Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Baked Pears with Dried Cherries, Almonds & Port Sauce

Oh the possibilities of a pear! A staple fall fruit along with apples, pears are best in the autumn season. Varieties are plentiful, so here is a simple break-down of the best uses for each type: Bartletts are best eaten raw, Anjou are versatile and fare either raw or cooked, and Bosc are great for poaching. Armed with my bosc pears from the Union Square Farmers Market, I began the search  for the perfect spiced baked pear recipe. 
The permutations were endless, as pears pair perfectly with so many things. To poach in chai tea, or bake in its own juices? Top with an oat and dried fruit filling, or bask in orange peel and cinnamon? Caramelize in sugar, Riesling or port?
After some  research on different types of baked pears, I ended up with my own creation. In extracting parts from Smitten KitchenEating Well, and Sweet Peas Kitchen recipes, I concocted Baked Pears with Dried Cherries, Almonds & Port Sauce. Eating Well's port and dried cherries combination immediately caught my eye, as I had some leftover port straight from Portugal and envisioned the thickened, sweet sauce I knew only an hour of baking would produce. From Smitten Kitchen I stole the vanilla, and from Sweet Pea extracted some roasted nuts for a more substantial filling. 
My mixing and matching worked well. The pears produce an irresistible aroma in the kitchen that was only superseded in taste after they came out of the oven.  The resulting thickened, port sugar vanilla and cinnamon sauce was so fragrant and delicious it made the hour wait totally worth it. I like this recipe because it can be served as a healthy dessert or light snack. One bite in, and it doesn't matter if you're not sitting by a fire or in view of bright autumn foliage- fall will feel like it's here.

Baked Pears with Dried Cherries, Almonds & Port Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup port wine
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ripe but firm pears, such as Bosc, Comice or Anjou
Optional: vanilla ice cream, crumbled almond biscotti or greek yogurt to top

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Peel, halve (through the stem) and core pears. Transfer to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
3. Combine port and cherries in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and cinnamon and let cool.
4. Add port sauce to pears, carefully spooning cherries into the hollowed core of the pear, and distributing liquid evenly. Sprinkle the almonds on top of the dried cherries.
5. Bake pears for 55 to 60 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. They are ready when  a pairing knife easily pokes through the thickest part, and pan juices thicken.
6. Serve warm, spooning sauce from the pan over the pears, and top with ice cream and crumbled biscotti cookies (if you want to indulge) or nonfat greek yogurt (if you're being good).
"Pears News." New York Times. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Dipping Sauce

With the start of football season, I wanted to offer some fun appetizers with easy prep that you can whip up for game time. This Baked Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Dipping Sauce is sure to be a crowd pleaser: baked rather than fried, these prawns offers a healthy alternative to the traditional version that does not compromise on taste. It pairs perfectly with this tangy, delicious spicy pineapple dipping sauce- I served my shrimp with rice, and ended up spooning the extra dipping sauce over the rice because I just could not get enough! (I recommend doubling the dipping sauce recipe if you can.) Come fourth quarter, no calorie-laden guilt or grease-induced stomachache can be found here.

My go-to sustainable seafood resource, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, provided guidance on which type of shrimp are environmentally optimal to use.  "Best Choice" was the farmed, U.S. Freshwater Prawn (aka Giant River Prawn, Malaysian Prawn). These prawns use biology-friendly practices and small-scale operations. If you cannot locate U.S. farmed freshwater prawns, wild-caught U.S. and Canadian are good alternatives. To avoid: imported black tiger and white shrimp, especially from Mexico.

Baked Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Dipping Sauce (original recipe via Tablespoon here)
Yield: 24 shrimp
The shrimp preparation is actually really fun: line up your cornstarch, egg whites, and flaked coconut assembly-line style, and dip away. I mostly stuck with the original recipe here, but added some chopped red onion to the pineapple dipping sauce and doubled the jalapeƱo.

