Spicy Paprika Potatoes

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Since I last posted I’ve been in something of a culinary rut. I made a few things that I was really underwhelmed with (Veggie Stir fry and Jerk Shrimp Pasta, if you must know).

I don’t like being in a food rut, because, well, it means I’m hungry. I really don’t like eating things I don’t like (fairly intuitive), so when I have an occasional and somewhat inevitable food miss, I push food around my plate with my fork and sulk in the corner.

Today, I decided my food rut would end. I went deep into my arsenal of Food-Ideas-I-Cannot-Possibly-Mess-Up and pulled out Spicy Paprika Potatoes.

I’ve tried Papas Bravas a few times (if you haven’t you must!) and decided to go with a variation that I felt would go well with the chicken I was making (I will post about that next).

I put together a spice mixture (I put together a spice mixture for everything these days!), which included: paprkia, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, and minced onion flakes. I only used a smidge of cayenne pepper because I didn’t want the potatoes to be super spicy. I really love the spice that paprika has to it, so I was aiming to give the potatoes a little extra oomph! I think that worked pretty well.

The end result was FANTASTIC!!! I loved it. The potatoes were well seasoned, a little bit spicy, had a slight crust to them and most importantly, were gloriously fluffy on the inside.

These potatoes are really simple, I think, mostly because when roasting potatoes it is really difficult to over-roast them. I suppose the one caveat to that is, if the oven temperature is too high then they will probably go from creamy and fluffy to extra crispy, but if you stick to something moderate (350F-375F) you really CAN’T mess it up.

I used Dutch baby potatoes (so cute) and cut them into big chunks before par-boiling them for about 10 minutes. This is an important step to help your potatoes become nice and fluffy.

All said and done, I roasted the potatoes for about an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. While, this dish is fabulous, it isn’t a quickie, so I wouldn’t make it if I were in a rush. Even though it probably takes close to two hours in total (start to finish), most of that time is unattended. Once the potatoes are in the oven, flip them once or twice and go about your day!

Happy Eating! 🙂

8 Dutch baby potatoes, cut into big chunks

1 1/2 tsp Paprika

1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 1/2 tsp Garlic Salt

1 tsp Minced onion flakes

2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Boil potatoes until tender (about 10 minutes).

2. In the mean time, mix together the spices and add 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

3. When potatoes are ready, drain and give them a rough shake in a colander (to rough up the edges, an important lesson I learned from Jamie Oliver).

4. Put potatoes in a baking dish and add spice mixture. Make sure to thoroughly stir so that all the potatoes are well coat. Give the dish a shake so the potatoes are not in a lump on one side.

5. Bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour- 1 hour 15 minutes. Half way through, flip potatoes over and drizzle with remaining tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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Luck O’ the Irish Soda Bread

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St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday I fully support. In some ways it is kind of like the kick-off party to spring: it brings in lots of fun, friends and booze. Plus, it’s the only holiday where bearing my freckles is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

The best part of St. Patrick’s Day, in my humble opinion, is Irish soda bread.

Irish soda bread is kind of a funny thing, because when made well it is FANTASTIC and when made poorly it is coarse, dry and just not very good at all. My first experience with Irish soda bread was of the latter variety and I was not particularly excited to give the bread a second chance. However, I had to make it for Home Ec in high school, and much to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. Just goes to show that a good recipe really makes a difference.

I have been using that same recipe from Home Ec ever since. I will note that this recipe yields an Irish soda bread that is moister and cakier than most traditional varieties. I happen to like that better. If a drier bread is what you’re after, then this recipe is not for you. However, I have found that you can compensate for this by overcooking the bread a little. A LITTLE.

The difference between a doughy bread, a slightly crunchier, drier bread, and a burnt bread is, in all seriousness, 5 minutes (or less). So be careful. Generally I find cooking the bread the full 60 minutes will give me a bread that I am very happy with.

So give it a whirl! Let me know what you think! And most importantly, have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day!

One more thing! Don’t skimp on the raisins!

