Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: A Trashy to Classy Cocktail Party

We've all been to and hosted countless parties, potlucks, and family reunions that are full of what some may consider to be "trashy" food.  You know, dishes that are full of processed ingredients and shortcuts, the ones that we all secretly love.  However, you'd never find this food at a fancy country club or cocktail party.  So I thought it would be fun to reinvent some of these dishes into upscale cocktail fare.

Two friends of mine planned to celebrate their birthdays this weekend, so when I was chosen to participate in Foodbuzz's 24x24 blogging event, I offered to throw their party for them.  They graciously accepted, so I set out to plan the menu!

The whole party was actually inspired by these strawberry wine coolers.  I first made these last spring, and I enjoyed variations all summer long.  Every time I made them, I kind of laughed at myself for drinking wine coolers, but then one day the idea came to me to take other dishes that food snobs may turn their nose up to and class it up into fancy party food.  Even though I didn't get to enjoy a wine cooler this time, everyone else seemed to enjoy them.

We also provided an assortment of craft beers, as well as more wine and champagne.  There were a few other pregnant women in attendance, so I mixed up a batch of sparkling peach lemonade for us to enjoy in champagne flutes.

For the food, I just want to clarify that I'm not making fun of the inspiration dishes or looking down on it; I just thought it would be fun to up the ante and find a new way to serve these classic and trashy-good dishes.

The first thing that came to mind for me were pigs in blankets.  They are pretty much a staple at all tailgates, birthday parties, and potlucks, so I knew I wanted to find another way to serve them.  Lamb sausage in puff pastry served with Dijon mustard definitely took these from low-brow to high class.

If they're served at a party, I'm also guilty of enjoying cocktail weinies.  You know, the lil' smokies that are cooked with grape jelly and chili sauce?  To elevate this dish, I grilled pork tenderloin and glazed it with a blackberry-pinot noir sauce.  Extra glaze was served on the side for dipping, and I served each piece with a fresh blackberry.

Perhaps the most infamous of party food is velveeta and sausage dip.  I turned it into a brie, crab, and champagne fondue, and served it with blanched asparagus spears and a fresh baguette.  I could have eaten this fondue with a spoon, it was so good.

Among my group of friends it has become somewhat of a running joke that I don't like onion dip.  Everyone else always devours it, but onion soup mix + sour cream just doesn't really do it for me.  However, I can get behind caramelized onion dip served on homemade potato chips.  Joey and I had to stop ourselves from eating all of this before our guests arrived.  And since the first Vidalia onions of the year are starting to show up in the grocery stores, this dip was especially wonderful.

If you ask anyone on the street what they think of when they hear the term "trashy food," I'd bet that 90% would immediately say spam.  To be honest, I don't think I've ever actually had it, but that's fine with me.  I originally thought to make a pate to replace the infamous mystery meat, but I ended up making wild mushroom pate instead.  I figured it would be more of a crowd-pleaser, and I wanted to include another vegetable anyway.  Full of wild mushrooms and drizzled with a little truffle oil, this pate would certainly be well-received at any upscale event.

Even though it had no trashy inspiration, I also served a cheese platter.  I love putting these together, and this might have been my favorite one yet:  Blueberry-vanilla goat cheese, Rosemary Asiago, Aged Gouda, plus crackers, salami, assorted olives, and grapes.  This was pretty much destroyed by the end of the night.

The first dessert that came to mind for me was strawberry jello salad.  There are countless variations out there, but they almost all include strawberry jello, cool whip, and strawberries.  I turned that "salad" into deviled strawberries filled with spiced mascarpone whipped cream.  There is a bit of cardamom in the cream, and it gives it such a wonderful warmth and spice.  This was probably my favorite dish, and  I definitely ate more than my fair share while I prepped them.

I also had to include the infamous dirt cake.  Layers of instant pudding, cool whip, and crushed oreos make up this dessert, and usually gummy worms are thrown on top for good measure.  I turned that into chocolate pudding parfaits made with homemade pudding (mousse would have been even better), whipped cream, and I topped each one with a sprinkling of thin mints.

And finally, for what was probably the most popular dish of the night, I was inspired by Watergate Salad to make macarons.  I know there are probably several names for this dessert, along with just as many variations, but the gist is pistachio pudding, marshmallows, and fruit cocktail.  I made pistachio macarons with marshmallow filling, and served them with fresh cherries.  These were all gone within the first hour of the party, which made me wish I had made a double batch!

