November 2012

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I always dislike tomato soup. I’m pretty sure that it was because we always ate it from a can. It was flavorless red broth that was just a little too acidic for my taste. While everyone else was enjoying a steaming bowl of tomato soup with grilled cheese, I chose chicken noodle almost every time. 

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It was not that long ago that I found tomato soup that made me change my tune. If you have ever had these tomato soups, you probably know what I am talking about. My favorite of all time is the Tomato Basil Soup from Nordstrom Cafe. It s rich, creamy, and has a sweet hint of basil. We like it so much that we buy at least one jar on every trip to Nordstrom. The other tomato soup is at Panera. It is the only thing that I like there. It is definitely crave worthy. 

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Now that winter is fast approaching, I knew that I needed to develop a recipe to curb my cravings so I could continue to hibernate all winter long. There is noting comforting about eating tomato soup in a cold restaurant on a hard bench. I want to be comfortable when in enjoying this warm, comforting soup. Plus, it is fast and easy, a bonus on those dark, gloomy winter nights. 

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This will certainly be a staple in our home this winter. 

Tomato Basil Soup

by Jessica

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Keywords: simmer blender appetizer soup/stew side snack milk tomato fall winter

Ingredients (4-6 servings)

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 15 ounce can San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 15 ounces water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • handful fresh basil, chopped
  • cheese for garnish


In a 3-4 quart sauce pan, add olive oil on medium heat.

Add onions. Cook until soft.

Add garlic, oregano, and smoked paprika. Cook an additional minute.

Add tomatoes and water. Cook about 5 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Add heavy cream and basil. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with cheese if desired.

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Chopped salads are one of my favorite things to pack in lunches. I can make them on Sunday, put them in glass jars, and eat them all week. They are crunchy and nutritious. Plus, if I pack healthy lunches at the beginning of the week, I am likely to eat them. Whereas if I have just ingredients, I probably will not eat them in my lunch. 

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If you remember, during the summer I made a chopped salad as well. You can find that recipe here. This one features all of my end of summer veggies. It has the added crunch of some nuts and seeds. They really make the salad extra special. This salad has wheat berries to make it heartier as well as lentils. The tahini dressing adds a nuttiness that makes the salad have staying power to get through the afternoon.

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If you plan to pack this in lunches, I suggest adding the tomatoes the morning before you eat it and storing the nuts and seeds in small containers to be added just before eating. 

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To roast garlic: Cut the top off of the cloves of garlic. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Wrap in the foil.

IMG 4472Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, or until soft. To use, squeeze the soften cloves out of the garlic skin. 

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While the garlic is roasting, chop the vegetables and cook the lentils and wheat berries following the directions on the box. 

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For the dressing: Combine roasted garlic, salt, pepper, lime zest, lime juice, tahini, and vinegar with a whisk. 

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Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking to emulsify the dressing. 

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Combine the dressing with the veggies, wheat berries, and lentils. Add the tomatoes and nuts and seeds just before serving. I like to use a mixture of pistachios, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or pecans. 

Tahini Wheat Berry Chopped Salad With Lentils

by Jessica

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Keywords: simmer raw salad vegan vegetarian tomato beets mint tahini fall

Ingredients (6-10 servings)

For the Salad

  • 1 1/2 cups wheat berries, cooked
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 cucumber, deseeded and diced
  • 2 jalapeños, diced
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 beets, diced
  • handful chopped mint
  • handful chopped cilantro
  • handful chives, diced
  • 2 cups nuts and seeds, toasted
  • feta cheese (optional)

For the Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 cloves roasted garlic or one clove of raw garlic, minced
  • zest 2 limes
  • juice 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


For the Salad

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl except nuts, seeds, and feta if using. Add at the last minute.

For the Dressing

Whisk tahini, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Stream in olive oil while whisking to combine. Toss with the vegetables.

Serve the salad immediately, or for lunches, pack in individual containers. Store the nuts and seeds separately.

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Greens and beans are one of my favorite dishes to order at Italian restaurants. Luckily, living in western Pennsylvania, there is no shortage of Italian restaurants and no shortage of greens and beans. 

Some places make the greens and beans with spinach, while others use escarole. Sometimes it is a mixture of the two. My favorite places to eat greens and beans are Combine Brothers in Hermitage, PA and Sarafino’s in Crafton, PA. Combine Brothers often uses escarole but skips the beans. At Sarafino’s, their version is cooked quickly with white wine, sausage, white kidney beans, onions, and banana peppers. They have a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. When I make greens and beans, I make them the same way. 

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This pasta bake is a mixture of greens and beans with baked ziti, another Western PA favorite. 

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To start, chop 5 banana peppers into rings and cut 1/2 of an onion pole to pole. 

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Boil the sausage links to cook through.

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Cook the onions on medium in a little oil until tender in a separate pan. 

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Once the sausage is cooked through, dump the water out of the pan. Cut the sausage into slices and brown both sides in the pan. 

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Add the banana peppers to the sausage pan and cook until tender. Add the onions and one can of white kidney beans. Salt to taste. 

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Cook the pasta according to package directions. I used fresh rigatoni from Giant Eagle Market District, Before draining, reserve a cup of pasta water. 

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Transfer the sausage mixture into the empty pasta pot. Add the reserved pasta water to the pan and add 4-5 late handfuls of spinach to the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes until most of the spinach is wilted. Add a handful of parmesan cheese and transfer to a 9×13 baking dish. 

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I knew that we would be eating this for two nights, so I split it between two smaller baking dishes. Cover with provolone cheese and bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. If you refrigerate first, bake for 30-40 minutes or microwave for 5 minutes and bake for 10-15 minutes. 

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Serve on your favorite sauce, if desired. 

Greens and Beans Baked Rigatoni with Sausage

by Jessica

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Keywords: bake saute entree spinach sausage cheese

Ingredients (6-8 servings)

  • 2 Links hot sausage, cut into rounds and browned
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1/2 onion, cut pole to pole
  • 5 banana peppers, cut into rings
  • 1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 3/4 pound rigatoni, cooked and drained (reserve 1 cup pasta water)
  • handful parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 pound provolone cheese
  • pint of marinara sauce


Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook until tender. Add the banana pepper and cook until tender. Add the sausage and kidney beans. Stir to combine. Add the spinach and pasta with 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Stir to combine. Add parmesan cheese.

Pour into a 9×13 baking dish. Top with provolone cheese. Bake at 450 until the cheese is slightly browned and melted.

Remove from the oven and serve with marinara sauce.

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I did it. I made a really good, fall flavored pizza that is easy to make at home but fancy enough to feel like a treat. I love the idea of take out pizza. The idea. In practice I am not a fan. For one, where we live, pizza delivery usually takes an hour. That is a really long time to wait. Then, when the pizza comes, it is mediocre and cold. Oh, and it has a little grease puddle on it.


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A few years ago, we stopped ordering delivery pizza and started making our own pizza. Now, pizza night is filled with interesting toppings and pizza that is served bubbling hot. The war pizza is meant to be served. This pizza is so good. It is mouthwatering. It has a mix of tangy blue cheese, tart and sweet apples, gooey cheese, smokey applewood smoked cheddar, and crispy bacon. How could delivery top this?


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Bonus, it takes less than 20 minutes to cook. If you want to make your own pizza crust, we always use this recipe when making it indoors.

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Apple, Bacon, Blue Cheese Pizza

by Jessica

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Keywords: bake entree apple bacon

Ingredients (8 slices)

  • Pizza Crust
  • 2 tablespoons corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (mixture applewood smoked cheddar, provolone, and fontina)
  • 1/4 pound blue cheese
  • 1/4 pound bacon, cooked until crispy
  • 2 whole apples, sliced (Honeycrisp and Granny Smith)


Heat a pizza stone in the oven at 500 degrees for at least one hour.

Roll out the pizza crust to desired thickness.

Remove the pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle with corn meal.

Quickly rub the pizza crust with oil. Add the toppings and return to the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve.

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Daily Dish Magazine


Vegetable Soup

Does anyone else feel like Thanksgiving went by so quickly? Now, we are officially in the Christmas season. That means shopping, decorations, hot beverages and snuggles on the couch. We did a tiny amount of shopping on Black Friday. I am just not into the crowds. I did manage to get a few good deals on clothing for the winter. I hope everyone else enjoyed the holiday. 

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Vegetable soup has been one of my favorites for a really long time. I remember eating bowls of my grandma’s soup with a slice of fresh, Italian bread. Over the years, I combined her recipe with the recipe that my mom makes. My mom likes a tomato-based brother while my grandmother preferred very few tomatoes. My mom used alphabet pasta while my grandma used noodles. Both used tons of veggies. I really love the fact that I am eating a giant bowl of warm, hearty vegetables. 


