Saturday, April 28, 2012

Avocado Cup Salad

From the looks of my blog it might appear like I eat desserts for every meal with an occasional shrimp dish or salad tossed in here and there.  It's true I have been known to eat a dessert or two as my breakfast.  And when I'm not eating desserts, I'm not always eating the most healthy thing I can get my hands on.  A girl likes homemade nachos after all!  But.  In order to eat the number of desserts I do, I try to eat somewhat healthy meals most of the time.  If I didn't, I would have to buy a new wardrobe.  And that would be expensive.  So in the spirit of continuing to fit into my current wardrobe, I bring you a healthy recipe. 

I came across this salad at Corner Bakery a few weeks ago.  It's one of their trio side salads called the Southwest Avocado Wedge.  I'm not sure if it's new to their menu or I just never paid attention before.  Regardless, I'm glad I discovered it.  Actually the thanks go to my friend Crystal who ordered this little beauty and was kind enough to extend me a bite.  I immediately knew I wanted to recreate it at home.

What drew me into this salad was how refreshing, bright, creamy and crunchy it was.  And did I mention, healthy?  Plus I adore avocados and the avocado is the main centerpiece in this one. 

The first layer of this salad is a crisp, tangy, jicama slaw dressed simply with fresh lime juice and minced cilantro. 

A half of an avocado sits atop the slaw and fresh roasted sweet corn salsa...

...fills up the avocado cup and spills over the sides.  The final touch is a crumble of tortilla chips for a little salty crunch and sliced green onions.

This is a nice alternative to a lettuce based side salad.  I have made it a couple times, once as an accompaniment to shrimp with mango salsa for dinner and another time as lunch.  For lunch it was on the light side so you may want to add some grilled chicken or shrimp on the side to round out your meal.

I see many more avocado cup salads in my future. 

And don't worry.  The desserts aren't going anywhere.


Avocado Cup Salad
by The Ginger Snap Girl, inspired from Corner Bakery

This side dish starts with a bed of jicama cilantro slaw.  A half of an avocado is nestled on the slaw and topped with roasted corn salsa, finished with crushed tortilla chips.  Easy.  Simple.  Refreshing.

Serves 4 side salads
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn (if fresh corn is not available I use C&W frozen petite white sweet corn)
1/2 red, yellow or orange pepper, diced
2 roma or plum tomatoes, cut in half, seeded and diced
1/4 cup red onion finely diced
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon cilantro
1/2 anaheim green chile or jalapeno (if you like spicy), finely diced
2 limes
1 small jicama, peeled and cut into matchstick size strips (about 2 cups)
2 small to medium sized ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced in half lengthwise
2 green onions, thinly sliced at an angle
12 round tortilla chips broken into small pieces

Start by making the corn salsa.  Heat a small non stick skillet on medium high heat and add the olive oil frozen corn, red, yellow or orange pepper, and the chile.  Saute stirring occasionally until the corn, pepper and chile begin to take on roasted appearance, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
Once mixture is cool, add tomato, red onion, 1 teaspoon of cilantro, the roasted corn, pepper and chile mixture to a medium bowl and stir together.  Squeeze the juice of one lime on the salsa and season with salt and pepper if desired and stir.

Next make the jicama slaw by combining the jicama, juice of one lime and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cilantro in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.

Assemble by diving the jicama slaw amongst 4 plates.  Create a well in the center of the slaw and place a half of avocado cup on top, nestled in the well.  Top the avocado generously with corn salsa, allowing it flow over the sides.  Finish each salad with 3 crushed tortilla chips and a sprinkle of green onions.

Serve immediately.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Last Brownie

Have you ever been on a quest to find the perfect ______?  Finding the ultimate version of a recipe is not easy.

I discovered that last year when I made an attempt to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  I learned two things from that exercise.  The first is to truly stack up one cookie against another, you really have to taste them side by side.  I found each time I would bake a new version, I would like it.  I made notes on what I liked about it, how the cookie held up after being stored for a day or three, the size, texture, flavors, etc.  But without tasting them side by side it was hard to compare and I realized I liked them all for different reasons.  The second thing I learned is the process of trying different recipes is really half the fun of the finding the best one.  I have yet to get sick of trying a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. 

