Emily Columpsi

"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery" -Mark Van Doren

Archive for the category “Learning Project”

Apples On Apples

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As my learning project comes to an end, I really wanted to go out with a bang. That being said, I desired to make a dessert that I never imagined myself to bake –I needed to challenge myself in all aspects. I thought about this for a few days and finally decided that I wanted to bake pie. I love pie –the flaky crust and flavorfully, sweet filling is a great way to end a meal. I have never baked a pie before, mostly because I imagined it to be extremely difficult; therefore, I thought this would be a perfect way to end my learning project.

Last week I mentioned how useful the Smitten Kitchen Blog was in helping me find a dessert recipe. That being said, I thought I should look there first, since I am already familiar with the blog. I once again clicked on recipes and scoured through the recipe index. As I was looking through the sweets section, I came across a fairly large section dedicated to pies! I looked through the options and to be honest there were so many delicious choices. I wanted to make all of the pies –but not all in one night obviously. However, the more I thought about it the more I wanted to stay with and bake a classic: Apple pie.

Even though I have never baked a pie, as I was looking through the recipe and directions it all seemed fairly reasonable. The ingredients were all very common for baking, and/or I have worked with them before in other baking recipes. If anything the only component in this recipe that I felt uneasy about was the piecrust; however, as part of the pie section on the blog there were three links that were dedicated to pie dough –Pie Crust 101, Pie Crust 102: all butter, really flaky pie dough, and Pie Crust 103: rolling and crimping. I took a few minutes to look through all the links, and about an hour later I was feeling much better about pie dough. I highly recommend looking through the above links if you are going to make pie dough; I personally found them to be very helpful.

Before I started to bake the pie I wanted to make sure I had all of the ingredients. Thankfully, I had everything that I needed and got ready to bake.

Recipe:

American Pie Dough:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1-teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

7 tablespoons all vegetable shortening, chilled

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ¼ inch pieces

10 tablespoons ice water

Apple Pie:

1 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 medium)

2 pounds McIntosh apples (about 4 large)

1-tablespoon juice and 1 teaspoon zest from 1 lemon

¾ cups plus 1-tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 egg white, beaten slightly

Directions: From Smitten Kitchen

For American Pie Dough:

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In a medium sized bowl, measure out and mix together flour, salt and sugar (you could also use a food processor). Add shortening, and using a pastry cutter, cut the shortening into the mixture until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand. I found this to not be very difficult, mostly because the shortening was soft enough that it blended in nicely with the other dry ingredients. Add/scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; using the pastry cutter cut the butter into flour mixture until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas. This was much more difficult than the shortening. The reason being that the butter was a little firm, so it required more upper body strength to cut the butter into the flour mixture. This probably took me about 15-20 minutes, no joke.

Sprinkle 8-10 tablespoons of ice water over mixture. Then using a rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if it will not come together. I found that I needed to add 9 tablespoons of ice water. Divide dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each piece separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling. Instead of wrapping the dough in plastic wrap, I placed it in a plastic container and sealed it tightly. I also left the dough in the fridge for about 5 hours before I started to assemble to rest of the pie.

For Apple Pie:

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 425 degrees. Depending on how hot your oven gets this temperature may be to high/hot. I know for a fact that our oven gets really warm, so I turned down the temperature to 400 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable).

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Roll dough on lightly floured work surface or between two large sheets of plastic wrap to 12-inch disk. Transfer dough to pie plate by rolling dough around rolling pin and unrolling over 9-½ inch pie plate or by folding dough in quarters, then placing dough point in center of pie plate and unfolding. Work around circumference of pie plate, ease dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs lip of plate in place; refrigerate dough-lined pie plate. Before I started to roll out the dough I placed wax paper down on the counter. Then, I lightly floured the wax paper. The reason I placed wax paper down on the counter was because my mom stated that despite the flour being sprinkled dough always seems to stick to the counters, so the wax paper was to prevent this from happening. As I was rolling out the dough I found it hard to make a reasonable sized circle that will cover the pie plate; however, after rolling and rolling for a few minutes I eventually ended up with something that would work. As well, I found it quite difficult to get it to the desired thickness (or rather thinness). However, I managed.

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Peel, core and cut apples in half, and in half again width-wise; cut quarters into ¼ inch slices and toss with lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, or same bowl, mix ¾ cup sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss together. Turn fruit mixture, including juices into chilled pie shell and mound slightly in center. Thankfully, we own an apple corer and slicer two-in-one. This little tool really came in handy because it saved me the time of coring and slicing all 6-7 apples. However, once the apple were cut into 8 pieces from the tool, I needed to cut it further, but this didn’t take as long.

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Roll out second piece of dough and place over the filling. Trim top and bottom edged to ½ inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan lip. Cut four slits on dough top. If pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Rolling out the second pie dough was definitely easier than the first. I found that I was able to control the rolling pin better the second time as well. Brush egg white or melted butter onto top of crust, and if desired, sprinkle with remaining 1-tablespoon sugar. I had some pie dough left over so I rolled it out, and using cookie cutters, cut some little shapes to add on top of the pie.

Place pie on baking sheet and lower oven temperature to 425 degrees. In my case, I lower the temp to 375. Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 375 or in my case, 350. Continue baking until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30-35 minutes longer. Once the pie is done, cool to room temperature.

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This pie was not half bad. The crust was definitely flaky and the apple filling was certainly juicy; however, I do believe that the pie dough was a little too thick. It seemed like one portion of pie was 50% apple filling 50% crust. This was not a bad thing, but the dough should have been rolled out a lot thinner. As well, as you can seem from the photo above, my little cookie cutter shapes burnt to a crisp in the oven. Don’t know why though? To accompany my pie, I scooped some vanilla ice cream on the side. This was the best pairing. The pie was still a little warm so the ice cream melted a tad to a consistency that I really enjoy. I got my family, or rather my parents to taste my pie. My dad seemed to really like it; however, he appears to like everything and anything that I make, even when I know that it isn’t the greatest in flavor. He did agree with me however, on the fact that the piecrust was a little too thick. But that was the only criticism. Everything else seemed to be great though.

Well ladies and gents, that concludes my learning project. As I reflect back to my first week in January to where I am now, I can definitely say that I learned a significant amount and have become more confident in the kitchen. Every week I conducted some online learning, which assisted me in making succulent and eye appealing dishes. The number of resources that I was able to find was overwhelming and made me realize the potential for online learning. I am extremely happy and proud of myself for accomplishing what I did each week. Even though my learning project is complete for this class, I can confidently say that for me the learning doesn’t end here. I will be cooking much more now for sure and referring to blogs, and other online resources to assist me when I need it. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone during these past few weeks, but I came away with a practical life skill that I will carry with me forever.

Scrumptious Crumbs

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This week marks the beginning of the dessert category, which just so happens to be the last category for my learning project. I am very excited for these next few weeks because as long as I can remember I have always enjoyed baking. That being said, I am very comfortable with this category, and in my baking abilities.

I decided early on in the week that I wanted to bake some bar cookies; however, I didn’t know what flavor. I began my search a few days earlier than usual because I knew that there would be many options to look at. However, I quickly remembered all the way back to week one when I was introduced to the blog Smitten Kitchen. I remember going through this blog and noticing all of different dessert categories/recipes. As a result, I began my search there. I clicked on recipes and an entire recipe index popped up. To top it all off, this index was organized further into different sections such as Ethnic foods, Seasons, fruit, vegetables and of course sweets. As I was searching through the sweet recipes I came across a tiny section dedicated to bar cookies. How convenient! I looked through the options and one recipe stood out to me: Blueberry Crumb Bars. I love blueberries, so this recipe was perfect.

As I looked through the recipe, the directions were all very explicit. As well, the ingredients were all very basic and I have worked with them all before in other baking recipes. That being said, I felt like I didn’t have to conduct any online learning for this particular recipe because I was feeling very confident. However, before I could start anything I needed to make sure that we had all of the ingredients. I scavenged the house for everything that I needed and it just so happened that we had everything. This was a plus. So I organized all of the ingredients on the counter and got ready to bake.

Recipe:

1-cup white sugar

1-teaspoon baking powder

2 cups all purpose flour

1-cup cold unsalted butter

1 egg

¼ teaspoon salt

Zest and juice of one lemon

4-cups fresh blueberries

½ cup white sugar

4-teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Depending on how hot your oven gets this temperature may be to high/hot. I know for a fact that our oven gets really warm, so I turned down the temperature to 350 degrees.

