A Matter of Taste

Spicy sausage paired with summer squash gives this quick Rigatoni with Summer Squash, Spicy Sausage and Goat Cheese pasta dish a mild kick, and the goat cheese brings the flavors of the pasta together while adding its own rich nuance. Not into spicy? Switch out the hot sausage for mild and sweet or turkey sausage.

But just looking at the ingredients I knew I had to increase the quantities of some to forge a better balance with the amount of pasta. Unfortunately we couldn’t locate gluten-free rigatoni so we substituted penne, a barely noticeable switch.

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The supermarket wasn’t carrying bulk sausage so I bought the links, removed the casings, and browned the exteriors before breaking into pieces with a spatula.

In addition to increasing the sausage to 1 pound, the goat cheese to 4 ounces, the shallots to more than a 1/2 cup; I also minced up a small banana pepper that I had wallowing in the fridge, adding another pleasant flavor component. Once the yellow summer squash and zucchini were diced, they measured somewhere in the range between 3 and 4 cups as opposed to 2 cups; and the chopped parsley registered closer to 3 tablespoons, both amping up the veggie quotient.

The trick is in how much pasta water to add at the end. Too little and the dish can be a bit dry, too much and it could end up watery. In that case, a hefty sprinkle of grated Parm would help tighten the dish.

It’s all a matter of taste and preference, so don’t be afraid to adjust to your own liking.

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Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. dried rigatoni
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage (or links, casings removed)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 3 medium)
  • 2 cups 3/4-inch-diced yellow and green summer squash
  • 3 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Put the rigatoni in the boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes.
  • While the pasta cooks, heat 1/2 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it into pieces with a spatula or spoon, until it’s almost cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl. Pour the fat out of the skillet but do not wipe it clean.
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  • Heat the remaining 2-1/2 Tbs. oil in the skillet over medium heat and cook the shallots (I also added the minced banana pepper here) until they begin to soften, about 1 minute.
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  • Raise the heat to medium high and add the squash. Cook, stirring frequently, until the squash is barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
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  • Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta-cooking water and drain the rigatoni. Return the rigatoni to its cooking pot and add the sausage, the squash mixture, and 2 Tbs. of the reserved pasta water. Toss over medium heat until the sausage is cooked through and the rigatoni is perfectly al dente, about 3 minutes. Add more of the pasta water as necessary to keep the dish moist.
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  • Remove from the heat, add the goat cheese and parsley, and toss until the cheese melts and coats the pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to warm shallow bowls, and top each serving with some of the grated Parmigiano, if using.
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Adapted by a recipe from Steve Conant of Fine Cooking

Easy Sweet & Spicy Fish Glaze with Wilted Spinach

Tilapia has been getting a bad rap lately. There are some disturbing allegations about the fish, and one is particularly surprising: Some nutritionists have been touting a study that implies that eating tilapia is worse than eating bacon.

The truth is, tilapia has as much omega-3 as other popular seafood, including lobster, mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna—AND is also very low in fat. A 4-ounce serving of tilapia has about 1 gram of saturated fat, 29 grams of protein and around 200 mg of omega-3.  By comparison, a 1-ounce serving of bacon (about 4 strips) contains 4 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of protein and 52 mg of omega-3.

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So people may not want to eat tilapia every day, but that doesn’t mean it has to be avoided altogether, nutritionists say. And if you’re still not convinced, switch out tilapia for another meaty white fish. (The original recipe calls for catfish.)

This easy sweet-and-spicy glaze would also taste great on other fish fillets so try experimenting on the fish of your choice.

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Ingredients

  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 Tbs. Chinese chili garlic sauce (such as Lee Kum Kee brand)
  • 20 oz. skinless tilapia fillets
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed through a garlic press
  • 1 lb. baby spinach (about 16 lightly packed cups)
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds

Directions

  • Melt 2 Tbs. of the butter in an 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk in the orange marmalade and the chili garlic sauce, mashing the larger pieces of fruit with the back of a spoon, until the jam is melted. Set aside off the heat.
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  • Pat the fish dry, season the flesh side of each fillet with a large pinch each of salt and pepper, and spread each fillet with 1 Tbs. of the glaze, using the back of the spoon (leave any remaining glaze in the pan).
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  • Melt 1 Tbs. of the butter with 1 Tbs. of the sesame oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish, glazed side down, and cook for 2 minutes. Using a large spatula, flip the fillets and cook until opaque in the center and just firm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Transfer the fish to 4 dinner plates.
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  • Melt the remaining 1 Tbs. butter with the remaining 1 Tbs. sesame oil in a wide heavy-duty 5- to 6 quart pot over high heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spinach, sprinkle with the soy sauce, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper and then toss until the spinach is just wilted but not yet releasing water, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Divide the spinach among the plates.
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  • Heat the remaining glaze over low heat if very thick, and drizzle over the tilpapia. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

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Adapted from a recipe by Selma Brown Morrow

Autumnal Awesomeness

What classic Autumn pairing comforts the soul and warms the heart as much as braised pork with apples? Basically impossible to mess up, your family and friends will go wild for this sweet-salty, fall-apart-tender Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples. Additionally, the ingredient list is relatively short and cheap, and the skill set needed is minimal; but you’ll need several hours for prep and braise.

Cooking a pork shoulder into heavenly succulence is practically fool-proof, but it does require time. Put the meat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, pour in just enough liquid so the meat is partially submerged, then cover it and let the pork cook slowly in a low oven for a few hours. This is entirely hands-off time. The pork is done when it’s so tender that it literally flakes apart when you poke it with a fork and falls off the bone—if there was one.

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Look for pork shoulder or pork butt. Even though it’s called a “butt,” it’s actually part of the shoulder meat. (The actual rear end is called the ham!) Not able to purchase a boneless cut, it was easy enough to remove the meat from the bone. Plus, now we had extra fodder for the next time we make homemade meat stock.

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Some varieties of apples fall apart while cooking; here you want the apples to hold their shape. Pink Lady and Honeycrisp are good choices and are widely available. The directions indicate to peel the fruit, but I left the skin on for the extra nutrients it offers. Serve with cheesy grits. Both the meat and grits recipes are from one of our all-time braising chefs, Molly Stevens, so we knew we’d be in for a treat—and we certainly were! The dinner was fabulously feast-worthy, especially accompanied by late-season braised green beans, also by Molly…

DO AHEAD: Bacon and pork shoulder can be cooked 2 days ahead through Step 5. (Which is what we did because we were going to be away for the weekend.) Let cool in braising liquid, uncovered. Chill, uncovered, until cold; cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 6 pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup Calvados or other apple-flavored brandy
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider, preferably fresh
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tart, firm apples (such as Pink Lady or Honeycrisp), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch wedges (about 4 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Chopped fresh chives

Directions

  1. Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 325°. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until browned and crisp, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
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  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add butter to pot with drippings. Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Working in batches if needed, cook pork shoulder, reducing heat as needed to prevent overbrowning, until brown on all sides, 8-10 minutes per batch. Transfer pork shoulder to a plate.
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  3. Add shallots to pot and cook, stirring often, until shallots begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
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  4. Remove pot from heat; add Calvados and stir, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Return to heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add apple cider and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a simmer, then return pork shoulder to pot, placing in a single layer on bottom of pot (the meat should not be completely covered).
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  5. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise pork shoulder, turning after 1 hour, until fork-tender, about 2 hours. Stir in reserved bacon.
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  6. Using tongs, transfer pork to a deep platter. Skim fat from cooking liquid. Place pot over medium heat and bring liquid to a simmer. Add apples and cook until apples are just tender and sauce is slightly reduced, 8-10 minutes.
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  7. Stir Dijon mustard into sauce; season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired. Pour sauce with apples over pork on platter. Sprinkle with chives.
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    I was so excited to try the meal, I completely forgot to add a sprinkle of chives!
All three recipes by Molly Stevens
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Serve with Cheesy Grits

