Friday, May 31, 2013

Taco Tuesday...on Friday

There has been a taco recipe floating around Pinterest and Facebook recently that looked quite appealing. The main thing that I don't like about making tacos is having to prepare umpteen bowls of the toppings and then trying to cram everything into small, overly-fragile shells that never stand up to their task.

This recipe is clever because you form the shells yourself over the bars of the rack in your oven (which is really quite easy and ultimately much tastier than store bought). Once they are brown and crisp, you stand them up in a baking dish, fill them and top with cheese, and bake them all at once. When you take them out of the oven, you can add a more toppings as you like. I ony made half the recipe because I'm not trying to feed all of the Duggars, but this would be a great recipe for crowd, and easy enough for a weeknight meal.

Oven-Baked Tacos
(Source: adapted from My Fridge Food)

2 lbs. ground beef
1 can refried beans
1 can tomato sauce (I used one cup spicy homemade sauce)
1 packet taco seasoning (I used one tablespoon taco seasoning, plus one teaspoon each chili powder, cumin, and granulated garlic, plus 1/2 teaspoon black pepper)
juice of half a lime, optional
1 oz shredded cheese (um, that must be PER taco!)
12 tortillas/taco shells (I used small flour tortillas)

First, steam the tortillas. Wet some paper towels and wring them out well. Layer the tortillas with the wet paper towels on a plate and then microwave them, six at a time. Keep an eye on them,;it should be about 30 seconds until they are steamed. Then lightly spray each side with cooking spray (I brushed mine with vegetable oil instead) and drape each tortilla over two bars of the oven rack. It is wise to put a baking sheet below them to catch any oil from the cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes. You will be able to tell that they are browning and getting crispy. Take them out and set them aside.

For the filling, brown the ground beef in a large skillet. Completely drain all grease and return to skillet. Over low heat, add refried beans, taco seasoning(s) and the lime juice (if using), and about half to two-thirds of the can of tomato sauce. You can eye this to see what's best--you don’t want the filling to be too runny or your tacos will be soggy on the bottoms. Blend well and scoop into the tacos (which should be “standing” in a lightly greased ovenproof dish). Then just sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

When you remove the tacos from the oven, you can add any other of your favorite toppings. I used sour cream, olives, green onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. OLE'!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Post-Operative Pub Fare

The carpal tunnel release surgery went so swimmingly on my right hand back in January, that I was eager to go ahead and do the left one, too. Of course, I had almost a month over winter break to heal up last time, and I don't have any substantive time off until the end of July. I just started teaching summer school this week, but since it's my non-dominant hand, I decided to just go for it. I cancelled my afternoon class today, had the procedure in the morning, napped during the afternoon, and I am already cooking and blogging by evening! I don't return to work until Monday, so I should be able to step down the narcotics by then. ;-)

I am pretty sure that my hospital discharge instructions expressly forbade me to operate a stove for a full 24 hours until the anesthesia wears off, but I am a rebel who laughs in the face of such overly-cautious admonitions. For our dinner tonight, I attempted to recreate something that I had at an Irish pub called Swifty's in Utica when I was in town for a conference last week.

They were like those southwestern egg rolls that everyone loves at Chili's but with a Germanic twist. If you love a Reuben sandwich--with its tantalizing combination of corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and Russian dressing--you will LOVE these! And they are easy enough for someone fresh out of surgery and still partially anesthetized to throw together. (Tee hee.)

Crispy Reuben Rolls

Mix together two cups of chopped corned beef (slices from the deli), two cups of chopped swiss cheese, and two cups of sauerkraut that has been squeezed dry, plus a half teaspoon each granulated garlic, ground celery, and black pepper.

Place about two tablespoons of the filling in the lower third of each egg roll wrapper (turned diagonally).  Fold the bottom corner up and over the filling, seal the edges with a little water, fold over the ends, and roll it up, again sealing the top corner with a little water.

Fry the rolls in 350 degree vegetable oil in batches of four or five, seam side down at first, for a couple of minutes per side until golden brown. Keep them warm on a rack placed over a cookie sheet in a warm oven until all the rolls have been cooked. Serve them with Russian or Thousand Island dressing on the side as a dipper.

This makes 14 rolls.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Because society frowns on margaritas for breakfast...

I just love the Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker that I bought half price at the end of the last summer season. But until today, I'd only used to it make...well...margaritas. But I have been seeing this McDonald's commercial lately for a blueberry-raspberry-pomegranate smoothie, and I thought I might try making something similar at home. I didn't have any pomegranate juice on hand, but I used a little frozen orange juice concentrate, and it turned out really yummy! I love berries and citrus flavors together, especially when blended with creamy dairy goodness. If you do, too, give this smoothie a whirl in your blender.

Berry Orange Smoothie
(Makes two 16 oz. glasses)

1 cup milk (I use fresh, whole, unpasteurized milk that I buy locally)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (preferably, vanilla)
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons frozen orange (or orange-pineapple) juice concentrate
1 teaspoon honey (or to taste)
1 cup ice (or more, to reach desired consistency)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hibernating for the rest of the Memorial Weekend....

2012-2013 was a very difficult academic year with much inner political upheaval, shall we say, at our institution. As usual, I taught full-time at the community college and part-time at the state university, so seven classes a semester plus a few extra-curriculars made Gina a very busy gal, and a very tired one by the end of the spring term and the academic year. Moreover, they are repairing the heating system in the main building over the summer, so I had exactly one day after the semester ended to finish all of my final grades, make syllabi for the summer sessions, and purge thirteen years' worth of crap in my office and get everything packed up before leaving for the annual SUNY technology conference in Utica for a few days.

