a cooking blog from one foodie to another... I rarely if ever use real measurements... my recipes are more like guidelines... but along the way we usually land on something kinda delectable...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homemade Microwave Popcorn!!!

This is one of those moments that will FOREVER alter my life!  I'm not talking quite as big as my salvation moment, but CLOSE!  I have learned the secret of making microwave popcorn from scratch!  For a penny-pincher like me this is EARTH SHATTERING!  Do you know how much microwave popcorn costs???  It is a RIP-OFF!  I never buy it.  Yet then I stand in the kitchen hemming and hawing about how badly do I want a snack???  Bad enough to dirty a HUGE pot for popping popcorn???  Nah...  I'll eat something easier (and likely MUCH MORE unhealthy than popcorn).  So stumbling (with the help of Googgle) upon a homemade recipe was like finding the Holy Grail!!!

Let me change your world TOO!  Here's what you need:

1 brown paper bag
1/4 cup popcorn kernel
salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. olive oil
1 small piece of tape
butter, melted (to taste)

Here's what you do:

Put popcorn kernels in brown paper bag; shake a little salt on them; shake up the bag.  Drizzle olive oil over them; shake up the bag; tape the bag closed.

Put the bag into your microwave on high for 3 - 5 min (depending on your microwave).  When the popping slows down it is ready.

Pour into bowl.  Drizzle melted butter over top and add more salt.  VOILA!  Your life has been changed!  You will NEVER have to buy microwave popcorn AGAIN!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rice cooker....

John found a rice cooker someone left behind in the dorm a few weeks ago.  I have always wanted to try one of these as I STINK at making rice the traditional way.  I have LOVED my experiments!!!!  There is only one flaw to it that I can't figure out:  the rice cooker has a "keep rice warm" setting but if I leave the rice in there then it tends to burn on the bottom :(

The thing didn't come with a decent manual so I've been searching the net and trying to figure out how to use it...  Here's what I've learned:

*recipe is same as one right on the bag of rice
*it seems to take less than 30 minutes to have PERFECT rice
*you can do MUCH more than plain rice in it... so far I've done cilantro lime rice and Spanish rice (the Spanish rice wasn't really flavorful enough so I'll try to jazz it up next time)
*it cleans up VERY quickly

So basically the point of this blog is:  a rice cooker is DEFINITELY worth a try... I love mine and plan to get busy figuring out how else I can use it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bread Machine Hard Rolls

I am ALWAYS intimidated by making rolls in my bread machine.  My few attempts have resulted in misshapen, little hockey pucks which left me feeling like a failure!  But the more I use my bread machine... for pizza and cinnamon rolls (no blog on this one yet cuz I haven't really perfected them yet... maybe this weekend???)... the more I think, "Surely I should be able to master the art of forming this dough into rolls!"

I tried yesterday and had my best results yet.  Here's the recipe I used.  When the dough cycle was done, I simply cut the dough in half, and in half again, and in half again until I had eight portions.  Then I rolled them up into balls and kinda THUMPED them down onto the pan so they'd flatten out a little.  I put them on the stove (oven was preheating beneath it) and let them rise for 40 minutes.  Popped them in the oven for 20 min on 400 and VOILA!  we had BEAUTIFUL hard rolls!

I am empowered now!  I am going to make ALL my rolls in the bread machine!  Hope I soon have more successful results to share.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tamale Making: Assembling Tamales

OHMIGOSH!  Can you say, "Time consuming?!!?!"  I think the second lesson learned from the Tamale Making experiment is:  do NOT make tamales the day OF a special event.  I cannot explain the depths of exhaustion I feel today.  Making tamales and preparing the house for guests, making the rest of a birthday meal and dessert was just TOO much.  In retrospect, I wish I had made the tamales Wed/Thurs or even last week.... Alas, hindsight is 20/20... I hope I remember that for next time.  A pictoral tour through the process:

masa mixture
smearing masa
husks smeared w/masa

meat added
rolling tamales
rolled tamale

open end

steaming tamales

Again as I expected, tamale making washing DIFFICULT it was just a LENGTHY process.  Lessons learned from the final step, making the tamales:  

*count out corn husks and don't even waste time soaking the tiny ones you won't really use

corn husks soaking

*LESS meat!!!!  that recipe I used called for WAY too much meat!  I used the amount they said, and I had to double the masa quantity and I still had so much left over that we are planning a meal of barbeque using the meat, AFTER using it on tacos at our fiesta.  There was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much meat!!!!!

meat left near end of 2nd batch of masa

*the corn husks MUST dry off before you try to spread the masa mixture on them or the masa won't stick

corn husks drying off

*an assembly line (I drafted my boys) works nicely and REALLY speeds things up

my assembly line workers

*it wasn't really highlighted in the directions, but COOLING OFF is a VITAL step; if you try to eat them to soon they are wet and icky

The tamales were YUMMY.  We had them for dinner, I left about 20 in the fridge for leftovers, and froze about 3 dozen too!  I will DEFINITELY do it again; however, much wiser from the battle.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tamale Making: Luna's Market

It is THERE! It is AWESOME! (Like a tiny little slice of Mexico!). Got the rest of my supplies. Soaking corn husks as we speak.

