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Taco Salad

24 Oct

And thus another week begins which means another recipe for Project Pastry Queen!  This week Amanda chose Ground Beef Gorditas and, as you can probably tell from the picture above, I didn’t have the time to a) find masa dough and b) pan fry and then also deep fry the gorditas.  It did give me the chance, however, to try a new little technique for taco shell bowls that I’d been wanting to try that involved healthier baking instead of deep-frying.

I remember once standing in the middle of the grocery store having a minor disagreement with The Boyfriend: I had grown up with packaged taco seasoning and wanted to buy some for the tacos we were having that night; he insisted that I could probably make seasoning myself that was better tasting and, likely healthier, since it wouldn’t have all the sodium and other random chemicals found in that stuff.  I appreciate his confidence in me, but at that point in time I was sure nothing I attempted to create was going to taste as good as what I was familiar with.  I’ve since become more confident in myself as a cook, and this recipe was just the one I needed to figure out exactly what was needed in good taco meat seasoning (and I even added a little to it myself!).  Since I was making more of a taco salad, I left the tomato sauce out of the meat recipe–there’s nothing worse than soupy salad, but other than that, I think this is a winner for taco seasoning and I’m pleased to say that I won’t be buying the packaged kind ever again!

Taco Salad
Adapted from The Pastry Queen
Serves 2-3

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 medium sized flour tortilla per person (I used Mission brand “Homestyle” tortillas)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • shredded cheese
  • salsa
  • 1 sliced avocado
  • any other toppings you usually enjoy (sour cream, olives, queso fresco, etc etc)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a large skillet, saute the beef and onion until browned, approx 10 minutes
  3. In the meantime, brush tortillas with water and microwave in a stack for 1 minute.  Drape each tortilla over an upside-down oven-safe cereal bowl and press it so that it molds to the shape of the bowl.  Place bowls on a baking sheet and bake in oven for 10 minutes, until stiff.  Pull sheet out of oven, let cool for a few minutes, then take the molded tortillas off the bowls and let the inside dry out for a few minutes.
  4. Drain off the fat from the ground beef, then add the garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder, pepper, and hot sauce to the beef, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Assemble the taco salad by first putting lettuce into the tortilla bowl, then topping with meat and other toppings of your choice.  Enjoy!
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Rosemary Potato Pizza

21 Oct

This pizza has been haunting me for months and months–it combines so many of my favorite things, how am I supposed to resist it??  This is definitely a meal idea you want to keep on hand because it’s fast, delicious, and uses ingredients that you’ll likely already have (and if not, it’s just a quick run to Trader Joe’s).  I’m not sure which part I like best–the rosemary (my favorite herb), the mozzarella (which is light and not too much), the creamy potatoes or the crispy chewy crust.

This was also the first time I tried a secret trick to get a crispy pizza crust without a pizza stone…and wouldn’t ya know, it worked!  By putting the baking sheet into the oven ahead of time, while the oven is heating up, it helps the bottom of the crust crisp up while the top bakes normally–it was perfect!  I admit I didn’t make the crust dough myself, but I think sometimes it’s more important to get healthy, stress-free food into you than making EVERYthing handmade and, besides, Trader Joe’s refrigerated pizza dough is delicious!

Rosemary Potato Pizza
Adapted from Stone Soup via Elephantine

  • refrigerated pre-made pizza crust (Trader Joe’s suggested – you’ll find it near the pre-made salads, it should make about 3 decent sized pizzas or 4 slightly smaller pizzas)
  • 1 small-medium red potato per pizza
  • 1 sprig rosemary per pizza
  • 1-2 small balls of fresh mozzarella (the kind floating in water)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • salt for sprinkling
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 and place a lightly oiled baking sheet in oven as it warms
  2. Divide the dough into the number of pizzas you want and gently stretch dough into thin rounds, leave on counter workspace while you prepare the other ingredients
  3. Slice the potatoes extremely thinly (this is another job the mandolin slicer came in very handy for) and slice the mozzarella balls as thinly as they can go, likely 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick.
  4. Once the oven is preheated, using oven mitts, take the hot baking sheet out of the oven and place on a safe surface.  Transfer the dough rounds to the hot baking sheet (you may have to bake in batches) and brush olive oil over the raw dough.  Arrange the potato slices in a single layer, slightly overlapping, sprinkle rosemary leaves over the pizza, arrange the mozzarella bits and drizzle with a second round of olive oil.
  5. Put sheet with pizzas back into oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese and crust are just starting to brown.
  6. Sprinkle with salt to taste.  Enjoy hot out of the oven!

