Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mexico Redux (part 1) and Chicken Parmesan

As many of you know, recently, I spent a week in Mexico. For the last five years one or both of my parents (Dad lived there for a short while before Mom moved down) have lived in Mexico, I have been fortunate enough to be able to take a few vacations to see them there and last week was one of those times. My visit started off on a Saturday afternoon (following a very early drive to San Antonio because they had the best fares), it was a pretty easy afternoon, we ran into Costco to get some steaks and went home to relax. Yup, that's right I said Costco, the big wholesale/warehouse stores are all the rage down there, both Sam's and Costco have outposts in the cities. Currently my parents live in Monterrey, where many more US chains exist but previously they lived in Torreon, not quite as American-ized but still interesting.

After our relaxing Saturday evening and a very good nights' rest we headed out to the MARCO, the Monterrey Museum of Art to catch the newly opened Pixar exhibit....the photo below should give you an idea of how packed the museum was.

Apparently we made the mistake of trying to go to the exhibit on 'free' day at the museum, needless to say we did not wait in the line (which wrapped around the block), instead we ate at the museum restaurant, which has a lovely buffet and then wandered around Barrio Antigua. There is a section of downtown Monterrey that has been turned into a pedestrian area, known as the Gran Plaza with sculptures and fountains that are beautiful. Here are a few shots of the Fuente de la Vida (Fountain of Life), it is anchored by Neptune and has many other bronzed figures through the fountain:

And one of my favorites, a picture of Mom taking a picture of one of the sculptures in the Explanada de los Heroes (Esplanade of the Heros):

From the Gran Plaza you can see a number of neat architectural elements as well as the Catedral Metropolitana (the metropolitan cathedral) of Monterrey.

After wandering the beautiful park and esplanade areas in Barrio Antigua we wandered through the flea-market style sale that takes place on Sundays in Barrio Antigua, there Mom purchased a very large matate, which is similar to a mocahete but is used for grinding corn and larger items. It was very heavy, maybe 80 lbs of stone but we managed to get it home and later Mom cleaned it up.

More on my Mexican adventures for some of the goodies I've made since I've returned home:

Thursday evening I was feeling an urge to cook and wanted something that I think of as comfort food. It was kind of damp and chilly that night so chicken parmesan sounded delicious, I raided the pantry and my herb stash and came up with this version of it.

Chicken Parmesan

2 28oz cans diced tomatoes
1 medium chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 6oz can tomato paste
1 1/2 cup parmesan
3 pounded chicken breasts, cut in 1/2
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 cups bread crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 lb whole wheat angel hair pasta

1. Saute onion, garlic and olive oil in a large pot for five minutes (or until tender), season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Add tomatoes, oregano, thyme, basil and bay leaves to pot. Bring to a boil, season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
3. Reduce heat and simmer, stir in tomato paste. Allow sauce to reduce, approximately 30-45 minutes.
4. While sauce is simmering, pound chicken breasts to about 1/2 inches thick, cut in 1/2 to create 6 pieces of chicken.
5. Mix 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper into flour.
6. Crack eggs, mix up and set aside for use in battering chicken.
7. Batter chicken, drop into egg first, then dredge in seasoned flour, dip in egg again and then in bread crumbs, pan fry until golden brown on each side (appx 3 minutes per side).
8. Set pan fried chicken on papertowels to drain off excess oil.
9. Bring salted pasta water to a boil. Boil pasta until al dente. Drain, set aside.
10. Preheat oven to 350F.
11. Spray a 13x9 baking dish with PAM/Veggie Oil, then place pasta in the dish. Layer chicken breasts over pasta, then sauce over the chicken. Finally, top with 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese.
12. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cheese is browning on top. Serve!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm Baaccckkk!

Wow - twelve days after my last post I finally am back! Mexico was amazing, and I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a contest that may have come from the trip to'll have to wait and see. In the interim I wanted to post a recipe that I was able to throw in the slow cooker the day before I left town (thank God for the slow cooker, days spent packing and running errands are perfect for slow cooking!). Straight from the likes of the March 09 Cooking Light issues is a delicious Mediterranean inspired chicken recipe.

