Sunday, December 22, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus in Cucumber Cups

These little cucumber cups stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus are the perfect little red and green appetizers for Christmas.  Not only are these little bites festive, but they're so healthy you don't have to feel guilty about popping them in your mouth.  At all!  They're also incredibly tasty.  The cucumber cups are crunchy and fresh and the hummus is creamy and smooth with hints of garlic and red pepper.  This would be a great addition to any holiday table! 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus in Cucumber Cups 
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 4-6 servings

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
½ cup diced, jarred roasted red bell peppers
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (from ½ small lemon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra, to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
2 hot house cucumbers, ends trimmed
Fresh parsley, cilantro or mint leaves

In a food processor, combine the beans, peppers, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper, if using. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. Season with salt, to taste. Transfer the hummus to a small bowl.

Run the tines of a fork down the length of each cucumber several times, turning to make ridges about 1/8-inch deep in the skin all the way around. Cut cucumbers crosswise into 1-inch rounds, for a total of at least 12. Using the smaller end of a melon baller or a round measuring spoon, scoop out the center of each cucumber round to form a hollow. Use a small spoon to fill each cup with hummus, mounding slightly over the top. Tuck a small fresh parsley, cilantro or mint leaf into the side of the filling as a garnish.

Arrange the cups on a platter and serve.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Donna Hay's Madeleines with Orange Glaze

I have an infatuation with little bitty things.  There's just something about little minis that is so cute and irresistible.  So when I spotted a teeny tiny madeleine pan I simply had to have it.  In my mind I had visions of mini madeleines in every kind of flavor imaginable.  So I bought the pan and it was so mini and cute that it actually fell out of the bag and got lost in my car.  For three months.  When I discovered the pan in the back of my car I was thrilled yet again.  In fact, I had the same visions of cute mini madeleines, but then I put the pan in the pantry for another two months.  To say I'm good at procrastinating is an understatement.

Every time I spotted that madeleine pan I felt like it was taunting me.  One day I took the pan out of the pantry and placed it on my kitchen counter as an incentive. I'll have you know that pan sat there on the kitchen counter for about two weeks before I gained the needed motivation.

Today I finally made these mini madeleines and I gotta tell you that mini is no longer cute to me.  AT ALL!  Turns out the mini madeleine pan only holds approximately one teaspoon of batter in each cavity.  Making these minis was the longest process ever!

However, I will tell you that these mini little madeleines with orange glaze are the daintiest little cake-like treats ever!  We really did love them!  They are very light and sponge-like in texture and the orange glaze really gives them a wonderful citrus flavor.  These would be a nice treat with a cup of tea.  Just do yourself a favor and buy a larger pan!

Adapted from Modern Classics Book 2
by Donna Hay
Makes 24

4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 ounces butter, melted and cooled
Optional: Zest of one orange

For Glaze:
Juice of one orange
About 1 cup of confectioner's sugar
Optional: zest of half an orange and/or leftover zest from above*

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until very pale and thick.  Sift the flour and baking powder over the mixture and continue to beat at low speed until smooth.  Add the butter and beat until combined.

Grease two madeleine tins with 12 x 1-1/2 tablespoon capacity holes.  Spoon in the mixture and bake for 8-10 minutes or until risen and golden. 

Whisk together the juice of one orange and about a cup or so of confectioner's sugar until you get the consistency you're looking for.  For a thick glaze add more sugar.  For a thin glaze add more juice.

Theme: Fill The Tins!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Donna Hay's Seared Salmon on Coconut Spinach

My friends and I are really into Jazzercise right now.  We've been going six days a week since September and we have an absolute blast each and every time.  At the beginning of November the owner announced a contest.  It was a simple contest.  Attend 20 classes and receive a free bag.  My friend and I became obsessed with being the first to win the bag and the secret plotting began.

We were bound and determined to win this contest.  We did the math and figured out that we would have to do ten classes in one week in order to win.  Now Jazzercise is lots of fun, but it certainly isn't a walk in the park.  It's a physically demanding, high impact, total body workout with lots of jumping.  So, comitting to ten classes in one week is a little crazy for two girls pushing their forties.  Of course we knew this, but it still didn't stop us.

We started on Monday morning and took a morning class.  Then we had to go back Monday night for a second class.  We were full of vigor and we giggled like crazy.  Tuesday and Wednesday we took it easy and took only one class per day.  We were feisty and full of energy and ready to win. Then Thursday came around and it was time to get serious.  We took three classes on Thursday and by the end of the third class we were almost drunk on adrenaline. Friday morning we were back at it bright and early and laughing like crazy.  Just a couple of crazy stay at home moms with nothing better to do than win a Jazzercise contest. Then we came back for a second class Friday night. By this time we were really sore, but we were so far into our goal we knew we couldn't give up.  We leaned on each other and somehow or another we made it through a Saturday and Sunday class.  Before you knew it we were just one short class away from our goal and better yet, we were actually going to win!  Monday morning I woke up for our tenth and final class and both of my knees and ankles were on fire.  Not wanting to give up I went ahead and went to class and it took everything I had to make it through that hour. 

I don't think I'll ever forget how good it felt to win that contest with my friend that morning!  I think we both rediscovered our inner strength that week.  We also discovered our limitations.  The next morning I woke up to two swollen and bruised ankles and two swollen and sore knees.  To say I overdid it is an understatement, but I have no regrets.  It was a fantastic week!

I had to nurse my legs for about two weeks.  During this time I had two goals.  The first goal was to stay off my feet as much as possible so I could recuperate and get back to class.  The second goal was to eat a very healthy diet so I wouldn't gain any weight.  I set my sights on quick and healthy dishes like this Seared Salmon on Coconut Spinach.  It's very healthy and very quick (you don't have to be on your feet too long) and it's also very delicious.  This was an extremely satisfying meal and one that I would make again.  We really enjoyed the flavors.

It's been two weeks and I think I'm finally ready to go back to Jazzercise tomorrow morning.  I'll have to take it easy on my knees and ankles for awhile, but it will feel so good to move around again and laugh with the girls.

Seared Salmon on Coconut Spinach
Recipe by Donna Hay 
found online at Sidewalk Shoes
Serves 4

For the Salmon
4 (6oz) salmon fillets
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 large garlic clove, sliced

For the Coconut Spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small red chillies, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons Asian chilli paste (Sriracha)
About 3/4ths can coconut milk
The juice of one lemon
2 bunches spinach, stems removed

Optional: Additional Sriracha for drizzling over salmon before serving

Place the salmon in a shallow dish with the ginger, sesame oil, garlic, and soy. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes on each side. Heat a frying pan over high heat and sear the salmon for 3-4 minutes on each side (cooking times may differ depending on how thick your salmon is and how well done you prefer it to be).

To make the coconut spinach:  Place the garlic, chillies, and chilli paste in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add the coconut cream (or milk) and lemon juice and simmer for 4 minutes. Add the spinach and toss until wilted.

To serve, place some spinach on each plate and top with a piece of salmon.  This dish is also great served with rice.

Theme: Fast & Fabulous!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Baked Chicken, Lemon, and Pea Risotto

There is something about making risotto that is so satisfying.  Standing over the stove toasting the rice, adding the broth little by little, and then stirring the rice until you achieve the desired consistency.  I love when I get to this point because the sky is the limit as far as adding ingredients.  Sometimes I'll stir in leftover bits of cheese, veggies and/or meat and seafood just to clean out the fridge. Other times I have a game plan and will plan out all my add-in's. 

From time to time I've seen recipes for baked risotto and I've always been curious so I decided to give it a try.  I wondered about the texture of the rice. Will it be creamy if there is no stirring involved? I wondered about convenience? Will it be easier to bake risotto?  I wondered if it would be as satisfying. Would I miss stirring the risotto? 

My curiosity got the best of me so I gave it a try.  I must say the baked risotto was definitely good, but nowhere as good as making risotto the traditional way.  We all loved the flavors in this dish but would have preferred the traditional method much more. The baked risotto was definitely missing that wonderful creamy texture that you get from all the stirring.  Additionally the rice was a little firmer, definitely al dente, if you will.  Baking the risotto was also less convenient.  Traditional risotto uses one pan.  Baking the risotto requires dirtying up two pans and a baking dish.  Not to mention, you have to heat up your stovetop and your oven. Baking the risotto also takes much longer.  In fact, it nearly doubles the cooking time. Finally and most importantly, I really did miss stirring the risotto. 

Final verdict: I'm glad I tried the baked risotto, but I see no reason at all to ever do it again.  From now on I will continue to make my risotto the traditional way and will happily stand by the stove and stir, and stir, and stir.

Baked Chicken, Lemon, & Pea Risotto
Adapted from Simple Essentials Chicken
by Donna Hay
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
7 ounces chicken breast, cubed
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
5 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Heat a nonstick frying pan over high heat.  Add the oil and chicken and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until well browned.  Set aside.  Add the shallots, lemon zest, and garlic to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened.  Place the shallot mixture, rice, and stock in a baking dish.  Cover tightly with a lid or foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Add the chicken and peas to the risotto, cover tightly and bake for a further 20 minutes.  The risotto will still be quite liquid.  Stir the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt and pepper through the risotto.  Stir for 2 minutes to thicken the risotto and serve immediately.  Note: I added a little more parmesan cheese on top and baked the risotto for another 4-5 minutes to reduce the liquid a little more.  Then I broiled the risotto for about 2-3 minutes for a golden brown crust.

Theme: Easy Entertaining!