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!

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Buttermilk Pancakes

Last night the little prince requested pancakes for dinner – and because it was Friday night and he is the little prince… he got them. We only had 1 egg in the house, but we had buttermilk as well (which is rare) – so I tried this recipe, halved. YUM. The pancakes were crisp on the edges and soft in the middle, and had a great flavor. I got 9 small pancakes out of half the recipe, plenty for the three of us. Quick, easy, and delicious – my favorite kind of recipe! May have to keep buttermilk around more often…

Last Minute Pork

I bought some pork tenderloin this past weekend, but I didn’t really have a plan for it. Generally I think it benefits from at least a few hours of marinating – but tonight, George called on his way home and chose pork over chicken, so I did a quick search and landed on this Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin from Pioneer Woman.

First things first – I cooked mine for probably 8 to 10 minutes longer than she suggested, and it still barely reached the “new” approved pork temp of 145. Don’t plan for this to be done in 12 to 15 minutes as she suggests, unless you like your pork really rare. In her case, she’s probably cooking pigs off her own farm so she doesn’t have to worry about where they came from or their quality. But I can’t say the same from the pork-in-a-bag from the HT. So I’m going to cook it to 145. Actually, next time, I’m going to cook it a little longer, since while we both like our pork pink, this was pinker than the hubs would have liked.

That said, though, we both really liked the herb crust. The sauce was good too – I changed that up as well. I made mine with orange marmalade b/c that’s what I had, but I also changed the ratio around a little. Originally, I did equal water and preserves like the recipe called for, but even after a good long simmer, the sauce was still thinner than I wanted. So I added more marmalade. I also added soy sauce to cut the sweetness a little, and used white balsamic vinegar rather than plain white vinegar – just b/c I had the white balsamic and I can’t use it to clean like I can the plain white vinegar.

What I loved about this is that it was EASY to prepare the tenderloin, the sauce requires very few ingredients, and it all came together quickly. I will definitely make this again, but I’ll give the pork a little longer in the oven before letting it rest.  

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!

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

I signed up for the Valentines treat at Charlie’s school – and Valentines Day was a snow-out, so the kids are celebrating today (Presidents Day). Which was actually perfect, because instead of having to throw something together on a weeknight, I had the whole weekend to make a treat. So I decided to bake and decorate cookies.

I am not a huge sugar cookie fan generally, and I’ve tried recipes in the past that I really haven’t liked. I don’t like shortening, and even the ones I’ve tried without shortening haven’t been very good.

Enter Our Best Bites Sugar Cookies. I will never make another. These are delicious!  Buttery almost like shortbread, but not at all greasy – and perfect for decorating! I followed her tips to freeze the cookies overnight after they were done baking and fully cooled (lesson there – the first batch wasn’t cool enough when I stacked and froze them, and I ended up throwing away a large blob of stuck-together cookies!) and then made her glace icing and decorated them yesterday. I am no gourmet decorator (you can see a photo on Charlie’s blog – pretty funny) but they dried really nicely and, more importantly, tasted delicious. How can you go wrong with pink, red, and white cookies? I think the kids will love them.

A break

I was just getting back in the groove of trying recipes again – and then I heard about how great a family member looks after getting on the Shred diet. I’ve been looking for something to kick start healthy eating habits again, since I feel like I started getting off track around Halloween and never came back! So I’m going on hiatus. Once I get back to where I want to be, then I’ll be back to recipe blogging. Until then, happy cooking!

Leftovers

On Sunday, I made this chicken. And then, something MIRACULOUS happened. Tonight, my husband called home from work, where he’s staying late thanks to the POTUS needing to address us this evening, and said (and I quote), “Tonight’s leftover night, right? Is there any of that delicious chicken left?”  I’m not sure I can remember the last time the hubs sounded excited about leftovers. Usually, when I say it’s leftover night, that means I eat leftovers and he makes himself a sandwich. So it’s a big deal that he actually wants to eat the chicken again.

Tonight, I made some homemade tortilla chips by brushing corn tortillas lightly with vegetable oil, sprinkling them with kosher salt, cutting them into quarters, and baking them for 15 minutes at 350. I love them – they’re firmer than store-bought tortilla chips and you can control how salty they are. And then I reheated some of the chicken, mashed half an avocado with some red onion, salt, and lime, and grated some cheese – and voila, delicious nachos out of leftovers.  Yum!

It worked

The cooking experiment and blog started off strong, with the plan to try at least a new recipe a week – but it pretty quickly slowed to 1 to 2 new recipes a month.  And initially, when I looked back to my trials in 2013, I felt like I hadn’t really conquered as many recipes as I hoped (my To Try list is still very long!) and hadn’t added enough staples to my list.

But tonight, I’m eating homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese on french bread I baked myself, and a spinach salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette. I made the soup after a pretty crappy work day, start to finish while answering work emails and helping my kiddo make “basil soup” in the kitchen next to me. And I was sitting down to eat by 7:30. Not too shabby.

So in the end, I feel like the experiment paid off.  Not because I have a whole host of recipes we want to eat again and again – but because I dared to try new things – and on weeknights, no less! While I aimed a little higher than maybe I should have, the end result is pretty satisfying.

