Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

So I think it is no secret by now that Mr. Pea loves Mexican food.  So  do you think it was any question that we had to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the best way possible, a Mexican fiesta of course!  We have been planning this for a while, and have been really excited to share our cooking skills with our friends.  The fiesta was a blast we had so much fun and the food turned out great! I think we will definitely have to have  another fiesta next year!

The first thing I want to talk about is the tequila we had, it is called Clase Azul and is the best tequila I have ever had! Mr. Pea brought this bottle  back  from Arizona were it is the only place we have found they sell it in the US. They come in hand painted bottles  and each bottle is unique to its own.  I am surprised  that  this bottle has lasted this long, you would  think that too if  you knew  how much Mr. Pea and I love tequila.  We agreed  when we got it though that we would only drink it on special occasions.  But don’t  put this in your margaritas, this is the kind of tequila that  you sip on and enjoy on the rocks, because it is that good.  For making margaritas  make sure you use any kind of clear 100% agave tequila, we used Camarena tequila. As for shots,  I wouldn’t use  the Camarena, I would  suggest using patron or a bottle of 1800.

Tequila

So we started off  with some chips, salsa, guacamole and Ben’s signature Margaritas.  We  made two different kind of salsas, the first one was the tomatillo salsa that  I have shared the recipe for in an earlier post. The second was a  Chipolte  salsa  that was so good that I blinked and it was gone, so unfortunately have no photo of it, but no worries I  will share the recipe.

Mr.Pea’s Signature Margaritas

Ingredients:

(serves 4)
3/4 Cup(s) juice (3 large limes) lime
6 Tablespoon(s) sugar
1 Cup(s) plus 2 tbs tequila blanco
1/4 Cup(s) cointreau
1 1/2 Cup(s) small ice cube

Directions:
Make limeade
Combine the lime juice, sugar and 1 cup water in a glass or plastic pitcher. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away (but no longer than 24 hours).

Finish and serve margaritas
Add the tequila and orange liqueur to the pitcher of limeade. Rub the rims of 6 martini glasses with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. In a large shaker, combine the half of the margarita mixture with half of the ice and shake 10 to 15 seconds, then strain into the prepared glasses. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Chipolte Salsa

Ingredients:

1 Can(s) 14oz with juices diced tomatoes

3 Clove(s) peeled, halved garlic

3 chipotle chiles en adobo

1/2 Teaspoon(s) mexican oregano

2 Tablespoon(s) apple cider vinegar

1 rehydrated Gaujillo chile (rehydrate in water for 30 minutes), stem and seed

1 rehydrated Ancho chile  (rehydrate in water for 30 minutes), stem and seed

* * Note: You can also  use the water used to rehydrate the chiles  to stir into the salsa  to reach the desired consistency.

Directions:

In a food processor or blender, combine, the tomatoes, garlic, chiles, oregano and vinegar. Process until smooth. Pour into a small (2-quart) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer 15 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in enough water to reach desired consistency. Taste and season highly with salt, usually 1 1/2 teaspoons. Cool, pour into a bottle and refrigerate until needed.

 ** Note: This recipe  can also be thinned out to use as a steak marinade or steak sauce. If used for this,  adding water more water is necessary, to give the sauce the consistency of steak sauce and/or marinade.

Guacamole

Ingredients:

-Frontera Guacamole Starter mix

-1 red onion

-lime juice (this is what keeps it green, not  the pit which most people think)

-cilantro

-4-5  ripe avacados ( The way  to tell if an avacado is ripe is to push with your thumb and if it is soft but not too soft then it it is perfect for making guacamole)

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and mash with a potato masher  and enjoy!

We then  decided  to make two different tacos, we each decided to make one. I  decided to make a New Mexican Chicken Taco with Black Beans and a Pineapple Orange Jalapeno Salsa. While Mr. Pea made a Chile Braised Pork Shoulder Taco with Pickled Red Onions.

