More Cooking Experiments: Pico de Gallo, Salsa, Guacamole and Greek Salad

January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

So for my New Years Resolution I decided to try and learn to cook.   Making steak didn’t work out too well so I’ve decided to go back to the crockpot.  I have always had more success with that but when I moved I got rid of mine . It was old and had seen better days but upon the recommendation of many of you I bought another one.  This was a really good idea and probably more critical than I had realized.  By no longer having a crockpot I had virtually removed from myself the ability to make the healthy family meals that I am capable of making thereby giving me what seemed like a valid excuse for going back to the unhealthy habits I had previously kicked to the curb.   The crockpot is one of the only kitchen tools that is almost (and I do mean ALMOST) fool proof.  I’ve certainly managed to screw up a multitude of things in a crockpot over my life but for the most part it’s always worked out fairly well.  As I’ve already admitted–I’m not too handy with the oven or stove.  So why would I just get rid of my crockpot when I moved and not get another one?  Why would I take out the one and only kitchen appliance I’m capable of cooking a decent meal in!!  It’s almost as if I subconsciously was trying to sabotage myself.   And until everyone started making crockpot comments it’s as if I had completely forgotten they existed!  It’s weird because I once wrote a whole series of posts on healthy crockpot meals.  And then ZAP!  It’s like I just erased my brain and forgot all together that this was an option.  I’ll tell you it’s tricky business when you have to fight the enemy living inside your head!

While going back to the crockpot was one of the best things I’ve done in awhile, I had already started the ball rolling on learning to cook.  And my kids have recently gotten involved in the idea as well.  I still think it’s a worthwhile task but where does one start?  I decided I should work at learning to make things I regularly eat anyway and might be better off learning how to make myself instead of having to purchase them.  This is how I got the  idea of trying to make Pico de Gallo, Salsa and Gaucamole. Coming from San Antonio, we always ate a lot of Mexican.  And I learned in my weight loss journey that salsa, pico and guacamole are awesome things to have on hand. You can put them on anything.  Chicken.  Eggs.  Meat.  They’re healthy and low calorie for the most part.  Those things have been a staple for me for 3 years.  And I buy them weekly.  But it’s really hard out here to get any of it that’s good.  In Virginia, they don’t make it the same way.  And we’ve been rather miserable because of it.   So maybe it’s time I try to make that myself I decided.  And I did.  You want to know what happened?

SUCCESS!!!!!

Here’s a picture of my pico and salsa.  (Sorry I didn’t get one of the guacamole).  It’s nothing professional but it was pretty darn good!

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I don’t think I ever would have tried to learn how to make pico and salsa if I hadn’t left Texas.  But when I started thinking about what would be the most useful thing for me to learn how to make—those were at the top of the list.  And it was surprisingly easy.  But would you like to know the best part??It did not really involve cooking!!  That meant I could make it WITHOUT the evil box (otherwise known as an oven) getting involved.  I didn’t go through the trouble of preparing it only to stick it in an oven that turns it into something inedible.  Or catches the house on fire.  This was by far my favorite part.

Pico was shockingly simple to make.  Of course there are variations.  But if you cut up a few tomatoes, onions and add a jalapeño with some cilantro–you’ve basically got it!  It took some time of course to chop it all up but I didn’t even mind that.  Sure my vegetables were probably not cut up properly–but I did it.  And you know what? It was GOOD.  The kids were totally shocked.  And because of that, I thought maybe I’d try salsa too.  I did have to roast the tomatoes in the oven but that was easy enough that I could manage it. With virtually the same ingredients along with some garlic and fresh cilantro–it’s done!

Garlic was the hard part.  I’ve never learned how to open a garlic.  Thank goodness for You Tube! When I got it open, I realized that a garlic is full of many cloves.  I had no idea how many.  I had bought like 8 garlics because it said I needed 3 cloves.  Apparently one garlic was more than enough because they are filled with cloves.   Who knew?  I figured out how to cut it up and it wasn’t hard. I wouldn’t recommend eating a piece straight though.  YIKES!!  I won’t be doing that again!

I do think I’ll buy a garlic press or mincer…or whatever they call it but overall it wasn’t that hard.  Why did I wait 20 years to figure this out?!  I’ve been intimidated by garlic forever.  I always bought pre made minced garlic instead.  So many recipes out there call for garlic so I feel like finally figuring out the garlic mystery will open a lot of doors.

