Lemony Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

a homemade version of the classic ranch dressing. Recipe on kokocooks.com

School is back in session!  As with every school year, I make a very strong effort to bring my lunch every day.  Okay, four of the five days.  Maybe three.  Because driving from school to school is a regular part of my day, it is way too easy to pull into a quick serve place and grab lunch.  I have been know to eat Chipotle several times in a week.  Not good for the wallet, or the waistline.

a homemade version of the classic buttermilk dressing. Recipe on kokocooks.com

Along with bringing my lunch, I’m also trying to incorporate more vegetables into it.  It doesn’t take much time to break off a couple broccoli florets, slice some zucchini, and throw in a few cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks into a container.  If I’m feeling really motivated, I’ll toss together a salad.  My new favorite dressing is this homemade buttermilk ranch, with lots of fresh lemon zest.  Eating veggies is a lot more fun with this dressing to dip them in.

a homemade version of the classic ranch dressing. Recipe on kokocooks.com

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on this site!  I’m giving away a little lunch set, which includes a cute lunch bag and a salad/sandwich container! More info to follow…

a homemade version of the classic ranch dressing. Recipe on kokocooks.com

original recipe

Lemony Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Yield: just under 1 cup

Lemony Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Ingredients

½ c buttermilk
¼ c mayonnaise
2 Tbs sour cream
2 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (I like a combination of oregano, parsley, and dill but really whatever’s in your fridge)
½ tsp fresh lemon zest
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
few dashes of cayenne powder (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Place ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. For best results, cover and chill for an hour to let flavors develop.
http://kokocooks.com/2015/08/lemony-buttermilk-ranch-dressing/

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Classic Margarita

a classic margarita with homemade mix.  Recipe on kokocooks.com

When I go out, I tend to order one of three cocktails: margarita, mojito, or martini.  Guess I like my alcoholic drinks that start with ‘m.’  I don’t drink too much during the school year when my schedule gets hectic, but during these glorious summer days I definitely enjoy some beverages on the patio. When it comes to tequila, I usually just drink a shot, but lately I’ve been into making my own margaritas.  The classic lime with a hint of orange will always be my favorite flavor, especially when made with homemade margarita mix.

classic margarita with homemade mix. Recipe on kokocooks.com

original recipe

Classic Margarita

Yield: 2 servings

Classic Margarita

Ingredients

1 batch margarita mix
4 oz. tequila (I like a good blanco)
1.5 oz orange flavored liqueur (like triple sec, or Grand Marnier)
Salt (optional)
Ice
Lime slices for garnish

Instructions

  1. Stir together the margarita mix, tequila, and orange liqueur in a pitcher. Wet the rim of the glasses, and dip in salt. Pour into glasses with ice. Garnish with lime. Drink. Repeat.
http://kokocooks.com/2015/08/classic-margarita/

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Homemade Margarita Mix

You won't be able to stop making tasty margaritas with this homemade mix. Recipe on kokocooks.com

I was at the supermarket the other day, and noticed an incredible sale on limes: 12/$1.  What a deal!  I remember Shawnda’s story about scouring the city for limes at a good price so she could stock up on margarita mix.  I’ve never thought to make my own mix – usually I only drink margaritas when I’m out – but seeing all those lovely limes convinced me to try.  I filled a bag and dashed home.

You won't be able to stop making tasty margaritas with this homemade mix. Recipe on kokocooks.com

The limes I got were extra juicy – it only took six limes to make 1 cup of juice.  There must have been some bumper crop somewhere.  The margarita mix is a little strong, because I anticipated that it would dilute a bit when added with ice.

A classic margarita made with homemade mix.  Recipe on kokocooks.com

 

adapted from The Brewer & The Baker

Homemade Margarita Mix

Homemade Margarita Mix

This recipe is meant to be a little stronger, to accommodate when ice is added to the final drink. If storing the mix for a later use, add a 1/4 c of water before using.

