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Friday, January 23, 2015

Southwestern Beef Salad with Creamy Peppercorn Vinaigrette

Okay, now THIS was a shock to me.... This creamy peppercorn vinaigrette was a big hit at our house! I really thought that the majority of my family would be reaching for the standard ranch dressing, and that I was making this for myself; but as it turned out, even the kids loved it!  Whaaat?!  My six year old said "Oh mom, I LOVE this new ranch dressing you made!"  HaHa.... Well... Ummmm... Okay! Let's just go with that!  And the best part is that all you have to do is throw the ingredients together in a food processor or blender and give it a whirl until its all combined.  You probably have all these things in the refrigerator already.  After that, you can refrigerate it (covered) for about a week and it's still mighty delicious.  :)

My friend Barb was going out for her birthday a while back and we were discussing the restaurant.  I looked up the menu and saw a salad similar to this calling out my name from like 900 miles away. That didn't seem to be a viable option for me, so I set about the business of creating my own version. I love a good hearty hearty salad with a mix of lean proteins and lots of different flavors and textures. I get that trait from my mother, who is the best salad maker ever.  If you aren't a big salad fan, the marinated beef can be made into quesadillas (that's what my kids had), tacos or nachos, and the dressing can be used for as many things as you can dream up. 

What's great about this salad, is that it lends itself SO WELL to making up all the components ahead of time, and then putting them all together when you are ready for a pretty quick dinner.  


Ingredients:  

Creamy peppercorn vinaigrette
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/3 c freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • ~ 1 medium lemon
  • 2 Tbsp milk (full fat)
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, rough chopped
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Southwestern beef salad 
  • grilled, chimichurri marinated flank steak (or skirt steak)
  • black bean and corn salsa (follow link)
  • grated pepper jack cheese
  • roasted red pepper peppers and onions 
  • creamy peppercorn vinaigrette 
  • Romaine salad blend
Argentinean chimichurri sauce* (see food nerd notes)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 6 - 8 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 of 1 large lime
  • 2 Tbsp diced red onion
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Step-by-Step:
Vinaigrette - 
Add everything to a food processor or blender and combine.  You can make this ahead of time and have it ready in the refrigerator.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 c freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano
 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 
 2 Tbsp milk (full fat) 
 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 medium garlic cloves, rough chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
 Mix to combine.
And here it is!  So creamy... All you need is a lovely veggie tray and you could be all set for dipping!
Chimichurri - 
We are going to use this Argentinean "sauce" as a marinade for our beef.   The directions are the same as the vinaigrette.  Add everything to a blender and give it whirl until it is combined to your satisfaction.

If you aren't a cilantro fan, feel free to use all parsley rather than half and half cilantro and parsley.
1/2 bunch cilantro 
6 - 8 cloves garlic
(oops!  Forgot to photograph.... 1/2 bunch parsley as well as cilantro)
 2 Tbsp diced red onion 
You will get more juice from that lime if you heat it up first in the microwave for about 15 seconds and then roll it under firm pressure on cabinet before cutting it.
juice from 1/2 of 1 large lime
1/4 c red wine vinegar 
3/4 c extra virgin olive oil 
1  tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper 
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Now blend.....
Note - If you are going to use the chimichurri as a condiment for your meat, and NOT a marinade, I would not blend it.  I would put it in a food processor and just pulse it until you get it to a sort of chunky salsa consistency.  But that was not my intended use here.  

Marinate the flank steak in the chimichurri in a ziptop bag for at least an hour or so.  You can definitely leave it in there for more.  Now just wait a second, dang it!  If I had intended upon someone coming in and picking up the camera, I would have at least NOT used a autumn leaves apron in the Winter! ... I could have at least made an attempt to MATCH or something!  ... but this is just a regular, after work day.  This is how we roll, folks!  :)
Add the chimichurri sauce to your flank steak to get this party started.  The great part about putting it in a zip top bag is that it's easier to ensure it is contact with all the meat at the same time.  And then when you're done, you just toss it out!
You'll want to make sure you squish out all the excess air from the bag before putting it in the fridge.
Here we go.  Just throw it somewhere in the fridge.  The other great thing about the bag is that is squishes in tight spots (as opposed to a bowl).
For the salad - 
Make a quick black bean and corn salsa.  Yum!  This is one of my favorite snacks... and it's super healthy!  Follow the link provided.  This one is also best if you do it ahead of time, which would be a time saver for you when it comes time to put dinner together. 

