Spinach and Cheese Tortellini Soup

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Some recipes have a great story. One in particular is tortellini, a stuffed pasta. It is believed to have originated in the Bologna region of Italy around the 12th century. There are several versions of its mythical beginning, but the story is that the gods Venus, Mars and Bacchus came to earth to intervene in a war between the towns of Bologna and Modena. The three decided to stay at an Inn for the night. The next morning the innkeeper somehow caught a glimpse of Venus’s navel and was so spellbound that he immediately went to the kitchen and created the navel-sized tortellini in its image.

Thankfully, I have never looked at a bowl of tortellini and thought I was staring at a cup full of goddess navels. I do however think that it’s one of the most delicious pastas to eat, and if prepared right, can almost be a religious experience.

For this recipe, I make a cheese tortellini and spinach soup and I dedicate it to the many different belly buttons around the world.

I love researching the recipes I create, and what I found with this one is the reason why. Tortellini inspired by the navel of a goddess – that’s gold. I do think it’s a little gross though, obviously the person who spun this tale had some sort of belly button fetish. Probably some weird response to the sexual repression of the dark ages of Europe. Personally, I have never thought twice about navels. Well, that’s not true, every once in a while I see a weird outie navel and get slightly creeped out, but beyond that, it’s not something I think about.

Until now.

I don’t think I’ll be able to eat tortellini without recalling this story. It won’t deter me from eating the pasta – I will just consume it with a little nostalgia from now on.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4 to 6; 40 minutes
1 C Onion diced
1 Tbs Garlic minced
1 C Carrot diced
1 C Celery diced
4 C Chicken broth
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
1 box Spinach frozen (9 oz)
1 lb Cheese tortellini frozen

Prep spinach and tortellini
In a microwave on high, cook spinach 5 to 6 minutes, then drain. Vent package before cooking. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil and add frozen tortellini return to boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.

Sauté vegetables
In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté Onion and garlic in olive oil until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add celery and onion, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until vegetables are soft, 5 to 6 minutes more.

Make soup, serve
Add spinach, tortellini, Italian seasoning and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Spoon into a bowl and serve.

Crock-pot Shredded Beef Sliders and Tacos

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The idea for a post like this originated last March. I wanted to take a large and tough cut of meat, season it with a rub and cook it in a slow cooker. I would then take the meat and do different things with it like the taco and slider presented here. Because of an ingredient mix up, my initial try turned out disastrous and then summer came in March. We had a week of record high temperatures in Northern Indiana and the weather never turned cold again, so a crock-pot meal was kind of forgotten about.

Fall has arrived and I thought I would give the crock-pot meal another try and I'm pleased to report that this recipe turned out even better than expected. The brown sugar was the perfect balance for the chipotle chili powder in the rub. (I used McCormicks brand which can be a bit spicy.)

I would have been perfectly happy eating this beef beside some potatoes and carrots, but I didn’t plan for that when I initially started. I wish I would have because the beef was great by itself. I did have a nice pig-out session after I shredded the beef though, it was a greasy, use-your-fingers kind of pig-out. I really couldn’t resist with two pounds of succulent fall apart meat in front of me.

Either the sliders or tacos are a perfect way to deliver this tasty crock-pot beef. The tacos could probably feed a family of six by themselves. But the idea was to make something that a lot of people could eat - I planned it as a football party snack, and that was accomplished.

As I said in the beginning, I initially tried this type of crock-pot recipe back in early March. In that test I used pork shoulder. The problem arose when I grabbed the wrong bottle of chili powder when making the rub. I noticed the bright red color of the powder when I measured it out, but I didn't know until tasting the final product that I had grabbed a bottle of cayenne instead of regular chili powder. Sometime ago I used an empty bottle of chili powder to consolidate three or four half filled bottles of cayenne pepper – that's the bottle I grabbed. The end result was an extremely hot shredded pork. I basically seasoned three pounds of pork with a rub the featured two heaping tablespoons of cayenne pepper and there was nothing else in the rub to counter balance the heat. It was not inedible, but to much of the pork would have ended up creating fire in the hole. (If you know what I mean)

I made sure I double checked all of my spices before putting them into the rub this time and I'm glad I did because this cut turned out delicious.

Eat well, cook often ...

The Beef
Makes 2 to 2 1/2 lbs; 5 hours
2 Tbs Chipotle chili powder
2 Tbs Brown sugar
1 Tbs Cumin
1 Tbs Salt
1 Tbs Black pepper
1 tsp Onion powder
1 tsp Garlic powder
3 lb Chuck roast boneless
1 can Beef broth (14.5 oz)

Make rub, season beef
Mix together chipotle chili powder, brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Rub mix on chuck roast, let marinate half an hour.

