Monday, December 21, 2015

Too Busy To Cook: Carnitas

Just like everyone else, my life is pretty hectic right now. What with working, trying to put lipstick on this pig of an old house we live in, and shopping for Christmas, there just isn't a whole lot of time for anything else, like cooking. Even people like me, who love to cook, sometimes just can't find the time or muster the energy to put anything interesting on the table this time of year.

Don't get me wrong, I am planning dining extravaganzas for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but those two meals have depleted my culinary energy. So what's a cook to do for the next couple of days? Kraft mac and cheese and hot pockets (what I feel like making) just won't cut it for my gourmands.

One of the ways I've been trying to make things a little interesting and easy on myself is to make some old favorites that I haven't served in awhile. I also make a lot of them so we can get a couple of meals out of each one to give me a break.

A BIG favorite around my house lately has been a pan of pork carnitas that I made the other day. I can't even tell you the last time I made this dish and for the life of me I don't know why it fell off the recipe rotation. This dish is inexpensive, super easy to put together and is great in either tacos or served with rice and beans.

So if you are like me and need a one pot meal that you can stretch, or just cooking for an army of visiting friends and relatives, this is a great option for you.


Literally translated, carnitas means "little meats" for obvious reasons. The flavorful little pork nuggets are great served plain with rice and beans or as the main attraction on a taco bar. I love my tacos with just a little cilantro and onion, but I put out all the trimmings like guacamole, cheese, sour cream and salsa for the more adventurous.

2-1/2 pounds pork sirloin roast, cut into 1 - 2" cubes
1 big, juicy lime, juiced and zested
1 big, juicy orange, juiced and zested
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup chicken broth, water or beer
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss well to coat. Transfer to a baking dish, cover and place in the preheated oven to cook for 1 - 1/2 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove cover and cook until liquid has reduced to about 1/2 its volume and is thick.

At this point, the carnitas are delicious as is, but if you want you can uncover the baking dish and keep cooking them for another 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally,  or until they begin to brown and form a crust on top. You can also fry them in a little oil or bacon drippings (my personal favorite) to crisp them up just a little on the outside. Either way you will have a wonderful, stress-free dinner or two.

I cooked mine in the oven for this recipe, but this is also a great recipe for the slow cooker. Just mix everything together and cook low and slow until tender.

Recipe serves 4

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Homemade Holiday Nibble: Twice Baked Fruit and Nut Crisps

As I mixed together this week's recipe it occurred to me that I had made something very similar to this just last post. Yep, the combination of nuts, seeds and rye flour had a very familiar ring to it, but it also occurred to me that this just might not be a bad thing.

Number one, I already had most of the ingredients in my cupboard. Number two, I'm, hmmm, shall we say frugal, and I really wanted to use up all said seeds and nuts so they wouldn't go rancid in the back of the cupboard. Number three, with the addition of just a few ingredients and with a little extra baking, you have a product that is really quite different.

The inspiration for this recipe is those wonderful little Raincoast Crisps that they sell in the gourmet section of the supermarket. Thin, crispy, nutty and just a tiny bit sweet, these little crackers are my favorite carrier for cheese and chutney this time of year.

While I am crazy about these little crackers, what I am not so crazy about is their price. A box of these babies sells for $6.99 at my local grocery. Ouch! By the time I buy a box and a wedge of Cambozola to smear on top, I sometimes find myself having to dip into the prosecco budget, and goodness knows I don't want to do that. So what's a girl to do? Make her own.

I originally found the recipe for them on The Kitchn's website. I was going to follow their recipe to the letter, but as I started to pull out the ingredients, I discovered that someone who shall remain nameless had nibbled away most of the pecans and dried cranberries that I had planned on using.

Good thing that I know this man so well that I normally have a secret stash of a few of my favorite baking ingredients that I know he likes to munch on. So there among the hidden chocolate chips, canned french fried onions (yes, he eats those too), and croutons, I was able to rustle up some cashews and dried tart cherries for substitutes.

I am happy to say that even with my substitutions these crisps were absolutely delicious. I could see where you could add most any nut, seed or dried fruit that you have and come up with a great little nibble, but don't tell my snacker, I've still got him on a guilt trip for now. Don't feel bad for him. He deserves it.

Twice Baked Fruit and Nut Crisps

Love these flavorful little crackers. Since this recipe will make a bunch, they are perfect to place in a pretty little cellophane bag all tied up with a ribbon for a gift. On the selfish side, keep the loaves in the freezer and pull one out, slice it up and toast some fresh when you have a craving or guests coming over.

1 cup dried tart cherries (or cranberries)
1/4 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cashews
1/2 cup pepitas (dried pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 - 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups whole milk mixed with 2 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and allow to sit for 5 minutes to curdle)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 6 count mini loaf pan with vegetable shortening; set aside.

Place cherries in a heatproof bowl and cover in simmering water to re-hydrate. Let sit for approximately 15 minutes or until they are soft and plump. Drain and set aside until ready to use.

Place pecans, cashews, pepitas and sunflower seeds in a medium size skillet that has been preheated over medium high heat. Stirring frequently, toast until they are lightly browned and their aroma is released. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, salt, soda, rosemary, sugar, oats and toasted seeds and nuts. Once everything is well blended, slowly add the buttermilk. Stir until you have a nice batter.

Pour equal amounts of the batter into each section of the greased mini loaf pan. Bake in the preheated oven until the loaves are golden brown and firm and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 25 - 35 minutes.

Let cool for approximately 5 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack to cool completely. At this point, place in a covered freezer container and freeze at least overnight, or wrap tightly in foil and freeze for up to one month.

When you are ready to bake for the second time, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Pull out a loaf or two at a time and carefully slice while still frozen into 1/8" to 1/16" slices across. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet, leaving at least 1" space between slices to insure even toasting.

Place cookie sheet in the oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes. Turn slices over and return to the oven to bake for an additional 8 minutes or so, watching carefully so they do not burn. At this point some might still be a bit soft in the middle but they will crisp as they cool.

Makes approximately 18 - 24 crisps per loaf depending on how thin you slice them.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Little Thanksgiving "Clean" Eating with Sur la Table's Seeded Honey Whole Wheat Quick Bread

I've never sold this site as being anything close to healthy. I pretty much post dishes that I feel moved to make and hope that you supplement them with salads and quinoa as needed.

I had planned to give a vegan diet a chance for 30 days just to see if I could drop a couple of pounds along the way, but as the story often goes, life got in the way. First there were a couple of culinary events that I was invited to that offered delicious meat and cheese items that were just too good to turn down. Then my son turned 21, which of course meant a surf and turf extravaganza, and now in just a couple of days, Thanksgiving. Ugh.

I know that lots of vegans make it through celebrations and holidays without compromising their dietetic convictions, but I'm new to this whole thing, so I need some room here. I think I could do without meat, it is the whole cheese thing the worries me. I love me some cheese.

Well, in preparation for this diet (will it ever really happen?) I'm taking baby steps. This year we are dining with some dear friends on Thanksgiving. I was assigned dessert (baby sweet potato cakes of course), brown gravy and rolls. Since I was only able to find two packages of Sister Schubert's parker house rolls (our chosen roll for the season) in the whole city, I decided to supplement them with a recipe that I discovered at Sur la Table's clean eating class back in May. Everyone who tasted it, couldn't help but sigh with every bite. Yep, this bread is that good.

As blogger etiquette goes, I would normally post just a bit of the recipe here with a link to their site for the whole recipe. Well I've Googled and searched, and although I came up with some really good information and recipes on their blog, A Sharp Knife & Salt, I couldn't find the whole recipe so I guess I'll have to give it to you here with a couple of changes as per usual. Happy Thanksgiving!

Seeded Honey Whole Wheat Quick Bread 

Sur la Table's recipe below calls for the bread to be baked in mini loaf pans, but I made mine in lightly greased muffin pans for the Thanksgiving bread basket which only took about 20 minutes to bake. By the way, don't worry about having to go to the store for a few special ingredients because you are going to want to make these again and again. Oh yeah, as you'll notice I added some pumpkin seeds on top because I had some and I love them.

Vegetable cooking oil spray
1 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon toasted caraway seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup toasted flax seeds
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dark rye flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 - 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup well shaken buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 6 loaf nonstick mini loaf pan with vegetable spray. Line with strips of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides, and spray parchment.

In a medium bowl, combine toasted seeds and set aside a 1/4 cup for pressing onto loaves before baking. Add dry ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

In a small bowl whisk together the wet ingredients until well combined. Stir into dry ingredients and fold until well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared pans and sprinkle tops with reserved seeds. Transfer loaves to the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove loaves from the pan with the strips of parchment and let cool on wire racks.

As I recall, this made about 8 mini loaves of bread. I know for sure that is will make 24 cupcake size muffins.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Toast To The Season With Shari's Berries and Strawberries and Cream Spiked Hot White Chocolate

I was asked by Shari's Berries if I would like to try their berries and develop a cocktail that complements their flavor. I of course said yes and when my box arrived I was honestly blown away by how nice this berry and cheesecake assortment was. First, they come very nicely packaged in an elegant deep brown box with white accents and ribbon. Then once I opened the package, there were 12 big white chocolate dipped strawberries, nicely decorated with either a caramel colored drizzle or gold sprinkles.

The strawberries were ripe, flavorful, and juicy, and I was totally surprised by how delicious they were. Since they are shipped in a cooler box with ice packs, they are at their peak of flavor when they arrive at your door via Fed Ex. My chosen package also came with 3 mini cheesecakes which are generous enough to share (but who would want to) and were smooth, creamy and delicious.

In the future I will definitely be sending these to my loved ones in lieu of flowers now that I know what a treat they are. If you would like to enjoy a few of these berries yourself or send them to someone you love, the good folks at Shari's Berries have provided my readers with a link to their coupons and discount codes so you can save a few dollars on your orders. To access these offers please click here. So if in doubt, skip the fruitcake this year and send these instead. Your family and friends will love you for it.

Since we had our first snow of the season the day after I received my shipment, I decided on a hot cocktail to accompany my berries and cheesecakes. I actually wanted to echo the flavors of the strawberries in my cocktail so, after much testing, I finally settled on a berry flavored drink. My creamy strawberry flavored hot white chocolate isn't too sweet so it pairs nicely with both the white chocolate dipped strawberries and the cheesecakes. Take my word for it, they are perfect for enjoying while cuddled up on the sofa with a good book while the snow falls outside.

Strawberries and Cream Spiked Hot White Chocolate

I found dehydrated strawberries in the dried fruit section of Whole Foods for about $6.00. I love using them because not only are they also great for flavoring French macarons, they have an indefinite shelf life so I can make one of these drinks on a whim. This package will make several drinks and it's a good thing because you are going to love them.
2 heaping tablespoons dehydrated strawberries
8 ounces half and half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1/2 to 1 ounce of your favorite vodka (I used Troy & Sons Platinum Whiskey)
1/2 ounce white (clear) creme de cacao

 Place dehydrated strawberries in a mini food processor and process until you have a fine powder. Alternatively, place strawberries in a plastic zipper seal bag and crush with a rolling pin. Reserve just about 1/8 of a teaspoon of the dust for garnish before placing the remainder into a heatproof mug; set aside.

In a small sauce pan (or in the microwave using a heat proof mug), combine the half and half, vanilla extract and sugar. heat (stirring frequently) until the mixture is piping hot and the sugar is dissolved.

Pour about a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into crushed strawberries and stir vigorously until you have a smooth mixture. Gradually stir in the remainder of the hot milk mixture.

Add the alcohol and stir well.

Serve immediately while piping hot with a dollop of whipped cream and a little sprinkle of the reserved strawberry dust.

Makes one nice big mug full of hot and creamy spiked goodness.

I was given a sample of Shari's Berries to try. All of the opinions and comments stated in this post are mine alone. No monetary compensation was given in exchange for writing this post.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Troy & Sons Whiskey: Aged Moonshine Salted Caramel Sauce

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of attending a media event held here in Denver by Troy Ball, of Troy & Sons and Asheville Distilling Company.