Happy Eating 🙂

3 ½ c flour

¾ c Sugar

2 tsp Baking powder

½ tsp Baking soda

½ tsp Salt

¾ butter, soft

1 egg

1 ¼ c Buttermilk

½-1 c Raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan.
  2. Measure flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Mix softened butter to the flour mixture. It should look fairly crumb-y when it is mixed.
  4. Mix buttermilk and egg together in a separate bowl.
  5. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix well. The mixture will be VERY thick. Stir in raisins.

1 large loaf = 55-60 minutes or 4 or 5 small loaves = 30 minutes

Besto: Basil Pesto

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One of my favorite things about basil pestos is that you kind of have to get to know them to love them. Green and somewhat slimey, they aren’t the most estetically pleasing of sauces; it is easy to see how a stranger to pesto could be apprehensive. However, a good pesto can sweep you off your feet at first bite.

Pesto is kind of en vogue right now, I’ve seen a bunch of recipes I’m interested in trying for pea pestos or sun-dried tomato pestos. This recipe is for a basil pesto, and I think it is a lip-smacking good recipe. I’ll tell you quickly, about how I came up with the name:

I was plating dinner and my younger brother asked me what I was eating (Tangent: he is EXTREMELY picky. The last green thing he ate was probably mint chocolate chip ice cream… I’ll be made the next pope before he eats pesto). My response was, “Pesto, but its really good pesto. The best pesto! Wanna try?”

His response was simple, “So its Besto?” So it’s Besto now. And no, he wouldn’t try it. Don’t let that put you off; he doesn’t even like mashed potatoes… So yeah, he’s that picky.

Now for the good stuff:

One of the reasons I really like this recipe is because it incorporates both basil and parlsey. I’ve tried a lot of pesto recipes, most of which called for either basil or parsley, but not both. Using both gives a much stronger and multi-layered flavor. As you can see, I have listed the ingredients and instructions at the bottom, but this recipe is one you can kind of do by sight and taste. I like to use a 2:1 ratio of basil to parsley. I like to think of it in proportions because that’s helpful if I am serving more people and hence need more sauce.

On the subject of nuts: I’ve used both walnuts and pine nuts. I prefer pine nuts, I like their distinct nutty and sweet flavor, but they can be expensive. Using walnuts still gives your pesto a great nutty flavor, but is a little more fiscally conservative (plus I had them in the house already).

Surprise ingredient: Lemon. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I really believe that lemon is like Viagra for cooking. It gives almost everything a little extra oomph! I use both the juice and the zest. I don’t aim for the pesto to have a strong lemon flavor, but I’ve found that lemon works really well in building a great flavor.

I like my pesto punchy. It should have a strong aroma, be bright green and smack your taste buds around (just a little).

Also, this sauce is very versatile. I made it with pasta, but you can serve it with chicken, in a panini, on pizza and I’m sure a multitude of other fun ways.

So please give it a try! I’d love to know how it turns out.

Happy Eating 🙂

2.5 oz Basil

.5 oz Parsley

3 or 4 cloves of Garlic, chopped

Walnuts, chopped (a big handful)

1 tbsp Pecorino Romano cheese

1 Lemon, juiced and zested

1 or 2 tsps Salt and Pepper

3-4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Blitz basil and pesto in food processor. Once they are finely chopped, add chopped walnuts and garlic, blitz again.

2. Add lemon juice and zest, blitz. TASTE!!!! Think about the flavor and consistency.

3. Add salt and pepper, blitz. Taste again (important). Add more seasoning if needed.

4. Add olive oil, blitz. You want to be careful here, because you want the sauce to be loose, but not too loose. Add oil in intervals if you feel apprehensive.

Serve any way you like! 

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

To me, Pad Thai has got to be one of the greatest things on the planet. I am a big fan. I am the 12-year-old girl to its Justin Bieber.

It is also something that I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. I’ve held off until now, because I am the first person to admit I know nothing about Thai cuisine (other than it is awesome). Many of the recipes I’ve found included a laundry list of ingredients; I have no idea what most of them are and I have no idea where my nearest Asian grocery store is (I live in the middle of nowhere and our ethnic food scene  ranges from Chinese Take Out to Standard Italian Restaurant).

