Tag Archives: dinner

Peeking and Peaking

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I’m conflicted these days. I want it to be Fall so bad that I’m already getting in to my woolen and winter fabric stash to stitch up some skirts to wear with boots, I’m already thinking about where all of my autumn decorations will live around our new house. I’ve been peeking into my decoration boxes and longing to see my old friends in them. I’m ready for warm days, cool nights, boots and shorter days.

On the other hand, summer is just peaking. My tomatoes haven’t hardly begun to ripen and my plants are laden with them. My zucchini is ready for takeoff. The grapes on the vines are just barely starting to variegate, as Nick and I noticed on a walk yesterday morning. I’m still having a love affair with peaches and stone fruits. My tummy wants pot pie and chicken and dumplings but is still charmed by large dinner salads chock-full of the season’s bounty.

See? Conflicted. My want for Fall will have to wait, we’ve got lots of summer left to enjoy, and the the weather couldn’t be better. There’s camping to do, swimming to be swum, and lots of warm nights ahead. And to celebrate the month of August that is suddenly upon us, I propose this beautiful salad. It comes together quick and like many of my recipes it’s nice enough for company. The shining star is the candied nuts, nice and sweet with just a little bit of heat to compliment the nectarines. The dressing is nice and fresh and light, letting the brightness of the flavors shine through without smothering them.

Grilled Chicken and Nectarine Salads
Serves 4

1/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. roughly chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 t. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. canola oil
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 t. honey
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 T. Herbs de Provence
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 T. Herbs de Provence
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
6 c. herb salad mix, spring greens, or torn leaf lettuce
2 nectarines, pitted and sliced
4 green onions, chopped
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

For Candied Walnuts: Place sugar in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until sugar dissolves, stirring gently as needed to dissolve sugar evenly (about 1 minute). Continue cooking 1 minute or until golden (do not stir). Remove from heat; carefully stir in cayenne pepper and nuts to coat evenly. Spread nuts on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; separate nuts quickly. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside until cool; break into small pieces.

For vinaigrette: combine 1/4 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. cider vinegar, 1/2 t. salt and 1 T. Herbs de Provence in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to combine, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Prepare chicken: combine Herbs de Provence, chicken breasts, 1 T. olive oil and 1/2 t. salt in a shallow dish, marinate for 1/2 hour to 1 hour. Grill chicken over medium-high heat (gas grill) or medium-hot coals (charcoal grill) until 180*F, 15-20 minutes total. Remove to cutting board and tent.

Assemble salad: Place greens in a large bowl, shake up and drizzle on 1/3 of the dressing and toss well to coat. Divide dressed greens between 4 dinner plates. Slice chicken against grain and divide between plates. Divide nectarine slices, green onions, candied walnuts and goat cheese between plates. Drizzle a scant tablespoon of dressing over each of the completed salads, top with a crack of fresh ground pepper and a pinch of salt if desired, serve with additional dressing on the side.

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.

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°F., 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

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?

Cinco de Mayo ~ Taco Bar and Side Dishes

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A taco bar is one of the easiest, most festive buffets that you can lay out for people. I love having sit-down dinners for a handful of people, but sometimes we have open house-style get togethers where people are coming and going throughout an afternoon and it’s nice to be able to have food come out in waves, or to be able to replenish as the day goes on. With a little bit of careful planning and menu construction, you can have a full-blown taco bar for an entire day.

My favorite taco bar set-up includes the following:

Carnitas or Carne Asada
Margarita Marinated Chicken or Shrimp
Tortillas, corn and flour (because my gringo self loves a flour tortilla)
Salsas, rojo and tomatillo (green)
Diced green onions
Pickled red onions
Shredded cheddar and crumbled Cotija cheese
Shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
Many, many hot sauces (and in fact I have been known to host a hot-sauce competition, getting everyone to bring one and we vote on which is best)
Fruit salad
Black bean and corn salad (mine is similar to this one, without the salad greens and sometimes with cucumber instead of mango)
Tortilla Chips
Refried beans
Guacamole (lots and lots of guacamole)

And of course, beverages:

Sangria Rojo (or Blanco, but only if the weather is REALLY hot)
Mexican beer selection
Lots of cut up limes

What, no margaritas? Depends on the size of the crowd, but usually, no. I’m too cheap to buy stuff for marges, because I only like them top shelf. Tequila also has a way of turning a party into a Par-Tay so I usually steer away from it. I never turn a soul down that wants to bring them, though.

As for folks bringing things, you can make this a less expensive party if your friends are like ours and offer to bring things. Make a list of what you want on your bar (or snacks you’d like to have) and when people ask, say ‘why yes, if you’d bring four avocados it would be awesome!’ You can also word your invitation to have your pals bring a bottle of inexpensive red wine to keep the Sangria pot full or a 6 pack of their favorite Mexican beer. The hooch is by far the most expensive part of a party but spread out this way it becomes a lot more affordable for everyone involved.

On  my taco bar, the condiment that always seems to fly off the buffet, that I can never seem to make enough of, is the pickled red onions. They’re not traditional by any means, but a smattering of them gives a nice vinegary brightness to the food that cuts through the richness of the fillings. And they are so, so easy to make.

Pickled Red Onions

In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Meanwhile, dice a medium-large red onion and place in a non-reactive, heat proof bowl or jar (I use canning jars for this). Pour your vinegar mixture over the top of the onions, submerging them in the liquid. Make these several hours ahead of time so they can really get pickle-y, or even a day or two ahead and cross it off of your list.

Cinco de Mayo ~ Carnitas

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Mexican food is a staple in our house. The husband and I eat many tacos, taco salads, enchiladas, rice plates and quesadillas, filled with different savory meats, beans, rice or grains, and cheeses. Chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, it all makes for great fillings. Because a lot of our favorites come together quickly and have bright, fresh flavors, they are weeknight staples for us. The secret to Mexican cooking? It’s the spices. In order to whip up a fiesta in a flash, you need to have ground cumin, ground coriander, red chile flakes, New Mexico chile powder, chipotle powder, ground cinnamon and Mexican oregano in the cabinet and a handful of varied citrus or citrus juices (lemon, lime and orange) laying around. Fresh cilantro is also a must. Luckily, most of these spices are not expensive and can be found in the spice aisle of your grocery store. Look for the ones that come in the little pouches in the Mexican spice area, rather than your traditional spice bottles, to save some money.

For this recipe, though, you actually don’t need the spices listed above. This is a very simple recipe that only takes patience and a heavy cast iron pan to make it happen. Carnitas are one of my taqueria go-to items. Tender, succulent shreds of pork roast that have been slow roasted to perfection are the name of this game. Traditional carnitas are cooked covered in lard over very low heat in a very heavy pan until they quite literally fall apart, but for the sake of our arteries we won’t go there in this recipe.

Because of our love of all things Mexican food and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll give you some of our favorite recipes this week. This first one is still not healthy by any means, but sometimes only carnitas will do. And as part of a bigger meal, one little taco won’t hurt anyone.

Carnitas

Serves 8-10 hungry caballeros

1 fatty pork shoulder roast, about 4 lbs, stripped from the bone if bone-in, and cut into 3-4″ chunks
2 c. orange juice, freshly squeezed or from concentrate
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
3 chiles de arbol, crushed, or 1 t. of crushed red chile flakes
1 t. salt

In a large plastic zip-top bag or deep bowl, combine the orange juice, garlic, chiles or chile powder and salt. Put in pork pieces and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 4. Remove from refrigerator about a half hour prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300*F. Heat a large cast iron skillet (I use a 10″ skillet) over medium high heat and pour in about a tablespoon of canola oil. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and pat dry, reserving 3/4 cup of the marinade.

Sear the pork pieces on all sides in the skillet until they develop a nice brown crust. Pour reserved marinade over the pork pieces in the skillet and place in the oven, uncovered. Bake at 300*F for about 3 hours, or until pork shreds easily with a fork.

Remove skillet from oven, and raise oven temp to 450*F. Carefully shred the pork into bite-sized shreds and place the skillet back in the oven. Cook at 450*F until the liquid has nearly evaporated from the skillet and the pork shreds have a nice brown crispy crust on them, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, radish slices, your favorite salsa*, and warmed corn and flour tortillas.

* Pssst, about salsa: I RARELY make my own. If you have a great taqueria near you whose chips and salsa you love, swing by and ask if you can buy a quart of their salsa and a bag of chips. It will generally set you back less than $5 for the lot, and it’s fresher and tastier than anything you’re going to get at the store.