The Battle of the Peanut Butter Cups

Everyone in America is very familiar with the beloved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy.  Reese’s candies have been around since 1928.  They are an American classic originating in Hershey, PA by the HB Reese Candy Company, which Mr. Reese founded in his basement.  Although he had a lot of different candies, his peanut butter candies were his most popular.  In 1963, the HB Reese Candy Company merged with The Hershey Chocolate Company and history was made, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were born.  Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are among the most popular candies in America today.

IMG_3023

Enter the challenger, the new “kid” on the block, The Kirkland Brand Peanut Butter Cups from Costco.   Almost everyone knows of Costco, and most people love the Costco brands, myself included.  They have created their own brand, the Kirkland brand, and they have a wide variety of delicious, very good quality food products, including their version of America’s beloved peanut butter cups.

IMG_3025

Both the favorite, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and the challenger, The Kirkland Brand Peanut Butter Cups, are delicious mouthfuls of milk chocolate that have a peanut butter filling.  Both are irresistible, and make it very difficult to stop at just one.

IMG_3021

The contenders sit side by side on my kitchen counter, ready for battle.  Both are slowly peeled from their foil wrappers, and are ready for battle.  The favorite is wrapped in gold and the contender in bright red.  Both are prepared for this epic fight and have plenty of backup just in case one accidentally gets eaten before the finish of the battle.  Both are prepared to put up a good contest to defend their honor.  Both contenders go to their prospective corners.

IMG_3022

They meet, bite mark to bite mark, and size each other up.  They look pretty evenly matched, although The Kirkland Brand has a little more pizzazz to it’s bite.  Both contenders are ready.  Let the battle begin.

IMG_3024

The crowd favorite, wrapped in gold is looking a little flat and does not have as much style and flair as the challenger, but we all know it is substance rather than style right?!  Is the peanut butter filling of The Reese’s cup good enough to beat out the challenger?  Can it stand up to the taste test? The judge has nibbled equally from both.  She has let the chocolate and peanut butter flavors melt in her mouth to get the full essence and consistency of both.  She takes another nibble from each contestant and weighs in again.  After there is nothing left of either contender, they fought to their deaths and gave their all, the verdict is in.  And the winner is ……… Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new winner in the house!  After careful consideration, and quite a few tastings later, the judge has decided the new kid on the block, The Kirkland Brand, is the winner.   What lead the judge to her decision you might ask.  There were actually a few factors that lead to her decision.  She liked the lighter, fluffier appearance of the Kirkland Brand for one.  She thought it had a little more personality than the tried and true Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  But more importantly than the appearance, the judge really thought the peanut butter filling in the Kirkland Brand had a better, more “peanut buttery” taste and had a creamier consistency, again, more like actual peanut butter than the favorite.  It just melted in her mouth.  Though she still loves the favorite, it is not HER favorite.  The judge prefers the challenger, The Kirkland Brand, hands down.  I’m off to Costco.  I need more peanut butter cups.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with a Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette

We  love shrimp and we eat it a lot.  We also eat bacon wrapped shrimp quite often as well.  To make it different, I make and use different sauces, depending on my mood and what I have on hand at the time.  This time I made it with a delicious,  fresh tomato-herb vinaigrette.   This gave the shrimp a little bit of a Spanish flair, since this vinaigrette is found all over Spain.  By adding a little Spanish paprika to the dressing, you are also adding a little of the Spanish terroir, or personality of the land, to the dish as well.  You can use whatever type of tomato you like.  Whatever type of tomato you use will give the vinaigrette a slightly different personality each time, which makes it kind of fun and different.  This particular time, I used Roma tomatoes, but it would be also be delicious with heirloom tomatoes, or perhaps yellow sunshine tomatoes, or grape tomatoes, or any other tomato of your choice.  Use your imagination and play around a little.  Have fun experimenting with different kinds of tomatoes and trying the different flavors of each one.    This vinaigrette is just as good on shrimp as it is on salad and/or chicken too.

I served my bacon wrapped shrimp over wild rice, then added some green beans with toasted almonds and served it all with a cool, crisp chardonnay that had hints of apples and melon, for a perfect end of summer meal.

