Thursday, September 23, 2010

Restaurant Week: Blanco

Our tour goes a little Mexican today as we discuss the food and drinks at Blanco.  The concept for this restaurant is clean, fresh Mexican fare and great tasting mixed drinks.  The bar is the centerpiece of the layout of this eatery.  The industrial glass garage doors let lots of light in during the day, contributing to the fresh, clean vibe. 

They were running a special the day we visited including 2 margaritas and 2 "appetizer" entrees for $25.  We bit.  Drew had the margaritas and said they were pretty good.  We settled on the braised short rib and avocado cheese crisp and the nachos con queso blanco.  The braised short ribs on the cheese crisp (much like a quesadilla, but better) were phenomenal in the flavor department.  They were just the right texture and combined very nicely with the avocado and generous sprinkling of cilantro.  It was so good, we almost forgot to take a picture.  The nachos were nothing really special and left us wishing we had ordered another option of cheese crisp (the chipotle shrimp and corn sounds really good). 

We stopped in for lunch and were surprised by very large portions!  Very great lunch spot, but we will have to go back for dinner sometime.  The Restaurant Week menu looks amazing!

Pizza with panache

So, I have mentioned a local recreational cooking school around here via my Baking Course posts (I promise, I have more of them!), but I have not mentioned some of their one-off classes which are phenomenal.  I have attended the fresh pasta workshop and the fresh pizza workshop.  Most recently, I had the pleasure of taking my foodie friend Tara with me for the pizza workshop.  The teacher, Julie, is an authentic Italian chef with quite the credentials.  But it is her lifetime of experience the students benefit from most in these classes.  She is a wealth of knowledge and is ready and willing to answer all the questions we have. 

I have been wondering for a long time why pizza recipes call for corn meal for dusting.  I learned at the class that the cornmeal acts as "little wheels" to help the prepared pizza dough to transfer from the pizza peel to the the hot stone in the oven.  Genius!

On the menu for the class were:
Fresh Pizza Dough
Pizzas: Margherita, Quattro Stagioni ("Four Seasons"), Smoked Salmon w/ Goat Cheese; and Carmelized Onion, Mushroom and Fontina
Calzones: Four Cheese and other creations of the imaginations of the students
Flatbread from the Grill

Needless to say, we ate well that night as we learned a lot about traditional Italian pizza and were encouraged to get in the kitchen to make our own combinations.  Julie teaches the foundations of food, leaving lots of room for variation and playfulness.  My favorite combination of the night was the Carmelized Onion, Mushroom, and Fontina.The class is interactive and is a great way to meet new friends interested in food (as we did!).    As for pictures, Tara's talented techie husband helped us out by creating a link to the pictures from the class.  Thanks, Spencer!

The best part of the evening was the opportunity to take some fresh dough home to make pizza for our families.  Tara and I jumped at the chance and Drew was thankful!  The next night, while I did some things around the house, I sent Drew to the store to come up with his own toppings for our pizza.  He did great, bringing back fresh mozzarella and pancetta.  I threw some marinara down, added these toppings and some very thinly sliced red onions and we were set!  The results were amazing (that's it pictured above).  We are going to be having pizza regularly around here, I think!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Restaurant Week: Culinary Dropout

Apparently one of the places to see and be seen in Scottsdale on a Saturday night or Sunday morning is Culinary Dropout (evidenced by the high number of groups of people asking the staff to take pictures of them, maybe the paparazzi had the night off).  Drew found this restaurant through some online research and it sounded interesting to him.  The concept: laid back vibe, no uniforms, comfort food.  The resulting experience: a place that says it doesn't want to be fussy, but ends up being a fussy type place for hipsters to hang.  Don't get me wrong, it was just right, just not the "underground, subversive, aren't we so different" place one might think. 

We started with an order of house made potato chips with onion dip, some olives, and prosciutto.  The chips are wonderful, but the dip tastes more like a ranch dip than onion dip.  The olives and prosciutto are part of their "make your own meat and cheese platter" antipasti menu and I love this concept!  They could not have picked two greater suckers for this, we could have eaten solely from this part of the menu. 

I ordered the artichoke salad with asparagus, endive, and Parmesan.  Let's just say this salad was divine!  I love a good salad and crave them quite often.  The downside to ordering this salad is that I have a new crave-able salad and no way to get it when the craving strikes!  The vinaigrette on this salad makes it out of this world, but they could leave a little off because the salad gets a little soggy after it sits for a little while.  Drew ordered the pork belly Cubano sandwich and was very pleased with the results.  He didn't find the pork belly as salty as he was expecting. 

For dessert, our server brought out their salted caramel custard, my new favorite.  I haven't stopped thinking about this dessert since I had it.  The dessert comes topped with house made caramel popcorn - wow!  The caramel topping is the perfectly prepared caramel sauce, salted and just the right thickness.  And the custard itself - sublime, creamy, not at all eggy.  Oh, I need some more of that, stat! 

You too can enjoy one of the carmel custards as part of Culinary Dropout's Restaurant Week menu.  They have a 3 course meal for $58/couple including a glass of wine each.  Sound's like the perfect date night to me!  It's a great way to check out Phoenix magazine's Best New Restaurant for 2010.

Note: sorry there are no pictures to ogle.  The Dropout's outdoor lighting was less than perfect for photo-taking.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Restaurant Week: Bourbon Steak

Next on the list of the taste tour that is Phoenix is Bourbon Steak.  The Michael Mina steakhouse is located on the property of the Fairmont Scottsdale.  We have seen other Mina restaurants while travelling, but we could not pass up the bar menu burgers and duck fat fries (voted best in the valley). 

We are early diners (made painfully obvious by the fact that we arrived at the restaurant before the kitchen was open), so we pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of our visit.  We were in good company though with the bar staff of Kyle and Mike.  All of the bar menu drinks are made with fresh squeezed juices and are expertly made with care by the friendly bartenders.  I ordered a Lemon Drop that tasted like a glass of ice cold lemonade and Drew had a Dark and Stormy upon Kyle's recommendation.  The rum drink is popular at the bar (and must be made with exceptional ingredients because Drew's attempt to recreate it at home this evening was less than successful).

We chatted with Kyle and Mike while waiting for the food to arrive and were rewarded for our wait with the most exceptional appetizers EVER!  I have heard about duck fat fries for a while and I was ready to experience them first hand.  These were amazingly crispy and flavorful.  Each order of fries comes in three different flavors with three dipping sauces.  The first is flavored with paprika, the second truffle oil (the ladies love truffles), and the third rosemary and other herbs.  I can't remember the dipping sauce combinations because, honestly, the fries don't need them - they speak for themselves just fine.  We also ordered red onion rings that were perfectly prepared and elegantly presented. 

Then the burgers.  I ordered the Salmon burger done banh mi style (carrots, cilantro, jalapenos, lettuce) - oh so good!  Drew had a make your own creation beef burger with jalapenos, mustard, and grilled onions.  We didn't really discuss the food much because we were too busy eating!  Other options on the bar menu look great too!  Next time I might jump out there and try Mina's lamb burger. 

