Shortbread Carmelitas

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Have you ever had a Carmelita?  Typically, a Carmelita is a soft oatmeal cookie stuffed with caramel and chocolate.  While that is pretty darn tasty… shortbread takes the cake, oops – I mean the cookie bar, here. It’s a brown sugar pecan shortbread, giving the Carmelita a nutty little update.  I also can’t resist adding a little salt to the caramel sauce in the middle of the bar.  I tend to think salted caramel is the stuff dreams are made of, though.

I hope you enjoy my take on Carmelitas!  What’s your favorite cookie bar?


Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line an 8×8 pan with foil, coming up the sides of the pan so you can grab and lift the bars out of the pan after cooling.  Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour. Add the sugar, salt and cold cubes of butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Keep pulsing until the dough starts to come together.  Don’t process so long that the butter starts to warm up too much and the dough is overworked – you want a soft, crumbly dough.  If you don’t have a food processor handy, or just enjoy the workout, you can also mix the dough in a bowl using two knives or a pastry cutter.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan and use a fork to prick little holes all over the top of the dough.

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Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While the dough bakes, starting mixing up the carmel sauce. In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream. Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread. Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

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Crumble the remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

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Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set. After taking the bars out of the oven, sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips over the top and let it sit for a couple minutes. Once the chocolate chips are softened a bit, gently take a knife and streak the chocolate across the top of the bars.  

I’m not so fancy with the chocolate on top of my Carmelitas.  Fancier people might melt down the reserved chocolate chips and then drizzle the melted chocolate across the top in a nice design.  You do you 😉

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the caramel and chocolate will set.

Pro tip:  these Shortbread Carmelitas can also be placed in the fridge to cool quickly.  They are also delicious cold!

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Full Recipe

Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

Line an 8×8″ pan with nonstick aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour.

Add the sugar, salt and butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Pulse a few more times until some of the crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess; the dough should be somewhat crumbly.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan.

Prick dough all over with a fork.

Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While it bakes, make the caramel sauce.

In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream.

Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread.

Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

Crumble remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set.

Sprinkle reserved chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a couple minutes.

Gently take a knife and streak the melted chocolate across the top of the bars.

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the hot caramel and chocolate will set.

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

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I love a good pesto.  They are packed with bold flavor, easy to pull together and completely customizable to any recipe theme.

A basic pesto is basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil.  You can’t go wrong with the classic, but why stay there? You could swap the basil for parsley, kale, spinach, collard greens or cilantro as we have here. Pine nuts can be pricey and a little more difficult to locate than their more common counterpart – walnuts, always a good substitute in a pesto. I’ve played around with a few different versions, I’m sure  you’ll see more recipes sneak in on this blog, but this one has quickly held it’s place at the top of my list.  The pepitas and cilantro play together nicely for a light summer dinner when paired with the angel hair pasta and shrimp tossed in cumin and lime.

Have you ever played with pesto? What’s your go-to combination or favorite flavor find?


Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • ½ cup raw pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Start by making the pesto.

*First a note about the nuts used in this pesto: Pepitas are just pumpkin seeds. I was able to locate them, both raw and roasted & salted, in the bulk section of my local grocery store.  If you can’t locate pepitas, this pesto is just as tasty with all pecans or a mix of pecans and walnuts.

You want to toast the pepitas and pecans to develop their nuttiness a little and make for a more flavorful pesto.  Starting with raw nuts that haven’t been toasted or salted yet helps you to control those elements as you cook. To toast the nuts, simply place them in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Stir the nuts every few minutes, keeping close by – you’ll know the nuts are ready to pull when you can smell them!  Don’t leave them too long after you catch their aroma, they can quickly go too far and taste burnt.

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Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic and parmesan.

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Stream in the olive oil (EVOO) with the food processor on low until the pesto is a paste to the consistency of your liking.  I prefer the pesto to be well-chopped and more on the thick side than a normal thinner pesto before adding the half-and-half.  Taste the pesto and add salt, freshly ground pepper and parmesan, as needed.  If you want to kick it up a bit, this would be a good time to add in red pepper flakes.  With or without the red pepper flakes, a touch of granulated sugar, up to about a teaspoon,  will help balance flavors and bring your pesto together.  Play with the flavors a bit until you get what you are looking for!

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Place the pesto in a bowl.  Stir in the half-and-half and check the seasoning again,  adjusting if necessary.  Set the pesto aside as you prep the shrimp and cook the pasta.