1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
1 Tablespoon diced red onion
1/2 cup pineapple preserves
1 pound uncooked large shrimp peeled and deveined
2 egg whites
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Combine lime juice, jalapeno pepper, onion, and pineapple preserves in a small bowl and mix well. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a small bowl beat egg whites with a hand mixer until soft peaks form.
4. Place cornstarch and coconut on two separate plates. Hold shrimp by the tail and dip and coat the shrimp with cornstarch. Next, dip the shrimp in the egg whites and finally in the coconut coating well.
5. Place shrimp on the cookie sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes or until coconut is a golden brown. Make sure to turn it once halfway through (around 8 minutes into cooking time) to make sure both sides brown.
6. Serve with pineapple dipping sauce.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Southwestern Roasted Chicken and Squash

Yay, fall is here! Just as a fashionista gets excited for her scarves and boots, this foodie can't wait to get her hands on local autumn produce. It's shopping time....for pumpkins, beets, sunchokes, and every variety of winter squash under the sun.
I chose to feature butternut squash in this easy, fall-inspired Southwestern Roasted Chicken and Squash dish. Squash is one of those great hearty vegetables that is cheap and filling, perfect for those shopping on a budget. (Yesterday, Slow Food hosted a national $5 Challenge, urging people to create a fresh, healthy meal under $5 per person- the same price as a fast food meal. Squash immediately came to mind as a staple ingredient.) In addition, its versatile: puree for an autumn squash bisque, or roast tossed in spices as I did in this dish!
This recipe is easy to make, brimming with flavor and healthy. Smoky spices like chili powder and paprika are paired with sweet lime and honey and topped with a generous sprinkle of cilantro.

Southwestern Roasted Chicken and Squash
Yield: 4 servings
2 Tbsp olive oil

4 tsp lime juice plus lime wedges for serving
2 tsp honey
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
½ tsp chili powder
salt & ground pepper to taste
2 pounds chicken breast
3 cups cubed (3/4”) pieces butternut squash
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into ½” wide wedges
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Coat a large roasting pan with a layer of heavy duty tin foil and  cooking spray or a mist of olive oil.  Mix all ingredients together except cilantro/parsley.  Bake uncovered until chicken is cooked and veggies are tender, about 25-35 minutes.  Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies

Last week I gave you the "I can't believe these are healthy and taste so good!" brownie. This week I present to you the "this is so amazing I think I'm going to die" sinfully decadent tri-layered ganache/cookie dough/brownie, aka Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies.

No, these are not the slightest bit healthy but yes they are every bit as wonderful as the combination sounds. Brownie? Please. Cookie Dough? Yes. Top it off with an extra layer of chocolate? Why not! It's like someone mined through a pint of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked Ice cream, picked out every morsel of cookie dough/brownie batter and pieced them together in this dessert.

The endless rain and sadness that summer is officially over put me on a baking spree, but I have to thank the recipient of these superbrownies (Happy Birthday Alicia!) for this Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies recipe.

    Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies (recipe courtesy of Sweet Pea's Kitchen. I did substitute half the butter in the brownies for Canola oil, see Fudgy Black Bean Brownie Bites post for accurate butter to oil conversions.)
    Yield: 24 brownies
    For the Brownies:
    1. 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
    2. 1 cup butter, at room temperature
    3. 2 cups light brown sugar, packed
    4. 4 large eggs
    5. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    6. 1 cup all-purpose flour
    For the Cookie Dough:
    1. 3/4 cup butter
    2. 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    3. 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
    4. 3 tablespoons milk
    5. 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    6. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    7. 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
    For the Ganache:
    1. 6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
    2. 1/3 cup milk
    1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 13×9 inch metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.
    2. Place chocolate in a 1 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave for 1 minute and stir. Continue to microwave in 30 second increments until chocolate has completely melted; set aside to cool slightly.
    3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and brown sugar until combined, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in melted chocolate until combined. Mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.
    4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool completely.
    5. To make the cookie dough layer, In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in milk and vanilla until combined, about 1 minute. Mix in flour just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
    6. Spread cookie dough over the cooled brownies.
    7. To make the chocolate ganache, heat semisweet chocolate and milk in the microwave for 30 seconds then stir. Continue to microwave in 15 second increments until smooth. Pour over cookie dough layer. Transfer pan to the refrigerator to let  chocolate ganache set up completely.