Classic Chili

I decided to make dinner in my pajamas today. Not because I was lazy and had been wearing them all day, but because I chose to slip into them right after my shower because they were so warm. And comfy. Primarily comfy.

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Winter is definitely upon us now, even here by the beach and today was another snowy day. Well more like a rain and snow mix kind of day, which is really gross and super dangerous to drive in. I chose to stay home all day with Mark and took the time to get out of bed (as usual). Eventually, I wandered downstairs to find him and we lazed on the couch before making lunch together.

Cold days often mean lazy days for me. I thought this was also true for Mark as I found him comfortably falling back asleep on the couch right after lunch. Honestly, I cannot wait for spring and the luscious vegetation it will bring, especially in our region. I’m anticipating a lot of colorful produce in my kitchen for the next couple of months and can’t wait to try recipes with it.

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I’ve been spending less time on the Internet now, which I think is a bit healthier and instead finding more time for myself. Currently, I’m reading a book by author Kazuo Ishiguro, titled Never Let Me Go, that is part of my reading list. The first couple of pages were a little difficult to get through, just because I hadn’t read a book in a while but now I can’t seem to put it down. I’m hoping it will be a good read.

Since it’s cold again today, we decided to turn to comfort food for dinner and nothing spells w-a-rmth like a good bowl of chili. I’ve alwaaays liked chili because it’s so hearty and you get all your necessary food groups in one bowl. Carb, protein, fiber, vitamins… Not to mention it’s absolutely delicious and just bursting with flavor.

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Chili’s also one of those dishes that you can make to suit your taste. I found this easy recipe while browsing one day and decided to make it again because it was so good. I think you could easily customize and add to or subtract from it as you please.

Classic Chili
Recipe adapted from The Turqoise Home

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef (or meat of choice)
1 can Pinto beans
1 can diced or petite diced tomatoes
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

In pot, saute garlic, onions and green pepper until onions turn translucent. Brown beef and drain grease. Stir mixture back to pot and add cumin, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with water and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.

Add can of tomatoes and salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans and heat to the pot.Serve with cheese, sour cream, corn chips and garnish with cilantro if you like.

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Cream Cheese Wontons // Kung Pao Chicken

Today I was feeling ambitious.

I’d spoken to my mom for 2 hours on the phone, patiently listened to her and my dad’s advice on life, marriage and money, and still had the motivation to carry on through the day. That’s kind of a personal win.

I stopped by a small Asian grocer that I happened to discover while driving home one day. I remember the friendly Filipino lady telling me that on Wednesdays they receive shipments of fresh vegetables not usually found in regular grocery stores. So I decided, why not?

True enough, there were an assortment of produce I thought I’d only see in markets back home. Bitter gourds, long beans, plump okras and even a type of leafy green known to Malaysians as kangkung (which happens to be one of my favorite vegetables, lucky me!) It took a lot in me not to splurge on produce. I walked away with a small Daikon radish, a fistful of kangkung and a loaf of pineapple cream bun, which I thought Mark would like.

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I’m so glad Mark’s not a picky eater in a way. I know there are things he likes, things he dislikes and then things he swears by, like pizza and an Italian BMT from Subway. But other than that, I think he’s been pretty adventurous so far. I, on the other hand, have a pretty adventurous palate. I think I would try just about anything once.

I’ve been getting tired of the daily fares here. Don’t misunderstand, I still love a guilty fettuccine alfredo or a juicy burger, even a large, fresh salad but I miss having at least three different dishes on the dinner table along with soup and rice. It’s weird how much variety there is, at least in homes in Malaysia, compared to everywhere else. And now that I actually cook every day, I’m amazed at how my mom was able to get dinner ready on time every night, sometimes even earlier.

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In an attempt to recreate dinner just as it was growing up, I took the time to make three different dishes and rice. I wish we had a dinner table so we could properly sit on something and not have to perch over the coffee table for a meal. But I guess the time will come. Our apartment is small and probably temporary, so I can’t complain. That’s one last piece of furniture we have to move out of here.

It was kind of Mark’s idea to make the cream cheese wontons. I’ve honestly never had them until I dined at a Chinese restaurant here but the ones we made were pretty delicious. They were baked, as opposed to the deep fried ones you find, which took some of the guilt off. We also substituted the crab meat for turkey bacon instead.

The Kung Pao chicken was something I had never tried making before. I looked up some recipes online and finally came up with one that would cater to our taste buds. It was actually pretty easy to make and I think a lot healthier than the ones you find in restaurants that are usually filled with MSG and sitting in a pool of questionable brown sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken 

Ingredients: 
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 yellow onion
Knob of ginger
1 clove garlic
3 green onions, chopped
Handful of peanuts
5-6 dried red chili
3 tbsp canola or peanut oil

Marinade
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

Sauce 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/3 cup water
1tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Directions: 

Mix chicken and marinade in a baggie or covered bowl for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of oil in large pan or wok. Fry chicken until almost done and remove from pan. Add remaining 1 tbsp of oil and fry garlic, ginger and dried chili until fragrant. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add chicken back to the pan and stir in sauce until evenly coated.

