Category Archives: Dinner

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Rosemary Browned Butter

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Ah, Valentines’s Day. Loved my many, loathed by many. It’s a spark of love in the middle of an otherwise dark and dreary month. Whether you spend it with your love, in the presence of those you love, a handful of giggling girlfriends, or with your lovely self, it’s a day to express those glittery, pink and red feelings.

And so I bring you these festive little ravioli. Tasty little morsels in a sweet little package that just shouts Valentine’s. If you have a small heart shaped cookie cutter here’s a place to use it, if not don’t fret, ravioli are perfect in any shape they come in. No fancy tools required here.

They don’t have to be hard, either. That’s right, you out there, the one who’s thinking I must be completely nuts for thinking anyone with a job is going to make ravioli on a weeknight. I may be nuts but you can truly do this on a weeknight. The secret? Wonton or gyoza wrappers. Available in your grocer’s refrigerated aisle (in mine, near the tofu products), they make quick work of these. You can use gyoza wrappers (which are a bit smaller but you can still use a cute cutter), round gyoza wrappers, or the larger egg roll wrappers if you’d like to cut out larger shapes. They work just like fresh pasta sheets (and in fact ARE fresh pasta sheets), and take all of the work out of making pasta.

Fresh Pasta

In fact I did make my pasta for these ravs, but up until I got a pasta rolling machine I didn’t bother to try. You just can’t get the same silky, soft, and evenly thin results with your dough if you use a rolling pin. I’ve made many ravioli with fillings as wide as my dreams with gyoza wrappers, and very few were any the wiser. For purposes of this application, go grab your gyoza wrappers and your Valentine and get to work.

Cooking together is fun and can be very sexy. The tactile work of assembling something like this, getting your hands in it and building your filling, using your damp fingers to brush water around the edges of your pasta to seal it, feeling the filled nubs to make sure there aren’t any air pockets that will burst the packets in the boiling process, it’s all very sensual. And knowing, when you sit down together for dinner, that you made this little treat with each other and your own two hands, is a sexy thing.

For those who don’t cook, this is something so simple that you can do on your own that will impress the pants off of your Valentine. (Pun intended)

A few of these tasty ravioli with a quick browned butter drizzle, a light salad with quick vinaigrette (which I’ll give you another day this week), and a nice loaf of crusty bread and even dessert from your favorite local bakery(ies), and you have a great dinner for two or more. This recipe makes a bunch of pasta, and they freeze beautifully for later use.

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravoili
Makes lots, be prepared to freeze

1 package of gyoza wrappers (round or square, your choice)
1 large red beet (skip the nasty canned ones)
Zest of half of a lemon, about 1/4 teaspoon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 4 0z. log of goat cheese (don’t like goat cheese? Use half of a brick of cream cheese, or about a half cup of good ricotta)

You’ll also need:
A small bowl of water, for sealing
Flour for dusting your work surface
A sheet pan to rest your finished pasta on
A 2″ heart shaped cookie cutter, optional

Preheat your oven to 400*F. Wash and dry your beet, wrap it in foil, and place it in the oven. Cook until a knife slipped into the side of the package (no need to unwrap, just stab it) slides in easily, about an hour. Remove beet to counter and gently unwrap, allow to cool, Can be done a couple of days ahead, cool beet completely and refrigerate.

When cool enough to handle, put on a pair of disposable gloves or a couple of plastic bags on your hands and peel the beet – the skin should slip right off. Discard the skin and using a box grater, grate the beet into a bowl. You’re gloving up because otherwise you’ll have purple hands forever. ūüôā Sprinkle the lemon zest over and combine, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

In another bowl, crumble up the goat cheese log so it’s easier to handle. Fill a small bowl with water and get your flour out. Sprinkle a light dusting of flour on your cookie sheet and your work surface, I use a cutting board and usually a piece or two of wax paper for easier clean up – I forgot the wax paper this time around.

Lay out a few of your gyoza wrappers, 6-8, and keep the rest in the package or between the layers of a damp paper towel. Pasta sheets dry out quickly and become difficult to work with. Now, you have a decision to make: large or small ravioli? Large ones will have the filling in the center and another sheet of pasta placed on top of the filling, small will have the filling placed just off-center and be folded over to create the ravioli. Choice is yours, you can flip for it.

if you decide to make hearts, cut out your shapes and toss the scraps, you’re going to be making larger ravioli. I used a 2″ cutter for my hearts

Beet and goat cheese ravs

Now. If you’re making large ravioli, put a scant half teaspoon of beet and scant half teaspoon of goat cheese in the middle of the pasta. Dip a finger in the water bowl, run your finger around the edge of the pasta sheet, and lay another on top of the filling. Seal the pasta around the edges, trying to get as much air out of the pocket as possible. It takes a couple of tries to get the feel for it, and even the pros have a few that get air in them and burst when boiled. Don’t stress about it.

Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli

If you’re making small, fold over ravioli, place a scant quarter teaspoon of beet and goat cheese, respectively, just off-center of the pasta sheet. Using your finger, dampen¬†half of the pasta, fold over and try to get as much air out as possible. Set the pasta on the prepared baking sheet as you finish them. Repeat with remaining filling and sheets until finished.

Pasta may be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for two days, or frozen for a month. Freeze the pasta on the sheet pan, and when solid transfer to a freezer bag.

Freezing Ravioli

To cook, bring a pot of salted water just to a boil. Slip the ravioli in gently (if frozen no need to defrost, just add 3-4 minutes of cooking time) and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain and serve in large flat bowls with a drizzle of Rosemary Browned Butter.

Rosemary Browned Butter
Serves 2, can be doubled infinitely

4 T. butter
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
2 t. grated grana padano or parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides and butter begins to turn brown. Stir in sage and cook, stirring, until sage is crisp and butter is golden brown. Drizzle over ravioli, dust each plate with 1 t. of grated cheese, and serve.

Smoky Sweet Chipotle Shredded Beef

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Over wine with a friend earlier this week, it was noticed and noted that I’ve been blogging in spurts when I blog at all. I try to live my life in a way that I don’t have to apologize, but I really am sorry I don’t make it around more often. I have a handful of posts drafted but haven’t taken pictures of the food, or I’ve taken pictures of the food and haven’t drafted recipes. Or, like this post, I didn’t make up the recipe at all, I once again tinkered with someone else’s. I’ve been reading and cooking a lot from other peoples places, and I feel like I’m just repeating their efforts (which makes me feel bad). But this one, well, I have to share. It was too damn good NOT to share.

So first, go visit this website. Andie’s blog is chock full of tasty goodness, and her writing is so honest and candid, I assure you, you will be hooked as fast as I was. She’s an inspiration, and her love of food is something to be reckoned with.

Second, make this shredded beef. I made it for Superbowl and we were going to make nachos out of it, but I lost steam and didn’t want to dirty another pan (and we were out of foil, so there went that idea), so we made tacos soft tacos with the sultry, silky shreds of beef. It made me feel a bit better that we sat around in our pajamas all day and didn’t have or attend a party. In fact, it made me a little glad that we didn’t do either – because we had enough meat left over for dinner another night and it was even better.

Andie’s recipe called for chicken which I’m planning to make soon, but I had a vision of shredded beef which was fueled by my visit to the clearance section of the meat counter at the store, which my dad affectionately refers to as the ‘used meat’ section. I had two pounds of boneless beef short ribs that needed to be used or frozen – and here’s what they became.

Shredded Beef Tacos

 

I actually like the picture below better because it’s prettier with the cilantro, but you couldn’t see the beef, so you get two pictures today.

 

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In making this beef I have found my One True Love of shredded beef Р replacing my other recipe, possibly for good. Try it out and see what you think. And take my advice, it tastes even better when eaten in your pajamas.

Smoky Sweet Chipotle Shredded Beef (In Taco Format)

1 T. canola oil
2 lbs. boneless beef short ribs
1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo
1 t. sauce from the chile can
1/2 of a yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 T. brown sugar
1/4 t. liquid smoke
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves
3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper

Optional, for serving:
Corn Tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded red cabbage
Lime wedges

Grab your crockpot (should be a 4-6 qt. crock) and get it ready for game time. In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until glistening. Lightly salt and pepper the ribs on all sides, and brown all sides, removing to the crockpot when they are caramelized to your liking.

In a food processor or blender, add all ingredients from tomatoes to Worcestershire, and blend until smooth. Pour contents of blender/processor over meat in crockpot, apply lid and cook at low heat for 8 hours. Shred meat with two forks and serve on corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, shredded cheese, lime wedges and cilantro leaves.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Like many that love to cook, I have a vast array of cook books. It’s an incomplete collection, constantly growing and evolving. Some of my favorites have been bestowed upon me by my mom, who also has a vast collection of cookbooks and recipes.

A couple of ¬†birthdays ago Mom gave me a couple of great cookbooks that she found at a local home collective, one of those being The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I flicked through it a few times and dog eared some pages for future reference, but didn’t do a whole lot other than make some killer fried rice. Well, a few weeks ago I was paging through it while exploring the idea of an internet-search-free month of cooking (which I think I’m going to do, should be fun!). I un-dog eared a few pages and turned down a few different ones for things that are our ‘restaurant favorites’, now that we don’t have a Chinese resto within 15 miles of home (what the what? how’s a girl supposed to get a fix?!). We have a good one two towns south of here, but unless I’m already there I probably won’t make a special trip too often.

With the sadness of my dearly departed greasy Chinese joints (I used to live across the street from one of them and have fond memories of takeout and Sapporos and Sex and the City with a pal of mine), I decided to deploy some of the stuff I found in this book. The techniques that I learned in it made for superb fried rice, so what the hell, said I, let’s try some more.

One thing I love at most Chinese joints is really good Sweet and Sour Chicken. The bad stuff is¬†bad to say the least, all that Red No. 5 and MSG and the 5 lbs of sugar and all. But when it’s done well, and is actually sweet AND sour it’s so, so good.

Granted, there’s still sugar in the sauce recipe but you can sub for honey if you have some, or brown sugar which is really tasty too. And spread out between 4 servings, it’s not that much sugar per capita. ¬†The ingredients couldn’t be simpler and for me are things I always have on hand, so a batch of the sauce + whatever vegetables are in the crisper + a boneless skinless chicken breast + a pot of rice = dinner for 4 in less than no time. Less than the time it takes to order and pick up/have delivered your takeaway of choice. And I know there are a lot of recipes that claim this status, but this one means it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 4 as a single main, 6 if you throw in some frozen egg rolls or pot stickers, and makes great leftovers.

First, start a pot of rice, make a cup and a half (dry), using your favorite method. I like white rice with my Chinese food, and make mine on the stove top in a 2:1 water to rice ratio for 20 minutes, and this whole recipe comes together for me in about that time. But use your rice cooker, or boil and rinse method, whatever method you prefer. Start it early unless you’re using parboiled rice.

Sweet and Sour Sauce, adapted from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook

3/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar, honey, or brown sugar
1/2 c. rice wine vinegar (or regular distilled white or apple cider, whatever you have)
1 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch
3 T. water

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add in vinegar and sweetener of choice, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir together soy, cornstarch and remaining 3 T. water and add to vinegar mixture, stir until thickened. Set aside.

Chicken and Veggies

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces, AND/OR
1 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces,
1/2 yellow onion, cut down the poles (top to root end), cut into thin half moon slices
1 1/2 c. pineapple chunks, preferably fresh but drained, canned chunks will work too
4 green onions, sliced into 1″ pieces
Canola oil, for frying (don’t use olive oil here, it doesn’t have a high enough smoke point and tastes icky when it gets this hot)

Cut up all vegetables and chicken and set aside. Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan over high heat until SMOKING HOT. Add in 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil, swirl around the pan, and add in the chicken. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes, letting the outside of the chicken brown a bit and get crispy, and remove from pan. Add another teaspoon of oil, add in onions and stir fry for a minutes. Add in bell pepper of choice and pineapple, and stir fry for two minutes or until all vegetables/fruits are starting to char. Throw the chicken back in the pan, pour sauce over, add green onions and cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

For the Love of Leftovers

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I read a book last week called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. If you haven’t read this book, run out and get it, it’s a game-changer. I’ve always considered myself to be a ¬†thrifty and frugal cook, but this book brought me up to a whole new level. I mean, I make chicken stock from my clean-picked birds, but hadn’t thought about saving the skins and ends from onions, scraps and tops of carrots and ends and tops of celery to make my stock with, I always start with whole vegetables that I go out and buy. I’m familiar with the adage Waste Not Want Not, but this,¬†this¬†was different. Her creative use of what’s left and what most people think of as trash is outrageously amazing. We’re talking about saving artichoke cooking water to be the basis of soup, here. Stuff like this was head-slapping realization for me. Why not? As such, I’m rereading the book this week, a bit more slowly, and taking notes. In a time when we should all be a bit more cautious with our spending, I urge you to read her book.

