cooking

The Best Ways to Make Mexican, Latino, or Spanish Food the Ways You Like

Image from Pixabay

Just recently, I discovered some techniques on making Latino, Mexican, or Spanish food to my taste as well as satisfy my dietary needs. Below is a list of dishes in those cuisines:

1: Rice

One recipe said to cook the rice in oil before adding the spices and sauce. I, however, could not use the traditional tomato sauce since I am allergic to tomatoes. So, I pureed jarred peppers and used that instead. Guess what—it still came out delicious.

2: Taco meat

I prepared a seasoning with various spices and stored them while using a little at a time per maybe half a pound of ground meat. It tasted as good, if not, better than the premade seasoning mix.

3: Homemade tortilla chips

Don’t have a bag of tortilla chips? No problem. You can cook actual tortillas by either, frying, baking, or even microwaving them. They still come out good, not to mention that they don’t have the extra ingredients that bagged chips contain.

4: Onions in quesadillas

I used to mix salsa with my cheese in my quesadillas. But thanks to my tomato allergy developed in 2017, I can no longer do that. While just cheese is okay, I discovered that chopped onions make it taste better and even a bit sweeter.

5: Plantains

I just learned that it is better to let plantains blacken before you cook them. Then they’ll be sweet. Cook them too soon and they’re not sweet and taste more like a potato.

I hope you enjoyed this post.

Writing

Stories Within Stories: When They Work, and When They Don’t

Image from Pixabay

Have you ever read a book with a story within it? I have. 

A notable example includes “The Tale of Three Brothers” in “Harry Potter.” In cartoons, there is “The Crimson Chin” in “The Fairly OddParents,” and “The Justice Friends” in “Dexter’s Laboratory.”

In a book I read, it started out with a background description as well as a bunch of characters. One was an old lady reading to a group of children. I would have continued that story, but it bored me since after several pages, I couldn’t get to the action. The woman just kept reading.

I agree with many experts that stories should start as close to the inciting incidents as possible. Prologues are also not recommended these days unless done exceptionally well.

Anyway, back to the topic. I don’t think the story in a story idea should be reserved for top authors. However, it should be relevant to the main plot, engaging, and not too long. Otherwise, the reader might give up.

You could do a spinoff as long as it will work and keeps your audience engaged. I have a spinoff of my current book series in mind. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that it’s not a story within my books. It might be years until I write it, though.

Do you like stories in stories?

Writing

Writers, Should You Hire a Beta Reader?

Image from Pixabay

What is a beta reader? It’s someone who gives you feedback on your story and its literary elements, such as plot, characterization, conflict, etc. They don’t edit your work or rewrite weak sentences.

So, if you are considering hiring a beta reader, here are some aspects you should be aware of.

Pros

Cheaper than traditional editors

Many book editors, especially those who have worked with big-name best-selling authors (like Stephen King), can charge lots of money for their services. They can range from hundreds to even thousands of dollars.

There are people with that kind of money. But unless you are one of them, start off with a beta reader.

Can return work more quickly 

Depending on the editor and the work, it can take at least a week or month to have the project returned to the client. From my experience, though, beta readers may take less time before they give the customers feedback. This can vary, however, depending on the reader and other factors.

Cons

Might not necessarily answer the writer’s specific questions 

With my last beta reader experience, I sent a bunch of questions to the person that concerned specific issues in my manuscript. The beta reader clarified that she was not an editor, so I said that she could answer the questions she felt were relevant. Sadly, she didn’t answer any.

Can be tough

Despite working on my manuscript for nearly 5 years, the beta reader said it needed a ton of work. Other beta readers bashed my projects, too. However, when I showed them to editors, the stories pleased them. For my current WIP, an editor said that it was strong and only needed minor editing.

I don’t know how typical it is for beta readers to be super-tough, but I am giving my manuscript to other beta readers as well as a developmental editor.

Remember to do what you think will work for you.

Writing

When it’s Okay to Turn Off Your Inner Editor

As people learn the writing craft, they discover how to word their sentences, what types of words and phrases to avoid, and what sentences engage readers the best.

Because of that, many folks will strive for perfection. That is one of the causes of writer’s block. There are times where you need to worry about producing the best work possible and when you can turn off that inner editor or critic.

I, myself, have been struggling to write while on lockdown for a couple of months. I discussed this issue on a forum, and one person suggested to just write more sloppily and polish it during the editing stage. I tried it and it really worked.

Aside from when you are working on a story and you develop writer’s block, there are other times you shouldn’t let an internal critic stop you. One example is free-writing. By that, I mean writing any thought that comes to your mind, no matter how silly it might seem. It’s a great way to revive your creative juices. For the most part, it has worked for me and I have written more easily after free-writing.

Another technique is to put your work aside and find other hobbies. Unless you are working toward a strict deadline, you can take a break from your story or whatever you’re working on. You are in control of telling your inner critic that you need a break from your writing. As you focus on other activities, the internal editor will be suppressed until you feel ready to return to your work.

In fact, taking occasional breaks from your writing may help you improve your works-in-progress. You come back as if you had a fresh new pair of eyes. Then you can see more room for improvement.

Obviously, the inner critic matters at times, such as when you submit your work for editing or publishing. But if you struggle to write as best as you can, turn off the imaginary editor and write in whatever way feels natural at that moment.

cooking

How I Made My Gnocchi Healthier

Image from Pixabay

I love gnocchi! I used to order it a lot in restaurants, if they had it, before I developed a tomato allergy. 

For some reason, however, I couldn’t find the traditional potato kind at my local grocery store. So, I made it from scratch, which I have done several times before. But this one differed. 

How, you might ask? I added chopped broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs to the dough, as well as protein powder. Regardless of those ingredients, I didn’t use whole wheat flour. I stuck with all-purpose flour. To be honest, I never really liked wheat flour.

Anyway, another perk is that I know what went in the gnocchi since I prepared it from scratch. I also tried cooking it in my pepper marinara sauce (obviously without tomatoes), something I learned from my mom. But I needed to add more water since the dough wasn’t cooking right. Nevertheless, it came out delicious. 

All you need are 2 pounds of potatoes, 1 ½ cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 slightly beaten egg. I cut my potatoes and boil them. Then I puree them in a food processor. I mix the egg with that, too. In a separate bowl or Ziploc bag, I mix the flour and salt. I also added the vegetables, herbs, and protein powder to the dry ingredients. 

I blend the wet and dry stuff together before I roll out the dough, cut small pieces, and boil them. Next time, though, I will stick to the convention way by boiling them in water and letting them ascend to the top.

cooking

How to Cook for Private Events Without Making Yourself Crazy

Image from Pixabay

I have been cooking for many years, ever since I was 12. I first discovered how much I enjoyed it when taking home economics in 7th grade.

Recent years, I have been cooking for many of my private events, such as birthdays. But the reason isn’t for health or money—it’s because I have a few friends with dietary restrictions. One who has come a lot is allergic to nuts and intolerant of soy. So, I have usually cooked the food from scratch, both the dinners and desserts.

I am turning 27 on the 22nd of this month. Because my friend with the nut allergy didn’t come, I could order a cake as well as dinner. I did cook a pasta dish with garlic and oil for another friend, who is voluntarily vegetarian, although we ended up not serving it. 

But last year, for my birthday, I cooked all day for the party. I did not even get a chance to eat lunch. So, for my birthday party next year, I will cook only one thing: a pasta dish. I will also serve premade bread and butter along with salad. If the friend with the nut allergy comes, I will make the cake, filling  and frosting from scratch. Or I will make a pull-apart cupcake cake.

The lesson I learned is less can be more for food at parties. Although my parents are health freaks, and my dad has enforced protein at every meal, especially when I was younger, I can rebel against that for events. I would gladly order pizza, but I am allergic to tomatoes. I developed the allergy in 2017, right after graduating from college.