The salsa I made was great.  And the fact that I just wrote that is insane.  Because nothing I make is ever GREAT.  But this was. Of course the fact that my salsa is being compared to store bought salsa (instead of San Antonio salsa) allowed me the advantage.  And the fact that I no longer have to buy pico and salsa pre-made has utterly changed my life in a day.  So, could I also then make guacamole??

First, I had to learn how to pick out an avocado.  I’ve said this already once today but here we go again—Thank God for You Tube.  I learned what to look for and then I watched another video on how to open an avocado. It wasn’t even hard!! All these years I’ve felt intimidated by garlics and avocados.  And it was nothing at all to be afraid of.  Guacamole is probably the easiest thing EVER to make.  It took a few minutes and then we were done.  That makes the 3rd thing I’ve made this week that was a success.  Three in a row.  That’s pretty much never happened!  The kids were amazed.  It’s like we slipped into another universe.  Suddenly Mom is making things that don’t SUCK.  And I think the key was that none of them were COOKED.  I’m discovering that if the oven isn’t too involved I have a better probability of having it turn out edible.

When I realized that I could make these things and they turned out pretty good—I was shocked.  And then I didn’t even mind the time I had to spend making it.  Because it tasted better fresh than it ever did bought.  And for the first time in my life, I am no longer beholden to the grocery store for three of the things I buy every week.  But then the anger set in.  Because I realized what a sucker I’ve been all this time.  Buying things I really don’t need to buy! All because I feared that making them was impossible.  But they’re so easy that even I can do it.  (And that’s saying A LOT) I almost don’t know now why anyone buys them.  Maybe because (like me) they feared the idea of trying to make them.

Learning to make pico, guacamole and salsa was an entirely awesome experience.  And I have rarely EVER said that when it comes to cooking or preparing food.  And now I’m actually learning about the food that’s involved.  Each ingredient.  Taking the time to really KNOW what’s in the recipe.  When I decided to make guacamole, I had to learn about avocados. And to be honest—there was a lot to learn.  There are different kinds of avocados apparently.  If you pick one type of food and take the time to learn about it–that is in and of itself an experience.  I’ve discovered tomatoes are the same way.  Different kinds for different things.  Onions are like this too.  In fact this week I found out a shallot is an onion.  At least I think it is.  But that is another thing that often comes up in recipes.  And now I’m really unraveling the mystery.

Since I was on a roll, I moved to another thing I eat quite a lot but have often bought.  Tomato, cucumber and onion greek salad.

I made two different kinds of this tomato, cucumber and onion greek salad this week (with feta cheese).  Here they are

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In the past I had often made this with just the cucumber and tomato.  Then I would add store bought greek salad dressing.  This time I looked up a recipe using additional ingredients and made my own dressing.  You know what? It wasn’t hard at all.  Once again though I have to admit—no oven was involved.  I’m beginning to think the clue might just be for me to stick with the crockpot for cooking and then making things on the side out of raw ingredients I don’t have to burn in the oven!!

This has turned out to be a pretty great adventure so far.  Of course I have to be careful that it doesn’t lead to me trying to bake cakes.  It’s a real fear of mine whenever I get involved with food so I’ll have to be careful.  As I’ve said numerous times, my willpower and determination has been pretty AWFUL lately when it comes to overeating.  My motivation is waning.  My resistance is low.  And as I’ve been saying for a long time, I’m continuing to struggle.  I wish I could tell you that this isn’t the case.  That my past efforts at getting back “on track” have yielded permanent results but it wouldn’t be true.  In spite of that, though, I will continue to try.  Whenever I am able to and whenever I can find the strength to do it.   It’s often discouraging to me that I could be so far down the road still simply trying to pull it together but as I’ve experienced too many times to count—the only way to lose the fight is to completely give up.  And since I’m still not willing to do that, I will hang on another day.  I will keep searching and looking for new and different ways to inject myself with fresh enthusiasm.  Continue seeking out whatever I can find to renew my spirit and get myself back to a place where I want to be.  I hope that working at food planning will be part of that.  In the meantime, thank you for all your encouragement and ideas.  It continues to help me more than you know!

 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori January 20, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Yahoo for you!! I am so happy for you that you are discovering the joys of fresh, homemade food. IMO, everything is better when it is made fresh rather than from the store.

You are wise to try one thing at a time, like the raw veggies. You’ll gain confidence with the slow-cooker and one day,the evil oven won’t scare you so much.

You’ve got this!
Lori
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Bonnie January 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Yay for you! FlyLady (flylady.net–a cleaning website) often says that housework done incorrectly still blesses your family. The same is true for food. Just because your veggies in the pico didn’t look like something off of the food network doesn’t make them any less nutritious. FlyLady also encourages baby steps. Master one thing at a time and you’ll be “FLY”ing (finally loving yourself) in no time. (And have you ever watched The Worst Cooks in America? It’ll make you feel quite good about your cooking skills.)

BTW, the salads look delicious. My daughter eats a salad with Greek dressing every day for lunch. Would you be willing to share the recipe?

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Carrie January 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Great job BUT you cannot post all this wonderful food without posting the recipe! I want to try everything you posted!!! You’ve inspired me! 🙂

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Jessie January 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Can you eat chili? This is my favorite crockpot chili recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/debbies-crock-pot-chili-45069

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John (Daddy Runs a Lot) January 20, 2015 at 5:14 pm

I love the level of excitement & optimism in this post . . . it’s been missing in prior posts, so I’m so happy to see it back.

All looks yummy — and, really, isn’t it amazing how easy some of this stuff is to make? Over the summer, I ended up swimming in salsa for awhile because my garden provided tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos aplenty (this year, I’ll make plenty of salsa yet again, but also going to try my hands at tomato wine)
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Anneli January 20, 2015 at 5:57 pm

WOW!!! WOOOT!! Don’t you love that you can make as much as you want and totally control how hot it is? I LOVE that about cooking.

It’s fun for me that you discovered Mexican stuff this week, because I made a discovery too. Tomatillos. They’re part of the Mexican version of zero-point soup (quite good soup). I’ve never bought them before because they look a little scary–they come in their husk, and I didn’t know how to eat them. But the husk just peels right off and then they look like a green tomato. I LOVE them. You can eat them raw–and they taste like a cross between a tomato and an apple.

Don’t swear off of the oven forever. 🙂 There are lots of healthy things you might want to make in there someday. But in the meantime, I like the pampered chef garlic press.

Keep on cooking!
Anneli

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Beth January 20, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Yummy stuff!!
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Alison C. January 20, 2015 at 6:18 pm

YES!!! I love hearing that you had such success in the kitchen! That said, being from the north east, I’ve only once made pico. At least I think it was, although I called it salsa. Who knows? That stuff I buy at the store because I don’t want to bother to make it and I don’t eat it often.

I totally agree – fresh meals are so much better than store-bought, prepackaged stuff! Home made salad dressing was a revelation to me!! I can’t believe how much better it tastes than bottled stuff.

And finally, I LOVE my garlic press from Pampered Chef. I would highly recommend it. It’s sturdy and comes with a little tool to help clean all the little holes that you press the garlic through. My friend bought a garlic press at the grocery store and coveted mine until I went and bought her one as a gift!

Enjoy your fresh made food!

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Calleigh January 20, 2015 at 8:48 pm

What great news! I’m so proud of you, you’ve done a wonderful job Holly!!!
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Suzy Raffensperger January 20, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Well, if you ever get to the Lancaster Pa area I’ll be happy to give you cooking lessons. As for your shallot, it is a member of the onion family with a much more delicate flavor. But it is different then an onion. As you are with cooking, I am with gardening. So far I haven’t tried to kill..I mean grow onions or shallots yet. As for an easy low cal dinner suggestion to try to cook, try doing one of Rachel Ray’s burst cherry tomato recipes and put it over spaghetti squash (hard to cut into, simple to cook). For protein, you could always do a small side of chicken breast (be nice to yourself, buy skinless and boneless) and season with lemon pepper.

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Katie January 20, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Oh my goodness! I’m sorry but you had me laughing out loud about the garlic. You are funny and sweet and can definitely learn to be a good cook this year! Cooking at home is so rewarding. Do you and your kids sit down for dinner together? Consider doing that a few nights a week – tv off – when you do your home cooking. Maybe light some candlesticks to set the mood and share about your days – nourishing for body and soul.

One healthy and simple winter meal my family likes is the soup/stew below. To keep the cost down I leave out the fresh basil topping unless I already have it in the kitchen. You can serve it with crusty bread for the kids. And this will help you use a little more of your garlic too!! Side note – I just got my first garlic press. LOVE IT. The OXO brand, from Kohls although I’m sure it can be purchased plenty of places. Certainly beats mincing by hand or having to drag out the mini food processor. Good luck and keep us posted!!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/my-moms-tomato-and-bean-15-minute-stoup-recipe.html

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Wendy January 20, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Congrats congrats congrats!!!! I am so excited for you. Being able to make the foods you love to eat most is, indeed, so empowering.

And don’t feel bad on the guac-making intimidation, I felt that too before I took the plunge (and yes, found out JUST HOW EASY it is).

Empowering!
Do you ever put salsa or pico on scrambled eggs, or an omelet? It’s one of my “nothing in the fridge” dishes I like.
Great to hear from you, and such a positive post! Woo!
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Stacy T January 20, 2015 at 11:20 pm

This is wonderful – what great progress already and you have such a happy attitude! Keep it up!

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Cindy January 21, 2015 at 12:49 am

Great to hear of your success in the kitchen!! You’ve got a good beginning to build on. In an effort to kick the sugar out and clean up my diet I’ve begun the Whole 30 and so far at day 9, so good. But spending a lot of time in the kitchen with meals made up of primarily protein and veggies. Waiting to hear of your next installment of “In the Kitchen with Holly.”

Cindy

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Beth M January 21, 2015 at 2:43 am

YES!!! I’m so excited to see you having some success in the kitchen and enjoying it. Your salad looks so yummy!

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Lea G January 21, 2015 at 4:18 am

It’s so fun reading this post! Congratulations!

I like what you say about the crock pot, but here’s another item to consider….. A high power blender! No cooking and you still get awesome smoothies, healthy ice cream, salsa takes 3 minutes…. seriously.
I reccomend the NINJA if you don’t want to spend a fortune – I have the ninja ultima system (i don’t work for them or get paid by them, i’m just someone that has it and knows it’s a good blender).

Here’s some examples:

Ice cream: Literally, you freeze some bananas without their peel on them. Once frozen, you throw them in a blender with a tish of water. It sounds crazy, but it is suprisingly awesome..ice cream texture is really close, and it’s DELICIOUS. You can even get fancy and throw in some frozen berries with it…or if you want chocolate throw in a little cocoa powder and little stevia or whatever sweetner you like. The key is that if you are blending the bananas and they aren’t moving about the blender container too well, just put in another tish of water. I’d say you can probably combine 6 frozen bananas with 1/4 cup of water and you’ll be on track.

Smoothies: The beauty of these is that it’s hard to go wrong. Throw in frozen fruit and about an equal amount of water. That’ll do ya, but you can add: some yogurt (a blob works!), leafy greens, sweetner of your choice, PB2….whatever you desire or want to experiment with. It’s hard to go wrong becuase if you make something and it doesn’t taste sweet enough or it’s missing a flavor you want, you can pour it right back into the blender and mix something else in. My son loves these, we call them “power smoothies”.

Salsa: Cut your veggies into big chunks (you could half your tomatoes, quarter your onions, throw in the whole garlic clove (peeled), cilantro basically as is, whatever spices…and use the “pulse” setting to chop it up. It won’t do for pico, but it makes a great salsa.

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Lea G January 21, 2015 at 4:21 am

Oh yeah….pampered chef makes a garlic press that you don’t even have to peel the cloves, you can leave the skin on and just squish them.

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Taryl January 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Careful with the banana ice cream, that has as carbs as most commercial ice cream, even if it doesn’t have added sugar. I make it for my kids but its a poor choice for mama.

Great job on the recipes! They look perfectly respectable and edible. Bravo!
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vicki January 22, 2015 at 8:06 pm

Ok you hav mastered salsa, now just take that and pour it over chicken breast in the crock pot and cook violla dinner!

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Amanda January 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Fabulous progress and I love your enthusiasm!
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