Weekly Winner:  Wrapping up August with Perfect Petite Pork Packages

I believe I’ve mentioned maybe once or twice, that it’s been hot here.  I mean really hot.  However, even with it being so hot, that does not mean I want to live on salads.  What I want is an easy, light dinner that has a certain amount of substance to it.  But I refuse to turn on the oven, stove, or even a slow-cooker to heat up the kitchen. What to do? What to do?

The answer lies in these adorable, crisp little lettuce wraps filled with mini pork patties all dressed up in a zippy dipping sauce.  Meat and veggie in one delicious bite.  Lemongrass Pork Patties with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce comes from Epicurious and is a total cinch to make — especially if you let someone else (aka Grill-master Hubby) grill up the patties that you whip up in your incredibly cool kitchen.

Lemongrass Pork Patties with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Pork Patties:

1 pound ground pork

3 large cloves of garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens (from 3 to 4 scallions)

1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, lower 6 inches of tender bulb, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce (such as nuoc mam or nam pla)

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Sauce and assembly:

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar, plus more to taste

1 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce

Pinch of crushed red pepper

12 lettuce leaves, such as Boston lettuce or iceberg

Herb sprigs, such as mint, cilantro and Thai basil

Procedure:

For the patties:

In a large bowl, use your hands to mix together all of the ingredients, then form the mixture into twelve 2-inch patties (about 3/4 inch thick). Arrange the patties on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until firm.

Preheat the grill for at least 10 minutes and set it up to grill over moderately high heat. Oil the grates. Grill the patties until brown grill marks form on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip the patties, then grill for 3 to 4 minutes longer, until cooked through but still juicy.

For the sauce and assembly:

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the vinegar with the sugar and water. Add the fish sauce, then taste and season with more vinegar or sugar, depending on your taste.

Arrange the lettuce leaves and herb sprigs on a platter. To serve, wrap the pork patties and herb sprigs in lettuce and dip in the sauce.

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Weekly Winner:  Party on a Plate – or Platter

It’s Party Time! Summer barbecues, pool parties, garden parties, and picnics abound. Invariably, when I ask the hosts if I can bring anything, the response is “an appetizer would be great”. And I totally get it. When I’m hosting a get-together, I have a basic “theme” in mind for most of the food. It’s what I do, don’t you mess with my menu! So the easiest thing for me to request is a starter, appetizer, munchies or even dessert. Therefore, I totally understand when I’m asked to bring the same thing. But what to bring?? I’ve done various dips and hummus to death. Melon and prosciutto — been there, done that. I want something tasty, easy, and yeah, I’ll admit it – impressive. That problem is now solved.

Just look at these Tomato Tarts!  They’re gorgeous! They’re delicious!  And most importantly…they are super easy.  Whip up a batch of these for your next party (whether you’re hosting or just contributing), unveil them with the appropriate flourish, stand back and wait for the compliments (if you can hear them over all the “mmmmm’ing”). The recipe comes from Southern Living Magazine and is something I’ll use over and over again — all I’ll have to do to keep it interesting is tweak the filling a bit to fit the season.

Muffin Pan Tomato Tarts

Makes 18 tarts

Ingredients:

1 (17.3 oz) package frozen puff pastry sheets, partially thawed

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

10 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded (2-1/2 cups)

11 oz multicolored cherry tomatoes, (about 3 cups), halved

2 Tbsp torn fresh basil

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Gently unfold both pastry sheets.  Spread 1/4 cup mayonnaise on each pastry sheet; sprinkle each with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  2. Cut each pastry sheet into 9 (3 inch) squares.  Gently press squares into 2 lightly greased muffin pans.  Divide cheese and tomatoes among tarts
  3. Bake in a preheated oven until pastry is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Let cool in pans on a wire rack 5 minutes. Top with torn fresh basil.

