Mix and Match Mexican Night

My husband has been gone for twelve days now. We are ready to have him home!   In his absence, though, I have been buying some of the foods that I really like and he doesn’t care for: salmon, lamb chops, and ground beef.

Tonight it was time for the ground beef, which I purchased late last week (with no idea of what I would do with it). Yesterday would have been grocery day, but I took care of my friends’ three kids this weekend as well as my own little time sucker – and by the time the mess settled last night, I just didn’t have it in me to do a grocery run.

So I dug around in my pantry and on the internet tonight, and ended up with the following:

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce – I didn’t have chicken stock so I used broth instead, and I was out of garlic powder (which, to be honest, I don’t love anyway – even though I love garlic) so I just skipped it.  I was really surprised to find a recipe for red sauce that contained no tomato paste or sauce. I was a little worried that it would just be overwhelmingly spicy, but it was actually really good and very flavorful.

Next, I used this recipe as my inspiration: Beef and Bean Burritos – but then I mixed it up a lot. We had no refried beans at the house, so I just cooked a can of black beans in a little olive oil with some red onion. And I like corn tortillas a lot better than flour, so I wanted to use those – but I didn’t want to make a full dish of enchiladas.  So I baked two small corn tortillas, sprayed with a little cooking spray, in a 350 degree oven until they were hot but not crispy (about half the time I bake them if I”m making homemade chips). I put one on the plate, put some meat and beans on top, layered another tortilla on that, and put a little more meat, some shredded mexican cheese, and a little more enchilada sauce on top, and popped it in the microwave for 30 seconds.  And it was great. And my sidekick got to have nachos, which he prefers to tacos/burritos/enchiladas – so we were both happy. And full. Success!


Salmon steaks

My husband is hitting the gym more often these days, thanks to a better schedule with his new job. This is good for lots of reasons, including that on gym nights, we fend for ourselves with dinner, which means I am cooking more fish (which he doesn’t eat). I’ve been on a salmon kick lately and have been cooking salmon filets, but this weekend, wild salmon steaks were on sale at the HT. So I decided to try a new recipe: Martha Stewart’s soy-glazed salmon steaks.

I had made a spicy asian dressing last night with some of the same ingredients (but also some fiery sesame oil giving it much more spice than sweetness) – so I tossed some kale in the spicy dressing and then put the hot salmon steak right on top. The sweetness of the salmon glaze was a good balance for the dressing, and the warm, wilted kale was great with the salmon. I was skipping the carbs tonight thanks to a large chocolate chip cookie I had after lunch – but next time, I might add some sushi rice to round it out. This is one I will definitely make again – even if I’m the only one to eat it!

Turning Bones into Soup

The recipe I used to spatchcock the chicken last night suggested saving the backbone for soup. My mom makes soup or stock out of chicken or turkey carcasses plenty, but I hadn’t ever tried it. But considering we’re COLD here and I’m working from home tomorrow (meaning I can eat out of the fridge instead of off the expensive streets of DC), I decided to give it a try. I like chicken noodle soup fine, but I really like barley, so I decided to try Chicken Barley Soup. I chose this over my mom’s recipe because my mom’s takes several hours – whereas with this one, you cook the barley separately while you cook the soup and drain the barley and stir it in at the end. So this recipe gets bonus points for being quicker (but not quick – you still have to cook the soup for an hour, and use regular barley, which I prefer to quick cooking barley anyway).

I saved the raw backbone and the roasted bones from last night’s chicken, and added some of the leftover chicken, since I like my soup meaty. Add to that a little additional stock/broth, carrots, onion, celery, and barley – and voila, hearty chicken soup. I loved it – it has a really nice chicken flavor, isn’t salty (I added a little salt and some pepper to my bowl), and I really prefer the chewiness of the barley to soft noodles. Canned chicken soup really can’t hold a candle to homemade. I think I’ll be saving chicken carcasses more often!


We had a very nice Thanksgiving with my parents, but ended up at home earlier than planned due to some illness. So I was home this afternoon in plenty of time to get to the store and cook dinner tonight. I was planning on a nice roasted chicken (my go-to in time of illness, I guess) but decided to try a new technique. I cut the backbone out of my chicken and flattened it out, browned it in my cast iron skillet on the stovetop, and popped it in the oven for 35 minutes. I think it actually could have cooked a little less, as it was pretty hot when I pulled it out. No added fat (other than the veggie oil I use to season my skillet), no spice other than kosher salt and fresh ground pepper (I skipped the red pepper flakes since I was feeding the kiddo, but will add next time). I roasted some of our favorite smashed potatoes at the same time, since they roast at the same temp (if you haven’t made these potatoes, you should – they are crisp and salty and delicious) and served some raw veggies (my favorite) on the side. Even little C, who usually asks for “kid food”, eagerly ate his chicken and potatoes, and a handful of raw red peppers on the side. Bonus: I have lots of leftover chicken for chicken salad,and I saved the bones to make chicken stock. And the chicken cooks quickly enough that I could roast it on a weeknight, which is great, since my family always enjoys roast chicken.

