Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beef Tacos

I can't believe I've never blogged about our favorite taco meat recipe! This America's Test Kitchen recipe is very similar to the one I grew up eating as a kid. This kind of taco meat is nice and saucy, with just a hint of spice, and you won't believe how quick it is to make. We like to make the Test Kitchen's refried beans to go with it.

Beef Tacos
adapted from The America's Kitchen Family Cookbook
serves 4

Notes: I've discovered that the quickest way to mince onions is to use a food processor. Peel and quarter the onion, then pulse in the processor, stopping to scrape the sides every 3-4 pulses. Just make sure that when you open the lid, for the love of god, DON'T stick your face over the opening, unless you want a face full of eye-burning onion fumes.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce (8-ounce can)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Add the ground beef. Cook for about 5 minutes or so, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Taste and season salt to taste.

Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells. Top with cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes (or whatever toppings you like).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer BBQ Recipes

Since Memorial Day weekend is coming up, I thought I'd post a little round-up of some of my favorite summer recipes from the past couple of years on this blog. There's a lot of great grilling recipes here, as well as several side dishes that would be perfect to make for a BBQ or bring along to a picnic. 

Depending on where you live, not all of these ingredients may be in season just yet, but at least they give you some ideas for the summer months ahead!

Just click on the photo to go to the recipe!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nacho Cheese Sauce

Wondering why my posts have been few and far between?

It's NOT because I've lost interest in blogging about food. I've just been too tired to photograph and write about what I've been eating.

In fact, my interest in food has become all-consuming as of late. I don't know for sure if what I have been feeling are cravings, but I will borrow the words of my friend Sarah when I say that these days I am "very susceptible to suggestion". If I see an ad for a food, or someone tells me about a food, chances are, I'm going to need to find a way to buy or make that food soon, because I won't be able to stop thinking about it until I do. And when I do eat that particular food, it will be the best (insert-name-of-food-here) that I've ever had. It's like all my taste buds are heightened and my usual obsession with food has been taken to the next level.

To illustrate my point, the woman who rang up my groceries at the Co-op told me about a tuna sandwich she made that sounded so fantastic I made it myself the very next week. It was just plain tuna, but she added a slice of smoked mozzarella and topped it with a quick slaw made out of just kale and apple cider vinegar. It was incredible!

I haven't been eating any weird food combinations like pickles and ice cream or anything like that, but lately I've been going for things that I never used to eat very often, like chicken Caesar salad, tuna sandwiches, cottage cheese and pineapple, and orange juice. I even had a Pepperoni Hot Pocket the other day (now there's a blast from the past which I hope does not become a regular occurrence. They used to be my breakfast almost every day in high school). Strawberry lemonade has become a new obsession as well.

Have you picked up on my little hints? Well, here's a big hint that explains my lack of posts and sudden extreme obsession with food.

Yep, that's right, we're having a baby! I'm so excited to finally share this news on my blog. I'm about 4 months along now, so that means we'll get to meet this little one sometime in mid-October. I'm officially taking suggestions for adorable Halloween costumes for a two-week old infant.

So why am I posting about nacho cheese sauce?

Well, that's been another favorite food lately. My workplace is a mere five minute stroll from the university dining hall where they serve up huge portions of delicious nachos, covered in that classic oh-so-good-for-you cheese sauce. For awhile there in the first trimester I went ventured over to get my nacho fix once a week, but after a few weeks of that I decided I wanted to try to make my own cheese sauce at home, so I could control my portions better and know exactly what was in the sauce itself. As it turns out, making nacho cheese sauce is just like making any other kind of cheese sauce - easy. This is actually really delicious served over steamed mixed vegetables as well!

Nacho Cheese Sauce
adapted from - Kitchen Simplicity

4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk, divided
2 teaspoons hot sauce
Salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, toss together the cheeses and cornstarch until evenly coated. Add 1 cup of the milk, the hot sauce, and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until thickened and smooth. Once it's hot and bubbling, check the consistency and add more milk if you'd like it thinner. Otherwise, taste and season with more salt if needed, and serve immediately. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ham, Asparagus, and Swiss Cheese Crepes

Crepes are so fun, why don't I make them more often?! The filling options are endless - these have a savory filling and are great for brunch or dinner and make use of fresh asparagus which is at it's peak right now.

