Tangy Beef and Vegetable Picadillo

Inspiration: Brandon and I love picadillo, particularly this recipe, which is a staple in our house. But one of the things that I love so much about cooking is that there are as many versions of recipes as there are people, and every dish tastes different depending on who makes it or whose recipe it is. Cooking’s really kind of an art in that way, which might be why I was drawn to it in the first place. It’s like painting classes and sketchbooks in its own unique way.

What We Loved: This picadillo is a completely different alternative to our usual favorite. Whereas that recipe is rich and savory, with a nice and prominent tomato and cinnamon flavor, this recipe has a lot more going on and is defined by a tangy and sour bite. With green olives, capers, and pickled jalapenos involved, there are a lot of ingredients that offer that tangy component. Plus, the carrot lime puree on top is also nice and tart from the bite of lime. It’s a really great and interesting flavor that’s contrasted nicely by sweet and juicy little bites of golden raisins, which I really adored and consider essential to this dish. And I just love that there are so many vegetables thrown into the recipe, too – plenty of onions, green peppers, red peppers, carrots, cilantro, lime. This meal is just packed full of awesome flavors and nutrients. And who can complain about a fried egg on top and creamy avocado slices on the side?

Tips: The original recipe calls for this to be served with creme fraiche (or sour cream) in addition to the other toppings and sides. I forgot to buy any at the store, but I really think that it would be a great, cooling complement to the rest of the meal.

Tangy Beef and Vegetable Picadillo
Source: Adapted from Eve Aronoff, from Eve the Cookbook

*This recipe will serve about four. We used it to feed two with leftovers for a second night.

1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3/4 cup green pepper, finely diced
3/4 cup red pepper, finely diced
2 teaspoons jalapeno, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large roma tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon capers, roughly chopped
1/2 cup green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons sriracha
1 tablespoon pickled jalapenos, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs
Carrot lime puree, recipe follows
1 avocado, sliced
Cilantro, to garnish

1. Brown the ground beef in a deep saute pan.

2. Add the onion, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, stirring to combine.

3. Add the green peppers, red peppers, jalepenos, and spices. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are softened.

4. Add the roma tomatoes, raisins, capers, and olives. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the sriracha, pickled jalapenos, and Worcestershire. Stir to combine, and adjust seasonings to taste if necessary. Keep warm on the stovetop.

6. Fry your eggs sunnyside up in some butter.

7. Serve the picadillo topped with the fried eggs and a dollop of carrot lime puree. Serve alongside avocado slices, and garnish with cilantro.

Carrot Lime Puree
1/3 small green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/8 – 1/4 cup onions, roughly chopped
Juice from 1 small lime
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Place the bell peppers, onions, lime juice, carrot, and garlic in a food processor.

2. Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running to emulsify.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Carnivore Burger

Inspiration: We have this great little brewpub in town called Blue Tractor that serves craft beer and delicious Southern-style food. I love Southern food and can never choose between pulled pork or sauteed catfish, sweet potatoes or baked beans, etc. For Brandon, the Carnivore Burger is always at the top of his list when we go to Blue Tractor. Usually, it’s what he ends up choosing, and he always proclaims it as one of the best burgers that he’s ever had. When we had just a little bit of leftover pulled pork to be used at home, this burger was the obvious choice.

What We Loved: Really, what’s not to love about this decadent burger? Ground beef; gooey cheddar cheese; rich and salty bacon; smoky pulled pork; and spicy, buttery jalapenos? I think Blue Tractor knew what they were doing when they came up with that combination of ingredients, and with three different kinds of meats, the title of Carnivore Burger is certainly fitting. We thought that the smoked cheddar worked so well with the complementary smoky flavors of the meats, and we just loved the spicy bite of the buttery jalapenos. This is one heck of a burger!

Tips: Since you only need a small amount of pulled pork for this burger, I would recommend making this when you have some extra pulled pork from a previous recipe in the fridge or freezer. Also, given the title of this post and the ingredients used, I’d like to take a minute to advocate making sure that you know where the meats that you purchase come from. We get most of our meats from a local CSA that humanely raises its animals, and otherwise, we supplement with the best local, grass-fed meats that we can get at Whole Foods and other local stores.

