Frita Cubana Sliders (for Krystal’s Virtual Baby Shower!)

When I first started this blog back in 2007, I wanted to archive the recipes that we threw together on a weeknight in our little Japanese kitchen. I never gave much thought to the people actually reading it, except maybe close friends and family. But then something happened over the next year or two – I discovered a community of people who also love to take pictures of their food and write about it, and a handful have become good friends.

Although I’ve never met any of these ladies in person (yet!) I feel like I know them, which is a pretty cool thing. Take Krystal for example, of Mrs. Regueiro’s Plate. We were first “introduced” on a recipe board where we both are frequent posters. When I was assigned her thin-crust pizza for an Italian-themed recipe swap, we were able to talk more about our experiences in Italy. Through comments back and forth on our blogs, it’s pretty safe to say that this Santa Cruz girl and LA girl would get along quite well. Guess what? Krystal and her husband Eric are expecting their first child in May (gender is a surprise – I love that!)

To celebrate this exciting time in their lives, Joelen of What’s Cookin’ Chicago is hosting this virtual baby shower, and I’m so excited to be a part of it. In honor of Krystal’s Filipino background and Eric’s Cuban background, Joelen asked some of Krystal’s favorite bloggers to prepare either a Filipino or Cuban dish for a baby shower fiesta.

Excited to try a new type of cuisine, I spent an afternoon doing some research.  I found myself leaning towards a Cuban dish because I was intrigued by the flavors and knew the least about the culture. I came across several recipes for a Frita Cubana – or Cuban Hamburger – and was drawn to the concept. A beef & chorizo patty is topped with a liberal handful of fried shoestring potatoes, and a generous amount of sweet & vinegary spiced ketchup. Festive, flavorful, and undeniably Cuban, I decided this was going to be my shower offering! Krystal, these sliders are fun and will add a little spice to the party – just like you! I wish you the best as you get ready to welcome your little one into the world!

To accompany your frita cubana sliders, I made a refreshing salad of fresh, chopped romaine, crunchy jicama, sweet orange, and cool avocado.

Visit the full roundup here! Krystal & Eric’s Baby Shower Fiesta!

Frita Cubana Sliders

(makes 12-16 sliders – slightly adapted form Saveur)

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. Spanish chorizo, casings removed
1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers (about 10)
2 TBS. finely chopped yellow onion
1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
Canola oil, for frying
2 large russet potatoes, peeled
soft slider rolls, split in half
Secret Sauce (recipe below)

  • In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, chorizo, crushed crackers, onions, paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper; Using your hands, mix everything together until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes. Form into slider-sized round, thin, patties.
  • Pour oil into a 4-qt. saucepan until it reaches a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 330°. Meanwhile, working over a large bowl, grate potato using the large-holed side of a box grater. Soak grated potatoes in water for 1 minute and drain. Spread potatoes on a kitchen towel and pat dry. Working in batches, fry potatoes until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to paper towels and season lightly with salt; set aside.
  • Prepare a charcoal grill. Grill the patties until cooked through and nicely browned. Spread some secret sauce on each slider bun, and place the patties on top. Top with a generous mound of fried potatoes. Drizzle with more sauce.

Secret Sauce for a Frita Cubana

(from 3 Guys from Miami)

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a two-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let cool. Use generously on your frita cubana sliders!

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

When the December issue of Bon Appetit introduced me to shakshuka, a popular dish in Israel, it screamed comfort to me. You crack eggs over a simmering aromatic tomato sauce, seasoned with paprika, cumin, jalapeño, and garlic, and then transfer the skillet to the oven for them to poach. Chickpeas add substance, crumbled feta adds creaminess, and chopped cilantro adds brightness. Place the hot skillet (carefully) in the middle of the table and dig in with pita bread for dipping. If you succeed in poaching the eggs just right, the whites will be set and the yolks will be nice and runny. I was not so successful. After the suggested 5-8 minutes of cooking time, my whites were still clear, so I let them go a little longer and then they overcooked. Alas. It was still delicious, however, and I’ve been blogging long enough to feel comfortable admitting my screw-up. The next morning I redeemed myself. I fried two eggs (perfectly over easy, I might add – I’m more comfortable cooking eggs in a pan than in the oven) and placed them over the leftover tomato sauce/chickpea/feta mixture. Amazing. There are not many meals that I’d gladly eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but this is one of them.

The holidays can be a time of stress, whether it’s menu planning for your first Christmas dinner, braving the crowds downtown to find the perfect sweater for uncle so-and-so, or entertaining last minute out-of-town guests. Or in my case, maybe you have a 20 month old who can go from being the sweetest boy in the world to screaming at the top of his lungs when Mommy decides it’s time to leave the children’s section of the bookstore to pay for our books. In the midst of this kind of week, may I suggest this meal as a quick (and more importantly, comforting) weeknight dinner. In 30 minutes it can be on your table, and as soon as you tear off that first piece of pita and dip it into the bubbling sauce, you’ll be reminded of what matters. There is good food to be had. And look at the people sitting around your dinner table – you’re truly lucky to have them. Looking at my own (grown-up) baby reminds me of that baby in a manger, oh so long ago, who embodied love and grace for the world; I don’t know about you, but I could sure use some of that right about now.

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas and Feta

(From the December 2011 issue of Bon Appetit)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta
8 large eggs**
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Warm pita bread

*I used one 15 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, and one 15 oz. can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (had to make use of what was in my pantry).

**For the 3 of us (yes, Levi actually counts as a whole person now when it comes to serving sizes), I used 5 eggs. I kept the amount of tomato sauce the same, even though the original recipes says it serves 4-6. It makes wonderful leftovers, and you can always fry an egg (or 2) the next morning and place it on top of the sauce.

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Heat oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeños; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add chickpeas, paprika, and cumin and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  • Add crushed tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle feta evenly over sauce. Crack eggs one at a time and place over sauce, spacing evenly apart. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 5–8 minutes. Garnish with parsley and cilantro. Serve with pita for dipping..

Camarones a la Diabla

Among many things, my friend Miriam and I share an affinity for making lists, browsing the store Anthropologie, and putting Sriracha on everything (except popcorn; we tried that; too soggy). We also love the same dish at Los Pericos, a taqueria in downtown Santa Cruz – Camarones a la Diabla, shrimp in a spicy, smokey chilie-tomato sauce. It’s the kind of dish that is painful to eat, but so enjoyable that you just keep going. A cold beer helps. Los Pericos serves their fiery shrimp next to cooling guacamole and sour cream (thank goodness), as well as rice, refried beans, corn tortillas, shredded iceburg lettuce, and a slice of (unfortunately pale, flavorless) tomato. But that’s ok because the rest of the dish is zesty and flavorful to make up for this unfortunate garnish. The entrée is a big commitment because of its size, but we usually do pretty well. So, if Los Pericos already makes our perfect spicy meal, why make the dish at home?  Well, because there’s a recipe for Camarones a la Diabla in The Sriracha Cookbook! After our successful Ultimate Sriracha Burgers, we decided to tackle a second recipe from the book together (with the help of our significant others).

What makes Camarones a la Diabla special is the addition of dried chilies in the sauce, three varieties, in fact. They are worth seeking out because their flavor is so unique – smokey, earthy, subtly spicy, and they are really what makes Camarones a la Diabla Camarones a la Diabla. Of course, this recipe includes Sriracha as well, which adds another dimension of flavor, that familiar combination of spicy, sweet, and tangy. We were surprised, though, that the Sriracha flavor wasn’t as prominent in the final dish. Setting the bottle on the table for people to add to taste was a good way to remedy this. We served our version with cilantro-lime brown rice, refried black beans, and a big salad. It was different from Los Pericos’ version; a little sweeter and more tomato-y, and didn’t quite pack as much punch as the recipe promised, but it was still “devilish” enough to keep us coming back for more.

Camarones a la Diabla

(From The Sriracha Cookbook)

6 dried guajillo chilies
4 dried arbol chilies
2 dried ancho chilies
1/3 cup Sriracha
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
3 tablespoons butter
1 large red onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds tail-on shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (we used cilantro instead; it is a Mexican dish!)
warmed corn tortillas, for serving

  • Toast the chilies in a dry skillet over medium heat, 3 minutes per side. They will get really fragrant and their skin slightly charred. While the chilies are toasting, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • When the chilies are toasted and the water is boiling, drop the chilies in the boiling water, cover, remove from heat, and let steep for 20 minutes.
  • Drain the chilies, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid. Discard the seeds and the skins as best you can (I was impatient and tried to do this while they were still kind of hot, which made it difficult). Throw the seeded, skinned chilies into a food processor, along with the reserved liquid, the Sriracha, and 2 TBS. of  the vegetable oil. Puree until smooth, using a spatula to wipe down the sides in between pulses.
  • Place a large pot with a lid on the stove and set a mesh strainer on top (or someone can hold it over the pot for you). Spoon the pureed chile mixture into the strainer and use a wooden spoon to force it through. At first it will seem like there’s not much to push through, but be persistent with the spoon, using a stirring motion, and eventually you’ll end up with a smooth puree at the bottom of the pot.
  • Add the can of tomato puree to the pot. Simmer the tomato/chili mixture over medium heat, 12-15 minutes or until thickened. I found the mixture to already be pretty thick and it started splattering everywhere like crazy (which is why the lid is helpful), so I didn’t simmer it for the full time – maybe only 10 minutes.
  • Heat the butter and the remaining Tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 6-7 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and cook for another minute, stirring, until they get some nice color on them. Add the tomato/chile mixture to the pan with the shrimp, onions, and garlic. Stir to combine and continue cooking until shrimp are cooked through. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve over (or next to) rice and refried beans, and warmed corn tortillas. Makes 6-8 servings.

Spiced Roast Chicken Thighs & Browned Onion Kugel

I feel like I’ve been exposed to a variety of cuisines, from Ethiopian stew in Berkeley, California, to Sri Lankan fare in downtown Osaka, and a fiery Korean chicken dish straight from the source in Seoul. But it wasn’t until I was given browned onion Kugel as my side dish for the Recipe Swap this week that I realized I’d been missing out on the wide range of Jewish dishes out there! As I was researching Kugel (which seemed like a good place to start, since I didn’t even know how to pronounce it, let alone what was in it), I learned that there are both sweet and savory versions of this noodle pudding, and they involve egg noodles (or potatoes or Matzah), sour cream, cottage cheese, and eggs.  Even Smitten Kitchen has a Kugel recipe on her blog. Clearly, I’ve been out of the loop (or just not Jewish)! Once I did my research, I couldn’t stop thinking about my side dish. It sounded so comforting to me and I couldn’t wait to try it.

But what do you serve with Kugel? I had no idea (Jewish friends, please weigh in here!), although I was smart enough to know that pork was not the right answer, nor was something involving bacon. We decided on a simple roasted chicken dish (that I found it on Elly Says Opa, adapted from Gourmet), and some roasted broccoli. Not exactly kosher, so I hope it doesn’t offend someone’s Jewish Grandmother. Actually, what I really want now is for someone’s Jewish Grandmother to cook me a traditional Jewish meal. My first taste of Kugel was so good, I would love to experience more (including the sweet variety) and expand my cuisine repertoire to include that of the Jewish tradition.

This recipe, coincidentally, came from the same blog as my last Recipe Swap recipe, Happy Insides. The Kugel is baked in muffin tins, rather than the traditional casserole dish, and includes caramelized onions and poppy seeds. We’ll definitely be making this recipe again. The only changes we made were halving it (the recipe below makes 12 side-dish servings) and using ricotta cheese in place of cottage cheese. Thanks again, Cassie & Jason, for introducing us to something new!

Browned Onion Kugel

(From Happy Insides, originally from Epicurious)

6 oz. egg noodles
1 stick unsalted butter
3 cups chopped onions (2 large)
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/4 cups cottage cheese (or ricotta cheese)
1 TBS. poppy seeds
4 large eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cook egg noodles in boiling, salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander, rinse with cool water, and drain well.
  • Melt the butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat.  Brush the muffin cups with some of the butter.  Add the onions to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 20 minutes.
  • Transfer onions to a large bowl, and stir in noodles, sour cream, cottage cheese (or ricotta), and poppy seeds. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add the eggs to the noodle mixture as well. Stir to combine.
  • Divide mixture among muffin cups. Bake until puffed and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 12 side-dish servings, or 6-8 main course servings.

Spiced Roast Chicken Thighs

(Adapted from the April 2000 issue of Gourmet)

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 TBS. canola oil, divided*
3 TBS. red wine (or broth)

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Pat the chicken dry. Mix together the spices and 1/2 TBS. of canola oil.  Rub all over the chicken.
  • Heat the remaining oil in a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking.  Brown chicken on both sides, about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer skillet to oven and continue to cook, skin-side up, until done, about 12-18 minutes.
  • Remove chicken and place skillet on stove-top over high heat.  Deglaze pan with wine or broth, scraping up browned bits, and pour juices over chicken. Serves 2.

* So what made this chicken extra-delectable was that we browned the chicken thighs in duck fat. Yes, you read that right. Last weekend we made some amazing tea-smoked duck (to-be-blogged-about soon!) and the next day we fried some of the leftover skin to make duck cracklings. That rendered fat was was used in this chicken. Oh my gosh. So good.

Stout & Cheddar Meatloaf

Everyone has their favorite meatloaf recipe. It’s one of those classic American comfort foods that doesn’t photograph particularly well, but definitely deserves a place in a food blog. Every family adds their own special touch, like this Asian Meatloaf with a Sweet & Spicy Glaze that Dustin and I came up with last year, inspired by our time in Japan. There are so many possible combinations of ground meats, add-ins, and glazes that this Create Your Own Meatloaf Tool on Fine Cooking’s website is pretty awesome if you’re looking for inspiration on how to add a twist to this comfort food classic.

Instead of the usual corned beef & cabbage this year, we ate this delicious meatloaf that was infused with Irish cheddar and Stout, and then wrapped in bacon. It was a little more time consuming than we thought it would be, but because it was a holiday, we felt it was worth the effort. Instead of beef & veal, we used a combination of beef & lamb (a nod to another comfort food favorite, lamb and Guinness stew). We also formed two smaller meatloaves, and baked them side by side, instead of one large one that the recipe suggests.

Stout & Cheddar Meatloaf

(Slightly adapted from Fine Cooking)

2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup small-diced carrots
1/2 cup small-diced celery
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup stout beer, such as Guinness (we used a local Stout called Dark Knight from Santa Cruz Ale Works)
4 oz. medium-coarse white bread, such as Italian or French, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2-1/2 cups)
1 cup whole milk
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground lamb
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Irish White Cheddar (or regular domestic cheddar)
1/4 cup dried mushrooms, re-hydrated in hot water and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 oz. sliced bacon (about 9 strips)

  • Heat 2 TBS. of the oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Add the stout, and simmer briskly, until almost dry, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool until warm.
  • In a shallow dish that holds it in a single layer, soak the bread in the milk, flipping once, until soggy but not falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the coarseness and freshness of the bread. Lightly squeeze a handful of bread at a time to remove some of the milk (it should be wet but not drenched). Finely chop and add to the bowl with the vegetable mixture.
  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.
  • Add the beef, lamb and eggs to the onion mixture. Scatter the Cheddar, re-hydrated mushrooms, and parsley over the meat, and then sprinkle with the Worcestershire, 2-1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Use your hands to gently mix all the ingredients until just combined; try not to compact the mixture as you do this.
  • Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment. Form 2 rectangular blocks (it will become loaf-shaped as it cooks) with the meatloaf mixture and place side by side on the pan. Finish by draping each one with slightly overlapping strips of bacon, tucking the ends under the loaves.
  • Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F in the center of the meatloaf, 40 to 55 minutes.
  • Broil the meatloaf about 6 inches from the broiler element until the bacon is brown and crisped, about 3 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board or serving platter with a large spatula and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch-thick slices.

While we were busy making the meatloaf, Levi was busy with his new hobby, opening kitchen drawers 🙂

Caramelized Chipotle Chicken

Happy New Year! Obviously my resolution was not to blog more frequently. In fact, I didn’t make any resolutions because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. I just want to be a good mom this year and try to take one day at a time without worrying about the next one! It’s been harder lately to get stuff done around here. Levi’s not quite crawling yet, but he still manages to cruise around the room and get into things by sort of pivoting his body in various directions. He can also pull himself up onto the coffee table and couch, which means lots of bumps and bruises are in our near future. Despite these new challenges, we somehow managed to try a delicious new recipe last night! Thank goodness I have a husband who likes to cook!

Two of my favorite food bloggers, Elly of Elly Says Opa and Josie of Pink Parsley, made this recipe that originated in Gourmet, and both of their mouth watering pictures and descriptions pushed it to the top of our list of things to make! Plus, it’s been dipping into the 30s at night (I know that seems like nothing compared to those of you who are having crazy snow right now, but we’re self-proclaimed cold wimps from CA!), so we wanted something bold and spicy in flavor to warm us up!

Chipotle chiles in adobo are one of our favorite ingredients. Remember when we found them at an import food store in Japan and went chipotle crazy for a week, making things like Chipotle Tomato Rice, Spicy Tomato Soup, and Sizzling Hot Shrimp?  We loved the sweetness, smokiness, and tangy-ness of this dish; basically, we just pan-fried chicken breast halves, topped them with a chipotle barbecue sauce, and (per Elly’s advice) broiled them until nice and caramelized (rather than roasting). We served them with some steamed rice (made with chicken stock instead of water for more flavor; and I threw a tiny bit of chopped chipotles in there too, just for the heck of it), and a nice big salad.

Caramelized Chipotle Chicken

(Adapted from Gourmet)

3 TBS. olive oil, divided
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chopped chipotles in adobo
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
a pinch of cumin*
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

* Not in original recipe, but we loved the flavor it added … a little earthiness to go with the cinnamon!

  • Heat 1 1/2 TBS. of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Reduce heat to medium and add the onions to the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Add garlic back to skillet, as well as remaining ingredients, except chicken. Simmer until thickened (for us, the sauce was already pretty thick after adding the ingredients. We only had to simmer for a few minutes to heat the sauce up and incorporate all the flavors!)
  • Season the chicken with a little salt & pepper. In another skillet, heat the remaining 1 1/2 TBS. oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken and cook until golden on one side, about 7 minutes. Flip chicken, cover skillet, and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through.
  • Preheat the broiler. Transfer cooked chicken from skillet to a baking pan. Spoon the chipotle sauce over the chicken. Place under the broiler until nice and caramelized, about 5 minutes (watching carefully, so as not to burn it!) Transfer to plates and enjoy!

Chorizo Mac & Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping

Who’s your favorite Food Network personality? For me, Alton Brown is up there on the list (next to Tyler Florence, but mostly because he’s cute). Alton’s show is entertaining, informative, and his food isn’t pretentious. I got his newest cookbook from my father-in-law for my birthday, Good Eats: The Early Years, and it’s packed with tons of recipes, as well as all that scientific explanation that goes along with them.

Last night we thought a baked mac & cheese would pair well with the 35 degree temperature outside, and I was anxious to use my new cookbook. We decided to add chorizo and a little cayenne pepper to Alton’s recipe (hopefully that wouldn’t offend him), and the result was a spicy mac & cheese with a little Mexican flare. The panko breadcrumbs on top added the perfect crunch. This recipe makes 6-8 servings, so you may want to halve it as we did unless you’re feeding a crowd. We ate our chorizo mac & cheese with some baked kale chips and a salad.

Alton Brown’s Mac & Cheese (+ Chorizo)

(From Good Eats: The Early Years)

1/3 lb. chorizo (bulk; no casings)
8 ounces (1/2 lb) elbow macaroni
(we used small shells, even though Alton says elbow is the best!)
3 TBS. butter
3 TBS. all-purpose flour
1 TBS. ground (powdered) mustard
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cups milk
1 large egg
9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the crispy topping:

3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
3 TBS. butter, melted
1 cup panko
(Japanese breadcrumbs – you know, the kind we use in everything)

  • Cook the chorizo in a pan over medium high heat, using a wooden spoon to break apart as its cooking. When done, set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until firm al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until mixture is pale blond, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the mustard, paprika, cayenne, and onion. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, for 7 to 8 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
  • Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl. Add a few ounces of the milk mixture and whisk to combine (this tempers the egg so it doesn’t curdle). Whisk the egg mixture back into the milk mixture. Stir in the cheese, 1 tsp. salt, and the pepper.
  • Fold in the macaroni, and then the cooked chorizo. Pour into a 4-quart casserole dish.
  • Top the casserole: sprinkle with remaining 3 ounces of cheese, then toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle them over the cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes (broil for the last minute if the top isn’t as golden as you want it), cool for 5, and serve.

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Bake

Of course the day I choose to write about this dish, it’s like freaking 95 degrees outside and the last thing I want to think about is a baked comfort food dish. But once the sun goes down and the fog comes creeping in, I’ll remember why it was so good. Dustin created this for me when I requested something “comforting and cheesy, involving chicken and rice” (hence, the not-so-creative title). We rarely eat casserole-type dishes, so I’m no expert, but it tasted like something that a sweet old church lady would bring to a potluck (which is a good thing – I have fond memories of church potlucks). The little bits of bell pepper were a great addition, and you could add all sorts of chopped veggies, depending on what you have in your fridge. Next time maybe I’ll suggest we add some chopped broccoli.

1 chicken breast half
1 cup water or chicken stock*
1 cup of rice
2 cloves of garlic, 1 halved and 1 minced
1 small white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
a splash of white wine
a few splashes of milk or cream
salt & pepper to taste
a generous amount of grated jack cheese

*we used the liquid in which we boiled the chicken

  • Butter a casserole dish. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add some salt, a few peppercorns, a halved garlic clove (if desired) and any other spices you want. Add the chicken breast. Simmer until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken, shred, and set aside. Reserve the now-flavorful water.
  • In another saucepan, combine the rice with 1 cup of the reserved water. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer until rice is done, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, saute the garlic in a little olive oil for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Add the onion and cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • When the rice is done, fluff with a fork. Add the shredded chicken, diced bell pepper, sautéed garlic/onion, wine, milk (or cream), salt & pepper, and a small handful of cheese. Mix well. Scrape the rice mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Top with more cheese.
  • Bake, covered, for about 30 minutes. Finish it off under the broiler for a few minutes to make the cheese bubbly and slightly golden.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Turkey-Pesto Burgers with Grilled Onions

Do you ever go to the store with no idea of what you want to make for dinner? Last Monday was one of those days. I went to the Butcher counter and started to panic because it was almost my turn and I couldn’t focus: Hmm…that fish looks nice and fresh…So do those steaks…Dustin would like steak…But I feel like chicken…hmm…boneless and skinless chicken thighs…Would those be good on the BBQ?…no…oh, ground meats…what about … ?? “Can I help you?” The butcher asked, startling my train of thought. So I asked for the thing that was right in front of me – ground turkey thighs. Whew. Now that the protein was taken care of, things started to fall into place in my brain. I remembered that we had fresh basil at home, as well as tons of mizuna so I immediately thought of pesto and went straight to the bulk aisle for walnuts to add to it.

