Spicy Chili Honey

Spicy Chili HoneyI’m not really sure if what I’m about to tell you qualifies as a recipe or cooking but I am going to tell you anyway. You need to have Spicy Chili Honey in your pantry if you are fan of “sweet-heat” anything. I love adding this spicy kick to Homemade Ricotta Cheese with peaches for a creamy dessert, or anything that has cured salty meats, like my Hot Soppressata Pizza. I put this on a nice charcuterie board, so it can be drizzled cheeses, meats and breads… it can be a little addicting. I think I might even put a bowl of it on the table next time I make some fried chicken, because we all know drizzling a little honey on top of fried chicken makes it even better.

Ingredients:
4 oz. honey
1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Spicy Chili Honey 2In a microwave safe bowl, combine honey and crushed red pepper. Microwave for 20 seconds, stir to combine and then let stand for 10 minutes. Mixture can be used right away or will continue to get spicier as it’s stored at room temperature in a small glass container. Enjoy!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade Ricotta Cheese 2Ricotta cheese is a staple in a lot of Italian cooking. I use it in lasagna, stuff shells, on pizzas, or even desserts. I always knew that making ricotta from scratch was pretty easy – there are only 4 ingredients, all of which were on hand and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. I had a hankering for Ricotta Cheese with Peaches and Spicy Chili Honey, where the cheese is the star of the show, and wanted a high quality, fresh cheese. The selection at the grocery store in Austin is a bit, well, lacking for Ricotta, so now was the time to make my own. The results were fantastic, and luckily there was quite a bit left for more dishes throughout the week.

Even though it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made, it felt pretty fancy to make my own cheese.

Ingredients:
½ gallon whole milk (8 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (juice from approximately 1 lemon)

Homemade Ricotta Cheese 3Line a colander with 2 layers of dampened cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.
On medium heat, combine milk, heavy cream and salt, stirring occasionally until starting to boil. Reduce heat to low and add lemon juice. Mixture will start to curdle in about 2 minutes. Continue to simmer for approximately 2 minutes more. Pour mixture into lined colander and let sit about 20 minutes so the excess liquids (whey) drain from the cheese. Empty bowl occasionally to ensure proper draining. Store unused ricotta in the refrigerator for about a week (like it would last that long!) Enjoy!

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada BitesIt’s not difficult to tell what season it is by looking at the dinner table in my house. If winter can be characterized by sauces, soups and stews, summer is represented by fresh herbs, salads and anything topped with vegetable slaws. Maybe it has something to do with not having a bulky sweater to hide behind, or a lighter appetite in the 100 degree Texas heat.

If you’ve ever been to Z’Tejas, a restaurant in downtown Austin, you’ve probably tried their Grilled Shrimp & Guacamole Tostada Bites appetizer. Crunchy tostadas, topped with a big dollop of guacamole and perfectly seasoned grilled shrimp, served with a tangy vegetable slaw. They are what an appetizer should be – a bite or two to help entice your appetite – which makes them a great anytime appetizer, but even better summertime appetizer!

Since I’m making a big batch of these for a get-together, I used store bought guacamole to save time, but you can certainly make your own. Speaking of saving time, have you tried out a stove top grill pan? I bought a fire engine red Le Creuset Double Burner Grill Pan from the William Sonoma outlet a few weeks ago and I am in love with my new toy. I probably buy one piece of Le Creuset cookware a year to add to my collection, and I’m like a little-kid-on-Christmas kind of excited whenever I get a new piece. It’s large enough to use over 2 burners, so it heats evenly and I even did all 30 shrimp in one batch!

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites 2Ingredients (makes 30 bite sized tostadas):

Vegetable Slaw:
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced
¼ cup shredded carrots
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

Garlic Lime Shrimp:
30 peeled and deveined shrimp small/medium shrimp (approx. 30 per lb.)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp. canola oil

30 tostada or pita rounds
1 pint store bought guacamole or see recipe for Restaurant Style Guacamole

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites 3To make the slaw:
In a small bowl, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, sugar and lime juice until sugar is dissolved. Add in canola oil and set aside. Mix together diced red pepper, red onion, jalapeno, shredded carrots and cucumber. Pour dressing mixture over the top and stir to combine. Set in refrigerator for 20 minutes while preparing the shrimp to let the vegetables marinate in the dressing.

To prepare the shrimp:
Combine shrimp with pressed or minced garlic, lime juice, crushed red pepper and canola oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spray grill pan with non-stick cooking spray and heat on medium. Grill shrimp 2-3 minutes per side until cooked throughout.

Line tostadas on a serving tray. Top each tostada with a heaping teaspoon of guacamole and a grilled shrimp. Spoon vegetable slaw over shrimp, serving the rest on the side in a small bowl. Enjoy!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad

Maryland Crab Cake SaladThere is a restaurant in Austin called The Grove that was designed with me in mind. Extensive wine list, great salads, pizzas and charcuterie; it’s a wine lover’s dream. They make a fantastic crab cake salad – mixed greens, lightly dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette, topped with a crab cake and drizzled with remoulade. It’s light and fresh, but the crab cake and creamy remoulade make it just a little sinful.  And at about $20, it’s also kind of expensive. Luckily for me, the Central Market by my new house has a great seafood selection; they even have ready-to-make crab cakes that rival most restaurants in town. If I were feeling adventurous, I might make my own, but this easy shortcut gets dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.  Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner and much easier on the wallet than eating out!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad 2Ingredients (serves 4):
5 oz. container spring mix
½ red onion, sliced thin
Red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
Cucumber, peeled and seeds removed, sliced
4 tbsp. Citrus Vinaigrette (see recipe)
4 crab cakes
4 tbsp. remoulade

Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat, spray with cooking spray, and brown crab cakes until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, combine spring mix, red onion, bell pepper, cucumber and toss with Citrus Vinaigrette to lightly coat. Portion salad into 4 bowls, top each with a crab cake and drizzle 1 tbsp. remoulade over each. Enjoy!

Note: the easiest way to remove seeds from a cucumber is to cut off the ends, stick a butter knife in the seedy center, and turn in a circular motion to loosen the seeds. They should come right out.