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Friday, September 30, 2011

{Spice it Up}

After posting my steak seasoning recipe, I started thinking that I could easily do a whole post about spices alone! As you can tell, I am quite the fan of spices...

Since I am focusing on spices, I didn't include the wide array of vinegar, oils and sauces to the right. I guess its cheaper than an obsession with shoes or purses, right?

My boyfriend has teased me before about the number of spices that I have and has said that they are all the same so I should get rid of a few. I challenged him by asking if his fish oil pills and shark cartilage supplements are the same and suggested that we get rid of one of those.... (Silence)

Anyway, lets start with salt.

Yes, I really do have four kinds of salt in my house (not counting the margarita salt) and I use them all for different things.

The first salt is kosher salt. It is a coarser salt that is inexpensive and dissolves easily.  I like to use kosher salt in a big pot of water for pasta or boiling potatoes. 

The next is plain table salt. This is a very fine salt that I use for baking. 

Note that this container specifically says that it does not contain iodine. Iodine was added to salt back in the 1920s as a supplement to combat iodine deficiency. Its not much of a concern anymore and I think it makes the salt taste funny so I buy table salt sans iodine.

The salt that I use most often is sea salt. I use this salt to season when I am cooking pretty much anytime I am not using the above two salts. 

I think that sea salt has a much better flavor than table salt. It has more of a pure salt taste rather than a chemical taste. If you have never tried it, test it out. Take a small dab of table salt on your finger and taste it. Then taste the sea salt. Trust me, you will taste the difference.

Finally, I keep course sea salt around for a different texture. I like to finish certain dishes, such as caprese salad, with a bit of course ground sea salt.

As for spices, I couldn't do much justice without spending hours going on about each spice and some of the uses. Instead, I will refer you to the McCormick site and suggest that you save it to your favorites. The site has an A-Z list of spices and the types of dishes they are used for.

There are so many types of spices and despite what my boyfriend thinks, I really do use all of the ones in our pantry. However, I think there are staples that every pantry should have. Here they are:

Bay Leaves
Black Pepper Corns (This is a MUST - If you use preground, stop using lead shavings and buy a pepper grinder today!)
Cayenne Pepper
Chili Powder
Cinnamon, Ground
Cumin, Ground
Garlic Powder
Italian Seasoning
Onion Powder
Parsley Flakes
Crushed Red Pepper

Mind you these are the bare essentials that will get you through most recipes. There are many other spices that you can add to your collection. McCormick also has a gourmet collection that has more exotic spices.

One of my newest favorites is smoked paprika. This spice gives your dishes a really unique taste. I love sprinkling it on chicken with salt and pepper for a quick, easy and flavorful main dish.

Spices can get rather expensive, but I have a few tips to save.
  • Cruise by the spice area during your weekly shopping trip - This allows you to pick up any spices that happen to be on sale 
  • Stock up around Thanksgiving and Christmas - There are usually big sales on spices during the holiday season, I use this as an opportunity to stock up and pick up some of the more expensive spices 
  • Buy from the bulk bins of stores like Winco - Refill your containers at a big discount 
  • Buy the bags of spices in the Mexican food isle - these spices are cheap, cheap compared to the expensive bottles so use them to refill those old containers
Last few tips:
  • For whole spices, invest in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder to grind your spices.  Don't try and use a grinder interchangeably for coffee and spices though.
  • Store in an air tight container in a cool place.  Storing spices over the stove is the worst place.  The heat can damage the spices.
  • Spices do lose their potency so don't overbuy (especially ground).  You can check them with a quick smell test.  
  • I do not recommend buying a spice rack full of spices unless you plan on dumping out the containers and refilling them.  They probably have been in there forever and taste like nothing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

{Perfect Steak Seasoning}

I love a good steak!  I hate when someone messes up a good steak with a bunch of unnecessary sauces and seasonings.

Some time ago, I was browsing online and found a few seasoning recipes and played around until I found something that enhanced the flavor of the steak without overpowering it.  

I usually make a large batch of it and put it in an old spice shaker so its always on hand.  Here it is:

2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

For the perfect steak, make sure to let your meat sit out for about 30 minutes to take the chill off. This allows the steak to cook evenly and stay tender.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

{Louisiana Style Shrimp}

Dinner tonight!

Between work, errands and keeping up the house, its nice to have a couple of very easy recipes...especially if you can prep them in advance.

Tonight I am making a Rachel Ray recipe from her "week in a day" lineup.  If you haven't heard of this concept, its from her new Food Network show and I highly recommend it.  She gives you a whole lineup of recipes that you can prep in one day to various points and finish up the night of each meal.  The prep work is well thought out so that the food is evenly cooked and doesn't feel like its made ahead.  Even if you don't make the exact recipes, you can get the concept down and save some serious time during the week.  You can find many of the recipes here.

