Pineapple Cream & Rum Cupcakes

These cupcakes were inspired by my grandmother and mother.

Pineapple Rum Cupcakes

My grandmother loved sweets but was not a big fan of chocolate.  (Hard to believe not loving chocolate and being related to me, right?)  To satisfy her sweet tooth, she almost always had what she called “Plain Cake” in her kitchen.  It is easy to make from ingredients you will have on hand, so I thought it would be fun to try these as cupcakes for Mom’s big birthday party earlier this month.

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But I wanted to jazz them up for the birthday party, which is where I got inspiration from Mom.  She has always made great pies, including luscious cream pies like coconut cream, banana cream, and the inspiration for these cupcakes—pineapple cream.  I decided that the plain cake cupcakes would be great filled with pineapple cream.

Now for the rum.  My grandmother didn’t drink alcohol, so the rum didn’t come from her, but the rest of my family and most of my friends love rum, which I thought would add a tropical twist to the cupcakes.

Now it was time to start my experiment, so I made a batch of jumbo “Plain Cake” cupcakes (see the recipe below).  I figured it would be easier to fill jumbo cupcakes than regular-sized ones.  Of course, I had to try one when they came out of the oven.  It had been years since I had had Grandmother’s cake.  The memories flooded in.  I had forgotten that this cake has a thin sugar crust on top, which is yummy.  The texture is a little denser and coarser than many cakes, but I realized that it would be just right to stand up to the cream filling I had planned and the flavor was as good as I remembered.  About then, Jeff walked by and grabbed a bite of one of the cupcakes and agreed, so on to the next step.

Time for the next layer of flavor, so I started the pineapple cream filling.  I put a cup of chopped pineapple in my mini-food processor and pulsed it until I had fresh, crushed pineapple.   The pineapple was destined to be added to the cream filling, but I needed to drain off the juice first so it wouldn’t be too wet and water down the filling.  So I let the pineapple hang out in a strainer over a bowl while I started on the cream filling (see recipe below).   For the cream filling, I started with a recipe I had previously posted only to figure out that I had posted the wrong amount of flour—not good!  (If you tried my “Easy Pastry Cream” before and didn’t find it so easy because it didn’t get thick enough, my sincere apologies.  I goofed when I typed it up.  The recipe should have called for 4 Tbsp. of flour, or 1/4 cup, rather than the 2 Tbsp. I had previously posted.  That post has been updated with the correction.)

While the pastry cream cooled, I used a small round cutter to make a hole in the center of each of the cupcakes.  But I was careful to not cut all the way through the bottom of cupcakes because I didn’t want the filling to run out!  For moisture and flavor, I brushed the inside of each “hole” with dark rum and then piped in the pineapple cream.  A dollop of whipped cream and a small piece of fresh pineapple on top made these cupcakes a special addition to Mom’s birthday party and were a hit with the rum lovers in the crowd.  Hope you like them too!

Pineapple Cream & Rum Cupcakes
 
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These yummy cupcakes were inspired by my grandmother’s “Plain Cake” and my mom’s Pineapple Cream Pie! This will also make a single layer cake.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8-16

Ingredients
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature (Grandmother substituted vegetable shortening when she was out of butter)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • ½ tsp. salt

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray cupcakes pans with cooking spray or line them with cupcake liners.
  3. Beat the sugar and butter together until creamy, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs and beat until combined.
  5. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. Add half the flour to the sugar and egg mixture. Beat to combine.
  7. Add the milk. Beat to combine.
  8. Add the remaining flour. Beat to combine.
  9. Fill each cupcake holder until it is about ⅔ full.
  10. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick in the middle of a cupcake and pull it out. If it comes out clean, they are done.
  11. For jumbo cupcakes, it will take about 18 minutes for them to cook. For regular-sized cupcakes, it will take about 10-12 minutes. However, test the cupcakes a couple of minutes earlier because every oven is different!
  12. After the cupcakes cool, use a ½ inch to ¾ inch round cutter to cut the center out of each cupcake. If you don’t have a round cutter this size, you can use a paring knife or small spoon. Be careful not to cut all the way through the bottom of the cupcakes. You want to leave the bottom intact so that the filling will not come out.
  13. Use a pastry brush to brush rum on the inside of each of the “holes” you created in the center of the cupcakes.
  14. Place the cream filling (see separate recipe) in a pastry bag or zip top bag and cut off the corner.
  15. Pipe filling into the hole you made in the center of each cupcake.
  16. Top each cupcake with whipping cream (see separate recipe).
  17. Garnish with a small piece of fresh pineapple.

 

Pineapple Cream Filling
 
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You can substitute coconut flakes for the pineapple if you prefer coconut cream filling!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert

Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup fresh, chopped pineapple (or ½ cup canned, crushed pineapple)

Instructions
  1. Place the fresh pineapple in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.
  2. Place the pineapple in a strainer over a bowl and drain the pineapple juice.
  3. In a double boiler, combine the flour, sugar, and milk. Cook the mixture in the top of the double boiler over medium-low to medium heat. Whisk the mixture until it thickens. Be patient—this can take about 20 minutes or so. (As the mixture begins to thicken, it is important to whisk almost continuously to prevent lumps from forming.)
  4. After the mixture thickens to a pudding-like consistency, place the egg yolks in a small bowl. Mix a little of the cream filling with the eggs yolks to temper them. This prevents scrambling the egg yolks.
  5. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the double boiler with the rest of the cream filling. Continue whisking until the cream filling thickens more. This will take 2-4 minutes.
  6. Remove the cream filling from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and butter.
  7. To ensure the cream filling does not have any lumps, strain it through a mesh strainer.
  8. Let the cream filling cool completely, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
  9. When the cream filling is cool, add the pineapple and serve it or refrigerate it. If you are refrigerating the filling in a bowl (rather than in the finished tart or other dessert), place plastic wrap on top of the filling so that the plastic wrap touches the entire surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming on top.

Notes
If you don’t have a double boiler, just place a small amount of water in a pot. Then place a heatproof bowl on top of the pot so that the heatproof bowl sits partially inside the pot but does not touch the water.

 

Mascarpone Whipped Cream
 
Author:

Ingredients
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup (4 oz.) marscapone cheese
  • 4 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or rum)

Instructions
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Using an electric mixer, mix the cream mixture until it reaches the desired consistency.
  2. Cover and refrigerate the whipped cream until ready to use.

 

© 2015 FoodieOasis

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For the love of buttermilk! Chocolate Cupcakes

My mom just had a big birthday, so we celebrated with a cupcake tasting party!  For my contributions to the party, I decided to use recipes that include one of my mom’s favorite foods—buttermilk.

Cupcakes

Yes, you read that right—buttermilk.  You won’t believe this, but my mom loves to drink buttermilk straight!  Unusual, right?  I finally decided that she thinks of it like yogurt.

Apparently, as a kid, Mom learned to love what is known as traditional buttermilk.  When they visited her grandparents on a farm, it was considered a treat.  Mom explained that the buttermilk was the milk left after making butter from cream.  This means that contrary to its name, it is milk minus the butter rather than milk with the butter, so it is really rather low in fat.  Who knew?  Interestingly, if the butter was made from fresh cream, then the leftover “buttermilk” was actually sweet.  But before refrigeration, in warm climates milk started going sour fairly quickly.  If the butter was made from this sour milk, then as you would guess, the resulting “buttermilk” was also sour.

After mom’s grandparents moved to town, thus ending visits to the farm, Mom still wanted buttermilk and started drinking the current version.  Today, the version you find in stores is cultured buttermilk, which is a form of fermented milk rather than milk left over from making butter.  It is made from cow’s milk that is allowed to purposefully sour, or ferment.  During this process, a lactic acid bacteria produces the sour taste.  As the lactose ferments, the milk also begins to curdle, which makes the cultured buttermilk much thicker than regular milk and also apparently thicker than traditional buttermilk.  If you look at old cookbooks or recipes from the early 1900s, you will notice that some recipes call for “sour milk”.  You can usually just substitute buttermilk for the sour milk with good results.

When I was growing up, I think Mom assumed I would learn to love this stuff as much as she does but that never happened!  I just never learned to like sour dairy products by themselves.  But I have found many uses for buttermilk in my cooking.  You probably won’t be surprised by some of the recipes that use buttermilk, such as

  • Chicken Fried Steak
  • Fried Chicken
  • Buttermilk Biscuits—the name gives that one away!

But you may be surprised to find out how many different types of recipes include buttermilk as one of the ingredients.  For example, many other fried foods, such as calamari and onion rings, often start by being dipped or marinated in buttermilk before being coated with bread crumbs and fried.  But did you know that certain versions of the following recipes include buttermilk?

  • Chocolate Cake—not all recipes, but you would be surprised how many use buttermilk
  • Cookies—my Grandma’s recipe for sugar cookies uses buttermilk.  (To keep it straight, Grandmother was my mom’s mom and Grandma was my dad’s mom.)
  • Creamy salad dressings—buttermilk gives many creamy dressings their tangy flavor
  • Mashed potatoes—for extra-creamy and tangy potatoes, buttermilk is a great substitute for sour cream or milk
  • Southern cornbread—ot often uses sour cream or buttermilk for a tender texture and added flavor
  • Pound Cakes—whether chocolate or vanilla, buttermilk can add moisture and a slightly tangy flavor

Why use buttermilk in baking?

Buttermilk has several merits when it comes to baking.  It is naturally low in fat, but its thick nature adds a richness that mimics much higher fat alternatives!  Buttermilk’s acidic nature tends to keep cakes and cookies tender by preventing the toughening that can be caused by gluten in the flour.  And, of course, buttermilk’s flavor also adds a subtle tanginess that often escapes identification but adds a layer of complexity to cakes or cookies.

Substitutes for buttermilk.

Unlike my mom, most of us don’t keep buttermilk as a refrigerator staple.  But if you need buttermilk to cook with and forgot to buy some, don’t  worry.  You can make a good substitute with milk and lemon juice or vinegar.

    • When I am out of buttermilk, I add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar (plain white vinegar, not white wine vinegar) to 1 cup of milk.  After 5 minutes, it is ready to use, so measure the amount of “buttermilk” you need for your recipe.  For a smaller amount, add 1 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1/2 a cup of milk.
    • There are also several other options for buttermilk substitutes when baking, such as the ones found at epicurious.com, that make use of yogurt, sour cream, and non-dairy alternatives.  Just don’t use old milk that has turned sour!

Back to the cupcake party.

For mom’s party, I decided to make chocolate cupcakes—big surprise, right.  I found Grandmother’s recipe for Devil’s Food Cake and decided it sounded great for cupcakes, but it called for 1 1/2 cups of coffee.  While I agree that coffee smells great, Jeff and I are just not coffee drinkers, so that is not something we have on hand.  From studying a lot of chocolate cake recipes, I knew that I could substitute hot water for the coffee, but the last thing I wanted to do was replace the coffee with an ingredient with no flavor.  Also, the goal was to use buttermilk-recipes, and I knew that buttermilk is commonly used in chocolate cake batters, so I decided to try substituting 1/2 a cup of buttermilk and 1 cup of boiling water for the 1 1/2 cups of coffee.  Fingers crossed, I got started.  I divided the batter in half and baked half of it in mini-bundt pans the size of regular cupcakes and the other half in jumbo cupcake pans.  I topped the mini-bundt versions with a drizzle of chocolate ganache and a raspberry.

