Monthly Archives: July 2011

Spinach Caprese Salad

Is there anything simpler? Is there anything more magnificent? Can you think of anything more elegantly and naturally perfect?

There’s not much to say about a beautiful caprese salad and yet there’s everything to say about it. There are very few flavor combinations like mozzarella, tomato and basil, in my opinion. Whether it’s raw or cooked, it works really well (margherita pizza anyone?). There aren’t many dishes like that, or at least, not many that we’ve personally come across in my experience, anyway. Individually each element, each ingredient, is highly unique and clearly has a voice of its own, yet when they all come together it composes an entirely new and even more delicious harmony of flavor. There’s the sweet and tangy juicy tomatoes, the rich and creamy bite of the fresh mozzarella, the earthy yet sweet basil. I added spinach to fill out the dish a bit and amp up the leafy green factor. When you love caprese salad as much as I do, anything to make the experience and enjoyment hang around a little longer without the additional calories is a very good thing.

 

Easy. Simple. Delicious.

Perfect.

Spinach Caprese Salad

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons aged sweet balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped

Recommended: Serve with a slice of warm and crusty Italian bread

Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic and set aside. Toss together the remaining ingredients and drizzle with the oil and vinegar mixture.

 

Posted in All, Dinner, Lunch, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

House Cake

I admittedly have found very few recipes that rival the ease of cake mix in that time crunched “I need a cake!” moment.  If you’re one of my super awesome loyal readers, you’ll know that I rarely do cake recipes.  The reason for that is  that I have tiny, little kids with a ridiculous amount of energy.  The dishes, the excess of sugar, the attention to detail are all things that I tend not to want to deal with, unless of course I’m feeling fancy.  Quite honestly,  I tried recipe after recipe and was never satisfied with any “from scratch” recipe that could out-do the ease, the lack of dishes, the quality moist crumb and the consistency (regardless of slight human error) of a box of science-laden cake mix.

That all changed the moment I read a recipe from a magazine.  “Dump cake”, it’s called.  Not an attractive name, but the idea behind it is magnificent, indeed.  I changed the flavor to what we had in the house at the time.  Since I don’t bake that often, I don’t keep a ton of brown sugar, chocolate, unsalted butter and confectioner’s sugar in the house; unless, of course I have a recipe in mind that I plan to make and showcase to you wonderful readers.

The baby was asleep and I didn’t feel like running out, so I substituted shortening for butter and flavored it with a lime I had in the fridge (instead of chocolate) and I used white sugar instead of brown sugar.  Yikes.  That’s a lot of substitutions.   I really didn’t expect it to turn out all that great.  But, really, what did I have to lose?  With the highest of hopes and the lowest of expectations I made my version of the “dump cake” and it astounded me, amazed me, my jaw literally dropped.

My 4-year-old pickiest eater in the world (yes, even for cake.  Especially for cake.) ate a huge piece without any icing at all! He then went on to rave about how “awesome” the cake is.  This might sound like a small feat for a 4-year old, (you’re thinking, “what four-year old wouldn’t eat cake?”) but I tell you that child has the palate of the snobbiest of food snobs in the world and he absolutely loved it.

So, I present to you, my new go-to house cake recipe.

This particular is the original “experimental” dump cake - lime cake with lemon syrup glaze.  I added the glaze since I didn’t have any frosting or confectioner’s sugar on hand.  Plus it makes it ridiculously moist. If you plan to layer the cakes with frosting in between, the glaze might not be necessary depending on your taste and the sweetness of the frosting you’re using.  But again, this one is really difficult to screw up and I say that with the utmost respect since I often screw up fickle baking recipes.

This recipe changed my entire attitude about cake in general.  That is saying a lot.

 

Lime House Cake with Lemon Syrup Glaze

For the Lime House Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brush 2 9-inch cake pans with softened butter and tap a handful of flour around until all butter is covered with a light dusting of flour.

Add all ingredients into a large bowl and mix with electric mixer on low speed (or by hand) for three minutes.

Pour half of batter into one prepared cake pan and the other half into the other prepared cake pan.

Place pans into preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes clean from center of cakes (in my not-so-great oven, this took exactly 21 minutes – came out beautifully).

Cool cakes to warm or room temperature.  Poke holes with a fork about 5 times in each cake/layer.

 

For the Lemon Syrup Glaze

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons water

Heat lemon juice, butter, water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to boil and then cool slightly.  Pour half of syrup over one cake and the other half over the other cake.

 

Adapted from Source: “Country Living”

Posted in All, Breakfast, Dessert, For Kids | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Beer & Lime Battered Onion Rings

So, what I’ve noticed lately is that people love easy stuff.  They do, it’s true.  Who can blame them?  I love easy stuff too.  Simple is always better than complicated, especially when most of the United States is under an extreme heat wave.  It’s going to be about 120 degrees in the sun here on the east coast today and mind you, this is not a “dry heat”.  This is the oppressive, disgusting humid, ridiculous kind of heat that no human being could ever possibly enjoy unless completely drenched in freezing cold water, which also doesn’t sound very fun to me.  So, today…I will let the kids go outside in the shade for about an hour tops while I slather them with sunscreen nearly obsessively and then we will enjoy ourselves in the air conditioning doing fun things to keep our minds off of it.

 

I just got an air conditioner in the kitchen.  Thanks to Mike, my husband for that.   He knows I get very grouchy when it’s too hot to cook and my hair gets frizzy and gross – again not fun.  So, to say thank you to him for the air conditioner and so many other wonderful things he does for us, I made these beer and lime battered onion rings topped with black pepper.  They’re easy and they’re fried and they’re delicious.  Just be sure to stay hydrated.  They’re best eaten after the sun goes down and everything cools off a bit.

Have these with a beer, but don’t forget to drink plenty of water before and after!

 

Beer & Lime Battered Onion Rings

  • 1 very large sweet summer onion of your choice (or two medium onions of your choice)
  • 1 1/3 cup flour + additional 2 cups  (in baking dish) for coating
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper + a light dusting more for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried cilantro (optional)
  • 3/4 cup beer
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 egg (beaten)

You will need a pot that is large & tall (if you want to reduce splatter without a splatter guard) with 3 inches of canola oil in the bottom and one gallon sized zipper bag or storage container.

  1. Remove root ends and outer skin from onions and slice into rings.  Remove inner rings and set aside/store in air tight container for use in another recipe.
  2. Next, add flour, salt, pepper, beer and lime juice to a ziploc bag (or air tight container with lid).  Mix it up and then taste the batter (season to your taste if necessary) then add the beaten egg and mix shake, squish mix it up again.
  3. Drop the additional 2 cups of flour in a baking dish.
  4. PREHEAT: Place pot with oil over medium high heat.
  5. Drop the sliced onions into the batter bag.  Shake it up!
  6. Next, fish them out of the batter with a fork and drop them into the baking dish with the flour. Set each one aside and bring next to preheated oil.
  7. Using long tongs pick up one onion ring and dip into preheated oil.  If it doesn’t bubble like crazy…wait a few minutes until oil is hot enough.
  8. When oil is hot enough, drop prepared onions into the hot oil in batches of about 4-5 rings.  Remove the rings when golden brown and place on plate with paper towels.  Continue to do this with the other rings until complete.
  9. Drizzle fried onion rings with fresh lime juice and dust with black pepper.

Enjoy with a beer and friends and family.

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Simple & Decadent Salted Caramel Popcorn

I love the warm aroma of the freshly popped popcorn and rich, buttery, dark brown sugary, delicious caramel as it meanders throughout our home. It’s the airy essence of your favorite family summer getaway and personally reminds me of the confectionery shop at our favorite shore locale and the one on Main Street at Disney World.  It transports you through time and space to a land of happy family summer days and nights.  You can almost hear the giggles of delightful family jubilance while this sweet aroma wafts through your home.

Add roasted or toasted nuts of your choice. My favorite is pecans and peanuts, but my family prefers theirs just plain, so that’s how I made it, of course. It’s lighter and easier than most baked desserts, which is nice for the hot summer days and breezy nights. The rich, sweet and decadent glass like caramel lightly glazes the freshly popped corn with a rich lacquered fine coat, while the sea salt adds just a bit of depth and obvious addictiveness. It’s one of those sweet and salty and awesomely lethal (to your diet) combinations that I love all too much, indeed.

I keep this recipe to as few ingredients as possible, but of course if you prefer a bit of vanilla or cinnamon essence in your caramel corn you can add a half a vanilla bean’s seeds or a sprinkle of cinnamon to the caramel concoction as it bubbles and boils.  Some people add baking soda to their caramel, but I didn’t find that necessary here, since it’s just a simple coating, not a brittle. The thin salted sea glass like coating crackles quite easily on its own after baking in the oven.  Plus, fewer ingredients means simplicity.  Can’t we all use a little simplicity now and then?  I hope you enjoy this as much as our family did.

 

Simple and Decadent Salted Caramel Popcorn

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/3 cup popping corn kernels
  • 2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • Sprinkling of fine sea salt to taste
  • *optional: 1-2 cups roasted or toasted nuts of choice

 

  1. Place two 9×14 inch baking dishes aside. Or, line two baking sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Heat 3 popcorn kernels in the oil in a covered 3-quart heavy bottomed saucepan over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then immediately cover and shake pan frequently, cooking approximately 3 minutes. Remove from heat when popping slows (5-6 seconds between pops) and then uncover and pour into a large bowl.  *If using optional toasted nuts, add to bowl with popcorn.*
  3. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over moderate heat and then add brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to boil. Boil undisturbed and unstirred for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir.
  5. While still bubbling and boiling, pour the hot caramel in a thin stream over the freshly popped popcorn. Stir to evenly coat all the popcorn and immediately scoop the hot caramel corn onto the parchment-lined baking sheets or baking dishes in a single layer. Sprinkle with fine sea salt. Place in preheated oven for 50 minutes, tossing lightly half way between baking time.
  6. Remove from oven, bring to room temperature and enjoy!
  7. Store in air tight containers to retain crackle.
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Wrapped: Southwest Style Vegetables with Summer Salsa.

The server brought out a plate full of sizzling seared vegetables. Blackened on one side, crisp on the other with a side of tortillas. There they were. Brightly contrasting colors of sweet and spicy vegetables as the aroma of sweet and savory peppers and onions filled the air. The presentation was a bit dramatic, which, I admittedly enjoyed…just a little. He placed it down. I saw a lovely medley of fresh vegetables; carrots, cauliflower, zucchini and of course, my beloved peppers and onions. They were imperfectly perfect if you ask me, but…as I picked one up and popped it in my mouth, I noticed… with such disappointment, they were drenched in garlic and rosemary oil. I mean drenched. The pan must have started cold, or maybe that particular restaurant just likes to dump bottles of wrongly seasoned oil all over their vegetables.  Perhaps the cook is a meat lover trying to overcompensate for the lack of prevalent protein. I don’t know much about Mexican, or even southwestern cooking, but last I checked…that wasn’t it. Not at all. Talk about a taste tease. It smelled great, it looked great.  I awaited the presentation with all its glorious fanfare. The sizzle, the aroma…it was all there.  My senses deceived me.  That was about ten years ago.  I’ll never forget it.

 

Ever since then, I’m always on the lookout for a similar dish at restaurants. Every time. Vegetable fajitas, grilled vegetable burritos, seared vegetable platter, spicy blackened vegetables, etc.; if you can get it right, I’m happy. Simple enough, but you’d be surprised. The vegetables have to be fresh, seasonal (organic & local is a bonus, but not required) they have to be crisp, but tender and chopped so they’re all cooked perfectly in unison, they have to be seasoned, but not over seasoned and the vegetable blend itself has to be exciting – mostly peppers and a little onion with a little something sweet and a little something spicy, topped with an abundance of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, a touch of fresh lime juice and a little cilantro.

 

I’ve been messing around with vegetable combinations, doing a little something different each time depending on the season and what was fresh at the market, etc. However, I had to wait until today to give you the perfect rendition. In a perfect world I would make it just like this every time. The vegetables just aren’t the same without the salsa. If you choose not to make the salsa, then add some (2 large cloves) of pre-roasted garlic and 1-2 chile peppers (Serrano or jalapeno) into the vegetable mix. It won’t be the same, of course, but it will be really good, regardless.

Summer is not my favorite season. There’s humidity and bugs and sunburn and bathing suits. Really, who’s a fan of those things? Summer does have some redeeming qualities, though, particularly when it comes to vegetarian cuisine and grilling. This particular dish is a definite highlight of my summer. I sometimes do this on the stove, in small batches, in a very hot pan with a little oil. Other times, when it’s chilly or raining, I’ll use the broiler. It was 93 degrees outside, the gentle breeze cooled me, the kids were entertained by popsicles and splashing in the baby pool, the citronella got rid of the bugs, the outdoor grill kept my house less than broiling and the sun block protected my skin. I think I might be evolving into a fan of summer.

Southwest Style Vegetables

  • 3 bell peppers of varying color, chopped
  • 1 large, (softball sized) white onion, chopped
  • Sweet corn kernels from 2 ears of slightly blackened, grilled, fresh corn
  • 1 cup of canned kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 ripe, red (baseball sized) tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (divided into 3 fairly equal amounts)
  • 1 cup cubed, sharp and tangy cheddar cheese of your choice.
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all produce in a large bowl. Top with beans, salt and one (out of three) portions of lime juice. Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Preheat gas grill to about 500 degrees (medium heat). Place prepared mix onto a slotted grill pan (I used the grill pan part from my broiler pan). Top vegetable (and bean) mixture with cubed, sharp cheese. Place pan on preheated grill. Cover with grill top.

After 3-5 minutes, douse evenly with another portion of lime juice. Close cover. After another 3-5 minutes, repeat with the last portion of lime juice, and then sprinkle fresh cilantro.

Taste. If tender and sweet, yet crunchy…they’re perfect. Add salt to taste if necessary.

If they’re still raw, cook for 3 – 5 minutes more. Taste to be sure they’re to your liking.

Summer Salsa

  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. dried chives
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (more to taste, if desired)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roasted and peeled
  • 2 pickled Serrano chiles, diced (keep the seeds, in my opinion)
  • 1 tbsp. julienned pickled onions.
  • 2 large baseball sized tomatoes, deseeded and diced
  • 1 green pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded and diced.
  • The juice from half a fresh Meyer lemon (about 2-3 tbsp.)
  • Fresh herbs of choice: Suggested -1 tsp. fresh chopped cilantro OR 1 large leaf of fresh basil, finely chopped

In small sauté pan, gently warm together, the oil with the dried spices: chives, chili powder, cayenne, cumin and salt. Add roasted garlic and Serrano chiles to the pan. Blend until smooth.

In medium bowl, combine the pickled onions with tomatoes, green pepper, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. Top with seasoned, blended oil and gently but thoroughly, mix together. Add salt to taste.

Wrapped:

Place roasted vegetables in a tortilla and top with summer salsa. Wrap tortilla and grill directly on 400 degree grill (closed cover) until hot and grill marked.

NOTE – Serve alone or with any of the following:

  • seasoned rice
  • additional cheese
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Additional beans (refried, etc.)
  • queso
  • crisp lettuce
  • grilled marinated, thin sliced steak or chicken
Posted in All, Dinner, Lunch, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Burger Pickles

No barbecue should be without pickles, it’s sort of an unwritten law of backyard barbecue entertaining.  Homemade pickles add intrigue and maybe even an element of (dare I say…) gourmet sophistication to your simple backyard barbecue. Not only are homemade pickles (pickled cucumbers, to be specific) delicious, they’re also an excellent point of interest.  Pickling is an easy (really really easy, I promise) technique to learn, and a fabulous conversation starter. Rather than having your nosey neighbor and super old Great Aunt Fanny talk about exceptionally boring stuff, they’ll be saying, “You made your own pickles? Oh how fancy! …” and so on and so forth. Plus, it only takes about fifteen minutes of actual “work”, though I wouldn’t really call it work. The hardest part, I’d say, is trying not to cry while cutting the onions. I’m genuinely terrible at that.

Homemade, of course, also allows for customization of flavors, quality of ingredients and adds a unique freshness that you really just can’t get from a jar. These pickles are savory and salty but also sweet and spicy. What more could you ask from a food? Pickles are an epic journey of flavor in just one tiny little (did I mention low calorie, fat free, gluten free, vegan?) bite! They’ll leave an inspiring impact with highly unique, tangy flavor and crisp lightness and freshness. The balance of acid and spice and sweet is truly, in my opinion, incomparable perfection. The best and most impressive part is that it’s packed into such a teeny tiny, iddy-biddy, little sliver of cucumber! Can you think of any other food like it? It’s fantastic!

No wonder pickling is one of the oldest ways to prepare and preserve food. It’s genius in its efficiency, meaning that the technique and preparation are so simple yet yield maximum amounts of multi-dimensional flavor. It’s one of the smartest techniques that I can think of.

These particular pickles take your ordinary hamburger or hot dog or veggie burger or tofu-dog (etc.) to an astronomical dimension of awesome (ok, maybe I’m glorifying a bit here, but it’s hard not to…they’re really good!). Add some sharp cheddar cheese and a fried onion ring to a toasted bun with some homemade green tomato ketchup and forget about it because you (and I) are now in food heaven. I don’t even need the burger by that point, since the burger is just a vehicle for awesomeness. See? This is what happens when you’re a vegetarian. Suddenly the little things like condiments and garnishes become the center focus of the dish. The burger? I’m sure you can figure that part out for yourself.

If you like your pickles a little sweeter like bread and butter pickles, add another quarter cup of sugar (half a cup total). If you like your pickles a little more spicy, add a couple more Serrano chiles to the mix. The chiles are whole, so they add only a little heat; they’re not shockingly spicy by any means just deliciously perfect and warm to balance out the natural cool-crispness of the cucumber. The kids won’t even notice the spice, in my opinion. I added some fresh dill to the original recipe and reduced the sugar by half, just because I love salty-sour-tangy dill pickles with just a hint of sweetness and zest as an all-American staple to a fourth of July barbecue. I fully encourage you to adapt this recipe to your liking.

Hope you all have a wonderful, safe and happy Fourth of July!

p.s. THE GIVEAWAY WINNER IS ERIN @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts! Please e-mail me your continental US mailing address at KatefromScratch@gmail.com in order to expedite shipping (less time tracking you down ;)).  Congratulations Erin and thank you to all who participated. There will be more opportunities to win other giveaways in the near future. Please be on the lookout for that.  Thank you!

Burger Pickles

Adapted from “Burger Pickles” recipe by Susan Feniger

  • 3 tbsp. canola or other neutral flavored oil
  • 3-4 Serrano chiles, whole (one ounce)
  • 7 garlic cloves, whole (one ounce)
  • 1 1/2 white onions, julienned (6 ounces)
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed
  • 2 pounds Persian or baby (or other choice) cucumber sliced in rounds of desired thickness
  • 1 tbsp. chopped, fresh dill

1. Place deep sauté pan over medium high heat. Add oil, chiles, onion and garlic to flash fry. When skin blisters on the chiles and the onions and garlic start to get a bit of color on them, remove from heat and drain the oil from the mix.

2. Place fried ingredients in medium saucepot over medium high heat. Add vinegar, water, sugar, and salt and cumin seed. Bring to boil.

3. Pour pickling liquid over cucumbers in a clean glass container and top with fresh dill. Cover and bring to room temperature, then refrigerate. Pickles will be ready in approximately 3-5 hours, depending on the thickness of cucumber slices.

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