust. It would be my inspiration for apple pie when I got older. Until…

I decided that apple pie is WAY better with bacon!

With no offense to my grandma’s imaginary apple pie, I present to you my Bacon Makes Everything Better Apple Pie, created as my entry for a chance to win the Baconalia challenge, a recipe contest by Foodbuzz and Denny’s.

Bacon Makes Everything Better Apple Pie

Makes 2 mini pies

8 slices bacon (applewood smoked, center cut, thick sliced), divided use
1 sheet refrigerated pie crust
2-3 small granny smith apples (2 cups yield)
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons maple syrup, divided use
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons flour (plus more for rolling dough)

To make the lattice tops, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 pieces of bacon in half crosswise, then again lengthwise (to create long strips). Each lattice will use 8 strips - 4 horizontal and 4 vertical. Weave them together to create a basket-weave pattern. Place lattices on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, top with another piece of foil, and finally another baking sheet to weigh down the bacon. Bake for about 17 minutes, until bacon is brown and slightly crisp. Drain on paper towels and reserve.

With remaining 4 slices of bacon, chop in a small dice and fry in a large pan. Cook until bacon is very crispy, then drain on paper towels and let cool. Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in pan.

Once the bacon bits are cool, place 2 tablespoons in a grinder (I use a coffee grinder designated for spices) and run until the bacon is ground to a fine dust. Reserve remaining bacon.

For the pie shells, turn oven down to 350 degrees. Sprinkle flour on counter and roll out pie dough slightly to about 12 inches across. Cut out circles larger than the tart pans. Sprinkle bacon dust over each crust and press in lightly with rolling pin. Fit dough into tart pans, tucking excess dough underneath to create a thicker edge. Press buttered foil into shells and fill with beans or weights. Blind bake shells for 20 minutes. Reserve.

When ready to fill pies, peel and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter very thinly (about 8 slices each), then cut in half crosswise. In the same pan you cooked the bacon, heat the 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Add apples and remaining bacon bits. Sauté until softening, then add sugar, syrup and cinnamon. Cook for another minute until mixture becomes like caramel. Remove from heat and stir in flour.

Brush the pie shells with 1/2 tablespoon of syrup each, coating sides and bottom. Fill the shells with the apple mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. While the pies are baking, coat both sides of each bacon lattice with remaining maple syrup. After 12 minutes, place a lattice over each pie and return to oven. Bake for about 13 more minutes, until bacon is slightly crisp.

Cool slightly before cutting.

Cue the angels singing and the light shining down from the heavens; I am officially in love. I’ve long considered myself a bacon lover, but this? Words escape me…this dessert left me speechless, stunned, in awe. Sweetness and saltiness mingle, then reveal hints of maple and cinnamon with bacon running through every bit of every bite. Bacon baked into the crust, bacon mixed into the filling, apples sautéed in bacon grease, maple-candied bacon on top {gasping for breath}…my head is spinning with all this bacon-y goodness. Think I’m exaggerating? Go ahead…make this for yourself and see. Soon you too will be singing the praises of this decidedly un-grandmotherly apple pie.

Vegetarian friends be warned…I’m thinking of implementing a new rule in the house: going forward, all desserts must contain bacon in some form. Sounds reasonable, right?

Now, if only I could get in a time machine so I could really make this pie with my grandma…I think that skirt might fit me now, and I’m pretty sure I could take her in Cootie.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A vision

No, not that kind of vision…I didn’t have a major epiphany, no premonitions that have come true, and I didn’t see a ghost. My vision is of a personal nature, focusing on this blog and what I want from it. This is something I’ve been struggling with for awhile.

As you can probably tell, I love food. I love creating dishes from raw ingredients and I love the look on the faces of those who have tasted and enjoyed those dishes. What I didn’t expect when I started this blog was how much I would enjoy the writing. I always knew that my blog would never be just recipes; that I would tell a story when I had one. But I feel constrained by having to make my stories match my recipes. That’s not always an easy task, especially when you just want to talk about how perfect your day was, sitting in the sun relaxing after going to the library book sale and getting a zillion books for seven dollars. How do you tie that into shishito peppers or whole roasted striped bass?

