Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soft Shell Tacos with Toppings it is...

Tonight's meal was going to be Dry Ribs with Couscous and Broccoli but somebody (not pointing fingers- okay, ya, it was me) didn't check the recipe and it was supposed to be prepped the night before cooking and then cooked for 8-10 hours the day of serving.  Since I had put the chicken in the freezer not wanting it to go bad before we used it, tacos it ended up being.

Soft Tacos
Now this was a bit of a tough one to go a head and do since we already have a taco dinner down, known as Studham Tacos.  Why mess with a good thing, right?  And the recipe calls for more unusual seasonings instead of just taco seasoning.  This recipe in addition to chili powder includes turmeric and cumin, seasonings I've only used in Indian dishes.  These all went in the browning hamburger in addition to onion flakes and finally some water and ketchup to thicken over a simmer.  Ryan tried each ingredient individually and REALLY didn't like the turmeric.  I reminded him its the blending and proportions and balance of the ingredients that when mixed makes a new flavor.  Of course, I'm just reiterating what the rat said in the movie Ratatouille and hoping it would hold true.  Tasting the meat (a perk of being the cooks) proved it to be true.  We went on chopping the standard toppings of tomatoes and lettuce in addition to some we don't typically use- green onions and cilantro.  More on the cilantro later.  Cheese, sour cream, and salsa rounded out the toppings for the soft flour tortillas.

Ryan enjoying the last of the tacos
When we sat down, I was thinking, "Hmmm, this will be interesting but we'll probably never make it again.  It can't be as good as Studham Tacos."  I didn't think the kids would use the tomato and lettuce since they never do.  Heck, Ryan doesn't put any veggies on his Subway sandwiches.  Tonight he did use them!  He even tried the cilantro too.  It was really good!  The sauce was kind of like a Manwich flavor but not nearly as sweet or tomato-y.  It definitely wasn't a taco flavoring either.  The ketchup seemed to give it enough sauce without making it saucy, if that makes any sense at all.  Having the cilantro in there was great.  Gave it a really fresh flavor to counter the savory/sweet sauce/not-saucy meat.  I even used the green onions, which I usually bi-pass out of habit, don't tell our kids;).  They weren't nearly as strong in the soft taco as I thought they would be.  Seemed to be in there more for the crunch than anything else.  I still skipped the sour cream.  That I just don't like...again, the munchkins need not know;).  This meal was by far the best overall so far.  The meat was so good we were bargaining scoops of ice cream for the last taco.  When we make it again, which we definitely will, we will be doubling the amount of meat.  It'd make great nachos... if there were any leftovers.  Overall score: I'll have to put it in tomorrow's posting.  It received Scott's highest ranking so far but I don't remember the kids' rankings to average them out.  Regardless, the meat was really good.

On deck for tomorrow night: Dry Ribs with Couscous and Broccoli.  Ryan mixed the rub before going to bed and tried each ingredient.  More on that tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chipotle Steak with Balsamic Reduction, Italian Veggies and Baby Potatoes

We did cook the Chipotle Steak with Balsamic Reduction, Italian Veggies and Baby Potatoes for night number 2.  It turned out pretty good.  It is still taking a while longer than estimated times given in the book so we didn't sit down for dinner until a little after 7pm.  Ryan was the cook's assistant this night and he did a great job.  He decided English cucumbers are actually a little better, lacking the extra seeds.  He still wasn't interested in the bell peppers or tomatoes that when in the tossed veggies with the balsamic vinegrette.  The most interesting part of the meal was making the balsamic reduction for the steak.  It had ginger, garlic, red onions, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup... and it looked black.  He didn't think he'd use any since he was really looking forward to the steak.

Scott was in charge of working with Ryan on the steak and demonstrating usage of the Big Green Egg smoker/bbq.  This night the whole crew got involved with the meal,...very cool.  While they were cooking the steak, I continued the reduction and added some more syrup hoping the reduction would be worthy of the steak.  I was beginning to have my doubts too!

As it turned out, the reduction was a hit...partly because it was so unusual and because it conjured nicknames suited to its black color.  The sauce did a great job of balancing the heat from the chipotle seasoning rub on the steak.  The veggies were interesting but maybe we'd saute them next time.  The potatoes were well cooked and used to dip in the sauce too.  Overall score: 7.625.  And, yes, I had seconds of the steak.

