April 17, 2010

    Bye Bye Blogger

    Wordpress and I have had our ups and downs, but I have to say every time I stray from it I invariably return. While Blogger has the ability to edit my CSS and templates as a free customer, Wordpress has room to grow. So I urge those following me on here to check out the new home (and new name!) of this blog over at:

    The focus, as always, will be on good wholesome food that everyone can do with minimal effort, and often with minimal time. I'm still tweaking the layout and information over there, but the recipes are up for all currently.

    April 9, 2010

    Food Revolution Friday

    I don't think there are many in the United States who have not heard of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution program on ABC at this point.  The issue at hand?  How we as a society are killing our children with what we are feeding them.  It's a cause that hits me particularly close to home as a mother of a toddler, and as a foodie.

    I'll be the first to admit, we ate a great deal of processed, boxed and frozen foods in my house when I was growing up.  It wasn't that my mother couldn't cook, (on the contrary!) but that she was a single parent working long hours to keep a roof over our heads and didn't have hours to slave over pans in the kitchen.  I was never big on fruit, and to this day I struggle to include enough vegetables in my family's diet.

    While interviewing the head chef at my chosen culinary school about job prospects upon graduation, he mentioned the possibility of a corporate chef at a large food manufacturer. I tried not to let the despair the idea of working for a place like that caused me cross my face. I was once a truck driver, and I've been to these food manufacturers and been appalled.  Many times the smells emanating from outside were not even close to delicious...especially once you look at the nutrition facts on the side of a box. 

    Food should be about whole ingredients whenever possible, love, sharing and great flavor.  My 16 month old daughter already has a wider palate than many adults I know.  I do not always spend hours in the kitchen - on the contrary for with a toddler demanding most of my time meals have to be thought out and made in the minimum time possible.  It's not more expensive to eat well, I promise.  I buy whole ingredients, capitalizing on coupons and sales as well as the bulk section of my local health store grocers and ethnic markets.  I eat in season when possible - sure, sometimes you crave strawberries in February, but I try to keep to the growing season as much as possible - and shop my local farmer's markets to minimize transit time on vegetables and fruits.  (I also hauled produce, and the severe under-ripe nature of how things are picked to survive transit and a wait period in the stores would amaze most people).  I've eliminated most products in my house that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup - and that includes the bread we buy!  My $20 used bread machine takes all the labor out of making a lovely whole wheat bread.

    I challenge you on this Food Revolution Friday to examine what you eat and feed your families.  Really take a look at it.  I challenge you to make one small change in your habits.  Maybe it's eating one vegetarian meal a week.  Maybe it's cooking one meal, no matter how simple, in your home instead of eating out.  Maybe it's replacing one boxed item with something made from scratch (for example, I make bechamel sauces for casseroles rather than using condensed "cream of..." soups).

    Please, go visit Jamie Oliver's website and join in the Revolution.  The link is in my sidebar....go on, it's ok.  You can come back to me when you're done!

    April 7, 2010

    Tofu and Black Bean Tacos

    Tacos - there's not an American household that I know of who doesn't eat tacos on occasion. We love them in my house, but for a while I went vegetarian to force myself to find new and creative ways of incorporating vegetables into our mainly "meat and potato" diet. I found that after a week or so, I absolutely *loved* being a vegetarian, and this simple dish was a fantastic, healthy way to keep my beloved tacos in my diet. You won't miss the grease one bit! Each taco is light yet filling, and the flavor is wonderfully well rounded. Even my carnivore husband, who only reluctantly went mostly vegetarian with me, requested these stay in the meal rotation.

    I'm going to attempt to show the frugality of some of these meals, when possible. For instance, I purchase nearly all of the items from this dish at Whole Foods Market - which truth be told has never been known for it's low prices.** However, spices are pennies for what's needed in the bulk section, the tofu I buy their house brand (365) for $1.79 a block, beans are 365 brand (salt free) for $0.99 a can, tortillas I can make for pennies or buy a large stack for about $2-3, and lettuce and tomatoes vary with the season, but generally I don't pay more than a few dollars.

    (Image courtesy of Whole Foods Market)

  • 1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained (I also pressed mine)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 12 corn tortillas, warmed (if you're feeling adventurous and have a new tortilla press from the quesadillas, try making your own!)
  • 3 cups shredded green leaf lettuce (we used baby spinach)
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (we used Muir Glen’s fire roasted diced in a can)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

    • Put tofu, chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and salt into a bowl and mash together with a fork. Set aside.

      Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and two-thirds of the green onions and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tofu mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes. Add beans and remaining green onions, stir well and cook until beans are heated through, about 2 minutes more.

      Spoon tofu mixture into tortillas, top with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese and serve.

      Notes from the Kitchen:

      To press tofu if you are so inclined to get the extra water out of it (we prefer it for texture), place it on a folded kitchen towel with another towel on top. Place a plate or small baking pan (metal is best - I accidentally dropped a plate once and it shattered) on top with a book on top for weight. Leave until pressed to desired consistency. I generally press mine 30 minutes or so prior to starting dinner. Pressing tofu gets the last of the water out of it making it act like a sponge to any marinade you add, and it also firms the texture up. Freezing and thawing the tofu (just pop the package you get from the store right in the freezer!) prior to cooking it gives it an even firmer, more sponge like texture, and you can pretty much press it by hand then.

      Vegan folks could obviously not use cheese, or substitute for vegan soy or rice cheese. The verdict? We both like them BETTER than meat tacos – and we are a taco eating household, let me tell you. Not impressed? My husband has texture issues with both tofu AND beans…and he wanted seconds! This recipe will be a staple in our diet, that’s for sure.

      ** The key to shopping Whole Foods? BULK SECTIONS! You will save an amazing amount of money shopping the bulk sections of Whole Foods! I get all my grains, flours, spices, and dried legumes at Whole Foods and pay a fraction of what I would paying for plastic wrapped items even at the big box stores. The bonus? Almost all of what I'm getting cheaper is certified organic, and I'm not generating garbage that goes in the bin - plus saving the energy and petroleum that went into manufacturing that plastic. Bulk items in produce can also be very cost effective - watch for mushrooms, carrots, spinach, and any fruit that's currently in season. In Tulsa, the quality of the produce at Whole Foods can only be matched by the local Farmer's Market.

      Disclaimer - I am not being compensated by Whole Foods in any capacity at all, all information in here is solely my opinion.

      April 5, 2010

      Las Americas Supermercado and Roasted Poblano and Chicken Quesadillas

      I am an ethnic food junkie. I especially have a deep soft spot for Latin American cooking, and my few trips mere feet across the Texas border while stuck on a layover while driving a tractor trailer rig were always to partake of the local cuisine in the small cantinas along main roads in Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.

      Yesterday I finally decided it was time to explore one of the largest Mexican ethnic markets we have here in Tulsa, the Las Americas Supermercado on 3rd and Lewis. It was not quite what I expected at all! Most ethnic supermarkets we have here in town are small affairs with crowded shelves and laden with odd and dusty products often far past their "best by" dates. Las Americas was large - think the size of a typical American grocery store, and had the layout of any large bulk retailer (think Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale) down many of the aisles. Produce was scant and expensive, with the exception of the wide array of chile peppers, fresh cactus, and plantains. Dry goods didn't fair much better - I saw the majority of the brands were ones that I could find in other local chain stores here, often at a better discount. The gems that will keep me shopping at Las Americas? Spices. An entire wall of prepackaged spices, dried chillies, and other oddball herbs. I also scored a lovely little cast iron tortilla press so I can make my own tortillas from scratch. Even more than the spices, however, Las Americas offered a wide fresh meat counter with oddities you generally can't find at the local grocer. Want goat? Check. Bistec (a very thin cut of beef used in numerous dishes)? They have that too. Lots of chicken, pork and beef cuts that are not typical can be had for a good deal. Including offal, if you're so inclined. I did not partake of the meat counter, as there was a line seemingly a mile long (and the store itself is not terribly bilingual...bring your best Spanish to communicate! - signs and products are generally labeled in both English and Spanish)

      The only thing I didn't get, which was sadly my entire reason for going to the store, was a bottle of Mexican vanilla. Ah well, guess I'll have to check back in a few days once they restock after the Easter holiday.

      What's for Dinner?

      Quesadillas with Fire Roasted Poblano Chicken and Mushroom Filling

      This recipe I adapted from parts of some recipes I found from Rick Bayless.  Marinade is based off of his "Roadside Chicken" with some changes to adapt to what I had on hand.


