kicking’ it sloppy + old school

If I say the word “Manwich” and you’re roughly the same age as I am you’ll probably think one of two things; “Oh man, I used to love Sloppy Joe’s as a kid!” or “Ugh, that reminds me of bad school lunches.” I happen to have fond Sloppy Joe memories, although I’m fairly certain my mother never actually bought a can of Hunt’s Manwich. I’m sure it was just another thing on my long list of pre-made, preservative laden, artificial everything foods that 7-year-old me longed for, but that my dearest mother decided to make from scratch instead.

[Fast forward thirty odd years] “Mom, what’s a sloppy Joe?” “Sloppy Joe’s are these great messy sandwiches. They’re filled with ground beef in a tangy tomato sauce and served on squishy rolls. It was one of my favorite dinners as a kid.” “Really?!? Do you think you could make them one day?” “You got it.

A few days later he seems to have forgotten about our conversation, but my husband who overheard it clearly hadn’t. “Sloppy Joe’s tonight?” reads the mid-morning text.

Initially I hadn’t planned on following a recipe, I thought I’d just wing it, tasting as I went until I got it right. But after a quick google search I actually decided to tweak up a Williams-Sonoma recipe. (Yes I know, Williams-Sonoma and Sloppy Joe in the same sentence is an odd juxtaposition, just go with it.) The first thing I did was change the ground beef to turkey, then I bumped up the spices, thickened the sauce a bit and… like greased lightnin’ it was suddenly 1978 again.

Old School Sloppy Joe’s
We totally kicked it old school the night I made these. I served them along with tater tots and frozen mixed vegetables. 7-year-old me would have approved…

sloppy3

1 1/2 cups diced onion
3/4 cup finely diced celery
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/3 cup diced green pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 lb. ground turkey
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
7-8 hamburger rolls

  1. Add the oil to a large frying pan and heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic and green pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pepper is beginning to soften, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the ground turkey and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the any large clumps of meat, until it’s no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl combine the tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar, brown sugar and spices. Add the tomato mixture to the nearly cooked meat, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the hamburgers rolls, serve with some old school tater tots and enjoy a nostalgia filled evening.

*adapted from williams-sonoma

salmon with a bow-tie

This week not only marks the start of new school year but also a new soccer season. My husband coaches my sons team and has for the past few years, but this year he’s also going to be assisting on my daughter’s “Little Cleats” team. (Yeah I know, pray for him.) My boy has also recently decided to participate in a skateboard class through our rec department and the girl wants to take an Intro to Sports clinic. So between school activities, soccer practice and games, sports clinics and oh yeah homework— the next couple of months will be busy ones to say the least.

If you’re schedule sounds like mine then I’m sure pasta is part of your typical weekly menu. I like pasta just as much as the next girl but while the kids never tire of having it with simple red sauce and cheese, I grow weary of that combo pretty quickly. I do occasionally switch things up with pesto or garlic, butter and cheese, as a poor man’s carbonara or a quick mac n’ cheese. But not being one to ever rest on my “good enough” laurels, I’m always on the lookout for new recipe inspiration.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about yogurt, specifically cooking with it. I like yogurt and we consume a pretty good amount of it in our house. The kids eat it for breakfast, I add it to my smoothies, swap it out for sour cream on tacos, add it to my blueberry muffins and I’ve even made yogurt from scratch (which was far easier and more rewarding than you would think!) But what about using it as a sauce for pasta? As I considered the idea a dish slowly formed in my mind. I’ve been on a sardine kick lately and while the combination of yogurt and sardines didn’t sound particularly appealing, salmon and yogurt did. And what goes perfectly with salmon but capers, lemon and fresh chives.

Voilà! An easy and fast pasta dinner for everyone and something more exotic than red sauce for me.

