Lamb and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie – On thrifty splurges…

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Perfect for a chilly day

Perfect for a chilly day.

Just because you’re trying to save money at the grocery store, doesn’t mean that you have to live on just rice and beans your whole life. Every now and then you have to treat yourself to a little something-something.

If there’s a good deal on a more ‘luxury’ ingredient, snatch it up and make yourself something nice! I found a good deal on ground lamb for just $3.98 per lb as it approached it’s ‘sell-by’ date and I’m going to turn it into two yummy meals. It seems like my fireman was on the same page as me, because when he took a trip down the hill and visited a farmer’s market with his folks he found a good price on some nice cremini mushrooms. With some extra mashed potatoes leftover in the fridge, that seemed like the perfect storm for a nice shepherd’s pie.

What a pretty bag of funghi!

What a pretty bag of funghi!

When you think about it, so many of our most beloved dishes were made to stretch out a little bit of something expensive or fancy.  Savory pies, every sort of dumpling under the sun, most soups, stuffed pastas, satays…  Just like every thrifty person since the dawn of time has figured out, if you can pick a dish that economically utilizes a more expensive ingredient, you can get a better bang for your buck.

This dish costs more than my usual dinner-fare, but I think it’s a really great value for the high quality ingredients. A splurge on fancy ingredients doesn’t hit so hard when you know you got a good deal; I think it makes it taste even better.

Lamb and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 2 – 4 – cost approx $2.20 per serving

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb gr lamb ($1.99)
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, caps quartered and stems small dice ($2.50)
  • 1 onion, small dice ($.25)
  • 2 carrots, small dice ($.18)
  • 2 ribs celery, small dice ($.10)
  • 4 Tbs/ 1/2 stick butter ($.37)
  • 1/2 tsp dry thyme
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste ($.05)
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 cup red wine ($.15)
  • 2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup stock – doesn’t matter, vegetable or meat stock will be just fine
  • 2 Tbs minced parsley (optional)
  • 4 cups leftover mashed potatoes ($.75)
  • 2 Tbs parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In an oven safe large pan or pot brown the lamb, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove meat, leaving the fat in the pan. Sear caps, over medium high heat and season with salt and pepper 8-10 min. Trust me! Get them nice and brown, only stir it a few times to get them happy and browned up.

Reduce the heat to medium and add in the butter, minced onion, carrot, celery, and mushroom stems and then sauté 5 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and cook 5 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and flour, cook 3 minutes.  Add in the wine, Worcestershire sauce and cook 2 minutes, then add in the stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Taste to check the seasonings and add salt or black pepper if needed. Finish the lamb stew with the parsley.

Saucy goodness

Saucy goodness

Top with the mashed potatoes and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Creamy Feta Dip – another product of my Pinterest addiction…

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Creamy feta spread on spicy falafel? Yes, please!

 

 

When life gives you a lemons, make limoncello.  (Or lemonade if you’re boring, whatever.)  Keeping that in mind, when the gods of the grocery bargains present you with a great deal, you have to snatch it up and make something delicious with it.  Something that I got a great deal on recently was some crumbled herb feta for just $1.40 per pound.  The catch? It was in a five pound bag.  So, out came my trusty food sealer and I portioned, labeled, and popped it in to the freezer.  In my experience, cream cheese, shredded cheese and crumbled firm cheeses freeze pretty well.

Lately, my fireman has been giving me grief about having (and filling up) two chest freezers.* In my efforts to reduce the contents of the freezers, I realized that I should make more of an effort to use that feta.  I was brainstorming on Pinterest and came across several recipes for feta dip.  Then I was off to the races.

