Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

If I had to pick one Food Network chef/cook to be my go to recipe source, it would hands down be Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I have all but one of Ina's cookbooks and have had overwhelmingly positive success with her recipes.  What I love about Ina is her recipes aren't overly complicated, yet they have a wow factor.  And most importantly, they are delicious. 

I have had my eye on Ina's Roasted Shrimp with Cocktail for a few years now.  This recipe comes from her book, Back to Basics--one of my favorites.  I was in search of a healthy appetizer for our recent dinner party and I remembered this recipe.  It did not disappoint and it's incredibly easy to make.  It's even easier if you buy shrimp that is already peeled and de-veined.  We almost always buy our shrimp, uncooked, peeled, de-veined and frozen from Costco and simply defrost. 

What I like about this recipe is it is a twist on the traditional shrimp cocktail.  The simple step of roasting the shrimp in olive oil, salt and pepper, makes all the difference in creating the wow factor for this appetizer.  The cocktail sauce is homemade and has a nice tang with a horseradish kick.

I wish I had more photos to the baking sheet with all the pretty pink roasted shrimp when they just came out of the oven.  Or the final plated dish with the shrimp circling the bowl of cocktail sauce, lemon wedges interspersed.  But lighting was not good and I might have been mildly stressed anxiously waiting for our dinner guests to arrive.  Luckily one lonely shrimp was left over and I took this photo the next morning. 

If you like shrimp cocktail and you are looking for an easy appetizer, this is a great choice.


Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
from Ina Garten's Back to Basics


2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp (we used 21 to 25 count--meaning count of shrimp per pound)
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I used 1/4 teaspoon)

1/2 cup Heinz chili sauce
1/2 cup Heinz ketchup
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and de-vein the shrimp, leaving the tails on.  (Or use frozen, uncooked, peeled shrimp).  Place the shrimp on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the shrimp and use your hands to toss and evenly coat the shrimp.  Place shrimp in a single layer on the pan and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or just until the shrimp turns pink and feels firm and cooked through.  (My shrimp took exactly 8 minutes).  Set shrimp aside to cool.  (I recommend making the shrimp an hour or two before you plan to serve it)

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until well combined.  The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to serve. 

Serve roasted shrimp with cocktail sauce and garnish with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beef Brisket with Pomegranate Sauce

I'm not a vegetarian.  Duh, there's a big hunk of meat pictured above.  But I don't cook meat all that often, especially large cuts.  I took a quick look at my blog stats and only 5% of my posts contain beef or pork and another 5% are devoted to chicken.  The stats are also pretty low for seafood.

I think a New Year's resolution is going to be devoting a little more time to protein based posts.  I normally don't buy into the whole New Year's resolution thing, but I really do have a lot things I want to accomplish in 2012 and maybe if I put some of these goals in black and white, I will be less prone to procrastination.  Okay, probably easier said than done.  Who are we kidding that I can change a lifetime of procrastination with the mere statement of a resolution.  But I can dream, right?

The weekend before Christmas Hubby and I had 2 couples over to enjoy a meal and help us decorate our Christmas tree.  We had a great time and ended up with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. 

But I have to be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with entertaining.  Which, in part, ties back to my procrastination tendencies.  I love having people over.  I love cooking and baking.  I love putting all the little touches on everything from the food to lighting strategically placed candles and tea lights and picking out place mats.  But I tend to completely stress myself out during the process.  Especially the closer the clock gets to my guests arrival time.  I try, try, try to plan ahead (as much as my procrastinating self will let me) and make lists and start preparing really early in the morning.  Inevitably I always feel rushed in the final hour, and have moments of panic when I think, it won't all get done.   No matter if I start at the crack of dawn, or give myself a few extra hours of sleep, I always end up in the same rushed state...every time.  And every time, some how, some way, it does all get done.

One would think this beef brisket cooked in a crock pot would be the perfect dish to ease my stress.  That might be the case if I started cooking it the day prior to the event.  Instead, I went shopping for a 5 pound slab of brisket the morning of.  Store number 1 had a  It was 13 pounds (and they would not sell it in smaller portions).  No good.  We called ahead to store number 2 (while standing in the aisle of store number 1) and were told, yes of course, we can order you a 5 pound brisket and it will be here by Tuesday!  Um, thanks, but no.  We just headed to store number 3 with a prayer and a list of other items we needed to pick up.  The entertaining God's were with us because Costco came through and sold brisket in 5 pound increments!  Score!

