Weekly Winner:  Noshing on Noodles

There’s something about cold noodles that I just love.  They’re addictive and refreshing all at once.  Usually you find cold noodles in some sort of Asian variety, but if we’re being totally honest with each other, I’ve been known to dig into cold left-over Italian-style pasta as well.  A noodle is a noodle, right?

Cold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale from Bon Appetit was a happy find for me for several reasons.  First of all, they’re cold noodles – and not just any noodles, but ramen noodles (bonus!). Secondly it has roasted broccoli.  I am happy to eat broccoli in any way, shape or form (including raw) but roasted is definitely my favorite.  Finally, it served as yet one more way I can get hubby to happily eat kale.  I think the zip of the vinegar and spice of the sambal oelek has a lot to do with it, but I’m taking my victories however I can.

As the temperatures continue to rise here in Chicago, rest assured this will become not only my go-to lunch, but also an awesome side dish to take along to concerts, picnics and cookouts.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Broccoli and Kale

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 large head of broccoli, cut into large florets with some stalk attached

2 garlic cloves, 1 finely grated, 1 thinly sliced, divided

1-1/2 tsp sambal oelek

1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, divided

3/4 cup vegetable oil, divided

1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/4 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste

3 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced, plus more for serving

1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut into 1-inch match sticks

4 cups chopped Tuscan kale leaves

2 (10 oz) packages fresh ramen noodles or 2 (3 oz) packages dried

Torn mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds (for serving)

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 450F.  Toss broccoli with grated garlic, sambal oelek, 1 Tbsp vinegar, and 1/4 cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.  Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and browned in spots, 20-25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk scallions, ginger, sliced garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup oil in a large bowl.  Add kale; toss to coat.  Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain; rinse under cold water.  Add noodles and warm broccoli to kale and toss to coat. Divide among bowls and top with mint, sesame seeds, and more scallion greens.
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Weekly Winner:  Perusing Persia through seriously yellow chicken

I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from Persia.  Heck, I’m not even sure I’ve ever eaten Persian food before finding this recipe last week.

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime caught my eye for several reasons.  First of all that color!  I mean that is sunshiny-yellow chicken with some seriously verdant green toppings.  It’s beautiful, right?? Then looking at the list of ingredients it had lots of the things I’ve grown to love:  white rice, warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric, yogurt, and nuts.  And not just any nuts but pistachios which easily make the list of my top three all-time favorite nuts.  

This dish was exotic and familiar at the same time.  There’s nothing more cozy to me than a bowl of chicken and rice and that’s exactly what this dish is, but it’s also so much more.  The spice mix in the rice alone elevate the lowly basmati rice to something incredible and the hit of the turmeric on the chicken really make this dish unique.  Its spicy without being at all hot.

This perfect “getaway in a bowl” comes from Epicurious and while the list of ingredients might seem daunting, it is really quite easy and quick to prepare.  One word of warning however:  if you’re like me and use your hands to rub herbs, marinades and seasonings on meat, you will (as I did) have yellow fingernails for about 3 days after making this! That turmeric is serious stuff!

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

• 1 medium onion, halved, thinly sliced

• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus 1 garlic clove, smashed

• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 8 wedges for serving (3–4 limes total)

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• 2 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

• 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more

• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 1 cup basmati rice

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 cup plain yogurt (optional)

• 1 English hothouse or large standard cucumber, peeled if desired, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces (about 2 cups)

• 1 cup (packed) herb leaves, such as mint, cilantro, and/or dill (I used mint, parsley, and basil)

• 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

• Sumac (for serving; optional)

Procedure:

Mix chicken, onion, turmeric, chopped garlic, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt, and 3/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium in a heavy medium saucepan. Add rice and smashed garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Stir in cardamom, cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp. cumin and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add 1 3/4 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, until water is evaporated and rice is cooked, 18–20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit, covered, until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high in a large skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add chicken mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt, if using, then adjust seasoning to taste. Cover to keep warm.

Gently toss cucumber, herbs, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl.

Fluff rice with a fork and divide among bowls. Spoon chicken over. Top with cucumber salad, pistachios, and sumac, if using. Generously squeeze lime wedges over

Weekly Winner:  Pretty As a Picture Pork

Since my job is cooking for other people, and some of those other people are good friends, it’s sometimes difficult to make something quick, easy and new for them when getting together. Chances are anything I’ve prepared they’ve had before or I just wind up throwing the same old burgers, steaks or ribs on the grill.  So last weekend when we were headed to friends for a cookout and I offered to bring the main dish, I wanted something new and different (and of course, I wanted to impress just a bit too).  But I also didn’t want to slave away preparing it (the cooking of said dish wouldn’t be a problem  – if a grill is there, the cooking responsibility falls to hubby).  I just had to get the dish ready.

