Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon

Inspiration: My single favorite summer food? Hands down, it’s Brandon’s slow cooked pulled pork on the charcoal grill. Heck, I’m tempted to say that it’s even my favorite meal. And the process is fun, too – there’s just something great about sitting outside in the sunshine all day (playing Scrabble and drinking caipirinhas and beer, as we did this last time) while your dinner cooks away on the grill. And I always like to stick to a Southern theme when we have pulled pork, so this time around the sides were deviled eggs and black-eyed peas.

What We Loved: These had a great kick! I added both Cajun seasoning and sliced jalapenos, so there was definitely plenty of spice. With a little earthy oregano, some smoky bacon, and sweet onions cooked in the bacon grease, these beans really had a nice flavor profile. And as always with beans, I just loved the creamy texture.

Tips: While we really enjoyed this dish, we found that the spice level made it hard to taste the other components of the meal. As a result, I actually ended up saving these and eating them all last. So, I might recommend either toning down the spice level if you will be eating these alongside milder foods or just eating them as a meal in their own right. I could definitely just dig right into a whole bowl of them!

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon
Source: Inspired from Caviar and Codfish, serves 4-6 as a side dish

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
Dried oregano
Cajun seasoning
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 jalapeno, sliced

1. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and saute until starting to crisp. Drain any extraneous fat.

2. Add the onions to the pan, and saute for a few more minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, and stir to combine.

3. Add the black-eyed peas. Season to taste with oregano, just a dash of Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper. Mix together and cook over low heat for 5-10 mintues.

4. Add the jalapenos and serve.

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Mexican/Southwest-Style Sampler Plate

Inspiration: I can be very lazy with dinner sometimes, usually on a Friday night. It’s been a long week at that point, and like everyone else, I’m tired. A lot of times we’ll go grab a beer at a pub after work or stop in somewhere for a glass of wine, and after that, it’s all over. Long week + beer/wine = lazy. So what the heck do we do for dinner on those kinds of nights? Yes!

What we Loved: This is just a fun meal all around. Being able to sample so many different items is really a treat. There’s such a variance in flavors – spicy sausage, creamy cheese and avocado, crisp lettuce, sweet tomatoes, rich baked beans, a little of this and a little of that. We loved mixing and matching the different flavors. This is a good Friday or Saturday night dinner that’s fun and delicious, and it’s already one of our favorites.

Tips: The possibilities are endless with a meal like this. We’ve actually had this meal three times before it even made it onto the blog, and the other couple of times I switched out some of the ingredients for some sauteed poblano peppers and onions, a dollop of sour cream, and sliced green chiles. And if I wouldn’t have gotten lazy last time, I would have added a nice sunny-side up egg as well. I also think that pico de gallo, pickled red onions, guacamole, roasted sweet potatoes, or crumbled Mexican chorizo are some great options. So yes, there are a million roads to take with this fun dinner. In fact, I’m going to have to use some of those options to make a completely different Mexican/Southwest-style plate. I’m also excited to use this idea to try different variations of all of our favorite cuisines, with Mediterranean being next (homemade hummus, cucumber slices, black olives, chunks of feta cheese, maybe some white beans with oregano….).

Mexican/Southwest-Style Sampler Plate
Source: Inspired by Bunny.Eats.Design.

Load up a plate with all of your favorite ingredients. I used: Spanish chorizo, grape tomatoes seasoned with salt and pepper, chopped romaine hearts topped with salsa verde, leftover white beans cooked in Belgian style beer, avocado slices seasoned with salt, goat cheese, and cilantro.

White Beans with Belgian Style Beer

Inspiration: Ahhhhh beer. I think it’s safe to say that it’s our number one obsession right now. We have a lot of favorites, but Belgian beers are a style that both of us would list at the very top. Over the past few years we’ve done a lot of…..research?…..and have fallen in love with both the very characteristic and unique flavor of true Belgian beers as well as the great interpretations in the American craft brew scene. So how could I pass by a recipe like this?

What we Loved: For a couple of beer lovers like us, these were wonderful. The fantastically rich beer flavor absorbed itself into everything in the dish, resulting in a rich ale taste with just a slight touch of bitterness (not bad bitter, but bitterness like you’d find in a something like a pale ale). We used some pretty complex beers, which I’m sure impacted the flavor of the final dish pretty directly. And for us, it was great! I was also so pleased with the texture/sauce of the final dish, which was thick and creamy just like a great baked bean recipe should be. And of course, the big pieces of bacon added some nice texture and that fabulous bacon flavor.

