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Mexican Elote Dip

May 4, 2014

Cinco de Mayo is here! The holiday that Americans perhaps like to celebrate as much as the Mexicans – if only for the food & beverages. I’m not gonna lie, I love me some Mexican food. It’s probably one of the simplest, go to dinner or lunch  staples around our house. The beauty of it I think, is that at its core, it is a few basic ingredients, that when put together in different shapes or combinations can create something totally different. Tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas – all just different variations of the same things. And I ain’t mad about it one bit.

So in honor of this glorious holiday and of Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla (thats right, it’s not “Independence Day “- just “We kicked the shit outta the French day”. Thanks Wikipedia) – go drink your margarita/Pacifico/tequila shot and enjoy some of this delicious dip. Its basically Mexican Street Corn, but a whole lot easier to eat.

(Note: Cotija cheese used here can be found at most international markets or grocery stores. If you cant find it, Queso Fresco also works well)

elote_dip

 

MEXICAN ELOTE DIP

Servings: 4
Time: 15 minutes

1 can sweet yellow corn, drained
1 large jalapeno, seeded & chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup mayonaise
1 Tbs hot sauce (such as Cholula)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese
1/2 cup Cotija cheese, plus more for garnish
1 tsp paprika
salt
pepper

In a skillet, add the corn, chopped jalapeno and chopped cilantro. Cook over medium heat until warmed through and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile in a small bowl combine lime juice, mayo, hot sauce, sugar and both cheeses. Once corn mixture has warmed thoroughly, stir in liquid mixture to combine. Add paprika and salt & pepper taste. Remove once warmed through.

Serve in a bowl topped with additional cilantro and Cotija cheese as garnish.

Homemade Feta

February 10, 2014

I began the experiment of making cheese a few years back. It started with mozzarella, the gateway homemade cheese. Then there was finally a supplier of goat milk in Nashville, so I gave goat cheese a whirl. My parents gifted me a cheese press for Christmas one year, so I tried hard cheeses. But lets be honest, mozzarella doesnt always work, goats milk is expensive and my cheese was never as good as the store bought options, and making hard cheeses, aging, controlling humidity is just, well, hard.

But the one cheese I have made again, and again, and again – is feta.

Making cheese can be an intimidating endeavor, but do not let it scare you! The instructions below are long, you have to buy a few strange ingredients that you can’t get at the grocery store, and it takes patience – but it is SO worth it. Store bought feta will never taste as good, it will seemed dried out and lack flavor – but this feta is wonderfully tasty and will impress all your friends!

Like I said, these instructions are long. Read them, all the way through before you start – I mean it, all the way. There is alot to take in, but its really not a lot of actual physical labor. What is important is that you make sure you have a few hours at home to pay attention to the cheese off and on – and that you will not be skipping town within the next week. The initial preperation takes about 3 hours, but only about 30 minutes of that is active time. Following that the cheese ages for several days.

I must preface the recipe with a disclaimer – I am not a scientist, and most likely neither are you. I cannot stress enough the importance of sterilizing your equipment before you begin. Be safe, be smart.

The cheese making supplies such as the cultures  below can be found through various websites such as New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, or locally in Nashville at All Seasons Gardening & Brewing Supply Co. The initial purchase of these cultures will last a long long time so consider it a worthwhile, fairly inexpensive investment in delicious cheese for years to come.

cut_feta

HOMEMADE FETA
adapted from recipe by Standing Stone Farms

Ingredients:
1.5 gallons whole milk
1/2 tsp calcium chloride***
1/8 tsp Mesophilic culture
1/4 tsp Lipase powder
1/2 tsp liquid rennet, dissolved in ¼ cup water
Kosher salt

Brine:
1/2 cup of Kosher salt per 1/2 gallon of water

Equipment:
6-8 quart pot
thermometer
large knife
large slotted spoon
cheese cloth or flour sack dish cloth
colander

Sterilize all your equipment before you begin by filling your pot completely with water and bring to a boil. Add all utensils and allow to boil for several minutes. Set utensils aside on a clean dry dish towel or paper towel. Plug the sink and pour hot water into the sink when you are ready to begin.

Add the milk to your sterilized pot. Set the filled pot into the sink of hot water. This will act like a double boiler to warm the milk. Warm the milk to 86°. Once the milk has hit this temp, remove the pot from the water and set on the counter.

Add the calcium chloride, culture & lipase.  Stir well. Cover and let ripen for 1 hour. The milk should stay around 86° on its own, if it drops below, set it back in the warm water until it gets back up to temp.

