Monthly Archives: January 2014

Snow Ice Cream

When life gives you a snow day, what do you do? You make snow ice cream, right?

Snow Ice Cream

I’ll preface this by saying I grew up in the Northeast US so snow was a normal part of life in the winter. Sure, we had plenty of snow days and 2 hour delays but it wasn’t really newsworthy. Well, maybe it was since the media is always looking for something to report but other than a few distinct blizzards, it is all a blur of sledding, shoveling snow, and drinking hot cocoa. However I moved away from New England almost a decade ago and haven’t really been involved in a snow situation since. So, living in the south, I was actually a bit excited to receive the gift of 8 inches of snow this week and of course having a couple of bonus days off from work is always a plus.

Snow Ice Cream

However being cooped up with a toddler can be a bit of a challenge. There is only so much Sesame Street you can should watch (though my son would beg to differ). We played with bubbles and read lots of books (having Dr. Seuss’ ABC book memorized isn’t a problem, right?). We took a walk in the snow to visit neighbors and again to pick up the mail and attempted to make a snow angel which was a bit of a fail. We watched the snowplows from the windows which fascinated my son. But the biggest success was bringing the snow inside. Yesterday it resulted in an impromptu snowball fight (in the kitchen thank goodness), instigated by my son, not me. Today I decided to step it up a notch and make snow ice cream. Yes the “recipes” are all over the Pinterest world so this isn’t too creative, but hey, when you haven’t seen snow for a decade and your toddler is getting cabin fever, what else can you do?

So I went outside and scooped up a large bowlful of clean snow. While I let my son have at most of it with spoons and measuring cups, I took 5 or 6 cups of it and put it in the bowl of my mixer, and added in a cup of skim milk, about 1/4 cup sugar, and some vanilla and creamed it all together with the paddle attachment.

You need to work fast and then eat even faster since the snow melts quickly but it’s worth the challenge. It tasted like delicious vanilla sorbet, a bit icier than standard ice cream but then again by the time I grabbed the snow today it had already melted a bit and then frozen again so it wasn’t quite as fluffy as it was earlier on. My son loved it! After eating his own bowl he moved on to mine and then my husband’s. For older kids I’d recommend mixing it with a spoon so they can be more involved and let them do all the measuring too but for us, this was a perfect activity on this snow day. And now, back to the grind tomorrow…

Snow Ice Cream

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Snow Ice Cream

Yield: 4-5 servings

5-6 cups of clean unpacked snow

1 cup skim milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment mix together all of the ingredients until creamy. Serve and eat right away. Make your snow day a happy day!

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Nutella Hot Chocolate with Hazelnut Whipped Cream

With this cold spell we’ve been having lately, I was craving hot chocolate. In the interest of time and not filling up my sink with more dishes to wash, I seriously considered stopping at a Starbucks drive through or (gasp) opening up a package of Swiss Miss. But that’s just not like me. I can’t never really do anything simple. Though actually, this creamy chocolate-y hazelnut beverage actually only has 2 ingredients on its own. Add the whipped cream and you’re only up to 6 ingredients total. So not too complicated to get my chocolate fix.

Nutella Hot Chocolate with Hazelnut Whipped Cream

For those of you who don’t know, Nutella is a delicious chocolate flavored hazelnut cream, with a peanut butter-like consistency. It’s so smooth and sweet and I can eat it by the spoonful! I first discovered Nutella in high school when we had to prepare French “cuisine” for my French class. I was then fortunate enough to spend a month in Paris in college. Nutella with a fresh baguette was my breakfast every day and I had my share of crepes noisette (noisette=hazelnut, which meant the crepes were spread with Nutella) from street vendors. Since then I’ve had a love of Nutella. I try to stay away from the stuff since despite what their commercials on tv say, it’s really not part of a healthy breakfast. But nonetheless, I give in now and then. It just so happened that I bought a big jar of Nutella last week in preparation for a future recipe I’m creating (stay tuned…) so when the hot chocolate craving struck, I was already armed and ready with my trusty Nutella to make Nutella hot chocolate.