Though I've made quite a few chocolate chip recipes, I've barely dipped my toe in the water on brownies.  Luckily for this month's Secret Recipe Club assignment I was assigned Cindy's blog, Everyday Insanity.  And Cindy has tested a lot of brownies.  In fact the tag line on her blog header is, "Tackling Life one Brownie Recipe at a Time!" 

Cindy and I have been in SRC together for quite a while now and she has become one of my blogging friends.  We frequently visit each other blogs and leave comments.  So I was excited when I was assigned her blog as I had already bookmarked several recipes I wanted to try.  Not surprisingly, they were all sweet recipes. 

In the end, I couldn't resist trying the recipe Cindy calls the "last brownie."  Meaning there is no need to try other recipes because this is the one.  Cindy says she's been on her journey to find the perfect brownie for about the last 35 years.  Though she deems this one to be perfect, I would bet this probably will not be the last brownie recipe she'll try. ;) 

The last brownie is my kind of brownie.  It's rich and chewy with a deep fudgy flavor.  That pretty much says it all.  I already have plans to make these again. 

I have to come clean though and tell you about a little tactical error that I made.  I did a trick my aunt does with brownies and sprinkled chocolate chips on top of the warm brownie right out of the oven.  The chips melt after a few minutes and then you spread them around to make a chocolate frosting of sorts.  But I realized after tasting these brownies that they didn't need a frosting.  In the photos on Cindy's blog you can see they have a bit of crackly top...which is just how I like them.  So I'm not sure what prompted me to add chocolate on top.  Next time, I'll leave them naked.  At least long enough to try one.  Then I might have to top it with some bright strawberry sauce (recipe also courtesy of Cindy) finished off with fresh whipped cream.

Check out the pretty sauce....

I decided to go big with these brownies, cutting them into 4 massive, 4 inch square, multiple fork, totally sharable, dressed up, brownies. 

And check it out after a bite...

After this little taste, I put the camera down and sat down to write the rest of this post while I dutifully had many more bites of this decadent dessert.  Unfortunately Hubs didn't want to help me out.  Mostly because he doesn't like chocolate or strawberries.  What?  He totally missed out!  This dessert is intense and is a bit much for one person. I ate half and put the other half in the fridge.  Guess what I'm having for breakfast?  Thanks for two great recipes Cindy!

Oh, and rest assured, this will not be my last brownie.  It's way too soon for my brownie journey to be over.


The Last Brownie
slightly adapted from Everyday Insanity

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup of flour
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) - I omitted

Preheat oven to 350 and grease 9x9 square pan with butter or cooking spray.  (I used an 8x8 pan and baked it for about 43 minutes)

Heat an inch of water in a small to medium sauce pan until simmering.  Place a medium heat proof mixing bowl (large enough to hold all the ingredients) over the simmering water and place the butter and chopped chocolate in the bowl.  Stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the butter and chocolate are melted.  Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to stir for another minute to release heat.  Stir in sugar and salt.  Once batter is tepid or cool, add eggs and vanilla and stir to fully combine (don't add the eggs while the batter is hot or you'll end up with scrambled eggs).  Gently fold in the flour until it's just incorporated.  Be sure not to over mix.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until brownie starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted has a few crumbs attached.  Cool in the pan.

Strawberry Sauce
adapted from Everyday Insanity

1 cup chopped strawberries (chopped in 1/4 inch to 1/2 pieces)
1/2 cup sugar (if your strawberries are very sweet you could cut sugar in half)
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Combine all ingredients and small saucepan and heat on medium high.  Bring to a rapid boil and stir for one minute at rapid boil.  Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Grasshopper Bars

Its already time for the latest installment of Club: Baked.  For those of you who don't know, Club: Baked is a small group of bloggers baking our way through the book Baked: Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Polifito.  We bake twice a month, on the 1st and 15th (don't tell anyone that today is the 16th).  Each week, one of the Club: Baked members is the hostess and picks the recipe that the whole group will make and we all post our results on the same day (or maybe some people post a week late sometimes, maybe).  Anyway, it's always fun to see everyone's posts and how they fared with the recipe.  This week's recipe for grasshopper bars was selected by Kirsten of The Sweet Swiper.