Tonight (actually since last night), we(actually Scott) smoked a pork butt to make pulled pork sandwiches for a great group of young adults who are volunteering for Habitat for Humanity during their Spring Break.  Oh, the college wish I studied less and enjoyed my youth more. ;) Tomorrow night we are back on the Rushed Kitchen dinner plan.  Not sure which it'll be:
  • Sweet Indian Chicken with Rice and Spinach Salad,
  • Dry Ribs with Couscous and Broccoli, or
  • Soft or Hard Shell tacos with Toppings.
BTW: The little bit of chipotle steak that was leftover and the remaining potatoes were great with some scrambled eggs and bacon bits eaten with flour tortillas. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Okay, fine. I'll learn how to cook..."

So, to be honest, I've made that statement many times.  My hubby is a good natural cook.  He can look at ingredients and have an idea if that combination might produce the desired result.  He can also look at what is available and make something that tastes pretty darn good most of the time (there have been a couple of occasions when we just had to throw it out).  My mother-in-law also cooks this way with no recipe needed.  I also have good friends who can 'throw a soup together' and it is wonderful.  I can, too.  Mine involve a can opener and way too much salt and little creativity.  I have used lots of excuses: "I didn't grow up with access to all these ingredients and spices." "I don't know what these different spices tast like.  How would I know how they'll taste together?" And my favorite, "I don't have time."  No more.

What I really wanted was a menu which built our families pallette while still being budget conscious(but not necessarily budget restricted), involved the whole family, and encouraged a balanced diet.  Currently we are using Sandi Richard's The Family Dinner Fix: Cooking for the Rushed book.  Apparently she's on the Food Network but I had never heard of her.  We happened on the book while Ally was looking at cookbooks at McKays.  She presents a practical, varied approach and addresses picky eating, caloric intake and planning/shopping.  After reading the instructional part in the first third of the book, I was hooked.

We started today.  I asked both kids to pick 2 of their favorite weeks of dinners(there are 10 total).  They didn't match up, dang it.  Of course not, that would have made it easy!  I asked which week we were going to do first and Ally volunteered to let Ryan go first.  I suggested Ryan let Ally pick the first meal and let her help me cook it.  The idea was who ever selected that week's meals would assist in the cooking.  The other would set the table, clear the table, and then help with dishes too.  Ryan was cool with that.  Yeah! Crisis averted.

We spent time going through cupboards seeing what ingredients we had on hand and added other misc items needed for other meals/snacks as well as household goods to the shopping list.  We then spent school time at the grocery store collecting the items on the list and finding out what English cucumber was... I didn't know so I had to ask. (It's long and skinny and has less seeds in case you didn't know either.)  For the other items for snacks and such, we used the NuVal rankings at Food City.  They worked perfectly.  The kids finally understood just how little nutritional value Lunchables give. (They score a 5 out of 100.)  They chose reduced-sugar strawberry milk powder, the healthiest granola bars, and ice cream.  Hey, they learned their assigned Mandarin Chinese words so they earned their reward.  I also had to make a trip to Kroger for the mango chutney and chipotle seasoning.  The checker at our small local Food City looked at me weird... "Chutney?  What's that?"

Tuna Tettrazzini
The kids helped unload the groceries and put them away.  Since we were home a little late, Ally and I got right to work on dinner.  We made Tuna Tettrazzini with Corn and Peas.  Ally was involved with everything.  The recipe was well laid out and explained clearly.  It was great.  It took us a little longer than the cookbook suggested but I was demonstrating things to her so it was worth it.  At dinner, each of us ranked the dinner.  It averaged to be a 8.125 on a scale of 1-10.  Ally really liked the dish, largely due to her involvement cooking it.  She wanted to rank it an 11.  She beamed the whole dinner.  Very cool.  Ryan did well helping clean up, something we haven't really asked them to do up to this point.  It went so much faster with an extra set of motivated hands... go figure!

On tap for tomorrow night: Chipotle Steak with Balsamic Reduction, Baby Potatoes and Italian Veggies.