Spicy Tips: Do It Yourself Taco Seasoning

If there is one dish that Matt loves to make (way more than I do), it would be tacos. So for the first time on my blog, here is a shared recipe from our cooking adventures that Matt has used for many years.

Normally it’s a dish that comes about when we are down to frozen meat or leftover chicken breast. Because it’s quick, easy, and utilizes ingredients we always tend to have on hand. On taco night, Matt also tends to eat about 7-10 tacos in one sitting…not even exaggerating.

When taco night arrives, Matt has crunchy tortilla shells on the ready, a fresh bottle of taco sauce in the fridge, and diced onion. And of course, if we don’t have shredded cheese, it’s not officially taco night. (For me, give me some soft tortillas, diced tomatoes, and sour cream and I am set! Maybe even some avocado if it’s in season.)

But the one thing you will find absent from our pantry? Pre-made taco seasoning. Because while yes, it may be easy to obtain pre-mixed seasoning in the store, you can absolutely make it yourself! The spices are fairly simple: cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (just a smidge), and a dash of paprika. You can also add a little salt and black pepper if you like, but there are so many other things going on with the dish, a little bit goes a long way.

This recipe is a rough guestimate of how much we use in the overall dish, but you can adjust to your liking. Naturally, measuring out spices in our home is not a common occurrence, instead opting for my Great-Grandmother’s method of adding until satisfied. More important though, even if eye-balling it, for the amount of cumin you add, put about half the amount of chili powder in it. You can always add more, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

But I promise you this: you will find this so easy that purchasing pre-mixed will be a thing of the past. It’s cheaper to keep those ingredients in your home and do it yourself. (Also, those spices can also go into other delicious dishes!)

There’s a satisfaction when you do it yourself. The reward is a dish you created more from scratch than anything else. Not every dish can be like that, but incorporating it anywhere you can? Healthy and delicious.

Enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

Jenn & Matt’s “Taco Night” Seasoning

2 tablespoons cumin 

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

A dash (or two) of paprika

Directions:

1) Combine all ingredients and use on 1 – 1  1/2 pounds cooked ground beef, shredded chicken, or any meat you prefer.

For the love….

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which is now over and will be replaced with half-price off candy day), I would love to talk about little bit about that amorous holiday….and food, starting with a quote from a chef that Matt and I love watching.

It was Jacques Pepin who said it best:

I would advise people to cook for the right reason: for love.

Pepin truly grasped that cooking was more than just about the necessity to feed ourselves. There’s a passion to be discovered, the way certain ingredients meld with other ingredients, the mathematical equation of a great meal, and most important: being able to share that with someone special. (Even if that special person is yourself.)

Matt and I share many great meals, even with our friends and family. I know not everyone appreciates that we are prone to taking pictures of our food, but it’s my style, it’s who I am. I take pictures of our creations (sometimes the creations of others that look just as amazing), and love the feedback! What’s even funnier is that Matt knows I love to do this and is the one to encourage the picture-taking before I forget to, especially when he has taken that first bite and I’m still making mine look perfect. (Sorry, force of habit to add that little dash of parsley, basil, parmesan, etc. to give it that “pop” factor.)

And the meals are not always perfect, but in the end we can always pull something fun together. I absolutely adore the way he pushes for simple meals with few ingredients and I want to add just one more thing that absolutely complements the dish. Sometimes I get my way and sometimes not so much. (With great passion in the kitchen, it can lead to an argument or two on who is leading this meal prep.)

But the love is there….and it’s especially in the leftovers.

Because when I get to bring last night’s meal to work and eat that for lunch, I’m still tasting the love behind it all. Whether it be as simple as grilled chicken with a salad or a more complicated Zuppa di Pesce, I know that my husband wanted to make sure that I had the most delicious lunch for the next day. (In fact, he even asks me to call him at lunch just to tell him how much I enjoyed my meal…and as a nice reminder that later on that day we are going to get to make another great meal.)

I have been filling my time with that love, so I have plenty of new dishes and stories to share with you readers.

So stay tuned and as always….enjoy!

And to all of you….I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether it be with your spouse, just you, with friends, and anything in between. While I encourage you to share love all year round, a holiday dedicated to love can’t be that bad either.

~ Jenny V

When in Doubt….just stuff it!

Being busy, I haven’t always had time to sit and write about the latest recipe/concoction. (Thanks multiple jobs/friends I am getting to see post-wedding madness!) That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking….quite the contrary!

But that is neither here nor there and so….let’s talk about chicken breast. Matt & I don’t necessarily prefer cooking with chicken breast, mainly because there’s such a small window to perfection on it. (And unless it’s on sale, it’s not worth spending an exorbitant amount of money to have it in the house.) It can becomes time-consuming to prep (which is why I have my husband filet the breast….something I have yet to even try perfecting. He makes it look sooooooo easy!) And unlike it’s counterpart, dark meat, chicken breast is prone to drying out very quickly. So whenever we have it in our fridge (because sometimes the sale is just too good to pass up), we get creative.

Stir-fry, homemade chicken nuggets, and our personal favorite, Chicken Cordon Bleu, are just a few of the ways that we prepare the breast other than seasoning and grilling it. But I’m bored of all our standards, so in true creative fashion….I took to the idea of stuffing the chicken with cheese and broccoli! We had the ingredients, we had the time, and we were also adventurous enough to think outside of how we normally prepare the elusive white meat.

Now I know it’s been done, but our version became so easy to make, complete with a Mornay sauce and some deep-fried bacon on top….do I even need to say more on how delicious this was? (Especially when there was nothing left?!?)

And just a quick tip: if you deep-fry bacon, partially cook it first. Also, if you deep-fry the whole package of bacon and have leftovers….make bacon bits with it! Homemade bacon bits are delicious…..trust me on this.

Meals don’t always have to be the same-old standard. If you’re willing to get a little daring and try a variation on a recipe that you’ve made before….DO IT.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


stuffedchickenwbacon

 

Jenn’s Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:

3 large chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin

1/2 package frozen chopped broccoli (slightly thawed so you can break it apart to stuff chicken)

1 to 1 1/4 cup shredded cheese (depending on how much cheesiness you like!)

Bread Crumbs (optional)

Egg (optional)

Salt

Pepper

For the Sauce:

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

Nutmeg

1 1/4 cup milk

Parmesan Cheese

For the “garnish”:

6 pieces partially cooked bacon

 

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and with filleted chicken breasts, lay them flat on a baking pan. Lightly salt and pepper the inside, then take the partially thawed broccoli and shredded cheese, distributing them equally towards one side of the chicken breast. Roll, then tuck the sides in and arrange chicken breasts neatly in the baking pan. (Optional: you can baste with egg, then use bread crumb to sprinkle on the top.) Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove when done and let sit for 1-2 minutes.

***Helpful hint***: You can usually tell stuffed chicken breast is cooked through when the middle is bubbling out. It means the heat has gotten all the way through the meat and cooked it.

2) About 5 minutes before the chicken is done, turn on the deep fryer on high to warm for the bacon (or pan to finish cooking bacon through….you want that garnish crispy!)

3) While the fryer is warming, in a small saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter and flour to create a roux, then add milk to the roux. Stir with a whisk to incorporate. Add a few pinches of nutmeg (trust me, a little goes a LONG way here) and when the sauce starts to bubble a little, add the parmesan cheese to thicken it up. Stir, then remove from heat.

4) This garnish is optional, but once deep fryer is up to desired temperature, drop in the bacon for roughly 1 minute. Seriously, not long, because the bacon is already partially cooked and this will turn extra crispy extra quick. After about a minute, remove bacon and put on plate covered with paper towel to cool down and crisp up.

5) When plating, first put down the chicken, then ladle sauce (as much or as little as you’d like) over the chicken, topping with two pieces of bacon.

This meatloaf would make you do anything for love….

If there’s one dish my husband believes I make the best…it’s meatloaf. Before I really started cooking, this was one recipe that had stuck with me from when my mom would cook dinner (without burning anything.) And one night, on a whim, I decided to try it on Matt. Like me, prior to this recipe, I had such an aversion to meatloaf. I’ve seen it doused in more tomato sauce/ketchup than I could stomach…and I love tomatoes! (Just not in meatloaf.)

