26 March 2010

Vacation on a Plate

We didn't travel anywhere for Spring Break this year and surprisingly, I ended up being okay with that.

We had a very relaxing week here at home taking care of a few projects around the house and just relaxing.  We both returned to work feeling rejuvenated.

There was still a little part of me that wanted to feel like I was on vacation - laying on a beach somewhere south of here with a drink in my hand and not a care in the world. 

Although I couldn't recreate the entire scenario, I did make what I call "Vacation on a Plate" a few nights.  The flavors are so fun, you can't help but feel like you've been swept away to some other place.

This is not a fancy or complicated meal, just one that makes me happy.

Recipes (I use the term loosely) are at the bottom of the post.

The Cilantro Citrus Chicken rests on a bed of Carmelized Plantains:

And is topped with Mango Black Bean Salsa

When assembled the dish looks something like this...

(Yes, the dollop of sour cream is a must
The goofy chip and red bell pepper strip are optional.)

Sorry for the poor quality and silliness of these pictures, but it had been a long, hard, physically and emotionally exhausting day and we had reached the point of delirium. 

*This meal goes perfectly with a pitcher of sangria or margaritas!

Cilantro Citrus Chicken

1 - 2 oz tequila
zest and juice of  2 limes (3 if they are small or not very juicy)
3/4 - 1 cup OJ
handful of cilantro, chopped
a tablespoon or so of oil
S & P
4 or 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the first 5 ingredients thoroughly in a shallow baking dish or large ziploc bag.  Season the chicken breasts with S&P.   Marinate the chicken for at least 3 hours.  (I like to marinate it all day)  Grill the chicken over med-high heat, 5-6 minutes per side.

Mango Black Bean Salsa

3 large, ripe mangoes
1 large, ripe avocado
1/2 red onion
juice of 1 lime
handful cilantro, chopped
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
cayenne pepper

Chop the mangos and avocado in to 1/2 inch chunks.  Finely chop the onion.  Mix those three together with the cilantro and toss with the lime juice.  Carefully stir in the black beans and season with salt and cayenne to taste. 

*This dish tastes best when made a few hours in advance so the flavors marry
*A little finely diced jalepeno would be a delicious way to add a little heat to this mild salsa

Carmelized Plantains (adapted from Tyler Florence's recipe for Sweet Plantains)

2 ripe plantains
2 T butter
1 T oil
2 - 3 tablespoons brown sugar

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Meanwhile, peel the plantains and slice each lengthwise.  Then cut those slices in half.  You should end up with 8 planks total. 

Melt the butter and oil and then place the plantains in a single layer in the skillet, flat side down.  Flip when the plantains are light brown in color.  While side 2 is frying, sprinkle some of the brown sugar on the flat, fried side of the plantain. 

After side 2 has cooked, flip the plantains back over to carmelize the brown sugar - this only takes about 30 seconds.  Repeat the process for side 2.

24 March 2010

Out with the old, In with the new

I love spring... almost as much as I love autumn.
It seems like the entire world comes out of hibernation and begins to celebrate life again.

There is something incredibly joyful about the first pedicure of the season, the packing away of winter clothes and the deep spring cleaning that accompany this time of year.

It's a time for fresh starts, new beginnings.

I have been dying to try my hand at growing my own veggies for several years now, but just haven't gotten around to it.  Turns out, this is the year.

First of all, the old stuff had to go...
I know it doesn't look tough from this picture, but I had to dig out the roots of 3 dead shrubs from this area. 
They were some stubborn son-of-a-guns.

Luckily my sweet husband made me a little rest spot...
complete with shade, a drink and my cell phone.

Eventually all plants (and their roots) were cleared out.

While I was working and resting back here, R was busy building this...
an 8' x 4' frame for my little garden.

It took a little finagling but we finally got it in place

Pretty impressive, huh? 
The crepe (crape) myrtle had to sacrifice a few branches for it to fit.

 Another big change we made over the break was to replace our back door. 

In the interest of honesty and full disclosure, it needs to be noted that when I say "we" replaced the door I really mean that I helped pick it out, but R and a dear friend, MP, actually did the manual labor. 

Here is a picture of the old door that was incredibly drafty and as energy inefficient as possible.  Not to mention the fact that the door knob was broken... long story. 

Yes, the door did have moulding around it before the picture was taken.

Door's out and R is trying to salvage a 2 x 4 to make a new header...
or something like that. 
MP took this picture.
I was out grocery shopping at the point and missed all of the fun.

The guys did a great job installing the new door and avoided any major problems.
No drafts, a door knob that works and energy efficient glass!

Evidently this was a tough job...
R and SP needed a big nap afterwards! 
(Well, SP needed one.  R just wanted to pretend.)

The next day R installed the moulding around the door
and this time I did help with the actual labor part.

R still needs to do the caulking and I still need to do the touch-up paint on the wall around the door and actually paint the door and trim, but it's functional and allows us to enjoy our patio once again.  

Success is sweet. 

22 March 2010

It's Not Delivery...

We had pizza for dinner tonight. 
But it wasn't delivery, and it certainly wasn't DiGiorno. 
It was homemade and it was delicious.

The Pioneer Woman posted two pizza recipes last week (CPK's BBQ Chicken Pizza & Carmelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza) and I've been craving the stuff ever since.

Made the dough last night and let it rise slowly in the fridge overnight.  Best part is the crust recipe makes enough for two pizzas, so I now have a ball of pizza dough just sitting in my freezer hanging out.  Patiently waiting for the next time a pizza craving hits.

I swapped out few of the toppings (Pancetta and deli ham for the prosciutto) and added a few of my own (I cannot resist mushrooms on pizza). 

Hot, fresh pizza straight from the oven.

A little closer... look at the yummy melted/browned cheese.

The crispy edges of the salty ham were divine.

Only thing I will do differently next time will be to pre-bake the crust.  My edges were nice and crispy, but the middle of the pizza crust was a little under-cooked.  Carmelizing the onions with a little brown sugar was a great idea (thanks, PW!) and provided a nice balance to the saltiness of the meats and cheeses.

17 March 2010

My Mom's Crack Brownies...

After last week's post about Dulce de Leche Brownies, I asked my mom to do a "guest post" and share her recipe for brownies.  I did not feel like it was my place to publish a recipe that has been exclusively hers for the last 30+ years.  She in turn enlisted my dad's help (he took the pics) and I think the two of them had a great time!  The backstory she provides is quite entertaining...

"Married in 1976, I was a Bicentennial bride. There were 10 weeks between the day we got engaged until our wedding; needless to say it was a busy but very fun time. One of my bridal showers was a kitchen shower and attendees were to bring a favorite recipe and a utensil used in preparing it. In the 33+ years since, no recipe has been prepared as often or more dearly loved by my family than the recipe for brownies.

Kathryn Barnard was one of the wives in future in-laws’ four-couple bridge club She was tall and thin and very quiet, and in my judgmental eyes, looked as if she had never done anything fun in her life. Her gift at the kitchen shower was a 9 x 13 Pyrex pan and a recipe for brownies. (Mind you that this was in the early heyday of the feminist movement, and the ERA was still alive and wanting to be ratified.) I was thankful for the baking pan, but could not help but wonder: “In this age of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker brownie mixes, who in the world makes brownies from scratch?” Certainly no liberated enlightened female I knew.

The original recipe from Mrs. Barnard

As a new bride I loved using all our wedding gifts, and obviously the kitchen items got the most constant use. One day I was feeling particularly domestic and decided to make the brownies from Mrs. Barnard’s recipe. I had never before used baking chocolate nor had I ever known my mother to use it—it was totally foreign to me.

As an aside, my mother did a great job of cooking for our family especially in view of the fact that her family always had a cook and until she was 38, she never had to cook. Brownies, cakes and cookies came from a box mix (these were the days prior to slice-and-bake cookies). Imagine my surprise when working on a cooking badge in Girl Scouts in 4th grade, our leader had us make cookies using butter, eggs, sugar and flour. I was so excited about this and could hardly wait to go home and share this good news with my mother. I was absolutely sure she didn’t know—that’s why she used the box mix.

Back to the brownies…I figured out how to use baking chocolate and the rest is history. If I were a betting woman, I would guess that since first making these brownies sometime in 1977, I have not used a box mix for brownies more than 5 times. Baking chocolate is a staple in my pantry—I may run out of milk and bread but I always have the ingredients to make brownies. In 2005 my dear son-in-law gave them a name, “Crack Brownies” because as he puts it, “they are as addicting as crack.”

And back to Mrs. Barnard…she was much wiser than I could have imagined back in 1976. She knew all about feminism and power, and it could be summed up in one word: CHOCOLATE!"

Below is a "How-To" complete with recipe and pictures.
(My mom has doubled the recipe for these pictures...she gave the extras to R)

Here's what you'll need: Sugar, Eggs, Flour, Vanilla, Butter, Baking Powder, Baking Chocolate, Nuts and Salt
Oh, and preheat the oven to 350 F

Beat 2 eggs well and gradually add in 1 cup of sugar.

Meanwhile, melt 2 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate and 1/3 cup of butter in the microwave.

Add the melted butter and chocolate to the eggs and sugar, followed by 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Measure and sift together 2/3 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir in the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 cup of chopped nuts.

