South of the Border Sunday

Today we decided to go south of the border for lunch, figuratively speaking. Maybe next week we will head toward Asia, but today it was to Latin America. In her book, Dinner Time, The Pioneer Woman has a recipe for Burrito Bowls. Flora and I had talked about cooking it quite a while ago, but completely let it slip by. It was the perfect choice for today.

Burrito bowls are basically burritos or fajitas without the tortilla, each ingredient layered into a bowl. I like the simplicity of the seasonings and the fact that you pick and choose what you want. Choices offered were rice, steak, chicken, vegetables, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese and avocado slices.

Cilantro-Lime rice

The perfect base for this meal was rice. The rice is cooked in chicken broth, then enhanced with cilantro and lime zest and juice. I am not a cilantro fan; I am one of those for whom eating fresh cilantro can be like chewing on a bar of soap. However, we did want to try it the way it was written to see if, by some miracle, the lime juice would tame the soapiness of the cilantro. As it turns out, it was pretty good. Next time, though, I will either use a *small* amount of freeze-dried cilantro, or skip it altogether. This rice was really the perfect start for the burrito bowls.

Here Comes the Meat

The recipe called for sirloin steak and chicken thighs. You cut them into bite-sized pieces (strips would have worked as well), season them in their separate bowls, and cook one after the other on fairly high heat. We kept the chicken and steak separate up until plating time, when we offered them side by side on a platter for easy access. The seasonings on the meat were salt, chili powder and cumin. And it was perfect, especially when it had the flavor of the lime juice from the rice or the pico touch it. Perfect.

Black beans go well with these burrito bowls, so we cooked some up with the same seasonings used on the meat. Easy Peasy!

Viva los Vegetales!

If you have seen any of our other posts, you know we love our vegetables. The meat was fantastic, and the vegetables were even better. The recipe called for zucchini, squash, onion, red and yellow bell peppers and a jalapeno pepper. We left out the jalapeno because there just weren’t any decent looking peppers at the store today. In its place we added some mushrooms. (Again, I love how easy it is to make substitutions in these recipes to match your own preferences!)

The skillet used to cook the meat was also used to cook the veggies, so you get a wonderful marriage of flavors there! The recipe does not call for as many veggies as we cooked, and it would have been easy to get them to cook more quickly, taking on the color from the high heat and remaining seasonings if we had used less, but we wanted more. Since we cooked a lot of veggies in a very large pan, the veggies did create a lot of liquid in the pan as they cooked, even on higher heat. In order to get the veggies to turn golden, I made sure to remove the liquid once it started to pool. This way the veggies would carmelize and not turn to mush.

I do believe my lunch tomorrow will be any remaining veggies. That thought makes me quite happy.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo is basically a condiment that I can usually take or leave. Again, it is usually quite rich in fresh cilantro, and that is just not my favorite (soapy) flavor. Obviously, I was not the only one we were cooking for today, so we used the fresh cilantro, just not as much as you get in the pico de gallo served in restaurants.

Pico is basically a blend of small-diced tomatoes, corn, onion, salt, lime and cilantro. Some people also throw in some heat in the form of jalapeno. There was some plump corn on the cob at the grocery store today, so we cooked up 4 ears of corn and cut the kernels off for the pico. We juiced some fresh limes for the rice and pico today, and it was scrumptious. Even with the cilantro!

All the Fixin’s

We set out some lettuce, black beans, sliced avocados, shredded sharp cheddar cheese and salsa to go along with the meat and veggies. We also made a quick queso dip (Velveeta-style cheese product, nuked in the microwave until melted, with a can of diced tomatoes and green chilies stirred in). So many things would also go with this: sour cream, tortilla soup, chips, etc. We had plenty of food for the bowls, so we didn’t add anything else. Honestly, I didn’t even put salsa on mine. It was so tasty; it really did not need it.

Burrito Bowls. We Will Do This Again.

The bowls were both delicious and filling. The flavors of the lime and chili powder/cumin complemented each other so well, and are a prominent combination in Latin American cuisine. This meal is going on our list of keepers, because with only slight adjustments (less rice and corn, maybe), it is a very healthy dish, tastes absolutely fabulous, and leaves you satisfied.

Mushrooms and Meatballs… Mmmmm

We had a really hard time, that weekend in April, deciding what we really wanted to eat (although we did have a special request from Flora’s husband to make some mushrooms). We decided to cook Burgundy Mushrooms (Accidental Country Girl, p 202). What goes great with mushrooms? Why, meatballs, of course! We decided to make the Whiskey Mustard Meatballs (Food from My Frontier, p 112), an excellent choice.

Flora wanted potatoes and there are so many recipes to choose from among “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” series. Crash potatoes, mashed potatoes, twice baked, stuffed, and skins; the list goes on. I think the thing that pushed us to our final decision was the bacon in her Twice Baked Potatoes (Accidental Country Girl, p 152). Twice-baked it would be! The vegetables were easier: Flora went to Aldi’s and the asparagus caught her eye. We would be fixing Roasted Asparagus (Dinner Time, p 280). She also picked up an eggplant that was just too pretty to resist. We would end up slicing and frying it.