If you are still planning on booking a flight to Phoenix, definitely stop in to Bourbon Steak during restaurant week because they are featuring a $39.00 prix fixe menu that looks fabulous.  Wish we could head back to Phoenix just to try it!  I hear that while you are waiting for your food they give the duck fat fries out for free!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Restaurant Week: Z'Tejas

Sad news met us when we got to Phoenix last week:  we were a week too early for Restaurant Week.  As some of you may know, we travel for the express purpose of filling our bellies with good food.  Often we are restaurant-starved in the desert and so each new city brings on new culinary adventures.   Phoenix is no exception.  Everywhere we went while we were in Phoenix, we met someone who suggested the place we had to go to get...Mexican food, breakfast food, pasta ("better than in Italy," one man added), etc.  It seems there is no shortage of beloved eateries in the greater Phoenix area.   Although we were there too early this year, you still have time to book a flight because all this week I am going to be reviewing the places we enjoyed.   I am not a travel agent, but I can plan an amazing vacation for your tastebuds!

First stop is Z'Tejas.  This is a must stop location for us when passing through Phoenix.  It is a restaurant with locations in Texas, Arizona, and California, but the Scottsdale location wins hands down on the quality of food and the friendliness of the servers.  The food is always exceptional and the margaritas were voted by the locals the best in the valley.  

We started with a Trio of Salsas (house, spicy, and green) and some guacamole; a great way to start the meal.  Also included with all orders is a skillet of cornbread that does the Texas tradition proud (with a hint of sweet).   Drew also started off with the 6th Street Margarita (their house) because he says it is one of the best restaurant margaritas out there (more on the liquor part of our Phoenix trip here). 

Our meals were the Smoked Chicken Enchiladas and the Seafood Enchiladas.  As always the Smoked Chicken Enchiladas were great!  I call them Texas on a plate.  The seafood enchiladas, while good, just don't do it for me, but Drew liked them.  I would recommend the Barbacoa Enchiladas, but I hear the Chile Relleno is amazing.  It is so hard to try something new at a restaurant when you only get to eat there once a year! (Sorry for the blurry pictures, they were taken on Drew's cell phone and I spared you from the truly horribly blurry ones!)

Don't forget to save a little room for dessert because the cobbler with seasonal fruit is amazing!  Also on the list of must-haves is the brownie - it is sublime (for a brownie).

If you are heading out to Phoenix for restaurant week, you won't find Z'Tejas listed among the participants.  This is likely because they have great food at affordable prices everyday and they have one of the best happy hours in the valley.  Even if you stop in for appetizers, drinks, and dessert, you won't be disappointed. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why are we here?

Since I have never really taken much time to introduce myself to my readers (possibly because I know most of you), it seems after a year of blogging about kitchen stuff, it is time to ask the question: Why are we here?  Well, I am not so sure about the rest of you people, but I am here because:

  • I love food!  In my family growing up, food meant LOVE.  Breakfasts at the kitchen table included a have-it-your-way indulgence by my mom.  I would get whatever I wanted (from omelets and oatmeal to cinnamon toast and lemon pound cake).  Sack lunches were filled with homemade goodies and, often, a note from mom saying she hoped I was having a good day.  Dinner was always something tasty and satisfying.  But the common theme to every meal was the healthy dose of love included in each bite.  

  • I am not in any way loyal to recipes.  Thus the name of the blog.  I rarely make the same meal twice.  My husband and I just passed our 6th anniversary but we broke the 1,000 mark on recipes long ago.  This could be thanks in part to my college roommate.  We had a deal: I cooked, she did the dishes.  Sadly, the only thing she ever wanted was teriyaki chicken and rice.  Let me tell you, two years of the same food does two things for you: put you off wanting teriyaki chicken ever again and take back the reigns in your own kitchen.  But, man, if you ever need to know every way teriyaki chicken can be put on a plate, I'm your girl. 

  • I am not a food snob.  That doesn't mean I don't like good food, it just means it doesn't have to be fancy to be extraordinary.  There's no putting on airs here.  I am a Texas girl, trained to make Tex-Mex and Southern foods with love, not condescension.   Often, you will find comfort foods and simple flavors with fresh ingredients.  

  • I am not perfect and neither are the recipes I try.  The most notable mess in the kitchen in the last year was not spared from a review on the blog.   We have a policy in our house: If it is horrible, we will order out.  There aren't a lot of horrible reviews, but we keep it real around here and let you know how it can be improved or when the only improvement is forgetting it ever happened!
So now that you know a little about me, I will let you in on a little secret...

I am attempting to become the next food blog star!  (I know!)  This competition is sponsored by and is just starting this week.  The first challenge requires me to tell you about my blog and why I should be the next food blog star.

I am not really looking for stardom (I don't think I can handle the paparazzi), but am hoping to make it to some of the later rounds so I can stretch my blogging muscles (locating them might be the hardest part).   In the spirit of the stretch, I have some things planned for this fall and winter (my favorite time in the kitchen!) and I look forward to sharing some new recipes I have gotten from some of my readers! 
So if you like what you have heard so far or you just want to push me to try new things on the blog: VOTE for me (I feel like I cam back in high school, running for student council) by clicking on the little thing to the right with my picture on it (starting Monday).  I would make campaign promises, but those are always broken and I would never do that to you (you see what I did there?). 
Here's to new adventures!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kinda Moroccan

I realize proportions in this picture make it look like there is a ton of couscous on this platter.  Sometimes proportions are correct! 

I had a recipe for a Greek Spiced Sirloin and decided to make it.  But, I decided to go a little Morocco with it.  This brought on a conversation regarding how interesting it is that people from completely different parts of the world eat similar foods with very similar ingredients.  Additionally, the way these foods are served is similar in the region of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa.  Imagine that!

I am just happy that the foods and flavors taste so good! 

So,  The steak is pretty much self-explanatory.  Heat grill, add rub to steak, grill, rest, serve!  Before the steak was thrown on the grill (a.k.a. George), I grilled up some red onions and zucchini spears with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  I also got a box of couscous going  (such hard work!).  The dip in the back is a yogurt, sour cream, cucumber mixture similar to raita (a.k.a. Indian cuisine happiness).  Oh and I threw in some feta, because there is always room for feta (or is it Jell-o?).   The only thing missing was pita! 

Do you like my serving suggestion?  We simply love our dishes made by a family friend.  Go to his website to check out some of his other pottery designs!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dinner with an 8 Ball

Drew's status update on Facebook said something along these lines.

You know how sometimes parents get their kids to eat new foods by telling them they are some gross thing like brains or eyeballs?  Or they tell them a particularly named food item is actually called something else, like "Princess slippers"?  Note: I made that last one up (oh, parenting is going to be fun!).  Well, I have discovered the grown up version of this game.  Call all somewhat questionable foods by drug names.

I was at a party last night (pot-luck), and someone came up to me and told me to try something.  I asked, "What is it?" and the reply: "Crack."

My response: I took a bite.

Example 2:  This week's CSA box included some squash type thing.  Upon futher research online (don't you think it would be helpful if they put a list in the box?), we found out this particular variety of squash is called 8 Ball Squash.  The response:  Oh, we need us some of that!

The first "hit" (ha) of our 8 ball was a success.  I decided to wade in slowly and go with a tried and true method (roasting with olive oil and a little salt and pepper - can't go wrong with that).  But as I was preparing the squash, I started to get all sorts of ideas for it: vegetarian lasagna, 8 Ball parmesan, etc. could even scoop out the insides and create little bowls for a soup!  Because of the texture of the squash, I would think this is a vegetarian's favorite.  I hope we get some more in our box next week!

