Whiskey-Glazed Salmon

Living in coastal Massachusetts, I have the convenience of being able to drive down to the local fish market (about a mile away) to get the freshest seafood known to man. After experiencing the exceptional quality and taste of such fresh fish, I will never again purchase filets in a grocery store. One of my favorite types of fish is salmon, whether it’s simply filets covered with mango salsa or grilled to perfection. It’s so flavorful, it tastes amazing no matter how you dress it up. My most recent attempt to “dress up” salmon was absolutely phenomenal. Taking a recipe for bourbon-marinated filets, I decided to change it up and went the whiskey route. The brown sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness to counteract the bite of the whiskey, taking this dish to the next level. I will definitely be making this again!

3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. scotch whiskey (I used The Glenlivet)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 Tbsp. lime juice
3 minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Combine first seven ingredients in a large container with a lid; stir until liquid is smooth. Add fish to liquid; cover with lid and marinate in the refrigerator for about two hours, turning fish periodically to make sure it’s evenly marinating. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish and marinade to pan; cook salmon for four minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Place fillets on plates; drizzle each serving with about 2 tsp. sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Beer-Battered Chicken Wings

I was never really a fan of chicken wings growing up. However, once I started going to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch Packers games here in Massachusetts, I became hooked. The sauces and spices they toss the wings in are delicious. Anyway, for the Super Bowl earlier this year, I decided to make some wings at home. Since my boyfriend is a homebrewer, we had plenty of choices sitting around the house. We chose a lager because it is light and the flavor would not be overpowering. The result was fantastic; the wings were absolutely amazing. Dipping them in chipotle ranch dressing added just the right amount of cool and spiciness.

4 lb. chicken wings, cut in half at joints, tips removed
2 cups (16 oz.) beer (I used a home-brewed lager)
2 cups flour
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Vegetable oil
Chipotle ranch dressing for dipping

Fill a deep pot about 1/3 of the way up with vegetable oil. Heat the oil to 375°. Pat the wings dry with paper towels. Whisk together the beer, flour, sea salt, paprika, coriander, pepper and cayenne pepper. Dredge the wings in extra flour, then dip into batter. Working in batches, add the wings to the hot oil, cooking until crisp and golden, about 12 minutes. Place wings in a bowl with paper towels in the bottom (to help soak up any grease that drains out of the wings. Serve hot with chipotle ranch dressing (or blue cheese, if you prefer).


Seafood Alfredo Lasagna

It’s no secret that I love me some lasagna. Of course, I’m really not a fan of the traditional version since I don’t consume red meat. Thus, I’ve developed quite a few of my own specialty lasagna recipes over the years, incorporating some of my favorite flavors like chicken fajita and chicken and spinach artichoke dip varieties. However, this one is, far and away, my favorite so far. Since I love seafood Alfredo pasta dishes, I’m actually surprised it took me this long to think of throwing it all together in a lasagna. Regardless, it’s delicious - and it’s even pretty darn tasty reheated.

9 lasagna noodles
1 lb. cooked shrimp (thawed if frozen) with tails removed
8 oz. crab meat
8 oz. lobster meat
16 oz. small curd cottage or ricotta cheese
3 tsp. dried parsley
3 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 cups grated parmesan cheese
3 eggs. slightly beaten
1 - 14.5-oz. jar Alfredo sauce (or homemade), divided
2-12 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (I used a mozzarella-provologne blend)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Once the pasta is done boiling, add the shrimp, crab and lobster meat to the water to warm. Meanwhile, In a large bowl, combine the cottage or ricotta cheese, parsley, garlic powder and parmesan cheese; stir in eggs and mix. Set aside. Drain noodles and seafood. In another large bowl, combine the drained seafood with 2/3 of the Alfredo sauce. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the rest of the Alfredo sauce into the bottom of the pan. Place 3 lasagna noodles on top. Spread 1/3 of the cottage/ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles. Spread 1/3 of the seafood and sauce mixture over the cottage/ricotta cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the shredded cheese. Continue layering until all ingredients are used up. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand about 15 to 20 minutes before cutting. Serve with garlic bread if desired.

Pecan Pie Bars

Pecan pie is an amazing dessert. However, when it comes to holiday parties or potlucks, a regular pie doesn’t really go very far. You’d likely have to make a couple pies to make sure no one gets gipped. Anyway, that was my dilemma when my office had their most recent gathering. Since I’m incredibly fond of baking, I wanted to make a pecan pie-like dessert. After a little searching, I found a couple recipes that seemed doable and quite simple. While some called for a ridiculous amount of butter (four sticks) or way too much of a time investment (two and a half hours), this one was just about right - like Goldilocks finding the perfect temperature porridge.

