Friday, November 9, 2012

Tex Mex Pico de Gallo, Salsa Fresca, and Restaurant Style Salsa

This is not my photo, I found it on the interwebs,
but this IS what my salsa looks like... I apologize up front for the
lack of photos in this post--I was not expecting to make this a post yet...
I'll replace this photo with a gorgeous shot of mine flanked by blue
corn chips one day... but not today.

 In Texas, pico/salsa/guacamole isn't just for football season or game-watching parties, these items are almost a daily food staple (at least in my house).  Dinner isn't ready yet?  Break out the chips and salsa.  You haven't the faintest idea what to cook for dinner?  Break out the chips and salsa and snack until you do.  Guests randomly show up at your house because that totally happens in Texas (friends are awesome!)?  Break out the chips and salsa.  

If you still don't get it, we don't need to have a reason to eat salsa.  We just eat it.  Period.  And, it's delicious and actually good for you (especially the spicier you make it)!  Sure, salsa is better for you if you dip veggies in it or use it as a salad dressing, but a few organic blue corn chips can't be that bad, right?!

Now, back to the task at hand... why I made salsa instead of bought it from the grocery store because that's ten times quicker and we live in an instant-gratification type society.  I made it because I despise jar salsa for many reasons--and the reason I will give you today is the amount of preservatives you subject your body to by eating jarred/canned salsa.  Also, fresh salsa just tastes so much better, people!

Before I get into my actual recipes (because I'm giving you three recipes for the price of one; you're welcome), I'll give you a salsa education really quick!  Pico de gallo (pico for short), Salsa fresca, and Restaurant-style salsa are all slightly different.  Pico and Salsa fresca are practically the same thing, but here in Texas, pico is quite a bit chunkier than salsa fresca.  

The picture at the beginning of the post is what I consider salsa fresca because you can see bits of onion, garlic, tomato, cilantro, and jalapenos, but it's combined enough that you couldn't really separate the entire bowl into ingredients, whereas with pico, because the chunks are large enough, you could easily pull out all the onions, tomatoes, cilantro, etc.  Restaurant-style salsa is completely different in that it is cooked, so the tomatoes become slightly stewed.  With restaurant-style salsa, it's hard to tell where the tomato stops and the onion begins, and usually the only thing you can pick out of the salsa would be the jalapeno seeds and maybe a little cilantro.

Yes, there will be a test.  I'll show you 12 pictures and you will need to be able to decide whether I am showing you pico de gallo, salsa fresca, or restaurant-style salsa.  Not really.  There will be no test.

Here is what my salsa fresca and restaurant-style salsa looked like last night, after I put them in jars.  Sorry I don't have any other pictures (maybe I'll go back and add pictures later after I make it again).  I wasn't expecting to put this recipe up so soon, but I had a sizable request from Facebook!  :)

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the salsa fresca has a slightly chunkier
consistency and a pink, frothy tint from the food processing of the tomato.
Here's a quick shot of the seasonings I used for the restaurant-style salsa.
I wanted to point out the SMOKED paprika and the chipotle chili powder.

Heather's Homemade Pico de Gallo, Salsa Fresca, 
and Restaurant-Style Salsa

Fresh Ingredients
-  6-8              Roma Tomatoes, sliced
-  1 med.         Yellow Onion, chopped (yellow is sweeter and has more flavor than white onions)
-  4-6 cloves    Garlic, peeled and chopped
-  2 med.         Jalapenos, chopped but not de-seeded
-  1 large         Lime, juiced (don't use bottled juice, people)
-  To Taste      Cilantro  (I tend to use about 1/3 of the bunch)

-  2-3 tsp.       Sea Salt
-  1-2 tsp.       Granulated Sugar (to taste, sprinkling)
-  To Taste      Smoked Paprika (I use between 1/8 and a 1/4 tsp.)
-  To Taste      Garlic Powder (I use between 1/2 and a full tsp.)
-  To Taste      Onion Powder (I use between 1/2 and a full tsp.)

Extra Ingredients (Restaurant-style Salsa)
-  To Taste      Chipotle Chili Powder (I use between 1/8 and a 1/4 tsp.)
-  To Taste      Ground Cumin (I use between 1/8 and a 1/4 tsp.)

Pico de Gallo
-  Combine the fresh ingredients in a bowl
-  Sprinkle with Salt and Sugar and mix well
-  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving (overnight is better)

Salsa Fresca
-  Place all fresh ingredients (minus the lime juice) in a food processor and process until pink and frothy
-  Place salsa in bowl and mix in the lime juice, salt, sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder
-  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving (overnight is better)

Restaurant-Style Salsa
-  Use the first two steps from the salsa fresca directions, but instead of refrigerating, place contents into a saucepan and stir in the chipotle chili powder and cumin
-  Heat over medium heat until the salsa begins to boil, stirring often
-  Reduce heat to medium-low and let the salsa simmer for at least 5-10 minutes--this will allow some of the liquid to cook off, the heat from the chili powder and jalapenos to release, and turn the tomatoes from pink and frothy to deep red
-  Remove from heat and let cool
-  You can serve this type of salsa warm, at room temperature, or chilled depending on personal taste

NOTES:  Homemade salsa can keep in a refrigerator for up to a week as long as it is stored in a glass container with a lid.  I don't suggest storing salsa in plastic or metal--I was told not to by someone once, so I don't.  Don't ask me why, though, because I have no clue.  I just keep my salsa in a glass bowl or in jars if I will be traveling with them.

