Weekly Winner:  Better (and Prettier) Than Takeout — Stunningly Simply and Sensational Sweet & Sour Sesame Pork

In general, I’m a fan of takeout (or, as is the case here in Chicago) ordering in.  We are fortunate here, because we can get basically any type of food delivered to our door.  Italian, Mexican, Asian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian… you name it.  Go online and within an hour, someone is ringing your doorbell with dinner.  The problem I have with ordering in is that while all of this is generally tasty, it can be expensive, is not usually healthy, can take a frustratingly long time, and generally is not too attractive by the time it arrives.

If I do order in, it is usually Asian food.  However, that may soon change. Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork is ridiculously easy, amazingly tasty and is on the table in less than a half hour.  And it’s beautiful to boot!  The recipe comes from Cooking Light and might just take the place of my local Asian takeout menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 1 pound baby or small bok choy, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups hot cooked brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Whisk together stock, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch, and crushed red pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high.  Add pork; cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until pork is browned and crumbled, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove pork from pan with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add bok choy and carrots to drippings in pan; cook over medium-high until slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add stock mixture and pork.  Bring to a boil; cook until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in sesame oil.
  4. Serve over rice, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  Banishing the Blahs with Bountiful Buddha Bowl

Let’s face it, grain bowls can get a bit monotonous — even downright boring.  More often than not they have some sort of Asian-based dressing and your standard-issue white or brown rice or perhaps quinoa but nothing new or exciting.

That is until I discovered the Green Goddess Buddha Bowl from Epicurious.  Having always loved Green Goddess salad dressing (even the bottled, supermarket variety) this was just the ticket to breakthrough my salad/grain bowl blahs.

This bowl uses farro as a base and an herby, garlicky dressing. Everything in this bowl seems vital to the overall yumminess and with the exception of the egg and the farro, everything in this bowl is some shade of verdant green so you know you’re eating good stuff.  I found myself getting increasingly interested in the dish the more I ate of it rather than tiring of it quickly as I do with a lot of salads.  It is also easily adaptable to your preferred veggies and herbs, however I find it rather perfect just the way it is.

Green Goddess Buddha Bowl

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound broccoli florets (about 10 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

4 large eggs

8 ounces sugar snap peas

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, and/or tarragon

4 cups cooked farro

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

1/2 cup baby greens

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss broccoli with 2 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until charred and tender, 15–20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add eggs, cover, and cook 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water (keep cooking water boiling) and let cool. Peel eggs.
  3. Add sugar snap peas to boiling water and cook until bright green and just slightly tender, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with ice water.
  4. Purée yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, 1 cup herbs, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Toss grains, 1/2 cup dressing, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Wipe out large bowl, then toss broccoli, snap peas, cucumbers, baby greens, and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Top with avocado slices, pumpkin seeds, and remaining 2 Tbsp. herbs. Slice eggs in half and add to bowls. Serve remaining dressing alongside for drizzling.

Weekly Winner:  The Secret to Succulent Salmon? A board and a killer glaze

There is very little you can do to salmon that I wouldn’t like. Broiled, poached, sautéed, flaked … you name it, I’m a fan. One of my favorite ways to prepare salmon is definitely on the grill. Grilling fish however, is fraught with peril. The delicate fish can break, stick or simply fall through the grates (or possibly all three!)

The answer is cedar-planking the fish.  It’s like a safety net for the fish!  In addition, it imparts more smokiness than simply throwing it on the grill.  Add an amazing glaze and you’ve got yourself a fabulous fish dish.  Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon from Eating Well magazine checks all the boxes and comes together in about a half hour (not counting the soaking of the plank).  

Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp maple syrup

1 Tbsp sake

1/4 cup white miso

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1-1/2 pounds salmon fillet, skinned or 4 boneless, skinless filets

4 scallions, trimmed

1/4 tsp ground pepper

2 tsps black and/or white sesame seeds

Procedure:

  1. Heat sake and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat just until warm. Remove from heat and whisk in miso until smooth. Let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in mayonnaise and lemon zest.
  2. Set up your grill for indirect grilling. Build a medium-high heat fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
  3. Place the plank, smooth-side down, directly over the flame and grill until the bottom is charred and smoky, 2 to 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Run your fingers over the salmon and remove any bones you find with tweezers. Place scallions on the charred side of the plank, leaving a little space between them. Place the salmon on the scallions and season with pepper. Spread the glaze on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  5. Grill the fish on the plank over indirect heat until the glaze is bubbling and browned and the fish is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve on the plank, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  Noshing on Noodles

There’s something about cold noodles that I just love.  They’re addictive and refreshing all at once.  Usually you find cold noodles in some sort of Asian variety, but if we’re being totally honest with each other, I’ve been known to dig into cold left-over Italian-style pasta as well.  A noodle is a noodle, right?

