Quick & Easy: Holiday Desserts
The holidays can be stressful if you don’t plan it early: the decorations, the gifts, the wrapping, the parties, and whatever else that comes along with December. The last thing you probably need is to be stressing over what to bring to someone’s holiday party, White Elephant potluck, gift exchange, et cetera.
Instead of taking time out of everything else to bake the perfect pie, give yourself a break and take the easy route.
Here are some of my favorite quick desserts that can be made and brought to any party. You don’t even have to be an expert baker!
Clockwise from top left
1. Only 3 ingredients: Santa Strawberries
2. No baking required: Nutella Cookies
3. No baking required: Strawberry Cheesecake
4. Only 6 ingredients: Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Cups
Salsa Roundup: La Esquina Salsa Roja
Where: Central Market
Spice Level: None
I’ve been on a salsa-rating-hiatus. Actually, it’s been way too long. I tend to fall into habit so unfortunately, I’ve been eating the same salsa for quite awhile now: Xochitl Medium Salsa. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve written about the Xochitl salsa! Blasphemy! For that, I apologize.
For those that don’t know, La Esquina is a trendy Mexican restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. They have a trailer that sells tacos, a brasserie on the side, and if you’re cool enough, you’ll know about the unlabeled door that takes you down a staircase and through a kitchen into a dark, candle-lit restaurant where the awesomeness lives.
I honestly can’t remember what their salsa tastes like, so it was probably a little underwhelming (because I know for a fact that I can remember amazing salsa like it’s my birthdate). When I saw it bottled at Central Market, I did a double take.
"La Esquina salsa?!"
Naturally, I purchased it, brought it home, and opened it almost immediately. Plus, Xochitl just released their Halloween chips so I was dying to eat them.
I like my watery salsas, but this one is really diluted. I could taste some flavor, but it wasn’t exploding in my mouth. There was also ZERO spice. Nada. None.
The jar describes it as a salsa that can be used with chips, meat, vegetables, or fish. It also says people call it the “best salsa in the world” which personally, cannot be further from the truth.
In conclusion, it’s a little too watery and unflavorful to be on a tortilla chip but I might try pouring some of it on my tacos.
If you’ve been to any party hosted at our house, or if I made something to bring to your party, you probably know by now that I absolutely love miniature bites of food. Not only do I find them really cute but it’s also very easy to knock out large batches quickly. And personally, a bite-sized snack packs a lot of flavor punch so they always taste a lot better (but that could also be a mind trick). Finally, people just love tiny food.
That leads me to crostinis. When we went to Italy for our honeymoon, I fell head over heels for bruschetta. That’s pronounced “bru-sket-ta” folks, not “bru-shet-ta”. For all of those years, I never knew what they should have tasted like and ordering them at Olive Garden in high school should not even be comparable. The juicy local Roma tomato, the fresh basil, the homemade olive oil. To die for.
From then, I’ve built an obsession around anything on a little piece of crunchy baguette. I’ve discovered a world of possibilities outside of just tomatos and basil.
Here are a few delicious ones:
Clockwise from top left
Coterie Market: Local Austin Goodies..Delivered!
I was a huge fan of Fresh Direct when we were living in Brooklyn. It’s one of those things that comes up frequently in conversations between my husband and I. The general consensus is that we miss the convenience of it. I could rely on Fresh Direct more than I could on myself having time (or energy) to stop by the market and lug grocery bags up the stairs.
Queue Coterie Market.
It’s a new delivery service launching in the fall that will carry local Austin goodies. That’s even better than Fresh Direct because who doesn’t love buying locally sourced food from small businesses? I know I do.
Yippee. Can’t wait!
Visit their website: Coterie Market
blk. Spring Water
First question: would you drink a refreshing glass of black water?
Strangely, it exists thanks to a company called blk. and according to reviews on Amazon, it really actually doesn’t taste like water. I can’t imagine how I would react to trying to find refreshment from something that is opaque black.
The water contains a plant-based mineral, fulvic minerals, that plays a vital role in plant growth. When extracted and added into water, it natually turns the water black without using any artificial dyes.
You can purchase this in bulk on Amazon: 24 16.9oz bottles for $55.00 which comes in at $2.29 each bottle.
A Lil’ Strawberr-spiration
It’s strawberry season, y’all!
The peak time for strawberries lasts a few weeks between the months of May and June. Because of the warmer spring, it has come a little early. You can find strawberries on sale practically at any store right now and they’re all plump, red, sweet, and oh so delicious. I picked up a container at Wal Mart [bows head in embarrassment for a brief second at the admittance that I shopped at Wal Mart] for $1.
There are so many things you can do with them: cupcakes, fruitcakes, smoothies, lemonades, tarts, pies, salads, dressing, ice cream, and the list continues on forever.
Hopefully this will help inspire you to go make something delicious!
Quick & Easy: Bacon Fried Rice
Bacon fried rice. Need I say more?
2 cups rice (white or brown)
4 slices of bacon
½ onion, finely diced
4 scallions, finely sliced
1 tbspn minced onion
2 garlic cloves
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbspn vegetable oil
3 tbspn soy sauce
chili garlic sauce (for spice; optional)
Cook the rice according to directions (about 1 ½ cups of water to 2 cups of rice).
While the rice is cooking, lay out the bacon on a foil-lined cookie sheet and place into a cold oven. Bake at 400˚. Once the oven reaches 400˚, keep a watchful eye on it because the bacon should be close to crispy and done (about 2-3 minutes after oven reaches 400˚).
Once the bacon is done cooking, place cooked bacon on a paper towel to dry. Transfer the bacon fat into a large skillet (be careful!) and add the onions, scallions and garlic. Cook on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. Add peas and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Once the bacon cools, crumble. Then, with the skillet still oily, scramble the eggs. Transfer to a bowl.
Use a paper towel to wipe off any remaining residue. Add the vegetable oil and when it’s hot (not smoking), add the white rice and lightly fry for 3-4 minutes.
Mix in the onion/garlic mixture, scrambled eggs, crumbled bacon, and soy sauce. If desired, add additional soy sauce and/or chili garlic sauce to taste
You might notice something else besides bacon. I threw in some chinese sausage in there last minute!
Quick & Easy: Shellchiladas
Who knew combining pasta and enchiladas would make such a good weeknight dinner?
It’s a small venture away from something you typically see. Jumbo shells, enchilada-style? As you may or may not know, my husband and brother-in-law are half Mexican so I could see why they were skeptical at first. After a few bites, I noticed head nods and soon enough, cleaned plates.
Credit for “shellchiladas” goes to the hubby.
12 jumbo pasta shells
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 (10 oz.) can enchilada sauce
1 tbspn minced onion
¼ tspn dried oregano
¼ tspn ground cumin
¼ tspn dried basil
½ cup refried beans
Shredded ‘Mexican 4-Cheese Blend’
crema mexicana (or sour cream)
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Cook pasta shells according package directions.
While shells are cooking, cook beef in a large skillet until almost all brown. Add onions to beef and cook until onions are fragrant and translucent. Stir in oregano, cumin and basil.
Add about 3/4 can of enchilada sauce and 1/2 can of refried beans. Mix well.
Using a small spoon, fill each shell with beef mixture until each shell is plump. Be gentle! You want to be careful not to tear the shells.
Place shells into a 9x13 baking dish. I lined mine with aluminum but they did stick when I took them out, so I would be careful. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the shells, cover and place the dish into the oven for 20 minutes.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle the shredded cheese over the shells and cook uncovered for the remaining period.
Garnish with desired toppings!
A New Year’s Resolution: Eat Better
Happy New Year!
What does this mean exactly?
1. A new year means trying to sweep under the rug all of the failed attempts in years prior to make exercising a habit. This is when we can all confidently say, again, that we will exercise and lose xx pounds without anyone remembering what we said last year.
2. It means that those who frequent the gym are more than likely complaining about it being too crowded and start counting down the days until it’s back to normal again. It’s always inevitable that people start dropping off like flies.
3. It also means that the Oreos and Klondike bars will stay on the shelves at the grocery store a couple of weeks longer than they usually do.
Many years of failed attempts and witnessing my spiral downwards mid-year every year, I decided that I was going to try something different.
Resolution #1: Eat better
Yes, it’s pretty general. True, it’s not as cliché as “lose weight”. BUT, it also means that if I accidentally miss one day of my Insanity workout, I won’t feel like a failure which means that I would be less likely to lose hope and give up on every single resolution I have for the year.
A few tips I’m going to try to follow myself:
1. Keep up with produce that’s in season. And if you have to, subscribe to a service (if available in your city) that delivers farm-fresh produce. In Austin, we have services such as Greenling and Farmhouse Delivery.
