Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sugar Bunnies

I really love Easter.  In my part of the country, Mother Nature marks the occasion with a bounty of azaleas. Everyone emerges from their winter hibernation in their best new spring outfits for sunrise services, Easter egg hunts and a delicious Easter dinner.  It marks the end of whatever you may have given up for lent and the beginning of spring (or at least the promise of spring if you live farther north than I do).

This year I was lucky enough to be invited to Easter brunch by a dear friend.  And after the past several weeks of non-stop activity, a day of feasting with friends and family with no prepping, cooking or cleaning sounds just glorious!

However even if someone else is cooking the meal I still need to bring a little something.  So I went looking for an easy fun dessert I could bring for the occasion.   I wanted something fun that would appeal to guests of all ages.  I settled on Sugar Bunnies - my Easter version of sugar cookies with cream cheese icing.

Sugar cookies are classic cookie.  You will sometimes see them referred to as a "rolled cookie" because you roll the dough out and cut it with cookie cutters.  I know this is a little more effort than slice-bake-cookies, but for a holiday the extra effort is worth it.  And you will be rewarded with fun shapes and festive icing!

The thing I really like about this particular recipe (besides the taste!) is that you make the cookie dough in the food processor.  It is a really easy way to make cookie dough.

The key to sugar cookies is don't skimp on the refrigerator time before you roll out the dough.  Cold dough sticks less to the rolling pin and counter top.  If your dough starts to get sticky and hard to work with, then pop it back in the fridge until it is cold then try rolling it out again.

Happy Easter everyone!

Sugar Bunnies
Prep time: 20 minutes - Refrigerator time: 1-2 hours - Cooking time:15-20 minutes
Makes 15-25 cookies (depending on how big your cookie cutters are)

  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Cream cheese icing (recipe below)
Place the first six ingredients (flour, white sugar, confectioners' sugar, baking soda cream of tarter and salt) in a food processor.  Pulse for 5 seconds.

Distribute the butter slices over the flour mixture and process about 15 seconds.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Pulse an additional 15 seconds or until the mixture resembles course meal (no big chunks of butter).

In a small bowl mix the egg and vanilla with a fork.  With the food processor running, pour the egg & vanilla mixture down the feeder tube.  Continue processing until the flour mixture and the egg come together into dough (about 35 seconds).

Remove the dough from the food processor and place on a counter or other work surface.  Kneed the dough for a few seconds then divide into two pieces.

Press each piece onto a rectangle slab, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.  

When ready to start baking, preheat oven to 375 F.  Spray baking sheets with non stick baking spray and set aside.

Remove 1 slab of dough from the refrigerator.  Remove and discard the plastic wrap.  

Prepare counter top or other work space to roll out dough.  Sprinkle surface with flour.  Place dough on surface and lightly sprinkle dough with flour.  Lightly rub flour on rolling pin then roll out dough to 1/8 in thickness.  If dough gets sticky sprinkle a little more flour.

Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies.  (If you don't have cookie cutters a glass can be a good substitute.)  Use a spatula to place cookies on the prepared baking sheets.  Leave about 1 inch between cookies to ensure even cooking.  Once you are done you can gather up scraps, re-roll and cut out a few more cookies.

Repeat the process with the second slab of dough.  

Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes.  Cookies should be firm and just starting to become golden around the edges.

Cool cookies completely on the baking sheets.  When cookies are completely cooled store in an air tight container until ready to serve.  Add cream cheese icing when ready to serve.

Cream Cheese Icing
Prep time - 5 minutes
  • 8 oz container of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons white granular sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream 
  • food color
Place all three ingredients in a bowl.  Use a hand mixer to mix ingredients. Scrap the side of the bowl down with a rubber spatula.  Blend again until icing has smooth consistency.  If icing is too stiff add a little more whipping cream until you achieve desired consistency.  

Divide icing into 4-5 smaller bowls (depending on how many colors you want to make).  Add food color a drop of two at a time and blend with a spoon until you achieve the desired color for your icing.