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In a medium sized bowl, stir together 1-cup sugar, baking powder and 3 cups of flour. Once these ingredients are blended together mix in salt and lemon zest. Then use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. I happened to come across a new kitchen tool while preparing this mixture. A zester! First of all, I didn’t even know that we had one, and second of all I was very excited to use it. I assumed it would be more complicated than it actually was –it was very simple to use. You just grate the lemon on top. After the zest was in the bowl the smell of lemon overwhelmed my senses –but in a good way. The aroma was so fresh and light. Blending in the butter and egg was definitely a process. I used a pastry cutter to blend in these ingredients and man I’ll tell you it took a lot of upper body strength –of which I don’t have. It probably took me about 10 minutes to cut the butter up in fine enough pieces. Once everything was mixed together the crumble/dough was so light and, well, crumbly. Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Then take half of the dough and pat it into the prepared pan, and spread evenly.

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In another bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries trying not to pop any. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. The recipe called for fresh blueberries; however, fresh blueberries are not really in season right now. That being said, I used frozen blueberries instead. I simply took the blueberries out of the freezer and let them sit for a bit so that they could un-thaw. Then I measured out what I needed, placed them in a colander and strained them under cold water so that the ice would melt off of the blueberries and ultimately clean them. I also made sure that the blueberries were mostly if not completely dry before I added them to the bowl. Once the blueberries are evenly distributed over the crust, crumble the remaining dough over the berry layer.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown. As well, the blueberries should be bursting or bubbling up the sides. Cool completely before cutting into squares. If would like you could crumble the bars over ice cream!

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Oh my word. These blueberry crumb bars were so unbelievably good. They were moist and the blueberries added just the right amount of juiciness. To be honest, as I was putting them in the oven I was worried that they weren’t going to taste very good because the crumble seemed sort of off to me. On the contrary, it was the best part. I got my parents to taste them and they seemed to really enjoy them. My dad was literally freaking out. He repeated about ten times how delicious they were –he even ate an entire row to himself. I am very pleased with myself as well with this dish. I have always loved to bake so I knew I was going to do well with this category. It is definitely a nice way to finish off this learning project. Even though these crumb bars are delicious on there own, I bet they would taste even better with ice cream.

MMMMmmmmm.

Next week is the last week for my learning project. However, I am not that bummed since my learning project revolved around learning a practical life skill that I can put into practice any day, even when the semester is over.

Ground Keeper

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This week happened to be different from every other week. The reason being that instead of me searching and searching for a recipe, my mom already had a recipe chosen for me. This, in my eyes, was great because it saved me serious time. Yesterday, my mom mentioned how she found this recipe for taco pie, which looked really appealing. I have never heard of taco pie before; however, I was in for cooking something different and unique. She showed me the website, which just so happened to be the Betty Crocker blog –I mean who doesn’t love Betty Crocker? Anyways, as I was reading through the directions and the ingredients this recipe looked very reasonable. In the end, I was happy that I didn’t have to search for hours on end for a recipe, but once again I was not to thrilled to be working with raw meat… However, I wanted to conquer this ‘fear’. As a result, I was ready to cook Taco Pie. Well, hopefully ready.

Before I started to assemble the pie I wanted to make sure that I felt confident in the ingredients as well as the directions. To be honest, as I looked through everything I felt pretty certain about this recipe. Most of the ingredients were all very familiar and/or I have worked with them before. As well, the directions were very explicit and easy to follow. However, despite my confidence with majority of this recipe, I was a little uneasy about working with ground beef. Do I have to touch it? How do I brown ground beef? How do I know when the meat is cooked all the way through? The later is a serious question, because the last thing that I want to do is serve raw meat to my family. As mentioned last week, I dislike the smell, touch and look of raw meat so this was not something that I was looking forward to at all. Despite my aversion I needed to conduct some online learning.

I found this website to be helpful because not only did it provide a step-by-step process with pictures, but it also included a small tutorial video. Basically, you preheat your frying pan or medium saucepan for a few minutes. Once the pan is heated add the beef. Then, using a wooden spoon or spatula, mash, stir, twist and turn the meat so that it gets broken up and cooks. Keep stirring and mashing until all the pink has disappeared, and all the meat has turned brown. This indicates that the ground beef is fully cooked, which should take approximately 5-7 minutes. After the meat is cooked, if you would like, you could strain it in a colander to drain out all the fat and grease. After I went through and read these instructions, this process does seem very simple; however, my problem is that I just do not want to touch the raw meat. That being said, I will have to find a creative way to not touch the slimy meat.

After learning how to properly brown ground beef I felt a little better about this step. However, before I started to cook I needed to make sure that I had all of the ingredients. Thankfully, we had everything that I needed, which in the end saved me a trip to the store.

Recipe:

1 pound lean ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped (approximately ½ cup)

1 package (1 ounce) Old El Paso taco seasoning mix

1 can Old El Paso chopped green chilies, drained

1-cup milk

2 eggs

½ cup original bisquick mix

¾ cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese

Salsa

Sour Cream, if desired

Directions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Depending on how hot your oven gets this temperature may be too high. I know that our oven gets really hot so instead of heating the oven to 400 I set it to 350 degrees.

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Place a medium sized skillet or saucepan on the stove. Heat the pan first before adding the ingredients. Chop the onion and then add to the pan and stir occasionally so that the onion does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Once the onions have started to brown add the ground beef. Mash, twist and turn the beef to break it up into small pieces. Stir occasionally so that the beef does not stick to the pan, and keep stirring until brown; drain. Prior to cooking this meal I let the ground beef sit on the counter in a bowl overnight because it was frozen and I wanted it to un-thaw. The sight of the raw meat in its packaging alone grossed me out. Blood was coming out of the sides of the wrapping and setting in the bottom of the bowl it was sitting in. I was wondering how on earth was I going to get the meat of the wrapping and transfer it to the pan. Well, the thought came to me immediately. I found some tongs and a pair of scissors and with some difficultly I managed to get the meat out of the packaging and into the sizzling pan. I was relieved in the end that I didn’t have to touch the meat, but I still ended up washing my hands after. I really need to get over this. Anyhow, once the meat was finally in the pan I took a spoon and started to mash and twist and turn the meat just like the website said. This was a fairly easy task; however, I found that the meat took longer than 5-7 minutes to brown. It took more like 15 minutes, but that could be a result of the stove not being hot enough. Now, even though the video said that the meat is cooked once it turns brown, I was a little worried or rather paranoid that it was still raw so I cooked it longer than necessary. Anyways, once the meat was cook fully to my likely, I drained it and placed it back in the pan. Once the meat is back in the pan stir in taco seasoning mix.

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Grease or butter a pie plate. Spoon the beef mixture into the pie plate and spread/flatten it evenly. Drain the green chilies and scatter on top of the beef mixture.

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In a blender or small bowl stir together milk, eggs and Bisquick mix. I decided to stir the ingredients in a small bowl because our blender appeared to not be working that day. As well, once all of the ingredients where in the bowl I used a whisk to smooth out all of the lumps. As well, I remembered to crack the eggs in a separate bowl so that I was not fishing for eggshells. I did happen to get a small piece of shell in the bowl that I cracked the eggs in; however, I just used a small spoon to scoop it out. Once the mixture is smooth, pour over the meat mixture into the pie plate. The mixture should cover the meat mixture entirely.

Place the pie plate into the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Then, sprinkle the shredded cheese on top and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Once the cheese has melted remove from the oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes so that all of the ingredients set. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Enjoy.

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I have to admit, this was not half bad. To be honest, I was a little skeptical about this recipe because I was not sure if it was going to taste very good. On the contrary, it tasted really good. The meat was seasoned just right, the Bisquick crust was flaky and the cheese was of course very gooey. As well, the result just so happened to look identical to the picture on the Betty Crocker recipe, which was very reassuring that I did something right. The rest of the family really enjoyed it as well. They said it was very flavorful and that I should really make it again in the future. As well, they suggested that next time I should top the pie off with some diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce to add some texture and crispness –just like the photo in the website. In the end, I was happy with the result. In total, this recipe only took me about half an hour to prepare, which is really reasonable. As well, I have to say that my mom did a great job in choosing this recipe. It was definitely different and unique as it is not one that you hear about. Maybe I should let her choose all of the recipes from now on!

Well, that marks the ending of the meat dishes. For the past few weeks I have truthfully been dreading the meat category, however, now that it has been completed, I realize that it really was not that bad. But I am still glad that it is over. Next week I move onto desserts and I am extremely excited! I love dessert! That being said, these next few weeks are definitely going to be my favorite.

Have any suggestions on what I should bake first?

Meat ya’ll here next week!

