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Cinco de Mayo All-Stars

Happy Cuatro de Mayo, everyone! We’re gearing up for Margarita Madness tonight and an official Cinco de Mayo party tomorrow, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite Cinco de Mayo-appropriate recipes with you today.

  • Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes: These were a huge hit at my Cinco de Mayo-themed birthday party a couple of years back, and I’m making a batch to bring to tonight’s party.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
  • Margarita Cupcakes:  A creamy, citrusy winner. This recipe is a little more complicated than the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes, but the end result is delicious!
Margarita Cupcake
  • Green Chile Stew: This is a recent favorite, and the recipe is easily multiplied for groups. My friend’s parents have made cauldron-sized batches of green chile and pork for parties back in Las Cruces.
Green Chile Stew
  • Watermelon-Mango Salsa: Looking to go beyond the classic pico de gallo? This salsa is sweet and savory perfection.
Watermelon Mango Salsa
  • Coconut Key Lime Pie: I know key lime pie is hardly traditional Mexican cuisine, but the lime flavor pairs so beautifully with margaritas. It’s okay to color outside the lines, right?
Coconut Key Lime Pie
  • Fat Tire Pulled Pork Tacos: Need to feed a crowd? This is another great way to do it. Taco bars are always fun for parties. Try the recipe with Pacifico, Dos Equis, or another Mexican beer for the holiday.
Fat Tire Pulled Pork Tacos
  • Creamy Chipotle Shrimp Tostadas:  Three years later, and I’m still making this one. (We served it at a dinner party two weekends ago!) This dip is smoky, creamy, and just plain fantastic. Instead of serving it on chips, though, I now serve it in a bowl, sprinkled with queso fresco, with chips on the side.
  • Sparkling Limeade: This is a perfect margarita alternative for children or nondrinkers (although it also can be converted into margaritas – how convenient!).
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Thai Vegetable Curry

Today’s dish is one I was sure was on the blog already, based on how many times I’ve made it: Food & Wine‘s recipe for Thai Vegetable Curry. I first made it for a Thai-themed gourmet club meeting back in June of 2011 (along with this fantastic recipe for Thai Chicken with Basil). I typically make the curry every couple of months or so because it’s absolutely delicious, comforting, and incredibly easy.

This particular recipe is great for weeknights or entertaining. When I’m cooking for just the two of us, I serve it right away with a pot of rice. The curry is perfect for dinner parties, though, because it actually tastes a little bit better when it’s made a day ahead. I throw mine together in a Dutch oven, refrigerate it overnight for optimal flavor blending, and then gently reheat it on the stove while we enjoy appetizers with our guests.

Thai Vegetable Curry
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Thai green curry paste (I used red curry paste)
1 2/3 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk (one 15-ounce can)
1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup drained canned bamboo shoots, halved
1 pound boiling potatoes (about 2), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound broccoli, thick stems removed, tops cut into small florets (1 quart) (I used cauliflower)
1 tomato, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1/3 cup thin-sliced basil leaves

Method:
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the curry paste and fry, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the coconut milk and broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the soy sauce, brown sugar, salt, bamboo shoots, potatoes, and broccoli. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomato and heat through, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice and basil.

Variations: Other vegetables that would taste good in place of the broccoli include carrots, eggplant, cauliflower, snow peas, cabbage, green beans, and canned baby corn. Try your favorite, or use a combination of vegetables.

Source: Food & Wine

Thai Vegetable Curry

Yum, yum, yum.  Maybe I just love curry and coconut, but this dish is simply delicious.  There’s good textural contrast in the vegetables, and I adore the warm, creamy broth.  My version is very mild since I use red curry paste; try green curry paste instead if you can’t get enough heat.

Earlier, I mentioned that I usually serve the dish immediately when it’s just the two of us and a day later when we’re entertaining.  One other modification I make is that I’ll use light coconut milk for us and regular coconut milk when we have guests.  Light coconut milk makes the dish super healthy (only 4 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points per serving, without rice).  Regular coconut milk doesn’t make it a nutritional disaster, but it certainly adds a richness to the broth that elevates the dish for company.

