Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taco Stoup made with Leftovers

Do you ever clean out the fridge to find a tower of Tupperware containing bits of dinners past? My mother in law made a fantastic taco salad bar last weekend for the family and used ingredients you would expect to see (tomatoes, lettuce, beans, black olives) and some we were surprised we liked on our salad (pecans, shredded coconut, Frito's and nopalitos, which is cactus.) Jim and I luckily ended up with a good portion of the leftover pulled beef and the ground beef with onions, tomatoes and pinto beans.

I made quesadillas for Jim and I one night with the leftovers, and nachos as a snack later in the week. What I needed now was one really good recipe to repurpose all our leftovers and create one last fantastic meal. Enter Taco Stoup from stage left. That is not a typo, "stoup" is a cross between soup and stew. He's spicy, he's meaty, he's not quite a soup but not quite chile. You can eat this Taco Stoup in a bowl with a spoon, or scooped up with a tortilla, or spooned over tortilla chips, fritos or salad greens. This is a play on my original Taco Soup recipe, but I used what I had in the kitchen...and in this case, it just happened to be some fantastic mexican leftovers.

Ground Beef with Tomatoes, Onion and Pinto Beans
4 lbs ground beef
3 large onions, chopped
2 14 1/2 oz cans peeled tomatoes
2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
2 12 oz cans tomato puree
4 T chili powder
2 t cumin
1 t garlic powder
6 t salt
2 23 oz cans Ranch Style Beans (My mother in law used pinto beans.)

Brown beef and onions, drain fat. Add remaining ingredients except beans and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours. Add beans and heat through.

Pulled Beef
2-3 lb beef chuck, fat trimmed
3 T red wine vinegar
1 1/2 c beef broth
2 T chili powder
1 t ground cumin

Cut roast into 3-4 chunks and place in slow cooker. Combine ingredients and pour over roast. Cook 7-8 hours. Final hour: remove beef and shred. Return to pan with juice, cover and cook another hour.
Serves 8-12

HWM Leftover Taco Stoup
Into a crock pot I scoop the leftover ground beef and the leftover pulled beef.

If you have fresh jalapenos, use them. Mine were moldy (gross) so I used leftover canned jalapenos from our tacos salad bar. This is about 1/2 cup.

The can goods I added were Stewed Tomatoes (the mexican flavored variety), Trappey's Pinto Beans (bacon flavored), a can of Kernell Corn and a can of Rotel.

I had a few fresh ingredients (that were not moldy yet,) I shredded a carrot into a saute pan over medium heat.

Next I added three celery stalks that I sliced and added 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Because I didn't plan on cooking this Taco Stoup in the crock pot all day I wanted to give these fresh veggies a head start by sauteing them for about 4 minutes before adding them to the rest of the ingredients in the crock pot.

Following my original recipe, I add one package of Taco Seasoning and one package of Ranch Salad Dressing.

I stirred all my ingredients together and added two cans of water. Set the crock pot to high and let it cook, stirring every so often for as long as you can stand it. If you have all day, then set to low and let it cook for 8 hours. I'm probably going to eat this in one to two hours. All my ingredients are cooked, I just want to heat through and let the ingredients marry and fall in love.

In place of two cans of water, use chicken broth or beef broth if you have it. And that is how I made Taco Soup using leftover ingredients. Be bold and brave in the kitchen, you just might surprise yourself!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

White Truffle Pasta

Right before we left for the holidays I wanted to use up what we had in the pantry and this is what I came up with.

Lay six pieces of bacon on a cookie sheet, on top of a cooling rack so the grease drips away is best.

Bake in the oven at 400 until crispy, about 20-30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine:
4 eggs
2 cups shredded pecorino cheese

The magic ingredient, truffle butter.

In a saucepan, combine:
1 T bacon grease
1 T chicken bouillon (better than bouillon)
1 c cream
3 T white truffle butter
1/2 C water
Barely simmer and keep warm on the stove

Boil spaghetti in salted water until al dente.

Drain pasta and dump it on top of the egg mixture.

Pasta must be hot to cook the egg.

Pour on the cream sauce from the saucepan.

Crumble the bacon on top and mix everything together.

Before serving, top with cracked pepper and shredded Parmesan.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Beef Stew

When the weather outside is frightful, it's time to make a big pot of winter beef stew. What I wanted to make was Irish Beef Stew because I absolutely loved the way it turned out last time I made it. But I want to constantly stretch my culinary skills and repertoire so I searched my epicurious iPhone app for a new Beef Stew recipe.