Farfalle with Salmon & Yogurt Sauce
I served this pasta dish warm, but I imagine it would totally work as a chilled salad as well.

salmon pasta6

3/4 lb. farfalle pasta
1 6 oz. can boneless/skinless wild salmon
3/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp. Spanish capers
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. fresh chives, snipped small
lemon zest, for garnish

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. While it cooks break up the salmon and place it in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix.
  2. When the pasta is al dente, drain it extremely well and add it to the bowl. Gently fold the pasta into the yogurt sauce. Adjust the seasonings, garnish with lemon zest and more chives and serve.

flexing my mussels

Around this time every summer my children spend a week with my parents in Connecticut, and while I miss them (stop snickering I do miss them) I also enjoy having a week free to do, see and cook all the things I don’t ordinarily get to. You would expect the overwhelming quiet, greatly reduced laundry and lack of sibling bickering to be what makes they’re absence feel so profound, but in fact it’s the little things. The way I can walk from the front door to the kitchen without stepping on or tripping over anyone’s shoes, the way a gallon of milk can actually last for more than two days and the way I can go a week without uttering any of the following phrases: “stop yelling” “would you like me to treat you like that” “leave the dog alone” “turn down the tv” “no you can’t play video games” and last but not least “go to bed…go to bed…go to bed…GO TO BED!…” Yeah, I miss them. Terribly.

I consider my kids to be fairly adventurous eaters (for an 8 and 4 yr old) and easy to please when it come to meals. Yes my daughter would eat pasta for every meal if she could and my son could live on turkey and cheese sandwiches; but they also happily eat things like sushi, smoked ribs, grilled asparagus, shrimp stir-fry, sautéed grouper and garlicky hummus without complaint. What they won’t eat is anything too spicy, which is of course exactly how I like things. So while they’re away enjoying New England I get the opportunity to throw caution to the wind and cook the spicy dishes that make me most happy.

Given the freedom to make whatever floats my boat is actually a bit more daunting than you would think. To quote the charming Miss Veruca Salt “I want the works, I want the whole works…” There are so many recipes I tuck into my “just for me” file that when the time comes to actually pull one out, its tough to narrow it down. I really want to try to replicate the spicy ceviche I had at dinner the other night, there’s a chicken vindaloo recipe that looks easy whose ingredients I happen to already have on hand and a spicy West African peanut soup that sounds incredibly good. But in the end the dish I ultimately decided to kick my week of freedom off with was a is a dish of spicy steamed mussels.

I have a weakness for mussels, they happen to be one of my all-time favorite foods. I eat them whenever the opportunity arrises and can’t eat them without thinking fondly of the night my husband and I spent in Honfleur, France so many years ago. We sat for hours at a little table alongside the Vieux Bassin in the center of town, sipping rosé and enjoying the sights, the sounds and a steaming pot of mussels in a curry cream sauce. It was sheer perfection. Honestly, if you know my husband or myself then you have no doubt heard our story of Honfleur. Perfection! However, as big as that build up was and as much as I love that classic French preparation of mussels, I love the combination of coconut, chilies and lemon grass even more. So the decision was made and Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass was the winner.

It was delicious and something the kids totally wouldn’t have appreciated, which made it all the tastier. They’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll have to start cooking to please their palates again, but I’ll always have the memories of these spicy mussels…

Spicy Coconut & Lemon Grass Mussels
These are perfect as an appetizer or as a main dish along with a tossed salad.

mussels2

4 tbsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, outer layers removed, cut into 3 pieces and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 small hot chiles (I used a fresh cayenne), finely chopped
3 cups unsweetened light coconut milk
4 lbs. fresh PEI mussels*, scrubbed
zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon
2 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
sliced and toasted crusty bread

  1. Heat the coconut oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, lemon grass, garam masala and chiles and cook over medium heat until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and mussels. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 5 to 7 minutes (discard any mussels that remain closed).
  2. Remove from heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a large bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Fish out the lemon grass and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, fish sauce and cilantro. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce and/or lemon juice if desired.
  3. Slice and toast several pieces of crusty bread. Place the mussels in four wide bowls, ladle the broth over them and serve with the sliced bread.

