Pizza! For When the Busy Takes Over.

Hey folks, it’s been awhile since I posted here, hasn’t it? I had to take a break from blogging about food in order to grow some! Late April to early June is prime time in our garden, when the seedlings start growing into actual plants and lots of care is needed to make sure they become strong and healthy.  So far, so good as far as all that goes. And with all the good that has been going, meal time has become something of a challenge, especially on the weekends when we do most of our garden work. After being out in the yard all day, the last thing we want to do is cook.

This is where pizza comes in.

I love pizza. You love pizza. We all love pizza! And homemade pizza gets lots of love in our house, partly because it’s so easy to manage when we’re bone tired. And while you can’t go wrong with the basics – tomato and cheese, pepperoni and sausage, pepper and onion, etc., sometimes it’s nice to branch out into other flavor territories. So here are a couple recipes that we came up with when more than the basics are required: Buffalo chicken white pizza and artichoke, sun-dried tomato, and feta pizza. (So delicious, both!) I’ve also included a sauce recipe that’s become a staple whenever fresh tomatoes are not available. Either recipe can be made on the pizza crust of your choice — fresh, pre-made, flavored, wheat, white — the sky’s the limit! Cooking the pizza is up to you, whether you use a pan, pizza stone, or are maybe lucky enough to have a pizza oven. For our usual setup of individual pan pizzas, I cook the crust alone first for about 10 minutes at 375-400 degrees. Then I take the pizzas out of the oven, add the toppings, then put them back in for 13-15 minutes.

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Semi-homemade pizza sauce

  • 1 can of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano, and garlic (If you like a lighter sauce, only drain the tomatoes slightly. Drain fully if you want a thicker sauce.)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash of ground pepper
  • 1/2-1 tablespoon agave nectar (Recommend the agave over white sugar as it mixes better, but you could use white sugar. Go with a smaller amount of sweetener at first and add more to taste.)

Blend all ingredient together using a blender or stick blender. Let rest for about 30 minutes prior to using to let the dried herbs soften up a bit. Recipe makes enough for 2 large pizzas.

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Buffalo chicken white pizza

Ingredient list:

  • chicken (white and/or dark meat, whatever your preference)
  • flour
  • egg white
  • water
  • panko or white bread crumbs
  • corn meal
  • salt
  • pepper
  • oil, sliced or diced
  • butter
  • hot sauce
  • garlic powder
  • onions
  • whole milk mozzarella cheese (really, don’t skimp on the cheese! A little goes a long way.)

For buffalo chicken, cut up chicken into strips about an inch wide. Coat in flour, then dip into a mixture of 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water, then coat with a mixture of panko, corn meal, salt, and pepper. Fry chicken strips in about 1/2-inch of oil over medium heat, about 4-6 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain chicken on paper towels and let cool.

For the buffalo sauce – whisk together 1/2 cup of melted butter and 1/2 cup hot sauce. (Can adjust to taste.)

One chicken is cool to the touch, cut into small chunks and place in a ziploc bag. Pour in a enough buffalo sauce, and shake everything around, so that it liberally covers the chicken. (You’ll want to have enough sauce left over for two drizzles over the pizza.)

Also saute or caramelize the onions.

For garlic butter sauce, in a small container with a lid, add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and 2 teaspoons garlic powder. Put lid on a shake vigorously.

Prepare pizza: Brush garlic butter on crust. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Add chicken and onions. Drizzle a little buffalo sauce over the top. Cook until crust is golden brown. Drizzle a little more buffalo sauce over pizza before serving.

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Artichoke, sun-dried tomato, and feta pizza

Ingredient list:

  • artichoke hearts, quartered and marinated
  • sun-dried tomatoes (dry packed, not the ones in oil)
  • feta cheese
  • whole milk mozzarella cheese.
  • semi-homemade pizza sauce

Throw the sauce and cheeses on your pizza crust. Cut up a desired amount of artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, and place liberally on top. While cooking, you may want to keep an eye on the pizza as sun-dried tomatoes have tendency to burn. (P. S. If you happen to like black olives, they work well on this pizza, sliced and in small quantities. Too many and it gets too salty.)


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

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Want the Perfect Iced Coffee? Try Cold-Brewing.

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In my neck of the sorta-northern U. S. woods, it’s common to see the flip flops come out when the outside thermometer reaches 60 degrees. While I don’t follow this particular footwear routine, I do have a similar mantra concerning weather and coffee: “60 degrees means iced coffee!”

But the thing about iced coffee, as obtained from a proper coffee establishment, is that it’s expensive. Maybe I’m overly thrifty, but having to pay up to a dollar more to have someone add ice to a cup of coffee is perplexing. So over the years I’ve tried to make my own…without much success. I tried brewing my normal coffee, letting it cool, and adding ice, but that never cut it. The coffee always ended up tasting weak and watered down. I tried brewing exceptionally strong coffee – espresso and French roasts. The results were better, but since I’m not a fan of dark roasts generally, I never found the tastes of these brews appealing. I tried k-cups that were supposedly designed to make iced coffee. They weren’t. (Quite the sham they are.) I eventually gave up on the notion of ever making great iced coffee at home. That is until I discovered cold-brewed coffee.

As I’ve come to discover, cold brewing produces an amazing cup of coffee. The process removes much of coffee’s inherent bitterness and acidity and leaves you with coffee that’s rich, bold, and very smooth. Best of all, because the resulting coffee is so concentrated, it requires some dilution, which occurs anyway with iced coffee, what with all the melting ice. Despite this, the taste remains as wonderful as a full-strength cup o’ joe.

The Internet is full of recipes for cold-brewed coffee/iced coffee, and here’s one more. It’s so very simple, if a little time consuming. Fair warning, my recipe here is specifically based on using an 11-ounce bag of ground coffee, the size of which is most prevalent in my grocery stores. (A good bit of trial and error was involved here as a lot of recipes call for 10 or 12 ounces of coffee, and you’d be surprised how much that makes a difference in the final results.)

The perfect cold-brewed iced coffee

For the coffee concentrate:
  • One 11-ounce bag of course ground coffee
  • 6 2/3 cups of cold water
  • A fridge-safe container large enough to hold 7-8 cups
  • Another fridge-safe container that holds at least 1.5 quarts
  • For straining, a fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth and/or coffee filters
  • A funnel

In a sealable container (one that’ll fit in your fridge and hold at least 8 cups), pour in the ground coffee and then the water. Stir the mixture until all the grounds are incorporated. (If you’re using a bottle-type container, shake vigorously, with the cap on, of course.) Put the container in the fridge and let it rest for at least 10 hours but not more than 14. (I’ve read that this time frame is the optimal. I’ve not tried it longer for longer than 14 hours – too scared to waste more coffee than I already have!)

After brewing, it’s time to strain out the grounds. Line your sieve with 1-2 coffee filters or several layers of cheesecloth, place it in the top of properly sized funnel, and then place your funnel into whatever container will hold the concentrate. Working in small batches, and replacing the filters or cheesecloth when needed, strain the concentrate from the grounds into the new container. (With waiting for a batch of liquid/grounds to strain out, this process took about 45 minutes, and I came away with about 1.25 quarts of concentrate. Your results may vary.)

To make iced coffee:
  • 1/2 cup of liquid gold, i.e. the coffee concentrate
  • 6 ounces of cold water
  • 1-2 ounces of cream, half-and-half, or milk
    (If you like your coffee sweet, a dash of simple syrup would do the trick.)

Pour all the ingredients into a tall glass filled with ice, stir, and enjoy. If my ratios don’t work for you, simply adjust the dilution. Once you have the concentrate made, the rest is really up to your taste buds!


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

I Ate This: Eat Well Embrace Life Sweet and Spicy Black Bean Hummus

To know me is to know that I could easily live off nothing but crunchy things with soft dips. Tortilla chips and salsa, Fritos with cheese dip, wavy potato chips with French onion, melba toast and spinach/artichoke dip…yum, yummy, and yummiest! But outweighing all of those dips is the king of ’em all – hummus. Give me a container of hummus and something crunchy – carrots, pita chips, multigrain crackers – and you’ve got yourself a very happy camper. And I thought I knew all there was about hummus until one fateful day when my husband informed me of a hummus so unbelievable, so fantastical that I completely thought he was making it up.

Black bean hummus with corn relish.

How did he come across such a magical-sounding concoction? A friend at work who brought said (completely fabricated?) mixture to share with his unsuspecting co-workers. After trying it, my husband raved and made the utterly firm statement that my life would not be complete without trying it too. Having never heard of said “black bean hummus” (if it even existed), I queried as to where one could get such ridiculousness. The answer came in the form of Wal-Mart. Ah-ha! We have one of those! And so I went. However, as I discovered, our local, regular-sized Wal-Mart with a pitiful “grocery” section had nothing in the way of hummus, regular or special. The disappointment was swift. So my husband bartered with his co-worker to obtain a container post haste. And eventually, this container of what I will shortly describe as pure ecstasy for the palate made it in our house.

Want. NAOW PLEEZ!

Folks, I’m going to level with you. If you like hummus, if you like bean dip, if you like food that makes your head and heart swoon in joyous rapture, I urge…nay, demand! that you to seek out Eat Well Embrace Life’s Sweet and Spicy Black Bean Hummus. Know first and foremost that it is spicy, and it is sweet, and it is all delicious.

(Seriously, I literally want some right now and it’s just downstairs in the fridge and it’s all I can do to continue typing this but as soon as I’m done it’s all about the black bean hummus and there are no punctuation marks in that!)

But let’s get real for a moment. Why exactly is Eat Well Embrace Life’s Sweet and Spicy Black Bean Hummus superior in all ways to regular hummus? Well, it’s not…not really. For one, it’s not a replacement for regular hummus at your Greek or Middle Eastern meals. For those you totally want to stick with the real thing, which is magically delicious no matter how you spice it. Plus, it’s definitely got a little heat to it, so if you prefer the mild, then you might want to try Eat Well Embrace Life’s Tuscan White Bean Hummus. (Which, of course, I had to try once I found it. Bottom line: really tasty but not as quite as tasty as the black bean hummus.)

As a dip for crunchy things from both man and nature, this black bean hummus really, truly is just about the best thing going in our house at the moment. It’s thick like hummus, and has a smooth yet textured finish also like hummus. It tastes very much like what you might expect from a black bean dip — rich, earthy, and slightly smoky — except there’s that hint of heat in the background, a little peppery like hot sauce. Plus, it contains tahini like regular hummus, so there’s a slight sesame aftertaste that’s not at all terrible. Its crowning achievement though is the corn relish that resides in a ring in the center of the hummus. If you chose to scoop some of it as well (and why wouldn’t you?), you’re greeted with the sweet tastes of corn, pepper, and light fruitiness. It’s an enveloping mélange that beautifully compliments the heady hummus itself. The whole thing is so dangerously delicious that it’s easy to polish of an entire container in one sitting. And that’s one person not sharing. Try this hummus and you’ll find that you want to sing its praises with a side of “get your own!” as well.

Okay, okay, I’m gushing…a lot. So let me see if I can come up with any downsides to this hummus… Um…uh… Huh. Wait! Got one. Like with regular hummus, sometimes you’ll get a container where the oil has separated a little from the mixture. It’s not visually appealing, but a quick stir will take care of it. And if that’s the worse thing about this hummus, then maybe “worse” needs a new definition.

A couple months ago, my hummus habit completely changed when I discovered that, while the Wal-Mart provided to be only a letdown in regards to its hummus neglect, one of my local grocery stores in fact carried this delectable treat. I’ve since tried Eat Well Embrace Life’s other types of hummus, but I always return to the one and only Sweet and Spicy Black Bean. I haven’t gone back to regular hummus for snacking, and I don’t think I can at this point. The deed is done and there is no turning back.


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

Repairing Relationships…with Vegetables

In my previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t always gotten along with mushrooms. Things have gotten much better between us, but that doesn’t mean I reach for new fungi every time I’m in the store. In fact, during my last weekly grocery run, I realized that mushrooms aren’t the only vegetable this vegetarian had avoided until recently, “recently” meaning within the past five or so years. (This revelation kind of made me think that I’ve been subsisting on iceberg lettuce, baby carrots, green beans for the past twenty years – bland, boring, and American, by golly!) And I’m not talking about utterly fantastical veggies like kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads. I’m talking about fairly run-of-the-mill produce that I spent a long time skipping over simply because I didn’t know any better. Thankfully, vegetables tend to be quite forgiving after being long ignored, and here are five veggies with which I’m currently making, or trying to make decent inroads.

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Brussel sprouts

brussel-sprouts

Long the butt of jokes concerning their taste and general odiferousness, the first time I ever had brussel sprouts was three years ago. And I’m really not kidding about that. My parents never made brussel sprouts (that I can recall), and I never sought them out on my own. But then, a few years back I was looking expand my traditional holiday dinner fare and found a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts that couldn’t have been simpler. Sprouts, olive oil, salt pepper. Clean the sprouts, cut them in half, toss them in the oil and seasoning, roast a 400 degrees from 15 or so minutes. I was amazed at the tender, nutty, and flavorful results! I’ve since tried to make brussel sprouts more regularly. Granted, the smell from cooking them does linger, but the immediate deliciousness of eating them is worth the price of a few air fresheners.

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Olives

olives

Unlike my childhood that resided with the lack of with brussel sprouts, I did grow up with olives, LOTS of olives because my Dad really, really likes them. If there was one thing that was always, without fail, in our fridge, it was olives. And particularly the green Spanish olives with the pimento centers. (Perish the memories!) And because of that, olives ended up in so many recipes…so many recipes that I avoided because I hated olives! Oh my, how I couldn’t stand them as a kid! To me, they smelled bad and tasted worse, all sour and salty and yucky! Since becoming an adult, I have tried very hard to rectify this hatred, but it’s tough. Though I now don’t mind the way olives taste, their texture just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve managed to accept sliced black olives, and only sliced black olives, on pizza and in pasta salad. But that’s as far as it goes…for now.

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Asparagus

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Asparagus is another vegetable that simple wasn’t around in my house growing up. As an adult, it was never on  my grocery radar – green beans, peas, broccoli – those were my “green” staples. But asparagus? Don’t you have to prepare it in some complicated manner? Doesn’t it smell funny? Isn’t it hard to cook? No, no, and no were the answers I discovered when I made my first batch of roasted asparagus about five years ago. Since then, it’s become my first “green” staple, when it’s in season, that is. (And even when it isn’t, the imported stuff isn’t that bad.) I’ll admit that I haven’t strayed too far in terms of asparagus recipes as I just like it roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper, but there’s plenty of time to get more esoteric.  Asparagus Lemon Gelato, anyone?

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Avocados

o-FREEZING-AVOCADOS-facebook

In my early years of vegetarianism, I discovered that avocados were good for more than just guacamole. They were just as excellent in their naked form cut to top a salad or mashed and spread on a sandwich. Helping the situation tremendously was that, at the time, I lived in a place where avocados were local produce and were always guaranteed to be ripe and ready to use. When I moved to a place where that wasn’t the case, I remained spoiled, and it didn’t help that the avocados in the big ol’ chain grocery store were hard as rocks and never seemed to ripen properly. Eventually, I stopped buying them altogether. What’s brought me back to them in the past couple years is hope…and maybe a few health concerns – fiber, vitamins, triglycerides, all that adult stuff.  And this tip about finding ripe avocados from Lifehacker has saved me from bringing home bad ones.

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Okra

fresh-okra

Like brussel sprouts, I couldn’t haven’t identified okra in a vegetable line-up until I was in my twenties. My husband, being the good southerner that he is, took great delight in introducing his Yankee wife to okra. The results? Um…ewwww, and that was with the fried variety! Worse yet was having it in soup or stew when the okra turned gooey.  Over the years I have gotten okra (usually frozen, sometimes breaded) at my husband’s request, but you couldn’t have gotten me to eat it, no way, no how. But considering how my palette has calmed down and matured (I guess), it seemed only natural that someday, eventually, I have to try okra whether I wanted to or not. And that time came last year when I reluctantly agreed to make a vegetarian version of a gumbo recipe that was already in our arsenal. Substitute veggie stock as needed, omit the seafood and chicken, and voila! I’ll be honest, it wasn’t half bad. Really, it wasn’t, and that was despite the gooey okra (which was nearly as gooey as I remembered it.)  Though I don’t feel ready to fully accept okra into my life, we’re going to try growing it in the garden this year. If we get a decent crop then I won’t have a choice. Okra or bust!

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What foods (vegetables or otherwise) have you gotten to know better, and for the better in recent years? Any suggestions as to other oft-overlooked vegetables that should undoubtedly be in my kitchen?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

Recipe Challenge: Fried Rice with Mushrooms

Mushrooms and I have a…well…rocky relationship. That’s to say I’ve spent the better part of my life avoiding them. For many years, they simply struck out in both the taste and texture departments. (Unless they were hidden so deeply in a dish as to be completely unrecognizable.) But some years ago I learned about the nutritional benefits of mushrooms, and since then have been trying to accept them into my life. I can now eat mushrooms on a pizza without wincing and can make a suitable mushroom gravy when needed. I’ve also been cooking with them more as I would any regular vegetable. The results have been…not the worst, but I still have a long way to go in become the world’s greatest mushroom chef.

Part of this re-examination of mushrooms has involved trying different varieties. For the most part, and thanks to their explosion of the 2000s, portabella mushrooms have been my go-to. But our local grocery store has upped its game in the produce section, and now all sorts of mushrooms are readily available. One of the newest things now for sale is this:

mushroom mix

“Exotic blend?” Erm, well…okay. Save for the portabellas, I guess shitake and oyster mushrooms still count as exotic these days. I brought them home with no plan of what to do with them. Only then entered in a challenge put forth by 8bit’s ringleader Liores: create a recipe using three chosen ingredients — peppers (hot or bell), mushrooms, and eggs. Well now…suddenly my fancy, exotic mushrooms took on a whole new meaning.

In thinking of meals that might include mushrooms, peppers, and eggs, my thoughts naturally turned towards breakfast — omelets, scrambles, fritattas, and such seemed perfect for such ingredients. Well, that is if the thought of eating mushrooms for breakfast didn’t give me pause. I needed something where the mushrooms would be suitably cooked and “disappear” into the dish. With that in mind, one meal jumped out: fried rice! Oh yes, what better way to incorporate different vegetables into one dish with (usually) good results? Hence my newest creation: Fried Rice with Mushrooms!

Now, to say that I have a fried rice “recipe” would be a lie. Fact is, fried rice is one of those nice dishes where you can throw in a little of this and a lot of that and smidge of something else, and most of the time, things turn out okay. So instead of a traditional list of ingredients and instructions, I’m going the sorta kinda play-by-play route, which, you should know, is unheralded as I’m perfectly awful at taking pictures of my cooking while it is happening. Apologies here for any blurry images.

Fried Rice with Mushrooms

First up in prep, the veggies. Here we have (going counterclockwise from bottom left), the mushroom mix (portabella, shittake, oyster), a large serving of broccoli spears, half a white onion, a few baby carrots, one egg, one bunch of scallions, and a bell pepper. Taking half the mushroom mix (about 4 ounces), I chopped everything up into bite-sized pieces.

ingredients - veggies

Next, we have the oil and spices. From left to right, teriyaki sauce, rice vinegar, canola oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

ingredients - spices

And finally, the cooked and slightly cooled rice. (In this case white jasmine, because it was all I had.)

rice

Now onto the stove. First, heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large pan or wok over medium high heat. Then add in onion, pepper, and carrot. (If you like, you can also add in some chopped garlic.) Sauté until the carrots have softened a bit — about 8 minutes.

friedrice1

Then throw in the broccoli and mushrooms. Keep on stirring and cooking until the mushrooms have browned – another 5-6 minutes.

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In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. In the wok, create a small well in the center of the pan by moving your veggies out and up the sides a bit. Drop the egg into the center of the pan. Let it cook from about 2 minutes before incorporating it into the mixture.

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Once the egg has been stirred in, fold in approximately 1 1/2 cups of the cooked rice.

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Season the mixture with 3-4 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, a couple good shakes of garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and let the rice and veggies cook over heat for 3-4 minutes more.

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Sprinkle scallions over the rice and let them warm through.

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Serve the fried rice warm on its own or with your favorite Asian-inspired meat dish and/or egg rolls and/or whatever else you like.

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As a postscript, I must say that this recipe considerably changed my opinion of mushrooms. They lent delightfully hearty and earthy flavors to the fried rice, which were quite appealing, and which made the meal all the more filling. Needles to say, this dish is going into regular rotation, mushrooms and all!


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

 

I Ate This: Old El Paso Bold Nacho Cheese Stand ‘N Stuff Taco Shells

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the nacho cheese (a la Doritos) taco shell is a staple at most Taco Bells, yes? I don’t frequent the joint, but after all the fuss that surrounded the introduction of such creations a few years ago, I imagine it became a menu standard. But if it’s not a thing at your Taco Bell, then you might want to head to your grocery store, because there you may be able to pick up this product with a loooong name: Old El Paso Bold Nacho Cheese Stand ‘N Stuff Taco Shells.

NEW! and BOLD — what could be wrong with that?

When Taco Hell Bell introduced the Doritos Locos taco, we had to head to the nearest establishment to scoop up a couple. While I did not indulge in them, I was assured by my husband that they were quite delicious. After the meal, we wondered how long it would be before we’d be able to get nacho cheese flavored taco shells in the grocery stores. The gods of taco shells must have heard us that day; however were seemingly too busy (with stand-up flour tortillas, perhaps) to answer our call right away. Yes, it took a couple years, but eventually we were enabled by the people of Old El Paso to recreate the Doritos Locos taco at home, safe from the trappings of Taco Bell’s “food.”

Old El Paso’s Bold Nacho Cheese Stand ‘N Stuff Taco Shells, aside from having the least user-friendly name in the history of taco shells, are just like regular taco shells, except that they are each infused with a coating of neon-orange nacho cheese.

Awaiting the oven’s fiery glow…

As far as I know, they only come in the “stand and stuff” variety. No harm done there except that you only get 10 shells per package as opposed to 12 that generally come in your regular packages of regular taco shells.  So is the content cut and intense color worth it?

Yes…for the love of Tex-Mex, YES!

In fact, these nacho taco shells have become our new staple, and they are the only taco shells I currently purchase. Let’s review the pros and cons (if I can think of any while I’m typing).

PROS

  • They are a tad bit thinner than normal taco shells, which means they crisp up nicely in the oven and stay crispy once filled.
  • Though the box claims a BOLD flavor, the cheese flavoring is actually subdued with hints of bell pepper, black pepper, and onion. They are spicy, but not hot. (They have more taste than regular taco shells, but they don’t taste like Doritos.)
  • Because the nacho cheese doesn’t overpower the shells, the flavoring lends a lot to your own ingredients. So if you don’t like super spicy taco meant and/or beans, these shells would be just the ticket to add in some spice without getting too risqué.
  • The cheese is not super powdery, so you’re not left with orange fingers after eating a round of tacos.
  • Though you get fewer shells per package than you might with normal taco shells, the price for the nacho cheese shells is comparable to other products. No wallet strain.

CONS (okay, I did think of a couple)

  • The cheese flavoring is a little salty, so you may have to experiment with the spicing of your fillings accordingly.
  • Once in the oven, they crisp up very quickly – in about 3-4 minutes in a 375 degree oven as opposed to 5-7 minutes with normal taco shells. If you leave them in too long, they’ll absolutely burn, so you have to keep a very close eye on them while they are warming up.

I highly recommend Old El Paso’s Bold Nacho Cheese Stand ‘N Stuff Taco Shells, especially if you fancy those Doritos Locos tacos but don’t want to hassle with actually going to Taco Bell. They won’t break your grocery budget, are very tasty, and will easily spice up any “Taco Tuesday.” Even if you try them for novelty’s sake, I bet they’ll become a regular addition to your pantry too.

