Foodie In Training

Monday, April 26, 2010

Homemade Tater Tots: Fact or Fiction?

Who doesn't love tater tots? They are one of my favorite foods. Never mind that they are probably over-processed, full of chemicals, fried, and frozen. They.Are.Awesome. To be honest, if I have the opportunity to eat tater tots, I'm not really concerned with their ingredients and what makes them so good. What I'm concerned about is ordering and eating my freakin' tots..fast! :)

It's kind of rare to see tots on a restaurant menu. I will order them at any and all restaurants that have them on their menu, no matter what. It's definitely not very foodie-like but I don't care!

A few weeks ago, while enjoying some happy-hour adult beverages, Ryan, our friend Thad, and I were discussing Tater Tots and if they could be made at home. A few questions arose from this very serious discussion:
1. How would you go about making a tot?
2. Is it worth it?
3. Is buying the frozen, bagged kind the only way to go?

I've done a little investigating and there isn't a lot of information on how to make Tater Tots. There are Tater Tot casseroles and Tater Tot bakes, and OMG there is such a thing as Maple Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots....but very few homemade tot recipes. And by very few, I'm saying that I only found like two seemingly legit recipes.

So, my good foodie friends, I'm on a quest to find a homemade tot recipe (Or make one up if it comes to that) and make me some tots!

Any thoughts on some good resources? I'm going to consult some cookbooks and do some online sleuthing and see what I find. This is just the beginning, I wanted to get you all involved so this quest can be truly appreciated and hopefully victorious!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Best Tacos Ever: Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Cabbage Slaw

Seriously. I'm not being dramatic, I'm not being biased. These tacos are the best ever.

I found the recipe on my FAVORITE food blog, Smitten Kitchen. Normally, this is a vegetarian dish, but we decided to add ground beef this time. The recipe says to mash the black beans (we just use a fork) so it thickens into a bit of a paste. Once the ground beef is cooked and the fat drained, we add the black beans. The heat softens the mashed beans and makes the ground beef and bean mixture thick without adding one of those taco seasoning packets. The recipe calls for cumin and we also added cayenne, garlic powder, and taco seasoning (which is just a mixture of paprika, onions, more cumin, oregano, and allspice). In the past I have also substituted the taco seasoning for chili powder, or Hungarian hot paprika.
The star of the tacos is the feta and cabbage slaw. I could seriously eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's fresh and crunchy with a little bite from the lime and hot sauce. And, it's one of those things that just gets better the more it sits in your refrigerator. I recommend buying a large cabbage and making a big batch because you'll want more after the tacos are gone. Smitten Kitchen's adaptation of the recipe calls for about 2 tablespoons (or more) of lime juice. I'm on the "or more" team. I use the juice of about 2 whole limes..or more. I really like a ton of lime juice. I think it enhances all of the flavors and also provides a nice contrast to the feta cheese.

As you can see in the photos, we did not make our tacos crispy. The first time I made them, I pan fried each tortilla in a little olive oil and man was it good. I definitely recommend it. But, if you are feeling lazy or just short on time, regular soft tortillas are fine, or you could use the store bought hard tacos. This recipe is so user-friendly, you can do whatever you want.
Oh black bean tacos, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. You are so easy and fast.
2. The recipe is very simple and wide open for being creative and adding your own twist!
3. Wallet friendly- black beans, tortillas, cabbage, lime, feta, cilantro, a bit of olive oil. These are the main ingredients..trust me, they don't add up to very much $$.
4. You go so well with a tasty adult beverage...especially of the Mexican variety.
5. You are even better the next day! (If there are leftovers)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

20 Minute Meal!

I have a new work schedule. Two nights a week, I work 5 p.m.- 9 p.m. It's been an interesting adjustment. On said days, I try and eat before work..but I'm not hungry for dinner at 4. I usually have just eaten lunch at 1 or 2. If I don't eat, I'm famished when I get home at 9:30 and proceed to snack my way through the girl scout cookies, chips and salsa, pickles, etc. Pretty much anything in site and that's not really a meal. Is it? So anyway, now I'm trying to eat a light meal before work and then have a small snack in the evening.

I was getting ready for work the other day and trying to decide what to eat. The clock said 3:40 and I had about a half hour to make dinner, eat, and head to work. I decided to use a spaghetti squash that had been collecting a little dust in my pantry and throw together a fast, healthy, filling meal that also makes plenty of leftovers for later!

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato and chickpea sauce:

Twenty minutes and 6 easy steps. The clock says 3:45...Ready..Set..Go!Step 1:
Pierce spaghetti squash with knife about 6 times all over the squash. Put in the microwave for about 10-12 minutes (depending on the size of the squash). Rotate about 3 times during the microwave process. I usually just lay the squash on a few paper towels, but we were out, hence the plate.
Step 2:
Chop one red onion and saute with olive oil on medium-high heat until soft. Add chopped garlic after about 3 minutes.

Step 3:
Chop and add any ingredients you want. This is the fun part!! You can get real creative and use common items in your pantry. I always use canned tomatoes (usually two cans) and a can of beans. I've used garbanzo, black, and cannellini beans. Tonight, I had one zucchini and some canned mushrooms so I threw those in! In the past I've also added green pepper and carrots.

