Taco Salad

Some nights I just want something relatively easy to make for dinner because I’m tired or because I have to take el nino (aka my son) to swimming lesson. Last night was one of those nights. The previous evening I’d planned on grilling steak but the weather didn’t cooperate. As a result I had a New York strip steak that needed to be used. Normally this would be no big deal but we’ve had a week’s worth of rain and once again grilling wasn’t going to be an option. Sometimes I’d just use my grill pan on these occasions but the steak was thick and the chances of getting it to a reasonable temperate were low. Stir fry was also out, because we’d had rice twice already this week. So I decide that a taco salad topped with beef strips would be a good option.

What makes a taco salad really good though is a nice dressing. I like the dressing that Chipotle serves when you get a salad bowl there but I didn’t have any chipotle chiles on hand. What I did have as a plethora or jalapenos. So I thought maybe a creamy jalapeno dressing would be good. An internet search led me to the recipe for Chuy’s Creamy Jalapeno Ranch Dip (Copycat). The difference between dip and dressing is really the consistency of mixture. So I went into recipe hacking mode. First, I changed the sour cream for greek yogurt. Then I added some cumin for taste. Lastly, I increased the liquid in the recipe to get the right consistency.

Creamy Jalapeno Dressing

Ingredients
8 oz. light greek yogurt
1 pkg. (1 oz.) ranch dip mix
1 whole large jalapenos, seeded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 whole limes, juiced
2-4 Tbsp. milk

Instructions
Roughly chop the jalapenos, cilantro and garlic cloves. Add to a blender and chop, scraping down the sides a time or two. Add lime juice and yogurt, and pulse until creamy. Add milk slowly until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I used 4 tablespoons

Once I had the dressing I could make my salad. For my salad base, I used a romaine mix and added thin slices of red onion, red bell pepper, corn kernels, and cherry tomato halves. I sliced the beef until into thin strips and marinated it for 15 minutes in some oil, lime juice, ground cumin, ground ancho chile pepper, and garlic salt. Then I cooked the beef on my grill pan. Into each bowl I placed the salad base, some cooked beef, shedded mexican mix cheese, then topped with the dressing. The final product was super tasty and produced enough left overs for lunch the next day, plus some extra dressing. I haven’t decided how I’ll use the rest of the dressing leftovers. Maybe on another salad or maybe I’ll add a little more yogurt and transform it back into a dip.

Easy Pork Chile Verde

I’ve made Pork Chile Verde before when I have the time to make the green sauce from scratch. However, sometimes I’m too busy or lazy to make the sauce and I really really want this dish. That prompted me to see if I could make a simple easy version of this. The answer is yes, if you can find a good verde salsa to use. I like Hernandez Salsa Verde for this.

Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 1 pound pork shoulder cubed (large cubes)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 16 ounce jar of green tomatillo salsa
Instructions
  1. Add oil to pan and bring up to temperature. Brown pork cubes. Do not cook through just lightly brown.
  2. Remove from pork from pan and place in slow cooker.
  3. Add onion and garlic to pan and saute
  4. Add tomatillo salsa to pan to deglaze
  5. Dump sauce into slow cooker on top of pork. Combine well.
  6. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours
  7. If the sauce doesn’t reduce enough in the slow cooker, transfer back to pan and reduce on the stove.

The awesome thing about this version of the recipe is it takes 15 minutes to put together which is a big pro for busy cooks.

Coconut curry short ribs

My family really likes it when I make braised meat for them. My pork verde is always a huge hit when we visit one another. This time while I was home, I agreed to make a curried short rib dish for them. I used as the basis a recipe from Evil Shenanigans but made some alternations based on what was available.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound boneless beef short ribs, cubed
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbp lemon grass paste
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 – 10 ounce can coconut milk
1 cup water
3 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 – 1 inch strips lime zest
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup sliced yellow squash
2 cups chopped napa cabbage

In a heavy skillet over high heat add the vegetable oil.  Season the short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper.  Brown the ribs on all sides in the hot skillet.

In slow cooker combine the remaining ingredients except for water, onion, squash and cabbage. Add the short ribs and use the water to deglaze the pan the meat browned in and add this to the slow cooker. Cook for 6 hours on low. Remove mixture from crock pot and put into pan to reduce sauce. Cook 15 minute to reduce. Add onion, squash and cabbage and cook for 10 minutes more. Serve the short ribs over rice with some of the sauce.

The final product shouldn’t be too soupy or lack sauce so keep that in mind during the reduction step. If your slow cooker does a good job of reducing the sauce then the reduction step isn’t necessary. Just add the vegetables to the slow cooker last to have them cook. My personal experience has been that the slow cooker doesn’t reduce the sauce enough for my liking. So I do the additional reduction step or cook this on the stove if I have the time to monitor it.

