Cinco de Mayo: Tacos and Tequila

My New Year’s Resolution has failed: keeping my loyal readers up to date with fresh and yummy things I am cooking up is not going well.

With that being said, this one will be my much overdo apology and I will include three different recipes! Do you forgive me??

With Cinco de Mayo around the corner, it is only appropriate I take on the cuisine of our neighbors to the south. This is definitely my favorite type of food, and I enjoy it in all its forms! And of course there is my love of guacamole, that can almost go without being said at this point, and if you didn’t know, well consider yourself informed. I. Love. Guacamole. Furthermore, if you have not had my guacamole, here ya go. Guacamole: It’s All About the Avocado

I honestly cannot say when I first realized I loved spicy, Mexican food. My mom never made anything of the like growing up, and certainly my frequent visits to Denny’s and Chili’s in high school didn’t exactly broaden my palate’s horizons. If I had to guess, it would be from watching countless seasons of Top Chef. It has been like my own version of cooking school, really, as I have a wealth of knowledge about foods, cooking techniques, and cuisines I never had before. The show and its talent have really been an inspiration for me to just start playing around with food in the kitchen! It helps I’m not a picky eater,  so there really are very few restrictions when it comes to what I will attempt to cook.

So you’re saying at this point, ‘Alright, enough already, give us some food!’ Okay, okay, message received!

First up: Pork Carnitas. We bought a whole pig this year, so our freezer is STOCKED with different cuts, and I’ve been trying to get creative. Admittedly, I am not a pulled pork fan. However, the prospect of some Carnitas definitely piqued my interest. So, I found myself on Pinterest, scouring for a recipe. Generally, I like to create my own recipes or just use someone else’s as a launching point. This time, though, I did not want to take the chance of ruining a five pound pork shoulder by not following someone else’s directions. I will include the link to the recipe I used – and honestly, I would not change a thing! So. Damn. Delicious. It’s a crockpot recipe I prepped the night before, so when I left for work in the morning, I just popped on low and let ‘er go all day!

http://carlsbadcravings.com/slow-cooker-pork-carnitas-recipe/

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We had the Carnitas in tacos one night, over rice the next, then I made a taco salad with the last bit. I topped my salad with charred corn, black beans, Greek yogurt, guacamole, tomatoes, and salsa verde. If heaven had a taste, this would definitely be it!

The next two recipes are my own, and super simple. Who doesn’t love a 10 minute taco recipe?? Or less, really.

Next on the menu: Cajun Tilapia Tacos topped with charred jalapeno, fresh mango and finished with an avocado crema:

 

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3 corn tortillas

Cajun seasoning

Pan searing flour

2-3 tilapia fillets (I use frozen fillets)

1 jalapeno

Mango slices (1/4 of a mango)

Half an avocado

1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1t each emon juice, lime juice

4T olive oil, divided

2T water

Dash of chili powder

In a food processor, puree avocado, sour cream or Greek yogurt, lemon and lime juices, water, and remaining olive oil. Blend until smooth, add extra water or olive oil to thin to desired consistency, I prefer mine thicker.

With the broiler on high, place jalapeno slices on a piece of foil and char for 5 minutes.

Generously season both sides of the tilapia with the cajun seasoning, then dust both sides with a light coating of pan searing flour. Swirl half the olive oil in a heated pan. On high heat, cook fillets about 3 minutes per side, they will get a nice blackened crisp on them. Set aside.

 

In the pan used to cook the fish, turn heat to medium-high. Spray the tortillas with cooking spray and dash with chili powder on both sides. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until warmed and browning.

Then construct! Layer fish on the bottom of each tortilla, breaking into smaller pieces, top with mango, jalapenos, and finally the crema. This time I used two fillets for the three tacos, because they were massive!

Last but not least, I have a vegetarian option: Smashed Black Bean Tacos topped with guacamole (weird), Greek yogurt, grapefruit, sriracha mayo, and fresh parsley.

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3 corn tortillas

3/4 cup black beans

3 slices grapefruit

1/2 cup guacamole

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

Drizzle sriracha sauce, or sriracha mayo

Dash chili powder

Warm the black beans in the microwave until soft, then smash. Top with guacamole, grapefruit, Greek yogurt, and sriracha (or sriracha mayo). Use the same preparation for the tortillas as the previous recipe. And done! Seriously, this took maybe 5 minutes? I got home from the gym one day and wanted something SUPER fast, and this definitely got the job done and was a great post-workout meal.

Phew! You all are now fully prepared for the upcoming holiday of Cinco de Mayo, you are welcome! My Mango Strawberry Salsa would also be delish on any taco as well..gah! So many ideas flying around in my head! Guess I better get back to my workshop, aka kitchen. I have work to do.