There is an aspect of blogging that I think those of us who do it have probably all gotten caught up in: the popularity contest. It makes you want to network until your eyes are burning and you feel like there isn’t a blog out there that you haven’t connected with. I got very caught up in it, and then realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much. Around the time that Andy got sick, I started to slack off, using his illness as my excuse. Now I realize that I just needed to take a much-needed break. Over the three-month span of December through February, I posted only five blogs. I virtually stopped networking, and watched my traffic drop off day by day. But because I hadn’t been enjoying it as much, I couldn’t let myself get too upset about it. What I really wanted was to get back to a place where I was having fun and loving what I was doing.

Fast forward to today: I admit that I don’t network nearly as much as I once did. I try to consistently read those blogs that I really enjoy and network accordingly. I’ve gotten to a place where I truly am not disappointed if I only receive 15-20 comments on a post versus the previous 40-60. Don’t get me wrong, I love each and every comment I get and am still over the moon each time an email comes through…I just try not to let that be my focus.

So I can check that off my list; I’ve conquered my issues with the popularity contest aspect. Next on my list: writing whatever I feel like writing, whether it be food-related or not, and not feeling so vulnerable doing it. It’s pretty scary when you put yourself out there. It was a big step for me to actually publish the post I wrote while waiting for Andy in the surgical waiting room. In fact, I almost didn’t. But I was glad after I did it, and pleased by the response I received from it. This blogging community is a kind and genuine one…I’ve learned they will surprise you time and again.

I guess what I’m saying is that this may be the first of many posts where I’m really just talking out loud and putting it on paper. Hopefully you won’t all disown me. I plan to continue with recipes in (very likely) every post. This is still a food blog, after all. Just forgive me if the recipe has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m writing about, or if the tie-in is a stretch. That way, I get my writing fix, and still get to share the recipes that consume my days.

Speaking of no relevant tie-in…

Pickled Watermelon Radishes

1 bunch watermelon radishes
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
pinch of red pepper flakes

As thinly as possible, slice the radishes (a mandoline works great). In a sealable jar, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Add radishes, seal and shake. Refrigerate for a few hours or longer. (They will taste pickled after a few hours, but will have a stronger flavor after several days.)

Unfortunately, the gorgeous color of the watermelon radish fades out as they pickle, but you’re left with a tangy treat. Serious pickled food fans will like these. They taste VERY pickled. Tart and acerbic would be accurate descriptors. For me, they are perfect. Perfect by themselves, perfect as a topping, perfect mixed into things.

A few ways to use pickled radishes:
  • Chop them up and throw them into your next cole slaw,
  • Heat some of the pickling liquid with sugar in microwave to dissolve, then combine with radishes and sliced cucumber for a fresh salad,
  • Top tacos or put a few slices in a sandwich,
  • Eat them straight out of the jar. 

I have a feeling this will be another post where I hesitate before hitting “publish,” but once it’s out out there, I know it will be fine.

Okay, here we go. And thanks for listening…


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Comfort Zone

This week I have been testing bacon recipes for a recipe contest. It doesn’t take much to get me to cook with bacon. Bacon is firmly in my comfort zone. However, I’m trying to do something out of the ordinary…I first made a very bacony quiche sort of dish, which was fantastic, but not special enough. I’ve now moved on to desserts, and this is where I move from comfort zone to danger zone.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may recall several rants aimed at pastry. You will also note that more often than not, I cheat and use pre-made pie dough. This is something that I would love to change. To conquer doughs and breads of all kinds is high on my list of things to do. But then I try and fail. Bad.

Let me recap a few recent events:

I tried making a so-called “easy” and “super quick” beer bread that ended up in the garbage before it even got to the oven. When I announced I was going to bake bread, Andy’s eyes got wide and a worried look came over his face. Even though I followed the recipe, there was no way that this wet and gluey mess was becoming bread. Worst of all, I wasted a perfectly good beer on it.

Another time, when testing tart recipes for my tea party post, my mom and dad came over to try them. My dad, upon seeing my baked tart shells on the counter asked nervously, “You made pastry?” I’m fairly sure I heard a sigh of relief when I informed him that they were made from pre-made pie dough.

