Monday, May 28, 2012

Cumin Spiced Fish Tacos & Mango Avocado Salsa

Happy Memorial Day!  Happy Unofficial, but every knows real deal, start of Summer!  (The technical first day of summer, for all you PC-lovers out there is June 20th).  But let's be honest here.  Summer and everything that embodies it - BBQ's, outside drinking games, picnics, lakes, tans - Summer.  Officially.  Starts.  Today.  I am quite literally humming with excitement.

Actually, singing.  Cause that is what I do.  In the summertime, I sing oldies.  Because summer belongs to the golden oldies.  Trust me on this one.  Just this morning, it was a verse of In the Summertime, which went into the whistling from Dock of the Bay, and ended in a little ditty about Jack and Diane.  It was wonderful.  I am so ready for some sunshine, some water, a lazy round of beersbee, and, oh yeah, fish tacos.  Ready or not, Summer, here we come.

In the summertime, when the weather is hot
you can reach right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine, you got women
you got women on your mind. 
Have a drink, have a drive,
Go out and see what you can find.

P.S. - This was so me on Friday.  And quite literally I checked it at 3:12 PM Friday afternoon.  It feels nice to feel so connected to someone feeling the Exact. Same. Way.  Camaraderie.  I love the internet.  Well, sometimes.  I love three day start of summer weekends all the time though.  Hope yours was fantastic!

Cumin Spiced Fish Tacos & Mango Avocado Salsa
Adapted, hardly, from Cooking Light's.... 

YUM!  These guys right here is how you want to start your summer.  They take less than 30 minutes to throw together, they are cool and spicy,  and you can eat them with your hands.  Plus, they taste especially great washed down with a cold beer.  And the mango salsa?!?  FANTASTIC.  Make extra.  And then eat like you would any salsa, on tortilla chips.  And it will totally disappear before nightfall.  The tart mango with the smooth avocado?  I don't even like avocado that much and I'm telling you.  YES.  Make these.  Tonight.  Have a cerveza.  Toast Summer.

(These guys, in case you were wondering, are totally 100% BGCB material)

Mango Avocado Salsa:
1 medium mango, peeled and cubed
1 medium mango, pitted and cubed
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno, diced
5-10 sprigs of cilantro, chopped, no stems
1 1/2 limes (for juice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Juice limes over avocado (this will help with keeping the avocado green and not brown).  Toss all ingredients together.  Let sit 10 minutes so flavors marry.

Cumin Spiced Fish Tacos:
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 lb. tilapia fillets
1 Tbsp. canola oil

In large skillet over medium heat, toast cumin seeds for 2 minutes until fragrant.  Shake pan often to keep from burning.  In spice grinder, grind cumin with salt and peppers until finely ground.  (Leave a comment if you want a tip on how to clean out the spice/coffee grinder afterwards!)  Add cumin mixture to garlic and use as dry rub on tilapia fillets. Let sit 5-10 minutes.

Return skillet to burner and heat oil over a medium high flame.  Add tilapia and pan fry for 2 minutes.  Flip and cook for 2 minutes more, or until fish is cooked throuogh.  Remove and flake into large bite sized pieces.

Warm corn tortillas.  Lay a few chunks of fish and cover with mango avocado salsa.  Eat, drink, repeat!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Warm Mocha Pudding

When I was little, we didn't often have dessert on week nights.  That is, until I discovered that if I made it when I got home from school and didn't make too big a mess out of the kitchen, mom was actually quite alright with dessert during the week.  And thus a new Ruiz family way of living was born.

It started simply with jello.  But even with all the flavors and all the colors of the rainbow, I couldn't leave well enough alone.  Too impatient to wait long enough to make actual different colored layers, I graduated instead to mixing in canned fruit with my jello.  There was pineapple with the blue raspberry and fruit cocktail in the lime green.

But a family cannot live on jello alone.  And soon enough, there was pudding on the horizon.  After one small debacle with the non-quick cooking type, I mastered the jello pudding and pudding nights became a happy mid-week break.  I was no more than 10 and mastering pudding was an accomplishment, with quite yummy returns.

I am now more than 20 and while I still turn to the little 1 x 3 inch boxes for my few and far between technicolor jello needs, I can also make pudding on my own.  I just don't.  But then, Cooking Light comes out with a warm mocha pudding recipe in their special 40 Fast and Easy Meals! spread in the April 2012 issue.  To a girl who always stuck her pudding in the mic for 20 seconds to warm it up and will eat mocha anything, warm mocha pudding?  Fast and Easy?  Yes, please, and now.