BONUS RECIPE!  Did you know that guacamole is just smashed up avocados and salsa?  Essentially, anyway.  So, to turn your salsa fresca or restaurant-style salsa into delicious guacamole, just follow the directions above, then pour some of your salsa into a bowl of smashed avocados (2-4 avocados, pitted, scooped out, and mashed with a fork), and TA DA! Homemade guacamole.  You're welcome!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ginger-Doodles: The Best Cookie EVAR!

Your new favorite holiday cookie--You're welcome!

Happy October, and sorry for being away from my blog for so long!  

The fall is always a busy time in our house between weekend trips to Lubbock for Texas Tech football games and camping trips to game-watching parties and dancing at the state fair and other festivals, so I don't usually have much time to devote to cooking much less blogging... 

BUT this past weekend, I made cookies for a game-watching party and they were such a big hit that instead of sending the recipe to 10+ people, I decided to grace y'all with my presence, tell y'all I'm not dead, apologize for my absence, and provide y'all with a great holiday cookie recipe so y'all wouldn't hate me (too much).  :)  I'm pretty sure that sentence is a complete run-on, but I'm over it and I hope you are too because this recipe is so good, you'll forget all about that run-on sentence.

Because I wasn't actually intending to make this recipe into a blog post (yet) because I really didn't have time to clean my kitchen and place all of my ingredients in adorable little bowls and photograph each step, all I have is a shot of the finished product.  Hopefully, at some point, I'll make these cookies again and will have time to take photos and update this blog post before the holidays are over, but I won't make any promises!  :)

So, without further ado, today's recipe is a little something I made up to accommodate the hubby's love for gingersnaps and my love for snickerdoodles.  I took a family friend's gingersnap recipe and altered it, and to my surprise, it actually works out really well... so well in fact, people ask for these cookies all the time.

(Awesome Are You Afraid of the Dark reference for your Halloween enjoyment coming up below:)

Submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call these cookies.... 

Heather's Ginger-Doodles

-  1 1/2 cups  Shortening
-  1 cup          Granulated Sugar
-  1 cup          Light Brown Sugar
-  2 large        Eggs, slightly beaten
-  To Taste     Vanilla (I use approximately 3-4 tsp)
-  1/2 tsp        Salt
-  3 tsp           Cinnamon
-  2 tsp           Ginger
-  4 tsp           Baking Soda
-  1/3 cup       Molasses
-  4 cups         All Purpose Flour
-  Extra          Cinnamon and Sugar (for rolling)

-  In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on "Stir" (or the lowest setting), cream together the shortening and sugar until combined (about 3-5 minutes)
-  Still on the "Stir" setting, add in the slightly beaten eggs and vanilla, and increase the speed slightly and mix until combined
-  Combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt, and sift together into a bowl or large (4 cup or more) measuring cup
-  With the mixer back on "Stir", slowly add in a little of the flour mixture
-  Once the small amount of the flour mixture is combined, add in a little of the molasses
-  Repeat with the flour mixture and then with the molasses until both are completely combined into the batter
-  Once everything is combined, give the batter a good stir, cover, and place in refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3 hours)
-  When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and mix together in a shallow bowl or dish some granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon (for rolling the cookies in)
-  Take out your batter and roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls, drop them in the cinnamon sugar and coat, and place the sugar-coated dough balls on the baking sheet
-  Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or just until the cookies begin to "crack" on top
-  Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let the cookies rest on the hot sheet for a few minutes before removing to cool on a wire cooling rack

-  This is a great cookie recipe to use a stand mixer with.  Thanks to the flour and molasses, this dough becomes very stiff and can be extremely tiring to attempt without a mixer.  I am not a big fan of hand mixers, but if that's all you have, that would be better than mixing by hand.  Not to say that you can't make this recipe without some kind of mixer; it's just a whole heck-of-a-lot easier with one.
-  This is one cookie you DO NOT want to over bake.  Because of the molasses, this cookie has a tendency to become a crunchy cookie, so if you want to keep it soft like a snickerdoodle, you will want to under-bake it in the over and let it "finish baking" on the cookie sheet after you take it out.  I tend to make the 8-minute mark the absolutely longest I will leave the cookie in, personally.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Baked Mac-n-Cheese

This meal was tested on animals... and they LOVED it!

My household (cats included) is a huge fan of the blue box.  I remember our first couple of years of marriage included Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at least a couple of times a month, not because I couldn't cook (because I totally can), but because my hubby and I just love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The chemicals, the unpronounceable ingredients... what's not to love?!

Well, in an attempt to move our meals from boxed, chemical-riddled concoctions to more whole foods, I started looking for recipes to replace our beloved blue box, but every single "homemade" macaroni and cheese recipe I found online started with a base of Velveeta.  Now, I'm not knocking Velveeta here but don't claim to be homemade macaroni and cheese when you melt a stick of Velveeta and call it homemade cheese sauce.  That's as much homemade as me pouring milk into a bowl with the packet of "cheese" from the blue box and calling that homemade.  *Steps Down From Soapbox*

Just wanted to throw in another photo for good measure! 

Anywho... When I started following a lower carb, higher protein diet, my pharmacist recommended a book called "The Belly Fat Cure" by Jorge Cruise.  In his book, Mr. Cruise offers hundreds of lower carb, healthier recipes for some of our absolute favorite carb heavy, chemically processed foods including macaroni and cheese.  I used that mac-n-cheese recipe as the base for mine and adapted it to suit my personal tastes.  Also, I included some gluten-free alternatives so my gluten-allergy affected friends and family can also try out this recipe!

Sorry in advance for the lack of photos for this post.  This macaroni and cheese recipe requires both hands during the entire process, so I didn't get many photos this time, but I promise to have the hubby help me next time so I can add in some photos at a later date, but I at least wanted to get the recipe up for y'all to view!

Here is the mac-n-cheese right after I pulled it out of the oven! Yummy!

So... without further ado, here is my version of homemade mac-n-cheese!  I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you did to make this recipe your own!

Baked Mac-n-Cheese
Adapted from The Belly Fat Cure

-  1 bag           Whole Wheat or Gluten Free Pasta (12-16 oz. bag is typical)

Cheese Sauce:
-  1 1/2 cups    Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
-  1 cup            Grated Colby Jack Cheese
-  1/2 cup         Grated Mozzarella Cheese
-  6 tbsp.          Unsalted Butter
-  3-4 cloves      Fresh Garlic, minced
-  2 cups           Heavy Whipping Cream
-  3 tbsp.          Whole Wheat Unbleached All Purpose Flour (or Rice Flour for the Gluten-Free version)
-  To Taste       Seasonings including: Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, 
                       MSG-free Season Salt

-  4 tbsp.          Unsalted Butter, melted
-  4 tbsp.          Whole Wheat Panko (or Gluten Free Bread Crumbs)
-  1/2 cup ea.   Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese and Mozzarella Cheese
-  1/2 cup         Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese
-  To Taste       Seasonings including Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder

-  Cook pasta according to the direction on the bag.
-  Once the pasta has cooked, drain it, but reserve approximately 1 cup of the pasta water in case you need to thin the cheese sauce.
-  Set aside.

Cheese Sauce:
-  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and grease a glass casserole dish (9" x 13" or 11" x 17" dish will work just fine).
-  Over medium heat, melt butter in a medium sauce pan, and throw in the minced garlic.
-  Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, and whisk continuously for a few minutes.
-  Whisk in the heavy whipping cream, and bring to a soft boil.
-  Once the mixture has begun to boil, turn down to medium low heat and continue whisking for a few more minutes (2-3 minutes) until the mixture begins to thicken.
-  Slowly add in the various grated cheeses until completely combined.
-  Remove from heat and continue to stir.  Should the sauce feel too thick, feel free to thin it slightly by adding the reserved pasta water a little bit at a time until your desired thickness has been reached.
-  Mix the cheese sauce with the drained pasta, and transfer to a baking dish.
-  Cover the mac-n-cheese with the topping (directions to follow), and bake uncovered for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

-  Melt the butter in the microwave.
-  While the butter is melting, combine in a bowl: panko, cheeses, and seasonings.
-  Once the butter has melted, remove it from the microwave and add it to the panko mixture.
-  Mix together with your hands until everything is combined, then sprinkle over top the mac-n-cheese.

-  Tradition calls for using elbow macaroni as the pasta, but I like to shake things up and use different pastas like farfalle, penne, or bow tie pasta.  Feel free to use whatever pasta you would like!
-  Following the directions as is will yield a gorgeous casserole style side dish, perfect for barbeques, weekday dinners, or special occasions, but you can mix in your favorite meat to create a full casserole-style dinner.  My hubby and I personally like to mix in my slow cooker shredded chicken to make a spicy Mexican-style Mac-n-Cheese, but ground turkey or ground beef would also be a perfect mix-in.  To make this a full meal, you will want to mix in your hot, cooked meat of choice in at the same time you mix the pasta in with the cheese sauce that way everything gets a nice coating of cheesy goodness.