And yesterday, when I came up with a spectacular idea to make bacon shortcrust pastry for a bacony dessert, I actually felt cautiously optimistic. Shortcrust is easy, right? While I was making the shortcrust, it came together perfectly in the food processor and looked like dough should look when I put it in the fridge to chill. But when I rolled it out, I started to get nervous. It just wasn’t right. I forged ahead, and into the oven it went. Fifteen minutes later the smoke detectors were blaring and I was pulling charred rounds of bacon shortcrust out of the oven. 

Now, did I say shortcrust was easy? I’ll tell you what’s easier: not wasting your time making pastry. Instead, just gather up all the ingredients you would use and throw them directly into the trash. No need to mix them up. Better yet, just throw in a few dollar bills instead. Bitter, party of one? Yep, that’s me.

I had one more bacon extravaganza up my sleeve though, and that one worked out. Not surprisingly, it does not include homemade pastry. Fingers crossed it all comes together as planned. You should be seeing it in an upcoming post…I’m pretty excited about it.

In the meantime, I made this bacon-less crostata (yes, with pre-made pie dough!) and it turned out perfectly.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Crostata

1 sheet refrigerated pie crust
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Roasted tomatoes:
16 ounces heirloom cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 egg, lightly beaten

Cut each tomato in half (or quarters if larger). On a baking sheet, mix the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Reserve.

Meanwhile, in a large pan over medium-low heat, sauté the onions in olive oil to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove and let cool slightly.

Stir the ricotta, parmesan, egg and thyme together. Add the cooled onions and combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie crust slightly to about 12 inches. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread the ricotta filling onto the dough, leaving about 1-2 inches of overhang around the edges. Top with roasted tomatoes. Fold the edges up around the filling, then brush dough with egg wash.

(You'll want to spread the filling out farther than this.)
Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes until the crust is cooked through. Check underneath for doneness by lifting carefully with a spatula. (I made this twice: The first time it only baked for 40 minutes. The second time was closer to 50 minutes. If the crust is getting too brown, cover with foil.)

Let cool slightly before cutting.

So here I’m safely back in my comfort zone where I don’t fight with pastry and instead end up with a gorgeous crostata. This dish just screams summer to me and makes me dream of all those juicy tomatoes in my future. In the meantime, I am absolutely crazy about these little heirloom tomatoes and their slightly different flavors, already so good at this time of year. The ricotta filling is rich and creamy and a nice balance to the sweet tomatoes. I tried this both warm and at room temperature and either way is good. (My mom says it was good straight out of the refrigerator, but she’s in the minority, I think. She likes cold food and it borders on odd.) This would make a great appetizer or could even be a light dinner when paired with a salad.

Now, bacon calls once again. I’m beginning to wonder if the house will ever go back to smelling normal. At the moment, a definite diner smell hangs in the air…not that I’m complaining.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In miniature

It has become increasingly obvious that I like food in miniature. (This fascination stops with food…I was steadfast in my refusal to go to Miniature World when visiting Victoria…I don’t understand it and I never will.) When I look back at my posts, “mini” quite often makes an appearance. Mini is fun. Mini is cute. Mini means you can eat more. Five mini desserts don’t have nearly the caloric value of one regular dessert, right? (Just nod your head and we’ll keep pretending that’s true.)

More calories or not, I find that I can pack away much more food in miniature. It’s so easy to pop bite-size morsels into your mouth. When going out to eat I would much rather order many appetizer courses to share than one main dish. I like being able to try lots of different things that don’t necessarily have to “go-together.” This explains my love of cocktail parties, tapas, and miniature long-haired dachshunds. (Okay…maybe it doesn’t explain the dachshund thing.)