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
  • 3 oz. real good sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)

Directions

  1. In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the milk and a large pinch of salt to a simmer over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the polenta, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thick and creamy, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sambal Short Rib Stir-Fry

Skeptical at first, we were gastronomically impressed over the outcome of this Sambal Short Rib Stir-Fry. Typically, short ribs take hours in a slow braise, so when we saw this stir-fry method, we definitely had our doubts that the meat would be tender after less than a half hour. Here, thin-sliced short ribs become a quick cook MVP in this seriously flavorful weeknight meal.

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Since the supermarket was only carrying bone-in short ribs, we had to cut the meat off the bone before slicing into thin strips. However, we considered it a bonus because we’ll freeze the bones until such time Russ makes another batch of homemade meat broth. Keep in mind, you can partially freeze the short ribs before you slice to get really thin cuts.

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Russ slices the meat off of the bones which he saves to make meat stock at a later date.

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To make it easier to cut the ribs into thin slices, freeze the meat for about 30 minutes.

Be forewarned, there is a fair amount of prep and you really need to do it all prior to the beginning of tossing ingredients into your wok. You’ll be tossing and stirring often during each step.

In case you are not familiar with sambal oelek, it is a fiery Indonesian ground chile paste typically made from a mixture of a variety of chili peppers with secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, palm sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars. (Sriracha would be a decent substitute.) The spiciness will be somewhat counterbalanced by the sweet mirin.

Instead of making a new batch of rice, we had some leftover green rice that I reheated with a touch of added chicken broth, and it actually went quite well with the stir-fry.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless beef short ribs, thinly sliced against the grain
  • 2 small onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • ¼ cup sambal oelek
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 6 medium radishes, trimmed, quartered
  • 6 ounces snow peas, strings removed
  • 1 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup torn basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a wok or large cast-iron skillet over high. Season beef with salt and pepper and cook, tossing and stirring often, until deeply browned, 8–10 minutes.
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  2. At first, the meat might seem wet but it will eventually take on color and look shiny. Add onions and mushrooms and cook, tossing around, until they soften and start to take on a little color, 6–8 minutes.
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  3. Add scallions, ginger, and garlic and cook, tossing constantly, until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes.
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  4. Add sambal oelek and mirin and cook, tossing to coat, about 1 minute.
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  5. Add radishes, snow peas, and broth and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced by half and meat and vegetables are glossy and saucy, about 5 minutes.
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  6. Season with salt and pepper. Serve stir-fry over rice topped with basil.

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Recipe by Brad Leone from Bon Appétit

Simply the BEST Roasted Chicken

Do y’all really need another roast chicken recipe?? Well, if you ask me, you absolutely need this one because the Bon Appétit Cast-Iron Roast Chicken has been timelessly tested and optimized to cut out all of those annoying steps that folks (including myself at times) swear are crucial. No overnight salting (although you can, and I did), no brining, air-drying, temperature changes, or complicated trussing, just a simple roasted chicken.

And let’s face it, nothing compares to cast iron! The material’s heat-retention qualities can’t be matched by any tempered glass or even stainless-steel vessels. Heating the skillet in the oven first means the bottom of your bird starts to sizzle and brown as soon as it goes in—no flipping required and no unappealing pale, flabby underside. (Just make sure to pat dry the underside thoroughly before placing in the hot skillet.)

Another brilliant aspect of this technique is making a built-in side dish. Why wouldn’t you throw some veggies around your bird while it roasts? You’ve got a hot pan that’s about to be full of sizzling schmaltz just begging to bathe a mosaic of squash and onions with tons of chicken-y flavor. While Bon Appétit offered several options, we made the Cast-Iron Roast Chicken with Winter Squash, Red Onions, and Pancetta.

