Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Clean" Chocolate oatmeal no bake bars

We have been changing our diet pretty drastically over the last few weeks. I have already been on a health journey of sorts, slowly making changes over the last couple of years, But most of the time, we ended up having one good week followed by a HORRIBLE week full of processed food.  In an attempt to improve our health, and help my son with his focus/ADD problems in school, we have decided we need to get away from all of the processed foods, artificial colors, preservatives, etc...  So we are going cold turkey and making EVERYTHING homemade.  As luck would have it, I was just given about 100 lbs of wheat!  I have been learning a lot about washing and grinding grain, bread making and other scratch recipes.  I've had some fails, but overall it has been much more willingly accepted by my family than I ever expected.  And surprisingly, some thing taste better than before! :)
We are also avoiding all processed sugars and lowering our overall sugar intake significantly.  My kids have even been great about this...mostly.  Jayden and Kayleigh always brings me any sweets they get.  I have been proud of him understanding why we are doing this and being supportive.  Don't worry, we aren't totally ripping them off.  We are trading their candy for fun activities or money.  (A couple of my kids are struggling more with this particular change, and one child still eats candy when he can at school, but I hope they will understand as time goes by.)  Of course, we still have to have a sweet treat now and again.  This is my favorite find.  They are literally packed with good stuff, they are easy to make and taste AMAZING!   My kids LOVE them.

I altered it from a pinterest recipe, most of them just use honey, but I think it is overpowering.  I like mixing different sweeteners because one doesn't take over.

12 oz unsweetened bakers chocolate (or cocoa substitution, see below for ratios)
1 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup real maple syrup
3/4 cup agave
3 cups natural peanut butter(I use half creamy, half crunchy)
1/2 cup chia seeds
1-2 cups unsweetened coconut
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
4 1/2-5 cups oats
(optional, ground cacao beans or nibs, I added a couple of tablespoons and I don't know if it makes a difference)

Actually everything in this recipe is optional, it is so easy to change for different taste or diet requirements.  And you can add or substitute raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds, or anything else that sounds good to you.

Cocoa substitution: For every ounce of bakers chocolate use 3 Tablespoons of Cocoa and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or butter.

I bought chia seeds from a health food store to put in smoothies, but my family didn't like their effect on our green smoothies ;).  They thicken liquid, so for those who don't love our blended juice so much, that made it harder to drink .  Don't let me scare you away from using them though!  I've tried them alone and they don't taste bad at all, they are just really tiny.  They could be a great thickener if the texture of them doesn't bother you, or you can sprinkle them on anything: salad, rice, veggies, hot cereal.  They work great in this recipe regardless, I can't even tell they are there. 
The reason you should find a way to use them is that they are a POWERHOUSE of nutrition.  They have omega-3s, a lot of omega 3s.  1 tbsp. has almost 5000 milligrams per ounce!  And it is more easily accessible to the body than flax without grinding them.  Omega-3's are great for your brain, inflammation reduction, and heart health, among other things.  Fiber 11 grams per ounce, Calcium, 18 percent of DV, plus protein, antioxidants...  It is being studied as a treatment for type 2 diabetes because of its effects on digestion.  The gelatinous coating that the seeds develop in liquid slows down digestion and can prevent sugar spikes, help with insulin resistance.

Just a couple more notes on ingredients.  I was worried my kids wouldn't all like the texture of almonds and pecans, so I basically chopped them to powder in my blender.  It was 11/2-2 cups to start and became one cup after blending.  I didn't measure even amounts, I just poured in a few almonds and a few pecans up to about the 2 cup level in my blender. 
Where I buy ingredients: Winco sells unsweetened coconut in their bulk bins.  It's actually ground rather than shredded, but I like it.  I used to buy unsweetened shreds at smith's but my smith's hasn't had unsweetened for a while.  I get my chia seeds from Sprout's market.  Sam's club has the best value on real maple syrup in my opinion.  Costco's is a little cheaper, but we don't like the taste as well.  Costco sells nutiva brand coconut oil which is a great brand at an awesome price.  I haven't researched the quality of the sam's club brand, but it's affordable and claims to be organic, cold pressed, unrefined as well.  This is a great article with lots of good unbiased info about how to choose quality coconut oil.  I read a blog the other day that advised against buying oil at Costco, but she has a vested interest in the oil company she was advising instead, and her info was completely unfounded and incorrect.  I found this article much more useful :).

Instructions:  Mix all of your seeds, nuts, and oats in a large bowl.  Set aside.  Melt chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave at one minute intervals till just melted.  I don't like to heat it any more than necessary.  If your honey is sugary, you could heat that a little too.  Once the chocolate is smooth, add your sweeteners and peanut butter and blend well.  ( I just use a big pampered chef rubber spatula to blend)  Pour into dry ingredients and make sure you incorporate them into it well.  I put parchment into a big aluminum cookie sheet making sure that the parchment hangs out of the pan on all sides.  (this is of course optional, but it makes it much easier to remove)  Spread mixture evenly in the pan.  You can also lay parchment over the top to make it smooth.  After they are cold, the parchment peels right off.  Put in the fridge or freezer to help them solidify before serving.  Once they are set, cut them into 1/2 inch-1 inch squares and put in another container for storage.

Important note:  These get REALLY soft outside the fridge, so make sure you store them in the fridge or freezer and serve them cold.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Veggie Hash and Couscous

I have been trying to make healthy changes over the past year, and one of my hardest changes is making healthy family meals.  I teeter back and forth between making meals that are healthy (that don't get eaten willingly if at all) and making meals I know they will like but feeling guilty for making less healthy fare.  It's a lose lose situation for my self esteem!  Tonight was the best night for my cooing self esteem in a long time!  Seriously!  Feel free to walk through the evening with me, or just scroll down to the recipe below :).

Kayleigh is testing to see if she has dairy allergies so this week we are doing dairy free family meals.  Anyone who knows me well will know that I LOVE dairy too much.  I have a hard time finding any meal that doesn't use cheese or milk, or something.  And the worst part, I buried myself in the basement working on laundry, and forgot the time (it was nearly 7..)so it had to be fast.

As I stared into the fridge, all I could see staring back at me were the veggies from my sweet neighbor that I didn't want to go bad...  So veggie hash was born.  Then I had to think of a fast side.  All I could remember that we have is brown rice, so I opened the freezer to grab it and hoped I could find a quick way to cook it.  But right there in the door was the couscous I bought six months ago that never got around to making.  Lucky for me I recently saw an America's test kitchen on the best way or I wouldn't have even tried it.

It started out much like other healthier meals(full of groans, complaints, and lists of what they won't eat), but then I made them try it.  It was a total hit!!!  My kids actually liked the veggies, Kayleigh even ate peppers!  So I want to remember it, and of course share too :).

Veggie Hash

Olive oil
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 onion
2 med potatoes
1 head cauliflower plus one really small stalk of broccoli
2 tsp. garlic powder (or a couple of fresh cloves minced)
1/2 tsp. tony chacheries (this is my favorite all purpose seasoning, use any seasoning you like)
Salt and pepper to taste

I diced all of the veggies pretty small (about 1/4 inch) except the broccoli and cauliflower. I was in a hurry so I messily cut up the florets and then cut the stalk in slices.  Heat olive oil in skillet while chopping.  Mix all veggies together divide in two.  I sautéed in two batches so I could get some good brown on the veggies.  After you dump them into the pan, add garlic and other seasonings.  Honestly, the amounts I wrote above are an estimate, I just sprinkled it on till I thought it looked right.  I sautéed till I got a nice brown color on all of them, adding a little olive oil as needed.  While they sautéed I made the cous cous.

Couscous (I used ingredients I had on hand that were quick, but I used the method that America's Test Kitchen uses in their "couscous with shallots, garlic, and almonds")
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil (they used 3tbsp butter, but I had to make it dairy free)
2 cups of couscous
1 cup water
1 cup stock
2 green onions (I also added some fresh chives)
Garlic powder
salt and pepper

While sautéing the hash, start sautéing the onions in a saucepan.  Sprinkle some garlic powder on them too.   Soften them a little, then pour in the couscous (I added the chives with it).  You need to toast it, but you have to watch it close or it will burn, stir it every minute, make sure you pull the toasty brown ones up from the whole bottom of the pan allowing others to get toasted.  You might have to stir more often depending on how hot your unit is.  I had mine just below medium on a small burner.  Have your liquid and a lid ready.  I warmed my liquid a little first in the microwave, but I don't think you have to, the pan is super hot.    When the couscous is toasted, take it off the heat, pour in the liquid, and put on the lid.  Then let it sit for seven minutes.  Finally, add salt, fluff it with a fork and you are done.
You don't have to use green onion, it's just what I had on hand.  Use anything flavorful you like.  Shallots, garlic, etc...  Couscous takes on the flavor of what you cook it in.  I was out of fresh garlic, or I would have added that too!

