Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fajitas and Mexican Rice

One day last week, I was really craving fajitas, but didn't have the ingredients to make them, didn't want to go out to eat, and after discussing the matter with Jason, decided that Mexican take-out probably wouldn't travel very well. So the next time I went to the grocery store I got the ingredients to make my own. I found a recipe for fajitas on recipezaar and after trying to choose a side to accompany the fajitas, I made some mexican rice that I improvised based on a few different recipezaar recipes. I would definitely make both again. The photo was an afterthought... I had forgotten to take one and then I actually made Jason stop eating so I could have some sort of documentation of the meal. :-)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 lb beef or chicken
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced green peppers
4 flour tortillas

1. Combine the first 7 ingredientsto make marinade.

2. Slice chicken or beef into strips.

3. Add to marinade and marinate for 2 hours.

4. Quickly saute onions and peppers in oil until lightly browned.

5. Remove from pan.

6. Saute marinated meat for about 4 minutes.

7. Toss with vegetables.

8. Spoon into flour tortillas.

Optional: serve with avocado slices and sour cream.

Mexican Rice:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 packet taco seasoning
1/3 cup salsa
1/3 cup corn

Heat oil over medium heat. Add rice and saute or 5 minutes until rice is golden brown.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes until rice is tender.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sandra Lee redeems herself

As you may or may not know, I love watching the Food Network. It's my go-to default channel, kind of like some guys always have ESPN on in the background. My favorite chef to watch is Giada de Laurentiis, who hosts Everyday Italian. Unfortunately I've tried a number of her recipes and they weren't well-received here. I find Rachael Ray barely tolerable, and don't like her recipes either (despite being "30-minute meals" I find them to be overly complicated with too many ingredients). I like watching Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") and I LOVE watching Paula Deen (and she has a special place in my heart because of her Savannah connection), but find that their recipes tend to be a bit too fancy/heavy/rich/unhealthy for everyday cooking. I don't particularly like watching Sanda Lee, the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking, but the concept behind her show ("combining 70% ready-made foods with 30% fresh ingredients") seems conducive to my weekly time limitations.

With that in mind, I recently checked out two Sandra Lee slow-cooker cookbooks from the local library. Jason and I received a nice Crock-Pot for our wedding (Jason would claim that "I" was the one who received it, since he has no use for it) that hasn't gotten much use, so I thought this would be a good way to try some new recipes. I chose about three supper recipes that I thought sounded good (and might be tolerated by Mr. Picky) and got the ingredients for them.

The first recipe I tried was for something called Sausage and Four Beans. It had sweet italian sausages and four kinds of beans (obviously) in a tomato-based sauce. I don't know why I thought this would be good... maybe it's because I like sweet italian sausage and I like beans. But... it wasn't good. It tasted pretty gross. The cookbook has a photo of every recipe, and Jason pointed out that the finished product looked exactly like the photo in the book, and the photo looked gross, so why would I make it? I don't know... I think I often have trouble envisioning what a finished product is going to taste like based on reading a recipe. So that was a total bust.

The second recipe I tried was for Sweet and Sassy Chili with Corn Bread Crust. After the first recipe was a failure I got nervous about the fact that I was going to try a second bean-containing recipe. But it was fine because it came out great. Jason even had two servings. No photos, but imagine your basic chili with a layer of cornbread baked on top. I don't have a 5-quart slow cooker, so I made only half the recipe (though I made the entire box of cornbread mix). I couldn't find the chipotle seasoning mix called for, so I just used a packet of McCormick's HOT chili seasoning instead. Also, I used one 10-oz can of Ro-tel and one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes.

The recipe is one I would definitely consider making again, except that it would only be feasible on a weekend. It cooks for 3.5 to 4 hours, and then you have to add the cornbread layer and cook it for another hour. My ideal slow cooker recipe is one that I can throw in before I leave for work, have it cook on low for about 8+ hours, and then have it ready when I get home from work. With this recipe, that isn't really an option. But I would recommend it. I plan on trying another recipe or two from Sandra Lee's slow cooker cookbooks and I may check out some of her non-slow-cooker cookbooks as well.

Here is the recipe:

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
2 packets (1.25 ounces each) chipotle seasoning mix, divided
3 cans (15.25 ounces each) low-sodium kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1-1/2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup honey
1 box (8.5-ounce) corn muffin mix
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk

1. In a large skillet, brown grown pork and ground beef together with one packet chipotle seasoning. Drain and transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker. Add beans and bacon and stir thoroughly.

2. In a large bowl, combine diced tomatoes, remaining packet chipotle seasoning, pumpkin pie spice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and honey. Pour into slow cooker and stir thoroughly.

3. Cover and cook on HIGH setting for 3-1/2 to 4 hours.

4. In a medium bowl, combine muffin mix, egg, and milk. Stir until well combined (mixture will be slightly lumpy). Remove slow cooker lid and pour mixture over the top of the chili. Place six paper towels on top of the slow cooker and secure with the lid. (This helps to trap steam.)

5. Cover and cook on HIGH setting for an additiona 1 hour.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Toffee Pecan Cookies

Unfortunately, I have no photos to accompany this entry, which is really a shame because this was the one time I did something really cute and creative that I thought up on my own to serve the cookies, AND the recipe was a hit. But what can you do.

On Saturday night, Jessie (the young associate pastor at my church, the one who did Jason's and my wedding) had a gathering at her house. She promised heavy appetizers, so I emailed to ask if I could bring anything. She suggested that I could bring something sweet if I wanted to. I decided to take the opportunity to try out two cookie recipes I had been wanting to make.

Both recipes were from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King. The first recipe I tried was for a cookie called Chocolate Jumbles. It was basically a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips, and it came out terrible. The cookies were really dry and not chocolately enough. The second recipe I tried was for a cookie called Toffee Pecan Cookies, which was an oatmeal cookie with toffee bits and pecans. I thought the Toffee Pecan Cookies were okay... they were tasty, but still a little dry. They were good but nothing spectacular.

Well I must have underestimated the Toffee Pecan Cookies because I heard from numerous people at the party that they were 'amazing.' And I overheard one guy telling someone else that they were 'like crack' and that he wanted to steal some to take home with him. Unfortunately for him, they were all gone before the night was over!

The cute and creative serving method I was referring to was that I emptied the rest of the oatmeal into a ziploc baggie, and took the cookies to the party inside two Quaker Oats containers. I lined the containers with wax paper but I think it would have been even cuter to line them with some tissue paper that color-coordinated with the package!

Here's the recipe. I think the cookies would also taste good with the addition of some mini chocolate chips!

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups instant quick oats
1 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups toffee bits (I used the Heath Bar bits that are sold in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips)
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with Silpat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and oatmeal. Set it aside.

In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat them until combined. Don't overmix. Stir in the toffee bits and pecans.

Using two tablespoons, drop the cookie dough two inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes for chewy cookies and 18 to 20 minutes for crunchy cookies. The crunchy cookies will be browner in the middle and firmer to the touch.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Dips

For Jason and me, Christmas 2007 didn't just happen on December 25... we actually had FIVE separate Christmases in order to see everyone on both sides of our families. Our final "Christmas" happened on December 30 when we hosted my mom and sisters here at our house. We had a great time hosting the girls, and I got to make some recipes I wouldn't normally cook for just Jason and me. When we have company I love to try new appetizer recipes, and this time I made two dips I had been wanting to try. They don't look the most appetizing in the picture (and GRETCHEN took the photo, not me... it is really difficult to photograph food and make it look tasty), but they were pretty good.

The first one is called Hot Southwest Corn Dip, and it's a recipe I had seen online somewhere and jotted down. I love corn, especially with southwest flavors (I love cumin!), so I had to try this one.

2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes, drained
8 oz. package cream cheese, cubed
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin
shredded cheese (optional)

In a large bowl, combine corn, Ro-tel, and spices. Place in casserole and dot with cream cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until cheese is melted. Stir blend.

Top with shredded cheese if desired and broil until bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

The second recipe was for Crabmeat-Gruyere Dip. It had been published in the food section of the newspaper. It was a pretty expensive one, between the crabmeat (I wasn't sure if it would work if I substituted imitation crabmeat) and the gruyere cheese, so I doubt I will make it again. But it was good!

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 cup sliced white mushrooms
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
2-1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
Brandy, to taste (I omitted this because I didn't have any brandy!)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup cracker crumbs, such as saltines

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10-inch gratin dish.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add shallots and mushrooms. Saute for 1 minute. Stir in the flour, then turn off the heat.
Whisk together egg yolks and cream in a bowl. Add mixture to the skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking constantly.

Add cheese. Simmer 30 seconds, or until it reaches a creamy consistency.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the crabmeat, brandy, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, parsley, cayenne, salt and peper. Pour mixture into the prepared gratin dish. Top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, or until browned on top.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Garlic Cheddar Chicken

Another chicken recipe. This one comes from allrecipes.com. I served this with mashed potatoes and it was really delicious.

1/2 cup butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded thin

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, and cook the garlic until tender, about 5 minutes.

3. In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano, pepper, and salt.

4. Dip each chicken breast in the garlic butter to coat, then press into the bread crumb mixture.
5. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Drizzle with any remaining butter and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture.

6. Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carrabba's Chicken Marsala

For dinner on Saturday night, I made a recipe from one of my Christmas-gift cookbooks: Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2. The recipe I chose to make was Carrabba's Chicken Marsala. I have always loved chicken marsala, probably mostly because I love mushrooms.

I don't recall ever actually having this dish at Carrabba's, so unfortunately I can't comment on how closely it resembled the restaurant version. It was an easy recipe, and delicious, but something I would probaby only make on a special occasion (it's not the healthiest).

Marsala sauce:
1/3 cup butter
1 slice prosciutto, diced
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Chicken seasoning:
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

4 skinless chicken breasts fillets

olive oil

1. Melt butter over low heat in a medium saucepan.

2. Turn heat up to medium-high to saute the prosciutto in the melted butter for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add shallots and garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Add Marsala wine, simmer for another 30 seconds or so, and then add drained mushrooms and black pepper. Simmer over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.

3. Dissolve cornstarch in chicken broth. Add broth to the saucepan and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

4. Add parsley and cream to the sauce and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes until thick. Remove pan from heat, then cover until needed.

5. Preheat grill on high heat. Combine ingredients for chicken seasoning in a small bowl. Use your thumb and fingers to crush the herbs and spices in the bowl to make a finer blend.

6. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and pound with a kitchen mallet until uniform in thickness. Brush each chicken breast generously with olive oil. Sprinkle seasoning blend over both sides of each chicken breast and grill for 6 to 8 minutes per side or until done. Give chicken a one-quarter turn on each side while cooking to make criss-cross grill marks.

7. Serve entree by arranging each chicken breast on a plate. Spoon one quarter of the Marsala sauce over each serving of chicken and dig in.

Since it is winter and was dark out by the time I started cooking, I grilled the chicken on a grill pan on the stovetop. It actually only took about 3 or 4 minutes per side, probaby because the breasts were actually pretty thin, thanks to Jason, my chicken pounder. I served it with mashed potatoes and this wine:

It's called Root 1 and it's a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. I've always had an affinity for Chilean wines since enjoying Santa Ema a few years ago at Bravo with Jason's parents!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chicken with Potato Pierogies

This recipe comes from the book Betty Crocker's Best Chicken Cookbook. It's easy and tasty. Mrs. T's frozen pierogies are one of the foods I remember my dad eating a lot. Jason said he had never had them before until I prepared them, and he loved them. What's not to like? Mashed potatoes stuffed inside pasta? Mmm...

1 package (16 ounces) frozen potato-filled pierogies

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1-3/4 pounds)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup half-and-half

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained

Cook and drain pierogies as directed on package. Melt margarine in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in margarine about 5 minutes, turning once, until light brown. Add broth. Cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut.

Add potato pierogies and remaining ingredients to chicken. Cook uncovered about 5 minutes or until hot.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Holiday Baking

Back in December, I signed up to bake cookies for two events: Christmas Eve service at my church, and the Charity Newsies cookie sale at my work. I decided to bake two recipes from a book I had gotten from the library: More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey. The cover of this book is so mouth-watering I have to share it (courtesy of amazon.com):

I have to say that I think I am in love with this cookbook. Generally when I look at a cookbook to see if it's something I would be interested in, I give it a flip test. I flip to about five random pages and see what recipes I land on. If a majority of those are foods I would NOT be interested in eating or making, then I know it's not a book for me. Well when I did a flip test with this book, every single page I landed on made me drool. And then when I flipped through every page from the beginning, I got really exciting about the baking possibilities. I think I will have to buy this one.

Anyway, for the two occasions for which I had signed up to bake, I decided to try two recipes: Snickerdoodles and White Chocolate Pecan Drop Cookies. I was disappointed in the Snickerdoodles (pictured second above). They were kind of a pain in the butt to make because the dough had to be refrigerated, and I wasn't too thrilled with the results. I actually don't know that I have ever had a Snickerdoodle before, so I'm not even sure if they tasted like what they were supposed to. So I'm not going to post that recipe. But the White Chocolate Pecan Drop cookies were delicious. They were a really nice variation on a basic chocolate chip cookie.

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup (1-1/3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

2/3 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate

Note: to toast the pecans, place on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until smooth, about two minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat well. Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Stir in the pecans and white chocolate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches in between for expansion. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 5 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Spice Check!

I don't have a very organized system for storing my spices. Basically I line them up on two small shelves in the cabinet between the fridge and the stove. The frequently used ones are kept towards the front, and when I need something less accessible I have to stand on a kitchen chair to reach. Sometimes when planning to make a recipe I have to dig through all of the containers to see if I have the particular spice I need, and occasionally I have purchased a duplicate for whatever reason (I think I actually have three opened containers of garlic powder!).

Recently I decided that I needed to be a little more organized about things, so I took out all of the spice containers and made an alphabetical list of what I have, and taped it to the inside of the cabinet door. That way when I am not sure if I have what I need for a recipe, I can just check the list.

As I was digging things out of the cabinet to make my list, I am embarassed to admit I found this little gem:

If you can't read the text on the bottom, it says "Sell By July 29 1985". The spice is more than 22 years old!!! But why I had that old spice (ha ha) is a mystery. I would have been six years old at the time of its sell-by date. And the first time I lived in a place where I would have had my own spices was in my junior year of college, in 1999! So it doesn't make sense that I would have had that spice before it was already 14 years expired!

Where did the mystery spice come from?? My theory is that maybe it happened to be left inside a cupboard of a house or apartment I moved into, and without noticing it I included it with the rest of my spices. Or perhaps one of my former roommates had it and left it for me when she moved out. Either way, it quickly found its way into the trash. And to anyone who has eaten cookies or cakes I have baked... don't worry, I have another NEWER container of allspice.

Maybe y'all should check your own spices! McCormick even made a website dedicated to it: http://www.spicecheckchallenge.com/

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Christmas 2007 included some great visits with family, lots of time to relax, and some new cookbooks!

[cover images borrowed from amazon.com]
1. The Everything Meals for a Month Cookbook by Linda Larsen

This was a Christmas gift from Jason! As a working woman, the concept of 'freezer cooking' appeals to me. Basically this means you prepare meals in advance and freeze them, whether putting together a complete meal that can go straight into the oven (like a casserole) or just doing some of the steps in advance, like preparing a sauce, to save time later. For awhile I had been doing that through Dream Dinners, but Jason and I found that the portions were too large and some of the meals unappealing to us, which meant that it wasn't cost-effective. I was interested in this cookbook in hopes that I could create the "dream dinners" solution at home. So far I have tried two recipes, but cooked both right away (I figured I'd better see if I like it "fresh" before I try it out of the freezer later!). The beef and bean enchiladas were a bust, but the garlic roast beef sandwiches were fantastic, though I don't think that's a recipe I would choose to freeze. I plan on trying a third recipe for dinner tonight. So far, my complaint with the book is that it seems that most recipes involve cooking the meal completely, and THEN freezing portions. To me, that is more like saving leftovers than using the freezer to help you save time later. With Dream Dinners, you didn't cook anything... you just prepared it and then froze it. So I think this may end up being used as more of a 'regular' cookbook than a freezer cookbook.

2. The Big Book of Easy Suppers by Maryana Vollstedt

This book was a gift from Jason's Grandma and Grandpa Harley! This was another book I requested for Christmas. :-) I had gotten this cookbook from our local library a few times, and after about the third time I checked it out I figured I might as well own a copy. My pet peeve with this book is that there are NO PHOTOS of any of the food. I do like to see what a meal is 'supposed to' look like. But the absence of photos means more pages for recipes, and there are a LOT of recipes in this book. They seem easy and delicious. I hope to post some more entries in the future about individual recipes from this book.

3. Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur

This book was a gift from my mom! I had never seen this book before but I love it! The recipes let you recreate popular dishes from restaurants at home. For instance, there is a recipe for the Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad from TGI Friday's. I've eaten the dish at Friday's and loved it, so I'm excited to try to make it soon!

4. Glorious One-Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell

This cookbook was a gift to myself, to accompany the Le Creuset Dutch Oven I got as a gift from my dad. To explain what a 'glorious one-pot meal' is, I'll use this description from the technique's website:
The Glorious One-Pot Meal method cooks an entire meal of meat, grains, and vegetables from start to finish, all in the same pot. An enamel-coated Dutch oven provides optimum infusion cooking for all kinds of ingredients. This technique enables a busy cook to throw together a healthy meal in fewer than twenty minutes with only one pot to clean. Unlike other "one-dish meal" methods -- such as crockpot stewing or casserole baking -- which merge elements and meld flavors, ingredients prepared using the Glorious One-Pot Meal method retain their shape and integrity. In a Glorious One-Pot Meal, fish flakes like fish, pasta remains pasta-shaped, and even delicate tomato slices emerge intact for serving. Foods become infused with flavors and emerge moist, tender, and perfectly cooked.
I am really excited to try this method of cooking. I'll keep you posted on how it works! Jason's excited about it just so he can keep talking about cooking in the "dutch oven." If you don't get why that's funny, all I'll tell you is it's a fart joke. But it actually is a legitimate cooking vessel, and this is what it looks like:
I also recently received a few vintage cookbooks from my Grandma Cotterman. She knows I love to collect cookbooks and is always picking them up for me at rummage sales.
Thanks to everyone for the fantastic cookbooks!!