If you don’t have access to that, keep up with what’s peaking with the Epicurious Peak-Season Map or just take a stroll through the farmer’s market.
Use ‘em to challenge yourself to cook something different and outside-the-box.
2. Set aside a comfortable number of days per week to cook at home and plan it. Dedicate one day a week to sit down and plan meals for your x number of days. Print out calendars, bookmark recipes, have it somewhere you can view on a daily basis, put up a chalkboard menu board in your kitchen. (Mine is 5 days per week and I have dedicated Sunday morning to plan so I can go grocery shopping Sunday afternoon for the week.)
3. Subscribe to a magazine or, for free, food blogs. As an artist, I find inspiration in various places every day. This also applies to the inspiration to cook which, for me, can be found in magazines or blogs. Once you get those glands salivatin’, you’ll be in the kitchen in no time.
4. Skip the snack aisle! Except for the first grocery trip of the month. This one is always easier said than done. Always. It takes every ounce of will power in my body to not look down the snack aisle and see rainbows and unicorns. But, rest assured, it can happen. It has happened. Buy a handful of moderately healthy snacks to last through the month and ration it out to last.
So there you have it. These are the goals I’ve laid out for my top resolution of the year. It seems fairly easy to do, doesn’t it? :)
Holiday Hostess with the Mostest!
Hosting a dinner isn’t easy and the nervous thoughts never fail to ring in your head while you’re preparing dinner. Rid yourself of the extra stress by preparing a few quick hors d’œuvres beforehand for your guests to pass around and snack on to keep them occupied. It’s always a good conversation starter, too.
The State Fair of Texas
By the State Fair of Texas, I mean the Mecca of Anything You’ve Ever Dreamt of in Fried Form.
I haven’t been in 6 years but since we’re now living in Texas again, it was worth the drive. It hasn’t changed much, or at all, besides the fried food offerings. Fried bubblegum, fried beer, fried moon pies, fried bacon, fried salsa, fried guacamole,.. you catch the drift.
I wanted to try as many interesting fried things as I could, but it seems like after a 3rd order and the $20 spent, there was a tinge of guilt falling over me.
1. Deep Fried Frozen Margarita
Let’s just say this gave me a stomachache the moment I swallowed it. I still don’t understand what made this a deep fried frozen margarita. It definitely wasn’t frozen but obviously just fried.
What was fried? I have no idea.
Would I recommend it? No.
2. Fried Salsa
This was delicious! Surprisingly delicious! They served it with a spoonful of queso. The outside was crusted with tortilla crumbs that created a nice crunchy texture on the outside. Once you bit in to it, the salsa oozed out. I’m tempted to recreate this at home, if I can muster up the willpower to fry something myself.
3. Chicken Fried Bacon
…a.k.a a heart attack waiting to happen. There was more batter than there was bacon inside of it and the oil was penetrating the paper try. It was salty and tasted like I was expecting. I wish I would have spent my 12 coupons elsewhere.
Salsa Roundup: El Chile Salsa a la Charra
Where: Whole Foods
Spice Level: None
Oh my joy! One of the first restaurants I tried in Austin on a visit here from SXSW was El Chile. I loved it! The free chips and salsa were delish and their prickly pear margaritas were addictive. Had I known then what I know now: they bottled and sold their own salsa.
I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely prefer local salsa over large names found at Target or Wal-Mart. El Chile is located on the east side of Austin with a sister taco stand, El Chilito, a few doors down. Their salsa is better than good, it’s amazing (and award-winning).
Enough about that.. let’s move into the salsa itself.
The consistency is close to liquid–there are no chunks of tomato or chunks of anything for that matter. You better be good at balancing because it can get messy since the salsa can just slide off your chip and all over your white shirt (speaking from experience). You can taste the simplicity yet the flavors are so bold and rich with a hint of smokiness.
What’s even better is that it’s composed of only 5 ingredients: roasted tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, salt and apple cider vinegar. How they made those 5 ingredients taste like heaven? That’s beyond me.
Monday Morning: Cheers to Fall
Apologies for the hiatus, I was away in Spain for a bit and came back to chaos. Since I’ve been gone, fall must have slowly rolled in. The early mornings and late evenings have been brisk and beautiful here in Austin. What better way to celebrate fall’s arrival than with a few fall cocktails?