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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken for Tex Mex Dishes

Street Cart Tacos with Cilantro Lime Rice and Charro Beans

It's okay to be jealous.  I ate everything on that plate last night and fell asleep in a completely blissful Tex Mex coma, and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.  You, too, can have such an amazing dinner on a week night, after work, with about 10 minutes of prep time the night before (or the morning of), and 30 minutes of cooking time when you get home from work (to make your sides and heat up your tortillas because the chicken was finished before you got home), but it will appear to your husband or guests that you took the day off and slaved over a hot stove for 10-12 hours just for them.  And, you can let them believe that, totally.  I won't tell.  Go for it!  ;o)

I developed this recipe from one I found on Pinterest.  I basically took a "cilantro lime shredded chicken" recipe and changed it up a bit not only to suit my own Tex Mex loving tastes, but because taco seasoning packets are not only terrible for you (picture ingesting the stuff that comes in your shoes that you take out and throw away because the little packets tell you not to ingest), but they are pretty much as far from "authentic" Tex Mex as you can get.  It's like eating canned salsa from New York City.  New York City?  Yeah, that's right.  I went there.  Don't get me wrong.  I've had great "Tex Mex" as far north as Idaho, but there is still a difference between what other states refer to as "Tex Mex" and what Texas refers to as Tex Mex.  I'm not "doggin'" your state "brah", I'm just letting you know that my definition of Tex Mex refers to what San Antonio and south Texas calls Tex Mex.  There are even some Tex Mex places here in the DFW area that don't live up to my "Tex Mex Snob" standards.

Side note: I also find that most Pinterest recipes don't ever have enough garlic, so my rule of thumb, unless the recipe calls for 10 cloves of garlic because the writer of that blog also shares my obsession with garlic, I tend to double or triple the garlic content, and for this particular recipe I was basing mine off of, which had ZERO cloves of garlic (I know, right?! I about passed out when I saw that!), I immediately made a mental note to pretty much throw in an entire bulb.

So, back to the task at hand: getting awesome San Antonio Tex Mex flavor regardless of where you are in the world.  

Every good Tex Mex dish starts with a well-seasoned meat.  Once you have a well-seasoned meat, you can create anything from street cart tacos to natchos, quesadillas, and enchiladas.  The combinations are endless at that point.  But, it's important to note that the fresher your ingredients, the better-seasoned and flavorful your end product will be.

For this dish, you will need chicken, fresh salsa, fresh pico, fresh cilantro and garlic, a lime or two, and a handful of seasonings.  I do not condone the use of canned salsa in my home (unless we're having a large group of people over and I don't have time to make any or the market is out of their own fresh salsa) because I personally find fresh salsa to be way more mind-blowingly good than the mass-produced stuff, whether it's produced in San Antonio or Seattle, Washington.  Plus, fresh salsa is super easy to make.  Remind me again in a month or so and I'll create a post dedicated to the art of salsa-making because there are so many different combinations and styles you can make.  

Everything you need to make shredded chicken in a slow cooker!

But, with all that said, if you have to buy a canned salsa because you either don't want to or know how to make fresh salsa or because your market doesn't make salsa, make sure to choose a canned salsa that you know and love.  You can even change the flavor of this chicken depending on the style of salsa you choose: salsa fresca (uncooked, just pureed) is going to taste completely different than a fresh or canned fire-roasted salsa.

As for pico, if your market doesn't carry fresh pico de gallo, find a new market.  Kidding!  I know markets carrying fresh salsa, pico, and guacamole are often hard to find once you find yourself out of the south or southwest.  Pico is super easy to make yourself--just grab a large, yellow onion, a couple tomatoes, a couple jalapeno peppers, a handful of cilantro, and a little lime juice; mix it all together, and there you have it!  Bonus!  Two "recipes" for the price of one!

Once you have all of your ingredients ready, layer it all in the slow cooker.  By the way: to make this recipe as is, you will need to break out the large slow cooker, not the one you use to make appetizers and dips.  You will need the, "I'm cooking for 12 people" slow cooker.

Here is my slow cooker completely packed with yummy goodness!

Once everything is layered and ready, you can either put a lid on it and store it overnight in the refrigerator (which is what I do because I cannot sleep through the night when deliciousness is cooking in the slow cooker), or if you are putting this together in the morning, you can go ahead and throw it into the slow cooker and start the 10 hour cooking process.

After those devilishly-long 10 hours are over, you can shred the chicken with two forks or a fork and a set of tongs.  After the meat is finished cooking and it's been shredded, the rest is up to you!  

You can simply throw this chicken into a bowl, sprinkle some cheese on top and attack it with tortilla chips (which is what I did to "taste" it yesterday).  You can throw the chicken into doubled-up corn tortillas, add your favorite toppings, and have tacos.  You can put it in flour tortillas, sprinkle with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese and have your own "Taco Tuesday" (for all my Rosa's Tortilla Factory-loving friends out there).  You can use this chicken as the base for enchiladas.  You can mix in cooked rice and stuff bell peppers with the chicken, sprinkle with cheese and bake them for stuffed peppers.  You can place it between two flour tortillas with cheese and make a quesadilla.  

If you haven't figured it out yet, you can pretty much make any kind of Tex Mex chicken dish with this pot of goodness.  If you have any questions though regarding what would be good or not so good to make with this recipe, feel free to ask it in the comments, and I'll be happy to steer you one way or another!

The finished product! Drooling yet?

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken (for Tex Mex dishes)

 -  1 pkg.         Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
 -  1 pkg.         Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
 -  24 oz.         Fresh Salsa
 -  8 oz.           Fresh Pico de Gallo
 -  1 med.        Lime, juiced
 -  ½ cup         Fresh Cilantro, chopped
 -  4-6 cloves   Fresh Garlic, chopped
 -  3 lg. tsp.     Garlic Powder
 -  3 lg. tsp.     Onion Powder
 -  2 lg. tsp.     Chili Powder
 -  1 lg. tsp.     Ground Cumin
 -  1 lg. tsp.     Cayenne Pepper
 -  To Taste     Cracked Black Pepper (no need to add salt to this recipe)


      -  In a bowl, mix together garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, fresh cracked black pepper, and fresh chopped garlic cloves.  
      Note: for these seasonings, you can use as much as you like.  Because I don't like Cumin and Chili Powder and much as I like Garlic and Onion, I toned those two back, but you can use as much as 3 full teaspoons of each seasoning.  Also, when I say "large teaspoon", I mean heaping, not a leveled-off teaspoon.  We're not measuring baking soda for cookies here, we're making stewed chicken.  :)
      -  Place some pico on the bottom of the slow cooker.
      -  Place the chicken breast on top of the pico in a single row and cover with some more pico, salsa, and seasonings mixture.    
      -  Layer the thighs on top, and cover with the rest of the pico, salsa, and seasonings mixture.
      -  Add the fresh cilantro and lime juice on top, cover, and cook on low for 10 hours.
      -  Once the ten hours is up, take the lid off and shred the chicken with two forks.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Pasta

My Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Pasta
(inspired by my many years at Outback Steakhouse)

I think it was my extreme desire to please that lead me to apply at Outback Steakhouse when I was 15 years old. Well... that, and the food. Outback was one of those places that my family went to on special occasions, and though I often ate delicious steaks and sweet potatoes, every once-in-a-while, I would throw tradition out the window and get a pasta.

Back in the day, the two main pasta dishes at Outback Steakhouse were the Chicken and Shrimp Pasta, which was basically Outback's version of Fettuccine Alfredo, and then, there was their Cajun-inspired, spicy Toowoomba Pasta (my dad's and hubby's favorite) made with Shrimp and Crawfish in a spicy, slightly "tomato-ish" cream sauce.

I absolutely hated the Toowooba Pasta, not because I grew up playing with crawfish and keeping them as pets (which I totally did), but because I absolutely despised spicy food. Thankfully though, and much to the hubby's surprise, my aversion to spicy food is slowly disappearing with every shake of the cayenne pepper bottle and every slice of jalapeno jack cheese.

Anyway, back to the task at hand... Essentially, this recipe is loosely based on the Toowoomba Pasta, and the only thing this recipe has in common with Outback's other pasta dish is the fact that I add chicken to my recipe because chicken is cheap and easy to get a hold of year-round. I absolutely love crawfish and will include them in this recipe when available, but usually, I just use chicken and shrimp.

Let me warn you before I begin explaining my steps—this recipe does take a bit of time, and it probably took me a good four or five tries to get it down to a science, taking this recipe from 60-90 minutes of prep/cooking time down to 30 minutes, but you have my promise that if you love rich, creamy, ridiculously spicy, and totally fattening pasta, you will not be let down!

