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Full disclaimer: Cooking has not always been my forte. It was not until the pandemic hit that I discovered my love for both cooking and baking. While it not only gave me something to do while I was confined to my home for 6 months, it also allowed me to become creative and experiment with a medium that I had very little experience with. 

I would like to think that my kitchen skills have improved since March of 2020, as my family members have begun allowing me to prepare meals (mostly) unsupervised. This winter I spent the majority of my time preparing dishes for both my family and my boyfriend’s family. By acting as a Sous Chef to moms and grandmas, I learned many new Texas and Louisiana recipes and perfected some of my Florida ones. From savory Texas Chili to Southern-Style Potato Salad, here are some of my favorite recipes that I have made this winter break. 


Texas Chili 

Although we have never actually documented an official recipe for this dish, this authentic Texas Chili, is an all-time favorite meal that has been made quite frequently since my boyfriend and I decided to start cooking at home. That being said, all of the measurements for seasonings are very to-taste. 

Ingredients:

  • Onion (½ for sautéing, ½ for garnishing)
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons of Uncle Chris’ Steak Seasoning
  • 1 can of tomato paste 
  • 1 can of Original Rotel 
  • 1 center cut sirloin steak
  • 1 lb ground beef 
  • 1 roll of Jimmy Dean Sausage 
  • Salt (1 tsp per each meat)
  • Pepper (1 tsp per each meat)
  • 2 Cups of beef broth 
  • ½ can of beer 

Toppings

  • Diced Jalapeño 
  • Onion
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese 
  • Sour cream
  • Fritos

Directions: 

In a medium pot, sauté onions and minced garlic until translucent. While onions and garlic cook cut the steak into small cubes. Begin to cook the entire sausage roll in a small pan after seasoning with Uncle Chris’, salt, and pepper. Add steak and ground beef into the pot with the onions and season with Uncle Chris’, salt, and pepper. After the meat is fully cooked, add in sausage, tomato paste, and Rotel. Add in beef broth and beer, and stir together all ingredients. Add in cumin and chili powder 1 tablespoon at a time (more or less can be added depending on preference). Place a lid on top of the pot and let simmer for 1-2 hours. 

Once chili has finished simmering, add to bowls and garnish with onion, diced jalapeños, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and Fritos. Enjoy!

Pad Thai 

Living in Austin has opened my eyes to an entirely new world of different foreign cuisines, including amazing Thai food! While this Pad Thai Recipe is no Pho Thaison, it makes do when I’m craving this delicious dish without wanting to eat out.  

Ingredients: 

  • 8 ounces of flat rice noodles 
  • 3 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 chicken breasts (chopped into semi-small pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 green onions (diced)
  • ¼ cup of chopped cilantro 
  • 2 limes 
  • 1 cup of peanuts 
  • 1 jalapeño (diced) 
  • 1 thinly sliced bell pepper
  • Sriracha 
  • * ¾ of a bottle of Annie Chun’s Pad Thai Sauce

*Pad Thai Sauce can be made from scratch, however, this sauce is readily available at most grocery stores and can be used as a great substitute for when you’re not feeling motivated to make the sauce. 

Directions: 

  • Cook noodles according to instructions on the package and set them aside.
  • In a wok or large saucepan, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil over medium/high heat and cook chicken in oil. Cook chicken for 3-4 minutes, only flipping 1-2 times. Once the chicken is cooked, push it aside in the pan and add the remainder of the oil and beaten eggs. Scramble the eggs with a spatula and break them into small pieces. 
  • Add the noodles, peanuts, and bell peppers to the wok. Add the sauce and toss together all ingredients. Serve the dish topped with green onions, peanuts, diced jalapeños, cilantro, and lime wedges! 

Southern-Style Potato Salad

Compared to the other recipes that I made over winter break, this one is by far the simplest. On this one, I have to give credit where credit is due, and this simple and delicious recipe can be credited to my boyfriend’s mother. Although it is a more time-consuming side dish, every time we can convince her to make it, it’s gone within 24 hours or less. This potato salad also leaves out many ingredients that would turn off the pickiest of eaters. 

