Chicken Tacos

I’d like to discuss taco night and why it is such a good idea. It’s end of February, the weather is less than desirable where I am (Chicago), and just the idea of margaritas gets a smile of my face. What makes me giggle with joy? A little fiesta with said margaritas, chips and guacamole, tacos, and a wide array of fixins’. Now we have a party and an oasis from snow and sludge.

When I was 5 my family went on a vacation to Cancun. This was back in the 80’s when Cancun was just starting its rise to teenage vacation stardom, so it was an authentic gem. Apparently each evening I would abruptly fall asleep at the table, before dinner came out. I was so exhausted from days in the sun, I quite literally passed out (clearly I didn’t have the typical Cancun experience on that vacation but somehow ended up in the same boat at the end of the night as so many other vacationers). I really have to wonder how it was possible when I have always had a real adoration for mexican food. I can’t bear to think of the many tacos I left untouched, sitting just a few inches in front of my sleepy self.

But I digress and need to get back on point – tacos are an amazing treat sure to change winter blues into happy moments. Turn your thermostat up to 80, put on some shorts, sip a margarita, and serve up a batch of tacos when you can’t count on the weather outside. Silly? Yes. Will it make you feel better? Yes, and that’s all that matters.

Chicken Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken (I used ground chicken breast but you can use gound thigh or a mixture)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 8 tortillas of your choice – flour or corn
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce
  • 2 diced tomatoes
  • 1 diced red onion
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
  • fresh salsa
  • guacamole or diced avocado
  • taco spice mix (below)

Taco Spice Mix: can be made ahead and stored with your spices

  •  1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

How To:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan. Add ground chicken and diced onion. Cook until chicken is no longer pink and onions are soft. Add seasoning mix and 1/4 cup water. Continue to stir until seasoning over all of chicken and onions. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

Serve in tortillas with toppings on the side…with chips and guacamole…with margaritas.

Doggy Cake


So I’ve been a bit deliquent in regards to posting lately because I was busy preparing for this past Monday – which was “bake the doggy cake day.” It was my fiance’s birthday and I felt it necessary to bake a cake inspired by our dog. I’m not joking, as you can see by the pictures (oops, it is a little blurry).

The Doggy Cake was really just a challenge, to see if I could actually create an edible adorable cake that looks like our dog. I’m pretty sure I succeeded, and the cake was declious on top of it. It is a combination of pound cake and regular cake.  I used a box mix for the yellow portion because I couldn’t bring myself to use another stick or two of butter, since pound cake uses enough on its own. I also changed up the pound cake so I didn’t feel quite as guilty.

The batter needs to be stiff so that it both stays in the cake mold, and so it stand on its own and doesn’t want to keel over.

Finally I used my Nana’s buttercream frosting recipe. There really is no other, and the taste of it brings me back to my 4th birthday, just like this cake should bring back my fiance to his.  In a good way.
Doggy Cake

This recipe requires a 3-D cake mold and a #233 tip for a decorator’s icing bag. I purchased mine from wilton.com.
for the cake: pound cake adapted from Smittenkitchen.com

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream (can use regular)
  • 8 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the frosting

  • 1 container white decorator’s frosting by Wilton (or the like)
  • 1/3 cup crisco
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

How To:

First, the cake – preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3-D cake mold with nonstick spray and place on baking rack.

Using a food processor, grind vanilla bean and sugar until very finely chopped and there are few vanilla bean chunks. Sift sugar and vanilla bean mixture to make sure you don’t have any large pieces. Set aside.

Cream the butter with an electric mixer in a large bowl. Gradually add the vanilla sugar, beating until smooth. Add sour cream then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and salt. Add the vanilla extract and make sure mixture is well well blended.

Mix yellow box cake according to box directions. Add to pound cake batter and mix until just combined. Pour 6 1/2 cups of batter into 3-D mold (could be different based on mold used) and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Do not over bake. Take cake out of oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Now, carefull take front piece of mold off to let steam escape. Place back gently and remove back piece of mold to let steam escape from the back. Replace and sit cake upright, with cake molds still in place for another 15 minutes. Now take off mold and let cake cool for at least 1 hour.

For the frosting, cream crisco and butter until light and fluffy. Pour milk in a small saucepan and set over low heat. You want to scald the milk, getting it very hot without burning it. Gradually add the sugar, beating it thoroughly. Add egg white and vanilla all at once, beating until well combined. Gradually add in the scalded milk while it is still hot – this is necessary in order to dissolve the sugar. Add food coloring of choice and beat until fluffy and until sugar is dissolved – possibly 5 minutes.

Take out 2 tablespoons of decorator’s frosting and place into a very small bowl. Mix with black food coloring and a splash of extract for flavoring (I use butter flavor by Wilton). Place into small ziploc and set aside. Nest mix decorator’s frosting to make it spreading consistency. I add butter flavoring (you can also use vanilla or almond extract) and add food coloring of choice, mixing to create even color. Place frosting into piping bag with #233 tip. Set aside. Spread buttercream frosting on dog cake as a base layer. With black frosting in ziploc, create little eyes and a little nose, along with a mouth and some paws if desired. Next, pipe out hair-like pieces all over cake with decorator’s frosting in the large bag. This will take some time, but the result is worth it!

Chocolate Cupcakes With Creamy Hazelnut Frosting

It’s been years now that I’ve spent researching chocolate cake recipes. I know, what a hard task, you say. I am not a chocolate person by nature, so this whole research thing proved a bit difficult and required many taste testers.

And it only took years because I can’t make chocolate cake every day for consecutive weeks. I couldn’t, that is, until I happened upon this recipe.

Recently an occasion arised (it was the superbowl) and I found myself all for the dark stuff (chocolate). I needed dark cupcakes in gold foil wrappers with little fleur de lis, not because I am a full saints fan but because I went to a saints party. Apparently these cupcakes are not only delicious, but also magical as the saints went on to win.

Chocolate cake needs to be moist and devilishly dark and rich.

It needs to be topped with a creamy frosting. If you love nutella then you will love the frosting I used. Who doesn’t want a winning cupcake?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Hazelnut Frosting

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the frosting:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (room temp)
  • 3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup nutella or other hazelnut spread

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Combine sugar and oil. Add eggs, one at a time. Add warm water, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl, mixing batter until combined.

Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make frosting, combine butter, 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, almond extract, milk and nutella in a medium bowl and mix with a hand mixer, slowly adding the rest of the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spread onto cooled cupcakes. Makes about 24 cupcakes, enough to share with friends…

Sesame Peanut Noodles

Any type of Asian take out I’m a bit leery of – health wise. I know they claim to be healthy but I never know how much oil and salt I’m really eating. Actually, I do know and just tend to go into denial when it’s 9pm, I have no dinner ingredients, and the take out menu is right there. It’s a lot of oil (and most likely salt too) because when I open my take out container the next day to find stiff noodles and congealed sauces I realize it is due to the oil that has bonded in the fridge. So one plus to making your own asian inspired meals is you know what you are eating.

And the pluses do not stop there.  I feel like it tastes better – cleaner, healthier, fresher. You are assured to have only the ingredients you like. There is not a trace of mushrooms in my noodle pot. And there is no delivery fee.


I can find only one drawback; the clean up. I guess just figure it is another way to get healthier – by lifting the pots and cleaning the pans…a little arm work out, right?

Sesame Peanut Noodles Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons sesame seeds, divided
  • ¼ cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon (about 1-inch) fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus additional for serving
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce (I use Cholula)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
  • Hot water
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup frozen chopped broccoli
  • 2/3 cup frozen edamame
  • 1 pound dried pad Thai noodles or Asian rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 carrots, julienned or peeled and grated on a box grater
  • 1/2 cup julienned or grated zucchini

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Lay chicken in dish and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Once oven is preheated, bake chicken for 15-20 minutes or until opaque in the center. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, cut into slices or bite size pieces.

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a medium stockpot. Add broccoli and edamame, cook until bright green and tender, only about 6-8 minutes. Drain. Refill same pot with 5 quarts water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Watch out – these things pop up and out of the skillet when they get too hot. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds in a small bowl. Put the remaining 3 tablespoons in the blender or food processor.

To the sesame seeds in the blender, add the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, and sugar. Puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. With the machine running (if possible…), add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream. Set aside (can be left right in blender).

Cook noodles in boiling water according to box directions – most likely: add a few pinches salt and noodles to boiling water. Cook noodles until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain then rinse with cool water; drain again.

In a large bowl, toss noodles and sesame oil. Add broccoli, edamame, carrots, zucchini, chicken and sauce. Mix with tongs or slotted spoon until well combined. Place servings into individual bowls and top with reserved sesame seeds. Serve with soy sauce on the side.