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Friday, July 26, 2013

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

*I was supposed to post this yesterday, but forgot.  Whoops!  Well, Happy Friday, and here you go!

As you all know, at the end of August I will be resuming my studies in the nursing program to complete my second and final year.  It's amazing to think that I'm only a year away from being able to call myself a Registered Nurse.  While that's exciting and all, it still means another year of grueling, stressful days of clinicals, and countless sleepless nights studying for exams...and I imagine this second year will be even harder than the first.

I've already spent the day today at the medical clinic, getting poked and prodded to satisfy my program's health requirements, and I still have to go back few more times throughout the week for my 2-step tuberculosis (TB) test.  I also have to attend a CPR class this week to renew my CPR certification for another year.  Later this afternoon, I also have to go to school for my annual respirator fit-test appointment.  So much to do...and I've already spent so much time in the waiting room today.  I know that when I finally get home, I'll be in need of a treat.

Luckily, I made this ice cream earlier in the week, so it's currently waiting for me in my freezer.  A few months ago, before my wedding, I received a Cuisinart ice cream maker as a wedding shower gift from one of my relatives.  I was incredibly excited when I received it, and am now so thankful to have it during this hot summer season.  Out of all the sweet treats I could enjoy, ice cream is always near the top of my list.  There is a multitude of recipes I've collected that I can't wait to try using my new ice cream maker; however, when I saw this recipe from Annie's Eats, I knew I had to try it immediately.  

Salted Butter Caramel?!  What could be better?  I was already hooked just by the flavor, but Annie's praise of this ice cream really sealed the deal.  This ice cream is made with a custard base, which requires a little more effort, but a custard base also results in a smoother, creamier ice cream, so it's absolutely worth it.  To make this ice cream, the sugar is cooked down into a caramel, then gradually combined with cream, butter, egg yolks, milk and vanilla. 

Take note that hot, melted sugar is incredibly delicious, but also dangerous if you're not careful.  So please stir carefully, and have the other ingredients prepped beforehand, such as the yolks already separated from the whites and in a small bowl, cream and butter measured out, etc.  I prepped my ingredients, but by sheer clumsiness, I splashed a couple drops of hot sugar on my foot and thigh (also probably not a good idea to wear sandals and shorts), so now I have some nice little burn spots to carry with me forever.  They're incredibly small though, so no big deal, but still hurt like heck at the time!  Tony, who first started his business career in the food and beverage industry, says that most serious cooks have burn marks...so hey, I'll take it.  It was only a matter of time, and I'd do it all over again anyway just for another batch of this heavenly ice cream!


Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
Yield:  about 1 quart
Recipe from:  Annie's Eats

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
4 Tbsp salted butter*, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups whole milk, dividied
5 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract.

*If using unsalted butter, increase the sea salt to 3/4 tsp

Add the sugar to a medium saucepan in an even layer.  Heat over medium until the sugar at the edges of the pan begins to melt.  Use a heatproof spatula to stir the melted sugar from the bottom and the edges to the center, until all the sugar is dissolved.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the caramel reaches an amber color (test a drop on a white plate if needed).  Once the caramel reaches the correct color, immediately remove from the heat--caramel can go from perfect to burnt in seconds!

Add a bit of the warmed cream in a slow drizzle down the inside edge of the pan, whisking to incorporate before adding more, to prevent seizing.  Once all the cream has been added, whisk in the butter.  If the mixture has seized, return the pan to the burner over low heat and stir gently, breaking up lumps, until the mixture has returned to a liquid state.  Whisk in the salt and 1 cup of the milk.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup and whisk to blend.  Slowly pour a bit of the warm caramel mixture into the bowl with the eggs, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling.  Continue to add slowly until most of the caramel has been mixed in.  Return the custard to the saucepan over medium-high heat.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent the mixture from burning, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 170-175 degrees F).  

Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl or storage container.  Stir in remaining 1 cup of milk and the vanilla.  Let cool slightly (set bowl on an ice bath, stirring occasionally, to speed this process), then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions--I churned my ice cream for about 20 minutes before transferring to a freezer-safe container to finish freezing.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Perfect Lemon Bars

True story:  I ate one of these for breakfast this morning. 