Add the rennet and stir briskly for 15 seconds. Cover and let sit for 45 minutes, or until you get a “clean break”. You can check for a clean break by sticking a knife or thermometer, into the curd at an angle. Pull straight up out of the curd; if the curd breaks cleanly around the knife and whey runs into the crack that is made; you have a “clean break”. If this does not happen, allow to sit for another 10 minutes and try again.

Once you have a clean break, cut the curds into ½” pieces. Using a long knife held vertically, cut ½” slices all the way down. Turn the pot 90° and cut ½” slices the other direction, making a checkerboard pattern. Now hold the knife at a sideways 45° angle and retrace your cuts. Continue twisting the pot and cutting in this manner until the curd is all in roughly ½” pieces.

Let the curd rest for 10 minutes.

After resting, stir the curd gently. Hold the curd at 86° for 45 minutes. (it should still be close to this temp. If not, at this point your water bath is likely cold, so warm gently on the stove until it gets up to temp.) Carefully stir the curds every 10 minutes to prevent them from sticking together. This process of “cooking” the curd helps it toughen up and release its whey.

Line the colander with the cheesecloth, draping it over the sides so as to catch everything. If you want to save the whey to make ricotta, place a pot under the colander. Gently spoon out the all the curd into the cheesecloth. It should fit in one, but you may need to allow some of the whey to drain before you can reach that point.

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang the bag to drain. (I typically hang from a cabinet knob). Place a bowl underneath the hanging cheesecloth to catch the whey that drains off. After 2.5 hours, take the cheese down, and turn the cheese over in the cheesecloth. This turning will “even up” the cheese into a nice form.

round_feta

After your cheese has hung for a total of 12-18 hours (or as long as 24), remove it from the cloth and cut it into usable size cubes/blocks. Sprinkle all with 2-3 Tbs of kosher salt and place them in a large, sterilized, sealable container. Cover and let sit at room temp (yes, I said room temp…) for 3-4 days. At least 1 time per day, lift a corner of the lid, and carefully drain out any whey that has drained out of the curds. Continue this process until the curd has hardened up to the texture of typical feta.

After your cheese has aged 3-4 days, add the brine to the container and place the covered container in the fridge. Allow to age for at least 1 week before eating to develop full flavor. Your feta will keep in the brine, refrigerated, for up to 6 months.

*** Some calcium chloride comes in powder form. To convert to liquid simply fill a small jar with water (I used a jam sized mason jar) and add calcium chloride until no more will dissolve. Start with 1 Tbs, shake… if all dissolves add more and continue. The jar will get warm (chemical reactions! Science!) but no pressure builds up. Use this mixture in the rations needed above. Keep remainder in the fridge for next time.

Notes:
– cheese cloth or flour sack towels: best to use for cheese making and ONLY cheese making, so keep these tucked away somewhere they wont get used for other purposes, compromising your cheese. I love flour sack towels instead of typical cheese cloth because they last longer. These are a great option.

On Temporary Vegetarianism..

February 3, 2014

Well, I officially made it through the venture into 1 month of vegetarianism! It had its ups and downs, and was actually more interesting an endeavor than I had imagined. In some respects it was nice to only have a handful of choices when eating out – made decision making easier and quicker – but on the other hand I can see how that would start to get old pretty fast. Overall I would say it won’t be a permanent change for me – but I will certainly be making more of an effort to eat vegetarian when possible. So for a fun little wrap up I thought it best to recap with a few short thoughts, experiences and adventures. If you’ve ever given it a try, let me know how your experience went!

fruits & veggies 2

  • Burned myself out on hummus in the first 3 days
  • Accidentally ate a slice of charcuterie on day 2 without thinking about it
  • Gotten a mild case of food poisoning
  • Had the benefit of a fantastic husband and lovely friends who went out of their way to either make or pick up veg food for me
  • Picked precious Benton’s bacon off a salad
  • Picked chicken off of nachos so as to not disrupt a group order
  • Ate tofu only about 3 times
  • Ate seitan once
  • Ate any form of “fake” chicken or other faux-meat never
  • Ate zero veggie burgers.. not sure how that happened..
  • Tried some great new recipes
  • Made some great standby veg recipes
  • Hit a wall and almost given up 3 weeks in
  • Tried new restaurants and managed to stay the path: Woodlands  & Sunflower Cafe (well those two were easy, lets be honest), Josephine, Two Ten Jack, Chelsea Bistro
  • Practically drooled over the dumplings at Josephine, the pate at Lockeland Table and yakitori at Two Ten Jack
  • Survived a potluck filled with the delicious food of all my lovely food blogger friends 
  • Let my husband eat the free Banh Mi I won from Interasian – but in turn got myself the most delicious Brussels Sprout salad from Biscuit Love Truck
  • Managed to lose a couple pounds
  • Ate a lunch solely of iceberg lettuce and bread at a catered meeting
  • Ate cheese and crackers for dinner only once (ok maybe twice)

