Thursday, April 19, 2012

Super Easy Fried Rice

Dinner: April 18

In keeping with my apparent trend of cooking everything but American food, I decided to try some fried rice. It looked easy enough, and I pulled a dusty old Chinese cookbook from the bookshelf to find my recipe.

Here’s the recipe as modified by me, removing peas and adding shrimp:

  • ¾ cup long grain rice
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • ¼ pound shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
The directions were simple. Cook the rice per instructions, and cook eggs until scrambled in a separate pan. Heat oil in the wok, add garlic, green onions, and shrimp for one minute. Stir in rice, then soy sauce, eggs, and salt.

This was super easy to make. The problem I discovered was that the measurements didn’t add up. Three eggs were entirely too much for this recipe, and there was way too much vegetable oil in the wok. I’m trying it again tonight but using only one egg for ¾ cup rice, and only using a dash of vegetable oil in the wok. Additionally, two green onions for this recipe is plenty.

All in all, though, it was very tasty! I can’t see ordering out for fried rice again unless utter laziness takes over, but the recipe is so simple and cheap (with the exception of the shrimp) that it only makes sense to take the 15 minutes or so to do it myself.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chinese Food at Home

Dinner: April 1

I went out on a limb last weekend. Not only did I grab a pound of shrimp on sale, but I was ready to try something new. I was particularly inspired by an episode of “Kelsey’sEssentials” on the Cooking Channel recently. She made two Chinese take-out dishes to encourage people to cook them at home instead of ordering from restaurants, and I gave it my best shot.

The first thing I did was the pork dumplings, which looked to be the most challenging of the two recipes I chose. (I used about 1/3 of the recipe.) The dipping sauce portion was rather easy, though:

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • ¾ tablespoon Sriracha sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
I simply combined those ingredients and set the sauce aside. The dumplings were the hard part:

  • 1/3 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon minced ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 small bunch chopped scallions
  • 4 ounces ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/3 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/3 of beaten egg
  • Dumpling wrappers (used square instead of round, only ones available)
  • Peanut oil
Put garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and scallions in heated skillet for 2 minutes, then removed from heat. Added to bowl of pork hoisin, soy, five-spice, and egg and mixed. Put dumpling wrappers on flat surface with floured surface face down. Spooned filling to center of wrapper, wet the edge of the wrapper with water, then folded in half. The recipe called for pinching one end and working around, but that only made the filling come out the other end for me. So, I folded the sides, then creased the rest of the outer wrapper as best I could. Kept them on lightly-floured baking sheet until peanut oil was heated in same skillet. Put dumplings in skillet until bottoms were golden brown. Poured water into skillet to cover dumplings halfway and immediately covered with lid, leaving only a small crack for steam to escape. Cook until water evaporated, about 5 minutes.

I wouldn’t say this was a success, but it wasn’t an utter failure. The little dumplings did hold together, which surprised me. But the bottoms got burned in the pan as the water evaporated. The process took too long, and the little dumplings burned on the bottom. They actually tasted pretty good, though there wasn’t enough filling in each one and the bottoms marred the taste quite a bit. All in all, though, they were edible, and the sauce was nice and spicy.

Then I moved on to the shrimp lo mein. It’s one of my favorite Chinese food dishes, so I was anxious to see if I could replicate this. With no real fear of burning anything, I just hoped to make a nice lo mein without turning it into a soup.

I kept the recipe whole because Chinese leftovers are good for days, and that’s what I wanted. This was the recipe for the sauce:

  • 1 packet chicken bouillon mix dissolved in 1 ¾ cup hot water
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
Combined those items into a bowl. Then for the lo mein ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (substituted peanut oil)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 small bunch sliced scallions
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup white button mushrooms (forgot to buy, dish was fine without them)
  • 2 stalks sliced celery
  • 1 shredded carrot (sliced instead - oops)
  • ¼ head shredded Napa cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Cooked noodles in large pot of salted boiling water, drained, and set aside. Heated wok, added peanut oil, half the garlic, half the ginger, and half the scallions. Sautéed for a minute, added the shrimp and cooked until pink. Transferred those items to a plate, then added more peanut oil, rest of garlic, ginger, and scallions to sautée for 1 minute. Added celery, carrots, and cabbage until caramelized. Whisked cornstarch into 2 tablespoons cold water, dissolved, and added to sauce. Added that sauce to the pan, brought to a simmer, and tossed in reserved shrimp, garlic, ginger, and scallions.

