Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Woo Woo Cocktail and Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip

I am a football fanatic and the Super Bowl is my holiday. On the surface, I suppose it’s unusual for a woman to be such a rabid football fan, but I come from a long line of females who enjoy spending a Sunday afternoon yelling at the TV.

Dad would toss the football around with me in the backyard. I was one of the few girls who knew how to throw a perfect spiral and make a decent punt, which made me very popular with the neighborhood boys when they needed an extra person for a game in someone’s backyard. (They also liked that I wasn't a sissy, even when the ball hit me in the face while I was fielding a punt.)

The Picky Eater’s family has a fantasy football league. After his death, the guys let me join to take over my sweetheart's spot, and they named the championship trophy after him. (Most of the family call him Mikey D.) I was the first woman allowed to participate. And I won…a lot! So much so, I made it to the championship game, much to the chagrin of some of the guys who didn't realize I knew so much about the game. I didn't win it all, but I won enough the fellas keep asking, “Isn't there something in the bylaws about a woman only playing for one year?”

Sorry boys. I’m in, and you’ll just have to deal with it!

The Woo Woo cocktail is my favorite football-watching beverage. It gets its name because, if you drink too many, they make you go, “Woo woo!” The drink goes great with the Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip. While some artichoke dips can be a bit bland, this one has more flavor than any others I've tried. I keep it warm in a slow cooker, but it also tastes good at room temperature.

The Woo Woo
1 1/2 ounces peach schnapps
1 ounce vodka
Cranberry juice
Lime wedge

Add ice to a tall glass. Pour in the peach schnapps and vodka. Fill the rest of the way with the cranberry juice. Stir until combined. Squeeze in a lime wedge.

Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip
Serves 8 to 10

6 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce, or more, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon horseradish
1 cup shredded Monterey jack
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, diced
1 small onion, finely diced

Heat cream cheese on low heat until melted (can be done in a microwave.) Add remaining ingredients and mix well until blended. Place dip in a broiler-proof dish. Sprinkle top with some extra shredded cheese and place under a broiler until cheese is melted and begins to turn brown.
To make in a slow cooker: Place all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. Stir to mix. (The ingredients won’t mix well to start because of the cold cream cheese.) Set on low and cook for 1 hour. Stir to blend well, and then set to the “keep warm” setting. The dip will keep in the slow cooker for 4-plus hours. Be sure to stir occasionally.  
Serve with toasted Italian bread, bagel chips, crackers or tortilla chips.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beef Stew, Sans Recipe

I know the saying is, “As easy as pie,” but I've never found pie to be that simple. Especially if you make the crust from scratch, a skill I’m still trying to master.

On the other hand, stew is so easy to put together, no recipe is required. Just look in your pantry, freezer and fridge. I bet all of the ingredients are there for a yummy stew, be it chicken or beef.

So, you want to make a stew but are unsure where to start? Take a moment and close your eyes. Imagine the stew you desire. How does it taste? What vegetables do you see floating in the broth? What flavors do you taste? Now, go!

It's hard to mess up stew—or soup, for that matter—because the flavors can be adjusted along the way so the finished dish tastes the way you like. Just remember the rule of “less is more.” Start with small amounts of salt, pepper, herbs, spices, etc. You can always add more if needed, but it is difficult to fix if you use too much.

The one skill required for stew making is knowing how to thicken the broth, which is done a short while before serving. I make a slurry of water and flour, shaken in a jar. (Two to three parts water to one part flour—it should be a thick liquid.) Then I pour part of the mixture into the stew, let it come to a simmer to see if it thickens enough, and add more if necessary.

For this beef stew, I threw everything into my slow cooker—one-inch chunks of chuck roast, carrots, potatoes, celery, and onion. (I considered adding tomatoes, peas or green beans, but decided not to this time.) I poured in some low-sodium beef broth and, thinking of Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon, added half a glass of red wine. For seasoning, I used dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. On went the slow cooker. I used my flour slurry to thicken it about an hour before serving. By the end of the day, I had a rich, hearty stew to enjoy for a mid-winter supper.