So you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I found this recipe. “No weird ingredients”….which translates into stuff I can find in my supermarket.

I did wonder, “Will it be good? Are the “weird ingredients” really what makes or breaks the dish?”

Perhaps they are…. but my Pad Thai still came out really delicious!

The only major changes I made was that I think I doubled the amount of Siracha (if you can’t stand the heat, don’t eat in my kitchen), I added bean sprouts (yum) and I added the peanuts into the stir fry about a minute before I took it off the heat.  It gave the dish a slightly nuttier taste, which I like.

As previously mentioned, I don’t know the first thing about Thai food. I think that more authentic Pad Thai dishes have a more mild peanut taste and that their more Americanized counterparts taste more strongly of peanut butter.  If this deduction is accurate then I would recommend that people who like Pad Thai to scream PEANUTS should add more peanuts. I found the peanut flavor to be somewhat subtle.

Also, I needed to cook my noodles for more than 1 minute when I added everything together. I probably cooked everything for an additional 10 minutes, but I am not sure I soaked my rice noodles in enough water, so I perhaps that is why.

When serving, make sure you put some lime wedges on the plate. Not only is it pretty, but squeezing them over the noodles gives a really nice last hit of flavor!

I really like to make my own Asian dishes, because I know that you can run into a lot of MSG with take out. Especially when something is so easy and fun to make, why not? Give it a try and let me know how yours came out! I’d love to hear feedback.

As always…

Happy Eating 🙂

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup served with a Cheese Quesadilla.

Black Bean Soup served with a Cheese Quesadilla.

When I troll the internet for recipes I generally stick to what I know. Something that I’ve tried before or at least something that I know what I’m aiming for when it comes to seasoning. I’m a big fan of tweaking recipes to your preferences, but I don’t like to give recipes a complete facelift, unless I am reasonably confident in what I’m doing.

I love black beans. Love, love, love them! I also love Mexican food. I could eat it every day and my love for it would only grow. I had heard lots of good things about black bean soup, but had never had it myself. That would generally make me hold off on making something…. though it was going to take more than “not knowing what I’m doing” to keep me from taking a swing at this meal. Since I never tasted black bean soup before, you might be wondering, “How did she  know which recipe to pick?”

I didn’t. I took a wild leap of faith and decided to go with Progresso’s recipe. It can be found on the back of their can of black beans (I posted it below for you anyway). I ended up liking the soup very much and have every intention of making it again in the future. I was not 100% happy with the flavor profile though. I should really go out and order black bean soup so I get a better idea of how the professionals do it.

If you have read some of my other posts, then you know I have intense issues with cumin. I did go out and buy some (reluctantly). I staunchly believe that sometimes you have to use seasonings you don’t love to help build amazing flavors. Example? Indian curries! I love ‘em. Do they have cumin in ‘em? You betcha! Can I taste the cumin? No. Is the cumin doing something to build that flavor? Absolutely. So, without any more ado, I halved the amount of cumin in this recipe.

I also did not add carrots (you gotta go with you gut, and my gut wasn’t in the mood for carrots) or salsa (forgot to buy it). I was a HUGE fan of the corn in the soup. Apparently corn is not usually in black bean soup, but it was definitely my soup’s MVP (after the black beans, of course). The corn added a nice texture and little hint of sweetness. I strongly recommend giving it a try.

Lastly, this recipe called for a lot of chicken stock. I only added about 3/4 of what the recipe called for because I didn’t want to dilute the flavor of the black beans too much. I don’t think adding the remaining stock would have made an improvement, for me, taste wise.

I also garnished my soup with some chopped cilantro and a handful of shredded Mexican blend cheese. If you give it about 30 seconds, the hot soup will start to melt the cheese. Swirl the half melted cheese into your soup and then enjoy (As if you’d have any other choice)!

I served my soup with a simple cheese quesadilla. This was my play on soup and a sandwich. Dip the quesadilla in the soup and I promise it will make you the happiest of campers. Oh my yum!

