Thursday, April 28, 2016

Birthday Taco Dinner

For my Birthday I decided I just wanted to hang out and have some tacos. Doesn't that sound relaxing? And tasty! Mom and I took those special ingredients from our shopping trip to the Super Mercado and turned them into a fantastic Birthday Taco Dinner. She found the menu in a cookbook from America's Test Kitchen called The Best Mexican Recipes. She chose Lentil and Chorizo Soup, Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Jicama Slaw and Hibiscus Tea. We just took our time and followed the recipes for the most part; making only minor adjustments. We started with the tea, then the soup, finishing with the tacos just before dinner time. It was pretty easy and we enjoyed talking while we cooked.

The soup recipe probably had the most steps. But some of the steps were new techniques for me. The recipe started by brining the lentils in warm salted water. This was the secret to making the lentils keep their shape in the soup. The other step that made a big difference is that they cooked the chorizo in the casing. Which really helped to make the chorizo easy to slice at the end. The soup was delicious, it had great flavor and texture. I loved the smoky flavor, all the veg and the bright vinegar to finish. Very good! I will definitely make this soup again.

Lentil and Chorizo Soup
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
Serves 6 to 8


1 lb. brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Mexican-style chorizo sausage, pricked with fork several times
1 onion, chopped fine
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
2 Tbsp. ancho chile powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, plus extra for garnish


Place lentils and 2 teaspoons salt in heatproof container. Cover with 4 cups boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain well.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat until shimmering. Add chorizo and brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to plate. Reduce heat to low and add onion, carrots, 1 tablespoon cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to fat left in pot. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft but not brown, 15 to 20 minutes. If vegetables begin to brown, add 1 tablespoon water to pot.

Stir in chile powder, garlic, cumin, and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in water, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Add lentils, browned chorizo with any accumulated juices and bay leaves, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Discard bay leaves. Transfer chorizo to cutting board, let cool slightly, then halve lengthwise and slice 1/4 inch thick. Stir chorizo into soup and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar to taste. Serve.

The Tacos were great too. What I loved was the combination of the sweet jicama orange slaw, the spicy shrimp and the crema. I L-O-V-E-D the crema! That was a big take away, there is a big difference between Mexican crema and sour cream. Crema is much more complex. It is a little sweeter and even richer than sour cream. I think I will use it more often now. We did decide we prefer flour tortillas instead of the corn the recipe called for. The corn tortilla just over powered the delicate flavors of the taco ingredients. All you could taste was the corn. The flour tortillas was great with everything, you could taste all the ingredients. It really was a great taco.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Jicama Slaw
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Makes about 8 tacos


1 lb. jicama, julienned or shredded
1 tsp. orange zest plus 1/3 cup juice
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. oregano, minced
1-1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 lbs. extra-large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
8 flour tortillas (or corn, I like flour better)
1 cup Mexican crema
Lime wedges


Soak four wood skewers in water for 30 minutes or more.

Combine jicama, orange zest and juice, onion, cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Whisk oil, oregano, chile powder, garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels, add to spice mixture, and toss to coat. Thread shrimp onto four skewers.

Preheat grill on high heat for 10 minutes. Place shrimp on grill and cook (covered) until lightly charred on first side, about 4 minutes. Flip shrimp, and cook until opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Transfer to platter and cover with aluminum foil.

Grill tortillas, turning as needed, until warm and soft, about 30 seconds; wrap tightly in foil to keep soft.

Slide shrimp off skewers onto cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Serve with tortillas, jicama slaw, crema, and lime wedges.

Hibiscus tea was something we tried at a local restaurant a few months ago. Ki Mexico serves a great Hibiscus Tea, it is so delicious. It is sweet, tangy and has a hint of spice. So when we decided we wanted to make it at home I wanted to add some spice. So we took a little from two recipes, one from the ATK cookbook and the other this recipe for Agua de Jamaica. It turned out so good! This is something I will do many many more times. The hibiscus is naturally tart and fruity so when you steep it with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice; it adds sweetness and warmth. Such a perfectly refreshing drink with a beautiful red color.

Hibiscus Tea
Makes 2 quarts


2 quarts water
3/4 cup sugar (or more if you like it sweet)
2 oz. (about 1-3/4 cups) dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 slices of fresh ginger
4 Allspice berries
Lime wedges to serve


Put 4 cups of the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add cinnamon, ginger slices, and allspice berries. Heat until boiling and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried hibiscus flowers.

Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and discard the used hibiscus flowers, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice berries.

Add remaining 4 cups of water to the tea, and chill. Serve over ice with a wedge of lime.

Linking to:
The Lazy Gastronome - Taco Tuesday Blog Hop

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday Trip Around the World

Recently Mom, dear sister and I went on a little adventure. We were looking for Hibiscus flowers to make tea. It took us to a little shopping center in Broadmoor where we enjoyed a Vietnamese lunch and shopping in a Super Mercado. They were right next door to one another. It was like a quick trip around the world.

Danh's Garden is a nice Vietnamese restaurant that offers a large selection of Vietnamese and Thai dishes. They have everything; spring rolls, noodle soup, pho, fried rice, stir-fries and bubble tea. We ordered fresh spring rolls, Tom Yum Soup with Vegetables, Basil Fried Rice with Chicken, and Basil Shrimp. Oh and we split a Milk Bubble Tea three ways. All very tasty.

When we finished lunch we went next door to Carniceria Super Mercado La Ranchera. They have a great selection Mexican herbs and spices, fresh meats and produce that you can't find in your typical grocery store. They even had a freezer with paletas (popsicles). We found the Hibiscus Flowers and decided to buy two bags. We also found some fresh Chorizo for my Birthday Taco Dinner. More about that in my next post. Dear sister had to have Bistec (thin beef steaks) to marinade for tacos. Mom and I had to buy the Nopals (Cactus Paddles) again for tacos. We all agreed we would not have a problem eating Mexican food two days in a row.

The Bistec was perhaps the most challenging. I just struggle with cooking thin cuts of beef on the gas grill. I think I need to break down and get a charcoal grill. They were very tasty because I used the marinade from my Mexicana Beef Tacos. But they never got those smoky grill marks you look for from grilling. We topped them with some Spicy Avocado Cream, Pickled Red Onions, Cilantro and Cotija Cheese. We made the Spicy Avocado Cream from a jar of jalapeno salsa dear sister brought back from Canton and an avocado. It was a big surprise how spicy and flavorful just those two ingredient turned out. It was so good. Creamy and spicy. I put it on everything until there was not a drop left. 

Then there was the nopals. I loved the cactus! We grilled it with some corn and made tacos. We adapted this Grilled Cactus and Corn Salad recipe into our own taco recipe. Again we loaded these tacos with Spicy Avocado Cream, Pickled Red Onions, Cilantro and Cotija Cheese. This was my favorite of the tacos. I loved everything about them. They had great texture and flavor. Cleaning the cactus was work but the tacos made it worth it. The next day Mom and I made a quesadilla with all the leftover steak, cactus and corn. That was Mom's favorite. I think she would do everything again just for another quesadilla. All in all this was a successful dinner and a fun trip. I look forward to going back to both of these little Broadmoor spots. If for nothing else to get more tacos ingredients. Now for the recipes.

Grilled Cactus and Corn Tacos
Serves 4


4 nopales, or cactus paddles
2 small to medium cob of sweet corn
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lime, cut in half for juice
8 corn tortillas
Spicy Avocado Cream (recipe below)
Pickled Red Onions (recipe below)
Cilantro, coarsely chopped
Cotija cheese, crumbled
Lime, cut into wedges


Pre-heat the grill to medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Clean and prepare the nopales. Trim or cut the edge off each paddle; trim the stem end too. Use a small knife to trim each of the needle locations flush with the rest of the paddle. Brush the cactus and corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the nopales and corn until soft and slightly charred. The nopales should take about 5 minutes on each side; cook the corn for roughly the same time rotating several times. Let cool, then cut nopales into thin strips about 1/4 inch and cut corn kernels off the cob.

In a large bowl, combine nopales, corn, juice of half a lime, cilantro, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Warm tortillas on the grill flipping often until soft and warm about 30 seconds or in the microwave again for about 30 seconds.

To serve place a spoon of cactus and corn mixture in each tortilla. Garnish with pickled red onion, spicy avocado cream, cilantro and cotija cheese. Just before eating, squeeze a little fresh lime juice over each.

Note: The cactus and corn mixture could be served as a salad or side dish as well.

I grilled extra corn. Dear sister loves corn.

Spicy Avocado Cream
Make about 2 cups


1 cup jalapeno green salsa (We used Green Fudge brand from Canton)
1 large avocado, seeded and peeled


Place ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined.

Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes about 1/2 to 1 cup


1/2 cups white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced


Place first 3 ingredients and 1 cup water in a pint or quart size mason jar. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Place onion into jar; pat down to make sure onions are covered with vinegar mixture. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Place in refrigerator until ready to use. Can be made 2 weeks ahead.

Linking to:

The Lazy Gastronome - Taco Tuesday Blog Hop

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thai Coconut Vegetable Soup

The other day I was at the store picking up the ingredients to make a pot of Hot and Sour Vegetable Soup. I was reaching for bamboo shoots when I saw the coconut milk. That is when the wheels started turning, what if I added coconut milk to the soup? I got both and I just kept thinking. By the time I got home I had decided that adding coconut milk would make the soup more Thai style. So I did some research. Most of the soup recipes I saw included ginger, lemon grass, fish sauce, herbs (basil or cilantro), chili paste, and coconut milk. Well I did not have lemon grass but I had everything else. So I went for it. I think it turned out amazing. I used a combination of lemon and lime juice to compensate for the lemon grass. I would not call the soup authentic at all but it was surely delicious. I did keep the simple cooking method or the Hot and Sour Soup. It is pretty much a dump and stir recipe. Ready in 10 minutes. I loved all the Thai flavors of curry, fish sauce and ginger. I think next time I may peel and slice the ginger in thin threads. I think I would enjoy leaving it in the finished soup. I loved the creaminess of the coconut milk too. It really balanced all the red curry heat. This is another great soup option. I see making it again soon.

Thai Coconut Vegetable Soup
Serves 4 to 6


Coconut oil spray
1/4 cup onions, diced
4 slices fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped plus more for garnish
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
16 oz. package frozen stir fry vegetables (I used a sugar snap blend with carrots and mushrooms)
1 cup sliced mushrooms(I used reconstituted Shiitake, stem removed)
2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 – 2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tomato, seeded and cut into strips
13.66 oz. can lite coconut milk
1 green onion, sliced
1 jalapeno, sliced
Lime, cut into wedges


Spray a soup pot with coconut oil, sauté onions, ginger and 1 Tbsp. cilantro over medium high heat. When onions begin to soften add chicken stock. Bring chicken broth to a boil, add frozen veggies, mushrooms and turn off heat. Add remaining ingredients except jalapeno, remaining cilantro and lime wedges; stir to blend. Remove ginger slices. Serve garnished with jalapeno slices, additional cilantro and a lime wedge.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

This is a soup I conceived and planned to make for Dad while he was sick. He was having trouble swallowing and I made plenty of pureed soups to try to keep him eating. I did not get to make this one for him. So I tried it for myself after everything calmed down from the funeral. It is so easy and very tasty. It has great creaminess without the cream. The cauliflower does an amazing job of creating that creamy texture. It is also deliciously cheesy. The little bit of Velveeta adds all the cheese flavor you need. It is so good! I have made it twice now. Both Mom and dear sister loved it. Definitely one for the recipe box. The color and cheesiness depends on the size of the cauliflower you use. So if you want it super cheesy and sip-able use a small head of cauliflower. If you want it thick use a large head instead. You can definitely customize this soup to your taste. Definitely one more soup to try before the hot weather is here to stay.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup
Serves 4 to 6


Olive oil cooking spray
1 small onion, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 
or to taste
Dash of black and white pepper, or to taste 
Dash red pepper flakes, or to taste
8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed


Spray a pot with olive oil, add in onions. Season with salt and pepper. Heat until tender, but not browned. Add in cauliflower and broth. Simmer, covered until cauliflower is cooked [about 15 min]. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted. Puree in the pot with an immersion or stick blender. Or pulse soup in a blender in two or three batches, until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve in mugs or cups for sipping.

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