I had high hopes for this...I'm a big chocolate mint fan.  I really enjoyed the Chocolate Mint Thumbprint cookies when the group made them last year.  I have no will power when it comes to Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies and I think mint chip ice cream is the bomb.  So I was pretty excited to see this recipe come up on the roster. I stuck to the recipe pretty closely, even resisting my normal temptation to half it.  My only changes were to use a teaspoon of peppermint extract in place of the cream de menthe called for (couldn't find it at my local grocery store) plus a few drops of green food coloring to get that pale minty color.  I also cut the amount of butter in the chocolate glaze in half (mostly because I was too lazy to get another 1 pound butter packet out to cut some more).

Here's what I liked about the recipe.  The frosting is where it's at!  It is smooth, silky and minty.  It's an unusual (to me) butterceam frosting method that starts with boiling milk, cream, sugar and flour together in a sauce pan and then once thickened, it gets transferred to a stand mixer and you beat on high until all the heat has been released and the mixture is fully cooled. Toss in the butter and beat it until you have a magical fluffy frosting.  The Baked boys use this same method in other recipes, like this absolutely delicious caramel buttercream.  What I like about this buttercream method is the frosting isn't overly sweet and it's really light and and airy (traditional buttercream is too sweet and heavy to me). 

Look how dreamy the frosting is...

I didn't love the brownie base.  I'm not sure if I overcooked it...they actually recommend under baking it to give it a fudgy texture.  It just didn't have a that deep fudgy flavor I was looking for.  Though these didn't turn out perfectly, I would like to give them another go because the frosting is so stinkin good and I'm total sucker for chocolate mint desserts.

To get the recipe head over to Kirsten's blog.  To see how other Club: Bakers grasshopper bars turned out, click here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Barbecue Chicken Salad

Have you ever had barbecue chicken salad at California Pizza Kitchen?  It's one of my favorite entree salads to order out a restaurant.  I've had it at other restaurants and I think the CPK salad is hands down the best version.  All the flavors complement each other...sweet, tangy, crunchy, cheesy.  It's a filling (a half order is plenty for me or if Hubby wants to share we get the full order) and oh so delicious meal.

Hubs and I eat salads for dinner (as our entree) at least 1 or 2 times a week.  Most of the time it's a basic salad with romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, red pepper, sometimes mushrooms, topped with grilled shrimp or chicken.  I sometimes add a sprinkle of feta or cheddar cheese and or some croutons if I have them.  Our favorite salad dressing is one I get in the produce section at my grocery store by Litehouse.  They have a lite ranch dressing that is low in calories and doesn't taste like a "light" ranch dressing.  I was getting a little bored with our basic salads so I started thinking about alternative options...

I had ranch dressing and barbecue sauce in the fridge and chicken in the freezer and thought why not make barbecue chicken salad at home?  I didn't consult a recipe for this one.  I went from memory and crossed my fingers. 

You start by baking the chicken in barbecue sauce.  Once it's cooled, chop it and toss it in more barbecue sauce.  There is one other cooking component to this recipe.  I like to roast sweet corn and it's easy to do right on the stove top.  I keep frozen white sweet corn on hand at all times (I have found the C&W brand to be the sweetest).  To roast, drizzle a little olive oil in a non stick pan and throw in the frozen corn (don't thaw) and cook about 10 minutes on medium high heat, stirring once in a while until the corn takes on a roasted, caramelized color on some of the kernels.  If fresh corn is in season that would be even better, just toss your husked corn cob right on the grill and turn every couple of minutes until that charred color starts to appear (also about 10 minutes).

The rest comes together easily.  While your chicken and corn are cooking, prep the rest of the ingredients. 

Tip of the day - Freeze Your Chips!

