Meat-eaters, stretch yourself

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

You’ve cooked a big pile of ground beef. Or a small mountain of chicken breasts. Or an entire pork butt (stop giggling; it’s the shoulder).

Now what?

It’s easy to fall into cooking habits. If you have cooked ground beef, you make spaghetti, or maybe tacos. If you have a chicken breast, you make a stir fry, or maybe tacos. If you have pulled pork, you make barbecue. Or maybe tacos.

But surely there is more to life than these old standbys, or whatever your standbys happen to be. Surely there are ways to enliven your dinner table, to awaken your senses and to rejuvenate your palate.

We set out to find four different ways to beef up ground beef, to add spice to chicken breasts and to give zest to pulled pork.

To be fair, one of the pork recipes is for tacos. But it has a cool twist.

In all cases, I started with meat that I had already cooked. Often, then, I made a sauce on the stove and, at the last minute, reheated the meat in the sauce.


For beef, I started with a fast and easy one, sloppy Joes. It’s a great favorite of childhood, but a lot of us (OK, me) have forgotten about it as adults. The version I made tastes as great as it is easy to make: It’s just the ground beef, ketchup, barbecue sauce and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

One small addition makes it stand out. I added a can of diced tomatoes, which gives the sloppy Joes an additional, bright flavor and a complementary texture.

Next, I made a dish I often make at home when I just want to throw together a quick meal. Because it is like a more elegant version of a sloppy Joe (well, they both have diced tomatoes), I decided to call it a Prim Joseph. Frankly, I am happier with the dish than I am with the name.

This dish begins with aromatics — onions and garlic — cooked in olive oil. I sprinkle on a little oregano, add a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes and, while it all simmers, the cooked ground beef. It goes wonderfully on rice.

Shepherd’s pie was almost inevitably going to be one of the dishes, because I am such a fan. Though it is traditionally made with ground lamb, you can also use ground beef. I mixed the beef with onions and some vegetables, and added thyme and red wine vinegar for an important acidic counterpoint.

The most notable part of shepherd’s pie is also the best. It is topped with a thick layer of mashed potatoes before being baked. For an extra boost of flavor, I melted cheddar cheese into my mashed potatoes before putting the whole dish in the oven.

My final ground-beef dish is based on one of those all-time great combinations. Few foods in this world are better than mushrooms and cream. I added a bit of beef broth to give it some depth and then, when it was all simmering nicely, stirred in the ground beef to reheat it.

It hadn’t occurred to me what I had actually made until the next day, even though I didn’t serve it on noodles. My name reflects what it truly is: Ground Beef Stroganoff.


For my first chicken recipe, I wanted to work with a fabulous sauce that pretty much defines Tunisian cooking. Harissa is a paste made from spices, red bell pepper and chiles. When made the traditional way, it can be obliteratingly hot.

I decided to tone down the amount of heat in two ways. I added less chile pepper than they use in North Africa (I used crushed red pepper and some paprika, including hot paprika), and I tempered the paste with plain yogurt.

The result is a creamy and tangy sauce for chicken that can still be hot if you want it, but which allows you to taste the rich, full flavor of the harissa.

The next chicken recipe is an old favorite from China. It briefly became popular in this country in the 1980s, but it has largely been forgotten since then.

Not by me. Cold noodles with chicken and peanuts has everything you could want in a noodle dish. It has an unexpected temperature (it’s chilled) and the surprisingly complex combination of peanut butter, peanut oil, soy sauce and vinegar. A sprinkling of chopped scallions is an absolute necessity, and chopped peanuts add a delightful crunch.

Chicken Caesar salads are ubiquitous these days, and chicken Caesar sandwiches are nearly as popular. And why not? The Caesar dressing is an irresistible addition to the chicken and lettuce, and even the bun.

I was going to make my own Caesar dressing for my sandwiches, but then I remembered I had a bottle of it in the fridge. If you use a store-bought dressing, nothing could be easier. It’s just chicken, dressing, lettuce and a bun.

My last chicken dish took more effort, but it is just as classic. Chicken and lemons go together like mushrooms and cream, especially when you throw a little garlic into the mix.

The version I made of chicken in lemon sauce throws in an extra flourish. You simply chop together parsley with lemon zest and use half of that mixture in the sauce. The other half gets sprinkled on top as it is served for added emphasis.


For my pork dishes, I began with the pulled pork tacos. But these tacos are different from all other tacos by the addition of avocado crema. That is, ripe avocado mashed up with sour cream.

It is a cool — if caloric — punctuation that brings out the best of the pork and the corn tortilla. It acts as a welcoming bed on which to add the cilantro and lime.

Next up was an easy dish. Pulled pork cornbread cups begin with a cornbread muffin. You could buy them at the store, but I made my own from a mix, which still felt a little bit like cheating.