Trust me, these are THAT good.

I really can't stop eating them.  I ate a couple yesterday after my run.  Yep, that's right, I actually went for a run yesterday with Tony along the beach path near our home.  I'm working on getting in shape before we head to Hawaii net month.  Although I do want to be "bikini-ready" when I go, the main reason why I want to get in shape is because I want to be able to keep up on all the hikes we go on while we're there:  Diamond Head and Manoa Falls, to name a few.  

I also ate another one last night, while we watched our new addiction and favorite show:  Game of Thrones.  Although I had heard about it, I never really felt the need to watch it until our last trip to San Diego, when Tony's step-mom told us about how good it is, and gave us the first season on DVD to borrow.  After that, we were curious, so we watched the first episode...then the next...and the next...until we were done.  Then on to season 2, and now, we're right in the middle of season 3.  I admit it, I'm hooked!  It's so good, and I can't help but love the character, Daenerys Targaryen, "Queen of Dragons."  In my opinion, she really is the star of the show.  Well...her and Tyrion Lannister.  I love his constant witty, sarcastic remarks.  If you don't watch the show, I highly recommend it, if you don't mind the sex/nudity/language that is pretty common for any HBO show.  :)

Now let's talk lemon bars.  The original blogger who posted this recipe, Mel from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, described this recipe as the perfect lemon bar recipe, hence the name, Perfect Lemon Bars.  I was a little skeptical, because using the description of "perfect" truly sets the bar pretty high, but after making these, I have to agree with Mel.  These are perfect!  The crust of these bars is so butterfly and flaky; just what you would desire in a shortbread crust.  The lemon filling has a sweet, yet tart flavor that any lemon lover (like me) would absolutely love.

If I could report any downside to this recipe, it would be the fact that part of this recipe requires patience.  I struggle with recipes that require chilling time, so it was difficult for me to wait for the shortbread dough to chill in between blending and pressing in the pan, but trust me, the wait is so worth it!  The chilling time is necessary to be sure that the butter stays cold and solid after blending the shortbread dough and again after pressing in the pan.  The cold, solid pieces of butter are what makes the crust stay light and flaky while baking.  As the butter melts during the baking process, it leaves little pockets throughout the crust, giving it that crispy texture that everyone loves.

Perfect Lemon Bars
Yield:  one 9x13 inch pan
Recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

For the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on bars
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces

For the filling:
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. grated lemon zest, from 2 large lemons
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 3 to 4 large lemons
1/3 cup milk
Pinch of salt

Place an oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with  parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment paper.

Stir together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt.  Add the butter and cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender (for best results) or using two knives, or process in a food processor for 8 to 10 seconds and then as needed until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.  Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom and about 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan.  Refrigerate again for 15-30 minutes.  Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour in a medium bowl and then stir in the lemon zest, juice and milk to combine.

Pour the filling onto the warm crust (it's important that the crust is still warm) and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until the filling is solid and feels slightly firm to the touch.  Cool the bars to room temperature, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and cut into bars.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vietnamese Pork Chops

Happy Friday!  Another week gone...but another week closer to Hawaii!!  

(...I'm just going to ignore the fact that that also means another week closer to school starting again.)

I have not shared here yet, but on August 10th, Tony and I are taking a trip with our friends to Hawaii!  I can't wait; I've never been to Hawaii before so I'm looking forward to foodie finds, hiking, sightseeing, and just relaxing!  We're going to visit one of our good friends, who moved there a little over a year ago, so at least we will have a local with us to show us around.  We'll be staying on Oahu, since that's where our friend lives and works, and I've already been doing plenty of research to find the best food spots.  I have quite a list with all of the must-eats, such as Leonards malasadas and Liliha Bakery's famous coco puffs.  If you've been to Oahu and have any suggestions, please feel free to share!

I hope you all don't mind that I'm posting a lot of savory dishes, as opposed to baked goods.  I've been doing a lot more cooking than baking in the kitchen lately, mostly because the summer heat has made me reluctant to turn on my oven.  However, just because the food isn't sweet doesn't mean that it's any less enjoyable.  In fact, I've thoroughly enjoyed cooking AND eating all of these savory dishes.  

