Thursday, July 25, 2013


This month, the Creative Cooking Crew's challenge was to "Stuff it."

With the end of the month looming (where did the summer go?), I whipped up a "stuff it"-inspired meal: burrata-stuffed watermelon with a cucumber-mint salad as well as lamb burgers stuffed with goat cheese and sour cherry jam!

The creamy and salty burrata was a delicious counterpart to the crisp, sweet watermelon.  Cucumbers provided a nice little crunch, and the mint and serrano peppers rounded out the flavors.  The meal continued with a play on flavors and textures.  The juicy spiced lamb burgers paired well with the creamy goat cheese and sweet and tangy sour cherry jam.

Burrata-Stuffed Watermelon with Cucumber-Mint Salad
Recipe by Shannon

Stuffing the watermelon made for a fun presentation, but next time I'd just slice the watermelon and add burrata on top, followed by the cucumber salad!  Also- I debated making the cucumber salad with basil and adding some balsamic vinegar, think this would be another good option.

1 watermelon
1 ball of burrata
1 small cucumber, diced
1 serrano, finely diced
1-2 sprigs of mint, leaves removed
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut off the watermelon rind to form a rectangular shape larger than the ball of burrata.  Slice diagonally down the center of the rectangle to form two halves.  Cut out a hole on the inside of each half that will fit the burrata.  Place the burrata inside the watermelon halves to re-form the rectangle.  Mine stayed together pretty well, but you could always use a toothpick or two to hold it into place.

To prepare the salad, add the cucumber, serrano and chopped mint to a small bowl.  Add a bit of olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add salad to a large plate and place the burrata-stuffed watermelon on top.  Slice and serve.

Lamb Burgers Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Sour Cherry Jam
Recipe by Shannon
Yield: 3 burgers

These could also be prepared un-stuffed, as burgers with a goat cheese spread topped with sour cherry jam/compote.

1lb ground lamb (or grass-fed beef)
2-3t Penzey's lamb seasoning
1-2oz goat cheese
2-3t sour cherry jam (recipe to come)
for assembly: burger buns, lettuce (I used swiss chard), or greek yogurt

Add the meat to a bowl and season with lamb seasoning, salt and pepper.  Mix lightly, then divide into 6 equal portions.  Form into small patties, then top three of them with a chunk of goat cheese and bit of jam.  Top with the remaining three patties and purse together.

On a hot grill, cook the burgers for 3-4min/side on high heat.  I served these on small brioche buns with some swiss chard- but feel free to dress up as you see fit!

What's your favorite thing to stuff??  As always, thanks to Joan and Laz for hosting!  Be sure to check out the recap with many delicious stuffed dishes!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Broccoli Arugula Pesto

You know when you are at the grocery store and you buy lots of food with grand plans to cook it all?  And then one thing leads to another and you wind up not having time to cook it all before it goes bad?

Yeah, it happens.

Luckily so did this pesto.  An abundance of arugula got whipped up into this delicious pesto- which extended its life a bit and allowed me to use it as the base for a few more meals!  This is a trick I'll have to remember :)

Some of this pesto was used as a sauce for some homemade whole wheat pizza dough, and got topped with grilled veggies and fresh mozzerella.  The rest got turned into the pasta dish below- both were fantastic! Check out Nosh On.It for other clever ways to use this pesto!

Broccoli Arugula Pesto
inspired by My Darling Lemon Thyme
yield ~4c

Feel free to scale back, or adjust the ingredients based on what you have on hand.

3 heads broccoli, cut into florets
6T cooking water
3-4c arugula (I bet other greens would work well here too)
2 small cloves of garlic
1/4c shredded cheese (could try nutritional yeast if you want to keep it vegan)
1/2c pumpkin seeds (or other nut)
~1/4c extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add a sprinkle of kosher salt and add broccoli.  Cook broccoli florets for 3-4 min.  Reserve ~1/2c cooking water and then plunge broccoli florets into a bowl of ice cold water.  Drain the broccoli and add to a blender or food processor.

