Enjoy! Because life is too short to deprive the palate!


New Orleans Style "Shrimp" Creole with Fresh Black Tiger Prawns

I was recently given a request to recreate a family recipe that had over the years gone missing. My mission: Shrimp Creole. Now, authentic New Orleans cuisine isn't exactly my strong point but I am always eager for a challenge and I had a flavor palate in mind that I imagined would work well for such a dish. This dish requires quite a bit of prep work and attention to detail, but the results are more than worth the effort.

After several various tweaks I now have success at my fingertips. This dish is eloquently spicy; the heat is sweetly masked in the rich, savory gravy created by the melding of the fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and the homemade shrimp stock. My test palates confirmed that it was, "delicate yet hearty", with "just the right amount of spice", and "sat perfectly" "delicious to the last bite." I know it isn't good form to "mmm" over your own food, but I literally could not help myself! Shrimp Creole just made its way into my taste buds' heart and is a guaranteed gastronomic tour de force!

I have elected to use prawns, which bear a great resemblance to shrimp, so much so that many restaurants and grocery stores use them interchangeably, although the two have various differences on the biological level. The popular census is that prawns are larger (bonus), but I personally just find them more appetizing. Oh, and Costco sells them 1.5lbs for $13. Can't say no that!

Two most important factors I found is that: 1.) It is imperative to make your own homemade stock. Sure canned stock saves time but it will never be as flavorful and the added salt will bastardize your entire sauce. Besides, unlike other stocks, shrimp stock only takes an hour to cook and you can always prep ahead of time and freeze. And, 2.) Make your own Creole Seasoning. White pepper is a leading flavor component in this meal and most store-bought blends don't give it the limelight it deserves. My sauce had a completely different taste using a pre-made spice. So if you want to give your senses the full experience, don't skip these steps!

Shrimp Creole
  • 11/2 lbs  Black Tiger Prawns 
  • 2 Tbsp Butter, unsalted
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 large Vidalia Onion, diced
  • 2 Celery Stalks, diced
  • 1 large Green Bell Pepper, diced
  • 4 Tbsp Diced Canned Tomatoes

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh Campari Tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp Creole Seasoning
    • Combine:
      • 1/4 cup Kosher Salt
      • 2 Tbsp Paprika
      • 1/4 cup Garlic Powder
      • 1 1/2 Tbsp White Pepper
      • 1 Tbsp Cayenne
      • 2 Tbsp Onion Granules
      • 2 Tbsp Black Pepper
      • 3 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
      • 1 Tbsp Sugar
    • Makes 5 oz. I recycle empty spice bottles and relabel. Great to have on hand!
  • 1/2 cup Dry White Wine
  • 2 cups Homemade Shrimp Stock (*Recipe Here*)
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 2 fresh Bay Leaves
  • 1 tsp Cayenne, Sea Salt, and White Pepper
  • 1 bunch of fresh Thyme Sprigs
  • 1 Tbsp Corn Starch dissolved in 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • 1/2 bunch of Green Onions, chopped
  • Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, for garnish

*Begin by making your homemade stock and creole seasoning. Set aside.
*In a large a sauté pan melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour, 1 Tbsp at a time, to form a blond roux. Next, add the onion, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well. Reduce the heat to medium and add the celery, green pepper, a pinch of salt, and 1 Tbsp of the Creole Seasoning. Stir well and allow the vegetables to sweat in the spices. 

*Next add the canned and fresh tomatoes. Sprinkle in another pinch of salt to encourage the tomatoes to release their juices. Once the tomatoes break down pour in the white wine and increase the heat to high. 
*As the sauce begins to bubble, add the shrimp stock and the second Tbsp of Creole Seasoning. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 35-40 minutes.

*Next, dissolve the corn starch in 2 Tbsp of warm water and turn up the heat on your sauce. Mix in the starch as the sauce begins to boil. This will cause your sauce to thicken to a gravy-esque consistency. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
*Let bubble while you prep the prawns. 

*Toss prawns with cayenne, salt, and white pepper. Add them to your boiling sauce and reduce heat to low. It is very easy to overcook prawns and shrimp, so keep a close eye on them, turning off the heat as soon as they have all turned a light shade of pink. Stir in the green onions. 

To Serve: Forgoing the traditional Creole boiled jasmine rice, I chose to instead serve this dish over a germinated brown rice. The hearty texture compliments the complex flavors of the Creole Sauce, activating dormant enzymes, which boosts health benefits and enhances tastes. Whichever type of rice you choose steam it with 2 bay leaves, a tsp of salt, and 1 Tbsp of butter per cup of rice. 

*Also pair with a hearty french bread to sop up the gravy. I love the fresh baked artisan loafs from Costco.