*adapted from NY Times

*You should always try to use any fresh shellfish the same day you buy it. However if you have to keep it for a day or two before cooking here’s what to do to keep it fresh: “Remove the mussels from the mesh bag and put them in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist. (Never store them in an airtight container, they’re still alive and will suffocate.) To check for freshness, tap a slightly opened mussel on the counter. If it doesn’t close shut, toss it. Store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The mussels will release a small amount of liquid every day, make sure to drain this often.” —@NoshOnIt

the penicillium roqueforti blues…

I am not a subtle girl. I’m invariably drawn to strong flavors, strong opinions and strong personalities. So it probably comes as no surprise that I’ll take a sharp, pungent and complex blue cheese over a mild cheddar any day. Blue cheeses are those that have been exposed or “needled” with a kind of mold, usually Penicillium roqueforti, and allowed to age and develop gorgeous blue-green veins. Blue cheese may seem too tangy for some, but in reality it’s the perfect accent to nearly any dish it’s added to. Blue cheese with a simple drizzle of honey… Perfect. Blue cheese on a spinach salad… Yum. Blue cheese in a turkey and fig panini… Amazing. Blue cheese with any type of beef…. Fantastic. Blue cheese with caramelized onions, sweet red peppers and toasted walnuts… sensational and as it happens this weeks recipe!

Making pizza from scratch is a pretty common occurrence at our house, but it generally only takes place in the winter months. I would prefer not to crank up the oven during the summer heat and while I’ve thought about trying to make grilled pizza, until recently I never actually attempted it. I don’t know why, maybe I thought that if things went awry I would have a giant hard to clean mess on my hands. Or maybe I was suspect that it would actually turn out as good as traditional oven baked. Whatever my reasons were, they couldn’t have been more off base. Grilled pizza is easier than oven baked and actually believe it or not, takes less time. As long as the grill is crazy hot the dough will immediately form a crust and puff up beautifully. Then you layer on some lovely toppings, pop it back on the grill and presto— pizza is served!

We’ve tried a lot of topping combos since first discovering this new style of pizza making. I’m still experimenting but I’d have to say the front-runners appear to be a simple sausage and tomato for the kids and a caramelized onion, red pepper, blue cheese and walnut for the adults. I’m thinking next week we’ll try shrimp and pesto with crumbled bacon. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

Caramelized Onion, Red Pepper & Blue Cheese Grilled Pizza
Not only is this pizza delicious but making it on the grill is much easier than making it in the oven. Give it a shot, become a convert!

blue cheese pizza slice++**

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 huge sweet onions, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 large red bell pepper, cut into long thin strips
1 lb. pizza dough (homemade or store bought), at room temperature
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
4 oz. buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnut pieces

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook until golden, about 45 minutes, stirring frequently. (Caramelizing onions is a slow process that can’t be rushed. This recipe calls for more oil than ordinarily used, but you need it to keep the pizza crust moist.)
  2. Transfer the onions to a bowl and set aside. Place the bell pepper in the same pan, sprinkle with salt and cook until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the walnuts to the pan and quickly toast, set aside.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, gently stretch the dough into an 18-inch circle. Carefully transfer the dough to a rimless cookie sheet or a pizza peel dusted with flour and let sit for 10 minutes. Preheat your grill to 400°F.
  4. Dip paper towels in olive oil and carefully wipe them on the grates of the grill to grease them. Slide the circle of dough onto the hot grill; close the lid and let cook until it puffs up and brown grill marks form on the bottom, about 2 to 4 minutes. (As you transfer your circle of dough to the grill it may become more of an amoeba shape than a circle. Don’t worry, it will still taste delicious.)
  5. Transfer the crust back to your pan and with the grilled side facing up, begin layering on your toppings. Start by spreading on the onions as evenly as possible, then add the mozzarella, red peppers, blue cheese and finally top with the walnuts.
  6. Return the pizza to the grill and cook (with the lid closed) another 2 to 4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is crisp. Transfer to a cutting board, slice into wedges and serve.

*adapted from weber

lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats

it’s my party + i’ll grill (flank steak) if i want to…

Happy unofficial start of grilling season! The weather here in the Northeast keeps fluctuating between Africa hot and turn the heat back on cold, but the calendar reads June so it must be time to break out the grill tongs and light up the Weber.

