Category Archives: Dips and Sauces

Christmas Tree Appetizer Tray

 

With the holiday season come holiday parties. From friends to family reunions, cocktail hours and work gatherings, the holidays are rife with opportunity to eat things we normally wouldn’t, shouldn’t, and far more of them. You could choose to just eat yourself into a coma every week and deal with the consequences later. You could live a puritanical existence for the next few weeks, exercising iron will over all sweets and tasty delights. Or…

You could choose better options. You could nudge family, friends, and co-workers in a healthier direction. You could provide healthy yet delicious treats, so you know you will always have something healthful to enjoy at any get-together.

I know which option I choose each year.

Would you like to know the answer to one of life’s biggest questions? How can you be both happy and healthy all the time? The key to health and happiness, is moderation. Go ahead and indulge in the things that truly bring you joy, like the cookies you look forward to all year, spiral-sliced holiday ham, or your aunt’s amazing casserole. But know that means you must cut back in other areas. Don’t have every appetizer offered, three cups of eggnog, seconds and thirds at dinner, followed by an entire angel food cake roll.

And by bringing healthier options to any party or gathering, you virtually guarantee yourself at least one option that will be “safe” and you can indulge as much as you like. You are also giving everyone else at the party a healthy option they may not have considered previously.

Christmas tree healthy appetizer tray

This is an appetizer tray my mother had made for a party last year.  You will notice that it not only looks very appealing, with its holiday themed tree shape, but it also has a whole cornucopia of options from broccoli to cheeses, to olives and grape tomatoes. This would be awesome to serve with a healthful dip on the side such as Black Bean Hummus, Lean Green Guacamole, or Radish, Onion & Herb cream cheese dip.

How to create an appetizer tree:

  • 1 large head broccoli
  • 1 can black olives
  • 1 small jar green olives
  • Assorted cheese cubes
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • Handful of pretzel sticks
  • Any other dipping veggies, cut into cubes or sticks

Step 1: Dice all your veggies into bite size pieces, and cube the cheeses.  Drain the olives.

Step 2: In a large pan or on a serving platter, arrange the cheese and vegetables in layers, including at least 2 large layers of broccoli for the green color. Finish with a handful of pretzels on the bottom for the tree trunk.

You could get very creative with this, for example by including “ornaments” on the tree by using different colors of vegetables or fruits, or making different shapes.  You could use cauliflower, red bell peppers and tomatoes to create a santa hat shape, or other types of finger foods arranged to look like wrapped gifts.  Let your imagination run wild, and watch as the crowd gobbles up healthy nibbles happily!

Green Tomato Salsa

 

When you have lots of green tomatoes and are tired of fried green tomatoes, what else can you do besides wait for them to ripen?  You can turn a whole bunch of them into salsa!  Red tomatoes shouldn’t have all the fun.  Salsa is a classic condiment, and is great on tacos, eggs, in soups, or on chicken or pork.  Green tomato salsa has a unique vegetal taste that red tomato salsa can’t match.  And once you’ve made a big batch, you could can the rest and have it all year long!  Or give them as cute, thrifty, from-the-heart gifts.

This recipe includes no added sugar, you instead get some sweetness from baking apples.  If you require your salsa to be sweeter, you can add in a tablespoon or two.  I’d recommend apple cider vinegar over white, but you can also use white vinegar.  Add hot peppers to your own spice preference level too.  Same goes for sea salt, if you want some salt in your salsa.  I prefer my salsa as plain and clean as possible so I know what is in it and can adjust the meal as a whole later when I use it.

Green tomato salsa ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 10 pounds green tomatoes
  • 2-3 large green apples
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 hot pepper (serrano, jalapeno…)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

Green tomato salsa ingredients chopped

Step 1: This step definitely takes the longest, but is fun.  Rinse your tomatoes and other produce, and chop everything into small bite-size pieces.  I just did them in rotating batches of lots of tomatoes, then half the onion, then one pepper, etc. until everything was chopped up.  Put it all in a big stock pot.