I served the veggies over the cous cous.  I hope you like it!  We sure did!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket

This is another America's test kitchen recipe, and as usual they NEVER disappoint!  We made this for my dad's 60th birthday this week and it was a hit!  I didn't think it was too difficult either.

First, a little tip about where to buy your brisket.  The best price was Walmart's price for their whole brisket, and they were the only place I could find that had a whole brisket.  Every store I called had 5 lb brisket for about 4 bucks a pound, including walmart.  But their whole ones are 2.69 a lb.  You know how I love a deal!  We used two briskets for the big dinner, I just cut them in half and used 4 crock pots to cook them.  I used this recipe for each half sized piece of meat. (the recipe says 4-5 lbs)

One more thing.  You need a metal loaf pan, or two foil loaf pans inside each other to place the brisket on inside the crock pot.

Slow Cooker, BBQ Beef Brisket

1/2cup packed dark brown sugar
2tablespoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1tablespoon ground cumin
1tablespoon paprika
1teaspoon salt
2teaspoons pepper
1 (4- to 5-pound) brisket roast, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch thick and scored lightly


3tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2tablespoons tomato paste
1tablespoon chili powder
1tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water (this is for adding to the crock pot, after you put in your brisket)
(you need your aromatic mixture and the juices from the brisket to make the sauce, so don't dump them)

1/4cup ketchup
1tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4teaspoon liquid smoke
The first thing  to do is trim some of the fat off of the brisket.  NOT ALL OF THE FAT, you need some.  They advised trimming it to 1/4 inch.  I am not the best at this, so mine was thicker in some places and slightly thinner in others.  You are going to want to cook it fat side up, so that the fat can get into the meet and make it more tender. 
Before you put the rub on, you have to score the fat on the top at 1/2 inch intervals.  They said this allows the flavors of the rub to get into the meat.  Scoring is to cut into the fat, so when you are done, it will have stripes all across the meat 1/2 inches apart.  I made sure I cut through the fat to the meat to help it get in, then when I was putting on the rub, I made sure I got it down into each cut mark.
I made two versions of this recipe.  I was afraid it would be too spicy for some, so I removed as many seeds and ribs as I could when I was chopping up my chipotle chiles.  I did this same thing for both the rub and the aromatics.  I haven't ever seen them pre chopped, I just buy the whole ones and when I am measuring amounts I add some of the adobo from the can as well as the chiles.  For the other version, I just chopped them as is and even added a few seeds left over from my mild batches as well.  The spicy sauce was too hot for me, but the brisket with the seeds left on the rub, was not spicy at all.  So you can decide which way works best for you.  I thought they were both good.
Basically you mix up all of the rub ingredients and smear it all over the brisket.  Then you wrap it in plastic wrap.  I actually layered two pieces of heavy duty foil and then laid plastic wrap side by side over that so I could make it overlap and have it all ready to go.  Then when I finished putting on the rub, I dropped it on the plastic wrap, washed my hands and wrapped it all up.  The foil didn't totally wrap the top, but the plastic wrap fully encased it.  I just used the foil as extra protection for my fridge without filling it up with pans.  They say you can either leave it out for an hour or place it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before going to the next step.  I left it in the fridge for 12 hours.
The next step is preparing the aromatics.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Stir in chili powder, chipotle, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. After it is done, you make a pile of it in the middle of the slow cooker and place the loaf pan over the pile.  Then you place the brisket, fat side up, on the pan, add 1/2 cup water to the cooker and cook till a fork that you insert into the brisket can be removed with no resistance.  They say to cook on high for 7-8 hours or low for 10 to 12 hours.  I opted to have it on low, because in general, I like the texture of roasts on low better.  I pulled them out to rest between 11 1/2-12  hours later, but I should mention, that mine had a short trip over to my sister's house in the middle of cooking, so maybe they would be done faster if that hadn't happened. 
They advised placing it on a 9 by 13 pan to rest and then put it back in the crock after slicing to serve.  I just put it on big trays.  They didn't fill up with water or anything.  Whatever you put them on, cover with foil and let it rest. (basically that means just let it sit there without touching it or cutting into it at all)  You have to let it rest for 30 minutes.  RESTING IS A REALLY IMPORTANT STEP any time you cook meat, from steak to roasts.  They will end up more tender and moist if you do.  If you don't let them rest, the water just runs all over and is lost from the meat, leaving it more dry.  (seriously, I learned all I know from America's test kitchen!  They are great!)
While the meat is resting you make your sauce.  Pour off the drippings from the pan.  They said you should have two cups and if you have less, to add water to get it to two cups.  I had more.  Reserve out one cup of this liquid to pour over your brisket.  Then, one cup to make the sauce.  I actually ended up straining the part I used for the sauce.  I didn't use a fine mesh strainer, so there were still chunks, but it had yucky looking mushy stuff from the meat so I wanted to get that out.  If I had my little immersion blender there, I probably would have just blended it up with that.  Add the sauce ingredients to the liquid and whisk it together.  That is all you need to do.  The sauce is runny, so we thickened it a little with instant mashed potatoes, but you could leave it.
After it rests you slice it across the grain.  They said to slice it thin, but I did probably between 1/4 and 1/2 inch slices.  I just sliced it on the tray and left it there for serving.  Then I poured my reserved liquid from the crock over it.  The barbecue sauce is meant to be passed at the table.
They included a tip for making it ahead, just in case that is of interest to anyone.  After it is fully cooked, but not sliced, wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Refrigerate juices separately in sealed container)  To reheat, place the whole thing, foil and all in a baking pan in a 350 degree oven.  Cook till heated through, approximately an hour.  Reheat juices in the microwave or saucepan.  Then continue the recipe where you left off, starting off with the resting. 
I used larger sized crock pots, so I didn't have this problem, but if the lid doesn't seem tight, you can cover the whole top of your crock pot with foil to seal it closed.  I did that once with a ham.  I left the lid on even though it was slightly lifted, and covered it with foil and it worked great.