Here's everything you need minus the pasta,
plus a shot of my "electronic" cookbook

I divide this recipe into four groups: the sauce, the "add-ins", the meat, and the pasta. Separating the nearly 20 ingredients makes it easier for me to prepare this complex dish.

First things first, the sauce base

First thing I do, to prepare for the cooking of the sauce, is grab all of my sauce ingredients: cream, butter, ketchup (bear with me, I promise it's worth it), garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. I mix all of the seasonings together, dump the ketchup on top, and lay the mixture, cream, and butter aside. I make the sauce last because you have to really give it all of your attention. You don't want to ruin your sauce because you thought the onions were burning.

Then, I cut up the green onions and place them aside; cut up the mini portobello mushrooms and lay them aside; and cut up the onion (or buy the pre-chopped onion, which is exactly what I do know because it saves at least 5 minutes of prep time and a few tears) and set aside.

At this point, I put on the pot of water for the pasta. I've used every type of pasta imaginable for this dish. I've made it with linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti, penne, fusilli (corkscrew), and bowtie pasta. The hubby prefers the penne, fusilli, and bowtie pastas over the long pastas, but I love this dish with long, thick fettuccine, personally. Follow the cooking instructions for your desired pasta.

Once everything is chopped and the water for the pasta is on the stove, I place the onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a skillet with some butter and Almond (or Grapeseed) Oil because it's better to cook with over medium high and high heat than olive oil—something about olive oil releasing all kinds of toxins when cooked with high heat, but don't quote me, I just read that somewhere.

Mmmm sauteed onion and mushroom

While, the onions, garlic, and mushrooms are caramelizing, I use this time to prepare the meat, which again can be any combination of chicken, shrimp, crawfish, and/or scallops. This particular time, I used just chicken and shrimp, but I am definitely splurging for the scallops next time. I think that would just be absolutely amazing!

Anywho, I de-tail/de-vein the shrimp then cut them into smaller pieces (or you can leave them whole; doesn't matter), and set them aside. Then, I take the chicken breasts and slice them up into smallish chunks for quick cooking, and mainly because once the food is prepared, I just want to shovel it in my mouth and not have to worry about cutting up the chicken, but as I mentioned with the shrimp, you can also cook the chicken breasts whole.

After my meat choices are sliced and ready, I finish up the onions/mushrooms and set them aside (they will be thrown into the meat later). Using the same skillet (because this helps infuse the flavor of the dish in the meats), I first saute the chicken with a little butter and Almond Oil until it's completely cooked. Once the chicken is cooked, I remove it from the heat and set aside.

Now, it's time for the seafood. I saute the seafood in the same skillet with more butter and Almond Oil, and once it's completely cooked, I go ahead and dump the chicken and onions/mushrooms into the skillet, turn off the heat, and set aside. You could cook the chicken and shrimp together, but I find that doing so makes everything taste like shrimp, and I enjoy the depth of flavor this dish has when each meat has its own unique flavor.

Chicken and Shrimp before adding the onions/mushrooms

Now that your pasta is nearly finished cooking and your meat is ready and set aside, it's time to make the sauce. First, you want to melt the butter. Once the butter is completely melted, let it sizzle for a minute before slowly adding the cream. Pour the cream slowly with one hand while whisking with the other, so that the butter and cream combine a little easier for you.

Sauce Preparation

Once the cream and butter have combined and began to show signs of simmering (about 3 minutes), scoop in all of your seasonings and ketchup. Continue whisking constantly to ensure the ketchup combines properly. Bring sauce to a boil, while whisking, and once it begins boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally so the ingredients stay combined.

As you can see, the sauce has a very orange tint to it with red specs

Once the sauce has been simmering for 5 minutes, turn off the heat, add in the freshly chopped green onion, and begin assembling your plates (pasta, then meat, then sauce, then cheese). I enjoy serving this spicy pasta dish with a crisp white wine like a Pinot Grigio or a "non-oaky" Chardonnay, but of course, it's just as delicious with a tall glass of sweet tea.

Finished product!

Heather's Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Pasta
Inspired by Outback Steakhouse's Toowoomba Pasta


- ½ cup Unsalted Butter (plus 2 tbsp)
- 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
- 1 ½ tbsp Ketchup
- 1 ½ tsp Paprika
- 1 ½ tsp Garlic Powder
- 1-3 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- To Taste Fresh Cracked Black Pepper and Salt

- ½ cup Green Onions, chopped
- ½ cup Baby Portobello Mushrooms, chopped
- 3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp Almond Oil
- 1 pat Unsalted Butter

- ½ lb Fresh Shrimp (rinsed in cold water, deveined, detailed)
- ½ lb Chicken (2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
- ½ lb Fresh Crawfish and/or Scallops (if available)
- 3 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
- 2 pats Unsalted Butter

Pasta and Finishes:
- 16 oz. Pasta of Choice
- Sprinkle Fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or Asiago Cheese


- Cook pasta as the directions state, and set aside.
- Cut green onions and set aside.
- Cut or food process mushrooms and sauté on low heat with fresh garlic, throw in some butter and cook until there are soft. Set aside.
- Cut up and cook the chicken in oil and a little butter and seasonings like fresh cracked black pepper and salt; and set aside.
- Cut up and cook the seafood in a little more oil and butter.
- Once the seafood is finished cooking, remove from heat and add the chicken, and sauteed veggies, and set aside.


- In large sauce pan, melt stick of butter over Medium Low heat (3-4 on dial).
- Once butter is melted, add in the heavy whipping cream, whisking continuously.
- Whisk in ketchup, paprika, garlic, onion powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.
- Bring sauce to a boil, whisking occasionally, then reduce down to simmer for 5 minutes, continue to whisk occasionally to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn and everything stays combined.
- Once the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, turn off heat, and dump in the green onions.

- On a plate (or in a bowl), place some pasta, then add the meat on top, cover with sauce, and sprinkle with a little cheese.
- Serve with a nice crisp glass of white wine or your favorite beverage.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Delicious Beef Stew perfect for Fall but who wants to wait?!
I do this every winter.  I dream of summer--of bathing suits, river trips, weekend boating, floating my cares away with a "pool noodle" and an ice cold beer.  But, as soon as the temperature hits close to 100 for the first time, I'm already wishing for Fall.  Pumpkins, Halloween, Crisp Cool Breezes, Scary Movies, "Fall Back" Time Change, Warm Stews, and Hot Spiced Wine!  See.  I'm doing it again.  The smells... the tastes... the fun of Fall!

To help get you in the Fall mood, I have for you a delicious stew recipe this week!  This is seriously one of my most favorite stews, which I found a while ago and modified from

This recipe calls for a lot of ingredients, and it could feed probably close to 10 people!  Instead of feeding tons of people, though, I just made it for me and the hubby and froze individual portions for quick, "there's nothing to eat" meals!

Without further ado, let's begin!  First, I gathered all of my ingredients together.

Lots of yummy ingredients... and yes I cheat a little.  I hate peeling potatoes!

Then, in a large plastic bag with flour, salt, pepper, and garlic, I tossed the stew meat, making sure to coat each piece.  While that was going on, I heated up a little oil in a skillet, so I could have somewhere to put all of this deliciously tasty stew meat.

I know, right?!  Looks super appetizing right now!

Once the meat was coated in flour, I browned the meat in the skillet and dumped it into the slow cooker with the carrots and potatoes.  At this point, you can also throw in any other seasonings you may want to include!  I just opt for garlic, and lots of it!  

Before the meat was added!

In a medium sauce pan, I heated up some water and beef stock.  Once it started to boil, I mixed in the dry onion soup mix and poured it over the meat and veggies.  And, in the same pan as I cooked the meat, I sauteed the onions until nice and caramelized.  

Of course, I added more garlic to the onions.  

Once the onions had softened, I dumped them into the slow cooker and used some wine to deglaze the pan, making sure to get all of the delicious crunchy bits of meat and onion up.  Then, I dumped that into the slow cooker as well, gave everything a good stir, and turned it on low.

Mmmmmmm deglazing pans with wine is fabulous!

After ten hours of cooking, the stew was perfect and ready to eat.  I ended up using a little extra flour to thicken up the stew 30 minutes before serving, but I'm sure it would be equally fabulous without the added flour.