As I was looking through recipes for something new (or at least new to them), along came this little gem:  Apple-and-Pepper-Layered Pork Tenderloin. Bingo!  We have a winner!  The recipe is from Chile Pepper Magazine and while it looks super fancy and dare I say even a bit fussy, it couldn’t have been easier to prepare.  As usual, I made a few tweaks to the dish.  First of all it calls for yellow jalapeños.  I have never seen a yellow jalapeño and since jalapeños in general can be a bit unpredictable as far as heat is concerned, I substituted poblano.  The recipe also says to alternate layering the apples, peppers and the prosciutto. Really?  that would mean only every third slot would get prosciutto and that just didn’t seem right.  This dish needed more pork-on-pork action.  I alternated between the apples and peppers but every slot got prosciutto, because, well… why not??  Finally the recipe calls for a 2-1/2 pound pork tenderloin.  I opted for two 1-1/4 pound ones and it worked perfectly fine.

Next time you want something different to throw on the grill, or you want to impress without the work, this is your meal.

Apple-and-Pepper-Layered Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lb pork tenderloin (or two, 1-1/4 pound tenderloins)

1/2 Tbsp dried marjoram

1/2 Tbsp dried sage

1 tsp dried thyme

1 Tbsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 of your favorite apples

3 yellow jalapeños, seeded and membranes removed and sliced lengthwise (or 1 large poblano seeded and deveined and sliced)

4 oz prosciutto

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the grill to 425F
  2. Cut slits across the pork tenderloin, about 1/2 inch apart, leaving about the same distance from the bottom to keep the tenderloin together
  3. Combine all the dry spices in a bowl.
  4. Drizzle the pork with the olive oil, then rub the spices into the pork, including in between the slits.
  5. Alternating the ingredients, stuff the slits with the apples, peppers and prosciutto
  6. Grill for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140F. Let rest for 5 minutes then serve.

Weekly Winner:  Light, Cheery (and Cheesy) Summer Pasta

It is finally tomato season here in Chicago.  My farmer’s market has an ample supply of these beauties and to me they signify the definitive start of summer. You really don’t want to do too much with these guys. They’re pretty much perfect just the way they are. The lightest touch of seasoning is all you need to bring out their best.  These tomatoes were the crowning touch on dinner tonight, which was so good, I had to post this immediately.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes is summer perfection on a plate.  It combines pasta (a Friday night “must have” for us), cheese (always a bonus) market tomatoes, home-grown basil and little else.  It’s reminiscent of a perfect Margherita Pizza.  Elegant in its simplicity  It doesn’t even need to be served piping hot — warmish is just fine.  On a muggy night like tonight, warmish pasta paired with an ice-cold glass of rose was the ideal way to cap off a busy week and kick off a long holiday weekend.

The recipe comes from Eating Well Magazine and the pasta is quick and super easy.  This is guaranteed to be a go-to summer dish for me — for as long as the tomatoes and rose hold out.

Two-Cheese Fusilli with Marinated Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups chopped tomatoes (1-1/2 pounds)

2 Tbsp red-wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

8 ounces fusilli

1 cup finely diced fontina cheese

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil
  2. Combine tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside to marinate.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain.  Immediately return the pasta to the pot. Add fontina and the reserved cooking liquid; stir constantly until the cheese is melted.  Fold in ricotta.  Transfer to a serving bowl or individual pasta bowls.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the marinated tomatoes over the pasta.  (Discard the marinade). Drizzle with oil and top with basil and a generous grinding of pepper.

Weekly Winner:  Addicted to Amazing Asparagus … and apparently farro too

The asparagus this season has been amazing. I find I simply can’t not buy it.  I’m grilling it, roasting it, sautéing it and adding it to anything I can think of.  Also, if you peruse past entries, it appears I have quite the culinary crush on farro.  I find it so much more interesting than rice, quinoa or barley. So, when a hearty salad combines those two things and adds nuts and cheese (which is always a bonus in my book) I knew I’d love it. And I did. This is one of those salads I could easily and happily eat once a week.

The only problem is that I’m at a loss as to where I found this winner of a recipe. Various internet searches have come up empty.  All I know is that it was a magazine.  The good news is I cut it out so I have it forever and am sharing it with you so we can all make it whenever we want —  even if I can’t give appropriate credit.  