The recipe starts with the basic "trinity" (celery, onion and bell pepper), garlic and a chile pepper.  Add in the seasonings, some flour to thicken and liquid for the sauce (chicken broth and optional beer).  This is the point that the recipe could be cooled and put in the fridge.  The night you are ready to eat, you just cook some rice and bring the sauce to a simmer.  When the rice is just about done, toss the shrimp and the sausage (I use precooked sausage so it goes in at the end) into the sauce and cook/heat through and dinner is ready!

Great change of pace and so easy.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

{Strawberry Lemonade with Mint}

Although the fist day of Fall has just passed, I have been craving lemonade with strawberries and mint.  This is a very simple recipe that is great for a party or a quick treat.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

A large pitcher
Something to muddle the ingredients with (I am using my potato masher)
Lemon juice
Cold water

Start with one cup of chopped strawberries and about1/3 cup of torn mint leaves.

Next, add just shy of a cup of sugar,

and one cup of lemon juice.

Now, muddle the ingredients together.

You want the liquid to be blush pink from the strawberries and the mint nicely bruised to release the flavor.

The colors are amazing together!

Finally, add six cups of cold water and stir well to ensure all of the sugar is dissolved.

Serve over ice and enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

{Baked Chicken and Mango Samosas with Mint Chutney}

I love trying new recipes.  I am constantly searching for new things to make or different variations on my current recipes.  Although I do have quite a few recipes that I make consistently, I really don't understand how some families have pasta night on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, meatloaf on Wednesday.....  Blah!

Although I can't take credit for this recipe, I am very excited to share it with you.  I hope it adds a little spice to your recipe lineup.

The recipe is from one of the newest Food Network chefs, Aarti Sequeira.  She makes Indian food and I couldn't wait to try this recipe when I saw it.  The recipe is Baked Samosas with Mint Chutney and can be found here.

{Photo from}

This recipe is delicious and such a good way to shake up your menu for the week.  The filling has chicken, potato, mango, cilantro and smokey chipotle sauce.  Such a great combination of flavors!

The recipe calls for puff pastry which is great, but very pricey.  There is a substitute recipe included which calls for buttermilk.  I didn't have buttermilk on hand though, so I decided to use a traditional pie dough recipe which I made here, and rolled out here .


{Rolling Out Dough}

In my first week of blogging, I learned two very important things.  The first is to never promise anything the next day, life happens and before you know it a few days have passed.  The second, buy a tripod!  Makes life much easier...

So finally, rolling out pastry dough.  I am rolling out the pie dough that I made, but this same process would work for other doughs like sugar cookies, etc.

Start with your dough, which I made here, flour, rolling pin, and a smooth surface.  I am using a pastry cloth to roll my dough out on.  I also like using non-stick baking Silpats.  They work amazingly for rolling out dough.  You could use any flat, clean surface though. 

Start by flouring your surface....

....and your rolling pin.  You will need a good amount of flour so that your dough doesn't stick.

Just a bit more flour on the top of your dough for good measure.

Time to start rolling.
You will want to apply even pressure to the dough starting from the middle and rolling outwards.  As my grandmother said, "Don't be a steamroller."  You want to use slightly firm pressure, but not too much or you will end up with uneven, tough dough. 

Turn the pin different directions as you roll.

To ensure you roll each area evenly and to help keep the dough from sticking, you can rotate the dough.  I usually do this once or twice throughout the process.  If you are having a problem with sticking, add a bit more flour.

Keep on rollin'

If your dough separates, use a bit of water and to piece it back together with your fingers.

Here is the almost finished product.  I needed squares of dough, so I went for more of a rectangular shape.  If you are going to use the dough for a pie, you will want to roll into a circular shape that is a few inches wider than your pie dish.

The dough should be about 1/4 of an inch thick depending on the use.

If you need help rolling your dough evenly, there are rubber bands available that you can put on each end of your rolling pin to act as a spacers.  Clever!  You could also rig something up with chopsticks or any other thin item by laying them on either side of the dough and rolling over them.

From this point I cut my dough into a square and then four smaller squares.

Time to troubleshoot.  As you can see I have a decent size corner missing from one of the pieces.

Use a bit of water...

...and some spare pieces from your trimmings to mend any holes.

Ta da!

That's just about all there is too it.  Brush off any excess flour before using.

I guess the only thing I missed is actually prepping a pie shell.  A few tips....

To help you move your dough, start from one end and roll the pastry onto the rolling pin, then unroll over your pie plate.

If you are looking for a decorative edge for a pie, this site has lots of helpful pictures and steps. 

If you are going to blind bake your crust (bake without anything in the shell) remember to poke lots of holes in the shell with a fork or weigh it down with dry beans on wax paper.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

{Super Easy Pastry Dough}

After posting my salsa recipe last night, I thought to myself that there could be (and probably is) a blog completely devoted to uses of a food processor.  Don't get me wrong, you can survive in the kitchen without one, but for all of those people who have one, or have even thought about it, I would love to inspire you!  For instance, those of you - like Amber - who have had one (and have celebrated their 5 year wedding anniversary...for which they received this wonderful appliance as a gift) and have never used it, I hope to coax you to bring it out of the cabinet.