Let simmer for about 5 minutes or until sauce thickens up. Throw in green onions and peanuts. Serve with warm rice.

Cream cheese wontons 

Ingredients: 
4 oz. cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 turkey bacon (or regular bacon), chopped and cooked
1 tsp honey
Wonton wrappers
1 tsp corn starch, diluted in water

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Combine cream cheese, jalapeno, bacon and honey in a bowl. Spoon small amounts of cream cheese mixture into the center of the wonton wrappers. Dip a finger into the corn starch solution and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper envelope and press gently to seal the wonton.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until skin turns golden brown.

Makes about 12 wontons. 

Chicken & Beef Fajitas

The New Year got off to a rocky start for me.

I had spent the first day of 2014 feeling absolutely miserable but glad that once it had all came to pass, I got to find a new little outlook on life and my current situation.

With that being said, I honestly didn’t think about making resolutions this year. What’s the point when all I’d end up doing is breaking them by the first weekend of January anyway. But as I tried to find things to occupy myself today, I realized that I needed goals– a sense of purpose.

In college, I’ve always worked well with having a planner. Scribble down lists, notes and deadlines only to scribble them the day or week after and feeling such a sense of accomplishment once a task (or more realistically, an assignment) is done!

Since I am (unfortunately) no longer in college, I have yet to use a daily planner but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have lists or notes to jot down somewhere. Thus, for 2014 I have decided on three food resolutions.

One. Giving up red meat. I realize that giving up pork such as bacon or sausage or just simply pork will be difficult. Who doesn’t love bacon? Personally though, I am a sausage person. Patties, links, both… That would be my meat of choice at breakfast and giving up red meat would just mean eliminating half the reason I love breakfasts so much. But in an attempt to be more conscious of what I eat, I think this would be a good start.

Two. Giving up (unnecessary) cheese. To put it in the words of Mark, cheese can be unnecessary. I had never heard of such a thing until I met him. I always thought cheese was necessary. Quesadillas, pizzas, dips… I could go on forever but I guess he’s right. I could always go for a sandwich sans the cheese. No cheese in my burritos or tacos. No cheese on my eggs (cries, I love cheesy eggs). It seems like an expensive price to pay, but to quote Mark, “Oh, you’ll live!”

Three. Giving up cigarettes. Yes, yes. I’ve read all the articles, statistics, comments and received more than enough judgmental looks to warrant me to come to this decision. Honestly, I’ve also given some of those judgmental remarks. But this year, I will be making an actual effort to say no. Actually say no when I reaaaally want to say yes. I’m quite nervous to take this on but optimism should get me somewhere, right?

With that out of the way, I was really excited making dinner tonight. Maybe it because the process seemed to tedious so it had to yield a phenomenal result. Or maybe because it’s from one of my favorite Food Network stars. Or maybe because it’s my first time making it all from scratch. Or it’s all of the above! Either way, I was excited.

I’ve never really had Tex-Mex food until I came to the States. We had Chili’s back home but I’ve always stayed on the safe side of the menu. I remember eating my first burrito under the shade of a tree in between class on campus and thinking, why haven’t I had this before? Burritos are yummy but burrito bowls are so much better to me. And don’t even get me started on Chipotle. I’m really starting to think it’s a cult… (not complaining though!)

Tonight I made chicken and beef fajitas with lots of bright, crunchy peppers and warm wheat tortillas. I’m starting to learn my way around Tex-Mex cooking. Chili, tacos and now marinated grilled meat. My meat-loving man does not complain! I took the extra step of making guacamole and dinner was complete.

Chicken and Beef Fajitas
Recipe by Ree Drummond, from The Pioneer Woman 

Ingredients:
12 oz. flank steak
2 chicken breast
1/2 of a medium-sized red, green, yellow and orange bell pepper
2 medium yellow onions

Marinade:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup lime juice
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp sugar

Directions:

Mix together ingredients for marinade in a small bowl.

Clean and prepare meat. Stab chicken breast with fork to allow for flavors to seep into the meat. Pour 1/3 of the marinade over steak and another 1/3 for the chicken. Make sure to marinade both meat in separate dishes or baggies. Julienne peppers and onions and pour remaining marinade over the vegetables. Leave to marinade in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Heat grill and cook beef until preferred wellness. Cook chicken in a pan or on grill until done. Heat up pan with a some oil and saute vegetables. I like mine a little charred yet still crunchy so I cooked it on high but constantly stirring so it doesn’t burn.

Assemble ingredients on a warm tortilla and serve with cheese, sour cream, salsa or guacamole.

What’s your first memory of a good Tex-Mex dish?