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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Italian Sausage and Red Pepper Risotto

I wasn't so sure what I would think about this dish when I first saw the recipe. I've only ever made risotto once before and last time I made it as a side dish rather than including meat. But once I saw the recipe, I couldn't get it out of my head. I figured it might be a little too much work for a weeknight dinner since risotto pretty much requires thirty minutes next to the stove and I generally like to multitask during weeknight cooking. Friday I was going to make it but then my husband suggested going out for Mexican food and I don't really ever turn down chips and salsa. Saturday we already had dinner plans too. By Sunday, I was still thinking about this risotto so I picked up what I needed when I did my grocery shopping and got to work.

So the verdict - turns out, risotto works great as a main dish. This was absolutely delicious. I halved the original recipe because it was just the two of us eating and I didn't want leftover risotto all week (there was enough leftover for a lunch the next day). I also increased the amount of sausage in the recipe, mostly because I'm bad at halving recipes because I sometimes forget to halve all the ingredients but I would make it the same way again. I think I would cut it back if I was serving it as a side dish but for a main course, its perfect. I used ground turkey sausage in this dish to cut down on the fat and it worked perfectly, but you could also use sausage links (remove the casings) or traditional pork sausage. The other changes I made were to cut out the mushrooms (I don't like them), add a clove of garlic and decrease the salt (even with low sodium chicken broth, I don't think it needed any extra).

Italian Sausage and Red Pepper Risotto
Recipe adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker, who adapted it from Giada DeLaurentiis

8 oz Italian sausage
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup arborio rice
1 T butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 T white wine
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

Simmer chicken stock in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Add butter to a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add sausage and break up with a wooden spatula as it browns, cook about five minutes. Add garlic, red pepper and onion and cook about eight minutes until softened, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan as it cooks. Add black pepper and rice, stir to coat. Add wine and cook until liquid is almost all evaporated, about one minute.

Add chicken stock, one ladle at a time, to the rice mixture. Stir almost constantly. When the liquid is almost completely absorbed, add another ladle full. Repeat this process until you have added all the stock to the rice mixture. This process will take about twenty to thirty minutes. The rice mixture should be thick and creamy. The rice should still be al dente but not hard. Add 3/4 of the cheese and stir to combine. Transfer to serving dish and top with chopped parsley and remaining cheese. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fondant: The First Attempt


It's one of those things that I've been meaning to try for a long time. I've always admired the fondant cakes that I see but I've been a little intimidated. I've also heard some stories about how awful fondant tastes. Plus the stuff isn't cheap when you buy it at Michael's and the like - I didn't want to spend the money to make a cake that looked and tasted bad. What's the point?

But then I heard about marshmallow fondant...

Easy to make at home with cheap ingredients in a short amount of time. Compared to the stuff at the store, it's amazing. It costs next to nothing and it tastes pretty good. I'm not going to lie; it's sweet, it's a little chewy, it will give you a sugar high... but compared to the boxed stuff, it's a whole different ball game. Unfortunately I was experimenting this time, so I'll give you a recipe once I figure out real measurements.

So I made a big batch of the stuff and set out to make a cake. I made this one to match a baby shower invitation and for my first attempt, I'm pretty happy with it. Obviously, my skills need some work, and I think I made it a lot harder than it had to be because I didn't know any of the tips (for how to get out the air bubbles) and I didn't have the proper tools (like letter cutouts), but I'm working on that. I finally signed up for Wilton's fondant class (I've been trying to find a class but there hasn't been enough interest for the class to be held at my local Michael's at a time when I can take it) so I'm getting better.

As for the cake on this one, I used a basic butter cake recipe with a strawberry filling for this. The cake recipe was from The Cake Bible and uses a slightly different method than many cakes. It claims to prevent over mixing but I'm not sure I really notice a difference. I'll probably continue using my regular method just because this seems backwards to me.

For the filling, I went with a Wilton recipe for strawberry filling found on Annie's Eats. When you use a fruit filling like this one, make sure and use a buttercream dam around the edges to keep the filling from sliding out the sides of the cake. And for the buttercream, I used my lemon buttercream, but tinted it pink to match the girly cake.

