Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Nachos

I'm baaaaack!! I took a bit of a blogging/cooking break during the Olympics. For those of you that don't know, I am moderately obsessed with the Olympics (both winter and summer) and obscure sporting events in general. I was pretty much glued to the television for the past two weeks.

One of my favorite foods to eat while being a sports spectator at home is a big plate of nachos. I rarely eat them while I'm out because I look like a ravenous crazy lady who hasn't seen food in a week. Lucky for me, the Happy Husband is a big fan of nachos as well so I get to make them about once a month or so.

This time of year is my favorite time for nacho excellence because of the availability of fresh produce for yummy salsa. As I have said before, there's nothing like going out to the garden, picking some cilantro, tomatoes and jalapenos and throwing them together for a fantastic and healthy fresh salsa.

For the salsa, dice up your tomatoes, jalapeno and onions. I used two peppers (you can alter this based on your taste), about a cup and a half of tomatoes and three quarters of a cup of red onion. I also minced up about a teaspoon of fresh cilantro. Next, mix all of the veggies together in a glass bowl. Use a garlic press and add one clove of pressed garlic. If you don't have a press you can mince the garlic. Stir everything together add lemon or lime juice to coat the veggies. I used red wine vinegar because I didn't have any fresh citrus laying around. Add just a bit of olive oil and then season with salt and pepper to taste. I find that it is best to make the salsa before any nacho assembly to allow the flavors to come together.

Now for the pre-bake nacho assembly, use about two thirds of a regular size bag of chips. The best way to do this is in two layers so that you get cheese on every single chip. Put your first layer of chips down on a foil lined pan (easy cleaning!!). Next, add half of your ground beef taco mixture (click here for taco meat recipe). Sprinkle one cup of your shredded cheese of choice over layer 1. The fancy shredded Mexican blend that you find in the dairy aisle in the grocery store will be just fine. The last piece of layer 1 is pre-made queso sauce. The Tostitos brand is a favorite here at the Happy Husband Diner. Next repeat the process for the second layer and throw it in a pre-heated oven with the broiler on the low setting. Keep an eye on the nachos while they are in the oven, I have burned many a second layer during the cheese melting process.

Now that the cheese is yummy melted and the chips are warm and crispy its time to apply the toppings. For the salsa application make sure you STRAIN the juices before you put it on the chips that you have worked so hard to make crispy. If you don't strain you can end up with soggy nachos and those are just plain nasty. The next step is totally optional but I am a guacamole lover and suggest you at least try the green gooey stuff. Throw a couple of dollops of guacamole on the nachos for some added zest. The guac in the picture is Wholly Guacamole brand and was left over from a party but is a good one if you don't want to or don't have time to mash it up yourself.

Last step, plop the tray on the coffee table, dish up some sour cream if you like to dip your nachos, and enjoy your favorite sporting event (or just eat nachos for dinner).

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Zucchini Chronicles Part 2: Zucchini Soup

I think the Happy Husband and I are going to turn green by the end of the zucchini growing season!! I found a recipe for Zucchini Soup and, with several adjustments, I was pleasantly surprised at the tasty results. As you know, if you have ever tasted it, zucchini isn't the most flavorful food on the planet. It has a subtle sweet taste and is a great low calorie filler veggie. You can eat a TON of it, totally guilt free food! This recipe ends up being surprisingly creamy even though the only dairy is a little bit of butter in the beginning. This will make about 3.5 quarts of soup depending on the amount of stock/liquid you add.

The first thing you need to do for this soup is chop your onions and garlic. You will be puree-ing the soup later so just make sure they are pretty well broken down. This step doesn't have to be perfect! I doubled the found recipe and used two whole onions and about 20 cloves of garlic. The onion type is up to you. I went on a red onion craze at Costco so I went with them for the soup. I know it seems like a lot of garlic too. The flavor really mellows out after almost 90 minutes of cooking so don't be afraid. IF you are really worried, don't use as much.

OK, now that you have your veggies prepped... Next you need to 'foam' your butter. Foaming is just a fancy way of saying melt it but don't brown it. The easiest way for me to do this is to throw it into a cold pan and then turn the heat to medium low. When you start to see little white bubbles forming, you have achieved foaming. I used a whole stick of butter for my three pounds of zucchini that I added later. I think that six tablespoons would have definitely gotten the job done and made the soup even healthier.

