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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on June 26th, 2017.

 

Corn pudding taken to a new tasty level. My old recipe is going by the wayside, I think, because this one is so delish.

Back in the 60s, when I hosted a dinner, frequently I’d serve a baked corn casserole that was composed of canned corn (both regular and creamed), milk, eggs, a bit of sugar, and with some eggs, flour and butter too. It was a regular menu item. It was easy to make, and always guests enjoyed it. I haven’t made it in years, nor have I ever posted it here on my blog, for that matter. But, there won’t be any going back to that old recipe now that this one has come to town.

This one has all of those ingredients (using fresh corn, however) plus a bit of cornmeal, fresh basil, ricotta cheese, some half and half, chopped onions and cheese IN the casserole and Parm grated on top. Oh my goodness, is this good. It retains a lovely softness because it’s baked in a water bath (a bit of a nuisance, I know) but you’ll be glad once it’s served since the pudding won’t stick to the casserole dish and no browned bits anywhere. Just nice, tender corn pudding.

The only thing you really have to prep ahead is cooking the onion and corn (they won’t get tender during the baking time, so it needs a head start). Otherwise, all the ingredients just get mixed up and poured into a greased baking dish, then it’s baked for 40-45 minutes until the top just begins to show some golden brown. That’s it. This was from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the texture and taste – nice and soft, but the fresh corn has a little bit of toothsome-ness. The cheese (ricotta, Fontina and Parm) just puts this casserole at a new  taste level. Really delicious! It’s also gluten-free, FYI.

What’s NOT: maybe the water bath – a bit of a nuisance – but it makes the casserole extra tender.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ricotta Cheese Corn Pudding

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups corn kernels — (3-4 ears)
1/2 cup onion — chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup ricotta cheese — full fat
2 tablespoons basil leaves — thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Fontina cheese — grated (or use sharp cheddar)
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (for top)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Grease a 4-5 cup baking dish. Melt butter in a saute pan and saute the corn and onion until soft. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs, milk and half and half together in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly pour in cornmeal and ricotta. Add basil, sugar, salt, pepper, then the cooked corn mixture and grated cheese. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
3. Place dish in a large pan and fill pan halfway up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake 40-45 minutes, until top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 288 Calories; 18g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 154mg Cholesterol; 595mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 22nd, 2017.

ginger_spice_cake_dried_cherries

Think gingerbread. Think spicy gingerbread.

As you’ve read here before, every few weeks I entertain a bible study group here at my home, and I always make some kind of dessert. Since I love to bake, it’s often a cake of some kind. I’d read about this cake somewhere, and found it online at Taking On Magazines, a blog. The cake just sounded so good, and the night I served this, it was still feeling like winter.

You mustn’t expect a light and fluffy cake here – it’s pretty darned hard to get that when you use molasses anyway. Just know, if you decide to make this, that it’s a fairly firm, dense cake. Delicious, but more on the heavy side. The original recipe called for a chocolate icing, but I ran out of time, so served it with whipped cream. I actually think it would be best served with vanilla ice cream. I think the icing would make this cake truly over-the-top rich. But, I didn’t try it, so I could very well be wrong about that part.

The dried cherries (the tart, Montmorency type) are soaked in hot espresso, along with the spices. AND real Dijon mustard. What an odd ingredient – I have no idea the reason for it, but I had it, so I used it! My only recommendation, when you’re preparing the fresh chopped ginger – make sure it’s very fine, and that you include no threads of it. I used 3 different graters, including what is supposed to be a ginger grater, and none worked very well, so I ended up chopping and then mincing it like crazy with a very sharp butcher’s knife. If you have any threads visible, remove them, as they aren’t very appetizing in the cake. I thought they were cat hairs (embarrassing!) but no, they were ginger threads. Whew!

This is a regular cake – nothing unusual about the preparation of it. A stand mixer helps since it’s a thick batter. Cut it in relatively narrow pieces, and I think it will serve more than 12. I have half of it in my freezer to pull out next month when I have family visiting. That with vanilla ice cream will make a very nice and easy dessert.

What’s GOOD: the flavors are really good – you can taste the minced up dried cherries, and all the warm fall spices are tummy-warming. Even the black pepper. Just know this is a dense cake.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. This kind of dense, dark cake may not be to everyone’s taste. Do serve it with something to cut the richness of it (whipped cream, ice cream, or the icing).

