Roasted Garlic

You hear it all the time.

You have to “layer flavors” when you’re cooking. Well, what the heck does that mean? Load up on ingredients? Add tons of spices? Continue reading “Roasted Garlic”

Stress and Better Choices

Stress is real, people. And, the truth is last week was a stress-filled week.

I didn’t post this weekend because I was out of town, and when I started to pull together my thoughts about posting, the only thing I could think of saying was that my better choices journey sucked this week, and I wanted to leave it in the rear view mirror. Continue reading “Stress and Better Choices”

Valentine’s Day Beef Kabobs and Chocolate Decadence Cake

It’s showtime, e’rybody. It’s that time of year where the romantic gesture of cooking a scratch-made meal can only end one of two ways, canoodling or calling the fire department. Well, not only am I here to help get your canoodle on, but we’re going to make better choices to get to that canoodle. Plus, we’ll let the fire department handle a real emergency. And, if you’re flying solo, then you’ll have a killer dinner, lunch for tomorrow, and dessert all week long because #lovethyself. Boom. Continue reading “Valentine’s Day Beef Kabobs and Chocolate Decadence Cake”

Super Bowl Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Double whammy today! It’s Super Bowl Sunday!

You didn’t think I was going to leave you better choice-less for the big game, did you??? What kind of a better choices food blogger do you think I am?!? Continue reading “Super Bowl Buffalo Cauliflower Bites”

Oven Baked Crispy Parmesan Chicken and Veggies

Sorry for the late post. Been a bit of a week – family events, travel, meetings, helping out at a bakery – the highlight of my week definitely being the time spent with my nephew. Continue reading “Oven Baked Crispy Parmesan Chicken and Veggies”

A Gringo Bandito Stole My Heart

Generally speaking, I’ve never been a huge fan of hot sauce. While I’ve partaken in a shake or two of some of the more established hot sauce players in the game, I’m not exactly a chilihead.

Don’t get me wrong – I love spicy. Eating a fat, charred jalapeño or taking down some serious Szechuan pepper ladened Asian cuisine can be downright euphoric. That song “I Can’t Feel My Face” comes to mind. Lips numb, tongue seemingly engulfed in flames fueled by capsaicin. It’s a beautiful thing. But, on the regular? I’m more of a spicy salsa girl.

I mean, how else am I supposed to eat my glorious breakfast tacos? I need salsa verde, salsa picante, salsa roja – things I not only associate with spiciness but also bursts of charred tomato, roasted peppers, and the smokiness that comes from toasted cumin or roasted garlic – flavor! For me, hot sauce has always been all vinegar and very little depth of flavor.

That was until I met el Gringo Bandito. Querido mío. And, I have to admit. The encounter has changed my life.

Armed with three options, Original Red, Green, and Super Hot, I started out on my week-long adventure the only way I know how – the breakfast taco. Now, you might be thinking, “Hey! What about better choices, chica!?” Does this stuff fit into your mantra?

Read the label, vato loco. That was brownie point numero uno.

omgs-dfw-food-gringo-bandito-30Salsa verde is normally my go-to salsa for breakfast tacos; so, I decided to stick with the program and go for the Gringo Bandito Green Sauce first.

Immediately, I knew there was something different. I wasn’t picking up that tart smack you get with most hot sauce. What I was getting was spicy but garlicky – like in that “have mercy, I need another bite” garlicky way.

The Green Sauce is a combination of Habanero and Serrano peppers, spices, and wait for it… mojo! Dude! Wow.

This was the shiznit. Blew my mind – mostly because I was fully expecting a fight with the vinegar to find some flavor. Pero no. This was good. As Nacho Libre might say, “Reaaaally goood.”

Now, as you recall, I have an aversion to sad, little salads. However, in my efforts to make better choices, I am adding more greenery to my daily intake – reluctantly so (as demonstrated in this recent text from Bear) – but nevertheless leafy greens have made an appearance on my plate.

The other day, I took some leafy greens to work. And, as part of my efforts to avoid said sad, little salad, I dressed it up with chicken and avocado. While it was a valiant effort, I feared it still wasn’t going to help take me to my happy place. So, I decided to throw some Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce into the mix.

Of the three Gringo Bandito options I tried, this was the only one that listed white vinegar as the first ingredient. I was betting on a “salad + vinegar + oil = sad, little salad + chilies = happier salad” theory.

omgs-dfw-food-gringo-bandito-27I added a generous shake or two (or ten) to my salad dressing, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised! This time, the Original Red was giving me a chile colorado vibe.

The Red Japanese Chili Peppers in the Original Red reminded me of that awesome lingering burn you feel when eating a bowl full of chile colorado just before having a sip of beer to wash it down. The addition of the Original Red took me to that happy place as I sat in the office, much like the chile colorado moment but sadly, with no beer to wash down the leafy greens.

I do have to mention, the Original Red definitely was the most vinegar-forward of the three options, but it also was nowhere near the toxic tartness levels most of the hot sauces out there embrace wholeheartedly. Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce definitely showcases an original, focused effort on getting all the heat and all the flavor out of their carefully selected pepper combinations without drowning it in acid.

omgs-dfw-food-gringo-bandito-6One of the nights this week, I made pan-seared skate wing with sauteed spinach and yellow squash. While beautifully balanced, healthy, and delicately seasoned, I couldn’t help but stare at the third bottle of Gringo Bandito sitting on the table with us, Super Hot, and wondering, “What if?”

This bad boy has Scorpion Chili Peppers!

AND Jolokia Chili Peppers! (aka Ghost Peppers! Cucuy!)

Would the skate wing melt away like that dude’s face in Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Would my fork survive?

Would the yellow squash shrivel up and turn into ash upon contact with Gringo Bandito Super Hot?

I had to find out!

omgs-dfw-food-gringo-bandito-7It. Was. Amazing.

While, yes, my lips and tongue were not particularly pleased I had gone from delicate, flaky, lightly seasoned fish to FIRE IN THE PIE HOLE, it wasn’t so much about the heat. Not even Super Hot heat. I was getting the background – the onions, garlic, and additional spices that most hot sauces lack. It was hot enough to make me uncomfortable but not so hot that I couldn’t taste the fact that it hadn’t taken anything away from the skate wing; it had actually elevated it.

The whole purpose of Gringo Bandito, I discovered, isn’t to just add a dash of spicy vinegar to your plate but for Gringo Bandito to simply and artfully craft a layer of complexity that harnesses the beauty of heat without torching the natural essence of the actual chili flavor.

The more I tasted Gringo Bandito hot sauces, the more it started to change my view on hot sauce, overall and especially as an ingredient. 

In making better choices, having flavor bomb options like Gringo Bandito that don’t bomb your better choices lifestyle is key! I need flavor punches without punching holes in my progress (17 pounds gone so far). Ultimately, this was the point that sealed the romance between me and my Gringo Bandito. It rocked my world so much that I even created a clean-eating, under-250-calories-per-healthy-serving recipe featuring Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce: Mexican Turkey Meatloaf.

Ingredients:
16oz 93% Lean Ground Turkey
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, diced
1 Yellow Squash, diced
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
2 Celery Stalks, diced
1 TBS Cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
12 Herb Seasoned Croutons, crushed
1 TBS Knorr Tomato Bouillon With Chicken Flavor
5 TBS Tomato Paste
1 Large Brown Egg
2 TBS Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce
1 Medium Avocado, sliced

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large sealable plastic storage bag, add the ground turkey. Set aside. Dice the onion, squash, bell pepper, and celery into small, similar sizes to ensure even cooking.

Add the diced vegetables, cilantro, cumin, garlic and onion powder to a skillet on medium-high. Cook until the onions and celery begin to become translucent. Season very lightly with salt, as you will be using bouillon later that will contain salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool thoroughly.

Once the cooked vegetables are completely cooled, add the vegetables into the plastic storage bag with the ground turkey. Do not add warm vegetables to the raw turkey for food safety reasons. To the bag, add the tomato paste, egg, crushed croutons, bouillon, and Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce.

Seal the bag and massage the bag until all ingredients are incorporated thoroughly. Place the contents of the bag into a loaf pan and smooth out evenly with a spoon.

To the top of the meatloaf, add several more dashes of Gringo Bandito Original Red Hot Sauce. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until the temperature reads 165° when inserted into the center part of the meatloaf.

Once the meatloaf is cooked through, top it with the sliced avocado and additional dashes of Gringo Bandito Original Hot Sauce for an extra kick! Serve with roasted sweet potato.

Yields 4 servings at 249 calories per serving.

It’s no joke. You need a Gringo Bandito in your life.

#sponsored
http://gringobandito.com/
Facebook: @gringobanditohotsauce
Twitter: @gringobhotsauce
Contact: ese@gringobandito.com

LET’S KEEP IT REAL: First and foremost, I do everything for the love of food. Most of what I write about is because I love it! If I don’t love it, I tell you about that, too. From time to time, I may receive monetary or product compensation for mentioning products, offering recommendations, providing endorsements, or including links to products or services when I blog. While that may be the case for some posts, it is not the case for all. When it’s sponsored, you’ll see #sponsored when I post. When I’m just sharing the love, I won’t use that particular tag or hashtag. What you need to know is that I only give shout outs when I actually use the product or love it so much it deserves a shout out, sponsored or not.

Day 21 – Chicken Lettuce Wraps

They say it takes 21 days to break a habit.

Today is my Day 21 of making better choices, and so far, this is what I have to report:

  • Less hangry moments (they do occur if I don’t time out my meals properly)
  • Less body pain in the morning (if you don’t count my butt hurting from doing Turbo Jam)
  • Less cravings for all things formally known as “my diet” (aka Cheetos, Whatchamacallit Candy, MochaChocaLattes, and any form of beef)
  • Less pounds to carry everywhere I go (down 14 pounds since Day 1 – not even trying to lose weight, people)
  • More energy (sudden bursts of dance moves, butt squeezes, and/or squats while waiting at the microwave = more energy)
  • More sleep (actually getting 6 hours on average which is a record for me)

And, the most important thing I have to report on Day 21 is I’m eating everything I love and don’t feel like I’ve done much but somehow program myself to feel better through better choices. It’s not rocket surgery. Lo and behold, all it takes is moving my booty at least four times a week for 20 minutes and not shoveling copious amounts of M&Ms into my pie hole every time I pass a bowl full of them.

I have to admit that I’ve always felt nothing good came from eating sad little salads, and I was right. They totally suck!

But, cleaner eating or healthier, better choices doesn’t have to mean eating sad little salads. Kids, I’m eating bacon on a daily! I grew up eating breakfast tacos and bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast. That ain’t gonna change. What did change was that instead of eating two pieces of toast, a tablespoon of butter for my two eggs, plus my three strips of bacon, and butter and jelly on my toast (don’t judge), I now have one egg cooked in the renderings from my one slice of bacon, and I enjoy one piece of toast lightly buttered. Eat what you love! Love what you eat! And, most importantly, love yourself and make simple, better choices so you can continue reading my blog!

Throw a protein and some colorful things (preferably vegetables and herbs) together, and enjoy! That’s honest to goodness all I have been doing – nothing fancy. Every meal I make is filling, delicious, flavorful, and happy – just like these Chicken Lettuce Wraps! They are flavor bombs in a nice little lettuce wrapper and super easy to throw together. Check it out, follow my blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and keep making better choices! I know I will!

Greek Moussaka and Lamb Chops

I’m a sucker for a beautiful plate. When the vibrant colors dance visually, you can practically guarantee they will dance on your palate, right? So, when I was first introduced to Moussaka, a traditional Greek dish featuring eggplant and ground beef or lamb, covered in a creamy bechamel cheese sauce, I did not visualize Zorba the Greek fervently strutting about my taste buds.

Moussaka ain’t the prettiest at the party. It’s a heap of brown and white assembled in a lasagna-like pattern – not particularly “Opa!” inspiring.

Then, I tasted it.

What I adore, even more than a beautiful plate and certainly more important than aesthetics, is an amazingly memorable plate that transports me to another world or embraces me with comfort and happiness through taste and texture. Moussaka does just that. I’m not Greek, but it’s comfort food to me. And, why wouldn’t it be!? I mean, it’s meaty, hearty, and loaded with creamy, cheesy goodness!

The minor obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that most of the time “meat, hearty, and loaded with creamy, cheesy goodness” does not jive with my whole “better choices” mantra for this year.

I could ignore that, but I did write about it on the ol’ interwebs for everyone to see. Not to mention, I’ve actually lost 10 pounds in the first 14 days of 2017 just by making better choices. So, who says I can’t eat what I love and still make better choices?? We can balance it all out. I’m all about harmony (mostly harmony between my taste buds and my tummy, but harmony nonetheless).

Enter My Moussaka! (I really like saying that.)

As I walked through the list of ingredients, I thought about how I could make a faux bechamel topping and how I could keep that comforting aspect even if I took out most of the stuff that makes it comforting.

The idea hit me while we were driving to the store and I was under serious hangry duress. I had not timed my day out properly and was about an hour into a Snickers commercial. Thus, I was craving something hearty and comforting.

Well, with a few minor tweaks, I got this bad boy under 400 calories per heaping serving. Plus, I got through the nearly hourlong cooking process without my hangry hurting anyone! High five!

I drank tons of water while cooking this dish that feeds six, and I was so proud that I stuck to the “better choices” plan because this version was so good! Bear is a big eater, and he absolutely loved it and said it was very filling. While I’m not an authority on Moussaka by any means, for us, this Moussaka recipe is, dare I say, “Opa!” worthy.

Ingredients:
2 TBS Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Eggplant, peeled
1 TBS Coconut Oil
3 Garlic Clove, minced
1/3 Onion, chopped
2 Portabello Mushroom Cap, chopped
16 oz Ground Turkey
2 TBS C&J Farms Greek Seasoning
4 TBS Tomato Paste
1 Large Cauliflower
1 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
1 Cup Low Sodium Chicken Broth
8oz Daiya Vegan Mozzarella Style Shreds

Note: You can add an egg to the creamy mixture right before using it to layer. It will help stabilize and create a fluffier layer, but it’s not necessary.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Peel the eggplant and slice lengthwise to make 1/4 inch oblong-like slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet, trying not to overlap. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the eggplant and season with 1 TBS of Greek seasoning. The C&J Farms brand of Greek seasoning includes salt. If you use a brand of Greek seasoning that doesn’t contain salt, season the eggplant on both sides with salt. Place in the oven and bake until the eggplant is roasted, approximately 15 minutes. It’s okay if the thinner slices get a little charred, but watch them carefully so charred doesn’t turn into burned. Once the eggplant is roasted, remove from oven and set aside for assembly.

While the eggplant is baking in the oven, in a medium saucepan, break up the head of cauliflower and add almond milk.

Add chicken stock to the cauliflower, season with a dash of salt, and then cover with a lid and allow to simmer on medium heat while everything else is cooking.

Finely chop the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Add coconut oil to a large skillet or dutch oven and saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms on medium high until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have cooked down.

Create a small well in the center of the mushroom mixture, and add the tomato paste. Cook the tomato paste in the center until it has a darker color. Then, incorporate the tomato paste fully with the onion and mushroom mixture. Add the ground turkey and the remaining Greek seasoning, and cook thoroughly. Set aside.

Once the cauliflower has cooked through and is softened, use a hand blender or transfer to a blender to blend into a smooth consistency. Add the mozzarella shreds and blend until well combined. (I’ve never been a huge fan of vegan cheese, but Bear got me hooked on this particular brand. So, it’s the only one I really use when I’m trying to cut down on dairy.)

In a casserole dish, add a layer of the ground turkey mixture. Top with eggplant as if you’re layering lasagna noodles.

Cover the eggplant with a portion of the creamy cauliflower mixture and continue to build, alternating turkey, eggplant, and cauliflower until the last layer is the creamy mixture.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Broil for another 5 minutes to char the top of the Moussaka. Then, grab a bowl, get comfy on the couch, and indulge without that pesky indulgence guilt.

Now, not my norm, but I’m going to throw a quick and easy Greek Lamb Chop recipe in here at the end because… well… it’s quick and easy! And, it’s delicious and uses the same Greek seasoning I use for the Moussaka.

Season four lamb chops with Greek seasoning that has salt. Same as above; if your Greek seasoning doesn’t have salt, season the chops with salt. Cube one sweet potato, french one medium onion, and slice one lemon. Heat up a cast iron skillet on medium high, add the lamb chops to sear until browned on all sides but not cooked through. Remove the chops from the skillet. Add the potato and onion to the skillet and saute briefly. Add the seared lamb chops back to the top of the onions and potatoes. Place the slices of lemon on top of the chops. Add a splash of chicken stock or beef stock to the skillet to deglaze. Transfer the entire skillet to the oven and bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 20 minutes.

Opa!

LET’S KEEP IT REAL: First and foremost, I do everything for the love of food. Most of what I write about is because I love it! If I don’t love it, I tell you about that, too. From time to time, I may receive monetary or product compensation for mentioning products, offering recommendations, providing endorsements, or including links to products or services when I blog. While that may be the case for some posts, it is not the case for all. When it’s sponsored, you’ll see #sponsored when I post. When I’m just sharing the love, I won’t use that particular tag or hashtag. What you need to know is that I only give shout outs when I actually use the product or love it so much it deserves a shout out, sponsored or not.

Herb Crusted Baked Salmon, Veggies, and Better Choices

If you’re anything like me, the start of the new year usually means the end of eating all things that make you happy and the start of New Year Punishment, a ritual that includes the pushing around of sad-looking salads and the unenthusiastic motion of swinging mud-bars to and from your face with a half-grimace during every bite, otherwise known as eating protein or meal replacement bars.

New Year Punishment usually ends somewhere around the fourth or fifth day when a surge of hangry washes over you. This part results in the ceremonial hiding of the empty Cheeto bag just underneath the upside down Chips Ahoy box that’s been strategically placed beneath the brown paper bag from Five Guys that looks very similar to the brown paper bag from Whole Foods.

New year, new you, right?

Well, for me, the idea of “diet” and making drastic changes to my day and expecting my taste buds to suddenly enjoy things I don’t ever dream about eating (I can say with full confidence) doesn’t work. So, this year, I’ve replaced New Year Punishment with New Year Choices – same taste buds, different approach.

I mean, for Pete’s sake (sorry, Pete), I love food. And, the only reason why junk food was ever the last hoorah when the hangry took over was because I’d denied myself so much happiness (otherwise known as cheese, bacon, and chocolate) that I was desperate for anything that remotely resembled the things I love to eat.

Why in the heck was I repeatedly denying my love of food when there are plenty of flavor-packed choices I could have, and guess what, folks??? I can cook!

Geesh. So, I’ve decided to challenge myself. I will create healthier versions of everything I love to eat, and sometimes I’ll just make things I love that don’t need a healthier twist. I am simply making better New Year Choices because I deserve to be around for a long time.

And, come on; with whom else are you going to have passionate conversations about breakfast tacos? And, I am still eating breakfast tacos.

Better choices that celebrate my love of food, remember? Not denial and tasteless choices that make me psychotic.

And, I’ll tell you another thing. I have every friggin’ exercise guru’s VCR (yes, VCR), DVD, BlueRay, poster, flipchart, and dance chart one could possibly imagine. And, I’ve taken just about every class that’s offered by anyone peddling a “fun” workout and been in every gym within a 20 mile radius of my home. In all the years I’ve been wasting money buying crap I don’t use or stopping doing whatever class after the hangry stage, there’s only one exercise that has ever made me happy.

So, Chalene has officially come out of retirement, and we’re gettin’ our Turbo Jam back on.

Want to know why I love me some Turbo Jam?

Because it’s only 20 minutes, has fun music, includes Chalene telling me how awesome I am for making better choices, and I don’t want to kill her. She’s got me jammin’ and jumpin’ and movin’ and shakin’ for 20 minutes, and I don’t feel like I want to seek and destroy, much like many other programs in which I’ve participated. That’s why I love me some Turbo Jam. That’s it. No health aspect. No variety of cardio and strength training blah, blah, blah. No. I don’t want to kill her. I can stand it for 20 minutes. It makes me happy. Ahí esta.

And, this kick-off week to making better choices has been exactly what it should be, flavor-packed and fun. At no point did I find myself crying in a corner while hoarding Ding Dongs. It was good.

Here’s one of the many super-easy and tasty recipes that made the week successful.

Ingredients:
2 Zucchini
1/2 Onion, frenched
2 Cups Asparagus
1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper
4 Green Onion
6 Grape Tomatoes
1/4 Cup, Plain Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs
1 TBS Whole Grain Mustard
1 TBS Fresh Dill
1 TBS Fresh Chives
1 TBS Fresh Parsley
2 6oz Portion of Fresh Salmon
1 TBS Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBS C&J Farms Scarborough Fair Herb Blend
Salt/Pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.

Take one asparagus and bend it in half until it breaks on its own. Use that broken asparagus as your guide to trim the rest of your asparagus into a similar length. Set aside.

Cut zucchini and red bell pepper into matchsticks or long slices, and set aside. Slice the green onion on the bias, and set aside. French the onion and slice the grape tomatoes in half, and set aside. Finely chop the dill, chives, and parsley and place in a small bowl. Add the mustard and panko to the herb mixture and set aside.

In a large baking dish, add the zucchini, onion, asparagus, red bell pepper, green onion, and tomatoes. Drizzle with 3/4 TBS of olive oil, reserving the rest for later. Salt and pepper the vegetables, add the Scarborough Herb Blend, and toss everything together to coat evenly with oil and seasoning. Place the two salmon portions directly on top of the seasoned veggies. Salt and pepper each salmon portion.

Stir together the panko, herb, and mustard mixture. Add the rest of the olive oil to the panko mixture. Using a spoon or your fingers, crust the top of the salmon with the panko and herb mixture, ensuring the top of the salmon is completely covered. Bake at 375° for 20-30 minutes, depending on how well-cooked you prefer your salmon. And, enjoy every single flavorful bite – that dill and mustard pop makes every mouthful dance – I’m telling you.

So, here’s to making better choices! I look forward to sharing my adventures with you in 2017, and may you also journey through your own best adventure this year – because you deserve it.

Menudo

There are very few things, if any, that scare me in the kitchen. As an avid eater, I’ll pretty much try anything and love diving into the rich history and culture behind all food. And, for the most part, there really hasn’t been a recipe I’ve come across or food I’ve wondered about that gave me pause when attempting to recreate it in my own kitchen… except for one thing… menudo.

Menudo has always just been there for me. It’s comfort food. I grew up eating it. For those who don’t know about menudo, it’s a traditional Mexican soup that’s made from (just wait, don’t go anywhere) cow’s stomach, pig’s feet, hominy, and seasoned with Mexican oregano and a red chile sauce.

You there? Are you still reading? Hello? Okay, good. I promise. It’s delicious! I love it!

My Aunt Adelma is a Master Menudo Maker, and she was even our “Madrina de Menudo” (Godmother of Menudo) for our wedding! We didn’t have Padrinos de Lazo or Arras (Godparents of the Rosary or Coins) – we had Padrinos de Menudo (Godparents of Menudo), okay? No joke.

That’s how important menudo is in my life.

When I show up on Sunday at any Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant, it’s on the menu. When we have a Christmas or New Year’s Eve family party, it’s being served. When I take Sunday breakfast over to Grandma Ollie’s, it’s right next to the pan dulce and barbacoa. When I have a hankering for menudo, it’s never more than a few miles away, waiting for me to christen it with a sprinkle of cebollita (onion) and a splash of lime juice. But, I’ve never attempted this sacred dish in my own kitchen.

Why, you ask?

Because even though I know the flavor profile, basic ingredients, history, and process, I was scared it wasn’t going to live up to the menudo in my head! I didn’t know if I was ready to hit up this iconic labor of love. I was terrified that I was somehow going to bring shame to Aunt Adelma’s signature dish and end up with some pathetic, watery mess. (Plus, it takes forever to cook and stinks to high heaven when it first starts to cook. So, I really never had the desire to make the magic happen within my own four walls, especially when I knew where I could order it.)

Yet, two days ago, as I was thumbing through one of my Ma’s favorite recipe books, the menudo bug bit me.

I was going to make it; I was going to stink up my brother’s house to do it, and it was going to be amazing.

After researching for hours, reviewing about 15 menudo recipes, making calls to New Mexico and South Texas to get any input from relatives, I was ready to create my own approach, and I was determined to avoid using any “menudo mix” in the process, a packet of spices most grocery stores carry in the spice aisle. I was going 100% authentic – all the way.

First thing was to create the Chile Colorado, a red chile sauce that gives both the flavor and rich red color to the menudo, and I was going to use Bear’s Grandma Julia’s base recipe to get started. This recipe is something that Bear remembers growing up in Las Cruces, and he said this was the base sauce for many of his grandmother’s dishes. The only thing I added was the onion to help mellow out any bitterness from the chile (I know, total Texan move – sorry, Grandma Julia – I’m not New Mexican enough to do straight chile.)

Chile Colorado Sauce
During this step, be sure to either use gloves and/or avoid touching your eyes. The chile capsaicin will hurt like Hades if you get it in your eyes or any sensitive areas.
4oz Dried Whole New Mexico Chile Pods
1/2 Onion, quartered
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tsp Salt
Water

Remove the stem from each dried chile pod, and then shake out any seeds from within each pod.

Add the de-stemmed/seeded chile pods, the quartered onion, and salt to a large pot and cover with water just until the pods are covered. Heat over medium-high and bring to a boil, using tongs to flip over the chile pods to ensure all sides are met with boiling water.

omgs-dfw-food-menudo-4Once the chile pods have softened and the onion is cooked through and nearly translucent, use tongs to remove the soft chile pods and onion, and transfer ingredients to a blender. Do not use any of the water that was used in the pot, as it is bitter and will ruin the sauce. Discard the boiled water.

To the warm chile pods and onion in the blender, add minced garlic; then, add fresh water to cover half of the contents only. Blend on high until the mixture creates a paste-like consistency. The sauce will have a similar appearance to a thick/chunky tomato sauce.

Remove the contents of the blender into a fine mesh sieve, and using a spat or spoon, work the contents through the sieve to create a beautifully bright, velvety red sauce absent of any chile or onion pieces. Set aside.

This is Chile Colorado! You can use this sauce as enchilada sauce, seasoning for meats, and/or use it for menudo.

Menudo
2 lbs Beef Tripe
1/2 lb Beef Honeycomb Tripe
2 Pig’s Feet, split
2 TBS Mexican Whole Oregano
1 Large Onion, quartered but attached at the stem
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Bay Leaf
1/2 Lime Juiced
2-4 tsp Salt
3 15.5oz Can White Hominy
Chile Colorado (4oz recipe above)

Notes: 
It’s very common practice to open the windows or doors when making menudo because the initial boiling of the tripe can be quite aromatic.
Beef tripe can be found in most Hispanic markets, and if honeycomb tripe is unavailable, add 1/2 pound of regular tripe instead.
Honeycomb tripe looks exactly as you think it might, a honeycomb.

Remove one end of the onion, leaving the stem side intact. Using a knife, gently quarter the onion without going all the way through the stem. The onion should hold together and just add flavor this way. Set aside. Thoroughly rinse the tripe and pig’s feet under running cold water in a colander, making sure that every part has been washed over with water.

Cut the rinsed tripe and honeycomb tripe into bite-sized pieces. Add all the rinsed tripe, pig’s feet, quartered onion, minced garlic, 1 TBS of Mexican oregano, 2 tsp of salt, and two bay leaves to a large stockpot (10qt).

Cover the ingredients with water, and fill the 10qt stockpot 3/4 full. Spin the onion if you like a little pizazz while cooking. I know I do.

Bring the stockpot to a full, rolling boil and let boil for approximately three hours, watching the water level closely. You can reduce to a medium-high simmer and cover after the first hour, but a constant low boil is necessary for the full three hours. After three hours, add the Chile Colorado and remaining Mexican oregano to the stockpot. Continue to boil for another hour. After the fourth hour, taste and add the remaining salt if necessary. Add the lime juice and hominy to the stockpot. Continue boiling covered for another 30 minutes.

omgs-dfw-food-menudo-13Menudo will be finished when the tripe is tender and nearly melts in your mouth when chewed. Garnish with chopped fresh onion, additional Mexican oregano, and a squeeze of lime. Accompany your menudo with corn tortillas heated on a comal (South Texas style) or with a buttered and toasted bolillo or hoagie roll (New Mexico style) that can be found in any market.

This was, by far, one of my greatest kitchen accomplishments, and that’s not me bragging. You know I would tell you if it was a disaster. Thank God it wasn’t!

My entire family loved it, and I was just so happy that this labor of love turned out so well that I needed to share the recipe.

It made me so proud to use Grandma Julia’s Chile Colorado base recipe, and it made me proud that my Grandma Ollie loved it so much once it was done.

Never again will I fear a recipe. When you love cooking and love the culture behind the food, that love serves as the perfect seasoning to make any dish sing. Well, that and research and remembering what you did by writing it down. But, you get the picture. ¡Buen Provecho!

Caldo de Pollo

Brrrrrrrrrr… it’s chilly up in here! North Texas may not inspire tundra-like weather, but it has officially hit the freezing mark; and, that can only mean one thing: Caldo!

Growing up in South Texas, it rarely dipped past the 40’s, but when it did, it was like the Bat Signal went up for all the abuelitas to kick into high gear and get those ollas (cooking pots) out and fill them with warm, delicious broth that overflowed with hearty potatoes, calabaza (large green squash), carrots, and celery atop large pieces of chicken that fell right off the bone. And, while I’m nowhere near abuelita status, that doesn’t prevent me from hauling out the ol’ enamel-covered cast iron 7-quart dutch oven I like to call Pun’kin… ‘cus she’s orange, large, and in charge.

You should also know that you can swap out the chicken for large chunks of beef rump roast and swap the Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning for Knorr Caldo de Tomate Bouillon Seasoning and get Caldo de Rez (beef soup). If you do this, add some fresh corn cobs cut into thirds when you add the cabbage. Everything else is exactly the same.

In the fitting words of Bernardo, “Vamonos, muchachos!”

Ingredients:
1 Large Green Squash
4 Large Carrots
3 Large Stalks of Celery
5 Medium Potatoes
1 Large Onion
1 Small Whole Green Cabbage
1 Bunch of Cilantro
4 Chicken Quarters or 1 Whole Chicken Cut in Fryer Parts
3 TBS Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning
2 TBS Vegetable Oil
6 Garlic Cloves, diced
1 TBS Cumin Seeds
2 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
Cumin Powder (optional)
Garlic Powder (optional)
Black Pepper (optional)

Rinse and dry all of the vegetables. Cut the squash, carrots, and celery into large 2-inch chunks, and set aside. Cut the potatoes in half, and set aside with the other veggies. Quarter the onion, removing the ends and peeling the outer layer. Core the cabbage, and cut the cabbage in half and then into large chunks. Do not worry about separating the onion or the cabbage, as they will fall apart in the soup. Set all the veggies aside. And, on a separate cutting board, separate the chicken quarters if they are not already cut into fryer parts. Then, liberally season the chicken all over with the Knorr Caldo de Pollo Bouillon Seasoning. You can find this seasoning at your local grocery store right next to the bouillon or in the Mexican/International aisle.

Get out your version of ol’ Pun’kin (large stock pot), heat to medium-high on the stove, and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add the seasoned chicken to the pot, being careful not to overcrowd the pan at one time. Brown the chicken on one side, then turn over. When you turn over the browned chicken, add the squash, carrots, celery, potatoes, and onion on top of the chicken. Then, cover the ingredients with warm water, leaving some space for stirring and adding the cabbage. At this point, you’re deglazing the pan with water, removing any bits of the chicken from the bottom. Use a pair of tongs to gently stir up the bottom to remove all the wonderful yummy bits, being careful not to splash. Bring the pot to a rolling boil.

When you’re bringing the pot up to a boil, in a separate small skillet, add the cumin seeds. Place the skillet on medium heat, and toast the cumin seeds for about two minutes. Once you can smell the cumin, remove it from the heat, and immediately place the toasted seeds into a molcajete (mortar and pestle). To the cumin seeds, add the diced garlic and peppercorns. Take out any aggressions from a possible bad hair day or any other disaster, and smash those suckers into a paste, just like Grandma Ollie taught us how to do. Then, add some warm water to loosen the paste.

Once the pot is up to a rolling boil, add the watery cumin, garlic, and peppercorn mixture to the soup and stir. If you do not have a molcajete or mortar and pestle, do not fret. Whip out some cumin powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add one heaping Tablespoon each of cumin powder and garlic powder; then, add one teaspoon of black pepper. Then, go buy a molcajete. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one. They are cheap and are needed to truly create that magical seasoned paste that gives life to most Mexican/Tex-Mex dishes.

¡Andale! Go buy one after you eat caldo!

After you’ve stirred in the key magical cumin, garlic, peppercorn mixture, take the cabbage, and simply place the large chunks on top. Rip up the bunch of cilantro, and then place that on top, as well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot. Let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Be careful not to let the caldo over boil. If needed, leave the lid partially open to prevent overflow of precious caldo broth, and stir occasionally. This is the kind of soup you can leave on the stove simmering all day while you serve from the pot until every last drop is gone.

Once the chicken is falling off the bone, ladle the soup into a bowl, making sure you get at least one of every vegetable in your bowl. Serve with warm corn tortillas and a squeeze of fresh lime.

In our household, my Grandpa always used to eat corn tortillas with mayonnaise (don’t knock it ’til you try it), and that’s exactly how I eat my caldo. I slather some mayo on my corn tortilla, roll it up, and dip it into that warm, comforting broth. It brings back such wonderful memories of Grandma Ollie, as well as my Ma, making caldo and me sitting in my warm pajamas, eating right next to Grandpa at the kitchen table at the ranch.

May this soup warm you up – heart and soul.

 

Day After Thanksgiving Breakfast Muffins

It’s getting close to Turkey Day, and that means we have some important planning to do.

We have to plan the seating arrangements to ensure all relatives leave unscathed from the annual table conversation (this year should be super fun), and let’s not forget the critical decision regarding which pair of stretchy pants will be worn after the main meal. However, the most important decision you’ll have to make this Thanksgiving is what in the world to do with your leftover stuffing!?!

Have no fear. I’ve got the hookup thanks to my pals over at Empire Baking Company in Dallas, Texas.omgs-dfw-food-omg-baking-at-empire

Saturday I had the pleasure of hanging out to do a sponsored demo all day at Empire, and I created a recipe specifically for them, featuring some of the ingredients sold at their location. Every Friday from now until Thanksgiving, Tamie, Empire’s manager, is creating different dressings using Empire’s amazing bread and products. This past Friday, Tamie put together her grandmother’s famous traditional Texas dressing to sample (it’s sooooooooo goooood), and just like the day after Thanksgiving, we had some dressing left over on Saturday.

So, our focus was all about creating an easy recipe that utilized the leftover stuffing! And, the coolest part is that this recipe works with any dressing recipe – yours included. (Don’t know if you noticed my alternating “dressing” and “stuffing” – for our purposes, they mean the same thing.)

Let’s get started!

Day After Thanksgiving Breakfast Muffins
Yields approximately 8 dozen mini muffins or 2 dozen regular muffins

Base:
16 oz Sage or Spicy Breakfast Sausage (sub 12 oz Applewood Smoked Bacon, diced)
½ Onion, diced
2 TBS Butter
8 Cups Your Refrigerated Thanksgiving Dressing/Stuffing, crumbled
1 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
3 TBS Valentina Picante Salsa (sub your favorite hot sauce)

Custard:
2 Whole Eggs
4 Egg Yolks
1 Pint Heavy Whipping Cream
2 tsp Chef Milton Atlantic Sea Salt with Rosemary (Found at Empire Baking Company)

Optional Glaze:
Luscombe Farm Jalapeño Pepper Jelly (Found at Empire Baking Company)

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter muffin tins or use a non-stick baking spray to coat the tins.

In a skillet, sauté breakfast sausage until cooked through and set aside to cool. If subbing bacon, cook until bacon is crisp, drain completely, then set aside to cool. In the same skillet, add butter and onion. Sauté until onions are tender and the fond (brown/caramelized goodies stuck to the bottom of the pan) releases from the pan.

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Once the onions are tender, remove from pan and set aside with sausage or bacon to cool.

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In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, cream, and Chef Milton Atlantic Sea Salt with Rosemary. Set aside.

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In a large bowl, add crumbled dressing, shredded cheddar cheese, and cooled sausage or bacon and onions.

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Combine thoroughly.

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Pour the custard mixture over the dressing mixture and fold until well incorporated. The mixture will be moist.

