Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thai-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Stew

I love cooking from the pantry. Being creative never tasted so good!

I had a boneless pork tenderloin roast that I wanted to turn into a stove top stew, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to go the Southwestern route with salsa, paprika, tomatoes and peppers, or perhaps more Asian inspired, with soy sauce, ginger, and orange peel. As I was rummaging through the pantry, I found a random box of "Thai Sweet Potato Soup" and some coconut milk. So, I decided to make a Thai-style curry with the pork instead. That's one of my favorite things about creative cookery -- you can make something out of everything.  
Thai-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Stew
Olive oil
1.5 lbs boneless pork tenderloin roast, seasoned on both sides with salt/pepper
2 TBS butter
2 -3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp brown sugar 
2 smallish apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced or 1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced
1 17. oz package (about 2 cups) of organic Thai sweet potato soup
1 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2

To Do:
  • Heat a TBS or so of olive oil in a dutch oven (or heavy bottomed pot with a lid) over medium-high flame, then brown the tenderloin on all sides.
  • Remove the pork from the pan and cover with foil. 
  • Add 1 TBS of the butter, the garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger, and brown sugar and cook until fragrant.  
  • Lower the heat to medium, and stir in the rest of the butter, apples and carrots and cook until the carrots are tender-crisp.
  • Return the pork to the pot.
  • Carefully pour in the soup and coconut milk. 
  • Cook with the lid slightly askew for about 30-35 minutes on medium heat, turning the meat with tongs once. (The liquid should be bubbling, but not boiling.)
  • When the pork feels firm but still gives a wee bit when squeezed, remove it from the pot and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Alternately, you can check the temperature. If it's close to 140-145 degrees, take it out.
  • Turn the heat to low and let the sauce reduce a bit uncovered, while the pork rests.
  • Cut the pork into 1/4 -1/2 inch slices. It should be a little pink inside -- overcooked pork is yuck, and it will cook more when you return it to the sauce.
  • When the sauce has reduced a bit, adjust the seasonings to your taste then put the sliced cork back into the pot and cover with the sauce until heated through.
  • Scoop into bowls over rice, quinoa or noodles.

So, what tasty meal is waiting in your pantry?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Warm Weather Cookery Tricks

Some favorite warm weather tips, from my kitchen to yours:

'Tis the season for grilling, making S'Mores, slurping popsicles and dipping your toes in the pool. And soon it will be time for my favorite summer picnic treat -- corn on the cob. Which means it is time for me to remind you (as I do every summer) how to make the best corn on the cob without turning on your stove.

Easiest Corn on the Cob Ever
  • Place two un-husked ears of corn in the microwave for 6-8 minutes, depending on your microwave's power. You can make as many as you want, but only put two in the microwave at once for best results.
  • Carefully remove the corn from microwave and cut off the bottom part of each ear (about a 1/2 inch or so).
  • Take one of the ears and hold it at the top of its husk. Give it a little shake. The corn should slide out easily. Repeat with the next one.
  • Or you can cut about 1 inch off of both ends of each ear of the cooked corn and then peel off the husk.
  • Add butter and salt, a sprinkle of chili powder and enjoy!

Hot weather is also the perfect time for ice cream. There's nothing better than a drippy cone on a hot summer day. But how about a lower-fat, dairy-free version? That's easy. Go bananas.

Banana "Ice Cream"
  • Peel 4 or more ripe bananas and slice them into rounds. Then freeze overnight.
  • Blend/process the frozen banana pieces on high speed, until smooth. Have patience. It will be crumbly at first, but then suddenly, it will transform into creaminess. 
  • Drizzle in a bit of honey or your favorite ice cream extras and pulse in the blender until combined. (I like to add peanut butter cups.)
  • If you eat it right away, it will be like soft serve ice cream. If you wait, put it in a freezer-safe bowl with a lid and let it freeze for 30-60 minutes.
  • Scoop into bowls and drizzle with hot fudge, melted peanut butter, whipped cream or your favorite ice cream toppings.
  • Go bananas!

    It's important to hydrate when it's hot outside, especially if you're also having a summer cocktail or three. But sometimes a glass of water isn't the most popular of picnic treats. But, add some herbs and fruit to your water pitcher and watch how quickly everyone reaches for it. You can strain into glasses or serve as is, just don't forget the ice! Here are some add-in ideas to get you started.
    Water, Water Everywhere
    • Lavender or rosemary sprigs and lemon wedges
    • Fresh ginger and lime slices
    • Mint leaves and orange or cucumber slices
    • Tarragon leaves and diced peaches
    • Basil leaves with sliced grape tomatoes
    Happy Summer!

