Friday, September 30

Apple-Fennel Stuffed Pork Chops

My friend has a very fruitful apple tree in her backyard and has been gifting us with all sorts of homemade apple goodies like cake and applesauce. I’m not a huge pork and applesauce fan, but I do love the flavor combination (see this recipe) and thought I’d try a something new with apple-stuffed pork chops. I kept it savory by combining the apples stuffing with onions, fennel, and sage, which was a perfect balance with the meaty chops. I cooked the whole thing in my new Le Creuset pot (a recent gift from my grandmother), which just went on sale at Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.

Apple-Fennel Stuffed Pork Chops:
  • Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a medium-size pan and add in 1/2 diced yellow onion and 1 diced fennel bulb.
  • Cook for 6-8 minutes, until vegetables soften but don't brown.
  • Add in 1 diced Gala apple* and 1 tsp. fresh, chopped sage leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook for 5-7 minutes, until the stuffing is tender. De-glaze the bottom bits from the pan with 1-2 tbsp. white wine.** Let stuffing cool.
  • Meanwhile, use a pairing knife to cut deep pockets in the center of 3-4 boneless, center-cut pork chops (about 1 1/2 lbs. total).***
  • Pack the stuffing into the chops' pockets and season the outside of the pork with salt and pepper.
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large, oven-proof pot until very hot.
  • Sear both sides of the pork for 3-4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.
  • Transfer the pot to a 400°F oven and continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, or until just cooked-through.
  • Let pork rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

Serves three-four (one chop per person)
*Or any firm apple, such as Fuji or Granny Smith.
**Can substitute with chicken stock or water.
***You want the pockets to be as deep as possible without cutting all the way through the meat. 

Thursday, September 29

Baked Tortilla Chips

Use leftover tortillas to make crispy baked chips

Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips

Homemade tortilla chips are a great way to use up leftover tortillas (I had some lying around from my lamb tacos) and are so easy to make. Since I bake them, they're much healthier than most store-bought fried versions. Serve them with your favorite salsa or try my recipe for guacamole for a quick and easy appetizer or snack. It's a great finger food to put out when you have your friends over for Sunday football, and any leftovers can be kept in the pantry for several days. My homemade pita chips are another great option and are prepared almost the same way.

Pair Those Chips With One of These Dip Recipes:
- Guacamole
- Queso Fundido
- Charred Tomatillo Salsa

Homemade Tortilla Chips:
  • Cut 6 small corn tortillas into eighths and place on a large baking sheet.
  • Toss with 2 tbsp. canola oil, salt, and your favorite Mexican seasoning blend.
  • Arrange chips in an even layer on the baking sheet, then place in a 400°F oven.
  • Cook the chips for 8-9 minutes, turning once with a spatula.
  • Let chips cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve with salsa or guacamole.

Makes 48 chips

Wednesday, September 28

Strawberry Toaster Pastries

My girlfriend works for Williams-Sonoma, so she's always filling me in on their best new products. For my birthday (see recaps here, here, and here), she sent me this press and some great jam to make homemade toaster strudels. I used to love eating the store-bought version as a kid, but these homemade ones are so much better. You could make the dough by hand, but using a food processor makes these pastries come together in no time. I made a pretty basic kind since I wanted to showcase the amazing strawberry jam she gave me, but I can't wait to try out some unique flavor combinations next time.

Strawberry Toaster Pastries:
  • In a food processor, combine 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, 2 tbsp. white sugar, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • Add in 2 sticks of cold, diced butter* and pulse until the butter is broken into pea-size pieces.
  • Stream in 3/4 c. of ice-cold water until the dough forms a ball.**
  • Cut the dough in half, then flatten each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.***
  • Rolled each piece of dough out on a floured surface until 1/8" thick and use the cutter to cut out the bottom of each toaster pastry.
  • Place the cut-outs on a lined baking sheet and spread 1 tbsp. of jam in the center of each, leaving a border.
  • Brush a little bit of a beaten egg on the border of each pastry, then lay another pastry cut-out on top and use the toaster press to seal the pastry.****
  • Bake the pastries in a 350°F oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • To make the frosting, combine 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar with 2-3 tbsp. milk. Drizzle frosting over cooled pastries.
  • Let frosting harden completely, then serve.

Makes five - six pastries
*Make sure your ingredients are very cold, as it will ensure a flaky pastry.
**If it's still crumbly, add in another 2-3 tbsp. of ice water.
***Or place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
****I crimped the edges again with a fork to seal the pastry together.

