Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mini Maple Walnut Cupcakes and Caponatina

One of the best things about being an adult is getting to eat dessert before dinner without having to worry about anyone saying I'm going to spoil my appetite :P! So I'm posting the dessert before the meal ;). I found this recipe in a cheap cupcake cookbook I purchased at the pharmacy last weekend. It had such cute, delicious pictures, I assumed the recipes would be just as pleasing. Well, the mini cupcakes I made didn't turn out badly, I was just disappointed that they lacked flavor and spice. I followed the recipe for apple streusel cupcakes, but I was bummed when the crumbly part melted into the cupcake batter while it baked. I'm sure I didn't measure the topping properly, I can't imagine it was entirely the recipe's fault. When I discovered that the crumble had dissolved into the batter, I'd only used a little less than half of the topping. I didn't want to throw the rest away, so I figured I'd go ahead and make an interesting frosting with the remaining crumble. These are the ingredients that went into the crumble, followed by the ingredients I used to turn it into a frosting! I should call these Frankenstein cupcakes, because I used so many strange ingredients to make a frosting that would bring these tiny desserts to life!

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 1/2 TBSP butter

To end up with the frosting I made, you'll need to divide that recipe in half then add the following ingredients to the mix. I didn't measure, I just kept adding things until I ended up with something frosting-like in texture :) <---I know it sounds really silly, but somehow it worked and folks at work even said they were delicious! Sometimes I remind myself of Amelia-Bedelia in the kitchen! (I was a big fan of hers as a kiddo, in all honesty, I could never be as fabulous as she is :D):

Frosting with Topping
1 -2 TBSP heavy cream
a few tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 TBSP maple syrup

a few more sprinkles of cinnamon

about a cup of powdered sugar

and as for the cupcake recipe (you might want to add a few extra spices, I think I should've used apple pie spice with these)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup apple sauce
4 TBSP butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

bake at 350 for about 12 minutes (for mini cupcakes)

As you can see, these cupcakes aren't exactly healthy. Just staring at the list of ingredients is making one of my molars hurt, can you feel a cavity developing ;)? Now that we've all had our sugar rush for the day, let's move on to dinner...

So my new friend Michele said it was ok to post the yummy Caponatina recipe she shared with me! I made this hearty Italian dish to go along with the chicken picatta I made for dinner this past weekend. It was the first time I tried both eggplant and caponatina. I was so happy to discover that it wasn't too difficult to make, despite its complex flavor. I divided the following recipe in half and didn't bother storing it in a jar because I had a feeling my husband and I would devour it in just two days -- I was right!

oops, I forgot to unpeel the eggplant! Can you believe I just noticed?! :D

Grandma Rose’s Caponatina Sicilian Style
2 lb unpeeled eggplant, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
3 ½ oz. tomato paste
1 cup water
1 lb green olives, salted and pitted
2 oz jar of capers, unsalted and drained
salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tsp. sugar
¼ cup wine vinegar

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and celery, cook until almost tender. Remove onions and celery and place in a bowl. In same skillet, sauté eggplant until light brown. Remove. In same pan, over med flame, cook tomato paste and water, stir until dissolved. Add olives, eggplant, capers, onion, celery, salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil over high flame. Lower flame and simmer for 5 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar. Stir and cook for ½ minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Makes 2 quarts. Sterilize jars before using. Cover tightly.
Keeps in refrigerator for 6 weeks.

I found the chicken picatta recipe in a magazine I received in the mail last week! It's called Cuisine At Home, it isn't sold in stores yet; it was a free gift I received most likely for subscribing to 3 other foodie magazines. It's really great because it offers pictures along with step-by-step instructions, and some other fun cooking tips. The recipe called for 4 chicken cutlets, but I only had 5 drumsticks so I improvised a little :).

Well, they say you should sprinkle the cutlets with salt and pepper then lightly cover them in flour. But just a few pages away from this recipe in the same magazine was a short article that convinced me I needed to first dip the chicken in a mix of egg whites and corn starch THEN roll them in flour (I used whole-grain, it gave it a heartier flavor) seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and a bit of parsley. It was something new I wanted to try, so I went ahead and tried it on the chicken. I was happy with the results.

