Wednesday, October 27, 2010

*Yawn*...TPC's Chicken Guac Tacos

Its almost 1am, and I'm still up. I worked a serving shift tonight, the last few hours of which were crazy busy. I'm always so keyed up after a busy night waiting tables that this is what I'm left with.

Can't watch tv because it'll disturb Mr. Cooker. Can't find the headphones so I can't lull myself to sleep with some Prison Break, season 1, via Netflix. Can't blog because I forgot all THREE of my recipe notebooks at work tonight! LAME! LAME! LAME! Wait now, wait. Can't blog? Oh yes I can!

So tonight I'm bringing you this...


My very favorite chicken guac tacos. And then I'm going to bed. ;)


Start out with 3 or 4 ripe avocados. It helps to have varying stages of ripeness, with one being really extra ripe, one in the middle, and one just BARELY ripe. My sister-in-law Mandie let me in on this little secret to heavenly guacamole. It really helps the texture to be less 'baby food', more 'best dip ever'.

Next chop up a tomato or two, a handful of cilantro, and a few TBSP of onion, if you are brave and love the raw onion stuff. I'm not that into it so I usually leave it out. Cooked onion, awesome, raw? Not so much. Mr. Cooker tells me someday raw onion will be to me like these avocados are now (did you know I had never tried an avocado, or guacamole, until a year or two ago?? CRAZY!). I don't believe him.

Mix up your tomato and cilantro, shake in a few drops of Tapatio, and squeeze in some lime juice. Mix together and let sit while you are prepping your avocados.

Doing the avocados is simple. If you've never done it there is an awesome picture tutorial here. Once you have them pitted, peeled, and diced, mash them with a fork until it reaches your desired consistency. I like chunky guacamole, so I leave some good sized chunks in it! Stir in the tomato mixture, add salt to taste, and you've just made yourself the best party host ever.

Sometimes I can keep myself contained enough to leave some of this magical stuff for the actual meal. When I do, this is what you can make. The chicken guac tac. The chicken was quickly sauteed and seasoned with cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Add shredded lettuce, fresh tomato, your favorite salsa, and a big heaping spoonful of the guacamole and enjoy!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What a crazy couple of days! Kittencal's Jumbo Blueberry Muffins...

Its been a CRAZY, awesome, blessed week here at the Cooker home (not our real name, but I'm going with it!). Last month my husband became one of the 14.8 million Americans currently unemployed. Its been a huge change in our family, as you can imagine. We enjoyed three weeks home together, which was a blessing and a huge learning experience for us both, I think, but now that time is up. This week I went from having no job, to two jobs! Woo-hoo!

My awesome former employer, and someone I consider a friend, needed someone out at her restaurant a couple of nights a week. I really love working for her, in particular, and her entire family couldn't be kinder. I'm enjoying being back in the restaurant world, and serving people again.

My other job kind of happened by accident, but I think is going to be something I really love. I am meal planning, shopping, errand running, and cooking for a local businessman. I'm finding that while it is definitely going to be a challenge, its going to be right up my alley. I've worked twice now, and have made: fresh baked roasted garlic bread with homemade marinara, guacamole, scratch apple pie (only my 2nd scratch pie crust! Hope it turned out!), the muffins I'm going to share with you tonight, pre-prepped for Honey Soy salmon bake, bruschetta skewers with a balsamic reduction, shrimp scampi ready to bake, a cheese plate, Asian sesame soy spinach and noodle salad, crash hot potatoes, and a green salad. I planned, shopped, prepped, cooked, baked, and cleaned up all of that in 12 hours. How different an experience cooking uninterrupted is, and getting paid for it! So until Mr. Cooker find his ideal job like I found mine, I'm going to be a busy girl.

Now on to these muffins. They are my ideal muffins. Not too crumbly, but not cake-like, blueberries from top to bottom, sweet, but not too sweet. Blueberry muffins are my favorite breakfast with a hot cup of coffee.

 I love Kittencal from formerly recipezaar, now food.com. LOVE her. I've made so many of her recipes from there, and they always turn out great. I'm about to share with you one of my favorites. You can find her blog at http://www.kittencalskitchen.com.

Jumbo Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins
slightly adapted from Kittencal's Muffin Shop Jumbo Blueberry Muffins


4 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp Saco buttermilk powder
1 1/2  cup milk
2 lg eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 cups blueberries, thawed, if frozen, and tossed with flour to thinly coat

1/4 cup brown sugar or vanilla sugar




1. Mix flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a stand mixer until it resembles coarse pea-sized or smaller lumps. 


2. In small bowl mix baking powder, baking soda, Saco buttermilk powder, and cinnamon well. Add to flour mixture and combine.


3. In separate bowl whisk milk, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Mix gently with flour mixer JUST until liquid is incorporated. DON'T overmix. This can be a challenge with a big powerful stand mixer, but its doable. Just be careful. Or do it the old-fashioned way with a wooden spoon. 


