Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comforting Shrimp Creole

On a cold, rainy night at home when you are in your comfy clothes and have the fire blazing in the fireplace (or in my case, a few candles lit), you want comfort food.  Something that smells good, looks good and will warm you up inside!  Many of my favorites include a good pot of chili, potato soup, or creamy mac and cheese.  In the recent years I have added a new favorite that's in the form of a Cajun classic....Shrimp Creole!  With the spicy tomato based sauce full of cooked down veggies and shrimp piled up and soaked in a bed of hot rice it is just so comforting!   This is a dish my mother-in-law (whom I love!) introduced me to.  I have always loved the flavors of New Orleans and spicy dishes, so this dish was love at first taste!

There's quite a bit of chopping to prep for this dish -- but honestly, unless I am rushed for time, I enjoy getting out the cutting board and my sharpest chef's knife and dicing the vegetables. You will want them diced in about the same-sized pieces so they will cook evenly. I put onion in this dish, even though it doesn't call for it. I like the onion flavor with the garlic, and the onion with the bell pepper and celery is sometimes called the holy trinity in Louisiana cuisine. This combination is the base of other Cajun dishes, as well. Sometimes, onions really bother my sensitive eyes if they are very fresh so if I can't afford to lose my mascara, I will use frozen pre-chopped onions. They are a good thing to have on hand for those who don't like to dice or don't have much time.

When stirring the flour in the oil be a little patient to get the light brown color.  This is like a roux, which is traditionally flour stirred into melted (clarified) butter.  You could definitely do this instead of the oil to get an even richer, creamier base. A roux is also used to start many Cajun dishes.  I just added a bit of butter to my olive oil.  I use olive oil because it is the healthier option and I try to cook by making smart choices for our bodies! Also, I add more red pepper to this dish then it calls for.  We enjoy a kick to our food, and so you can adjust according to your taste.  The shrimp should be watched fairly carefully at the end, to ensure no overcooking.  Already have your rice finished by the time the shrimp is fully cooked and ladle the Shrimp Creole over a bowl of hot rice! Serve this with cornbread muffins or even just toast with some melted butter and garlic salt.  We always put Tabasco sauce on the table so you can add a couple dashes to your taste!  Enjoy this dish inside your cozy home no matter the weather, and feel the warmth of eating a beautiful meal in the comfort of our own home. Enjoy!

*Tip- To make ordinary rice really good, brown the rice in oil in the same pan you will be cooking it in, before adding the water and cooking.  This will really bring out the nuttiness and flavor of the rice.  Salt your water well; and after it's cooked, fluff your rice and stir in as much butter as your conscience allows and add salt and pepper. So good and rich!  (Not recommended if watching your weight!)

1/4 cup   oil
1/4 cup   flour
4  cloves garlic
1/2 cup   chopped onion (optional)
1/2 cup   chopped celery
1/2 cup   chopped green pepper
1/4 tsp.   thyme
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp.   black pepper
1/4 tsp.   red pepper
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
2 cans    tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs. frozen shrimp (whatever size you prefer, I like small)

1. Heat oil.  Add flour stirring constantly until smooth and golden brown.
2. Add garlic, celery, onion and green pepper.  Cook until tender.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seasonings, and cook 15-20 minutes stirring frequently.
4. Add shrimp and simmer 12-15 more minutes.

Makes about 6 servings.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nana's loved Apple Pie

Nana's Apple Pie. Those are words of joy in our family, for it is made with love....and lots and lots of sugar and butter! My husband's Nana is known to make one of the best apple pies you will ever eat and everyone in the family knows it! It is the one pie that doesn't need any whipped cream, ice cream, or drizzle of anything to make it better. This is a pie that goes in a flash when brought to a gathering, and yet it is a recipe that seems to be untouchable. Yes, this is a pie that I mustered up the courage to bake for my deserving husband on exam week. A time that is so intense for him only something like Nana's Apple Pie could ease the stress and tension that only medical school can bring. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it turned out!

Though I cannot give you the recipe of this delectable dessert, I will give you a couple secrets about it's yummy deliciousness. Jonathan apples. They are the only apples to make this pie so good. Jonathan's can be difficult to find. They are grown in Washington from September-January, but I have only found them Sept.-Nov. myself. They are a bit tart and a bit sweet. They are perfect in this recipe because they cook down so they are not in the least crunchy but in fact melt in your mouth soft.The other tip is that the apples are sliced very thinly. This also adds to the melting in your mouth apple and, the thinner they are sliced the more surface area for all the sugary goodness to coat! As you can tell this pie has a streusel like topping that is like heaven!

As each family usually has their own "passed down" and much-loved recipes, this is definitely one that I imagine will see many generations of cooks. Is there is a heritage recipe in your family that is passed down?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Roasted Root Vegetables

When I have a chicken casserole, like the Chicken Poppyseed Casserole I made with this, or grilled chicken or pork chops I love to have roasted veggies to eat with it. What a tasty side dish this is! Year round I will roast vegetables as a delicious and versatile side depending on which veggies are in season. Because we are in the fall right now, and I happen to have parsnips (which I have to admit I am just now starting to cook with) carrots, potatoes, and onion.

Well, the onion part I usually have but since I did not this time around I used onion powder. It is easier than chopping up an onion but I still recommend taking the extra time for the real thing if you have it. There's nothing like an onion to give a dish depth of flavor in my opinion.
Carrots -- I just love whenever they are roasted at high heat and the sugars begin to caramelize, and potatoes I always have on hand and they become so tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. This time I used the small new potatoes for this. They are so tender with thin skin you don't have to peel, and they are small enough you only have to cut them in half! Unless you are feeding small kids, in which you may want to cut into fourths.

