Jul 24, 2010

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers with Goat Cheese

A fair warning: This recipe is not intended for fickle stomachs, young taste buds or digestive tracks teetering the golden years.

That being said…

Are you the type to throw back raw chilis and shots of Tabasco to watch others squirm? Do you laugh in the face of triple pepper icons on Mexican menus? Devour platters of Indian and Thai at heat levels only Indian and Thai locals can tolerate?

Tell me…must your pizza hide under a blanket of red pepper flakes, your nachos drown in hot sauce and every bite be saturated in something spicy to merely gain entrance into the rockin’ hot party that is your mouth?

Then fire-loving friend, read on, because these little poppers are one heck of a delicious punch in the mouth.

Never once did I dare ponder improving the jalapeno popper. Who doesn’t love a deep fried, cream cheese-stuffed pepper just the way it is? 

Well...my waste line, that’s who.

Thankfully, this lightened version ditches the oil and takes raw, unbattered peppers to the grill, stuffed with a mouthwatering mix of goat cheese, cream cheese, cheddar (or parmesan), tomato and sage. A smokey-charred pepper with gooey, melty, flavorful cheese and a sprinkling of cilantro? Um, yes, poppers can definitely be improved.

To start, wash and slice the jalapenos in half, then rip out the seeds and tap the back of the peppers over the sink to release any strays. Those babies are hot and you want them all out of there. You may also want to wash out the peppers' insides to reduce the heat.

And remember that your taste buds are not all that can be burned from this meal...please, please wear rubber gloves when cutting and cleaning the peppers. Especially if you wear contacts. No one likes a burning eye socket. Or anything else for that matter. (See below.)

When I was a teen, my youth pastor’s wife told me the story of her husband’s near death-by-salsa experience. He was chopping peppers, ungloved, when nature called. So after a quick hand rinse with soap-less water, into the bathroom he went. Remember that he is a guy, and guys are a little more hands-on in this department. His screams still haunt the family at night.

So wear gloves.

While the peppers drain on a paper towel, mix the stuffing. It's quite effortless, really, if you don't mind chopping a tomato and a few green onions. I used rather large jalapeños, so I doubled the filling recipe to ensure proper mile-high cheese mountains.

And for those who simply can’t take the heat (wussies!) you can tame the torture by baking the peppers before you stuff and grill them. Basically, the longer the peppers cook, the less severe they become. We baked some of our leftovers and they were much milder.

When the peppers are stuffed, hand them off to the grill master in your domain and let those babies sizzle. They tend to be a bit wobbly, so leaning them on each other for support will help prevent any cheese from escaping.

Once the peppers are black on the bottoms and the cheese is melty, you'll have something serious to bite into. Think “stuffed pepper meets jalapeno popper.” At a smoky bar. In hell. Where they plotted revenge on your mouth for every distasteful, foul, mocking, saucy and sarcastic word ever sputtered.

But as hot as they are, they're equally as addicting. Bite after torturous bite, I couldn’t find an ounce of restraint in my being. My eyes were watering. My face was flushed. My sinuses were beyond cleared.  But I ignored my body's surrender signals and continued to stuff my face with gooey, cheesy, peppery grilled goodness like my life depended on it, stopping only to fan my eyes and gulp down water, which, by the way, only fed the flame.

Seriously, don’t blame me if you singe your nose hairs with every plate-to-mouth motion. And if you dare try these delicious peppers, I recommend you first make sure you have on hand an icy cold glass of milk, a starchy food, and above all, a ton of guts.

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers with Goat Cheese
(Grilled pepper poppers; Jill Hough, Cooking Light, June 2009)
Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 2 pepper halves)

1/2  cup  (4 ounces) soft goat cheese
1/2  cup  (4 ounces) fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese (or shredded cheddar)
1/2  cup  finely chopped seeded tomato
2  tablespoons  thinly sliced green onions
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh sage
1/2  teaspoon  kosher salt
16  jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Cooking spray
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. Spoon about 2 teaspoons cheese mixture into each pepper half. Place pepper halves, cheese side up, on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill peppers 5 minutes or until bottoms of peppers are charred and cheese mixture is lightly browned. Carefully place peppers on a serving platter. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 84, Fat: 4.8g (sat 3.1g,mono 1.2g,poly 0.2g)
Protein: 7.1g, Carbohydrate: 3.5g, Fiber: 0.9g, Cholesterol: 11mg, Iron: 0.6mg, Sodium: 334mg, Calcium: 117mg.

Jul 14, 2010

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies

My name is Rachel and I'm addicted to crunchies.

