It's no secret that we as a country are in for a wild ride in the next couple of weeks and, more than likely, for the next four years. I don't know about you, but when the going got rough in my personal life in years past -- or when I was just upset/frustrated/confused over various nonsensical political decision-making -- I was able to take a minute and remember that, oh yeah, there's a really great guy in charge of our country who happens to be brilliant, unselfish, and the poster man for healthy family values. That mental safety net is fading away, and more and more often, I'm really starting to feel it.
As Pam Beasly once said, "When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I make a list." I'm the same way. And while I could spend my free time doing interesting but largely unproductive things like coloring in adult coloring books or analyzing reruns of "The Office", I could continue cultivating something both delicious and immensely beneficial for an overall productive lifestyle: my love and aptitude for cooking. In recent weeks, I've delved into areas of cooking that have previously made me uncomfortable, and into flavors that maybe just didn't interest me before.
And you know what? I've made some new best friends. And I'm going to share with you five of my new go-to recipes (plus some tasty visual aids) and recommend that you try something new. Impress your friends and lovers -- and, most importantly, your taste buds.
1. Chorizo Huaraches
The inspiration for this culinary adventure came from my S.O.'s birthday dinner request: chorizo. He didn't really give me much else to go off of, but I figured, easy enough. But I didn't want to just do tacos, or burritos, because I've done that before. When given a challenge, I like it to be a living, breathing challenge.
I had to major realizations in looking for a good recipe. One was that I've never really cooked with chorizo before. I briefly explored the idea of making chorizo out of ground sausage and a host of other ingredients (that I don't exactly keep in my kitchen on a regular basis), but the combined issues of cost and time encouraged me to just buy it pre-made. As it turns out, Harris Teeter makes some pretty bangin' chorizo, which you can sometimes buy at just $2.99 a pound. My second realization was that I don't make nearly enough Hispanic food, and while I personally am of no Hispanic descent myself, I think that anyone who doesn't partake in a little spice 'n' rice now and then isn't doing themselves any favors.
The recipe I landed on can be found at SeriousEats.com. I've been learning a lot about dough and how to make it lately, and guess what? Huaraches = corn flour-based dough. Just add water. I found that any leftovers of these guys don't keep very well, so I only recommend making enough for you and your dinner guest(s). The meat and toppings, on the other hand, make great bring-to-work leftovers!
As pictured below, I also recommend plenty of cilantro, lime and Corona. Throw some rice on the side (I used regular long-grain white, steamed and then fried with egg and spices) and you've got a beautiful entry-level Mexican plate.
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2. Hamburger Steak with Gravy
I grew up eating a lot of Italian and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. For whatever reason, that sort of a palate bred a misdirected concept in my mind that country-style or otherwise "all-American" cooking couldn't carry good flavors. You know, the Paula Dean/Donna Reed mashed potatoes and roast chicken plates of the world; they just didn't interest me. I knew that rich flavors were possible there, but I didn't know how to make them happen. Honestly, I still don't -- at least not without the help of a recipe.
The good news is, a lot of this sort of flavor is achievable through very inexpensive ingredients. So earlier this month, when I found myself wanting something filling and warm for a chilly winter evening, I went for it: I found this recipe, which contains two things I usually stray away from while cooking: ground beef and gravy. But guess what? It was super, super easy. If you have a little flour on hand, all you need is an onion, a little beef broth, and just the right amount of heat. Boom. Gravy.
Now, in terms of a side, I would recommend going with the obvious: some green beans or mashed potatoes. I personally was too overwhelmed with just following the recipe and making it turn out as well as I possibly could, so there was no side in my life -- and if you're cooking just for yourself that's perfectly fine. You do you.
Image credit: Food n' Focus
3. Thai Peanut Noodles
Let's get something straight first: I cook a crapload of off-the-cuff Asian noodle and rice recipes. Admittedly, I have no actual training and am of absolutely no Asian descent, so I never try and categorize the exact origin of what I cook. Usually, I just take some soy or some sriracha and go from there.
But last night I wanted something a little more serious, a little more involved: Thai peanut noodles. I once attempted to make this dish in college without a recipe, armed only with the love for Thai food and a basic understanding of how to combine peanut butter and seasonings that were already in my refrigerator and spice cabinet. It came out way too thick and sticky. I will therefore impart the one serious lesson that I learned if you're hoping to make this dish: Don't overdo it with the peanut butter.
I found this recipe on SeriousEats also. I already had about half the necessary ingredients in my kitchen, so I got everything I needed at Food Lion for less than $20. I followed that recipe verbatim, plus a smidge extra lime and sriracha, and some baked chicken on top. It still came out a little thick, so I'd also recommend adding a bit more hot water and/or oil than the recipe calls for, that is, if you're planning on coating your noodles with it like I did.
Sriracha, sriracha, and more sriracha.
4. Kale, Kielbasa & White Bean Soup
This is, hands down, the easiest and most delicious soup I've ever made. If you like kale and sausage, but just don't find enough opportunities in your life to enjoy either one of them, I highly recommend adding this recipe to your arsenal to easy dinner fixes. Because it is so easy! And delicious. Did I mention it's delicious?
Before I get to the recipe, I want to take a second to say something about kale. There are two types of people in this world: the people who love kale 'til death do they part, and can never get enough of it, and then there's the people who enjoy making the argument that kale just isn't good, and that the people who say they love kale are just being hipsters and deep down in their hearts agree that it's gross. And so, to reconcile these two camps of people, I just want to say: raw kale is indeed gross. You're also not supposed to eat kale raw. (I guess you technically can; if you do, then more power to you. Whatever.) The only things you need to make kale go from gross to godly are butter (or olive oil) and sea salt. Or, a good soup recipe.
There are plenty of good recipes for this particular dish out there; I personally like the one over at Relish.com. Some people's instructions call for carrots, but honestly? I'm not a huge fan of cooked carrots. Mad respect to you, raw carrots and ranch, but the sweetness of cooked carrots plus the other spices going on in a hot-food dish just doesn't appeal to me. Anyway, grab yourself the few basic ingredients for this dish, plus some greens for a salad or crusty bread for a side and you've got yourself a wonderful taste to cozy up to on the couch, plus leftover for days.
Oh, kielbasa; you are my one true love.
5. Tempura Fried Everything
Little known fact: It is not terribly hard to make something tempura-fried. As one might suspect, the only real challenge is making your batter capable of being fried without falling off the tempura'd food object in question. Once blended, you should be able to dip your finger in it and have it hang on pretty solidly. If you've ever made muffins, think that sort of consistency.
I'll go ahead and admit right now that I do not own a deep-fryer, or a dutch oven, or even a cooking thermometer. So what? Why should fancy kitchen people get to have all the fun? I went into this experience armed with a nice, deep wok that I use several times a week, and cost a whopping $5 at Walmart. I looked this recipe up (mainly because I had been recently bingeing on "Cutthroat Kitchen", and therefore I wholeheartedly believe that Alton Brown knows exactly what he is talking about) and honestly, I didn't even bother with the rice flour. Flour is flour, right? What you really need to worry about is getting that seltzer water in the mix, since that's what causes the sizzling and the flakiness of the batter once fried. I don't know. I'm not a scientist.
What you choose to tempura-fry is entirely up to you. Growing up, I was blessed with a dad that randomly made tempura veggies and sushi, and so I was well aware of which vegetables and meats I wanted to arm myself with. Last time I made this for dinner, I went with zucchini, mushrooms, fat slices of onion, broccoli (be warned, though, tempura batter does NOT stick to broccoli very well), a little chicken, and a couple slabs of salmon. Side note, I was cooking for two people. Leftovers were had.
Image credit: Robert Lee, Flickr
Bon Appétit !