IMG_3006

IMG_2999

I just put all my ingredients into the food processor and blended everything together until it was a slightly chunky-liquid mixture.  I made my dressing first, because I also marinated my shrimp in it before wrapping them in the bacon and skewering them up.  I only marinated them for about 15 minutes.  The acidity from the tomatoes and the vinegar will “cook” the shrimp, like a ceviche, if left in too long.  If they “cook” from the acidity, then cook again on the grill, they shrimp will become tough and rubbery and over cooked.

IMG_3000

Par-cook the bacon on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes in the oven at 350* F before wrapping the shrimp.  You want it to be soft and pliable.  Also bacon takes longer to cook than shrimp and you definitely do not want to eat it raw.  By par-cooking it first, then wrapping the shrimp, it will cook up just right on the grill without over cooking the shrimp.

IMG_3001

Once I had all the shrimp wrapped and skewered, I poured the rest of the vinaigrette on top of the bacon, then let it chill in the refrigerator until I was ready to grill it.

IMG_3003

IMG_3008

Tomato-Herb Vinaigrette

3-4 medium sized tomatoes of your choice, cut into a medium dice (or about 1 lb, depending on what kind of tomatoes you are using)

1 1/2 TBSP garlic

1 TBSP Spanish paprika

1 1/2 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

3-4 TBSP sherry vinegar

3-4 TBSP red wine vinegar

1 tsp each thyme, basil, oregano

Put everything together in the food processor and blend for about 1 minute, or until everything is liquified and well blended.   It will still be slightly chunky, and that’s perfect.  It just adds more character and texture to either your salad or to your marinade.

 

A Poem By The Stroppy Git Who Hates Poetry

Normally I do not reblog other people’s blogs and ideas, but this was to funny not to share.

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

My much loved fellow blogger, Kristian found a challenge on a blog I haven’t come across before but will have to start following I think!

Esther of Esther Newton Blog set a challenge to write a poem about food.

Yes you read that right. A Poem.

Me. The girl who’s idea of a classy sonnet is ‘The Boy Stood On The Burning Deck…

I make no secret of the fact I’m not a fan of poetry. I’m a big, Big, BIG fan of Kristian though so I read every thing he writes. As should you! Seriously, I love his stories. He’s one of my absolute favorite bloggers.

So poems. Poems and me. I went there. Apologies in advance but the devil made me do it!

I never thought that I should see

A food that couldn’t quite please me

A filthy psycho chose to tease

And thus invented cottage cheese

View original post 188 more words

Tuscan Steak

After our wonderful Caribbean vacation, where we ate mostly seafood, we came back really wanting and craving steak.   Like with everything else I cook, I like to make things in a variety of ways to keep our meals fun and exciting, so I am always coming with new twists to old classics.

I used a nice flank steak that I marinated with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika and Worcestershire sauce.  I let it marinate for about 4 hours before grilling it up.  To me, the best way to eat a steak is medium rare.  That’s when it is really juicy and tender and all the flavors just really pop.  But, as I always say, cook it how you like it.

IMG_2993

To make my steak Tuscan style, I used fresh baby spinach, tomatoes, garlic, onions, mushrooms and butter beans.  Normally I use the smaller cannellini beans, but I accidentally picked up the wrong can.  I usually have a wide variety of beans on my shelves, both canned and dry.  In the end, it really does not matter.  Cannellini beans are smaller, but their flavor is pretty similar to butter beans.  Any white beans will do.  I removed all the stems from the spinach and diced all the vegetables.

IMG_2989

Once everything was cut, I was ready to cook my vegetables.  I sauteed them all in olive oil with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, basil and thyme.  I use both dried and fresh herbs.  It really just depends on what I have on hand at the time.  If you are using fresh herbs, a general rule of thumb is to add them towards the end of the cooking process so they do not get lost in the cooking process, whereas with dried herbs, you can add them at any stage of the cooking process and the flavors will incorporate into whatever you are cooking.  Also, when using fresh herbs, you will use a bit more than if you are using dried herbs.  With dried herbs, the flavors are more concentrated than they are with fresh herbs.  I prefer fresh when I have them, but dried is certainly a great alternative.  Usually, unless a recipe calls for specific amounts (although if you have been following me, you should probably know by now, I rarely follow a recipe when cooking), I use about 1 tsp of each herb.

IMG_2990

After the vegetables were cooked and softened, I added the beans. Drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the vegetables, then continue to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes.