And beyond her uses of these cast-away items, her description of food, how it should taste, her use of salt, her use of olive oil, her encouragement of nibbling and savoring, was, in a word, beautiful. It spoke to my food obsessed soul. Yes.

In reading this book, it’s changed my view of leftovers yet again. I’m pretty good about not throwing away food, but will admit my guilt about the things that compost in the vegetable bins (whoever named them the Crisper Drawers was either a liar or horribly misinformed). Now, though, with some of the new things I learned in this book, I’m armed with some new game plans for lifeless lettuce and dying cucumbers. Not that dinner last night contained either of these things. It did make use of some rather morose looking bell peppers, though.

The weather took a turn toward cooler this week, which I’ll be honest with you is¬†fine by me.¬†After last week’s 100+ degree blitz for more than a couple of days, I’ll take some overcast drizzly mornings, 70 degree afternoons, and cool evenings. Last night I almost wanted to put another blanket on the bed, it was so chilly! (Un)Luckily for me, the cat decided he needed to sleep on top of my feet all night long (no matter where I put them), so I had toasty toes without getting out a blanket. He’s such a needy little beast sometimes.

And with the turn in the weather, my appetite took a turn toward comfort. Last week I could hardly bear to turn on the stove, this week I made Chicken and Rice Soup for dinner on Monday. My mom thought I was crazy but it just sounded so good. I got myself a double-coupon deep discount organic chicken on Saturday (that cost me less than $5 for a 6.5 pound bird), and though I didn’t need one I couldn’t pass up the price. A whole chicken is a poor housewife’s savior if she’s a crafty girl, and can be made into not just one but upward of 4 dinners. Warm chicken bistro salads one¬†night, another night he was Chicken and Rice Soup, last night he was pasta, and today he’ll be chicken stock to re-up my freezer coffers.¬†Chicken stock¬†means polenta, quick soup, and risotto base. I blast through a ton of it any given week and making it is a skill that I’m happy to have.

For those of you freaking out that it’s Friday and that chicken was just used up last night, well, calm down. The mystical powers of refrigeration and high heat made it perfectly safe to eat. I assure you.

And oh, that pasta. Sometimes a girl has to dispatch with the healthy and just have creamy pasta for dinner. On the whole the husband and I eat pretty healthy, but you have to give in every now and again. This pasta jogs somewhere in between. And for those of you who don’t think they like leftovers, I promise you, this pasta will change your tune. You see, the thing about leftovers is that they just need a little finesse to turn them into something else. This isn’t Saturday’s Chicken, this is Thursday’s Pasta.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Serves 8 (easily divides in half)

1 lb. short pasta (penne, spirals, something that will hold the sauce in. I used gluten free brown rice penne.)
3 strips of thick cut bacon
1 t. butter
2 c. chopped bell pepper, whatever colors your family likes (no bell pepper? Use whatever is about to die in your ‘crisper’ drawer)
1 c. chopped onion
3 c. cooked, shredded chicken (we used white and dark meat, the choice is yours)
¬Ĺ¬†c. low fat buttermilk
¬Ĺ¬†c. sour cream or mayonnaise (use light or fat free if you‚Äôd like, I used good ol’ full fat mayonnaise because it’s what I had)
¬Ĺ t. dry mustard
¬Ĺ t. dried oregano
¬Ĺ t. dried basil
¬ĺ t. dried dill
¬ľ t. salt
¬ľ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese
¬Ĺ¬†c. minced green onions
¬Ĺ c. bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk through minced garlic, mixing well to combine, and set aside. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400*F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until very crisp, drain and crumble into bits. Drain all but 1 t. of the bacon drippings, add in butter. Sautee’ peppers and onions in skillet over medium heat until cooked and onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add in chicken and warm through.

Add pasta, chicken mixture, and bacon to the buttermilk mixture, stir together well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour all in to a 13×9‚ÄĚ oven safe baking dish (if you’re halving the recipe, put it in your favorite 2 quart baking dish). Top with cheese, green onions, and bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 400*F for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through. To crisp breadcrumbs, run the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, if desired.

Twofer Two: Pork Fried Rice

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The second meal I made from that pork tenderloin and rice that we had on Sunday was Pork Fried Rice. Fried rice was a staple in my house, alongside egg burritos, when I was a poor hotel front desk employee. I made many meals for myself and friends out of a handful of this-and-that tossed in a pan.

