Black Bean, Cheese and Chicken Burritos

We were at a picnic this past weekend when talk turned, as it does in the presence of flaming grills and groaning sideboards, to “repurposing” leftovers. There are two camps that take sides during these types of conversations: the “I can’t get enough” group who happily eats their way through the Tupperware jungle in their refrigerator, and the “give me something new” folks who simply can’t stand to have the same dishes night after night.

Who knew that we were introducing such a heated (pun intended) topic into the conversation! It seems that, once you’ve found your tribe, there is little that will change your perspective on eating leftovers.

Around here we have some cross-pollination of opinions and that makes for an interesting week of menu planning. My “waste not, want not” mindset gets a little trying for the rest of the family, who tire of seeing progressively wilted specimens on their plates as the week wears on.

Which is why I like the idea of “repurposing” as much as I do. It’s not the “same old, same old,” but neither have I resorted to tossing the Sunday leftovers in the trash (for shame!). Personally, I find this to be the mark of a good and frugal cook: someone who can take what they have on hand and serve it up in a new and tasty way. Element of surprise and all that — just don’t get too creative, which is a lesson we learned in the Split Pea Soup with Ham post. Plus, with the busy lives we lead, who really has the time to make a full dinner from scratch every night? Oh, what a luxury that would be, though I think I’d go broke trying to cook that way!

For those like-minded individuals who are trying to use up the last of this past weekend’s barbecue fixings I have this advice: consider the burrito.

A little bit of everything in these burritos: rice, beans, chicken and cheese

A little bit of everything in these burritos: rice, beans, chicken and cheese

I’m hardly being original here, but if you haven’t had burritos at home in a while this is your reminder to put them on the menu this week. Grab a big flour tortilla, fill it with some traditional ingredients like rice, cheese and beans, and then toss in those leftover proteins or veggies. Grilled chicken is perfect. Steak would be great. Lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, grilled onions or zucchini….all wonderful in a burrito.

Our Black Bean, Cheese and Chicken Burritos redeem those Memorial Day leftovers. Keep reading for the easy recipe!

Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breasts

The Memorial Day weekend in the United States is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the weekend that grills across the nation — having lain dormant under feet of winter snow — get dusted off, cleaned out and fired up. If you’re on the hunt for an easy grilling recipe that is both adult and kid-friendly, raises the bar over traditional hamburger and hot dog fare, and takes no more than five minutes to cook once it hits the flame, this is the recipe for you.

Marinating meat does several things to it by adding flavor and tenderizing the meat fibers. But be careful: not all marinades are created equal. Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way that you’ll need to be aware of when marinating meat (check out the subscription site Cook’s Illustrated for great scientific explanations of what happens during the marinating process):

  • Acids: break apart the meat and collagen fibers on the meat surface which allows it to better retain moisture. But if you use too much acid in a marinade, or marinate the meat for too long in an acidic marinade, the meat will become mushy as the meat fibers break even further apart.
  • Oil: carries oil-soluable flavors and coats the surface meat fibers in the flavoring agent (in this case, lemon and garlic).
  • Salt/high-sodium ingredients: add flavor, but also work as a brining agent to pull moisture from the marinade into the meat.
  • Flavoring agents like garlic and herbs: once the acids and salts have worked their magic on the meat and collagen fibers, these flavors combine with the oil to penetrate the outermost surface of the meat and add complex and complementary tastes.

This particular recipe uses highly-acidic lemon juice in combination with salt to quickly tenderize and brine the outer surface of some thinly-cut chicken breasts. The olive oil and garlic, in combination with the citrus flavor of the lemon juice, then works its way into the chicken. These chicken breasts are very tender and flavorful as a result, the perfect complement to a Memorial Day spread.

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

A great recipe for grilling season: lemon garlic chicken breasts

Keep reading for our easy Grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken Breast recipe!

Baked Tomatoes

The fruit that took over the world. No, it’s not a long-forgotten sci-fi thriller, or even some GMO experiment gone horribly wrong. It is, in fact, something you have likely eaten, in one form or another, within the past week. It’s the tomato.

I’m kind of envious of the world tour undertaken by this humble fruit (and yes, contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable). Originating in the Andes Mountains in South America, it soon became a domesticated crop that was, by 500 BC,  being grown as a food source throughout the Mexican peninsula.