Cold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale from Bon Appetit was a happy find for me for several reasons.  First of all, they’re cold noodles – and not just any noodles, but ramen noodles (bonus!). Secondly it has roasted broccoli.  I am happy to eat broccoli in any way, shape or form (including raw) but roasted is definitely my favorite.  Finally, it served as yet one more way I can get hubby to happily eat kale.  I think the zip of the vinegar and spice of the sambal oelek has a lot to do with it, but I’m taking my victories however I can.

As the temperatures continue to rise here in Chicago, rest assured this will become not only my go-to lunch, but also an awesome side dish to take along to concerts, picnics and cookouts.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 large head of broccoli, cut into large florets with some stalk attached

2 garlic cloves, 1 finely grated, 1 thinly sliced, divided

1-1/2 tsp sambal oelek

1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, divided

3/4 cup vegetable oil, divided

1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/4 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste

3 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced, plus more for serving

1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut into 1-inch match sticks

4 cups chopped Tuscan kale leaves

2 (10 oz) packages fresh ramen noodles or 2 (3 oz) packages dried

Torn mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds (for serving)

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 450F.  Toss broccoli with grated garlic, sambal oelek, 1 Tbsp vinegar, and 1/4 cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.  Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and browned in spots, 20-25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk scallions, ginger, sliced garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup oil in a large bowl.  Add kale; toss to coat.  Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain; rinse under cold water.  Add noodles and warm broccoli to kale and toss to coat. Divide among bowls and top with mint, sesame seeds, and more scallion greens.

Weekly Winner:  Perusing Persia through seriously yellow chicken

I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from Persia.  Heck, I’m not even sure I’ve ever eaten Persian food before finding this recipe last week.

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime caught my eye for several reasons.  First of all that color!  I mean that is sunshiny-yellow chicken with some seriously verdant green toppings.  It’s beautiful, right?? Then looking at the list of ingredients it had lots of the things I’ve grown to love:  white rice, warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric, yogurt, and nuts.  And not just any nuts but pistachios which easily make the list of my top three all-time favorite nuts.  

This dish was exotic and familiar at the same time.  There’s nothing more cozy to me than a bowl of chicken and rice and that’s exactly what this dish is, but it’s also so much more.  The spice mix in the rice alone elevate the lowly basmati rice to something incredible and the hit of the turmeric on the chicken really make this dish unique.  Its spicy without being at all hot.

This perfect “getaway in a bowl” comes from Epicurious and while the list of ingredients might seem daunting, it is really quite easy and quick to prepare.  One word of warning however:  if you’re like me and use your hands to rub herbs, marinades and seasonings on meat, you will (as I did) have yellow fingernails for about 3 days after making this! That turmeric is serious stuff!

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

• 1 medium onion, halved, thinly sliced

• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus 1 garlic clove, smashed

• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 8 wedges for serving (3–4 limes total)

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• 2 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

• 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more

• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 1 cup basmati rice

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 cup plain yogurt (optional)

• 1 English hothouse or large standard cucumber, peeled if desired, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces (about 2 cups)

• 1 cup (packed) herb leaves, such as mint, cilantro, and/or dill (I used mint, parsley, and basil)

• 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

• Sumac (for serving; optional)

Procedure:

Mix chicken, onion, turmeric, chopped garlic, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt, and 3/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium in a heavy medium saucepan. Add rice and smashed garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Stir in cardamom, cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp. cumin and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add 1 3/4 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, until water is evaporated and rice is cooked, 18–20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit, covered, until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high in a large skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add chicken mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt, if using, then adjust seasoning to taste. Cover to keep warm.

Gently toss cucumber, herbs, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl.

Fluff rice with a fork and divide among bowls. Spoon chicken over. Top with cucumber salad, pistachios, and sumac, if using. Generously squeeze lime wedges over

Weekly Winner:  Pretty As a Picture Pork

Since my job is cooking for other people, and some of those other people are good friends, it’s sometimes difficult to make something quick, easy and new for them when getting together. Chances are anything I’ve prepared they’ve had before or I just wind up throwing the same old burgers, steaks or ribs on the grill.  So last weekend when we were headed to friends for a cookout and I offered to bring the main dish, I wanted something new and different (and of course, I wanted to impress just a bit too).  But I also didn’t want to slave away preparing it (the cooking of said dish wouldn’t be a problem  – if a grill is there, the cooking responsibility falls to hubby).  I just had to get the dish ready.

As I was looking through recipes for something new (or at least new to them), along came this little gem:  Apple-and-Pepper-Layered Pork Tenderloin. Bingo!  We have a winner!  The recipe is from Chile Pepper Magazine and while it looks super fancy and dare I say even a bit fussy, it couldn’t have been easier to prepare.  As usual, I made a few tweaks to the dish.  First of all it calls for yellow jalapeños.  I have never seen a yellow jalapeño and since jalapeños in general can be a bit unpredictable as far as heat is concerned, I substituted poblano.  The recipe also says to alternate layering the apples, peppers and the prosciutto. Really?  that would mean only every third slot would get prosciutto and that just didn’t seem right.  This dish needed more pork-on-pork action.  I alternated between the apples and peppers but every slot got prosciutto, because, well… why not??  Finally the recipe calls for a 2-1/2 pound pork tenderloin.  I opted for two 1-1/4 pound ones and it worked perfectly fine.

Next time you want something different to throw on the grill, or you want to impress without the work, this is your meal.

Apple-and-Pepper-Layered Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lb pork tenderloin (or two, 1-1/4 pound tenderloins)

1/2 Tbsp dried marjoram

1/2 Tbsp dried sage

1 tsp dried thyme

1 Tbsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 of your favorite apples

3 yellow jalapeños, seeded and membranes removed and sliced lengthwise (or 1 large poblano seeded and deveined and sliced)

4 oz prosciutto

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the grill to 425F
  2. Cut slits across the pork tenderloin, about 1/2 inch apart, leaving about the same distance from the bottom to keep the tenderloin together
  3. Combine all the dry spices in a bowl.
  4. Drizzle the pork with the olive oil, then rub the spices into the pork, including in between the slits.
  5. Alternating the ingredients, stuff the slits with the apples, peppers and prosciutto
  6. Grill for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140F. Let rest for 5 minutes then serve.

Weekly Winner:  Light, Cheery (and Cheesy) Summer Pasta

It is finally tomato season here in Chicago.  My farmer’s market has an ample supply of these beauties and to me they signify the definitive start of summer. You really don’t want to do too much with these guys. They’re pretty much perfect just the way they are. The lightest touch of seasoning is all you need to bring out their best.  These tomatoes were the crowning touch on dinner tonight, which was so good, I had to post this immediately.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes is summer perfection on a plate.  It combines pasta (a Friday night “must have” for us), cheese (always a bonus) market tomatoes, home-grown basil and little else.  It’s reminiscent of a perfect Margherita Pizza.  Elegant in its simplicity  It doesn’t even need to be served piping hot — warmish is just fine.  On a muggy night like tonight, warmish pasta paired with an ice-cold glass of rose was the ideal way to cap off a busy week and kick off a long holiday weekend.

The recipe comes from Eating Well Magazine and the pasta is quick and super easy.  This is guaranteed to be a go-to summer dish for me — for as long as the tomatoes and rose hold out.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups chopped tomatoes (1-1/2 pounds)

2 Tbsp red-wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

8 ounces fusilli

1 cup finely diced fontina cheese

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil
  2. Combine tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside to marinate.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain.  Immediately return the pasta to the pot. Add fontina and the reserved cooking liquid; stir constantly until the cheese is melted.  Fold in ricotta.  Transfer to a serving bowl or individual pasta bowls.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the marinated tomatoes over the pasta.  (Discard the marinade). Drizzle with oil and top with basil and a generous grinding of pepper.

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