Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cute Little Appetizers for Baby Showers

It seems that many of my friends are having a baby these days, as is the Clarendon Cook, whose bun will be finished baking come mid-June. :)  That has given us ladies ample opportunity to host baby showers, which in many ways are much more fun than wedding showers given all the "oohs" and "aahs" from the guests as the moms-to-be open cute little baby clothes, cute little books and various cute little things that will ensure the baby becomes successful at an early age.  But even more fun is being a hostess for one of these events (for me at least) because it's a great opportunity to make cute little appetizers and desserts which I may not normally get to make.

A few of us from my church hosted an afternoon baby shower for our friend Carrie on Valentine's Day.  We opted for appetizers and desserts because it was Valentine's Day, after all, and we figured that most people would want to eat light because of dinner plans with their Valentines that evening.  I'm including some of those recipes below (be sure to scroll all the way down the page).  While I can't promise that these recipes will make the baby smart and successful (though that's certainly possible), it appears that they may have the power to coerce the baby to make his or her appearance sooner rather than later. It was only two days after Carrie's shower that her cute little baby daughter, Helena, came into the world (though only a few weeks early).  I suspect it was all the sugar that enticed her...

Rich Chocolate Cupcakes
(Courtesy of the Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/3 cups milk
2 t. vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
4 large eggs
fluffy white frosting (I used store-bought.)
red and blue food coloring (or whatever color you want the icing to be)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line thirty-six 2 1/2-inch muffin pan cups with fluted paper liners.

In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In measuring cup, mix milk and vanilla.

In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat sugar and margarine until blended.  Increase speed to high; beat about 2 minutes, until creamy.  Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat until batter is smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

Pour batter into prepared cups, filling each cup about three-fourths full.  (Bake only as many cupcakes as 1 rack in center of oven can hold.)  Bake 25 minutes, or until toothpick in centers comes out almost clean.  Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.  Remove from pans; cool completely on racks.  Repeat with remaining batter.

Once cupcakes are cooled, you can ice them.  Since I used store-bought white icing, I added a few drops of red food coloring to the icing until I got the desired shade of pink, and the same with the blue food coloring until I got the blue shade of icing that I wanted.  Keep in mind that it doesn't take much food coloring, so add a few drops and then stir, adding more if you need them.

To ice them, I used two different decorating bags with tips and layered the icing on...feel free to be creative with the type of tip you use...that's part of the fun of decorating cupcakes!  I made half pink and the other half blue.  I also found some clear food glitter and sprinkled them on these cupcakes as well to give them an extra sparkle.

Cucumber Dill Tartlets
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver, adapted from Oxmoor House's Little Book of Holiday Appetizers)

I doubled this recipe in order to have enough filling:

1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened (if doubling, use the whole block)
3 T. frozen minced chives (fresh works well too)
3 T. sour cream
1/2 t. dried dillweed
1/4 t. garlic salt (may need more to suit your taste)
1/8 t. ground white pepper
2 packages of frozen small phyllo dough tartlet shells (or something similar that you can fill)
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
Fresh dillweed

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread cream cheese mixture in phyllo dough tartlet shells. Top with 1 cucumber slice and and a sprig of fresh dillweed.  Freshness note: These are better eaten closer to the time they're filled.

Stuffed Tomatoes
(Courtesy of Paula Lively, Ariel Lively's MIL)

1 lb. bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled (equates to about 3/4 jar of Hormel real bacon bits)
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 T. chopped fresh parsley (Ariel used cilantro for the ones pictured above.)
2 T. grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mayonnaise
24 cherry tomatoes (equates to about two mesh bags of the vine-ripened cherry tomatoes)

Remove stems from tomatoes and rinse them.  Place tomatoes stem-side down to cutting board.  Cut thin slice off top of each tomato (opposite end of stem side).  With small melon scoop or sharp grapefruit spoon, carefully hollow out tomato, leaving shell.  Invert tomatoes on paper towels to drain for several hours.

In a bowl, combine bacon, onions, parsley, Parmesan and mayonnaise.  Stir until well-blended. Refrigerate for several hours to let flavors blend, then fill the tomatoes with the bacon mixture.

Tip:  Ariel saved the tomato tops and guts into a plastic bag and froze them to use for soups, etc., that call for tomatoes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal: Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta

Always on the search for an easy, yet tasty, dinner recipe, I came across this shrimp dish that looked like it was a quick, weeknight meal.  It was.  Tried it last night, and it took me roughly 30 minutes from the beginning to when we sat down to eat.  It was refreshing too because I have been making heavier, comfort-food type meals over the last few months.  The weather has finally started to warm up (60 degrees yesterday), and it was nice to have a filling, yet lighter, meal.

Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta
(Courtesy of Ruth Cousineau, Gourmet, November 2009)

1/2 cup instant polenta (you could also use cous-cous instead)
1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes in their juice
1 lb. large raw shrimp, cleaned
1 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Make polenta according to package instructions.

Cook pancetta, garlic, and red pepper flakes in 2 T. olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until garlic is pale golden, 2-3 minutes.  (I used my trusty red Le Creuset Dutch oven...the pancetta creates a lot of splatter.)

Add tomatoes (with their juice) and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 6-8 minutes.  Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Spoon polenta into shallow bowls and top with shrimp mixture.  Drizzle with remaining 1 T. olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.

Note on the tomatoes: Upon the recommendation of my Aunt Nancy, I picked up some Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes with basil and garlic at Whole Foods for this recipe.  She raves about their tomato sauces so I thought I'd give these a try.  Since they are fire-roasted, they definitely added a really nice element to this dish, though any diced tomatoes will work here.  If you're curious about Muir Glen, here's the website: