cafela: (Default)
The first time I made Shrimp & Grits, I came pretty close to winging the recipe. I knew how to cook everything individually, but I wasn't sure how much of what to use. The first recipe turned out tasty, and is still a solid recipe, but it had a lot of steps, and I wanted to simplify it. So last night, when I decide to make it again, I tried a couple of different things, and it made a huge difference--and the flavor was possibly even better.

The biggest breakthrough was probably in the grits. My husband suggested I look up recipes for "Charleston grits" which is the name they go by at a couple of restaurants. I was really surprised to see cream or half and half as a component, b/c all my life, grits have only ever been made with water. But as it turns out, it made a huge difference.

So here you are--updated Shrimp & Grits!



Ingredients:
For the cheese grits
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned grits (NOT instant)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup water
2 cups chicken broth
1 tb salt
ground black pepper, to taste (about 1 tsp)
1 tb butter
2 oz Boursin cheese (I use the herbs flavor)
4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz parmesan cheese, grated

For the shrimp
4-6 slices bacon, diced into squares
1/2 shallot, minced
1 small tomato, diced (or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped in half)
2 cloves garlic, minced
splash of white wine
2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tb lemon juice
1 lb shrimp, peeled

For the sauce/gravy
drippings from the shrimp mixture
2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tb COLD water

In a pot, combine the grits, cream, water, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium. Once the grits start to thicken, add the boursin cheese and the butter. Once the grits are thick, add the rest of the cheese; stir to combine. Continue to cook on medium low until they reach desired thickness.



While the grits cook, cook the diced bacon in a medium to large size skillet. Once the bacon is mostly cooked, add the shallot. Let cook for a minute or so, then add the diced tomato and the garlic. Let this cook until the tomatoes look mostly cooked, then add your splash of white wine, as well as 1 tsp of the garlic salt. Stir. Add the shrimp, and sprinkle them with the remaining ingredients (the rest of the garlic salt, the Old Bay, and the lemon juice). Cook until done.




Use a slotted spoon or sieve to remove the shrimp/tomato/bacon mixture and put in a bowl, leaving the juice behind in the skillet. Add the cornstarch/water mixture, bring to a simmer until the sauce thickens.

Plate with grits first, then shrimp mixture, and finish with the gravy. If you want, you can top with a little more parmesan cheese.

cafela: (salt is magical)
I love potatoes. My husband does not. For some reason, he thinks potatoes don't taste good, whereas I say "but potatoes taste like whatever you cook them with!" which is often butter, garlic, and other delicious stuff. But since most of what I cook is food that we both eat, I don't make potato dishes that often. Sometimes, though, he just wants a sandwich for dinner, and that's when I get to indulge my love of the potato.

This dish is a blend of two dishes--Potatoes Boulangères, where sliced potatoes are cooked in leftover meat drippings, and Potatoes Au Gratin, where sliced potatoes are cooked with creamy cheesy goodness. It isn't exactly a healthy dish, but you can add other sliced veggies if you like. Some good ones to include would be onions, zucchini, or eggplant. As you'll see, I popped some sliced cherry tomatoes on top to add a little brightness and a little acidity to cut through all the starch and cheese. It's a great dish to use up an assortment of potatoes and other veggies that you might have on hand.




Potatoes Boulangères, Au Gratin
Ingredients:
About 2 pounds of potatoes, sliced thin (1/4 of an inch)
pepper
garlic salt
4 oz shredded parmesan or similar cheese
3-4 slices bacon, diced (easier to do with very cold bacon)
2 tb butter
1 cup chicken broth/stock
1/4 c cream
handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (optional)
2 tb minced garlic
sprig of thyme or sage (optional)
2 oz cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the butter in the bottom of the casserole dish. Melt the butter (I did this by simply setting the dish over the stove eye that helps vent the oven's heat). Slice your potatoes--you don't have to peel them, but you can if you don't want the skins.

Once the butter is melted in the casserole dish, sprinkle pepper and garlic salt lightly, and spread 1 tb of the garlic in the bottom. Now add your first layer of potato slices. Pepper & garlic salt again, then sprinkle a small bit of cheese on top. Add the next layer of potato slices, then pepper, garlic salt, and more cheese. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the potatoes.