Homemade Fruit Leather

19 Oct

Fall in Southern California is a little hard to find sometimes, but I certainly found it while camping in Sequoia National Park this weekend!  It was just cool enough that I needed to wear a jacket while hiking and there were hints of snow on the mountain tops.  The trees there are mostly conifers, which meant we didn’t get beautiful orange and red Fall foliage, but it did smell just like Christmas was around the corner and that was good enough for me!

While preparing for the camping trip, I was considering different snacks to bring for the hike: homemade granola?  just hope that fruit stayed intact in our backpacks?  and then I came across homemade fruit leather on Pinterest and I was sold (especially because the Boyfriend was out of town and he LOVES fruit leather and I knew he’d love the surprise).

This recipe can be made to accommodate almost any fruit you can think of.  I was headed for strawberries but went with raspberries because they were on sale at the grocery store and my brain has already started thinking up crazy cool combinations (cinnamon-peach-blueberry would be fantastic!)  I must admit, I thought these were the sweetest raspberries I’d ever tasted and thus decided to forego the sugar…which turned out to be a poor decision because it meant that these leathers were EXTREMELY tart (I think I may have used extra lemon juice on accident as well…).  That said, plenty of people loved them, so it really will have to be up to your own judgement how sweet you want to make these–just taste the puree before drying and know that sweetness is concentrated once the leather is dry.  These are super simple to make and, while it SEEMS like they would be time consuming, it’s really hands-off for the most part, so I’m sticking by my “these are super easy” statement.

I can say for sure that these certainly didn’t take as long to dry as other people suggested, which surprised me a little, but I think if you just keep a close eye on it, you’ll be fine.  I just stacked the strips in a plastic baggie and threw them in my backpack and they didn’t stick together at all–no powder coating needed AND no sticky fingers after eating, so I was pretty delighted with how they turned out. 

Happy Hiking!  (or Happy School Lunches…or Happy Quick Snack Break at the Office…)

Homemade Cinnamon-Vanilla Raspberry Fruit Leather
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen
yields one 12″ x 16″ pan

  • 2 cups raspberries (or other chopped fruit)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 0 – 1/4 cup sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (adjust according to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (adjust according to taste)
  • vegetable oil
  1. Heat oven to lowest temperature setting possible.  My lowest setting is 180 degrees, so I just set the dial to about a 1/4″ short of the lowest temperature and hoped it would work (it did).
  2. Add fruit, water, and lemon juice to saucepan and stew for 10-15 minutes until softened.
  3. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and let simmer for 5 more minutes.
  4. Using a stick blender or a food processor, blend fruit until smooth and let cool for a few minutes while you prepare the pan.
  5. Using a 12″x16″ rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper (I used Martha Wrap, which I thought was perfect for the job) and brush prepared pan with a layer of vegetable oil.
  6. Pour the fruit puree through a sieve (it is definitely necessary for raspberries–those little seeds are tough!) over the prepared pan and spread it evenly over the pan with an offset spatula.  It’s like frosting a cake, only easier–the only goal is to make sure that you have a very thin, very even layer of fruit puree.  A bit of liquid separated out of the puree when I sieved it into the pan, but I was able to gently incorporated it back in with my offset spatula before spreading the layer even again.
  7. Carefully put the pan in the oven and walk away–it’s going to be in there for a number of hours.  Know that if you’re impatient and you poke it to see how it’s coming along, you’re likely to poke a hole in the leather, so I tested it by tilting up a corner of the parchment paper and seeing if the puree ran off the paper towards the center.
  8. I think my leather was in the oven for about 4-5 hours, but don’t quote me on that–all ovens are different and you really just need to keep an eye on things.  Many people who made fruit leather said they actually left the leather in their ovens on low all night, so I’m not sure why my oven was so fast.  About half way through the process I pulled out the leather and found it was getting a bit crispy and brittle on the edges.  Generously brush the leather with water and stick it back in the oven–this trick honestly works like a charm.  There was not a brittle edge to be found when I took the leather out for a second time, just chewy goodness!
  9. As I was about to go to bed, I decided the leather was done on top and that the underside was just a little sticky, but that all it needed was air-drying.  I carefully flipped the whole sheet of fruit leather over upside down and put it back in the pan, turned off the oven and put the leather back in to rest and dry in the oven so that it wasn’t taking up counter space.
  10. When you wake up in the morning, voila!  Homemade fruit roll-ups that you won’t cringe at when you put it in a lunchbox.  I used a pizza cutter to cut mine into strips with no problems.  Enjoy!

