Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gourmet Texas Pasta Review and Giveaway: Featuring Blood Orange-Sesame Chicken Lo Mein

One of my all-time favorite foods is pasta...it tastes great, it’s quick to cook, and it’s so versatile that you can use it like a canvas to create a culinary masterpiece. For my first giveaway of 2012, I recently discovered a fantastic gourmet pasta company located right here in Texas: Austin-based Gourmet Texas Pasta. They’re partnering with me for a review and giveaway of their amazing artisan pastas. They had me pick several flavors to try in my kitchen. It was really difficult to narrow it down from all their fantastic varities....but I selected the following flavors:

  • Szechuan Orange Spice Linguine
  • Coconut Red Curry Fettuccine
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Fettuccine
  • Chocolate Lasagna Noodles

My package arrived a couple of days later in perfect condition, and I was very impressed when I read the nutrition label. Their pasta is made with whole wheat and all-natural flavoring ingredients, including real veggies and herbs...and they’re high in fiber to boot! Each serving of the flavors I received averages 8 grams of fiber. I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen and create a fun dish...but which flavor to choose first? I’ll be featuring all four flavors in here during February, but the Szechuan Orange Spice really caught my eye. To me? It just begged to be made into a spicy lo mein!

I don’t cook Asian food at home that often, so I did a bit of cookbook research to see which flavors would go well with this pasta. In the end, I created an original recipe for Blood Orange-Sesame Chicken Lo Mein. I really wanted to showcase the orange and ginger flavors in the pasta. I used lots of healthy veggies and chicken breast... then I started combining flavors for a yummy sauce! I combined blood orange juice and zest, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, fresh ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil into a flavorful sauce that really brought the entire dish together. The end result was so good that Michael said it could’ve come from a restaurant.

Blood Orange-Sesame Chicken Lo Mein
a Weekend Gourmet Original Recipe

Step 1:  Bring salted water to boil in a large stockpot. While the water is coming up to temperature, make the sauce. Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl: 1/2 cup chicken broth, the juice and zest of one blood orange, 2 tbs. soy sauce, 2 tbs. fish sauce, 1 tbs. chili-garlic sauce, 1 grated garlic clove, a 1-inch section of fresh ginger (grated), 1 tbs. sesame oil, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Step 2:  Combine 3.5 cups of veggies of your choice. I went to my local salad bar and bought the following already prepped: sliced mushrooms, julienne zucchini, broccoli florets, and diced carrot. I added slivers of sweet yellow onion, 2 sliced green onions, and some diced water chestnuts that I had at home to make 3.5 total cups of veggies. 

Step 3:  Slice 3/4 pound boneless chicken breast into bite-size strips. Add 2 tbs. soy sauce, 1 tsp. dried ginger, and a few grinds of black pepper...toss to combine. Set aside while you heat up your wok or skillet. Add 1 tbs. sesame oil and 1 tbs. canola oil to a large skillet or wok, over med-high heat. Once the pan is hot, your pasta water should be boiling. Add 8 ounces Texas Gourmet Szechuan Orange Spice linguine and cook for six minutes. 

Step 4: When the pan is hot, add the veggies and stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add the soy-ginger chicken and cook for another 3-4 minutes...until the chicken is cooked and the veggies are tender-crisp. Add 1 tbs. cornstarch to the reserved sauce mixture and whisk to combine. 

Step 5:  Reduce heat to med-low and pour the sauce in the pan, giving a quick stir. The sauce will thicken in 1-2 minutes. Drain the cooked noodles and add to the pan. Toss to thoroughly combine all the ingredients. Turn off heat and let the lo mein sit for a few minutes so the flavors can combine. To serve, place some of the lo mein in a bowl and top with toasted sesame seeds.

I was very impressed with the flavor of this pasta...I tasted a few strands of the pasta on its own before tossing it with the lo mein ingredients. The citrus and spice flavor was delicious...but not at all overpowering. The pasta gave a great depth of flavor to the overall dish when combined with the blood orange sauce. The sprinkle of sesame seeds at the end gave the dish a nutty flavor that complimented the sesame oil. We served the lo mein with our favorite takeout egg rolls. I can’t wait to try the other three flavors and share a few more recipes over the coming weeks...I’m really trying to step outside the box with that chocolate lasagna dessert pasta!!