I had so much fun planning this party, and I think everyone got a big kick out of the idea.  Many of the inspiration dishes are nostalgic for so many of us, so it was especially fun to elevate them into cocktail party status.   Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for sponsoring my party, and happy birthday to Christi and Kendra!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blueberry BOY Bait

In case you didn't guess by the title of this post, we are having a BOY!  We are so excited, and I've already done some serious baby boy clothes shopping, of course.  We've been telling Caroline that she's going to have a little brother, but she still maintains that I'm having a baby turtle.  Not sure where she got that one...

In any case, I wanted to bake something fun to share the news, so I thought that blueberry boy bait would be perfect.   Ever since I made this I haven't been able to resist slicing off little slivers, so apparently this baby boy loves blueberries as much as his sister.  I will admit that I had only heard of it in passing, but it is basically a buttery sheet cake that is studded with blueberries and sprinkled with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar topping.  Legend has it that this recipe was created by a teenage girl for a recipe contest, with the claim that it's so good that it's "bait for boys."

This is a super simple recipe that is in the oven in under 10 minutes.  Very low-maintenance and easy, and the result is a light and fluffy cake with little bursts of fresh berries and a spicy, crackly top. Even though I don't think it's necessary, I'm sure a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream would go nicely with this as well.  This is ideal for summer entertaining since it's so easy, and it can be transported to a potluck quite easily as well - no fussy frosting or glaze to worry about ruining. 

As you can see from the photo, the blueberries did sink to the bottom of the cake; however I think it was because I forgot to preheat the oven, so the cake sat at room temperature for 10 minutes while I waited for it to preheat.  I think that the berries must have begun sinking, so when I put the cake in the oven it was too late for them.  No worries though, it certainly didn't affect the taste!

Blueberry Boy Bait
yield:  one 9x13 inch sheet cake

  • 2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first as it tends to muddle in the batter)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Whisk together 2 cups of the flour, the baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  One at a time, add the eggs, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add the vanilla.

Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk.  Beat in half the remaining flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk, and finishing with the remaining flour.  Mix until just incorporated after each addition.

Toss the blueberries with the remaining teaspoon of flour, then fold into the batter with a rubber spatula.  Scatter the top with the remaining blueberries, then sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon.  Spread the batter into the baking pan and bake 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Serve with the sugar topping side up.

Source:  adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Cook's Country

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Beer Battered Fish Tacos

A few weeks ago, just days before we left for a beach vacation, I had a hankering for fish tacos.  The problem arose when I couldn't decide whether to go light with grilled fish, or go all out and do beer-battered fried fish tacos.  I shared my conundrum both on Twitter and with Joey, and the resounding response was for beer-battered.  So I essentially had no choice in the matter.

I've had this recipe saved for almost a year, so I was excited to try out the IPA batter.  IPA is probably my favorite type of beer, and I have missed it terribly throughout this pregnancy.  I used Sweetwater IPA, which is from a local Atlanta brewery that we love to support.  Their IPA has a distinct grapefruit taste, and I thought the citrus would pair wonderfully with the tacos.  The batter was crisp yet still light, and the fish was perfectly cooked.

As far as the toppings go, I did my own thing and came up with a mango salsa and avocado crema.  Both complemented the fish well, and the avocado crema was especially tasty as a dip for the leftover fish.  I actually set out to fry my own shells for these, but decided at the last minute that frying the fish was enough for me this time.  But I think the crispy shells would have been great as well.

I try to cook healthy meals more often than not, so something like this is most definitely a rare treat versus a weekly indulgence, but we certainly enjoyed it.  And who knows, maybe it will make another appearance this summer...

Beer Battered Fish Tacos

For the Fish:
  • 1 lb firm white fish (cod, haddock, halibut, etc)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup beer, preferably IPA
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • vegetable oil, for frying
Mango Salsa
  • 2 mangos, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced
  • 2 T diced red onion
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste
Avocado Crema
  • 1 avocado, pitted 
  • 1-2 Tbs plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbs sour cream
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • hot sauce to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
To Serve:
  • taco shells, hard or soft
  • lime wedges
  • hot sauce
 Combine 1 cup of the flour, paprika, chili powder, cumin, and salt in a medium bowl.  Add the beer, whisk to combine, and let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes to allow the yeasts to develop.

