Monday, May 20, 2013

Company's coming...I must immediately cook everything in sight!

This past weekend, we had some friends come visit.  And I LOVE when friends come to visit.  My inner Martha Stewart rears her ugly head, and I start cooking and decorating, and cleaning like a mad woman.  (OK, just cooking really, and I swept...and ran the vacuum, but that's pretty much it.)  But I have to share what was on the dinner and dessert menu!  We didn't have any picky eaters (children) coming to stay, and we had grilled hamburgers the night before, so my grill master was burnt out on burgers.  This was the perfect excuse to pull out the recipe folder.  

I don't pull out the recipe folder very often.  I typically eat the same thing over and over when Matt's gone, and when he's home, he LOVES to cook (yay!), so he is often in charge of dinner.  You can imagine, a former high school culinary arts teacher, pulling out the GIGANTIC recipe book (picture coming soon), full of my treasures from the culinary geniuses at Johnson & Wales University, the Culinary Institute of America, and the Arts Institutes of Tampa/Miami/New York, etc.  I'm pretty excited, but also pretty aware that I am not in a fully equipped commercial kitchen complete with a salamander and 10 gallon floor mixer.  *Take it down a notch, Sarah!*  So I decided on Mexican stuffed shells (the lasagna of American-Mexican cuisine) and Raspberry Pavlova (a Russian, I think, meringue dessert that looks and sounds impressive, but is actually pretty easy to make).  Pictures and recipes are below.

Mexican Stuffed Shells with slight modifications/specific recommendations (original recipe found at The Way To His Heart

And because I often forget to take pictures of things for this blog, the picture credit also goes to The Way To His Heart

1 lb. ground beef
1 package taco seasoning (I use Old Elpaso, mild)
8 oz. cream cheese
14-16 jumbo pasta shells
1.5 cup salsa
1 cup taco sauce (This is a smooth, tomato based sauce found in the Mexican section)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup pepper jack cheese
3 green onions
Sour cream
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a frying pan cook ground beef; add taco seasoning and prepare according to package directions.  Add cream cheese, cover and simmer until cheese is melted. Blend well. Set aside and cool completely (I skipped this step, which can result in burned fingers later, so beware).  While ground beef is cooking, cook the pasta shells according to directions; drain. Set shells out individually on cutting board/baking sheet so that they don’t stick together. (Or you can put them in a colander and run cool water over them.  Typically, this is a "no-no" for pasta, but since the shells will be stuffed then baked, this step will not affect the finished product.  If this were a pour-on-sauce dish, I wouldn't recommend the cool water rinse.)
Pour salsa on bottom of 9×13 baking dish.  Stuff each shell with the meat mixture. Place shells in 9×13 pan open side up. Cover shells with taco sauce and cheese, repeat layers as necessary.  I typically end up with two layers of salsa-shells-cheese.  
Bake at 350 degrees for 3o minutes.  Top with any condiments you’d like (green onions, black olives, etc.) Serve with sour cream and/or more salsa.  Um, can I get a YUM!?

Raspberry Pavlova (original recipe by Nigella Lawson from Food Network)

This is one of those recipes where the outcome can go either way...perfect and beautiful, or a complete disaster that tastes delicious but looks like poo.  You can guess how mine turned out...  

No, this is not it...gotcha!!  Just keep scrolling...........

Here it is...

 The above is Nigella's Raspberry Pavlova.  The below is mine...but it tasted F.I.N.E and was made with L.O.V.E! (And was photographed by a crappy phone, my apologies.)

For the Meringue Base:

6 large egg whites
2 cups superfine sugar (I didn't have any "superfine" sugar, so I used "super regular" sugar, the result was the same)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar (Why?  I have no idea, but I used the balsamic option, just becuase I had it on hand.)
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (My local grocery store, the Wal-Mart, was out of dark chocolate in the baking section, I used semi-sweet)
For the Toppings:

2 cups heavy cream
4 cups raspberries (Use more or less, depending on how much you like raspberries)
1 to 2 ounces dark chocolate (Again, I used the semi sweet)

Prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw a 9-inch-diameter circle on the paper with a pencil, tracing a round cake tin that size.

Flip the paper over so your meringue doesn't touch the pencil marks - you'll still be able to see the circle.

Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites with a mixer until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.  (Have patience, don't just dump all the sugar in your newly satin egg whites.  The egg whites will deflate and you'll have to start all over.)

Add the chocolate: Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites. Gently fold everything with a rubber spatula until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. (Gently is the key word here.  Gently fold.  Again, take this very seriously, or you'll have to start all over.)

Shape the meringue: Secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue under each corner. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, smoothing the sides and the top with a spatula.  (My meringue was a little over enthusiastic and didn't stay within the circle, but that's ok.  Just try to make it an even thickness all the way around.)

Bake the meringue: Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F and cook for one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready, it should look crisp and dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers.  (Its going to be a terrible grey color, but don't panic...that is just camouflaged chocolaty goodness). 

Let it cool: Turn off the oven and open the door slightly; let the chocolate meringue disk cool completely in the oven. When you're ready to serve, invert onto a big flat bottomed plate and peel off the parchment. (OR, in my case, take it out of the oven, TRY to flip it over, and watch it fall apart before your very eyes! I ended up breaking the meringue into pieces and placing it in a Corning Ware bowl.) 

Decorate the Pavlova: Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter the raspberries on top. Coarsely grate the chocolate haphazardly over the top so that you get curls of chocolate rather than rubble, as you don't want the raspberries' luscious color and form to be obscured. You want the Pavlova to look like a frosted cake.  (OR a big pile of chocolate, raspberries, whipped cream and chocolate!)  
My Pavlova looked terrible, but we ate EVERY LAST BIT!  
I urge you to try these recipes next time you have company to cook for!  My company loved both dishes, most went back for seconds, and we had NO leftovers.  

Happy eating from the Bayou!

1 comment:

  1. Everything was soooo yummy!!! Thanks for having us down! We can't wait to come back! Gonna be time for a girls weekend soon!!