Creamy, Dreamy Chili Mac & Cheese Casserole


Chili Mac & Cheese

I decided since I was off work today, and it was a long & grueling week due to our fiscal year-end crunch, some comfort food was definitely in order. I was thrilled and honored when I was asked by Ragú® earlier this week to create my own spin on their Chili Mac recipe, so I chose to add the ooey-gooey goodness of cheese, both Colby Jack and cream cheese, in addition to some sautéed chopped onions, to turn it into a hearty, creamy casserole masterpiece. This is serious comfort food at its best! If you’re a meat eater, and enjoy mac and cheese, you will truly love this dish!

Feel free to substitute cheddar if you’d prefer, and/or to turn up the heat on this dish, you can increase the chili powder to two tablespoons or add some red pepper flakes.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups elbow macaroni, cooked & drained
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 jar (1 lb. 8 oz.) Ragu® Old World Style® Traditional Pasta Sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cook macaroni according to package instructions.
  3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and cook onions for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add ground beef and cook until browned, stirring and breaking up into small pieces.
  5. Stir in pasta sauce, chili powder, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, covered.
  6. Stir in cream cheese until blended, then add cooked pasta, and 1 cup of Colby Jack cheese, and mix until well incorporated.
  7. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking dish, and cook in oven for 15 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
  8. Remove dish from oven, sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese, and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes, until cheese begins to melt.
  9. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  10. Enjoy!

Creamy Chili Mac & Cheese Casserole

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Spaghetti Squash Marinara


Spaghetti Squash Marinara

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes being shared on Facebook, most of which are healthy and look really delicious. I try to make a point of “liking” or sharing the post so I can go back to it, or I simply copy it down. Last week, one of my friends shared one for spaghetti squash, and sadly, I didn’t do either and don’t recall which friend it was. I figured I could wing it, but looked up a few recipes to find out about cooking times in both the oven and microwave. I ended up cooking mine in the oven, mostly because my microwave is small and cooking a whole spaghetti squash in there can lead to spaghetti squash wallpaper if it explodes. Needless to say, the end result was incredible, and honestly, tasted better than I expected. If you like healthy, and/or love pasta, but hate the carbs, look no further!  If you’re short on time or just want to simplify this recipe , you can use your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce instead of making this one, but I recommend you trying mine out 🙂 I added lean ground Italian turkey to mine; however, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, obviously you can omit it. Feel free to add some veggies, too, if you so desire.

*UPDATE* –  shortly after posting this, I stumbled across a spaghetti squash recipe that looked amazing, so I quickly took the remaining half squash from this recipe and added the two additional ingredients, which I’ll post at the bottom (with a photo, of course)!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium uncooked spaghetti squash, about 2 lbs.
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can stewed tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can whole Roma tomatoes, chopped (discard juice)
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground Italian turkey meat (I used Jennie O), optional
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil plus extra for baking dish
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds, ground in spice mill or using mortar & pestle
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste and for sprinkling baking dish
  • Parmesan cheese, go big and just use a little for the top

Cooked Squash

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise using a sharp knife. This can be somewhat difficult, so be careful. If need be, start at one end, cutting half way through then turn it around and cut through the other half. Once the squash is cut in half, scoop out the seeds.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large baking dish, then sprinkle with some salt & pepper. Place squash cut sides down in dish and prick skin with a fork all over.
  4. Cook for 45 minutes.
  5. While the squash is cooking,  heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and crushed fennel, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add ground turkey, and continue to sauté until cooked through, breaking into small pieces, about 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in tomatoes (including juice from the can of stewed tomatoes), basil and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, 5 minutes or until desired consistency.
  8. Remove squash from oven and carefully turn over with an oven mit (they’ll be hot!). Rake the stringy squash pulp from the skin with a fork, separating it into strands that look like spaghetti. You can either serve the squash in its skin or move the strands to a plate.
  9. Spoon sauce over squash and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Yummy!

Additional Recipe: Cheesy Spaghetti Squash with Marinara

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash

The additional items you’ll need are 1 cup of cottage cheese (I prefer low fat) and 1 cup of shredded cheese. I used a light Mexican four-blend, but the recipe I saw calls for Mozzarella. To make this, after cooking the squash and scraping the strings with a fork, add 1/2 cup cottage cheese to each half, top with marinara, and then add 1/2 cup cheese to each one. Put on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for approximately 3-5 minutes. I added some fresh chopped oregano and basil, and as you can see, some of it burned, so I ended up finishing it in the microwave until the cheese got melted and bubbly.