All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake
Recipe from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

6 egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
10.5 oz sifted cake flour (approx 3 cups)
10.5 oz sugar (approx 1 1/2 cups)
1 T + 1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
6 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round pans.

Combine egg yolks, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat lightly. In mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and beat on low speed for 30 seconds just to combine. Add butter and remaining milk. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for approximately 1 1/2 minutes. Add the egg mixture in three additions, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition, scraping the sides when necessary.

Pour batter into prepared pans, filling each about half full and smooth with a spatula. Bake about 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool approximately 10 minutes and invert onto wire racks to cool completely.

Flank Steak Fajitas

I love fajitas, they might be my favorite dinner - it's hard to narrow it down to one favorite dinner but Mexican food is definitely my favorite and I always get fajitas. While I prefer chicken fajitas, my husband loves steak and I rarely make it for a couple of reasons - because I'm not a big red meat fan and because it's generally expensive.

Flank steak is one of the more affordable types of steak and making it into fajitas really allows you to stretch your dollar even a little further. Make chicken and steak fajitas like I did here and you can really cut back the cost. This whole plate of food consists of half of a flank steak and one chicken breast and was enough for both of us with enough leftovers for a second meal. For the chicken, I use the marinade from this recipe.

Flank Steak Fajitas

1 flank steak
1/4 cup red wine
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped

1-2 bell peppers (any color)
1 onion (red or white will work)
1 tsp garlic salt (I prefer Lawry's)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
Juice of 1/2 lime

Tortillas and any desired toppings for serving.
Combine all ingredients except steak and cilantro in a large Ziploc bag, mix well and add steak. Refrigerate for approximately one hour.

Preheat grill to medium high heat and remove steak from refrigerator to come to room temperature while grill preheats. If you add steak to the grill straight the from the refrigerator, it will make the meat tougher.

While grill preheats, slice bell peppers and onions into long thin strips. Lay out a large square of foil, add vegetables to the center, sprinkle with garlic salt, cumin and chili powder and squeeze lime juice over the top. Toss to coat the vegetables and fold foil around the vegetables to make a foil packet.

Add steak (and chicken if you are making both) to the grill. Cook steak directly over medium high heat to sear the outside for about five minutes per side, move to a cooler part of the grill and cook as desired, approximately another three to five minutes for medium. Cook vegetables over medium heat for about ten minutes until tender. Warm tortillas on grill over indirect heat. Let steak rest, covered with foil for an additional five minutes before slicing. Slice thinly, top with cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie has long been a favorite of my dad's - so in honor of his birthday and Father's Day (which just so happened to be 2 days apart this year), I baked him a banana cream pie. I remembered seeing a banana cream pie recipe in my Dorie Greenspan cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours, a while back and decided I should do it the homemade way. I will admit though that I bought a graham cracker crust at the grocery store... not so much because I didn't want to go to the trouble of making a pie crust but rather because I had to transport this pie almost 500 miles and wanted the disposable pie pan with the handy plastic lid. Next time, I'm going to use the sweet tart dough in Dorie's book.

Store bought crust or not, this pie was delicious. The custard is so rich and creamy and adds a really nice vanilla flavor to the pie. For the bananas, make sure they are ripe but still firm. Save the brown mushy bananas for banana bread. You want the banana slices to hold their shape in the pie. The whipped cream topping is just perfect, the addition of a little sour cream makes it rich and keeps it from being too sweet. Even though there are a few steps to this pie and you do have to plan in advance a little to give the custard time to set up, this was a really easy recipe and I didn't have any issues putting it together.

Banana Cream Pie
Recipe from Dorie Greenspan

2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 ripe bananas

1 9-inch pie shell (graham cracker crust or whatever you prefer)

1 cup heavy cream, cold
2 T powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 T sour cream

For the filling, bring milk to a boil in a small saucepan. In a separate, larger heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the yolks, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and whisk until everything is combined. Add approximately 1/4 cup of the boiling milk, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Add remaining milk, still whisking and set pan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for about two minutes and remove from heat. Whisk in the vanilla and let the mixture stand for about five minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, whisking to incorporate. The custard should be thick and smooth at this point. Strain the custard through a mesh strainer into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly against the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold (if you need to cool the custard faster, you can set the bowl in an ice bath and stir occasionally until cold). The custard can remain in the refrigerator up to three days.