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Ginger Spice Cake with Dried Cherries

Recipe By: From Taking on Magazines blog
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — plus more for the pan
1 cup light molasses
1 cup dried tart cherries — finely chopped
1/2 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — peeled, finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup espresso coffee — hot (I used decaf)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
CHOCOLATE ICING: (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons espresso coffee — hot, or strong coffee
8 ounces semisweet chocolate — or bittersweet

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter Bundt pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess. Combine cherries, crystallized ginger, grated ginger, and Dijon mustard in a medium bowl. Pour espresso over cherry mixture and set aside. In a medium bowl whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, ground ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and pepper.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in molasses.
3. Strain cherry mixture into a small bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternately with soaking liquid in 2 additions, beating to blend between additions. Fold in drained cherry mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
5. Remove cake from pan. May be served as is, or with icing. Or serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
6. Spoon chocolate Icing over cake, if using, allowing it to drip down sides. Cut cake into wedges to serve.
7. ICING: Heat cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of pan. Stir in hot espresso. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Add hot cream mixture; let stand for 1 minute, then stir until icing is melted and smooth. DO AHEAD: Icing can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool completely at room temperature, then cover and chill. Rewarm icing slightly before using.
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 19g Fat (33.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 77g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 508mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 18th, 2017.

carrot_soup_tarragon_orange

A simple soup. Mostly carrots, but the flavors are rich and complex with the addition of tarragon and orange.

Every few months I have to do a bunch of administrative offloading of all the photos I take for the recipes I post. They’re on my kitchen computer, and need to put them into storage.  They’re all divided up by recipe title, but I have a hard time finding things if the file directory gets over about 50-60, so I transfer them to a CD. I was about to do this, this morning, but I looked at this carrot soup and thought, hmmm, I don’t remember posting this. Sure enough, I hadn’t. It’s from a cooking class I took last fall. Maybe it was in December – –  can’t recall. But this soup is easy and delicious. It’s starting to be NOT soup weather, so I’d best get this posted and offload it!

Anyway, the soup is super easy to make and just requires a blender at the end, then you add in a bit of orange juice (enough that you can taste the orangey flavor), a jot of brandy and the fresh tarragon. Do use orange carrots, not the multicolored ones, as I think the color of the soup might be off-putting to some. The sweeter and carrots the better.

What’s GOOD: the soup is very easy to make – just requires some orange juice and fresh tarragon that you might not have in your kitchen. I don’t drink OJ anymore, but I always have a can of frozen juice in the freezer, so I can scoop out a bit of that slush to make a cup of orange juice for recipes. Soup is really tasty. Different because of the orange. And I liked the tarragon at the end. Would freeze really well.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. If you don’t like tarragon, use fresh thyme instead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Carrot Soup with Tarragon and Orange

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, 2016
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots — peeled, sliced
1 1/2 cups onion — chopped
6 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brandy — optional
4 teaspoons fresh tarragon — finely minced
Fresh tarragon sprigs for garnish

1. Melt butter in large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until onion is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, uncover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, filling half way only. Pour into another container and continue to puree until all the soup is smooth. Pour soup back into the soup pot; add orange juice, brandy and the chopped tarragon. May be made a day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Can be frozen at this point.
3. Simmer soup for 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and serve with tarragon sprigs on top.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 4g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 609mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Sous Vide, on June 14th, 2017.

sous_vide_red_chile_chicken

I know most of you don’t have a sous vide, so just skip this one. But if you do, you DO need to try this recipe. It’s a winner.

Now that I’m a family of one, I don’t use my sous vide very often. My DH and I were just at the point of perfecting steak on the barbecue, but pre-cooked in the sous vide. I very rarely make steak for myself (alone), but if I did, I might try it again. Sometimes it’s just easier to use the older method (searing, then putting it off-heat in the barbecue, closed, until it reached about 120°, then quickly searing it again for a minute of so until it reached 125-128°F).

Anyway, I’ve subscribed to Milk Street, the new magazine from Chris Kimball (formerly the geeky guy from Cook’s Illustrated – he started the company many years ago). He got ousted by their board and started up his own, very similar business model. No TV shows yet, but they say it’s coming. The magazine is different than C.I. in that the articles are shorter, and it’s filled with color photos, which I like. It’s the identical format (shape, size and frequency of issues) and I also listen to the podcasts from the new Milk Street kitchens.

