Meat

Mexican Lasagna

mexican-lasagna

If I could figure out how to make Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza at home, I would eat it every day.  It’s probably not that hard, but I haven’t figured out what I could use for the crunchy tortilla layer that would be just perfect. Also I would need to go there and steal like 95 packets of their taco sauce because it’s really a key ingredient.  And I wouldn’t want some homemade bull%$## taco sauce. That one is special.  So this Mexican lasagna is definitely inspired by Taco Bell’s pizza variation, but there are enough differences that I don’t feel like I’m trying to make their Mexican pizza but end up with something sub par.

And I decided to make this Mexican lasagna for three reasons: 1) my friend Annie was coming over for a Friday night happy hour/dinner/play date and she loves Taco Bell as much as, or more, than I do; 2) I also sort of had lasagna on my mind; and 3) But I was going to Terilli’s Italian restaurant for dinner on Saturday so I didn’t want back to back lasagna. So if you can follow all that I landed on Mexican lasagna.

So I made it. It was easy. It was super delicious. It was pretty. It was sitting on my stove all bubbly and waiting to be eaten. And then I had to cancel. And let me tell you – when you stay at home with your kids all day, this Friday night plan made me feel like I was going clubbing. Social interaction, good dinner, someone to drink with, kids playing with someone else, etc.  Very sad.

But I had to cancel because one of my kids had Hand Foot Mouth disease for literally the second time in a month. What I thought was a fussy baby due to having some major vaccinations a couple days earlier turned out to be a fussy baby due to 20 blisters covering the inside of his throat/mouth. Fair enough, Price, fair enough.  This second round of HFM was a BEATING. And it’s super contagious so I didn’t want to expose anyone else to it. So it was a very sad day, but I did cut it up into little pieces and froze it. It freezes beautifully and we’ve had a couple easy/awesome dinners this week.

Recipe

  • Ground beef recipe minus water and taco sauce (you’ll add more liquid later)
  • 1.5 cans (2.5-3 cups) tomato sauce
  • 3 large flour tortillas or 9 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup refried beans
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 bottle taco sauce (I like Ortega)
  • 3.5 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray cast iron pan or other round baking dish with nonstick spray.  Prepare beef according to recipe above (2 lb), or just using a taco seasoning packet if you prefer.  Stir in tomato sauce with ground beef. In a separate bowl, warm up the refried beans in the microwave. Stir in the sour cream and set aside. Then, layer about 1 cup of meat sauce on bottom of pan. Drizzle generously with taco sauce. Coat one flour tortilla lightly in taco sauce (if using corn you will use 3 tortillas per layer). Place on top of meat. Spread about 3 spoonfuls of bean mixture on top. Add 1 cup of shredded cheese. Add 1.5 cups meat sauce on top of cheese. Sprinkle with a bit of taco sauce. Coat tortilla with taco sauce. Top with 3 spoonfuls bean mixture, then another cup of cheese. Add another 1.5 cups meat sauce, taco sauce, tortilla dipped in taco sauce, bean mixture. Add rest of meat (less than a cup), then remaining 1.5 cups cheese. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes more.

My Best Chili

my-best-chili

It’s rainy here! And sort of chilly! So I have chili on my mind! Why all the exclamation points! Because we’ve been waiting for cooler weather here, and I think we finally have it. For a few days in a row. No more sweating while putting the boys in the car, no more feeling like the sun is literally aging me the second I step outside the door, and no more wearing white floral dresses in November (at some point I just stopped shopping). Speaking of aging, I went to the dermatologist this week for a mole check and few skin tips, and I came home with 3 prescriptions, 2 pricing quotes on procedures that I “need,” and a sheet of anti-aging essentials with about 80% of them circled based on my skin type.  Basically I need to invest in a new face.

So onto my chili. This is officially my chili. What I will make forever. Because there are soooo many recipes out there, and I already have this one  on my blog. I made this one loosely based on my previous version, but I tweaked quantities and did two simple things that made a HUGE difference: 1) I ground the beef down reeeeally small so there were no large pieces and 2) I cooked it for a long time.  Amazing what this did for the texture and flavor.

Recipe

  • 2 lb 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt, more or less to taste
  • ~43 oz diced tomatoes with juices (1 large can + 1 regular)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz)
  • 1/2 can or full can black beans, drained (I used 1/2)
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili powder (3 if you like more heat; I used 2)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon pasilla powder if you can find it, or ancho chili powder
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch mixed with 1/4 cup water

Brown meat, adding onions and garlic.  Using a wooden spoon to break beef down into very small pieces. An immersion blender works well here too.  Cook beef, onion and garlic through.  Add in red wine and salt. Cook down for a few minutes. Add in tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and all spices.  Bring to a simmer. Stir in corn starch + water mixture.  Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.  Cover, turn heat to VERY low, and cook for at least one hour, but preferably 2 or 3. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

taco-salad-with-easy-baked-tortilla-bowl

There’s nothing like waking up on a Monday morning to a kid with a 104 degree fever, and another kid who decided today was the day they would drop their morning nap. Days like today make me feel like twins is just one too many babies. Just kidding! I love having twins. But you know what I mean…

The good news is I finally got my poor, sick, hot little baby down for a nap. The bad news is the other one has located all of his noisiest, most annoying toys and is stacking them on the bench next to me. So far we’ve got a xylophone, a dump truck that honks, a little magic stick that plays club music, a laptop that sings the ABC’s, and an elephant that shakes his head and sing ‘do your ears hang low, can you tie them in a bow… yada yada yada.’  All next to me, all turned on.  Very annoying, but I guess also very cute. I guess that’s the thing about kids.

So here I have a great weeknight meal for you. Easy taco salad with ground beef and all the taco salad basics, served in a homemade baked tortilla bowl. I absolutely LOVE the tortilla shells they serve taco salads in at restaurants, but a) I couldn’t find them at the store and b) I don’t like to fry things.  So I baked mine with a regular flour tortilla, and loved it!! And the ground beef has such great flavor, you’ll never need to use on of those taco seasoning packets again.

Recipe

  • The best taco beef recipe here
  • Taco sauce or homemade sauce here
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Shredded Cheddar or Jack/Cheddar Blend
  • 1 can refried beans
  • Sour cream
  • Diced tomatoes
  • 4 large flour tortillas
  • Canola oil or nonstick spray

First start the ground beef. While it’s cooking, preheat the oven to 350.  Warm up the tortillas in the microwave, then spray each generously on both sides with canola oil or baking spray.  Turn a muffin pan upside down, and situate the tortilla in between 4 muffin holders, pressing the center down to create the bowl. Repeat with remaining three. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and bake for about 12-15 minutes until bowls are crispy and slightly brown. Remove and let cool.  Heat the refried beans in a pan over the stove or in the microwave. Line the bottom of the taco bowl with beans, then top with cheese, lettuce, tomato, more cheese, and ground beef.  Top with taco sauce, sour cream, and guac.

better-than-takeout-mongolian-beef

Chinese food holds a very strange place in my heart these days. I love it, and yet whenever my husband suggests we order takeout or go to Howard Wang’s I say no.  And to be honest, I can’t exactly tell you why. I’ve been trying to come up with good excuses for years, but the best one I had was during my twin pregnancy when I said Chinese food made me sick (all food made me sick).  And that only lasted 9 months. I think, think, it might be because when I order Chinese food out, it’s never exactly what I want. Not enough broccoli, not enough sweetness, not enough spice, too much of something. Do you ever feel that way? Because I love egg rolls and I love fortune cookies so it seems like those two things alone would rope me in. But, it just doesn’t.

But because we both looove Chinese food and I don’t let us eat it, I’ve had to evolve. Adapt. Rise above it. And that’s what inspired this Mongolian Beef. It is definitely better than any Chinese I’ve eaten out, and it has the exact everything I want. So now, my excuse for not going out for Chinese can be ‘why would we go out when it’s so much better at home?’  Finally, a reasonable and valid excuse.