Nutella Hot Chocolate

It was easy really, I warmed up skim milk and Nutella in a saucepan on the stove on medium heat, stirring regularly to fully combine them. Yup that’s it. For the whipped cream, I beat together heavy cream, hazelnut and vanilla extracts, and a bit of sugar with the whisk attachment in my mixer. Since I wasn’t making a ton of whipped cream, it only took a minute or two before stiff peaks formed. If you don’t have hazelnut extract, just omit and you’ll have vanilla whipped cream which will be just as delicious mixed with Nutella. Then I poured the hot chocolate into my mug, topped with the whipped cream, and enjoyed a heavenly Nutella flavored beverage. Warm your insides too, and treat yourself to Nutella Hot Chocolate with Hazelnut Whipped Cream!

Nutella Hot Chocolate

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Nutella Hot Chocolate with Hazelnut Whipped Cream

Yield: 2 servings

For the hot chocolate:

2 cups skim milk

1/4 cup Nutella

Directions:

Whisk together the milk and Nutella in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat until combined and thoroughly warmed. Pour into a mug, top with whipped cream, and serve.

For the whipped cream:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon hazelnut extract

1/8 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

Directions:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the heavy cream, extracts, and sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Top the hot chocolate with the whipped cream and enjoy.

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Three Bean Chili & Homemade Chili Seasoning

The Super Bowl is almost here and while football is not really my thing, any “holiday” where food features prominently is worth celebrating, I suppose. Chili is certainly a popular football game day dish judging by the zillion or so recipes for chili I found on a Pinterest search. So why is mine worth a try? Well, your whole family can eat and enjoy it. Your mouth will not be ablaze with the fire of 10 million habaneros, however your taste buds won’t be bored either. There is a touch of spice, yes, but the spice level was more than tolerable enough for my toddler, yet the chili was full of flavor thanks to my original spice blend. Also, this chili is quick to make. It doesn’t have to sit in a crockpot all day while you’re waiting to eat. You can certainly let it simmer on the stove for a bit to let the flavors meld or keep it in a crockpot on warm after cooking but if you want to make this chili after work for a weeknight dinner, no problem.

Three Bean Chili with Homemade Chili Seasoning

So here goes…brown ground beef, onion, and chopped bell pepper in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Drain off any excess grease then add in tomatoes and the three beans. To be clear, that’s three types of beans: black beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. Then it’s time to add the spice.

Three Bean Chili

The original version of this recipe called for store bought chili seasoning. I opted to create my own. Another Pinterest search revealed a number of posts on homemade chili seasonings so I took the the best from each of them and ended up using dried minced onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, chili powder, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and some brown sugar to balance out the smokiness of the paprika.

Homemade Chili Seasoning

Homemade Chili Seasoning

After all the ingredients were in the pot, I brought the chili to a boil, then let it simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish with whatever toppings you prefer. I just like crushed tortilla chips for the crunchy contrast but sour cream, shredded cheese, or diced jalapenos would all work great. Enjoy the game!

Side note: this recipe serves about 8-10 but if you’re not feeding a crowd, the leftovers freeze really well. Just thaw in the fridge overnight then reheat in a pot on the stove.

Three Bean Chili

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Three Bean Chili

Yield: serves 8-10

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 red or green bell pepper, chopped

2 – 16 ounce cans dark red kidney beans

2 – 16 ounce cans pinto beans

2 – 16 ounce cans black beans

1 – 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles

1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste

homemade chili seasoning (one batch, or to taste) or 2 packages store bought chili seasoning

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed

crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, or shredded cheese to garnish

Directions:

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the ground beef, onion, and bell pepper. Drain excess grease.

2. Add the beans, tomatoes and tomato paste, chili seasoning, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil.

3. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

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Homemade Chili Seasoning

Yield: enough seasoning for 2 pounds of beef/8 servings of chili

2 tablespoons dried minced chopped onions

1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Mix together all the spices in a bowl. Use right away for chili or store in a sealed jar for future use.