Sear roast, cook in slow cooker, shred
In a cast iron pan over high heat, sear roast on all sides until a dark brown crust forms. Place in slow cooker with beef broth and cook on high for 4 hours or until roast easily tears apart with a fork. Remove to a bowl and shred entire roast with forks.

Makes 12 sandwiches
12 Dinner rolls
Shredded beef
1 C Barbecue sauce

On a dinner roll cut in half, pile beef, add barbecue sauce and top half of roll.

Makes 20 to 24 tacos
20 to 24 Flour tortillas
Shredded beef
1 1/2 C Salsa picante
3/4 C Onion diced
2 C Cilantro Chopped

Warm, assemble
Warm tor ill as in microwave or oven until heated tortillas through. On warm tortilla layer, shredded beef, salsa picante, onion and cilantro. Fold and

Simple Apple Pies

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Apples seeds and plants were brought to colonial America from the British Isles and Europe. By 1750, many large orchards had been established, not for eating the fruit, but for the production of cider. The drink was so popular that it was known as the national beverage in the early 1800s and could be used as currency on the trading market.

Often, Individual trees would be recognized for bearing a tasty apple to eat that was good for culinary purposes. Over time, these trees were reproduced and large orchards of specific varieties were grown.

Modern technology and consumer demand has changed the apple trade in many ways over the years and is responsible for the variety found today on grocery shelves.

For this recipe, the Granny Smith apple is used, a variety that holds up well during the cooking process. A simple filling is created and wrapped in a crescent roll, then dusted with cinnamon and sugar for a quick and easy apple pie treat.

It’s been a long time since I’ve created a dessert here at Behind the Bites. A couple of weeks ago I saw a recipe that called for wrapping an apple wedge in a crescent roll and I thought it was clever. The only problem with wrapping a raw apple wedge in a crescent roll is that the roll will cook much quicker than the wedge. I wanted the apple to be cooked through so it would have more of an apple pie flavor rather than a raw apple slice in dough. I overcame this by dicing and cooking the apple, creating a filling out of it.

There are so many directions that this could be taken. I would love to try a caramel drizzle on it or even use canned apple pie filling instead of fresh apples. I went with fresh here because they are in season and for us in Northern Indiana they are everywhere right now. Apples are just one fruit that could be used to roll in crescent dough. Peaches, pears and all sorts of berries would be tasty also.

I’m sure that some foodies will see this recipe and scoff because I use dough from a can, but it makes this recipe so simple - any parent could make this treat for the kids and still make it to rehearsal or practice on time after an 8-hour day at work. I would like to make my own dough from scratch but that is a project reserved for Christmas when a couple of days are set aside for making treats. For a weeknight dessert, I think crescent dough from a can is more than adequate, and it’s pretty tasty too.

Eat well, cook often ...

Dessert for 4; 30 minutes
2 Apples (granny smith), peeled, cored, diced
2 Tbs Sugar (3 Tbs total for recipe)
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
8 crescent rolls (1 can)
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbs Sugar

Make filling
In a sauce pan over medium heat, sauté apples, sugar and lemon juice until apples are heated through and start to soften, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Roll crescent, dust with cinnamon sugar
Scoop a heaping tablespoon of apple filling and place it on crescent triangle. Tuck sides and roll, repeat until crescents are gone. Mix together cinnamon and sugar then sprinkle on rolls.

Bake and serve
Place crescent rolls on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Let cool slightly. Plate and serve.

Mexican Pizza

Printable version
I wanted to make an exotic pizza for Football on Sunday. While I was at the grocery store I decided it would be fun to take a Mexican route. I headed to the meat case to pick up some ground beef. I usually start a pizza with the meat then go from there. While on my way to pick out the beef I had an epiphany - why not leave out the meat. I couldn’t believe a thought like that went through my head.

Just the day before I had served a vegan chili at Fort Wayne Chilifest. I had been asked to make the chili vegan by Fort Wayne Trails, who sponsored the booth. I never thought I would serve up such a dish, but I worked hard on it, and it turned out delicious. Now I was contemplating a gourmet pizza without any meat? What the hell had gotten into me!

Whatever it was I went with it.

I decided that refried beans would be a great base to build on. I added fresh sliced jalapeño and red onion, then it’s all held together with cheddar cheese. The end result was a great slice of pizza to enjoy while watching the National Football League. I left the seeds and ribs in the jalapeño which gave it some kick.

I think I’m going to try and do more recipe that require no meat - Just to gain more appeal with my cooking in general. By no means am I going to get nutty and go vegetarian, but I think it is a nice challenge to come up with a few recipes that appeal to the no-meat crowd.

In my last post I mention working with the Director of Fort Wayne Trails at Chilifest. While I was serving up chili and she was promoting the next Trails event, she mentioned to me that she had not eaten meat for 20 years. She said she’s not super hard core, sometimes she’ll eat milk based stuff or food with cheese but she has abstained from meat for 2 decades.