The next time you are in the mood for stew—or soup—be brave and skip the recipe. Let your own tastes shine through. Oh, and be sure to tell me what you tried and how it turned out! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Orleans-Style Barbecue Shrimp

Sometimes I dream about this dish. Seriously! I’ll be going through life as normal when, all of the sudden, the craving strikes and won’t go away until it’s satisfied.

I've never been to New Orleans, but I enjoy the food inspired by that jubilant city. Jambalaya, gumbo, beignets…I love them all. Someday I’ll make a pilgrimage there.

(City's images are courtesy of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.) 

New Orleans food writer Tom Fitzmorris once told me, “Two hundred New Orleans cooks make gumbo with two hundred different recipes, but they will all taste like gumbo. Outside of New Orleans, it doesn't taste like gumbo, even if you use the exact same ingredients. I don’t know why.”

I want to find out if this phenomenon is true.

I got this Barbecue Shrimp recipe from Chef Sean Burt of Tooky Mills Pub in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He puts a lot of New Orleans-inspired dishes on his menu due to his many trips to the city’s annual jazz festival.

The name Barbecue Shrimp is misleading since the recipe does not use a smoker, grill or barbecue sauce. (No, I don’t know where the name came from, but an internet search shows it’s because of the sauce’s color.)

Trust me; the sauce for this dish is so amazing you will want to swim in it, which explains why bread is served alongside for dipping purposes. I mix up a batch of Emeril Lagasse’s Creole seasoning mix for the recipe, but with less cayenne pepper.

The huge amount of butter is what makes this sauce so amazing. The key to keeping the sauce smooth is to cut the butter into chunks, and then swirl a few chunks at a time into the sauce until blended. However, don’t worry if the sauce breaks. (Happens to me from time to time.) It will still taste delicious.

New Orleans-Style Barbecue Shrimp
Serves 4

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
32 extra-large (16-20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/3 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup of your favorite Creole spice mix, or more to taste
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and chilled
A loaf of French bread
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add olive oil. When oil is hot, add the shrimp and cook until almost done, about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side.
Add the chicken stock and lemon juice to the pan. Turn off the heat. Add the spice mix (more or less depending on your taste.) Let pan sit while stirring for about 30 seconds.
Once pan cools slightly, add the cold butter, a few pieces at a time. (If the pan is too hot, the butter will break and not make a smooth sauce.) Swirl the pan until the butter melts, then add a few more butter pieces, and repeat until all the butter combines to create a creamy, spicy lemon sauce.
Place the shrimp in individual bowls and pour the sauce on top. Serve with French bread to sop-up any leftover sauce.  

Almost Emeril Lagasse’s Creole Spice Mix

Makes 2/3 cup

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine will. Store in an air-tight container.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Homemade Mac and Cheese

Happy 2015! 

To celebrate, how about a warm dish of comfort—homemade macaroni and cheese! I know for those of you with weight-loss resolutions this might not be the recipe to start off the year. For me, when the cold January winds are blowing and the glow of the holidays starts to fade, I want comfort food to warm my winter meals.

The great thing about mac and cheese is the flexibility of the recipe. Pretty much any melting cheese and seasonings will work. Just follow your taste buds. I made this one with Gruyere and extra-sharp cheddar, but in the past I've used Fontina, provolone, and Monterey jack. This one also has dried English mustard and a touch of cayenne pepper, but sometimes I add a little nutmeg, too. I recently saw a TV chef add cooked kale to a mac and cheese, and I plan to try adding some cooked spinach to my next one. Ham, bacon, and grilled chicken also make great additions. Once you have the basic recipe, you can play around with it however you like.

Mac and cheese is also a great make-ahead dish. Just pop it into the refrigerator or freezer, and then bake it when you’re ready.

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