I've never been to New Orleans (Nola Town in Disneyland doesn't quite count right?) and I don't claim to be an expert in their traditional cuisine- but this dish is DELICIOUS. I supplemented my personal knowledge and taste preferences with plenty of research to create an as close to authentic dish with some tasteful twists! This Shrimp Creole is sure to pacify the palate and send you back for seconds!

Enjoy :]



Classic Chicken Marsala

In lieu of apologies and explanations as to my absence I will instead present you all with one of my absolute favorite "serve-to-impress" dishes: Chicken Marsala! This dinner party delight's ingredient list is short and simple but the flavors they produce are nothing less than marvelous. The sauce is aromatic and complex yet sweet and delicate to the senses, guaranteed to be an instant favorite- in fact I've converted multiple non-mushroom lover's with this dish! The pictures simply do not do it justice (but a better camera is #1 on my birthday/Christmas wish list! Fingers crossed.)

Chicken Marsala
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup of All-Purpose White Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 cups Cremini Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Dry Marsala
  • 1 Tbsp dried Porcini Mushrooms, ground
  • 1/2 cup Chicken Stock
  • 2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 1 bag Trader Joe's Pappardelle Egg Noodles
  • Salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Rosemary Sprigs for granish
*Prep the mushrooms and shallots; set aside. In a food processor or chopper crush the dried porcini mushrooms into a fine dust. Set aside 1 Tbsp and save any extra for later use. 
*Pour the flour into a shallow bowl and season the chicken on all sides with salt, pepper, and a light dusting of the Italian Seasoning. Place a large sauté pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Allow the pan to warm, about 30 seconds, before adding the olive oil. Heat for 30 more seconds. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off any excess, and add the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook approximately 6-7 minutes on each side, until lightly golden and barely firm in the center. Use a knife to check that they are a whitish pink at the thickest part. Transfer chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm. 

*In the same pan, add the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, tossing frequently so that they cook evenly. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 additional minutes. 

*While the mushroom and shallots are cooking, place a 6-qt saucepan 3/4 full of water on the burner over high heat. Be sure to use cold water and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the entire bag of noodles, stirring once, and return to a boil. As a rule, check pasta after 4 minutes to gage the cooking progress. Most pastas take about 8-12 minutes to cook al-dente and can overcook in an instant. *It is a myth that all pastas should be rinsed (doing so washes away the starch that helps the sauce stick to the pasta!) however, with wider noodles such as these (lasagna especially) a light rinsing is necessary to keep them from sticking together.*

*Return to your sauce and stir in the dried porcini mushrooms and the marsala; increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a light boil for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, stirring well, and return to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan and reduce to a simmer. Coat the chicken in the sauce with a spoon and then cover. Allow to simmer for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. 

*To Serve: Before plating the pasta, toss it with 2 small pats of butter, allowing the butter to melt. Divide the pasta onto your serving plates and top each with one chicken breast. Spoon the sauce over the top and finish with a light sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese, fresh cracked pepper, and a sprig of rosemary for garnish. Pair with a small salad, such as My Feta and Cranberry Salad with a tart balsamic dressing. 

Wine Pairings: Since this dish is already cooked with wine, a pairing can prove slightly tricky. It is best to stick with a red to compliment the marsala, but since this is a chicken dish some may choose a white like Chardonnay or a Viognier, a dry white wine that boasts flavors of peach and apricot. I prefer a Merlot or a Pinot Noir; wines with good ripe fruit but not too much tannin are best suited to bring out the flavors of the marsala. For bargain bottled bliss try: San Simeon Merlot, 2003 for $14.99 or  Indian Creek, Navarro Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir from Mendocino, for only $11.00.

Be sure to serve immediately. I will prep the mushrooms, shallots, and chicken ahead of time so that once my guests arrive I can cook this dinner with minimal effort and still have plenty of time for entertaining. 

It is a perfect palate pleaser with a sweet simplicity that makes even the most novice host seem like a kitchen god or goddess. 

Enjoy :] 

<3 Marea


Brown-Sugar Baked Salmon over Steamed Rice with a Feta & Cranberry Salad

As a child, growing up in a land-locked state with little opportunity for fresh-caught fish, I highly anticipated the arrival of one of my dad's good friend's, "Jerry The Fisherman." Jerry would arrive straight off a flight from Alaska, bearing fresh-caught filets of the highest quality Wild Alaskan Salmon. My father would immediately fire up the smoker and together Jerry and my dad would serve us all up a feast of brown sugar bbq'd goodness- the perfect combination of tangy and sweet. In my awkward anti-fish days this was the only seafood I felt fit to indulge in; thank goodness my taste buds have since matured to include all facets of the underwater world, but the memory of these meals has inspired my cooking of salmon ever since. 

This meal is a great addition to any home-cook's arsenal, as the flavors are rich enough to compliment both fresh or frozen fish. If you can't get fresh fish, the flash-frozen filets from Trader Joe's store nicely and can be quickly defrosted and effortlessly prepped for a gourmet-feel that will impress any dinner audience. You can easily adjust the quantities to incorporate an intimate dinner for two or up the ounces on the filets and have an entire family feast. 