Note: I paired the squash with pork chops (smoky - cumin, paprika, spicy montreal steak seasoning) and some Au Grain potatoes. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Theme

So I was having a conversation with a South African lady I met the other day at a cooking class and we were talking about what type of food we prepare most in our homes.  I told her we like lots of Tex-Mex flavors.  I don't think this could be more true!  Hopefully, my faithful readers, you are not tired of reading about cilantro because here goes...

While menu planing a little while ago, I came across this great looking recipe for rosemary chicken thighs.  They have a fresh rosemary, Dijon mustard, garlic, and honey marinade and are grilled to perfection.  Sounds great, right?  Well, then they had a note about being able to substitute cilantro (or some other herbs) for the rosemary.  Say no more!  I was determined to switch it up to the cilantro because of my love affair with said herb (1. Drew knows all about it and is usually ok with it; 2. yes - I am aware that others are in love with another herb, not me!)

Paired with the chicken recipe was a procedure for sauteeing spinach for a side dish.  We had some Chinese spinach from our CSA box, as well as garlic and leeks.  So I heated up the pan, threw some garlic and the leeks in, and waited a minute or so, then added the spinach.  After the spinach wilted down, I turned off the heat and added salt and pepper.  Great results. 

We had an avocado that was ready, so that got thrown on the plate with the chicken and the spinach.  Easy, simple supper!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Week of 08/30 - 09/05

This week I finish up my Baking Course (more posts about that to come), so I will have a little more time to work on menu planning!  Getting back on track!

Monday: quick dinner while prepping final exam!

Tuesday: Lunch: Bacon Pimiento Cheese Sandwiches
Dinner: Balsamic Flank Steak, Vegetable, Potato

Wednesday: Dinner: Smoky Pork Chops, Vegetable

Thursday: Lunch: Tuna Salad w/ Lemon Aioli
Dinner: BBQ Shrimp, Mashed Potatoes

Friday: Dinner: Thai Chicken Stir-Fry Salad

Saturday: Lunch: Buffalo Club Sandwiches
Dinner: ? (Gotta keep the mystery somehow!)

Sunday: Lunch: out
Dinner: Chicken, Pesto & Tomato Flatbread

By Request

I am not sure if I have included this recipe on this blog, but it is considered a favorite around here; so I would be remiss not to share it with you. 

How, you ask, does a recipe rise to the level of being prepared more than once?  I am not sure - but most of our favorites have some sort of heat and are usually inspired by Mexican flavors.  But, it is not about what makes a favorite so special.  It is more about recognizing them when they come along!  Drew is usually my gauge for this. 

So, imagine my pleasure that one of our favorites is also incredibly easy to prepare.  It is great for those nights when you just don't want to cook or you don't want something heavy.  We were at the grocery store the other day getting some items for the week, when Drew announced he was in the mood for Mexican Tuna Salad with a specific type of Doritos chip!  I think this is the first time Drew has actually requested dinner (he is really good natured about the food thing and usually eats what is placed in front of him without complaint)!  So, plans changed and we headed home to get started on dinner.

Ten minutes later we had this lovely meal:

Mexican Tuna Salad
2 containers of tuna in water (prefer albacore)
2-3 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. Serrano pepper, finely chopped (seeded, if necessary)
2 Tbsp.  cilantro, snipped
2-3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
Pepper to taste

Drain the tuna (if necessary, not necessary if you have pouches) and put in a medium size bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.  Chill for a few minutes if you can.  Serve with a half avocado per person, with crackers, as a sandwich, or with Doritos (Drew recommends the ones in the purple bag). 

It doesn't get much easier than this!  The above measurements are best guesses, so feel free to adjust them to taste. 

Easy dinner, happy couple!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Simple Summer Dinner

One of the things we found when we opened this week's box from the CSA was fennel.  I have to be honest, I haven't used fennel that much because the flavor can be a little much for me (and Drew).  It was most recently featured prominently in a Christmas dinner a few years back via inspiration from Mario Batali - great Italian Stuffed Pork Loin.  So, I guess you could say it's been a while.

I recently came across a recipe for fennel salad that sounded interesting, but the ingredients were less than desirable for our family.  So starting from there, I went online and looked for fennel salad recipes.  Most I came across included citrus.  This was a no go for us as well, so I settled on the most simple one I could find.  This was proof that simple ingredients (if fresh), prepared simply are the best.  Here is the recipe.  I was also able to use one of the red onions from the CSA.

So once I got the salad, I decided to do simple sandwiches to go with them.  It is insanely hot and humid here this week (not normal for the desert of So. Cal.), so I didn't want to turn on the oven.  This turned out to be a simple summer dinner.  Drew especially liked the salad dressing (I used a good amount of pepper).

Are you interested in fennel?  Do you have a favorite recipe that utilizes this crazy vegetable?  Please let me know, I am going to need to some if we get any more fennel.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summertime Soup

Since we recently decided to give Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) a try, we have been inundated weekly with a large amount of veggies (some of unknown nomenclature).  This week, I was lagging behind the using up of the veggies, so I decided to do a clean out the fridge recipe of my own making.  The resulting soup was not bad!  I started with some leftover Rotisserie Chicken, and the veggies you see here:

Not a bad start - for those of you who can't identify the items on the cutting board...neither can I!  Just kidding! They are: onion, garlic (an amazing rare variety that is extremely spicy when raw), zucchini, spinach (another odd variety), kale, collard and turnip greens, and a Yukon gold potato. 

Obviously, since this is a clean out the fridge recipe, you can use whatever veggies you have on hand.  I only used half of each of the greens because I am going to use them for another recipe.

Here's the recipe for the soup. 
Various veggies (chopped)
Rotisserie chicken (skin and bones removed, chopped)
Chicken broth
Salt and Pepper

Once you have got the veggies chopped, heat a dutch oven over medium heat with a small amount of olive oil in the bottom.  Add the onions and garlic, let them soften.  Add spices and stir into the onion mixture.
Add the veggies (pay attention to cooking times for the veggies - I added the zucchini much later in the cooking time).  Cover with chicken broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes or until veggies are soft.
Add any quick-cooking veggies and chicken for the last 10 minutes of the cooking time.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread. 

Don't you just love my vague recipes? 

This soup was very good and summery!  Drew liked it so much he drank the broth - always a good sign!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Baking Day: Part Two

So, the rest of baking day was so-so; meaning there was one good recipe and one not so good recipe.  Good news first:

The zucchini carrot nut bread is very tasty.  It is a quick bread recipe from my professional baking course.  I attempted this at home a couple of weeks ago to less than stellar results.  The reason is because the book says to make them into muffins and I wanted to make them into loaves.  This is normally not a problem if I had been thinking and changed the temperature of the oven and the cook time.  Instead I had loaves that were done on the outside and still dough on the inside.  Not good.

The results this time were perfect.  I froze one loaf and cut into the second and will share part of it with family.  The difference with this recipe is it is a mix method of preparation instead of a creaming method.  Thus, the result is less like what we Americans are used to in the texture department.  The quick bread/ muffins end up being very hearty...less like eating cake for breakfast (a practice I highly recommend due to my mother indulging my A.M. sweet tooth...carmel sundaes and lemon pound cake for breakfast, anyone?).  The heartier texture goes well with a warm beverage in my book!

Then, I made the not so good recipe.  No offense to the recipe creator - it just wasn't my bag.  The recipe from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg for Banana Ginger Chocolate chip Bread (sounds great doesn't it?) was too gingery for me.  The small chunks of crystallized ginger were a taste sensation I was not feeling.  In fact, I don't think I really liked the chocolate chips in there either.  I guess I will have to stick with the old-fashioned Banana Nut bread.   I made these into muffins instead of loaves with the proper temperature and time adjustments.  I think these will be given away to unsuspecting thankful friends and family.

All in all, not a bad baking day, except for the clean up.  What to do?  Leave the dishes for the A.M., after the coffee and zucchini carrot nut bread!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Baking Day: Part One

Since I am taking a Professional baking course right now, I have convinced myself I need to practice what I learn.  But fitting baking into your schedule is pretty difficult.  Especially when you would rather hold down the couch with the latest good read.  But I extracted myself from the couch today with the intent of making 3 different recipes.  I thought this would not take all day.  I thought wrong!

On the list for the day:
Weekly Batch of French Bread (seeking perfection, starting at zero)
Batch of Zuchinni Carrot Nut Bread
Batch of Banana Ginger Chocolate Chip muffins

So, I got started on the French bread first thing this morning.  This is a formula that calls for the sponge method of bread making.  Basically this is a process whereby, you make prepare a small amount of the flour and water necessary for the bread with the yeast required and let that ferment together for a period of time before making the rest of the dough.  (For those of you who were paying attention to the last post, this sponge process is pre-12 step program)  The sponge gives the French bread a ton more flavor than a traditional formula - it is basically yeasty goodness with butter on top!

Once the sponge was put together and had fermented for it's required time, I got started on adding the rest of the ingredients.  Then I got all excited because this was to be my stand mixer's innagural dough mix (it was a big day for the mixer!).  My excitement soon melted away when I discovered my stand mixer does not have the power (insert poor Robin Williams impression of Scottie from Star Trek here) to knead dough properly.  Basically, what happened was a whole lot of shaking and very little combining.  So, I got a crash course in hand kneading.  Thankfully, I had the benefit of watching a guy from my class on Sunday do this very thing because our dough was too big for the mixer at class.  Sadly, this also means that I had no idea what my hands were supposed to be feeling. 

Somehow, I made it through all this unscathed (not so sure about the dough) and got to the benching process.  Then the waiting game began.  Once both my lumps of dough were ready, I formed them into rather pretty French loaves and waited for them to rise. After a quick water wash and some cuts, they spent time in the oven and came out beautiful.

We cut into one and had some with dinner and Drew declared that they "taste like French bread."  Success! 
Sorry, I didn't get any pictures of the results, but there are pictures of the other recipes in the future posts about my baking day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back in the Swing

It's been quite some time since I posted an actual meal on here.  I have been slacking in the proper meal making department, as well as the proper picture taking department.  Sometimes I guess you just need to take a break!

Break over...Here's the latest dinner from our house...

drum roll please!  Taco Salad.

Can you tell I have been slacking lately?  So, this recipe is not inspired by any recipe rather a reminder I got from my email letting me know how much I like taco salad (Don't you get those types of emails all the time?).  So I ran out and got a couple ingredients and used some of what we had on hand to make up the rest.  "What goes on my taco salad?"  I hear you ask.  

Here is the rundown of ingredients:
Sharp Cheddar cheese
red onions (organic from our CSA!)
taco meat
green salsa
black olives
cucumbers (organic from our CSA!)
creamy cilantro dressing

This is a sad salad indeed.  But because Drew does not like much more on his salad than lettuce and cheese, this was stepping out there.  If the avocados from our CSA were ready, they would have made the cut.  Overall, it was a nice summer meal. 

Drew's contribution to our dinner was a cocktail of his imagining.  It all started a couple days ago when we found a liquer on sale for $4.00/bottle...crazy, right?  So, we snatched up a bottle and Drew started brainstorming what we could do with it.  He came up with a rasberry-lime concoction that was pretty tasty.  The recipe still needs a little tweaking, but it looks pretty, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baking School: Week 4

Hello, my name is Leah and I am a breadmaker. 

For the last week, I have been working on a 12 step program.  No, not that one.  The one that results in warm kitchens, yummy smells, and yeasty goodness of a whole other sort: the 12 step program for baking bread. 

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for this year to learn how to make bread.  But ,I have to be honest, I was pretty intimidated by my goal.  I had never attempted anything beyond banana bread and I had never used yeast in my life.  So, imagine my terror when I opened my textbook and found out the process of making bread was even more involved than I had ever imagined!  

Thankfully, our teacher is helpful in guiding us through the program, defining terminology, and encouraging us to go for it.  Over the last week, we made: focaccia, sweet rolls, danish, brioche, french loaves, and whole wheat dinner rolls.  Whew!  That is a lot of bread and a lot of patience!  If there is one thing I am learning about baking in general each week, it is patience.  The process of baking is not something you can just speed up because you are running short on time, or you just want to get it over with.  Attention to each of the 12 steps is necessary in order to acheive the best possible results. 

So, my teacher suggests that we select one type of bread and make it until we know it fully.  I think I am going to choose french bread.  My goal is to make it at least once a week for a while.  That means lots of bread to give away!  That also means I will be well on my way to fulfilling my New Year's resolution.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Produce Overwhelming

Anybody who knows me, knows I tend to be a planner.  In the kitchen, this is abundantly clear by my monthly menu plans and the long lists I make to get everything done before every dinner party.  So my world was rocked earlier this week.  I had been planning this for a while, but I don't think I really could have been prepared for what hit us...a produce storm of unknown proportions.

We bought a share at a local farm.  Well, actually, we bought a trial share of a local farm and we are splitting it with Mom and Dad.  The farm is certified organic and the produce is amazing!  It is beautiful!  I love the concept of getting fresh produce on a weekly basis and it only costs $16/week!  But here are some of the thoughts when we got the first box:

Peaches!  Look at the peaches!  What is this?  Is this lettuce?  It doesn't look like lettuce.  Wow, look at these cute little carrots!  Do you like beets?  Do you like grapefruit?  I think those are greens - I am not sure what kind.  What is that triangular leaf thing?  It has no smell.  What am I going to cook with all this produce? Oh, its spinach!  This is so exciting!  What am I going to cook with all this?!!
After getting the baskets and getting all of it put away, I started really wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I had a breakdown the first night - I don't think we ate any of the produce.  Then, as I lay in bed, all these ideas came to me: 
Drew likes grapefruit and I can cut it up for him and make homemade fruit cups.  Zucchini Carrot Muffins.  Arugula Pesto.  Collard  and Beet Greens and Pork Chops.  Stir-Fry.  Roasted Beets.  Spinach Salad with Cucumber. 

And I thought, this may be fun

So the answer to the question, "What's on the menu?" may be up in the air for a little while, but I think it is worth it considering the harvest of ideas and the harvest of produce!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baking School: Week 3

I had a friend in high school that used to quote an (unknown to me) eighties movie all the time.  We would be mid-conversation and she would spout off, "Shut your pie hole!"  I often took offense to it, but it was definitely memorable! 
So this week, the theme is, "Open your pie hole!"  Our class covered the very intimidating (to me) topic of pastry, more specifically: pie.  And I have a confession regarding pie-making:

I have never made a pie crust from scratch before.

I know, I know, this adventuresome kitchen rat, has never made a pie crust.  I have always been intimidated by the procedure.  It seems everyone has a recipe for the perfect pie crust.  They also have different techniques for creating the perfect crust.  Pile on this the fact that the crust has to be rolled out into a perfect circle and placed in a pie tin, and I am flustered and scared.

