Friday, July 31, 2009

Tex-Mex Biscuits and Gravy

My Venture into Fusion Cuisine:
One look at my big batootie and you'll know I love biscuits and gravy and Tex-Mex cuisine. I think it's really fun to create new dishes by putting creative spins on traditional recipes. A couple of years ago, I entered a few recipes in the Pillsbury Cook-Off. This is one of the recipes I entered. I didn't win but I still think it's a great recipe and a nice change from traditional biscuits and gravy. It does not have to be spicy unless you want it to be. If you want a mild version, simply leave out the red pepper flakes and buy a mild taco seasoning. In this respect, the whole family can enjoy it instead of just your fire-breathing husband and that crazy guy down the street with 14 cats who is always talking to his mailbox.

From the picture, this dish looks really fattening, doesn't it? It's not! As photographed, I prepared it using a lighter method to reduce the calorie and fat content. Figure-friendly foods do not have to be bland and uninteresting. Yes, this recipe is wonderful with all of the fat and calories but it is just as tasty lightened up. The recipe below gives you a choice between the normal method of preparation as well as a lighter alternative. You choose which one sounds best to you. If you make it, let me know what you think by adding a comment at the bottom of this page. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Tex-Mex Biscuits and Gravy
(Printable Version)

1 can canned biscuits (or make them from scratch!)
1 pound breakfast sausage
2 TBSP butter
3 TBSP flour
1 packet taco seasoning (mild or hot)
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2-1/2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven and bake the biscuits per the package instructions.

While the biscuits are baking, brown the breakfast sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking the sausage into smaller pieces as it cooks. When the sausage has browned, tilt the skillet and estimate how much oil has accumulated. You need about two tablespoons of rendered fat. If you have more than two tablespoons, remove the excess. If you do not have enough, add enough butter to make roughly two tablespoons of total fat (it does not have to be exact).

Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the taco seasoning packet and some red pepper flakes (if using). Stir and continue cooking about one minute longer. Slowly whisk in the milk. Heat until the gravy is simmering, stirring occasionally as it cooks. Breakfast sausage and taco seasoning packets can contain a lot of sodium. Therefore, you may not need to add a lot of salt (if any). Taste the gravy and add some salt and pepper, if needed. Continue to cook the gravy for about two minutes or until the gravy reaches your desired level of thickness. If needed, add a little more milk if the gravy gets too thick. Serve immediately over hot biscuits.

Lighten it up!
As pictured above, I used a lighter method for making these Tex-Mex Biscuits and Gravy.
1) I used reduced-fat biscuits.
2) I used 12 oz of Jimmy Dean Reduced-fat Sausage (instead of 16 oz of the full-fat stuff). Turkey sausage works great, also!
3) I drained the sausage on paper towels and wiped out the skillet before proceeding.
4) I added only one tablespoon of butter (instead of two).
5) I used skim milk.

So if you think it looks good, try using the lighter method sometime. You'll never miss all of the calories and fat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Aunt Dorothy's Cabbage Slaw

My Venture into Slaw:

My mother mentioned to me recently that her aunt (my great aunt) used to make this wonderful cabbage slaw. I'm not a big cabbage person so this recipe did not initially appeal to me. It also seemed kind of weird to have uncooked ramen noodles as a primary ingredient. My mother dug out the recipe and told me that I should try it sometime. I had planned to dismiss her recommendation – as I had ignored her advice to buy stock in Microsoft twenty years ago.

A few days later, I was writing down my grocery list and saw the recipe on my kitchen counter. Since I was going to the store, I thought I would go ahead and get the ingredients and give it a try. After all, I already had most of the ingredients in my pantry so, if I ended up throwing it all out, it would not have been a huge waste of money.

I mixed all of the ingredients together and made myself a plate of the cabbage slaw and sat down for a light lunch. I have to tell you this. I was hooked after my first bite. It was crunchy. It was slightly sweet. It was slightly tart. It was everything you would have ever wanted in a salad. The ramen noodles made a perfect addition. I loved it and fully plan to add this recipe to my repertoire. I did tweak Aunt Dorothy's recipe a little bit, however. The original recipe had 2 TBSP sugar and 3 TBSP of vinegar. As you will see below, I bumped those up a little bit but feel free to add the original amounts. Make sure you add the dressing immediately before serving. Otherwise, you will lose that wonderful crunch.

Is it possible my mother knew what she was talking about when she said I should try this slaw? I will have to contemplate this further as I eat some more of this crunchy slaw while looking up Microsoft's current stock price. Enjoy – and happy crunching!

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Aunt Dorothy’s Cabbage Slaw
(Printable Version)

1/2 head cabbage (medium), chopped

1 cup shredded carrots
3 green onions (scallions), minced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1 pkg Ramen Noodles (Any flavor but I normally use Chicken )

Break up the ramen into small pieces and add them to a large bowl. Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir to combine.

2 TBSP sugar (but I normally add 3 TBSP)

3 TBSP vinegar (but I normally add 4 TBSP)
Seasoning packet from the Ramen Noodles
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Vigorously whisk the first three ingredients together to dissolve the sugar. Slowly add the oil while continuing to whisk vigorously. Add the dressing immediately before serving and stir to combine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Ultimate Cheese Bread

My Venture into the World of Cheese Bread
Japanese bakeries make the most wonderful breads and sweets. In Japan, department stores usually have food courts in the basement level where you can go from stall-to-stall and buy anything from loose-leaf teas to gourmet chocolates to cream puffs. They always have a couple of small bakeries with lots of high-carb goodies that just scream "eat me!". One day, while inside one of these bakeries, I saw a basket of oval-shaped bread, flattened like pizza, and covered in a layer of melted cheese. As I gazed upon these mouth-watering pieces of heaven, time seemed to slow and, for a few seconds, I heard nothing else but angels trumpeting a loud "Taaa-daaaaaaah." I then realized it wasn't angels at all but the cell phone ringtone of the 14-year-old Japanese girl standing next to me.

I purchased a couple of the cheese breads and spent the next 15 minutes on the subway, bag in lap, inhaling the delightful smell of funky cheese. Mmmmm. Wait. Now that I think about it, I'm wondering if that was the cheese bread or the guy sitting next to me. Anyway, I got back to the hotel and met some colleagues and put out the cheese bread on a plate for everybody to try. It was like a piranha feeding-frenzy. I dropped the cheese bread and pulled back a bloodied hand with two missing fingers and a new hangnail. EVERYBODY wanted more cheese bread. So, I took 17 Americans on another 15-minute subway ride to purchase more cheese bread. Yes, it was THAT good.

One of the Americans spoke Japanese fluently but had never eaten this cheese bread before. She asked the girl working the cash register to give us more details about the bread. She said it was French bread with American cheese on top. In a chorus, we all said "AMERICAN cheese?!" Trust me. This was not American cheese. I have no idea what kind of cheese it was but it was not the stuff you throw on a hamburger or make grilled-cheese sandwiches out of. This cheese had some sharpness and tasted nothing like boring, ol' process cheese. The bread was not like any kind of French bread that I had eaten before either. We bought out the bakery's supply of cheese bread and made a dash for the subway. I tell you, with all of those bags of cheese bread, we got a lot of strange looks on the way back to the hotel. It was the same kind of look I gave a Polish lady one time on the New York subway who was wearing a peasant scarf and sensible shoes with knee-high socks and had a 3-foot salami sticking out of her purse.

After years of recipe testing and 13 pages of meticulous notes documenting my attempts at creating this cheese bread, the recipe below is the closest I have been able to get to that wonderful bread in Japan. It is really good and worth all of the effort to make. The next time you’re in Japan, go to a bakery and try to get some for yourself. Shokuryou o tanoshimi nasai!

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The Ultimate Cheese Bread
(Printable Version)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tsp of warm water (about 105F)
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp table salt
3/4 TBSP olive oil
Kosher salt (or sea salt) for sprinkling over the top
7 oz of sharp white cheddar*

Add 3/4 cup plus 1 tsp of warm water to a bowl. To the water, add the yeast and a small pinch of sugar. Stir to combine. Let the yeast get happy in the water for about 8 minutes.

I normally use a KitchenAid Mixer to mix and knead the dough but you can certainly do it by hand (but kneading the dough will take longer). To the mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir to combine.

After the yeast has bloomed for about 8 minutes, add it to the mixing bowl with the olive oil. Turn the mixer on to the lowest speed and allow the ingredients to combine – scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the flour gets incorporated. After one minute, if the dough is a shaggy mess and hasn't formed a ball, there is not enough water in it. Just add an additional teaspoon of warm water and mix another 30 seconds on low. Depending on the humidity and time of the year, you may or may not need the additional teaspoon of water. Once the dough has formed into a fairly cohesive ball, turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest for four minutes.

After four minutes have elapsed, knead the dough on low speed using a dough hook for about two minutes (setting number 2 on a KitchenAid mixer). If you are kneading the dough by hand, it will take about 6 to 8 minutes. After the dough has been kneaded, form it into a smooth ball.

Spray a medium-size bowl with cooking spray. To the bowl, add the dough and spritz the top with a little more cooking spray to keep it from drying out. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit in a warm place for one hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and cut the dough into two pieces of equal size. Form the dough into balls, cover, and allow them to rest for 10 minutes. This rest period will make it easier to roll out the dough.

After about 10 minutes, roll each piece of dough (using a rolling pin) into an elongated oval shape about 19" long by about 4.5" wide. If the dough stretches back too much when rolling it out, as it often does for me, cover the dough and let it rest another five minutes. Invert a sheet pan or cookie sheet so that the bottom is facing up. Add a piece of parchment paper to the top of the inverted sheet pan. Next, add both ovals of dough to the parchment, side-by-side, about 1 - 2" apart. The dough should run nearly the entire length of the sheet pan. Spray a large piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray. This will keep the plastic wrap from sticking as the dough rises a second time. Place the plastic wrap on the dough – making sure that it is completely covered by the plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 50 minutes.

About 20 minutes before the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 325F. The rack should be in the center position.

After the dough has finished rising for 50 minutes, uncover the dough. It should look puffy. Use your index finger to gently create little divots in the dough about 1" apart – leaving a 1/2" border around the dough untouched. This will keep the dough from rising too much in the center when it bakes. Sprinkle each oval with some kosher salt (or sea salt). Place the dough and sheet pan in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, turning the pan once during baking.

After 25 minutes, remove the sheet pan from the oven. The bread should still be very blond in color. Because the outside edges of the dough brown faster than the inside edges, spin each piece of bread around 180 degrees so that the inside edges are now facing outward. Each oval will get 3.5 oz of cheese. Place all of the cheese in an even layer – leaving a 1/2" border around the bread. If you get the cheese too close to the edge, it'll melt over the sides. If you accidentally spill some garlic powder on the bread before you put on the cheese, I won't tell anyone. Just make sure you do not accidentally get the garlic powder on the edges of the bread or it will burn. Return the bread and sheet pan to the oven and continue baking an additional 22 to 25 minutes or until the cheese has started to brown on the edges. Slide the bread onto a wire rack and allow it to cool before eating. It's great at room temperature but can been eaten warm as well.

* A special note about the cheese:
Pre-shredded cheese does NOT work in this recipe. I prefer using pre-sliced Sargento New York Sharp White Cheddar cheese, which is available in most grocery stores. It's not overly sharp and does not produce an oil slick after it melts like some cheddar cheeses can. That said, any good quality brick of sharp white cheddar will work. When using the pre-sliced Sargento, I fold over each piece of cheese so that it is double in thickness. If you are cutting the cheese yourself, make sure that each piece is about 1/8 to 1/4" thick so that it melts properly.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oven-Baked Chicken Chimichangas

My Venture into the Exciting World of Chimichangas:
I had my first chimichanga at Chi-Chi's Restaurant when I was in high school. My Spanish class went there for dinner at the end of the school year for a little "cultural enrichment." I have to tell you that going to Chi-Chi's for cultural enrichment is a lot like going to Saudi Arabia for Fashion Week. During the festivities, my teacher insisted that we all speak Spanish. She had even arranged for a Spanish-speaking waitress that night.

Before the waitress had taken our orders, I noticed that the guy seated next to our table, who looked visibly annoyed at having to sit next to 20 teenagers slaughter the Spanish language, had ordered a little pouch of heaven. Not knowing what it was, I asked the waitress (in Spanish, of course) what he was eating. She said, "Una chimichanga." I instantly knew I had to eat this chimichanga thing because, if anything, it had a really cool name. I ordered the chimi and, to sound really mature and adult-like, also requested a virgin raspberry daiquiri – which I unknowingly mispronounced "die-query."

Minutes later, the chimichanga arrived and it tasted as good as it looked. I even thought I might be getting a little tipsy until my teacher, who was seated next to me, informed me that my "virgin die-query" did not have any alcohol in it. Oh. Well, I wondered why she allowed a 14-year-old to order a mixed drink. Anyway, in the middle of dinner, a classmate who was seated on the other side of the table, said in Spanish, "How do you say 'fire' in Spanish?" Perplexed, my teacher asked why. The girl then pointed to the table behind us and some guy was using his hand to try and put out a raging fire on his tablecloth. Our teacher sprang into action and hurriedly escorted us out of the restaurant. The fire was quickly doused but we were not allowed to return inside to finish our meal.

As we were boarding the bus, my teacher asked me if I was feeling alright. Not knowing what she was talking about, she pulled a mirror out of her purse and allowed me to look at my face. During a span of about 15 minutes, my eyes had nearly swollen shut and I had developed Angelina-Jolie lips. I was obviously suffering an allergic reaction to something. Fifteen years and a hundred daiquiris later, I'm still trying to get those lips back -- and the only thing that has swollen during that time period has been my backside.

Whenever I fix these chimichangas, it takes me back to that eventful evening I had at Chi-Chi's oh so many years ago. Because my chimichangas are not fried, they are a lot healthier but just as tasty. So make some new memories and cook up some of these chimis today! Buena suerte – y disfruta la comida!

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Oven-baked Chicken Chimichangas
(Printable Version)

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)
1/4 tsp black pepper
5 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup drained and rinsed black beans
2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro (or baby spinach)
3/4 cup salsa
8 oz freshly shredded monterrey jack cheese
7 flour tortillas (Taco-size, about 8 to 9")
Vegetable oil or olive oil for brushing

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, cumin, oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, scallions, black beans, and cilantro. Add the salsa and cheese. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Brush 4 tortillas on one side very lightly with water then place them in a stack on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the towel around the tortillas. Microwave the tortillas for about 25 seconds. This heats the tortillas enough to make them pliable.

Remove one tortilla from the kitchen towel and rewrap the others to keep them warm. Add 1/3 cup of the filling to the center of the tortilla. Wrap the chimichanga like you would a burrito. Fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up over the filling then roll it starting from the bottom to completely enclose the filling. You should not roll the chimi too tightly or the tortilla will tear (or later burst during baking). Place the chimi seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other tortillas – heating additional tortillas in the microwave when needed.

Brush the tops and sides of each chimi with some oil. Bake for 23 to 26 minutes or until the chimis are golden and crispy. Serve with additional salsa, sour cream, or pico de gallo.

Alternative Preparations:
1) Use freshly grated 2% sharp cheddar. Regular cheddar is also tasty but releases a lot of oil when it melts. Pepper jack cheese works great for those who appreciate things on the spicy side. Feeling naughty? Use 12 oz of cheese. It's really tasty that way but increases the caloric content and level of saturated fat considerably.
2) Make it vegetarian! Instead of chicken, add some red bell peppers, corn, and additional black beans.
3) Use whole-wheat or low-carb tortillas.
4) Instead of regular salsa, use salsa verde. It's really tasty this way!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My Venture into Chicken and Gravy:

I love fried chicken in its infinite glory but, unless you're one of those mutants who can eat whatever they want and never gain weight, who can eat fried chicken without having to run a marathon the next day? About once a year, I give in and fry some chicken, not because I'm hungry for fried chicken, but because I want the drippings to make homemade chicken gravy. Sometime for my blog, I'll make some old fashion fried chicken and whip up a batch of chicken gravy. It is to die for! But we're not doing that today. Today's recipe is a lighter (but just as tasty) way to have your chicken and gravy. I sauté some chicken tenders and use the drippings to make an easy pan sauce. Is it as good as fried chicken and gravy with all of the fat and calories? No. However, it is a lot healthier, faster, and easier to make. I also have to say it is really, really GOOD. This recipe cooks up fast and is perfect for even a weeknight meal. Serve it with a side salad and some boxed stuffing and you've got a quick, easy, and wholesome dinner. Your kids will be screaming for more. So don't be a chicken! Get in the kitchen and start cooking this recipe today. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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(Printable Version)

2 TBSP oil
1 1/2 lbs of chicken tenderloins
Salt and pepper to taste

Seasoned Flour for Dredging:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1 TBSP butter (if needed)
1 TBSP flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 bouillon cubes or 2 tsp of bouillon
Salt (if needed)
Pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 TBSP oil. While the skillet is heating, dry the chicken tenders with some paper towels. Salt and pepper the chicken to taste.

In a medium bowl, prepare the dredging ingredients by combining the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge half of the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess. You will be sautéing the chicken in two batches and will dredge the other half in a few minutes.

When the oil is hot, add the floured chicken to the skillet. Sauté on the first side for about 2-3 minutes or until nicely browned. Flip and cook another minute or two. Place the cooked chicken on a clean plate and tent while you prepare the rest of the chicken tenders. Dredge and cook the other half of the chicken – adding additional oil to the skillet if needed before sautéing. When the second batch of chicken has been cooked, remove all of the chicken from the skillet. Be sure to keep the chicken tented so it stays warm.

If you do not have at least one TBSP of oil left in the skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and allow it to briefly melt. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Whisking nearly constantly, cook the flour for 2 to 4 minutes. Add the milk, bouillon, and some pepper. Whisk to combine. Whisk often until the gravy comes to a full boil. At this point, the gravy will be very thin but will thicken considerably when the chicken is added. Add all of the cooked chicken and flip the pieces to coat them thoroughly. Simmer (not boil) the chicken uncovered for 3 to 5 minutes or until the gravy reaches your desired level of thickness. You may need to flip the chicken a couple of times while it is simmering to keep it coated in gravy. Taste for seasoning before serving. Serve hot with mashed potatoes or stuffing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PB & J Bars (Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars)

My Venture into Peanut Butter…and Jelly

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, Theresa, was having a casual dinner party and wanted me to bring an informal dessert. She has two sons – one in college and one in grade school. When discussing possible flavors for desserts, she mentioned that her kid liked peanut butter – so I assumed she was talking about her younger son. I then developed this recipe for PB & J Bars with a child in mind. I had to make it and tweak it a few times to get it just right and, in the final stages of testing, I let Theresa try it. She loved the bars and insisted I bring some to her party. It was then that I discovered she was referring to her college-age son who liked peanut butter. I didn't think that adults would appreciate such a simple dessert with childhood favorites like peanut butter and jelly. Apparently, I was wrong! These bars were a big hit and adults seem to love them as much, if not more, than kids. So get in touch with your inner-child and make this simple but tasty confection today. Enjoy – and happy baking!

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PB & J Bars

(Printable Version)

1/3 cup (5 1/3 TBSP) butter, melted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 yellow cake mix, sifted
Additional peanut butter for spreading
About 2/3 of a jar of your favorite jelly, jam, or preserves (I used seedless raspberry jam)

Preheat the oven to 325F.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Add the peanut butter and mix it thoroughly with the butter. Add the beaten eggs and stir to combine. Sift the cake mix into the peanut butter mixture. Why sift it? Cake mixes often have little chunks of stuff that do not break down easily in a thick dough. Using your hands, gently blend the cake mix into the peanut butter mixture until it is well combined.

Spray a 9 x 13" dish with cooking spray. Place about 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the dish and press it firmly into the bottom of the pan. Make the outside edges slightly thicker than the middle (like you would pizza dough). Spread a very thin layer of peanut butter over the dough –leaving a 1/2" gap around the edges. Next, spread the jam over the peanut butter – again leaving a 1/2" gap around the edges. How much jam? Spread it about the same thickness as you would if you were making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I usually end up using about 2/3 of a jar.

Using the remaining dough, break off little chunks and drop them in a random pattern all over the top – making sure to go all of the way to the edges this time. When finished, you should be able to see some of the jam between the pieces of the dough.

Bake for 26 to 30 minutes or until the top has nicely browned. Cool completely. Cut into serving pieces of your desired size.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Killer Meatloaf with Sweet Barbecue Sauce

My Venture into Classic American Food:
This recipe is a variation of my mother's. We had meatloaf all the time when we were growing up. It was a frequently used weapon in my mother's culinary arsenal – so much so that when my sisters and I would hear that we were having meatloaf, we'd all shriek in unison, "Meatloaf AAAAGAIN?!"   Now that I'm older, I realize that kids will complain regardless of what you fix them. In fact, I'm sure last night at dinner, some rich kid somewhere complained to his mother, "Foie gras with truffle mousse and tangerine gelee AAAAGAIN?!"

Today, I think back to Meatloaf Mondays with fond memories. I have never had any other meatloaf that even comes close to the mother's. She never put a sauce on the top like I do mine but it was delicious just the same. We always had leftovers and the meatloaf sandwiches the next day were to-die-for. The recipe below makes a lot so it will easily feed a hungry family. To use up the leftovers, just butter a couple pieces of bread, slap on some cold meatloaf, and throw the sandwich into a panini press or sandwich maker (butter facing outward) and, a few minutes later, you'll be laughing at the rich people who got stuck eating leftover foie gras. If you don't have a panini press or sandwich maker, just use a skillet and cook your masterpeice as if you were making a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum! You have to make this meatloaf and make it often. Your kids might complain now but, 20 years from now, they'll be begging you to make it again. Enjoy – and happy loafing!

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Killer Meatloaf with Sweet BBQ Sauce
(Printable Version)

1 sleeve of saltine crackers, pulverized into crumbs
1 large onion, roughly cut into large chunks
4 cloves garlic
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP liquid smoke
Dash of cayenne (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
1 TBSP kosher salt (or 1/2 TBSP of table salt)
1/2 TBSP black pepper
2 1/2 lbs lean ground beef

Preheat the oven to 350F. Add the crackers to a food processor and pulse until they are fine crumbs. Add the cracker crumbs to a large mixing bowl. Wipe out the food processor bowl and add the onion and garlic. Process until liquefied (about 30 seconds). Add about 1/3 of the onion mixture to a medium saucepan. This will be for the barbecue sauce. Add the remaining onion mixture to the cracker crumbs, which will be used for the meatloaves.

Sauce Mixture:
To the onion mixture in the saucepan, add the ketchup, brown sugar, liquid smoke, and cayenne (if using). Stir to combine but do not start heating it yet.

Meatloaf Mixture:
Remove one cup of the sauce from the saucepan and add it to the cracker crumbs. Yes – the meatloaf is going to have some of the sauce baked right in! Also to the cracker crumbs, add the beaten eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir everything together. Add the ground beef and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Split the meat mixture in half because it will be used to form 2 loaves. Spray a sheet pan (with sides) with cooking spray. Add both mounds of meatloaf mix to the sheet pan and form 2 loaves in oval shapes about 1 1/2" thick. Smooth out the top and sides. Bake for 45 minutes (with no sauce on top).

When the meatloaf has been in the oven for about 30 minutes, start heating the saucepan of barbecue sauce over medium heat. As it heats, you will need to stir it often or it will splatter all over the place. When it has starting bubbling well, reduce the heat to low or medium-low and continue to stir it periodically. After the meat loaves have been in the oven for 45 minutes, add the hot barbecue sauce to the tops of each loaf. Return to the oven and continue baking about 20 to 25 minutes longer or until the loaves are well browned and the sauce has thickened. Pull the sheet pan out of the oven and elevate one side so that the excess oil flows to one side of the pan. Allow the meatloaves to rest a few minutes before cutting into them. Meat loaf sandwiches the next day are to-die-for!

Advice for Busy Mom's:
Before going to work in the morning, mix the sauce and meatloaf per the above instructions. Leave the meatloaf mixture in the mixing bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Add the sauce to a glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate. When you get home in the evening, just preheat the oven, shape the meat loaves, and continue cooking per the above instructions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mom's Potato Salad

My Venture into Potato Salad

Everybody loves the potato salad they grew up on. I'm no exception. I have to say though that my mother makes the world's best potato salad. It's unapologetically sweet and tart and is not too mustardy. It's not too soupy and it's not too dry. Unlike many other potato salad recipes, mom's doesn't contain anything overly healthy or crunchy in it. You know, like celery. In fact, the only crunchy thing I remember in my mother's potato salad was an occasional stray egg shell.

When I asked her for her recipe, she said she didn't have a "recipe." She gave me the list of ingredients and told me to add them "until it tasted right." THIS was how she made her famous potato salad?! Add stuff until it tasted right?! No tattered recipe card with stains all over it? Oy. I, therefore, set out to recreate her wonderful potato salad -- measuring the ingredients as I added them until it tasted right. The recipe below is about as good as I could get it with my mother standing over my shoulders criticizing my every move and making disapproving, passive-aggressive comments about my new-fangled cooking techniques. You know, like using measuring cups and all. Love you mom! Anyway, in the end, she deemed my rendition of her famous potato salad "acceptable."  Whatever.  With that in mind, I present you an "acceptable" rendition my mother's potato salad recipe. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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Mom's Potato Salad
(Printable Version)

6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 lbs small red potatoes
1 TBSP kosher salt (or ½ TBSP table salt)

2 c. (or a 16-oz jar) of Miracle Whip
5 TBSP juice from the sweet pickles (or to taste)
½ tsp kosher salt (or ¼ tsp of table salt)
2 tsp mustard
1 medium red onion or sweet onion, finely diced
16-oz jar of Baby Sweet pickles, chopped in a small dice (reserve the juice)
2-oz jar of chopped pimentos, drained

In a small saucepan, add the eggs and cover with cold tap water. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, remove the pot from the burner and leave covered for 12-13 minutes. The eggs will be fully cooked using this method – and won't leave a green ring around the yolk either! Dump out the hot water and cover the eggs with cold tap water. Allow the eggs to sit in the cold water for a couple of minutes. Drain the water and repeat. If the eggs still feel warm, repeat. When cool, place the eggs in the refrigerator to cool down even more.

Clean the potatoes but do not peel. Add them to a large pan and cover with water. Add 1 TBSP kosher salt (or ½ TBSP table salt to the water). Cover and bring to a boil and simmer until a sharp knife easily penetrates the potato when pierced (about 16-18 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes). Pour off the hot water and put the potatoes on a rack to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the Miracle Whip, 5 TBSP of juice reserved from the sweet pickles, salt, and mustard. Stir to combine. Add the onion, sweet pickles, and chopped pimentos (if using). Taste. Does it need more pickle juice? If so, add as much as you want. Remember, once you add the potatoes, the sweet/tart flavor of the dressing will be muted so bump up the flavor. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator until the potatoes have cooled.

After the potatoes having cooled enough to handle, peel and chop them into 1/2" cubes. Peel and dice the eggs. Add the potatoes and eggs to the dressing you prepared earlier. Gently stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Alternate Preparation:
This potato salad has a medium level of soupiness. Some of you may like your potato salad with a lot of dressing while others may prefer it rather dry. If you want a soupier potato salad, make the dressing the same way but add fewer potatoes. Like it drier? Add 1 or 2 more potatoes to the mixture.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Graham Turtle Bars

My Venture into the Sweet and Salty

I'm not much of a dessert eater and I also hate chocolate. Yeah, I know. I'll add you to my long list of people who think I'm strange. When I do eat sweets, I go for sweets that have a sweet-tart or sweet-salty combination. These bars are incredibly simple to make so I hesitated adding them to my blog. They are nothing but graham crackers topped with hot caramel, cashews, melted chocolate, and sea salt. SEA SALT?! Yes, sea salt. This dessert has a wonderful mixture of textures and the chocolate pairs perfectly with the briny, background bite of the sea salt. I love these so much that, as soon as I took the pictures, I threw the whole batch in the trash so I wouldn't eat them. Oh, I shouldn't have told you all that. Right now, my mother is reading this entry and screaming, "You WHAT?!" Ma - I know it's a waste of food but if my batootie gets any bigger, it's gonna start affecting the tides!

So do what I did. Put on your goggles and Red-Baron scarf, jump on your stylin' moped with racing wheels and flame decals, and go screaming down the street at 15 mph to the grocery store. Get everything you need and make these bars today. Enjoy -- and happy eating!

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Graham Turtle Bars
(Printable Version)

1 sleeve of Graham Crackers
½ of a 14-oz package of caramels
4 TBSP butter
1 TBSP milk
1 cup whole cashews (salted or unsalted)
8 oz of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, or dark chocolate bars), broken into small pieces
Sea Salt for sprinkling

Butter a jelly roll pan (or a small sheet pan). Remove 1 sleeve of Graham Crackers from the box and break each cracker in half to form squares. Lay the squares side-by-side in the pan.

In a microwave-safe bowl, add the caramels, butter, and milk. Microwave about 1 minute and 45 seconds (or until the mixture boils), stirring once very thoroughly during heating. Immediately pour the hot caramel over the graham crackers. Don't freak out if you've not covered every square millimeter of the graham crackers with caramel. Sprinkle on the cashews – gently pressing them into the caramel to make sure they remain seated when the caramel cools.

In another microwave-safe bowl, add the pieces of chocolate. Microwave on high until the chocolate melts – stirring it every 15 seconds. Chocolate melts FAST in the microwave so don't leave it unattended or it will scorch. Using a fork, splatter the melted chocolate all over the bars. Lick the bowl. You know you want to.

Allow the mixture to cool about 10 to 15 minutes and then sprinkle sea salt on top of the bars. Not sure if sea salt is going to be your thing? Sprinkle some of the bars with sea salt and leave the others naked.

Friday, July 17, 2009


My Venture into Hummus and Hooker Bars

I love hummus and I make it nearly every week. One time, on a trip to the Middle East, an Egyptian businessman came to my hotel for a meeting. Egyptians are very hospitable and he wanted to warmly welcome me to Egypt by taking me out. In heavily accented English, he said, "I want to take you to my favorite hookah bar."  I said, "HOOKER bar?!  Oh, no, no.  Thanks.  I really can't, you know, go to a hooker bar."  He insisted and said, "No, no, we must go. They serve the world's best hummus."  The world's best hummus, you say? He needn't say more. I grabbed him by the beard, dragged him out of the hotel, and hailed a taxi. Within seconds, we were going warp speed through the narrow streets of Cairo on anywhere from two to four wheels. I just knew that I was going to be killed in that speeding taxi and the headline in the morning newspaper would have read "American Killed on Way to Hooker Bar."

We screeched to a halt in front of the bar and I ripped out my fingers from the car seat that I had been clinging to for dear life. I threw open the front door of the bar and gazed upon a well-lit room full of men smoking who-knows-what from a bunch of decorative bongs. I thought, "What the..?! What is this? The '60's?!"   This was no hooker bar.  Trust me.  I know.  I get Cinemax.

The businessman explained that we were going to be smoking flavored tobacco from these bong-looking things called "hookahs" and we had to choose what flavor we wanted to smoke. Embarrassed, I then realized that this whole experience had been one misunderstanding after another. Not being a smoker, I let him choose the flavor for the hookah but, what I really wanted, was some of the world's best hummus. The waiter got the hookah started and we both shared some strawberry-flavored hookah smoke. I gotta tell you. Hookah is not my thing. As you can see, the guy on the right is enjoying some smoke from his hookah. He makes inhaling scented tobacco from a water bong look so suave and sexy, doesn't he?

Soon thereafter, the hummus arrived. It looked smooth and inviting. It was tinted green from the copious amount of olive oil that they had used in making it. It was silky. It was airy. I wanted to put both hands on the table, bend over, and lick the hummus straight from the plate. It was, without a doubt, the world's best hummus. My rendition, although made with a lot less olive oil, might rank as the world's second-best hummus recipe. Unless, of course, you ask my mother. I made some for her one time and she said  "It's alright, I guess."   Whatever.   Anyway, every time I make this hummus, I think of the great time I had in Egypt. Enjoy – and happy eating!

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The World's Second-Best Hummus Recipe
Printable Version)

2 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chick peas)

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (less if you're dating a vampire)
1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp of table salt) or to taste
3 TBSP lemon juice
3 TBSP tahini*
2 TBSP good-quality, extra-virgin olive oil

About 4 to 8 TBSP of water

Olive oil and paprika (for garnish)

Drain and discard the juice from the garbanzo beans. You might also consider rinsing the beans as well since some store brands of garbanzo beans are oppressively salty and have a metallic aftertaste. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of garbanzo beans for garnish later. Add the remaining garbanzo beans to a food processor (or blender). Add the salt and garlic cloves. Turn on the food processor and let it run for about 15 seconds. Turn it off, scrape the bowl, and let it run another 15 seconds. The mixture will be thick and slightly chunky and will not yet want to process smoothly.

Add the lemon juice, tahini, and olive oil. Whiz this mixture for about 30 seconds. Turn the processor off, scrape the bowl (including the bottom), and whiz another 30 seconds. If it still looks chunky, repeat until it is smooth. It's important to get it relatively smooth now before adding the water. Add 4 TBSP of water and whiz it for 30 to 60 seconds and scrape the bowl.

Here is when the inner-chef in you needs to come out. Is it too thick? If so, add another tablespoon of water (or olive oil) and rewhiz. Still too thick? Add another tablespoon of water at a time, rewhizing until you achieve the desired consistency. Not enough salt? Add more salt. The sodium content of garbanzo beans varies greatly from brand-to-brand so you may need to add more salt – or you may not.

After you get your hummus the way you like it, scrape it into a serving bowl or platter. Use the back of a spoon to "pretty-up" the top. Drizzle the hummus with some olive oil and top with the reserved garbanzo beans. If desired, sprinkle a little paprika on top. Serve with pita bread, tortillas (yes, tortillas work great!), or vegetables.

*Tahini is sesame paste and can usually be found in the ethnic aisle of larger grocery stores. By itself, it is very strongly flavored but adds interesting depth to hummus.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Curried Ramen Noodles

My Venture into the Exciting World of Ramen

Many years ago as a starving college student, I fixed Ramen Noodles all of the time. Well, I wasn't so much a starving college student as I was a walking zit factory with a batootie big enough to do all of his clothes shopping at Kansas Tent and Awning.

Ramen Noodles are cheap, easy, and really fast to make. This recipe cooks up in less than 10 minutes – and it tastes great, too! Oooooh, this takes me back to my good, 'ol college days with my crazy frat brothers John Belushi, Tim Matheson, and Peter Riegert at Delta Tau Chi. Wait. Were those my friends or the cast of "Animal House?" Well, in any case, use your noodle and cook this recipe today! Enjoy!

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Curried Ramen Noodles

(Printable Version)

From a salad bar, pick up the following three items:

½ c chicken breast
½ c green onions or scallions (or ¼ c red onions)
½ c bell peppers (or substitute your favorite vegetable)

3 cups water
1 package of Chicken-Flavor Ramen Noodles
1½ TBPS butter
1½ tsp curry powder

Heat 3 cups of water in a saucepan over high heat. Wait a couple of minutes then start heating a skillet on a separate burner over medium heat. This recipe comes together fast, so timing is critical. Sorry – you'll have to wash 2 pans tonight.

When the skillet is hot, add the butter and allow it to melt. You should not, however, add the butter to the skillet until your saucepan of water is already boiling and waiting for you. To the skillet, add the bell peppers and green onions and cook for 2 minutes.

Immediately after you have started the veggies cooking in the skillet, open the package of ramen noodles and remove the seasoning packet but do not add the packet to the boiling water. To make it easier to eat, break the clump of ramen noodles into 4 smaller chunks then add them to the water. Boil the noodles for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After the veggies have cooked for 2 minutes, add the curry powder, seasoning packet, and the chicken to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for about 1 minute stirring often to keep the curry powder from burning. By now, your noodles should have cooked 3 minutes and must now be removed from the water. Using a slotted spoon, remove the ramen noodles from the water and immediately add them to the skillet. You don't have to be meticulous about draining off every drop of water from the noodles. In fact, you want a little bit of the pasta water to get transferred to the skillet (maybe a total of 2 TBSP or so). Without this small amount of pasta water, the noodles would be too tight and gummy. Discard the remaining pasta water. Using a pair of tongs, mix the noodles into the curry power, veggies, and chicken. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cornbread Salad

My Venture into Salads

I love this salad. It's really tasty and easy to make because I get most of the ingredients from a salad bar at my local mega mart. This way, the veggies are already washed and ready for me to use. I have to say that this is not so much a recipe as a method of preparation. I make it differently every time I put it together depending on the veggies I'm in the mood for that day. To give you an idea of what to get, I'm breaking down the ingredients into categories to serve as a guide – but feel free to mix it up however you would like. A well-stocked salad bar should have many of the items listed below. The goal is to add stuff that you and your family like to eat. This salad is a great way to get kids to eat their vegetables. It's really tasty and stays fresh for days in the fridge. Enjoy – and happy salad-making!

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Cornbread Salad
(Printable Version)

This is less of a recipe and more of a technique. To start, pick up the following from a salad bar:
PROTEINS: About 1/2 cup (such as chopped ham, chopped turkey, imitation crab, bacon bits, etc)
CHEESES: About 1 cup (I usually get a mixture of cheddar, monterrey jack, and parmesan)
VEGGIES: About 2 cups (I get a mixture of different kinds such as bell peppers, red onions, green onions, red beans, black beans, snow pea pods, broccoli, cauliflower, shredded carrots, radishes, seeded cucumbers, corn, cherry tomatoes, etc)
GREENERY: About 2 TBSP, finely chopped (such as flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, baby spinach, arugula, chives, jalapeño, etc)
OTHER: About 1/4 cup (a mixture of stuff like sunflower seeds, slivered almonds, dried cherries, sliced olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc)

*The salad bar I use rarely has corn so I have to buy it separately fresh or frozen. Sometimes, I have to buy the black beans in a can. I then drain and rinse them before adding to the salad. I normally buy fresh jalapeños then seed and dice them when I get home Note: Items such as tomatoes and unseeded cucumbers give off a lot of liquid. Feel free to use cherry tomatoes, for example, but add them right before serving or the cornbread may get soggy.

Now that you have gotten all of the stuff from the salad bar, you will need:

1 8.5-oz corn bread mix, prepared and baked per the instructions on the box (I prefer Jiffy)

1/2 cup sour cream (I always use light sour cream)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I always use light mayo)
1/2 of a 1-oz packet of Ranch Dip Mix

Bake the cornbread per the package instructions and let it cool to room temperature. Why not buy cornbread from the bakery section of your local mega mart? I've tried. At least in my part of the country, the texture of the corn muffins and cornbread is more like cake than home-baked cornbread. When you add vegetables (which contain a lot of water) to cornbread from the bakery section, the cornbread turns to goo. Perhaps your local mega mart makes better cornbread so check it out if you do not want to make your own.

While the cornbread is baking, whisk together the dressing ingredients. It will seem very salty and strongly flavored. Don’t worry – it's a small amount of dressing for the amount of cornbread and veggies. Refrigerate until needed.

If you need to chop some of the veggies from the salad bar, now would be a good time.

To assembly the salad, crumble the cornbread in a large bowl. Add all of the stuff you bought from the salad bar. Add the dressing and gently stir everything to combine. Don't forget – you should not add watery vegetables such as tomatoes until right before the salad is served. Cover and refrigerate the salad for 2 to 4 hours to allow the flavors to mingle. Stir gently before serving.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes

My Venture into Sloppy Cooking

As a sloppy cook and eater, sloppy joes are a real treat. Traditionally, they are made with ketchup, tomato sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar to form their base sauce (with an infinite number of combinations). The recipe I am posting today is a variation of my mother's that she fixed when I was growing up. Unlike some sloppy joe recipes, this version has an in-your-face sweetness and tartness that will keep you interested with every bite. Mom always used Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce in hers but you can use any brand that you would like. These joes are quick and easy to make. Kids love 'em! Leftovers taste even better the next day. Some people, interestingly, love to add American cheese to their joes. I'm not a big American cheese fan so that would be an acquired taste for me.

Feeling on the adventurous side? Try making these with ground turkey or breakfast sausage. Pork and barbecue sauce, after all, are a match made in heaven.

A word of advice: Don't drop any of the sloppy joe mixture on your new tennis shoes that just cost you $49.99. The stain is harder to get out than picking gnats off an angry dog's rear with a boxing glove. Like that euphemism? It was my father's. Sigh. See what I grew up with?

Enjoy – and may your day be fun-filled and sloppy!

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Barbecue Sloppy Joes
Printable Version)

1 TBSP oil

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb of ground beef
3/4 tsp kosher salt (or half that amount if using table salt)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 cups barbecue sauce and more as needed
1 1/4 cups ketchup and more as needed
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Hamburger Buns
American Cheese (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 1 TBSP of oil. When hot, add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add the ground beef, salt, and pepper. Break the ground beef into small chunks. Brown and drain.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the barbecue sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, and cayenne (if using). Stir to combine. When the mixtures begins to simmer, set your timer and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. The mixture will splatter if not stirred often -- possibly staining your new tennis shoes. The mixture will thicken, darken, and taste less acidic as it cooks.

After 15 minutes, decide if you need more barbecue sauce and ketchup. You may need to add as much as a 1/4 cup of each if you like your sloppy joes on the goopy side like I do. Too tart for you? Add another tablespoon or two of brown sugar. Even if you do not adjust the seasoning, continue to simmer another 5 minutes.

Serve on hamburger buns.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beef and Potato Tacos

My Venture into Tacos

When I was a kid, my school used to have annual Mexican dinners as fund-raising events. My mother was very involved in the school and she often took a principle role in organizing these feasts. She even got slave labor to help with all of the cooking and cleaning – my three sisters and I.

At these fund-raisers, my mother befriended an older lady named Jenny, who was born and raised in Mexico. She taught my mother how to cook authentic Mexican food. Jenny hand-made hundreds of tortillas for these annual Mexican dinners and taught my mother how to make these wonderful tacos. Over the years, I have made only a few minor modifications to Jenny's original recipe. You can't mess with perfection!

These tacos are filled with a delicious mixture of ground beef and potatoes – a popular filling in certain parts of Mexico. It is also common to fill this type of taco with ground beef and peas. They are well worth the effort to make. I've served these at dinner parties and the guests cannot get enough. When I fix them for myself, I add the toppings in a different order than what is displayed in the picture. At home, after they are fried and still hot, I like to add the cheese directly to the top of the taco meat. I then add lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. When the cheese melts into the meat, you get a gooey, cheesy sensation with every bite. You HAVE to try these tacos. Yum! Disfruta la comida!

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Beef and Potato Tacos
(Printable Version)

1 medium potato (Yukon Gold is recommended), very finely diced

1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1½ TBSP dried oregano, divided use
1¼ lbs ground beef
1½ tsp kosher salt (or ¾ tsp table salt), divided use
¾ tsp pepper, divided use
About 17 fajita-size flour tortillas (or about a dozen taco-size flour tortillas)*
Oil for frying
Optional Toppings: Lettuce, Tomatoes, Freshly-grated Cheddar Cheese, Sour Cream, and Salsa

Peel and very finely dice the potatoes. Russet potatoes (Idaho potatoes) can be used but are not recommended because they fall apart too easily. Put the diced potatoes in cold tap water to keep them from browning while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add 1 TBSP of oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Add the ground beef and break up the meat into small chunks. Add 1 tsp kosher salt (or ½ tsp table salt) and ½ tsp of black pepper. Brown the ground beef then drain. Using a potato masher, smash the ground beef into a very fine crumb. Drain and discard the water from the potatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the drained potatoes to the ground beef. Add ½ tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt), ¼ tsp black pepper, and 1 TBSP dried oregano. To bring out the flavor of the oregano, rub it between your fingers before adding it to the beef/potato mixture. Stir to combine. Add 2 TBSP of water to the beef mixture, cover, and very gently simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, taste the meat mixture. The potatoes may not yet be fully cooked but you may need to adjust the seasoning. At this point, I normally add another ½ TBSP of oregano and little bit more salt and pepper. The meat mixture needs to be a little on the salty side and have a robust taste of oregano or the flavors will be very muted after frying the tacos. If the meat is sticking to the skillet or the mixture seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of water. Cover and continue to gently simmer for 5 minutes longer. Uncover, stir, remove from the heat, and allow to cool for a few minutes.

I, personally, like these tacos in taco-size flour tortillas. My mother prefers them in fajita-size tortillas, which are smaller. Before filling the tacos, you need to warm the tortillas enough to make them pliable. I normally brush 5 tortillas on one side very lightly with water then place them in a stack on a clean kitchen towel then wrap the towel around the tortillas. Microwave the tortillas for 25 seconds (about 5 seconds per tortilla). This does not cook the tortillas or make them tough but provides enough heat for them to become pliable. You should adjust the cooking time for your own microwave. You can also do this in the oven (but it's a lot easier in the microwave).

Place a warm tortilla in the palm of your hand and put a couple of spoonfuls of the meat mixture in the center of the tortilla. The tortilla should be comfortably full of meat but not overly full or you will not be able to close it properly. Be sure to re-cover the other tortillas with the kitchen towel so they stay warm. If you are using a taco-size tortilla, you will need 3 to 4 spoonfuls of the meat mixture per tortilla. Gently fold the tortilla into a half-moon shape and pin the edges with toothpicks. Place the filled tacos in a single layer on a sheet pan as you prepare them. When you run out of warm tortillas, you will need to heat more in the microwave (I always do 5 at-a-time so they stay warm).

At this point, the tacos can be frozen and fried at a later date. Simple put a single-layer of tacos on a sheet pan and freeze for about 1 hour. I cover each taco in plastic wrap then place the tacos in a freezer bag. Before frying, defrost them in microwave (about 15 seconds per taco) or allow them to defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat several cups of oil (I prefer peanut oil) in a Dutch oven or electric fryer. The oil will need to be about 2 to 3 inches deep. Heat the oil to 350F. Depending on the size of your fryer, you should be able to get 2 to 3 tacos in the fryer at one time. You should not remove the toothpicks prior to frying. When frying, do not overlap the tacos. When they have browned on one side, flip them over and brown the other. It should only take a few minutes to brown both sides. When the tacos are deep brown, drain them upside-down on a rack to allow excess oil to drip out.

After they have drained for a minute or two, carefully pull out the toothpicks (I use my fingers but needle-nose pliers do a good job for people with sensitive fingers). Fill the tacos with your choice of toppings.

*Some brands of flour tortillas are thicker than others. Thicker tortillas work particularly well in this recipe. Thinner tortillas break apart too easily when eating them.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Breakfast Bowls

My Venture into Breakfast Bowls

I love breakfast foods. In fact, I could eat breakfast foods at any meal – seven days a week. In Wichita, there is a burger chain called Spangles that serves "Breakfast Bowls." Love 'em! The recipe below is my take on their wonderful Breakfast Bowls. Enjoy – and happy cooking!

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Breakfast Bowls
(Printable Version)

3 cups Crispy Crowns (Tator Tots shaped liked small medallions)

Sausage Mixture:
1 TBSP oil
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced (I ate the other half while I was cooking…sorry)
1 jalapeño, finely diced (optional but not very spicy when it is added in)
1 pound breakfast sausage
Salt and black pepper to taste

Scrambled Eggs:
1 TBSP butter
5 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

About 1½ c. of shredded cheese (freshly grated always works best)

Preheat the oven for the Crispy Crowns (per the package instructions).

While the oven is preheating, chop all of the vegetables in preparation for cooking. Start heating a large skillet over medium heat with 1 TBSP oil.

When the skillet is hot, add the onions to the skillet. While the onions are cooking, add the Crispy Crowns to a baking sheet and bake per the package instructions. After the onions have cooked for 2 – 3 minutes, add the garlic, red bell pepper, and jalapeño (if using). Cook 1 minute longer. Add the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks. Brown and drain. Reduce the heat to low to keep the sausage warm while the other items are prepared.

About 5 minutes before the potatoes are done, heat another small skillet over medium heat. Add the butter. After the butter has melted, add the beaten eggs and some salt and pepper. Scramble the eggs until they are barely firm.

Add the scrambled eggs and hot Crispy Crowns to the cooked sausage mixture and gently stir to combine. Add to individual plates or serving bowls and top with shredded cheese. Serve with toast or warm tortillas.

Want to Lighten it Up?
1) Use reduced-fat sausage. I normally use Jimmy Dean Reduced-fat Sausage.
2) Instead of using 5 whole eggs, try separating 2 eggs with 3 whole eggs (or all egg whites).
3) Use reduced-fat cheese. I normally use 2% cheddar that I freshly grate before adding it to the breakfast bowl. Don't go overboard on the cheese if you want to keep the calories to a minimum.
4) Use only about 2 cups of the Crispy Crowns (instead of 3 cups) to cut down on the calories, fat, and carb content.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Coon Dip

My Venture into Dips with Strange Names

Don't let the strange name scare you. Coon Dip is the best hamburger cheese dip you will ever eat in your life. Where did the name come from? Who knows but I guarantee that there is no raccoon meat in it. When my office has a potluck, this dip is what everybody wants me to bring.

When I was growing up, my mother would fix Coon Dip for special occasions. One morning a few years ago, I was talking to my mother about making some for New Year's Eve. She was clipping coupons with some pointy scissors while taking occasional sips of Pepsi and drags on a cigarette – her favorite breakfast at the time. I casually mentioned that I had changed her Coon Dip recipe. She immediately stopped, looked up at me and said in a low growl, "You. Changed. My. Coon Dip recipe?". She inhaled deeply and her left eye started twitching uncontrollably. With a sinister look, she stared at her scissors…then at my chest…then back at her scissors. Through the years, I had changed many of her recipes but this time, I was scared I was going to end up like that lady in the shower scene in "Psycho." After 20 minutes of being scolded unmercifully, I started looking down at her scissors...then at her...then back at her scissors.

I can't say that my recipe is better than my mother's – it's just different. They're both good! So, without further adieu, I present you my Coon Dip recipe. Make it for your family. Make it for your office. Make it to spackle your walls. Just make it! You won't be sorry. Venture into your kitchen and start making dips with strange names today!

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Coon Dip Recipe
(Printable Version)

1 can Tomato Soup

1 can Cream of Mushroom or Golden Mushroom Soup
1 16-oz jar of salsa (I use Pace – Medium Spicy)
2 lbs of processed cheddar cheese (such as Velveeta), cut into 1 1/2” chunks
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs ground beef
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 3/4 tsp table salt) or to taste
3/4 tsp pepper or to taste
Tortilla chips

Add the soups, salsa, cheese, and cayenne to a cold crock pot (5 quart or larger). Stir to combine, set on high heat, and cover.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes until they just begin to soften. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the hamburger, salt, and pepper and cook until the meat has fully browned. Drain. Using a potato masher, mash the hamburger into a fine crumb. Add the meat mixture to the crock pot and stir. Heat the dip until the cheese has melted and the mixture is hot – about 2 hours. During cooking, stir the dip every 45 minutes to ensure even heating. The dip tastes even better when reheated. In fact, I rarely serve the dip on the same day I make it. I normally follow the above instructions and heat it for 2 hours, then transfer the dip to a large bowl and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, I reheat the dip in a crock pot (on high heat) about 2 to 2 1/2 hours before serving – stirring every 45 minutes. Serve with your favorite brand of tortilla chips.
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