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tacos final

When I graduated college I moved to San Diego with two of my best friends.  The plan was hatched late one night in my friend Callie’s kitchen.  Actually, Brooke and Callie had already come up with the brilliant scheme, and I was invited along that fateful evening.  My clever compadres decided on San Diego because it was voted one of the top places to live in the U.S., eeking ahead of Austin, TX by just a hair. 

Our main motivation for the move was that we didn’t want to be sitting in the carpool line years from then, kicking ourselves for never doing anything adventurous while we still had the chance.  Now that I’m in that carpool line, I’m grateful for my 22-year-old wisdom – particularly because San Diego introduced me to one of my favorite culinary achievements: the fish taco. 

Before this South-of-the-border sensation swept the nation, it was one of the best kept secrets of San Diego.  All across town restaurants would host Taco Tuesdays, where you could down these golden-fried gifts from the sea for just $1.  That’s right, $1.  (Well, at least when I was there.)  If you happen to visit the city, do yourself a favor and visit World Famous for their lobster tacos.  “Heavenly” is the only description I can muster.

Anyway, in the short 9 months I lived in California I learned to make a pretty mean fish taco (if I do say so myself).  Now that I’m living in landlocked Tennessee, I’ve turned it into a turkey taco.  That’s because Turbo has a strict rule against eating seafood when he’s not within walking distance to the ocean. 

To construct a proper taco, you need to start with pico de gallo, which is just one diced tomato…

diced tomato

half a diced onion (purple is better but white will do)…

diced onion

and a bouquet of cilantro.  I never measure, just use your best judgement. You can never have too much cilantro.

cilantro

Chop all of these ingredients and mix them together with juice from one-half lime and a dash of salt. 

pico de gallo

Yum.  Now let that sit while you brown the turkey meat…

taco meat

and make the cilantro lime mayo dressing.  Yes, the very same from the chicken sandwiches.  

I might have an addiction to cilantro.  Thinking about forming a support group if you’d like to join…

Cilantro lime mayo

Everything you put inside your taco is completely up to you, except for one ingredient: shredded cabbage.  If you don’t have any cilantro, make the white sauce out of mayo, lime and jalapenos (pickled or fresh).  Don’t feel like making pico?  Fine, leave it out.  But whatever you do, don’t scrimp on the cabbage.  You can buy a head for 99 cents and it will last almost forever.  Just ask Turbo, our fridge is like a science experiment. 

cabbage

As for other fillings, I use avocado (when I have it) and black beans.  You can use canned or make your own.

Now just zap some tortillas in the microwave for, say, 15 seconds or so, pile the aforementioned toppings sky-high and eat till your little heart’s content.  Take a lot of napkins to the table and, as the sauces drip down your arms, think of sunny California and smile…

Happy Friday!

Turkey Tacos (serves 2-4)

Pico de gallo

  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 8-10 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • Dash of salt

Fillings

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
  • 1 packet MSPI-friendly taco seasoning
  • Water
  • Shredded cabbage
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 can black beans (or 1 cup homemade)
  • 2 Tbsp mayo
  • 1 lime
  • 8-10 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
  • Dash of chili powder (optional)
  • Flour tortillas

Mix all ingredients for pico and set aside to rest.  Heat black beans over medium-low heat.  Brown turkey meat on medium heat.  When ready, drain fat and return to pan.  Add one packet of taco seasoning, fill empty packet with water and add to pan.  Stir and simmer until warmed through.

Slice head of cabbage into thin strips, about 1-2 cups for two people.  Make white sauce by combining mayo, lime, cilantro and chili powder (optional).  Slice avocado.

Heat tortillas in microwave for about 15 seconds.  Layer meat, beans, cabbage, white sauce, pico and avocado on top.