Please let me know if you enjoyed everything. Cheers, friends, and don’t forget the tequila!

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Honeymoon Black Bean Soup

There is nothing I love more on a chilly, winter evening than a warm bowl of soup. Would anyone care to argue? Okay okay, some may say cracklings logs in the fireplace, a glass of toasty red wine, or a loyal pup at your feet might beat out the soup thing. But to me, it definitely makes the list of winter comforts.

Last year, my husband and I went to the gorgeous West Indies island of Antigua for our eleven day honeymoon.

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Shirley Heights Lookout, Antigua

We loved everything about our trip and resort, and I did my due diligence of taking mental notes about the delicious cuisine we ate. Surprisingly, despite the 90 degree weather and about a million percent humidity, I found myself ordering soup most nights for my appetizer. One notable in particular was their Black Bean. I have always been a fan of this soup, already, but I never tried my hand at making it before! What was funny, err interesting, rather, was all their soups were served pureed. And while I have a knack for soup making (remind me to get my Greens & Beans recipe up here), I have never made an entirely smooth soup before. But here I was, tasting this rich, mirror-like, creamy concoction, with a multitude of flavors bombarding me in this little bowl of pure (pureed!) goodness! Needless to say, that soup moved to the top of my list of dishes I needed to recreate at home.

As most of you may well know, one of my goals of this blog is to make accessible dishes with simple and practical ingredients. Sometimes, you might not even have to go to the store! Honestly, everything in this soup I keep on hand regularly, my life is made immensely easier. And? It’s inexpensive to make, filling, vegetarian, high yield of servings, and freezes well. You are welcome.

Black Bean Soup

3 cans black beans (drained and rinsed)

3-4 cups chicken stock

1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes (I use Hunt’s Garlic variety)

1 small onion, diced

3/4 cup carrots, diced (it was exactly 10 baby carrots)

1 jalapeno (I don’t fully de-seed mine)

1 T minced garlic

1/2 T chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 T lime juice

*up to 1 cup almond milk to finish

1/4 avocado, diced (for garnish)

1 T greek yogurt (for garnish)

Bring all ingredients, except the almond milk, to a boil in a large pot (mine is 6 quarts I think?), then cover and reduce to a simmer. The objective is to soften everything, the carrots always taking the longest. I periodically stirred and checked the tenderness of the carrots, and after about a half hour they were to my liking. Longer wouldn’t hurt either, you may need to add more stock/liquid.

 

Then I removed from heat, and grabbed one of my favorite kitchen tools, my immersion blender. If you don’t have one, do yourself a favor and get one. While I use my food processor almost daily, when it comes to pureeing soups, I promise you that transferring in batches to a blender or food processor to puree would be, at the very least, a tragic hassle. No batches, no different pot, just plop the immersion blender right in there and power up! This is where I slowly added in my almond milk, for a touch of creaminess (you could also use heavy cream instead). This recipe has no added salt because to me it just doesn’t need it, the warmth from the spices speak volumes alone. I garnish with some fresh avocado and a dollop of greek yogurt, which cools it and I love a swirl in each bite. Hubby likes to add shredded cheddar on top as well, and by all means, cheese it up – has it ever ruined anything? Ever?

All I can say is, it’s another Shaymeless recipe that is husband approved! Oh, and I would like to go back to Antigua for another bowl, because that’s how good it is. But my kitchen version will have to suffice for now!

*It is spicy and warming, so if you have a sensitivity to spicy food I would recommend omitting the jalapeno and the cayenne. Instead sub in a bell pepper and some onion powder. It really can be adapted in many ways, but this is a simple guideline for you to figure out your own Honeymoon Soup!

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Honeymoon Black Bean Soup

Resolutions and Salsa

New Year’s resolutions. We all make them. Go to the gym. Run more. Drink less. Get back to meal planning. Spend less. The classics, really, and these have all made my list. While I do appreciate getting back to structure and being more disciplined, I also would like to improve and focus my attention on an area that is a bit more light.

I’m going to adapt a practice we use at work, which is called the ‘fun to-do list’. Let me explain. My business partner and I work together, side by side, for just about 40 hours, 4-5 days a week. During our workdays, we verbally put things on our to-do lists for when we get home, and say ‘remind me to                 ‘ to the other: ‘remind me to call the DMV’, ‘remind me to email so-and-so back’, ‘remind me to take out the chicken for dinner’, anything really, from the little to important things. It honestly is very helpful. But all of those things are necessary and chore-like, not exactly fun. So we also have a ‘fun to-do list’. Recently I had: change my ringtone, send out three important Christmas cards, and look into Airbnb options for a later trip. Nothing super pressing, but are much lighter than the forced adult-like daily to-do’s. So, why not have a fun resolutions list, too?