Get crazy with your chopped vegetables. This dinner is a good Veg Drawer Cleaner Outer, use up that last sad stalk of celery, that wedge of bell pepper, hell you can even throw in lettuce if you’re not averse to warm greens. Seriously, use whatever here.

Fried rice will literally cook in less than 7 minutes, so make sure your ingredients are measured and your food is all chopped up before you turn your pan on. The most cumbersome part of making something like this is dicing up all of the components, making this is a good task to share with a spouse or kitchen partner.

Pork Fried Rice
Makes enough for 4-6 servings

1 cup (more or less) leftover pork tenderloin
1 1/2 cups diced vegetables (I almost always use napa cabbage, and whatever else is in the fridge: bell peppers, scallions, carrot, zucchini)
1/2 thinly sliced onion
3 eggs, cracked into a cup and gently beaten
4 cups cold cooked rice (we used brown, but white will work too)
Leftover sauce from Pork Tenderloin
-OR-
A mixture of 3 T. Soy Sauce or Tamari, 1 T. sherry, and 1/2 t. sugar or honey
4-5 T. canola oil (don’t use olive oil here, you want something with a higher smoke point)

Chop up and measure out all ingredients before heating your pan, as cooking goes QUICK. Break up any chunks in your refrigerated rice with tongs or a wooden spoon.

Get out your biggest, baddest, heaviest cast iron or non-stick skillet (I use my 12″ calphalon here and it’s BARELY big enough, you really want to be able to toss your food around). Heat your pan over high heat for a minute or two, and pour in a tablespoon-ish of oil. Swirl it around the pan and let it heat until shimmering and lightly smoking. Turn on your exhaust fan and prepare for battle.

Add onion to the pan and fry quickly (literally about a minute) until starting to char. Add in your mixed vegetable medley and fry for a couple minutes until also charring. Remove all vegetables from pan to a large heat-proof bowl.

Add more oil to the pan (2-3 tablespoons). When smokin’ hot, ¬†dump the rice into the pan and quickly fry, turning with a folding motion to get all of the rice in contact with the pan bottom and rotating it around. It takes a couple of minutes, don’t rush it.

Pour the beaten eggs over the hot rice and fold in gently (I like getting egg chunks in my rice, stir more vigorously to break them down if you want) until egg is barely cooked. Pour the leftover pork sauce or soy sauce mixture over the rice and egg and stir to mix.

Add vegetable/onion medley back to the pan and quickly toss to reheat all of it.

Serve in bowls with additional soy sauce, chili oil and/or sesame oil on the side.

Waffling

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We were given a waffle iron as a wedding gift that hasn’t seen many daylight hours, to our dismay. Not that we aren’t waffle people, but our old kitchen was so cramped, had so little counter space, and such an INCREDIBLE LACK of outlets (literally, one in the whole kitchen other than what the fridge and the oven were plugged in to) that it just didn’t come out a whole lot. A waffle iron is one of those appliances that you either use every weekend like clockwork or once in a blue moon when the mood strikes and you have house guests and buttermilk laying around. I also have yet to find a couples-friendly waffle recipe that only makes 2 or 3 of them. Why must all recipes make enough waffles for an entire classroom?

I have the tendency to sit down and have a drink with a good friend of ours and talk food. All things food. He and I talk about flavors and combinations of textures and cooking styles, each creation better than the next. And of course this always happens when we’re out camping, or at the pub, or somewhere that making these dreams come true isn’t going to happen. And far be it from either of us to write down these food-soaked dreams. We’ve had a couple of conversations about non-traditional waffles that leave us (and anyone in ear shot) salivating but have yet to make any of them come true. Until tonight.

I was inspired by this recipe but out of pure want for a healthier waffle, I smashed together this recipe and this recipe and topped the whole thing with a fried egg to make what I present to you below. We made these guys for dinner, but they would be equally appropriate and tasty for brunch or lunch as well. And all the while, I was dreaming of yet another waffle dinner that is going to make an appearance someday very, very soon.

