Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

There are a million recipes out there for chicken lettuce wraps. They all use the typical ingredients, some are peanutty, some are super spicey, some have minced mushrooms, some leave out the water chestnuts (which in my opinion are absolutely necessary), and most use ground meat (typically chicken, turkey or pork).

This is my favorite recipe for lettuce wraps, and there are certain things I like that I include, but may not matter to others. First, I don’t like the texture of ground chicken for my lettuce wraps. I like actual pieces of chicken, but ones that are chopped finely. To accomplish this, I use my food processor and chop the chicken, but don’t turn it into ground mush. If you don’t have a food processor, you can do it by hand, or use one of those food choppers. Yes, it’s time consuming. If you don’t mind the texture of ground meat, just use ground chicken, but the eating experience will be different. Second, water chestnuts. This is a texture thing as well. I think it’s important to have the hard crunch of water chestnuts to offset the soft chicken. Third, the sauce. I like a kick, but if it has too much of a kick, the kids won’t eat it. This recipe has the perfect mild kick for my family (the last time I made this my six year old ate FIVE lettuce wraps). If you like more of a kick, up the amount of chili sauce. I also enjoy the peanut butter base. You could use a different nut butter if you’re allergic to peanuts. I also leave out the soy sauce, as we have soy allergies in our house. Trust me, you won’t miss it in this recipe. If your family loves these, or you have a larger family, double it. You will thank me. This really only realistically serves four. Plus, the leftovers are awesome.

A few technical notes: fresh ginger will make all the difference in this recipe. To prepare it, I peel one side of the ginger, then use a box grater, using the one that looks like a shredding blade, but is smaller. (Does that make any sense?) Basically, my grater has a slicer side, a shredder side: the side you would use for cheese, then a side that is really small, like a zester side, and the 4th side looks to me like the shredder, but is smaller. I have seen this called the grater side (but I always think of cheese when I hear “grate” because we always got out the grater to “grate some cheese”, we never “shredded cheese”). That is the side I use. I grate the ginger, using the unpeeled side to protect my fingers. Then I scrape the inside of the grater to get all of the ginger and any juice. This takes some time, so I do it before cooking the chicken. The chicken cooks super fast. See the pictures if I have completely confused you.

ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS

1 1/2 TBS natural peanut butter
1/2 TBS honey
2 TBS beef stock
1/2 TBS sesame oil
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp salt
1 inch knob of fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
4 oz water chestnuts
1/2 onion
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 TBS olive oil
Lettuce of your choice (we like iceberg or butter lettuce)

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat peanut butter and honey for a few seconds, just until warm. Add the beef stock, sesame oil, vinegar, chili garlic sauce and salt. Whisk together until well mixed. Set aside.

Prep your veggies: Grate your ginger (see notes above the recipe for helps if you’re not sure how to do this) and mince your garlic. Set aside. Finely chop your water chestnuts and set aside. Finely chop your onions and set aside.

Finely chop your chicken into small pieces, either by hand, using a food chopper, or using a food processor (use the ‘pulse’ button so you don’t completely pulverize it).

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until onion starts to soften and add the garlic and ginger. Cook for one minute and add the chicken. Cook, stirring often until chicken is no longer pink (this happens very quickly). Add the water chestnuts and sauce. Stir continually and cook until everything is well mixed and sauce is hot.

Serve with lettuce leaves. To eat, place a few spoonfuls in the center of a lettuce leave and wrap. Leaves closer to the center of the head of lettuce are naturally cupped and easier to use.

ALLERGEN alert: To make this peanut-free, sub almond butter or hazelnut butter for the peanut butter. For gluten-free, make sure the beef stock, chili garlic sauce and vinegar are gluten-free.

REAL FOOD alert: it is difficult to find chili garlic sauce without preservatives. If you need to, you can add an additional clove of garlic and red pepper flakes instead of the chili garlic sauce. Check your beef stock for additives and msg.

Curry and Forbidden Rice

I declare this to be the summer of adventure!!!!

I have decided to buy a new type of produce and/or a new grain every time I go to the store. Our local grocery store had “tamarillos” which I had never seen before. They are a beautiful deep red, and look like a large oblong red plum. I was intrigued.

I came home, did some googling, surveyed my facebook friends and discovered that it (supposedly) tastes like a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit. There is a yellow variety, which is sweeter, and in either variety, you do not eat the tart peel, you scoop out the inside and eat it raw or cook it into a jelly (one facebook friend had only had it cooked, but didn’t tell me how she cooked it).  You learned in this post that I hate raw tomatoes, so I was wary, but curious. Here is a shot of the inside. Sorry that I didn’t get a shot of the outside, I hadn’t planned on blogging my tamarillo adventure:

It looks promising, eh? Well, it tasted nasty. Like poop-nasty. (Excuse my vulgarity). It was reeeeaaaaally sour, and had a sulfuric undertone. Two of my sons, who love sour things thought they were pretty good.

In keeping with my adventurous goal, I got some black “forbidden” rice last time I went to the store. I was trying to figure out what to make it, and I thought it was about time I actually wrote down a curry recipe. When I get the hankering for curry, I just kinda wing it. It’s always roux-based, but everything else varies, sometimes I add coconut milk, sometimes I don’t. This time it turned out to be some of the best curry I’ve ever made, so I’m glad I wrote it down!

The rice was great. It has the texture of brown rice, though a little chewier, and was a little earthier tasting than brown, but not noticeably different. One of my kids loved the ‘beetle rice’, once thought it was pretty good, and my squeamish one refused to eat it once brother said it looked like beetles.

We also decided as a family we we prefer straight-up potato curry. We were all digging for the potatoes and ignoring the chicken (which is why the picture is mostly chicken…I took it the next day of the leftovers). You can add whatever you’d like. Sweet potatoes would be tasty, or carrots, firm tofu if you’re a tofu type person. The amount of curry to add depends on your tastes, and the quality of your curry powder. 1 1/2 TBS was perfect for us, not too overwhelming for the kids, not too underwhelming for us. If you’re new to curry or not sure, start with 1 TBS, you can add more at the end if you need to.

CHICKEN AND POTATO CURRY

3-5 red potatoes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
4 TBS butter
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 TBS flour
1-2 TBS curry powder
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups (one can) coconut milk
1 tsp salt

In a large pot, boil water. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender (when a fork inserted will slide in easily), but not falling apart. Remove and drain. Set aside. Cook your chicken if needed (I usually use leftover chicken for this, but you can cook your cubed chicken breast in a pan with a little water, covered, just until it is no longer pink in the middle and the juices run clear when you puncture it).

In a large sauce pan, melt butter. Add onions and cook until soft. Add minced garlic and cook for one minute. Whisk in flour and curry powder. Cook while whisking for one minute. Add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add coconut milk slowly, whisking continually. Add salt and whisk continually until sauce thickens. Add chicken and potatoes and cook and stir until chicken and potatoes are warm. Serve with rice.

ALLERGEN alert: to make this dairy-free, use oil in place of the butter. To make this gluten-free, instead of making a roux, omit the flour, and after adding the stock and coconut milk, bring it to a simmer. Dissolve 1 TBS cornstarch in 1 TBS cold water and add to the sauce. Stir until thick.

SPECIAL DIETS alert: You can make this vegetarian or vegan by omitting the chicken and adding whatever veg you want.

 

BLACK “FORBIDDEN” RICE

2 cups water
1 cup black forbidden rice

Bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover and lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 60-70 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed and rice is tender.

Southern-style Peach and Raspberry Cobbler

I loooooooovvvvveeeee southern food. I lived in Florida for 18 months, and that’s the closest I’ve come to living in The South. But as I’ve been digging around in my family history, I’ve discovered that I come from strong Southern roots. That must be why a big plate of biscuits and gravy solves my worries and I feel like I can breathe better and life is brighter when I visit Tennessee.

When I lived in Florida, I befriended an older woman who was raised in Georgia. Her family went back generations upon generations in Georgia. She made this recipe for me and I was hooked. I had never had a peach dessert that I liked, I’m a fresh peach kind of gal, I’m not a fan of peach pie or peaches on ice cream, but I loved her recipe. Her recipe actually used canned peaches, so I adapted for fresh peaches, since we don’t consume corn syrup. On a whim, I decided to add fresh raspberries, and Oh. My. Goodness: this has become our family’s absolute favorite summer dessert. This is not the kind of cobbler with a crumby topping, It’s the Southern style type with a doughy cake-like goodness mixed amongst the sweet fruit. I sprinkle mine with sanding sugar. You can use any coarse sugar, like sugar-in-the-raw, or turbanido sugar. Sucanat might be a little too overwhelming.

This is best served warm, within 30 minutes of baking. It tastes good cold for breakfast the next day, not that you’ll have any left. You could easily double this recipe and use a 9×13 pan if you are serving a crowd.

SOUTHERN PEACH AND RASPBERRY COBBLER

3 cups fresh peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
1 TBS lemon juice
6 oz fresh raspberries, rinsed
1/2 cup sugar

6 TBS salted butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
sanding sugar or coarse sugar

In a bowl, combine peaches and lemon juice. Stir until peaches are coated. Add raspberries and 1/2 cup sugar and stir gently. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, until you have at least a cup of natural juices.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a square baking dish, or a 2 qt dish, pour melted butter. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, flour, sugar and baking powder, just until mixed. Pour batter over melted butter. DO NOT STIR TOGETHER!!! On top of batter, dump fruit and juices.  DO NOT STIR TOGETHER!!! Seriously. Don’t do it.

Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes, or until light brown. Sprinkle coarse sugar on top and bake an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.

ALLERGY alert: To make this dairy-free or vegan, sub an alternative milk. Almond milk or coconut milk would be tasty choices. Sub a dairy-free margarine or coconut oil for the butter. If using coconut oil, add 1/4 tsp of salt. For gluten-free, use a gluten-free flour mixture for baking.

 

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Chile and Corn Quinoa

Okay, okay…this is very similar to my other corn quinoa recipe. But, I’m on a quinoa kick. If you’re curious why quinoa has become popular lately, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. First, it has twice the protein of white rice. It also is a complete protein. That means it has all 9 amino acids the body needs. Typically, you find complete proteins in animal products (meat and dairy), or you need to eat a combo of foods to get all of the amino acids. Quinoa is a unique plant product that is a complete protein. That makes it popular amongst those who are moving to a more plant based diet (which is becoming a string movement, partially in thanks to a movie called Forks Over Knives, which I strongly suggest, especially if cancer runs in your family).

While eating my other quinoa recipe, I said, “This would be really good with roasted chiles”. My husband agreed, and this dish was born. If you subscribe to my posts, you’ll notice that oven roasting veggies is a habit of mine. Pretty much anything tastes better roasted, and it’s any easy way to prep parts of a dish while making other preparations.

In this dish, I kept with the southwestern flavor theme by adding a little cumin and browned sweet onions. I also added chicken as an option, for those not yet on board with meatless main dishes. Enjoy!

CHILE AND CORN QUINOA

2 ears of corn, still in the husk
1 poblano chile
2 TBS olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound chicken breast, cooked and diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in the husk) and chile on a baking sheet in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn chile once during roasting. Chile should be bubbled and black in most areas when done. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While they are roasting, heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add onion and cook until soft and brown. Remove from heat. In a pot, heat chicken stock over medium high heat. Add garlic and heat to boiling. Stir in quinoa and cumin. Cover and lower heat to low. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked and all of the liquid is absorbed.

Wearing gloves, remove the blackened skin from the chile, remove and discard the seeds and slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husks from the corn and cut the kernels from the cob. When quinoa is cooked, stir in the onion, the chile and the corn kernels. Add chicken if desired. Salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve warm.

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From-scratch EASY Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’m back. Did you miss me? That was an unscheduled absence.

It is officially summer here!! Woo Hoo!! My hubby is a teacher so summers are a big fat deal around here. I love having him home and playing and lazing around all summer. In honor of summer, here is one of my favorite easy treats. The greatest thing about this is that it’s totally flexible. You can create whatever ice cream flavors you want..without an ice cream maker!!! I’ve included some ideas to get you started. You could even let your kids make their own, by mixing in their favorites! I also love that the ingredients are pure and simple: cream, milk, sugar. No additives and artificials you get from conventional ice creams. For those of us in the U.S., the tea biscuits can be found in the specialty or imported food section of your grocery store. I use a combo of plain and chocolate, for variety. Some have additives, others don’t.

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

Basic Recipe:
1-2 packages rectangular tea biscuits
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Line a 9×13 pan with plastic wrap. Line up your biscuits to cover the bottom of the pan, top down. Whip together the cream and condensed milk until stiff. (See this post about whipping cream if you need help). Fold in any add-ins (see below). Place biscuits on top to line up with the bottom biscuits. If you are using a typical 9×13 pan, notice that the sides are bigger on top than the bottom. I line up the first row of biscuits, so they are directly above the bottom ones. This means you will have some excess around the sides on the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 8 hours (I typically do it over night). When you remove the pan from the freezer, pull the entire block of sandwiches out of the pan using the plastic wrap. (Yippee! The pan is still clean! Put it back in your cupboard. I love avoiding dirty dishes). Cut the excess from around the top edge. Now you should be able to pick up the block and break apart the sandwiches. Serve on a hot summer day!

Add-ins:

2/3 cups of:

mini chocolate chips (that’s what I typically use)

chopped dried cherries (with or without the chocolate chips)

mini chocolate chips + 1/2 tsp mint extract

broken pretzels

crumbled cookies

crushed strawberries (fresh or frozen)

crushed raspberries + coconut+ white chocolate chips

REAL food alert: check the biscuits for additives, check your chocolate chips for artificial flavoring, check the cream for additives.

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Adapted from To Food With Love

Roasted Corn, Broccoli and Black Bean Quinoa

In lieu of a written entry for this recipe, I will refer you to this awesome blog post.

Also…I use my food processor A LOT in recipes. Every time I write a recipe that uses my food processor, I think about what I would do without it. I LOVE my food processor. They can be pretty expensive, so when I ran across a cuisinart sale here, I thought I’d post it. If you’re new to the site and join, you get a free $15 credit, which is cool. There are stick blenders, ice cream makers, coffee grinders and all sorts of awesome small kitchen appliances on sale. Check it out. (The cuisinart sale ends in a couple of days, but comes back every few months or so).

ROASTED CORN, BROCCOLI AND BLACK BEAN QUINOA

serves 6-8 as a side dish, or 4-6 as a main dish

2 ears fresh corn, still in the husk
2 large heads of broccoli, with the main stalk removed
2 TBS olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stems
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in husk) and broccoli crowns on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the broccoli a couple of times. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove husk and cut corn kernels from the cob with a sharp serrated knife. Break the broccoli into very small crowns, removing excess stalks. I like the broccoli to be as small as possible, without completely chopping it up.

While the veggies are roasting, heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook, while stirring, an additional minute. Add quinoa, broth and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed). Stir in corn, broccoli and black beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great side dish, or main dish.

Adapted from The Dish on Delish

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Two Tasty Tomato Dishes

My mom is an incredible gardener. My dad was, too. I am not sure yet if I’ve inherited this ability. My pinterest board is filled with great gardening tips and ideas. I have aspirations to have a gorgeous garden from which I can pick and make fabulous fresh dishes. Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and very forgetful. Our first garden attempt was dry and dead with in two weeks (I live in the desert, so gardening here takes a little more effort, care and *ahem* regular watering). I really want a garden, but I know two things must be in place before I can be successful: 1. I must be done with school. 2. It must be on an automatic watering system. When I can get these two things done, I look forward to a wonderful harvest and learning many new things!

If you already have a garden and are wondering what to do with your huge crop of tomatoes, here are two super tasty recipes for you! The sauce freezes well, and the soup is perfect with crusty grilled cheese. To be honest, tomato soup for me has always been an excuse to eat gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. When I made this soup, I ate one half of a sandwich. The soup was so good it didn’t need anything, so I left the sandwiches to the kids and had seconds of soup. The sauce goes well with some mild italian sausage, if you’re a carnivore, and piled onto a tender whole wheat pasta. It’s perfect summer comfort food with some grilled asparagus.

EASY CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

serves 4 (main dish) or 6-8 (side dish)

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook while stirring until they start to brown. Add garlic and cook and additional minute, or until garlic barely starts to brown. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar and remove from heat. Pour into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender to puree. Puree well, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Heat on low until warm again. Serve. Garnish with fresh basil or croutons, if desired.

REAL food alert: check chicken stock for msg and additives
VEGGIE alert: to make vegetarian, sub veggie broth for the chicken stock.
ALLERGY alert: for dairy allergies, sub a non-dairy milk, like coconut or almond milk, for the heavy cream.
HEALTH alert: this recipe is only about 150 calories per serving. If you want to health it up even more, you can reduce the cream to 1/4 cup, and sub honey for the sugar, or eliminate the sugar.

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6-10), cored and quartered
1 head of garlic
1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
1 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped
salt
sugar
3/4 pound mild italian sausage (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes on one or two foil covered baking sheets, along with the head of garlic (do not separate the cloves, just remove any loose paper from the outside). Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the tomatoes. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly charred. Rotate pans halfway through cooking, if they don’t both fit on the same rack in your oven. Remove from oven when done roasting. Pour the tomatoes and any juices into a blender or food processor, or pour into a bowl if you use an immersion blender. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the root end of the garlic head. Pull the garlic head apart into three or four chunks. Squeeze the soft roasted garlic pulp into the tomato mixture and discard the tough exterior. Blend the tomatoes, garlic and herb mixture until desired consistency (we like minimal chunks, but you may like chunks in your sauce). Add salt and sugar to taste (if you have nice ripe tomatoes, you won’t need sugar, if you have grocery store tomatoes, you may need a pinch or two). The sauce is ready to serve with pasta. If you like meat in your sauce, brown sausage in a large pan over medium heat. Add sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

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Nanny’s Oatmeal Cake

Cake. It’s used to celebrate, to comfort, as a door stop around Christmastime. I’m not much of a cake fan, and for birthdays at our house, the celebrant gets to choose their favorite dessert in lieu of a cake. Pies are very popular for celebrations around here, as well as brownies and ice cream sundaes. There are a couple of exceptions to my aversion to cake. This recipe is one of them. My mom would make it when I was a little girl, it eventually was replaced by texas sheet cake, which is another of my exceptions. This recipe actually comes from my grandma who we called Nanny. It is simply the best cake I’ve ever had. It’s super moist with a carmelly pecan coconut topping. It melts in your mouth. Combine it with a tall glass of cold milk and you are instantly transported to simpler happy days. Just editing the pictures for this post made me start drooling…I think I may have to make it again tonight.

NANNY’S OATMEAL CAKE

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a small pot. Add the oatmeal. Stir it to combine and let sit for 20 minutes. In a mixing bowl, Mix butter, sugars and eggs until fluffy. Add oatmeal mixture and mix well. Add flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, and mix on low just until flour is incorporated. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake for 30 minutes.

For the topping, combine the butter, sugar and cream in a pot. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Mix in coconut and pecans. Pour over the hot cake and return to the oven. Broil the cake for 1-3 minutes, until topping starts to slightly bubble. Remove from oven and allow to slightly cool before serving warm. It also tastes great cool, but I can never wait.

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Cheesy Soft Pretzel Bites

My kids’ schools do a fundraiser several times a year that involves Schwan’s foods. They bring home the catalog, and a portion of the sales goes to the school. I’m not a fan of this fundraiser. First, because they make $0 until the total sales have reached a certain amount, and then it’s only 10% up to a fairly high level. I’d rather donate money directly to the school. Second, because half of the stuff in the catalog is processed crud (albeit, tasty processed crud, from what I hear).

Knowing that we wouldn’t be buying anything from the catalog, my middle schooler came home, handed me the catalog and said “Here, mom, I’ve circled everything I want you to make.” I love that kid. He knows me so well. Most of the items were things I already make, like Shepherd’s Pie, Stroganoff and Pizza. But, a couple gave me some good ideas. Last week I was making soft pretzels for my kiddos and their friends during a minecraft marathon, and I remembered two items that they had in the catalog: mozzarella bites and cheese stuffed pretzels. I combined the two and made my traditional soft pretzel dough, wrapping them around pieces of string cheese. They were awesome, and a huge hit with the group of boys hanging around at my house that day.

CHEESY SOFT PRETZEL BITES

4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F or 45 degrees C)
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 sticks of string cheese
1/8 cup baking soda
1 cup hot water
coarse sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup melted salted butter

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in 1 1/4 cups warm water. Let sit 10 minutes, until frothy. Add remaining sugar, 3 cups of flour and salt. Mix until a dough starts to form. Add additional flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough easily forms a ball. (If using your mixer, the dough will come together and not stick to the sides of the bowl, but it may still stick to the bottom, that’s fine). Knead about 7 minutes by hand or 4-5 minutes by mixer, until dough is elastic. Cover bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. When dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 8×8 square and cut each square into 9 parts.  Cut each stick of string cheese into 6 pieces. Place one piece onto each small square. Fold over and press edges to seal. Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 cup hot water. Dip each pretzel bite in the baking soda water and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt if desired. Bake for 7-8 minutes, until golden brown. When they come out of the oven, brush the tops with melted butter.

REAL food alert: check the ingredients in the string cheese. Some have additives.

FREEZER alert: you can freeze these. To reheat, place a few on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds.

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Red Chile Beef

I thought I’d give you the low down on creating/adapting recipes by telling you my experience on this one. I should give a disclaimer that the pictures here are not from the recipe I actually ended up with. I’ll take new pictures and replace these….maybe. We’ll see how the day goes. (I just couldn’t stand not having new pics up, and the little one is napping..yippee!…so the picture above the recipe is the current picture of the actual recipe. The old picture is at the end, in case you’re interested in comparing the difference. Enjoy!)

I wanted a good beef recipe for Cinco de Mayo. One of my favorite dishes to order when we go out for Mexican is a shredded beef chimi. I’ve had them all sorts of ways, and generally, it’s mildly spiced shredded beef, sometimes with a few onions or tomatoes thrown in. What I always want is something with a sauce with some spice and flavor to compliment the beef, so I usually get it enchilada style, but I would love a plain chimi, with a red chile sauce mixed with the beef. So, I decided to find a recipe I could make myself. I wanted something that could be thrown in the slow cooker, and cook all day. I looked at several recipes, came up with a traditional flavor profile I like for the sauce (red chile base, with some garlic and cumin), and decided to make the sauce, and throw it all in the slow cooker. That’s what the pictures are of. The problem I ran into is that the roast creates too much liquid and fat. It results in a roast that is swimming in a liquidy, oily broth that mildly tastes like chiles.

Hmmm. I realized that the only two options I could come up with were 1. use a very lean cut of meat, and sacrifice flavor or 2. make the sauce separately, cooking the roast plain, then adding the sauce after the roast is cooked. I decided on the latter. One benefit of this method is that you can make the sauce the day before, or any time during the day. Another benefit is that you can set aside some of the plain beef for your picky eaters who don’t like the sauce. The final result is exactly what I wanted, a mild flavorful red chile shredded beef. I can’t wait to make chimis!

RED CHILE BEEF

3 pound boneless chuck roast
1/2 cup beef stock
3 ounces (about 12) dried new mexico chiles
1 TBS olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt

Place roast and beef stock in slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours, until tender and falling apart.

For the sauce: fill a medium pot 2/3 with water. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles. Add the chiles to the water, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and place a small plate on the chiles to keep them under the water. Cover the pot and let sit for 30 minutes. Place the chiles in a food processor or blender along with 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Blend until smooth. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any seeds and remaining tough skins. In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook until it just starts to brown, about one minute. Add chile puree, cumin, and salt. Cook, while stirring, for one minute. Remove from heat.

When roast is done cooking, drain the liquid into a bowl and return roast to slow cooker. Pull the beef apart with two forks, removing any big chunks of fat or gristle. Mix 1/4 cup of the juices from the beef into the (warm) red chile sauce and pour over the beef, stirring to coat. Serve or keep on “warm” or “low” setting until ready to serve. Use this beef in enchiladas, tacos, burros or chimis, or serve with fresh tortillas and beans.

REAL food alert: check your beef stock for MSG and additives.

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The New Picture

The Old Picture.