Chicken with Black Beans, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Cilantro, & Cheddar

Inspiration: Have you ever thought to use sun dried tomatoes in a Mexican or Tex-Mex inspired dish? I always tend to use fresh diced tomatoes or sliced grape tomatoes when cooking that type of cuisine, and I tend to use sun dried tomatoes almost exclusively with Italian. I’d probably list sun dried tomatoes as my favorite type of tomato, though, so I was more than excited to run across the idea of combining my favorite tomato with my favorite cuisine. (And since Brandon loves fresh garden tomatoes best, I might just try this recipe out later on using fresh tomatoes to see how it compares).

What We Loved: As I was hoping, this chicken had a nice Mexican flair with all of the different flavor components that were thrown in. The chicken itself was seasoned with cumin and chili powder, which are a couple of spices that I think always give that Tex-Mex or Mexican twist to a meal. With creamy black beans, bright and fresh cilantro, gooey cheddar, and the unexpected tangy sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes, this meal sure had a lot of great things going on. A nice squeeze of fresh lime juice over top added a tart, fresh flavor that really was the finishing touch. We enjoyed this alongside our favorite hearts of palm salad, which was the perfect complement.

Tips: I used plain sun dried tomatoes that I re-hydrated in water, but I think that olive oil packed sun dried tomatoes or other flavored sun dried tomatoes would be fantastic and lend another dimension of flavor to the dish. The original recipe actually uses sun dried tomatoes with pepper strips, which sounds great.

Sauteed Chicken with Black Beans, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Cilantro, and Cheddar
Source: Adapted from I Wash…You Dry.
Serves 2

2 chicken breasts, butterflied
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Chili powder
1/3 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
Freshly grated sharp cheddar
Lime wedges, for serving

1. Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder. Heat a couple of pats of butter in a saute pan. Add the chicken, and cook for about 4-5 minutes on the first side.

2. Flip the chicken. Top each breast with black beans, sundried tomatoes, cilantro, and cheddar. Cover the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes more, until the chicken is cooked through.

3. Serve with lime wedges.

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Beef Burgers with Onion Slices and Mashed Avocado

Inspiration: It’s about time that we shared this recipe with you. We’ve been making it for years now, and it’s certainly our very favorite burger recipe. When summer time rolls around, these guys make an appearance on our dinner table quite often. To me, a great grilled burger is quintessential summer, and this is the best burger of them all.

What We Loved: As I said, these are our favorite burgers, and for good reason. They’ve got so much rich and delicious flavor going on. Grilled Vidalia onion slices are just fantastic on burgers, particularly if they’re grilled on charcoal. They lend such a smoky sweet flavor to the burgers. And you really can’t go wrong with creamy avocado with just a touch of salt and bright cilantro. With smoked gruyere (my new addiction) and an already smoky, juicy burger, the flavors in each bite are so rich and fantastic. I could eat these every day.

Tips: These are good any way that you cook them, but the best way by far is to use the charcoal grill to cook both the burgers and the onion slices. That grilled charcoal flavor just can’t be replicated on a gas grill on in a saute pan. The last time that we made these, we added these hickory chips to the coals, and they were some of the best burgers that we’ve ever had.

Beef Burgers with Onion Slices and Mashed Avocado
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: 2

About 3/4 lb ground beef (I use 85% grass-fed)
Burger seasoning of choice
Applewood smoked gruyere cheese, shredded
2 thick slices Vidalia onion
1 small avocado
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt

1. Season the ground beef and form into two patties. Make a nice indentation in the middle of each patty with your thumb, which will allow for even cooking.

2. Place the burgers and the onion slices on the charcoal grill, and grill until the burgers are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. About two minutes before removing the burgers from the grill, top them with the gruyere cheese.

3. Meanwhile, mash the avocado in a bowl. Mix it with a handful of fresh cilantro and a good sprinkle of Kosher salt.

4. Serve the burgers topped with the grilled onion slices, the mashed avocado, and additional cilantro.


Inspiration: Is there anything better than carnitas when it comes to Mexican food (or, I have to be a little more accurate here….any kind of food)? I certainly can’t think of a much better meal than tender, succulent, slow-cooked, crispy, fall-apart pork with all sorts of lovely fresh vegetable sides. It’s often the meal that I end up ordering at Mexican restaurants, and I’ve been trying for about a year now to find a truly fabulous at-home version. Up until this point, none of the recipes that I’ve tried have ever worked out exactly as I had hoped, but as this one was cooking, I had a feeling that it was finally going to be the one.

What We Loved: Everything about this recipe was outstanding. Brandon remarked several times while we were eating and over the next few days that these were the best carnitas that he has ever had, anywhere (and we’ve had a lot of carnitas over the years). In my book, that’s pretty much the highest praise that a recipe can get. The meat was just fall apart tender, which is exactly what you want with carnitas. I had intended to leave the meat completely in large chunks, but as you can see in the pictures, it just shredded apart in the pan on its own as I was browning it. The result was crispy browned shreds of meat and chunks of meat that were crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. Perfect. And the flavor was spectacular, too. I don’ think that I’ve ever had a meat dish that is more rich in flavor than carnitas (except possibly duck confit – that’s really up there in richness, too). It’s hard to eat too much of the carnitas because they are just so sublimely rich from being cooked and seared in the pork fat. Plus, these particular carnitas had a lovely, slightly sweet background flavor with hints of cumin and garlic. Absolutely fantastic.