Well, not anymore.  Well, sort of!  Let me explain:

This week I learned a great recipe (butter is always better!) and a great method (hello, food processor!) to take all the intimidation away.  The procedure takes very little time and surprisingly few ingredients and is relatively simple to get together.  Our teacher was definitely a help in de-mystifying the pie crust for me.  She guided us through the right and wrong ways to make a pie crust and pointed out what we were looking for along the way.  I now know how to make a flaky pie crust and a mealy pie crust and when each is appropriate.  I know how to avoid "soggy-bottom" and make a pie so tasty, there is nothing left on the plate but crumbs.

So that's what I learned and I was so excited to get going and start practicing!  Then, I tried it...and my first pie crust fell!  AGHHHH!

But, I am not daunted...I think I have "figured it out" and I will be working on it again today.  I think the problem was docking.  I docked the sides of the pie crust as well as the bottom.  This time I am only going to dock the bottom of the crust.  Fingers crossed!   

If I get it right, I have a very strange idea up my sleeve.  Our textbook mentioned that back in the day, home cooks would make 21 pies a week because they had a pie at every meal.  This is because most pies back then were meat pies.  Although 21 pies would be a bit much (and unnecessary considering modern refrigeration), I am kind of getting the idea of having a pie week.  Drew would be scared, if I had shared this little idea with him.  He'll never know what hit him!

Off to the kitchen...

"Men may come and men may go...but Pie goes on for ever."  George Augustus Sala

Monday, July 5, 2010

Baking School: Week 2

This week was the first week we actually got into the kitchen for baking.  Last week, we just discovered the proper way to measure ingredients, crack and separate an egg.  This week, we separated into teams and baked three different items per team. 

The topics for the night were quick breads and cookies.  We read a couple of chapters in our textbooks ahead of time, so there wasn't a need for lots of lecture.  However the discussion of the different methods of preparation helped to clarify some of the things I have wondered for a long time.  Specifically, the instruction found in many recipes regarding mixing.  Have you ever wondered what they mean when they say mix just until ingredients are incorporated/wet?   And then when you are spooning the batter/dough into the cooking vessel, you discover a big hunk of unincorporated flour/dry ingredients?  And you wonder, should I mix this and run the risk of over-mixing, or not mix it and run the risk of having a hunk of flour in my sweet thing?
I might be alone in this, but I don't think I am.  I have come to the informed decision to err on the side of moist.  Over-mixing can lead to an unfriendly characteristic called tunnelling and tunnelling does not taste good (it does not taste actually, because it is basically a hole in the middle of your baked goodness, and that is not fun).

Anyway, my team made biscotti, zucchini carrot nut muffins, and lemon cookies.  Each of these recipes were selected because they allowed us to practice different methods of preparation: creaming, bagging, aggrandizing the eggs, etc. 
For the Biscotti, we chose to add lemon zest and pistachios.  This was a wonderful flavor combination, but I don't think they go with coffee very well.  I have never been one for citrus and coffee. 
The zucchini carrot nut muffins were actually very tasty.  We made them using the batter method where basically you dump all the ingredients into the bowl and mix.   The alternate method, used by most bakeries these days, is creaming.  The result of the creaming method is a more cake-like muffin - basically eating cake for breakfast (that is something I can get behind!).  The result of the batter method is a heartier muffin, something more wholesome and satisfying for breakfast.  These muffins were very tasty and hearty, even with the addition of bran (something I usually tend to keep far away). 
For the lemon wafer cookies, we got to work with the creaming method and the bagging method.  It was very easy to do the creaming method, because anybody who has made a cake from scratch has done this.  It is basically just creaming the butter and the sugar until a desired result is reached.  The bagging method is where you place the dough in a piping bag and pipe the cookies onto a cookie sheet.  I have never done this for a cookie; but I find it useful because it produced even sized cookies. 

The other team made corn bread, tea cookies, and a different variation of biscotti.   The best part is we all get to taste and take home some of the results! 

Menu Plan Monday: Week of July 5-11

This week we are trying something different as part of the All You Grocery Challenge.  We are going vegetarian!  It has been hard to come up with all new recipes for veggie week, but I have figured it out and I hope it goes well.  Here is the rundown:

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Vegetable and Brown Rice Stir Fry

Lunch: Fresh Pesto Pasta Salad, Fruit
Dinner: Hearty Minestrone w/ Barley, Sage, and Beans

Lunch: Grilled Cheese
Dinner: Ranch Style Beans, Cornbread

Lunch: Couscous Salad w/chickpeas
Dinner: Bacon (sneaking in some meat!), Lettuce, Avocado Bread Salad

Lunch: Spicy Southwest Sandwiches
Dinner: Tomato-Jalapeno Pasta

Lunch: Egg Salad Sandwiches
Dinner: on the way to a concert in LA

Lunch: TBD
Dinner:  Sopes with Black Beans

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Triple Take

When I was a kid, I used to go visit my grandparents in the summer.  I have lots of memories, but one of the most distinct is the impression I got that old people eat dinner early.  My Granny and Papa ate dinner at (I kid you not) 4 PM, every night.  4 PM! 
Well, the Hudson household just got a whole lot older.  At least for the next couple of months.  On Monday nights I have Baking School and I have to be there at 5 sharp.  I don't want Drew to go hungry, so I started cooking dinner at a little after 3 PM.  I think my lunch had just been digested when I started making dinner.  It is too much!  But it is worth it for the valuable instruction I am receiving the rest of the evening!

So what was cooking in my kitchen at 3:30 PM Monday afternoon?  Triple Decker Tortilla Bake.  It is yet another recipe from the CookMag Ultimate Mexican (a must own around these parts).   This is a very simple throw it together kind of meal perfect for those nights when you don't have a lot of time.  Here's the basic concept:

Salsa (I used Fresh and Easy, New Mexico)
Corn Tortilla
Mashed Pinto Beans
Corn Tortilla
Mashed Pinto Bean
Corn Tortilla

Throw this in the oven at 450 F and bake for about 12 minutes, covered with foil.  Take the foil off and add some more cheese.  Melt the cheese in the oven for a few more minutes. Top with avocado and cilantro (you could probably also do sour cream, but I wouldn't).

There it is.  Simple?  Yes.  Tasty?  Yes.  Sounds good to me!

Monday, June 28, 2010

I've Got Mail

Going to the mailbox can be an adventure around here.  In a Forrest Gump kind of way, you never know what you're gonna get.  Here's what came today:

It got me intrigued (it took a few minutes to get it open).  I guessed it was coffee.  Drew guessed it was tea.  We agreed that it was something "green." 

I opened it and...

Thanks Vocalpoint!  I can't wait to try these!  I already enjoy Crystal Light, so these should be great!

Menu Plan Monday: Week of June 28-July 4

This is the second week of the All You Grocery Challenge and I am working hard to keep the budget under $50.00.  Last week's grand total spent on groceries was $40.27, but we were gone for much of the week.  Here's hoping we are going to make it this week.   Here is the plan*:

Monday: Breakfast: yogurt and fruit
Lunch: Leftovers (pizza for me, chili for Drew)
Dinner: Triple Decker Tortilla Bake

Tuesday:  Breakfast:  Bagels and fruit
Lunch: Mexican Tuna Salad
Dinner:  Grilled Chicken w/ Baja Black Beans and Rice (carry over recipe from last week)

Wednesday:  Breakfast: English muffins and fruit
Lunch:  Pesto & Prosciutto Poached Egg Sandwiches
Dinner: Black-eyed Pea Cakes w/ Collard Greens

Thursday:  Yogurt and Fruit
Lunch: Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil Panini
Dinner:  Black Pepper Shrimp

Friday: Bagels and Fruit
Lunch: Lobster Ravioli w/Pesto
Dinner:  Going to local baseball team game!

Saturday: Oatmeal and Fruit
Lunch: TBD - hoping for chipotle!
Dinner:  Sausage & Pepper Calzones

Sunday:  Smoothies
Lunch: TBD
Dinner: Celebrate the 4th of July at the Parents' house

 *The best laid plans, and all that junk...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Texas Red

Since Drew and I are true Texans, we understand one thing about chili: there are no beans in Texas Chili.  Anything with beans in it that others would call chili is actually soup. 
But with that knowledge bred in to us from an early age, one would think the recipe for the perfect Texas Red would be taught to Texan children along with the ABC's.  This, sadly, is not the case.  The reason: like the perfect Texas Brisket, and bull riding, chili is a competition.  It is the kind of dish that every man has a recipe for and no one will tell.  Or they will "tell" you, but they leave out that one special thing that makes all the difference. 
So, we have had some trouble getting a Texas Red to please the palate and have the right texture.  Our last adventure in the kitchen ended with some amazing taco meat (I am not kidding).  Tonight, we have almost gotten there. 
We have tasted the promised land and it tastes oh so good.  I just need to get the texture just right.  So, like most Texans, I will be tweaking my recipe for the next 10 years.  I think if I haven't conquered chili by the time I get to 40, I should just give it up as a lost cause, and eat somebody else's.

So what is the recipe you ask.  Well, I am going to give it to you like any self-respecting Texan would: vague.  Here's what you do:

Chop an onion.  Cube some sirloin meat (about a pound).  Mince 2 cloves of garlic. 
Warm up your pan (I used an enameled cast iron dutch oven - small) with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  Add these ingredients.  Let those work together until the meat is seared on all sides. 
Add 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. oregano, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper and a few good shakes of hot sauce.  Stir well to coat.
Add 1 small can of tomato sauce (let that work for a minute).  Add a couple cups of beef broth (you could also use a good beer, but I wouldn't).  Stir well, cover, and let simmer for a good long while. 

You can top your chili any way you like, but I like mine like the song says: "Lots of cheese and onions."  Enjoy.  Let me know if you try it and if you like it.  Oh, and I guess you will just have to trust me that I wasn't leaving out the good part.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just Not What I Grew Up with

There are certain things you should just not mess with.  I have written about my Granny's recipe for Mac and Cheese before on this blog.  To me, it is what Mac and Cheese should be.  I would describe it as dry - meaning it is not made with a bechamel sauce.  It is the easiest mac out there (the blue box does not exist in my world).  So, tonight, I went up against all my preconceived and correct notions about this dish and went for a new recipe. 

The recipe from Cooking Light for Stovetop Mac and Cheese (with chicken sausage) was not bad, it just isn't what I grew up with.  It could not be much more simple to put together, but the taste and texture is just not what I grew up with.  I did, however, enjoy the addition of the sausage (it brought a nice flavor).  By the way, this dish works well when cooking for 2.  There's enough for dinner size portions and a little bit leftover for lunch the next day.

Grocery Challenge: Week 1

Last night, I went to Henry's Farmers Market to get most of the groceries required for this week.  I got lots of great produce and a couple indulgence items (we don't normally get these, but they were a great price).   I got Drew a couple of things for a treat - grapefruit juice and all-fruit Popsicles; and I got a some orange juice for me.  But the best deal of the night goes to eggs - organic, free range brown eggs, to be more exact.  They were marked down to 2 dozen for $4, I had a coupon, making them $1 a dozen.  When they rang up at the register, I found out the regular price is $4.99 a dozen - what a GREAT deal!  The grand total was $21.38!  Not bad for most of the week's grocery needs.

Tonight, we stopped by Walgreen's and CVS to get some great deals and ended up buying bread, jell-o, Chex mix, 4 packages of Life Saver Gummies, and a pack of Reese's Pieces.  The total for these items was $8.99. 

This brings me to TODAY'S TIP:  Think outside the grocery store for grocery items.  You can often find basic grocery needs at places like the drug store and the dollar store.  Often you can combine a manufacturer's coupon and a drugstore coupon to increase your savings.

UPDATE: On Sunday, we had to stop by Ralph's to get a couple items for Sunday night's dinner.  While we were there we got some items for Week 2.  I separated out the items and the total for items for Sunday's dinner was $9.90. 

Grand Total for the week's groceries: $40.27.  Not bad.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let Me at It...oh, Wait...

We got back today from our modified staycation (e.g. free nights at a local hotel) and I was ready to sprint to the store and get started on our All You Grocery Challenge.  In my opinion the first trip to the store, sets the tone for how the rest of this challenge is going to go.  So, I had my coupons, had my list, had everything I needed.  And then...I was attacked with stomach cramps that I have been looming for the last 24 hours.  They make me in the mood only to lay and hope someone will come along and take out my insides because I am sure I don't need them any more. 

Which brings me to what I have been thinking about regarding this challenge.  Always be ready with PLAN B.  Drew, unbeknownst to me (due to my prone passed out state), went to the freezer, grabbed one of the many convenience freezer meals we have (purchased on sale, with a coupon, and got a giftcard, thank you), and made dinner!  What a wonderful husband I have! 

So my tip for the day: Be prepared for plans to change.
This can mean having convenience foods on hand to make for a day when you are under the weather. 
This can mean having snacks in your purse, when the day stretches a little further than you were expecting. 
If you have a secondary plan, it will prevent those desperation trips to the drive-thru and help preserve your waistline!

Check back tomorrow for details of my late-night trip to the grocery store. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back to School

I have always been a sucker for back to school.  I love the search for new school supplies, the difficulty of remembering your locker combination, the newness of teachers on the first day.  My brother and I used to "play school" every year, a few weeks before school was about to start.  While we ate breakfast or on the way to school, my dad would lecture us again about the importance of getting a good education.  He trained us to believe that school was our job; school was for learning, not for socializing.  So, I have always approached school as sacred: pay attention, get your work done, don't pass notes (and don't write on your hand!). 

When I was a kid, we moved a lot and I started at a lot of different schools, not always on the "first day."  I was forever introducing myself, hoping to find someone to sit by at lunch, and adjusting to different teaching styles.  It was different to move that much, but it prepared me for later in life.  When I was a young girl, I spoke so softly, that people constantly had to ask me to repeat what I had said.  I was painfully shy.  I still am today, but I have learned to overcome it by being thrust into new situations so often. 

So, yesterday as I got ready for another "first day of school," I was thinking about all the same things I thought about when I was growing up: will I do well? will I find somebody to connect with? will they think I am a total loser?   But, I was also thinking that this would be different than any other school experience I have ever had before.  This would be a hands-on, get-knowledge-where-you-can-get it experience.  This would not be the one where notes were passed while the lecturer droned on and on.  This would not be the read 100 pages and write a three page report kind of class.  And I was excited!

I walked into my Professional Baking class last night, met my fellow students, and got to work.  The lecture was a little long and the practicum was short, but I really am looking forward to the coming weeks.  Things I learned at class last night:
The proper way to wash dishes (in a restaurant)
How to work with ratios in formulas (not recipes) to work with the ingredients you have
How to crack an egg (and to think I have been doing it wrong all these years)
How to separate an egg (been doing that right!)
How to measure and weigh ingredients

Next week, we are learning quick breads and cookies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Happy Father's Day

My dad has the special distinction of celebrating his birthday on or around Father's Day.  When we were kids, we had such a hard time coming up with what to get him for both occasions.  I remember very distinctly getting my dad a pair of gardening gloves when I was 9.  I thought this was the perfect gift and he, being a professional landscaper, found it amusing.  I was not so amused at his amusement - I was heartbroken that he didn't like my gift (I now know that it was strange,akin to giving a vacuum cleaner to your mom for Mother's Day).  Many years have passed and I have gotten a little better at figuring out what makes a great gift.  Part of what makes a great gift, is a great meal.  So I decided to make dinner and invite Dad over for a Dad's day/birthday celebration.

The recipe for last night (Penne with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-dried Tomatoes) was from Giada's Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentis.  I have rarely used this cookbook because Drew is not so much on the pasta.  I LOVE pasta and so I have to have a relationship with it at arms length or Drew will not be able to get his arms around me.  But, hey, we were celebrating, so why not? 
After going to the store to shop for this pasta, I was unable to procure artichokes as prescribed in the recipe (it calls for frozen), so I decided to use some asparagus we already had on hand.  I also did not use white wine in the recipe, I just used more chicken broth. 

The resulting pasta was very good, very flavorful.  Delicious.  I took two servings (I told you I LOVE pasta).  Dad really liked it too, which was the goal for the night. 

Happy Birthday, Dad!  Happy Father's Day!  So thankful you are my dad and my friend - the relationship we have is something special, something unique, and something I cherish!  God bless you this year!

Menu Plan Monday: Week of June 21 - 27

We have a crazy week ahead of us!  This marks the beginning of the All You Grocery Challenge and the first day of school for me.  I am taking a Professional Baking course (more on that tomorrow) and I am so excited about what I am going to learn.  We are also taking advantage of two free nights at a local hotel.  To top that off, we are hoping to have some family over later this week to celebrate yet another birthday!  So, with all that in mind here is the plan*:

Monday:  Breakfast: yogurt and fruit
Lunch: leftover pasta (from last night)
Dinner: snacks we are taking to the hotel (my class is tonight)

Tuesday:  Breakfast: TBD
Lunch: TBD
Dinner: out at a restaurant (we have a gift card)

Wednesday: Breakfast: TBD
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Mushroom and Bacon Stuffed Trout, Grits and Greens

Thursday: Breakfast: oatmeal or yogurt and fruit
Lunch: English Muffin Pizzas
Dinner: Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Friday: Breakfast: oatmeal or yogurt and fruit
Lunch: Tuna Garbanzo Salad
Dinner: Sopes, Sopecitos Con Chorizo

Saturday: Breakfast: Pancakes and Eggs (maybe some bacon)
Lunch:  Sandwiches
Dinner: on the way to a concert in L.A.

Sunday: Breakfast: smoothies before church
Lunch:  Sandwiches
Dinner:  Slow-Cooked Chile con Carne

*Best laid plans of mice and men..., etc, etc.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taco Tuesday

OK, seriously there is a pattern forming.  What can I say?  We heart Mexican flavors.  So, for your salivation enjoyment, I bring you Pollos Dorados (from the Ultimate Mexican cookmag - like I said before, purchase it - you will not be sorry).

The recipe is fairly straightforward, but I did change it so here's the recipe:

1 Tbsp. oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
can of Rotel tomatoes and chiles
1 cup of shredded cooked chicken (I used a rotisserie)
corn tortillas
Oil for deep frying
Choose your own garnishes (suggestions: cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, onions-green)

1. Start heating the oil for deep frying (You want it to get to 375F before dropping in the food)
2. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in saute pan over medium heat.  Saute onions until soft.  Add the Rotel (do not drain).  Cook uncovered until most of the liquid evaporates.  Turn off heat.  Stir in chicken to the tomato mixture. 
3.  Warm the tortillas in the microwave (wrapped in damp paper towels) for 20 seconds (2 at a time).  Place a small amount of chicken mixture on one end of the tortilla, roll up and secure with a toothpick.
4.  Place prepared tacos into the heated oil in batches of 3 or 4.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.  Remove and place on paper towel lined plate. 

These are very good, if somewhat greasy.  It's good to have something junk foodie every once in a while.  And, hey, we southern woman love us some deep-fried food.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Churros Magnificos

I sense a theme lately in my posts.  Must be a Mexican mood!  For dessert for my mom's birthday, I decided to make her favorite Disney dessert.  She calls them Charos (yes, like the singer - I don't think she would taste good deep fried, but it might be a way to get her to be quiet), but the actual name is Churros.  We have been going to Disneyland with her for about 5 years and she still hasn't learned how to say them, but she sure knows how to eat them!  They ARE especially tasty at the end of a fun-filled, junk-foodie day at Mickey's home.
I have tried churros before with very unhappy results.  So, armed with a new recipe and an important innovation from Drew, I was ready to make this dessert.  The results were pretty good!  I got the recipe from Ultimate Mexican.  It is simple to prepare and tastes and smells great!  Here's the recipe:

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
vegetable oil for deep-fat frying
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, brown sugar, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Cook and stir mixture until it forms a ball and pulls away form the side of the pan.  Remove from heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Add vanilla and egg, beating well with a wooden spoon. 
2.  Transfer batter to a pastry bag (or cookie press, see below) fitted with a star tip.  Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.  Pipe 4 inch long logs onto prepared baking sheet. 
3.  In a deep saucepan, heat 3 inches of oil to 375F.  Fry logs, a few at a time, in hot oil about 2 minutes or until golden brown on both sides, turning once.  Drain on paper towels.  Keep warm while you do the remaining batches.
4.  In a medium bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon.  Roll warm churros in the cinnamon sugar mixture.  Serve warm.

The innovation Drew came up with was using a cookie press to create the traditional churro shape.  I have a Pampered Chef cookie press that has never seen action.  I opened it up and checked out the designs and Drew helped me pick one that would work - it was perfect.  The press also made forming the Churro dough into churro shapes so simple.  If you don't have a cookie press, you can use a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Week of June 14 - 20

Another week, another menu.  We are trying to eat more at home this week as we gear up for our Grocery Challenge, starting next Monday!  Also, we have a couple big events this week.  One of my friends is graduating from nursing school.  We are so proud of her that we are throwing her a party to celebrate!  Also, this week is my dad's birthday and Father's Day - how's that for a busy week?  Here's the plan*:

Monday: Lunch: Sesame Brown Rice Salad
Dinner: Beef Taco Hash

Tuesday: Lunch: English Muffin Pizzas
Dinner: Pollo Dorados

Wednesday: Lunch: Pesto & Prosciutto Poached Egg Sandwiches
Dinner: Grilled Halibut Sarandeando

Thursday: Lunch: Sandwiches/Chips
Dinner: Spicy Basque Style Chicken

Friday: Lunch: TBD
Dinner: Graduation Party Dinner! 

Saturday: Lunch: TBD
Dinner: Asparagus Soup, Chicken Cobb Salad

Sunday: Lunch: TBD
Dinner: Dad's Birthday/Father's Day Dinner!

*The best laid plans of mice and men...etc.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Feliz Cumpleanos

Tonight we had a birthday dinner for my mom.  Because she loves seafood and Mexican cuisine, I decided to make some Seafood Enchiladas from the Ultimate Mexican cookmag I told you about a few weeks ago.  This was a good idea indeed!  I am not usually one to order seafood enchiladas.  I usually like the basic cheese and onions enchiladas I grew up with, so this was a departure. 
The procedure for this recipe is very easy, but takes some time throughout the day.  You have to re-hydrate some dried chiles earlier in the day (this affords you time to take the requisite Sunday afternoon nap).  Once that is done, the hard part is basically over.  The rest is just mixing and rolling.  The entire process takes less than a couple hours. 
The recipe calls for either shrimp or crab.  We decided to do a mixture of both.  I mean, we are celebrating!  Once the chiles are ready (re-hydrated and cut in pieces), you add the seafood mixture and some shredded Monterrey jack cheese.  Roll this mixture up into some warm tortillas and it starts to look like enchiladas.  The interesting thing about this recipe (which I would change should I do this again) is the sauce.  It is basically a gravy (I am not kidding).  This is a little discomfiting to my Tex-Mex loving heart.  If I were to do it again, I would definitely add a lot of spice and change up the structure of the sauce (it has a LOT of flour in it). 
The result:  Very, very mild enchiladas.  Not necessarily bad, but not enough flavor and spice for me.  I would kick it up about 3 notches in the flavor department.  But, mom loved them (so I guess these are a success!).
For an appetizer, I made a new guacamole recipe (I can't get enough of avocado based dips!).  I really liked it but I think I will add cumin next time.  These are the ingredients: green onion, cilantro, serrano pepper (seeded), avocado, lime juice, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper. Mmm!  Oh and we tried out some new chips from Food Should Taste Good.  If you haven't tried these yet, check them out.  They are multigrain (read: healthy) chips that really do taste good.  If you go to their website, you can get a coupon!

Overall, Mom was happy.  And you know that old saying, "if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  Well, I think the converse is true as well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Feel Like I won an Academy Award!

UPDATE:  Sadly, I have to decline my acceptance and wrote to tell the people over at Foodbuzz this morning.  I am so sad because I was so excited, but I have other plans.  I hope I can bring this dinner party to you in a future month! 

I just checked my email and found out that my proposal for Foodbuzz's 24 meals in 24 hours has been accepted!  I literally jumped up and down for a couple minutes and ran upstairs (almost falling on one of the last steps) to tell Drew.  I am so excited about the prospect of having a great meal event to blog about here and being featured for Foodbuzz

So what can you look forward to?  A Moroccan feast!  More details to come later, but I have lots of great ideas!  Click here to find out more about last month's 24 x 24.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jalapeno (Not on a Stick)

Tonight dinner could not have been more simple.  I realized after a long day, I did not have all the ingredients to make another recipe and was too tired to try harder.  So, I made up a "new" recipe.  The resulting Stuffed Jalapenos were my take on a friend's recipe.  I didn't call her to get the recipe, I just guessed.  I thought they were great, the only problem was the last one was SPICY!!  Here's the recipe:

Stuffed Jalapenos (Jalapenos Rellenos)

1/2 lb. bulk sausage. 
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half width wise (if desired)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
7 to 8 jalapenos, split in half and seeded

1.  Brown sausage in a skillet until no longer pink. Get the bacon going in another skillet.  Cook until lightly crisp (not fully cooked).  Drain sausage and bacon on paper towels.  Let cool slightly.
2. Preheat broiler.  Mix cream cheese, cheddar cheese and garlic.  Add cooled sausage and combine.  Stuff the cream cheese mixture into the jalapeno halves using a teaspoon.  I over-stuffed them, so you might be able to do more jalapenos for this recipe based on the size of the jalapenos.  Wrap the bacon strips around the stuffed jalapenos and secure with a toothpick
3.  Place the jalapenos under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes.  Keep your eye on them so they don't get too brown. 

These are great for appetizers!  Enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Week of June 7-13, 2010

Menu Plan Monday is here again and finds us with a busy week! We are going to Disneyland later today so I have it a little bit easier on the cooking front. 

Monday: Lunch: Hot Dogs and fruit
Dinner at z'Tejas (I got a coupon for my birthday - free meal for me!)

Tuesday: junk food at Disneyland (is there a better kind?)

Wednesday: Lunch: sandwiches
Dinner: Scallops with Garlicky Tomatillo Sauce

Thursday:  Breakfast with Mom for her birthday (it's a surprise).
Lunch: Frito Chili Pie
Dinner: Penne with Asparagus, Spinach, and Bacon

Friday:  Lunch: Kesir
Dinner: In'N'Out on the way to a concert!

Saturday: Dinner: Seafood Enchiladas, Sides; Dessert: Churros

Sunday: Dinner: Stir-Fried Szechuan Steak on Rice, Zen Temple Dumplings

Wow!  I am hungry just thinking about what we are going to eat this week!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grocery Challenge

Although I do not want this blog to turn into a deals-finding blog, I am, by nature, very frugal.  I enjoy getting a great deal on the things I would buy anyway.  So, when I found the All You Grocery Challenge was running this summer, I was so excited.  "What is this strange idea?" you ask.  Well, here are the details:
  1. The challenge starts June 20th and runs for 4 weeks.
  2. The purpose of the challenge is to help you stay on top of your grocery spending by allotting $25.00 per person in your household per week for food expenses. 
That's about it.  At the end of it, there may be a prize in it (I hope it's me, but I am not holding my breath!): a $1,000 gift card for groceries!  That would cover a lot of food! 

So, I will be participating and keeping updates right here on this little blog.  This will include any really great tips on savings I get (including local store deals).  Anybody up for doing the challenge with me?  Check it out here, sign up and leave me a comment saying you are in! 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Calzone Casserole

Yeah, I had never heard of it either.  And to be quite honest, after eating tonight's dinner I wonder why you don't just make it into a calzone.  It has all the same ingredients as a calzone, but is just formed different.  Oh the lengths food editors will go to come up with a new recipe.

Tonight's recipe is inspired by a Cooking Light recipe called Spinach-Feta Calzone Casserole (see here), but I changed it very much so here's the adapted recipe:

1 pkg Pampered Chef Pizza Dough mix (or any pizza dough you have) + ingredients to make the dough
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (thinly sliced)
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
salt & pepper to taste
1 large bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 1/4 c. ricotta cheese
1 c. Italian cheese blend
1 c. cooked chicken breast
2 Tbsp. Garlic Oil
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning blend

The Procedure:

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.  Prep the dough according to package directions.  Turn out onto a floured surface and roll into a 12" square.  Place the dough in an 8x8 baking pan.  Leave the excess over the edges. 
2. Heat oil in dutch oven and add onions and garlic.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions start to brown.  Remove from pan and place in a large bowl.  Salt and pepper the onions and keep warm.
3.  Add spinach to pan in batches, stirring often, until the spinach wilts (about 4 minutes). 
4. Add spinach, ricotta cheese, Italian cheese, and chicken to the onion mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir well.  Pour spinach mixture into the prepared pizza dough crust.  Fold edges over the top and brush with garlic oil.  Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend over the top. 
5.  Bake in oven at 425 F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. 

This was not Drew's favorite dish, but I really enjoyed it.  The fresh spinach tasted great and the ricotta was very mild.  I would make this again for a pot-luck event.