Cupcake-Style Cinnamon Rolls

14 Oct

I’m not sure if there is a cuter idea out there than cinnamon rolls baked as if they were cupcakes and I’ve been dying to try this from the moment I saw them on Pinterest!  While I love a big gooey messy cinnamon roll that you have to eat with a fork and knife just as much as the next person, there was something so quaint and wonderful by being able to peel the wrapper off just like a cupcake and eat it out of my hand.  I would imagine these being great for brunches or breakfasts with kids around so you can just hand them a roll and send them on their way.

They’re certainly not for the completely novice baker, as they have a lot of steps involved, but if they weren’t doable, I wouldn’t be posting it for you try, so get in that kitchen!

The best part about these rolls is that you don’t have to wake up at 4:00 in the morning in order to have fresh-baked cinnamon buns in the morning–I’ve included instructions for par-baking, which means baking the rolls just until they’re set, but not golden brown and perfect yet.  Then you can just throw them into the freezer until you’re ready for them, move them to the fridge the night before, and then just pop in the oven the next morning for ten minutes.  Only 10 minutes to an amazing, cinnamon-y, sweet, delicious breakfast!

Buns:

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour or regular flour (bread flour makes for a lighter cinnamon roll)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 pkg yeast (1/4 ounce)

Filling:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

Icing:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. Microwave milk for 30-40 seconds in the microwave (you want milk to be about 110 degrees). Dissolve yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.
  2. Add sugar, butter, salt, eggs, and flour; mix well.
  3. Knead dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size; line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake liners and lightly spray the cupcake liners with baking spray.
  4. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine brown sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Sprinkle flour on the surface you’re going to roll the dough on.  Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread dough with 1/3 cup softened butter (if your butter isn’t soft enough at this point, put it in a bowl and smear it around in the bowl with a wooden spoon until you can whip the spoon around through the butter) (other note: I used an offset spatula for spreading the butter and it was the PERFECT tool for the job).
  6. Sprinkle buttered dough evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough starting with the longer side and cut into 24 evenly sized rolls–to ensure even slices I just keep dividing each portion in halves or thirds (if you’re just doing normal rolls and not cupcake-style, cutting into 12 pieces is preferable)
  7. You’ll likely need to un-roll and re-roll the buns to fit in each of the cupcake lined spots.  Or, if you’re not in the mood for the cupcake-style, arrange the rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch glass baking dish.
  8. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes; in the meantime preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  9. If serving immediately, bake the cinnamon rolls for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  If par-baking the cinnamon rolls to freeze for a later date, bake for 10 minutes until mostly baked but not browned.  Pull the buns out and let them cool completely before wrapping them tightly in saran wrap and tin foil and putting in the freezer.  The night before serving the rolls, unwrap them and put them in the fridge overnight to defrost.  The next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for approximately 10 minutes until soft and golden brown.
  10. While in the oven, beat together cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Spread frosting on while they are still warm so that the frosting melts into the roll.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

9 Oct

I can’t lie, I considered skipping this week’s Project Pastry Queen assignment.  I have a go-to recipe for Butternut Squash soup that I created myself and I just can’t bear to leave it behind.  That said, I’m glad I gave this one a try because it certainly gave my normal recipe a run for its money!

I had just come back from a weekend trip away so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to standing over a hot stove, but  it’s soup so it’s a cinch to throw together and let simmer while you take a disco nap in the hopes that you can sort of maybe catch up on the rest you didn’t catch up on over the weekend because you were having too much fun.  I don’t know why I always think soup is a long complicated process so I shouldn’t hesitate in the future.

This soup is a great recipe to keep for a cool Fall evening–the spices will warm you right up!

Note: 1 1/2 lbs of butternut squash is a relatively small squash compared to what I normally see at the grocery store.  Either make sure to get one that’s close (I had to do a 2 pounder), make a double batch of soup, or save the extra squash for something else, like Butternut Squash Risotto (my first recipe on the blog ever!)

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather
serves 4 to 6

  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 Tbs curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Greek yogurt, for garnish
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and carrot and saute over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften.
  2. Add the squash potato, ginger, cinnamon, curry powder, and salt;  Saute for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, milk, cream, honey, and paprika and bring the soup to a boil.
  4. Decrease the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the soup over low heat for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  5. Puree the soup with a stick blender (what? you don’t have one yet?!) until smooth.
  6. Add black pepper and additional salt to taste.  If the soup seems too thick, add more milk or chicken stock.
  7. Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top–it adds a wonderful tangy flavor!

Bourbon Bacon Brownies

7 Oct

I really don’t know if much can be said about these brownies.  Bacon + Bourbon + Brownies = Mad Deliciousness.  They speak for themselves!