*Note: on chest freezers.  I don’t want you to think that we have anything against chest freezers; in fact, I have found having a chest freezer to be a great help in keeping a grocery budget.  When you get a windfall or an amazing bargain, it really helps to have a place to keep it.  My first chest freezer is probably the most used/useful wedding gift that we got, and I was quite excited when my Dad said he didn’t have space for his one any more.  My fireman’s thought (which I totally agree with) is that if I can get everything into one freezer we can un-plug the second one and save on our energy bills.  Then, when someone in the family bags a deer or has an epic fishing trip we can plug #2 back in!*

I used my yummy feta dip in a kind of Greek-themed mezze platter dinner with flat bread, spicy falafel and tzaziki sauce.  The fireman dubbed this dinner ‘a keeper.’  This dip/spread would be wonderful in any sort of sandwich or wrap or as part of an appetizer spread with garlic toasts or pita chips.  I had half of it left over and I think I’m going to add it to some scalloped potatoes or something…

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Creamy Feta Dip

Makes 2 cups and serves 4-6 – cost approx $1.86 per batch or $.37 per serving

Ingredients

  • 4 oz cream cheese ($.12 – yet another great deal I have stashed up in the freezer)
  • 8 oz feta ($.70)
  • 2 Tbs minced parsley – any sort of herb that you like would be great
  • 1/2 lemon’s juice ($.20)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil ($.59)
  • salt & black pepper – to taste, be sure to taste first, feta can be salty and depending on the brand you get you may note even need the salt

Pay attention now, because this one is really tricky.  Put everything in a food processor and blend it up.  Taste and adjust for seasonings.  If you like pepper, maybe garnish it with a little more fresh cracked pepper…

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Deep Frying 102 – The beer battering

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This is the final installment of ‘what happened to that first batch of oil in my new deep fryer.’  So far, I’ve made zucchini sticks, deep fried mac’n’cheese, some buffalo wings, and a batch of doughnuts.  Not too shabby.  After each day that I used the fryer, I strained that crud and lost little bits out of the oil and cleaned the fryer before returning the oil.  When I was done, I kept the fryer bucket covered and in the fridge.  (Any cool and dark place will do just fine though.) Cleaning everything out in between uses and storing it properly will make your oil last much longer.

The last things to be fried before the oil flew up to the great dump in the sky were some chili rellenos and fish and chips, both of which were beer battered.

Let me take a minute here to say that the fish was the last thing to be fried and also the last thing to be dipped in the beer batter before both the oil and batter were thrown out.  The batter because of the fear of germs and the oil because fish makes it smell funky.  Doughnuts with a hint of halibut?  No thank you.

To beer batter something, you just toss it gently in seasoned flour (just like Three Stage Frying!) and then dunk it into the beer batter.  Batter has a hard time sticking to moist items, like stuffed chilis or fish pieces, and the flour helps the batter stick to the ingredient to be fried.

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These were just some roasted pasilla chilis that were stuffed with cheese, hot peppers, onions and corn.  A happy little vegetarian dinner.  Sorry, no recipe it was some windfall ingredients that I had a while back and popped into the freezer a month ago and I have no clue what it cost to make it.  Don’t be ashamed of your thrifty-ness and and creative ability; if your friends know about it, they will start giving you things they’re not clever enough to use up or don’t have the time for.

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Here’s my fish and chips, made from some halibut that my Daddy slew up in Alaska.  Any white fish that you like would be great.  I did oven fries because shit was just getting a little to real around here with the new deep fryer.

Basic Beer Batter

Makes 3 cups, which is enought to fry quite a few things – cost approx $1.24 per batch

Ingredients

  • 1 egg ($.16)
  • 1 can cheap beer ($.58, yep I know, really cheap beer)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour ($.25)
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • Pinch salt

Just mix everything together until it’s almost lump free.  I like to store my batter in a tall, slim container so that I can get maximum dunkage and minimal waste.

This beer batter will keep in the fridge for a day or so, I wouldn’t push it more that 2 days though.

Doughnuts! – I <3 my fryer

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All Hail the might one: James Beard!  I whipped up a batch of doughnuts using the recipe from his “Beard on Bread” book. (A book that I stole from my father, so sorry, sorry that I’m not sorry.)  If you’re looking for a starting point for any dish, after asking your Grandma, next look for recipes from people named Beard, Child or Waters, (listed alphabetically, not in order of preference.) I’ve yet to be disappointed.  Mr. Beard’s doughnuts were no exception.