I served these crepes with their recommended side - "fresh fruit with lime gastrique". Ignore the pretentious title of the recipe. Basically, it's chopped fruit that has been tossed with a lime juice and sugar slurry and allowed to soak for 15 minutes. I used bananas, mango, strawberries, and kiwi fruit. If you have about 4 cups of fruit total, you'll want to mix 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 tablespoon sugar for your sauce. Or skip the sauce altogether and just eat plain fresh fruit with your crepes. Either way, it's more fun to serve it in a fancy glass.

Not related to crepes at all, but I discovered a great make-ahead lunch idea that I wanted to share. One Sunday, I bought a bunch of veggies: broccoli, red bell peppers, a head of red cabbage, and a bunch of carrots. I chopped them all up into bite sized pieces, stored them in the biggest tupperware container I could find, and they sat there in the fridge for two weeks, ready for lunches or whatever I wanted to use them for.

For weekday lunches, I packed a container with about two cups of these raw veggies to work with me, steamed them in the microwave, then either topped them with various things or stirred them into something else. Most days, I had a low carb lunch by topping them with edamame, sunflower seeds, a little shredded cheddar, and a heaping dollop of Yumm sauce. For variety, one day I topped them with leftover homemade nacho cheese sauce (blog post next week!). Another day, I brought a frozen meal (a rare occurrence), a four cheese penne with spinach, with a very creamy sauce. I knew it wouldn't make me feel full on its own (frozen meals never do), so I stirred in some of the steamed veggies to bulk it up. Besides lunches, I also used some of the broccoli and red bell pepper for a weekend omelet.

How else can I use steamed veggies in my lunches? I'd love to get your suggestions!

Basic Crepe Recipe
adapted from Cuisine at Home - April 2009
makes about 10 crepes

Notes: If you are planning on chilling the batter overnight, it's probably better to use the oil rather than the butter because it won't solidify. Remember, the first crepe of the batch is usually total crap, so just know that and don't get discouraged, the other ones will be much better. If nothing else, it's something to munch on while you make the rest.

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl using a hand mixer on low speed. Scrape sides of bowl, then mix on high for about 10 seconds, or until ingredients are thoroughly combined. It should be about the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and chill for at least one hour or up to 24 hours. This resting time helps relax the gluten in the flour, making the finished product more tender. This also means you don't have to worry as much about over-mixing in the first step like you do with pancakes and other baked goods.

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. When hot, spray bottom and sides of pan with nonstick cooking spray. Measure out 1/4 cup of the batter, pour into one corner of the skillet, then immediately swirl the pan, tilting it so that the batter covers the bottom as much as possible. You can fill in any holes with more batter. Cook for about 1 minute, until the edges start to turn brown. You will know it's ready to be flipped when you can gently shake the skillet and the whole crepe shifts side-to-side in one piece. To flip, gently lift the crepe using a spatula and your fingers, and flip it. Cook on the other side for about 20-30 seconds. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Continue to cook the remaining crepes, coating the pan with nonstick spray between each one. It also helps to give the batter a quick stir with a whisk before measuring it out when making each crepe.

Ham, Asparagus, and Swiss Cheese Crepes
adapted from Cuisine at Home - April 2009
Makes about 10 crepes and 2 cups of sauce

Notes: These can be made ahead of time - just assemble the crepes but do not bake, cover them in plastic wrap and chill for 2-3 hours. When ready to serve, make the sauce while the crepes bake.

For the crepes:
8 ounce cooked ham, chopped (I bought some ham from the deli and asked them for thick slices, but thin sliced ham would be just fine too)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Ground black pepper to taste
1 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed, cut in half (thin spears are best for this recipe)
10 prepared crepes

For the sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/4 cup stone-ground mustard
Kosher salt and pepper
Chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, add the ham, cheese, and pepper and toss to combine. Place 1/4 cup of this mixture plus 4 asparagus halves down the center of each crepe. Roll them up and place them seam side down on the prepared baking sheet (at this point you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake). Bake crepes for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and milk, bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, salt, and pepper and simmer until heated through.

Serve crepes with the sauce, garnish with chives.

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