It would be an easy scapegoat to blame the holiday season for my absence, but that would be a bit unfair. I fully admit that I have not put forth enough effort into this food blog. But, the number one spot on my fun New Year’s resolutions list: designate a specific time to work on cooking, photographing, and sharing with you all the goodies I’m feasting on! Sincerely something I can look forward to working on, and it definitely helps that Santa brought me a really fancy camera to help capture my mouth-watering noshes.

With that being said, and if I still have your attention, I bring you a new blog post! On the first day of the new year!

My in-laws recently stayed with us over the holiday for 6 days (it was wonderful, I love my mother-in-law). During that time, we threw our annual Christmas party for our families and friends, expecting upwards of forty people. Luckily, I had an extra set of hands to put to work prepping and plating this year (yay!). I am kind of a control freak about my food-stuff, so delegating is not my strongest trait (especially when my husband is terrible at following simple directions: tear the bread, as I specifically wrote out, to which he replies ‘I thought cutting it would be easier!’ But did I ask you to cut it…I digress.) Despite my hesitancy, I had to find tasks for my rebel, rule following breaking husband, and my very obliging MIL.

One dish I gave my MIL to make is my mango salsa. It’s usually on my summer party menu, but when I saw mangoes were 4 for $5, I couldn’t pass up the ripened beauties! It is slightly labor intensive, mostly because mangoes are a pain in the behind to dice (sorry mom!), but it is such a simple dish, requiring only 4 ingredients. This is also impossible to mess up – add more strawberries if you would like, dice something smaller, or larger. Have at it!

Mango Strawberry Salsa

5 ripened mangoes

8-10 oz fresh strawberries

1 large jalapeno

1/2 of a large red onion

Dash of salt

Yield: approximately 6 cups (ish)

(An addendum to my resolution about blogging more is that I also need to start measuring things. When I cook it is all done by taste and visuals..put that on my regular resolutions list, actually. That’s not fun.)

Peel and cube the mangoes into 1/2″ pieces. Dice the strawberries, and add to the mangoes. Finely dice the red onion and the jalapeno, removing most of the seeds (but it really gives a great heat when you leave some), and add to the fruit. That’s it! Stir it up, add a dash of salt, and let the flavors marinade for a bit. It’s better the next day, and the day after that. The mangoes get softer and mushier (who actually wants something to be mushy?!) and it’s amazing. A few days later we topped our cajun pork chops with the salsa. It was epic.

One of my well-fed partygoers, pointing to the mango salsa, ‘This was the biggest surprise! Wow, incredible!’. So there, I will leave you with that. Cheers!

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Looks like summertime

 

Feelin’ Saucy

There’s something about the lingering fall-time breeze: crisp leaves mixed with fresh apples and a smoldering nighttime fire. I begin to crave some of my favorite comfort foods I’ve shelved for the spring and summer months: a slow cooked Chili, rich red sauce, and a hearty Chicken Soup. Personally, I think some meals are just more special when you ‘save’ them for their respective season. Of course, they’re always delicious, but with the familiar chill in the air settling in, a hot bowl of chili feels as cozy and familiar as your favorite well-worn, oversized sweatshirt.

As summer comes to a close, so, too, does our vegetable garden. Fortunately, we have had an abundance of sweet, Cherry tomatoes the greater part of the last two months. The Roma tomatoes have followed suit very recently, to the point we are left with more tomatoes than we know what to do with – I can’t give them away fast enough! Pining for Eggplant Parmesan, I thought making homemade sauce would complement that perfectly. Just, I had never made sauce before, from scratch anyway. Nevertheless, with a few serendipitous hours of solitude over the weekend, I got to work in the kitchen.

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My beautiful Roma tomatoes

After sending my husband to forage for the last of the ripened Romas, I diced and seasoned (and remembered to photograph: that’s definitely been the hardest part!). I ended up with two trays full of quartered Romas (25 medium tomatoes used in the making of this batch – do not ask me how many pounds that is!). I drizzled olive oil, and topped with salt, pepper, and torn basil leaves (from our very fruitful porch basil plants). About halfway through their cooking, I rotated the trays and added a pinch of sugar atop the sizzling tomatoes. Rotated the trays once more, this time topping with parsley springs and half of a diced white onion. (Sadly, I thought I had fresh garlic on hand, only to discover I, in fact, did not..otherwise I would have been roasting the garlic all the while also). Cooking time was just a little over two hours, but I would say a three hour process total. Again, I had no real idea what I was doing, but that is somewhat how I cook – my track record is that it generally ends in success! This time was no exception!

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Nicely blistered coming out of the oven

I let them cool slightly before they went into the food processor. The trays scraped quite cleanly, giving the flavor of the sauce a really complex, slightly charred flavor.

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Ready to get saucy..

The end result exceeded my expectations, so much so, that I am ready to share it with you – after just one go! It can easily be modified to take into account your specific preferences, but this is a great basic recipe to launch your creative style. But I seriously cannot wait to smother my Eggplant Parm in this sauce, it will be divine!

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Ingredients:

25 medium Roma tomatoes

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

handful fresh basil leaves

1/2 tsp white sugar

1/2 medium white onion

1T fresh parsley sprigs

2T Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, and place on two cookie sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, and top with salt, pepper, and the torn basil leaves. Roast in the oven for an hour. Rotate trays, and top with sugar. Return to oven for another 45 minutes. Again rotate the trays, this time topping with the diced onion and parsley sprigs. Up the oven temperature to 400 degrees for the final half hour of roasting. Total cook time 2 hours and 15 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before scraping the trays and adding everything to the food processor, including the Parmesan cheese. I found the consistency to be a thick and smooth – if you prefer a thinner sauce, thin slowly with water.

This filled one full 12oz jelly jar and half of a second – plenty of sauce for topping my Eggplant Parmesan!

Update: The following night I used the extra sauce to top some Zucchini Ricotta ‘meatballs’ – recipe coming soon!

 

Guacamole: It’s All About the Avocado

Ah, my favorite summertime staple. (Obviously delicious year round, though!) Cinco de Mayo anyone??

It is one of my most raved about things I make – and it’s such a quick and healthy appetizer, suitable for any party. I assure you, it will be fawned over!

Truly, it is so simple to make. However, you need to pay attention to what I think is most important: the ripeness of the avocado. I have used avocados that are not quite ripe enough, noted, when they are tough to mash with a fork. This absolutely changes the taste of the final outcome. Make sure to use avocados that are nice and soft! Also, if you’re ripening avocados in the fridge for a few days versus the counter (which is fine, I have just noticed they ripen slower in the fridge), allow them to reach room temperature before preparation. Guacamole just tastes better if it’s served at room temp, so if you do prepare it ahead of time, try to let it sit out at least a half hour before indulging. I swear these little things matter!

4 ripe (soft to the touch when gently squeezed) avocados

1 jalapeno, finely diced (some seeds are fine if you like the heat – I do!)

1 small yellow onion, diced (red onion is fine also, I just always have a bag of yellow onions on hand)

1t lime juice

1t lemon juice

2T (heaping) of minced garlic

3 dashes cayenne pepper

1/2t onion powder

1T salt

1/2T lime salt*

*I attest this is the secret. I discovered this while living in Humboldt Park, a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago (let me tell you, my Spanish had never been better!). Unfortunately I have been unable to find it in a few brief searches in local stores, but Amazon does carry it (of course they do…).

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Hello, gorgeous

Spoon out avocado meat from their skin, remove pits. Mash them to desired consistency – a fork always works best for me, and keeps it a little chunky. Add diced onion and jalapeno. Add two healthy tablespoons of minced garlic, teaspoon each of lemon juice and lime juice. Mix well. Add a half teaspoon of onion powder, three dashes of cayenne pepper for a warming heat, and finally the lime salt and salt.

That’s it! There really isn’t a wrong way to prepare this. A little tip: if you want this for a party, but don’t want to be dicing and mashing in crunch time, but also don’t want to prep too early because then you’re in a panic about the guacamole turning brown from sitting too long (oy!), do this: prep all ingredients, add everything to your serving dish except the avocados. Right before serving is when I will spoon out the avocados and mash them right on top of the rest of the ingredients. Boom! You’re welcome.

Now go make this for all your friends and loved ones, they will want the recipe! I have been crafting this recipe for years and while it is continually under slight revisions, this is the most up to date! I know guacamole typically has cilantro in it, but I’m just not a fan. Feel free to add, but I have never had someone comment about its absence.

I always welcome comments and questions! Enjoy!

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The 5 minute (no prep!) side dish

While I love taking my time in the kitchen devising the next plated masterpiece, I also love a flash meal or side dish that literally takes no time at all. Luckily, I have that for you! It is the perfect side to balance any protein forward meal, and brings vibrant and fresh acidity to round it all out.

This dish is inspired by, and my spin, on a panzanella salad.