In person, Troy was nothing like I expected. Most surprisingly, Troy is a woman, and a rather posh woman at that. I guess since this was billed as a moonshine tasting, I expected a Ralph Lauren type man, handsome and maybe just a little bit rugged who had been making moonshine most of his life. My assumptions couldn't have been more wrong.

I was delighted to learn that the name of her company, Troy & Sons, is a combination of her own name with a nod to her three beloved sons. Like many dedicated moms, Troy decided to spend the first part of her sons' lives taking care of them at home. It was once they got a bit older that she decided to enlist help with them in order to pursue something outside the home for herself.

In 2008, Troy got to taste some "keeper" moonshine, which is what the locals call the stuff that they keep at home for themselves, selling the throat burning spirits to outsiders. She was amazed at how smooth and complicated the flavor of the keeper moonshine was, and decided that she would like to provide everyone access to this superior type of moonshine whiskey.

In the summer of that same year, Troy set about learning how to distill from local moonshine makers in and around Asheville, NC. At first she was skeptical of the type of people she might find, but was delighted to find them both generous and patient as they explained the distillation process that had been passed down through the generations. On August 18, 2010, she distilled her first perfect white liquor using non-GMO, heirloom Crooked Creek corn.

Today, Troy & Sons and Asheville Distilling Company, produce three delicious whiskies. Platinum, made with heirloom corn and pure Appalachian spring water, this true American moonshine honors the tradition of Appalachian spirit makers. This clear, white whiskey is perfect mixed in cocktails with bright citrus flavors.

Blonde, starts with rare heirloom Turkey Red Wheat and White Corn, grown on Peaceful Valley Farm in the lowland hills of Western North Carolina. This is a smooth spirit with notes of oak and vanilla.

Oak Reserve, described as "aged moonshine",  is made with heirloom corn and Appalachian spring water, and is stored in in charred oak bourbon barrels, which give it, its tawny color. This smooth spirit has subtle flavors of oak and vanilla with just a hint of spice and licorice.

Now, I will never profess to be a whiskey connoisseur, but I do like what I like and like all three of Troy's products. More of a cocktail girl myself, I find that all three of these moonshine liquors are great in some of my favorite mixed drinks.

Platinum makes a great substitute for tequila in a refreshing margarita. Oak Reserve is a delicious base for many cocktails, with my favorite being a slightly chocolaty, Moonshine Milkshake. As for Blonde, I love a shot in my coffee with lots of cream, and a splash of my favorite chocolate liqueur. For more recipes and ideas please visit Asheville Distilling Company's site by clicking here. 

Since Troy has so many great cocktail recipes on her site, I decided to use her Oak Reserve in a dessert sauce that really showcases its smooth, velvety flavor. My simple buttery salted caramel sauce makes anything better when it is poured over, but add a little aged moonshine and it is dessert sauce perfection.

Aged Moonshine Salted Caramel Sauce

It really doesn't get much better than this. I've poured my caramel sauce over my favorite vanilla ice cream here, but it is just as good over panna cotta, plain old custard, or any pie you can think of. Why heck, you can even add it to shakes and coffee.

1 - 4 ounce stick unsalted butter
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Troy & Sons Oak Reserve
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (start with 1/4 and build from there until you like the flavor)

Melt butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan set over medium high heat. Once butter is melted and starts to sizzle, add the brown sugar and stir into butter. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar is melted and smooth, about 2 - 3 minutes.

Stir int the vanilla extract, Oak Reserve and salt. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and serve while hot, warm or room temperature. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.

Makes about 2 cups.

A big thanks to Troy Ball and Asheville Distilling for providing me with bottles of their products to sample and create with. No compensation was given for this post, and all opinions and statements made here are my own.

To learn more about Troy Ball, Asheville Distilling Company, and where you can buy a bottle of your very own, please click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Little Something For the Oven: Cheddar Bacon and Onion Quick Beer Bread

I must admit that fall is starting to win me over. So far it has been a very gentle transition into the new season with cooler, but still warmish days, and chilly, sleep with the windows open, nights. I am soaking in every lovely minute before winter comes barging its way in.

 I love hanging out in the evenings with a cocktail, my favorite guy, and the silliest dog in the world. We spend hours watching the wildlife that inhabit our backyard get ready for the winter ahead. I especially love the two big beautiful woodpeckers who have kept us amused with their antics all summer long. Their pecking might annoy some, but we could watch them for hours combing through our grass for worms and bugs.

Then there is that overhead tightrope walking squirrel that will steal anything remotely edible that is left unattended. It is probably my own fault after I left some grapes out in the open for a photo I was working on. He of course stole them, and has been stalking me for more ever since.

Lately Mr. H and our dog, Jack, have been hot on the trail of a raccoon who has been hanging out on our roof by the chimney stack. Said raccoon could have easily gotten away with using our roof as his summer deck had he not left some poop behind which my husband discovered while installing a new chimney cap, and the hunt was on. I don't know what they'll do if they catch him. I don't think they have thought that far ahead. All I care about is that no one gets hurt, including the raccoon.

With all this activity and excitement going on, suppertime seems to sneak up on me every evening. As I said in my last post, I've dusted off the slow cooker, so I'm getting better about advanced planning for our evening meal. To go with our hearty slow cooker dinners, I've been trying out some easy side dishes and quick bread recipes.

One of the recipes that has risen to the top is this recipe for cheddar bacon and onion quick beer bread. I wish I could take total credit for this bread but it is actually an embellished version of a Cooking Light recipe for basic beer cheese bread (for Cooking Light's original recipe, click here). While good as is, in my opinion there is always room for lots of Irish cheddar and bacon. Oh yes I did!

So here you go, one great recipe to support your favorite slow cooker meal, to take to a potluck or maybe even fuel a hungry raccoon hunter.

Cheddar Bacon and Onion Quick Beer Bread

This bread has a pleasantly sweet flavor from the sugar and onions, with a very clear taste of beer, so when making this, know who your audience is. I love this combined with the salty flavors of the bacon and cheddar. There's not much better than a slice with a big bowl of Hungarian Goulash.

