Southwestern Bean and Pasta Salad

Once I conquered my fear of baking a cake without a box mix, I was hooked on making every element of every meal from scratch. Hamburger buns, condiments, crackers, ice cream – I love making it all myself. Really, if I can find a way to needlessly complicate a recipe, I will.

Southwestern Bean and Pasta Salad
At this point, it takes an unbearably hectic week to keep me from churning my own butter, so to speak.

Scallions
So. It was a week until pay day, which meant protein = beans. I was planning to make my southwestern-spiced pasta and bean salad, when I realized that I had not one, not two, but THREE half-empty, opened bottles of Ranch salad dressing in the door of my fridge. Could I really justify buying buttermilk and sour cream and three different fresh herbs to dress my salad?

I could not. So I tossed my salad with bottled dressing, and it was perfectly lovely.

As much as I love cooking and baking from scratch, my option to do so is a luxury. It requires time, money, energy, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, a place to store both fresh foods and dry goods, reliable transportation to the market, potable water, pots and pans, cupboard space, and cooking skills, just for a start.

Sometimes I have all of those resources to spare, and just like most people, other times I don’t.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Continue reading for the Southwestern Bean and Pasta Salad recipe

Continue reading

Advertisements

grilled fish tacos with cucumber salsa, sriracha dressing, and corn nuts

Last week, Minnesotans enjoyed a warm and sunny, puddly teaser thaw, and it seemed spring was just around the corner. Sadly, winter made an all-star comeback this morning, and the icy Minnesota wind that chapped my ears as I left for work sounded especially smug.

"Corn ... Nuts!"

I’m still pouting over my not-trip to Mexico, so I’m sharing another not-authentic Mexican recipe. These delightfully spicy and crunchy fish tacos look winter square in the face and say, “BITE ME.”

As much as I love batter fried fish (fish and chips, like, woah), I don’t really like deep frying in my kitchen.

Grilled Tilapia

Or, more accurately, I don’t like cleaning up the mess left by deep frying in my kitchen. So rather than dragging out the kitchen kettle and dealing with all that oil, I marinated the fish and grilled it on my little electric grill.

I made a cucumber salad instead of the more traditional cabbage slaw, but that left me with a pretty soft, squishy taco.

So I took a little inspiration from Heathers, and added a handful of Corn Nuts for some crunch. I drizzled the top with a spicy and tangy sriracha dressing, and saved the leftover dressing to use as a dip for tater tots, à la the Bulldog.

Recipe below the fold

Continue reading

Chicken Shepherd’s Pie with Truffled Mashed Potatoes

My pursuit of the world’s fanciest popcorn for fancy guesties Mom, Aissa, and Alison brought me to Clancey’s Meats and Fish in charming and trendy Linden Hills. I was looking for duck fat and truffle salt – I’d never used either ingredient before. As I waited for the butcher to scoop out a cup of rendered duck fat, I found an unmarked, 3-ounce jar of black truffle salt and handed it to the cashier.

“That’ll be $3.69 for the duck fat and $25 for the truffle salt.”

“TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS FOR SALT!!?!” screamed the voice inside my head.

I glanced back at the line of well-dressed Minneapolitans behind me, anxious to get home with their fennel pollen sausage and Alaskan sockeye salmon.

“Yes. Yes, that’s fine. I’ll put it on my Visa,” I heard myself say, in an entirely unfamiliar, just-a-hair-too loud, robot voice.

Thanks to my pride, I am the owner of 2.97 ounces of earthy, pungent truffle salt, and I’m happily exploring ways to use it in my cooking, tiny pinch by tiny pinch.

$25 salt and sale-priced frozen veggies cancel each other out, right?

I started with a thick, rich, comforting chicken stew topped with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. Then I considered my (very slightly) elevated cholesterol, and made a couple of small tweaks:

I substituted milk for cream in both the gravy and the potatoes; I cut half the butter in the potatoes and replaced it with a heart-healthy spread; and I used canola oil instead of butter to make a roux for the gravy. Then I added truffle salt to the potatoes, and bouillon and a lemon rind to the chicken stock to boost the flavor lost in cutting the cream and butter.

It was delicious and rich – the perfect comfort food – and I didn’t miss the cream and butter at all.

Professor Meowington sez: the lemon really brightens up the flavor of the gravy.

Recipe below the fold

Continue reading

spicy chicken, black bean, and grilled corn soup

Handsome Greg and I went to Mexico two years ago, and I came home with the worst cold evah, right about the time we were all just hearing about swine flu.

(I did not have swine flu.)

I was fine for most of our vacation, but two days before we left Mazatlan for home, I woke up in our hotel room with a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and a lingering cough that made me want to gargle in my lungs.

There were a few things that comforted me in those I-can’t-believe-I’m-sick-on-vacation days: travel Scrabble on the balcony with Greg, the wholehearted sun (in March, you guys), the ocean lapping at my feet, and the tortilla soup at the hotel restaurant on the beach.

Until I tried the tortilla soup at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan, I’d never believed in the magical healing power of chicken soup. But this soup. This was the kind of soup that divides your life into Before Tortilla Soup and After Tortilla Soup.

The soup I had at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan started with a bowl of freshly fried tortilla strips, queso fresco, and avocado. A steaming, spicy, smoky chicken broth was poured over the fresh ingredients, melting the cheese and softening the tortillas. Then bright, fresh cilantro was snipped on top.

While I could never dream of recreating the Mexico soup made of fireworks and lullabies and unicorns, I was inspired to make my own spicy chicken soup. The soup I make in my kitchen is cheap and tasty and filling. It’s not going to blow your head off with heat, but my Midwestern palette finds it warming all the way down, like a scotch neat.

Recipe below the fold

Continue reading