September 20, 2018

Reuben-Inspired Twice Baked Potatoes




Ingredients:

4 large Russet potatoes (about 3 lbs)
2 1/2 tablespoons minced dill pickles OR dill relish
1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/3 cup chopped corned beef*
3/4 cup sauerkraut
2/3 cup shredded Swiss or Gruyère
freshly ground black pepper



Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Bake potatoes one hour or until fully cooked. Half each potato and scoop out the insides into a bowl. Place the empty skins openside up on a foil-lined baking sheet.


Add the pickles, tomato paste, pepper and sour cream to the bowl with the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash until well combined. Add the corned beef and stir well mixed.





Scoop the mixture into the skins. Divide the sauerkraut among each potato half, top with cheese.



Bake 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is browned and the potatoes are hot. Serve immediately.


*I cooked mine for 8-10 hrs on low in the slow cooker, covered in water.

My thoughts:

I had this idea a few months ago but it was just too hot to bake potatoes. We finally had a few cool days so I used that an as an excuse to make this riff on the popular, totally no Kosher deli sandwich, the Reuben. Ruebens normally have corned beef, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, and rye bread. I ditched the rye bread (I did toy with having rye bread crumbs but decided against it) but kept pretty much everything else. Instead of the Russian dressing I've made when I've made the sandwich, I tossed in the two ingredients that influence the flavor the most, pickled and tomato, and mixed it with the potatoes and sour cream. Adding the corned beef was easy. I debated about mixing the sauerkraut in but I left it on top and I think it was the best choice. It really did end up tasting more like a Reuben that way; in the sandwich, there are very distinct layers and you taste each one individually so it makes sense!

The end result was a triumph, it really did taste like a Rueben, the potato was perfectly flavored and creamy and the toppings nicely browned and slightly crunchy. I made the corned beef  "fresh" but it would also be a great way to use up leftovers.


Note: corned beef can be tricky to find but Aldi seems to carry it most of the year and most supermarkets will order it for you if they don't have it in stock. I personally buy a bunch when it is super cheap near St Patrick's Day and freeze it. It freezes and defrosts wonderfully.

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September 17, 2018

Cheesy Zucchini Pimento Casserole




Ingredients

1 1/3 lb (about 3 medium) zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch thick half moons
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 oz jar diced pimentos, drained
5 oz shredded gruyere, divided use
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions:


Preheat the oven to 350. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.


Place the zucchini in the prepared pan. Steam the zucchini until just tender. I used a steamer pot like this one and steamed it for roughly 4 minutes. Drain (if needed) and allow to cool.


In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pimentos, milk, and spices Stir in the onions and 3/4 of the cheese. Pour over the zucchini.


Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese then bread crumbs. Bake 35 minutes, until bubbly and browned.





My thoughts:
Zucchini season is still in full swing! Honestly, the zucchini we've had this year has been the best out of all of the local produce. The peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, and corn that I wait for all year have been either just fine or downright inedible. My old pal, zucchini, however, had been quite tasty.

One thing I like to do is make a slightly labor intensive dish like then when I am making a super easy main (ahem, hot dogs) so I'm not torn in so many directions for a weeknight dinner. I made this dish up on the fly like I have so many dishes lately. I had stocked up on pimentos to make pimento cheese (jarred chopped pimentos can be oddly difficult to find locally) and accidentally knocked a jar to the floor breaking the seal. Rather than making pimento cheese, I took it as a sign to try something different with it. Pimentos have a great mix of heat and sweetness and were perfectly paired with similarly lightly sweet zucchini. The whole dish was homey and satisfying, with just the right amount of cheese and eggs for it all to hold together. It's definitely making its way into regular rotation. The leftovers held up well reheated in the oven.

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September 13, 2018

Chorizo, Hatch Chile and Rice Bake




Ingredients:
1 lb Mexican style chorizo
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cooked rice
1-pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 roasted* Hatch Green Chiles, diced
5 oz shredded quesadilla cheese
7 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 tablespoon Tajín Clásico Seasoning
salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Direction:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish. Set aside.

Saute the chorizo, onion, and garlic in a medium pan until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are translucent. Drain off any fat. Allow to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and spices. Stir in the chorizo mixture, and 3/4 of the cheese. Pour into the prepared baking dish.


Sprinkle the top with the remaining breadcrumbs. Bake 35 minutes, until bubbly and the edges are nicely browned.

*Thanks to the rain, I oven roasted my chiles this year.
My thoughts:
This was not the most photogenic dish but it was so tasty, I had to share. It's another dish born out of trying to use up ingredients I had on hand. I roasted some green chiles for this how-to that afternoon and rather than freezing them, I wanted to use them up. I had some chorizo in the freezer that quickly defrosted, tomatoes from my mom and a whole pint of rice leftover from Chinese takeout so why not combine them all? 

I'm glad I did because it turned out really well. It wasn't quite a baked frittata, more of a casserole thanks to all of the rice so I'm just calling it a bake. It was savory, spicy (which can vary with your chorizo and it's always the luck of a draw with the chiles) and very satisfying. A great weeknight meal. The leftovers reheated nicely, wrapped in foil and baked for about 10-15 minutes. 


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September 12, 2018

How to: Oven Roast Hatch Green Chiles




I'm sure you're tired of hearing how rainy it has been this summer but its true (according to the Washington Post, we've had 300% more rain this summer than average) and it has really affected my cooking and recipe development.

In years' past, we've gone to chile roasting events and picked up several pounds of Hatch Green Chiles during their short season. This year some of the events were canceled due to rain but I have suddenly been able to find raw Hatch Chiles here in Baltimore in a few stores for the first time. The logical conclusion was to roast them on the grill myself (the tumbling roasters are best but one can make do) but again, rain!

Here's my post on how to process the chiles if you are lucky enough to buy them at a chile roasting event.

I finally gave up on waiting for clear skies and roasted them in the oven. I do not think this is the best method nor the tastiest but it works just fine. I do not suggest roasting huge amounts of chiles (when we'd get them at a roasting event we'd get 25 lbs roast and process them at home and freeze) because even if you have fairly good ventilation, the room gets quite smoky and full of chile oil. I would recommend roasting no more than 2 pounds at once.



Step One:

Line a baking sheet with foil, completely covering the entire sheet, including the edges. Turn the broiler on high.

Step Two:

Place the chiles in a single layer on the foil. Place in the oven roughly 3-4 inches from the broiler.

Step Three: 

Broil for 10 minutes or until the chiles are charred. Use tongs to flip the chiles.

Step Four:

Return to broil for 2-3 minutes or until that side is charred and blistered. The second side cooks much faster than the first, do not leave them unattended!




Step Five:

Using the tongs, place the chiles in a bowl (preferably something non-porous like metal or glass) and cover tightly with foil. Allow to steam until cool enough to handle.

Repeat the process for any remaining chiles.


Step Six:

Using food safety gloves, peel the blackened skin off each chile. Discard the skin. Squeeze out the chile seeds and discard.

Use immediately or process for freezing.

To Freeze: 

If you are freezing them whole, slide the pepper into the bag as flat as possible. Repeat for remaining peppers. Freeze in a single layer in the bag. Remove as much air from the bag as possible (sucking it out with a straw works nicely if you don't have a vacuum sealer) and seal.

If you are freezing chopped peppers, flatten the diced chiles in the bag. Remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal.


Freeze flat in the freezer.


Defrost overnight in the refrigerator as needed for recipes.





September 07, 2018

Stay Gold(en Berry Apple Honey) Bundt Cake




Ingredients:
2 cups  whole milk
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 cup halved golden berries (aka ground cherries, cape gooseberries)
1 large ginger gold apple, grated
1 1/2 tablespoon honey


for the glaze:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon honey


Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and SUGAR one Bundt pan. Set aside.

Squeeze the liquid out of the grated apple. Use one 1 cup grated, drained apple. Discard or repurpose any leftover apple.


In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the milk, sugar, eggs, oil, spices, and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer running, stream in the dry ingredients and beat until well-incorporated. Fold in the apple, honey and golden berries. Scrape into prepared Bundt pan.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the cake comes out with just a few damp crumbs.

Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then remove and cool completely on the wire rack.

Whisk together the glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle cake with glaze. The glaze can be doubled if you want a really well-coated cake. Store leftovers at room temperature.

My thoughts:
I've been wanting to make a bundt cake for ages but it has been so hot, I couldn't bring myself to do it. It's finally below 90 and I couldn't wait anymore. Ever since I came across a mention in a novel of a cake that had a sugar crust I've wanted to try it. Then I watched last season's Great British Bake Off and a contestant made a sugar-crusted cake and just amped up the urge. It's super easy--just swap out flour for granulated sugar when buttering the pan--but you end up with a cake that has a crunchy, sweet coating. Why isn't every cake made this way? Or at least all cakes you don't want to ice? It's so pretty and delicious! 