And I liked it.  Ben even more.  It was tthhiiss close to getting into the Big Green Cookbook, except for one tiny, little, itty bitty problem.  The texture was wrong.  It was kind of grainy.  It wasn't horrible and didn't affect the taste at all, but it was there.  Being the diligent recipe tester that I am for you guys (ok, lie, I can't help but eat melted, sweet, swoon inducing chocolate), I know exactly where it happen.  Before I stirred in the butter at the end - success.  Afterward - deliciousness with just a hint of grainy.  Something that could be completely my fault?  More than likely.  Something that deserves a second go round just to double check?  Absolutely.

Warm Mocha Pudding
From Cooking Light April 2012

I've made one change.  I used 2% instead of 1%.  The link (as always) is under the recipe title if you want to see the original.  Another reason I was so excited about this recipe is that it made me finally buy a jar of espresso powder.  So heads up, we're going to be seeing a lot more mocha in the very near future.

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 egg (large)
2 c. 2% milk
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. instant espresso granules
1/8 tsp. salt
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. unsalted butter

In medium saucepan, whisk together sugar and egg.  Once egg is incorporated, continue to whisk in next 5 ingredients (through salt).  Once combined, put pan over medium high heat stirring consistently, for about 14 minutes or until mixture becomes thick and bubbly.  Remove from heat.  Add chocolate and whisk together until melted and smooth (and swoon-inducing!)  Whisk in vanilla and butter.  Pour into separate serving bowls and cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Baked Oatmeal

We have now hit triple digits.  No, I'm not talking about the weather (does Illinois even get that high?).  I'm talking here, on this blog, the big one-oh-oh.  The 100th post.  Has it felt like 100 to you?  Good, cause I swear it hasn't for me.  But, unless blogger's counter lies, we're here nonetheless.  I was planning on making celebratory cupcakes with stars and 100's piped on them.  Ben bugged me to finally make the lobster dinner I promised him for his birthday now 4 (4!) months ago.  But did I have time for all of that?  Nope.  I did not.  Instead, there is baked oatmeal.  Which I made 3 weekends ago.  What?  I promise I'm not holding out on you, it's been crazy busy over here.

It's probably not the perfect dish for the occasion.  If I had been thinking ahead, I maybe would have piped "100!" on it.  But I wasn't.  You see, lately, my best laid plans have been going awry and this yummy little comfort breakfast dish here?  It wasn't even planned.   It was the result of a need to have a lazy Saturday morning with a large pot of coffee and a warm, filling, syrup smothered breakfast.  But there was no buttermilk for pancakes and regular oatmeal?  It just wasn't going to hit that indulgent spot.

Luckily, I remembered this recipe from a stack of photocopies that I may or may not have begged my mom to make for me when I gave her Heidi's (of Summer Linguine fame) Super Natural Every Day cookbook for last year's birthday.  Being a photocopy, it is technically big green cookbook eligible.  And seeing as it was delicious, It was cut and put into the BGCB later that morning.

I halved the recipe, but kept the whole egg, and it ended up being a large breakfast for two.  Eaten on the couch, between sips of hot coffee, watching brainless Saturday morning TV, deck doors open and a cool breeze coming in.  Maybe not the perfect 100th blog post, but absolutely the perfect lazy weekend morning breakfast.  (And just in time for the weekend... wouldn't you know it?)

Baked Oatmeal

The final oatmeal is not inherently sweet, but a drizzle of honey or maple syrup will easily fix that.  I used frozen berries and was rewarded with a delicious berry mush.  I assume fresh would hold form better and taste equally yummy.  The original recipe called for a bottom layer of sliced bananas, but bananas and me don't get along and they were nixed.  I substituted chunks of an Asian pear I had on hand.  I don't think there is a wrong fruit substitution at all here, so just use what you have on hand and/or what you enjoy!

2 c. old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 c. pecans, toasted, chopped, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 large egg (2 if you want it more custard-like)
3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted, divided
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pear, sliced into small chunks (I used an Asian pear)
1 1/2 c. mixed berries (fresh or frozen), divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  

Butter an 8 inch square pan well.  Layer pear chunks in bottom, topped by two thirds of the berries.  Set aside.

In large bowl, mix oats, 1/4 cup of pecans, and the remaining 3 dry ingredients.  Sprinkle oat mixture over layered fruit, completely covering fruit. 

In small bowl, whisk together milk, maple syrup, 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and vanilla.  Slowly drizzle liquid mixture over layered oats and berries.  Gently whack pan a few times on the counter, to make sure that milk mixture settles all the way through to the bottom.  Top with the remaining third of berries.  

Place in 375 degree oven, baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until oatmeal is set and has a golden crust.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Drizzle remaining butter over top.  Serve up with maple syrup, honey and/or a dusting of powder sugar, if wanted.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Mommies are wonderful.  I say this with some authority, seeing as I have spent the last week visiting the two newest mommies I know.  And three weeks into the lifetime job, they are wonderful too.  I also hear that mommies, especially new ones, are tired a lot.  So obviously, for all the wonderful mothers in my life, both new and experience, both tired and well, tired, I made Chai tea.  From scratch.  And it made my kitchen smell amazing.  We'll get to that in a second, because I'm not quite done talking about how wonderful a mom can be.