Ham and Cheddar Waffles with Eggs

Made 7 in my waffle iron (will depend on the size of your waffler)

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or your favorite GF flour mix)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. sliced green onions
3 T. shredded fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2 oz. thinly sliced ham, minced

Stir together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together egg and next 3 ingredients; add to cornmeal mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Add in cheddar cheese, green onions, basil and corn. Preheat your waffle iron, and preheat your oven to 275*F (to hold the waffles at temp).

If your waffle iron tends to stick, give it a pre-spray of olive oil or canola oil cooking spray. Pour appropriate amount of batter in to your preheated waffle iron (usually 1/2 to 3/4 c. per waffle), sprinkle on a scant 2 T. of ham bits. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until your waffle iron tells you it’s done (mine is dummy-proof and beeps at me when the waffle is finished). Transfer to a foil- or silpat-lined baking sheet in the oven.

In your favorite skillet, fry 1-2 eggs per person until desired doneness (I like mine over easy, Nick likes his closer to over medium). Place a waffle on a plate, top with egg(s), and finish with hot sauce, maple syrup, honey and/or sour cream and a crack of black pepper. Devour with reckless abandon.

Twofer: Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloin

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It can be cumbersome coming up with a dinner idea some nights. I have a handful of ‘standards’ that I can whip up in a moment’s notice but there are evenings when even that fails me because I just don’t want to eat it. It’s hard for me to put my heart into something that I know I don’t want to eat, even if it is one of my favorites. These uninspired nights generally end up being bacon and egg nights, or even (eeek) ramen and toast nights. Don’t judge.¬†Having the foresight to think up two dinners and only have to do the real cooking once is a life-saver. Most of those types of dinners around our house come from the Sunday Night Chicken Roast, but who’s roasting a bird when it’s a million degrees outside? Certainly not I, even with air conditioning. And to be honest, I’m kind of chickened out these days, we eat a lot of it.

Pork tenderloins aren’t something that make regular appearances at our house. The only pork persuasion ¬†items that I generally buy with any sort of frequency are bacon and Italian sausage, and the occasional pork shoulder for a dinner party or carnitas. Sometimes I’ll buy a ham when they’re on sale around the holidays that warrant their immediate consumption. I sometimes get some fat¬†pork chops when I’m blue and need gravy. I grabbed a couple tenderloins and froze them last week but only because they were fire-sale priced and really make for a fast dinner, as they cook in no time flat.

I managed to come up with a new twofer this week, which I’m a bit proud of. Night 1 was this Honey-Gingered pork tenderloin, with brown rice and foil-roasted green beans. ¬†To make this a twofer, save about 1/4 of the pork tenderloin, and make double the amount of rice that you will need for dinner and save it for Night 2 Pork Fried Rice later in the week when you don’t feel like thinking up dinner (recipe to follow later this week).

I only made one pork tenderloin and used the entire amount of marinade. If you’re making two tenderloins like the recipe calls for, double the marinade so you have enough to boil down for sauce for dinner later in the week. The marinade was probably one of the best I’ve ever had, I didn’t even get to marinate it the entire time, either. I can only imagine how good it would have been if I pulled my life together and made it the night before like the recipe said!¬†Also, for those who don’t eat pork, this would be amazing with turkey ‘tenderloins’, turkey breast or chicken breast.

Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloins
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

Two 3/4-pound pork tenderloins (I only used one)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari)
1/4 cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pat pork dry and arrange in a shallow dish. In a bowl whisk together all remaining ingredients and pour marinade over pork. Turn pork to coat well. Chill pork, covered, turning it once or twice, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

Prepare grill.

Remove pork from marinade, reserving marinade, and arrange on a lightly oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals (or over medium high heat on a gas grill). Grill pork, basting with reserved marinade and turning it every 5 minutes, 15 minutes total. Continue to cook pork, turning it every 5 minutes, until a thermometer diagonally inserted 2 inches into center of tenderloin registers 155¬įF., about 10 minutes more. Let pork stand 5 minutes before thinly slicing.

For Sauce: Save the left over marinade! Pour into a saucepan, add 1/2 c. water, bring up to a boil and reduce the whole mixture by half. Drizzle a little over the sliced pork for tonight’s dinner, and save the rest for dinner later in the week.

Next up: Pork Fried Rice

Putting it together

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I was on my feet all day working a wine event and realized I didn’t have a dinner plan. The horror. Being food obsessed, this isn’t something that gets past me very often. I make my meal plans for at least 4-5 days at a span so I always have something yummy in the wings waiting to be prepared. That day, though, my mind was melting in the heat and my best-laid plans were all but gone. This, roughly translated, means that nothing that I had on my plan sounded good.

When I hopped in my car at the end of the day and tried to put something together that wasn’t a vat of frozen yogurt consumed in an ice cold shower. Something that didn’t require standing up too long since my dogs were barking, and something that was tasty and cool and refreshing, that didn’t require an additional trip to the store. Once I had slipped in to the sublime coldness of my air conditioned car I wasn’t getting back out until I was home sweet home.

I first made this shrimp cocktail many years back on an equally mind-melting night. I packed up my picnic hamper with cold beer and fresh tortilla chips and went over to Nick’s house, where he had a pool and air conditioning (I had neither of these things). We sat on the deck in the breeze and stuffed ourselves with chips and shrimp cocktail and ice cold beer, and declared this dish a withering-heat winner.

Food Purists take note: yes, I do know that this isn’t traditional ceviche. For those who are unsure what ceviche is, it’s fish and seafood cooked only with citrus juices, generally lime, whose acids ‘cook’ the fish. But Rick Bayless knows his Mexican cuisine, and I trust his naming of this concoction. It’s very similar to the coctail de camarones you get in a Mexican restaurant. And¬†yes, it calls for ketchup. Think of it in this application as a pre-seasoned tomato sauce base (and don’t even try to use tomato sauce as a substitute, it won’t taste the same and you’ll be severely disappointed. You’ve been warned).

One could go about the shrimp preparation a number of different ways. The suggested poaching in lime water makes for succulent, soft shrimp, but in a pinch I’ve poached them with out the lime water when I didn’t have enough for the completed dish. I’ve also made this with defrosted, precooked, previously frozen deveined shrimp and no one was any the wiser. It’s a great dish to take to a barbecue or potluck, as well as for company. It’s surprisingly filling, too. So on a hot night when you have some folks over, a margarita or two or some icy cold Mexican beer and a great big communal bowl of this is a festive alternative to a sit down dinner. Make it ahead and stir in the avocado just before serving (it gets cloudy otherwise), serve some grill-roasted corn on the cob with chile powder and lime, and it meets or beats every taqueria whose coctail de camarones you’ve dared to try. Give it a whirl, you won’t be disappointed.

Ceviche de Camaron: Shrimp Ceviche “Cocktail”
by Rick Bayless, via Epicurious

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound unpeeled smallish shrimp (I prefer the ones that are 41/50 count to a pound)
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce (such as Tamazula, Valentina or B√ļfalo, the latter being on the sweet side)
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jícama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Salt
Several lime slices for garnish
Tostadas or tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade or saltine crackers for serving

1. Cooking and Marinating the Shrimp.
Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein the shrimp if you wish: One by one lay the shrimp on your work surface, make a shallow incision down the back and scrape out the (usually) dark intestinal tract. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Spare yourselves, kids – get the shrimp that are already peeled and deveined. No one will know but you.

2. The flavorings.
In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

3. Serving the ceviche.
Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside. We dispense with the additional dishes and eat it out of the big bowl like savages. You may do as you wish, it IS lovely in a tall glass with a couple of shrimp hanging off the side, with the extra lime slices and cilantro sprigs.

Working Ahead:
The ceviche is best made the day it is served. The flavorings can be added to the shrimp a few hours in advance.

Getting Warmer

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Do you ever get a flavor stuck in your head that you just HAVE to eat? Something that just calls to you, a craving so deep that you simply must make it happen as soon as possible? I know I do, and it’s not just chocolate. I find that I cook in waves sometimes: a week of Mexican inspired dishes here, a few nights of peasant Italian dishes there, a smattering of barbecued goodness. Lately, though, it’s been Thai style: peanut sauce, fish sauce, cilantro, lime. It hit me one night that I had ‘Pinned’ 3 different Thai-leaning foods in one sitting, and two meals on my weekly menu planner were deeply Asian influenced. Time to make this puppy happen!

Last night was the night; it was warm out, the husband had a long day at the office, and I had been cleaning like a banshee after being gone last weekend and a day or two of wine-club shipment packaging. We had everything we needed and it was a quick dinner that didn’t heat the house (though I secretly didn’t care because I would take the opportunity to BLAST our brand new A/C).