This was excellent! There were a few things I’d do differently. First, the noodles began to stick together while I prepared the rest of the dish, and it took some time to pry them apart, and some of them broke. It certainly wasn’t catastrophic, but I would do the noodles at the same time as the other ingredients instead of before. Also, the mushrooms would have been a great addition to the dish. Other than that, it was a very tasty meal! The leftovers were just as good in the days that followed. The dish was a tad spicy because I may have added extra Sriracha, but that’s easy to adjust. Yum!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pork and Broccoli Special

Dinner: March 31

Pork chops and broccoli were on sale, so that’s what stared at me from the refrigerator on a Saturday night. Both of those items can be painfully boring, so I went out on a limb to spruce them up.

I haven’t experimented much with flavors and creating my own dishes, so I gave it a whirl. For the pork chops, salt and pepper didn’t seem to be enough, so I decided to rub them down with coriander. I then seared both sides in a hot pan until done.

I cut the broccoli and scattered it on a foil-lined baking pan. I sprinkled with salt, pepper, and olive oil and put in the oven at 350 degrees. I let them cook for about 20 minutes until the edges were browned, removed from the oven, and sprinkled with lemon zest, lemon juice, and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

An otherwise boring meal turned into something very tasty! The lemon and cheese on the broccoli gave it a very punchy flavor, and the coriander on the pork chops gave them an extra boost of seasoning they needed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Crepe a la fraise

Snack: March 24

There are quite a few items on my “must try” list in the culinary world, and one of them was the crepe. The flimsy little patty was intimidating to me, though, because every chef who makes one on television or includes a recipe in a cookbook notes that the first one or two crepes of the batch may be a disaster. As you may know by now, I don’t take disasters well.

But at a time when I’m not able to purchase a lot of expensive ingredients, I searched my kitchen for something to make. I had all of the ingredients for crepes, including some fresh strawberries that were about to lose their freshness.

I looked up a number of crepe recipes online and found that the following seemed to be standard:

  • pinch of sugar & salt
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ tablespoon melted butter
I combined the dry ingredients, and I used an electric mixer on the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then slowly added the flour mixture and the melted butter. I put 2 spoonfuls of the mixture in a lightly oiled small frying pan, rolled it around until it started to set, browned for a minute or two, and flipped it to brown on the other side.

I did it! There was no disaster of a failed crepe. While I did have problems with consistency throughout the batch, as some crepes were browner than I hoped, I got the hang of it quickly and produced some very tasty, thin crepes.

For the filling, I tried it off the top of my head. I put the fresh strawberries and a little water in a saucepan and brought to a boil with some sugar and a little corn starch as a thickener. I mushed some of the strawberries to thicken the sauce as well.

The crepe filling was good, but it wasn’t the thick sauce I hoped for. I may have included too much water or not enough sugar or corn starch. For the next effort, I should probably consult a recipe or do very small batches until I find the right consistency. Even so, it was edible, even a bit tasty.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Casseroles: Good for Thin Pockets

Dinners: Mid-March

A difficult month, it has been. Loss of work and health worries got in the way of posting, though I did come across some soothing recipes that provided many meals and were not expensive or very labor-intensive.

I’m still not very skilled at putting together soups and casseroles of my own invention, so I relied on a cookbook filled with them. “The Big Book of Slow Cooker, Casseroles and More” offers a lot of options that don’t require a ton of preparation.

The first recipe was a take on regular minestrone called the Mediterranean minestrone casserole. Here’s the list of ingredients:

  • 3 medium sliced carrots
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (substituted parsley, basil, oregano)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 package frozen cut green beans
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
I cooked all ingredients - except green beans, macaroni, and cheese - in the slow cooker on the low setting for 8 hours, then stirred in green beans and macaroni and turned to high heat for 20 minutes. I used the cheese to sprinkle over the individual bowl of minestrone.

It was definitely more of a casserole than a soup, despite my addition of extra water to lighten it up. But it was a fairly light, healthy meal, with plenty of leftovers for the entire week. Keeping the cheese for individual bowls kept it fresh each time I heated up another bowl.

The second meal that looked quite appealing was a chicken artichoke casserole. It started with these ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 4 chopped green onions
  • 3 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 package thawed artichoke hearts
  • 10 ounces of Alfredo sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 ½ cups Romano cheese croutons
I cooked the chicken and transferred to a mixing bowl. I then browned the artichoke hearts in the same pan, along with the bell pepper and green onions until all started to soften. I mixed those in the bowl with all other ingredients, then put it all into a baking dish. I topped it with whole croutons (instead of crushed, as recommended), and cooked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

This was a phenomenal casserole. The flavors worked so well with the artichokes and chicken. When I make this again, I will likely include less Alfredo sauce and mayonnaise, only adding until it lightly coats the other ingredients, as these measurements caused it to be too creamy. It was still very good, but a few adjustments will make it an even healthier meal. My advice is to eyeball the liquid ingredients after everything else is mixed together.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pasta Semi-Success

Dinner: March 7

It had been a full month since I posted here. I was quite discouraged by my inability to make a simple pasta dough, and I stayed away from most kitchen endeavors for awhile. I needed to find my confidence again.