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a healthy amount of salt to the water – this is your chance to flavor the pasta itself.  Cook the angel hair pasta to al dente.

Season the prepared shrimp with the cumin, salt, pepper and lime zest.  If you are not quite ready to cook the shrimp, hold off on adding the lime juice until right before they are ready to hit the pan.  Citrus juice will ‘cook’ seafood as it sits together (think: ceviche) and this is not quite what we are going for here.  We want the lime juice to flavor the shrimp as it sears instead.

Saute the shrimp in the butter, a couple minutes per side. When cooked, remove the shrimp to plate and set aside.

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Deglaze your pan with the white wine.  You can use any white wine here… just remember this one rule:  cook with wine you would drink.  Reducing the wine intensifies the flavor, so if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t eat it 😉  Tonight, I’m drinking/eating Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc – I tend to enjoy any varietal from the Joel Gott family and they are reasonably priced and easy to find in my grocery store.

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Once the wine has reduced a bit and you have stirred up all those tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan, add the cooked and drained pasta to the skillet.  Toss it around to coat the pasta with the pan sauce.

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Turn off the heat source and stir in the creamy pesto, a little at a time, until the pasta is coated and to your desired consistency.  I typically work in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of the pesto.

*Storage tip for leftover pesto: To store any remaining pesto in the fridge, place the pesto in a sealable container and smooth over the top.  Cover the entire top of the pesto with EVOO, place the lid on the container and store in the fridge for 3-4 days.  You can also freeze the pesto at this point.  The EVOO protects the pesto from browning, leaving it that vibrant green for your next cooking adventure.

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Top the pesto pasta with the cooked shrimp.  Sprinkle on extra parmesan and chopped cilantro, if desired, and enjoy!

*To change it up and enjoy your grill in the summer:  a nice update to this recipe would be to grill the shrimp for an added char to the shrimp.  Cut back a little on the garlic in making the pesto and then saute some fresh, chopped garlic in the 1-2 tablespoons of  butter in a skillet.  When toasted, add the wine to deglaze and follow the original recipe from there!

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Full Recipe

Mexican Pesto Pasta with Shrimp

  • 1 cup pepitas
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • EVOO
  • ¼ – ½ cup half and half
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 lime, zest reserved
  • Angel hair pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine

Make the pesto:

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet.

Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and add the cilantro, garlic cloves and parmesan.

Stream in EVOO as you pulse until the pesto forms a paste to the consistency of your liking.

Season with salt, pepper and more parmesan, if desired. (adding a little sugar will balance out the blend)

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the half and half to desired texture and check for seasoning again.

Make the pasta:

Boil pasta in salted water to al dente.

Prepare the shrimp:

Season the prepared shrimp with cumin, salt, pepper, lime and lime zest.

Saute in butter, a couple minutes each side.

Remove shrimp from pan, set aside.

Deglaze the pan with white wine.

Toss the pasta in the pan to coat with sauce.

Remove the skillet from the heat.

Add the creamy pesto, slowly to desired thickness, and toss.

Top with cooked shrimp and serve.

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

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Summertime = grill time. Just about every night we can step out into our backyard and if our grill isn’t fired up, we can smell another one somewhere in the neighborhood. The smells of summer!

We like to keep our grilling recipes pretty simple.  Case in point, this tenderloin is an easy,  but extremely flavorful option for summer nights.  Will sous vides the tenderloin as it marinates in a Mango Jalapeño jelly and then bastes again before grilling.  Simple, yet delicious!

What’s your favorite thing to grill during the summer?


Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Take a few paper towels and blot the tenderloin to remove any excess moisture.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly.  Place in a vacuum-seal or air-tight storage back to sous vide.

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A couple notes here:

First, pork (as well as chicken) is great with any “sweet heat” baste – a fruit base with anywhere from mild to spicy pepper kick.  Here, we are using Turtlefly Fields’s Mango Jalapeño jelly as the baste.  Turtlefly Fields* also makes a Pineapple Habanero, Raspberry Jalapeño and plain Jalapeño that would also be very nice on the pork.

Secondly, in this recipe we are using the sous vide method to cook the tenderloin before grilling.  Alternately, you could grill the tenderloin with just the salt and pepper seasoning, then baste the jelly on the tenderloin as it reaches an internal temperature of 150°.  Adding the jelly earlier will cause the sugar to burn, leaving a not-as-nice bitter taste to the baste.

