Weekly Winner: Mystified by Miso-Mozzarella Mashup

pastaThere are combinations I honestly have never envisioned – miso and cheese is one of them.  I love both, but would never think of putting them together in the same dish.  Until now, that is.

Pasta with Miso Cream Sauce intrigued me from the word go.  I’ve added miso to my repertoire with meat and veggies, but never with pasta.  And certainly, never combined with cheese.  But why not?  This dish is super easy and in a word, luscious.  Very subtle but very addictive.   The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and has me thinking what other strange combinations I will discover next.

Pasta with Miso Cream Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked casarecce, fusilli or penne pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 tsp. white miso
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups multicolored grape tomatoes (about 10 oz.)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 (6-oz.) pkg. baby spinach
  • 2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (about 1/2 cup) and divided

Procedure:

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.
Place 1/2 cup milk in a bowl; whisk in flour and miso until smooth. In a saucepan, bring stock and remaining 1 cup milk to a boil over high. Whisk in flour mixture, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet over high. Add tomatoes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly blistered and beginning to pop, 2 to 3 minutes. Add thyme and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add spinach; cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cooked pasta, sauce, and half of cheese to skillet; toss to combine. Serve in shallow bowls, and top evenly with remaining cheese.

 

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Weekly Winner: Sensational, Subtle, Salmon Salad

IMG_0468Sometimes food doesn’t have to smack you in the face.  As much as I like big, bold flavors, spice-encrusted meats, tangy sauces and a big ‘ol punch of garlic; occasionally I find beauty and comfort in subtlety.  Salmon, Radish, and Bibb Salad is that dish.

I found this winner in Real Simple Magazine.  Honestly, I was just looking for a different, simple salad to throw together for a midweek lunch.  Salmon had been on sale and, as we discussed in an earlier post I do love me a creamy dressing.  As I continued to eat this salad, picking along and marveling at how tasty it was with such few actual ingredients, the word “elegant” kept coming to mind.  This was definitely an elegant salad.  But that isn’t alliterative and you all know how much I love alliteration.   So serve up this salmon salad and savor the subtle simplicity of such a super selection. (Sorry, I’ll stop now… here’s the recipe)

Salmon, Radish, and Bibb Salad with herby buttermilk dressing

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. skin-on salmon fillet (about 1 in. thick)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus leaves for serving
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus leaves for serving
  • 1 small clove garlic, grated
  • 1 4-oz. head Bibb lettuce, leaves torn in half
  • 3 radishes, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

Procedure:

Season salmon with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Cook salmon, skin side down, until opaque and cooked most of the way through, about 7 minutes. Flip and cook to desired doneness, about 3 minutes for medium-well. Transfer to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Break into large pieces and discard the skin.

Whisk buttermilk, mayonnaise, chopped basil, chopped mint, garlic, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Toss together lettuce, radishes, basil leaves, mint leaves, and remaining teaspoon pepper in a large salad bowl. Top with salmon and drizzle with dressing.

Weekly Winner: Down & Dirty, and Ugly-Tasty.

IMG_0461I’m not one to mess around with things I dearly love.  A good steak doesn’t need steak sauce or really sauce of any kind.  Salt & Pepper.  Done.  The same can be said (usually) for pork chops.  I love the taste of them as is, no need to muck them up.  Then I learned there is a thing called “Tomato-Bacon Gravy”… wha-what??  OK, maybe a little mucking wouldn’t hurt.  After all you’re adding pig to, well, pig!!  What can be wrong with that?  And, by adding tomatoes aren’t you actually making it healthier? (work with me here!)

Pork Chops with Tomato-Bacon Gravy is not pretty.  It’s not healthy and not something you’ll necessarily want to serve to company.  But man, on a random chilly night when you just want to change into your pajamas and tuck into something truly scrumptious, this is your meal.  I tried to assuage my guilt by roasting up a big batch of broccoli to go with it, but truth be told I wound up dragging the healthy broccoli through the extra gravy.  This decadent, dirty dinner comes from Southern Living Magazine.  Had I to do it all over again, there would definitely be mashed potatoes with this dinner.  Guilt be damned!