A few weeks ago via Twitter, Pepperidge Farm announced that it was “I Am In Control Day," and asked which of their products made you lose control. I replied that for me, an entire package of Milano cookies could disappear in a very short time. Much to my surprise, I was contacted about their new Milano Melts cookie. Yes, of course I would like to try them!!! And as I seem to be doing with all the products I’ve been receiving lately, I decided to grind them up in the food processor and turn them into something miniature. Now don’t get me wrong, these cookies are good on their own…I just like to come up with different uses for things. Which brings me to my Milano Melts inspired dessert…

Chocolaty Cookie Crumb Mini Cheesecakes

Makes 2 mini cheesecakes

5 Milano Melts cookies (dark classic crème)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted

3 Milano Melts cookies (dark classic crème), divided use
6 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar

For the crust, put the cookies in a mini food processor and grind into a fine crumb. Transfer into a small bowl and stir in sugar and melted butter. Combine until all cookie crumbs are coated in butter. Press half the mixture into each tart pan, pressing the crust slightly up the sides. Bake on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. (To make ahead, let cool completely and seal in an airtight bag. I made the crusts the day before I filled them.)

For the filling, grind cookies in a mini food processor, then remove about 2 tablespoons of the cookie crumbs. Reserve for topping.

To the remaining cookie crumbs, add the cream cheese, egg and sugar. Process until well blended. Pour the filling into the tart shells and sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 24-26 minutes until middle is set. Remove from oven and let cool on rack before transferring to refrigerator. Let chill for at least 6 hours before serving. (More is fine.)

I really feel that I am my harshest critic, but I have to tell you, these were pretty damn good! I think I get more excited about my desserts that come out well because I absolutely DO NOT understand the science of baking, so when I stumble upon something that works, I am thrilled.

Now, I know these are cheater cheesecakes and don’t employ all the standard cheesecake techniques, but hey, they taste great and are super cute! Each bite has a chocolaty cookie goodness, and only a slight cream cheese flavor, making them not nearly as rich as standard cheesecake because of their lighter texture. They are creamy and dreamy and I could eat an entire mini cheesecake in one sitting without regretting it one bit. In fact, I may have done just that.

(Thanks to Pepperidge Farm for sending me these Milano Melts to try out. Although these cookies were complimentary, all opinions are my own.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fried goodness

It seems that there is always a constant with chain restaurant menus. Besides the burgers and quesadillas, the lettuce wraps and club sandwiches, the artichoke dip and chicken wings, you can always expect to find fried prawns in some form. Sometimes they’re coated with coconut, sometimes beer batter, sometimes breadcrumbs and most always good. To me, fried prawns are just a no-brainer…a tasty bite that always hits the spot. (Who am I kidding? Fried anything ranks pretty high on my list.) 

Armed with two bags of the new Tostitos Artisan Recipes tortilla chips that arrived on my doorstep via the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I immediately started thinking of ways to use these chips in a recipe that wasn’t dip or nachos. I wanted to go outside the norm a bit to try to mingle the chips with some flavors that you might not taste them with otherwise. Andy and I brainstormed and came up with a few ideas before deciding on pan-fried breaded shrimp. 

Since I had two different flavors of Tostitos to try (fire-roasted chipotle and roasted garlic & black bean), I wanted to pair each with a unique set of ingredients while keeping the method the same for both. And I had to work quickly since Andy had broken into the bags and was scarfing them down at an alarming rate. (I just read him that sentence and his defense was, “Well, they’re good!” A valid point.)

Chipotle Orange Shrimp with Chipotle Cream 

4 handfuls Fire-Roasted Chipotle Tostitos tortilla chips
12 large shrimp, peeled, tail-on (I used 21-25 count)
1 egg, beaten
a couple handfuls of flour
olive oil

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Chipotle Cream Sauce:
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pureed chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

See cooking method below.

Black Bean, Garlic and Lime Shrimp with Avocado Cream

4 handfuls Roasted Garlic & Black Bean Tostitos tortilla chips
12 large shrimp, peeled, tail-on (I used 21-25 count)

1 egg, beaten
a couple handfuls of flour
canola oil

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped jalapeno
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Avocado Cream Sauce:
1 avocado, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
salt, to taste 

For each recipe, follow these directions: 

Put chips into food processor and grind into a fine crumb. Transfer to a plate and reserve. 

Mix all marinade ingredients together and add shrimp. Marinate 30 minutes in refrigerator. 

Meanwhile, mix all sauce ingredients together and reserve. (The avocado cream sauce gets much smoother by pureeing it in a mini food processor.) 