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Ahem, size does matter. Now is not the time for a behemoth oven stuffer, nor do you want a petite poussin. A 3 1/2- to 4-pounder will roast the breasts to perfection and all of the dark meat will be mouth-wateringly done too.

I liken a roast chicken to an artist’s blank canvas. As with color to a plain background, nothing changes the flavor of a roasted bird as quickly and dramatically as a throw-together dry rub*. Mix together spices. Rub on chicken. Done. And just wait for the heady aroma of toasty spices and crispy skin to start wafting out of the oven… You will be drooling…

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We’ve all heard endless theories about how to season a chicken: submerge in a brine, salt 24 hours ahead and let it dry, wrap in seaweed, etc. But the only true non-negotiables are (a) being generous with the kosher salt inside and out, and (b) letting the chicken sit out for at least an hour before cooking, which gives the seasoning time to work it’s magic deep into the meat. Although not necessary, I salted ours the night prior and let it sit in the fridge uncovered, taking it out an hour prior to cooking, then oiled it and added the dry rub.

Any poultry recipe worth it’s drumstick will note that a chicken needs to rest post-roast, pre-carving. So sit back with a glass of wine and wait a full 20 to 45 minutes to yield a bird that reabsorbs it’s juices. No, it won’t get cold, it will just be the juiciest bird you’ve ever tasted. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and just simply roast the chicken in a cast-iron skillet…

Now just a mention on the differences between delicata and kabocha squash—both of which are an option here.

KABOCHA SQUASH

kabocha-squash

Aliases: Japanese Pumpkin, Kent Pumpkin  Characteristics: The squat, green kabocha—the Japanese word for squash—has a nutty, earthy flavor with just a touch of sweetness. It’s similar in shape and size to a buttercup squash, but the base points out and not in. (There is also a red kabocha.)

DELICATA SQUASH

delicata-squash

Aliases: Sweet Potato Squash, Bohemian Squash  Characteristics: This particular winter squash, with its pale yellow shading, most closely resembles its summer squash cousins. The thin skin is edible (really!), but also more susceptible to bruises and rot. When cooked, the delicata has a consistency similar to that of a sweet potato—creamy and soft—although the flavoring is a bit more earthy.

Cast-Iron Roast Chicken with Winter Squash, Red Onions, and Pancetta

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Ingredients
  • 1 3½–4-pound whole chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 red onions, cut into wedges through root end
  • 2 pounds winter squash (such as delicata or kabocha), cut into 1½-inch-thick wedges or 1/2″ rounds, seeds removed, and each round cut in half
  • 1½ ounces pancetta, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper

*Optional Dry Rub: Coarsely grind 1 tablespoon coriander seeds with 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon mustard powder.

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Two other dry rub possibilities are:

  1. 1 Tbsp. fennel seed ground with 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  2. 2 Tbsp. curry powder mixed with 1 tsp. garlic powder

Directions

  1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season generously with salt, inside and out. (Use 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt per lb.) Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Let sit 1 hour to allow salt to penetrate, or chill, uncovered, up to 1 day ahead.
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  2. Place a rack in upper third of oven and set a 12″ cast-iron skillet (or 3-qt. enameled cast-iron baking dish) on rack. Preheat oven to 425°.
  3. Take chicken out of fridge.
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  4. Meanwhile, toss onions, squash, pancetta, and 2 Tbsp. oil in a large bowl to coat; season with salt and pepper.
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    I sliced rounds to a thinner 1/2″, then scooped out the seeds, and cut the rounds in half to better fit the skillet.
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  5. Once oven reaches temperature, pat chicken dry with paper towels (especially the underside) and lightly coat with half of remaining 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with dry rub, if using. Drizzle remaining oil into hot skillet (this helps keep the chicken from sticking and tearing the skin.) Place chicken in the center of skillet and arrange squash mixture around.
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  6. Roast until vegetables are golden brown and tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of breasts registers 155°, 50–60 minutes (temperature will climb to 165° as chicken rests.) Let chicken rest in skillet at least 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes. If desired, baste some of the juices over the chicken and veggies while it rests.
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  7. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and carve. Serve with vegetables.
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    Do not carve until the bird has rested for at least 20 minutes.
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Adapted recipe from Chris Morocco from Bon Appétit