I had other reasons for making the cake too, I have wanted to make a ground cherry cake since we went to Portugal a few years ago and the place we stayed in Porto had an amazing breakfast with a different breakfast cake every day! Every day! I never wanted to leave. It was the first time I encountered ground cherries and I loved their tart-sweetness. I haven't been able to find them locally until recently so when I saw them, I obviously picked up a carton. 

The final reason I wanted to make the cake is that Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner and I always try to make something with apples and honey as a nod to the tradition of dipping apples in honey for a sweet new year. I do not always get a chance to but this year my produce box happened to have some early local apples so I was all set! One note, this is a dairy cake as we do not keep kosher and have no reason to make it pareve. Feel free to substitute non-dairy milk for the milk in this recipe. 

I also have on hand a bottle of locally made BeeGeorge Honey that I picked up when staying at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort last month. It's made with bees from their property! How cool is that? I had one of the most relaxing weekends of my life there while apparently, bees were hard at work making my honey!


The result? A moist, fruity cake with a nice crumb. The golden berries break up the sweetness of the honey and apple and add a pleasing tart burst in many bites. Since the apple is shredded, it is in every bite of the cake.




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September 05, 2018

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Red Grapes and Goat Cheese





Ingredients:

1 1/4 lb Brussels sprouts, halved
1 lb red grapes
1 red onion, cut into quarter moons, 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup corn oil
salt
freshly ground black pepper

garnish:
2-3 oz soft, crumbled goat cheese (optional)


Directions:

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to evenly distribute all ingredients. Prepare a charcoal grill according to manufacturers' instructions.



Place the vegetable mixture in a grill basket (I use this one) and cook, turning occasionally until the vegetables are fork-tender, about 10-20 minutes. Pour back into the original bowl and toss again. Garnish with cheese. Serve immediately.


Tip: if your sprouts are very large, quarter them vs halving
My thoughts:

The day we grilled this, it was simultaneously very humid, very sunny and pouring down rain. Then an hour or so later it was clear enough to bust out the grill. The weather of this summer has been driving me insane. I bought two big bags of fancy charcoal back in May and we've barely put a dent in one.

A local restaurant has a Brussels sprouts dish that is always on the menu in some form or on the other. The original was super dark roasted Brussels sprouts, grapes, saba (a grape must reduction), and lardons. It's very good (even though I don't generally like fruit in savory dishes) and I've always wanted to recreate it. I finally did but with a twist. Instead of bacon, I gave it a smoky flavor by grilling it. If you leave off the cheese, it makes a great vegan side. The sprouts and onions caramelize quickly and the grapes get soft and juicy. It's really an amazing mix of flavors and textures.




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August 30, 2018

Grilled Scallops with Cherry Tomatoes and Zucchini





Ingredients:
1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 shishito peppers
2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used Sun Gold)
1 small onion, sliced into quarter moon slices
1 lb large scallops, patted dry
Florida seasoning or lemon pepper
salt

Directions:

Lightly oil a grill pan and heat. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer. Sprinkle with seasoning and grill until the peppers blister and the zucchini is fully cooked. Remove to a bowl and cover.  Add the scallops on the grill, sprinkle with seasoning and cook 1-2 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Serve immediately.


My thoughts:
This is one of those meals that I made from pulling together random stuff I had in the house yet turned out really great. My mother had given me some yellow cherry tomatoes she grew, we had zucchini and I have had these scallops in the freezer forever. They defrosted quickly and grilled up really well! The juices from the vegetables made a light sauce and the whole meal was really flavorful yet made in under 20 minutes. I have really missed grilling this year so I have rediscovered my grill pan (I have this one and it cleans up and grills like a dream) and have been very pleased with the results. It caramelized the ingredients quickly and easily. I still miss grilling outside (go away, rain, humidity and high heat!) but it does help satisfy my cravings a bit.

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August 27, 2018

Cranberry-Ginger Lime Rickey





Ingredients:
2 1/4 cup Cape Cod Select’s premium frozen cranberries
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 inch knob fresh ginger (peeled)
1 1/2 cup sugar


to serve:

sparkling water
ice
lime slices


Directions:
Place the cranberries, lime juice, ginger and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the juices from the cranberries are fully released and the mixture thickens, about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture through a wire mesh strainer, into a heat-safe jar, measuring cup or bowl. Use the back of a spoon to extract all liquid into the jar. Discard solids. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.