Meanwhile, pat the fish dry, season with salt and pepper, and cut into 1-inch cubes.  Toss with the remaining 1/2 cup flour.

To prepare the mango salsa, combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Taste and season with more salt, lime, or hot sauce if necessary.

For the avocado crema, use a fork to mash the avocado in a medium bowl.  Add the yogurt, sour cream, hot sauce, and lime, and continue mashing to form a smooth sauce.  Add more yogurt or sour cream to achieve your desired consistency, and season with salt and hot sauce.

To fry the fish, heat 1/2-inch oil in a large skillet to 375 degrees.  Working in batches, shake off the excess flour from the fish, then coat with the beer batter.  Being careful not to overcrowd the pan, fry in the hot oil 3-5 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through.  You may need to test a few in the first batch to get the time right.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, and repeat with remaining fish.

To assemble, warm the tortillas and fill with fish.  Drizzle with avocado crema and top with mango salsa.  Serve with lime wedges and additional hot sauce if desired.

Source:  Beer-battered fish from Tide and Thyme, mango salsa and avocado crema Pink Parsley originals

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grilled Asparagus Panzanella

I gave you fair warning yesterday that I'm obsessed with grilling.  Add that to my obsession with asparagus, and it should come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite spring dinners.  (As a side note, I really hope you aren't getting tired of asparagus recipes - I still have a few to share with you before it goes out of season)!  I think the combination of the grilled veggies is just perfect, the bread is crispy and garlicky, the vinaigrette is simple but flavorful, and the garnishes add just the right amount of crunch and flavor.  I especially loved the sprinkling of goat cheese on top.

Once you have the veggies and bread prepped, this comes together quite quickly  The vegetables and bread grill up in minutes, and then all you have to do is toss it all together and serve.  It is a wonderfully low-maintenance and fresh dinner for late spring, and I think it would also make a lovely lunch or addition to brunch.  If I were able to drink wine, I would have most definitely enjoyed this salad with a crisp Pinot Grigio.  There's always next spring....

I have also updated my Featured Recipes page with some of my favorite vegetarian dinners !

Grilled Asparagus Panzanella
adapted from Cuisine Tonight:  Grilling
makes 8 cups

For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
  • 6 slices Italian bread (1/2-inch thick)
  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and quartered
  • 1/3 cup sliced red onion (about 2 "rings" each cut 1/2-inch thick)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
Preheat the grill to medium-high and clean the grates.

Whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette and set aside.

Brush the bread with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss the asparagus, pepper, and onion lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill bread 1-2 minutes per side, until crisp and golden.  Remove from grill and when cool enough to handle, rub with the cut garlic clove.  Set aside.

Grill asparagus, pepper, and onion until charred and cooked through turning once.  Remove from grill and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Dice the bread into cubes and toss with the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, and basil.  Toss with the vinaigrette (you may not need all of it -just add a little at a time until you're happy with the amount).  Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Divide evenly among plates and sprinkle with goat cheese.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grilled Bruschetta with Prosciutto & Mozzarella

Once warm weather hits, it is hard to keep myself from grilling every meal and every course for each meal.  It's not just the end result of grilling that I enjoy, but the act itself.  From igniting the first flame, to seeing those beautiful grill marks, to enjoying the final, smoky result, I love it all. 

This grilled bread made a fantastic appetizer for a pasta dish we enjoyed a few weeks ago.  This is incredibly simple, and very versatile as well - serve as a light lunch with a side salad, as part of an appetizer spread for a party, as a side with grilled meat or a pasta dish, or just on it's own as a snack. 

These grilled breads are also incredibly easy - just slice the bread, grill, rub with garlic, top with cheese and prosciutto, and return to the grill just long enough to melt the cheese.  In my opinion, the most important step of this recipe is rubbing with garlic.  I loved loved loved the garlicky bite that these had, and it truly took this dish from good to great.

Grilled Bruschetta with Prosciutto and Mozzarella
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That?
  • 6-8 slices of Tuscan bread or a French Baguette, sliced 3/4-inch thick
  • 1 large garlic clove, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • 2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into pieces
  • 2 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella, grated
  • 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs - parsley, basil, oregano, etc
  • freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the grill to medium-high heat.  Clean the grates and brush with oil.