Ingredients

1 c fresh lime juice (6-10 limes)
3/4 c water
1/2 c sugar

Instructions

  1. Place ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium-high until sugar has melted, stirring occasionally. Let cool.
  2. Use immediately, or store in the fridge for 5-7 days. Alternately, freeze and pull out when you're ready to make margaritas.
http://kokocooks.com/2015/08/homemade-margarita-mix/

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Vanilla Bean Macarons

An easy recipe for macarons, plus a few tips for success. Recipe on http://kokocooks.com

Macarons are my culinary “white whale.”  I have well-documented my many, many, many attempts at making these delicate cookies.  I even tried the supposedly more stable Italian method, which seemed like a lot more steps than the French method.  So, when Julie invited me to a macaron class with her, I was eager at another chance to get it right, this time with some supervision.

An easy recipe for macarons, plus a few tips for success. Recipe on http://kokocooks.com

Unfortunately, I was busy the day of the macaron class.  Not surprising since it was during the school year.  So once summer hit, Julie and I spent an afternoon baking.  Well, first we made arancini – girl’s gotta eat, you know!  We weighed, ground the almonds, sifted, ground some more, whipped egg whites, and folded.  We were in a bit of a hurry towards the end of the baking process, but our macarons miraculously had feet!  It was the easiest time I’ve ever had with these darn cookies.  So, I set about seeing if I could duplicate the success at home.

An easy recipe for macarons, plus a few tips for success. Recipe on http://kokocooks.com

Every time I make macarons, I learn something else about how to be more successful.  This time around, I learned the importance of mixing in all the ingredients.  First attempt:  I forgot to add the additional powdered sugar to the batter.  They subsequent cookies were overly eggy, foamy, and flat yet grainy.  Second attempt: I only stirred in half the almond/sugar mixture into the batter.  Again, these cookies ended up grainy and cracked on top.  UGH!  I also realized that I tend to not fold the batter enough.

Tip #1:  The final macaron batter should be thick and a little syrupy.  Achieving this consistency is known as “macaronage,” as explained eloquently by Stella of Brave Tart.  It should be thick enough that it doesn’t spread once you pipe it out, but thin enough that the peak that forms when you pipe the cookies will flatten back into the rest of the batter (see below picture).  If there’s still a little lump, just smooth it out with a barely damp finger.

An easy recipe for macarons, plus a few tips for success. Recipe on http://kokocooks.com

Which brings me to Tip #2: if you live in a humid climate (like me), or if it is raining when you make macarons (like it was every time I recently mad them), then you may want to dry out the macs before baking them.  This is not a necessary step, but I was more successful when I did this.  I simply set my hairdryer on low, and went over the piped circles for a few minutes.  The tops of them started to loose their sheen, and that was enough.  The macs that I dried also seemed to result in fewer hollow shells, which may or may not have helped.  If you have always wanted to try making these beautiful cookies, or have tried and have yet to be successful, give this method a try.  It is much less finicky than other recipes I’ve used, and I (so far) have had good success with it.  Good luck!

An easy recipe for macarons, plus a few tips for success. Recipe on http://kokocooks.com

recipe adapted from Truffles & Trifles

Vanilla Bean Macarons

Yield: 40-48 cookies, 20-24 sandwiches

Vanilla Bean Macarons

Before starting: Make sure that the mixer, whisk attachment, and any utensil that will come into contact with the egg whites have been washed in the dishwasher (or washed with boiling water, which is what I do sometimes). Seriously, any bit of oil on anything that touches the egg whites may keep the whites from beating to the requisite fluffiness. Similarly, if any bit of yolk gets in your egg whites, you need to scrap them and start over.

Ingredients

3 egg whites
4 oz blanched almond meal (you can also use whole almonds)
1 ½ c powdered sugar
½ c granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, and seed scraped out of pod

Instructions

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you want to make sure your macs are all the same size, trace 2-inch circles onto the parchment paper with a pencil, keeping a good amount of space between the circles. Place the paper pencil-side down on the baking sheet.
  2. Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment set. Let the egg whites come to room temperature while you carry out the next step.
  3. Place almond meal and ½ c of the powdered sugar in a food processor. Place the remaining 1 c of powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set aside. Pulse the food processor so that the almond meal and powdered sugar combine, and form very fine grains. (If you are grinding whole almonds, this will take a good 5-10 minutes of pulsing.) Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl with the powdered sugar. There may be a few tablespoons of almonds that don’t make it through the strainer, and that’s okay. You can toss them or save them for another use. Stir the contents of the bowl together.
  4. Beat the egg whites on medium until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and salt and continue beating until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla bean seeds and continue beating until almost-stiff peaks form. They should be somewhere between soft and stiff peaks - when you lift the whisk out of the bowl, the egg whites should stand up and maybe just start to curl over. (See photo in blog post) Knock the whisk on the edge of the bowl to remove the egg whites from the whisk.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half the almond/powdered sugar mixture into the egg whites. Fold in the remaining almond mixture until evenly combined. The batter should have the consistency of lava, although I’ve never seen lava first-hand, but I can imagine. When you lift the spatula out of the bowl, the batter should drop in a thick ribbon, and should melt back into the main batter after a few seconds. This is the trickiest part of the process, and you get the feel for it the more times you make them.
  6. Fill a pastry bag (I like disposable ones) with half the batter. Twist the top of the pastry bag closed. Cut a hole in the tip of the pastry bag, and pipe circles onto the prepared baking sheets. If you drew circles onto the parchment, fill until the batter just reaches the edges. Make a little swirly movement when you’re done piping each circle to keep a peak from forming on top of the cookie. Don’t pipe too close to the edge because they spread a tad.
  7. Tap the baking sheet on the counter a few times to bring any air bubbles to the surface. If drying, use a hairdryer set on low and gently wave it over the macs until the surface of the circles starts to dull.
  8. Bake macs one tray at a time at 300°F for 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 7-8 minutes longer. Let the macarons cool on the pan, then gently peel from the parchment. They should come off easily. Sandwich two cookies together, feet side facing in, with jam, buttercream, or whatever filling floats your fancy!
http://kokocooks.com/2015/08/vanilla-bean-macarons-2/

And, here’s a recipe for an easy buttercream to fill the macs with:

4 Tbs butter, softened

2/3 c powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I use vanilla bean paste)

1 tsp milk

Beat ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer until fluffy.  This is the perfect amount to fill the macaron shells.

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Spring Cleaning

Spring break coincides with my need to spring clean.  I am hosting a bridal shower in a few weeks, which is the perfect motivation I need to deep clean the house.  While Joey takes care of the outside, I’m handling the inside.  My current favorite is this microfiber duster .  Dusting is my least favorite household chore, but it is sure is more fun with a duster that reminds me of a Muppet.  Or three. How can you NOT have fun with this?

Our house is wall-to-wall laminate floors.  This means no carpets to clean, but it also means that ANY debris on the floor shows up.  And with a kid in the house, it’s amazing how much stuff accumulates under the furniture.  Clumps of modeling clay.  Parts from board games.  Cereal.  Change.  Shells (?!?)  All that stuff gets beautifully illuminated every day when that late afternoon sun streams in from our sliding glass doors.  Every few months, I end up moving all the furniture around and vacuuming up the crud. Now, I can use the swivel feature on this broom to sweep underneath the couches and cabinets.  What’s even better, Tyler loves helping.  He loves using the mini brush and dustpan to collect the garbage.

Any time I get the broom out, he’s right there with me.  He even empties the dustpan into the garbage can.  What a great helper!  On occasion, I have caught him dusting on his own.  Of course, he would love the duster even more if it were pink!

Disclaimer: I received cleaning products from OXO.  All opinions are my own. Check out more OXO cleaning products.

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Chevre and Strawberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It’s berry season in Florida!  Strawberries have invaded markets and stores, and soon the blueberries will begin making an appearance.  I had the opportunity to go on my very first farm tour earlier this month in Plant City, FL.  This is home to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, as well as the location of the Florida Strawberry Festival.  It was a gorgeous day, and my fellow central Florida food bloggers and I had fun tromping around the patches, and through the packaging factory.  I had no idea there were so many varieties of Florida strawberries.  My favorite were the radiant reds, which are a deep hue and are the perfect shape for dipping in chocolate.

I took home an entire flat of berries plus a few extras that day, and have been making good use of them.  First off, I made jam.  Then, I ate a lot of these grilled cheese sandwiches.  Lastly, I froze the rest of the berries, which my husband uses in his daily smoothies.  The sandwiches make a perfect light lunch, and I’ve found myself stopping at home on my lunch break a lot more often this past month.

original recipe

Chevre and Strawberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients

For the walnut spread
½ c chopped walnuts
1 Tbs honey
½ Tbs vegetable oil
Few dashes of salt
For the sandwiches
4 slices bread
2 oz. goat cheese (not crumbles)
5-6 fresh strawberries, sliced
2 slices provolone
1 Tbs butter

Instructions

  1. Place ingredients for the walnut spread in a small food processor. Puree until the mixture forms a paste-like consistency.
  2. Lay out the slices of bread. Layer half the goat cheese, walnut spread, strawberries, and provolone on each of two slices. Top with remaining slices of bread.
  3. Heat half the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the sandwiches and brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes. Remove sandwiches to a plate. Melt remaining butter and swirl around the pan. Carefully flip the sandwiches and add to the pan, browning on the other side.
http://kokocooks.com/2015/02/chevre-and-strawberry-grilled-cheese-sandwich/

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Turkey Chipotle Gumbo

I have a confession. I went out and bought more turkey today (the day after Thanksgiving) to make this gumbo.  One thing I was totally looking forward to this Thanksgiving was having leftover meat to make gumbo.  Due to a series of last minute guests (one of which was a turkey-eating machine), we only had enough leftovers for a few sandwiches.  So, I called some local supermarkets to see who still had some turkey legs in stock, and I raced out to buy them.  That’s how good this gumbo is.

We have an extra member of the household during this year’s holiday gig season, so I’m trying to make extra food that can be easily reheated for busy nights.  I particularly like using up the dark meat of the turkey for this dish.  The extra simmering softens up the meat until it practically melts in your mouth.  My husband and our guest especially like eating this for a late night snack after a long rehearsal or set of shows.

Turkey Chipotle Gumbo

Turkey Chipotle Gumbo

Ingredients

12 oz. smoked sausage, quartered and sliced
½ c vegetable oil
⅔ c flour
1 large white onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3 ribs celery, split lengthwise and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or homemade turkey stock)
4 c cooked turkey, cut into small chunks
3 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 ½ c corn kernels (frozen or canned)

Instructions

  1. In a large Dutch oven, brown the smoked sausage on all sides over medium heat. Remove sausage to a paper towel-lined plate. Add vegetable oil to whatever grease is left in the pot. Heat oil until it reaches 200°F. Sprinkle the flour over the hot oil, and let cook until the roux has turned a rust-colored brown, whisking frequently as the roux cooks.
  2. Add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic to the pot. Stir the vegetables into the roux and let cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the chicken stock to the pot, stirring as you go to prevent lumps. Add the smoked sausage, turkey, chipotles, and bay leaves to the pot. Bring to a slight boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer the gumbo for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn and let gumbo cook another 5 minutes. Serve over hot rice.
http://kokocooks.com/2014/11/turkey-chipotle-gumbo/

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Epcot Food and Wine Festival Cookbook Giveaway

The Epcot Food And Wine Festival has been going for a few weeks now, and I’m already a regular fixture there, especially on the weekends.  Some of my favorite dishes have returned to the International Marketplaces, like the venison sausage at the New Zealand kitchen…

…along with some new favorites like the apricot jam filled donut in Germany

and the conch ceviche in Puerto Rico.

In honor of my favorite Disney event, I am hosting a little giveaway.  I always buy this cookbook every year they print one out.  Sure, some of the recipes repeat year after year.  But this year, I’m happy to discover that they included recipes from the spring’s Flower And Garden Festival, and recipes from Holidays Around The World at Epcot.  Can’t wait to make some of these fabulous foods at home, and now you can too!

One winner will receive a copy of the cookbook, A Taste Of Epcot.  The prize package also includes a Taste Your Way Around The World magnet.  Just fill out the below widget to enter.

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored by the Walt Disney World Company. I did not receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Hatch Chile Salsa Verde

For the past two years now, I’ve seen recipes using green hatch chiles, particularly Shawnda’s blog.  I so badly wanted to try them, but could never find them in stores.  See, hatch chiles only grow in the Hatch Valley in New Mexico.  I guess it took a few seasons for hatch chiles to spread through the south, because just last week I found them at the local Fresh Market!  I immediately bought a bunch to experiment with in recipes.

Hatch chiles are higher on the heat index than jalapeños, so I roasted them to tone down the heat.  Since we’ve been grilling so much, it was easy to throw them over the coals, along with the tomatillos.  They roasted perfectly!  The salsa tastes great on chips.  We also like it as a sauce for grilled salmon and chicken.  Additionally, I sometimes throw a bit on my morning egg sandwich to increase my vegetable intake (however incrementally.)

original recipe

Hatch Chile Salsa Verde

Hatch Chile Salsa Verde

If you want a salsa with heat, keep in some of the seeds from the chiles. The more seeds, the more heat.

Ingredients

2 hatch chiles
5 tomatillos, with husks
1 small garlic clove, minced
3-4 sprigs cilantro, large stem parts removed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

Instructions

  1. Place chiles and tomatillos on a baking sheet. Roast under a broiler, turning frequently, until the chiles are blistered on all sides and the tomatillo husks are blackened. Alternately, you could roast them on the grill as well.
  2. Place chiles in a zipper-lock plastic bag and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove chiles from bag, and peel skin off. Open up chiles and remove seeds and ribs. Peel husks off of tomatillos.
  3. Place chiles, tomatillos, garlic, and cilantro in a food processor. Add sugar, salt, and black pepper. Pulse to blend. Adjust seasoning to taste.
http://kokocooks.com/2014/09/hatch-chile-salsa-verde/

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Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Food trends can be fickle things.  When I first encountered the recipe for this chocolate zucchini bread, low fat food was all the rage, despite the amount of extra sugar fat substitutes added.  This recipe called for a fruit based fat substitute, going so far as to recommend a particular brand.  I don’t think you can even find something like that on the shelves anymore.  Also, to make the servings smaller, the recipe was originally divided into two bread pans, which made for a very flat loaf of bread.

I never did like using applesauce in place of oil in baked goods.  The substitution changed the texture, making bread denser but also more spongy.  I decided to put the fat back into the recipe, along with adding more chocolate.  Because all the batter goes into one loaf pan, it takes a while to bake.  My husband and I discovered that the bread tasted even better after a few days, getting even more moist and flavorful.

adapted from Eating Well, January/February 1999

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Ingredients

2 c all purpose flour
¼ c unsweetened cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 ¾ c sugar
1 c canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
2 c grated zucchini (1 large-ish)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat an 8x4” bread pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a different bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla together. Slowly add in the melted chocolate, whisking as you pour. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the zucchini. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into the bread pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean, about 55-60 minutes. Cool the bread on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pan to release the bread and cool completely.
http://kokocooks.com/2014/08/chocolate-zucchini-bread/

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