Hotbox Hipster

a pittsburgh hippie chick's unbridled love for all things food related


Land and Sea

Fabulous Fall Stew! ~Chicken, butternut squash and quinoa! Oh my!!

Go on get happy!
Go on get happy!

Yes-sir-ee bobbo…. Fall is in full swing. The pumpkins are carved, the mums are lining my front stairs leading to the house, we’ve had our first frost, the leaves are falling by the second, pumpkin spice lattes are being consumed mid-day as i put off moving wood down the side of the house…. it is here and i am THRILLED!  Fall is my favorite season, hands down.  i welcome its chill after the long hot summer months… i love the smell it brings… the air is crisp, almost spicy smelling… the risk of colder nights gives full permission to go ahead and start that first fire of the season in the fireplace… switching out all the sundresses and skirts for those lovely corduroy pants in varying earthy fall hues… sipping hot apple cider at night after you put the kiddos to bed…. sweet magnolia there are SOO many good reasons to wrap your arms around Fall and love it with all you’ve got.  However, all of that goodiness being said… i haven’t even begun to speak of warm soups and stews being back in the weekday rotations -and the pure joy that brings to my foodie soul!  this stew i am about to blog for you is a winner.  a friend asked me last week if i had a recipe on my blog for quinoa**, as she had some she wanted to use up.  i was shocked to see that i did NOT- and set out to remedy the hell out of that ASAP! i got to researching quinoa stews… and stumbled upon one that used butternut squash- another of my fall faves.  giddy up i said… let’s do this.  i took some things i didn’t like out of the recipe (olives) and added some things i felt would lend heartiness and healthy benefits.  i tweaked it. i always do.

**let me first tell you about QUINOA – if you are not familiar with this superstar grain.  Quinoa is considered a high nourishment food source, because it is essentially a ‘complete protein source.’  (super important words if you are a vegetarian or vegan).  you’ve all heard the buzz words ‘SUPER FOOD’ … well this guy is one fo sho.   quinoa is also gluten free, in fact it is not even in the same family as wheat or barley or rye.  it has origins in South America around 1200AD- and most of the quinoa we consume today in the US comes from Peru, the largest commercial producer of it to date.  this little guy packs some punch- it is a valuable source of heart healthy supportive fats (ALA and oleic acid) … and making it a part of your regular diet greatly lowers your risk of inflammation related diseases.  eat some.


  • a butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into half inch pieces (or if lazy- buy it recipe ready and packaged in your produce section) you need around a pound.
  • 3 cans chicken broth
  • some boneless skinless chicken (i cooked a bone in breast in the oven and then let it cool and chopped it) you could also cheat and get a rotisserie chicken and use the breasts of that- and then reserve the rest for making a pot of soup later in the week.  or cook up some tenderloins however you like- and cool and chop into bite sized pieces.  (see pic below for how much chicken)
  • olive oil
  • 2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
  • one large onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of pepper
  • 1 and a 1/2 tsp of dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz can)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup (packed) fresh spinach leaves, chopped


place your diced butternut squash into a pyrex dish and add a little water (maybe 1/2 cup) and pop it into a 350* oven for about 15 mins. check it. if you can get your fork into it fairly easily and it seems to be getting tender, take and remove HALF of it onto a plate.  set aside. put the other half back in the oven and keep it steaming for maybe 10 mins more.  at this point you should be able to mash it with ease. (if not cook longer and keep checking)  see visual.

mash it mash it.
mash it mash it.


set this aside, you will be adding it to the stew in a bit.   to a heavy pot, add some olive oil. maybe a generous Tbsp? i never measure.  get it on md/high. if you like some spice, give a shake of red pepper flakes into the oil. i literally start SO many recipes this way- i can’t even tell you.  to me, it is background flavor.  ok- add in your chopped onion.  saute until becoming soft. add in your garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, stir for a minute to heat up the oregano and release the oils.  then add in your broth (3 cans), your tomatoes, your beans, your mashed butternut squash (not cubes yet), and your quinoa. stir to combine. bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. cover and cook about 15 mins.  Add in the chicken, the spinach and the cubed/cooked butternut squash. stir gently, cover again and cook a few more minutes to warm through the last three additions.  SERVE IT UP YO!  ultra good for you and chocked full of vitamins to keep you healthy for flu season!  make some this weekend!

i used THIS much chicken. (i never measure)
i used THIS much chicken. (i never measure) (one whole bone in breast)
everybody in the pot!
everybody in the pot!
finito!  simple pure flavors shine through.
finito! simple pure flavors shine through.

ENJOY!! Happy Fall ya’ll.

grilled chicken bacon poppers ~ whoa good!

everyone is entitled to an opinion... except those who don't like BACON.
everyone is entitled to an opinion… except those who don’t like BACON.

ok people… I have said it before, and i’ll say it again… I DON’T trust people who don’t like bacon!  I like it in the morning, I like it at lunch on a BLT or on a big fat beefy burger when out indulging with friends.  I like it wrapped around fat juicy scallops… there isn’t an end here people, so I will just stop.  I recently discovered this FUN new trick with bacon so I thought I’d share it with ya’ll.  Chicken tenderloin bites wrapped in a half a piece of bacon, and secured on skewers for ease of grilling.  Pop them off the skewers once cool enough, and serve them as the main squeeze, as an appetizer with friends (we dipped in BBQ sauce… but think ranch, think a Sriracha/Maple syrup dip, anything goes here) or a couple of them alongside a juicy burger as an over the top addition!  however you serve them… you’re gonna like them.






wrap them as shown and skewer them to secure.



GRILL THESE OVER MEDIUM HEAT AND CHECK OFTEN. they will be dripping a lot so the flames will be dancing upward. Careful not to burn the bacon.  if needed, place over indirect heat. You will work it out.  Once chicken is cooked, you are golden.  allow to cool for a few mins and then remove to a platter.  Enjoy!!


these are great with freshly sautéed asparagus as well.
these are great with freshly sautéed asparagus as well.
or as I mentioned... alongside this big fat son of a gun.  YUMMO.
or as I mentioned… alongside this big fat son of a gun. YUMMO.

Here piggy piggy….. melt in your mouth pork roast…

soooo… i just have to be honest here. i have never met a pig i didn’t like.  i mean let’s be honest. they are adorable to look at when they are little, they are fun to watch when they are MASSIVE… and when my hubby worked part time on a local farm to help pay the bills last winter, the stories of the big pigs were always my faves!  at one point he had to fight one of them off with a broom handle to avoid getting knocked over and trampled in the mud! they can be brutal and mean! but they are so funny and somehow still cute even at 600 pounds!  it was hard to keep a straight face when he told me that story.  when there are farm animals around, the first thing my kiddos run to are the pigs. they love feeding them with baby bottles, and listening to their oinky cute sounds.

piggy pic

however…….  (and i know i’m gonna get flack for this next statement)  i have never met a more tasty animal.  i mean come ON…. bacon?? enough said.   a big succulent slice of ham at Christmas time??? shut the front door.  crispy sausage links dripping in maple syrup alongside your cinnamon french toast??  hold the phone Ma.   sweet italian sausages slow cooked in red sauce all day long and sliced over a bowl of pasta??  That’s Amore.  shall i go on??  crispy yet melt in your mouth pork belly tacos with mole sauce and cilantro??   just yes.   carnivores… you’re feelin’ me?    but the one piggy dish i love preparing most is a slow roasted pork butt with a nice spice rub… dotted with garlic cloves… and served atop a nice sturdy bun with a drizzle of BBQ sauce, a heap of coleslaw and some spicy bread and butter pickle chips.  smack my ass and call me Sally.  this meal is sure to please, and with ease.

so here’s what it looks like before going into the oven.  (get about a 3.5-4 lb pork butt roast- boneless or bone in- either way) whatever looks good to you. try to pick one that has a nice layer of thick fat on the top.

rub it down yo
rub it down yo

this rub, i just make it up in a small bowl with all flavors i envision imparting good flavor.  it goes something like this.   take your 1/4 tsp spoon, and pull out some garlic powder, some chili powder, some cumin, some dried parsley, some dried mustard, paprika, onion powder (if you have it, i never do), dried thyme and black pepper- you’re lookin to add even amounts of all of these.   a pinch of cayenne, add a whole tsp of salt, and add a whole Tablespoon of brown sugar.  mix it all up in the bowl, and rub that sucker down good on all sides.  i always do this inside my foil- so that it catches all the ‘crumbs’ in the vessel i’m gonna bake it in.  stab it a few times to create little slots for the garlic and jab some peeled cloves in those slots.  hit it with a drizzle of olive oil all over the top.  flip it to FAT layer side up.   so yeah, the Foil… lay out a big sheet, then put another sheet going the other way, etc- unless you have that lovely Heavy duty, extra large foil… in which case you’re golden.  the goal here is to wrap this up so well and tight, so that the juices are trapped in the foil.  ya’ll are crafty.  fold and pinch this foil like it is your job.   place this foil in a pyrex dish, just to catch any juices that will inevitably escape.  see visual below:

