Bear with me, folks!

I know I haven’t made any updates for the last week or so, but that’s because I’m lost without my camera! It broke the other day and I had to call HP and get a replacement. It should be here in the next week or so, but until then, here’s a little update on us:

For the last two weeks, we’ve been studying Fruits in our cooking class, which has been interesting-to say the least. Last week, we made frozen banana pops (really yummy!) and tried some fruits that aren’t as familiar to us. We tried kiwi (one of my favorites, but so expensive that I hardly buy it!), mango, starfruit (a new one on both of us, and SOOOOOO good!), and something else, but I can’t quite remember what.  What was even cooler was that we had some leftover chocolate dip from the bananas and we tried each fruit dipped in the chocolate. Definately our favorite was the starfruit in the chocolate dip. It was honestly a heavenly flavor combo!

We didn’t like the fresh mango of course, so we cooked it with some brown sugar and cinnamon and butter on the stove and then it was delightful!

This week we made fruit dip with grapes and bananas (trying to be frugal this week so we limited our dipping fruits) and we learned about food allergies and some funky names for different foods that are considered major allergens like egg, milk, corn, and wheat. It was amazing what we found some of these in. An example: Did you know that Russel Stover’s Chocolates have an egg derivative in them? Weird. I tried to explain to K why it’s important to know about food allergens because as she grows up and starts cooking for other people more, she needs to know how to avoid sickening an allergic guest. It seems silly, but you never know when you’ll marry someone with a severe allergy or have kids with an allergy that is life threatening, and it’s important to know how to fix food for those with allergies, I think.

Next was the fruit dip. I really, really don’t like fruit dip, but I thought it was a good thing for her to learn (they’re handy for potlucks, baby and bridal showers) how to make. Bryan and I were both pleasantly suprised with this recipe, it was actually pretty good! It’s a simple one and I wish I could’ve gotten a pic for y’all b/c K colored it purple and it actually looked really pretty! Here’s the recipe:

2 Tbl. Brown Sugar

1 C. Vanilla yogurt

Food coloring as desired.

Mix and serve.

Last week we also did an interview with cooks (she chose me to interview) and she learned how I handled certain food cleanliness issues in my kitchen, which was pretty neat, and next week we start on Dairy, which will be even more fun!

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Published in: on October 20, 2007 at 10:09 pm  Comments (2)  

Making Tamales-A Picture Tutorial

So, I’ve had a few requests to do a tamale tutorial. Let me preface by saying that while I have extensive experience in Mexican food, I had to teach myself to make tamales, so I just do it how I think is right. Plus, I don’t have a tamale steamer (honestly, I hate making tamales, but I love to eat them so I make them once or twice a year!), so my methods are unorthodox, but again, they work, which is all that matters, right?

First, you cook the chicken, beef, or pork for your tamale filling. I always use chicken, and I’m too lazy to buy the bone-in chicken, so I just use boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you wish to save some money or want a moister chicken filling, it is best to include dark meat in your filling. To cook my chicken, I just throw a few chicken breasts (3-4) in a pan with some water to boil and add a couple chicken boullion cubes,  a teaspoon of chile pequin (crushed red pepper), a Tablespoon of garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt, a 1/2 tsp. of ground red pepper (cayanne), and about a Tablespoon of onion powder. These are all estimates, folks, because I don’t measure when cooking (especially not with Mexican food-it’s just second nature to me). After an hour or two of boiling, the water should’ve boiled down to a nice yellow broth, like this:
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I then take the chicken out of the pan, saving the broth to the side, and use two forks to shred my chicken. If your chicken breasts are well cooked, this should be sooooo easy, but if you’re using meat on the bone, this would be the time to debone defat and shred your chicken. Mine looked like this:
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Next, I put the shredded chicken into a saucepan or skillet with about a half cup of water or so, and I simmer the chicken in more spices. This is to give your chicken filling a good spiciness, because masa is quite bland, so a good portion of the flavor of your tamales come from the filling. I use liberal amounts of chili powder, garlic, onion powder, salt, ground red pepper, and a little chili pequin, but you can easily just use a packet or two of taco or fajita seasoning from the store. Even enchilada sauce seasoning (the dry packets found in your Ethnic food section-not the canned sauce) will work, anything to give it some kick. Here’s how mine looked while simmering. I simmer for about 10 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.
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Next, we put the tamale husks to soak in some water. For this I use a really large bowl filled with warm water as pictured, but you can use anything, the idea is to wet and soften the husks while you are preparing your masa. Please note that it looks like I only have four husks in the water, but there are actually several in each section of husks, so as you’ll see a bit later, it wouldn’t be prudent to throw the whole bag of corn husks in the water, because you would end up with hundreds of husks!
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Next up is a photo of the Maseca (the stuff in the flour-type bag and in the bowl) as well as the chicken broth I saved from the chicken I cooked earlier. The recipe calls for either water or chicken broth to be used in the making of the masa dough, but always, always, always try to use chicken broth with some flavor to it. Remember mine has those red pepper flakes and all those other goodies in it which will serve to give the blah Masa dough a little lift.
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I’m a simple girl, I use the recipe on the side of the package to make my masa dough:
2 cups Maseca
2 cups lukewarm water or broth
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening
Combine maseca, baking powder and salt in a bowl, work broth or water with your fingers to make a soft moist dough, like this:
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In a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy like this:
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Add masa and beat until dough has a spongy texture, like this:
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Now, remember those corn husks that were soaking? Now is a great time to try to seperate them. Think of them like an onion, with many layers. Gently peel them apart from the outside working in. Many times on the very inside layer, you will find some corn silk, remove this and rinse corn husks well before using them. Here’s what mine looked after they were taken apart and rinsed. See how many that made?
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Now, we’re ready to assemble our tamales. To do this, simply lay the corn husk down on a clean work surface, with the pointy end facing away from you and the curved sides curling up towards you, and take a few Tablespoons of the Masa dough and place it in the center of the tamale. Try to spread the dough out as evenly as possible, and yes, it will stick to you and make a mess. Some people prefer to use spacklers to spread the masa out, I just use a rubber spatula. You want to spread very close to the edge, but you don’t want your edges to be so thick with masa that they are hard to fold. Here’s an example of one of mine. Far from perfect, but they don’t have to be:
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Next add about a tablespoon of the meat filling to the center of the dough, like this:
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Next, fold the corn husk’s pointy end towards you, then fold the RIGHT side of the corn husk over to the center, then you may fold the bottom (wide end closest to you) up to the center. At this point you should have three sides folded in towards the center, so while holding the “flaps” down, begin to roll the filled section towards the un-tucked left edge. At this point, when fully rolled, your tamale may look something like this:
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A picture of my rolled tamales:
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Now fill a pot with water, and put EITHER a double broiler on top OR some kitchen cooling racks on top of the pan with the water in it. Turn the heat on your stove to medium and wait for it to begin boiling.The idea is that the tamales need to be steamed, and really, the cooling racks work best if you can do it, but if not, here’s what the tamales would look like in a double boiler setting:
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If using the double boiler, then place a damp towel over the standing tamales, and cover with a lid, like this:
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and this:
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If using the cooling rack method (preferred), then just lay the tamales down on the rack in the area directly above where the steam will come up, and cover with a damp towel like before, only this time, put an oven safe bowl over the area that has the tamales in it, like this:
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This method (not using an actual tamale steamer) will take two to three times as long to steam, and you may need to replace the water occasionally to keep the steam going, but if you don’t want to buy a steamer and only make tamales occasionally, it’s not that bad. One warning, when removing the bowl to check your tamales (just try to open one after 3 hours and see if the masa has “set”), be careful to avoid steam burns. They hurt, a LOT. Trust me. Now my tamales took a total of 5 hours steaming, but most recipes say 2 hours, the difference is in the method. A tamale steamer is kind of like a pressure cooker, and we’re using a pan, so that is where the difference comes in. When finished, here is what a good tamale looks like, and a bad one. It was perfect that I had a bad tamale this time so that I could show you the difference. The “bad” tamale is still edible of course, but I hadn’t spread enough masa on the husk when preparing this one, so it didn’t make a thick wall around the filling like it should’ve, and it just fell apart right out of the husk. The good tamale should have ridges from the corn husk where it has hardened during the cooking process and molded to the husk, and should easily come away from the husk-no sticking. If your tamales are sticking really badly to the husk, they aren’t done! Anyway, here’s the photo:
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Published in: on October 10, 2007 at 4:42 pm  Comments (18)  
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Yummy Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Okay, so I missed a lot of photos while we were working on the potato soup, sorry ’bout that. Hey, I TOLD you it was veggies this week, didn’t I? You didn’t think I would let her by with just zucchini muffins for a vegetable representative did you? Well, I didn’t, but then again, who says veggies can’t be yummy? I chose this particular recipe for Kaylea because it was something totally different than what she’s ever tasted and I was pretty confident she’d like the end result, not to mention she needs some serious knife skills work and I know potatoes are tough to learn to cut properly. Since this recipe called for uniform pieces of potato, I thought it would work her skills a little better than twice-baked potatoes or any other potato recipe I could think of, except for fries, which she’s made me with me before…I try to make the recipes something new and different to challenge her skills rather than things she’s already made a thousand times with me. Anyway, all that to say, I did catch a couple final pics of our bowls of cheesy potato soup, all dressed up and I thought I’d show you:

My bowl (Hey, don’t judge, I used to have dress this type of soup several times a day during those infamous waitressing days…):

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And K’s bowl…she skipped the onions, but I don’t mind, b/c SHE had to chop them, lol.
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OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE LOADED BAKED

POTATO SOUP (Copycat Recipe)

5 or 6 large potatoes

1 can evaporated milk (12 ounce can)

1 lb. Velveeta Cheese, cubed

salt to taste

pepper to taste

garlic to taste

Garnish

Sour cream

Bacon bits

Shredded cheese

Green onion tops

Wash, peel, cut potatoes in small pieces.

 In medium size pot, barely cover

with water, boil until cooked,

 but still firm.

 Add milk and cheese.

 Cook on low,

 stirring constantly until cheese melts.

 Do not boil. Ladle into serving

bowls and add toppings of:

 sour cream, bacon bits,

shredded cheese,

 and green onion tops.

Published in: on October 7, 2007 at 8:41 pm  Comments (17)  

Awesome Zucchini Cupcakes

Several of you have asked for the recipe for the zucchini cupcakes that K and I made this weekend, so here is the recipe, along with a few photos of them.

Zucchini Cupcakes (as seen in Blue Ribbon Recipes)

3 eggs

1 1/3 c. sugar

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1/2 c. orange juice (we used simply orange)

1 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 c. flour

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 1/2 c. shredded zucchini (we used a mixture of finely shredded and regular shredded for texture)

CARAMEL FROSTING:

1 c. packed brown sugar

1/2 c. butter or margarine (we used unsalted butter)

1/4 c. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2-2 c. confectioners sugar (we used 2, but then it got too thick, so I thinned it back out with a Tbl. milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, oil, orange juice and extract. Combine dry ingredients add to the egg mixture and mix well. Add zucchini and mix well. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups (we used paper-lined) until 2/3 full. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes (22 minuts was perfect for us) or until cupcakes test done with a toothpick. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. For frosting, combine the brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan; bring to boil over medium heat (stirring occasionally). Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in vanilla . Cool to lukewarm. Gradually beat in the confectioners sugar until frosting reaches spreading consistancy. Frost cupcakes. (We noticed that as we were frosting the cupcakes the frosting started setting up harder, so we just whisked in a Tbl. of water and it was back to a good consistancy for frosting the remaining cupcakes. Yield 1 1/2 to 2 dozen (We ended up with 2 dozen and enough batter left for about one extra cupcake beyond that, and about 5 Tablespoons worth of frosting leftover.)

As far as a review, this was possibly my FAVORITE new recipe I’ve found in a very, very long time. K went bonkers over them as well. We were teasing Bryan over the phone (he called us this afternoon) about how wonderful they were and I think he was a little jealous that we had awesome cupcaktes and he didn’t, hehe. Anyway, here’re some photos I snapped along the way:
The baked, yet unfrosted cupcakes.
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The caramel for the frosting before adding the powdered sugar, I gotta tell you, as if the batter didn’t just smell awesome, the smell of this caramel was almost too tempting. We contemplated making more of this mixture and taking baths in it. Okay, that idea didn’t last long, but man did it smell yummy!
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K frosting some cupcakes.
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Some newly frosted cupcakes:
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K munchin’ down on some yummy zucchini cupcakes! This weekend’s cooking class was on vegetables. Hey, zucchini’s a vegetable right? hehe
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And the finished products-well, some of them. I don’t think I have to tell you which ones were done by the woman with professional bakery experience, do I? Hey, they were all pretty good lookin’, though!
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Published in: on October 7, 2007 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ladies, it’s that time!

I went to the store today to pick up some groceries for this weekend’s cooking class and some of those Mexican food fixins’ that I mentioned earlier, and was reminded of something. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On October 6th, it will have been one year since the passing of my mother due to cancer, and although it wasn’t breast cancer that took her from us, it still reminds me that we all need to be taking care of ourselves and getting regular checkups to make sure we’re healthy…as a foodie’s reminder, I thought I’d post this for you. The items I bought that carry that little pink ribbon as a reminder for us all:

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Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It’s Fiesta Time!

Okay, so my silly husband hates all Mexican foods pretty much. He thinks a lot of black pepper in sawmill gravy is “spicy”. I love him dearly, but he’s what I’d call a “Food Wuss”. Trying new foods really seems to scare him a bit. Unfortunately for him, he married me. I come from a long line of Mexican food lovers, and trying new things is my favorite thing to do. Most weeks I attempt to have him and K try something new or different, b/c they’ve both been so sheltered in food variety and I think it’s good for them to branch out a little, but overall, I keep the foods mellow, southern, and comforting for them.

But when hubby’s away, it’s a whole ‘nother story! I go out shopping the day after he leaves for his service with the National Guard, and I buy…what else? MEXICAN FOOD…not the pre-packaged tamales-in-a-jar type of Mexican food, but the authentic basics like Harina Preparada, Masa Harina, Chicken, Beef, spices, and the ingredients to make several different Create-Your-Own Combo plates while he’s gone. It’s my time to get back to my roots….Okay, so I’m not Latino, I’m mostly German, but seriously, who likes German food? Ick.

Anyway, last night while chatting with some friends, I decided to make some impromptu Carne Asada for myself…ghetto-style. Why ghetto-style you ask? Because I had no corn tortillas and didn’t want to make any. I had no lime, and no pico de gallo, either. So I worked with what I had, which was:

Some Flat-Out Whole Wheat Wraps

Some Flank Steak

Tomatillo Salsa

Spices-Onion powder, Garlic salt, Crushed Red Pepper (Chile Pequin), and a little chili powder.

Lemon Juice (in place of lime juice)

Peanut oil.

I cut one large flank steak into strips, then cut the strips into thirds so they would be more bite-sized. Then I heated my cast-iron skillet with a light coating of peanut oil to a medium-high heat. Next I tossed my steak strips in the spices and about a teaspoon of lemon juice, till lightly coated in spices.

After putting the steak strips into the hot pan (searing, just a minute or two on each side-tiny pieces cook quickly!), I pulled out the Flat-Out Wraps from the freezer, took one and cut it into half (they are shaped sort-of oblong), and waited for the juices to run clear in my steak strips. Once they were done, I placed the steak strips onto a paper towel, and tossed the Wrap onto the hot pan (still had some oil in it), and waited for about 45 seconds to flip them, then 30 seconds on the other side.

On a plate, I laid the wrap down, topped with steak, and drizzled some of the tomatillo (green) salsa on my ghetto-carne asada. I can’t begin to tell you how yummy it was. Not bad for about 10 minutes in the kitchen, huh?

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Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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