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If I want to make it a complete meal, it’s a very filling lunch dish, I will add a protein – here it’s pictured with Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik’n Strips, or vegan chicken strips. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I have sworn by these little guys for years.

This dish still only takes 5 minutes even with the strips in there!

You’re probably ready to find out what you need to make this? 5 ingredients! And you probably already have them on hand! No salt and pepper needed.

3 cups escarole

1T olive oil

1/4 cup hot banana pepper rings

3T parmesan cheese

3T whole wheat panko breadcrumbs

And this recipe is so easily doubled or tripled, I’ve made the entire bag of escarole before! You can use any sturdy green here, such as kale or chard, but escarole is my favorite because I love how the center of the leaf stays crisp but the rest softens, so it’s a great balance of texture. Spinach could also be used if you prefer, just not the textural difference as it wilts completely.

Add the escarole to the pan, then turn the pan on med-high heat. (For this dish I do not like my escarole to be charred, and if you add it to an already hot pan this will happen.) Drizzle with half the olive oil. Stir frequently as the escarole begins to wilt, add banana peppers. I also like to splash a bit of the vinegar from the pepper jar, it gives the dish a nice punchy heat element (this is optional). In the last minute, add both the parmesan cheese and panko to the mixture, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and stir to combine. This will allow the cheese and panko to get a slight toast to them and add a savory component.

That’s it! And if you were watching the clock, it should have only taken 5 minutes! If you did want to add a protein, like cooked chicken or the faux chicken strips, just add at the beginning with the escarole.

I hope you love this as much as I do, and it finds a regular home on your plate!

 

 

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For the above recipe, I use one serving size (12 strips) Chik’n Strips

 

 

Prologue: My Story

Many of the great influences to the culinary world began as sidekicks in the kitchen, seemingly since infancy. Perhaps unbeknownst to these sticky-fingered novices, whether from tradition, strong family values, or well-versed from travels, began cataloguing and honing their skills. I, on the other hand, do not have such a nostalgic beginning. My cooking angst began by frying mud pies on the blistering asphalt driveway for dad to come home to after work – who was less than impressed of, what I thought, was a noteworthy accomplishment!

If only men were actually disappointed coming home to a steamy, hot-off-the-press dinner!

Whenever someone brings up cooking, the conversation seems to find its way to grandmothers. And this makes me long for more time, back then. Since my mother had been estranged from her parents since my early adolescence, my grand-parental influence came solely from my dad’s mom and dad. Having adopted my father later in their lives, they were already aging when my siblings and I were young. I have very fond memories of grandma: whether it was taking my sister and I to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger, or a walk around their neighborhood – she was such a socialite, Grandma Georgie, she knew everyone. And although we did spend many Sunday’s having shells and homemade sauce, sadly, I never learned to cook from her. Having come from off-the-boat Italian heritage, looking back, she would have been a wealth of knowledge I now would love to acquire. I was too immature then, though, to appreciate this.

What I never understood was my grandparents’ love of corn flakes topped with orange juice, instead of milk. This still is the biggest conundrum to me, and at seven years old you really think that’s the strangest thing you have ever seen! That, and their ‘magic toaster’.

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Pictured above: Grandma Georgie being fabulous through the years (also with Grandpa Frank), and me playing in leaves in her front yard, one of my favorite things!

Always on hand for beverages at Grandma Georgie’s were 7UP and Nestea Iced Tea, both in a can, stored in the garage. In their freezer you could always find a frozen, boxed Sara Lee Lemon Meringue Pie. And across the street at Ray Yager’s house were popsicles stocked in his garage freezer, for us grandkids in the neighborhood. He was a widower who had lived across the street from my grandparents since they moved in, late in the 50s.

In hindsight, these moments were all too fleeting. Both grandparents were aging faster than us kids. It was early into my teen years we lost both, to Alzheimer’s anyway. I wish I had been older, and they younger. I wish I had clung to their stories and appreciated them with more fervor. And I wish you could turn back the hands of time, but then again, who doesn’t?

So my cooking story begins much, much later.

Despite my mom’s specialty of ‘Mac and Beef’ (merely a fancy way of saying ‘I put ground beef in your macaroni and cheese tonight’…Thanks.), she was less than remarkable in the kitchen in my early years (Love you, mom!). I feel like I’ve been playing catch up in the food game, and have essentially taught myself the tricks of the trade – I do tip my hat to Top Chef and Chopped for the motivation to be a go- getter in my own kitchen!

Again, I am Shay and I welcome you to my little corner: where all meals are Shaymelessly prepared for you to confidently serve to your loved ones (or eat it all yourself!). I look forward to sharing my recipes with you and providing some insight and inspiration as to how I came up with each dish!