Stir 2-3 tablespoons of syrup into each 10-oz glass of sparkling water. Add ice. Garnish with lime slices or wedges.

Refrigerate leftovers up to one week.

Yield: about 1 cup syrup



My thoughts:
Cape Cod Select contacted me asking if I would like to try their new line of premium frozen cranberries and create a new recipe using them. I was happy to! I love cranberries and have often thought it was such a shame (and odd) that they are not sold frozen year round since cranberries freeze so well and have uses beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've always wanted to make some summery cranberry recipes but by late August, my stash has normally run out. Cape Cod Select has stepped in to solve this problem.

I think cranberries' bright, tart flavor really goes well in summer dishes. Since it has been incredibly hot, rainy and humid this season, I thought I would make something cool and refreshing. This is a version of the old-fashioned soda fountain favorite, a lime rickey. Basically a sparkling limeade, lime rickeys are served as-is or can be spiked for an adult beverage. Common variations include New York's cherry-lime and New England's raspberry-lime rickeys.

For this rickey, I added cranberries and fresh ginger to the syrup to make for an effervescent drink that is as refreshing as it is pretty. It's almost like a light, fruity ginger ale. I think it would be fun for a lunch or casual party, who wouldn't appreciate homemade soda? No one I'd want to know!

Cape Cod Select is a woman-owned business that has been run by the Rhodes family for four generations--over 75 years! Their facilities are primarily powered by solar energy which is admirable. You can order their cranberries online here or find them in a local grocery. Find out where to buy them locally here. If you are a cranberry lover, check these out, I've never seen such large, perfect-looking cranberries in my life. And remember you can use frozen cranberries the exact same way you use fresh, without defrosting.

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August 26, 2018

Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta Salad with Blistered Shishito Peppers and Pineapple


This post is intended for an audience of adults age 21 and older. This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company All opinions are mine alone. #CookingWithCoke #CollectiveBias


Attention food lovers! A fun contest to enter! Text CHEF to 26739 for a chance to cook, eat and drink with award-winning chef and television personality Aarón Sánchez in the Coca-Cola Kitchen at the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One*

 
For this recipe, I took my inspiration from a ShopRite recipe for Grilled Teriyaki Shrimp Skewers and designed a recipe to pair well with Coca-Cola.


Ingredients:
1 lb Wholesome Pantry Raw large shrimp, thawed
1 bottle ShopRite Trading Company Teriyaki Marinade
15 oz canned pineapple chunks in juice, drained
3 shishito peppers
1 cup peeled and cubed cucumber
1/4 red onion, diced
1 1/2 cup dried macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
freshly ground black pepper


Directions: Toss shrimp and pineapple chunks with teriyaki marinade in a resealable bag and place in the refrigerator. Marinade for 20 minutes.


Meanwhile, and preheat a grill pan to medium-high and once hot, add a small amount of canola oil. Grill the shishito peppers for 5 minutes, turning once, until blistered. Allow to cool until they are able to be safely handled, dice. Set aside.


Carefully place shrimp and pineapple on grill and grill 1-2 minutes per side, or until the shrimp are opaque. Remove from grill and place in a large bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Add the peppers to the shrimp and pineapple. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to evenly distribute all ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Serves: 4

Protip: If the cucumber is very seedy, remove the seeds by scraping it with a spoon prior to dicing.

My thoughts:
It's rained pretty much every day this summer and has been brutally hot so I took the recipe indoors and made it literally a little cooler by turning it into a pasta salad. I busted out my grill pan (why don't I use this more often??) to grill the teriyaki marinated shrimp and pineapple. I didn't bother with skewers since I was turning it into a salad and instead carefully placed each item in a single layer and turned them using tongs. If you are more comfortable using skewers and then removing the shrimp and pineapple, feel free! I decided to make it into a pasta salad because the shrimp, pineapple, and teriyaki reminded me of Hawaii which then, in turn, reminded me of the Hawaiian-style Mac Salad I make. Both are a great combination of sweet and savory and a real crowd pleaser.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am Coca-Cola drinker so much so that I would rather not have soda at all rather than have anything other than Coca-Cola. I had a sadly soda-free birthday trip to the Eastern Shore recently due to this stance. My husband and I try to stick to one caffeinated beverage a day so I packed a Coca-Cola and this salad in my husband's lunch today for an afternoon pick-me-up and it was a hit. We both actually liked the salad best after it had been refrigerated overnight and the not too sweet flavor of Coca-Cola complemented it well.


