Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My First Hot Dish

I have been living in the Far North for the last 8 years.  I have never (1) had a true hot dish or (2) made a true hot dish.  Now, to me a casserole is something like jambalaya or baked ziti or something along those lines.  A hot dish (for those not from the Northern part of the US) is a combination of a starch (potatoes - typically of the fried form or macaroni), a vegetable (or another starch like corn that people call a vegetable), a protein (99% of the time it is ground meat), cheese and the all important can of condensed Campbell's soup. 

How did I come to make a hot dish tonight?  Well, TS had an event to go to tonight and would not be home until late - as in 2 hours after I got home from work.  I asked him what he would like for dinner knowing that I had 2 hours to prepare a good meal when he gets home. (Which is another discussion for another day - the whole men getting home and having a hot meal prepared, while the women never get that - or at least I don't).  I suggested another of my Mexican cooking challenges, a lasagna (which is NOT a hot dish), or something else that would be more on the "gourmet" side of things.  He said, since it has been so cold, and one of his friends posted a hot dish recipe online, he would like that hot dish for dinner.  Since I told him he could have anything, I could not really go back on my work, could I?

So, after work today I braved the dropping temperatures (it was a windchill of -9 when I got out of my car) to buy the ingredients for a Southwestern Tatertot Hot Dish.  Here is what you need:


1 bag of tatertots
1 can Fiesta Cheese Soup (of the Campbell's condensed variety)
1 can of corn (that "vegetable")
1 can Rotel
1 small can chopped jalepenos
8oz sour cream
1 lb ground meat (I used 93/7)
1 c. shredding colby jack cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin - split
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika

Now I had some of that at home (mainly the spices), but the rest was bought today.  I must admit when it is that cold and windy outside, something hearty like this sounds really good.

While TS was enjoying himself, networking with other lawyers, and braving the weather to get back home, I prepared the meal.  (TS takes the bus so he really did "brave the weather")


Preheat oven to 400 and spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray

1. In a skillet brown the ground meat with 1/2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp cumin, pinch of salt.
2. Once the meat is browned, take it off the heat to cool a bit.
3. In a large bowl, combine the corn, Rotel, chopped jalepenos, Fiesta Cheese Soup, and sour cream - stirring after each addition.
4. Add 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper and mix well.
5. Fold in the frozen Tatertots.
6. Fold in the ground meat.
7. Spread the mixture into prepared 9x13 dish.
8. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.
9. Bake for 30 mins.
10. Let rest for 5-10 mins and Enjoy!

And I must say, this recipe was the perfect amount of spicy and hearty and warmth to fill us up on a cold, cold night.  TS even had 2 helpings!  We cannot wait for leftovers tomorrow night.  I must say, I now understand why a Southwestern Tatertot Hot Dish is a comfort food for those of us living in the land of below 0 weather. 

Note: If you need a vegetable, like I do (thank you dad for always requiring a vegetable with every meal), carrots were a good option.

Note 2: I did a Mexican cooking challenge a few weeks ago that I did not post about.  I will update that this weekend.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hello 2013 - Back to the Mexican Cooking Challenge

Now the holidays are over, I can get back to trying new recipes and posting them for you to read.  I have even gone back to attempting this Mexican cooking challenge.

It was NYE - You have to have Wine, veggies and hummus, right?

I started back on New Years Eve with a guacamole recipe that got the seal of approval from TS's brother Greg-with-two-g's.  The guacamole recipe was from my Saveur magazine Mexican cooking challenge. So, part 5 of the challenge was guacamole.  I intended to follow the recipe exactly, but part of it got left out in all the rush of New Years Eve.  See, I made the guac after a long and hard game of broomball (boot hockey).  I had pre-chopped all of the necessary ingredients, put them in Tupperware containers and then brought them to the party.  Guac, to me, isn't as good if you make in a few hours in advance.  It is one of those foods which must be made when you are ready to eat it.  I did not bring the recipe with me, but it was so easy I thought I had it memorized.  And - I forgot an ingredient.

My chopped garlic was in a tiny tupperware container (it was only 2 cloves of chopped garlic), and that got left in the bottom of the bag that I brought the rest of the ingredients. Oh well. Now  you know, if you leave out the garlic, no one is going to miss it and it will still be an amazing guacamole.

Oh and a I also added an extra avocado since I knew there were going to be a bunch of people eating it.

The real recipe can be found here.

My version of this guacamole:

¼ cup finely chopped white onion
2 tbsp. minced cilantro  (I have freeze dried cilantro - so I used that)
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
4 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1" chunks
1 plum tomato, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Tortilla chips, for serving

1. Chop the onion, cilantro, serrano chiles.
         NOTE: it is VERY important to take out the seeds from the chiles.  
         NOTE 2: even after washing your hands a million times, DO NOT attempt to put contacts in.  Stupid me tried (I have done it before with jalapenos, but I forgot that serranos have even more spicy oil than jalapenos).
2. In a large bowl mash together with a fork the onion, cilantro and chiles.
3. Add avocados and tomato to onion mixture and mash, trying to keep several large chunks of avocado.
4. Add lime juice and stir a few times just to blend in.

Enjoy!  Like my neighbor Jenny did:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chicken Sausage Penne with Broccoli

Every now and then I do create a recipe from scratch.  This dinner was one of them and it was a success.  TS and I purchased chicken sausage from Sam's the other week which means we have an abundance of chicken sausage and I need to think of creative ways to use it.  Luckily it freezes very well. 

For dinner the other night I made a healthy, quick pasta dish using the chicken sausage.  TS said I could definitely make this dish again.  Which, in TS's language, is it is very good.  If a dish isn't so good, but he liked it, he would say it is a "few times a year meal."  It is funny how you get to know your spouse's language the longer you are with them. 

Here is the recipe for 2 people:

3 links chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 cups chopped broccoli, pre-steamed
1/4 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.25 cups penne pasta
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

1. Cook sliced chicken sausage over medium high heat in a 12in skillet until browned, remove from pan and set aside.
2. While the chicken sausage is cooking, start water for pasta to boil.  Add pasta once boiled and cook for 7 mins. 
3. In the same skillet you cooked the chicken sausage, add olive oil and heat for 1 min. 
4. Slowly add white wine to pan, scraping the bottom of pan to loosen all bits of chicken sausage from bottom of the pan.
5. Cook wine until it boils, then add onion, garlic, broccoli, and salt and pepper to taste and cook until onion begins to soften, about 3-4 mins.
6. Add chicken sausage to pan and toss all together.
7. Drain pasta, once cooked, reserving 1/4 cup water.  Add pasta water and pasta to chicken sausage mixture cook for 2 mins.
8. Add Parmesan cheese to pasta and sausage mixture and toss together and cook for another minute.
9. Serve!

Another healthy meal that takes about half hour.  Perfect for a week night!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

If you know me, you know besides baking and cooking another passion of mine is space and NASA and the privatization of the space industry.  That being said, while I am writing this post, I have NASATV on so I can watch the release of the Dragon capsule from the International Space Station. I provided you with a link so I can spend my time on this blog talking about food, and you can read about the Dragon when you have time.

The other night I was in a rush to get home, make dinner and get back out.  I also wanted to make something different for dinner.  Typically I would turn to my shrimp and pasta recipe for a night like this, but I was not in the mood for that.  I had read the recipe for spaghetti carbonara in my latest issue of Savuer and decided this recipe would be really easy to make on a night like it was set up to be.  And I was right.  It only took me a half hour from the time I got home to the time we had food on the table.  A quick, easy and gourmet-type of recipe.  These are the kinds of recipes I like.

I must also thank TS for making this recipe happen.  He had to go to three different grocery stores to find pancetta.  He found it at Kowalski's.  He could not find it at Cub or Rainbow.  You could also probably find it at Lunds or Byerly's. 

The recipe, as I said, came from Saveur.  I basically followed the recipe in Saveur.  I did not have parsley, so I could not add that to the recipe.  I also cut the recipe in half because it was for just the two of us, and the recipe makes enough for four.  I will provide the recipe as I made it. If you are making it for 4, 6, 8 people just adjust the ingredients accordingly.

(for 2 people)
1.5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
5 oz. pancetta, cut into ½″-long x ¼″-square strips
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 lb. dried spaghetti
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan & Romano mix
1 egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat AND start a pot of water for spaghetti to boil.
1a. When water has begun to boil, add pasta and cook for 7 mins.
2. Add garlic, and cook until golden, about 1 minute.
3. Remove and discard majority of  garlic.
4. Add pancetta, and cook until edges are crisp, about 6 minutes.
5. While pancetta is cooking, in a large bowl, whisk together Parmesan/Romano mix and egg.
6. Add wine, and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.
7. Remove pan from heat. 
8. When pasta is completed cooking, drain, and reserve ¼ cup pasta water.
9. Slowly drizzle in reserved pasta water into the egg/cheese mixture and whisk until smooth.
10. Add pancetta/wine mixture to egg/cheese mixture and stir together.
11. Add spaghetti and season with fresh ground black pepper and a pinch of salt.
12. Toss to combine, and serve immediately.  

Well, the Dragon was successfully released from the ISS and is on its way back to Earth.  It should arrive off the coast of the Baja peninsula this afternoon.  

Enjoy this recipe!  It is a good one to make.  


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mexican Cooking Challenge Part #4

TS said "That dinner was awesome!"  That is what I needed to hear after I spent from 430p to 730p on my feet in the kitchen, then from 8p to 845p in the kitchen.  Now, not all of that was spent making Mexican food, but I just sat down and I'm exhausted.  There is something about cold weather that makes me want to live in the kitchen.  In the last 24 hours I have baked chocolate & peanut butter chip cookies and banana muffins.  Then I made Mexican food from Saveur for dinner.  Then I put together an egg bake for brunch tomorrow morning.  I really need to buy a cushioned mat for my kitchen floor.  (Or if someone wants to buy one for me for Chanukkah/Christmas I would gladly accept that gift). 

This blog post is about the Mexican meal I prepared tonight, not my cookies or muffins or egg bake.  I figured it was a cold Saturday, TS and I had nothing going on, so why not make a three part meal?  The meal we ate tonight included pickled jalapeno peppers and Huarache con Carne Asada (homemade corn tortillas with red salsa and steak).  The huarache required me to make a red salsa.  I now have a little bit of salsa verde, a lot of enchilada sauce and a lot of salsa roja in my fridge.  I think I may need to stop trying new foods until we eat all this salsa. 

Like the past meals, the thing that took the longest to make was the salsa.  Otherwise the meal was really easy.  I started off by making the pickled jalapeno peppers earlier in the afternoon.  That was SUPER easy.  The best part about pickling is you make it and let it sit for a while.  Which means that after I made it I took a nap, watched TV, played on the computer then baked and made dinner.  If you like spicy foods, then these pickled jalapenos are for you.  TS even said they were so spicy he could only eat one.  I thought they were spicy, but then again I'm that person that puts a slice of jalapeno on each of my nachos when I go to a baseball game. 

Here is the recipe for pickle jalapenos:  I did not change the Saveur recipe at all. 

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced crosswise
1 clove garlic, minced
10 green jalapeños, pricked with a paring knife
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 cups water
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 dried bay leaf


1. Heat olive oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until barely tender, about 3 minutes.
3. Add jalapeños to onion mixture, and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes.
4. Add vinegar, salt, oregano, bay leaf, and 2 cups water, and bring to a boil.
5. Once boiling turn off heat and let peppers sit on stove until they reach room temperature (about 1 hour)
6. Either each once cooled, or put into a container and store in refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. 

Part two of this meal was the salsa.  Like I said, this took the most time only because stuff had to sit, but I was able to do multiple things at the same time.

Similar to the pickled peppers, I followed the Saveur recipe exactly. 


10 dried guajillo chiles
6 dried árbol chiles
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 plum tomatoes, cored
1 small white onion, halved
Kosher salt, to taste  


1. Heat a 12" skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add guajillo and árbol chiles, and cook, turning as needed, until lightly toasted all over, about 1 minute.
3 Transfer peppers to a bowl, and cover with boiling water.
4. Cover the bowl and let the peppers sit until chiles are soft, about 20 minutes.
5. While chiles are sitting,  return skillet to high heat.
6. Add tomatoes to skillet, cook for 3 mins. (turning every so often throughout the process)
7. Add onions to tomatoes and cook for 6 mins. (turning when you turn the tomatoes throughout the process)
8. Add garlic to skillet with tomatoes and onions and cook for 6 mins.  (turning when you turn the tomatoes and onions)
9.  Once the tomatoes, onions and garlic are blackened in some spots on each side, remove skillet from heat.
10. When chiles are done, drain chiles, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid.
11. Remove stems and seeds from both the guajillo and arbol chiles (yes the arbol chiles have a lot of seeds)
12. Put chiles and reserved soaking liquid to a blender.
13. Add tomatoes, onions and garlic to peppers in the blender.
14. Blend until smooth, about 2 mins.
15. Set salsa aside and let cool to room temperature.

