Monday, August 30, 2010

So THIS is what AWESOME tastes like...

By the time I’m done cooking Monday Food Fest, I look (and feel) like this.  
source unknown

And I generally don’t even want to eat it, because that would require movement.  So why do I do it?  I just can’t stop.  Even though it takes up a very significant portion of my Monday, even though I could spend that time doing other things (you know, like checking my google reader), even though I make a mess, use every single dish in the house and work myself up into a frenzy, I really enjoy it.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor come together relatively quickly, and I especially love seeing my family’s reactions.  (Although, I won’t pretend it’s not a disappointment when I have a dinner FLOP.  All that work for nothing...)
Last night I was discussing with mr the fact that no one had picked anything out for dinner.  I had the sudden BRILLIANT idea to pull up a few things I recently found in blogland that I’d been wanting to put to the test.  Over at House of Sarager, Jackie tried out this recipe for Cafe Rio knock off salad (what???  You’ve never been to Cafe Rio???  Well, go!  For goodness sake...) AND this recipe for Brazilian Lemonade - and you know how much we love lime over here.  I also noticed this creative concoction on Langes Fadchen, Faules Madchen and knew I had to make it.  I figured a salad and cupcakes was like taking a break.
You know that old habit I have of not reading through a recipe before I actually make it?  I looked over the recipe this morning before going shopping and realized that the pork for the salad would have to cook in the crock pot for about 6 hours, after marinating for 2.  Not possible.  Unless we wanted to eat at 10:00, but I was certain that wouldn’t fly.  So I opted for chicken instead, since it doesn’t take as long to cook.  Another side affect of not reading over the recipe is that you have no idea that you have to make all the separate components, well... SEPARATELY.  I mean, I was thinking, salad = quick and easy.  I failed to realized that this salad was comprised of maybe FOUR side dishes - which is why we ONLY had salad tonight.  Plus I had to make the dressings... yadda, yadda... I could see my afternoon of cooking stretching before me as I pushed the grocery cart.
All of that weariness, all of that effort and time, all of that chopping and cutting and making a billion different things for one item... it all melted away with the first bite of salad.  This was definitely one of my top three dinners EVER.  And it’s a good thing too, because with all of the gross dinners I’ve made lately, I was starting to lose confidence.  My dad went so far as to say that this Mexican dinner was just as good as any he’d had in his life - and he lived in Mexico for two years.  Granted, he is pretty lavish with his praise, but he wasn’t the only one raving.  It was a unanimous hit - and I’m not tooting my own horn here, I’m tooting Favorite Family Recipes because this is one of their recipes and I hardly changed a thing.  Seriously people, stop what you are doing and make this meal.  Well, unless it’s like 1 in the morning or you’re waiting for a doctor appointment or you’re driving in the car or something.  Then again, if you’re driving in the car, what the heck are you doing reading this?  Eyes on the road, people!
ANYWAY, here is a list of the things you’ll need to make to create this scrumptious, one of a kind, Mexican, Cafe Rio inspired salad.
Pico de Gallo
Sweet Pork (or chicken) 
Cilantro-Lime Rice
Dressed Up Black beans 
Cilantro Ranch OR Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette (or you could be like me and make BOTH of these dressings because who knows what everyone will want and you want there to be options, and it’s not like you aren’t making ENOUGH already, for crying out loud...)
OK.  I made my own Guac - from my Holy Guacamole recipe.  Here’s my pico recipe - not really a recipe as much as it is guidelines...
Pico de Gallo
5 - ish medium tomatoes - chopped well
1/2 yellow onion - chopped super fine
half a bunch of cilantro - chopped well
Teeny bit of fresh jalapeno - chopped well
three splashes of lime juice
dash of salt and pepper
bit of chipotle chili pepper
a few shakes of garlic salt
pinch of paprika
Throw it all together and stir it up.  YUM!

