Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Veggie & Black Bean Fajitas

I made these tonight for dinner. I used squash & mushrooms, but really, you could use any veggies you have on hand, as long as their flavor is compatible. (Brussels-Sprout Fajitas would prbably be pretty nasty, for example).
Ever since I discovered them, I have been using frozen bell peppers and onions for recipes. Just look for the "bell pepper trio" or "pepper and onion stir-fry" in the frozen vegetable section. It will be a blend of red, yellow, & green bell pepper and onion, cleaned and cut into strips ready for cooking. It's cheaper than fresh red & yellow bell peppers, won't go bad in the produce drawer, and did I mention it's already cleaned and cut? I also buy and use frozen diced onion, and those jars of minced fresh garlic in olive oil. So convenient, less wasteful, not expensive, and lets me use smaller amounts when cooking for 1 or 2 (which is most of the time).

3 smallish summer squash and/or zucchini, about 2 C when sliced
1 small onion (1/2 C diced or sliced)
2 Tbsb minced garlic
1 C sliced mushrooms (I used re-hydrated dried shitake, but use whatever you've got)
1 C bell pepper strips, any combination red, yellow, & green
1/2 C black beans, canned or home-cooked & drained (I like Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans)
2 Tbsp fajita spice mix, or 1/2 store-bought packet
3 Tbsb olive oil
Flour or corn tortillas
cheddar or jack cheese
favorite toppings, such as salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc

Cut the squash into quarters, lengthwise, then slice 1/4 inch thick. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add prepared vegetables, mushrooms, onion, garlic, & fajita seasoning; stir to coat everything with the oil and seasoning. Turn heat up to high and cook, turning and stirring only occasionally, until vegetables soften and begin to brown nicely. Do not stir too much, or the delicious browning will not occur and your veggies will be soggy. Add the beans and stir to combine; if beans are juicy allow excess moisture to cook away. Remove from heat and serve with tortillas, cheese, and any desired toppings. For maximum nutrition, use either whole-wheat or flour tortillas, which make a complete protein when eaten with beans.

Carnivorous Additions:
Bacon makes everything better, so add a few slices of cooked, crumbled bacon. Cooked chicken and/or shrimp sauteed in a little more fajita seasoning and olive oil or water will add extra protein & flavor- you won't need much, just a few small pieces per fajita, on top of a hearty helping of veggies.

Fajita Spice Mix

3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. bouillon, or one large cube (chicken, beef or veg, whichever kind of fajitas you usually make)
1-1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp sugar (don't leave out; enhances browning & "sizzle")

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Recycle an old, empty spice bottle, perhaps- but be sure to label it! 3 Tbsp is about equal to a store-bought packet of fajita mix.

The flavor that is missing from this blend is lime- commercial fajita mixes have "lime juice solids". Simply add the juice of one lime (About 2-3Tbsp) to your finished fajitas after cooking, when you remove the skillet from the heat. Lemon juice is an acceptable substitute, or if you don't usually keep either on hand, reduce the cayenne in the spice mix and add some lemon-pepper seasoning. Or leave the pepper as it is, and add some lemon or lime zest.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Peruvian Pulled Pork

This is my version of a dish I first had at Cheeseburger in Paradise, which is sadly no longer on the menu. I combined several recipes I found around the interwebs to come up with something similar. Caution- the tumeric in the marinade will stain cloth, and even some light-colored countertops! Wear an apron, and handle the marinade over the sink, or you may regret it!

I use this deliciously savory pork for sandwiches: spread split crusty rolls with garlic/onion butter and lightly toast, layer with pulled pork, caramelized onions, and sharp cheddar cheese, then toast again to heat through and melt cheese. It's incredible.

2 1/2 lbs pork shoulder
1/4 C white vinegar
1/4 C water
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper or to taste

Remove the bone and skin from the pork shoulder and cut the meat into several baseball-sized chunks. Place in slow cooker.
Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over pork in slow cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours or overnight, or high 4 hours, or until the meat is falling-apart tender. Remove pork from cooking liquid and allow to cool slightly, then shred with 2 forks (or your fingers). Use in sandwiches or burritos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Sad Day

A sad day. We lost Ruby, the lead mare of our little herd. She had been sick since Saturday with a severe colic, which despite all my parents' and the vet's best efforts, steadily worsened. She couldn't eat or drink and by this morning, her poor belly was swollen to twice normal size. She fought the good fight, but about 10am today, her body couldn't take it anymore and her heart just gave out. Mom and Dad were with her, Mom having spent the whole previous night in the stall to monitor and comfort her.
Ruby was a terrific little horse, an American Miniature, and like most of her breed she was sweet-natured and intelligent. She was very gentle, affectionate, a willing worker, very steady, and patient with children. There is a little boy in my parents' neighborhood with Down Syndrome who loves to stop by and visit the horses, and Ruby seemed to know that he needed extra gentleness. She was a very attentive mother, and gave us a beautiful filly, Rosie, who survives her along with Star, another mare. Poor Rosie seems bewildered and distressed by Ruby's absence. I know how she feels.
Ruby was beloved by our whole family, and many friends besides. She will be sadly missed. Goodbye, sweet girl.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Simon's Cat

I have seen this video before, and now I have discovered the source! See, cat people, isn't it so true?!

Biscuit Mix

Think of this as a home-made version of Bisquick- use it as you would any other biscuit or pancake mix. I sometimes substitute powdered soymilk for the nonfat dry milk, when making recipes for my friend V, who is allergic to dairy. A stand blender with the flat paddle is the perfect equipment for mixing this stuff up.