*(Disclaimer:  Turtlefly Fields is owned and operated by myself and my sister, Laura)

We set the temperature on our sous vide to 150 and let it do it’s thing for a couple hours. If you haven’t tried sous vide… look in to it!  Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” and is the process of cooking food to a precise temperature in a water bath.  This method allows you to cook food to the exact level of doneness you select and keeps meats extremely juicy and moist.  We have the Anova Precision Cooker and have fallen in love with this method!

Remove the tenderloin from the sous vide bag and glaze again with the jelly.

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Grill on the hot side of the grill with direct heat to sear all sides of the tenderloin.

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Remove the tenderloin and let it rest a couple minutes. Slice the tenderloin on a bias.  If desired, thin a small about of the jelly with a touch of water and brush over the tenderloin slices for one last hit of flavor.  The glaze also makes for a nice presentation 🙂

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Serve it up!

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Full Recipe

Mango Jalapeño Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Mango Jalapeño jelly

Blot the tenderloin with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.

Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the tenderloin with the Mango Jalapeño jelly and seal in a plastic bag.

Sous vide to 150°.

Remove tenderloin from the bag and cover again with jelly.

Grill over direct heat to sear all sides.

Remove tenderloin from the grill and let it rest a couple of minutes.

Cut on a bias and baste with a thinned mix of jelly, if desired.

 

Crawfish Etouffee… but really, Swamp Fries

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Will and I love a good road trip.  It’s one of the best things ever to get in the car and go exploring for the day or pack up for a quick weekend getaway to a more familiar location.  We will make a run to the Hill Country for a boot fitting, aim a little more South to find a new Texas winery, find restaurants or farmer’s markets in Houston, load up Silver Sadie Wonderdog for an overnight beach trip, or head to dozens of other places just a drive away.

One of our favorite roadtrip getaways is in Lake Charles.  Say what you like, but I am a sucker for a good penny slot machine or some video roulette.  Craps and Blackjack tend to call Will’s name. Depending on the weather, our favorite place to stay offers a lazy river to float during the day and a lovely wine and tapas bar with live piano music to wind down in at night.  All that said… it’s never a trip to Lake Charles without a visit into town to Steamboat Bill’s.  The pistolettes are perfect.  The gumbo is amazing.  The winner though?  The Swamp Fries. Cheese fries smothered in shrimp etouffee.

Will may have been just a touch hesitant the first time we ordered them.  Etouffee goes on rice, right?!?  Y’all.  We get these every stinkin’ time now.  The etouffee is so tasty and pairs so well with a crispy, hot cheese fry.  We’ve since made them at home with our own version of a crawfish etouffee and every time they take me right back to Lake Charles.

Did you just hear that slot machine ding???


Crawfish Etouffee – Swamp Fries

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves
  • french fries, shredded cheese, sour cream and green onion for serving

Etouffee is a fairly simple recipe that takes just a little bit of time to bring on big flavors. It’s great post-crawfish boil to use up some leftover tails but you can easily sub in small shrimp instead.

To start, season the diced veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.  In cajun cooking, these three veggies are known as “the Cajun trinity”.   This combo of veggies is essentially the base for most cajun dishes and more often than not, added to roux as the beginnings of gumbos, soups, stews and jambalayas.  Typically, the bell pepper is the traditional green bell pepper – we often use red, yellow and orange peppers though for their variety in sweetness and color.

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Melt the butter in a skillet until it browns and begins to smell nutty.  You’ll see the fats in the butter starting to foam around the edges as well.  Add the seasoned veggies and saute until they begin to soften.  Add Tabasco, worcestershire and garlic to the skillet and saute another couple of minutes.

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Add the flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.  Whisk in the stock slowly and carefully to avoid creating lumps in your roux.  Add the crawfish tails and bay leaves.

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Simmer 20-30 minutes, until the etouffee has reached your desired thickness.  Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves when you are done simmering!

You can go traditional and serve with rice…

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…or you can go SWAMP FRIES!  Plate your french fries and top with shredded cheese.  Pour the etouffee over the fries and top with sour cream and diced green onions.

