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.

The greatest honey love of all….

A while ago I had posted about curry powder, which leads me right back to the recipe that required it first: honey chicken.

A few well-known facts about my honey chicken recipe:

It’s super easy to make. (I mean it. If you can master that curry powder recipe, then this will be a breeze, especially since the curry powder is a key ingredient in this dish. And if you need a refresher on the curry powder, then just click here.)

You need to be attentive to this dish. (Once you see the picture, you’ll understand why. You want that golden color with just a hint of browning when you bake it, so a lot of love and care goes into this meal. But again, it is easy so no worries. And when I mean easy, I mean super easy.)

My husband goes crazy for this dish every time I make it. (It’s one of the few leftovers he’ll eat over and over again….and if you know Matt, he’s not a big leftovers kind of person.)

And the sauce that is created while baking? Yummy is an understatement. It’s gooey and buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Trust me on this, if made right the outside looks sticky and sweet, but that salty savory bite is worth it. Also, the yummy factor applies when you add a side of mashed potatoes or possibly egg noodles too. (You need a carb or starchy side because honey chicken is a great “stick to your bones” type of dish.)

I love the way sweet ingredients can lend themselves to savory dishes….be adventurous and give them a try!

And yes, enjoy!

~Jenny V


  

   
Jenn’s Honey Chicken

1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in, fat slightly trimmed (if you’d prefer)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon curry powder (refer to my Curry Powder recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In large baking dish, place chicken thighs, skin side up.

3) In large measuring cup or small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until mixed, then pour mixture over chicken evenly. Make sure to coat each piece.

4) Bake for 75-90 minutes, basting thighs in mixture every 15 minutes. When skin looks golden and starts to take on a deep brown color on most of the pieces, remove and serve.

 

Spicy Tips: Fried Chicken in a pinch!

So when it comes to foods that Matt and I have struggled with, fried chicken tops that list. I don’t know why we can’t manage a crispy outside with a thoroughly cooked inside, but it has been eluding us in every which way.

The first time we made buttermilk fried chicken, it was slightly disastrous. That crispy skin was absolutely perfect! But the inside? Practically raw. It devastated us a little to have to take the chicken and throw it in the oven to keep cooking. We were starving! I mean, what are mashed potatoes without that fried chicken? (Delicious, but just mashed potatoes.) After that, both of us vowed to keep trying.

The second time was slightly better, as we took the chicken thighs and fried them off, then finished them in the oven. The outside got a little too crispy, but at least we knew it was cooked through completely. (I think the next time we attempt this method, it will be for boneless chicken breast only.)

Any possibility of getting this recipe right seemed daunting….until both of us decided to try using our usual techniques of cooking chicken and apply them to making fried chicken. All in all….the third time was the charm and so I felt it was important to share with you, my trusty readers, our tips to make our version of fried chicken.

First of all….get the notion of trying to start from completely raw chicken out of your mind. It’s tricky to try and manage raw meat (especially poultry) if you’re wanting to fry it perfectly. You can always partially cook the chicken first (days in advance, if you’d like) and then marinate it in the buttermilk and hot sauce mixture for just a little longer than recommended to make sure that flavor is incorporated. (Just always remember to season the chicken before you partially cook it–if you can get simple salt and pepper on there, you’re good!)

Second….because buttermilk is not a commonly used item in our house, I tried a mixture of egg and milk with the hot sauce in its place. (To be honest, it had that nice creamy consistency that buttermilk has and these items are just a little bit easier to come by in your fridge. Just make sure you make enough of this mixture to cover the chicken thoroughly.)

Third….as always, don’t forget to add some spice to your flour! This is where you want to get that nice, crispy skin full of flavor (and a bit of bite.) So now is the time to toss in that Cayenne Pepper, red pepper flake (or if you’re us, ground red pepper flake), paprika, salt, black pepper, and any other seasoning that you absolutely love adding to your fried chicken batter!

Now, for those who are fried chicken purists and are probably cursing at me for explaining how to make a perfect fried chicken our way….just take a look at the finished product and tell me whether you can tell the difference:

It’s crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside….and it didn’t last very long!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V

Curry to the masses!

Now I adore spices….really, I do. I’m debating at some point to post pictures of our spice shelf in our pantry….my need for organization has those spices organized with powders on the right, loose leaves/roughly chopped spices on the left, and some random sauces/seasonings right in the middle that I can’t quite classify as either. (Of course, they get all mixed up when in a cooking frenzy and I begrudgingly and lovingly try to organize them back into some semblance of “nice and neat”…Matt pokes fun at my need to have a system.)

Spices elevate a meal in ways that I am only beginning to understand, in ways that salt and pepper just don’t quite cut it. It could be the aroma, it could be the way it incorporates with other ingredients, maybe even the coloring, I don’t care. While yes, simple salt and pepper are quite lovely for most meals, when it comes to curry powder….my mouth salivates at whatever gets to partake in that flavor.

I first came upon this curry powder mixture as part of another recipe, trying to find a new way to flavor up our chicken thighs. (And trust me, that recipe is soon to follow, because I could not imagine life without honey chicken!) At first, Matt wasn’t quite sure what to make of that dish, but that’s another story….back onto curry!

If you do enjoy having spice mixtures on hand, then this short and simple recipe shall be one that you will certainly adore. I know I do and have been methodically finding ways to incorporate it into more of our dishes….especially with grilling–now that is a delicious thought.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Curry Powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

1) In a small bowl or Tupperware container, combine all ingredients together until well mixed. Store in a cool, dry place.

2) Use on anything (and everything) that you feel could use a delicious, new flavor. And just know: a teaspoon will go a long way!

Feel the Braise

When we received our cast iron Dutch Oven as a shower gift, Matt and I were not quite sure how to proceed with it….it’s heavy as hell! I mean, carrying that thing requires at least some weight-training, or a strong husband. But as we continue to use it, whether it be for cooking roasts, chili, turkey burgers, gravy for Sunday dinner (yes, gravy, Italians call it gravy), it has become our favorite toy in the kitchen….aside from the pasta press, but we’ll get to that later.

So today, as a change from our usual cooking methods for chicken thighs, I wanted to try them in the Dutch Oven, which brings us to braising. Now, for those who are not familiar, braising meat means that you use dry and wet methods of cooking. First you cook to sear in the juices, then in the oven it cooks in liquid.

Matt was on board with it, especially since he loves when I suggest new methods to cook our favorite foods. And the best part? Chicken thighs are dark meat, which means if you cook it longer, you won’t dry it out, due to its fattier content (never a bad thing, especially since that fat is jam-packed with flavor.) Now, the recipe I found had ingredients like fennel and red potatoes, so we varied it up a little bit and made this our recipe with the ingredients that we had in the house.

Feel free to change it up any way you like it, especially if you have a favorite veggie that you’ve worked with that cooks beautifully in the oven.

****And if you don’t have a dutch oven, use a deep pot, like a stockpot, and cover it with foil when you put it in the oven.****

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


chicken

Braised Chicken Thighs a la Jenn & Matt

4-6 Chicken Thighs (you can trim the excess fat if you like, but not always necessary)

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

4-6 small potatoes, washed and cubed (we went with white potatoes, which gives a thinner sauce, but you can thicken it up with red potatoes)

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 stalks celery, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of chicken broth (a cup)

1/2 cup of Marsala cooking wine (any cooking wine you prefer will work, be creative!)

1 tablespoon thyme

dash of red pepper flakes

1 bay leaf

salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

1) In the cast-iron, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat (closer to high, because you want a sear on the chicken)

2) Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides, then place skin-side down in the cast iron first, browning them on both sides. Once browned, remove thighs and place on a plate.

3) Drain some of the fat from the cast-iron until only about a tablespoon remains, place back on heat and throw in the potatoes, onions, celery, and carrots first, cooking until they start to brown. When they start to brown, throw in the garlic. Cook until garlic browns.

4) Once garlic browns, add chicken broth, cooking wine, thyme, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf to the vegetables. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot for all that residual yummyness!

5) Place the chicken thighs on top in the cast-iron, keep on heat until liquid comes to a boil, then cover and place in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

6) Once it’s done, remove the bay leaf and serve with a little bit of the braising liquid over the chicken and the vegetables….yummy!