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear alternative seasonings for the soup.

Happy Eating 🙂

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion,
 chopped

1 medium stalk celery, chopped (1/2 cup)

2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)
 (I didn’t add any carrots)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp ground cumin
 (I used half a tbsp)

1/4 tsp pepper

3 cans (14 oz each) chicken broth (I used 36 oz of chicken broth)

4 cans (15 oz each) black beans, drained, rinsed

1 can (15.25 oz) whole kernel sweet corn, drained

1 jar (16 oz) mild picante or salsa (forgot to buy some)

  1. In 4-qt saucepan heat oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook onion, celery, carrots and garlic in oil 5 min, stirring occasionally. Add chili powder, cumin and pepper, cook 1 min.
  3. Stir in broth, 2 cans of the black beans and the corn. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, place remaining 2 cans black beans and the picante in blender or food processor. Cover and blend on high speed until smooth. Stir into boiling soup mixture.
  5.  Reduce heat to medium; simmer 15 min. Serve with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Dinner Party: Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

Holy hot pants, Batman! This recipe is indescribably awesome. The cake was moist, flavorful, rich and tasted appropriately pumpkin-y. The cream cheese frosting really accented it well.

I think what I like most about this confectionary creation is that both the cake recipe and the frosting recipe stand well on their own. They make one heck of a dream team, but they could definitely release successful solo albums if they so desired.

I love cinnamon (see: Cinnamon and Banana Crumble Muffins)! The cinnamon worked beautifully in this cake, both highlighting the sweetness and the pumpkin flavor simultaneously. It was just really great. Not overwhelming in anyway, and my dad said he would have liked it if I hadn’t told him there was pumpkin in it (high praise from a man who would form a lobbyist group against vegetables).

A slice of yumKeep it easy on the frosting though. While the frosting recipe I’ve listed below (from Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro) is just dreamy, overindulging on the frosting could cause the end result to be a little too sweet. I made one batch of frosting, and used about ¾ of it to frost the cake. My guests and I felt this was appropriate. There was enough frosting to add a presence, but not enough to over sweeten and steal the show. Note: I take a little bit of sugar with my sugar… so if I’m putting out a potential sugar overload advisory then take heed.

A word on cream cheese frosting: it melts.

I would not recommend it for a frosting amateur, like myself.

The cake is so moist!

The cake is so moist!

You have to work very quickly, because as it warms up, it melts and thins and becomes a sticky mess. I was legitimately up to my elbows in frosting. I had grander design plans, but ended up not being able to execute them. At one point I found myself torn between throwing the half frosted cake at the wall and crying in a cream cheese covered heap on the floor. The spiky frosting design you see in the picture was a last minute improvisation, which I undertook to save my sanity.  All things considered, I think Plan B worked better than I initially hoped for (success?).

So, if you glean any value from my blog (any at all) I hope it is that cream cheese frosting is not for the faint hearted and heavy handed.

But then again… anything that tastes that good is surely worth the effort!

Happy Eating 🙂

Cream Cheese Frosting (Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro)

16 oz cream cheese

8 tbsp unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle at medium speed until creamy (approx. 30 seconds).
  2. With the motor running, pour in the vanilla and paddle for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and mix until smooth, approx 1 minute after the last addition.
  3. Use right away (seriously!), or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Dinner Party: Lemon Chicken and Mashed Cauliflower

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Lemon Chicken, Mashed Cauliflower and Salad

I love having people over for dinner. It allows me to do 3 of my favorite things: 1) Eating 2) Cooking and 3) Socializing.  I consider the best barometer of dinner party success to be how clean your plates are… and washing up was a breeze.

I had my friends bring nibbles and wine. We had homemade spinach and artichoke dip (PHENOM.) and homemade hummus with veggies. I hope to be the proud owner of both recipes very soon. I’m going to have to put the spinach and artichoke dip recipe in some sort of vault where it can only be accessed on special occasions… I can eat the stuff by the pint, which unfortunately causes strain in the relationship between me and my jeans. That is a sacred relationship, which I try not to stretch too frequently.

As for entrée I made lemon chicken and mashed cauliflower accompanied by some bread and salad. I have been making some variation of lemon chicken for a few years now. I can’t remember where I found the recipe, but I am immensely thankful for whichever website brought us together. Even more thankful is my hippopotamus… err I mean my cat, who probably ate more chicken than I did (she is very spoiled).

The cauliflower was really good too. I saw it on Pintrest a few weeks ago and have been obsessing over it. It was not a let down. My only complaint is that I don’t think one head of cauliflower is enough for 4 people. I would definitely make 1 and a half heads of cauliflower for 4 people in the future. As a testament to its tastiness, I forgot to take pictures before we ate (distracted by my stomach).

Just before I began to clear up, I noticed my Iphone sitting idly by my plate and scraped the remnants of the cauliflower and an extra piece of chicken together for an impromptu and somewhat lackluster photo op. So please use your imagination and pretend that there is about twice as much cauliflower on that plate!

I served this meal with a basic salad and some bread. I’m going to post about dessert separately, because it [dessert] was a beacon of deliciousness and deserves its own post (maybe even 2 posts!)

Happy Eating 🙂

Lemon Chicken

3 Chicken breasts (sliced in half vertically)

2 Lemons, juiced and zested

3 tbsp butter (melted)

2 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

bread crumbs

1)   If you have thick chicken breasts either slice them in half . If you are using thin chicken breasts then skip to step 2.

2)   In a bowl, combine the lemon juice and zest with the melted butter, garlic powder and salt and pepper. It is easier to juice the lemons if you roll them on the counter first (trust me).

3)   Liberally dip the chicken in the lemon mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs.

4)   Line chicken breasts in a baking dish, spoon leftover lemon mixture on top and bake in the oven @ 350F for 45-50 minutes.

**Note: I recommend having plenty of leftover lemon sauce to spoon over chicken. Sometimes I’ll make a second batch just for this purpose.

Cajun Shrimp Pasta

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Cajun Shrimp Pasta

This recipe was love at first sight. I’m not usually knocked out of my socks so quickly, but even in the briefest glance I knew it was love.

However, once I composed myself and wiped the drool off my chin, I realized that the original chef, Leslie of scrumpdillyicious.blogspot.com, intended this to be an appetizer. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to take this recipe and put it center stage: as an entrée.

Home run.

I’ve made this dish twice in about a week so I think it’s definitely made its way into the weekly dinner rotation. I’ve served the shrimp over both spaghetti and fettuccine; fettuccine was better. I took about a tablespoon of the Cajun spice mix, combined it with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and used that as my Cajun “sauce” for the pasta. It was very tasty. I did find that if you use too much of the spice mix on the pasta it can taste a bit gritty. Though 1 tablespoon is enough to season pasta for 3-4, without being texturally odd.

I am considering trying to turn the Chipotle Mayo into a sauce for the pasta. My main hang up is that I loathe mayonnaise, but I imagine Greek yogurt would make a great substitute. I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

Even so, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Quick. Easy. Delicious. My favorite dinnertime adjectives. I marinated my shrimp for about 45 minutes and they were very flavorful. If you’re busy, you could probably devein your shrimp the night before and allow it to marinade over night. Then dinner the next day should take about 15 minutes. Boil water. Cook Pasta. Sauté shrimp. Fin.

Very, very tasty, I highly recommend.

Dinner Party Update:

After exhuastive Internet searching (really exhaustive, I think I actually burned a few calories) I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a pumpkin spice cake.

Despite how popular pumpkin has become, I was really underwhelmed with the amount of pumpkin spice layer cake recipes I found that didn’t incorporate a cake mix. My opinion is that when baking go big or go home. No cake mixes in this kitchen.

I stumbled across a recipe used by Willow Bird Baking, and I was nearly stunned into silence (nearly). I’m not so ambitious, on this occasion, as to make the cake, with the chai mousse and profiteroles (though I have been DYING to make profiteroles, so perhaps their day in the sun is on it’s way). I will be making the pumpkin cake with a cream cheese frosting. I’m very excited about it. I’m baking tomorrow, though I won’t post until after it’s been tasted (Saturday) so… look out for the results Sunday or Monday.

Should be good fun!

Happy Eating 🙂

Beef and Black Bean Nachos

Beef and Black Bean Nachos

Beef and Black Bean Nachos

This is a personal favorite of mine. Its delicious, fast and most importantly is a breeze to clean up. I hate recipes that put everything but the kitchen sink in my kitchen sink. This recipe is also really versatile: great nibbles for a party or tasty-yet-no-effort-dinner.

Usually, I use one of the premade spice mixes you can buy in the supermarket, however this time I made my own spice mix. I read on Pintrest that a lot of the store bought spice mixes are high in sodium and some contain silica. I can’t say for certain that its true, but I also can’t prove it isn’t. Either way, the pin included Rachel Ray’s recipe for taco seasoning, which was easy enough to make (its cheaper too!). I adjusted it slightly to suit what is in my cupboard and also because I have a love/hate relationship with cumin (I know I need to bite the bullet and make peace with cumin, but today just was not that day).

Results? Amazing! I don’t say that lightly. All the flavors were there and overall my nachos were way less salty than usual. I really enjoyed making my own spice mix; I even have some extra for next time. Also, each time I make it I can opt to add more or less of a certain seasoning to suit my mood.

Another great way to control your nacho munching experience is with your choice of tortilla chip. This time I went with an organic blue corn chip (another first for me). I liked it. I would say its main contribution was aestethic, as it didn’t make much of an impression for the better or worse taste wise. Calidad tortilla chips, however, are my personal favorite. I’ve only seen them in Target, so I’m not sure how many supermarket chains carry them. They are thicker than most of the tortilla chips I’ve tried and have a slightly stronger taste. I strongly recommend them, but any tortilla chip will do.

Optional Additions?

Jalapeno! I like jalapeno slices on my nachos. Just a few, sprinkled on the top: half garnish/ half spicy surprise.

Chopped Cilantro! Sprinkle some just atop the final cheese layer. Pretty and tasty.

A Squeeze of Lime! A hearty one, I might add. Add it to the beef when it is nearly finished and stir.

A side of Guac! No explanation needed. Avocados are delish, healthy and super trendy right now. All the cool kids are eating them.

Also, I use a pizza pan for my nacho base. If you don’t have one then any baking sheet will do. Line it with tin foil to dramatically reduce your clean up time. Who wants to scrub burnt cheese off of a metal tray? Not me. Who wants to throw away a ball of tin foil and clean up faster so you can watch TV after some good eats? Yes, this one is ME.

Dinner Party Update: I think I am going to make Lemon Chicken and Mashed Cauliflower (ever since I saw it on Pintrest, I have been dreaming about it). Not sure what to do for nibbles. Maybe Spinach and Artichoke Dip? Maybe Stuffed Mushrooms? Maybe something else entirely? Dessert is also a big question mark. I want to bake a cake because I want practice cake decorating. Apple Cinnamon Spice and Red Velvet (both with cream cheese frosting) are the current big contenders.

Happy Eating 🙂

1 lb ground beef (I use 93% lean)

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

1 can black beans

½ cup Mexican blend shredded cheese

½ cup Mozzarella shredded cheese

½-3/4 bag tortilla chips

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

My Mexican Seasoning:

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp garlic poweder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp adobo

1)   Saute onion at med-high heat in a frying pan until onions are soft (~7 mins).

2)   While onions are sweating, preheat the oven to 400F and line pizza pan with tin foil. Add a layer of tortilla chips to the pizza pan and sprinkle with each cheese. Add a second layer of chips and again sprinkle with each cheese. You want more cheese on the top nacho layer, than on the bottom. However make sure you have plenty of cheese to sprinkle over the meat (or else certain family members may become upset with you).

3)   Once onions are soft and beginning to brown, add beef. Break the beef up with a spoon and mix thoroughly with the onion.