To me, that is impressive because I love protein, especially after being cooked over charcoal. I couldn’t imagine life without it. That’s when it kind of hit me. She does it for her health as a commitment. She doesn’t have too, but, it’s a choice for her health. That takes some guts.

I could see refraining from meat every so often for the sake of health, but to never eat meat again, that’s a real tour-de-force. I won’t be going that route anytime in the near future, but a few recipes here at Behind the Bites that vegetarians or even vegans could get into is a good thing. This pizza has cheese so it’s not vegan - no cheese on a pizza is not a pizza in my book - but it is a pizza that a vegetarian can enjoy. Now that I have made my declaration to make a few vegetarian recipes, I need to go cook the ribeye I have in the fridge for lunch.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 2 pizzas; 30 minutes
2 12” Pizza crusts
Divide ingredients among two pizzas
1 Can Refried beans (15 oz)
4 C Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Jalapeños, sliced
1/2 C Red onions, diced

Assemble and bake pizza
On 2 pre-made crust divide, refried beans, most of the cheese, Jalapeños, onions and then the remaining cheese. Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Trailblazer Vegan Chili

Printable version
When the director of Fort Wayne Trails suggested I make their entry in Fort Wayne’s Chilifest I thought it would be a fun challenge because there were two parameters. First, they wanted it vegan and second, it needed to be hot or “blazin” to help promote the next Fort Wayne Trails event called the Trailblazer 5K/10K on Oct. 21st.

I cringed at the idea of meatless chili, because I’m a complete meat fanatic, but I looked at it as a way for me to cook outside my comfort zone and develop a dish not in my arsenal of recipes.

After a number of tests, here are a few details about my creation. Black beans are used in place of meat, providing heft and they don’t get too mushy after a long simmer. Unsweetened chocolate imparts richness in the absence of fat from protein. Brown sugar and sweet corn are key elements to balancing the bitterness of the chocolate and the heat from jalapenos, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. All this results in Trailblazer Vegan Chili.

I met Lori Block Keys, Director of Fort Wayne Trails, at a meeting for entrepreneurs and start up businesses called Vertical Leap at Founders back in August. She was a keynote speaker and talked about the work she had done building bike and running trails all around the city.

Lori Block Keys and I at Chilifest.
Her work was impressive.

Fort Wayne now has more than 68 miles of trails with much more planned. She has recently started the Countdown to Connectivity drive, an initiative to raise $1 million by the end of 2013. If the goal is reached it will unlock an additional $5 million in funding and be a huge boost for the further development of trail networks around the Summit City.

During her talk she mentioned that she taught salsa classes as a hobby of hers. After she spoke and started mingling I asked her if she had ever thought about hosting a "Salsa after Salsa" party for her students. I thought it would be fun to host something like that to help grow my brand locally. She wasn’t sure about the “Salsa after Salsa” party but she did mention a chili competition coming up and that she might need help creating an entry for it. A couple weeks went by, then Lori contacted me about trying to work together on an event. After meeting up, it was decided that I would make their entry at the upcoming Chilifest and I got to work right away.

As I mention in the introduction, I was asked to make it vegan and hot. The heat was no problem but the vegan was a first for me. Chili without meat is kind of like a rock band without a drummer. After 5 test runs and many tweaks I had the dish I feature here and I'm really proud of it. I had never done a CASI Sanctioned chili cook off and when I arrived it was apparent that I was a newby to the scene.

Other contestants had tents and costumes, trophies and coolers full of booze. I had a giant pot of chili and a flyer with my recipe on it. I felt out of place but by the end of the day being out of place was a good thing. Our booth was the only vegan or vegetarian chili and I was the only cook giving out the recipe. I used it to promote my website and the Trailblazer 5k/10k. It also served as a good press release.  I was elated the next morning when the Journal Gazette used my flyer to quote me directly and give me kudos for my tasty chili. It was a great day overall and I hope to work with Fort Wayne Trails again. Regardless of who I work with though, next year I am most definitely going to enter and and have a tent and decorations ready. It was a fun day for sure.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 8; 2 hours, 30 minutes
1 C Onion diced
1 C Jalapeños chopped seeds, stems removed
1 Tbs Garlic diced
2 Cans Black beans (15 oz.)
1 Can Tomatoes diced (28 oz)
1 Can Corn (15 oz)
4 C Vegetable broth
1/4 C Brown sugar
2 Tbs Chili powder
1 Tbs Cumin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 oz Baking chocolate unsweetened, chopped
1 C Saltine crackers crushed (optional)

Sauté vegetables, season Over medium high heat saute onion, garlic and jalapeño until soft. 4 to 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add rest of ingredients, simmer Add beans, tomatoes, corn, broth, chocolate, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 2 hours stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning if needed. Spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with crushed saltine crackers. (crackers optional)