Pork Chops with Tomato-Bacon Gravy

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 thick-cut bacon slices

4 (1″ thick) bone-in center-cut pork chops (about 10 oz each)

1 tsp kosher salt, divided

1 tsp black pepper, divided

1 pint cherry tomatoes

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup beef stock

2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 400F.  Cook bacon in a skillet over medium until crisp, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes.  Remove bacon to paper towels to drain, set aside. Reserve drippings in skillet off heat.
  • Sprinkle pork chops with 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Place skillet over medium-high, add pork chops, and cook in hot drippings until well browned, 3 minutes per side.  Transfer pork chops to an aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet
  • Place in the preheated oven; cook until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of pork chop registers 145F, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, place skillet with remaining drippings over medium-high. Add tomatoes and remaining salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until blistered and beginning to burst, about 3 minute.  Sprinkle with flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Add stock; stir until smooth.  Reduce hat to medium, and simmer until thickened, 5 minutes.
  • Chop bacon; stir into tomato gravy and serve over pork chops. Sprinkle with parsley.

 

 

Weekly Winner: Green Goddess Goes Hipster

IMG_0459People generally fall into two categories with salad dressing: you’re either on Team Vinaigrette or Team Creamy.  Me? Definitely Team Creamy — ranch, blue cheese, French, Thousand Island (don’t judge!), I love them all.  Perhaps my favorite is Green Goddess.  This rich, herbaceous dressing is not as widely known or used as others, but to me, it just screams “Spring”.

I’m still waiting for Spring here in Chicago, so this recipe served as a nice reminder that yes, eventually, warmer weather will arrive.

Chicken-Quinoa Salad with Green Goddess Dressing comes from Southern Living magazine.  It’s very light and fresh-tasting and the quinoa and chicken both add substance to make it more filling.  Then there’s the fabulous, herby, dressing — no need to feel guilty about drizzling on this rich dressing since it is only enhancing all the healthy goodness in the salad itself.  And should you feel the slightest bit guilty about using rotisserie chicken, just stop!  It’s my secret weapon.  Cheap, delicious and ready instantly.  Honestly, if you’re picky about where you get your rotisserie chicken, I dare say you can’t make it better yourself, so why even try??

Chicken-Quinoa Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 Tbsp. fresh juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, divided
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 5 cups torn butter lettuce or butter lettuce mix
  • 3 cups pulled rotisserie chicken (from 1 chicken)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced English cucumber (from 1 cucumber)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 5 radishes)

Procedure:

Process mayonnaise, chives, vinegar, anchovy paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, black pepper, 1⁄4 cup of the fresh parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon of the fresh tarragon leaves, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt in a food processor until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

Bring water, quinoa, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Stir and cover. Reduce heat to low, and cook until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Remove lid, and fluff with a fork.

Toss together butter lettuce and remaining 1⁄4 cup each fresh parsley leaves and fresh tarragon leaves. Toss lettuce mixture lightly with about 1⁄4 cup dressing. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle cooked quinoa over lettuce mixture; top with pulled rotisserie chicken. Arrange thinly sliced English cucumbers and thinly sliced radishes on top and around sides. Drizzle salad with an additional 1⁄4 cup dressing, and serve remaining dressing on the side, if desired.

Weekly Winner: The Green Theme Continues … with Easy Peasy Soup

IMG_0435It appears I’m not quite done with my “Greening of the Menu”.  This is one big bowl of green! And while Spring Pea Soup with Spiced Cream is a welcome comfort on a cold rainy day, the peas, chives and swirl of cream hints that spring maybe… just maybe… is right around the corner.

The soup, which could not be easier to prepare, comes from Fine Cooking magazine and is ready in less than 30 minutes.  The only slightly unique ingredient is Za’atar, a spice blend that is available online, in spice shops, or at some better grocery stores.  There are also recipes online for making your own with spices and ingredients I guarantee you have in your pantry. The real magic of this soup is its simplicity, both in preparation and in flavor — there’s nothing to hide the taste of peas. The spiced sour cream is addictive!  Swirled in it combines with the warm soup to make is just slightly exotic tasting.

Spring Pea Soup with Spiced Cream

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil; more for drizzling

1 medium sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 small clove garlic, very thinly sliced

5 to 5-1/2 cups shelled fresh English peas or frozen peas (no need to thaw)

Kosher salt

3/4 cup (6 oz) sour cream

1 1/2 tsp za’atar

Cayenne

1 lemon wedge (optional)

3 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives

Flaky sea salt

Procedure:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until tender but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2-1/4 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the peas and 1-3/4 tsp kosher salt. Boil until the peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  2. Transfer to a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth, adding water by the tablespoon to thin the soup if desired. Keep warm
  3. In a small bowl, stir the sour cream, za’atar, and a generous pinch each of cayenne and kosher salt.
  4. Taste the soup; if it seems a little flat, add a squeeze of lemon juice and stir.  Season to taste with salt.  Serve swirled with the spiced cream and sprinkled with the chives, sea salt, a pinch of cayenne and a drizzle of olive oil.

Weekly Winner: Sumptuous Saag (say what?)