5 slices bacon, chopped (mine was the regular sliced from the prepackaged meat case)
1 medium size yellow onion, finely diced
2 medium size garlic cloves, crushed
13 - 14 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 - 3 tablespoons sugar (start with 1 tablespoon and taste batter after each addition until you reach desired flavor)
1 - 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
Coarsely ground pepper to taste
6 ounces sharp cheddar, coarsely chopped instead of grated so you have nice pockets of cheese in the finished bread
1 - 12 ounce bottle of beer (I had a Corona in the fridge so that's what I used)
2 tablespoons butter, melted and divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a 9" loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Place bacon in a medium size (preheated) frying pan set over medium high heat. Fry until bacon is just becoming crisp. Transfer to paper towels with a slotted spoon to drain; set aside.

Remove all bacon drippings from the frying pan, except about 1 tablespoon. To this, add the onions and saute until they are soft and brown around the edges. Add garlic cloves and saute for 1 minute longer. Transfer to paper towels to drain; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, sage and pepper; whisk together. Make a well in the center. Place the bacon, onions and cheese in the well. To this add the beer and mix with a wooden spoon just until it is moistened.

Spoon mixture into the prepared loaf pan and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Drizzle one half of the melted butter over the top.

Place pan in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the remaining butter. Return to the oven and cook an additional 20 - 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack to cool completely before cutting and serving. If you cut bread before it is cool, it can be gummy in the center, so I advise you wait and heat it back up if you like warm bread.

Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Makes 1 big loaf.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Time To Dust Off The Slow Cooker: Hungarian Goulash

My lovely daughter and her boyfriend just got back from a trip to Hungary. When she asked me what I would like for her to bring back for me, being a big foodie, I of course said some Hungarian paprika. I know that I can buy it at my local supermarket, but there is just something about an overpriced souvenir that says love to me.

When I was a girl growing up in a little Texas town, my mom, who was a very good cook in her own right, would occasionally make her 1970's version of Hungarian goulash. Although she just called it "goulash" the insinuation of its Hungarian origin was always there and we loved it. I mean who wouldn't love a combination of beef, paprika, tomatoes and noodles with a swirl of sour cream on top?

So, when my daughter came over this weekend and presented me with a little decorative bag of fragrant red powder from Hungary, I knew goulash was the next blog post. Since my mom is no longer around to give me her recipe, I hit the web looking for the real deal recipe and I think I found a couple of recipes for inspiration. True to form, I felt I had put them together and tweak them just a bit, because that's how I roll.

Before I present the recipe to you, I have to say that I found the variety of recipes for goulash quite interesting. I was a bit surprised to learn that authentic Hungarian goulash is really more of a soup or stew than what my mom used to make. Her recipe would more than likely fall into the Czech version of goulash which is more like a casserole or entree than the Hungarian version.

I also thought it interesting that it is actually a peasant dish developed by Hungarian herdsman (gulyas), that they would cook outside over an open fire. It wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that this dish gained popularity among Hungarian society prompted by rising national awareness around the country. Now it is easily the most recognized dish in Hungary.

There is also a Czech pork and sauerkraut version called segedinsky gulas which I plan to make for my daughter's sauerkraut loving boyfriend soon. I am a firm believer that if you are a sauerkraut lover, you must be rewarded for it. So stayed tuned for this dish coming later this fall, but for now with the first hint of cool weather, this will really hit the spot.

Hungarian Goulash

I couldn't think of a better dish for a Halloween gathering, tailgating, football Sundays, or for my friends in the UK, Bonfire Night. This aromatic dish is perfect for the slow cooker or those days when you just want something bubbling away on the stove.

2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 medium size yellow onions, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sweet or hot Hungarian paprika (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika (if you prefer you can omit this and use 2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika instead)
1 pound beef, cut into 1" cubes (the cut you use is up to you, but the cheaper the cut, the longer you'll have to cook it)
1 - 3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to your taste)
A good grinding of black pepper
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup chopped parsnip
1 cup chopped potato
1 cup chopped carrot
1 half of a green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 small handful celery leaves

Place oil in a medium to large size sauce pan that has been preheated over medium high heat.

When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and saute for one minute longer.

Add the beef and saute for approximately 5 minutes or until its color begins to brown. To this mixture add the paprika and stir it all very well to thoroughly coat the meat.

Add just enough water to this to cover the meat and onions. Add the bay leaf, salt, pepper and caraway seeds before bringing the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the meat is tender. At this point I transferred mine to my small slow cooker and set the temperature to high, but you can leave it in the sauce pan, covered and cook until desired tenderness is reached. My London broil cubes took a little over 2 hours to reach the very tender stage,

Once the meat is tender, add all the vegetables, the celery leaves and a little more water if needed. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer, replace the cover and cook until the vegetables are tender yet still firm. Add more salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Serve immediately with crusty bread and a little drizzle of sour cream if desired. Like most stews, goulash just gets better leftover and reheated for the next couple of days.

Serves 4

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Preserving Summer's Flavors: Basil Pesto

The last thing in the world you will ever hear me say is that I am a gardener. In fact, I pretty much have a black thumb. Try as I may, most everything I plant turns yellow and dies, or if by some miracle it doesn't, then bugs quickly devour it.

This year, the first summer in our new/old house, I got a wild hair and bought a giant pot at TJ Maxx and filled it with herbs. Lo and behold, they started to grow! Heck, they even started to flourish! Look at me! After investing probably thousands of dollars in plants, soil and pots over the years, I can now claim that I have grown at least $20.00 worth of herbs to offset my lifelong losses.

And now as they say, to everyone's life a little rain must fall. With the cooler weather and shorter days of early autumn, my herbs are doing their best to go to seed. Like their neighboring flowers, they are now becoming leggy and gangly, and I can no longer deny that I need to make a plan to keep their flavors alive.

After taking stock of what needs to be preserved the most, I decided to give my basil the treatment first. I usually don't mind using dried herbs much, but in the case of basil, I prefer not to. For some reason, dried basil has an pleasant, almost foreign flavor to me, nothing like fresh basil at all, so I prefer to use it by whizzing it up and making pesto.

I used to not like basil pesto much, but as I've gotten a bit older and my tastes have gotten a little more sophisticated, I realize how versatile it really is. Besides using it as a mix in for sauces, I also love using it as a topping for a caprese salad, or a spread on a simple bruschetta or garlic bread.  It really is a great base for lots of recipes.

After you make it, you can use it right away, refrigerate it for up to 10 days or so, or freeze it for later. No matter what you do with it, don't waste a drop. It really is a little bite of summer that you can enjoy for months.

Basil Pesto

After you make this pesto a time or two, feel free to customize this recipe to suit your own tastes. You can add more cheese, less pine nuts, more or less garlic . . . well, you get the idea. I personally prefer not to add salt and pepper because I like to add mine to my finished dish, but do what you like and enjoy.

6 - 8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 lightly packed cups of fresh basil leaves
1/2 - 2/3 cup pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2/3 - 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Place garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop.

Add basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and salt and pepper. Process for a few seconds or until it is well ground and completely blended.

With the processor running, add olive oil in a fine stream until a smooth, creamy consistency is achieved.

This recipe will make a couple of cups of pesto, give or take.

If you'd like to freeze some of your pesto, here's what I do:

I have a little mini doughnut pan that holds a tablespoon of pesto. You can use ice cube trays, mini muffin tins or whatever else you might have in your cupboard. Just be sure and cover each portion with extra virgin olive oil before popping them in the freezer (or the refrigerator, for that matter). This will keep the tops from turning brown before and after freezing. These little frozen nuggets will not only thaw quickly, but will add some great seasoning to my favorite Italian dishes.

Not the best photo, but like I said before, they melt quickly once removed from the molds. Here, mine are ready to return to the freezer to be used another day.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trying My Hand at a "Real" Belgian (Liege) Waffle

Hi there! Yep, it's really me. I hope you didn't give up on me. I really have no excuse for my silence other than to say that I just needed to take some time off, have some fun and pretty much shirk my blogger responsibility for a couple of months.

This post is one that I have wanted to do for a very long time. I have heard of Belgian waffles my whole life, but I have never had a real one, made by a vendor in Liege or Brussels, so I never felt experienced enough to blog about them.

Since I've never really had an authentic Belgian (or Liege) waffle, how can I write a post about them you might ask? I would like to think that because my waffle iron boasts that it is a Belgian waffle baker that qualifies me, but something tells me that just because Rival says it, doesn't make it so. So, what is a girl to do with a 6 ounce package of pearl sugar that she is dying to use? Answer is to make the best American Belgian/ Liege waffle that I can.

I found several recipes for Belgian waffles. Some of them were SUPER involved and time consuming, and if you know me, you'll know that that's not what I'm all about. I also found some that were very simple, which I suspected might not do justice to this iconic dish. Right in the middle is the couple of recipes that I decided to base mine on.

First, there was the one on the package of pearl sugar that I bought (at Sur la Table for $5.95), and then there was the one I found on Smitten Kitchen, which I always trust. Besides adding in vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract and adding a little (1/2 teaspoon) bit of cinnamon, I pretty much followed her recipe as written. Click here to see the recipe.

The first thing I found surprising about Belgian waffles is that they are really nothing like American waffles. They start from more of a bread recipe instead of a batter, and take a couple of days to be ready to cook, but the effort is definitely worth it. On this beautiful Colorado day, we had our windows open and my husband reported that coming home from his morning walk the whole neighborhood smelled like a bakery as these were cooking.

The only other thing I have to say about these waffles is to put away the butter and maple syrup. These waffles have all their flavor built in. Now, if you want to guild the lily, whip up some lightly sweetened whipped cream and serve on top. Yum, yum!

Knead the sugar pearls into the dough.

Divide the dough into 16 equal size portions.

Please don't judge me with the ugly appearance of my waffle iron. After reading several blog posts about what the sugar pearls will do to a waffle iron as they caramelized, I pulled out my old crappy one, and boy am I glad I did. This will "ef" up a girl's appliance. Oh sure, it will come off with some elbow grease, but go steal your grandma's or buy one at a garage sale and save yourself some aggravation.

It is totally not necessary, but a little whipped cream will take these waffles to a whole new level. With fall around the corner, I can just see my family munching on these inside by the fire as the wind howls outside. There has to be something good about winter weather.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Make the Most of an Unpleasant Task: Blistered Shishito Peppers With Spicy Garlic Soy Dipping Sauce

You might not know this by looking at me but I have a "permanent record" at a couple of retailers. Many years ago I got one with a store whose name I'd rather not divulge, so I'll just say it rhymes with Chuckle. I got this record by asking them to exchange a pair of $80.00 jeans that my daughter had worn just once or twice before one of the pre-distressed places in the knee gave way and ripped all the way through. Since this was not quite the look she was going for, we packed them up and took them back without our receipt.

After much discussion with their teenage management team, I was told that out of the kindness of their hearts they were going to reluctantly give us a new pair but they would mark this on my customer history and would never, ever, EVER return anything without a receipt again. This was no problem because I have never even so much as walked into their store since. Great customer service policies like that should be rewarded accordingly.

A few years later I had a misunderstanding with our mobile phone carrier that I will refer to here as "Herizon". This misunderstanding was over $160 dollars that they "mistakenly" charged to our account. Since we had paid it several months earlier, they thought they could keep it, and I thought they couldn't. The Attorney General of the great state of New Jersey broke the tie and agreed with me (tee hee hee) and they were forced to give it back. Since I won, and they provide the best reception in our mountainous region, we have very reluctantly stayed with them, but check over their confusing bills with a fine tooth comb every month.

About a year ago, I got my first IPhone from them. Along with my new phone I purchased a glass screen protector that they put on for me. Everything went well until a couple of months later when this screen protector began to loosen around the edges. I took it back to the Herizon store where I asked if I could get a new one since it wasn't performing as promised.

After being accused of "fooling with it" and "picking at it" (which, by the way I did not do) by their less than charismatic store manager, I was told that they would do it this time, but a note would be placed on my permanent record and it would never be done again. It is obvious to me that Herizon and Chuckle must have the same philosophy when it comes to customer service. Six months later, the new screen protector is barely hanging on to my phone, but I won't dare ask them for a replacement. We've only been customers of theirs for 12 years and this is obviously too much to ask.

So, this past Sunday afternoon, my daughter asked if I'd go to the Herizon store with her, I reluctantly agreed even though I would have rather taken a stick in the eye than spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon in their den of misery, but I agreed because I just love being with her.

On the way we drove by a new sushi restaurant that my daughter was familiar with, so we decided to stop and have a cocktail and a little food anticipating a long list of grumpy phone customers that were surely waiting ahead of us. Luckily, the restaurant has happy hour all day on Sundays so we ordered a couple of the best $3.00 margaritas I've ever had and a small assortment of appetizers.

Our first plate was the always safe crab rangoon which was pretty good along side its barely there spicy mango sauce, but it was our second plate of shishito peppers that was the stunner. For those who haven't had these wonderful little peppers, they kind of look like pepperoncinis. They are mostly mild, with about one in 10 packing a spicy punch. They were served blistered with a spicy garlic soy dipping sauce on the side that was light and packed with flavor.  I don't know if it was the peppers or the two margaritas that I had, but one of the two put me in such a good mood that I didn't even mind going to visit the enemy camp. I tell you, these peppers just might very well have magical powers.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Spicy Garlic Soy Sauce

Even though my directions call for you to cook these on top of the stove, I have an extra bag that I'll be skewering and cooking on my barbecue grill tonight. What a easy and healthy little appetizer.

1/3 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
Non-stick cooking spray
6 ounces shishito peppers (I found mine at Trader Joe's, but have been told that Whole Foods carries them on occasion as well)
Kosher or finishing salt (if desired)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced green onion tops or chopped cilantro

Stir together the soy, vinegar, sriracha, garlic and ginger root together in a medium size bowl; set aside until ready to serve.

Preheat a non-stick or cast iron skillet to medium.

While the pan is heating, lightly spray the peppers with the cooking spray; toss to coat. Place into the preheated pan. Cook, stirring frequently until peppers have dark brown blisters on all sides, approximately 10 minutes. Transfer peppers to serving plate. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt if desired.

Sprinkle the sauce with the green onion slices and serve with warm peppers.

Serves 2 - 3

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Remembering My Mom and Dad: Strawberry Shortcake

You know, forever is a very long time. I think about this as Mother's Day and Father's Day come and go every year. My mother died when I was just 21 and I lost my dad 15 years ago so I have been missing them for what seems like forever. I wish there was a way to get them back because even after all these years the grief is exhausting. Since I know that I am asking for the impossible, I try to keep them present by remembering funny stories, and the tastes and smells that I associate with them.

When it comes to my mom, I think about her every time I smell Estee Lauder's Youth Dew. I hated it when I was a teen, but now, even though it still isn't my favorite, it brings a smile to my face. I also think of her when I hear Karen Carpenter's voice, see the color purple, watch The Sound of Music, and taste a good cabbage roll (one of her specialties). I only wish that I would have known her as an adult. We could have had a really great time.

Thankfully, I did get to know my dad as an adult. We used to talk on the phone almost every morning. We'd solve the problems of the world, have many great laughs and always end with a sincere "I love you" before signing off. Thanks to our conversations through the years, we were able to bring resolution to my youthful rebellions, hurtful arguments and clear up any misunderstandings that haunted us. When I lost my dad, as painful as it was, there were no unresolved issues, just peace and love. Thanks for that Dad.

As I write this post it occurred to me that I should start a new tradition and have my mom's cabbage rolls for Mother's Day and maybe strawberry shortcake in honor of my dad for Father's Day. Since he was a real foodie, it is hard to pick just one dish, but I think this is a pretty good one. I remember as a kid getting really excited when he would set a little square box of frozen strawberries on the counter top to thaw and pull some little round sponge type shortcakes out of their cellophane package. We'd assemble it all and top it off with a big swirl of Reddi Whip and tuck in.

Even though this is a fond childhood memory, to be honest I was never really crazy about those premade shortcakes. Even though they were adequate as a platform for frozen strawberries and a HUGE tower of canned whipped cream, I always knew that there had to be something better out there.

A few more years than I care to admit to, and about 10,000 shortcakes later, I just so happened to find what is in my opinion the best shortcake known to woman. . . or man. By the way, these are wonderful as scones for your next tea party too.

Even though I can take credit for the strawberry "sauce", oh how I wish I could also take credit for writing the recipe for these beautiful shortcakes, but I can't. This recipe actually belongs to Sur la Table. I was fortunate enough to have tasted these at their Memorial Day Cooking class and knew that I'd have to pass them on to you.

I was actually hoping to be politically correct and just provide the ingredients and a link to their site for the method. Although they do have a very similar and delicious strawberry shortcake recipe on their site, it is a bit different than the one I am giving you here today, so instead you will get my adapted version of this scrumptious little sweet biscuit.

If  you'd like to say thanks to Sur la Table for this awesome recipe by visiting their site, or to see more of their recipes (and maybe do a little shopping), please click here.

Strawberry "Sauce" For Shortcakes

2 pounds ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced into bite size pieces, divided
3 - 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water

Place 1 cup of the prepared strawberries into a small sauce pan set over medium high heat. Stir in the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer, smashing the berries with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from the heat, cover and cool.

Once cooled, place remaining strawberries in a medium size bowl. Pour the cooked and cooled strawberries over the berries in the bowl. Toss well; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble, pour equal amounts of the strawberry sauce over fresh shortcakes (recipe follows), top with sweetened whipped cream and serve.

Serves 6 - 8

Shortcakes (adapted from Sur la Table's Memorial Day Cooking)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup (8 ounces) chilled heavy whipping cream
1 beaten egg for brushing tops
1 tablespoon sanding or granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and process until combined. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and pulse 4 to 5 times, until mixture is moistened and starts to come together in large clumps.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, gently squeeze the pieces of dough together until they form a nice dough. Gently pat into a 4" x 8" rectangle. Cut the dough into 8 squares and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle evenly with the sanding or granulated sugar. Place shortcakes on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake until golden brown, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool.

Makes 8

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Small Birthday Celebration: Israeli Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

For those of you with children out there, this one is for you.  You will know exactly what I mean when I say that my kids are big now but they will always be my babies. I now find myself in a role very new to me, being a yes girl. Yes, it has taken me a couple of years to realize that they no longer need my opinion, they just want my support and acceptance.

Before we arrived at this crossroad I gave them LOTS of advice. Most importantly in my opinion, to find someone who loves and has a good relationship with their parent of the opposite sex. For these are the people who will teach them how to love and respect themselves and those they choose to share their life with. There was also that bit about being smart with your money because money is freedom, and some other stuff about not desecrating your body with tattoos, but we'll save that for another day. Anyway, they listened to a couple of things I had to say, and hopefully filed the rest away for later.

One of the things my daughter has done right by my teaching was picking a sweet guy to spend her time with. He has a college degree, a good job, makes her laugh and, wait for it . . . loves and respects his mom and grandmother so much that it is more than even I could ask for.

I like him so much that I swallowed my pride and opened the doors of our new, old house to his family to host a birthday party for him. In addition to trying to put a spit shine on the unfinished rooms of my house, I drove myself crazy trying to come up with a fantastic dinner menu special enough for the birthday boy and his wonderful family that I adore too.

I considered too many menus to even count. I went from chicken tikka to meatballs in goulash sauce to plain old hamburgers. You know how it is, I wanted the menu to be easy to prepare, a bit homey (to give the appearance of it being effortless), delicious (of course) and something trendy (but not too trendy) with maybe just a touch of old school to look clever. because this is what I think people expect from a food blogger.

So in the end I landed up deciding on an old school shish kabob with a Greek salad, au gratin potatoes (for the less adventurous in the group) and my take on a dish that I recently discovered at a cooking class (this is where the clever bit comes in), Israeli couscous with toasted pine nuts and golden raisins. This dish even won over this raisin hater with it's plump little bursts of sweet amidst the salty pearls of tiny pasta and the nutty crunch of toasted pine nuts. Top this all off with a white teddy bear birthday cake made from an old Wilton pan that I used on my children's first birthdays (my daughter's request) and you have a successful birthday dinner.

This dish is really super easy to make and it is a true crowd pleaser. It is at its best when served warm but it is pretty good at room temperature or chilled. Since it doesn't have ingredients like eggs or mayo, it can also sit on the buffet table a little bit longer than lots of dishes making it a great for a potluck.

Israeli Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

Feel free to make this your own. It is great with dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, toasted slivered almonds or any other ingredients you prefer.

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons light olive oil
2 cups Israeli or pearled couscous (the big stuff)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring chicken broth and oil to a boil in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir in couscous and bring it back to a boil. Give everything a good stir before removing it from the heat and covering with a tight fitting lid; set aside for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the pine nuts, raisins and chopped parsley; stir well. Replace the lid and it let sit another couple of minutes before serving.

Serves 6 - 8.

To toast pine nuts, place them in a small frying pan that has been preheated over medium heat. Stir often until they start to turn golden brown. This same method is good for any type of nut. It is just that easy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Saucy Mama Blogger Recipe Contest 2015: Asian Fusion Steak Tacos With Ribbon Slaw and Sriracha Mayo

It was about this time last year that I posted my entry into Saucy Mama's blogger recipe contest for a chance to win a golden ticket to the World Food Championships. My recipe for my Honey Dijon Chicken and Bacon Wafflewiches ultimately held their own against the other recipes and took home the crown.

A few months later I found myself in Las Vegas competing against a crowd of other cooks at the World Food Championships. The competition was stiff and after two cooking rounds I landed up taking a somewhat respectable 13th place. Since only the first 10 places advanced to the category finals, I was free to visit with my many contesting friends who were there, and my hosts, Suzie Barhyte and Colette Harris from Saucy Mama.

I was excited to finally meet Suzie after working with her company on a couple of occasions. I really admire her a great deal. She has done what many of us would have liked to have done ourselves. She found something she was passionate about, and with a lot of hard work and dedication, made it a great success. Suzie's story epitomizes the American dream.

Four days after her high school graduation Suzie married her husband Jan. Shortly thereafter they started a family and became the parents of three sons Chris, Mike and Jeff. In 1979, they opened Swift and Martin Station Deli in Pendleton, Oregon, intending to sell quality meats, cheeses, soups and desserts. The only thing that they found lacking in their new business was a good European mustard, so they starting making their own from an old family recipe.

The Barhyte's mustard became so popular that by 1982 they started their own mustard business. In 1984 they opened a factory near the mustard fields of the Willamette Valley under the name of Old Fashioned Foods, making sweet and sour, stone ground, jalapeno, dill, horseradish and pub mustards.

In 1994 they moved their business back to Pendleton, where Suzie started creating marinades, and salad dressings, setting the stage for their hugely successful Saucy Mama line of gourmet sauces and condiments.

Today, Barhyte Foods and Saucy Mama brands are still family run. Oldest son and CEO, Chris handles sales, while Mike is in charge of production. Son Jeff works elsewhere, but is always on hand to help out with technical issues. Jan Barhyte oversees the company's 52 employees and Suzie is still in charge of product development. Annual sales now exceed $10 million. Not bad for a business that got its start in a 5 gallon Hobart mixer.

I am so happy that I got to spend some time in Las Vegas with Suzie and her Marketing and PR Manager, Colette. Besides both of them being gracious and genuinely kind, I got to see the personal side of Suzie and hear in her own words how much she loves her company and values her employees. Success couldn't happen to a nicer person.

