Archive for January, 2009

Spicy Taco Burgers with Pico de Gallo

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

The idea for this burger came to me during a discussion about Mexican Risotto and Chorizo. Aside from the Mexican Risotto, my family uses Chorizo as the basis for our taco meat, and has for years. It adds a heat and a flavor that you won’t find in any spice packet. I was trying to think of something new I could make, and that’s when the idea of the taco burger came to me. The burger is made with a combination of Chorizo and ground beef. We topped these burgers with homemade pico de gallo, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, and a little bit of sour cream in place of the traditional ketchup/mustard/pickles. And the results were pretty tasty.

Taco Burgers

For burgers:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb mexican Chorizo
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 1/2 inch chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

For toppings:

1. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients and then season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until the ground beef and chorizo have thoroughly mixed. Let rest for about 15 minutes, to let the flavors meld. (I used this time to prepare the pico de gallo and other toppings)

2. Cut a portion of the cheese into 1/2 inch thick chunks, about the size of two postage stamps across.

3. Begin to form patties from the hamburger mixture, pressing a chunk of cheese into the center of each patty and then molding the patty around it so that the cheese forms the center of the burger.

4. Divide the meat mixture into 8 equal sized patties and cook the burgers. These could be grilled, if you use clean, oiled grill grates to avoid sticking, but here in Chicago, in January, I cooked these on the stove, using our grill pan. (Similar to the one you see here). It took about 8 minutes on each side to cook these burgers thoroughly. I lightly oiled the grill pan, to avoid sticking. Remember, the Chorizo is pork, and needs to be cooked through completely–longer than you might cook your burgers normally. You won’t overcook the beef, though. The spicy pork sausage brings plenty of moisture to the burger.

5. Serve on toasted buns with pico de gallo or salsa, shredded lettuce, cheese, and sour cream.

Note: These flavors were really, really good. I had a little bit of a problem with the burgers holding together in the cooking process. I believe I could fix that next time by using something to bind them–right now, I’m imagining a little bit of egg and tortilla chips crushed to crumbs in the food processor instead of bread crumbs. Even with the burgers threatening to crumble at the edges, they were still delicious and pretty simple to make. I’ll definitely be trying these again.

P.S. I know I’ve used it here before, but remember, Chorizo is a spicy mexican sausage. You can get it in most regular grocery stores, usually in the meat case with other sausages. It brings a salty flavor to the dish, so go easy on the salt. Spanish style chorizo is also available at some stores, but for this, you want the mexican style. The Spanish Chorizo is cured and smoked, and has a pepperoni-like texture. Mexican Chorizo is an entirely different thing.

“Recipe” for Pico de Gallo

The word “recipe” is in quotes because this is more of a method than a true recipe. Pico is one of those things that can be “right” twelve different ways, and is really dependent on how you want it to taste. So here’s what I did, and feel free to make adjustments to the amount of ingredients as you go.

  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced and seeded
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1-2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine tomatoes, onion, and 1/2 of the jalapeno in a small mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of lime juice and fresh cilantro. Mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for about 3-5 minutes to let the flavors meld, and then taste again. Add more lime juice, cilantro, or jalapeno, as desired. Sometimes, a pinch of sugar (1/4 teaspoon) can help to tone down the acidity of winter tomatoes.

Note: I skipped the jalapeno. If you like spicy, add as much as you like.

Top Chef Rundown: January 28, 2009

Friday, January 30th, 2009


This week’s product placementaward goes to…The Super Bowl. As if it needed publicity from Top Chef.

The quickfire challenge this week was another product placement-fest: create a dish using randomly assigned ingredients and food groups. It seemed like a fair challenge, though. No one got stuck with something overly difficult or challenging, and a lot of the chefs turned out what looked to be tasty treats, especially for being based on oatmeal!

Stefan won the quickfire, and while immunity was no longer a prize, he did win an advantage in the elimination challenge: the chance to choose his own city and challenger before everyone else. Speaking of challengers…

This week’s elimination challenge brought back a whole team of “Top Chef All Stars” to compete against this season’s cheftestants in a Super Bowl themed cook-off.

I though the challenge was a fun one to watch, but probably not the fairest way to decide things. First of all, when you do these mini head-to-head competitions, people can end up at Judge’s Table who don’t really deserve to be there. There were people who did deserve to be there, don’t get me wrong, but from my couch, it looked like some not-so-great-chefs skated by with not so great dishes because they were the lesser of two evils, while other chefs who cooked better dishes were slightly outdone by their All Star chef. And that’s side-stepping the entire issue of groups of culinary students having the power to overrule the judges’ decision.