This is less of a recipe and more of a sales pitch for in-home deep fryers, jeez I love having one.  This was my first go at doughnuts, thank goodness I had my fireman to help!

imageWe just rolled out the dough and cut it into squares (only because I don’t have any circle cutters…) then dropped it into the fryer.  They aren’t a really pretty shape, but who need looks when you taste so damn good?

A fireman approved afternoon snack!

A fireman approved afternoon snack!

Some were stuffed with pastry cream and topped with Nutella, the nectar of the gods.  The rest were stuffed with apple butter and topped with powdered sugar, you know, to be healthy.

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Deep frying 101 – so deep…

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Hey there friends!  I got a deep fryer!!!  I’m so excited, I used a gift card from Christmas to get myself a “Grand Pappy – Fry Daddy” model deep fryer.  It’s essentially a non-stick bucket with heating element. My Dad has the regular size version and I always liked it, and I’m quite enamored with it’s big brother.  It’s really not all that big, it only takes about 6 cups of oil (which only cost me $2.85!) and you can use the oil multiple times if you strain it out in between uses and store it somewhere cool.  I’m planning on showing you everything I get out of one batch of oil.

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My new toy!

Alright class, so today’s topic is Three Stage Frying. This is the basic technique for cutlets of meat, veggies and a variety of other happy, fried goods! Maybe even something for the SuperBowl tomorrow? Today I ‘Three Stage Fried’ both balls of leftover mac’n’cheese and zucchini sticks, and they were glorious.  Sorry, no prices today as I am frying up mostly leftovers and bits of things in the fridge that needed to be used up.  I’d be willing to bet that it’s all a lot cheaper than ordering this stuff at a restaurant though!

Plus  made some buffalo wings, but those aren't Three Stage Fried...

Plus made some buffalo wings, but those aren’t Three Stage Fried…

 

The Three Stages are as follows: #1) Seasoned flour #2) egg and milk bath #3) bread crumbs. You just gently coat your goodies in each of these things in turn, shaking off any excess, and then you drop them into hot oil. Then the magic will happen. The key to the magic is having everything prepped out and ready.

Phase one of being prepared is what I like to think of as ‘software’ or ingredients.  First off, prepare all your base ingredients that are going to be fried.

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Second, get your ‘Three Stages’ ready.  It’s a good idea to use bigger bowls than you think you’ll need.  I quickly realized the error of using that tiny bowl for bread crumbs in the picture below and switched to something bigger.  Just to repeat, first flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper, whole eggs and milk whisked up together, and breadcrumbs.

imagePhase 2 is your ‘hardware’ or equipment.  Aside from the fryer (or pot of hot oil) itself you will need a landing spot for your fried goods to drain.  I like the traditional cooling rack over newspaper set-up.  Turn the cooling rack over so that it touches the newspaper to get maximum grease drainage.

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You’ll want a tool for fetching things out of the hot oil.  You’ll want to avoid cheap plastic tools.  Tongs or a slotted spoon work best for me; wooden chopsticks are good too if you’re a confident chopstick weilder!  (I got laughed at by an older, hispanic, co-worker for using chopsticks to fish things out of the fryer at work today.)  It’s nice to have a pinch-pot of salt around too for seasoning your food hot out of the oil.

Lastly, and optionally, I like to have my serving plates in a warm oven. ready to hot-hold my fried treasures.  200F is good in my experience.

imageNow you’re ready to experiment in the laboratory of your kitchen!  Deep fry away!  How did your creations turn out?  Mine were pretty tasty.  My fireman is pretty stoked that we got this awesome deep fryer…

 

 

Butterscotch Souffle with an Accidental Creme Anglaise

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One might ask, what is ‘Accidental Creme Anglaise?’  Well, when one’s loving and almost-perfect husband puts a container of home made vanilla bean ice cream in the refrigerator instead of the freezer, one has an accidental creme anglaise on their hands.  I noticed it the next morning, and when I asked the husband in question, he thought that I did it.  His suggested solution was just to drink it and my first thought was to spin it up in the ice cream maker again.  We both agreed that making additional desserts was the best option for everyone involved.