Image result for ancho chilesSo, anyway, the May-June issue had a double-spread about sous vide. In it J.M. Hirsch writes that you can make a perfect poached egg in 45 minutes at 145°F. I may have to try that one. There are much cheaper sous vide instruments (using your own container) than when I bought mine. Mine was several hundred dollars. New immersion pods start at $79 (Sous Smart) and $129 (Anova). And another new one that uses a phone app to run it (they liked that one a lot, called Joules) for $199. They perfected this chicken recipe and it sounded so intriguing I just had to try it. I halved the below recipe (using one packet of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Costco, which contained 2 nice-sized breasts) and I actually  used ordinary ziploc bags instead of digging out my vacuum sealer. You lower the filled bag in water until it reaches the zip portion (but it’s unzipped at this point), then press out all the air and zip it. Am not sure the zip tab type would work for this. Anyway, that worked just fine using Ziploc. Picture at left from chefsinfo.com.

sous_vide_chicken_in_bagI made one other change – I didn’t have any ancho chiles (dried) in my pantry. Anchos are dried pasilla chiles, which have such a very unique flavor. I need to get some, because I’ll be making this recipe again. So instead, I used guajillo, which are mild flavored and similar. Otherwise, I followed the recipe except for browning the chiles. Seems kind of redundant to me. The sauce you make is quite easy to do and it’s full of flavor, but hardly any heat at all. I refrigerated the chicken packets for an hour or two while I heated up the sous vide, which should have kind of marinated them. I have a rack for my sous vide and I used it to make sure the chicken packets were kept submerged completely. Timer set for 1 1/2 hours and then I made the sauce and cooked some fresh asparagus and my dinner was done.

Oh my. The chicken was SO tender, and absolutely perfectly cooked through and juicy. I could practically cut it with a fork, though I did use a knife. Loved the chile flavor, the smokiness of the dried cumin. Couldn’t taste the cinnamon. The chiles completely dissolve in the sauce (because you whiz it up in the food processor). The sauce was an absolute cinch to make and dinner was ready with a bit of cilantro on top. Don’t dilly dally once they’re done as the chicken is hot and you don’t want to eat it lukewarm. A definite make-again dish.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was good. The chicken was PERFECTLY cooked and as juicy as chicken could possibly be. Easy to do in the sous vide. You could easily make the marinade/sauce ahead of time and combine them just before cooking. I have a second packet left over and from the article I understand it will be just as tender and good as the first time. Loved the sauce – mild and very flavorful. Not hot because anchos or guajillos are mild chiles.

What’s NOT: not much unless you don’t like the hassle of cooking sous vide.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken

Recipe By: Milk Street magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola oil
2 ounces dried ancho peppers — stemmed and seeded
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano — Mexican type if available
2 large garlic cloves — smashed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter — salted if available
1 tablespoon lime juice
GARNISH:
1/3 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Preheat sous vide to 145°F. (And yes, after 1 1/2 hours of immersion, the chicken breast will be perfectly cooked, even though the water temp is below the usually accepted cooked chicken temp.)
2. In a medium skillet, heat oil until it shimmers, then add chiles and toast until lightly browned, about 20 seconds (I skipped this step). Transfer to a food processor, saving the oil in the skillet. Process until coarsely chopped (I had to tear some of the pieces into smaller ones), about 30 seconds.
3. In a small saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the chile mixture, oregano and garlic. Cover and remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. In the food processor combine the sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and the little bit of reserved chili oil from the frying pan. Add the chile-water mixture and process until smooth, about a minute, scraping the bowl as needed.
5. Place each chicken breast into a vacuum-seal bag and add an equal portion of the chile mixture to each one. Squeeze the bag a bit to coat the chicken evenly. Seal each chicken breast, then refrigerate for a few hours if time permits. If not, place breasts in sous vide. Chicken packets must remain completely under the water, not floating. Once the temperature reaches 145°F again (usually just a few minutes), set a timer for 90 minutes.
6. When chicken is cooked, remove from sous vide. Pour the juices from inside each bag into a saucepan and simmer until liquid is thickened slightly, about a minute or two. Off heat add the butter and lime juice. Serve the chicken drizzled with the sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 15g Fat (42.5% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 1484mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, Miscellaneous, on June 12th, 2017.

bing_cherry_compote

There is something beautiful about a big pile of ripe cherries. Maybe it’s just because I love the color red!

This isn’t a new recipe post, but when I bought 3 pounds of cherries the other day, I knew I’d be making this compote that’s a real favorite of mine. But, of course, only when cherries are in season. Which is NOW! I posted this recipe in 2009, and again in 2012, and I haven’t changed it; it’s still cherry_pitsthe same recipe from Russ Parsons. That I’ve been making for 8 years. Every single year in cherry season, I buy them and make this. I hoard the results, because I adore putting some of the compote over vanilla ice cream. And I nearly lick the bowl. I’m posting it again just because you may not have read my posts going back that far. I want you to make this, while cherries are in the markets! The only downside to the recipe is having to pit the darned things. But I use a olive pitter and I sat at my kitchen island while I did it.

The above bowl contains the pitted cherries, a sprinkling of sugar, whole cloves, whole allspice and cinnamon sticks. When you cook them, it’s nice to use a big, wide pan so you can put the cherries in one layer and cook them JUST until they’re cooked through about halfway or so. You want them to retain their color and shape. You add red wine to the mixture which helps them steam-cook. This year I didn’t have a bottle of red wine opened, so I pulled out an old bottle of so-so Madeira that had about a cup or so in it, and I used that instead of regular drinking red. After they’re cooked you add a big dash of balsamic vinegar, which is just the icing on the cake, IMHO. These taste better if they’re allowed to chill in the syrup for a few days – that way the spices permeate all the cherries, and the balsamic too.

bowl_of_pitted_cherries

Yes, I definitely do like the color red! Having heaped all the cherries into a bowl, I just had to take a picture of them before I cooked it all. And here, below, is the finished product:

cherry compote 3

What’s GOOD: there’s nothing quite like the taste of ripe cherries in a delicious spice syrup. Absolutely loverly on top of vanilla ice cream. No nuts. No whipped cream. JUST the cherries. They keep for several weeks. I don’t think they’d freeze well – they’ll likely get very soft and possibly lose their color too.

What’s NOT: maybe the pitting process, but that’s about it. It’s simple to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Bing Cherry Compote

Recipe By: Adapted from How to Pick a Peach, by Russ Parsons
Serving Size: 8

1 1/3 pounds cherries — fresh, Bing
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon — about 1 1/2 inches long
1/2 cup red wine — (I used more)
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pit the cherries. You want to have 1 pound of pitted cherries.
2. In a bowl combine the cherries and sugar. Stir and set aside for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Add 1/4 cup of red wine, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a flat, wide skillet (just large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer). Combine in a cheesecloth bag the cinnamon stick, clove and allspice. Tie together and place it into the pan with the cherries.
5. Bring the cherries to a boil and simmer at a fairly high heat for about 10 minutes, while the juices begin the thicken. The cherries will still be in one piece.
6. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Cool, chill, and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 81 Calories; 1g Fat (7.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 10th, 2017.

plum_blueberry_kuchen

My mouth is watering looking at that photo. So delicious and in-season with berries at their prime.

Kuchen (koo-ken) is the German word for cake. It originated, obviously, in Germany, yet it has also been embraced by Russian populations ‘round the world too. When I did a search on the ‘net to verify the definition (I was quite certain it meant cake, but thought I’d best check), I found a blog from a California girl who is now a farmer’s wife in North Dakota. Apparently there is a heavy German and Russian or German-Russian population in that neck of the woods. Her version of a kuchen uses a raised, yeasted dough, and she makes them in bulk and freezes them. They’re a very popular dessert in that neck of the woods.

kuchen_ready2_bakeAnyway, THIS kuchen is not a yeast dough, just a simple enough cake batter (thick, though) that forms the base. It’s scraped into a springform pan and spread out to the edges. Fruit is added, then a sugar/cinnamon mixture and baked. Then a thin egg/cream mixture is poured over the top and baked another 10 minutes. Cooled. Then a powdered sugar top a nd served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This cake is not as sweet as some, and in fact, kuchens are often served more like a coffeecake or for a brunch, than as a dessert. But, no matter what, it has to do with the sweetness of the fruit – you can use peaches or plums and blueberries or raspberries. Apricots would likely work fine too – just use a stone fruit for the bottom fruit and a berry of some kind for the top. This recipe was one prepared by Tarla Fallgatter at a cooking class I attended last month. It was served warm with the sweetened whipped cream on the side. Yum.

