jill’s big salad

You know, I’m not quite sure why it’s called Jill’s Big Salad, but I order it almost every Tuesday at Fresco Santa Barbara.  It’s such a great salad because its got a ton of texture and flavors.  It’s crispy and creamy, sweet and tangy.

I’ve ordered it a million times now so I thought I would take a shot at making my own version.  I can’t quite recreate the vinaigrette they use, so I decided to use my favorite vinaigrette by the Barefoot Contessa  (below)

Here’s a snapshot of all the goodies for the salad:

salad fixings

I don’t have a real recipe for this salad . . . just use handfuls of all the goodies below.  Toss them with a bunch of lettuce and shredded cabbage and drizzle on your favorite vinaigrette (I love Ina’s below):

  • mesclun salad mix
  • shredded cabbage
  • snap peas (chopped)
  • cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • avocados (diced)
  • garbanzos (drained)
  • pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • pistachios
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano (shaved)
  • dried cranberries/cherries

Ina Garten’s Vinaigrette: (sweet and tangy and orange-y.)

  • 3 tablespoons good apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup good olive oil

All mixed and ready to eat.


A great salad to make on these hot summer days.  Every bite is the perfect bite  … yet every bite is so different.  (No I’m not lighting incense over here.)  This salad never gets boring, maybe that’s why I keep ordering it.

Until next Monday!



*video* Got leftover grilled beef and burgers? Make chili


Nothing beats steak or burgers fresh off of a grill.  But what happens to all of the leftover meat once the eating is done?  You pile it on a plate, cover it with foil, and put it in the fridge knowing that the steak and burgers just won’t taste the same once they are reheated.   I ran into this problem when I made those tender beef fajitas a couple of weeks ago.  I thought maybe the steak leftovers could work well in a beef chili, and they did.  Yum.  The key is to create a deep flavored and thick sauce by toasting the spices and tomato paste . . . unless you burn it, so be careful of that.   Another key to this beef chili is to simmer low and slow after you add the meat and stock.  Don’t let it come to a boil.  This could toughen the meat.

Here’s a very short video of how I do it (recipe below too)

Beef Chili with grilled steak and burgers (serves 4-6)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 4 oz. can diced green chiles (I used fire roasted)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 cup juice from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  (adds a smokey and spicy kick)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
  • 1 to 2 cans kidney beans (I ended up using 1 1/2 cans.  Depends on what kind of meat to beans ratio you prefer)
  • left over steak (chopped into very small cubes.  I used about 2 cups)
  • left over burgers (crumbled.  I used about 2 cups)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start with pan on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add onion and cook for a minute or so.  Add green chiles and cook for 3-5 minutes or when onions begin to brown slightly.  Add spices and stir the pot for about 3 minutes to toast the spices.  Once the spices start sticking to the pan quickly add the chipotle juice.  With a wooden spoon stir and scrape bits of spices from pan and add the tomato paste.  Combine tomato paste and stir for another 3 to 5 minutes until the tomato paste begins to stick to the pan and darken.  Add the crushed tomatoes and scrape remaining bits off from the bottom of the pan.  Add the meat and beans and combine into the mixture.    Add beef stock, stir to combine and turn heat to low.  Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes.  Careful not to let the chili boil, this could toughen the meat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If you prefer a thicker chili, uncover the chili after 30 minutes and cook longer.  Serve with favorite toppings and enjoy!

Until next Monday!


Tender beef fajitas. Yes, tender.

Just a bit of light reading on a somber day like today.  Thoughts and prayers to you Boston.


One of my favorite restaurants from my hometown of Houston is Pappasito’s.  Hands down the best fajitas you will ever have in your life.    Especially the beef fajitas. Somehow they manage to get the beef so tender that it melts in your mouth.  Unlike most other beef fajitas …. you take a bite and the entire contents come along for the ride.

Several years ago I was at the Dallas airport on my way back to California and saw that they had a mini Pappasito’s in the terminal.  Of course I ran in for a quick beef fajita.  I asked the waiter how the heck they get the meat so tender and he said, “hold on, let me go check.”  I was half kidding when I asked him but when he came back he said they marinate flank steak in papaya juice and soy sauce.  I also think he said pineapple juice too but I couldn’t  remember.  I just kept repeating “papaya” in my head over and over until I got back home so I could try it out myself.  Papaya seemed like such an unusual ingredient to me at the time, but science says that the papaya fruit has special tenderizing powers, (enzymes, etc.)  Anywho, I was so satisfied with the results.  Thank you Pappasito’s waiter at the airport.