One of the ingredients in the salad is crushed tortilla chips.  I have a tip to share for storing chips.  Once you've opened the bag, use a chip clip to close the bag and store it in your freezer.  This works great for both tortilla chips and potato chips.  In our two person household it can take a while for us to eat up a bag of chips before they go stale.  The chips will keep nicely in the freezer for up to 3 months. 


So how did my version of barbecue chicken salad compare?  Both Hubby and I gave it two big thumbs up.  In fact I've made it twice already and it's officially been added to our salad rotation.  I'm loving it! 

The salad is very similar to my beloved CPK version.  I just went to the CPK website to compare ingredients and I came pretty darn close.  The only thing my version didn't have was jicama and basil (which I didn't really miss).  At CPK avocado is an add on ingredient for extra money.  Since avocados were on sale at the market, they were a definite add in my version of the salad. 

Oh, and I can't forget to tell you, the squeeze of lime takes this salad up a level.  It gives it a little tang that goes nicely with the creamy ranch and sweet barbecue sauce from the chicken.  Don't skip the lime!


Barbecue Chicken Salad
from The Ginger Snap Girl, inspired from California Pizza Kitchen

Serves 4 entree portions

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup barbecue sauce (I used Lucille's)
1 large head of romaine lettuce, washed, air dried, and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro (optional)
1 cup frozen petite white corn
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large avocado, peeled and sliced into chunks
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias (at an angle)
1/2 cup grated monterey jack cheese
12 round tortilla chips, crushed
Ranch dressing, about 1 cup (I used Litehouse lite ranch dressing, found in the refrigerator section of the produce section)
1 lime cut into 4 wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half of the 1/4 cup of barbecue sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.  Place chicken breasts on top of the sauce and spread the remainder of 1/4 cup of sauce on top of the chicken breasts.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until cooked through and clear juices run out of the chicken.  Transfer chicken from the baking dish to a cutting board and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.  Once chicken is cooled, cut into 1 inch chunks and place in a medium bowl.  Toss the cut chicken with 1/3 cup barbecue sauce.

While the chicken is baking, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil to the pan.  Add the frozen corn (do not thaw) to the pan and stir.  Allow corn to cook over medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want to allow the corn to roast and get lightly browned.  You can also grill fresh corn on the cob if it's available.  Remove corn from heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl toss the lettuce with the ranch dressing.  Add cilantro and toss to evenly distribute.  Divide lettuce amongst 4 entree portion bowls.  Top lettuce with tomatoes, black beans, roasted corn, avocados, cheese and green onions.  Divide barbecue chicken amongst the 4 bowls and sprinkle each evenly with crushed tortilla chips.  To finish place a lime wedge in each bowl.  Don't forget to squeeze the lime over the's what makes it!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

I've been slacking a little on Club: Baked.  I have every intention of baking along every two weeks.  I find that my intentions don't always become reality, unfortunately.  I'm a week late in posting our last assignment.  Things have been busy around here.  Work is a little more crazy than usual at the moment.  We've been spending time with family and friends for the past few weekends.  I've been cooking and baking up a storm.  And of course I have to squeeze in time for my favorite shows on DVR.  The Real Housewives of Orange County stressing over their latest plastic surgery is my stress relief! 

I was excited to see Red Velvet Whoopie Pies come up on the Club: Baked Roster for April.  So even though I didn't make our scheduled post date, I still wanted to bake along.  Whoopie pies have been quite popular in the food blogging world and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  To me, their appeal comes from the fact they are individual servings of a cookie meets cake sandwiched by frosting.  Who doesn't love frosting, cookies and cakes?  My Hubby.  But that's beside the point.  I love all these things.  Plus whoopie pies are cute.  Sounds like all the makings for a winning sweet treat, right? 

So here's the deal.  I want to like whoopie pies for all the reasons stated above.  But they just aren't my thing.  I find the texture is not as good as a cake or a cookie, for me.  It almost has a slightly dense and doughy texture.  I'm not a doughy kind of girl (I don't like dumplings, mochi or most biscuits).  I thought maybe I was doing something wrong with whoopie pies.  I've made whoopie pies twice now from 2 different recipes and ended up with a very similar texture result.   The first one I tried was a peanut butter whoopie pie with chocolate cream cheese frosting from the King Author flour website.  I made them but didn't post them here because I just didn't love them.  So why I am posting these?  I try to post everything from the baking groups I participate in...good, bad or ugly!  It's a great way to learn from other people's baking experiences as well.  Plus I think most people like whoopie pies, and I'm the outcast here.