Step 4:
Let all the ingredients cook and get to know each other in the pan. I also start adding some seasoning at this point. This is another way to be creative! I LOVE cumin. I can't get enough of it. And it seems to work really well with my base of ingredients. So I always add cumin and some hot paprika. Salt and pepper are always a must. For a little color and some fresh flavor I usually go with parsley. Fresh is always best, but dried will work.Step 5:
When the spaghetti squash is done, remove from the microwave, let it cool for about 5-10 minutes. Because I was on a time crunch, I let it cool just enough so I could handle it and I sliced it in half. I scooped out the seeds and then proceeded to spaghetti the squash. :) The great thing about spaghetti squash is once you slice it in half, all you have to do is comb the fork along the squash half and it comes out in spaghetti-like strands..Hence the name.Step 6:
Plate! See how many leftovers this makes? Ryan had some of the leftovers for dinner later and we finished it off the next night and served it with grilled steaks.
And what time is it!?
I mean, how quick and easy is that? It's healthy and filling too. I even had time to clean up and I made it to work with time to spare!

Move over Rachael Ray! This is a 20 minute meal...beat that! Actually...Rachael..you can just go away. (She bugs the crap out of me)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spinach-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

I was going through some boxes in the basement and came across a few cookbooks that never got unpacked. I mentioned in the Valentine's Day post that we have a lot of cookbooks. When we moved to Columbus, I decided to leave an entire box of cookbooks packed and in the basement and just display the few we use the most. Anyway, I started looking through an old Self Magazine full of recipes. It is titled "Self Dishes" and it came out in the summer of 2007. I've made many yummy recipes from this magazine and they are usually pretty easy recipes and healthy too! I'm always trying to eat healthy. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not. Right now, I'm on a healthy-eating kick. I had the day off on Tuesday and I had just gone grocery shopping, so I decided to make Spinach-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms from my Self Dishes magazine.

This was super easy to make. It's basically just mixing all the ingredients in a bowl, spooning them on to the mushrooms caps and baking it for 25 minutes. I had this for a late lunch and it was filling and really tasty. I definitely plan on making this again because most of the ingredients are already kitchen staples.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove mushroom stems and chop the stems. Place the mushrooms smooth side down in a baking dish.

2. Next, mix thawed spinach, cottage cheese, shredded cheese, dill, and scallions. The recipe called for cheddar, but I used mozzarella. I also did not have any sour cream on hand, so I just added an additional spoonful of cottage cheese and shredded mozzarella. It still turned out great.

3. Spoon mixture on the mushrooms creating a mound. Cover with foil. (I just re-read the recipe and realized I totally forgot to cover my dish with foil! oops. But, now we know it's not mandatory. ) Bake for 25 minutes.

Here's my uncovered mushrooms cooking away. See, they look fine without the foil. No worries.
The cottage cheese binds everything together and the spinach and cheese flavors complement the meatiness of the portobellos. This dish can also be doctored up a bit! Next time, I plan on adding garlic and lemon zest. I also think adding a spoonful of breadcrumbs would add a nice texture. I love recipes that act like blank canvasses. They have a few staple ingredients and then you can be creative and add other ingredients to make it your own.

This is really a great dish. Not only is it easy, it's really satisfying and very tasty. It can be a nice vegetarian main course, served with a salad and some crusty bread. It also could be a nice side dish to accompany fish or chicken.

Two stuffed mushrooms is only 200 calories. Bonus!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Carrot Ginger Soup

A few days a week I am on my own for dinner. Usually I am lazy and I make a grilled cheese or reheat leftovers. Occasionally I get motivated to be creative and make myself a nice meal. When Ryan isn't around for a meal I like to make something that he wouldn't be crazy for, or something vegetarian. Ryan and I have lived together for about 3 years now and I learned real quick that a meal without some sort of meat or seafood is not really a meal. (Or it at least means a late night snack for a hungry husband) Before I lived with Ryan I would go a week or two without meat and not think anything about it. Sometimes, it's nice to a take a break from being a carnivore.

On this particular night I didn't have much in the fridge but I knew I had some homemade chicken stock, carrots, and a bit of fresh ginger that I need to use up before it starting growing things in the fridge. A few weeks ago Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, had "The Great Soup Battle of 2010". In this epic battle was an intriguing recipe for Carrot Ginger Soup. I've never had carrot soup before but the more I thought about it the more my mouth started to water. And, I had the major ingredients. So I started looking on some of my favorite recipe web sites (Epicurious and My Recipes) for additional inspiration. Although the recipe form AG's Soup Battle sounded tempting, the winning recipe was from Bon Appetit from 1997 that I found on Epicurious.

I sauteed onions, garlic, and ginger in butter until soft and then added the carrots and tomatoes and lemon zest. Look at how pretty!I let that cook for a few minutes then I added the chicken broth. Once the broth had come to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes. (The recipe said 20 minutes or until the carrots were soft). I used my favorite kitchen tool, my hand blender, to blend the soup. I'm not a huge fan of smooth and watery soup so I only blended mine until there were a few chunks of carrot and tomato for texture. But that's just me. When you make your ginger carrot soup, you can do what you want. :)So the soup was blended, but it still tasted a little bland to me. So, I added a little cilantro, cumin, and a bit of Siracha (Thai hot sauce) for heat. When the carrots cook they get very sweet, so I added the heat for balance.

