Friday, September 23, 2011


The only time I've had paella was at restaurants and I've always loved it. Course, I'm a huge fan of anything rice based. On our last night in Manhattan, we actually dined at a Spanish restaurant at the Chelsea Hotel (El Quijote) and I had the most amazing paella stocked full of seafood. Since saffron is a main component of paella, I priced it out just for grins - as most know, it's ridiculously expensive so I passed on buying it.

However, our local Albertsons is closing and all their spices are clearancing out. I completely lucked out and found saffron for $4 a bottle! I bought a couple of bottles and immediately started marking saffron based meals to try. Paella being the first.

I can't account for how authentic this really is, though it tasted the same as I remembered it in NYC. I found the original recipe on All Recipes but made a few changes along the way just to suit our taste. If you have the saffron, it's actually an easy, quick meal that makes a large portion. Delicious!

1-1/4 cups uncooked white rice
3 cups chicken stock, divided
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
3 saffron threads
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed into small pieces
1 pound peeled and deveined small shrimp
3 small lobster tails, or 1/2 pound lobster meat
8 ounce fresh mushrooms, sliced
*you can always add clams and mussels

Rinse the rice with cold water; drain; set aside. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and keep warm. Work the garlic, parsley, curry powder, saffron threads, salt, black pepper, and 1/4 cup of the hot chicken stock together with a mortar and pestle until a smooth liquid forms; set the seasoning liquid aside.

Heat the olive oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat; cook and stir the onion until lightly browned. Stir in the chicken, shrimp, and lobster; cook and stir until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 10 minutes. Pour in the seasoning liquid.

Stir in the rice, pour in the hot chicken stock, and simmer until the rice is nearly tender, about 15 minutes. Add mushrooms; stir two times, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand until rice is soft and flaky, about 7 minutes.

My changes: my lobster meat was already cooked so I added it with the mushrooms. I also browned some Italian sausage I had in the fridge along with the onion. I don't have a paella pan so I used a regular pan. My stove cooks hotter than most so just keep an eye on your rice; it might finish sooner.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cajun Tilapia with Praline Sauce Over Dirty Rice

This recipe was shared on one of my favorite food blogs, Annie's Eats and I immediately pinned it to be made later. I'm married to one of those strange people that doesn't like nuts in their food (not even brownies!) and he especially dislikes pecans (even pecan pie!). But, I refused to let that stop me from enjoying this meal; I simply left the pecans large so they were easy to work around when spooning sauce on his dish.

Let me tell you, he totally missed out. I'm sure it was tasty without the pecans but the pecans took this dish to a whole other level. The sweet and spicy, along with the crunch, work great together. I'm fairly sensitive to spice and didn't find this hot at all - you could always up the heat easily if that's your thing. I'm not even normally a sausage eater and it was delicious in this dish.

The original recipe calls for halibut but it was ridiculously expensive so I went for the basic, ever versatile, and cheap tilapia. Worked great! This meal actually comes together in less than 30 minutes. While the rice cooks, you can easily whip up the praline sauce and grill the fish. Great for a weeknight, but nice enough for a dinner guest.

Cajun Tilapia with Praline Sauce Over Dirty Rice
For the dirty rice:
1 link Italian sausage, casing removed (I used more than that)
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup long grain white rice
1½ cups low-sodium chicken or veggie broth
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
½ cup chopped scallions

For the praline sauce:
½ cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
Pinch of coarse salt
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. whiskey (or apple juice) (I used bourbon, actually, all I had!)

For the fish:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tbsp. fresh thyme
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
4-6 tilapia fillets (1-1.5 pound)

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

To make the dirty rice, crumble the sausage into a skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until starting to brown, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until just softened, 2-3 minutes more. Stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute. Mix in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in the scallions. Fluff with a fork and serve.

While the rice is cooking, make the praline sauce. Toast the pecans in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the pecans to a plate and set aside. Return the pan to medium heat. Combine the sugar and water, bring to a simmer, lower the heat and cook until reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the toasted pecans and salt, and cook 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and whiskey until smooth. The sauce may thicken upon standing, but can be rewarmed over low heat.

To prepare the fish, combine the oil, paprika, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend. Pat the mixture over both sides of the fish.

Oil the grates of the grill. Grill until the fish is cooked through and the fillets release easily, about 3 minutes per side. Serve over the dirty rice and topped with the warm praline sauce.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

I didn't realize (until recently) just how regional even Tex Mex food is. Since I was raised mostly in North Texas, I've been dining on sour cream chicken enchiladas my whole life. I knew I liked them, but Jason absolutely LOVES them. It's typically the only thing he orders at a Tex Mex restaurant. Enchiladas are a fairly easy meal to make but I'd yet to find a "spot on" sour cream sauce recipe. Until I discovered Lisa Fain at The Homesick Texan.

Lisa, in a quest to replicate the North Texas standard enchilada recipe from her home in Manhattan, totally nailed it.

To make this as written does take awhile. Since I was craving some kitchen time, I quite enjoyed the multi steps but there are ways to cut down on time without sacrificing the taste. For one, use shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken instead of making your own will shave a lot of time off (even better if you have leftover chicken you can throw in!). This is also another recipe in which I was thankful for my immersion blender. I get more use out of that than my blender - so easy and quick! I also didn't easily find fresh tomatillos so I used canned - that also cuts down on time and effort!

After finishing the sauce, I took a taste and grinned. Jason came through the kitchen and I asked him to taste it. I got a "that's good" in return (which is a rare comment coming from him!). Judging by the silence in the house as we ate, I call this one a winner. Give it a try!

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
For the filling:
Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium-sized onion, diced (I skipped - don't care for raw onions in my enchiladas)

For the sour cream sauce:
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Serrano chiles, diced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of sour cream
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
8 fresh tomatillos, husks removed and cut in half or one 10 oz. can of tomatillos
Dash of cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste

For the enchiladas
12 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon of canola oil
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the chicken breasts on each side with the salt and black pepper. In a large cast-iron set on medium heat, and cook the chicken breasts on each side for three minutes. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. When the chicken is done, take the chicken out of the oven and let cool. Then shred with two forks. Keep the oven on as you’ll be using it again.

While the chicken is baking, in a pot melt the butter. Throw in the diced Serrano chiles and cook until soft, about three or four minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add the flour and cook for one more minute. Pour the chicken broth into the pot, and whisking constantly cook until chicken broth has thickened. Stir in the sour cream, cumin, cayenne and cilantro. Remove from heat.

If using fresh tomatillos, place them under the broiler on a foil-lined sheet and cook on each side until blackened, about four minutes per side. Place in a blender along with the sour cream sauce and puree into smooth. If using canned tomatillos, skip the broiler step and just place them in the blender with the sour cream sauce and proceed. (if you have an immersion blender, just add the tomatillos to your sour cream sauce and blend it that way)

Heat the canola oil in a skillet and cook the corn tortillas on each side a couple of minutes until soft. Wrap in a cloth to keep warm as you continue to cook all 12.

To assemble the enchiladas, pour one cup of the sour cream sauce in the bottom of a casserole pan. Take each corn tortilla and place in the middle about 1/3 cup of shredded chicken, 1 teaspoon of diced onions and 1 tablespoon of cheese.

Roll the tortillas around the filling and place the rolled tortillas seam side down in the casserole dish (I just reused my cast iron skillet to save dishes). Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and cheese and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until top is brown and bubbling.

Serve topped with chopped cilantro. Makes 12 enchiladas.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Minute Taco Seasoning

First, let me say how nice it is to be food blogging again! For the last couple of weeks, I've been sick with pneumonia and there was a time when I thought I'd never have the breath to leave the recliner again - much less cook a meal! I'm thankful to say that I seem to be on the upswing and have really missed cooking. Not only because I enjoy it, but also because I'm tired of take-out! So, expect some more regular recipes in the coming days. Lots of time stuck at home = lots of time pinning recipes I want to try.