Tasty Chicken Satay

One of my favorite things to get when we go our for Thai food is satay. I don’t know if its the spices the chicken or beef are marinated in or the peanut dipping sauce which just tickle my taste buds. Typically I’m not a big fan of chicken but it is something I have to work into my weekly menus. In the summer one of the best ways to avoid heating the house up is to grill. So I thought that perhaps chicken satay would be a good recipe to try to add to my weekly chicken rotation.

An internet search turned up a recipe that wzs Malaysian rather than Thai. Since I’ve had satay at a local Malaysian place and liked it better than our Thai place’s satay, I thought I’d give the version at Rasa Malaysia Easy Recipes a whirl. I’ve made it twice and changed the recipe a little. I use lemon grass paste because its easier to find than lemon grass and I don’t always cut the meat up and put it on skewers. Sometimes I just marinate and cook whole pieces on the grill. Ideally this would be served with a thai peanut sauce and a little sweet thai cucumber salad but I haven’t found a recipe I like for either or those yet. My only caution is to be careful with your turmeric because it you spill it it can stain stuff, such as your nice white corian kitchen counters.

Ingredients:

4 chicken legs and thighs (preferred) or 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts pounded
Bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for 2 hours
Oil, for basting

Marinade:

3 tablespoons oil
2 tbs lemongrass paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 shallots, peeled
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar

Method:
Blend the Marinade ingredients in a food processor. Add in a little water if needed. Marinate the chicken pieces for 6 hours or best overnight. If desired, cut the chicken meat into small cubes and thread a few pieces of the chicken meat onto the bamboo skewers. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side until nicely charred. Baste and brush with some oil while grilling.

This particular recipe has become a big winner for me as it really makes chicken MUCH more palatable. I’m still figuring out exactly what to serve it with but I’ll discuss those experiments at a later date.

Lamb kibbeh patties

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned several times before that I’m a super big fan of lamb. One thing that often seems to be in the marked down meat bin at the grocery store is ground lamb. I guess most people don’t know what to do with it. For me there are so many delicious options like Stuffed Peppers, Keftedes (aka greek meatballs), kibbeh patties or kofta kabobs or patties. While I was visiting my family in Maine earlier this month, I decided to make kibbeh patties for them. Most people think of kibbeh as little croquettes stuff with ground beef or lamb with onions and roasted pine nuts. I like this kind of kibbeh but its hard to make without a deep fat fryer. So I settle for the pattie style ones because they are equally delicious. Here is the recipe I made for my family that got good reviews.
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 – 3/4 cup of cooked bulgur
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
Finely chop in food processor garlic, onion, and parsley
Mix everything together, form small patties, 8 total
Grill 6-8 minutes depending on how rare you like your lamb
I ended up serving these with pita bread, tzatziki sauce and my version of a tabbouleh salad. Its a great meal in the summer time because it require very little use of the stove which means the house stays cool!

Cucumber Tomato Tabbouleh

Summertime always means lots of fresh vegetables and at my parents place especially lots of cucumbers. I also get lots of cucumbers in my CSA box so I’m always trying to think of ways to use them. Pair this with the fact I really really like bulgur and the flavors or tabbouleh but don’t really like parsley and well my Cucumber Tomato Tabbouleh was born. I make this salad off the cuff most of the time, tasting it to see how much lemon juice I want, looking at the texture for the amount of oil, and cutting vegetables until I think they are proportional to the bulgur. However, my mom wanted an actual recipe so this is my best guess on actual measurements.

  • 1 cup Bulgar (I like Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup Cherry or grape tomatoes halved or 1 – 1 1/2 fresh tomatoes diced
  • 3-4 Finely chopped peeled small cucumbers. If you have big seedy ones remove the seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 4 tbs Olive oil
  • 4 tbs Lemon juice

Follow the package directions for preparing bulgar using the soaking method. In the case of the brand I use this means placing 1 cup Bulgur in bowl. Pouring 1 cup boiling water over Bulgur and letting stand for 1 hour. Draining any excess liquid.

Mix bulgar together with all the other ingredients. Cover and refridgerate for at least 1 hour. Longer if possible to allow the flavors to blend. If salad is too dry additional oil and lemon juice can be added in even proportions

Squash Gnocchi with Cremini Mushrooms and Bacon

One of the things I often get in the fall CSA box are various types of winter squash. My family isn’t a big fan of winter squash so I am always trying to find different ways to use it. In the past, I’ve made Squash Bread or Brownies with Squash. However, the last time I got a bunch of butternut squash I decided to try to make Squash Gnocchi. Gnocchi are little dough dumplings often made of potato and semolina flour. Gnocchi can be a bit challenging to make due to issues with getting the dough consistence right.

I decided to use a recipe from Martha Stewart for Squash Gnocchi. The biggest challenge with this recipe is getting enough liquid out of the baked squash. This process was super messy and getting just enough water out was a bit of challenge. The recipe made a large amount of gnocchi and since I didn’t want to cook it all off at once, I needed a way to harden the gnocchi so I could freeze it and store it without it all sticking together. To do this, I spread the gnocchi out on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and put the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the gnocchi was frozen I transferred it to a storage bag.

