Category Archives: Beef Dishes

Burgers Baby!

Having pulled two 10-hour-plus days back-to-back, I felt I was entitled to pre-spend some of my future overtime earnings on dinner. Even the above pile of take-out menus didn’t seem all that inspiring as far as choice. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or my iron-deficiency cravings, but burgers seem to be a much-discussed topic in blogland lately. Even Frank Bruni was interviewed in A Hamburger Today.

I’ve written before about one of my favorite spots to grab a burger when the weather’s nice in the city (see link). Tonight, however, that was too far to trek from my Midtown office building. I headed towards my apartment and stopped in at a local restaurant instead.

You know this place. Almost every area has one. It has reliable, tasty food and a solid menu. It’s the place you think of for Sunday brunch or Saturday lunch, the place to take out of town guests to grab a bite their first night in town, and where you know the game is on (doesn’t matter which one) every night. Most of all, it is the place where you can grab a good, meaty burger and at a reasonable price.

Isn’t that lovely? Look at those fries – crispy and fluffy at the same time. I have a friend who can eat a whole portion in a matter of minutes. My burger came medium rare, as usual, covered in melted cheddar cheese, served on a toasted kaiser roll.

My additions were the standard for me: ketchup, mustard (not the yellow American kind), and a slice of red onion. It’s a ritual for me when I decide that a burger is the thing to hit that hunger spot. In general, I skip the lettuce and tomato. It just interferes in my opinion. Besides, they always seem to slip and slide out of the bun.

So, here’s a salute to those local joints, the ones that keep us fed when we are hungry and also serve us what our soul craves.

Buon Appetito!

Leftovers, Yum! – Seven Layer Dip

Some of the best inspiration can come from foraging in your own refrigerator or cupboards or freezer. Leftovers, fresh or pre-cooked, can, with a few tweaks, be the basis of the next day’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, as in this Seven Layer Dip concoction.  For a variation on the Fork Tacos recipe posted previously, here’s a way to use up the remaining items, or, the dish could start out this way, depending upon your choice. Again, this is a dish that you could prepare with your child/ren, having them help count the layers as they are added to total the number 7.

It is also a good party dish as it can go a long way and, served in a glass baking dish, it adds lots of color to a spread. The key to this dish as well as the recipe given earlier is the flexibility that they provide, for family dinner, or even for entertaining. Both meals are relatively easy to prepare ahead so that you can enjoy your guests’ company without having to constantly be in the kitchen.

Serve this with scrambled eggs, and voilà! It is the centerpiece of a hearty Tex-Mex-themed brunch. If doing this variation, softened flour tortillas instead of chips are recommended as accompaniments. You can also create breakfast burritos from the same ingredients.

This almost makes you want to put a plate aside to have leftovers!

Seven Layer Dip

Prep Time: About an hour to put everything together, with preparing Pico de Gallo and Guacamole (Prepare Pico several hours ahead and refrigerate, covered, to allow flavors to meld)
Layer 1 – Refried Beans, warmed up
Layer 2 –
Meat (if using), warmed up
Layer 3 –
Cheese (should melt due to the to warm layers below)
Layer 4 –
A mixture of peppers, scallions and lettuce
Layer 5 –
Guacamole (see Recipe below)
Layer 6 –
Pico de Gallo (see Recipe below)
Layer 7 –
Sour cream garnished with black olives
Find a glass baking dish, any size depending upon the number of people you are planning to serve and/or how many leftovers you have. Prepare the meat, beans, cheese, peppers, olives, green onions as indicated above in the Fork Tacos recipe, or pull out the extras that were made for a previous meal. Have tortilla chips on hand for serving.

It should be possible to see each of the layers clearly in the bowl when the dish is finished. Prepare the first 3 layers and cover with plastic wrap until closer to serving time. Add the rest of the layers up to the last layer and cover just as you are expecting the first guests to arrive.

Just prior to serving, add the last layer. This will keep the warm part warm, the vegetables crisp and crunchy, and the sour cream and Guacamole bright and fresh. To serve, take a large serving spoon and cut through the layers so that some of each flavor is put on the plate. Use tortilla chips as utensils to eat dip.

Guacamole and Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

1 box cherry or grape tomatoes, deseeded and chopped (or 1 lb. vine-ripened)
1/2 small Red Onion, minced
1 to 1/2 Lime (juice of)
1/2 tsp. of Salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. ground Coriander
1/2 tsp. ground Cumin
1 medium Jalapeño, minced and de-seeded
1-2 Tbsp chopped, fresh Cilantro* (fresh Coriander if outside the United States)
Tabasco® sauce (very optional)

Using a non-reactive (i.e., non-metal) bowl, mix together tomatoes, onion, lime juice, spices, and jalapeño. Add cilantro and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally to blend flavors. Taste and adjust spices, lime juice, and cilantro to get the balance that suits your palate.

Although tempting, extra salt should not be added. It is very easy to over-salt this dish. Tasting the Pico with the aid of a tortilla chip will show why. The salt on the chip will add what is needed.

If you’d like some extra kick, add a few drops of Tabasco® sauce. Again, the spiciness will grow stronger as this dish sits. If making guacamole (see below), reserve some of the Pico and the juice that develops prior to adding the Tabasco®.


2-3 ripe Avocados
3-4 Tbsp Pico de Gallo, plus accumulated liquid/juice (see above recipe)
Ground Coriander
Ground Cumin
Chopped, fresh Cilantro
Lime juice, as needed

Skin, pit and mash the avocados in a large, non-reactive (i.e., non-metal) bowl.   Fold in reserved Pico de Gallo, along with a couple of tsp. of its accumulated liquid/juice.  The mixture should be smooth with some lumps.  Adjust seasonings as needed, to suit your tastes, and add extra lime juice, if desired.  If preferred, you can mash one avocado until creamy and cut the other one into small chunks for a mix of textures or make both creamy.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Cilantro/Fresh Coriander

Along the way, others have shown me some of their cooking secrets. Here’s one I’d like to share with you. It isn’t just the leaves of the cilantro that have flavor. Finely chop the stems in addition to the leaves to add extra flavor to dishes that call for this herb. You’ll definitely notice the taste difference!

Buon appetito!

Kids+Peas or Fork Tacos for Dinner

Food isn’t just about stuffing one’s face. It is about drawing energy and sustenance as well. Many folks have very vivid recollections about eating various dishes and their time and place. As I’ve already mentioned, quite a few of my family memories growing up also have links to specific food items, like this recipe for Fork Tacos, eaten with chips and a fork, not in taco shells.

Kids. Notoriously fussy eaters. My parents didn’t normally let us get away with being picky. We were of the eat-it-or-you-can-go-to-bed-hungry generation. I noticed that, later on, with my younger siblings and my cousin, who was even younger than all of us, they started to cave and even made separate kinds of potatoes to suit them. I think that we’d drained them by the time the younger crowd came around.

You’ll have to ask my mother about “The Great Pea Stand-off of 1976.” The three oldest of us decided that we weren’t going to eat the hard, overcooked peas that were in our heated up, previously frozen dinner – not that we were really enamored of them in any form, mind you. So the “You’ll go to bed now and eat them for every meal until you finish them” card was played by my parents. It was their right and was also probably straight from the Parents 101 Handbook. Just as with every inalienable right and free will, it was also ours not to eat them. Thus, my folks got to find out just how stubborn our gene pool really is.

Let’s just say, the little green legumes weren’t really any better looking and somewhat more shriveled by the next morning. My sister recalls trying to cut one with a fork and it went shooting across the table it was so hard, like a little bb. We didn’t budge. We were sort of a mini-union (and very advanced for our wee years), taking a stand against poorly prepared vegetables. We balked at breakfast. We stalled at lunch. In effect, we launched a culinary slowdown, if not an actual strike.

By dinnertime, we’d worn our parents down and could claim success. It was short-lived, however, as this food item never seemed to disappear completely from our diet. When we learned about Pyrrhic victories later on in school, I could reflect upon our having won that dinnertime battle and having lost the vegetable war. On the other hand, I don’t remember ever having a stand-off with them again about anything we ate. I think they might have realized that they needed to be a bit more flexible regarding our food choices.

So, in honor of the picky ones and still adamant about not eating improperly cooked food, I’m sharing a recipe that lets kids choose how to put together a meal that hopefully parents will find acceptable as well. The key to following the recipe is to read it through all the way at least once prior to trying to make it. Another hint is to assemble all the ingredients in their raw form before chopping or measuring anything. There are few things more frustrating than being part-way through trying to make something and realizing that an ingredient or two is missing.

Deconstructed aka “Fork” Tacos
These made an appearance after a scouts’ camping trip and then shortly thereafter entered the rotation at our house. Supporting ingredients are optional depending upon the tastes of your child/ren. The preparation process can be sped up with the aid of an able “sous-chef.” For a child who is old enough, it is also a good way to teach him/her knife skills. In the case of the main ingredients, I’d allow 1/3 to 1/2 cup per person, per serving. For the supporting ingredients, I’d allow 1/8 to 1/4 cup.

Prep Time: Allow an hour pulling things out of the refrigerator to putting dishes on the table. If you have assistance with chopping and prepping, it can take about 1/2 an hour.


Your favorite brand of Tortilla chips (any flavor will do)
1 lb. ground Beef (or ground turkey or cut up chicken)
1 packet Taco Seasoning or family favorite Mexican spice mix
1 16-oz. can refried Beans
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 4.5-oz. can chopped, Green Chilies
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 dash each Salt, Pepper, ground Cumin, ground Coriander
1 package Cheddar or mixed Mexican cheeses, finely grated


Cook meat and taco seasoning according to directions on the back of the packet. Prepare beans by heating up 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) olive oil, adding 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 4.5-oz. can chopped green chilies. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the beans. Mix together, cook for another five minute, and adjust salt, pepper, and ground cumin and coriander to taste. The supporting ingredients can be prepared at the same time as the meat and beans are cooking.

Supporting Ingredients:

Tomatoes, chopped
Green onions (white and tender green parts), chopped
Green pepper, chopped
Red pepper, chopped
Avocado, sliced or chopped
Lettuce, chopped
Black olives, chopped or sliced
Sour cream
The Key: The Assembly Line (see photo below and above)
Chips – Meat – Beans (if using) – Cheese – Toppings
To Serve:
Place everything in bowls, each with its own serving utensil. Everyone takes a plate and is allowed to prepare and organize his/her plate as he/she deems appropriate. Some parental supervision is needed to ensure that there is at least some chips-meat-cheese balance, although creativity and food exploration is encouraged. This is a great dish as it has lots of colors, textures, and flavors. Use tortilla chips to scoop everything up and dig in!

When your child/ren get to college, then he/she/they can decide to make a meal out of a jumbo-sized package of tortilla chips or a bowl of cereal with milk. You’ll never know the difference!

Buon appetito!