Friday, October 31, 2008

Baking Gals

I’ve said before on my blog that baking does not come naturally to me, but I will give it a shot every now and then. Allyson, my baking friend introduced me to Baking Gals this past week and I was immediately hooked. Baking GALS (GALS stands for Give A Little Support) is a group of volunteer bakers who bake and ship homemade goodies to our heroic troops that are currently deployed. Each soldier is "Hosted" by a blogger, and bakers are "recruited" from the bloggers own site as well as the GALS site. Each Host recruits between 20-25 bakers, meaning LOTS of goodies get delivered to our many, in fact that he or she has plenty to share with their fellow troops!

Why do we do it this way? Why not just ship to "Any Soldier"? Well, we don't know "any soldier" - and "any soldier" doesn't know us. And receiving baked goods from a stranger, while probably safe, is frowned upon and in many cases, those gifts could be thrown out. Baking GALS will introduce you to a soldier and you will know his/her name, a little bit about them, maybe even their favorite cookie...and they will know in advance to expect a cookie bombardment - so everyone is prepared.

Message from Allyson:
Not only have I recently discovered my love of baking, this project touches my heart on a more personal level. I come from a military family -- both of my grandfathers served in world War II. My father and mother were both in the Army, and I was even born on a military base in Georgia. My father has been on active duty and in the reserves most of his life, including serving in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. But on my mind today is my brother, who graduated from Texas A&M University after serving in the Corps of Cadets, and was commissioned in the Army. He leaves this Saturday for his first assignment, and I'm going to meet him on the road with a big care package of homemade sweets. Although his assignment is in the United States, our soldiers all over the world could use a reminder of how much all of us back home miss them, admire their dedication, and pray for their safety.
Just look at how much Allyson's brother loves cookies!

Even though I’m not the world’s best baker, I have joined Allyson and all the other bakers on Baking Gals to share a little bit of home with our troops serving overseas. For more information on how you can get involved, visit Give a little support... BAKE!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taco Soup

When the weather gets chilly, it is THIS recipe I turn to: Taco Soup. I first had this in 2001 when my roommate made it from her mom’s recipe. You can customize it to your taste, using the veggies you like and kick up the spiciness as much as you like. I call this a “butt-burner” because we like it SPICY.

Here are the ingredients I use:
A can of rotel (I buy the HOT kind)
A can of whole kernel corn
2 cans pinto beans (the one with jalapeno)
A can of stewed tomatoes (you can find the Mexican style)
Garlic (I use jarred)
Fresh jalapeno
Jarred jalapeno
1 lb meat (I’ve always used turkey, you can’t tell)
1 package of taco seasoning
1 package of ranch salad dressing

Get your can opener ready.
First I washed and chopped the ends off the celery, then made a small dice. Back in 2001 I didn't care for celery AT ALL so I would pretty much puree this in a cuisinart until it was mush. Fast forward 2008 and I don't love the taste of fresh celery (definitely not how Jim loves to eat it raw) but I can appreciate the flavor it gives the soup and the flavor it takes one once it cooks in the soup all day.
Next, dice the onion.
Dice the jalapeno (first wash, half and clean out the innards...and WEAR GLOVES FOR HEAVENS SAKE)
Brown meat. I like to season my meat when it's browning...with whatever you have on hand. My usual is a 1/2 tablespoon of onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Then go check and see what your dog is barking at. Isn’t Cole the cutest little toy poodle you’ve ever seen? I gave him that mohawk, makes him look like the badass he is.
To the browned meat I added the onion and celery.
Into your crock pot we are going to simply open and dump the following… packet of ranch, packet of taco seasoning
Dump pinto beans
Dump tomatoes

Dump corn
Dump meat and onion mixture. If you are wondering, I do not drain any of the canned goods. This is when I add a couple jarred jalapenos and about a tablespoon of the vinegar from the jar. On the flip side, you could add a tablespoon of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

Stir it all together.
Set it and forget it! I set mine to low and let it cook all day (8 hrs) but if you are in a hurry you could also cook on high for half that time. Don't have a crock pot? Go to Walmart, that is where I got this one ... back in 2001 ... specifically for this recipe in fact. I'm sure you could do this on the stove too if you have no way of getting a crock pot.

Look how sweet Madeline looks laying in the kitchen. The house is beginning to fill with the AMAZING smell of taco soup. I know she wants some, but her little butt can’t handle the heat!

If you need more liquid, I would add stock (chicken or beef).

This will warm you up on a cold night!

Jim likes to eat his with a tortilla dipped in. I like to scoop up the soup with crunchy tortilla chips.

Yum! Make this when it gets cold, it’s an order. And…I can’t forget to add that this freezes well for up to three months. I scoop two cups into freezer bags and freeze them flat, marked with the name and date. Mmm... Serve this with a dollop of daisy and some shredded cheese sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fall Football Party

This may look like my Halloween costume, but I am embarrassed to say this is what I actually looked like on Sunday morning as I prepped the food and house for our Fall Football party. Jim came into the kitchen and died laughing, insisted that I pose for a picture. He added the rolling pin as my prop...the rest...that's pure Mandy.

I'm learning what a big deal Sunday Football is and I'm embracing it. Using Football as an excuse to have people over and cook for a crowd.
Here is our neighbor Oscar (you've seen him cooking Spanish Rice in an earlier post) along with Jim and our friend Chris. All in the living room watching the game.
Most everyone else was either in the kitchen eating and mingling or outside in the backyard.

I made the chicken enchilada dip again because it was such a hit earlier this week. I cut up some bratwurst served with a very spicy Dusseldorf Mustard from Fredericksburg Farms.
Here is a picture of my fall table - sans the Halloween Cake from Allyson.
Texas spicy pecans (recipe to come later this week)
Homemade Salsa and Jalapeno Ranch Dip but with some improvements.

Homemade taco soup (recipe to come later this week)
Kelie Shrimp, brought by my friend Merritt. (Recipe to come)
And these are the party favors I gave to each guest. Pumpkin Beer Bread. (Recipe to come)

Allyson unveiling her cake for the party.

She did all the buttercream frosting herself.

Isn't this the cutest?!
Leslie's concoction of beer and cider.
We also had some pumpkin carving going on. Here, Leslie and Allyson help pick out a template for pumpkins.
We played a little washers outside in the backyard.
Then on to pumpkins!
...and eating and chatting...

...chatting about cute babies...

...and working intently on carving...

We made a gooey mess cleaning out the GUTS of the pumpkin.

It was a fun day with neighbors, old friends, new friends and kiddos! All new recipes coming this week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tag You’re It

Wow, I’ve been tagged by Kimberly from A Growing Violet for a fun meme. She’s raising the most precious little girl and married to a really sweet husband, check out what he did for her earlier this week. (Jim, you should really check out what her husband did on the 24th.)

Here are the rules: 1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you. 2. Post the rules on your blog. 3. Write six random things about yourself. 4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them. 5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog. 6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Here are 6 Random Things About Me:
1. I can’t swim underwater without plugging my nose
2. I know all the words to the Fresh Prince of Bellaire theme song
3. I’ve always wanted a daintier laugh and a prettier “ugly cry” face
4. My favorite band is Train
5. I had braces three times growing up – finally Invisalign worked for me
6. I’m a Sagittarius

And now I am tagging the following six people:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cowboy Dinner: Rib Eye Steak and Cornmeal-Fried Onion Rings

I'm working on being well rounded in the kitchen. Mexican cuisine, Italian cuisine, American cuisine and Texas cuisine. Texas food includes Tex Mex and Cowboy eats. This pan seared rib eye steak with cornmeal-fried onion rings would fall into the cowboy food category. This also falls into the category of foods Jim loves.

On this day Jim was supposed to work a double, but was cut after 45 minutes of being at work because they were dead. Then he was supposed to return at 5:00 PM and got a call from his twit of a manager to ask him if he wanted the night off. Well, no - he doesn't want the night off he would rather work this evening. FYI, Jim's looking for another waiter job with a fine dining restaurant that actually has customers - if anyone in Austin is hiring. Call me.

I knew this meal would cheer him up. It worked. Who can be upset on a full belly? And if your belly is full with a perfectly seared rib eye steak and cornmeal onion rings - all the better.

The cornmeal-fried onion rings were an idea I got from Barfeoot Contessa. I put a twist on the recipe though, one that worked (kinda). Here we go, lets start with the onion rings.

I sliced this into 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick slices
and seperated them into rings.
Cover with one cup of buttermilk
I seasoned mine with a light shake of ground cumin
Then my favorite cowboy seasoning, the Saltgrass 7 Steak Spices.

Mix together with your hands to coat and then I put a lid on this and set it out on the counter for half an hour.
I bought these beautiful boneless rib eye steaks at Whole Foods. The marbling on these steaks is typical of a rib eye and is what gives this cut of beef so much flavor.
I simple rubbed these in olive oil and seasoned with my Saltgrass 7 Spices.
Now, I prepare the kitchen for the onion rings and steak. This is a quick meal to prepare, so while the steaks come to room temperature I want to set out everything I need to make this meal. I start by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper. This is where I will set the onion rings when I pull them out of the oil. If I needed to, I could put the finished onion rings in a 200 degree oven for up to 30 minutes to keep them warm and crisp.
I looked at the ingredients Ina calls for in her cornmeal-fried onion rings, and I didn't have plain cornmeal. I did however have this bag of prepared corn bread mix. I looked at the ingredients and it was flour and cornmeal...close enough. (smiling)

To add a kick of flavor I added about a tablespoon of (you guessed it) Saltgrass seasoning.
Now let's get the fryer ready. I used 1/2 quart of vegetable oil into my deep pot and attached the candy thermometer. Frying should happen around 350 degrees, but as you fry foods the temperature drops so this helps you watch and wait in between batches for the temp to be just right.
For the rib eye, I started by putting my oven safe pan into the oven and pre-heated to 425 degrees. Alton Brown suggest using a cast iron skillet, but I don't have one. I do however have this on my wish list and hopefully it will show up Christmas morning, being the good girl I have been.
After the oven reaches 425, pull out the pan and place over high heat. Add the steaks and don't touch them for 30 seconds. Let them get a good sear.
Flip, let them sear on the other side for 30 seconds.

Now put in the hot oven for two minutes. Flip and cook for another two minutes. Please ignore that I store baking sheets in the oven. I have little to no storage in my kitchen so I get creative.
These looked so good when I removed from the oven. I put them on a clean plate and covered with foil to keep warm while I make the onion rings.
Here are my soaked onion rings.
I toss these in the cornmeal mix
Then drop in the vegetable oil when the thermometer reads 350.

Then put each batch out on a baking sheet to drain a bit.
I served the steak up with a serving of cornmeal onion rings on top.

Are you salivating? This tasted as good as it looks.

I loved the crunch on the onion rings, but I wish the batter would have held on a little better. I wonder if the addition of more flour to the cornmeal mix would have helped things. I'm not complaining. These were really good.

Yee Haw!