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Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Salsa

20 Jul

Snack of champions: chips and homemade salsa.

Grace’s hippie sister, Emily, here, surfacing for the first time in months to share a recipe that should come in handy for anybody who has a vegetable garden (or a neighbor with a garden).

That’s right, kids: It’s salsa time.

Use an entire head of garlic. Seriously.

Start by throwing a big handful of cilantro (one bunch from the grocery store or whatever you have in your garden will do) into a food processor and pulsing it until it’s nice and fine and feathery. Next, take a head of garlic, separate and peel the cloves, cut off the ends, and throw ’em into the food processor. Give ’em a good whirl to mince them, then add hot peppers to taste. Four serranos will give you a nice medium-hot salsa; adjust the quantity to suit your taste, and feel free to substitute whatever peppers you prefer (or need to use up).

I like red onions, but red or yellow will work as well.

Next, add three cored, quartered bell peppers in any color and a peeled, quartered onion, processing after each addition. Add the juice of two or three small limes — proportions aren’t critical, but you want to get a little extra acid in there for canning purposes — and process to mix.

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with husks.

If you can put your hands on some tomatillos, peel and core about five of them and add them to the mix at this point. If you can’t, don’t worry about it; they aren’t absolutely necessary, but they do add a nice flavor if you happen to have them. Process, then dump the mixture into a large bowl to make room in the food processor for your tomatoes.

Core and quarter about three pounds of tomatoes (Romas are ideal, but any kind will do; just be aware that the juicier varieties will make a finished product that’s more like picante sauce than salsa) and chop them in the food processor.

Now, here is a neat trick: If you have extra cucumbers that you need to use up, you can add a couple to your salsa at this point, and nobody will be any the wiser. Just chop them finely and stir them in. You’ll never notice them by the time they’ve absorbed the other flavors. You could probably do this with zucchini, too, although I wouldn’t use too much, lest it compromise the texture.

Unless your food processor is huge, you'll have to do half the tomatoes at a time.

Stir everything together in a huge bowl. At this stage, the salsa will probably look kind of bubbly and unappealing. Remedy this by stirring in ground cumin until the froth goes away, then stirring in chili powder until the color looks nice and red.

Salsa cans well in a boiling-water bath.

You can either eat the salsa now or pack it into clean pint jars with an inch of headspace and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Serve nice and cold with plenty of tortilla chips or fresh vegetables for dipping. Makes about three quarts.

I like to bring this salsa to office parties. It always impresses people, and it’s safe for vegetarians, diabetics, and various other dieters, especially if you bring celery sticks and cucumber slices for low-carb dipping.


Low-Carb Recipe: Slow-Cooker Olive Turkey

13 Jan

For a text-only version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Plain turkey drumsticks get a saucy makeover in this easy dish.

Note: I see James Ramsden also has a poultry-and-olive combo on his own blog this week, albeit Morrocan-style in his case. I guess great minds think alike!

Turkey drumsticks are a great sale find at our local grocery store, and I love thinking up new ways to present them. I also love using my Crock Pot as much as possible when I’m restricting carbs. It keeps meal preparation fun and gives me something to look forward to all day, instead of staring at yet another bunless hamburger when I get home. 🙂

The combination of dark meat and slow-cooking keeps this version moist and tender, and the Mexican ingredients are a perfect match for stronger-flavored game poultry. Continue reading

Healthy Recipe: Chicken Fiesta Salad

25 Oct
Note: Gracie is up to her eyeballs in work, so Emily is sharing her own family’s version of Fast Salsa-Ranch Chicken Salad below.

This colorful salad is as tasty as it is pretty.

Gracie’s hippie sister strikes again.

My husband likes taco salad. I’m not usually a big fan, but this particular version is so protein-packed and easy to make that it’s hard to go wrong with it. Continue reading

Low-Carb Recipe: Spicy Southwestern Ceviche

8 Jul

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

This is a great make-ahead seafood recipe for party dishes or long weekends around the house. If you’ve never tried ceviche before, think of it as a sort of “fish salsa.”

Chef’s Note: Because you’re using time+acid to “cook” your seafood (rather than heat), you’ll want to be sure to use nonreactive dishware and utensils during the marinating process.

Begin with about 1 lb. of boneless, raw fish or seafood.

(I used red snapper, but anything will work, including shrimp, scallops, calamari, or other items on sale at your local grocery.

I’ll warn you; thawed frozen fish will have a mushier final texture than fresh, so if you’re using frozen, be aware of that caveat up front.

Also, you may want to rinse thawed filets in cool water before beginning, depending on what sort of liquid they may have been frozen in, to help the flavor. Basically: the fresher, the better.

Cut the filets into small (3/4″) chunks and place in the bottom of a large glass or ceramic bowl.

Chop one seeded cucumber, one seeded poblano pepper (or other variety) and several green onions into small tidbits and add to the fish.

Sprinkle mixture with 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 2 teaspoons salt.

Splash mixture with 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce and add 1 (15-ounce) drained can of diced tomatoes. (You can always use fresh, seeded tomato chunks but I just use canned to save time.)

If desired, canned black or pinto beans are a festive addition to this dish, and also help your seafood budget stretch further!

Squeeze the juice of 4 limes and 3 lemons over the raw fish mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until evenly coated.

Cover mixture with plastic wrap or lid and refrigerate overnight, stirring at least once sometime after the first hour has passed.

Serve chilled in a large dip bowl with vegetables or chips for dipping, or spooned over a lettuce and cheese salad base. Garnish with chopped flat parsley if desired.

Cheap Recipe: Mexican-Style Stuffed Peppers

13 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Mexican stuffed peppers.
An ethnic variation on a classic oven-baked dish.

A sale on stoplight-packaged bell peppers last week was timed perfectly with some leftover rice I had sitting in the refrigerator. On a whim, this version of an old standby (usually prepared with Italian seasonings and ingredients at my house) was born.

You can whip up a small amount of chili sauce for this recipe (like I did), use thawed leftover chili (this batch variation freezes quite nicely), or even substitute a can or two of Hormel in its place. My version is vegetarian, but obviously you can use ground beef or shredded chicken in the chili or even in the rice mixture if you like.stoplight bell peppers

My new Pfaltzgraff dish

Thanks, Pfaltzgraff, for my adorable new casserole dish!

Begin by preheating oven to 400 degrees. Remove stems/caps from and hollow out the insides of 4 bell peppers (green, red, whatever) but try to leave shells intact all the way to the top opening, forming a sort of tall bowl.


Meanwhile, mix 1 can of black beans (drained) with 2 regular cans diced tomatoes (undrained) over medium burner heat in a large pot. Stir in 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

tomatoes, beans and spices

Tomatoes, beans and spices.

When mixture is thoroughly warmed, incorporate 1-1/2 to 2 cups leftover cooked rice into the bean mixture. Stir well until heated through.

leftover rice

Leftover rice. (Mine was saffron rice but it really doesn't matter.)

The excess liquid from the tomatoes will prevent the rice from drying. Cover warm mixture and remove from burner heat.

Stand the hollowed peppers upright in a square casserole dish so that each pepper helps to hold the others up. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup shredded cheddar/jack cheese in the bottom of each pepper.

rice & chili mixture

Rice and chili mixture.

Spoon enough rice/bean mixture over the bottom cheese layer until almost level with top openings of peppers.

Cheese in the bottom

Cheese in the bottom.

Smush about 1/4 cup additional shredded cheese over rice mixture, or as much as will fit without spilling over.

Use a small spouted pitcher or cup to pour about 1/2″ water into bottom of casserole dish.

Rice in the middle.

Rice and beans in the middle.

Place uncovered dish in preheated oven; cook 20-25 minutes or until cheese is entirely melted and peppers have begun to soften slightly.

Water in the pan

Cheese on top and water in the pan bottom.

A fork inserted into the outer skin of one of the peppers should indicate doneness.

Serve in small bowls or freeze individually in small, lidded containers.

Microwave frozen leftovers individually on HIGH for about 3 minutes each. These travel well to work for eat-at-your-desk lunches! (Just remember to pack a knife!)

Top with sour cream if you're in the mood...


Cheap Recipe: Huevos Rancheros

7 May

Huevos rancheros hit the trifecta: cheap, easy, and tasty.

There are a million reasons to love New Mexico, but few of them can be replicated in my kitchen. Huevos rancheros — which appear on the breakfast menu at virtually every diner on Route 66 from Tucumcari to Gallup — are on the short list.

The tortillas should be warm but not crispy.

Huevos rancheros — Spanish for “ranch eggs” — are nothing more than fried corn tortillas topped with fried eggs and doused with spicy sauce. I like to make mine with red enchilada sauce, but I’ve eaten at restaurants that used picante sauce, salsa, chile verde, or thick ranchero sauce, with equal success, so whatever you have on hand will work fine.

Start by heating a little vegetable oil in a heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, fry a corn tortilla (the kind used for enchiladas) very lightly on both sides. You don’t want it to be crispy; just cook it long enough to heat it up and get a little oil on it. Use tongs or a spatula to transfer the tortilla to a plate. Repeat as needed until you have one tortilla for every egg you plan to cook. Plate them up before you start messing with the eggs.

Fried eggs bore me. Add a dash of New Mexico, and I'm all in.

Dump a can of enchilada sauce (or a similar amount of salsa, picante, or whatever Mexican sauce you prefer) into a microwave-safe dish and nuke it for two minutes to warm it up while you cook the eggs.

Make the eggs the way you like them. My husband prefers his over-easy; I like mine over-hard. Scrambled, sunny-side-up, and over-medium are also perfectly acceptable. Do whatever floats your boat.

Place each cooked egg on a tortilla and pour enchilada sauce over the whole mess. Serve alone or with pinto beans and warm flour tortillas for a hearty way to start your morning or a quick, easy dinner on a busy evening.

Cheap Recipe: Fast Salsa-Ranch Chicken Salad

19 Mar

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Something different for a “same-old” evening.

Once again, today I dip into the wealth of knowledge borne of six years waiting tables at Cracker Barrel and give you yet another ripped off recipe idea! (You’re welcome.)

This little salad idea was “inspired” by a dinner special featured at the restaurant one summer. I think it was called “Chicken Fiesta” or something like that. I can’t remember. I just remember eating it a lot because it was good and I could buy it at half-price on my breaktime. Word up.

(This chicken salad is also sacred to me because I’m allergic to mayonnaise and can’t eat regular chicken salad. While this is a different variation on the theme, the creaminess of the dressing and added texture of the black beans provide a welcome “legal” substitute. It’s also one more super use for leftover cooked chicken, although you can always skillet-grill a few fresh chicken tenders if you don’t have any leftovers on hand!)

Combine hot chicken with room temperature, drained beans.

Begin by warming up about 2 cups of leftover, cooked chicken OR brown a few fresh chicken tenderloin strips in a skillet or on a grill. (Prepackaged cooked chicken strips are also fine, of course, but they can be pricey if they’re not on sale and no coupons are to be had–remember, this website is all about keeping dinner on the cheaps!)

 Drain a small can of black beans; rinse well. In a large bowl, toss the hot chicken with the unheated beans until mixed evenly.

Chop some lettuce.

Shred lettuce into two or three bowls. (Don’t waste your money on the pre-rinsed lettuce shreds–you’re going to have a couple of minutes to spare anyway while the chicken is heating!)

Love that fresh tomato!

Cut a large tomato into several wedges and distribute among salad bowls. If desired, add fresh cucumber slices and/or black olives to the lettuce.

In a spouted measuring cup or bowl, combine equal parts ranch salad dressing (low-carb variety makes this a winning South Beach Diet recipe!) and chunky salsa (again, use organic or low-sugar varieties for South Beach Diet).

Stir mixture until dressing is a thin, pinkish-melon color.

Equal parts salsa & ranch dressing.

Divide the cooling chicken/bean mixture among the bowls. Sprinkle generous helpings

Mix it together...

of shredded Mexican cheese over salads. Pour salsa/ranch dressing over salad.

If desired (and not on South Beach Diet), serve topped with broken tortilla chips–I always save the “crumblies” at the bottom of Tostitos bags rather than pitch them. They make a great substitute for sunflower seeds or croutons in this Mexican-themed salad or on top of chili!

So creamy...and spicy!


Cheap Recipe: Chicken Quesadilla Stew

4 Feb

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Another great use for leftover cooked chicken!

This is a sort of variation on tortilla soup I invented a while back. I didn’t feel like putting tortillas in the soup, and I wanted something a bit thicker and heartier so I wouldn’t have to worry about making sandwiches to go with dinner.

I left out the tortillas, added some new ingredients like cream cheese, and Chicken Quesadilla Stew was born. I liked it so much I may never make traditional tortilla soup or chili again! 🙂

Start with 2 or 3 cups of thawed, leftover cooked chicken (see this post for great tips on scavenging chicken & stock) and a can of

Chopped scallions lend some greenery to this pretty stew.

 chicken broth. Heat the chicken and broth in a large saucepan until slow simmer is reached. Refill the empty broth can with water one time and add water to mixture.

Give your leftover chicken a cheap, easy Mexican makeover with a seasoning packet.

Meanwhile, chop several green onions (or one small yellow onion would work) and add to the saucepan. Once chicken is simmering, stir in a store-bought packet of fajita or taco seasoning (or just add your own spices like cumin and chili powder if you prefer). Stir until spices are well-distributed.

Add a 10-ounce, undrained can of diced tomatoes with chiles (think RO*TEL), a 15-ounce undrained can of black beans, and a small, drained can of whole kernel corn (you

Hubby kept commenting on the yummy aromas while the pot simmered!

 can use frozen corn instead just as easily, too). Stir well and return to simmer.

I promise you'll want seconds.

Once stew is hot, stir in 4-6 ounces of cream cheese, adding a little bit of water or milk if broth is not substantial, or if you prefer the recipe to be closer to soup than a creamy stew.

Serve immediately topped with shredded Mexican cheese.

P.S.–The leftovers freeze beautifully!

Easy Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Enchilada Casserole

7 Dec

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

NOTE: Grace’s sister, Emily, is playing in the Red Kitchen without adult supervision again.

I think I had my first taste of Louisiana hot sauce when I was 4 years old. At the time, I think I was just fascinated with the pwhit-pwhit-pwhit sound the bottle made as the sauce came out, but I quickly became addicted to the spicy kick.

The only thing I like more than hot sauce is sour cream — so a recipe that gives me an excuse to eat copious amounts of both sour cream and hot sauce is bound to be a winner.

This particular recipe is also one of the easiest in my repertoire.

There is no such thing as "too much wing sauce."

Start by putting three or four chicken breasts (the flash-frozen kind that come umpteen to a bag will work fine) into your slow cooker. Pour a bottle of wing sauce over them, turn the thermostat to “high,” and ignore them for three hours or so.

(If your grocery store does not carry wing sauce, you can make your own by melting a stick of butter and mixing it with two bottles of cheap Louisiana-style hot sauce.)

Spoon some of the sauce over the chicken.

After the chicken breasts have cooked all the way through, coat a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray and lay two corn tortillas in the bottom. Take one of the chicken breasts out of the slow cooker and place it on top of the tortillas. Hold it down with a fork while you use a second fork to shred the meat.

Spread the meat around and spoon a little of the wing sauce over it. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. You can also throw in a few sliced black olives if you happen to have some in the pantry. Continue to layer tortillas, meat, sauce, cheese, and — if desired — olives in the casserole dish, finishing with a big handful of cheese. Bake, covered, at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve with sour cream and black olives.

If your local discount grocer does not carry corn tortillas (Grace lives in the Midwest, so hers doesn’t, but here in Tulsa — where the Southwest begins — tortillas are as ubiquitous as bread), you can shred the chicken right in the Crock-Pot and use it as a sort of sloppy Joe filling for sandwiches. Try putting some of the meat on a hamburger bun with a little cheese and maybe a drizzle of bleu cheese or ranch dressing to balance the spiciness of the wing sauce.

Makes about six to eight servings, depending on your appetite.

Cheap Recipe: Ranch Skillet Bean Dip

9 Nov

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

This ain’t your ordinary bean dip. It’s about a million times better.

This quick dinner came about after an extremely long weekend when I realized it was Sunday night and I still hadn’t made it to the grocery store.

After a quick scan of the cabinet and fridge, I found a recipe in Taste of Home’s Dinner on a Dime that I decided I could modify to suit the contents of my poorly-stocked kitchen. The end result was wowing, and I knew I had to jot this new meal down before I forgot what I’d done!


Brown meat and onions together.


Ranch seasoning packet from ALDI.

Brown 1 lb. ground beef (or ground beef & TVP mixture) over medium heat in large skillet with a slivered yellow onion. Once meat is thoroughly cooked, drain if necessary and add contents of a 1-ounce ranch seasoning packet. Stir well.

Drain a 15-ounce can of whole kernel corn and add to skillet. Pour in a 16-ounce can (undrained!) of baked beans, any variety.

Next, make three small mounds of condiment in skillet–about 1/3 cup barbecue sauce, about 1/4 cup ketchup, and about 1 tablespoon spicy mustard.


Mix condiments and canned ingredients into the meat.

Stir all mounds together until mixture is evenly coated. Allow to heat thoroughly (about 5-10 minutes) on stovetop. Once heat has returned to skillet,


Gradually stir in shredded cheese.

gradually sprinkle in 2 cups of any shredded Mexican cheese blend (Colby, Jack, Cheddar, whatever…), stirring often between additions.

Once all cheese has melted and blended into the mixture, turn off heat and serve immediately. This can be eaten with a fork or on top of tortilla chips.

I topped mine with green onions, but after tasting it, I REALLY wished I had diced a fresh tomato over the top of it, which would have been awesome. Seriously, buy a


This is one "accidental" recipe I can't wait to make again!

 tomato and do this. It will be wonderful.