Every time I make soufflés, I wonder why I don’t make them more often.  The techniques are simple, the ingredients are common and inexpensive, they can be prepped ahead and it’s impressive as hell!  Go ahead, impress your loved ones with a soufflé dessert…

Butterscotch Souffles 

Makes 7 small soufflés – cost approx $.25 each

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 oz butter, room temperature ($.28)
  • 1 1/2 oz flour ($.03)
  • 3 oz sugar, divided ($.12)
  • 1 cup milk ($.19)
  • 4 eggs, separated ($.50)
  • 4 oz butterscotch chips ($.66)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Now preheat your oven to 375 F and butter and sugar 6 1/2 cup ramekins or creme brulee cups. (Or you could make one big souffle too!)

imageIn a small bowl mash the flour and butter together to form a smooth paste. (In fancy French terms, this is called a beure manie.) Set aside for later.

In a small pot, heat the milk, 2 oz of sugar and the butterscotch chips and bring to a gentle boil. Turn the heat down to very low and whisk in the flour and butter paste until it’s smooth and the mixture is thickened. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time and then the vanilla. Set aside for later.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then add in the remaining 1 oz of sugar. Continue whipping the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the butterscotch base mixture you set aside earlier.

Pour the mixture into the prepared souffle cups and either refrigerate for later or bake your souffles.

Unbaked souffles will keep for 1-3 days covered in some plastic in the fridge.

Unbaked souffles will keep for 1-3 days covered in some plastic in the fridge.

Smaller, 1/2 cup, sizes will cook in 15-20 minutes or larger souffles will take longer.

Serve as is, or with whatever sort of sauce you may have around, accidental or otherwise.

 

Jalapeno Falafel and Chili Lime Babaghanoush – Mexican/Mediterranean Mash-Up

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To paraphrase the blog of one of my personal heroes, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, it’s a good idea to try to be nimble and light when the times are dicey.  And I happen to agree that high holiday season is the first world exemplification of ‘dicey.’  Being busy with work and trying to do the bare minimum of holiday festivities, my fridge is a strange place full of strange odds and ends.  The two things that needed to get used up were a bunch of guacamole and half a roasted eggplant, and so this strange dinner was brought into the world.

It's a meta-mezze platter...

It’s a meta-mezze platter…

The more I thought of it, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines aren’t so far apart.  Both use lots of happy chilis, cumin and citrus.  It all came together pretty well.

Chili Lime Babaghanoush – served with garlic toasts

Makes 1 – 2 cups – serves 4 as an appetizer, cost approx $.59 per serving

Ingredients

  • 1/2 roasted eggplant, flesh scooped out of the skin ($1)
  • 1/2 cup tahini ($.50)
  • 2-4 tbs olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1-2 Tbs chili powder, to taste
  • 1 lime’s juice ($.25)
  • toasts rubbed with garlic ($.25)
  • sliced scallions, for garnish ($.12)

Give everything in the first list a whirl in a food processor or blender.  Taste and adjust for seasonings.  Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and sliced scallions.

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Jalapeno Falafel

Serves 4 – cost approx $.69 per serving

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided use ($.50)
  • 1/2 red onion, minced ($.25)
  • 1 – 2 jalapenos, diced – use more or less, seeds or no seeds depending on the level of heat you want ($.50)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, from 1 cup dry beans – you can totally use canned beans here ($.60)
  • 1 egg ($.15)
  • 1/4 cup tanini ($.25)
  • 1 lime’s juice ($.25)
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, divided use ($.25)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs ($0 if home made!)

Start off by sauteeing the onion and jalapenos in a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Blend up the chickpeas, egg, tahini, lime juice, salt and the cilantro stems (yes, they’re totally edible and just as tasty, just not as pretty.)  Stir in the sauteed onions and jalapenos and the bread crumbs.