Homer *drooooools*


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

Food Fears: Scallops

Scallops terrify me. Oh yes, they do.

scallops

Oh sure, they look innocuous enough, but five scary monsters lie beneath the glossy sheen…

Generally speaking, and without sounding too full of myself, I tend to “win” in the kitchen. I welcome just about any challenge to cook anything, even the stuff I don’t eat. And most of the time, the results are palatable. Or, at least, no one has suffered dearly. (Not that I know of, anyway.) But much like me and a handful of video game genres that make me think twice about life, there are a some food items—and we’re talking run-of-the-mill grocery store stuff, not offal and crickets—that scare me.

Take scallops. I did not grow up in a seafood-loving household. I can only surmise that my parents didn’t care for the stuff all that much outside of seafood that was canned, or breaded, fried, and usually frozen. For instance, as a kid, I consumed my share of fish sticks, tuna, and breaded shrimp. And the older I got, the less I enjoyed such fare. Once I went vegetarian, I finally had my excuse to avoid seafood altogether.

Skip ahead several years to a post-college me eating lots of spaghetti and poorly designed veggie burgers, when my husband enters the mix. Though my meat-eating days are behind me, it’s not like I’ve forgotten everything I learned from the cooks in my life. Together, and with inspiration from his grandmother, we build a solid repertoire of dishes that we both can enjoy. Though chicken, beef, pork, and turkey enter the equation, seafood remains on the back burner. I try my hand at the occasional fish filet, but am more prone to reach for the ready-made popcorn shrimp from the freezer when the moment strikes.

Only then, our diets mature, and frozen, prepared foods, especially fish and shellfish, lose their appeal. Also, I grow to speak with my wallet. Why spend $8.00 pound on a box of frozen (for who knows how long), breaded fish filets when I can get a fresh filet for more than half that and prepare it myself for pennies? Take that factory-produced-frankenfish!

If only reality was so chivalrous.

While I have managed to conquer or bravely face some seafood (I’m good with most white fish, have the occasionally win with salmon and swordfish, tuna remains iffy, shrimp/crab/lobster – passable when need be), anything that comes in an actual shell, and especially scallops, turn me into the petrified chef. Even now, just thinking about cooking scallops makes me wish I was not thinking of them. (And I’ll be honest, though I’ve cooked scallops, I’ve never cooked clams, mussels, or oysters. And frankly, I never want to.)

Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that they are really expensive, and I’m talking about the big sea scallops, not the little bay scallops (which are still just as scary). In my local stores, sea scallops can run nearly a dollar a piece, if not more. That’s a ridiculous price per pound when compared to fish! If I buy a serving of five scallops, the thought of loosing even one to bad technique is horrifying.

Then there’s the preparation and actual cooking of them. Unless I’m forming ground beef into meatballs or hamburgers, I really prefer to touch meatstuffs as little as possible when preparing them. In terms of fish, you’re never going to find me dealing with anything other than a cleaned filet. In terms of crustaceans, I will devein shrimp (though gross)  if I must, but dear god, nothing with heads or legs please. As for those dastardly scallops, did you know that most have a little extra piece of tissue on the side that should be removed prior to cooking? Just doing that makes me think I’m going to squish them into nothingness with my giant, clumsy hands.

And then, unfortunately, when it comes to meat, I am an unabashed overcooker. Now, my anxiety concerning undercooked meats has lessened some with time, but I still tend to cook things too long for their own good. I’ve read scallop recipes that literally yell “ONLY COOK FOR TWO MINUTES PER SIDE. NO MORE, YOU HEAR ME!!” And when I abide, the scallops turn out undercooked. But if I let them go for even 30 seconds more, they turn to rubber. [Le sigh.]

With scallops, I feel like I’m going to lose the battle before I even start.

******

Do you have any awesome scallop tips or recipes, or special secrets when it comes to preparing shellfish? Or how about this: are you scared of any foods? What items would you rather leave to the professionals or leave alone altogether?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

Special Item Set Achieved! Ceramic Cutlery

You know that special item set in a game that you’ve been dying to get for 100+ hours but just haven’t attained for one reason or another? Like, you know from the start that having said items is going to make your life a million times easier, yet the act of obtaining the set just ends up on the backburner of tasks? That’s how it’s been with me and ceramic knives…in real life. (Though, really, ceramic knives ought to be in any dual-wielding rogue’s stash because of their awesomeness!)

It had to be some dozen years ago that I saw my first ceramic knife – used by a chef on television. (Granted they had been around for a while, but it wasn’t exactly like I had been following kitchen knife trends.)  Watching the smooth, white blade in action was fascinating and foreign, and I just had to know more. And the more I learned about ceramic knives, the more I wanted one for my kitchen. Just one, because a single ceramic blade ran about the cost of a respectable stainless steel knife set. But at the time it was a difficult purchase for me to justify as I had recently received not one but two stainless knife sets, both of which functioned well enough for me to push the thought of getting ceramic cutlery to the back corners of my mind.