If that weren't enough, I have been rocking a particularly vicious sinus infection for about three weeks that I am just now getting over. And as I blogged about yesterday, right on the heels of my conference, we had a day in Montreal planned to reconnect with some good friends who were passing through on their way to Quebec City, and we didn't get home until late last night.

Given all of these conditions, plus unseasonably cold, rainy, and windy weather, Cyd and I plan to relax by the fire, clearing out the dvr and watching dvd's, and napping alongside three snoring dogs until Tuesday when we are contractually compelled to return to work. So today, we stay home and recuperate, but tonight, we pay homage to our cosmopolitan neighbor to the north, Montreal, with a supper of Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur (the Madame has the egg on top, naturellement). And though I cannot source tamarind in my provincial little town to be able to replicate the Itacate house margarita, I have fashioned a tangy and refreshing ruby red grapefruit margarita that hits the same sweet and sour notes. C'est si bon!

Croque Monsieur and Madame
(Source: adapted from Gourmet, March 2007)

First you have to make a béchamel:
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter until it foams, then whisk in five tablespoons of flour and cook for a minute or two, whisking the whole time. Slowly pour in two cups of milk and cook until thick, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and grate in some fresh nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon, or to taste), 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and about 1/4 cup finely shredded gruyere or emmenthal cheese (or your favorite aged, Alpine-type cheese).
Take one piece of bread and spread a goodly amount of the sauce on top (about 3 T?). Then sprinkle on another tablespoon of shredded cheese, a couple of pieces of ham, and another tablespoon of shredded cheese. Spread the top slice with a very thin layer of Dijon mustard, then top the sandwich. Brown the sandwich on both sides in a buttered skillet until golden. Top each sandwich with another few spoonfuls of the bechamel and broil for a couple of minutes in the oven until the sauce gets brown and bubbly. For Croque Madame, top with a fried egg.

Garnish with fresh chives if you've got 'em! YUM!
Ruby Red Grapefruit Margarita
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice (I used "light")
1/4 cup frozen orange (or better yet, orange-pineapple) juice concentrate
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup tequila of choice (I use Sauza silver)
2 tablespoons triple sec (or Cointreau or Grand Marnier if you're fancy)
ice to just BELOW the fill line of the Margaritaville blender (about 4 cups?)
lime wedge garnish for each glass (=three 16 oz. glasses)
rim each glass lightly with salt if you prefer

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorable/Memorial Visit to Montreal

We had a delightful day in Montreal yesterday, despite the yucky weather. We started by checking out the Quartier Dix30, this huge shopping mall and "lifestyle center" in Brossard, a suburb south of Montreal. We found these depressing products at a fancy meat shop (boucherie) there. If you can't make it out, that's camel, kangaroo, and horse meat. OH, THE HUMANITY!

I was thrilled to learn that our favorite Middle Eastern/Mediterranean market, Marché Adonis, now has a location in the Dix30 Quarter. My biggest and best score there? The omg-sized vat of pepperoncini for $8.99! Also, a sampler of little baklava-type pastries that are so delectable, their lusciousness defies description.

After the Dix30 Quarter, we headed into Old Montreal for a late lunch at a café called Olive et Gourmando. We shared a Cubano sandwich and a cup of homemade lentil and pork soup, with a glass of housemade raspberry lemonade. For dessert, we had what may be the best almond croissant in the city. YUM! (We have to go back sometime, because they were out of their famed truffled macaroni and cheese that we were dying to try.)

After hitting a up a couple more bakeries--Premiere Moisson and Mamie Clafoutis--for round one of the new game I invented ("Who Has the Best Croissants in Montreal?"), we headed north to meet our dear friends, Jaymie and Audrey for a long, laughter-filled dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Itacate, that was recommended to me by two of my best "foodie" friends, Domenica and (a different) Jaime. There we enjoyed a veritable mountain of their signature guacamole, various delectable entrees, including Cyd's duck leg with a rich housemade mole and my burrito with shredded pork in a chipotle sauce (pictured below).  And the piece de resistance was their house specialty, the tamarind margarita. I won't even tell you how many of them the four of us drank! AY-YI-YI!

So it may be near freezing here with the wind chill factor, but we won't let that spoil our fun over this Memorial Weekend!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Best Yet Spaghetti!

This is kind of a lame thing to post about, and I don't even have a picture, because I just made...spaghetti. But it may have been the best batch I've ever thrown together, so I want to commit the recipe to memory--or because my memory sucks the older I get, I will commit it to a page of this humble little blog. I HIGHLY recommend you give this version a try for a quick work/school night dinner.

Gina's Sweet and Spicy Sausage Spaghetti

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste (or a 1/2 can of regular strength)
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 jar (26 oz.) your favorite pasta sauce (I used garlic and herb)
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 lb. spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions until al dente
Garnish: grated Parmesan cheese
Brown one pound of sweet Italian sausage (casings removed if in links) in a large skillet along with one large diced onion. When the sausage is no longer pink and the onion is tender, drain off most of the excess fat then add in the minced garlic, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Reduce for a couple/few minutes until the wine and vinegar are thick and syrupy. Then stir in the tomato paste, hot sauce, Italian herbs, salt, pepper, pasta sauce, and brown sugar. Simmer until the pasta is ready. Drain the pasta, then toss with all of the sauce. Thin with a little pasta water if necessary. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.