Friday, 20 January 2017

Taco Beef

Do you ever worry about preservatives?  I go through phases where I'm like "damn, that is probably full of preservatives - I should make it from scratch and it'll be more healthy for me".

Like - how does some of those famous breads stay good so long?  Erk.  That's not right.

And those packaged taco seasoning mixes?  Are they good for you or bad for you?  But then I wonder if the spices in the spice aisle are okay.

It's a dark, deep, and long rabbit hole.

I do think that making things from scratch often offers a depth of flavor that just isn't there with pre-packaged things.  I mean, I understand where convenience is a huge factor, but in my complete and honest opinion - throwing all of this stuff together to cook up doesn't take that much longer.
 

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion.
 

Cook until softened and add in all the spices.
 

Don't forget the garlic!
 

Stir to coat the onions in the spice mixture.  Then add in the beef.



Then cook until the beef is just cooked through.  And add in the tomato sauce.
 

And the chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar.


Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid is almost gone.  It should thicken and reduce as you cook it.  But watch as you don't want the meat to be completely dry.
 

Then put into your favorite shell and EAT!!  As you can see from my very dirty plate - I was A. HUNGRY and B. not really caring about how fancy the pictures looked.
 

 

There are a couple of different versions of taco seasoning available at the grocery stores, but this one beats them all - hands down.  It's well spiced, but not too much as often is the case.  In addition, you can up or reduce the cayenne depending on your heat proclivities.  Which is awesome.

Serve it in your vessel of choice with your favorite toppings (I'm a plain Jane cheese, sour cream, and lettuce girl).

I would definitely encourage you to double the recipe.  Then you can freeze half - or in smaller batches, to whip out on a busy evening.

The only question that remains.....  How many tacos can you eat? 

I refuse to admit my taco count.  It's high though.
 
PS - I used this taco meat to make homemade Crunchwrap Supremes (stay tuned for THAT) and they came out awesome.  I made extra to have at work over the week and it was just as good on day one as on day 4.  I absolutely recommend making a big batch to freeze!  Tacos - ANYTIME.

Enjoy! - Heather

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

In addition to the other multitude of foods that I love, soup is high up on the list.

But I'm specific about the soup that I like.  I like creamy, thick, stick-to-your-ribs soup.  Cream of chicken, cream of asparagus, cream of tomato, etc. etc.

In my food blog travels, I came across this creamy Chicken and Gnocchi soup.  I was intrigued.  I love gnocchi, I love a creamy soup, and this one is chock full of vegetables - meaning it was legit healthy.

Now - here's what you need to know - allow me to segue for a minute here.  In the world, there are like a zillion recipes for a zillion dishes.  For example.  My chocolate chip cookie recipe is different from the your favorite, and from your cousins favorite, and her friend's favorite.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

Because of this, I like to test out different recipes to figure out which one I like the best.  Or maybe the first one I try isn't that great and I need to strike out again.

Which is what happened with this soup the first time I tried it.

I was SO excited.  I KNEW it was going to be good.  I could just tell!

And it was......  As waste of my time.  Something about the ingredients, or maybe the cooking method.  Something didn't work.  There was WAY too much olive oil and it was downright gross.

It was a few years before I decided to take the plunge and try again. 

These are all the things you'll need.  Just check out all those veggies!  I feel like a better/more healthy version of myself already.  lol


In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the butter and olive oil and heat until the butter is melted.




Add the onions.
 

And the celery and carrots.
 

Then add in the garlic and the thyme.
 

Cook the veggies until they're nice and soft and tender.  It'll take about 5 - 10 minutes.  Then add in the salt and pepper.


Add in the flour.
 

Stir the veggies around to coat with the flour.  You'll to cook the veggies and flour for another couple of minutes.

Then stir in the chicken broth.
 

And then the half and half.  (Okay - so that's the "not so healthy" part of the recipe).



Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened.  You can see on the sides of the pot in the picture below that the liquid is thick and hearty.  (this is the part where you're going to cook the gnocchi according to the package directions)

Then add in the chicken.
 

And the cooked gnocchi.
 

Cook for a few minutes so that the chicken and gnocchi are heated through.

Add in the roughly chopped spinach.
 

Then it'll look like this.
 

And you can ladle the soup into a bowl and it'll look like this.
 