So that was my boring thought process of how I ended up mixing pesto into our turkey burgers. The result was a really moist, flavorful burger. I called Nikita (if you haven’t noticed, we love to cook and eat dinner together) to inform her of the menu, and soon she came over to enjoy them with us, bringing with her some summery micro brews and a bag of Kettle Chips (our favorite flavor “Buffalo Bleu”). We ate our burgers on sesame-wheat buns (brushed with olive oil and lightly grilled), with sliced tomato, grilled white onions, and mayo. They were sort of messy (think Carls’ Jr. ads) but delicious. I can’t wait to see what happens next time I’m under pressure at the meat counter!

Turkey-Pesto Burgers with Grilled Onions

2-3 cups of basil leaves, washed and dried*
a big handful of walnut pieces, lightly toasted in a skillet
1 clove of garlic
a handful of Parmesan cheese
juice of 1/2 a lime
about 1/4 cup of olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb. ground turkey
hamburger buns of your choice
1 sweet white onion, sliced into thick rings
tomato slices

*I didn’t have quite enough basil, so I added some mizuna leaves. It gave the pesto a wonderful bite to it. You could also add arugula for the same effect.

  • First, make the pesto: Combine the basil, mizuna (if using), walnuts, garlic, Parmesan, and lime juice in a food processor. Process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, until it reaches a good consistency. Season with salt & pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Pour pesto into a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until use (Makes about 1 cup – more than needed for the burgers, but you can freeze it if you want).
  • Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Season the top with salt & pepper. Add 3 or 4 heaping spoonfuls of pesto to the bowl. Mix with your hands until pesto is incorporated into the meat. Divide meat into 4-5 portions (depending on how thick you like your burgers), form patties, and place on a plate. Cover and chill while you prepare the grill.
  • Brush the tops and bottoms of the buns with olive oil and set aside. Brush onion slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Grill onions until nice and charred, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  • Grill burgers about 4-5 minutes on each side. When the burgers are almost done, grill the tops and bottoms of the buns until golden and toasty.
  • Assemble burgers how you like – we used this order: mayo, patty, grilled onions, tomato. Dig in!

Lamb Tikka Masala

Our lamb traveled from Greece to India this week, appearing first in gryos and then in a spicy masala sauce. We used Jamie Oliver’s recipe for this one. It just so happens to be in his top 10 favorite meals. You can use any kind of meat you like, since it’s cooked separately from the sauce; making it ideal for using up leftovers. The only change we made was adding a lot more spices than the recipe called for. We tasted it at the end and pretty much doubled the amount of paprika, cumin, coriander, and salt. Did you know that some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had was in Japan of all places? We used to go to this one place in a small town called Minou — the people who worked there were always so friendly. Maybe they were happy to see some fellow foreigners come into their restaurant. One man in particular was very animated and used to beam at us through the kitchen window, while he was preparing chicken to throw into the tandoori oven.

Lamb Tikka Masala
(From Jamie’s Dinners)

6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled
2-3 fresh red chiles, de-seeded

olive oil

1 TBS. mustard seeds

1 TBS. paprika

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

3 TBS. garam masala

a generous 3/4 cup plain yogurt

leftover cubed lamb, or 4 medium skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks

1 TBS. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

2 TBS. tomato puree

1 handful of ground cashews


1/2 cup heavy cream

a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

juice of 1-2 limes

  • Grate the garlic and ginger on the finest side of a grater into a bowl. Chop the chiles very finely and add them to the bowl. Mix together.
  • Heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add them to the bowl with the ginger-garlic mixture, along with the paprika, cumin, coriander, and 2 TBS. of the garam masala. Put half of this spice mixture into a slightly larger bowl and add the yogurt and the lamb (or chicken) pieces to it. Stir to coat the meat and allow to marinate for about 20-30 minutes.
  • Melt the butter in the same pan the mustard seeds were in and add the sliced onions and the remaining half of the spice mixture. Cook gently for about 15 minutes without browning too much. It will become very fragrant and you’ll want to eat it right then and there!
  • Add the tomato puree, ground cashews, 2 1/2 cups water, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir well and gently simmer until it reduces and thickens slightly. Turn off the heat.
  • Take the meat out of the mariade and cook until done on a bbq, or in a pan (if using already cooked meat, this obviously won’t take as long. You mostly want to reheat the meat and let the marinade cook off a bit).
  • Warm the sauce and add the cream and the remaining 1 TBS. of garam masala. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary (this is where we added more of every spice!) As soon as the sauce comes to a boil, take off the heat and add the grilled/cooked meat. Check the seasoning once more and then sprinkle the cilantro over the top. Finish with the lime juice. Serve with steamed basmati rice. Serves 4.

Asian Meatloaf with a Sweet & Spicy Glaze

I have to admit I was more the souf chef for this one. Dustin comes up with the greatest recipes. I’m proud to have a husband who enjoys being in the kitchen! I had an idea a few weeks ago about making some sort of Asian flavored burger. He was thinking along the lines of meat loaf (which we’ve never made before). So we combined the two and the result was one of the best dinners we’ve had in a while (though the spicy pork tenderloin on Sunday was pretty hard to beat). You can change this recipe any way you like – try adding shredded carrot or chopped water chestnuts, or anything else you desire. We used ground pork and beef, but you could also sub turkey or chicken. Steamed rice seemed like the natural accompaniment, and since the oven was already on for the meatloaf, we roasted some asparagus that I tossed with sesame oil and chili flakes.