    Tuesday, September 27

    French Lentils & Sausages

    A cheap, quick, and very French meal that's perfect for busy weeknights

    French Green Lentils and Roasted Sausages

    I made this dish from The Barefoot Contessa a few times in the past and for some reason it's been on my mind again lately. This time I made a few adjustments to the dish and now I'm hooked on lentils. I happened to have most of the ingredients already on hand (leftover from this meal), but the recipe is versatile enough to season the lentils with whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand at the time. They pair really nicely with some flavorful roasted sausages for a chic French upgrade on franks and beans. The best part is just how cheap everything is, with the entire meal costing less than $4 per person. It's truly French peasant food at it's finest.

    More Lentil Recipes:
    - Braised Leeks with Sweet Lentils
    - Lentil, Sausage, & Kale Soup
    - Lentil "Meatballs" with Arugula-Almond-Lemon Pesto

    French Green Lentils & Roasted Chicken Sausages:
    For Lentils
    • Bring 1 qt. of water to a boil, turn off heat, and add in 1 c. French green lentils.* Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain.
    • Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
    • Add in 1/2 finely diced onion and 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
    • Cook onions until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
    • Add in 6 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another minute, until fragrant.
    • Add in the lentils, 1 c. chicken stock, 3 diced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, and 1 tbsp. tomato paste.
    • Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a lid.
    • Let lentils simmer over low heat for 25 - 30 minutes, until all vegetables are tender and liquid is absorbed.
    • Do a final check for seasoning, then divide onto plates and top with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.
    For Sausages
    • Place an assortment of fresh chicken sausages** on an oiled baking sheet and prick the skins all over with a fork.
    • Roast in a 400°F oven for 20 - 25 minutes, or until browned and cooked through.
    • Let sausages cool slightly, then slice in half on a sharp bias.
    • Place two sausage halves on top of the lentils for a pretty presentation.

    Serves two - three (lentils)
    One sausage per person
    *Sometimes called lentilles du Puy. Regular green or black lentils will also work.
    **You can often buy individual fresh sausages from your butcher or meat counter. 

    Monday, September 26

    Crème Brulée

    I work for an Internet company, meaning I get to experience a lot of perks (relaxed dress code, over-the-top company parties, free lunch). Recently our office held a company-wide competition, in which teams competed in a series of events ranging from arm wrestling to dunk tanking. Naturally, I volunteered to enter an item in the baking event (and the pie-eating contest - see the carnage here). We have some serious cooks in our office, so I knew I needed to make something that was unique but also widely-loved and settled on crème brulée. It was my first time making this dessert, but it was surprisingly easy and delicious. I took second place in the competition and received tons of compliments from the judges.

    Vanilla Crème Brulée:
    • In a large bowl, whisk together 4 egg yolks, one egg,* and 1/2 c. of white sugar until the yolks turn slightly pale.
    • Meanwhile, heat 3 c. of heavy cream until almost boiling.
    • While constantly whisking, very slowly pour the hot cream into the egg mixture.**
    • Whisk in 1 tbsp. vanilla extract, then pour the custard into four 10 oz. ramekins, filling each up about 3/4 of the way.
    • Place the ramekins in a large baking dish, then fill the dish with boiling halfway up the ramekins.
    • Cook the custards in a 300F oven for 45 minutes, or until they just slightly wiggle in the center.
    • Remove the custards from the water bath and cool in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.***
    • Pour 1 heaping tsp. of sugar evenly over the top of each custard.
    • Place the ramekins about 2 -3 inches away from a very hot broiler and cook until the sugar is brown, about 2 minutes.****
    • Refrigerate the custards for another 10-15 minutes, then serve.

    Serves four
    *Use extra-large, preferably organic, eggs.
    **This is the most crucial step. Add the cream very gradually or you will end up with scrambled eggs.
    ***If you're inpatient like I am, you can also cool them in the freezer for about 45 minutes.
    ****Watch this very carefully, sugar can go from perfectly brown to burnt in 30 seconds. You can also use a blow torch.

    Friday, September 23

    Creamy Tomato Soup

    Lunch is definitely my least favorite meal of the day, and until a few years ago, I rarely ate lunch on a daily basis. As a child, my mom knew she couldn’t get away with packing me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for school, so instead I’d make requests for vegetable sushi rolls, a whole basket of sliced strawberries, or baguette with brie cheese. Since I rarely ate traditional kid food, I don’t have much experience with classic pairings like tomato soup and grilled cheese (which I’ve now come to love). This was my first time making tomato soup, and while it’s definitely not your average Campbell’s, it’s a dish that I think everyone can appreciate. I took a tip from one of my favorite restaurants, Dish Gourmet (reviewed here), and sprinkled a little Parmesan cheese and black pepper on top at the end.  

