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.

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.