Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fritos Salad

When my grandpa got remarried about 5 years ago, my new step-aunt brought this salad to the luncheon.  My family loved it, and got the recipe.  My brother and I were talking about it a few weeks ago, and I decided to make it, since it had been a while.  This salad is so simple, so quick, and oh so good.  And if you use Fritos Scoops, they can even be utensil-free!

Fritos Salad 
1-2 bags Fritos (I used regular, but scoops would work well)1 can black beans, drained and rinsed1 can corn, drained1 bell pepper, chopped1 avocado, chopped1/2  white onion, chopped1 tomato, diced1/2 bottle creamy French dressing 
In a large bowl, combine beans, corn, pepper, avocado, onion, and tomato.  Gently stir in dressing.   
If you are using the salad right away, gently stir in the chips.  If not, refrigerate the salad, and Do Not add the chips, until you are ready to serve the salad.  If you refrigerate the salad, or let it sit a while with the chips, they will turn soggy, which is undesirable.

This recipe is easy to adjust to your liking.  My family has a few picky eaters, and there are a few food allergies, so the avocado, onion, and tomato were left to the side for those that wanted them.

This salad is great for parties, side dishes, or a healthy snack.  This salad has a lot of fiber.  It is also a good source of iron, protein, potassium, and Vitamin A.  Avocados are a great source of fatty acids, which are good for heart health.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quick Butter Mints

Fall is, by far, my favorite season.  The colors, the temperature, the decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving, the colors, the sweaters, the fresh produce, the colors, the smells of canning.  Did I mention the colors?  

This has been an abnormally mild summer where I live.  This means that Fall is coming early.  One of the canyons we drive through on our way to our family getaway already has leaves turning.  In August!  I'm loving it.  

Another thing that means it's fall is the smell of canning.  Like I've said before, my parents grow a veggie garden.  Most we eat as it comes, but they grow a ton of tomatoes, in anticipation of canning season.  My Mom makes and cans salsa and spaghetti sauce.  Her spaghetti sauce is amazing, better than any other I've ever had.  No joke.  The smell that fills the house when she cans the tomatoes is one of my favorite smells.  And that is coming up in a few days.  I am so excited.

This week we are canning peaches.  Our tree is weird, it has a 3-year cycle, one year with a lot of great peaches, one with horribly low peach counts, and one with so-so results.  This year is a great year.  We even had to thin out as much as half the peaches, there were so many!  

My family has a tradition with canning.  Butter mints.  We normally buy the Western Family bags at a nearby grocery store.  Yesterday, while doing the first day's worth of peaches, we went through the bag.  Sad but true.  I remembered seeing a recipe for butter mints on pinterest, so I looked through some recipes, and decided to try them out.  I found 2 types of recipes; candied buttermints, and quick buttermints.  The candied ones require you to candy sugar and butter, add flavorings and milk, and pull it like taffy.  I'm saving the taffy pulling for the winter.  Quick buttermints require no cooking, just a few on-hand ingredients and a mixer.  Easy peasy.

The first step requires you to cream the salt into the butter, so that it is smooth.

Next, you add the rest of the ingredients.  The order does not matter, although I do recommend adding the extract and color with the milk.

Third, you blend together.  It should look powdery like this next picture.  You know it is good to go if, when you pinch the powder together, it clumps together and stays put.

Four, make sure your hands are clean (or put on some latex gloves) and knead the powder together.  Keep kneading until all ingredients are evenly distributed, and the dough feels very similar to Play-Do.

Divide the dough in half, then in half again, and once more in half again, until you have 8 balls of dough, like so:

For this part I got out a cutting mat, for step 6.  Using one small dough ball at a time, roll them out until they are about a half-inch thick, like so.  I did 4 balls each time, for faster cutting in step 6.  If any dough hangs over the side, just cut or pinch it off, and return it to the bowl.  Waste not, my friends.

Step 6: Using a pizza cutter, cut across each "rope" of dough, about as thick as your rope.

Step 7: For this step, I got out a jelly roll pan, and lined it with wax paper.  Carefully pick up your mints, and lay them on the wax paper.  You can see in the next picture that I have 2 colors.  My family was snitching the dough as I worked, so I made another batch so it would last.