And this.
 

And when you dip in a spoon to chow down, it'll look like this.
 

And this.


I completely recommend serving this with crusty bread, or a crusty bun, or crackers.  But definitely bread so that you can scrape every last drop of soup off the bottom of the bowl.  Trust me - you'll be disappointed if you don't.

This was the epitome of soups for me.  Creamy, hearty, full of vegetables, gnocchi, and chicken.  You could taste the slight hint of olive oil and the salt and pepper seasoned it perfectly. 

While there's some work involved - from start to finish (including prep time) it takes about an hour to make.  That's pretty quick for such a delicious recipe.  Although I've said before that delicious doesn't always need to take forever.

I go through barrels of soup in the winter - this is one of my most treasured favorites!  I hope you love it as much as I do. 

xoxo - Heather
 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Cheesy Baked Tortellini

I've heard - and talked about - that blogging about recipes you don't LOVE is against all the blogging rules. 


In the past, I've tried recipes and cooked things I wasn't wild about and posted about them.  But at some point along the way, I decided that you didn't want to hear about stuff I hated or was ambivalent about.   You wanted to hear about the dishes that made me smile, the ones that warmed my ribs, the ones that made my tastebuds pop.


I think you can tell - I have LOVED everything I've posted about lately.  So, goal achieved!!

Before I start here.  There's something you need to know.  The original recipe did not meet the criteria above.


So I changed it.  And it was the perfect pasta casserole for a freezing winter afternoon.

It's fairly involved (it'll definitely need to be started early in the day), but when it's -30 degrees C outside, I figure we've all got a little extra time on our hands in the house. 


The reason this takes so long is because you have to start by making a meat sauce.  Which cooks for quite some time. Also, the recipe calls for veal, but I couldn't get veal so I just upped the beef and
pork.


Let's kick it into gear.




Heat oil in a large pot and add the meats.  Cook until browned, breaking up the chunks of meat with a wooden spoon.




Add the garlic.





Add the onion.




Cook until the onions are translucent.  Add the salt and pepper.





Then the basil.





Followed up by red wine.




Stir in the crushed tomatoes and the tomato purée.  Stir until combined.  Simmer on low for 2 - 3 hours.





The best part is that this recipe makes a REALLY BIG batch.  The tortellini recipe calls for 3 cups of sauce, so the rest can be portioned into freezer bags and saved for a rainy day.  Which is so great.

You can also plan this so that as the meat sauce is finishing, everything else is ready to go. Totally your call.


Next up is the béchamel sauce.




Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.




Then add the flour.  Whisk together and cook until the flour is golden brown.  Don't let it burn!




Then add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.  




Heat the mixture until it is simmering.  Cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly so it doesn't burn or cook to the bottom of the pot.


The mixture should thicken (you can see how it has on the sides of the pot in the picture below), then add in the provolone cheese and stir until it's melted.




Then add the Parmesan cheese and stir until melted.




Add in salt and pepper.  I usually go for about 1 teaspoon and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. 





Then stir in 3 cups of your prepared meat sauce.




Put the pasta in a really, really big bowl.  I used my 32 cup Tupperware bowl and it was perfect.




Pour the prepared sauce into the bowl with the tortellini and stir to combine.




Transfer the pasta and sauce into a 9 x 13 baking dish and top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.




Cook.  Wait.  Cook and wait.  Get hungry. 






I loved everything about this.  The sauce, the cheese, the pasta.  How it all came together and warmed the frozen cockles of my heart.



You could use any pasta you like.  I do recall seeing a bacon and cheese tortellini pasta and that would be probably wildly delightful.  I used a package of beef/cheese and a package of plain cheese. 



Serve with a Caesar salad and The Bread and that's a meal that is family friendly that will keep bellies full for days.  Or in my case, until dessert.



Enjoy!
Xoxo - Heather

Friday, 7 October 2016

French Onion Soup au Gratin Meatballs

I'm starting to "winterize". 

The perennials are starting to turn brown and get cut back.  The oil in the lawnmower is changed.  I got the dirt in the backyard garden turned up and two ugly plants removed.  And then.  There was the snowblower debacle.

The snowblower was purchased in February of 2011 after a ridiculous amount of snowfall in the few months leading up to "the last straw".  The snow was over my head on the lawn!  So, the snowblower came into my life.  And - well.  I just got around to changing the oil in it - this year.  Oops.