To assemble the pie, stir the cold custard to loosen it so its spreadable. Add 1/4 of the mixture to the bottom of the crust. Slice the bananas diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices. Layer 1/2 the banana slices over custard. Cover with 1/2 of the remaining custard and add remaining bananas, top with remaining custard and smooth with a rubber spatula.

To make the topping, add the heavy cream to a large bowl, beat until the cream begins to thicken, increasing the speed as you go. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks. Fold in the sour cream. Top the custard filling with the whipped topping as desired and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Summer Salad

This is a great light side dish to accompany summer BBQs and dinners. Take advantage of the wonderful fresh strawberries on sale everywhere these days. I prefer the baby spinach in this salad but a mix of baby greens or a mix other lettuces work equally as well. Don't skip the candied pecans - they add a sweet crunch that really makes this salad special. I used chopped pecans because I had them on hand but pecan halves make for a prettier presentation in my opinion.

I like to use a honey mustard vinaigrette for this salad, I think it goes really well with the fruit. Some other good choices would be poppy seed dressing, raspberry vinaigrette or balsamic vinaigrette.

Strawberry Summer Salad

1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
4 cups baby spinach or other mixed greens
1/4 - 1/2 cup pecans
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 scallions, chopped

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add oil and sugar and stir to combine. Add nuts and toss to coat. Cook about five minutes and transfer to parchment paper, separate nuts with a fork and cool. Wash and dry greens and add to a large bowl and toss gently with remaining ingredients and add dressing.

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Recipe adapted from Leslie Sarna

1 clove garlic, grated
2 T whole grain Dijon mustard
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tsp honey
Scant 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine garlic, mustard, vinegar and honey and whisk to incorporate. While mixing, slowly stream in olive oil. Whisk vigorously until dressing is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jerk Chicken Mango Kebabs

Kebabs are always fun to make on the grill and they generally impress your guests as well because you can incorporate different vegetables and fruits to make them nice and colorful. For maximum impressiveness, leave the kebabs skewered and serve, to make it easier on people, pull everything off the skewers and serve on a plate. This is what I do at home since the metal kebabs stay hot for a long time. They are also convenient because they cook very quickly because you cut the food into small chunks. In this case, I made jerk chicken and skewered it with mango chunks and red bell pepper pieces. The sweetness of the mango and peppers works great with the slightly sweet but spicy jerk chicken. The mangoes get soft and turn even sweeter when grilled to be completely delicious.

One thing to be aware of when making kebabs is that you want to load them up with foods that will cook at similar speeds. That way you don't have burned vegetables and undercooked poultry. If necessary you could also load up skewers with each type of food so they can be cooked at different times or over different parts of the grill.

You also want to make sure you soak wooden skewers if you are using them for at least 30 minutes before you put them on the grill so they don't catch on fire. You can also use metal skewers which I like because you don't have to mess with the soaking and they can be used over and over.

Jerk Chicken Mango Kebabs

Juice of 2 limes
1 T chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 mangoes
2 red bell peppers

Combine all ingredients through cinnamon in a large plastic Ziploc bag and mix well. Trim any fat off the chicken breasts and cut into approximately 1 1/2" chunks. Add chicken to the marinade and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the grill to medium heat.

Cut mangoes into large chunks. Mangoes have a large flat pit in the center. Cut each side off the mango, your knife will easily slice through the flesh of the fruit but not the pit so you'll know where to cut. Score each half into large chunks and fold the peel in to pop the pieces out. Slice off the chunks of mango to remove the peel.

Cut the bell peppers into large chunks and skewer alternating with the mangoes and chicken pieces. Grill about six minutes, rotate skewers, continue grilling about six more minutes until cooked through.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From Invitations to Dessert: Dessert Bar

Okay time for a long awaited Invitations to Dessert post. I know we said it would be a monthly feature, but Nikki from Doodle Dog got married Memorial Day weekend so we were all a little busy. We will be making this monthly though, so just bear with us please. This post actually features one of the many personal touches from Nikki’s wedding. (She’ll be posting more details soon so stay tuned!)

(Pictures by me and Jimmages Photography)

Nikki decided to do a cookbook featuring classic family dessert recipes in conjunction with a dessert bar at her wedding as a favor. She got small white boxes from Uline, added a polka dot tissue paper and tied a coordinating ribbon around them. The “thank you” tag ties in to the tag from her invitation suite. The paper products really tied the look of the whole wedding together. The cookbook was a 3x4 twelve page booklet that Nikki designed titled Love is Sweet. Inside the front cover, she wrote a thank you to the guests and prompted guests to fill the box at the dessert bar. The empty boxes were placed at each place setting.

(Picture by Amy Barry Photography)

The dessert bar featured Nikki and her husband’s favorite family recipes close family members. Nikki designed coordinating labels to go along with clever titles for each dessert. Using several different cookie jars and platters added aesthetical interest to the dessert bar and the cute signs tied everything together. She used cookie jars from Target, an Anchor Hocking 3-tier cupcake stand, and silver chargers.

Click here to go to Nikki's site for more details from the dessert bar and her wedding.

(Pictures by Amy Barry Photography)

The dessert bar included:
Mother of the Groom’s Famous Banana Bread
Mother of the Bride’s Sweet Snickerdoodles
Grammie’s Rich 7-layer Bars
Grandma Mo’s Salty Ranch Pretzels
Grandma Kress’s Decadent German Chocolate Cupcake Bites
Mother of the Groom’s Chunky Chocolate Pecan Cookies
Grandma Tootie’s Awesome Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Aunt Sue’s Crunchy Peanut Bars

While not all of these wonderful people are still here, we all still remember the recipes. These were desserts that showed up at major family events or they were always there when you showed up at grandma’s house. My mom and I made several of the recipes including the snickerdoodles, the oatmeal raisin cookies and the German Chocolate Cupcake Bites.

(Pictures by Amy Barry Photography)

I’ve posted all of these recipes before but I wanted to tell you about the slight changes I made to the German Chocolate Cupcake Bites this time around. I used the same recipe but when I made the frosting, I left out the chopped pecans. Instead I frosted the cupcakes and then used pecan halves to top each one. This made for a much more polished look for the cupcakes, really making the presentation much better since the custard frosting can’t be piped like a traditional buttercream. I also baked the cupcakes in plain white liners and then dropped them into decorative blue gingham liners to match the wedding colors. If I would have baked the cupcakes in the blue liners, the chocolate cake would show through too much and you wouldn’t notice the pattern.

(Pictures by Jimmages Photography and me)

Since I've posted all the recipes we made before, I'm going to give you the recipe for the mother of the groom's famous banana bread, which we served in mini-muffin form on the dessert bar.

Banana Bread
Family recipe

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
4 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pans. Cream together the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl, add eggs, milk, vanilla and mashed bananas. Mix well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to wet mix. Mix just until well combined.

To make bars, pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes. To make mini muffins, grease muffin tins and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until golden brown and the tops spring back when touched. Cool completely and serve.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Italian Cream Cake

I made this Italian Cream Cake for a co-worker for her 9th anniversary last week. I haven't made an Italian Cream Cake in a long time and I forgot how good they are. The combination of moist cake and rich cream cheese icing is always delicious. I love buttermilk in cake recipes, I think it results in such a moist cake.

I based this cake off a recipe I found on Tasty Kitchen from Pioneer Woman. Well actually the recipe was given to PW from a woman named Billie; this is a classic old recipe. I made a couple slight changes, using pecans instead of walnuts and not adding the nuts to the frosting for the cake but only the filling. I then used chopped pecans to coat the sides of the cake instead. The resulting frosting still includes the nuts, but in my opinion, makes for a prettier presentation.

