Friday, February 16, 2018

Tomatillo Sauce and Weeknight Chicken Enchiladas

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Last Saturday was a gloomy day and I was cozy on the sofa watching PBS and came across Pati's Mexican Kitchen. I'd never seen it before, but everything sure looked great.  In particular was a green tomatillo sauce that she used on some tacos and as a side for dipping chips.

I love green sauce when I head out to Mexican restaurants--so I thought I'd try this one.  I made it on a Tuesday after work--it was super fast and easy to do on a work night.  I served it with tacos that night and the next night made up some chicken enchiladas!

2 lbs tomatillos
1/4 c. white onion, rough chop
2 cloves garlic
1 Serrano (or jalapeƱo) pepper
1/2 bunch cilantro with stems
1 T. vegetable oil
salt to taste

Peel the husk off the tomatillos, rinse and  and place in a pot with the whole garlic and whole pepper.  Cover with water and bring to boil, cook about 8-10 minutes until tomatillos are soft. In your blender, blend about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, the tomatillos, garlic and pepper (if you think it will be too spicy, use just half the pepper).   Pulse until thick but not super smooth.  Add the onions and cilantro and puree again until its pretty smooth. 
Empty the cooking pot of any leftover cooking water  and heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and pour in the puree.  Simmer for about 20 minutes. If it seems a bit tart, try adding 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sugar.

I loved it so much, that the next day I made a triple batch of sauce and froze it to use in future recipes. I have a Latino grocery store near my house--and the ingredients there are usually super inexpensive (like I spent a total of about $4 for the triple batch ingredients).  If you've got a market like that, check it out!

My Weeknight Chicken Enchiladas

1 1/2 cups green tomatillo sauce
6 corn or flour tortillas
1 pound cooked chicken, chopped (I used Costco rotisserie chicken)
1 can green chiles
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 pound jack cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a saute pan,  heat the oil over medium and then saute the onion until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add the cumin and the garlic and cook another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, dump the chopped chicken, chiles, onion mix and about 1 cup of the shredded cheese and 1/2 cup of green sauce; stir to combine.

In an 8x8 baking dish, pour about 1/4 cup of the green sauce and spread over the bottom. Soften the tortillas (corn, a quick fry in oil or spray with oil and bake for a few minutes.  Flour, heat in the microwave for 15 seconds).  Fill each tortilla with the chicken mix.  Roll up and place seam side down into the dish.  Repeat.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes until bubbly (I sped things along by microwaving for about 3 minutes first, then adding the cheese on the top and finishing in the oven for 15 minutes).

Serve with sour cream, guacamole, cilantro, chopped lettuce or tomatoes. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Homemade Yogurt and Granola

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I've jumped on the homemade yogurt bandwagon!  I like yogurt and I've been willing to pay for the "expensive" Greek yogurt because I like the texture better.  I don't like the chalky or too-tart flavors of some of the national brands.  I also am trying to eat more cleanly--less processed stuff, more real stuff. It should come as no surprise that homemade is way better than store bought--that's true of pretty much any food.  I just didn't realize that it was this easy to do. 

Here's what you need.

Whole milk
Fage plain 2% yogurt for starter
Good kitchen thermometer
Instant Pot with Yogurt feature (or a Dash yogurt maker from Amazon)

I know the Yogurt function on Instant pot will heat the milk, but I prefer just doing it in the microwave (control freak here, and its faster in the microwave).  I heat 8 cups of milk in a Pyrex bowl to 181-185 degrees.   You heat the milk to mess with the protein structure in the milk, apparently to help yogurt be thick--not to kill off bacteria, pasteurization already did that. Every microwave is different, so experiment on the time.  I set up a paper towel next to the microwave with my wire whisk and thermometer and pull off any milk skin that forms and stir the milk before taking the temperature. 

Next you have to let the milk cool back down to between 105-110 degrees before you add your starter yogurt--otherwise its too hot and the bacteria in the starter yogurt will die.  Because I am impatient (or usually trying to get the whole process done before I go to bed) I fill my sink with some cold tap water and set the bowl of hot milk into the  until my thermometer reads 105-110 degrees (about 7 minutes).  If you are more patient, you can just let it sit on the counter until its the right temperature.  But don't get distracted by binging on Netflix.  If you let it drop below about 105, the starter won't start and you will end up with yogurt flavored milk instead of delicious, thick and creamy yogurt.

Now that its cooled down, you can add the starter yogurt--seems silly that you need yogurt to make yogurt--but you do.  One tablespoon of plain yogurt for 8 cups of milk is enough!  Really--more doesn't help.  Stir it up and put your mixture into the Instant pot container.  Follow the directions on the pot (I hit the Yogurt button, adjust the time to 6-8 hours and put the lid on).  The machine incubates at about 100 degrees the whole time--perfect for yogurt bacteria to do their job of eating the lactose in the milk.  The longer you incubate the more tangy your yogurt will be.  I like about a 6 hour incubation--which is not tangy at all.

Make sure that your sealing ring for your pot doesn't smell like onions or cumin or something non-yogurty.  If it does, your yogurt will taste like onion.  Since the Instant Pot doesn't do the pressure mode for yogurt, you could potentially just remove the seal and put the lid on. You could also order a new sealing ring from Amazon and keep it just for yogurt making.

I take my finished, warm yogurt out of the machine when the time is up and carefully dump the contents into a strainer.  For straining,  I line my pasta drainer with a large coffee filter.  This lets the whey drain out--which leaves a concentrated, creamy and thick Greek-style yogurt.  If you want, after straining you can add vanilla or some sweetener.  I've tried adding sweetener before incubating and it just didn't work as well.
Even before straining, the yogurt is thick.

I get giant size coffee filters at a restaurant supply store

Top your tasty yogurt with fruit or honey or granola or all of those!

Just wait, you'll find yourself making yogurt every weekend.   If I start with 8 cups of milk, after I strain my yogurt I usually end up with about 5 cups of yogurt.  At my grocery, milk is about $2 a gallon and Fage is $1 per carton.  I can actually use the same container of Fage for two weekends, so for $3 I can get two batches of yogurt.

Possible errors.  Did your yogurt not set?  Did you use a starter yogurt that says contains live active cultures (not just "contains cultures")--or did the starter yogurt  have additives like gelatin?  Was the starter yogurt close to expiring?  Did you heat the milk past 185? Did you let the milk drop below 105?  Did you turn the machine on  :)  Is your thermometer accurate?  I have a really nice instant-read digital--temperature is the key point in this recipe, so make sure you have a good thermometer.

Homemade Granola

Why did I think this was hard?  I've never made it before, and its something that is really simple.
2 cups oats
1/2 c. sliced almonds
 2/3 c. shredded coconut
1/4 c. coconut oil
1/4 c. honey
1 1/2  teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup dried fruit of choice (craisen, apricot, mango)
1 Tbp. chia seed (optional)

Alternate:  Nutella (or any nut butter ) Granola
Increase to 2 3/4 C oats add 1/3 C. Nutella to the oil/honey mix.  Leave out the cinnamon and dried fruit. 

Preheat oven to 250 and line big rimmed cookie sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl add oatmeal, shredded coconut and almonds.  In a small microwave-safe bowl combine the oil, honey and microwave 30 seconds or until melted.  Add cinnamon and vanilla to melted mixture, stir well then dump into the oat mix.  Stir up really well and then spread onto the parchment.  Bake for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Remove from oven and cool completely.  Sprinkle on the dried fruit (don't bake the fruit, it will get way too dried out).  Store in a container with a lid.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Placemat Pillows

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Do you like to hit the after Christmas clearance sales? I do! I don't mind storing things for a year if it means I got it for 90% off.  I grabbed these place mats at Target last year-and it was no problem that there were only one of a kind since I wasn't thinking of using them for the table.  Instead, I saw that these place mats were made with a front and back fabric-so they were basically pillowcases that had been sewn shut. Also in the Christmas clearance section, I saw lots of bags of "snow batting"--the kind you unroll and put under villages or trees-but it's the same polyfill material used for stuffing pillows. It was super cheap, so I bought a couple packages for each pillow.

1 fabric place mat (make sure that it has a front and back fabric)
Stuffing material
Thread to match

Use a sharp pair of scissors or a seam ripper to open up the seam along the bottom of the place mat. Start and end about 1 inch from the edges.

If using flat snow batting, unroll it and then accordion fold it into a rectangle that will fit inside the pillow.

To make it easier to insert into the pillow, roll up the batting and stick one end into the pillow and then the other. Use your hands to smooth it flat.

Sew up the seam either on your sewing machine or by hand (or for a no-sew version, add stick-on Velcro or fabric glue).

This project took about 5 minutes per pillow. I chose to just make a quick pillow, but you could do pillow covers if you wanted to take the time to add buttons or snaps or sew-in Velcro.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

DIY Family Thanksgiving Fun Run

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If you've been to my blog before, you know I'm a runner.  I enjoy 5Ks the most--they are fast and don't require the weeks of training that 1/2 marathons and marathons do.  I like themed runs the best--and I do like Thanksgiving Fun Runs--helps me justify the 2nd piece of pie.  My extended family is large and has quite a few little kiddos-enough that an organized race is probably more effort than everyone wants  on a holiday (wrangling strollers, babies, toddlers, teenagers)-especially since I know we will try and do a whole family photo this weekend.  Best to save the "be on your best behavior" bribes and threats for that event and not an early morning run.  So I thought it might be fun to have just our family do a run.  It means no traveling to a race early in the morning with little kids, no finding parking or waiting in the cold for the race to start. We'll just start at Grandma's house and run to a nearby park and back.  Cocoa for when we get back. I'm guessing we'll have about 16 people in our group--no bigger than a run club--and we won't be on busy streets, so I'm not worried that we will cause a safety hazard for ourselves or drivers.

The best part about races is usually the t-shirt and the medal--so I made sure to get them for our race too--and they were cheap! For about the cost of 1 registration, I got everything for the entire group (well, I only did t-shirts for kids.  I offered the vinyl decal for any adult who wanted to bring their own shirt).

I ordered some inexpensive finisher's medals from Crown Awards, made a simple design for a t-shirt on my Silhouette SD and designed some race bibs in Word.

Did you know that Dollar Tree has t-shirts?  They are not usually high quality (although I have occasionally found overstocked nice tech shirts).  For a family race, $1 shirts are perfect.

I found a clip art I liked and added some race numbers to the bib, which I printed on cardstock at home.

I'm off to the Dollar Store to find a couple prizes.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

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Fall.  So beautiful--its been really lovely this fall, with lots of sunshine to go with the brilliant colored leaves. Today I enjoyed a day out at a pumpkin patch and then home for raking leaves.  To top off this day, I decided to make a hearty fall casserole.  This one takes some pre-planning, but the results are really worth it.

Time:  2 hours


1 pound butternut squashed, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup water
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
1 12 oz package frozen spinach
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 C. cottage cheese (full fat)
1 egg
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 pound mozzerella, grated
1 box quick-cook lasagna noodles

Getting started--there are several components that you have to prep first.  I put the instructions in order so that everything is ready to go.

I soaked the noodles for about 30 minutes--since there isn't a wet tomato sauce in this casserole, I wasn't sure that there would be enough moisture to cook while baking, so I soaked them until tender in a pan. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Toss the butternut squash and 1/2 of an onion with olive oil and spread into a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet (I wished I had chopped the onions smaller or maybe used my Blendtec instead of the food processor).  Bake for about 40 minutes until squash is tender.  Remove from oven and puree in food processor with about 1/2 cup of water. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (don't turn the oven off since you are going to put the finished casserole back in the oven after you assemble).

Now that the squash is cooking, work on the spinach.  Pre heat a saucepan and add the olive oil, spinach and about 1/4 of the onion.  Cook for about 6-7 minutes until spinach and onions are tender.  Add the chopped garlic and saute for another 30 seconds before removing from the heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl,  mix the cottage cheese, egg, basil, parsley and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Do not add salt since the cheese is already salty.