Carnivore Burger
Source: Inspired from Blue Tractor to serve two

About 2/3 lb ground beef
Pulled pork, about 1/2 cup (this is a great use for leftovers)
3 slices bacon, sliced in half to form 6 burger-sized pieces
About 1/2 cup freshly grated smoked cheddar cheese
1 small jalapeno, sliced into rings

1. Form the ground beef into two hamburger patties. Grill the burgers until cooked through.

2. While the burgers are cooking, cook the bacon in a saute pan, heat the pulled pork in a second pan, and saute the jalapenos in a bit of butter until browned and slightly crispy (about five minutes).

3. Serve the burgers topped with the cheese, bacon, pulled pork, and jalapeno rings.

Michigan Burgers with Goat Cheese and Cherry Salsa

Inspiration: One of my favorite things about living in Michigan is the fresh, local cherries, which are probably the top food item that Michigan is known for. They’re gorgeous and they’re everywhere at this time of year, and I can never get enough. I kind of get all sentimental just thinking about it – I love living here and love everything that the local farmers, chefs, brewers, etc. provide us. And I find it really awesome that no matter where you live, there are always going to be those local items, personalities, restaurants, etc. that are just really unique to the area. I love that.

What We Loved: For those who like sweet and savory combinations, this recipe is perfect. The cherry salsa is actually just very mildly sweet, so it lends a subtle fruit flavor to the dish and just a touch of spice from the minced jalapenos. Goat cheese is always fabulous in my book, but I particularly love it in applications where it melts, like atop burgers. The texture gets so creamy and fabulous. And of course, a hamburger grilled on a charcoal grill has a wonderful charred and smoky flavor that just can’t be matched. A bite of smoky burger with some creamy cheese and a bit of rich, fruity salsa – well, that’s just perfect.

Tips: As you can see in the picture, I like to pick out the deepest, darkest, ripest looking cherries – in my opinion, they’re the best! The cherries that are redder or brighter in color look prettier but they aren’t quite as ripe and are usually harder/have less flavor. The deep, richly colored ones are nice and soft and are bursting with juice and flavor. They turn your fingertips purple and are just magnificent.

Burgers with Goat Cheese and Cherry Salsa
Source: Cherry Salsa from Living Tastefully

I made enough cherry salsa for two burgers. See the link above for a full recipe.

10-15 sweet cherries, pits removed and diced
1/2 tablespoon or so minced jalapeno (seeded first)
Few leaves fresh basil, minced
Dash balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper
3/4 lb ground beef, shaped into two burgers
2-3 oz fresh goat cheese, cut into thick slices
Garlic powder
Seasoning salt

1. Combine the cherries, jalapeno, basil, and vinegar in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. Season the burgers with garlic powder and seasoning salt. Cook/grill as desired.

3. Top the burgers with the goat cheese and cherry salsa.

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.

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes

Inspiration: I love salads that are just chock-full of all kinds of good stuff. At our favorite pub in town, they have this great cherry chicken salad that I frequently order. Chicken marinated in Bell’s Cherry Stout beer, Michigan cherries, bleu cheese, and more vegetables than you can list. It’s just fabulous (as is most of the local food at our pubs!). That said, I’ve never really made many main dish salads at home. I think it’s time to change that!

What We Loved: Wow, what a great shredded beef recipe. It’s so rich and intense with flavor (with all of the slow-cooked Mexican flavors of chili powder, garlic, cumin, and all of the other spices that I so often associate with Mexican food). I could eat it straight from the crockpot and be happy with that! It’s also incredibly tender, and it’s coated in such a wonderful sauce. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the sauce is thick and just coats the meat and clumps it together in all kinds of great flavor. I don’t think that I need to look any further for a standard recipe to use when I need shredded beef – this is absolutely wonderful. And in this particular meal, the creamy goat cheese pairs so beautifully with the shredded beef. The cheese just melts into the meat and is such a fantastic, rich combination. And of course, the big pile of crisp greens, cilantro, and grape tomatoes are the base of this salad, and they provide a great bed of light, fresh flavors for the other richer flavors. Rich and decadent yet light and refreshing. Perfect!

Helpful Hints: I always wonder about variations on cooking times, etc. when you are using slow cooker recipes. The original recipe uses a boneless roast and cooks for 8-10 hours on low. I went a little crazy and used a bone-in roast and cooked for two hours on high and five on low. So if you’re just a *little* short on time, that worked perfectly for me.

Mexican Shredded Beef Salad with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes
Source: Shredded beef from Elly Says Opa

2 lb beef roast
Olive oil
1 onion, cut into quarters and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teasoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Mixed salad greens
Goat cheese
Grape tomatoes

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the beef roast liberally with salt and pepper, and add it to the pan. Brown the roast on both sides, and place it in the crockpot.

2. Add the onions to the saute pan, and cook for a few minutes until softened and browning. Mix in the garlic and tomato paste, and cook for another minute. Mix in the beef broth and the spices, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

3. Pour the sauce over the roast. Cook on low for 8-10 hours (I actually did mine for 2 hours on high and 5 hours on low).

4. Shred the beef with two forks, removing any fat, and return to the crockpot. To soak up any extra liquid, turn the crockpot to high after shredding the beef.

5. Serve the shredded beef atop mixed greens and sprinkled with grape tomatoes, goat cheese, and cilantro.

Corned Beef, Cabbage, and Carrots

Inspiration: At our favorite Irish pub in town, they have a fantastic St. Practice Day on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. We love the pub so much because it has such a dark and cozy Irish atmosphere, and on St. Practice Day they have live Irish music all day long, Irish dancing, bagpipes, and of course lots of great food and drinks (there’s nothing like a fresh Guinness on tap for St. Paddy’s Day, right? And this year I also tried my first ever black and tan!). Anyway, we’ve gone for the past couple of years, and it’s always turns out to be the best day. This year, we met up with a great couple that we keep running into around town, and we had a wonderful afternoon that stretched itself into the night (the best kind of day!). It was truly a fabulous way to kick off our St. Patrick’s Day celebrating! And for the past couple of years, I’ve grown into the habit of making corned beef and cabbage on the Sunday after St. Practice Day. Something about it just seems like a Sunday meal, doesn’t it? And there will be plenty of Irish/Irish-American food to follow in our house for the rest of the week. I truly love this holiday.

What we Loved: I tend to make corned beef and cabbage slightly differently every year, usually by varying the method that I use to cook the vegetables. I’ve simmered the vegetables away in the corned beef stock, mixed them together and roasted them until they were just a little charred in the oven, or cooked them completely on their own using separate recipes, as we did this year. Really, corned beef and cabbage is a great meal no matter how you decide to cook it, so I’ll share what we did this year – and then probably be back next year with something different :)

Thinly sliced cabbage sauteed in plenty of butter is one of our new favorite side dishes any time of the year, because the cabbage ends up so rich, crisp, and buttery. Brandon just loves eating cabbage this way and requests it often, and we’ve both found that it’s our favorite way to enjoy this vegetable. So this year, it was a no-brainer for us to cook our cabbage that way as a part of this great meal. For the carrots this year, I cooked them with butter, salt, and cinnamon, and I really enjoyed those slightly different flavors with the rest of the meal. I thought that cinnamon would pair well with the coriander flavors in the corned beef, and the idea of just a touch of sweetness with this meal was appealing (and successful) as well. And of course, the corned beef was salty and tender like corned beef always is, with just a few pops of coriander and black pepper here and there. I was originally going to make Brandon a horseradish sauce to accompany the corned beef, but he requested that we just eat it plain. And I think that he’s right – it’s really great to just let the flavor of the meat speak for itself. We only poured just a little of the cooking stock over the corned beef and called it a (fantastic and comforting) meal.