For the chicken, I used the recipe (for pork) on Favorite Family Recipes pretty exclusively.  I did use a bit more coke than called for and my marinading and cooking times were different since I was using chicken.  I marinaded for about an hour/hour and a half and I cooked it for two hours, then pulled it apart, then cooked it for about two more hours.  It was super tender and sweet.  I’ve never tasted chicken like it, no joke.
I burned my cilantro lime rice.  That’s what happens when you follow directions too explicitly.  If I’ve never made it before and something isn’t spelled out, I won’t do it.  So when it said to cook the rice for 15 minutes, COVERED, I guess I assumed it needed to stay covered the whole time.  By the time I realized that the bottom was most likely burned, it had been almost 15 minutes.  So, I scraped away most of the burned parts - glad that I had made DOUBLE what it said to make, because that meant I ended up with almost what I was supposed to have.  You know what?  You couldn’t even tell I burned it when it was on the salad.  Phew.
I followed the black bean recipe almost exactly, but I used V-8 instead of straight tomato juice, since that’s what I had on hand.  It seemed almost too soupy, so I used two cans of beans instead of 1.  I don’t even like beans a whole lot, but I liked these.
I did NOT make the cilantro lime vinaigrette correctly.  I will admit it.  My dad liked it anyway, but let me just tell you that it isn’t easy to make it up on the fly when you realize you bought the wrong ingredient.  Read your recipes, carefully - that’s tip number one.  I should know that already?  Thank you for pointing that out.
But it’s ok.  You know why?  I have a new favorite dressing.  A dressing that all other dressings wish they could be.  The dressing of dressings.  The yummiest dressing that has ever graced my lips (and hips).  Cilantro Ranch.  And you can bet I’m making this for tons of salads in the future.  Follow the recipe for this baby to the t and you can’t go wrong.  I think it may have been the best part.
The one thing I wish I’d done differently is NOT assume my grocery store would have those skinny tortilla strip things.  You know the ones - they serve them in restaurants on salads and they’re really nummy and colorful?  Well, there is a recipe on Favorite Family Recipes for these, too, but I didn’t look into it because I thought I could buy them to save myself some trouble, but I couldn’t find them at the store.  So next time I make this, I am also making these SUPER EASY tortilla strips for sure.  
This is the first time I’ve attempted a classy drink to accompany our meal.  I’m super glad that Jackie paired these two together, because I think it was meant to be.
If you want to know what Heaven tastes like, make this drink.  Does that sound overly-dramatic?  So is this drink.  Does that sound too good to be true?  So is this drink.  Does that sound like lip service?  So is this drink.  I think you catch my drift.  I’m going to go buy a bag of limes tomorrow so I can make it again.  And again.  And again.  DELICIOUS.  I did add a bit of my own flair - the original recipe is here, but I’m posting it  with my changes to make it easy on you, because you don’t want to miss this.  (see, I even made it larger for you)
2 limes
1/2 cup sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups water
1 tray of ice
4 Tablespoons grenadine
Wash the limes.  Cut the ends off.  Cut the limes into 8 wedges.  Put them in the blender along with the sugar, condensed milk, water and ice.  Blend on pulse, pushing it maybe 5-8 times.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl with a spout.  Pour one tablespoon of grenadine into the bottom of each glass.  Pour the drink on top (it will mix just enough).  Serve with straws and little umbrellas.  The umbrellas are a must. (makes four glasses)
OK - as I was typing this out for all of you, using the original recipe as a guide, I noticed that I made a HUGE mistake when I made this.  See, the recipe calls for three tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk.  THREE TABLESPOONS.  Obviously, I didn’t read this closely, or I wouldn’t have poured in the whole can.  I have to say, though, that I’m glad I did, because not only was it just enough for four decent servings, but I’m pretty sure that’s why it tastes like Heaven.  Hm.  The grenadine was my addition - but I did that one on purpose.  So I guess I made a "Brazilian Smoothy" instead of "Brazilian Lemonade."  I wonder what it tastes like the right way??
And finally, our yummy dessert, Root Beer Float Cupcakes.  These were very yummy - my one complaint being that they could have been a little more root beer-y.  I’m kind of a root beer fanatic, though, so for those of you who like root beer just a normal amount, it will probably be perfect.  I followed this recipe exactly as seen on Langes Fadchen, Faules Madchen, so you can go there for the details.  They were delicious - I especially love the root beer fudge frosting.  
And speaking of frosting, this was my first experience with the “icing” technique.  Yep, I spooned that frosting into a bag and cut the corner off the bottom and sealed it up and started squeezing away.  You can tell from the pictures I am such a novice in this department... but I DO have one tip for you concerning icing:  Don’t use walmart brand sandwich baggies as your icing tool.  Why?  Because they don’t seal very well.  You will end up with frosting exploding out the back of your icing tube, smearing all over your shirt, but you won’t realize it until you run your arm through it.  So take it from me.  Start out with the Hefty Freezer bags, and you will not be sorry.
So, my shirt took one for the team, and I’m exhausted, but this meal?  So worth every single moment of prep.  (Take that, Martha.)


BJ_Mama said...

YUMMMMOOOO! You have my mouth watering for that Lemonade!
I MUST make it!

Anonymous said...

Yummy! Everything looks wonderful.

Mandy England said...

O my word! Everything here looks delicious! :]

Btw, this may be like borderline stalkerish, but I remembered seeing an anthro necklace at the top left of your blog, and I just saw a tutorial for it on someone else's blog, and you being the ridiculously crafty chick that you are could certainly just make the bajillion dollar anthro necklace you like, especially with this tutorial:
Too stalkerish? Sorry :]

Unknown said...

Best drink ever. We've had it every night since that first cafe rio night. MMM. I want some right now. I bought a big 'ol bag of limes too! YUM!

OH! Isn't that salad so super yummy? My mother is watering. I should make it again. OR come to your house for left-overs.


LOVE this post.
LOVE you!

Unknown said...

Wow, wow, wow! You went crazy in your kitchen, but it looks delicious and I am going to have to try the salad for sure! The drink looks like something my kids would have fun helping with. Thanks for taking the time to post the recipes and tips! =)

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