Saute the onions and red bell peppers.  
You can save some time by using roasted red peppers from a jar.  TaDA!!  After your onions are mostly cooked down, add them together and let them finish heating up and caramelizing.  
On a screaming hot grill, remove the marinated flank steak from the chimichurri and grill on both sides until you achieve your desired level of doneness.  My husband grilled ours, and we generally prefer a medium amount of doneness on ours.  When you take your steak off the grill, you will want to let it rest several minutes.  This will give you an opportunity to start assembling your salad.
Let them REST!
Assemble your salad as you wish, but I started with a bed of romaine lettuce, shredded pepper jack cheese, grilled onions and peppers, your thin slices of grilled beef, some of that beautiful black bean and corn salsa, and finally - the creamy peppercorn vinaigrette.  

With flank steak or skirt steak, it is very important that you cut very THIN strips of meat, and that you cut them AGAINST the grain of the beef.  If the meat is running top to bottom, you want to cut left to right.  If you cut in the same direction as the meat is running, you will probably not be able to chew it!  Also, I recommend that you not cut with your knife straight up and down, but at about a 45 degree angle.  You want the fibers of the meat to be very short.  This is an inexpensive, tough cut of beef that we are trying to trick into being tender.  :)

THAT, my friends, is ONE HECK of a salad!  We've got crunch, creamy, smooth, smoky, sweet, oh my!! This one will never be considered "rabbit food" by any one's stretch of the imagination.


Food Nerd Notes - Chimichurri.
Chimichurri is one of the most delicious and most versatile sauces around.  It is an sauce or condiment of Argentinean origin similar to pesto that is similar throughout South America.  The basic version uses fresh parley (although cilantro is often found as well), oregano, garlic, oil and vinegar and a little bit of chili pepper, though the variations on the theme are endless.  In Argentina it is used both as a marinade and a sauce for grilled steak, but can be used with fish, chicken or even pasta. The flavor has been described as "like running your steak through a fresh garden" and is absolutely delightful.


I hope you enjoyed this amazingly delicious recipe!
There are hundreds more in my Recipe Index, just waiting to be chosen and cooked!  You can also visit my Film strips for pinning page, to see whole recipes at a glance, and to click-and-go right to the recipe.

The Menu Musings cookbook is sure to be a hit at your house, and make great gifts all year long!  For more information, here is a link!

Connect with me.    
If you are new to MenuMusings, click here to subscribe so you won't miss a thing!  I'll send you notifications of new posts to help you avoid that proverbial cooking rut.  You can also follow me on Pinterest and on the MenuMusings facebook page.

You can also follow along to several Menu Musings recipes on YouTube with these short video tutorials.  Here's one example for Fire Roasted Corn Guacamole!  YUM!
Vinaigrette - 
Add everything to a food processor or blender and combine.  You can make this ahead of time and have it ready in the refrigerator.

Chimichurri - 
We are going to use this Argentinean "sauce" as a marinade for our beef.   The directions are the same as the vinaigrette.  Add everything to a blender and give it whirl until it is combined to your satisfaction.  If you aren't a cilantro fan, feel free to use all parsley rather than half and half cilantro and parsley.


Marinate the flank steak in the chimichurri in a ziptop bag for at least an hour or so.  You can definitely leave it in there for more.  Add the chimichurri sauce to your flank steak to get this party started.  The great part about putting it in a zip top bag is that it's easier to ensure it is contact with all the meat at the same time.  And then when you're done, you just toss it out!  You'll want to make sure you squish out all the excess air from the bag before putting it in the fridge. Just throw it somewhere in the fridge.  

For the salad - 
Make a quick black bean and corn salsa.  (Follow the link provided.)  This one is also best if you do it ahead of time, which would be a time saver for you when it comes time to put dinner together. 

Saute the onions and red bell peppers.  You can save some time by using roasted red peppers from a jar.  After your onions are mostly cooked down, add them together and let them finish heating up and caramelizing.  

On a screaming hot grill, remove the marinated flank steak from the chimichurri and grill on both sides until you achieve your desired level of doneness.  We generally prefer a medium amount of doneness.  When you take your steak off the grill, you will want to let it rest several minutes.  This will give you an opportunity to start assembling your salad.

Assemble your salad as you wish, but I started with a bed of romaine lettuce, shredded pepper jack cheese, grilled onions and peppers, your thin slices of grilled beef, some of that beautiful black bean and corn salsa, and finally - the creamy peppercorn vinaigrette.  

With flank steak or skirt steak, it is very important that you cut very THIN strips of meat, and that you cut them AGAINST the grain of the beef.  If the meat is running top to bottom, you want to cut left to right.  If you cut in the same direction as the meat is running, you will probably not be able to chew it!  Also, I recommend that you not cut with your knife straight up and down, but at about a 45 degree angle.  You want the fibers of the meat to be very short.  This is an inexpensive, tough cut of beef that we are trying to trick into being tender.  :)

THAT, my friends, is ONE HECK of a salad!  We've got crunch, creamy, smooth, smoky, sweet, oh my!! This one will never be considered "rabbit food" by any one's stretch of the imagination.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mozzarella-Stuffed 3 Meat Italian Meatballs

"I swear to God, Julie.  They were so good I think I swallowed them whole."  Ummm... how is THAT for a testimonial?  Ha!  A dear friend of ours owns a wine store.  He somehow heard I was making homemade meatballs one night and asked my husband to bring some by.  I can't tell you how many times he hooks us up with just the perfect wine pairing for any meal, or finds some bottle of something I need when I decide to cook a recipe on the fly... so of COURSE I was going to hook him up with some of these homemade three meat, mozzarella-stuffed Italian meatballs!  

First of all, I was determined that they would not be "one note."  I wanted them to be delicate, melt in your mouth tender, and yet super flavorful.  I chose to mix veal, beef, and Italian sausage and the result was "WOW!"  I supercharged the flavor with tons of herbs.... then as an additional option, I STUFFED the middle of the meatballs with chunks of fresh mozzarella.  Don't let the list scare you.  It's just dumping a bunch of herbs together in a bowl with the meat!  

Print this Recipe!

Ingredients:  (Makes about 4 dozen, 1/2 ounce meatballs)
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground beef (85/15)
  • 1/2 pound ground sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup Parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
  • 3/4 cup garlic and herb bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp finely minced garlic (~ 2 large cloves)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • optional - 1 fresh mozzarella ball cut into small cubes

Step-by-Step: 
Mix together the three meats in a large bowl.  Here we have the red beef for structure, the brown Italian sausage for flavor, and the pink veal for tenderness.
Beef, Italian sausage, Veal.
Add in the freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano.  We are on flavor overload here!
Please not that fake stuff in the can.  If you want good flavor, you really need to use good ingredients. This is one place that you really don't want to cut corners.  Buy it in a block and grate your own. 
 1 cup Parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Add in the flavored bread crumbs.  This helps to keep the meatballs from being too dense.
3/4 cup garlic and herb bread crumbs
Add in all the herbs and seasonings.  We definitely want our meatballs to be flavorful and not bland.
 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp finely minced garlic (~ 2 large cloves)
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
Now we add our eggs as a binder.
3 large eggs
I added milk to make them even more tender.  Hey... it works for my hamburgers!  :)
1/3 cup milk
Now, with a delicate hand, let's get this all mixed up.  I don't think you can get a better mixing utensil than your hands for this... but you may want to consider removing your rings first.   You don't want to overwork the meat.  Just gently mix to combine.
Now let's take a step off the path for a second.  The only way to know if we have adequately seasoned them is to taste them.  It's not likely we are going to taste the raw meat, so you have two options.  You can 1) take my word for it on the seasoning, or 2) make a tiny little patty and fry it up (think baby doll hamburger) and taste it.   
Can you see all the seasonings in there?  :)
If you give the seasonings a thumbs up, then we are ready to make meatballs!  I rummaged around in the kitchen drawer until I found a 1/2 ounce cookie scoop.  I think this size meatball will be perfect for my family, and also not take forever to cook.  Just for reference, this is just a bit smaller than a golf ball I suppose.
First I am just going to roughly portion them out.  I'm not going to even bother with making sure they are smooth or anything.  I just sort of need a visual of what's going on and how many I'm dealing with here.  The other advantage to using the cookie scoop is that all of our meatballs will end up a uniform size.  Not only will this make them prettier, but it means they will all have the same cooking time - a VERY important thing!  We don't want some undercooked and others overcooked!
I'm also getting my fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes.  
Here's how I did it.  For each meatball to be stuffed, I made well in one side with my thumb, and buried a piece of mozzarella in the hollow.
Then I closed up the meatball around the cheese and rolled the meatball between my two hands until it was pretty and smooth, making sure there were no cracks.  Now I fully knew that some cheese would still find its way out... but I wanted to seal it in best that I could.
Now they are all so pretty and round.  Notice that I have set them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.  One of the most frequent complaints from people making meatballs is the clean up afterwards.  Well with the parchment paper, you just throw the paper away and your clean up will be a snap!  It will also keep them from sticking.  Double YAY!! 
Bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for around 30-35 minutes.
Believe me when I tell you that the house smelled WONDERFUL!
You can see that the parmesan and some of the fat from the meat is starting to bake out of the meatballs.  At this point, you can be thankful that you set them all on parchment paper.
After 30 minutes, I took them out to check on them.  Oh my WORD!  What a vision... and not to mention the wonderful smell!  You can see that some of the mozzarella has started to ooze out.  Ehh, I'm not going to stress over that.  As a matter of fact, this will alert your dinner guests of what is to come.  
I'm sure they were perfectly fine at 30 minutes, but I wanted them to be just a tad bit browner, so I popped them back in for another 5 minutes.
And here we are after baking for 35 minutes.  Aren't they GORGEOUS?!
Now there will be firm enough to hold up to simmering in your favorite pasta sauce, or making that perfect meatball sub.
Let's have a look on the inside.  Tender, flavorful meatballs, gooey melted mozzarella.... ohhhh! Delizioso!
Once the meatballs are baked, you have some options.  You can simmer them in your favorite pasta sauce and serve over pasta.  Somehow in the marinara sauce, they seem to get even more tender. You can also allow them to cool and then freeze them in a zip-top freezer bag.  They freeze beautifully!


Tall Pinterest Photos.

I hope you enjoyed this amazingly delicous recipe!

There are hundreds more in my Recipe Index, just waiting to be chosen and cooked!  You can also visit my Film strips for pinning page, to see whole recipes at a glance, and to click-and-go right to the recipe.

The Menu Musings cookbook is sure to be a hit at your house, and make great gifts all year long!  For more information, here is a link!
Connect with me.    
If you are new to MenuMusings, click here to subscribe so you won't miss a thing!  I'll send you notifications of new posts to help you avoid that proverbial cooking rut.  You can also follow me on Pinterest and on the MenuMusings facebook page.

You can also follow along to several Menu Musings recipes on YouTube with these short video tutorials.  Here's one example for Coconut Lime Chicken!  YUM!!

Here are some bonus recipes for you!
Man Chili

Sun Dried Tomato Chicken

Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Cream Sauce

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

Crock Pot Pork Chops

Tiramisu

Written Method: 
Mix together the three meats in a large bowl.  Also add in the Parmigiano reggiano, the flavored bread crumbs, and all the herbs and seasonings.  We definitely want our meatballs to be flavorful and not bland.  Add the eggs as a binder and the milk to make them even more tender.  

Now, with a delicate hand, let's get this all mixed up.  You may want to consider removing your rings first.  You don't want to overwork the meat.  Just gently mix to combine.  Now let's take a step off the path for a second.  The only way to know if we have adequately seasoned them is to taste them.  It's not likely we are going to taste the raw meat, so you have two options.  You can 1) take my word for it on the seasoning, or 2) make a tiny little patty and fry it up (think baby doll hamburger) and taste it.
If you give the seasonings a thumbs up, then we are ready to make meatballs!  I rummaged around in the kitchen drawer until I found a 1/2 ounce cookie scoop.  I think this size meatball will be perfect for my family, and also not take forever to cook.  Just for reference, this is just a bit smaller than a golf ball I suppose.  First roughly portion them out.  Don't even bother making sure they are smooth or anything.  You can also take this opportunity to get your fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes.

Here's how I did it.  For each meatball to be stuffed, I made well in one side with my thumb, and buried a piece of mozzarella in the hollow.  Then I closed up the meatball around the cheese and rolled the meatball between my two hands until it was pretty and smooth, making sure there were no cracks.  Be aware that some cheese will still find its way out... but you still want to seal it best that you can.


Go ahead and have your oven preheating on 350 degrees F.  For easy clean up, set your meatballs out on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.  One of the most frequent complaints from people making meatballs is the clean up afterwards.  With the parchment paper, you just throw the paper away and your clean up will be a snap!  It will also keep them from sticking.  Double YAY!!  When ready, bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for around 30-35 minutes.

You may notice that some of the parmesan and fat from the meat will start to bake out of the meatballs.  At this point, you can be thankful that you set them all on parchment paper.  After 30 minutes, I took them out to check on them.  Oh my WORD!  What a vision... not to mention the wonderful smell!  You may also notice that some of the mozzarella may start to ooze out depending on how well you sealed them up.  Ehh, don't stress over that.  As a matter of fact, this will alert your dinner guests of what is to come.  I'm sure they are perfectly fine at 30 minutes, but if you want them just a tad bit browner, pop them back in for another 5 minutes.  Completely your choice.  Now they will be firm enough to hold up to simmering in your favorite pasta sauce or making that perfect meatball sub.

Once the meatballs are baked, you have some options.  They are fully cooked and you can eat them as it, of course, so go ahead.  You deserve one.. or a few!  You can simmer them in your favorite marinara and serve over pasta.  You can also allow them to cool and then freeze them in a zip-top freezer bag.  They freeze beautifully!

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