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There you have it – one ticket to Steamboat Bill’s Lake Charles.  Enjoy the ride and let me know how your penny slots pay off 😉


Full Recipe

Crawfish Etouffee

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • Salt, pepper
  • Cajun seasoning – such as Salt-free Tony Chachere’s
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2-3 drops Tabasco (more, to taste)
  • 1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tsp garlic
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 4-6 cups seafood/chicken stock
  • 1 lb crawfish tails, peeled and deveined
  • 2 bay leaves

Season chopped veggies with salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.

Melt butter in skillet and brown until it smells nutty.

Add chopped veggies, saute until beginning to soften.

Add tabasco, Worcestershire and garlic to veggies, saute another couple of minutes.

Add flour to the veggies and cook until it is light brown in color.

Whisk in stock carefully to avoid lumps.

Add crawfish tails and bay leaves.

Simmer 20-30 minutes, until it has reached your desired thickness.

      *Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice or french fries.

Polenta-Crusted Fish and Cilantro Risotto

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Summer- summer- summertime!  Yeah!

Does everyone just pause and take a breath when summertime hits?  Being in the world of education, I can tell you I do!  Even though I work throughout the summer, once the break hits for students and teachers everything just mellows out a bit.  Days are longer so there isn’t a rush to run those errands post-work and before heading home.  Fridays off mean that I can join those summer revelers a little bit and still have a weekend.  Road trips come a little easier.  It’s hot out… but it’s supposed to be, amiright?

Summer dinners also lighten up.  Crockpots are put away and grills are brought to the forefront.  Heavy stick-to-your-ribs dinners make way for salads, kabobs and, as we have here, fish.  I love fish. I love my fisherman husband and his knowledge of how to catch and prepare fish.  Fried, baked, grilled, sashimi, sushi, ceviche… we could go all Forest Gump here in the multitude of ways we can cook fish but today we going to focus on a winning style we found on our Honeymoon.

Just about five years ago (this Friday!) Will and I said our “I dos” and then headed out for a week of fun and sun in Costa Rica.  It was such a memorable, exciting trip filled with many, many great meals.  One of my absolute favorites came from a meal provided after an excursion.  Several places offer a breakfast before or lunch after their scheduled activities so we weren’t surprised that the zipline adventure we chose provided lunch at the end.  We made our way out to MidWorld Costa Rica and had an absolute blast on our zipline courses.  If you ever travel to the Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica, do yourself a favor and look them up.  They have several fun options including ziplines and four-wheeler routes, are so professional and friendly, offer the longest double-cabled line in Central America (the Superman) that give amazing views of the landscape and, as a major bonus, have great food!  The lunch we were provided was so good – we even had to get a little information about it from the chef before leaving MidWorld.  We feasted on fish, plantains and the typical gallo pinto found accompanying most meals in Costa Rica.

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The fish is what really got me.  (Obviously, as I had to remind myself to put the fork down and snap a quick pic of it!)  It was so simple but had the perfect, light fry to it that makes for a great summer meal.  When we asked the chef she simply said “polenta, salt and pepper”.  Without the heavy breading of a flour-based coating the fish was left to shine and truly made for a meal that I remember often.

We’ve made this polenta-crusted fish now several times.  Here, we forgo the gallo pinto (which is soooo good we will have to devote a whole other post to) and sub in Cilantro Risotto, another summertime fave of mine.  Polenta-crusted fish always satisfies – both in taste and in memories recalled.


Polenta-Crusted Fish and Cilantro Risotto

For the fish:

  • fish fillets – grouper, snapper, tilefish, etc
  • s&p
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T of water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ¼ – ½ cup veggie or frying oil

For the Jalapeño Cream Sauce:

  • 3-4 jalapeños, roasted, seeded and sliced
  • ½-1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (fresh or roasted)
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼-½ cup cream
  • Salt & pepper

For the Cilantro Risotto:

  • 6 cup chicken stock
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T onion, finely diced
  • 5 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ½ cup arborio rice*
  • 1 cup white wine (pour it, then let it sit on the counter as you start prepping)
  • ¼ tsp salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped

For the purposes of cooking this meal all together, we will start with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce so it can chill in the fridge and allow the flavors to all meld together.  Then we’ll move on to the risotto and then quickly wrap up with cooking the fish.

A quick note regarding risotto:  it is a labor of love.  Risotto-making really is a simple process – start with onions, toast your grains, slowly add warm liquid and let it absorb in and develop the starch as you stir.  You are somewhat shackled to the stove as you stir but the results lend itself to a silky, creamy rice dish that looks so impressive as it pours out on a plate.  You can easily swap out the flavors but the process remains the same – toast, slowly add warm liquid, stir until absorbed, add more liquid, repeat.  Try it out – you’ll impress yourself and your dinner guests!