Broccoli Salad w/ Feta & Golden Raisins

January 16, 2014

This salad may really be more well suited for your summer bbq, but to heck with it – its winter and we could all use something bright and crunchy.

The thing I love about broccoli salad in general is the slightly sweet kick the sauce has. But more often that not they can end up way too mayo-y. I think this recipe has just the perfect amount of sweet, tangy sauce without being overly sauced up – but the key here is adding the sauce till it suits your taste. If you like it all sauced up, make a little more!

One of the most important parts to any broccoli salad though is having the right blend of add in’s – in my opinion that means something sweet, something salty, something crunchy  and something tart. So you could always sub raisins for cranberries or pomegranate seeds, cashews for bacon, sunflower seeds or almonds – get creative!

broccoli_salad

BROCCOLI SALAD W/ FETA & GOLDEN RAISINS

Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8-10 as side

6 cups chopped broccoli (about 2 medium heads)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cashews
1/3 cup mayo
1/3 cup sour cream
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

In a large bowl combine broccoli, feta, raisins, onion and cashews. In a small bowl combine mayo, sour cream, sugar & vinegar. Pour half of mayo mixture over broccoli and stir to coat. Taste, and add additional mayo mixture to suit your personal taste. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before eating. Will last up to 3 days in the fridge.

Butternut Squash & Red Pepper Lasagna

January 13, 2014

For really no particular reason at all, yet every reason I can think of, I decided that I would spend January in the shoes of a vegetarian.

In general the reasons most individuals choose vegetarianism fall into 2 categories – animal welfare or health. For me it falls mostly on the health side, but that does not leave me with a lack of compassion for said animal. I personally have nothing against eating meat – but when I do, I prefer to know that it hasn’t been pumped full of chemicals, whether through diet or antibiotics. Which leads me to say I am more likely to eat meat a place that takes care in where their’s is sourced from, then say the chicken breast at TGI McFunsters.

On the health aspect, I think there is something very powerful to be said about how meat centric our American diet is in relation to most other cultures around the world. One particular food documentary that I found fascinating is Forks over Knives which explores some of the health benefits of vegetarianism. The most powerful part was the discussion about a study done in China looking at the diet and health of residence in various regions of the country. They found consistently that regions that ate less meat, and also less protein had less history of cancer and other diseases that plague our country. Here in the States we praise protein like it is the nutrient we are all so sorely lacking, it will cure all!, but perhaps its not as beneficial as we thought. The “rich” American society chows down on meat in larger quantities than anywhere else in the world, and our waistlines and hearts are all the worse for it.

Less than 2 weeks in and I will not say its a fantastic new years diet or that I am loosing weight (because lets be honest, its far too easy to eat cheese & crackers and call it dinner), but I will say that I feel great, and never as grossly full as I do after a meat filled meal. While this vegetarian experiment will not likely result in a permanent lifestyle change for me (because lets be honest, I love food, and trying new foods, way to much to limit myself that way) I do think it will very likely become my default when not surrounded by new and exciting flavors I am anxious to try.

So without further ado, now that you have listened to me wax non-poetic about meat, how about a vegetarian recipe! Happy Meatless Monday!

vegetable_lasagna

BUTTERNUT SQUASH & RED PEPPER LASAGNA
adapted from Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook

Time: 2 hours; 45 minutes active
Servings: 6-8

1 medium butternut squash
1 red bell pepper
1 bunch of green onions
2 cups fresh spinach
4 cloves garlic
3 Tbs olive oil
4 cups milk
3 Tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
9 dried lasagna noodles (if not the no bake version, be sure to boil per package instructions)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut squash in half and de-seed then carefully peel and cut into 1/4 inch cubes. Spread squash cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbs of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt & pepper. Gently toss to evenly coat, and bake for 10  minutes. Meanwhile, chop red pepper in half, remove and discard seeds, and cut each half into thin slivers. Chop green onions and combine in a bowl with pepper, 1 Tsp olive oil and  another sprinkle of salt & pepper. Add to partially roasted squash and cook for another 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Roughly chop the garlic & spinach and add to a small sauce pan with milk. Bring just to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the warm milk and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly – about 10 minutes, or until the liquid coats the back of a spoon. Add roasted veggies, mixing gently and remove from heat.