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Chinese Almond Cookies

Chinese New Year is this week. This year is the year of the Horse. Now, I’m not Chinese but I am all about celebrating any holiday that involves good cuisine, plus I think their zodiac characteristics are interesting. I was born in the year of the Sheep. Supposedly that means I’m wise, gentle, and compassionate (hopefully true) but also a worrier (definitely true) and weak-willed and puzzled about life (not true at all, I’m fairly outspoken and very determined and driven). My baby was born in the year of the Dragon. Apparently this has a high reputation in Chinese culture and I hope for him, that this bodes well for his future success.

Chinese Almond Cookies

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while (well it’s only been around for 3 months so no one has been reading it for a long while), you may have noticed that I post a lot of recipes featuring Asian style ingredients and flavors. We are huge fans of the varied cuisines from all across Asia and since having a baby we don’t get out quite as much as we used to so we try to replicate these meals at home. One thing I miss about the Chinese buffets we used to eat at from time to time was the almond cookies for dessert. After a heavy meals, the almond flavored cookies always hit the spot. They’re less bland than fortune cookies but aren’t overly filling to tip you over from pleasantly full to overstuffed, as can so easily happen at a buffet. These homemade cookies are a bit cakier than those at the buffets however they’re still nice and crispy.

Chinese Almond Cookies

I’m celebrating the Chinese New Year with a batch of these Almond Cookies. And maybe some Lo Mein or Asian Glazed Chicken Wings while I ponder my fate after being born in the Year of the Sheep. Under what Chinese zodiac sign were you born under? Do the characteristics fit?

Chinese Almond Cookies

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Chinese Almond Cookies (adapted from Great Cookies)

Yield: approximately 40 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of water

40 whole blanched almonds (about 1/3 cup)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 2 cookie sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the shortening and 3/4 cup sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat to combine, then add the almond extract.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until combined.

5. Place rounded walnut-sized balls of dough (heaping teaspoonfuls) onto the cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten slightly with your palm to make a 1 1/2 inch round.

6. Brush the cookies with the egg white and water wash. Top with a blanched almond and lightly sprinkle with the remaining granulated sugar.

7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

Per cookie: 88 calories, 5 grams fat (calculated from myfitnesspal.com; all nutrition information is approximate)

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Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

Hello and welcome to National Peanut Butter Day! Really, there is a food holiday for every day of the year and while it would be super fun to celebrate all of them with you, unfortunately a busy job and an even more busy toddler won’t allow that right now. But to me, National Peanut Butter Day can’t be missed so we will observe it accordingly. My favorite peanut butter dishes include anything with chocolate and peanut butter, red curry peanut noodles and any other noodle dish with peanut butter, and heck, just eating peanut butter straight from the jar (my son seems to have picked up on that habit already. Oops). But the epitome of classic peanut butter-ness is that childhood standard, peanut butter and jelly. I still love to bring PB&J to work for lunch every so often. The savory creamy peanut butter mixed with sweet and smooth jelly is a perfect melding of flavors. So why not in a muffin form? Yes, why not? I love making my family muffins for breakfast on the weekend and trying out new recipes. PB&J muffins sounded like a great plan.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

I used both all-purpose and whole wheat flour, allowing for a hearty bread-like flavor to the muffins. I combined the flours with the other dry ingredients, then added milk, creamy peanut butter, egg, vanilla, and melted butter and stirred until just moistened.

After filling the muffin tins halfway…

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

I dropped a spoonful of jelly onto each muffin. The peach jelly on the left was homemade by one of our friends. So good! Hopefully she’ll give me the recipe so I can share it with you.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

I then covered them with the remaining batter.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

I baked them for 20 minutes, then was able to enjoy peanut butter & jelly in one perfect bite of muffin. Just a hint…proceed with caution when digging in…the jelly stays hot for a while. Then close your eyes and chew. You’ll think you are chowing down on a regular old PB&J but surprise, it’s a muffin!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins

Follow The Dinner Pages–I have another amazing peanut butter recipe coming soon, this one with CHOCOLATE!! So stay tuned!

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Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins (adapted from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008)

Yield: 12 muffins

nonstick cooking spray

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups skim milk

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (the original recipe recommended against using “natural” peanut butter–it said it wouldn’t rise adequately. I have 5 different types of peanut butter at my house but for this recipe I used Peter Pan honey roasted creamy peanut butter instead of natural)

1 large egg

2 tablespoons butter, melted, and slightly cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup jelly/jam of choice (I used some strawberry and some peach)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and coat the muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, peanut butter, egg, butter, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir together until just moistened.

4. Fill each muffin cup about halfway with batter. Spoon approximately 1 teaspoon of jelly atop each muffin. Cover the muffins with the remaining batter.

5. Bake for 20 minutes. The muffin will spring back lightly when touched. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

Per serving: 188 calories, 7 grams fat (calculated from myfitnesspal.com; all nutrition information is approximate)

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White Chocolate Macademia Blondies

We’ll end this week’s tour de Hawaii with one of my favorites, white chocolate macademia cookies. I’ve always loved the white chocolate macademia nut combo and when someone once brought me back one of those tins of Mauna Loa macademias from their Hawaiian vacation, I was hooked. Did you know you can buy all kinds of macademia flavors at Costco in Hawaii? I loved the local flair. Yes, we went to Costco on our Hawaiian vacation, just to check it out…my husband got a Hawaiian shirt there and everything.

Costco Kauai

On our way to the airport when departing from Moloka’i, we stopped off at the macademia nut farm. There we learned the process by which their macademias are picked, opened, and roasted and had the opportunity to dig in ourselves.

Macademia Nut Farm

Those macademias, straight from their shells, were delicious…though made me appreciate the already cracked, roasted, and salted ones a whole lot more!

macademia nut farm

Macademia Nut Farm

So there is definitely a fond place in my heart for macademia nuts and I knew I wanted to highlight them in my last post about Hawaii (for now…I actually still have a few more Hawaiian cookbooks to cover later, maybe next year when I need a mid-winter pick-me-up).

Thus, these White Chocolate Macademia Blondies were created. Meanwhile, I didn’t realize it at the time when planning this post at the end of my Hawaii themed week, but today is National Blonde Brownie Day. So these blondies are not only delicious…but it was fate!

White Chocolate Macademia Blondies

I took the recipe I used for White Chocolate Peppermint Blondies and in my Black and White Brownie Blondie Swirls, and changed it up just a bit. I used only vanilla extract instead of a splash of peppermint extract and I mixed white chocolate chips and roasted macademia nuts in with the batter as well as pressing them onto the top of the bars before baking them. Quick and easy…only one bowl needed, so easy clean up too!

White Chocolate Macademia Blondies

I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief vacation through some Hawaiian themed dishes. I still have a few Hawaiian cookbooks waiting to be experienced so we’ll revisit Hawaii someday soon. In the meantime, be sure to share some of these treats with your Ohana! Until next time, Aloha…

White Chocolate Macademia Blondies______________________________

White Chocolate Macademia Blondies

Yield: 8×8-inch pan (about 9 large blondies)

nonstick cooking spray

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 large egg

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white chocolate chips, divided

3/4 cup macademia nuts (I used roasted and salted), divided

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8×8 inch cake pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray.

2. In a mixing bowl, mix together the butter, egg, sugar, and vanilla with a fork. Then stir in the flour until just combined. Add in 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of macademia nuts.

3. Pour the batter in the pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Press the remaining chocolate chips and macademia nuts on top of the batter.

4. Bake for 23-25 minutes (23 minutes for very moist and chewy/25 minutes for crispier on the outside but still very moist and chewy inside). Let cool in pan before slicing.

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Pineapple Inside Out Cake

We’ve had Garlic Edamame for an appetizer and Pineapple Curry Stir Fry for dinner. The next stop on our Hawaiian journey is dessert. Yum. And of course I had to include pineapple once more because we are talking about Hawaii, after all. We visited the Dole Plantation on both of our vacations to Hawaii. We love the Dole Whip (which incidentally you can also get in Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom in Disney World) and had a great time planting pineapples and going through their huge maze.

Dole Plantation

So I wanted to feature pineapple once again. This recipe was originally titled Pineapple Squares. I made it expecting a shortbread-type cookie crust topped with pineapple, and initially I was a bit disappointed with the outcome because that’s not really remotely close to what came out of the oven. However after tasting my creation, my disappointment abated, because I still ended up with a delicious pineapple treat.

#pineapple #Hawaii #aloha

This cake tastes almost like a pineapple upside down cake, however all the pineapple is mixed in to the batter, making it what I will call “Pineapple Inside Out Cake.” It’s a sweet delicious end to any Hawaii themed meal or on its own. It is super fast to prep too so you can quickly whip up a cake and get it into the oven while making the rest of dinner. Just cream together the butter and sugar, then add in the eggs one at a time and then the dry ingredients. Last, add in the not-so-secret ingredient, drained crushed pineapple. Pour into a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Pineapple Inside Out Cake

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until cooked through. Just enough time to get the rest of dinner prepared.

Pineapple Inside Out Cake

Serve warm or cold, sprinkled with a little bit of confectioner’s sugar. Come back tomorrow for our final Hawaiian treat for the week. Hope the jet lag won’t be too rough when we come back home to reality…

Pineapple Inside Out Cake

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Pineapple Inside Out Cake (adapted from Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook)

Yield: one 9×13 inch cake

nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained

confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer on high speed. Add in the eggs one at a time. Add the the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, combining on medium speed.

2. Drain the pineapple and and add it to the mixing bowl. Combine on low-to-medium speed until fully mixed. Pour batter into a greased 9×13-inch baking pan.

3. Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes. The cake will appear golden brown on time and should be cooked through. Let cool and cut into individual pieces. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.

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Garlic Edamame

Have you ever gone to an Asian restaurant and enjoyed steamed edamame (soy beans) as an appetizer? They’re generally served still in pods and are delicious when lightly salted and a healthier alternative to fried eggrolls and such. It’s easy to get the same effect at home, just boil the edamame pods for about 10 minutes, lightly sprinkle with salt and that’s it. Use your teeth to get the individual edamames out from the pods. I’m not sure if the pods are really edible but they impart a lovely salted flavor when eaten like this. Edamame also make a tasty appetizer or side dish when entertaining. Serve them family style, and make sure to have extra empty bowls for people to deposit their empty edamame pods. You can even serve them alongside your chips and salsa and wings for game day.

Garlic Edamame

In exploring my Hawaiian cookbooks, I came across this recipe for Garlic Edamame and immediately knew it would be on my menu for the week. I love edamame and I really really love garlic and needed a side for the Pineapple Curry Stir Fry meal. So Garlic Edamame it was.

The soy beans are cooked in pods in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes as I described above, then drained. In the meantime, I prepared a compound butter, which is just butter with other added ingredients to provide extra flavor. I used a stick of butter and combined it with a healthy dose of garlic, some minced shallot, a touch of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce, some lemon juice, and a pinch of dried parsley. If your butter is at room temperature it will be easier to combine. Use your hands to get all the flavors melded, if you need to…that’s what I had to do since my butter was a little cold and the paddle attachment for my mixer was in the sink.

Then I melted the compound butter in a large wok over medium heat, and added olive oil and even more garlic, sauteeing the garlic until it began to brown slightly. I tossed the cooked soy beans into the lovely garlicky sauce and finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Despite the quantity of garlic in this recipe, it wasn’t overwhelming at all. My husband, who does not favor garlic quite as much as I do (sorry, honey) enjoyed them with me, but you can definitely cut back on the garlic a bit if you’re not a fan. Try edamame for a game day snack, an appetizer at your next dinner party, or as a side with dinner and take it to a new level with Garlic Edamame. Make sure to share it with someone you love.

Garlic Edamame

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Garlic Edamame (adapted from Star Advertiser By Request 2)

2 pounds frozen soy beans (edamame) in pods

salt, for the boiling water

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

8-9 cloves garlic, minced, divided (can reduce amount if desired)

1 teaspoon minced shallot

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus more to taste

pinch of dried parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. Boil the edamame pods in well-salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Prepare the compound butter by combining the butter, 1 tablespoon of the minced garlic, shallot, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and a pinch of parsley in a bowl until the butter is slightly softened and all the ingredients are mixed evenly.

