Monday, August 22, 2016

Prickly Pear Lemon Bars

Today I bring you prickly pear lemon bars. They're a great way to use up a bit of prickly pear juice, and they're a fun twist on classic lemon bars. I've made these a few times and have received many compliments from people who normally find lemon bars to be too sweet and puckery, but like the milder sweetness and balance of flavor found in these bars.

Initially, I was suspicious of how well pecans would go with prickly pear, but I trusted the recipe and went for it, and I must say these flavors play together exceedingly well. The pecans add a lovely richness and...well...nuttiness that helps balance the tartness and sweetness of the dessert.

Prickly Pear Lemon Bars
Yield: one 9 x 13 pan (halve the recipe for an 8 x 8 pan)
Adapted slightly from Cupcake Project

Crust Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened

Filling Ingredients
1-1/3 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. prickly pear juice
1 tsp. baking powder
2-4 Tbsp. powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray.

Use a pastry blender, forks, or a food processor to combine all the crust ingredients until crumbly. Press into your baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.

Mix together all filling ingredients except powdered sugar (I use an electric hand mixture). The mixture will be really runny. This is good.

Pour filling mixture on top of the pre-baked crust. It's perfectly fine if the crust is still hot. Bake for 20 minutes, until filling is set. Let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, then cut into squares and serve.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shrimp Jambalaya

What's a girl to do when she has 10 jars of crawfish stock in her freezer? Seriously, I'd love some ideas.

But to get things going, I gave jambalaya a shot, and was super pleased with how it turned out. The shrimp was perfectly cooked without going all rubbery. The flavors were complex and balanced, with the perfect amount of heat for me (which means it was pretty mild. Apologies to any New Orleans natives out there who are shunning me for this.)

The recipe and techniques weren't difficult unless you struggle with cooking rice. And if rice is your enemy, check out the original recipe for an oven cooking method that the writer claims is much more fool-proof than the standard stove top method.

Pro tip: before you start cooking everything, check to make sure you have the right kind of rice. I didn't bother to check since that's such a basic pantry ingredient, and it wasn't until things were already sauteeing merrily on the stove before I realized that, while I had plenty of brown rice, wild rice, a five-rice blend, brown arborio rice, and white arborio rice (and a whole slew of other grains), there was no plain old ordinary long-grain white rice on my shelf. Fortunately, the white arborio rice worked quite nicely in this recipe! Brown rice could be really yummy, too, but it's not as easy a sub since cooking time is so much longer for brown rice.

Shrimp Jambalaya
Adapted from REMCooks
Yield: 2-3 servings as a main dish

1-2 lbs. peeled and deveined shrimp (see notes)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup diced onion
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1 cup seafood stock (store bought or homemade)
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Pour the shrimp into a colander or strainer and rinse under cold running water to start thawing it. Drain well. Set the colandar inside a bowl. Combine cayenne, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper and sprinkle over the shrimp. Toss to coat, then cover the bowl and colander with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to continue draining and thawing gently while you do everything else.

Chop all the veggies and herbs.

In a medium pot, melt butter over high heat. Add tomato sauce. Continue cooking the butter and tomato sauce over high heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches a rich, dark color and the butter separates out (here's a photo from REMCooks). This took me about 6 minutes with this small batch, but would probably take a bit longer with a larger batch.

Add the onion, green onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Continue cooking on high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the seafood stock, rice, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring once or twice.

Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now retrieve your shrimp from the fridge and stir it into the hot rice mixture. Re-cover the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes. If your shrimp is fully thawed, you can remove the pot from the burner, and the heat from the rice mixture will cook the shrimp perfectly. Mine was still a bit frozen when I pulled it out of the fridge, so I left my burner on the lowest possible setting for these 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, remove the bay leaf, stir, and serve.

  • I used 1 lb. shrimp, and it was fine, but definitely heavy on the rice. The next time I make this, I plan to use half shrimp, half andouille sausage. The original recipe called for half shrimp, half crawfish tails. So mix and match your proteins to your preference.
  • If you like your food spicy, use more cayenne (up to 3/4 tsp.) and more black or white pepper (an additional 1/4 tsp. or so)