Monday, January 31, 2011

Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

I receive a lot of daily emails - some with retail sales, some with recipes, some with house listings back home (hey, I can dream!). This recipe came in a Martha Stewart daily email around Thanksgiving. Now, I usually hesitate when I'm excited by a Martha idea (usually the crafts) because they're often more involved/difficult than I anticipated. This one, however, really is simple. Just make sure you remember to leave enough time for the bars to chill in the refrigerator!

Makes 16 bars
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 5 hours


Ingredients for the Crust:


  • 20 "chocolate wafer cookies" (*We LOVE Oreos!)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Ingredients for the Filling:
  • 2 packages bar cream cheese, (8 oz. each)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin-pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, blend cookies with sugar until finely ground (you should have about 1 C crumbs); add butter, and pulse until moistened.


  3. Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan, and press gently into bottom. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Place cream cheese in food processor; blend until smooth. Add sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs, flour, pumpkin-pie spice, and salt; process until combined. Set aside.
  5. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl; microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted. Add 1 C pumpkin mixture; stir to combine. Set aside.
  6. Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into prepared pan. Drop dollops of chocolate mixture onto pumpkin mixture; swirl. Bake until cheesecake is set but jiggles slightly when shaken, 40 to 50 minutes. 
  7. Cool in pan. Cover, chill until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days). Using overhang, transfer cake to work surface. With a knife dipped in water, cut into 16 squares. Serve.

    Et voila!

Grilled Tex-Mex Veggie Burgers

This recipe doesn't even take 25 minutes to prepare as the recipe (from Pillsbury) suggests. It's got great tang and is a good daily veggie boost.

Serves 2


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C frozen whole kernel corn
  • 1/4 C finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 frozen vegetable burgers (*We use Garden Veggie Patties from MorningStar Farms.)
  • 2 whole wheat pita breads (6"), cut in half to form pockets
  • 2 tbsp reduced-fat sour cream
  • (*We also add shredded cheddar cheese.)
Directions:
  1. Heat gas or charcoal grill. In 1-quart saucepan, mix corn, bell pepper, vinegar, chili powder and cumin. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook about 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender.
  2. Cover and grill burgers over medium heat 8 to 12 minutes, turning once, until heated through. (*We skip this step and just heat the patties in the microwave.)
  3. Cut burgers in half. Place each burger half in pita bread pocket. Top with corn mixture, sour cream and cheese. 
Et voila!
(Ok, so my end-product photos were lousy, but here's a little color to make up for it!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Banks and I Discover: Okinawa Comprehensive Park

Banks and I have been left to our own devices while hubby/daddy is training in Hawaii. (Yeah, we don't feel bad for him, either.)

It was an overcast day, but the rain was holding off so we piled in the Cubie Doobie Doo (our baby blue Nissan Cube) and headed east to Okinawa Comprehensive Park.

It is HUGE. There are multiple running/walking trails, ponds full of fish and lilypads, playgrounds, and fields. It could only have been closer to heaven for Banks if the park had been filled with friendly dogs and milk bones. Aside from the beautiful scenery, my favorite part of the park is the clean, paved trails because it gave me a whole hour to feel like a Jane Austen heroine strolling along the English (ok, Japanese) countryside reading a book and walking my dog.






::le sigh::

As some of you know (and many should surmise), I am not a fan of many wild animals. This list includes: bats (horrific experience), rodents (nasty), geckos (move too quickly) and snakes. When I found out that we were moving to Okinawa, of course I checked to see what sort of wild life lives here and might give me problems (read: heart attacks). All of those animals on my dislike list? Yep - native here. 

