Saturday, July 26, 2014

Broccoli Salad

We recently gave our patio a makeover, adding a large table, new chairs, an outdoor rug, and some plants that are barely alive just a week later (how am I so bad at gardening? Am I really going to kill a mint plant? Is that even possible?). Now, despite the sweltering heat and mosquitoes, we feel obligated to eat dinner outside most days of the week. Neither of us wants to be the first to throw in the towel and admit that it's just not that fun to sit outside and sweat while eating a hot dinner. It's a standoff.

Here's the new patio rug, just behind our foster dog, Freedom (adopt her!):

Until we reach a truce and can come back indoors, we are grilling up a storm. I've been making this broccoli salad as an excuse to come back inside and into the sweet, tender embrace of the air conditioning as an alternative to coleslaw with our cookouts.

The variety of flavors helps it to pair well with many types of dishes. It's a slightly sweet, creamy dish with raisins, toasted pumpkin seeds, and, of course, bacon. I like to serve the salad chilled, but room temperature is also an option (and if you're forced to eat enjoying dinner outdoors, you'll find that it is somewhat heated after just a few minutes on the deck).

Broccoli Salad
Serves 4-6

You will need:
  • 3 1/2 cups broccoli
  • 5 slices bacon (optional: 1 tsp. brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 2 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • drizzle oil and vinegar
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika, to taste
  • 1/3 cup low-sugar dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp. french viniagrette salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets (discard most of the stems). Place broccoli in a ceramic, microwave-safe bowl and add three tablespoons of water. Cover the bowl tightly (or top with a microwave-safe plate). Microwave on high for 2 1/2 minutes - just until broccoli is slightly steamed. 
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet on medium heat, toast pumpkin seeds, stirring slightly until they're just starting to brown and they become fragrant. Remove the pumpkin seeds from the skillet and set aside. 
  • Add bacon to the skillet, cook with a touch of brown sugar (optional) until somewhere between crunchy and soft. Remove from skillet and place on a plate with a paper towel to soak up excess grease. Set aside and crumble into small pieces when bacon is cool.
  • In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients. Serve chilled or at room temperature. 
  • This salad keeps for about four days when covered and chilled in the refrigerator. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mexican-Style Sauteed Corn Fritter

I pride myself in wasting very little food through innovative leftovers. This week has been a major challenge for me in that department, but I think I'm rising to the occasion. I brought the dinner to a birthday party last weekend with my friends for a post-lake cookout. My (genius) idea was to do soft tacos. I cooked everything ahead of time and let my friends pick out their fillings by setting up buffet-style. Guests wrapped their tacos in aluminum foil while we fired up the grill to heat them up, and we enjoyed dinner in under 15 minutes from declaring that we were hungry. Low maintenance, easy cleanup, and everyone can have exactly what they want! 

This post includes two recipes: the original (sauteed corn) and the Mexican-style corn fritter (which is what I did with the leftover sauteed corn). 

The sauteed corn was one of the condiments available for the soft tacos - scattered over the base layer of either the chorizo and ground beef mixture, the vegan option (sweet potato, black bean, and spinach), the plain grilled chicken option (for the purists), or the sauteed chicken, bacon, zucchini, and onion filling (Husband's favorite). 

We came home with a little bit of almost everything leftover, which is why this week has been something of a challenge. I've been making all sorts of creative dishes featuring just enough leftovers to keep reducing the supply, but not so much that we get completely bored eating the same thing all the time. 

The Mexican-style sauteed corn fritter is one of the better leftover recipes that came out of my waste-not, want-not week. It's a golden brown, deep fried fritter that is perfectly gritty (cornmeal) but still nice and smooth (topped with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole). 

There's spice (a jalapeno) and fresh veggie flavor (corn, bell pepper, and cilantro). I served the fritters on their own (there was no way we could wait before digging in), but if your family has some restraint, these would be great topped with a bit of bacon and a poached egg for brunch. 

Mexican-Style Sauteed Corn Fritter 
Yields 4-5 large corn fritters

For the corn fritter, you will need:
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. parsley
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce (to taste)
  • 1 3/4 cup sauteed corn (recipe below)
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Corn fritter method:
  • Stir together cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. 
  • Whisk egg lightly and fold in. Stir in cayenne pepper, parsley, milk, melted butter, hot sauce, and green onions. Add sauteed corn (see recipe below) and mix. 
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes. Drop 1/3 cup batter into the oil. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. 
  • Remove from eat and add a pinch of salt and pepper to each fritter. 
  • Serve hot. 