    Wednesday, June 3, 2015

    Eggplant and Turkey Breast Ragout

    I know I sound like a broken record, but eggplants are awesome. Whenever I want to add some color and flavor to a dish, I add an eggplant.

    I had some gorgeous medium-sized eggplants waiting to be turned into something tasty, so I decided to make an eggplant ragout that I could use in two delicious dishes.
    Eggplant and Turkey Breast Ragout
    Olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 
    1 tsp garlic powder
    1/2 tsp smoked paprika
    1 tsp garam masala
    Mediterranean herb mix  
    1 lb ground turkey breast (antibiotic-free)
    1 medium-sized eggplant, small dice
    2-3 green, red, or yellow peppers, small dice
    1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
    1 cup chicken stock/broth
    1 cup tomato sauce
    Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

    To Do:
    • Heat a TBS or two of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the minced garlic.
    • When the garlic is fragrant, stir in the spices and cook until you can smell the loveliness, about a minute or so.
    • Add the turkey breast and cook until browned and crumbly.
    • While the turkey is browning, cut the eggplant and peppers into small dice (approx 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/4) and chop the tomatoes.
    •  Add the veggies to the pot along with the chicken stock and a hefty pinch or two of salt/pepper and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
    •  Cover the pot and let everything bubble gently for about 30 minutes on low heat. If it seems too dry, or starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a bit more chicken stock or water.
    • When the stew has cooked down a bit, add the tomato sauce and uncover the pan. Let the flavors meld for a few minutes, then season to taste with a bit more salt/pepper.
    • Try not to eat all of the ragout before you use it in one or both of the two recipe ideas below.

    Dish 1: Eggplant Casserole
    •  Take another eggplant and slice it into 1/2 inch rounds, douse the slices with some olive oil and smoked salt and bake them on a greased cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven until they are tender and browned. 
    • Then, coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a bit of tomato sauce and layer the eggplant slices until the bottom of the dish is covered.
    •  Use a slotted spoon to layer the turkey/eggplant ragout on top of the eggplant. 
    • In a small dish whisk together milk (or soy milk) and 3/4 cup of smoked ricotta until it is the thickness of heavy cream, then drizzle it over the meat mixture. 
    • Take your remaining eggplant slices and add another layer of them.
    • Add another layer of the ragout.
    • Drizzle on more of the ricotta mixture and a sprinkle of herbs, salt/pepper.
    • Top with 4 slices of day-old crusty bread (or enough  to fit the dish), then cover the slices in a layer of tomato sauce. (Make sure all of the bread is covered in sauce.)
    •  Top with some shredded mozzarella cheese. (I'm partial to smoked mozzarella lately.)
    • Add a dash or two of some herbs, salt/pepper then cover the dish in plastic wrap and let it marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, until the bread is soaked through.
    • When you're ready to make dinner, preheat the oven to 375 then cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly. (Note: Spray the bottom side of your foil with cooking spray before covering to keep the cheese from sticking.)
    • Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until the cheese is browned and melted.
    • The result is a gooey, delicious dish that resembles moussaka and lasagna and bread pudding all in one.

    Dish 2: Eggplant and Turkey Ragout with Penne and Smoked Mozzarella
    • Boil one pound of whole wheat penne pasta according to the directions, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water before draining.
    • Toss the pasta with the ragout, adding a bit of the reserved pasta water as needed. Season to taste with salt/pepper as needed.
    • Top with some Parmesan and smoked mozzarella, ground pepper and fresh herbs if you have them.
    •  An easy, delightful lunch or dinner!
    Yum and yum!

    Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    Chicken and Vegetable Penne with Goat Cheese Sauce

    Chris and I first moved to the NYC area over 17 years ago. Early on, we had dinner one night at a little Italian restaurant just off of the hustle and bustle of Times Square. I still remember the dish I had that night, because I've spent the last 17 years trying to replicate it: Homemade farfalle pasta, plump tomatoes, fresh basil, a dollop of goat cheese and grind or two of cracked black pepper. It was smoky and bright, simple yet elegant -- and one of those dishes you think about for weeks. I tried to make it at home soon after, but it never tasted quite the same.

    But, about 12 years ago, I came close. Chris and I were prepping for our soon-to-be wedding, working late into the night gluing strawflowers onto the ceremony programs and painting the hair of the girl in our mini bride and groom cake toppers yellow, so she'd be a blonde and not a brunette. All 75 of them. We drank a couple bottles of wine as we worked, and by the time we were done, we were starving. All we had in the house was pasta so I grabbed some tomato sauce, goat cheese, and a few other ingredients and threw together a quick dinner in happy, exhausted, wine-induced daze. As we sat at our little table in our tiny kitchen, I remember stopping after the first bite. The handsome, amazing guy I was going to marry in a few weeks also stopped mid-bite: It tasted like the pasta from that little Italian restaurant.