Recipe

  • 1 lb ribeye, cut into 1-inch strips (flank steak or tenderloin would also be great)
  • 1/4 cup corn starch, for tenderizing
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper
  • 1 crown broccoli, chopped
  • 2 long carrots, cut into small thin strips

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (depending on how garlic-y you are)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (I used closer to 2)
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch + 2 tablespoons water, for thickening

Start by putting the meat slices in a ziploc bag with the 1/4 cup corn starch and S&P. Toss to coat.  Next, in a large skillet or wok, cook the broccoli and carrot. You can add a little water and cover to steam them, or saute them in a couple tablespoons of oil. I added about 1/2 cup water and steamed for 10-15 minutes.  Transfer veggies to a bowl. Add in the meat and a little olive oil to keep the meat from sticking to pan.  Cook until done over medium-high, about 10 min. Transfer meat to a bowl.  Add in the 2 tablespoons sesame oil, fresh ginger, and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, then add in the water, soy sauce, brown sugar, and Hoisin sauce. Whisk to combine.  In a separate cup dissolve 1 tablespoon corn starch into the water, then add to the sauce to thicken a bit.  Cover for about 5 min on medium until sauce is at desired thickness.  Add back in the meat and veggies, and stir to coat and cook for another few minutes to reduce. Serve over rice or noodles.

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I need some new TV show recommendations. Anyone? All of ours (and there are A LOT), are either off season or we flew through them on amazon/netflix/HBO. Some of my recommendations: Bloodline, Stranger Things, Nashville, Homeland (duh), Big Little Lies (double duh), and the MISSING – creepiest most addicting show I’ve seen in a long time. Typing all those shows out, you’re probably thinking that I’m a couch potato and maybe I should pick up a book. And quite frankly, it turns out I do have some couch potato in me and I love TV. Plus we’ve been subbing pasta for zoodles so I can lay around all I want.

I’m going to spare you the zoodle talk, because everyone who’s had them knows how amazing they are. Amazing and sneaky. There aren’t many substitutions in this world that are truly maybe for the better. But this one is. They really soak up the sauce so much more than regular pasta, and you can pair them with a semi-indulgent cream sauce like this one because you’re saving yourself 400 calories. Sorry, guess I’m not sparing you the zoodle talk. I can’t help myself! Love these things.


Recipe (for 4-5)

  • ~1.5 lb zoodles (I used two of the 10.7oz noodle co. containers)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 container sliced mushrooms (the normal size..think it’s 8 oz?)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour or corn starch
  • 1 clove garlic (I used 1/2 teaspoon of the jarred minced garlic)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1.5 cups half & half
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese 
  • 3-4 cooked/grilled steaks, chicken breasts, or salmon fillets

I started by getting the veggies ready first; I simply cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, then steamed them in a bit of water in the microwave for 4 minutes. I put them in an ice bath immediately after to conserve the bright green color. I dry-sauteed the mushrooms in a sauce pan for about 8 minutes to cook through and remove excess moisture.


Next, I made the sauce. Create a roux by melting the butter over low heat; add the garlic to cook. Stir in the flour with a fork, then add in the white wine. Cook for a minute or two over low heat, careful not to burn.  Slowly add in the half & half and milk, and whisk to combine (it can be lumpy at first – keep whisking). Add salt. Stir and cook over low heat to thicken; add in the parmesan cheese. Stir in the zoodles and veggies (about 2-3 cups) and cook for 2-3 minutes until the zoodles are cooked but crisp.


We grilled steaks seasoned with plenty of salt (About a teaspoon per steak) and pepper.  Grills vary but our New York Strips cook in about 8 minutes,  flipping halfway through. Would be great with chicken or salmon on top!

You guys, this is one my favorite things I’ve made in a long time. I only tell you that because when I’m searching the internet for inspiration on what to cook, I get lost in the 603 million recipes there are out there. Probably more. Sometimes I just want someone to say: cook Suzy’s hot beef for dinner. It would simplify everything and there wouldn’t be so much wasted time on the net playing culinary mind games. 