I can’t wait to hear how yours turns out…

My Mojo Revisited

If you’re relatively new to this blog, then you won’t recall our Caribbean-inspired meal which I posted a few years ago, and now feel it’s worth revisiting. At that point in time, we couldn’t locate tangerines, nor could we this time around, BUT, I was able to purchase a small container of 100% tangerine juice. It must be the time of year…

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Mojo—pronounced MOE-hoe, although most of us often pronounce it with a “J” sound—is a Caribbean and Latin-American garlic, chile, and fruit sauce that pairs well with meat, poultry, and seafood. Here, in Turkey Cutlets and Black Beans with Tangerine-Habanero Mojo Sauce it’s made with tangerine and lime, lending both sweet and tart notes. BTW, if habaneros are unattainable, try a Scotch bonnet, jalapeño, or serrano chile instead, or as in our case, Thai red chile peppers which we had on hand. I used two whole Thai chiles and it was not over-the-top spicy at all!

For our sides, we again served a lovely, nutritious and refined Green Rice dish (recipe below) full of nutrient-rich spinach and cilantro. This time around though, we replaced the milk with coconut milk making the rice even more delicious! It did seem to take about 10 minutes longer to cook than directed, plus I let it sit off of the heat, tightly covered for 20 minutes while I made dinner.

To add even more turkey flavor, once the cutlets are done cooking, deglaze the same skillet with the mojo. We give this meal two thumbs up and enjoyed leftovers for lunch the next day.

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Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup fresh tangerine juice (from 2 tangerines)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 1/2 tsp. seeded and minced habanero chile
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • One 15-1/2-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 turkey breast cutlets (about 1-1/4 lb.)

Directions

  1. In a 10-inch skillet, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil and the garlic over medium heat until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/8 tsp. of the cumin.
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  2. Add the tangerine juice, lime juice, and habanero (or other chile pepper). Bring to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set the mojo sauce aside. (The sauce can be served warm or at room temperature.)
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  3. Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ¼ tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the beans and the remaining ½ tsp. cumin and cook until the beans are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the beans to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
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  5. Wash and dry the skillet. Season the turkey cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until very hot.
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  6. Add as many cutlets as will comfortably fit in a single layer and cook until browned on both sides and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.
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  7. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining cutlets, adding the remaining 1 Tbs. oil if needed.
  8. Divide the cutlets and black beans among individual plates. Spoon the mojo sauce over and serve.
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Mojo recipe by Dawn Yanagihara-Mitchell 

Arroz Verde (Green Rice)

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs (about 1/2 oz.)
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh stemmed spinach leaves (about 1-1/2 oz.)
  • 1-1/4 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Put the cilantro, spinach, and broth in a blender and blend until the vegetables are puréed. Add the milk and salt and blend a bit more until well combined.
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  2. In a medium (3-qt.) heavy-based saucepan (with a good lid) over medium heat, heat the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the rice and sauté, stirring about every 30 seconds, until it just begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the contents of the blender, stir well, turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
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  4. Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir the rice carefully to avoid crushing it, cover, and cook another 5 minutes.
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  5. Take the pan off the heat and let the rice steam in the covered pot for 10 minutes. Serve hot.
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Rice adapted from James Peyton

59 Almshouse

In early October I started my Master Gardener Certification course with weekly classes about 20 miles from home. The trek, most of which runs by way of Almshouse Road, brings me through several Bucks County towns, including Richboro. Along the way, I had noticed an old restaurant haunt, Patagonia Bar & Grille, now closed and breathing new life as 59 Almshouse, which looked busy every time I passed it. Time for a culinary road trip…

Tagging along with us were fellow diners Brad and Barb. Upon arrival we noticed the parking lot was packed—a good sign—we mentally patted ourselves on the back for making reservations ahead of time! One enters into a large rustic foyer with a busy receptionist’s desk, and off to the right is a beautiful showpiece bar area featuring a 24-foot ceiling and gorgeous natural wood trusses (also packed.) Dining areas are down a few steps to the left.

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Once seated, we started discussing the earthy-toned urban decor which showcased lots of wood and brick elements, and Edison lightbulbs in a variety of drum-fashion metal “cages.” While they worked exceedingly well as rustic elements within the restaurant, Barb and I agreed the light fixtures were not to our particular personal tastes.

The restaurant menu, which changes often, stars a wood-burning grill and a variety of unique menu items using locally-grown, fresh farm products. It is conveniently located within 25 miles of over 70 farms—growing produce from asparagus to zucchini, and raising poultry and beef—perfect fodder for Chef Norm’s locally-sourced creations.

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A blurry photo, but at least it masks our wrinkles 😉   

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Presented with large menus and an additional “dinner specials” sheet, we diligently scanned our options, featuring an assortment of soups, salads, flatbreads, appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pastas and entrées. While deciding, a basket of fresh bread was brought to our table containing two types of fresh crusty bread. Not one to often indulge, I chose a slice of the whole grain bread with walnuts and dried cranberries. Very good indeed!

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For starters Russ and I chose to split the “special” appetizer Grilled Lamb Meatball Skewers threaded with onions and peppers, with sides of hummus, tzatziki and grilled pita, shown above. We were so psyched to start eating them that it was half gone before Brad reminded me I hadn’t yet taken a photo!

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Speaking of Brad, he jumped right into an entrée salad choosing the Cobb Salad—a common choice for him—plated with a bed of romaine, bacon lardon, avocado, hard boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and bleu cheese crumbles topped with a peppercorn ranch dressing. He amped it up by adding the grilled chicken breast option.

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While I haven’t had fajitas in ages, it is one of Barb’s go-to choices, so without much hesitation we both selected Chicken Fajitas as our entrées. They came plated in a hot cast-iron skillet with onions and peppers and many sides including pico de gallo, queso, olives, avocado, sour cream, and of course, jalapeños. With such ample portions, a take-home bag was an added bonus.

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Russ was the most adventurous of the group ordering the Duck Pot Pie, new to the Fall menu. It consisted of an oblong crusted pie stuffed duck confit, wild mushrooms, carrots, peas and potatoes along with a small caesar salad. Needless to say, he loved it!

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Most weekday evenings they offer certain specials such as “Sunday Gravy,” “Monday Burgers,” and “Tuesday Chicken and Ribs.” On Friday and Saturdays they provide live music and as we headed out to the parking lot, the band was on their way in with instruments in hand—the party was just getting started…

Oooo Mommy, You’ll Love These Umami Lamb Loin Chops

Umami (pronounced oo-mah-mee) is one of the five basic tastes, and is described as brothy or meaty. Our predilection for umami—the only recently recognized (by western scientists) “fifth taste,” after salt, sweet, sour and bitter—is a captivating piece in the jigsaw of our gastronomic evolution. Umami is why the Romans loved liquamen, the fermented anchovy sauce that they sloshed as liberally as we do soy sauce on Asian cuisine. It is an essential component to the heart-warming joy of gravy made from good stock, meat juices and caramelized meat and veggies.

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And it is why you’ll love these lamb loin chops! With very few ingredients, the Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Loin Chops recipe is a cinch to make, and a joy to eat. To keep the meal uncomplicated, roast some baby fingerling potatoes in a bit of olive oil, minced rosemary and sea salt; and a side of sautéed spinach in garlic. Dinner done.