For the Meatloaf:

2 TBS. red miso, dissolved in a little water to form a paste, divided
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
4 green onions, white & green parts chopped
1/2 cup chopped shitake mushrooms (we used baby shitake mushrooms)
a thumbnail-sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBS. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp. rice vinegar
a squeeze of honey
1 1/2 tsp. mirin
1 tsp. brown sugar

Simply Asparagus

For the Glaze:

1 TBS. chili paste (such as Sambal Oelek)
squeeze of honey
squeeze of hot chili sauce (such as Sriracha)
1/2 tsp. brown sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a little bowl, combine the red miso and a little water to form a paste. Set aside.
    • In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, breadcrumbs, egg, green onion, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and 1 TBS. of the miso paste. Mix with your hands until combined.
    • In the same little bowl as the remaining miso paste, add the soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, honey, mirin, and brown sugar. Mix well. Spoon this mixture a little at a time into the meat mixture, and use your hands to incorporate it in. Reserve about a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of the bowl to make the glaze.
    • Shape the meat-mixture into a loaf-shape on a greased baking sheet.
    • To the bowl with the reserved spoonful of sauce, add the chili paste, honey, hot chili sauce, and brown sugar. Stir to combine. Spoon on top of the meatloaf.
    • Bake the meatloaf for about 45 minutes or until done. If making a side of roasted asparagus, toss the asparagus on another baking sheet with a drizzle of sesame oil, a sprinkling of chili flakes, and some salt & pepper. Put in the oven for the last 10-12 minutes of baking time.
    • Serve with steamed rice. Serves 2.

    Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce

    We took pork tenderloin to a whole new level last night. I had confessed over dinner with our friends that I often get bored with pork tenderloin. Well, when I took the first bite of the meal that we had made together, I took it back. Wow. The pork was tender, moist, and spicy! The sauce provided another layer of spiciness, this one more subtle, and balanced by the sweetness of maple syrup. We owe the complexity of flavor to the fact that we had at least 4 different kinds of chiles in our kitchen doing various things – being ground into powder, being steeped in hot water, and being pureed into a paste. The smell lingered in the house for awhile, and if we closed our eyes it was like we were standing in the middle of a spice market. As we always say as we’re sitting down to dinner, “Go team!” We’re thankful to have friends who enjoy cooking together and savoring the results! Speaking of savoring, the Primitivo that we opened went wonderfully with the earthy spiciness of the various chiles.

    Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce
    (Adapted from The Cookbook Critic. Original recipe from The Food Network)
    Serves 4

    For the Spice Rub:

    3 TBS. olive oil
    1 TBS. achiote paste
    3 TBS. chile de arbol powder (we used whole dried chile de arbol and pulsed them in a food processor)
    2 TBS. chile powder (whatever is in your spice rack)
    salt & pepper

    For the Ancho Chile-Mustard Sauce:

    4 cups chicken stock
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    3/4 cup water
    6 black peppercorns
    zest of 1 lime
    2 tsp. puréed canned chipotle in adobo
    4 TBS. ancho chile purée (*see below for instructions)
    1 TBS. dijon mustard
    2 TBS. plain yogurt
    juice of 1 lime

    For the Tenderloin:

    2 pork tenderloins, about 12 oz. each

    • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Make the Spice Rub: Put the olive oil into a small bowl. Add the achiote paste and mix together. Add the remaining rub ingredients and stir together. Set aside.
    • Combine the chicken stock, maple syrup, water, peppercorns and lime zest with the chipotle and ancho purées in a medium saucepan over high heat and reduce to a sauce-like consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk in mustard and yogurt and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lime juice. Set aside.

    • While sauce is reducing, rub with tenderloins with the olive oil-spice rub mixture.

    • Grill until the tenderloins reach 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes.
    • Slice tenderloins and spoon the ancho chile-mustard over the top.

    *Ancho Chile Puree:

    Soak a 3-oz. package of dried chiles in hot water to cover for about 1 hour. Drain, then pull the stem ends off and discard. The seeds can be discarded or blended with the chiles, depending on how spicy you want the purée to be. Blend the chiles in a food processor until smooth, adding a small amount of their soaking water if necessary (no more than 1/4 cup). This makes plenty of chile purée (more than what is needed for the recipe) You can freeze the leftovers for up to 3 months.

    What did we eat with our spicy pork tenderloin? I was getting to that! We made a salad of baby tatsoi, strawberries, pasilla peppers, and red onion with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. It was inspired by a salad that our friend enjoyed at Red Restaurant & Bar in downtown Santa Cruz. We made two major changes, however: 1) the store was out of poblano peppers so we had to use pasilla peppers and 2) we forgot to grill the pasilla peppers. Oh well. The salad was still refreshing and summery! We’ll be trying it again soon the *real* way!

    For dessert we had strawberry shortcake, using my Quick Yogurt Biscuits as the base (I added 2 TBS. of sugar to the recipe this time). They were a great canvas for sliced strawberries and freshly whipped cream!

    Flank Steak with Arugula Pesto & Roasted Fingering Potatoes

    On the eve of St. Patrick’s day I inadvertently made a lovely green pesto as an accompaniment for pan-fried flank steak, roasted fingerings, and a salad with avocado and mushrooms. Using arugula for the pesto gave it a nice spicy edge; so easy to make and delicious on many things! Dustin made a creamy lime dressing to go on our salad – he mixed a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise with the juice of a lime, a tiny splash of cream, and salt & pepper to taste. A great weeknight meal.