So I’m telling you, try this! It won’t disappoint. The inspiration behind this recipe is that we love Italian food, but sometimes aren’t in the mood for tons of pasta. Also my husband can be a bit of a broken record sometimes, and every time we eat spaghetti squash, he says “I don’t even miss the pasta. If I was at Terrilli’s enjoying a glass of wine with this I wouldn’t even know the difference.” (Terilli’s is our favorite local Italian joint). 

So, I wanted lasagna…but wondered if we could try a version without the noodles (i.e. without the carbs, without the gluten. I had to redeem myself after eating these all week. Though I did eat one after for dessert).  I also wanted it to be relatively healthy so used part-skim mozzarella, low fat cottage cheese, and 96% lean ground beef.  You guys, I thought this recipe was enough for like 24 people and we literally ate 1/3 of it in one night. So, I don’t know whether to tell you this serves 12 or serves 6. Totally depends on your noodle-less lasagna capacity.

Recipe

Meat Sauce

  • 1 lb 96% lean ground beef
  • ~1/3 lb reduced-fat Jimmy Dean sausage
  • 3/4 cup diced white/yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (jar), or 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small can tomato pasted
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (14.5 oz)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (14.5 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil 

Cottage Cheese Layer

  • 2 cups lowfat cottage cheese (not nonfat)
  • 6  tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (from the cheese section rather than Kraft)
  • 1 egg
  • S&P

Other Layers

  • About 4-5 medium summer squash – zucchini and yellow squash
  • Salt
  • 4 cups part-skim mozzarella
  • ~1/4 cup grated parmesan

Start by making the meat layer.  Brown the beef and sausage over medium heat. While cooking, add the diced onion and garlic. Stir and cook until meat is no longer pink.  You shouldn’t have much fat here so no need to drain, but if you used fattier beef or more sausage – drain the fat. Stir in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and remaining ingredients.  Simmer on low for about 25 minutes. Sauce should be thick and meaty, not watery. 

Meanwhile, we need to get the excess moisture out of the squash so the lasagna isn’t soggy. This is the most time consuming part of this recipe. First, slice them lengthwise as thin as you can. This would be easier with a mandoline, but I don’t have one so just used a sharp knife and played chicken with my fingers. About 1/8 in thick. But like I said, just as thin as you can.  Lay them out on paper towel, and salt them very generously.  The salt will draw out some of the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes, then pat them dry.  Next, place the squash into a bowl and microwave for 2 minutes. This will bring out more moisture. Drain the bowl, lay out the squash again and pat them dry. Set aside until ready to use.

In another bowl, mix the cottage cheese, Parmesan, egg, and season with salt & pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 if ready to cook. I assembled my lasagna and then refrigerated for an hour until I cooked, but either is fine. I was busy putting two tiny humans to bed so wanted to eat later – no advantage to waiting.

Get out a 9×12 inch dish and start to layer:
1st layer: 1/3 of the meat sauce, then 1/3 of the squash (this doesn’t need to be perfect, just lay them side by side, covering most of the dish), then spread 1 cup of the cottage cheese, then ~1.5 cups of mozzarella
2nd layer: 1/3 of the meat sauce, 1/3 of the squash, rest of the cottage cheese, ~1.5 cups mozzarella
3rd layer: Rest of the meat sauce, rest of the squash, and the 1/4 cup parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Reserve remaining mozzarella (about 1 cup).

My last layer of squash doesn’t totally cover the top, but that’s ok!

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 40 min.  

Remove foil and bake for 15 more min to remove any excess moisture.  

Then top with remaining cheese (1 cup mozzarella) and broil for 3-5 minutes

Take out of the oven, and this step is important – let sit for at least 20 minutes before slicing. This will ensure the lasagna stays in tact and you can cut nice clean pieces.

And guess what guys? Even sitting at home, eating this without a glass of wine, we didn’t miss the noodles.

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