4 1/4 C flour (up to half can be whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 C nonfat dry milk (or substitute soy milk powder)
1 1/8 C vegetable shortening

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand blender fitted with the flat paddle attachment, and mix on low until thoroughly combined and sifted. Add the shortening gradually in large dollops, mixing between each addition, then turn the mixer up to medium until all of the shortening is cut in. No visible shortening bits should remain larger than a sesame seed, and the mixture's texture should resemble cornmeal. Store in an airtight container, and use as you would any commercial biscuit or pancake mix.

Without a stand blender: sift the dry ingredients together and combine them thoroughly, then cut in the shortening with forks or a pastry blender until the mixture is uniform, and resembles cornmeal in texture.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Pesto Tomato Sauce

V & I invented this one summer evening while making grilled pizzas. They were delicious, and so is this sauce. Variations: Regular & Roasted Pepper Pesto.
  • 1 C fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, or 2 tsp minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 C prepared tomato pizza or pasta sauce (we used Pizza Quick b/c that's what we had on hand)
Place all ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender, and puree into a smooth and creamy sauce. The color will be a kind of gross greenish brown, but it will taste outstanding! Use as you would any pizza or pasta sauce.

Afghan Biscuits

This recipe comes from my friend K, in New Zealand. (A "biscuit" in NZ is what Americans like me call a "cookie) I had some of these biscuits at little bakeries & cafes all over New Zealand when I was there 2 years ago, and K very kindly converted the recipe to American measurements and sent it to me. Thanks, K!

  • 14 Tbs. butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups cornflakes (measure without crushing)
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. water
¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 24 walnut halves
Cream the 14 tbs. butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and cocoa, and stir into creamed mixture. Add vanilla. Lightly crush the cornflakes, then gently and thoroughly fold into the batter. They should be well distributed without crushing them too much – which is what gives this cookie its special crunch!
Grease a cookie sheet. Form balls about the size of a walnut, and place on sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool on a rack.
Icing: melt the 1 tbs. butter, the water and chocolate chips over low heat. Then stir in the powdered sugar, and beat until it is spreading consistency. Add more sugar if necessary. Ice the cookies and decorate each with a walnut. Makes 2 dozen.

Shrimp Fried Rice

The important thing with fried rice, or any stir-fried dish, is to have all your ingredients cut up in little bowls or dishes and ready to go, before you ever turn the burner on. The egg should be cracked and beaten, ready in a little bowl. The herbs and spices and liquids should all be pre-measured. The shrimp should be peeled and, if they're big, cut into smaller pieces. Vegetables should be fully cleaned, peeled, and cut to size. To save on dirtying dishes, you can put your sliced/diced/minced/measured ingredients in together in combined bowls according to what goes into the pan at the same time.

If you follow this recipe exactly, you will have fabulous fried rice. You will also have fabulous fried rice if you follow this recipe very loosely. Use up any kind of veggies, including leftover cooked veggies, and use the recipe as a rough guide to the relative proportions of veg to protien to rice and flavorings.

A time-saving hint: hit up the salad bar in the produce section for small amounts of pre-cut and pre-shredded veggies to stir-fry. You can get exactly how much you need, and the prep is already done. In small quantities, it barely matters that the unit price is higher than whole veggies.


  • 1/2 lb peeled & de-veined shrimp
  • 1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 1/3 C chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 C sliced green onions
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4 C chilled cooked brown rice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp lo-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp water

Combine shrimp, ginger and crushed red pepper in small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Heat sesame oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add bell pepper, green onions, and garlic; stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until tender. Add shrimp mixture to pan; stir-fry 4-5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Add cooked rice; stir-fry 2 minutes. Push rice mixture to sides of pan, forming a well in center. Add egg to center of pan, and let cook 30 seconds; toss with rice, and stir-fry until egg is cooked. Stir in soy sauce and water; cook until thoroughly heated. 4 servings.

New Boots

I am feeling a little silly, clomping around my house in laced-up hiking boots with hi-tech smartwool socks, doing laundry & chores. Why, you might ask? Well, remember when you were a little kid, and you got brand-new shoes, and you mother wouldn't let you wear them home because you had to wear them in the house on the carpet only for several days to make sure they really, truly did fit? Because once they got scuffed or dirty, there was no returning them?
Well, it's like that. These are really nice hiking boots and I paid $$ for them @ the LL Bean outlet. So I'm wearing them around the house for hours on end just to be sure, because this coming Saturday they'll get a trial by fire at the CERT disaster drill, and after that there will be no going back. These will be my boots for the forseeable future. (And when I say "trial by fire," I mean actual fire!)

Chicken Satay

This recipe makes enough of the sauce/marinade for 2 pounds of chicken. My favorite use of this fabulous chicken is to slice or dice it up, warm it briefly, and wrap it in a flatbread (also warm) with fresh baby spinach and cheese. I suspect it would also make kick-booty chicken salad.

  • boneless skinless chicken tenderloins, or breasts cut into strips.
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 C. peanut butter
  • 1/2 C. milk (can substitute soy or coconut milk)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 C. hoisin sauce (Chinese sauce found in jars on Asian/ethnic aisle)
  • juice of 1 lime, or 2 Tbsp
  • 3/4 tsp ground dried ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh grated)
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper


Whisk together all ingredients except chicken until smooth and combined. Scoop 1/2 C mixture per each pound of chicken into a large zip-top bag (save the rest in the fridge for later). Add the chicken, seal the bag, and skoosh all around to coat the chicken. Refrigerate 3 hours to overnight.

Remove chicken and discard marinade left in bag. Cook the chicken strips by:

  • Threading onto skewers and searing on a hot charcoal or gas grill, 2-3 minutes per side
  • Searing on a hot griddle, 2-3 minutes per side
  • Cooking on a counter-top grill (George Foreman-type), approx. 4 minutes
  • Broiling, turning once, 2-5 minutes per side.

Serve immediately with reserved sauce for dipping, or refrigerate for use in other recipes.