ready for oven
ready for oven

i always start this out at 425* for like 25 minutes, and then i turn heat to 270* and let her go for five hours at least. i’ve done six before when i had to leave and didn’t get to do the pre-game 425* part.   still perfect.  never, under any circumstances unwrap this during the cooking.  when it is done, remove from oven and let it sit for ten mins or so.  unwrap, drool, and then let it sit for ten mins more.  perfect time to pluck off the corners and stand around taking pictures and sipping a cold beer if you’re anything like me.   See below for the big reveal:


drooling on my camera
drooling on my camera

SHRED THE PORK now in the baking dish you cooked it in… allowing all the juices created to run into the pan as you gingerly remove the foil from around the meat.  use two forks, or however you like to do this. i like some big chunks coupled with small shreds- i feel that makes a good sandwich.  Add BBQ sauce if you have a favorite, honestly it is tasty enough to stand alone on the bun or plate.  i like mine as i described above- with a healthy serving of tater tots or crispy crowns-  and an ice cold craft beer.  Life doesn’t get much better than that folks.   Enjoy!!




Spag balls 2.0

it was Christmas eve morning, and i sat, making a mental checklist of all that still had to be done… trying to remain ‘jolly’ all the while.  i am sure every other mama in the world felt the way i felt  – and at times it is just that very fact that puts things into perspective for me.  you are not alone woman… suck it up buttercup.   one of the ticks on the tick list was to make meatballs.  enough meatballs for Christmas EVE, and Christmas DAY.  that’s a lot of balls.  i call my meatballs Spag balls… as my friends call me Spags.   as i sat cringing at the thought of pan searing all of those balls in olive oil, and the mess that comes with, i thought to myself… there has GOT to be an easier way.  THE OVEN!!  flash bake them at high heat for a snap, and then transfer them to the sauce bath in the pans to finish cooking in the oven.  YESS!!  i’m gonna try it.  so i created the balls, and as i rolled them out, i placed them about an inch apart on Silpat lined baking sheets.  (parchment works here too, PS)  set the oven to 425*, and bake them, one tray at a time for about 10 minutes or so… you will see them start to get a bit brown.  this browning bit helps them hold the ‘ball’ shape, and allows an easy-peasy transfer with a large fork right into the tray of sauce you will have waiting patiently.  Bake the next pan same way- once they are all par-browned and in in the sauce bath,  BAKE, uncovered, for about an hour at 325*.   top with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese when they come out, (if you like) and you are DONE!  could it get any easier??    here is the original recipe for my Spag balls.

ready to be flash baked.
ready to be flash baked.
mouth watering meatballs
mouth watering meatballs

Homemade Beef Stroganoff

satiety at its finest!
satiety at its finest!