Anyway, if possible, cook only a little bit or not at all. If you have to cook, then pick up to a few items that are not super involved. It’s not the end of the world if you have a guest with a dietary restriction and you need to accommodate him or her. If their food intolerance or allergy isn’t too severe, then it’s okay to serve something with the ingredient they can’t have as long as you tell them. 

I hope this helps.

Writing

Want to be a Serious Writer? Be prepared… it’s Expensive, But There are Some Tricks to Save Money

I have been honing and practicing my writing skills for nearly a decade. Along the way, I’ve had to spend money on editing, cover design, and marketing services. It cost a lot. I am not kidding.

I also fell into the trap of using “self-publishing” services, which were actually vanity presses. They offer publishing packages from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. And those books sell few to no copies. I would avoid those at all costs. And not just because of the pricing, but because of how they treat authors, take their money, and result in poor sales of their books. Try to use legitimate services where you just upload your materials, such as Amazon KDP or Draft2Digital. Both are free to publish on.

But it’s more than just that. I will return to the publishing and marketing topics after I discuss editing and cover design.

Editing can be pretty expensive. Some editors will even charge thousands of dollars for their services, especially if they’ve worked with big-name, bestselling authors. So, unless you already have the money, I would suggest avoiding those. There are editing services that charge moderate amounts. There are also beta readers, who are usually quite affordable. Many don’t price their services over $100. It may be worth using them for content editing.

Also, a lot of editors will be willing to split the payment plans. That might be useful if you don’t want to spend too much money at once. Another approach is not to get every single draft of your manuscript edited. I don’t just mean the sloppy first draft, but any draft you may feel needs more work… from you.

Everyone’s writing process differs, so the editing necessities will vary, too. If you’re new to writing, it may be challenging to improve your writing abilities without customized feedback. You can read books on the writing craft and more, but they could only take you very far. My suggestion would be to spend less on any unnecessary items outside of your writing time. Or take a side job and save your earnings for book production service.

Which brings me to the next part: cover design. Unless you have a great reputation in graphic design or illustration, it’s best to hire someone. But like editing, some may split the payment segments. Keep in mind your book’s genre and what cover design would be appropriate and attract more people. Regardless of that saying, everybody judges books by their covers.

Now back to marketing. If you self-publish on Amazon, you can price your book as low as 99 cents. If you do the select program, you can run a free promotion for up to 5 days. However, if you do KDP select, your eBook can’t be available anywhere else digitally, like your website or blog. You can also ask Amazon to make your eBooks perma-free by publishing them on sites like Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and making them free. This is an option if you publish through Draft2digital. Amazon may or may not price-match your book to other retailers. If you write a series, Amazon might be more likely to allow you to make the first installment free.

There are a lot of eBook promotion sites that will share free and 99-cent eBooks. And they usually cost less than $100. Maybe even $50.

So, there you have it. While being a writer won’t prevent you from spending a lot of money, you can still use these techniques to pay less.

cooking

Very Delicious Oreo Pudding

I’ve wanted to make an Oreo dessert for a while. In fact, my first idea was to make a no-bake Oreo mousse pie. The recipe sounded promising. However, something about the steps in that formula made me too lazy to start. So, I kept postponing until I decided on something simpler. That is what you see in the picture above: Oreo pudding.

There were a bunch of exciting recipes in the Google results. But I desired something quicker. I chose the option where the preparation time was 30 minutes. I made a cream cheese frosting with more cream cheese than butter, which the instructions called for, anyway. Then I made the vanilla pudding from a mix, followed by the whipped cream. I then crushed thee Oreos in a bag. At some point, I removed the cream filling from the inside since it was kind of interfering with the smashing of the cookies. After that, I mixed the cream cheese icing with the pudding and placed it in a pan. I then covered it with the crushed Oreos, and repeated the process until I topped it with the whipped cream and sprinkled the remaining cookie crumbs on top.

After chilling it for a half hour, I took it out and ate some. It tasted good, but not as delicious as the next day. I guess it needed more time to be in the refrigerator.

One thing I used less of was sugar. Not that it was a choice, but because I was low on the powdered kind. Therefore, I had to made do with what I owned. Despite that, it still came out great. The Oreos already contained lots of sweetness to begin with. What also matters is that I came back for more. That is a sign of success.