This taco seasoning was actually for dinner the night I got sick and I never had the chance to post it. I've often wondered why people pick up the little packets of taco seasoning at the store. They are cheap, typically less than a buck, but they are SO high in sodium and who knows what else. Just about anyone with a basic spice cabinet has the stuff to make their own taco seasoning at home in less than a minute. And for pennies! This recipe is easy to double/triple and keep on hand for a later date, too.

I think this is a pretty mild seasoning - feel free to add more kick to your liking (or leave out the red peppers all together). I've made tacos for the kids I work with several times and have used this recipe (cut down a bit on the red pepper) and not a one has complained. Since spices are pretty and fun to measure, this is a great meal your child would help with.

Recipe comes from All Recipes.

One Minute Taco Seasoning
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, mix together chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container.

*This will make about 3 tablespoons. Use 2-3 tablespoons seasoning mix per 1 pound browned ground beef/turkey, plus 1/2 - 2/3 cup water. Just like you would with a seasoning packet.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Creamy Pistachio Pops

This is one of those recipes that I have put on my "to make" lists several times but never could find a proper popsicle container to use around the house. Finally, I went ahead and just ordered a set on Amazon just so I could try it.

These are from Aarti Sequeira on Food Network - I've made many of her recipes and have yet to be disappointed. I love that she incorporates her Indian roots into everything. I'm a big fan of pistachios so I knew I'd like this treat.

These are very sweet, creamy, and refreshing on a hot day. Not only that, but they're ridiculously easy to make.

These have well over 200 5 star reviews already and there is no doubt why. They're delicious!

Creamy Pistachio Pops
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
4 Earl Grey tea bags
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
Handful finely chopped pistachios, plus extra for garnish (obviously I didn't chop my garnished ones...)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring evaporated milk to a simmer until small bubbles form around the circumference of the pot. Meanwhile, snip the tops of the tea bags and add to the milk. Whisk in cardamom. Once the milk is simmering, turn the heat off, cover and let sit and steep for 30 minutes.

Strain the evaporated milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the condensed milk, heavy cream and pistachios. Either pour the mixture into ice pop molds, small bowls or a large bowl. Cover the bowls with a piece of plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn and the formation of a "skin". Pop them into the freezer and freeze overnight.

When you're ready to serve, run the ice pop mold under hot water to loosen it. Garnish with more nuts if you like and serve.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baked Chocolate Donuts

I got a bee in my bonnet a couple of weeks ago to buy a donut pan. They are only about $10 at Amazon so I decided to go ahead and purchase one. $10 is not a big purchase but I'm trying to be really picky about what kitchen gadgets I buy, since they take up space. And a donut pan really is a 1 use item... this is the one I bought.

It came, and I got excited to try it out. In true Aimee form, I baked these donuts around 11pm at night when it was hard to get a picture. But you get the idea.

I found the recipe via Pinterest and it's from a blog I've never visited before, Mom Advice. They were super easy to whip up (2 bowls and a whisk, that's it!) and turned out perfect! These are cake donuts, not fried donuts, but they were delicious - especially hot out of the oven. I glazed a few (my pink sprinkles look pretty sad on that glaze topping!) and sprinkled others with powdered sugar, since that is Jason's favorite donut topping.

Baked = healthy, right? Thought so.

Baked Chocolate Donuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
4 teaspoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons coffee (go with it - it adds depth but no coffee flavor)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, butter, or almond extract

Heat oven to 325. Coat donut pan with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In small bowl, whisk milk, sugar, egg, butter, coffee, and vanilla until smooth. Add milk mixture to flour mixture; whisk until blended and smooth. Fill each doughnut cup approximately 3/4 full. Bake at 325 degrees for thirteen minutes or until doughnuts spring back when touched. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

To make the optional glaze, blend confectioners’ sugar, hot water and extract in a small bowl. Dip doughnuts in the glaze and then dip them in sprinkles.

See Aimee Cook

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