Everything’s Perfectly Fine … Until It’s Not

remodelingIt’s funny how content we are with things around us — or at least I am.  I mean, I love where we live and I like my cozy little house.  Then I’ll notice something and it all goes to pot!

Right before the holidays I started thinking about maybe it was time for a new couch in the living room.  The old couch looked fine, but I had begun to notice a tremendous lack of support.  While comfy,  it was getting harder and harder to get out of.  The springs were shot.  So, off hubby and I go to look for a new couch.  That got us thinking.  Big problem, that thinking stuff is. 

Right now we have a sectional.  The couch before this couch was a sectional as well.  Maybe it was time to branch out and go old school and get a simple sofa … and maybe an armchair.  That would be nice. So that’s what we did. Of course we found the perfect sofa and chair combination but it had to be custom-made out of just the right fabric and color.  That would take 8-10 weeks.  No problem!  We still have our sectional.  Or, rather, we did still have our sectional until last week when we found a friend-of-a-friend whose daughter needed a new couch and would be willing to pick it up.  So now we are couch-less.

Having a relatively empty living room makes you notice things.  Like that big wall.  Why is it still white?  I hate white walls.  I know, let’s paint it! Which is exactly what we did this weekend.

Well now that the room has hardly any furniture in it, wouldn’t it be nice to get the hardwood floors refinished?  I mean, how easy would that be?  Hardly anything would need to be moved and the new sofa and chair would have a shiny, new beautiful floor to show it off.  So… this Friday we’re getting our floors sanded and refinished.

Well, OK, there is no possible way we could even think of putting our old area rug down on the brand new, shiny floor under the wonderfully new, custom sofa and chair and up against the freshly painted wall!  It would look hideous!!  So yes, the new area rug has been ordered as well.

Funny how everything in that living room was perfect — until it wasn’t!  I can’t wait until our new room is finished … if it is ever finished!

Weekly Winner – Just Good Honest Food

Sometimes I like to keep it simple.  As much as I enjoy fooling around with spices, fancy sauces and unique ingredients and combinations, every once in a while I want food to taste like what it is.  Just good, honest food.  This recipe was a real surprise.  I knew I would like it because I liked all the ingredients but the combination, with just the slightest Asian-flair, was truly lovely.  And it tasted just like it should, but somehow enhanced.  This week’s Winner is Pork and Charred Brussels Sprouts with Chile Lime Sauce and it comes from Sunset Magazine.

pork & chile lime

Pork and Charred Brussels Sprouts with Chile-Lime Sauce

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, stems trimmed

1 pork tenderloin (1 1/4 lbs.), trimmed

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 3/4- by 4-in. wedges

1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-in. wedges

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup lime juice

2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

2 Thai chiles or 1 serrano chile, minced

3/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, divided

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Separate brussels sprout leaves; thinly slice hearts. Set aside.
  2. Season pork with 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Brown in 1 tbsp. oil in a large frying pan over high heat, turning, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Toss sweet potatoes in a roasting pan with onion, 2 tbsp. oil, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Add pork. Roast 15 to 20 minutes for medium-rare, stirring vegetables once.
  4. Meanwhile, purée honey, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and half the chile in a blender. Stir in remaining chile; set sauce aside.
  5. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in the frying pan over high heat and lightly char half the brussels sprouts, stirring, 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat for remaining brussels sprouts. Toss with 1/2 cup cilantro and 1/4 cup sauce.
  6. Slice pork, toss sweet potatoes with remaining cilantro, and set on a platter with brussels sprouts. Drizzle more sauce to taste over everything (you may have some left over).

Weekly Winner: A Big Steaming Pile of Umami Goodness

IMG_0431I don’t do restaurants for Valentine’s Day.  I would much rather cozy-up at home with something wonderfully homemade.  As I have often mentioned, hubby is a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  So for this Valentine’s Day, I decided to make Short Rib Stew.  Absolutely luscious.  Soul-satisfyingly delicious.  Super cozy.  But I’m still not entirely sure it counts as actually “cooking”.  Apart from browning the short ribs, all I really did was chop some veggies and stir.  That’s it.  The perfect definition of a one-pot wonder.  And wonderful it was.  I decided to buy bone-in short ribs and cook them intact.  The bones literally slipped out clean after the 2 hours of cooking and then I just cut the short rib meat into bite size pieces.  But in keeping the bones in, it produced the most amazingly umami-rich, gelatinous broth.  The recipe came from Food & Wine magazine and it is phenomenal.  I cannot wait for the leftovers this weekend.

