Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Key Lime Pie Basics

One of the tastiest desserts ever invented was Key Lime Pie.  The dessert is named after the fruit from which it comes, key limes.  These are special limes grown in the Florida Keys and have a slightly sweeter taste than regular limes.  We were in Key West, FL last May and I had a slice of frozen chocolate dipped key lime pie while attempting not to melt in the afternoon heat.  Nothing makes me feel more like throwing on my flip flops and finding a hammock for a nap than eating this rich pie.  It's like a taste of the pie brings back the ocean breezes and sounds of palm trees. 

While a trip to the Keys isn't on my list this year, it's easy to recreate the flavor of the pie I so enjoy.  The recipe is a custard (milk and eggs) with a citrus juice to create the sweet-tart flavor balance.  Other juices could also work (lemon, orange), but the taste may be more or less sweet.  All it takes is a pie crust.  Personally, graham crackers or ginger snaps are a favorite.  For a chocolate twist, crushed Oreos also work really nicely.  The custard itself is just the lime juice, sweetenend condensed milk, and egg yolks.  Topping is traditionally a sweetened whipped cream, but in the quest to cut fat and calories, I use the fat free option of meringue, which is something DH and I both like more anyway.  Fat free sweetened condensed milk works fine in the recipe too.  The pie can be mixed and baked in about 30 minutes, but you have to let it cool before indulging.  Happy Eating!

Key Lime Meringue Pie
1 (9 inch) graham cracker pie shell
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice
4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
4 Tbsp white sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place pie shell on a cookie sheet.  In a mixing bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and the key lime juice until blended.  Add in egg yolks and mix until all combined.  Pour into pie shell.  Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes (center will be slightly jiggly).  Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl or with a stand mixer, whip egg whites until frothy.  Add in cream of tartar if using (helps stabilize meringue) and whip until soft peaks form.  Add in sugar and blend until meringue is in stiff peaks.  Top pie with meringue, spreading to edges of filling and making swirls in meringue.  Raise temperature of oven to 350.  Bake pie 10 minutes, rotating halfway through baking or until top is lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.  Once cooled, refrigerate pie at least 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chocolate + Puff Pastry = YUM

I have a weakness for most anything chocolate.  From my early start eating Nestle's Toll House Semi-Sweet morsels by the handful to today when I enjoy them alongside the likes of Ghiradelli or Valhrona, I really try not to go a day without chocolate.  I was perusing Food Network magazine (I'm not a subscriber) at the store because their chocolate issue caught my eye.  How could it not, what with nearly every recipe having or centering itself around delectable chocolate!

Honestly, while I enjoyed this foray into food porn, I didn't actually take many recipes from it.  Much like when I was confronted with the gargantuan chocolate buffet on a cruise, the sheer volume of options proved overwhelming and I ultimately went away disappointed.  On the cruise, maybe it also had to do with some really rough seas and nausea... just saying!

But, the one recipe I vowed to make was a chocolate pinwheel.  First, I'm always looking for new ways to make something with puff pastry.  Second, it's CHOCOLATE!  The Food Network treatment of these two ingredients was pretty simple - chopped chocolate, heavy cream, and puff pastry rolled, cut, and baked.  I liked the results, but I thought it needed an even sweeter touch, so I created a glaze of peach jam to provide a fruity punch.  These are great with a cup of coffee, served as a crunchy biscuit with ice cream, or just when you're craving a bit of chocolatey sweetness.  Plus, my modifications make the ingredients even easier to find and less messy (love mini chocolate chips!).  Happy Eating!

Chocolate Pinwheels
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
1/4 cup peach preserves or jam

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brush puff pastry with 2 Tbsp heavy cream leaving 1/4 inch border.  Sprinkle on chocolate chips to edge of cream.  Roll up puff pastry jelly-roll style.  Trim 1/4 inch off each side with a sharp serrated knife.  Slice into 12 pieces, abour 1/2-inch thick each.  Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 10 - 15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove to cooling rack.  Meanwhile, microwave peach preserves or jam in microwave for 20 - 30 seconds or until softened and liquidy.  Brush each pinwheel with peach preserves.  (Can also spread with preserves when you eat and leave off as they will soften).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Healthier Springtime Eating - Curried Bay Scallops with Brown Rice

Though Dallas weather certainly isn't reflective of the entire country, toward the end of February spring has sprung!  We still get some random "chilly" days (read: high in the 50's), but our grass greens up from the rain, the weather is generally mild, and we all turn our thoughts to "bikini bodies" for summer.  Ok, maybe a flattering one-piece swimsuit for some of us, but still. 

I've thought for a while that I need a jump start into eating less and eating healthier.  I still love to cook and will always cook a variety of dishes, but there is nothing wrong with adding in healthier recipes or tweaking to make favorites healthier.  I recently subscribed to Eating Well magazine to get more ideas on sophisticated (read: more like Bon Appetit than Cooking Light) yet healthy cooking options.  I've previously subscribed to Cooking Light, so I appreciate the variety they offer and the efforts at mass appeal.  Eating Well pushes the envelope on ingredients a bit more and is a little more aggressive on the health focus.

My sister-in-law is a personal trainer and getting a degree in health promotions, so encouraging all of us to eat better and adopt better lifestyle choices is a mission for her.  She encouraged us to get healthier and, embarking on a 24-day challenge, I sought out healthier recipes.  Copious consumption of butter and sugar aren't the easiest habits to break, but I was going to give it the best try I could.  I saw a recipe in Eating Well for a curried scallop and rice dish and decided to make it my own. 

Goal 1: Dramatically reduce the cost below the $25+ it would cost for the large scallops plus other ingredients
Goal 2: Add in more veggies to up the nutrition
Goal 3: Make dinner in 30 minutes or less

To meet the first goal, I changed jumbo scallops to bay scallops, though shrimp is an excellent substitute.  Buying frozen scallops or shrimp also cuts down on the cost.  Second, the recipe didn't have any added veggies.  Spring means fresh asparagus.  Since asparagus can be hit-or-miss, I went for frozen green beans, which is available year-round, is very nutritious, and has a low cost.  Third goal is best met with "fast cooking" brown rice.  "Fast cooking" brown rice is partially pre-cooked so that it cooks up faster, in about 10 minutes.  Beyond that, though the original recipe calls for lemon juice, I'm a huge fan of Chipotle's cilantro-lime rice, so I did a riff on those tastes to create... curried bay scallops and green beans with cilantro-lime rice.  Happy Eating!

Curried Bay Scallops and Green Beans with Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice
2 cups (uncooked) of quick-cooking brown rice, such as Minute Rice, prepared according to package directions
1 lb bay scallops or shrimp, patted dry with paper towels
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper, divided
1 bag frozen green beans, microwaved according to package directions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 - 4 scallions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime

Begin cooking rice according to package directions.  While rice is cooking, pat scallops dry and sprinkle both sides with curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  Heat butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until sizzing.  Add scallops and cook until browned, 1 - 2 minutes per side.  (They will cook quickly).  Remove to a plate.  Can cook in two batches if your skillet is small.  Add the green beans to skillet and saute 3 minutes.  Add cilantro, scallions, lemon juice, and remaining salt and pepper.  Mix, then add in rice and cook, stirring until heated through, about 1 minute.  Add in scallops or serve on top.