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Make patties and pan fry them in the remaining oil.  Serve with rice or flat bread to round out the meal and maybe some guacamole too. ($.50 for rice and $2 for guac) Garnish your plates with the reserved cilantro leaves.

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All together, this meal cost me just $1.90 per serving!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies – Jamarama!

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Given my summertime obsession with canning, I have a lot of jam hanging around my kitchen. It all just seems like magic to me, as stupid as it is, I feel like a freakin’ wizard. “Behold, peasants! With the ancient magic of the Old Gods, I have turned these berries which are only perfect for a few days into something that will be delicious for years!” (On a related note, that’s exactly how I feel about knitting…) Anyway, my fireman loves sweets, I like to try to come up with ways to use jam in my baked goodies.

Peanut butter and jelly is such a classic combination. Those peanut butter cookies were just begging to get a little jam action, and I am just the girl give it to them. Here’s where you can imagine me, trying to make a sultry and alluring face, but actually looking like a class-A creeper.

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

These cookies are delicious as cut out cookie, like the ones I made today, or a ‘jam thumbprint’ type of cookie.  I did a batch of those a few weeks ago and they turned out super tasty, but not nearly as photogenic as these guys.  And with Festivus fast approaching, the urge to bust out my cookie cutters was too strong to fight.

I actually don’t have a recipe for this one, just a method. Just replace half of the butter in whatever sugar cookie recipe you like best (the sort of recipe that makes a good cookie that holds it’s shape when baked) with peanut butter.  I used Williams and Sonoma’s ‘Chocolate Dipped Conversation Hearts’ recipe, it’s a good cookie that tastes a little like shortbread mixed with a sugar cookie.

Chill your dough and roll it out thin, 1/8″-1/4″ and cut out an even number of cookies.  Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut out a window in the center of half the cookies.  This would be a great place to use one of those cute sets of cookie cutters with various sizes of the same shapes.  If you don’t have those, you can cut out a window with a large pastry tip, that’s what I did!

Bake your cookies, but half way through put a spoonful of jam on your solid cookies and finish baking.  Let cool on a rack and gently press the window cookies on to the solid, jammy cookies to make a gooey, peanut butter and jelly sandwich  cookie.  I bet you feel a little bit like a wizard too…

Crespelle di Castagne – Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

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I want to wish everyone in the greater internet area happy holidays; no matter who, what or where you are there’s some sort of solstice-y reason to celebrate, right?

My awesome Mother-in-Law got me some Italian chestnuts at a specialty food shop in her neck of the woods because she figured (quite correctly) I didn’t have any real stores around here and would like them. So, I roasted them up, threw some of them into my coffee grinder to make a bit of chestnut flour and invited my in-laws over for a chestnut-y dinner. We had chestnut crepes, both savory and sweet. I’m so happy they’re both easy going and retired so they don’t mind too much driving to see us up in the mountains.  My in-laws have been so great about including me in their family traditions and celebrations, I really like sharing some of the odd traditions that I’ve collected over the years with them.

Chestnuts are roasted and sold as street food in the cities in Italy in the fall and winter. They also grow in the woods in the hillsides in Tuscany and everyone looks forward to eating chestnuts in the fall time. I learned this recipe for chestnut crepes at my internship in Guamo. The chef got some chestnut flour for his special, fall dishes and had a fun time having me guess what it was by just taste, I had no clue!  In Tuscany they also make a strange sweet and savory, fudge-like treat with chestnut flour, orange rind and rosemary. It’s an acquired taste, I assume. Let’s just say, I vastly prefer making these chestnut crepes instead.

Basic Chestnut Crepes 

If you have a crepe recipe that you love and works great for you, just substitute 1/4 of the flour for chestnut flour, which you may be able to find in Italian specialty stores or you could just grind up your own toasted chestnuts in a spice/coffee grinder.

Serves 4 – both dinner and dessert, cost approx $2.02 for batch or crepe batter

I served this meal with a loaf of bread and it was enough for 4 people, cost approx $1.92 per serving.