Being an individual of somewhat handy means, I checked the instructions and proceeded.  The oil drains from a pipe that about 5 inches long and has a cap on it.  I was unscrewing the cap and it seemed to be taking an amazingly long time.  But I persevered and suddenly, the drain pipe falls COMPLETELY off the snowblower (into the pan I was using to catch the oil), and oil starts going EVERYWHERE.  Ugh. 

So I slammed the pipe back into the machine and screwed it into place.  For whatever reason, the cap was completely stuck in place and I needed to use a pair of vice-grips to hold the drain pipe still while unscrewing the cap. 

Tip from me to you.  Kitty litter will soak up oil like nobody's business.  It's amazing.

Then, after letting the machine sit for a few days to see if the drain pipe was set properly and the cap was tight, I went ahead with starting the stupid thing to see if it would leak when it pressured up.

I hit the primer button, the tilted the machine to roll it closer to the open door so that I wouldn't suffocate and gas dripped on the floor.  So I pressed the primer button a few mores times and MORE GAS leaked out.  Naturally, I needed to rip the thing apart to find out if a piece of tubing had blown apart.

After monkeying around for a little while (and basically emptying the fuel tank into a Ziploc bag), I gave up and headed inside.  After a little bit of research, I discovered that "over-priming" causes the carburetor to over fill and spill over. 

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the snowblower.  Since then, I've moved it around, started it up, and let all the parts move.  With no problems at all.

Tip from me to you.  Research before ripping apart a machine. 

And with that.  The winterizing continues.  Gardens are being cut down, tulips are being planted for the spring.  The garage is getting cleaned out.  I'm surprisingly busy!

So - with the winterizing in progress, it is with just the slightest chagrin that I'm going to slightly switch gears from the summery fun of BBQ to more..... wintery type of meals.

But though the snow and cold is coming to stay - there is totally nothing wrong with the deliciousness that I'm about to share with you.

These French Onion Soup au Gratin Meatballs are beyond unbelievable.  Caramelizing the onions and stuffing the meatballs is somewhat time-consuming - but WORTH IT.

So let's start with the onions. 


Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  When it shimmers, add in the onions.  To get them super-even, I used my mandolin.  But if you have killer knife skills and can slice those onions up evenly - knock yourself out.  



Add the salt and pepper.  And then let cook over medium heat for about 15 - 20 minutes.  Stirring frequently.  You don't want those babies to burn.



Once the onions are caramelized, add in the thyme and cook for another minute or two.



Then add in the red wine.


And add the beef broth.


Stir to coat the onions and cook until the liquid is nearly reduced.



In a medium bowl, combine the beef.



And the bread crumbs.



And the parsley and egg.



Salt and pepper.  And combine.



Cut (about) 2 ounces of mozzarella into half-inch cubes.











Divide the beef mixture into sixteen equal-sized pieces.  Flatten each piece into a patty.







Then stuff with a half tablespoon of the caramelized onion.





Then add in a cube of mozzarella.



Wrap the patty around the onions and cheese and seal as much as possible - rolling into a ball.

Then you're going to brown the meatballs in a skillet.  I would absolutely recommend being lazy and using the skillet that you caramelized the onions in. 

Next is to make the sauce.  Combine beef broth, red wine, and cornstarch and whisk together.





Now.  If you're lucky enough to be using an oven-safe skillet, pour the sauce over the meatballs in the skillet, top with the remaining 6 ounces of cheese, and bake in the oven.

But - if you're like me and you haven't yet acquired a skillet like that, you can transfer the meatballs to a casserole dish, top with the sauce and cheese, and bake in the oven.  I would say that a 7 x 11 inch dish would be just the right size.



Oh, the cheese.  Oh, the meatballs.  Serve them on rice.  Serve them on mashed potatoes.  Top with fresh parsley if you happen to remember.  




But mostly, the glorious, glorious cheese.

The sauce thickened while it was baking, the meatballs came out tender and juicy.  The cheese..  I mean - I'm probably boring you with the cheese business, but if you lust after cheese the way that I do, this meatball dish will be totally perfect for you.

I hope your lawnmower is put away, and your snowblower is all ready for the new winter season.

Enjoy!
Heather