Alright – let’s cook.

Start with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce:  you’ll need 3-4 roasted jalapeños to start with.  Simply place your jalapeños on the grill or beneath a broiler until the skin starts to blister and blacken.  When they are all blistered up, put them in a bowl and cover them with saran wrap or a towel for a few minutes so that they steam and the skin loosens from the meat a bit.  After a few minutes, you should be able to slide the charred skin off of the pepper “meat”.  Then, simply slice them open to remove and discard the seeds.

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Place the jalapeños, cilantro and garlic in a food process and pulse until you have a smooth consistency.  You may add a little olive oil as you puree, if needed, to keep the consistency smooth.  Blend in the sour cream and lime juice. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, to your taste.  Place the sauce in  the fridge for later use.

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Now, start the risotto.

In a medium pot over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.  If you are going for a vegetarian risotto, sub in veggie stock here.  Two things about the stock:  First, please do not use water as a replacement.  This is your chance to sneak some great flavor into the rice. Use a low-sodium stock so that you can control the salt added in to the dish as you cook.  Second, make sure you warm up with stock.  If you were to add in a cold/cool stock to the rice as you cook, you are dropping the temperature of the dish, bringing it back up, dropping the temp down, etc.  Keep your liquid warm for a consistent cooking temperature that will keep your risotto rocking until the end.

Heat a large skillet with edges (you’ll be stirring quite a bit and want those sides to help you keep in all contained) over medium-high heat.  Add the butter, onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.

Add the arborio rice and saute, stirring until the rice is slightly toasted.

*Why arborio rice? Arboria is a short-grained rice full of starch. It’s a short, fat, oval-shape rather than the longer, rod-shape of traditional rice.  As you cook and stir, the release of the starch is what gives risotto its signature creaminess.  You won’t get quite the same effect with a traditional white rice.

When toasted, add the white wine to the pan and stir until most of the wine has been absorbed.

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Notice my setup here with the risotto pan and the stock pot?  Keep the stock close, you’re gonna need it!

Add about a cup, or a good ladle-full, of warm stock to the risotto.  Stir constantly until most of the liquid is absorbed.  For this first ladle-full, you want to stir constantly and it will absorb somewhat quickly.  Keep stirring until you can pull the rice back and the liquid doesn’t instantly fill the track in, as pictured below.

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Add another 1/2- to 3/4- ladle-full to the skillet stir until the liquid absorbs into the rice. As you add liquid, you will be able to back off on the stirring a bit as it won’t absorb as quickly.  But don’t wander off – keep an eye on the skillet so that it never completely absorbs all the liquid. You don’t want the rice to sit on the hot skillet and form a crust along the bottom.  Keep it moist and moving so that the starch of the rice creates a creamy, silky texture as it cooks.  When you pull back the risotto with the spoon and can see that track along the pan, it’s time for more stock.

You will repeat this process until the rice is al dente, or to your desired texture.  This usually take about an hour or so, depending on heat levels and the texture you want to achieve.  I like my risotto to be just a little past al dente – still leaving a bit of a bite to the rice.

When it looks like you are reaching the end of risotto-stirring, grab the Jalapeño Cream Sauce from the fridge and place it in a small pot over low heat.  Whisk it up with the cream until you have your desired temperature and consistency. Check your seasoning again and set it aside for topping later.

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Now, prep your fish fillets so that they are ready to cook:

Make sure your fish fillets are cleaned and bone-free.  Here, we had a nice grouper Will cleaned up and portioned out for dinner but we have also used tilefish and snapper in this preparation.  Any flaky, firm white fish is perfect for polenta-crusting.  Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper.  Grab two shallow bowls – one for the polenta seasons with salt and pepper, the other to whisk in the egg and water for a light egg wash.

Lightly dredge the fish fillets in the egg wash, then the seasoned polenta.  You want just a light covering on the fish, not a thick crust at all.  Set this aside on a plate until you are ready to pan fry the fillets.

Back to the risotto:

When the rice has reached your desired texture and consistency, remove it from the heat. Add the parmesan cheese and black pepper.  Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Fold in the chopped cilantro and serve the risotto warm!

Finally… let’s finish the fish.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cover the bottom of the skillet with a light coat of oil, just so the oil is about 1/4-inch thick across the bottom.