Chocolate Cupcake

I sliced the jumbo cupcakes in half horizontally to make them look like a two-layer mini cakes.  Then I put whipping cream between the “layers” and a little on top like icing.  These reminded me of the chocolate cakes with whipped cream icing that we used to have for birthday cakes when I was growing up, so what could be better for Mom’s big birthday!

Chocolate Cupcakes

The results were popular, so the recipe for the chocolate cupcakes is included below.  (I have changed recipe printing software.  Let me know what you think of the new version.)  You can also use this to make a two-layer chocolate cake if you are not in the mood for cupcakes!

For the recipe for the mascarpone whipped cream filling, click here.

For the chocolate ganache, warm 1/2 a cup of cream in a sauce pan until it starts to simmer, not boil.  Take it off the heat and add 7 ounces of chopped, semisweet chocolate.  Let it sit for a few minutes to melt the chocolate (3-5 minutes).  Then stir until smooth and drizzle it over the cupcakes.

There are more cupcake stories to come from Mom’s party, so stay tuned.

Grandmother’s Devil’s Food Cupcakes
 
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This variation on my grandmother’s devil’s food cake substitutes buttermilk for coffee, which makes for an even more tender cake!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12-24

Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1⅔ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup cocoa
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray cupcake pans with cooking spray or line them with cupcake liners.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and remove it from the heat.
  4. Whisk the cocoa into the boiling water.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  6. Beat the sugar and butter with a hand mixer or stand mixer until the mixture is creamy. (About 3-5 minutes)
  7. Add 1 egg at a time to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat until the egg is fully incorporated. Then add the second egg and beat it into the mixture.
  8. Add the buttermilk to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat to combine. The mixture will not look smooth, but don’t overbeat.
  9. Add half of the flour mixture and beat just until combined.
  10. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat just until combined.
  11. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat just until combined.
  12. Using a scoop or spoon, fill cupcake liners or greased cupcake tins ⅔ full.
  13. For regular size cupcakes, bake approximately 10 minutes. They are ready when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  14. For jumbo cupcakes, bake approximately 18 minutes.

Notes
For grandmother’s original recipe, replace the boiling water and buttermilk with 1½ cups coffee. Then whisk the cocoa into the warm coffee and follow the remaining instructions.
This recipe can also be used to make a two-layer chocolate cake. Line the baking pans with parchment or coat them with cooking spray and then dust them with cocoa to prevent sticking. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Test for doneness with a toothpick.

© 2015 FoodieOasis

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Winning Barbeque Sauces from Our Tasting Party

Grilling season is finally here and to a girl like me who grew up in Texas that means barbeque ribs, sausage, chicken and brisket dripping with a tangy, tomato-based barbeque sauce!  My mouth is already watering. 

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But over the years I have learned that everyone has their favorite style of barbeque.  The varieties are endless.  Do you use a dry rub or a wet sauce, or both?  Is your favorite sauce tomato based or vinegar based?  Do you like it sweet, tangy or spicy?  Do you smoke or grill the meat?  The choices go on and on depending on family traditions and where you grew up.   Since our friends are from all over the country, we decided it would be fun to have a barbeque sauce tasting party to kick off the season and pick our favorites.  Links to the winning recipes are included below.

We started by inviting a few friends to bring their favorite store-bought or homemade sauce to enter into the taste tests.  No secret sauces were allowed because I told them the recipe for the winning homemade sauce would be posted on FoodieOasis!  After all, what good is a taste test if you don’t learn how to make the winning recipe?  They arrived on Saturday afternoon with sauces and lots of ribs!  We ended up with 5 sauces in the homemade category and 6 sauces in the store-bought category.

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Now for the best part—tasting!  But to make sure no one automatically voted for their own sauce, I transferred the sauces to new bowls and added labels (letters for the homemade sauces and numbers for the store-bought versions).  Of course, I knew which was which so I couldn’t vote, but I still got to taste! 

Now for the rules.  We had small chunks of sausage, chicken, and bread ready for the tasting.  Everyone was asked to select their favorite sauce in the homemade category and their favorite sauce in the store-bought category. 

I have to say that everyone took this tasty task very seriously and many even did multiple tastings to make sure they knew how they wanted to vote.  It was not easy either because the sauces were really, really good.  But ultimately, the votes were in and the winners are:

Winning Homemade Sauce:  There was a two-way tie between

  • Karen’s sauce, our next-door neighbor with the great jambalaya that I wrote about in another post.  Click here for Karen’s Barbeque Sauce Recipe.
  • My sauce, which was based on the way I remember watching my mom make barbeque sauce when I was a kid growing up in Texas.  Click here for Jo Dale’s FoodieOasis Barbeque Sauce Recipe.

Winning Store-Bought Sauce

  • 1st Place:  Ott’s Barbeque Sauce, which our friends Jon and Will had shipped from Missouri just for the party because it was their all-time favorite sauce!  It turns out it was the group’s favorite store-bought sauce too! You can purchase it online here.  (Note that I have no connection with Ott’s, and this post was not sponsored by Ott’s or any other company.)
  • 2nd Place:  hak’s habanero pineapple bbq sauce, which was provided by Meredith and Eric.  It was amazing too.  You can purchase it online here.

With the tasting finished, it was time for everyone to slather their favorite sauce on the ribs and sausage!

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But, of course, we couldn’t forget the sides, so we had some baked beans, corn on the cob, and warm German potato salad to kick off the grilling season.  I had requests for the baked beans (super easy) and German potato salad recipes, so watch for those in upcoming posts.

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For those with a little room left for something sweet, Kelly brought delicious key lime pies with fresh raspberries.  I am certain everyone slept well after this feast! 

Happy Grilling Season!