IMG_2991

I layered my plate by starting with the beans and vegetables, then added the cooked steak, and finished with a little more beans and spinach on top.  I added a slice of polenta with caramelized onions and herbs Caramelized Onion, Herb & Polenta Loaf then completed the meal with a smooth, medium-bodied fruity red blend.  This was a perfect end of summer meal that we enjoyed out on our deck.

IMG_2995

Tuscan Steak

2 lbs flank steak, cooked

2-3 cups fresh spinach, stems removed and chopped

1/2 cup mushrooms, quartered or diced

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1 heaping TBSP garlic

1/3-1/2 cup onions, diced small

1 can of cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

1 tsp each basil, oregano, thyme

 

Cook your steak to your liking.

Saute all the vegetables and herbs together in olive oil.  When the vegetables are done, add the beans, and continue to cook for about 5-7 minutes.  Layer your plate with the spinach and bean mixture, then add the steak, and if you like, add a touch more spinach and beans on top of your cooked steak.

 

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Mushrooms

I love pasta.  I can eat pasta all the time, in many, different ways, and never get tired of it.  However, pasta is high in carbs and eaten all the time, it can be very fattening and because of the sugar content, it can wreak havoc on someone who is trying to control their sugar intake.  A healthy alternative to eating pasta is to substitute spaghetti squash for pasta.   The two are similar in that spaghetti is in the name of both, and they can both be used in a similar way, but that is where the similarities end.  For one serving of pasta, add about 100 calories to the meal, whereas the same serving size of spaghetti squash only adds 20 calories.  Spaghetti squash is also very high in fiber and antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, B complex and C, making this a much healthier, less fatty alternative to eating pasta.    Spaghetti squash is in the same family as pumpkins, zucchini, acorn squash and cucumbers.  They are all part of the winter squash family known as the cucurbita family or gourd family.

I used my spaghetti squash last night and added a rich and hearty sausage and mushroom bolognaise sauce, served with a nice little side salad and a rich, crusty chiabbata dipped in olive oil with garlic, pepper and balsamic vinegar.   I added a rich red blend to complete the meal.  I actually used the spaghetti squash as a little “boat”, and just topped the sauce right on top along with mozzarella and baked it all together.

IMG_2987

I add wines to my sauces all the time, but not usually when I make a bolognaise sauce.  Every now and then though, I change things up a bit and vary my recipes, just to give them a kick and do something a little different.  This was one of those times when I added red wine to my bolognaise sauce.   I had some red wine that I just did not like at all, and could not drink.   I very rarely find a bottle of wine that I do not like, but believe it or not, it does happen every now and then (I am not going to reveal the name of the unliked wine).  Well, I hate to waste anything, so even if I do not like things in their original form, I will always try my best to re-purpose it in other ways.  This time it was in making my sauce.  I admit, as much as I try my best to make everything from scratch, I very rarely make my own pasta sauce from scratch, mainly due to lack of time.  Instead, I enhance ready-made sauces and make them my own.  These are the ingredients I used, along with my favorite ready-made sauce.

IMG_2976

The spaghetti squash was in the oven baking with salt, pepper, and olive oil, at 350* F for about 10-12 minutes to soften while I pan-fried my sausages and was cutting all my other ingredients for my sauce.   After the sausages were cooked, using the same pan, I sauteed my mushrooms, garlic, onions and red pepper flakes in olive oil, then added the red wine.  By using the same pan, you get all the flavors and drippings from the sausages that add to the flavor of the sauce.  This time, I used a chicken-basil sausage, but you can use whatever type of sausage you like.  We eat a lot of sausage, and we try all kinds.  Because spaghetti is such a staple here in the United states, and everyone has their own “favorite” version of bolognaise sauce, I would not even think of stepping on those time-honored traditions by giving an actual recipe.  For some reason spaghetti and spaghetti sauce takes on the personality of the person who prepares it.  Often times these recipes are family heirlooms that have been passed through the generations.  So make your spaghetti sauce in your own favorite way and try it with the spaghetti squash to add a new twist to things.

IMG_2978

After the mushrooms, garlic and onions have softened,  add the sauce, the remaining ingredients, including the spices and herbs (dried herbs.  If using fresh, wait until the last few minutes of cooking or add just before serving so the flavors and textures do not get lost in the cooking process); and the sausage.  Incorporate everything well, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.

