Monday, April 21, 2014

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatloaf

Meatloaf isn't glamorous. It's not out to impress you or win beauty awards, but its friggin delicious and you'd be hard-pressed to find any meat-eater who doesn't love it. While the classic is always enjoyable, I was in the mood to spice things up... literally.

This is kind of a cross between kofte and meatloaf, with the familiar shape of meatloaf and the deep spiced flavor of kofte. This isn't a hot spice necessarily, but rich and complex. And since it's not meatloaf without ketchup on top, I made a cinnamon-y twist.

This is one of the fun things about learning a basic recipe, like meatloaf. Different spices and fillings, make it a versatile go-to. I think some sort of Vietnamese take may be my next foray. The point is that you should have fun with it and make it your own. Put the stuff in there that you like. So long as you don't put anything too wet, you'll be good.

Aren't those red peppers and herbs gorgeous in there? Such bright, fresh ingredients for a dish that is synonymous with being old-timey or drab.

What you get is a refreshing and unexpected twist on classic comfort. It's kind of a fun way to expand your horizons.

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatloaf
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1lb ground beef
1lb ground turkey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 t cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add red pepper. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine milk and panko. Allow bread crumbs to soak up milk. 

In a large bowl, combine cooled red pepper, bread crumb mixture, beef, turkey, beaten egg, dates, parsley, mint, paprika, nutmeg, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Use clean hands to combine mixture, taking care not to pack it or overmix. Turn out mixture onto a lined sheet pan and form into a 2-inch thick loaf. 

In a small bowl, combine ketchup, cayenne and cinnamon. Spread in a thin layer over meatloaf. 

Bake loaf for 45-60 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slice. Serve over tabbouleh or couscous. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bleu Cheese Asparagus Orzotto

I'm just going to answer the question now... orzotto is not a word. Mark Bittman made it up and I thought it was clever. One of the great things about cooking is that you can mess around in the kitchen and no one can tell you you're doing it wrong. You're your toughest critic really. And how refreshing in a world of client critique and performance reviews. I'll take it.

...and back to the subject. The mind wanders. What I mean about this recipe is that it's treating one ingredient different than the package calls for, but yields great results. In this case, I treated Orzo pasta just like risotto. It goes against all the rules of pasta, because you don't boil it and it goes against all the rules of risotto because it isn't arborio rice. But you know what? It totally works. Look at you, such a rebel!

The key takeaway here is the technique, which creates a flavor packed pasta dish in 15 minutes. Way more tasty than ordinary noodles. I've put it together with some springy favorites, but the flavor combinations are near endless. 

Bleu Cheese Asparagus Orzotto
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch chives, minced
1lb orzo pasta
1 bunch asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2lb shrimp, deveined and tails removed
4oz bleu cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Start by bringing chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan. In a separate heavy bottomed pot, melt butter and olive oil together. Once foamy, add chives and cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add orzo to buttery pot and stir until toasted, about a minute. Add a ladle of warm chicken stock and stir until orzo soaks up liquid. Continue adding chicken stock one ladleful at time until orzo absorbs all liquid and is tender. 

While the orzo cooks, blanche asparagus in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and shock in an ice bath. 

When the pasta is nearly cooked, add shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes or until pink. At the last minute, stir in bleu cheese and asparagus. Top with chopped walnuts and a few fresh chives. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sesame Asparagus Noodles

Asparagus are always welcome friends at the market. They're the first fresh thing to greet you after months of sub-par winter produce daze. They're as much a sign of winter ending for me as seeing little purple crocus in the park. And good gracious they are tasty.

I like them really crisp, so I usually blanche them or quickly saute in the pan with a bit of olive oil and salt. This time I was craving something a bit different, so I thought sesame would be a nice change of pace. Put those pretty green stalks with airy rice noodles and some red pepper, and you've got yourself a meal.

Rice noodles are about as easy as it gets.... just soak in cool water. Follow the package instructions closely though. An oversoak can turn them into a mushy mess. 

Toss the softened noodles with grilled and chopped veggies, herbs and dressing. Garnish with crunchy peanuts and sesame seeds.

Enjoy and be thankful for this first sign of spring. So much more good and beauty is to come.

Sesame Asparagus Noodles
1 package rice noodles
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
2 red peppers, cored and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon canola oil
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
Sesame seeds

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions -- usually about a 15 minute soak in cool water; noodles may vary, so follow package instructions.

Toss asparagus and red pepper in canola oil. Grill over high, direct heat just until cooked through; about 3-5 minutes. Cool and roughly chop.

Whisk together lime juice, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Pour over noodles and toss with asparagus, red peppers, cilantro and green onions. Garnish with peanuts and sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pastaria Kale Salad

A lot of people have asked me about the differences between the Chicago and St. Louis restaurant scenes. It's hard to compete with a world-class scene like Chicago's, but we've found a number of good restaurants here. In general I find you just have to look a little hard and Yelp isn't as reliable here. #FirstWorldProblems, right?

One of the restaurants we have really loved is Pastaria by Niche. My favorite thing on the menu? Their chopped kale salad. It's incredibly flavorful and I've been trying to put my finger on the flavors for months. I haven't quite nailed it, but I think I'm getting pretty darn close with the following recipe. Anchovies people... that's the good stuff.

I know... I know... anchovies are the food your mom used to threaten you with when you were a kid, but they're really tasty. In this recipe you don't taste fish, but the anchovies give a meaty, salty bite to the dressing that stands up well to the firm texture of kale.

Usually I just shake up my dressings in a jar, but with the anchovies I like to give it a buzz in the food processor. This way you don't get any rogue chunks of fish. Gross.

Like most kale salads, it's best to rub in the dressing and let it sit for a few minutes. The nice thing about this is you can make it ahead if you're entertaining or if you're bringing it for lunch you can dress it in the morning. Easy peasy.

Just throw in the cheese and bread crumbs right before you serve to keep everything crunchy. So if you can't make it to Pastaria, at least you can enjoy a close(ish) salad.

Pastaria Kale Salad
2 bunches kale
1 shallot, roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh-shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

De-stem, wash and dry kale before roughly chopping. Place in a large bowl.

Combine shallot, anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor. Buzz until shallot and anchovy are finely chopped and dressing has emulsified.

Use your hands to rub salad dressing into the kale leaves. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Just before serving toss in parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Slow Cooker Coq Au Vin

It is supposedly finally ending. The branded winter. I say branded because can anyone else recall a winter with such catch phrases? Polar Vortex? Named blizzards? It's plain bullshit. And I won't miss a minute of it.

So with the last burst of bluster on Sunday, I decided to make one last comforting, warm meal. One final fling before I put the slow cooker to rest for a bit. Coq au vin... classic French comfort food. I gave it my own American twist with a slow cooker. C'est parfait!

I should qualify that while this recipe lets the slow cooker do the long haul work, there's a bit of prep beforehand. I can assure you it's worth it. It's just enough effort for entertaining, but might be tough for a Tuesday.

I prefer chicken thighs for this recipe. They have good flavor and hold up well during the long cook time. Bonus that they are quite affordable.

To give your sauce good thickness, you start with a light coating of flour on the chicken and then into the pan to brown. You'll have to do them in a couple of batches, but it's just a few moments per side, so it goes quick.

Once browned, just nestle each little soldier in a row at the bottom of the slow cooker. On to the veggies and wine...doesn't that sound nice?

Brown up some quartered mushrooms in butter. Be sure not to crowd them. Then crisp a bit of bacon for good measure.

Then into the slow cooker it all goes. Layered chicken, mushrooms, bacon, pearl onions, carrots and seasonings. Top it all off with luscious red wine and spend the next few hours anticipating your delicious dinner.

Spoon every warm bit over mashed potatoes with parsley and relish in the end of this branded disaster of a season. Spring is here. Rejoice.

Slow Cooker Coq Au Vin
12 boneless, skinless chicken thights
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1lb button mushrooms, quartered
6 slices bacon, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced in 1-inch chunks
1 1/4 cup pearl onions, defrosted
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 bay leaves
3 rosemary sprigs
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock

Coat chicken lightly in flour, salt and pepper mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown 1/3 of chicken thighs in a large pan over medium-high heat. Repeat with remaining olive oil and chicken. Arrange chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker in one layer.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over high heat. Add half of mushrooms to pan and keep them moving. When mushrooms brown (about 4 minutes) add to slow cooker. Repeat with remaining mushrooms and butter. Once mushrooms are done, crisp bacon over medium-high heat; add to slow cooker.

Add carrots, onions, garlic, bay, rosemary, oregano and tomato paste to slow cooker. Pour red wine and chicken stock over the top. Put the cover on the slow cooker and set to high heat for 4 hours.

Remove bay leaves and rosemary stems. Serve over mashed potatoes with parsley and enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weeknight Idea: Warm Bacon and Date Salad

Sometimes salad just doesn't feel like dinner to me. Unless it's unbearably hot outside, I crave a warm meal at the end of the day. But the reality is, after this long hard winter I need a few more salads in my life. Swimsuit season? Woof. 

This salad is a nice middle ground. Substantial and warm, but crisp and low guilt. It's a quick weeknight fix that hits on salty, sweet and bitter. Bacon and cannellini beans provide a nice dose of protein, so you won't be hungry an hour later. Sticky dates round out the flavors and texture. Hits all my targets, so let's call it dinner.

Weeknight Meal: Warm Bacon and Date Salad
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 handful chopped dates
Curly endive

Warm olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add bacon to the pan and cook until crisp. When the bacon is close to being crisp add cannellini beans and dates. Spoon warm mixture over curly endive and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Guest Breakfast Casserole

You know that recipe. The one you rummage for when you realize you haven't planned a breakfast for your weekend guests. Your weekday Cheerios won't do. No, no... you're playing host and the morning calls for something with hostess heft. Pretty presentation protein. Entertaining ease.

Screw a different recipe every time. Instead, figure out a formula that works and vary to suit your mood, the season or whatever you have in your fridge.

The formula is easy: bread, eggs and half and half. Then add a 1/2lb meat, 2 cups veggies, seasoning and give it a good soak. Cheese it and bake it.

This version has Cajun flair, since I was welcoming guests for Mardi Gras, but there are near endless options. Spinach and swiss cheese. Bacon and asparagus. Just stick with the proportions and you'll be all set. Look how smart you are!

Guest Breakfast Casserole
Cooking spray
1 baguette, cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb. andouille sausage, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
8 eggs
3/4 half and half
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (I prefer Tony Chachere's)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Spray a 9x12 casserole dish with cooking spray. Arrange bread slices on the bottom of the dish. Tear up smaller pieces to fill in the holes between slices. 

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and add andouille. Cook sausage for 5-6 minutes, until brown and remove from skillet with slotted spoon. Add peppers and shallots to pan and cook until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Allow sausage and pepper to cool before spreading over bread. 

In a large bowl, mix eggs, half and half and seasoning. Pour over bread and pepper mixture. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle cheese over the top of the casserole and bake (covered) for 45 minutes, just until eggs set. Remove foil in the last few minutes to give the cheese a bit of color. Coo slightly and enjoy!