Quinoa Fajita Burritos: A Mexican treat that needs no meat

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I don’t even try to hide that I often feel that no meal is complete without the addition of meat.  There is something not quite as satisfying in a big dinner when there is little substance involved. The few times that I enjoy a meal without a carnal inclusion I find that what makes it worth while is a hefty starch based main ingredient.  I have to accept these once in a while to appease my less carnivorous wife and to keep myself from eating too much of the good meat.  So today I offer a meatless dinner that will leave you full and satisfied.

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I love a good burrito and that craving has to be satisfied at least once in a while.  And a burrito is always enhanced when you include softened peppers and onions.  They add a nice bite to any Mexican meal, but included in a burrito gives the appearance of meat when there are no big chunks in the burrito.  The base of this burrito is a real treat.  I can still remember the first time anyone mentioned the idea of quinoa to me.  My sister had discovered it at college and insisted on having it when she was home for the Summer.  I resisted initially, but after trying it a few different ways, I realized that it was just another grain to offer as a side dish, much like rice or pasta.  Suddenly, I was exposed to a new variety of options when it came to starchy side dishes.  Flavoring the quinoa with a Mexican flair makes it the perfect medium around which to construct this burrito.

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A couple of quick cut ups for today’s meal.  First of all, I see no need to purchase taco seasoning from the market.  A well stocked spice cabinet includes everything you need to get the flavor of taco seasoning.  I use small amounts of: chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, ground cumin, a pinch of cayenne if you want heat, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  You can use these, but if you don’t have all of them or don’t want to try seasoning on your own, go for the taco seasoning.  Also, instead of simply adding black beans and tomatoes to the quinoa, I added a few large spoonfuls of my corn and black bean salsa to give the quinoa it’s body.

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Quinoa Fajita Burritos

  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked to package specifications
  • corn and black bean salsa (or 1 can black beans and 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream
  • taco seasoning
  • flour tortillas
  • salsa
  1. Saute the peppers and onions in a skillet with a little bit of taco seasoning until softened.
  2. Stir the bean salsa into the quinoa and season with a little taco seasoning
  3. Construct your burrito with the quinoa and peppers and onions.  Complete with your choice of sour cream, cheese, salsa or any other accouterments you might like in your burrito.
  4. Roll the burrito tucking in both ends.  If you like a little crunch, grill the outside of your rolled burrito in a skillet or on a griddle to enhance the outer texture.
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Corn and Black Bean Salsa: Quick, easy, and versatile

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I truly believe that in cooking sometimes the last thing you want to do is make a whole bunch of different things.  However, if you can create one thing that can serve multiple purposes then you have a real  advantage in making life easy.  This salsa is the perfect example.  This week we had two different Mexican inspired dishes on our menu.  You will see one tomorrow and the other in the next week.  This chunky, fresh salsa found its way into both meals.  And actually if we decided to, dipping was not required.  This is my very favorite dipping salsa.  I exclude the tomatoes because I don’t like them but you can add them if you want.  The beans, and actually the cumin in the dish make it a very refreshing change from your typical everyday salsa.

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The two versatile ways that I used it this week were actually to enhance starches.  For the meal you will see tomorrow, I added it to the quinoa that went into our vegetarian fajita burritos.  It gave a nice body and richness to the main ingredient. The other time I used it as a non-dip, I added some spoonfuls to a brown rice that was a side dish for a Mexican spiced chicken.  The absolute best part of this salsa is that there is no cooking involved, just add all the ingredients into a bowl, mix, and refrigerate for a few hours to merry the flavors.  Its quick and easy and can be used as a great party appetizer or incorporated into other dishes.

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Corn and Black Bean Salsa

  • 2 cans black beans, drained
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 6 Tbs olive oil
  • the juice of two limes
  • 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup green onion , minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
  1. Mix everything except the tomatoes in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. When ready to serve, mix in the tomatoes

JUST THAT EASY!

Peppermint Chocolate Bundt Cake: A holiday treat

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We try to limit our dessert intake as much as we can in our apartment.  My wife has quite a sweet tooth which she has trouble controlling sometimes and I don’t really need dessert at all but enjoy it when available.  So we have come to the decision that we will only make dessert once a week.  If it is gone after a day then we don’t have any more for the rest of that week and if it lasts all week that’s great.  So when deciding what to make this week I asked my wife what she would like because she enjoys dessert more than I do and she had a one word answer, holiday.