Now...for the giveaway details. Gourmet Texas Pasta is going to give one of you THREE gourmet flavored pastas from their awesome collection!! Take a look at some of these flavors:
  • Spicy Cajun
  • Chili and Cilantro
  • Tomato Basil Garlic
  • Tomato Spinach Garlic
To enter, simply visit the Gourmet Texas Pasta website...then come back and leave a comment telling me which three flavors you want to try. For a second entry, you can Like Gourmet Texas Pasta on Facebook. Please make sure to leave a SEPRATATE comment for each entry...I use a random number generator to pick the winner, so I want to make sure both your entries count. Don’t forget to leave your e-mail address on at least one comment so I can find you if you’re the lucky winner. Entries will be accepted until this Friday, and I will announce the winner next Monday. Good luck!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: BBQ Road Trip to Lockhart, Texas

One of the best things about living in Central Texas is how easy it is to find great BBQ. What makes our BBQ unique is that the meat is rubbed with spices and slow-smoked over wood. Sauce is only added as a condiment at the table, never brushed on during cooking. Most places serve the meat straight from the huge smokers by the pound, on butcher paper (tray optional). You'll be offered sliced bread or saltine crackers...a hunk of cheddar cheese...and some onion and pickles. A few places offer "fancier" sides like potato salad or pinto beans, but the star of the show is meant to be the meat.

In a state that's known for having some of the best BBQ in the entire country, the Texas Hill Country is a truly a BBQ mecca!! If you ask any Texan where the best BBQ in Texas is located, there's a really good chance that they'll point you to Lockhart. Lockhart is home to 11,000 people and three of the best BBQ joints in the entire country. It's no wonder that the Texas Legislature has officially declared Lockhart The Barbecue Capital of Texas. It's an easy drive from San Antonio...just over an hour...so we love to drive up on pretty weekend afternoons to get our BBQ fix. 

Who has the best BBQ in Lockhart is a source of much fierce debate among Texas BBQ lovers. Some say Smitty's Market is best, some prefer Black's BBQ, and still others claim that Kreuz Market (pronounced "krites") is the best. The loyalty of these fans can be quite fierce...much like which college football team they cheer for. BBQ is serious business in Texas, people! We had our inaugural BBQ roadie of 2012 last weekend, visiting both Black's and Smitty's to eat some brisket, ribs, and house-made sausages. 

Our first stop was Black's, which is Texas's oldest BBQ joint continuously operated by the same family. They opened in 1932, and they've been smoking meat ever since! Unlike many other places, Black's offers a wide variety of hot side dishes, paper plates, and plastic utensils. They also offer smoked pork loin and turkey, which is something you don't see at most Texas BBQ joints.

You step inside and are immediately greeted by the aroma of smoking meat. Your mouth starts watering...so you get in line, grab a paper plate, and pick your sides while you wait your turn at the smoker. We usually grab a deviled egg or two, but otherwise save room for BBQ...and blackberry cobbler. When it's your turn to order, you tell the dude behind the counter which meats you want and how much. He slices it to order, weighs it, and places it on your plate. 

You settle up at the register and take your tray to the dining room. Then you go grab some sodas...Big Red is the unofficial drink of choice for most people. Now it's finally time to settle in and eat some serious BBQ! Families dine together...most of them seem to be talking about football and politics between bites of food. You take your first bite, smile, and agree that it's good to be a Texan...and that Texas Monthly knew what it was talking about when it named Black's one of the Top 50 BBQ restaurants in the state!

If you have room after eating all that BBQ, Black's has amazing homemade fruit cobbler and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream for dessert. We had seen Girl Scouts selling cookies outside when we arrived, so we opted to take home a box of Samoa's instead this time. Plus? We had one more stop to make: Smitty's Market, located literally two blocks up the street.

Our good friend...and fellow BBQ lover...Bekah joined us for this trip. She asked if we could stop at Smitty's to pick up some brisket for her dad while we were in town. More BBQ? No problem, my friend! We were too full to eat another bite after our meal at Black's, but we decided to take some brisket home to make sandwiches for dinner the next evening. Smitty's was named one of the Top 5 BBQ joints in Texas by Texas Monthly, so they're the real deal.

When we walked in the door, that comforting smoky aroma once again greeted us. Smitty's keeps the fire burning on their ginormous pit all day long. The pit master opens the pit and removes one of the many gorgeous briskets inside. It's cooked golden-brown on the outside...and juicy on the inside! Then he slices the brisket into thick slabs and lovingly places it on butcher paper. There are no plates or utensils in sight...and he asks, "You want bread with that?". You say yes, and he wraps the brisket and bread in separate sheets of butcher paper and places both parcels in a brown paper bag. You settle up at the register, stop off to buy another Big Red for the road, and head back to the city. 