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August 24, 2018

Escarole Soup with Zucchini and Italian Sausage



Ingredients:

3/4 lb hot Italian sausage (casings removed)
2 small zucchini, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large head escarole, chopped
2 quarts chicken, turkey or vegetable stock
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Pecorino Romano to garnish (optional)


Directions:

Roll the sausage into 1/4 inch balls. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, saute the sausage until browned on all sides and nearly fully cooked. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Drain off some of the grease, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons in the pot. Saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic until the onion is translucent and the zucchini is nearly fully cooked, about 5-10 minutes. Add the escarole and saute until it starts to wilt. Add the remaining ingredient, including the sausage balls and simmer for 20 minutes or until the escarole is soft and the sausage is 100% cooked through. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano and serve.

My thoughts:
We have had such a hot, humid and incredibly rainy summer so when it finally was below 85 for more than a few hours, it felt downright chilly. I went to a new grocery store that just opened up and among other things, they had escarole. Why escarole can be hard to find, I don't know. We have a pretty large Italian population and things like fennel and every kind of Italian deli meat and cheese known to (wo)man are pretty easy to find but escarole, not so much. This store had not only escarole but curly endive which is very nearly the same thing. Fancy greens!

Anyway! I was excited to see it but then brought it home and had nothing to do with it. It's one of my favorite greens in a soup because it doesn't become slimy (ew) and maintains a bit of it's texture lots of its flavor and sturdiness. Since we are nearing on the end of August and it was only about 80 out, I decided to go for it and make something that seems fall-ish (although fall does not begin for another month!) and a bit hardy. Since zucchini (along with escarole) is in season now, I added that to the soup to bulk it up a bit. Leafy soups always leave me a bit hungry even when they have chunks of yummy locally made sausage in it. I really loved how the soup came out, it was filling but did have a light flavor about it--perfect as we slip into cooler days.

Weird Tip: My husband has trouble heating homemade soup up at work for lunch (it never seems to come out correctly) so he used the broth from a bowl of soup to make rice and then topped it with the remaining solid ingredients to make a slightly brothy dish that reheats nicely in the microwave.

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August 20, 2018

Zucchini-Potato Latkes







Ingredients:
4 cups finely grated Russet potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
2 small-medium zucchini, finely grated
1 small onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup matzo meal
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil

Directions:

In a large cast iron skillet or another heavy bottomed pan, heat about 1/4 inch oil.

Place the potato into a metal sieve over a large bowl. Press out any liquid. Pour out the liquid and place the potatoes in the bowl on top of the remaining starch. Use the same sieve to drain the zucchini and onion over the sink. Add to the potato. Stir in spices, and the matzo meal. Form into flat patties. If they will not hold their shape, stir in additional matzo meal until they do. Fry in hot oil, flipping halfway through, until just golden.





Drain on paper towel lined plates.



Yield: about 10 latkes, depending on size.

Note: Make sure you use the finer grater on a box grater, not the large, coarse side for best results.


My thoughts:
I had made zucchini fritters a couple of weeks ago and my husband expressed disappointment they were not more like latkes (they were batter-based) so I thought I'd remedy that and make something closer to a straight-up latke. I'm glad I did! They were super crispy, had a nice subtle zucchini flavor and made us feel like we were eating something very slightly better for us than straight up fried potatoes. I was out of sour cream so I served them with onion dip(!) and it was so good, I think I'm going to do that on purpose come Hanukkah. 

To round out the "Jewish food in the summer" theme, I served with some Alaskan sockeye salmon with "everything" seasoning on it. 

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August 16, 2018

Cocoanuts Bars





Ingredients

1 3/4 cups (honey or cinnamon*) graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers' worth)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small pan. Remove from heat and stir in graham cracker crumbs until thoroughly combined. Press, using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup into the bottom of the buttered pan taking care to reach all corners.

Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, coconut, and peanut over the graham cracker layer. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top, and spread with the back of a spoon or spatula until the mixture is evenly coated.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown and the bars look "set".

Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. This seems to take forever but resist the urge to cut them when they are even remotely still warm. You can refrigerate them before slicing if you are a clean lines fanatic. Store in the refrigerator or on a cool counter in an air-tight container. Freeze leftovers up to 6 months if desired.

*I like honey best but either work.


My thoughts:
Bars like these have a lot of different names. 7-Layer Bars (for those, the butter is normally melted in the baking pan while preheating and then sprinkled with the graham cracker crumbs to form the first and second layers), Magic Bars (I guess because it is a bunch of layered stuff that "magically" makes a bar cookie?) and oddly, Hello Dolly Bars after the Broadway play. I also heard "dream bars" from a reader commenting on my Instagram story when I was making them, upon googling they look like perhaps a precursor to the 7-layer bar because they require you to actually make a shortbread cookie vs. using graham crackers which also sounds really good. The recipes are all pretty similar although can vary in what kind of chips to use and when to put in the sweetened condensed milk. A lot of recipes call for it on the graham cracker layer then everything else is plopped on top but I opted to put it on last with the hope it would help the coconut brown while still holding everything together and "protecting" the chips from direct heat.

I did not grow up eating these, I think they are much more of a midwest thing, the parties I went to all had black bottoms, drop cookies and brownies (and birthday cake if applicable) not bar cookies but I've read about them so many times I felt like I've had them. I can see why they are popular, they are very simple and can be made with ingredients that most people probably have on hand or at the very least pick up easily at any store. They would be so quick to make for a last minute occasion or weeknight treat.

I took my inspiration from the classic back of the can recipe but really made it my own--a bit more graham cracker crumbs so the pan is easier to coat, a mix of butterscotch and peanut butter chips, using bittersweet chocolate chips instead of milk, honey roasted peanuts instead of walnuts and I think the most genius switch up: using unsweetened shredded coconut instead of sweetened flaked coconut. The bars are so sweet thanks to all the chips and the sweetened condensed milk, the coconut really doesn't need to be sweetened too! I'm happy too that unsweetened coconut is so much easier to find now (Harris Teater actually had a store brand version!), I remember back when I started Coconut & Lime I had to track it down at health food stores and South Asian groceries. Coconut is naturally sweet and a lot of recipes that call for sweetened are so sweet already, they don't really need extra sugar.

The result is a bar that is a solid nod to the classic but that is much more appealing to a more "adult" tastes than the super sweet ooey-gooey original. Personally, I prefer desserts that aren't described as "tooth-achingly sweet"; a descriptor I saw more than once in conjunction to the original bars but to each there own! It might be fun to take a batch of these and a batch of the originals to a party and do a taste test. These are still sweet of course but with a deeper, darker flavor than the usual.


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August 14, 2018

Oysters au Gratin






Ingredients:
4 pieces bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, small dice
1 lb "baby" spinach
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
hot sauce
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 pint shucked oysters, drained
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used cheese bread)
1/2 cup shredded gouda


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 1-quart baking dish. Set aside. 

In a large skillet, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease (if needed). Saute the onion until translucent. Add the spinach and saute until wilted. Cook over low heat until most the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat. Stir in the bacon bits, spices, hot sauce, and oysters. Pour into the prepared baking dish. 





Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese in alternating handfuls. Bake for 20 minutes or until the oysters are just cooked and the top is browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
This recipe is a bit of an odd one. I don't know if oysters au gratin is a thing (if it's not, it should be!) but I had picked up two pints of oysters a while back. One pint I made into oyster po'boys for the second time in about two months and I didn't have any idea what to do with the second jar. Finally, I had to make them or risk spoilage so I came up with this dish. It ended up being really good! Who knew? I served it as a side but it definitely could be a main dish, it is rather filling.

It isn't as rich as it could be as I didn't add anything but spinach, a small amount of bacon and oysters in the filling--no dairy at all, and topped it with a modest amount of cheese. The result was a fresh tasty, briny dish that seemed really festive despite me whipping it up on a random weeknight on a whim.

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August 08, 2018

Summer Vegetable Pearl Couscous with Andouille



Ingredients:

1 cup pearl couscous
1 lb turkey or regular andouille sausage, sliced into coins
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 Serrano pepper, minced
2 ears' worth of corn kernels
2 zucchini, cubed
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 tablespoon Creole seasoning
pinch celery seed
pinch cayenne

fried eggs, optional

Directions:
Bring 1 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Add couscous, cover and simmer 8 minutes or until covered.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet. Saute the sausage until browned. Add the onion and pepper and saute until the onion is softened. Add remaining vegetables and spices. Saute until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat. Stir in the couscous. Serve.


