Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homestyle Chili and Cornbread (Day 12)

Usually I only think to cook chili for church potlucks, but chili is actually a great meal for two on a cold night. And since I'm looking for great meals to cook during a busy semester, I had to try the chili recipe out! My recipe book actually has several different recipes for chili, but the one I picked seemed like the most genuine one. It seemed like it would be hard and time-consuming, but actually it wasn't!

The recipe:
Now I didn't follow this recipe completely. For instance, five 16-oz cans of kidney beans? I only did two cans. Two cans of pinto beans? No. One. I didn't realize this would be a problem until it had ten more minutes of simmering. . .I didn't cut down the rest of the recipe. Which wasn't bad, per se, but spicy. But if you're like us and you're into that, then it's all good!

Onions, peppers and salt and pepper right before adding a pound of hamburger.

Very colorful, isn't it? I drained the beans which I probably wasn't supposed to do (recipe didn't tell me!). In my case it was okay because my pan probably couldn't have held that extra juice. It still had fat from the hamburger, so it was "soupy" enough.
The chili mid-simmer. During this time, I made some cornbread. Nothing fancy, just from a box mix (Krusteaz Honey Cornbread. Add milk, oil and egg.) Cornbread is just a must with chili.

The sour cream takes away some of the spice, and adds to the flavor at the same time. So good!

We just loved it! And we loved how much leftover we had. We're going to bring it over and have lunch with my brother-in-law, Derek, and his fiancee, Kaylee. We're also going to make chocolate-dipped mice. What is that? I'll post pictures next time :)

Taste: 9. It was very, very spicy. I like spicy, but too much can overwhelm the other flavors which it almost did. The sour cream helped with that though. That wasn't the recipe's fault though. It wouldn't have been as spicy if I didn't take away 4 cans of beans. . .but I just didn't need that much!
Simplicity: 10. Very easy. You're basically just adding, adding, adding. The only prep you have to do is cut the onion and peppers. It's pretty fast too! After you brown the meat, you add the rest and simmer for 20 minutes. I'm all for that!
Overall, a very quick and satisfying comfort food. I'm excited to bring this chili to my next church potluck. Next time I'll use every can of beans so there's enough for everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mediterranean Pizza, Chicago Style (Day 11)

Last night was the highest number of guests I've cooked for yet: 4 couples including Rory and myself. Ahhh! I really wanted to do sweet pork but sweet pork requires a Crock Pot, which we don't have. I put that on my Christmas wishlist though! Instead I decided that a pizza is a crowd-pleaser, but what kind? That was the question. At first I was going to go for Canadian bacon and peppers, but then I remembered a wonderful pizza from a restaurant in San Diego. The restaurant, Seau's, has since closed. But I remember going there a lot as a kid and my mom always ordered a thin-crusted Mediterranean pizza. It was amazing, and after all of these years, I wish I could have just one more slice. So I figured I should share it with everyone coming over.
3 1/4 - 3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. oil (I used olive oil)
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water

In large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast and salt. Mix well.
Add water and oil to flour mixture. Blend at low speed until moistened. Beat for 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in enough remaining flour to make a firm dough. Knead on floured surface 3-5 minutes. Cover dough with plastic wrap and towel. Let rest 20 minutes.
On floured surface, roll dough to 16-inch circle. Placed in oiled round pan or cookie sheet. Push up side. Cover and let rise until puffy (about 30 minutes). Spread sauce and desired toppings on pizza. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Mediterranean Pizza:
1 small jar of pesto sauce
Cooked diced chicken breast
Artichoke hearts
Sun-dried tomatoes
Mozzarella cheese (I grated mine off a block)
Crumbled feta cheese

Okay, this was my first time making pizza dough, and it wasn't the most pleasant thing to do, at least not in my tiny kitchen! It was a good thing my sister Lisa was there to help, otherwise it would have been an impressive mess. I would suggest having a helper too, so they can sprinkle flour on the dough as you knead it. But if you're more experienced with pizza dough than I am, you should do just fine!
Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of pictures because I was a in a rush.
The dough before going into the fridge to do its thing.

Right before going into the oven. I sprinkled some basil and Parmesan cheese on the crust.

Fresh out of the oven!
As nice as that pizza looks, it didn't want to leave the stone it cooked on. Even though I spread a good amount of oil over it before baking, the pizza would not come off! That was definitely a problem, and pretty embarrassing! With some prying, we managed to get it off of the stone, but not without the hardened crust staying stuck to the stone. Luckily we had a pre-rolled dough from the pizza store down the street and lots of leftover ingredients, so we made another pizza, thin crust this time, and it was ready in 15 minutes.
However, it all went fast! The Chicago-style pizza was gone in an instant and most of the thin-crust pizza was eaten up. We served it with an Italian salad and one of the couples brought veggies and dip. An overall healthy meal, and so yummy!  I'm actually eating a slice of leftover pizza as I write this.
Simplicity: 5. Yes, I'm sorry. Delicious, but a tough one. I think I tackled more than I could chew by going for a from-scratch dough for a large group. I've made pizza before, but it was frozen dough on a cookie sheet. This was very different and messy! Adding the toppings is fun though, and one of these days I'd like to make my own pizza sauce, but it will probably be awhile before I do from-scratch dough again. Never again until I get a bigger kitchen!
Taste: 9.5. Good things take time. Everything came together really nicely. And while it wasn't as good as Seau's, it was a good attempt! The feta cheese got a lot of compliments and so did my embellished Chicago-style crust even though half of it got left on the pizza stone. For a first attempt at pizza, I'm pretty proud of it, I'm just going to have to find a way to make my pizza come off the stone. Any tips?
Overall, I really liked the pizza and I'm glad we have some leftover!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and cutting produce the 'Paul McCartney Way'! (Day 10)

Last night was another night of cooking for guests! Only this time one of the guests had a gluten allergy, which was something new. I started racking my brain for a recipe that didn't include gluten, but as it turns out, gluten is in just about everything! At least that's what it felt like when I started to think of something to cook. But then I realized that fish tacos (on a corn tortilla) are not only gluten-free, but delicious, I went with that. My staple cookbook doesn't include fish tacos, so I did a quick search on the Internet. My fish taco recipe came from (a cooking website I'm definitely going to visit again) and my mango salsa recipe came from

Fish Taco Recipe:1 lb. flaky white fish, such as halibut, tilapia, sole, or snapper
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce

For Lime Sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed

 Prepare the fish marinade by combining the fresh lime juice with the vegetable oil and soy sauce in a rectangular glass or ceramic dish. Add the fish, turn to coat, and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Prepare the chipotle-lime sauce by combining the mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice, chipotle chile, and chopped garlic in a bowl. Season to taste with salt.
Prepare mango salsa by mixing all ingredients together in a medium-large bowl and season to taste with salt.
Remove fish from the marinade and grill or saute until cooked through. Warm the tortillas, either in the oven, microwave, or saute in oil. Set out individual bowls of the sauce, salsa, and shredded cabbage.
For each individual taco, place some of the fish (breaking off chunks of the cooked fillets) on a tortilla, drizzle with the chipotle-lime sauce, and top with cabbage and mango salsa.
Mango Salsa
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno
1/3 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper
Now, I didn't follow these recipes to the letter. For instance, Albertson's does not carry a chipotle chile in adobo sauce. I'm going to be honest, I didn't even know what that was. So I switched that out for pre-chopped green chiles. I also left the garlic out of that recipe (the chile-lime sauce.) And I left the soy sauce out of the fish marinade and cucumber and jalapeno out of the mango salsa.
Okay, moving on. I'd made mango salsa on tilapia in the summer, but that's just it. I made it in the summer, when mangos are a little more ripe. Finding a ripe mango in Idaho in the winter did not happen. I did find an unripened mango though, and although it was a little more on the tart side, it still worked. As I mentioned, I went for tilapia. And since we had four for dinner, I bought 2 lbs of it instead of 1.

I prepared the mango salsa first.

This is all you need for mango salsa!

And this is where I used the "Paul McCartney Way" to cut the produce. You're probably sitting there with this confused look on your face. Well, let me explain. A simple YouTube search of "Paul McCartney makes mashed potatoes" brings up an old video of Paul McCartney cooking mashed potatoes. Odd, huh? But Paul McCartney actually demonstrated a quick way of cutting produce, and I always use it! For instance, when it was time to dice the mango, I cut a grid into the mango, turned it on its side, and sliced it. The result are little cubes of mango! If they stick together like mine did, simply break them up with your fingers, or while stirring in the rest of the ingredients. It's very quick and kind of fun!

You can use the Paul McCartney way on onions too, except you don't need to cut a grid since it has so many layers. Simply cut vertical lines into the onion, and slice. The result is finely chopped onion!

Once you have stirred in all of the ingredients for your mango salsa, cover it, and let it chill in the fridge.
Here is the chile-lime sauce, which completed the taco and made it taste more authentic, in my opinion. All it is is plain yogurt, lime juice, chopped chiles, and a little mayo. Cover it, and let it chill in the fridge.

I know, a lot of fish! But it goes quickly, that's for sure. Here it is in its marinade, right before cooking.

Grilling...or maybe it's frying? Either way, it's cooking in vegetable oil and lime juice (lime juice was used a lot for this meal.) Those little bits in the pan are from the fish fillets that cooked in it right before these. I like cooking with fish because it's so fast, but they need a good deal of attention while in the pan. I constantly flipped them, otherwise they would stick to the pan. Once they start breaking apart super easily, they're done. While the fish cooks, get your tortillas warm by arranging them on a cookie sheet and sticking them into the oven on the lowest temperature.

Add your fish, mango salsa, chile-lime sauce and a little cabbage together on a tortilla and you have a delicious fish taco!
 Let me tell you, they went fast! All of the different elements came together so nicely. There was the tart of the mango (although it's typically supposed to add sweetness), zing from the chile-lime sauce, a little spice...and I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it.

Taste: 10. I was surprised at how authentic they tasted. When Rory and I spent a month in San Diego, we ate fish tacos at least once a week, and this recipe was just as good as any of them! I think it was the chile-lime sauce that really made it great. It tasted really authentic, yet unique at the same time. And I'm really pleased with how the fish came out. As soon as they were cooked all of the way, they came off the frying pan. They were more juicy and flavorful that way. I feel if tilapia is cooked too long, it tastes like nothing.
Simplicity: 9. A lot easier than I expected! This seems to happen to me more often these days. The good thing about this dish is you can make the mango salsa and chile-lime sauce hours in advance since they can chill in the refrigerator. The fish was the only tricky part since it needs to be watched the whole time it cooks.
Overall I'm really pleased with this dish! I have two extra fish fillets and chicken, a little leftover mango salsa, and chile-lime sauce. We're looking forward to eating this again tonight! I highly recommend this one for when you have guests over because they're fun for the guests to put together, and even people who don't care much for fish will love it. This would also be good with chicken or sweet pork if you absolutely refuse to cook or eat fish.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The 'Daunting' Lasagna (Day 9)

I love Italian food for two reasons: it's hearty and easy to make. One Italian recipe that always made me look the other way was lasagna. All of the layers! But yesterday I was feeling pretty gutsy and I decided to give it a go. Let me tell you, it was not that scary!
Even though the recipe takes up a whole page, don't let it scare you. By the way, I left the cheddar cheese out and stuck with mozzarella and Parmesan.

The beef, tomato sauce, tomato paste and herbs right before simmering for half and hour. I buy beef with a decent amount of fat, and I think that adds to the overall flavor.

I am not a fan of cottage cheese, but you can't make lasagna without it. I'll admit though, the sight of it mixed with egg was putting me off for awhile.

In the middle of layering the lasagna. It's actually kind of fun to do, at least for me because it was unlike anything I've ever done with food.

The outcome. Sorry, no picture of the serving. We were starving and we dove right in.
A-maz-ing! Really. We each went back for seconds, and we devoured the leftovers for lunch today, and we're having them for dinner. There's just enough left. I wanted to serve it with an Italian salad, but then I realized that neither of us care too much for salad and honestly, this lasagna holds its own very well.

Taste: 10. Loved it! I want to make this again for when we have company because there was so much of it! And it only took an hour to an hour and a half. . .a lot less than I expected. And I only needed a skillet, mixing bowl and baking dish. Love that.
Simplicity: 8. It's still a lasagna so it wasn't instant, but honestly, it was not that hard to make. It's just a little on the time consuming side.
Overall, I loved it and I'm really looking forward to making it again for company or when we need a dinner and a good lunch the next day!

Comforting Chicken Casserole (Day 8)

When I asked Rory what new things he wanted me to learn, he said casseroles. Honestly, I never knew of anyone who actually made casseroles until I moved to Idaho when I was eighteen. Before then, I thought it was just some rumor that housewives baked casseroles. But I found a chicken broccoli casserole that seemed easy enough for a first try.

I think I'm just going to stop trying to get these flipped because nothing seems to work.
Everything going at once. I personally like to boil fresh broccoli because it's the fastest way, and you're guaranteed good broccoli every time.

Before adding the chicken and sauce.
This recipe yielded a lot of the sauce because more people are meant to eat this than two. There was some leftover, and looking back, I should have used it all. It had a pretty good taste!

 So was the casserole awesome? Eh. It wasn't my favorite. A casserole is a casserole. It's hard for it to measure up to enchiladas or apricot chicken, that's for sure. However, it was filling and it had a certain warm comfort to it. It's that dish you give to a member in your church when they're going through a hard time. That's a good thing though. Now I know how to whip something up that saves well and cooks quickly.
Taste: 7. It was just so-so. Nothing extraordinary while not being bland. I feel like it needed something more though, I just can't put my finger on what it is. Maybe more broccoli or maybe a side dish was needed. I served it on its own because it seemed filling enough (and it was), it was late and we wanted to watch a movie while eating.
Simplicity: 8. It was pretty fast and easy. My only gripe was that I had to use a lot of dishes for it, and the outcome wasn't really worth all of the cleanup.
Overall, it obviously wasn't my favorite. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad. It just didn't quite do it for me. But like I said, a quick, comforting meal on a cold night.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Enchiladas for Four or More (Day 7)