Toasted Farro & Asparagus Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 lb thin asparagus

6 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed

1-1/2 cups pearled farro

Kosher salt

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste

Grated zest of 1 lemon

3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped

3 oz feta, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh tarragon

Procedure:

  1. Snap off the tough bottom of each asparagus spear and discard.  Gather the spears into a bundle, cut off the tips, and cut the spears into 1/4-inch coins.
  2. In a wide saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the farro and stir to coat the grains evenly.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and enough water to cover the farro by at least 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the farro is al dente, about 25 minutes.  Drain.
  3. While the farro is cooking, in a large skillet heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, the butter, and the red pepper flakes over medium-high heat, stirring a few times so the pepper flakes evenly toast, just a couple of minutes.  Working in batches in needed, add the asparagus tips and sauté for about a minute, then add the asparagus coins and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tips and coins are bright green and crisp-tender, a minute or two more.
  4. Add the drained farro to the asparagus. Add the lemon zest and juice and 2 tbsp of the olive oil, tossing well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add up to another Tbsp of olive oil if you’d like. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then add the pistachios, feta and tarragon and toss again.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Weekly Winner – Crushing on Cashew Chicken Kebabs

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a good peanut sauce (heck, I’ll eat a bad peanut sauce!). In my mind, the only thing that can make peanut sauce better is if you use cashews instead.  And seriously, how fun are kebabs???  So, put the two together and you know you’ve got yourself a winner.  Combine all that goodness with a fresh, crisp, cold veggie and rice noodle salad and you quite possibly have the perfect summer dinner.

Cashew-Chicken Kebabs comes from Martha Stewart Living magazine and is super easy and if you can convince someone (aka your husband) to grill the kebabs, it doesn’t even heat up the kitchen.  The only change I made was to julienne the carrots and cucumber rather than serve them in long, wide ribbons.  I thought the julienne shape matched better with the rice noodles.  (Sorry Martha!)

Cashew-Chicken Kebabs

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups unsalted roasted cashews,plus more, chopped, for serving

3 to 4 Tbsp red curry paste (depending on desired heat)

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1-1/4 pounds, total)

8 oz vermicelli rice noodles, broken in half

1 English cucumber

2 large carrots, peeled

Safflower oil, for brushing

1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce

Lime wedges, for serving

Procedure:

  1. Soak eight 8-inch skewers in water 15 minutes.  In a food processor, pulse cashews with curry paste and 3/4 cup water until smooth. Combine 1 cup cashew mixture with 1/3 cup water.  Toss chicken with remaining mixture; lightly season with salt.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook noodles until just tender, about 2 minutes; drain.  Rinse with cold water and drain well.
  2. With a vegetable peeler or mandolins, shave cucumber and carrots into wide, paper-thin ribbons.  Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high; lightly brush with oil.  Thread chicken onto skewers; grill, in batches if needed, 6 to 8 minutes per side, transferring to a plate as done. Serve, with noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, cashew sauce, chopped cashews and lime wedges.

Weekly Winner: Craving the Creature Comforts of Carbonara with a side of smoke

Yeah, I know.  It appears I’ve taken a leave of absence. It has been a busy beginning of the summer and now that I can sit back and take a breath, I’ll get you up to date on some of the tastiness that’s happened around here.

Awhile back my best friend came for a visit.  This is always cause for celebration and usually quite a bit of decadent eating and drinking.  While all of that happened, I also had a party to cater so most of the eating and drinking took place at restaurants and bars, with the exception of this dinner. Smoked Gouda Carbonara.  O. M. G.  This is amazing.  I mean downright luxurious and definitely decadent.  But how often down your BFF (who, by the way is Italian) come to visit?  Time to bust the diet, open a bottle of wine and enjoy.

The recipe comes from Food & Wine Magazine and like all good carbonaras has a minimal amount of ingredients.  The only tweak with this one is using smoked Gouda in place of the Parmesan.  The smoked Gouda emphasizes the smokiness of the bacon without becoming overwhelming.  It is just different enough to be sublime.  

Smoked Gouda Carbonara

Serves 6 [not in this house, but that’s what the recipe says]

Ingredients:

1 lb. spaghetti

5 large egg yolks

1 large egg

1 cup (4 oz) finely shredded smoked Gouda, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

6 oz slab bacon, finely diced

3/4 tsp crushed red pepper

Procedure:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the whole egg, the 1 cup of Gouda, 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of black pepper.  Very gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water to temper the eggs.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until rendered but not crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the pasta, crushed red pepper and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water.  Cook, tossing until the pasta is coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the pasta mixture into the large bowl and toss vigorously until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes; add more cooking water if needed.  Season with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta into bowls and serve, passing more Gouda at the table.

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