Yield: 4 servings.
My thoughts:
It has been a trying few weeks here lately. Not the least which is that our porch roof leaked so we had to take care of that which was an unexpected and unwelcome surprise!

The weather has be awful, alternately very rainy or very very humid and sunny and nothing in-between. The local produce has really suffered. We've barely had one good peach, nectarine, tomato or plum. This is the only time of the year we eat any of those things of course so this is extra disappointing! I wait all year for them! The corn has been okay though and these zucchini are from my mother's garden and were quite good so I made this sort of couscous meets hash thing. Originally I didn't put an egg on it but I realized that my camera lens had fogged up when I took the initial picture so I took the picture this morning when I had some leftovers for breakfast. I think the egg added something though! The dish is very simple but flavorful thanks to the in-season produce, Creole seasoning, the Serrano pepper (mine were very spicy but feel free to add more if your's are not) and of course the andouille, one of my favorite kinds of sausage. I used turkey andouille so it was a little lighter but regular would probably be even better! It's a great meal for a hot summer night.

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July 23, 2018

Roasted Sugar Snap Peas & Tomato Salad



Ingredients:

1 small-medium tomato, cut into wedges
1 lb sugar snap peas
3 sprigs' worth of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon (coarse) Herbs de Provence
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 oz crumbled fresh goat cheese
zest and juice of one lemon



Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.



Place all the peas, thyme, spices and tomato in a medium bowl and toss to evenly distribute all ingredients. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake 15 minutes or until the tomato and snap peas are just browned around the edges. Allow to cool to room temperature. Toss with lemon zest, juice, and cheese.


My thoughts:
It's sugar snap pea season again! I've found I really enjoy them briefly roasted vs raw or steamed. They seem to caramelize a bit yet stay crisp. Tomatoes are (finally!) coming into season here but they aren't always quite as great as they will be in a week or so. Roasting them really brings out the sweetness and deepens the flavor. I added some lemon, soft goat cheese and Herbs de Provence for a faint French flair that I think complemented them very nicely. A super easy, flavor-packed side dish for summer.

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July 20, 2018

American Taco Pie




Ingredients:

3/4 lb 93% lean ground beef*
1 1/2-2 tablespoons taco seasoning*
1/2 onion, chopped*
15 oz canned diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup shredded quesadilla cheese
1/4 cup grated cotija cheese

Steps
Heat oven to 400. Grease 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.

Cook ground beef and onion in large skillet, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces until beef is cooked through. Drain off fat if needed. Stir in seasoning mix and canned tomatoes.

Spoon into the prepared pie plate and smooth to cover the entire bottom of the pie plate.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking power, milk and canola oil until smooth. Pour over the beef mixture.


Bake about 25-35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with cheese.

Return to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes prior to serving.


*I actually just used leftover, cooked and seasoned taco meat vs making it fresh. Either works!

My thoughts:
Last year I was into making international-fusion taco recipes for some reason. I made Takoraisu (Okinawan Taco Rice) and Tacopaj (Swedish taco pie), both of which combine American style ground beef tacos with their own traditional cuisine. Somehow, I never made the very American version of this, Impossible Taco Pie, a popular '70s era Betty Crocker recipe using Bisquick. Basically. it's "impossible" because you creates the crust by just pouring it over the meat and it "magically" forms a cohesive, sliceable pie.


It's a little silly but it's fun. I don't keep Bisquick on hand so I made my own batter and jazzed the filling up with some spicy tomatoes and some quesadilla and cotija cheese instead of the cheddar normally used in the pie. The result is an interesting mashup of tacos and almost quiche if quiche wasn't quite so eggy. It's easy to make, very flavorful and a neat change for a weekday dinner.


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July 17, 2018

S'mores Marble Cake





Ingredients:

for the cake:

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (2 crackers, smashed) graham cracker crumbs, divided use
pinch salt
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 cup hot water

for the glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


garnish:
mini-marshmallows


Directions:

for the cake:

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a standard (9x5) loaf pan. Set aside.


In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter, vanilla, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Add it to the egg mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with milk. Pour roughly 1/3 of the batter into a second bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the hot water and cocoa until smooth. Whisk into the smaller bowl of batter until fully incorporated. Set aside.

