25 April 2014

Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

Spring has sprung!  Finally!  The lake melted this week and I'm still getting used to seeing motion when I look out the window.  What better way to celebrate spring than to make some spring rolls, full of fresh veggies and a spicy peanut sauce?
I brought these to our Easter dinner as an appetizer.  It's too soon to even put plants in the ground here, but fresh peppers and cucumbers just sound so good.
Plus, they're so easy to make.  Start out by prepping the veggies - anything you want, just cut it into slices.  Because carrots are a little harder than anything else in these rolls, I recommend cutting them into small matchsticks so they are easier to eat.  Sprouts are a great filler for these spring rolls.
Next you need rice papers.  These feel like hard plastic, but after soaking in water they become pliable.  Once you start making rolls, you'll get a feel for how long you need to soak them, but the trick is to take them out of the water while they are still holding their shape, but right before they get really soft.  I soaked the rice papers in warm water, one by one, for about 45 seconds each.  Once you take them out of the water they will still get a little more pliable and sticky.
Lay the rice paper out on a plate or cutting board.  Place the veggies in a line down the middle, leaving an inch of space between veggies and the edge of the wrapper - like you're making a burrito.  The rice wrapper doesn't show very well on a white plate, but I promise it's there.
Now fold one side of the rice wrapper over the veggies.
Tuck the ends in - the rice wrapper should stick to itself easily.
Now tuck the veggies in and roll it up tightly.
Let it stand for a few minutes to set up.  Then slice in half on the diagonal and serve with the peanut dipping sauce.
Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce (based on this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1/3 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tbs water
  • Juice (about 2 tbs) and zest from one lime
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 small garlic clove, mashed into paste
  • 1/2 tsp roasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbs minced jalapeno (deseeded and deveined)
  • Optional:  2 tbs minced fresh cilantro
Instructions:
1.  Whisk all ingredients together.  Store in the fridge until needed.

So easy!
These fresh bites are a great reminder that the summer season is right around the corner.

18 April 2014

Salted Caramel Turtle Cinnamon Rolls

I'm not big on breakfast foods...or sweet foods...or caramel.  What on earth am I doing with this recipe?  Lately I've been using any flimsy excuse for gathering people, and I can't remember the last time I had brunch.  So we had people over for brunch!  And what better way to tempt people to brunch than by wafting a delicious dessert breakfast cinnamon roll under their noses?
Since I was short on time and used pre-made dough, this recipe has a grand total of seven ingredients.  The caramel can be made the night before, leaving about 20 minutes of working time + baking time the next morning.  The caramel sets up on the cinnamon rolls, giving them an easy crunch - it's not as hard as rock candy, but does add a fun textural element to these cinnamon rolls.
It starts with a homemade caramel:  butter and sugar.  This caramel freaked me out because it set up as soon as it hit the cinnamon roll pan, but that worked out okay.  Don't freak out.  Just let it be free spirited and lumpy.  This needs to be refrigerated until set (minimum 2 hours, can be done the night before).
I used a pre-made seamless dough sheet.  Judge away - I can't make everything from scratch.  Two canisters of dough made the perfect amount of cinnamon rolls.  Start by unrolling them, then paint on a butter-cinnamon mixture, then sprinkle on chocolate chips and pecan pieces.  Roll the dough up.  I rolled it up with the long side facing me so that the cinnamon rolls would be smaller - they're very rich, so smaller is better.
Slice into 1.5-in. to 2-in. pieces, then set upright on top of the caramel, leaving space for expansion.
Bake until the dough is golden brown (the directions on the dough canister called for 11 minutes, but these cinnamon rolls needed about 15 minutes).  Then comes the scary part.  Get a big serving tray or cutting board and flip the whole thing over while the caramel is still warm and pliable.  Everything holds together pretty well, so this step is pretty easy, but I know it doesn't sound like fun.  Just trust me - it will turn out okay.  I had a lot of caramel still in the bottom of the pan so I spooned it out over the cinnamon rolls, then sprinkled them with more pecans and sea salt flakes.
Salted Caramel Turtle Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 2 canisters crescent seamless dough sheets (8 oz. each)
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 1 c chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c pecan pieces
  • 1 tbs sea salt flakes
Instructions:
1.  In a saucepan, heat up the sugar and 6 tbs butter over medium heat.  Keep and eye on it and stir frequently.  After about ten minutes, it will start to brown.  Continue stirring until caramel has a copper hue.  Pour the caramel into a 9x13 baking pan (caramel may set up quickly - just spread it as best you can and do not worry).  Refrigerate caramel for at least 2 hours.
2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3.  Get caramel out of the fridge.  Melt the 4 tbs of butter and mix with the cinnamon in a little bowl.  Open and unroll the first dough sheet.  Paint the entire dough sheet with the cinnamon-butter mixture.  Sprinkle on half the chocolate chips and half the pecans (reserve some pecans for garnish).  Roll up the dough sheet with the long side facing you (so that you get a long roll rather than a short roll).  Slice the roll into 1.5-in to 2-in slices.  Set them upright on top of the caramel, leaving a little space in between each.  Repeat with the second dough sheet.
4.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the cinnamon rolls are golden brown.
5.  While the pan is still hot, flip the pan over onto a serving tray or cutting board.  Scrape extra caramel out of the pan onto the cinnamon rolls if necessary.  Sprinkle with reserved pecans and sea salt.
These are a special-occasion type of cinnamon roll, but absolutely worth it.  Like a turtle sundae...for breakfast!

11 April 2014

Seared Tuna Tacos with Pico de Gallo

I'm assuming you like tacos, because...tacos.  But maybe you haven't yet tried any tacos del mar, in which case it is time to change that.  Pick your fish.  I chose tuna, because it's kind of tangy and just a little bit fishy and 100% delicious.
Tacos are best when you carefully choose ingredients from the ground up.  Fresh corn tortillas from a tortilleria in Mexico are the best.  I found some corn / wheat tortillas that looked similar and while they are nothing like the real thing, they are pretty good.  Next layer is the tuna, seared then fully cooked with some cumin and garlic.
You will definitely need some pico de gallo in the mix, which is basically a salsa fresca with fresh tomatoes, onions, a jalapeno, and cilantro (a little salt and garlic powder are good too).
Don't skip the queso.
Avocados might go out of style, but not in my kitchen.  A little salsa verde seals the deal.
And there you have it:  a meal fit for a king.  Or at least fit for a beach side shack, on a warm day, with your toes in the sand, listening to the waves lazily hitting the shore.
I won't embarrass myself by telling you how often we've had tacos for dinner in the past two weeks, but suffice it to say we've gone through more tortillas than is socially acceptable.
In other news, today is my last day of work.  We're trying out another Carolina - this time the southern one.  In two weeks, I start work down in Charleston, SC.  I'm sorry to leave my friends and family - we've had such a great time here - but I'd like to live somewhere where summer is more than just a memory for nine months of the year.