Recipe link: Thai Vegetable Curry

Vegetarian Chili

After enjoying glorious temperatures for the past couple of weeks, we’re back to comfort food weather here in Denver. (82° to 42° in 24 hours?  So Colorado.) Today’s recipe is one of my favorite recent discoveries: Vegetarian Chili from the May 2010 issue of Everyday Food. It’s quick and easy, but it’s also hearty and has great depth of flavor (thank you, chipotle chile powder!). I made it last month up in the mountains for a group of friends that included a vegetarian and several meat eaters. While my sassy meat-eating friends refused to call it chili since it’s meatless, one of them also said it was in his top five “soups” of all time. I’ll take it!

Vegetarian Chili
Total time: 35 min. | Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3/4 cup (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15.5 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

Method:
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and garlic is soft, about 4 minutes. Add cumin and chile powder, season with salt and pepper, and cook until spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add zucchini and tomato paste; cook, stirring frequently, until tomato paste is deep brick red, 3 minutes. Stir in black beans, pinto beans, and both cans diced tomatoes. Add 2 cups water and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a medium simmer and cook until zucchini is tender and liquid reduces slightly, 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Source: Everyday Food, May 2010

Vegetarian Chili

I’ve been on the hunt for a good vegetarian chili recipe, and I have to tell you, this is IT. I love the smokiness of the chipotle chile powder (it makes the dish!), the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the crisp-tender texture of the zucchini. The chili is chunky, hearty, filling, and delicious. Since the flavor is actually better than most meat chilis I’ve tried or made, it’s perfect for entertaining vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

My only warning: If you don’t enjoy spicy food, you’ll want to cut the amount of chipotle chile powder considerably. As it’s written, the chili is quite warm (but certainly not unbearable), and that’s if you use canned tomatoes with mild green chiles. As a person who has been working to increase my tolerance for spicy foods, it pushes my boundaries just a bit. Our friends loved the amount of heat, but they did notice that it built up as they ate. Sour cream will offer some relief if you need it.

Recipe link: Vegetarian Chili

TIPS:  I was shocked to see the cheapest option for chipotle chile powder at my usual grocery store was $8.19. Yikes. Thankfully, I was able to find a jar at SuperTarget for $4.99. Even better if you have time: Go to a local spice store (Savory Spice Shop is my favorite!) and buy an even smaller (and less expensive) quantity.

Chocolate Stout Cake (aka My Best Denver Cake Yet!)

The luck o’ the Irish was with me in the kitchen today, because I made my best high-altitude cake yet. Not my most beautiful, mind you, but definitely the most delicious. I tore this recipe out of the March 2012 issue of 5280 with some trepidation… While I’ve had some success with the recipes they’ve shared in the past (Fuel Cafe’s Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies, for instance), 5280 isn’t a cooking magazine. There’s no test kitchen. I figured, however, that a cake recipe from a Boulder bakery was worth a gamble. (Thanks, Kim & Jake’s Cakes!)

My initial game plan was to make a half recipe (which I thought would result in a single 9-inch round layer of cake, according to the recipe instructions) to make sure the cake itself behaved at high altitude and tasted good. Once I whipped up a half recipe of batter, though, I realized that it was enough to make two 9-inch round layers. My cake pans are 1 1/2-inch-deep Wilton pans; I imagine you’d have to have super deep pans to bake the entire original recipe as only two layers. Since I was going to have a full cake, I decided I might as well frost it. The cake recipe below is as I baked it (double it for the original recipe and extend baking time to 50 minutes); I made a full recipe of frosting, though. If you’re not a frosting person, feel free to cut that in half as well.