That's right people.  I serve wine with my stew (and everything else)!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Adapted from

-  3 lbs. Beef Stew Meat, cubed
-  ¼ cup Flour
-  TT*   Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder
-  8 oz. Baby Carrots
-  4 large Russet Potatoes, washed, peeled, and cubed
-  2 cups Boiling Water
-  ½ cup Beef Stock
-  1 pkg Dry Onion Soup Mix
-  3 tbsp Butter
-  ½ cup Red Wine (3 Dreams Merlot or Chandon Pinot Munier)
-  3 large Sweet Yellow Onions, sliced
-  ¼ cup Water, warmed
-  2 tbsp Flour
-  TT*        Fresh Garlic (minimum 4 cloves, minced), Parsley, Thyme

* TT means To Taste
-  Combine ¼ cup flour with salt, pepper, and garlic powder
-  In large plastic baggie, place meat and flour mixture; close baggies and shake until all pieces are coated
-  Heat oil (grapeseed oil or almond oil work best) in a large skillet over medium high heat, and add stew meat and cook until evenly browned on all sides
-  Transfer browned meat to slow cooker and add in the carrots, potatoes, fresh garlic cloves, parsley, thyme, and any other herbs you would like
-  In a small pan, heat water and beef stock until boiling, then remove from heat and add the dry onion soup mix
-  Once the soup mix is combined, pour the mixture over the beef in the crock pot
-  In the same skillet that you browned the meat, melt the butter and sauté the onions until softened then spoon into the crock pot
-  Using the same skillet, heat on low heat the red wine to deglaze the pan, loosening the crispy bits, then pour into crock pot
-  Cover the crock pot and cook on Low for 10 hours
-  At this point, you can turn off the slow cooker and serve, or...
-  Optional Step 1: Once the meat is finished cooking, spoon a few tablespoons of the juice into a plastic shaker with the ¼ cup warm water, then add in the 2 tablespoons of flour and shake vigorously
-  Option Step 2:  Stir the shaker contents into the stew and cook uncovered for 15 minutes to thicken up the sauce

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin

Dottie Approved Meal

Life is crazy and crazy busy.  I don't have time to slave over a stove for 4 hours whipping up delicious meals every day.  I may get to do that once in a blue moon but not usually, which is why my CrockPot is my best friend in the kitchen.  With just 5 minutes of prep time and 4-6 hours of cooking, you have an amazing meal that will feed you and 7 of your closest friends (or feed you 8 times)!

Today's recipe is one that I adapted from  It takes a pork tenderloin, four or five other ingredients, and a little patience, but it's so worth it!

First, you'll want to gather your ingredients together (onion soup mix, fresh garlic, red wine, soy sauce, and spices).

There aren't going to be many photos because I actually
forgot to photograph until the very end...

Then, you dump everything into your slow cooker and cook on high for 4-6 hours or until the pork roast is to your liking!

Yeah, I know... it looks terrible, but I promise it's delicious!

Once the pork roast was finished cooking, I just sauteed up some green beans and threw in a bag of the Ore Ida Steam 'n Mash frozen potatoes and we were in business!

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin
Adapted from

-  3 lb. Pork Tenderloin
-  1 pkg. Onion Soup Mix
-  1 cup Water
-  4-6 cloves Fresh Garlic
-  1 cup Red Wine (I like 3 Dreams Merlot or Chandon Pinot Munier)
-  1-2 tbsp(s). Soy Sauce
-  To Taste:  Other spices* including Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, etc.
-  Optional:  2 tbsp. flour or cornstarch

*You don't need to add any more salt because the soy sauce will take care of the saltines for you!

-  Place the pork tenderloin in the slow cooker.
-  In a bowl, combine the soup mix, seasonings, garlic, water, and soy sauce.
-  Pour the mixture over the pork tenderloin, and cover with your lid.
-  Cook on high for 4-6 hours (depending on how you like your roast).
-  Once your roast is finished cooking, you can take it out and either cut it up or use two forks to shred the meat.

Note: Once your roast is out of the pot, you can either serve the juice as an au jus, or you can make a gravy by combining 2 tbsp. flour or cornstarch in a shaker with a few spoonfuls of the juice, shaking vigorously until the flour and juice have been combined, then pour the mixture into the pot and make sure the temperature is still set to high, stirring continuously so the flour doesn't separate.  After about 10 minutes, your juice will become slightly thicker and you can use it as a gravy over your meat and potatoes.

As I mentioned above, this recipe is great when served with a vegetable and a potato, but you can also use it as filling for pork sliders or roasted pork tacos.  The uses for this recipe are nearly limitless.  I used the leftovers to add to salad, which went very well with a balsamic vinegar dressing.

Also, another thing to note is make sure you use a good quality wine.  A $5 bottle of wine isn't going to do the trick.  You don't have to go all-out, but choose a wine that is moderately priced ($10-25) and you know to be good quality.  I actually like the flavor that the Merlot gives this recipe, even though I don't typically drink Merlot, but use a red wine that you enjoy!