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Posts from the ‘Dinner’ Category

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Shaved Baby Zucchini & Toasted Pepitas


When someone utters the words “…this is the best thing we’ve made…ever!”  ’nuff said.

Squash blossoms are available for only a short period of time in the summer and are the epitome of ‘seasonal’.  They are typically picked in the morning and brought to the farmer’s market that day and are best used within a couple of hours.  This dish is perfectly simple and refreshingly light without being short on flavor.

I spotted the original recipe on epicurious as we were walking through the farmer’s market trying to solidify our dinner plans.  Our modified recipe is shown below.

Besides squash blossoms, in looking for shallots, we stumbled upon green shallots, which I don’t believe I’ve used before.  I am positive the dish would have been delightful with regular, good ‘ole shallots…but I believe the green shallots made it just a touch more special!

Let’s talk tomatoes!  Tomatoes in the summer are serious business.  It is not summer without tomatoes that need nothing other than to be plucked from the vine and tossed in one’s mouth and with a tiny squeeze of the jaw burst forth with flavor and juice.  These miniature (sometimes referred to as Sweet 100’s) citrusy orange delights would have been so offended had we tried to cook them…they would have sprouted legs and walked right out of the kitchen (original recipe called for roasting the tomatoes).

I am often made fun of for appreciating things that come in small proportions (read: I love anything that is small or comes in a miniature size).  Prime examples of such behavior: I refuse to use anything other than the mini-taster spoons when eating ice cream from a shop; we shouldn’t even talk about the number of small bowls that crowd my cupboards; and I am addicted to small notepads and mini-books and have recently discovered some half-size mechanical pencils; so my love for baby vegetables should not surprise anyone!

How can you resist these little guys!?!

Make sure to roast the pepitas, the nuttiness and the crunch are very important for the final dish!

For squash blossoms

2 teaspoons olive oil
1-2 oz mild fresh goat cheese (6 tablespoons) at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted until they puff
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 male squash blossoms with stems (not with baby zucchini), stems trimmed to 1 inch

Filling:

Stir together goat cheese, cream, pumpkin seeds, basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.

Pipe filling into each blossom and twist ends of petals gently to close.  We used a ziplock bag and cut off the tip to pipe the filling into the squash blossoms.  Chill them covered, until ready to fry.

*We realized that we should have made the mixture immediately upon returning from the farmer’s market and filled the blossoms as soon as possible as the flowers were open when we bought them and closed up tighter and tighter as the day went on making it more difficult to fill them later on without ripping the delicate petals.

For vinaigrette and shaved squash

1 tablespoon rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon minced green shallots
2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 baby zucchini, rinsed and stems discarded

Purée vinegar, shallot, oil, pepper, and salt in a blender until smooth and emulsified.

Slice squash paper-thin (lengthwise) using a mandoline, then overlap squash slices decoratively on 2 plates.  Do this shortly before frying the blossoms and plating the dish, otherwise the slices will dry out.

For tempura batter and frying

6 cups vegetable oil (preferably canola or grapeseed)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chilled sparkling water

Make tempura batter and fry blossoms:
Heat 2 inches of oil in a 3-quart saucepan to 350°F on thermometer.

Set a bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water, then whisk together flour and salt in smaller bowl. Then whisk in sparkling water until combined well.

Working in batches of 2 or 3, coat blossoms in batter, lifting each out by its stem and letting excess drip off, then fry, turning, until batter is crisp (it will not brown), 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer blossoms as fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels, drain, then season with salt.

For topping

2 tablespoons green (hulled) pumpkin seeds, toasted until they puff
Handful of small basil leaves (preferably Thai) or sliced larger leaves
1 cup small cherry tomatoes (sweeter the better), halved lengthwise or served whole 

Assemble plates:

Drizzle vinaigrette over squash slices, then arrange 3 fried blossoms in middle of each plate. Sprinkle remaining oven-dried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and basil around blossoms and season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy with a glass of white wine – we went with a 2008 Russian River Chardonnay.

The crisp raw zucchini where perfect paired with the crunch of the tempura and the richness of the goat cheese…add in the juicy tomatoes and the acid from the vinaigrette…and it was perfection!  Seriously…perfection!

We are dying to make this again…but just might have to wait until squash blossoms are back in season next summer!

What are your favorite completely seasonal dishes for summer?

 

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Chicken Piccata


This is pure comfort food for me.

Chicken Piccata was a standard in our household when I was growing up.  Although for a while it was referred to Tonkatsu Chicken as my brothers and I preferred to dip our chicken in Tonkatsu sauce (basically a Japanese Worcestershire sauce) rather than squeezing fresh lemon over the top.  