4. Gently fold in berries, place batter in a prepped pan,  sprinkle lightly with brown sugar or vanilla sugar, and bake at 375 degrees in a pre-heated oven, one rack down from the center, for 25 - 30 minutes for Jumbo, approximately 20-25 for regular sized muffins.

Notes:
*On the Saco buttermilk blend it says to use water in place of liquid when using it. I never do. I always use milk. I don't really have a reason for this, other than feeling slighly squicky mixing water into baked goods. I know, its a sickness. I've accepted it. I haven't tried one batch following directions using water, and one using milk, and then done a comparison side-by-side, but it would be interesting to see if there is a big difference or if I just like to make everything as full of calories as humanly possible.

*If I would've had actual buttermilk I would've just used that, but I didn't. You can if you are more prepared than me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

So you want to make a decent marinara but don't have 3 hours?


You've come to the right place. Sometimes I don't have my slow-cooked, meaty, big-batch spaghetti sauce in the freezer ready to go. Sometimes I want a little lighter tasting, fresher, meatless marinara for a quick lunch. Sometimes I am lazy and forgot to plan anything for dinner until 5:15 and I'm scrambling for something quick and easy but doesn't come pre-made in a jar...it comes basically deconstructed in cans. I'm not really a spaghetti snob, as you've read previously. I'll eat plain tomato sauce and be happy. That said I do appreciate a good red sauce, even more so lately.


Quick meatless chunky mushroom marinana

3 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP finely diced onion
5-6 medium mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp garlic
2 TBSP red wine (I use Cab)
1 TBSP sugar (amount is approximate and will depend on the sodium content of the tomato sauce you use)
1 - 15oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 - 15oz can tomato sauce
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated kind in the green can!)
*optional several leaves of chopped fresh basil


1) Place olive oil, onion, and mushrooms in a sauce pan. Saute over medium heat until water is released from mushrooms and onions are translucent. Add garlic. Saute 30 seconds. Add red wine. Cook until wine is reduced. Add sugar, herbs, seasonings, and diced tomatoes. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced. Add tomato sauce. Stir well, heat through, and taste. Add more sugar to taste, or adjust seasonings as needed. Wait until simmering and slowly stir in parmesan cheese until fully incorporated. Serve immediately with your favorite pasta.

Enjoy! I did today!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Please, veteran foodbloggers, advise me!

Is there a 'how-to' guide to get started in this? I keep submitting to tastespotting, foodgawker, and photograzing, to be continually rejected again and again. What am I doing wrong here? Are these sites for the food elite only? Is it typically hard for a newbie to break-in to this club?

I'm under no illusions that my photos are amazing, great, or even really all that good. I have a 5+ year old point and shoot and virtually no technical photography know-how. I think I've had some okay results though, despite those things. Are there some secrets that I don't yet know? Have I not yet passed the freshman hazing that I didn't know existed? Aren't they, above all else, about the food?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lasagna...*sigh*

Do you remember a few posts ago I mentioned I was going to tell you all about the meal that, if asked, "What is Nicole's all-time favorite food, ever?", every one of my family would have the exact same answer. Seriously. I used to get cases of the main ingredient for Christmas or my birthday from my Grandma as a teenager, and I wasn't disappointed. I was excited. What was the super awesome, best meal ever??

Noodles & sauce

What is noodles and sauce, you ask? Its noodles, of any shape, size, or form, and plain jane tomato sauce.

It was my version of mac-n-cheese I guess, which as "The World's Pickiest Eater", couldn't possibly pass my lips. Oh, was I ever picky. No chunks, of anything, ever. No onion, mushroom, fresh tomato or chunks of tomato, on anything, ever. Very, VERY few vegetable. Salad, sometimes, but only with iceberg, cheese, croutons, and Western dressing. I was in my 20's before I ever tried ranch dressing, or Caesar dressing, and I JUST got myself to try blue cheese dressing this year. Some of my bad habits linger, I'm afraid, but very, very little. There are things I just got in my head somehow that I didn't like, and so I assume that is the case. It was that way for the poor avacado until last year. Now I'm making up for it by eating my weight in guacamole every possibly chance I get. Seriously. HOW did I live without guacamole for nearly 28 years???

So my noodles & sauce habit was that of legend. I still get teased about it when I make the trek back to Minnesota.  4-5 times a week, at minimum, I'd make this. Back when the 'low-carb diet' wasn't really done, and I thought I was doing pretty good with it because it was relatively low in fat and calories. Back when my aunt Terri told me that someday eating like that would most definitely catch up with me and my skinny, teenage, I'm-never-going-to-be-THAT-kind-of-old-person self laughed at her. Now, 13 years and four kids later, I'm not laughing anymore, but my love for all that is pasta cannot die.

