Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Salmon Brown Rice Bowls with Snap Peas and Oranges

Lately, I've been making an extra effort to find healthy, quick weeknight recipes so I have a stockpile of ideas for the upcoming year when I'll be balancing full-time teaching and full-time grad school.  It's going to be insane, but it's something I've wanted and worked very hard to get, so I'm bound and determined to enjoy and appreciate it.

Of course, a big part of holding myself together through what will invariably be a stressful year is going to be keeping my mind and body fueled with nutritious meals.  Fortunately, I also find cooking relaxing and am more than willing to make dinner prep my study break.  I can guarantee I'll be making this meal during a study break on several occasions.  I can easily get the rice going, do some work, then return to the kitchen to finish the other components up and eat.  I love knowing that I'll get such a balanced mixture of vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbs all in one meal.  Even better, I love knowing just how great it will taste.

Salmon Brown Rice Bowls with Snap Peas and Oranges
adapted from Cooking Light, March 2014

1/2 c. brown rice
8 oz. salmon
1 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/8 tsp. ground coriander
1 c. sugar snap peas
1 orange, segmented
2 TBSP crumbled goat cheese
2 TBSP plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp. chopped fresh dill

1.  Cook brown rice according to package directions.

2.  With 10 minutes cooking time left on the rice, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.  Season the salmon with the salt, pepper, and coriander.  Place salmon skin side down first, and cook until flaky and hot throughout, 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove, place on a plate, and tent with foil to keep warm.

3.  In the same skillet, cook snap peas until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.

4.  Just before assembling, break the salmon into large flakes with a fork.  Divide rice among two bowls, then top with salmon, snap peas, orange segments, and half the goat cheese crumbles.  Top each bowl with a 1 TBSP dollop of Greek yogurt and garnish with 1 tsp. dill.  Salt and pepper, to taste.

Yield: 2 servings 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemon Hazelnut Tiramisu

I am so beyond excited to finally  share this recipe because, YOU GUYS, I've been holding it hostage on to it for a year.  AN ENTIRE YEAR!  That's such complete craziness to me considering how much I adored this most excellent tiramisu adaptation.

I served this for Easter last year.  It was one of the best holidays I've ever had.  It was originally just going to be a small family holiday, but when I found out two of my best friends from school would be without family, my family and I knew we wanted to invite them.  We had so. much. fun.  We laughed and laughed and ate and ate.  My mom and I put together an Italian menu, and this dessert was the crowning glory.

Just like traditional tiramisu, which literally translates into "pick me up," this beauty is airy and fluffy.  The classic coffee and chocolate combination is swapped out for lemon and hazelnut, which make for a lighter, brighter spring flavor profile just made for Easter or any number of events that always seem to pop up this time of year.  The lemon syrup and sunny flecks of lemon zest perfectly contrast the layers or sweet whipped cream, and the hazelnuts create textural balance.  The dessert is supposed to be made and assembled the night before, which is really important to me when I entertain.  To keep the very top layer of chopped hazelnuts nice and crunchy, I added them shortly before my guests arrived.  Other than that, all I did one the day of the event was serve up this beauty and enjoy every last bite with my family and friends.  Love, love, love.

Lemon Hazelnut Tiramisu
from Giada De Laurentiis, Giada at Home


For the lemon syrup:
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. water
1/3 c. sugar

For the tiramisu:
1 1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
5 TBSP granulated sugar
1 (15-oz.) container mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
zest of 1 lemon, divided
1/2 c. hazelnut liqueur (such as Frangelico)
48 ladyfinger cookies
1 1/4 c. (5 oz.) lightly chopped toasted, skinned hazelnuts

1.  In a small saucepan, combine all three ingredients for the lemon syrup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved.  Set syrup aside and cool to room temperature.

2.  Using either a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a large bowl and hand mixer, whip the cream until thick.  Add the cinnamon and 2 TBSP sugar and continue to whip until soft peaks form.  

3.  In a separate large bowl, cream together remaining sugar and mascarpone cheese for 30 seconds.  Mix 1/4 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone, then fold in the remaining whipped cream and half the lemon zest with a rubber spatula.  Set aside.

4.  Pour the hazelnut liqueur in a small shallow bowl.  Dip 16 ladyfingers in the liqueur and place them in the bottom of a 13x9x2 serving dish.  Spoon any remaining liqueur over the dipped cookies.  Spread 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture of the cookies and top with 1/3 of the hazelnuts.

5.    Place the lemon syrup in a small shallow bowl.  Dip 16 ladyfingers in the syrup and arrange on top of the hazelnuts.  Spread 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture over the cookies, then top with 1/3 hazelnuts.

6.  Dip last 16 ladyfingers in the lemon syrup, arrange in the serving dish, and drizzle with any remaining lemon syrup.  Top with the last 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture.  Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

7.  To serve, remove tiramisu from the refrigerator one hour before serving.  Mix remaining hazelnuts and lemon zest and sprinkle generously over the top of the tiramisu.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Monday, April 7, 2014

Meatless Monday--Goat Cheese with Pink Peppercorns and Herbs

With Easter just around the corner and all the wedding showers, baby showers, and warm weather get togethers spring usually brings, I've come to find it very helpful to have a collection of simple but elegant go-to recipes.  I've got a good amount of main dish and dessert recipes, but I'm still working on rounding out my appetizer repertoire.  I can say without a doubt, though, that this goat cheese has earned its spot.

I've made it twice now with rave reviews both times.  With a creamy, tangy log of bright white goat cheese encrusted in two shades of green herbs, bright pink peppercorns, and drizzled with golden olive oil, it certainly looks perfect for the season.  The pink peppercorns aren't spicy.  In fact, they have more of a floral note.  I've made this with plain goat cheese as well as a honeyed variety and served it with an assortment of crostini and crackers, which makes for flavor and presentation opportunities that are quite flexible.  I also think it would be great in a grilled cheese, but I've never had enough leftovers to experiment with that!  Best of all, it's equally delicious whether it's made two days ahead or just before serving which, of course, makes it perfect for nearly any event.

Goat Cheese with Pink Peppercorns and Herbs
from America's Test Kitchen Make-Ahead Appetizers

1 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted
4 tsp. pink peppercorns
4 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 (8 oz.) log plain or honeyed goat cheese, chilled
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1.  Place fennel seeds in a plastic zip top bag and crush coarsely with a meat mallet.  Add peppercorns and pound until cracked. 

2.  In a large, flat dish, combine fennel mixture with thyme.  Roll goat cheese in herb mixture, pressing gently to adhere, until coated.  Wrap cheese log in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve, up to 2 days.  

3.  To serve, place goat cheese log and a plate and drizzle with olive oil. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Favorite Things--April 2014

Even with one of the coldest winters in quite some time, I am still so thankful everyday to live somewhere that has all four seasons.  I love that I can enjoy spring without the fear of 100 degree temps lurking just around the corner.  I'm perfectly content to enjoy spring, and I've got a whole bunch of spring-colored, warm weather items to share with y'all.

First up is this micro diamond softened shirt from Ann Taylor Loft.  The lilac color is more present than the website shows, but it's beautifully subtle.  It's lightweight, but not see through, so it looks great with jeans or a skirt.  As the weather continues to warm, I'm sure I'll wear it with shorts, as well.  I'll definitely wear it frequently this season.   

When I moved to Texas, I had a bit of a shoe crisis.  It rained one day.  In September.  It was warm, but it was raining.  My Phoenix shoe collection of flip flops and two pairs of fall-winter boots wasn't really sufficient.  So I took a jeans day and wore tennis shoes.  Spring's here now and I feel like I know how to shoe shop again.  I fell hard for these Steve Madden Neliee wedges.  They're not too high to wear all day long and the color works well with pastels, brights, and even black and navy.  The ankle strap dresses them up, but they still look great with shorts.

Spring's warmer weather reminds me that summer will be here soon enough.  Among hosts of other wonderful things, that means shorts and swimsuits.  I could not kick my exercise routine into high gear with my favorite sports bra, Target's C9 by Champion seamless cami bra.  I need a fair amount of support in my sports bras, but I hate wearing ones that come up really high in the front or back and have really thick straps--they're hot, I often break out from sweating without any ventilation, and, frankly, they can be really unattractive.  I've worn these bras for several years, but this year's updates--fun colors, criss-cross straps, and greater support--make me love it even more.   

I am a music girl.  After spending so many hours of my childhood and young adulthood dancing, I can't imagine life without music.  I love the way it can capture a moment and immediately fill me with deep emotions.  My most recent musical obsession is Sara Evans' new album "Slow Me Down".  It's got plenty of the authentic country sound she's known for, but it has an entirely updated sound.  I've always liked Ms. Evans' work and, after the last 18 months of my life, I've come to love it even more.  Her song "Stronger" really helped me through some of my roughest times.  After seeing her in concert last July, I became a serious fan.  The woman. can. sing.  My favorite track on "Slow Me Down" is called "If I Run".  It's all about finding faith in yourself, love, and others, even after having your heart broken multiple times.  Its real and hopeful all at the same time.

Have y'all heard of Amy Poehler's "Smart Girls" website?  It's awesome.  It's a tribute to intelligent, gutsy, hard working women everywhere.  It's motto is "change the world by being yourself."  How's that for a fabulous statement?  This world is so full of images and examples that put down intelligence and glorify bad choices and instant gratification, and I'm so relieved to know this website, along with its blog, shows, and facebook page, among others, is out there to show all of us, young, old, and in between, all we can be.

photographer unknown

Finally, I close with something I highlighted last year--my beloved cherry blossoms.  I miss them and Washington, D.C. so much each spring.  Luckily, I've got Earth Cam's cherry blossom cam.  Along with my friends still living in D.C., I can wait in anticipation and celebrate with joy when the scraggly-looking trees fill with delicate blossoms.  I'll be dreaming of picnicking under the most beautiful pink tree I can find while streaming live pictures of the tidal basin in all its glory.  It's as close as I'll get this year, but I've promised myself I will make it back one year.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bourbon Banana Pudding Cheesecake

Happy Friday!  Let's celebrate with a completely over the top boozy dessert, shall we?  I made this beauty over a month ago, for my birthday to be exact, but I haven't found the time to share it until now.  For that, I am very, very sorry because it's filled with so many of my favorite things.  For as long as I can remember, banana pudding has been one of my favorite desserts.  As a kid, it was one of the few things that compared to a bowl of ice cream or a big slice of chocolate cake.  I've loved bourbon since I took my first sip and, in my mind, it has no equal.  With both childhood memories and my favorite adult spirit in one place, this was a natural choice for my birthday dessert.

Like all great cheesecakes, this one has multiple steps, so you'll want to bake it the night before you serve it and let it set in the fridge overnight.  Make the whipped cream (which is also spiked with booze, of course) and garnish the dessert just before your guests arrive, so you'll have a beautiful recipe to showcase and talk about.  Just don't be surprised when, with the first bite, your guests' cheerful chatter gives way to complete and total silence and enjoyment.  This bourbon banana pudding cheesecake is just that good. 

Bourbon Banana Pudding Cheesecake
adapted from The Candid Appetite


For the crust:
2 c. finely crushed mini Nilla wafers
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
3 large ripe bananas
1 TBSP freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. light brown sugar
2 TBSP bourbon (or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs

For the garnish:
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1 TBSP bourbon (or 2 tsp. vanilla extract)
1/4 c. confectioners' sugar
1 banana, sliced
8 mini Nilla wafers

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease a 9-in. springform pan and wrap the outside with aluminum foil.

2.  In a food processor, pulse the Nilla wafer crumbs and chopped pecans until they are finely chopped and thoroughly combined.  With the processor running, pour melted putter through the feed tube until the crumbs come together.  Pour crumbs into the prepared pan.  Using your hands or a glass, pat them down into the bottom and about 2/3 of the way up the sides.  Bake 10 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely.

3.  In a small pot, mash the bananas until they are completely smooth.  Add the brown sugar and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat until the sugar has melted and the bananas are slightly cooked, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in bourbon.  Allow to cool completely.

4.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Slowly add in sugar and continue to cream, 2 minutes more.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well and scraping the bowl down between additions.  Stir in banana mixture until just incorporated.  

5.  Place springform pan in a large baking or roasting pan.  Pour in cheesecake filling.  Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the springform pan.  Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake 55-60 minutes, or until the center is mostly firm and barely jiggles.  Place on a cooling rack to cool completely, then refrigerate at least 8 hours.

6.  To make the whipped cream, beat cream with a hand or stand mixer on high speed until it begins to thicken.  Add the bourbon and confectioners' sugar and beat until soft peaks form.

7.  To garnish, pipe 16 dollops of whipped cream (one for each slice) around the outside of the cheesecake.  Top each dollop with alternating banana sliced and mini Nilla wafers.  Keep in the refrigerator, covered, up to 5 days.

Yield: 16 servings