New Mexican Chicken Taco with Black Beans and a Pineapple Orange Jalapeno Salsa

Ingredients:

(serves 12)

-2 Packets of Rick Bayless’s Frontera  New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce  (with roasted tomato and mild red chile)

– 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

– 2 teaspoons of chipolte seasoning ( I used Penzeys chipolte seasoning)

-1 cup of water

Put all the ingredients into a crockpot, give it a little stir to blend the seasoning with the skillet sauce and water. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours ( I think low and slow is always the better choice). When done, the chicken should shred easily when stirred with a fork and/or tongs. When done , to assemble taco heat taco shell in a cast iron skillet, spread a little bit of black beans , place the chicken on top of the beans and then top it off with the Pineapple Orange Jalapeno Salsa.

Pineapple Orange Jalapeno Salsa

2  oranges, segmented and chopped

1/2 cup of pineapple

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

1/2 jalapeno, chopped

2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

pinch of salt

**Note:  I usually make this salsa  with blood oranges instead of regular oranges, but they are no longer in season :(.  I usually  use this with fish tacos or even some grilled fish that we make, it makes a good topping for seafood!

Chile Braised Pork Shoulder with Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients:

(makes 20 tacos)

•    2 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
•    4 medium dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
•    1/3 cup Lime Juice
•    1/3 cup Orange Juice
•    1/3 cup Olive Oil
•    1 chipotle chile en adobo
•    1 jalepeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped
•    2 bay leaves
•    2 tablespoons cider vinegar
•    1/2 small white onion, roughly chopped (plus a few thinly sliced rings for garnish)
•    3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
•    1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
•    1 teaspoon dried thyme
•    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
•    Pinch of ground cloves
•    1 1/2 tablespoon pork lard or bacon drippings
•    1/2 teaspoon table salt (plus more to taste)
•    3 pounds, boneless pork shoulder
•    Warm corn tortillas
•    Sour cream, hot sauce, pickled red onions, thinly sliced radishes and cilantro, for garnish

Directions:
•    Place the dried chiles in a small bowl, cover with very warm water and let stand for 30 minutes.  Drain, reserving 2/3 cup of the soaking liquid, then transfer the rehydrated chiles and the reserved liquid to a blender.
•    Pulverize the bay leaves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and add them to the blender along with the vinegar, onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, orange juice, lime juice, olive oil, jalepeno, allspice and cloves.  Process to a smooth puree, adding water if needed to keep the mixture moving through the blades.  Press through a medium mesh strainer into a bowl.
•    Set a large, 6-quart pot with a lid over medium-high heat and add the pork lard.  When very hot and almost smoking, pour in the puree and stir constantly until it sears, concentrates and darkens into a spicy-smelling paste, about 5 minutes.  Remove the pot from heat and season the sauce with salt.
•    Preheat the oven to 325°.  Cut the pork shoulder into slabs about 3-inches thick.  Lay the meat into the pot with the chile paste, then flip it over to cover evenly, spooning on more sauce over the top to coat the pork well.  Pour 1/2 cup water around the meat, cover tightly and place in the oven.  Roast for 2 1/2 hours, basting the meat every 30 minutes with the liquid and rendered fat that accumulates.  If all of the moisture evaporates, feel free to add more water to the plan to allow you to continue basting. Let the pork rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.
•    Shred or pull the meat apart into-bite size pieces using two forks.  Toss the meat to incorporate any of the leftover chile braising liquid, check for seasoning and add more salt to taste.
•    Place the chile pork in a warm bowl and serve alongside the warm corn tortillas.  Have your guests assemble their own tacos, adding their own garnishes to taste.

Pickled Red Onions
•    1 Red Onion, thinly sliced
•    ¼ tsp Pepper
•    ¼ tsp Cumin
•    ¼ tsp Mexican dried oregano
•    ¼ tsp Garlic Powder
•    ¼ tsp Salt
•    1/3 cup Cider vinegar
•    2 tbs Lime Juice

•    Blanch the onion slices in salted, boiling water for 45 seconds, then drain and place in a medium container.

•    Combine Lime juice, vinegar and remaining spices then pour over the onions. Add enough water to cover the onions, stir well.

•    Let stand for several hours until onions are bright pink. Covered and refrigerated, these onions will last several weeks.

We also made two side dishes Green Poblano Rice (Arroz Verde al Poblano) and Refried Black Beans.

Green Poblano Rice (Arroz Verde al Poblano)

Ingredients:

(makes 4 servings)

1 2/3 cups chicken broth or water

2 fresh poblano chiles, stems and seeds removed, and roughly chopped

12 sprigs cilantro, plus extra for garnish

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon if using salted broth, 1 teaspoon if using unsalted or water

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

1 cup rice, preferably medium grain

1 small white onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

 Directions:

-In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the broth and chiles, bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer gently over medium to medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the chiles are very soft. Pour the chile mixture into a food processor, add the cilantro (stems and all), and process to a smooth puree. Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl and stir in the salt.

-The rice: Wipe the pan clean, add the oil and heat over medium. Add the rice and onion, and cook, stirring regularly, until the rice is chalky looking and the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer.

-Add the warm (or reheated) chile liquid to the hot rice pan, stir once, scrape down any rice kernels clinging to the side of the pan, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and check a grain of rice: It should be nearly cooked through. If the rice is just about ready, turn off the heat, re-cover and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes longer to complete the cooking. If the rice seems far from done, continue cooking for 5 minutes or so, retest, then turn off the heat and let stand a few minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, scoop into a warm serving dish, decorate with cilantro sprigs and it’s ready to serve.

Re-fried Black Beans

Ingredients:

-2-3 can of black beans

-1 tablespoon pork lard

-1 tablespoon Penzeys Arizona Dreming seasoning

Directions:

Heat on medium heat and mash with potato masher,  when beans are mashed  and  heated through, stir  and they are ready to serve.

And  we couldn’t leave dessert off the menu, it’s my favorite part (well the baking and decorating part!)

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

Cupcakes-makes 24

 1 box Betty Crocker white cake mix 1 cup bottled strawberry margarita or daiquiri mix1/3 cup vegetable oil1/4 cup tequila3 egg whites or whole eggs Frosting1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 box (1 lb) powdered sugar (4 cups)

2 teaspoons of heavy whipping cream

2 to 3 tablespoons bottled strawberry margarita or daiquiri mix

 Garnish

12 slices lime, each cut in half

 HAPPY CINCO DE MAYO EVERYONE! 🙂

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Roasted Mushroom Tortas

So I know I went on a rant a couple of posts ago about how  you should make Mexican night in your house more exciting, well Mr. Pea made these for us last week and let me tell you  it turned our Mexican night into a fiesta!  We are still on this healthy  kick and during the week are not indulging in meat, it’s not a crazy diet or anything, it’s just a personal choice. Good thing I got Mr. Pea to like veggies as much as I do, otherwise I think we would not be speaking at this point.  A good compromise for us, is to let him try out a new Mexican dish.  I am a big fan of the sandwich, and that is basically what a torta is, a Mexican sandwich, and it  is a delicious Mexican sandwich at that.

So next time  you head to the store to grab ingredients for your American style tacos, try making tortas instead! They can be made with meat also, we have made them with roasted pork, chicken, steak and chorizo, but I have to say I didn’t miss the meat at all in these roasted mushroom tortas we made.  I think  that  is a good rule of thumb, if you don’t miss the meat when you are eating the dish, does it really need it? Just something to think about.Don’t get me wrong I eat meat, just not as much as I used to and I think I am much healthier for it!

