Weekly Winner: Sometimes Tasty isn’t Pretty

As much as I believe the saying “you eat with your eyes first”, there are times when you can forgo looks and dive right into a vat of tastiness, regardless of its outward appearance. You just know it’s going to be good.

Such is the case with Stuffed Poblanos. This is an easier, healthier take on chile rellenos but it has enough cheese to meet my “ooey-gooey quotient” What I love about this dish is what you don’t have to do.  You don’t have to roast and peel the poblanos.  While this certainly isn’t difficult, I find it tedious and wouldn’t bother doing it for a weeknight meal.  The other thing you don’t need to do is batter and deep-fry the peppers as you would in a traditional chile relleno. This bakes right in the sauce which does not help its appearance any but certainly adds to its flavor.

The recipe comes from Martha Stewart.  Shockingly I think I’ve had this recipe for close to 10 years but I don’t recall ever making it.  It makes me sad to think that this fabulous, relatively easy, surprisingly healthy (despite how it looks) recipe has been languishing away in the back corner of my recipe binder waiting for a day to impress.  Well, these poblanos had their day in the spotlight and boy, did they shine!

Stuffed Poblanos

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes in puree

1 jalapeño chile (ribs and seeds removed) minced

2 small onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves (2 whole, 1 minced)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 can (19oz)black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese

1 tsp ground cumin

4 large poblano chiles, halved lengthwise (ribs and seeds removed)

Sour cream for serving

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.  In a blender, combine tomatoes in puree, jalapeño, half the onions, a 2 whole garlic cloves; puree. Season with salt. Pour sauce into a 9×13 inch baking dish; set aside
  2. In a medium bowl, combine beans, cornmeal, 1/2 cup cheese, remaining onions, minced garlic, cumin and 3/4 cup water; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dividing evenly, stuff poblano halves with bean mixture; place on top of sauce in baking dish.  Sprinkle poblanos with remaining 1/2 cup cheese; cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake until poblanos are tender, about 45 minutes.  Uncover, and continue to cook until sauce is thickened slightly and cheese is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more.  Let cool 10 minutes.  Serve with sour cream
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Weekly Winner:  Keeping it Simple – Pork, Peas & Pasta

I’ve been getting a bit “fussy” lately with my cooking.  Lots of ingredients, some of them a bit hard to find or not things you normally have lying around.  I was thinking it was definitely time to dial it back and keep it simple.  That, in my opinion, is best done with two things: steaks and pasta. As it was Friday night which means a pre-run pasta dinner for hubby, I went for an old favorite:  Bucatini with Sausage and Peas.  The title just about gives you all the ingredients.  It is sensationally simple and stupidly delicious.

The recipe comes from Food & Wine Magazine and I’ve been making this for years.  I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it here in the blog before and I also can’t believe its been so long since I’ve made it.  Lucky for me (and hubby) I made a double batch and froze half. We’ll be enjoying this stunner of a dish again soon.

Bucatini with Sausage and Peas

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small shallot, minced

2 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup frozen baby peas

Salt

1 pound bucatini or perciatelli

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons shredded basil

Procedure:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
  2. Partially cover the saucepan and cook the tomato sauce over low heat for 30 minutes.  Stir in the cream and peas and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes longer.  Season with salt.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and return the pasta to the pot.  Add the tomato sauce and 1/4 cup of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and toss over low heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.  Transfer the pasta to bowls, top with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the shredded basil and serve.


Weekly Winner:  Bridging the Seasons with a Comforting Stew

It has been unseasonably cool here the last few days and almost immediately I began thinking of “fall food”.  Those dishes that bridge the gap from end of summer to beginning of autumn without heating up the house too much and while still taking advantage of all the great summer produce.  And, to be honest, I’m just starting to tire of salads, grain bowls and the like.  I wanted comfort. And while I’m certain there are a few scorching days left for us here in Chicago this summer, I thoroughly enjoyed cozying up to a bowl of something warm with the windows open and a cool, autumnal breeze blowing through the house.

Curried Lentil-and-Vegetable Stew is the perfect “gap” meal.  The fresh tomato and zucchini still taste like summer and the curry, lentils and yogurt make it a substantial meal.   I will be making this dish long after summer and well into football season! The recipe comes Cooking Light and its one of those dishes that while it tastes extravagant, you know it’s incredibly healthy.

Curried Lentil-and-Vegetable Stew

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups chopped zucchini

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped, seeded tomato

2 Tbsp curry powder

2 Tbsp ketchup

2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 (17.6-oz) pkg. steamed cooked lentils (about 2-1/2 cups)

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

2 Tbsp plain whole-milk yogurt (I used more)

Procedure:

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add zucchini and garlic; cook 3 minutes. Add tomato, curry powder, and ketchup; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Combine stock and flour in a small bowl. Add stock mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Stir in salt and lentils; cook 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat; stir in lime juice. Divide lentil mixture among 4 bowls; top evenly with yogurt.

Weekly Winner:  Pure Invigoration … and drop dead gorgeous!

Sometimes you just need a break.  As good as all the summer grilled meats, potato salads, hot dogs and ice cream treats are (and I don’t regret one of them) you need to cut through all that richness occasionally and just lighten up.  And when the salad is as beautiful as this one and makes you feel incredibly good both while eating it and afterwards, you’ve got yourself one heck of a Weekly Winner.

Rice Noodle Salad with Avocado, Mango, and Chile is that dish. It’s the one I’m going to start craving when I’ve overdone it a bit. It’s amazingly refreshing and the chile gives just the perfect kick. The recipe, which comes from Fine Cooking is so easy that literally, if you can boil water, you can make it.  So no excuses….make this dish!