Billie's Italian Cream Cake
Adapted from Pioneer Woman

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup + 3 T sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9" round cake pans with baking spray or grease and flour.

Beat egg whites in a clean mixing bowl, increasing speed from low to medium high until you reach stiff peaks. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, oil, and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla and mix until well incorporated. Add in the coconut and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and whisk together.

Alternate adding flour mixture in three additions and buttermilk in two additions to the batter, beating until just incorporated after each addition. Once complete, fold in egg whites. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites first to lighten the batter, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide batter evenly among pans, sprinkle the tops with one tablespoon of sugar each. Bake approximately 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of each comes out clean. Tops should be golden brown. Cool in pans about 10 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen and invert onto a rack covered with wax or parchment paper. Flip right side up and let cool completely.

Frosting and Filling:
2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 lbs powdered sugar
3/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
Approximately 2 cups chopped pecans

Combine cream cheese and butter in mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated. Gradually add in powdered sugar, mix on low speed until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. Remove approximately 1/3 of the frosting to a separate bowl to make filling. Add coconut and 3/4 cup chopped pecans to the filling and mix well. Set aside remaining frosting to ice the cake.

To assemble:
Level tiers as necessary. Add about a tablespoon of frosting to the center of the cake board or platter to prevent cake from sliding around. Place first tier on a cake board or cake platter, top with 1/2 of the filling mixture, leaving about a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch border around the outside of the cake. Smooth filling with an offset spatula. Top with next cake layer, pressing lightly to level, and add remaining filling. Smooth and top with final cake layer. Place in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up the filling. Crumb coat cake with frosting and return to freezer for about 15 minutes to set. Ice the cake with remaining icing, adding chopped pecans to the side while icing is still wet. Smooth the top and pipe on decorative borders as desired. Store cake, covered, in the refrigerator.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lemon Spaghetti

If you love lemons, then you have to try this dish. I randomly had a craving for lemon spaghetti, a meal I have never even had before, on Tuesday night. I have no idea why I wanted it, but I had a bag of lemons on hand and needed something I could toss together really quickly as I was in the middle of making a cake. Generally, I would have made some paninis or something on such a night but instead I had my husband pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery deli and I threw this together.

Because I've never actually had lemon spaghetti before, I'm not sure if this is truly a traditional recipe or not. I googled it and found several recipes that all seemed close to what I had in mind, the closest being a Giada De Laurentiis recipe from Food Network. Then I adjusted as usual to suit our tastes. I added some chicken to the dish because I wanted it to be more of a main dish rather than a side dish. I removed the skin from the rotisserie chicken (the traditional, not flavored version) and cut up the breast meat for this dish. I used about 1 1/2 breasts for four servings. This pasta would also be great served with pan-fried breaded chicken cutlets, fish or scallops.

Lemon Spaghetti

1/2 pound spaghetti (I used whole wheat)
3 lemons (approx 1/2 cup juice plus a scant tablespoon of zest)
1/4 cup olive oil
Generous 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 T fresh basil (a good handful of leaves)
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 - 2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
Up to 1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Heat a large pot of water to boiling, add a generous pinch of salt, and add spaghetti. Cook until al dente (about 6 minutes for whole wheat). Meanwhile, in the bottom of serving bowl, combine lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and thyme. Whisk together until incorporated. Slowly stream in olive oil while whisking. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Either drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water or transfer pasta with a slotted spoon from pot to bowl. (I just transfer the partially drained pasta with a slotted spoon since I'm going to add cooking water to thin the sauce anyway but if you are afraid you'll end up with too much water, drain it first because you'll need anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water.) Toss pasta with sauce to coat evenly and add in chicken. Stack basil leaves, roll, and chiffonade into ribbons. Add to pasta and top with additional Parmesan if desired.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Our First Anniversary Trip

So I've been a really bad blogger lately. Between my husband travelling for work and being out of town two weekends in a row, I haven't done a lot of cooking lately so there hasn't been a lot of material to share with you. But don't worry, I've got some great stuff coming up soon.

