Fermenting Food (Fermentools review)

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.


I don’t have much experience with fermented foods, but I’ve read that they’re very good for you (due to all the probiotics produced during the fermentation process). So I was curious about the idea of using the Starter Kit from Fermentools to give fermenting a try.

The Fermentools Starter Kit was designed to be able to turn any wide-mouth Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. You provide the jar, food, and  distilled water; Fermentools provides the rest. The kit includes:

  • a glass weight specifically designed to fit inside a wide-mouthed jar
  • a stainless steel lid
  • an airlock
  • two rubber stoppers (one with a hole and one solid)
  • a rubber canning stopper
  • a 1-lb bag of Himalayan powdered salt
  • an instruction guide, which includes a recipe for basic saurkraut

4A57384D-776A-45FF-AC6B-E2524C434AE9When I first opened my kit and read the instruction guide, I didn’t fully understand all the terminology used (“airlock,” for instance), so I found a couple of helpful videos on YouTube to get me started. Then it was time to go to the store, where I bought some wide-mouth jars (I don’t can as much as I wish I did, so I only had a single regular-mouth jar on hand) and asparagus. I’d read that asparagus ferments really well, and I was able to get a fantastic deal on it at the store. I got home and started it right away. From what I’d read, you don’t need to add other stuff to the ferment if you don’t want to, so I opted to try just a very, very basic recipe. I prepared a 2% brine solution using the salt provided with the Fermentools kit and distilled water, poured it over my asparagus, added the glass weight to the top of the jar (this is to keep the food below the level of the brine for proper fermenting), lidded my jar, and waited.

BEB1F8DF-78C7-4355-A707-C6BC07F46EECTo prepare the brine, all you need is non-chlorinated water (so no tap water) and the salt included in the kit. The salt is super finely ground so that it will dissolve in cold water. On the bag of salt, there’s a table to help you figure out the proper solution you need/want. On one side of the bag, it tells the number of grams you need based on the amount of water you’re using. On the other side, it gives an approximation gram-to-tablespoon ratio, so it’s more user-friendly for an average home cook.

Fast forward one week, and I took my jar out of the cabinet where I’d stashed it. (You’re supposed to keep the fermenting jar somewhere dark.) I was surprised to see that things were a bit bigger than they’d started. In fact, there was a bit of liquid coming up out of the airlock, which surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have, because upon rereading the instruction pamphlet, it says to leave extra space for this in your jar. But that was okay. It didn’t leave a mess in the cupboard or anything. I popped open the jar and gave each of my kids a piece of asparagus. I expected them all to love it because we love pickles in our house. And the teenagers did like it okay. But the younger crowd didn’t like it at all. I liked it okay, but it wasn’t my favorite thing ever.

I didn’t want this review to be a fizzle, so I tried my hand at fermented cucumbers. You know, because my kids like pickles. But because of quarantine, I didn’t have a lot of “off the wall” ingredients on hand (like fresh dill), so I again went with a very basic recipe: thickly sliced cucumbers and brine. I followed the same steps as I had for the asparagus, but this time I used a 3.5% brine solution. A few days later, Grasshopper and I tried the cucumbers. He didn’t like those, either. And frankly, I didn’t love them either.

So, thus far, our fermenting journey hasn’t been super successful. I’m not at a point where I’m considering giving up yet, but I probably will take a break until I can get my hands on some of those more unusual ingredients. I really do want to have a fermenting success story, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I do know, however, that some of my fellow Homeschool Review Crew members have done great things with the Fermentools Starter Kit, so go to the blog there and read some of those reviews. I know I plan to, just to see where I went wrong!


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Ground Beef Sausage (method/recipe)

We don’t eat pork, which means no traditional sausage. Usually I just buy turkey sausage, but with the quarantine and grocery stores being slow to restock, I can’t always find it these days. After looking around online a bit, I hobbled together a few different recipes for making your own sausage out of ground beef. It was based partially on what I had on hand, as well as what I know to be the flavors my family likes. 

Ground Beef Sausage

3 pounds ground beef

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano 

1 teaspoon garlic powder 

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) crushed red pepper

Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Use your hands to mix all the spices through the ground beef as thoroughly and evenly as you can.

Divide the mixture into food storage bags in whatever portions make sense for your family (I do 2 meals out of this recipe, but we have a large family). Put the bags in the fridge to cure for at least 24 hours. After this time, you can either use or freeze your sausage as you would any other bulk sausage (spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, etc).

4B197F7C-A7D6-4598-A6CE-0B58C7917306While this tastes pretty much just like a traditional sausage, it still behaves like and has the texture of ground beef. For that reason, it might take a time or two before your mouth understands what it’s experiencing!


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Everyday Cooking (review)

everyday cooking review

I’m always looking for new recipes, especially given our current living situation where there are tons of restrictions. So when the Homeschool Review Crew was given the opportunity to request Everyday Cooking from Everyday Homemaking, I said, “Yes, please!” I received a digital copy of the cookbook, which I printed out, hole punched, and placed in a binder for easy use.

Before I dive too much into the recipes, I want to talk about the introductory portion of the book. The author, Vicki Bentley, goes into a lot of effort to explain how to make everyday cooking as easy and time-budget-friendly as possible. For example, when coming back from the grocery store, make up a huge batch of meatloaf. Turn one portion of it into dinner that night by popping it into a loaf pan in the oven. Turn part of it into “Salisbury steaks” by making patties and placing them between pieces of wax paper in the freezer for another busy night. And use the last portion for a “ready to go” meatloaf, where all you have to do is put it in the oven and make your side dish(es).

Another idea she offers is to run a large pot of water full of vegetables and chicken pieces. Cook it all up, and when the chicken is done, debone and shred it, then package it up into meal-size portions (how much this is will vary from family to family). The cooking water goes in the fridge to let the fat harden, and then you can scrape that off and you’re left with homemade chicken broth. There are also loads of tips for making your meat (and therefore you grocery budget) stretch further.

After this section, there are a few pages of breakfast ideas. These are things that are easy to pull together without being full-blown recipes, including some that can be made the night before or put in the crockpot before bed so you have a delicious, healthy breakfast waiting when you wake up.

Then she dives into the “official” recipes. They are split up into several categories (you could call them chapters):

  • Appetizers, Dressings, and Drinks
  • Breads and Grains
  • Main Dishes, Soups, and Sides
  • Desserts and Snacks
  • Low Carb/Gluten Free Pantry Helpers

Then at the end, she wraps the cookbook up with several sections of general kitchen guidelines:

  • Basic measurements and helps
  • Meal planning and shopping hints
  • Basic cooking skills
  • For Students: food and nutrition mini unit
  • Basic kitchen accessories
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Slow cookers vs. Pressure cookers
  • Pressure cooker tips and favorites (including recipes)
  • Index
Porcupine Meatballs recipes from Everyday Cooking

Porcupine Meatballs recipes from Everyday Cooking

Once I got my cookbook printed and bound, I started going through it to get ideas for dinners for the next few weeks. The first one I made was Porcupine Meatballs. This is a recipe that my husband grew up with, so I thought it would be interesting to try out a new version of it. Even though Vicki’s recipe was less sweet (it’s made with tomato sauce instead of tomato soup), it was a huge hit with my family – including my very picky step-mother-in-law and my father-in-law who has severe dietary restrictions (he’s recovering from cancer and chemo). We liked these meatballs so much that I’ve already made them twice. The second time, I was working on the fly and didn’t have the exact right ingredients (I had to puree up some canned tomatoes because I was out of sauce, for example), but it didn’t matter. They were still delicious.

Beef Pot Pie using the leftover "Mom's Roast."

Beef Pot Pie using the leftover “Mom’s Roast.”

A day or two after the success of the meatballs, I pulled out the two roasts I’d bought from the freezer (yes, two – I’m feeding eight people!). I popped them into the slow cooker with the ingredients for the Mom’s Roast recipe, and later that evening, I just had to heat up some frozen vegetables and we had a delicious, nutritious dinner ready to go. There was even enough leftovers from the meat (another reason I’d bought two roasts – I wanted leftovers) to make a beef pot pie for dinner later in the week.

Chicken Broccoli Braid

Chicken Broccoli Braid

The last recipe we’ve tried (so far) was the Chicken Broccoli Braid. Following the recipe, I made what turned out to be a chicken salad type stuff, then placed it inside a crescent roll crust and baked it all up together. This was definitely the most beautiful of all the recipes I tried. Beauty aside, though, we didn’t like it as well as the others. I’d tasted the filling before cooking it in the crust, and it was delicious. But once it was cooked in the shell and heated through, it was less impressive tasting. That said, I would definitely make the filling again and use it as a sandwich filler. That would be amazing!

Most of the recipes in this book don’t work for our current situation, unfortunately. My father-in-law can’t eat poultry; that eliminates all of the chicken recipes for dinners. (We had the Chicken Broccoli Braid one of the days when my in-laws were on vacation and it was just my nucleus family.) Beef is crazy expensive, so we don’t use it too often. And Everyday Cooking only has 3 pork recipes (our meat of choice for feeding 8 people on a budget). But… the recipes that I have tried have been slam dunks. I’m sure the rest of them (at least a large majority of them) will be, too. I can’t wait to find out!

Through September 5, use coupon code TOS10books to get 10% off Everyday Cooking or The Everyday Family Chore System. There are no limits with the code, so it’s a great time to stock up for holiday gifts.


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Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing two books from Everyday Homemaking this week: Everyday Cooking and The Everyday Family Chore System. Click the banner below for links to reviews of both books.

Everyday Cooking and Chores Systems for your Family {Everyday Homemaking Reviews}

Recipe: Taco Rice

One of the things I’ve struggled with the past few weeks is meal planning for people who have severe dietary limitations – no poultry, limited dairy, allergies to several fruits and vegetables, and a distinct hatred for most others (no, none of these issues are my kids – it’s the other grownups we live with right now causing the “problems”). Most of what we’ve been eating is pork chops and salad or tacos. I was looking for something different the other day to use up some ground beef I had on hand when I remembered one of my favorite simple meals – something I made up a while ago that I call “Taco Rice.” It fit the dietary guidelines, and is really yummy. Plus, it’s a one pot meal! Today, I’m sharing the recipe here. Enjoy!

One Pan Recipe Taco Rice

Taco Rice (serves 6-8)

  • 1.5 pounds ground beef (or turkey)
  • 2 packets (or equivalent homemade) taco seasoning
  • 4 cups water (instead of the amount listed on the seasoning packets)
  • 1 jar nacho cheese
  • 2 cups uncooked long grain rice (or 4 cups instant rice)

Cook and crumble the ground beef until no pink remains; drain fat. Return to pan and add seasoning, water, and nacho cheese. Stir to dissolve the seasoning and melt the cheese. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 20 minutes. If you’re using instant rice, follow the directions on the box for timing once you add the rice to the pan. Gently fluff the rice and serve.

I like to eat this either plain or scooped up with tortilla chips. It’s also good with a super simple salad, and would make a wonderful tortilla filling.


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Creamy Chicken and Pasta (Recipe)

We recently got a Costco membership as a belated anniversary present to ourselves. One of our first purchases was a book entitled A Year of Recipes. The premise is that there’s a new recipe for every single day of the year (including February 29th). Some of them aren’t super helpful when it comes to mealtime because they’re desserts or require some specialty ingredients, but a fair number of them are easy to pull off with little or no notice. The recipe I want to share today is one of those.

In the middle of packing up the house for an upcoming move (this week!), I wanted to make something for dinner that would use up some of the food we have on hand. The one for the specific day I was cooking (Saturday the 25th) was this one. I was quite skeptical based on the ingredient list (it seemed too basic), but when I tasted it, I was absolutely sold on this recipe. It was so delicious, and it’s going to make its way into our regular rotation of meals.

pasta dish

I had to make a few alterations to the base recipe in order to use up stuff we already had (sherry for white wine, ditalini for penne, and green beans for peas), and the recipe I’m including today is my modified version rather than the official one from the book.

Creamy Chicken and Pasta ~ serves 6-8

  • 4-6 chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 pound bite size pasta
  • 3/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 1 pound frozen green beans
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Cut chicken into strips (or cubes) and cook over moderately high heat until cooked through. Add the cooking sherry and cook over high heat until the liquid is mostly evaporated.
  3. Add the green beans and cover the pot. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the green beans are hot and tender.
  4. Add the whipping cream, cooked pasta, and parsley. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften the parsley and thicken the sauce.
  5. Serve hot with the side dish of your choice.

We ate this meal with glazed carrots, but it would be equally delicious with “normal” pasta sides: salad, garlic bread, etc.


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Spaghetti Carbonara ~ Recipe

Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe at Ladybug DaydreamsThe first time I ever had Spaghetti Carbonara was when my mother-in-law passed away in 2007. All of the extended family was in town for her memorial service, and her brother was cooking lunch for everyone one day. I didn’t know at the time what the meal was, but I knew as I was eating it that it one of the very best things I’d ever tasted.

I’m not sure how I came to learn what it was that he’d cooked that day, but sometime much later, I did. And I tried again and again to find recipes that rivaled his from back then. I never did, though several of them were “fine.” But then about three weeks ago, I was making the dish and I decided to find another recipe for it to try. In addition to finding a new recipe that was a smidge different from what I’d done in the past, I came up with some slightly different techniques for the preparation. The result was the absolute best Spaghetti Carbonara I’ve ever prepared. I’m pretty sure it even came pretty close to my uncle-in-law’s from way back then. Today, I want to share that recipe with you.


Spaghetti Carbonara (Bacon and Eggs Pasta)

Serves 6-8

1 pound spaghetti
1 package (12-16 ounces) bacon
6 eggs
1/4 cup (give or take) white wine
1 onion, chopped
1/2-1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (fresh or “canned”)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions to your desired doneness. Before you drain it, ladle out about 1-2 cups of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta in a colander and let it cool for a few minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pan fry the bacon.
  3. Pour off most of the bacon grease, leaving just a couple of tablespoons in which to saute the onions. When the onions are translucent, add the wine to deglaze the pan.
  4. Crack eggs in a large bowl and beat them with an electric mixer until they’re lemon-yellow and frothy. The electric mixer part is important; I’ve tried several times with a wire whisk and the results were never as good as when I used the hand mixer.
  5. Add 1/2 cup (approximately) cheese and the onions to the eggs.
  6. Put the pasta in the egg mixture and mix thoroughly. Utilize the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to make a creamy sauce and help the eggs to cook (but not solidify).
  7. Chop the bacon and mix in with the pasta.
  8. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese and your favorite salad and bread.


That’s it. It’s a little labor intensive due to the pan frying of the bacon, but I tried it with baked bacon and it didn’t work all that well, so I highly recommend frying it. Other than that, the two most important steps are to use an electric mixer on the eggs and let the pasta cool ever so slightly before adding it to the eggs. The electric mixer ensures that you break up the egg whites, which can be really stringy and gummy otherwise. The cooling of the pasta allows you to add it to the egg mixture without scrambling the eggs. The goal is a smooth, creamy sauce, not pasta with bits of scrambled egg on it.

Have you ever made Spaghetti Carbonara? What are your best tips for getting a creamy sauce? Let me know in the comments!


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Recipe: Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti Recipe

Baked Ziti is one of those dishes that most of my family has always enjoyed – everyone but Munchkin. Since he really dislikes it when made traditionally, I rarely served it. But then I came across a recipe on AllRecipes that I thought might make him like it more. It called for Provolone instead of Ricotta; other than that, it was practically the same. So I made it one night, and it was a huge hit! We all like baked ziti this way much better than the “lasagna but with bite size noodles” way. Enjoy!

Baked Ziti

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey (or a wide variety of chunky vegetables – mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, etc)
  • 1 jar (28 ounces) spaghetti sauce (or equivalent homemade)
  • 1 pound bite-size pasta, any shape
  • 6 slices provolone cheese
  • 6 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  1. Brown meat or cook vegetables until done. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer while the pasta cooks.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions, draining it at the lowest recommended cooking time. You’ll be baking it after this, so even if you prefer softer pasta, drain it now. It will continue to cook in the oven.
  3. Add pasta to sauce and combine well.
  4. In a 13×9 baking dish coated with cooking spray, add half the pasta. Layer the provolone slices over the top, then top each one with a tablespoon of sour cream. Spread the sour cream evenly over the whole dish.
  5. Add the other half of the pasta. Top with the mozzarella and Parmesan.
  6. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or 425 F for 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the whole dish is hot and bubbly.


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Salmon Cakes (recipe)

salmon cakes

There are probably as many recipes for fish cakes as there are cooks who make them. I recently came across one for salmon cakes that included Rice Krispies, but we didn’t have any on hand. I decided to try making it using bread crumbs instead, since the cereal was the only ingredient we didn’t already have. When I got it all mixed together, I could tell they were going to try to fall apart on me (which seems to happen all the time with fish cake recipes as they’re written), so I added a little bit of mayonnaise to help them hold together better. It worked like a charm! Now these delicious patties are one of our favorite easy go-to lunches; it’s not much harder than a sandwich (especially in my house where everyone likes a different kind), but it gives us a nice hot lunch that feels more like a meal than a lot of other options. I hope you like it too.

If you don’t like salmon, or just don’t have any in the house, this could be made just as easily with tuna.

Salmon Cakes

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Makes 9 patties

  • 5 cans salmon (5 ounces each), drained
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp dill weed
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs.
  2. Mix in bread crumbs, dill weed, and mustard to create a slurry.
  3. Add salmon and combine well.
  4. Stir in mayo to create a paste-like mixture (think meatballs or meatloaf).
  5. Shape mixture into balls, then flatten into patties. I usually get 9 decent sized cakes from this recipe, but you could easily make smaller ones for a side dish instead of these main-dish sized ones.
  6. Saute in hot oil 5-7 minutes per side, until golden brown and heated through.


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Recipe: Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

As the weather cools down here in the northern hemisphere, we start craving warmer foods. It was absolutely pouring down rain earlier this week, and staying home and out of it wasn’t an option (too many appointments). So I decided that while I was out anyway, I was going to make a trip to the store to pick up some ingredients to make a soup for lunch. The result was this, and I must say, it was easily the most delicious chicken noodle soup I’ve ever tasted, and definitely the best soup I’ve ever made. Enjoy!

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 8
Write a review
454 calories
34 g
168 g
25 g
25 g
13 g
471 g
665 g
2 g
0 g
10 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 454
Calories from Fat 220
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 25g
Saturated Fat 13g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 8g
Cholesterol 168mg
Sodium 665mg
Total Carbohydrates 34g
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 2g
Protein 25g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 1 yellow onion, diced
  2. 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or you can substitute 2 breasts)
  3. 2 bags frozen vegetables, whatever kind you like (12 ounces each)
  4. 8 cups chicken broth
  5. 1/2 pound egg noodles
  6. 1 pint cream
  7. 2 pinches dried basil
  8. 2 pinches dried oregano
  9. 3 pinches dried thyme
  1. In a splash of oil, saute the onion until it softens, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken and brown. Don't worry about cooking it through just yet; it will finish cooking in the broth.
  3. Add the vegetables and heat through. (I used one bag of peas and carrots, and another of corn.)
  4. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the herbs. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft.
  5. Add the egg noodles and cook for another 7 minutes (or according to package directions).
  6. Stir in the cream and heat through.
  7. Serve with your favorite sandwiches, bread, or crackers.
Ladybug Daydreams http://www.ladybugdaydreams.com/

This recipe has been linked up at Try a New Recipe Tuesday.

Update: I was the featured recipe for the week I linked up! Special thanks to Lisa for hosting.

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Easy Homemade Chicken Taquitos (Recipe)

Easy Homemade Chicken Taquitos Recipe

Have you ever had taquitos? I only have a few times, but the other day, I got one of those pregnancy cravings for them. Don’t ask where it came from since they’re not something I eat often enough to really “know” about, but there it was. So I looked up the basic method on my favorite recipe website (allrecipes.com) and modified it to fit our tastes, budget, and what we had on hand. Enjoy!


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Easy Chicken Taquitos
Yields 30
Write a review
Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
45 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
1 hr
100 calories
13 g
17 g
2 g
7 g
1 g
54 g
79 g
0 g
0 g
2 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 100
Calories from Fat 21
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2g
Saturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 17mg
Sodium 79mg
Total Carbohydrates 13g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 0g
Protein 7g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 30 corn tortillas
  2. 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  3. 1 cup salsa (your favorite)
  4. 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, optional
  5. oil, for brushing
For the filling
  1. Poach the chicken breasts in broth or water for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through. (Poaching is recipe talk for boiling.)
  2. Shred the chicken using two forks.
  3. Add the salsa and toss to coat, using the same forks that you shredded the chicken with.
To build the taquitos
  1. Coat a large baking sheet (mine is 11x17) with oil.
  2. Warm your tortillas. This makes them easier to roll and less likely to crack and break. You can do this by wrapping them in damp towels and microwaving, placing them in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes, or warming them in a dry skillet for 30-60 seconds per side.
  3. Place a small amount of the chicken mixture on the edge of a tortilla.
  4. Top with a slight sprinkling of cheese, if using.
  5. Roll the tortilla up tight.
  6. Place seam side down on the prepared baking sheet.
  7. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  8. Brush each taquito with oil. This helps them get nice and crispy in the oven without drying out.
  9. Bake at 475F for 15 minutes.
  10. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.
  1. When the taquitos are rolled properly, they should look like super-skinny enchiladas without sauce.
Serving ideas
  1. Add additional salsa, some sour cream, and/or guacamole to each plate for dipping.
  2. Serve taquitos just like you would enchiladas or other Mexican fare, with Spanish (or Mexican) rice and refried beans.
Ladybug Daydreams http://www.ladybugdaydreams.com/