Peach and Bourbon Bars

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The farmers market is in full force here in Omaha and I absolutely could not pass up the opportunity to bring home a few lovely peaches.  As they sat on my counter, I thought about what I might do with them besides just slice and eat (which is perfectly fine).  I ran across a few inspirations online and decided to sort of mash them all together and add a few of my own ingredients.

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Roasted Strawberry-Buttermilk Sherbet

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This is not the first (nor will it be the last) strawberry-related recipe you’ll see on this blog.  I absolutely love strawberries and I thoroughly enjoy trying new recipes which feature them.  As I was flipping through my July edition of Bon Appétit, I came across a delightful section devoted to tasty frozen treats.

I totally love making ice cream here in my kitchen.  There is something so pure and delicious about a well-made batch of rich ice cream.  I don’t have to wonder what sort of preservatives might be lurking beneath the surface, nor do I have to consider how many artificial flavors are taking the place of good, clean ingredients.

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Braised Oxtail Tacos with Red Cabbage, Cilantro, and Feta Slaw

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We’ve had a package of oxtails in our freezer since my dad gave them to us at Christmas.  I wasn’t ignoring them; I knew they were there.  I just wasn’t sure what to do with them.  I did know that they were perfect for braising, but beyond that, I was unsure what to do with them once braised.

After a little research, I found that many recipes used them for dishes such as soups, stews, and ragouts.  But I didn’t want to do that, as the weather has been really nice and summery lately.  I wanted to so something relatively light, not heavy like a stew.

My thoughts then shifted to something Scott and I have a lot here at home: black bean tacos.  I thought I could substitute the oxtail for the black beans and do the same basic taco preparation.

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I created a marinade for the oxtail loosely based on a recipe from Kitchen Runway, which is a fabulous site with great recipes and lovely photos.  I was just happy to see that someone was doing something a little different with oxtail AND shared my love of tacos!

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After the initial browning stage.

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Chicken Laksa (Southeast Asian Chicken Noodle Soup)

Last weekend it was really rainy and overcast here in Omaha.  Yes, it’s June, but because of the weather, I was craving chicken noodle soup.  I didn’t want to do the expected noodle soup; I wanted to do something spicy, tangy, something that took me to another place when I ate it.

To the internet I went!

On one of my favorite websites, Food Republic, I found just what I was looking for: something called Chicken Laksa.  One look at the ingredient list told me it was just what I wanted.  And I only had to buy a few items!

I cook with a lot of different spices, so I was glad to see that I had pretty much every spice on the list: coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, and turmeric.  These spices featured a lot in Thai and Indian recipes (which I love) so I always have them on hand.

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I absolutely love going to the Asian market here in town.  Shopping there transports me to another place.  I can spend at least an hour in there, just walking around, discovering ingredients I’ve never seen before.  I fully suggest you do the same.  Find your nearest ethnic market, walk in, and immerse yourself in the food of that culture.  You might be surprised what goes home with you in your shopping bag.

This soup is really easy to put together.  After you grind your spices, chop your shallots and garlic, smash your lemongrass, and cut up your chicken thighs, it pretty much all goes into one pot and boom! you’re done.

I suggest giving this one a try.  If, for any reason, you don’t have a spice or coffee grinder,  you can use pre-ground spices from the market.  Also, if you can’t find shrimp paste (I absolutely had to go to the Asian market for it) I’m sure you could substitute fish sauce.

However, I know that I really loved the boost of flavor the shrimp paste gave.  It doesn’t smell good, but boy, it was a lovely addition to the soup.  If you do substitute, just be sure to taste, as both are salty and exact substitutions might be off.