Lamb Steak

Last night, the old man went out with a friend for drinks and dinner after work, so the little man and I were on our own. A few months ago, I bought a pack of lamb loin chops at Costco. Costco doesn’t sound like the kind of place you’d go for good meat, but they have GREAT lamb loin chops – thicker than they generally are at my grocery store, and (as you would expect) reasonably priced. But you have to buy a lot – I think there were 8 to the pack, which is kind of overkill since the old man doesn’t care for lamb. I cooked a couple pretty much right away (I LOVE LOVE lamb chops) but froze the rest, and if I know in advance that G is going to be out and if I think about it, I pull a couple out of the freezer. The last time I did so, I was kind and shared a few bites with my kiddo – and he’s now a fan of “lamb steak*” too. And thanks to the blast of cold, snowy weather we got Thurs night, I worked from home yesterday and had the presence of mind to pull some chops out for dinner last night.

I like lamb chops grilled, broiled, pan sauteed – with pretty much nothing on them to flavor them other than the Lawry’s Salt I sprinkle on when they’re done and a side of mint jelly.  I know, mint jelly sounds like it should be disgusting, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it on lamb – yum. Anyway, I don’t require a lot of prep when it comes to lamb, but last night as I was flipping around on the internet, I found this recipe for Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Cippolini Onions. I didn’t have the onions, but we happened to have some leftover parsley, and I have fresh rosemary (well, frozen rosemary really, thanks to the current weather conditions) in my garden – and we always have garlic handy – so I decided to try this marinade.

I cooked these on my cast iron skillet, which was still holding onto the smell of garlic roast chicken which I made in there on New Years Day. I didn’t need to worry about that, though, because as soon as these chops hit the hot pan, their aroma completely overtook any leftover scents. They smelled SO GOOD while it was cooking that I could barely wait the 5 minutes a side it took to get these chops to medium rare. Unfortunately, they were very thick chops and I didn’t let them defrost in the fridge overnight, so it took me a little more than the 3 to 4 minutes per side to get the chops to medium rare – and as a result, the garlic on the outside got a little darker than I had hoped. But even with the seasoning a little darker than I might have hoped, the flavor was good – and the aroma was fabulous. I will definitely make this again, though next time I will make sure my chops are fully defrosted so I don’t have to add any cooking time. 

I will also not be an idiot and accidentally touch the surface of my cast iron skillet while heating it. Not sure how I did it, but if I ever get arrested, they are going to have trouble fingerprinting me. I spent a good portion of the rest of the evening squeezing ice cubes. 

Verdict: Charlie ate his whole chop, minus gnawing on the bone, which he hasn’t quite figured out yet. And I, of course, had no trouble devouring mine, even while maimed.

*Explanatory note: at our house, cuts of meat (as long as they aren’t ground) are known as “steak”. This is because ever since he was very small, the little guy has enjoyed steak. In an effort to get him to expand his repertoire, I have been known to call something steak that – well – isn’t. So in addition to regular (beef) steak, we eat pork steak and lamb steak at our house. 

I made French bread!

Ever since my mom gave me a KitchenAid mixer, we have bought VERY few loaves of sandwich bread. The recipe for cool rise white bread that came with the mixer was a huge success the first time I made it and has kept the boys happy ever since. It makes 2 loaves at a time, one of which can go into the freezer for a week or two and come out none the worse for wear. And I can swap in a cup of wheat flour for one of the cups of white flour and figure I’m at least slightly improving the nutritional value of their bread.

I also make our pizza dough – it’s so easy and so much better than a lot of the store bought dough we’ve tried that once I started making it, I couldn’t stop. The recipe we prefer makes three to four balls of dough and also freezes okay (the raw pizza dough doesn’t hold up quite as well as the cooked bread, but it’s workable) so I can make pizza dough at most once a month and we’re set.

I have not, however, experimented with much else in the bread family. I don’t know why bread has always seemed too intimidating to me, but it has. When I first started making our sandwich bread, my boss gave me a couple of recipes for other breads she really likes making, but after two failed attempts at Irish potato bread, I gave up.

Tonight, though, we were having garlic roast chicken with potatoes and salad – and we were lacking any good crusty bread to spread the roasted garlic on. George went to the store to see if he could find some, but the Safeway nearest us never has much in the way of decent fresh baked bread.  So I googled a few recipes and found a quick one that sounded good: crusty french bread.

And surprise, surprise, it turned out much better than I expected. The loaves were wider than I anticipated (looked more like ciabatta loaves than baguettes) but they were crusty and crisp on the outside and soft inside, and tasted different enough from my normal, every day sandwich bread to make me wonder, since the ingredients aren’t all that different.

To me, baking bread is like a fun science experiment.  I get to keep trying and tinkering with the yeast, the temperature of the water, the shape of the loaves, the baking time, etc – or sometimes, trying not to tinker with anything and instead just replicate exactly what I did last time. Each time, though, they’re a little bit different. And, I’ll admit, most times, I’m not exactly sure that what comes out of the oven is even going to be good. But the successes are more frequent than the failures and I’m learning as I go!