Fast forward to December 2014 when family members start with the “what do you want for Christmas?” inquiries. When I started listing things, my practicality got the best of my as I thought of all the household things that need replacing, such as my poor, leaky iron and a set of sauté pans that had seen better days.  Then my thoughts turned towards more kitchen items and, in particular, my cutlery set. Remember last paragraph when I mentioned that I had had two knife sets? As of last December, I still had one of them, and it was in bad shape. On a whim, I headed online to look up what fun advancements had been made in knives since I last considered them, and that’s when I rediscovered ceramic blades (plus all sorts of other crazy fun stuff, like printed blades, titanium knives, and nonstick sets). But the best thing of all was that ceramic knife sets were now totally affordable and held their own against some of the best knives in the world! Long story long, I put “ceramic knife set” on my Christmas list, and Santa brought me this very nice set:

ceramic knives2

ceramic knives1

This is the 6-piece set is from Cuisinart, and it contains (from top to bottom in the image directly above) a santoku knife, a bread knife, a chef’s knife, a utility knife, and a paring knife. And the whole thing is perfectly brilliant! In fact, I didn’t realize just how bad/dull/imbalanced my other knives were until I started using the ceramic knives.

One of the first things I learned about ceramic blades was how delicate they were. Sure, the blades are incredibly sharp and strong, but they’re prone to cracking if you’re not careful with them. (I don’t lend much credence to “break resistant” claims – ceramic isn’t that, even if it’s specially formulated and such.) So they aren’t good for everything. The manual for these blades told me straightway not to use them for butchering (i.e. cutting through bone), and to only use them on wood and poly (plastic) cutting boards. (So no more chopping things in a jiffy right on my stoneware or Corningware dinner plates.) The manual also warned against placing the knives in the dishwasher – extremely high water temperatures and pressure could cause pitting. The rules for the knives basically boiled down to “HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE!”

For that reason, using the knives, even a month in, continues make me a little nervous. But the wondrous thing about them is that they make you want to be careful. Not that I was flailing about with my stainless knives before, but for me, using them meant I had to unlearn how brutishly I had been dealing with my food under knives before. The ceramic blades are so sharp that much less pressure is required to make cuts. And the cuts that they make are very precise.  No more getting caught on a gristly bit of raw chicken. No more cheese sticking to a blade. No more irregularly shaped veggies in the stir-fry.

So far, the santoku blade has gotten the most use – it’s just a great, all-around knife for everything, from steak to broccoli to pineapple. The paring knife makes short work of peeling. The bread knife is truly forgiving, even with the softest homemade loaf. The utility knife works great with slicing cheese – even warmed brie doesn’t stick to it! And the chef’s knife is perfect for preparing loads of chicken for buffalo chicken pizza.  In short, this knife set is that best thing that’s happened to my kitchen since…since…well, probably when I got my first real cutlery set.

Now, I still have my old knife set to use when I can’t use the ceramic knives, like when having to cut through something that’s particular hard or requires a bit of flexibility, which only stainless allows. But the ceramic set, despite the high maintenance, has become my go-to for general meal prep. If you’re in the market for new knives, don’t discount the ceramic ones. This dual-wielding rogue simply can’t imagine her kitchen without them!


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

I don’t like blueberry bagels, and other arbitrary food musings

This post was originally published on Geek Force Network, December 5, 2014.


A lovely picture from Think Fooditude.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors once said, “There are only three kinds of bagels in this world: plain, poppy seed, and sesame.” Well… two out of three ain’t bad. But my dislike of poppy seed bagels (too many damn seeds to get stuck in your teeth!) reaches nowhere near the height of my abhorrence for blueberry bagels. Oh, I’ve tried to quell my hatred – just the other week I purposefully added two blueberry bagels to my grocery store stash just to see if my opinion had softened. Nope. They were still yucky. I think it has to do with the fact that they don’t taste at all like blueberries. In fact, I really don’t care for any baked goods that contain blueberries – muffins, scones, cookies, cakes, pies, even pancakes. Not only is the blueberry flavor never all that pronounced in these items, but it seems that they end up extra sweet to make up for that lack of taste. Plus, when you cook blueberries, they tend to disintegrate into mush. When I want blueberries, I want that extra-fresh *pop* of flavor that only comes from them being fresh. I can handle fresh blueberries in salad or on top of cereal or oatmeal. But in a bagel? Never.

The exact opposite is true of raisins. The thought of eating raisins straight out of the box is perfectly vile. The chewy/gritty texture is one thing, but their heady, sweet n’ sour taste makes my stomach churn. Cook them however, and they become magical. In fact, I l-o-v-e- cinnamon raisin bagels. Yep. Had one just this morning with cream cheese, and it was perfect. Cinnamon raisin bagels aren’t nearly as sweet as blueberry bagels (if you have to go with fruit bagels, that is), and the taste pairs really well with a nice, slightly bitter cream cheese. See, most of the time, raisins rehydrate slightly when they are cooked. So you’re not left with complete mush (like blueberries) or hard, inedible bits (like, well, raisins) when you add them to cookies, bread, pies, etc. They become plump and moist and lovely-tasting. The same kind of goes for yogurt-covered raisins. At least covered they stay more moist than usual.

