Monday, April 14, 2014

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes)

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes

The first time I had queijadas was at an Easter egg hunt many years ago. A couple of our good friends used to host the event every year for their families and friends. The hosts would offer an array of food choices, and most attendees brought their own offering. Needless to say, no one left hungry.

It was love at first bite. I love custardy desserts, and this cupcake immediately made it to the top of my list. Luckily for me, they were on the dessert table at each subsequent egg hunt. While the children looked forward to a piƱata, candy, trinkets, ice cream sundaes, and gathering eggs, I secretly looked forward to queijadas.

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes

Eventually, I started to make my own and have done so for years. Over time, I tweaked the recipe to make it work for me. My first attempts yielded delicious results, but I found the success rate to be inconsistent. Sometimes they came out custardy and smooth and other times, not so much. I had batches where the solids separated from the milk during baking. I discovered that the secret is to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. There is a lot of sugar in this recipe. To ensure it is thoroughly incorporated, I use warm milk to help everything blend into a harmonious symphony…like chocolate and peanut butter or summertime and lemonade or Ross and Rachel (when they weren’t on a break!).

Hope you all got my Friends reference!

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes

Back to the food. I have always had this dessert plain—without color enhancement. But for a festive Easter look, I added food coloring. How cute are they? Now, excuse me while I taste test a few.

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes

Queijadas (Portuguese Custard Cupcakes):

1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter, cut into chunks
3 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder 
4 eggs
3 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
Green and red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray muffin pans with cooking spray (enough for 30-count).

Melt butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add milk, stirring occasionally, until it is warm. Turn off heat.

Whisk flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a deep mixing bowl, beat eggs for 1 minute. Slowly add sugar, 1 cup at a time. Continue beating for 1 minute after the last addition. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Blend. Slowly add half of the flour mixture, followed by about 1 cup of the milk mixture, beating for about 30 seconds after the milk addition. Add the rest of the flour, then all of the remaining milk mixture. Beat for just over 1 minute. The batter will be watery and will splash. Angling a large paper plate over the bowl with help contain the splashing.

Divide batter equally (not an exact science—just eye-ball this) into three separate bowls. Add a few drops of green food coloring to one bowl and red to another bowl (I use about 1/8 teaspoon of gel food coloring). Whisk thoroughly to blend. Add more if needed to obtain desired color. The third bowl remains undyed.

Fill muffin pans 3/4 full. Bake for 35–38 minutes. Edges should be golden brown. Cupcake will fall in the center upon standing. Keep refrigerated and serve chilled. Makes about 30.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ravioli with Chicken and Jerk Alfredo Sauce

Ravioli with Chicken and Jerk Alfredo Sauce

This pasta recipe was inspired by one of my husband’s signature dishes. Although I do most of the cooking in my home, my husband has a few recipes that are considered his specialties. He makes an amazing prime rib roast, awesome lobster sauce, the best Portuguese kale soup ever, and a fantastic spicy penne pasta and shrimp dish.

My ravioli recipe is a variation of his pasta dish. The sauce in both is made of jarred Alfredo sauce, which is then flavored with Jamaican jerk seasoning. This ingredient is what adds the “wow” factor. It is very spicy, so a little bit goes a long way. But don’t change the channel…I mean turn the dial…I mean click the mouse if you are not a big fan of spice! The amount used is enough to give the dish some heat without setting fire to your mouth. You can adjust the quantity slightly to suit your tolerance to heat. Even if you don’t like spicy food, use just a little as it does so much to add a delicious flavor profile to the pasta.

Ravioli with Chicken and Jerk Alfredo Sauce

I use the jerk seasoning in the below picture. Hopefully, you can find it or something similar where you are. It is a paste. And if you are wondering why there is a date scribbled on the jar, you are about to find out one of my little secrets. I am a bit particular with expiration dates and shelf life. It is a rule in my kitchen to write the date of when a product is opened on the container if it needs to be refrigerated. In doing so, I will always know how “fresh” it is. Don’t you hate it when you open something such as egg substitute and wonder if it was opened 3 days ago or 3 weeks ago?

a glass jar of Jamaican jerk seasoning

If you are looking for an easy, quick meal for the family, try this one. It is even good enough to serve to company. Using store bought Alfredo sauce makes it a breeze, and no one will know or care that it is not entire made from scratch!