Yes, I Can–nelloni

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This week marks the beginning of the meat category. Now, as stated last week, I am sort of nervous for these next few weeks because I am not a big fan of touching/handling raw meat. I try to avoid touching raw meat at all costs actually, because, for me, it is a texture thing and I also dislike the look of it when it is raw. However, I need to put this fear aside for the sake of me learning how to cook.

I come from a big Italian family. That being said, we eat a lot of pasta –probably 2-3 times a week. As a result, I wanted to find a pasta recipe that not only incorporated meat, but also incorporated many new cooking skills. Now, there are many different kinds of pasta so somehow I needed to narrow down my search. In conversation with my family, my mom stated that stuffed pasta dishes are usually more complex. During our conversation, I searched through our pantry to see if any particular pasta stood out to me, and in particular, to see if we had any pasta that could be stuffed. We had packages on packages of spaghetti and penne; however, at the very back of the cupboard we had cannelloni shells. For those of you that don’t know, cannelloni are cylindrical shaped pasta that is generally stuffed with either meat or vegetables. This was exactly what I was looking for. Cannelloni is definitely going to be more of a challenge. Now that I decided what noodles I wanted, I needed to find the recipe. I went onto Google, like how I always do, and typed in Cannelloni recipes. I clicked the first link, which happened to be a food blog called taste.com, and to be honest the recipe looked very good and the directions were very easy to follow. Truthfully, the picture drew me in. I looked it over a few times and I honestly felt like I didn’t have to look any more. My mind was made up; I was making Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni with Béchamel Sauce.

Before I started cooking I wanted to make sure that I felt confident in the ingredients as well as the directions and what was ultimately asked of me. Going through the recipe the first thing that I wanted to inquire on was what is Béchamel sauce? For some reason, I feel like this is a white cream sauce because I believe I have heard of it before on TV. Anyways, before I started to make anything I wanted to make sure I knew what it was.

Well would you look at that, I was actually right! Béchamel sauce is also known as white sauce, and it is made from a roux (butter and flour) and milk or cream. It is considered to be one of the mother sauces of both French and Italian cuisine. This website was very helpful in describing Béchamel sauce. As well, it even provides a recipe for how to make it. I just gradually skimmed over the recipe because there was a recipe for this particular sauce in the dish that I am making.

Another thing that I wanted to inquire on before I started cooking obviously related to meat. How do you poach chicken breast? This is a serious question because honestly, I have no idea. I found this website to be particularly helpful, since it provided a step-by-step with clear and concise directions. Basically, you start with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and place them in either a pot or a pan. Then add enough water so that you cover the chicken breasts with at least two inches of water. If you wish, you could add some aromatics such as onions, carrots or celery, or you could just season with basic salt and pepper. Next, place the pan in the oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes –during this time the water should be boiling. If you decided to place the chicken in a pot on the stove, bring the water to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. At this time, take the chicken out of the oven or remove from the stove and let the chicken breasts sit in the hot water for another 5-10 minutes. After going through these directions, it actually didn’t seem that bad. Now the task of poaching the chicken isn’t the issue for me, it is actually placing the chicken in the pan that I am nervous about.

The last thing that I wanted to inquire about before I started cooking was how to stuff the cannelloni without cracking the shell? Was there a certain technique? Well I was about to find out. This video seemed to be helpful. The reason I say seemed is because the video did not seem to capture everything that he was doing. I looked at other videos as well, but this one appeared to be the best. Anyhow, according to the video, the best way to stuff cannelloni is with a spoon. Basically, using the spoon you scoop and fill one end of the shell, than when you can’t fit anymore filling you switch to the other end of the shell and repeat. The goal is that the filling should meet in the middle. As well, you can pack the shells more tightly by using the end of the spoon. This seems fairly reasonable but we will just have to wait and see.

After going over some basic techniques that will help me with this recipe I felt more confident. However, before I started to cook I needed to make sure that I had all of the ingredients. Thankfully, we had everything that I needed, which in the end saved me a trip to the store.

Recipe:

2 packages of frozen spinach, thawed, drained

300g fresh ricotta

200g feta cheese, crumbled

2 white onions, thinly sliced

16 or more dried cannelloni tubes

2 cans chopped tomatoes

3-4 chicken breasts

Béchamel Sauce:

4 cups of milk or cream

1 dried bay leaf (optional)

1 onion, coarsely chopped

90g butter

½- cup plain flour

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and Pepper

½-cup finely grated Parmesan cheese or any other type of cheese.

Directions: As you will see, I added to and modified this recipe a tad

While preparing the filling preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine spinach, ricotta, feta and onions. After I combined the following ingredients into a bowl I noticed that there were hardly any vegetables. As a result, I added celery and red peppers to the filling. I washed and finely chopped the celery and peppers and mixed them in with the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. This mixture is going to be the filling for the cannelloni. After I finished the filling I set it aside in the fridge.

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Place the chicken breasts in either a pan or casserole dish. Cover with water completely and place it in the oven to poach for approximately 20-30 minutes. The water should be boiling. Once chicken is cooked all the way through remove from the oven and let it sit to cool. Once the chicken has cooled chop finely and then add to the filling mixture. To be completely honest, the task of handling the chicken was actually not that bad. However, this is partly because the chicken breasts were frozen so I did not really have to feel 100% raw and slimy chicken.

Before starting to fill the cannelloni, generously apply butter to a pan. This process will hopefully prevent the shells from sticking to the pan. Once the pans are buttered, and using a spoon, gently fill/stuff each cannelloni tube with the mixture. Place the cannelloni in a single layer in the pan until all tubes have been filled. As I was stuffing the cannelloni I found that the spoon was just not working for me. As a result, I tossed it away and just started to use my fingers. Basically, I blocked one end of the cannelloni with my index finger so that the mixture didn’t come out while I was stuffing it. Then with my other hand, I gently stuffed the filling into the opposite end. You want to stuff as much in the cannelloni as possible, making sure not to crack the shells. I found that the less I stuffed in at once the lesser my chances of cracking the shells. That being said, this was a very time consuming task because I was really being careful and stuffing little at a time. Once the pan is filled, set aside and begin to make the sauce.

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To make the Béchamel sauce, combine milk or cream, bay leaf (optional) and onion in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Strain milk through a fine sieve. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the flour becomes grainy. Remove from heat and add the milk mixture. Use a whisk to stir and combine. Place back over medium heat and cook stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until the sauce begins to boil and thicken. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add half the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Along with the Parmesan cheese, I also added Swiss cheese because I love the rich flavor. As well, I wanted to thicken it a little more because for some reason after everything was finished my sauce did not seem to come together as nicely, but after I added the Swiss cheese in it thickened more.

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Once the sauce is complete, pour it evenly over the cannelloni. Shake the pan to distribute it. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. I also, added the remaining Swiss cheese as well. If desired, place the chopped tomatoes either underneath the sauce or on top of the sauce. Instead of tomatoes I decided to place mushrooms on top for some texture. Place in the oven for an hour and a half or less, until heated through and golden brown.

This was actually very tasty! It was gooey, creamy and full of flavor. However, this was not the healthiest of dishes due to all of the cheese and the sauce, so it was a good thing I guess that I added the celery and peppers early on in the recipe. Speaking of the sauce…oh my! It was very good, yet rich. But that didn’t seem to bother me. My family really enjoyed this recipe as well. They thought that it was definitely a keeper; however, they thought that it needed the tomatoes for some juiciness, but they did like the mushrooms on top. I guess next time I will have to add the tomatoes. This dish is also very filling. I only had one or two shells and I was stuffed…no pun intended.

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Since I worked with chicken this week, I plan on cooking with a different type of meat next week. Any suggestions?

Ciao.

 

That’s How We Roll

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For my second meatless main dish, I really wanted to try and cook something that was out of my comfort zone. Conveniently, this week I have been on an International food kick, in particular Mexican food. Actually, my mom has been cooking Mexican related foods all week, such as quesadillas and Mexican style fried rice. As a result, I was really inspired by these flavors and therefore, wanted to make a Mexican inspired dish. I went directly to Google and started to search/look for Mexican recipes. Once again I was overwhelmed by the options. This really shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but some how every week the countless options that appear on my laptop continue to amaze me. As I was searching through numerous blogs and food websites, one Mexican dish kept on appearing: Enchiladas. It was literally calling my name through the computer screen. Therefore, I was set on making enchiladas, however, I needed to find the perfect recipe. I know that enchiladas are not the healthiest of dishes so I wanted to find a recipe that was healthier but still tasty. I came across this blog called Cookie + Kate, in which a plethora of fresh, healthy, vegetarians dishes were listed. Her recipe for Enchiladas was just perfect. So it was decided that I was making Black Bean Enchiladas with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Before I started to assemble the enchiladas I wanted to make sure that I felt confident in the directions, as well as the ingredients. To be honest, as I looked through everything I felt pretty certain about this recipe. The ingredients were all very familiar and/or I have worked with them before. However, there was one thing that I was not very sure about. How do you successfully roll the enchiladas such that the tortilla doesn’t break and/or so the filling doesn’t spill out? Before I could even start cooking I needed to conduct some online learning to find out how to successfully roll enchiladas.

