Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spicy Beef Nachos

When I was in my early 20’s, nachos from the local convenience store were a staple food in my bachelor's life. Little did I know how much more they could be, beyond stale tortilla chips and hot cheese sauce. Little did I know how much better they would taste if I made my own. Being older and wiser, I’ve learned how to make killer nachos. Tasty, spicy, cheesy beef nachos that won’t last long once you set them on the table. They’ll be gobbled up too fast for any left overs.

Make sure to use very lean ground beef in this recipe. There’s a lot of cheese, and lots of cheese means lots of grease, if you’re not careful. I think these nachos have just the right amount of kick for a family dinner or gathering, but you can certainly spice them up more, or serve hot sauce on the side, if you like.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Box grater
Measuring cups and spoons
Large skillet
Large spoon
9” x 12” baking dish, glass is preferred
Garlic press (optional)

1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound lean ground beef (90% or leaner, preferred)
8 ounces tortilla chips (2/3 of a large bag)
1 1/2 cup tomato salsa
1 cup sour cream
Cooking spray

Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat to 400 degree Fahrenheit.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the yellow onion and a dash of salt. Cook until softened, occasionally stirring, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and salt. Cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the ground beef and green bell pepper. Cook, breaking the meat up with a  spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Spray a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half the chips, evenly, over the bottom. Sprinkle half the beef mixture evenly over the chips, then sprinkle half the cheese over the beef. Repeat with remaining chips, beef mixture, and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted, about 9 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Dot with the sour cream and salsa. Sprinkle the sliced green onion over the top and serve warm.

Makes 6 servings

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lemon Asparagus

Some summer days are too hot for hot food. Cold food is definitely in order, but raw vegetables can get boring after a while. Fortunately, chilled asparagus can be just the thing on those occasions.

One of the great things about this dish is that the two major components, the asparagus and the lemon dressing, can be made in advance. Just don’t mix the two prior to serving.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Large cooking pot or Dutch Oven
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)
Paper towels

2 pounds asparagus
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon salt for the boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt for the dressing
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside.

Remove one spear of asparagus from the bunch. Bend at the thicker end until it breaks. Use this as a guide to trim the tough ends from rest of the asparagus.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large cooking pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the asparagus. Cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the asparagus immediately and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Refrigerate in a sealed container until needed.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 salt, honey, and black pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil to create and emulsion. Stir in the green onion. Refrigerate until needed.

When ready to serve, toss the asparagus with the dressing and arrange on a serving platter.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, July 16, 2012

American Potato Salad, Revisited

Potato salad is a summer party tradition in our house. Of course, we don’t always wait for family parties to make it. Sometimes we just make it for ourselves, party or not. 

One of the fun things about potato salad, like other dishes, is that there are so many variations. Trying different recipes of the same dish can lead to some interesting discoveries. Some discoveries are that you never want to make that variation again. Others, like this one, make you change the the way you make. Some traditions are meant to be broken.

Peeling the potatoes is strictly optional. Don’t use sweet pickle relish as a short cut. The potato salad will be more mush and the pickle flavor too strong.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Sauce pan
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula

3 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 3/4” chunks.
2 stalks celery, finely diced
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet pickle
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 teaspoons dried parsley

Add the potatoes to a large pot with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander. Toss the warm potatoes with the vinegar, salt and pepper. It’s easier for the warm potatoes to soak up the vinegar, increasing their brightness and flavor. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the mayonnaise, pickles, celery, onion and mustard together in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the chilled potatoes and eggs until evenly coated. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Juice of the Gods

Sorry, true believers. I’m not talking about chocolate.

A few months ago I came across a movie, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” This described me pretty well so I decided to watch it. Here was a guy from Australia, with a rare auto-immune disorder, documenting a two month juice fast. He talked about the science behind it, why he needed it, and showed his results. Starting out rather chubby, he ended up looking really good by the end of the movie. I was intrigued.

About halfway through, he encountered a guy about twice his size at a truck stop who had the same auto-immune disorder he was suffering from. This guy was bigger than me. These days, that’s saying something. He had a tough time at first, but in the end he was looking trim, fit, and happy. I was impressed. Eventually, I got my wife to watch it with me and we decided to try it, sort of.

Researching various juice fast sites and plans, we settled on a compromise plan. Instead of just having juice and water all day, this one lets us eat dinner with our kids. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of eating dinner at the table with your family, regularly. I didn’t want to miss that if I didn’t have to.

This plan recommends only vegetables for dinner. That’s not going to happen. I might inflict weird dietary rules on myself, but I’m not going to force my family to follow me. I’m also not going to sit at the table with a glass of juice while the rest of my family is

After three days I’ve not lost much weight, but weird things are happening. For starters, my daily diet cola has lost is savor. Most soda has, actually. I don’t feel as well when I drink them and I actually get a headache. I tried eating tater tots one night and I felt like I had a lump of clay in my gut. No more tater tots. Yuck.

Overall my desire for certain kinds of food is waning. I find myself more interested in vegetables than other kinds of food, now. I think this is a good thing. It’s made me more willing to buy a wider variety of vegetables, even those that seem more expensive.

Which brings me to my next point: the finances of it are interesting. Juicing all day isn’t all that cheap, but it’s not actually that expensive (unless you go completely organic). It’s made me realize that vegetables aren’t as expensive as some of them seem. Those that seem expensive, like kale, beets, parsnips or leeks, are certainly more money than lettuce and celery, but not really any more than other kinds of foods we were buying. Certainly they’re less expensive, and better for you, than most process foods.

I’ve dedicated myself to trying this for at least 5 days. After that, we’ll see. With only two days to go, I’m suspicious I will continue for a while longer. Even if I don’t continue with the juice fast, though, juicing in general has become part of my life. More vegetables and legumes will be hitting my table. Pigs and cows everywhere will rejoice. Vegetables are fruit will live in fear. The Mormon Foodie has shifted his palette.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cool and Spicy Tomato Dilly Drink

Ah the dog days of summer. We’re sure in the think of them where I live. We’ve not seen enough rain, either, just to compound matters. It’s nice to have something cold and light to drink on days like these. Soda and punch are easy first choices, but some days it’s nice for adults to get away from the sickly sweet kids drinks. It’s nice for the kids, once in a while, too. You may remember my musings on the challenges of adult non-alcoholic drinks, “Mormon mixology,” a few weeks ago.

Lemonade is a great first choice, but that’s not what I’m sharing today. Instead, we’re going to look to the Lion House Restaurant for some inspiration. This is my take on their “Hot Zippity Tomato Dill Drink.” I prefer the name, Tomato Dilly.There’s no hot involved in my variation, unless you mean the Tabasco sauce.

Equipment Needed
Large pitcher
Large spoon
Can opener

48 oz. canned vegetable juice (like V8) or tomato juice
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 - 4 drops Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
1/3 cup lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together in a large pitcher. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.

Makes about 8 cups, or 4-6 servings.