Brown Sugar Baked Salmon
  • 2, Wild Alaskan Salmon Filets, fresh or defrosted, any size, deboned with skin on bottom
  • 2 tsp Herbes de Provence, divided
  • 6 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Honey, divided
  • 1 tsp Cayenne, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce, divided
  • 1/2 Lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Butter, sliced and quartered into 4 small pats
  • Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
  • Himalayan Pink Crystal Salt (Check out the health benefits vs. regular salt!)
*Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a glass baking dish with tin foil and set aside. Wash your fish filets with warm water and set into the pan. With the tip of the knife cut small slices, over the top and sides of each filet, tucking the garlic pieces into each slice. 

*Next, pour 1 Tbsp of Soy Sauce over each piece, and then rub the salmon with the Herbes de Provence, and approximately 1/2 tsp of cayenne, per filet. Next, coat each piece with a generous amount of brown sugar, patting it into the salmon. Drizzle with honey. For optimal flavor allow the fish to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you don't have the time, don't worry, the fish will still be extremely flavorful.

*Top each Salmon filet with the pats of butter and 2 lemon slices. Finish with fresh cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Bake 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes (depending on size, if thick cook longer!), then turn the temperature to 275 degrees and bake an additional 8-12 minutes. Check the center of the fish with a knife, when the meat of the fish is a medium shade of pink (no longer red, but not dry or whitish-pink) and slightly flaky, it is done. 

To Serve: Serve immediately, hot and sizzling out of the oven over rice, aside a fresh Feta & Cranberry Salad.

Feta & Cranberry Salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette 
  • 2 cups Arugula Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Grape Tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 Cucumber, diced 
  • 1 Avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced
  • 1/3 cup Vidallia Onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup toasted Almond Slices
  • 1/4 cup dried Cranberries, or Craisins
  • 1/4 cup Feta, crumbled
*Put the arugula into a large bowl and toss with all ingredients. Add the Feta last, sprinkling it on top. 

  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil 
  • 1 Tbsp Cane Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Whole-Grain Dijon Mustard 
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne
  • 2 cloves Garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
*Combine all ingredients, and shake or whisk until well blended. Toss with the salad. 

This is my go-to salad and pairs well with most anything. I'll switch it up for different dishes with candied walnuts or trade the feta for goat cheese and add a lemon vinaigrette for a nice twist. 

This salmon dish pairs well with a light wine such as an Argentinean Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais. Try a 2007 Saurus Pinot Noir from Patagonia Argentina or for a less pricey option pick a 2008 Valle Perdido Pinot Noir, for only $11.99. While most believe Chardonnay is the typical pick for fish, I find the flavors baked in this salmon tend to be too strong for most whites; so stick with a light red or deep pink, and if you must go white try a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling. The 2004 Felton Road Riesling from Germany is only $10 and has a nice finish with flavors of mandarin and lemon.

Enjoy :] 

<3 Marea


How to Make the Perfect Cheesecake: With a Bonus Sugar-Free Alteration!

For a dear friend's birthday I recently received a request for a Cherry Cheesecake. Eager as always to get into the kitchen I took him up on said request and after getting off work at my "real" job last Saturday night I immediately came home and compiled a shopping list. Since two of the guests in attendance were going to be none other than the beautiful souls who gifted me my KitchenAid I decided that multiple cheesecakes were in order. I now had a new challenge: Kind Soul #1 not only declared Cheesecake to be his utmost favorite dessert, but he had also recently taken very ill and developed diabetes, expanding my mission to also create a sugar-free, Diabetic-Friendly dessert. What started as two cheesecakes, turned into five cheesecakes and around midnight Saturday I was pulling the final one out of the oven!

Now most Cherry Cheesecake recipes use some form of canned "Cherry Pie" filling. After a particularly terrifying interaction with the ingredient list (High-Fructose Corn Syrup!) and the calorie count (12 servings per can, 250 calories each!) I decided to stay far far away from Cherry Pie Filling and venture down a different path to cheesecake bliss.

How to Make the Perfect Cheesecake

For the Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs, finely ground
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Butter, melted
For the Filling:
  • 20 oz Cream Cheese (2 1/2 packages)
  • 1 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Corn Starch
  • Lemon Zest from 1/2 of a Lemon
  • 1 large Egg
  • 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • Maraschino Cherries, sliced in half
  • 2 quarter pieces Hershey's Chocolate Bar, grated
  • 9 inch baking pan, or Springform Pan
  • Classic Sour Cream Topping: 
    • 2 cups Sour Cream
    • 1/3 cup Sugar 
    • 1 Tbsp Vanilla
*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a small pan full of water on the bottom rack. (This will keep the cake from cracking and is referred to as a "Water Bath").  

*If you are using a Springform Pan, remove the bottom and cover with aluminum foil. Spray the edges with vegetable oil, or rub your pan down with butter and lightly flour. In a food processor blend your graham cracker crumbs into a fine dust. (Or you can buy them pre-crumbled to save time!) Mix the crumbs with the sugar and butter and form to the bottom of your prepared pan. 

*In a mixer or a large bowl, blend the cream cheese until soft, scraping the edges frequently to remove chunks. Add the sugar and continue mixing. Add the cornstarch and grate in the lemon zest. Mix well. Add the vanilla and the egg, mixing well between each addition. Slowly pour in the cream, blending on low until creamy. Be careful to not over blend or turn the speed too high as this will cause the cream to solidify. Over-mixing can also cause air bubbles to form which are evil culprits of Cheescake crackage! Your mixture should be light and fluffy. 

*Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. To keep your cake from cracking it is crucial that you resist the urge to open the oven door while it is baking. The water bath will create a nice humid atmosphere that should keep your cake safe from cracking. Your cheesecake is finished when the edges are puffy, yet set, and the center still has a slight wiggle!

[*If you are going to make the Sour Cream Topping: Mix all ingredients a few minutes before the cake is complete. As soon as you pull it out of the oven, pour the mixture over the top and immediately return it to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes.]

*Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Run a sharp knife along the edges before cooling. After 2 hours transfer the cake to the refrigerator and let set for 8 hours, or even better- overnight. 

To Serve: Remove the cheesecake from the pan, carefully using a sharp knife and a spatula to free the edges. If the top has cracked, don't worry! You can always cover the cracks with topping or serve your cake upside down! Line the perimeter of the cake with the sliced maraschino cherries, and fill the center with a layer of grated chocolate. You can top the cheesecake any way you'd like; fresh strawberries or raspberries, melted white chocolate, or even go classic and glaze it with the Sour Cream Topping.

*Sugar-Free, Low-Fat, Diabetic-Friendly Alterations*
  • Follow the same steps but replace all sugar with:
    • Stevia, Equal, Splenda, or whichever sugar substitute you prefer
    • For the filling only use 1 cup of sugar substitute rather than 1 1/3 cups. 
    • Use Margarine instead of butter, and low-fat Cream Cheese
    • Top with Sugar-Free Strawberry Fruit Filling or Glaze

I had extra batter so I pressed some graham cracker crumbs into buttered tart dishes and made mini cheesecakes with the excess mix. Feel free to have fun with the toppings and if you'd like, save some for later by freezing it. Just double wrap in plastic-wrap and pop in the freezer for up to 2 months!

Enjoy :] 

<3 Marea


Mahi-Mahi Burgers with a Cilantro-Ginger Aioli & Sauteéd Pineapple Wedges

I know, I know, burgers are not typically the image that comes to mind when one thinks about fish- and vice versa. But after you try out this next recipe, all those mental prototypes of buns and red meat is drastically going to make a change for the better!

When I saw the sale on Mahi-Mahi the other day I was determined to make something fun and different. I prepared the burgers the night before, refrigerating them overnight, and using the down time to play with ideas of how to top them. I knew I wanted to use ginger and pineapple and was almost considering caramelized onions when my mother suggested I make an aioli. I was instantly smitten.

The results? I even surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this meal. It was uniquely refreshing, light, yet deliciously filling. My boyfriend took one bite and after he was done "mmming" and licking his lips he said, "Can we make this meal a regular thing?" He then proceeded to devour his entire plate, all the while telling me how I needed to make these burgers again and again, and soon!

Mahi-Mahi is a very mild white hawaiian fish and as long as you buy it very fresh (it should never ever smell fishy!) even an Anti-Fish-Eater would enjoy this meal. We've all seen frozen fish filets in the freezer section of the local grocery store, and while there are some quick fix brands that will work with this recipe, I challenge you to find the freshest fish you can and go all the way, making your own delicious homemade Mahi-Mahi Burgers from scratch.

Mahi-Mahi Burgers

  • 1 lb Mahi-Mahi Filets
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1/4 cup Parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Rosemary, dried
  • 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 egg or approximately 1/4 cup Sunflower Oil
  • Ginger, freshly grated
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
*Finely dice, or "mince" in a food processor, the Mahi and parsley. Add the rosemary, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. If using an egg, pre-whisk it in a separate bowl and then add to the Mahi mixture. If using the oil slowly drizzle into the mixture, kneading with your hands until the mix is moist and slightly sticky. Split into palm-sized portions, roll into balls, and then flatten, shaping the Mahi mixture into thin, rounded patties. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. You can also freeze them if you'd like. 

*To Cook: In a frying pan heat the coconut oil over Medium-High. Sprinkle each side of the patties with a little sea salt and place in the pan. Increase the heat to High and grate about a tsp of fresh ginger onto the top of the Mahi Burger. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side depending on thickness. When you flip them, repeat with the ginger on the opposite side. Remove and cover to keep warm. Return the pan to the stove, reserving the juices, in which you will cook the pineapple. 

*Lightly toast the Ciabatta rolls in the oven while preparing the burgers and pineapple.

Sauteéd Pineapple Wedges

  • 1 cup Fresh Pineapple, cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 Tbsp Coconut Oil (if needed)
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger
*In the same pan you cooked the burgers in, turn the heat back to High and add 1/2 Tbsp. of Coconut Oil (unless there is already enough "juice" left over from the burgers). Heat until very hot, test by flinging some water from your fingertips into the pan, if it sizzles or pops, the pan is hot enough. Add the pineapple, shaking the pan to toss them in the oil. Add the cayenne and the ginger. Continue shaking the pan, making the pineapples "jump!" which is a *key trick to sautéing. Cook for 2 minutes and then remove from heat. 

*Sauté actually means "Jump" in French and if your pan is hot enough it should make the food 'pop' naturally. It is best to heat the pan without oil first, testing it with water droplets before adding any oil or butter. Also, in Sautéing do not use a non-stick pan and use a pan-flip instead of a spatula as this turns the food at equal times and promotes even cooking. 

Cilantro-Ginger Aioli

  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise (Use Veganaise for a healthy, similar taste)
  • Juice from 1/2 Lemon
  • 1/2-1 tsp Cayenne Pepper (depending on your heat preference!)
  • 3 cloves Garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 cup Cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp Seasoned Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
*Combine all ingredients, reserving a small amount of the cilantro as garnish. Salt to taste. 

To Serve: Slice:

    • Red Onions
    • Avocados
    • Hot House Tomatoes
*Slather the toasted buns with the aioli, top with the onion slices, tomatoes, and 3 large ripe avocado slices! Sprinkle with Cilantro and serve with the Pineapple Wedges.

I also made some Teriyaki-Glazed Chicken Wings to serve as an appetizer but these burgers would go great with a batch of baked Sweet Potato Fries or Grilled Asparagus. 

This was a fast favorite in my household, and I now I hope it will find a happy home in yours as well! Happy Cooking!

<3 Marea


Ham & Swiss Cheese Scones with Habanero Pepper Jelly

This morning I woke with a strong need to cook something different. I've been wanting to give scone-making a shot for quite awhile now but I didn't want to go down the well-trodden path of blueberries or currants. (I'm also looking for any excuse to use my new KitchenAid, and while it is definitely not a necessity to make this recipe, I just love turning it on!)

I surveyed the fridge and decided I had a batch of swiss cheese and mushrooms that were just begging to be baked into something fabulous; couple that with some left-over ham from a previous dinner at the parent's house and my ingredient list was almost complete. Next I performed a speedy internet search on the basics of scone-making, a quick one-over of the pantry, and after some clever mental substitutions, I was officially off and running. Mission: Ham & Swiss Cheese Scones!

I played with the flavors and quantities between batches and after the third attempt I had a scone worthy of a blog-post! Enjoy :]

Ham & Swiss Cheese Scones with Habanero Pepper Jelly

  • 5 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
  • 5 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2 Tbsp. Shortening (You can only use butter if you want, just up it to 6 Tbsp!)
  • 1/2 cup Fat-Free Sour Cream
  • 1 cup Ham, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cup Swiss Cheese, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Mushrooms, minced
  • 1/4 cup red onions, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. Whole Grain Dijon Mustard 
  • 4 Tbsp-1/2 cup Fat-Free Milk (added as needed)
    • Salt, if needed-- but the ham and cheese have their own salts so be careful! I decided against adding any salt and they turned out perfect. 
*Preheat your oven 400 degrees. In a large bowl, or food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the butter and shortening (making sure your butter is very cold, for a flakier scone!) using a two knife method (or blend if you are using your processor), until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Stir in the swiss, 1/2 of the parmesan, the ham, and mushrooms. 

*In a separate bowl combine the sour cream and mustard and stir into the flour mixture. Now knead the dough, slowly adding in the milk until the consistency is firm yet moist, but not sticky! Be careful to not over-knead! 
*Roll the dough out on a clean, flat surface, using your hands, and shape into fist-sized balls. Press the remaining parmesan cheese into the centers. Flatten, and press the edges into a rectangular/square shape. Cut diagonally into wedges. 

*Lay the wedges evenly on a buttered, floured baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes, or until browned. 

To Serve: Once the scones have browned remove them from the oven and as soon as they are cool enough to touch, serve them! You can lightly brush the tops with butter or margarine, if you'd like. I served mine with a dollop of Habanero Pepper Jelly, which offers a perfect blast of heat and sweet. Or you can slice them in half and make mini open-faced sandwiches, or dip them in a hearty corn chowder or chili.

