Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lightening Up: Green Papaya Salad

I've been trying to eat a bit healthier lately. The battle of the bulge has really started to get me down, so I'm slowly turning over a new leaf. Yeah, I know, you've heard me say this before, but this time I really mean it. And I know what you're thinking . . . you've heard that one before too.

In an effort to make things light for me and keep them interesting for those I cook for, I have been trying out some new recipes. Since I can always throw something Asian or Mexican(ish) at my family, I have been turning to these two cuisines for inspiration.

One of the recipes I have been wanting to try for sometime, and the one I finally chose to make for this post, is green papaya salad. Green papaya's health benefits seem to be something that probably won't hurt any of us around here. Raw green papaya is not only low in calories and high in fiber, it contains vitamins, aids digestion, and also makes you beautiful and funny. Well that's an exaggeration, but the health benefits are many. The only downside is that it is a bit "carby", especially after you douse it in a sugary vinaigrette. I guess you can't win them all.

In the past I have looked over several recipes for green papaya salad and noticed right away that I was going to have to make a few alterations to the traditional Thai recipe because of the fishy ingredients which I am not a big fan of. So, after a couple of alterations, this salad is no longer your traditional Thai recipe, but for my taste, it is a bit better. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Green Papaya Salad

I found green papaya at a local Korean market. If you have an Asia market in your area, it should be easy to find. The only hitch was that the smallest one I could find was about 3 pounds, which is double of what I needed to serve 4 - 6. If you can't find green papaya I have read that jicama or firm mango will work, but I haven't tried these myself. My green papaya was a tiny bit tough, and while noticeable, I didn't find it undesirable. I served this salad with some jasmine rice and rotisserie chicken and the family loved it.

12 - 15 small green beans, cut to about 2 - 3" long
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 juicy limes)
3 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 - 1-1/2 pounds fresh green papaya, peeled, seeded and grated or julienne sliced (I gambled my fingertips and did this with my mandolin slicer)
1/3 of a medium size English cucumber, julienne sliced and cut into 2 - 3" lengths
1 - 2 large green onions, cut into 2 - 3" lengths and julienne sliced
12 or so cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters
1 large jalapeno (red or green, depending on your preference and heat tolerance), diced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts (optional)

Place green beans in a small pot of salted, boiling water. Cook until they are tender crisp before draining and setting aside.

Place the lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger, fish sauce and soy sauce in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well and set aside until ready to use.

Peel and scrape seeds and any membrane like fibers from the center of the green papaya before grating.

In a large bowl, place the cooked and cooled green beans, papaya, cucumber, green onion, cherry tomato and jalapeno. Give the dressing another good shake before pouring it over all. Toss well and serve with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts if desired.

Serves 6

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Banana Nut Pudding With Coconut and Epicurean Butter's Maple Syrup Butter

Like most bloggers, I've got a very long list of recipes in the queue waiting to be posted. Many have been waiting since I first started blogging over 5 years ago, and many have jumped the queue because of some trend in the food world that needed to be addressed. While many of them will have to wait a bit longer, the one whose time has come is today's recipe for banana nut pudding.

I have loved banana pudding ever since I was a little girl. Summer in Texas always meant a pitcher of tea on the counter and a bowl of banana pudding chilling in the fridge. The anticipation of that pudding cooling in the refrigerator, knowing it was for dessert that night, was almost more than a any kid could bear.

The reason the time was right for this banana pudding post was because one of the big magazine sites posted a recipe for their ideal southern banana pudding a couple of weeks ago. Everything looked really great about their recipe with the exception of the whipped cream topping.

I couldn't believe the amount of likes and comments they got, because everyone in the southern part of the United States knows that real banana pudding has meringue on top not whipped cream. After reading this I knew that the time was right to give the innocent banana pudding eaters across the world my version. Don't get me wrong, mine isn't exactly authentic either with my addition of coconut, pecans and a cookie swap out, but there is nothing better than a fluffy, sugary meringue sitting on top.