We served this with baked potatoes, broccoli, rolls, and cold shrimp for dad's birthday dinner.  America's test kitchen showed it served with cole slaw.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chicken Veggie Burritos (Healthy Southwestern Egg Rolls)

This recipe originated from Todd Wilbur's version of Chili's Southwestern Egg rolls that he had made over to make them more healthy.  See my Ode to Todd Wilbur for more information about him.  I have adjusted it both so I can make enough to freeze and so that it is easier and has less waste.  (His calls for 2 Tbsp of red pepper, etc...)

Here is my recipe:
3 large chicken breasts (Between 1-2 lbs chicken, you can use more, I just like to save money and minimize meat)
1 large red bell pepper
1 full bunch minced green onion (about 1 cup)
2 cups frozen corn
1 can black beans rinsed and drained
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach thawed and drained, or 10 oz of frozen spinach (it looks like a LOT, but it cooks down)
3 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp cumin
1tbsp chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 dashes of cayenne pepper
¾ pound pepper jack

You can cook the chicken any way you like, but it is best grilled.  He advises oiling them, then add salt and pepper and grill.  But I have boiled it, and I've browned it on a frying pan too.
After your chicken is cooked you can put it all together.  First cook your onion and peppers in a little oil in your pot for a few minutes (till soft) Then add everything else but the cheese and cook while mixing it all together.  (I have a pampered chef chopping tool that is PERFECT for this.  I think it's called a "mix and chop" but it has an asterisk shaped bottom, and you can chop your spinach and chicken up while mixing it all together with it.  I LOVE it.  When it is all heated through, and the liquid is gone, you can add your cheese.  Then it is ready to fill the burritos. 
Todd gives a great way to heat the tortillas.  You barely dampen a towel (I like to use a flour sack towel) and lay it on a microwave safe plate.  He advises five at a time, but I put 10.  So you lay your tortillas on the plate and wrap the towel around them and microwave for about a minute till they are soft and pliable.  This keeps them from getting dry and tough.  But warming them prevents them from tearing when you fold them.  I usually use a cookie scoop to portion out my filling.  You don't need very much.  My cookie scoop is one ounce, and when I use a regular taco sized tortilla I use two scoops scraped flat on the side of the bowl.  For larger ones I usually use three.  I scoop it on and then spread it in a long thin line about 2 inches from the edge of the line.  Then I fold down my ends, and roll my tortillas into a long round burrito.  I took some photos of this, but they are on my storage hard drive which is unavailable to me at the moment.  I'll post them when I get it back ;).
There are several options to cook them.  You can deep fry them, or fry them on a pan with oil, or for his low fat version, TW advises covering them with cooking spray and baking them.  I did this at first, but I didn't like putting all those chemicals on our food, so then I would baste them with oil, but I like them just as well without the extra oil so I cook them like frozen burritos, (350 degrees for about 25-30 min)  or even better I use my panini pan (Thanks to my mother in law who bought it for me, I LOVE it). I grill them till they are brown on all sides (be careful to use a low enough heat that they heat in the middle by the time they are brown) I've also used a plug in griddle pan too.  I don't even use oil and they get nice looking grill marks on them.
You can dip in ranch, or make his avocado ranch listed here, or the cilantro ranch I've seen posted online (google it)  I've had it and liked it, but I don't know which one so I don't want to post it.  We just use low fat sour cream most of the time.  (Once I mixed sour cream with a little bbq sauce and I liked that too)