Basically to appease my own guilt for not blogging, I'll tell you a little about my trip this past weekend. The husband and I celebrated our first anniversary on Sunday so we took a quick weekend trip to St. Louis.

We went to a Cardinals game - where the Cards beat the Brewers in extra innings! We bought cheap tickets but they ended up being great seats, basically as far up as you could go but right behind home plate giving a great view of the game and the city. The best part was the shade since it was over 90 degrees when the game started.

We went to tour the Anheuser-Busch factory on Sunday - I went when I was a little kid, but don't remember much. It was actually a really great tour.

We signed up for beer school, which ended up being very similar to a wine tasting session where we tasted 4 beers: Budweiser, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Golden Wheat, and Beach Bum. My favorite (which I figured before the tasting) was the BL Lime by far. But either the freshness of the beer or the tasting tips or the fact that it wasn't a college party, actually made me appreciate all of them a little more. They suggested food pairings for all of the beers as well. I linked up some recipes based on their suggestions that you might like.

Budweiser: Since its a medium-bodied beer and doesn't have strong flavors, it goes well with most foods but its especially good with burgers or steak. Try it with steak or beef burgers.

Bud Light Lime: This is a great summer beer, very light-bodied and the lime flavor really comes through. It pairs perfectly with spicy Mexican food. Try it with these grilled chicken tacos or tequila lime chicken.

BL Golden Wheat: This is a medium-bodied beer with coriander and hints of orange and lemon. They tour guide told us this is their most popular beer at Buffalo Wild Wings and recommended it with wings, pizza, or chicken. Try it with Spicy Chicken Supreme Pizza or these Dijon Chicken Club Sandwiches.

Beach Bum Blonde Ale: This seasonal ale is a summer beer that pairs great with traditional barbecue foods and summer flavors. Try it with Spicy Hawaiian Burgers, Chipotle Chili Grilled Corn, Pesto Pasta Salad, or this Spicy Shrimp Mango Salad.

While we were in St. Louis we also went out to a couple dinners, hung out by the pool, walked around the park by the arch and downtown and just relaxed.

I brought along our frozen top tier from our wedding cake - which survived fairly well, the icing wasn't very good after freezing but the cake was surprisingly okay - and some champagne so we broke out our toasting flutes from the wedding and had cake and champagne to celebrate a great first year.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chipotle Chili Grilled Corn

Corn on the cob is one of summer's best foods. Growing up in Iowa, fresh sweet corn was everywhere in the summer and super cheap. Luckily, even though I'm no longer surrounded by corn fields, I can still get good sweet corn in the grocery store. In June and July its often as cheap as 10 ears for $1.00. That means we make a lot of corn for dinner or barbecues. When we are grilling some chicken or burgers for dinner, I don't want to heat up the stove inside to boil corn, so I started making corn on the grill as well.

There are a couple of methods you can use. You can keep the corn in the husk, soak them in water for at least 15 minutes and grill in the husk for 20-30 minutes. Or you can husk the corn, wrap them in the foil, add seasoning and cook in foil for 15-20 minutes. Cooking in foil essentially steams the corn.

You can vary the flavors by making a compound butter to spread on the corn. My favorite is this smoky chipotle chili corn but I also like to use a little lime juice and cayenne pepper or garlic and fresh herbs depending on what I'm serving it with.

Chipotle Chili Grilled Corn

2 T unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 T chipotle in adobo sauce
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, diced
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
4 ears of corn

Preheat grill to medium heat. (If you are cooking this as part of a meal, the corn is fine cooked over indirect heat but you may need to adjust the cooking time slightly.) In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except corn. Stir until well incorporated. Lay out four large squares of aluminum foil, about 12"x12" each. Place one ear of shucked, clean corn on each square. Use a pastry brush or your hands to add butter mixture to each ear. Wrap tightly in foil, making sure there are no leaks in the package. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Be careful when you unwrap as the escaping steam will be very hot.

