1. Charred Shishito Peppers with Sriracha Aioli
1 tablespoon olive oil
6-ounce carton of Shishito peppers
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha, more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Garnish: red pepper flakes
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, and next 3 ingredients. Cover aioli and chill until ready to use. Just before serving, garnish if desired.
In a large skillet, heat oil to medium-high. Add peppers, stirring occasionally until they are blistered and charred on several sides. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes, at the most. Sprinkle with sea salt and lemon juice. Garnish with lemon slices or nasturtiums—or both! Serve with Sriracha Aioli dipping sauce. Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
Learn from Leslie: Put out a small bowl for the stem discards.
2. Pimiento Cheese Baked Grits
5 cups water
3 cups half-and-half
2 cups stone-ground yellow grits
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
20 ounces (1 1/4 pounds) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (7-ounce) jar pimiento slices, drained and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 large eggs, beaten
In a Dutch oven, bring water, half-and-half, grits, and salt to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 40 to 45 minutes or until thickened and cooked.
Remove from heat, and add the cheese and next 6 ingredients. Allow to cool slightly for 10 minutes; add the eggs, and combine thoroughly.
Place in greased ramekins or in 1 large 3- to 3½-quart baking dish. Bake individual ramekins for 40 to 45 minutes. For the larger baking dish, bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until almost set. Allow the grits to cool for 15 minutes before serving. They will be very hot. Serves 8 to 10
Learn From Leslie: This recipe can be made ahead and simply warmed (covered with foil) before serving.
3. Coconut Chicken Curry
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
1/2 large red bell pepper
1/2 large green bell pepper
3 tablespoons coconut oil, separated
2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1½ pounds chicken breast tenders, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 can full-fat coconut milk (NOT lite)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar or Splenda Brown Sugar Blend*
1 teaspoon fish sauce, optional
Cooked basmati rice, brown rice, or cauliflower rice along with additional lime wedges
1/4 cup cilantro and/or basil, diced
Optional: chopped peanuts or cashews
*If using Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (which I did), cut the amount by half.
Start by prepping ingredients: Dice onion, and mince the garlic and ginger. Peel the ginger with a spoon or vegetable peeler, and then finely mince it. Thinly slice the bell peppers into long vertical strips, and then cut those strips in half horizontally.
Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes or until the onions are beginning to get golden. Add the garlic and ginger. Stir to coat everything with the oil. Lower the heat to low, and add the curry powder, red curry paste, and coriander. Stir often for 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.
Return the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon coconut oil and the peppers. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes, and then add the bite-sized pieces of chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I add 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.) Cook, stirring often, for about 4 to 5 minutes or until the chicken is browned on both sides but not cooked through.
Pour in the coconut milk, lime juice, and brown sugar (to taste, I start with just 1 tablespoon brown sugar). Stir until chicken is cooked through and curry is slightly thickened. Stir in fish sauce, if desired.
Serve over rice. Garnish individual bowls with cilantro, basil, and crushed peanuts or cashews. Serve with additional lime wedges, if desired. Serves 4
Learn from Leslie: If you want a thicker sauce, remove 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sauce to a small bowl and, with a fork, whisk in 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Whisk this mixture into the curry.
4. Chicken Lettuce Wraps
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound ground chicken
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
16 Bibb lettuce leaves
1/2 cup salted peanuts
Heat peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-heat for 1 minute. Add garlic and chicken; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth, and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir in green onions and next 5 ingredients. Spoon 2 tablespoons chicken mixture onto each lettuce leaf. Top with salted peanuts, and fold over. Serve with Cucumber Dipping Sauce (recipe below). Makes 16 wraps
Cucumber Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plum sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint
Combine first 6 ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool. Stir in cucumber, cilantro, and mint. Makes 1 cup
5. Easy Asparagus Tart
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Use a rolling pin to gently roll out puff pastry to an 11- by 15-inch rectangle. and transfer to the lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1 inch from the edge to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, prick the pastry around the center (not the edges). Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from the oven. Deflate any bubbles in the pastry, if needed.
Combine olive oil and mustard in a small bowl; spread evenly onto the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border.
Sprinkle the Gruyère over the puff pastry, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Arrange asparagus spears to be parallel with each other or in a decorative manner.
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown, rotating pan halfway through the baking process. Slice into squares, and serve. Serves 8
Learn from Leslie: The easiest way to thaw puff pastry is to place it in the refrigerator overnight.
6. Dark Chocolate Pistachio-Almond Bark
3 (3.5-ounce) good-quality dark chocolate bars
¼ cup chopped shelled pistachios
¼ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon
Line an 8-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a small overhang.
Break chocolate bars into several pieces, and place in a small bowl. Fill a saucepan with water (about 2 inches); heat on medium-high heat. Place bowl with chocolate inside saucepan, and stir until melted. A double boiler will also work for this.
Pour chocolate onto parchment-lined pan, and smooth with a spatula into an even layer.
Sprinkle with pistachios and almonds; then sprinkle with salt.
Chill in refrigerator until completely set, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Peel off parchment, and break into pieces. Serves 8.
7. Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing and Candied Orange Slices
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
3 navel oranges, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 cup sugar
Bring water and 4 cups sugar to a boil in a wide Dutch oven. Add orange slices, and simmer over medium-low heat about 45 to 60 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. (This works best in a shallow layer, so it can be done in 2 batches.) Add more water to prevent burning if it evaporates before the slices are tender.
Remove slices from syrup, and let dry overnight on a wire rack. Toss in 1 cup sugar, and place in a single layer on parchment-lined baking pans.
Note: Any remaining orange syrup can be used in cocktails. Slices can also be dipped in chocolate for another treat.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ cups vegetable oil
2½ cups sugar
8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups finely shredded carrot
1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Whisk together flour and next 4 ingredients. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Slowly add flour mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients by hand.
Divide batter evenly between 3 (8-inch) metal pans coated with vegetable cooking spray and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, and turn out onto a wire rack or parchment paper. Let cool completely before icing with cream cheese icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
3/4 cup butter, softened
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 to 2 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Gently beat butter and cream cheese at low speed of an electric mixer until combined. Slowly add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until creamy.