Friday, July 16, 2010

nothing says summer like...

Mixed Sugared Berries with
Sweet Vanilla Shortcakes
and Homemade Whipped Cream
Luscious fresh fruit shortcakes - the perfect summer dessert. In this version, the sweet vanilla shortcakes taste like a big delicious soft vanilla sugar cookie! Pair that with summer's freshest, ripest fruits and a dollop of real, homemade sweetened whipped cream, and you have one of the best summer desserts around!
Start by preparing the fruit earlier in the day; sprinkle 2 to 3 pints of fresh berries of your choice with a couple of tablespoons of white sugar and refrigerate until a luscious syrup is created.
The shortcakes may be prepared in advance as well, I like to prepare them in the morning while the temperatures are still cool for baking even though they only require about 15 minutes in the oven.
Buttermilk makes these shortcakes tender and the lightly sweetened vanilla flavoring makes them absolutely delectable and a little different. Try adding 1/8 teaspoon of almond extract and reduce the amount of vanilla slightly; this is especially good with fresh peaches and/or cherries!
You can sprinkle a bit of sugar on the shortcakes before baking, but I like them just the way they are, plain and very lightly sweet.

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons COLD butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk (up to 1 cup, as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon light vegetable oil (I often use safflower)
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Quickly cut in the cold butter pieces until the flour mixture looks crumbly. Combine buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour buttermilk mixture into it; stir wet and dry ingredients together only until just combined. Do not overmix, this makes the shortcakes tough. Add a little more buttermilk if mixture seems dry; the dough should be slightly sticky.

Place dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with a bit more flour. Pat out to a 1 inch thickness with your fingertips (this can be pretty sticky; be sure your work surface is floured well). Cut out shortcakes with a biscuit cutter (I don't have one so I used a glass instead; worked just fine!). With this recipe I made 4 shortcakes; there will be leftover dough. Instead of gathering up the leftover dough and working it too much, I just made some small drop-style biscuits and baked them right alongside the cut shortcakes. They're delicious served hot with butter and preserves or honey.
Place cut biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven.

When done, the shortcakes will have nice lightly browned tops and will be a beautiful golden color. Allow to cool, then serve with the sugared berries and top with homemade whipped cream. Delicious!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

summertime, and the living is easy...

Couscous makes hot weather cooking a breeze...
It certainly would be nice to be able to pick up take-out every night during a hot spell, but who can afford that for long? Sure, you can roll out the grill again. And again. And again. But sometimes you just want something fast, simple and fresh. This is when I turn to couscous.
Couscous is basically a North African semolina pasta rolled into small grains. There are many quick-cooking varieties to be found, most taking only five minutes to prepare. You can purchase couscous mixes already seasoned or flavored, but these tend to be a bit pricey. It's just as easy, less expensive, and healthier to create a delicious hot or cold couscous dish with simple ingredients found in your own pantry.
For this Mediterranean-inspired couscous salad that I created, I started out with beautiful RiceSelect tri-color couscous made with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Bonus: RiceSelect products are packaged in BPA-free jars.

Following package directions, prepare couscous to equal two cups when finished. RiceSelect directions are: bring one cup of water to boil (you can also use broth) and add one cup of dry couscous. Remove from heat, cover with lid and wait for five minutes. Fluff with a fork.

For my Mediterranean-Inspired Couscous, add the following ingredients to your two cups of prepared couscous:
  • One 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • One 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (or fresh if your garden is overflowing with tomato goodness!)
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano (we grew Greek oregano this year and it's what I used for this recipe)
  • Juice of one large lemon
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (olive or safflower are good)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

And that's all folks! Combine all ingredients thoroughly and allow time to chill in the refrigerator. This makes a terrific vegetarian/vegan dish, but if you like, a bit of chicken, grilled tuna or feta cheese could be added; add lemon zest if you like even more lemony flavor; or try with green onions instead of the sweeter red onions.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

not your everyday shrimp cocktail: sweet chili-garlic shrimp

Shrimp is an all-time favorite nosh for parties, and it seems that a good chilled shrimp appetizer is one of the first dishes to be devoured. I love shrimp cocktail as much as anyone else (and have a great homemade cocktail sauce recipe too) but I'm also crazy about the flavor of New Orleans style barbecued shrimp.
Years ago I loved the New Orleans barbecued shrimp at a Chicago establishment called Grover's Oyster Bar. Co-workers and I always stopped there before Cubs baseball games (it was located on Irving Park Road). There we would enjoy the barbecued shrimp as well as oysters and raspberry daiquiris. Unfortunately, on a return visit, it appeared that Grover's had closed. Sad day.
While in mourning, I vowed to re-create the Grover's barbecued shrimp experience as best as I could. And this recipe, Sweet Chili-Garlic Shrimp, is my take on my own barbecued shrimp - served chilled.
The first step was to replace the butter with a vegetable oil obviously; I swapped safflower oil for the butter and reduced the amount greatly. Another big difference is that these shrimp are shelled (barbecued shrimp are served shell-on and with tons of napkins!). The rest of the ingredients are basically the same as my barbecued shrimp - enjoy!
  • 3 pounds large shrimp, shelled
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil (or other mild-tasting vegetable oil; I don't suggest using olive oil for this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce (use a good brand, or homemade, not a glorified ketchup)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste; this should be spicy but not too hot)
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes to taste
Saute garlic in the vegetable oil until tender, then add all other ingredients except lemon slices, whisking to incorporate the sauce with the oil completely.
Allow to cool, then add shrimp and lemon slices and marinate for several hours in the refrigerator.
I like to add chunks of multi-colored bell peppers as well; yellow and orange look especially beautiful and taste wonderful.


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