Wash your vegetables well and peel the carrots and parsnips with a vegetable peeler. Next, cut up all your vegetable into chunks that are about the same size. Put them into a large ziplock bag and drizzle olive oil in the bag for the seasonings to stick and for the veggies to get nice and brown. Next put in your seasoning. Salt and pepper, italian seasoning, garlic salt(about equal parts)and onion powder if you are not using an onion. Close the bag shut and shake shake shake! This is a fast way to evenly distribute the oil, and seasonings over your veggies. Also, one less bowl to wash.

Pour the newly coated veggies and spread this out on a pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Place in a hot 400-425 degree oven. This high heat will caramelize and crisp everything to heavenly goodness! You may stir once while it's in the oven if you want. The fewer times you move them around the more crisp the potatoes will be. Take out after about 25 minutes or until veggies and potatoes are tender and sprinkle one last time with salt and pepper. Serve Roasted Root Vegetables and it will quickly become the new favorite side dish!

Grocery List

New Potatoes
Onion or Onion Powder
Garlic Salt
Italian Seasoning
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Autumn Apple and Cranberry Crostata

     When one of our best friends came to visit us for a couple of days, I decided to make a fall "comfort" dessert to go along with the chili and cornbread for supper(as we call dinner in the South). What better than apples and cranberries seasoned and sweetened in a fast sugar-coated crust!?

     This was my first time at this recipe, and I made a few changes to from the original. I used apples instead of pears(although pears would also be delicious)and dried cranberries instead of raisins. I just love the taste of slightly plumped dried cranberries! Also, I added a dash of nutmeg to the filling. Nutmeg is just one of those things that I think completes the apples and cinnamon trinity. It's fun to make changes to a recipe to make it your own. If I have one bit of cooking and baking advice it's to play around with the recipe. Although it is important, in baking, to be precise in measuring out your base ingredients such as flour and leavening agents, take the liberty to adjust the spices and add-ins and even extracts to your desire. That is what will keep your baking new and interesting! I love the use of the quick and delicious roll-out pie crust in this dessert. Just let it sit out for about 15 minutes before unrolling so it will not tear. The folding over of the crust gives this dessert a rustic elegance for any occasion. I think we just ate a slice with a cold glass of milk, but a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would be over the top!

     *Tip - If you want a to-die-for crust, do an egg wash! So easy...just beat together one egg, and a little milk or water and brush on the crust just before putting it in the oven. This makes the crust extra golden and glisten when you take it out of the oven.

Autumn Apple and Cranberry Crostata


2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 c. dried cranberries

1/3 all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

4 cups apples, peeled and sliced 1/2 in. thick

1 rolled out pie crust dough, or your favorite homemade crust recipe


3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1.Heat oven to 425˚. In a large bowl mix together all the filling ingredients, except apples. Fold in the apples and set aside.

2.Unroll your pie crust onto a large flat baking pan. I used a large cookie sheet.

3.Mound filling on center of the pastry to within 3 inches of edges. Sprinkle nuts over filling and a few additional dried cranberries if you wish. Fold over the edge of the pastry over the filling. Overlap to make about 12 please or whatnot. Just as long as it's all folded in. If it tears a bit, just pinch back together. This dish is rustic and yummy looking after it's baked no matter what. Use your egg wash, if you want, and then sprinkle sugar all over the pastry crust.

4.Bake at 30-35 minutes until crust is golden, covering crust for the last 10-15 minutes to prevent over browning. Cool for 30 minutes (if you want wait that long!!) and cut into wedges.

Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slow-Cooked Apple Cider Pork Medallions

Hello! As my first post, I thought I would share the tasty and relatively thrown together dinner I prepared tonight. It turned out just yummy! I had some pork loin that I knew I needed to use very soon before it was too late, and I didn't have much time to prepare before going into work. So with the help of my trusty crock pot (thanks, Mom, for the wedding gift!) here's what I came up with. I love the classic combo of pork and apples, and with that made my Slow-Cooked Apple Cider Pork Medallions. It's easy and sure to please.

Sear your pork over med-high heat in Olive Oil or Canola (I use Olive) for just a couple minutes per side. Season nicely with salt and pepper. You want to give the meat a nice brown crust. While that is going, get out Apple Cider, Beef Boullion Cube, Ground Dry Mustard, half of a Shallot, a couple of Yellow Potatoes (New Potatoes would work as well) and a Gala Apple.

Keep in mind I am preparing this for just my husband and I, so use as much as you need. I usually don't precisely measure any of my own recipes, a tip I inherited from Mom.
Once the Pork is seared, place it into a crock pot that is already set to LOW. In a separate bowl, pour a bit of the Cider, couple shakes of the Mustard and Salt and Pepper to stir together before pouring over the meat. Once that is incorporated, pour the mixture over the Pork and add more Cider till it's just covering the meat. Add the Beef Boullion Cube, diced Potatoes and Apple, and minced Shallot. Work this down into the cider and pork a bit and put the lid back on.

I let mine cook for about 4 1/2 hrs. Keep in mind, I had only about 6 small pork loins, 2 potatoes, and 1 apple. More food will probably require a bit more time.

After that time, I brought some of the cidery-broth to a boil in a small sauce pan and added a cornstarch and water mixture to thicken. It begins to bubble and create a delicious gravy.

Plate the pork with potatoes and apples and then pour some of your cider gravy over it all.

It was so mouth watering good! The pork was so tender I literally just ate it with a knife at all! The combination of the pork and apples especially in the fall is so good, and with the buttery golden potatoes and shallot, O! You will love this and so will your family. It would be so good with homemade dinner rolls or a toasty bread to sop up the gravy. They'll never know you didn't slave away in the kitchen over this beautiful dish!

Grocery List:

Pork Loin Chops
Gala Apple
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Apple Cider
1 Beef Boullion Cube
Dry Mustard
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil