My recipes are meant to be shared and enjoyed. I welcome you to re-post my recipes and text. I ask only that you credit me and include a link to my blog if you post any of my content.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Merry WHITE Christmas

Okay, so I'm 45 years old and I've lived in the DFW Metroplex or not too far from it my entire life. Around here we're more likely to have shorts-and-short-sleeve weather at Christmas time than cold weather. Well, this year I experienced my first ever white Christmas!!! It started snowing here on Christmas Eve afternoon and the weather was cold enough that the snow was still on the ground on Christmas Day. It was such a beautiful experience, and since I'm statistically probably halfway through my life it's not really likely that I'll experience another White Christmas, so I cherish this amazing holiday.

Due to the weather we were "snowbound" for the night at the home of my beloved Mami-y-Papi-in-law after our Christmas Eve celebration, so I had another fun experience for the first time of waking up with my "extended family" and enjoying Christmas morning with all of TLOML's family, my stepdaughters, and my son. I'll treasure this day for the rest of my life.

So now on to the food. For Christmas Eve with my second family and for Christmas Day with my first family we prepared Roasted Rosemary Walnuts, courtesy of a recipe from,

Roasted Rosemary Walnuts Recipe
Total: 25 mins
Active: 5 mins
Makes: 8 to 10 servings (5 cups)

Roasted Rosemary Walnuts
By Amy Wisniewski

Nuts and booze are a tried-and-true combination for any happy hour or cocktail party. Here the addition of rosemary and black pepper classes up the combo without getting too fussy.

Game plan: These nuts will last up to 10 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

This recipe was featured as part of both our Academy Awards Cocktail Party menu and our Bar Snacks photo gallery.

5 cups walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Place nuts on a baking sheet. Add remaining ingredients and mix with your hands to evenly coat.
Bake until nuts are browned and toasted, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet, transfer to a bowl, and serve.

These incredible tidbits and also the following wonderful Kahlua Spiked Pecans (recipe from were big hits.

I think the rosemary walnuts were slightly too oily and I'll decrease the amount of olive oil next time I make them. However, both of these treats were like holiday crack to me and I think to both of our families, absolutely fabulous recipes.

Kahlua Spiked Pecans (Adapted from Stop and Smell the Rosemary)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
3 tablespoons Kahlua
4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325

In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg white and Kahlua. Add pecans and stir well to combine.

Sprinkle half the sugar mixture on top - mix well. Pour the rest of the sugar on top and stir until completely combined. Scoop the mixture onto a large baking sheet lined with foil and coated with nonstick spray. Spread the pecans to an even single layer.

Bake until pecans are lightly toasted and browned, stirring every 10 minutes - about 20 to 25 minutes total. Remove from the oven and scoop the hot pecans onto wax or parchment paper to cool completely.

Note: I used half white sugar and half brown sugar because I had a dab of brown sugar that needed to be used up and it worked perfectly.

We prepared the black bean dip we've made before, recipe courtesy of Erica at, . Everyone loves this stuff!

Black Bean Dip (Dip De Frijoles Negros)

Although it doesn’t look very pretty, this creamy black bean dip tastes absolutely delicious and is very easy to make. You can serve it with tortilla chips or Patacones.

Ingredients(About 2 cups)
1 (14 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo
½ tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. Place all the ingredients in food processor until the dip is smooth and creamy, scraping the down the bowl as needed.
2. Transfer the dip to a serving bowl, sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve with tortilla chips.

This dip is so, so good, and so healthy! As Erica says, it's not so pretty, but damn, it's tasty! I made it again with dried beans that I soaked and cooked, just because that's very inexpensive and we really enjoy preparing food from scratch as much as possible.

We also made a wonderful white bean-roasted red pepper dip, recipe also courtesy of

White Bean -Roasted Pepper Dip

I love beans! In Colombia we may eat beans two or three times a day. I never get tired of eating beans so I have a long list of bean recipes. This one is a delicious white bean –roasted pepper dip. It is great as a light and healthy snack with pita chips, as an appetizer for your next party or for that unannounced visit, as it is quick and simple to prepare!

1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans
1 roasted red bell pepper
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped onion
Chives for garnish

1. Place all the ingredients in the food processor and mix until well combined and smooth.
2. Transfer the dip to a serving dish and top with the fresh chives. Serve with pita chips on the side

I used a can of rosada beans for this dip because I had one on hand, and it was really good.

We made the Cook's Illustrated hummus recipe again, with a few modifications, This time we made a double recipe and used a little more garlic, a little more olive oil, a little less sesame tahini, and 2 cubes of Knorr chicken bouillon. It turned out really good.

Also made the stuffed mushrooms that I've been making for 25 years that everyone seems to like. Recipe to be posted later.

And in other important Christmas Eve news, SMU defeated Nevada 45-10 in the Hawaii Bowl!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Lunch

The court reporting firms I contract with had their annual holiday lunch on Monday. It was so great to see everyone, our office manager, the other court reporters, our videographer, and the owner of the Spanish translation service we use. Following are the recipes I prepared for the lunch:


Brussels Sprouts

1 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, rinsed and bottoms trimmed off
1/4 lb. thin-sliced pancetta, finely diced (can substitute bacon)
½ cup finely diced shallots

Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes and set aside. Using a steamer basket placed inside a medium saucepan with a lid or an Asian-style bamboo steamer, steam Brussels sprouts for approximately 10 minutes. They should still be a pretty green color and should still have slight resistance to a fork pressed into the base or into the middle of the sprouts. Remove from steamer and drop into the ice water to stop the cooking and maintain the pretty green color. Drain sprouts and place in serving bowl.

In a skillet over low to medium low heat, slowly cook pancetta. Cook until it renders its fat and becomes slightly crispy. Increase heat to medium low to medium and add shallots. Cook slowly until shallots are tender. Pour pancetta-shallot mixture over Brussels sprouts and mix well. Serve with sundried tomato aioli.

Sundried Tomato Aioli

¼ cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Finely chop sundried tomatoes in food processor. Add egg yolk, garlic, mustard, and lemon juice and blend well. With machine running, gradually add oil through feed tube in slow, steady stream. Blend until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper. Blend for a few more seconds.


I also added a little squeeze of anchovy paste to this recipe, about 1 teaspoon. It adds more flavor depth. If you have anchovy paste handy and like it, give it a try. If not, no problem.

Next time I make this aioli I’ll use only half the amount of sundried tomatoes so that the aioli will be a bit more subtle.


1 lb. medium (about 25 per pound) shrimp, rinsed, shells removed except for tail section, and de-veined
1 head of garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Italian seasoning
Salt (if needed)

Separate the head of garlic into individual cloves. Remove root end and skin from garlic cloves. Divide the garlic cloves in half. Slice half of the garlic cloves very thin. Finely dice the remaining half of the garlic cloves.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over low to medium low heat. Add the olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and cook very slowly until browned. You want the garlic to give a nice toasty garlic flavor to the oil without burning. When browned, remove garlic slices. Add lemon zest.

Keep temperature at low to medium low. Add the diced garlic and slowly cook until garlic is soft. You don’t want to brown this garlic. Sprinkle the butter/olive oil/garlic combination liberally with your favorite Italian seasoning, 1-2 teaspoons.

Add the shrimp to the skillet in a single layer and keep the heat low. Shrimp cook very fast and you want to give them a chance to absorb all the great garlic flavor, so cook them very low and slow. After a few minutes, flip the shrimp over and continue to cook them in a single layer. When all shrimp have turned pink and curled up a bit they’re done. Taste a shrimp and the buttery sauce for seasoning. If needed, add a sprinkle of salt.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mexican Market Fruit Salad

I’ve always loved foods that feature combinations of the basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami. For instance, a sprinkling of salt is a great enhancement to the sweetness of cantaloupe. Years ago I was introduced to jicama by my now ex-father-in-law. He had discovered jicama and served it to the family with lime juice and chile powder, which to my understanding is a common Mexican snack. I think it’s a great flavor combination.

If you shop at the larger of our fabulous local Mexican supermarkets in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, you’ll find taqueria counters; islands serving aguas frescas (fresh waters), the wonderfully refreshing Mexican fresh fruit drinks; sometimes crema bars featuring cremas (similar to sour cream) from all regions of Latin America; and refrigerated cases featuring an assortment of fresh fruits and/or vegetables in single-serving sizes with chile powder and lime halves to squeeze over them.

The combination of fruits, cucumber, chile, and lime that you can find in the Mexican market is one of my favorite snacks. Those snacks were the inspiration for this tasty salad. I hope you enjoy this lively combination of flavors as much as I do:


1 small to medium cantaloupe, cut into balls with a melon baller*
1 small pineapple, peeled, cored, and diced
2 medium to large cucumbers, peeled, cut in half long ways, seeds scooped out, and sliced
1 large or 2 medium jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 2 limes
Chipotle chile powder to taste (careful, it’s yummy but spicy)
A couple teaspoons pomegranate vinegar to taste (can substitute apple cider vinegar)
A couple teaspoons agave nectar to taste (can substitute honey)
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients, refrigerate, and allow flavors to mix for a couple of hours before serving

* Honeydew melon would probably be really good in this salad as well. I don’t include it because I don’t really care for it, but if you like it feel free to add some.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guilty Pleasure ... Soaps!

In the category of things that make life splendid, I love, love, love All My Children and General Hospital. I've followed both shows since I was a pre-teen.

The Love Of My Life and I have a happy, peaceful life together. I much prefer soap opera angst to real life angst.

Any other GH fans out there finding the new James Franco character very intriguing in a dark and mysterious way?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Braised Beef Shank

1.5 to 2 lbs. bone-in beef shanks (also called bone-in beef hindshank)
2 large shallots, sliced
2 heads of garlic, cut in half horizontally and kept intact
2 cups thick-sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon dry or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons dry basil
1 bay leaf
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cubes beef bouillon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup Port wine or Marsala

Heat veggie stock to near boiling in microwave or on stove top, add bouillon cubes, and stir until dissolved. Season all sides of beef shanks with lots of freshly ground black pepper and a light sprinkling of salt. Heat Dutch oven over medium-high until hot, add olive oil and heat for about 30 seconds. Add beef shanks and cook 2 to 4 minutes on each side until well-browned and crusty. Add the thyme, basil, and bay leaf. Sprinkle the shallots evenly around the pan. Add 1/3 cup of the Port or Marsala and gently shake pan. Carefully add the garlic halves and press down a bit so they stay intact. Pour veggie-beef bouillon stock over all. Cover pan, reduce to low or medium-low and simmer for 2 hours.

After 2 hours add mushrooms, then cook for 1 more hour, until meat is falling apart tender.

Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Add remaining 1/3 cup Port or Marsala and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to reduce liquid slightly. Serve and enjoy!

Don’t forget to put the veggie trimmings in your zip-top freezer bag to make veggie stock!

If you don't make homemade veggie stock from your veggie scraps, well, first of all, you're missing out. But seriously, if you don't have homemade veggie stock, you can use any combination of water/broth/stock with bouillon cubes that you like to make 3 cups of flavorful broth for this recipe.

Note: If you're like me (and of course I'm sure you're not, gentle reader) and you fell asleep while you were simmering your homemade turkey broth on the first try and you permanently burned the broth into the bottom of your favorite Dutch oven, you can use your favorite stockpot for this recipe, just be careful to keep the temperature plenty low so as to avoid scorching.

Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette

Cooking is my creative outlet. I love to read cookbooks, cooking blogs, and watch cooking shows to learn techniques and find inspiration. The Love Of My Life and I get to talking about some of our favorite foods and ingredients and come up with some really fun recipe ideas when we say "What if …"

We both love the quintessential Vietnamese dipping sauce, Nuoc Cham. In fact, I love it so much that I'm always trying to figure out what else I can do with it besides using it for dipping Vietnamese rice paper rolls.

So I had some shredded green papaya from one of our local Asian markets and wanted to use it as the base for an Asian-style salad to serve alongside Beef "Carpaccio" Imperial Rolls

I was thinking, wouldn't Nuoc Cham make a fabulous salad dressing?

This salad is ridiculously easy to prepare and ridiculously good! Choose any of the following ingredients that you like or have on hand and combine proportions to your taste.

Green papaya, shredded
Carrots, shredded or grated
Jicama, julienned
Cabbage, shredded
Snow peas, julienned
Soy bean or mung bean sprouts
Red bell pepper, julienned

For the dressing, prepare Nuoc Cham. I use the following fabulous recipe from Viet World Kitchen. Adjust to taste. Don't be afraid of the fish sauce. Your sauce/salad dressing won't taste fishy. It's a wonderful umami ingredient that gives a great depth of flavor and enhances the other flavors, similar to using soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce. To the Nuoc Cham add about 1/4 cup of sesame oil, more or less to taste. Whisk together and pour over salad.

Basic Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

Makes ¾ cup

3 tablespoons lime juice (1 fat, thin skin lime)
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce

Optional additions:
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 or 2 Thai chilis, thinly sliced or 1 teaspoon homemade chili garlic sauce or store bought (tuong ot toi)

1. Make limeade. Combine the lime juice, sugar and water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Taste and ask yourself this question: Does this limeade taste good? Adjust the flavors to balance out the sweet and sour.

2. Finish with fish sauce. Add the fish sauce and any of the optional ingredients. Taste again and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing out the sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Aim for a bold, forward finish -- perhaps a little stronger than what you'd normally like. This sauce is likely to be used to add final flavor to foods wrapped in lettuce or herbs, which are not salted and therefore need a little lift to heighten the overall eating experience. My mother looks for color to gauge her dipping sauce. When it's a light honey or amber, she knows she's close.

Streusel Topped Sweet Potato Casserole


4 sweet potatoes (3.5 to 4.5 pounds total)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
¼ teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cognac (can substitute brandy or bourbon whiskey)
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub sweet potatoes well to remove dirt. Prick each one several times with a fork. Place on a foil lined sheet pan. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the largest sweet potato goes through easily, 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Gently peel the skins away from the potatoes, or cut the potatoes in half and carefully scoop out all the flesh. Discard skins.

While still warm, mash the potatoes until smooth, add butter and stir to melt. Add remaining ingredients and stir until very well combined.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the casserole dish and top with the streusel topping.

Streusel Topping

¾ cup butter at room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted pecan pieces
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Mix butter, brown sugar, and flour with a pastry blender or two forks until it's crumbly-looking. Add cinnamon, salt, pecans, and marshmallows. Fold together to mix well. Sprinkle evenly over the sweet potato casserole.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for around 30 minutes, until casserole is hot and topping is beautifully golden brown.

This is a great holiday casserole because it's very forgiving when multiple dishes are fighting for oven time. It "plays well with others" and can be cooked at a temperature of anywhere from 350 to 400, just keep a closer eye on it if you cook it at the higher temperature so the topping doesn't burn. After the first 15 minutes be sure to take a peek every 5 minutes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Joys of a Kitchen Garden

This beautiful parsley is from our garden. Some of it is from a store-bought parsley plant that's been growing here for a year and a half. Some of it is from parsley plants that grew from seeds that I sowed in the spring. All are raised organically.

Lots of food plants are totally impractical, given the amount of time and money they require compared to their yield. Don't even get me started on those blasted rats with fluffy tails (squirrels) that ate all of our spring/early summer tomatoes! Herbs are a wonderful exception to that. We had great luck this season planting seeds for cilantro, basil, and parsley. We also planted basil, parsley, rosemary, culantro, chive, and oregano plants. We've had a great yield from them. We're already planning what herb seeds to plant next year.

It's so rewarding to grow a "kitchen garden." Fresh, home-grown herbs are the perfect addition to your recipes and besides being healthier than chemically raised herbs, they're also so much tastier when harvested just before cooking. We use organic fertilizers and as little pesticide (also organic) as possible. Of course, when we harvest herbs to cook with, we have to soak them for a while to be sure there are no cute little inchworms clinging to the leaves.

In the case of the parsley, the only real "pest" it has is the Monarch butterfly caterpillar. They seem to like the curly parsley much more than the flat-leaf Italian parsley. One caterpillar will pretty much strip a curly parsley plant of its foliage; however, then it moves along and the plant typically regenerates. Sure, we could use poison to keep the caterpillars away or crush them when we find them, but isn't it worth sharing a little of our parsley to nourish the caterpillars that will become the amazingly beautiful Monarch butterflies soon?

Giblet Gravy

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups homemade turkey broth (see
Shredded turkey neck meat and drumstick meat from preparing homemade turkey broth
Assorted giblets of your preference (hearts, livers, gizzards)*
2 cups milk
Lots of fresh ground black pepper

Melt butter in saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Saute shallots until tender-soft. Add flour and whisk for 3-4 minutes over medium to medium-high heat. You want the flour to cook a bit so that your giblet gravy doesn't take like paste!

Slowly add the turkey broth, whisking constantly. Add plenty of fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer for a few minutes. Add giblets and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add milk and bring back to a simmer. Add shredded turkey neck and drumstick meat and simmer another 15 minutes.

* I was able to find large packages of chicken hearts, chicken livers, and chicken gizzards at my local Asian market, so that's what I used. You can also use the little packet of giblets from the turkey if you're cooking one. I use lots of giblets in my giblet gravy because I love, love, love them. If you or your family doesn't share my enthusiasm for organ meat, just use a small amount of giblets.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homemade Turkey Broth for Holiday Cooking

Thanks to Kalyn and her Kalyn's Kitchen blog for giving me this idea . It's kind of a lightbulb moment that makes me wonder why I didn't think of this before. I always make some recipes for Thanksgiving and Christmas that require turkey broth, even if I don't cook a turkey myself. Instead of using canned turkey or chicken broth, why not make some fresh, flavorful, nutrient-packed homemade turkey broth?

First Step
1 package turkey necks, 1-2 lbs.
1 package turkey drumsticks, 1-2 lbs.
1.5 quarts veggie stock or water
4 ribs of celery
3 carrots
1 large onion
2 green bell peppers
2 large shallots
1 head of garlic
1 bunch of parsley

Second Step
1/4 cup Penzey's chicken soup base or turkey soup base (or a couple cubes of chicken bouillon)

Clean celery and trim ends. Cut each stalk into several pieces. Clean carrots and trim ends. Cut each carrot into several pieces. Remove root end and top end and skin from onion. Rough chop. Prepare bell peppers by removing stems and seeds. Rough chop. Remove root end and top end and skin from shallots. Rough chop. Separate the garlic into cloves. With a paring knife cut off the papers top of each clove. Remove garlic skins. Rinse parsley and rough chop.

I did my prepping late at night and I was tired, so I decided to finish the broth prep the following day. I put all my prepared veggies in a zip-top bag and popped it in the fridge to be ready for broth-making the next day.

Don't forget to save all your veggie trimmings in a gallon zip-top bag and pop it in the freezer to make veggie stock next time.

When ready to prepare your turkey broth, boil all First Step ingredients for several hours, until veggies are very soft and turkey parts are fall-off-the-bone tender. Let cool to a manageable temperature. Remove veggies and turkey parts to a plate with a slotted spoon. Pick out the turkey parts, remove all the meat from them, and put the turkey meat into a zip-top bag to save for giblet gravy.

Strain turkey broth through a fine sieve (using cheesecloth if desired) to remove solids. Add Second Step ingredient and simmer for half an hour. Cool and store in refrigerator or freezer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tips and Tricks and Helpful Hints

Here are two handy hints for the price of one. Don't say I never gave you anything :)

First off, before you go and buy expensive equipment and gadgets at those great gourmet cooking stores, check out your local ethnic markets. For instance, you can buy a muddler for muddling the limes and lemons for your favorite alcoholic beverage at a gourmet store for a premium price; however, you can go to your local Asian market, where you can find many different-sized pestles for many different-sized mortars. The pestles work perfectly as muddlers and cost a fraction of what you'd pay for a muddler at your gourmet store. It's amazing what you can find at a well-stocked ethnic market. These wonderful stores are a treasure trove for interesting cooking implements at a bargain-basement price.

Second tip, one of a cook's best friends is the waterproof bandage. I'm sure you never cut yourself cooking, but I on the other hand have had some major finger gashes. Regular bandages get really water-logged and then start sliding off your fingers ... yuck, not cool for a cook. Be sure to keep a supply of waterproof bandages in your kitchen drawer. They'll protect your ouchies and stay put, much more protective of your boo-boo and much more hygienic for cooking.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Simple Comfort Soup

My precious hubby often prepares a soup that is his comfort food. It's what he cooks when he needs to relax or de-stress after a challenging day. It's a quick and easy soup with a few simple ingredients. It's not to my taste because I'm not crazy about some of the ingredients and because he likes it XXX spicy. I do love the aroma when he's cooking his soup, but I'm just too whimpy to eat it :)

I've discovered a comfort food soup of my own. I like to make a simple miso soup loaded with fresh ingredients. It's light but tasty and I think it's probably pretty healthy.

Boil 2 or 3 cups water. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons dashi miso paste (available at Asian supermarkets), depending on your taste. I like my soup pretty strongly flavored; however, I have to caution you that miso contains a lot of sodium.

Forgot to take the pic before I opened the dashi miso, but here's what you're looking for when shopping at your local Asian market:

Boil for a few seconds and then quickly add to that broth small portions of your selections of any of the following:

Diced tofu (medium or firm)
Mung bean sprouts
Chopped snowpeas
Sliced green onions or chives
Sliced mushrooms, whatever kind you like
Shredded cabbage
Sliced Thai bird chilis
Shredded carrot
Dried seaweed (available at Asian supermarkets), soaked and rinsed several times to remove the salt
Chopped water chestnuts
Quick-cooking Asian noodles such as rice noodles or bean thread noodles (available at Asian supermarkets)
Chopped cilantro
Chopped basil

Boil for just a few seconds until all ingredients are heated through, then immediately pour into a serving bowl, preferably a pretty Asian soup bowl which can be purchased affordably at your local Asian supermarket. Using a spoon (or an eyedropper if you're Food Network superstar material) sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of chili sesame oil over the surface of the soup for color and flavor. When serving the soup, use an Asian soup spoon and chopsticks if you have them. This recipe makes just 1 generous serving, so increase the amounts if you need to comfort more hungry diners than just yourself!

I'm sure there are plenty of ingredients that would be wonderful in this Japanese-style soup that I haven't thought of, so as with all of my recipes, feel free to customize, and please post comments if you have ideas to improve the recipe.

