By JeanMarie Brownson


Chicago Tribune


(TNS) — Munchies, snacks, treats, whatever you call them, have them ready. For my late-night cravings, I stock a kitchen drawer with dark chocolate bars, spicy jerky, peanut butter protein bars and individual packets of spice cookies and nuts.


Better yet are the containers of spicy marinated cheese cubes and pickled eggs in the refrigerator. High in protein, these bold snacks satisfy without an excess of guilt and regret.


I feel young again when we pull up to the late-night taqueria after seeing a concert or comedy show. It’s fun to enjoy rich, greasy tacos and endless baskets of tortilla chips with mind-numbing hot salsa. I always over-order, over-garnish and then spill on my clothes.


Better to have made the recipe here for short-rib taco soup instead. You’ll impress friends who join in on a bowl. No matter the hour, a quick reheat and a few easy garnishes more than satisfies any craving.


Taco soup — what a concept. I first heard of it at a diner in the South. Turns out, the internet offers up dozens of recipes. For good reason. This bowl of soup sports all the luscious flavors of beefy tacos, but can be made ahead and eaten out of a bowl. I use a combination of beef short ribs and meaty-tasting flank or skirt steak for the deepest possible flavor. Pulling the cooked meat into large shreds proves reminiscent of carne asada tacos.


Set out garnishes like you would see at a taqueria: Bowls of crunchy tortilla chips, minced green chile, diced white onion with cilantro, cubes of avocado and tomato. Shredded cheese boosts richness. Tangy hot sauce and squeezes of fresh lime add spice and a bright finish.


I love to set out guacamole tacos while the soup reheats. Simply crush ripe avocado pulp with salt and hot sauce, then sandwich a spoonful in small flour tortillas (heated directly over the flame).


Admittedly, satisfying every craving proves detrimental to the waistline, but giving in once in a while keeps life enjoyable. The trick is to plan ahead for last-minute munchies — both in caloric intake and supply.


SLOW COOKER SHORT-RIB TACO SOUP


Prep: 30 minutes


Cook: 6 hours


Makes: about 12 cups, 12 servings


I like to use a sauce-based taco seasoning made from tomatoes and onions rather than powdered seasoning. If taco sauce pouches are not available, substitute the dried seasoning pack (1 ounce) along with an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce.


1/4 cup flour


1 teaspoon salt


1/2 teaspoon black pepper


2 1/2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs


1/2 to 3/4 pound flank steak or skirt steak, cut into 3 pieces


2 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil or safflower oil


1 large poblano pepper, cored, seeded, diced


1 large yellow onion, quartered, thinly sliced


3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced


1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice


1 pouch (8 ounces) ground beef taco seasoning sauce


1 can (15 ounces) black beans, undrained


Garnishes:


Crumbled seasoned tortilla chips


Shredded cheese such as Monterey jack, Chihuahua or brick


Diced ripe avocado


Diced canned or fresh tomatoes


Chopped fresh cilantro


Green hot sauce


Lime wedges


1. Mix flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add short ribs; toss to coat. Add flank steak; toss to coat.


2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet with deep sides over medium heat until hot. Add meat in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer meat to a 4- or 6-quart slow cooker. Repeat to brown all meat.


3. Add poblano and onion to pan drippings in skillet. Cook and stir until onion is golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 1 minute. Scrape into slow cooker. Add tomatoes, taco seasoning sauce and 3 to 4 cups water. (Meat should be barely covered with liquid.)


4. Cook covered on low setting, 6 hours. Add black beans in the last hour or so. Use tongs to remove meat from slow cooker to a cutting board. Discard bones from the short ribs. Use two large forks to pull meat into shreds.


5. Return shredded meat to slow cooker. Taste and adjust seasonings. (If desired, refrigerate covered for several days. Scrape off and discard solidified fat from surface of soup before reheating. After reheating, adjust consistency with water and then adjust seasonings with salt.)


6. Serve in wide soup bowls topped with garnishes as desired. Pass hot sauce and lime wedges for guests to add to taste.


Dutch oven method: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat as directed in Step 2 in the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Then remove browned meat to proceed with step 3. Return meat to Dutch oven and add remaining ingredients as directed in step 3, but increasing water to 4 or 5 cups. Bake, tightly covered, stirring once or twice, until meat is fall-apart tender, about 2 hours. Add black beans. Proceed with steps 5 and 6 to serve.


Nutrition information per serving: 180 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 34 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 14 g protein, 562 mg sodium, 2 g fiber


PIRI PIRI CHEESE CUBES WITH KALAMATAS AND TOASTED PISTACHIOS


Prep: 10 minutes


Makes: 6 to 8 appetizer servings


Buying diced cheese makes this a very quick recipe to pull together


1/3 cup piri piri hot sauce, or other thick red (not too sweet) hot sauce


2 tablespoons olive oil


1 pound assorted cheese, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss, cut into -inch cubes


1 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained


1/2 cup roasted, salted shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped


1. Mix hot sauce and oil in bottom of a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Add cheese cubes and olives; toss gently to coat. Refrigerate covered 1 hour or up to several days.


2. Serve at room temperature sprinkled with the nuts. Pass wooden picks.


Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings): 317 calories, 27 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 51 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 16 g protein, 787 mg sodium, 1 g fiber


PRETTY-IN-PINK PICKLED EGGS


Prep: 20 minutes


Cook: 10 minutes


Makes: 6 appetizer servings


I pack the eggs and beets into jars for easy late-night snacking at the fridge. Please use a fork.


6 large eggs


1 package (8 ounces) refrigerated, fully-cooked beets


1/3 cup pickle juice


1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence or 1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, dried leaf thyme, tarragon, dried lavender (optional)


Couple of pinches coarse salt


1. To hard-cook eggs, put large eggs into a deep saucepan in a single layer. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Put the pan over medium-high heat. Heat to a boil staying close to the stove to notice when the water comes to a boil. Count 60 seconds then turn off the heat. Set a timer for 14 minutes and let stand. Carefully tip the hot water out of the pan; add cold water to the pan and a couple of handfuls of ice cubes. Let stand until the eggs are cool.


2. To peel the eggs, pour off all the water from the pan. Shake the eggs in the pan against the sides of the pan to break the shells into little pieces. Add cold water to the pan then tip off the water. The shells will come off easily under a stream of running water. Rinse the eggs of any bits of shell. Put into a container and refrigerate covered up to several days.


3. Drain juice from packaged beets into a bowl. Stir in pickle juice, vinegar, herbs and salt. Add eggs and turn to coat them in the juices. Cut the beets into quarters and add to the bowl. Refrigerated covered at least 1 hour or up to several days.


Nutrition information per serving: 89 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 185 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein, 313 mg sodium, 0 g fiber