Simple Shredded Chicken and White Beans

Inspiration: A one-pot dish with Mexican flair and lots of pepper jack cheese? I’m in. I sometimes think that Brandon and I could eat this style of food every day (Mexican, Tex-Mex, Mexican-inspired, basically anything topped off with plenty of cilantro) and be happy campers. It’s also my favorite kind of food to cook – it’s fun and creative, with recipes fitting for an involved Saturday night supper (like a really great mole, which is on my to-make list) or a quick weekday meal, like this one.

What We Loved: What’s great about this recipe and what drew me to it in the first place is that it’s so simple. There are only four main ingredients – chicken, beans, salsa, and cheese – that are thrown into the crock pot and cook away on their own all day. Sometimes there’s just nothing better than that. The resulting flavors are simple and tasty, too – moist, fall-apart chicken and creamy white beans with a nice kick of Mexican-style flavor from the peppery salsa and cheese. For supper on a busy evening or as leftovers for a quick and hearty lunch, this recipe is perfect.

Tips: Brandon and I thought of this dish as more of a shredded chicken dish than as a chili (as it’s called in the original recipe), since we normally consider chili to have much more sauce to it. Most of the liquid from the salsa was absorbed into the chicken in this dish (making the chicken super moist, which was awesome). As such, we thought that it would work great if you wanted to make Mexican-style shredded chicken sandwiches. Or, come to think of it, this would also work really well atop of a bed of greens for a salad. It really was wonderful and perfect for us eaten just on its own out of the bowl, though.

Simple Shredded Chicken and White Beans
Source: Slightly adapted from Pink Parsley

4 chicken breasts
4 cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
8 oz pepper jack cheese, cut into 2 inch cubes
3 cups salsa
Additional pepper jack cheese, shredded
Grape tomtatoes, diced
Fresh cilantro, minced

1. Place the navy beans, pepper jack cheese cubes, and salsa in a crock pot.

2. Nestle the chicken breasts into the crock pot.

3. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

4. Remove the chicken, shred, and return it to the pot. Stir to combine.

5. Serve topped with additional pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, and cilantro.

Mushroom-Crusted Chicken Burgers

Mushroom-Crusted Chicken Burgers

Inspiration: When I’m reading through blogs or cookbooks, it’s usually my style to bookmark a recipe that I love, then proceed to leave it there in my “to-make” queue for about one to two years before I finally get around to having just the right time/craving/ingredients necessary/etc. to make it. For better or for worse, my meal plan is usually a pretty complicated thing (…..I really don’t feel like making a burger in the winter….I already have another burger on the menu this week….I can’t buy havarti when I already have about 30 other cheeses in the fridge to use….). Anyway, I happened to be making my grocery list when I ran across this recipe, and it immediately went onto the list. Don’t you just love when something is so inspiring?

What We Loved: I love cheeseburgers. Always have. And while in my opinion nothing can quite beat a plain old beef burger grilled on a charcoal grill and topped with plenty of cheese (I always wanted to live off of those as a kid), I also love experimenting with some more unique ingredients when cooking burgers. And I really think that I’d list this as one of the best burgers that I’ve ever made (up there with prosciutto-wrapped lamb burgers, which I also adore). The rich and earthy mushroom flavor that dominates these burgers is just so unique and fantastic, and the chicken itself stays super moist beneath that mushroom crust. And to top things off, the gooey, somewhat lemony havarti and the peppery arugula (with just a touch of crunch) are the perfect complements.

Tips: Forming ground chicken thigh into burgers is not a pretty thing. It’s really not anything like using ground beef – it’s much stickier/messier and is a general pain. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, though – as long as you end up with a somewhat spherical looking patty, it’ll work out just fine.

Mushroom-Crusted Chicken Burgers
Source: Adapted from Elly Says Opa to serve two, originally from Pink Parsley

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
Kosher salt and black pepper
About 3/4 lb ground chicken thigh
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 slice onion, finely diced
Handful fresh parsley, minced
Havarti cheese, freshly grated

1. Grind the porcini mushrooms to a powder in a food processor. Reserve about 2 teaspoons of the mushroom powder in a bowl. Place the rest on a plate, mixing with salt and pepper.

