Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cooking Slump (& Mexican Recipes)

I’ve been in a cooking slump for a couple years now. Mostly I just make whatever is quick and easy and I’ve got a mental list of several meals that I rotate. It’s a rather large list, so it’s not the same thing every week, though I did make a lot of chicken pot pie for a couple weeks awhile back. My husband didn’t complain, though. (The recipe for my chicken pot pie will be coming. Be patient.)

I used to get a monthly cooking magazine, cut out the recipes that I wanted to try, paste them into a binder, and actually refer back to the binder when making my meal and grocery lists, trying new things. (If I left the recipes in the magazine, I found that I would never refer back to it at all.) This hasn’t happened for almost 4 years! I think living with Jake’s mom, not cooking all the time and not having my own stuff out to use kind of got me in a funk. A funk that’s stayed around. We sure have eaten out a lot more in the last 4 years than we used to. But now that we’re cracking down on the budgeting, that’s definitely not happening as much any more, though I am tracking down cheap avenues to do that too.

But I like cooking. At least I used to. And sometimes I still do. But I don’t get as excited about it as much as or as often as I did. I love entertaining and having people over. And even though “words of affirmation” isn’t my “love language” I sure do appreciate my husband’s encouragement about my cooking. And others’ too! I also love, love, love going to cooking equipment stores and watching cooking shows on TV. (More on that topic to come in a later post as well.)

The last time I got really excited about a recipe was when we visited some friends in Clear Lake, Iowa, and I helped make homemade tacos. She fried the shells herself (she used store-bought corn tortillas and fried them in oil – a pretty complicated and time consuming process, as you’ll see below) and we made the seasoning for the beef from scratch as well as the Spanish rice. It was all SO delicious!! I had every intention of coming home and making it again, but that was in February and it hasn’t happened. And the more I think about it, the more I think maybe I could make the meat, but just use store-bought shells.

So I guess the point of this is to have you send me your favorite recipes. Preferably easy and cheap! And if at all possible, send along a picture of the dish as well. (Remember that my husband hates cheese but will eat mozzarella. Now that I’ve said that, you’ll only be able to think of dishes with cheddar or cream cheese! I know from experience.) Hopefully this will get me out of my slump. Slowly but surely.

In the meantime, here are the recipes for the tacos & rice we had in Clear Lake, in case you’re interested.

Beef Taco Meat

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 C)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 T chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef or leaner
½ C tomato sauce
½ C low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp vinegar, preferably cider vinegar
ground black pepper

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and ½ tsp salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serves 4 (2 tacos each).

Home-Fried Taco Shells

¾ C vegetable oil or canola oil
8 corn tortillas, 6 inches each

Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to the surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 ½ minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness of paper towels. Using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of the tortilla in hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until just set, but not brown, about 30 seconds. Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ min. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 – 375 degrees. Serves 4 (2 tacos each).
**Now you see why I think I’ll just buy mine!!

Mexican Rice

2 ripe tomatoes, cored & quartered
1 medium white onion, quartered
3 medium jalapeno chiles
2 C long grain white rice
1/3 C canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 T tomato paste
1 ½ tsp salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Process tomatoes and onion in food processor (or blender) until smooth and thoroughly pureed, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Transfer mixture to liquid measuring cup; you should have 2 cups (spoon off excess if necessary). Remove ribs and seeds from 2 jalapenos & discard; mince flesh of peppers and set aside. Mince remaining jalapeno, including ribs and seeds; set aside.* Place rice in a large fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear, about 1 ½ minutes. Shake rice vigorously in strainer to remove all excess water. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed ovensafe 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, 1 – 2 minutes. Drop 3 or 4 grains of rice in oil; if grain sizzles, oil is ready. Add rice and fry, stirring frequently, until rice is light golden and translucent, 6-8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and seeded minced jalapenos; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 ½ minutes. Stir in pureed tomatoes and onion, chicken broth, tomato paste & salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cover pan and transfer to oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30-35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes. Stir in reserved minced jalapeno with seeds. Serve immediately. (You can add ½ C minced fresh cilantro with the minced jalapeno with seeds at the end, but as previously noted in this blog, cilantro is nasty, so I wouldn’t!) Serves 6-8 as a side dish.
*When working with jalapenos, be sure to wear gloves. I think I put plastic zipper bags on my hands since I didn’t have gloves. It was a bit awkward, but it worked in a pinch!

A perfect (& incredibly easy!) dip to go with this meal would be my Black Bean Corn Salsa (that I shamelessly stole from my good friend Kristi Mendenhall):
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 firm avocado, cut into chunks
red onion, chopped
Mix all together. Serve with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

And yes, it’s that easy. And yes, it tastes incredible, even though there’s no sauce to it. I don’t understand it. But I love it!


  1. FYI, this post is MUCH longer than most will be!

  2. You are a fabulous cook and I love that you're doing this! Congrats! (Amy B.)

  3. Mexican food? From Iowa? That's just not right.

  4. Yum this sounds great, but I have to be honest, I love my "Taco Bell" seasoning packet, it's one of my "quick-fix" meals, lol. I still might try this someday if I ever have the time! YUM!

  5. Jenny- the meat was very quick & easy to fix & SO worth it!! It was at least 10 times better than any packet I've ever used. :-)

  6. so how much cilantro should i add? lol

  7. Gross. I suppose a half cup chopped cilantro could make it just nasty enough for you.