Chocolate Stout Cake
Makes a 2-layer 9-inch cake

Ingredients:
3 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 cup oil (I used vegetable)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups stout beer (I used Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout; 1 1/2 cups is one bottle)

Method:
Preheat oven to 300°F. Cut two 9-inch circles of parchment paper. (Use the bottom of a cake pan as a guide.) Butter the cake pans, place a circle of parchment in the bottom of each, and butter over the parchment. Set pans aside.

Mix eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, salt, and baking soda together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour, alternating with the beer, 3 to 4 times, until completely incorporated into the egg mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 35 – 40 minutes. (My cakes were perfect at 37 minutes.) Remove from oven, cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Remove parchment and frost before serving.

Milk Chocolate Malt Frosting

Ingredients:
1 pound butter, softened
2 pounds powdered sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa (I used a combination of Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx and regular Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup malt powder (I used Carnation Malted Milk Powder, which I found at SuperTarget)
Splash of vanilla

Method:
Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, malt powder, and vanilla.  Incorporate completely.

Source: 5280/Kim & Jake’s Cakes

Chocolate Stout Cake

This is a phenomenal dessert.  The cake is moist with a nice springy crumb, and there was absolutely none of the center sinking I so often see with cakes at high altitude.  It has a nice level of chocolate flavor (far better than the chocolate cupcakes I posted before), though I couldn’t really taste the stout.  The frosting didn’t end up being super smooth (hence the slightly ugly cake), but the flavor is to die for; the malt powder really makes it.  Overall, the cake and frosting make an amazing combination.

So this is going to be my go-to chocolate cake recipe from here on out…  I think I’ll have some fun with it by turning it into cupcakes next time and maybe trying some other chocolate frostings.  I’ll be sure to post any updates!

TIPS: If you make this frosting (highly recommended, it’s delicious!), I’d suggest smoothing it out with a hot, slightly wet icing spatula after you get the initial layer on. Doing so improved the appearance of my cake immensely.

White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil

Let me introduce you to my current favorite appetizer for entertaining: White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil from Peace Meals.  It’s absolutely delicious and looks really sophisticated, though it’s super easy and can be made ahead.  I originally made it for a gourmet club meeting a few months back, and then re-made it this past weekend when we had friends over for dinner.  It was a hit!

White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 bay leaf
30 ounces canned white beans, drained and rinsed, with 3 tablespoons whole beans reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
Fresh pita bread or crackers

Method:
Warm 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and bay leaf, cooking gently for about 1 minute (do not overcook). Discard the bay leaf. Pour the oil and the sautéed garlic into a food processor or blender, setting the sauté pan aside for later use. Add the white beans, lemon juice, and salt to the food processor, and purée the mixture until smooth. Transfer the puréed dip to a serving bowl and top with the reserved whole beans. Heat the remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil in the sauté pan over medium. Add the sage and lemon zest, cooking just until the sage begins to curl and the zest begins to turn golden. Remove from heat and drizzle the infused oil, sage, and lemon zest over the bean dip. Serve warm or at room temperature with pita bread or crackers.

Source: Peace Meals

White Bean Dip with Sage Lemon Olive Oil

Yum, yum, yum.  The texture of the dip is just like hummus, but the sage and lemon create a really distinct flavor profile.  I usually feel like hummus is a bit tangy, but this is smooth, bright (from the lemon), and herbaceous (from the sage).  It’s at its absolute best right when you’ve poured the warm oil, sage, and lemon zest over the top, but it’s still amazing made ahead.  Just allow the oil on top to cool to room temperature, cover your dish with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and then set the dip out 30 or 45 minutes before serving to allow it to come to room temperature.  You (and your guests) will love it!

Ice Cream Truffles

Here’s another easy, make-ahead dessert for Valentine’s Day (or any day, really). Combine your sweetie’s favorite ice cream with their favorite candy bar and serve up some customized ice cream truffles.