1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans

1-1/2 cups dark corn syrup
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
6 Tbsp flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1-3/4 cups chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, for the crust, combine flour, butter and sugar. Beat with a hand mixer at medium speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in pecans. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except the pecans; mix well. Stir in the pecans. Spread the filling evenly over the hot, partially baked crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until filling is set and a knife inserted into the outer edge comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

Growing up, my grandmother had a few asparagus patches scattered throughout her yard. Those suckers would grow continuously for a few weeks, so it was only natural that almost every meal she prepared for a month or so came with a side of asparagus. And I absolutely hated it. Not only did the texture seem weird to me, but the taste was so foul. My mother would also receive some of the year’s asparagus bounty, so there was no escaping it. Of course, those two never really dressed up the side - just served boiled with butter. That could be one of the reasons I thought it was so awful. My how the times have changed. These days, I buy asparagus at the store, wishing I had a patch of my own to which I could tend. I’ve found oodles of recipes on the Internet that add flavor to the veggie and I’ve given a few of them a try. This one, which I altered very slightly, is my favorite. The bacon and sweetness are the perfect compliment to the asparagus.

12 strips of bacon
1-1/2 to 2 lb. asparagus
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 tsp. salt 

Preheat oven to 400°. Trim bottoms of asparagus and separate into bundles of 5 to 6 pieces. Wrap one piece of bacon around each bundle. Arrange bundles in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Meanwhile, in a small non-stick saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Heat the mixture over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Pour the sauce over the asparagus bundles. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes until bacon is cooked and asparagus has begun to wilt. Serve alongside your favorite main dish.


Juicy Lucy Turkey Burger

In May when we visited Minnesota, my friend, Karis, was telling my boyfriend about the infamous Juicy Lucy burger and he was intrigued. While we didn’t go anywhere that had them on the menu, I knew they couldn’t be too difficult to make; instead of putting the cheese on top, you simply put it inside. Given that I don’t eat red meat, I decided to use my turkey burger recipe instead. And they were fantastic. I wished I could have tried these on a grill, but since we don’t have one or any place to store one, I had to cook them on the stovetop. The key is to make sure not to overcook the burgers as the cheese inside will either disintegrate inside or cook out, leaving you with a pretty crappy non-juicy Lucy.

1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 Tbsp. chopped onion
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/2 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 Tbsp cumin
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce, optional
4 slices American cheese, quartered

In a large bowl, combine all the above ingredients until well blended. Form the turkey into eight small patties (about 1/8 pound each). Cut each slice of cheese in half, then in half again to form four squares. Stack the pieces on top of each other to form four stacks. Place one stack of cheese squares onto the center of one of the patties; top with the second patty and pinch the edges to form a tight seal. Cup each patty with your hands to round out the edges, and press on the top to flatten slightly into a single thick patty. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining portions of meat and cheese to form four patties in total. Cook in a saucepan or on the grill, turning occasionally to make sure the burgers are cooked thoroughly. Serve on buns with your favorite condiments and enjoy.

Salted Caramel Cookie Cups

I love salted caramel anything … lattes, ice cream, cake; it’s all delicious. So, when we received the invite for my boyfriend’s annual family gathering asking us to bring either a dessert or appetizer, I began looking for a yummy dessert idea that incorporated salted caramel. I found a couple that caught my attention, but I decided to leave the final decision to my boyfriend. He chose the salted caramel cookie cups. After baking them and trying one or two, I knew they’d be a hit … and they were. I even ended up bartering with Jay’s uncle; he offered four pieces of chocolate cake for a half dozen cookie cups. Not that I wouldn’t have let him have them for nothing, it was quite entertaining. The recipe I found for these called for peanut butter cookies, but I took a different route and used both sugar and chocolate chip cookie dough. I’m sure you could use any kind of cookie for the cup - I was thinking about making some shortbread dough, but being pressed for time, I just bought refrigerated dough at the store.

1 - 16 oz. package refrigerated sugar cookies
1 - 16-oz. package refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
2-1/2 cups caramels, unwrapped
2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. milk
4 tsp. coarse sea salt for garnish

Heat oven to 350°. Spray 48 mini muffin cups with cooking spray. Remove cookie dough from package. Place about 1 Tbsp. of the dough in each of the 48 muffin cups, 24 of each flavor cookie. Press the dough in the bottom and up the sides of each cup. Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Using the end of a wooden spoon or rubber scraper, carefully press into center of each baked cookie to make 1-inch-wide indentation. Bake for a couple minutes longer if necessary. Allow to cool completely in the pan; when cooled, remove the cookie cups to a cake pans or large trays. 