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Mexican Egg White Omelet With Goat Cheese


Mexican Egg White Omelet

I whipped up this little omelet this morning, and wasn’t going to post it, then thought, why not share the deliciousness?!! Obviously, you can add (or omit) whatever veggies and/or spices that suit your fancy, but I love the combination of what I put into mine today. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, just substitute your favorite.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup egg whites, from 4 large eggs or liquid whites
  • 2 pearl onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. jalapeño peppers, sliced or diced
  • 1 tbsp. goat cheese
  • 3-4 cherry or plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp. cilantro, more or less to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. Mexican chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Omelet Ingredients

Omelet Cooking

Directions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped onions to pan and sauté for approximately 3 minutes, or until softened.
  3. Remove from skillet & set aside.
  4. Wipe down pan and add remaining oil back to skillet.
  5. Put egg whites and spices in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until slightly frothy.
  6. Pour mixture into heated pan, swirl around a little and let cook for about 5 minutes, until almost completely set and opaque.
  7. Add remaining ingredients, including the sautéed onions, to one side of the omelet, then sprinkle with goat cheese.
  8. Fold “empty” side of omelet over the other side and carefully slide out of pan onto a serving plate.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and serve with additional avocado slices and salsa, if desired.

Egg White Omelet

Egg White Omelet

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Steak (or Chicken) Fajitas


I’m a huge fan of Mexican food, and can eat a boatload of chips and salsa. However, my true love really lies with tacos and fajitas. Here’s a quick & delicious recipe which I made last week that is sure to please. This would be equally as tasty as a vegetarian dish by omitting the meat and substituting black beans.

Delicious Steak Fajitas

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb top sirloin steak
  • 1 onion, cut lengthwise & cut into strips
  • 2 small sweet peppers of your choice (green, red, or yellow), cut into strips
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 8 flour tortillas

Steak Fajitas In The Pan

Directions

  1. Slice steak into thin strips.
  2. In bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper flakes, black pepper & salt.
  3. Add beef strips and stir to coat, set aside.
  4. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in 350° oven for 5-10 minutes or until heated through.
  5. In large nonstick skillet over medium high heat, heat remaining tablespoons of olive oil.
  6. Add onions & peppers stirring for 3-4 minutes, until softened; transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  7. Add beef to skillet, cook, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until they lose their red color.
  8. Return onions and peppers to skillet; stir for about one minute.
  9. To serve, spoon a portion of the beef mixture down the center of each tortilla, top with your desired toppings (salsa, shredded cheese, guacamole, sour cream, etc.), fold bottom of tortilla up over filling, and fold the sides in, overlapping.

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Slow Cooker Hoppin’ John


If you’re not familiar with Hoppin’ John, it is a dish served in the Southern United States consisting of black-eyed peas (or field peas) and rice, with chopped onion and sliced bacon, seasoned with a bit of salt. Some people substitute ham hock, or country sausage for the conventional bacon; a few use green peppers or vinegar and spices. In the southern United States, eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day is thought to bring a prosperous year filled with luck. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale, cabbage etc. along with this dish, are supposed to also add to the wealth since they are the color of money. Another traditional food, cornbread, can also be served to represent wealth, being the color of gold. On the day after New Year’s Day, leftover “Hoppin’ John” is called “Skippin’ Jenny,” and further demonstrates one’s frugality, bringing a hope for an even better chance of prosperity in the New Year.

I made this yummy dish last year, and thought for sure I has posted it right afterwards, but my bad for not doing so. This recipe contains bacon, so if you’d like to make it vegetarian,  simply omit that and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken stock. This can be served as a stew or you can use a slotted spoon to drain it. Some people like to have the “sauce” on the side to dip their cornbread in.

Hoppin' John

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups Black Eyed Peas
  • 4 oz. bacon, cooked & chopped
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1 bunch of carrots, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, cut in half lengthwise
  • 32 ounces low-sodium chicken stock/broth
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 sprig fresh Thyme
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch Collard greens, leaves stripped from stem

Directions

  1. Rinse the peas under cold water and pick out any stones or discolored peas. Bring the peas to boil in a medium saucepan full of cold water. Boil the peas for 10 minutes. As the beans cool, start chopping the vegetables. If you are planning to simmer the stew all day, skip boiling the peas.
  2. Cook bacon in a skillet or the microwave, set aside.
  3. Combine peas, diced bell pepper, onion, carrots, garlic, jalapeño halves, stock and seasonings in a slow cooker. Cook for at least 4 hours on low.
  4. About an hour before you are ready to serve, prepare the collards by cutting the leaves into strips and add them to the stew.
  5. Add the reserved cooked bacon at this time. Cook the stew for another 40-60 minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaves, thyme stems, and jalapeno halves.
  7. Serve alone or over of your favorite rice. If desired, can top with cheddar cheese, scallions and a drizzle of white vinegar.