If you live within driving distance of Lockhart, I hope that you'll plan a BBQ roadie this Spring so you can enjoy some fantastic BBQ served up by friendly people! If not, Black's offers online ordering so you can enjoy a taste of Texas anywhere in the United States. My brother in law moved to Portland, Oregon last Fall...and he's ordered BBQ from Black's at least once already. 

If you haven't added your favorite Super Bowl snack to my linky party below, there's still time. The linky part is open for a few more days, so please feel free to share. Come back here on Tuesday for my first giveaway of 2012...I'll be featuring a fantastic gourmet pasta company that's based nearby, in Austin. I know you're going to love their products, so I can't wait to tell you all about them!!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some of My Favorite Super Bowl Snacks...a Link Sharing Party!!

This time next week, I'll be in Indianapolis for Super Bowl weekend to attend Taste of the NFL, courtesy of the nice people at Red Gold Tomatoes! I received my itinerary earlier this week...I'm so excited to meet all the other blog winners, attend Taste of the NFL, and tour Red Gold's facilities to learn more about their tomato products. It's going to be a busy, fun weekend for sure...and I promise to take my camera with me to record every single second of the action!!

Are you a football fan...or do you mainly watch the Super Bowl to catch all the great commercials and watch the halftime show? I personally can't wait to see the top-secret Ferris Bueller commercial that's being teased on YouTube!! I have to admit that I enjoy everything about the Super Bowl...and one of the best parts of Super Bowl Sunday is all the great food that is served to keep us fortified for all that cheering!! I want to share some of my favorite gameday nibbles...and I'm going to include a linky party so YOU can share all of your favorites as well! 

When I think of football food, I think of things that can be eaten easily...and food that can serve a crowd. Think dip and chips, tacos, and a sweet treat or two. It takes a lot of energy to cheer on your favorite team...even if your personal hometown team didn't make it (again...) this year. During football season, I make a lot of different finger foods and snacks for us to eat while we watch the Texans play. Here are some of my favorites...

(1) Mexi-Ranch DipThe only thing better than creamy ranch dip made with sour cream and cream cheese? Ranch dip with chopped roma tomatoes, green onions, shredded co-jack cheese, and chipotle chiles! This spicy dip is especially great with tortilla chips!

(2) Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake BrowniesThese brownies are so decadent...made with Green & Black's organic chocolate and fresh raspberries. They're rich, so a little piece goes a long way. I promise you'll have more fans than the New England Patriots if you serve these babies next Sunday!

(3) Spicy Pork Tinga Tacos. These tacos are AMAZING! You can start them the morning of the big game, and they'll be ready in time for kickoff. This recipe makes a Dutch oven full of spicy pork shoulder and potatoes, so it's perfect for a small crowd of hungry football fans. This is an adaptation of a Rick Bayless recipe, and you know he doesn't fool around when it comes to good Mexican food!

(4)  S'mores Popcorn Snack Mix. This easy-to-make snack mix combines popcorn with all the flavors of s'mores...and turns it into a snack that's easy to eat by the handful. This is one of my most-requested recipes for work functions after I brought some in last fall. This takes literally 15 minutes to whip up, but it tastes like something you'd buy at a gourmet candy shop!

....and last, but definitely NOT least:

(5) Gameday Fiesta Tortilla Spirals.  I featured this fun recipe during the Red Gold Taste of the NFL blogger contest last month. I wanted to showcase their yummy tomatoes in an easy-to-eat game-time snack! A mixture of cream cheese, shredded cheddar, green onions, tomatoes, and diced jalapeno is spread onto spinach tortillas. The whole thing is wrapped up, chilled, and cut into spirals. 

So...now that you've seen some of my favorite football Sunday recipes, I want YOU to join the fun!! Share all of your favorite game-watching food in the linky party below...by this time next week, we should have an amazing collection of recipes to choose from to serve on Super Bowl Sunday!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Good for Brunch...Or Dessert: Maple-Cinnamon Double Berry Clafoutis!

Until recently, I had never heard of a clafoutis (clah-fout-TEE). It's a French dessert that contains fruit...traditionally cherries...and a custardy filling. The texture is actually somewhere between a custard and a pancake. It reminds me ever so slightly of a Dutch baby pancake, only more soft and creamy inside. All I know is that it's really easy to make...and it tastes absolutely fantastic! It comes together in about 20 minutes using basic kitchen staples, then your oven does the rest of the work.

