March 24, 2012

Sesame-Soy Ahi Tuna Steaks and Brussels Sprouts

Summer weather puts me in the mood for fish. Since M dislikes fish but loves steak, I compromised with him by cooking these Ahi Tuna Steaks. They have the word "steak" in them, so they were a reasonable middle ground.

The inspiration for the Asian flavors in this dish came from my favorite happy hour appetizer. It's this positively addicting, salty, garlicky bowl of crispy brussels sprouts that we always order when we're at the outdoor Graffiti Bar at Sampan Restaurant in Philadelphia. I can't go to happy hour at Sampan and not order these brussels sprouts. Since I love them so much I decided to try to recreate the flavors at home.

I'll warn you that this isn't a dish for people who dislike salty things. Soy sauce is a naturally salty ingredient, which is part of why it's packed with big flavor. The great thing about this dinner, too, is that the marinade works for both the fish and the brussels sprouts. It's a one-flavor meets multiple ingredients type of dinner.

A little hint, too, is to simmer the extra marinade with a tablespoon of corn starch to create thick sauce that can be served on the side. Serve the fish over a scoop of fluffy rice to soak up the extra sauce. The brussels sprouts are fantastic as-is. While they aren't identical to my beloved Sampan sprouts (I'd have to bribe them to share their exact recipe with me), they are close enough to quell my cravings in between happy hour visits, which is exactly what I hoped for.

salt to taste
garlic powder to taste
1 T. lemon juice
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Ahi Tuna Steaks:
Place two Ahi Tuna Steaks in a shallow dish. Sprinkle each side with garlic powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, water, and vegetable oil until the sugar is dissolved. Pour 1/3 to 1/2 of the marinade over the tuna steaks and marinate from 2-24 hours.
Reserve the remaining marinade.

To cook Ahi Tuna Steaks:
Remove from marinade, discard rest. Preheat a cast iron grill pan over medium heat. Sprinkle each side of the tuna steaks with sesame seeds. Transfer steaks to the grill pan and cook 4-8 minutes per side (depending on how raw or cooked you like it) without moving in between turns of the steak to create even grill marks. Serve immediately.

Brussels Sprouts:
Slice off the very bottoms of 1 lb. brussels sprouts, keeping the sprout intact. Cut each sprout into even halves lengthwise, from the bottom stem to the top. Mince 3-4 cloves of garlic. Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T. vegetable oil and 1 T. sesame oil. Add the garlic and stir, 30 seconds. Add the brussels sprouts and stir, then pour 1/3 of the marinade over the brussels sprouts. Add 1 T. hot chile sauce if you like it spicy. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer 4-6 minutes or until the sprouts are just tender. Serve immediately.

Use remaining marinade as a sauce: whisk together with 1 T. cornstarch and bring to a boil, then simmer until thickened.

March 16, 2012

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes filled with Chocolate Stout Frosting

These cupcakes were made in honor of two things: The Bachelor Season Finale and St. Patrick's Day.

It began when my friend and I wanted to bake cupcakes to indulge in while watching The Bachelor Season Finale. The Bachelor this season was an awful one. The Bachelor himself seemingly had no redeeming qualities I could identify, and was not attractive to my viewing eyes in any way, shape, or form. Plus, he wasn't that much of a gem to the women on the show throughout the season. So we decided we'd bake a cupcake we could call the "Drunken (Jerk) Cupcake" in honor of Ben, this season's bachelor. It would be a chocolate stout cupcake with chocolate stout frosting. Perfect! We would eat these cupcakes throughout the two hour long finale in order to comfort our feelings of dislike and disapproval for the main character.

Then we realized that it was also perfect because the cupcakes would be a nod to the fast-approaching St. Patrick's Day. The bottle of Guiness we used in the baking was a well-timed nod to the upcoming Irish holiday. As we baked them, then whipped up the frosting, then piped frosting into the inside of the cupcakes and decorated the tops, we agreed that this was a cupcake we'd want to eat any old time of the year, whether or not a TV show or holiday suggested the indulgence.

....And considering that we consumed an entire batch of 12 cupcakes, plus two min-layer cakes we made with the extra batter, within 24 hours, it looks like this recipe was the perfect addition to both our trashy reality TV night and our holiday celebrations.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes: adapted from Bon Appetit
9 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 sticks salted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup Guinness Stout
2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee

Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 12 cupcake tin and dust with cocoa powder. Stir together the cocoa powder and canola oil in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until fluffy and pale yellow, 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cocoa powder mixture, stout, and coffee. Beat the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture in two additions until just incorporated.

Using clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites with the 3 tablespoons of  sugar in a medium bowl until stiff but still wet. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites in two additions. Pour the batter evenly into the cupcake tins. Gently bang the baking tins against the counter to release air bubbles and flatten batter. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, from 20-25 minutes.
Cool 20 minutes in the tins then gently turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile prepare frosting, as directed:
Chocolate Stout Frosting
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa powder
8 cups confectioner sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
6-8 teaspoons of Guinness Stout

Beat together the butter and cocoa powder until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Beat in 1/3 cup of milk, vanilla, and stout. Then beat in the remaining sugar. Add extra milk or stout 1 Tablespoon at a time until you reach desired consistency.