I recently remembered how much I loved those fajitas and made them again.  I thought I would share it on the ol’ blog …


This is how to prepare the fajita meat (pictures below)

Marinade for 2 lb flank steak:

  • 4 cups papaya juice
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

Poke several holes into the steak with a fork or knife to allow the marinade to penetrate.  Put the steak in a large baking dish and completely cover it with the marinade.  Cover dish with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the fridge for 3 to 24 hours (the longer the better).   Take the meat out of the fridge and bring to room temperature for about half hour (very important for accurate cooking time).  Discard marinade and pat the meat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture (also very important to get that nice crust).  Then coat with salt and pepper.  I used coarse sea salt and fine ground pepper.  Time to grill . . . I used an outdoor gas grill on HIGH.  Oil the grill carefully and put the meat on.  If one side seems fattier than the other, put the fatty side up.  That way the fat can melt into the meat as the first side cooks.  Cook for 4 minutes with the grill lid closed.  Turn to the other side and cook for another 4 minutes with the grill lid closed.    Take the meat off the grill and quickly transfer to a clean large pan or dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  It will  keep cooking under the foil.  If you cook it any longer  on the grill then you risk really over cooking the thinner ends of the meat.

As a decadent variation, I also like to chop up the meat, throw it in a pan with butter and minced garlic (yum) for a very quick sauté.  This is also great to do for leftovers too!  Put it over rice.

Meat after its 12 hour  bath . . .


Nicely patted dry and coated with salt and pepper, ready for the grill . . .(feel free to get creative with other rubs.  Cumin, chili powder, etc.)


Grilled and rested.  Ready to cut . . .


A choice of done-ness for all.  Well done at the edges and medium pink in the middle . . .


Here is an extra step that is great for any left overs . . . chop it up and saute it in garlic butter and a squeeze of lime…




Add your favorite fixings and enjoy.


Until next Monday!


Linking with Southern Lovely, Lil Luna

Pottery Barn inspired bird’s nest cupcakes

Have you ever seen something cute for sale in a store or catalog and thought “hmm, I could probably make something like that.”  One of the latest catalogs from Pottery Barn has a sweet Easter theme to it.  Looking thru the catalog recently I was inspired by several things thinking that I could duplicate the cuteness myself.  A couple of weeks ago I blogged about little Pottery Barn burlap handle bags and I took a stab at creating something similar myself with my newby sewing skills.

Then there was this cute little moment in the catalog . . .

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 9.23.11 PM

See that cute little bird’s nest cupcake?  Those food stylists couldn’t pull a fast one on me.  I know what those are.  That little nest is made of crunchies!

So here is my version of that cute little bird’s nest . . .


  • mini muffins of your choice.   I used banana bran.  (great combo with the greek yogurt topping)
  • “frosting” of your choice.  I used Greek yogurt because it’s thick and holds well and I love the stuff.
  • Crunchies.  (Chow Mein Noodles) I used La Choy.
  • Toppings to serve as the little birdy eggs.  I used jelly beans or blueberries.  Grapes would be cute too.
  • (I was going to use cute pink cupcake papers but they looked a little tidier without.)


The assembly . . .


I had some jelly beans stashed in the back of the cabinet.  (For emergencies)  So I decided to have fun with those too…



They are a little tricky to eat, yes.  But I didn’t mind and neither did my little ballerina.  The crunchies seem to get a little less crunchy if they sit for a bit.  So If you plan on creating these for an Easter brunch it would have to be something that you assemble last minute, eh.

These will probably be making a repeat appearance for my little one on Easter next to what will probably be a massive Easter basket filled with all kinds of special goodies.

Until next Monday!


linking with Lil Luna

Jennifer’s chicken tortilla soup

Oops! Forgot to blog on Monday! Someone is turning two this week. In the meantime here is the soup I crave most often . . .

Jennifer's Mentionables

What is it with tortilla soup?  It seems like it’s on the menu of every restaurant and cafe in any town.  I must admit though,  if it’s on the menu, I usually order it just to see if meets my expectations.   I prefer a thick and hearty chicken tortilla soup where the chicken is actually abundant.  I think the first bowl of tortilla soup that I ever had was at a Houston’s Restaurant many, many, many years ago.  I became hooked on that version and compared all others to THE Houston’s Tortilla soup.   (Don’t even get me started on their spinach artichoke dip.)  I found that any other version of the soup usually paled in comparison.  I could never really pinpoint what it was about the flavor of the their soup that I liked so much.  After some years of tinkering with my own recipe, I discovered (I think)…

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