Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Olive Oil--What's the difference?

Extra Virgin olive oil versus light olive oil? What's the difference?

I don't know about you, but I've always wondered what the difference is between all the different olive oils. I thought I'd do some research.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the purest type of olive oil you can find. When the olive is pressed, oil comes out and if the olive was of the highest quality it will be pure olive oil, making extra virgin olive oil.

However, if the olives aren't good quality, then the oil that comes out of the pressed olive has to be refined further, which results in a lighter color. This starts the progression through the different types of olive oils and why the variation in the colors.

They are both healthy and have basically the same attributes since they are both derived from olives but the extra virgin olive oil contains a better color and flavor that is most suitable to dressings and the lighter olive oils are better suited for cooking at high heats.

So in synopsis.....
"Extra" means more money but a better quality. Always use this type for dressings.

"Light" means less money so you can save a little bit of money by using this type of olive oil to cook with.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beef Stroganoff

This is one of my go-to meals-- when I'm not sure what to make... or I don't have a lot of time....this is a meal that is on the list of easy to make that everyone in the family will enjoy. So we typically have it about once a month. It's a staple for us, like spaghetti. It's like a beef stroganoff, but we never called it that growing up. We always had other macaroni/pasta names for it because the beef stroganoff we normally eat looks much different.
It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and it is something that I almost always have the ingredients for in the pantry/freezer.

Here is a picture of all the ingredients that you'll need:

Here's the recipe:

{{Easy Beef Stroganoff}}

(printer friendly version)

Pasta, your choice (macaroni noodles, egg noodles, cooked to package directions)

1 lb. ground beef (or ground turkey)

salt & pepper to taste

1/2 large onion, diced

1 can cream of mushroom soup

3/4 cup milk

1 1/2 Tablespoon Worchestershire Sauce

First I start a pot of water boiling, with salt added. When the water boils, add the noodles. Brown the meat in a separate large skillet over medium-high heat and season it with the salt and pepper. After the meat has started cooking, add the diced onion. When the meat has cooked through, (take care not to overcook the meat), add the can of cream of mushroom soup, milk and worchestershire sauce. Wisk the ingredients together over medium heat and then heat to a simmer. When the noodles are done, drain off the water and pour the noodles into the sauce. Mix together and serve.

This is what the sauce looks like after everything has been mixed in and it is waiting for the noodles.

I typically serve it up with some green beans or other vegetable on the side.

Corn on the Cob Cooking Tips

With fall coming on in full swing... harvesting all those fruits and vegetables from the garden come as well. Plus fruit and vegetable stands are popping up everywhere with bountiful baskets of food to chose from.

Corn on the cob... a sure sign of fall.... Sometimes the ears aren't as sweet as we want them to be.

A surefire way to get the sweetest corn on the cob? Add some salt to the water when it is boiling. Well duh... I think everyone does that, but if you also add some sugar to your water, every cob of corn becomes even sweeter.

Fill a pot full of water and add the salt and sugar to the water. While the water comes to a boil, shuck the corn (remove the husks) and run them under cold water to remove any stubborn silk that wants to hold on. When the water is boiling, carefully add the cobs into the water. Cover the pot with a lid and let the corn boil for about 6-10 minutes (less if you want your corn more crunchy). Remove the corn from the boiling water with tongs and dress it up the way you like it best. I love rolling it in some butter and adding a small amount of salt and pepper.

Of course... there are other ways to cook corn on the cob. You can grill it, steam it or even microwave unshucked corn for 2-3 minutes.

Here's a recipe for tasty grilled corn on the cob:

{{Tasty BBQ Corn On The Cob}}

(printer friendly version)

1/2 cup butter, softened
cayenne pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch onion powder
salt & pepper to taste
6 ears corn, husked and cleaned

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium to high heat and lightly oil grate. In a medium bowl, combine cayenne pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, onion powder, salt and pepper. Add the softened butter and mix well. Apply this mixture to each ear of corn and then place each ear into a piece of aluminum foil, big enough to wrap up the corn. Wrap like a burrito and twist the ends to close. Grill over medium high heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the corn is tender when poked with a fork.

Enjoy the end of season's bounty...

