Parmesan Crisps with Avocado and Cilantro

Inspiration: I would like to eat avocados three meals per day. A really great batch of guacamole, actually, might be my single favorite food in life.  And aside from guac, avocados are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, either on their own or mixed into a recipe. Nearly every single time that I serve Mexican or Southwestern food, avocados are on our plates in some form. They complement nearly any grilled or sauteed meat or fish. They’re a great topping for soups and a great ingredient in salads, salsas, and omelets. And, they’re packed full of nutrients. Needless to say, I don’t need much of a push to throw anything with avocados onto the menu.

What We Loved: Nutty Parmesan cheese with creamy avocado is really just a fabulous pairing. Those two ingredients each have rich, intense flavors that complement each other so well, and the touch of fresh cilantro and sprinkle of salt and pepper on top add just the right amount of garnish and spice. These little bites are rich and decadent, yet at the same time, they’re still light and sophisticated.

Tips: We served these as a side dish to some lobster and crab cakes, but they would really be fabulous as an appetizer. One avocado will go a long way when it’s sliced so thinly, so you could make a whole tray of them to serve up. Since avocado browns so quickly, though, I would suggest making these immediately prior to serving and maybe sprinkling some lime juice on the avocado slices to help prevent browning.

Parmesan Crisps with Avocado and Cilantro
Source: Original Recipe

1 batch Parmesan crisps
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Handful fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Carefully top each Parmesan crisp with a few slices of avocado and a sprig of cilantro. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

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Lima Beans with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Onion

Inspiration: I end up making some of the best dishes when I have no idea what to make (and unfortunately, that’s where some of my very worst dishes come from, too). Some random bacon, a couple of mushrooms that never got used, half of a bag of lima beans in the freezer? Sounds good to me. Plus, I could live off of lima beans. I know that they’re one of the most hated foods (why??), but Brandon and I could both probably eat them three times a day and never tire of them. Lima bean omelet, anyone?

What We Loved: To be honest, when it comes to lima beans, you really can’t beat simply cooking them and then mixing them with butter, Kosher salt, and pepper. To both of us, that’s the perfect preparation. But, this recipe takes a very close second. Rich bacon, sweet onions, and earthy mushrooms just add huge amounts of flavor to the creamy beans, and a healthy dose of salt really takes those flavors over the edge. All of the ingredients are mixed in a pan with the fat from the bacon, so everything is also just coated in that rich flavor. We both give this side dish an A+.

Tips: One of the things that we both love so much about lima beans is their fabulous creamy texture, which works really well in this dish. However, I’m sure that this combination of ingredients would be good with other vegetables substituted for the lima beans, too. Thin slices of sauteed and browned zucchini come to mind as a great option.

Lima Beans with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Onion
Source: Original Recipe

4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
8-10 cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups frozen lima beans
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Place the lima beans in a sauce pan with water, and cook according to package directions.

2. While the lima beans are cooking, add the bacon to a saute pan over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is beginning to crisp and has rendered some of its fat, about 4-5 mintues.

3. Add the onion and mushrooms to the bacon, and stir to combine. Cook until the bacon is crispy, the water released from the mushrooms has evaporated, and the mushrooms and onions are softened and beginning to brown.

4. Drain the cooked lima beans, and add them to the pan. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper.

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Add the jalapenos and serve.

Cherry Caprese

Cherry Caprese

Inspiration: Last August Brandon and I took an awesome week-long trip around Michigan visiting all of our local breweries, since we’re so lucky to live in a state with some of the best craft breweries in the nation. In between drinking beer (I think we hit 13 breweries/craft beer bars total), we hung out around all of the cities, did some random shopping and sightseeing, visited some parks, checked out a concert, and bought a great painting to hang above our sofa. One of the other little items that we ended up bringing home with us was a nice little bottle of cherry balsamic vinegar that we picked up in an olive oil and vinegar shop. It sat in the pantry all winter long until cherry season hit, and since then we’ve been enjoying it on all kinds of salads.

What We Loved: Both of us consider caprese to be the definition of a summer salad, and we enjoy it in its standard form quite often as a side dish or at restaurants. I didn’t think that it could be improved upon until I tried it this way. The subtle sweetness added to the dish (both in the form of the fresh cherries and the cherry balsamic vinegar) was really delightful. That sweet touch meshed perfectly with the juicy tomatoes, earthy basil, and creamy mozzarella. I used mozzarella that had been marinated in olive oil and Italian spices, so there were also some rich and herbal flavors added to the mix. With a touch of salt and pepper, the end result was a refreshing summer side dish and a great Michigan-inspired spin on traditional caprese.

Tips: After trying this salad, I think that other fruits would also be good in place of the cherries. Strawberry caprese or blueberry caprese both sound great for this time of year.