Brush each slice of bread with olive oil.  Grill for 2 minutes, until golden on one side.  Remove from grill and place grilled-side up on a platter. As soon as it's cool enough to handle, rub the grilled side with the cut garlic.  The harder you rub, the more garlicky the bread will be.

Place the torn prosciutto over the grilled side of the bread and top with the shredded mozzarella.  Return to the grill, cover, and cook just until the cheese is melted, 1-2 minutes.

Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with pepper and herbs.  Serve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Eggplant and Ricotta Pizza

I realize this could be a fairly controversial post.  Eggplant is one of those things that you either love or you hate.  There's not much middle ground.  I for one, love it, so I am always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to use it (besides my old standby of grilling).  For some reason ricotta seems to be divisive as well.  I'm not sure why though - I love the creamy texture and flavor it adds to Italian dishes and desserts.  So if you are a ricotta and eggplant lover like me, you'll love this pizza.  It is a simple and straightforward pizza, but it makes for a beautiful presentation and lovely vegetarian dinner.

The recipe calls for either using homemade ricotta or store-bought, but it provides extra instructions if you use a supermarket brand.  I've never made my own ricotta, though I plan to very soon.  The store-bought ricotta needs to be drained for about an hour to remove excess moisture.  So no big deal, you just need to plan ahead.  I even think you could do this the night before and then refrigerate the drained ricotta until you need it.

The eggplant is broiled (or grilled) before it's added to the pizza, which removes excess moisture and gives it a golden-brown color.  I loved the crispy edges of the eggplant, and the flavor played very nicely off of the garlic and Parmesan-infused ricotta.  Adding basil to anything will give it that bright and fresh finish, and this pizza was no exception.  I actually didn't really expect Joey to like this pizza all that much, but he is apparently coming around to eggplant - he even had seconds!

As I've been mentioning a lot lately, Caroline has really developed a love for helping in the kitchen, and she really liked helping with this pizza.  She especially loved helping me stretch out the dough, then dropping dollops of the ricotta onto the pizza.  And even though most people probably wouldn't label this as "kid-friendly" (a term I don't really believe in anyway), she devoured a big slice of it.  I served this with a cherry tomato salad with olives and fresh herbs, and I thought it was a great side dish - I think a simple green salad or roasted asparagus would be great as well.

Pizza with Eggplant, Ricotta, and Basil
adapted from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook
makes one 12-inch pizza
  • 1 pizza dough
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 pound)
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing the crust
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbs minced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh parsley
  • cornmeal, for sprinkling
Line a small colander or mesh sieve with several layers of paper towels or a cheese cloth.  Spread the cheese evenly over the paper towels and let drain until thickened and creamy, about 1 hour, stirring a few times to redistribute.   Remove the cheese from the colander and discard the paper towels.

Preheat the broiler.  Trim the top and bottom of the eggplant, and use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel two parallel sides of the eggplant.  Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Brush both sides with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper.  Broil, turning once, until golden-brown, 10 to 12 minutes.  Set aside.

With the baking stone in the oven, preheat to 500 degrees for at least 30 minutes.

Combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, garlic, basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl.

Sprinkle a pizza peel or large sheet of parchment paper with cornmeal and stretch the dough into a 12-inch circle.  Brush the outer edges of the dough with olive oil.  Spread the ricotta mixture over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge (I actually ended up using my fingers to spread it).

Carefully slide the pizza onto the stone and bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and quickly but carefully arrange the eggplant slices on top, overlapping them somewhat to form a flowerlike design.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, season with additional pepper, and continue baking until the crust begins to brown in spots, an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and allow to cool 1 to 2 minutes to allow the cheese to solidify.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PPQ: Sticky Fingers Bars

This week's Project Pastry Queen recipe is a doozy.  I have been drooling over these for years now, but for some reason couldn't ever get around to making them.  And it is most definitely one of the most decadent recipes I've ever made.  You start with a shortbread crust that is dotted with chopped peanuts.  Top it with chopped Snickers bars.  Top that with a sweet and gooey filling that's reminiscent of pecan pie filling.  Finish with a layer of peanut butter, more peanuts, and finally, a drizzle of chocolate.  So yeah, pretty intense.