    Creamy Tomato Soup:

    • Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven.
    • Add in 1 ½ chopped onions and 3 chopped carrots and cook for 15 minutes, or until very tender.
    • Stir in 3 cloves of minced garlic and 1 ½ tbsp. tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
    • Add in 5 chopped tomatoes*, 3 c. chicken stock, 1 large bunch of fresh thyme, a pinch of white sugar, salt, and pepper.
    • Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are extremely tender.
    • Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the soup through it.
    • Pour the liquid back into the pot and remove the thyme stems from the solids.
    • Puree the solids in a blender** until very smooth and slowly pour back into the pot with the liquid.
    • Add in 1/2 c. heavy cream and season the soup with more salt and pepper (as needed) and several dashes of hot sauce.***
    • Divide into bowls and top with extra black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

    Serves six - eight
    *I used a combination of beefsteak and roma tomatoes.
    **Or food processor.
    ***I used 3/4 tsp. of Sriracha.

    Thursday, September 22

    Grilled Shrimp Greek Salad

    Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp

    My parents went on a trip to Greece about four years (sadly, I wasn't invited), and came back with pictures and stories about the amazing food they ate. For the rest of the summer, we ate a ton of Greek salads and it's still something my mom makes often. This is her recipe, but I added some grilled shrimp to make it filling enough for a dinner entree. It's so quick and simple to make, and I usually have most of the ingredients in my refrigerator already. Try and use the freshest, highest-quality produce you can find, as it really makes a difference here.

    Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp:
    • Season 1/2 lb. medium-large shrimp with salt and pepper.
    • Place on a hot, oiled grill for 2-3 minutes per side, or until just cooked through.
    • Meanwhile, chop one large hothouse cucumber*, one pint of grape tomatoes, one bell pepper and one small red onion (or half a large) into bite-size, uniform pieces.
    • Dice one 6 oz. block of whole-milk feta cheese** into small pieces.
    • In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tsp. dijon mustard and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar; then add in 2 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
    • Combine vegetables, cheese, and shrimp into a large bowl, then toss with the dressing.
    • Divide into bowls and serve.

    Serves three - four
    *Also called English cucumber. It comes wrapped in plastic and doesn't need to be seeded or peeled.
    **Preferably packed in water.

    Wednesday, September 21

    Spaghetti with Lamb Ragu

    The leg of lamb I made this weekend is truly the gift that keeps on giving, and after a few days of leftovers (like these lamb tacos) we decided to invite our friends over for dinner to help us finish it off completely. I made a lamb ragu (inspired by the pork ragu I made this spring), and I was amazed by how much flavor I was able to get in the sauce after cooking it for less than an hour. When my guests came in the whole house smelled like I had been cooking all day, but I had really just kept the pan on a simmer while my boyfriend and I watched TV. It was an impressive meal made from leftovers and tasted even better after a few glasses of red wine.

    Spaghetti with Lamb Ragu:
    • Heat 1 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
    • Add in 1 finely diced yellow onion and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until soft and translucent.
    • Add in 3 minced cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp. tomato paste, and 1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    • Add in 1 1/2 lb. of cooked leg of lamb, shredded and chopped into bite-size pieces.*
    • Add in a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes** and season with salt and pepper.
    • Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
    • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
    • Cook 1 lb. of spaghetti*** 1-2 minutes before al dente, then drain and reserve 1/2 c. pasta cooking water.
    • Add the pasta and some of the water to the pan with the sauce and toss for 1-2 minutes.
    • To serve, divide into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

    Serves six - eight
    *Can be substituted for any cooked, shredded meat such as beef or pork.
    **Preferably San Marzano. You can also buy whole canned tomatoes and crush them by hand.
    ***Can be substituted for any shape of pasta.

    Tuesday, September 20

    Lamb Carnitas Tacos

    Leftover leg of lamb gets transformed into these spicy carnitas-style tacos

    So I’m not sure what was more delicious, the braised leg of lamb I made the other night or these lamb carnitas tacos I made with some of the leftovers. Even though I used the same meat and sauce as the night before, the Mexican seasonings and condiments completely transformed the dish into something new and different. The lamb had a great spicy kick from the chipotle pepper and adobo sauce, which was complemented really nicely by the cool guacamole and sweet caramelized onions. I also added a Greek twist to the tacos with some feta cheese that I had leftover from dinner last week. The lamb would also be great rolled into enchiladas or stuffed into a quesadilla.
    Spicy Lamb Carnitas Tacos:
    • Heat 1 tbsp. canola oil in a large pan and add in 1/2 of a thinly sliced yellow onion.
    • Cook the onion on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until very soft but not brown.
    • Increase the heat and add in 2 cloves of minced garlic.
    • Cook the garlic for a minute, then add in 3/4 lb. of cooked, shredded, leg of lamb.*
    • Pour in 1/4 c. sauce from the lamb,** 1 tbsp. adobo sauce, and 1 whole chipotle pepper.***
    • Cook for 5 minutes, or until the meat is warm and most of the sauce has thickened to coat the meat.
    • Meanwhile, warm 4 corn tortillas in the microwave or a dry pan.
    • To make tacos: place tortilla on a plate, top with the lamb, crumbled feta, and guacamole.
    • Serve with limes.

    Makes four - five tacos
    *From this recipe. Can also make this with shredded chicken, beef, or pork.
    **The leftover sauce might have solidified but will melt in the pan. Can be substituted with chicken or beef broth.
    ***From a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

    Monday, September 19

    Braised Leg of Lamb

    I was watching an old episode of Food Network's Barefoot Contessa and came across her recipe for four hour lamb. Lamb is my all-time favorite meat, and this recipe looked so delicious with fall-off-the-bone-tender leg of lamb simply braised in white wine and herbs. It's a huge cut of meat to make in my two-person* household, but I decided to splurge and then re-create different dishes with the leftover meat for the rest of the week. Braising it warmed the whole house and made it smell delicious. Make sure to take advantage of both the meat and the leftover sauce when planning your leftovers.

    Braised Leg of Lamb:
    • Very liberally season a 6 1/2 lb. bone-in leg of lamb with salt and pepper.
    • Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large dutch oven.**
    • Add the lamb and sear for 5-6 minutes on both sides, or until a dark brown crust forms.
    • Remove the lamb and place on a plate.
    • Add 1 bottle of dry white wine and 2 c. of water to the pot, scraping all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
    • Add in the cloves (skins still on) from 2 heads of garlic, 1 handful of fresh rosemary, and 1 handful of fresh thyme.
    • Put the lamb back in the pot, then cover the dutch oven with a lid and place in a 300°F oven.
    • Cook the lamb for 4 hours, basting every hour and flipping the meat over halfway through.
    • Remove the meat from the pot and place on a plate. Cover with foil and rest for 10-15 minutes.
    • Strain the braising liquid into a pot and discard the solids. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid.
    • Boil the braising liquid for 10-15 minutes.
    • To serve, pull the meat apart with two large spoons and divide onto plates. Spoon sauce on top.

    Serves eight - ten
    *Four if you include the kitties.
    **Measure your pot before buying the lamb. If the leg is too long, have the butcher separate the shank and tie them together.

    Friday, September 16

    Pesto-Tomato Crostini

    When I was vacationing in Minnesota this summer, my boyfriend's mom made a delicious dip of cream cheese, pesto, tomatoes, and pine nuts to serve with pita chips (see my recipe for homemade pita chips here). We devoured it, and I've been meaning to make my own version ever since. In this variation, I made crostini that would be a great appetizer or substitute for croutons in a salad. They are addicting, so make sure you make plenty!

    Crostini with Pesto, Cream Cheese, and Tomato:
    • Slice 1/2 of a baguette into 1/4" thick slices and brush with olive oil. 
    • Place bread on a sheet pan and toast in a 400°F oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
    • Smear toasts with cream cheese (low-fat works great here) and top with basil pesto.*
    • Arrange halved cherry tomatoes on top, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts.**

    Serves four - six 
    *Try my recipe for homemade pesto here.
    *To toast pine nuts, place in a dry pan and heat until fragrant and golden brown.

    Thursday, September 15

    How To: Mash Potatoes

    Mashed potatoes are something that everyone loves to eat, but many home cooks have trouble perfecting this dish. We've all had lumpy, gummy, bland mashed potatoes, so I'm hoping this latest "how to" will shed light on how to get perfectly smooth, creamy mashed potatoes every time. You do need a few special tools to cook this, but it's totally worth it. First I use a great vegetable peeler (also helpful for creating ribbons of Parmesan cheese or chocolate shavings) and then I use a masher to pulverize the cooked spuds (using a potato ricer or food mill is even better). This recipe sticks to the basics, but it can easily be jazzed up by adding roasted garlic, sour cream, cheddar cheese, etc.