We use our grill to make dinner nearly every night when the weather is warm. From burgers and grilled veggies to beer can chicken and steamed shellfish with grilled bread. If we can grill it we usually do. The thing about making dinner on the grill is that it turns an otherwise rather solitary and sometimes mundane task into lovely “this is what I love about warm weather” time. The dog and kids running around the yard, my husband and I relaxing with a glass of wine, the last rays of sunshine filtering through the trees… Ahh it’s all good.

Grilling for your family is pretty easy and low pressure, but grilling for a crowd is a different can ‘o beans all together. Suddenly you have to worry about everyone liking what you serve, the amount of time away from your guests cooking is going to require and will there be enough for everyone. After years of trial and error my husband and I have settled on two never fail recipes for our summertime parties; the first one is Barbecued Ribs. My rib recipe is easy to make, seriously delicious and can feed a crowd in a flash. Throw in a pot of my Smokey Baked Beans and some Homemade Cornbread and your guests will never want to leave! Our second no fail party pleaser (and truthfully the one we rely on most often) is marinated flank steak. I like to serve flank steak because its perfect for sandwiches, salads or just on its own and it takes almost zero time on the grill (which means less chance of an overzealous cook incinerating it).

I’ve been playing with my marinade recipe for years and I finally got it to where I think it’s perfect enough to share with you. (See how much I care about you!) The marinade is fairly simple; soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, brown sugar— but the impact is major.  And if the scant leftovers are any indication of how much the crowd likes it… well then we’re clearly onto something good.

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
Be sure to throw the onions and garlic from the marinade in a pan on the grill and serve them along with the sliced meat. They’re delicious!

flank steak

3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2/3 cup olive oil
1 1/3 cup lemon juice
1 1/3 cup soy sauce
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
6 lbs. flank steak

  1. In a large bowl with a lid, add all the ingredients and stir with a fork being sure to break up any brown sugar lumps. Taste the marinade and make any seasoning adjustments needed then add the flank steak.
  2. Press the layers of steak down so that they are fully submerged in the marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Rotate the meat, top to bottom, at least once.) In the morning drain off the marinade but be sure to keep all the onions and garlic, you’ll want to heat them up to serve along with the meat.
  3. One hr. prior to grilling remove the container of flank steak from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature on the counter.
  4. Heat the grill. Place the steaks on the hot grill and allow to cook 4 to 6 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Check for doneness with an instant read thermometer (medium-rare is between 125-130°F.) Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Slice thinly across the grain at a slight diagonal and serve along with the cooked onions from the marinade.

modernized tetrazzini

Some people love leftovers while others cringe at the very idea. I happen to be a leftover lover. A delicious meal with a fraction of the work, um yes please! In my mind what’s even better than a no hassle dinner of leftovers is turning those leftovers into something entirely new and delicious. Think shepherd’s pie with leftover mashed potatoes (remind me to give you that recipe, it’s one of my families favorites), pea soup with leftover glazed ham or ice cream with leftover egg nog. Yum!

I’ve already told you that one of my all-time favorite meals is roasted chicken, but with warm weather (finally) upon us I’d much rather crank up the grill than the oven. Thankfully my husband received a “beer can chicken” rack last Father’s Day and has recently started putting it to good use. Have you ever cooked chicken this way? It’s ridiculously good and strikingly easy, especially if you have a rack. Anyway back to the leftovers— we made and enjoyed a beer can chicken last Sunday and ended up with a container of leftover meat after dinner. Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken a la king… nope Chicken Tetrazzini.

Chicken tetrazzini seems to be one of those classic dishes that has gone the way of tuna noodle casserole (complete with crushed potato chips sprinkled on top) and sloppy joe’s. It’s typically made with some diced chicken and mushrooms, tossed with spaghetti, smothered in a heavy butter/cream sauce and baked until the cheese on top is bubbly and toasted. Tasty I’m sure, but not exactly a 2013 idea of nutritious. But if you make a few lower fat substitutions and really punch up the flavor with a bit of onion and spices, hello perfectly acceptable and surprisingly kid-friendly modern day dinner!