While the last of the spices were simmering away to perfection, I tore up some wheat bread and put them under the broiler and made little "poor man" croutons to serve on top of the soup. I also added some crumbled blue cheese and chopped scallions for texture and color. Not bad for a lonely Wednesday night?

So if you are cooking for one or just tired for the same old grilled cheese or PBJ for dinner, try this soup or any recipe that inspires you. You might end up with some tasty results.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine's Day Dinner

For the past few years Ryan and I have ditched the traditional night out on Valentine's Day and cooked at home. Two years ago we celebrated Valentine's Day with Mario Batali and last year we stayed in and cooked steaks with roasted vegetables. It's not that we don't enjoy eating out, but we figure we can make a pretty fancy and flavorful meal ourselves for less money and more fun!

We have A LOT of cookbooks. And we actually use them when we are looking for our regular, weeknight meals. For a special occasion like this, we like to pick a recipe that is a little more complicated and has different ingredients. (Or at least ingredients that aren't on the normal grocery list)

We decided to ask Mario Batali to be our valentine again because we chose two recipes from his cookbook Molto Italiano. Our menu included:

1. Duck Scaloppine with Dried Cherries and Grapa
2. Red Cabbage Braised in Vinegar
3. Goat Cheese Ravioli's fresh from the North Market in Columbus.

Now, I said above that we try and pick a recipe that is a little more complicated and has different ingredients..but for the Duck Scaloppine we actually had all of the ingredients except the duck, cherries, and scallions. We figured it was meant to be. We thought it would be a good opportunity to use the Grapa we purchased on our honeymoon in Italy. I personally do not like to drink it, but it was great to cook with.

The duck recipe was fairly easy to make, we mainly had to concentrate on pounding out the duck breasts as thin as we could (which was kind of difficult because we were out of saran wrap) and timing the dish so it was ready with the rest of the components.
Since there is no recipe link for the braised red cabbage, I'll give you the step by step process. In his cookbook, Mario recommended we serve the duck with braised red cabbage. We couldn't say no to our valentine, so we obliged.

1. Slice 1 medium red onion (we mixed 1/2 red and 1/2 white because that's what we had). Heat olive oil in large pot over med-high heat until smoking. Add onion and caraway seeds. **We did not have caraway seeds so we used fennel seeds instead- it worked perfectly!**
Cook until onion is soft 3-5 minutes.
2. Add cabbage, sugar, red wine vinegar and stir well. Cover and cook until cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes. We ate our cabbage warm, but Mario also says you can cool the cabbage and have it on sandwiches, or "sammies," as he called them.
Here is a shot of the final presentation: I'll admit there were a few uncharacteristic kitchen meltdowns on my part. I almost burned the red cabbage and a tore open a few of the ravioli's when they were cooking. When we sat down to eat I thought I had ruined our meal. But, it turned out wonderful!! The duck scaloppine was really tender and perfectly cooked (thanks to Ryan). The grapa and dried cherries provided a tartness that complimented the flavor of the duck and the scallions added a nice crunch. The braised cabbage turned out very flavorful. The fennel seeds worked just fine instead of caraway seeds and provided a nice anise flavor that worked well with the red wine vinegar.

We didn't do much to the ravioli's. Like I mentioned above, we got them from Pastaria Seconda in the North Market. They were stuffed with goat cheese so we wanted to keep it simple. We sprinkled some dried Italian herbs and Parmesan cheese over the ravioli and drizzled some olive oil to finish the dish.

I was really happy with our Valentine's Day meal. If we would have gone out and tried to get a meal similar to this, we would have spent a lot more money. Mario Batali can be our Valentine anytime!

Oh yea, here is our other Valentine. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Blink of an Eye..

Soooo, man it has been a while. A little over a year in fact. Where does the time go? We are really sorry that it's been so long between posts. A lot has happened in the past year so I'll give you all a quick update.

Last year we were sporadically posting about living in our hometown at Ryan's parents house. I'm very happy to tell you all that we moved to Columbus, OH in July of 2009! We have a cute little apartment in the Grandview Heights neighborhood. We are happy to be back in a big city (Sandusky and Huron were making me a little nutty) and it's nice to be on our own as a newly-married couple. Another bonus is we get to use all of our wonderful wedding gifts. We have new dishes, cookware, bake ware, serving platters, appliances...you name it! It makes cooking at home all the more fun. And living in a new place also means an entire city of restaurants to explore!

In other news, I completed grad school in December of 2009. I'm so happy to be done, not only because I have my master's in library science, but I have more free time to cook real meals!

Notice the new design? A few months ago I changed it up and added a pretty picture of the best pizza I've ever had (in Italy of course).

It's a new year, a new city, a new look, and new recipes! I hope you will all stop by again because we are back and excited to be cooking and blogging again.