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Chicken Laksa (Southeast Asian Chicken Noodle Soup)
Adapted from Food Republic

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you really like it spicy)
2 lemongrass stalks
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 can (13.5 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
8 ounces mung bean sprouts, rinsed
8 ounces wide rice noodles
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn
lime wedges
Sambal Oelek chili paste (can find at Asian market)

Method:

In a spice or coffee grinder, place first seven ingredients and grind to medium-fine powder.  Set aside.  Peel off outer layers of lemongrass stalks and give them a good whack on your counter.  Or, if you’re feeling inclined, smash the core with a heavy skillet.  Basically, you’re crushing them in order for them to give off their lovely lemony flavor (you’ll take them out of the soup at the end).

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  When hot, add the cubed chicken, shrimp paste, shallots, and spice mixture.  Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.

Add coconut milk, broth, sugar, and salt.  Add cinnamon stick and lemongrass stalks.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least 20 minutes.

In a separate pot, bring 3-4 quarts of water to a boil.  Toss in bean sprouts and blanche them until softened, about 3 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer sprouts to a bowl.  Add noodles to same pot and cook until firm, but pliable, about 4-5 minutes; drain.

Divide sprouts and noodles among bowls.  Remove lemongrass and cinnamon stick from soup pot.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with cilantro.  Squeeze fresh lime juice over soup and add as much Sambal Oelek as your tongue can handle.

If you’re going to store this for leftovers, be sure to keep components separate.  When reheating, pour soup into saucepan and heat on stove over medium.  There’s no need to reheat the noodles; the soup will take care of that.

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Rhubarb-Strawberry Cobbler (with Fresh Thyme, Orange Zest, and Port!)

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Rhubarb at the farmers market always excites me.  I grew up with a rhubarb patch in our garden, and my mom would always make rhubarb pie for my dad.  There was something about the tartness of the stalks mixed with the sweetness of the sugar that always stuck with me.

Rhubarb is one of those ingredients that can be mixed with almost any fruit and thrown into a cobbler, pie, or crisp and taste delicious.  This time, I chose to go with the classic pairing of rhubarb and strawberry.  But with a couple of my own additions, natch.

Cobblers are so easy that I don’t know why I don’t make one every week.  How could you go wrong with sweet, warm fruit under a buttery biscuit topping??

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All that is required of you is some fresh fruit and a few other ingredients, and wham! you have cobbler.  Listen, go out and pick up some rhubarb and strawberries from the farmers (or other) market and get started.  You’ll be done before you know it and enjoying warm cobbler on your patio while you listen to the summer birds sing your praises!

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Chocolate Banana Bread

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If you’re like me at all, you have a collection of overripe bananas in your freezer, destined for bread.  I have a pretty fool-proof (and delicious) recipe for banana bread given to me by my mother, but I wanted to change things up this time around.  And what better way to do that than with chocolate?

I was reminded of a batch of chocolate-banana ice cream I made for my friend Matthew as a Christmas gift.  I asked he and his wife, Sarah, what their favorite flavors of ice cream were, and that is what I gave to them as gifts.  I much prefer giving edible gifts over anything else for holidays and birthdays.  Matthew said he loved the combination of chocolate and banana, and I totally agree.  Why not turn that into a bread?

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The bananas (minus one) are still a little frozen in this photo, my apologies.

I was hoping for a bread that was more dessert-like in texture, and I think this was a success.  It had the dense consistency of pound cake, and the banana flavor was just subtle enough not to be overpowering.   However, I would probably omit the chocolate chips in my next batch of this bread.  I say this only because (as you might know if you read this blog) I don’t prefer overly-sweet dishes.  The chocolate powder was perfect on its own and needed no extra help from the chips.

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All-purpose flour sifted with cocoa powder, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

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Restaurant Review: Railcar Modern American Kitchen

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Photo credit: Ryan Soderlin/ The World-Herald

From time to time, I will write restaurant reviews for the Omaha World-Herald.  I really enjoy doing it; I get to try new restaurants and share my thoughts with readers of the newspaper.

Most recently, I reviewed Railcar Modern American Kitchen.  You can read the review here.  Chef Jared Clarke makes one of the best burgers I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  Check them out if you get the chance!