Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Okay, this one has a video I made for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, so get ready to drool as you watch how easily this no-bake pie comes together.  Peanut Butter Cream Pie is rich and delicious, too-- perfect for company or week nights.  I first heard of this recipe from my sister-in-law, Sherri Hilton, but there are dozens of variations of it online as well.  The original called for superfine sugar, but I made some modifications (powdered sugar instead of superfine sugar, for example), and also created some variations you can try, listed below the recipe.
Click here to see the demo:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 Cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 Cup powdered sugar
2 Cups whipped topping, thawed (or whipped cream)
1 graham cracker pie crust, homemade or purchased
Optional: Additional whipped topping, chocolate shavings, peanut butter cups

1.  (What?  Only one step? Yep.) In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, melted butter, and sugar until smooth.  Fold in whipped topping, then spoon into crust and chill.  When ready to serve, cover with additional whipped topping and garnishes as desired.
Make this pie in a brownie crust (just mash cooked brownies onto bottom and sides of pie plate.)
Make this pie in an Oreo crust.
Make this pie in an oatmeal cookie crust.
Prepare two chocolate cream pies, then divide this batter atop the chocolate layers.
Smooth this over brownies for a creamy top layer, chill, then slice.
Use this batter in a trifle-- with crumbled brownies, whipped cream, and crushed peanut butter cups.
Top a cheesecake with this batter, chill thoroughly.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Easy Shrimp Scampi

Happy Shrimp Scampi Day! 
Yes, I am celebrating this little-known holiday, and you should as well.  Cooking Contest Central  at http://cookingcontestcentral.com/contests/category/deadline/ has asked me to post a Shrimp Scampi recipe for you and I jumped at the chance to show you just how simple (and fast!) this dish can be.   I have created the most slam-dunk easy recipe for Scampi that you have ever seen.  It’s so simple—just two ingredients—that I can’t even enter it in a contest.  It would be like entering breakfast cereal in a contest—you pour it in a bowl and you add milk—uh, okay, we all knew that.
So believe me, even non-cooks can make this, and dazzle their guests.  Granted, shrimp are not cheap.  Prawns and jumbo shrimp are even less cheap.  But they’re a whole lot less expensive than certain cuts of meat, and way below the cost of crab or halibut these days.  Choose whatever size shrimp you like, and then watch them as they cook so that you can serve them just as they become pink and opaque.  Do not overcook seafood.  Ever.  I have spoken.
Enough Shrimp for 4 people (3-4 jumbos per person, or 8-10 small guys per person, your choice)—peeled and deveined
4 Tbsp. bottled pesto sauce
OPTIONAL: ¼ Cup butter, if you want the sauce to be thinner for bread dipping (if tossing with pasta, double butter and pesto)
OPTIONAL: a squeeze of fresh lemon
Directions:  If you read any scampi recipe, you will notice that the sauce ingredients read like the label on a jar of pesto sauce.  So why not just use pesto sauce? This is a great step-saver!  If you want it more garlicky, I guess you could add more, but never overwhelm delicate seafood flavors with sledgehammer spices.  Please.  Heat the pesto sauce in a skillet over medium-low heat.  If you want to thin it with butter, or even more olive oil than is already in the pesto, now would be the time to add that.  Place the shrimp in the skillet, add a squeeze of lemon if you wish, and let them cook just a minute or two per side, then turn them, watching until they are fully opaque.  Ta-da!  The shrimp are done and so are you.
Note: Some people like to leave the tails on because they think shrimp are prettier this way.  HOWEVER… this only leaves you two choices, both undesirable in my opinion.  Choice Number One: You must cut the tails off with a knife, leaving some shrimp inside the tail and wasting that delicious shrimp meat.  Or, Choice Number Two: You will pick up the shrimp, lightly bite the tail to release all the meat, but then end up with greasy fingers.  I vote for completely peeling the shrimp before you cook them, which makes life much easier for your guests.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mini Pear Crisps