I found myself short some soy sauce, and so added in a tablespoon of fish sauce as detailed below. I personally think it made it better with the fish sauce, as it added a little something extra to the dish. Feel free to sub it out with regular soy (or sub all the soy with tamari for my GF pals out there). After it had cooled and the sauce really stuck to the noodles it was even better. And tonight? Well, tonight it’s sublime, with a nice cold glass of sauvignon blanc¬†by my side and the A/C on. It’s definitely feeling more like summer out there!

Almost the weekend! Stop in tomorrow for a killer cocktail recipe.

Peanut Noodles with Shrimp
Makes a monster pile, about 6 large servings

1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
8 ounces spaghetti (half a box, and go on ahead and sub in quinoa or brown rice noodles
1/2 lb. large shrimp, either raw or precooked, peeled, deveined and the tails removed
1/2 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into strips
3 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
8 oz. sugar snap peas
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; if using raw shrimp add in 2 minutes prior to pasta being finished; drain and pour into a large mixing bowl.

In the same pot, combine 1 cup water with the peanut butter, rice vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, and ginger. Blend until smooth.

Add the peanut mixture, bell pepper, cucumber, cilantro, snap peas, and sesame seeds to the mixing bowl with the pasta and shrimp, and toss to combine.

Taking it Back: The Grilled Cheese

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Grilled cheese is on most people’s Top 10 comfort food list. What is more cozy than grilled cheese, I ask you? It’s just not a cozy night without that toasted cheese sandwich.

I’m here to tell you that, while a grilled cheddar (or Velveeta, if you dare) on sliced white with gently buttered sides is sublime, you can take it up a notch and make it a very special sandwich that is even company-worthy. With a side of oven fries or a green salad (or both) it can be a glamourous little bistro lunch or dinner for as many as you please.

Around here, we make grilled cheese with leftovers on nights that serious cooking can’t be mustered. I know many of ¬†you are leftovers-averse, but pitching the rest of dinner is so wasteful and expensive. Why not take those leftovers and make something new out of it? Odds are you won’t even know it was Sunday’s roast of you make a killer sandwich out of it. Enter the Adult Grilled Cheese. There are a few rules to follow, but the mix and match of fillings is yours to create and play with.

The ‘rules’ are simply the stacking and layering of the sandwich, to ensure that each bite is cheesy and that the whole business sticks together. I generally stick to this basic theory:

Starting with your bottom slice of bread:

  • Butter the outside of the bread
  • Mustard of your choice on ¬†the inside of the bread
  • Top with grated cheese of your choice (we use lots of extra sharp cheddar or jalapeno jack)
  • Top with meat of choice, if using
  • Another smattering of cheese (just a pinch or two)
  • Top with vegetation (usually caramelized onions, leftover baked apples, pepper jam, sauteed red peppers, pickled jalapenos or banana peppers or pepperonicinis)
  • Top with more cheese
  • Top with second slice of bread, buttered on the outside and with either mayo or mustard (or both) smeared on the inside

Yes, this is a loaded sandwich. Each layer, however, is a very thin layer, so it doesn’t get all Dagwood on you. Sometimes when there are many layers, I’ll build them in the pan I’m cooking them in, to avoid explosion when transferring from the board to the pan. Also, during cooking, I smash the sandwich on the flip, either with the back of my spatula or, if I’m making two or more sandwiches, with a foil sheet placed over the top of the flipped sammie and a well-placed heavy pan on top, and then pressed with my hand. Voila, instant panini press.

Some regular combinations of grilled cheeses in our house (again, usually made from left overs) are as follows:

  • Sliced sourdough with horseradish mustard, pork loin, baked apples, and caramelized onions, with cheddar cheese (this one is also good with pork roast or deli ham)
  • Sliced rye with pastrami, well drained sauerkraut and swiss with a slathering of thousand island (instead of the mayo/mustard)
  • Sliced sourdough with tri tip or roast beef, blue cheese, mayo, horseradish mustard, arugula and balsamic onions
  • Sliced cinnamon swirl bread with ham, brie and spicy pepper jam (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it)
  • Foccacia with mayo and dijon, shredded chicken, bacon, pepper jack and pepperoncinis
  • Sliced cinnamon bread with peanut butter, jelly and banana
  • Sliced cinnamon bread with nutella, peanut butter, chocolate chips and banana, with a dusting of powdered sugar (oh yes, I have)

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Leftovers are the ultimate grilled sandwich! Is it lunchtime yet?