So here are the rest of the instructions:
Sautee in 2 TBSP oil (they suggest veg oil, I used olive) then once the chicken pieces are browned on all sides, set them aside. In the same pan that you used to lightly fry the chicken, add 1/4-1/2 cup white wine (depending on how much chicken you're using) and 2 minced garlic cloves. Then add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice, 2 TBSP butter, and 1 TBSP fresh capers. I wanted a thicker sauce, so I added a bit of flour to the mix. Since I used chicken drumsticks instead of cutlets, I went ahead and placed a few lemon slices in an oven-safe platter, then set the drumsticks on top of the slices. I then poured the "sauce" on top of each lightly fried chicken drumstick. Because I accidentally got a little more caper juice in the sauce than I wanted :D, I drizzled a bit of honey on top of the chicken before placing it in the oven to bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes. If you're using cutlets, you can go ahead and continue cooking the chicken in the pan with the sauce until it's no longer pink. Though pink is one of my favorite colors, it's not very flattering on chicken ;).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Traveling the World, One Plate at A Time: Escalivada and Pollo A La Española

This weekend, our taste buds decided to take a trip to Spain. Using our kitchen as a vehicle for getting there, we discovered we didn't need a plane! So, a few hours ago, Jose and I put together two dishes that brought us closer to the Mediterranean than we've ever been. Our passport was a refrigerator full of delicious Spanish vegetables and ingredients, all of which we purchased earlier today at one of our favorite grocery stores, Central Market. We decided, instead of going out to eat on the weekends, we'd spend some time together in the kitchen preparing delicious, hearty meals that would give our very uneducated palates a greater appreciation for the world's many colorful flavors. It's a win-win situation: we get to spend more time together, and we actually end up saving money in the process! Even if you're on a budget, you can still travel; the kitchen is an amazing teleporter, you don't even have to ask Scotty to beam you up!

This week's dishes were Escalivada and Pollo A La Española, two very vegetable-loaded meals that will leave you feeling full and satisfied. I found these recipes in an old cookbook my husband purchased awhile ago, it's called Spanish: Over 150 Mouthwatering Step-By-Step Recipes by Pepita Aris. The chicken recipe gives the cook the option to use bacon lardons or pancetta; we thought it'd be fun to use pancetta since we've never tried it. We're so glad we did! Unlike bacon, it has a very mild, almost sweet flavor that enhanced the entire meal's flavor without taking the spotlight away from the rest of the dish. I didn't imagine it'd be this tasty! It is pretty fatty, but it actually seemed less fatty than bacon. I simmered the pancetta veggie sauce with the chicken for almost an hour. As a result, the often-dry boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces I normally use came out moist and full of flavor, even when eaten without the sauce (I didn't eat too much of the pancetta, but I noticed I still picked-up it's flavor in the chicken and I think it definitely contributed to its moistness).

So here are the ingredients for both dishes :)

Escalivada (this recipe makes enough for about 8 people, so I divided it in half and I still have leftovers for tomorrow)

2-3 zucchini
1 large fennel bulb

1 Spanish Onion

2 red bell peppers
1 butternut squash

6 whole garlic cloves

5 TBSP olive oil

juice of 1/2 a lemon
pinch of crushed cumin seeds

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 medium tomatoes

salt and ground black pepper

Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes

Before turning on the oven, I suggest steaming the butternut squash. It didn't bake in the time it was supposed to, though all the other veggies were already soft and crisp on top. If I had to do it again, I'd bake it for 20 minutes at 375 or steam it for the same amount of time. Then I'd let it cool so that I could cut it into cubes and remove the skin. All the other vegetables get sliced long-ways; the tomatoes should be chopped, the garlic smashed (the skin stays on). The veggies need to be placed in a large-enough platter so that they're all level and not piled up too high. Basically, everything gets baked togethe
r, except for the tomatoes (those don't get added in until the rest of the veggies bake). The olive oil and lemon juice serve as a dressing for the veggies. The veggies get drizzled with olive oil/lemon juice right before the cumin gets sprinkled between the thyme sprigs and veggies. All these aromatic ingredient bake for 25 minutes. After these 25 minutes are over, remove the veggies from the oven and mix-in the chopped tomatoes, then bake all the veggies for another 15 minutes.