Trying not to sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump, you could make....
Pastry dough
Lettuce wraps
Salad components (in a flash!)
Ground meat
Shredded cheese
Puréed soups
and so much more!

It slices, it dices, it chops, it Purées .....  You get the picture.  The BIG picture though is that it makes life easier.

Tonight I am making pastry dough.  This is another recipe that works just fine without the food processor, but it is wonderfully easy with this appliance.

I learned to make pies from my grandmother before I even started school.  This is what we used to cut in the shortening then. 

There is considerably more work involved with a pastry cutter, but when my grandmother was my age, she used two butter knives.  I would say the multiple wires and one hand operation is a huge improvement from that torture.

For the recipe you will need the following:
1 cup - Flour
1/2 tsp - Salt
1 tsp - Sugar (Optional for sweet pastry dough) 
1/3 cup - Shortening (very cold)
2-3 Tbls - Ice Cold Water

Food processor, pastry cutter or a couple of butter knives

The ingredients above make one crust.  Adjust accordingly if you need a top and bottom crust or multiple pies.

First, measure a level cup of flour

Add your salt and optional sugar and mix into the flour

And 1/3 cup of shortening.

Next, pulse or cut the shortening into the flour.  If you are using a pastry cutter, Cut down and across into the mixture.  For the butter knives, position them into an X and cut across to a V with the knives through the mixture, repeat, repeat, repeat....

The mixture should be somewhere between peas and cornmeal.

When the shortening is fully cut in, add the first two tablespoons of water.  This is where the "you can add more, but not take it back" comes in again.

Pulse or mix in the water until the dough starts to come together.

If necessary, you may need to add a little more water.  Add just a bit at a time.  You are looking for the dough to hold together when you press it lightly, but not wet.

Since this dough is for a dinner tomorrow night, I am wrapping it in plastic wrap.  Many people suggest letting the dough chill and rest, but if you use really cold ingredients and work quickly it will come out just fine (or maybe my grandmother was just impatient, so that's how I was taught).

That's all there is to it!

I know Kimberly, I need to show how to roll the dough out without being a steamroller. :)
Tomorrow night, I promise!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

{THE Salsa Recipe}

I started thinking that the first real post better be pretty good.  Then I realized that it is only right to post my salsa recipe. 

This is the recipe that people ask me for the most.  Some have given up on my tendency to rattle off the recipe in the form of approximate sizes, ie about a deck of cards, half and half, etc. and have just settled with, "If I buy you the ingredients and bring you some Tupperware, can you make me some?"

And then there is my boyfriend's dad who relies on my bringing a huge batch to all gatherings and giving him the rest to eat on everything for the next week.  And heaven forbid I ever try to change it on him....

So, here it is

For the recipe, you will need the following:
Tomatoes (any kind will do)
Tomatillos (those funny things you see in the supermarket with the green husks)
Lime Juice (I always have the squeezy bottle on hand to cheat because I am constantly making this salsa)
Red Onion
Chipotle Peppers (In the Mexican food isle - These are a MUST in this recipe)

This recipe can be prepared using a food processor or blender - both work just fine.

As you can tell, I typically start my recipes with "Open a bottle of wine and pour a glass...

Start by quartering the tomatoes.  For this amount of salsa, I am using about two cups.

Next, peel, rinse, and quarter or halve the tomatillos.  They are dirty little buggers so clean them well.  I typically use the same amount of tomatillos as tomatoes so 2 cups.

 Peel 2 cloves of garlic

Add a handful of cilantro - about a quarter cup

A tablespoon of lime juice

A teaspoon of salt 

Chipotles to taste.  Start with one chipotle and some of the adobo sauce from the can.  As my grandma always says, you can always add more, but there is no way its coming back out. 

These are what make this salsa so don't leave them out.  They add a wonderful smoky flavor.

Bonus tip: Take the remaining chipotles and freeze in a zip-top bag.  It is easy to break off what you need later (Thanks Rachel Ray)

Finally, about a quarter cup of red onion.

And now, we BLEND!  I like my salsa smoother, but with some texture left in it.

Taste test and adjust your seasonings and heat when it is partially blended so you have some time to add what you may need.

That's it!  

Play with the ingredients and adjust it to your taste to make it all your own.  Enjoy and please let me know what you think!

Full Recipe:

2 cups - Tomatoes 
2 cups - Tomatillos 
1/4 cup - Cilantro
1 tblsp - Lime Juice
2 cloves - Garlic
1/4 cup - Red Onion
1-3 - Chipotle Peppers 
1 tsp - Salt

Adjust ingredient amounts to taste and blend.