Black Bean Summer Squash Taco Filling

Desperation can be a source of inspiration in cooking. When an unexpected guest was also a vegetarian I threw together something I had on hand and suddenly we had a tasty alternative to Turkey Tacos I typically make.

Not planning on having tacos tonight? This works equally as well as a side dish.

Black Bean Summer Squash Taco Filling
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 yellow summer squashes, cut into 1/4″ dice (see notes)
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano, crushed
  • black pepper to taste, extra salt for cooking

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium for about 1 minute. Add the onions and bell pepper, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat in the oil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirrings once or twice.
  2. Add the jalapeno and garlic, stirring them into the carrot and bell pepper. Cook until fragrant, which should only take 30 second to a minute. Transfer the onions, peppers and garlic to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the stove, add the remaining oil and increase the heat to high. When the oil is just beginning to smoke add the summer squash and a generous sprinkle of salt. Spread the squash along the bottom of the skillet and cook, undisturbed for 2 minutes. Toss the pan to redistribute the squash and cook another minute.
  4. Return the onion mixture to the pan and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired.

Notes:
Your 3 summer squashes should be 6-8″ long and no more than 2-2.5″ in diameter. I prep them removing the ends and cutting them lengthwise into quarters. I then remove the layer of seeds, cut the remaining squash flesh into 1/4″ wide strips and, finally, cutting them into 1/4″ cubes.

Lamb Stew with Orzo, Olives and Butter Beans

The general structure for this dish comes from one in Modern Mediterranean Cooking by Elen Balashova. Her recipe suggested this dish could be completed on the cook top is around an hour by just simmering the lamb shanks. Having cooked lamb shanks before I just didn’t see that happening. So I turned to the pressure cooker to speed up the process. I also added red bell pepper for some color, Serrano pepper for a bit of heat and preserved lemon for a deeper flavor. A finish with fresh lemon juice helps awaken the broth.

Lamb Stew with Orzo, Olives and Butter Beans
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • 2 lamb shanks (about 4 lbs. total)
  • 1 onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1/4″ dice
  • 2 serrano peppers, diced fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced fine or pressed
  • 8 cups water, divided
  • 4 springs fresh oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 oz. orzo pasta
  • 1 14.5 oz. can butter beans (undrained)
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, pith removed, rinsed and finely diced
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in the bottom of the pressure cooker. Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper then brown in the oil, 3-4 each side. Set aside the shanks and drain the fat. Return 1 tablespoon of fat to the pot.
  2. Add the onions and peppers. Scrape to release and fond created by browning the shanks. Cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste and oregano, stir into the other vegetables and cook until aromatic (about 1 minutes). Add the water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the shanks to the pot along with 4 cups of water. Slap on the cover, lock it in place and heat to a steady release of steam is achieved. Cook for 35-40 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to have a low and steady steam release.
  4. Turn off the heat, remove the pressure cooker from the burner and perform a quick release on the steam. Remove the cover and check the meat. It should be falling off the bones. If not give a little pull with tongs; if it comes off easily then your good to go. If not recover, return to pressure and cook another 5-10 minutes.
  5. When you meat is done remove to it a dish, add the remaining water plus a tablespoon of salt and bring it to a boil. When the broth is boiling add the orzo and cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the butter bean and liquid, chopped olives and preserved lemon, stir to incorporate. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. While the dish finishes cooking pull the meat from the lamb bones and shredded into bite size pieces. You can return these to the pot at any point.
  8. Add the lemon juice, stir to incorporate and taste for salt/pepper. Adjust as needed and serve.

Notes:
If you don’t finish this in the first serving the orzo will likely take over. Don’t worry about it. You can add a bit of water when reheating to thin out the leftovers.

Don’t have preserved lemon, don’t worry about it. You could zest your lemon and add that at the end along with the juice to add a bit more lemony flavor. Or leave it out.

Turkey Tacos

Tacos in our house usually means fish tacos however some of our friends can’t do seafood so we try to provide an alternative. I was able to make this an hour or so before dinner and keep it warm in the slow cooker while I worked on other parts of the menu.

Turkey Tacos
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 pkg. ground turkey (that equals 20 oz. at my mega-mart)
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced fine
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. ground chipotle
  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup no salt added chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 3 tsp. cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Place the garlic and spices in a bowl; set aside. Combine the tomato sauce, broth, brown sugar and vinegar in a measuring cup; set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a non-skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, stir to coat with oil and cook for about 4 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and spices to the skillet. Stir to incorporate with the onions and cook until aromatic, about a minute.
  4. Add the ground turkey, break into pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover. Cook for a minute, break into smaller pieces and cover. Cook for another 2 minutes, break up large pieces again and cook uncovered for a final couple of minutes until the turkey is no longer pink.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the liquid ingredients and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Stir every minute or so and continue to break up any larger pieces of turkey.
  6. Serve up with your favorite taco fixin’s.

Notes:
This recipe is based on a recipe for Beef Tacos from a May 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

Cheese Enchiladas

I’ve been making these for 5 years or so. I started with a recipe from Taste of Home and have made enough scribbles on that printout that it seems like a good idea to capture them less I toss the paper and lose all of the work.