Helpful Hints: We buy our corned beef at a specialty market in town, and one of the owners told us a few years ago that when you’re cooking your corned beef, it’s important to make the water as salty as you want the corned beef to be. This means adding a lot more salt than you think is necessary. We have used this trick ever since with fantastic results.

Corned Beef, Cabbage, and Carrots
Source: Original Recipe

For the corned beef
1 corned beef roast, about 3 lbs
1 onion, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
Coriander seeds
Black pepper
Kosher salt

1. Place the corned beef in a pot or dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, and a good handful of coriander seeds. Season to taste with black pepper and Kosher salt (I used about 2 tablespoons).

2. Fill the pot with enough water to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Remove any fat that has risen to the top of the pot with a spoon. Cover and simmer for 3 hours.

3. Remove from the pot, and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Slice and serve topped with a bit of the cooking stock.

For the cabbage
1 small head green cabbage
1 small leek, white and light green parts only
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
Chives, to garnish

1. Slice the cabbage into thin strips. Cut the leaves off of the leek, keeping only the white and light green parts. Cut the leek in half vertically, and rinse thoroughly. Slice into thin half-moon slices.

2. Heat the butter in a saute pan. Add the cabbage and leeks, and season well with salt and pepper. Saute until just softened, about 4-5 minutes.

3. Serve garnished with chives.

For the carrots
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced into rings
Kosher salt

1. Place the carrots in a small pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are softened.

2. Drain the water. Add a good pat of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and salt, to taste. Mix well and serve.

Pimiento Cheese and Pimiento Cheeseburgers with Fried Eggs & Onion

Inspiration: Ever since we visited my brother and sister-in-law in North Carolina last October and had a relatively Southern-esque burger topped with a fried egg and fried green tomatoes, Brandon has been really into eating burgers with fried eggs. Since green tomatoes aren’t in season right now, I thought I’d throw in a different Southern ingredient instead – pimiento cheese!

What we Loved: This is our first experience with pimiento cheese, and we both really enjoyed it. The peppers have a slightly sweet and spicy flavor, and the cheese itself is sharp and creamy. When melted, it transforms from a thicker consistency of a dip to ooey, gooey deliciousness. That melty texture was definitely my favorite thing about this cheese. And when added to a burger and topped with a fried egg (with a slightly undercooked, creamy yolk) and a thick slice of browned sweet onion, well, how can that not be good? What a fantastic and rich combination of flavors.

Helpful Hints: I’m sure that pimiento cheese would be great in any number of recipes. We enjoyed the leftovers sandwiched in an omelet. Delicious!

Pimiento Cheese
Source: Sidewalk Shoes

I cut the recipe in half. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1 oz cream cheese
Kosher salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 oz pimientos, sliced

1. Place the cheddar, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and a sprinkle of salt and cayenne in a food processor. Puree until smooth.

2. Add the pimientos, and pulse a few times to finely chop and incorporate.

Pimiento Cheeseburger with Fried Egg and Onion
Source: Original Recipe to serve 2

Ground beef, as much as desired to form two patties
Garlic powder
Seasoning salt
1/3 cup pimiento cheese, using more or less to taste
2 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 thick slices onion
1. Form the beef into two patties. Sprinkle some garlic powder and just a bit of seasoning salt in a saute pan. Add the burgers and the onion slices, and turn the heat to medium. When the burgers begin to sizzle, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes. Flip both the burgers and the onion slices, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes more. Add the cheese to the burgers, cover, and cook for an additional minute to melt the cheese.
2. While the burgers are cooking, add a drizzle of olive oil to a second saute pan, and fry the eggs. Sprinkle to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.
3. Plate the burgers topped with the fried eggs and onion slices.

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.

Taco-Stuffed Zucchini

Inspiration: The first time that I remember seeing the idea for stuffed zucchini was in 2007, and it’s taken me until now to finally get it made. Why? I don’t know. I think that I just want to try too many things. One version of stuffed zucchini or another has been on our menu about a thousand times, but I’ve always ended up nixing it for something that sounded better. It’s about time that I finally stuck with it!

What we Loved: What a pleasant surprise this was! Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much from this meal (which probably also contributed to my procrastination with making it), but we both absolutely loved it. The filling is just wonderful! It’s so rich and creamy, and it sure does taste a whole lot like my favorite part of a standard taco – that blend of spicy seasoned meat and cheddar cheese. The zucchini itself is nice and tender but nowhere near mushy (a huge pet peeve of mine), and it adds that wonderful, fresh vegetable flavor that really rounds out the meal. It’s almost like you’re replacing the cool lettuce in a taco with warm zucchini, and I think that’s a great spin! This recipe is really all of the foods that you need for a solid meal in one nice little boat. I’m sure that I’ll be making up for the three years that it took me to try this idea by throwing it onto the weeknight menu again and again.

Helpful Hints: Brandon mentioned that the filling for this zucchini would work great turned into an appetizer dip, and I think that he’s absolutely right! It’s uber creamy and would be perfect. Just make the filling, put it in a bowl, top with plenty of shredded Cheddar, and pop it in the oven or beneath the broiler for a bit to brown.

Taco-Stuffed Zucchini
Source: Original Recipe

2 6-inch zucchini
1/2 lb ground beef (or turkey/pork)
Taco seasoning (chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, coriander, salt, pepper)
1 roma tomato, cored and chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, freshly grated

1. Trim the ends from the zucchini, and slice them lengthwise in half. Using a paring knife, cut out the insides of the zucchini to form boat shapes. It helps to use a spoon to scrape and smooth out what you can’t do with a knife. Roughly chop the zucchini pieces that you have removed.

2. Brown the meat in a saute pan. Add a little bit of water and the taco seasoning. You can eyeball it – I use the largest amounts of chili powder, paprika, and cumin, followed by a sprinkling of all of the rest.

3. Add the onions, tomato, and zucchini pieces to the pan. Cook until most of the water released from the vegetables has evaporated.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Mix in the softened cream cheese.

5. Place the zucchini in a baking dish, and stuff each one with some of the mixture. Leftover filling would make a fabulous dip!

6. Top with the grated cheddar. Carefully add about 1/4 inch water to the baking dish (so that the zucchini are sitting directly in the water). This will keep the zucchini from drying out while cooking and will result in the vegetable being tender (but not mushy).

7. Bake for approximately 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

*Photo and Content Updated February 2012*

Inspiration: Craving for chili? Check. New cookbook (thanks Brandon!) with an interesting Cincinnati chili recipe? Check.

What we Loved: There aren’t many things better than a bowl of chili covered with cheese, are there? Cincinnati chili is a little different because it has some sweeter spices in it like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, and the result is a dark, smoky, and complex dish that is really a nice change of pace from a regular tomato-based chili. There are plenty of rich and savory flavors, a touch of sweet thrown in, and the wonderful spicy kick that every chili needs. And with a pound of kidney beans, a pound of ground beef, and plenty of diced tomatoes, this is really a thick and hearty chili, too.

Tips: This is our version of Cincinnati chili – certainly not anything super authentic. Cincinnati chili is normally served over spaghetti and can include cheese, onions, and beans as toppings (though the beans are included within this version). We don’t generally eat pasta,  so we skipped the spaghetti and just ate it straight from the bowl topped with cheese and onions. I’d advise using heaps of cheese.

Cincinnati Chili
Source: Adapted from The Daily Soup Cookbook

1 lb red kidney beans (alternatively, you can use two cans)
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
Onions, finely chopped

1. Cover the beans with water, and soak overnight. Drain and rinse, then pour the beans into a pot. Cover again with water, and cook for 1-2 hours, until cooked through and softened. Drain, and set aside. If you are using cans, no prep is necessary.

2. Crumble the beef into the pot, and cook until browned and just about cooked through.

3. Add the onion to the pot, and cook until tender. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute.

4. Add the chili powder, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cayenne, bay leaves, and salt. Stir to combine, and cook until the spices are fragrant.

5. Add the tomatoes and the beans. Simmer for as long as you’d like, at least half an hour.

6. Remove the bay leaves. Serve topped with cheddar and/or onions.