3. Melt the butter in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the remaining minced garlic and saute until the garlic starts to lightly brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the edamame. Toss to coat with the butter sauce. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

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Pineapple Curry Stir Fry

As we approach mid-winter, with its dreary gray cold days and heaps of snow in some parts of the country, it’s easy to dream about somewhere a bit more tropical than the east coast I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several wonderful vacations over the years but the tropical locale I’ve visited so far that stands out in my mind the most is our 50th state, Hawaii. My husband and I spent our first Hawaiian vacation exploring Oahu. We hit the typical tourist stops to include Pearl Harbor, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, Waikiki, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and hiking up Diamond Head (which turned out to be a crazy experience…but I’ve save that story for another day).

Hawaii

On our second trip to Hawaii, we first visited Moloka’i. I wanted to experience the old leprosy colony since I find the history fascinating and my husband agreed to it because we got to ride mules down sea cliffs, the highest sea cliffs in the world. Nerve wracking, to say the least, but totally worth it.

Molokai'i

My mule took me up and down this cliff!!

My mule took me up and down this cliff!!

Then we went island hopping on a cruise and got a taste for Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai’i. I look forward to getting back to Hawaii someday. Though not yet because the thought of that long of a flight with my little son induces a panic attack.

Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of Pacific Rim (Asian-American), Hawaiian regional, ethnic cooking from the multiple nationalities that make up the population, as well as local favorites and ends up being quite diverse in flavors and ingredients. It may be cliche but I made it my business to eat pineapple, in some form, every single day while vacationing in Hawaii. We even planted some at the pineapple plantation to help replenish the supply.

Gecko at Pineapple Plantation

I made sure to bring home a few cookbooks with me as souvenirs and this week, I’ll share several recipes I discovered from those books. Are they traditional Hawaiian cuisine? I’m not totally sure. But the flavors sure do remind me of a sunnier, warmer time. Aloha!

We’ll start with this Pineapple Curry Stir Fry showing off the local food (pineapple) and the Asian influence. There is some spice to this dish but it’s nicely tempered by the sweetness of the pineapple. We used tofu as the protein in this meal but boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into small chunks would work great as well. After cooking minced onion on low heat to sweat out the flavor, garlic, ginger, and several other spices (essentially creating your own curry mixture) are added in along with the tofu (or chicken). After it’s cooked slightly, it’s simmered on low until cooked through, then pineapple is added. Use fresh pineapple if you have it available but canned works just fine. Coconut milk (which also brings back Hawaiian memories…I did not know you could eat the skin of a coconut!), cashews, and a little cilantro are stirred in to finish it off and the curry is served over rice.

Pineapple Curry Stir Fry

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Pineapple Curry Stir Fry (adapted from Best of the Best from Hawaii)

Yield: serves 4

1 package of firm or extra firm tofu (or 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 yellow onions, finely minced

3 cloves garlic (about 2 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnmon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup water

fresh lemon juice, to taste (I used 1 tablespoon)

salt, to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon)

1 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned)

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup cashew nuts (I used salted but unsalted would work too)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

rice, for serving (optional)

Directions:

1. Drain the tofu and cut it into 1 inch cubes. Let sit on a plate lined with paper towels covered with more paper towels and another plate to get some of the liquid out. If using chicken, cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces.

2. In a large deep skillet, heat the oil over low heat and saute the onion until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and other spices to the skillet along with the tofu or chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the water, and lemon juice and salt to taste then cover the skillet and let simmer over low heat for 6-7 minutes.

4. Stir in the pineapple and let simmer for another 4 minutes.

5. Add in the coconut milk, cashews, and cilantro. Stir together and cook for 1 minute. Serve hot over rice.

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Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

Pizza is my favorite food. But surprisingly, cheese is not. If my pizza comes with anything other than mozzarella, I’m apt to peel it off. I was the child who refused to eat mac ‘n cheese. Despite my love of all things carb, I’d be unlikely to eat a bagel (even a delicious real NY style bagel) with cream cheese. I love to make cheesecake but after baking it, I don’t want to eat it, knowing all the cheese that went into its creation. You might notice that the is the very first recipe on this blog that even includes cheese. It can be a little challenging sometimes but overall I do fine without much cheese. Until now…

I had the opportunity to participate in the Improv Cooking Challenge this month and the two key ingredients that I had to include were cheese and crackers. So I thought long and hard about what I could make that I would want to eat afterwards. And my mind circled back to pizza, as it often does, since I loooove pizza. The cheese part was easy there, but how to get crackers into the dish? Ultimately, after a bit of brainstorming and some help from Pinterest, I settled on a graham cracker crust. Maybe a little out there for a cheese and crackers challenge, but it was SO.GOOD! I’d eat cheese and crackers in this form any day.

Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

I started off by baking graham crackers. Feel free to use store bought graham crackers for this recipe. When I make it again I’ll be likely to do that too since homemade graham crackers, while absolutely divine, do not make for a quick graham cracker pizza dough and I’m often under a time crunch. Once the graham crackers were ready…

Homemade Graham Crackers

…I moved on to actually making the pizza.

I dissolved yeast in warm water with some flour and let it stand to proof. After half an hour, I added more water, some olive oil, whole wheat flour, more all-purpose flour, and graham crackers crumbs and kneaded them together with the dough hook attachment on my electric mixer, until the dough was smooth, which took about 10 minutes. If the dough is really sticky, as mine was at first, it’s okay to add a little more all-purpose flour.

Once the dough is smooth, place it in a bowl and cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm location for an hour, until it has doubled in size. Punch down the dough (this part is very satisfying), remove it from the bowl, and let it rise for another half hour or so on a flat surface, still covered with a cloth or plastic wrap.

Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

I was able to make two 13 to 14 inch pizzas with this dough. The original recipe states it makes 4 to 5 individual pizzas. So divide the dough into however many pizzas you plan to make. I rolled it out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin and placed it onto pizza pans. My crust was about “NY style” in thickness. Not super thin and crispy, but definitely not deep dish either.

Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

Obviously pizza toppings are a personal decision. For us, I made margarita pizzas so I lightly brushed the crusts with olive oil, then topped each pizza with one sliced tomato each, 10 to 12 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese each, thinly sliced fresh basil, and some freshly ground black pepper.

Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

I baked the pizza in a 450F degree oven until the cheese was bubbly and browning and the crust was cooked through and golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. The crust was sweet thanks to the graham cracker crumbs, but not overly so. The whole wheat flour balanced out the graham crackers very well. And of course mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil are one of my favorite flavor combinations. So, despite being “cheese and crackers,” my cheese topped graham cracker crumb crusted pizza was a huge success in my book.

Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust

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Margarita Pizza with Graham Cracker Crust (crust inspired by Colavita.com)

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one envelope)

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

3/4 cups graham crackers crumbs (from homemade or store bought graham crackers)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

pizza toppings: for the pizzas seen here, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 24 ounces fresh mozzarella, 2 large tomatoes, 1/2 cup shredded basil, freshly ground black pepper (for 2 13-14 inch pizzas)

Directions:

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yeast, 1 cup warm water, and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour. Cover with a cloth and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes. It will appear slightly foamy.

2. Add the remaining water, salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and combine with the dough hook of the mixer. Then slowly add in the rest of the all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, and the graham cracker crumbs. Knead with the dough hook for about 10 minutes, until smooth. If it seems really sticky after 10 minutes, add a little more all-purpose flour until it is less tacky and more smooth.

3. Turn the kneaded dough into a mixing bowl lightly coated with nonstick spray or oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour.

4. Punch down the dough and let it rise on a floured surface for 30 minutes.

5. Separate the dough into as many pizzas as you want to make, rolled out each pizza crust on a floured surface and transfer to a pizza pan. Preheat the oven to 450F. If using a pizza stone, preheat the oven with the stone in it to 500F and transfer the pizza to the stone with a pizza peel after topping it.

6. Top the pizzas as desired. I brushed each crust with a tablespoon of olive oil then arranged the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese on top. I sprinkled them with the shredded basil then topped with about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

7. Bake in preheated oven until the crust is cooked through and the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 10-12 minutes.

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Check out the other “cheese and crackers” selections below:

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