I love recipes that use basic ingredients that I keep on hand in my kitchen! I always have at least one container of berries on hand. You'll find either fresh or frozen blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries in my kitchen at all times. However, you can use 3 cups of any fruit in this clafoutis...pitted cherries, chopped apples, and chopped pears would work especially well. I had blackberries and strawberries on hand, so that's what I used. My main tweaks to the recipe were to add 1/3 cup of maple syrup and cinnamon to the batter. It's not traditional, but it sure was tasty!!

Maple-Cinnamon Double Berry Clafoutis
adapted from Bubby's Brunch Cookbook

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10-inch oven-proof skillet and set aside while you make the batter. Add the following ingredients to a mixing bowl: 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup pure maple syrup, 3 large eggs, 1 tbs. vanilla, a dash of salt, 1 tbs. cinnamon, and 1/2 cup flour. Mix with the whisk attachment until the batter is smooth, about 2-3 minutes.

Step 2:  Pour a 1/4-inch layer of batter into the buttered skillet. Set the rest of the batter aside for now. Bake for 10 minutes. While the skillet is in the oven, prep the rest of the clafoutis. Combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl. In another bowl, combine 3/4 cup blackberries and 3/4 cup quartered strawberries.

Step 3:  Remove the skillet from the oven -- make sure to use a potholder on the hot handle!! Carefully arrange the berries on top of the batter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Pour the remaining batter evenly over the top of the berries.

Step 4:  Bake the clafouti for 45 minutes, until it is golden and puffed. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean. I turned my pan around in the oven halfway through baking to ensure it browned evenly. When the clafoutis comes out of the oven, immediately squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the top and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Let the clafoutis cool for 10-15 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.

You can see that the berries are warm and juicy, and the clafoutis is firm on the outside and custard-like on the inside. I thought that the addition of the lemon juice and powdered sugar really complimented the flavor of the berries nicely. You can definitely taste the cinnamon and maple in the base of the clafoutis, but it's not the least bit overpowering. That flavor profile makes this dish especially well-suited for breakfast or brunch.

We ate our clafoutis straight from the skillet to the plate last night. However, the recipe says you can serve each slice with sweetened whipped cream or ice cream on the side as well. However you eat it, I hope you'll give a clafoutis a try soon. It may have a funny name, but this clafoutis is seriously good eating!!

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Time to Get Wild: Seared Venison Tenderloin with Blackberry Sauce

A few weeks ago, my Daddy gave me some venison (aka: deer) tenderloin and backstrap from his November hunting trip. I had never cooked venision in my life, but I was eager to give it a try! Since this meat was from my Daddy? I wanted to do it proud. The meat hung out in my freezer until last weekend, while I searched for just the right recipe to use. In the end, I adapted a fantastic recipe for pork tenderloin with a tangy blackberry sauce. It worked out perfectly!

If you've never had venison, don't be leery of it. Though some venison can be tough and "gamey" tasting, this meat was mild and fork tender. From my research, I discovered that removing any silverskin membrane on the outside of the venison reduces the gamey taste...and cooking it no more than medium will help keep it moist and tender. I did both of these steps, with excellent results. If you can't get your hands on some venison, simply sub in 1 lb. of pork tenderloin for the venison tenderloin. 

Seared Venison Tenderloin 
with Blackberry Sauce
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Step 1:  Add the following marinade ingredients in a bowl: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup white wine, 3 tbs. red wine vinegar, 2 tbs. grainy Dijon mustard, 2 tbs. soy sauce, 2 cloves grated or finely chopped garlic, 1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary, 2 tbs. finely chopped shallot, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few grinds black pepper. Whisk to combine, then add 1 lb. venison tenderloin. Refrigerate for about four hours...or overnight.

Step 2:  Add 2 tbs. olive oil to a large skillet. Put heat on med-high for five minutes. Remove the venison from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the venison for 4 minutes per side, then remove to a plate to rest while you make the sauce. This will allow the juices to redistribute nicely.

Step 3:  Add the reserved marinade to a small saucepan over med-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Add 1/3 cup seedless blackberry jam, 1 chicken bouillon cube, and 1 small container blackberries. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the berries are soft and the sauce is reduced by about half. 

