easy mexican rice

Recently I tried out Pioneer Woman’s recipe for homemade salsa.  Her recipe makes an absolutely delightful, gentle-kick-in-your-mouth salsa.  It also makes a metric ton of it.

Or it does if you follow the recipe as written, conveniently forgetting that exactly two people live in your house and this fresh salsa has no preservatives.  Once I made this salsa a few nights ago, I realized we would be eating a lot of Mexican food this weekend.  Fine by me!

So I wondered if I could make Mexican/ Spanish rice (I’ve seen essentially the same Tex-Mex dish called these two names) with some of this salsa.  See, almost all Mexican rice recipes call for canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, some jalapeno, lime juice, and cilantro (maybe or maybe not among other things).  If you click the link above, you will see that those are, indeed, the same ingredients in PW’s salsa.  Seems logical that a substitution could be made here.

Enter Google, which led me to adapting this recipe.  This blogger’s explanation confirmed my theory: It can be done!  So this is what I did:

You will need:
1 c. long- or medium-grain white rice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. salsa (I used some of my multitude of PW salsa, but use any salsa you would be happy to throw on a chip)
3-4 c. chicken broth
Water
Cilantro, chopped

Heat your chicken broth and some water in a pot, letting it simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet on med-high heat and add the rice, stirring to get it all nice and coated.

After about a minute, pour in one cup of whatever salsa you’ve got on hand.

Stir the rice well, and let the liquid absorb.  Your kitchen now smells like spicy deliciousness.  Ladle in the hot broth, a ladleful at a time, stirring the rice until the liquid is completely absorbed.

After you’ve done this a few times, taste the rice for doneness.  If it isn’t done, just keep ladling, stirring, letting the liquid absorb, ladling, stirring, etc.  (Think risotto.)  When you’re satisfied, remove from heat, top with cilantro, and serve.  Voila!

Don’t be like me.  Don’t forget the fresh cilantro in the photo.  Or on the table.  (I totally meant to include it, I promise.  If you forget, all is not lost.  The rice was divine even without it.  But it would have been amazing.)

You could also use pico de gallo in place of jarred salsa, and it might be interesting to try out different varieties of salsa.  I’m thinking rice with salsa verde has possibilities.

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chinese dumplings

As soon as I started this blog, I knew that this was one of the recipes I had to post as soon as possible.  It’s imperfect in this incarnation because it is without photos (which will hopefully be remedied soon), but this is such a favorite recipe of mine.

Handsome and I make these dumplings once every couple of months.  It’s a chance for us to laugh, make a bit of a mess, use every pot in the house, watch a movie, and connect with each other.  We are totally focused on this activity; there is not a lot of room for worry when you’re sealing about a hundred tiny little dumplings.  And the finished, pre-cooked product is so satisfying to look at. Plates and plates of sealed cream-colored pillows of deliciousness.

It isn’t just the food, or the laughing, or the movie.  It’s the whole evening.  On dumpling night, Handsome and I work together to make a meal.  We tease each other.  We compliment each other.  We fall in love all over again.  And then we get to eat dumplings for daaaaaaaays because we have so many leftovers.

So that’s a lot of weight for dumpling night to carry at my house, and I can’t promise that these dumplings will lead you to love or happiness.  I can promise, though, that they will satisfy you and make you happy.  They are so worth the effort.

Disclaimer:  There are lots and lots of authentic, wonderful recipes for Chinese dumplings in the world with far different, and far fewer, ingredients.  I make no claims to the authenticity of this recipe.  For example, a lot of recipes use cabbage, not mushrooms.  Or bean sprouts.  I like mushrooms.

Another disclaimer: This recipe takes a long time.  A really long time.  Working with raw pork.  It’s best to do this while watching a movie or as the prelude to a party– invite some buds over, have some beers, and wrap dumplings!  Then you cook them and eat them, and everyone forgets about the forced labor.

A final disclaimer: I don’t make my own gyoza skins.  I buy them.  I would love to make my own skins.  So far, though, every time I make these dumplings I am daunted by how long I know that filling and wrapping them will take, and it just feels like a lot of work.  Someday, I will make my own wrappers and let you know how it works.

You will need:
1 pound ground pork
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (add more garlic if you like it. I do.)
2 packages mushrooms, any kind, chopped finely
4-6 scallions, chopped finely
1 tbsp. minced ginger
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
2-3 tbsp. rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp. black vinegar
1-2 tsp. sesame oil
2-3 tsp. sambal
Salt
Pepper
2 packages gyoza skins (appx. 50 skins each)

If your gyoza skins are frozen, thaw them.

Combine all ingredients except the skins in a bowl.  For the soy sauce, rice vinegar, black vinegar, sesame oil, sambal, salt, and pepper, add these to taste.  I have given measurements, but use more or less depending on your preference.  (I happen to like lots of seasoning.) Make sure all of the ingredients are mixed well.

To prepare the dumplings, take the gyoza skin/ dumpling wrapper in your hand.  Dip the tip of your finger in water and wet the edge of the wrapper.  Place a small teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper.  Fold the wrapper in half, pinch the top well, and pleat the sides of the wrapper until the wrapper is sealed.  Use Real Butter has a great tutorial (and a different recipe) for how to seal dumplings, complete with a photo illustration.  As your plate of folded and sealed dumplings increases, allow yourself to bask in the glow of a job well done.