I know that most animals on my list are relatively safe. That being said, you can't argue with me on the snake issue, especially since they're wildly poisonous here on island. The habu (a pit viper) is oft spoken of by Americans and Okinawans alike. I am always on the look out for them (and not just in the bottom of sake bottles sold locally). If only they looked like the one on this sign, maybe I wouldn't be so scared:


After sitting on a bench enjoying the quiet for a while, Banks and I were harassed accompanied by an on-the-loose little Min-Pin fella. He jumped right up on the bench Banks and I were sharing (don't judge) and made himself part of our pack. When I had enough of trying to keep him out of my bag, I packed up shop and started back on my wandering with Banks. Would you know, that little booger followed us throughout the park? He would BOLT past us, going as quick as his little black legs would carry him, then zoom back around in a loop and walk next to Banks like he was on the same leash. Our little friend finally ditched us for a casual stroll under the red gate and across the pond bridges. 


Before we left, we checked out some of the unique architecture the park offers, including this unusual convention center/gym and stadium:



And my new favorite, the "get your water and water your dog, too!" fountains:


Remember: 
Even if the weather is blah, you don't feel like spending money, you don't know exactly where you're going or what you're doing, there is an adventure to be had. Just make sure to bring your trusty sidekick.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Easy Chow Mein Casserole

Many food-related websites offer an online recipe box, a virtual place for you to select and store your recipes (on their website). I find that they're most helpful on sites you visit regularly. For me, those are Pillsbury, AllRecipes, and Paula Dean. If you don't visit the site enough, you can always just bookmark it.

The recipe was buried deep in my Pillsbury recipe box when I stumbled across it for the second time. The evenings were still really chilly here in Okinawa and this seemed like the perfect comfort food for a movie night at home.

Serves 4 (1 1/2 C each)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes


Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb lean (at least 80%) ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp garlic pepper blend
  • 1 C uncooked regular long-grain rice
  • 1 3/4 C Progresso beef-flavored broth (from 32 oz. carton)
  • 1/4 C teriyaki sauce (from 10 oz. bottle)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 can (28 oz.) stir-fry vegetables, rinsed, drained (*I couldn't find canned stir-fry veggies at the commissary so I substituted with frozen.)
  • 1/2 C chow mein noodles (*I prefer 3/4 to a whole C.)
  • 1/4 C cashew pieces, if desired (*I desired. And devoured. I'd go heavy here if you like a good crunch.)
  • additional teriyaki sauce, if desired
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 375. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, crumble beef; sprinkle with garlic pepper. Cook over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown; drain.
  2. In ungreased 11x7-inch (2 quart) glass baking dish, mix beef, rice broth, 1/4 C teriyaki sauce and the water. Stir in vegetables. Cover baking dish with foil.


  3. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until rice is tender. Uncover and stir; sprinkle with chow mein noodles and cashews. Bake uncovered 10 to 15 minutes longer or until noodles and cashews are golden brown.

    Et voila!

Had to Share...

this cool shot from my outing with Sous-chef/Recreational Assistant Banks today!


(This photo actually makes me appreciate the ambivalent Oki. skies we've been under.)

Expect a full post tonight. We've been cooking up some fun new stuff!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mediterranean Crescent Pinwheels

You know how many people have a signature fragrance? (For example: My hubby is a Curve for Men guy. Mmmm!) Well, I have a signature appetizer and it's Mediterranean Crescent Pinwheels.

Hubby found this recipe on Pillsbury's website about four years ago when we were dating and learning how to cook together. It was this recipe that taught us what prosciutto is! It was also this recipe that caused my love affair with feta.

It is unbelievably easy and the perfect finger food for guests. It's also ready to plate -- it can go straight from the oven to the platter.

Makes 20
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes


Ingredients:

  • 1 - 8 oz. can refrigerated Pillsbury crescent dinner rolls 
  • 1/2 lb. prosciutto or cooked ham, thinly sliced
  • 1 C (4 oz.) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 6 tbsp chopped fresh basil
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 375. Spray cookie sheets with non-stick spray. Separate or cut dough into 4 rectangles; place on lightly floured surface. If using crescent dough, firmly press perforations to seal. Press or roll each to form 8x5-inch rectangle. 
  2. Arrange 1/4 of prosciutto slices evenly over each rectangle. In small bowl, mix cheese, pepper and oil. Sprinkle mixture evenly over prosciutto on each rectangle. Sprinkle with basil.