Add cooking water, arugula, garlic, cheese and pumpkin seeds.  Blend, while drizzling in olive oil until you reach your desired consistency (I used about 1/4c).  Store in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze.

Broccoli Arugula Pesto Noodles with Shrimp and Goat Cheese
recipe by Shannon
Serves 4

1 pkg soba noodles (mine was 8.8oz)
1-1 1/2c broccoli arugula pesto
4oz goat cheese
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1lb uncooked frozen shrimp

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, then add the soba noodles.  Cook pasta until al dente, adding in the frozen shrimp for the last 3 minutes of the cooking time.  My total cooking time was ~8min.  Reserve a bit of cooking water before you drain the pasta and shrimp.

[Whether or not you separate the shrimp from the pasta is completely up to you.  I did for picture and portioning purposes, but there's really no need.]

Add pasta back to the pot and add pesto and a few tablespoons of cooking water.  Mix until noodles are well coated, adding more cooking water if it looks dry.  Top noodles with goat cheese, tomatoes and shrimp.

Do you have a go-to use for food that's on it's last legs?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I can't believe it's already been a month since I got to watch some pretty special people get married!  I think it's about time that I shared their second cupcake flavor-- Red velvet!  [the red cake + white frosting + blue wrappers...  totally acceptable for 4th of July celebrations ;)]

Now, I didn't grow up eating red velvet cake, so I didn't have a go-to recipe nor a good idea of what it should taste like.  Everyone seems to have their version of (aka the best) red velvet cake, so I had to test a few six out.  All cupcakes were topped with the same frosting in different designs and handed out to several taste-testers.  Man, was this tough!!  Luckily the bride and groom both agreed on their favorite- so we had a winning recipe.

from L: Joy the Baker/Hummingbird Bakery, Cook's Country (recipe here), Throwdown,
Smitten Kitchen, Cake Maven Raven (recipe here), Pinch My Salt

The true scientist I am, I had one more experiment to run.  The hypothesis: I can use a natural food coloring found in beets to achieve the traditional red velvet color.  I'll spare you the photos and explanations (it involves chemistry), but I tried two different methods and the results were clear:  no.  Before I knew it, it was time to start baking. Ugly brown cupcakes were not going to do it, so red food coloring it was.

With Rebecca's help, things went pretty smoothly and everything turned out well- I even had 5 minutes to get dressed before the ceremony started!  Ok, so I cut it a little close.  It was all worth it- these red velvet cupcakes were quite a hit :)

Red Velvet Cake/Cupcakes
adapted from Cake Man Raven bakery
yield: 1 8" 3-layer cake or 24 cupcakes

2 1/2c cake flour (how to measure flour)
1 1/2c evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
1t baking soda
1T natural cocoa powder (I used Hershey's, do not use dutch-process)
1t sea salt
2 eggs
1 1/4c vegetable oil
1c buttermilk
1oz red food coloring
1t vanilla extract
1t white distilled vinegar

Preheat oven to 350deg.  Spray 3 8" cake pans with nonstick baking spray or line 2 cupcake tins with wrappers.

Add sugar and salt to a medium bowl.  Sift flour, baking soda and cocoa powder into the bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat remaining (wet) ingredients with the paddle attachment until well combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat until smooth, ~2min.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans or use a large cookie scoop to evenly distribute between cupcakes. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean, 15-18min for the cupcakes or 25-30min for the cake.  Let cool 5 min, then remove cupcakes from the pans onto a cooling rack.  For the cake, invert onto a plate and then invert back onto the cooling rack.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Buttercream

1 1/2 sticks (12oz) butter, RT
1 1/2 pkgs (12oz) cream cheese, RT
1 1/2t vanilla extract
1.5lbs powdered/confectioners sugar
2 1/4t cinnamon

Whisk together powdered sugar and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and blend until combined.  Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth (start off slow to avoid getting sugar all over the kitchen, then speed up to incorporate well).

Can be made ahead and refrigerated, just bring to RT before using.

Which would win you over- red velvet or strawberry shortcake cupcakes??  I had to try both...
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