At this point, pour the chicken broth into the dish. Follow with the cream, and try to do it so that all of the potatoes on top get at least a splash. Place your tomatoes over the top next, and sprinkle the remaining minced garlic over next. Now do a quick sprinkle of pepper, and add your sprig of thyme or sage if you've got it. Finally, spread the diced raw bacon bits over the top as a final layer. Pop into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove from the oven just long enough to sprinkle the cheddar cheese (and any remaining parmesan cheese) over the top. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove, and let stand for at least 10 minutes.

Note: This dish is even better when reheated the next day, so it's a great make-ahead recipe.


cafela: (Default)
I finally replaced the wreath I made last fall with something more appropriate for this time of year--a wreath made of little drink umbrellas!



This was a super easy project. All you need to do it yourself is a foam wreath, a large pack of drink umbrellas, and some ribbon to tie the wreath up. Tie the ribbon on first so you can see how it's going to hang, and then open the umbrellas up (not totally flat, though) and stick them into the wreath. It helps to space them out as you go, and then fill in the empty spaces. Once you're done, tie the other end of the ribbon onto the door, and voila!


cafela: (Default)
I'm about to go make some banana pudding (you should see the recipe here soon). But before I do that, I thought I'd share my latest fun nail art.







If you want to try this yourself, the tutorial I used is here.
cafela: (alice in wonderland)
As everyone knows, Hostess went bankrupt. There was a rush on Twinkies. Fortunately for me, I've actually never been a huge fan of Twinkies. Growing up, we were more of a Little Debbie house, so I prefer oatmeal creme pies and Swiss cake rolls (though I haven't had any in ages). Still, all these Twinkie recipes kept popping up on Pinterest and various recipe blogs.

It was easy to avoid the siren call of the Twinkie for awhile simply because the canoe pans you bake them in were sold out everywhere. The pans did eventually show up on Amazon at a relatively cheap price, so it was then that I pounced. I'm glad I did, because this semi-homemade recipe is pretty amazing, and not full of preservatives like regular Twinkies. I'm not saying this is a "healthy" recipe, mind you, just that it's slightly better for you than the original. So do pace yourself.



Homemade Twinkies*
Ingredients:
For the cake part
1 box yellow cake mix + ingredients on the back of the box
2 tb vegetable oil
1 egg

For the filling
1/4 tsp salt
1 tb hot water
7oz marshmallow fluff
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 oz)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

*Recipe adapted from several found online.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the cake mix, plus ingredients called for on the back of the box, plus the oil and the egg until well mixed. Spoon into pan, cook until done. If you have canoe pans, you only want to fill it the cavity about half full; it will rise plenty. Keep the leftover batter in the fridge while each batch cooks. It should take about 10 minutes for the cakes in the canoe pan to cook. Check with a toothpick in the center; when it comes out clean, it's done. Remove and let cool. You should get about 3 batches.




Once all the batches have cooked and are cooling, it's time to make the filling!

Start by dissolving the salt into the hot water; set aside and let cool. Mix all the other ingredients together until fluffy, then add the salt water and beat another couple of minutes. The filling should be *almost* the consistency of frosting, but not as stiff.



The canoe pan comes with a "filling injector" that's kind of a pain to use (super messy), but it will do if you don't have other decorating tips. If you do have other decorating tips, use those. Either way, scoop the filling into the appropriate device (injector or decorator bag). To get the filling into the twinkie, jab the injector or the decorating tip into the cake, and squeeze the filling in. Don't put too much, or the twinkie will bust.

Then you can enjoy your delicious homemade Twinkies! They taste best on the 1st and 2nd day after they're made.



Note: If you don't have the special canoe pan, you can bake these as cupcakes and it will be mostly the same. Instead of filling with the filling, you can simply swap out the 1/3 cup powdered sugar for about 32 oz of powdered sugar plus an extra 1/2 stick of butter and make a marshmallow buttercream to pipe on top.


cafela: (Default)
As you have probably picked up by now, I love French food. There's not a French restaurant in the town where I live, but there are several in the relatively nearby city of Atlanta. Mine and my husband's favorite is Ani's Bistro, which favors Provençal cuisine, but has a dash of everything else, too. I always get the Moules Marinières (mussels in white wine sauce) and he always gets their Croque Monsieur. I always steal a bite of his, because it's so good. But we can't always go to Atlanta, and so I decided I should figure out how to make a Croque Monsieur. After all, it's just a fancy ham and cheese sandwich, right?