Even though it is delicious for days, I prefer to serve my banana pudding within a day of when I make it because the bananas have a tendency to brown pretty quickly. It still tastes great, but we all know that we eat with our eyes first. I've even tried adding a little citrus juice to it to keep the bananas pale and yellow, but I just didn't like the flavor. So make it today and gobble it up tonight or tomorrow.

Banana Nut Pudding

Some years ago, Oprah's chef Art made banana pudding on her show and used pecan shortbread cookies in lieu of vanilla wafers. I was moved to give it a try and fell in love at first bite. I still like vanilla wafers and do use them about half the time, but between these cookies, the coconut, and the nuts, you have a delicious banana pudding that is just a little bit different, and I think we all need to change things up every now and then.

About 16 pecan shortbread cookies (I used Pecan Sandies. If you are using vanilla wafers, you'll need the better part of a box)
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, plus 4 tablespoons for meringue
2 tablespoons corn starch
Pinch of salt
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter (I chose to use Epicurean Butter's FABULOUS maple syrup flavored butter)
2 small to medium size bananas
1/3 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened angel flake), divided
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Line a 2 quart size bowl or heat proof dish with your cookies; set aside.

Place egg yolks in a medium size bowl, beat slightly; set aside.

Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium size sauce pan. Slowly stir in the milk. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer while whisking constantly. Cook until mixture thickens.

Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot pudding into the egg yolk while stirring vigorously to temper the yolks (If you skip this step you will land up with sweetened scrambled eggs, I promise.) Add another 1/2 cup or so just to make sure; stir well. Slowly add this mixture back into the pudding in the pan, while stirring constantly. Cook for 2 more minutes before removing from the heat and stirring in the vanilla extract and butter; set aside.

Peel your bananas and slice in 1/4" to 1/2" size "coins". Sprinkle half of them over the top of the cookies.

Spoon 1/2 of the pudding over the cookies and banana slices.

After reserving about a tablespoon of the coconut for garnish, sprinkle the remainder over the pudding. Next sprinkle the coconut with the pecans the remaining bananas, and a few broken up cookies before covering with the remainder of the pudding. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you prepare the meringue.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place egg whites in a large bowl. Add the cream of tartar before beating them with an electric mixer set to high. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Remove the plastic wrap from the pudding and spoon meringue over the top. Smooth it over the pudding and sprinkle with the reserved coconut before placing it in the oven. Watching carefully, cook the meringue just until it is brown on the peaks. Remove and cool.

Serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator. Like I said before, I prefer to eat it on the same day I make it, but it is also delicious for the next couple of days, it just doesn't look as pretty as it did on day one.

Easily serves 8

*I was given samples of Epicurean Butter to use in my recipes. I was in no way compensated in any way for this post and all opinions stated here are my own. To find our more about Epicurean Butter, please click here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Applegate #Wienervention 2014: Great Organic Hotdogs and Asian Coleslaw

It has been the best of times and worst of times around our house lately. First I got a #Wienervention package from Applegate that was packed full of their delicious organic beef hot dogs, organic condiments and buns, barbecue tools, an apron, a cooler and all sorts of cute paper serving items. It was like Christmas in June.

I love Applegate's products. Their "cleaner wieners" are free of antibiotics, hormones, artificial ingredients and fillers, and are not only delicious, but something I feel good about serving my family. Luckily this is the second year that I have enjoyed a #Wienervention. After reading their philosophy, and tasting their hot dogs last year, I became an Applegate devotee and have been one ever since. To read last year's post and recipe, click here.

Hot dogs are really only the beginning when it comes to Applegate's line of quality products. For more information about their cleaner bacon, deli meat, sausage, chicken and pork products, please click here. Once you take a look, you'll see why we were really excited about enjoying some delicious game day foods when the NBA Finals started.

The next day the San Antonio Spurs (also known around here as the team of the gods) won their first game against that other team from Florida. Oh how we celebrated! We stuffed ourselves with organic hot dogs, coleslaw, and maybe just a couple of beers. We ate, we laughed, we cheered and clapped until the dog's nerves couldn't take it any longer. It was a wonderful night.

