On Saturday, Kyle and I took a long overdue trip to Trader Joe’s.  We love that place: great prices; exotic items you can’t find at your average grocery store; and the best hummus, chai tea latte mix, and peanut butter, chocolate pretzels in the world.   The downside is that the place is always packed, so if you’re just there to browse the shelves and be inspired, it’s a bit stressful.  Lots of human traffic.  But so worth it if you can be patient.  We went in without a list and grabbed whatever sounded good.  That night, we went home a made an appetizer, entrée, and dessert with some of our purchases.  Yum, yum, yum!

Appetizer: Chicken & Shrimp Queso Dip

This recipe is inspired by an awesome dip at our local Mexican joint: Pancho Villa.  They make a thin, creamy dip (I’m guessing) from queso blanco, chicken, shrimp, cilantro, shallots, and tomatoes.  I tried to mimic the recipe sans queso blanco and used Monterey jack and chicken broth instead.  Well, I used too much broth and the cheese didn’t melt the way I’d hoped, but the flavor overall was super yum.  It was almost like a soup.  I sautéed the chicken and shallots with cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, and salt, and then tossed in the remaining ingredients and boiled it until it reduced.  

Main Dish: Lime and Cilantro Marinated Steak with Guacamole

Kyle marinated the steak in olive oil, lime juice and zest, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  He then cooked it in a skillet with olive oil and butter until medium.  We whipped up some guacamole with avocado, white onion, tomato, sea salt, lime juice, cilantro, and pepper.  

Dessert: Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas, Vanilla Ice Cream, Mint, and Java Fudge Sauce

We modeled this recipe after one from Gordon Ramsay’s show The F Word.  As a plug for that show, I must say that I’m obsessed with it.  Each episode, we has a group of average people come in and cook for his restaurant.  He teaches them and the viewer how to make a simple, delicious three-course meal.  Throughout the episode, there are other segments where he goes hunting or fishing out in the wild, gives tips on how to make great food fast, and promotes the consumption of overpopulated, nutritious, but under-appreciated foods. 

Anyways, for this recipe, you melt a fistful of sugar in a hot pan until it caramelizes.  Split open a vanilla bean (it’s the first time I’ve ever used one!  $0.99 for two at Trader Joe’s!) and scrape out the paste.  Toss it into the pan with two diagonally, thickly sliced bananas and a squeeze of honey.  Add water to thin the sauce and cook until the bananas soften and are coated with the caramel.  Meanwhile, whip up a batch of little pancakes.  We made them from the Bisquick box.  Place a few pancakes on a plate, top with a spoonful of the banana mixture, lop on a scoop of vanilla ice cream, stick a sprig of fresh mint in the ice cream, and drizzle over with a coffee bean hot fudge.  So.  Good.  I’m a believer in fresh mint to brighten rich dessert dishes after having pumpkin whoopee pies from Jolly Pumpkin with a sprig of mint on the plate.  Not just a garnish.  A revelation!

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