And I did.

I tried the same dough, a simple one of durum wheat flour and water, only I changed something. I watched the video again and realized that Chef Lidia Bastianich used regular white flour when working the dough and rolling it out. Last time, I used more durum wheat flour, but using the white flour this time made all the difference. I was able to find the correct consistency for the dough, and it worked!

I rolled pieces into strips, cut them into 1” pieces, and used my fingertips to form them into concave shells. What I failed to do, though, was make the strips pencil-thin. My shells were very thick, probably due to my fear of making them too thin and watching them break apart. I didn’t realize how sturdy the durum wheat pasta could be, so my cavatelli shells were quite thick. Too thick, really.

Even so, I put the shells on a cookie sheet with some extra white flour to air-dry for a bit, and I then cooked them in a pot of water at a rolling boil, per instructions. They came out as promised, only still too thick because of my aforementioned fear.

Per this recipe, I compiled these ingredients, though I cut the amounts in less than half.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 slices of bacon cut into ½ inch pieces
2 large eggs
¾ cup shredded fontina cheese
Salt to taste

I heated the olive oil in a skillet, added the butter, and then added the bacon to cook until crisp. Drained al dente cavatelli from boiling water and put directly into the skillet, tossing with bacon, fat, oil, and butter. Poured beaten egs over pasta and stirred quickly to avoid cooking the eggs, which didn't entirely work. Turned off heat, covered pasta with cheese, and tossed.

It was edible! And I consider this a success simply because I was able to make proper pasta dough. The sauce for the cavatelli was also good, as I enjoy a good carbonara. Obviously, the pasta shells were very thick, though, and they were a little tough to eat because they were so doughy, but I’ll take my small victory and run with it.

Now that I know from experience the strength of the durum wheat pasta, I’ll be able to make the shells much thinner and feel confident that they’ll stand up to the boiling and mixing. And knowing that I can make the simplest of pasta dough gives me the confidence to stay in the kitchen and try more recipes.

I’m back.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oh, Mama Mia

Dinner: February 7

I’m Italian. I love Italian food. My inspiration to cook came from watching Italian chefs and wanted to work magic with pasta. I’ve been to Italy twice and scarfed down every possible bite of food.

One of my favorite chefs is Lidia Bastianich. “Lidia’s Italy” airs on PBS, and I now own two of her cookbooks. She hails from Italy and knows her food, and she doesn’t use a lot of editing to make the processes look clean or perfect. It’s real cooking, and she inspires me a great deal.

I’ve seen her prepare pasta dough on several occasions, and she always uses durum wheat flour, so I located some recently and bought a bag of it. It’s heavier and grainier than regular flour, but I wanted to mimic Lidia’s pasta so I could make her cavatelli from scratch.

This simplest of dough recipes calls only for the durum wheat flour and water, so I was sure I could do it. I followed her instructions to aerate the flour in the food processor and slowly add water until the dough gathered on the blade. That seemed to work. I then put the dough on the cutting board and kneaded it for a bit, adding more flour because it seemed rather moist. When it looked like dough, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for an hour.

The problem began, at least to my knowledge, when I tried to unwrap it. The dough was stuck to the plastic, and I had to scrape it off and put the dough ball back together. It felt a little moist, so I added more flour and rolled it around. This was my dough.

The next step was to roll out pencil-sized strips of pasta, cut them into 1” pieces, and form them into the cavatelli. That was where it felt apart. The dough was so moist that it stuck to everything - my hands, the cutting board, even the knife. When I tried to use my fingers to stretch pieces of the dough into the cavatelli shape, it just mushed into goo. I continued to try to add flour - there was flour everywhere - but nothing worked. It was a messy goo.

I then took the goo and slammed it into the trash can. Pasta experiment over. This luscious cavatelli recipe was not to be.

I try to keep this blog light and humorous, even with my failures, but this was a tough one. After last year’s gnocchi sludge incident and this pasta goo incident, I’m quite discouraged. Sure, I can throw vegetables together and call it a casserole, and I can even follow the occasional recipe, but my evident inability to make pasta is downright sad for me. I’m going to take a short break from experimenting with new foods, order a lot of take-out, and try to find my confidence somewhere.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Trying Tenderloin

Dinner: January 30

I have a thing for sales. I saw the 1.5 pound boneless pork tenderloin in my grocery store with the sale sign next to it, and it leapt into my shopping cart. That’s the way I remember it, anyway.