Stir half of the graham cracker crumbs into the vanilla batter. Spoon the batter into the pan, alternating spoonfuls (forming a sort of checkerboard pattern) until both batters are gone. Run a thin knife through it to marbelize once or twice.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.


to decorate:

Whisk together the glaze ingredients. Drizzle over cake. Top with remaining graham cracker crumbs and mini marshmallows.



My thoughts:
We've been watching the Great British Bake-off lately. What's airing here in the US right now is about 6 years old so that's a bit odd but luckily it is not a show that depends on fads. PBS has the "new" episodes but Netflix has what they call the GBBO Masterclass which just has Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry making versions of what were challenges for the contestants. It's a little odd (they flash to the competition occasionally but it isn't really worked into the baking "class" very much) and I wonder if maybe it was a web-only special? Anyway, all of this watching baking has made us really want cake!

The problem is that we are only a family of two so making a huge cake is tricky--there is no way the two of us can finish it! A few years ago I made a few loaf cakes and they are a pretty good solution. Much less final product for us to eat or have to giveaway. They seem to be popular with afternoon tea in England as well. I can see why you get a good number of servings out of it (about 8 slices) but they are modest slices and not quite as overwhelming as a whole bundt or layer cake.

For some reason, I've been obsessed with s'mores this summer so I thought I'd put a twist on an old favorite, the marble cake and s'mores-ify it . I added graham crackers to the vanilla batter to give it that distinctive flavor and sprinkled more onto the top of a chocolate glaze. Mini marshmallows complete the look. It really is a show stopper if I do say myself! Very tasty, good chocolate and graham cracker flavor throughout, fairly simple to make yet very impressive and fun to look at.




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July 12, 2018

Cornmeal Battered Soft Crabs with Old Bay Corn Grits





Ingredients:

for the crabs:
4 soft crabs, cleaned
2 cups milk
1 egg
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal mix
2-3 tablespoons Old Bay, divided use
freshly ground black pepper

for the grits:
1 cup yellow stone-ground grits
3 cup water or chicken stock
1/3 cup grated Gouda
1 tablespoon Old Bay
4 ears' worth of (cooked) corn kernels
freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

for the crabs:

Whisk together the milk, egg and half of the Old Bay in a medium bowl. Pour into a resealable bag, add the crabs. Seal and refrigerate 1 hour.

Meanwhile, whisk the flour, cornmeal, and remaining spices together in a bowl. Dredge both sides of each crab in the seasoned flour. Place on a platter until ready to fry.

Heat 1/4 inch oil in a large pan. Fry the crabs for 3-5 minutes on each side or until crisp and fully cooked. Drain on paper towel-lined plates.

for the grits:

In a medium pot, bring the water or stock and Old Bay to a boil. Add the grits and stir continually for about 10 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and corn. Serve immediately.


My thoughts:
We had such a seafood weekend! We had a clambake in the Inner Harbor that had clam, mussels, crabs, lobster, and sausage then the next day we had steamed crabs and corn at home in the backyard. The only thing we didn't have was soft crabs. Soft crabs are possibly my most favorite food so this clearly needed to be rectified.

I purchased live soft crabs and stored them in my fridge until I was ready to make them then I cleaned them. You can use defrosted, previously frozen, cleaned soft crabs but you do not want to buy dead nonfrozen soft crabs as they spoil really quickly and you have no way of knowing how long they were dead! It is okay to buy them alive and have the store clean them for you as long as you make them quickly and keep them cool.  If you live in a blue crab area, seafood markets and locally owned grocery stores are your best bet, although I will be honest and say I have also bought them at stands on the side of the road. They're alive and if they were spoiled, I'd know so I feel safe doing that. But that's pro-level crab procurement.  If you are local, feel free to email me and I will tell you where I get my crabs. I always bring a cooler and huge ice pack to transport my crabs home in since it is summer and I don't want to poison us.

Anyway, I normally do a flour coat for my soft crabs and make sandwiches but I got fancy this time and busted out the cornmeal and made grits on the side using up the extra corn on the cob the steamed crab place gave us for some reason. It was such a good meal! I also made another vegetable dish but honestly, the grits and the soft crabs were enough. The crabs were super juicy and flavorful (the batter and the fact that you eat them shell and all really keeps the flavor in) and the creamy grits tied in perfectly. I really want to make this same meal again, right now.

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