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This soup is fantastic served with a piece of fresh, crusty Italian bread or perfectly grilled cheese. One of my favorite things about this soup is that it freezes so well. I like to make a giant pot of soup and freeze it in serving-sized bowls. Then, when we need a fast meal, I defrost the soup and enjoy. 

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This recipe is versatile. I add whatever vegetables that I have in the refrigerator in addition to a few bags of frozen Vegetables for Soup. I also use whatever canned tomatoes I happen to have on hand. On the day I made the pot of soup in the picture, I used a can of diced tomatoes and realized I had no tomato sauce or puree. Instead, I had two cans of stewed tomatoes and pureed them in the blender. 

The bottom line is that this is a delicious, filling meal perfect for a cold evening. 



Vegetable Soup

by Jessica

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Keywords: simmer soup/stew beef corn green beans fall winter

Ingredients (20 servings)

  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • English Chuck Roast (about 3 lbs.)
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 Bone for soup
  • 1 29 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 29 oz can stewed tomatoes, diced
  • 1 29 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 3 bags frozen vegetables for soup
  • 4 potatoes, diced
  • 1 package noodles or other pasta


Heat oil in a large stock pot. Brown the meat on both sides. Remove from the pan. Add the onions and cook until tender. Deglaze the pan with red wine.

Add the bone, beef stock, and the chuck roast. Add water, tomato puree, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and herbs to the pan. Cook for about 1 hour on medium.

Remove the roast and bone from the pot and set aside.

Add vegetables, potatoes and noodles. Cook until tender.

Cut roast into bite sized pieces and return to soup.

Serve immediately. This soup freezes quite well.

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Semi Homemade Mom

Foodie Friends Friday

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Chicken salad has always been one of those things that I like, but I don’t order it in restaurants or get excited about it. It is usually just something that we have because it is easy and I can make it ahead. I think the key to getting excited about chicken salad was creating a few really flavorful recipes. 

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For me, a really good chicken salad has some kind of fruit in it to add sweetness, some nuts for a savory, nuttiness, and some baked chicken. In this salad, I combined apples from a local Apple Orchard and some toasted walnuts. The combination is a super crunchy chicken salad that is slightly sweet and rich. 

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To make it even better, I put it on a freshly baked croissant from Cafe Chocolade. The. Best. Chicken. Salad, Sandwich. Ever. The croissants from Cafe Chocolade seriously rival all that we ate in Paris over the summer. They are buttery and flakey, truly decadent. In fact, I have never had something that I didn’t think was out of this world. We even buy our dog treats there. 

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 So, as for my other favorite chicken salad recipe… that is to come later.  

Apple, Walnut Chicken Salad

by Jessica

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Keywords: bake entree sandwich snack chicken apple

Ingredients (2-4 servings)

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked and diced
  • 1/8 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 apple, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


Combine ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve on your favorite bread, on greens, or with crackers.

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Happy Thanksgiving! Before you feel badly for Harney in his adorable Pilgrim hat, he actually likes wearing it. I hope everyone has the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with the people who matter most to them. Today we will be enjoying a delicious meal, just like my grandma used to make. I know that today is actually Thanksgiving, but it you are looking for a delicious, quick, and easy dessert. This recipe might just fit the bill. 

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I have been planning to make a galette for a long time. It is so rustic (an easier than a pie). Plus, it has a high crust to filling ratio. I decided that I needed to make an apple cranberry filling, since there are so many delicious cranberries available at the grocery store right now (and some hiding in my freezer for later). 

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This galette boasts an oatmeal crust, giving it a crust with some texture. 

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I decided not to add cinnamon to this recipe, only because I decided to serve it with cinnamon ice cream. It is a great choice. If you do not have time to buy or make cinnamon ice cream, go ahead and add some cinnamon to the filling. Either way, you will not be disappointed. 

Apple Cranberry Galette

by Jessica

Prep Time: 40 minutes; 30 resting

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Keywords: bake dessert oat flour apple Thanksgiving fall winter

Ingredients (6 servings)

For the Crust

  • 3/4 cup oat flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, very cold cut into pieces
  • splash vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, not packed
  • 2-4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar for dusting

For the Filling

  • 3 apples (I use 1 gala, 1 granny smith, and 1 honey crisp)
  • 3/4 cup raw cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons oat flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, not packed or 2 tablespoons maple syrup


For the Crust

In the food processor, combine flours, salt, butter, vanilla, and brown sugar. Pulse until it looks like small peebles. Add ice water a little at a time until the dough comes together but is not sticky.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the Filling

In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, oat flour, and maple syrup. Stir to combine.

Roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Stack filling in the middle. Bring edges into the middle. Brush the dough with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugars.

Bake at 375 for 35-50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream.

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Cinnamon ice cream is probably the best thing I can think of to go with anything apple. Seriously, what goes better with apples than cinnamon? 

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I really can’t think of anything better in the fall. When I set out to make cinnamon ice cream, I knew I was going to useJeni’s Ugandan Vanilla Bean Ice Cream from her book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home.  


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I used this recipe. The only changes I made were that I added 1 1/2 tablespoons China Cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves to the milk mixture before bringing it to a boil. The results are a creamy, spicy cinnamon ice cream. 

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A delicious addition to any apple dessert. 

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Happy Birthday to my sweet Jimmy. He is 6 years old today. Where does the time go?

In honor of Jimmy’s birthday, we are celebrating by enjoying a meal of two of his favorite food items, meatballsand chicken. When he gets excited, he spins in circles and man does Wedding Soup make him spin.

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Wedding soup is another regional food item here in the Pittsburgh region. It is found in most restaurants and varies slightly between restaurants. It is actually even served at The Olive Garden restaurants in the region only.

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This version is my favorite. In fact, I almost never eat wedding soup in restaurants because this is so good. It origiIMG 5100nated from my mom. It gets rave reviews mostly because of the special secret ingredient in the broth, copious amounts of cheese. This soup is a little time consuming because of all of the mini meatballs, but they are so worth it.

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This soup freezes very well. It is a hearty soup that definitely counts as a meal. Just serve it with your favorite bread and enjoy!

Italian Wedding Soup

by Jessica

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Ingredients (12-18 servings)

  • 5 split chicken breasts (bone in and skin on) or a whole chicken
  • 1 bunch of celery, diced
  • 1 tablespoon Organic Chicken Better Than Bouillon
  • Mini meatballs
  • 4 boxes chopped spinach, frozen
  • ½ box Acini Di Pepe, uncooked
  • 1 1/2 cups Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste

For the Meatballs

  • 2 lbs. 93% lean ground beef
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, handful
  • 2 tablespoons parsley flakes
  • Bread crumbs


In a large Stock pot (12 qt. or larger) bring chicken, celery, and bouillon to a boil then simmer until chicken is cooked.

Remove chicken and add spinach, mini meatballs, and acini di pepe until cooked.

Cut up chicken, removing skin and bones and add to the soup.

Add salt, pepper and Romano cheese to broth. The Romano cheese blends into the broth. Stir as you pour so it does not melt together. It is optional but gives the broth a better flavor.

Serve hot or freeze.

For the Meatballs

Mix all ingredients. Add breadcrumbs until mixture is no longer sticky and form into bite size balls.

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Semi Homemade Mom

Foodie Friends Friday

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I love Mexican food, both authentic and Americanized. What can I say? Cilantro is one of my favorite flavors. That probably explains my affinity for Thai food as well. I call Americanized Mexican food my winter food because it is warm and comforting. I like refried beans and chips and salsa. Really. That is the only reason I go to inexpensive Mexican restaurants. 

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Until this summer, we had a favorite that was very convenient. Then, it closed. We were so sad. So we tried El Paso in Bridgeville. It is located next to T.J. Maxx (the best one in the area) in the Great Southern Shopping Center. 

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First and foremost, our new favorite Mexican restaurant has to have delicious salsa with chile habanero sauce on the table. This salsa is a little on the thin side, but it has the brightness of cilantro. All it needs is a little habanero sauce to give it some heat and it meets my salsa requirements.

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 Next, the chips must be slightly warm and fresh. These fit the bill. 

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In addition to the perfect chips, El Paso has the cheese dip that I crave in the winter. White American cheese with a tiny bit of heat. Perfect for dipping. 

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I almost never order a margarita. This one was good. I got mine frozen, Pierre had his on the rocks. Man was it strong. 

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I am reallysimple at Mexican restaurants, I really just want a soft taco and some beans. This is a typical soft taco in the Pittsburgh region. It has ground beef and some lettuce. 

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The refried beans are smooth and creamy. Great for dipping chips. 

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Pierre chose the Chicken Fajitas. They came in a sizzling pan with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. It was exactly what I look for in fajitas. 

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The fajitas came with this giant plate of toppings as well as some tortilla shells. We never eat the tortilla shells when we order fajitas. 

This is our new go to Americanized Mexican food restaurant for an inexpensive meal. It is definitely kid friendly and quick. We will be back for sure.  

El Paso Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

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