Chicken Thighs with Olives and Tomato Sauce


* 12 chicken thighs (about 4 pounds), skinned
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
* 1 teaspoon olive oil
* 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
* 1/4 cup dry white wine
* 3 tablespoons tomato paste
* 2 to 3 teaspoons crushed red pepper
* 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
* 1/4 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Place chicken in an electric slow cooker.
2. Add garlic to pan, and sauté 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits; cook 30 seconds. Place wine mixture in cooker. Add tomato paste, crushed red pepper, and tomatoes to cooker.
3. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 hours. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, olives, and parsley.

Served alongside some green beans this was a delicious dinner and healthy to boot! Even my boyfriend didn't really notice how healthy it was, that makes it a true winner!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Greek Food on a Cold Night

Weather in Austin has been dreary the last few days, we went from 85 and sunny to 40 and rainy in the span of 15 hours! You'd think I was living in Seattle or something?!?! Anyway, had to break out the winter clothing again, I say that as if I ever really put it away....last night it was damp and chilly and I was a lucky gal, my boyfriend (a cop who moonlights with the military) came home from a two week military training exercise/course so we had a quiet dinner and tv night, good fun for me! With his assistance, he's an excellent chopper and a pretty good cook, I whipped up the second dish from my 'I heart Food and Wine Magazine' kick...Pork Souvlaki with Tzatziki.

Pork Soulvlaki with Tzatziki


1 1/4 pounds trimmed pork shoulder, cut into 3-by- 1/2-inch strips
1 large onion, cut through the root end into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup Greek-style whole-milk yogurt
1/2 European cucumber, seeded and finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Warm pita, for serving


1. In a medium bowl, toss the pork strips and onion wedges with the olive oil, lemon juice, chopped oregano and half of the garlic paste. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the yogurt, cucumber, mint and the remaining garlic paste. Season the tzatziki with salt and pepper.
3. Heat a large cast-iron griddle or grill pan until very hot. Add the pork and onion wedges along with any marinade and cook over high heat, turning once or twice, until the pork and onion are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to plates and serve with the tzatziki, lemon wedges and pita.

Warmed pita bread, seasoned and slightly grilled pork all were a delicious way to spend the evening at home and still feel like we'd gone to a local restaurant! Time to run upstairs and start packing...something about flying out at the crack of dawn tomorrow means I'd better get with it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How I love you Food and Wine Magazine...

I figure while I'm plugging various products (i.e. my recent Central Market rant) I will rant about how much I love the March 09 issue of Food and Wine Magazine...this week alone I've cooked two recipes from the issue and I have plans for many many more! Monday evening I cooked one of the recipes featured in the 'Chef Recipes Made Easy' section, Mustard-Glazed Chicken with Arugula and Bok Choy. It turned out to be a quick and easy dinner for a week night, not to mention the fact that it provides some nutritious veggies and delicious protein...really tasty too!

Mustard-Glazed Chicken with Arugula and Bok Choy


4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
4 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon mirin
1 1/2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium heads of bok choy (about 1 1/4 pounds), halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
One 5-ounce bag baby arugula


1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, stir the mustard with the water, mirin, 1 teaspoon of the soy and 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar.
2. In an ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until golden, 2 minutes. Flip the chicken and brush with the mustard; transfer to the oven and roast for 8 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes; slice. Wipe out the skillet.
3. Meanwhile, steam the bok choy for 5 minutes. Drain; pat dry. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the bok choy cut side down and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned, 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter; season with salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken over the bok choy.
4. In a bowl, whisk the vinegar with the remaining oil, soy sauce and sugar; season with salt and pepper. Add the arugula and toss; arrange over the chicken and serve.