For the gnocchi I didn’t freeze, I decided to make a cremini mushroom and bacon, brown butter sauce. My attempt was inspired by a Pan Fried Sage Butter Gnocchi recipe.

I began by cooking some diced bacon. Once I browned the bacon, I removed it from the pan on to a paper towel to drain. I also removed the excess bacon grease from the pan. Then I added some garlic and the cremini mushrooms to the pan. I sauted these. At the same time, I cooked the gnocchi by boiling it. Once the gnocchi was cooked, I tossed it with the mushrooms, garlic, and bacon. Lastly, I added some freshly grated parmesan cheese. The final product was super delicious and a nice blend of flavors and well worth the stress of making the squash gnocchi by hand.

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Korean spicy dipping sauce goodness

Most people know that I’m a big fan of spicy food. Stuff with some kick but not enough to incinerate your tasty buds hot. (You won’t catch me eating ghost chile anything) I like having something to spicy up my sandwiches, wraps and stir fry on hand. However finding something that fits this bill is a bit tough. Spicy green tomatillo salsa is good on tacos and sandwiches but a no go for stir fry.

Ultimately, my quest for a multi purpose condiment led me to ssamjang. If you don’t know what this is its the tasty stuff that often gets served on the side with Korean barbecue especially if you get grilled beef or pork belly. Its salty and spicy and IMHO delightfully delicious. One of our grocery stores carried a version of it for a while, but it isn’t available anymore. Which led me to look for it on Amazon and be unsatisfied with the version I purchased. The store bought kind was a little sweeter than what I’d had the Korean restaurant we go to. The kind that seemed closer to what got in a restaurant only came in mass quantities and I wasn’t willing to have 2 years worth.

So figured “how hard could it be to make?” The answer was um, hard to prepare but required internet searching for a proper recipe and amazoning some key ingredients. After locating a recipe, I ordered the pertinent ingredients: doenjang and gochujang, from Amazon and got to work. The recipe makes a goodly amount and though the recipe say it can be stored for 10 days, I’ve stored it in a Tupperware in the fridge for a month. I also mince my onions because it’s easier to put everything that needs to be chopped into the mini food processor and pulse.

As the recipe author points out, the ratios can vary so if you like it sweeter use more honey or if you want it less salty use less doenjang. Personally, I’m a big fan of the ratios as written. I use 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons in my stir fry or spread a tablespoon on my wrap. It adds possible variety to my lunch time cooking which is always a plus. I’m hoping in the near future to make some of my own Korean barbecue and I’ll have this condiment ready to go!

 

Yummy braised meat

One of my favorite ways to make meat when I’m in a hurry and/or have a cheap cut is to braise it. For most recipes, the meat gets seasoned then browned in a pan. Then it’s transferred to a crock pot and liquid added for slow cooking. Alternatively, one can simmer on low on the stove. Three meats I often cook this way are

  • Boneless or bone-in short ribs
  • Chunks of pork shoulder or butt
  • Lamb shanks, shoulder, or leg chunks that are fatty or have lots of sinew, even a lamb bone will work

Short ribs are one of my absolute favorite things to braise. Sometimes I make Mexican taco filling this way. Other times I make Texas style chili. Another option is coconut curried short ribs.

Lamb is also an awesome thing to braise. Shanks in particular lend themselves to braising. My grandmother used to make a Greek dish she called lamb and noodles which involves cooking lamb in a tomato based sauce until it falls off the bone and then serving over noodles. I think she may have even added the noodles to the braising liquid to cook them. Lamb curry (Indian style) is often what I find myself making. This recipe from Cooking Light is pretty easy and doesn’t require too many “special order” ingredients.

When I braise pork I typically make pork chile verde. I often used store bought green tomatillo salsa to save time. This week I wanted something different. Inspired by the curried short ribs I went searching and decided to make a pork coconut curry. This is an exceptionally simple recipe but was super tasty. I added a quarter cup of lime juice to it to mellow out the fish sauce which can be overwhelming. I also added some sliced mushrooms, Napa cabbage, and green beans at the very end of the cooking process. My husband said it really need some spice in it. So I think if I make it again I’ll add a couple of tablespoons of green curry paste.

Cornbread

Cornbread is something that I had growing up but cornbread in New England and cornbread in the South are really not the same thing at all. Part of that is that southern cornbread is often prepared incredibly simply with lard and buttermilk and cooked, if possible, in a cast iron pan. Note the fact there isn’t sugar! My mom’s cornbread in contrast used regular milk, oil, egg and sugar. I went in search of a cornbread recipe and found two that really appealed to me.

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I typically make corn bread when I make chili or a soup because I like having the starch to contrast the liquid of the soup. Sometimes if there are leftovers from cornbread I like to toast them for breakfast. Especially if the corn bread is the dense variety. When I make corn bread I like to make loaves because they are easier to store or freeze for later.