I don’t remember what site I got the recipe from, but if you do a web search for “Oreo pudding,” just look for the one that says it’ll take 30 minutes. If you make it, I would recommend chilling it for at least an hour or 2. That way, the ingredients blend better. I hope this helps.

cooking

Making the Frosting was a Tough, But Happy Journey

That you see there is a frosting I made from scratch. It looks liked whipped cream, and yes, it does contain heavy cream. However, it is whipped buttercream icing.

The process of this was no easy task. In fact, it took time to get right. I don’t just mean that for the specific one pictured. I also am talking about other moments I made icing, whether it was buttercream, cream cheese, or just whipped cream frosting.

You could tell me to just buy a premade frosting from the grocery store. However, my family doesn’t really like that. Not only do those kinds contain ingredients that don’t exactly please my parents or brothers, but they think I can do a better job. After all, I know what goes in the icings and any food I make from scratch.

In fact, this is one of the cases where less is more. Homemade frosting consists of softened butter, powdered or confectionery sugar, vanilla extract, and milk or cream. Of course, you can also use food coloring to dye the icing or cocoa powder to give it a chocolate flavor. You may use shortening or almost extract, as well. That is, if you are not allergic to nuts, nor is anyone you serve the dessert with the frosting.

But one thing that you should take seriously is the amount of liquid you put in your homemade icing. Otherwise, it won’t mix well and the thickness might not please you. What happened to me when I added lots of heavy cream to my buttercream frosting was that there were chunks in it, even though I used an electric mixer. It also tasted sour. My goal was to make a whipped buttercream icing. And what I discovered is that in order to get the right consistency, adding a little at a time is absolutely necessary. I start off with the butter, sugar, and vanilla, followed by two tablespoons of heavy cream. Then I mix them for a few minutes. If I want more, then I add a little extra. The process repeats until the thickness is where I want it to be.

The message you want to take home is that you should take little steps at a time when making icing, even when following a specific recipe. I wouldn’t recommend pouring a lot of liquid with mixed butter. In fact, the only time you should really pour a large amount of fluid is if you are cooking whipped cream icing, and without butter. You would stabilize the whipped cream with unflavored gelatin. But that’s another topic.

Anyway, I hope this post helps. Also, take your time when making frosting. It could take several minutes for your icing to satisfy your desires.

cooking

Mmm… Meaty Marinara Without Tomato

Before I became allergic to tomatoes, I really enjoyed Pizza Hut’s meaty marinara. However, since then, I had to make my own versions of my favorite foods that normally contain tomatoes, except without them. Sadly, they usually don’t taste very good. Or they will only be similar at most. But even that is not satisfying.

Luckily, this one is different. Yes, the recipe calls for tomato sauce and paste. But I use canned pumpkin and puréed roasted peppers instead. I also mix apple sauce with the peppers, which gives it more of a texture like tomatoes. I even include red wine, and that improves the flavor, too.

I think what also makes this taste good is that you have to simmer the sauce for at least an hour. That gives the meat enough time to absorb the sauce and add flavor to it. After that, you mix it with the pasta, top it with shredded mozzarella, and bake it for several minutes. I don’t remember how many, though.

This isn’t something I can make regularly, however. It is time-consuming, so I don’t have the luxury of cooking this often. On the bright side, though, I think it makes the pasta more enjoyable.

I find that when I eat something frequently (not everything), I get tired of it and won’t want it for a while. I’m already beginning to feel sick of eating commercially-made food. When the world was on lockdown in the spring, I couldn’t eat out, although I could receive takeout, curbside pickup, or delivery. But now that restaurants in my area have opened up again, since early summer, I think I went crazy eating out. Now my body hasn’t felt the best. So, I am starting to cut down on the commercially-made food, but gradually, since abrupt changes do not work for me.

Anyway, one thing I am going to try is find copycat recipes of my favorite commercially-made foods. At least I will know what is in them. Hopefully, I will also feel better.