I didn't have mirin on hand so I used Rice Wine instead and found that it was a good substitute, it helped keep the chicken very moist and delicious. I cooked this for just me, but it made great work-lunch left overs, probably would've needed some rice if the boyfriend was here or anyone else for that matter, but it was still tasty. Needless to say, the Food and Wine love-fest will continue with my next post, tonight we had a terrific Greek Tzatziki that was in the same issue, I'll post it sooner or later....fair warning, my posts will be very sporadic (if at all) the remainder of the week into the week of March 23 because I'm going to Mexico! I'm super excited, I get to go visit my parents, some of you may read my mom's blog Texas-to-Mexico, I'll finally get to see her (it's been since Xmas) and my dad for a good amount of time. I'm sure it will result in some great photos and maybe a contest with Mexico-food-stuff prizes!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner???

So tonight I am lazy, so lazy in fact that I simply crisped up some roasted potatoes from dinner two nights ago, made an egg over easy and cooked breakfast sausage....yup right about now you're asking yourself why I'm posting this. Frankly I am too, oh wait, it was the sausage! Saturday afternoon Jackie (my little sister) and I went to Central Market, for those of you not familiar with grocery shopping in the state of Texas, Central Market is a high-end gourmet store owned by HEB, it is their answer to Whole Foods. Or, as one of my best friends in college put it, "Whole Foods is for the skinny rich people in town, Central Market is for the happy rich people!" - Right she was! Ok, just kidding, I love Whole Foods but Central Market was on the menu this weekend. We stopped by to ogle the food, as they always have cool, tasty, good stuff and ended up picking up some Maple Blueberry Pork Breakfast Sausage. I was intrigued instantly by the name and the fact that it came highly recommended by the butcher. The sausage is mild and sweet, not super sweet, just sweet like when you dip breakfast sausage into your pancake syrup...which by the way this would be amazing with! So, here I sit, giving you all my plug for Central Market's Maple Blueberry Pork Sausage...yum yum yum! Tomorrow, an acutaly recipe might make it up here, but for now I will continue to revel in the tastiness that is breakfast for dinner!

Not the prettiest plating in the world but very tasty!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Creamy, Smoky Goodness

After last week's Fat Tuesday post I felt inspired to cook more Cajun food....unfortunately the one dish I was craving took much longer to make (hour wise) than I typically have time for during the work week. So starting Saturday (bean soaking day) I began the long process of preparing Red Beans and Rice, ok so I'm being a tad bit dramatic since all I had to do was put some beans, salt and water together and let them sit over night...but it still counts as prep! Sunday afternoon I started some tasty bits a stewing and by Sunday evening I had Red Beans and Rice...

Red Beans & Rice
1 Chopped Onion, Large
1 Chopped Green Bell Pepper, Large
5 Ribs Chopped Celery
1 Tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Salt (to make brine for the beans to soak in)
1/2 Tsp Cayenne
1/4 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tsp Dried Thyme Leaves
4 Bay Leaves
1 Ham Hock (preferrably with some bits of ham too)
1 LB Smoked Sausage, Sliced into 1/4 Rounds
1 LB Dried Red Beans
3 Tbsp Chopped Garlic
2 Cups Steamed Rice

1. On the day before you plan to make the dish, mix up the 1/2 cup salt and enough water to cover the beans, sort the beans (taking care to make sure you only soak beans, and don't have stray objects in the bag!), then place them in the brine and soak overnight.
2. After the overnight soak, rinse the beans off and set aside.
3. Heat some oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper and thyme for 5-6 minutes. Add the bay leaves, ham and sausage and saute for another 5-6 minutes.
4. Add the beans, garlic and enough water to cover the contents in the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered (stirring occasionally) for 2-2.5 hours. Add more water if mixture becomes thick and dry.
5. Using a wooden spoon, mash about half the mixture against the side of the pot. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is creamy and the beans are soft.
6. Remove bay leaves and serve over steamed rice.

This dish was quite the hit with the crowd who assembled here (by crowd I should be clear, there were only four of us)....seconds were had by many and I'm enjoying the left overs! If this dish was quicker I'd make it weekly but unfortunately it will have to stay as a treat for the occasional weekend.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Texas Independence Day and Shiner Hefewisen Chili!