© 2015 FoodieOasis

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Pie Crust Blog Tasting Party

I must apologize for the lateness of this post, but as many of you know by now, yesterday was my last day at my old job and today was my first day at the new one.  That means that things have been hectic.  But work craziness aside, it is time to report on our most recent blog tasting party (click here if you don’t know what a blog tasting party (BTP) is.) during which we sought to determine the perfect pie crust recipe.  We invited a small group (hard to make pie for 40+)  of friends over to help us figure it out.  We also decided that with the holidays upon us, it would be fun to combine the tasting with a cookie exchange, so we invited our friends to bring along cookies and treats to share.  They brought some amazing creations!  I have asked them to let me know if I can share those recipes in upcoming posts, so be on the lookout for them.

For the pie crust tasting, I started with Mom’s recipe that has always worked great.  She has received many compliments on her pies over the years.  Her crust is easy to make and is tender and flaky.  The ingredients include flour, vegetable shortening (yes, shortening rather than butter), salt, and ice cold water.  But I have always known that butter adds a ton of flavor to pie crusts, so I wanted to experiment with using butter.  Before the party, I made three experimental pie crusts.  The first was Mom’s recipe, which used 3/4 cup of shortening.  Then I made a crust with all butter and another crust with 1/2 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of shortening.  I rolled out the dough and cut it into small strips.  After sprinkling the strips with sugar, I baked them until lightly golden brown.  Then it was time to taste.  After I tasted them and picked my favorite, I had Jeff do a blind tasting and pick the one he liked best.  It turned out that we both preferred the texture of the crust with the 1/2 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of shortening, so I knew that would be one of the crusts for tasting at the blog tasting party.

Then it was time to pick two crust recipes for the blind tasting at the BTP.  Given that an all-butter crust is so traditional, I decided to include it.  Then I also decided to try a crust with 1/2 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of cream cheese.  I had heard that crusts with cream cheese were more forgiving to work with, so I decided to give it a try.  But I ran out of time to test the cream cheese recipe before the party.  That meant I would be tasting it for the first time along with our friends!  (I know that goes against all traditional advice about not serving something new at a party, but I never followed that advice in the past, so why start now.) 

Pie needs filling, right?!  I didn’t think we could just invite people to taste strips of pie dough.  Jeff was happy to weigh in on that decision—he wanted chocolate pie (you may remember, he always wants chocolate pie).  Given my theory that chocolate makes everything better, I was happy to go along with that choice.  Then I had to figure out how to make enough pie for the 15-20 people that were coming.  Solution:  Miniature Pies. 

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I rolled out each pie dough disk and cut out small circles with a round cookie cutter.  Then I lightly pressed them in mini-muffin tins to create miniature pie crusts.  That way everyone could each have three miniature pies (one made with each of the three crusts). 

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However, Jeff and I were worried that the pie filling might make it hard to taste differences in the different pie crust recipes, so I also baked sugar-coated strips of each pie crust recipe like I had done in the first taste test.  That turned out to really help our friends figure out their favorite crust.

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The good news is that all the crusts were flaky and tasty.  The all-butter crust (shown in the green dish below)had a great flavor with a slightly crispy texture to the layers, but it did not seem to have as many layers as the other crusts and surprisingly only garnered three votes.  Surprisingly, the cream cheese crust (shown in the red dish below) did not have a tangy flavor, so no one figured out the secret ingredient in it.  It was the heaviest of the three crusts, but it was still flaky and had a good flavor.  It was also very easy to work with.  It rolled our smoothly and did not crack when I was rolling it out.  The majority of the votes were split between it and the butter and shortening crust (shown in the yellow dish below), but by a few votes the butter and shortening crust won!  The combination of the butter and shortening resulted in a tender crust with nice flacky layers that still had a buttery flavor. 

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For the Perfect Pie Crust Recipe (along with the other two recipes) click here.

For the chocolate pie filling recipe click here.

I hope you will try one or more of these pie crusts and let me know what you think!  Now we just have to come up with the idea for the next blog tasting party.  Perhaps, we should taste something for a SuperBowl party or a special Valentine’s dinner.  Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.  Regardless, fun food tastings are a great way to share time with good friends.  See you soon.

© 2014 FoodieOasis

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Thanksgiving Dressing (aka Stuffing) Blog Tasting Party—Drum Roll Please…

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When it comes to Thanksgiving, I always think of turkey and dressing, or as some would call it—stuffing.  While there are many ways to prepare a turkey, there seem to be even more versions of dressing, so we decided our pre-Thanksgiving Blog Tasting Party (BTP) would focus on that amazing comfort food—dressing.  

But first we need to deal with the terminology—dressing versus stuffing.  In my family we never stuffed the turkey with our bread-based side dish but instead cooked it in a separate baking dish.  Because it was not “stuffed” in the turkey, we called it dressing.  (I know dressing goes on a salad, but work with me here.)  However, I realize this distinction is not strictly followed.  I have many friends that still call it stuffing even when they bake it in a separate dish, so we should just agree the name doesn’t really matter.  It is really about the taste and traditions!

Depending on where you grew up and what your parents and friends considered traditional, you probably are accustomed to a particular style of dressing, or stuffing.  Having been born in West Texas, my mother always makes the chunky, cornbread and biscuit dressing that her mother made.

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Yummy, particularly when smothered in mushroom cream gravy (no, I have no idea why mushroom gravy was a tradition in my West Texas family)!  But others growing up closer to bodies of water, such as the gulf coast, often put oysters in their dressing.  Then there are versions with different types of fruit (e.g., apples or dried fruit), meats (e.g., sausage or bacon), breads (e.g., white, sourdough, or ciabatta), vegetables (e.g., celery, carrots, or onions), herbs (e.g., rosemary, thyme, or parsley)…  The possibilities are endless, and based on polling my friends, the thought of changing the family tradition can cause an outright uproar at Thanksgiving!

Well I decided to create three entirely different dressings for the tasting to represent a variety of traditions.  The first choice was easy.  It had to be Mom’s cornbread and biscuit dressing.  I decided that the second dressing should be based on a different type of bread, but I didn’t want a dressing that was too soggy.  That led me to pick ciabatta as the base. 