  3. Starting at short side of each rectangle, roll up; seal edges. With serrated knife, cut each roll into 5 pieces. Place, cut side up, on cookie sheets. (*Mine were a little messy ... I had company coming and I was trying to get them in the oven so I could have 15 minutes to straighten up the kitchen!)


  4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets. Serve warm.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paneer Babycorn Balchao

At our wedding reception, we decorated long dinner tables with stacks of old books that reflected our interests.

(Photograph by Mandi White)

As you can imagine, after our wedding day (and honeymoon), we realized just how many extra books we now had. Many were sold back to the local used bookstore but we also kept a good number, including the cookbook Simply Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor.

I promised myself that if I kept the books, I would read/use them. Here's the proof that I did just that! Not only did I keep my promise, but I also had fun learning to make homemade cheese (paneer). 

I used the tutorial found here to make the paneer. Don't steer clear because it sounds difficult. It's really just boiling milk and lemon juice! Heads up though - it takes about an hour to get the cheese to form so make it in advance if you're short on time.


Ingredients:
  • paneer
  • 8 baby corns 
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1" piece fresh ginger root, chopped
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 10-12 whole red chillies (*You can control the heat here!)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 7 cloves (*I will not use this again. I have the worst experience with cloves - from biscotti to this dinner.)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1" cinnamon stick
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 C malt vinegar
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3/4 C tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp sugar
Directions:
  1. Cut paneer into diamond shaped pieces. 
  2. Wash baby corns and boil them in sufficient water for two to three minutes. Drain and cut into small pieces. (*If they came out of a can, you can skip step 2.)
  3. Peel, wash and chop onions. Wash and chop tomatoes. Peel, wash and roughly chop ginger and garlic.
  4. Grind whole red chillies, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, cloves, mustard seeds, cinnamon and salt with a quarter cup of malt vinegar to a fine paste.
  5. Heat oil in a pan, add onions and saute until light brown. Add tomatoes and mix. Cook for five minutes stirring well.
  6. Add baby corns, tomato puree and ground masala. Cook for three to four minutes. Add sugar, adjust salt and mix well. 
  7. Add paneer pieces and remaining malt vinegar and cook for five to seven minutes.
  8. Serve hot over basmati rice.
Et voila!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

I have officially suffered my first kitchen burn. And, wow - it was a truly one for the (scary) books.

It all happened so quickly. I was fixing this BOMB recipe (shared below) with oil heated too hot. And with ... (pause for effect) ... sausage. I did go vegetarian (with the exception of fish) for 2011 and the sausage really was just for hubby.

But when it all boiled down (pun intended), turning the sausage caused the hot oil to splatter up and out of the sauce pot and sear across the top of my stirring hand. YOWZA.

The sting quickly went away and I thought I was fine since the skin on my hand just looked a little lighter where the burn was. I was wrong. Within 30 minutes, I had a huge, dark blister taking up almost the entire length of my hand.

So! I will use this opportunity to not only share a really really really delicious recipe (from Rachael Ray), but also to remind everyone to be safe when cooking with hot oil. Make sure it doesn't get too hot to where it is popping when the slightest thing touches it. Use splatter screens. If you are burned, submerge your burn immediately into very cold running water for about 10-15 minutes to help. Use an antibiotic (like Neosporin) + something with Vitamin E to keep the skin moist and help reduce scarring. (I love Palmer's Cocoa Butter!)

Enough of my kitchen war story, here's the good stuff!

Serves 4
Cook time: 15 minutes


Ingredients:

  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb penne rigate or rigatoni pasta, cooked until al dente
  • 2 drizzles EVOO
  • 1 lb bulk sweet sausage
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • 4 to 6 leaves fresh sage, slivered (about 1 1/2 tbsp)
  • 1 C dry white wine
  • 1 can (14 oz.) chicken broth
  • 1 C canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 2 pinches ground cinnamon
  • 3 pinches ground nutmeg
  • Romano or parmigiano cheese, for grating over pasta
Directions:
  1. Put a large pot of water over high heat for the pasta. When the water boils, add salt and pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep pot over medium heat, pour in 1 drizzle of oil and brown sausage in it. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain and return pan to heat. 
  3. Add second drizzle of oil to pan and saute onion and garlic 5 minutes, til soft and sweet. Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to pot. Reduce wine for 2 minutes. Add broth and pumpkin and combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble.
  4. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. To serve, return drained, cooked pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove bay leaf from sauce and pour sauce over pasta. Toss pasta and sauce 1 or 2 minutes over low heat so pasta can absorb flavors.
  6. Top bowls of pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese and serve.

    Et voila!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tofu Black Bean Enchiladas

I'm sorry I haven't posted here recently. Hubby left for training then I had a ton of errands around the house to take care of. Oh! and then I discovered a couple craft blogs and bought a sewing machine. So you can imagine how crazy things have been around here.

To make amends, I'm sharing this AWESOME recipe from Pillsbury. As you know, I've recently returned to a meatless diet and, in doing so, have been on the hunt for not just nutritious, but delicious meals. Here's one I am already dying to make again!

Serves 6
Prep time: 20 min.
Total time: 50 min.


Ingredients:

  • 1 - 15 oz. can black beans, drained
  • 1 - 11 oz. can Green Giant Mexicorn Whole Kernel Corn, Red and Green Peppers, drained
  • 1 C Old El Paso Thick 'n' Chunky Salsa
  • 5 1/3 oz. firm (*or extra firm) tofu, drained, cut into 1/4"-cubes (about 3/4 C)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce
  • 12 - 6" corn tortillas, heated
  • 1 - 10 oz. can Old El Paso red Enchilada Sauce
  • 8 oz. (2 C) reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 C reduced-fat sour cream, if desired
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350. Spray 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine beans, corn, salsa, tofu, salt and hot pepper sauce; toss to mix.
  3. Spoon 1/3 C tofu mixture down center of each warm tortilla; roll up.
  4. Place, seam side down, in sprayed baking dish. 
  5. Pour enchilada sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle cheese over top.
  6. Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes or until enchiladas are thoroughly heated and cheese is melted. 
  7. Garnish with sour cream.

(pre-baked 'ladas)
Et voila!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Creme Brulee

One of my new Christmas kitchen gadgets is my very first torch. (You can check it out in detail here.) Now, I'm sure hubby had his own vested interest in this gift, buuuut, now the torch is that thing I can't believe I never had.

I've only used it (so far) on creme brulee, but after watching a local sushi restaurant serves use his to torch our sushi at the table, I have bigger plans for this little torch.

This recipe was part of the instruction booklet included in the torch packaging. It's divine. :) And that little "tap-tap-tap" to crack the sugar shell? Heavenly!

Makes 4
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 C + 4 tbsp sugar
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 300. Have a pot of boiling water ready.
  2. Line a baking pan that is 2 to 3" deep with a small kitchen towel.
  3. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds/pulp into a 2-quart saucepan.


  4. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes,
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and the 1/4 C of sugar until smooth and blended. (The mix should fall off the whisk in thick ribbons. Shoot for 5 minutes of whisking.)
  6. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.
  7. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins.


  8. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes. 
  9. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. 
  10. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. 
  11. Just before serving, evenly sprinkle each ramekin with 1 tbsp sugar. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately. 