Ice Cream Truffles
Adapted from Real Simple

Ingredients:
1 1/2 quarts ice cream (I used Breyers Smooth and Dreamy Chocolate Chocolate Chip)
8 – 12 ounces candy bars, chopped or processed in the food processor (smaller ice cream shapes will have more surface area and will require more candy; I used 4 ounces each of Butterfinger and Take 5)

For round truffles:
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or foil.  Freeze for 10 minutes.  Remove one sheet.

Using a melon baller or ice cream scoop, scoop the ice cream and place individual balls on baking sheet.  Return sheet to freezer.  Repeat this process with second sheet.  Freeze the balls for 30 minutes, or until firm.

Place the chopped candy on a small plate.  (Use multiple plates for multiple candies.) Working with 1 baking sheet at a time, roll the ice cream balls in the toppings, using your hands to gently press in the toppings.  Freeze for 30 minutes before serving. For longer storage, place in a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze.

For heart-shaped truffles:
Allow ice cream to soften on the countertop until it has a spreadable consistency (or microwave on low until spreadable).  Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment or foil.  Place ice cream in baking pan, smooth top, and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 6o minutes, or until firm.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or foil.  Freeze for 10 minutes.  Remove one sheet.

Remove ice cream from freezer.  Remove plastic wrap.  Invert over a cutting board and peel away parchment or foil.  Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter (mine was 2 1/2 inches wide at its widest point), cut heart shapes and place hearts on baking sheet.  Return sheet to freezer.  Repeat process with second baking sheet.  If desired, scoop ice cream scraps into balls and place on baking sheet as well.  Freeze for 30 minutes, or until firm.

Place the chopped candy on a small plate.  (Use multiple plates for multiple candies.) Working with 1 baking sheet at a time, gently roll the hearts (and balls, if you scooped the scraps) in the toppings, using your hands to gently press in the toppings.  Freeze for 30 minutes before serving.  For longer storage, place in a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze.

Ice Cream Truffles

The easy way...

Individual Ice Cream Truffle

Take 5... Yum!

Heart-Shaped Ice Cream Truffles

The hard(er) way...

This is one of those recipes (though it’s barely a recipe, I’ll admit!) that really can’t go wrong as long as you start with delicious ingredients.  Plus, I love that the work is already done and these truffles will taste just as good after dinner on Tuesday as they did the day I made them.  Happy (early) Valentine’s Day, everyone!

TIPS:  I suspect that drier candy bars (like the ones I used, or Heath, Toblerone, etc.) work best with this recipe because they won’t bond into lumps due to an excess of caramel, peanut butter, or other delicious ooey-gooey elements.  If you try a gooey candy bar with these, though, let me know how it goes.  Also, I initially intended to make mini heart truffles, but my mini heart cutter was too shallow to cut through the ice cream in the 8 x 8-inch block.  If you want to make minis, put the ice cream in a 9 x 13-inch pan instead.

Recipe link: Ice Cream Truffles

Nutella Hot Chocolate

Today was a cold one here in Denver (it’s 17°F now), and I’ve been under the weather lately with a scratchy throat.  Feeling chilly and a little bit sorry for myself, I decided I deserved a treat: Nutella Hot Chocolate, or the most delicious, bare-minimum effort dessert ever.  I first had it at my friend Christopher’s (on the recommendation of his cousin, Nicole), but we thought it could have been more chocolatey.  I’ve played with the proportions, and I think I have it just right.

Nutella Hot Chocolate
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%; use whole for a richer drink)
3 tablespoons Nutella

Method:
Place milk in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat.  Whisk in Nutella until completely incorporated.

Nutella Hot Chocolate

That’s it!  It’s so easy, but so delicious.  With these proportions, you get a perfect amount of chocolately, nutty Nutella flavor.  This would be an ideal dessert for Valentine’s Day if you’re looking for something warm and comforting but super easy (especially served with heart marshmallows, which I cut from large store-bought marshmallows using a mini heart cookie cutter).

TIPS:  The first time I made this at home, I used Nutella that had been in the pantry for a while.  Fresh Nutella dissolves much better than Nutella that’s past its prime.




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