Enchiladas were one of the first thing I learned after getting married, and they are probably the best thing I can make. I would cook them more often if it weren't for this one thing: they are a PAIN to make.
So when I saw a recipe for enchiladas in my cookbook, I skipped over it, thinking it would be the same recipe I already know. Um, no. What makes enchiladas hard (for me) is I have to rub corn tortillas in vegetable oil, and bake them. You bake them so they don't fall apart during the stuffing and rolling process. If they get baked too long, bring out the salsa because you get chips. So it's tricky. Then you have to soak them in enchilada sauce, fill them and roll them. By then, your hands (and everything else in your kitchen) are a mess.
But upon looking at the recipe in my cookbook, I noticed the tortilla baking part was left out. I was still nervous to cook them because one time I skipped the tortilla baking, and my tortillas fell apart while stuffing them. The only reason I did this recipe is because we invited a couple over for dinner. Enchiladas are filling, tasty, and I know how to cook them. So away I went.
Rory cooked the chicken for me, which was a huge help :) He browned them in a large skillet. By the way, I have to say that I love that skillet. I use it for every meal because I can cook basically anything in it: meat, vegetables, rice. . .it's great! I used it three times for this meal: the chicken, the enchilada sauce and rice. You should get one!

I didn't follow this recipe completely. I added green peppers, swapped the hamburger for chicken and bought pre-made enchilada sauce. This recipe includes enchilada sauce. Next time I may make it from scratch.

The chicken. We added cayenne pepper, butter, and salt. Rory also added some Dr. Pepper to tick me off :) It didn't mess with the flavor though.

This recipe called for flour and vegetable oil. (?) It confused me, but I went with it. Looking back, that was completely unnecessary. I have no idea what the point was. I stuffed the tortillas with chicken, cheese and cooked pepper and onion.

The recipe yields 15 enchiladas. I made these 4 without the onions and peppers in case our guests preferred their enchiladas without them.

But they preferred these enchiladas with everything. They were devoured! I added cilantro and sour cream and served the enchiladas with Mexican rice. 
 So did I need to pre-bake the tortillas? Not really, no. The tortillas definitely weren't as sturdy while being soaked in the enchilada sauce, but I was trying to be careful and not rip them. They turned out just fine. That's a step I think I'll be skipping from now on.
Taste: 10. This is my favorite dish so far. They were spicy, flavorful and the texture came out great.
Simplicity: 7. I wish they could be easier, but they aren't. After getting the chicken perfect, dipping every tortilla in the red sauce is very messy and not very easy. It only took a little over and hour overall, but it's a very tedious job.
Overall: I love enchiladas. They used to be one of my least favorite Mexican dishes, but now I'm a huge fan of any enchilada. These are great when you have company because the recipe makes a lot of enchiladas and they are a people-pleaser. I wish I had more red sauce because I personally prefer my enchiladas to be soaked.
I'd just like to say that maybe cooking would be a lot easier if I had a bigger kitchen. Here's a picture of my kitchen:

Yeah....not a lot of counter space! 
I look forward to the day when I will prepare dinner with more than a square foot's worth of counter space!

Everybody's Favorite Hamburger Pie (Day 6)

And yes it was! Okay, so I only cooked it for me and Rory, but I'm sure it's a dish that anyone could enjoy. This dish was another first for me: mashed potatoes. I know! Mashed potatoes are so basic, that you'd figure any 21-year-old would have made them at least once. Well, that was my first time and it was nothing. I wanted to make hamburger pie (or as it is more commonly known as shepherd's pie) because it felt like a comfort food and a holiday food. After we finished eating, we decorated our tree. I know it sounds weird, but this dish complimented tree decorating for some reason.

I left the A1 sauce out because we didn't have any.
I had the veggies boiling a little before I started to brown the beef.

The pie right before going into the oven.

I served it with dressing to give it more of a holiday twist.

 It was very filling and very great! Next time I would add way more cheese to the top of the potatoes and maybe chives. We ate the leftovers for dinner the next night and it may have been better. We mixed it with some sour cream. Yum!
Taste: 8. More cheese and sour cream may have bumped up the score, but it was very good. I feel like there should have been another vegetable in there besides green beans, but I can't figure it out. I should have chopped the green beans. As I said, this was my first experience with mashed potatoes and I added milk, buttermilk ranch and seasoning. I didn't want to overwhelm the potatoes so I took it easy, but they could have used more ranch and seasoning.
Simplicity: 9. Pretty dang easy considering the outcome! The only thing you have to do is mash the potatoes and brown the beef. The rest takes care of itself which I love. It came together really nicely.
Overall: A great meal to serve during the week, and great leftovers for lunch/dinner the next day. I'm keeping this recipe in mind for when school starts for sure.
Since I'm getting backed up on my posts, I'm going to double-post and write about my enchiladas from two nights ago, and then I'm going to get started on my chicken broccoli casserole!