I found this video very helpful. The lady conducting the video used a “tuck and roll” technique. Basically, you lay the filling down, sort of in an oval shape, in the centre of the tortilla. Then, taking the two edges, which will be the ends that tuck, fold them into the middle. Then, take the edge that is closest to you, and fold it over while still pinching the two edges. Lastly, you simply roll, hoping that it is snug enough such that the filling does not spill out. Now, I know that my explanation above is probably not the clearest, so I recommend checking out the video to visually see the process. Truthfully, after I watched the video this did not seem that much of a daunting task. However, we will just have to wait and see.

After learning how to roll enchiladas, I felt like I was ready to start cooking. However, there was one more thing left to do: check to see if I had all the ingredients. As I was going through the recipe, I realized that we didn’t have four of the ingredients: spinach, roasted red peppers, feta and tortillas. Well, it was a good thing that I didn’t start cooking yet because how was I going to make enchiladas without tortillas? Anyways, I quickly ran to the store, grabbed what I needed, and headed back home. Once I got home, I laid/organized everything out on the counter so that it was easier for me to access. In my eyes, everything was ready to go.

Recipe:

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:

8 ounces jarred, drained roasted red peppers

¼ cup water

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoons olive oil

1-teaspoon sugar

Filling:

1-tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

8 ounces spinach

8 ounces frozen corn

1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 17-ounce can diced green chilies, drained

½ cup of the roasted red pepper sauce

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Remaining Ingredients:

8-10 tortillas

1 cup shredded Jack or cheddar cheese

3 avocados (optional)

1/3 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

½ lime, juiced

Directions:

 

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In a food processor or high-powered blender, combine all of the sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth. I found that when I tasted the sauce it was very tart due to the limejuice and the raw onion flavor was very overpowering. Initially, I thought something was off, so I went back and double checked the recipe in case I missed anything or added too much of a certain ingredient. Thankfully, I did not miss anything or add too much of one ingredient. However, the recipe did state that, if you taste the sauce immediately after blending the raw onion flavor would overpower, however, that that is okay because it will mellow out with the lime after spending time in the oven.

 

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I set the sauce aside and started to assemble the filling. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and chopped onion. When it came time for me to chop the onion I recalled back all the way to week one when I learned how to successfully chop an onion. As you can see from the photo, I partly removed the bulb. I think the reason why I am still struggling to remove the bulb is because I am not placing the knife far enough inside the onion. However, chopping onions is becoming more of an easier task for me. As well, as you see from the other photo, my knife handling skills are becoming more innate. Sauté the onions for a few minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent and/or start to lightly brown. Add the spinach and frozen corn and cook until warmed through and the juices have mostly evaporated. Before I added the spinach I washed and cleaned the leaves. Once I added the spinach to the skillet I was amazed at how much it wilted. I put a good 9 ounces of fresh spinach into that skillet and it wilted to like nothing. Once the spinach and corn has been warmed, add the black beans and green chilies and cook until warmed through. Remove from heat and pour in ½ cup of the enchilada sauce and feta cheese. Mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Once everything was assembled I tasted the filling to see how it was. To be honest, it was very bland. There was hardly any flavor there. So, even though the recipe does not call for any, I added some chili powder, garlic powder and a little taco seasoning to spice it up in flavor. If by chance you decided to make this recipe, I would add some other spices.

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As the filling mixture is cooling, gently warm the tortillas so they don’t break when you roll them. This is like an old trick. When you warm up tortillas they become more pliable when rolling and are easier to work with. The easiest way to do this is to place them in a stack in the microwave under a damp paper towel and microwave for about 60 seconds.

 

 

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Before you begin rolling, take a baking pan and either butter the pan or spray with oil. As well, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. As you can see from the photo, I set up a little station so that this next task was more organized. Working one at a time, and using a ½ measuring cup, scoop up the filling and place it in the centre of the tortilla, in an oval shape. Than using the “tuck and roll” technique that I learned from the video above, roll snugly. Once rolled, place it with the seam down in your baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, placing each rolled enchilada snugly next to the other until you have used up all your tortillas. When rolling the enchiladas, the first few rolls were a little loose; it took me a while to get the hang of this technique. However, by the third or fourth roll, my technique was improving and the enchiladas were definitely more snug. I was a little nervous about this part because I didn’t want the tortillas to fall apart, and/or the filling to start spilling out. However, I was lucky as no tortillas broke (probably because they were heated through first which made them more pliable) and no filling spilled out. They stayed in tact the entire time.

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Once the baking pan is filled, pour the remaining enchilada sauce down the middle of each row of enchiladas and give the pan some little shakes to help distribute it. Sprinkle with the cheese and then place in the oven to bake for approximately 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is melted, the enchiladas are warmed through and the top of the tortillas are just crisp. Let the baking pan cool, during wish, if you want to, dice the avocados and chopped cilantro in a bowl for the topper.

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These hearty, produce-packed enchiladas mixed with the roasted red pepper sauce were truly great. I really enjoyed them! They were healthy, yet still consisted of a lot of flavor and cheese (the cheese wasn’t the healthiest but oh well). What it lacks in presentation (as seen above) it makes up for in taste. However, the sauce was still a tad bit limey, but with everything else within the dish the flavors seemed to all balance out. My family really enjoyed it as well. My mom even wanted me to share the recipe with her so that she could add it to her own recipe collection. Personally, I did not add the avocado mixture to my serving, because I am not a big fan of cilantro. However, I am curious to know what it would have tasted like with the creamy avocados and bitter cilantro. It probably is very good, but I liked mine without it. I highly recommend this recipe. It is a great Tex-Mex meal.

Well, another category complete! Next week I move onto the meat category. Personally, I am not that excited for this category because I do not like handling raw meat…wish me luck.

Adios.

Keen-Wah?

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This week marks the beginning of the meatless or vegetarian entrée dishes. Within my household, my older sister has been a vegetarian for approximately 9 years now, so majority of the time we are consuming vegetarian foods. My mom’s logic is that she would rather cook one vegetarian dish with maybe some meat on the side, rather than cooking two completely different dishes. I understand this completely because cooking can take up a lot of time depending on what you are making. And who wants to spend all day in the kitchen? Anyways, that being said, I needed to find a vegetarian dish that will satisfy everyone’s palettes. Like last time, I wanted to use/find other resources (online food blogs, websites etc) that will assist me in my creation. I went into Google and typed in vegetarian dishes. Once again the amount of options was overwhelming. Being seven weeks into my online learning project, I still happen to be taken back by the number of food websites/options. I happened to stumble upon this blog called, eating well living thin, and I was immediately pulled in by the layout and organization of the blog. I scoured the blog, literally making myself hungry because everything looked so tasty, but I eventually came upon one recipe, which I thought would be the perfect start to this category. It was difficult and requires me to learn some new skills, so I was all in to make Vegetarian Quinoa Burgers.

Before I started to assemble the burgers, I wanted to make sure I was confident in the recipe and its ingredients. I read through everything and to be honest it looked very reasonable. The more and more I cook (having completed 3 categories already) the more confident I become in new and future recipes. However, there was one thing within the recipe that I was not certain about at all, and unfortunately it was the main star of the dish: Quinoa.

What exactly is quinoa? I have eaten quinoa in salads and casseroles before but to be honest I don’t really know what it is or how I would even begin to cook it. That being said, I quickly conducted some online learning to learn a little more about quinoa. I found this website to be helpful as it not only stated what quinoa was but it also provided the cooking instructions. It stated that quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain, however, it is actually a seed, which can be prepared like whole grains. Really? A seed? That is something that I did not know. Another thing that I learned is that out of all the whole grains, quinoa has the highest protein content so it is perfect for vegetarians. Well how awesome is that! This must be a sign that I chose the right recipe! Quinoa provides 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein and a great meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. Now that I relatively know what quinoa is, I needed to learn how to cook it. According to the website preparing quinoa is very similar to preparing rice. Place the quinoa into a pot and cover it with water or even vegetable broth. Boil the quinoa until soft, which should only be about 15 minutes. It is important that you stir and keep an eye on the quinoa because it is very easy for it to burn. If you want to learn more about quinoa check out the following website. At the very bottom it provides more health benefits as well as a few quinoa recipes.