IMG_2982

I was going for a baked and crusted effect, so I spooned my sauce over my squash boats and topped them with mozzarella cheese.  Then I baked them for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until my cheese was completely melted and had a nice brown crust on it.  You can also just spoon it over the cooked and scraped squash to make it look more like “spaghetti” too if you prefer.  It was just a different presentation and a slightly different taste, but basically it is the same.

IMG_2984

IMG_2986

Buon Apitito e mangia!

 

 

 

Grilled Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Neither my husband or I grew up eating Brussels sprouts, so we just assumed we did not like them much.   This was true up until a few years ago, when I decided why not, let’s give these a try and see what they are all about.  I am so glad I did too.  Now we eat them quite frequently, in many different ways.  Our newest way to eat them was marinated in balsamic vinegar and grilled.  Yummy!  A Quick, Impromptu Dinner with Friends

Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous  or Crucifarae family, also known as the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables.  They are very nutritious and there are many health benefits to having a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables.  They are loaded with all kinds of vitamins, and are very high in vitamin C.  One 1/2 cup serving of cooked Brussels sprouts can provide up to 81% of your daily intake of vitamin C.   Not only are Brussels sprouts high in vitamin C, but they also contain a large amount of antioxidants and fiber.  Antioxidants are known to reduce the stress in cells, which helps lower the risks of chronic diseases, and is also known to help fight against cancer.  Because fiber moves through the body very slowly and undigested, having a diet rich in fibers helps to lower the amount of sugar absorbed in the bloodstream and regulates insulin production.  It is also believed that Brussels sprouts contain anti-inflammatory properties as well.

These simple ingredients really made the Brussels sprouts come to life.  I had a little extra balsamic vinaigrette leftover from before and added that too.  But, mostly it was salt & pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

IMG_2969

This is so easy to make.  I cut the Brussels sprouts in half and tossed them with all the ingredients, then placed them in a vegetable basket for grilling small or delicate vegetables.  We grilled them for about 20-25 minutes, flipping them over after about 10 minutes.

IMG_2970.JPG

There was just a hint of sweetness to the flavor because of the balsamic vinegar.  These are super easy to make and really delicious too, not to mention very healthy as well.

IMG_2973

A Quick, Impromptu Dinner with Friends

We had the unexpected pleasure of having some good friends stop by just as I was starting to prepare dinner.  It is just as easy to cook for four as it is for two, so instead of setting up only two chairs outside on the deck, we set up four.  When the four of us get together, we always have a great time.  The time just passes by quickly and we never stop talking.  And usually, the wine flows pretty freely as well.   We opened up a bottle of Albarino wine that we bought when we were in Virginia, back in May.  Virginia Ranks #5 in Grape Production for the United States  Our friends Janet and Bob are wine lovers like I am, and we had wanted to share this bottle with them ever since we got back, we just had not had the opportunity to do so until now.   Along with our wine, we had a cool, fresh Mediterranean meal that consisted of a spicy lemon-herb grilled chicken, topped with my yogurt sauce (yes, we had a bit leftover from the other day, but it is all gone now – Gyros with Brisket), vegetable cous-cous, grilled Brussel sprouts in balsamic vinaigrette and warmed pita bread.   It was a cool night, with hardly any bugs, which made it a perfect evening to enjoy out on the deck with good friends, good food and good wine.  I love these quick, impromptu get togethers.  Often times, these are the most fun.

IMG_2967

My marinade was made with garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, thyme, basil and lemon verbena.  I mixed it all together and let the chicken marinate for about 2 1/2 hours before grilling it.  Like how I cook most of the time, I don’t really measure things, I just cook by instinct, and eyeball how much of things I need to use.  The chicken was very tender and full flavor.

IMG_2965

Grilled spicy lemon-herb chicken, grilled Brussel sprouts in balsamic vinaigrette, yogurt sauce, vegetable cous-cous, Albarino white wine.

 

IMG_2972

IMG_2974

Spicy Lemon-Herb Chicken

1 heaping TBSP garlic

1-2 tsp each, parsley, basil, thyme, lemon verbena (optional), chopped fine if fresh or dried

1 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 tsp each salt & pepper

3 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

1-2 lbs chicken

 

Mix all the ingredients together and pour over the chicken.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours.  Then grill the chicken until it is done.