Queso Flameado

Last week, J and I decided to throw caution to the wind, forgo having dinner at home and try the Mexican restaurant right by our house.

Yes, we ACTUALLY went out to dinner. Shocking , I know…… But every now and then we like to shake things up. Live dangerously. Yep, that’s us…the couple that lives on the edge.

Riiiiiiiight.

Fortunately, the restaurant was very good – we weren’t disappointed in the least. The food was not your standard “American style” Mexican cuisine (read: it was authentic) and we definitely would go back. Of course, I say that and it will be another 6 months before we go out to dinner again… which we’re both okay with..

Anyway, we tried an appetizer called Queso Flameado. Literally translated, it means flaming cheese. I wondered… do they actually set it on fire? I mean, scorching hot cheese does enough damage, as anyone who has taken a bite of fresh-from-the-oven pizza will attest to….not that I have first hand knowledge of that….

This version, I’m happy to report, was not on fire. The roofs of our mouths didn’t get burned, either. And for two people that share such a deep love of all things cheesy (including sappy love songs….awwwww), I knew I had to make this for us, and soon.

Which I did, the very next night.

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Special thanks to Alexander for holding the chip so I could snap a picture…

Queso flameado – adapted from The Homesick Texan

  • 1 cup roasted peppers, sliced into slivers (I used leftover roasted peppers that I had in the fridge)
  • 3 cups shredded Munster cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the peppers in about a tablespoon of oil in a large cast iron skillet until they’re sizzling and hot, about five minutes. Sprinkle the cheeses over the peppers and bake for 15 minutes or until bubbling.

Spoon out the melted queso flameado onto tortillas, or dip chips into it.

Cannellini Bean Hummus

With the big game (aka The SuperBowl) looming on the horizon, all thoughts naturally turn to the most critical part of the day:

The Food. Seriously.

Well, truth be told, it appears to me that most people agree on three very important elements in terms of relevance to the big day: the food, the commercials, and the alcoholic libations. In that order.

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And although J and I haven’t figured out what we are doing just yet, I am definitely going to make another batch of this hummus, and I am hopeful that this tantalizing hotdish (yesterday, I learned that “hotdish” is the proper term for a casserole in the Midwest) will make an appearance. J’s friend Jamie emailed us the link yesterday, simply saying, “J should make this”.

Of course, J’s affection for Tater Tots is well documented…..

Cannellini Bean Hummus – adapted from mideast food

  • 2 ½ cups white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tbs. of tahini
  • 3 tbs. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • water

In a blender or food processor, blend the white beans. Add tahini, lemon juice, cumin, garlic, and olive oil until the ingredients form a creamy, paste-like consistency. Add small amounts of water as needed until desired texture. Pour the mixture into a large serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or serve immediately. Before serving, drizzle additional olive oil on top and sprinkle on fresh ground black pepper and cayenne pepper (or smoked paprika).

Chicken Spaghetti

Sometimes, the name of a dish alone is enough to pique your interest to want to try it.

This, however, is not one of those times.

Just kidding.

I actually had a version of Chicken Spaghetti about 4 months ago, and was absolutely mortified when I found out what goes into making it.

Seriously.

Talk about unhealthy … processed cheese, canned soup, canned broth…….. no how and no way.

So I did a leeeetle bit of experimenting, combining several different recipes, and voila:

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Yes I know – worst picture ever.

But don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention instead to the fact that this was made with homemade béchamel sauce, real cheese, pasta, and assorted vegetables.

Deeeee-licious.

One thing I’ve learned with baked pasta dishes, though, is that you should always always ALWAYS make more sauce than you think you need. And thin that sauce out with additional milk. Otherwise, it gets too dry and gummy and then no one wants to eat it.

Including me. 

However, as proof that this was really good, here is the same dish after dinner:

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Granted, Alexander and his 15 year old boy metabolism did 80% of the damage.

Chicken Spaghetti – adapted from several sources on the internet

  • 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 lb thin pasta, cooked for about 4 minutes (or half the recommended cooking time)
  • 3 cups béchamel sauce, thinned with 1/2 to 1 cup additional milk (see below)
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese (or any cheese, really)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients (reserving one cup of cheese for the top) and pour into a greased baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese, and bake at 375 degrees until bubbling around the edges and lightly browned on top – about 30 minutes.

Bechamel Sauce 

5 tbs. butter
4 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp black pepper
Directions

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook whisking constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add the milk slowly to the butter/flour mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat. Season with pepper, and set aside until ready to use. Thin with additional milk if the sauce gets too thick.

 

 

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

Happy oh-my-gosh it’s Wednesday!

You know, now that we are here, and settled into our temporary home, I kind of figured that the days would go by at a slower pace, and life would, for lack of a better word, settle down.

nope

It seems like I spend the better part of my days dealing with the Austin traffic (I have quickly learned the best/worst times to attempt to go anywhere), running various errands that need to be tended to, cooking/baking (always my personal favorite), and planning out the dinner menus since each.and.every weekend will most likely be spent working at the ranch.

We had an absolute blast last weekend. Alexander learned how to drive a bulldozer, Sabrina was in charge of the “first-aid” station (i.e. the cooler filled with various drinks), and the men tore down over 120 trees, clearing the driveway and most of the space for our home.

