Weekly Winner: My New Thing to Put in a Pita – Turkish Kofte

This will not win any photographic awards, but dang, these little patties are tasty! I am a fan of meatballs – I don’t care what country they come from or really, what they’re made out of (within reason, of course). If it’s a ball of meat cooked until crispy on the outside and tender and tasty on the inside, I’m there. Give those meatballs some sort of luscious sauce and put it in a sandwich and you’ve got a fan for life here. That’s how I feel about these Turkish Meatballs (Kofte).

The recipe comes from Milk Street Kitchen and without a doubt, they are the moistest, most flavorful meatballs I’ve ever made. That is due, in no small part, to the pita and yogurt that are mixed into the meatballs, and the herbs that are heated in olive oil before being added to the mix. All of this combines to make a quick, fun, exotic dinner.

Turkish Meatballs (Kofte)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp dried oregano

8-inch pita bread, torn into small pieces (about 3 ounces) plus extra for serving

1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1/4 cup water

1 cup packed fresh mint leaves (1 oz) finely chopped

1-1/2 lbs 90 percent lean ground beef

1-1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, stir together 2 Tbsp olive oil, the shallot, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and oregano. Microwave until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl, combine the torn pita, yogurt and water, then use your hands to mash the mixture to a smooth paste. Add the reserved oil-shallot mixture, the mint, beef, salt and pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly mix. Divide into 12 portions and roll each into a smooth ball. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  • In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the meatballs and use a metal spatula to press into 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook over medium, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the meatballs register 140F and are well browned on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter, cover loosely with foil and let rest 5 minutes.

Lime-Yogurt Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

3 Tbsp tahini

3 Tbsp lime juice

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

  • In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth.
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Weekly Winner: Way Beyond Basic Basil Beef

Yes, I’m still obsessed with my new cookbook 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die by Jet Tila. This is the very first thing I made out of the book but the second one I’ve written about. I thought starting with Spicy Basil Beef would be the perfect place to start because it’s a dish I’m familiar with and I had all the necessary ingredients.

I have probably made four or five versions of this dish before, but no more. I have now found the definitive recipe. I can now throw all of those away. While the other versions were all perfectly fine and some were even darn tasty, this new riff blows all others out of the water.

This dish is quick, easy and ultimately satisfying. You can also temper the spice level by simply altering the amount of chili paste and Thai chiles (or serrano) that you use.

Spicy Basil Beef (Pad Krapow)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp sweet soy sauce

2 Tbsp oyster sauce

4 Tbsp fish sauce

2 Tbsp chili paste in soybean oil

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-3 serrano or Thai chilies, sliced

3 cups lean ground beef

1 medium onion, sliced

1 small red bell pepper, sliced

1-1/2 cups Thai basil leaves, picked off the stem

1/2 tsp white pepper

Procedure:

  • Combine the sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and chili paste in a small bowl and reserve.
  • Heat your wok or large skillet over high heat and add the vegetable oil. When wisps of white smoke appear, add the garlic and chilies. Cook them until the garlic starts to brown, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the ground beef, flatten against the pan and cook undisturbed for about 45 seconds. The beef will start to brown; turn over once, press flat against the pan and cook for another 30 seconds. Break up the meat into gravel-sized pieces and drain any excess liquid.
  • Stir in the onion and bell pepper and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the reserved sauce to the wok and combine the ingredients thoroughly for about 1 minute. Add the Thai basil and cook until the beef is thoroughly cooked and onions are slightly tender. Finish with white pepper.

Weekly Winner: The Best Thing I Have Made – Period.

Let me be clear: This isn’t the best noodle dish I’ve ever made. Nor is it the best beef dish, curry dish, or Thai dish. I truly believe this is the best thing that I have created in my kitchen. Period.

Santa (aka Hubby) was good to me this Christmas and luckily ignored my numerous declarations that I was forbidden to get another cookbook for at least a year — maybe five! No matter how much I whine, beg or plead. Yeah, well he knows I don’t mean it when talking about a few of my “chef crushes”. Hence I am now the proud owner of Jet Tila’s 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die . And thanks to my new acquisition, on New Year’s Eve created the best dish I’ve made so far, Khao Soi – Northern Curry Braised Beef Noodles.

Seriously, this is a magical dish. The mix of the luscious coconut sauce, the unbelievable braised short ribs, soft noodles, and pungent kimchi (I could not find the pickled mustard greens so used kimchi) left me and hubby literally speechless as we tucked into our bowls. Jet recommends using his braised short rib recipe and the stock used in that for this dish which I did and think you should too. That’s why I’ve included both recipes here.

I’m guessing you can also expect the next several Weekly Winners to come from this book. I’ve got about 20 pages marked so far …. that will only leave me 79 more to go after that!!

