Throw-Down Side: Quick and Easy Black Bean Salad

Sometimes we need a super-quick, super-easy side dish.  Here’s one you can make in 5 minutes, if you have Pico de Gallo on hand.  I make it when I’m serving a meal that already requires the brightness of fresh Pico.  The Grill-Meister says that Pico de Gallo is one of my signature dishes, and you know, I have to agree with him.  It makes this side salad.  We served it alongside our Faux-Fajitas and it rocked.

Ingredients

  • 1 15 oz. can black beans; I always use Bush Brothers (they are the BEST beans); click here for info
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • Tabasco to taste (I use ten shakes)
  • 1/4 cup already-prepared Pico de Gallo (use store-bought or make your own using my recipe)
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Cooking Instructions

Drain and rinse the black beans, then put them in a bowl and add the salt, cumin and Tabasco.  Stir to mix.  Add the Pico de Gallo and stir again, then add the shredded cheese and stir a final time.

Serve as a side for grilled meats, tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, or as part of a vegetarian meal.  You can also serve it as a condiment or dip with tortilla chips.

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I always use Bush’s beans – they’re the best, and I know people who run their learning and knowledge management department – like I said, they’re the best
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Add the salt, cumin and Tabasco to the rinsed and drained beans
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Add the Pico de Gallo and stir
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Add the cheese and stir a final time
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This quick and easy salad is a great side for fajitas or tacos

High-Temp Eye of Round Roast Faux-Fajitas

A Fajita Craving

When we’re at Little House in the Rockies, sometimes we have to substitute ingredients and combine things we wouldn’t ordinarily put together.  We were in the mood for fajitas on this trip but the country grocery store didn’t have skirt steak, so I impulsively chose an eye of round roast and thought I could make do.

What I didn’t realize, being an eye of round roast newbie, is that it is an extremely lean cut of beef and can therefore be extremely tough.  Whoops!

What to do?  Change the recipe plan and use the tortillas, jalapeños, avocados, etc. on another night?  Or boldly go forth and try to create Faux-Fajitas?  (Or should we call them Faux-Jitas?)

Making Do with Eye of Round Roast

I’m sure you’ve guessed which path we chose, Dear Reader.  A Google search and some good-looking roasting recipes gave us the confidence that we could do a nice, rare/medium-rare roast and then slice our way to Faux-Jitas.

Here’s our take on it.

Ingredients

  • Eye of round roast, about 2 1/2 to 3 lbs.
  • 1 tsp. salt (I prefer coarse kosher salt for this type of cooking, but alas, we had only fine – and it was fine)
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper or course ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • Flour tortillas

Optional Garnishes

Cooking Instructions

Combine spices in a small bowl, then spread over all sides of the roast.  Put the roast on top of a piece of foil in a baking dish.  Let it stand at room temperature for an hour, and when there are only 15 minutes left, preheat the oven to 500, making sure that the rack is in the middle of the oven.

Put the roast in quickly on the middle rack and shut the door.  Cook the roast for 5 minutes per pound, and then turn off the oven.  Keep the roast in the oven for 1 1/2 more hours, and do not open the door.  At all.  Even if you are tempted.  Don’t do it.  Just look through the oven door with the light on.

Remove the roast and use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.  Use this guide for your desired temperature, or your own preference.  Tent the roast about ten minutes for the juices to settle; it will cook a little more while it rests. Slice fairly thin and serve with tortillas and garnishes.  I put the slices back into the pan juices and broiled them for about 30 seconds just before serving so they’d be hot.

The Whole Story, In Pictures

Gather All Ingredients - High Temp Eye of Round Roast
Gather the ingredients first, as always
Spice Mix for Eye of Round Roast
I remembered to line the pan with foil
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It has the promise of a nice meal even before being cooked
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It had just gone into the oven; I made a promise to myself NOT to open the door
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Tent the roast for about ten minutes after removing from the oven
Roast Out
This is what it looks like when you remove the tent
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It was a lovely rare / medium rare
Roast Ready to Serve
We sliced about a third of the roast and put in under the broiler for 30 seconds to reheat, then served it with tortillas, our favorite condiments and a black bean salad
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The roast slices made lovely Faux Fajitas; we’re going to do this again!

We were really, really happy about learning this technique for eye of round roast and will definitely use it again.  There’s a lot of beef left and we’re planning a cool meal with the leftovers.  Of course you can expect to see a post about it.  🙂

 

 

Simple Pleasures: Steaming Mug of Tea on a Cold Day

It’s the little things.

Right now, my favorite little thing is a steaming mug of tea on the back porch of Little House in the Rockies.  It’s an absolutely beautiful day here, but a bit on the nippy side.

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An afternoon “cuppa” hits the spot on a February day in the Rockies.

IMG_2147Another wonderful little thing is the tea cozy (or in British English, tea cosy).  The British have gotten a lot of things right in this world, from the Magna Carta to the tea cozy.  There are many others more qualified to expound upon the importance of the Magna Carta, but I think I can be an expert about the tea cozy.  It not only keeps your tea pot hot longer, it also gives you a warm, comfy, safe feeling.

If your tea pot has a special little blankie, how can anything be wrong in your world?  Maybe the world needs more tea cozies.

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I’ve been reading up on how to make tea, and I really like this post from Anglonerd:  click here.  The #4 entry, Douglas Adams’ treatise on tea, is my favorite.  I should take this time to confess that I, myself, am an Anglonerd.  Or a nicer way to put it is Anglophile.

Tazo Vanilla Apricot White

I’m drinking TAZO Vanilla Apricot White tea, which is described this way on their web site:

“New white tea buds in the splendor of youth swing from the branch of an apricot tree, giggling delicately in the sweet-fruited air. Tahitian vanilla dances and twirls in creamy intoxication.”

Wow!  What a fun job it must be to write these descriptions.

It’s the little things…

 

Travel Day Dinner: Smorgasbord All the Way

There are different kinds of trips to enjoy, at all ends of the spectrum – from the all-inclusive resort to the theme-park-with-kids to the backpacking tour across rugged lands to the Route 66 road trek to the “let’s rent a cabin or beach house and put down some roots for a week” trip.  They all have their merits, but the latter is something my family really enjoys, especially when we have reunions, and those trips are one of the reasons we bought a small cabin in central Colorado.

There is something special about the bonding that happens when families and friends share a living space or multiple co-located dwellings and have meals together.

Many of my forever memories are rooted in rental cabins, condos and beach houses that were home for just a week.

The First Rule: No Cooking on Travel Days

Smoked Salmon Spread in Smorgasbord
Travel Day Smorgasbord from a Previous Cabin Trip

Because of our cabin, we’re learning lots about the “let’s put down some roots” kind of travel.  One of our best protocols so far is the Travel Day Dinner Plan: No cooking!!!  Whether we’re driving or flying, it’s just too darn much trouble to do a full dinner on the same roady-weary day you lug all of your suitcases into your home for a week.

And as much as no one wants to cook on a travel day, you can double that sentiment about the cleanup.  No cleanup!!!  Smorgasbord all the way.

The Grill-Meister Takes on Smorgasbord Provisioning

The Grill-Meister was on point for provision procurement for the long weekend we’re spending at the cabin, and he did a great job.  (We converged via separate flights in Denver because business travel had taken me to California first, and he had some spare time waiting for me.)  The Grill-Meister knows the Family Smorgasbord drill and chose a nice mix of meats and cheeses, and threw in some cool condiments, dried fruit and fresh items, too.  The closest he came to the verboten cooking was a vegetarian flatbread that had to be baked and some chicken sausage that needed a quick sauté.  It was a lovely meal that took less than 20 minutes to prepare and about half that to clear away.  That’s the way to do a travel day dinner.  No muss, no fuss!

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The Grill-Meister’s selections included salami, sausage, flatbread, Brie, sharp cheddar and Gouda cheeses, grapes, olives, gherkins, pesto, dried plums and grape tomatoes.  Yum!

More About the Smorgasbord

We love, love, love smorgasbord in our family, as you’ll know if you read the post about it a couple of months ago.  For ideas on how you can have a Family Smorgasbord Night, click here.  And remember, when you take that upcoming”let’s rent a cabin or beach house and put down some roots for a week” trip to make those forever memories, no cooking on travel days!