Pan fry the fillets in the skillet, about 3-4 minutes on each side, just until they are golden brown.

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Top the fillets with the Jalapeño Cream Sauce and serve with Cilantro Risotto!

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*As you can see here, the scallops looked so good in the fish market we just had to grab a couple to serve as well!  A couple tips for cooking scallops:  First, pat them dry with a paper towel before seasoning and placing in the pan.  If they are wet, the scallops will steam rather than sear.  Second, sear them for just about 90 seconds on each side with a little butter in a screaming hot pan.  You want a crust, but you don’t want to cook them all the way through so that they become tough or chewy.

We hope you enjoy this recipe!  It’s a favorite in our house that always brings back some good memories of Honeymoonin’ in Costa Rica.  What are some of your food-related travel memories?


Full Recipes

Polenta-Crusted Fish

  • Fillet fish – grouper, snapper, tilefish
  • s&p
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T of water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ¼ – ½ cup veggie or frying oil

Make sure fish fillets are cleaned and bone-free, lightly season with salt and pepper.

Season the polenta with salt and pepper in a shallow bowl.

Whisk together the egg and water in a shallow bowl.

Lightly dredge the fillets in the egg wash.

Lightly dredge the fillets in the seasoned polenta – this is a light covering, not a thick crust.

Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat.

Cover the bottom of the skillet with a light coat of oil, just about ¼-inch thick.

Pan fry the fillets in the skillet, about 3-4 minutes per side, just until golden brown.

Jalapeño Cream Sauce

  • 3-4 jalapeños, roasted, seeded and sliced
  • ½-1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼-½ cup cream
  • Salt & pepper

Puree the jalapeños, cilantro and garlic in a food processor until smooth.  

Add a little EVOO as you puree, if needed, for a smoother consistency.

Blend in the sour cream and lime juice.

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed.

Before serving, place sauce in a small pan over medium-low heat.

Whisk in cream as it warms to desired consistency, checking for seasoning.

Cilantro Risotto

  • 6 cup chicken stock
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T onion, finely diced
  • 5 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ½ cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • ¼ tsp salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped

In a medium pot over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.

In a large skillet, add butter, onions and garlic.

Saute over medium heat until onions are translucent.

Add rice and saute, stirring until rice is slightly toasted.

Add the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed.

Add 1 cup of chicken stock stir constantly until liquid is absorbed.

Keep adding chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time stirring constantly until all chicken stock has been used and absorbed into the rice.

Once rice is al dente and to desired texture, remove from the heat and add parmesan cheese, salt & pepper.

Stir until well combined.

Fold in cilantro and serve warm.

Fried Rice and Easy Potstickers

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Life gets busy, y’all.

As you can tell from my lack of posts, this is a busy time of the year for us. This is the time when we all need a stash of quick dinnertime recipes to get us through, am I right?  This fried rice totally fits the bill.  It’s a quick pull-together option that is pretty customizable and perfect for leftover rice.  Like, the drier/stickier the rice, the better in this case. I’m pretty bad about making way too much rice as a side dish so it is not uncommon to see this dish as a follow-up throughout the week in our house.  You can also make it more of a centerpiece dish by adding these easy potstickers on the side.  What’s so easy about them?  We skip the attempt at making the dumpling dough and reach for the premade wonton wrappers instead.

So how can you change these two recipes up?  Both call for ground pork – you can use the Asian Sausage as we did, or sub in ground/shredded chicken, ground beef, thinly sliced pork chops or leave out the meat completely for a vegetarian option.  You can use the potsticker filling in egg rolls, or scoop it into a bowl with fried wonton strips for an even faster “deconstructed” egg roll dish.  Pick and choose the veggie options for both the fried rice and filling to whatever you have currently available in your fridge.

So let me hear you – what are your go-to dinners for when life gets busy?


Fried Rice and Easy Potstickers

For the Fried Rice:

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced – reserve half of the sliced green tops
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ – 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • Chicken stock
  • Soy sauce

For the Potstickers:

  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, julienned
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
  • Wonton wrappers

For the Dipping Sauce:

  • 6 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 thinly chopped scallion
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch ginger, finely minced
  • 8 T soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil (2-3 drops)
  • 1 T chili garlic paste

Start by mixing up the dipping sauce so that it has time to sit and develop.  That’s all it takes – mix all the ingredients together and let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour.  This sauce is great with dumplings, potstickers, egg rolls, etc.

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The most time consuming piece of this recipe is prepping the veggies.  I do highly recommend spending some time chopping and prepping the veggies before you start cooking as it all comes together pretty quickly once you start cooking. For the rice, I cut all the veggies other than the bell pepper into a small dice for even cooking.  I like to leave the bell pepper in a good-sized strip so that they don’t completely wilt away when cooking, especially if you are using the small thinner-skinned sweet bell peppers like we typically do.  For the potstickers, you want to julienne the veggies in to thin strips. This cut helps for a couple of reasons.  First, the thin strips cook quickly and second, they are pretty uniform inside the potstickers. You can see the difference here between the veggies for the rice on the left and the veggies for the potstickers on the right.

I also shred the cabbage pretty thinly and sprinkle a little salt on it as it sits so that some of the water inside the cabbage starts to draw out a bit before adding it to the saute pan.

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Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high. Add olive oil to the pan and begin to saute the full pound of ground pork. As stated above, we used the Asian Sausage recipe for this dish.  If you are using a plain ground pork, ground beef or chicken, season the meat with a little ginger, coriander, garlic, salt and pepper. Once the pork is browned, remove half of the meat and set it aside for the fried rice.

If keeping your dinner vegetarian, you would start here 🙂

To the pork left in the pan, add the julienned celery and carrots, scallion and garlic.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Saute the mix until the veggies are just starting to become tender.

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Add the shredded cabbage, excess water drained/dabbed off, and toss the mixture until the cabbage is wilted.  Remove from the heat.

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Lay one wonton wrapper on a tray or sheet of parchment paper. Place one heaping teaspoon of the filling on the wrapper just off-center.  Using room temperature water, wet two edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together. Set the potsticker aside and repeat the process for the desired amount of potstickers.  (The remaining filling freezes very well if you do not use it all here)

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As you can see, we tried a few different shapes and sealing/pinching techniques on the potstickers.  Will liked using a biscuit cutter which gave the rounded, scalloped edges.  Mine were freeformed and definitely less precise!

Place the nonstick skillet back over medium high heat and cover the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil. *Nonstick is KEY here!* Place the potstickers in a single layer over the bottom of the skillet and cook for just about one minute, until the bottoms are starting to turn golden.  Pour some water in the pan until just the bottoms of the dumplings are covered and place a lid over the skillet.  This action will steam the potstickers to heat up the filling and cook the dough through.  Cook until most of the water has vaporized, about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid and cook until the bottoms of the potstickers are golden brown, another 1-2 minutes.

While the potstickers are steaming, prepare the fried rice.

Heat another nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Scramble the eggs, then set them aside and wipe out the skillet.

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Add the reserved 1/2 pound of cooked pork. Add a little olive oil, if necessary, then add the celery, carrots, whites and half of the greens of the scallion, bell pepper, garlic, and cabbage (if using).  Saute until the veggies are softened.

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Add the rice to the skillet.  This is where your actions will change a little depending on how dry or sticky your rice is.  Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce over the rice and begin to “fry” it in the pan.  The rice should stick and brown up a little. If the rice is fairly wet and sticky, you may be pretty good here.  If the rice is cold or drier, add a little chicken stock, just a couple tablespoons at a time, to loosen it up a little so that it will cook and brown in the pan.  You want the rice to take in a little of the liquid but not become too wet and mushy as you cook.  Taste it and check for consistency and seasoning.  Continue to fry the rice in the pan until you have reached your desired texture.

Stir in the scrambled egg at the very end so that you don’t break it up too much – I like to leave pretty decent sized chunks of egg in the rice.  Remove the rice from the heat.

Sprinkle the fried rice with the reserved green portion of scallion and serve with additional soy sauce, if desired.  Drizzle the dipping sauce over a few of the potstickers and serve with additional sauce on the side.

Looks pretty impressive for a quick weeknight dinner, don’t you think? 😉


Full Recipe

Fried Rice

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ pound ground pork -or- Asian sausage
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced – reserve half of the sliced green tops
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ – 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked rice (great for leftover rice)
  • Chicken stock
  • Soy sauce

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat.

Scramble the eggs.

Set aside and wipe out the skillet.

Add oil to the skillet, saute pork until browned. (Season with garlic, ginger, coriander, salt and pepper)

Add the celery, carrots, whites and half of the greens of the scallion, bell pepper, garlic and cabbage, if using.