Sometimes those oldies really are the goodies. Perhaps next week I’ll try to modernize franks n’ beans…

Welcome to the Future Chicken Tetrazzini
This recipe is great with either leftover chicken or turkey. I typically use fusilli pasta or rotini, but you could also use spaghetti if you prefer.

NEW:tetrazzini2

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
a pinch cayenne pepper
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 cup brandy
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup set aside
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
8 ounces thin pasta (fusilli, spaghetti), broken in thirds
3 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced large
plain panko, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, black pepper, salt, thyme, garlic, cayenne and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add the brandy and cook 2 more minutes.
  2. Add the broth to the pan and gradually add flour. Use a whisk to incorporate the flour into the liquid and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and the cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until cream cheese melts.
  3. Remove from heat and add the pasta and chicken and stir until blended. Grease a medium high-sided ceramic baking dish and pour in the tetrazzini mixture.
  4. In a small bowl mix together the panko crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pasta and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove casserole from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*adapted from cooking light

sanity saving stir fry

There are some nights when dinner at our house is a leisurely, dare I say enjoyable affair; everyone is in a good mood, eats their meal without complaint and is rewarded with something rich and decadent for dessert. But then there are nights when everything is rushed, everyone has something to complain about and dessert is nothing more than yesterday’s memory. Sometimes I can anticipate ahead of time that were heading for disasterville and cook accordingly. Breakfast for dinner always makes them smile, my turkey meatloaf never fails to get a thumbs up and believe it or not any meal featuring shrimp is a Greco family favorite. Shrimp sautéed with onions and garlic over spaghetti, shrimp and veggie shish kabobs or even super easy shrimp stir fry is always a winner.

I’m a big fan of stir fries. They’re a great way to clean out your vegetable drawer, throw together a quick dinner and keep clean-up limited to one pan, one cutting board and one bowl for each person. I like to make mine with shrimp not only because everyone will eat it, but also because it literally cooks in minutes. I throw in a big variety of vegetables (this way any “offending” vegetables can be picked out and there will still be plenty remaining) and serve it over some brown rice with a few sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce on top. Voilà! Dinner is served, peace reigns and all is once again right with the world. Until tomorrow night anyway…

Shrimp Stir Fry
To really make this a quick weeknight dinner you can buy pre-cut veggies and use instant brown rice.

stir fry4A

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
5 cups mixed vegetables (broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, etc.)
3 oz. snow peas
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup water chestnuts
2 tbsp. peanut oil
4 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish
red chili flakes, for garnish
soy sauce, for garnish

  1. Place the cleaned shrimp in a small bowl. Mix together the water, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar. Pour mixture over the shrimp and let marinate for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the shrimp and set aside, but reserve the marinade.
  2. Cut the vegetable into bite-sized pieces. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and all the vegetables (except mushrooms and snow peas) and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and snow peas and cook another 2-3 minutes or until all the vegetables are nearly cooked through. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the marinade to the pan and heat until it begins to thicken. Add the shrimp and cook about 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are just pink. Stir in vegetables, coating evenly with the sauce, cover and let cook an additional 2-3 minutes until everything is heated through and the broccoli is crisp-tender. Serve over brown rice and garish with additional sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce if you like.

*adapted from better homes and gardens

nana’s sweet apple + chicken curry

jim+nanaMy husband comes from a long line of stovetop dusting, dialing for dinner, non-cooks. This is not a criticism, rather a statement of fact. If pressed they can all whip up a perfectly fine meal, they just would rather not. However amidst all the pizza, McDonald’s and chicken rondelets of his childhood one truly from scratch meal does proudly stand out in his memories:
his grandmother’s curry.