so on a random thursday morning last week, i developed a ‘hankerin’ for some Beef Stroganoff.  likely fueled by our crazy Pittsburgh weather that has been up and down more than Richard Simmons in a step aerobics class.   i longed for something rich, something creamy… and unmistakingly homemade.  i had a 2.5 pound beef round sirloin tip roast to work with.  they were BOGO at the grocer a couple weeks prior- and i knew would be perfect for a number of recipes.   i did beef stew not long ago… although good- not rich enough to satisfy my craving.  goulash is always good and spicy… but again, i was looking to be sated by this meal.  i thought a bit more.  suddenly visions of a rich, thick, oniony sour cream sauce with tender strips of beef over egg noodles seeped into my foodie mind.  i punched my fist into the air in a most victorious motion…. shouting STROGANOFF!!  but wait… i’d never made it before!! would it be difficult?? what is IN it that makes that sauce so creamy and divine?  i planned on taking some help from a McCormick packet- but after reading the back of it- i realized it was really just dried herbs and dried milk and cornstarch and the like.  i got this.  i can do this.  think Spags… think.  i envisioned the whole process from how i would get the beef to be fall apart fork tender… to starting the thickening process for the sauce and lastly on to the flavors i wanted to incorporate.   also taking into account having to bang out a three hour nursing shift i picked up at the University that afternoon from 12-3 (with forty minute commutes bookending it).  OK, no worries… we can do this.  i decided to get to work right away, cutting, flouring and browning my beef at 930 in the morning.  i would take some help from the crock pot- adding the browned beef to it- and adding in a can of french onion soup, a cup and a half of water, one large vidalia onion (chopped) and six fresh sprigs of thyme right on top. lid on, cooked it for eight hours on low.  that way, at five when i’m getting down and dirty with this dish and making the magic happen… my meat will be ready and waiting.  fast forward eight hours- it’s showtime. i poured myself a cuba libre, set the Pandora to Neko Case, and pulled up my sleeves.  get a pot of water boiling for your egg noodles. cook per package directions.  take a sturdy bowl and place it in a clean sink. take a big colander and place atop said bowl. CAREFULLY pour your crock pot contents into the strainer. let it sit and strain into the bowl, helping the process by pushing down here and there with the back of a spatula. set these aside for five minutes in a safe place.  in a large non stick skillet or shallow sauce pan, melt a pat of butter and saute some sliced crimini or white mushrooms (about seven or eight of them) until tender. remove them to a small bowl and set aside.  in the same pan, melt a half stick of butter. to this add a quarter cup of flour and immediately stir (over medium heat) to make a rue. it should be thick- almost like playdough. add another T of flour if you need, to reach this consistency.  quickly pour in a cup of milk. (i used 1% but any will do) and the juice from your crockpot straining procedure. whisk or stir with wooden spoon to combine.  add a tsp of salt- and a half tsp of black pepper. stir.  this is the point where you have to use your judgement. if this looks way too thick to you, add a half cup of water and stir some more. if needs to thin a smidge more, add a quarter cup of water.  see pic below for a visual.


i think i maybe added one more quarter cup of water at this point- and then it was perfect.   Add your sauteed mushrooms.  Stir in a whole 8 oz. container of sour cream and stir in to combine. (still working over medium heat here)  Then add all of your beef and onions and loveliness to the pan. stir again to coat all. i think i added a nice rip of fresh parsley (chopped) and stirred that in as well. taste, tweaking salt/pepper if needed.  my noodles happened to finish up at the same time all of this  was happening-  so i simply strained them using the same colander i strained the beef with, and then added them straight into the pot. it was like angels were singing in Russian as this ethnic dish came together!  stir to combine and enjoy with some warm bread. i chose an organic french baguette and sliced it ultra thinly… with plenty of butter on each piece.  ((hey… don’t judge… i was ALL IN this night as far as richness and indulgence went!))   Enjoy… and you’re welcome yo!!  PS- even better the second day!

pics of the process below.

adding the browned beef to the slow cooker in the morning.
adding the browned beef to the slow cooker in the morning.
melting ze butter (no margarine puh-lease!)
melting ze butter (no margarine puh-lease!)

could make a meal out of the sauce and bread alone sans noodles!!

creamy, tender, melts in your mouth with each bite...
creamy, tender, melts in your mouth with each bite…

stellar beef stew



melt in your mouth tender
melt in your mouth tender

There may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread…. There may be.”

i am always looking for a recipe for a fabulous Beef Stew…. one that has depth of flavor, melt in your mouth beef,  but doesn’t take half the day to prepare and cook.  After making this modified version of Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Beef stew, i’m fairly certain I won’t have to look any longer.  The preparation is very straight forward… not fussy at all.  once you cut your beef and prepare your veggies, it’s easy sailing to a cool weather dinner you won’t soon forget.  this recipe calls for a whole bottle of red wine. I have prepared it with both Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel in the past… but a nice Cab or a bottle of Merlot would work out equally as well.  To be perfectly honest with you, I usually pick something that I enjoy drinking, and I pour a glass to enjoy while I prep the ingredients! (this dish will not suffer without that one glass- trust me.)  I generally  make it with a regular onion, diced up and added fairly early on; but next time I plan to add the pearl onions like the original recipe calls for.  I think they will add an extra layer of rustic, yet fancy to the dish… if that makes any sense.  nonetheless, we are excited to try it that way.  I made it with fresh thyme this time around, but have also used dried thyme in the past.  today at work I just finished the last of this stew which I prepared three days ago.  it was truly just as good, if not better on days two and three. It reheats wonderfully, bowl by bowl for two minutes in the microwave.  if only all leftovers could taste this wonderful!  Granted, this is not something  you will make all of the time, given the expense of the beef and the bottle of red…  but instead will be chalked up as one of your ‘special‘ dinners in no time.