Weekly Winner:  Crispy, Crunchy Chicken Cutlets — with a great salad

Ramen noodles.  I gotta admit, I love the things. I’ve used them in place of regular pasta for spaghetti-and-meatballs-gone-Asian. I make a mean ramen noodle salad. I love them in soup, and they got me through college as-is with just a bit of cheese sprinkled on top. The one thing I never thought of using them for; however breading. That is until now.

Crispy Ramen-Crusted Chicken with Asian Slaw comes from Southern Living Magazine. Honestly I was a bit skeptical about this since you use the noodles raw. However the chicken turned out amazing. The noodles “cooked” just enough while browning the chicken and the chicken itself stayed amazingly moist. And just in case you’re feeling a little guilty about eating chicken fried in ramen noodles (you shouldn’t be — it’s tasty!) there is a fabulous Asian kale salad that goes with it. The salad, with its honey-soy-lime dressing is the perfect light zesty accompaniment to the rich chicken. This dish, in a word, is a “keeper”. And it gives me a great excuse to stock up on more ramen!

Crispy Ramen-Crusted Chicken with Asian Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 bunch kale (about 8 oz.), stems removed, chopped (about 6 cups)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1/3 cup)

3 green onions, thinly sliced diagonally

1 1/4 cups matchstick carrots

3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon honey

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 (3-oz.) pkg. chicken-flavored instant Asian ramen noodle soup mix

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 (5- to 6-oz.) chicken cutlets

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

Preparation

1. Toss together kale, cilantro, green onions, and carrots. Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, honey, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl; pour over kale mixture, and toss to coat. Set aside while preparing chicken, tossing occasionally.

2. Break ramen noodles into pieces. Process ramen noodles, seasoning mixtures from ramen packages, ginger, and cayenne pepper in a food processor until combined, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a shallow dish, and set aside.

3. Place each chicken cutlet between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and flatten to 1/4-inch thickness, using a rolling pin or flat side of a meat mallet. Dip each cutlet in eggs, and dredge in ramen mixture, pressing to adhere.

4. Cook half of chicken in 2 1/2 tablespoons hot olive oil in a large skillet over medium until golden brown and done, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Place on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and keep warm in a 200° oven. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken and olive oil.

5. Sprinkle peanuts over kale mixture, and serve with cutlets.

Weekly Winner:  A Perfect Power-Packed Punch of Lunch

We all have them.  Those derailing weekends.  Weekends where you totally planned on staying on track – eating healthy and exercising.  Getting outdoors, breathing fresh air, and revitalizing yourself for the week ahead.  Then, well…there are street fairs, baseball games, barbecues, air conditioning to relax in , and chilled wine and beer in the fridge.  Monday comes along and it is time to redeem yourself.  This is the salad to do that with.  Basically, if it’s healthy for you, it’s in this salad.  But more importantly– it is delicious. This does not seem like a punishment for your over-indulging, it actually seems like a reward for surviving it all! Good for you! You made it!  Now let’s get your act back together!

I have to admit I wasn’t sure how blueberries and tomatoes would work together but with everything else going on it this salad (poppy seeds, chickpeas, avocado, sunflower seeds, etc…) it just works.  It also makes every bite a bit different.

No surprise the recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine.  The article was focusing on salads you can take to work with you but since I work in the kitchen — packability isn’t a problem.  I just needed to transport it to the table. Therefore I didn’t bother layering, I just mixed it all together.  However I did pack up a bunch of this salad for a client who will take it to work.  And no doubt will love every bite!

Packable Power Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup rinsed and drained chickpeas

1 cup cooked quinoa

4 cups packed fresh baby spinach

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup chopped heirloom tomato

2 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds

3/4 cup thinly sliced ripe peeled avocado

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

Procedure:

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a small jar. Cover with lid; shake well.

2. Combine chickpeas, quinoa, and 2 tablespoons dressing; toss well.

3. Arrange 1 cup spinach in each of 4 quart-size containers. Top each serving with 1/4 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup tomato, 1 1/2 teaspoons sunflower seeds, one-fourth of avocado slices, 1/2 ounce goat cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons mint, and 1/2 cup quinoa mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle each serving with about 2 1/2 tablespoons dressing.