Monday, September 12, 2011

Bringing new life to leftovers: Taco salad

With just two people in the house, no matter what I make, I always have leftovers.  And sometimes I get sick of eating those leftovers all the time.  So every once and a while, I will take my leftovers and turn them into something else.  Today I took leftovers from my taco dinner last week and turned them into a lovely taco salad.

Taco Salad
Makes one serving
Start to finish: 5 minutes

3 oz leftover taco meat
1/2 oz of shredded cheddar
5 tortilla chips
1 small tomato, diced
2 cups lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup chunky salsa
jalepeno slices (optional)

The assembly of this is pretty straight forward.  Microwave the taco meat for 30 seconds.

Add the meat and cheese to the lettuce you will have chopped up into bite size pieces.

Don't forget those crunchy tortilla chips.  Crumble them up into bite size pieces for added crunch.

Mmm it looks good already doesn't it?

For some added color top this salad with tomatoes.  Then for extra spice add jalepenos and the salsa of your choice.  Using salsa as your dressing will be just as flavorful as regular dressing with a fraction of the calories,, making this salad healthier than some.
Such a delicious way to revamp leftovers, and it will probably take you less time to make than it did for me to make this post.  Enjoy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pickled Peppers

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers...ok I'll stop.  I don't know if you've ever had something pickled that wasn't a pickle, but I'm here to tell you, everything is better pickled.  Even green beans.  Oh how I love my Aunt Connie's pickled green beans.  But I digress.

I have eaten many jars of pickled bounty so I figured it was time I finally learned how to pickle things myself.  But of course, I didn't want to invest in all those fancy canning contraptions.  I also didn't want to buy a dozen mason jars.  So, I searched.  And searched. I finally came across a recipe that didn't require you to "can" your pickles the old fashioned way.  I also found enough people online who said you didn't HAVE to use glass jars that I decided my plastic jar would suffice (but if you have mason jars on hand, by all means use those).

Pickled Peppers
Makes 2 large jars
Start to finish: 1 week (15 minutes prep)

1 lb peppers (I used Italian peppers but any pepper will do)
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic

Cut the peppers into rings that are about an inch thick.
Bring all the other ingredients to a boil in a saucepan.  When the liquid starts to boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.

While that is going on, place your peppers into your container of choice.

After 5 minutes, pour the pickling liquid over the peppers.

Cover tightly with a lid and let the container cool on your counter.  

Once it's cooled, put it in the refrigerator for A WEEK!  Yes, a week.  You have to let those pickling juices do their work!  I must also put a disclaimer here that because these are not pickled the official way, you have to keep them in the refrigerator.  These are not the kind of pickles that you can keep on the shelf.  Unless you like botchulism.  But if you keep them in the fridge you'll be fine.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good Ol' Fashioned Tacos

When was the last time you had just a plain old taco?  I'm talkin' ground beef, lettuce, cheese, maybe a little salsa, all in a crunchy taco shell.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Tacos are such a simple meal, but I think because they are so simple, that people are always looking for ways to jazz them up.  You can get all kinds of tacos these days.  Fish tacos, chicken tacos, vegetarian tacos, soft tacos, taco salad...they add avocados and switch up cheeses... the taco has a major identity crisis these days.  So, in honor of the taco and all its greatness, I decided to make just plain old tacos, which is not to say they are boring, just under-appretiated.

Beef Tacos
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings

1 lb lean ground beef
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp onion flakes
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 cup water
1 box Old El Paso Taco shells
lettuce, cheddar, and salsa for topping

Brown one pound of ground beef in a large skillet that has been put over medium-high heat.  While the meat is browning, mix all the spices in a small bowl and chop your lettuce into strips.

When the meat is browned, drain the excess fat through a colander.

Return the meat to the pan and add the water and seasoning.  Stir until everything is intermixed.  

Bring the mixture to a boil and it should thicken into a meaty sauce rather quickly, couple minutes tops.

That's it!  Throw in some refried beans and some chips and salsa, and dinner is READY!  

A note on taco shells.  Did you know that it is possible to consume whole grain corn?  Yes, corn, like wheat, is considered a whole grain when the whole kernel is used.  For more information on how this works and what to look for, see this lovely post from one of my favorite blogs, 100 Days of Real Food.  

In the meantime, allow me to recommend Old El Paso Taco Shells, which among its four ingredients, includes ground whole kernel corn.

I hope you enjoy your simple taco dinner!  I know I did.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

 I know I have been clamoring over summer for a while now, but my true love is fall.  Cool days, warm flavors, hearty food.  That is fall to me.  My husband will tell you that I have been dying for a bowl of soup since July, though everytime I have deemed it seasonally inappropriate.  But now it's September, which means two things: I can finally pull out my fall decorations (my house gets kind of lonely between 4th of July and Labor Day) and I can start putting pumpkin puree in just about anything I see fit.

These muffins have a whole wheat twist to the version I have made in previous years.  I got the original recipe from Ellie Krieger.  She had already lightened them up quite a bit but I took them one step further.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
Start to finish: 45 minutes

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk with 2 tsp lemon juice)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together the dry team: flours, spices, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.  You're probably thinking to yourself, wow, that's a lot of spices!  Way more than what the recipe would normally call for.  I don't know about you, but with the exception of pumpkin pie, I find that pumpkin-things often lack that pumpkin flavor.  And seeing as pumpkin really has no flavor, it's the spices that often lead us with more to be desired.  So, I kicked it up significantly.  It's pretty much impossible to overdo it with cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie blend when you are making pumpkin anything, so have no fear.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet team, starting with molasses and sugar.  When those are mixed together, add the oil and one egg.  Then add the pumpkin, vanilla, and the second egg.

Whisk the flour mixture into the wet mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk.

Spray your muffin pan with cooking spray.  Remember these are muffins, not cupcakes, so those cupcake liners you pulled out can go back in the cupboard.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins.  The tins will be pretty full but that's ok.  You'll just get bigger muffins.

Bake these for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Pop them out of the tin and let them cool on a rack.

If you're like me and can't eat 12 muffins before they go bad, wrap them individually in saran wrap and freeze them in a ziploc bag.  Take them out as needed and microwave them for 10-15 seconds in the wrap.  They will taste just as good as when you baked them!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chicken Paillards

Is there ever an end to what you can cook when your protein of choice is chicken?  It's quite possibly the most versatile item in your kitchen.  This recipe is so easy and flavorful that it's perfect for a busy weeknight meal.

Chicken Paillard
Makes: 4 servings
Start to finish: 20 minutes

2 very large chicken breasts, or 4 small ones
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 Tbsp fresh Thyme or Rosemary, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp flour
more salt and pepper

You might be wondering to yourself, what the heck is a chicken paillard? It's a fancy french term for when you saute meat that has been pounded out very thin.  Sounds way better than "flat chicken" doesn't it?

All kidding aside, start by taking out a full work day's worth of frustration by pounding this chicken until it can be pounded no more (about 1/2 inch thick).  If you use two large breasts, cut them in half.
Salt and pepper each side liberally.

Next, chop your herbs.  The great thing about this dish is that what herbs you use are completely up to you.  Any will do.  Today I used rosemary, parsley and oregano.  Thyme and basil would also be good. Just roll with what you have on hand.

 Heat your oil and skillet over medium-high heat.  Then dress the chicken breasts with the chopped herbs and lemon zest.

When the pan is nice and hot, lay down the chicken and brown them on each side for 3 minutes.

When the chicken is browned on each side, turn the heat down to medium so it doesn't burn and cook another minute or two, or until the chicken measures 165 degrees.  Plate these under some aluminum foil while you make your gravy.  Mmmmm gravy...

Melt one tablespoon of butter in the skillet you cooked your chicken in.  Whisk in the flour and let it cook for a minute.  Then add the chicken broth.  Continue whisking constantly until it thickens and starts to resemble gravy.

Once it has thickened, take it off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this alongside a grain and vegetable...

Or do what I did and serve it over a nice salad!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Super cool corn trick

This is not a recipe at all, but when I saw this at my bestie's house this weekend, I HAD to share.

Tis the season for corn on the cob.  But gosh darn it, corn is hard to butter isn't it?  The butter is so swishy sloshy, and even if you use one of those corn dish things, more melted butter ends up in the bottom of the dish than on your corn.

So, imagine my excitement upon learning this trick.  Imagine this: I'm standing there in my friend's kitchen, watching every thing get spread out for dinner, and someone cries, "Don't forget the buttered bread!"  At first I was confused as I watched them slather a thick layer of butter on a simple piece of sandwich bread.  This feast certainly did not warrant it.

Then someone explained to me that they use it to butter their corn!  Yes, you heard me right.  They use the butter bread to butter the corn.  You cradle the bread in your hand like you would a hot dog bun, and then twirl your corn cob around.

Genius!  You get so much butter on the corn it's ridiculous.  I was so impressed I had to spread the word.    Think it's weird?  Try it next time you have corn and then we'll see who's laughing.