 

Pot Luck Perfect: In-the-Moment Lentil Soup

Let’s Have a Work Party at My House!

I am fortunate to work with an amazingly talented group of people.  They are truly awesome.  We’re a global organization and recently got together in Houston for more than a week of meetings to plan our output for the year.  I thought a party at my house would be a great way to increase team bonding and provide entertainment for our traveling colleagues on the Saturday night of their 10-day trip –  but, alas, I had no time to spend on cooking and preparation.  Pot luck to the rescue!  We can all share the load.

I have to confess – I absolutely love pot luck meals and the randomness of the dishes that arrive.

Pot Luck is Culinary Folk Art

Folk Art FoodI think it’s like culinary folk art to arrange last-minute purchased goodies next to someone’s very best dish, that recipe that was handed down for three generations from Aunt Lena because it’s that good.  The serving table is the blank palate against which the food offerings will create an artsy-titchy ensemble of choices. I like the bizarre mix of cuisines and living dangerously, knowing there’s a possibility there will be seven kinds of hummus, or we’ll end up with only desserts.  Pot lucks are fun.  They are kind of like a smorgasbord, but more random.

The Europeans Took It to a New Level

Because some of my colleagues are from Europe, I included a definition of pot luck in the invitation:  “a meal or party in which each of the guests contributes a dish”, called it a Pot Luck Open House and declared that Glover Gardens would be open for business at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday night.

At precisely 5:00 p.m., a taxi rolled up an deposited the four Europeans on the team on my doorstep.  They were the first to arrive and breezed into the kitchen with overflowing grocery bags, tons of energy and a plan:  they were going to make their dish in my kitchen.  They scoffed at store-bought offerings and had purchased all the ingredients to make a yummy lentil soup.  The soup’s accompaniment would be “Waiting Bread”, a delectable grilled garlic bread made by one of my Norwegian teammates which I had tasted before during a meal he and his wife hosted in Kongsberg, Norway last summer. (Oh, the memories!)

I was absolutely delighted.  Awesome colleagues collaborating on a dish at my house? What a great way to bring together two things that are so important in my life – my weekday focus, which is collaboration with teammates, and my weekend pastime, a love of food, cooking, kitchens and all things in between.

We situated our European chefs in the outdoor kitchen, which overlooks the pool, and proceeded to arm them with equipment.  The requests came fast and furious – three cutting boards, three sharp knives, bowls, a big pot, a peeler, a can opener, a sieve.  (This sparked a cross-cultural discussion about “being divided by a common language” – for me, a sieve has very fine holes and is used to push something course through it to make it finer.  What my Scottish colleague really wanted was what I think of as a strainer.  We had a good laugh about this.)

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The Europeans were the first to arrive and breezed into the kitchen with overflowing grocery bags, tons of energy, and a plan to create a homemade masterpiece. The ringleader is wearing the chef’s hat.

The results of the culinary collaboration were wonderful:  my colleagues had a great time, provided entertainment for the other guests, and produced a wonderful lentil soup, along with the “Waiting Bread”.  The bread was a huge hit.  As each batch was done, it was circulated through the party on a platter and those warm, garlicky crunchy slices were snatched up immediately.

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Fortunately for me, a little soup was left over.  What a treat on the day after a big party.

The Recipes

Here’s the lentil soup recipe they used, from a blog called Cookie and Kate:  Best Lentil Soup.  It’s a vegan recipe which was made “as written”, and it was hugely flavorful.  It tasted like it had simmered for days.

I didn’t get the recipe for the Waiting Bread, but have watched its creation twice, and here’s my attempt to capture it.  It’s basically grilled garlic bread.  The amounts are just my sketchy guesses.

  • Several loaves of French bread or sourdough, cut into in 3/4 inch slices
  • 2-3 tablespoons of pressed garlic (8-10 cloves)
  • 2 sticks of softened butter
  • Additional spice to your taste – there was a little Zippy Southwest by the grill and it was added sparingly to the bread

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to very hot.  Combine the garlic and butter in a small bowl and mix well.  Spread onto both sides of the bread and then grill both sides until the edges are crunchy. Serve hot, while waiting for the rest of your meal (thus the name “Waiting Bread”.)

More Potluck?

Click here for a humorous blog post about potluck rules.

Pot Luck or Potluck?

Well gee, I published this post before I realized that I had approach potluck in two ways:  as one word and as two.  Apparently, one word is proper, but it’s too late to change my title in which I listed it as two, because it would change the link.  Sigh.  However, now we know!  The original mention of this concept was “pot-luck” or literally, “luck of the pot”.

Your Potluck?

I’d love to hear from you in a comment on this post about your own potluck experiences.

Aspiring Young Cook: Your Vote Can Help

On Facebook tonight, I saw a post that said, in effect, please vote for my cousin’s father’s brother’s son’s friend’s neighbor’s kid in a cooking contest…

Well, I guess it wasn’t that obscure, or at least, it was within enough degrees of separation that I clicked.  And this little boy just stole my heart with his recipe and his sincerity.

So, here’s the pitch:  if you made it this far, can you go to this link (click here), scroll to “Sam F.”, watch his video and vote for him?  He is adorable.  And it would make my cousin’s father’s brother’s son’s friend’s neighbor so happy.  🙂

Sam reminds me of myself as a little kid, although I was much less sophisticated than he is, getting all creative with my EasyBake Oven.  Click here if you’re interested in my food heritage.

Travel Serendipity: I Touched a Picasso

Well, sometimes things just exceed your expectations.

Like today.

I’m on business travel in London, planning to attend a very happy event in which my company has been nominated for two very prestigious awards. I’m part of the contingent for the ceremony.  (Fingers and toes crossed that we win!)  Today was a travel day and I arrived here in London at midday,  tired as all get-out.  (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it means “to the extreme” or “big-time” in America lingo; click here for Miriam-Webster’s definition.)

This is not my first travel rodeo and I know how it works going from the U.S. to Europe – you HAVE to stay awake until the local bedtime, or you’ll NEVER get over the jet lag.  So I was not going to let the thought of a teeny little nap seduce me and ignored the tired-as-all-get-out feeling.

My London cabbie set the mood for me with his jaunty fedora festooned with a bright ribbon and feather; he took me from the airport express at the train station to my hotel and had the reggae booming.  He said that a sunny day in London in February just cried out for reggae.

The cabbie and I, we be jammin’.

After checking in at my hotel, finding a bottled water source, and hanging up that darn formal gown I’m wearing on Thursday at the awards gala, I set out to do some brisk walking and waking up.  I had a dinner planned with a software vendor company located here in London and needed to be sharp.

Hyde Park was my destination for the waking-up walk, and it did not disappoint.

IMG_1914And after that brisk walk on this chilly-sunny February day, the communal time with the nature on offer at Hyde Park and a yummy mocha coffee at a Cafe Nero with a dose of UK tabloid-reading, I was ready for the dinner.  It was a a great discussion and lots of ideas were born that will bear fruit.

On my walk back to the hotel, I passed a Christie’s Auction House.  And wouldn’t you know, they were having a reception and sale of impressionist and modern art.  Score!  Serendipity!  What a great way to extend my waking hours to at least the earliest edge of the local bedtime by viewing gorgeous and stimulating art.  Click here for info about the show.

Some of the most captivating and surprising art (for me) was a large collection of Picasso ceramics.  His humor and creativity really shine in these works.  I especially loved a plate with eggs and a fork, and the story behind them.  A friend of Picasso’s told of being served fried eggs with a fork on a plate, only to discover that the plate was the embodiment of the meal after it was eaten – Fried Eggs and a Fork.

I talked a security guard into letting me touch it while he looked on from about six inches away.  It may sound trite, but that was a transcendent moment for me.

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I. Touched. a. Picasso!

When I touched that ceramic plate that Picasso made, I felt a connection across cultures, generations, geographies, personalities, histories and humanities.  It was a translation of a lifetime of hero worship for this most famous and compelling of artists into a tactile experience – I touched his work!

Today exceeded my expectations: it was a travel day gone right.  And if you think I’m gushing too much about the little things, just remember that inside, I’m just a little girl from a small town in Southeast Texas who is constantly surprised by her life.