    Flank Steak with Arugula Pesto & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes:

    a few heaping handfuls of fingerling potatoes
    a couple handfuls of arugula
    a handful of pine nuts, toasted

    3 cloves of garlic

    a handful of grated Parmesan cheese

    juice from 1 small lime

    olive oil (a few Tablespoons)

    1 to 1 &
    1/2 pounds flank steak

    salt & pepper

    • Preheat oven to 375. Rinse any dirt off the potatoes, pat them dry, and place on a rimmed baking sheet with a couple drizzles of olive oil, salt & pepper. We threw some garlic cloves in there too for good measure. Who doesn’t love roasted garlic!? Roast until potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork, about 15-20 minutes.
    • Meanwhile, prepare the pesto by placing the arugula, pine nuts, 1 clove of the garlic, cheese, and lime juice in a food processor. Process for a few seconds until combined. While processor is running, pour in a light steady stream of olive oil until the consistency is how you like it. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer pesto to a small bowl and set aside (or refrigerate) while you make the steak.
    • Season the flank steak on both sides with paprika and salt & pepper. Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and press into the meat. Heat some olive oil in a skillet until hot. The steak should sizzle nicely when it meets the skillet. Cook until desired doneness, depending on the thickness of your steak (medium rare took about 7-9 minutes for us, flipping several times).

    • Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for several minutes. Slice the steak and put onto 2 plates.

    • Place the roasted potatoes on the plate and spoon some pesto over the steak and/or the potatoes. Enjoy with a nice Syrah. We like to drink local:

      Honey Mustard Pretzel Chicken with Sautéed Collard Greens

      A restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz, Clouds, used to have a pretzel-encrusted chicken entrée that always intrigued me. I only ordered it once because I’m more of a small-plate kind of girl (I love to try little amounts of a lot of things) and I could never pass up their sushi offerings on the menu, but the pretzel chicken obviously stuck with me. When I couldn’t fall asleep the other night, I was pondering what to make for dinner. I thought about chicken because we hadn’t had it in awhile. Then my mind wandered to the pretzel coating at Clouds, then it jumped to Dustin’s favorite flavor of Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel bits: honey mustard & onion. Hmm … instead of coating chicken with honey-mustard flavored pretzels, the honey-mustard could act as the adhesive for the crushed pretzels. I won’t bore you anymore with the thought processes of Brianna, but I will share the recipe. To go with the chicken, Dustin sautéed some lovely collard greens in olive oil until they were wilted, then he added salt, pepper, and a small spoonful of … you guessed it … mustard (but not honey mustard; spicy brown), covered the pan, and continued cooking until the greens were tender. The mustard flavor went really well with the greens, and the slight bitterness was a nice contrast to the chicken.

      Honey Mustard Pretzel Chicken
      Serves 2

      1 chicken breast half
      3-4 TBS. prepared honey-mustard (or mix Dijon with some honey and a squeeze of lemon juice)

      One 7-ounce bag of pretzels (we used Newman’s Own Organics’ Salt & Pepper Pretzels)
      olive or canola oil

      • Split the chicken breast in half again lengthwise (or ask your butcher to do it for you), and cut into 6-8 “chicken tender-sized” pieces, about an inch thick.
      • Pour the pretzels into a gallon zip lock bag. Seal securely and pound with something like a skillet or a can of soup until pretzels are broken up in breadcrumb-sized bits. Place pretzel bits on a plate.
      • Spoon the honey-mustard into a wide bowl.
      • Put a drizzle or two of oil in a large frying pan or on a griddle. Heat over medium heat.
      • Working with one chicken piece at a time, place in the mustard bowl and lightly coat with the honey mustard using one hand. Carefully lay chicken onto pretzel plate and press to adhere pretzels to bottom of chicken.
      • Using your dry hand, flip chicken over and press to coat other side of chicken. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces.
      • Cook until done, about 4-5 minutes per side, and the pretzel crust is lightly golden.
      • Serve with sautéed collard greens.

      Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts

      Reasons to love this dish: 1) It’s Green! Using both the beets and their greens means less waste (and less money at the store). 2) If you used red beets in this recipe, you would have pink pasta! Valentine’s Day idea, anyone? Ok, that’s a silly reason to love this dish. 3) The earthiness of the beets goes so well with the slightly bitter greens, the sweet onions, and the toasty pine nuts. Really, it’s a brilliant combination. We halved the recipe below because it serves 4-6. It paired beautifully with this 2007 Roussanne from Lavender Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.

      Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts
      (From the Feb. 2009 issue of Bon Appetit)

      cup pine nuts

      4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
      2 large onions, quartered lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
      3 garlic cloves, minced
      2 bunches 2-inch-diameter golden beets with fresh healthy greens; beets peeled and cut into wedges; greens coarsely chopped
      12 oz farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
      1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

      • Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.
      • Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and the sliced onions to the same skillet. Sauté until beginning to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to sauté until onions are browned and caramelized, about 30 minutes longer.
      • Add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Scatter the beet greens on top of the onions. Drizzle with remaining 2 TBS. olive oil, cover, and cook until greens are tender, about 5 minutes.
      • Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the beet wedges until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets to a medium bowl.
      • Bring the water back up to a boil and add the pasta to the beet cooking liquid. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
      • Stir onion-greens mixture and beets into pasta. Add pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Divide pasta among shallow bowls. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve, passing additional cheese at the table.

      Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

      ‘Tis the season for quick, simple, and thrifty meals. Potatoes are a great (and cheap) canvas on which to get creative with toppings–pesto; roasted garlic; blue cheese; smoked salmon; wasabi; chili. On this night we thought some chili and pepper-jack would be a satisfying combo. If you have a can of chili in the back of your pantry, this recipe is even quicker, but if you want to make your own famous chili, by all means do so! We like to rub our potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking. It makes the skin much tastier to eat later on (which you should eat, because it’s a great source of fiber).