IMG_0433I seem to be entering a “green” period with my cooking, and I’m not talking about eco-friendly, organic or anything like that. I’m talking color.  Everything I’ve been making is green!  This started a few entries back with my Broccoli Bolognese. Maybe it’s my yearning for a sign of green (aka spring) outside, but whatever the reason, I’m just warning you – you’ll be seeing a lot more green here in the coming weeks.

This week’s “greenery” comes in the form of a Saag.  Chicken Saag to be exact.  Prior to making this, the only saag I was familiar with was Saag Paneer which is a spinach-cheese curry dish from India.  So apparently “saag” is the spinach-curry part of the dish.  Call it what you want, but I’ll just call it dang tasty.  This recipe for Chicken Saag comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is about as warm and cozy a dish as you could possibly ask for.  The green helps remind us that spring has to get here eventually.  But in the meantime, a nice warm bowl of this will help me survive.  My apologies to Kermit, but apparently it really is easy being green.

Chicken Saag

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Kosher salt

1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 2-inch piece ginger, minced

1/2 jalapeno, minced (about 1 Tbsp)

20 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and lightly squeezed of excess liquid

2 Tbsp finely chopped scallions

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Procedure:

  • In a medium bowl, combine the garam masala, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and 2 tsp salt.  Add the thighs and rub all over with the spice mixture.  Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  • Put the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the thighs and cook, flipping once or twice, until just cooked through, 6-8 minutes (its okay if they stick a bit and tear because you’ll be cutting them into pieces). Transfer to a plate; they will cook more later.
  • If the pan looks dry, add a little more oil.  Then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any bits, until the onion becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.  Add the spinach, scallions, and cream, and cook until the spinach is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut the thighs into 2-inch pieces.  Add them and any accumulated juice to the pot and stir.  Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the chicken is fully cooked, about 3 minutes.  After that, the dish can sit on a low simmer for up to a half-hour and will only taste better for it.  Season to taste with salt. Add the cilantro, toss well.  Serve.

 

 

Weekly Winner: Stir(fry)ing up a Life-Changing Discovery

udon stir fryYou guys…. this is HUGE!  I recently discovered that frozen Asian noodles are … a thing!  I mean they exist!  And they’re awesome!!  Furthermore, a full-service Asian supermarket, H Mart, opened up in Chicago … right next door to a very good friend of mine.  Mind.  Blown.  This, friends… changes everything!!

I adore of any kind noodles (I’ve said it before and I’ll say in again), but if we’re talking about Asian noodles, without a doubt udon are my favorite.  I’ve noticed whenever I go to an Asian restaurant and order udon, they are absolutely divine. Chewy, thick, really something you can sink your teeth into.  However, when I try to recreate recipes at home with dried udon, I am always somewhat disappointed.  Frozen udon is the answer to my prayers!  Having stocked up on a ridiculously large quantity of them (they’re frozen!  they’ll keep forever!! they’re cheap!) I set out to find something to do with them.  Then I quickly remembered having pulled a recipe from Food Network Magazine for Stir-Fried Udon with Chicken and Vegetables, and off to work I went.

This is, perhaps, the most subtle dish I’ve ever made.  And by subtle, I definitely do not mean boring. There really are no standout flavors.  You can taste each ingredient and they are all bathed in a luscious, light, mushroom-broth-based sauce.  But winding its way through it all are those big, chewy, fabulous noodles.  Because the noodles cook up in minutes, this is a very quick, satisfying and tasty meal.  And while I suspect I’ll make this dish often, I now have a stash of amazing frozen noodles to experiment with.  I think it’s going to be a very “noodley” spring!

Stir-Fried Udon with Chicken and Vegetables

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 18 to 20 ounces fresh or frozen udon noodles
  • 1/4 cup mushroom broth
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 small head napa cabbage, chopped into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced on an angle
  • 3 scallions (white and green parts separated), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup snow peas, trimmed
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced

Procedure:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook as the label directs. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water, stirring the noodles with your hands. Set aside.

Mix the mushroom broth, sake, soy sauce, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large liquid measuring cup; set aside. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper; add to the skillet and cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet, then add the cabbage, carrot and scallion whites. Cook, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted and the carrot is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the snow peas and garlic and stir-fry until the garlic is golden, 1 to 2 more minutes. Add the noodles and stir-fry until dry and evenly combined, about 30 seconds.

Add the mushroom broth mixture and chicken to the skillet and cook, tossing, until the liquid is reduced and the noodles are coated, 1 to 2 more minutes; season with salt and pepper. Divide the noodles and vegetables among bowls and top with the scallion greens.

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