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Cornbread and Bacon Muffin’ Stuffin


I was watching The Chew last Friday (again) and saw Carla Hall & Daphne Oz make this incredible muffin stuffing recipe, and decided this was going to be on menu this year since I’m just cooking for one (me). I really love the idea of individual servings, and the fact that you can customize these babies when serving a group. The original recipe calls for using sausage, but I substituted bacon since I had some in the fridge. I also halved the recipe, which produced six “muffins”, but am giving you the ingredients to make a dozen. I made these tonight to test them out, and have to say, they’re seriously delicious! I plan on reheating them tomorrow in the oven to accompany the rest of my turkey day meal.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups prepared cornbread (cut into 1-inch cubes)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 thick slices of bacon
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup red onion (small diced)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced Scallions
  • 1 cup celery ribs (small diced)
  • 1/2 cup red pepper (small diced)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup Swanson’s chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh Sage
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg (beaten)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Have the cornbread in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add bacon. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it & break into pieces to the bowl of cornbread.
  4. Add the butter to the pan and then toss in the onions, scallions, celery and red pepper.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the vegetables to the bowl. Then, add the chicken stock, the seasonings, milk, and egg. Toss lightly to combine.
  7. Butter the muffin tins and then spoon the cornbread in. Compress the muffins and then add more stuffing on top.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just lightly browned. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from tins.

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A Modified Version of Shrimp and Grits


As you may, or may not know, I looooooooove shrimp and grits! While my earlier recipe on here is one of my all-time favorites, this one is simply delicious. I was watching The Chew on Friday, and Carla Hall made a dish called “Swamp Thing”, which was her healthier version of shrimp and grits. Once I saw it was loaded with vegetables, I was sold, and knew I had to try it, which I did later that day with a few small modifications. This recipe does take a little effort, as the grits need to be made about an hour beforehand, and there’s a decent amount of veggie chopping, but trust me when I say, it’s worth it! Thanks Carla!!!

Ingredients

Grits:

  • 1 cup Quick Grits
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup Half & Half (or milk)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • Olive oil (for frying grits)

Shrimp Stew

  • 1/2 pound shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • 3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1/2 onion (medium diced)
  • 1 large carrot (medium diced)
  • 1/4 cup corn
  • Half of a 14.5-ounce can whole plum tomatoes (crushed)
  • 2 cups collard greens (ribboned*)
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes (peeled and diced, or canned)
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 parsnip (peeled and diced)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock/broth
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil plus more for pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Grits

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring water, Half & Half, and corn to a boil.
  2. Slowly whisk in grits, avoiding lumps and cook according to package directions.
  3. Once cooked, whisk in butter and cheese (if using).
  4. Pour into greased baking dish, allow to cool, then place in refrigerator for an hour.
  5. At this point, you can start on the stew if you want & come back to step 6.
  6. Remove grits from fridge and cut into 3 inch squares (or desired size).
  7. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat with olive oil.  Fry grits in hot oil until golden on all sides. Remove from pan.

Shrimp Stew

  1. In a heavy bottomed pot, over high heat, add olive oil. Toss in the onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
  2. Toss in all the other vegetables except for the collard greens and crushed tomatoes, and add olive oil if it seems dry. Coat all the vegetables in oil and continue to cook over high heat, just slightly browning everything.
  3. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir. Deglaze with the chicken stock. Add the collard greens, thyme, bay leaf and cayenne, and stir.
  4. Add in the tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  6. Right before serving, toss in the shrimp and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the shrimp is just cooked through.
  7. Plate in a soup bowl on top of fried grits.  Season to taste.  Serve immediately.

* To ribbon the collard greens, take some leaves, place them on top of each other, roll them up long-way, and cut small pieces off of the ends. This will form long, thin pieces known as ribbons.

Note: If you don’t do shrimp/shellfish, you can definitely leave it out. Also, feel free to substitute vegetable broth in place of chicken broth. 

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Italian Barbecued Chicken (with Polenta)


In my recent polenta post, I mentioned that I came across a BBQ chicken recipe from Rachael Ray which I intended on making soon, and decided to try it out last night. I made a few modifications like I normally do, and all I can say is… WOW! The sauce is truly delectable and really makes the dish. I took some to work today, and finished every single last bite! So if you like chicken, and want a delicious new way to make it, I highly suggest you try this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in chicken thigh and leg or chicken breasts 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 2 tsp. grill seasoning
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 thick cut slices pancetta or bacon, chopped (optional)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce  
  • 1 cup tomato sauce 
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Torn fresh basil leaves
  • Polenta

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, poultry seasoning, and grill seasoning.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet and brown the chicken a few minutes on each side to put some of its flavor and drippings into the pan, then transfer to oven and roast 10 minutes more.
  4. Meanwhile, if using pancetta or bacon, add to pan, and cook until crisp. Remove from pan, crumble and set aside.
  5. If not using the meat, put one more tablespoon olive oil into pan, and add onions, garlic and rosemary. Cook 5 minutes, then add the vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire, tomato sauce and 1/2 cup chicken stock or broth.
  6. Reduce heat to low and let sauce simmer 5 minutes more.
  7. Remove chicken from oven, place in barbecue sauce, add bacon or pancetta (if using) and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  8. Fill shallow bowls with polenta, top with chicken, spoon extra sauce over chicken and garnish with some torn basil leaves.

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Savory Polenta


Did you ever see a recipe, and that one led you to another one, then another one, and… well, you get the point. I received a recipe over the weekend for an appetizer with polenta rounds that looked absolutely delicious, and planned on making it, then thought I should probably wait until I actually need to make some hors d’oeuvres. So, I continued looking online for different types of recipes which contained polenta and came across one from Rachael Ray, that got tremendous reviews and looked scrumptious, which led me to a recipe from Alton Brown. I definitely plan on trying Rachael’s soon, but made Alton’s polenta side dish, with a few modifications, to go with some leftover rib-eye I had in the fridge. This was my first time making and trying polenta, so wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I really liked it!! This also pairs very well with fish or chicken.

Polenta with Rib-Eye and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for grilling or sautéing the polenta, if desired
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 cup milk (I prefer skim) + additional to thin, if desired
  • 1/2 cup coarse ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1/4 cup Sharp Cheddar, grated

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the red onion and salt, and cook until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.
  4. Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken stock or broth, bring to a boil.
  5. Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking.
  6. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and cook for approx. 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent lumps.
  7. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from heat and add the butter and pepper.
  8. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the Parmesan and Cheddar.
  9. Season with additional salt, according to taste.
  10. If you want the polenta creamier, you can thin with a little cream or milk to get desired consistency. Otherwise, serve as is, or pour the polenta into a cake pan lined with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rounds, or triangles. Brush each side with olive oil and saute in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

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Steak Marinade


If you’re searching for an extremely tasty and easy marinade for your steak, look no further! A couple of weeks ago, I posted a recipe by Paula Deen for another marinade which is really good, but may just like this one a little bit more. I made this last week to use on some tri-tip and it was amazing, and just whipped up some more to marinate a Rib-Eye… can’t wait to cook it up for dinner!!

Marinade in the blender

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or red wine)
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp. dried
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon-style prepared mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
  • 2 (1 lb) steaks

Note: For my dinner tonight, I only had one rib-eye (approx. 1 lb.), so used about half of the marinade and froze the remaining to use another time.

Makes almost a cup

Directions

  1. Put all ingredients (except steaks) in a blender (or food processor), and blend until smooth.
  2. Place steaks in a large, resealable plastic bag.
  3. Pour marinade over steaks, seal and refrigerate for about 3 hours.
  4. Take steaks out from fridge and let them come to room temperature (30 min-1 hr.) *
  5. Remove steaks from bag, discarding remaining marinade.
  6. Cook on a preheated grill brushed with oil on high, for about 7 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness is achieved, or place in a skillet, over medium-high heat for same amount of time as above. (I cooked my tri-tip on top of the stove).

* It is always best to cook meat from, or near, room temperature. This will help the meat cook consistently across the interior by reducing the amount of time that it takes to cook the meat. But… I have cooked them after just a few minutes of sitting out, and they’ve come out delicious. 

Marinated tri-tip steaks

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