Pour into a greased 8x8 pan and shake to settle the batter.

In to the oven they go for about 25 minutes (or when a toothpick comes out clean).

While the brownies are baking, feel free to enjoy any leftover batter you may have!

After the brownies have cooled a little, cut them and move them to a rack to cool completely.

This man has a very important job... quality control. 
 It's a job at which he's very good.

Trust me on this one, these brownies are amazing!!!  Completely worth the time. 
Try them once and you too will become addicted to the "Crack Brownies". 

One more thing... aren't my parents cute?

16 March 2010

Captain Tom's

My parents are really good eaters. 

Nobody in my immediate family is picky.  I think we all had maybe 1 food item we did not like and that was about it.  Sweet Potatoes for my dad, lima beans for me, mushrooms for my mom and shrimp for my sister.  Other than that, we are some goooood eaters! 

I have been blessed with a husband who is a really good eater too. 

All of that is to say that I have no problem eating at little "hole-in-the-wall" places because growing up I learned that was where the best food can be found.  And that rule holds true in every country, not just the US. 

One of my favorite little dumpy looking places, that my parents turned me on to, is Captain Tom's.  Now, this place is shaped like a boat, seats maybe 45 people and they only serve seafood.  And it's almost all fried.  (It's the only restaurant where I order fried food.)  And it's all incredibly tasty!

We, R and I, only sit at the inner ring - the seats around the bar / prep area.  We do this for two reasons:
1) It's a lot easier to order from this location (and the wait/bar staff is amazing)
2) That's where the serious Captain Tom's customers / regulars sit.  We have waited over 20 minutes and let countless other customers take other "outer" seats, just waiting for those sacred inner seats.  It's so worth it!
We visited Captain Tom's this past Sunday evening.  I had been craving it for several weeks and we were out running errands, so it was super convenient. 

It was also packed. 

And that's another thing about this place - it's always packed.  And with a wide variety of people - every SES group and ethnicity are always respresented.  It's the strangest thing. 

But I guess that's what tells you a place serves really good food. 

They have some wonderful Oysters on the Half Shell... and here's the best part: you order either 6 or 12, but you always get extras!

Notice the ugly plates and paper red sauce cups.
Strangely though, that's part of the charm.

One character trait I inherited / learned from my dad is that I like to talk to everyone.  Doesn't matter if I know you or not, I'm going to start up a conversation with you. 

Grocery store, DMV, airplanes, Doctor's office, restaurants... it doesn't matter.

R thinks it's weird.

I think I embarrass him sometimes, but I meet a heck of a lot of really interesting people.   

Like the guy sitting next to me at Captain Tom's.  I can't remember how the conversation started, but I learned two really interesting pieces of info:

1) He taught me the real name of what R and I affectionately call "Spicy Beer" - turns out it's called Michelada.   More importantly, he told me what was in the mix and where I could buy some!!!  He also showed me that you could ask for raw oysters to be put in it for that extra zing!!! Yum!!!

This is the "mix" before the beer is added. 
It's hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, a dash of tabasco and lime juice. 

It's like heartburn in a glass.  But so worth it.
We got raw oysters in our "round 2" drinks.

2) Turns out he is a US Marshall.  Talk about an exciting / interesting job... wow.  He told us about the Mexican Drug Cartels, some of the creative ways they catch fugitives here in the US and then also about all of the training that it takes to become a US Marshall.  (I would never make it)
Great food, cold beer and interesting people.  What more could anyone want from a night out?

Quick and Dirty

This time change thing has me all turned around.  I have no idea which way is up. 

I am normally an early riser, but since Sunday I have been sleeping in until around 9 each morning.  Ugh.  Feels like the best 2 1/2 hours of the day are gone by that time. 

Thankfully it's Spring Break! 

I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for late morning today and normally that wouldn't be a problem, but again, this time change thing has me all turned around.  So what was supposed to be a leisurely morning, quickly turned in to a not-so-leisurely morning.

I had to fit breakfast in some way.  And I didn't want some piddly breakfast either.  I wanted something with flavor.  Immediately I thought about some leftover chips, cheese sauce and salsa from dinner last night.  Hmm, how could I transform those yummy items into a decent breakfast? 

I quickly remembered one of PW's breakfast recipes, the one for Migas.  Well, I didn't have all that time to chop the veggies and I didn't want to fry tortillas, so I had to improvise. 

Below is my 'ghetto' take on the Pioneer Woman's Migas.  I call my version "Short-Cut Migas". 

Step One: the Base

Line a plate with whatever tortilla chips you have on hand. 
I adore blue corn and flaxseed tortilla chips, so that's what I used. 
And it's what I had within arm's reach.