Reduce (or heat) oven to 350 degrees. Spoon 1 cup vegetable mixture into a lightly greased 9×13  baking dish. Top with 3 noodles; spread half the remaining veggie mixture and sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Repeat with 3 noodles, most of the remaining veggie mixture and the remaining mozzarella. Top with final noodles, any remaining veggies and their creamy sauce and top with parmesan.

Cover & bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more or until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Oat & Quinoa Granola

November 24, 2013

Breakfast – do you eat it? They say its the most important meal of the day yet a fair amount of people still skip it. I personally am not a huge breakfast person, tending to eat something small at the office with my coffee, but this granola has managed to weasel its way into my routine.

My mother-in-law always has granola in the house, it being their staple breakfast food – and this recipe is not too far from that. The key addition here is the quinoa. I’ve found myself with a large bag of quinoa in the pantry that just wasn’t getting used and it ended up being the PERFECT addition to this granola. Not only does it throw some extra nutrients into the granola mix – it adds a wonderfully nutty flavor when baked.

granola

OAT & QUINOA GRANOLA

Servings: 8-10
Time: 1 hour

5 cups oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
6 ounces walnuts, chopped
6 ounces sliced almonds
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbs vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
dried fruit or raisins as desired

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine oats, quinoa and nuts. In a separate bowl combine oil, syrup, honey, vanilla and salt. Pour wet mixture over dry and stir until all oats are evenly coated. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Bake for approximately 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before eating. Top with golden raisins or other dried fruit when serving. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, will last several weeks.

Chicken & Dumpling Goulash

November 11, 2013

Goulash was one of those nostalgic childhood dishes. One of the ones I never really thought too much about but it was always there. The more I think about it got me wondering. What is goulash really? The version my mom made was typically ground beef and what I believe was a fairly reduced down tomato type sauce served usually over macaroni. But what makes it so different from say, sloppy joe’s… or a meaty spaghetti sauce? Is it just the medium over which you are eating said sauce? I think I really might just need to quiz my mom about that one closer.

But further research taught me that Goulash is a traditional Hungarian dish. Traditionally “herdsman stew”, its our version of cowboys making chili out on the range. Traditional forms are seasoned with paprika and rarely include tomatoes. It would seem as though the addition of tomatoes is a very American thing.  Which is why the first time we made the below recipe, I was surprised that no tomatoes were included in the list of ingredients. But let me tell you one thing. THEY ARE NOT MISSED. This may be very different from the goulash I experienced growing up, but it is how I would plan to recreate any future ground beef/macaroni version in the future. In addition to the paprika eureka, the beautiful thing about this dish is the sour cream biscuits – making this the perfect marriage of Hungarian and Southern. Who woulda thunk it.

chicken_goulash

Chicken & Dumplings Goulash
(adapted ever so slightly from this delicious recipe by Food & Wine)

Servings: 4
Time: 1 hour

1.5 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (the size of about 1 pack at the grocery)
1.5 cups all purpose flour
5 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut
2 TBs olive oil
2 tsp baking powder
2.5 cups chicken stock
1 cup sour cream
1 large white onion,  chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, pulse flour with baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp pepper. Pulse 4 Tbs butter until the mixture looks like a course meal. In a separate bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of chicken stock with 1/2 cup sour cream. drizzle over the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse until a dough forms.

Preheat oven to 425.  Chop chicken into 1 inch pieces. Season w/ salt & pepper and dust lightly with flour. In a cast iron or other deep skillet, heat olive oil & 1 Tbs butter. Add chicken and cook over medium high heat, turning,  until browned on both sides. Once browned, transfer chicken to a plate.

Add bell pepper, garlic and onion to the skillet and cook over medium high heat until softened. Return chicken to the skillet and cook over high heat. Add paprika and stir to combine. Add remaining chicken stock, remaining sour cream and thyme. Stir until combined & bring to a boil.

Carefully scoop large spoonfuls of dough over the chicken & sauce, placing them wherever you can find room. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After cook time, turn  the broiler on low and gently crisp up the top of the biscuits until browned, about 5 minutes – but watch closely so the biscuits do not burn.

Allow to cool for a few minutes then serve & enjoy!

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