The good news is, for as many components as they have, they couldn't be easier to put together.  Though maybe that should be bad news. 

Tara of Smells Like Home has the full recipe posted on her blog.  Thanks Tara - I'll see you in two days for BlogHer Food!!  (Is anyone else going??)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Steakhouse Mushroom Burgers with Creamed Spinach Sauce

We love burgers, so I'm always on the lookout for fun new recipes and ideas.  This burger is inspired by a steakhouse menu.  It is ground sirloin, mixed with sauteed mushrooms and spices, and topped with a creamy, spinach sauce.  Served open-faced on a piece of grilled Texas toast, this is definitely a fork-and-knife burger.

We all really liked these burgers, and Caroline especially loved dipping hers in the spinach sauce.  This is definitely a little bit heavier fare than we normally eat, but paired with a green salad or some grilled vegetables, it balances out nicely.  And since it is a little fancier than a typical burger, this is a great option to serve company.

Steakhouse Mushroom Burgers
adapted from Cuisine Tonight:  Grilling
makes 4 burgers
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground sirloin
  • 1 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp minced fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  •   4 slices buttered Texas Toast
  • shredded Parmesan
Creamed Spinach Sauce
makes 2 cups
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • pinch cayenne
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 4 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 Tbs grated Parmesan
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Preheat the grill to medium-high.

In a medium saute pan, saute the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Cook until the mushrooms begin to brown, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the sirloin with 1 tablespoon oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper, mustard, herbs, and mushroom mixture.  Gently mix to combine using a fork or your hands.  Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each portion into a patty.

Scrape the grate clean and brush with the remaining tablespoon of oil.  Grill the burgers until cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the burgers from the grill and cover to keep warm.  Grill the bread 1-2 minutes per side, until lightly browned.

To make the spinach sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3-4 minutes.  Stir the flour into the onions and cook 1 minute.

Whisk in the half-and-half, broth, salt, cayenne, and nutmeg.  Bring sauce to a simmer, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes, until it begins to thicken.

Add the spinach, stirring until wilted.  Mix in the Parmesan and lemon juice, and add more half-and-half if the sauce has thickened too much.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top each slice of bread with a burger, spinach sauce, and garnish with Parmesan.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Few Announcements...

Sorry, no food today!  I just have a few quick announcements.

First off, I finally purchashed my own domain!  You can now find me at  My old blogspot address will still redirect here, but not forever.  So if you have me in your google reader or are a subscriber, please change your feed to my new address.

Secondly, I finally joined the cool kids and created a Facebook page for Pink Parsley.  Click here to like me and view the page if you are so inclined.  Hopefully it will be another great avenue for discussing food, recipes, and thoughts.

Thanks so much!  More food tomorrow, I promise!

Piña Colada Cupcakes

Over the course of two years, Joey and I went to over 20 weddings.  And we were probably invited to twice that many. There was one particular weekend when we were invited to 3 weddings!  So now that a few years have passed, it's baby time.  In our group of friends, there are 5 of us who are pregnant, so at get togethers and parties, it's become the norm to serve a fun mocktail.  However, at a recent shower I helped to host, we thought it would be fun to have a cocktail-inspired cupcake.

Frozen drinks are not typically my first choice, but I do love pina coladas.  These cupcakes are inspired by the popular drink.  I started with a coconut cake, brushed it with pineapple syrup, and topped them with pineapple Swiss meringue buttercream.  Oh, this buttercream.  It might be my favorite frosting I've ever made.  The pineapple flavor comes through nicely without being cloyingly sweet.  And using the meringue buttercream over traditional buttercream allows the pineapple to shine instead of being overpowered by confectioner's sugar.  It tastes so light that some people thought it was actually a whipped cream frosting. 

As a few sidenotes, I added a little coconut rum to the cupcakes; if I hadn't been making them for pregnant women I would have added some to the frosting as well.  I'm also giving a range for the amount of pineapple puree.  I started with a cup, then just kept adding it until I was happy with the taste.  Also take note that the pineapple puree needs to be made the night before, so plan accordingly.  I have made these coconut cupcakes before, and while they were great for a few days after making them, this time they seemed to dry out faster.  Not sure if I overbaked them a bit, the weather caused it, or what, but I just thought I'd mention that they are best within the first day or two of being baked.

I know many people are scared of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but it really is forgiving, and once you make it a few times it is pretty foolproof.  Here is a great tutorial from Sweetapolita with lots of tips and tricks to make your's perfect every time!

Piña Colada Cupcakes
makes 24-30 cupcakes

Coconut Cupcakes
  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons coconut rum or light rum
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 7 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut
 Preheat the oven to 325.  Line 2 muffin pans with liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low, and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.  Add the vanilla and rum and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in three additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined, and fold in 7 ounces of the coconut.

Fill each liner 3/4 full with batter.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
Pineapple Puree
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and chopped
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil.  Add the pineapple, and return to a boil without stirring.

Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit overnight.

Drain the syrup, reserving for the cupcakes, and puree the pineapple until smooth.

Pineapple Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups pineapple puree
  • 1-2 Tbs coconut rum (optional)

Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a small pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly by hand until the sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the stand mixer and fit with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, mix until still (but not dry) peaks form.  Continue mixing until until the mixture is light, fluffy, glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the mixing bowl), about 10 minutes.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well between each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium, and mix until the buttercream comes together (it can take up to several minutes, but it will come together eventually).  Switch to the paddle attachment and beat at medium-low speed to remove air bubbles, about 2 minutes.  Gradually add the pineapple puree and rum, and mix to combine.

Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the pineapple syrup.  Frost as desired and garnish with additional coconut flakes and a cherry.

Source:  cupcakes adapted from The Barefoot Contessa; Pineapple puree from Desserts for Breakfast;
Swiss Meringue Buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart's Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baked Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese Dip

I have an obsession with both Mexican food and Southern food.  My weekly menu could easily be Mexican and Southern food 7 days a week.  But more specifically, I love it when a traditional dish is given a Mexican or southern spin.  So imagine my delight when I came across this recipe for Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese.  It's a traditionally southern dish, that's given a Southwest makeover - genius!

Actually I should amend my above statement to say that I really have a major obsession with pimiento cheese.  Love love love it!  On a sandwich, mixed with bacon, spread on some crackers, spread on a fried green tomato, on a burger, deep-fried, you name it.  And this dip is no exception.  Instead of exclusively using cheddar, it uses a mixture of cheddar and Pepperjack.  Extra herbs and spices play up the Tex-Mex flavor, and tortilla chips are the vessel of choice for shoveling it into your mouth. 

We had some friends over for dinner last week, and since it was Cinco de Mayo week, I wanted to do something Mexican-inspired.  I decided to go with a Mexican-Southern fusion menu, and this dip was a perfect way to start the meal.  We pretty much demolished half a dish of this in no time flat. This is also incredibly low-maintenance and can be prepped ahead of time, which makes it an ideal dish for entertaining or bringing to a potluck.

Baked Tex-Mex Pimiento Cheese
inspired by Southern Living, January 2011
  •  1/2cup mayonnaise
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature (reduced fat is fine)
  • 3/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped finely
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 8 oz Pepperjack cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup minced scallion (2-3 scallions)
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • tortilla chips, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dip, reserving 1 tablespoon of each cheese for topping.  Mix well with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Adjust seasonings if necessary, and spoon mixture into the baking dish.

Top with the reserved cheese and bake 20-25 minutes, until hot and bubbly.  Garnish with additional cilantro, and serve with tortilla chips.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

PPQ: Blackberry Pie Bars

It's my turn again for Project Pastry Queen.  I flipped through the book and chose these bars immediately.  I had actually made them two years ago, but adapted them to be Raspberry Pie Bars.  I remember loving them, but sadly I never blogged them.  I've been wanting to make them ever since, but just hadn't gotten around to it... what with all the other decadent, delicious recipes I've been making from The Pastry Queen.

While these are called "pie" bars, I don't really think they were like pie.  To me, it was more like a double-crusted crumble, but that's okay too.  They were still super yummy - buttery pastry, sweet filling, crumbly topping.  They are a cinch to throw together, and are a great way to use up frozen berries - you know, to make room for more berries in your freezer this summer.

While I was tempted to recreate the raspberry bars from before, I stuck with blackberries this time.  I added a little lemon zest and almond extract to the filling, and I think it brightened up the flavor nicely.  I served these as a simple dessert with vanilla ice cream when we had friends over for dinner, and I've eaten one every day since.  As much as I liked them warm and fresh from the oven, they are equally delicious straight from the fridge.

Check out Project Pastry Queen to see how everyone else liked these bars, and come back next week - we are making another bar recipe - one that I've been drooling over for years now!

Blackberry Pie Bars
adapted from Rebecca Rather, The Pastry Queen

Crust and Topping
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
Fruit Filling
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • pinch salt
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 (16-oz) packages frozen blackberries, thawed and drained
To make the crust and topping, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to mix.  Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and add to the flour mixture.  Process until the butter is evenly distributed but the mixture is still crumbly, 30-60 seconds.

Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to use as the topping.  Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan, and bake 12-15 minutes.  Cool for at least 10 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar, sour cream, flour, salt, lemon zest, and almond extract.  Gently fold in the berries and spoon the mixture over the crust.  Sprinkle the remaining flour mixture evenly over the filling, and bake 45 to 55 minutes.

Cool at least 1 hour before cutting into bars, or scoop out of the pan to serve cobbler-style.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tropical Fruit Sorbet

Now that it's May, it is officially ice cream season!  And sorbet, frozen yogurt, and sherbet.  Since I'm yearning to be back at the beach, tropical fruit sorbet seemed like a great option for this batch - plus, it's slightly healthier than ice cream, it's full of fruit, and there are not egg yolks (which means Caroline can also partake).  Win - win - win.

I pretty much used David Lebovitz's version as a jumping board, and made my own tweaks and additions.  Most notably, my grocery store doesn't carry passion fruit juice, so I just substituted with more orange juice.  This was a really simple recipe:  just throw everything in the blender, chill, and freeze.  This was a fun recipe to make with Caroline (I find myself saying this more and more), and it was even more fun to eat!  A taste of the tropics - who wouldn't want that?

Tropical Fruit Sorbet
greatly adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop
makes about 1 quart
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled 
  • 1/2 pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 1 mango, peeled and cored
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs coconut rum
  • juice of half a lime
Cut the banana, pineapple, and mango into small chunks.  Add to the blender, along with the orange juice, sugar, rum, and lime juice.  Puree until very smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

This might be the weirdest method I've ever used when cooking.  I always joke with my cooking friends that Cook's Illustrated just likes to mess with their readers - like "let's add this crazy step and see if people actually do it!"  I for one would just like to know how they come up with this stuff.  Take this recipe for example.  The good folks at CI wanted to "rescue" them from a fate of overcooked and dry meat.  They acknowledged that the problem is that chicken is too lean to hold up to the high heat of the grill.  Since these are bbq glazed, bacon seems like a natural pairing with the chicken, but they struggled with how to incorporate it.  After trying several methods, they finally,somehow, figured out that the best method is to - get this - pulse the bacon in a food processor to form a paste, then coat the chicken with it.  Crazy, right?!

But it worked!  This was definitely one of the best dinners we'd had in a while, and Joey and Caroline both seemed to agree.  The bacon does keep the chicken from drying out, while simultaneously giving it a smoky flavor.  Joey proclaimed this to be one of his favorite dinners, so I have a feeling I'll be making bacon paste all summer!

Grilled Barbecued Chicken Kebabs
adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May/June 2011
serves 6

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup molasses or honey
  • 2 Tbs grated onion (grated on the large wholes of a box grater)
  • 2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 Tbs Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar
  • hot sauce, to taste
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs sweet paprika
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • skewers
For the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and reaches a ketchup-like consistency and is reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Transfer 1/2 cup of the sauce to a small bowl and set aside to serve with the cooked chicken.

For the kebabs, toss the chicken with the salt in a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.

For a gas grill, turn all the burners to high, close the lid, and heat 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels.  Combine the paprikas, sugar, and cayenne in a small bowl.

Process the bacon in a food processor until a smooth paste forms, 30-45 seconds, scraping down the bowl  twice during processing.  Add the bacon paste and the spice mixture to the chicken and toss to coat using your hands or a rubber spatula.  Thread the meat onto skewers, rolling or foldin meat as necessary to maintain 1-inch cubes.

Scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush.  Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burners.  Place the kebabs over the hot burner and grill, covered, turning one-quarter of a turn every 2 minutes or so, until well browned and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes.

Brush the top surface of the kebabs with 1/4 cup sauce; flip and cook until the sauce is browned in spots, about 1-2 minutes.  Flip again and brush with remainign 1/4 cup sauce; continue to cook until browned in spots and cooked through, about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from grill and allow to rest 5 minutes.  Serve, passing barbecue sauce separately.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Goat Cheese & Strawberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Lately I have been really obsessed with goat cheese.  Or to be more specific, goat cheese + fruit.  Most often I just add both to a salad, but there have been a few stand-out dishes that were a bit more involved.  I came across this recipe in Southern Living a few months ago, and I've been waiting for a chance to make it ever since.  During strawberry season, we always have at least one big container of strawberries in the fridge, yet somehow I just kept forgetting about this.  But one day when pickings were slim for lunch, I was going to just make a snack plate of some fruit and cheese, when I suddenly remembered this recipe.  Luckily, I had pretty much everything on hand, so I excitedly threw this together.

And I absolutely LOVED it.  Given my love for all things fruit and goat cheese, that should come as no shock though.  And while I loved the cheese and the strawberries together, what made this sandwich killer was the pepper jelly.  Just a hint of spice mixed with the sweet strawberries and tangy goat cheese just put it over the top.  This made an awesome lunch, and one I plan to enjoy as often as possible during strawberry season.

Want more goat chese?
Blueberry-Goat Cheese Focaccia
Grilled Asparagus with Rosemary and Goat Cheese
Peppered Pear and Goat Cheese Scones
Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Spicy Pecans
Herb and Goat Cheee Biscotti
Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Goat Cheese and Strawberry Grilled Cheese
adapted from Southern Living, March 2011
makes 3 sandwiches
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, softened
  • butter
  • 6 slices bread
  • 5 tsp red pepper jelly
  • 3/4-1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  • 6 large basil leaves, sliced thin
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat.

Spread one side of each slice of bread lightly with butter.  Flip the bread over, spread half the slices with pepper jelly, and top with half the goat cheese.  Lay the strawberry slices in a single layer, sprinke with basil, salt, and pepper, then spread goat cheese on the remaining slices of bread.  Top the strawberry side with the reamining bread.

Cook sandwiches 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden-brown.  Serve.

Monday, May 2, 2011

PPQ: Gulf Coast Shrimp Quesadillas

As I mentioned a previous post, I recently went on vacation to the Gulf of Mexico with Joey's parents.  We had a great time, Caroline had the time of her life playing in the sand, and we of course enjoyed delicious seafood all week.  No matter what we were having for dinner, we almost always bought some fresh shrimp to eat as well.  And even though I knew this recipe was coming up, for some reason I didn't think to make these quesadillas while we had access to the freshest seafood imaginable.  Instead, I made them a few days after we returned - kind of a "farewell to our vacation" meal of sorts.

I actually made and posted this recipe back in the very early days of my blog.  So while I thought of just linking to the recipe, I decided the post could use some updating and the picture could definitely use an upgrade! However, one thing that didn't change was how much we enjoyed this meal.

I still made a few changes, just as I had before:

- added a little tequila to the onions and peppers - because even though I can't drink it, I still like to cook with it
- chopped the shrimp before adding to the tortillas
- did the "folded quesadilla" method verses using 2 tortillas
- used chile powder instead of cayenne for the shrimp rub
- decreased the Siracha - for my 2 year old's palate

I also served these with guacamole, which I highly recommend.  So if you are still looking for a Cinco de Mayo idea and want something fresh and bright, definitely check out these quesadillas!

Shawnda has the full recipe posted on her blog, Confections of a Foodie Bride.  

If you are wanting more Cinco de Mayo ideas, check out some of these recipes - they are all favorites in our house!

Vegetable Enchiladas
Chipotle-Grilled Pork Tacos
Mexican Cherry Tomato Salad
Baked Chicken Taquitos
Chorizo, Potato, and Mushroom Tacos
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Spicy Citrus Shrimp Tacos
Ground Beef Tacos (the home-fried shells make these tacos)
Mexican Corn Salad
Strawberry, Mango, and Avocado Salad
Blackberry-Thyme Margaritas