Step Two: the Eggs

Remember, time was of the essence this morning so no chopped veggies for me. 
Here's where short cuts come in to play. 

Salsa-Style Party Dip for fresh veggies and Hot-N-Spicy Cheese Dip for shredded cheese. 
Please don't judge.

In a small skillet, over medium, heat a little salsa, maybe a couple/three tablespoons.  Meanwhile, vigorously stir 2 eggs with a little milk.  When salsa is warm, pour in the eggs and scramble. 

Step Three: the Toppings

When eggs are to your liking, they go on the layer of chips. 
Top that with some cheesey sauce and fresh cilantro. 
Yes, the fresh cilantro is a must.  The bright flavor it provides is refreshing. 

Short-Cut Migas, just before R dug in!

I realize this is not gourmet food, but it is delicious and amazingly satisfying. 

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!

14 March 2010

Attempts at Gardening

I am tired of paying through the nose each week at the grocery store for things like herbs and basic veggies I can (theoretically) easily grow at home. 

Now that it's nice outside again there is no reason I can't.  Or at least can't try

This spider-like pink flowering plant is about the only thing that didn't die over the winter.

In the past I have successfully grown basil, cilantro and chives, so I thought I would give it a whirl again. 

Remember, I'm uber-cheap, so I'm using empty coffee cans to start the plants.

I realized drainage was going to be a problem, so I punctured the bottom of the cans. 
I hope that does the trick.

I also put a few pieces of broken pots at the bottom of each can to help with drainage .

This is what Target had in stock the evening we visited.

The packages are pretty at least!

Tiny basil seeds - they kind of look like little 'droppings'. 

Cilantro seeds.  I couldn't get enough of this smell!

Here are my Herb Cans: Day 0
(That's a classy labeling system, huh?)

For some reason I got brave/optimistic at the store yesterday and purchased 3 plants:

Two Roma Tomato Plants

One Jalapeno Plant

Hopefully in a few months I will have the ingredients in my garden to make my own Pico de Gallo ... minus the onions. 

11 March 2010

Easy, Peasy, Lemon Squeezey

Quick post tonight, no pictures. 
(I forgot to charge the camera batteries.)

Made Pioneer Woman's "My Chicken Piccata" for dinner tonight. 

One word to sum it up: Heavenly

Everyone must clear a spot on their weekend menus for this meal.  No special ingredients required.

Only thing I did differently was to use the juice from only 1 lemon, not 2. 

10 March 2010

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Like I posted a few nights ago, I made Dulce de Leche following Dave Leibovitz's easy recipe. 

It was fabulous. 

He also has a picture on the Dulce de Leche page for Dulce de Leche Brownies.  Let me tell you, they looked gooood.  I had to make them. 

I make brownies fairly often because my mom always made them when we were growing up.  I'm not talking about some boxed crap, although the Ghiradelli brand isn't bad.  I'm talking about the 'from scratch' kind.  R affectionately calls them "Your Mom's Crack Brownies" because once he starts eating them, he cannot stop.  They really are good.  Very basic, but very good.  I'll have her do a "Guest Post" one day soon and share the recipe here.

For the most part the ingredients in Dave's fancy brownies seemed very similar to Mom's, the method just varied a little. 

Eggs, Chocolate and Butter.  What's not to love? 

Just looking at that huge chunk of butter right now is making my mouth water.  It tastes so good that I made R taste it by itself.  He wasn't as impressed as I was, but whatever... you have to remember that this is coming from a man who, God love him, thinks Jack-in-the-Box tacos are gourmet.

My homemade Dulce de Leche

I was supposed to have an entire cup of the stuff to use in the recipe, but there was a little 'incident' involving a microwave and an explosion a few minutes prior to this picture being taken.  I was lucky to have salvaged this much.  I hate it when I make dumb mistakes.

Almost every time I try a new recipe for a baked good, I ended up overcooking them slightly.  These brownies were no exception.  The last 3 -5 minute they were in the oven were completely unncessary, so they dried out a bit.  Ugh.  I also think I messed up somehow while mixing them because my butter separated from the batter a little.  Thoughts, suggestions anyone???

Despite all of that, they sure are purty, aren't they? 

I'm taking these 9 to my "Lunch Bunch" and neighbors tomorrow.

These have a really rich, dark chocolate flavor.  The Dulce de Leche provides a nice balance.

I love the ooey-gooey-ness of this one.

I can't wait to try this one again and see if I can't come up with a better finished product.  I'm thinking that for me the solution is going to be "Your Mom's Crack Brownies" recipe as the base and Dave's easy Dulce de Leche recipe for the filling/topping.