Then as quickly as it started, the black clouds rolled in and the Spurs gave the second game away by missing their free throws, or it could have been because of the spell I cast when I innocently said, "The Spurs won't lose in San Antonio". This obviously angered the gods in charge of American basketball, or so I am told, causing them to snatch the win from the Spurs, handing it to the Miami Heat. Ugh.

For game three on Tuesday night I decided to just keep my mouth shut so the superstitious in our house couldn't blame me for any losses. Something must have worked because the Spurs won and won big, in Miami. Was it because I kept my opinions to myself that night? Or was it because we once again had Applegate hot dogs like we did for game one? Hmmm, I'm not saying that eating Applegate hot dogs are good luck, you can draw your own concludions there, but I think we will have them again tonight for game four . . .  just in case.

At least one thing is for sure, win or lose we'll be eating well.

Asian Coleslaw

Tired of the same old thing, I dug around in my recipe archives for something we hadn't had in a long time to go with our hot dogs and came up with this gem. Way back in the '90s this salad was on every picnic table in America. Now you see it less and less, but it is still as delicious as ever. Sweet, sour with lots of crunch, this little salad has it all. If you haven't had this lately, or never have, it is about time to put it back on your table.

2.25 ounce package sliced almonds
1 - 3 ounce package beef flavor ramen noodles
1 - 16 ounce package coleslaw mix
5 large green onions, thinly sliced across
1 small bunch cilantro, stems removed
1/2 cup sunflower kernels
1/2 cup vegetable or light olive oil
1/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed

Place almonds in a small pan and heat over medium high heat. Stirring frequently, toast almonds until they are golden brown. Transfer to a cool surface and set aside until ready to use.

Crush the ramen noodles in the unopened package. Open the package and remove the seasoning packet and set aside. Pour the noodles in the bottom of a medium to large size bowl. Top the noodles with the coleslaw mix, then the onions, cilantro, almonds and sunflower seeds.

In a small bowl or jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the ramen seasoning mix, oil, vinegar, sugar and garlic. Whisk or shake until the ingredients are combined. Pour evenly over the top of the slaw. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. The next day, remove the cover, toss well and serve.

Serves 8

Applegate Farms supplied me with free samples of their products for review. I was in no way compensated for this post. All opinions stated here are my own.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Something From Nothing #25: Vanilla Ice Cream Snack Cake

I've heard of genius recipes before, but at the risk of making a bad pun, this one takes the cake. Somewhere, somehow, someone got the idea to mix melted ice cream with self-rising flour and BAM, a super simple cake recipe was born. I told you, GENIUS! And the genius about this recipe doesn't stop there. Seems like you can easily change the flavor by using a different flavor of ice cream to change things up.

Now, just because I think this is a genius recipe doesn't mean that I don't think there is room for improvement. The first time I made this I didn't let it cook quite long enough and it was a little gummy (even after baking in a deep dish pie pan for 35 minutes) and it really wasn't quite sweet enough, so back to the test kitchen. I mean I REALLY wanted this recipe to succeed.

So after a couple of tries, I finally landed up with a decent little cake that is super easy, and even though my recipe calls for just a few more ingredients than two, it is still perfect for my Something From Nothing series. This cake is dense, super moist, and just a little bit gooey, very reminiscent of my favorite cream cheese pound cake. Serve it plain, with a little powdered sugar or add a little chocolate sauce and some berries and you have one great little dessert. Enjoy.

Vanilla Ice Cream Snack Cake

2 cups melted vanilla ice cream
1 cup self-rising flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir all ingredients together in a medium size bowl. Pour into a 1 quart baking dish that has been liberally sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Place in oven and bake for approximately 50 - 60 minutes or until it is golden brown and firm in the middle. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack and cooling to room temperature. Decorate or serve with suggested garnishes (chocolate sauce recipe follows).

Serves 8

Chocolate Sauce

2/3 cup milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Place all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir. Return to microwave and heat in 30 second increments until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is smooth and creamy. Cool to room temperature or serve slightly warm.

Makes 1 - 1/2 cups