If you are a whoopie pie, red velvet and cream cheese frosting fan, I think you would like this recipe.  The red velvet has nice flavor from the cocoa powder and I think I've already proclaimed my love for cream cheese frosting a number of times.  And this is no exception.  I used a medium size scoop and ended up with 17 whoopie pies.  The cream cheese recipe was more than enough to fill these.  If I were to make these again (which I won't, but I'm sharing in case you might), I would half the cream cheese recipe.  Nearly all of the other Club: Baked girls had really positive reviews, so this is just a texture preference thing for me.  To get the recipe head over to Andrea's blog, Nummy Kitchen.

Next up on the Club: Baked roster: Grasshopper Bars.  Looking forward to this one!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Simple Shrimp Scampi

Hubby's birthday was in early March.  Birthdays are pretty low key around here.  For me, I'm looking for a mouthwatering dinner with my Hubs.  And of course, cake.  Plus extra cake for breakfast the next day.  We usually go out to dinner for my birthday.  For my Hubby it's even lower key.  He just wants a good homemade meal.  That's it.  No cake.  No pie.  No cookies.  Kinda a birthday party pooper if you ask me.  So I asked my better half what he wanted for his birthday dinner this year.  He said, homemade turkey meatballs with scampi type sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and roasted parmesan zucchini.  The two sides would be no problem.  But, scampi meatballs, huh?  Weird.  Thankfully it wasn't hard to talk him into traditional shrimp scampi since he loves shrimp. 

We eat shrimp at least once a week, sometimes twice.  My favorite way to prepare it is marinated in Italian salad dressing and then grilled (though I don't seem to have that preparation on the blog for some reason).  We eat shrimp straight up with veggies on the side, as a protein in salads and over pasta.  For all the shrimp we eat, I'm a little surprised I have never made shrimp scampi.  Scampi is a luscious and pungent white wine sauce perfumed with aromatic garlic and herbs (we love garlic by the way).  The reason I've shied away from making scampi is because I assumed that it was loaded with a stick or two of butter.  It only took a quick look at my Cook's Illustrated Cookbook to find the right recipe.  And to my surprise, it was relatively light on the butter with just 3 tablespoons divided amongst 4 servings.  Plus the recipe had "simple" in the title.  Simple is good.  And in this case, simple is also delicious.

The dish comes together quickly.  Definitely in the realm of a 30 minute meal. If you buy shrimp already peeled and deveined it's even quicker.  I like to buy frozen uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp to keep on hand at all times.  You never know when you need to make shrimp!

For Hub's birthday dinner I served the shrimp scampi over a toasted flat bread brushed with olive oil (bake in a 350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly toasted).  You could also use a crusty loaf of french bread, split down the middle.  The lemony, garlic wine sauce soaks into the bread.  It's like garlic bread and shrimp scampi all in one.  Delicious!  Unfortunately I didn't get to photo the bread version.  I made the scampi again a couple of weeks later and served it over pasta.  I felt the sauce was much more subdued in the pasta as compared to the bread version.  Though good with the pasta, I thought the bread with scampi sauce was a "Wowza!" dish.  I'll take seconds please!


Simple Shrimp Scampi
from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds extra large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon dry vermouth or dry white wine (I used wine)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Pinch of cayenne (I omitted)
Salt and pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over high heat, until just smoking.  Add half of the shrimp and cook about 1 minute, stirring occasionally until opaque.  Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining oil and shrimp, transferring the cooked shrimp to the bowl.

Turn heat to medium low and add 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant while stirring continuously, about 1 minute.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice and vermouth or white wine.  Return the skillet to the heat and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add parsley and pinch of cayenne and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the cooked shrimp and it's juices back to the pan and stir to combine.  Serve immediately.