When complete cover bowls with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Inspired Appetizer That is All Heart

I like to be known among my friends as a cooking diva who serves up interesting tasty treats when I have people over.  But as mom with 2 full-time jobs (the one I get paid for and my non-paid non-stop mom duties) I have to admit, that lately I have been as short on cooking inspiration.  To put it bluntly I have been in a cooking rut.
This past month I flipped through Saveur Magazine determined to try something new to break out of my ordinary food funk.   I was delighted to find some recipe inspiration that made my taste buds tingle with anticipation - Heart of Palm Fries.!
The heart of palms are dredged in a simple panko breading, deep fried then served with a side of Chipotle Mayo. What a truly unique appetizer to serve up at my next event!  And after cooking up this tasty treat this past weekend I am happy to say the recipe did not disappoint. 
I made the recipe almost exactly as it was written but with some minor tweaks.  The biggest changes I made were simplifying the egg mixture and swapping in a lemon for fresh lime juice (after all the limes in the fridge mysteriously made their way into the blender for pre-party margaritas).  One other tweak I made was to add a little garlic to the the chipotle mayo.  I recommend using pre-minced garlic rather than chopping your own so you aren't overwhelmed with raw garlic flavor.
I found this recipe very easy to make.   However to make it truly hostess friendly I would definitely make it all a day ahead of time.  The panko coating is perfect for this.  If you make the palm fires ahead of time, cool them completely and then store in a single layer in a sealed container in the fridge over night.  Take them out 30 minutes before you want to reheat them so that they come to room temperature.   Bake in a 400° over for 7-8 minutes or until you hear them start to sizzle a little.  Serve the palm fries hot with chipotle mayo on the side. Voila gourmet success! 

Heart of Palm Fries with Chipotle Mayo

Chipotle Mayo
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

Palm Fries
  • Canola oil
  • 3 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 28-oz. cans of heart of palm, cut in quarters length-wise
  • salt to taste

Place all the ingredients for chipotle mayo in a mini food processor and blend until well blended.   Put chipotle mayo in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Pour canola oil into a large pot until 2 inches deep.  Heat over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 375°.
While oil is heating place flour, eggs, and panko into three separate dishes.  Cut palm of fries into quarters length-wise.  Then work in batches to dip palm quarters into the flour.  Shake off excess flour and dip into beaten egg mixture.  Finally place palm quarters into panko crumbs and shake to evenly coat.
Fry for 1 1/2 to 3 minutes until the desired golden brown.  Place palm fries on paper towel to drain.  Serve warm with chipotle mayo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Wish for a New Tasty Fish Dish!

You may have heard that earlier this year the USDA released the new updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans.   It is full of do’s and don’t’s for improving your diet and includes some interesting analysis on the changes in our overall eating habits and obesity rates over the past 40 years.   
One of the sections I found particularly interesting was Chapter 4 - Food and Nutrients to Increase. (It is just always more fun to focus on what you should be adding instead of what you need to be deleting!) This section included one of my favorite food groups - seafood!
The USDA is recommending that 8 oz or more or roughly 20% of our protein should come from seafood.  It also recommends that we consume “a variety of seafood, as opposed to a just a few choices”.  This got me thinking about the variety of seafood that I eat.  
When I am out at restaurants I absolutely eat lots of different varieties of seafood but when I am home I tend to prepare three varieties the most often - salmon, shrimp and crab.  Clearly I am in a cooking rut.  Time to break out and start cooking more seafood varieties at home!  So every month I am going to pick a different seafood to prepare.   
This month I started with barramundi, a mild, slightly sweet, flaky white fish.  I have enjoyed this fish while dining out several times and was delighted to find a bag of plain frozen filets in the freezer on my last Costco run so I could try cooking it for myself. 
The firm texture and mild flavor make barramundi a very versatile fish.  You can put all kinds of different sauces and spices on it.  I decided to go Greek with mine.  

I lightly sprinkled it the fillets with olive oil, salt and pepper and baked them on a broiler pan.  While those were cooking, I made a simple topping with a little more olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, capers and feta. I choose to serve the fillets over a bed of couscous and peas, but you could add any sides you like.  The dish was TASTY!  And so simple and quick.  The whole meal was ready in under 20 minutes!  Just hoping that my next seafood variety attempt turns out as well.

Barramundi with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Capers & Feta

2 barramundi fillets with skin on, thawed
olive oil 
salt and pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove minced garlic (approx. 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
1/3 cup of feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400.

Sprinkle fillets with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place skin side up on a broiler pan.  Bake for 14 minutes or until fully cooked.

Place 3 tablespoons of olive oil and garlic in a pan and turn heat to med high. Watch closely and stir occasionally until garlic starts to sizzle.  Add capers and sun-dried tomatoes to olive oil and garlic.  Stir to incorporate.   Cook for 1-2 minutes until thoroughly heated and set aside until ready to serve.

When fish is fully cooked (it should be opaque white and flaky throughout) remove from oven.  Peel the skin off and discard.  If the fish is fully cooked the skin will peel off very easily.  If the skin does not peel off easily cook the fillets a little longer.

Place fillets on serving dishes.  Spoon sun-dried tomato mixture over fillets.  Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over top and serve.