Cherry Caprese
Source: Original Recipe

Grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Basil, sliced chiffonade style
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Cherries, pitted and sliced
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Cherry balsamic vinegar

1. Place the tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and cherries in a bowl.

2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and cherry balsamic vinegar.

Hearts of Palm Salad

Inspiration: I’ve mentioned before that Brandon went to Brazil a few years back and that he introduced me to some new foods when he came back. Hearts of palm are one of those foods that he first tried at a Brazilian BBQ. For Brandon, they’ll always remind him of that meal, and for me, they will forever be linked to the romantic images of Brazil that live in my head. 85 degrees with glorious sunshine every day, perfect meals on the beach every night, drinking pina coladas in bathing suits all day long. That’s what it’s like, right? And because Brandon also introduced me to the caipirinha after returning from Brazil, in my eyes it’s practically a crime not to serve up a delicious caipirinha when you’re eating hearts of palm. They make a perfect pairing!

What We Loved: This salad is summer in a bowl. If you haven’t had hearts of palm before, they’re very tart and tangy, with a surprising creamy texture. Looking at them, you’d think that they might be crunchy or maybe have that vegetable crispness of something like a cucumber, but they’re actually very soft and creamy. Combined with their extremely tangy flavor, they’re really a unique food that is unlike anything else that I’ve had. And I think that this salad works so well because the other ingredients have similar components. There’s more tang from the lime, and the avocado chunks add some extra creaminess. With a hit of salt, some fresh cilantro, and a nice drizzle of rich olive oil, this salad is so bright/fresh and rich/indulgent all at the same time.

Helpful Hints: We enjoyed this salad alongside whitefish with banana salsa – a really great pairing!

Hearts of Palm Salad
Source: Original Recipe

1 14.5 oz can hearts of palm, cut into rounds
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
Handful fresh cilantro, minced
Juice from half of a small lime
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add the hearts of palm, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice to a bowl. Season to taste with Kosher salt and black pepper. Add a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil.

2. Mix gently to combine, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Mexican-Style Black Beans

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

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

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

Mexican-Style Black Beans
Source: Elly Says Opa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cauilflower Colcannon and Reuben Sandwiches

Inspiration: Corned beef and cabbage (our dinner this past Sunday night) lends itself very well to leftovers. There’s always leftover corned beef when you cook a whole brisket, and how many meals does one of those heads of green cabbage last?? (many, for us). Brandon could eat a reuben sandwich every single day of his life (maybe every single meal of his life?) and be a happy man, so this year I specially cooked extra just to make sure that we’d have a few days worth of reubens for him as a treat. And cauliflower colcannon is truly one of our favorite sides. For us, that’s a great St. Paddy’s week meal #2.

What we Loved: First, for the reubens – there’s nothing quite like a reuben made with leftover homecooked brisket, rather than the thinly sliced corned beef that you can get from the deli. The homecooked, thicker slices are just so tender and hearty! Combined with heaps of Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing, it’s an ooey-goeey delicious sandwich. Plus, the rye bread has that great, earthy caraway flavor and is so browned and buttery.

As for the colcannon, it’s truly one of our favorite sides. Pureed cauliflower and sauteed cabbage, leeks, and bacon all mix together for a creamy, veggie-packed dish. It’s salty and rich, with the great flavors of bacon and onions running throughout. The cabbage and leeks are cooked in a bit of the bacon fat, so that flavor really permeates the dish. Traditionally, this side is made with mashed potatoes, but the cauliflower is really a perfect substitute – I might be hard-pressed to tell the difference. I could really eat this as a meal in itself.

Helpful Hints: Replacing the leeks in the colcannon with onions or shallots is great, too, but I like the extra green color from the leeks. And in my opinion, the more bacon/cabbage/leeks that you add, the better.

Cauilflower Colcannon and Reuben Sandwiches
Source: original recipes to serve 2

For the colcannon
1 head cauliflower
Splash milk
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 leek, white and green parts only, rinsed and chopped
1-2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
Chives, to garnish

1. Place the cauliflower in a medium sauce pan (~ 3 qt). Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for 4-5 minutes, until softened. Strain the cauliflower and pour it into a food processor with a splash of milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper and puree until smooth.

2. Add the bacon to the pan. Saute until crispy. Remove some of the extra fat in the pan, but keep some for flavor and for sauteeing the other vegetables.

3. Add the leek and cabbage to the pan. Mix everything together, and cook for a few minutes until all of the vegetables are softened.

4. Mix in the pureed cauliflower. Cook for a few minutes to heat through, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

For the Reuben
4 slices rye bread (I used a spelt grain rye bread with 4 net carbs per slice)
Swiss cheese, freshly shredded
Corned beef
Thousand Island or Russian dressing

1. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place two slices butter side down in a saute pan or griddle.

