September 10, 2017

Spicy Beer Shrimp with Lemon Cucumber Couscous

Now that classes have started, I'm definitely looking for quick meals. This shrimp dinner just so happens to have a (healthy) protein, a sauce, a carb-y side, AND some veggies and can easily be made in 30 minutes or less. I'm hoping I'll be able to manage that between classes, homework, research, and a little bit of enjoying my senior year, but we'll see. The shrimp are grilled simply and tossed in a spicy sauce with a little bit of everything good: beer, tomatoes, honey, and plenty of spice. I pair it with a quick couscous tossed with fresh cucumber and a light lemon dressing.

The sauce starts with some minced peppers. I like jalapenos and habaneros for a definite kick that still allows you to taste the rest of the dish. You can easily up that with some hotter peppers or tone it down with just jalapenos depending on your level of bravery. Once those sweat a bit, I add paprika, cayenne, and chili powder; again, you can increase or decrease the amounts to your liking. Honey and tomato paste are next, which help bulk up the sauce and balance the heat. Lastly, I throw in some beer, which is easy enough to find around my apartment. Don't worry about using any sort of special craft beer; there's enough going on here that you won't be able to tell much of a difference.

While the sauce is simmering and thickening, it's time to cook the couscous. I love couscous as an alternative to pasta since you just dump everything in and let it sit for a couple minutes as opposed to boiling a big pot of water, cooking pasta for 10-15 minutes, and having to take it out and dress it at just the right time. I normally prepare couscous by heating up one cup of water per cup of couscous, adding the couscous with a bit of butter and salt, then letting rest off the heat for 5 minutes to cook through. Here, I substitute in some vegetable broth for extra flavor and toss with diced cucumber, fresh parsley, and a lemon dressing after fluffing. Seafood always pairs well with bright, acidic lemon, and the cucumber adds some much-needed texture and freshness to lighten the dish.

Once the sauce and couscous are going, it's time to make the shrimp. Any raw shrimp will do, though as much as it annoys my dad and sister (aka taste testers for this recipe), I prefer to take most of the shells off but leave the tails on for presentation. Taking the shells off the body allows it to soak up the sauce later but the tails make it prettier and easier to pick up. I like to grill mine just until cooked through then quickly transfer to the sauce to pick up all that flavor. You could cook the shrimp by letting them simmer in the sauce instead for extra flavor, but I find that it's easier to keep an eye on the doneness when grilling and it still soaks up plenty of the sauce after. Shrimp isn't the best protein to heat up as leftovers (it tends to get very rubbery), but if you want to make this dish for multiple meals you can do so by making extra sauce and couscous and just cooking the shrimp as you need it. You can also use the sauce on pretty much anything else too, and I'm guessing my roommates will start doing shots of the stuff once I make this for dinner.

2 T Butter
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Habanero, Minced
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Chili Powder
3 T Tomato Paste
1 T Honey
2/3 Cup Beer
1 lb Shrimp
1 Cup Couscous
1 Cup Vegetable Broth
2/3 Cup Diced Cucumber
3 T Chopped Parsley
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Olive Oil

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the garlic and habanero and cook for 3 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Add the paprika, cayenne, and chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the tomato paste and honey and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the beer, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened.

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Add the couscous, cover, and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff and toss with the cucumber, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Chill if desired.

Meanwhile, brush the shrimp with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until opaque and toss in the sauce. Serve over the couscous.

Serves 2-4
Recipe Adapted from The Beeroness

August 31, 2017

Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

It's a big weekend for baking! Between Labor Day barbecues, tailgating for the first football game, and all my friends that heard I'm back in town, I have a lot on my plate (literally). Luckily, I have this recipe for a gorgeous tart that just so happens to be Badger red and can easily be adapted for Labor Day red, white, and blue. The cheesecake filling is rich and creamy, and the fresh berries on top make it the perfect centerpiece for any party.

For all you cheesecake purists, yes this recipe is a bit different. I use a sweet pie crust instead of a traditional graham cracker crust and there's obviously a difference in size. I like to think of this as a benefit, though, since by baking only a thin layer of cheesecake your baking time is drastically reduced. Instead of going through all the effort of a water bath and waiting at least an hour, your tart is perfectly baked and ready to go in less than 20 minutes. You still have to chill it for a bit like any good cheesecake, but you're that much closer to cheesecake heaven.

You can easily swap out the pie crust for a graham cracker crust, but I think the buttery, flaky crust does a better job of supporting the cheesecake and all those berries. I'm a sucker for a good pie crust, so maybe I'm just biased, but I also think that it makes the tart more similar to all the gorgeous fruit pies of the summer.

The cheesecake filling is pretty simple, not much different than your typical cheesecake aside from being scaled down a bit. There's cream cheese, of course, as well as sugar, vanilla, and an egg. One egg may not sound like much, but it's enough to bind everything together in this amount of filling. I also add a few dollops of sour cream for a hint of tang and to lighten it up. You can add other flavors here as well; orange zest would pair well with berries, as would most other citruses.