I too happen to love curry and have made more than a few versions over the years. My husbands reaction to my curry however is always the same… sheer delight that curry is for dinner followed quickly by disappointment that it’s not like his grandmother’s. She traditionally makes curry with the leftover lamb or pork roast from a holiday dinner, to which she adds sweet apples, onions and a little bit of spice. I’m from the coconut milk, peanut, cilantro school of curry— which I imagine is why we’re at a curry crossroads. I’ve asked her for the recipe before, in fact we spoke about it before I attempted my version, but she says she doesn’t really have one. She’s been making her curry for so long that she just knows when its right. Oh well.

The other day I was reading the food section of the paper and lo and behold there was a recipe for Sweet Apple Curry which sounded exactly like the curry my husband’s childhood memories were based on. The article claimed that as far a curries go this recipe was totally inauthentic, but absolutely delicious nonetheless. Naturally I headed straight to the store and set about attempting to duplicate his Nana’s beloved recipe.

I’m not a big fan of lamb and pork just didn’t seem right to me, so I used chicken thighs instead. I served it on Jasmine rice just like she does and I kept it fragrant, flavorful and mildly spiced. Seriously I pulled out all the memory triggering stops on this one and I’ll give you one guess how it turned out… A total success! My other half said it was the closest thing to his Nana’s that he’d ever had. Quite the compliment indeed! Just like the article said; inauthentic but delicious.

So if you know Ginny and love her famous post-holiday curry, rest assured that her recipe (or at least an approximation of it) can now live on…

Sweet Apple & Chicken Curry
This is a sweet and mild curry, however if you’re like me and enjoy a little kick in everything you eat add a few diced chilies for garnish.

nanas curry2

3 ribs celery, diced
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
3 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. mild curry powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. cold water
Jasmine rice, for serving
minced fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
diced chilies, for garnish (optional)

  1. Trim the chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in a quart-size ziploc bag, along with 1/2 cup of flour, salt and pepper. Seal and shake to coat evenly. Set aside.
  2. Dice the celery and onion and grate the garlic, set aside. Peel and core the apples and cut them into medium-size chunks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
  3. Heat the oil, 2 tablespoons at a time, in a pot over medium heat. Working in batches, add the coated chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot you just finished browning the chicken in. Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have become transparent. Add the apples and stir to incorporate; cook for another 5 minutes, then add in the curry powder, cinnamon and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes, until the spices become fragrant.
  5. Sprinkle the apple mixture with a 1/4 cup of flour and stir to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the broth along with the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. In a small dish mix together the corn starch and cold water. Add it to the curry mixture and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.
  6. When finished, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for a several minutes before serving. Serve over hot Jasmine rice and garnish with diced cilantro and diced chilies, if you like.

*adapted from the washington post

asian inspired salmon burgers

I’ve already told you that ours is a fish eating house; sautéed grouper, grilled clams and mussels, stir fried shrimp and of course my award winning baked fish sticks. And while this pleases me, what would make me even happier is if my family would agree to eat fishier fish— ya know the ones loaded with Omega 3’s. Perhaps some sardines or a few anchovies, a salmon filet or even canned Albacore tuna once in a while. But the three of them (my husband included) all make such a fuss at the mere suggestion, that I don’t even bother giving a fishy fish dinner a shot. Sometimes I sneak a few sardines into my stir fry or add a couple of anchovies when I’m sautéing onion and garlic for red sauce, but the quantity is so small that I’m sure the health benefits are minimal. (Sigh) It really is too bad.

However much to their chagrin, I do find myself making more fish dishes around this time every year. We happen to be in the midst of the Lenten season and while my family does not prescribe to the “Fish on Friday” rule, I can’t help but notice that the seafood at my local grocery store seems to be at its freshest and best price during Lent. And who am I after all to ignore a good sale?!?

Some of my seafood experiments have been definite hits, some huge misses and some eaten and tolerated without complaint, but clearly not enjoyed. Sometimes it makes me sad that my family doesn’t like the dinner I’ve made and sometimes it delights me when they do. And sometimes… Sometimes I think what I’ve made is delicious and I honestly don’t care what the rest of them think— more leftovers for me! Which is exactly what happened the other night when salmon was $4.99 a pound.

I happen to love most fish, but boneless skinless sardines and salmon are two of my favorites. Imagine my delight when I walked into the grocery store one Friday only to discover that salmon filets were on sale for half of their usual price. (I was almost as happy as the weekend broccoli rabe was $1.99 a pound. Yeah, that happy!) Anyway once I drew the line in the sand and made the decision to serve salmon for dinner, I was tasked with the job of finding a recipe to win over my family of non-salmon lovers over. They all seem to like the flavor combination of ginger, garlic and soy sauce, so I thought that would be the way to go. And I thought that if I could offer up this less than loved ingredient in a much loved form, it would be more readily accepted. What does my family love? Well burgers of course, so I went with salmon burgers loaded with all the Asian flavors I knew they enjoyed.

The resulting burgers were relatively easy to make, cooked up in a matter of minutes and succeeded in finally getting some Omega 3’s into my families bellies. And what did said family think? Well, they all ate the burgers without complaint but also without compliment or request for a repeat performance. I however thought the burgers were delicious!

While I won’t force them to eat salmon again for a while, they can surely bet on these burgers popping up again for dinner sometime in the future.

Asian Inspired Salmon Burgers
I like these topped with a little hoisin sauce, a few slices of English cucumber and some fresh cilantro. They’re also fantastic on a bed of spinach tossed with cilantro, raw onion and diced cucumbers and drizzled with the homemade hoisin sauce.

salmon burger

1 3/4 lbs. skinless salmon filet, finely chopped
1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
3 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. lime zest
1 large egg
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. peanut oil (or canola), divided
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce (homemade or bottled), for garnish
English cucumber sliced thin, for garnish
additional cilantro, for garnish
5-6 sesame seed hamburger buns, optional

  1. Finely chop the salmon filet and place in a large bowl.* Combine all the remaining ingredients (through sesame oil) and add to the salmon. Mix well with a fork until everything is fully incorporated. Divide the mixture into 5-6 equal portions, gently shaping each into a patty. Place the patties on a plate and chill for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add the patties and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until done.
  3. Place a patty on the bottom half of each bun; top each with a spoonful of hoisin sauce, several cucumber slices, a few sprigs of cilantro and the top half of bun.

*The first time I made this recipe I used my food processor to do the chopping and ended up with salmon paste, it tasted fine but the texture was unpleasant. Chopping the fish by hand takes more time but it’s worth the effort.

*adapted from cooking light

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
You don’t have to make this from scratch, but why buy a whole bottle when all you really need is a couple of spoonfuls?

1 1/2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. hot sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper.

  1. Blend everything together really well (I used a mini chopper) and set aside.

*adapted from food.com

game day chili

Let me begin by introducing myself; my name is Jim Greco and I’m the husband of the tour de force behind Beets and Blue Cheese. I’ve been asked to be this weeks “Blogger Emeritus” because it’s Super Bowl Weekend and (since the Giants didn’t make it this year) that really only means one thing in our house…CHILI!

Chili typically means the following: “Chili- noun \ˈchi-lē\: A small hot-tasting pod of a variety of capsicum, used chopped (and often dried) in sauces, relishes, and spice powders or a spicy stew of beef and red chilies or chili powder, often with beans and tomatoes.”

However in my house it has many connotations; football, cold weather, skiing and fermented hops consumption to name a few. Now chili may not be a strictly cold-weather food, but the only time it seems to appear in our house is when the cold northwest winds are blowing. Once the weather gets warm it’s “Jim can you light the grill— I give got some chicken/skirt steak/pork chops marinating…” (I know, your heart breaks for me, right?) Anyway, back to the chili. Jan didn’t just happen upon her chili recipe, she’s actually been working on it for years but only recently did she actually write it down. It was always good, but some batches would definitely be better than others depending on how much of this and that she put in it. After much begging and pleading on my part she finally has a real recipe to refer to, and I have perfect chili every time!