2. Add a handful of Swiss cheese and top with a few slices of corned beef. Add some sauerkraut and dressing. Top with some more slices of corned beef and finally another handful of Swiss cheese.

3. Top with the second piece of bread and use low heat to brown both sides and cook through.


Pickled Red Onions

Inspiration: As I was flipping through my two Rick Bayless cookbooks looking for interesting topping ideas for our Superbowl taco salad bar, this recipe immediately caught my eye. It’s intriguing, different, and something that I’ve never had. Which almost always means that it’s getting made. Plus, I sometimes feel that raw, chopped onions can be overpowering in a salad, so this was a great alternative.

What we Loved: These are everything that I expected (read: delicious) and nothing that I expected (such different flavors than I had anticipated!) at the same time. They don’t have a strong, sour vinegar flavor as I would expect when I think of a standard pickle, nor do they have a strong onion flavor. In fact, the onion flavor is really very mild, leaving a pleasantly tart flavor with hints of smoky cumin and garlic. The onions are nice and soft, and they paired so well atop taco salads that contained so many other Mexican flavors. Brandon gobbled these right up! And aren’t they so pretty?

Helpful Hints: These are very easy to make, but just be sure to give yourself a little time to allow them to sit (and cool, if desired). I let them sit for about 3 hours, then I tossed them in the fridge to cool for another hour or two.

Pickled Red Onions
Source: Adapted from Rick Bayless, Authentic Mexican

1 red onion, cut into 1/8 inch rings
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1/3 cup cider vinegar

1. Place the onions in a sauce pan. Cover with salted water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 60 seconds, then remove from the heat and drain the water.

2. Add the cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar to the pan. Add enough water to just cover the onions. Bring to a boil again, and boil for three minutes.

3. Remove from the heat, and place into a serving bowl. Let sit for several hours before serving. Chill if desired.

Roasted Mushrooms with Garlic Butter and Capers

Inspiration: Capers are one of those pantry staples that I under-appreciate, like lemon pepper or dried chiles. I always seem to buy them for a specific purpose (and it’s always chicken piccata), and then I never use them for anything else. Brandon particularly loves them, so I would love to start using them more often!

What we Loved: This was really a lovely and simple side dish that would work well with nearly any main dish that you served it with. It really worked beautifully with the crab-stuffed salmon that we paired it alongside, since both dishes were nice and light with some tart, lemony undertones. The capers in this recipe really mellowed out in the oven, while still providing a slightly tart contrast to the earthy mushrooms, and the water released from the mushrooms mixed with the garlic and butter to really create a nice, earthy sauce that was wonderful.

Helpful Hints: If you’re serving these mushrooms alongside a main dish as I did, you’ll definitely want to serve them in individual dishes, as shown above. There’s a lot of that delicious buttery sauce poured down in there!

Roasted Mushrooms with Garlic Butter and Capers
Source: Adapted (slightly) from Smitten Kitchen, originally from

1 pound cremini mushrooms
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Toss the mushrooms with the capers, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish.

2. Top with the butter pieces. Roast at 450, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and a sauce begins to form below (about 20 minutes).

3. Stir in the lemon juice and serve.

Butternut Squash and Poblano Gratin

Inspiration: How many of my favorite foods can fit into one dish? As soon as a recipe combining butternut squash and poblano peppers together flashed across my computer screen, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before it ended up on my table.

What we Loved: Okay, so as Brandon put it, this does look like an amorphous blob. And I’ll say straight away that it’s not for those who are scared of a little cream, sour cream, and cheese. That being said, this recipe rocks. It has everything going for it – sweet squash slices that have started to brown and caramelize, spicy peppers with a nice Mexican flavor, and a wonderfully gooey, cheesy cream sauce. What a rich and fantastic recipe. We enjoyed it alongside ham steaks, but I’m thinking it would be great served in any number of ways. Maybe stuffed into an enchilada with a verde sauce on top?

Helpful Hints: You might be able to cut your gratin into neater servings if you don’t disregard the instructions and impatiently serve it right away like I did (…but the rest of the meal was already finished!). 

Butternut Squash and Poblano Gratin
Source: Adapted from Food and Wine, originally from Chef Julie Robles

1 butternut squash, about 2 lbs, peeled, seeded, and sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Ground thyme
Dried oregano
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
3 poblano peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz farmer’s cheese, shredded
4 oz goat cheese

1. Place the squash slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and starting to brown.

2. Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions and peppers, and saute until softened. Add the garlic and a sprinkle of oregano and thyme, and mix to combine.. Add the heavy cream, and then let simmer for 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Mix in the sour cream, and season with salt and pepper.

4. Spoon half of the poblano mixture into a baking dish. Top with half of the butternut squash slices and half of both cheeses. Repeat with a second layer.

5. Bake at 400 for about 20-25 minutes, until the gratin is browning and bubbling. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting.