Holiday of Obligation

I have emerged from a semester of researching my thesis and as I reflect back on my spring of research and very little cooking, one day stands out for me…(in Massachusetts this day is three holidays in one)

1. “Patriots’ Day” – A day commemorating the first battles of the American Revolution (battles of Lexington & Concord)

or perhaps it was a day of meaning for you as…

2. “Easter Monday” – The second day of the octave of Easter Week and/or second day of bright week. (not quite sure what all this means but wikipedia says it true, so it must be, right?)

or perhaps for you it was…

3. “marathon monday” – This is the day that the Boston Marathon is run and of course a Red Sox game is always scheduled around 11am.

Or maybe it was simply….just a Monday.

cookbookFor me it meant a rare whole day off without having to report into work or attend a class. And that gave me a day to actually cook.  Since my husband and I both worked the day before on Easter, I decided to make a delayed Easter dinner.

And what’s more delicious than a leg of lamb? Plus my local butcher was having a sale on lamb. Of course when I arrived at the store I forgot that a “leg of lamb” is actually quite big – like “feed 20 people big.” So I had to settle on a 4 lb de-boned top portion of a leg that the butcher mercifully had for me.

I took it home, rinsed it and patted it dry and ended up flapping it out flat, coating on all sides with the wonderful lamb seasoning from Penzey’s and rolling it back up and tying it with string.  (kinda like a porchetta)

I stuck to the classics and roasted cut potatoes and onions with fresh rosemary and sage and served sautéed asparagus along side. No mint jelly here but if you need it, serve it.

lamb

Full disclosure: I was working at home that day on editing my thesis research and I may have left it in the oven a teeny bit too long, but it was still delicious!

Late update: Apparently May 7th is “National Leg of Lamb” Day so next year I will cook my leg and do  homework on that day instead!

 

January Is “Tostada Month”

Only (and unofficially) in my house anyway. There must be something about the cold, snowy month of January that has me craving food from warmer regions. Because when I went back to look at my other posting on Tostadas I noticed it was January of last year. That version was a wonderful light, bright spicy combination of chicken, tomatoes and golden beets. You can see that here.

This is the brand i use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

This is the brand I use and can find readily in my urban-area stores. Picture courtesy of www.mexicorp.com

The word “tostada” [tosˈtaða] means ‘toasted” in Spanish but usually refers to a particular dish made with a crisp fried corn tortilla on the bottom with yummy, spicy ingredients piled on top. There are many regional varieties.

You can get your tortilla maker out, along with your fry-daddy junior and knock yourself out making them from scratch or you can just buy the corn tortillas and fry them in a little oil in a large pan or better yet get your hands on some already done for you like I do!

This time around I used some re-fried beans to make them a little more ‘filling.” I also marinated some chicken strips in a quick marinade of oil, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper, and a little dry BBQ seasoning and ground cumin. I reserved some of the marinade to use as a base for a pineapple, avocado and sweet onion salsa to put on top.

The chicken only was in the marinade for an hour or so and then I quickly cooked it in a hot skillet, to order, for each couple of tostadas. They cook really quick because they were thinly cut but, you could certainly do this ahead in a large batch.

Assembly just consisted of: Tosada on bottom, a smear of re-fried beans, the hot chicken with a few bits of sweet onion thrown in the skillet to cook too. Fresh salsa on top and some fresh minced cilantro leaves. ( or parsley if you hate cilantro) Shake on additional hot sauce as you wish!

chicken tostada

Simple Smoothies

Raise your hand if you thought you would get on the smoothie band wagon with Doctor Oz, Daphne and the whole gang!

Raise your hand if that lasted even a week.

All that shopping, cleaning and chopping of various ingredients is too much! I love and recognize kale’s magical benefits along with the rest of the world, but frankly I would rather eat it for dinner in a savory dish than hide it in a fruit smoothie. Or how about lime and cucumber? Some how I don’t think they belong in the same glass unless it is with vodka at some over-priced, trendy Boston bar specializing in “hand crafted” everything.