This recipe really is easy.  I would recommend an anti-procrastination approach and cooking it overnight the night before you want to serve it.  Then you can pull out the meat and refrigerate it.  What is so great about refrigerating it is you can slice the chilled meat into nice neat slices (instead of the brisket falling apart into shreds of beef), a tip I picked up from In Erika's Kitchen where I found this tasty recipe.  Then you can warm the meat up back in the crock pot a couple of hours before you serve your dinner. 

The pomegranate sauce makes this brisket really special.  It is a rich, onion-y, slightly sweet sauce with a wonderful depth of flavor from the pomegranate juice and dried cranberries.  It's pretty darn delicious.  It looks like a thick brown gravy, but the cool part is it is not a traditional gravy requiring butter and flour to thicken it.  You simply puree the juice and cooked down onions and dried cranberries and reduce it in a saucepan to the desired flavor and thickness.

We served the beef brisket with roasted sweet potatoes with red onions and a wonderful salad our friend Sharon brought with granny smith apples, dried cranberries, green onions, sunflower seeds and feta cheese tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.   A recipe I've already tucked away for future use.

Beef brisket with pomegranate sauce would be great dish to make for the final night of Hanukkah.  Happy 8th night of Hanukkah!  It would also be nice for a New Year's Eve meal.  Or you could make this for New Year's Day football watching or Super Bowl and serve the meat shredded with the sauce on King's Hawaiian Rolls for a brisket slider.  


And here's to anti-procrastination in 2012!

Beef Brisket with Pomegranate Sauce
from In Erika's Kitchen

1 quart pure pomegranate juice
1 5 pound flat cut brisket, cut in half (to fit in crock pot)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 red onions chopped
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries

Bring pomegranate to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook until reduced by about 1/3.

Meanwhile, begin preparing brisket.  If you wish trim off some of the fat, now would be time.  Be sure to leave some of the fat on as this gives the brisket flavor and helps to keep it moist.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of brisket and brown in a hot skillet on both sides until seared.  Transfer the brisket to your slow cooker (fat side up).  Add oil and onions to the same skillet and cook about 5 minutes until the onions started to brown a bit, about 5 minutes.  Place onions in the slow cooker on top of the brisket.

Add the beef bouillon, tomato paste, cumin, brown sugar and cherries to the reduced pomegranate sauce and stir.  Pour sauce mixture over the onions and brisket.  Turn your slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours until brisket is tender. 

Remove meat and set aside on a plate or cutting board.  Transfer liquid and onions to medium sauce pan and puree using an immersion blender (or transfer to a standard blender) until smooth.  Cook until sauce reduces by about 1/4 to further intensify the flavors.  Check the season and add salt if needed. 

Slice or shred brisket and pour sauce over the top.  Note to get nice clean slices of brisket you can refrigerate the meat and then slice and reheat with sauce in the slow cooker.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Traditions New and Old

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Happy 5th night of Hanukkah!

The holidays are one my favorite times of year.  Mostly because it's okay to make and eat ridiculous amounts of cookies, treats and favorite holiday foods.  Hubby and I aren't particularly religious, but we do enjoy some of the traditions of both Christmas and Hanukkah and we've made some of our own traditions.

Note I cheated in this photo placing all the candles in the Menorah even though it's only night 5

Every year on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah we celebrate the miracle of lights by eating an entire meal comprised of homemade potato latkes.  This year Hanukkah and Christmas overlap so we have to be strategic about when we will indulge in this delicious meal.  I think it will be on Monday, the 7th night of Hanukkah this year.  Here's a peek at our latke feast from last year.  The photos are not the greatest, but this recipe is amazingly delicious.  It has a squeeze of lemon juice in it (to prevent the potatoes from turning brown I believe), but the tang from the lemon is what makes these little fried bits of goodness so delicious!

Last year I also made some Hanukkah sweets....cake truffles to be exact.  They are by no means a traditional holiday treat, but they are decadent little goodies that are fun to make and decorate and definitely bring home the spirit of Hanukkah.  You can use any type of cake and coating that suit your taste.  If you have not made cake truffles (or cake pops) yet I highly recommend them!