Helpful Hints: I let these beans cook in a crock pot since I had to work all day, but the original recipe called for them to be baked in the oven for 2-3 hours. The crock pot worked just fine, though there was still quite a lot of liquid left at the end of cooking. I just transferred my stove top-safe insert to the stove (so convenient!) and boiled the beans until they were nice and thick (about 20 minutes). If you don’t have a stove top-safe insert and transferring to the stove is too much work, you could also try turning your crock pot to high, but I would probably recommend just cooking as originally instructed at The Bitten Word. Also – I used a couple of Belgian style American craft beers that we had around the house (Dark Horse Sapient Trip Ale and Troeg’s DreamWeaver Wheat, if you’re interested). We loved the resulting beer flavor, but if you’re not a huge beer fan like we are, I would recommend sticking with something lighter like Blue Moon for a more subtle beer flavor.

White Beans with Belgian Style Beer
Source: Adapted from The Bitten Word, originally from Everyday Food

I made these in a crock pot with a stove top-safe insert, so that’s what I will give instructions for.

10 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 medium Vidalia onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon mustard
Dried thyme and oregano
1 pound dried white beans, picked over, soaked overnight, and drained
2 12 oz bottles Belgian style ale
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1. Saute the bacon in a your stove top-safe insert until crisp and browned. Remove the bacon and reserve. Drain most of the extraneous fat.

2. Add the onions to the insert, and cook until softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.

3. Add the mustard, a good sprinkle of thyme and oregano, beans, beer, and stock. Season well with salt and pepper.

4. Place the insert in the crock pot, and cook on low for 8 hours. If there is too much liquid at this point, transfer the insert to the stove top and bring to a boil until the mixture reduces and thickens.

5. Return the reserved bacon to the insert. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and 1-2 tablespoons of cider vinegar.

6. Serve as desired. I served ours atop chopped romaine hearts with crumbled goat cheese.

Mexican Poblano Casserole

Inspiration: Since throwing away processed carbohydrates for the most part, there are a few things that we’ve really missed – and one of them is enchiladas. Oh, how we both love enchiladas. I was flipping through one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks the other day, and as an intro to one of the sections, he said something along the lines of, “Let’s face it. When we’re craving Mexican food, we usually want something with tortillas.” And I think the man is right. While an authentic Mexican chicken breast with a great mole sauce is wonderful….it just doesn’t satisfy that Mexican food craving like a pile of cheesy enchiladas or quesadillas, does it? Brandon and I both love, love, love Brandon’s Mom’s beef and bean enchiladas, so the idea struck me to try out the main components in a casserole form using poblano peppers instead of tortillas.

What We Loved: This dish completely satisfied that craving for delicious and cheesy Mexican food. The poblano pepper layers were smoky, earthy, and spicy (and provided an entirely new and pleasant flavor dimension than you would find in something like an enchilada), the meat filling was creamy and rich, and the deep red sauce was just packed full of flavor. The sauce was really a wonderful suprrise. I expected it to be good, but it was just so rich, garlicy, spicy, and intense – everything that I love about Mexican food. And when you cover all of these components with cheese and then throw in sour cream and fresh cilantro as garnishes, this really makes for the perfect meal when you’re craving that certain style of Mexican food.

Helpful Hints: Don’t think of this as a replacement for enchiladas. It’s not, nor is it intended to be. That said, we thought that this was really a great meal in its own right and a great way to get a lot of the flavors of enchiladas into a simliar meal that better suits our lifestyle. Also, this might not hold together perfectly (or maybe I’m always just too impatient to let the pan cool long enough before serving), but no matter. The taste is fab and I simply don’t know if I can wait any longer for the leftovers.

Happy Cinco de Mayo all!

Mexican Poblano Casserole
Source: Inspired by Brandon’s Mom’s enchiladas; with the sauce recipe adapted from blogchef.net.

6 poblano peppers
2 cups colby cheese, more if desired
Cilantro and sour cream, to garnish

For the meat filling
1 lb ground beef
1/2 small onion
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 can pinto beans

For the sauce
Olive oil or butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 slice onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup salsa (I used Fronterra’s double roasted tomato)
6 oz tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups water

1. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and broil until blackened, about 5-8 minutes per side. Place the peppers in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, then slice them in half. Remove the seeds and insides, then flatten each pepper and set aside.

2. Cook the ground beef in a saute pan. When the beef is cooked, add the onions and cook for a few more minutes to soften. Add a bit of water to the pan, and then season everything well with cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine, adding more water if necessary.

3. Puree the beans with a bit of water in a food processor. Mix the beans into the ground beef mixture.

4. To make the sauce, heat a bit of oil in a sauce pan. Add the onion, and saute until softened. Add the garlic, spices, salsa, tomato sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, then cook for about 15-20 minutes, until thickened.