So if you’re a non-tomato meatloaf person like me, then you can understand the sheer joy I felt when I took my first bite of this delectably flavorful dish. In fact, I’ll almost guarantee that your reaction could resemble that of my husband when he initially (and a little reluctantly) tried my meatloaf….his eyes bugged out like a cartoon character and he went back for seconds! (Later he proclaimed “you’re holding out on me”….and thus started my cooking tutelage.) In part, I guess I can thank this recipe for jump-starting several tasty concoctions and personal cooking/baking challenges. (And you might thank me too, especially when you try it! During the winter, I must make this dish at least 1-2 times a month. With all the things we cook, that’s saying a lot.)

(It’s also great when you want to re-heat it, trust me….it’s even better.)

Normally, I would pair this dish with some tasty egg noodles (and of course, brown gravy!), but since we had some white potatoes to move since we used the rest to make homemade french fries (and freeze them to use as needed), why not whip up some mashed potatoes? And while they’re no Yukon Gold or Red Bliss, it’s super easy to make them creamy and delicious! (And as for gravy, if you have a recipe, use it! If not, I recommend Heinz Beef or Pork Gravy.)

Sometimes in cooking, I have come to the conclusion that you don’t always need to be armed with a ton of recipes. Whether you’re a good cook or a bad one, we all have that one recipe that we have mastered. And I’m sure if Randy from A Christmas Story could try this one….he would quit saying “I hate meatloaf!”

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


meatloaf

Jenn’s “Rockstar” Meatloaf with Homemade Mashed Potatoes

For meatloaf:

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix (if you can’t find meatloaf mix, you can use beef. If you want to make meatloaf mix, use ground beef, pork, and veal)

One packet Onion Soup Mix

Worcestershire Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

For mashed potatoes:

4-5 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed small

2 heaping tablespoons sour cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Milk or heavy cream 

1/2 stick butter, cut into four pieces

Salt

Pepper

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for meatloaf and mix well using hands. Add Worcestershire Sauce to your taste. (I never measure for Worcestershire, because it’s preference, so just add as much or as little as you want. It all depends on how much salt you want in the mix. And yes, Onion Soup Mix….because when the dried onions re-hydrate, they have that meat flavor!) Place mix into loaf pan (glass or metal), push into the pan (especially the corners), then place in oven for about 1 – 1 1/4 hours.

2) When meatloaf is about halfway cooked, fill pot with water halfway for potatoes and place on stove. Make sure potatoes are scrubbed clean before being cubed, skin left on. (And if there are any “eyes” or brown spots in the potatoes, don’t forget to get rid of them!) As each potato is cubed, place cubes in cold water. Once all potatoes are processed and in the pot, turn on high and cover, checking periodically. When water starts boiling, remove lid and keep cooking until potato breaks apart when fork is stuck into it; if done, drain water and place potatoes back into pot.

3) Combine butter, milk, and sour cream in with potatoes, then using a masher mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (And don’t be afraid to season!) Set aside and cover. (If the potatoes are done before meatloaf, you can heat it up after meatloaf comes out. Just place back on stove on medium to high heat, continually stirring for 2-3 minutes)

4) Once meatloaf is done, remove from oven and using a steak knife, go around inside of pan and separate meatloaf from the sides (because the cheese normally makes it stick a little to the pan.) If done right, the meatloaf should come out in one solid loaf; transfer to a place and slice as thick (or thin) a slice as desired. Serve with potatoes and gravy. (Or no gravy…it’s up to you!)

Bringin’ home the Bacon(-wrapped Shrimp!)

Over this past weekend, Matt & I celebrated what I consider our first milestone as husband and wife: the one-month anniversary. After over 6.5 years together before making it official, we still take pleasure in those simple moments by spending our time doing what we do best….cooking together. It’s a way we share our love with each other and with everyone in our life that is important to us. And last night was no exception! Why go out when we could whip up an extra special dinner in the comfort of our own home?

As evident by my previous post, we do love some shrimp in our house. Living by the beach, seafood is simply a staple in our diet. (Just you wait….we do love fish too and I have quite a few good recipes to share on that topic later.) Shrimp is just so easy to make and you can incorporate just a few simple ingredients to make it delicious….like bacon! If you have package of bacon, a griddle, and some patience, then you are going to love this recipe!

And what goes better with shrimp than homemade pasta? Ever since I acquired my KitchenAid pasta press attachment, courtesy of Matt’s Aunt Lori (and family), cooking with box pasta sometimes seems as daunting as eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Granted, in a pinch it works just fine, but if you have the time to sift flour and knead dough, I suggest rolling up your sleeves and giving it a go! (And no worries if you don’t have a pasta press or a KitchenAid, there are plenty of recipes online to make it without a pasta machine! But I do recommend this dough recipe, it’s perfect to use and you can adjust as needed.)