My job? Tagging the trees with either green tape (keepers) or orange tape (trash). And of course, standing near the chipper, watching the boys feed the cedar trees in, while inhaling the glorious scent.

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Really though, you know what the best part is/was? Watching my children form a strong, unbreakable bond with J, and their realization that they are, in fact, helping to build our home.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread – adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. tahini (sesame seed paste)
3/4 tsp ground cumin
Toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 475°F. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with 1/4 cup oil; season with pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.

Greek Style Chicken with Tzatziki

It’s always so groovy when things work out the way you want them to…. you know, when everything just fits together and harmonizes. It makes life so insouciant and stress free.

Stress free…… that’s the way I like it.

That’s the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it, uh huh uh huh…….

Yep – it’s going to be a great day.

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Although this dinner wasn’t very photogenic (read: I wanted to eat, not take pictures),  it was so incredibly flavorful and delicious that it really doesn’t matter.

And wait until the kids see what I have planned for tonight.

Greek Style Chicken – adapted from Martha Stewart

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 1/2 pounds total)
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, plus juice from 1 whole lemon
2 tsp. fresh chopped oregano
Fresh ground black pepper

In a large bowl, mix together the lemon zest, juice, oregano and black pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat. Allow to marinate for several hours if able. Cook chicken in a large saute pan over medium high heat for 5-6 minutes per side until cooked through. Serve with sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce – adapted from Ina Garten

1 pint Fage Greek yogurt
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled and seeded
1 tbs. white wine vinegar
2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh dill
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Place the yogurt in a large bowl. Grate the cucumber and squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as you can and add the cucumber to the yogurt. Mix in the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dill, and black pepper. You can serve it immediately, or allow the tzatziki to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cream Puffs with Homemade Chocolate Sauce

TGIF!!

Wow… what a week it’s been…….no complaints, of course, just vocalizing the fact that since I returned to Vegas on Monday, it has been a nonstop race of catching up at home, cleaning up the mess at work, getting the posse (reluctantly) back into the school groove, and jump-starting my long neglected exercise routine.

And since I hadn’t exercised in 13 days (yikes!!), my legs, arms and abs feel a bit…..sore.

That’s putting it mildly.

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But it definitely feels good to get moving again, as I do my best thinking while trotting along on the treadmill or pedaling away on my bike.

Which reminds me, the weather appears to be favorable enough today to actually ride outside, versus riding inside on the stationary bike. That is soooooo boring and uninspiring…..

This dessert, however is not. Cream puffs are one of those desserts that look so impressive, and most people think they’re extremely difficult to make. But the truth is, they are incredibly easy and leftovers (if there are any) freeze very well.

And the chocolate sauce……. well, let’s just say that Sabrina and I ate it straight from the container. Hey, at least we dipped fresh raspberries into it first.

That made me feel very virtuous.

Cream Puffs / Pate A Choux – adapted from Gale Gand

1 cup water
8 tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash

To make the cream puffs: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, and granulated sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to evaporate some of the moisture.Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, and working 1 egg at a time, add 3 of the eggs, stopping after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining egg and mix until incorporated.Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the dough onto the baking sheet, in 2-inch diameter rounds or balls. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 1/2 teaspoons water. Brush the surface of the rounds with the egg wash to knock down the points (you may not use all the egg wash). Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until puffed up, and light golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet.
When ready to serve, slice puffs horizontally and fill with ice cream, pastry cream, or whipped cream. Top with chocolate sauce and serve immediately.
Chocolate Sauce – adapted from Sherry Yard
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup simple syrup     ** see below
2 tbs. heavy cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
2 tbs. Kahlua
Combine the chocolates and butter in a medium bowl. Bring the simple syrup to a boil, and pour over the chocolate/butter mixture. Stir gently until the chocolates have melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the cream, creme fraiche and Kahlua and whisk gently until combined. Serve warm.
Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Use immediately. Store any additional syrup in the refrigerator.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Is it just me, or is this photo blurry?

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I think it is, which reeeeeeally annoys me because the picture on my phone is crystal clear.

grrrrrrr……..

Anyway, the countdown to Christmas continues, and I have changed my mind about what type of dessert to serve for Christmas Eve exactly 12.6 times so far.

So far.

One year ago: Chewy Chocolate Chip Gingerbread Cookies and Cucidati

Spinach Artichoke Dip – adapted from the Pioneer Woman

3 tbs. butter
4 tbs. garlic, minced
2 bags fresh spinach
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 cans artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
3 tbs. butter (additional)
3 tbs. flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1 8 oz. packagesoften ed cream cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup grated pepper jack cheese
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Additional grated pepper jack cheese

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Crank up the heat a bit and throw in the spinach. Stir around and cook for a couple of minutes until the spinach wilts. Remove the spinach from the skillet and set it aside.

Throw in the artichokes and cook over medium high heat for several minutes, until liquid is cooked off and artichokes start to get a little color. Remove the artichokes.

In the same skillet or a different pot, melt 3 additional tablespoons of butter and whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour until it makes a paste. Cook over medium-low heat for a minute or two, then pour in milk. Stir and cook until slightly thickened; splash in more milk if needed.

Add cream cheese, parmesan, pepper jack, and cayenne and stir until cheese are melted and sauce is smooth. Chop artichokes and spinach and add to the sauce. Stir to combine.

Pour into buttered baking dish. Top with extra grated pepper jack and bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve with pita wedges, chips, or crackers.