Weekly Winner:  Loving the Larb – Sans Carb!

OK, I know… perhaps this title is a bit obscure, but much like this dish, it made me smile.  Larb is a very popular style dish in both Laos and Thailand. It’s a spicy meal of ground meat which I suspect is usually served on rice.  In this twist, the larb is served on a bed of roasted cabbage. This is Spicy Chicken Larb with Thai-Style Roasted Cabbage and the recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine.  It’s zippy, spicy, fresh-tasting and terribly addicting.  And since there’s no carbs to feel guilty about (although I can honestly admit I’ve not regretted a single carb I’ve ever eaten!) you can keep on loving the larb!

As the roasted cabbage takes longer than the larb (by a long shot) – I’ve put that recipe first.

Thai-Style Roasted Cabbage

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 medium head Savoy cabbage, halved through the core, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch ribbons, thick ribs and core discarded (about 16 cups)

2 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic

1 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp packed finely chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 tsp sambal oelek; more to taste

Procedure:

  • Position rack in the center of oven and heat to 425F.
  • On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cabbage with the oil, 1/2 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper.  Spread the cabbage out (it’s OK if the cabbage is mounded; it will shrink as it roasts), and roast, tossing every 10 minutes, until tender and most of the cabbage has turned golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, cilantro, and sambal oelek.
  • Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp of the dressing and salt.  Serve.

Spicy Chicken Larb with Thai-Style Roasted Cabbage

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp dark brown sugar

1 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp sambal oelek; more to taste

3 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil

1-1/2 cups finely chopped sweet onion

1 Thai bird chile, half seeded and minced, half cut into rings and reserved for garnish if desired

1 tsp minced garlic

1 lb ground chicken

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Kosher salt

1 tsp finely grated lime zest; more to taste

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice; more to taste

Thai-Style Roasted Cabbage (recipe above)

3 to 4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced on a diagonal (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce, and sambal oelek
  • In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and minced chile, and cook, stirring frequently until the onion begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds
  • Add the chicken and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes
  • Remove the pan from the heat, and add the lime zest and juice.  Toss to combine, and season to taste with more zest, juice and salt.
  • Serve the chicken over cabbage.  Top with the scallions, peanuts, and chile rings, if using.

Weekly Winner:  Viva La Vinaigrette – Dressing up the Ordinary Midweek Meal

There is nothing new in the main components of last week’s salmon dinner.  I have made all of these things hundreds of times before — salmon, roasted veggies — many times they’ve even appeared on the same plate.  But this dinner was different…dare I say “snazzy”.

Much like the right accessory can liven up an old outfit, or a new throw pillow can add new life to your old living room, a different vinaigrette turned my ordinary “go to dinner” into an event meal.  I’m talking about Oven-Roasted Salmon with Cauliflower and Mushrooms.  See? Nothing new here.  But oh, wait…. that zippy-tangy-slightly-sweet vinaigrette drizzled over everything hooks you with the very first bite and stifles any yawns you were anticipating with the meal.

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and is neither complicated nor time-consuming.  You’re doing what you’ve done a million times, roasting fish and vegetables.  The only added work is whipping up the addictive dressing which actually takes about 7 minutes, tops.  I’ve just been sitting here thinking about what else I can use that stuff on!

Curtis Stone’s Oven-Roasted Salmon with Cauliflower and Mushrooms

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup dried currants

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the vegetables:

1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 1/4 pounds assorted mushrooms (such as cremini, oyster and stemmed shiitakes), halved lengthwise if large

1/4 cup very finely chopped shallots

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage

Freshly ground pepper

For the salmon:

4 5-ounce salmon fillets

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds, toasted (optional) – not really “optional” in my book!

Procedure:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Make the vinaigrette: In a small heavy saucepan, bring the wine, currants, shallots, vinegar and brown sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the currants are plump and the liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl.

Prepare the vegetables: In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to coat. Season to taste with salt. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Meanwhile, heat a large ovenproof nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, then add the mushrooms and cook, without stirring, until golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Stir the mushrooms and cook until tender and well browned, about 4 minutes more.

Stir the roasted cauliflower, shallots and garlic into the mushrooms and cook until the shallots soften, about 1 minute. Stir in the sage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return the cauliflower mixture to the baking sheet and cover to keep warm. Wipe out the skillet.

Cook the salmon: Season with salt and pepper. Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then place the salmon skinned side up in the skillet and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the salmon over; transfer the skillet to the oven and roast 3 to 5 minutes, or until the salmon is mostly opaque with a rosy center when flaked in the thickest part with the tip of a knife. Meanwhile, uncover the cauliflower mixture and rewarm in the oven if necessary.

Transfer the salmon to a platter or four dinner plates. Spoon the cauliflower mixture around the salmon and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, if using (and you should!). Serve the remaining vinaigrette on the side.

Weekly Winner:  Crispy and Smoky One-Pot Wonderfulness

I love crispy chicken thighs, and I do truly, dearly love any meal that can be completed using only one pan or pot.  Last night’s dinner gave me both of my loves on one plate. Crispy Chicken Thighs with Smoky Chickpeas made for an incredibly satisfying and healthy Tuesday night dinner.

The recipe comes from Country Living and is about the easiest thing you can think of.  Sear some chicken, mix everything up and throw it in the oven until its done.  The real genius here though, is with the yogurt it’s served with.  Just enough cool creaminess to really bring the dish together.

It’s a simple dish – both in preparation, ingredients and execution.  But sometimes simple is the most satisfying – as is this dinner.

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Smoky Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tsp. canola oil

8 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1½ tsp. smoked paprika

½ tsp. ground cumin

1 pt. grape tomatoes

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed

fresh thyme leaves, For serving

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ c. plain Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook, in batches, skin side down until skin is browned and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate; reserve skillet.
Add onion and garlic to reserved skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in paprika and cumin and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and chickpeas, and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Nestle chicken into mixture, skin side up.

Roast in oven until the internal temperature of chicken reaches 165°F, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves and yogurt alongside.

Weekly Winner – Turning Hipster and Going Green in One Single Meal.

There’s not a whole lot I haven’t done with pork. After all, it is the Best. Meat. Ever (in my humble opinion, at least).  And while I’ve applied a great variety of nationalities to pork including Thai (as this recipe is), I’m not terribly familiar with Green Curry Paste.  I’ve used Red Curry Paste many times and adore it, but not the green variety. 

I also have to admit right up front that this incredible photo is not mine. It belongs to Bon Appetit where the recipe is from. Mine?  Well, let’s just say it would not convince you to make this dish!  I’ve got a way to go with food photography. So anyway, I decided to go with the professional model (mine, obviously was not covered in cilantro).

Green Curry Pork Tenderloin is hard to describe.  Its citrusy, spicy, creamy, and luscious all at the same time.  The pumpkin seeds add crunch and the sear on the pork adds a meaty, toasty note.  By cooking the tenderloin at such a low temperature, the pork comes out juicy, tender, and evenly cooked throughout.

So, now you know what I mean about “Going Green”… but what about the “Turning Hipster” part?  Well, I surmised that this sauce was going to be tasty and would require a side dish worthy of holding on to said sauce.  Because it’s a Thai Curry sauce, I immediately thought of white rice.  But as it is still January, and I am still all aglow with healthy, nutritious resolutions I decided to think “outside the rice bowl”.  The answer was obvious … it was time to try out Cauliflower Rice! For those of you not phased by the latest culinary trends, Cauliflower Rice is made by putting cauliflower in a food processor and pulsing it until it’s the size of rice.  Then simply sauté it up and you have, what I found out, was an amazing substitute for rice. Don’t get me wrong – you still know its cauliflower but it serves the rice purpose beautifully.  If you don’t like the taste of cauliflower you probably won’t like this unless you heavily flavor it with something else.

So there’s a summary of the hipster-green dinner I prepared last night.  Now for the recipe:

Green Curry Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients:

Tenderloin:

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 pork tenderloin (about 1½ pounds)

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon grapeseed or vegetable oil

Sauce And Assembly:

1 tablespoon plus ½ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil

1 medium shallot, chopped

1 garlic clove

¼ cup prepared green curry paste

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

1 14.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

¼ cup cilantro leaves, plus more for serving (I used parsley for the sauce only)

Unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas; for serving)

Preparation:

Tenderloin:

Combine soy sauce, orange juice, maple syrup, and sesame oil in a large resealable plastic bag. Add tenderloin; close bag, pressing out air. Chill, turning once, 4–12 hours. Remove tenderloin from marinade and pat dry; discard marinade. Season lightly with salt.

Preheat oven to 250°. Heat grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Cook tenderloin, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of tenderloin registers 130°, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Sauce and Assembly:

While meat is cooking, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large saucepan over medium. Cook shallot and garlic, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add curry paste and lime zest and cook, stirring constantly, until paste is slightly darkened in color and very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add coconut milk, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced by half, 20–25 minutes. Let curry mixture cool.

Transfer curry mixture to a blender and add agave, lime juice, ¼ cup cilantro, and 2 Tbsp. water; blend until very smooth. With motor running, add remaining ½ cup oil in a steady stream; blend until sauce is thick and emulsified. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium just until warmed through.

Serve pork over sauce topped with cilantro and pumpkin seeds.

Weekly Winner:  A Clean Start to the New Year with some Nutty Chicken

It has taken me a while, but I finally think I have figured out the Food God’s evil, master plan.  It makes you crave – then gorge on – all of that excessive, sugar-laden, rich, gooey, nostalgic food over the holidays simply so that come New Year’s, you actually crave healthy, clean meals. And it works…..every time.

Last night was the first night we either weren’t traveling, entertaining house guests, eating out with friends, or simply trying to clear out the fridge of the holiday dregs that still lingered..tempting us.  We needed a clean break, literally and figuratively from all the crap we’d been eating (and loving, I might add).  The problem is, after such a gluttonous long week, bland boring “diet food” would not cut it.  I wanted something healthy-tasting but with loads of flavor. Something that felt hearty yet wouldn’t weigh me down.  My “dinner in shining armor” arrived in the form of Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Salad.  Since hubby prefers farro to barley (and yes, I take full credit and much pride in that fact!), I made that swap.  The dish is amazing.  Perhaps the best testament is that even though its insanely healthy, I’ll gladly make and eat this dish anytime — not just when trying to cut back and clean up my act.  The recipe comes from Eating Well and is a wonderful mix of flavors, textures and all-around wholesome yumminess.

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Warm Barley Farro Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Olive oil or canola oil cooking spray

2 cups water plus 1 Tbsp, divided

1/2 cup quick barley (or pearled farro)

1 cup salted shelled pistachios, divided

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 large egg white

2 8-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half crosswise

1/2 tsp salt, divided

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 Tbsp white-wine vinegar

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.  Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Bring 2 cups water and barley or farro to a boil in a small saucepan.  Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 10-12 minutes.  Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, pulse 3/4 cup pistachios, breadcrumbs, orange zest and garlic powder in a food processor until the pistachios are coarsely chopped.  Transfer to a shallow dish.  Whisk egg white and the remaining 1 Tbsp water in another shallow dish.
  4. Place chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.  Pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet to an even 1/2-inch thickness.  Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 tsp salt, coat with the egg mixture and dredge in the pistachio mixture, patting to adhere.  Place on the prepared rack.  Coat both sides of the chicken with cooking spray.
  5. Bake the chicken until and instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165F, about 15 minutes.
  6. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add tomatoes and vinegar.  Cook until the tomatoes just start to collapse, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.
  7. Drain barley or farro, if necessary, and stir into the tomatoes along with the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt and parsley.  Serve with the chicken.