Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chili Covered Watermelon Mexican Lollipop

I was out picking up parts at a warehouse today, and one of the counter guys, Eric, gave me a lollipop. So nice of him! Anyway, I wasn't quite ready to eat it yet so I popped it in my pocket and saved it for later.

A little later, I pulled the lollipop out of my pocket and was about to take off the wrapper to enjoy the sweet taste of fake watermelon flavor when I discovered that the lollipop was covered in spices. Errr...huh? Now I am familiar with mixing sweet with salty and spicy, but this was just kind of weird. It looked like chili powder and finely-ground oregano. So I set down the lollipop and walked away for awhile.

I came back, took a look at the label (it said Rebanaditas), took off the wrapper and stuck the candy in my mouth. And then took it right back out. I'm not going to say it was gross. But I will say that I threw it away.

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Rival Seal-a-Meal™

My friend, Ange, gave me this Rival Seal-a-Meal vacuum food sealer as a gift last week, and I was really excited to try it out. I think within 3 minutes of her leaving my house I was hunting down something to seal. I'd never had a vacuum sealer before, so I was curious to find out how easy or hard, how useful or worthless this gadget would be.

The set-up is pretty easy. The Seal-a-Meal comes with a starter roll of bags. I cut the bag to my desired size (the instructions recommend cutting it large enough so that you have at least three inches between where your food will stop and where you will be sealing) and then I formed the end seal. This was done by closing the machine over the bag and pressing down until the machine heated and sealed the end.

Once the bag had an end, I put in my food. I'd bought a "value pack" of beef for pot roast and it seemed like the perfect candidate for vacuum-sealing. Leaving plenty of room on the unsealed end, I put the bag in (unsealed side) the machine and pressed down on both sides. It started vacuuming out air and the bag started shrinking a little. I could definitely see the thing working. It sucked out a little beef juice (or blood, if you want to be technical about it), but there's a removable drip tray where the blood collected. Within about a minute and a half, the food was vacuum-sealed. I was pretty impressed! There were a few air pockets, but I've decided that this happens when your bag is big.

I've experimented with lots of different types of food, and it seems like the more you fill your bag or the lumpier it is, the more air pockets you'll have. All in all, this is a pretty handy gadget. I've been using it to seal prepared meals so that they keep for several days. You might call me a sealing fool. I cut up uncooked potatoes into small cubes, sealed them and froze them for my potato hash. I made a mixed grill over the weekend and sealed that too. I even thought about vacuum-sealing a bag of ice for the cooler, but the ice tray was empty...

I also found out that the bags are reusable. To reuse a bag, cut both sealed ends and wash the bag out thoroughly. Then just reseal one end, put your food in, vacuum, and seal.

My only complaint, and it's more of a suggestion than a complaint, is that the Seal-a-Meal website doesn't have any information on reheating. The site has recipes for foods you could prepare and seal, but that's where the information stops. If it were up to me, I would have instructions on how to reheat prepared meals. For example, if you vacuum-seal cooked rice, could you drop the bag in boiling water to reheat? Or if you have sealed grilled meat (which I did), can you put the whole thing in the microwave (plastic and all), or do you need to puncture the bag? I guess I will have to conduct my own experiments. I have a tendency to buy in bulk to save money, and then I end up throwing a lot of stuff away. I have a feeling I'll be wasting a lot less food now.

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Mixed Grill

I found a great recipe for a marinade to make a mixed grill.

I marinated chicken breast, bell peppers, and corn in this marinade. I grilled the sausage as is because smoked sausage is delicious as it is.

Juice of 5 lemons
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 garlic cloves
crushed red pepper flakes

I marinated the chicken in a bag separate from the vegetables and marinated them for about an hour. Grill till cooked, allow to rest, slice and serve!

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Chinese Sticky Rice (Nuo mi fan)

This is a dish that I can't remember having for the first time. If you asked my sister or me to make this for you, we wouldn't have to break out the recipe book (although I did cheat and call my mom to ask her how much water to use). Sticky rice is something that was always around when our grandparents in Taiwan would have people over. And even after we moved here, my mom would always make this for any special occasions. Today wasn't a special occasion, but I think my spirits needed a little pick-me-up. Nostalgia and food did the trick.

A couple of ingredients in this dish that you may not have on hand: dried shiitake mushrooms and sweet rice. No, you can't substitute regular rice. It won't be sticky! You can find it in any Asian market. Same with the shiitake mushrooms.

The recipe:
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated in warm water for at least 30 minutes)
2 tbsp canola oil (or vegetable oil)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
4-6 oz thinly sliced pork (a pork chop would do)
2 cups sweet rice
2 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the pork and cook for about 2-3 minutes (or till cooked through). Slice the rehydrated mushrooms and add them to the pan. Reserve the water.
Add the rice to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
Add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan and stir till the rice has soaked in the water.
Continue to add 1/2 cup of water till you've used up all 2 cups.
Add in the soy sauce and stir through.

Now here is where my method differs from my mom's; mostly from necessity:

Transfer the rice mixture to a pot and stir in 1 cup of the mushroom water. Turn heat down to med-low and cook until the rice has cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Normally, I would have put this into the rice cooker after I incorporated the two cups of water, but my B&D rice cooker wanted to tell me it was done cooking long before the rice was cooked.

Serve with soy sauce and garnish with chopped green onions, if you like.

Note: As I was making this, I thought about how similar this dish is to Italian risotto. The method is similar, and even the traditional pairing of the rice with mushroom is similar. The Italians have a lot to thank the Chinese for.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Double-Berry Cooler

I found this recipe in my BHG 2005 Annual Recipes book.

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 c sugar
4 cups ginger ale
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups blueberries (or blackberries)
2 cups small whole strawberries (halved)

In a medium saucepan, stir together gelatin and sugar. Add 1 cup of ginger ale.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes or till gelatin dissolves.
Remove from heat. Slowly stir in remaining ginger ale.
Spoon blueberries into a 2-qt glass bowl or straight-sided container (I used small glasses).
Add half the gelatin mixture. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set.
After an hour of chilling, in a medium bowl stir together strawberries and remaining gelatin-juice mixture.
Cover and chill one hour or just till partially set.
Spoon strawberry mixture on set blueberry mixture. Cover and refrigerate 3-4 hours or until set.
Makes 8-10 servings.

I halved the recipe. And I forgot to cut the strawberries (which was no big deal).

Instead of waiting and layering, I just mixed the berries together and added the gelatin mixture which is why my fruits floated. I'm pretty sure this did not affect the flavor though it isn't as impressive as layers.

I thought this recipe was a little too sweet. It needed more acidity. If I were going to make this again, I would use blackberries and less sugar.

My fatal flaw: I wasn't patient and I didn't cook the gelatin mixture for the full 5 minutes, so the result was grainy gelatin. The lesson learned here: be patient and thoroughly dissolve the gelatin.
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sesame Chicken with Broccoli

You ever get the craving for American Chinese food? I say "American" because I don't think my family in Taiwan would recognize this dish. It's food, nonetheless, and I got a craving for Sesame Chicken this week. lf you're planning on making this dish, there are just a few things you might want to check your pantry for before you get started.

Cornstarch isn't something everyone has on hand, so make sure you locate that box before you start cooking. How about soy sauce? I know most people have soy sauce in the cupboard, but see if you've got enough left. You'll need vinegar too. And lastly, see if you have chile paste. This is actually an optional ingredient, but it does add a spicy depth to the sauce. If you like spice, you might want to make sure you have some.

Now for the recipe:

Sesame Chicken with Broccoli

2 chicken breasts, pounded flat and diced into 1" cubes
1 c flour, for dredging
1/4 c canola oil
1 head broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp salt
sesame seeds

For the sauce:
1/4 c water (warm)
1/2 c chicken broth
1 tbsp vinegar
1/3 c sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp chile paste (optional, and you can add more if you like more heat)
1/4 c cornstarch
cold water

Dredge the chicken cubes in flour and set aside while you heat 3 tbsp of canola oil in a large pan over med-high heat.
Add the chicken to the pan, cook thoroughly. The best way to cook the chicken is to cook each side for about 3-4 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown (a little) to create a crispy crust.
Remove the chicken and set it aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tbsp of canola oil over med-high and add the broccoli. Cook for about a minute, then add 2 tbsp of water. This will create steam - cover the pan and allow the broccoli to steam for about 3-4 minutes.
While the broccoli is steaming, prepare your sauce.

Add all the ingredients (except the cornstarch) in a bowl and mix well.
In a small cup, add a couple teaspoons of cold water and mix in the cornstarch. Mix well to make a slurry - stir to remove all the clumps.
Add the cornstarch slurry to your sauce and combine.

Add the chicken back to the pan with the broccoli and pour the sauce in. Over med-low heat, mix the ingredients and allow the sauce to thicken.

Top the chicken and broccoli with a sprinkle sesame seeds and serve over white rice.

I like to pound the chicken breast because it makes the chicken more tender, and it also flattens it so that each piece is pretty much the same thickness making it much easier to cook evenly.

I also like to serve this dish with pot stickers. Pot stickers are easy to make from Chinese dumplings. I have a great recipe for making your own dumplings. I'll be making these this weekend, so look for this post next week.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Dorito Casserole

Yes, I said "Dorito Casserole!" This is one of those indulgences that you can have once,
maybe twice, a year. Let's just say I'm not going to calculate the calories on this dish. (It's worth it, though!)

I was lucky enough to have my nephew, Charles, stay with us for 11 days. We made Dorito casserole one night, though I really should say he made Dorito casserole one night, after a long day of swimming and slushy drinking.

Dorito Casserole

1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey, but why? You might as well just go all out.)
1 package taco seasoning, or 2 tbsp chili powder, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder and onion powder
1 can cheese soup (we used Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup )
1 can Rotel (any flavor you want)
1 bag Doritos (any flavor you want)
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350.
Brown the meat till cooked thoroughly. Drain the fat, and mix in the seasoning.
Then mix in the cheese soup.
In a casserole dish, crush a layer of Doritos (don't crush them too small). Top with the cheese and beef mixture, then top with a layer of Rotel. Keep layering till you use up everything, finishing off with a layer of Doritos and topping it with cheese.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

At an attempt to get some "healthiness" into this casserole, I topped my serving with shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Then I negated the "healthiness" by adding sour cream. Ha! It doesn't matter, though. It was sinfully delicious. And having a 7-year-old around helped me burn those extra calories, so I can't complain.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chicken & Sausage Bake

Now here's a good idea: throw some chicken quarters and some sausage in a spicy mustard
marinade and bake it till it's ready! That's pretty much what this dish is. Here's the recipe for the marinade I used (from Nigella Feasts):

1 large onion, cut into eighths
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons English mustard
1 tablespoon dried sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon

I put all the ingredients in a bag, mixed them well, and dropped the chicken and sausage (cut into 2 inch pieces) and marinated it for three hours (Nigella suggests overnight).

Then everything went into a roasting pan and cooked at 425F for 1 hr 15 min. To keep the sausage cooking evenly, I turned them occasionally.

Note: This is a great recipe, but it's maybe not something you want to do on a hot day. To run the oven at 425F for over an hour in the middle of a hot day was not the best idea. It was totally worth it, but it obviously wasn't my brightest moment.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Jambalaya, how I love thee! Versatility, thine tendency to be spicy, and thine acknowledgement of my frugality have fostered my ocean-deep love for thee.

So I'm not a poet. But I do love Jambalaya. What's not to love? Sausage? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Spiciness? Check. And the fact that you can pair jambalaya with rice or pasta or the fact that jambalaya only gets better as a leftover? Come on. I'm not going to say you're crazy if you don't like jambalaya, but I'm also not going to say you're not.

I like (red) Jambalaya with tomatoes - this is considered a Creole version. The Cajun-style (brown) Jambalaya. Here's my recipe:

1 lb spicy smoked sausage, sliced on the bias
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3-4 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp Tabasco
2 bay leaves
12 oz penne pasta (1 box), cooked

In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the sausage over med-high heat. Remove the sausage, add the canola oil, and add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Sprinkle a little salt over the vegetables while they are cooking.
Cook till translucent.
Turn heat down to medium or med-lo, add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes (don't burn the garlic).
Add the tomato paste to the pan and heat through.
Add the chicken stock, diced tomatoes, spices, bay leaves, salt, and Tabasco.
Add the cooked sausage, and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Add the cooked pasta, stir to combine and serve.

Note: Seriously, leftovers of Jambalaya are awesome!

(This recipe makes 4 servings.)
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Peach Cobbler Cups

Do you ever get the feeling that you share a "psychic" connection with your family members? Ok, so I'm not really psychic, but maybe Nicole (my niece who happens to be a year older than me) might be.

I got a message/request from Nicole yesterday about a peach cobbler we used to make when we lived together. It just so happens that I made that cobbler last week. So now you all know I am a procrastinator and it takes me forever to get recipes posted, but as Garth always says, if you wait till the last minute, it only takes a minute to get it done. But I digress.

This recipe is so simple, especially if you use canned peaches and prepared pie crust. I used fresh peaches and prepared pie crust, but I've included a recipe for pie crust just in case you need one:

Peach Cobblers Cups
8 ripe peaches, poached, peeled and sliced
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Prepared pie crust (see recipe below, or use store-bought)
Cooking spray
4 10oz souffle cups or soup cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray cooking spray in 4 souffle or soup cups. Set aside.
In a small pot, bring peaches and sugar to a boil. Once boiling, sprinkle flour and nutmeg in the peach mixture. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the peaches are tender.
Line the bottom of each up with pie crust. Top with peaches, then top peaches with another layer of pie crust. You should end up with 3 layers of pie crust and 2 layers of peaches.
Bake for 25 minutes.

Pie Crust

1 ¼ cups AP flour
1/8 tsp salt (not Kosher)
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 c vegetable shortening, chilled
6 tbsp butter, chilled and cubed
1/8 – ¼ cup ice water

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, salt and sugar. Using your hands, mix in the shortening.
In a food processor, pulse the flour and shortening mix with butter until you get a coarse, crumbly mix. Add a little water and continue to pulse until the dough begins to form a ball.
Form the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes.

For this recipe, you'll only use half of the dough (at most). Freeze the rest for later use.

While it is worth it to poach and peel your own fresh peaches (as long as they are ripe), it is also perfectly ok to use one can of sliced peaches (in light syrup). Drain the syrup before cooking with sugar. You won’t have to cook the peaches very long; with canned peaches, you’ll just want to bring the peach mix to a boil so that you can incorporate the flour without getting lumps.

Also, if you don't want to make single-serve portions, use a casserole dish or other large serving vessel, double your amount of peaches (adjust the sugar to taste), and use all of your dough.

You'll notice that this is kind of an adjust-to-your-liking recipe. If you like peach cobbler for the peaches, use more peaches. If you like your peach cobbler more doughy, use less fruit and more dough.
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