Luna's Market
225 N. Main Street
Hartford. WI
Sent from my U.S. Cellular BlackBerry® smartphone

Tamale Making: Preparing the meat

I have now gathered MOST of the ingredients in two separate trips.  I will make my final trip in the a.m.  I did NOT like needing three trips to gather the ingredients, but at least I learned a lesson.  I had at least gathered all the ingredients to complete step 1:  Cook the tamale meat.

This was time consuming and messy, but not really THAT bad.

Noah helped 

(can I just say that these boys I am raising are going to be SOME kinda CATCH!  Actually my girl won't be a bad prize either.... I'm hatching four little foodies here.  They LOVE to help me in the kitchen!)  So we boiled the meat as instructed.  

Then we shredded it by hand (BLECH!).  

Finally added the seasoning and mixed it all about.

TWEAKS:  Next time I make tamales, I am considering doing the meat in my slow cooker... less oversight required.  But really and truly the boiling part wasn't hard it just took FOREVER.

TIP:  Use a fork to shred the meat.  It is quicker and does a better job of separating the meat into filaments.

It is 1:30 a.m. and I am READY for bed!  More tamale making tomorrow (after a trip to Hartford for the Holy Grail... I mean corn husks and corn masa.)  Good night all!

Tamale Making: Lesson 1

My hubby LOVES tamales.  So for his birthday (which is TODAY) I decided to make him tamales, from scratch, AUTHENTIC!  So I started where all great tamales makers must start, google and stumbled upon detailed instructions chronicling every step of making tamales.  There are even PICTURES!  I'm not gonna recreate the wheel.  So far in my experiment, it seems like this is a good recipe with easy-to-follow instructions; therefore, if you want the recipe follow my link.  I will be blogging about the experience here sharing mostly my lessons learned, tweaks made (or planned) and results obtained.

Here is the FIRST lesson I learned about tamale making:  do NOT (I repeat DO NOT) assume that corn husks and corn masa are "not that exotic."  A trip to Wal-Mart and calls to two Piggly Wigglys and a Pick N Save have thus far resulted in NO corn husks or corn masa.  Not to be detered, yet trying to avoid driving all the way into Milwaukee to El Rey, I am leaving at 8:30 a.m. to follow a lead.  The UBBER helpful service desk associate at the Slinger Piggly Wiggly informed me a brand new Mexican Grocer opened up in Harftford on Main Street.  I finally found a Hartford Common Council .pdf of minutes that confirmed this stating "Luna's Market has opened up at 225 W. Main Street."  I will keep you posted; however, REMEMBER this lesson:  do NOT assume everyone has the supplies for making tamales!  Especially when your husband works mere STEPS (okay fine! miles...) from El Rey and could have EASILY picked up the ingredients any day this past week after work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Get out (actually stay in) and VOTE!

I'm posting a weekly poll, and NO ONE has answered the first one!  Please take part... See it over there, lonely in the corner???  It is right underneath my kitchen inspiration....  so

Yogurt Chicken...

What's for dinner in the Kastner's kitchen tonight?  Yogurt Chicken and baked potatoes.  While I cannot take ANY credit for this recipe (Allison Boguszewski is the mastermind behind it), I can tell you SEVERAL things about it:

1.  my kids ADORE it
2.  it is HEALTHY
3.  it is EASY

Sooo???  What else do you need to know?  Get the ingredients and MAKE IT!

(I double this.  You will need to as well Cindy H.  Families of 6 or 7 cannot make it on 3 - 4 chicken breasts!)

3 - 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz container plain yogurt
1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 Tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp Lawrey's salt (I'm not a fan of Lawrey's so I've left this out every time I made it)
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 cup butter

Mix breadcrumbs, parmesan, onion, garlic, Lawrey's (or none if you don't like it too), and oregano in a shallow dish.  Pour yogurt into ANOTHER shallow bowl.  Dip chicken in yogurt, coating it.  Dip chicken into breadcrumbs, coating it.  Place chicken in a 9x13 pan (sprayed with cooking spray).  Melt 1/4 c butter and drizzle it over chicken.  Bake covered at 375 for 1/2 hour.  Then uncovered for another 20 - 25 minutes.