Step 8: Put the pan in the fridge, and let them sit overnight.  No need to cover them; you'll want them to dry a bit.  When they are dry, or manage to hold their shape when you squeeze them a little between your fingers, you can transfer them to a smaller container for storage.  You might want to continue refrigerating them, in case they melt.

Recipe: (Yields about 300 butter mints)

1/4 c butter
1/4 t salt
1/3 c sweetened condensed milk (About one quarter of a regular-sized can)
3 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 1/8 t mint extract
4-5 drops food coloring

Cream together the butter and salt with a mixer until smooth.  Add the milk, extract, coloring, and powdered sugar.  Mix well.  Using your hands, knead the mixture until it resembles smooth Play-Do.  Divide into 8 balls.  Roll each ball into half-inch thick ropes.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the ropes into half-inch pieces.  Line a jelly roll pan with wax paper.  Gently move each mint onto the wax paper, and refrigerate overnight.  When they harden and hold their shape, transfer mints to a storage container, and keep refrigerated.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thai Style Coconut Chicken

Today started out rough.  My tablet kept closing apps on me, my hair wouldn't do anything, and I was frustrated.  I had been trying to do something with my hair for a couple hours, only to end up braiding the hair on both sides of my head into a ponytail.  I had originally planned on only doing my hair for a half hour, tops.  This was just before I was going to have lunch, so by the time I got done, I was pretty hungry.

I don't know about you, but when I'm frustrated, I don't want to be around people, and food I'd normally eat looks about as appetizing as moldy bread.  I saw my box of Panko crumbs in the cupboard, and remembered the coconut chicken fingers I made a while back.  That would take too much effort, so I googled for coconut chicken recipes.  I found Betty Crocker's Thai Style Coconut Chicken, and I decided to go for it.  I tweaked the recipe a bit, so I'm going to put it here.

Thai Style Coconut Chicken

1 T canola oil
1 lb. chicken breasts or tenderloins
1 T lime juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
5 sprigs cilantro
4 basil leaves
1 can coconut milk
1 T packed brown sugar
1/2 t salt
2 T soy sauce
2 bell peppers
1/4 c shredded coconut

On a cutting board, cut bell peppers into about 1-inch squares, and set aside in a bowl.  Using the same cutting board, mince together the garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, and basil.  Set aside in a small bowl.  Using the same cutting board, cut your chicken into cube-size pieces.

HELPFUL HINT: If you use tenderloins, use a sharp filet knife to remove the connective tissue from the chicken (the thick pearly white stuff that looks like it goes straight down the tenderloin).  Tightly grasp the tissue in your non-dominant hand, and hold the knife at about a 45-degree angle, blade facing away from your non-dominant hand.  Using a firm hand, push down against the tissue with your knife, sliding it down the tissue.  This should remove 95% of the chicken from the tissue.

Preheat a wok or large skillet, and pour in the canola oil.  Add the chicken, and brown long enough that the chicken is no longer pink inside.  Add the minced herbs and garlic, and stir fry 1 minute.  Pour in the coconut milk, and stir in the brown sugar, salt, and soy sauce.  Add the peppers and coconut.  Lower the heat to medium, and cook 5-10 minutes, until peppers are slightly tender.  The longer you simmer, the more the flavor gets into the chicken.

You can serve this over rice.  I only had quick rice on hand.  This would be fantastic over jasmine rice, which has a slightly sweeter flavor.

The produce I used was from the garden in my back yard.  My bell peppers were slightly smaller than what you see in a grocery store, so take that as you will.  Also, the jalapeno was about 4 times bigger than what you see in the grocery store, so I just used about an inch and a half of it, since I don't care for spicy food.  You could saute some onions, add peas, or other foods to add some variety.

Shepherds Pie

Summer and I have a love-hate relationship.  I don't like the heat, so I went and chopped my hair off.  But now I can't do as many cute things with my hair.  *Sigh.*  I'm a redhead, so I burn easily.  I've already gone through 2 bottles of 50 spf sunscreen since May.

Then there's the good stuff.  And by that, I mean my parents' vegetable garden.  I can't garden worth a poop.  Plants shrivel when I breathe on them.  Luckily, my parents make outdoor plants thrive.  In the fridge, I have half a pint-sized jar full of fresh pesto.  Zucchini bread sits tucked nice and tight in the freezer.  I love to cook with fresh vegetables.  And then I get back to the heat issue.  A hot kitchen unfortunately makes the whole house hot.  So, I've been trying out new crockpot recipes.  A few weeks ago I tried to replicate Cafe Rio's barbacoa pulled pork salads.  The meat didn't turn out as dark, but it was still oh so good!  Today, I am making shepherds pie.

What is shepherds pie?  It's traditionally an Irish dish.  In the 1800s, Ireland was under what was known as a "middleman" system, in which the Irish were tenants under landlords, who were more often than not English.  The Irish payed rent, and rarely owned land.  Most of what they farmed or raised went to the landlord to trade.  Then, in the late 1840s, there was a potato blight, known as the Potato Famine.  Produce rotted, rents couldn't be paid, the Irish lost their homes as a result, and many people starved.  If they didn't die of starvation, they might have lost toes or more to frostbite.  Many people emigrated to the England to find work in factories or as servants, or emigrated to the States to start over.
Since the Irish were poor and had little to eat for themselves, they would take scraps of food to make meals.  One was called cottage pie, or as it is now known, shepherds pie.  The meal was usually made up of leftover mutton, whatever vegetables could be gathered, and potatoes, usually mashed on top, and baked.

Most recipes I found for shepherds pie called for whiskey, commonly used in Irish cooking.  Other recipes I found were a bit on the, well, boring side.  I mixed together a few ideas that I liked, and it turned out pretty well.

Shepherds Pie

1 pound ground meat (lamb, beef, turkey, etc.)
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 c beef stock
2 large carrots, diced
1/2 c peas
1/2 c corn
1 cup green beans, cut about 1-inch long
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Worcester Sauce
1 t rosemary leaves
1 t thyme

In a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil.  Add the carrots; cook until a fork easily slides into the carrot.  (If using fresh vegetables and not canned or frozen, do the same with the other vegetables.) Brown the meat, and lay in a crockpot.  Using the same frying pan, brown the onion and garlic until golden brown.  Add to the meat.  Add the vegetables.  In a bowl, whisk together the soup and stock.  (Some of my family members don't like mushrooms, so you can use a strainer as you pour the soup and stock into the crockpot, and throw out the mushrooms).  Stir well.

If it is still runny, you can add a cornstarch slurry.  What is a slurry?  Basically you whisk together cold water and cornstarch together, then add to the mixture.  It has to be cold water, or the cornstarch will stay lumpy.  You want to make the slurry thick.  Think oobleck thick.  Don't know what oobleck is?  It's cornstarch and water, thick enough that when you push your finger into it fast, it resists your finger.  Oobleck looks watery, but it can be moldable if it is constantly moved around with your hands.  That is the consistency you want for a slurry.  Stir that a little at a time into your crockpot, and stir it in.  It should thicken.  If you have leftover slurry, let any children nearby play with it over the kitchen or bathroom sink - fun galore!

Set your crockpot to high, or a 4-hour setting.  Cook about 3 hours, depending on your altitude.  If you're at a high altitude, add about a half hour.  An hour before it's done, you need to add the mashed potatoes.

4 russet baking potatoes, cubed
1/2 c sour cream or cream cheese
1/4 c butter
3/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper

Boil your potatoes until a fork can easily spear a cube.  Drain, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Using a masher, mash the potatoes to your desired consistency.  Add the butter, sour cream or cream cheese, salt, and pepper.  Using beaters, mix until it looks creamy and fluffy.  Using a rubber spatula, gently smooth the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture, until it looks about 2-3 inches thick.  Cook in the crockpot another hour.

Everybody in my family loved this recipe! I knew it would go fast, so I actually made 2 crock pot batches for leftovers. I tried to get a good picture of it served, but that didn't work out too well. So, I found a picture online similar to what mine looked like.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Microwave Coffee Cake

Have you seen the recipes on pinterest for microwave cookies, brownies, and chocolate cake?  I've tried several of them, and I gotta say, I did not like them.  They were mushy, had a funny texture, and tasted strongly of egg.  I was convinced that microwave baked goods were, well, no good.

