Friday, June 25, 2010

Fresh Shamrock Salsa

Yummy note: This is one of my favorite quick salsas I like to make. It uses nice fresh ingredients that combines together to make a pretty colorful dish. There are a lot of great flavors and textures in this dish that really works together well. It is not too spicy nor bland, so it typically is a pretty good crowd pleaser that everyone is usually asking me for the recipe afterwards. This fresh shamrock salsa is a fairly simple dish to prepare, the only thing that really takes the time is the cutting of the fresh herbs. I've had people ask, can I just used dried ones instead of the fresh? hmm.. no. I wouldn't, you don't get the same flavor or crunch, not to mention the freshness out of this salsa. So please use the fresh versions of the parsley and cilantro in this dish. It might take you some time to chop your herbs, but hey if you make this salsa enough you'll get great with your cutting skills and it will go much faster :)

Fresh Shamrock Salad

1 bunch parsley, chopped to stems
1 bunch cilantro, chopped to stems
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 can chopped green chiles
1 can or about 4 oz. of chopped black olives (if you use the canned version, please drain olives)
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (or you can use a small jar of chunky salsa)
2 cups of shredded of Monterey Jack cheese
1 envelope Good Seasons Italian Dressing, made to package directions
1 clove crushed garlic
1 small can of Mexican corn (if you can't find that, any type of corn will work)

Prepare the dressing according to the package directions. Crush a small clove of garlic and add to the dressing and set aside.

Next, chop the tomatoes, parsley, cilantro, green onions, chiles, and olives. Add all of the ingredients into a large bowl. Toss in corn and cheese.

After all ingredients have been added to the bowl toss together lightly. Next, pour the dressing mixture into bowl, and stir until well mixed and coated. The flavors are best if you give this dish about an hour or so of marinating time, but if you don't have the time, it is still pretty good. My favorite way to serve this salsa is with the lime tortilla chips. Make sure to refrigerate any leftovers you might have.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chocolate Eclair Dessert

Yummy note: I'm not really sure where I got this recipe, but I know I've had it for years. This chocolate eclair dessert is such a great dessert to make for a crowd. It is also pretty easy to cut in half if you need to also and make a smaller batch. I've prepared the chocolate topping a few different ways before, all depending what I had in the pantry on hand. No use buying something special for a recipe, if you can find a substitute instead. I've also heard people using chocolate graham crackers instead, and using a different flavoring of pudding as well; so I guess your combinations are endless :) The only catch with this dessert is to remember to let it sit overnight before eating it, as it pulls it all together. If you don't wait it kinda falls apart more, and just doesn't meld together well. I remember getting this dessert at a restaurant in the past, where it was piled super high with a ton of layers of graham crackers and pudding, so they must have used like a trifle dish of something instead of a 9x13 pan like I use to achieve all of those beautiful yummy layers. Maybe next time...

Chocolate Eclair Dessert

2 small packages (the 3 ounce boxes) of French Vanilla Pudding
8 ounces Cool Whip
3 cups milk
Almost a whole box of graham crackers

Mix together the pudding and milk; then gently stir in the Cool Whip.

In an ungreased 9x13 casserole dish/baking pan, line the bottom with whole or half sheet of graham crackers.
Next, evenly pour half the pudding mixture over them. Add another layer of graham crackers then the remainder of the pudding mixture. Top with a final layer of graham crackers.

After the final layer of graham crackers are put on, prepare the chocolate topping. Please use one of the topping suggestions below to cover your layers of filling.
Note: You can eliminate all of the topping ingredients below if you want to substitute the recipe for the topping for a can of already prepared chocolate frosting for a quicker preparation. However, I think it tastes much better with a homemade chocolate topping. :)

Chocolate glaze topping:
2 squares bakers chocolate, melted
2 Tblsp butter, melted
2 Tblsp corn syrup
1/2 cup sifted confectioner's (powdered) sugar
2-3 Tblsp milk

Put the squares of bakers chocolate and butter in a microwavable bowl and heat until melted. Stir in the corn syrup until mixed together. Next add in the sifted confectioner's sugar and milk. Stir until smooth, and pour over top layer of the dessert until it is covering the entire graham cracker surface.

Put in refrigerator and let it sit until the dessert has set (preferably overnight, or 6-8 hours for melding time.) Cut, serve and enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

beer bread

Yummy note: I've gone to a few of those parties, lets call them "simply tasty" ;) where everything I think is served with beer bread. Every dip mentionable is served on beer bread I think the last time I was there, wow a great utensil beer bread makes, right?! haha.. in all seriousness though, beer bread is pretty darn easy to make without any fancy bread mixes, dips, or crazy ingredients. I found this recipe several places online that really seemed ridiculously simple, and it really was. I was almost surprised that it worked. I've made it several times. The one time I even made a load using cream soda, as the "beer" ingredient, and added some cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top of the butter, which turned out nice and breakfasty. Another time I went a bit more traditional and used a local beer. A note on the beer, be careful on what you choose as the beer does make a difference in the end taste.

Beer Bread

12 0z beer (I've heard not to choose a super light beer so pick what you like to drink would be a good choice)
3 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup sugar
3-4 Tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a bowl, combine flour and sugar. Next, stir in the beer, it will be foamy and sticky. You might have to even use your hands if you can not stir it with a spoon.

Pour the batter into the pan and brush with melted butter. Bake 50-60 minutes until browned. Cool slightly and remove loaf from the pan and continue to cool. Enjoy with a nice cream cheese spread or some other flavored spread.