This is how the veggies should be chopped (I love that purple garlic, it's so tasty):

Pollo A La Espa
ñola (this makes enough for 4)
1 tsp paprika
4 portions of chicken
3 TBSP olive oil

5 oz smoked bacon lardons or diced pancetta

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic olives, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced
4 oz can of tomatoes
or 1 lb fresh
2 TB
SP chopped fresh parsley
salt and ground black pepper

This dish could be a meal in itself and tastes great with something as simple as white rice. Even if you use chicken breast, they'll still come out moist if you simmer them over a low flame with the pancetta/veggie sauce for a good amount of time. As for the instr
uctions: lightly lather the chicken pieces with paprika, then fry the chicken in 2 TBSP olive oil - cook covered. In another pan, cook the diced pancetta in 1 TBSP olive oil until it starts to get slightly crispy, then add the onion and garlic - mix and cook covered until the onions are soft. Add the green and red bell pepper to the chicken, continue cooking until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes and chopped parsley to the pancetta and simmer for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the tomato/pancetta sauce to the chicken; then simmer the ingredients for at least 30 minutes, or until you're ready eat :).

Once all the ingredients simmer together, you'll get something like this...

I highly suggest using the pancetta if you've never tried it! I personally think bacon would be too strong for this dish, but the pancetta is so delicate in flavor and texture that it practically melts in your mouth :)!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Very Tasty Caribbean Stew and Jerk Tilapia

One of the best parts about cooking is that you can take a handful of random ingredients that are actually good for you, cook them with a few interesting spices and sauces, then you end up with something colorful, tasty, and healthy. Last week at work, my friend brought in a bowl of wonderful stew, it was from a recipe that her father initially introduced her to. She gave me some to try so that I'd know how to describe it on the Key Ingredient blog. Right after the first spoonful, I was convinced that this was a stew I definitely needed to make, asap!

This hearty meal was inspired by Moosewood's Caribbean Stew. The recipe is delicious as is, my friend Heather just added a few more veggies - I pretty much did the same. In my opinion, the more veggies, the better! This is a vegetarian stew that's filling as is, but it can also be served with rice or jerk tofu. I loved the idea of the jerk tofu, but I recently purchased some fish that needed a marinade; I thought the spicy/sweetness of the jerk would complement the tilapia quite well, and it did.

Because I wanted a baked and breaded fish, I mixed a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs with a tablespoon of melted butter and created a topping for the fish that also included some of the marinade. The end result was a flavorful meal without the fishy flavor, but I think next time, to preserve the light flavor of the fish, I'll just marinade then bake the tilapia in the jerk sauce. Though I only added half the amount of chili in both recipes, it was still spicy enough to be considered tasty.

If you want to give your taste buds a wake-up call, the stew and jerk recipes will do the trick. As for the stew, its spiciness wanes against the sweet potato's natural honey-like taste and the kale's deep earthy flavor. What's more, together, the cilantro and lemon add an herby freshness while the onions give the already rich broth an even fuller flavor. This stew is mouth-watering, to say the least, and your body will definitely thank you for eating such a healthy meal! The jerk sauce/marinade has a sweet and spicy flavor that even smells great, thanks to the freshly grated ginger that's like heaven for the olfactory glands. If you can't already tell, I'm a huge fan of this soupy stew. If it were a musician, I'd definitely make it a point to get its autograph.

The Jerk recipe will make enough marinade for about 3-4 small fish, I marinated the fish for about 2.5 hours before popping them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 425. Jose and I decided to take our fish and stew outside and make a picnic out of our dinner; the weather was beautiful and the meal was the perfect end to a fun-filled day spent at Wimberly and in the kitchen baking. (This month I'm baking 60 different batches of cookies for a little project I was assigned at work. My last day is the 23rd of April, so I'll be busy baking for the next few weeks! I can just see the Doughboy planning an invasion in the name of sweets, just like last time!)

Speaking of the little guy, look who I saw tagged and behind bars at Wimberley Market Days early this Saturday morning! It's a very old Doughboy, an antique! But I decided I couldn't deal with anymore tricks, so I had to leave him there for someone else to adopt!