The object of the onion and garlic in the pan with the butter is to 'sweat' the aromatics. This is just another fancy pants cooking term for cooking them on medium-low heat until they are soft and not browning at all. The sweating time is a great time to add some salt and pepper. The salt will help to draw some of the moisture out of the onions and garlic (making the softening happen faster) and the pepper will become tastier with the low heat. This process should take about 10 minutes or so, depending on the freshness of your onions and garlic. This tip is a little late but... when cutting onions you should stick them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before you start your slicing. The onion releases and enzyme when you cut into it that becomes a gas and reacts with the water in your eyes causing the tears and discomfort. If you chill your onions the enzyme becomes less reactive. I use this method all the time and it really works!!

Once your onions and garlic are translucent (soft and getting easier to see through) its time to add the zucchini. Looking back, I wish I had used an 8 quart stock pot for my double batch of soup instead of the 4 quart sauce pot that you see in the photos. Keep the heat on medium low and sweat the zucchini for another 10 minutes or so. You want to draw out some of the moisture that is trapped inside. I used one of my baseball bat sized zucchini that had gotten out of control. Smaller ones are ok too and will be slightly sweeter.

The amount of liquid that needs to be added depends on the amount that is released by your zucchini. Add enough that it just barely covers your sweaty veggies. I keep using the term liquid because its totally up to you what you add. I added water with some powdered chicken bouillon. You can add low sodium chicken stock or, if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, add some low sodium veggie stock. The low sodium stock allows you to control the saltiness of your soup. This option is key for those of you with Happy Partners with less than perfect blood pressure :)

Simmer your brothy mixture for about 45 minutes. If you prefer a brothy soup you are almost done! Taste your broth and season according to your preferences. I added a bit of pepper and some Italian dried herb mix at this step. For you broth with chunk soup lovers, you are done. If you prefer a smooth creamy texture, there is one last step. Use an immersion blender to puree your soup until its smooth. Never fear if you are without the immersion blender, VERY carefully blend in a blender or food processor in batches until smooth.

Soup done!!! I would suggest serving this yummy soup with some toasted, garlic rubbed crusty bread and a dollop of sour cream or a tablespoon of heavy cream plopped in the middle!! The one additional step you could take would be to strain your soup. You would only need to take this step if you used an older zucchini. If you take a look a the finished product picture at the top you can see some white flecks in the soup. These are the pieces of seed that didn't break down during the blending process (not a problem with younger fruits). The bits didn't bother the HH and certainly didn't bother me so I left them for some added texture. I froze most of the soup in individual servings for taking to lunch at the office when in cools off later in the year. I hope you enjoy the soup! The zucchini are still pouring out of the garden so be ready for some more garden creations!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Zucchini Chronicles Part 1: Zucchini Bread

OK... so perhaps four zucchini plants was a bit ambitious for the Happy Husband and I. I have been giving zucchini away like nobody's business and still they are getting out of control. It could be because there are actually two stalks per plant which means I really have more like eight zucchini plants for two people. So far, I have made two 2 loaf batches of zucchini bread but I'm thinking I'll have anywhere from 8 to 12 loaves in the freezer before the growing season is through. Traditional zucchini bread recipes call for some type of nut to provide a bit of extra texture and flavor. I have a mild pecan/walnut allergy so on the first batch I used sunflower kernels instead. The flavor was nice but the HH said he NEEDED chocolate in batch number two. Off I went to pick up some semi-sweet morsels and that's where this batch for the post comes in.

I am not one to use pre-written recipes often. However, baking is a different story. You will get very frustrated, very quickly if you attempt new things with out proper measurements. I used the Better Homes and Gardens recipe (click to see recipe) and substituted the nuts for the same measurement of chocolate chips. The first order of business is to grate the zucchini. I prefer using a box grater for this because it is very stable and contain the shavings until you are ready to use them. You will want to be careful to leave a stub of zucchini so that you don't grate fingernails or fingertips into your bread. While it would be a nice added protein, I don't think your Happy Partner's or other zucchini bread recipients would be too thrilled to find a fingernail in their pastry.

