Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cilantro Lime Dressing: Perfect for Summer Salads

It’s not often that I think: “I’m craving a salad.”

However, it’s been hot as heck out in Southern California, with temperatures in the high 90s and humidity that’s not supposed to happen here. My hair has been perpetually pinned to my head to keep the curls from taking over the world, and our air conditioner simply decided that life wasn’t worth living anymore.

On top of that, Matt’s decided to eat healthier. It’s something to see. A man who’s never eaten greens willingly is now grabbing fistfuls of spinach to snack on.

In light of all this, I’ve decided to share my favorite salad dressing recipe. It’s one I found for chopped Mexican salads, and has been a hit at all potlucks/dinners we’ve been invited to. It’s super easy to make, and super flavorful. 

At the end, I’ll show you what I add to mine in order to make a refreshing entrée salad.

Cilantro Lime Dressing

Ignore the apricot. It's just making a guest appearance

1 bunch of cilantro, washed 
1/2 cup of lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil -- I used an oil infused with blood orange, for extra citrusy flavor
2-3 tablespoons of honey, to taste
a dash of salt and pepper

  • Start by cleaning out your cilantro. Mine was already starting to wilt. I was worried about using this cilantro in salsas and such, but slightly wilty cilantro is just fine when you're about to mince it into oblivion. Once it's cleaned, toss it into your processor, bullet or blender. Give it a pulse. 
  • Add your lime juice to the cilantro, then pulse again.

Your dressing will be hyper green. This is acceptable.

  • Add the olive oil and let everything blend together. Finally, add your honey a tablespoon at a time, tasting with each addition. Season with salt and pepper, then one final blend to mix.

That's it. You take this, add it to everything, seriously. We had a friend over who put it on his chicken, even.

In order to make the best salad this summer, I've been putting cotija cheese, pinto beens, chicken, corn, bell peppers, and jalapeño peppers into my spinach, tossing it, and smothering it with my meal. Regardless of what you do, I'm sure this dressing will be a repeat at your place.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Basics: Pizza Crust to Build Flavors On!

I want to take a minute and apologize for not posting recently. I’m a teacher by trade, and with summer vacation comes the search for summer work, which then leads to my working over an hour away from home.

On top of working, my Mister and I have been trying to squeeze in small vacations here and there, enjoying a little bit of the summer.  With that impact on my time and schedule, it’s really hard to cook frequently, much less have time to post. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been missing you all. Really, I have.

So to make it up to all of you, I’m going to post a favorite staple at the Estrada home – pizza dough. This isn’t the first pizza dough I’ve put on this blog, but it is a rising crust recipe that can be developed and tailored to your preferences.

I like my dough simple, while Matt likes his with a stuffed crust and butter/garlic coating before he bakes it. Whatever your preference is, start with this basic recipe, and build it to your personal enjoyment. I hope you have a wonderful day!

Beautifully Basic Pizza Dough

1 packet dry yeast
1 cup warm water (it should feel warm enough to bathe in)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups flour

  • Pour your water into a medium sized bowl, then sprinkle the yeast onto the water.

  • Pour in the sugar and give the mixture a small stir. You’ll notice the yeast will start to bloom after a few minutes. Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, then add the salt.

  • Stir in one of the cups of flour, making sure the mixture is completely smooth. Add your remaining flour in small increments, until all of the flour is absorbed. 

  • If you are using a mixer, 6 minutes on medium speed with your dough hook should do it. If you are using your hands, wash them with cold water and knead for about 10 minutes, or until you do not feel lumps.

  • Roll your dough into a ball, cover with a clean towel and allow it to sit for 30-40 minutes in your warm kitchen.
Nice neat ball, before. 
Beautiful dough, nearly 40 minutes later.

  • Divide your dough into two even portions (each portion is enough for a medium-sized pizza). If you are going to only use one of the portions, tightly wrap one of the dough balls and place in the fridge. What you do use can be flattened into traditional pizza sizes at this point. 

  • Now it's time to build your pizza to your preference! Use your favorite toppings, sauces and crust ideas.

We made barbecue chicken pizza. It's SUPPOSED to be a dark sauce, I promise. 

  • Bake 450 degrees for 15-17 minutes, based on how crispy you want your crust.  (Note: If you have put a lot of toppings on your pizza, you will need to add time to your baking.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Easy Buttermilk Biscuits... from Scratch!

Biscuits are not unfamiliar at our home. They are one of Matt’s favorite breakfast dishes, especially when paired with sausage. I love biscuits with melted butter and raspberry jam, and can eat them by the plateful.

It’s hard to find a flaky, flavorful recipe for buttermilk biscuits that doesn’t involve a pre-made mix, or that doesn’t feel painfully excruciating and complicated. That’s why I love the recipe found in Mac and Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade.

These lovely cooks suggest not over-mixing your dough, which allows for a fluffier, lighter biscuit. I was skeptical at first, but after eating these beauties, I have a hard time believing I’ll try anything else. As a bonus, this biscuit recipe is deceptively simple, making them a perfect choice for brunch, breakfast and snack time.  Enjoy!

Easy Buttermilk Biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, plus melted butter for topping your biscuits
1 cup buttermilk

  •  Preheat your oven to 450°F. Grab a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. 

  • Mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. 

  • Cut your butter into small chunks or pats, and slowly incorporate the cold butter into your flour. Use your pastry cutter to blend (if you’ve got a mixer, use your paddle attachment on a low speed). Your batter will be coarse. 

  • Add your buttermilk and mix your batter until the ingredients are barely mixed together.

  • Turn your dough out onto a floured surface, and pat it into a thick round, about an inch thick.

  • Take a cookie cutter and cut rounds of dough (about 2-inches in diameter). Place them onto your lined baking sheet, and brush them with melted butter. 

  • Bake for about 10 minutes, or until your tops are a nice, golden brown. Allow them to cool, and then enjoy them by the bunches.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fancy Dinner Night: Stuffed Pasta Shells

Every once in a while, I get a wild hair to cook a ‘fancy’ meal. I love the idea of having an elaborate, multiple course meal that Matt and I can dine on while wearing cocktail attire.

But let’s be real; fine dining attire is not going to happen around here. I’m excited when we eat a meal at our table. However, I still try to make a fanciful meal that could be served at a fine dining event, and eat it while watching TV while wearing my pajamas. Don’t judge me; I’m perfectly fine pretending that I’m super fancy.

This stuffed shells recipe looks beautiful, but doesn’t require a lot of work. The only thing to watch for is salt – I found it very easy to over-season the cheese/meat mixture in the stuffed shells. To achieve ultimate flavor, slowly mix seasonings a tablespoon at a time, then taste. Add the eggs at the end, once everything tastes the way you like.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.   

Super Stuffed Pasta Shells

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (18 to 20 shells)
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 pound ground beef
1 ½ cups fresh spinach, chopped
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
Pepper to taste
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon oregano, dried
½ teaspoon thyme, dried
Red tomato sauce of your choice

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish with 1 teaspoon of cooking oil.
  • Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta shells, and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally with a long-handled spoon to prevent the shells from sticking together. Drain and rinse under cold running water.

  • In a medium skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and stir them as they cook. Continue until they are very soft, which will take approximately 6 to 7 minutes. 

  • Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until cooked and browned. Add the spinach then stir the mixture. Allow the mixture to wilt, which will take about for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

  • In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Add the meat and spinach mixture, dried herbs, remaining salt, the basil, oregano, and pepper, and stir to combine thoroughly. Taste the mixture, and if it’s to taste, add the eggs.

  •  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the spinach-ricotta filling into each cooked pasta shell. Place the filled shells in the prepared dish.

  • Pour the tomato sauce over the filled shells and top with the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is bubbly, about 20 minutes. 

  • Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

  • Sneak seconds and hope your husband doesn't catch you. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chorizo Potatoes (Chorizo con Papas): An Easy Alternative to Everyday Potatoes

Is there anything better than potatoes? These lovely, starchy vegetables are great for every meal, and I intend to eat them with every meal (Much to my mother’s chagrin. I do what I want, MOM.).  

This morning, Matt was hungry for sausage and toast, and I had already started to make pancakes. We only had enough sausage for 1 person, and since I was already going to make potatoes, I decided to go with a more Mexican route, inspired by this recipe.

Chorizo potatoes aren’t just for breakfast. They can be eaten with refried beans, cheddar, and sour cream and be wolfed down for lunch. They can be served with carne asada and nopales. They can be eaten late at night when no one is looking. Regardless to when the urge hits, you can eat this spicy, savory and simply delicious meal at any time, knowing that it’s not particularly expensive or difficult to make. Enjoy!

Chorizo Potatoes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
10 ounces Mexican pork chorizo (This is soft sausage, and will goop out of its casing)
1/4 small onion, diced
1 pound potatoes of your preference, cut into small (1/4-inch) dice, and boiled
Black pepper
Cajun seasoning

  • Put your diced potatoes into a pot with enough water to cover them, and boil for about 6-8 minutes. You want the potatoes to almost be barely cooked, and still have a bite. This will keep them from dissolving when you’re cooking them with the chorizo. Drain, then set aside.

  • Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook, breaking up the clumps, until almost dry and crisp, about 10 minutes. Chorizo is oily, so don’t be surprised if you have pockets of oil in the corners. That’s ok. It’ll keep the potatoes from sticking.
  • In the pan you cooked your chorizo, add the onions and boiled potatoes. Stir occasionally, and allow them to brown, which will take about 12 minutes.

  • Stir in the cooked chorizo onto the mixture, blending well and covering all of the potatoes evenly. Season with the salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning to taste.
  •  Enjoy with your favorite meal, like I did here with a fried egg, cheddar and pancakes. MM.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fabulously Fluffy French Toast

Happy Father’s Day to all those Papas out there! I hope you’re being spoiled with love, affection, gifts and great food today.

While my husband and I aren’t having children any time soon, that does not mean that we can’t eat in celebratory style today. For me, that means making something fluffy, sweet and filling. While pancakes typically play a huge part in our breakfast repertoire, I wanted something a little different. Why not French toast?

My grandma used to make French toast for her grandkids practically every time that we slept over. Not that we complained; hers was the best French toast, beating out our mothers’ attempts.

Now, I’m happy to have found a recipe that marries her sweet recipe with something that you’d expect to find at a restaurant. I hope you enjoy!

Fabulously Fluffy French Toast

 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
 1 cup milk
 1 pinch salt
 3 eggs
 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or a scant ¼ teaspoon allspice)
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 1 tablespoon white sugar
 12 thick slices bread
butter or butter spread, for cooking

  • Measure flour into a large mixing bowl that is deep enough to dredge your bread in. Slowly whisk in the milk. 

  • Whisk in the salt, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract and sugar until smooth.

  • Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat. While it gets to the right temperature, soak your bread slices in the mixture until saturated. You may need to flip the bread once in order to soak it completely.

  •  Cook bread on each side until golden brown with a pat of butter or cooking oil. 
  • Serve hot.

Don't forget to add your favorite toppings, like butter, syrup, fruit and powdered sugar!