To decorate cupcakes:
Using a frosting piping bag, push the nozzle 3/4 of the way into each cupcake and use a circular motion to fill the cupcake with about 1 tablespoon of frosting. Then use a circular motion from the outside of the cupcake in and create a swirl of frosting to cover the top of each cupcake, finishing in the center. Top with a chocolate covered coffee bean or other chocolate candy.

March 12, 2012

Cookies for Breakfast!

Yes, please!

These chewy, oaty, and simply fun to eat breakfast treats will give you a reason to jump out of bed. They are made with nourishing whole-wheat flour, satisfying whole-rolled oats, and then bumped into the over-the-top fantastic category with favorite add-ins like toasted nuts and plump dried fruits. I credit my mother with inspiring the baking of these cookies. She visited two weeks ago and asked if we could bake a healthy oatmeal cookie she could eat for breakfast. I thought, 'sure, why not!' So we did. And they were incredible.

I don't like my breakfast to have much added sugar....I get more than enough of that as I continue throughout my day. So I love the fact that these cookies contain only natural sugars for the perfect amount of sweetness. So far I've made two varieties, and I've included both recipes here. One recipe, while still being very healthy, contains oil and more honey than the second variation, which is lower in sugar and omits fat. Both are delicious and both are good for you.

I plan to make more flavor varieties and I'll be sure to share those with you! The next batch I have been dreaming of will use the same basic breakfast cookie recipe, but will include shredded carrot, coconut, raisin, toasted walnut, and crushed pineapple ... I am hoping that it will be everything I love about carrot cake but made appropriate for breakfast.

Try out this morning delight for yourself. It's easy enough, but so satisfying and smile inducing you'll be baking a new batch every week. Since I first made them, M has been grabbing one off the counter every morning and keeps asking for more, and when I get into work every day I sit down at my desk, unwrap my own and get ready to enjoy eating every last bite. Seriously, can the start to the day get much better than that?

Variation 1: Classic Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups of whole rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (optional)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup oil
1 Tablespoon Molasses
1 egg (beat together with 1 Tbsp Water)
1 tsp Vanilla
Add ins I used: 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, 1/4 cup sliced almonds

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together.Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet, then stir until just combined. Fold in the Add-In ingredients until evenly distributed. Place bowl in fridge for 20 minutes hour to get firm. Preheat oven to 340 degrees. Using wet hands, form 1.5 inch balls, then press down onto a cookie sheet to flatten. Repeat until all of the mixture is gone. One batch will make from 12-15 breakfast cookies. Bake 12-15 minutes or until the edges are just golden-brown.

Variation 2: Slightly less fat and lower sugar version
Follow directions as above, except omit oil and honey as specified. Instead, use 1/2 cup cinnamon apple sauce, 1/4 cup peanut butter, and 1/4 cup honey. Add ins for that version were 1/2 cup dried blueberries, 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, and 1/4 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts.

March 6, 2012

Simple Turkey Sausage Cassoulet

Warming, hearty, and healthy... This turkey cassoulet is a simple but impressive dinner for a winter weeknight. Meaty hunks of turkey sausage, big butter beans, and soft and creamy sweet potatoes make this a filling, not fattening, dish. The generous use of chicken stock, herbs, and other aromatics lend a deceivingly rich taste.

Best yet, it's ready in a snap. Relax or clean up while it bakes in the oven... Or set the table like a cozy and romantic French Bistro, which you'll be transported to the minute this cassoulet is placed in your dish.

Light some candles, play some music, but whatever you do, keep the dutch oven on the table while you eat... That serving spoon will be returning for seconds, which you can certainly afford to indulge in!

Simple Turkey Sausage Cassoulet: serves 4 generously
2.5 T. olive oil, divided
4 uncooked turkey sausage links
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. sea salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 t. dried sage
1 large bay leaf
1 16-oz can butter beans, rinsed and drained
1 16-oz can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup whole-grain panko bread crumbs
2 T. grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Preheat medium sized dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half of the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the turkey sausage and cook until browned on all sides and heated through. Remove to a cutting board. Add the onion to the pan, stir, and cover. Meanwhile, slice the turkey sausage into 1" half moons.  Once the onion is golden, add the garlic and salt and stir, 30 seconds. Pour the white wine into the pan and deglaze the brown bits on the bottom.

Turn off the heat, then add the remaining ingredients to the dutch oven, up until the bread crumbs. Stir well to combine. In a small bowl stir together the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, remaining olive oil, and black pepper. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the cassoulet mixture. Cover the dutch oven and transfer into the oven. Bake 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Press the breadcrumbs gently down into the mixture from the top to absorb some of the stock. Serve in shallow bowls immediately, with crusty bread.


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