4)   When the beef is beginning to brown, add the black beans and mix thoroughly.

5)   Add the spice mix when beef is ¾ cooked (only a little bit pink).

6)   Mix frequently until beef is cooked and beans are mushy.

7)   Spoon beef mixture on top of nachos and add remaining cheese.

8)   Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

The Little Gingerbread House That Could

I saw the string lights in the store and HAD to have them.

This year was the first year that I made a gingerbread house. Not the first year I made one from scratch… the first year I made one at all. I’m not quite sure how it’s escaped my attention for so long. Well, it has no longer!

Having never made one before, I initially underestimated how time-consuming this project would be. If you do not have several hours on 3 consecutive days to commit to the project then you should probably either make a gingerbread house with a kit or decorate Christmas cookies.

That said, I feel very proud of whatGingerbread House (side) I’ve accomplished and I did have a lot of fun.

I chose this recipe, which I found on epicurious.com. The cookie is tasty and flavorful. My house is also very sturdy (it has been decorating my window sill for about a week and looks no worse for the wear).

A word of caution before using this recipe: it makes A LOT of gingerbread. I could have constructed a gingerbread metropolis and New York State would have been forced to assign it a zip code. I didn’t make the templates that are specified in the recipe, I bought cookie cutters from Target. My cookie cutters were much smaller than the template, but still yielded a nice sized house. I had plenty of extra gingerbread to make gingerbread men, Santa and all eight of his reindeer. I also made a very pretty Christmas tree that I wanted to add to my gingerbread house display. You may have noticed that there is no gingerbread tree in any of the pictures I’ve posted. That is because someone ate my tree! I would recommend that you hide your construction materials from watering mouths and snatching fingers until you are ready to assemble the house.

For the most part, the project ran quite smoothly. I did have a bit of difficulty when I was cutting the dough. After cooling the dough overnight, I needed to let it warm up slightly before I could roll it out. There is a very small window of time when the dough is warm enough to be worked with, and yet not too warm, which causes the dough to lose its shape. My gingerbread became somewhat crooked when I transferred it to my baking sheets. I think this is because of the molasses. While you never want to let any refrigerated cookie dough become too warm, once the gingerbread warmed up (~10 minutes) it would no longer hold its shape properly. This resulted in my house’s edges being not quite even.  Despite that, I did not have many difficulties assembling the house and you can’t really tell it is uneven unless you look at it closely.

Gingerbread House (aerial)

I did have a few hiccups with my choice of red licorice. I bought a cheap one that was wrapped up like a rope in its packaging. Unfortunately, this caused the licorice to have a curve to it and thus my door is crooked. I was going to use the same material to make windows, but when the door did not turn out as planned I opted to nix the windows. I would definitely recommend buying licorice that is in straight lines in its packaging. That should have remedied the problem. Also, I think choosing a really thin licorice, like I did, puts a lot of pressure on you to be very neat in your icing application. Even if my door was straight, the icing seeping out from under it looks messy. I think a thicker licorice would minimize that.

Overall, I would say this was a really fun project. It is ideal for a small group of people to do together.  My brother helped me decorate the house. When I told him he could not eat the house until after I built it, he suddenly became very determined to help me finish. I wonder if this has anything to do with the mystery of my missing Christmas tree? Anyway, despite his ulterior motives he did come up with the idea to put icing on the chimney. Initially I was annoyed that he went rogue with my icing, but then I realized that snow on the chimney was really adorable. I’ll never admit this to him though. It is a hard day in the life of an older sister when you realize your younger brother thought of something clever that you didn’t.

I hope you enjoyed my Christmas project. I am now in the process of putting together a dinner party for some friends, which should be lots of fun. I am also very excited because, from the deep recesses of a cupboard, I just unearthed  my grandmother’s cookbook from the 1940’s. Will provide updates as I make progress on both the dinner party and investigating The Settlement Cook Book (possibly will occur simultaneously).

Aren't the Christmas tree lollipops adorable?

Happy Eating 🙂