My mother, to be specific.  She is wonderful and quite honestly amazing past the point of belief.  It is an almost daily occurring that right before I plop down on the couch to be lazy, eat yogurt and watch yet another rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond, I spy the dishes piled high in the sink or the ever growing pile of clothes to be washed or the bed that gets made about once a month and I think "How does she do it?"  I am just one person.  It's not like I make large messes or an outrageous amount of dishes, and I barely have the energy for that.  How do you do it for two people, full time?  Or two people and a baby??  And holy crap, how did my mother have a job, have dinner on the table nearly every night, all the while keeping a family of 5 dressed in clean clothes?  And when did she sleep?

This is one of the harder posts I've written.  Mostly because I know exactly the sentiment I want to get across, yet the words to form it just aren't cooperating.  The idea was to try and explain how amazing my mom is.  How she always let me help in the kitchen, even when I mistook the baking powder for baking soda when making cookies for my sister's birthday.  How excited she was for me when I got into Notre Dame, and supporting it, regardless of the fact that it was 17 states away and a shit ton of money.  How she always talked to me when I felt all alone in McAllen and how she never gets annoyed when I call her to ask "what temperature do I bake chicken breasts in?"

I guess what it all boils down to is this: Thank you Mom for being amazing.  For showing me how a family dinner makes things better, even if you're the only part of your family in that state.  For being excited about this blog and emailing it to all your friends.  For always making me milk rice when I felt sad or sick.  For showing me how to fold a fitted sheet and do hospital corners on the bed.  Thank you for everything you have done for me.  I love you.

Homemade Chai Tea
Adapted from theKitchn 

At first, I was going to make a batch for my mom (the recipe below is for one batch).  Then I doubled it to include my sister.  And then decided, what the heck, might as well quadruple it and earn some brownie points with Ben's mom and sister.  Now I wish I had made more.  It scales very easily.  Bonus.  Plus, the smell of the spices roasting in your oven will have you swooning, so it's hard to beat that.

We made a pot at Ben's mom's house in Washington.  I used a little less than the 2:1 ratio of milk suggested, but that's a personal preference.  Also, if you use 1 tablespoon of tea, 5 minutes of steeping is probably enough.  We used less and it needed to steep longer.  Just pay attention to it, then serve it up nice and fancy to your mom with a hug!

12 green cardamom pods
3/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
3/4 tsp. whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, ~4 inches
1 1/2 Tbsp. candied ginger, chopped
1/2 c. loose black tea

Prefect oven to 350 degrees.  Using a sharp paring knife, split cardamom pods in half.  Using your hands, break cinnamon stick into a few pieces.

In rimmed baking sheet, evenly spread out cardamom pods, peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds and broken cinnamon stick.  Roast in 350 degree oven 4-5 minutes (a little longer if scaling up recipe), or until spices are very fragrant.  Careful to watch for burning.  Remove and let cool until they are cool enough to handle.

Using a mortar and pestle (or rolling pin, or mallet), crush spices.  Do not crush too finely, since you are brewing in a tea bag/ball.  You want sizable bits of spice (it will distribute better in the black tea as well.  Spices ground too small will fall to the bottom while you are mixing).

In large bowl, toss crushed spices, chopped candied ginger and black tea until all ingredients are evenly distributed.  Store in dark, cool place in resealable glass jar or tea tin (or similar vessel).

Brewing instructions, lifted almost verbatim from theKitchn:

1 cup of water
1/2 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of Chai Mix
Sugar, honey, to taste

Put Chai mix in tea bag/ball.  Bring water to a boil and add teabag. Turn off heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Add milk, turn on the flame and reheat until hot. Remove from heat, discard teabag, sweeten to taste and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Peach Gorgonzola Pizza

I am a big fan of having a well stocked freezer.  This includes frozen berries, to make this cake whenever I want it (and that is often), and enough leftover split pea soup for a 2 people dinner.  One day it will contains cups and cups of homemade chicken stock and this sauce.  One good days, there are balls of homemade pizza dough, although those disappear fast.  Right now there is a rack of ribs that I can’t wait to do up right.  And there was some leftover shredded rotisserie chicken (from this!) that ended up in my tummy using this pizza as a vehicle.  It was a very yummy journey.

I know I’ve been overly enthusiastic about my belief that pizzas don’t need recipes, yet I still now have two cut out and in my big green cookbook.  The first I’ll claim as pure inspiration.  This one I’ll claim as these flavors belong together.  Fresh, sharp, sweet, creamy.  They’d be great in between bread as a sandwich, thrown together with some bread cubes in a make-shift panzanella.  And uber-delicious as they are here, on top of my favorite wheat pizza dough: blistery, fresh and delicious.

Peach Gorgonzola Pizza
Adapted from Cooking Light May 2011

This is something yummy, something simple.  This is something great, especially when you have half the ingredients sitting in your freezer.

1 pizza crust (I suggest this)
Cornmeal, for dusting
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. (heaping) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 c. shredded rotisserie chicken
1/2 c. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 medium peach, thinly sliced
1/4-1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  On pizza stone or baking sheet dusted in cornmeal, roll out pizza dough to desired thickness.

Brush olive oil all over crust.  Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella cheese.  Evenly spread out chicken, peaches and onions.  Topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.  Bake in 400 degree oven 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and blistery and crust is browned.

Meanwhile, in small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce vinegar util about half is gone and it is a syrup-like consistency, 4-5 minutes.  Use to drizzle over pizza before serving.  **CAREFUL!**  This goes from pretty syrupy glaze to sticky burnt mess quick.  Watch it like a hawk.  This is experience talking...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Honey Roasted Pineapple


Today I had a realization at work: I cannot think whilst listening to jazzy telephone hold music.  (Also, I like using words like whilst).  I try to do productive things while on hold, excel playing, organizing and whatnot, waiting for a conference call to start, but that jazzy music?  I swear, it makes any and all brain waves stop.  This was today's major take away.  Well, that and the idea that maybe I was on the phone a little too much today at work.  Needless to say, it was a rough day.

This has nothing to do with pineapple, roasted or any other kind, but I’m a little brain dead from all the snazzy telephone hold music and after staring at an empty blog page for a few minutes, this was all I was able to come up with.  Know what would be good right now?  Leftover Roasted Pineapple.  There you go, there’s our tie-in.  Let’s move on, shall we?

There, that's better.  So, the BA "in the kitchen" section in each month's magazine is quickly becoming my favorite part of the periodical.  Yes, of course the stories and spreads and all matter of other sin are great too.  But that kitchen section?  It's like it was made for me.  Great, yummy, quick mid-week dinners.  This is where I've gotten gems such as this, and this, and oh yeah this piece of work too.  Without fail, each month there are BA in the kitchen dinner recipes, always ending in a quick and fabulously yummy looking dessert.  This is my first audition of a dessert recipe from those hallowed pages, and I will be the first to divulge, it did not disappoint.

This dessert made me happy.  For a Wednesday night, it was quick.  It was easy.  It roasted and smelt beautifully while we ate dinner.  Most importantly, it made the most breathe-taking leftovers ever to meet a cool Tupperware-full of Greek yogurt.  Left overs are important to me.  I only have 2 mouths to feed (only 50% of the time) and I always manage to screw up halving a recipe.  Regardless of the fact that my college admissions essay was based upon my love for math.  What, you didn't know I was a complete and total nerd?  Well... now you do.  And now you can go contently roast some love into a pineapple and de-frazzle your jazzed up brain.  I'll take care of any leftovers.

Honey Roasted Pineapple
Adapted from March 2012's Bon Appetit

I want to reiterate how fast and fabulous this recipe was.  It was the dessert half of last week's lettuce wraps.  With the wraps, this recipe was also cut and pasted into the big green cookbook that night.  And that was before I fawned over the leftovers the next two days at work.  Seriously, make this for no other reason than to cut up the leftovers into chunks and use as a topping to Greek yogurt all week long.  Your tongue will be very, very happy with you.  Trust.

1 medium pineapple
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. orange juice
3 Tbsp. honey

For Toppings:
Dollops of Greek yogurt
Shredded Mint Leaves
Cashews, roasted and chopped

Make sure you get a ripe pineapple.  Here is my usual selection method.  The color on the outside does not matter.  I know, crazy talk, but true.  Instead, try plucking a few leaves from the center of the leaves shooting out the top.  Do they pluck out easily?  Or do you really need to tug?  You are looking for leaves that are easily plucked.  Ta-da, you have a ripe pineapple.  Now, pay for it (no stealing!), bring it home, and chop it up into 8 or so spears.  Toss the tough core.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  On rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper.  You are going to have a burnt sugar mess, so line it well.  In medium bowl, whisk together sugar, OJ and honey until sugar is dissolved.  Toss in pineapple spears and turn to coat.  Let marinade 10-20 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Remove pineapple from marinade and lay cut side down on prepared baking sheet.  Don't throw out extra marinade!  Instead, brush it over the pineapple, coating it well.  Pop in the oven and roast 15 minutes.  Remove and flip pineapple spears, brushing with extra marinade well.  Return to oven and let roast an additional 10-15 minutes more, until pineapple is tender and looks delicious and caramelized.  Drizzle whatever marinade you have left over on top.  Let cool.  Plate with yogurt, mint and cashews.  Enjoy and save your leftovers for your tomorrow's morning Greek yogurt!