It then sat in my refrigerator for a few days as I scoured the Internet for recipes. I found a lot of information about 3 pounders and 4 pounders - roasts, really - but nothing for my little slim tenderloin. So, hopped up on cold medicine and fighting a bit of a fever, I took that sucker out of the fridge. We were going to tangle without a plan.

I had seen cooking shows about how to filet a piece of meat, so I did that. I skinned off some of the fat, then opened up the tenderloin and pounded it out to flatten a little bit more. I seasoned with salt and pepper. I cooked some fresh spinach with the intention of filling that tenderloin with spinach, mushrooms, and garlic, which I did.

(I meant to include some grated parmesan cheese in the mixture but forgot.)

I rolled the meat around the mixture, but since it wasn’t holding very well, I tied it with cooking twine in several places. I heated some olive oil in my Dutch oven and put the rolled tenderloin in, browning a little on all sides. I deglazed the pan around the meat with some red wine and added about ½ can of beef stock. I added salt, pepper, some cut carrots, more garlic, and fresh mushrooms, put the lid on the pot, and slid the whole thing into the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

As I waited nervously, I realized that I forgot to add that cheese. I also thought that I wanted to season the meat with some herbes de Provence, but forgot that, too. There’s always next time! I also had no idea how long to cook that meat, but I assumed 20 minutes would be sufficient.

It worked! As Vinny as my witness, it worked. The meat was perfectly cooked and tender, as the juices around it and the water from the spinach kept it moist. The missing cheese could’ve made it even more succulent, but I grated some parmesan over the top, and that sufficed. The carrots and mushrooms were the perfect side and carried some of the pork flavor, having cooked in the same pot. The meal was really delicious, and though it was missing some seasoning, it was a fantastic and fairly quick one-pot meal.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bruschetta My Way

Dinner: January 26

In the previous post, I cooked a ham steak with some thinly sliced veggies. Obviously, that meant leftovers for two meals.

Leftovers, schmeftovers. No matter how good the original meal, leftovers are rarely as tasty or exciting. So to add a bit of excitement to leftover meals, I often make a few slices of bruschetta using whatever I have on hand.

Traditional bruschetta is simply bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. But a few extra ingredients can make for yummy and interesting bread that goes great with any meal.

Last night, I tried several different types of bruschetta toppings on my Italian bread. One included some bagged shredded cheeses and a crumbled piece of precooked bacon. I had some fontina cheese, so I made two pieces of bread with that, one that also included some diced fresh tomato and garlic. I also had some camambert cheese, so I threw some slices on two pieces of bread, and I also added some diced green onion to one of them.

They may not be fancy, but they were all delicious and helped make my leftover meal more appealing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hamming It Up

Dinner: January 25

The plan was barely there. I had a ham steak and wanted to do a simple, healthy, and straightforward meal. With no recipe, I put some ingredients together and came up with a good, quick dinner.

I threw the pre-cooked ham steak in a frying pan after seasoning with salt and pepper for about one minute on each side. When I realized that it really wasn’t going to brown because of all the juices, I decided that was okay and simply transferred it to a baking dish.

Since I’m quite fond of my new mandoline, I decided to use that to thinly slice some vegetables to put around the ham. The ham didn’t need to cook long, so I didn’t want thick-cut veggies to have to be in the oven too long, either. I quickly realized, though, that the mandoline isn’t good for everything. The Roma tomato mushed when I tried to shave it that way, so I simply cut thin slices and put them around the ham. The zucchini was perfectly sliced with the mandoline, though, and those pieces went over the tomatoes with a bit of garlic powder over the top. The carrot didn’t much like being so thinly sliced, but I made it happen, and those pieces went over the top of everything. I topped with a little dried basil and drizzle of olive oil over the veggies, and put in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

It was a good meal, with leftovers. It worked out as planned; the juices from the ham and the olive oil moistened the vegetables just enough. Everything cooked well, and I had a tasty meal that was super simple, light, and healthy. Easy breezy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Veggies & Facing a Steak Fear

Dinners: January 15 & 16

I’ll admit it. Cooking a steak scares me. I believe I did it once or twice in the past, but I avoid it most of the time. How long to cook it on my handy stovetop grill? I like my steaks medium-rare, but undercooking it probably isn’t good for my health. Overcooking it makes it dry. How do I just leave it there for a few minutes without turning it constantly? It begs to be turned!