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chicken sandwiches final

Back in our younger years, my cooking made Turbo nervous. It wasn’t so much the end product as the process. See, he’s one of those naturals in the kitchen.  He never measures anything and, when he’s in the mood, can whip up a masterpiece from leftovers like MacGyver makes a bomb out of toothpicks and a stick of gum.  I, on the other hand, used to approach things a little different. 

As a newlywed, I would arbitrarily select recipes that looked pretty in magazines, usually Cooking Light, not noticing they had 40 ingredients and took 2 hours to make.  So after spending a small fortune at the grocery store on things like cardamom and ancho chili paste, I’d spend hours toiling in the kitchen.  There was generally a lot of cussing and even some tears.

I’ve come a long way in six years of marriage.  I’ve learned to improvise, accept imperfection and not sweat the small stuff.  Oh yeah, and I’m a much better cook. 

But this recipe came from the early days, in fact from the very pages of the aforementioned magazine.  Considering it was not only easy but delicious, it quickly earned a spot in our menu rotation with a few adjustments.  To date, it’s been made in our kitchen too many times to count.  I even had to outlaw it for a few months because I thought I might turn into a chicken sandwich. 

What’s kept this recipe so near and dear to our hearts is the cilantro.  We love this herb so much Turbo jokes he could eat it on his cereal.  We almost always have it on hand and I regularly use it as a substitute for parsley.  What can I say…I’ve really learned to walk on the wild side.

And the best part is it’s just five simple ingredients.  Grilled chicken, that’s been marinated in Italian dressing…

Grilled Chicken

Mayo, lime and cilantro that’s whipped into a mind-blowing dressing…

Cilantro lime mayo

And a toasty bun.  I prefer onion and Cobblestone Mill makes one that’s dairy-free.  But you can also do ciabatta, focaccia or just plain old hamburger buns.  Isn’t improvisation a beautiful thing?

Toasted Onion Bun

If you’ve got ’em, lettuce and tomato are also good additions.

And that’s all there is to it…simple, straightforward, wonderful.  Just like all the best things in life.

Chicken Sandwiches with cilantro lime mayo (serves 4)

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • Italian dressing
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • Handful of cilantro, approximately 8 sprigs
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1 tbsp mayo
  • Chili powder to taste (optional)
  • Lettuce and tomato (optional)

Marinate the chicken in just enough Italian dressing to coat for at least 1 hour.  Grill on medium-low until done, approximately 8 minutes each side. 

Chop the cilantro.  In a small bowl, combine mayo, lime juice, cilantro and chili powder.

Toast the hamburger buns and assemble sandwiches with lettuce and tomato (optional).

 pizza plated

OK, I think I might have done it.  I’ve discovered a cheese-less pizza that’s every bit as good as the real thing. 

Now that statement might not hold up in a court of law, but I tried this recipe on some unsuspecting cheese eaters and they happily gobbled it up.  Will they convert from their dairy eating ways?  Will this recipe go on to replace traditional pizza everywhere?

Well, no.  But will it help you survive the MSPI diet if you adore pizza?  I’d like to think so. 

Everyone loves pizza at our house.  Even our dog gets excited and starts to drool when he smells it baking in the oven.  He knows we’ll toss him little bits of our crust later.  (He’s a pretty smart dog.) 

Before this diet, I must admit we wore out some frozen pizza (after all, I’m sharing my easiest recipes this week).  But, of course, MSPI changed all of that.  Before I attempted this pizza makeover it had been 6 very long months without pepperoni.  I just wasn’t up for those fake rice cheeses – heard they taste like plastic – and I figured pizza with cheese was like cereal without milk or girls night without wine.  It just wouldn’t work.

I was wrong.

The secret is a “pesto,” which I concocted with leftover mushrooms in the fridge.  I coarsely chopped them…

mushrooms

along with some onion…

onion

and sauteed them until they turned into little golden bits of happiness. At this point, I knew I was off to a good start.

Onions and Mushrooms

Then I threw them in the food processor with basil, oregano, garlic, lemon juice, pine nuts and salt.  Who needs cheese I say?