I digress.  This is such a simple dish…and very easy to make on a weeknight as well.  Although I don’t have a crowd to feed…it was always a crowd-pleaser.  The chicken breasts I used were humongous…I probably should have cut each one in half once I had pounded them and saved half of the meat for another meal.  But it did make for some great leftovers, so I can’t complain.

Chicken Piccata

2 chicken breasts, pounded thin
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1-2 cups of breadcrumbs (panko or regular)
2 lemons (1 sliced and 1 juiced with seeds removed)
1-2 tbsp. capers
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
2-4 tbsp. of butter
½ cup of white wine

First, place 1 chicken breast in a gallon size ziplock bag and using a meat pounder or rolling-pin, pound each breast until it is about ¼ to ½ inch thick.  This helps tenderize the meat and will help it to cook evenly and much faster.  Next, open a bottle of wine…pour yourself a glass and leave some to help deglaze the pan.

Next, ready your breading set-up.  Shallow bowls or plates with a lip on them, or even cake pans can work really well for this.

I was gifted these a few years ago and LOVE them.  They link together so you avoid the drippy egg all over the counter and they help maximize your workspace as they fit together tightly unlike round plates or bowls would.  When breading, remember wet sticks to dry and dry sticks to wet.  So start with the flour, the next pan should have the eggs lightly beaten and the last pan is for the breadcrumbs and don’t forget to season at each step.  I heavily season the chicken breast before the flour dredge and I usually season the egg with salt and pepper as well.

Next, put your pan on the heat and add some olive oil and a pat of butter…the oil has a higher smoke point and the butter helps things to brown nicely.  Once the pan is hot, gently lay the first chicken breast down.  I turn the heat up a bit at this point because as soon as you add your chicken, the pan will cool quite a bit.  If there’s room (don’t crowd the pan), add in the second chicken breast.  I turn the oven on warm (150-180º F) so I’ve got a warm place to hold the chicken while I make the sauce.

Turn the chicken breasts once the bottom side is browned handling them gently as you want to breading to stay on the chicken.  Remove the chicken from the pan once it is cooked through and the second side is browned as well – place on a plate in the oven.

Now it’s time for the sauce.  If there is a ton of oil in the pan, run a paper towel around to remove some of it without wiping up the little brown bits.  Next, throw in half of your lemon slices and some of the capers, and cook a bit as you want them to break down.  Remove the pan from the heat, and add the white wine to deglaze the pan and use a wooden spoon to get all the delicious browned bits up and incorporated into the sauce.  Add in the juice from 1 lemon, a dash of salt and pepper let all the liquids combine.  Before two much of the sauce has evaporated, add small and very cold chunks of butter to the pan and stir them in completely before adding the next chunk.  This is called mounting the sauce with butter.  The cold butter emulsifies and thickens the sauce.  Just before serving add in the rest of the capers, another few slices of lemon and the chopped parsley.  Plate the chicken, top with lemon and drizzle the sauce over and serve it with rice.

C’est Parfait!

Dinners…that don’t look much like dinner!


Have you ever had so many events and nights out that all you want to do is just veg on the couch at home?  Obviously you need to eat, but putting much effort into dinner…especially anything that would typically look like a dinner, is just way to hard.

We’ve had a lot going on this last month or so…in fact sometimes May/June tends to feel a lot like the holidays when you find yourself eating nibbles from the hors d’oeuvres tables and cookies and having perhaps a few more drinks during the week than you planned…when following an ‘eat healthy plan’ seems all but impossible.

Our solution – popcorn, apples and cheese.  My husband grew up with this meal as a Sunday night tradition.  It’s easy, feels like a treat and doesn’t require a lot of planning or shopping!

As mentioned here, I crave salty snacks…and popcorn is one of my favorites.  In fact, I would dare say that our air popper is one of our most used small kitchen appliances.  This particular evening, I popped up 3/4 cup of popcorn, drizzled it with melted salted butter and sprinkled it with salt.  I sliced up a Gala apple and some Dubliner cheddar cheese and settled in on the couch to watch some indulgent reality TV.

It is the perfect antidote to an overly busy social calendar…and feels somewhat healthy too!

What is your go-to, quick fix, alternative-to-typical-dinner meal?

Refeshing Chopped Italian Salad


Raise your hand if you like salt…?  Yup, I see a few hands out there.