Well, yes and no. This is what I came up with. The first time I tried it, it was good, but not quite to the level I wanted. I used deli ham--good, fresh, thick deli ham, but it wasn't right. Jambon de Paris aka Parisian ham is famous, and it's just about the only ham I'll eat. So I pondered on why it was so good, and why I don't like normal American sandwich ham. It was then that I remembered--I do enjoy ham at Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. But it's not deli ham, it's HoneyBaked Ham. Theirs is on par with Parisian ham. Fortunately, we do have a HoneyBaked Ham Cafe in town, so the next time I went to make this sandwich, I stopped and got a half pound of Honey Baked Ham slices. It makes all the difference.

To be sure, you can make a decent croque monsieur with a good sweet/honey ham from your local deli. But if you want it to be over the top good, get some from a Honey Baked Ham store.

Also, realize up front that this is a very rich, heavy dish. You'll want something to cut through all that cheesy goodness. I recommend a good medium-bodied red wine and a salad to round out your meal. And if you find yourself unable to finish your sandwiches, they reheat just fine.




Croque Monsieur

Ingredients:
1/2 to 3/4 lb sliced ham (thick slices!)
2 tb butter
3 tb flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (If you don't have it, use 1/2 tsp regular salt)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
1 cup grated Fontina or Emmental cheese (about 3 oz)
6-8 largish buns/croissants, or very thick (1 inch) sandwich bread

Grate all your cheeses first, and set aside. Mix all of them together in a bowl, except for 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, which you should keep separate.

In a small to medium saucepan (nonstick if you have it) melt the butter over medium heat. Once it melts, add the flour and stir (I use a whisk). Stir for about 2 minutes; if you've ever made a roux before, that's basically what you're doing here, b/c it's the first step of bechamel sauce....which is exactly what we're making. Once the two minutes are up, add your hot milk slowly. I add about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking it in as I go. It may get thin, but at some point, it will thicken to a gravy-like consistency. At this point, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take off the heat and whisk in the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 cup of Gruyere that you set aside. Ta-dah! You just made a Bechamel sauce. This is the hardest part of making a Croque Monsieur; the rest is just layering.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.

Cut your rolls/buns/croissants in half (the way you would for a sandwich). Lay the bottoms out on a cookie sheet. Spread a small spoonful of the bechamel sauce you just made onto the top of each of the bottoms (hope that makes sense). Layer your ham slices onto each (use all your ham). Put another dollop of the bechamel sauce on top of the ham, along with a generous amount of the shredded cheeses. You should use half or slightly more than half of the shredded cheese for this step.

Now put the tops on top of the shredded cheese layer. Spread bechamel on the top. Put more shredded cheese on top. The bechamel sauce should be helping the cheese stick to the bread.

Put into the hot oven, and bake for about 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes the cheese doesn't have the nice browning that you want, turn the broiler on for about 2 minutes, and keep a close eye on it, b/c it's incredibly easy to burn things with the broiler on. Serve immediately. You'll probably need a knife and a fork. Bon appetit!

Protip: If you have leftover bechamel sauce or leftover grated cheese, save them for the next time you make a pasta dish, and throw them into the sauce. Or make cheesy toast with them.

If you find Gruyere to be too strong a flavor for you, you can always increase the amount of Fontina/Emmental and reduce the amount of Gruyere.

cafela: (Default)
So, I was all set to post tons of things this February. As you can see, it's now March, and there were no February posts. The reason for this is that Posterous, the site where CafeLA has been hosted, is completely closing down at the end of April. Which means I've been shifting this blog and all its photos to its new location at dreamwidth.org during the time I would've spent writing new blog entries. But everything has been shifted, and this blog shall soon be back to normal!

The one big change is that there will no longer be a recipe index; instead, if you look to the left, there is a list of Popular Tags, including different food categories. If you want to find a particular kind of recipe (or even just a particular kind of entry, like nail art entries), click the tag, and all the entries that apply to that tag will appear, most recent first.

Until the next post, enjoy this photo of our kitties and a few of the new pillow covers I made to go with our new couches.

cafela: (Default)
I love cheese grits. I also love shrimp. My husband also likes both, and he especially likes the combination. Yesterday, as I pondered what to make for dinner, knowing that I didn't want to make the stuff I usually make, I decided to find a good shrimp and grits recipe. I also wanted to make a tomato gravy to go with it, as I had the best tomato gravy ever at my friend Jenn's wedding reception this past June, and it was served with parmesan cheese grits. So after looking at a lot of recipes on Pinterest, I cobbled this recipe together. It's kind of involved, but it only took me about 40 minutes to make it. The tomato gravy isn't as good as it was at Jenn's wedding, but it's still quite tasty.

So this dish was an experiment--and luckily, it turned out to be a delicious one. Unfortunately, experiments don't always get pictures taken while I make them, so all I have is one measely camera phone pic of the end result. If I'd had fresh chives, I would've added them in with the thyme, so those of you who have them, that wouldn't be a bad addition. You could just make the grits, or just the shrimp w/ tomato gravy...but they're pretty awesome put together. We both went back for seconds.



Ingredients:

For the Grits

1 c grits

4 c water

1 tsp salt

2 tb butter

1/2 container of Boursin cheese (I used the garlic and herbs flavor)

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese

3/4 c grated cheddar cheese

For the Shrimp & Tomato Gravy

3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lemon

tabasco sauce

1/4 tsp old bay seasoning

4 slices of thick bacon, diced into small squares

1 diced ugli tomato (or regular tomato when it's summer and they're in season; ugli tomatoes are my go-to during winter)

2 scallions or green onions, sliced

1 shallot, diced into tiny pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c chicken broth/stock

1/4 c cream

1 tb fresh thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

So, first, make your grits, the same way you would always make grits, 1 c grits to 4 c water, with salt to season. They will cook on medium low while you make everything else. If you have stone-ground grits, you will need to cook them however it says on the packaging.

Put the shrimp in a bowl with the juice of the lemon, several splashes of tabasco, and the old bay seasoning. Let marinate.

Slice/dice the bacon first, and put it in a large skillet on medium. Slice/dice the garlic, scallions, and shallot; add when the bacon is mostly cooked. Dice the tomato, add it. Let it cook down a bit, then add the chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes, add the cream. Let sauce thicken.

In a smaller skillet, partially cook the shrimp (don't flip them) with 2 tb of the juice they were marinating in. When one side is cooked (about 1 minute), add them to the tomato sauce. Let sauce thicken. Add the thyme at this point.

(If sauce doesn't thicken after 5 minutes, mix 1 tsp cornstarch into 1 tb cold water, and stir that mix in. I do this anytime I have a sauce that doesn't thicken properly.)

By this point, the grits should be done. You want them to be pretty thick (not soupy/watery at all) before adding the butter and cheese, because that will loosen them up. Anyways, add the butter, then the cheeses, and stir in well. IF it gets too thin/watery, you can put the grits in your bowls to eat and microwave for a couple minutes until it's the right consistency.

Top with the shrimp and tomato gravy sauce. Voila!

Serves 2-4.

**Also, to get extra shrimp flavor, if you have shrimp that need to be peeled, toss the leftover peels/tails into the chicken broth and microwave for 45 seconds (until the shells are pink), and let sit until ready to add the chicken broth. Obviously, strain before adding the broth.**
cafela: (Default)
I have to admit, excluding bacon, I'm not a huge fan of pork, or at least, I haven't always been. Too often, pork chops end up overcooked and dry, which is never very tasty. But, with the FDA lowering cooking temperatures for pork (and my conveniently getting an instant-read meat thermometer from my mom for Christmas) and after seeing the chefs on Cook's Country cook a pork loin, I decided to try a new flavor profile with my pork chops: apples. It didn't hurt that I had a honey crisp apple that needed to be used up, too.

These pork chops turned out fabulously, and the leftover savoury apple bits were great on the cornbread I made to go with this dish. They would go well with biscuits or even rice, I'm sure. It started as an experiment, but I'll definitely be making this again.



Comforting Apple-Sage Pork Chops

Ingredients:

2-5 pork chops (I used boneless)

1 apple (most any kind will do)

2 tb minced garlic

2 tb sage

1 tb bacon fat (if you have it; if not, you can either dice one slice of bacon and toss it in with the apple bits, or just add more butter/oil in its place)

2 tb olive oil or butter

garlic salt

pepper

1/4 c Apfelkorn liqueur/Apple schnapps (if you have it)


First, you need to peel, core, and dice your apple. I used a really small dice because I wanted the apple to cook down as easily as possible, but a larger dice would be fine. In a large skillet, heat your olive oil/butter and garlic on medium. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the apple bits. Stir and let cook for at least a couple of minutes before adding the bacon fat.



Season your pork chops with the sage, garlic salt and pepper--I just sprinkled it on lightly, on both sides. Make room for them in the skillet; you don't want to put them right on top of the apples, because then the meat won't brown as nicely. I just moved most of the apples to the edge, and left a small mound of apple in the middle.



Turn the heat up to medium high, and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the bottom side of the pork chops have browned somewhat. Flip the pork chops, let cook for a minute, then add the Apfelkorn if you have it. If you don't, you could add some chicken broth, white wine, or hard cider instead. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, then start checking the temperature. You want the pork chops to read close to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermometer, just be sure that both sides are nicely browned, and you can always cut into one pork chop to make sure it's done. It should be white to veeeeery pale pink. No red or dark pink juices.



Plate with a spoonful of the apple bits on top and eat!

cafela: (Default)
I know, it's been a couple of weeks between postings. Not that I wasn't cooking, it's just that with the holidays, I didn't get on the computer as much. I was too busy visiting family and making delicious foods!

I first tasted this amazing dip two years ago, at my friend Janet's Boxing Day (aka: the day after Christmas) Party. The great thing about Buffalo Chicken Dip is that you get the flavor without too much spice (though you can keep a bottle of hot sauce nearby for those that want to add it to theirs). This isn't quite the same recipe as Janet's; there are a lot of variants, and they're all good. All you'll need to go with it are some kind of chip or cracker. Tostitos Scoops are good, as are Ritz and Clubhouse crackers.

Now, some people insist that if you're using ranch instead of blue cheese, you're wrong. Well, they're wrong. You can use either. I prefer ranch because blue cheese is a little overpowering, especially for this dip. You could even use both. But this is my recipe, so I'm just going to tell you how to make it the way I do. Experiment with your own approach--odds are it will still be awesome. This makes a lot of dip, but it keeps in the fridge and reheats easily; you can also always halve the recipe.

I only have the one picture because I didn't originally intend to post this, but everyone was asking for the recipe, so I snapped the pic you see below so there would at least be a picture of the final product. It's an easy recipe, though, so step-by-step photos aren't necessary anyway.



Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients:

3 10 oz cans chicken (Sometimes I find 12 oz cans, and those work fine too--more chicken is great!)

1 1/4 cup/10oz hot sauce (I use Texas Pete or Frank's, and I often just buy Texas Pete's "Mild Buffalo Sauce" and use half of that, half regular hot sauce)

1 cup/8oz ranch dressing (any brand)

8oz cream cheese

2 cups of preshredded mexican blend cheese (you can use plain cheddar)

9x9 baking dish that's at least 3 inches deep


First, get a medium sized pot out and put it on medium heat. In it, pour the ranch dressing and add the cream cheese. Drain the liquid from two of the cans of chicken into the pot as well. Don't add the chicken itself, just the liquid. Stir everything together, and continue to stir occasionally until the cream cheese has melted.

Drain the third can of chicken, but not into the pot(2 cans is just right, 3 makes the dip too watery). In the baking dish, dump all three cans of chicken. Add the hot sauce, and mix, being sure to break up the chicken into smaller, more dip-friendly pieces. Mix in about 1 1/2 cups of your cheese at this point.

Once the ranch/cream cheese mixture is done (namely, once the cream cheese is melted), pour it over the chicken/hot sauce/cheese mix. Stir a little. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, and mix it just slightly (in other words, don't let it just be a mound of cheese on top; let some of the dressing mixture be worked into it). Most of the recipes I've come across for this dip prefer to layer the ingredients, but I think they're better mixed up. Plus, if you have a layer of just cheese on the top, it can overcook and create a weird hard top. Better to mix it in and avoid that.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, and serve hot. This can easily be reheated in the oven if you're taking it somewhere. My family devoured this dip on Christmas, but if you end up with leftovers, they can be kept in the fridge and reheated in the microwave for up to a week.

April 2014

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