Friday, October 3, 2008

Shrimp and Black Bean Rice

The cold snap that is due to arrive tomorrow, and hang around for several days, likely signals a true taste of fall. Soups, stews and other one-pot meals are perfect dinner fare when the wind grows colder and the temperature drops lower. They also can be a great vehicle for using what's in your pantry while saving some pennies.

This recipe features precooked shrimp (either from the store or cooked at home), and rice, combined with tomato sauce, black beans, and chili powder from the cupboard. Enjoy!

Shrimp and Black Bean Rice
Makes 4-5 large servings

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 can (16 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (16 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pound cooked shrimp (it's okay to leave tails on; they soften with cooking)
1/4 cup chili powder


Combine rice, tomato sauce, black beans, shrimp and chili powder. Stir together thoroughly over medium-high heat and then bring to a boil briefly. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Top with chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Winter Walk at Amelia Island

Located only 29 miles from Jacksonville and minutes south of Georgia, Amelia Island offers loads of ocean-front hotel rooms, single family homes and condominiums for rent, with easy access to 13 miles of pristine coastline. After shopping at Amelia Island Plantation, playing 18 holes on a seaside course, or taking a Segway tour throughout the neighborhood, the ocean beckons.

On one early December morning last year, a fireball sun cast a rosy glow on my wall as purple clouds surrendered to pale blue, and glittered across the calm ocean. A couple hours later, I walked barefoot through gentle waves, as my toes squished through liquid sand and dodged the pointed edges of a million shells strewn along the high tide line. By evening, I'd returned to a Midwestern ice storm.

Croatian Classic from Kansas City Kansas

When Croatian immigrants flocked to Kansas City, Kansas, just over a century ago, baking povitica bread was one of many customs they continued in their new 'Strawberry Hill' neighborhood. Today, Strawberry Hill Povitica Company's delicate dough dips and swirls around endless layers of fillings, which may be sweetened with apples, strawberries, blueberries, or raisins, enhanced with silky cream cheese and/or punctuated with poppy seeds, chocolate chips or traditional chopped walnuts.

After 25 years, they've got it down to a delicious science. And, when you buy a loaf of Straberry Hill Povitica, you're getting a dense, 2 1/2 pound treat that doesn't even need butter. Customers with smaller appetites or curious palates may want to try a Mini Loaf Sampler Pack. Or, stop by the retail store in Overland Park, Kansas, where you may even get a free sample.

Coconut Cupcakes with White Chocolate Icing

I don't know whether its present economic conditions or a desire to test my ingenuity that's recently found me 'foraging' for ingredients I already have in my kitchen before creating a new recipe. Perhaps it's a little of both. Today, I combined sweetened flaked coconut, white chocolate chips, and coconut rum left from a party, in a surprisingly healthy cupcake recipe:

Coconut Cupcakes with White Chocolate Icing
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon coconut rum (may substitute one teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract)
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut


1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coconut rum (may use milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract instead)
1/4 cup coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the first three ingredients. Add eggs, oil and honey and then beat all ingredients together on medium high speed for 3-5 minutes. Fold in coconut. Fill 12 muffin papers, approximately 2/3s full. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until tops are light brown.

While cupcakes bake, melt white chocolate in microwave or double boiler, checking frequently to avoid burning the bottom. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in coconut rum thoroughly and then add coconut. Cover each still-warm cupcake with a heaping teaspoon of icing. Enjoy!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hanging Chiles in the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico visitors are accustomed to seeing red chiles that decorate adobe buildings in the form of 'ristras,' as they twist and twirl in gentle breezes. But there's more to strings of hanging chiles than decoration. Throughout the rural countryside between Santa Fe and Taos, chile growers know the best way to dry their chiles for use in cooking is by tying them together on long strands, and then allowing them to hang until they wrinkle and shrink under the state's intense sun rays.

For farmers with crops that yield a dozen or even 16 bushels, vertical strings may not sufficiently accommodate the massive quantities of chiles that must be dried. Clotheslines morph into drying apparatus and random pieces of rope strung below house eaves offer extra drying space. During the early fall harvest season chiles simultaneously become revered cooking ingredient and integral decorative element throughout New Mexican farm land.