Burgundy Mushrooms

The mushrooms weren’t actually “Burgundy” mushrooms, since the wine I had on hand was a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. The mushrooms simmer for several hours in order to cook down the liquid ingredients, so we started those first. The liquid ingredients include butter, wine, Worchestershire sauce, and water with bouillon cubes. With the Cabernet, the mushrooms cooked down to a deep purple color and were absolutely delicious.

I did not have any dill seed, so it was omitted (and, honestly, not missed), but we did include garlic salt, salt, and pepper. We love mushrooms SO MUCH that we actually quartered them, rather than cooking them whole, so there would at least be the visual impression that we had more of them.

Whiskey Mustard Meatballs

The meatballs were made with beef and pork, Dijon mustard, and bread crumbs, using an egg as a binder. They were browned first, then we finished cooking them in some broth, Crown Royal, more Dijon mustard, Worstershire sauce and cream. We didn’t go overboard on the sauce because we knew certain people (every adult in the house) were going to put those luscious mushrooms right over top of their meatballs. I was worried about a flavor clash; fortunately there was not one!

Twice-Baked Potatoes

What can I say… bacon, cheese and potatoes are heaven in a bite. Flora got these baking while I working on the meatballs. The recipe calls for luscious dairy (sour cream, butter, and sharp cheddar cheese) along with the bacon, green onions and seasonings. They do take a bit of effort and stubbornness: you bake them, scoop them out, mix up the insides with the yummies, then stuff the hollowed out skins the the mixture and bake again. Please take my word for it: they are totally worth the effort. We concluded that next time we will need to make a larger recipe.

Flora is really good with kids, and she took the time to show my granddaughter how to do the potatoes. Melted my heart!

Roasted Asparagus

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for roasted asparagus is absolute perfection. That is, until you start to feel you can improve upon perfection by adding the flavors of lemon and garlic on the asparagus. We modified her recipe ever so slightly by using a lemon-infused olive oil, lemon pepper, and a bit of garlic salt. I didn’t think perfection could become even more perfect, but somehow it did.

Fried Eggplant

We didn’t follow a recipe for the eggplant; Flora made an egg wash and set up some corn meal, flour and seasonings. Whenever I use eggplant, I prefer to sweat out the bitterness before cooking it. That is accomplished by sprinkling salt over the slices and leaving them in a colander for a while. After sweating the slices, we fried the breaded eggplant slices in vegetable oil. I really didn’t think anyone else besides Flora, her husband David, and myself, would even try it due to the potential for picky eaters among our numbers, but it disappeared very quickly!

When all was said and done, this was a delicious meal with some of our favorite comfort foods. It plated up well, too! We will definitely be making those potatoes and mushrooms again, and SOON. The meatballs were wonderful, too. I have used the Whiskey-Mustard sauce with other meats quite successfully.

Wait! What about Dessert? PIES!

I am sure it has become clear by now that Flora loves baking, even more than cooking. She decided to treat us to three of her specialty pies: Coconut, Chocolate, and Lemon Meringue. How to choose? Eat a piece of each! You will not be disappointed.

I can just hear Andie MacDowell singing:

Pie, Pie, me oh my! Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry all at once. Oh well, it’s pie. Apple! Pumpkin! Minced meat an’ wet bottom. Come to your place every day if you’ve got ’em. Pie, me oh my, I love pie.

from the movie “Michael”

Playing Ketchup. Catsup. Catch-up!!!

Happy Summer!

It has been an eventful summer already, filled with family activities and responsibilities. Yes, I said that word. Flora got to go work with Joni and Friends for two weeks, her own kids were at camp and visiting the university their daughter will begin attending in just a few short weeks. They are heavily involved in scouting, so there are always events to either run or enjoy. Our families have still had the opportunity to share several meals together during this time, but, well you know. Responsibilities. Daggone, I said it again.

My responsibility now is to get this blog caught up, featuring the meals we have tried together, what we liked and didn’t, what we might do differently, and how much FUN we have had cooking together! I think maybe if I start scheduling in time several times a week to blog, you may just get to see posts more regularly. Besides that, it does me good to share my love of cooking, foods, and flavors!

A few passing thoughts about the cooking we have been doing from the Pioneer Woman’s cookbooks. She tends to prepare meals with higher fat and calorie levels than we want to eat (even though they are *so good*), and it is totally understandable with her hard-working family. In most cases, though, it is easy enough to lower the fat and calorie levels as you go with either substitutions or omissions of some ingredients. The more you try it, the more natural it becomes. Also, I really love how Mrs. Drummond comments in her recipes the things she might add or do differently if she was just cooking for herself or for the kids. She accounts for tastes and preferences, and I find it really inspiring.

So, I will be playing catch-up for a few weeks. I may be on here more than you care to see! But we do love what we are doing and will definitely continue at our own pace.

“An-ti-ci-pa-a-tion, it’s making me wait…”