    Jump head five more years, and I've stopped trying to replicate both the restaurant dish and the drunken pasta night dish -- I have no memory of the other ingredients I used that night. Still, every now and again I do make a tasty pasta dish with tomatoes and goat cheese, adding in new ingredients as the cookery spirit moves me.

    This time, I made a delicious pasta dish with penne, goat cheese, tomatoes, zucchini, bacon, garlic and herbs. Towards the end, I also stirred in some leftover chicken breast. It wasn't the same as either dish from years ago, but it was satisfying and comforting and good.

    And, I got to eat it across the table from the same handsome, amazing guy. Which is delicious in its own right.

    Chicken and Vegetable Penne with Goat Cheese Sauce
    1 lb. penne 
    4-6 strips of bacon, diced
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
    2 tsp tomato paste
    1 pint cherry tomatoes, each poked with the end of a knife
    1 large zucchini, diced
    1 medium eggplant, diced
    1 cup pasta water
    4 oz goat cheese (garlic and herb)
    2 cups diced cooked chicken breast
    Fresh herbs (basil, parsley), minced

    Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

    To Do: 
    • Boil penne in heavily salted water, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, and set both pasta and reserved liquid aside.
    • In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the bacon over medium-high heat until crispy, then add the minced garlic. Continue to cook, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant, then reduce heat to medium. Stir in the tomato paste until it coats the bacon and garlic.
    • Add the diced zucchini, eggplant, the tomatoes, and the pasta water. Cover and cook until the veggies are tender and the tomatoes have started to burst, then stir in the goat cheese.
    • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes until the cheese has melted and liquid has thickened.
    • Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the herbs and chicken, then cook a few minutes more, until heated through.
    • Scoop into bowls, top with more herbs and enjoy.

    Monday, May 18, 2015

    Slow-Baked Steak

    Red meat is a welcomed treat here at Chez Gourmess.

    We've been trying to eat less meat and more of the healthy stuff, but sometimes all I want is a glass of wine and a medium-rare steak.

    Chris and I visited our local farmers market in our new neighborhood and brought home a lovely bunch of asparagus, some dandelion greens, and a 16 oz. strip steak -- all from a local farm. The steak was frozen solid, so I was a little bummed that we probably couldn't eat it for dinner without a bunch of defrosting and waiting -- until Chris reminded me that the new best way to cook a steak is by starting with a FROZEN one. We did a bit of online research, until we found this video from The New York Times, and decided to try it out. We didn't follow it exactly, but the result was a delightfully tender steak with minimal fuss. (Which means more time to drink that wine.)

    Chris helped with dinner -- I was a bit nervous about splashing oil and meat juices near our lovely sparkling white marble countertops, so I wanted a partner in crime. But, I got over my fears and promised myself I would clean up the mess as soon as we were done. Which I did, and with no problems. (Gotta love 409 Natural Stone Cleaner!) I carefully seared the steak in oil --make sure it is smoking hot-- in a cast iron pan until the bottom and sides were nicely browned. Then, I flipped the steak so the browned side was facing up and turned off the heat. Once the oil had stopped sputtering and splashing, I sprinkled on a bit of salt/pepper and then Chris moved the cast iron pan into the oven which had been preheated to 200 degrees. The steak was about 1.5 inches thick and frozen solid, so we let it bake, undisturbed for about an hour, then checked the meat's temperature. When it registered 130 in the thickest part, we took it out -- the total time in the oven was about an hour and 10 minutes.

    While the steak was cooking, Chris poured some wine and I wilted the dandelion greens in a pan with a wee bit of chicken broth, then tossed them in a sweet/sour/spicy dressing of apple cider vinegar, almond oil, sugar, mustard, herbs, and chili flakes. I also softened up some salted butter and mixed in some horseradish mustard until I had a lovely mustard butter -- a tasty steak and steamed asparagus topper. We didn't need a starch, but you'd have plenty of time to make more sides for your dinner while the steak cooks. Which makes me think this could be a great way to serve steak for a dinner party without having to slave over a stove or grill.

    When it was done, we let the meat rest for a few minutes after we took it out of the oven, then sliced it up. It was perfectly cooked. Crispy outside but juicy and tender enough on the inside to cut with a butter knife. Yum!