As the skillet of chops was in the oven getting happy, I thought it might be a good idea to make a pan sauce while the cops rested, even though the recipe didn’t specify one. So if you want to up your game, first remove the cooked lamb loins to a platter and tent with foil; drain off any fat, and put the skillet on a medium burner. Add about 1/3 cup of white wine to deglaze the pan and loosen any brown bits, stirring often for two minutes.

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You’ll need some of the porcini dust, so make sure to reserve a tablespoon or two. To the deglazed pan, add 1/3 cup chicken broth and stir until reduced by about half. Add the reserved ground mushrooms, pour in any meat juices that have accumulated on the platter, and a sprinkling of sea salt, cooking for another minute or two. Finally, swirl in a tablespoon of butter until fully incorporated. Put the sauce in a small bowl and serve so diners can ladle over their food.

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You can use a food processor to blitz the mushrooms before continuing to chop them by hand with the rosemary, resulting in a coarser rub. A spice grinder, which is what I used, created a finer crust. This recipe is also delicious prepared on the grill. The recipe is for 8 chops, we only had 5, but otherwise used the same proportions for the remaining ingredients. We loved the results and plan on doing a similar treatment to a couple of good steaks…

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Ingredients

  • tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 lamb loin chops
  • 1/4 cup finely ground dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

Directions

  1. Combine 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in a bowl. Smear over both sides of the lamb. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate 1-2 hours.
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  2. Combine mushrooms and rosemary in a small bowl. Remove lamb from refrigerator. Coat both sides of lamb with mushrooms. Let sit at room temperature, 30 minutes.
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  3. Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet.
  4. Add lamb without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, turning once, 3-4 minutes per side.
  5. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake until cooked to desired doneness, 10 – 15 minutes for medium-rare.
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  6. Remove from oven, tent with foil and let rest 15 minutes before serving.
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If you make the pan sauce, drizzle some over the chops and your side dishes.

Found on TasteFoodBlog.com

Meatloaf, Be It Ever So Humble

Growing up, I was never thrilled to hear meatloaf—the humble staple of 1950s and 60s American dinner tables—was being served for dinner. I’d practically run the other way; whereas Russ was one of those odd kids that actually liked meat loaf and things like stuffed peppers! However, as my tastebuds have matured over the ensuing decades, I now look forward to the cooler months when the occasional oblong loaf can grace our dinner table once again—and we both can enjoy it.

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You may have wondered where the American culinary classic meatloaf really came from. Apparently the dish can be traced back for centuries: to an ancient Roman cookbook featuring a budding meatloaf combination, as well as 17th-century French cooking and the culinary works of the 18th century Pennsylvanian Dutch. But key to meatloaf’s longstanding place in our cuisine was the Industrial Revolution, along with the invention of the mechanical meat grinder. The dish then thrived through the Depression and other economically difficult times.

In Ina Garten’s recipe below, she suggests topping the loaf with ketchup. However, both hubby and I prefer tomato sauce, as it is less sweet and, once heated, can be used as a topping for a side of garlic mashed potatoes. We also like to add more sauce to our slabs, once plated.

Over the years, we’ve concocted an assortment of meat loaves from Mini-Meatloaves with Chili Sauce to southwestern varieties and pretty much everything in between—many of which I made prior to the launching of this blog. Often they are comprised of the “meatloaf mix,” a combination of ground beef, pork and veal, although ground turkey is another option. For a more rustic presentation of this one, the onions were given a larger chop.

Here, it is suggested to put a pan of water under the sheet pan to help avoid the loaf top from cracking. In the directions, it mentions to mix lightly with a fork. Well, to be honest, I found that to be nearly impossible, so I used gently used my hands without over mixing resulting in a loaf that was slightly loose, not at all dense, very moist and easily fell apart when “forked.”