Mushroom Pesto

Then I spread out my prepackaged pizza dough on a baking sheet…who would have thought it was safe?  I’d never even bothered to check.  I pre-cooked it a bit to keep it from getting soggy. 

pizza dough

Now if your little one is sensitive to soy lethicin or soybean oil, you’ll have to make your own dough or check out Wildtree’s pizza crust.  Sorry…that definitely diminishes the easy rating of this recipe. But we must press on in the name of pizza. 

Now it’s time for the sauce.  You lika da sauce? 

tomato sauce

I do.  In fact I think the sauce is the best part of a pizza, especially when it has a little zip to it.  I use plain, old canned tomato sauce to which I add garlic, oregano, basil, red wine vinegar and red pepper for a little kick.  But for some reason I only took a picture of the oregano. Opps. But you get the idea.

Now slather it on nice and thick.  This is no time to be bashful.

pizza sauced

Then chop your toppings. 

toppings

Artichokes are key.  After that, feel free to use whatever floats your boat.  I used cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, onion and pepperoni.  Again, it had been a while so I went all out. 

pizza before

Looks good no?

We got so excited, we ate half of it before I took the picture.  Yes friends, it was that good.

pizza half eaten

Notice my pan with cute little holes especially for pizza.  I told you we liked it at our house!

Now get yourself to the store so you can finally enjoy pizza again.

Artichoke and Tomato Pizza

Sauce:

  • 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. oregano, or more to taste
  • Dash of red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Salt to taste

Crust

  • Premade pizza dough, I used Pillsbury refrigerated dough

Pesto

  • One quarter of medium size onion, chopped
  • 5 button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (optional)
  • Lemon juice from one quarter slice
  • Salt to taste

Toppings:

  • Artichokes, chopped
  • Cherry Tomatoes, halved
  • Onion, chopped
  • Mushroom, sliced
  • Bell pepper, chopped
  • Pepperoni (optional)

Make the pesto by sauteeing the onions in olive oil until translucent.  Add mushrooms and sautee until golden brown.  Put mushrooms and onions into food processor with next 5 ingredients and pulse until pesto consistency.

Spread dough onto cookie sheet and pre-cook according to package directions (approximately 5 minutes).

In a small bowl, combine all sauce ingredients and stir.  Spread on pizza dough once cooked, and top with toppings and pesto.

Cook according to package directions of dough, approximately 12 minutes in 425 degree oven, or until crust is golden brown.

 Bailey_shoes

God bless reliability.  This virtue isn’t exactly my strong suit.  I forget to take out the recycling, my cell phone often rolls to voicemail and I’m perpetually running 15 minutes behind.  But I’ve been thinking a lot about reliability lately because one of the most reliable souls in my life, my dog Bailey, recently had surgery for a torn ACL. 

I didn’t know that dogs had ACLs either.  But apparently they do, and they’re pretty pricey to fix.

Anyway, the big guy is pitiful – his lower left half shaven with 20 staples running the length of his hind leg.  It makes me sad.  He’s only 6 but he has an old soul.

Old Soul

In just a few short years we’ve gone from this…

bailey running

to this…

Bails

Like most dogs Bailey has taken a new baby in stride.  It took some getting used to, and he sometimes feels ignored, but he loves Fuss and would do anything to protect her.  She loves him too.

Bailey and Fuss

Like everyone in our family, Bailey has a rather unfortunate nickname: Crotch. 

Let me explain.  It all started about three years ago when Bailey developed a limp.  It was his front elbow, which was another expensive surgery but I won’t get into that.  I would jokingly say in my fake British accent that he was getting all “old and crotchety,” which Turbo (the king of nicknames) shortened to Crotch.  Most unfortunately, it stuck.

I can only imagine the looks Fuss will get when she learns to talk about her dog Crotch. 

So in honor of our sweet dog, I plan to share my most reliable recipes this week…the ones you fix when, oh, I don’t know, say your dog just had surgery and your baby is teething and they’re waking you up about 6 times a night?  Yeah, those recipes.  The ones you don’t think about.  The ones you pull out of your hat at 7 p.m. when you’ve had an incredibly long day and you’re not in the mood to get creative. 

Here’s a brief preview:

Pizza (yes!  cheese-less pizza that’s as good as the real thing)…

pizza final

Chicken sandwiches…

chicken sandwiches final

Turkey Tacos…

tacos final

and Spaghetti.

spaghetti final

Tune in tomorrow…

Happy Monday!

 Pancakes

The past two weeks have been…interesting.  Last week Fuss got her first two teeth, croup, the throw-up bug, a fever and an ear infection.  All within 7 days.

You’d think we would have caught a break this week but oh no.  She’s already working on more teeth so we’re still on a steady rotation of ibuprofen and iced pacifiers.  And while the onslaught of these events has thrown us, it was just a matter of time before they happened.  In a way it’s like a rite of passage – mommy merit badges if you will. 

We’re now checked out in handling a variety of illnesses.  My favorite was when Fuss threw up in one of the nicest stores in town.  Thank God we were standing on hardwood flooring.  I was talking to two women who worked there when, next thing I know, I’m trying to control the panic in my voice as I repeat over and over, “And we’re puking, we’re puking….”  Fortunately, she was facing me and I attempted to catch most of it in my shoulder, trying to shield the $1,000 chair just a few feet away.  The sweet women returned with armfuls of paper towels, attempting to mop me and the floor as I stood there, drenched, holding my little puker.  We quickly slinked out the back door. 

Embarrassing moment with bodily function.  Check.

Once our problems with vomit cleared up, we battled problems on the other end as Fuss had to take her first round of antibiotics.  Now I thought I was all checked out in this area – she has MSPI for crying out loud.  Heck, I thought I was an Eagle Scout of blowouts.  I was wrong.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that it reached her shoulders and we had to go straight from changing table to tub. 

So after the week I’ve had, I felt pancakes were in order.  What can I say, I’m a stress eater.  This is a recipe that’s been in my family for more than 50 years and the only thing I tweaked was using faux MSPI-friendly milk.  I prefer almond but I bet others such as rice would work.

All you do is mix the dry ingredients.

dry ingredients

Make a little well and add the egg and oil.

Egg and Oil

Begin stirring from the middle to incorporate the flour from the outside.

Flour Egg Mixture

Then add milk while you stir into the right consistency – watery soup.  Tiny lumps are ok.  A wire whisk is really best for this.

Pancake Batter

Spray the pan with vegetable oil and let it get hot.  This will keep the pancakes from running too much. 

Add the batter – I use a 1/4 measuring cup to scoop out (it’s not completely full).

Pancakes Cooking

This is a great time to add blueberries (or bananas, peaches or even chocolate chips if you’re really feeling sassy).  I adore blueberry pancakes but we were out, so I had to go plain Jane.

Once they bubble and appear somewhat firm around the edges they’re ready to flip.

Pancakes Cooking, 2

Brown the other side, pile ’em high, load ’em up with syrup and enjoy!

Pancakes (makes 8 small pancakes)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 Tbsp. oil
  • Milk (approximately 1 cup)
  • Blueberries (optional)

Put all dry ingredients into bowl.  Make a well and add egg and oil.  Stir starting in the middle to incorporate flour gradually.  Add milk while you stir with wire whisk.  Only add enough milk to achieve the correct consistency of watery soup (approximately 1 cup).  Heat pan over medium heat and spray with vegetable oil.  Add batter to the pan.  Sprinkle with fruit if using.  Flip when bubbles form and the sides appear firm.  Brown other side, approximately 2 minutes.

 

bowl of oatmeal

I feel bad.  I’ve been knocking oatmeal lately, but I truly do love it.  It’s just an easy target; the nice guy of the breakfast world.  It’s good for us but there’s nothing really sexy about it.