It’s a great meal that looks like restaurant quality, but won’t break your bank to make! When it comes to big celebrations in life, sometimes the best way to honor that moment is not to go out, but to stay in and savor the memory from the comfort of your own home….with a tasty meal, of course.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


baconwrappedshrimp

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Homemade Pasta

Ingredients:

4-6 slices of bacon

2 dozen raw frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled

Sauce:

1 lemon, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic (or 2-3 cloves)

1/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Cooking wine

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 teaspoons flour

Pasta Dough:

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

4 large eggs (Should be 7/8 cup. If it’s below, gradually add water until it is 7/8 cup)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water

1) Start by pounding out bacon slices to make them a little thinner, then cut into pieces to wrap once around bacon. Place on skewer. Make it six shrimp to each skewer and set aside.

2) For pasta dough, in mixer using flat beater, add sifted flour and salt together, giving it a quick stir. Turn on lowest setting (Speed 2) and gradually add eggs and water until mixed, then switch flat beater to dough hook and mix on low for 2 minutes. Dough may be crumbly, but not too much. If it is super crumbly, gradually add water one tablespoon at a time until dough starts to form a ball. Remove and knead dough on wax paper or clean countertop until dough starts to get smooth and pliable, should be able to hold the shape of a ball. Break into walnut-sized balls for pasta press.

3) Start a pot to boil water. Attach pasta press attachment to KitchenAid and turn mixer to highest speed. Gradually place balls of pasta in press, using cutter on attachment to make strands of pasta as long or short as desired. Hang pasta on drying rack or on sheet pan lined with wax paper.

4) In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add butter and flour to make a roux, then add chicken broth, cooking wine, garlic, and lemon slices, bringing sauce to a boil, then lowering to simmer and cover.

5) On griddle pan over medium-high heat, place skewers of shrimp down, turning as bacon starts to brown and shrimp starts to turn pink, about 4-5 minutes. Once cooked through, remove from griddle and cover with foil on plate to keep warm.

6) Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt to pot and throw in pasta, stirring gradually until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Strain and return to pot, then add sauce over pasta and give a quick stir. Serve with shrimp on side.

A Slice of Jenn….

Just like meeting someone new, I believe introductions are in order.

Hi, I’m Jenn, and before meeting my wonderful husband (Matt, who you will probably read a lot about here)….I was cooking-challenged. Of course, I knew how to cook, thanks in part to high school cooking classes being made part of my core requirement, but to apply those skills?

Not so much.

Matt still makes the joke that I used to microwave hot dogs before him. (I still have on occasion…he has no idea how delicious they can be when you’re in a bind to eat something quick!)

So as our relationship progressed, so did I under Matt’s tutelage of cooking. He showed me the basics of knife skills, so that I could be his sous-chef. He taught me the importance of knowing how certain ingredients cook and why you should know the hot spots on your heat source. He demonstrated how to prep various meats. And most importantly, he was patient enough to show me these skills over and over again until I felt confident enough to try them on my own.

(I’ll tell you, I think it’s one of the many reasons I love him so much.)

With that said, our relationship grew in part to the way we cooked together. The ying and yang of the kitchen, so to speak. Food became less about takeout and more about finding new recipes to try.

When I got my KitchenAid, I was attempting to fine-tune my baking skills so Matt could have fresh cookies instead of the preservative-laden junk that has sat on the shelf for months. After cookies, we tried fresh bread and rolls. After that, pies and cheesecake….which I am proud to say I successfully mastered.

And especially after the bridal shower, we were finally able to take our cooking/baking to the next level with new gadgets to test out more advanced recipes.

Which brings me to here….why I decided to start a food blog. More and more lately, Matt and I have made it a point to try new creations, whether it be from a recipe or something that we come up with on our own. As Matt always reminds me, a recipe is a “snapshot” of that moment when it was made, and while it is good, there is always room to tweak it a little. (Except chocolate chip cookies….I think my husband is addicted to my recipe. Lol.)

So, come prepared with your appetite as I share some of our favorite dishes, new concoctions, and everything in between.

~ Jenny V