Cooking Light had a "Fire it Up" Grilling contest not long ago, and they selected my Mini Pear Crisps for a layout in their magazine.  Since we're all just going outside after winter and enjoying outdoor cooking again, I thought this would be the perfect time to share a unique grilled dessert.
Here are six great things about this recipe:
1. It's so easy kids can make it.
2. It can cook while you're enjoying the main dishes you just barbecued.
3. It's fun to do at a picnic or campout.
4. You can substitute apples for the pears (they can stand in for each other in any recipe, by the way)
5.  You have no dishes to wash afterwards.
 6. You can top it with ice cream, and that alone makes it a winner.
Scroll down for the photo...

1 Cup oatmeal
1 Cup packed brown sugar
1/3 Cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 Cup cold butter
1/2 Cup chopped pecans
1/2 Cup raisins
8 pears, peeled and sliced
vanilla ice cream, optional

1. In a large bowl, stir the first five ingredients.  Cut in butter until crumbly.  Stir in pecans and raisins.
2. Divide sliced pears among 8 greased, disposable foil tart pans (about 4 inches wide). Sprinkle with oatmeal mixture.
3. Prepare grill for indirect heat.  Grill crisps, covered, over indirect medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until pears are tender.  Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Individual Lemon Ginger Cheesecakes

     Who loves cheesecake?  Who hates how long it takes for one to bake and then chill? (Are you noticing an impatient streak in my cooking?)  The solution is to make individual ones that cook up in a jiffy and chill just as quickly.  TIP: When you need to chill something, pop it in the freezer to cut down on chilling time.  Just don't forget and come back tomorrow to a rock-hard baked good.
     This cheesecake won a prize at a cookoff in Iowa, but alas, I have no photos.  Hey, if you can't visualize little cheesecakes you have a problem far greater than needing to cook in a hurry.
     But here's what makes these even more fantabulous: They have a crust made from gingersnaps instead of graham crackers.  AND they have the zing of lemon.  Or you can substitute lime and call them Key Lime Ginger Cheesecakes.  You do realize that this is happening all over the world, right?  People are calling things Key Lime and they've never even seen a real lime from Key West (they're a bit yellower).  Whatever. The truth is that Meyer Lemons are also a zillion times better than regular lemons, but if you live where you can't get them, don't sweat it.  Just use any lemon or any lime.  I'm telling you, this recipe will come out SCRUMPTIOUS regardless.  And it's super easy-- complicated recipes rarely win contests, so you can count on me to save you ingredients and steps whenever I can.  Here we go:

1 Cup gingersnap crumbs (make these in your blender or food processor)
1/4 Cup melted butter
3 Tbsp. brown sugar

3 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1 Cup sugar
4 eggs
1/3 Cup lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
curls of lemon rind for garnish, optional

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 18 muffin tin cups with cupcake papers.  Mix gingersnap crumbs with butter and brown sugar, and press into bottoms of papers.  (Not up the sides).  Do not bake (yay!)
2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and rind. Beat thoroughly.  Pour onto crusts.  Bake 20 minutes, cool, then chill.  Top with curls of lemon rind.
I'm not going to tell you how many this makes because you should have been paying attention.  Serve them after dinner to your delighted guests, and keep some in the fridge for tomorrow and the next day, if you can hide them from your kids.  Good luck with that. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Italian Quick Bread

Quick breads are so dreamy, are they not?  They're always moist (or should be), and make wonderful gifts, as well.  They're perfect for impatient people who don't want to wait for dough to rise, then rise again.  I made this one up for an olive contest, and though it didn't win, you're going to love it.  It's literally bursting with those yummy Italian flavors everyone adores.  Unless you hate olives, in which case you can give BOTH loaves away.  Your friends will love you for it.
5 Cups flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Cup FINELY grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 (12.5 oz) bottle green Spanish olives, with juice
1 Cup plain yogurt or sour cream
4 eggs
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Cup pine nuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, stir flour, baking powder, baking soda, garlic powder, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, and cheeses.
2. Using kitchen shears, coarsely cut olives in the jar.  In another mixing bowl, combine olives (with juice), yogurt, eggs, oil, honey, and nuts.  Add to dry mixture but do not overbeat.  Pour into 2 greased 9x5-inch loaf pans and bake for 70 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes in pan, then invert onto cooling rack. 
Makes 2 loaves.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Jamaican Seafood Chowder

For a few years there it seemed I was creating tons of recipes with Jamaican Jerk Seasoning in them-- it figured into that delicious Eggs Benedict that won me a killer trip to France, and now it figures into a delicious chowder that won a Caribbean cruise for the family.
If you like seafood, you'll love this-- and it's so easy because there's no meat to cook up ahead of time.  It's both creamy and spicy, but not so spicy that it overwhelms the flavor of the seafood.  It was sponsored by Chicken of the Sea, so I used several of their products and the result is truly scrumptious:

1 (6 oz.) can Chicken of the Sea shrimp, drained
1 (6 oz.) can Chicken of the Sea crab meat, drained
1 (6 oz.) can Chicken of the Sea minced clams, drained
1 (6.5 oz) Rice-a-Roni Red Beans and Rice mix
2 Cups lite sour cream
3 Cups milk
4 Cus grated pepper jack cheese (or use regular Monterey Jack for a milder version)
2 Tbsp. Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (Schilling/McCormick)
1 (15 oz.) can corn, drained
1 (5 oz.) can mild chopped green chilies
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Cup grated cheddar cheese, optional

In a large kettle, prepare rice according to package instructions.  Over moderately low heat, add shrimp, crab, clams, sour cream, milk, pepper jack cheese, and jerk seasoning.  Heat until cheese melts, but do not boil.  Stir in corn, chilies, and lime juice.  Serve hot, sprinkled with cheddar cheese. Add some crusty bread and you'll feel transported to a fisherman's wharf in the Caribbean.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Eggs 202

I was going to call this Easter Eggs 101 but since it takes egg coloring to a new level, I had to say 202.  We take egg decorating pretty seriously in our family (except for Bob who colors ONE and only ONE egg every year).  Richie is the Egg Kingpin, which is a whole lot better than being a drug kingpin, and most of the following are his creations. 
Here's what we did with silk neckties:

It's super easy-- and you can use any silk fabric.  Wrap uncooked eggs tightly in the fabric, tie with rubber bands or twist-ties, then wrap in white fabric (an old sheet or remnant), tie again, then place in a pot of cold water.  Add a cup of vinegar.  Bring to boiling and cook 20 minutes. When cool, unwrap, and voila!
The blue and yellow egg is one of Richie's designs-- he clipped some Maidenhair Fern from our patio, placed it on a yellow egg then slipped a length of pantyhose over it, tying it off tightly.  Then he dipped it in blue dye, and after it dried peeled off the stocking and the fern.  We did this with several different leaves.
Now check out this striped egg:

Richie created this cool effect by spinning a boiled egg (colored or not) and touching them lightly with a SOFT-TIPPED artist's marker.  For the one above, he spun the egg several times and used 6 different markers to get the rainbow effect.
Last, here's a shot of the Italian Easter Egg Bread we make every year:

Simply use your favorite bread recipe (or thawed frozen dough), roll out ropes, twist them together, place them in a wreath shape on parchment paper, then tuck UNCOOKED yet colored eggs into the spaces.  Sprinkle with colored sugar sprinkles if you wish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.  I usually brush it with butter but forgot this year, so it's not quite as glossy and gorgeous as usual.  But it always makes a great-- and delicious-- presentation.
Thanks to all the friends who came over this year for our Easter feast, and who helped us color eggs and pretend we're kids again!