One of the early Spanish explorers — perhaps even the fabled Christopher Columbus — returned to Spain with the seeds of this fruit after a trip to the New World. Although initially suspicious of the fruit of any plant in the deadly nightshade family, Spaniards couldn’t resist the juicy, sweet tomato, likening it to an eggplant. Those same explorers were responsible for introducing tomatoes throughout the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. Climates in countries like Italy were especially favorable for growing tomatoes, though the Italians in the 1500 and 1600s  used them originally as ornamental fruits, believing that they were not edible. That changed, obviously, and thank goodness it did, or we may never have gotten the opportunity to experience pizza in its many forms and permutations.

Tomatoes continued to migrate — north to France and Great Britain, south and east through the Middle East and Africa, and, eventually, made their way back across the ocean…this time to North America.

So the next time you cut one of these beauties into a salad, make a batch of salsa, or serve a simple vegetable soup, think of all the places the tomato has been. And all the passport pages it must have gotten stamped. Now, that’s a trip I want to go on!

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Speaking of trips, the Stout Sprouts and I have a simple recipe for baked tomatoes that could take you no further than your garden, or just the produce aisle of your local grocery or farmer’s market (can’t WAIT for Jersey tomatoes to come into season here). If you’re having a big barbecue this weekend — ’tis the season, after all — this is an easy side that is a great complement to steaks or baked chicken or a hearty rice dish and takes absolutely no time at all to make.

This recipe for Baked Tomatoes is a vacation for your mouth. Check it out and remember to come home when you’re finished!

Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta

Here’s what I want to know: whose idea was it to put magic wands in the hands of today’s little princes and princesses? Scepters I can understand, but no royal dress-up costume is complete these days without a magic wand. Maybe that’s just part of the expanding job description: “must be able to perform such royal duties as knighting brave squires, kissing frogs, and using a magic wand to zap the bejesus out of any inanimate object that must be transformed into a royal coach.”

Thank goodness we can put those magic wands to better use in the kitchen to conjure up a quick meal like Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta. It’s just the kind of thing Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother would have whipped up for the ball. Great dish for a roomful of nobility, but an equally good weeknight dinner that comes together so quickly that you’ll hardly have time to say “bibbidy, bobbidy, boo” before it’s on the table.

Satisfying and easy: it's rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

Satisfying and easy: it’s rigatoni with chicken, spinach, mushrooms, olives and feta in a tomato base

It isn’t just the quick prep that makes this meal magical. If you’ve already purchased ingredients for our Savory Bread Pudding or our Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad or the Roasted Beet, Cucumber and Feta Salad or the Quick Greek Salad, this is an extra dish you can add into rotation later in the week with very little advance warning. Having several dishes planned in the course of a week that use the same ingredients in different ways is one of my favorite tricks, and is certainly both resourceful and a time-saver.

The pan sauce comes together...next step is adding the pasta

The pan sauce comes together…next step is adding the pasta

This rigatoni dish has a wonderful medley of Mediterranean flavors that some kids might at first shy away from, but serve it with familiar pasta noodles and it is both comforting and approachable. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts (aka the little women with the wands) like spinach. Using it as a supporting ingredient here — and not a main ingredient — makes this all the more child-friendly. This is also the first dish in which we were able to get Daughter 2 to try mushrooms, and I’m hopeful it’s not the last. (Is there a magic spell for that?)

Get out your wands and keep reading for our Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta recipe!

Quick Tortilla Soup

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone. We’ve made it to Ocho de Mayo — a date that is arguably more significant to Mexican-American relations than the margarita-fest that May 5th has become. May 8th is the day in 1846 on which the Battle of Palo Alto — the first battle in the Mexican-American War — was fought outside of what is now Brownsville, TX.

The Battle of Palo Alto is a more somber — and potentially more divisive — battle than that of the Mexican army defeating French forces in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican-American War that it precipitated still strikes a raw nerve in Mexico and the southwestern United States alike. Indeed, the losses suffered by Mexico following the two-year-long war eventually led the Mexican president to suspend debt payments to other countries for a period of two years, during which time the French, among other countries, sent forces to Mexico to demand that existing debts be paid…leading, eventually, to the Battle of Puebla.

That it took this political turmoil — both in 1846, and in 1862 — to set culinary wheels in motion is somewhat ironic. Mexico ceded over half of its national territory to the United States in the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War, but that territory — land now located in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California — retained and evolved its Mexican culinary origins. These are the places that gave rise to such dishes at nachos, chimichangas, chili, and the modern burrito — none of which are native to Mexico, but which have evolved in the United Sates from Mexican origins.

If all this is a little much to wrap your head around on a food blog, I suggest pondering it over a bowl of what is, actually, a true Mexican dish, but which has itself evolved once north of the border: Tortilla soup.

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup -- don't forget the avocados

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup — don’t forget the avocados

In addition to being a microcosm of Mexican cooking in a bowl, Tortilla soup is a great dish to put on the menu following Cinco de Mayo because it helps any thrifty chef use ingredients left on hand. It’s easy to prepare (this version, at least), packed with flavor and complexity, and a crowd-pleaser. Definitionally, this may be a “Leftover Soup,” but it’s another one that disguises itself as a “Showstopper Soup.” (See our post on Split Pea Soup for an explanation on what we mean by that!)

The Mexican ingredients in Tortilla Soup come together quickly in this satisfying meal. Keep reading for our recipe and more.

Migas: Tex-Mex Scrambled Eggs and Corn Tortillas

I guess I’m not surprised that the blogosphere has exploded with Cinco de Mayo recipes and party ideas. This is one psudo-holiday that North Americans have embraced with gusto…er, I mean entusiasmo. Devoid of religious trappings or forced familial obligations, Cinco de Mayo has become a day to let loose with friends, indulge in platter after platter of nachos, enchiladas and tacos, and drink a few too many margaritas — be they strawberry, mango, coconut, guava, or some other tropical but none-too-authentic flavor.

But Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States are unlike those in Mexico. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find any real celebrations in Mexico at all. The military defeat of the French army by Mexican troops on May 5th, 1862, in the city of Puebla was indeed historically important to the the Pueblans, but it is not recognized throughout Mexico the way it is north of the border.

I recently listened to an NPR news story that encapsulated my feelings about the holiday. Entitled “Cinco De Mayo: Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway,” the story made the case that Cinco De Mayo celebrations in the United States are really Mexican-American celebrations…a way of recognizing Mexican cultural heritage in a uniquely Mexican-American way. And if Cinco de Mayo is a day to recognize the contributions and influences of the Mexican diaspora on the fabric of American culture, have I got a recipe for you.

Spicy, salty, comforting and crunchy, migas hits the spot at brunch

Spicy, salty, comforting and crunchy, migas hits the spot at brunch…or anytime

Migas are a Tex-Mex dish influenced less by traditional Mexican cooking than by Spanish and Portuguese dishes. In those countries migas are, at their most basic, a mixture of bread and eggs flavored with a variety of savory ingredients. But in the southwestern United States, where the influences of Mexican cooking are most widely felt, migas are a popular breakfast or brunch dish made with leftover corn tortillas, eggs, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of other things that can include bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, hot sauce and cheese.

Curious about migas? Keep reading to learn more and get our recipe for this great breakfast/brunch dish.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Pineapple

Pastry chefs amaze me. They are scientists, artists, and culinary masters in equal measure, capable of creating desserts that leave dinners in gastronomic and aesthetic ecstasy. Whether it’s a multi-tiered ganache-frosted cake, artfully arranged fruit tart, or spun-sugar sculpture, pastry chefs certainly know how to finish a meal.

I, however, am not a pasty chef. A far cry, really, having seized the chocolate in my most recent dessert recipe even after following the instructions precisely.

Which, perhaps, is why I like this recipe for coconut rice pudding so much. There are no tricks, no special techniques, and it is very forgiving. Stir it for one minute less or one minute more and you’ll still have a delicious dish…not a pan of “it tastes better than it looks” or “hey, I think I have enough ice cream in the freezer to be used as a back up plan.”

Sweet and creamy: coconut rice pudding, pairs beautifully with pineapple

Sweet and creamy: coconut rice pudding pairs beautifully with pineapple

Rice pudding is also one of those recipes loved the world ’round. Nearly every country has their own take on this comforting dish, from the Algerian m’halbi laced with cinnamon and rosewater, to the Indian firni with cardamom and pistachio, to the sweet orange- and clove-tinged Peruvian arroz con leche, to the Norwegian Christmas specialty riskrem, or the German Milchreis with apples and cherries.

Serve a bowl of rice pudding and you’re taking your family and guests back to simpler times. Rice puddings have an almost child-like magic to them, able to convey both love and comfort in one bite, warm or chilled. Chocolate tortes may be awe-inspiring, but rice puddings are soul-inspiring.

Get the recipe for our magical Coconut Rice Pudding with Pineapple here!