Make sure to tell me if you like it!  And STAY TUNED!  Tonight is Day 1 of my Tamale Making experiment.  Tamale Making blog to follow!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Homemade Pizza

Jeremiah is such a little sweetie!  Whenever I make homemade pizza, he will say to me, "Mom, why do you have to make your homemade pizza so good?!?!"  I don't know if it is THAT good, but it is easy, cost-effective, and YUMMY!  Here's how I do it:

Pizza Crust:
(in a bread machine)
1 3/8 c warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp yeast

My bread machine's dough cycle takes 1 1/2 hours; therefore, for me, the hardest part of this recipe is remembering to start a pizza dough at the appropriate time.

The above recipe makes two BIG pizza crusts.  So when the bread machine finishes its cycle, I split the dough in half, sprinkle some flour on my counter and start rolling one half out into a circular shape (it is NOT a perfect circle AT ALL).  I have tried many times to experiment with hand tossing.  Let's just say EPIC FAIL!  So I pretty much just roll it out with my handy dandy Pampered Chef Roller.  When I have two pizza crusts rolled out and on my pizza pans, I brush the crusts with olive oil.  I gleaned this tip off the Internet somewhere.  It promised the brushing of olive oil would help keep the toppings from making the crust soggy, and lo & behold, IT DOES!

For sauce, I just shoot from the hip.  Typically I use about 1/2 a 14.5 oz can of tomato sauce per pizza.  I just buy the cheapest, generic tomato sauce I can find.  I season it with salt, garlic, oregano, and basil.  Then I spread 1/2 can on each crust.  I then spread about 2 cups of shredded mozzarella on each pizza.  (Sometimes in a pinch when I've run out of cheese I add Parmesan or even cheddar... that was YUMMY.)

As far as toppings, usually we just do "extra cheesy" because it's cheap and easy and a good standby.  But here are some of other favorites:

Veggie:  tomato, red onion, green pepper, mushrooms (make sure to saute them first it is yummier), black olives.

Regular toppings:  sausage, pepperoni

Chicken Parmesan (this is Noah's ABSOLUTE favorite):  on top of the mozzarella cheese I add chicken (buy a bag of popcorn chicken from the freezer section) and then a sprinkler of mozzarella and some Parmesan.

Bacon Cheeseburger (this was YUMMY but ended up being a very TALL pizza):  use a mix of mozzarella and cheddar for the cheese, sprinkle browned ground beef and crumbles of cooked bacon, add another sparse layer of cheese

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Southwest Spaghetti

Here is an original creation of mine born out of a day when I did NOT have time to run to the grocery store and determined to make something out of my pantry.  That's what I <3 about this recipe!  It's a pantry recipe with little to no fresh foods required so the ingredients can always be on hand!  My kiddos love it!  Made it for New Day Church and got rave reviews.  It's got tomatoes (lycopene) and black beans (high fiber) and you could use whole wheat pasta to make it even healthier!  Let me know if you try it out.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Olive Oil (good swish around the pan)
Onion (roughly chopped; as much as you like)
2 - 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 - 15 oz cans of black beans (one drained; one with juice)
1/2 bag of frozen corn (can use one can instead)
1 box of shell noodles (prepared according to directions on box)

(I layer my seasonings; as indicated in instructions)

Garnishes (optional):
shredded cheddar
crushed tortilla chips

Give a good swish around the pan of olive oil.  Saute onion.  Add salt, pepper, and garlic.  When onions are translucent, add tomatoes and a second layer of seasonings:  salt, pepper, garlic, cumin.  Cook till bubbling.  Add black beans (make sure to drain the juice off one can and add the juice of the other can).  Third layer of seasoning:  salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, and tabasco (2-3 dashes; or MORE if you like some heat).  Cook till bubbling.  Add corn and final layer of seasoning.... at this level I let my tongue tell me what to add... does it need salt or a little heat (tabasco) or maybe more smokiness (cumin).  

Combine "sauce" with shell noodles.  Garnish as desired.  

[Tip:  I like to make a double batch and freeze half.  I put half in a 9 x 13 pan.  Cover it with Cheddar.  Sprinkle crushed tortilla chips on it.  Freeze it and then pull it out in a pinch and pop it in the oven for about 30 min at 350.  YUMS!]

Cheesy Popcorn

Most of my best discoveries in the kitchen are born out of desperation.... This one car thing is really putting a damper on my ability to get to the store! So last night we were all hungry for a snack and I did NOT have much as my disposal. I started trolling the internet for something I could do with popcorn to fancy it up a bit, and I hit the JACKPOT!!!!!

Cheesy Popcorn

Pop the corn as usual.  Butter it.  (This step was NOT in the recipe I made and the cheese didn't stick well to the popcorn.  When I make it again, I am going to sparingly butter it.  Just so the corn has a little wetness to glue the cheese to it.)  Sprinkle a packet (per 4 quarts of popped popcorn) of cheese from a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese over it.

We LOVED this cheese corn recipe.  Kids gobbled it up QUICKLY!  It was EASY, and we had ALL the ingredients on hand even when nearing the "empty cupboards at the end of the week syndrome."
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