Esquites Americano

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Have you heard of elote, the beloved Mexican street food? Mexican street vendors sell you a char-grilled cob of corn, slathered with crema or mayonnaise or sour cream, cilantro, chili powder, cheese, lime juice, and maybe a few other ingredients. People rave about it! I’ve never had it, mostly because I haven’t spent much time in Mexico, and also because I don’t live in a big city with tons of street vendors. Also… because I haven’t ever been able to wrap my head around mayonnaise on my corn on the cob. I’m sure it’s amazing, because everyone says it’s amazing, but I haven’t quite made that mental leap yet.

But here’s the thing. Turns out, Mexicans also make a delicious dish called esquites, which as best I can tell, is basically elote in a bowl. For some reason, combining all those exact same ingredients in a bowl makes way more sense to my crazy brain. So I thought I’d dip my toe in and try esquites, hopefully as a gateway. My concoction is adapted from this one. We call our version Esquites Americano, solely based on the addition of the American favorite – bacon. We ate this as a dip with tortilla chips, but it works as a side as well. It’s as delicious as people say!

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Esquites Americano

(Adapated from Serious Eats)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 strips of bacon, chopped into small lardons
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp ancho chili powder
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 3oz cojito (or feta) cheese
Instructions: 
  1. Place the bacon in a large pan, over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is crispy, and then remove to the side.
  2. Remove corns from its ears. Add the corn, jalapeño, and garlic to the pan. Increase heat slightly to medium-high. Stir to coat in the bacon fat.
  3. Cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until corn begins to brown.
  4. Combine ingredients from the pan in a large bowl with the cilantro, ancho chili powder, lime juice, and mayonnaise. Stir to combine well.
  5. Refrigerate until dip has sufficiently cooled.
  6. Then add cheese, crumbled or roughly chopped to the dish. Stir and enjoy!
Serves 4. I would double or triple if using as a party appetizer.

Balsamic Basil Blackberry Pizza

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You’ve heard of fruit pizzas right? They’re shaped liked pizzas, but that’s really where the similarities end. To the best of my knowledge, fruit pizzas are essentially entirely sweet, with a base more like cookie dough, topped with fruits and sugar. You eat them for dessert, not dinner. That is not what we’re doing here tonight. This blackberry pizza is mostly savory, with the addition of the sweet and tangy blackberries.

How did I come up with this crazy idea? I didn’t. This was a Pinterest find, from a blog called A Whisk and Two Wands. The pictures caught my eye – gorgeous contrast of the dark berries and white cheese! Furthermore, Selim loves pizza, we’re trying to eat more fruit, we had blackberries and basil in the fridge, and I had the time to make some dough today. All good reasons to give this unique idea a whirl tonight!

We really enjoyed this as an alternative to a “normal” pizza for dinner tonight. However, I think it would really be perfect as an appetizer in smaller portions for your next dinner party!

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Balsamic Basil Blackberry Pizza

(Adapted from A Whisk and Two Wands blog)
Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup hot water, divided
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Olive oil
  • 12oz blackberries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 8 turns of fresh ground black pepper
  • Just a pinch of salt
  • 10 large leaves of fresh basil, roughly chopped, reserving 2-3 leaves
  • 16oz log of mozzarella
Instructions: 
  1. First, prepare the dough. (You also could skip this step entirely and buy prepared pizza dough.) In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Pour the yeast mixture over-top. Add the remaining water slowly, stopping and stirring frequently. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. (You may need slightly more or slightly less water to form a nice ball of dough. If it ends up too wet – add additional flour.)
  3. Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
  4. Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the blackberry sauce. Pour blackberries into a saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, pepper, and chopped fresh basil. Cover and cook for ~5 minutes so the berries soften.
  6. Uncover and mash the blackberries with your stirring spoon or the back of a fork.
  7. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. This should take ~10 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  9. Once dough has risen, turn it out on a lightly flowered surface. Divide in half. Roll out the dough into two large circles.
  10. Bake the pizza dough without topping for 5 minutes and then remove from the oven.
  11. Spoon the blackberry sauce onto the dough as you would a normal pizza, leaving a bit of the edge uncovered for a crust.
  12. Slice mozzarella and place chunks all over the pizza. (May not use the whole 16oz log of mozzarella.)
  13. Bake for an additional 8-10 minutes, watching the edges of the crusts to make sure it’s not over-browning.
  14. Top with the remaining fresh basil before serving.

Basil Guacamole

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In our relationship, Selim is definitely the one with the imagination. When you tell me we’re having guacamole, I think – avocados, lime, cilantro, onion, salt… Why would you do anything else, when the original is so delicious? Luckily, I have him to push me outside of my box every now and then. Just because the original is amazing doesn’t mean that a variation isn’t delicious in its own right. [Just wait until we share Selim’s Bacon & Blue Cheese Guacamole – people rave about it!]

This unique guacamole has great herbaceous flavor from the fresh basil. The basics are essentially the same as traditional guacamole, but the substitution of that one herb is fairly dramatic in my opinion. The Pecorino adds a depth of flavor, but it does not taste overtly cheesy. We enjoyed this just as we would your standard guac – with tortilla chips and bell pepper slices.

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Basil Guacamole

Ingredients: 
  • 4 small, ripe avocados
  • 1/8 of a small onion, finely diced
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced (depending on how much you like garlic)
  • Juice of 1/4 of a lime
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 oz finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • Salt to taste
Instructions: 
  1. Chop the avocados into chunks. Using the back of a large spoon, smush the avocado – we like the consistency to remain a little bit chunky.
  2. Combine the avocados with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine well.
  3. Refrigerate if not eating immediately.

“Chicken Lo Mein” Zoodles

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Every time the new year rolls around, it seems like everyone makes a resolution involving weight loss, healthy eating, or general fitness. We’ve been eating zoodles for awhile now (see here, here, here, & here), but I think they’re a great way to simultaneously cut calories and add more healthy vegetables to your dinners! This zoodles dish was inspired by a recipe I’ve had saved on Pinterest for awhile now from the blog/website SkinnyTaste. On this site, you can find so many healthy recipe ideas and healthier variations of classics. Given that takeout chicken lo mein can top out anywhere from 1000 to 1500 calories per carton (obviously varying between restaurants and preparations), this homemade version will probably serve your New Year’s resolution AND your waistline well!

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“Chicken Lo Mein” Zoodles

(Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste)
Ingredients: 
  • 12oz chicken breast
  • 2 med-large zucchini
  • Vegetables to stir fry – options:
    • Carrots
    • Bell peppers
    • Onions
    • Mushrooms
    • Green onions
    • Snow peas
    • Broccoli
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 3 tsp sesame oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
Instructions: 
  1. Prepare the zoodles. (Click if you need more instruction.)
  2. Slice the chicken and your choices of vegetables.
  3. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of garlic powder.
  4. Heat the 1 tbsp of neutral oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes until no translucent spots are visible.
  5. Remove the chicken to the side and wipe clean if needed.
  6. Add 2 tsp of sesame oil to the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Once oil is quite hot, add the vegetables. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 1 tsp of sesame oil, chicken stock, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, and flour.
  8. Remove vegetables to the side and lower heat to medium.
  9. Add sauce to the pan. Allow to warm for 2-3 minutes, stirring as needed.
  10. Add zoodles, other vegetables, and chicken to the pan. Cook over medium heat for ~5 additional minutes so everything is coated in sauce and vegetables are cooked to your liking.
Serving sizes depends on how many vegetables you choose to add!

Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers

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So what do you think of when you hear “stuffed peppers”? Chances are, you’re imagining something with bold Tex-Mex flavors, I am right? I picture a big old red pepper, filled with beef, beans, onions, and spices in a red sauce, smothered with cheese on top. The cheesy, spicy goodness gets you every time! So hate to tell you… but that’s not the recipe I’m sharing tonight.

Tonight, I decided to go a little different route. I was thinking that the flavors of the Mediterranean would go perfectly, stuffed inside a tasty pepper. The flavors of this dish are a little more subtle than your big, bold, Tex-Mex stuffed pepper, but are delicious in their own right. And yes, I am aware that feta cheese would be the perfect addition to this recipe, but alas, I had none. I didn’t feel like hitting up the grocery store twice in one day once I came up with this idea. Furthermore, just the hint of Asiago allows the other flavors to shine through!

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Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients: 
  • 2 large bell peppers
  • 10oz chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup Greek vinaigrette
  • 1/2 cup of pearl couscous (dry)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 10 turns of black pepper
  • 2oz Asiago cheese
  • Water
Instructions: 
  1. Cut your chicken into small (even smaller than what I consider ‘bite-sized’) pieces. Combine the chicken with the vinaigrette, stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Once you’re ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Prepare the couscous. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add the couscous and lower heat to medium. Simmer until the water is absorbed and the couscous is al dente, ~6-8 minutes. (Note: there are wide variations in sizes of pearl couscous, and therefore variations in cooking times and water needed – follow your package instructions if you have them.) Set aside.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Saute the garlic for ~3 minutes.
  5. Now add the chicken and vinaigrette into the same pan. Saute the chicken over medium heat for 5 minutes, until no longer translucent. (Does not have to be fully cooked all the way through.)
  6. Turn off heat to the burner, but leave the pan where it is. Add the couscous, olives, lemon juice, oregano, pepper, and cheese to the pan. Stir to combine.
  7. Slice the very top off of the peppers and remove seeds & membranes from the insides.
  8. Stuff the couscous/chicken mixture into your peppers.
  9. Place the peppers upright in high-edged oven-safe dish. Add a thin layer of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

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French Onion Chicken Zoodles

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I’ve had this idea of French Onion soup combined with zoodles for awhile. I’d seen similar ideas on other blogs in the past, but have never tried it myself. The ones I drew from the most were this one from Climbing Grier Mountain and this one from Mother Thyme.

True to form, I tried to keep tonight’s new recipe a secret from Selim. And true to form, he guessed it by the ingredients I wanted in the grocery store. The man is ridiculous! I told him that the only ingredients we needed to buy for tonight’s dinner were onions and cheese, that we had everything else I needed at home. From there, he thought about it for a few minutes, made one wrong guess (enchiladas), and then came up with, “French onion soup…?” It’s maddening I tell you. I mean, how many entrees can you think of that involve onions and cheese? I can think of a million! Off the top of my head, I could’ve been making: a cheeseburger, tacos/enchiladas/burritos/etc, spaghetti, meatballs, spaghetti & meatballs, a big ol’ omelette, scalloped potatoes, a loaded baked potato, a loaded hot dog, or maybe a cheesy onion dip! The possibilities are endless, but Mr. Mind-reader/Surprise-ruiner won again.

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French Onion Chicken Zoodles

Ingredients: 
  • 10oz chicken, cubed
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 turns of black pepper
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 cups cheese, shredded (We used Asiago today. Julia Child would suggest Gruyere.)
Instructions: 
  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or other stove + oven – safe dish. Add the cubes of chicken and cook for ~5 minutes, until they are no longer translucent. Remove to the side.
  2. Now add the other 1 tbsp of oil and the butter. Wait until the butter has melted.
  3. Add the onions and stir to coat all of the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until caramelized, ~45 minutes. Stir every few minutes. You want them to brown and start to stick to the pan, but not so much so they burn. You’ll be doing this for awhile.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare your zoodles. I use a hand spiralizer. You can also slice the zucchini in ribbons if you don’t have a spiralizer. Set in the sink in a strainer. Toss with a few shakes of salt. This draws the excess water from the zucchini.
  5. After about 40 minutes (earlier if you find them drying up/starting to burn), add the balsamic vinegar to your onions. Continue cooking the onions, stirring frequently. The total onion caramelizing time should be roughly 45 minutes.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the beef broth. Add the bay leaf and thyme to the liquid. Also return the chicken to the pan. Increase heat just a bit so the liquid is simmering. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  8. Now here you have two options. The result is the same, but the aesthetics are a bit different.
    • Option A – stir the zoodles into your dish so they are well coated and submerged in the liquid. Top with the cheese. Bake just a few minutes until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.
    • Option B – if you have oven-safe individual-sized dishes (like large ramekins), portion out your zoodles among them. Top with the liquid and then cheese. Bake as in Option A. (In your excitement to dig in to your dinner, don’t forget that the dish is HOT!!)
  9. Enjoy! A nice crusty piece of bread would be a great compliment to this dish too! Gotta soak up all that onion-y deliciousness 🙂
Serves 4.

Slow Cooker Chicken & Cauliflower Tikka Masala

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The slow cooker seems to fall out of popularity in the summer, I guess because most of the recipes you think of as traditionally going in a slow cooker are more “fall” or “winter” recipes. But it’s really perfect for summer! Just think, you don’t have to turn on the oven and heat up your house – your cool haven from the heat. I decided last night that I want to make something in the slow cooker for that reason and because I had some things to do today and wanted us to be able to eat whenever Selim was home and ready.

As you may have noticed, we like to share recipes from all different parts of the world. As I’ve said before, I’m not swearing to the authenticity of any of these, as my family has been in the US for a few hundred years and long ago lost whatever culture we may have had. But we love to try anything with a lot of flavor. Selim has a special attachment to Indian flavors, as he grew up eating real Indian food, homemade by a real Indian grandma. I had no illusions of making food that even slightly compares, but decided to give it a whirl.

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Selim’s Take: My wife isn’t good at surprises. She tries, but either she’s not good at them or I’m good at ruining them. (Ally: He’s good at ruining them.) I was in the OR all day with a couple challenging cases, from an anesthesia stand-point, but I knew that Ally would be trying to make something new for dinner tonight.  While grabbing a quick lunch break, I saw a snapchat from her with some onions and garlic in a pan.  Not exactly a divulging picture, as most great meals start with those classic ingredients.  We both really like Indian food and we often dabble with the spices, sauces, and flavors that are characteristic of the diverse food from that country.  The house smelled delicious when I got home, but I couldn’t quite put me finger on what exactly we were having for dinner.  To tell the truth, I didn’t figure out what was in the slow-cooker until I saw the naan onTM2 top of the refrigerator. I really wanted to take a peek/taste, but I resisted. I know it’s tempting, but you should never (or rarely, maybe, possibly only once to turn/stir) because it will add ~20 minutes to the cooking time every time you lift that lid off. Luckily, it was worth the wait. There are a lot of amazing flavors and spices in this dish, although it is really not spicy at all. We might need a little more heat next time.

PS: You should also make raita to go with this!

Slow Cooker Chicken & Cauliflower Tikka Masala

(Adapted from this recipe from Wanderlust Kitchen)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 large (~10-12oz) chicken breasts
  • 1/2 of a large head of cauliflower
  • 1 can (13.5oz) light coconut milk
  • 1 can (13.5oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
Instructions:
  1. Heat oil in a pan. Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Saute for ~8 minutes, until the onions are soft and fragrant.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and saute another 3-4 minutes. Afterwards, add these to the slow cooker.
  3. Cut your chicken and cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Add these and all of the rest of the ingredients into the slow cooker. Stir everything up so well combined.
  4. Set your slow cooker to low and cook for 5 hours. At this time, remove the lid and stir a few times. Leave the lid off and turn slow cooker up to high. Cook like this for another hour to thicken the sauce some.
  5. Serve over rice and/or with warm naan.

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Makes 4-6 servings.