So I like to keep it simple when it comes to smoothies. Banana plus 1 fruit. Usually a berry. Could be fresh or could be frozen. Depends on the time of year. I add one unexpected surprise in the form of a spice. Usually a dash of cinnamon. It goes beautifully with all berries. Not too much – just a couple of dashes. Now add milk. And if you are feeling sweet – a little honey or agave. Blend and drink. No fuss, no muss – tastes yummy. Like a healthy shake. No sneaky stuff. (Plus it is a nicer color than puke green don’t you think?)

Spicy Peppers

Spicy filling, sweet peppers!

Recently while visiting New Hampshire I acquired the most wonderful local goat cheese and the cutest mini sweet red peppers. (Thanks mom!)

After I got them home it occurred to me that with a little help from the basil and oregano lingering in my garden and a couple pantry ingredients I could have myself a nice little snack or game day party bites. GO RED SOX!!  So the “spice” in this case wasn’t from the peppers but the filling I made for them.

3 main ingredients

Little spicy bites!

pepper for sizeI mixed the goat cheese and chopped herbs with a healthy dose of seasoned salt, black pepper, plenty of spicy, red chili flakes, some dashes of hot sauce, dash of garlic powder and some EVO oil to thin the consistency and add flavor. I also added a very small amount of “half and half” (you could use milk or cream too) to make it more creamy and spreadable. The mixture becomes a wonderful mix of tang and spice!

Stuff it into peppers or dip into it with veggies or use as a sandwich spread!

If I wasn't so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!

What a perfect snack for the Red Sox game! (oh and if I wasn’t so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!)

Fall Pairings

There are many fall food pairings that go together so well.

A few that come to mind.. apple pie and ice cream, sweet potato and apples, pumpkins and apples…. oh wait…everything goes great with apples!

One of my fall favorites is sage and apples!

I started growing sage in a backyard pot a few years ago and I have really discovered the power of fresh sage! You can see some of my other sage pairings here, and here!

After apple picking the other day, I could think of nothing better than a nice fall dinner of roasted chicken with sautéed apples and sage! I threw in some small diced red onions to perk things up and of course I sautéed in everything in butter for the full “fall weather cooking” effect!

saute pan

I seared the chicken in a hot pan first and then after setting the chicken aside, I added the veggies for the saute. Next the chicken went back in and a little apple cider to deglaze the pan. I put the whole thing into a hot oven with a cover for 20-30 mins until the chicken was cooked through. (I uncovered the pan for the last 10 mins or so to re-crisp the chicken skin.)

The apples and onions melt down to a wonderful “savory” apple sauce and a couple of fried,whole, sage leaves added an artistic garnish. Serve with brown rice and crisp green salad.

 Fall on a plate!

Hmmm... where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Hmmm… where is that crisp green salad gone too? :-)

Level 3

Level 3 refers to ( in this case ) the level of hot in my jar of Korean hot pepper paste!

level 3

Recently I had a hanker-ing for some Korean BBQ and with no food trucks in sight I was forced to search the aisle of my supermarket for just the right stuff. There was only level 3 available, no #1 or #2 . I was worried this might blow the roof off my mouth, but I was brave and tried a tiny bit as soon as I got home. Straight up from the jar. It wasn’t bad. Downright tasty even. In fact I bet I could handle up to “level 4″ should I come across it some day!

First, I applied a dry rub to the pork spare ribs I decided to use. A quick mix of ground ginger, seasoned salt, onion powder and smoked paprika did the trick. (I used 1 tsp each for about 2 lbs of spare ribs.) I let that hang out on the ribs for a few hours during the day while I did errands, etc.

Second, since I didn’t have all day to fire up the smoker in the back yard – oh wait I don’t have a smoker – I simply put them into a foil-covered baking dish into a 375 degree oven for about an hour to steam them to delicious. (longer if you have more ribs, use a thermometer if you want.) So at this point the ribs were cooked through and tasty but lacking the caramelized, charred outside that we all love.