I ate enough noodles & sauce that I became somewhat of an expert on the subtle differences in the many different brands of tomato sauce. Contadina is my favorite for plain old noodles & sauce. I've progressed in my tastes to at least toss some mozzarella on it, but that's about it. I still love it, but I've also learned to love many, many, many other kinds of pasta as well! This is my recipe for lasagna. You can use your favorite spaghetti sauce for this to make it quick and easy, and to tide you over until I post MY homemade, giant-batch, Costco-sized sauce recipe that I make for our family. It makes enough to feed a small army, which I need for my crew.

1 box lasagna noodles
8ish cups spaghetti sauce
15 oz ricotta cheese
8 oz cottage cheese
4 oz parmigiano reggiano
8 oz whole milk mozzarella
16 oz divided in half Italian cheese blend (I used a four cheese blend with mozzarella, romano, parmesan, and one other kind I can't think of off-hand.)
1/2 tsp basil
2 tsp parsley
2 eggs

Start by par boiling the noodles. You only want these JUST on this side of flexible, not even half-way done. There's nothing worse than mushy noodles, and lasagna is an easy one to get over-cooked noodles. While they are par-boiling (set a timer! Don't foget!), mix all the cheese together (except 8 oz of the Italian cheese blend, save that for the very top of the lasagna) well with the eggs, the basil, and the parsley.

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When the noodles and par-boiled and drained, place 1 1/2 cups of sauce in the bottom of the 10 x 13 pan. Place a single layer of noodles, slightly overlapped at the edges, in the pan. Put 1/2 of the cheese mixture on the top of them and spread it out evenly. Cover with about 2 cups of sauce and gently spread out.

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Repeat the process with noodle, the remaining cheese mix, sauce, then do noodle, sauce, and top it with the remaining 8 oz of Italian cheese blend.

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Cover with non-stick foil (make SURE its non-stick, or that you spray it very, very, VERY well with non-stick spray, I've had lasagna disasters before where the entire top layer of cheese comes off with the foil!), and bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 - 1.5 hours. The amount of time it needs to bake will vary depending on if your sauce is hot or not when you put it together. Take the foil off for the last 15 minutes of bake time. Serve with caesar salad and garlic bread.


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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicken Tenders, Jeremiah style with homemade honey mustard...

Does this look good to you? It sure tasted good to me. My husband makes my favorite chicken tenders, ever. These are his very own creation, and I had to actually pry the recipe out of him! Ok, so I just had to ask, but actually getting it onto the paper wasn't easy. He doesn't really do recipes, he just wings it. I've kind of become the same way as my cooking grows a bit. I rarely measure during cooking, so many of my recipes are rough guesstimates on seasoning amounts. I always mess with recipes when I am following one, so I assume everyone else does too, and will just season to taste I guess! Do you do that? Its just a part of me won't LET me make a recipe exactly as written. I was bugging Jeremiah to try a panko breading for the tenders for this meal! He said, and I need to train myself to agree, "Once you get something right you just have to leave it alone."

Have I told you guys yet about the meal I am 'known' for in my entire family? Oh. my. goodness. I'll save that for another day, with another recipe. You'll love it.

So, these chicken tenders. Yes. We serve them with ultra healthy and diet friendly Mac-n-cheese (hehehe), sometimes in whole wheat wraps with lettuce, cheese, and dressing. I love the chicken ranch wraps at CrapD's, but we're trying to avoid it at the moment at all costs because of the cost, but also because we can make things that taste so much better at home, for a fraction of the price, and we can pronounce ALL of the ingredient names! Bonus!!

To make these soy-free you really have to make sure you read your cracker labels well. Some brands of crackers contain soy, some don't. Some day soon I will write a post on soy-free living. Its been quite the adventure this year after my 2nd son was diagnosed with several food allergies. No more eating out. No more cooking from a box. Not that I'm complaining. Unless its 6pm and we're just getting home and the kids are starving and I've got nothing in mind for dinner. Then, a little grumbling goes on!


2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders, cut up into chunks (or however you like them!)

Breading:
1 sleeve saltine crackers
1/8 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Johnny's Seasoning Salt
1 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp parsley

Egg Wash:
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk

For frying:
1 stick butter
3 cups canola oil


Crush crackers into little pieces, but not so fine that they are dust. You want semi-big chunks for these. It really enhances the crispy parts to keep them a bit bigger than you normally would. Mix together with all the seasonings and flour and set aside.

Put eggs and milk into another container and whisk together until well combined.
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Coat chicken chunks in egg wash and then roll in the cracker mixture. Preheat the oil and butter over medium to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, place chicken chunks in and let cook until brown on one side. Flip over and brown the other side and cook until all the way done. (We cut one or two in half to check after the first batch is done.)

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That's it! Pretty easy!

Did you know that honey mustard was this easy to make?
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Me either. Now go, fry, whisk, and enjoy.

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