Now that I learned all that I could about quinoa I felt good going into this recipe. Now there was only one thing left to do. Make sure I have all the ingredients. Once I found an ingredient that I needed I placed it on the counter so that it was easier to access. Being organized in this way also saves a lot of time. Thankfully, we had all the ingredients that I needed, so I did not have to run to the grocery store this time.

Cooking rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients. CHECK.

Recipe:

2 rounded cups cooked quinoa

¾-cup shredded cheddar cheese (or other variety, if you prefer)

½ cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 medium carrot, finely grated

3 eggs

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 green onions, including white parts

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8-teaspoon salt

1/8-teaspoon garlic powder

Olive oil for frying

Directions:

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In a medium sized pot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon of salt. Add quinoa and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 18-20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the seeds are tender. Once the quinoa is cooked remove from heat and leave for a few minutes to cool. As the quinoa was cooking I was preparing all the other ingredients. After a while I kind of forgot about the quinoa because I was into my chopping and grating, so I quickly went over to the stove and thankfully nothing was burning. Cooking quinoa actually was not that difficult, but I am still glad that I went online to learn how.

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Grate carrots and finely chop the green onions. Then in a large bowl combine the 2 rounded cups of cooked quinoa, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, carrot, eggs, flour, green onions, sugar, pepper, cumin, salt and garlic powder. Before I even began to combine the ingredients in the bowl I measured out and chopped everything first. This way it saved time. When it came to cracking the eggs, I remembered all the way back to the first week when I attempted to make zucchini fritters. I cracked the eggs within the mixture, which turned out to be a mistake because quickly after I was finishing for eggshells and it was hard to tell how many were in there due to all the other ingredients. I did not want to make that same mistake this time so I grabbed a separate bowl to crack the eggs in. This way if by chance some shell got into the bowl I could easily see/remove them and than add the egg to the burger mixture. Thankfully, I did not see any shells in the bowl so I just added them to the mixture.

Once everything was in the bowl I mixed well so that all the ingredients could merry together. As well, I decided that I did not want to fry the burgers just yet so I placed them in the fridge to chill. While the mixture was chilling I cleaned the kitchen so it was a cleaner environment for me to fry in.

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Heat a frying pan and a couple teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Recalling once again to week #1, I used my hands/spoon to shape the patties, which did not turn out great because they were uneven and seemed to fall apart quickly. As a result, and actually the recipe calls for this, using a ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop and drop the mixture into a pan and lightly flatten with the back of the measuring cup to ½ inch thick. Fry until golden-brown on both sides, about 4 minutes each side. I really like the idea of scooping out the mixture with the measuring cup because than you can be guaranteed that all the burgers will be relatively the same size and shape. If I were to use my hands or even a spoon, like last time, they would probably be all different sizes and would have come apart. None of the burgers came apart while flipping.

Once all the burgers have been made, I left them to cool. During this time, I prepared some fixings for the burgers, like lettuce, tomato, cheese and condiments.

Take a bun and cut in half. Place the quinoa burger on one bun and layer with your choice of the fixings and enjoy!

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These were actually really good! The burgers were crispy, crunchy, and full of flavor, protein and fiber. They were also very filling. I could hardly finish mine to be honest. In total, this recipe took me about an hour and a half. It seemed to be much shorter than that really because I was very into what I was doing (time went by so fast). My sister, the vegetarian one, loved them! She had 3 burgers!! Well, without the bun. She even asked me to make them again sometime. This came as a huge surprise because at the very beginning of my learning project she was the one that doubted me. Well look at me now! Hahaha. The rest of my family really enjoyed them as well. I asked them if they would change anything and for the first or second time since I started my learning project, they said no. This made me really happy because it showed that I was successful and that in the end I am learning how to cook.

I am very thankful however, that I am taking the time to learn how to cook. If I did not take the time to carry out some online learning every week I do not feel like I would be as confident in my abilities.

I am unsure of what to make next week. There are so many great options I literally just want to make everything…

Do you have any suggestions?

Bye for now!

Pho Real

Pho Sho

Pho Sho

For my second soup I really wanted to, or rather needed to, start challenging myself in different ways. As a result, I wanted to find a soup recipe that was difficult in all aspects. I started to look at other online resources besides my go to websites/blogs: Pinterest, Rachael Ray, and Smitten Kitchen. I basically wanted to expand my horizons and look at other blogs and recipe guides. I was searching and searching for a few hours, but I couldn’t find anything that was challenging enough. Then it came to me. What if I made an international style soup? Majority of the time international foods are not that easy to assemble or make due to the fact that the ingredients are unique. Now the question was, what direction did I want to go? Asian? African? Middle Eastern? I have always loved Asian foods. The flavors and smells are so powerful that you savor every bite. I quickly typed in Asian soups into Google and what came up next was a smorgasbord of delicious options. Clicking the first link, I was quickly directed to this blog, titled The Kitchn. I scoured through the options and one soup really stood out to me. Having been to Vietnam and experiencing the culture firsthand, my mind was made up very quickly. This was definitely going to be challenging, but I was up for making Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho.

Now, I have heard that Pho is no joke. It is considered one of the most time consuming soups because you make the broth from scratch. However, in the end it is totally worth the time and energy because the aromas and flavor is incomparable. Before I started to attempt making this soup I wanted to make sure I knew everything that there was to know about Pho and this particular recipe. Just by looking at the recipe I knew I was going to have to do a lot of online learning before I could even begin to assemble the soup. But that is okay because I really wanted to be confident in what I was doing.

For starters, what exactly is Pho? Now I know that it is a soup, but what else can I find out about it. First off, Pho, pronounced “Fuh”, is a broth based noodle soup that features prominently in Vietnamese cuisine. It is stated in this particular online resource that Pho comes in several different variations, but the most common styles of broth are made from chicken, beef or seafood. Now I live in a house with a few vegetarians so obviously, the broth that I am making is made mainly from vegetables. The secret to Pho is really its broth, which sometimes takes up to 12 hours to make (this requires a lot of patience no doubt). To read more about Pho, the preparation, origin and history, I recommended reading this website.

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Besides the broth, the second star of Pho is the noodles. The recipe that I am using calls for rice noodles, which is very common in Pho recipes. Now I have eaten rice noodles before but I have never actually cooked with them, so I needed to conduct some online learning to learn how to cook rice noodles. I didn’t have to look to far as the blog that I was looking at for the Pho recipe actually had a link on how to cook rice noodles, which was very helpful. One thing I didn’t know was that rice noodles are much more delicate and fragile than other wheat noodles, which actually makes them easier to prepare. Basically you attend to rice noodles that same way as you would with any other noodle: boil a good amount of water, place or pour the water over the noodles until they are submerged. It is very important, and this is good for me to know, to check on the noodles frequently because they will become mushy if they overcook. As well, rice noodles really only need about 5-8 minutes to cook all the way through so once they are tender drain and run them under cool water to stop the cooking. Here is a tip that I didn’t know, if you are not planning on using the noodles right away toss them in a bit of sesame oil to keep the noodles from sticking to each other. I will keep this note in mind when I am preparing my soup. Have you ever cooked with rice noodles? What was the recipe and how did they turn out?

 

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So far I feel relatively comfortable with cutting various types of vegetables. However, after looking at this recipe I realized that I have never learned how to or attempted at cutting broccoli. This may sound very sad, but it is true! Broccoli is a tasty, healthy vegetable that can be added to or made as the base of many dishes. However, I cannot do anything with it until I know how to chop it! As a result, I needed to learn how. I found this video to be helpful because it showed how to cut broccoli for either salads or soups. Now she stated that the broccoli florets should be chopped smaller if you are going to add them into soups or salads because you want them to be bite size. I also found this website to be very helpful as it provided a step-by-step process with pictures on how to properly chop broccoli. I actually found this website to be more helpful then the video because it showed me exactly what to do. The video was still helpful but it only provided guidance really on the size of the florets. Step 5 was definitely the most useful, since I was interested in using the stalk in the soup for extra flavor and nutrients. Basically if you are deciding to use the stalk in your cooking take an ordinary vegetable peeler to remove any leaves and tough skin from the stalk and then simply just cut the stalk into equal sized pieces to add to your selected dish. One thing that I didn’t know was that if you are deciding to use the stalk make sure to chop it up into smaller pieces than the florets because the stalk will take longer to cook. After reading and going through the video I felt relatively confident about chopping broccoli; however, we will just have to wait and see.