While I love a good BLT just as much as the next person, I have to admit that I’m not fully on the bacon train that has chugged through the foodie world (and, thankfully, seems to be on its way out), but this just seemed like a no brainer.  The brownies are soft and fudgy, the nuts are soaked in bourbon, and the bacon is a great crunchy contrast to the brownie texture.

I’ll be spending my weekend at the Hicksville Trailer Park Palace (really) for my good friend’s birthday and I think these fit the bill exactly for properly themed food.  That said, these will be great for any sort of ‘manly’ event, too–bourbon and bacon makes any fancy dessert more Y-chromosome friendly!

Bourbon Bacon Brownies
adapted from Baking Illustrated and SlashFood
Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan, approx 16 brownies

  • 1/2 a package of bacon
  • bourbon, at least a 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 5 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into quarters
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  1. Place an oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 400° F.  Line an 8-inch square baking dish with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Set pecans in a small bowl and cover with bourbon, about 1/4 cup, set aside to soak.
  3. Arrange the bacon on the tin-foiled covered rimmed baking sheet and pop into the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  When you take it out of the oven, transfer it to a plate lined with 3 or 4 layers of paper towels and blot dry.  The bacon will turn crispy as it cools.  Stack the bacon and slice into 1/4″ wide slices.
  4. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside to cool.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated.
  6. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing in gently.
  7. Spoon the nuts out of the bourbon and fold nuts into batter (save bourbon for later).
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer; sprinkle bacon slices evenly all over the top of the brownie batter.
  9. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.
  10. Pour reserved bourbon evenly over the top of the hot brownies.  It will soak into the brownies and spread deliciousness all over.
  11. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.  DIG IN!

Queso Blanco Dip

5 Oct

I know Los Angeles is supposed to be one of the best places in the States to get Mexican food, but I have to admit: my favorite Mexican restaurant ever is back in Georgia.  Frontera Mex-Mex holds so many memories of family, friends and teachers for me (The Boyfriend ate a 2 pound monster burrito there last Christmas so that he could get a free t-shirt for me.  If that’s not love, I don’t know what is) but if it wasn’t for the food, none of us would keep going back as often as we did.  One of the most popular items on the menu was their cheese dip, which was white and creamy, went perfectly with their salsa, and had jalapenos in it upon request.  Many an evening I spent trying to recreate this recipe, one which involved me, just diagnosed with bronchitis, going out into the freezing windy icy middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania winter to the Walmart close to campus to go get cheese.  That’s how amazing this stuff is: you risk death just to taste it.  The only problem is, it was practically impossible to recreate.  I tried fancy Mexican cheeses like queso fresca, because it looked white like what they had at Frontera and it was Mexican, so how could it go wrong?  Turns out queso fresca doesn’t actually melt, so that trip turned out to be a bust, only one of many busts to come.

In the end, I finally went home to Georgia for Christmas and just ASKED the staff at Frontera what was in their cheese dip.  Would you believe the greatest cheese dip in all the world from the greatest Mexican restaurant in all the world (okay, that fact is admittedly debatable) is actually made from plain old white American cheese!?  I got over that shocker of a fact quickly and just headed to the nearest store.  Note: you’ll have to go to the deli to get the white American cheese; my deli lady just sliced it into normal sandwich slices (so she could weigh it properly) and I just finely diced it when I got home instead of shredding it.

Upon tasting, I nearly passed out in front of the stove.  This was it!  And now if only I can get Frontera to ship over a burrito al carbon, I’d be a happy happy girl.  (I’m also going to be a fat girl soon–this weekend I’ve been requested to make my other, more famous and more unhealthy queso dip recipe, the one that involves Velveeta.  This recipe will make it on the blog eventually but I’ll let you work on burning off the calories in this one first, okay?)

Queso Blanco
Serves a group of about 4
Adapted from Annie’s Eats and Confessions of a Foodie Bride

  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 12 oz white American cheese, shredded or chopped
  • 4 oz Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/4-3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tomato, seeded and finely diced
  1. Heat oil in pan and saute the jalapeno pepper over medium heat until softened.  CAUTION: have windows open or a fan on when you do this.  I was coughing and choking from the spicy vapors in the air and then The Boyfriend rang the doorbell and I opened the door and he started immediately choking too.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cheeses and 1/4 cup milk to the pan.
  3. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost fully melted, then add the tomato and continue stirring.
  4. Add milk until you’ve reached the desired texture.  I remember the cheese dip being pretty fluid, so I kept adding milk, but once I’d added a bit too much, it lost the creamy cheese flavor, so don’t add more than an extra half cup or so.
  5. Garnish with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and raw jalapeno, if you dare; watch it disappear in almost no time! (especially since it’s football season, right?)
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