the ingredient list:

1/4 c olive oil

3 T of butter

1 cup of flour

2.5 or so pounds of chuck roast/ chuck shoulder roast/ pot roast/ or sirloin tip roast

salt and pepper

bottle of dry red wine

8 fresh thyme sprigs or a level teaspoon of dried thyme

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/4 t ground cloves

2 bay leaves

1 can beef broth

14oz can of diced tomatoes

5 Yukon gold potatoes (small to md) washed and diced- skins on

four large carrots- peeled and diced

2 cups of frozen pearl onions (or half of a large Spanish onion- diced)

if  you like mushrooms, add some. I used four Crimini mushrooms- wiped clean and large diced.

flat leaf parsley for garnish


cut up your beef into 1.5 inch cubes- trimmed of most fat.


– prep your veggies as above. – open your cans and uncork your bottle of wine.  OK let’s roll. Add your olive oil to a heavy sauce pan or dutch oven. Add some heat- medium high. Add a cup of flour to a plate, salt and pepper your beef generously, toss beef in flour to coat, working with small batches at a time.  Add said beef to your hot oil in the pot. brown it on all sides/ flipping it around with a fork. remove to a plate, and repeat until all of the beef is browned.  Add the wine to the pan carefully and scrape up all the lovely browned bits from the bottom. Add your garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, cloves, bay leaves, beef broth, can of diced tomatoes, and diced onion. (if you are using the frozen pearl onions- do not add yet). Bring just to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. cook uncovered for 15 mins. Stir lightly, and then apply lid, and cook for 2 hours longer.   At the 2 hour point, add your potatoes and carrots and pearl onions (if using) as well as your mushrooms.  Tyler suggests adding a large pinch of sugar at this point to balance out the acidity of the wine. He is smart AND cute.  continue to simmer for another 35 mins, stirring occasionally.  remove the thyme and bay leaves, and serve over egg noodles or campanelle noodles for a hearty meal that is sure to please.  sprinkle each bowl with some freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and relish in the amazing meal you have just prepared.


beef stew


Chicken Penne Puttanesca

“You can’t just eat good food.  You’ve got to talk about it too.  And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that type of food.”

~Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

bubble bubble toil and trouble...
bubble bubble toil and trouble…

You are gazing at a lovely bubbling sauce with plenty of punch… a Puttanesca sauce.  Translated in Italian as, ‘in the style of a prostitute’  or ‘whore’s style spaghetti.’  i can only guess it was prepared to ‘lure in’ customers with it’s amazing aroma.   it is said this dish originated sometime around 1960, with it’s basic ingredients being olives, olive oil, capers, tomatoes, garlic and anchovies.  you get the saltiness from the capers and anchovies,  the punch from the olives,  and naturally the forward flavor from the garlic.  i prepared this dish late winter, using canned chopped tomatoes-  however, i can imagine it would be even more lovely with freshly chopped tomatoes at summer’s end.  Traditionally it is served with a spaghetti type noodle- but i chose to use Penne since i yanked it around a bit and added sauteed chicken breast to the mix.  i felt it lended a bit more heartiness to an already fabulously rich and seductive dish.   the end result was brilliant, and i hope you enjoy it with someone you love (or lust) dearly.

OK here’s what you buy:

a box of Penne pasta- cook according to box directions

a pound of boneless skinless chicken breast- chopped into bite sized pieces

4 cloves of garlic- minced

5 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped

1/2 cup of olive oil

2 Tbsp tomato paste

3 Tbsp capers

20 greek olives (or Kalamata)- pitted and coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups of chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper

freshly chopped parsley to mix in at end  (maybe 2 Tbsp)

OK here’s what you do:

cook pasta according to box directions.  start your sauce while the water is coming up to a boil.  In a  heavy skillet (i used a stainless one) over low heat- add your half cup of olive oil. Add your four cloves of minced garlic to this- and cook just until lightly golden (no longer, or you risk burning it) – Add your two cups of tomatoes to this (carefully)- and stir. cook for five minutes this way.  stir in your chopped anchovies, your tomato paste, your capers, olives and red pepper flakes. combine by lightly stirring- and simmer uncovered for ten to 15 mins… stirring occasionally. You can serve it straight up like this, adding about 3/4 of the cooked penne right to the skillet if it’s big enough, or flip flopping and adding the sauce atop your cooked noodles in the noodle pot once they’re drained and rinsed. (again, i would only use about 3/4 of your cooked penne, as you want a generous coating of sauce- and the whole lot will run you too thin on the sauce)  toss in your chopped parsley, mix lightly and turn out into your favorite serving bowl.  If you want to add some sauteed chicken, like i did, prepare it while your sauce is simmering. take your chopped chicken breast and working in two small batches- lightly flour it and saute it in some olive oil and butter in a skillet. brown lighlty- and then add it to the sauce. i believe i then covered the sauce once the cooked chicken was added, and cooked it maybe ten minutes longer on low, allowing the chicken to marry with the sauce a bit. Your call.  enjoy!!!

ze ingredients
ze ingredients
"i like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm."  ~robert farrar capon
“i like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.” ~robert farrar capon



Mexican at home… easy peasy lemon squeezy.


For some reason i have always felt i could not replicate the delicious tastes i encounter when eating out at a Mexican restaurant. i always felt that when i made it at home it was… good… but not WHOA good. it seemed to lack something each time. so being the food critic that i am, i decided to pay very close attention to the next dish served to me in some of our favorite Mexican joints in the Burgh. what i noticed was that each dish came out with plenty of fresh cilantro mixed on, and sometimes INTO the food. another thing that stood out were green onions. their flavor is so mild yet so fresh… one might miss their role in the dish unless you were really paying attention and looking for answers, as was i. i decided at that moment i would never again prepare Mexican food without those two ingredients.

the Mexican dish i like to make most at home is the beef enchilada. when you start with fresh, lean beef… and add in amazing spices and fresh ingredients- it is transformed into a filling worthy of eating on it’s own. THAT, my friends is how you know your dish is going to be absolutely amazing at the end- when you can’t stop sneaking tastes of the filling itself! (i do the same thing with my stuffed italian shells when i prepare them with cream cheese vs. Ricotta.) and to think that you are about to fill some lovely soft fresh tortillas and coat with delicious sauce and plenty of cheese???  yup… they’re gonna smile.

Here’s what you need:
fresh lean ground beef (93 lean is best)- a pound or slightly over
half of a large onion – small diced
4oz can of diced mild green chiles
shredded cheese (a bag will do – either cheddar or the mexican blend)
one small can of enchilada sauce (i use mild, bc i flavor my meat spicy and i don’t want sauce to overwhelm and ruin those flavors.)
one package of soft flour tortillas (a ten count will do fine)
fresh cilantro
green onions – one bunch
red pepper flakes
chili powder
ground coriander (if you have it- it’s not going to make or break the dish- coriander is cilantro in seed/powder form- so if you have the fresh- you’ll still get that flavor punch- side note: you can use this in the rice as well- and i use it in a lot of things- so might be worth having)

Here’s what you do.
add a small swirl of oil to a large pan. (can be non stick or stainless- either way)
over medium high heat, add a few shakes of red pepper flakes.
add in your onions and saute them for a few minutes.
add the beef, and begin to break up and even it out in the pan.
once this begins to brown a bit, add your spices to it. (1/2 t salt;
1/2 t cumin; 1/2 t chili powder; 1/4 t black pepper; and a nice shake of coriander.
stir to combine.
keep working it around- once you don’t see any more pink- add you can of diced chiles. stir to combine.
then stir in a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and lastly- about a Tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro.
combine and turn off the heat. let it set for awhile while you get your rice going. (recipe follows) or if you have someone cooking WITH you… let them man the rice, and you focus on the enchiladas. i do them both at the same time… but it is an orchestrated event as to not ruin any part of the dish! gage your comfort level and cook accordingly. 🙂
once your rice is going- fill your tortillas.
preheat oven to 350 degrees.
in a pyrex dish- coat bottom with a thin squiggle of olive oil (or wipe some on with a paper towel to coat) this helps the enchiladas to release nicely when you are serving.
fill each enchilada with a bit of meat- (do not overfill) – if i had to guess i would say it was 1/4 cup.
place seam side down in prepared dish. (see visual below) pour sauce atop evenly (they do not need to be completely coated or saturated- it is for flavor and you still want to ‘see’ the enchilada you’re eating)
generously sprinkle with cheese and diced green onions. (save cilantro for when they come OUT of oven) – sprinkle with black pepper as well
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

prepared pan- ready for the hotbox!!
prepared pan- ready for the hotbox!!
FINITO!! and smelling amazing, PS.
FINITO!! and smelling amazing, PS.

once you take these out of the oven, go ahead and hit them up with a generous shower of chopped fresh cilantro.  do it while the cheese is hot, as it will hold on the herbs nicely this way!  i highly recommend allowing these to rest for ten minutes or so… if you try to take them from pan to plate immediately- you will have a mess. give them some time to ‘set’ a bit- and also this way your lovelies can dig right in without burning their mouths once you hand them their plate of goodness.  🙂  i love serving this with black refried beans- which i do serve from a can. i buy these in the mexican aisle of your better grocer- and always opt for organic if it’s an option. simply turn them out into a bowl, sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese atop, and microwave for about two minutes. stir lightly, and serve.  if you have an aversion to refried beans… ( i used to, until i tried these.. and i absolutely love them now, PS) go ahead and serve with some fresh veggies or a simple salad, your call.

now… on to the RICE. this is a rice recipe i have dubbed “mom’s yummy rice” in my household. it is easy- yet over the top good. it does call for turmeric, which not every lay cook will have, but i do recommend purchasing some- as it gives lovely color to your rice. (it turns it a lovely yellowy hue) 

Here’s what you need:

a cup and a half of long grain white rice (not Minute rice- this is the real deal)
olive oil
1 large chopped onion (big vidalia or spanish)
15 oz can of diced tomatoes- undrained
15 oz can of chicken broth
–(i normally also add either a can of chick peas or black beans – drained and rinsed- but for this particular food pairing- if you are serving refried black beans- you may want to leave the beans out of this recipe) – if making this at other times however, just for a side dish… add a bean to the mix for sure.
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
shake of cayenne pepper
pinch of cinnamon
fresh cilantro (chopped)

Here’s what you do:

Heat 2Tablespoons of olive oil in a large non stick skillet. Add one large chopped onion. saute five to ten minutes stirring frequently and then add 1.5 cups of rice. stir in and saute a minute or two, allowing to heat up a bit. Add another tsp of olive oil, and then add your tomatoes and your can of chicken broth. (if using beans or chick peas, add them at this time- remember to drain and rinse first) add your spices, including a small handful of chopped cilantro. stir, and bring just up to bubbling and then COVER. reduce heat to simmer- and cook for 15 minutes. DO NOT STIR THE RICE AT ALL AS IT COOKS- THIS WILL RUIN IT AND MAKE IT A GUMMY MESS. trust me on the time- it’s 15 mins at a simmer. cut heat, remove lid and stir lightly- i tell people to take your spatula, and with the back side of the spatula, take and kind of push your rice around a bit, loosening it from the bottom. do not full on stir it up- again- you want it to stay light and fluffy. sprinkle with plenty of cilantro- and if you desire, move the rice to a nice serving bowl at this point- and even hit the top again with salt, pepper, and more cilantro.
VOILA!! the perfect partner for the enchiladas above- or any main course for that matter. we prepare this rice frequently as a side in the summer months- adding fresh chopped zucchini at the end- or just as is alongside some grilled citrus chicken- or a nice steak kebab. i hope it becomes a go to recipe for many of you. Enjoy yo!!

yummy rice
yummy rice


all together now... YUMMM!!!
all together now… YUMMM!!!

winner winner chicken dinner

celebrate the Fall season with this festive dish

there’s no denying it… the Fall season is in full swing- and the proof is all around us.  ground surfaces are being overcome with leaves, the clocks have been wound back, the jack o’lanterns have found their way to the compost heap, and the air holds the perfect crispness- replicated by no other season.  we’ve been as busy as bees, bringing wood closer to the house from outlying racks, stacking and sorting it, putting away patio furniture, stocking up on birdseed, and cleaning up the beds in preparation for the cold months ahead.  -and although i am more than happy to assist with all of said tasks… my cold weather preparations lie in test driving new and exciting soup and stew and ‘ladle over a bowl of rice’ types of recipes.  the air turns cold, we eat warm things.  makes perfect sense, right?!  nothing brings more pleasure, in my opinion, than a nice steaming bowl of savory stew to be enjoyed with some crusty buttery bread in a nice den with a fire.  typing that sentence alone gives me a killer visual… one where i fall asleep with a book on my chest… empty bowl beside me on the table… not a care in the world, right?  snap* snap* back to reality for most of us.  there’s homework to be done, bathing children, DVR’d shows to watch… so is the life of most Americans my age today.  (someday i will OWN that visual though… i suspect it will begin in my sixties, as i simultaneously OWN a grey bob haircut)

for now, i have tried this recipe twice… and it is a winner yo.  winner winner chicken dinner. (sorry) it allowed me to use a spice i’ve been dying to try… garam masala. garam masala is a yummy blend of many spices, often used in Indian cooking.  it’s very meaning is ‘hot mixture’ – and i’ve read about various combinations including some of the following: cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, peppercorns, ginger, star anise and turmeric.  i bought mine at the bulk spice section of whole foods, allowing me to buy just a couple of tablespoons for around 34 cents. (LOVE whole foods, but who doesn’t right?)  anyway, the preparation on this is pretty easy… and it even forces you to open a bottle of white wine, of which you will use half. i used a bottle of gifted chardonnay that has been sitting on my wine rack for a year- as it is my least favorite type of white.  this gave me the perfect excuse to use it up in a delicious way.  please be careful at the point where you are adding the wine to the pan… (deglazing) if you are not used to doing this, i ask you to turn your flame off first, just to avoid any splashing and possibility of flames.  as long as you add slowly, you should be fine.  there is a time and a place for the culinary flames sent from deglazing… and an industrial kitchen is usually preferable.


one package of boneless skinless chicken breasts (either three or four in pack)

one cup of flour

salt and pepper

2 T butter

oil for the pan (i always use olive)

half a bottle of white wine (chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, reisling, etc)

14 oz can of diced tomatoes

1 bunch of green onions

2 teaspoons garam masala

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder


so here’s what you do: cut your chicken into bite sized chunks, removing any skin or tendons.  salt and pepper your chicken. uncork your wine, so you are ready at that step and not fumbling to open it as your pan scorches.  add your cup of flour to a plate so that you are ready to dip your chicken in it.  open your can of tomatoes.  rinse and chop your green onions using all but the top inch or so of the greens.  prepare your spices in a small dish- setting aside a half a tsp of the allotted 2t of garam masala- as you will add it at the end.  ok, saddle up- here we go.  choose your favorite large skillet with a lid… can be either non stick or stainless- either way.  add a generous drizzle of oil to the pan, and add your butter.  turn on the heat to md. high.  working in batches, take a portion of your diced raw chicken, and set it in the flour. begin coating the chicken by flipping it around a bit in the flour. take the chicken in your hands and shake off the excess flour over the plate (as much as you can)- and add to now ready skillet. brown chicken slightly, flipping each piece over and being careful not to crowd your pan.  work in batches, and remove chicken to a plate to rest once it’s been lightly browned. you may need to add more oil or butter to the pan at least once during this process.  (note, you are not out to cook the chicken at this step, only to barely brown it so the flour adheres to the meat. end note.)

browning the chicken a bit

once all your chicken has been floured and browned, cut your flame and add a half a bottle of white wine… slowly.  you will hear a searing sound once it hits the hot skillet. scrape up the lovely browned bits from bottom and sides of pan with a wooden spoon. (in case it’s your first time- you have just deglazed a pan!) celebrate with a glass of remaining wine. lol.  add your onions, tomatoes, spices (again leaving a half t. of the garam masala behind to add later), and chicken.  stir to combine. bring to a boil and then immediately cover and reduce heat to simmer. simmer like this for 35 minutes.  this is the time when you should prepare your rice.  cook enough rice for four servings, at least. at end of 35 mins, add your reserved 1/2 tsp of garam masala to the chicken dish- and stir to combine.  remove from heat and allow to rest for five mins or so, uncovered.  if serving for sit down dinner- carefully transfer to a nice serving bowl and serve with a big bowl of rice alongside.  family style.   this meal is sure to please, and i am certain you will enjoy.  it’s exotic enough to break up your usual routine… without being overly exotic or fussy.

spice is nice
‘company worthy’

peace and love. enjoy!!

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