What are crunchies? They're the tidbits of burnt cheese left on the pan after you bake a pizza. The fried-to-a-crisp fries that sneak their way into the carton. They're anything poppable and crisp that I can get my hands on, be it in a box, a bag, or scraped from a casserole dish.

The name was coined by my worried husband, who many a night followed the faint noises of a rat crunching away at crumbs, only to find me, eyes gleaming in a dark kitchen as I nibbled away on burnt bacon from that night's omelet or the broken remains at the bottom of a Doritos bag.

What's wrong with me? Why can't I be content with the actual meal on my plate instead of scrounging for things that go crunch in the night?

I didn't realize how serious my crunchies problem was until one afternoon at my grandmother's house. There I was, neglecting her delicious roast chicken while maniacally sneaking crunchies from the platter when no one was looking. I thought I was enjoying delicious pieces of crisp, fallen meat. I later found out it was burnt lard. Oh the shame.

Yes, sadly, my taste buds are about as refined as those of a street dog. But alas, I've learned to curb my crunchies cravings with an elegant, more acceptable food. One that can be followed with sips of iced tea. Not Pepto Bismol.

These cookies are great. They're actually a little chewy on the inside, with a wonderful crisp crust and crunchy cornmeal bits throughout. Along with their great lemony zest, they make the perfect summertime cookie.

And they're so simple to make. Just a little zesting, a little mixing, and a little baking for a light lemony cookie fitting of a lazy afternoon.

And yes, I rolled each spoonful of batter into balls instead of just dropping them like a normal person. That's because I'm also addicted to things that look as close to perfect as possible. But that's for another post.

So grab a plate of cookies and ditch the milk. These are perfect with ice-cold lemonade or tea. And there's no shame! Such a lovely cookie at only 55 calories, I didn't have to crunch away at them in the dark. In fact, I think they're best enjoyed in the fresh air of a front porch.

They definitely satisfied my crunchies craving. Although, I did sneakily scrape off some of the crust that stuck to the pan. And ate it. And it was wonderful. (Please don't tell Luke.)

Lemon Cornmeal Cookies
Kathy Farrell-Kingsley, Cooking Light, MAY 2008
Yield: 3 dozen (serving size: 1 cookie)

1  cup  all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
1/3  cup  yellow cornmeal
1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  ground ginger
3/4  cup  plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6  tablespoons  butter, softened
1  large egg
1  tablespoon  grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (through ground ginger); stir with a whisk. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Scrape sides of the bowl occasionally. Add egg; beat well. Beat in grated lemon rind. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and beat at medium-low speed just until blended.

Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons batter 2 inches apart onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned and almost firm. Remove from oven. Cool on pans for 2 minutes or until firm. Remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 55 (34% from fat), Fat: 2.1g (sat 1.3g,mono 0.6g,poly 0.1g), Protein: 0.7g, Carbohydrate: 8.6g, Fiber: 0.2g, Cholesterol:11mg, Iron: 0.2mg, Sodium: 49mg, Calcium: 2mg.

Jul 7, 2010

Coconut Shrimp with Fiery Mango Sauce & Coconut-Cilantro Rice

Lately, you could say my presence in the blogosphere has been a little MIA. I've gone AWOL. Rogue. But not by my own doing, I assure you. See, I was seduced. The cloudless days. The shimmering pool. The garage sale-lined streets. It’s all been a little too much to resist, and in the end, summer inevitably won me over.

Like a lovesick teenager, I’ve spent every free second of precious weekend time scavenging for five-cent deals, sipping frosty drinks and glued to an inflatable pool raft at a closeness even the ruler of a prom chaperone couldn’t separate.

I tried to resist, really. I sat down to upload photos. I attempted countless times to write something…anything... about the food I've been making. But that sneaky sun slithered its way through my curtains and blinded me with the promise of sultry tan lines and natural highlights.

So I gave in. I strapped on my suit, slathered on the SPF and decompressed.

But I’m still here.

Thankfully, in all my summer lovin', I still managed to slide on an apron over my swimsuit and spend a little time in the kitchen. It’s just the sharing with you all that’s been a bit delayed. So I now have a mile-long list of grilled, chilled, stacked and speared summer recipes that I’m dying to tell you about. Grilled jalapeño poppers…blueberry almond lemon coffee cake…Jamaican jerk beef kabobs... Oooh yeah. We’ve been eating quite well.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

This dish definitely screams summer. A specific summer, actually, where I fell in love with more than just the sun.