Miso is a fascinating ingredient. I've been reading about it on this website, which you might find informative:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

E-Z P-Z Homemade Mac and Chee-Z With a Bonus

This is simple to make and tastes a lot like the greatness that is Kraft Mac and Cheese in the blue box. While the blue box stuff is one of my guilty pleasures, we really prefer to prepare and serve food that's homemade and contains no additives or preservatives or any other stuff with names we can't pronounce.

This recipe is picky-eater-tested-and-approved. My two sweet stepdaughters are probably the pickiest eaters I've ever known and they both give this recipe a thumbs-up.

This recipe has a great bonus, too. It makes 1 cup more cheese sauce than you need for the mac and cheese. The cheese sauce can be used to make another great sauce for veggies or eggs. That recipe follows the mac and cheese recipe. If you don't want to make the second sauce, you can prepare 3 cups of elbow macaroni instead of 2 and use all the cheese sauce on the macaroni.

If you want to make a jazzed-up version of the mac and cheese, cook the elbow macaroni noodles slightly al dente, mix in the cheese sauce, put in an oven-safe casserole dish, top with buttery bread crumbs, and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown.

E-Z P-Z Homemade Mac and Chee-Z

2 cups elbow macaroni noodles
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 to 2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
4 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

In a 4 to 6 quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water with 3 or 4 healthy pinches of salt to a boil.

While you're waiting for the water to boil, start preparing the cheese sauce. In a heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, melt the 4 tablespoons butter. Slowly whisk in the 4 tablespoons flour. Mix well and continue whisking for 2 or 3 minutes. Slowly incorporate milk, either pouring and whisking at the same time or pouring a small amount of milk in, then whisking until blended and repeating until enough milk is added to make a velvety, medium-thick cream gravy. Add the salt, pepper, mustard powder, ground turmeric, and nutmeg and/or cayenne if you wish. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add cheddar cheese 1 handful at a time, stirring to mix it into the sauce. As each addition melts into the sauce, add the next handful until you have added all the cheese to the sauce.

When the water comes to a boil, add the macaroni and cook according to package directions, tasting an elbow or two every few minutes to test for doneness. When macaroni is done, either fully cooked to serve immediately or al dente to bake, drain it in a colander, then transfer into a serving bowl.

Reserve 1 cup of cheese sauce. Pour the remaining cheese sauce over macaroni and mix well, folding gently so that noodles remain intact.

Bonus Cheese Sauce for Veggies and Eggs

1 cup macaroni cheese sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
cayenne pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and serve warm over steamed or roasted veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower, or over eggs.

Birthday Cupcakes

This weekend we're having our family lunch celebration for my younger stepdaughter Ashley's birthday. We're a little late celebrating, as her birthday was October 16th, but we've been waiting for a weekend when the whole family is available. My amazing mother-in-law, Cuqui, is taking care of all the Disney princesses decorations for the party, and TLOML and I are taking care of the food, including birthday cupcakes.

I grew up cooking and baking. Years ago, when my son (now 17) was young, I did a lot of baking cupcakes for birthdays, cakes for Boy Scout competitions, and cookies to take to school for every imaginable holiday. You should see my collection of cookie cutters and Wilton frosting tips!

But truth be told, I don't really like to bake. I don't hate it, I'm just not inspired by it. I much prefer the kind of cooking that I find more creative and less rigid, like making spice rubs for meat or thinking up new salad ideas. I love opening up my magic bag of tricks, you know, that big Rubbermaid container with dozens of herbs and spices, and making up a witch's brew (it is Halloween time after all) with a bit of this and a dab of that.

There's a program on Food Network about cooking with only 5 ingredients. I just can't comprehend that. Why would anyone want to limit the number of ingredients in their cooking? Where's the fun in that? I'm sure my sweet hubby is secretly hoping that program will become my favorite show :)

Anyway, besides the fact that I don't really enjoy baking and neither does my hubby, neither of us even likes sweets very much. Now, don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean that I'm a whispy little gal, but the 40 or so pounds that I need to lose are owing to my love of salty, crunchy foods and my love of wine. Thank God I don't like desserts; if I ate that stuff, I'd be big as a barn!

So as I'm shopping for ingredients to bake birthday cupcakes for my sweet Ashley, which to me has always meant a box mix and whatever gets added to it, my darling husband calls me and is horrified to learn that I'm planning to make cupcakes out of a box. I know he's kinda kidding, but I guess he has a point since we try to make everything from scratch. That way at least we always know exactly what we're eating.

In the grips of my guilt-trip, I used the Epicurious app on my iPhone to look for a homemade cupcake recipe. Don't even get me started about my love of the iPhone and the greatness of the apps and how iPhone is one of the greatest inventions of our time, but if you have an iPhone, well, first of all, you get it, and second of all, I highly recommend the Epicurious app for rescuing you from prepared food embarrassment. I found a recipe for Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cupcakes and bought the couple of ingredients I needed to prepare them.

Recipe from


Makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 pound zucchini, coarsely grated (1 cup)
1 (6-ounces) package semisweet chocolate chips

A muffin pan with 12 (1/2-cup) cups with paper liners

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat together sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips. Divide among lined muffin cups and bake until tops spring back when lightly pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.
I frosted the cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting, using a star tip and a disposable pastry bag. Of course I forgot to take pics of the finished product!

Prep: 10 min. If you love lots of frosting, double the recipe.
This recipe goes with Basic Layer Cake, Vanilla Cupcakes (and Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cupcakes)
Yield: Makes about 2 1/4 cups

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
5 to 7 Tbsp. milk

1. Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
2. Whisk together powdered sugar and cocoa.
3. Gradually add powdered sugar mixture alternately with 3 Tbsp. milk, 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in up to 4 Tbsp. additional milk for desired consistency.

Southern Living, MARCH 2009

Homemade Hummus

There's a long list of foods I want to learn to make from scratch which are foods that are normally purchased ready-made. High on that list is hummus, the delicious, healthy Middle Eastern dip that's often served with pita bread. Tonight I made up a batch for a family birthday lunch this weekend. It came out really good. I think it'll be even better tomorrow after the flavors have a chance to blend.

I made the Ultimate Hummus version. If you're cooking from scratch might as well go all the way, right? I didn't reserve any chickpeas for garnish or chop any cilantro or parsley for garnish. I do plan to drizzle the hummus with olive oil and garnish with a few Kalamata olives for serving. I've had this presentation in restaurants and find it very tasty.

When I finished processing all the ingredients, I was struck by the thought that this is very much like a mayonnaise in composition. To the pureed chickpeas you add a lemon juice mixture and then drizzle in an oil mixture and the whole thing emulsifies and the texture and color change. I'm always fascinated by the science of food.


Recipe from the May/June 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated.

(Makes about 2 cups)

We recommend Joyva or Krinos tahini and Pastene chickpeas [Kearby's note: their next recommendation is Goya chickpeas, which are pretty easy to find]. The hummus can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 5 days. If you do not plan on serving it immediately, refrigerate the hummus and garnishes separately. When ready to serve, stir in approximately 1 tablespoon of warm water if the texture is too thick.

3 tablespoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons tahini, stirred well
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro or parsley leaves

1. Combine lemon juice and water in small bown or measuring cup. Whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons oil in second small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside 2 tablespoons chickpeas for garnish.
2. Process remaining chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With machine running, add lemon juice-water mixture in steady stream through feed tube. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. With machine running, add oil-tahini mixture in steady stream through feed tube; continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.
3. Transfer hummus to serving bowl, sprinkle reserved chickpeas and cilantro over surface, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.


Pick through and rinse 1/2 cup dried chickpeas. Place beans in large bowl, cover with 1 quart water, and soak overnight. Drain. Bring beans, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 quart water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup bean cooking water, and cool. Continue with recipe for Restaurant-Style Hummus, replacing tap water with cooking water.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scratch Cooking and My Cooking Epiphany

TLOML and I are all about cooking our food from scratch using natural, wholesome ingredients and avoiding processed, prepared foods. Although we generally follow a diet low in simple carbs and high in low-fat proteins, we certainly don't follow a rigid low-calorie diet, as evidenced by the size of my ballooning waist and hips, hahaha.

I grew up cooking. That's just the way it was in my family, as soon as you were old enough to stir the pot you were allowed or expected to help out. My mother prepared the most amazing meals that were full of flavor and very frugal. She's a great example to me now that I've truly discovered my passion for cooking. My two brothers and my sister all cook well, probably better than I do, and that's such a tribute to my mother. She always expected her kids to be self-sufficient. We all knew how to cook, clean, and do laundry.

When my son was young, my mother reminded me that it takes some patience to teach your child to do things himself, but both you and he will benefit in the end because that child will be capable of taking care of himself and will be a great help to you. I've done my best to carry on my mother's example, and if I'm half as good a mother as she is then I can rest assured that I'm a total success.

During my long marriage to my ex-husband, cooking became an unappreciated chore. It's just no fun to do the shopping, prepping, cooking, serving, and cleanup for someone who expresses no appreciation for your efforts. Although I'd been cooking all my life, it just wasn't enjoyable or rewarding. Toward the end of my first marriage and the beginning of our separation I became the drive-thru queen. Unfortunately that was my son's mantra, "Mom, let's just drive thru." So sad.

I'm so thankful that my precious new husband re-ignited my interest in cooking. It's so much different when you plan together, shop together, prep together, cook together, and clean up together. I'm so unbelievably lucky to have found my precious soulmate.

So enough of the sentimental musings.

The point of this post is that there are so many foods that we're all used to buying already prepared that I think we could prepare so much better at home from scratch. There is a long list of foods that I wish to tackle from scratch after being inspired by blogs I read, cooking programs on TV, and cookbooks. There are also a few foods I've prepared from scratch that are a little unusual. My theory is that if someone else can prepare a food, why can't I?

Here are some things I want to make from scratch:

Catsup (somewhere I have a Jamie Oliver recipe for this)
Sangrita (that wonderful, savory, sweet accompaniment to tequila)
Frijoles refritos [refried beans] (I'm pretty sure I can make a tastier, healthier version than what we buy in cans)
Home-Smoked Fresh Ham
Hummus (there's a Cook's Illustrated recipe I'm dying to try)

I've made or attempted to make these in the past:

Corn tortillas (I've given this a half-hearted try before and they were awful)
Flour tortillas (I've made these before years ago, need to try again)
Butter (I've made it before; it's really simple in a blender)
Aioli (I've made it before; similar to mayonnaise with a few additions)

I'm sure more items will come to mind as I start cooking through my list. Cooking is like therapy for me and it's always an adventure. Hope you'll keep joining me on the adventure :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beef "Carpaccio" Imperial Rolls

Where did the name for these tasty little treats come from? Well, they remind me of carpaccio, not because the beef is served uncooked, but because the beef is pounded out as thin as possible in order to make it the wrapper for this take on Vietnamese-style imperial rolls. TLOML and I thought up this recipe last week after preparing Bacon-Wrapped Garlic Shrimp on the Grill We love tapas, appetizers, hors d'oeuvres, meze, whatever you want to call it ... a rose by any other name, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, we love small bites with big flavors! After preparing the shrimp we were talking about how fun it would be to create a beef-based "small bite" to pair with the shrimp because everyone loves "surf and turf."

We routinely buy whole beef tenderloins from our local Asian market. The price is awesome, lately $5.99/lb. Whole beef tenderloins can also be found at many Latino markets and at Sam's and Costco stores. Unfortunately, I've never seen this cut at the regular grocery store.

There's usually a bit of "silver skin" running the length of the tenderloin on one side that needs to be carved away with a very sharp knife. Sometimes there's some extra fat that needs to be trimmed, but this is a pretty lean cut and often it has no extra fat that needs to be trimmed away. We often slice this cut into thick steaks, brine or salt them, and smoke them on the smoker/grill.

In this case we cut away the ends because one end was very thin and the other end was shaped funny. We wanted to get the center section that had a pretty consistent diameter. We put the unused tenderloin pieces into the freezer in zip top bags labeled with the cut, approximate weight, and the date, to use later. To make the beef more tender and flavorful, I brined it for a couple of hours. Brining, salting, or marinating is the easiest, cheapest thing you can do to make beef, pork, or poultry tender and tasty.

To prepare the brine, in a large stockpot bring 2 quarts of water, 3/4 cup Kosher salt, and 1/2 cup brown sugar to a boil. Stir until you're sure the salt and sugar are dissolved. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the beef tenderloin portion. Add ice cubes to keep the brine at a safe temperature. If the beef isn't covered by the brine, add water as necessary. Brine the beef for 2-3 hours, checking regularly to be sure the ice is still visible and adding more ice cubes if you can't see the ice in order to maintain a safe temp.

After brining, pop the tenderloin section into the freezer for a couple of hours to make carving easier. Remove from freezer and cut into 1/4" thick slices. One at a time, put the beef slices into a zip top bag and pound thin with a flat meat mallet. The beef slices need to be very thin.

Imperial Roll Ingredients:
20 brined beef tenderloin slices, pounded very thin

2 carrots, finely shredded
1 can of water chestnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely shredded cabbage (I like Napa cabbage)
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
several tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
several tablespoons finely chopped basil
2-3 teaspoons minced ginger
1 bunch of green onions, whites and some of the greens, sliced very thin
1/4 lb. mushrooms, chopped

Olive oil and sesame oil for sauteing

Soy-Based Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon chile oil
1 garlic clove, minced

Whisk all ingredients together.

Alternative Sauce From the Fabulous and Educational Website

Basic Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) Ingredients:

Makes ¾ cup
3 tablespoons lime juice (1 fat, thin skin lime)

2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
Optional additions:

1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 or 2 Thai chilis, thinly sliced or 1 teaspoon homemade chili garlic sauce or store bought (tuong ot toi)

1. Make limeade. Combine the lime juice, sugar and water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Taste and ask yourself this question: Does this limeade taste good? Adjust the flavors to balance out the sweet and sour.
2. Finish with fish sauce. Add the fish sauce and any of the optional ingredients. Taste again and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing out the sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Aim for a bold, forward finish -- perhaps a little stronger than what you'd normally like. This sauce is likely to be used to add final flavor to foods wrapped in lettuce or herbs, which are not salted and therefore need a little lift to heighten the overall eating experience. My mother looks for color to gauge her dipping sauce. When it's a light honey or amber, she knows she's close.

Advance Preparation - This sauce may be prepared early in the day and left to sit at room temperature.
Variation - Use half lime juice and half Japanese rice vinegar for a less assertive sauce. Some delicately flavored dishes require this.

Kearby's Note: Nuoc cham is one of my all-time favorite sauces. Everytime I make it I adjust all the ingredients to taste. Start with the basic recipe and then make it your own, adjusting until it tastes just right to you. I like to add fresh lime zest to my nuoc cham. Freshly sliced Thai bird chiles or Sriracha sauce or a combination works well with this sauce. A sprinkling of finely shredded carrots and red pepper flakes enhances the presentation.

Beef Roll Technique:
Combine filling ingredients. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on counter. Place one beef "carpaccio" at the end of the plastic wrap closest to you. Put a dollop of filling on the beef and roll the beef tightly around the filling. Using the plastic wrap tightly wrap and compress the beef carpaccio imperial roll. Repeat these steps until all tenderloin beef slices are filled and rolled. Refrigerate rolls to let them become firm.

Drizzle a couple tablespoons olive oil in a skillet preheated at medium to medium-high. Add a very small amount of sesame oil to the skillet. Cook the beef rolls for a couple of minutes on each side, then serve. The beef rolls can be served with either or both dipping sauces. They can also be wrapped in lettuce leaves or herbs such as basil, cilantro, or mint. Alternatively they can be wrapped in blanched cabbage leaves.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bacon-Wrapped Garlic Shrimp on the Grill

1 1/2 pounds large head-on shrimp, heads removed and shell removed except for the last shell segment and the tail, and deveined and rinsed

1 bacon slice for every 2 shrimp, sliced in half

Several tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon paprika*
2 tablespoons rum or tequila or triple sec**, optional

* I used Penzey's Hungarian half sharp paprika, which is slightly spicy, for this recipe:
** A few weeks ago we had some orange rinds left over after squeezing the juice from the oranges. I covered the rinds with rum and let them steep for a few weeks. I then strained the liquid through a coffee filter laid inside a sieve to get a nice, clear orange-infused rum. I used that orange-infused rum in this recipe.

Pre-soak wooden skewers in water, two skewers for every three shrimp.

Drizzle shrimp with enough olive oil to coat. Add the lime zest, salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, and alcohol of choice (optional). Mix well.

"Parfry" your halved bacon slices. Cook in a skillet over medium heat long enough to cook out some of the fat. Bacon should be partially cooked but still be pliable. (Bacon takes a lot longer to cook properly than shrimp, so this precooking will ensure that when the bacon-wrapped shrimp are cooked on the grill the bacon will get slightly crispy and the shrimp will not be overcooked.) Remove the partially cooked bacon pieces to a cooling rack to cool and to allow the grease to drain.

I like to put 3 shrimp on each set of skewers. Be sure to use 2 skewers through each shrimp group; otherwise the shrimp will spin around the skewer every time you try to turn it.

Wrap a half piece of bacon around the "fat" end of a shrimp, the end opposite the tail. Push a skewer through the bacon-wrapped portion of the shrimp. Then push a second skewer through the portion of the shrimp between the bacon and the tail of the shrimp. Repeat with two more bacon-wrapped shrimp so that you have two parallel skewers pressed through three bacon-wrapped shrimp. If there's any remaining marinade, drizzle it over the skewered shrimp.

When all the shrimp skewers are prepared, cook them on your grill for a couple of minutes on each side, just until the shrimp turn pink.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

We've been trying to develop the perfect pulled pork recipe with a great savory sauce, not too sweet but very flavorful. Although our attempts with the smoker have been pretty good, this slow cooker recipe is pretty impressive. This recipe is adapted from the kalyns kitchen website recipe for slow cooker pulled pork:

She adapted it from the prudence pennywise website:

I found kalyn's recipe for Slow Cooker Recipe for Pulled Pork with Low-Sugar Barbecue Sauce intriguing and prepared it with a few simple adaptations:

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
(Makes about 6 generous servings. Recipe adapted from Slow Cooker Recipe for Pulled Pork with Low-Sugar Barbecue Sauce from Kalyn's Kitchen, which is adapted from the Slow Cooker Pulled Pork recipe from Prudence Pennywise.)

3 lb. boneless pork loin roast (trim all visible fat; roast should be slightly smaller after trimming)
olive oil, for spraying crockpot
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4-6 tablespoons hoisin sauce (available at Asian grocers and most regular grocery stores)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 teaspoons green Tabasco or 1 teaspoon red Tabasco
1 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Drizzle olive oil in crock pot; use paper towel to rub olive oil over bottom and sides of crock pot. Trim excess fat from pork loin roast, then cut in half against the grain and place both pieces in crock pot.

Combine tomato sauce, tomato paste, hoisin sauce, apple cider vinegar, mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke and whisk together, then pour over roast in crock pot.

Cook at low temperature for 7-8 hours, or until meat shreads apart easily. Shred pork roast with two forks.

If sauce is too thin after pork roast is done, remove pork to cutting board, pour sauce into saucepan and simmer until thickened. Use two forks to shred pork, then recombine shredded pork and sauce.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Puerto Rican Style Black Bean Soup

1 lb. package of dried black beans
1 smoked ham hock
Freshly ground black pepper
Goya sazon packets
Italian seasoning*

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, medium diced
2 stalks of celery, medium diced
1 large Spanish onion, medium diced
1 bell pepper, medium diced
1 3/4 lb.-1 lb. ham steak, medium diced
1 head of garlic, finely diced
3/4 cup of pimiento stuffed green olives, small diced

1 bunch of cilantro, rough chopped
sour cream
Tabasco sauce

Using a large stock pot, rinse and sort black beans. Cover with water to about three times the depth of the beans and soak overnight. Drain water, then add the same amount of water again and drain again. Again cover beans with water to about three times the depth of the beans in the pan. Bring to a high simmer/low boil and cook until the beans become tender. This will take a while, somewhere from 3 to 6 hours. When the beans start to become tender, add the smoked ham hock to the stock pot and continue cooking.

Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron skillet or large non-stick skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add olive oil and continue heating. To start preparing the sofrito, add the carrots to the skillet and saute for a couple of minutes, then add the celery to the skillet and saute a couple of minutes. Continue the process with the onion, bell pepper, ham, garlic, and olives.

When the sofrito has been prepared add it to the black beans. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper (to taste), 3-4 Goya sazon packets (to taste), paprika (to taste), cumin (to taste), and Italian spices (to taste).

Serve with plenty of fresh chopped cilantro, sour cream, and Tabasco sauce on the side.

* For the paprika, I used Hungary half sharp paprika which has a little "bite" to it, and for the Italian seasoning I used Pasta Sprinkle, both from Penzey's Spices:

If there's a Penzey's near you, it's definitely worth the trip. If not, sign up to receive their catalogs. The catalogs always have some good recipes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finally Made Homemade Croutons For Caesar Salad!

As posted earlier, I've been making the wonderful Martha Stewart Classic Caesar Salad recipe for years now, and everyone loves it. Yeah, yeah, I know. Say what you want about Martha, but for me Martha Stewart is a guilty pleasure. I love her craft ideas, her homekeeping ideas, and her recipes (which always come out beautifully for me without fail). Here's the recipe for Caesar salad: I've always cheated and used store-bought croutons instead of making them myself. Well, I've seen the light!

Hubby and I made Caesar salad for a party a week ago and decided to make homemade croutons. We have a dehydrator that we use for this type of application. If you don't have a dehydrator then follow the normal instructions in the recipe.

loaf of French or Italian bread
olive oil
garlic cloves
Kosher salt

Slice the bread into approximately 1/2 inch slices. You can neatly cut each slice into crouton-sized pieces or even tear each slice by hand into rustic croutons. Spread the croutons on the trays of the dehydrator and let them dehydrate overnight.

In a 10" or 12" skillet on medium to medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 or 2 cloves of garlic pressed through a garlic press, and a generous pinch of Kosher salt. Add some of your about-to-be croutons to the skillet, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Saute and keep turning the croutons for a couple of minutes so they get lightly coated all over with the butter mixture. Repeat until all croutons are prepared.

Some bread crumbs and some toasted garlic will be left in the skillet after each batch. Use a spatula to scrape all that tasty stuff out of the skillet and onto your croutons. It's yummy!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

State Fair of Texas Visit

TLOML and I made our annual pilgrimage to the great State Fair of Texas on Wednesday. We had tickets that included a double-header soccer game and admission to the fair. Soccer is another of our passions, one of those wonderful joys of life that fall under the heading of "other things that make life splendid." I learned to appreciate sports a bit late in life, but I'm definitely making up for lost time. We saw our local MLS team, FC Dallas, play New England Revolution. Our side defeated the "bad guys" 1-0!!! FC Dallas usually plays at a stadium in Frisco, Texas, called Pizza Hut Park, but as part of the events at this year's State Fair, the Mexican National Team and the Colombian National Team had a match at the Cotton Bowl in Fair Park, so the FC Dallas game was moved from Frisco to Fair Park for a double-header.

So much fun! Most folks in the great U S of A just don't properly appreciate the "beautiful game." When you get a stadium full of Mexican and Colombian fans the atmosphere is amazing. That place was rocking!!!

Before the soccer, we checked out the 2010 auto show in the Centennial Building and the Automobile Building. After salivating over the beautiful new car models we explored the Mundo Latino (Latin World) exhibit in the Texas Hall of State Building. This year the exhibit in the Hall of State Buildig is all about athletes of Latin descent in most every sport you can imagine. Very interesting.

So, the fair food, how was it, you may wonder? I hate to disappoint, but we didn't try the infamous fried butter and really didn't eat a lot. We shared some jalapeno chips, which were pretty tasty, only medium spicy, very lightly battered and fried, and served with ranch dressing. We each had one of the legendary Fletcher's corny dogs, which were supposedly invented at this very Fair sometime between 1938 and 1942. So yummy!!! Here's some info on the famous fried treat: We also shared some nachos grande with chipotle sauce, which were pretty darn good. I know nacho purists won't touch nachos made with that neon yellow cheese sauce, but it kinda takes me back to my youth when if we were very good our parents would get nachos for us at the Texas Rangers baseball games.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Super Nutritious Hamburger Patties

My precious stepdaughters don't like to eat anything that could possibly be healthy. We made these hamburger patties on Friday night to "sneak" some fiber and vegetables into them. I must say they were mighty tasty.

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground turkey
1 carrot, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
5 green onions, white parts and some of the green parts sliced very thin
cloves of 1/2 head of garlic minced very fine
4 teaspoons olive oil (divided use)
2-4 tablespoons tomato paste, to taste
salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence*
1 teaspoon Beef Roast seasoning*
1 large egg
1/4 cup wheat germ

If you want to really disguise the "evil, healthy vegetables" in this recipe from your little picky eaters, then walk your knife over the carrot, zucchini, green onion, and garlic until it's all minced so small that it's unrecognizable.

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil.

Saute the vegetables until softened. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and seasonings. Cook several minutes so that all the flavors meld together.

Remove the sauteed veggie mixture to a mixing bowl and let it cool. When cool, add the egg and wheat germ. Add the ground beef and ground turkey and mix by hand until well combined. If the mixture is too soft and sticky to easily make patties, chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so to let it firm up.

Form the mixture into patties. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil to the skillet and warm over medium heat, then cook the hamburger patties several minutes per side until nicely browned.

You can melt cheese slices (whatever kind you or your picky eaters like) over the patties when the hamburger patties are almost ready.

You can use your imagination and make all kinds of changes and substitutions to this recipe. My only word of caution is that if you have really picky eaters, don't go overboard with the amount of vegetables you add, and chop them very fine to disguise them.

* I've been buying most of my spices/spice mixtures from Penzey's. Their wonderful high-quality products are available in their store and online. I also find their catalog and online descriptions very helpful when I make my own spice mixtures:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall is in the air ...

I love, love, love this time of year. Thanks in part to the fact that it's been raining for days on end, the temperatures here in North Central Texas are finally only reaching into the 70s and 80s during the day and mercifully falling into the 60s at night. It's starting to feel like Fair weather. The State Fair of Texas starts at Dallas Fair Park on September 25th This is the fair that each year gifts us with important culinary offerings such as fried Twinkies, fried Coca-Cola, fried bacon, and this year's awe-inspiring contribution, fried butter. The deep fried butter even made the David Letterman Top 10 list. Check this out: Makes me so proud of my home state (hiding my face in embarrassment). Thankfully the State Fair of Texas also gave us the world famous Fletcher's Corny Dog, so hopefully it all balances out.

The Love Of My Life and I are just giddy at the thought that open-window weather is imminent. As soon as the temperatures get a little chilly we open the windows to enjoy the fresh, cool air and seldom close them again before the temps start getting hot again in the spring. There is that occasional week or two of below 32 degree temperatures here that might make us close the house up tight; but other than that, we enjoy the cold and just warm the bathrooms with electric heaters for our showers.

The rainy weather and cooler temps are like a happy pill for our little garden. The basil and parsley we planted, both from plants and seeds, is thriving. The rosemary and oregano plants are growing happily. The jalapeno plant is setting fruit like crazy, and hopefully the habanero and poblano will follow suit. The tomatoes should start setting fruit again now, as they like it when the nighttime temperatures fall below 70.

That's the trade-off here. The summers are pretty brutal, especially for folks who like cool weather; however, the fall weather is amazing and we often have short-sleeve weather even at Christmastime. All of that makes for a great fall growing season, maybe even better than the spring growing season.

We had lots of tomatoes on our plants in the spring and a few jalapenos; however, those "rats with fluffy tails," as my mom calls the squirrels, apparently invited all their friends over and helped themselves to our "salad bar" every night, so we've yet to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. Need to figure out a way to outsmart those little menaces so we can enjoy a fall harvest!

Next up on my blog to-do list is to start taking pictures of what we're cooking and our garden and posting them here. I'm not very technological so wish me luck!

"Leftover" Cooking

Sometimes it's fun to see if you can cook "for free" to use up leftovers or ingredients you already have on hand. Instead of going grocery shopping, look in your well-stocked refrigerator, freezer, or pantry and see what ingredients you have on hand, then create a recipe to use them or do a Google search for recipes using the ingredients you have on hand.

Today we had some leftover pork tenderloin, about 1 to 1.5 pounds, already marinating in some
Annie's Naturals Shiitake & Sesame Vinaigrette salad dressing, that needed to be cooked right away so it didn't go to waste. Did a Google search for pork loin recipes and found this one:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed chicken broth
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed beef broth
3/4 cup peach preserves or apricot preserves
1 chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped, with about 1 or 2 teaspoons of the sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
salt and pepper, to taste
2 pork tenderloins, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each

Preparation:Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté the onion until tender and yellow in color. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add the chicken and beef broth, preserves, finely chopped chipotle chile with adobo sauce, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir the cornstarch and water mixture into the sauce and continue cooking, stirring, until sauce boils and is thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Heat oven to 400°.

Trim pork tenderloins; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear the pork, turning to brown all sides. Put the skillet in the oven and roast the pork to about 160° F on a meat thermometer, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Heat sauce until it begins to simmer. Slice tenderloins and arrange on a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon a little sauce over the slices and pass the rest at the table.Serves 4 to 6.

I adapted the recipe to use what we had on hand and to make it quick and easy to prepare. I sliced the pork tenderloin into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. I placed the slices a couple at a time into a gallon zip top bag and used a meat pounder like this to flatten the slices into thin paillards. I dredged the pork loin paillards in flour seasoned with pepper and browned them over medium high heat in a little olive oil in a skillet for 3 or 4 minutes per side. I then removed the pork loin paillards to a plate and covered them with aluminum foil while I prepared the sauce.