It was interesting to see Stefan face Judge’s Table–really, it was interesting to see him face the whole challenge. I do not think he expected to lose in any way, shape, or form. For a while, when he was the only one facing elimination, David and I worried that this would be the most undeserved elimination since Tre.

Luckily for Stefan, his two counterparts in the bottom three made worse mistakes than his. Fabio overcooked his Wisconsin venison, and Jeff, true to form, tried to do too many things at once, and didn’t do a good job on any of them. And went home for it. I don’t feel bad for him. He’s had the same problem all season, and if you can’t learn from your mistakes, it’s time to go.

On the winning side of things, Carla won two tickets to the Super Bowl with her 20 minute gumbo. It looked impressive, and she seemed to do a good job, but I think she’s probably going to be out sooner or later, because she’s very inconsistent.

We did have fun seeing the old All Stars, especially Andrew and Spike. Maybe they’ll drop by again sometime.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

This “recipe” for hummus is my own creation, though to be fair, hummus is pretty simple to throw together, and no cooking is required. Just mixing. This recipe makes awesome use of my food processor, though, the lack of which had been holding me back from making my own hummus. I limited the amount of oil I used to keep this bean dip on the healthy side of things. You can serve it with veggies (think baby carrots, bell pepper strips), chips, or pieces of bread (pita or otherwise), but my favorite is baked pita chips.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

  • 1 large can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2-3 roasted red peppers, packed in water (from a jar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons light sesame oil

1. Add first 6 ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 3 or 4 times to move the mixture around in the bowl, then turn on the food processor.

2. While the processor is running, drizzle the olive oil and sesame oil into the mixture through the lid of the food processor.

3. Enjoy!

Note: Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for about a week. You may want to add additional salt or even black pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt to start with, though, since the canned beans can sometimes be salty depending on which kind you buy. I like it as a dip, but it would be good as a sandwich spread also.

Mexican Risotto

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

David and I have been making risotto for a long time. It’s one of those things that impresses non-cooking people, just by the sound of it, but it’s really not that hard to make at all. It just requires a little bit of attention. We make a more basic risotto that is delicious, with the traditional Parmesan cheese, but I’ve also developed a few variations on that theme, and this is one of them.

This risotto is just as creamy as the traditional kind, with added bite from the sharp cheddar cheese and added spice from the spicy mexican sausage. I put a little sour cream on mine, but that’s not necessary, I suppose (David skips it). This really turns out to be a like spicy Mexican Macaroni and Cheese. Yum.



Mexican Risotto

  • 3.5 Cups Chicken Stock or Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 C. white wine
  • 1 Cup of sharp cheddar cheese (I prefer Tillamook’s Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar, it’s not hard for us to go through a pound a week of this stuff!).
  • 1/2 Pound Mexican Chorizo Sausage
  • 1 Cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine chicken stock and white wine and bring to a boil.
  2. Saute chorizo with garlic in a medium skillet, until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes. Drain and put aside, reserving about a tablespoon of the chorizo drippings in the skillet.
  3. In the same skillet, add arborio rice and cook over medium high heat until grains start to turn translucent and shiny at the edges. The chorizo drippings will give everything kind of an orange tinge. You want to make sure that all of the grains of rice get coated, so if there’s not enough fat from the chorizo (and there should be), you can always add a teaspoon or so of extra virgin olive oil, or just save a little more of the drippings from the fried sausage. Don’t add too much–coating the rice is good, but extra grease will make the final dish extra greasy.
  4. Begin to add chicken stock mixture, one or two ladles at a time, until the rice will no longer absorb the liquid. The rice should have a creamy texture and be tender, with a little bit of bite to it (just slightly al dente).
  5. When rice is finished cooking, remove from heat, and stir in cheese and cooked sausage. Serve immediately, with sour cream if desired.
Note: Try this one, you won’t be disappointed. It does come out a bit spicy though, from the chorizo, so if spicy isn’t your thing (Sarah), I don’t recommend this. It’s a subtle heat, though, so as long as you don’t hate spicy things, you’ll be able to handle it.
Chorizo, if you aren’t familiar, is a spicy mexican sausage. You can get it in most regular grocery stores, usually in the meat case with other sausages like bratwurst and italian sausage. It’s made from pork, and we also use it in our taco meat, combining it with ground beef. Cut it out of the casings and brown it just like you would ground beef, just know that it takes a little longer than ground beef would to cook through. It brings a salty flavor to the dish, so go easy on the salt until you’ve tasted things. Spanish style chorizo is also available at some stores, but for this, you want the mexican style. The Spanish chorizo is cured and smoked, and has a pepperoni-like texture. Mexican chorizo is an entirely different thing.
We serve this as a main dish, but if you cut down on the meat, it could probably be a side dish just as easily.

Crockpot Chinese Pepper Steak

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

This one is a classic family recipe of ours. I grew up eating this pepper steak, before I even really knew that I liked Chinese food. This is also the recipe that taught David that he likes Chinese food. Now he happily eats at P.F. Chang’s, Opera, and of course, my Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry and Chicken & Broccoli Fried Rice. I’ve also got him hooked on these potstickers from Costco, but that’s another story.

This doesn’t have to be made in a crockpot, of course, but I’ve always had good luck making it that way. Taking advantage of the crockpot lets you use less tender cuts of beef. I make this dish as outlined below, but for those who like them, onions or mushrooms would be a welcome addition. You probably aren’t surprised to learn that we serve this dish with Alton Brown’s Baked Brown Rice, but white instant rice would be just fine, if that’s what you prefer. David skips the chow mein noodles, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re a necessity!

Crock-Pot Chinese Pepper Steak

  • 2 cans beef gravy
  • 1 pound of stew beef or roundsteak, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 large green peppers, seeded & chopped
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained
  • 2 cups rice, cooked
  • 2 TBSP hoisin sauce
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup tomato juice or vegetable juice (like V8)
  • 1 Cup chow mein noodles

1. Add Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and EVOO to a skillet, over medium high heat. Add beef and green peppers and saute for 3-4 minutes, or until beef begins to caramelize.

2. Add gravy, water chestnuts, tomato juice, and contents of skillet to a crockpot; stir together. Cover and heat on low approximately 6 hours.

3. Serve over rice, garnished with chow mein noodles. If the sauce is too thin, it can be thickend wtih slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed into 2 tablepoons of cold water.

Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Mom and Liz came over to hang out Friday night, and finally got the chance to try the homemade ice cream. As you guys probably remember, I took a poll last time to see what flavor I should make, and this was the winner. I’ve really got this ice cream thing down to a science, if I do say so myself. I got the same rich, creamy results this time around. Remember, chilled ingredients whisked into a chilled bowl and put into the ice cream machine right away makes all the difference.

I think this batch lasted a whole day. I think.

Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream
Adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

  • 4 Heath Bar candy bars
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips

1. Break candy bars into nickel size pieces or smaller and chill in the refrigerator until ready to add to the ice cream mixture.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the vanilla extract and blend again.

3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker. Add while the mixer is on the low setting, then turn it up to high.

4. Once the ice cream is almost finished (about 1 minutes before it is done) add the chilled candy pieces and chocolate chips and continue freezing the mixture until the ice cream is ready.

When it’s done in the ice cream machine, the ice cream will be the consistency of soft-serve. Freeze for at least two hours for a solid, scoopable ice cream.

I really will make butter pecan next time.

Top Chef Rundown: January 21, 2009

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


Restaurant Wars.

It’s one of the most insane challenges on Top Chef and one of the most exciting. The cheftestants are divided into two teams and have to design and and open a brand new restaurant in 24 hours. Of course, in the real world, people spend months, even years, opening a restaurant, so 24 hours is basically just lunacy.

They used the quickfire challenge to pick “team captains.” The challenge was straightforward enough: make a dish that represents your concept for a restaurant. Oddly enough, two of the weaker chefs ended up with the strongest concepts, and the teams were lead by Leah, and Radhika, who are pretty much at the bottom of the heap at this point.

And in danger: It was said about 100 times in this episode, but it’s the truth–historically, the leader of the losing Restaurant Wars team is the one who goes home.

There were plenty of lows, but I was actually pretty surprised at how well these restaurants turned out. Compared to previous years, where plates were left off of the tables, heavily scented candles ruined everything, and things were generally so bad that the judges called a do-over and let them start again, a couple of bad dishes and a slightly unenthusiastic host seems like no big deal. (Speaking of candles, I thought it was cute when Stephan went nuts buying all the unscented candles his team’s Toyota could hold. I guess, sometimes, the chefs do learn from their forerunners’ past mistakes.

I was annoyed at all of the drama with Leah and Hosea, I won’t lie. First of all, those two have been ridiculous all season. Second of all, they are not single, and have significant others at home, and are happy to say so. Finally, Top Chef has never been that kind of reality show, and when it stoops to those kinds of hijinks (head-shaving, anyone?) it’s clearly at its worst.

The teams put forth relatively complete restaurant concepts, but in the end, Leah’s team won, despite her horrible contribution of raw, poorly filleted fish. Fabio was impressive at the front of the house, and Stefan’s desserts were lauded as some of the best Top Chef has ever seen.

Speaking of desserts, Carla tanked Radhika’s entire team with her melted frozen yogurt and flavorless chocolate cake. The rest of the food was actually better than the other team’s, from the way the judges spoke, but the combination of Radhika’s apathetic front of the house work and Carla’s desserts put Radhika’s team firmly on the bottom.

