Taco Salad

As my last post for 2011, I decided I had to do something great! I had to write about my most favorite food of all time! Taco salad!

This salad has been around as long as I can remember, probably since the invention of Doritos. It combines ground beef, onions, kidney beans, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, black olives, ranch dressing, and crumbled up nacho cheese Doritos! This is seriously the way to present a salad to either a child or a grown up man-child that refuses to eat anything green. Just cover it in Doritos crumbs.
This salad has evolved along with me through my life. When I was little, there was no variance from the above listed recipe. Then I became a vegetarian. My mom and I switched out the ground beef with ground Boca “meat” and didn’t tell my Dad or brothers. They were none the wiser. Then, I decided ground beef is too fatty and not good for you. So, I switched to ground turkey. No matter what I have substituted in or out, this salad has stood the test of time.
So, I am celebrating the end of another year and the beginning of a new one with my old friend, taco salad, the original unaltered version.
Ingredients for the Salad (Serves five)
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 Medium White Onion, finely chopped
¼ Teaspoon of Chili Powder
½ Teaspoon of Pepper
½ Teaspoon of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
1 Can of Dark Red Kidney Beans
1 Head of Iceberg Lettuce, chopped
2 Tomatoes, chopped
1 Bag of Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese
1 Small Can of Sliced Black Olives
1 Bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, crumble on top of salad before serving
Ingredients for the Dressing
1 Packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing/Dip Mix
1 Cup of Milk
¾ Cup Mayonnaise
¼ Cup Sour Cream

Cook the ground beef in a large skillet over medium/high heat for about 7 minutes. Add in the chopped onion and spices. Cook the mix until the beef has browned. Remove from heat. Drain the beef and onion mixture. Add in the kidney beans and let the beef and onion cool completely.

In a large (when I say large, I mean very large) bowl, combine the lettuce, olives, tomatoes, and cheese. Add in the cooled beef, onions, and kidney beans. Mix salad ingredients together.

In a small bowl, combine the ranch seasoning packet with the milk. Whisk in the sour cream and mayo. Chill for 30 minutes prior to adding to salad. Crush the Doritos into little crumbs and set on the side.

Before serving, add the dressing to salad. Mix thoroughly. If you aren’t consuming the whole salad in one sitting, do not place the crumbled Doritos into the large bowl, because they will become soggy. Your best bet is to top each individual serving with the crumbled Doritos before consuming.
Note: My husband thinks I have too many kitchen appliances and knick-knacks. However, you will notice my largest mixing bowl is the same bowl we use to dish out Halloween candy (don’t judge.) So, in fact I do not have everything I need in my kitchen arsenal, dear!

My Christmas at a Glance

I have pulled myself from the depths of laziness in which the busy holidays have sent me. To let you all know, I am still alive! I hope all of your holidays have treated you well and, if you are anything like me, as much as you love Christmas, you are truly thankful it is over!
Here is a quick glance into the laziest, most gluttonous, most tv-on-DVD filled week of my life.

PS I blame my teacher-husband for sucking me into this vortex of laziness and naps, because he is home on Christmas vacation. If he was not home, I would be all “back to business.” Maybe…


Kolaczki (Pronounced ko-wah-ch-kee.)
Yesterday I decided to take my little dog Weezer and head over to my parents house to “help” my mom with some Christmas cookie baking. I use the term “help” loosely, because sometimes I am more of a bother in the kitchen than a help, especially when it comes to baking.
Kolaczki are a traditional holiday cookie in our house. They are light, buttery, flaky, and filled with fruit preserves. Being the proud Polish family that we are, we like to say they are a Polish cookie, but more realistically, I think they are a traditional Eastern European cookie. They are called many different names in Polish and in other languages. No matter what you call them, in whatever language, the description is always the same. They are G-O-O-D! (Pronounced guuud.)
But, I digress. When I got to my parent’s house, my mom already had the dough made and chilled. Score! One less thing for me to mess up. Then she springs this one on me: “Would you mind making a surprise dish for your brother for Christmas dinner while you’re here?” Seriously? I thought we were baking together?

So, what mama wants, mama gets. I started making this surprise dish for Christmas dinner while trying to pay attention to what my mom was doing so I could post an accurate recipe for the kolaczki. When I wasn’t paying enough attention or capturing the pictures my mom wanted me to capture for the blog, I definitely got an earful.

I ended up holding off on my project, taking pictures of the cookie making process, and overall marveling at how quickly and expertly my mom can whip these cookies out. It made me feel like a kid again. I felt like, since I clearly was not needed to make the kolaczki, I might as well entertain my mom with my witty banter.

And then, when all the cookies were baked and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the two of us sat back amongst the mess of flour and dough and ate way too many cookies for lunch and talked about how we wished we could hire somebody to come clean all this up.

Even though I didn’t exactly “help”, here is my mom doing what she does best!
3 Cups Flour
¾ lb. Margarine (3 Sticks)
½ Cup Sour Cream
Any kind of Fruit Preserves you like (We used Strawberry, Cherry, and Apricot)
Powdered Sugar for dusting over the tops

Mix the flour and margarine together using a pastry blender. When the two have combined and the dough is crumbly, add in the sour cream. Combine it using your hands until the dough is formed.
Divide into four equal balls of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Roll one ball of dough out at a time on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 3” squares.
Place a dollop (1/2 a teaspoon) of filling into the center of the squares. Fold the two sides into the center and seal with a little dab of water.
Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Check the cookies at the 15 minute mark to make sure they aren’t burning or haven’t unfolded.
Remove from the cookie sheet when completely baked and place them on a cooling rack. Lightly dust the cookies with some powdered sugar to finish.
After eating too many cookies, and laughing too hard with my mom all day yesterday, my stomach is still sore. It was worth every calorie!

Balsamic Glazed Sausage Bruschetta

I love appetizers! I love everything from cheese plates with olives and crackers to a messy hard to eat bruschetta. In fact, the other night my husband and I made a meal out of those two very things! I know it isn’t the healthiest or most balanced meal, but hey, it is the holiday season. Don’t all of your normal eating guidelines go out the window eventually anyway?

When thinking of ways to make my all time favorite combination of ingredients even better, there was only one ingredient that came to mind: pork! Pork always makes a dish better!
The addition of a mild pork Italian sausage to the normal bruschetta takes this traditional vegetarian dish and makes it into more of an entrée or a heavier appetizer to lead into the main course. I highly recommend bringing this dish to your Christmas dinner. After all, it is red and green!
Ingredients (makes enough for 10 pieces of bruschetta)
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
2 Links of Mild Italian Pork Sausage, casings removed
½ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
½ Pint of Grape Tomatoes, halved length-wise
10 Fresh Mozzarella Ciliegine (small balls of mozzarella), halved
6 Large Fresh Basil Leaves, cut into thin strips
10 Slices of French Baguette or Ciabatta (or any other kind of crusty bread you like)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium/high heat. Add the sausage links. Using a rubber spatula, break the links up into small bite-size chunks. When the sausage becomes golden on each side and is no longer pink in the center, add the balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat up to high and reduce the balsamic by half until it is a thick glaze over all of the sausage.


When the sausage is cooked all the way through, remove from heat. Add the grape tomatoes to the pan. Coat them evenly in the balsamic glaze. Arrange the slices of baguette on a large serving dish. Spoon the sausage, glaze, and tomatoes over the bread. Top with fresh mozzarella and basil, then serve.

Bring this to your Christmas dinner as a unique appetizer, or do as I did, and sit your butt at home with a big glass of wine and some appetizers and pretend you went out to a party.
P.S. I am really going to miss using my tree as a beautiful back-drop.

Marinated Flank Steak with a Butternut Squash, Cauliflower, Potato Puree

The holidays are tough for a number of reasons: too many tempting sugary treats, too much caloric intake in general, the stresses of hosting a family get together, and the stress of planning a meal that isn’t boring or exactly like the last huge meal you made a month ago.
To get away from the humdrum of turkey and potatoes, I suggest this amazing marinade from Bev Cooks on any kind of steak or even a pot roast. Pair the meat with my amazingly easy butternut squash, cauliflower, and potato puree and you have instantly created something new that still has remnants of the plain old safe mashed potatoes.

Ingredients for the Puree (serves four)
1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 Head of Cauliflower, chopped into large pieces
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
1 Teaspoon of Salt
½ Teaspoon of Pepper
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Sage Leaves, chopped
2 Russet Potatoes, peeled and boiled
1 Tablespoon of Sour Cream
½ Cup of 2% Milk
½ Cup of Parmesan Cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel, seed and chop the butternut squash into large cubes. Remove the core and stem from the head of cauliflower. Chop the florets into large pieces. Place the cauliflower and squash on a pan. Coat the veggies in olive oil and add the sage, salt, and pepper. Mix a few times to make sure the seasoning is properly distributed. Cut the butter into small squares and place throughout the veggies.
Bake for 35 minutes until lightly golden and tender. While the squash and cauliflower are roasting, boil the two potatoes. Drain the potatoes. Add the roasted cauliflower and squash to the pot along with the sour cream, milk, and cheese. Mash the mixture for a few minutes using a potato masher. When the veggies are roughly mashed, puree them using an immersion blender until they are smooth and creamy.
Ingredients for the Marinade
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tablespoons of Honey
2 Tablespoons of Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons of Fresh Grated Ginger
3 Cloves of Garlic, grated
1 Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper
½ Teaspoon of Coffee Grounds
In a small bowl, whisk all of the ingredients until combined. Place steak in a sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade into the bag. Seal and place in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours and up to 24 hours.
Sear the steak, in this case flank steak, on medium/high for about 8 minutes per side to create a perfect medium through the center of the flank steak. When done let rest for five minutes before cutting.
I also created a simple pan sauce by adding ¾ cup of beef stock to the pan and deglazing it for five minutes over high heat. A simple touch that adds more flavor to the dish.
Voila! An old switcheroo for your next holiday meal… Or in my case, a nice surprise for my husband when he arrived home from another drab Monday at work.
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