Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Clip Coupons... I Clip Recipes

I think my husband is a pretty understanding guy, but we definitely agree to not discuss how many cookbooks I own or how many cooking magazines I receive each month.  To help preserve household harmony, I am vigilant about reading the magazines and pulling out the recipes I want, then recyling the carcass, so to speak.  It keeps down the clutter of extra magazines pretty well. 

That is perhaps the biggest secret to how I cook such a variety of items.  While I rarely make a recipe exactly as written, they are a great source of inspiration.  Bottom line: I read A LOT of cooking magazines and cookbooks.  I watch cooking shows and "The Chew."  Every time I see a recipe or an idea within a recipe I want to try, I clip it and even write notes on it.  I also keep a small notebook that I jot down ideas in and refer back to.  Sometimes, I just write an idea on a post-it and throw it in the recipe file!

Why do I bother?  part of it is that I get bored eating the same things over and over (there are some recipes I love again and again, but that's not the norm).  Part of why I do it is because I love learning and experimenting and want to make more meals at home.  Plus, by clipping recipes, I can creat a shopping list each week and stay more organized (read: less stressed) during the week and still cook a good meal.  Here are my tips and tricks to staying organized and eating a variety of meals!

Grocery shopping: I shop once per week.  When I make out my shopping list, I pull out my folder of recipes and any cookbooks I want to reference and make out a list of meals and ingredients.  That way, I have everything I need when I'm ready to cook.  But, if there is something on special, I'm not afraid to change my cooking plans or buying and freezing things on sale.

Fresh food: Spring and summer are the best seasons at the farmers' markets.  Try and shop the markets and take advantage of the local offerings.  If they are available in your area, services such as greenling.com bring together produce, meat, and other items and deliver them to you each week.  Not always the least expensive, but if you can afford, it's worth doing.  For meat, get to know your local farmers and buy from them - the meat comes frozen and keeps a long time.  It may cost more, but you're supporting local farmers and escaping the industrial food chain.
Organizing recipes: When I clip the recipes, I keep a simple accordion folder with tabs for each month. I file the recipe under the month I might want to try the recipe. We get bored eating the same things over and over, so it motivates me to try new things. Once I try the recipe, if I don't like it, I throw it out. If I do like it, I add to my "permanent" file with a date I tried it and a note about how I cooked it or anything special about the recipe. (My permanent file is actually a set of recipe files - one for recipes I like and one for the "heirloom" recipes I make again and again).
How I keep recipes organized - filed by month
Cleaning out recipes: At the beginning of the next month, when I'm making out my shopping list, I pull out the recipes I didn't try that month.  If I think I still might make them, I put them in the pile for the current month.  If not, I throw it out.  No use in cluttering up the file.  I have recipes I find in March that I want to make in November.  Having a file by month means I can easily put the recipe in the right place where I won't lose or forget about it.
Following recipes exactly: My honey dislikes bell peppers... and most vegetables... and many fruits... and..., well you get the idea. There are many recipes that have one or two ingredients he won't touch. Rather than just not make the recipe, I omit the items he won't eat. That way, I customize to our tastes and still get to try a potentially delicious recipe. It may not taste quite the same, but it works for us. 
Cook ahead:   A big secret about restaurants is they cook everything they can ahead of time.  That beef rib you're eating on Friday?  It might have been partially or fully cooked on Sunday and just reheated the day they serve it!  If you can find time on the weekend to even cook some of the ingredients ahead, all you have to do the day you wat to eat it is assemble and reheat.  When I took night classes, I cooked 2 or 3 meals on Sunday and divided them into portions for the week. I may have had to run the dishwasher more often to clean all of the Tupperware I used for storage, but dinner was ready in less than 10 minutes most days. 

If you're going to try this, summer is a great time to begin.  Start simple - try grilling a couple extra chicken breasts on Saturday night and serve a chicken Caesar salad Monday with the leftovers! Make a steak salad with an extra steak you grill up.  Serve as a salad with mixed greens, sliced red onions, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar dressing.  Two meals for the effort of one!

Happy eating!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

10 Years in the Making... Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice at Home

One of the biggest frustrations I've always had is that I couldn't master the technique and style of Spanish or Mexican rice.  Sometimes called "arroz rojo" (red rice), it's  a style of rice you see in any Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant in this area.  While I've found the flavors to work in many recipes I've tried, I never could get that "dry" (non-starchy) texture just right.  After over 10 years of trying different recipes, I've hit rice nirvana! 

How did I do it?  A LOT of patience and time.  This isn't a shortcut recipe, but I promise, the payoff is rice you would swear came from a Tex-Mex restaurant.  I've summarized several key steps you HAVE to do for success.  The rice will come out non-starchy, a "dry" texture, with a decent depth of flavor.  Vary it up from there with the addition of veggies and serve with your favorite Mexican-style meat.

Success tips:
- Use regular long-grain rice, NOT instant
- Rinse the rice under cold water in a colander or fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear.  This is a CRITICAL step to wash off all of the extra starch.  It will affect the final texture of the rice if you don't
- Dry the rice on a clean towel or paper towels for 5 - 10 minutes before cooking
- Saute the rice until it starts toasting (the grains start to look translucent and some have some browning)
- NO PEEKING at the rice during the 20 minutes of cooking!!

Here is a basic recipe for the rice.  The recipe is tasty without the Sazon, but feel free to add in a Sazon packet if you like.  Many recipes also use frozen peas, but add after the rice has cooked so that they don't get too mushy.  Pull out the peas from the freezer when you start cooking the rice so that they thaw a bit before adding.  Happy eating!

Mexican Rice
1 cup long grain white rice
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced onion (white, yellow, or red)
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (reduced sodium)
1/2 cup fresh chopped tomato (seeds and all)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 - 1 packet "Sazon" seasoning, if desired
1/2 cup frozen peas, optional

Place rice in a colandar or fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear.  (Move the rice around as you rinse to ensure all the grains are rinsed).  Should take 2 - 3 minutes.  Lay the rice out on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to dry.  Meanwhile, dice the carrot and onion and mince the garlic.  Chop the tomatoes.  Puree the stock and tomatoes in a blender on high speed until smooth.  Set aside.  Heat a skillet or 2-quart saucepan on medium-high heat.  Add oil to coat pan evenly and heat until shimmering.  Add the rice and stir to coat.  Saute the rice, stirring frequently until it starts to look translucent and is lightly toasted.  Once rice is starting to toast, add in carrots, onions, and garlic.  Saute 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add in the tomato/stock mixture and stir.  Bring to a low boil and add in bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper, and sazon if using, to taste.  Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat (NO PEEKING!).  After 20 minutes, remove from heat but KEEP COVERED another 5 minutes.  Uncover and sprinkle on the peas if using.  Let sit 5 minutes before gently fluffing.