Saturday, February 26, 2011

Southwest Egg Rolls: A Homemade Take on a Restaurant Favorite

My friends Dan and Jennifer went to Bennigan's for dinner the other night, and it turned out they had one of my favorite things as part of their meal: Southwest Egg Rolls. I love Southwest Egg Rolls. And because of Dan's Facebook post, I've been thinking about them. A lot.

I decided I should search the Internet for copycat recipes, since I've had pretty good luck with that route in the past. I found these and this, but none seemed quite right. So, I consulted those recipes for ideas and made up my own (below). And I wanted to bake them instead of fry them.

Of course, I also wanted the sauce. If you've ever had these egg rolls, you know what I'm talking about: the cool, creamy sauce with pineapple and peppers.

I actually started by making the sauce early in the day so it would have the day to sit in the fridge and let the flavors come together, which turned out to be a good decision. However, if you decide to make the sauce at the last minute, it probably would probably taste just fine.

It's a simple sauce: mayo, salsa, crushed pineapple, a bit of the juice from the pineapple and a pinch of sugar.

For the egg roll filling, there are several ingredients, but none are complicated. The one thing you should do a bit in advance is cook the chicken so it has time to cool before you dice it and start making the filling. A plain chicken breast would work just fine, but I opted for a salsa-marinated chicken breast I picked up at a local market, and I cooked it using the parchment-

The filling is loaded with tasty stuff: chicken, corn, jalapeños, red bell peppers, scallions, spinach, spices, black beans and cheese. You have to make it in two phases to keep the beans from getting mushy and the cheese from melting, but it's worth the extra step. Besides, you don't want to try to assemble egg rolls with hot filling anyway!

When it comes time to assemble the egg rolls, the keys are working on a flat surface that the egg roll wrappers won't stick to, having a small dish of egg whites handy for sealing the egg rolls and cutting off two of the four corners of the wrappers (it makes them easier to fold). And don't overfill them, or they'll be hard to close.

Oh, and be sure to leave yourself a little time for this part. It doesn't take a long tine, but it takes longer than you might expect.

As you finish assembling the egg rolls, put them on a foil-lined baking sheet (I suggest Reynolds Non-Stick Foil) that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (such as Pam). This helps the bottoms of the egg rolls crisp up without sticking to the baking sheet.

Also important: Before you put the egg rolls in the oven, spray them with cooking spray -- generously, on all sides. I used butter-flavored Crisco brand cooking spray, but others probably would work, too.

The cooking spray and a short, high-temperature bake help these egg rolls get brown, bubbly and crispy. They won't be as crispy as they would if you fried them, but they are better for you this way and still have a nice crispiness to them.

One batch of filling is enough for about 20 egg rolls (I made 18 because that's what my pan would hold).

While this type of dish is served in restaurants as an appetizer, I find a few of them to be enough for a perfectly satisfying dinner. And when you think about what's in these egg rolls -- meat, veggies, beans, cheese -- it's no wonder that they're as filling as they are.

(Yield: About 2 cups of sauce)

· 1 cup canola mayonnaise
· 1 1/2 cups crushed pineapple (in juice, not syrup), drained (reserve juice)
· 4 Tbsp. fire-roasted salsa
· 2 Tbsp. pineapple juice (from crushed pineapple)
· Pinch of sugar

· Combine all ingredients; mix well.
· Refrigerate.
· Serve with Southwest Egg Rolls.

(Yield: About 20 egg rolls)

· 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1/2 lb.), cooked and diced
· 1 12 oz. bag frozen corn
· 1/2 of a small red bell pepper, diced
· 5 scallions, sliced
· 2 Tbsp. diced jalapeño peppers
· 1 Tbsp. chili powder
· 1 Tbsp. cumin
· 6 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
· 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
· 1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
· Salt to taste
· Liquid egg whites (or the white of one large egg)
· 1 pkg. egg roll wrappers

· Preheat oven to 425°F.
· In a large frying pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat.
· Add corn and saute until corn begins to brown; stir often to keep it from sticking.
· Add scallions, red bell pepper, jalapeños, chicken, chili powder, cumin and spinach; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
· Remove from heat; let sit until cooled to about room temperature, stirring often to aid in cooling.
· Add beans and cheese; mix thoroughly.
· Place stack of egg roll wrappers on a flat surface in a diamond shape and cut 1 inch or less off the left and right corners.
· Scoop about 3 Tbsp. of filling into the center of a wrapper, then fold up the bottom point and fold in the trimmed edges. Moisten the top point with egg white and then finish rolling up the egg roll from the bottom up.
· Place completed egg roll seam side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil (preferably non-stick) and sprayed with cooking spray.
· Repeat until filling is gone.
· Spray egg rolls with cooking spray, making sure to spray all exposed sides of the egg rolls.
· Bake for 18 minutes or until egg rolls are brown.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ridiculous Cake

I'm typically pretty confident when it comes to cooking and baking ... but for some reason, cake seems to be one thing that always gets me worried. Yet, I somehow never seem to be able to resist trying a cake recipe that sounds like it would be tasty.

So, yeah. You can imagine how I felt when I found out about this chocolate/peanut butter cake from Bakerella via a tweet from Jess Greco (@jessicagreco on Twitter).

I waited all of two days to attempt it.