Thirdly, I put those ribs directly onto a hot gas grill in my backyard – that I do have – and charred them a bit until they looked good enough to eat.

But wait!

The final step was to brush on my homemade “Korean BBQ” sauce and char the ribs even more. Watching carefully that they didn’t cross the fine line of deliciousness to burned. With all that sugar in the sauce you have to be careful not to apply the sauce too soon.

Like all good BBQ, serve with homemade slaw and some sweet pickles! Extra sauce on the side too!

Like all good BBQ, serve with homemade slaw and some sweet pickles! Extra sauce on the side too!

The Sauce:

1 tb +/- finely diced(minced) onion

1 tsp of oil for sautéing onions

2 small garlic cloves, super finely minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, super finely minced or paste

1/2 cup Ketchup

1 tsp low sodium soy sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar ( plain or low sodium seasoned)

1 tsp toasted sesame oil*

2 tsp ( or more if you want it hot!) Gochjang paste ( Korean Hot Pepper Paste)

1 cup pan drippings from your spare rib oven-roasting pan or just plain water.

Saute the onion in the oil till nice and soft, and a bit brown. Turn off the heat and add the garlic and ginger in. The residual heat kind of warms the garlic and takes some of the raw “bite” out without really cooking it. (at least I thought so) Add the ketchup, soy, vinegar, oil and pepper paste to the warm sauce and stir thoroughly. It will be thick. Add enough pan drippings from your rib oven roasting dish or even just plain water to thin it to your liking. Sauce will end up being about 2 cups +/- of liquid.

This sauce can be served as a table condiment as is, used for a glaze in the last 10 mins on your grilled food or just eaten with a spoon. Probably keeps in the fridge for at least 5 days but I am no expert and frankly it was just the perfect amount for 2 lbs of ribs!

*due to sesame allergies in the house I actually used Pumpkin Seed oil but toasted sesame oil would be more traditional.

Note: gluten free folks – read your labels on the hot pepper paste – not all are created equal.

From Hungary With Love…

hot paprika

hot paprika

My parents traveled quite a bit and although I was the lucky recipient of many of these trips, I did not accompany them on a trip to Hungary a couple of years back. But they did bring me back some of Hungary’s possibly most famous souvenir… Paprika.

I keep it sealed tight in a dark cabinet and it has continued to keep its bright, pungent, hot flavor.

And what better to make with Hungarian paprika than “Hungarian goulash” of course!! Now if you grew up in the northeast than surely you know this dish as “American Chop Suey” or perhaps as a form of “Marzetti” or maybe you have no idea at all what I am rambling about!

Just brown up some beef, diced sweet green pepper and onion. Add the spices: I used a liberal amount (3 heaping tablespoons to my pound of beef) of SWEET smoky paprika and about a teaspoon of my HOT smoky paprika. Use more if you like it spicy! I also added some black pepper and salt, ground cumin and garlic powder – just a 1/2 tsp or so of each.

along with a few other spices...goulash often contains browned ground beef, sauteed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

along with a few other spices…goulash often contains browned ground beef, sautéed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

De-glaze the pan with a hefty splash of Worcestershire sauce and 1 can ( 28oz) of whole tomatoes with juice that I broke up first. Add in a 1/4 cup of ketchup for sweetness and tang. Let it simmer for 20 mins if you want to serve right away over hot buttered egg noodles or rice. I like to mix mine with a box of pasta cooked “al dente” and then top the oven-proof dish with a bit of cheese and bake in the oven (350 degrees) for 30 mins.

It gives it that nice crusty top and edges that everybody loves! Kinda like the crispy lasagna edges!

Anyway if you have never explored the wide world of paprika, you should. It goes way beyond just a sprinkle onto deviled eggs! A specialty spice store ( online or actual) would be a great place to start.

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

Production notes

You can adjust the amount of noodles or beef according to your budget and desires. “Stretch” this dish with lots of pasta for a big family or a local potluck event. “Make it meaty” with lots of ground beef or even ground turkey or pork.

New Hampshire Pie

fruit

Recently, I acquired some early New Hampshire grown peaches and some late New Hampshire grown blueberries. (Thanks mom!) The  peaches were really ripe and soft – too delicate to eat without dripping juice all over everything. The blueberries were dwindling in amount after being added to morning smoothies. So I decided to combine efforts and put them both into a pie. Because everything is better with butter and brown sugar right?

filling the pietopping on pie

I simply combined the roughly cut up the peaches (4) and the 1/2 pint of blueberries and added the “universal pie mix” of:  a bit of brown sugar, pinch of salt, teaspoon of cornstarch, a healthy shake of ground cinnamon and a good squirt of lemon juice.

Into my store-bought pie shell (don’t judge – it was easy) and I made the effort to create a streusel topping out of cubed butter, flour and lots of brown sugar with a pinch more of ground cinnamon and a tiny bit of ground cloves!

I baked it in a hot oven (400 degrees!) for 35 mins or so. Tip: you may want to cover it with a loose piece of foil for the first 25 mins so the top bits of exposed sugar don’t burn too quickly. Notice that I did exactly that. Not.

slice to eat

If can you stand it – let this pie cool at least 40 mins before slicing into it!

#1720

….That is how many hits come up when you search the term “mexican orzo.”

And this post will make #1721!

I have to say I thought maybe I had an original on my hands one night, when I decided to make “mexican rice” and used orzo pasta instead of actual rice. But it looks like I was beat out of the gate.

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

That’s okay – because I still think mine was easiest!

Of course I had a little help from my friends——————->

To be honest, I had rice on hand – several kinds. I could have gone all healthy and high-brow using brown rice. But the truth is…(by the way isn’t that the name of some new internet facebook thing the kids are all doing these days?)…I had two boxes of orzo in the pantry to use up and I thought “why not?”

So I cooked the pasta (stopping it at very al dente) and poured it into a sprayed casserole dish and mixed in: 1 can ro*tel ( 10 oz -mild or hot) 1 can (80z) tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp +/- ground cumin, 1/2 tsp +/- seasoned salt, black pepper to taste, 1 medium onion that had been diced and sautéed in a little butter. You can also spice this up by adding more of any of the above ingredients, some of your favorite hot sauce or even sliced jalapenos. Not everybody in my house loves spicy so I kept it conservative.

Bake in the oven, covered in foil, for 25-30 mins on 350 degrees. Pull out, remove foil and add as much shredded cheese on top as you dare and bake another 5-10 mins until cheese bubbly and brown.

Tip: This can be made ahead, cooled and refrigerated and re-heated when it is time for the party! Or make it Gluten free by using the rice instead of the orzo pasta.

Serve with some “old standbys” like grilled chicken and fresh avocado salsa.

mexican-orzo      tex-mex dinner

Wrap Versus Fold

The question at hand…

is a burrito really a quesadilla that has been wrapped instead of folded? Or perhaps a quesadilla is really a burrito that has been folded?

Either way they are delicious on the grill – which is exactly what I did with my burritos the other night.

I actually took the step of grilling my marinated chicken tenders on the grill first, then stuffing them with some other  fresh ingredients into a flour tortilla, rolling it all up burrito style before grilling the whole thing again.

I felt the need to secure them with a toothpick during the grilling because I am a classic “over stuffer” and I was worried everything would end up at the bottom of the grill. I also took liberties and sprayed my favorite butter “product” on them before grilling just to keep things tasty. Don’t judge me because I use this product – it is just really convenient, especially when I am “un-frying.”  If you are feeling “au natural” you could brush them with olive oil or melted butter.

Here is what I put in mine…

the filling

Yup – you are not seeing things, those are indeed lentils. Why? Cause that is what I had hanging around in my freezer, leftover from my last lentil purchase from TJ’s.

Just as yummy as black beans and hey even “Mikey liked it.” ( oh and in case you were wondering that is Cilantro)

Here is how they got assembled….

the assembly

Please don’t notice that I may have left the chicken on a teensy bit long. But it was still somewhat juicy and good due to the long marinade!

And here is what they looked like being served after grilling….

the presentation

I took the toothpicks out before plating and added a lime-cumin cream made from Greek yogurt. ( just add salt, pepper, lime juice and cumin to the yogurt)

And here is what you got when you ate them! Yum…….

the inside

(See, that chicken held up even with all its “charred bits.”)

The best thing about these that I realized is they could be stuffed, wrapped and grilled ahead of time and then you can wrap them in foil for reheat later when the party crowd arrives. ( or frozen for that matter) I used an 8-10″ tortilla size and stuffed each with 1 good size chicken tender plus the fresh ingredients. This meant that 2 burritos per person with dipping cream/salsa makes a great portion especially if served with rice and sliced fresh avocados!

Production Notes:

The Marinade…good for about a 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs of chicken cuts of your choice

1/2 cup of fresh lime juice

1 -2 tsp of seasoned salt ( your favorite brand)

1 healthy Tbsp of minced garlic

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 healthy Tbsp of agave nectar ( or sweetener of choice, like honey, maple syrup etc)

couple healthy squirts of Sriracha ( use another kind of hot sauce if you like it better)

Whisk it all together and marinade the chicken at least 2-3 hours. The heavy amount of lime juice might “cook” the chicken a bit if you go overnight but I think it would still be okay.

Slow-Cooker Chinese Food

Yup. Chinese food in the slow-cooker!

I was inspired by Lydia over at The Perfect Pantry to try my hand at this crazy mix of flavor and easy cooking method.

And it was easy. She was doing chicken – but I had stew beef in the freezer so that is what I went with. I added some water chestnuts and fresh broccoli florets in the last 30 mins and cooked some rice on the side in my trusty rice cooker and voila! Beef and Broccoli. A fine staple of any Chinese-American restaurant around.

It was "sauc-ier" than it looks the rice absorbed all of it! yum!

It was “sauc-ier” than it looks, the rice absorbed all of it! yum!

Production Notes

1.5 +/-  stew beef

2 Tb finely minced garlic

1 Tb rice vinegar

2 Tsp brown sugar

2 Tsp ginger (fresh, minced is nice; I used dried, powdered)

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 Tsp +/- grated orange zest + the juice of the orange

1/2 Tsp ground black pepper (or to taste)

1 Tsp Chinese 5-spice

2/3 cup chicken or beef stock

1 small onion sliced

1 Tbsp Cornstarch or Arrowroot dissolved into 2 Tbsp water

Several “crowns” of fresh broccoli chopped into bite size or 1 small bag of frozen (defrost but don’t cook first)

Combine garlic, vinegar, sugar, ginger, soy sauce, orange zest/juice, black pepper and Chinese 5-spice with a whisk. Pour over meat and onions which you have already placed in the slow cooker. Cook on high 4 hours or so OR low for 6-8 hours. Whisk in the cornstarch or arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving and add the broccoli about 30 mins before serving.

If you wanted a thicker sauce and was feeling like the extra work – you could remove the beef from the slow cooker (without adding the slurry and broccoli yet) strain the sauce and heat it to a boil in a sauce pan. Than you could add the slurry to the sauce, cook for a bit  and make it thick and rich. Add everything back in (beef, sauce and now add the broccoli) and serve once the broccoli is cooked to your liking – just keep any eye on the heat so you don’t burn. ( i.e. turn slow-cooker down) This would be great to bring to the office potluck!

Meatloaf # 354

We couldn’t possibly go too long without another meatloaf variation so here it is…

“Mexican Meatloaf!”

mexican meatloaf

Mexican spiced meatloaf served with Spanish rice and a black bean/onion/ sweet bell pepper sautéed side dish. Garnish with fresh lime and crema.

In general, my meatloaf always seems to be on the “tender” side. I have trouble with the ratios of liquid to non-liguid, so although these experiments are often tasty – they are always falling apart soft. And because I LOVE the combination of tomato and beef my meatloaf experiments almost always involve a small can of tomato paste. Because of this, the meatloaf has a red color and I use a meat thermometer to be sure everything is fully cooked.

The other thing about this particular meatloaf was the use of Mexican style “crema” – it tastes like a “less-sour” sour cream and looks a bit like mayonnaise. Truth be told it was actually more specifically a “Crema Salvadorena.”  Here in the Boston area, items like this are grocery-store staples, but in a less ethnic area you could probably find this in a dairy cooler with other specialty items. If you are feeling fancy and you happen to have some “creme fraiche” lying about, use that. But really you could just use American sour cream. (If you would like a short but fun side trip on the internet discussing in great detail the nuances between all these products;  here is a link to that)

So to conclude…

Just take your favorite meatloaf recipe – the basic one that uses breadcrumbs, egg and meat- and substitute out the milk or water for more interesting liquids like crema or tomato paste (or both!) and use spices that tickle your fancy. (cumin, taco seasoning and Ancho chili powder in this one!)

…and Olé! …or Voilà! … or Ecco! …or…well you get the idea!

Can These Two Be Friends?

I had some chicken thighs defrosting and a hankering for some “Indian food.” So instead of following a recipe, I just got out two spices I think of  as “Indian.”

In reality “madras curry” is a British invention and “Sate/Satay” is from the Indonesian islands, not actually India. Fusion cooking right?

I coated my chicken in a heavy dose of the Sate seasoning and browned them in the skillet first.

After that, I removed the chicken and tossed in some sliced onions and my very own green peppers grown in my garden! (Toot-tooting my own horn!)

After that I added diced sweet red bell pepper, a couple fresh garlic cloves, lots of curry powder and some tomato paste and let that kinda “toast” for a minute. If you like it hot, add something hot like chili flakes or hot peppers. I de-glazed the pan with some stock and threw everybody into the hot tub! (slowcooker)

Cook for many hours, until you can’t stand how good it smells and add some frozen peas (my husband is obsessed with them) about 30 mins before serving (not shown here) and serve with the Naan you found in the freezer this morning, which started this whole fusion-travel-food journey in the first place!

To Brine Or Not To Brine

I am a “briner.”

But with two conditions.

1: only when I am going to grill the meat

2: only with chicken and occasionally pork. (Now that I think of it, would there be any other meat that would be brined?)

Brining is when you soak your meat in a salty solution so that later when you cook it, it will have more juice and flavor. Kind of like marinading right? This is why I don’t understand this hotly contested topic of brining. Marinading seems to be widely accepted and lots of people do it. No judgement.

Is not soaking your meat in a solution of salt and some seasonings the same as a marinade?

Without brine there would be no grilled chicken in my life. I just simply couldn’t cook a juicy chicken leg on the grill before I discovered brining.

And patience. Because that is the other key to juicy chicken. Start them hot to get those nice grill marks but then move them off to an indirect flame and let them go. For a long while. Use a thermometer and you can’t go wrong! Of course I also enjoy a robust dry rub!

Yes I shot this picture on purpose so that I could subtly show off my fantastic blue Hydrangea bush!

A Box of Flavor!

Another great gift from Aunt Barbara!

(and yes we opened it early – we couldn’t wait till Christmas morning.)“Grill N’ Broil” set from Penzeys spices.

This has almost inspired me put on a coat and gloves and go fire up the grill!   But while I wait for warmer days in the backyard, I will definitely be pulling out my grill pan!

And a little box of “kindness”

THANKS!!