Friday, February 22, 2013

Confetti Salad (frogeyes)

Confetti (frogeye) Salad

     This recipe is seriously simple, with a lot of steps. While it is pretty hard to mess up, it is easy to get lost in the steps of it, so as usual, read through beforehand! 
For this recipe you will need:

Acini de Pepe
Whipping cream
vanilla extract
powdered sugar
food coloring of your choice (optional)
cans of pineapple (tidbits or chunks)
can of crushed pineapple (optional)
cans of mandarin oranges
package of instant vanilla pudding

Ok, a few notes before starting. Notice that it is called Confetti salad? No I am not trying to be clever, I have found that when making this for little kids who come over to play, they will not eat something called frog eye salad with little bits of pasta that look like frog eyes, no matter how many times you tell them they are not actually frog eyes. I remedied this by simply coloring the pasta and renaming it confetti salad. Suddenly, though it tastes exactly the same, they will eat it. Whatever works, right?

I am all for saving money but there are certain instances when it just isn't going to work. If I was making rice krispy treats, I would get the cheap store brand marshmallows. Obviously in this recipe I am not, so I get the brand name so that I know they are not going to stick together and have a chunk of marshmallow in my salad. Store brand pineapple is not cut well and has parts of the core in it, and store brand mandarin oranges are notorious for having seeds! Other than that, there really is no problem getting the cheaper versions of the other ingredients. 

MAKE YOUR OWN WHIPPED CREAM! It is possible to use that freezer gunk, but honestly the only positive that came out of that for me was I had disposable dishes to put the salad in when I was done. Whipped cream is so simple, that the freezer gunk is just not worth it. Heavy whipping cream, and a little vanilla and powdered sugar. Now whip. Yes, it is really that simple.

Since I generally make this recipe for clients, I use #10 cans of fruit also. This is why I make my own "crushed" pineapple. If you decide to use an actual can of crushed pineapple that is fine but a cheaper can and a blender works great for me.

To make your own "crushed" pineapple, just use your blender or food processor and put some of the pineapple in, with a little of the juice and use the lowest setting. All done! That was easy!

Let's start on the base. First goes the package of vanilla pudding. 

Next pour in some milk. DO NOT follow the directions on the box of pudding, we are only using the mix.

Next, pour in some of the pineapple juice. I also like to add in a little bit of the juice from the oranges, but that is optional as well. 

Mix those up really well so that it is still liquid but you can tell it is starting to set.

Next pour in your crushed pineapple and mix up. This will be the last step you need a whisk for, so go ahead and put it in the dishwasher or sink. You can use it for the whole recipe if you want, but personally I don't like shaking fruit out of my whisks and taking twice as long to finish.

I cannot tell you how long it took me to realize this. You don't need to drain the fruit from the cans like most people do. Pour it all in the colander!!! Amazing, right? Oh just wait, my favorite trick is coming up.

Add all the drained fruit in. Obviously you can add in more fruit or different fruit, but the pineapple and oranges are a must for the flavor. This is also the step where you would add in coconut. I cannot stand coconut. I hate it so much that I don't ever even use extract.

Let's talk about your pasta. You would think this would be simple, but it's kind of different for every recipe. First of all, there are different types of Acini de Pepe. Today I used the type that looks like tiny little beads. This type cooks very fast. Normally I use the type that is just a solid tiny little ball, but this takes a lot longer to cook. This is why I make the base first, since the cooking times on your pasta will vary. "NOW WAIT!" you may be saying. "How did the pasta already get pink?" This is actually very simple. Just add the food coloring into the water when you cook the pasta. This makes the pasta colored, but it doesn't bleed out into the salad and the whipped cream gets to stay white!  

If you have read my other posts with pasta in the recipe, you know that I NEVER leave hot pasta in the colander. This makes the pasta keep cooking! This is especially dangerous for this recipe, as the frog eyes will clump together in big clumps and then it literally ruins then entire salad! But unlike other recipes, this will not be using hot pasta. We are going to shock it. Whoa! Don't get your tasers out just yet! This is my favorite part to do with the kids! They think it is magical. The first step is draining your hot pasta in the colander.

Now fill your pot about half way with ice!

Pour the hot pasta back into the pot with ice, and start stirring. This will make sure the frog eyes don't stick together while cooling it down at the same time. Yes I am aware your mother probably taught you to just rinse it all off with running cold water. First of all, what a waste! Secondly, it doesn't cool these off fast enough and you could still end up with yucky clumps. Finally, if you rinse it with cold water, you will miss the kids magic trick. 