I was on the hunt for yogurt-covered raisins at the store the other day. Didn’t find any, and I ended up bringing home yogurt-covered cranberries and yogurt-covered peanuts, just because. I’m not sure what fool enjoys eating dried cranberries straight, but I’ve never been so silly. They are solely for making pumpkin-cranberry bread in my house. Covering them in yogurt makes for an okay snack, but they are oddly sweeter than yogurt covered raisins, and are also extremely tart. Like a Sweet Tart covered in yogurt. Hmm…no thanks on that front. As for the peanuts…icky and insipid. I was hoping they’d fall in the sweet n’ salty realm, but no. They taste just like you’d expect plain peanuts covered in a slightly sweet yogurt shell would taste. And that taste would be bland.

Speaking of bland, as a vegetarian, some people think that I live in a world of free from flavor. That because I’m not cooking everything in bacon fat and chicken grease, I’m stuck with boring vanilla vegetables and cardboard-y fake meats. Well…I can’t really deny that latter because some vegetarian “meat” is pretty rank. (And this after many advances in the science of creating said fake meats, which must be a college major by now.) But some of it is very edible and even delicious! I’d offer you some of my fake bacon, but I won’t because I like to too much. Also, you’ll hate it. So, win-win! But going back to the bland factor, I have a cupboard full of spices, which are quite easy to obtain. Want to punch up your broccoli? Add a couple dashes of garlic powder. Hate cooked carrots? Go with some dried sage or curry powder to spruce things up a bit. Wish that your coleslaw tasted like anything other than cabbage? Then you need a good palmful of celery seeds. There’s absolutely no end to the flavor combinations that can turn any boring foodstuffs from bland to brilliant! I’m fully aware of the flavors that I’m missing by not cooking my black-eyed peas in bacon or making my split-pea soup without ham hocks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make black-eyes peas or split-pea soup. I can, and I do, and it’s all just as flavorful.

Around this time of year (i.e. the “holidays”), one family member or another will always ask me if I miss meat. I really don’t. Except…for one thing. My mom’s sausage and peppers. Boy oh boy…if I think about it long enough, I can start to smell it. The sweet and hot Italian sausage cooking away in a crock pot with a glorious array of bell peppers, all in a hearty tomato sauce. At dinner time, warm up some hoagie rolls (Amoroso‘s, please) and spoon out the delectable mix of meat and veggies. Mmmm, mmm, good! Though it’s been 20+ years, the thought of that meal makes me smile.

*****

Care to share any favorite food musings/memories so I don’t feel like such a dork here?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

24-Hour Salad

Merry Christmas readers, followers, and cooks alike! While I’m more than thrilled that you stopped by the blogosphere on this holiday, hopefully most of you are enjoying a wonderful day filled with family and friends. Or food and presents. Well…mostly food and presents, as the case may be.

Unlike the more formal holiday of Thanksgiving, which requires some traditional fare, Christmas in my house is much more relaxed. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a few food “musts,” one of which includes a fruit salad I remember being a holiday staple since childhood — the 24-Hour Salad.

While there’s probably a definitive version of this fruit salad that has chopped fruit marinate in a light custard overnight, I wouldn’t know what it is! Since I started making this salad myself, I’ve discovered that there’s almost no limit to the fruit it can contain. I regularly alter it according to what’s available and who’s eating. (i.e. Marshmallows and I don’t get along very well, so I usually skip them.) As long as the fruit is compatible with egg, sugar, and cream, you’re good to go. If you’re short on fresh fruit, canned fruit works just as well.

And if the idea of fruit sitting overnight in cooked, creamy eggs is absolutely unappealing, forget it and just use the heavy cream whipped up with a little sugar. It’s not religion, just a tasty and light fruit salad.

24-Hour Salad

Ingredients

For the custard:

1 egg
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar
pinch of salt
(for the next day – 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream)

For the salad:

1 cup chopped pineapple, fresh or canned and drained
1 cup chopped orange or 1 small (8-9 ounce) can of mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup sliced seedless red grapes
1 cup chopped apples
8-12 sliced maraschino cherries (or sliced fresh cherries, if you’re lucky enough to get them at this time of year!)
1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)
(for the next day – 2 sliced bananas)

Instructions

Day one
In a double boiler or single sauce pan over low heat, beat the egg and stir in the lemon juice, sugar, and salt. With a wooden spoon, constantly stir the mixture until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove custard from the heat and cool.

Combine all fruit together, except the bananas, in a large bowl. Stir in the custard, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Day two
Drain any excess liquid from the salad and stir in 2 sliced bananas. Whip the cream until thick and stir into the salad. Can be eaten immediately or chilled.

*****

This salad is best eaten the day its made as the bananas will quickly go brown in any leftovers. You can freshen up any remaining salad with a bit of extra whipped cream, if necessary.


Let’s see just how many blogs Cary can put on her roster before going mad! While you’ll find her here on occasion, you’ll more likely to catch her over on United We Game or Geek Force Network; or better yet, working on her own blog about gaming and nostalgia and such, Recollections of Play.