Take breaks once in a while to refrigerate the filling if you feel you need to. It is raw pork, after all.

There are several different ways to cook these dumplings.  To steam them, bring a pot of water to a boil, place a bamboo steamer basket in the pot, and line it with lettuce leaves.  Place the dumplings on the lettuce leaves (which keep them from sticking to the bamboo), cover the basket, and leave until they are done. (Check for doneness.)

To pan-fry them (to make potstickers, in other words), place the dumplings bottom-down in a nonstick skillet on med-high heat.  When the bottoms are brown, quickly pour water into the skillet and cover.  Cook until the water is gone and the dumplings have dried out a little.  (Again, see the Use Real Butter post.  It’s excellent.)

I have also had tasty success baking the dumplings.  Preheat the oven to ~375 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and drizzle it with a little vegetable oil.  Place the dumplings on the pan, bottoms down, and bake for about 10-15 minutes.  The bottoms will be crisp and brown, the tops dry but still pale, and the centers hot when they are done.  It sounds a little weird, but it’s actually quite tasty.

My favorite way to have these, and the most unhealthy, is to deep-fry them.  Heat vegetable oil in a pot on the stove.  When the oil is hot, drop some dumplings in and fry them (it helps with the spattering to fry them with the pan covered, and also helps keep the oil hot) until they are golden brown.  Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Serve with the Chinese Dipping Sauce or with your favorite sauce and a side of stir-fried veggies.

***These also freeze wonderfully.  To freeze, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the dumplings, bottoms down and not touching, on the cookie sheet.  Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or until the skins are frozen well.  Place all dumplings then in a sealed, freezer-safe container.  Keeps for a long time.  All preparation methods can be done with the dumplings still frozen and unthawed. In fact, thawing them makes the dough sticky and doesn’t work very well.

pasta with “the spice”

Handsome and I keep going back to this pasta.  It’s a great, simple base for so many dishes.  I’ve had success adding broccoli, peas, zucchini, tomato paste, shrimp, and chicken to it, but it’s also fabulously comforting on its own.

The key to this pasta dish is “the spice,” as we call it in my house.  Handsome brought home a packet of spices from Italy when he was on a business trip, and we’ve been working through it ever since.  The mixture is made up of dried parsley, dried chopped garlic, and dried chili flakes.  I don’t know the exact proportions, so when we run out of this packet I’ll be guessing until I get it right! (Or sending Handsome back to Italy.) It’s also important to use good olive oil and good parmesan in this dish; I’ve tried to make it with less good ingredients, but since there are only four ingredients, using substandard ones is really noticeable.

Pasta with Oil and Spices (serves two)
1/2 pound pasta (I usually use linguine or spaghetti)
Olive oil, once around the pan
Two pinches of “spice” (mixture of dried parsley, dried garlic, and dried chili flakes)
Finely grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a skillet and, when the pasta is close to done, add the spice to the oil.  When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander and transfer it to the skillet with the oil and spice.  Toss the pasta in the oil and spice.  Plate it up, top with parmesan, and enjoy!

Tip: If you choose to add veggies or meat to your pasta, then sautee the veggies extra ingredients in olive oil and spice (add an extra pinch of spice) and remove them from heat until the pasta is done.  When your extra ingredients are done, remove from the heat until the pasta is done.  Toss the pasta and the other ingredients in oil and spice, and proceed as usual.

chinese dipping sauce

Being a longtime reader of food blogs, and after much urging from my boyfriend (here known as Handsome), I have apparently started a food blog.  I make no claims of authenticity, extraordinariness, finesse, or even competence.  I’m a tiny girl in a tiny kitchen with a tiny budget.  Nevertheless, here we are.  Handsome seems to think I can cook, and I certainly enjoy the process (and frequently the results), so let’s get started!

Handsome and I are both lovers of this dipping sauce, which we use for homemade Chinese dumplings, poured over sautéed veggies, over rice, or with tempura anything.  The measurements are inexact, so please tailor this sauce to your own liking.  I personally like it a little spicy, and as my tolerance for sesame oil increases, so does sesame oil’s presence in this sauce.

Ingredients:
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c., or a little less, rice vinegar
1 clove minced garlic (any more and it gets pretty overpowering)
1/2 tsp sambal, to start.  More if you like the heat
1/4 tsp minced ginger
1 chopped scallion
Dash sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over med-low heat until warm.  Serve with the lusciousness described above, or with whatever tickles your fancy.  For a thicker sauce, bring the ingredients to a bubble and allow sauce to reduce.  This makes a pretty small amount of dipping sauce, but Handsome and I are two small people so we don’t need much.  You can always make more and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  It keeps in the fridge for up to a week in my experience, and time in the fridge just gives all those flavors time to combine.  Feel free to omit whatever ingredients don’t work for you; I’ve tried any combination of the ingredients above.  The soy-vinegar base is what makes the sauce for me, though.

I have also added black vinegar and mirin to this sauce in the past, with excellent results.