So being the proud Texan that I am I wanted to share a little bit of history (and yes I'm a day late) with you my dear readers....little known fact is that for nine years, the state of Texas was actually the Republic of Texas...on March 2, 1836 Texas declared it's independence from Mexico, in 1845 Texas joined the Union as the 28th state and soon after the Mexican-American war began (largely in response to Texas becoming a state). So each year on March 2 the state of Texas celebrates it's independence, yes it's kind of not independent anymore but it's pretty damn cool that we were our own country and even cooler that on my father's side of the family I am some how related to Anson Jones (for those of you not in the know, he was the last President of the Republic of Texas). In honor of my state and lineage, I present you with a Texas Brewed Chili! Oh yea - PS - Texas Independence Day is an official state holiday!!

Shiner Bock Hefewisen Chili
1 Bottle Shiner Bock Hefewisen
3 LB Ground Sirloin
3 15.5 oz Cans Pinto Beans
2 28 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Roasted, Chopped and Seeded Hatch Chili (yup, I'm aware this beauty is from New Mexico but that's okay)
2 Cloves Minced Garlic
1 Small Chopped Onion
1 Small Can Tomato Paste (pretty sure that's a 6 oz can but can't remember)
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
2 Tbsp Adams Extract Pinto Bean Seasoning
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
1 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tbsp Salt
3 Cups Beef Broth
Shredded Cheddar Cheese (Garnish)

1. Brown the ground beef in large stew pot with a small amount of olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper. Once it's brown, remove it from the pot and drain off any excess fat.
2. While the meat is draining, saute the onion and garlic until onion is tender, approximately 5 minutes.
3. Put meat back in pot with onion and garlic, add tomatoes (with juice), beans, beer, diced/seeded chili and beef broth. Season with Chili Powder, Pinto Bean Seasoning, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper and Salt...I have given measurements as a baseline, taste it and season until it tastes like you like it!
4. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes. After it has simmered, remove about 1 cup of the liquid and mix in the tomato paste, then pour into pot and mix well.
5. Serve hot with cornbread and some cheddar cheese on top!

I served this with a souped up cornbread, using a cornbread mix, I added a 1/2 Cup of Bacon Crumbles/Bits and 1/2 Cup of Shredded Cheese and then put it in the oven. It is also great with some Jalapeno thrown in.

Enjoy and for all you Texans out there - Happy Independence Day!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Saturday Night Special

So Saturday my sister Jackie and I drove on down to San Antonio to see my Grandmother (who will hate me when she sees that I called her that) and her sister, our Aunt Carol. The four of us wandered around some thrift shops (a favorite hobby) and ate some massive and tasty burgers at Chris Madrids. Jackie and I got home around 8PM and needed a relatively easy, quick and mucho healthy dinner (when compared to lunch) so I pulled out a pound of turkey breast I had in the freezer, thawed it out and made us some tasty turkey tacos. Yup, I'm loving the alliteration there!

Turkey & Bell Pepper Fajita Tacos
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Each Red, Green and Yellow Bell Pepper, Sliced
1 Jalapeno, Sliced in Rounds
1 LB Turkey Breast, Sliced into Fajita-style Strips
Lemon Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Garlic Powder
1 Cup Mild Salsa
1 Tbsp Worcester Sauce
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salsa (for garnish)
Sour Cream (for garnish)
Cheddar/Jack Blend Shredded Cheese (for garnish)
Corn Tortillas, Warmed

1. Place jalapeno, turkey, cup of salsa, worcester sauce, olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp lemon pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder into a bowl to marinade. Let sit at least 15 minutes.
2. Heat an additional 2 tsp olive oil in a skillet, saute onion until it begins to caramelize (appx. 5 minutes). Add bell peppers and allow them to soften as well.
3. At the same time, cook the marinated turkey in a separate skillet, you can leave the jalapenos out depending on your preference for spicy foods.
4. After turkey has cooked almost all the way through, mix it into the veggie skillet. Allow them to cook together 2-3 minutes. Serve in warmed corn tortillas.

I served this with a bowl of black beans. Side note, because the mixture has some juice to it and because corn tortillas break apart, you'll probably want to double up your tortillas or make your tacos just one at a time so that you have time to eat them before they break. Enjoy!