The trick to a perfect cheesecake is in the baking time. As I quickly learned when making my first cheesecake a few years ago, this is not one of those times where you're waiting on a clean toothpick. The doneness is better judged by the jiggle test: when the cheesecake is just barely set and only has a slight jiggle in the middle, it's done. Cheesecake also sets up better when you chill it for a couple hours after letting it cool on the counter.

The final touch for me is a layer of sliced strawberries. We're nearing the end of berry season and everything on campus is red for welcome week and football, so I'm all about the strawberries. If you're making this for labor day, you can also throw in some blueberries for a more patriotic look. Peaches would also be delicious, and you can adapt this for year-round enjoyment with whatever fruit is in season. I've found that roasting fruit brings out its natural sweetness, so even in the dead of winter, you can have a gorgeous cheesecake tart with delicious fruit on top.

1 Recipe Sweet Crust
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
1 lb Strawberries, Sliced

Heat oven to 375ºF and grease a 9-11" round tart pan.

Blind bake the crust in the prepared pan.

Lower the oven to 325F.

Beat the cream cheese and sour cream until fluffy. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat in the egg, then pour into the crust. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until just set.

When cool, layer the sliced strawberries on top.

Serves 8

August 17, 2017

Cheesy Chicken and Orzo Casserole

It's crunch time at my internship, and I know most of you are busy going back to school or preparing to send your kids back to school. Basically, it's that time of year where you want to keep eating healthy and cooking but there's hardly any time. That's why I love recipes like this casserole, which is a full meal on its own, keeps the dishes to a minimum, and has plenty of leftovers. Here, I get to use all my favorite Italian flavors and bake them up together with plenty of cheese. It's cozy and comforting but still incredibly easy to make.

The orzo makes up the base of the dish. You can theoretically use whatever pasta you want, but orzo is quick and the texture works well for a casserole. If you've never had it before, it's essentially pasta shaped like grains of rice, so you get that texture without the finicky cooking process (you could also just use rice if you prefer). I add chicken broth to the cooking liquid for maximum flavor, and I make sure not to rinse the pasta when it's done cooking to preserve the starches on the outside. Yes, rinsing pasta with water cools it down and stops the cooking process, but I'm going to need you to stop that this instant. Rinsing off those lovely starches prevents the sauce from sticking later on, and if you're really worried about overcooking your pasta just take it out a minute earlier. I don't even cook the orzo through here anyway since it continues to cook in the oven, so rinsing it certainly won't help you.

The proteins get cooked next; I use sausage for extra flavor and heartiness, specifically a (spicy) Italian sausage. Once it's nice and brown, you're left with a good layer of seasoned fat in the pan to cook the rest of the ingredients in. This is particularly useful if you're using raw chicken, but if you'd like to use a diced rotisserie chicken to save time (totally understandable), it's just as good for cooking the vegetables in later. If you're not a sausage person, you can just increase the amount of chicken, or you can scrap my recommendations entirely and switch to ground beef or ground turkey. This recipe is extremely easy to adapt, so be creative with your proteins.

Once all the meats are cooked, I brown the garlic and onions in the residual fat. Those are mixed with tomato paste, Italian herbs, and some fresh tomatoes to bulk it up a bit. I know tomato season is sadly coming to an end, so canned petite diced tomatoes will work fine in the cooler months. That only has to cook for a few minutes before you return the meats to the pan and add the orzo, cheese, and a bit of chicken broth to allow the orzo to cook through. You can also add in some more vegetables like spinach or eggplant for a healthier dish.

Since all the meat is cooked and the orzo is most of the way there, we are really just baking this to make everything hot and gooey and bubbly. I bake mine for 15-20 minutes so the pasta doesn't get too mushy but it all has a chance to cook together. There will likely be leftovers as well, so you can either microwave them or pop them back in the oven for a few minutes until they are hot again. It's the perfect back-to-school dinner (or just a general crazy weeknight dinner) since you can get your meat, carbs, and veggies all in one bite and still have enough for lunch the next day.

2 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Cups Orzo
1/2 lb Italian Sausage
1 1/2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Diced (or rotisserie chicken)
1 Small Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 lbs Tomatoes, Diced (or 1 can petite diced tomatoes)
2 T Tomato Paste
1/2 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella
1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan
Spinach, Diced Eggplant, etc. (Optional)

Heat oven to 350ºF and grease a 7x11" glass pan.

Bring 2 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water to a boil in a small or medium pot. Add the orzo and boil for 6 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

Heat some oil in a large pot. Brown the sausage, remove, and dice. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, sear in the drippings, and remove. Add the onions to the pot and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste, parcooked orzo, and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add the sausage, chicken, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella and the parmesan. Add the vegetables, if using.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 18 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Cooking and Beer