Roasted Mushroom Tortas

(serves 4 people)

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Ingredients:

For Roasted Mushrooms:

•    8 ounces crimini mushroom, stems removed, thinly sliced
•    7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
•    8 ounces oyster mushrooms, thick stems removed, thinly sliced
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
•    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from about 2 limes
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

 For the Refried Beans
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    one 15-ounce can black beans

For the Torta
•    4 bolillo rolls (El Rey Supermercado, has the best bolillo rolls I have ever had!)
•    4 ounces goat cheese or Queso Chihuahua cheese ( I am not a fan of goat cheese, but Mr. Pea is)
•    1 ½ cups arugula (can substitute  with shredded lettuce)
•    Chipolte mayo (Just mix 1/4 cup of mayo with teaspoon of Frontera Chipolte sauce)
•    Avacado, sliced
•    Sliced tomatoes (optional)
•    Sliced red onion (optional)
•    Roasted mushrooms
•    Refried black beans

Directions:
For the Roasted Mushrooms: Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, lime juice, and salt in medium-sized bowl. Dump into 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in oven and cook for 10 minutes. Carefully remove foil, and continue roasting until mushrooms are browned, and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 40 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven. Add cilantro to dish and toss well. Set aside.

For the Refried Beans: While mushrooms are roasting, pour two tablespoons of oil in 12-inch stainless steel skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until it just begins to brown, about one minute. Dump in beans and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, and then mash beans with potato masher or back of a large spoon. Keep mashing until they look like mashed potatoes, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat, and cover skillet.

For the Tortas: Slice rolls in half lengthwise, and remove some of the soft insides. Spread one ounce of cheese on cut side of each top half. Spread two tablespoons of refried beans on cut side of each bottom half.
Divide mushrooms between each bottom half. Place bottom halves on baking sheet and place in oven. Warm them for five minutes. Remove from oven, top each with a handful of arugula, a couple slices of avacado and tomato, and  a drizzle of chiplote mayo, and top half of roll. Return to baking sheet, and again transfer to oven. Warm for just two minutes. Serve immediately.

Delicioso!

Matzo Ball Soup

Ever since I mentioned Ella’s Deli on a previous post, I have been craving matzo ball soup! It just so happens that Mr. Pea stumbled upon a fantastic recipe that perfected the recipe for matzo ball soup this past week. Perfect! We are two peas in a pod that’s for sure!

Well I couldn’t give you the recipe for matzo ball soup without talking about some of my favorite kosher style deli’s that I have been to that are not only great but are worth the trip! The first place I already talked about, and will talk about again because it is one of my favorite places, is Ella’s Deli. This kosher style deli is located in Madison, Wisconsin and is a stop we have to make every year on the drive out to Memorial Day camping. This place has been around since 1976, and there is a reason why it is still around today, it is SOO good! They have good matzo ball soup but they also have sweet and sour cabbage soup and chili that are pretty amazing as well. If there is one thing you go to a deli for it is corned beef, and I think you all know my feelings on corned beef, since I declared it my favorite meal on St. Patty’s Day. But this corned beef sandwich piled high on rye bread is one of my favorite things to eat hands down. If you leave room for dessert, which I never can do, they have a twelve page dessert menu to fulfill your sweet tooth! It is not just the food that makes Ella’s one of my favorite places, it is also the atmosphere of all the animated displays, nostalgic trinkets and toys from years past, and the tabletop games to keep you entertained while you wait for food. Also, if you go there during the spring, summer and fall months, no trip to Ella’s is complete without a ride on the 1927 Parker Carousel! So much fun!

The next place I want to talk about is one of our local favorites Benji’s Deli. Formerly, known as Benjamin’s (which is neat, because Mr. Pea’s name is Benjamin), this kosher style deli is a family favorite, and most of our family dinners take place here. I just have to say, I have NEVER had a bad meal at Benji’s and I have been going there for years! It has been around for 35 years or so, so they must be doing something right. Oh yeah everything! Best known for their corned beef served on Miler Rye, a local bakery that makes the best rye bread I have ever had. If in the corned beef mood, I usually steer towards their take on a Ruben sandwich, the Gonzo sandwich. What is a Gonzo? It is for those people who don’t favor sauerkraut. That’s right I am just going to say it, I HATE sauerkraut! Sorry for my bluntness, getting back the sandwich, the Gonzo is a corned beef sanwich, with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, thousand island dressing and Cole slaw, served on Miller’s rye bread. It is the best, and it has all of the good stuff from a Reuben and none of that awful kraut!

I hate to even mention this next place, because I just found out (only a few minutes ago) that a few months ago when I last went to this deli, was the last time I will EVER get to go, because it is CLOSED! To add more sting to the open wound we were (ironically enough) there on their last day of service! My heart just dropped when I read this, we were even planning a trip to go back for Mother’s Day, it is a sad day when a good place like this becomes another victim of the recession. Well in effort to let this next place live on after it has closed, I must tell you all about it. It is called George’s What’s Cooking Family Restaurant and was located in Waukegan, Illinois. I loved this place for their bread baskets alone. No matter what time of the day you go, you get a fresh bread basket stocked full of all kinds of fresh bread, crackers and bread sticks. Also, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a huge pickle fan! But I don’t like just any pickle, they have to be whole kosher style dill pickles, other pickles simply just do not compare! This place had some good pickles. They also are known for their corned beef, soups (sweet and sour cabbage soup, matzo and borscht), and their American diner food was excellent as well. Anything I had there, had been well amazing! Well I will always remember George’s and it surely will be missed.We had some great memories there that I will look back on, including a brunch for Mother’s Day with Mr. Pea’s late grandmother, Grandma B.

So if that sad story didn’t didn’t make you hungry for some Matzo Ball soup, I don’t know what will.

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MATZO BALL SOUP
serves about 6 people (makes 14 balls)

Ingredients for the soup:
2 chicken thighs (skin on!)
8 cups chicken stock (low-sodium, organic if possible)
2 cups small diced carrots
1 cup small diced celery
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley stems

Ingredients for the balls:
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (melted and cooled slightly)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup matzo meal
4 egg whites

Directions:

Place the chicken thighs in a cold pan, skin-side down, over medium heat. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes until the fat has rendered and browned. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat behind. Combine the stock and browned thighs in a soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove the thighs. Add the carrots, celery and parsley stems. Cook for 5 minutes and turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, chicken stock, chicken fat (from the pan with the thighs), parsley and salt. Stir in the matzo meal. In another bowl, whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks. Add half of the whites into the matzo mixture and stir (the mixture will be quite stiff). Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

ImageBring a pot of water to a boil. Use a 1/4-cup scoop to form the balls and drop gently into the water

ImageAdjust the heat so the water is barely simmering and cook for 15 minutes, when they float to the top that is good it means they will be light and fluffy.

ImageRemove the balls with a slotted spoon and place into the soup.

ImageHeat gently for 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Greek Orzo Salad

Mexican food is one of our favorite things to cook, but I think it is safe to say that a close second would be Greek/Mediterranean food.  One of our favorite side dishes we always include with most Greek/Mediterranean food that we make is this Greek Orzo Salad.  It is delicious! It has  really good flavor and lots of veggies! Why wouldn’t I like it?!  Anyways, we had it as a side dish with our zucchini fritters last night and I thought it was a good opportunity to share this wonderful recipe with you all.

This salad is great  for summer!  You can bring this salad for a picnics, tailgating, or  potluck dinners, because it it is easy and quick to make  and makes a big batch to share with all your family and friends. When we make it in our home  we can usually cut the recipe in half,  because it is just the two of us. Even then  it still makes a lot  and we eat it for days, I don’t mind though it  is one of my favorites!

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Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cup(s) uncooked orzo pasta (you can also substitute  orzo with couscous or quinoa- Both are just as great!)
12 Ounce(s) canned marinated artichoke hearts
1 seeded, chopped tomato
1 seeded, chopped cucumber
1 chopped red onion
2 Ounce(s) canned, drained black olives
1 Cup(s) crumbled feta cheese
1/4 Cup(s) chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon(s) lemon juice
1/2 Teaspoon(s) oregano
1/2 Teaspoon(s) black pepper

(Optional: Add a 12 oz can of drained chickpeas)

Directions:
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. Drain artichoke hearts, reserving liquid.

In large bowl combine pasta, artichoke hearts, tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olives, parsley, lemon juice, oregano and lemon pepper. Toss and chill for 1 hour in refrigerator.

Just before serving drizzle with artichoke marinade
or
4 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon garlic and 2 teaspoon dried oregano whisked together

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

So after our recent trip to Baltimore, I have been craving tomatoes. I blame it on the amazing friend green tomatoes I had at the restaurant The Point for my addiction. Also, this week Mr. Pea and I decided  we needed to eat vegetarian, and I have to tell  you that  I am so happy about it. That is not sarcasm, I am serious if it wasn’t for my love of bacon and pork in general,  I think I could be a vegetarian, I love veggies! We have had a lot of great flavorful meals  this week too. Monday we had  this recipe I am about to share with you the Italian Stuffed Tomatoes. Tuesday we had Gnocchi with onion, mushroom and zucchini with a tomato cream sauce. Wednesday we had delicious Stewed Vegetable Tacos that I will be sharing with you all very shortly. Tonight  we are having Zucchini Fritters with a Greek Orzo Salad. I have to say it has been a deliciously good week.

So Mr. Pea has made Risotto many times, it is not the easiest thing to master that’s for sure.  I remember the many attempt of Mr. Pea to make  the perfect risotto, some were too stiff, some were too liquidy (not a word  but you get what I mean) and some just didn’t have enough flavor. I have to say though  that  the risotto he made Monday night for these stuffed tomatoes  was the best risotto he has ever made, it was perfect!  I would eat the risotto all by itself, if it weren’t for my crazy obsession with tomatoes. Good thing my crazy obsession with tomatoes  is no longer due to excessive heartburn caused by you guessed it, tomatoes.

Tip: Move very slowly  when putting pan into oven, tomatoes do roll 🙂  Oh,  and  make sure you cover your baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup!

 

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Mushroom Risotto :
•    8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
•    1/4 cup unsalted butter
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 cups finely chopped onions
•    10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or short-grain white rice
•    2/3 cup dry white wine
•    2/3 cup grated Parmesan
•    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional
•    8 tomatoes, tops sliced off then cored and seeded, reserve a little tomato flesh
•    Mozzerella Cheese

Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan.
Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped white mushrooms and garlic. Saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 28 minutes (the rice will absorb 6 to 8 cups of broth). Mix in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Stuffed Tomatoes:

Sprinkle the cored and seeded tomatoes with salt and place upside down to drain (or do what I do and dig out carefully with a spoon)
Stir the risotto, mozzerella, ½ cup of parmesan, 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs and any leftover chopped tomato in a large bowl to combine.
Stuff each tomato with the mushroom stuffing and top with thin layer of mozzerella then breadcrumbs. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese is melted.

Tamales

Mr. Pea is a huge fan of Mexican cooking, his favorite Mexican chef is Rick Bayless. If  you want to know anything about Mexican cooking  Rick Bayless  is your go to on any subject. We went to his restaurant in Chicago, Illinois Frontera Grill and the food  was melt in your mouth  fantastic.  Mr. Pea has collected all of his books and for Christmas last year I gave Mr. Pea  the complete set of his  television show Mexico One Plate at a Time. A few years ago I took Mr. Pea to this cooking demonstration/meet and greet  with Rick Bayless and I think it was one of Mr. Pea’s favorite memories of his life- he was so excited.

I don’t get the opportunity to cook very many Mexican dishes, because Mr. Pea  usually is the one cooking. But one of Mr. Pea’s favorite dishes is tamales. Mr. Pea doesn’t have the patients  for assembling the tamales so I usually prepare them.  I never liked tamales, until I made them homemade.  I never realized how fluffy and delicious they could be.

TIP: To get perfect tamales every time, check the dough. Fill a glass with ice cold water drop a little ball of dough in the water. If it floats the tamale be nice and fluffy. If it sinks it will be very dense (not very good), don’t worry you can still fix it, put the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes or so, take it out and test it again.

Check it out!

Tamales
MAKES APPROX. 16 TAMALES

Dough
2 Cups Maseca for tamales ( it is a type of flour they sell at El Ray Mexican Foods-most of this stuff is there)
2 Cups Lukewarm chicken broth or water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 Cup lard or vegetable shortening

Combine Maseca, baking powder and salt in a bowl, work broth or water with your fingers to make soft moist dough. in a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy, add masa (dry mixture) until dough has spongy texrure. Prepare tamales with desired filling.

Tamales
1 1/4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (you may substitute with chicken or beef- to make it real easy just get a roasted chicken from the store and shred the meat)
16 corn husks
Prepared Masa (dough mixture)

Soak Corn husks in cool water 10 min or so or until they are easy to work with. Spread masa on corn husk forming a square shape (leaving a 1/4 inch from the top edge of the corn husk). Place in the middle of the square a tablespoon of meat, then take the edges and fold them together so the meat is inside Masa and then roll like a burrito leaving the top edge of corn husk open, tie with strip of corn husk or you can use butchers twine. Place open side face up in steamer, Steam for 1 hour.

French Onion Soup

This next  post is probably one of my favorite things to eat-French Onion Soup! I love french onion soup, I never did as a kid though, I hated onions I would just eat the melted cheese and leave the rest. Now, that is just simply CRAZY to not enjoy the rest of the soup!

I never realized how many onions it takes to make french onion soup, I was crying for days! Not really, I am actually pretty good about chopping onions  without shedding a tear,  but not this many onions! It was delicious! Almost as good as my favorite french onion soup at the Jackson Grill in Milwaukee.

Let me just say if  you have never been to The Jackson Grill in Milwaukee, this place it is hands down my favorite restaurant! My mouth is watering just thinking about it, even though  Mr. Pea and I were just there for Valentine’s Day.The Jackson Grill is our special place  for Valentine’s Day every year. It is located 3736 West Mitchell Street  Milwaukee, WI 53215 it only has  like 10 tables or so, so MAKE A RESERVATION!!!

They have the best french onion soup I have ever had, but  I can never decide  between the french onion or the just as amazing lobster bisque, you choose either  you are in for a treat! They have amazing Valentine’s Day specials including seafood, but since we travel to the east coast each year the seafood just does not compare  and this  restaurant is a steakhouse,  so get a steak!  I usually get the Black Angus Filet Mignon a la Portabella with natural au jus 6 oz.  with garlic mashed potatoes (must get the garlic mashed potatoes, I repeat get the garlic mashed potatoes!)  Mr. Pea usually gets Black Angus New York Strip a la Portabella with natural au jus 16 oz. with garlic mashed potatoes (smart man!) which is just as good, it just depends on the cut of meat you like.

I can not stress enough that you MUST save room for dessert!  It is our Valentine’s Day tradition to share a dessert, and my favorite is their  Napoleon with Fresh Strawberries, it is to die for!  I dream about this dessert all year long, it is that good! It is made of a flaky puff pastry, layered with fresh strawberries, a silky pastry cream and a fluffy whipped cream. This meal at the Jackson Grill is my perfect meal, you must try it!

Anyways getting back to the French Onion Soup that I made, I adapted it from the book The Joy of Cooking. This book is the best, Mr. Pea and I got it for Christmas  some years ago and it has transformed our cooking skills  and the food we create in our kitchen forever.  If  you don’t know how to cook or  you are just learning, it will give you the basics you need  to cook just about anything.

Check it out the book  Joy of Cooking and this adapted French Onion Soup recipe!

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French Onion Soup
(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

Heat in a soup pot over medium-low heat until butter is melted:
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of olive oil

Add and stir to coat:
5 medium onions, thinly sliced
Pinch of dried Thyme
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and keeping an eye on the onions so they do not scorch. As soon as  they start to brown, about 15 minutes, reduce the heat to medium -low and continue to cook, covered, stirring, until they are a rich brown , about  40 minutes.

Stir in:
1/4 Cup of Balsamic Vinegar
Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until the Vinegar has evaporated and Balsamic is thicker.

Stir in:
3 1/2 Cups Beef Stock
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Season with:
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place oven safe soup bowls on a baking sheet. Ladle the hot soup into the bowls  top with chopped toasted breadcrumbs and 3 Tablespoons Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese.

Enjoy!