But still, I do love you oatmeal, so please accept my apology.  To make it up to you, I dedicate this post to you.

I also feel I should apologize to you, dear reader, for not having more breakfast posts last week.  Fuss is cutting her first tooth, has croup and I’m under deadline with work.  That’s life, right?  But I’ve got at least a few more morning recipes up my sleeve, so please bear with me.

This isn’t really a recipe but a suggestion.  After all, you don’t need a recipe for oatmeal. (I was even pushing it a little with the cinnamon toast.)  Even if you think you’re not the biggest oatmeal fan, I highly recommend trying McCann’s Irish Oatmeal.  (They’re not paying me to say that.  It’s just that good).  It’s steel cut and doesn’t even resemble the gooey, instant junk you might have eaten as a kid.  It looks like little pellets instead of flakes and comes in a rather spiffy metal can. 

mccanns irish oatmeal

Just don’t settle for the quick-cooking McCann’s because it’s the only kind at your less-than-stellar grocery store at the bottom of the mountain, and the closest alternative is half an hour away.  Because that’s what I did, and it was a mushy mess.

Now I know what you might be thinking.  I must be insane to suggest you spend 20 minutes cooking oatmeal in the morning when you barely have time to brush your teeth.  Here’s what you do: 

Follow the instructions on the side of the can.  I’m not sure how many cups it makes, but it’s about four servings.  So cook it when you do have time and put it in the fridge.  In the morning, scoop however much you want into a bowl, thin with a little almond milk and zap in the microwave for a minute or two.  Once you give it a stir, you’ll never know it was reheated.  Promise. 

Once it’s nice and steamy, I add the goody.

Brown sugar and cinnamon… (I’m beginning to notice I can’t start my day without cinnamon and sugar…)

cinnamon and sugar

Dried Cranberries and walnuts…  (Fresh strawberries or dried apples are also good choices.)

dried cranberries and walnuts

And a little almond milk to thin it out (if you haven’t already done so).

almond milk

Give it a little stir and you’re good to go.  Now gobble it down before your little one needs something. 

It’s not very exciting, but tasty nonetheless.  Happy eating!!

cinnamon toast

Morning sunshine. 

I probably should have warned you, but I have a vicious sweet tooth in the morning.  I promise less sugary breakfast items later this week, but not today.  Today, we shelve the cereal and ditch the oatmeal.  Today, we celebrate being alive with cinnamon and icing. 

Again, this is from my mom, and it brings back memories of dining at out kitchen counter before school.  Don’t get me wrong, we had more than our fair share of cereal growing up, but this bread is so insanely easy it’s a great weekday treat.  I usually pull this one out of the arsenal when I’m out of almond milk because of a desperately needed grocery run.  It’s just a good one to have in your back pocket.

It’s quick so don’t blink; you might miss it.

Start by slathering some MSPI-friendly buttery spread on whole wheat toast.  I’m pretty generous.  It is, after all, the fake stuff.

buttering bread

Oh, and be sure to bend your forefinger back like Gumby…makes it taste better. 

Then, lovingly sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. 

cinnamon sugar

Take it for a ride in the oven (or toaster oven in this case).  I told you this was easy…

cinnamon toast oven

Yummm…piping hot.  Now you may be thinking, we’ve got cinnamon, we’ve got toast.  We’re done, right?  Oh no, my friend, we’ve only just begun.

Next up, icing.  Now that might seem like a tall task at 7 a.m., but it’s just powdered sugar and water…a really, really tiny amount of water. 

icing

The trick is to turn on the faucet so the water is barely eeking out and quickly run the bowl under it, then give it a stir.  Reason I go into so much detail is because if you get too much water, you have to keep adding sugar.  It can get out of control quickly, so try the faucet trick.

So there you have it – a really easy way to gussy up your toast.  Maybe it’s an overindulgence but life is unpredictable and short; we should at least enjoy every meal.