You may be asking yourself, "Well great. They are cooled down, but I would really rather not reach in there and pick out all the ice cubes that didn't melt." Well hold on cause here comes the magic trick!

Put your pot in the sink and start slowly running HOT water into the pot. Yes I said hot, no I did not say enough that it will overflow or start cooking the pasta again. This may be a "DUH" moment to you but you would be surprised the people that don't understand this concept. Stir your pasta one or two times while the HOT water is running in. Seeing the magic yet?

You guessed it! All that ice has now floated to the surface and you can now just scoop it out with either your hand or a slotted spoon.

This leaves just the water and the pasta! Now go ahead and drain it in the colander. You may want to shake it around a little to get as much of the water as humanly possible out of it.

Add your pasta, or confetti, into the base.

Stir it up really well, using a rubber spatula so it doesn't crush any of the pasta, and doesn't get stuck in the whisk. Again, unless you like that kind of thing.

Now you will stir in your marshmallows. How many you use is a personal preference, but remember the more you use, the more juice they will suck up and the salad could get kind of dry and look old if you use too much.

Now you add in your whipped cream or whipped topping gunk from the freezer, obviously not frozen. This is why we add the marshmallows first, if you add the marshmallows last like some recipes do, it is difficult to tell where they are and how well you have mixed it.

I prefer to serve this as soon as possible after making it, but it will keep ok for a week or so. 

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cashew Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Cashew Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Here it is folks, the dish that literally launched My Tasty Little Secret from a hobby to an actual business. Beware, it is addicting. The kind of food that, even though your brain is telling you "THERE IS NO MORE ROOM!!!" your taste buds are telling you "please just a little more!" This recipe is ridiculously easy, but first you will need to make balsamic chicken, which is on the post prior to this. You don't want to make this while the chicken is hot out of the oven, but it is best to make about 10-15 minutes after you take it out of the oven, and still a little warm. Here is what you will need:

Balsamic Chicken
Cashews (bits and pieces)
Red onion
Red grapes

First cut up the chicken into pieces. I did 1/2 inch cubes and pieces and used 6 chicken breasts. The main point is to focus on who will be eating it. I usually like pieces just a little bigger, but for tonight this was dinner for my kids, so I made the pieces smaller.

See that? Those are the drippings in the pan from making the balsamic chicken. You won't need much. I use a spoonful for each chicken breast.

Drizzle the drippings over the cut up chicken and stir.

Here comes the Mayo! Honestly, it doesn't really matter which you use, depends on your taste and if you are using this as a low fat food. I use good old Miracle Whip. One you may not want to use is the olive oil mayo though, as the drippings are mainly olive oil. Now stir that up.

The last few steps don't really matter as in order of what you add, but I like to add in order from hardest to softest so none of the ingredients get smashed. So here, I added the cashews.

Here I added the celery. I used two stalks, split them down the middle and cut them up into bits. This is also where you add the red onion bits, if you want, but if you put the onions on as rings at the end, it works as well.

Ah the red grapes. I love adding these into the recipe, but it also means it doesn't keep in the fridge for more than a day or two. For this recipe I take the grapes and cut them in half, this helps the sandwich stay together better and you don't have grapes popping out of the sandwich and taking some poor unsuspecting person's eye out! As usual, mix it up!

As for the bread. It really doesn't matter. Today I used french steak rolls, but when I serve these to customers, I generally use croissants and cut them in half. Remember, croissants are seriously fatty, so if you are trying to keep this healthy, don't do it.

Balsamic Chicken

Balsamic Chicken

This truly is one of my favorite recipes  Not only because it tastes so good, but because this can be expanded out to be used in other recipes. This recipe is so extraordinarily simple that there really is no need for pictures but my 7 year old wanted to be involved and I was happy to oblige. For this recipe you will need:

Boneless skinless chicken breasts
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Italian seasoning

Heat your oven to 350 degrees FAHRENHEIT. I normally wouldn't specify this, but it has been brought to my attention that some of my readers are not in the US.

In a small mixing bowl pour in some olive oil. I used about 1-1 1/2 cups. 
Next comes the vinegar. I used about 1/3 cup. 
Add the salt and other seasonings. I used 1 1/2-2 Tbsp of Italian seasoning, 1/8 tsp. salt and about 3 pinches of pepper. This recipe is pretty light so if you add any more pepper it will overwhelm the other flavors.

Mix it all up with a whisk. If this is your first time using this recipe, you may have to remix it half way through doing the chicken.

For this recipe, I beg of you to use the fresh chicken, not the stuff that comes in a freezer bag. The fresh absorbs the flavors a lot easier and tastes about a million times better. I also trim all the fat off the chicken, but that is up to you. I know some who like to leave it on but personally I do not understand it.

Take your chicken and dip it in your vinegar mix, coating it really well. Personally I use food service gloves for this.  You are going to take it straight from the vinegar to the baking dish. You can use anything from a casserole dish to a cookie sheet for this, it really doesn't matter all that much. 

After dipping all of your chicken and putting them on the baking dish, you can put a little bit more of the mix on top if you choose or just put it on the oven. I put some more on because I am using these for another recipe afterward.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. It is pretty hard to overcook this recipe, but obviously possible. Your time will vary depending on the dish you used, and the thickness of the chicken. 
I know the standards of cooking have changed a little and vary depending on where you live, but I always bake until a minimum of 165 and maximum of 185.

Remember, my seven year old son took the pictures for this post, and I think he did an awesome job.

If you are using this recipe purely for the chicken, which I have done many times, I suggest serving it with a salad and some of the baked vinegar mix drizzled over it. 

A note for cleanup. Obviously you know to sterilize anything that touched the raw chicken, but the vinegar mix has olive oil in it. Take it from experience, dump the extra in the compost. If you don't have a compost, find a way to throw it in the trash, but as a last resort, if you absolutely have to pour it down the sink, pour it slowly with running, extremely hot water. If you don't it will hit the cold pipes later down the line, and stick right to the hair and other stuff you have in there, causing a really bad clog. The hot water keeps the oil a liquid in your pipes. I would even keep the hot water running for a few minutes after all the mix is gone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

This dish is one of my favorites, and many other people as well. I will warn you though, start making this recipe, which takes just as long as the box Mac & Cheese, and your family may revolt at the sight of the box as mine has. 

This recipe, unlike others, uses actual measurements. I know this is odd, but I had to figure out the recipe for a friend of mine because unlike my baked rotini, this is a little more complicated. Please read through this entire recipe before attempting it.

These are the ingredients you will need:
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 1/4 Cup milk
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2-4 cups TILLAMOOK Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2-4 cups cheddarjack cheese
  • 1 lb Macaroni

The equipment you will need:
  • pot for pasta
  • pan for sauce
  • mixing bowl (I use an 8 quart bowl)\
  • Prepping bowls or dishes

Preparation is KEY to the success of this dish. You will want to have all your ingredients ready to go before you begin. I keep the cheddar jack next to the big mixing bowl since they are both used at the very end. 

The first step of this recipe will depend on whether you have made it before. Trying to cook the pasta and the sauce at the same time can be difficult your first time. If this is the first time you have made this, try making the sauce first, putting it in the mixing bowl, and then boiling the pasta. It is ok if the sauce cools off, the heat from the pasta will heat it back up quickly. But as I have said before, leaving hot pasta in the colander just results in gross pasta, as it keeps cooking while in the colander. However you decide to proceed, here is how my version of this recipe goes.

Your first step is to melt the butter. I prefer medium-high to high heat for this, but again, if this is your first time you may want to start on medium.

These next few pictures are making the roux for the sauce. After the butter is all melted, add the flour.

This is what it will look like. I usually let it cook for about 30 seconds more before I start the next step, but always keep whisking it so it doesn't burn!

Next you will add the milk. . Not all at once though, I add about a third of the milk and mix completely each time. I am not asking you to measure your milk out into thirds, but three steps seems to do the trick for me. It doesn't really matter what milk you use. I use whole when making it for the kids, but fat free when its just for my husband and me

Now that all the milk is in, let it cook a little longer, probably only a minute or so. (This is where I usually turn to stir the pasta and check on it.)

Now add in your spices (salt, paprika and pepper). I don't usually add them all in at once like this, I usually do half of each and mix it then do the rest, but it worked out fine this way too.

WARNING!!! If you were hungry prior to starting this meal, the aroma that comes up from this step is almost unbearable. You are now officially starving. But seriously, it does smell really good.

Now you are going to add in the TILLAMOOK Monterey Jack. I cannot tell you enough NOT to substitute this ingredient. 

Whisk together the cheese until its all melted and smooth. Now pour your sauce into the mixing bowl.

Add your macaroni. My apologies for the foggy picture, the past was still hot and steamy.

You will also add in the cheddarjack cheese during this step. This cheese is mostly to taste. We like it pretty cheesy, so I use 4 cups.

When mixing for the last time, use a rubber spatula, not a wooden spoon. The spoons tend to mash or cut the pasta.  Serve immediately after mixing and expect to never use the boxed kind again.