Also here is a yummy Fresh Corn Casserole... a great way to use up corn on the cob in a new way.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cake Batter Ice Cream

{{Cake Batter Ice Cream}}

(printer friendly version)

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (40% milkfat content)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake mix, sifted (I used Betty Crocker White Cake Mix)

Whisk the whole milk, heavy cream, & sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the vanilla and sifted cake mix (sifted to avoid lumps). Pour mixture into the freezer bowl and churn as directed by your ice cream machine. Remove ice cream from freezer bowl and place into a freezer proof container and freeze for 8-10 hours.

Here are the ingredients I used to make this ice cream. Make sure you use a good quality ingredients in order to achieve the best quality ice cream. Specifically, make sure you have a fresh heavy cream with about 40% milkfat content. I used the Darigold Heavy Whipping Cream (which we bought this time at Cost-co) and it made the best homemade ice cream we've ever had.

This is the ice cream maker that we have. We've had it for over 10 years and every summer when we bust it out to use... we are happy that it continues to work. It is loud, but it works very well. One day we'll upgrade to another ice cream making machine.... but for now... we will keep kickin' it old schoool!It was yummy right out of the freezer bowl... you can tell it is a bit soft, but it had great flavor.

The night when we made it, we added some fresh strawberries to the top and it was like eating soft serve ice cream. It was thick and creamy, but not stiff like hard ice cream. My kids compared it to ice cream shops, which is great. That's always a nice compliment. They really liked it and were asking for seconds.
The next day, after the ice cream had been in the freezer for about 10 hours... it scooped out of the container like this.... and eventhough the recipe doesn't contain any eggs, it was extremely creamy and smooth.

I swear it was ice cream like you would get out of a Dreyer's container or even from Coldstone Creamery. It was YUMMY!!!

Zucchini Lettuce Wraps

Zucchini Mexicali... A dish that I started making a few years ago, after my mom found it and I think it is AMAZING! It uses so many veggies and of course it uses zucchini (it should since it has zucchini in the name), which is a crop that is very plentiful this time of year.

Click here for the recipe to make this easy and very healthy dish.

I've been making this dish quite a few times already this summer and while the kids typically eat it wrapped up in a tortilla like a taco/burrito, I prefer eating it wrapped up in lettuce leaves.
And sometimes I will add some shredded cheese on top. And that is all! These could be used as an appetizer too... I will eat a bunch of them for lunch and I love it! Plus you can make this dish without any meat so it is completely made of vegetables. YUM!

Green Bean Side Dish

Here is a delicious side dish using green beans, tomatoes, onions and bacon! Mmmm.. bacon.

{{Green Bean Side Dish}}

(printer friendly version)

1/2 pound bacon
1/2 onion, diced
2 15 oz. cans green beans, drained
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
black pepper, to taste

Cut the half pound bacon into strip and then crisp in a frying pan. After the bacon has become crispy, drain on a paper towel. Leaving a small amount of grease in the pan, saute the diced onion. Then add back the cooked bacon, drained green beans, and the can of diced tomatoes. Heat through and season with some black pepper, to your tastes. Serve on the side of your main dish.

Here is a fantastic way to get nicely diced up bacon. I store my bacon in the freezer since we don't use it that often, plus you can use some of it and return it to the freezer without having to cook the whole pack of bacon.

Place the frozen bacon on a cutting board. Using a sharp chef's knife, slice the bacon into 1/4-1/2 inch strips, depending on how big you want the bacon pieces to be. Place the knife on the bacon and firmly press down using the base of your palm You have to apply steady and firm pressure to get through the frozen bacon.

The recipe only calls for a 1/2 pound of bacon, so I chopped off half of it and the other half can go back into the freezer. To make it easier to cut through, you can let it sit out for a few minutes, but you don't want the bacon to thaw completely because it doesn't cut as easily.

Place the cut strips of bacon directly into the frying pan and cook over medium heat.
As the bacon cooks, it will separate and you will have the small pieces of bacon. Fry it up crispy...And then drain the bacon on a paper towel until ready to use.

Open the cans, while the onion is sauteing in the frying pan. Drain the green beans but not the tomatoes.

Dump the bacon, beans and tomatoes back into the frying pan with the sauteed onions. Season with some black pepper, stir everything together and heat through.
Serve on the side with your lunch or dinner entree. Delicious!

Tips for nicely and neatly dicing an onion... click here.