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The recipe that I was using also called for Bok Choy. Umm what? I have definitely eaten bok choy in Asian cuisine but I have never handled this particularly interesting vegetable. I needed to learn how to chop and handle bok choy before I could start assembling the Pho. I learned that Bok Choy is a crunchy, nutritious, fresh addition to any meal and is mainly found in Asian recipes. As well, I found both this video and website to be very helpful when it comes to learning how to chop bok choy for recipes. It is important to trim and discard the thick base of the bok choy as well as any leaves that are discolored or particularly tough. Then cut the stalks in half lengthwise, rinse with cold water, and slice into smaller pieces. I didn’t know this but both the stalks and leaves are edible, similar to broccoli.

As I was reading through the recipe once again, I felt pretty confident about the directions and ingredients. However, before I started to make this soup I wanted to learn about one more ingredient: Star Anise. I have heard about star anise before but I have never worked with it. From reading about star anise through this website, I learned that star anise is native to China and Vietnam. It is, as the name suggests, star shaped with between five and ten pointed boat-shaped sections called seedpods. Star anise has a powerful liquorice-like flavorful that can be seen as pungent and strong for some palettes. One thing that I didn’t know was that star anise actually has health benefits as it is seen as a digestive aid. Have you ever worked with star anise? If so, for what recipes?

After learning about all there is to know about Pho and this particular recipe (of which took me a few hours) I felt ready to tackle this soup recipe. However, there was one thing left to do: make sure I have all the ingredients. I already knew ahead of time that I was going to have to make a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients. As a result, with recipe in hand, I headed out into the cold to get a few items. I needed the following for sure: mushrooms, bok choy, Thai basil, and bean sprouts. Surprisingly, we already had star anise in the cupboard. While I was in superstore, I found everything that I needed except bean sprouts. Therefore, I trekked to Sobey’s, but no luck. I hauled to two more places, The Co-op and Safeway but neither had bean sprouts. What was I going to do? I couldn’t find one of the ingredients anywhere. Then I thought. Bean sprouts have a crunchy factor to them so I decide to substitute in snap peas instead.

Once I was home I assembled all of the ingredients together and got ready to make this delicious Pho.

Cooking rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients prior to cooking. CHECK

Cooking rule #2: Always read the proportions and directions carefully!! This is a must for this recipe, as I need to get the broth just right!

Recipe:

*The recipe is divided into different sections: Broth, noodles, toppings and garnishes

BROTH:

1 large onion, peeled and halved

2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and halved

3 cinnamon sticks

1 star anise

¼ teaspoon of cloves

1-teaspoon coriander

4 cups unsalted vegetable stock

2 teaspoons soy sauce

4 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

NOODLES:

½ pound of dried flat rice noodles (width can vary)

TOPPINGS (optional)

Protein such as fried or baked tofu

Mushrooms

Bok Choy

Cabbage

Broccoli

Carrots

GARNISHES:

½ onion, very thinly sliced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 chili pepper, sliced (optional)

1 lime, cut into wedges

½ cup bean sprouts

Large handful of herbs: either cilantro or Thai basil

Hoisin sauce or sriracha (optional)

Directions:

* The directions are also divided into sections: broth, noodles, toppings, and garnishes

For the broth:

Peel and halve the onion. Cut a 2-inch piece of ginger root and cut in half. Place both the halved onion and ginger on a baking sheet and place in the oven directly under a broiler until slightly blackened. Depending on how hot your oven gets the time will differ. It took about 5-8 minutes for the onions and ginger to slightly blacken. Once the time was up I removed the baking sheet from the oven, and I got to tell you the smell was very pungent (I could mostly smell the ginger).

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While the onion and ginger is cooling, in a large pot, dry roast the cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves and coriander over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent burning. It took a while for the spices to dry roast, but once they started to smoke the smell was unbelievable. It filled the house with the most amazing aroma! It was very warm and inviting. When the spices are aromatic, add vegetable stock, soy sauce, carrots, and charred onion and ginger.

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Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes. Strain and keep hot until ready to serve. The longer you simmer the broth the more flavorful it becomes. I let the broth simmer for approximately 1 hour because I wanted it to be as flavorful as possible. After I drained the broth I let it simmer on very low heat until I was ready to assemble the soup in its entirety.

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Making the broth was a challenge in and of itself. There were so many steps that it definitely took lots of patience and time. However, after I drained the broth I tasted it and WOW! It actually tasted really good! It was extremely flavorful.

For the noodles:

While the broth is simmering, place the rice noodles in a large pot and cover with hot boiling water. Cook the noodles until they are tender but still chewy, approximately 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and prevent from becoming mushy. I really had to watch the noodles because I didn’t want them to overcook. Also, it may be a good idea to not cook the noodles until the soup is almost finished.

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For the toppings (optional):

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While the broth is simmering, prepare toppings as desired. Toppings should be unseasoned or only lightly seasoned so as not to interfere with the flavor of the broth. I decided to include mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, and carrots as toppings within the soup. Chopping the carrots was easy as I am very comfortable with this vegetable from previous recipes. The mushrooms were already sliced so that was awesome, as I just needed to slice them smaller and clean them up. Once I got to the broccoli I was a little scared. The video and website that I looked at earlier seemed reasonable but once I was in the moment of putting those skills into practice I got scared because the broccoli that I was dealing with was larger than normal. I was basically afraid of cutting myself with the knife. However, I was not going to walk away from it. I took it slow and it was a little difficult at first, but I eventually got the hang of it. It was a little rough obviously for my first time, but at least I accomplished it. Next time, will hopefully be easier. Handling the Bok Choy was actually easier than I thought it would be. I rinsed it under cold water to remove any dirt, discarded the ends and any discolored leaves like the website stated, sliced it down the middle and then coarsely chopped it up into reasonable sized pieces. I realized that it was okay if the bok choy was chopped bigger because it was going to wilt once it cooked through in the broth. As I was chopping up the vegetables I realized that my knife holding skills were on point! I was extremely proud of myself because I did not have to correct myself once! I am really starting to get the hang of things. I am learning.

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Once all the veggies have been chopped, add them into the broth to cook. It is wise to place the vegetables that will cook the longest in first, such as carrots, before adding the others. You could have cooked the veggies separately and then added them afterward into the broth, but I wanted the veggies to soak up all the flavor.

While the veggies are cooking, prepare the garnishes on a plate. Chop up green onions, lime, herbs, chili (optional), and bean sprouts. As mentioned before, I decided to substitute in snap peas for bean sprouts because I could not find bean sprouts anywhere. I cut off the ends of the peas and washed then thoroughly under cold water. There were a few options for herbs. My family does not really like cilantro, so I decided to go with Thai basil instead. Plus, Thai basil is such a nice herb.

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To serve:

Place a handful of noodles in the bottom of your bowl. Ladle about 2 cups of broth and veggies over the noodles, and add your choice of garnishes to the soup. I added all of the garnishes in mine because I wanted the real deal. Serve hot and enjoy.

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I am very impressed with myself. In total, this soup took me about 5 hours to prepare/make, and it tasted really good. Obviously, it was not real authentic Pho, but the flavor and presentation was all there. The assortment of vegetables, garnishes, broth and noodles is a wonderful interplay of textures and flavors. As well, it was warm and very healthy considering all the vegetables that went into the soup. The broth was really something else. Who knew broth made from scratch could taste that amazing. I am just imagining now what actual Pho tastes like. YUM! I still can’t get over the fact that I made this. It was so good! However, the vegetables were overcooked…Ooops. I probably should have had a timer on. My family really enjoyed it to. My mom personally gave me a 9/10 because the vegetables were overcooked and she felt like it could also use some salt and pepper. I personally would not change anything about this recipe. It was great. Yes, this recipe takes a lot of time and energy but it is definitely worth it. The flavors and textures will not disappoint. Give it a go!

I am very glad that I spent the few hours learning about Pho and this particular recipe. If I didn’t take the time to learn how to chop broccoli or bok choy or how to cook rice noodles, I definitely would not be as confident and the result would probably not have been as great. I am definitely seeing the potentials of technology as I continue with my learning project. There are countless resources to assist people like me in discovery and opportunities. I am looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

Next week I begin the next category: meatless mains. Living in a house of basically vegetarians it should not be very difficult to find a satisfying recipe. Stay tuned.

Catch ya’ll ladle.