Rice Noodle Salad with Avocado, Mango, and Chile

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup mirin

4 tsp Asian toasted sesame oil

2 tsp minced fresh Thai bird chile or similar

8 oz rice noodles (not vermicelli)

2 firm-ripe Hass avocados, diced

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil; more for garnish

1/3 cup salted dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lime juice, mirin, sesame oil, chile and 1 tsp salt
  • Prepare the noodles according to package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water.
  • In a medium bowl, gently toss the avocados, mango, and basil with enough of the vinaigrette to coat lightly.  In a large bowl, toss the noodles with enough of the remaining vinaigrette to moisten well.
  • Serve the noodles topped with the avocado mixture, peanuts, and basil.  Pass the lime wedges and any remaining vinaigrette at the table.

Weekly Winner:  Better (and Prettier) Than Takeout — Stunningly Simply and Sensational Sweet & Sour Sesame Pork

In general, I’m a fan of takeout (or, as is the case here in Chicago) ordering in.  We are fortunate here, because we can get basically any type of food delivered to our door.  Italian, Mexican, Asian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Indian… you name it.  Go online and within an hour, someone is ringing your doorbell with dinner.  The problem I have with ordering in is that while all of this is generally tasty, it can be expensive, is not usually healthy, can take a frustratingly long time, and generally is not too attractive by the time it arrives.

If I do order in, it is usually Asian food.  However, that may soon change. Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork is ridiculously easy, amazingly tasty and is on the table in less than a half hour.  And it’s beautiful to boot!  The recipe comes from Cooking Light and might just take the place of my local Asian takeout menu.

Sweet-and-Sour Sesame Bok Choy with Pork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese hot mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces ground pork
  • 1 pound baby or small bok choy, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups hot cooked brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Whisk together stock, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, mustard, cornstarch, and crushed red pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high.  Add pork; cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until pork is browned and crumbled, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove pork from pan with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add bok choy and carrots to drippings in pan; cook over medium-high until slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add stock mixture and pork.  Bring to a boil; cook until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in sesame oil.
  4. Serve over rice, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

Weekly Winner:  Banishing the Blahs with Bountiful Buddha Bowl

Let’s face it, grain bowls can get a bit monotonous — even downright boring.  More often than not they have some sort of Asian-based dressing and your standard-issue white or brown rice or perhaps quinoa but nothing new or exciting.

That is until I discovered the Green Goddess Buddha Bowl from Epicurious.  Having always loved Green Goddess salad dressing (even the bottled, supermarket variety) this was just the ticket to breakthrough my salad/grain bowl blahs.

This bowl uses farro as a base and an herby, garlicky dressing. Everything in this bowl seems vital to the overall yumminess and with the exception of the egg and the farro, everything in this bowl is some shade of verdant green so you know you’re eating good stuff.  I found myself getting increasingly interested in the dish the more I ate of it rather than tiring of it quickly as I do with a lot of salads.  It is also easily adaptable to your preferred veggies and herbs, however I find it rather perfect just the way it is.

Green Goddess Buddha Bowl

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound broccoli florets (about 10 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

4 large eggs

8 ounces sugar snap peas

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, and/or tarragon

4 cups cooked farro

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

1/2 cup baby greens

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss broccoli with 2 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until charred and tender, 15–20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add eggs, cover, and cook 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water (keep cooking water boiling) and let cool. Peel eggs.
  3. Add sugar snap peas to boiling water and cook until bright green and just slightly tender, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with ice water.
  4. Purée yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, 1 cup herbs, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Toss grains, 1/2 cup dressing, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Wipe out large bowl, then toss broccoli, snap peas, cucumbers, baby greens, and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Top with avocado slices, pumpkin seeds, and remaining 2 Tbsp. herbs. Slice eggs in half and add to bowls. Serve remaining dressing alongside for drizzling.

Weekly Winner:  The Secret to Succulent Salmon? A board and a killer glaze

There is very little you can do to salmon that I wouldn’t like. Broiled, poached, sautéed, flaked … you name it, I’m a fan. One of my favorite ways to prepare salmon is definitely on the grill. Grilling fish however, is fraught with peril. The delicate fish can break, stick or simply fall through the grates (or possibly all three!)

The answer is cedar-planking the fish.  It’s like a safety net for the fish!  In addition, it imparts more smokiness than simply throwing it on the grill.  Add an amazing glaze and you’ve got yourself a fabulous fish dish.  Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon from Eating Well magazine checks all the boxes and comes together in about a half hour (not counting the soaking of the plank).  

Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp maple syrup

1 Tbsp sake

1/4 cup white miso

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1-1/2 pounds salmon fillet, skinned or 4 boneless, skinless filets

4 scallions, trimmed

1/4 tsp ground pepper

2 tsps black and/or white sesame seeds

Procedure:

  1. Heat sake and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat just until warm. Remove from heat and whisk in miso until smooth. Let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in mayonnaise and lemon zest.
  2. Set up your grill for indirect grilling. Build a medium-high heat fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
  3. Place the plank, smooth-side down, directly over the flame and grill until the bottom is charred and smoky, 2 to 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Run your fingers over the salmon and remove any bones you find with tweezers. Place scallions on the charred side of the plank, leaving a little space between them. Place the salmon on the scallions and season with pepper. Spread the glaze on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  5. Grill the fish on the plank over indirect heat until the glaze is bubbling and browned and the fish is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve on the plank, if desired.

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