Until now.

I'm student teaching right now in a FACS Exploration B class, and we are in our foods unit.  I try every recipe before my students do, so I know how to help them.  This week we are making sour cream cake, or more commonly known as coffee cake.  It's a microwave recipe.  I was very skeptical.

Oh. My. Gosh!  This cake is pretty darn good!  It's spongey, it's light, it tastes perfect!  I had to share it.  I didn't take pictures as I made it, so I'll try to be descriptive.

Sour Cream Cake

Cake ingredients:
 1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. sour cream

Topping ingredients:
2 T. butter
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. oatmeal (quick oats)

Second Topping:
2 T. Cinnamon Sugar (2 T. sugar with 1/8 t. cinnamon)

1. Mix all the ingredients for the cake with the hand mixer in a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl put all the ingredients for the topping. Using a pastry cutter mix the ingredients together.
 3. Using a glass round pan layer the ingredients in this order: half the topping, half the cake mix, rest of the topping, and finally rest of the cake mix on top.  (I used a 6-inch wide Pyrex bowl)
4. Bake in the microwave for 3 minutes. Then let it stand for 1 minute.
 If the cake still does not look done cook for an additional 30 seconds.
 5. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Caramel Bugles

Last year, my family went to our ranch after Christmas.  We like to stop and talk to our closest neighbors, seeing as they are close friends, family without legal or blood bonds.  The wife is a fantastic cook, and always has leftovers from family meals, Christmas treats, and cooking for hunters that rent out the local hunting cabins.  Anyway, last year she gave us a big bag of treats, and told us the recipe was in her cookbook we had bought.

This year, Mom and I thought we could have some made for our own family get-togethers for the holidays.  I didn't remember what the recipe was called, so I googled the ingredients, but didn't find it anywhere.  So I read the entire cookbook sections on desserts, cookies, and candies, and finally found it.  Since I didn't see it online, I'm posting the recipe here for everyone.

Caramel Bugles

2-3 bags of Bugles corn chips (may also use cereal i.e. Chex, Rice Krispies, Cheerios, etc.)
Handful of ice cubes
Cold Water
1 cube butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 lb. brown sugar (half a regular bag)
Optional: 1/4 cup cream
Optional: 1 tsp. vanilla
Optional: mix-ins such as M&Ms, chocolate chips, nuts, mini marshmallows, etc.

Tools needed:
Heavy saucepan
Heavy wooden spoon
Candy Thermometer
Measuring cup
Spray can of vegetable oil
Pastry brush
Greased jelly roll pan(s)
Large mixing bowl

Place ice cubes in mug, and fill with cold water (This is to test caramel, as well as for the pastry brush).  Place near stove top. Clip candy thermometer to sauce pan; don't let the tip touch the bottom of the pan.  Grease jelly roll pan(s).  Pour the chips into the large bowl.  Set aside.

 In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.  Use spray oil to grease your one-cup measuring cup, and pour in the corn syrup (This help it pour out easier).  Add the sweetened condensed milk and cream.  Using a whisk, mix in the brown sugar.  Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  At this point, I prefer to use a heavy wooden spoon.  Periodically dip the pastry brush in the ice water and brush along the inside of the sauce pan, above the caramel mixture; this prevents crystals from forming.  Constantly stir the mixture.  Caution: milk products burn easily, so you may want to constantly use the spoon against the bottom of the pan to prevent burning the caramel; if it burns and you stir against it, you will have chunks of burnt caramel in your sauce, which isn't very pretty or desirable.  Keep stirring until the thermometer reaches the soft ball stage, about 230-245 degrees Fahrenheit.   Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the caramel over the Bugles chips.  With the wooden spoon, fold the sauce in until the chips are evenly coated.

Spread the chips over the jelly roll pan(s).  You want them spread apart so they are not stuck together, and can be easily eaten by hand.  When the sauce is cool enough to the touch, you may sprinkle other toppings onto the sauce (I have used M&Ms, chocolate chips, cashews, and mini marshmallows).  When completely cool, you may place in to bowls, or into treat bags for gifts.