So here we are, almost one year later and it is time for Saucy Mama's blogger recipe contest. I considered going out on top and leaving this year's contest to a new group of bloggers, but I just couldn't miss out on the opportunity to pass on the good word about Saucy Mama's delicious products.

The only problem joining in this blogger event was deciding which one (or ones) of Saucy Mama's products I wanted to use in my recipe. Somehow when I chose my sauces from her extensive line of products, I chose Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing twice. I took this as a sign and opened one of them first. The flavor is robust, slightly spicy with just the right amount of sweet, and a spark of ginger. I loved it. Decision made.

Since you can't go wrong pairing this sauce with any type of protein, and since I had a whole beef tenderloin for a dinner party in the fridge, I portioned some out and started marinating. The steak turned out tender and flavorful and totally perfect on its own, but with all the beautiful spring produce in the markets I decided on adding something fresh. Since I wanted my dish to be simple, I shaved some ribbons from a few vegetables, wrapped everything up in a warm tortilla, and my Asian Fusion Steak Tacos were born.

So fingers crossed, Suzie will like this year's recipe as much as last year's and I will be packing my bags for Florida in November with a golden ticket in my hand. If not, I will be cheering on this year's winner as they vie for the big win representing Saucy Mama at the World Food Championships.

While we wait for Suzie and Jan to choose a winner for this year's blogger contest, they have offered a little gift pack of their sauces for me to give away to one of my US readers. Since I like to keep things simple (i.e. no Rafflecopter, standing on your head or giving me your first born) all you have to do to enter is leave me a comment. Yep, that's it. Just make sure I am able to contact you to let you know you've won. If not, I'll have to choose someone else and I hate doing that. I'll choose my winner one week from today, on June 2nd. Good luck!

Oh, by the way, if you don't have Google+ and can't comment here, you can leave a comment on Savoury Table's Facebook page and I'll throw your name in the hat for the giveaway.

One last important thing! To learn more about Saucy Mama, see a list of products, and order a few for yourself, please click here.

Asian Fusion Steak Tacos With Ribbon Slaw and Sriracha Mayo

1 pound beef tenderloin or other tender cut
1/2 cup Saucy Mama Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 - 3 teaspoons sriracha (depending on how spicy you like things)
1/4 of an English cucumber
1 large carrot
3 - 4 nice big asparagus spears
6 very thin red onion slices
1 red jalapeno or Fresno pepper, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
6 taco size flour tortillas
1 handful of cilantro

Place beef in a medium size bowl. Pour Saucy Mama Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing over the top. Turn meat over to coat; cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, turning over a couple of times during marinating.

Combine mayonnaise and sriracha in a small bowl; mix well, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat a frying pan or outdoor charcoal grill to medium high (I love using my cast iron griddle for this). If using a very lean cut of meat like I did, you'll need to spray your pan with a little bit of cooking spray. Remove the meat from the marinade and place onto the hot griddle. Sear meat on each side until it reaches desired doneness. We like ours medium rare so it took about 5 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat, cover with foil and let the meat rest for about 5 minutes before slicing into 1/4" thick slices across the grain. Keep the meat warm until ready to use.

Wash cucumber, carrot and asparagus spears. Remove any rough outside skin from them if needed. With a potato or vegetable peeler, shave each vegetable in 3" sections until it is a pile of "ribbons" (be sure to save the asparagus tips for vegetable stock or stir fry).  Set ribbons aside, tossing with lime juice just before serving.

Heat tortillas in the microwave or warm oven just until warm. To assemble, place a small dollop of the sriracha mayo in the center of the warm tortilla. Spread the mayo in a line down the center of the tortilla. Top mayo with equal amounts of the beef, ribbon salad, Fresno or jalapeno slices and cilantro. Fold in half and enjoy. Serve with more Saucy Mama Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing and lime wedges on the side.

Makes 6 tacos.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Something From Nothing #33: Basic Risotto

I wasn't a big risotto maker until recently. I wasn't even a big risotto eater until recently when I discovered how delicious it is, and how easy it is to make. The basic dish is little more than rice and broth which is cooked slowly, and built on from there.

Risotto begins with the starchy, short grained Arborio rice, named after the town in Italy in which it is grown. Affordable and widely available in most well stock grocery stores, this rice is starchier and creamier than most other types of rice. It is the cooking process that makes it just that little bit different, and to some, just that little bit intimidating.

There's really not that much skill required to make a decent risotto, just a little bit of time and patience. As you can see by my photos, once you get the basic recipe down you can add anything you would like to it. The day I made this I had some odds and ends in the fridge which I threw in and made a restaurant quality meal in just minutes.

So take my advice here. Go buy some Aborio rice and some vegetable or chicken stock and keep them in your cupboard for a rainy day. Then, on said rainy day, cook it up and clean out the fridge and the freezer, throwing all the good things you find on top. You can thank me later, because you know you aren't supposed to talk with your mouth full.

Basic Risotto

1 tablespoon oil
1 - 1/2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock (2/3 of a cup can be replaced with white wine if desired), warm or at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is heated, add oil and rice. Stir to coat rice with oil.

When the rice is coated and everything is good and hot, add broth a couple of ladles (the ladle I used was 6 ounces) at a time, stirring in after each addition. Pan should remain hot enough that the stock sizzles when it is added, but not so hot that it immediately evaporates and boils vigorously so, adjust your stove temperature accordingly.

Once broth is absorbed and the rice separates for a couple of seconds when a wooden spoon is dragged through it, add a couple of more ladles full and repeat the process until most or all of the stock is added. This should take about 20 - 30 minutes. Rice should be creamy, yet sightly firm in the center when done.

One little note here: Some people think that they need to stir their risotto constantly. Even though I do stir frequently, I don't think that it needs the constant stirring to be great. So settle down and answer the telephone. It will be OK.

Add butter to finish rice, stirring well to combine.

At this point you can add any spices, herbs and/or other ingredients that you desire. I like to add a nice big handful of Parmesan or Asiago cheese, garlic, sauteed shallots, fresh or frozen peas, prosciutto, bacon, asparagus, mushrooms, or, well, you get the idea. You are only limited by your own imagination.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer