Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taco Pie

So far this summer, I have not cooked the same thing twice for dinner. It's become kind of a game for me to use up leftovers and random fridge items in unique ways. Such was the case for me last night; Lindsey, Dave and I grilled hamburgers after our 10K on Monday, and we had two leftover. Something about a re-heated cheeseburger was just not appealing to me, so I started looking for inspiration via Google blogs search about what to do with leftover ground beef. A taco pie thus was born. I felt somewhat semi-homemade making it, what with the crescent roll crust and crushed up tortilla chip topping, but it was dang tasty. Here's my version, that I'm certain could be gourmet-ified if needed.

Ground Beef Taco Pie
1 package reduced fat Pillsbury crescent rolls
1/2 lb ground beef, cooked and drained (I crumbled up my 2 leftover grilled hamburgers)
1/2 onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 can Rotel tomatoes (with juice)
1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup corn kernels (frozen or canned)
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin
3 tsp taco seasoning
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, monterrey jack, pepper jack or combination)
7-10 large tortilla chips, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9" pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the crescent rolls flat in the pie pan so that they cover the bottom and sides. Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven. In the meantime, sautee diced onion, garlic and pepper for 7-8 minutes, until onions are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in the can of Rotel, beans, and corn; salt & pepper again, and add cumin. Add in ground beef and taco seasoning; heat through, about 5 minutes. Place one layer of beef mixture on top of crescent roll crust, then top it with cheese, then place the remaining beef mixture on top, and top with crumbled up tortilla chips and more cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, slice and enjoy. Serve with guacamole and sour cream on the side.

My homemade guacamole:

1 ripe avocado
juice of 1/2 lime
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 Tablespoon finely diced and seeded jalapeno pepper

Combine together in small bowl; cover directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

See! It's so semi-homemade, what with the taco seasoning and crescent rolls. It felt very 1950s to make; I felt like I needed to be on my way to a potluck or church supper. However, it was quite tasty, and Dave and I both loved it. That crescent roll crust makes a huge impact since it's buttery and crispy, and works wonderfully with the spiciness of the filling. We don't like things incredibly spicy, so I always remove the seeds and ribs from my peppers before cooking. If you like it hotter, then include the seeds in the sauteed onion mixture. You can also top each serving with more shredded cheese if you have cheese lovers in the family. This made about 5 servings, which means leftovers for lunch! Again, not a very original recipe, but it was tasty and resourceful. This one's going in rotation!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I am sick and tired of produce being so freaking expensive. Seriously; the 0.01 of an acre we have in the backyard is about to be turned into a garden so I don't have to rely on Kroger's anymore. What's up with the price of green peppers? And bananas? And avocados? And everything, really? Not to let my browning bananas go to waste, and since Lindsey and I were talking yesterday about that time Marti I. brought in chocolate banana cookies that were more like muffin tops, I searched the internet and found a recipe that I pretty much copied to make:

Banana Oatmeal Cookies with 3 Chocloates
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 overripe bananas, mashed with a fork
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups oats
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup white chocolate chunks
1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and oats in a bowl; set aside. Cream butter and both sugars with a hand mixer in a large bowl until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Beat in the bananas. Gradually add in the flour/oat mixture (I did this in two batches). Stir in the chocolates. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

I realize that I should have been a good southerner and put chopped pecans in there for good measure. I happen to love these cookies; they really are like muffin tops. Dave didn't like them because he said they were too much like banana bread. How this is a bad thing, I have yet to figure out. Either way, these are really more like little loafs of goodness in cookie form. I had one as a supplement to my breakfast this morning since they had fruit and fiber in them. If all you have is one type of chocolate, by all means you can substitute for the other two. It just so happens I had 2 pieces of baking chocolates and about 1/3 cup of actual chocolate chips that I wanted to use up in this recipe. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California Salad with Avocado, Strawberries, and Ginger-Citrus Dressing

Well kids, welcome to the most exciting/depressing couple of weeks in the year: season finale week. It's exciting, because what equates to a whole semester, or year, of television watching gets summed up in breathtaking and adventurous and emotional finales. However, the day after your favorite show's finale is kind of like the day after Christmas. You feel all empty and sad, because you know there is no more happiness coming for a long time. What on earth am I going to do for an hour on Tuesday and Wednesday nights without American Idol? (My assessment of this season is evident in my decision not to buy tickets to see AI Live, even though they'll be at Rupp in August...)I know, Hell's Kitchen still has a few weeks left, and The Next Food Network Star picks back up sometime in June. But for the love of God, you're taking LOST away from me AGAIN for 7 straight months? I know, I should focus on the positive, like the fact that we get a 2 hour season finale next week. And that it'll be out on DVD (or Blu-Ray, thank you Dave) soon and I can sit and watch the season all over again along with the cool bonus material (I love hearing Naveen Andrews talk in his British accent and anything to do with Michael Emerson). Still. No more LOST? Til January 2009? It's like taking away my coffee. And facebook. And myspace. And kittens. All at the same time. For 7 months. The absence of LOST means more than just no more good television; it means no more official podcasts, and a slow-down of activity on, two of my favorite distractions. I guess it will force me to focus more on writing a proposal, which is insanely frustrating to me at this very moment.

So, let's talk about food! This week is a healthy-eating week for Dave and me. Last night I made my favorite salad, what I like to call a "California Salad." I've only been to California once, but I'm guessing this dish would go over well there since it's light, refreshing, and uses avocados. And it can be vegetarian friendly!

Ginger-Citrus Dressing:
2 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup honey
1/4-1/2 cup orange juice

Combine ingredients together well with a whisk or fork. Taste; for sweeter dressing, add more honey. For a spicier dressing, add more ginger or mustard. For a creamier dressing, add more mayo. For a more thinned-out dressing, add more orange juice.

Drizzle on a salad assembled as follows:
greens of your choice (I prefer romaine hearts/cabbage blend in this salad)
sliced avocado
sliced fresh strawberries
orange supremes (sliced into juicy tidbits)
nuts (chopped pecans, almonds, or cashews work well)
chow-mein noodles (if you have some)
roasted chicken (optional, best for when eating as a dinner salad)

Trust me, you will crave this salad and want to make it over and over again. I based this recipe off a salad recipe I got from Food Network a long time ago, and can't even remember the original ingredients or proportions. I know it's very similar to what I have here, but this version is better than the original. The dressing makes about 4 servings, and keeps well in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. This is Rose's favorite meal, and it's one of my all-time favorite dishes. It's very "girly," so it's great to make and serve for a luncheon, brunch, or tea. You can go ahead and assemble all the ingredients ahead of time - except for the avocado, which tends to turn brown very quickly with or without a squirt of lemon juice - and prepare immediately before serving.

Wonder if avocados, strawberries, and oranges grow on the island, or just coconuts and mangoes?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thai-ish Pork Stirfry

I mentioned I had a roast pork loin from dinner on Thursday (quite simple - sear off a pork loin on all sides in a pan with olive oil, then place in a roasting pan and in an oven at 325. Roast for 1 hour or until internal temp gets to 135. Tent with foil and let it rest out of the oven, and it will heat up to 145, which is where the experts say you should consume pork. Use a meat thermometer!). The roast was delicious, but I was scheming as to how I could transform it for dinner the next night (last night). I have been craving Asian-inspired foods lately for some reason, and after searching a few Thai pork stir fry recipes, I came up with this.

Thai-ish Pork Stirfry
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb roasted pork loin, julienned or diced
1 green bell pepper, thin sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup frozen broccoli, thawed slightly
4-5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Sauce: (I didn't measure anything last night, so these are all really random guesses)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl (or, my preference for sauces is a large measuring cup with a pour-spout), whisk together sauce. Taste it, and adjust seasonings if needed (if you want it hotter, add more pepper flakes. If it's too peanut buttery, add soy sauce. If it's too sour, add honey. You get the picture). Set aside until ready to use.

Prepare vegetables and pork for stir fry. Heat up oil in saucepan, and sautee peppers and shallots until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add in broccoli and pork, and sauce. Coat everything with sauce and heat through, cooking over medium heat at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes, if you reduce the heat to low and allow to gently simmer. Immediately before serving, top with chopped peanuts and basil. Serve with white or brown rice, and enjoy!

The sauce was surprisingly good. I think it was my favorite invented teriyaki-style sauce ever. I thought about adding cornstarch to thicken it, but just left it saucy instead. I also wish I had used a red bell pepper for color's sake (all the veggies are green otherwise). If I had an onion, I would have used it instead of a shallot, but I like the milder flavor of shallots. Of course, substitute whatever meat or vegetables you have on hand - the sauce will stand up to just about anything.

I feel so... Robin Miller.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Chocolate "Not"-lage

There are very few things in my life that are absolute certainties. I prefer to deal in hypotheticals, dreams, ideas, and gray areas rather than concretes. However, there is one fact that I face daily now that the hell that was Spring 2008 is over. If I do not write a dissertation proposal this summer, I will not graduate in May. Even if I write a proposal, there is still no guarantee that I will graduate then. But, failure to write down what I plan to study over the next year certifies that I will under no circumstances walk in May.

You'd think that understanding the implications of not writing a proposal would be enough motivation to push me in the right direction. And it is, as I had full intentions of writing something, anything, down yesterday, on my first full day of summer vacation. Instead, I went to the grocery store, planted an herb garden, got paint samples for the guest bathroom, made cupcakes from scratch, roasted pork tenderloin for dinner, and laid out by the pool. I did read the first two chapters in "Tune In/Log On" by Nancy Baym while I was laying out. So I guess that counts for something; regardless, I woke up today determined to do more work. So far, I have run 3 miles, did yoga for 45 minutes, made lunch, baked a new dessert for tomorrow's lunch with Dave's mom, and decided to blog about it. I call this my creative writing exercise for the day.

So there's a restaurant in Birmingham, Cobb Lane. It is difficult to find, and I've only really eaten there once for Allison's bridal tea. At night, it turns into a martini bar - Blue Monkey - where I have sipped on many an inspirational chocolate martini (it was the first place I ever tried one, actually). Cobb Lane is a charming little Southern restaurant, and I fell in love with one of their desserts - chocolate roulage. It's like a grown-up version of a swiss cake roll. I loved it so much I bought the cookbook on the way out the door that day, and resolved to make it for myself at some point. Unfortunately, I'm not as talented of a chef as I wish I was, so I had to modify it. Here is, then:

Chocolate Not-lage
5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cocoa squares), melted over a double boiler with 3 tablespoons water
coco powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

To begin, melt the chocolate with water, set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 325. Generously butter a cookie sheet, cover with one piece of wax paper, and then generously butter the wax paper. In medium-sized bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, set aside. In another large bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until thick. Stir in the cooled, melted chocolate. Gently fold in the egg whites. Spread over the wax paper, bake for 10 minutes, and reduce heat (I reduced it to 300, the cookbook did not say exactly what temperature I should reduce the oven to) and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven, and cover with a cool, wet towel until cooled completely. While cake is cooling, whip cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff.

Here is where the recipes diverge and things got tricky for me. The original recipe calls for you to dust the cake with cocoa, and turn it over on a clean sheet of wax paper, then gently remove the old wax paper. Then, you are to spread the whipped cream all over the cake, and roll it up like a jelly roll.

This results in a beautiful presentation and makes you look like a kitchen rock star. However, my cake came out a little cracked. I was too scared to attempt to jelly-roll it. So, I took out a clear, small casserole dish, and made a "not-lage." I cut out a section of cake, and laid it down in the bottom of the dish. Then, I covered it with 1/3 of the whipped cream. I layered the dessert until I had used up all the whipped cream and topped it with the last section of cake, which I dusted with cocoa. I put the lid on the dish and stuck it in the fridge, where it will stay until I'm ready to go tomorrow. I haven't tried it yet, but I did eat some of the whipped cream with a piece of the cake, and boy howdy, it is amazing. I plan on cutting little squares to serve, and maybe even garnishing it with some fresh raspberries.

And, I plan on getting right to work on the proposal, right now.