We usually serve these with a baked rice and green salad. A little extra sour cream on the the side never hurt anything.

Cheese Enchiladas
Servings: 14-16
Prep time: 30-40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 29 oz. cans Hunts tomato sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 1/3 Tbsp. Mexican oregano, crushed
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (divided)
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 16-20 corn tortillas (see note)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. You’ll need 2 13″x9″ glass baking dishes.
  2. Combine tomato sauce, water, chili powder, paprika, cumin and oregano in a saucepan. Add a generous pinch of salt and 10 grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine. Heat to boiling and cook, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes until slightly thickened.
  3. Microwave the chopped onion for 2 minutes on high. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl combine sour cream, cilantro, 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 20 grinds of black pepper. Add the onions once they have cooled. Mix well.
  5. Place 1/2 cup of sauce in the 2 baking dishes, spreading to evenly coat the bottom of each pan.
  6. Wrap 4 tortillas in a paper towel and microwave them for 45 seconds on high. Working one tortilla at a time spread 2 tablespoons of sauce on one side like a pizza, add ~1/3 cup of cheese filling in the center and fold into a tube. Place, seam side down, into a baking dish.. Repeat the process, warming more tortillas as needed.
  7. Pour a generous cup or more of the sauce over the completed enchiladas. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 2 cups over cheese over the 2 dishes and cook for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Notes:
I usually make the sauce and the filling in advance so that I’m left with an assembly job just before putting these in the oven. If you fill and sauce the tortillas too far in advance the dish will turn into a tasty amorphous blob.

I use packaged shredded cheese to save time. Feel free to use a block of cheese and hand shred it. The cheese inside the enchiladas may melt a bit more by doing that.

Microwave the onions helps to avoid a raw onion taste in the enchilada. If you like the flavor of raw onions then just add the chopped onions to the filling mix.

Leftover sauce can be cooled and frozen for up to 3 months. It’s a nice sauce for a frittata or grilled meat.

Baked Chicken Thighs with Cherry Tomatoes

I don’t know about you but I find supermarket tomatoes to be flavorless during the best of times. And for the tomato, mid-winter in New England isn’t the best of times. So when the little bins of grape and cherry tomatoes call to me, like they do, I have to figure out a way to give them a flavor boost. Baking the tomatoes can be that boost.

Roast Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Baked Chicken Thighs with Cherry Tomatoes
Servings: 2-4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • zest from one lemon
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 4 boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Toss the tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Transfer to a 13″x9″ glass baking dish.
  3. In a bowl combine the remaining olive oil and all other ingredients except the chicken. Mix well.
  4. Add the chicken thighs and toss to coat. Place the thighs on top of the tomatoes.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 20 minutes. The chicken should reach at least 170°F on a thermometer before serving.

I used a combination of red grape and yellow cherry tomatoes. I like the color combination in the finished dish.

Adjust the amount of crushed red pepper to suit your taste. I found it a little spicy but not overwhelming. I could still taste the other ingredients. If you have sensitive taste buds add a little less. If you like all things hot and fiery then add more.

The finished dish produces a fair amount of flavorful liquid. We ate ours with some leftover dirty rice which absorbed the juice nicely.

Slow-Cooker Tomato Sauce

This recipe is an amalgam of my own experience making quick tomato sauce and a few recipes I found online for using the slow-cooker for the task. I wanted a large batch of sauce so that I could use some to cook meatball and still have the majority be plain tomato sauce.

Slow-Cooker Tomato Sauce
Servings: ~8 cups of sauce
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 6.5 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, small dice (this was 2 medium onions for me)
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 29 oz. can Hunts Tomato Sauce
  • 4 15 oz. cans Hunts diced tomatoes
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup red wine (I used Coppola Rosso Red Table Wine)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fine-ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flake
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • chiffonade of fresh basil

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients except oregano, butter and basil in your slow cooker insert. I used the wine to thin out the tomato paste, making it easier to incorporate the paste into the sauce.
  2. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours. Stir occasionally. Remove the cover and continue to cook on low for another 3 hours. If the sauce appears to be drying out re-cover. There’s more liquid in there than you realize.
  3. Remove 3 cups of sauce to a blender and puree. Return pureed sauce to the pot. Add oregano and butter, stir to combine.
  4. Add fresh chopped basil to the finished sauce.

Notes:
I have a pet-peeve around recipes that list a generic item, such as red wine, when they could be more specific. There are only about 3 bazillion different red wines in the world. You could at least give a hint what basic category you used in your version of the recipe. I may not be able to find a “Merriam Vineyards 2008 Windacre Cabernet Franc” but I can at least find a nice Cabernet sauvignon or a basic red table wine if you tell me that is what you used.

Herb Beer Bread

We decided quite late in the day that we wanted to add some bread to the Saturday night dinner menu. My first thought was corn bread however we lacked sufficient milk to make it work. So we turned to beer bread. Beer bread uses leavening agents (such as baking powder) instead of yeast. This recipe produces a fairly dense bread.

Herb Beer Bread

This recipe is based on one I originally found on the Hannaford Supermarket website. Their link no longer works; this one appears to be a similar recipe. Really it was useful for the ratios of ingredients since we didn’t use onions or rosemary.

Recipe under the cut