This may seem like a lot of steps, but really it is fairly simple to make.  The whole salsa took me about 30 mins to make.  Part of the problem I had was added the chiles to the blender then read that I needed to de-seed them.  So, I had to get them all out of the blender and remove the seeds.  It does take some time to remove the seeds.  Just be REALLY careful when you are removing the seeds.  If you have a cut on your hand or you touch your eyes/face/etc. it will burn really badly.  Make sure you wash your hands very well when you are done removing the seeds from the chiles before you move on.

Now on to the main part of the meal.  I did change this recipe up a bit, but only by decreasing the amount of oil I used.  Also, this recipe serves 4 people and it was only TS and I eating, so I halved the ingredients to serve 2 people.  I will give you the recipe for 2 people.  That way if you want to make it for 4, 6 or 8 people just multiple the amounts by the appropriate factor.

The Saveur recipe can be found here.


3/4 cups masa harina
3/4. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup warm water
1.5 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup salsa roja
1 oz. queso Cotija
2 (3-oz.) sirloin steaks, pounded to 1/8" thickness
1/2 medium white onion, cut into ¼"-thick slices
1/2 Large can sliced nopales (sliced cactus), drained and rinsed
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled, for serving


1. Make the tortillas: Combine masa harina, salt, and 1 cup warm water in a large bowl
2. Stir until a smooth dough forms.
3. Knead dough in bowl until very smooth but not sticky, about 2 minutes.
4. Divide dough into half and shape each into a 7"-long, ¼"-thick oval.
5. Heat 1/2 tbsp. oil in a 12" cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
6. Add 1 tortilla to skillet, and cook until blackened in spots on bottom, about 3 minutes.
7. Flip and immediately spread with ¼ cup salsa and ½ oz. cheese; continue cooking until blackened in spots on bottom and cooked through, about 2 minutes more.
8. Transfer to a serving plate.
9. Repeat with other tortilla.
10. Return skillet to high heat, and add 1/2 tbsp. oil.
11. Season steaks with salt, and add 2 steaks to skillet
12. Cook, turning once, until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 3 minutes.
13. Place one steak over each tortilla.
14. Return skillet to high heat.
15. Add onion, and cook, stirring often, until just tender, about 5 minutes.
16. Add cactus, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
17. Divide cactus and onions among steaks
18. Serve immediately with an avocado half on each plate.

A lot of steps, but the whole process took me 15 minutes.  Things move really quickly with this one.  TS said this one was one of his favorite dishes I have made so far.  I am batting 100 with this cooking challenge.  We'll see how it goes as we move further into the fall and winter.

I hope you are enjoying these posts.  I must say I am loving learning how to make Mexican food!  This food is so different from what we get when we go out for Mexican food.  It actually is fairly healthy too.  There is virtually no fat in anything besides the oil that I used to cook the tortillas and meat.  And in the end, I even reduced that.  So, here's to good, reasonably healthy eating!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Taste of Fall: Applesauce

Every year for the last seven years I have gone apple picking.  It started as a tradition with my sister-in-law when she was a junior in high school.  Once she moved away for college, my friend Erin started going apple picking with me.  Erin and I have gone every year since.  It is one of my favorite fall traditions.  I hope that I am able to continue apple picking in the fall as life moves forward.

We always pick a peck of apples.  According to Wikipedia, a peck is equal to two dry gallons or a quarter of a bushel.  I must admit, this makes no sense to me.  Why doesn't a peck equal a specific mass?  Maybe that is just the metric-system lover in me.  Anyway, here is what two one-peck bags of apples looks like:

Erin and I decided this year that we were going to be smart and only pick Cortland apples.  Cortlands are red apples which are tart and crisp and perfect for baking.  Since we only really use the apples for baking, we felt only picking the baking ones would be the best use of our pecks.  I definitely picked enough apples to last me through the next week or two of baking. 

This morning, I asked TS what I should make with the apples.  He asked me how hard it would be to make applesauce.  I told him, probably not difficult at all, if I used my Crock Pot.  I was definitely correct that it would not be difficult.  This could not have been an easier food to make.  Because it is so easy, I may never buy applesauce again.  TS even said it smelled so good that he "wanted to eat the house." 

Here is your super easy Crock Pot applesauce recipe:

Makes 3 small jars.

5 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1/4 c. water


1. Place peeled, cored and quartered apples into the Crock Pot.
2. Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar over all the apples so all apples are evenly covered with sugar and cinnamon.
3. Pour vanilla over all the apples.
4. Pour water into the Crock Pot.
5. Cook apples for 4-5 hours on low.
6. When apples can be mashed with a fork, they are done.  Mash the apples until desired consistency.
7. Place in a separate container (I used jars) and set to cool. 

See?  How easy is that?!  Enjoy your taste of fall with this recipe.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mexican Cooking Challenge #3

Last night I made meal number three from the Saveur Mexican cooking issue.  I had to make this recipe last night because one of the ingredients is this close to being out of season and after this week will be completely unavailable until next August/September.  That would not work with the fact that I would like to make all of these recipes before spring sets in.  The ingredient at issue - squash blossoms.

Squash blossoms?  Yes, they are the flower that comes before a squash grows.  Yes, the flower is eatable.  In this recipe it is more decorative than flavorful.  But, I did not know that until we ate them last night. You are probably wondering what I made with squash blossoms.  Soup.  Sinus clearing spicy, chicken soup.  This recipe was actually really easy to make.  So, if you have a cold and are not feeling well, this chicken soup is spicy enough to make that cold go away.  You really don't need the squash blossoms to make this recipe, but it was required as Saveur wrote the recipe, so I used them.

Before I continue, I must say "Thank you" to my neighbor Jenny for the squash blossoms.  She and her sons are growing squash this year.  She allowed me to go into her backyard and pick as many as I wanted.  So, thank you Jenny.  I dedicate this soup recipe to you.

 I must also let you know that I partially made a second recipe.  I made a tomatillo salsa that is supposed to be served with an avocado.  I had everything in the house, but when it got around to the avocado, it was not quite ripe (I forgot to tell TS how to tell if an avocado is ripe when he went grocery shopping).  Not ripe avocados are not tasty.  I went ahead and served the salsa with the queso fresco and tortillas as a side to the soup, but I will have to make this recipe again so I say I made the complete recipe.  I will give you the recipe for the tomatillo salsa in the mean time because it was really good.  It was actually kind of mild and a nice addition as a side to the soup. 

First the soup recipe: Caldo Xochitl con Flor de Calabaza (Squash Blossom Soup)
(The Saveur recipe can be found here)

Serves 6-8

8 cups chicken stock
8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups crumbled queso fresco
1 cup cooked rice
8 chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
½ medium white onion, minced
1 cup roughly torn squash blossoms
½ cup minced cilantro leaves

1. Bring stock and chicken to a boil over medium-high heat
2. Once boiled, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
3. While chicken is cooking in the broth, assemble the queso fresco, the chipotles, serrano chiles, onion, squash blossoms and cilantro.  As each one is chopped, minced or torn, put that ingredient in a separate bowl.
4. When chicken is cooked, remove chicken and transfer to a bowl and finely shred chicken.
5. To serve: divide chicken, cheese, rice, both chiles, and onion among serving bowls; top with squash blossoms, and then ladle hot broth into bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Now for the tomatillo salsa recipe:

8oz. tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
⅓ cup plus 2 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup minced white onion
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt, to taste

  1. Bring tomatillos and 4 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan; cook until tomatillos are just soft, about 5 minutes. 
2. Drain and set tomatillos aside to cool.
3. In a food processor, put tomatillos, 1/3 cup cilantro, 2 tbsp onion, serrano chile, garlic and salt.
4. Pulse food processor until slightly chunky (about 20 pulses).

I will probably make the full recipe, as posted on Saveur, later this week when the avocado has ripened.