Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taco Night with Homemade Pico

Once my brother and I were old enough to cook easy meals in the kitchen, my mother was smart enough to assign us each one night a week to cook dinner for our family of four. My brother Brad would usually make spaghetti and I would more often than not make tacos. This is a great dinner for a group! It's easy to pull together and completely customizable to accommodate all your guests.

This was my first time however to make homemade pico de gallo. It was who first gave me the idea and I followed her directions. I was very pleased with the outcome, however I wonder if jalapenos in Texas are somehow hotter than what she finds in Oklahoma since my pico was burn your butt hot.

This is what a great taco night buffet generally looks like. Shredded cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, beans of some sort (refried, black or charro), ground meat (seasoned beef or turkey), pico (or salsa), and of course the vehicle to which you get all this flavor to your mouth - soft tortillas, either corn or flour, hard shell tacos or flat tostadas.

Most people would probably use ground beef, but I've been using ground turkey since I was a little girl and think it's a wonderful substitute for tacos. I always doctor up the taco meat myself though. I chopped an onion and added to a skillet with one pound of ground turkey.

Over medium-high heat, cook, stir and break up chunks until meat is no longer pink and onion is translucent. You could add a packet of taco seasoning or make your own. Download this HWM printable recipe for making your own Taco Seasoning.
Once the ground meat is cooked and seasoning is added, turn heat to low, or off and cover until your taco buffet is ready to serve.

Homemade pico de gallo begins with one onion finely chopped.

Add one teaspoon of minced garlic to the chopped onion.

3-5 roma tomatoes, chopped.

PW uses three jalapenos and chopped them with seeds inside. I chopped one with seeds and then cleaned out the other two and chopped them up. Remember to wear gloves when dealing with jalapenos, they are HOT!

Large bunch of cilantro, washed. Chop this up and add to bowl of ingredients and give it a good stir.

Add juice of one lime and stir again.

Fresh pico was a wonderful addition to our taco buffet.

Each person can go through the buffet and create their own mexican favorites with the flavorful ingredients you've provided.

I personally like the flat tostadas. I mash up some black beans and put them on the bottom, topped with the ground turkey, a little shredded cheddar cheese and finally some fresh pico on top.

Mmmm Lovely!

Jim prefers tacos with black beans on the side.

He's a simple man. Simple to please, and that's another reason I love him!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Penne alla Titos

I love dishes with creamy tomato sauce, and the fact this recipe calls for a cup of Tito's vodka makes it even better. Don't worry, this sauce does not have an overpowering vodka taste, it is wonderfully smooth and creamy sauce that will make you want to literally lick you plate. You can use any pasta you like with this sauce, spaghetti, shells, just imagine how great gnocchi would be. For Jim, I added a sliced chicken breast on top with a healthy sprinkle of parmesan.

Ingredients to gather: Pasta (whole wheat penne for this recipe), Vodka (Tito's is my preference), Tomato Puree (I used a combination of tomato paste and canned crushed tomatoes), Onion, Butter, Olive Oil, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes, Parmesan Cheese, Heavy Cream and Skinless Boneless Chicken Breasts.

Let's begin this wonderful pasta dinner by cooking the pasta! Use 1 lb pasta and prepare according to package directions. I filled a large pot with water and seasoned well with salt, set heat to high and when the water boils I stir in the whole wheat pasta and let boil for 8-10 minutes. Be careful NOT to overcook it.

While water boils, lets prepare the sauce, beginning with one onion.

I always wear these cute pink onion goggles, I swear by them. Dice an onion.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions, cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Add 2-3 minced garlic cloves.

Allow this to cook for two more minutes, turning down heat if it begins to burn.

After two minutes, add one cup of Tito's vodka.

Let this mixture cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will begin reducing slightly.

Next, stir in one can of tomato puree. I used a small pouch of tomato paste.

And because I like a little texture in my sauce, I added an entire can of crushed tomatoes.

Important: turn the heat to low.

Grab half and half or whole cream, depending on how your arteries are feeling and slowly stir in one cup.

Make sure the heat is very, very low and then sprinkle in a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. This is optional if you can’t HANDLE the heat, but I would recommend at least a light sprinkle.

I purchased this Truffle and Salt mixture on my last trip to Napa Valley. I tend to add a small pinch to most dishes these days, and found it absolutely irresistible on a grilled cheese.

Stir, taste, and season as needed. I added a teaspoon of sugar to balance the acidity of tomatoes in the sauce.

When the pasta is finished cooking, strain, and add to the sauce. One reason I like penne in this recipe is because I feel like the tubes fill with the sauce instead of just coating the pasta.

No pasta dish is complete without a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Because Jim would look at me crazy if I tried to serve a meatless dinner, I baked a few chicken breasts in the oven. To do this, I simply rinsed and patted dry the chicken, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with S.P.O.G. (salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder) and then baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Let the chicken rest for five minutes after pulling out of the oven before slicing.

Spoon the pasta and sauce into bowls, top with sliced chicken and sprinkle with more parmesan cheese.

Delicious and filling. This can be served within 30 minutes from start to finish making it a wonderful weeknight meal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goody Girl Potatoes

Goody Girl Championship Potatoes, these are mmm mm mmmmm good! This is THE PERFECT side dish to take to a BBQ. It taste like a loaded baked potato, but kicked up a notch with hidden spice and easily can feed a hungry crowd.

Here is a photo of the original Goody Girls, a cook-off team that competes at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This team always has the fun tent at BBQ Cook-Off, live music, crazy crowd and some of the best Q to boot.

Start with three pounds of red potatoes that have been washed and scrubed. Slice into equal size pieces, best you can, about 1/4 inch thick.

Here is the SECRET, a pouch of crab boil.

Fill a large stock pot with COLD water just until potatoes are covered. Add crab boil and stir to combine. Place pot on high burner and bring water to a boil, cooking the potatoes until fork-tender.

Meanwhile I chopped up a pound of bacon (this is peppered bacon) and in a medium saute pan on medium heat, cook bacon until crispy.

Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Chop one onion and add to bacon grease; cook until caramelized. Just before onions are done, add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic and cook until lightly brown.

In a BIG bowl, add half the crispy bacon, four tablespoons butter, one cup shredded cheddar cheese.

Add 3/4 cup sour cream.

The onions and garlic look really good now.

They were a little too greasy, so I strained them first, and then dumped the onion garlic mixture into my big mixing bowl.
I checked the boiling potatoes and they are FORK tender, perfect!

I removed the potatoes from the cooking liquid and plopped them right into the bowl of cheese and sour cream and bacon and butter.
Season the bowl with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon paprika and a sprinkle of Salt and pepper.
Then top the hot potatoes with three chopped green onions. Another cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons of butter and the remaining bacon.

Fold ingredients together, trying not to break up the potatoes excessively. Check seasoning and adjust to your taste. These are KILLER!

This makes a lot of potatoes, so with the leftovers, I tried to make spicy potato cakes but they didn't "bind" well - maybe I could have mashed the potatoes better, then added in some egg to help hold it together when sauteing on the stove.

No worries, I have come up with an even better idea for these leftovers. Coming up next is a recipe I haven't named yet. I could call it Twice Baked Potato and Chicken Casserole, or Goody Girl Casserole, Kick It Up Casserole, or Leftover Potato Casserole. I think Goody Girl Casserole has a nice ring to it, but doesn't really say what it is. I will surprise you!

First photo borrowed from Food Network since I forgot to take a finished picture.