5. Spread a bit of the sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Add half of the poblano peppers in a layer, followed by half of the ground beef mixture and half of the cheese. Add the second layer of poblano peppers and the second layer of the ground beef mixture. Pour the sauce over top, and then top with the remaining cheese.

6. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing. Top with sour cream and cilantro.

Three Bean Soup with Ham

Inspiration:1) I froze the stock from our (nitrate/nitrite free) corned beef that we made at St. Patrick’s Day, and I was on the hunt for a nice soup to showcase it. 2) Brandon bought me this soup cookbook for my last birthday, and I had tried two different soups from it that turned out….well….just awful. One of them made enough to serve an army (two armies?) and became known as The Sludge in our house. As in, “Good grief, another day of The Sludge for lunch…” The other one had a slimy texture that was just….not pleasant. This book seriously needed to be redeemed! 3) Brandon always makes fun of me for this, but I love beans of any kind (definitely in my top ten favorite foods), and bean soups are my absolute favorite kind of soups. Why does Brandon make fun? When he first knew me, I was really unreasonable/obnoxious about how much I detested beans. Which led him to comment after we enjoyed this meal how cool it is how much people change and grow together. It is, isn’t it? :)

What we Loved: Perusing back over all of the soup recipes that I’ve posted, I’d put this one in my top three, up there with my pork hock and 15 bean soup and black bean and sausage soup (I told you, I really love bean soups!). It’s rich, salty, creamy, and chock full of vegetables and nutrients. I think there’s a reason that ham and beans are such a classic combo – that salty, savory ham flavor really complements the mild, creamy beans so well. And I just loved the three different kinds of beans that were used in this recipe, as I thought that you could really taste each one. Pinto beans always remind me of Mexican food since I eat them most often as refried beans, and then there are the mild navy beans and the richer red kidney beans. Paired with a deeply flavorful and rich stock, this is truly comfort food in a bowl. In fact, I already have it on the menu again for a second time.

Helpful Hints: Since I used leftover corned beef stock (heavily salted because I had cooked a corned beef in it) and since ham is pretty salty itself, I didn’t even need to add any additional salt to this soup. This might be completely different for you, though, if you use a light- or no-salt stock. So I would suggest finishing the soup and then salting accordingly. My preference for this one is to make sure that it’s nice and salty!

Three Bean Soup with Ham
Source: Adapted from Williams Sonoma Soup cookbook

1 cup dried pinto beans
1 cup dried kidney beans
1 cup dried navy beans
Olive oil or butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups stock (I used a very flavorful and salty corned beef stock)
2 bay leaves
1 Parmesan rind
2 cups diced ham, more if desired
Black pepper
Kosher salt (if needed)

1. Place the three cups of beans in a pot, and cover with water. Soak for eight hours or overnight, then drain and rinse the beans.

2. In a large soup pot, heat some oil or butter and then add the onions. Cook until softened, then add the carrots and cook until just softened, a few minutes more.

3. Add the beans, garlic, diced tomatoes and juice, stock, bay leaves, Parmesan rind, and ham. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for one hour, or until the beans are softened.

4. Remove the bay leaves and the Parmesan rind. Blend about 1/3 or 1/2 of the soup (or as much/little as you’d like) with an immersion blender or food processor.

5. Season to taste with black pepper, Kosher salt (if needed – mine needed no salt since my stock was very salty), and oregano.

Mexican-Style Black Beans

Inspiration:When we have black beans for a side, I always just saute up some onions in a sauce pan and then throw in the beans with plenty of salt and pepper. I love black beans prepared that way, but you know what? One of my favorite little mantras that pops into my head all of the time (from my favorite song of all time – The Best of What’s Around by Dave Matthews Band) is “If you hold on tight to what you think is your thing, you may find you’re missing all the rest.” Okay, so that’s a little dramatic and ridiculous applied to black beans (ha!) but it’s true, you know? There are always little ruts that I get into all of the time in life. Listening to the same music, reading the same authors, having my places and things that I love and my places and things that I don’t love. And no matter how many new foods we try (a lot!), there are always little ruts that we fall into with certain sides or soups or breakfasts or whatever. But then Dave Matthews sings that little phrase in my head again and I leap for something new. So yes.

What we Loved: These were really a delightful side dish to our Mexican meal. What I loved most was the texture. Since you smash half of the beans in the pan, the texture ends up somewhere between that of regular beans and refried beans. Fabulous! Then there are all of the lovely seasonings, including tomato, onion, garlic, and rich/earthy cumin (which is one of my favorite seasonings, especially with Mexican). There is definitely a lot of flavor going on for such a simple recipe, which is a great contrast to the simple flavors of our normal black beans with onions, salt, and pepper. I also adored the tart squeeze of lime juice and sprinkle of fresh cilantro on top – in my opinion, these are always the perfect and bright finishing touches for nearly any Mexican dish.

Helpful Hints: I think next time I might even smash more of the beans for more of that creamy texture, so I would recommend smashing a bit more than shown in my pictures. That creamy texture is really just wonderful!

Mexican-Style Black Beans
Source: Elly Says Opa

Oil or butter
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chicken stock, more if needed
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Squeeze fresh lime juice
Chopped cilantro

1. Heat a drizzle of oil or a pat of butter in a sauce pan. Add the onion, and cook until softened.

2. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and bay leaf, cooking for an additional minute.

3. Add the beans, and then smash about half of them with the back of a spoon.

4. Stir in the stock, chili powder, cumin, and oregano (adding more than 1/2 cup stock if needed).  Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the stock has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Top with a squeeze of lime juice and fresh cilantro.

Seared Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Butter and Cannellini Bean Puree

Inspiration: Simply put, I love Brandon, and I love to make him nice dinners with some of his favorite things :)

What we Loved: Sometimes, I don’t think that fancier meals need to be super complicated. I used a couple beautiful cuts of grass-fed tenderloin, some locally grown white beans, bacon, onions, and a dollop of truffle butter. I threw some salt and pepper into the mix, and that was really all there was to it for a rich and wonderful supper. I don’t think that there are many cuts of meat better than tenderloin steaks that are seared on the outside and rare on the inside, and we were actually really surprised by how much we enjoyed the white bean puree, too. It was rich with the flavors of bacon and onions, with a nice and creamy texture that paired perfectly with our steaks. If you’ve never had truffles before, they have an extremely earthy flavor (that I think Brandon would name as one of his favorite things in life?). Putting that flavor into butter results in a wonderfully rich combination. We loved it on top of our steaks, because that fabulous buttery, earthy flavor seeped down into our entire meal.

Helpful Hints: There’s nothing worse than buying an expensive cut of meat and overcooking it, so my best advice is to be very vigilant when cooking these. I don’t think that precise instructions for searing a perfect steak can exist, since preferences/cuts/stovetop temperatures are always going to be different (and experience is what helps the most), but here are my tips. These tips are for rare tenderloin steaks, which is what we prefer.

I always set a timer with tenderloin, and I always follow these general guidelines: place the steak in the pan, set a timer and cover, flip the steak, set the timer and cover again, remove the steak from the pan, and let rest. The only variable is how thick your tenderloin is, and I’ve found that four minutes per side is generally a good rule of thumb for a rare steak. If your steaks are a little thicker, shoot for five minutes. It takes a bit of practice to be able to tell just how long you need, but I think that a good trick is to use a pair of kitchen tongs to cook the steaks, rather than a spatula. Using tongs really gives you a feel throughout the cooking process for how well the meat is being cooked on the inside. Placing the steaks in the pan with the tongs and flipping them with the tongs gives you a feel for the amount of give that there is when the steaks are raw and when they’re halfway  cooked. And though you should only move (flip) the steaks once to ensure a good sear on both sides, you can take the tongs and squeeze the sides of the steak as they’re getting close to being finished. There should still be a good bit of give for a rare steak, so if it’s starting to feel too firm, you need to cut the cooking time short and get it out of the pan. Alternatively, if it seems like it offers too little resistance, you may want to cook for just a little bit longer.

Seared Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Butter and Mashed Cannellini Beans
Source: Original Recipe

For the Steaks
2 beef tenderloin steaks, 6-8 ounces each
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
A couple dollops of truffle butter (we find ours at Whole Foods, in the cheese section)

1. Remove the steaks from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to bring them to room temperature. Season well with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add a good drizzle of olive oil. Place the steaks in the pan, cover, and let cook for 4-5 minutes without touching. Flip the steaks, cover, and let cook for 4-5 minutes more. This will give you a rare steak, but judge the time based on the thickness of your steaks. Thinner steaks will be closer to four minutes, while very thick steaks might edge past five.

3. Remove the steaks from the heat, cover with foil, and let sit for five minutes. Top with truffle butter and serve.

For the Beans
~1/2 cup dried cannellini beans
6 slices bacon, diced
1/2 large onion, sliced
Splash milk
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Soak the beans overnight, then place them in a pan covered with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cooking until the beans are softened.

2. When the beans are nearly cooked through, place the bacon in a saute pan over medium low heat. Cook until starting to crisp, then add the onion. Reduce the heat to low, and let the bacon and onions cook until browning and caramelizing.

3. Place the beans in a food processor with a splash of milk. Process until the beans form a smooth puree, adding more milk if necessary.

4. Mix in the bacon and onion. Season well with salt and pepper.