And like many a Restaurant Wars leader before her, Radhika took the fall for her team. I think they made the right call. Carla made mistakes, but Radhika made plenty of her own, and failed to correct Carla’s mistakes when she had the chance.

The only downside is that Leah lives for another week, and that means I’ll have to sit through more Leah & Hosea drama. Maybe they’ll shave her head.

Garlicky Green Beans

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Green beans are seen often around here. We don’t really eat as many vegetables as we should, but green beans are one of the few veggies I always like. Of course, they’re not very interesting. Of course, there’s green bean casserole, or green beans with bacon (the way Grandma makes them, yum!), or just canned green beans. They’re a nice standby, a simple go-to veggie, but not very inspiring.

That’s why I set out to find a new recipe for green beans. And I did. This was a simple fix for frozen green beans. Even though it was nothing spectacular, this recipe was quick and tasty, and a nice change from the regular old canned beans. The panko is crunchy and buttery, like garlic bread, and the beans are fresh and crisp. The tiny bit of butter and small amount of bread crumbs go a long way, keeping the final product healthy, like vegetables should be.


Garlicky Green Beans


  1. Microwave beans according to package directions and drain.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet, add garlic and saute until soft–about 1 minute.
  3. Add bread crumbs, seasoning, and salt and pepper and saute 1 minute.
  4. Add green beans and saute 3 to 4 minutes.

Note: As I said, nothing earth-shattering here, but these green beans were pretty tasty. I’ll make these again, I’m sure. (Leah liked them so much she’s eaten the leftovers until every bite was gone…She’d be sad if I didn’t make them again!)

Chicken & Balsamic Vinegar Sauce

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

This recipe is another one from Cooking Light magazine’s Dinner Tonight series. I tend to like these recipes, because they’re just simple enough to be weeknight meals, but they’re still complicated enough that I enjoy cooking them. If that makes any sense at all. The original recipe called for sherry vinegar, but I used balsamic, because it’s what we have on hand, and what we like the best.


Chicken & Balsamic Vinegar Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (can also use Sherry Vinegar)2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add shallots & garlic to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth and vinegar, and cook 2 minutes. Add whipping cream; cook 1 minute. Serve sauce with the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley.

Note: I liked this a lot. The small amount of cream and butter is just enough to develop a rich, creamy sauce, but not enough to cause too much damage to your waistline/diet/healthy lifestyle. I served this with mashed potatoes–and the sauce was great on the potatoes too!

I used fresh parsley, and I think it was worth it. It really brightened the flavors of the sauce, but if you don’t have fresh parsley on hand, I’m sure other fresh herbs would work, and of course, dry herbs will work in a pinch. Remember, if you’re making substitutions:  you don’t need anywhere near as much of a dried herb as you do a fresh one.

I know I say this about a lot of things, but I’m sure we’ll have this again. Everyone was pleased.

Kevin Bacon Popcorn

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Everything is better with bacon. At least, that’s what everyone says these days. So even though I was a little bit skeptical of this recipe from the latest issue of Food Network Magazine, I was willing to give it a try. And I’m glad I did.

This “Kevin Bacon Popcorn” is part of a feature called “Best Supporting Snacks” for your Oscar party (which includes many other ridiculously-named treats, like “Chex and the City Mix” or “Cheesy Move Dip”). In honor of the nominations today, I figured it was a good time to share it with all of you.


Kevin Bacon Popcorn
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

  • 16 slices of bacon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup of popcorn
  • smoked paprika
  • popcorn salt
  • bacon salt

1. Place bacon slices on a metal rack in a baking pan, sprinkle with brown sugar, and bake at 400 degrees until crisp (about 12 minutes). Chop.

2. Make stove-popped popcorn using bacon drippings in place of oil. (To make stove-popped popcorn, heat about 1/3 cup of oil until very hot, but not smoking, in a large heavy pot with a lid. Add a couple of kernels to the pot–when they pop, you know the oil is ready. Add remaining popcorn in a single layer and put the lid on. Shake the pan during popping to keep the kernels from burning. When the popping slows, remove the pan from the heat until the popping stops.)

3. Toss the popcorn with bacon, smoked paprika, and salts, to taste.

Note: This was an awesome twist on a standard snack. Bacon does, indeed, make it better. The paprika and bacon salt add smokiness to the popcorn, while the small pieces of sugar-glazed bacon spread throughout the popcorn bring the perfect balance of salty and sweet into the mix. I know I’ll make this again.

I don’t know if everything is better with bacon, but I can say for sure that popcorn is better with bacon!