They are best if made fresh so unless you are baking for a bounty of guests save some of the dough for the next day. I portioned mine off so there will be plenty to play with again in the morning. Perhaps I will serve them alongside some eggs for breakfast- the possibilities are quite plentiful with this bite of bliss!

<3 Marea


Roasted Root Vegetables & Polenta Pie

The inspiration for this next dish came to me from a very wonderful family friend, Miss Ali Campbell. Not only is she a talented artist and intellectual, she also can cook up some mouth-watering magic in the kitchen! After enjoying a particularly delicious vegetable bake at her home one evening, I was plenty eager to try my hand at such a dish, and saw a nice opportunity to make good use of the polenta meal I'd been hoarding in the cupboard for weeks.

I was even more excited after my total at the checkout counter came to $7.19! Yes, that's right, a hearty and fresh vegetarian delight for under $10. Who says eating organic can't be cost-effective?

Roasted Root Vegetables & Polenta Pie 

  • 2 cups Polenta 
  • 6 1/2 cups luke warm water
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2 Carrots, sliced
  • 2 Mini Zucchinis, sliced
  • 2 Beets, greens removed, washed and sliced
  • 2 yellow Summer Squash, sliced
  • 3 Red Potatoes, sliced
  • 1 Vidalia Onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil 
  • 2 tsp. Rosemary (fresh or dried)
  • 2 tsp. dried Leeks, chives, garlic powder and onion granules (I made a blend using dried spices, you can substitute a seasoned garlic powder if you cannot find something similar)
  • Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan, to serve
  • Optional: Andouille Sausage (See *Alterations!*)
*Begin by making your polenta. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a buttered (or sprayed) baking pan add the polenta, water, 2 tsp. of salt, and the butter. Mix with a fork until evenly spread out across the bottom of the pan and bake for 50 minutes. Check occasionally and fluff with a fork if needed. (See end for crunchier crust alteration!)

*Meanwhile prep the vegetables. The slicing and dicing accounts for the majority of the effort. Once the polenta is fluffy and browned, increase the heat to 425 degrees. Remove the polenta and dock the bottom of the pan with a fork. Sprinkle the top with 1/2 of the minced garlic, a pinch of garlic powder, and a dash of salt and pepper. 

*Beginning with the summer squash, make a thin layer across the entire top of the polenta. Next layer the potatoes across the top of the squash, interlacing them with a few rows of onions. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of Olive Oil over the top, and once again sprinkle with spices. Next, lay down a layer of beets, and another layer of onions. The final top layer will be the zucchini and carrots, which I chose to alternate in rows. Finish with the remaining minced garlic, rosemary and other spices, and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of Olive Oil. 

*Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. At this time, reduce the heat to 250 degrees and continue baking for another hour, checking to ensure nothing is burning. Next, drizzle the remaining 1 Tbsp. of Olive Oil and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Check the firmness of the vegetables, if they are soft but firm change the oven to *Broil* and cook on High for 10 minutes. If after 2 hours of baking your veggies are not yet ready, continue baking until soft and then proceed with the broiling. 

To Serve: Slice and serve with freshly grated parmesan. 

*Alterations: If you are like my boyfriend who doesn't believe vegetables constitute a "real" meal, there is a quick fix that makes this carnivore approved! When you are ready to put the pie into the final broil, pepper the top with thick slices of andouille sausage. I used a Red Pepper Andouille Sausage from Costco. The final 10 minutes is plenty of time to cook the sausage completely through if you are broiling on High.

This dish can be easily adapted to fit any season so feel free to switch it up with whatever vegetables look best. You can also opt to make the polenta in a saucepan the day before; while the polenta is cooling form it into your baking pan, cover, and refrigerate over-night. Then, drizzle about 1/2 tsp of Olive Oil across the top and proceed as normal, baking it for 50 minutes before you add the vegetables. This definitely makes for a crunchier crust, which I personally adore.

<3 Marea


Apple Pie with Fresh-Picked Gravenstein Apples & Cloves

First of all: My apologies for the two day absence. I was caught unexpectedly by food poisoning (*NOT* from anything I made!! The one night we decide to eat out and that is what happens!!). And when you are sick, thinking about food- let alone writing about it!- is not the best medicine. So I took a small hiatus but I'm back! And what better way to return than with a classic toothsome treat: Homemade Apple Pie!

It is apple season here in Wine Country, and since my parent's property is rich with Gravenstein Trees I've taken it upon myself to put this abundance of deliciously sweet fruit to good use! Keeping with my theme of "Seasonal Sundays" I felt today was the perfect day for an apple recipe. Now, I know the internet is overflowing with recipes for "Mom's Apple Pie" and the likes, but after much experimentation I've finally found my own secret special ingredient: Cloves! This aromatic spice is typically used in Indian cuisine and as a key ingredient in Garam Masala, but when used in the correct quantities it provides quite a fabulous flavor to a homemade apple pie!

Apple Pie with Fresh-Picked Gravenstein Apples & Cloves

To Make the Crust: 
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, sifted
  • 1 cup Shortening or 2 Sticks of Unsalted Butter
  • 4 Tbsp Milk, very cold (add more if needed)
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
*In a large bowl dice the butter or shortening in to small parts, using two butter knives. "Slice" in the sifted flour, making a very "crumbly" dough. Add milk, slowly, 1 Tbsp. at a time, mixing so that the dough remains coarse. You can also complete this step using your food processor on "pulse". 
*Knead into two equal-sized balls, sprinkle with flour and wrap in plastic-wrap to chill for approximately 1 hour. Small chunks of butter should still be visible. This will allow for a flaky crust. 
*After the dough has chilled, roll out, using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, into two thin crusts. Place the bottom dough into a buttered, floured 9 inch glass pie dish. Pinch the dough into the dish so that it fully lines the entirety of the glass.
*Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

*To Save Time*: If dough-making doesn't come easy, grab a frozen pre-made crust from the grocery store. Just don't skip out on the fresh apples! The filling is what makes this recipe unique. 

To Make the Filling:
  • 8-10 Gravenstein apples (depending on size)- peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (plus more to taste)
  • ½ tsp Apple Pie Spice (optional!)
  • 3 TBSP All-Purpose Flour

*Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding the flour last. Mix until the apples are well-coated in a gooey, sugary glaze. Pour the apple mixture into your crust and cover with the top crust, pinching the top and  bottom crusts together, and fluting the edges. Cut small slits across the center. Sprinkle Cinnamon or the Apple Pie Spice across the top crust and cover with aluminum foil.

*Bake covered at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Next, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for one hour. Remove the foil and cook an additional 15 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and re-cover with the foil and a large bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes. 

Serve with a Rich Vanilla Ice Cream or a thick slice of Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Whichever way you decide to dig in, your taste buds will surely thank you!

<3 Marea 


Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Coconut Tarts

After experiencing quite a lovely dinner at a friend's house a few months ago, I became obsessed with cooking with Coconut- Coconut Oil, Coconut flakes, Coconut milk! She had used the oil to stir-fry vegetables and not only was the flavor amazing, the health benefits are incredible; coconut oil has been used for hair and skin care, weight loss, and as an alternative aid for stress, aging, digestion, liver and kidney disease, even cancer!

I was scanning through some cookbooks recently and came across a sweet and simple recipe for Coconut Tarts. Taking my inspiration from Donna Hay's New Food Fast, I decided to do my best with what I had in my baking cabinet and put my new souffle cups to good use. These treats are dangerously rich and deliciously sweet!

Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Coconut Tarts
  • 2 eggs whites
  • 1/2 cup of Cane Sugar
  • 2 cups Shredded Coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
*Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and coconut. Mix well. Using your finger tips press the coconut into the souffle cups (or you can use muffin tins that have been rubbed with butter or sprayed with vegetable oil). The mixture is very sticky so wetting your fingers will help make this process run much more smoothly. You want to press the coconut up against the sides and bottom of the dish (or tin!) making a crust for the chocolate. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the shells turn a light golden brown. 
  • For the Filling:
    • 1 1/4 cup of Dark Chocolate Chips (10 oz)
    • 1 cup Fresh or Frozen Raspberries
    • 1 1/4 cups Cream
*While the Coconut shells are cooking, heat the cream over medium-low in a saucepan. Heat until almost boiling and then turn off the burner. Stir in the chocolate until melted. Fill each shell about 1/3 full with the chocolate. Press 3-4 raspberries into each tart and then fill to the top with chocolate. Place the tarts into the freezer to set for 10 minutes. 

*Sprinkle some coconut shreds on top and serve with a scoop of fresh raspberries and Vanilla Bean ice cream. 

Quick, Simple and a sure fix to any sweet-tooth! You can even use desiccated coconut for a finer, crustier shell.

Enjoy :]

<3 Marea


Steak Tacos, Habanero & Mango Salsas, & Strawberry Mint Margaritas!

After living on both coasts I can now say with full confidence that Tucson, AZ has *THE* very best Mexican food I have yet to come across in the U.S. Before anyone gets defensive, New York and California do dish up some delicious Latin-flavored feasts, but when it comes to authentic, "As-Close-to-Actually-Dining-in-Mexico-Style" cuisine on a consistent level, Southern Arizona is the whole enchilada! Hey, they have to have something good there to ease the pain of 108 degree summer days, right? :] Oh, and did I mention, not only does Tucson have the best Mexican food, they also like to serve it up 24 hours a day, no matter the holiday? Now there's a reason to endure the heat!

Since the move I've had to do my best to bring the taste of the Southwest to our table, and although the following recipes may not beat the real thing, they are still pretty damn delish! 

Warning! The following recipes are wickedly spicy! Use discretion, if you can't handle the heat add the peppers a little at a time.

Fresh Mango Pico de Gallo 
  • 4 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 medium Sweet Onion
  • 1 red Guajillo Pepper (look like red jalapeno)
  • 2 Hot Cherry Peppers
  • 1 Yellow Hot Wax Pepper
  • 1 green Jalapeno
  • 1 cup Fresh Mango
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • Juice from 2 Limes
  • 2 tsp. Pico de Gallo (the spice!)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
*Brunoise the tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Toss them with the sugar, lime juice, pico de gallo, salt and pepper. More salt will make the tomatoes and onions sweat, which will create a juicier salsa. Stir in the Cilantro. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

I love to make a Salsa Fresca for topping tacos, burritos, and even eggs but my boyfriend recently requested a more "thick and saucy" style dip for dunking his chips. A food processor, or "Ultimate Chopper" in my case, was the perfect fix for just such a request. 

Hot & Hearty Habanero Salsa
-In a Food Processor, mildly puree: 
  • 5 Mini Bell peppers, red, orange, yellow 
  • 1/2 of a large Onion
  • 3 Celery Stalks, halved
  • 1 Roma Tomato
  • 1 Hot House Tomato
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 orange Habaneros
  • 2 Serranos
  • 2 green Jalapenos
*Be sure to cut down into pieces your chopper can handle! You can blend these separately and then mix them together in a large bowl.

Next brunoise and add:
  • 4 Roma Tomatoes
  • The other half of the large Yellow Onion
  • 1 Orange Habanero Pepper
  • 1 green Jalapeno Pepper
  • 1 Serrano Pepper
  • 4 Mini Bell Peppers, red, orange, and yellow
Stir everything together and season with:
  • ½ cup Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp Seasoned Salt
  • 1/2-1 tsp Himalayan Crystal Salt (or regular sea salt)
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. Cane Sugar
*Refrigerate before serving. 

If there is one trick I've learned from watching and indulging in my father's salsas my whole life is that, the best way to make hot salsa manageable is to trick the taste buds with sweetness. The mini bells add a nice sugary taste (as does the Tbsp. of sugar!) that allows the first bite of this salsa to be deliciously dulcet while the after taste sparks up the spice. The taste buds are able to temper between each bite, the sweet providing a much needed cushion before the heat sets in (and after, since you can't stop eating it!). 

Steak Tacos
  • 2 thinly cut Skirt or Flank Steaks, sliced into strips
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil (or butter if you prefer)
  • 1 Jalapeno, diced
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Seasoned Salt
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/8 tsp. Lemon Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Chili Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Cumin
  • Juice from 1/2 of a Lime
  • 1/4 cup Red Onion, thinly sliced
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Cotija Cheese
  • 1/4 cup Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Avocado, freshly sliced
  • Soft or Crunchy Corn Tortillas (I like soft, The Boyfriend likes crunchy, so I make both!)
*After you have sliced the steak, toss it with all of the spices in a medium size bowl. Squeeze the lime on top and let sit. In a skillet heat the oil over Medium-high. Add the onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until soft. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook 1 additional minute. Toss in the marinated steak and turn the heat to High. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is no longer pink, approximately 1 minute. Salt and Pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing the meat to simmer in its juices for 2 more minutes. Remove the steak from the heat and transfer to a bowl, cover. 
*Heat the tortillas over the burner, flipping every 10 seconds until heated through. 

To Serve: Pile the tortillas full with the steak, cheddar cheese, and Salsa. If you don't make a salsa fresca top the tacos with chopped tomatoes and onions and garnish with cilantro. Finish with the Avocado Slices and sprinkle the Cotija over the entire plate. 

I also enjoy pairing my Steak Tacos with some cheesy refried beans, guacamole and to make the event complete, a quick and easy twist on a Strawberry Margarita!

Strawberry Mint Margaritas
  • 2 oz Tequila (I'm not saying use Patron, but for the love of all things good and decent stay away from Jose Cuervo and Sauza!)
  • Sprite, or Lemon-Lime Soda
  • Agave Nectar
  • Splash of Orange Juice
  • Fresh Squeezed Lime
  • Freshly Sliced Strawberries
  • Mint Leaves
  • Martini Shaker
  • Glass of Ice
*In a martini shaker muddle 3-4 mint leaves with several strawberry slices. Add 1 oz (a standard US shot is 1.5 oz) of tequila and approximately 1/2 cup of Sprite and juice from 2-3 lime slices. In a glass filled with ice, pour the agave nectar down the sides of the glass, twirl to coat all sides. Shake the mixture in the martini shaker and pour over the ice in the glass. Add a splash of orange juice. Finish by floating the final oz of tequila on top; this is done by pouring the shot slowly through a lime slice. Garnish with said lime and a straw. 

Cheers! And Happy feasting!

<3 Marea 

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