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Then I wanted to make a dressing that was gluten free, so I decided on wild rice as the base for the third dressing.

The next step was to start brainstorming about what ingredients to combine with the ciabbata and what to combine with the wild rice.  I decided the ciabatta would pair well with sausage, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange), garlic, parsley, and thyme. 

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For the wild rice, I decided to use a quick cooking rice blend with white, brown, wild, and red rice cooked in broth or stock for added flavor.  Since I am not a huge rice fan, I knew I needed to add a lot of my favorite ingredients to convince myself that rice was a good base for dressing.  I decided that dried cranberries and Mediterranean apricots (not the drier California ones) would add a traditional Thanksgiving touch. 

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Mushrooms, onions, and fresh thyme also came to mind as tasty additions to rice. 

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 Toasted pecans sounded like a good idea too. 

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But then bacon makes everything better, right?  Right, so bacon had to be part of the recipe! 

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Note, however, you could omit the sausage and bacon from these recipes and quickly turn them into vegetarian versions as long as you use vegetable broth instead of turkey or chicken broth.

Then it was time for a test bake.  As a result, I made a few changes to the initial recipes.  For example, I decided that the ciabatta would be better with a custard-type liquid rather than just plain broth because it would make the dressing more like bread pudding.  Also, rather than baking the wild rice uncovered, which led to a really crunchy top layer of rice, I decided to bake the wild rice covered for the first half of the baking time and then uncover it for the last half. 

Now that the recipes were ready, it was time for the Blog Tasting Party.  We had invited friends to come share a pre-Thanksgiving potluck dinner, so they arrived with amazing side dishes, homemade rolls, desserts, drinks, and more.  The party had started! 

When it came time to vote for their favorite dressing, it was interesting to see the votes were so evenly divided among the three choices.  But…insert drum roll here…the wild rice won by a few votes with the cornbread and biscuit dressing in second, and trailing by one vote, the ciabatta dressing came in third!  It seemed almost everyone voting had a clear favorite in their mind, but a few couldn’t decide, so they abstained.  Based on the discussions, the reasons for the different preferences varied a lot.  One friend said she isn’t crazy about rice but really loved this particular version of wild rice so she had to vote for it (no that wasn’t me, but I must say I could have said the same thing—the wild rice really was good!).  Another couple said that it had to be the cornbread and biscuit dressing because it reminded them the most of Thanksgiving.  Then another friend told me it wasn’t even close—it had to be the ciabatta dressing.  I guess we had three winners.  But in the end, it really didn’t matter whether the choice was a newly found favorite or a comforting traditional version, it was clear that good friends and good food make for a great Thanksgiving! 

Check out the recipes and let me know what you think. 

For the Cornbread & Biscuit Dressing Recipe click here.
For the Wild Rice, Bacon, Cranberry and Apricot Dressing click here.
For the Ciabatta, Sausage and Mushroom Dressing click here.

But if you decide to break tradition at your Thanksgiving dinner table, consider making two versions—one traditional and one new one—to avoid a family uproar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2014 FoodieOasis




Flan Mini-Blog Party—The Results Are In!

J and I decided to have a last-minute mini-blog party over Cinco de Mayo weekend.  We invited a few friends over and asked them to bring a side dish or drink for our “Summer is Here” Cookout.  As you can see, our friends showed up with amazing summer salads, along with drinks. 

We started with some chips & homemade salsas, boiled shrimp, and jalapeno appetizers—jalapenos stuffed with spicy sausage and cheddar.  The stuffed jalapenos went so fast we didn’t really get a chance to take a picture.  Oh well, I will post that recipe next time.  They are really easy. 

Then we threw some pre-baked chicken thighs on the grill with a little Texas BBQ sauce, and the eating continued.

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As with all of our blog parties, we always conduct a taste test to compare various recipes for one of our favorite foods.  This time we didn’t announce ahead of time what we would be tasting.  The surpise was that we were comparing a traditional flan with a coconut flan!   Yummy!!!  I baked the traditional flan in a 9 inch round cake pan. Watch for the recipe under the recipe tab—or subscribe to emails  from this blog (see the top right of the fancifulfoodie.com home page) and you will receive a copy when I post it.

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For the coconut flan, I baked it in a swirl-bundt pan and then decorated it with toasted coconut!  Watch for this recipe post too!

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After giving everyone small servings of both flans, they were asked to decide whether they preferred the traditional flan, coconut flan, or neither.  Much friendly debate and discussion ensued between bitefuls of these luscious desserts.  And the result was:  the Coconut Flan!  But it was really close.  Both flans turned out really silky and smooth.  (For that texture, remember to strain the milk and egg mixture before baking it!)  Several of our friends, along with J, strongly preferred the traditional flan.  After all, there is a reason traditions live on.  But the coconut flan won over a few more people with its decadent richness.  Personally, I liked them both, which was a relief given that these were both recipes I was experimenting with and modifying for the first time.  Whew!  Watch for the recipes and let me know what you think.

The recipe for the Traditional Flan can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for the Coconut Flan can be found by clicking here.

© 2014 FoodieOasis




Cornbread Blog Party—The Winners!

Well it is time to announce the winners of the Southern Cornbread Blog Party.  We tasted 4 recipes for Southern Cornbread.  Of course, we had plenty of real butter to slather on the cornbread.  While J and I try to reach a balance in our eating overall (J often achieves that balance better than I do), you just can’t have Southern Cornbread without plenty of real butter.  Mmmm.  There was a split in the votes with three of the four cornbreads garnering most of the thumbs up! The 4 recipes tested several tradeoffs including:

  • Should you use buttermilk or whole milk?
  • Does sour cream make a more tender cornbread?
  • Does boiling hot water help the cornmeal absorb the liquid and flavors better?
  • Should you use a cast iron skillet or a buttered baking dish?
  • Which is better—bacon drippings or melted butter?
  • Or does a Texas cornbread mix offer an acceptable option?

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In the picture above, from left to right

  • My favorate cornbread shortcut—Morrison’s Corn-Kits
  • A Southern cornbread recipe adapted from a Food Network Magazine recipe (see the Recipe tab for details)
  • A Southern skillet cornbread recipe adapated from a FineCooking.com recipe (see the Recipe tab for details)
  • A cornbread recipe enriched with bacon drippings adapted from a Test Kitchen recipe (see the Recipe tab for details)

The Shortcut—Did it hold its own? 

While I usually do not promote specific products, this is a favorite shortcut—and don’t we all sometimes need a shortcut!  For as long as I remember, Morrison’s sold individual packets of its Corn-Kits in grocery stores where I grew up in Texas.  You simply combine the mix with one egg and 2/3 cup milk.  Then you bake it in a buttered baking dish at 425 degrees until it is golden brown.  (Note that you may need to lower the temperature by 25 degrees if you are using a convection oven.)  It is amazing that such a simple mix yields homemade tasting cornbread.  In fact, my mom gave up on making cornbread from scratch years ago because this is such a close match.  To find out how close, I surreptiously used the mix as one of the four cornbreads for our blog party tasting.  No one knew ahead of time that one of the cornbreads was not from scratch.  But don’t worry, I fessed up after the votes were in.  The results of the voting are at the end of this post.

Southern Cornbread—adapted from a Food Network Magazine recipe

In summary, this recipe can be described as follows:

  • Whole milk—no buttermilk
  • Heavy on the sour cream (an entire cup)
  • Does not use hot water to make a cornmeal mush but rather just mixes the dry and wet ingredients
  • Creates a very wet batter
  • Uses butter rather than bacon drippings

Southern Skillet Cornbread—adapated from a FineCooking.com recipe

  • Buttermilk based
  • Uses a small amount of sour cream (1/4 cup)
  • Uses boiling water to soften the cornmeal
  • Uses butter instead of bacon dripptings
  • Is baked in a cast iron skillet

Cornbread—adapated from a Test Kitchen recipe

In summary, this recipe can be described as follows:

  • Buttermilk based
  • No sour cream
  • Uses boiling water to soften the cornmeal
  • Uses bacon drippings instead of butter
  • Can be baked in a buttered baking dish or a cast iron skillet

The Vote

Everyone was asked to pick their top 2 choices.  Their top choice received 2 votes, and their second place choice received 1 vote. In comparing the three, from-scratch recipes, the winner was the Southern Skillet Cornbread—adapated from a FineCooking.com recipe with 11 votes.  The Cornbread—adapated from a Test Kitchen recipe was a close second with 11 votes.  The Southern Cornbread—adapted from a Food Network Magazine recipe received a lone vote. It seems that buttermilk-based recipes yielded more flavorful cornbreads.  The whole milk recipe was bland in comparison.  The FineCooking.com recipe also benefitted from sour cream, which tends to make a more tender cornbread.  That combined with cooking it in the cast iron skillet was likely what gave it the edge over the Test Kitchen based recipe—even though the Test Kitchen recipe used bacon, which is hard to beat.  If I had had two cast iron skillets, I would have baked the Test Kitchen based recipe in a skillet as well.  (Santa?)  I wonder if that would have been enough to elevate it to a tie or would the sour cream still have beat out the bacon drippings. The big surprise was that The Shortcut—Corn-Kits garnered 14 votes.  I knew I loved this shortcut, but who knew that the majority would agree in a blind taste test.  Everyone was surprised and excited that it would be easy to duplicate at home, so I gave out Corn-Kits as party gifts at the end—after all I had ordered a case, so no shortage.  When I moved to Arizona and California, I had trouble finding the Corn-Kits, so Mom used to bring me a few in her suitcase when she would come to visit.  Then I learned that you can order them from the company.  Last time I checked, their online ordering had some issues, so I just called.  If you are interested, Morrison’s can be contacted at  1-800-531-7912.  They will ship these by the case (36 packets per case).  The Bis-Kits are also good and yield a very light and fluffy biscuit.  While my personal, overall favorite was the skillet cornbread, The Shortcut was a tie for second for me (with the cornbread with bacon-drippings earning points from me too).  In the end, we had three out of four with close votes (14, 11, and 9 votes each).  It was a lot of fun to taste the different cornbread recipes and the amazing dishes everyone brought to go with the cornbread.  I invited our friends to send me their recipes for their dishes  if they want to share them here.  If they do, I will post them.  I will also be posting the pork simmered with salsa verde that we made soon for the Blog Party.

The recipe for Cornbread made with Sour Cream and Butter can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Southern Cornbread with Buttermilk and Bacon Drippings can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread can be found by clicking here.

Now it is time to decide the theme of our next Blog Party!  Suggestions so far include pecans, pumpkin, pasta, and cookies.  What do you think it should be?   

© 2013 FoodieOasis




Southern Cornbread Blog Party!

The Southern Cornbread Blog Party was a big success.  We asked our guests to bring their favorite dishes that go with cornbread.  That resulted in an awesome dinner.  We had two types of fantastic chili, a yummy casserole, delicious chicken and sausage gumbo with rice, pork shoulder simmered with salsa verde, and creamy pinto beans (my mom’s recipe). 

We tasted 4 recipes for Southern Cornbread.  There was a real split in the votes with three of the four garnering most of the thumbs up!

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 The 4 recipes tested several tradeoffs including:

  • Should you use buttermilk or whole milk?
  • Does sour cream make a more tender cornbread?
  • Does boiling hot water help the cornmeal absorb the liquid and flavors?
  • Should you use a cast iron skillet or a buttered baking dish?
  • Which is better—bacon drippings or melted butter?
  • Or does a Texas cornbread mix offer an acceptable option?

The results will follow in the next post along with recipes under the recipe tab!   You may be surprised, so stay tuned.

  © 2013 FoodieOasis




Time for the Next Blog Party—Southern Cornbread

It is time for the next blog party—Monday, October 21, 2013!   I had originally planned for this party to feature homemade pasta, but with fall rapidly approaching (already here according to the calendar), we decided it was time for true, Southern comfort food.  Therefore, we are returning to our Southern roots and will be tasting different recipes for Southern Cornbread.  I can’t wait to see which recipe wins the votes to become the “crowd favorite.”  We have asked our guests, should they accept the mission, to bring their favorite dish that goes with cornbread.  Watch for updates and photos.  This should be fun!

 © 2013 FoodieOasis




Ceviche Blog Party—The Rest of Party

The taco bar turned out great.  We had marinated, grilled flap (not flank steak—see below) steak.

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Lots of questions about flap steak!  What is flap steak.  Is it skirt steak or flank steak?  What part of the cow does it come from?  I have cooked all three in the past and have come to prefer flap steak, but I needed to do a little research to field these questions.  Here is what I now understand (no warranties). 

  • Flap steak, or flap meat comes from the bottom sirloin butt cut of beef.  That means that it comes from the lower portion of the cow, underneath the top sirloin but in front of the round.   It is usually a thin cut like skirt steak or flank steak, but based on my experience, I prefer flap steak because of its tenderness and texture when marinated and quickly grilled (I mean really quick). 
  • Skirt steak is cut from the plate of a cow, which is found underneath the ribs between the brisket and the flank.
  • Flank steak is is cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow (behind the plate and below the short loin and bottom sirloin regions). 
  • Hanger steak comes from the diaphragm.  Apparently, it is named hanger steak because it hangs from the diaphragm.  It used to be known as the “butcher’s steak” because butchers supposedly would keep it for their own use rather than sell it.

Back to the party…

For the chicken lovers in the crowd, I shredded roasted chickens (yes, the ones you can buy at the store—multiple ceviches for 19 friends took a chunk of time, so this was a great shortcut).  Then I simmered the chicken with a medium-spicy salsa in a heavy dutch oven for about an hour or so. 

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That gave the chicken time to absorb the flavors and time for some of the liquid in the salsa to evaporate so that the tacos would not be too messy.  Be careful if you buy the pre-roasted chickens though.  These chickens are usually fairly salty and when simmered the flavors concentrate even more, so simmer the chicken awhile and then taste it before you add more seasoning.  Depending on your preference and how much additional salt was in the salsa you used, you may not want to add any more salt.

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When you grill the vegetables remember to slightly undercook them if you will need to keep them hot during a long evening.  I cooked the peppers and onions a little past the stage shown below.  You can keep them hot in a 200 degree oven until you are ready to use them.

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But at the end of the evening they will look like this from continuing to cook even at low temperatures.

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They are still really tasty, but much softer.  The other option is to cook them on the grill in a grill basket while hanging out with your friends.

The final touches for the tacos included guacamole, cheese, salsas, jalapenos, and sour cream.  The guacamole disappeared quickly, and it was fun to see everyone load up their tacos with various combinations of the other ingredients (I skipped the sour cream—my friends would have predicted that decision).

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As it cooled down and got dark, we fired up the firepit and those with a little room left for more food, roasted marshmallows for smores.  Some just went straight for the chocolate, though.

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What fun!  I am already thinking about the theme for the next Blog Party.

© 2013 FoodieOasis




Ceviche Blog Party—Ceviche Taste Testing

We tasted three different pairs of ceviches. 

Taste Test #1

A versus B.  The only difference is the marinade.  Both have fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, but A also has a small amount of fresh squeezed orange juice.  The orange juice takes the edge off the tartness of the the lemon/lime combo.  (Both ceviches also have fish, shrimp, tomato, cucumber, cilantro, and a little salt.  See the recipe tab for details.) 

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Everyone got one small cup labeled A and one labeled B.  Then they got to vote for their favorite by placing a shell in the mason jar that matched their preference.  Originally, I wondered if everyone would be able to taste the subtle difference in this first pairing.  They could and had fun discussing why they preferred one versus the other.  Some liked the softer tones and others like the stronger tartness.

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It was close, but B (lemon/lime only) won 10-7.  I was a little surprised.  I had thought that A would come out on top because the orange softens the tartness, but the majority preferred the more traditional lemon/lime version.  Both were good, so you get to decide what you prefer.

Taste Test #2

C versus D.  C was just A making a second appearance (lemon/lime/orange marinade).  D was B (lemon/lime marinade) with finely diced serrano peppers for a little kick.  

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The spice was a hit with the majority.  It won 9 to 6.  (One person didn’t vote because he couldn’t decide between the two.)  It was interesting to hear one guest say, I don’t like spicy things, but I really like the spicy ceviche.  The key here was to keep the spice subtle to please a wide array of guests.  That means that the serrano needs to be finely diced so that you don’t get a big bite of spicy pepper in combo with the delicate fish.  But we had people on both sides of this one.  One friend indicated that he preferred no spice at all to let the fish be the star, and another guest wanted even more spice.  It just goes to show that our palates are all quite different when it comes to our preferences as to how spicy we like food! 

Taste Test #3

E versus F.  E used the lemon/lime-only marinade but added diced avocado and red bell pepper (on the right side of the tray below).  F used the lemon/lime/orange marinade with diced pineapple, mango, red bell pepper, and red onion in place of the sweet onion (on the left side of the tray below).

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And the winner is…F (the pineapple and mango version shown below).  It won by a long shot—14 to 2.  One person said that they love avocados and were surprised that they actually picked mango and pineapple over avocado, but the somewhat non-traditional combo won them over.  The avocado version was yummy too, so take a look at that recipe if you like avocados as much as I do.

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It was also interesting to see people pick the spicy version in the prior round and the fruity in this round.  Was it the pretty color combination of the pineapple/mango version that won so many votes?  We do taste with our eyes first as someone pointed out.  Was it the balancing provided by the fruit following the mildly, spicy version that influenced the choice?  Or would the pineapple/mango version have prevailed regardless of the order of tasting just because it was really palate pleasing?  Whatever the reason, it was tasty and many of our friends went back for second tastes! 

Summing it up

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One friend said, they would have been perfectly happy if they had been served any of the ceviches by themselves but it was fun to see that when given the opportunity to do head-to-head comparison, they could actually make distinctions and pick favorites.

The recipes for Ceviche A & Ceviche C can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Ceviche B can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Ceviche D can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Ceviche E can be found by clicking here.
The recipe for Ceviche F can be found by clicking here.

Now we just have to decide the theme for the next Blog Party.  Ideas?

© 2013 FoodieOasis

 




Ceviche Blog Party—Prepping for the Party

Call me crazy, but the prep for a party is fun.  There is something therapeutic about cutting and chopping.  🙂

(For the recipes, go to the recipe tab.)

The first task was to juice the lemons, limes and oranges for the ceviche and margaritas. 

I love these metal juicers (skip the plastic versions). 

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Ceviche Prep

The ceviches for the tasting use equal amounts of  fish (e.g., halibut or sea bass) and shrimp cut into about 1/2 inch pieces.  I used halibut this time and small/medium shrimp (41-50 count)

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I prefer English cucumbers because they don’t have a waxy coating on the skin, which gives you the option of leaving the skin on for added color.  They also have fewer/smaller seeds.  If you decide to peel the cucumbers, then use a potato peeler.  It works great.

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A grapefruit spoon is perfect for removing the seeds in the cucumbers.  The pointed, jagged end of the spoon lets you remove the seeds but leave the rest of the cucumber intact and ready for dicing.

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Don’t forget chopped tomatoes and onions.  I prefer sweet onions such as Vidalia or 1015 onions.  While not traditional, they add an onion flavor without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the fish.  Try it and see what you think.

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If you want a kick to your ceviche, finely dice fresh serrano peppers.  But first, cut a small piece from one of your peppers and taste it.  Serranos vary widely in the amount of heat they pack.  Tasting is the best way to control the level of spice in the final dish.

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One of the ceviche recipes includes avocado, and guacamole is a must for the taco bar.  I just use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin.  For the ceviche, I selected slightly firm, but ripe avocados so that they would hold their shape when diced and mixed with the fish, shrimp, and lemon/lime juice.  For the guacamole, I combined slightly firm avocados with ones that were slightly riper (but not mushy) to make sure that the guac had a wonderful buttery texture but still had a few small chunks of avocado for texture.

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For a slightly different twist than my regular ceviche, I decided to do a tropical version with diced pineapple and mango.  You want the pineapple and mango to have a little more bite than the fish and shrimp for a contrast in texture.

To ensure that the pineapple was ripe enough but not too ripe, I bought a carton of pineapple chunks from the produce section so that I could see the pineapple.  No guessing as to ripeness that way.   If you go this route, be sure to select pineapple that is not too ripe—it is too ripe if it is deep yellow and looks like it soft or falling apart.  If you pick pineapple that is too ripe, the texture of the final ceviche will be too soft.  But if the pineapple is too light in color, it won’t have enough flavor and may be too crunchy.  You can also buy the mango pre-sliced.  Then dice it into small pieces.

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Taco Bar Prep

For the taco bar, I marinated and grilled flap steak and simmered shredded, roasted chicken with salsa.  Instead of the traditional fajita-type marinade for the flap steak, I used a “tropical” marinade (see the recipe tab if you want to try it) with pineapple juice as the base.  It makes for a tender, yummy result with lots of flavor. 

I sliced and grilled bell peppers and onions with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil.  If you want to make sure that you get a nice caramelization on the onions, sprinkle them with just a little sugar when you grill them. 

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Let’s see, what else do we need?  Margaritas and sangria.  Tortillas (corn and flour).  Salsa (red and green).  Shredded cheese.  Sour cream.  Pickled jalapenos.  That about does it, right?

Time for the party!

 © 2013 FoodieOasis

 




Ceviche Blog Parties—Assembling the Ingredients

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This should be more than enough lemons and limes for the ceviche, margaritas and sangria.

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 And don’t forget the peppers.  Grilled onions and peppers will be great with the fajitas.

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 The avocados and tomatoes are on hand for the guacamole.  They will also make an appearance in the ceviche!

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  It is 4th of July weekend, so we have to have smores 🙂 

We can’t wait to see everyone tomorrow!!!  It will be fun.

© 2013 FoodieOasis




Ceviche Party—Friday is almost here!!!

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Wish I could go back to Cabo to pick up the fish for Friday. 🙂  Instead, a trip to Catalina Offshore Products will do the trick.

It will be fun to see if people prefer:

  • Mild or spicy?
  • Traditional or with a tropical twist?
  • Lime, lemon, a combo, or something else?

We have a couple friends comiing who are not into ceviche/fish.  But don’t worry, they won’t miss out on the tasting fun because they (and everyone else) will get to weigh in a new, non-traditional marinade recipe that I am using for the fajitas.  I will post that recipe after the party as well.

The countdown to fun continues.  Looking forward to seeing everyone on Friday.

© 2013 FoodieOasis




Ceviche Blog Party—Think Cabo!

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My plan is to invite friends to taste test various recipes during the year and let me know what they think.  I will share the results and recipes here.  In other words, I will blog about the parties.  (Any excuse for a party, right?)

The first event is Friday, July 5 when we will be testing several ceviche recipes.  I am not posting the recipes until after the party so that no one at the party will have preconceived ideas about which versions they will like best.  However, I will take pictures during the prep time, so watch for those on the day of the party! 

More on this soon…

 © 2013 FoodieOasis