Also last year, I made Christmas red velvet and devil's food cake truffles.  They were a big hit and made it into this year's baking rotation.  Given the reviews, I think these will now officially be a staple in my cookie gift boxes.  Though technically not a cookie!  Don't hold it against me.  I have to give the people what they want.

The majority of holiday time in the kitchen is spent baking oodles and oodles of cookies.  I love cookies for a few reasons.

A. Cookies are delicious.
B. Cookies are fun.
C. Cookies have endless varieties, shapes, sizes and flavors to experiment with.
D. Cookies are portable.
C. Everyone loves cookies! 

If you don't love cookies, you might be an alien from another planet.  You might want to get that checked out.

I thought I would share a roundup of this year's cookie palooza as well as share some old favorites. 
The most requested and commented on cookies are my two holiday staple cookies, Ginger Snaps and Raspberry and Lemon Linzers.  In fact I can't recall a year where I didn't make these two types of cookies.  I don't want a revolt on my hands. 

And each year I like to try a few new varieties.  When I was at my Grandma's house earlier this year I spent some time going through her recipe cards.  I found a few old recipes that I remember having as kid. 

One was a recipe my Mom would make called Jam Tarts.  They are tender crescents of cream cheese based dough filled with boysenberry jam and dusted in powdered sugar.  Recipe coming soon!

I also decided to try a new version of the tarts and filled some crescents with Nutella, coated with pearl sugar and drizzled with chocolate. 

The other family recipe I tried this year is called Mint Sticks, or Mint Brownie Bars.  This festive treat has a brownie based a layer topped with mint frosting and a drizzle of chocolate on top.  Recipe coming soon!

Chocolate Truffle Cookies (pictured below left) have become a new holiday favorite as of last year.  These really are like a truffle in cookie version.  A great choice for chocolate lovers. 

All the goodies get plated to go off to my Aunt's house to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Below is a peek of the cookie plates ready to go for tonight!  And another plate will be put together tomorrow for Christmas Day at my Dad's house.  One can never have too many cookies!

Hope you all have a fabulous holiday filled with good company, good food and tasty cookies of course!

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Kwanza!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies

Holiday baking (round 1) got into full swing 2 weekends ago at my house.  I make cookies like mad and Hubby is my kitchen elf/helper.  We put together cookie boxes for co-workers, friends and family.  It's become an annual tradition.  I have a couple of cookies that are a must make every year--Ginger Snaps and Raspberry and Lemon Linzers.   I have some cookies that rotate in and out each year, like Chocolate Chip Candy Cane, Chocolate Truffle Cookies, Cream Wafers and Cake Truffles.  I am always looking for new cookies to add to the rotating roster. 

When I was assigned Eliot's Eats for this month's Secret Recipe Club assignment I immediately went in search of cookies.  Luckily her site features several cookie recipes including an annual 12 days of Christmas.  When I spotted the Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies I thought they would be a fun twist on a standard chocolate cookie.  These cookies definitely have a little spicy punch with cinnamon, pepper and cayenne.  The cookies are soft and chewy with a chocolately bite.  I love the dusting of powdered sugar on top.  They made it into round 2 of the holiday cookie boxes. 

Secret Recipe Club is like Secret Santa for blogs.  Each month each participant is assigned another participant's blog....and it's a secret!  You browse the blog you are assigned and then choose something to make and blog it.   It's a great way to discover new blogs.  I enjoyed browsing Eliot's Eats.  It's a great blog focused on local eating, inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's journey with eating locally as documented in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a great book by the way).  I saw several recipes on Eliot's eats that will be checking back on, including several canning recipes when the spring and summer months are upon us.
But for now I just have to gear up for the third and final round of the cookie craziness next weekend.  And squeeze in some last minute shopping.

Are you all ready for the holidays?  

Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies
from Eliot's Eats originally adapted from Tim Love

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting (or more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and pepper and set aside.  In a stand mixer cream butter and shortening on medium speed.  Add in sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Turn mixer to low and add in eggs one at a time and vanilla until fully combined.  Add in dry ingredients in batches until incorporated. 

Scoop out 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon size balls with a spoon or cookie scoop place cookies about 1 inch apart on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes (my were done at 12) until set.  Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooking.  Dust with powdered sugar.