When Russ got home from work he commented “I’ve been thinking about the meatloaf all day, I can’t wait for dinner.” Luckily he only had about a 20 minute wait before he could indulge…

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When staging the ingredients, I accidentally propped up gluten-free panko, but actually used the GF breadcrumbs when assembling.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (3 onions)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup canned chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck (80 percent lean)
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs (recommended: Progresso; we used gluten-free)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (recommended: Heinz)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not brown.
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  • Off the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Allow to cool slightly.
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  • In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, onion mixture, bread crumbs, and eggs, and mix lightly with a fork (or your hands). Don’t mash or the meat loaf will be dense.
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  • Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Spread the ketchup evenly on top. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees F and the meat loaf is cooked through. (A pan of hot water in the oven, under the meat loaf, will keep the top from cracking.) Serve hot.
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2010, Ina Garten

Peruvian Hospitality, with a Taste of Pisco

Back in June, we were invited to the home of Peruvian-born and raised Giuliana and Miguel, both of whom met at medical university, after which they relocated to the states. Our first encounter with Giuliana was at friends Paula and Mike Graham’s house for their respective sons high school graduation party. With Russ’s command of the Spanish language, we hit it off pretty quickly.

She extended an invitation to us in June to dine at her house for an authentic Peruvian-style dinner, but unfortunately, Giuliana had to fly to Peru for a family emergency the night of the scheduled event. Nearly 3 months later we received another offer to host us for dinner, which we quickly accepted. With their proximity near the Graham’s, Paula invited us to enjoy cocktail hour first in their backyard over some select cheeses, nuts and olives on an unusually balmy October evening.

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The “pre”cocktail hour at the Graham’s.

You see, even though the invitation was for 7:30, it is considered impolite to arrive on time—a formality I find hard to adjust to (not so much Russ 😉 ). According to Peruvian custom, being an hour late is “fashionable,” though we kind of split the difference pulling into their driveway around 8:00 p.m. with bottles of wine and fresh flowers in hand.

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Giuliana selects a vase for the flowers while Miguel uncorks the wine.

As soon as one enters, you can’t help but notice their comfortable home is full of bright colors and paintings from their native country. So without hesitation, the couple got the party started with some heavenly scallop appetizers, and a frothy glass of a pisco drink. What is pisco—other than very good? The story is an intriguing one…

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Pisco Portón is a super premium pisco, which is a Peruvian grape-based white spirit. It is crafted at Hacieda La Caraved, established in 1684 in Ica, Peru. Like all good things, pisco began as an act of rebellion. In 1641, the King of Spain—Philip IV—imposed heavy taxes on all wine produced in Peru. In response, his new world subjects dodged the onerous tax by distilling the year’s grape harvest. In hand-forged copper vats nearly four centuries ago, a new white spirit was born and christened pisco, a reference to the Port of Pisco from where this new spirit was exported. Pisco means ‘bird’ in the indigenous Quechua language. To this day, Peruvians call it their native spirit.

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While sipping our pisco-based drinks, Giuliana retrieved a few trays of cooked scallops with parmesan cheese from the oven that were baked right on sea shells for an artistic presentation.

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Dogs of the smaller variety always seem to gravitate to Russ, and their little collie, Rosa, was no exception. She found a very comfortable little nook at Russ’s feet by the bar stool.

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After some laughter and getting to know each other, it was time to move into the dining room for the Peruvian feast. The main attraction, for me at least, was the beautifully colored, and formed, mound of saffron rice and the shrimp, clam and squid stew with peas, along with a side of catfish fillets. The sauté was reminiscent of a Zarzuela. Other accompaniments included sides of corn, and an interesting salad composed of lettuce, hard boiled eggs, olives and cooked potato slices in a spicy pepper and cheese sauce.

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And even though I’m not a dessert eater, the crowning star of the show was the gorgeous homemade flan! There were also two citrus-based desserts, one with a lemon foam, and the other with an orange foam topping. (You can see I have no idea what they are called!)

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We had an absolutely lovely evening, one we finally had to end because it was getting late and we still had a hike to get home. So before we said our goodbyes, I made sure to take a few snapshots of the ladies and then the gentlemen.

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Until we pisco again, Chau…