2. In the bowl with the reserved mushroom powder, add the ground chicken, Worcestershire, Dijon, onion, parsley, and a good bit of salt and pepper. Mix well to combine.

3. Form the chicken mixture into two burgers. Dip the burgers into the mushroom powder on the plate, coating each burger completely.

4. Heat a pat of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the burgers until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Add the havarti cheese to each burger about a minute before you are done cooking.

5. Serve topped with fresh arugula.

Chipotle Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Sausage and Cilantro

Inspiration: Often times, one of my biggest inspirations in the kitchen is random ingredients that I have on hand that need to be used. During Mardi Gras time a few weeks back, I made a pot of smoked sausage and red beans, stashing the extra smoked sausage up into the freezer. And then recently, Brandon was away on business for a week, so I stocked up on sweet potatoes, intending to bake them up for myself for a few easy suppers, but I never ended up using them. Add those couple of ingredients to a few chipotle peppers that have been tucked away in the freezer for too long, some dying cilantro in my crisper, and this awesome-looking recipe from Closet Cooking that I’ve had saved for who knows how long, and we had ourselves a meal.

What We Loved: This dish was a great mixture of spicy, sweet, and savory flavors. The chipotle pepper and adobo sauce added just the amount of heat for a nice kick without being overpowering; the sweet potatoes added a slightly sugary flavor; and the smoked sausage was rich and flavorful while adding a nice hit of protein. On top of such a wonderful combination of flavors, my favorite part of the dish was the way that the tomato/adobo mixture and the onions melted into a sticky, caramelized sauce that just coated everything. And to top things off, the cilantro really rounded things off with a bright and fresh flavor that was a great complement to the rest of the dish.

Tips: Make sure to cook over medium heat (not too high), and to stir often. Since the sauce is really more of a coating, if you leave everything to sit for too long or cook over heat that is too high, you may end up with everything sticking to the bottom of the pan and/or burning.

Chipotle Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Sausage and Cilantro
Source: Adapted from Closet Cooking

1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
8-10 oz smoked sausage, sliced
1 chipotle peper in adobo sauce, chopped, and about 2 teaspoons of sauce
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
About 1/4 cup water
Kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Heat a good pat of butter in a saute pan over medium heat.

2. Add the onion, and saute for a few minutes until tender. Add the garlic and cumin, and stir to incorporate. Cook for about a minute more.

3. Add the sweet potatoes, sausage, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, and tomato paste, stirring to coat. Add about 1/4 cup water, just enough to mix everything into a nice coating for the potatoes and sausage. Season to taste with Kosher salt.

4. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

5. Mix in the cilantro and serve.


Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce

Inspiration: Like so many other people, I think, we have been having a really fantastic winter. If there’s one thing that I’m not, it’s a fan of winter/snow/cold/etc. etc., but this year has been pretty great. The temperature hasn’t dipped below the 30s more than a handful of days, and we’ve only had a few snow showers with no real storms. For living in Michigan, that’s a huge deal. And yet…’s still easy to get the winter blahs every now and then, and it’s still easy to tire of the endless parade of stews, soups, and other winter comfort meals that I’ve been cranking out of our kitchen. When that sort of mood hits, I guess there’s no better time to cook up something so completely bright and summery that you almost (almost) want to sit out on the back patio to enjoy it.

What We Loved: This meal was just what we were hoping it to be – a very light and simply sauteed chicken breast with a bright, complex sauce that tasted just like summer. The sauce has a nice tart flavor (due to the tomatillos and the lime juice) with a great creamy backbone (thanks to the avocado and the half and half). It’s really just an extremely flavorful, creamy sauce that adds a nice richness and contrast to simply cooked chicken. We really enjoyed this chicken with a fresh pico de gallo salad for a meal that was just full of all kinds of fresh vegetable flavors.

