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.

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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.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

*Photos Updated November 2012*

Inspiration: After receiving some beef soup bones in our CSA share, we made our first batch of homemade beef stock and needed a good use for it. Giada’s recipes never disappoint!

What we Loved: This was such a heartwarming Italian style soup with a myriad of great flavors. The rustic tomato, savory beef, nutty Parmesan, and creamy cannelini bean flavors all paired so well together. I tend to use cannelini beans with poultry or with lighter meals, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well they stood up to the stronger flavors in this soup and provided a creamy, nutty taste that was a great addition. This soup is really a wonderful comfort food meal for a cold day. It’s almost like a soup version of spaghetti and meatballs. That’s not exactly the right comparison, of course, but I crave a meal like spaghetti and meatballs when I want all of those Italian comfort food elements like rich tomato sauce and heaps of Parmesan cheese. All of those great elements are right here in this soup.

Helpful Hints: I chose this recipe to use my beef stock, but I should have known that the beef stock itself would be hidden by the strong flavors of the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Not that this was a bad thing, because the soup was perfect, but if you’re looking for a recipe to showcase the flavor of the stock, something like a vegetable beef soup would fit the bill more precisely.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone
Source: Giada De Laurentiis

I doubled the recipe and made a few slight adjustments to the ingredients. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

1 tablespoon butter
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 lb ground beef
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 cups beef stock
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 dried bay leaves
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Add the butter to a stock pot, and heat over medium heat. Stir in the onions and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are softened.

2. Increase the heat to medium high. Crumble the beef into the pot, and cook until the beef is browned and cooked through.

3. Mix in the garlic, cooking for an additional 30 seconds.

4. Mix in the tomato paste.

5. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered, allowing the liquids to reduce and the soup to thicken.

6. Remove the bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with Parmesan.