Just Veggin’ Out

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This week is the beginning of the soup category, and I am very excited. I love soup, especially during this time of year when the weather is cold and dry; there is nothing better than a good ole’ pot of hearty, warm soup to fill your insides. Anyways, as I always do, I scoured through numerous foodie websites to find the perfect soup; I was searching for simplicity and difficulty all wrapped into one. After a few long minutes of searching I somehow ended back on Pinterest. One of the links that I was looking at connected to the soup main page of Pinterest. I am slowly becoming a Pinterest fan. There are so many great recipes, of which it seems like there is an endless amount. Anyhow, I started to look through the numerous of soup options on the website. Once again, I was taking what my mom said into consideration: the greater the number of hearts the more tasty and popular the dish. I was looking and looking until I found the right one. It was the perfect soup to kick off this category. Not only was it hearty and considered an Italian soup (digging into my heritage), but it contained the simplicity and difficulty I was looking for. Italian Orzo Spinach Soup here I come.

Once again, before I started to assemble the soup I wanted to make sure that I was able to do everything that was asked. I knew how to chop celery and carrots, that was not an issue, but the onion was a little daunting. Chopping an onion is probably going to be one of the most common things to do when cooking. However, as mentioned all the way back in week #1 when I made my first appetizer, chopping onions is not one of my favorite things to do because I tend to cry and/or chop it unevenly. As a result, I went back to that website from week #1 to refresh my memory on the proper method. After visually seeing and going through all the steps, I quickly remembered the process of how to chop an onion. Last time I was not really successful, so lets see if I am able to do it this time around.

The recipe called for Orzo. What one earth is Orzo? Seriously, before I looked up what it was I initially thought orzo was rice. On the contrary, orzo is a form of short-cut pasta, shaped like a large grain of rice –probably why I assumed it was rice to begin with. In the directions, it said to cook the orzo. Well how do you do that? Obviously, this is a type of pasta that I have never worked with before so I went and did some online learning before assembling the soup. I found this website very helpful. Not only does it explain what orzo is, but it also provides directions on how to serve orzo and how to cook orzo separately or with salads and soups. Now I decided ahead of time that I was going to cook the orzo separately and than add it to the soup after it was al dente. The reasoning for this was that if I added the pasta to the soup raw it might soak up all the liquid/broth and become to heavy of a dish. As a result, I looked at the section of the website where is listed directions on how to cook orzo separately. Since this was pasta that I am very unfamiliar with I thought the cooking directions would be more complicated; however, they weren’t. They were literally the same as any other pasta. However, one thing that I didn’t know was you have to stir the orzo occasionally to prevent if from sticking together. As well, and this goes for all types of pastas, do not rinse the pasta, as rinsing removes a light coating of starch that helps sauces and seasonings cling to the pasta. That is one fact that I will remember next time I attempt to cook a pasta dish.

Another thing that I wanted to readdress before cooking this soup was the proper technique of holding a kitchen knife. As you all know from my documentation I am struggling to hold the kitchen knife properly. The way I hold our kitchen knives is comfortable to me but considered unacceptable and unstable in the professional world of cooking. Well I am no professional, but it is still good for me to learn the proper techniques. As a result, I went back to that LeCordon Bleu video to refresh my memory once more. We will see if this time around things get a bit better.

After a few memory jerkers and learning about orzo, I felt pretty good about this soup recipe. So I quickly assembled my ingredients, set up my station of cooking gadgets and got ready to cook.

Cooking Rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients prior to cooking. CHECK.

Cooking Rule #2: Always read the proportions and directions carefully (more than once and double check). CHECK.

Recipe:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small white onion, peeled and diced

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

6 cups of either chicken or vegetable stock

1 can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 ½ cups of orzo pasta

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

4 cups loosely packed spinach

Salt and black pepper

Directions:

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Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Chop the onion and add to the pot to sauté for 4 minutes, until soft. I am very proud of myself; I was actually successful at cutting out the bulb and chopping the onion! It was actually not as difficult as I made it out to be! Once the bulb was out, I was able to actually chop the onion without crying!

Chop carrots and celery and add to the pot. As I was chopping the vegetables I realized I was holding the knife incorrectly so I corrected myself. On the plus side, I only had to correct myself once, so I am slowly getting there. Once all the vegetables have cooked down a bit add the garlic. We have a garlic crusher in our house, which is very helpful when mincing garlic. However, I do not have a lot of upper body strength so it takes me a while to get the garlic through. Once the garlic is added to the pot sauté for an additional 4 minutes. Add chicken or vegetable stock, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, rosemary and stir to combine.

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While those flavors are marrying together, wash and dry the spinach. Set aside. As mentioned before, we have a salad spinner, which really comes in handy.

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IMG_1944In a separate small pot, boil approximately 3-4 cups of water. Once the water is boiling add the orzo and cook until al dente. As I mentioned above, you can either add/cook the orzo directly in the soup or cook it separately and add later. I decided to cook the orzo separately so that the pasta didn’t soak up all the liquid. Once the orzo is cooked to your liking, add it along with the spinach to the soup. If the orzo is not cooked all the way through that is not a problem, as it will continue to cook in the soup broth. Stir the soup until the spinach has wilted.

Taste to see if you need to add anything extra for flavoring. I tasted it and realized it needed a tad more salt and pepper. Serve the soup warm and enjoy!

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Oh my—is all I can say. What a great soup to make on a cold winter day! It was hearty, warm, and such a simple dish (it actually wasn’t that difficult at all). The flavor and the smells are truly heavenly, and not to mention that it is very healthy for you to. I made a good call on cooking the orzo separately as there was still lots of broth left, making it a delicious soup rather than a thick pasta dish or stew. My family loved it to! My parents even went back for seconds. My mom even saved the recipe for her own collection. I would definitely make this again! Maybe next time I will make garlic bread to compliment the soup. I mean who doesn’t like garlic bread?! In the end, I honesty wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe. If anything, I would maybe add some chicken or ground turkey to the soup to get some protein in there.

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It is going to be hard to top this recipe. So stayed tuned till next week when I attempt to make another delicious, hearty and warm soup.

Ladle Gator

 

You’re My Sweet Apple Honey

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For my last dish in the salad category, I wanted to make something colorful, tasty, and of course somewhat different. However, I knew I wasn’t going to top the first salad that I made as that was literally unbelievable, but I was willing to give it a shot. I wanted to stay on the Pinterest website because there were tons of options to choose from; all of which are so different from one another and unique. As I mentioned last time, Pinterest, to me, is very overwhelming because the photos and recipes are so jammed together it is hard to distinguish what recipe goes with what photo. However, as I made my way through the website my mom explained how I can determine what the most popular dishes are. Apparently, the more hearts the photo has the more popular in taste that it is. So obviously, what did I do? I looked through all the recipes, trying to find one that I not only liked but that also had a lot of ‘hearts’. I didn’t have to look to far because one salad really caught my eye; it also had 2513 hearts! The ingredients were different, well at least I have never heard of putting apples in a salad, and the colors were bright. I looked through the directions and ingredients to make sure it was manageable and once that box was checked off my mind was made up. I was ready to make Apple Cranberry Walnut Salad.

Truthfully, I have never heard of putting apples, cranberries or walnuts in a salad. Maybe that is a sign that I live in a box or that I really have no experience cooking with different flavors. Anyhow, I was ready to try this Autumn Salad. Before I started to make the salad, I assembled all the ingredients. Every time I found something that I needed I placed it on the counter so that I could be more organized. As I was making my way through the recipe list, I realized that I did not have three of the ingredients. Well, it was a good thing that did not start the cooking yet because than I would have a reoccurrence of week 1 where I had to literally pause my cooking and run to my cousin’s house.

Cooking rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients prior to cooking

Since I clearly was not prepared yet to start assembling the salad, I made a quick trip to the good ole Superstore to pick up a few necessary ingredients. As I was there I got a little distracted by the clothing department (Joe Fresh); however, I knew what I went there for, quickly grabbed and paid for what I needed and headed home.

Once I was home, I went through the recipe and directions again. Same as last time, I found the directions to be very straightforward and simple. As a result, I felt like I did not need to do any online research for this specific recipe. From the past few weeks, I have found that salads are pretty basic enough that I do not need to be conducting much online learning for this category. However, that does not mean that I won’t be doing any if I run into a problem during this recipe. I will obviously. As well, I am still trying to learn how to hold a kitchen knife. I am unfortunately still resorting to that “unacceptable” way, but I just find the correct way strange and uncomfortable. I have found that since week #1 I have had to constantly check and correct myself, probably four times, to hold the kitchen knife properly. I am getting better and it is coming. Lets see if I manage this time around.

Despite the fact that I felt like I did not need to do much online learning for this recipe, I was still intrigued by something. What are dried cranberries? Well this sounds unintelligent, as they are simply cranberries that have been dried out. But I was interested in knowing how this process occurs. Is there one? I wanted to find out. Every video and website that I found relatively had the same process on how to dry out fresh cranberries. This website in particular listed and showed through pictures a 6 step process on how to dry out cranberries. After gong through all the steps I realized that drying out cranberries is actually more complicated than I initially thought. Basically, after selecting your cranberries you place them in a pot of boiling water until the skin pops. This ‘popping’ is a sign that the berries are ready to be dried out. Spread the berries out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar, and place them in the oven to dehydrate them. I didn’t realize that the cranberries needed to be placed in the oven to dry out. I simply thought that leaving them out on the counter would suffice, but apparently not. You learn something everyday I guess. As well, I did not realize that cranberries were considered a “super food”. They are rich in fiber, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and have large amounts of antioxidants.

After learning about cranberries, I felt pretty relaxed and confident about this recipe. It said on the website that it should only take about 20 minutes to prepare and assemble. I already knew that cooking rule #1 was achieved so I just had to remind myself of cooking rule #2: always read the proportions and directions carefully (more than once).

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Recipe: For salad

6 cups of baby spinach (any spring green mix will do just fine)

2 apples (you could do 1 red and 1 green or 2 red or 2 green)

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup dried cranberries

Dressing:

1 cup of apple juice

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (white vinegar would do)

2 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ cup oil

Directions

As I mentioned the directions are very brief, simple and quick.

Measure out 6 cups of the baby spinach. I did a little more than 6 cups because there wasn’t much left in the container so I just used it all up. Place the spinach in a bowl, wash thoroughly, and dry, then set aside. We have a salad spinner at my house so I placed the spinach in that to soak first before draining the water and spinning it dry.

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Wash, core, and chop the apples (thin slices or 1 inch chucks). We have an apple corer and slicer all in one, which was very handy and saved a lot of time. So once the apple was divided into 8 pieces I took a knife and thinly chopped the apples further. As I was doing this I caught myself holding the knife incorrectly: I quickly adjusted, but I felt very unstable because it was a method that I was not used to. However, I tried to stick with it as much as I could.

Once the apples are sliced, measure out the walnuts, feta cheese and cranberries. Combine the spinach, apples, walnuts, feta cheese and cranberries together in a large bowl and toss together.

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Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Once the salad dressing was complete I tasted it to see if it needed anything extra. It tasted very much like apples, which was very different for a dressing, but not really a surprise considering it was made from apple juice and apple cider vinegar. It wasn’t too sweet either, which sort of shocked me considering the amount of honey that went into the dressing. I did however, put a tad more pepper into the dressing, which seemed to balance out the flavor more. Once the dressing was complete, I placed it into a mason jar. I did not want to drizzle over the salad just yet because we were not planning on eating for another hour and a half.

Once you are ready to eat, toss the dressing with the salad and simply enjoy.


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The salad was not half bad! The crisp apples, dried cranberries, feta cheese and hearty walnuts all came together very nicely, but each stood out individually in texture and flavor. The dressing was something else. It really complimented the salad and its ingredients, which is not surprising considering the main star of the salad and dressing was the apples. I did find however, that the dressing, along with the apples in the salad, did add a lot of sweetness. Individually, they are great, but together it may have been too sweet for ones palette. However, my older sister said that it is supposed to be a sweet salad, so she didn’t mind it. As well, I may have added to much spinach. It seemed like there was twice the amount of spinach compared to everything else in the salad, but hey spinach is good for you so I can’t complain. My family said it was good to. They said it was fresh tasting, but they liked my first salad better, and to be honest, so do I. I found the flavors to be bolder in the first salad. However, this salad was something different and I am glad that I gave it a try.

Well ladies and gents, I am finished with the salad category and to be honest I am looking forward to moving on to something different. I found the salad category to be too easy and not challenging enough, but I did make some pretty tasty things no doubt. Next week I start soups! I love soup, especially during this time of year. Anyone have any recommendations on what I should cook for my first soup? I am open to suggestions.

Bye!!

unbeLEAFable

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To kick off my salad category, I wanted to make something that was different and unique compared to the typical garden salad; I wanted to challenge myself in ways that a salad normally wouldn’t. As well, I was interested in looking at other online foodie websites than my go to Smitten Kitchen or Rachael Ray. I was looking and looking and finally my mom recommended looking at Pinterest. I personally do not have a Pinterest account so I was very unfamiliar on how to pin, heart something, or even how to search. My mom showed me the ropes of the website literally in 2 minutes. It actually wasn’t that hard to get around or search. I simply typed in salads, and a whole smorgasbord of options came up! It was literally overwhelming because all the pictures and recipes were so close together it was hard to tell what recipe was for what picture. However, I managed and while I was searching through all the delicious options one picture in particular caught my eye. People always say you eat with your eyes, and I feel like this was one of those moments. It stood out to me because of the colors and presentation so obviously I was tempted to figure out what it tasted like. That being said, my decision was made fairly quickly. I was making Crunchy Asian Ramen Noodle Salad.

As I was looking through the recipe and directions, I felt fairly confident. I knew all of the ingredients and how to handle/chop them, and the directions were all very clear. Actually, the directions were not only clear, but they were rather simple. As a result, I didn’t feel like it was necessary to do any online research because I found this salad pretty straightforward; as most salads are. However, I did promise that if by chance I found myself in a situation where I was unsure or lost I would take a moment and do some online learning.

Before I even started cooking, I ran through my cooking rules:

Cooking Rule #1: Make sure you have all the ingredients prior to cooking

Cooking rule #2: always read the proportions and directions carefully (more than once).

Cooking rule #3: Do not hold bread in your hand when you are slicing it

Thankfully, we had all the ingredients so I did not have to run to the store and also, this recipe did not include any bread! So if anything I just needed to constantly remind myself of cooking rule #2!

Recipe: Salad Ingredients

1 bag of coleslaw mix

1 packages of ramen noodles, crumbled (you will not be using the seasoning packet)

  • I actually used Ichiban noodles instead of ramen noodles. They have the same crunchy texture when they are raw so it was a reasonable substitute.

1 cup shelled and cooked edamame beans

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced

½ cup thinly sliced almonds

½ cup thinly sliced green onions

Recipe: Salad Dressing Ingredients

2/3 cup of vegetable oil (or any cooking oil)

1/3-cup honey

1/3-cup rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon sesame oil

Pinch of salt and black pepper

Directions

I personally found the directions to be very simply.

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All toasted and golden

All toasted and golden

Heat oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating up spread the crumbled ramen noodles and sliced almonds onto a baking sheet. I mentioned above that I used Ichiban noodles instead of ramen noodles. I found that since you aren’t using the seasoning packet the texture of the noodles would be the same. As well, the Ichiban noodles did not come pre crumbled in the package, so I had to crumble the noodles myself with my hands, which really wasn’t that difficult. Bake the crumbled mixture for about 5 minutes, or until the almonds and noodles are slightly toasted and golden. Remove the baking sheet to cool once the noodles and almonds are nice and golden. Note: Kept a very close eye on the mixture because it can burn very easily. I checked on the mixture at three and a half minutes and I turned away for about 30 seconds and when I came back the almonds were a little too brown: aka slightly burnt. I immediately took out the mixture and let it cool right away. I also removed any burnt pieces from the mixture and tossed them away. Depending on how hot your oven gets, you might want to put the mixture in for 3-4 minutes instead of 5.

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IMG_1923While the mixture is cooling, chop and add all the other ingredients together in a large bowl, and toss until combined. Once the noodles and almonds have cooled add them to the mixture as well. Whisk together the vinaigrette until combined and then add to the bowl. I had to add more soy sauce then recommended because I found it to be way to sweet from the honey. Toss everything together until combined. Add the dressing a little at a time because it may be too much all at once.

Serve the salad immediately or cover and refrigerate. This salad is much better eaten the first day as the noodles lose there “crunch” the longer it sits. I made the salad a little early so I put it in the fridge for about an hour and a half to marinate a little longer.

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This salad was amazing! I was so impressed with myself. It did not look like the picture on the website, but what I made was still colorful and tasty. There were so many different textures and flavors going on in the salad as well. It was crunchy from the noodles and cabbage, sweet from the vinaigrette, salty and savory. It literally included everything that a good dish should: at least to my knowledge. My family loved it as well, especially my mom! She even saved and pinned the recipe on her own Pinterest page! I asked them if there was anything they would change or add and they said no. That relieved me. I personally couldn’t find anything that I would change either though. I do believe that by sticking to and reminding myself of my cooking rules really helped me to make a successful dish! That being said, I should or rather need to remind myself of these rules every time I cook until they start to become second nature to me. I am actually excited to cook next week because of how successful this salad was. I am searching for new possibilities as we speak! I got something delicious for you next week, so stay tuned!

Adios!

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