Short Rib Stew

Serves 8

Ingredients:

3 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (I used bone-in and just cut up the meat after it was cooked – bones fell right out)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups dry red wine

3 cups veal or chicken stock

6 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered

1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped

8 sage leaves, coarsely chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Procedure:

  1. In a large bowl, toss the short ribs with the flour. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Working in batches, cook the short ribs over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 6 minutes per batch. Discard the oil.
  2. Return the meat and any juices to the casserole. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, 8 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the meat is tender, 2 hours.
  3. Skim any fat from the stew. Stir in the carrots, potatoes, parsnips, onion, mushrooms, thyme and sage. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Weekly Winnter: Little Fluffy Pillows of Cheesy Wonderfulness

gnocchi dumplingsYou know you’re doing something right when your husband comments, “this is seriously restaurant-quality good”.  And then it is very, very quiet while we both devour our dinner.  That’s what happened last night.  Now, the funny thing is I have made this recipe before.  And it was good.  So good, in fact, that I was certain I had already declared it a “Weekly Winner”.  I went back and checked.  But I have doubts as to whether it could have possibly been this good.    Very little I have made has been this good.

The recipe itself is mis-named.  It is Chicken and Dumplings.  But dumplings don’t even begin to describe what is in the bowl with the chicken.  Actually they are gnocchi.  Ricotta gnocchi to be exact.  And when said gnocchi is made with hubby’s home-made ricotta, well….. wow!  It is a time-consuming recipe, but it is not difficult.  Just a lot of steps and you do need a good afternoon to do it right.  Your efforts and your patience will be rewarded.  And if you can, try to find a husband or someone to make you home-made ricotta.  You can make it yourself, I suppose, but where’s the fun in that?    The recipe comes from Bon Appetit.  Try it, it will rock your world.

Chicken and “Dumplings”

Ingredients:

Gnocchi

1 pound ricotta

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus more

1 large egg, beaten to blend

1 ¼ cups finely grated Parmesan

3/4 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

½ tablespoon kosher salt

Chicken and Gravy

10 cups low-salt chicken broth

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1/4″-thick slices

1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced

1 parsnip, peeled, cut into 1/4″

1 leek, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4″-thick slices

¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup chopped fresh chives

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Shaved Parmesan

Preparation:

Gnocchi –

If using fresh ricotta that has excess liquid, you may need to drain it overnight. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a medium bowl. Add ricotta; cover with plastic wrap and let drain overnight in refrigerator. If using supermarket ricotta, proceed with recipe; no draining required.

Gently mix ricotta, 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour, egg, Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl just to blend (do not overwork). Form dough into a ball (it will be sticky); wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 4 equal portions and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Using your hands, roll 1 portion into a 1/2″-diameter rope; cut crosswise into 1/2″-thick pieces. Lightly dust gnocchi with flour and transfer to pre-pared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions of dough. Cover gnocchi with a kitchen towel and chill until ready to cook.

Chicken and Gravy-

Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add chicken; reduce heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, 20–30 minutes. Remove chicken; let cool slightly and shred into bite-size pieces. Bring broth to a boil and cook until reduced to 8 cups, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is pale beige in color, about 15 minutes (do not brown).

Scrape roux into simmering broth; whisk until thickened and broth coats the back of a spoon. Reduce heat to low and add vegetables. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add shredded chicken and herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until gnocchi float to the surface, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to bowls, dividing equally. Ladle chicken and vegetables with gravy over. Season with pepper and top with Parmesan.

Weekly Winner: And I’m Still Not Sure Why

Crispy Chicken Thighs & Pasta   This week was a very good food week.  Lots of tasty stuff came out of the kitchen this week.  When I thought back and tried to determine which would make the Weekly Winner I just kept coming back to this one dish.  I still don’t know why.  It has absolutely no right to win.  It’s too simple.  It’s nothing different or fancy.  It doesn’t even have any pork products in it!  And yet, both hubby and I decided that this was the dish.  It is Crispy Chicken Thighs with Pasta and Pesto.  Yep, that’s it.  And that is truly all it is.  Chicken.  Pasta.  Pesto.  And yet, it worked.  No, it more than worked.  It rocked.  Simplicity at its absolute best.  The recipe came from Southern Living Magazine, which in and of itself is an unlikely source for my recipes.

I think if I am being perfectly honest, another reason I am so in love with this dish is that it turned out looking exactly like the picture in the magazine.  And to prove it, the first picture is mine, the second from the magazine.  See?  I know!  Try this recipe and tell me why it wins.  I still don’t know.crispy-chicken-thighs-pasta-pesto-l

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Pasta and Pesto

Ingredients:

3 ½ to 4 lb skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 7 thighs)

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

½ tsp vegetable oil

8 oz. cellentani pasta

1 cup chicken broth

Arugula Pesto

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and paprika.

Heat oil in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over high heat until oil just begins to smoke

Place chicken in skillet, skin sides down; reduce heat to medium-high, and cook 15 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate; discard drippings.

Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Toss with chicken broth and 3 tablespoons Arugula Pesto.  Add mixture to skillet.  Place chicken, skin sides up, on pasta.

Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes.  Dollop with additional Arugula Pesto

Arugula Pesto:

Process 2 cups firmly packed arugula, ½ cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, ½ cup olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ pepper in a food processor until smooth.  Refrigerate up to 1 week.  Makes 1 cup.