Monday, June 7, 2010

a stop at Xoco

The other day, my husband and I ventured downtown to watch a Cubs vs.Cardinals game. On our way to the game, I thought it would be nice to do a side trip to get some Chicago food.. Originally, I wanted to hit a Garrett's popcorn and a Rick Bayless restaurant. After checking the maps, train times, and restaurant reservations, it boiled down to me getting one stop in before hitting the ole ball park that afternoon. I used my time wisely, and figured out I can order me some Garrett's popcorn online,while I only get a chance once in a while without the little one along to eat a place where I WANT to eat at.

After being shell-shocked by the next earliest reservation time at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, which was about 2 weeks out, I decided to modify my plans to eating as Rick Bayless' newest little restaurant, XOCO. I guess I should have done my homework a little bit more than just a few days before, but I was hoping a lunchtime reservation would have been easier to come by than evening time. Guess not! Oh, well. Another time, I guess :) XOCO offers some delicious Mexican street food and snacks, such as tortas, churros, salads, soups in the evening, and freshly ground Mexican hot chocolate. I wish I would have got a cup of hot chocolate reflecting back now on my visit to XOCO, but it was just a bit too warm out that day for me to enjoy it for its worth. Later on that afternoon, as I was sitting in the shade at Wrigley, kinda chilly with the north wind of the lake, I really could have used that hot cup of chocolate then!!

What did we order then? To drink, I had a glass of sparkling water with limes in it; yeah, I know, kinda boring, but refreshing on a warm Chicago afternoon. While we waited for a little bit in line for our table, the hostess came by asking if we'd like a starter of chips/salsa/guacamole, so of course, I said yes! I really wanted the guac, so that was our first course :) Next, after enjoying my Frontera chips/guac, we only waited for about 10-15 minutes, and our table was ready, so we could go up to the counter and final put our order in! So the next big decisions, my husband and I shared a XOCO Salad and a torta. The salad, which we picked grilled chicken as the protein instead of the pork, was paired with black beans, lettuce and arugula, all tossed in an avocado-lime dressing with some crispy tortilla shreds on top. hmmm . The other Mexican sandwich was the Cubana Torta, which consisted of a thinly sliced smoked pork loin, with bacon, black beans, avocado, cheese, and alight chipotle mustard. Oh, and to finish it off, I had to order my churro! It was freshly-made to order with about 5-10 minutes of the meal left, when we informed the server of the churro, and she put the order in so that it could come out prepared nice, hot and fresh. Wow. Everything was so crispy,crunchy, flavorful. It was so good, and the combination of all the flavors were just right. The salsas were a bit on the spicy side form, but tolerable in small doses :) I am a mild salsa girl usually,so these were more on the medium to hot side.

We definitely got there before the big noon rush that day as it was crawling outside the door and spilling onto the sidewalk. When we left, the hostess told those people, the wait for a table was about an hour at that point. Overall, I was pretty excited by the experience, even though I really wanted to eat at Frontera, XOCO hit the spot. XOCO is a cute little restaurant that probably only seats maybe 40-50 or so people, and does fill up fast, but it appeared the wait times were nothing for those who wanted a taste of Rick Bayless' work.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pretzel buns revisited....

Yummy note: So I just LOVE making homemade pretzel rolls, they are just one of the tastiest treats you can eat. I think my daughter LOVES them even more. But what I hate, is the time involved. Really if you have the time, this recipe I posted a few months ago is the bomb. However, the kicker of this particular recipe was how long it takes to prep the dough and the waiting in getting it ready for its bubble bath. So I started a search for ways to cut down on my time and came up with this nice shortcut - frozen bread dough! I used the frozen bread loaves and it worked perfect. It really cuts down the "hands on" time needed for this recipe. You just sit the frozen bread dough on the counter or in your refrigerator, and forget about it for awhile. Come back and you are ready to shape and Just let me say, frozen bread dough rocks!! Hope you enjoy this shortcut!

Pretzel buns revisited...

1 loaf of frozen bread dough
kosher salt or pretzel salt
2 quarts cold water
1/2 cup baking soda

Wrap a loaf of frozen bread dough in lightly oiled plastic wrap. Allow dough to thaw; thaw dough according to package directions, they may vary. After dough has thawed, you can do one of two things. 1) cut the dough into pieces and roll/form desired pretzel shapes and let it rise for about 30 minutes OR 2) let the dough rise a little bit (about 30 minutes or so) and then cut the dough into pieces and roll/form desired pretzel shapes. I've done both. Once on purpose, and the other I've accidentally let the dough rise quite a bit once and then cut and rolled the dough into shapes. Either worked fine. The only difference I saw was in version 2) the pretzels didn't get as high, but that's ok, as you get almost a harder pretzel that way.

ooops... I think I let it thaw out and rise too much. lol. It was pretty huge, when I tried taking the plastic wrap off, the dough instantly fell. But you know what, it still worked fine, I just got a little bit smaller and harder style of pretzels. The pretzels still tasted great.

Next, preheat the oven to 425°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly coat with a cooking spray. In a large stockpot, bring the cold water to a rolling boil and add 1/2 cup baking soda to create a nice bubbly bath for your dough. Drop in a few rolls/pretzels shapes at a time into the boiling water and boil for no more then 30 seconds, turning once. Carefully remove with tongs or slotted spoon and let it excess water drain back into the pot. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and score a design onto the top of the rolls if desired. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Arrange rolls on the oiled baking sheets and bake on the upper and middle racks of the oven for about 15 minutes to achieve a nice brown color. Your oven may vary, so start checking the rolls after about 8-9 minutes to get the color/doneness you want. I shifted and turned the pans about halfway through, for even baking. Let the rolls cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack and enjoy!