    Perfect Mashed Potatoes:
    • Peel the skins off two large potatoes* and dice into small, uniform pieces.
    • Place potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water.
    • Place a lid on the pot and bring water to a boil. Continue cooking potatoes until tender, about 20 -25 minutes.
    • Drain all water from the potatoes, place back in the pot, and place the pot over low heat.**
    • Let the potatoes dry over the flame for a minute or two.
    • Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan with 3 tbsp. unsalted butter and 1/2 c. heavy cream until butter melts.
    • Add cream mixture into the potatoes, a little at a time, then mash them into a smooth puree.
    • Continue adding the cream until you've achieved the right consistency.
    • Season potatoes with salt and pepper and serve immediately.***

    Serves two-four (side dish)
    *Russet and Yukon Golds are my favorite here.
    **This step is essential to burn off any excess liquid and stops potatoes from being gummy.
    ***If waiting to serve, cover with a lid. Gently reheat over a low flame, adding extra cream as necessary.

    Wednesday, September 14

    Asian Noodle Salad

    It might feel like fall in most parts of the country, but we’ve been having a serious heat wave here in L.A. So instead of starting in on my cold-weather recipes, I’ve been thinking of quick and easy dishes that can be served cold or at room temperature. This Asian noodle salad is the perfect thing to eat on nights when it’s too hot to spend much time in the kitchen. It would be great with any leftover stir-fried or steamed vegetables and meat, and it makes a great leftover for lunch the next day. This is also a great thing to make for anyone who can't eat gluten, because the rice noodles are gluten-free.

    Chicken, Snap Pea, & Shiitake Asian Noodle Salad:
    For Dressing
    • Whisk together 3 tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 tbsp. honey, 2 tsp. soy sauce, 1/4 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce.
    • Then whisk in 1/4 c. canola oil, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 2 tbsp. chopped scallions until well mixed.
    For Salad
    • Heat 1 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet, then add 3/4 lb. of slice chicken breast and cook for 3-4 minutes.
    • Add in 8 oz. of chopped snap peas, 4 oz. of shiitake mushrooms, and season with salt and pepper.
    • Cook for 3-5 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and peas are crisp-tender. Let cool.
    • Meanwhile, cook 1 package of rice noodles* according to package directions, then drain and rinse with cold water.
    • To serve, toss noodles with chicken mixture and dressing, then top with 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds.
    • Salad can be stored in the fridge for a day.

    Serves three - four
    *Available in the Asian section of some supermarkets.

    Tuesday, September 13

    Mushroom Lovers Pasta

    A few months ago, I was at the L.A. Farmers Market and visited Pappardelle's Pasta, a great stand that sells all different flavors of fresh and dried pasta. I finally got around to making their porcini mushroom pasta and figured that I should go all out on the mushroom flavor. This is a true "mushroom lovers" pasta, as it has mushrooms in the pasta, five different varieties of wild mushrooms in the sauce, and truffle butter (leftover from this recipe). You could certainly exchange some of these special ingredients for more generic ones, but this is a great meal for a special occasion and a great meal for people who love mushrooms.

    Porcini Linguine with Wild Mushroom & Truffle Ragu:
    • Clean* and roughly chop 6 oz. of assorted wild mushrooms.**
    • Heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a pan until hot, then add the mushrooms and 1 tsp. of fresh thyme leaves. 
    • Cook until mushrooms soften and slightly brown, about 4-5 minutes, then add in 2/3 c. heavy cream.
    • Meanwhile, cook 8 oz. dried linguine pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.
    • Turn down the heat to low, then swirl in 1 1/2 oz. white truffle butter*** until melted.
    • Add in the pasta, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 tbsp. minced parsely. 
    • Toss for 1-2 minutes, or until pasta absorbs most of the sauce.
    • Divide into bowls and serve with extra Parmesan.

    Serves two - three
    *Do not wash mushrooms, lightly brush off dirt with a damp towel or pastry brush.
    **Such as chanterelle, clouds ear, cinnamon cap, shimeji, and trumpet mushrooms.
    ***Available at Italian markets and specialty grocery stores, such as Whole Foods.