Hollow out the middle of each one, stuff it with a smattering of pulled pork and top it with coleslaw. It couldn’t be easier. And someone has to eat those hollowed-out middles. It may as well be you.

For the next recipe, I thought to combine Chinese five-spice powder with pulled pork. The spice mix has a heady, almost exotic aroma that is a perfect match for the sweetness of the pork.

Shiitake mushrooms add an earthy umami kick, while a sprinkling of chopped scallions brings a lovely hint of sharpness to the sweet and mellow sauce.

Finally, I had to try a dish that caught my eye. It’s a grilled cheese sandwich with pulled pork inside, only the cheese isn’t regular cheese, it’s a beer cheese.

The beer cheese in this sandwich is a white cheddar cheese that is melted into a combination of beer and milk, thickened with a little roux. Pour that over pulled pork on butter-toasted bread, and you have a memorably spectacular sandwich.

It might just go into your meal rotation as often as tacos.



Five-Spice Pulled Pork

Yield: 4 servings

Note: Five-spice powder is available in the spice aisle at well-stocked grocery stores and international food stores.

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced ginger

Pinch red pepper flakes, optional

4 shiitake mushrooms (stems removed), sliced

1 teaspoon five-spice powder, see note

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 pound cooked pulled pork

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons water

Hot rice or cooked Chinese noodles

1 scallion, sliced

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok. Saute onion for 3 minutes, then add garlic, ginger, optional pepper flakes, sliced mushrooms and five-spice powder. Saute 1 to 2 minutes. Add broth, soy sauce and pork, and bring to a boil.

In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch and water until smooth. Add to skillet or wok and stir until thickened.

Serve over hot rice or Chinese noodles, with sliced scallions scattered on top.

Per serving: 436 calories; 20 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 92 mg cholesterol; 34 g protein; 27 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 1,091 g sodium; 42 mg calcium

Pulled Pork Tacos With Avocado Crema

Yield: 4 servings

1 avocado

1/2 cup sour cream

1 wedge of lime

Pinch of salt

1 pound cooked pulled pork

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

8 small corn tortillas

1/2 cup shredded red cabbage

1 cup salsa

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Cut the avocado in half. Mash 1 of the halves with the sour cream in a small bowl until completely smooth. Stir in the juice from the wedge of lime and the salt. Dice the remaining avocado half. Refrigerate mixture and diced avocado until ready to serve.

Heat together pork and barbecue sauce. Top each tortilla with a portion of the cabbage, 2 tablespoons of the pork, the avocado mixture, the salsa, diced avocado and cilantro. Serve with additional wedges of lime, if desired.

Per serving: 465 calories; 28 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 95 mg cholesterol; 30 g protein; 23 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 825 g sodium; 99 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by

Pulled Pork With Grilled Beer Cheese Sandwich

Yield: 4 sandwiches

3 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2/3 cup beer

1/3 cup milk

6 ounces grated white cheddar cheese

8 slices whole-grain bread

1 pound cooked pulled pork

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk for 1 to 2 minutes until golden. Add beer and milk, whisking well to combine. Reduce heat to low and add cheese, stirring until melted and smooth. Keep over low heat; stir occasionally while assembling sandwiches.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in another skillet and place 4 of the slices of bread on it (you might have to do this in batches). Portion out the pork equally over the slices and spoon cheese sauce over each one. Top with the remaining slices of bread. When the bottom slice is golden brown, flip and cook until the new bottom is golden brown and crispy.

Per serving: 622 calories; 38 g fat; 20 g saturated fat; 138 mg cholesterol; 41 g protein; 28 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 851 g sodium; 433 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by

Pulled Pork Cornbread Cups

Yield: 6 servings

12 cornbread muffins

2 cups cooked pulled pork

1 cup coleslaw

Scoop out the inside of each cornbread muffin to form a cup. Fill with pulled pork. Top with coleslaw.

Per serving: 490 calories; 20 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 49 mg cholesterol; 22 g protein; 57 g carbohydrate; 19 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 939 g sodium; 65 mg calcium

Recipe from

Shepherd’s Pie

Yield: 8 servings

Note: This dish may be made ahead before baking. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours and bake for 40 minutes or until thoroughly heated, shielding with aluminum foil after 25 minutes to prevent burning.

3 large potatoes, preferably Yukon gold

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup milk

4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup chopped onion

4 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup beef broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 (141/2-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 pound cooked ground beef

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 3-quart baking dish or pan.

Make the mashed potatoes: Boil the potatoes in water until they offer no resistance to a fork or knife. Drain water. Add butter, milk and cheese. Mash together until smooth. Add salt to taste.

