Monday, September 30, 2013

Walnuts and Prawns

I just learned that I live in the caviar capitol of the world!  I knew Sacramento was the tomato capitol, and several other capitols, but caviar??  We're inland!  Not to be deterred by a few measly miles of dry, hard land, Sterling Caviar has made this the headquarters of its sturgeon egg processing operation.  All over the world people are shelling out hundreds of dollars for tiny tins of it-- in Paris, in Russia, everywhere.  What's that, you say?  You don't like caviar?  You don't have a zillion bucks for these fish eggs?  What's wrong with you?
And welcome to the club.  I first tasted caviar in junior high and thought it tasted like gooey ashes.  Also, having gone fly fishing with my dad a number of times, and having used salmon eggs for bait, this was a hard mental image to discard.
Which brings me to a recipe that has nothing to do with caviar, and everything to do with pleasing the masses: Chinese Walnuts and Prawns. 

This is easily one of the most popular dishes at Chinese restaurants here in Capitol-Land, and while it's not an original, it's one I am happy to pass along.  It's very sweet and everybody goes crazy for it.  Even folks who dislike seafood love this.  I happen to be allergic to walnuts and I still love it (I just pick out the nuts).  Speaking of nuts, the original version of this recipe asks you to boil them, boil again, then deep fry them.  With sugar and honey.  The result is candied walnuts, so my version just starts with candied walnuts in the first place. Here's what you need:

1/2 lb. prawns, shelled and deviened
2 egg whites
1/4 Cup bread crumbs (or panko crumbs)
oil for frying
1/2 Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon sweetened condensed milk (Oh, like you can't find a recipe for the rest- ha!)
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 ounces candied walnuts (or candied pecans.  Sometimes in pouches in the produce section)
2-3 Cups cooked rice

1. Pat prawns dry with paper towels.  Dip in egg whites, then dredge in crumbs, to coat.  Deep fry for two minutes.
2. In a hot skillet, stir vinegar, mayonnaise, condensed milk, and sugar. Fry the prawns in this sauce for 1 minute.  Stir in candied walnuts, then serve over rice, if desired. Serves 4.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spicy Wontons with Red Pepper Apricot Dip

This is the perfect finger food for all you football fans as you watch your favorite teams!  It's also a wonderful party appetizer or simply a delicious snack.  And you know it's good, because I won a trip for four to Hawaii from the National Dairy Council, with this super simple, but knock-out delicious creation. Crispy wontons encase a creamy surprise-- and the dip is out of this world. 

Here's all you need:

48 square wonton wrappers
2 lbs. Jalapeno Montreey Jack cheese, cubed
Vegetable oil for frying
1 Cup ricotta cheese
1 Cup apricot jam
1 Cup bottled roasted red peppers, sliced

1. Wrap each cube of cheese in a wonton wrapper, pinching with moistened fingers to seal seams.  Heat an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Fry wontons 2 to 3 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels.
2. In a blender, whirl ricotta cheese, apricot jam, and sliced peppers until smooth.  Pour into serving bowl as a dip for cooked wontons.  Makes 4 dozen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chicken Vegetable Chowder

Okay, the mercury in Sacramento may still be in the 90s, but it's FALL, doggone it, and we're going to eat chowders.  This recipe won me a thousand buckaroos in a contest sponsored by Contessa Food Products and you are going to love how super easy it is.
First of all, do you know this line of frozen convenience meals?  They're a boon for busy families who want dinner in a hurry-- and this is just one way to remake them into another delicious comfort food:

1 pkg. Contessa Chicken Alfredo Convenience Meal
1 (15 oz.) can corn
1 Cup sour cream
2 Cups milk
2 Cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
basil for garnish
salt to taste
bread sticks (optional)

In a large soup pot combine the Contessa Chicken Alfredo, corn, sour cream, milk, cheese, and cayenne pepper.  Simmer (do not boil) on low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, or until mixture is completely cooked through. Garnish with basil and serve with bread sticks.  Serves 4 (and doubles well)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Healthy Sweet Potato Cranberry Doughnuts

Ha ha ha.  You believed that?  That was a total lie.  No doughnut is healthy, I don't care if you cram it full of kale and beet powder.  It's still deep fried and on the Do Not Eat list of every diet in the land.  Maybe that's how they got the name-- someone was saying, "Do Not--" and someone else interrupted them and thought they said, "Do Nut."

But if you're going to eat donuts ANYWAY, at least make these yummers that contain the wonderful goodness of yams and cranberries.  You can kid yourself that they're healthy, and the mind is a powerful tool, right?  Kids would love to come home from school to such a wonderful, comfort-food snack.
By the way, these won a Taste of Home contest a couple of years ago (minus the word "healthy"), so you know they're both easy and delicious.  Colorful, too.  (The title says sweet potatoes, but we're talking yams.)  Here's how to do it:

1/4 Cup sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 & 1/2 Cups flour
1 Cup 2% milk
1/4 Cup shortening
2 Tbsp. water (or organic apple juice, just making it even more healthy- ha!)
2 eggs
1/2 Cup mashed yams (canned or cooked fresh)
1/2 Cup finely chopped dried cranberries (this makes it as healthy as a granola bar)
Oil for deep frying
1 Cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 Tablespoons apple cider or juice (for glaze)

1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, yeast, cinnamon, salt, and 1 & 1/2 Cups of the flour.  In a small sauce pan, heat milk, shortening, and water to about 120 to 130 degrees; add to dry mixture.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, yams, and cranberries.  Beat 2 more minutes.  Stir in enough flour to form a firm dough.
2. Do not knead.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place, until doubled, about 1 hour.
3. Punch down dough.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface; roll out to 1/2-inch thickness.  Cut with a floured  2 & 1/2-inch donut cutter; reroll scraps.  Place 1 inch apart on greased baking sheets.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
4. In an electric skillet or deep fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees.  Fry doughnuts, a few at a time, until golden brown on both sides.  Remove from oil with tongs or slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.  Combine powdered sugar with apple cider; dip warm doughnuts in glaze.  Makes 2 dozen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What on Earth is a Vacherin?

Folks, I'm glad you're at your computer, because this means you're sitting down.  And that's the perfect place to be when you hear shocking news, right?  Well here's a dessert that looks like this:

yet is unbelievably easy to make.  In fact, you can't really call this baking.  It's more like assembling.  And you will love it!  Your guests will go wild and you will want to make these again and again.  I have de-constructed this French wonder to make it as simple as possible. Basically it has layers of EASY meringue, and then decadent fillings.  You can go as tall as you like with the layers

Or make it a rectangle, the way they do cakes in Europe.  Doesn't matter.

First of all, how do you pronounce Vacherin?  In the U.S. we see that and want to say, "Vacka-rin."  But I have consulted with one of my French-speaking sons (I have three) and was told the ch makes a shhh sound, the a is ahh, and the n is silent.  So it's vosha-rah.  That last part is tricky, because it has the short A sound, as in "ran," but without the n.  Okay, enough pronouncing, time to eat!  Here's what you need:

5 egg whites
1 & 1/4 Cup granulated sugar

First Filling:
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping, thawed
1/2 Cup seedless raspberry jam (or any jam you like.  Or lemon curd.  Or caramel. Or apricot jam.  Or strawberry puree. Or peanut butter.)

Second Filling:
1/4 Cup chocolate chips
1/4 Cup cream cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping, thawed

OR... just use chocolate frosting mixed with whipped topping.  OR... chocolate whipped topping.  You get the idea here, right?  Use whatever fillings you like.  Stir in little Heath Bar chunks.  Whatever.

Powdered sugar (or cocoa)

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Beat egg whites until very foamy.  Beat in sugar until meringue is stiff.  When you lift the beaters out, it will make points, not soft peaks.  Spread this meringue into circles or hearts, on parchment, on baking sheets.  I made thick ones, but you can make more if you make them thinner.

Be sure you make the top one fancy, because it will show.  Lattice, swirls, whatever.  You can put the meringue in a Zip-Loc bag, snip off one corner, and use that to pipe the meringue if you don't have a pastry bag. OR JUST MAKE IT ANOTHER CIRCLE, and then cover it completely later, with whipped cream and berries!  Now bake them with the oven door ajar, for 1 hour.  Cool completely.

2. Make the fillings.  For the first one, just stir the jam into the whipped cream.  For the second one, microwave the chips, cheese, and butter, until melty and smooth, then stir in the whipped topping and chill.

3. Assemble your layers.

 Put a baked meringue on a cake plate, cover with a filling, then top with the 2nd meringue and cover with a filling.  How much easier could this be?  If you want to add layers, just make extra meringues and stack it higher, using half as much filling atop each one (or make more filling).  Add berries here as well, if you like, or save them for just the top.

Top it with your lattice meringue, pile on berries then sift powdered sugar over all.

Slice and serve!  The meringue will be light and crispy, a perfect contrast to the creamy fillings.  Delish.  AND you can make little individual ones, too.
Okay, one last variation-- you can make chocolate meringue just by adding 1/4 cup cocoa.  Ooh-la-la!