Happy belated Thanksgiving!  I’m thankful for these quick meals that my whole family enjoys!

Never Enough Time

Another new recipe – this one Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Pancetta. I can never get enough of butternut squash and sage flavors together, so this recipe sounded right up my alley. And I had some ventreche (french pancetta, we learned this weekend) leftover from a recipe George made over the weekend that I thought needed to be used or tossed.

My mistake was that I forgot a few things about making risotto: 1) you can not do anything else while making risotto. I came home from a crazy day at work needing to continue to monitor my work email into the evening. Oh, and I have a 5 year old who needs attention all the time, and needed to eat (something other than the risotto). In other words, the interruptions to my stirring were plenty. Luckily I made it in my Le Crueset pot, the one pot I own to which nothing sticks permanently (best cookware ever), or I might have had a bit of a mess to clean up. 2) risotto takes TIME.  I came home from work later than usual (see aforementioned crazy day), and had to cut apart the squash (which didn’t have any seeds – is that weird?) and chop the pancetta before I could even begin the constant rice stirring. Let’s just say that I skipped both the onion (just couldn’t make time to chop anything else) and the last cup of chicken broth (because I didn’t want to stir and wait anymore). I reduced the butter a bit because man, that’s a lot of butter.

Verdict: Well, since I was the only one who ate it (the other members of my family had given up and eaten while I cooked), you only get my opinion.  I think that it could have used a bit more broth (my fault for skipping the last cup), but the flavors were really good. Who can go wrong with sage, butter, butternut squash, pancetta and parmesan cheese?  The recipe was time-consuming, but easy – if I’d been able to just keep stirring!  I’m looking forward to the leftovers!

One Pan Pasta

Tried a new one tonight, skillet baked ziti. I got home at 7:15 and had dinner on the table by 8 – not exactly a 30 minute meal, but not far off. I thought it could have used more crushed red pepper and less cream, but overall, it was really easy and had decent depth of flavor for not many ingredients. Charlie didn’t love the pasta (anti-tomato sauce these days), but he liked the sausage and (of course) the cheese. And George liked it too, though he suggested we try spicy sausage rather than sweet next time around – so clearly we both thought it could use a little more of a kick. Definitely a make again – just with a few tweaks.

Fried Rice

Yesterday ended a great visit from my sister and her family, which included lots of meals at home, since eating out with three kids 5 and under can be a challenge. While we did enjoy one lunch at Old Glory, we mostly cooked. And while we went through plenty of food, I found myself with several leftovers yesterday, at a loss as to what I wanted to eat. The choice was mine alone, since George was away for a night and Charlie was in the mood for (surprise, surprise) chicken nuggets.

Luckily, I started thinking about dinner at lunchtime (not unusual) and decided the best use of the leftover pork tenderloin would be to try my hand at pork fried rice. I’ve tried to make fried rice before and have liked different recipes fine, but haven’t found one that really nailed the delicious pork fried rice we get at our favorite Asian restaurant in DC. It was worth trying something new. So I cooked some rice at lunch and then let it cool in the fridge until dinnertime, and started searching for good fried rice recipes.

A Google search landed me on this recipe, as well as on a great blog that is now a favorite, “Dinner: A Love Story”.  It is mostly a recipe/cooking website, but with book suggestions/discussion thrown in – eating and reading, two of my favorite things!

If you know me, you know I don’t like peas AT ALL, IN ANYTHING – so I left those out, and added a couple of diced carrots instead. I also added some shallots, because I didn’t have as many green onions as the recipe called for and I like onions a lot.

The result was delicious. I had to cook the rice longer than she did, probably because mine wasn’t day old takeout rice but cold rice I’d cooked mid-day. It took a little longer to develop the crisp-ness I wanted.  I also didn’t do a great job of scrambling the eggs before mixing them into the rice, so my rice didn’t have the pieces of egg in it that I would have liked. But it was still the closest I’ve come to takeout fried rice yet. And it was a great use for the leftover pork tenderloin that probably otherwise wouldn’t have been eaten.

While we’re on the topic of eggs, another one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen, taught me how to poach eggs this morning! I was in Richmond for a night last weekend and met up with a good college friend I hadn’t seen in several years. He took me to a delicious brunch spot, where I had salmon eggs benedict that was fabulous. It made me wonder why I’d never tried to poach eggs at home. So when I found this: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/08/how-to-poach-an-egg-smitten-kitchen-style/ I figured I should give it a try.

The first round didn’t work at all. I got overzealous with the swirling of the water step, and when I slid my egg in, the white split into dozens of stringy pieces on the top of the water, and the yolk sunk. Yuck. Luckily, though, I decided to try again – because the next egg came out perfectly poached. I swirled the water gently and then SLOWLY eased my egg into the turning water – and voila, most of it stayed together in a perfect little cloud of egg. It sunk to the bottom of the pan, but I followed her instructions and eased my spatula under it after about 30 seconds, and the egg slid gently across the bottom of the pot. And when I lifted it out 3.5 minutes later, it was cooked perfectly. Success!

Tonight’s Meal

First, on yesterday’s Fauxtisserie Chicken – meh. I was initially excited because the chicken basically de-boned itself when I pulled it out of the slow cooker – but I think ultimately that was because it was OVERcooked. The wings, thighs and drumsticks were in good shape, but the breast meat is almost mushy. If I do it again, I’m going to cut an hour off the cook time.

On to tonight: for once, I wanted to have dinner ready when G walked through the door. Unfortunately, I realized I didn’t have one of the ingredients (ricotta isn’t something we normally have around). So Charlie and I ran to the store, and food was ready VERY shortly after G came home. We had baked ziti, which I didn’t tell G was a weight watchers recipe (and I added a little extra mozz on top, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a WW recipe in my kitchen…), and which uses jarred sauce – two things he’s not generally a fan of. But he actually really liked it – the tomato and basil sauce from Trader Joe’s is very nice, and the combo of red pepper flakes (I used more than it called for, which was a good decision), ricotta, freshly grated parmesan reggiano, and sauce was very good. It was quick and made a lot (good thing G liked it, since we’ll probably have it for dinner again tomorrow night, and probably at least another night after that!).

On the side, I tried this apple and gorgonzola salad. I really liked the combination of the maple and the gorgonzola – it had that salty sweetness that I enjoy. And the crunch of a good apple is hard to beat. I made half of the dressing and only used 1/2 an apple for the two of us, and we had hearty salads with dressing left over.

All in all, tonight’s meal was a hit!

Carnitas, Round II

Not that I don’t love my family, but it’s really, REALLY nice to get an occasional weekend away to hang out with old friends. And that’s what I was supposed to be doing this weekend. But due to the aforementioned sickness, I couldn’t leave my husband at home alone with the kiddo – and even if I could have pawned the kiddo off on someone, George was sick enough that I couldn’t in good conscience leave him on his own either.

So since we had no plans all weekend other than a birthday party this afternoon, I decided to cook.  Todays’ recipes were slow cooked pork carnitas (different recipe from last time) and lime sherbet.

First off, there’s nothing better than slow cooker recipes on the weekend. I don’t really like them during the week because even though I know they’re made for cooking things while you’re gone, I can’t really wrap my mind around leaving something cooking all day when I’m not in the house. Our nanny and Charlie are in and out, but not with enough frequency for me to feel all that comfortable leaving food cooking. But on the weekends, bring it on. Food prep started by 10 a.m. means dinner is ready by 6:30 or so, with no scrambling around. This afternoon, for instance, Charlie and I went to a birthday party and then I came home, put him down for a rest (George was also home resting) and went to the pool to swim laps. When I came home, all I had to do was cook some black beans and heat up some tortillas, and dinner was ready.

The pork was good, but not great. I have been spoiled for carnitas by the place by my Maryland office that makes spicy, tangy pork and pineapple carnitas that I love. These didn’t really have the kind of flavor/kick I was hoping for. They really just tasted like pork – juicy, succulent pork which is good, but I’m still looking for a carnitas recipe that knocks my socks off. With this one, I think you could drain the meat and toss it with some barbecue sauce and have a pulled pork sandwich. It didn’t have the flavor I was expecting for carnitas.

The lime sherbet is delicious!  Well, I’ve only tasted it in “soft serve” form, right out of the ice cream maker while I was packing it up, so I haven’t had much yet. But it’s now in the freezer, and I plan to have more very soon. Nothing says summer like homemade ice cream!  And this recipe couldn’t be easier – no custard making, no crazy prep – just zesting and juicing some limes to mix with sugar, half and half, water, and a pinch of salt. Right out of the ice cream maker, it was fresh and creamy and delicious. I can’t wait to try more!

Roast Chicken

George has been sick for the past week. And I’m talking really sick – running a fever for at least 6 days straight (probably more, he just didn’t take his own temperature last weekend while Charlie and I were away), could barely get out of bed, two trips to the doctor sick. No fun. His fever finally broke yesterday,  but he was feeling really low energy after not eating much all week, and still fighting a sore throat. So last night, I figured comfort food was in order. And to me, it doesn’t get more comforting than roast chicken.

Usually I do my mom’s garlic and rosemary roast chicken recipe I posted previously, but I thought garlic might be a little much after not eating for days. So I did a little googling and landed on this one: My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken from Epicurious.

Verdict: EASY EASY EASY and good. I skipped the butter and thyme, and just kept it really simple. The salt made the skin really crisp, and I liked that there was no added fat – but the chicken was still really moist. I used less salt than the recipe called for, and it was plenty – the chicken needed no additional seasoning. I think the leftovers will make a good chicken salad.

I made a simple green salad on the side and these no-fail potatoes that are always a huge hit at my house, including for the littlest member: Sarah’s Smashed Potatoes. I don’t season the potatoes with salt, other than the salted water they boil in, and I line my baking sheet with parchment paper to shorten the clean up (there’s already plenty of clean up with the roasting pan scrubbing going on)!

This one is definitely on the make again list.