Ingredients: 

  • 4 large potatoes
  • 4 boiled eggs
  • ¾ cup of mayo 
  • 2 stocks of celery 
  • 2 green onions 
  • 1 tbsp Uncle Chris’ Steak Seasoning 
  • 1 tbsp Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning 
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Paprika (optional, for garnish) 

Directions: 

  • Add potatoes to cold water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to medium heat and add 1 tsp of salt. Cook for 25 minutes or until potatoes are softened. Drain potatoes and set aside. 
  • Once the potatoes are cooled, skin and cut into ¾ inch square pieces. Once cut, transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool for about 10 more minutes. 
  • Add chopped celery to the potato mixture along with the 4 boiled eggs (chopped). 
  • In a separate bowl, mix mayonnaise, Tony’s, and Uncle Chris’ seasonings. Fold sauce into the potato mixture and add more salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with paprika if desired and allow to chill for at least 1 hour before serving. 

Copycat Steakhouse Mac and Cheese

While quarantining with my best friend and her family in 2020, we set out on a mission to recreate Outback’s Steakhouse Mac and Cheese. This recipe is not your average noodles and cheese dish. Filled with various spices, cheeses, and creams, this can be served as a crowd-pleasing side at any dinner or event. 

 Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ block of shredded white cheddar cheese 
  • ½ block of gouda cheese 
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of flour 
  • ½ cup of milk
  • ½ tsp of paprika 
  • 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of black pepper
  • 1 tsp of salt 
  • 1 tsp Uncle Chris’s Steak Seasoning 
  • 1 ½ cups of Panko bread crumbs 
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 box of Cavatappi pasta 

Directions: 

  • For the roux: In a large saucepan, form a roux with flour and butter. Cook on medium heat until light brown in color. 
  • For the bread crumbs: In a shallow saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and Uncle Chris’s. Cook until golden brown. Set aside once cooked. 
  • In the pot with the roux, add heavy cream, milk, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and Uncle Chris’s. Cook until bubbly and slightly thickened, then add all cheeses slowly. After the cheese is melted completely, fold in cooked pasta. After pasta is coated, pour into an oven-safe pan and top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 15 minutes or until breadcrumbs are a slightly darker brown and serve. 

Tex-Mex Queso Dip

Each time we grill fajitas, my boyfriend knows that queso dip supplies must be bought in tandem. This recipe is just about as good as any Tex-Mex restaurant you may visit in Texas, and it definitely will surpass any queso you would find in Florida. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 can of Original Rotel
  • 1 lb of Velveeta (½ block)
  • 1 bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ lb of lean ground beef or chorizo 
  • 2 tbsp of chili powder 
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 ½ tsp of pepper 
  • 1 jalapeño (diced)
  • ½ onion
  • 1-1 ½ of milk 
  • ¼ of cilantro 
  • 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper 

Directions: 

  • In a cast iron or non-stick skillet, saute onion and chorizo/ground beef on medium heat/high heat until onions are translucent and meat is cooked. 
  • Reduce the heat to low and add in Velveeta (cut into cubes) and cheddar cheese. When the cheese has melted, add in milk slowly until creamy. Add in Rotel, paprika, salt, pepper, and diced jalapeño and mix until the dip is completely combined. Serve this party-pleasing dish with tortilla chips. 
Casey is a second year student at the University of Texas at Austin pursuing a degree in Journalism and a certificate in Business Spanish. In addition to her role as a writer for HerCampus, Casey is also the World News Correspondent for Revolution Now Magazine. In her free time, Casey enjoys adventuring outdoors, traveling, and writing for her personal blog "Keenly Casey." IG: caseymckee_ Blog: KeenlyCasey.com Twitter: casey.mckee7
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