This recipe comes from my go-to food magazine, Bon Appetit.  I loved the simplicity of the dish along with the fact that it did not require me to turn on my oven.  It also had an interesting twist, using lots of Vietnamese flavors such as rice vinegar and nuoc mam (fish sauce).  I really didn't know what to expect when I decided to make this dish, but I was very pleased with how it turned out (like most Bon Appetit recipes).  The pork chops were very flavorful and the lime wedges were the perfect accompaniment to the sweet and savory flavor of the chops.  Best of all, this was another simple dish to make...perfect for a weekday meal.

Vietnamese Pork Chops
Print this recipe
Yield:  4 servings
Recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, June 2013 issue

1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce (such as nuoc mam or nam pla)
2 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 1" thick-cut bone-in pork chops (about 2 1/2 lb. total)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Lime wedges, for serving

Whisk shallot, brown sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, and pepper in a shallow dish.  Using a fork, pierce pork chops all over and add to marinade in dish.  Turn to coat.  Cover and let pork marinate at room temperature, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Remove pork chops from marinade, scraping off excess (reserve marinade for sauce).  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Lightly season pork chops with salt.  Cook until browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.  Let pork chops rest 10 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, bring marinade to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 4 minutes.

Serve pork chops with reduced marinade and lime wedges.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Panko Crusted Salmon

These last few weeks have been going by way too fast.  I can't believe my summer is halfway over and to be honest, I'm dreading my eventual return to "normal life." Seriously, can't I just live in my kitchen FOREVER? Because that's exactly what I've been doing these last few weeks; making dinner every night, trying out new recipes, and baking here and there.

During my last semester of school, I was so busy I didn't have time to cook or bake, or even have the time to think about missing it, but now I am so immersed in my kitchen routine I don't know how I'm going to adjust when late-August rolls around.  While I dread the inevitable, I will try to be better at posting my food sooner, although I definitely have some catching up to do!

This salmon is a simple yet healthy dish that can be easily prepared within 30 minutes.  As I may have mentioned before, Tony and I both love salmon, so last week when I needed to make something quick and healthy for dinner, this recipe was a no-brainer.  This was actually the second time I've made this recipe so that should speak for itself--I don't repeat recipes very often unless they are exceptionally pleasing, and this one pleased us both.

This recipe, originally from Ina Garten (LOVE her), consists of a salmon filet lightly brushed with Dijon mustard and then coated with a panko-lemon zest mixture.  The salmon is then seared on a skillet and transferred to the oven to finish cooking.  The results?  A piece of salmon that flakes perfectly, with a toasted crunchy panko coating, with a bright kick of lemon.  It's simple, but in the best possible way.

I must also mention that this has mustard, and Tony, the biggest mustard-hater I know, eats it!  That in itself is a miracle, although I never actually told him so I don't think he even knows...but I think I'll keep it that way. ;)

Panko Crusted Salmon
Print this recipe
Yield:  4-6 servings
Recipe from How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten

2/3 cup panko
2 Tbsp. finely minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 (6-8 oz.) salmon fillets, skin on
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  In a small bowl, combine the panko, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil and toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated; set aside.

Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface.  Generously brush the top of each fillet with the mustard and then season with salt and pepper.  Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each fillet to help the panko adhere.

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet.  When the oil is hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes without turning to brown the skin.

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes, until the salmon is almost cooked through and the panko is browned.  Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest 5-10 minutes.  Serve warm with fresh lemon wedges.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cajun Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Southwestern Slaw

Every year since living in Long Beach, I always look forward to July 4th.  Growing up, I always enjoyed the barbecues and fireworks, but in a beach community, Fourth of July results in so much more.  One great thing about Long Beach is being able to watch the firework show at the beach.  Every year we can walk just a few blocks down to the beach, where we have a great view of the fireworks show at The Queen Mary.  A few other firework shows, such as Seal Beach's, can also be seen in the distance.  Unfortunately, we can't shoot of any of our own fireworks, other than a few measly sparklers, but there are always a few "rebels" in the area who shoot off the big ones.