Oh, steak.

A few months ago, my local grocery store had a big sale on steaks, so I bought several individually wrapped pieces of beef and froze them. This week, I heard their call to be set free.

I also read up on how to grill a steak and swore that I would follow the rule of 3-4 minutes per side, NOT turning until that time, and letting the meat rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes after cooking but before cutting in to it. Discipline is not my strong suit, so that was harder that it may seem.

It worked. The first night, I had a boneless sirloin steak. The center was medium rare because I followed the instructions. However, from the center out, the steak was medium well. It was good, just a little too cooked on the outer portions.

The second night, I had a t-bone steak, and I mistakenly cooked it the same amount of time as the thicker steak the night before. It was medium well throughout, and therefore a bit dry. The t-bone also contained more fat, and it was tough to dig through it all for the lean parts.

I need to try harder with steak. First, I need to marinate so as to add flavor. Hopefully, that will tenderize a bit as well. Steaks require planning and time. Second, I should possibly reduce the cooking time by a half minute or so to ensure a medium rare slab o’ meat. Suggestions from meat connoisseurs are welcome in the comments section!

As for vegetable sides, I wanted to experiment with the simple. The first night, I took a red and a green pepper, sliced them, and put them on the grill with my steak. I simply left them on the grill for a few minutes per side, then transferred them to a plate, seasoned with salt and drizzled with olive oil. So simple and tasty!

The second night, I had two zucchini and a yellow squash to use, and I wanted to try out the new mandoline I received from my sister for Christmas. I decided to try something completely off the top of my head.

Basics: Cut grape tomatoes in half and layered bottom of casserole dish. Covered with layer of sliced zucchini, then grated parmesan cheese over it. Added a layer of sliced yellow squash, grated parmesan cheese, and a little olive oil. Added the final layer of zucchini, parmesan cheese, a little mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cooked in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. 

The veggie casserole was delicious! First, I must say that the mandolin slices like nobody’s business! It is now the coolest item in my kitchen besides my Dutch oven. I can’t wait to do some thinner slices of potatoes for some au gratin and experiment with other veggies. Back to this dish, there was only one problem: It was too liquidy. I’m going to assume the olive oil was unnecessary for starters, and I could’ve used some kind of layer of bread crumbs in there to soak up some of the other juices. Even with the liquidy consistency, though, the mix of vegetables and cheese was very good and made for a wonderful side dish to the beef.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Emeril’s Amazing Jambalaya

Dinner: January 7

My group of L.A. girlfriends was getting together for a post-holiday dinner at my house, and part of the pot luck style was that everyone was supposed to make something from a celebrity chef’s recipe. I looked around for something different than a typical pasta fare, and I found jambalaya.

Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, I decided on a kicked-up jambalaya. Here’s the recipe for eight servings:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • Creole seasoning (recipe to follow)
  • 1 chicken cut into 8 pieces (used skinless, boneless chicken breast diced)
  • 1.5 pounds andouille sausage cut into ½ inch slices
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper to taste

The Creole seasoning consisted of:

  • 2.5 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Basics: Heated olive oil in Dutch oven. Seasoned shrimp with Creole seasoning & cooked for about 4 minutes. Removed from pan. Seasoned chicken with Creole seasoning, cooked with more olive oil until browned (about 8 minutes). Removed from pan. Added sausage to pan and cooked until brown. Added onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, cayenne, and thyme. Cooked until veggies wilted. Added tomatoes, water, and previously cooked chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked covered for 20 minutes. Added rice, returned to boil, reduced heat to low, and cooked for 15 minutes. Added shrimp, green onions, and parsley, mixed, covered, and cooked another 10 minutes. Removed from heat for 10 minutes.

It sounds complicated, but this was all done in a matter of about 1.5 hours. Everything came together wonderfully, and it was amazing! It definitely had a kick to it - very spicy - but my guests said that it was a good amount of spice, enough to make you grab your wine but not too much to overwhelm the taste. I will be making this again, as it’s wonderful for leftovers.

As for the rest of the meal, I don’t have the recipes, but I have pics! EP made a luscious fried mozzarella, and CR made pinwheel caprese on a puff pastry drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

MJB deviated from the theme and picked up a fantastic garbonzo bean salad from Whole Foods. MSS made a super delicious jalapeno corn bread, and CM made collard greens and fresh mashed sweet potatoes.

And JM, our own dessert queen, made a selection of yummy cookies along with a lemon posset with a light whipped topping and lavender sugar sprinkles.