Its been an unusually hot and humid summer here on our little island in the middle of the North Atlantic and cooking indoors has become a bit of a challenge. You see, due to a histoical lack of need, household air conditioning is unheard of here - heck, the sale of electric fans has sky-rocketed this summer because even those aren't really necessary most of the time, not enough to warrant investing in one for every room, thats for sure! That is why here on what we lovingly refer to as 'The Rock', better known as Newfoundland Labrador to everyone else, summer often equals outdoor cooking.
It might be on the portable propane stove where regional delicacies like lobster, crab and mussels are boiled to perfection, but more often than not, its the grill that we turn to. But that can get a little monotonous...if you let it. While every year I look forward to the first grilled steak of the season, because nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, beats that first taste of smoky grilled beef, too much of a good thing is well, too much of a good thing.
So when beef is the protein of the day, how can you gussy it up so its not just another grilled steak? I consider myself to be somewhat unpredicatable and, were you to ask my father, the only thing predicatable about me is knowing I'm not going to be predictable. (Does that make any sense?) I like to cook the same way...mix it up, no plain Jane meat and potatoes for me!
When I wake in the morning, I'm pretty much a disoriented hot mess, (more on the mess side than the hot mind you). One of the first questions that pops into my head, following 'Who am I?', 'Where am I?', 'What day is this?', is 'What will I make for dinner tonight?'.
First I consider what proteins we've had over the last week - too much of any one thing doesn't work for me. Second, I consider what's going on around me: the weather, any special occasion to mark, any particular requests. Third, what am "I" in the mood for? Fourth, what's on sale and in season?
We hadn't had red meat in a while, its really hot and humid, no special occasion, just a weeknight family meal, a request by my daughter the other day to make tacos, Mexican would be nice, oh look! Top sirloin, avocado, mango, red onion, AND green peppers are on sale! Hmmmm......Grilled Steak Fajitas with Mango Avocado Salsa and some sort of Mexican side dish? Oh yes I Mexi-CAN!!!!
Off to my local grocery store I went, the main part of our meal pretty much figured in my mind, mental list ready to go. Steak, avocado, mango, red onion, green pepper - check, check, check, check AND check! But what about the Mexican side dish?
I didn't really want to do the traditional Mexican rice - I wanted to mix it up a bit, so I thought what about a Mexican quinoa? Sounds good right? I thought so...until I went to the organic section of my grocery store and saw that a 454 g bag of white quinoa was $12.99! Sure, I could get three meals of quinoa out of it, but in my opinion, it was still a tad on the expensive side. Why are the things that are healthiest for us always the most expensive? Some bureacratic entity, somwhere along the line, has decided that Survival of the Fittest means Survival of the Weathiest and by God, I was NOT going to be nutritionally blackmailed! Purely on principle, I would figure something else out.
Determined and stubborn, I headed for the rice and pasta aisle, sure that something of equal nutritional benefit would jump out at me. How very pleased I was to find Sobey's Sensations Ancient Grain Rice Blend! I don't usually tout the virtues of one product over another but when I find a product that ticks all of my boxes? I'm gonna spread the word! Sobeys Sensations Ancient Grain Rice Blend is a blend of brown rice, white AND red quinoa and wild rice. It's easy to prepare, virtufally foolproof, and costs $4.99 for a 454 g. bag. Yes, its a little more than instant rice, but it's a lot less than regular quinoa and even less than a bag of basmati AND I could get a good 4 meals out of it, so at approximately $1.25 per meal, I was sold!
Quite pleased with myself, I headed back home and separated the steak into what I would need for dinner, putting the remainder in a zipper lock freezer bag to store for another day. I sprinkled a generous amount of my homemade taco seasoning (the recipe for which can be found in the "Everything Else' portion of my recipe section), onto the steak and pressed it in with my hand, on both side, placed the steak on a plate, covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the regrigerator for a couple of hours before cooking so that all of those wonderfully aromatic spices could melt into the meat, seasoning it to perfection!
A little sidenote about my homemade taco seasoning. Several years ago, I was going to make tacos for my girls for dinner and, just as I had many many times before, I reached for a package of taco seasoning from the grocery store shelf. I had always found the packaged seasoning to be a bit salty for my liking and out of curiousity, and in keeping with my then new label reading philosophy, I read the ingredients. First item? Maltodextrin, a polysaccharide that unless you're post heavy duty workout and your body is repairing muscle and tissue, gets stored as pure unadulterated fat in your system. Second? 'Spices'. Spices? What spices? How ambiguous was that? I wanted to know what the spices were and to simply have spices printed there? Not enough information for me I'm afraid. And the third ingredient? Salt....190mg of salt in 1/6 of a package! I could do better, I knew I could. I could come up with a blend of spices that would be as flavorful, if not more so, without all the sodium and certainly without the maltodextrin!
With a little time to spare before I had to start cooking and given that it was such a beautiful hot sunny day, I decided to do a little 'mixology'...make up a refreshing, interesting cocktail. I looked around me...frest mint, fresh raspberries, lime sparkling water and vodka. This could be good! I made a simple syrup and added the fresh mint to that, then I took a handful of fresh raspberries and put them in with about 4 oz. vodka, mashing the berries with the end of my wooden spoon. I then placed the raspberry 'infusing' vodka in the freezer and placed the remaining fresh raspberries on a pie plate and put them in the freezer too...nothing like frozen berries to keep your cocktail cool! About an hour later, in my handy dandy Magic Bullet, I put 4 ice cubes, an ounce of the mint simple syrup, an ounce of the raspberry infused vodka, and about 10 frozen raspberries. I gave it a whirl, poured it into a tall glass, topped it up with 4 oz. lime sparkling water, garnished with a couple of mint leaves and frozen raspberries and voila! My Raspberry Mint Mojito was born! The sweetness from the mint simple syrup and the rasberries, mingling with the vodka and sparkling water was truly refreshing but one glass and I realized I had best not go for two until after my salsa and Mexican quinoa were taken care of!
The Mexican quinoa couldn't have been easier. A cup of rice blend, a cup and a half of liquid, a pinch of seasoning, bring it to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover, walk away and let it do it;s thing for 15-20 minutes. The Mango Avocado salsa was just as easy: peel and pit the avocado, dice it up, squeeze in the juice of one lime to keep the avocado from browning, chop mango, tomatoes, and red onion, add them to the bowl, add a couple of pinches of ground cumin, a dash or two of hot sauce and it was done...just refrigerate until you're ready to use. (Mexican Quinoa recipe can be found under 'Meatless Meals", and the Mango Avocado Salsa can be found under 'Everything Else', in my recipe section).
I like to take whatever I'm grilling out of the fridge for 10 or 15 minutes before I grill, just to bring it up to room temp a bit - it could be all in my head, but I believe doing this makes throwing the meat onto the hot grill less of a shock so the meat doesn't tighten up quite as much. I simply grilled the meat 3-4 minutes per side, giving them a quarter turn on each side after about a minute to get those nice pro looking grill marks, then take it off the grill, tent it with some foil for a few mintues to let the juices redistribute, then slice it up.
I forgot to mention that I sauteed one green pepper, thinly sliced, and the other 1/2 of the red onion in a little extra virgin olive oil and seasoned them only with a couple of pinches of my homemade taco seasoning. I served the sliced steak, green pepper and red onion, and salsa on a serving plate, with a bowl of the Mexican Quinoa, and some warmed ground flax seed tortillas on the side and let everyone build their own fajitas. My daughter's friend joined us for supper and we each had two fajitas with Mexican quinoa on the side and there was still leftovers!
I rolled the leftover sliced grilled steak topped with some Mango Avocado Salsa in a large whole wheat tortilla, wrapped it in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for my husband's lunch today. Just as I started writing this blog, he text me to say, and I quote, "Hi honey. Last night's supper was delicious as a cold wrap. You should definitely mention it in your blog - makes a great lunch! Mmmmmm! I love you! xoxo'. What can I say? That old adage about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach has more meaning that meets the eye - not only did my husband love how this meal tasted, but by being low in fat and sodium, it was good for his heart too!
These Grilled Steak Fajitas with Mango Avocado Salsa and Mexican Quinoa ticked all of my boxes: it was easy, (I even had enough time during the prep to create a new cocktail!), inexpensive, (by my calculations this meal works out to be about $2.22 per portion), nutritious, (low sodium, low fat, high fiber, high protein, loaded with vitamins and minerals), and delicious!! It makes me wanna throw my straw fedora onto the ground and dance all around it, Raspberry Mint Mojito in hand! Ok...so that's not such a pretty mental picture to have, but anything that makes me wanna dance, is a keeper!
Grilled Steak Fajitas with Mango Avocado Salsa and Mexican Quinoa - easy, inexpensive, healthy and delicious....it's what I'm allllll about!