Wednesday, March 28, 2012

INSPIRED!

Ok. So my trip was hectic and filled with long hours of working, however, that does not mean there was not a little time for some really good food. Before my trip, I posted about finding inspiration from travels; while the greatest trip is still to come in the next few weeks, even this work trip has given me an idea.
While I was gone, my colleagues and I ate at a well-known chinese restaurant. I was in the mood for something light but filling so I decided to go with the wonton soup and lettuce wraps. While this was not my first time having either of these dishes, it was my first experience at this particular place and let me say, it was unique and delicious. So I got to thinking, how can I bring this home to use for parties and dinners?
My plan is simple. I am going to recreate the dishes with the knowledge that I cannot match them identically but the flavors and ideas can still be maintained. I look forward to making the soup with a delicious broth and tender pork wonton and lettuce wraps with flavorful marinated chicken and crisp lettuce. As I make these recipes, I will post them on the blog. The great thing is that not only have I come back with items accomplished for work, but I am also inspired by some new cuisine!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ideas to Come

So this coming week is crazy with my work. Since I will be out of town, the option of cooking is not available. However, when I travel, I love to try new dishes with the hopes of incorporating them into our menus at home.  I think this is a great idea for anyone when trying to avoid getting stuck in a rut with your cooking.
Don't be afraid to bring recipes home. The best way to have a reminiscent "stay-cation" in these economic times is to remember trips through flavors. Stay tuned this week for posts regarding what I find. I think it will be a tasty journey for a required work trip!
So while I am traveling, why don't you guys tell me about some of your favorite dishes you have had on your travels? Also, if you have brought any flavors home and adapted them to your own menus, please share with me and the world. The comment box is open for your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beer BBQ





I love good barbecue and have been experimenting with different variations. I have made a vinegar, chipotle, and even a cola variations to the mixture. This weekend, I decided I wanted to experiment with a dark beer in the cooking process. What resulted was a tender, rich, saucy meat perfect for platters or sandwiches. The process was easy enough and a great recipe for a Sunday afternoon. So here's how to do it....


Ingredients:                                          Preheat Oven Temperature: 500 degrees, 325 degrees
2 Tablespoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon Granulated Garlic
2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard
5 Pound Pork Butt
1 Bottle Room Temperature Yuengling Black and Tan Beer
4 Cloves Minced Garlic
1/8 Cup Ketchup
3/8 Cup Budweiser Sweet Barbecue Sauce
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar


In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, chili powder, and granulated garlic.

Cover pork butt in yellow mustard. Make sure to cover thoroughly.

Thoroughly spread the dry rub over the meat.
Tightly wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove the meat from the refrigerator and place in a 2 inch baking dish.
Place the meat in a 500 degree oven and cook for 30 minutes or until dark brown and blackened in some places. 
When darkened, remove from oven and pour the room temperature beer over the meat. Reduce the oven to 325 degrees. Mix 4 crushed garlic cloves into beer. Tightly cover with heavy duty aluminum foil. Poke 10 holes in the foil and place back in a 325 degree oven for 2.5 hours.

When the meat is pull-apart tender, remove from oven. Pour the pan drippings into a saucepan.

Combine ketchup, sauce, Worcestershire, and brown sugar with pan drippings and simmer until reduced by half. 

While the sauce is cooking, use 2 forks to pull the meat into shreds.
When reduced, pour the sauce over the meat and fluff to cover completely.
Store left-overs in the refrigerator.
I prefer to make the meal a day ahead and allow to absorb the sauce overnight.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Un-Fried Apple Pies

So tonight we were looking for a light but tasty dessert. Last fall we dried a large amount of apples so I knew we could try to make some fried apple pies, but I thought I would put a spin on the classic. This recipe is made with the southern staple, crescent rolls, and reducing the fat by baking the desserts.

Ingredients:                   Preheat Oven Temperature: 350 degrees
1 1/2 Cups Dried Apples
1/2 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Margarine
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 8-count package Crescent Rolls




Combine all ingredients, except crescent rolls, in a small pot over medium heat.
Simmer for 5 minutes or until the syrup thickens and apples become tender.
Warning: Watch the pot closely! Stir frequently to prevent sticking. 
While the apples simmer, unroll the crescent rolls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Seal the seam between sets of crescents to form 4 rectangles instead of 8 triangles.

Allow the apples to cool slightly and then place 1 1/2 tablespoons of
filling on each dough segment.
Spread the filling into a thin line across the center of the dough.

Gently fold dough over filling to form long pouches.

Bake the pies in a preheated oven for  10-12 minutes or until golden.
Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.
For extra flavor, drizzle with caramel sauce.


Vegetable Medley Foil Pack

I love to do oven roasted vegetables, but tonight, with the weather turning warm, my goal was to complete the entire dinner on the grill. The vegetables turn out warm, tender, and nutritious. This recipe also works great when camping!






Ingredients:
2 Large Potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Large Carrots, chopped
1 Small Package Frozen Brussel Sprouts
1 Yellow Squash
Salt
Mrs. Dash Garlic Herb Blend Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil

Use 3 large pieces of aluminum foil to make a stable pouch exterior.
Place all of the vegetables in the center of the foil.
Drizzle oil over vegetables.
Season liberally with Garlic Blend seasoning. You need to go
rather heavy on this seasoning. Add salt to your desired level.
(We do not eat a lot of salt so I go very light on this step.) 
Fold foil into a tight bundle.
Place on a pre-heated grill over medium heat.
Allow to cook for 50-60 minutes, until tender.

Remove from grill and serve.
*Note: For a richer flavor, try adding small cubes of butter to the packet. You can also mix up the seasoning depending on the meal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Easy Cajun Tenders

My life is quite often hectic between work, two hours commuting each day, house work, and preparing meals for my husband and me. Today was one of those days when work was exhausting and all I wanted to do was fix a quick but healthy meal when I got home. Tonight, I really wanted some fast food chicken but without the grease or expense.

The development of this recipe comes from the necessity for quick meals without heavily processed and greasy products. There are very few ingredients in this inexpensive, healthy dish. I think you will enjoy these crisp, slightly spicy cajun tenders.





Ingredients:                                   Preheat Oven Temperature: 400 degrees
2 large bone-in Chicken Breasts
1 package Shake-n-Bake Chicken mix
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder

Remove the skin and bones from chicken.
Cut the tender from the underside of the breast.
But the remaining part of the breast into 4 tenders,
for a total of 10 tenders for 2 large chicken breasts. 
*Note: I prefer to use bone-in chicken and clean it myself because of the cheaper cost, freshness of the product, and inclusion of the "tender" cut on the underside of the breast. Feel free to use pre-cleaned breasts or tenders if you do not want to butcher the meat yourself.

Combine coating mix and seasoning in a plastic bag.
Place chicken tenders in the bag.
Close the top of the bag and shake until all pieces are thoroughly coated. 
Coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
Arrange chicken strips on pan with adequate spacing to allow for
crisping and not sweating of meat.
Bake for 20 minutes.  
*Note: I like to use an air circulating pan in order for the bottom to crisp and not become mushy.

For a quick meal, I served the Cajun Tenders with oven-baked fries.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Vegetable Stew with Braised Beef Shanks

Ok. So I will admit that this time I got so carried away and excited about my stew that I moved directly from cooking to enjoying without even taking a picture! What can I say? I LOVE THIS RECIPE! I enjoy a thick stew consistency rather than a thinner soup. This is a hearty meal, loaded with vegetables, tender beef, and a wonderful flavor make this great for cool nights or snowy days.


Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
4 Beef Shanks
3 Small Potatoes, chopped
1/2 Medium Onion, finely chopped
2 Large Carrots, finely cubed
1 cup Frozen Peas
1 cup Frozen Corn Kernels
1 quart Whole Tomatoes
Salt
Pepper
Dried Oregano

1. In a dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. While the oil is heating, sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the beef shanks. Place the shanks into the hot oil to sear the meat.
2. Allow the shanks to cook until they easily release from the pan. The meat should not cook through, but just sear and render some juices to the pan.
3. After both sides have seared, remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
4. Place the finely chopped onions and cubed carrots into the drippings. Stir the vegetables to cover with oil. Allow the vegetables to soften while chopping the potatoes.
5. After 3 minutes, add tomatoes to the pot. Using the end of your spoon, break the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
6. Add in the remaining vegetables.
7. Season the vegetables with salt, pepper, and oregano. I go light on the salt as I prefer the natural vegetable flavors. I do however season heavily with pepper and oregano. Notice that I am not going to give a measurement for the seasonings. This is something that I believe is a very personal decision. I use approximately 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon oregano.
8. Place shanks back in the stew.
9. Cover the dutch oven with its lid and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
10. Remove shanks from stew. Allow to slightly cool before pulling meat from the bones. Remove all fat pockets from the tender meat. Add meat back to the stew.

Serve the stew with saltine crackers and enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Trying Something New

Whenever I am thinking about a new recipe, I am typically a little hesitant to make a mistake. I know that the best way to learn and develop new meals is to explore, but it is also a little frightening to me to make something that I am not sure my family and friends will like. I find the best way to overcome these feelings is to just make small adjustments at a time. Rarely do I completely overhaul a traditional recipe all at once, but, instead, I make small adjustments at a time in order to preserve flavor but increase the nutritional value.

I want to make something clear about my recipes. I do not always try to make things necessarily healthier. My real goal in cooking is not just healthier and lighter, but also new twists on the classics. For example, my family loves Asian cuisine. Sometimes we incorporate Asian flavors into our cooking both from researching of recipes and also from sharing of meals with friends of different cultures. As this blog continues, I will not only share my classic Southern recipes, but I strive to publish recipes that also broaden the standard collection of all cooks.

So I would like to know, how do you feel about trying new recipes? How do you overcome the fear of making a mistake? Feel free to post responses below.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Peanut Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I absolutely love baking and cookies are one of the quickest desserts you can make. While the traditional oatmeal raisin cookies I grew up with are great, I also like to combine the sweetness of peanut butter to the mix. With these cookies you are getting the fiber from oatmeal and raisins as well as the protein from the peanut butter. I like to bake my cookies to a firm but not crisp stage. I think you will like these as much as I do!


Ingredients:                                      Preheat Oven Temperature: 350 degrees
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Lightly Packed Light Brown Sugar
3/4 Cup (1 1/2 Sticks) Softened Un-Salted Butter or Margarine
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups Quick Oats
1 Cup Raisins
1/2 Cup Crunchy Peanut Butter


Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl and set aside.
Add brown sugar and butter (margarine) to  mixer
and combine until light and fluffy.
This step is VERY important.
Make sure the mixture becomes fluffy before moving to the next step.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl to make sure you have "good" eggs.
With the mixer on, add eggs one at a time until mixed thoroughly.
Add vanilla and peanut butter to mixture.
Once combined, slowly add flour mixture to batter.
Add oats to batter and mix thoroughly. 
Add raisins to batter and mix until just combined. 
Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
I like thicker cookies so I use a tablespoon full. If you want a crisper
cookie, use a smaller amount of batter per cookie.
Bake cookies for 13-15 minutes, depending on oven.
Remember, if you want a crisper cookie, bake a little longer. 
Remove cookies to a platter and ENJOY!
The recipe will make around 3 dozen cookies.
Store extra cookies in an airtight container.