Weekly Winner:  Move over Miso — it’s Tahini’s turn

I always think its funny how certain ingredients are suddenly hip.  You can’t flip through a food magazine or watch a cooking show without seeing four or five references to them.  Turmeric, Sumac, Pomegranate Molasses, and most recently miso have been everywhere and in everything.  It’s not that these ingredients are new or novel, but for some reason, all of a sudden they’ll be rediscovered and flaunted on and in everything.  Now, the latest ingredient to get a new manager and hit the road in shameless self-promotion is….tahini.

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad is an excellent use of tahini.  It really doesn’t make the chicken taste like sesame, but ensures that it remains incredibly moist. Also, much like yogurt, it helps make really nice, impressive char marks on the chicken when grilled.  While the recipe calls for the leftover marinade to be used as a sauce for the chicken (and is quite tasty as such) I think next time I might mix it into the rice to make it a bit creamier and more interesting.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and is also a nice introduction to the warmer weather we’re finally having in Chicago.  The chicken gets grilled outside and a tomato and cucumber salad just always screams “summer” to me. Hurry up and make this recipe before tahini become “so last month”!!

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

CHICKEN:

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste), well stirred

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1 small shallot, finely grated

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lb.)

Cooking spray

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

SALAD:

1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber

1 1/2 cups chopped tomato

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups hot cooked brown rice

Procedure:

To prepare chicken, combine first 10 ingredients in a bowl. Place 1/4 cup tahini mixture in a small bowl; reserve. Place remaining tahini mixture and chicken in a large ziplock plastic bag; seal, turning to coat chicken. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat grill to medium (350°F to 450°F). Coat grill grate with cooking spray. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Arrange chicken on grill grate; cover and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Arrange chicken on a platter; drizzle with reserved 1/4 cup tahini mixture.

To prepare the salad, combine cucumber and next 6 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt) in a bowl; toss gently to combine. Serve cucumber salad with chicken and rice.

Weekly Winner:  Conquering Coconut Curry Chicken

Here’s a weird thing about me:  I despise coconut. Flaked, shredded, right out the shell… can’t stand it.  Nothing makes me more upset than biting into a luscious piece of chocolate only to find coconut.  I also don’t understand why anyone would want perfectly lovely shrimp coated in that stuff! Nope, not a fan of coconut at all …. unless its coconut milk. That stuff, I love!!  Go figure! I know, I’m a conundrum.  I also can’t stand green beans, but that’s another post!

So back to coconut and this post.  This chicken rocked!  The recipe actually comes from my Vitamix “Simply Natural” cookbook that accompanied my all-time favorite kitchen toy, my Vitamix 7500 (red, of course!).  Rest assured you do not need a Vitamix to put this meal together — any blender or food processor will do.  And while this recipe does take quite a bit of time, its super easy, and almost all of the time is unattended in the oven. Basically you mix the sauce up in your blending-machine of choice, pour it over the chicken and bake away! But it’s so much more fun, when said blending machine of choice is a stylish red Vitamix…just sayin’!

Coconut Curry Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 (14oz) can light coconut milk

1/3 cup chicken stock

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp packed brown sugar

1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tsp red curry paste

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 pounds bone-in chicken pieces

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups cooked brown rice – (to which I added peas)

Procedure:

  1. Place peanut butter, coconut milk, chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, red curry paste, ginger, garlic and cayenne in blender.  Blend mixture until smooth, scraping down sides if necessary.
  2. Preheat oven to 300F
  3. In a plastic bag, combine flour, salt, and black pepper. Add chicken pieces to flour mixture, shaking to coat.
  4. In a large skillet, cook chicken in hot oil until browned.  Transfer to an ungreased rectangular baking dish.  Pour sauce over chicken, cover with foil, and bake for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is very tender.
  5. Transfer to a serving platter.  Spoon sauce over chicken and serve over cooked rice.

Weekly Winner:  Because You Can’t Always Be Good

For the most part I cook healthy food. My weekly repertoire consists of low-calorie, whole foods made from tons of veggies and lean meats with the rare exception of the occasional pork fest.  No processed foods, not a lot of fat (but come on, some!) and a healthy dose of all the right “super foods”.