Also, everywhere I look people will be decked out in head-to-toe red, white, and blue.  Not only in their clothing, but their bikes, cars, etc. will be decorated too.  There will be plenty of parties and barbecues going on, which will ultimately result in a lot of drunk people roaming the neighborhood.  This year, we will not be a part of that.  We recently returned from a long weekend in San Diego (more about our trip in the next post) so we are still recovering, and are planning to enjoy tomorrow at home with just a few friends and neighbors, relaxing on our porch with a cocktail or beer, and simply enjoy the beautiful weather and "entertainment" provided by the other festive neighbors walking down our street. :)

Since we are now well into the season of summer, I though now would be a good time to share a great recipe for pulled pork sandwiches.  This recipe was featured on the front cover of the June issue of Food Network Magazine.  As soon as we received this issue in the mail, Tony took one look at the cover and asked me, "Will you make THAT?"  Of course, I pretty much always oblige to any of Tony's requests, so I immediately made a mental note to put this on the next week's menu.  

This post actually consists of two separate recipes which are used to make the complete pulled pork sandwich.  The first recipe is for the slow cooked Cajun Pulled Pork, and the second is for the Southwestern Slaw.  Technically, you could put regular slaw or simple lettuce on your sandwich if you're not feeling up to the two-part process, but in my opinion, the Southwestern Slaw really made the sandwich shine.

The slaw consists of a few special ingredients:  corn, avocado, and lime juice.  These things really add a cool, bright flavor to the sandwich, which balances perfectly with the spicy tang of the Cajun Pulled Pork.  I absolutely loved the pulled pork, because it was moist, flavorful, and the meat was so tender from the slow cooking process.  The addition of the chopped andouille sausage also gave it an amazing complex flavor that left Tony and I wanting more.

I've made pulled pork before, but I can honestly say that this was the best pulled pork recipe I've tried so far, and these two recipes made an amazing pulled pork sandwich.  Since this recipe makes a lot, this would be a perfect option for a summer get-together, especially if you don't really feel like heating up the grill.  It still   has great flavors for the summer, so this would be sure to satisfy.

Happy Fourth of July!

Cajun Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Southwestern Slaw
Print this recipe
Yield:  8 sandwiches
Recipes from Food Network Magazine, June 2013 issue

For the Cajun Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Creole or spicy brown mustard
1 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
2 tsp paprika
Kosher salt and ground pepper
1 3-4 pound boneless pork shoulder
2 links andouille sausage
1/3 cup mayonnaise
8 soft sandwich buns

For the Southwestern Slaw:
3 cups shredded green cabbage
3 cups shredded red cabbage
1 Tbsp plus 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 avocado
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water
1 cup corn
1 poblano pepper, thinly sliced
1 small bunch chopped scallions

Directions for the pulled pork:
Whisk 1 1/2 cups water, the vinegar, ketchup, 1/4 cup mustard, the molasses, and 1 Tbsp brown sugar in a 7-8 quart slow cooker.

Combine the remaining 1 Tbsp brown sugar, the paprika, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.  Rub all over the pork, then add to the slow cooker along with the sausage.  Cover and cook on low, 8 hours (or according to your slow cooker's directions).

Remove the pork and sausage and set aside to cool slightly.  Skim off the excess fat from the cooking liquid, then strain into a large skillet and bring to a boil.  Cook until reduced by one-third, about 15 minutes.

Shred the pork with a fork and coarsely chop the sausage.  Toss the pork and sausage with enough of the reduced cooking liquid to moisten; season with salt.

Directions for the slaw:
Toss red and green cabbage with 1 Tbsp kosher salt in a colander; let sit 1 hour, then rinse and dry well.  Meanwhile, puree avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, and water, and 1/2 tsp kosher salt.  Toss mixture with the cabbage, corn, poblano pepper and chopped scallions.

To assemble sandwiches:
Whisk the mayonnaise and the remaining 2 Tbsp mustard in a small bowl; spread onto the buns.  Fill with the pulled pork mixture and slaw.  Serve with potato chips if desired.