kuchen_just_bakedWhat’s GOOD: it’s VERY easy to make – just have good, ripe fruit to start with. The batter is easy to mix up, so is the topping, and also the egg/cream that’s baked at the end. I loved the taste of the fruit with the cake. A keeper. It should freeze well if you wanted to double it to make two – one for the freezer. Just press plastic wrap directly onto the fruit (don’t add the powdered sugar), wrap well in another plastic layer and foil and freeze. This dessert is very low in fat as desserts go.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to preparing this – none hard – but a few extra steps to get the toppings finished. Do serve it warm if you can. Or reheat it slightly if you make it a few hours ahead.

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Plum and Blueberry Kuchen

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

FRUIT:
2 pounds plums — OR peaches
1/3 cup fresh blueberries — OR raspberries
KUCHEN BATTER:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour — sifted
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk — or half and half or cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
TOPPING:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2nd TOPPING:
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons heavy cream
GARNISH:
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar — sifted
SERVE with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. If you oven runs hot, lower it to 425°F.
2. Sift flour and mix with sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. In a food processor pulse eggs with milk and zest. Pulse in melted butter and then add the flour mixture. Batter will be thick.
4. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and scrape batter into it, spreading evening.
5. Combine topping and mix well. Set aside.
6. Arrange plum or peach slices around edge of pan, filling the center with remaining slices. Sprinkle with berries (blue or raspberry). Sprinkle top with sugar-cinnamon mixture.
7. Bake kuchen for 25 minutes and remove from oven.
8. Beat yolk and cream together with a form and pour over the top of the kuchen. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.
9. Coolin the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove springform side. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar (through a sieve or pre-sifted) and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 11g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 279mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 6th, 2017.

raspberry_gratin

Hmm. That serving doesn’t exactly convey the deliciousness of this dessert. Do scroll down to see the 2nd photo of this heavenly dessert.

This was the dessert I served at the wine and food pairing awhile back. Because I’d had to make a quick trip to the Bay Area to attend a memorial service for a dear friend, I flew home on Saturday evening and knew I’d have next to no time the following day to be making a fancy dessert. I looked through what I had in my recipe file that was super-easy and this dessert just jumped off my computer screen at me, begging me, make me, make me. Smitten Kitchen made this dessert and she raved about it. RAVED! Now I see why!

I’m just going to say – this dessert is most likely the simplest dessert I’ve ever made in my entire life, except scooping ice cream and chocolate sauce into a bowl. And I cannot say enough wonderful things about it. Sublime? Unctuous? Oh, gosh, just make this, okay?

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Preheat your oven to broil

2. Mix fresh raspberries with sour cream (gently) and pour into a flat gratin dish

3. Press dark brown sugar through a sieve onto the top of the mixture

4. Broil for a few minutes until the brown sugar has melted and begun to caramelize – and eat immediatelyspoonsful_rasp_gratin

I would probably have served it in small bowls (you don’t need big servings of this – it’s rich and sweet) but we had paper plates to serve this since there were many of us . . . It needs no embellishment (i.e., no whipped cream or anything). Ideally serve this with coffee or with an after-dinner wine (port, sauternes, Madeira, etc.). We discussed this, that it might be lovely with quartered strawberries instead of raspberries, or even blueberries. Blackberries ought to be fine with it too. Or a mixture of them. The fruit and sour cream mixture gets warm only – not hot – though the sugar layer DOES get hot. By the time you scoop servings out and deliver it to people, it should be sufficiently cool to eat.

I’ll be making this again and again during prime berry season.

What’s GOOD: how unbelievably easy it is to make, first and foremost. But the flavor is just so smooth and unctuous. There’s just no other word for it.  And the little bit of crunch (think crème brulee) on top add really delicious texture to it. Rich? Yes. Satisfying? Yes. Worth making? Absolutely yes.

What’s NOT: it does need to be made at the last minute, but truly it takes about 2-3 minutes to make it. Get out the dish, the berries, the sour cream and the brown sugar (and the sieve) and have them at-the-ready and you’ll have dessert in no time. For my party I bought 2 large clamshell boxes of raspberries (I think they were $4.99 each), 2 tubs of sour cream and it served 16 with about 2 servings left over. I did small servings, though.

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Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin [Russian Gratin with Raspberries]

Recipe By: Adapted from Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics via Regina Schrambling, but on Smitten Kitchen’s blog
Serving Size: 12

4 cups fresh raspberries — or any berries
4 cups sour cream — or creme fraiche
2 cups dark brown sugar

NOTES : There are a lot of ways you can play around with this – flavoring the sour cream with lemon, vanilla, cinnamon or almond; using a mix of berries, etc. – but it is flawless the way it is. Want to fancy it up for fancy people? Make it in individual ramekins or tiny gratin dishes. Swap thick, full-fat Greek-style yogurt swapped for sour cream and serve it at a brunch.
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Gently fold raspberries and sour cream together in a shallow 1-quart dish. Press the brown sugar through a sieve or mesh colander so that it sprinkles evenly over the dish. (don’t use a sifter, it doesn’t work.)
3. Run the dish under the broiler until the sugar just starts to caramelize. Eat at once. Keeping: The leftovers are equally delicious, even suitable for a splurge breakfast.
Per Serving: 323 Calories; 16g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on June 2nd, 2017.

crostini_pea_puree_yogurt_mint

Seems like I’m on a roll lately with some really wonderful recipes. Not that any of them are my originals; they’re just ones that I’ve found someplace and they definitely need a permanent home in my kitchen repertoire.

With that lead-in, it won’t come as a surprise that I’m telling you, you’ve GOT to try this. I was just blown away by how delicious it is. Easy? Yes. Healthy? Yes, indeed. Unusual? Yes – certainly the mint added a lovely burst of flavor, but so did the lemon zest too. Really all of it is a burst of flavor. And most people can’t figure out what the “green stuff” is. Some guessed pesto.

pea_puree_4_crostiniI took this appetizer to my daughter Sara’s for Easter dinner. I’d made up the pea puree ahead of time, also the yogurt mixture, and I’d also toasted the baguettes too, the day before. I packed everything up in a little fabric ice chest and constructed them at the last minute. Easy to do. These aren’t fussy.

You’ll be very surprised by the taste of the peas – they contain SUGAR and garlic. The yogurt is just Greek yogurt (about half a cup is all) mixed with some fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, oil and salt. But when you put the whole “package” together, you get this lovely crunch in your mouth, the pea hits your palate, then the mint and the lemon zest. Altogether wonderful.

pea_crostini_platterIt’s easy enough to do most everything ahead – the pea puree, the yogurt, the toasted bread and at the last minute, construct them with the fresh mint on top. And a bit more lemon zest. To tell you the truth, I think I could make a meal of these.

What’s GOOD: everything about this little morsel is delicious. I can’t say enough good things about it. Let me know what you think . . .?? It’s easy to make (and make most everything ahead) and it’s not heavy or bad for you (except the fact that it’s mostly carbs).

What’s NOT: nary a thing that I can think of!

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Crostini with Pea Puree and Greek Yogurt

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Amy Scattergood, Los Angeles Times
Serving Size: 16

1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or 2% may be okay
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
PEA PUREE:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 small garlic cloves — minced
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
SERVING:
16 baguette slices — 1/4″ thick, toasted
Thinly sliced fresh mint for garnish
Grated lemon zest for garnish

NOTES: Use a baguette for the bread, or ciabatta. Brush the bread with olive oil, then toast to a golden brown. If using ciabatta, break each piece in half for a more normal appetizer serving.
1. Mix yogurt, olive oil, sea salt and lemon peel in a bowl and set aside.
2. Run hot-hot water over the frozen peas, then drain. Place in food processor with garlic, salt and olive oil. Blend until smooth.
3. Spread about 1 1/2 T pea mixture on each slice of bread, then spoon 2 tsp yogurt on top and garnish with sliced mint. Make these just before serving, and zest more lemon over all of it on the serving platter.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 4g Fat (31.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 240mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 29th, 2017.

applesauce_bundt_cake_caramel_icing

Oh yummy. A tender, moist cake made with vegetable oil and applesauce. But this isn’t one of those that omits any other fat – the vegetable oil is in lieu of butter, obviously. But it’s super moist because of the home made applesauce added into the batter.

Needing a nice, big dessert to take to one of the Easter celebrations I attended (I was blessed to go to my son’s wife’s family celebration on Saturday, then on Sunday I drove to San Diego to be with daughter Sara), this recipe jumped out at me. Originally it was on Food52, but has since appeared a few other places as well. I have a new Bundt cakepan – a heritage one (but new, $36) that you can find on Food52’s website. It’s made by Nordic Ware, so you know it’s a good, solid cake pan. My older one I bought many years ago at a discounted place and it’s tweaked around the top edge, so it never bakes into a perfect round. Since I use it often, I decided I wanted this new shaped one.

applesauce_bundt_cake_coolingI bought Granny Smith apples, and used one Gala apple I had on hand too, but I used nothing but a  little bit of water and cinnamon (no sugar), and it took about 10 minutes to make it. Well, except for the time peeling the apples. The cake contains 1 1/2 cups of the home made applesauce. You can use canned applesauce (unsweetened) and buy chunky if you can find it. I decided I wanted to make my own, and once cooked, I used a potato masher to make sure pieces were smaller.

applesauce_cake_icingThe cake itself has some nice, warm spices in it (including a small amount of ground black pepper, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg). It uses dark brown sugar, hence the darker color of the cake. The black pepper isn’t really discernible, but am certain it wouldn’t be as tasty without it, so don’t skip past that ingredient. The cake baked in 45 minutes at 350°, and I tested the temp – it was exactly 206°F. Perfect. I let it cool overnight (loosely tented in plastic wrap, then made the caramel icing the next morning. I had one FAIL in this – my fault – I forgot to sift the powdered sugar, so you can see little bits of powdered sugar in the glaze. Not a deal breaker. The cake was easy easy to make.

I made it a second time a few days later for another group of guests at my home. I pressed the powdered sugar through a sieve that time and got a much smoother icing/glaze. It was also just perfectly baked. Such a winner of a recipe.

applesauce_bundt_sliceWhat’s GOOD: well, the texture (moist, tender) and flavor (lovely apple flavor throughout and the combo of spices are perfect). The caramel icing adds a nice fillip to the serving. It might be over the top with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Don’t go the whipped cream route – it wouldn’t go with the icing, I don’t think. Altogether lovely cake – a definite keeper. I heard many uhmmmms from guests who ate it.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Applesauce Bundt Cake with Caramel Icing

Recipe By: Food52
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce — home made if possible
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
GLAZE:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into chunks
1/2 cup light brown sugar — or dark brown
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar — SIFTED (important)

NOTES: You can use canned applesauce (chunky if possible) or make your own, but unsweetened. The icing is very sweet, so you don’t need added sugar in the applesauce. Do SIFT the powdered sugar or you’ll have lumps.
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a standard-size (12-cup) Bundt pan (or spray with nonstick cooking spray).
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and spices, and whisk to mix well.
3. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Beat in the applesauce, oil, and vanilla until smooth. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture, and beat briefly, just to combine. Use a rubber spatula to fold gently, making sure that all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and allowing to cool completely. (The cake should be room temperature before applying the glaze).
5. When you’re ready to glaze, set the cooling rack (with the cake on it) on top of a rimmed sheet pan. This will catch drips.
6. Place the butter in a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan with the brown sugar, cream, and salt, and set over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute exactly, and then pull the pan off the heat. Leave to cool for about 2-3 minutes, and then gradually whisk in the SIFTED confectioner’s sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency. Only add as much sugar as you need to make a thick glaze. If it gets too thick, add a little cream to thin it down.
7. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, evenly covering as much surface area as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.
Per Serving: 419 Calories; 19g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 375mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on May 25th, 2017.

grilled_shrimp_garlic_butter_sauce

Oh my, the most luscious garlicky buttered shrimp ever.

Having watched another America’s Test Kitchen or maybe it was Cook’s Country show on TV, and seeing them make this, I vowed I was going to make it forthwith! These are SO good. So full of garlic butter, so flavorful. Doing shrimp on a grill is a bit of an iffy situation anyway – to get all the shrimp done at the same time. If any are smaller they get over done. Larger, they’re not cooked through. So I was glad to use these giant shrimp, all uniform size to make this.

garlic_butter_foil_panFirst off, you need a medium sized aluminum pan – big enough to hold all the shrimp you’re going to grill. Into that pan goes the to-be-made garlic butter (butter, lemon juice, copious finely chopped garlic, a few red chili flakes and salt). I got that done ahead of time and set aside. Then, the shrimp is skewered (using double skewers assures they won’t flip over or around during turning)  and they’re oiled, salted and peppered. AND on one side only, you sprinkle just a tad of sugar.

Standing in front of your preheated grill, you put the aluminum pan over the heat. While you stand there (do not leave your station!) stir it as the butter melts and begins to bubble. The butter should NOT brown – just bubble and melt completely, with the garlic in it. Once that’s done, the aluminum pan is scooted over to a non-heated area of the grill – to a place where it stays warm, but doesn’t cook. shrimp_oiled_SP_sugared

Then, the shrimp is placed sugar-side-down on the hot grill. It cooks for only a few minutes, maybe 4-5, depending on the size. You want the shrimp to reach a finished temp of 120°. Turn the shrimp skewers over and cook for another 1-2 minutes until they’re just cooked through, and at that magic number of 120°. I used my trusty instant-read thermometer (Thermapen). When the shrimp is cooked, using a big fork, slide the shrimp off the skewers and into the pan of garlic butter. Have a spoon at the ready and toss and turn the shrimp so all the sides get coated with the garlic butter while they’re piping hot. Let it cook, sizzle a little and get soaked in that garlic butter. Whisk the pan to the kitchen, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve them IMMEDIATELY. To raves. I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the shrimp I used were really big, which makes (for me anyway) a much more enjoyable shrimp-eating occasion. I don’t like little shrimp – I like them to have some real chewiness and heft. So, do try to buy big ones when you make this – you’ll be rewarded with ooohs and aaaahs. The garlic butter was perfect – garlicky enough, smoothed with melted butter and just slightly heated with chili flakes. This was a very EASY entrée to make. Truly it was. My darling Dave would have been manning the grill, but I managed. The first time I made this my friend Bud (Cherrie’s husband) cooked them; the 2nd time I made them and it’s really simple to do. Do all the prep work ahead and you’ll be rewarded with an easy dish to serve. Truly delicious with garlic butter. Do notice the low calorie count on this one, too.

What’s NOT: can’t think of any thing that wasn’t wonderful.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Grilled Shrimp (Scampi)

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, large, R-T-C — peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon sugar salt and pepper
1 teaspoon oil Spicy Lemon-Garlic Sauce (below)
Three 14 inch metal skewers
SPICY LEMON GARLIC SAUCE: (enough for 1 ½ lbs. shrimp)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
3 garlic cloves — finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt a disposable aluminum pan
1/3 cup chopped parsley — for garnish

1. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Thread shrimp onto skewers, alternating direction of heads and tails so that they are closely pushed together. Brush each side with oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one side of the shrimp with sugar.
2. Light large charcoal chimney with about 6 qts. of charcoal and allow to burn until fully ignited and covered with a thin layer of ash. Empty into grill, placing all the coals on one side and leaving the other side empty. Place the disposable pan with the sauce over the hot side and cook as directed, then move to cooler side. (Alternately, use a gas grill; heat to medium high and leave one section off.)
3. Place skewers with shrimp on hot side, sugared side down, and be sure the shrimp are closely pushed together. Cook for 4-5 minutes and then flip, cooking other side 1-2 minutes. Using an oven mitt, pick up each skewer and using tongs, slide the shrimp off the skewer and into the pan containing the sauce. Toss and cook until fully cooked, about 30 seconds.
4. Remove from grill, add parsley,toss and serve. DO drizzle any remaining sauce over the shrimp.
5. SAUCE: Put butter, juice, red pepper and garlic in the pan and place on the hot side of the grill, cooking until butter is melted and bubbly. Move to cooler side. When shrimp are grilled, place in the hot sauce and continue to cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from grill, add parsley, toss, remove from sauce and serve.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 14g Fat (50.1% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 293mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

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