While potatoes are boiling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion, mushrooms and garlic until soft. Add peas, broth, salt, thyme and pepper, and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and vinegar, breaking up any large tomato pieces with a spoon. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in ground beef.

Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan. Top with mashed potatoes. Bake 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 347 calories; 15 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 53 mg cholesterol; 19 g protein; 35 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 591 g sodium; 194 mg calcium

Adapted from

Ground Beef Stroganoff

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon butter

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

Salt and pepper

1 cup cream

1/2 cup beef broth

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 pound cooked ground beef

Melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper, and cook until mushroom slices shrink noticeably, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream and broth and simmer for 3 minutes more (do not allow to boil). Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and there is no more raw flour flavor, about 3 minutes. Stir in ground beef and cook until meat is reheated, about 1 minute.

Per serving: 434 calories; 37 g fat; 20 g saturated fat; 152 mg cholesterol; 21 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 439 g sodium; 63 mg calcium

Prim Joseph

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

4 ounces sliced mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 cup red wine

1 (141/2-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1 pound cooked ground beef

4 cups cooked rice

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, mushrooms and garlic, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.

Stir in tomatoes and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes to let the flavors merge. Stir in the ground beef and cook until the meat is reheated, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and serve over hot cooked rice.

Per serving: 467 calories; 22 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 63 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 52 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 741 g sodium; 81 mg calcium

Easy Sloppy Joes

Yield: 6 servings

1 (141/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

11/4 cups ketchup

1/2 cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 pound cooked ground beef

6 hamburger buns

In a large pan, bring tomatoes, ketchup, barbecue sauce and Worcestershire sauce to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes, or until thickened. Add beef and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve on hamburger buns.

Per serving: 326 calories; 10 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 42 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 43 g carbohydrate; 22 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,155 g sodium; 116 mg calcium

Recipe by Richard Coleman via Southern Living

Cold Noodles With Chicken And Peanuts

Yield: 4 servings

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons peanut butter or sesame-seed paste (such as tahini)

3 tablespoons peanut oil

3 tablespoons red rice vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

3 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted (dark) sesame oil

1 pound fresh egg noodles or 8-ounce package dried Chinese noodles, cooked and chilled 2 hours

1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded or diced

1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/4 cup chopped green onions or chives

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the water, peanut butter, peanut oil, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.

Place the chilled noodles on a serving dish and top with chicken, peanuts, sesame seeds and green onions. Drizzle dressing over the top and serve.

Per serving: 578 calories; 32 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 72 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 51 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 608 g sodium; 52 mg calcium

Recipe adapted from “Regional Cooking of China,” by Maggie Gin

Chicken Caesar Salad Sandwich

Yield: 4 servings

2 cooked chicken breasts

4 hamburger buns

1 cup lettuce, divided

2 tablespoons Caesar salad dressing, divided

Cut chicken breasts in half. Place one half on bottom of each bun. Top with lettuce and 1/2 tablespoon of dressing.

Per serving: 210 calories; 7 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 45 mg cholesterol; 17 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 481 g sodium; 73 mg calcium

Chicken With Yogurt-Harissa Sauce

Yield: 6 servings

1 red bell pepper

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

2 tablespoons sweet or hot paprika, or a combination

11/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, or more or less to taste

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 cloves garlic, mashed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

3 cooked chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place red pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook until soft, charred and deflated, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place in a closed paper bag or wrap with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes. Peel off the skin, remove the stem and the seeds. Set aside.

Place a small pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds. Stir or shake the seeds frequently until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place seeds in a small food processor or mortar. Add paprika, crushed red pepper and salt, and grind into a powder.

Place spice powder in a food processor or blender. Add the roasted red pepper, garlic and olive oil. Process until smooth.

Mix harissa with yogurt (if not using the entire amount, mix 3 tablespoons of yogurt with 11/2 tablespoons of harissa per serving). Serve with reheated chicken. If any harissa is left over, store in a small container with a layer of olive oil on top to avoid spoilage. Harissa can be kept for 3 to 6 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.

Per serving: 157 calories; 8 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 48 mg cholesterol; 15 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; no sugar; 2 g fiber; 238 g sodium; 79 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by the Food Network

Chicken In Lemon Sauce

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves

3 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided

2 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 / 4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)

2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced

1. Chop the parsley and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest together until finely minced and well-combined. Set aside.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds. Sprinkle with flour and stir constantly until flour is lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. While stirring, slowly add the broth and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of the lemon zest, 1 / 2 of the zest-parsley mixture and the chicken. Cook until the chicken is reheated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.

4. To serve, sprinkle with the remaining zest-parsley mixture.

Per serving (based on 2): 277 calories; 15 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 114 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; no fiber; 858 g sodium; 26 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by