I used only about half the amount of pork in the recipe, and since I opted to dredge the pork in flour I didn't use any corn starch. Where the recipe calls for a can of chicken broth and a can of beef broth, I instead used 6-8 ounces of boiling water into which I dissolved a Knorr chicken bouillon cube. The other ingredients in the recipe I added to taste. I didn't have any peach or apricot preserves; however, I had fig jam left over from a Tapas recipe. It was a great substitution, adding just a hint of sweetness to the sauce.

Simmer the sauce over medium high heat until it reduces and thickens a bit. Then reduce the temperature to low, place the pork paillards back in the sauce, and let them re-heat for a few minutes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tips and Tricks and Helpful Hints

Although I only recently discovered my passion for cooking, I've been cooking since I was old enough to hold a spoon. I've spent a great deal of time reading cookbooks, watching cooking TV, and talking with others about cooking, and through the years I've picked up some pretty useful information. I hope you, dear readers, may find some tidbit I share in Tips and Tricks and Helpful Hints useful in your own kitchen endeavors.

Veggie broth freezer bag: When we peel and trim vegetables and herbs, we put the trimmings into a zip-top freezer bag and pop it into the freezer. When the bag is full we simmer the contents in water in a large stockpot. Then strain the liquid through a sieve and refrigerate or freeze the liquid.

We use this as the base for all types of soups, sauces, and to cook veggies. Not only does it add flavor to your soup, sauce, or veggies, it also adds nutrients. Why let all that good stuff go to waste?

When preparing soup you can add beef or chicken bouillon to the veggie broth for a great base.

Monday, August 31, 2009

What a great birthday weekend!

Well, the Dallas Cowboys didn't win their pre-season game Saturday night (not that pre-season games mean much anyway), but the whole experience of going to the new Cowboys Stadium and watching the game live was amazing.

On Sunday my son and his girlfriend spent the day with us, so hubby woke me up, like, before 10:00, ewww! We cooked (well, actually hubby cooked) some lovely homemade french toast for "brunch" for the young folks.

We made a really nice early dinner. I made a very, very loose take on chicken saltimbocca.

The recipe follows and it was darned good; however, after talking with TLOML (The Love Of My Life), next time I'll pound out the chicken even thinner, marinate it the same way, but then add a little cheese and bacon or prosciutto and maybe a sage leaf or two (more authentic saltimbocca), then roll it up and wrap with bacon or prosciutto. It'll be move flavorful and more juicy. Hey, that's part of cooking, right, figuring out how to do it better next time?

Kinda Sorta Grilled Chicken Saltimbocca

2 boneless, double (unsplit) boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded with a meat mallet until thin and even and cut into manageable pieces that a strip of bacon can be wrapped around (each double breast should yield 4 pieces)
8 strips of bacon

Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I use Kosher)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

Prepare the marinade. Coat the chicken pieces in the marinade and marinate for 1-2 hours, turning every once in a while so all the flavors get evenly distributed.

Remove chicken from marinade and wrap a strip of bacon around each piece of chicken, making sure the bacon overlaps just a little.

You can grill these on the barbecue grill, being very careful when turning to keep the bacon intact, or you can pan fry indoors in a little olive oil. They cook quickly since they're very thin. If in doubt, though, use a thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 180 degrees to ensure doneness.

Homemade Chicken Strips

I also made some homemade chicken strips. I used some pounded-thin boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into approximately 1/2 inch strips, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I dipped them first in plain flour, then dipped them in a mixture of 1 egg wisked with a little water, then pressed them into panko bread crumbs. Be sure to coat the strips really well with the panko crumbs for maximum crunchiness. Pan fry in a mixture of olive oil or vegetable oil and a little butter (for flavor) for a couple minutes on each side. They should be pan-fried at a medium-high temperature, hot enough that they sizzle but not so hot that they scorch as soon as you put them in your skillet. When done, they should be nicely crunchy and golden brown. I didn't add any other seasoning to this batch because son's girlfriend is a sorta finicky eater; however, some poultry seasoning or even cayenne powder would be a very tasty addition.

Side Dishes

We also served baked potatoes cooked on the grill. We used Yukon gold potatoes (or actually the local generic brand of Yukon golds). We have one of these cool meat tenderizers which is really handy for tenderizing meat that you're going to marinate. Anyway, you can use that baby to pierce the potatoes all over. Then rub the potatoes with olive oil and salt, wrap in aluminum foil, cut a tiny slit in the foil to let steam pressure escape, and cook in your grill until you can easily insert a fork or knife through the potato.

In addition we served my son's and my favorite Caesar salad, the recipe for Classic Caesar Salad on, and it was wonderful as always. Here's the link for the recipe:

I have to be honest here and admit that I've never actually made the homemade croutons for the recipe, although the instructions sound easy enough. I just haven't tried it yet. I've always bought store-bought croutons that those who wish to add the evil carb-infested things can sprinkle on their salads :)

Experiment for yourself and enjoy cooking!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Going to the Dallas Cowboys pre-season game tomorrow!

So in the "other things that make life splendid" category, my potential brother-in-law, boyfriend of my baby sister-in-law, has Dallas Cowboys season tickets. He gave his tickets for the August 29th pre-season game to my father-in-law, who planned to go with my husband. As luck would have it, my father-in-law remembered that my birthday is the day after the game and is letting me use his ticket!!! Thanks Buddy and go Cowboys!!! Can't wait for the game and can't wait to see their new stadium. Sometimes I'm so lucky I just can't believe it!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wild or Mild Cream of Mushroom Soup

6 T butter, divided use

2 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T flour
3/4 C diced shallots
4 cloves minced garlic
10 C sliced mushrooms of your choice *
1 1/2 t herbes de Provence
1 t Kosher salt
1/2 t fresh coarsely ground black pepper
1 C dry sherry
4 C chicken broth**
2 C milk
1 T dark soy sauce

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots and saute until opaque. Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and saute until softened. Add the herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Add the mushrooms, a little at a time if necessary, and saute until mushrooms are cooked through. Add the sherry to the skillet and cook at a high simmer until the liquid disappears. This will take a while.

In a nice, roomy Dutch oven melt the additional 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk constantly while cooking for several minutes so that the butter and flour combine and the flour "cooks" and doesn't have a "raw" taste. Slowly add the chicken broth, wisking as you add it. Then slowly add the milk, wisking as you add it. Continue wisking until the mixture begins to thicken.

Now add the mushroom mixture from your skillet to the cream mixture in the Dutch oven and allow it to simmer for a while so that the flavors meld.

* Use whatever mushroom combination you like. This soup will be wonderful with plain old white button mushrooms, or any combination of mushrooms, or even rehydrated dried mushrooms. Make it your own depending on your taste.

** If you make your own chicken stock, you should definitely use it for this recipe. However, if you're human like the rest of us, be creative. You can use boxed or canned chicken stock or the appropriate amount of chicken bouillon and water.

Festive Red Sangria

3 cups red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup kirschwasser or triple sec
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 peach, peeled and sliced
1 nectarine, peeled and sliced
1 apple, peeled and sliced
1 orange, sliced

Optional: dry sparkling wine, Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco
Optional: pomegranate seeds

Mix all ingredients, serve over ice, and enjoy. Pomegranate seeds make a nice addition to this sangria also. If you want to step it up a bit, pour your sangria over ice, leaving a little headroom, and top it off with a little dry sparkling wine.