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Add in the Valentina Salsa Picante or your favorite hot sauce to add another layer of flavor and mix thoroughly.

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Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop the mixture into greased mini muffin tins.

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Bake at 375° for 17-20 minutes or until crispy on top and golden brown.

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For some added sweet heat, add a small dollop of Luscombe Farm Jalapeño Pepper Jelly to the top of each muffin right before the last five minutes of baking is up, and place back into the oven to create that amazing caramelized glaze.

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For regular sized muffins, bake for 30-35 minutes or until crispy on top and golden brown. Let cool for 7 minutes to allow the muffins to set before removing from muffin tins.

Saturday’s adventure, recipe ingredients, and post featuring specific products were sponsored by Empire Baking Company.   

Easy Halloween Treats

What’s up Ghosts and Goblins!?! Happy Halloween!

To get into the Halloween spirit, I put together a 10-minute Halloween episode featuring three of my favorite, easy spooky snacks: Empanadas, Buñuelos, and Champurrado!

OMGs DFW Food - Empanadas OMGs DFW Food - ChampurradoOMGs DFW Food - Buñuelos

We even captured a scary moment on tape – I’m serious. We had a supernatural visitor or something. Very Halloweeny!

I’m fairly certain I angered the Pumpkin King with all my empanada making. Anyway, check it out!

Stay safe out there this Halloween! Make these scary snacks, enjoy the night, and be sure to think about your pets! Keep them safe from bad monsters by bringing them inside for the night!

Get Your Whistle Britches On

Earlier this summer, one of Dallas’ brightest star chefs, Omar Flores, partnered up with Alec Marshi to open Whistle Britches, a Southern-inspired casual restaurant focused on killer fried chicken, biscuits that only grandma could make, cold beer, and all the picnic fixin’s you could want in far North Dallas.

There’s been quite a bit of talk about it. Having just met Chef Flores at the Chefs for Farmers event last weekend and hearing mostly positive reviews about Whistle Britches, when a friend of mine mentioned her phenomenal experience, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

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My first thought as the doors opened was, “Wow. This is really bright and open!” I loved it. It was a much lighter and inviting atmosphere than its previous space owners had created, and we absolutely loved the outdoor patio. Bright colors, fun fixtures, and natural lighting really make the space impressive and fun. The outside area has colorful chairs and an open deck perfect to enjoy now that the weather calls for outdoor seating. However, for this particular visit, we kept it indoors since e’rybody was showing up. We were celebrating my dad’s birthday!

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To save time while everyone arrived (and mostly because it says it’s a 30 minute wait time), we ordered “The Whole Bird” for the table and some appetizers. Let me tell you; even if you just want a little afternoon snack, get your whistle britches over there and order the “Pickled Jalapeño Pimento Cheese.”

Guuuuuuuuuuuurl, I could eat that entire thing with a spoon and a blanket in a corner all by myself. It was such a comfort food champion; I don’t even know what to tell you. Their saltine crackers are house-made, very on-trend at the moment, but there was nothing “trendy” about how those crunchy chile-flaked wafers of deliciousness worked magic in combination with that pimento cheese to transport me directly into a huge wooden rocking chair on somebody’s grandaddy’s front porch somewhere in the South. North Dallas was not the vibe that app was rockin’. It was a tip of the hat to Southern cuisine in one unassuming countrified bite, and it was amazing.

We also enjoyed their wonderful “Creamed Corn Hoecakes;” however, the hoecakes arrived a little underdressed, as their pats of butter had flown off the side in the journey to the table. So, I didn’t get a great shot of those. They were very light and delicious, but they ain’t no pimento cheese.

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When the main event arrived, the first thing that captured my nose’s attention was the lovely waft of butter dancing across my senses, coming from the ridiculously and generously sized biscuits on the table, alongside sweet local honey butter and a blueberry jam sent from the gods. They arrive as four, but Grandma Ollie snagged one right as I was taking a shot, and I don’t blame her. They were dreamy.

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Immediately thereafter, all eyes were on that beautiful basket of chicken. What I remember before passing out from joy was the hot, crispy herbed crust being so unique. There was a definitive note that really separated this fried chicken from what one would expect. And, I’ve had me some fried chicken, my friends. This was special. The crust adhered so perfectly to the chicken, and the wonderful aromas circling the table were intoxicating. Even thinking of it now, I can recall that herbaceous note of the crust without being heavily crusted with herbs. It was certainly memorable.

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Sides included were their creamy chive potato salad and light vinegar coleslaw. The consensus at the table was that the sides were “okay” while the fried chicken blew everyone away and the biscuits were a soul-touching experience. One side worthy of mentioning though was the macaroni and cheese. Goot Lort, it was mac’daddy delicious. Definitely get you some of that when you go.

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We were most impressed with the pimento appetizer, biscuits, and chicken overall – which is probably how it should be! Their moniker bears the trio ‘Chicken – Biscuits – Beer;’ so, I would hope those would be the highlights! We didn’t get to the beer this time but believe me… there will be a next time.


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To Tamale or Not To Tamale… That is the Question

Once a year I get this harebrained idea (which I believe stems from my upbringing) that urges me to spend two 19-hour days back to back, standing in a hot kitchen, working with argumentative ingredients that ultimately result in a severe backache and the euphoria that comes from eating a homemade tamale with a hot cup of coffee. Continue reading “To Tamale or Not To Tamale… That is the Question”

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