Meanwhile, in a medium microwavable bowl, microwave caramels and water on high for one minute. Stir; repeat until caramels are completely melted and can be stirred smooth. Stir in milk until combined. Spoon the melted caramel into the cooled cookie cups. Let stand at room temperature about one hour or until set. When caramel filling is set, sprinkle a few granules of coarse sea salt on top of each. Serve.

Seafood Salad

Many years ago, my family would go to Sam’s Club when they had free membership days. Because they didn’t happen a lot, we didn’t go all that often. However, every time we would go, my mom made sure to pick up a container or two of this delicious seafood salad. We’d open up a box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and enjoy it for as long as we could make it last. And then, one day, they didn’t carry it anymore and it was kind of devastating - it seems it’s always the good things that go away. Anyway, we searched for the seafood salad for quite a while and never had any luck. A few weeks back, I decided I wanted to make seafood salad salad, so I scoured the Internet for recipes. Not finding anything that sounded good right away, I finally stumbled across a recipe that seemed like it might be comparable to the seafood salad that we used to buy at Sam’s Club, so I gave it a go. And it was almost spot on. Of course, I tweaked it by adding lobster meat, but, other than that, it reminded me of the good old days.

1 small onion, diced
3 celery stalks, finely diced
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 tsp. dill weed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coriander
1 lb. salad shrimp, thawed
1 lb. refrigerated imitation crabmeat, flaked
8 oz. lobster meat, thawed (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the onion, celery, sour cream, mayo and seasonings. Add the seafood and stir until combined; add additional seasoning if desired. Refrigerate about an hour before serving. Enjoy with crackers, on a salad or with your favorite veggies.


Drunk Brats

About two months ago, I took my boyfriend to visit my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to seeing sights like Lambeau Field and the only remaining pulpwood stacker in the world (my hometown’s pride and joy), I made sure to introduce him to Crescent Meats, a butcher shop right up the road from my parents’ house on Highway 27 in Chippewa County. We bought cheddar wursts, beer brats to grill the next day, along with a couple beef sticks (for him, obviously). It was so good that, last month, we placed an order online to have Crescent ship us some Wisconsin-made meat, most of which was intended as a Father’s Day gift for Jay’s dad. Since we were making the order, we got some Italian sausage and beer brats for ourselves. I recently decided to do something I’ve never done with beer brats -  boil them … in beer. They turned out so good, very tender and incredibly flavorful with the addition of some herbs to the boil. I will definitely be doing this again.

36 oz. beer of your choice - we used a home-brewed red ale (3 cans or bottles)
5 or 6 beer brats (or regular bratwurst)
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1/2 tsp. rosemary

In a medium stock pot or Dutch oven, bring the beer to a boil. Place the bratwurst in the boiling beer. Add the herbs and continue boiling for 25 minutes until tender. Remove from beer broth and serve with your choice of bread/roll and condiments.


Paleo Carrot Cake

I’ve always loved baking; it’s like therapy for me … and the end result isn’t bad either. Anyway, since I started to eat healthier, I haven’t baked as much because it’s difficult to find recipes for cakes and other desserts that are good for you and actually taste good too. So when I came across a recipe for Paleo/gluten-free carrot cake that sounded like it might be tasty, I decided to give it a go (and add some personal touches, of course). As this was baking, the house smelled phenomenal - just like I was making a real carrot cake full of sugar. And the end result was quite surprising to me. The coconut flour, honey and agave nectar gives it the perfect sweetness. Note: for the frosting, it is suggested that you refrigerate the coconut milk overnight (I just put it in the freezer for about 45 minutes and it came out fine).

1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
4 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs
1-1/2 cups grated carrot
1 ripe banana, mashed

1 can coconut milk (roughly 13 oz. - refrigerated overnight ... the Thai Kitchen brand is the most reliable because it’s most likely to solidify properly)
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Grease a 9-by-9-inch square cake pan with oil. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cloves and cinnamon and stir together. The will amount will be relatively small, but coconut flour is very absorbent. Meanwhile, melt the honey, agave nectar and butter in a small saucepan; pour the mixture into a bowl and blend in the olive oil and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, grated carrot and banana; blend until mixed. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Pour the whole mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until firm (but still soft!) to the touch. Cool completely. To make the frosting, open up the can of coconut milk that has refrigerated overnight. The coconut milk on the top of the can should be firm and white. Spoon off all of the solid stuff (there will be some sort of watery liquid on the bottom that you don’t want). Put the solid coconut milk in a bowl and add the honey, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla extract. Blend it all together with your electric mixer. Spread over the cooled carrot cake. Cut and serve; refrigerate leftovers.