Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's For Dinner Tonight? Taco Night!

As a kid I loved nothing more than taco night. It was the same thing - ground beef + taco kit + cheddar cheese, and I was more than alright with that back then. My exposure to Mexican food consisted of those monthly taco nights and the occasional run to Taco Bell. As I grew up, I fell in love with Mexican food, real Mexican food. While I still love a quick taco from the local taquería, there are so many benefits to making your own at home. The best is that you get to control the quality of your ingredients. Because the ingredients of a taco are so versatile, you'll definitely find something to suit everyone's tastes.

Quick Avocado Tacos
  • 3 avocados, peeled, seeded, and smashed
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 325 F.

Lightly brush tortillas with olive oil and place in a single layer on baking sheets. Heat for 5-6 minutes or until heated through.

In a medium bowl, gently mix avocados, garlic, and onion. Spread this mixture onto heated tortillas. Top with jalapenos, tomatoes, and cilantro. Squeeze the juice of a lime wedge over each taco. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4. Ready in: 15 minutes

We always have salsa on taco nights. There's nothing better than a hot, spicy salsa served with warm tortilla chips. Alton Brown truly has the best tomato salsa recipe, and it's super easy too. You'll never buy the jarred stuff again!
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 seeded and minced jalapenos, plus 2 roasted, skinned and chopped jalapenos
  • 1 red bell pepper, fine dice
  • 1/2 red onion, fine chopped
  • 2 dry ancho chiles, seeded, cut into short strips and snipped into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Chili powder, salt, and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh scallions, cilantro or parsley, to taste
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Place in refrigerator for up to 12 hours for flavor infusion.

Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown, The Food Network

Serves 4-6. Ready in 12 hours

There are tons of good bagged tortilla chips out there, but nothing beats homemade. If you don't want to go though the trouble of frying your own, try baking them.

Baked Tortilla Chips
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
Combine oil and lime juice in small bowl. Brush both sides of each tortilla with this mixture. Cut each tortilla into 6 wedges, using a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Place chips in a single layer on large baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp, rotating baking sheets halfway through.

Serves 6. Ready in: 20 minutes

Nothing's better with spicy Mexican food than a good margarita! Remember to use good tequila only. the cheap stuff just doesn't taste good, and you're in for a killer headache tomorrow.

Classic Margarita
  • 2 oz 100% agave tequila (I use Cazadores)
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz freshly squeezed key lime juice

Vigorously shake ingredients, strain into salt-rimmed margarita glasses. Garnish with a slice of lime

(I use a mixture of coarse salt and sugar for a little extra sweetness, and I like mine on the rocks.)

Serves 2. Ready in: 2 minutes

Happy eating!

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's For Dinner Tonight? Salads All Around!

The past few days the weather has been warm and gorgeous, so we've been eating pretty light. Farm Fresh had some great sales on produce, so we took advantage of that and made different salads all weekend. The great thing about these salads is you can easily add in or take out ingredients based on availability or your taste. Everything here is vegetarian, and easily made vegan by leaving out the cheese in the salad.

Dinner Salad
  • 1 bag of romaine mix
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, cut lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 8 white mushrooms, clean and thinly sliced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup sliced black olives
  • Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all salad ingredients in large bowl and toss.

Whisk vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, and garlic in small bowl until mixed. Slowly stream in olive oil, while continually whisking.

Add dressing to salad mixture and toss to coat. Top with cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Serves 4. Ready in: 10 minutes

Colorful Pasta Salad

  • 1/2 package (8 oz) rotini pasta, cooked
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 large lemon (or 2 small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 (6 oz) can sliced black olives
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 large tomato,diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced

Cook pasta according to directions until al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain well. 

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.

Add to bowl olives, cucumber, tomato, red onion, bell pepper, and pasta. Gently toss everything together until coated. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 4. Ready in: 20 minutes

Tropical Fruit Salad

  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 mango, peeled and cubed
  • 1 papaya, peeled and cubed
  • 2 mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented
  • 2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
  • 1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and cubed
  • 6 fresh mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast coconut until edges are golden brown, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine mango, papaya, orange, kiwi, and pineapple. Refridgerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, top with toasted coconut. Garnish with mint leaves.

Serves 6. Ready in: 20 minutes

Happy eating!

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's For Dinner Tonight? Sweep Steak, Baked Mac & Cheese, Spinach Salad

So simple, but really tasty. If I use a mix, I go for organic if I can. I was using a great organic french onion soup mix, but it's been discontinued (boo!). I'm trying 2 Simply Organic French Onion Dip packets for this since I already have them. You could also make your own with onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

*Remember to be careful with dry mixes since the HPV salmonella recall. Check to see if you have anything that's been recalled)*

Sweep Steak   

2-3 pounds round steak or pot roast
1 (2 oz) package of onion soup mix

Put the meat on a sheet of aluminum foil big enough to wrap it in,  Sprinkle the onion soup mix on top of it, fold the foil, airtight, around it, put it in a baking pan, and bake at 300°F for 3 hours (or 200°F for 9 hours).

You can also open it up about an hour before it’s done and surround it with potatoes and carrots.

From The Compleat I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken

Serves 4-6. Ready in: 3 hours, 10 minutes

Skip the boxed stuff and treat yourself to a super cheesy, tangy mac and cheese. You can adjust the sharpness of the cheddar and amount of mustard and cayenne to suit your family's tastes. This makes a leftover that always gets eaten here.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 (16 oz) package macaroni
1 ½ pounds sharp cheddar, shredded
1 tbsp butter
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
½ tsp mustard powder
½ tsp cayenne (optional)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cook pasta in lightly salted water until al dente; drain. Combine mustard and cayenne into the evaporated milk.

Grease a 2 quart casserole. Place a quarter of the macaroni in the bottom followed by a layer of cheese. Dot with butter and season with salt and pepper. Repeat layering three times, saving some cheese for top. Pour evaporated milk mixture over top.

Bake, covered, for 50 minutes. Add remaining cheese to top and bake uncovered for 10 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 6-8. Ready in: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Spinach Salad

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of salt
Pinch of black pepper
1 bag (5 oz) baby spinach
1 medium red apple, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
1 cup seedless grapes, halved

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic powder, salt, and pepper until combined.

In a large bowl, toss spinach with apples and grapes. Pour dressing along sides of bowl*, and toss to coat.

(*Pouring dressings directly on top can damage delicate spinach and make it soggy)

Serves 4. Ready in: 10 minutes

Happy Eating!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sugar Bank Cake: A Blast From The Past

This is a recipe that was tucked away from 1943, during the onset of wartime rations. The original description reads:

Pass up that second spoonful for coffee: put fresh fruits for their natural sweetness atop your morning cereal;  have honey on your grapefruit for a change - then immediately deposit the sugar you saved in a "sugar bank" made from the jar your real mayonnaise came in. It makes a game of the sugar shortage and when your mayonnaise jar is filled to the brim with the sweet stuff bake a special cake for a special event - one could go to the USO or to your favorite soldier at camp! 

The original recipe called for "vitaminized margarine" in place of butter, which was also being rationed at the time. I think it's so fascinating that a relatively short period of time ago, a cake like this was a such a special treat. We now make and buy sweets like this regularly, even daily for some. Maybe we should all start "rationing" our intake of sweets, not for lack of availablity, but for own own healths. 

Sugar Bank Cake

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ squares unsweetened chocolate
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup water

Sift together flour, soda and salt, Melt chocolate over hot water; cool. Cream butter until soft. Add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs and beat mixture until smooth. Stir in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Combine buttermilk and water. Add alternately with sifted flour to creamed butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour and beating until smooth after each addition. Line two 8-inch cake pans with wax paper and grease the sides; fill with batter. Bake in a moderate oven (350° F.) for 27 to 30 minutes. Turn out onto cake racks and cool.  When cool, spread with any desired frosting.

I used a basic buttercream frosting. Adjust sugar and milk levels as needed.

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup shortening
2 1/2 - 3 pounds confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and shortening. Beat in sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk gradually, until you achieve the right consistency. Spread over completely cooled cake.

This should be enough to generously spread over cake with extra for decorating.

Happy Eating!

What's For Dinner Tonight? Sancocho

Sancocho is a traditional soup/stew served in many Latin American countries. This version is most like what is served in Colombia. The cassava root is a starchy staple of South American cuisine. Tapioca is made from cassava root. You can find it in Hispanic markets. If you cannot find cassava (also called yucca), look for malanga, dasheen, or sweet potatoes. You can find plantains at most grocery stores now. They look kind of like long, green bananas, but they may also be yellow or black.


2 1/2 quarts water
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6 chicken leg quarters
2 plantains, peeled and cut into 6 pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 pounds potatoes, peeled
3 pounds fresh cassava root, cut into 6 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil

4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound tomatoes, chopped

Add water, salt, cilantro. chicken, plantains, and onions to large pot. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Add potatoes and cassava and cook another 25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet. Cook onions and season with cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir in tomatoes and remove from heat.

Spoon chicken into bowls and top with tomato and onions.

This is a great if you're looking for a meal with a lot of flavor wit ha Latin flair. It goes great with a really crusty bread for dipping.

Serves 6. Ready in: 1 hour.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish Feast For St. Patty's Day!

Corned beef is a brined cut of beef, usually brisket, that was made popular by Irish immigrants in America. It has become a traditional food for St. Patrick's Day in America.  Make sure your corned beef is trimmed of fat for this stew. The corned beef makes excellent leftovers, especially as a sandwich.

Crock Pot Corned Beef And Veggies

4 large potatoes, cubed
3 pounds corned beef
1 large onion, quartered
4 large carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
1 small cabbage
4 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons brown mustard
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Small handful of fresh dill, chopped

Place potatoes on bottom of crock pot. Lay beef on top. Surround beef with onions, carrots, and bay leaf. Cover everything with cabbage.

In a medium bowl, combine beef broth, mustard, sugar, pepper and dill, pour on top of beef and cabbage.

Cook on high for about 8 hours. Serve topped with additional dill.


Soda bread is a sweet, flaky, round loaf of bread made with buttermilk. If you'd like, add about a half of a cup of raisins while kneading the dough.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and softened butter. Stir in one cup of the buttermilk and egg. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round shape and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter with remaining buttermilk. Brush this mixture on top of dough. Use a sharp knife to cut an X into the top of the dough.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, brushing the top of the loaf periodically with butter/buttermilk mixture.

Serves 10. Total prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What's For Dinner Tonight? Shrimp Fettuccine

This recipe has been in staple in my family for years. Everyone in the family considers it one of their favorite foods. It is rich and not-so-figure-friendly, but this is the perfect dish to splurge on. If you have crawfish tails available (they taste much better if they come from the US instead of Asia), they work even better. This pasta is perfect for feeding large crowds by doubling or tripling it. It's my number one go-to dish for pot lucks and family gatherings. Once prepared, transfer it to a crock pot and you're good to go!

Shrimp Fettuccine

1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch green onions (and tops)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound of fettuccine noodles, cooked al dente
Cayenne, to taste
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano

Heat butter in a large non-stick skillet. Add green onions, garlic, and parsley. Saute 3 minutes; add cayenne, salt, cream, and lemon pepper. Simmer about 8 minutes on low heat. Stir in shrimp and cook until heated through. Pour over cooked noodles. Top with cheese and toss.

Serves 6. Total preparation time: 35 minutes

I serve this with a colorful garden salad and some nice crusty bread.