Note: If you use salted butter, decrease the amount of additional salt to taste. I use unsalted butter because I always have it on hand for baking.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How to cut a fresh pineapple

Maybe I'm the only one who walked by the fresh pineapple for years thinking they were too much work but ate fresh pineapple every chance I could get when I found it on a breakfast buffet or when we were out. It's so much better than canned pineapple. It has great texture and it's so sweet. Sure you can buy fresh pineapple already cleaned and cored but it will cost you a lot more money, just like most convenience products. To me, it just wasn't worth it. So I decided I should finally learn to cut a pineapple myself. Surprisingly, it was really easy and only takes about five minutes. Definitely not worth avoiding for all those years.

So how do you do it?

First step, find a sharp knife, a chef's knife or santuko knife would both work great. Slice a thin slice off the top and bottom of the pineapple so that it sits flat.

At this point, you have two choices, you can use a pineapple corer to cut out the tough center core and make rings or you can continue with your knife. In my opinion the corer isn't worth it unless you are going to be cutting up tons of pineapples. I try to stay away from having too many kitchen gadgets, especially if they only have a single purpose.

Picture from Amazon

If you are continuing with a knife, the next thing you want to do is clean off the sides by slicing off the peel and eyes. Try to follow the curve of the fruit so you can get as much usable fruit as possible.

Next, cut the pineapple in half and then each half into quarters.

Cutting into each quarter at an angle, slice off the core.

Finally, slice the strips of the pineapple into slices and you're done. It's that simple. Store fresh pineapple in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Spicy Hawaiian Burgers

First of all, sorry for my absence - my little sister got married this past weekend and I intended to have some posts scheduled but with the travelling, last minute wedding details and all the fun we had in Texas, it just didn't happen. But I'm back and I've got some great recipes to share with you coming up.

I've been eyeing the fresh pineapple every time I walked through the produce department for a couple of weeks. Finally I decided to buy one. I have to admit, I have never bought a fresh pineapple before thinking it would be way too much work to cut up. If I bought it fresh, I would buy the already cored and cleaned pineapple for way too much money that comes in a little plastic cup. But that means I over paid by about 5 times. For something that is really very easy. So if you have this same trepidation about purchasing a whole fresh pineapple, check back tomorrow for a how-to post and learn just how simple it is. If you want to, you could also use canned pineapple to make these burgers, but fresh pineapple grilled better and make sure you buy the pineapple in its own juice not heavy syrup.

For now, let's talk about these burgers. These were absolutely delicious. I had a chicken sandwich at a restaurant once (although I cannot remember what restaurant) that had pineapple, pepper jack cheese, BBQ sauce and chicken breast. I wasn't a big fan of the BBQ sauce, but I loved the combination of spicy cheese and sweet pineapple. I had some ground chicken breast at home and since I had finally decided to buy the fresh pineapple, I decided to make my own version. I think the pineapple is juicy enough and as long as you don't overcook your burger, the sauce is unnecessary but if you wanted to add something, a little chipotle mayo would be my recommendation. I would also throw a couple slices of red onion on these next time but I didn't have any on hand this time. As you can see in the pictures, I served these burgers with some chipotle corn on the cob that was a great match, so check back for that recipe later this week.

Spicy Hawaiian Burgers

2 pounds ground chicken
6 pineapple rings (or equivalent slices, cut about 1/2" - 3/4" thick)
6 slices pepper jack cheese
6 whole wheat hamburger buns
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp seasoning salt (I use Lawry's)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine the ground chicken, soy sauce, 1/2 the paprika, 1/2 the chili powder, seasoning salt, cumin, and garlic. Lightly mix with your hands and divide into 6 even balls. Form patties, making them slightly thinner in the middle and sprinkle with remaining paprika and chili powder. Refrigerate about 30 minutes.

Preheat the grill to medium heat. Coat grates lightly with oil. Grill burgers over medium heat about 6 minutes per side. The burgers should flip easily when they are ready to turn, if they want to stick, give them another minute. Top with cheese for the last 1-2 minutes of cooking time to melt. Remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest. Grill buns if desired.

For the pineapple, if you are using rings, grill directly on the grates over medium heat. Carefully turn after 1-2 minutes. If you are using pineapple slices or chunks, thread onto skewers and grill skewers in the same fashion. Assemble burgers and enjoy.

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