Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yes, I'm From Texas


If you are one of those people who follow the firm belief that Texas chili doesn't have beans, please don't shoot and avert your eyes now!  Yes, I know Texas chili isn't supposed to have beans.  But I happen to love beans and I especially love them in my chili.  I hope the State of Texas doesn't evict me for this.  I just tend to do my own thing and don't follow a lot of rules when it comes to food.  I apologize to my fellow Texans for being so mischevious and breaking the rules.  I also...gasp...sometimes put a beer in my chili.  I know, the beer goes in the cook, not the chili.  But sometimes I'm just in the mood for that.

Now that that's out of the way, this is my Darn Good Chili.  It has a surprise ingredient that thickens it up at the end...masa harina.  If you don't know what that is, it's corn flour used for making corn tortillas.  It gives the chili a great flavor and the thickness you'd expect from a good chili.  And, yes, it has beans.  Three kinds of meat, spicy jalapenos and serranos, and lots of chili powder make this a favorite around my house.  And the best part?  It cooks in the crockpot.  Sure, there's a little browning of meat, but other than that the most work you'll do is chop up some veggies.  It's darn tasty!

DARN GOOD CHILI
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 lb chuck roast, cubed
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2-3 serrano peppers, chopped
2/3 C chili powder
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
3 T cumin
3 T garlic powder
1 T oregano
2 T paprika
8 C beef stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
One 12-ounce beer (optional)
1/2 to 1 C masa harina (depends on how thick you want it)

Brown the ground beef and the ground pork.  Drain if necessary.  Put this mixture in the crockpot.  In the same skillet, quickly brown the cubed roast meat on high.  Don't cook it all the way through.  You just want some color on it.

Place all of the ingredients except the beans and masa harina into a crockpot.  Cook on low for about 6-8 hours or until the roast meat is tender.  In the last hour of cooking (about the time when the roast seems like it's almost tender), add the beans into the crockpot.  Ladle about two cups of the liquid from the crockpot into another bowl.  Quickly whisk the masa harina into the liquid until smooth.  Return the mixture to the crockpot and stir until combined.  Finish cooking for the final hour.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

No Mystery Meat Here


I know a lot of people have hangups about meatloaf.  Maybe that's understandably so.  Way, way back when, it used to be called Mystery Meat.  Lunch ladies served it up in cafeterias.  Moms made these strange loaves that kids didn't quite get.  It wasn't until I was an adult that I would eat meatloaf.  My children are still skeptical of meatloaf.  But I keep on making it and they keep on eating it.  But there is no Mystery Meat here.  It's just plain old ground beef and ground pork.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

If you've read many of my posts, you know by now that I like to put my own twist on dishes.  And you'll know that I'm from Texas and a huge Tex-Mex fan.  I've ranted on about how Tex-Mex food is a real cuisine and it should be taken seriously.  I won't rant now.  I just wanted to remind you of my feelings on it.  Recently I made a Poblano Mac & Cheese that was to die for.  It was a huge hit at home and at work where I shared the leftovers.  So what better protein to put with that than Tex-Mex Meatloaf.  There are a lot of ingredients in this, but you really just throw it all in a bowl, mix it up, cook up a quick sauce, and throw it in the oven.

Now, I don't like crunchy vegetables, so I took the extra step of sauteeing the bell peppers, onions, and jalapenos.  But you can totally skip that step if you're okay with crunchy veggies.  It's a personal preference thing. Even with the sauteeing, it's still pretty quick to throw together. And the sauce is so yummy I could eat it with a spoon!  Oh, and by the way, I didn't tell you the best part.  There is cheese in the middle of the meatloaf! Are you excited yet?

TEX-MEX MEATLOAF
FOR THE MEATLOAF:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T chili powder
1 T garlic powder
1 T cumin
One package McCormick's Chipotle Pepper Marinade
1 chipotle in adobo, chopped
1/2 C salsa
1/2 C plain breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 C shredded Pepper Jack cheese

FOR THE SAUCE:
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 T garlic powder
Salt & pepper
1 T minced onion flakes

For the sauce, place all of the sauce ingredients into a pot.  Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If cooking the veggies, drizzle some olive oil into a skillet.  Cook the onion, bell pepper, and jalapenos until tender.  Mix the veggies and remaining meatloaf ingredients except the cheese together by hand.  Place half of the meat mixture into a loaf pan.  (You can also just do it free-form on a sheet pan.) Spread the cheese on top of the meat mixture.  Top with the remaining meat mixture.  Pour the sauce all over the top.  Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until done all the way through.

Food Love


I love spinach.  I love spinach and artichokes.  I love spinach, artichokes, and cheese.  My husband loves pasta.  My husband loves pasta with chicken.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Chicken Florentine Pasta.  I really didn't expect this to turn out as good as it did, but I was very surprised at how darn tasty it is. 

Now, my husband thinks he doesn't like artichokes.  If they are big enough, he will go to great lengths to pick them out.  But, just this one time, he ate them.  That's how good this pasta is.  If you have a picky eater, sure, you can leave them out.  Or maybe you can just cut them into itty bitty tiny little pieces and they won't notice.  Either way, everyone will enjoy this pasta.  I promise.  

CHICKEN FLORENTINE PASTA
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T butter
One 10-ounce bag fresh spinach
3 C cooked, shredded chicken
One 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained
1 lb pasta (any shape)
One 15-ounce container of ricotta
2 C shredded Mozzarella
1 C shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 C half & half
1 C chicken stock

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium high heat.  Drizzle in some olive oil and cook the onion until tender.  Add in the mushrooms and cook until browned and soft.  Add in the chicken, garlic, ricotta, artichokes, chicken stock, and half and half.  Stir until the ricotta is well combined.  Stir in the spinach and cook a minute or two to wilt it down. Turn to medium low and stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Cook and stir until the sauce is thickened and Parmesan is melted.  Mix this mixture with the pasta and pour it into a 9 x 13 pan.  Sprinkle the Mozzarella all over the top and brown under the broiler.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake


PUMPKIN PRALINE CHEESECAKE
FOR THE CRUST:
1 sleeve graham crackers
1 C hazelnuts
1/4 C sugar
1 stick butter

FOR THE FILLING:
3 eggs
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 C sour cream
1 C sugar
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
1 T cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves

FOR THE TOPPING:
1 1/2 C pecan halves
1 1/2 C brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 C half and half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  For the crust, put all of the ingredients except the butter into a food processor and pulse until very fine.  Mix this with the melted butter.  Press this mixture into the bottom of a springform pan.  Bake for 6 minutes.

Combine all of the filling ingredients together with a mixer. Pour into the prebaked crust.  Bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cheesecake is done in the center.  While the cheesecake is cooking, place all of the topping ingredients into a small pot.  Bring to a boil and cook until thickened and bubbly, about 5-6 minutes.  Take the cheesecake out of the oven and wait for it to sink in some on top.  Pour this mixture over the top of the cheesecake and return it to the oven.  Continue baking for at least 10 minutes and up to 20 minutes or until the topping is bubbly and thickened.  Chill completely before slicing.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bacon, Jalapeno & Cheddar Mini Corn Muffins


BACON, JALAPENO & CHEDDAR MINI CORN MUFFINS
6 T melted butter
2 C cornmeal
1 C flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 C buttermilk
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-3 T chopped jalapeno slices (the kind from a jar)
1/2 to 3/4 C shredded cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the ingredients together with a whisk.  Generously spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick spray.  Fill the muffin tins almost to the top.  I got 24 mini muffins plus 3 regular-sized muffins.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the tops spring back when touched.

A Smash Hit


Sometimes you just want to high five yourself in the kitchen, right?  You know the moment.  You just created something fabulous.  Your family raves about it.  You eat the leftovers the next morning for breakfast.  You need a high five!  Well, this dish is my high-five dish.  Spicy Tortellini.  It has spinach, cheese and sausage tortellini, Rotel, and pepper jack cheese. It's so darn tasty!  Oh, and I haven't told you the best part yet.  It's a one-skillet meal!  And we did eat the leftovers for breakfast.  Don't judge me. I just couldn't help myself!

This one's a keeper!

SPICY TORTELLINI
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can Rotel (I used Hot)
1/2 C heavy cream
2 C chicken stock
One 5-ounce bag fresh spinach
1 1/2 to 2 C shredded pepper jack cheese
2 T butter
2-3 T chopped jalapenos
1 lb fresh tortellini (half cheese, half sausage)
3 green onions, sliced

Drizzle some olive oil into a large skillet and preheat it to medium high heat.  Melt in the butter and cook the onions and jalapenos until they are tender.  Add in the garlic, Rotel, cream, chicken stock, and spinach. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted down.  Add in the tortellini and cook for about five minutes or until the tortellini is done. Gently stir in the green onions and pepper jack cheese until melted.

Texas Fiesta


How much do you love Taco Salad?  Well, I love it a lot.  When I was a kid, my mom would make a Taco Salad with Doritos, beans, taco meat, lettuce, and Thousand Island Dressing.  I used to really love that!  I tried it again as an adult, and I didn't love it as much.  I think it was the Thousand Island Dressing.  Don't get me wrong, I'll eat that dressing any day of the week with a Reuben sandwich.  But it just didn't give the salad the right Tex-Mex flavor.

So I did what I always do.  I changed it.  I'm calling this a Texas Cobb Salad.  This salad is amazing!  I made some homemade Chipotle Ranch Tortilla Chips and my own Fiesta Ranch Dressing.  Rows of taco meat, tomatoes, beans, avacados and yum!  It's a fiesta in your mouth!

Bring on the mariachi band!  It's time to eat!

TEXAS COBB
FOR THE SALAD:
1 lb ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
Leaf lettuce
Ranch Style Beans, drained and heated
Chopped avocados
Chopped tomatoes
Black olives (I found some jalapeno flavored olives!)
Jalapeno slices (the kind from a jar)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Tostada bowls

FOR THE TORTILLA CHIPS:
1 packet Ranch dip mix
1 T chipotle powder
8 corn tortillas, cut into little squares
Cooking spray

FOR THE DRESSING:
1 packet Ranch dip mix
1 T cumin
1 T garlic powder
1 T chili powder
1 T chipotle powder
1/4 C ketchup
1 C mayonnaise
1 C buttermilk

Cook the ground beef until browned.  Drain if necessary.  Add in the taco seasoning and the amount of water called for on the packet.  Cook until most of the liquid is cooked out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Mix the Ranch packet with the chipotle powder in a zipper bag.  Spread the tortilla squares out in an even layer and spray generously with the cooking spray.  Bake until they are all crunchy, stirring occasionally.  Immediately after the tortillas come out of the oven, put them in the zipper bag and shake to coat.

Mix the dressing ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Heat the tostada bowls according to package directions.

To assemble the salad, put some lettuce in one of the tostada bowls.  Place the tomatoes, avacados, taco meat, beans, cheese, and tortilla strips in rows over the salad.  Garnish with the black olives and jalapenos, if desired.  Serve with the dressing.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dinner for Breakfast


So it's not really dinner for breakfast.  It's just taking an idea from dinner and transforming it into a breakfast dish.  This is Breakfast Stuffed Peppers with a Potato Hash.  And it was good.

BREAKFAST STUFFED PEPPERS
4-5 bell peppers
1/2 C ham, chopped
1/2 C shredded cheese, any flavor
Eggs (one to two per pepper, depending on the size of the pepper)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil the peppers and roast them, about 10 minutes.  If they won't stand upright, place them in a regular or large muffin tin.  When they start looking like they are softened, pull them out of the oven.  Divide the ham and cheese among each pepper. Crack one or two eggs into each pepper and season the egg with salt and pepper.  Cook about 15 minutes or until the egg whites are done and yolks are at the desired consistency.  Serve with Potato Hash.

POTATO HASH
3 large potatoes, diced
2 serrano peppers, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Peanut oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Heat some peanut oil in a large skillet.  Cook all the ingredients until the potatoes are at the desired consistency, either soft or browned and crunchy.  Drain on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.

Poblano Mac & Cheese


If you've never eaten poblanos, you're in for a real treat.  They are a large mild pepper and they are tasty.  They are used for chile rellenos and many other dishes.  The smell of them roasting in the oven is fantastic. This Poblano Mac & Cheese was a really good way to showcase these peppers.  Enjoy!

POBLANO MAC & CHEESE
4 poblanos
1 lb Velveeta, cubed
1 1/2 C heavy cream
1 T cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T chili powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 serranos, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/4 C cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 C Panko breadcrumbs
2 T butter, melted
1 lb pasta, any shape (I used penne)
Cotija cheese (optional)
Green onions, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the peppers on a sheet pan and roast them in the oven, turning occasionally, until they are charred and blistered all over.  Remove them from the oven.  When they are cool enough to handle, peel as much of the skins off as you can.  Then cut off the stem and seed and chop them.  Turn the oven to broil.

Cook the onions and serranos in a skillet in some olive oil until tender.

Cook the pasta according to directions.  After draining the pasta, add in the Velveeta, heavy cream, cumin, garlic, chili powder, cayenne, cilantro, poblanos, and the cooked serranos and onions.  Return to the stove and cook over medium low heat until the cheese is melted and smooth.  Pour the pasta into a 9 x 13 pan.  Melt the butter and stir it into the Panko breadcrumbs.  Broil the breadcrumbs until they are browned.  Garnish the servings of mac & cheese with crumbled Cotija cheese and the green onions, if desired.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Perfect Tempura


Ever go to a Chinese restaurant and order Sweet & Sour Chicken?  In my experiences, unless it's a higher end Chinese restaurant, the tempura batter is heavy and greasy.  I usually wouldn't order that or take it from the buffet for that very reason.  I really don't like those buffets anymore anyway.  The last one I went to was dingy, dirty, and I questioned whether I should really be eating the food.

But, over the last several years, my husband has challenged me to make lots of Chinese dishes.  And I think I've done a pretty good job with them because he and the kids eat it all.  They have even mastered the art of using chopsticks.  This tempura batter is so light and crispy and wasn't greasy at all.  Paired with my simple homemade Sweet & Sour Sauce, this made for a great meal.

Can you use chopsticks?

SWEET & SOUR CHICKEN
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch strips
2 eggs
2 C cold water
2 C flour
2 T cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
Peanut oil (for frying)

FOR THE SAUCE:
1/2 C pineapple juice
1/2 C orange juice
1/4 C rice wine vinegar
1/4 C soy sauce
3/4 C brown sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 C ketchup

For the sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a pot.  Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.  Chill.

Whisk the eggs, water, flour, cornstarch, and baking soda together. Preheat the peanut oil to 350 degrees and preheat your oven to 200 degrees.  Dip the chicken in the batter and fry in batches until golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove them from the oil to a plate lined with a paper towel. Place them on a sheet pan and stick them in the oven while frying the rest.  Serve with the Sweet & Sour Sauce.

Double Spicy


My husband loves to challenge me to recreate food he's seen on TV or to make the best version of something.  I've told this story before, but I just had to tell it again.  One time my husband wanted some really spicy fried chicken.  I mean REALLY spicy fried chicken.  So I went into the kitchen and made a concoction sure to get his goose.  I found every type of spice I could find and made a marinade with it.  Cayenne pepper, chipotle peppers, several types of hot sauces, Tabasco sauce, you name it.  There were at least nine different types of spice.  I then injected his chicken with this marinade and fried it up.  On his first bite, he was all excited and thought it was the best thing ever.  But the second bite and the third bite, well, that was a different story.  He went pale and started sweating.  His eyes started watering.  He bolted into the kitchen for water.  I guess I won the challenge.

Now, this is another spicy chicken, but it's not quite as deadly.  It's Blackened Chicken with Cajun Fettuccine Alfredo.  It was so tasty, and the spice was perfect.  Even our son ate it and the leftovers the next day. And, with a perfect Alfredo sauce, this dish is great for those of you who are fans of spicy food.

I promise this won't make you sweat.

BLACKENED CHICKEN WITH CAJUN FETTUCCINE ALFREDO
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T thyme
1 T paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 stick butter
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

FOR THE FETTUCCINE:
1 lb fettuccine
2 C heavy cream
1 stick butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese (a small bag)
1-2 T Cajun seasoning (recipe to follow)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  For the chicken, mix all of the spices and seasonings together in a bowl.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Dredge the chicken in the spice mixture.  Cook the chicken in the butter about 3 minutes on each side or until browned well. Remove the chicken from the pan and put it on a sheet pan.  Bake it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until done through.

Cook the pasta according to directions.

In a saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the cream and garlic and the Cajun seasoning.  Cook and whisk until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan cheese, whisking until the cheese is completely melted.  Mix the Alfredo sauce with the fettucine and serve the chicken over the top.

EMERIL'S CREOLE SEASONING
2 1/2 T paprika
2 T salt
2 T garlic powder
1 T black pepper
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Copycat PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps


I have had this recipe for about 10 years now.  I'm not sure where I got it, but I know I found it on the internet and it is all over Pinterest.  I thought I would share it with you because it is, to me, identical to the real deal.

PF CHANG'S LETTUCE WRAPS
FOR THE MARINADE:
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 C red wine
4 teaspoons water
2 T soy sauce

COOKING SAUCE:
1/4 C Hoisin sauce
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T red wine
2 T oyster sauce
1/4 C water
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

FOR THE WRAPS:
2 large boneless chicken breasts, ground in the food processor (or buy 1 lb ground chicken)
5 T peanut oil
1 teaspoon ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 green onions, sliced
One 6-ounce can water chestnuts, chopped
Butter lettuce
Rice noodles

Mix the marinade ingredients together with a whisk.  Add in the ground chicken and stir to coat.  Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Mix the cooking sauce together.  Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet.  Cook the chicken, garlic, ginger, and water chestnuts with the cooking sauce until the chicken is done. Snip some of the rice noodles off with kitchen shears.  In another skillet, pour in a little oil and heat the oil.  Drop in the rice noodles and fry a couple of seconds until they puff up. (This is really cool to watch.)  Don't cook too long or they will burn.

To assemble the wraps, take a piece of the butter lettuce and spoon in some of the chicken filling.  Garnish with the green onion and the fried rice noodles.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Perfect Fried Rice


In the past, I've struggled with making rice, especially fried rice.  I seem to have a handicap when making rice.  It's either too mushy, crunchy, or a combination of both.  I've since resorted to using the boil in bag rice, which I find works perfectly.  By all means, make the rice itself however you like best.  And I found that the secret to making fried rice is to do it in reverse order from the way I used to do it.  I used to put the rice in the pan first, then add the veggies, and try to cook the egg last.  It was good about 50 % of the time.  I think you'll find that my new method works perfect every time.  Use as much or as little soy sauce as you like, and the Sriracha is optional.  And, if you have some leftover cooked shrimp, pork, or chicken, you can add that in with the rice as well.

PERFECT FRIED RICE
4 cups COLD cooked white rice
5 eggs, beaten with a splash of water
4 green onions, sliced
1 C frozen peas
1 C frozen corn
Vegetable or olive oil
Sesame oil
Soy sauce
Sriracha hot sauce

Drizzle a generous amount of vegetable oil or olive oil into a large skillet or wok.  Add in about a tablespoon of sesame oil.  Cook the peas and corn for a couple of minutes to heat through.  Push the veggies to the outer edges of the skillet.  Next add in the beaten egg and scramble the eggs.  Then add in the rice and soy sauce and Sriracha to taste.  You will need to taste it a couple of times to make sure you have enough soy sauce. When the rice is warmed through, remove from heat and stir in the green onions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Friends, Kindred Spirits



I get to interact with a lot of interesting people in different ways.  I read your posts on Facebook and I like your statuses.  And I really enjoy all of the different perspectives I get.  I get out of my bubble and get to know new people.  One such person is Ann Nicole.  I met Ann Nicole when I posted a contest on Facebook in honor of my 1,000,000 page views.  She submitted the winning idea with Turkey & Dressing Enchiladas with a Cranberry Sour Cream Sauce.  And she also sent me her story, which I want to share with you.  I'm sharing some photos of hers as well.  I didn't edit the photos because I like the memories of the past feeling when you look at them.  Here's the email she sent me, and I loved the way she told her story.

"Thanksgiving is, and has always been my favorite holiday. Each year it is in my artistic and curious nature to create something funky and unique as with a lot of dishes I make throughout the year.

I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner the year after my mother passed away almost 14 years ago. I spent countless hours on the phone with my uncle Nick who patiently tried to walk me through how to make giblet gravy like Mom, the chicken stock for the dressing, how to caramelize onions. The list goes on. Trying to explain to me what the consistency of the dressing was supposed to be like over the phone was nearly impossible if you could only imagine, but it did create a few laughs after several stages of delirium. In the past I was only responsible for peeling and chopping potatoes, the green bean casserole, taking everybody’s drink orders and naming the turkey.

Every year since then, my phone line was dedicated to my uncle until at least 3 a.m. We would prep everything together all over the phone. After all those years I still cannot master my Mother’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner. A few years ago I started to take matters into “mostly” my hands but was still running ideas by my Uncle Nick to see what he thought. One of the last ideas I ran across him before he passed was Turkey and Dressing Enchiladas with a Cranberry Sour Cream Sauce. He was all for it!
Though the flavors were pretty spot on that dreaded over the phone consistency wasn’t quite right and my sauce turned out a little too Pepto Bismol pink to please the eye on a table full of autumn colors. That is why I chose this recipe for you to recreate.

My mother was my inspiration to start cooking and my uncle taught me and turned me into the open-minded cook I am today.  I want to dedicate this recipe to my Uncle Nick and my mother, Thelma. I know both of them would be incredibly proud of how far I’ve come along with my love for cooking. *Cheers in Heaven*"

I chatted with Ann Nicole and learned some things about her.  She grew up in the Mississippi Delta, then moved to the City of Memphis Blues, and eventually settled down in the Ozarks of Arkansas.  She is a free spirit and loves cooking, antiques, and photography.  She is very close with her sister, Melanie Michelle, and brother, Kurt, Jr.  Her brother was only 14 when their mother passed away.  Here is something he wrote about their mother and a link to a beautiful slideshow of Vincent Van Gogh photos set to Don McLean's "Vincent" (Starry Starry Night).  

Impact of a mothers Love. *thank you April <3*

July 23, 2010 at 12:54am
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dipFMJckZOM

Thanks to a friend I was able to retrieve this to post and have. Not to be a sad occasion... but one... well... I just don't know, and for those that didn't know. My mother is mother earth.... treat her kindly. Water her, talk to her, and give her kisses.

Tragedy struck when least expected on Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2000. Just when you think the day is going great God’s wrath takes place in a harsh breath-taking way. Inexperienced I was left alone with a life threatening matter, which was out of my hands to handle. My mom with early in life heart problems faced a day with eternal peace. Time fell short when her attack arose, when she was announced dead, and when all things to do with Mom went away.

My dad having a hard time leaving for work loving on my mom, and I having laughter and joy with her that morning were signs of a perfect day. As Mom walked in the den while I pondered on an early morning television show, she asked me what aerobic video should she accomplish. I replied with a simple smile, “how bout that one.” As she enthusiastically agreed and started her video, I left to have a work out of my own off in my room. During my lifting I heard a noise coming from Mom’s bedroom. She explicitly yelled for help, but I did not think much of it. Frustrated I left my doings and joined to her needs not knowing it would be the last time I would lay eyes on her. This incident had happened several times before, but a simple pill would heal the problem. Not this time, I instantly knew after giving her medicine that this time was different. While Mom was turning a slight blue in the face, I dashed to the phone to call for help, but help did not arrive in time. As I stood by her side in denial that she would leave me, she softly spoke words to me that I will never forget. She gently cried to me that this is the day, and I love u, bye! Those were the last words I heard from her. I shook them off and implied positive words, but that was not good enough.

When the ambulance arrived I was numb with horror, and shock sitting alone in another room staring at a wall not knowing what else to do. I decided I could not just sit there and let my mom slip away from me. I went back to the room not knowing what to expect. As I turned the corner I peeped into the open doorway breathless of what I might see. I could not see my mom, only several professionals assisting her, but the sight of five or six paramedics working on her with electric paddles and everything they had ripped a whole in my heart.

I suggested they called my dad, which was at work. When the paramedics called he rushed immediately with no hesitation to the hospital of my mom’s destination. When I arrived to the hospital my sister and her husband had rushed to the hospital as soon as they heard the news. We knew not what to say to one another, as we knew nothing we said would help. Waiting hopelessly for any type of news of my mom, my dad rips open the emergency doors screaming words of terror. He plunged to the room where she was held. Knowing that it was impossible to stop a married man who was about to lose his wife, the staff did not attempt to stop him. What my dad saw was not what he expected. He did not realize how bout the situation was. He stayed by her side holding her hand telling her everything was going to be all right.

Mom needed more advanced treatment. Unprepared the staff did not have a helicopter for transportation; therefore she had to ride a thirty-minute ambulance trip to her final destination. I zoomed off with my sister while my dad went in the ambulance. Hatred bubbled inside me as I wondered what did she do to deserve this. She was a mere 45 years of age, and I selfishly felt gypped of a short life to live with a mom. Time was running out and there was nothing left for us to do, but sit in a room and wait for news. Impatiently we waited for a couple of hours that seemed like years. After hours of talking confidently we were faced with the most powerful words ever to come across ones life. She was announced dead at 3:00 that afternoon. Breathing, mind control, and care for living ended for a period of time. We all knew things were never going to be the same as they use to be.

After visiting Mom’s worn dead body after a long struggling baffle she put up, we had nothing else to do. We went home and made some important phone calls to those that were close to her. I cringed to the thought of never being able to talk to her again, and the pain my dad and my family went through hurt the worst. All of my relatives and friends came down for the funeral that was scheduled two days after her death. The truth that I had lost my mom had not really hit me. I was still doing mom related things such as picking out flowers for her coffin, or planning a burial spot for her to rest for eternity.

One long day had past, and it was time for the funeral. My mom didn’t want a priest speaking for her, that didn’t know her as good as her family, therefore my dad spoke. Family members, friends, and schoolmates gathered around to praise the life that my mom had once lived. The funeral slowly went along, as my life quickly twisted backwards. Squinting at the coffin unable to fully open my moist puffy eyes, I realized how important it is to take full advantage of the time you have with your parents, because unlike friends you will never have another parent.

When the funeral was over, the people went back to their homes, and the word of my mom’s death slowly faded away. The truth started to hit hard. The house empty, the thrill of communicating with my mom, and having her look after me had all left. To this very day I love her and miss her very much.

Here is the link to the Moody Blues song they played at her funeral.  Ann Nicole and her mother sat in the driveway and listened to this entire Moody Blues cassette tape.

Ann Nicole also told me that her mother would get a kick out of her "teenage misfit daughter" that loved Aaron Neville.  She actually got to see Aaron Neville last night with her uncle's daughter, Alexann.  It was a surprise, and they haven't seen each other in a few years since Alexann lives in Mississippi. Here's their picture from the concert.




Ann Nicole had a dream after her mother passed where she carried a boombox into her mother's garage and played this version of "Amazing Grace" by Aaron Neville (click for the link). And here is one more link Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen.  Ann Nicole, her brother, sister, and mother all sat on their mother's bed and listened to this on cassette tape too.

Ann Nicole also shared with me that she is obsessed with monkeys.  Her mother actually made a sock monkey to resemble each of her children.  Here's the one of Ann Nicole.  



Here's the last monkey Ann Nicole's mother gave her.  This is her traveling monkey and goes everywhere she does, on airplanes and in suitcases.


And here are some more beautiful pictures of Ann Nicole and her family. Her mother and uncle were both artists.  The hand-sketched drawings and painting were done by her mother.














As Ann Nicole and I chatted, we have a lot of similarities and coincidences, which I imagine, if you take the time to get to know new people, you would find some similarities and coincidences of your own. I'm very grateful to have a new friend and a kindred spirit.

So now I give you my version of Tex-Mex Turkey & Dressing Enchiladas. I couldn't get the cranberry sauce to not be Pepto-Bismol pink either, so I used the cranberry sauce by itself and topped it with sour cream.  This all sounds a little crazy, but it really turned out great!  You can use leftover turkey and dressing if you like, or you can make this version.  I hope I did Ann Nicole's idea justice.  Enjoy.

TEX-MEX TURKEY & DRESSING ENCHILADAS
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix (plus ingredients needed that are listed on the box)
3 eggs
2-3 T chopped jalapeno slices
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 C chicken stock
2 C cooked, shredded turkey
1 T poultry seasoning
1 T cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 stick butter, sliced
Corn tortillas
Shredded pepper jack cheese
One can of whole cranberry sauce
Sour cream

FOR THE ENCHILADA SAUCE:
1/4 C shortening or lard
1/4 C flour
2 C chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 T chili powder

Make the cornbread according to the package directions.  Let it cool. Crumble the cornbread into a large bowl.  Add in the turkey, poultry seasoning, eggs, jalapenos, cumin, onion, celery, garlic and chicken stock. Combine well.  Place in a greased casserole pan, and put the slices of butter all around the top.  Bake covered at 350 degrees for about an hour.  
To make the enchilada sauce, melt the shortening or lard in a skillet. Whisk in the flour.  Add in the chicken stock and remaining ingredients and whisk.  Cook until it's thickened and bubbly.  Remove from heat.

Soften the tortillas in a damp towel in the microwave.  When the dressing is cool enough to handle, spread some cheese down the center of a tortilla. Add in about 2 tablespoons of the dressing.  Roll them up and place them seam side down in a casserole pan.  Top with the chili gravy and additional cheese.  Bake at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Warm the cranberry sauce in a small pot or in the microwave.  Serve the enchiladas with the cranberry sauce and dollops of sour cream.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tomatoes & Tortellini


I love soups, especially this time of year when the evenings are chilly and the nights start getting cold.  At the restaurant where I work, I love it when we have Tomato Bisque.  It's great with a grilled cheese sandwich. When I was younger, I wouldn't have touched this soup.  But, as I get older, my tastebuds have matured and I enjoy most foods.  When my mother would cook when I was a kid, I would sit and pick out every single bit of onion I could find before I would take a bite.  Now I cook with onions all the time.

And here's a random funny story that just popped into my head.  One time when I was a kid, we were at a Mexican restaurant.  Now, I have a fondness for salt.  So, when they brought the basket of chips, I grabbed the salt and would salt each individual chip I ate.  I bit into one chip, and the salt went up my nose!  I had a ridiculous sneezing fit.  After that, for a couple of years, I would still salt those chips, but I would put my hand under my nose to block the potential salt shooting into my nose.  I imagine I looked pretty goofy.

Anywho, back to the soup.  My husband is a huge pasta fan.  He will pick pasta over most other suggestions for dinner, if given the choice.  So, me with my wild ideas, came up with this soup to please us both.  Tomato Bisque with Tortellini.  And, boy howdy, was it good.  And really quick, too!

So, without further adieu, I give you greatness.

TOMATO BISQUE WITH TORTELLINI
2 T butter
1 onion, chopped
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 ounces fresh basil, chopped
2 T Italian parsley, chopped
2 C heavy cream
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb tortellini, any flavor (I used both cheese and sausage filled)
Chili flakes, to taste
Salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the tortellini according to package directions.

In a dutch oven or large pot, cook the onion in the butter and a drizzle of olive oil until tender.  Whisk in the flour.  Add in the chicken stock and whisk.  Add in the heavy cream and garlic and whisk.  Cook until it starts to bubble.  Add in the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and chili flakes.  Cook until heated through.  Remove from heat and stir in the basil, parsley, and drained tortellini.

Fun Food


When my husband was a teenager, he worked at CiCi's Pizza.  His favorite thing there was taco pizza.  He didn't like, however, the fact that, since it was a buffet, people would stack up multiple plates on the tables. I can imagine his frustration.  Sometimes it feels like that here, except there are tons of dishes stacked in the sink.  But, alas, that's a mom's lot in life.

Do you order takeout pizza often?  Our kids ask us all the time to order pizza.  But, by the time we get what everyone likes (everyone likes something different), plus wings (three different kinds), we end up spending almost $50.  So, for me, it's better to make it homemade.  And the topping options are endless.  Plus, you know exactly what is going into your food.

Now, I've done a taco burger before, so why not a taco pizza?  I often like to make interesting versions of food, like barbecue potstickers.  If you haven't ever had taco pizza, you're in for a real treat.  This one has an easy homemade crust and an even easier homemade sauce. Topped with taco meat, jalapenos, black olives, lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes and more cheese, this is a darn tasty dish!  My husband loved this pizza.  I think you will too.

Grab some napkins.  This is messy.

TACO PIZZA
FOR THE DOUGH:
1 packet highly active yeast
1 1/4 C warm water, about 110 degrees
2 T olive oil
3 to 3 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 onion, chopped
2 serranos, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T cilantro, chopped
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 T cumin
1 T chili powder
1 T garlic powder

FOR THE PIZZA:
1 lb ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
Jalapeno slices
Black olives
Chopped lettuce
Chopped tomatoes
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
2 T butter, melted
2 teaspoons garlic powder

For the dough, put the yeast, water, and sugar in a stand mixer and let sit until a little frothy.  (If you don't have a stand mixer, it's okay.  Put it in a bowl and whisk.)  Add in the olive oil, salt, and 3 cups of flour.  Knead until it becomes a ball.  If it seems sticky or too wet, add in the rest of the flour.  Place the ball in a large bowl sprayed with pan spray and cover tightly.  Set it on the stove (all burners off, of course).  A trick to help it rise...Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off.  Open the door.  When you can touch the racks without burning yourself, place the bowl of dough in the oven and close the door.  Your dough should be ready in about an hour.  Divide your dough in two equal pieces.  Roll the dough out into large circles or rectangles.  You will have two large pizzas.

To make the sauce, cook the onion and serrano peppers in a drizzle of olive oil until tender.  Add in the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer on medium low heat for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Brown the ground beef and add in the taco seasoning according to package directions. Drain if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Spread some sauce on the dough.  Top with the taco meat, jalapenos, black olives, and cheese.  Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the dough is cooked through and the edges are browned.  Mix the melted butter with the garlic powder and brush the edges of the pizza dough.

Top the pizza with the lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes, more cheese, and remaining sauce, if desired.