      • 4 large poblano peppers
      • 1 lb chicken cut into thin strips (I used boneless, skinless thighs to keep the meat juicy and full flavored)
      • small handful of shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
      • 1 large white onion, sliced in 1/4" pieces
      • 1.5 tbs hot Mexican chile powder
      • 1 tsp oregano (Mexican preferred, but I use what I have)
      • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
      • 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
      • 1/4 c. lemon juice
      • 1 tsp salt (to taste before adding chicken)
      • big pinch of ground cloves
      • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1 block of Queso Quesadilla or other Mexican melting cheese, grated (sometimes found with the sausages, sometimes with cheese, sometimes in the specialty cheese. Look hard. In the US, the most common brand is Cacique)


      • 1 3/4c. "masa harina" mix (I found this quite cheap at Las Americas, but I've also seen it in local grocers and even the local Walmart in the Latin American aisle)
      • 1 c plus 2 tbs warm water
      • 1/2 tsp salt (I forgot this, however, and we did not miss it at all)

      Looks like this will take forever, right? It doesn't, I promise. And it only takes one pan! The only special equipment you'll need is a tortilla press. I picked mine up at the local ethinic market for $14 and it's solid cast iron that will last forever.

      Mix the marinade up (chile powder, oregano, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, cloves, and cinnamon) and coat the chicken strips throughly. Cover and set aside.

      Roast your chiles (open flame is best, but I have to use the broiler on my electric oven. It does work, but it takes MUCH longer and it's somewhat of a pain. If you have a handheld propane torch, those work great for peppers! Blacken the skin all over, then toss in a paper bag and close it up. When cooled, slide the skin off, and remove the stem and seeds.) I like to do large amounts if I'm going to be cooking with roasted poblanos for the next few days and just keep them in the fridge. Puree the peppers once de-seeded. (This is optional, but it helped the flavor get around the filling evenly)

      Fire up a large skillet over medium to medium high heat. (I go lower as my skillets on an electric stove are a killer because they hold heat too well). Once hot, add a drizzle of canola oil, and toss your mushrooms in. Cook until all the liquid is gone, stirring frequently so they don't burn. Remove from pan. Add a touch more oil, and add the onions. Cook until wonderfully carmelized, but still with a bit of crunch to them. Remove from pan.

      Add a touch more oil to the pan, and dump in the chicken and marinade. Cook, stirring frequently until most of the marinade reduces out and the chicken is cooked through. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook for just a minute or two to let the flavors combine. Pull off of the heat and set aside. Mix in the poblano puree.

      Mix the masa harina and water together until the dough comes together.  It'll have a cookie dough like structure to it, so add water as needed to achieve that if too dry.  Divide into 8 pieces, roll into balls and cover with a lightly damp towel to keep them from drying out.

      The following are directions directly from Rick Bayless:

      One by one, make the quesadillas:  Line a tortilla press with two pieces of plastic cut to fit the plates.  Gently press out a flattened ball of dough between the sheets of plastic into a 5-inch circle.  Peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the tortilla—uncovered side down—onto the fingers of one hand and gently peel off the second piece of plastic.  In one flowing movement, roll the tortilla off your hand and onto the preheated griddle or skillet.  
      After about 30 or 45 seconds, when the tortilla has released itself from the cooking surface, flip it.  Immediately spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center
      (top with about a tbs or so of the cheese, you'll get the hang of how much it can accommodate quickly!).  Fold the quesadilla in half over the filling after another 30 or 45 seconds.  Continue to cook, flipping the quesadilla ever 30 seconds or so, until it is richly browned in places and crispy-crunchy, 4 to 5 minutes—a little longer than you might expect.  As you fold each tortilla over the filling, move on to making the next quesadilla.  As they’re done, keep them warm on a baking sheet in the low oven. 
      As soon as you finish making the last quesadilla, serve them with guacamole or salsa.

      My 15 month old inhaled these, along with my husband and myself.  This recipe has made it into my permanent dinner rotation.  Who thought quesadillas could be so hearty?  The homemade tortillas take this to a whole new level - and this is from someone who never cared much for corn tortillas.  Make some fresh, you won't be disappointed and they are so easy!  The Mexican melting cheese has a very different texture (much creamier) than if you just used Monterey Jack or other American cheese...while you could substitute, it is worth using the real thing.

      April 3, 2010

      Empanadas and Halibut Ceviche

      My empanadas have almost become legendary for those I've made them for. They're the perfect little package of food - much like how the atrociously unhealthy Hot Pocket found it's rise to fame. The original recipe I found some years ago on the Everyday Food website. Or perhaps it was the blog. I'm really not sure. Over the years the recipe has evolved some, and while I don't always maintain records with what I've done different, it lends itself to many different changes. I've never had a bad batch of empanadas!

      I will say, this is a weekend meal - only because in making your own crust it is time consuming. However, these freeze amazingly once they are done, so I make large batches and freeze for weeknights when they only take a 30-40 minute trip through a hot oven to finish.

      I decided that it would also be a night to try something different, and made a batch of ceviche. Ceviche is a hispanic dish of fish "cooked" by marinating in lime or other citrus juice. There are hundreds of wildly different variations on ceviche, so I decided to go with a more classic Mexican version. Recipe on the bottom provided by Chef Rick Bayless on the Food and Wine website. The ceviche was wonderful, though for those who are not a fan of the texture of sashimi, it may take some getting used to because the fish never gets to the full firmness one expects when they heat it in a pan. I adored it, though my husband felt there was a little too much cilantro for his tastes.



      • 2lbs ground pork, beef, or turkey (I've also used 1 lb of meat and 1 can of salt-free black beans, drained and rinsed)
      • 2 jalepeno chilies, minced (I used four Serrano peppers I had frozen from last seasons' farmer's market)
      • 2 cans (14.5oz or one 28oz) diced tomatoes. Muir Glen Fire Roasted highly suggested
      • 1 c fresh cilantro, chopped
      • 2 medium onions, finely diced
      • 1/2 tsp chili powder
      • salt and pepper to taste

      Optional - I keep some salt free fajita seasoning in my spice mixes, and I'll often add a good bit to my empanada filling when the chili powder goes in. Season your filling to taste, don't be afraid to experiment here. I've found oregano, cumin, pepper, garlic and a little coriander all work well. Taste, taste, taste!!


      • 4 c all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting (for healthier empanadas, I use 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat flour)
      • 2 tsp salt
      • 1 c cold water
      • 2 tsp baking powder
      • 1/2 c (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
      • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbs water

      Make the filling: In a 12" skillet over medium high heat, cook meat completely until there is no pink. (5-7 min)

      Add jalepenos and onion, cook until soft, about 5 min. Stir in chili powder and tomatoes and cook over medium until mixture has thickened, 12-15 min. Season with salt, pepper, and other spices to taste. Fold in cilantro and let the mixture cool COMPLETELY.

      Make the dough: In a bowl, combine flour, baking power and salt. Using your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add just enough water so dough comes together (this may take a bit more if you're using wheat flour at all).

      Form empanadas. Roll out dough, cut into circles. I use a small plate or bowl as a template. Place some cooled filling on one half of the circle, dampen edge of dough with a touch of water and fold over and crimp.

      At this point, place on a cookie sheet and freeze if desired for 2 hours, then bag up for storage.

      To cook either fresh or frozen: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place on parchment lined (or silicone Silpat mat) cookie sheet. Brush with egg wash and bake until golden brown (30-40 min) rotate the sheets halfway for even browning.


      • 1 pound fresh, skinless snapper, bass, halibut, or other ocean fish fillets, cut into 1/2-inch dice
      • 1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
      • 1 medium white onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
      • 2 medium-large tomatoes (about 1 pound), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
      • Fresh hot green chiles (2 to 3 serranos or 1 to 2 jalapenos), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
      • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish
      • 1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives (manzanillos for a typical Mexican flavor)
      • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
      • Salt
      • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice or 1/2 teaspoon sugar
      • 1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
      • Tostadas, tortilla chips or saltine crackers, for serving

      In a 1 1/2-quart glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the fish, lime juice and onion. Use enough juice to cover the fish and allow it to float freely; too little juice means unevenly "cooked" fish. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until a cube of fish no longer looks raw when broken open. Drain in a colander.

      In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, green chiles, cilantro, olives and optional olive oil. Stir in the fish and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Add the orange juice or sugar. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Just before serving, gently stir in the diced avocado.

      Make Ahead
      Working ahead: The fish may be marinated a day in advance; after about 4 hours, when the fish is "cooked," drain it so that it won't become too tangy. For the freshest flavor, add the flavorings to the fish no more than a couple of hours before serving.

      Serving options: Place the ceviche in a large bowl and let people spoon it onto individual plates to eat with chips or saltines; spoon the ceviche into small bowls and serve tostadas, chips or saltines alongside; or pile the ceviche onto chips or tostadas and pass around for guests to consume on these edible little plates. Garnish the ceviche with cilantro leaves before serving.