Sauteed Corn
For the sauteed corn, you will need:
  • 2 cans yellow corn (low sodium, if available), drained
  • 2/3 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 jalapeno (adjust to spice preference), seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sauteed corn method:
  • Heat a large skillet to medium. Add olive oil, garlic, and onion. Cook for two minutes, until onion becomes fragrant. 
  • Add corn, bell pepper, salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add jalapeno. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • When corn appears slightly toasted, remove from heat. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in cilantro. 
  • Serve on tacos, stir into guacamole, and on the side or as a topping to other Mexican dishes.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Soft Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

This recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies tastes like pure comfort to me. What does pure comfort taste like for me? Cashmere and Veuve. Vanilla, butter, oatmeal, toasted nuts, and brown sugar. So I combined all of these items (excusing the cashmere and Veuve) into a new cookie recipe. 

I also used a touch of sorghum molasses. If this ingredient is difficult to track down, I think you can probably omit the molasses and add a bit more brown sugar. Alternatively, replacing it with regular, old molasses would achieve the same deep, syrupy sweetness. 

Ketch seemed to think these cookies smelled pretty amazing. 

He's a handsome boy, but still not coming anywhere close to these cookies. Mops, on the other hand, thought it was a total snooze-fest. Yawn. 

When I bake for the two of us, I usually bake a dozen of the cookies at a time and reserve the rest of the dough for personal consumption to use later, so that we always have a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie when a craving strikes. 

Soft Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts
Makes 2 dozen 

You will need:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sorghum molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and oats. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, mix butter and sugars until grainy consistency forms. Stir in vanilla, egg, and sorghum molasses. 
  • Reduce the mixer to a lower setting and gradually stir in flour mixture (1/3 of the mixture at a time). Do not overmix. 
  • Add walnuts and chocolate chips. 
  • Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raspberry Cheesecake with Blueberry-Lemon Glaze

We had a fantastic Fourth of July, spending time for the first half of the day with friends on the lake to celebrate a birthday (what a fun day to have as a birthday, as an aside) and the second half of the day with family. 

The birthday girl's favorite treat is cheesecake. This preference is especially fortuitous for me, because my mother's indulgence of choice is also cheesecake. I made two cheesecakes and attempted to bring one to each of the two parties. 

Notice the word "attempted." I succeeded in arriving at the lake with cheesecake number one. It was devoured without the use of any plates. Forks were flying. That's the least hygienic best thing about having friends you've known for years - no need to stand on ceremony or silly notions like germs

Between parties we had a bit of a scramble to shower, change, and transition from lake-ready to fireworks-over-the-country-club ready. Husband offered to take the cheesecake and another dip that I made out to the car. Sweet boy. We did our last harried inventory check ("do you have the keys?" "wait, did we feed the dogs today?" "hang on - they eat every day?!" "where's the wine?") and loaded into the car. About a quarter of a mile down the road, I heard a splaaaaat. I looked over at Husband and he winced. The cheesecake, it seems, made it out to the car, but not inside the car. I think maybe I wasn't specific enough in my instructions. I slowed down and asked if he thought I should pull over. Maybe it landed safely? "It's gone, no, it's really gone, please do not turn around." 

So, although the poor little cheesecake didn't make it to its second appearance of the day, I can tell you that the morning cheesecake was a hit. My friends loved the taste of the cake. I loved the patriotic colors (red raspberries, white cheesecake, and blueberries) that were on-theme without being over-the-top. There's nothing more annoying to me than an overabundance of food coloring or food that is only served to accompany a theme. The food needs to be delicious, first, and if it happens to be on theme, well that's even better. 

I loved the blueberry-lemon glaze on top of the cheesecake. It's a simple, sweet-tart topping that adds great acidity to the creamy cheesecake. I recommend using fresh blueberries for the topping (i.e. not frozen). Although frozen raspberries aren't as flavorful as fresh ones, you can use either frozen or fresh for the cheesecake filling (but use fresh, if you can). 

When you make this dish, be sure that you have a few hours to let the cheesecake chill after baking before serving. I'm putting this disclaimer here because all too often I'm the victim of not reading the recipe through when I start and then discovering a fact like that to my dismay when I'm trying to serve the dish immediately. Now you've been warned. 

Raspberry Cheesecake with Blueberry-Lemon Glaze
Makes 2 pie-style cheesecakes or 1 springform pan cheesecake

For the cheesecake, you will need:
  • 2 graham cracker crusts in pie dishes (or 1 graham cracker crust for a springform pan recipe)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup raspberries
For the blueberry-lemon glaze, you will need:
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp. lemon extract
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • Preheat oven to 325. 
  • Beat cream cheese, goat cheese, honey, and sugar on medium speed until even consistency forms. 
  • Stir in flour, lemon zest, vanilla, and lemon juice on medium speed until well mixed. 
  • Separate one of the eggs and set aside the yolk for later. Fold egg white into the mixture. Add the remaining three whole eggs to the batter. 
  • Reduce speed to low (or use a spoon) and gently fold in raspberries. 
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes (pie-style cheesecakes) or 55 minutes (springform pan cheesecake). When the cheesecakes are baked, let stand for 20 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. 
  • To make the glaze, set a medium saucepan on the stove top. 
  • Add sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, water, and lemon extract and stir with a wooden spoon. 
  • Turn heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring constantly. When the mixture is clear and thickened, reduce heat slightly and add blueberries. 
  • Beat reserved egg yolk in a small bowl, then add to pan. Mix well until combined. Cook for an additional 1 minutes once the egg yolk has been added. 
  • Turn off heat and wait about 10 minutes before topping cheesecake with the glaze. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Peach Caprese

Summer grilling season is here and we are rejoicing at being able to to take the Sparkle Kitchen to the patio for the next few months. Citronella candles set the mood and the never-ending symphony of dogs barking at each other or making intense eye contact while panting provides the perfect ambiance while the mosquitoes treat themselves to an all-you-can-eat human buffet. Just kidding. I love summer and I love grilling. 

I wanted to share some of our recent grilling ideas to inspire your next dinner outside, although they aren't really "recipes", just methods that we really enjoy. 

Grilled Asparagus: trim asparagus stalks by about two inches. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and a little bit of Italian salad dressing with salt and pepper. Wrap in aluminum foil. Just before sealing shut, add a couple of tablespoons of pesto and some crumbled, fresh feta cheese. Check grill package a couple of times until asparagus is cooked to your liking (I like mine pretty blackened). 

Stuffed Jalapenos: remove the top from a fresh jalapeno (buy the largest you can find at the store). Scrape out all of the seeds. Rinse jalapeno out with water (to further dull the spice). In a separate bowl, mash together cream cheese, cheddar cheese and Cajun spice blend with a fork. Stuff into the jalapeno opening. Wrap each jalapeno with one slice of bacon (I recommend higher-quality, leaner bacon). Secure with a toothpick, or wrap in aluminum foil. Grill until bacon is cooked, about 20 minutes. 

Leftover bundles: when we have leftover meat from a restaurant, one of my favorite ways to refresh it into a new dinner is to make a grill package. We had leftover pulled pork from a Mexican restaurant. I added a touch of chopped jalapeno, lime, fresh cilantro, a sweet potato, spinach, and onions. I wrapped the mixture in aluminum foil and we cooked it until the flavors came together brilliantly and the liquid inside was bubbling. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Serve with sliced avocado. 

If you're like me, you need something to graze on while your food is grilling. This recipe is a basic caprese recipe that I modified with fresh peaches. I apologize that the photos have that odd, blurred effect. I don't believe any ghosts were involved in the making of this appetizer. 

I serve my caprese more like a salad, with basil as the leafy base.  The purpose of slicing the basil is to release some of its fragrance and flavor into the rest of the dish, rather than concentrating it into each bite. The clean, fresh basil aroma makes bruschetta or caprese, in my book. 

It's the perfect light appetizer that you can enjoy from your deck while backseat-grilling (Husband's endearing term for my "enthusiasm" and eagerness to share grill tips while he actually does the work. Sorry that I'm so helpful). 

Peach Caprese
Serves 2 as a salad

You will need:
  • 1 large, ripe peach
  • 10-12 cherub tomatoes (or other flavorful miniature type of tomato)
  • ~1/3 cup buffalo mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. each olive oil and balsamic vinegar (adjust to preference)
  • Drizzle lemon juice (optional)
  • Thinly slice peach in quarters, working around the pit. 
  • Slice tomatoes in half length-wise 
  • Thinly slice buffalo mozzarella
  • Roll basil leaves and slice across the center of the vein (i.e. slice horizontally rather than vertically) into non-uniform sizes. 
  • Arrange with basil leaves on the bottom of the dish, scattered around. 
  • Layer sliced peaches with buffalo mozzarella and spread mozzarella pieces around tomato chunks. 
  • Drizzle olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice over the arranged salad. Serve immediately. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Oatmeal Cookies with Sprinkles

Disclaimer: I was given free silicone non-stick baking mats by Kitchen Executive Chef to review. All opinions are my own. 

I've made comments before that I bake when I'm stressed and bake when I'm overwhelmed with obligations, but let me clear the record: I also bake when I'm happy. Basically, I really should just say that I like to bake. 

And I couldn't be more overjoyed this weekend. One of the friends I've known the longest is getting married next year, and she came in from out of town to visit with her bridesmaids, take engagement photos, and discuss wedding plans while drinking champagne. There's nothing like catching up with someone you love spending time with and seeing how elated she is in planning her big day. Especially when bubbly is involved. 

Naturally, I couldn't show up empty-handed. I decided to make a oatmeal chocolate chip cookies initially, then decided that I should bust out the fancy macadamia nuts and do white chocolate chips. And obviously it was known from the beginning that sprinkles would need to be involved in order to make these little cookies as festive as possible. So, with all of that indecisiveness ambition, I set out making these delicious (and long-named) white chocolate macadamia nut cookies with sprinkles. 

I had a ton of help with this recipe from Kitchen Executive Chef. The company kindly sent out a sample box with three different sizes of their professional-grade non-stick silicone baking mats (sized from toaster oven to cookie sheet). Once I got over the cute factor (they're kitschy-kitchen  perfect in aqua, red, and black), I noticed how thick the mats are. I read the box and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mats (and noted that they are 30% thicker than standard baking mats). The company guarantees them for life, so I rested assured that these would be the good stuff. 

More important than the guarantee, however, is the function: these things work very well! After baking my cookies, I took them out of the oven and impatiently waited for them to cool, spatula in hand. As though ice skating, those cookies slid across the baking mat. Seriously. These mats are a new staple in my kitchen and I'm sure you'll be just as pleased. The mats are dishwasher safe and make clean-up a breeze. You can buy the mats on Amazon and check the company out on Facebook for more information. 

I also made these cookies as bars (if you're a frequent visitor to The Sparkle Kitchen, you'll note that I prefer bar cookies over individual cookies). They worked wonderfully and have the slightly soft middle that I crave. These cookies are on the crunchy side, but I think that the texture works well with the flavor from the butter and oats as well as the toasted macadamia nuts. 

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Oatmeal Cookies with Sprinkles
Makes 3 dozen

You will need:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips 
  • 1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, cream together sugars and butter. 
  • Stir in eggs, one at a time, and add vanilla. 
  • Gradually incorporate flour mixture (1/3 at a time), then stir in oats. 
  • Add macadamia nuts, white chocolate chips, and sprinkles. Do not overmix. 
  • Cover and chill for 30 minutes (or up to 5 days). 
  • For cookies, preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat, or spray lightly with cooking spray. Scoop out ~1 inch mounds of dough. Bake for 10-13 minutes.
  • For bars, preheat oven to 350. Evenly distribute dough into a lightly greased 9x9 glass dish. Press evenly into the dish. Bake for 25 minutes. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Blackberry & Basil Macaroons

Oh the joys of baking with dogs! I could do an entire post comprised solely of pictures of dogs waiting in various stages of patience in front of the oven. They smelled something pretty good going in (although I do have to doubt the palate of a creature that seems to think flies are the best supplemental protein), and they know that when something comes out, there will always on occasion be crumbs. 

These fresh, simple little desserts are perfect for hot weather. They have an airy consistency due to the coconut (flourless!) and a light flavor from the fresh blackberries. I added in basil to make the taste a bit more interesting. Basil added a gorgeous splash of green and a nice clean flavor to the final product. 

Freedom thought they looked pretty delicious (PS she is still available for adoption! Take this sweet girl home!). She stays close to my side when I'm in the kitchen always. 

Mops, naturally, wanted none of it. My little grumpy girl. 

You can serve these alone or with fresh whipped cream, as a sort of parfait. I had fun arranging mine and serving "family style" (aka no one has to know how many each person eats when they slowly disappear one by one). 

Future flavor combinations I'm anxious to try include lavender and peach, raspberry and ginger, and plum with rosemary. I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Blackberry & Basil Macaroons
Yields 12 

You will need:
  • 7 ounces sweetened coconut flakes
  • 7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil 
  • Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly spray baking sheet with non-stick spray. 
  • Stir together coconut flakes, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. 
  • In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until fluffy, then fold into mixture. 
  • Add remaining ingredients, stirring just to combine. 
  • Bake for 25 minutes, until macaroons are golden brown.