Summer, 2006. Clearwater Beach. The sun was blazing, the air was salty, and the seagulls were the only things I could hear over my pounding heart. I was drunk on love, you see, with the man who would one day become my husband.

After spending the day lounging in the sand, we headed to a beach side seafood shack just in time to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Toasted from the sun, we somehow managed to stop gushing over each other long enough to peruse the menu, and that’s when we realized that there was only one thing that could make the day more perfect. A heaping platter of deep fried, crunchy coconut shrimp.

And perfection was definitely reached. Nothing beats a sweet-spicy sauce mellowed by shrimp coated in a crisp, sweet, coconut-panko crust. Making the meal at home is a bit more involved than pointing to a word on a menu, but well worth the major decrease in moolah and calories.

First, shell and devein your shrimp. You just need a knife, a little patience and a husband. That's right. Put him to work. The job involves raw meat, sharp objects and an intestinal track. He'll love it. Check out this simple tutorial.

While Luke did surgery on the shrimp, I made the aromatic sauce, a delicious mix of ginger, onion, garlic, lime, mango nectar and scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. (Don't rub your eyes...they're hot!) I chopped, sautéed, simmered and blended my way to a sauce so good it'd make a grasshopper taste delicious.

While the sauce chilled in the fridge, I prepared the coconut rice and breaded and fried the shrimp. Have you ever used Japanese panko breadcrumbs? Oh. my. crunchies. Brilliance, actually. The light crunchiness of panko has made it my go-to choice for breading shrimp and chicken.

(The most perfect chicken fingers: dredge chicken into flour, then beaten egg, then panko...then back in egg and back in panko... fry in a little oil....then enjoy. And thank me later.)
Coconut rice makes the perfect compliment to coconut shrimp, if you ask me. And while this lightened up recipe is definitely not as indulgent as the full fat version, it works. After all, it's just rice. The real stars of this dish are pictured below.

So Luke and I took a seat on our patio as the sun began to set, still crazy in love, and once again enjoyed a heaping plate of fried coconut shrimp. And it was delicious. Definitely as good as the restaurant's version we had years before. Sweet, crunchy, saucy, spicy. Perfection.

In fact, the only thing different was the manner in which Luke ate the meal. I guess marriage tends to make you loosen up your manners a bit because he literally licked that sauce bowl clean. But since I was the one slaving over the dish this time, I'll take it as a compliment.

Coconut Shrimp with Fiery Mango Sauce
Ann Taylor Pittman, Cooking Light, January 2010
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 7 shrimp and about 2 1/2 tablespoons sauce)


1  teaspoon  canola oil
2/3  cup  finely chopped onion
1/2  teaspoon  grated peeled fresh ginger
1  garlic clove, minced
1  (12-ounce) can mango nectar
1/4  Scotch bonnet pepper, unseeded (Habanero makes a perfect substitute.)
1 1/2  tablespoons  fresh lime juice
1/8  teaspoon  salt
28  jumbo shrimp (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2  cup  flaked sweetened coconut
1/2  cup  panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/3  cup  cornstarch
3  large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2  teaspoon  salt
8  teaspoons  canola oil, divided
Cooking spray

To prepare sauce, heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add nectar and pepper; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Place mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Stir in juice and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cool.

Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails intact; discard shells.

Place coconut in a food processor; pulse 6 times or until finely chopped. Add panko; pulse to combine. Place coconut mixture in a shallow dish. Place cornstarch in a shallow dish. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Sprinkle shrimp evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Working with 1 shrimp at a time, dredge shrimp in cornstarch, shaking off excess. Dip in egg whites; dredge in coconut mixture.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 7 shrimp to pan; coat tops of shrimp with cooking spray. Cook shrimp 2 1/2 minutes on each side or until done. Repeat procedure 3 times with remaining oil and shrimp.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 367, Fat: 13.5g (sat 2.4g,mono 6.5g,poly 3.7g), Protein: 31g, Carbohydrate: 29.5g, Fiber: 1g, Cholesterol: 252mg, Iron: 5.6mg, Sodium: 731mg, Calcium: 76mg.

Cilantro-Coconut Rice
Cooking Light, April 2008
Yield: 4 Servings

1  cup  water
3/4  cup  basmati rice
3/4  cup  light coconut milk
1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
3  tablespoons  chopped fresh cilantro

Combine 1 cup water, rice, coconut milk, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro.

 *This recipe was part of another recipe by Cooking Light, so I do not have specific nutritional info for the rice. But there's no bacon in it, so must not be too bad.
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