Saute until veggies are softened.

Add rice to the skillet.

Top with 1-2 T soy sauce and “fry” in pan.

If the rice is dry, add a little chicken stock.  Continue to “fry” until you have reached your desired texture – taste and adjust seasonings.

Stir in scrambled egg.

Remove from heat, top with reserved scallions.

Easy Potstickers

  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 2 stalks celery, julienned
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup thinly shredded cabbage
  • Wonton wrappers

Saute the pork in a skillet until cooked through.

Add the celery, carrots, scallion and garlic, season with salt and pepper.

Saute until veggies are starting to become tender.

Add cabbage and toss until wilted.

Remove from heat.

Lay one wonton wrapper on a tray.

Place one heaping teaspoon on the wrapper just off-center.

Using room temperature water, wet two edges of the wonton wrapper.

Fold the wrapper over the filling and press the edges together.

Set aside and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and cover the bottom with oil.

Cook for about 1 minutes, until bottom of dumplings are golden.

Pour some water in the pan until the bottoms of the dumplings are covered.

Place a lid over the skillet and steam the dumplings until most of the water has vaporized, about 7 minutes.

Remove the lid, cook until the bottoms are golden brown.

Dipping Sauce

  • 6 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 thinly chopped scallion
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch ginger, finely minced
  • 8 T soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil (2-3 drops)
  • 1 T chili garlic paste

Mix all ingredients together.

Let sit at room temp 1 hour.

Zucchini Nut Muffins

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Will and I may disagree a little on this one. He heard “zucchini” and immediately said “NO”.  But for a muffin with some squash in it, these are pretty dang tasty.

Back in Weslaco, Texas my mom made these little gems often.  I believe the recipe came from a friend in town and my sister and I love them.  In fact, when Laura made the seven-and-a-half hour move to Baylor University these muffins became part of care packages sent her way.  I remember packing them up and more than once making sure the precious cargo got in the hands of a loving, die-hard Baylor couple from the church that would be making the trek up north.  When I went to Baylor a few years later you best be sure plans were made to send me some as well.

Zucchini Nut Muffins have everything right about them – they are just a little sweet, always moist, have a crunch from the nuts and they freeze well.  One batch makes 24 muffins so they are great grab-and-go breakfast options or make an easy brunch offering.

Let’s go back to our college days for just a few minutes: What’s in your care package?  You can fill mine with Zucchini Nut Muffins any day.


Zucchini Nut Muffins

-This recipe makes 24 muffins-
  • 2 c shredded, unpeeled zucchini*
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c corn oil
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 c chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts)

Preheat your oven to 400.  Grease two muffin tins or line the cups with baking liners.

*When you shred the zucchini be sure to leave the peel on.  Just wash the produce, chop the stem off and then use a grater to shred it up.  To get 2 cups of shredded zucchini you will need roughly one large or 2-3 small veggies.  Be sure you concentrate just as hard as I am 😉

In a large bowl, combine the shredded zucchini, eggs, oil and vanilla.

Why use corn oil?  Corn oil has a slightly higher smoke point than other oils and is essentially flavorless, both which make it nice for baking. If you don’t have corn oil on hand, reach for the vegetable oil for the same end results.

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Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and baking powder.

Add in the nuts and stir until moistened.

It’s completely up to you which nut you use but the most common choices are pecans and walnuts.  More often than not, I’ll go with pecan.  If you have halves on hand, chop them up a bit.  I like to leave some large pieces for texture throughout the muffins so I don’t worry about keeping the sizes of the pieces too even.

Fill the muffin cups about two-thirds full.

Bake for 18 minutes.

Let the muffins sit for a couple minutes in the pan, then move them to a wire rack to cool.

Once cooled, the muffins freeze and reheat very nicely.

What do you think?  Does the squash-in-a-muffin scare you off or are you intrigued?  Mix up a batch and let me know how you like them!


Full Recipe

Zucchini Nut Muffins

  • 2 c shredded, unpeeled zucchini (about 1 large, 2-3 small veggies)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c corn oil
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 c chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts)

Preheat oven to 400.

Grease muffin tins or line with baking liners.

Combine zucchini, eggs, oil and vanilla.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until moistened.

Fill muffin cups ⅔ full.

Bake 18 minutes.

Let cool on rack.

Yields: 24