Step 4:  I opted to serve my venison with simple creamy grits. Make grits as the package directs, but use half chicken broth and half milk in place of the water. When they grits have coked for about five minutes, add: 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 2 tbs. butter. Stir well to combine. Place the grits on a serving platter top with the venison tenderloin, and then pour the blackberry sauce on top.

We thoroughly enjoyed this meal...the venison was perfectly tender and juicy! The blackberry sauce has so much flavor, and it really compliments the venison. You could also serve with mashed potatoes, but the creamy grits combined really nicely with the venison. Now that my venison tenderloin is gone, I plan to make this recipe again using pork tenderloin as well. This recipe is simple enough to whip up for a weekend dinner for two, but it's plenty fancy to serve to company as well. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Celebrating National Popcorn Day...With Cranberry-Nut Caramel Popcorn

Did you know that January 19th is National Popcorn Day?!?!? Like many of you, I love popcorn! I always have some on hand in my kitchen for a quick high-fiber snack. To celebrate America's love of popcorn on this special day, Kernel Seasons is sponsoring the World's Largest Virtual Popcorn Party on Facebook. Go sign up to party with me and lots of other popcorn lovers. Kernel Seasons is going to be holding giveaways for fun prizes AND offering some great popcorn recipes and tips for throwing a popcorn party on their Facebook page, so don't miss out!!

Kernel Seasons recently sent me a four pack of their popcorn seasonings to create a special popcorn recipe to celebrate National Popcorn Day. I thought about creating a fun new popcorn snack mix to go with the Pumpkin Pie Popcorn Snack Mix and S'mores Popcorn Snack Mix recipes that I created last year. But then? I decided to do something a bit different: try my hand at homemade caramel popcorn. I had no desire to get complicated and pull out my candy thermometer on a work night, so I found a super-simple recipe on Food Network's website.

I made a few changes to the original recipe...I added cinnamon, dried cranberries, cashews, and pecans to give the caramel corn a bit of extra flavor. This makes a lot of popcorn, and it comes together in no time flat! From the time I put the popcorn in the microwave to the time this popcorn went into the oven was about 20 minutes. We munched on it while watching TV last night and both gave it a big thumbs up. It's pretty sweet...but isn't that what caramel popcorn is all about?

Cranberry-Nut Caramel Popcorn
adapted from Food Network's Website

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 200. Pop 2 bags of microwave popcorn and pour into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle generously with Kernel Seasons Milk Chocolate Caramel popcorn seasoning. Add the following ingredients to the bowl: 1 tbs. cinnamon, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/3 cup chopped cashews, and 1/3 cup chopped pecans.

Step 2:  Add 1 stick butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 1/3 cup corn syrup to a small non-stick pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then cook on medium heat until the mixture boils. Carefully monitor the pan to make sure the mixture doesn't bubble over, and boil for five minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. baking soda. Stir continuously...the soda will cause the caramel to foam up and turn pale. This is normal, so don't panic!

Step 3:  Pour the caramel over the popcorn mixture and stir until everything is combined and evenly coated. Spread the caramel corn on a silpat-lined large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring the mixture every 15 minutes. The caramel will dry during this time so it's not sticky to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Store the popcorn in an air-tight container to keep it fresh.

This popcorn is very sweet...but very good! It's not sticky at all thanks to its time in the oven on low heat. The tangy flavor of the dried cranberries is a really nice counterbalance to the sweet caramel coating, and the nuts give it a nice texture as well. This popcorn mix would be great to take to an office potluck...or your upcoming Super Bowl party. But it's also fun eaten by the handful while watching TV on a lazy evening at home on the couch...I speak from experience!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lickety Split Blueberry-Lemon Coffee Cake

I bought a package of blueberries on sale last week and was saving them for just the right recipe. I knew that I wanted something to serve for a simple dessert last night...something that I could whip up really quick but still tasted homemade. Then I remembered the package of blueberries in the fridge. I found a Paula Deen recipe for her rustic skillet-baked blueberry cake on Food Network's website that I knew I had found what I was looking for. I don't own a cast-iron skillet, so I just baked my cake in a 9-inch pie plate...which worked perfectly! 

As usual, I made a few tweaks to the original recipe. First, I doubled the amount of the brown sugar-butter mixture. I also added a bit of lemon zest on top of the blueberries and drizzled a lemony glaze on top of the cake after it had finished baking. I love how lemon brings out the flavor of blueberries! I also subbed chopped pecans for almonds in the streusel and added a bit of fresh nutmeg to compliment the cinnamon. Paula's secret ingredient to pulling this cake together so quickly? Refrigerated buttermilk biscuits! Yes...just like my Shortcut Strawberry Shortcakes from this summer. They worked perfectly in this simple coffee cake!