Cinnamon Toast:

  • 2 pieces of whole wheat toast
  • MSPI-friendly margarine, to taste
  • Cinnamon, to taste
  • Sugar, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • Water

Butter the bread and sprinkle evenly with cinnamon and sugar.  Cook at 425 degrees until golden brown, approximately 2 minutes. 

Place powdered sugar in small bowl and add just enough water to thicken.  Stir and drizzle on toast.

French toast Final

Growing up I didn’t really like pancakes.  Weird, I know.  I also didn’t like peanut butter and jelly, and my brothers called me a communist for it.  I guess that’s another story though. 

I also happen to have one of those mothers who adores breakfast and was more than willing to cook a hot one, so a lot of mornings we compromised on French toast.  And since her recipe is MSPI friendly, I’ve recently resurrected it,  especially in the beginning when I was ravenously hungry at all hours of the day.

Breakfast can be tough on this diet, so I’m dedicating this week to the most important meal of the day.  Now this French toast isn’t the coma inducing sugar fest you find in restaurants.  In fact, like most great recipes, it’s just a few simple ingredients:

Egg…

egg

cinnamon and a pinch of salt to bring out flavor…

cinnamon

and bread.  (Whole wheat of course, because I’m a health nut).

bread

Give the bread a good dip in the egg mixture…

egg and bread

And cook on a greased skillet until golden brown.  (I use Wildtree’s butter flavored grape seed oil for that little extra something, but cooking spray will also work).

French toast

And there you have it folks: homemade goodness in under 10 minutes.  Couldn’t top it if I tried.

French Toast (1 serving):

  • 1 piece of whole wheat bread
  • 1 egg
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Cooking spray or MSPI-friendly butter

Crack the egg into a shallow dish and whisk with a fork.  Sprinkle cinnamon to taste and a pinch of salt.  Dredge bread in egg mixture to coat both sides. 

Coat a skillet with spray or “butter” and cook on medium high until golden brown, approximately two minutes each side.

Coat with syrup and enjoy!

Fuss at Four Months

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about hearts.  Maybe that’s because several times a day, mine either swells, aches, flutters, nearly bursts or melts into a little pile of goo out of love for this little girl.  Welcome to motherhood, huh?

It’ll hit me out of nowhere.  Like when she wakes me at an ungodly hour to eat.  As much as I hate disruptions in my beauty sleep, I secretly love our early morning feeding.  I stumble into her room about 4 a.m., usually greeted by her sweet smile in the blue glow of her nightlight.  She always falls asleep mid-meal and I have to keep jostling her awake in my half-eyed stupor.  Afterwards, even though I’m dying to go to sleep, I put her on my shoulder and just rock a while.  She softly breathes on my neck – the only time she’s tired enough to rest on my shoulder – and hugs me with her little baby arms.  I whisper a prayer of thanks as my heart aches, knowing she’ll outgrow this phase much too quickly.  Lately she’s taken to sleeping on her side, her little body curled up with an angelic expression on her squeezable cheeks.  That one gets Turbo and I both right in the ticker.

And I’m not much better when she’s awake.  I find myself twitterpated over every little thing – especially her little laugh.  I mean really, is there anything cuter than a baby laughing?  No, I don’t think so either. 

Or when I overhear Turbo saying “Super Fuss,” knowing he’s flying her around the house Superman style.  I think of the special relationship those two will have when she gets older.  Yep, little pile of goo.

She really doesn’t deserve the nickname anymore but it’s turned into a term of endearment.  Maybe it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come.  But it drives the grandmothers crazy.  I just hope it doesn’t give her a complex.

And if I think it’s tough now, what about later?  She’s only 6 months old.  What about her first day of kindergarten, her first car or, gulp, her graduation?  Children mark the passing of time in such a poignant way.  They’re little reminders that life is short, and to savor each moment as best we can.

Yep, this parenting thing sure is hard on the ticker.  And I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China.