Tips: I forgot to include a few cloves of garlic with my roasted vegetables, which would have been a lovely addition. Also, when finishing the sauce, make sure to add as much half and half/Kosher salt as is necessary to even out the flavors of the sauce to your tastes. I found the sauce to be quite tart until I had the right amount of half and half, which really balances the flavors. I also threw in a great deal of salt, which really makes all of the vegetable flavors so much more pronounced and wonderful.

Sauteed Chicken with Green Chile, Tomatillo, and Avocado Sauce
Source: Adapted from Pip & Ebby, originally from Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010

1 very small onion, quartered
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1 poblano, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
Olive oil
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 chicken breasts, butterflied

1. Place the onion, tomatillos, jalapeno, and poblano on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler until the vegetables are all softened and beginning to blacken.

2. Place all of the broiled vegetables into a food processor. Add the avocado, cilantro, and lime juice, and process until all of the ingredients are combined. Pour in 1/4 – 1/3 cup half and half, a small amount at a time, processing until the sauce reaches a nice and smooth consistency. Taste as you add the half and half – if the sauce is too tart for you, add more half and half until it mellows out. Season well with Kosher salt. Refrigerate the sauce until ready to serve.

3. Add a good pat of butter to a saute pan. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and add them to the hot pan. Cook for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through.

4. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Inspiration: I’ve been trying to perfect a really great lower carb/no sugar meatloaf for over a year now. One of the things that I love about cooking is that there is so much room for experimentation, so if you don’t quite like something the first time around (or the second or third times), there’s always another meal somewhere down the road in which you can work on perfecting your recipe (leftovers and DVD replication party?). After trying out many different recipes and doing quite a bit of fine-tuning, we’ve finally come up with a meatloaf that we really love and can call a standard recipe.

What We Loved: There are so many great components to this recipe. The outside of the meatloaf is crusted in a smoky sweet tomato glaze that is just fantastic; there’s a lot of complexity of flavor and richness within the meatloaf due to the use of three different meats; the recipe is packed with colorful and nutritious vegetables, which is always an awesome thing; and the inside of the meatloaf is nice and moist, which in my opinion is one of the basic necessities to a great meatloaf. I truly love every single thing about this dish.

Tips: Extra tomato sauce for dipping would definitely not be a bad thing. It’s amazingly delicious. Next time, I might mix up a double batch. Also, I highly recommend serving this with buttered and salted sweet potatoes. I absolutely adore the combo and might list this dinner exactly as it is as one of my very favorite winter meals.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf
Source: Adapted from Raspberry & Coconut

1 medium onion, very finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, very finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
4 slices bacon, very finely diced
1 extra large egg, beaten
1/8 cup coconut flour
3 oz tomato paste
1 tablespoon water
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon sriracha

1. Melt a pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the onions, bell pepper, and carrot. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the onion mixture, beef, pork, bacon, egg, and coconut flour.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, Worcestershire, and sriracha.

4. Add half of the tomato mixture to the beef mixture.

5. Using your hands, mix the beef mixture until well-combined. Place the mixture into a bread loaf pan, forming it with your hands into a loaf. Spread the rest of the tomato mixture on top of the meatloaf.

6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake for 35 minutes more.

7. Remove the meatloaf from the pan, placing it on a cutting board. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce

Inspiration: One can never have too many easy weeknight suppers, right? The bonus with this one (and really with many dishes that have pan sauces) is that it looks so nice and elegant, too. I really need to cook with pan sauces more – in almost every case, they’re simple; they’re beautiful; and  they taste great.

What We Loved: This is a lovely dish with simple flavors. The pan sauce is a touch earthy and just a touch sweet, and it has a great, slightly thick consistency from all of the tomato juices that mix with the rest of the ingredients. We loved the herbal flavor of the oregano, and of course we really enjoyed the rich tomato flavor that dominated the sauce.  With some buttered green beans on the side, it really can’t get much simpler and prettier than this.

Tips: I thought that I noticed that the paprika in this dish tasted a little bitter, which would have come from the fact that it was mixed into the butter and sauteed for so long in the pan. By no means did it ruin the dish (Brandon said that he didn’t even notice it), but I might suggest mixing only the oregano, salt, and pepper in with the butter that you cook the chicken in, and then adding the paprika into the second batch of butter that gets added into the sauce near the end. That way, the paprika won’t have a chance to char at all on the bottom of the pan, producing that slightly bitter flavor. Also, I’m thinking that a splash of balsamic vinegar might go really well in this dish, adding just a touch more sweetness and some added complexity.

