October 17, 2016

Steven's Special: mexican chicken and queso rice

At least once a week. That’s how often my family goes out to our favorite Mexican restaurant just down the street. And what makes us go there that often? What could possibly be so good that we have.to.have.it every few days? Steven’s Special. An entrĂ©e of creamy, queso rice with spicy strips of seasoned, grilled chicken stirred in. It’s served with the optional soft flour tortilla in the event that you get the itch to roll it into the tortilla and eat it. But most of us just eat it straight up. Every bite.

So I decided to make my own version at home to satisfy our regular (out-of-control) craving. And while my version is unique in its own right, it’s awful good and mighty close to our cantina favorite! My Steven’s Special At Home has lots of fresh ingredients and fixins too which we L-O-V-E. I’m telling ya. This recipe is sure to become a family favorite.

Serves 4-6

2 chicken breasts, halved lengthwise making 4 cutlets

-for the taco seasoning-
4 Tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoons sea salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2.5 cups water
2.5 cups 5-minute white rice
1 large shallot, minced
2 cups whole milk
Juice of one can Rotel tomatoes with green chiles (juice only)
1 Tablespoon garlic paste
1lb queso blanco Velveeta, cubed
3 Tablespoons jarred chopped jalapenos with juice
(or 4oz can chopped jalapenos)

Mix the taco seasoning together and season both sides of the chicken breasts. Allow to sit for 10 minutes so the seasoning will really flavor the meat. (Work on the rice and the prep for the queso during this time.) Grill on a hot preheated grill for 3 minutes on both sides. Remove from grill, cover with foil, and allow to sit. (Tend to the rice and queso while the chicken is grilling.)

In a saucepan, heat water until it boils. Stir in rice, cover, and allow to simmer on low heat until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saute pan with a lid (I use my Le Creuset 3.75qt braiser), saute the shallot over medium-low heat in a little olive oil. Saute until just tender. Pour in whole milk and the juice from the Rotel tomatoes, and stir in garlic paste. Allow to come just to a simmer, then add the cubes of queso blanco cheese. Cover with lid and allow to melt into the warm milk. Keep heat below medium and allow time to melt. Stir occasionally. Stir in chopped jalapenos with their juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Keep covered on low heat.

When the chicken is grilled, the rice is ready, and the queso is melted and warm, stir the rice into the queso. Slice the chicken very very thinly. Spoon a plate or shallow bowl with the cheesey rice, top with thinly sliced chicken. Garnish with sour cream, sliced avocado, chopped tomatoes, and cilantro.

Serve with warmed tortillas.

October 05, 2016

cream cheese pumpkin bread

It’s October, and I’m in Heaven. I’m one of those obnoxious Fall-lovin loud-mouths who LOVES pumpkins, who LOVES warm drinks, who LOVES bittersweet branches, who LOVES the first day I get to wear boots. I’m that girl without question.

And the split second that it feels like Fall outside, I crank out loaves of this cream cheese pumpkin bread. It’s an absolute favorite! This recipe makes two loaves – one to keep and one to give (If you can stand to let go of a loaf!) It’s dense and moist. It’s cinnamon-y and warm. It’s creamy and sweet. Oh my, delicious.

True story. I shared a bite with one of the young men who was here at my house one night leading my son’s high school bible study. He texted my husband Sam after he got home and said it was the best pumpkin bread he had ever eaten. So Sam told him to wheel around and come back for the second loaf. And that’s what he did! He turned around and came back to my house for more bread. And the next time I saw him, he said he finds himself thinking about the pumpkin bread. So that says one of two things: the pumpkin bread is FABULOUS or that fella isn’t quite right. So let’s go with the bread is FABULOUS.
See for yourself. And Happy October, y’all!
Watch the cooking show episode with step-by-step instructions HERE 
Makes 2 loaves of bread

 -for the pumpkin bread-
3 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 cup oil
1 15oz can cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
2/3 cup water

-for the cream cheese swirl-
8oz cream cheese, softened well at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients together, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Divide into two prepared loaf pans. Mix together the cream cheese swirl ingredients until smooth. Equally spoon dollops of cream cheese mixture over the pumpkin batter. Then use a long toothpick or skewer to drag and swirl the cream cheese around the top of the batter. Just swirl it around, do not stir it into the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pans then invert and cool completely.

October 03, 2016

brown sugar chili and cheese grits

I feed a lot of folks at my house. Adults, families, teenagers, small groups, watch parties, you name it. And when it turns cool outside THIS is one of my favorite go-tos to feed those said folks.  I know, I know. Chili doesn’t get your motor going because it’s so “been there, done that.” But this chili has a few surprises and a spicy sweetness that sets it apart. AND THEN I spoon it over a shallow layer of cheese grits which really fills up bellies. Y’all. So many good things.

{serves about 8 with leftover chili for chili dogs}

-for the brown sugar chili-
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2lbs ground beef 80/20
1 14oz can dark red kidney beans
1 14oz can light red kidney beans
1 14oz can pinto beans
1 14oz can black beans
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 4oz can tomato paste
1 4oz can chopped green chiles
1 packet chili seasoning
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
2-3 Tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

-for the cheese grits-
1lb velveeta, cubed
½  teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked 5-minute quick-cook grits
2 cups of water
2 cups of milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into about four pieces
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 Tablespoons jarred chopped jalapenos and juice, optional

In a 5.5qt heavy-bottomed pot, saute onion in a swirl of olive oil until tender. Stir in garlic and saute until fragrant. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain just a bit of liquid off of the top of the cans of beans, and pour into the pot. Pour the tomatoes and chiles into the pot with the juice. Add in the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Bring just to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer on low for at least 30 minutes. Add a can of water if you prefer your chili more liquidy than thick.

Meanwhile prepare cheese grits. In a 4qt saucepan, bring water, milk, butter and salt just to a boil and whisk in grits, whisking constantly so they do not clump.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook grits until they've expanded and gotten creamy, about 7-8 minutes or so. Over low heat, stir in cheese and garlic powder. Stir until cheese is melted and grits are smooth. Stir in jarred jalapenos and juice. Taste as you go! Add more milk or butter a little at a time, stirring over low heat until the grits are creamy, creamy, creamy.

Serve in shallow bowls ladled with just enough grits to cover the bottom of the bowl, then filled with chili. Top with sour cream, chopped red onions, avocado slices, sliced scallions or whatever else sounds good!