Beans Beans the Magical Fruit

I wish I had a dollar for every time I sang this as a kid. Oh, who am I kidding? I still sing this as an adult!!

I was introduced to bean burritos when I was 7 and we moved to California to live with my Grandparents. You see, back in the late 70’s early 80’s in Minnesota there wasn’t a lot of diversity in terms of food at least not in my house. It was mainly hot dishes, stuffed peppers and meatloaf in our house. When I ate my first bean burrito I was in LOVE!

Growing up I always chose Old El Paso from a can. I loved the taste of it and it was so easy to just open a can (of whoop ass) heat and plop it on a tortilla shell with your choice of fixings. However….

Lately I’ve been on a real food kick. Now I know that some people take the real food thing to the Nth degree but when I say real food I really mean less processed food. I got tired of reading the labels and being astonished at the levels of fat, sugar, salt, carbs, etc. I’ve been making more food from scratch which has been great because I feel better and I know I can control the sodium levels which is good for my husbands high blood pressure.

I decided I wanted to make my own refried beans for once. I mean, how hard could it be? Right? So I found this recipe online and decided to give it a go. The first thing that attracted me was that I could make this in my crock pot. Winner winner refried bean dinner! I kept meaning to make this recipe for a whole week but kept forgetting because of the whole “Soak your beans overnight” thing. I mean listen, I make dinner, clean up and do the dishes and that is usually where my dinner duties end. Last night I had enough clarity of mind (MIRACLE!!!) to remember.

This recipe is so So SO easy!! I mean really!! It’s as easy as that set it and forget it thing you see late at night on cable TV. The thing I like best about this recipe, aside from how easy it is, is that you can control how soupy or dry the beans are and there is no salt except to taste. I forgot to add the garlic when I turned on the crock pot so I just added some garlic salt when it was time to mash the beans. They were amazingly creamy and flavorful!!

Now apparently you need a hand masher for mashing the beans. I don’t own one so I improvised with my hand mixer on low and that worked just fine. One of the other down sides of this recipe is that it calls for cheddar cheese and sour cream and I was really trying to go for not processed but at least it was minimally processed and contained less preservatives.

I didn’t get to take a picture because, well, it’s been one of those days. The baby fell on his head twice today and I lost my Target card. The baby has reached his terrible two’s so he is constantly getting into stuff, climbing and fall off of everything. I can’t tell you how many times the husband told me how much he loved them.

My advice is make these. You will love them. If you have a lot left over freeze them for up to three months. I am going to make a 7 layer taco dip for our BBQ on saturday with my left overs.

I give this recipe 5 wooden spoons for the ease at which this can be made.

rsz_15spoons

Souper Tasty!!

A couple of weeks ago my sister in law came out to visit from L.A. to see the cutest baby in the whole of the universe (Ok I may be a bit biased…but seriously…have you seen him?). While she was here we were trying to figure out where to eat. I had wanted to go to a steak restaurant because the week before I got completely robbed of a juicy steak. Here is the story:

My friend Amber had her son two weeks before I had mine. So we were invited to her sons birthday party the same day that the husband and I had planned a double date. Luckily she planned it for noon and our date wasn’t until 4 so we were in the clear but we got there and the pizza she was going to order hadn’t been ordered yet. It was probably about 1:30 before we ate and she was super sweet and ordered me a gluten free pizza. So naturally I felt like I should eat as much of it as I could and on top of that it was the Baked Potato Pizza from Pizza Luce which is delish!! So on top of eating a poop ton of pizza it was basically all carbs and just sat in my stomach like a solid brick.

For our double date we were supposed to go to Outback steak house and then go see the Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Museum. I had really been looking forward to a nice juicy steak all week long and was so perturbed at myself that I was so full that I basically just sat at the steak house pouting like a giant 4 year old. I was so full of carby pizza that I literally didn’t need to eat dinner that night. When I went to bed about midnight I was still full.

Ok so fast forward to my sister in laws visit. I still wanted steak in the worst way but it sounded like they wanted sushi or Asian food which makes sense since they are both Asian. I was not in the mood for Asian so we all settled for Thai which I like a whole lot and it was a happy medium. We went to a restaurant called Pad Thai which my husband and I have been to a couple of times and liked a whole lot.

I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new food and since I think she’s actually been to Thailand I let her make recommendations for dinner (especially since she was paying). She recommended a soup called Ghang Kha which is a chicken coconut soup. I was a bit skeptical but boy when I tasted it….WOOOO!!! It was so good and I knew I had to make it.

Last night I was shopping online for wine and wondered about the name of the wine I ordered. I did some investigating and I went to the site for Pad Thai to see if they showed what the brand was. No luck. BUT! While I was on the site I looked up the name of the soup and planned to make it tonight since we both liked it a whole bunch.

Now when I went to look up the recipe online I could not find it but the recipe for Tom Kha Gai kept coming up. So I looked at the recipe and low and behold that was the same soup. I’m not sure if the name Ghang Kha is specific to that restaurant, the region where the owners are from or what but it’s the same soup.

Souper tasty!!!

Souper tasty!!!

This soup utilizes the juice of lime, leaves of keffir lime, lemon grass and ginger to create this wonderfully rich broth that is so fabulous. It’s just the right balance of salty and zesty tanginess that makes this dish so delightful. The mushrooms add an earthy undertone  and the coconut milk adds a silky sweetness that compliments the full bodied flavor as it dances across your tongue.

The hardest part about making this soup is the same gripe I have about cooking all Asian food. The chopping. I learned a long time ago after making what I called “White Girl Mistakes” that you need to do ALL the chopping BEFORE you cook anything. The steps for Asian food go so fast that if you have to stop to chop something the dish doesn’t turn out the same.

I took complete advantage of this and had my husband chop the lemon grass and score the lime leaves while I cut up the chicken, mushrooms and ginger. Sometimes I forget how much fun it is to have him in the kitchen with me. We always have a good times and laugh a lot when we cook together. We need more of that.

After you get everything chopped it’s all downhill from there.

Son number one was a bit skeptical about this soup as it was something he hadn’t tried before but he loved it. Even son number two loved it and ate quite a bit of it. This dish definitely made it into our rotation.

RatingI give this dish four wooden spoons mostly because I am not a fan of all the chopping but the flavor and the smiles were all worth it!!

Grilled Flank Steak with Ginger marinade? Yes please!!

Sometimes I like to watch cooking shows. A lot of times I feel like they are over my head but sometimes I find shows that I really feel a connection with.

Ask Aida on the cooking channel is just such a show. She features easy to cook meals that pretty much anyone can understand and cook.

So a couple months back I was watching her show and she featured a recipe for grilled flank steak. You can find the recipe HERE. Now, I’ve never had flank steak and had no idea what a flank steak even was. You might remember flank steak from  your favorite fajita recipe. That’s right! It’s the same cut of meat. Now that I’ve cooked with flank steak I am most definitely going to go looking for a fajita (pronounced fa*G*ta in my house for fun) recipe because well, the husband like fajitas so why not!? A full man is a happy man especially on good food! Besides, flank steak is pretty cheap. We picked ours up at Costco for about $10 and the nice part was it was already trimmed of extra fat and sinew (what on earth is sinew??)

flank

Mmm…looks mighty tasty…

The hardest part of this recipe was cutting up the ginger. I had no idea that ginger was hairy on the inside. Did you?? Well, you learn something new every day. The recipe says to cut the ginger thinly so I decided to try to be clever and use a vegetable peeler but as soon as I got to the middle that plan fell apart. Even using a knife I had a hard time cutting it. Perhaps I need a new set of knives? *hint hint Santa baby* I’m also not a big fan of peeling garlic either. You smash it to help peel it but then your fingers get all sticky…and blah. That just bites. One other thing I had an issue with was that I forgot to add the lime juice right away. I added it when I took it out to let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. My husband said he didn’t think it made much of a difference. We’ll see though because I am TOTALLY going to make this again.

The only thing I changed in this recipe was that I added Garlic Chili Paste. I put in a 1/2 teaspoon and it added a really nice zing. Now, for those of you who don’t like spicy foods (and you can put me in that camp too) it isn’t going to make you not eat it. It just adds a nice zing…that’s it. Not really any heat. One of the other nice things about this recipe is that there are people who like juicy red meat and others that like their meat well done. Well, this dish accommodates everyone. Those who like the well done bits eat the ends and those who like the juicy red bits eat the middle. Holy buckets! Everyone is happy!

The meat was so soft and flavorful!! I served it over rice and the husband went wild over this. Definitely adding this to our rotation. I give this recipe 5 wooden spoons for its ease of prep, short cooking time and mega flavor!

rsz_15spoons

Tuna Noodle Casserole

It is now November in the great land of 10,000 lakes. November brings with it brisk winds dropping temps and shorter days. I love this time of year as it encourages cuddling cooking and baking which are three of my most favoritist things on earth (aside from my husband and children). It’s also a really good time of the year in this region for the making of what are called casseroles (also known as hot dishes) which people from other parts of the world or country don’t understand. They are hard to explain but honestly they are some of my favorite meals.

Tuna noodle in particular!

I love tuna! No. Really!! I looooove tuna!

I will and have been known to eat it directly out of the can. I have fond memories of Tuna going back as far as I can remember. My Dad used to make Tuna with miracle whip and we’d sit and watch football while plopping that mix on saltines (Occasionally he’d splurge and we’d eat pickled herring on those saltines but that’s another post for another day!). One of my favorite memories of my Dad.

My Dad also makes THE best Tuna Noodle Casserole this side of the hemisphere! NO lie! When I was pregnant with son #2 I emailed my dad to ask for his recipe because I was craving it and none of the ones I found online seemed right. The email I got back made me laugh. It was one giant paragraph describing the ingredients the process and what NOT to do. At the end he stated “You best print this out because it took me about 20 minutes to type this shit up!” That’s my Dad for you! I decided I should probably write this down somewhere in case that print out of my dads email gets lost. I also thought about the fact that someday my Dad won’t be here and reading that last line will make me laugh and cry at the same time!

The recipe includes green olives which I don’t normally eat because of the Green Olive incident of 1981. I ate too many when I was 6 and spent an entire night vomiting green olives BUT including them in this recipe gives it a very unique flavor that I adore!! The husband was skeptical as well but after one bite he was sold.

So here is the recipe:

2 Cans of Cream of Chicken Soup

2 Cans Tuna (he recommends Solid White Albacore in water)

1 Can of milk or Chicken broth or a mix of the 2 (use one of the soup cans for this measurement)

8 oz of cheese (my Dad recommends cheddar or Velveeta or a combo of the two)

1/2 cup of chopped green olives with pimentos

1/2 cup of frozen veggies (he recommends peas to offset the color of the pimentos…hey presentation is everything! Right!?)

4 cups of egg noodles (macaroni will work if that’s all you have)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350º.

While boiling the noodles combine all other ingredients in a saucepan and heat. DO NOT HARD BOIL. This will cause the milk to curdle and break the sauce which makes it grainy. Once the noodles are done drain and pour in a casserole or a 13×9 baking dish. Pour contents from saucepan onto noodles and stir.

If you want a topping crunch up a cup of cornflakes with 2 tbsp of butter. If you don’t have that or bread crumbs you can crush up some potato chips. I myself, self use the cheddar and sour cream potato chips. I think it adds to the flavor.

Bake for 30 minutes. Everything is already cooked so you are really just looking for it be get all bubbly.

This is really just a very versatile recipe in which you can add or subtract to your hearts content. I like it just this way but you could add chopped eggplant and use some Parmesan, for example, for a new twist on this classic dish. It really is the ultimate in comfort food.

I would have included a picture of this tastetastic dish however once it was pulled out of the oven it didn’t even have a chance to cool down before it was gone! It’s just that good!

The Challenge

Yesterday I received a challenge from son #1.

We were talking about how since I’ve been home I’ve been cooking wholesome home cooked meals. My statement was that it tastes so much better than any fast food or any meal that you can get out of a box. This last part, the part about any meal from a box was a direct jab at Hamburger Helper.

I hate…no I LOATHE Hamburger Helper. I was a single mom for 15 years with son #1. I had a high school diploma but no education beyond that so you can imagine that I didn’t make a lot of money. People who have a low socioeconomic status tend to eat less healthily because let’s face it, healthy food isn’t cheap. We ate a lot of Mac N Cheese and a WHOLE lot of Hamburger Helper. Now that I can afford not to eat it I won’t. The husband and son #1 love the stuff but me? I’d rather eat PB&J.

So after I took that jab at Hamburger Helper my son  said “I don’t know Mom, Hamburger helper is pretty tasty. I doubt it would taste any better if you made it homemade. In the back of my mind I was thinking “I think he just issued me a challenge…Oh he did!”

Oh it’s on!

IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!!!

*Ding*Ding*

So I found a recipe for Taco Cheeseburger Macaroni Skillet Meal and set forth to prove that little rascal wrong!

This is not my image. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture before my family inhaled this dish!

I asked the husband if he wanted me to double the recipe and his reply was “HELLO!?!?! How do you not know me by now!?” Ok then, that’s a yes! Remember, this is the man who likes to eat. A lot!

So I doubled the recipe but I only added the 4oz of cheese that it called for instead of 8oz. Even so it turned out pretty good. I even made this nearly gluten free as I am gluten sensitive by using Tinkyada brown rice macaroni noodles. Seriously, they are THE tastiest gluten free noodle around! I can’t say that this dish was completely free as I don’t think the Campbell’s cheese soup was gluten free. I could see this being gluten free if you made your own cheese soup to use possibly.

My only problem with this recipe was that it didn’t say whether or not to drain the beef after browning. I did so anyway but after adding the cheese soup and cheddar cheese the mixture was REALLY thick. Like break your plastic spoon thick so I added more milk to thin it out. I’m guessing that I wasn’t supposed to drain the fat but I am health conscious (You wouldn’t know it most of the time) so I will drain it in the future and just add more milk. Milk. It does a body good!

And the winner of this friendly little challenge? While eating I asked son #1 if he liked it and his reply? “Oh my gawd yes Mom! This is better than Hamburger Helper from a box!”  I win! Woot! I should have bet money tho!

I give this recipe 4 out of 5 wooden spoons!

Sometimes I surpise even myself!

Two years ago in January my mother in law passed away from a brain hemorrhage. They believe that this was a blood vessel weakened by years of battle with high blood pressure. My husband is from Vietnam and high blood pressure runs rampant over there. I’m guessing it’s from all the salt in the soy sauce, fish sauce and the MSG they eat over there.  Since then two things have happened in our marriage…well actually three.

1. My husband goes and gets yearly physicals and closely monitors his high blood pressure.

2. He eats better and works out at the gym at least three or four times a week.

3. I’ve learned how to cook Vietnamese dishes. He told me that one of the things he would miss the most about his mom is her cooking. He’s a boy who likes to eat! And eat

And eat

And eat! So it doesn’t surprise me that one of the things he misses is her authentic Viet cooking. It broke my heart into about a bazillion tiny shards when he said that. So I started looking up recipes. Can you tell how much I love him???

Our friend Soury (you can see her blog here) posted a link the other day to Ca-Ri Ga. It’s a Vietnamese chicken curry with potatoes and carrots. When he saw that link he demanded asked me sweetly if I would make it for him. So I put it on my menu plan for the week. I set forth to make this and made a couple of mistakes.

First of all who knew that when you prepare lemon grass you peel off the outer most layers (he called it the woody rind)? Yeah, I didn’t either and now I’m pretty sure the only good knife we had left is not so good any longer. *making mental note* Next time I will peel the woody rind off before cutting it.

Another thing. I didn’t peel the potatoes. It wasn’t until I got them all cut into pieces that he told me that the skin should have come off. *making mental note*

Last but not least. The recipe did not tell me this but I guess I was supposed to cut the chicken into bite size pieces so I just plopped them whole into the pot. *making mental note*

So…the instructions could have been a little more clear. The one thing the instructions did get right was that this should be served with a nice piece of french bread. The Vietnamese people love french bread and this is due to the French occupation of Vietnam.

Luka had been begging me to teach him how to make bread so I decided today would be a good day. Ya know the feeling when the planes align for you? Well, that’s sort of how the making of this bread went down. Luka was amazed at how many steps there were to making something so simple. As it happened the bread got done about 5 minutes before the Ca-Ri Ga so it had time to cool.

Neither Vinh nor Luka could get enough of it. I was afraid it would be too spicy for me, being a white Irish girl and all, but it had just the right amount of slow heat. I will make this again and I will utilize my mental notes.