The recipe I settled upon was definitely a different preparation that I am used to. Chunks of beef are braised with red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and large chunks of carrots and celery. After 2.5 hours in the oven, you pour everything through a colander and reserve the liquid and beef. This sounded ridiculous to me that you would braise the vegetables and then throw them away.
I went along with the recipe, word for word...and I'm so glad I did. This beef stew is far superior to any beef stew I have ever had. I wouldn't change a thing with the recipe. 
For braised beef:

5 pounds boneless beef chuck (not lean), cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used butter)
3 carrots, quartered
3 celery ribs, quartered (leaves and all)
2 medium onions, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise (I used minced garlic)
3 tablespoons tomato paste (I used slightly more tomato paste, basically an entire small can)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (peculiar ingredient, but it worked well)
1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (about 3 3/4 cups, please use the good stuff!)
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2 thyme sprigs
3 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
3 cups water (after I added the wine and beef broth, there was not any room left for water)

For potatoes and carrots:
2 1/2 pounds small white boiling potatoes
1 1/2 pounds carrots

Equipment: a wide 6-to 8-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid


Braise beef:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
(I prepared the pieces of beef as I would a roast. I first seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, then dusted in flour.)

Heat oil butter in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers melts, then brown meat, without crowding, in 3 batches, turning, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add the large chunks of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes.
(Because I was using minced garlic, I withheld the garlic for the last three minutes so it would not burn.)

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables.
(This is an odd step, but reminded me of a an Anne Burrell Short Ribs recipe where she did something similar.)

Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
(I felt the addition of vinegar was another odd step, and as soon as I added the balsamic vinegar I thought I had messed up, the vinegar thickened and bubbled violently. No fear, you add the wine next!)

Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.
(Please please please use good wine here, something you would actually drink on it's own.)

Add beef broth to pot along with water, beef, and any juices from platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Set a large colander in a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot, then discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand 10 minutes.
(I had to read this step about 10 times before I realized that they were asking me to strain all the meat and veggies, then toss the veggies and herbs, and return the meat to the cooking liquid.)

Cook potatoes and carrots:
While beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch).

Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes.
(I cooked these for at least an hour, and then let the mixture cool and put it in the refrigerator for the next night. I read many reviews that said the stew is better the next day and they were RIGHT!)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Minute Homemade Christmas Gifts

It’s the 24th of December and you just found out about an unexpected guest and need something easy, quick and inexpensive to give them for Christmas. I say look no further than your own pantry!
Here, I have step by step instructions on making a luscious Lemon Sugar Scrub, a warm Vanilla Brown Sugar Scrub and a lovely Pumpkin Spice Scrub, all found on the brilliant blog, Under the Table and Dreaming.
You can make all three scrubs with accessible and affordable ingredients you probably already have.  It may be an inexpensive gift but it's thoughtful because it’s homemade and from the heart, no matter how last minute it may be.
For the Lemon Sugar Scrub (my favorite) you will need:
4 T Lemon Juice
1 C Olive Oil or other oil like vegetable, safflower or grape seed
2.5 C Granulated Sugar

These ingredients will make enough to fill a 12oz. Mason Jar and you'll have just enough left over to clean your hands afterwards too.
In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients.

Mix well until you have a smooth consistency.

This mixture is a great hand scrub and will moisturize as well as exfoliate in one step.

I poured into re-purposed jars that I cleaned out and spray painted the lids black. You could use mason jars or anything that seals well. The mixture will separate as it sits, just include directions with your gift to mix well and then scoop a small amount into your hands and massage into skin, rinse with water and pat dry.

For the Vanilla Brown Sugar Scrub you will need...
2 Cups of Brown Sugar
1 Cup of Granulated Sugar
1 Cup of Sunflower Oil  (I used olive oil in all my mixes)
1 Tablespoon of Pure Vanilla Extract

Sunflower Oil or Safflower Oil is best for this body scrub because it does not carry the strong scent that Olive Oil does.

In a large mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, then mix in the oil and vanilla extract.

I started to mix this with a spoon, but it worked much better mixing by hand because I could break up all the little sugar clumps.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Scrub, simply substitute the vanilla with 2 T Pumpkin Pie Spice from your spice rack. The scent is lovely and another reason to use an oil other than olive oil in this recipe.

I have to say that the addition of pumpkin spice powder added tiny brown flakes to the scrub which you have to be extra diligent to wash off.  I packaged both the Vanilla Brown Sugar and the Pumpkin Spice Scrub in mason jars. Make sure you choose something with a tight fitting lid.

I re-purposed foil Christmas cards that I found at Big Lots as my gift tags.

I cut the pretty part from the front of the card that read “Merry Christmas”, “Seasons Greeting”, and “Happy Holidays.”

Using a hole punch I put two holes towards the top so I could thread ribbon through.

Creativity is messy....and I am very creative!

 I chose different ribbon for each type of scrub.

My sweet little helper Madeline.

Using a glitter pen I wrote on the back of each gift tag what it was, to mix well, and how to use it. For the pickles, I wrote to keep them refrigerated.

I think that these are a great way to welcome guests to your home, or send them off with something homemade to remember your hospitality by.

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have a wonderful holiday spent with family and friends who mean the most to you. It's not about presents or who spent what, let's try to keep in mind the Reason for the Season and let those you love know you love them.