But you know what?  Every once in a while you just gotta be bad. I’m not talking about three Big Macs and a couple of milk shakes kind of bad, I’m referring to heart-warming, soul-satisfying, ooey-gooey, cheesy bad. The kind of dish that restores your faith in humanity.  For me, that kind of dish is usually mac-n-cheese.  But just because I’ve decided to be bad (and be happy about it), that doesn’t mean I can’t dress up and “adultify” mac-n-cheese and transform it into something, dare I say, elegant?  Its spring and the asparagus (look, a vegetable!!!) is fabulous right now so lets add that along with a sophisticated pork-product (prosciutto) and put on our fancy jammies to enjoy this meal.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto is too good to be abbreviated and hyphenated.  This dish deserves to be called by its full name and eaten with reverence.  The recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is surprisingly a one-pot wonder.  No separate pan for a cheese sauce or even for a bechamel.  Nope, all you need here is one big ‘ol pot and the restraint to actually dish it out into separate bowls rather than diving in with the wooden spoon.  Not that I would ever do that. Because that would be bad.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt

3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

8 oz. elbow macaroni

2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup evaporated milk (not fat-free)

2 large eggs

5 oz. Fontina, coarsely grated (about 1-3/4 cups)

1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into thin strips

2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

Bring a 4-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. With a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a bowl, and keep warm.

Bring the water back to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, whisk the evaporated milk, eggs, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add to the pasta, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts, another 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the asparagus, prosciutto, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Weekly Winner:  A Divisive Dinner Where Pork is the Only Winner

So last night was not a total success.  I liked everything about dinner, but hubby… not so much.  I really can’t complain as he is willing to try darn near anything and has a very short list of things he absolutely does not like.  Apparently we now need to add watercress to that list. Who knew? The pork however, received thumbs up all around.

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice comes from Martha Stewart Living magazine.  I really didn’t think this was going to be risky new recipe to try. Basically stir-fried pork and rice with an Asian orange sauce. However, what makes this dish unique is also what made it not-so-stellar for my husband.  I am pretty sure I’ve served watercress before, but not in such heavy concentration — usually mixed with other greens and generally raw.  This time it was only wilted into the rice.  Let’s just say it was not well-received  The rest of the recipe will be repeated and I’ll simply find another green to swap in for the watercress.  Live and learn and try again!

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup jasmine rice

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 cups coarsely chopped watercress, plus sprigs for serving

3 Tbsp safflower oil

1-1/4 lbs pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4-inch pieces and patted dry

1/2 cup finely julienned peeled ginger (from a 2-1/2 inch piece)

2 Tbsp minced garlic

2/3 cup orange marmalade

2 Tbsp fish sauce

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Procedure:

  1. Bring rice, 1-1/3 cups water, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 16 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Toss watercress with 1 Tbsp oil; season with salt.  Add to pan; let stand, covered 10 minutes.  Stir
  2. Season pork with salt.  Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high.  Add half of the ginger; cook until golden, 1 minute.  Let drain on paper towels.
  3. Add pork to skillet and brown, 3 to 4 minutes; then remove from pan.  Add remaining ginger and garlic to skillet; cook 30 seconds.  Add marmalade, fish sauce, and lime juice; bring to a boil, stirring, until syrupy, about 1 minute.  Return pork to pan; simmer 30 seconds.  Serve over rice, with watercress sprigs and crisp ginger.

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 – 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 Flavor Bomb of Sticky, Tangy Goodness

I’ve discovered a new obsession.  It started innocently enough with needing to purchase if for a salad a client requested.  I had never heard of the stuff and actually had a bit of trouble finding it.  Then I did find it…and I tried it….and I’ve been using it on anything I can think of.  What is it? Pomegranate Molasses.  Seriously, this stuff rocks!  It’s a tart, sweet, sticky, fruity miracle.  Luckily it is also becoming hip which means its showing up in more recipes and is also getting a bit easier to find, although I still mail order mine.

The latest success with using pomegranate molasses was in Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Thighs.  Less of a success was my attempt at photographing it, but hopefully the recipe and description will make up for it!  I got the recipe from Fine Cooking and man, is there a lot going on in this dish with only a few ingredients.  The only other hard to find ingredient is za’atar spice blend, which I easily mixed up once I knew what it was.  The heat of the red pepper flakes with the depth of the garlic, the earthiness of the za’atar spice blend (trust me on this, google it and make your own to keep on hand), the crunch of the walnuts and the magic that is pomegranate molasses all combine for an amazing dish. Which is more than I can say for the picture.

Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Thighs

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp za’atar

1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes

1-1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses [it’s quite possible I doubled this amount]

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped

Lemon wedges, for serving.

Procedure:

  • In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, za’atar, and Aleppo pepper.  In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the garlic and season generously with salt and pepper.  Rub the spice mixture into the chicken.
  • Heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add the chicken in a single layer and cook until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.  Flip and cook the second side until browned, another 6 to 8 minutes.  Drizzle with the pomegranate molasses, sprinkle with the scallion and nuts, and serve with the lemon wedges.

Previous Older Entries