Next, follow the recipe by mixing the wet together in one bowl and the dry ingredients together in another bowl. The chocolate chips come in later so don't include them in either bowl just yet. Now you need to combine the wet and dry together. Make a well (a hole in the center) in the bowl of the dry ingredients. Dump the entire bowl of the wet into the dry. Mix with a spatula or fork until it is just combined, lumps are OK. The final step before loading the batter into your greased pan is to fold in the semi-sweet morsels. Take care not to over mix the batter as it can cause your bread to be tough.

Load your batter into your greased pan/pans (I did a double batch here) and pop them into your pre-heated oven. Follow the recipe directions on cooking time. About 5 minutes before the bread is supposed to be done you need to check it. Stick a toothpick into the center of your loaf. The recipe will tell you that if it doesn't come out clean you need to leave it in longer. I like to take it out when its slightly under cooked (the toothpick will be kind of gooey but not runny). This yields a more moist bread and I think it helps if you are going to freeze it after cooling.

Be sure to allow the loaves to fully cool before wrapping tightly with plastic wrap for storage. As you can see in the far loaf in the picture the crispy edges are pretty darn amazing when hot and I just couldn't help myself. My favorite way to enjoy the bread is for breakfast. I slice it, toast it and top it with whipped cream cheese. Its a convenient little to go package for my commute during the week. The Happy Husband has another preferred method of consumption. He likes it sliced and then slathered with cupcake icing. To each is own I suppose... Stay tuned for more zucchini recipes :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms and other Garden Goodies

First off, I wanted to say that I am sorry that it has been so long since my last post. The garden is really starting to explode with tasty, fresh veggies and between family parties and weddings things have been terribly busy at the Happy Husband Diner. I know that I have been posting a lot about meat but there really is a lot to be said for a yummy tapas style vegetarian dinner now and then. Each of the dishes in this post are meat free, delicious and contain at least one home grown ingredient.

When I first mentioned to the Happy Husband that we were going vegetarian for the night I got a bit of a strange look. But then... I told him I was going to make tempura fried, stuffed zucchini blossoms he became very interested. Normally I wouldn't be too excited about sacrificing 5 perfectly viable zucchini babies but one of my engineering classmates turned professional chefs suggested I try this method of preparation. Plus I have 4 zucchini plants and only two people to eat the bounty. (I'm sure there will be other zucchini posts to come.) So I did some reading on how to prep these little beauties. If you can buy them in the store, (I'm sure they will be over priced and not as fresh), then you don't have to worry about this step. If you are lucky enough to pick them within minutes of stuffing and serving, be sure to look out for ants hiding in the blossoms. They probably won't make you sick if you miss a couple but I don't think anyone is in that much need of protein. Once they are clean, stuff them with your stuffing of choice. Make sure the blossoms can pretty much close around the stuffing so that it doesn't melt out during the frying process.

For the stuffing this time, I went with goat cheese, quinoa and marinated artichoke hearts and seasoned the mixture with a bit of salt and pepper. You want to have enough goat cheese (sticky ingredient) that you can ball up the stuffing and it will stay in the shape you make. If you aren't using cheese you can always add a bit of egg to help coagulate the stuffing (make it stick together) during the cooking process. I used a simple tempura recipe from the Joy of Cooking cook book. The basic ingredients for tempura are cold beer/seltzer, flour and baking powder/leavening agent. You can find a recipe anywhere online too.

Dip the stuffed blossoms into the tempura batter and then fry to an even golden brown. I like to drop a little bit of batter directly into the hot oil to tell that it is hot enough/not too hot to cook the blossoms. Needless to say the Happy Husband and I were both pleasantly surprised at the outcome!! The blossoms came out a perfect golden brown and the stuffing was hot but not molten. Not molten is a good thing because the HH has no self preservation reflex. He would pop a still bubbling fried item right into that mouth of his if I weren't there to stop him.
Caprese Salad
The other goodies on our tapas buffet were home grown kale chips (I used garlic salt and pepper to season them), caprese salad (with home grown basil and home made mozz), and pickled home grown beets. Click on the dish names for directions on how to make those items. I have posted photos below of each of the dishes.
Kale Chips
Pickled Beets

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Garden Bounty

This box may not look like much right now but this one day harvest from our back yard garden will be turned into some amazingly tasty goodies for the Happy Husband and I. The radishes will go to my dad because he is the best dad ever! (And possibly because the HH and I don’t eat radishes, ha ha). The beets are destined for pickling thanks to me being introduced to pickled beets back in my Virginia Tech days by my roommate Kristin. Her mother makes, quite possibly, the best pickled beets that I have EVER tasted. The collard greens will be washed and stored in the fridge for a day or two until I am ready to simmer them with ham bits, hot sauce and diced onion and garlic. Tonight, however, the kale and turnips are headed to the dinner plate in two separate preparations.

