Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New Fridge!

After 6 years of quietly, and not so quietly cursing my fridge, I have finally upgraded to a new fridge that I must say is so freaking sweet! Putting groceries away now is actually fun because I have room for everything and all of these great drawers and shelfs and compartments for organizing everything, plus it's pretty. It's a Samsung in stainless steel with French doors and freezer on the bottom. I love it!

Cooking Shortcut Tips

In my previous post, I mentioned a cooking class I went to last week with High Hopes in High Heels. The cooking instructor was wonderful. She provided some great tips for us on products to use and cooking methods that would make cooking easier and faster.

1. Garlic paste. It comes in a tube and can be found in the produce section. This is much easier than peeling and mincing garlic, but tastes much better than the pre-chopped garlic that is jarred in olive oil. And on this note, why not try out those herb blends found in a tube. No worries about fresh herbs going bad or not using the whole bunch.

2. Dry vermouth instead of white wine. Often recipes call for dry white wine. Our instructor recommended buying a bottle of dry vermouth as it can be stored at room temperature and has a much longer shelf life once the bottle is opened.

3. Better than Bouillon. Instead of buying boxes and cans of broth that also don't last long once opened, our instructor suggested this Better than Bouillon product, which is a concentrated base that is more flavorful than broth.

4. Tubed tomato paste. This one I had already discovered, but look for tube of tomato paste, usually found in the spaghetti sauce, canned tomato aisle. It looks like a tube of toothpaste and will last forever in your fridge. No more opened cans of unused tomato paste in your fridge again.

5. Cooking rice. For a small number of guests (4-6) treat rice like pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add 1 to 1 and half cups rice. Cook 10-12 minutes, until tender, then drain in a colander or fine mesh strainer. For large groups, try the method of taking equal amounts of rice and water. For 10 people, use 3 cups of Uncle Ben's Original Converted Rice - NOT INSTANT! and 6 cups of water. Combine in a baking pan. Cover tightly with double layer of aluminum foil. Bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Check to make sure all water is absorbed. Rice will be tender, fluffy, and separate.

Incredibly Good Salad Dressing

I am vice president of High Hopes in High Heels, a professional women's group that gets together for networking and charitable giving. We attended a cooking class last week where we made some delicious dishes and learned some great tips, which I'll share in a separate post. This post is dedicated to an incredibly good, as the name suggests, and incredibly easy salad dressing. I have already whipped up a batch for myself. All the ladies at the cooking class were raving about this one.

1 Tablespoon garlic paste (this was one of her great tips) or a clove of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons honey (I love honey with all my heart, tastebuds and stomach)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good one, people)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

In a small jar, put garlic, honey, vinegar and a dash of fresh black pepper and Kosher salt. Shake well to combine. Add olive oil and continue to shake until well mixed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Shrimp Stir-Fry

I loved this stir-fry that features shrimp and summer vegetables like corn and zucchini. But you could really use any veggies that you have on hand. I served the stir fry over rice, but you could also put it over noodles. This is a recipe inspired by the Pioneer Woman. I just swapped out some of the ingredients. For instance, I forgot to buy cherry tomatoes, so I used a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles. The chiles actually added a nice spicy kick to the dish.

2 Tbsps butter
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed (You could leave the tails on, but I find that really annoying. Your call though.)
4 garlic cloves, minced (Or one big ass one like I had)
2 zucchini, diced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed (I suppose you could use frozen or canned, but fresh corn in this really does add a great sweetness and texture.)
1 can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles, drained (I used the original flavor. If you wanted to use fresh tomatoes, add about 1 cup and half of a combination of red and yellow grape or cherry tomatoes.)
Salt and pepper
Handful of fresh chopped cilantro (Pioneer Woman uses basil, but I had cilantro)
Juice of 1 lemon
Rice or pasta, for serving (optional)

Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. (I used my cast-iron skillet.) Add the shrimp and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute until the shrimp are curled up and opaque. Remove the shrimp to a plate.

Increase the heat to high, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and olive oil, then throw in the zucchini. Stir it around for about a minute. Then scoot the zucchini to the edges of the pan. Throw in the corn and cook it for a minute. Then push it to the edge of the pan. Throw in the tomatoes. Stir for a minute and season with salt and pepper.

Throw the shrimp back in. Stir everything for a minute until it's all hot and combined. Then pour into a platter. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and squeeze with the fresh lemon.

The Pioneer Woman suggests a couple of variations for this dish, one in which you place some of the mixture between two tortillas with grated cheese and make it into a quesadilla. I think that would be a wonderful way to use any leftovers, so make extra of this if you want.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pesto Pasta Salad

I am going to make this pasta salad all the time. I am so glad I found it. It's perfect for barbecues, family gatherings, picnics, and even brunch. Recipe is courtesy of Cuisine at Home.

1 lb. dry penner pasta
2 cups frozen green peas

1/2 cup purchased refrigerated pesto (I used Buitoni basil pesto)
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Stir in:
4 cups fresh baby spinach (could also use arugula for a little peppery bite)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Toast pine nuts in a stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Stir and toss until pine nuts are golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook penne in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; add peas during the last three minutes. Transfer penne and peas to a bowl of ice water; drain well.

Whisk together pesto, lemon juice, olive oil, zest and garlic in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Stir in penne, peas, spinach, Parmesan, pine nuts; season with salt and pepper.

Strawberry Shortcake

For the Fourth of July I made a perfect berry shortcake that was patriotic in its presentation, but also super fast and easy. I loved that this shortcake recipe doesn't use sugar, but honey instead. It makes me feel like it's a little healthier, plus I love honey. Recipe altered from Food Network Magazine.

1 pound cake (I didn't have time to make one, so I just bought one at the store. You could also use angel food cake.)
2 pints strawberries or mixed berries (I used mainly strawberries, but added blueberries too so I could have the red, white and blue thing going on.)
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water
pinch of salt
whipped cream

Wash the berries, slice the strawberries and place in a bowl. Set aside. In a small pot, add the honey and water and bring to a simmer over medium heat; add a pinch of salt. Stir and allow to simmer for 5 minutes so everything dissolves together. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Pour the honey/water mixture over the berries and stir. Cover and set aside until ready to serve. (I made this the night before.)

When ready to serve, slice the cake and top with the berries and whipped cream.