Lickety Split Blueberry-Lemon 
Coffee Cake
adapated from Paula Deen via Food Network

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 375. Add 1/2 stick butter, 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, and 1 tsp. cinnamon to a small saucepan. Heat until melted and combined, stirring frequently. Pour the mixture on the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Take 9 refrigerated buttermilk biscuits and dip the tops of the biscuits into the brown sugar-butter mixture, then flip the dipped side up. 

Step 2:  Scatter 1 small container of blueberries evenly over the tops of the biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle the blueberries with the grated zest of one lemon.

Step 3:  Make a quick streusel by combining 2 tbs. softened butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup chopped pecans, 3 tbs. flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and a few grates of fresh nutmeg. Combine with a pastry cutter or clean fingers until well combined. Evenly crumble the streusel on top of the blueberries.

Step 4:  Bake the cake for approximately 3o minutes. The biscuits around the edge will get quite brown, but they won't burn. It's important to bake long enough for the biscuit in the middle to puff up and back through. I rotated my pan halfway through baking. While the cake cools, make a drizzle by combining 1 cup powdered sugar with enough lemon juice to make a icing that you can drizzle with a spoon. Drizzle the cooled cake with icing before serving.

As you can see, the cake is golden-brown on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The flavor reminds me a bit of monkey bread, only better. The juicy blueberries, nutty streusel, and lemon glaze all combine for a fantastic coffee cake. This would be the perfect addition to spring brunches, but it's simple enough to whip up for a spur-of-the-moment dessert. It's sweet, but not overly so...and it's as good at room temperature as it is warm. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Dessert's a Little Bit Different: Vanilla-Roasted Strawberries with Red Wine Reduction

I absolutely LOVE strawberries...during warm months, I buy at least one package a week. I usually avoid buying strawberries during cooler months since they're usually not as sweet or as red as the ones I buy locally in summer. However, I found some really pretty strawberries on sale at the grocery store last week, so I bought a package. Then I set out to find a way to enjoy them for dessert on a cool Texas evening. 

I happened upon a really nice recipe at Cooking Light's website...strawberries that were roasted with vanilla bean, butter, and brown sugar. They're served with a warm with a sauce made from the reserved strawberry juice, red wine, and lime juice. I tweaked the recipe ever-so-slightly, subbing lime juice and zest for balsamic vinegar...and I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sauce to bring a bit of warm spice to the finished dish.

Vanilla-Roasted Strawberries 
with Red Wine Reduction
adapted from Cooking Light

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400. Melt 2 tbs. butter in a medium-sized baking dish. I used a glazed ceramic baker that I have, but I 9-inch pie plate would work well too. Using a paring knife, scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean and stir into the butter. Place the vanilla pod in the pan as well.

Step 2:  Slice the green stems off of 24 strawberries. Place the berries point-side-up into the vanilla-butter mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup light brown sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until most of the sugar is melted and the strawberries have softened and given off some of their juice.

Step 3:  Let the berries rest for 20 minutes, then remove from the pan to a serving bowl. Pour the juices into a small skillet over med-high heat. Add 3 tbs. red wine, 2 tbs. lime juice, the zest of the lime, and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Stir and bring to a boil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture becomes like a syrup. 

Step 4:  Pour the red wine reduction over the strawberries in the serving bowl and give a gentle stir to combine. These strawberries are very versatile. You could eat them as is, or you could also serve them over waffles or Greek yogurt for a fantastic weekend brunch. However, I served ours over vanilla ice cream for dessert.

This dessert was so good! Roasting brings out the sweet-tart flavor of winter strawberries...they retain their shape nicely, but they're soft inside. The reduction has flavors of strawberry, red wine, citrusy lime, and brown sugar...and the vanilla bean and cinnamon provide a bit of warmth in the background. The combination of all these flavors just simply...works! It paired perfectly with the vanilla ice cream, but I plan to make another batch to serve over waffles for Breakfast for Dinner later this week. 

This is a fantastic recipe to have in your culinary bag of tricks. It's made with a few kitchen staple ingredients, and it comes together in a flash. It's simple enough to whip up on a weeknight for dessert...and fancy enough to serve company at the fanciest dinner party. You could easily substitute Grand Marnier for red wine to boost the citrus flavor of the lime juice and zest.