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.
2 chicken breasts, butterflied
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.
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
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
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: This one comes from Brandon’s Mom and is something that he has been eating since he was a kid. Now, it’s one of our favorite summer dishes. I made this most recently to take to a Fourth of July party over the weekend (how the heck is it Fourth of July time already?) as a dish that could sit out for several hours without having to be refrigerated. I always find that those kind of dishes are hard to come by, but this one fits the bill perfectly and is also super tasty.
What We Loved: This dish sure has a lot of fresh and nutritious ingredients going on. Creamy beans, crisp corn, bright carrots and cilantro, a touch of spicy jalapeno, and a nice bite from some onion and garlic really give you so many wonderful flavors in each bite. And the olive oil/lemon/garlic dressing just coats everything in all kinds of goodness. We can just eat this salad by the spoonful, particularly during the summer when all of the great bean and vegetable flavors taste so crisp and refreshing.
Tips: Brandon’s Mom always serves this as a salsa with tortilla chips, and it’s fabulous that way too. I think it’s great as a side dish or even just on its own in a bowl for a nice light lunch. Also, you can either mince the onion, carrot, and jalapeno by hand (as I did this time around since I had some time) or throw them into the food processor for a quicker mince.
Source: Slightly adapted from Brandon’s Mom
Serves: A crowd
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
3/4 cup red onion, very finely minced
3/4 cup carrot, very finely minced
1 jalapeno, very finely minced
Large handful cilantro, minced
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1. Combine the black beans, red beans, pinto beans, corn, onion, carrot, and jalapeno in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, cumin, and salt.
3. Right before serving, pour the dressing over the bean mixture and mix together thoroughly.
Inspiration: Why is pizza so delicious? I could probably eat it every single day and not tire of it for quite some time, if ever. From frozen pizzas from the grocery store all of the way to the most gourmet pizza with goat cheese and arugula that we had in Paris, I just love them all. Luckily, I have some sort of self restraint every once in a while. And yet….I truly do need a good pizza fix every now and then. Who doesn’t?
What We Loved: The awesome thing about making a pizza on a portabella mushroom is that since mushrooms are already a great pizza topping, this is basically like eating a nice pile of pizza toppings. Perfect. I actually enjoyed these more than any meal that I’ve made in quite some time. All of the flavor components of what I consider a great classic pizza were there – the characteristic marinara sauce, the essential spicy pepperoni, and plenty of gooey cheese. I was truly surprised by how pizza-like these tasted and by how well they satisfied that need for a great pizza. From now on, whenever a pizza craving hits, I’ll be serving up these little guys in our house.
Tips: Make sure to cook your mushrooms long enough so that the water in the mushrooms is released into your baking pan. For me, a half an hour was perfect. Similarly, be sure to cook down your tomato sauce until it’s nice and thick, too. If you don’t do either of those things, the mushrooms might end up being watery, which is never good.
Portabella Pizzas with Pepperoni and Black Olives
Source: Inspired from Primal-icious, to Serve 2
4 portabella mushroom caps
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons oregano
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Smoked mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded
Pepperoni slices (I used 1 large slice per mushroom)
Black olives, sliced
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1. Clean the mushrooms with water. Cut the stems out of the mushroom caps, and finely dice. Place the mushroom caps into a baking dish and set aside.
2. Heat about a tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan. Add the garlic and diced mushroom stems, stirring until the garlic is fragrant. Add the tomatoes, oregano, an additional tablespoon of butter, and a sprinkle of Kosher salt and black pepper. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally and smashing the tomatoes with your spoon, until the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce is nice and thick.
3. Divide the tomato sauce between the four mushroom caps. Top with smoked mozzarella, pepperoni, black olives, Parmesan, and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning.
4. Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, until the water from the mushrooms has been released into the baking dish and the cheese on top of the mushrooms is starting to brown.
Inspiration: As a lot of people will agree, I think, there’s something about a 90 degree weekend that just calls for grilling out. I threw these on the menu for a hot Sunday night just before Brandon and I were heading out of town for a week in Washington, D.C. Because let’s face it – something about an awesome week of eating out also calls for some light and proper eating in beforehand.
What We Loved: I just love the slightly smoky flavor that grilling lends to shrimp. It’s just another layer of awesome on top of the already sweet, succulent flavor that is characteristic of great shrimp. These shrimp were also defined by the earthy, piney flavor of rosemary, and I loved the salty richness that the prosciutto added to the shrimp. Wrapping each shrimp in the prosciutto makes for a nice little parcel of delicious flavor. What’s also great about these skewers is that they’re easy, light, and perfect for a hot summer day.
Tips: It only takes a few short minutes to grill shrimp – probably about two minutes per side – so keep a close eye on these. Overcooked, rubbery shrimp sure are a tragedy. I also wouldn’t worry too much about carefully wrapping the prosciutto around the shrimp. Any old way will work.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp Skewers
Source: Original Recipe
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp, tails left on
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
Handful rosemary, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 slices prosciutto, cut into small strips
1. Place the shrimp in a bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil. Add the lemon juice, rosemary, and garlic. Let marinate for about half an hour. Meanwhile, if you are using wooden skewers, prepare them by soaking them in water for at least half an hour.
2. Wrap each shrimp in a strip of prosciutto, and thread the shrimp onto the skewers.
3. Pour any marinade that accumulated in your bowl back over the shrimp skewers. Drizzle with some more olive oil.
4. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until the shrimp are just barely cooked through.
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.
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.
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.