Tips: I think that the best advice for this recipe is to be patient. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to cook the meat for two hours, then boil down the liquid for about 45 minutes, then sear the meat for about 15 to 20 minutes so that it gets nice and brown. The patience  is certainly worth it in the end. Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve tried out several different recipes for carnitas, and I think that it’s very important to use the orange juice and lime juice as directed in this recipe, rather than just using water. The acids in the citrus juices really tenderize the meat beautifully, whereas cooking with plain water always left me with tougher meat in the past.

Source: Adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures, originally from The Homesick Texan Cookbook, to serve 2

1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1. Place the pork pieces into a dutch oven, and add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and salt. Add enough water to just barely cover the meat.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours without disturbing.

3. Remove the lid, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has evaporated and only the fat that has been rendered from the pork remains.

4. Sear the meat in the fat, browning it as much as you’d like.

5. Shred the meat or leave it in chunks. Serve with cilantro, avocado slices, pico de gallo, lime wedges, or any of your favorite sides.

Bulgogi Lettuce Cups

Inspiration: While Brandon was finishing up his degree during the last several years, he used to eat at some awesome Korean restaurants near campus every now and then, and apparently bulgogi was one of his main loves in life. Who knew? Once this information came to light, it was only a matter of time before it made it onto our menu at home. There aren’t many things that I love more than discovering and making new foods at home.

What We Loved: I’ll hand it to Brandon here – he’s converted me to a bulgogi fan. This recipe was pretty darn delicious. The meat had a rich, savory taste characterized by the great flavors of soy, sesame oil/toasted sesame seeds, and garlic, and there were lovely background hints of lemony ginger. The meat had a nice overall sweetness and left you with just the perfect kick of spice in your mouth, too. Such a great balance. The crisp romaine hearts added the perfect cooling and fresh contrast, and I just loved how the marinade began to caramelize onto the meat as it cooked and browned. Fantastic.

Tips: We rarely, rarely use sugar in any form in any recipes (I’d say we use it a few times per year, tops). However, this is one of the few recipes that does include it, unlike most other recipes on our blog – but since Brandon loves it so much, I wanted to make it authentically for a nice treat. If I’m going to make something with sugar, I always prefer to use real, natural sugar versus sugar substitutes, so I used organic cane sugar in this recipe. I’m wondering if honey would also work – I might give that a go next time as it’s usually my sweetener of choice. Also, if you don’t buy your beef pre-sliced, it works great to just throw it into the freezer and then slice the meat when it’s about half-frozen, which really allows for very easy slicing.

Bulgogi Lettuce Cups
Source: Slightly adapted from Savory Sweet Life

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 scant tablespoons cane sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, plus extra for serving
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pinches black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1.5 lbs thinly sliced beef (I sliced mine across the grain while it was still half-frozen, which allows for easy slicing)
1/2 small onion, halved and sliced into moon-shaped slivers
2 green onions, finely sliced, plus extra for serving
Lettuce, for serving (I used romaine hearts)

1. Combine the soy, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and ginger in a large bowl. Stir well to combine and dissolve the sugar.

2. Add the beef, onions, and green onions to the bowl. Use your hands to mix and massage the marinade into the beef and onions.

3. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (I marinated ours for four hours).

4. Pan fry the beef and onions in batches on a very hot frying pan until each side is cooked and the edges of the meat are browning and crisping.

5. Serve in lettuce cups with additional green onion slices and sesame seeds.

Armadillo Eggs

Armadillo Eggs

Inspiration: I just had to check out a recipe entitled armadillo eggs. I don’t know if these are a common thing to most people, but for us, they were completely unheard of and intriguing. One of my favorite things about cooking has always been discovering new dishes – I just love that there is an endless variety out there of new and exciting foods to try. This little recipe fit right into that category and had the added bonus of being full of Mexican flavors. Yes.

What We Loved: To be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of things here not to love. A cream cheese and cheddar mixture stuffed into jalapenos, wrapped in sausage, and dipped in salsa? I think that about covers it. We loved the rich and savory flavors of the sausage paired with the gooey cheese center and the crisp crunch of the jalapeno. Topping these little bites off with a great salsa (we used Frontera Guajillo salsa, which we really love) and some fresh cilantro was the finishing touch. So many great Mexican flavors all wrapped up together.

Tips: These are meant to be an appetizer, but we actually ate them as our main dish for Cinco de Mayo this year served alongside homemade guacamole and homemade refried beans. They worked wonderfully that way, but I also think that they would be great on a big party tray with a variety of salsas for serving.

Armadillo Eggs
Source: Homesick Texan

This recipe will make 24 armadillo eggs.

4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
Handful chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt, to taste
6 medium-sized jalapeños
2 pounds sausage

1. Mix the cream cheese, cheddar, garlic, cilantro, and cumin together in a bowl. Season to taste with salt.

2. Remove the stems from the jalapenos. Cut each jalapeno in half lengthwise, and scoop out the ribs and seeds. Cut each jalapeno half in half again horizontally, resulting in each full jalapeno being cut into quarters.

3. Stuff each jalapeno piece with a spoonful of the cheese mixture.

4. Flatten a circle of sausage in the palm of your hand, and place a stuffed jalapeno piece in the center (it’s easiest to place it cheese-side down). Fold the sausage up and around the jalapeno, forming an egg shape.

5. Bake the eggs at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through.

6. Serve with salsa.

Pork Loin Baked with Green Onions, Jalapeno, and Ginger

Inspiration: I’ve been trying my hardest to keep my word to Brandon and include more meals on our menu with Chinese-inspired ingredients. This recipe struck me as particularly interesting because it deviates from what we usually eat when it comes to Chinese food – stir fries, lettuce wraps, and hot pots, namely – and instead presents in a rather fancy way as a cut of meat with a lovely sauce. To me, it had all of the markings of a Sunday night dinner made especially with Brandon in mind.

What We Loved: Brandon told me that he knew that dinner was going to be good as soon as he smelled it cooking in the oven (and in fact, he came downstairs while it was cooking away just to tell me as much). As it turned out, he was right – we both loved this recipe. The sauce that the pork was marinated in, baked in, and topped with was just wonderful and filled with flavors that were very true to classic Chinese-style dishes. I was struck with how perfectly balanced the sauce was – there was a nice bite from the green onions, a richness on your palate from the sesame oil and soy, just a touch of heat from the jalapeno, and a great lemony freshness from the ginger. We enjoyed this dish alongside some green beans that I seasoned with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, garlic, and soy sauce for a meal that really surprised and delighted us both.

Tips: This recipe comes from a grilling cookbook, and the pork is intended to be grilled after it is marinated. I have a feeling that cooking the pork this way would be fantastic (particularly using a charcoal grill), and we’ll certainly be trying out that method when the weather warms up a bit more and we are grilling regularly.

Pork Loin Baked with Green Onions, Jalapeno, and Ginger
Source: Adapted from Bobby Flay, Grilling for Life

3 green onions, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup lime juice
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb pork loin

1. Add the green onions, jalapeno, and ginger to a food processor, and process to a fine mince.

2. Pour the onion mixture into a bowl, and add the olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper. Mix to combine.

3. Place the pork loin in a baking dish. Pour half of the marinade over the pork, and use your hands to turn and coat the pork in the marinade. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to 4 hours. Cover and reserve the other half of the marinade at room temperature.

4. Remove the pork loin from the refrigerator half an hour before cooking and allow it to come to room temperature. Bake at 400 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 25 minutes.

5. Let the pork rest for ten to fifteen minutes before slicing. Serve topped with the reserved marinade.

Pork and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Inspiration: When Brandon and I go to our favorite Chinese restaurant in town, we usually share an order of lettuce wraps for an appetizer and then split an entree. There’s  just something so refreshing about lettuce wraps – a rich and savory filling paired with crisp and cool lettuce always just hits the spot. And lettuce wraps are really great because they can be served as an appetizer or light meal, on their own for a main course, or paired with a quick side like edamame salad for a more rounded meal.

What We Loved: Brandon and I absolutely adore the filling to these lettuce wraps and the super spicy sauce. We’ve been making them both for years, and in our opinion, they’re both perfect. The pork and vegetables are thrown into the food processor so that they have a really nice, minced texture, and the entire filling is characterized by a great soy and ginger flavor. The sauce has an intense heat to it that we just love, and it also has a delicious garlicky flavor. We could probably eat these once a week and never tire of them. Plus, bibb lettuce is just so fantastic for lettuce wraps. It has the perfect cup shape and is really pliable for wrapping into little parcels.

Tips: I sometimes add a good handful of bean sprouts to the mixture before placing it in the food processor – those are a great addition, too. This recipe is nice because you can really throw whatever vegetables that you want into the mix. Ground chicken or turkey is also a good alternative to the pork.

Pork and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Source: Original Recipe

1 lb ground pork
10 baby bella mushrooms, roughly diced
3 small sweet red peppers, roughly diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, roughly diced
About 1 teaspoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Boston bibb lettuce leaves
Spicy dipping sauce, recipe follows

1. Add the ground pork, mushrooms, and red peppers to a saute pan over medium heat. Cook until the pork is cooked through and the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute more.

2. Place the pork mixture in a food processor with the green onions, ginger, and soy sauce. Pulse until the mixture is finely minced.

3. Serve the pork filling with lettuce leaves and dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sriracha, or more to taste
Sesame oil, to taste

1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add more sriracha if you’d like more spice.