Ingredients

  • 60 grams chestnut flour ($1? I have no clue what this costs, sorry)
  • 150 grams all purpose flour ($.25)
  • 2 eggs ($.30)
  • 400 ml milk ($.22)
  • pinch salt

Whisk everything together until there are very few lumps, strain through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to overnight.  It’s a very thin batter.  When you’re ready to make crepes, heat a small, non-stick pan over medium heat.  Grease it however you see fit and pour in a small portion of batter.  Quickly swirl the pan around to make a thin crepe.  If this is your maiden voyage on the S.S. crepe, I might suggest watching a video or two first.  It’s not hard to do but it helps to have a good idea before you set sail…

Like so, nice, thin crepes.

Like so: nice, thin crepes.

Cook your crepes on both sides just to that the batter is cooked, we’re not looking for a lot of browning here.  Let cool for a minute or two and move to a plate for storage.  Make about a million more crepes.

IMG_1055You can go right ahead and fill these little guys or they are happy to wait in the fridge, covered tightly in plastic wrap, for up to one or two days.

Savory Crepe Filling 

Makes enough for 4 servings

  • 1 cup ricotta ($.50, I freeze ricotta when it goes on super sale)
  • 1 egg ($.15)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sauteed veggies – I used mushrooms, onion and arugula ($2)
  • 2 cups bechamel sauce ($.50)
  • 1 cup marinara or ragu ($.50)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix up all the ingredients in the first set, and get a baking pan ready, put about half of your sauces on the bottom of the pan.  Put a scoop of filling on a crepe and roll it up gently, place in the prepared pan on top of the sauces.  Fill up all the crepes you want.  Anywhere from 12-20 crepes for 4 people, depending on how full you stuff them.  Top with remaining sauces

Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or so.

IMG_1061Sweet Crepe Filling

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese ($.50)
  • 1 orange, segmented ($.50)
  • 4 Tbs honey, divided use ($.50)
  • powdered sugar – for garnish

Preheat oven to 375F.  Mix ricotta, orange slices and 3 Tbs honey.  Fill your crepes and bake 5-10 minutes.  Sprinkle over some powdered sugar and drizzle on the remaining honey.  Serve immediately, yum!

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Turkey Chili Verde Taquitos – The Thanksgiving Hangover #3

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Hey Y’all!  Here’s a way to gobble up (har har) all those turkey pickin’s you may have in your fridge or freezer.

With all the excitement that football season brings, these are a great appetizer or finger-food dinner for when the game’s on.  These little buggers freeze up great too.  With my recent taquito obsession, I’ve been thinking of these chili verde turkey taquitos since I bought my Thanksgiving birds.

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Chili verde pairs really nicely with white meat.  These taquitos aren’t too spicy, the chili verde just plays a the role of great background music in movie, so that your tastebuds can focus of the wonderful shredded turkey, beans and cheese.  Can you tell that I’m quite enamored with taquitos?

See? Beans, cheese and turkey, all wrapped up in chili verde sauce!  nom nom

See? Beans, cheese and turkey, all wrapped up in chili verde sauce! nom nom

Turkey Chili Verde Taquitos

Makes 50 – cost approx $.11 per taquito

Ingredients

  • 2 cups red beans – from 8oz dry beans or maybe 2 cans of beans ($.54)
  • 1 cup chili verde sauce – I make this and can it when tomatillos and chilis go on sale for $1 per lb in the summer, but there’s tons of good chili verde sauces and salsa at the store that would be great in these taquitos ($.50)
  • 1/2 lb shredded cheese – cheddar or jack would be good options ($1.20)
  • 3/4 lb shredded turkey – ($.75)
  • 50 corn tortillas ($1.38)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease – for assembly
  • sour cream/salsa/guacamole for dipping ($1)

The first set of ingredients are for the filling, just mix it all together.  Assemble your taquitos and bake at 400F for about 20 minutes or until golden and wonderful.

If you need more detailed instructions on how to assemble the taquitos, check out my earlier post: https://fullbellyfullwallet.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/pulled-pork-taquitos-im-falling-fast/

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