Here's a short clip of my bangin' brulee-in'!
video

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beef and Broccoli

You know when you crave a particular Chinese food dish and then you think to yourself, "Ehhh, it's so bad for you," or "Ehhh, it's so expensive..."? This dish (from AllRecipes) is my answer for anyone craving beef and broccoli. The only differences are that it's not covered in grease and has a more unique flavor. Again, it's another recipe that doesn't call for many more ingredients than what you probably already have. Try this for an at-home Asian night to save some money ... or some calories.

Prep time: 15 min.
Total time: 1 hour
Servings: 2.5 full-size, 4 as an appe-teaser

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp fat-free Italian dressing
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 lb round steak, cut into strips
  • 6 C water
  • 5 cubes beef bouillon
  • 4 oz. linguine pasta, uncooked
  • 1/2 C fat-free beef broth
  • 1 C fresh mushrooms, sliced (*I omit.)
  • 1/2 C sliced green onion
  • 1 lb broccoli, separated into florets
Directions:
  1. In a shallow glass dish or bowl, stir together the soy sauce, Italian dressing, cornstarch, garlic, and ginger. Place steak strips in the mixture to marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. While the beef is marinating, combine the bouillon cubes in water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and add pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove beef from marinade with a slotted spoon and place in the hot skillet. Discard marinade. 
  4. Cook beef, stirring constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, or until mostly browned. Stir in the beef broth, mushrooms and green onions, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes.


  5. Remove lid, add broccoli, and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender but still crisp. 
  6. Add drained linguine, toss, and serve. 
Et voila!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cheesy Chicken Pot Pie

When I was growing up, my brother and I often looked forward to having frozen, boxed chicken pot pies for dinner. My momma must have been thrilled to have us kids looking forward to eating not only a cheap and easy dinner, but veggies, too!

This recipe (from Pillsbury) was my first attempt at making my own chicken pot pie and it met every one of my expectations. It was simple to make, didn't require many things that I didn't already have on hand, and brought the same warm, fuzzy feeling that I used to get sitting around the table eating it with family.

Prep Time: 20 min.
Total Time: 1 hr. 10 min.
Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C chopped onion (1 medium)
  • 1/2 C chopped celery (1 - 2 stalks)
  • 1 C thinly sliced carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 C frozen cut green beans, thawed
  • 2 C chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 - 10.75 oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 - 10.5 oz. can chicken gravy
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves
  • 1 C finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (4 oz.)
  • 1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on the box
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 375. In 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender. Stir in carrots, green beans, chicken, soup, gravy, and sage. Cook until bubbly. Stir in 3/4 C of the cheese. Spoon into ungreased deep 2-quart casserole. (Corningware dishes are great for this!)
  2. Place pie crust over hot chicken mixture. Fold over edges to fit inside casserole. Cut small slit in surface of crust with paring knife. (*I also use the edge of a fork to make a design around the edges by lightly pushing it against the sides.)


  3. (*I recommend wrapping tin foil around just the edges to prevent them from burning. Remove the tin foil when there are about 10 minutes left to bake.)
  4. Bake 40 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 C cheese over crust; bake 5 to 6 minutes longer or until crust is deep golden brown and cheese is melted. 
Et voila!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

Although a little late, I want to wish all of my "cafe patrons" a fabulous start to 2011 and continued peace, love, and joy throughout the new year.


There's been a lot "cooking" over here at the cafe, including many new kitchen toys to be tested and resuming a vegetarian lifestyle. That's right: no meat. 

I will continue to post dishes that I make that contain meat as my husband is still a carnivore (that word itself now seems monstrous, or at least - dinosaur-us?). I hope to discover a more vast world of delicious vegetarian fare than what I've been used to. 

I'm also considering some tutorial videos if there is any interest.

Finally, I start a new (albeit part-time) job this Thursday. I'll be helping local Japanese students sharpen their English skills. I'm so excited to not only get back into the working world, but to hopefully really get to know Okinawans and their culture better.  

So, as they say in Japan, KAMPAI!
(cheers!)