I am really particular about my kitchen gadgets...(yes pampered chef lady I said it again! GADGETS! Boring back story:  I got scolded at a pampered chef party for using that term instead of tools. It was embarrassing, and I was a little irritated that they feel the need to specify that they are tools to somehow give them more legitimacy.  So now it is my personal vendetta to keep using whatever term I want!  Yes, I am vindictive like that!)  But my favorite cookie scoops are the ones with a solid plastic handle and a thumb lever instead of the metal handle that you squeeze together to release your batter.  I like to use cold cookie batter, and I broke two pampered chef ones before I went on a quest to find one like my mom's.  I got mine from a local restaurant supply here in Utah call Orson Gigi.  This is a link for their scoops  Mine is the purple one (#40,.89 oz).  Last time I was there, they were a couple bucks cheaper in store.

In case you wondered what panini pan I have, this is it.  I use it almost every day.  It replaces my regular plug in griddle, because the plates are flat on one side and have the grill lines on the other.

Crock Pot Refried Beans and my homemade whole grain frozen burritos

This is the easiest, best recipe ever for refried beans!  My brother Steve, taught me how to cook beans in the crock pot years ago, and then my sister Cari told me about crock pot refried beans from pinterest.  I can't remember which recipes I started with, but I ended up changing it for my taste.  (I think one was from 100 days of real food)  It is very little more work than canned and doesn't have any unnatural ingredients or chemicals from the can. :)  I usually fill my crock pot using about 7 cups of beans, but I've included a per pound guideline below.

Per 2-2 1/2 cups (1 lb) of dry thoroughly washed and sorted pinto Beans add
4 cups water (2 to one water to bean ratio)
1 pepper  Either 1sweet red or green pepper or a can of green chilies or a couple on anaheim peppers, or jalapeno, whatever you like.
1 onion
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1-2 tsp minced garlic
Salt to taste approximately a tsp? (I never measure, I just sprinkle it over, and if it needs more, I do it again)
2-4 oz cheese (I use either cheddar alone, or a mixture of cheddar and pepper jack)  When I use pepper jack cheese I sometimes lessen the three spices to about 2/3 of a tsp.  But it shouldn't be overly spicy even if you leave it in.

Add everything but salt and cheese to your crock pot.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  You shouldn't ever add salt to dry beans before they are fully cooked.  Cook for 8 hrs on HIGH.  Make sure they have a creamy texture, that is when you know they are done.  If there appears to be too much water, scoop some out into a bowl and keep it in case you need to add it back in.  Some water is needed.  Blend with an immersion blender.  When I make these, with slightly less water than 2 to one water ratio, I never need to drain out the water.  Sometimes it looks a little too wet at first, but this thickens up a lot when it cools a bit.  And you don't need to pull out the vegetables either.  Just blend with an immersion blender, or regular blender.  (I'm telling you, if you don't have an immersion blender, it is worth the investment!  If you mess up and make lumpy gravy, blend out the lumps, if you make any kind of pureed soup, you just have to put it in there and blend it up, as well as for these beans.  SO much easier than blending them a little at a time.)  Then you salt it to taste, and cheese and stir it up.