      Chili-Cheese Baked Potatoes

      2 Russet Potatoes, washed and patted dried
      Olive Oil
      Coarse Salt
      1 Can Chili (we used Dennison’s)
      1 Heaping handful of grated Pepper-Jack cheese
      1 Tomato, diced
      3 Green Onions (white and green parts), sliced
      Sour Cream (if you have it; we didn’t)

      • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
      • Place the potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Rub them with olive oil, covering every surface. Sprinkle with salt. Poke a few holes in the potatoes with a fork. Bake until done, about 1 hour (test by inserting a fork).
      • Meanwhile, heat the chili in a small saucepan over low heat.
      • Place each potato on a plate, make a slit on the top and squeeze the sides to open slightly.
      • Spoon hot chili onto the potato. Top with grated cheese, followed by the tomato, green onion, and sour cream (if using).

        High Hopes 🙂

        Dustin’s Garlic-Pepper Pork & Green Beans

        This was a really tasty dish that uses familiar ingredients that you might already have at home! We love to just throw stuff together around here, instead of following an exact recipe; that’s why our measurements aren’t very specific. Just have fun with the seasonings, and then serve with some steamed rice and a bottle of dry Riesling. *Hint – make enough rice so that you have 1 1/2 cups leftover and keep it in the refrigerator. You’ll want to use it to make the next recipe that I’m going to post!

        vegetable oil, about 2 TBS. (enough to coat bottom of wok)
        1 center-cut pork chop, fat and bone removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or sub any kind of pork or other meat you want)
        a couple handfuls of green beans, trimmed and halved
        salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
        3 cloves of garlic, minced

        1/2 a white onion, diced

        soy sauce (about 3 TBS.)

        rice wine vinegar (about 1-2 teaspoons)

        ketchup (about 3 squeezes around the pan)

        brown sugar (1 TBS. or less)

        • Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat until hot.
        • Season the pieces of pork with lots of black pepper and some salt.
        • Cook the garlic and onion until garlic is turning golden and onion is translucent.
        • Add the pork and cook until done, about 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
        • Add the green beans and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
        • Add the soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and more black pepper.
        • Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve with steamed white rice.

        sweet, sour & spicy

        Halibut & Cannellini Beans In Tomato-Rosemary Broth

        Halibut!? Why did we have that? Just for the Halibut!! Haha. Sorry. Bad joke but a delicious fish! This meal was lighter than we were expecting, but it was warm and comforting on a cold night. It definitely needs to be accompanied by lots of sliced bread to soak up the extra broth and a dry white wine. I flagged this recipe last year in Cooking Light and just now got around to trying it. The recipe below is for 2 servings.

        2 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
        1 tablespoon olive oil
        salt & pepper
        2 garlic cloves, minced
        1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes (or canned tomatoes)
        3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
        1/4 cup dry white wine
        1 (14oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
        1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

        • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
        • Sprinkle fish evenly with salt freshly ground pepper.
        • Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.
        • Remove fish from pan; cover with foil to keep warm (or place in low oven).
        • Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
        • Stir in tomatoes, broth, wine, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt & pepper, if desired.
        • Remove from heat; stir in rosemary. Serve immediately along with sliced bread.

          Spicy Garlicky Stir Fry

          Stir fry is one of those great meals that doesn’t require a recipe. We make it so often, and it changes depending on what veggie looks fresh and what kind of protein we feel like throwing in, but I thought I’d write down our basic guidelines for this simple, delicious dinner. The only consistent thing is that we love it hot and garlicky; the first two things that get thrown in season the oil and set the stage for the rest of the ingredients.

          Start by getting your rice started. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Mix the rice around in the water with your fingers and then pour out the water. Repeat until the water is clear when poured out, about 2-3 times. Combine 1 cup rice with just a little more than 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes. Let sit off the heat for 5 minutes before removing lid.

          Heat some sesame oil (or peanut or canola oil) in a wok until hot. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and some red pepper flakes (or chile paste) and saute for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add boneless skinless chicken breast meat that’s been cut into pieces (or beef, pork, firm tofu, whatever) and saute until cooked through, stirring frequently. Add veggies cut into similar sized pieces. Bell peppers and snow peas are good options. Saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

          Now make the meat and veggies come alive. Add a few swigs of soy sauce around the pan. Then one swig of of rice vinegar and 1 small spoonful of brown sugar. Taste and season with salt and pepper and see what else it needs. If you like cashews, this is a good time to throw in a handful. I like my cashews still kind of crunchy.

          Simply top your steamed rice with your delicious concoction! What could be simpler? We were excited to use our chopsticks and chopstick holders from Japan for this meal!

          Good Kitty.

          Wild Rice and Chicken-Stuffed Peppers

          When I was home last August, I went shopping in my parents’ pantry – or rather, was looking for last minute food items to fill up the empty spaces in my suitcase. Among many things, I ended up with a bag of wild rice. We prepared it a few nights ago, and this is what we did with the leftovers. You could probably stuff a lot of different things with this filling. Get creative. We used Piman (pronounced PEA-MAHN), the Japanese green pepper that’s much smaller than green bells in the States. I got the idea for this recipe from Rachael Ray, but she stuffs giant tomatoes instead of peppers.

          10 Piman peppers (or 4 large green bell peppers)
          2 TBS. olive oil (or 2 swigs around the pan)
          3/4 cup prepared wild rice
          1 small onion, chopped
          1 clove garlic, chopped
          a few handfuls of mushrooms (about 4 oz.), coarsely chopped
          1 lb. ground chicken
          1 TBS. paprika
          1/2 cup sour cream (we used plain yogurt because it actually tastes more like sour cream than Japanese sour cream does)
          salt & pepper

          • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
          • Cut the tops off the peppers, and remove the seeds and membranes.
          • Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until onion softens and garlic is just barely light brown.
          • Add the mushrooms and cook for a minute more.
          • Add the ground chicken and cook until done, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until crumbly.
          • Stir in the paprika. Remove pan from heat and stir in the sour cream (or yogurt), and prepared wild rice. Add salt & pepper to taste.
          • Fill the peppers with the chicken-wild rice mixture and place upright in a baking dish. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender and the top of the filling is lightly browned. Serves 2 hungry people.