Salty or Sweet…????  I count myself in the salty category and in fact have been given various nicknames that reflect my affinity for the natural crystal, including ‘old salty’.  I would much rather snack on tortilla chips or popcorn than have a cookie.  I crave salt.  This salad is just perfect…a fresh (and a little bit salty) salad for summer with a hint of sweetness from golden raisins.

I was inspired to make this salad after dining out with my husband here and enjoying a dish very similar…we both remarked “why don’t we eat more chopped salads?”  This is, in fact, a very good question!  Salads can be tricky…I like them dressed and tossed; they can be awkward to eat if the greens aren’t cut to an appropriate size; and they can so easily be ruined by too much dressing.  The chopped salad is the answer to all of these issues.

Chopped implies a certain size…so no worries with the giant lettuce leaf sticking out the side of your mouth smearing dressing up and down your cheek.  Chopped salads also typically are chock full of ingredients going beyond greens…which makes them heartier (better as a whole meal), and more flavorful…so the need for a lot of dressing is significantly reduced.  Chopped salads are also a great way to use up leftovers…perhaps you have one baked sweet potato left and a couple crumbles of blue cheese along with some pecans…add greens and a light vinaigrette and poof – dinner.

This particular chopped salad is distinctly Italian with dry salami, black and green olives, radicchio, and feta. The saltiness is countered with golden raisins and the unexpected but totally necessary nutty component – pistachios and a good handful of Italian parsley.

Nice Chopped Italian Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce
1 head radicchio
½ cup of golden raisins
1/3 cup of canned black olives, sliced
1/3 cup of green olives, sliced
¼ to 1/3 of a small dry salami, cubed
½ cup of pistachio meats (shells removed)
1/3 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

Slice green and black olives and cube the salami.  Next, slice and chop the iceberg lettuce and radicchio and put in a large salad bowl.  Throw in all the toppings – olives, raisins, pistachios, and salami.  In a small bowl, whisk your dressing together.  I went with a very simple red wine vinaigrette which I never measure…just eyeball the amounts and always taste as you go…it consists of olive oil, red wine vinaigrette, a tiny bit of salt and some pepper – just whisk it all together before drizzling it over the salad.  Make sure to err on the side of too little dressing as you can always add more.  Once dressed, add in the feta and most of the chopped parsley, toss again and then serve up with another sprinkling of parsley and some toasty crisps.

Do you like chopped salads?  What are your favorite additions?

PS:  Don’t underestimate the importance of the raisins!!!  I’m not always a giant raisin fan…but I wouldn’t imagine eating this salad without them.

DLW: Pasta Carbonara!


May is always a very busy month…and this one has been no exception.  Two college graduations, a multitude of birthdays (including my own), leaving my 8 to 5’ish job, and having visitors  – all of a sudden I cannot believe that it is almost June!  Many meals have been light snacks or potlucks, happy hours or small bites late in the evening.  We did manage to get this some-what homemade meal on the table a week or so ago…and it is one of my favorite quick dinners.

This particular evening, we used 1 package of fresh pasta (from the refrigerated section of the grocery store), half a package of bacon, 2 eggs and some grated parmesan cheese.  First – cook the bacon using whatever method you like the best.  When the bacon is close to being done, boil some water and salt it heavily.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions and then drain it, but make sure to keep 1-2 cups of the cooking liquid.  Meanwhile beat the eggs and season with salt and plenty of fresh cracked pepper  I throw the pasta back into the pot (make sure the heat is off) and then add 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of the cooking liquid and stir a bit.  Next you are going to slowly pour in the beaten eggs into the very warm pasta and the heat from the pasta helps cook the egg a bit and the starchy pasta water helps turn it into a delightful sauce.  It will thicken quite a bit, so don’t be shy with the pasta water.  Sprinkle in the parmesan cheese and the crumbled bacon and top with some fresh chopped parsley or thinly sliced green onions and another hit of black pepper.  Serve immediately.

Dinner is done!

DLW :: Whatever-is-in-the-fridge Calzones


Sometimes we’re fancy around here and spend a lot of time and effort planning and cooking a meal…and others…it is just about filling your stomach for the evening.  These are the evenings when having some random ingredients in the fridge and pantry comes in handy!

Although pizza dough is incredibly easy and relatively quick to make…every so often I grab a bag of dough from the refrigerated section of Trader Joe’s – it can be so versatile.  So…we happened to have one just waiting to be used.

Throw in a leftover half an onion, some green olives and some roasted red peppers and whatever remnants of cheese you have along with some herbs and seasoning…and all of a sudden, you’ve got a delicious calzone.  I tend to leave the sauce out of the calzone and serve it warm on the side…otherwise, it can make everything a bit soggy.  We split this one between the two of us and it was a nice light meal.

What are your go-to pantry meals and creations?

Cuban Sandwich :: Porky & Delicious!


So last week…we had some pork and later last week…we needed to eat up what little was left and what better way than to make the traditional Cuban sandwich!

According to my sources (the interwebs of course – nothing but the best for you readers!), all Cuban sandwiches contain roast pork, ham, pickles, swiss cheese and a spread of mustard and are always served hot off the presses. Sounds like a pretty pungent sandwich, right? Wrong…it’s delicious, strongly flavored…but apparently many wrongs make a right!

Do you live near a Trader Joe’s? Good! We find that using the mini-ciabatta loaves which are only par-baked and ready to be crisped up before serving are perfect for any panini. Soft enough to let the panini press squish it a bit and grill up the outside but not so much that when you take a bite, you either get all bread or only the filling.

Moving on…slice the bread and spread with mustard on both sides, we happen to be fans of this one from Sierra Nevada Brewing. We also like their beer…but that’s another post! Layer a few slices of ham on the bottom side of the sandwich, cover with slices of the roast pork.

Having only dill pickle spears in the house…which I thought too difficult to slice lengthwise, I was relegated to many little slices of the spears.

Ready for the swiss cheese, layer it on and give a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. (Remember rule #4 – season at every step! – It’ a rule…maybe not rule #4…but it’s a rule.)

Top with the other half of the bun and get it into your panini press stat…or fry pan…or whatever works for you.

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Once the cheese is melty, the bread toasty, and the filling delicious-looking…pull it off the grill and cut in half. (Also…make a giant mess for just one sandwich!)

Serve with crunchy potato chips and a pickle on the side.

Dig in (and then wish you had a little more leftover roast pork).

In lieu of additional pork…throw together another sandwich with ingredients found in your fridge!

Filled with sliced roast turkey, roasted red peppers, arugula, mozzarella cheese and some sprinklings of garlic dried Italian herbs.

I love panini night…you never know what might make it into a sandwich! Do you have a favorite filling?

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DLW :: Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Risotto & Sautéed Kale


Roast a pork tenderloin, make some risotto, sauté some kale and top it all with a little Parmesan…and poof – dinner appears!

Okay, it wasn’t actually that quick, but it was delicious and we had some leftover pork for a meal later in the week!  (stay tuned for details on that…)

What did you eat last week?

 

Salade Niçoise


Salad.  The word is ripe with meanings.  Could be dessert, breakfast, a hearty meal, a light spring side, could be greens and a little dressing or contain nothing green at all…might be the whole meal or just a nibble to whet your appetite.  I’m a big fan of savory salads that have intention, I love a composed salad, have a sweet spot for any salad with a hit of protein, and of course…add olives to anything and I’m in!

A niçoise salad hits every mark and is easily made almost any time of year!

This recipe comes from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  I first learned about this book via NPR and The Splendid Table with Lynn Rossetto Kasper who interviewed Dorie.  However, this salad hardly needs a recipe at all (but I posted it below).

We were inspired to make a niçoise after reading a Cook’s Illustrated review of canned tuna focusing not only on taste but also on sustainability and ethics of the company.  American Tuna came out on top…and when we spotted it while grocery shopping…we knew just what we would be making with it.

The tuna is worth the additional cost and the quality is outstanding.

Recipe (courtesy of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan)

8-12 small potatoes, scrubbed
2  5 to 6 oz. cans tuna packed in oil, drained
4 tomatoes, cut into chunks or 20 grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 lb. green beans, trimmed
4 hard-boiled eggs
about 20 Niçoise olives, pitted
2 tbsps. capers, drained and patted dry
8 anchovies, rinsed and patted dry (we skipped the anchovies)
4-6 handfuls of bibb lettuce
1 shallot, finely chopped
olive oil
light vinegar or lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper

Since it was just the two of us, we halved the recipe and the portions were very generous!

Start by cooking the potatoes in boiling and salted water.  You’ll want to cook the potatoes whole, they will hold their shape and look crisper for the salad.  Depending on the size, they should take between 10-15 minutes…and I would err on the shorter side.  You can test the doneness by piercing one of the potatoes with a paring knife.

We happen to have some hard-boiled eggs on hand from earlier in the week, but if they are not a standard in your fridge…go ahead and hard boil the eggs using your preferred method and make sure they have time to cool down before peeling and quartering them.  Depending on the size of tomato you use, quarter or half the tomatoes.