Now this did not provide me with too much inspiration.  But after careful consideration I was able to narrow down my choices.  First of all, sugar cookies are to come when Christmas gets a little closer, so vanilla was out.  Next, Thanksgiving is over and I don’t love pumpkin all that much so that was out too.  Ginger/spice got careful consideration, but I have a favorite ginger cookie recipe that I really like and don’t have it in my possession so I will wait and do that soon.  So I realized that the best medium to use was chocolate.  The question was, how do I turn chocolate into holiday?  The answer, peppermint.  The marriage is common and easy to execute so I decided that I would wing it and try my hand at some original creation, and I must admit I did a pretty darn good job.

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The cut up today is pretty much the whole recipe.  I used a basic chocolate bundt cake recipe and a basic white sugar glaze recipe, then flavored them by my own hand.  The nice thing is, is that nowadays we have the ability to insert peppermint flavor into anything easily with peppermint extract.  If you are used to making chocolate bundt cake and/or basic sugar glazes and frostings.  The only new thing necessary is the peppermint extract.  The chocolate chips and candy canes are optional but highly recommended.  Also, the tip of the day is to break up the candy canes in their wrapper, inside a ziploc bag.  This allows you to contain all of the candy bits, and the wrappers come right off instead of having to fight that awful plastic.

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Peppermint Chocolate Bundt Cake with Peppermint Glaze

Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetend cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Glaze

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbs milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
  • 2 candy canes
  1. Preheat oven to 325 and spray bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray or coat in butter and flour.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together in stand mixer or with electric hand mixer until pale yellow.
  3. Add eggs one at a time and mix until fully incorporated. Next add sour cream, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract and mix until smooth.
  4. Now add half of the flour, cocoa, and milk and stir until fully incorporated. After mixed, add the rest of the flour, cocoa, and milk and add baking powder and mix until batter is well mixed.  If desired, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepare bundt pan and bake for about 1 hour. A cake tester should come out clean.
  6. In a separate bowl, prepare the glaze.  Mix the powdered sugar, most of the milk, and both the vanilla and pepper mint extracts.  If the glaze is too thin, add a little more sugar and if still a little thick add more milk until a thin paste forms.  Crush candy canes in a zip-top bag and add bits to glaze.
  7. When cake is cool enough to handle, turn out of the pan and allow to cool COMPLETELY!  When completely cooled, pour glaze over the cake and allow to set.  Slice and serve

Here is a look at my serving suggestion:

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Lasagna: Everyone’s favorite casserole

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So as I mentioned yesterday, I had quite a busy baking Sunday.  I knocked out that pull apart bread and tomorrow you will get to see the delicious holiday bundt cake I made.  So I wanted to make a delicious dinner that tasted like I spent all day making it, but didn’t take that long.  I have made lasagna before and I have had great success using a blend of methods out of my own recipes and my go-to cookbook: “Pasta Revolution” which was produced by America’s Test Kitchen.

Typically I like to blend the recipe for classic lasagna out of this cookbook and use my pork ragu that I described in my very first post.  On Sunday however I did not have the time or energy to spend two hours putting together my delicious sauce, so I went with the much quicker, about 20 minute, sauce that they use in the cookbook.  The sauce is a straight forward and rather simple tomato sauce so it is perfect for a quick meal.

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The other thing that I really like about this lasagna recipe is that it incorporates two of my favorite things in a pasta: cheese and fresh basil.  The recipe has lots of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese in every layer which adds a delicious richness in every bite.  Mixed in with the cheese is lots of fresh basil.  The taste of fresh basil locked into a tomatoey sauce and layers of cheese adds a fresh pop to the dish.  The two things should be included in every pasta dish

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So I admit that I used the recipe directly out of the cookbook, and thus have little to cut up in it.  However, the recipe provides one and I made on small adjustment that could be useful to some.  The people at America’s Test Kitchen have opened my eyes to a lot of new and interesting ideas when it comes to cooking pasta.  Maybe the biggest is their use of NO BOIL lasagna noodles.  These are dried noodles you can find in the pasta aisle at the grocery store that require no pre-cooking, they simply go into the dish with the rest of the elements, then cook and become tender during baking.  I had my reservations about this at first but after trying it once, I doubt I will ever boil another lasagna noodle.

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The cut up that I made must be attributed to my mother.  As I have made clear, I cook for just my wife and I.  This recipe makes a 13×9 baking sheet of lasagna, which is more than enough for even a large family.  If I made that much, we would end up throwing half of it away before we ever finished it.  So, I had talked to my parents and mentioned that I was making the recipe and my mom mentioned that she had already tried it.  She spoke highly of the dish, but also mentioned that she was able to successfully divide all of the ingredients in to two 8×8 pans and froze on lasagna for another day.  So that is what I decided to do.  If you are cooking for more, just make the recipe as described below.  If cooking for 2-3, make the dish into two pans, and each layer will use only 2 noodles.

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Classic Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound pork Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 15 oz package ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 egg
  • 12 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the sausage, and break up. Cook until no longer pink.
  3. Add the milk and simmer until mostly evaporated.  Stir in both cans of tomato and simmer until everything has blended together nicely and the flavors have melded.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, basil, egg and salt and pepper.
  5. LAYERING: spread a little bit of the sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Top three noodles with about 3 tablespoons each of the ricotta mixture and layer in the pan.  Top with about a cup and a half of the sauce then sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the layering 2 more times.  For the final layer, place 3 noodles over the top (no ricotta this time).  Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella, and a little bit of Parmesan.
  6. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil.  Bake covered for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for about 25 more minutes until the cheese is browned and sauce is bubbling.  Let stand for about 10 minutes so the lasagna can set.  Serve and enjoy.

This recipe comes from “Pasta Revolution” from the people at America’s Test Kitchen

Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Bread: You won’t be able to wait until dinner is ready

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So if I have one true weakness that could stop me from saving the world, it would be garlic bread.  Really any bread would do it but I have a special place in my heart for buttery white bread with garlic, herbs, and often Parmesan cheese.  I think that it is genetic because my mother is afflicted with the same issue.  Both of us would often be willing to pass on dessert entirely if it meant another piece or two of the bread that came with dinner.

Yesterday, Sunday, turned into quite the adventure as I made three different things (all of which you will see over the next three days) as well as purchasing and decorating our Christmas tree, and doing some cleaning.  I made a lasagna so I could not resist the opportunity to make a bread to go along with it.  I didn’t really feel like trying to make a yeast dough and go through all of the extra steps involved in making it, because I wanted to make a mash up of two pull apart/ monkey bread recipes that I found while perusing Foodgawker, so I decided to use frozen white rolls from the store to make things easier.

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Using those rolls was the first part of my cut up, The recipe that I used for the seasoning and flavoring used refrigerated biscuits, and that just didn’t sound good to me.  So I used a second recipe to get the method for using frozen dinner rolls as the medium.  The seasoning couldn’t have been easier and simpler.  Garlic, butter, Italian seasoning, and plenty of Parmesan cheese is the holy quartet when it comes to bread.  Also, doing a pull apart bread makes it easy to share with your special someone and keeps it easy.

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Maybe the most amazing part is seeing the half filled bundt pan you put into the oven magically come out filled to the brim with a perfectly baked pull apart bread just waiting to be devoured.  If you just want to try and make the bread and don’t have plans for a meal to serve it with, this recipe could be a great entertaining appetizer.  Just serve with a warm marinara sauce and dip to enjoy all by itself.

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Garlic Parmesan Pull Apart Bread

  • 24 frozen dinner rolls, thawed
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  While preheating melt the butter in the bundt pan in the oven
  2. Break each roll into two pieces and place in a bowl.  Add the Parmesan, seasoning, and garlic and stir.  When the butter is melted, carefully remove the pan from the oven.  Rotate the pan around, coating the interior in butter, then pour the remaining butter over the rolls and stir again.
  3. Place about half of the roll pieces into the bundt pan and sprinkle some of the cheese mixture in the bottom of the bowl over the rolls in the pan.  Repeat with the rest of the rolls going into the pan and then sprinkling the rest of the cheese mixture.
  4. Bake in the bundt pan for 30 minutes.  Remove and let cool slightly in the pan.  Turn out onto a serving plate and enjoy.

Mushroom Risotto: A dish with an intimidating history

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I will never forget the first time that I ever tried a risotto.  I was studying abroad and we were on a class trip to the coast of Greece (rough, I know).  We spent most of the afternoon indulging in all of the fabulous Greek scenery and also taking advantage of some of the differences between laws in Europe and the United States just as any other under 21 college student would.  We stopped into a small ocean side restaurant to enjoy some dinner and I chose to try the risotto.  It was the most amazing experience.  I never knew that a dish made from rice could be so rich and creamy.  I have been craving it ever since.

The other thing that I have always felt about risotto is that no home cook, let alone an average home cook with no actual training, could possibly accomplish this dish.  I guess I felt this way because I used to watch “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsey on TV all the time.  The one thing that seemed to be the downfall of every cook on that show was their inability to properly prepare the risotto when stuck on the appetizer station in the kitchen.  So I always assumed that my hankering for risotto would go ignored until I came across it in a restaurant.

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A couple of weeks ago I tried a recipe for a stuffed pepper that claimed that the filling was risotto.  I decided to try it because I figured if the risotto failed, I could cook some rice, add the appropriate flavor-ants and rescue the dish.  What I discovered however is that not only is risotto actually quite simple to make, but that it actually only takes ONE PAN, which if you have a terrible dishwasher like we do, means you are much obliged to have fewer dishes to wash.

I found a recipe for a mushroom risotto online and decided I would try my hand once again.  After staring preparation I realized that the recipe wasn’t really what I wanted but the method was there, so for the first time, I am claiming at least a little bit of originality in the recipe.  So the cut up today is almost everything.

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Mushroom Risotto

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 stalk minced celery
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups short-grain rice
  • up to 5 cups chicken stock (I only needed 3, but this fluctuates)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat
  2. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is tender.  Add the parsley, celery, and mushrooms and cook over medium-low heat until the mushrooms are soft and the celery is tender.
  3. Add the milk to the skillet and stir in the rice.  Simmer and add the stock, about a cup at a time and stir in until the stock is absorbed.  Continue to add doses of stock until the rice is cooked.
  4. When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the Parmesan.  Serve hot.

Smoky Brussels Sprouts: A tasty indoor preparation of an outdoor recipe

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I must apologize for not posting yesterday.  I worked a 9am-6pm shift at work and all i wanted to do was come home and sit mindlessly.  While I made no commitment to post every day, it is my goal to and thus I will need to adjust to posting after a full day’s work.

Today’s cut up is inspired by a couple of different things.  First of all, I wanted to try a recipe out of a particular cookbook.  As I mentioned before, Alton Brown, of Food Network fame, is really my cooking idol.  I have 4 of his cookbooks, all three “Good Eats” volumes as well as “I’m Just Here for the Food.”  I must admit that I have failed to appropriately utilize these books and I wanted to do so.  I realized while making the macaroni and cheese from my last post that I needed a vegetable to accompany it.  We had some Brussels sprouts in the fridge and decided to look up the section in his “Good Eats” books where he prepares them and try my hand.  Unfortunately,  upon finding the chapter I realized there were two options: a simple recipe that uses no flavor-ants whatsoever (which we usually do, just salt and oil), or a grilled application.  This reminded me of the second thing that I wanted to cut up.  I love just about everything prepared on the grill outside.  And while I love the cold wet weather, I don’t like the forced indoor cooking.  So I decided that my attempt at a cut up would be to use his grilled recipe but adjust the cooking method for indoors.  This meant finding a vessel that could provide sustained, high-heat and good direct contact.  The answer: our new cast iron skillet.

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After determining the method, and locating the few spices necessary, the rest was quite simple.  The dry mustard offered a nice note that pulled the mac n cheese and the Brussels together.  The paprika gave a nice smoky finish to each Brussel and best of all it was like a Southern Summer cookout, all indoors.

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Smoky Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat
  2. Trim the stem off of each sprout and microwave, uncovered, in a bowl for three minutes
  3. Add the oil, salt, pepper, mustard and paprika and toss to coat
  4. Cook in the skillet, stirring regularly, until the sprouts are cooked through.  This took about 7 minutes for me but it could take up to 10 depending on the size of the sprouts you are using
  5. Serve warm, tossing in a little more oil in the same bowl if necessary

This recipe was adapted from “Good Eats, Volume 3” by Alton brown