When ready to cook, remove shrimp from marinade and dredge first in the flour, then the egg, and finally the chips, making sure to press chips firmly onto shrimp and coating completely. Heat oil in a frying pan and pan-fry the shrimp for a few minutes per side until cooked through, flipping carefully to avoid cracking the breading. (You will need to do this in batches, and will need to wipe out the pan in between.) 

When shrimp are done, drizzle with respective sauces or serve on the side to dip. 

This turned out to be a very successful experiment. The chip breading got crispy and crunchy and you could really taste the difference in flavors. The chipotle shrimp was very smoky, with a hint of orange and a nice amount of spice at the finish. The black bean and garlic shrimp was more subtle, allowing the shrimp flavor to come through with the tang of lime. I chose the chipotle as my favorite, while Andy like the black bean and garlic best. Different strokes for different folks… 

Now I’m thinking of Sly and The Family Stone. That’s going to be stuck in my head all day…I-I-I am everyday people. 

(As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I get to try out new products from time to time and received these complimentary bags of Tostitos chips to experiment with.)

Monday, April 4, 2011


It is highly unlikely (and somewhat of an impossibility) that I would be serving volare for dinner. But when I told Andy that I was making Asparagus Velouté for dinner, he heard “volare.” Cue the laughter and mocking. He patiently waited for me to finish my reenactments (said in a sing-song voice of course: “I’m making Asparagus Volare for dinner tonight…doesn’t that sound good? Why don’t you invite Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack over?”). He then muttered something about not being able to talk around me without it ending up in my blog…a hazard of being the food blogger’s husband, I suppose. But hey, at least he’s well fed…that counts for something, right?

Back to the volare velouté…asparagus season is finally here, and I happily bought two bunches at the farmer’s market recently with soup in mind. Creamy, pureed soups are a favorite in this house, and these bunches of thin, green asparagus were destined to become just that. Seasonal produce is always a hot topic on food blogs, and within days of each other I read Fun and Fearless in Beantown’s post about Asparagus Velouté and Design Wine and Dine’s post on Asparagus Spinach Soup…both looked fantastic. I had never tried a velouté before and was inspired to finally attempt it. After doing some research, I learned that velouté is a thickening of stock with a white roux. Going in, I was a little nervous because I read several times that if you don’t do this properly, you end up with a bowl of gooey and pasty mess. I was hoping to avoid this. The goal is a creamy, silky soup. Now maybe my version is not 100% technically accurate, but I was quite pleased with the results.

Asparagus Velouté

2 bunches of asparagus, ends trimmed (my yield was about 1 pound)
1 cup chopped leeks
1/2 cup sliced fennel
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
24 ounces vegetable broth (plus more for thinning, if desired)
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the asparagus until tender. Transfer to a water bath, then into the food processor when cool. Pulse until asparagus is pureed. Reserve.

In another large pot over medium heat, add butter, fennel and leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until soft being careful not to let the butter burn. When the vegetables are cooked, add the flour, whisking into the butter. Continue cooking and whisking for about 10 minutes so a white roux is formed (you don’t want a dark roux). Slowly whisk in the vegetable broth. (At first, the mixture will seem to have gone terribly wrong, but smoothes out once all the broth is added.) Let this mixture thicken for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the asparagus into the broth mixture and stir to incorporate. Pass the entire contents of the pot through a food mill (I used the medium disk) and return to heat. Whisk in heavy cream, and season with salt and pepper. Reheat for a few minutes.

(This is a fairly thick soup. I added another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of vegetable broth to thin it out. Adjust to desired consistency by adding more broth.)

Success! I didn’t end up with a floury-tasting bowl of goop. The velouté was creamy and smooth, but still had a good amount of texture since it was run through the food mill. Asparagus is definitely the star here, with just hints of fennel and onion flavors. We ate this as our main course…a huge bowl with toasted baguette to dip into the velouté. Since it is such a rich soup, it was more than enough, but I think next time I would serve it as a small first course. We discovered that the olive oil brushed on the bread was a spectacular pairing with this dish, and in the future I would drizzle the bowl with olive oil instead of cream.

And yes, I think Dean would have approved. Cue the singing (and more laughing): “Volare, oh oh…Cantare, oh oh oh…”

(The winner of my HSN gift card giveaway, picked by was Susi from Susi's Kochen Und Backen Adventures. Congrats Susi!)