This is what turnips are more likely to look like if you are searching for them in a store. They might not even have the stems of the leafy tops left but I thought the pale green added to the photo so I left it on. There really is nothing better than pulling these suckers out of the ground and cooking them less than an hour later. Turnips can have a bit of a spicy bite to them but that gives them a fresh flavor and is nothing to be worried about. The spicy mellows out when you roast the turnips. You will need to peel them and cut them into wedges. Toss with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 350 degrees until the edges just start to brown. I roasted some potato wedges on the same tray until they were starting to brown and crisp up on the edges as well.

Next to prepare the kale. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees or preheat your grill to high if you are feeling adventurous.  Rinse and pat the kale dry. Remove the ribs from the kale and tear it into big pieces. The rib is the hard lighter colored hard part that runs down the middle. It is very stringy and won't get crispy in the oven anyway. If you are a composter these will make a great addition but you should cut them in half to speed up the composting process. Once you have the kale torn into pieces, spread it out onto a baking sheet. Toss the kale with olive oil, salt and pepper. Only use the pepper if you really like a peppery bite, it will intensify in the baking process. I think it tastes just fine, if not better, with just salt and olive oil. This is where it gets a little tricky. The kale can burn quickly so don't walk away from it for more than about a minute. I never walk away because I tend to space out and come back to ashes on my cookie sheet. Never fun. Roast the kale chips until its crispy... it will brown on the edges but this gives it a nice nutty flavor so don't freak out. I like to toss it half way through if its in the oven so that it crisps up evenly.

I served the tasty garden harvest with garlic roasted potatoes and a juicy, tender grilled chicken breast. I didn't take the time to calculate calories on this one but I would estimate it to be around 450 calories for what you see on the plate. Maybe even less depending on the size of the chicken breast that you are using. Thats about one and a half turnips and one potato and a cup and a half of prepared kale chips. I'm very much looking forward to sharing more garden goodies with you guys!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holy Cow!!! Homemade Mozzarella

This was my second time making cheese. The first time, I used commercially produced pasteurized and homogenized milk. It was a collossal disaster and I nearly swore it off for life. I read online somewhere that using non-homogenized milk was much easier. You can get pasteurized non-homogenized milk at your local food co-op or hippie organic grocery store. You wil pay a ton for it!!! I however have the luxury of working in Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) country a couple of times a week and have access to plenty of farms selling 'raw' milk. In case you didn't know, raw milk is basically milk straight from the cow, full fat and as fresh as it gets. And... the best part it is that a gallon of this Amish raw milk is that it is cheaper ($3.75/gal) than a gallon of regular milk at the grocery store. It is also great because you can basically touch the cows that the milk came from and see how they are being treated (for those of you that are into that kind of thing). This post is going to review the mozzarella process and the dish I made with it. Next I'll go over the ricotta process and that dish. Anyway... On to the cheese making!!

The first thing you will need to do is separate the cream that has floated to the top of the container from the milk. This can be a bit touchy if you don't have a siphon or a turkey baster. As we did not use our siphon and did not have a turkey baster, we ended up with a bit of a mess on our hands. I was mildly losing it and the Happy Husband was busy trying to calm me down and get the mess cleaned up. This photo was taken post mess and it was too hectic to take one during the process. Think crack in the bottom of a really full bucket spraying everywhere but in the pot. Fun... really.

The other two ingredients that you will need are citric acid and rennet. You can find citric acid in any grocery store that has a canning department or online. The rennet was a little harder to come by. Its definetly available online and comes in either tablet (animal based) or liquid (vegetable based) form. Its not cheap but a whole gallon of milk takes only a quarter teaspoon of the stuff. I managed to score the liquid version at the hippie co-op grocery store in the nearby college town. A digital thermometer will also be tremendously helpful here but you can use a traditional candy thermometer if you are really going to babysit the stuff. The first thing you will need to do is dissolve the citric acid and rennet in cold filtered water. Dissolve/dilute 1/4 tsp rennet in a 1/4 cup cold filtered water and dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid in 1 cup of the cold filtered water.

Next you will need to heat your milk to 85 degrees F. This will take a while if you have just taken it out of the fridge, so it is the perfect time to set up your straining device. Stick a colander over a large bowl and line it with cheesecloth. You will probably need a second bowl if yours isn't super deep, I did. Whatever you do, DO NOT THROW OUT THE WHEY. The whey is the yellowish liquid that is left after the curds strain out. Once your milk makes it up to 85 degrees, dump in the citric acid mixture and give it a swirl with a slotted spoon.

It will start to look a little strange and curdle but nothing exciting is happening yet. Next, continue to slowly heat to 100 degrees F. This is when you stir in the rennet mixture. This is where I varied a bit from the recipe... I was so busy trying to take pictures that I wasn't paying attention to the next step (it didn't seem to make a huge difference). Let the milk/curds continue to heat to around 105 degrees (mine got up to 130), then turn off the heat and let the mixture sit with the lid on for the next 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the time is up take a sharp knife and cut the curds into cubes. Use a slotted spoon to move the cubes into the cheesecloth lined strainer. The curds will take a while to drain and can be helped along by moving them around in the cloth. You need to let them drain pretty much all the way until they stop dripping.

While the curds are draining fill pot with water and salt it heavily. You want this water to be about as salty as the ocean. Bring the water up to a boil and watch the temp and you will be using it once it gets down to about 180 degrees. The other thing that you need to be doing while the water is heating is breaking up the drained curds into one inch even pieces.

I kind of slacked on the next pictures because I had rubber gloves on to protect my hands from teh 180 degree water. Basically, you need to dunk the curds (I did two batches) in the hot water until they get melty. Stretch the curds once they come together until they become shiny and then form a ball. I was able to get a little over a half pound out of this batch.

So now you have these two little pillows of mozzarella goodness. What to do with them?? I'll tell you, make Caprese (ka-pray-say) Salad. I saved the larger one for later but I used the smaller one to make this beautiful dish.

This little beauty may have just been a side dish that I served with grilled mahi mahi steaks but in my opinion they were the star of the evening. I split the mozzarella into two servings of three slices each (1.8 oz total), one for me and one for the Happy Husband. The tomatoes, unfortunately, are not from our garden. They are from the grocery store and came in a gourmet medley box that was the same price per pound as the boring old grape variety. Each of those tomatoes were slightly larger than a golf ball. The basil is sliced in what is called a chiffonade. To get this decorative look, you just need to stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar. Slice the across the cigar and you will get pretty little ribbons of your leafy herb or greens. Oh and that's right... the basil is from OUR garden.

Shamless home grown herb photo :)
Soon enough I will be able to say that the three main ingredients in Caprese Salad were hand made and grown from seed at my house. That's so cool to know exactly where your food is coming from. Last but not least, dress the salad with salt, pepper and a bit of good olive oil. This is a truly yummy bite of the summer veggies to come :)

The salad is about 200 calories. 120 from the mozzarella and 60 from the oil.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yes we really do eat chicken... and quinoa...

I'm sure you all thought that we only ate critters of the four legged variety. Hopefully this will help to convince you otherwise. We have even eaten this one straight veggie style on occaision. Just in case you were wondering (and trust me, I was when I first set eyes on the word) quinoa is pronounced KEEN-wah. It is an ancient grain which originated in South America and was considered to be a sacred grain by the Incas. This tiny grain is oozing with nutritional value compared to the boring white rice and processed flour products that we Americans have grown so used to eating. In one 1/4 cup dry serving you will get 15% (based on a 2000 calorie diet) of your daily iron (good for you non red meat eaters) and 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of dietary fiber. Oh and did I mention that the entire serving is WHOLE grain. This isn't like the stuff that they advertise as containing whole grain, it is the entire thing!! Oh and for all you celiacs out there did I mention that it is completely gluten free.

If you are asking yourself 'What are the little white spiral thingys stuck to the quinoa?' I have the answer. They are what is called the germ. It is the reproductive part the plant and is totally cool to eat. When the germ separates from the grain is how you know the quinoa is done cooking. When cooking it for this salad I cook it for about 15 minutes. I use one cup of quinoa and two cups of water, combine them in a pot with a lid and throw in a cube of chicken boullion. I bring the mixture to a boil, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is completely absorbed. This will make 4 servings worth of quinoa to go in the salad. You can divide the final salad up as desired but if you use it for a meal with the grilled chicken it will make four dinners (or four lunches as I used a batch for a week of lunches for my self).

I will say that the first time I made this the Happy Husband was like... 'Your'e doing what tonight??'. He has become a true believer and I'm confident you will too once you try this amazing little grain. I like to cook the quinoa while the chicken is grilling and then allow both to rest while I'm chopping the ingredients for the salad. As far as chicken grilling is concerned, you do need to cook it all the way through. NEWS FLASH: Cooking chicken through does not mean making tiny chicken hockey pucks that will make you tired of chewing before you even get the first bite down. The Happy Husband always asks me 'How do you know when the perfect time to take the chicken off the grill?' My answer remains the same for all cooking.'Practice makes perfect' (or pretty consistently good anyway). You are never going to learn to cook something with out screwing it up at least once first. I still manage to over cook steak, make bad tasting experiments and really frustrate my self from time to time. You will never learn to ride the horse if you don't get back on people. So anyway... cook your chicken until its done. I ended up with 6 ounces of cooked chicken breast for the whole salad. Oh and buy a food scale. It makes life easier if you are watching what you eat.

Ok now for the fixins. And yes I just said fixins... I live below, 5 miles, the Mason-Dixon Line so its ok. This is really a matter of personal preference and of what direction you want your salad to go. You could use cucumbers and feta insetad of the avocado and goat cheese here and go greek with some added oregano. You could swap the olives and parsely for a little jalepeno and cilantro and remove the artichokes and you have a guacamole inspired salad. Its totally up to what you have on hand and what you are in the mood for. But since I have made promises to make an effort toward including recipes/quantities I'm going to tell you what I used in this one. I went with a greek-ish version on this occaision. We had halved grape tomatoes (1 cup), diced red onion (1/2 cup or less if its a strong one), diced avocado (1/2 cup), chopped pitted kalamata olives (1/3 cup) and chopped marinated artichoke hearts (3/4 cup). I like to use a cutting board topper (I don't know if that is what its really called) so that I can pick it up, fold it and dump everything into the bowl of slightly cooled quinoa at once. Make sure you use a big bowl. There is nothing worse than dumping a bunch of quinoa on the counter while stirring and trying to clean it up. I also included about 3/4 cup of chopped grilled asparagus which I cooked while I was cooking the chicken. Before you grill the asparagus toss it with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. You will want to take the asparagus off before the tops burn too much and while the asparagus still has some crunch to it.

Once you have stirred in all of the chopped veggie goodies its time for your cheese and herbs of choice. If you are using dry herbs you should probably add them to the quinoa as soon as it comes off the stove. But we have a beautiful herb garden (thanks to the Happy Husband) and I like to use my fresh picked herbs. For this salad I chose some crumbled goat cheese. You can use feta, parmesean, blue cheese or any other cheese of your choice. If you like it creamy and you are using a soft variety, add the cheese while the salad is still pretty warm and it will combine through and melt into the dish. If you are using a harder cheese it would be best to wait until cools off a little more. I used 3 ounces of the goat cheese crumbles for the salad and some fresh parsley from the herb garden.

You are probably saying to yourself... 'What is so special about a picture of fresh parsley?' The answer is 'The Happy Husband and I grew it from a tiny little seed and I'm really proud of it!' Hopefully, in the coming weeks you will get to see more fruits from our garden. Maybe I'll even manage to do a post on the garden itself. Who wants to see garden pictures????

Nutrition Facts (this is a general idea not analyzed fact)
Servings per recipe: 4
Calories per serving: 375
Fat: 14g, 4g saturated
Cholesterol: 40 mg
Sodium: 580 mg
Postassium: 216 mg
Total Carbs: 39g, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugars
Protein: 19.5 g

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tacos Two Ways

The Ingredients

Originally this was going to be a one way taco post but... Today I had the privilege of having lunch with my fabulous high school friend, Katie, and her beautiful 10 month old daughter, Claire. Normally, a lunch date would not have any power over my dinner plans. However, we went to a restaurant that has crazy addictive rolls to dip in creamy crab soup. One bowl of soup and 4 rolls later, on the way back to the office, I decided that I should probably take the processed carb out of my part of the taco dinner for tonight. I had some romaine lettuce on hand and settled on a taco salad.

I'm going to try to start taking pictures of all of the ingredients together before I start cooking. I had never used the 'Stand and Stuff' type of hard taco before but they were on sale and cheaper than the store brand that I usually grab so I decided to give them a try. I will never buy a round bottom taco again!!! As you will see later, you can literally stuff these tacos to the brim with yummy fixins and they won't fall over on the trip to the dinner table. And let me tell you, fully stuffed and standing tacos make the happy husband even happier. The other thing that I don't necessarily advocate is the usage of pre-made seasonings. I did use some on this meal but it was the low sodium version. I find that the low sodium versions of the pre-made seasonings are actually pretty good and they are no more expensive. The last item that I'd like to single out now is the fresh cilantro. Our garden and potted herbs are really starting to take off with the warmer weather. The cilantro was started from seed in late winter inside and this was the first time I was able to use it :) The Happy Husband and I are working very hard on our garden this year and I hope to show you even more of our harvest throughout the summer.

Tacos are a great weeknight dinner because they are quick. I would imagine if you used the fresh salsa and prepared guacamole (Wholly Guacamole is a good brand) from the produce department of your grocery store you could get this meal done in about 20 minutes. I had the time and decided to make my guacamole and salsa at home in order to really control the flavors in my taco toppings. I also went with canned black beans to speed up the meal prep time.

I used ground beef for my taco meat today. I spoke with my sister and she was having tacos tonight too! She was having ground turkey for her taco meat and that is perfectly fine for this preparation. You could even use some, in my opinion nasty, fake, imitation ground tofu if that even exists. Although, if I were going to go vegetarian on this one, I would just bump up the black beans and maybe even add some diced mushrooms. You will want to brown the ground meat and break it up as it is cooking to 'taco meat' size. Make sure you DRAIN the fat from your ground meat before adding the seasonings. If you don't, you will more than likely end up with a gassy partner and a possible emergency bathroom situation, not to mention its straight fat and that's just plain nasty. Add the seasoning packet, or home made seasoning blend, to your taco filling as directed and set it to the side with the lid on to stay warm.

Black Bean Flavorings

I like to keep it pretty simple for the black bean seasoning. I saute some onion, garlic and jalapeno in a little bit of olive oil. If you were using dried beans you would want to add some salt here but there is no need for salt with the canned beans. Once the onion, garlic and jalapeno have softened up a bit, add the drained and rinsed black beans and a few tablespoons of water. You can also throw in some chili powder or cayenne depending on how you like your beans. 


Next you need to make the guac and salsa. If you were in a hurry and went with the prepared at the store toppings, remove the lid to the salsa, slice open the guac package and squeeze it into a bowl... DONE!! If you are an overachiever/perfectionist like me get ready to slice and dice. The guacamole, salsa and black beans all have similar ingredients so finely chop enough of each of the garlic, jalapeno and onion to cover the three toppings. For the guacamole, you will need to dice the avocado and tomato and add some lemon juice to the avocado for flavor and so it doesn't turn brown. Use a fork to mash together some salt, the avocado and lemon juice. Then stir in a little bit of minced garlic, the onion and jalapeno to taste. Add some tomato too to keep it traditional. NOTE: Lime juice is traditional in both salsa and guacamole but lemons were what I had, so that's what I used. Throw some of the freshly chopped cilantro in as well. For the salsa, just stir together a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, onion, garlic, jalapeno, tomatoes and chopped cilantro. Make sure that you don't refrigerate anything that you make with fresh tomatoes. Cooling the tomatoes causes a chemical reaction that messes with (ruins) the flavor that you just worked so hard to create. 

Now its time to assemble your yumminess!! Remember that you eat with your eyes first so you will want to make sure its pretty. For the Happy Husband, I served the beans on the side with the tacos. I like to put the shredded cheese on the bottom, flat part, of the taco. Doing this will keep the tacos from getting too soft on the bottom and cracking when you try to bite into them. Next layer is your taco meat mixture. For the toppings, put a few dollops of light sour cream on the next layer. There really isn't much difference in the flavor between the light and full fat sour cream versions and the light is soo much better for you. Next, add your guacamole and salsa... go for as much salsa as you can fit in the top. You will love it!

After my carb coma wore off this afternoon... I realized I needed something a bit fresher for dinner. If you go this route... please take the time to make it pretty. Even if you are cooking for one, or if you are like me and you plan on stirring it all together as soon as you sit down. Cooking at home and taking the time to make it look like its from a restaurant is SO worth it. You will have something to be proud of and have a reason to enjoy your food for more than just the nutritional value it provides. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Giving in to your cravings

Believe it or not, this was more my craving than the Happy Husband's. It was a combo craving for a wedge salad (to be explained later) by the Happy Husband and crispy boardwalk style fries for me. The steak ended up really being the accompaniment to our uncontrollable cravings.

We will start with my craving, the fries, because, as expected it's Ladies First in this Happy Home. It was one of those days where I just NEEDED what I wanted. And what I wanted was a taste of the beach... Bring on the boardwalk fries, only problem being, we are about 2 hours away from the boardwalk :( Never fear though, I had potatoes, frying oil and salt, the three basic ingredients to the perfect fry. The first step with your fries of perfection is to cut the fries. Some people have the fancy pants fry cutters that you see at state fair stands... I do not. I do, however, have a mandoline with a fry cutting setting which evenly cuts the fries. You can do it old school too with a knife, just be sure to evenly cut the fries so that they cook consistently.

The next step is to turn your sliced potatoes in to golden brown amazingness, also known as french fries for those of you who aren't as obsessed as I am. The key, in my opinon, the secret to perfectly cooked fries is the blanch. This basically means that you will cook them twice. Contrary to popular belief, this does not result in greasy fries, it helps to properly cook the inside and then add a nice crisp to the outside. I keep the heat on medium-high on my electric stove (I have NO idea what temperature I am frying at). I also do the first fry for an undetermined amount of time, generally its between 2 and 3 minutes. The second cooking session lasts until the fry is crispy and just dark enough. If you have ever had a decent boardwalk fry, you will know what color this is.

A major must do when doing home made fries is to put the fries on a cooling rack. Do not just set them on a paper towel or news paper!! They WILL get soggy on the bottom and nobody likes soggy fries. You will also want to salt your fries immediately after they come out of the second dip in the oil. This will help the salt to stick to the fries.

After the first fry, Blanched
After the second fry, Salted
Ok, so the most important part of the meal, my craving, has been taken care of. Now, onto the second most important part, the Happy Husband's craving. I have to admit that I am a HUGE fan of a wedge salad as well. There are some restaurants out there offering variations on wedge salads. Let's get something straight, there is NO SUCH THING as a variation on a wedge salad. I think they should be calling them wedge-style salads. A wedge salad has 4 ingredients; iceberg lettuce (this is the only kind that will do), real bacon, diced tomatoes and blue cheese dressing. If you really wanted, you could put some fresh cracked pepper on the wedge but if you have quality dressing you won't need it. The first thing you need to do for this glorious salad is crisp up the bacon (pig bacon people!). You want it to be crispy enough to easily crumble but not burnt. The other option, what I do, is to chop it up before you cook it. This makes it easier to brown it and just stir it around the pan. After it's good and crispy, drain the fat. You can save the bacon fat for frying eggs and making home fries on the weekend if your Happy Partner is into that kind of thing.

The next step is to dice up the tomatoes. You can do this while the bacon is browning. In the winter/spring, I prefer to use grape or campari tomatoes. They are probably the most flavorful that you will find out of season. In the summer and fall I use any type of tomato from my back yard garden or I buy them from someone else's back yard garden on the way home from work. I have the benefit of living near Amish country and having lots of road side stands to stop by on my way home from work. Now for the actual wedge part. Cut your iceberg head in half and then in half again... Magic! You have a wedge. Put the wedge on the plate, pour on some of your favorite blue cheese dressing, layer on your diced tomatoes and bacon. You now have a classic wedge salad which is one of the most refreshing combos you will ever eat.

Finally, we have our 'lesser' craving accompaniment, perfectly seared strip steak. There's really nothing new to speak of here as far as grilling thick steaks is concerned. Make sure you bring it to room temp before hitting it with the heat. For perfect grill marks, leave the meat alone. You shouldn't flip a steak more than once during the cooking process. If you are OCD about the criss cross marks, (yes, this is a Happy Husband issue) just turn the meat 90 degrees half way through each cooking time. If you ask me, the diagonal marks on these steaks are just fine.

Remember, giving in to your cravings once in a while is perfectly normal. Everything in moderation, including moderation :)