Jan’s chili is a pot of pure tasting delight with a definite dash of heat. She makes it with ground turkey rather than beef (I suppose because of my cholesterol levels), but believe me you won’t care a bit. In fact it takes quite a bit of control to eat just one bowl! (Actually I usually add an extra scoop to my dish without anyone looking, but lets just keep that between us.) Since our kids can’t really appreciate the intense heat her chili of old used to crank out it’s been “toned down” lately, but based on her ingredient list I’m sure you can modify the recipe and get the Scoville level up to where it’s perfect for you. I usually add a little of Franks’ Hot Sauce or sliced jalapeno to kick it up to a sweat-enducing level.

I’m lucky to be the husband of a food blogger and quite frankly, any way she chooses to make chili suits me just fine. Especially when it is accompanied by some nice hoppy brew and her delicious homemade cornbread! So my friends and fellow followers of Beets and Blue Cheese enjoy this fantastic chili recipe and remember, there’s no shame in seconds!

Turkey & Bean Chili
This recipe makes enough chili for a Super Bowl party sized crowd, but never fear it freezes beautifully as well.

chili

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs. ground turkey
3 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (homemade or jarred)
1 cup water
4 cups chunky chipotle salsa
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
2-3 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
7 cups canned kidney or pinto beans (or a mix of both), rinsed

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven, add the onion and sautee over medium-high for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and turkey and cook about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stir well and allow to cook an additional 2 minutes, until the juices are absorbed.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, salsa, water and all the spices. Give a good stir, add the rinsed beans and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for an hour fifteen to an hour and a half, or until the beans are tender and the turkey is cooked through.
  3. Serve garnished with sliced jalapeno, cheddar cheese or sour cream and with a side of homemade cornbread or tortilla chips.

I ❤ Pork

“What’s for dinner tonight?” they ask. “Pork Medallions with an Orange-Ginger Reduction,” I reply. “Huh,” they say “pork what with what?” “Pork chops that have been sliced and simmered in a sauce of orange juice, soy sauce, garlic and ginger,” I tell them. “Ohhh, sounds good…”

From reading my blog you may imagine dinner at our house as an adventurous affair; exotic curries, soul satisfying soups and garlicky side dishes of every variety. And while some nights are a bit more interesting than others, I also serve not so fancy pasta with red sauce, simple grilled burgers and (the kids favorite) breakfast for dinner. Oh and lets not forget pork chops, also part of my weeknight dinner repertoire.

I would venture to say that I cook pork far more often than any other kind of meat. I think that’s largely due to the fact that it’s extremely versatile, typically inexpensive, and available just about everywhere. (Even Target sells pork loins and chops!) It takes well to marinades or simple salt and pepper and it’s delicious slow roasted, baked, stir-fried or grilled. Pork is like a blank canvas, full of possibilities. Yes, I guess it would be safe to say that I ❤ Pork. (I am the girl who introduced you to Candied Bacon Fudge after all.)

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads and you’re already aware of the existence of The National Pork Board whose mission it is to “educate people on the power of pork.” (Funny, right?) But did you know that they have a blog as well? Yup, it’s called Pork, Knife & Spoon and it’s full of inspiring recipes and interesting posts. This recipe happens not to be one of them, it’s actually one of my own concoctions, but perhaps after I contact the Pork Board they’ll be so impressed with my treatment of their most admired protein that they’ll feature my recipe on their blog and my blogging career will really take off. Then I could say that I owe all my success to pork. Yes, just perhaps…

Sliced Pork with Orange-Ginger Sauce
These are delicious and a far cry from the shake ‘n bake chops of your childhood!

orange-ginger pork

4 boneless center cut pork chops
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, grated
brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish

  1. Heat sesame oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle each chop with salt and pepper, add to the pan and quickly brown, about 2 minutes per side.
  2. Remove the browned chops from the pan and slice each one into 1/4 inch slices. Wipe out the pan and return the sliced meat to it.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, orange juice, soy sauce, honey, mustard and garlic. Pour the mixture over the pork slices and simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has reduced a bit.
  4. Serve the sliced pork over brown rice, drizzled with additional sauce and garnished with sliced scallions.