Now, this may be sacrilege, but I dared to make a recipe a bit differently than Bakerella posted it. Just a little bit differently. Why? Partly because I thought the quantity of peanut butter cups on the outside of the cake was a bit excessive, especially if you want people to feel like they can eat a slice without immediately getting on a treadmill ... and partly because the good folks at Hershey's have given us an easier way to put Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in things by coming out with Reese's Minis. While the mini peanut butter cups are meant for snacking, they also are perfect for baking. If you're wondering, four king size bags (2.5 oz. each) of the minis equal the
two cups of cups that the recipe calls for in the cake batter. (NOTE: My local Walgreens was sold out of the standard 8 oz. bags, which would've provided the two cups with plenty left over for decorating.)

Oh, and I also used canola oil instead of vegetable oil. I don't even keep vegetable oil in my kitchen.

So ... the cake. I baked my two layers in 8" metal cake pans (that's what I own), but at the end of 30 minutes, neither cake was done. One had to go 34 minutes, and one had to go 38. Might've just been my oven ... or my pans ... or even the weather. But of course, having to bake the layers longer than the recipe called for made me nervous that the cake would be dry. And, when you're dealing with cake, you really have no idea how it turned out until you cut the first piece.

I flipped over the flatter/smaller of the two layers to make it the bottom layer. I hate slicing the top off of a cake. I never seem to be able to get it even (I need a cake saw ...), and it makes a mess. However, I clearly had to do it to the top layer, which was taller and a little more done on top. It was almost a disaster, but the nice dark chocolate/peanut butter frosting helped hold it all together. It was a little crooked, but I was just glad it all stayed together!

Once the cake was frosted, it was time for decoration. I cut a regular-sized peanut butter cup into quarters. One was a little ugly, so I used the three good pieces as the centerpiece on the cake. And I ended up using one additional king size bag of the minis to decorate the rest of the top of the
cake. It looked nice enough, and it definitely felt more reasonable, calorically, than coating the whole cake with candy.

The cake went to work with me on Valentine's Day. I put the "I'm afraid it might be dry" disclaimer out there before anybody had a piece (I think it's better to put it out there when you think it truly might be possible), but I was relieved to get word that the cake was "fabulous."

It's amazing how a baked good can simultaneously earn you friends and enemies ... and this cake definitely falls into that category.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Pizza. Yum.

You'll see plenty of unusual pizzas on this blog, as I do quite a bit of experimenting with pizza.

I love pizza. And I love Greek food. So, of course, when I decided to make a spanakopita (Greek spinach pie)-inspired pizza, I wanted to do it right. I thought about it for some time before actually making it.

What did I end up doing?

I started with some young spinach, which I'd sauteed with a few chopped shallots and some white wine a couple days ahead of time and then refrigerated. It is important that the spinach be cooked and cooled for this recipe. You'll see why.

It's also important to drain it really, really well -- both when you cook it and again just before you make the pizza.

If you don't want to deal with fresh spinach and end up going with frozen, it is even more important to drain it. Frozen spinach has a ton of water in it, so you'll need to thaw it, squeeze it and really drain it. (But I don't recommend going this route. The shallots and wine in the fresh spinach really impart a nice flavor that you won't be able to duplicate with frozen spinach.)

Next, add crumbled feta cheese, dried dill weed and liquid egg whites to the mixture and stir it together.

I know, it doesn't look very pretty. But don't worry.

For my pizzas, I make my own crust. (I'll cover that in a post later on.) Perhaps you do, too. Or maybe you like pizza shells you can buy at the store ... or premade dough from the supermarket or your favorite pizza parlor. Whatever the case, the next step is to prepare your crust.

I like flavored crusts. They just add a little something to the pizza. For this pizza, I pressed the crust into my cast-iron skillet, then spread a little olive oil around the outside edge before sprinkling on some dehydrated onions that I'd reconstituted. They were a nice complement to the flavors of the pizza without stealing the show, which is definitely the way it should be when doing a flavored crust. I'd love to hear other flavored-crust suggestions for this pizza, so comment away!

Next, I spread the spinach mixture on the crust. I could've stopped there, but I really wanted to
make it "pizza-like" ... which means topping it with at least a little bit of cheese. I went with something that I thought would be the perfect complement to the ingredients while remaining true to the creamy, dill-y flavor of spanakopita that I love. I opted for Dill Havarti.

It turned out to be a great decision. It worked perfectly -- melted nicely and tasted great. And it's easy to find in most stores these days.

Once it was baked and cooled, the "spanakopizza" was ready to eat. And it was good. Very good, if I do say so myself. Doesn't it feel great to invent something that tastes awesome?

(Yield: One 10" to 16" pizza)

· About 1 lb. of fresh young spinach, sauteed in a bit of cooking spray with 2-3 diced shallots and a splash of white wine, then fully cooled
· 1 small tub of reduced-fat feta cheese crumbles
· 1/8 cup liquid egg whites (or the white of one large egg)
· 1/4 teaspoon (rounded) of dried dill weed
· Dill Havarti cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup -- or more/less depending on taste)
· Pizza crust

· In a mixing bowl, combine spinach/shallots, feta, egg white and dill.
· Place crust dough or pizza shell in a cast-iron skillet or pizza pan.
· Spread spinach mixture on the crust.
· Sprinkle shredded dill Havarti over spinach mixture.
· Bake according to dough recipe/directions or pizza shell directions.
· Transfer pizza to wire rack immediately after baking, and allow to cool for a few minutes. Doing this keeps the pizza from getting soggy on the bottom.
· Transfer pizza to a cutting board; cut into slices using a pizza cutter.