Now you are ready to assemble!  I used a small disposable pan, which wasn't quite big enough--next time I'd use a deep casserole dish (deeper than a standard 9x12 pan).  Spread some squash mix on the bottom of the pan.  Lay down noodles to make a single layer.  I kept my layers of filling fairly thin--because the texture and chewiness of the noodle is a good contrast of the soft fillings-so I have about 2x the amount of noodle than I would in a regular lasagna.  Spread more squash, then cheese mixture, then spinach and then mozzarella.  Then lay down more noodles and repeat until your pan is full.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes until all bubbly.

This was really tasty.  I'm pretty excited about leftovers for lunch this week!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Traveling Light--Summer trip to Europe

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I just got back from 8 days in Paris and Prague with my brother.  I'm a fan of packing light, and have done posts on packing light before.  I thought I'd share what I took with me for a July trip. It was hot and we walked everywhere.

While I was only gone for 8 days, the things I had with me I could have done 2-3 weeks if I did laundry more often.  I only washed underwear on this short trip, but I was down to my last clean shirt on the last day. 


Osprey Porter 46
This is a great backpack.  Its slightly larger than my regular backpack, but it isn't in the category of "backpacking through Europe" either.  Its main draw is that it unzips and opens up like a suitcase, so its easy to get in and out of.  Its comfortable enough for wearing from the airport, on the subway etc...but you do get tired of it--it doesn't have hip belts to distribute weight.  But you don't want roller bags in Europe--too many cobble stone sidewalks and stairs.  This bag also has some cinch straps, so if you need to smash it in order to make it fit as a carry on, you can (It easily fit in the overhead on my Delta and Air France flights, but I don't know about the budget European carriers).

Keen travel purse
I love this purse.  It is heavy duty nylon with lots of zippers and pockets. 


Packing cubes

I had 2 long rectangle and 2 small rectangle cubes.  (Try eBags or Amazon Basic for some inexpensive ones).  The long rectangles were great for the backpack.  I used them for my clothes.  The small rectangles I used for socks, underwear and electronics. 

What I took

1 Pair travel pants
1 pair leggings
2 skirts (these were reversible, found them at Costco)
1 knit dress (Banana Republic)
4 black t shirts
1 stripe short sleeve top
1 stripe long sleeve top
1 gray long sleeve thin sweater
1 pink thin cardigan
2 scarves
4 pairs of socks
4 pairs of underwear
1 sun hat
1 rain jacket (that folds into its own pocket)

black sandals
black Sketcher mary janes
running shoes

minimal make up
ear plugs
band aids
laundry soap (Tide liquid travel packs)

small guidebooks
back up battery
mini ipad (I could have left at home...plane had plenty of in seat entertainment)
noise cancelling headphones
power converter/adapter

I could have gotten by with 1 less black shirt and I wore the dress once--but could have worn a skirt another time.  I am so glad I took the running shoes.  Everyone says that Paris needs to be dressier, that you'll stand out as an American if you wear tennis shoes.  Guess what, you'll look like an American no matter what.  Its your trip and your feet--wear the tennis shoes.  I wore my black sandals on the first day (landed at 11:15 am and powered through the day until about 8:00 and with the hot, sweaty weather, I ended up with a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  These sandals have never given me trouble any other time and I've had them for years).  Wear the tennis shoes--don't put fashion over function, not even for Paris.  I do love my Sketcher Mary Janes--and wore them all last year on my Europe trip, but I know I walked WAY more on this trip (at a minimum of 12 miles per day)--and with the blister from day one, I needed to wear socks, so the Mary Janes didn't get the wear that I thought they would.    

Blister help:  I had a big blister on the bottom of my heel by the end of day one.  It had not popped and I had 7 more days of walking to do.  Blisters happen because of friction--so you want to reduce friction and add support.  I didn't take my body glide that I use when I run (should have, for my feet but also other places that got sweaty and chafed with all the walking and sweating)--so I pulled out my stick deodorant and used my fingernail to dig out a dollop and put it on top of the blister, then covered it with a good bandage.  Then I smeared some deodorant on top of the bandage.  I then put on my socks (luckily, I took my double knit running socks, which help reduce friction).  By wearing the bandage with the deodorant, socks and my tennis shoes I was able to walk all day on day 2 without being miserable and by day three the blister had receded on its own.  My brother had a similar problem, so we did the same fix for him.