The green beans need only a very quick blanch in salted boiling water and a quick cool-off in some ice water.  Once you have all your ingredients ready to go – it’s time to pull it all together.  Mix up the dressing…a little olive oil, shallots and vinegar seasoned with salt and pepper.

Toss the lettuce with the dressing and pile high on the plate and then top with all the fixings…in whatever fashion grabs you in the moment.  Open a lovely crisp bottle of white wine to cut through the oil of the tuna, olives and anchovies and the salt of the capers and olives and you’ve got dinner on the table!

Bon Appétit!

Pheasant & Waffles


Every year should start with pheasant!

{or at least something that looks this delectable!}

and waffles…and herbs…and…all manner of delicious things, really!

Although this was not the first meal of 2012…it is worthy of the first post!  It all began back in November of 2011…actually, to really get to the beginning…we have to go back to July 21, 2006…

That’s the day I officially became a gun owner (having never in my life , thought that I would own a gun!)  The next day I got married…and soon(ish) I put that gun to use and became a (bird) hunter.  Let’s not get carried away here…I’m no Ted Nugent…however, I do believe that you should be honest about your relationship with food and be willing to (at least once) participate directly in acquiring meat  for you table that normally comes cleanly packaged with nary a hint of it’s life before Styrofoam, refrigeration and shipping.

While we are being honest…my husband was the hunter who shot the birds for this meal…and our dog is the one who joyfully retrieved them for us…I just cooked them up and took a lot of photos!

We visited family over the Thanksgiving break and spent some time near Heber, UT…the weather was brisk but certainly not cold!  Woody skipped out on a morning of thanksgiving prep and took Cleo (our Braque Français (French Pointer) bird-dog) out to the plains on the south-west side of Utah Valley to hunt for pheasant.  He returned smiling with a couple of birds.

Cleo rested in the sun-warmed truck while Woody took to ‘breasting’ the birds.  Essentially cutting the skin at the breast bone and exposing both breasts and cutting them out without having to pluck the bird as the feathers make it a very messy process.

I think feathers are one of nature’s great beauties…so intricate, light, complex and impressive!

Woody started with a hen.

Then moved on to the rooster pheasant – much more brightly colored.

Pheasants are stunning and happen to taste delicious as well!

This is Pippa very interested in the bird, but not quite sure what to do with it.

Now Golden Retrievers normally retrieve, but Molly, Pippa and Sam have not had opportunities to do so other than with their balls and toys…and that is more for the fun of it than for any real purpose.  Woody was attempting to coerce a retrieval out of at least one of the gold squadron…but it was not a show-stopping performance.  All dogs got very excited at the prospect of something being thrown…and would go right to it…and then sniff and look up confused as to what was supposed to happen next.  Urban retrievers…what are you going to do???…really!

Fast forward a day or so…after gorging ourselves with thanksgiving dinner and playing some cranium late into the evening, the cooking begins!

Start with sautéed onions (never a bad idea)!

Luckily, there were still odds and ends of unused vegetables from the turkey day feast!  Rough-chopped mushrooms – throw them in the pan as well…

Let those soften and cook down a bit, I think I de-glazed the pan with a bit of white wine and some water, and then go ahead and add the smattering of herbs!

Sage and thyme!

I added some heavy cream si it could be gin to thicken and reduce while the pheasant and the waffles get cooking.

The pheasants resulted in a wonderful little nuggets with a few larger breast pieces…which were kept wrapped in wax paper in an unsealed ziplock in the fridge in between being extracted from the birds and making to the hot pan.

Each piece was salted and peppered and coated in seasoned flour.

Knock off any excess flour and place in a hot pan with melted butter and a little oil to increase the smoke point.

Don’t crowd the pan…it’ll cool off to quickly and the breast won’t brown properly.

Continue to check on the ‘gravy’ to make sure it doesn’t thicken up too much.

Waffles were already on the menu for the morning…and the batter was nicely balanced – not too fluffy or sweet.  Start making waffles!

Here’s the kicker…start cooking a fried egg.  In butter.   (you’ll thank me later)

Check on gravy!

Here is where the fun really begins.

1.  Put crispy, toasty waffle on plate.

2.  Top with fried egg (yolk still soft).

3.  Place delicious pheasant breast on top of egg and waffle.

4.  Spoon herby, onion mushroom creamy gravy over the top.

5.  Top with sprigs of fresh herbs!

Voila!

{you know you want to eat this!} {now…right now!!!}

{drool}

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