Other convenient ways to cook bacon... click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chicken and Rice Soup

Mmmm... Fall is here! I am so excited! While the weather has cooled off a bit, it is still pretty hot outside during the day. However the evenings do cool off... not to a point that soup is fully warranted, but it was still fun to make one of my favorite soup recipes.

Typically I make this soup on the stove top, but since it is still pretty hot during the day, I decided to try making it in the crock pot. And it turned out wonderfully!
Here's the recipe...

{{Chicken & Rice Soup}}
(printer friendly version)

1 Rotisserie Chicken, already cooked (from Cost-co or other grocery store)
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 large onion, diced (can substitute ~2 Tablespoons dried minced onion)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon crushed garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
1 bay leaf
1 cup minute rice
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen mixed veggies (any variety, I typically use corn, peas, beans & carrots)
Maggi Seasoning, for flavor and seasoning after

Place cooked rotisserie chicken in a pot. Add water until chicken is just barely covered. Add chopped celery, diced onion, sea salt, black pepper, crushed garlic, oregano, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then cover and allow to cook on medium heat for about an hour or two. This is the step that is making the yummy broth that is going to be the base for the soup. Remove chicken from the pot and let it sit out on a cutting board. Let the chicken cool so that you can remove the chicken from the bones. Add chicken back to the pot, plus 1 cup minute rice, and the bag of frozen mixed veggies. Cook on high for another 10-15 minutes until the rice and veggies are soft and tender. Serve with Maggi seasoning (described below) and some yummy rolls with butter!

**Crock Pot Method: Place cooked chicken into the crock pot. Cover chicken with water and add chopped celery, diced onion, sea salt, black pepper, crushed garlic, oregano, and bay leaf. Cover crock pot and cook high for about 4-6 hours. Remove chicken from the crock pot and let sit out on a cutting board. Let the chicken cool so that you can remove the chicken from the bones. Add chicken back to the crock pot, plus 1 cup minute rice, and the bag of frozen mixed veggies. Cook on high for another 30-45 minutes until the rice and veggies are soft and tender. Serve with Maggi seasoning and some yummy rolls and butter!

***I like using the Cost-co Rotisserie chickens because they tend to be a lot bigger than most grocery store chickens and they have more meat on them. Sometimes we will eat some of the rotisserie chicken for sandwiches and then use the rest of the meat, the chicken bones and an extra chicken breast to make the soup. The flavor of the rotisserie chicken is amazing and adds some great dimension to this soup. So even if you eat ALL the chicken off of the bones, you can still use the chicken bones to add flavor to the soup, and then cook some chicken breasts for the soup.

***This is also a great soup to make using left over turkey after THANKSGIVING! (It's only a two months away!) Turkey changes the flavor of the soup a bit, so it's like a whole new recipe!

Chop your celery right off the bunch and then rinse the pieces in a colander, then dump the celery into the pot.

Click here to see a great way to dice your onion.

Here is a picture of the frozen mixed veggies that I normally use. I didn't have this mixture so I used some frozen corn & frozen peas instead. This part is completely adjustable. Pick veggies that you like and add those to your soup.

Mmmmm... It is a wonderful soup just like this... And only one more thing can make it better.

And that one more thing is this... Maggi! We enjoy this seasoning on hard boiled eggs, celery and radishes among other things, including this chicken & rice soup. It is a liquid seasoning and you can sprinkle a few dashes into your bowl of soup to add even more fun flavor. Most people probably don't have this, but you can find it at the grocery store... sometimes by soy sauces and sometimes by Asian foods.... just ask where it might be stored at your local grocery store.... and try it. It has a strong flavor so a little goes a long way.

These are just the frozen Rhodes rolls... defrosted and then baked! LOVE these things! They are so easy and so yummy when you don't have time to make rolls from scratch!
Mmmm... love cold winter just for all of the wonderful soup recipes I get to make again!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Colored Glue Art Project

Here's a quick project that I put together after I saw a similar project here at CraftKnife. She used acrylic paint to tint her school glue, however I just chose to use the food coloring in my kitchen to tint the glue into paint.
I used red, blue, yellow and green and dropped about 10 drops of each food coloring into the bottle.

Then using a bamboo skewer stick, I helped stir the color in. The bottle of glue was entirely full and I think it would have helped if the bottle was not as full.

After stirring it, I had the kids shake the bottles. The glue was colored but it didn't fully look like it at first. We opened the bottle and started drawing. At first it came out white and then it changed colors and stayed that way.

After playing with the bottles for a while, the bottles mixed in completely.
Mission accomplished. 4 bottles of school glue at 25 cents each (gotta love back to school shopping). A couple of drops of food coloring... and happy kids.... PRICELESS!

Here are some of their pictures. They did a great job and had lots of fun doing it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Asian Salad

I start drooling again everytime I look at these pictures.... This salad is so yummy! This salad started from an idea from my fabulous friend and it is delicious! There are quite a few ingredients in this salad... understand, it is not hard to prepare, but it just takes some time to chop and prepare. It is a great salad to serve at a party too! You can put all of the fruits and vegetables and toppings into separate bowls and let everyone create a salad bar so that all the guests can create a salad to their liking. You can include as many or as few of the ingredients listed, but for the full taste and complexity of flavor, you kinda have to add all of the parts... at least once!

It is really yummy.... There is crunchy and sweet and salty flavors... it is fabulous! Let me say it again... I think you should try it at least once.

Here's a close up of the salad.... Mmmmmm.... Ready? Let's get to the ingredients...

Fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried...

Leafy romaine lettuce... Wash the lettuce first and let it drip dry. I should have taken pictures of a great way to cut up romaine lettuce in order to get nice bite size pieces.... let me try to explain it... Using your chef's knife, hold the lettuce at the base (on the left side). Starting at the base, slice up the leaves of the lettuce (parallel to the leaves... like if you are holding the lettuce like the picture, you would slice from left to right). Rotate the lettuce a half turn, and slice up again. Then starting at the top of the head of lettuce (on the right side of the picture) chop up the lettuce, until you have finished chopping the entire head and have reached the base.

To fully diversify the flavor of the salad.... use a nice crisp iceberg lettuce as well... all chopped up into bite size pieces.

Add green (not pictured) and red cabbage... prepared the same way.
First slice a chunk off of the main head of cabbage, and then thinly slice it using your chef's knife.
Finally, chunk the cabbage up into about one inch pieces.

Chopped celery... I like to chop off the celery directly from the bunch...

Then wash the chopped celery in a colander and let it dry before adding it to the salad.

Mmmm... Green onions... great flavor for any salad. Wash the green onions... dry them off.
Then chop them into small bits.

I like to put the spinach, leafy romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, red & green cabbage, celery, and green onions into one big salad bowl so that there are fewer sides. But you can put everything into individual bowls. Of course this will depend on how many bowls or how much room you have to lay it all out. All the colors together are wonderful when you put it in a bowl together.

These are things that I typically leave on the side...

Jicama... I love jicama (pronounced hick-uh-muh)! It is a watery, sweet, root vegetable with a tremendous crispy crunch. It is fabulous. You can find them at the grocery store in the produce section. You want to pick a firm, medium sized jicama that has dry roots. You don't want it to be soft or with wet spots because that is an indication of rot. It keeps very nicely in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It is a great source of vitamin c and it is fat free. TIP: You can eat these jicama sticks along with your carrots and celery sticks. A GREAT SNACK!

First peel the jicama root with a peeler or with a knife.
Then slice it into 1/4 inch slices...
Turn it the other direction and slice it again... creating these long skinny sticks of wonderful jicama goodness. Put these into a bowl to be added to the salad when you are compiling your plate full of salad.

Bean sprouts... Buy them in bulk in the produce section. Wash them off and put into a bowl.

Fresh oranges, cut up.

First cut off the top and bottom of the orange. Take the peel off. (either pull off the peel or cut if off with a knife)Separate the slices, but leave them slightly together to make it easier to cut them. Slice them into small chunks and put into a bowl. A nice sharp serrated knife works really well for the oranges so they don't become mushy and they hold their shape.

I LOOOOOVE avocado and I think it always make a salad or a sandwich taste better and they are incredibly good for you! These are Hass avocados... To find a good avocado you want to feel it to make sure that is firm, but tender. I know it sounds like a contradictory thing, but you want it to be firm all over, with a slight soft feeling but not mushy. Sometimes at the grocery store you will find very firm avocados, but they will ripen up quickly on the counter (or you can put them into a brown paper bag).

Once you have found the perfect avocado, you take a knife and slice it around the middle of the avocado and then pull the two halves apart. Take the seed out by stabbing a knife into the seed and twisting it out.
Then slice the avocado into squares. Slice it up one direction and then again in the opposite direction so that it looks like this. (Sometimes I like to sprinkle salt and pepper on the avocado at this stage and eat it right out of the skin with a spoon!)
Using a spoon, scoop out this green goodness.
This avocado is a very soft and ripe avocado, so the squares are a little bit mushy, but it has great flavor. Put the avocado directly onto individual salads, or into a bowl for self-service. Okay... we are almost done... just hold on, it will be well worth the time it takes to cut everything up.

Crushed peanuts... Salty and crunchy... they add immense dimension to the salad. I use Dry Roasted Peanuts, lightly salted.
A great way to cut up peanuts is to turn your large chef's knife onto the side and press it down on top of the peanuts.
Move the knife around until all the peanuts have been crushed into pieces. If you need to, you can turn the knife to its sharp edge and finish chopping up any large pieces. Put these into a bowl with a spoon for serving.

A terrific crunchy piece of this salad are the crunchy won ton strips. Buy some won ton wrappers at the grocery store (found in the refrigerator section- normally by cheese and dairy type stuff). Pull out a stack of won ton wrappers and cut them into about half inch strips.
Heat up a small amount of oil in the bottom of skillet over medium heat. Fry a few of the won ton strips at a time. You'll have to do them in batches, depending on how big your pan is and how much oil you use. Keep them moving around so they don't get overdone.

After they turn a golden brown, transfer them to a paper towel to drain the oil off and if you want you can sprinkle a tiny amount fine sea salt on top of them. These will be the final piece of the salad puzzle, other than the dressings. (I know you are probably wondering if it will ever end. It will!)

Peanut Sauce... you can either buy a pre-made peanut sauce in the Asian section at the grocery store.... or make this yummy peanut sauce. My friend Gina gave me this recipe and it has become a staple in my recipe box... one that I will treasure forever! It has to be remembered! It is fantastic for pizza and dipping and salads and lettuce wraps and many more things. I like to make a batch and keep it in a bottle in my refrigerator so it is easily accessible. You can pour this dressing onto your salad cold or warm it up a bit.
{{Thai Peanut Sauce}}

(printer friendly version)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

6 tablespoons soy sauce

6 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 -1 teaspoon lime juice

Combine all the ingredients into a heavy saucepan and cook over medium to low heat until fully combined. About 10 minutes. Serve on salad cold or warm. Use as a dipping sauce for veggies. Use to top lettuce wraps. Use as the sauce for a Thai Chicken Pizza

Drizzle this delicious peanut sauce onto the salad.

Finally... the dressing. This is just a purchased dressing that is fantastic and has the perfect flavor for this salad. Kraft Light Asian Toasted Sesame dressing.

The only other thing that I didn't put on this salad, that you will see on the ingredient list is chicken. My husband likes to have protein in his dinners, so if I am making this for a family dinner dish, then I make sure to include chicken. I've used canned chicken, or I've marinated some chicken in the Asian Toasted Sesame dressing and then grilled or baked it, then you can slice it up and put it on the salad. I love it when the meat is slightly warmed up. I like having the contrast between the cool, crisp vegetables and then the warm yummy chicken.

{{Asian Salad}}

(printer friendly version)

Fresh Spinach leaves

Chopped up iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce

Red Cabbage, thinly sliced

Green Cabbage, thinly sliced

Fresh oranges, peeled and cut up

Avocado, cut up

Green onions, chopped

Celery, chopped

Carrot, grated

Peanuts, crushed

Bean Sprouts

Jicama, thin strips

Cooked Chicken

Kraft Light Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing

Peanut Sauce (Pandkok KaDang… recommended type)… RECIPE for Gina’s Peanut Sauce (above)

Won Ton Strips (egg roll wrappers cut into strips, fried and lightly salted)

Mix all chopped ingredients together or put them all on the side for people to create their own salad. Add dressing and a small amount of Peanut sauce. Sprinkle with some fried won ton strips and serve immediately.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this salad as much as we do.


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