Chicken with Tomato Herb Pan Sauce
Source: Adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Bon Appetit July 2011

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup chicken stock

1. Combine the butter, garlic, oregano, and paprika in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Melt half of the butter mixture in a saute pan over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and saute in the herb butter for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan, and stir occasionally until they begin to brown and burst, about five minutes. Add the rest of the herb butter to the pan, and crush the tomatoes slightly with the back of your spoon until they release their juices and begin to combine with the butter.

4. Add the broth to the pan, and continue cooking until everything is well-blended and a nice pan sauce forms.

5. Serve the chicken topped with the sauce.

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Soup

: So now that the holidays are over (happy new year, everyone!) and our schedule is calming back down again, I’ve really been in the mood to get back into the kitchen and cook some heartwarming, comforting meals. After rushing around so much for what seems like a month or two, there’s nothing better than having the time to enjoy some great dinners with each other at the end of the day.

What We Loved: The base of this soup – the beef stock – is really what makes the soup. After cooking all day on the stovetop, the flavor profile of the stock is rich and hearty, with layer upon layer of comforting beef and vegetable goodness. Brandon and I both agreed that we had never tasted a better beef soup than this one, and it’s entirely due to the fact that the beef stock was so outstanding. And on top of how much we enjoyed the stock, the beef itself was just as good. When the stock is done cooking, the beef just falls right off of the soup bones and shreds apart, giving you tender, succulent meat to add back to your soup. I chose sweet potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and green beans for the vegetables that I added in to the soup, and we both really loved what each of those vegetables added to the dish. The sweet potatoes added a lovely sweet bite, the beans and carrots added that familiar and characteristic vegetable flavor, and the pearl onions added nice pops of rich onion flavor. This is the kind of soup that is the definition of comfort in a bowl, and it’s perfect for the cold, snowy evenings that I know are headed our way.

Tips: As I use vegetables in my cooking on a day-to-day basis, I save all of the odds and ends that I wouldn’t otherwise use (onion tops, carrot ends, herb stalks, etc.) in a freezer bag in the freezer. I wait until I have a good amount (several cups worth) before making stock, so that I can add those vegetable bits to my stock rather than using fresh, new vegetables. I would really suggest doing the same – it’s a great way to avoid waste and to get use out of all of your vegetables. Secondly, this is an all-day project since it involves making your own beef stock, so make sure that you have enough time. I’d recommend making this recipe on a Sunday, because it really does provide for a wonderful and cozy Sunday evening supper. It’s just the kind of meal that Sundays were made for.

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Soup
Source: Original Recipe

About 3 lbs very meaty soup bones
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Any desired dried herbs
A few cups worth of vegetable odds and ends that you’ve saved in the freezer (i.e., carrot and zucchini ends, onion tops, stalks from herbs, Parmesan rinds, etc.)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1 1/2 cups green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1. Season the soup bones well with salt and pepper. Roast them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

2. Pour the soup bones and any accumulated juices into a large stock pot (mine is 8 quarts). Fill the pot with water, leaving enough space to add your vegetables.

3. Pour your vegetables on top, and add a good bunch of salt, pepper, and any dried herbs that you prefer (I used some dried marjoram that I had on hand).

4. Bring the pot to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a very light simmer. Let cook for about 5 hours on the stovetop.

5. Remove the soup bones/meat and vegetables from the stock, reserving the soup bones and meat. Pour the stock through a  fine mesh sieve into another large pot.

6. Pull the meat from the bones with your hands (it should fall right apart). Shred the meat, removing any fat, and return all of the shredded meat to the pot with the stock.

7. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and green beans to the pot. Return the pot to the stove, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all of the vegetables are softened.

8. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary (I add a lot of salt at this point).

9. Serve the soup topped with finely shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired (it’s good with or without).