Ravioli with Chicken and Jerk Alfredo Sauce:

2 tsp. olive oil
1 1/4 cup chopped onion
2 rounded tsp. minced garlic
1 (20 oz.) package fresh cheese ravioli (I prefer the standard, not mini ravioli)
3 1/2 cup diced plum tomatoes
2 (16 oz.) jars classic Alfredo sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Jamaican jerk seasoning (comes in a jar)
3/4 lb. boneless chicken breast, diced to 1/2-inch cubes
1 tbsp. parsley for garnishing (optional)

Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil while prepping ingredients for the sauce. This will be used to cook the ravioli.

Preheat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onion and garlic, stirring frequently for about 4 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Add tomatoes, Alfredo sauce, salt, pepper, and jerk seasoning. Cook until sauce bubbles, stirring occasionally. Stir in chicken. When the sauce bubbles, reduce heat slightly and cover loosely. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes or until the chicken pieces are no longer pink in the center.

While the chicken cooks, drop the ravioli into boiling water and cook according to package directions. The one I use cooks in about 4 minutes.

When the sauce is done, remove from heat. Drain ravioli well and stir into sauce. Plate and garnish with parsley (optional). Makes 4 to 5 servings.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Banana Chocolate Pudding Cookies

Banana Chocolate Pudding Cookies

These cookies contain pudding mix and are fantastic, but they are not the flavor I originally wanted to make. My first choice was to make strawberry-chocolate flavored ones. Unfortunately, the grocery stores I frequent do not carry strawberry pudding mix (but I know it exists because the internet tells me so!). In the end, I decided to go with banana and chocolate since the two flavors are readily available at most stores. Believe me, I was not disappointed with my choice.

Banana Chocolate Pudding Cookies

In terms of texture, the cookies have a medium chew—not too hard and not too soft. To me, they are a cross between shortbread and a soft chocolate chip cookie. The dough does not spread and holds its shape while baking. I have made 2-inch and 3-inch versions of this cookie, mainly because I started out making small ones, got impatient with the process, and moved onto making larger ones. This recipe yields 4 dozen 2-inch or 2 dozen 3-inch cookies.

This is only the beginning. Besides the typical vanilla, lemon, pistachio, and butterscotch, instant pudding mix also comes in other flavors such as cheesecake, coconut cream, white chocolate, and Oreo. Try mixing and matching your own flavors. I plan to purchase strawberry pudding mix online to make strawberry-chocolate flavored cookies. I think they will look and taste great. Who knows, you might see them on a future post. And if you decide to make your own combination, I would love to hear about it!

Banana Chocolate Pudding Cookies

Banana-Chocolate Pudding Cookies:

Chocolate Cookie Batter:                                                             
1 1/2 cup flour            
1 pkg. (3.9 oz.) instant chocolate pudding & pie filling                                 
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt                 
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature     
1/2 cup sugar                                      
1 egg, room temperature                                                        
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract                        
1/4 tsp. almond extract                                               
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnut

Banana Cookie Batter:                                                            
1 1/2 cup flour            
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) instant banana cream pudding & pie filling                           
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt                 
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature     
1/2 cup sugar                                      
1 egg, room temperature                                                        
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract                        
1/4 tsp. almond extract                                               
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

The batter for both flavors could be prepared one at a time or simultaneously in separate bowls. Preparation for both flavors are identical, the only difference is one has baking soda and one has baking powder.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, pudding mix, baking soda or powder, and salt. Set aside.

Place butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium high until creamy, about 1 minute. Add egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract, beating for 1 minute. Add flour mixture, a third at a time, using an electric mixer. Beat just enough for the batter to be crumbly. Add chocolate chips and walnuts. Using hands, work batter until batter it holds together. Form into a log or ball.

banana flavor cookie batterchocolate flavor cookie batter
Add walnuts and chocolate chips at this point

a log of banana and a log ofchocolate flavor cookie batter
Finished dough

To form cookie, scoop up 1 tbsp. of each flavor batter. Press together and form into a half light and half dark ball. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using the palm of your hand, press cookie flat to obtain a 3-inch wide, two-tone cookie. Repeat forming the remaining cookies.

Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes on an ungreased baking sheet. Cool for 1 minute and transfer cookies onto a cooking rack. Makes 2 dozen 3-inch cookies. 

Note: To make 2-inch cookies, use half tablespoon of each batter. Press flat into 2-inch diameter. Bake for about 7 to 9 minutes. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake

The old adage that bad things happen in threes proofs to be true again this past weekend. My daughter almost got sideswiped Friday night as she drove through an intersection. Saturday morning my husband and I avoided getting sideswiped at another intersection. And on Saturday night, my seventeen year old son got injured working in a restaurant kitchen. On the bright side, the incidences left just little rattled but feeling very lucky.

As long as I mentioned children, if you have ever wondered what it feels like to fail your child, I will show you the way. Imagine that you are out to dinner with some friends while your child is at work. Imagine a dinner companion gets a call from your daughter who has gone out of town. Your daughter says that your son got hurt. He has not been able to get a hold of you and he does not know where you are. It turns out, the phone in your pocket was never turned on and your husband forgot his at home! With little details and thinking of worst case scenarios, you end dinner abruptly and everyone rushes out of the restaurant. Luckily, your son suffered only a minor injury from broken glass and did not need emergency care. But if you never felt like you failed your child before, you will certainly feel it when you think about THE moment that, because of your oversight, you were not there when he needed you most.

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake,a serving on a white plate

Moving onto food, what didn’t fail was this casserole I made this weekend. I call it a breakfast bake, but it is great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. It has a potato/custard base. I have tried this recipe with a bread/custard base, but I prefer the bite and chew of the potatoes much more. And the addition of tomatoes provides a wonderful burst of additional flavor and color.

This dish requires quite a bit of eggs, I decided to use a combination of egg substitute and whole eggs to lighten it up just a bit. There are egg substitute in the custard layer and whole eggs on top of the casserole. In order to keep them in place, I created aluminum rings to hold them as they bake. Of course, if you have cookies cutters, they would be the best option, but since I do not have four of the same size I had to MacGyver it (those who are too young to understand my reference, how I envy you!).

hand holding aluminum foil rings

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake with aluminum foil rings

Finally, I added something unconventional to a casserole—instant potato flakes. It helps thicken up the custard while the flavor blends in seamlessly with the diced potatoes. I love it when stumble on a good idea! Enjoy!

Egg Ham and Asparagus Breakfast Bake:

12 sprigs asparagus
12 grape tomatoes
1 3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 rounded tsp. table salt
3/4 rounded tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
5 tbsp. instant potato flakes
1/3 cup minced onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 (20 oz.) pkg. refrigerated diced potatoes (with or without onions)
2 cups shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup diced cooked ham
4 large eggs
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. coarse black pepper

Note: This recipe requires 4 aluminum rings to mold eggs during baking. Directions given below.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash and dry asparagus and tomatoes. Cut and discard the bottom (flat end) 2 inches of the asparagus. Cut the remaining into 1-inch pieces. Slash each tomato lengthwise, but keeping it intact. Working in a large bowl or the kitchen sink, squeeze the juice out of the pulp. This can get messy. Set tomatoes aside.

In a medium bowl, add milk, egg substitute, table salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Whisk until frothy. Add potato flakes, onion, and garlic. Whisk to blend.

Spray and 9” x 9” inch baking dish with cooking spray. Add potatoes. Add half of the cheese. Quickly whisk the milk mixture and poor half (make sure to scoop up some the solids that settled to the bottom of the bowl) over the cheese. Add ham, asparagus, tomatoes, and the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining milk mixture. Bake for 35 minutes.

While the casserole bakes, make the aluminum rings: Tear 4 strips of 12” x 5” inch wide aluminum foil. Fold each one in half, lengthwise. Repeat fold. Bring two ends together and make a 1-inch fold onto itself to close ends. Holding the fold together, make another 1/2 inch fold. Open up the ring. It should be approximately 2 3/4-inch in diameter. Generously grease both sides with oil.

Remove casserole from the oven. Place aluminum rings in each quadrant, pressing down slightly into surface. Break and egg into each one. Sprinkle with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes or until egg is set, but yolks are still runny. The custard layer should also be firm in the middle. Remove rings immediately using a butter knife to separate the rings from casserole if they stick. Allow to set about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Turmeric Chicken and Cracked Baby Potatoes

Turmeric Chicken and Cracked Baby Potatoes

Turmeric is one of the main ingredients in curry. Since curry is not popular in my household and since I have limited use for turmeric in my cooking, it spends most of its time in the back of the spice cabinet. It is much like those oh-this-is-nice gifts I received that get thrown in the back of the closet. Unlike those gifts, this spice is very beneficial. Among a list of other benefits, it is also known to be an anti-inflammatory, a cancer fighter, and an immunity booster. Because of this, I am trying more to incorporate it into my cooking.

This chicken recipe was specifically design to use turmeric which provides the dish a distinctive yellow color. The addition of coconut milk and cilantro gives it an Indian-Asian flair. The baby potatoes are par-boiled and pan seared to add color. They are slightly smashed to crack the skin to soak in the flavors. This last step is not only fun but also a great stress reducer.

At this point, I would like to mention that my husband wanted to call this dish Smokehouse Chicken. Why? It is because my latest batch (seen here) was cooked in a cast iron skillet on medium high heat. It got so hot and created so much smoke while the chicken seared that the whole house was filled with smoke long after the cooking was done. My husband was persistent with the name, so much so that I found a trail of sticky notes that read “Smokehouse Chicken” that went from the hallway, to the bathroom, throughout my bedroom, to my pillow when I went to bed. If nothing else, it gave me a good chuckle.

Anyway, the moral of the story is if you use cast iron, you may want to cook at a lower temperature than medium high. It seared the chicken a little faster and produced more smoke than my other skillets. It has something to do with the fact the cast iron has greater thermal mass than a lot of other on and so forth.

Turmeric Chicken and Cracked Baby Potatoes

Turmeric Chicken and Cracked Baby Potatoes:

1 1/2 lb. whole baby potatoes, about 1 to 1/2-inch diameter
2 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 6 pieces)
1 1/8 tsp. black pepper, divided
6 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup canned coconut milk
1 cup low sodium chicken broth, divided
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup or more chopped cilantro for garnish

Place potatoes in a pot. Add enough water to cover potatoes. Add 1 tsp. salt. Bring to boil on high. Reduce heat to medium cover loosely. Cook for 5 minutes (potato should still be firm but soft enough to insert a toothpick). Drain. Set aside.

Unfold chicken thighs to obtain flat pieces. Season with 3/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Preheat a large heavy bottom skillet on medium to medium high heat. Add 2 tsp. oil. Working in batches, sear chicken on both sides until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side (thickest part of chicken may not be thoroughly cooked. It will finish cooking later.). Remove from pan and set aside.

Add 2 tsp. oil to skillet on medium heat. Add potatoes and season with 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes, turning to brown skin. Remove from heat. Using a sturdy mug or an unopened canned good, smash potatoes just enough to split skin and slightly flatten, but keeping potato intact. Remove from skillet. Wipe off any black bits with paper towels.

Return skillet to the stovetop, add 2 tsp. oil. Add onion and garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes stirring frequently. Add coconut milk, 3/4 cup chicken broth, turmeric, paprika, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Stir to blend. Return chicken to skillet. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 5 minutes.

Combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup chicken broth. Increase heat. Stir cornstarch mixture into sauce working it throughout. Allow to come to boil to thicken sauce. Tuck potatoes into sauce. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Check chicken for doneness by cutting through the thickest part. It should no longer be pink and juices should run clear. Garnish with cilantro, adjusting quantity to your desire (I love cilantro and add add a generous amount).  Serves 6.

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