I usually do about 3 lbs at a time in my big 7 qt crock pot and it fills it right up.  My favorite mixture is this:  3lbs beans, 3 large sweet red peppers, 2-3 large or 4-5 small onions( note I LOVE onion), 1 scant tbsp each of the cumin, chili powder, and paprika, 2 tbsp minced garlic (I use the big jar you keep in the fridge and it seems less potent.  Be more careful if you use fresh, maybe 3 cloves), Salt, and 1 cup pepper jack, 2 cups cheddar

Then, I make my own frozen homemade burritos with whole grain tortilla shells.  You just warm the shells a little.  (I'll share a little tip I got from todd wilbur for this below)  Then you put a strip of beans about 2 inches from the edge closest to you  across the width of the tortilla. I try and make it about 1 inch wide and about 1/2 inch thick. (I haven't actually measured)  You do not need very much.  I use about 1/4 cup, for the mission whole wheat tortillas.  It took me YEARS to realize that the reason my burritos didn't always go over well is I put WAY to many beans.  Then I realized the ones they love have so few.  This is also the reason I melt the cheese into the beans.  My kids don't like finding a layer of melted cheese.  go figure... :).  Sorry, I digress.  Back to the tutorial.  Spread the beans, only leaving about an inch or 2 on each end.  Then you fold each end with your right and left hands, pick up the side facing you with your thumbs while still holding the sides with your fingertips, and roll it over your strip of beans, continue till it is all rolled up.  I hope this makes sense.  I want to put photos, but knowing me I never will get around to it.  Comment if you want me to, and that might push me to do it :).  Anyway, this makes a really nice, uniform burrito perfect for freezing.  I fill up zip lock bags and then they are ready to go.  You can heat them in the microwave for approximately 2 minutes, or heat them in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, but what I like to do is use my panini pan I got for Christmas last year. (any frying or grill pan would work the same though).  I cook it on medium heat browning all sides, because my family likes crunchy burritos.  I don't even use butter or oil with my panini pan, and it leaves nice grill marks all over.  But like I said, I've even used a regular flat griddle.  That works great too.  I have added butter in the past, but we like them so much this way, so why add all of that unnecessary fat?

So here is todd wilbur's awesome tortilla softening technique.  I read it years ago, so it might have evolved a little over time.  Slightly dampen a flour sack towel.  Lay it across a microwave safe plate, and place your tortillas on it.  (He does five at a time I think, But I just throw in a whole pack of ten)  Fold the sides over the tortillas wrapping them all up.  Then microwave for one minute.  (If they don't seem pliable you can go longer, of course microwaves vary)  This helps soften them up without drying them out.  This is super important for burritos so you don't have them folding or tearing.  It makes them so easy to use!

When I do three lbs of beans, they make a LOT of burritos.  I usually buy five or six bags of tortillas when I buy them, but since we usually use some of it for bean dip and other meals and I use some of the tortillas for other things too, I don't have an exact estimate of how many burritos it makes.  You can freeze refried beans, and reheat them in a little water, if you end up with leftover beans after your tortillas are gone.

*One last tip about homemade beans, they are SO MUCH better on the second day.  My family gobbles them up even on day one, but when I am tasting them, trying to make sure they are how I want them, they always seem not quite right.  But by the second day, the flavors all mesh together and they are great!  Not to mention, they are fully thickened up.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eggcellent Potato Salad

This recipe is not exact, but I wanted to include at least a general idea about how I make my potato salad.

This last time I made it, I did a 3 egg to potato ratio, they were medium/small sized potatoes. I'll write the recipe like the last time I made it, even though I wished I made more because the bowl was empty too fast.
 I am writing amounts, but I usually just guesstimate, so they are more of a general idea than exact measures.
8 medium potatoes (this time I used red, but any will do)
24 eggs
Onion powder 2-3 tbsp(I sometimes chop an onion tiny and put it in  (approx 1/4 cup for this amount)
Miracle whip (about 2 cups for this amount, it isn't too hard to estimate, just make sure it looks moist enough)
Mustard, about 3 tablespoons (I usually add mustard a little at a time.  It is a necessary flavor, but it can be overpowering if you pu too much)
Pepper and salt, just sprinkle into to salad while you stir, to taste
Paprika (sprinkled over the top of the salad

Okay first, the key in my opinion to good potato salad is high egg to potato ratio. I always do AT LEAST two eggs per potato, and that is for small potatoes.  I don't think you can have too much egg, I like to do 3 to one.

So first things first...You need to cook your eggs and potatoes.  Potato salad improves over time.  If you want to make it the day before, that is great.  I of course am never organized enough to do that, but you want at least an hour for the flavors to mix; and to rehydrate the onion powder so it loses its weird flavor.  And of course you need to have time to cool your potatoes and eggs. I assume this is general knowledge, but just in case, it improves over time in the fridge...It has to be in the fridge as much as possible and stay cold because of the miracle whip and eggs :). So whenever you are not directly working with it, put it back in the fridge! :)
I boil my potatoes with the skin on.  So scrub them and throw them in a pan making sure they completely covered in water. *one important step*  Make sure you thoroughly salt the water.  Your potato salad will be bland if you do not cook your potatoes with salt, no matter how much you salt it after.  I usually pour enough over them that you can see a thin layer on the potatoes.  Then I cook them till they are thoroughly done.  In fact, I have left potatoes till they are VERY done before.  Actually, I aim for that, they are a great texture in the salad, and there is nothing worse than under done potatoes.  Then, before you do anything else, you have to get them completely cold.  This step makes your potatoes more solid and easier to work with.  I drain off the hot water, run them under cold water to cool them off, then put them in the fridge.  If you try to cut them up when they are warm, especially if they are cooked a lot they will become mashed potatoes.  But I have never had a batch turn to mashed potatoes when cold.  And I have tested this theory a lot, being the huge scatter brain that I am.  I forgot about some once and they boiled for well over an hour! By the way, if you are a beginner cook, here is a quick potato tute: get your potatoes to a boil, then turn them down so they can just simmer.  If left too high, they spatter water all over the stove.  Either put a lid on, or add water if it lowers and uncovers your potatoes.  The parts outside the water will not cook.   You have to keep the heat high enough so it is still bubbling a little.  It usually takes about 40 minutes, but you can tell if they are done by sticking a fork in them.  If  you can easily stick a fork clear to the center of the largest potato, they are done.
While you are cooking your potatoes, you can cook your eggs on another unit.  You fill a large pan leaving at least an inch of space over your eggs.  Then you fill pan with water to at least an inch over your eggs.  Get it to a good rolling boil, then put on a lid and turn off the heat.  Leave them for 15 minutes or so.  Then cool them with tap water and put them in the fridge.
When  your eggs are cold, peel them and cut them into your salad bowl.  I usually cut each egg into eight pieces.  After your eggs are all in your salad, put in miracle whip, mustard, and onion powder.  Make sure you don't add too much, you can always add more, but it's more difficult to fix with too much.  Then I stir my eggs really thoroughly into the sauce.  It is important that you break up your yolks and mix them into the sauce.  It makes it so much better!  Like egg salad, or deviled eggs.  I stir it till I can't see any more yolks.  (Admittedly, there are times that I skip this step and stir eggs and potatoes together all at once.  You have to stir a little more gently when you have the potatoes in there, but I still try and incorporate as much yolk as possible into the sauce.)
Cut the potatoes to the size you like them and add them to the salad, then sprinkle salt and pepper over them and stir them all in.  If the salad looks to dry, add a little miracle whip, and mustard.  Finally you have to fine tune the flavor.  The main flavor players that you can add at the end are salt, pepper, onion, and mustard.  If it tastes wrong, you have to just analyze the flavor to decide which ones it needs.  I make sure I can taste the onion, even though it will taste weird until you leave it for a while to blend and rehydrate.  If it is bland, I add some salt or pepper.  If it tastes too miracle whippy (is that a word?), I add a little mustard.  Then I leave it for a while and try it again to make sure it tastes good all blended together.  When it is all done, I smooth out the top, and use a paper towel to wipe away any sauce around the top above the salad.  Then I sprinkle paprika over the top, and it's ready to serve.  I'm usually to lazy to put the pretty slices of egg over the top, but that is definitely an option. :)
I usually make this for big gatherings, and I rarely go home with any :).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Best Homemade Chicken Nuggets

America's test Kitchen you've done it again!!!  I have been trying to cut down on our yucky pressed mystery meat consumption, so I was so happy to be watching cooks country when this recipe was being shown.  These are truly the best!  The breading stays on, the coating is crisp and delicious, even after freezing and reheating.  These are AWESOME!  I usually multiply the batch and freeze the extras, both so that I can make good use of my frying oil since I don't save it, and to have more for future meals.  I think it's easier to cook less often in bulk than to have to cook over and over.  But I must say that this one it is a tiring endeavor.  I don't do it that often since it takes hours of work.  But it feels good to feed them something that at least has ingredients I recognize, though I wouldn't claim they are healthy every day fare.  The flavor is worth the extra effort too.

1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts (4 breasts appx)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 cup flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspooon (at least) tony chacherie's...I know, I add it to everything!
3 large egg whites
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil

They said to use crushed panko crumbs.  I thought they were crushed enough, and the crunch it created made me think of mimi's chicken fingers which is always a good thing!  So I just measure them as is...  I bought kikkoman panko bread crumbs from winco, and they were only just over a dollar a box.  I share this because they were considerably more at a couple of other grocery stores.  You might want to have extra breading ingredients, or don't get too carried away breading them.  Usually the recipe amt is enough, but one time, when I made a MONSTER sized batch, I used WAY too much.  I had extra crumbs, so I mixed up extra breading mix, and still ran out.  Some of my nuggets ended up less breaded, but they were still good. 

They have a method for cutting the chicken in uniform sized pieces, look up the recipe for better instructions.  Mine weren't very uniform, but I tried!  You cut the breast into thirds the long way.  Then the thickest top portion of the breast is cut in 1/2 inch slices.  The rest I just tried to cut about that same size...  Maybe someday I'll actually take photos, but I wouldn't count on that in the near future :).  After you cut them, you have to brine them.  Whisk water, 1 tbsp salt, and worcestershire in a bowl large enough to hold your chicken.  Dump in the chicken pieces and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.  They say not to do it any longer than that, but I have left it a little longer while I'm cooking earlier batches.  Next time I'll dump off the brine after the 30 min, so the chicken isn't so hard to pat dry.

Now you are ready to bread them!  Whisk your egg whites till a little foamy in one bowl, just to break them up.  Then mix all of the dry ingredients in a large shallow pan.  I use an 11 by 15 deep baking dish.  Pat your chicken dry with paper towels, dip them in your egg whites and then coat them well with your bread crumbs pressing the crumbs into the nuggets.  They say to press gently, but I actually press hard on the chicken, both to press in the crumbs, and to flatten them a little.  That might be how I used too many crumbs.  Then place them on a plate for ten minutes.  You're not done there!!!  Keep your bread crumbs for a second layer.  Meanwhile, heat your oil to 350.  After ten minutes dip them again, pressing the crumbs gently onto your nuggets again.  And they are ready to fry.  They say to fry 1/2 the batch at a time, for 3 minutes till golden brown, turning half way.  Then place it on a wire cooling rack, placed on a rimmed cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven while you cook the other half of the nuggets.  If you want to freeze them for later.  Wait till they are cool, and place them in a ziplock bag.  They say you can freeze them up to a month.  But ours don't last that long ;).  To reheat, bake at 350 for about 15 minutes till heated through.

So when I make a lot, this is how my assembly line works.  I dip 20 nuggets at a time.  First in the egg wash and then the first bread crumb dip.  Then I set my timer for 10 minutes.  I use two plates, one for the first dip and one for after the second one, so I can easily keep track.  After things get going, it works pretty good, but I am busy the whole time.  While I wait for 10 minutes for one batch, I am frying the one before.  I fry the nuggets 10 at a time for about 4 minutes.  After ten minutes pass, I quickly did the second dip in time to put them in the oil after the batch before was done.  Then in open moments I had to dip the next set of 20 for the first time.  I don't know if this is a good explanation, but once you start doing it, you can kind of see how it works.  I had my whole table set up starting with a spot on the far right with a plate covered in paper towels for the raw chicken.  You can keep your chicken in the fridge and just pull out 20 at a time to place on the paper towels.  Then I threw away the towels and put new ones for each batch.  To the left of that plate was my egg whites and to the left of that was my bread mixture.  I placed the plate for after the first dip above my pan, and the nuggets ready for frying to the left of the pan.  Then next in line was my plug in fry daddy pan and next to that was my cooling rack.  I left them on the cooling rack just long enough to cook the next batch and then moved them into the oven into a big pan I kept in there.  The frying part actually went pretty fast, but I had to MAKE SURE that I had no usual interruptions from my children :).  They were strictly confined to the basement with daddy ;).  A lot of the time is in cutting up the chicken and brining, and then setting it all up.  And then the frying part was very tiring because I was running here and there the whole time multitasking and I had to wash my hands a million times every time I would handle different batches of chicken.  I hope I didn't make it sound so complicated that you won't want to try it.  I promise it is worth it!  And if you don't want the big song and dance, just make a small batch. :)  Or get together with friends so each person can handle one station.  That's what I should have done!  I can't wait till my kids are older hehehehe.  Please feel free to ask questions if some of this doesn't make sense.