Green tomato salsa cooking

Step 2: Put the heat on medium-high, and add the cider vinegar.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover, and cook for at least one hour.  You can go do something else while this is cooking down, and could probably do it in a slow cooker as well.

Filled green tomato salsa jars vertical

Step 3: If you want certain spices/flavorings (like bay leaves, cumin, sea salt, cilantro, etc) add them here.

Green tomato salsa jars no lids

Step 4: To use a pressure canner, consult the instructions for your machine.  To use water bath canning, same prep work.  Sterilize your empty jars by running through a dish washer cycle and/or boiling in plain water 20 minutes.

Green tomato salsa jars horizontal

Step 5: Fill each jar up to 1 – 1/2 inch from the rim.  Wipe the rim clean, and place a lid and ring on it, tightening it (but not too tight, you need air to escape).  Here I tried the Tattler re-useable jar lids for the first time!

Green tomato salsa jars in water bath canner

Step 6: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and place the jars inside.  Process the jars for about an hour.  Adjust for your altitude if above sea level.

Green tomato salsa jars vertical

Step 7: Remove the jars to a towel, and let them sit, undisturbed, overnight or about 8 hours, to cool.  The lids should “pop” tight and will not give or bounce when pressed.  Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.  Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

 

Veggie Packed Pasta Sauce

 

Pasta sauce is one of my absolute favorite things to pack extra veggies into!  Any time you have a sauce, chili, soup, or stew, is an excellent opportunity to be sneaky healthy.  By blending things in, no one knows they are there, yet you are giving the people eating the meal extra doses of fiber and vitamins.  There’s no reason not to!

The best things for blending in include beans, greens, and carrots.  Beans thicken the sauce because of their natural fiber content.  Greens may change the color a bit, so keep that in mind.  And carrots provide a slight sweetness while not affecting the overall color very much.  Keep in mind with carrots, you must cook them first so they soften before trying to blend them in, or juice them.

In this sauce, I went really bold and added some spinach as well as a half bag of frozen carrots and peas I had left from a previous meal.  To this I added a full can of stewed tomatoes, and 1/2 cup milk.  Simmering everything together makes it soften, and then if you have eaters that won’t tolerate chunks, pop half or all of it into a blender before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 can stewed diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag frozen carrots & peas
  • 1/2 cup milk

Sneaky healthy pasta sauce

Step 1: Thaw the spinach, and squeeze out extra water.  Put in a pan with the peas and carrots, and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until carrots have softened.

Rigatoni with spinach pasta sauce

Step 2: Add the tomatoes and milk, and cook another few minutes.  Puree in a blender.  You can further cook it down to thicken the sauce, or serve as is.

I added some crumbled cooked bacon and sprinkled on Parmesan cheese, but if you serve as is this is a perfect vegetarian meal.  You can see what I mean about the greens changing the color of the sauce.  If that is a problem, just start with very small amounts of greens, maybe just a handful of spinach rather than the whole package.

 

Slow Cooker Chicken with Peanut Sauce

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Peanut butter is a great source of health protein, as long as you don’t go overboard the fat content isn’t a deal-breaker.  It is also a very cheap staple to keep in the kitchen.  But even the most devoted lover of peanut butter sandwiches can get bored of them in time.  A simple peanut sauce goes great with chicken (or pork!) and when made in the slow cooker, it is a breeze to whip up something exotic in no time at all with basic staples.
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This sauce is a complex mixture of creamy, salty, spicy, and peanuts.  Obviously do not make it or eat it around people who have a severe peanut allergy, as it contains both peanuts and peanut butter.  You can control the level of spice by choosing what kinds of pepper to add, if any.  Feel free to tweak the seasonings to your preferences.
Ingredients:
  • 2-3 pounds chicken
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp peanuts, crushed
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced, or 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, diced
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • Optional: 1 tsp Thai chilie

Step 1: Mix all wet ingredients in a bowl.

Step 2: Add chicken and all of the spices.  You could either mix this in an oven-safe container and bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours, or mix in a crock pot and bake on low for 5-6 hours.

And here you have the chicken and sauce in a crock pot.

The crushed peanuts are added on top, then cooked on low.

The peanut sauce thickens over time, and is delicious served over pasta or rice.

Pork with Peppermint Raspberry Sauce

 

This is a super-easy dinner you can create in less than 30 minutes, and it looks like you slaved all day.  Raspberry and peppermint naturally go together, with a sweet yet menthol cooling after taste.  Thin boneless pork chops are great to keep in the freezer for a quick last-minute dinner, because they defrost very quickly, and take to hundreds of different flavors and sauces well.

For this recipe, use either 4 small pork chops, or one larger 1-1.5 pound pork roast.  The sauce can be made while the chops cook, so that they are ready at the same time.  I made some potatoes and wilted spinach, but you could have a salad or any roasted veggie you like on the side to complete the meal.

Ingredients:

  • 4 pork chops or 1 pound roast
  • 1 tbsp butter or margerine
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp cran-cherry juice
  • 2-3 drops peppermint
  • 1/2 pint raspberries

Step 1: In a frying pan, melt the butter and fry the pork chops.  Cook 5-6 minutes, then flip and cook another 4-5 minutes.

Step 2: In a small sauce pan, mix the juice and vinegar.  Add the raspberries, and bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Step 3: After the raspberries have basically fallen apart, add the drops of peppermint, and strain it if you don’t want the seeds.  Drizzle over the cooked pork.

Mom’s Special Cranberry Sauce

 

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am getting ready for cooking up all the associated goodies.  If you are lucky enough to have a mom, aunt, grandmother, etc who has special family recipes that have been passed down over generations, do yourself a favor and start to learn those recipes.  Instead of watching cartoons or football, get into the kitchen and help out.  You never know when it will be your turn to feed yourself, your family, or your whole neighborhood.

This recipe is passed down from my fiancee’s mother.  It is hands-down his favorite Thanksgiving dish, so much so that his mom usually makes a double recipe just so he can have one whole batch to himself.  I also doubled the recipe, and it was still all gone within two days.  You can easily multiply this recipe to make as much as you need, this makes about 10 cups of sauce.

It is a perfect blend of tangy cranberry and sweet from the sugar.  The orange juice and orange peel gives it a nice depth of flavor, and you can adjust the other spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, etc to your own liking.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 16 oz bag cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup grated orange peel
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon

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Step 1: Put the orange juice in a pan and bring it to a boil.  Rinse the cranberries and add them to the pot.

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Step 2: Add the sugars and the entire can of crushed pineapple.

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Step 3: Then add the spices.  You might want to make sure you use a pot that will be big enough to hold everything…

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Step 4: Grate the orange peel.  Try not to get any white pith in there. Add it to the pot,  mix well.

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Step 5: Simmer for at least 1 hour, until the cranberries begin to burst and liquefy.  It will thicken as you cook it down, and will thicken even more upon cooling.

This stuff is so good, I don’t even have a picture of the finished product! The recipe is great for doubling or tripling, and freezes well.  This can easily be made up to a month ahead of time, and simply reheated the day of, for an easy time-saver.

Spider Web Taco Dip

 

This dip is super easy, it takes less than 30 minutes to put together! And with just a little bit of creativity, it turns into a perfect Halloween party appetizer, sure to please all your spook-loving guests.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 block cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 large head romaine or 1 cup spinach
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • 4-6 tbsp sour cream
  • 1/2 can olives
  • 1 zip-lock baggie
Step 1: Mix the refried beans and the taco seasoning together.  In a casserole dish, spread the refried beans into a thin layer with a spoon.  Bring the cream cheese to room temperature, or heat briefly in the microwave, until you can spread it on top of the bean layer.
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Step 2: Spread the salsa over the cream cheese layer.  Shred the lettuce or spinach, and layer that on top.  Then add the shredded cheese.  Spoon the sour cream into the zip lock baggie.  Use scissors to snip off a corner, and pipe a spider web on top.  Scatter black olives around.
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To make olive spiders: Take 2 olives and slice in half, then into thin slivers.  These will be the feet.  Take another olive and cut in half.  This is the head.  Lay one olive on its side, then the half-olive just next to it.  Add 4 thin slices on each side for legs, and your creepy-crawly treat is party-ready!
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Happy Halloween!

 

 

How to Make Infused Oils

 

Ever read a recipe that calls for a “garlic-infused oil” or  some such thing?  Thought to yourself, “That would be way too expensive to buy! I’ll just use regular“?  Have you ever tried something in a restaurant or cooked by a friend that had a little special something hiding in the other flavors?  It may have been an infused oil!  And guess what? They are so easy to make your own!

I had this idea originally because I had found some very pretty small glass jars at a garage sale. They were the perfect size for something you only use a little bit of at a time, or as gifts. This made them the perfect medium for experimenting with infusions!

Infused olive oil and vinegars

An infusion simply means that an aromatic is soaked in oil long enough that some of the aromas and/or flavors of the additions are imparted into the oil. The beauty of this method is that you can use pretty much anything you enjoy the flavor of and want to taste in your oils!

You can choose to blend herbs with the oil, or simply put some into the bottle and let it sit. This makes a lovely presentation, and since these were meant as gifts, that is what I chose to do. I also had made my own vinegars, so a nice set of one oil and one vinegar will make for a great gift in the coming months!

Ingredients:

  • Oil to fill your container
  • About 2 tbsp flavoring per 1/2 cup oil

Step 1: Whether using garlic, fresh herbs, citrus, ground spices, or citrus fruits, make sure your produce is as fresh as possible and washed and dried.

Step 2: Heat your oil and your flavorings for about 5 minutes, to just bubbling. This helps release the flavors and smells into the oil. Let cool completely

Step 3: Filter your oil, or don’t, and pour into your jars. If you do include more herbs for looks, be aware that it will likely cause the finished product to look cloudy. This is ok.

Homemade infused oils and vinegars

You can try pretty much any flavoring you can imagine, and can get creative with combinations too! Try citrus and rosemary, cilantro and lime, lemon and black pepper, or basil and garlic. For the very brave, try infusing hot pepper for a spicy oil to fry your chicken in.

These infusions can now be gifts to a foodie in your life, who will likely be very impressed with your kitchen DIY abilities. Or you can use them to cook with of course, or as dipping oils served with crusty breads. Swirl into homemade hummus, or drizzle some on top of quick vegan tomato soup.

Have fun with it, & good luck!

How to Can Homemade Pasta Sauce

 

Since moving to Connecticut, we have slowly made friends with the neighbors. We are lucky enough to live in a pretty safe and quiet area, where the people are very kind and welcoming. My good fortune is knowing a guy named Tony, a few houses down the street, who gardens for his health.

Now, there are lots of well-known reasons why gardening is good for the body and soul. Being out in nature brings a sense of peace and calm, helps relieve stress and lower blood pressure, and may boost your immune system. Having home-grown fruits and vegetables enables healthier food choices and better nutrition, while keeping you active and exercising. All those hours of digging, planting, weeding, tending, picking, and preserving burns serious calories and keeps you toned and limber.

Not to mention the fact that gardening can save you serious cash! Just buy the seeds and materials once (better yet, swap seeds with other local gardeners for better-adapted produce, and save your own seeds for next year!) and you can garden for free almost forever. It is easy to find local, free sources of soil amendments like fertilizer and mulches if you ask around and get creative.

Tony takes this to a new level! His garden is literally the size of a football field, all out in his large 2-acre New England backyard. He and his wife single-handedly till, plant, weed, and tend this garden every year. His wife tells me that he has even shrunk the garden a little this year, due to time constraints and health issues, so the garden used to be even larger before I knew about it. Amazing.

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Tony says his favorite thing about the garden is the sense of community. Everyone on the block knows Tony, and knows they can come by anytime to pick a bag full of produce to take home. His garden produces far more than he and his family alone could enjoy, so he gives freely to everyone around him.

This is the beauty of gardening. You make friends, share food, recipes, and stories, and build a true community.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

By mid-August, I had my kitchen table and counter literally covered in tomatoes, and needed to finally take the time to do something with them all. A large batch I simply cut into quarters and put in gallon freezer bags. They will sit in the freezer until I need to make a soup or chili; then I will thaw them, and the skins will fall right off, and I can use them in whatever recipe is on my mind.

Another large portion goes into cans as sauce to rest in the pantry until it’s pasta night. Tony shared his “lazy Italian” way of making sauce, which saved me tons of work and hours in the kitchen!

The typical way of making sauce is to boil the tomatoes briefly, then submerge in ice water. This makes the skins easy to remove. You then separate the seeds and skin from the inner flesh, and cook down for hours until it thickens into a sauce.

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This cooking down process makes the house smell amazing, and warms it up on a chilly day. But this also takes a lot of time, and energy from the stove. I’m a fan of the new “lazy” way, and the sauce tastes just as good! So pull out your blender, and lets get started!

This recipe will make about 5 quarts of sauce.

Don’t add the spices if you want a plain tomato sauce, or change up the spices to whatever you want in the end product. This does use the water-bath canning method, read up on all possible dangers of canning or use a pressure canner if you are unsure.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 pounds assorted tomatoes
  • 5-6 canning jars, lids, & rings
  • Per jar:
    • 1 tbsp dried onion
    • 1/2 tbsp dried garlic
    • 2 tbsp basil
    • 2 tbsp parsley
    • pinch of salt
    • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • Blender
  • Strainer
  • Cheesecloth or coffee filters

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Step 1: Sterilize your jars by boiling for 5 minute,s or run them through the dishwasher. To each jar add the spices for the sauce. I also chose to add one whole tomato just diced to each jar, because I like a little texture in my sauce. You can skip that step and just add the pureed tomatoes.

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Step 2: Wash all your tomatoes, and cut out the middle hard part & stem. Remove any brown or black spots or mushy areas. If you want to and have time, you can remove the seeds (and save them for next year!).  Cut the tomatoes into quarters.

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Step 3: Put the tomatoes into a blender, and blend in batches. My blender can handle about a dozen large tomatoes at a time. You may need to squish some juice out of them to get the blender going at first.

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Step 4: Line a strainer over a large pot with coffee filters or cheesecloth. Pour the tomato puree into the strainer and let it sit. You can wait a few hours, or leave it over night if you have a lid. This lets most of the watery juice drip out, leaving the thicker sauce on top. Saves you the hours of boiling down, and now you can keep the tomato water too!

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Step 5: Pour your separated sauce and tomato juice into prepared jars. Wipe the rims and put on the lid and ring. Process in the water bath for 35 minutes (adjust for altitude). Remove the jars to a cloth and let them cool 8-10 hours.

The jars are ready if you hear the “pop” of the lids seal, or if when you press down in the middle the lid does not spring back. Any jars that do not seal, put in the refrigerator and use within a week, or process them again.

The tomato broth that filters out is like liquid gold, and will be great as a base for soups and stews, or you can freeze it in ice cube trays to cook veggies in instead of using oil. The sauce will bring back the taste of summer later on in the dead of winter.

And this is how I processed and preserved about 50 pounds of tomatoes in two days time!

And it is so easy. As long as you use vinegar or lemon to acidify the tomatoes and broth, they are perfectly safe to water bath can at home. Enjoy preserving your bounty. Do you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with?

More things you can do with tomatoes:

Do you can or preserve? Have any other ways to save tomatoes? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Flank Steak With Chimmichurri Sauce

 

Some may be asking, what is chimichurri? And how do you say that?

Pronounced just how it is spelled, this silly sounding word packs some serious flavor for grilled meats.  Originated in Argentina, it is a green or red sauce based typically on ground parsley, olive oil, and vinegar. Other spices, flavorings, and tomato sauces can be added. It is a bit like hummus or pesto, every home cook and chef has their own secret recipe to make it perfect.

This sauce is very forgiving, and a great way to use some of summer’s last herb bounty before Jack Frost takes the rest. Feel free to experiment with a dash of whatever green goodness you have on hand. It is a fantastic accompaniment to any grilled meats, from racks of ribs or lamb to chicken kebabs, skirt steak, or this recipe here for flank steak. Pretty much any meat you have, just grill it up, douse it in the chimichurri sauce, and watch whoever eats it eyes light up!

This recipe can be made Paleo friendly through the use of ghee or clarified butter, or coconut oil rather than regular butter. It all depends on how strictly you follow certain diets. Choose your cut of meat according to the tastes and appetites of those who will be eating the meal.

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Chimichurri Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/2 small green bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic

Step 1: Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor, whirl until well combined.  Add a little vinegar or oil if needed to get it to the thickness desired.

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Flank Steak Ingredients:

  • 1 large flank steak (1-2 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup seasoning/rub of choice
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp chimichurri per person

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Step 1: Take a healthy handful of your rub, and slather it all over all sides of the beef. Don’t be afraid, get on in there! Rub it good, give it a nice massage. It deserves to be pampered in the last few minutes it has before being inhaled by you. I used a prepared Chicago Steak rub from McCormic, but you can try any one of millions of unique rub or marinade ideas, or invent your own!

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Step 2: In a hot frying pan, melt your butter, then add the steak. Let it cook and sizzle, about 7-9 minutes. You want the rub to caramelize a bit and form a nice crisp crust. Flip it over, and cook the other side. You want it to give a little when pressed, but not too springy. You could always use the fist technique to tell. Remove it to a plate and let it rest 5-10 minutes to redistribute the juices.

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Step 3: Cut it against the grain in thin slices for best results. This means if you can see the muscle fibers running lengthwise, cut it perpendicular, top to bottom, for the most tender bites.

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You can now use this meat for tacos, enchiladas, over rice or polenta, or just by itself with some simple sides. I made some garlic chili broccoli rabe and baked potatoes for a simple, amazing, delicious complete meal!

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Even the vegetable-allergic fiancée said that the chimichurri was soooo tasty, and really brought out the meaty, beefy grilled flavors. The vegetal flavors and aromas of the herbs combined with the acid from the vinegar & lemon is just what this humble smoky cut needs to be elevated to restaurant-quality at home. Enjoy!

 

Flank Steak With Chimmichurri Sauce

Flank Steak With Chimmichurri Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/2 small green bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large flank steak
  • 1/2 cup seasoning/rub of choice
  • 2 tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put first seven ingredients in a blender or food processor, whirl until well combined. Add a little vinegar or oil if needed to get it to the thickness desired.
  2. Take a healthy handful of your rub, and slather it all over all sides of the beef. Don't be afraid, get on in there! Rub it good, give it a nice massage. It deserves to be pampered in the last few minutes it has before being inhaled by you.
  3. In a hot frying pan, melt your butter, then add the steak. Let it cook and sizzle, about 7-9 minutes. Flip it over, and cook the other side. You want it to give a little when pressed, but not too springy.
  4. Remove it to a plate and let it rest 5-10 minutes to redistribute the juices.
  5. Cut it against the grain in thin slices for best results. This means you can see the muscle fibers running lengthwise, so cut perpendicular, top to bottom, for the most tender bites.
  6. Slather on a few tbsp of the chimichurri and enjoy!
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