Braised Short Ribs

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp cracked pepper

4 lb beef short ribs

1/4 cup butter, divided

2 shallots, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 lb onion, cut into large dice

1/4 lb carrot, cut into large dice

1/4 lb celery, cut into large dice

1 750-ml bottle dry red wine

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 sprig flat-leaf parsley

4 cups beef broth

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F
  2. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Dredge the beef in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess; set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp of butter in a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven over high heat. Brown the short ribs on all sides, about 10 minutes
  3. Melt another 2 Tbsp butter in the pan. Stir in the shallots, garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Cook and stir until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and reduce it by half. Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, parsley and beef broth. Place the browned short ribs on top of the vegetables in a single layer, and then bring it to a boil.
  4. Cover it with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil, then bake in the preheated oven until the short ribs are very tender and nearly falling off the bone, about 3 to 3-1/2 hour’s. Once the short ribs are tender, strip meat off the bone with a fork, cover and keep warm.

Khao Soi Northern Curry Braised Beef Noodles

Ingredients:

4 cups coconut milk, separating the top 3 Tbsp of cream

2 Tbsp yellow curry paste

2 Tbsp masamun curry paste

2 kaffir lime leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade

1/2 cup rich beef stock (from short ribs)

2 tsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp tamarind paste

1tsp sugar

1 lb Braised Short Ribs

1/2 lb fresh flat egg noodles, boiled until al dente

1/2 cup Chinese pickled mustard greens, drained and sliced thin ( I used kimchi)

1/2 cup shallots, peeled and cut in small dice

4 scallions, sliced on the bias

Procedure:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 3 Tbsp of the thick coconut cream on high for about 1 minute. When the cream starts to sizzle, stir in the curry pastes like building a roux, and add the lime leaves. Stir-fry the paste for about 1 minute, until the pasts start to thicken, dry out, and become fragrant. If the curry starts to sputter, add a small amount of coconut milk to keep the paste moving. Stir in the remaining coconut milk into the curry paste. Increase the heat to high until you reach a full rolling boil. Allow the curry to boil for about 5 to 10 minutes or until it reduces by about a quarter or coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  2. Reduce the sauce to a simmer add the rich beef stock, fish sauce, tamarind and sugar. Taste and adjust as necessary. Add the short rib meat at the last possible moment before serving; it will only take about a minute for the meat to warm and absorb the luscious curry broth.
  3. Divide the noodles into 4 bowls. Ladle about 6 to 8 ounces of the rich broth over each noodle bowl, and make sure each bowl gets a few slices of beef. Garnish with mustard greens (kimchi), shallots and scallions.

Weekly Winner: A Rockin’ Riff on Ramen

For whatever reason, I’ve always been intimidated to make ramen. I’ve always felt it was a dish best left to all the fabulous ramen shops that are scattered throughout Chicago. I thought that any attempt I made would just be “faking it” and I would wind up with a poor imitation of a really good, complex soup.

The secret to ramen obviously lies in the broth. It has to be rich, unctuous and totally comforting. You simply can’t pour some store-bought broth into a bowl and add ramen noodles and call it ramen. That is, unless you are in college — I know I lived on that stuff). Luckily for me (and all of us), Food & Wine magazine has changed the ramen game for all of us. Miso Chicken Ramen is the rich-tasting, soul-satisfying, comforting soup I craved, but its super easy and comes together in just about a half hour.

Miso Chicken Ramen

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 qt chicken stock or low-sodium broth

3 Tbsp white miso

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 lb shredded cooked chicken (about 2 cups)

Ice

2 large eggs

Two 3-oz packages ramen noodles, seasoning packets discarded

Shredded carrot, thinly sliced scallion and Sriracha, for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the stock, miso and soy sauce; bring to a boil over high heat, whisking to dissolve the miso. Add the chicken and simmer over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Keep hot over low heat.
  2. Set up a small ice bath. Fill another medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the eggs and simmer over moderate heat for exactly 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the ice bath to cool. Carefully peel the eggs and cut them into half lengthwise.
  3. Meanwhile, return the saucepan of water to a boil. Add the ramen and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Drain well and transfer to 2 large bowls. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles and top with the eggs. Serve with shredded carrot, thinly sliced scallion and Sriracha.

Weekly Winner: Parcels of Porky Pasta Perfection

Who doesn’t love stuffed shells? I mean, it’s pasta….. stuffed with…stuff! Usually cheese, sometimes ground beef, but wait… pork?? Yes please!’

Pork Stuffed Shells is a surprisingly elegant-tasting dish. The pork and bechamel (or in this case, the Italian term “Balsamella” sauce combine to make a luxurious filling for your standard-issue large pasta shells. Set them on a bed of homemade roasted tomato sauce and you’re in for quite a tasty treat.

The recipe, which comes from Cuisine at Home is not difficult but it is a bit time-consuming. Worth every minute, if you ask me. Technically you certainly could use jarred tomato sauce but really, if you’ve got the time, you can definitely manage this recipe.  Besides, the garlicky, roasted tomato sauce is the perfect bed to nestle these porky parcels into before tucking them in with a nice blanket of cheese.

Pork Stuffed Shells

Serves 6 (the recipe says it serves 8, but seriously?? These things are tasty… you will eat more than three per person!)

Ingredients:

24 large pasta shells (conchiglioni)

1 cup diced onions

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp minced fresh garlic

1 lb ground pork

1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup dry sherry

Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

1 recipe Balsamella (recipe below)

1 recipe Roasted Tomato Sauce, divided (recipe below)

1 cup shredded Romano

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Roasted Tomato Sauce:

2-1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, smashed

3 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450F. Toss tomatoes, onion, and garlic with oil; season with salt and pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a baking dish; roast until tomatoes blister, 35-40 minutes. Puree mixture in a food processor or with a handheld blender.

Balsamella Sauce

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2-1/4 cups whole milk

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Salt & white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in milk and nutmeg, bring sauce to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook until thick, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Season Balsamella with salt and white pepper.

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Parboil shells in a pot of boiling salted water until pliable, 7 minutes; drain, rinse with cold water, then drain again.
  • Cook onion in oil in a skillet over medium heat until softened, 4 minutes. Add garlic; cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add pork and rosemary; cook until browned, crushing pork with a potato masher until fine, 8-10 minutes.
  • Stir in sherry and cook until nearly evaporated, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper flakes, let cool completely, then stir in Balsamella.
  • Spread 3 cups tomato sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Divide pork mixture among shells, arrange on top of sauce, cover with foil, and bake 15 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle shells with Romano, and bake until cheese is golden, 15 minutes; let rest 5 minutes, then garnish with basil and serve with remaining 1 cup tomato sauce.

Weekly Winner: Fall Harvest in a Bowl

As the weather gets cooler, my craving for soup increases. There is something just so incredibly comforting about tucking in to a big bowl of luscious, creamy soup. And if said soup happens to have some crispy, crunchy topping on in — all the better! The problem with all this, is that most of the time a big bowl of creamy soup with crunchy toppings is not always the healthiest choice — usually that means loads of cream, cheese, fried toppings and (if you’re lucky) even bacon! What’s a creamy, comforting soup-lover to do?? The answer? Make this beautiful Carrot-Ginger Soup with Roasted Vegetables.

Not only is this soup gorgeous – its healthy and incredibly satisfying. The puréed white beans thicken the soup and make it very creamy all while boosting the fiber and making this soup stick with you for a while.

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and while it may not be the quickest, easiest soup you’ll ever make, its beauty and taste more than make up for it.

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 scallions, sliced (white and green parts separated)

2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, smashed

5 carrots, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 14-ounce can light coconut milk

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, undrained

1/2 acorn squash, seeded and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces

3 cups broccoli florets roughly chopped

3 cups roughly chopped broccoli florets and tender stems (about 1 head)

2 slices crusty bread cut into 1-inch pieces

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large wide pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the scallion whites, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the carrots and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the coconut milk, beans with their liquid and 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the squash, broccoli and bread with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and browned and the bread is toasted, about 15 minutes.
  3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or transfer to a regular blender in batches and puree); season with salt and pepper. Divide the soup among bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and top with the vegetable-crouton mixture and scallion greens.

Weekly Winner: Pistachio-Pesto Pappardelle Perfection (with poultry)

I am not easily surprised by pasta. I think that’s because, while I dearly love pasta, I find it difficult to do something surprising with it. There’s not much I don’t like in my pasta but you always kind of know what you’re getting into and what it’s going to taste like. Until last night.

I decided to try Pappardelle with Chicken and Pistachio-Mint Pesto simply because it looked, well… different. I love pistachios and am always anxious to try out a new pesto. Pappardelle is one of my favorite pasta types and you can’t go wrong with chicken and tomatoes. It seemed like a no-brainer.  The zucchini and yellow squash were really the only wild cards here because, while I don’t mind them, I don’t generally seek out recipes with them. If I do eat them, I prefer them raw, which is exactly how they are served in this pasta.

In a word, this dish was amazing! So easy to make and so different from anything else I make on a regular basis. It was bright and hearty yet tasted like you were eating something healthy and nourishing because, well… it is healthy and nourishing. The recipe comes from Food & Wine magazine and is the perfect quick, guilt-free pasta for a satisfying weeknight meal.

Pappardelle with Chicken and Pistachio-Mint Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups lightly packed mint leaves

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (I️ used lightly salted)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

8 oz pappardelle pasta

12 oz shredded rotisserie chicken (3 cups)

1 small zucchini, very thinly sliced or shaved

1 small yellow squash, very thinly sliced or shaved

1-1/2 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved, or quartered if large

Procedure:

1. In a food processor, combine the mint with the pistachios and lemon juice and pulse until finely chopped. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil until incorporated and the pesto is nearly smooth. Scrape into a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta, chicken,zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and reserved cooking water to the pesto and toss well. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss again.

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