A Belated St Patrick’s Day Dinner (that is just as good on any Tuesday!)

st pats dinner

St. Patrick’s Day weekend was a little hectic for us.  Actually, the last few weeks, clearly, have been quite busy.  We’ve finally settled all of the paperwork to move into our new house(!), but now we are packing up everything in less than a week to move in April 1st.  I’ve just gone through all of my clothes (I have no idea how I got so many) and even though I overhauled my closet less than two years ago, and gather up three garbage bags-worth of clothes and shoes to donate yesterday, I am slightly concerned about how I will fit all of it in my dresser and closet at the new place. I may just have to steal some of M’s closet space.  In all seriousness, I am over-the-moon with excitement knowing that we will each have our own separate closet and separate dresser.  Glorious! I haven’t even begun to sort through my kitchen items, yet.  That task is as frightening, but only because I keep assuring myself that I won’t have to get rid of anything.  Thankfully, this house comes with a huge, beautiful kitchen (with a giant pantry)!  I’m less concerned with being as selective with my precious kitchen items as I’ve had to be with my clothes.

st pats top

I am grateful that it is Spring Break, so one of my jobs is on break as well.  It’s been nice to have a little more free time to try to gather my life into boxes.  A few weeks ago, our St. Patrick’s day celebration was almost somber and sober, compared to most.  I said almost.  M had two shows with a changeover in-between.  I spent Saturday evening, while he was at Show #1, at my mother’s, to see my visiting aunt and cousin.  There, I had (the near-obligatory) corned beef.  I thought that was about the end of St. Patrick’s day food-celebrations.  However, the next morning, everyone else’s dinner proclamations on Facebook sounded just too tasty.  I found lamb chops for fantastically cheap and that settled the deal.  I set some cabbage to boil with bacon and pepper, cooked some carrots, mashed some sweet potatoes with garlic, baked up some popovers, and seared up the lambchops for a surprisingly fast and delicious dinner, complete with cider.  The perfect detail was the pan sauce I made.  M and I put it on everything.  Pan sauce is one of my favorite things to make because it is so simple.  Five extra minutes, plus a little wine and broth in the pan you’ve cooked the meat in is all it take to ramp up your meal from good to great!   

I don’t really feel like any of the cooking I did this day truly deserve a “recipe”, though I will do my best to provide a recipe-like breakdown for you.  All of the spices and flavorings are optional and interchangeable.  Choose herbs and combinations that serve your own taste.  Though I made this with St. Patrick’s day in mind, it really is easy enough to make any night of the week!  Next time you see lamb on sale, give these herbed lamb chops a try!

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Herbed Lamb Chops

Serves 4 | Prep time: 5-30 minutes | Cook time: 10-15 minutes

  • 4 lamb chops (bone-in)
  • 2 Tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp.+ olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Mix all herbs, salt, pepper, vinegar, and worcestershire sauce with enough olive oil to make a paste. Coat all sides of the lamb chops and allow to sit for, at least, five or up to 30 minutes.  After chops have marinated, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes.  Add a thin coat of oil or nonstick spray, and place the chops in.  Allow a little breathing room between chops. Sear the chops for 4-5 minutes, flip and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Remove chops from pan, cover and let rest while you prepare the pan sauce.

Pan Sauce

Serves 4 | Prep time: cooktime of a cut of meat | Cook time: 5-10 minutes

  • Drippings/leavings in a pan from searing meat
  • 1 c. chicken or beef broth
  • 1/2 c. white wine

Reduce heat to under the hot pan. Deglaze with wine.  Allow wine to cook for one minute, then add chicken broth. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan.  Raise sauce to a simmer, allow to reduce down to preferred thickness.

Garlic Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 15-20 minutes

  • 3 lg. sweet potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp.+ milk of choice (nondairy is fine)
  • salt & pepper

Peel sweet potatoes.  Chop into even pieces and place into a medium pot.  Fill the pot with water an inch above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove potatoes from heat, drain, and add remaining ingredients.  Mash until smooth.

Boiled Cabbage

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 15-20 minutes

  • 1 sm. head of cabbage
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 2 tsp. peppercorns
  • salt to taste

Core the cabbage and remove outer leaves.  Cut into quarters.  Place cabbage in large pot, cover with water.  Take one slice of bacon and peppercorns and wrap in a leaf of cabbage.  Add flavor packet to the pot.  Bring cabbage to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain cabbage, remove flavor packet, and discard.  Cook remaining bacon.  Use two forks to shred cabbage. Chop all three slices of bacon and add to cabbage.  Season with salt and pepper.

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TGIF

Because it is Friday, here is a picture of Punc in a hat:

puncgra

 

She “graduated” from her intermediate obedience class this week!  We may wait a little while before enrolling in the Advanced course.  That aims to test them for the Canine Good Citizenship Certificate, and she’s still a little too young for some of the tests (like sitting still and nicely to be petted).


Warm Up From Winter: Quick and Easy Taco Soup

taco soupWe just got another snowfall yesterday.  We’ve had two in the last couple of weeks.  This one was only an inch or two, but the one before was a little more serious–we had about 4 inches before it started to rain and turned it all into slick, heavy slush.  That storm was predicted to be much larger, so the grocery stores were cleared out by the night before.  We were quite prepared, mostly with wood and water, since our well water will stop if the electricity is knocked out.  Luckily, everything stayed steady.  In general, I think it all looked much worse than it was, in reality.  That snowfall was the first we’d gotten this season.  Its been quite cold, but stayed dry until then.  Now, we are stuck in a strange cycle of warm days falling into freezing ones.  Everyone’s immune systems seem to have gone haywire, since one warm week was enough to have several plants send out pollen, and the constant swing from warm to cold has worsened the last few flus and colds running through our workplace.

snow daffodils

Even the daffodils are confused

After a stretch of warm days, the weather turned blusteringly cold overnight, much to my displeasure.  After running through the cold from one job to the next, I was craving hot, steamy, spicy soup to take off the chill of the day.  We were almost due for a trip to the grocery store, but, thankfully, my stock of canned goods got me through this recipe.  If you are looking for something quick and simple, stick to the cans or whatever you may have on hand for this recipe.  Equal amounts of fresh or frozen ingredients can definitely be used!  You can also adjust the heat level to your tastes by adjusting the amount of chili powder and hot sauce.  This is a solid medium heat level–I wanted a definite kick in this simmering soup.

taco soup toppings

I also have some very exciting news: we found out yesterday that we were approved for our rental application!  M and I will be moving in with our friend S, into a townhouse with a beautiful open kitchen.  I have amazing amounts of cabinet space, granite countertops, a proper pantry, a gas stove, and a breakfast bar!  We can move in April 1st, and I will definitely be posting some pictures soon afterwards.  It’ll be wonderful to live in a house with our own washer and dryer (instead of hauling the laundry out to my mother’s) and to have Punc live with us fulltime (again, instead of out at my mother’s).  This will also be my first time stocking my own kitchen!  I am supremely excited!  I have way too many plans for crafts and gardening–look out for some crafty posts on here soon!

taco soup plate

I will do my best to keep my excited gushing in check.  The next few weeks will be a little bit hectic as we try to pack and organize.  I know we won’t exactly realize what we need until we are actually in the house, so it’ll be a slow process.  I will keep you posted!  And, I have several recipes waiting in the wings, so I will try to stay on track with posting!  For now,  enjoy this soup before the days grow too warm…it is the perfect pick-me-up at the end of a brisk day!  I made some chili-spiced sweet potato wedges as a side dish (sprinkle sliced potatoes with oil oil and spices, bake at 400 degrees F for 25-35 minutes).  I highly suggest topping the soup with a bit of sour cream–it melt gloriously into the broth.  But feel free to alter this to your taste.  You know what you like best!

taco soup top

Taco Soup

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 4 c. (32-oz or 1 lg box) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 1 med. red onion
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 16-oz can of kidney beans/black bean
  • 3/4 c. frozen corn (or 1 sm. can of corn)
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/3 packet taco seasoning (about 1 Tbsp–I used Trader Joe’s*)
  • Hot sauce to taste (I used 1 dash of Dave’s Insanity Sauce, I would have used more of a regular tasbasco or Frank’s)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro, optional

*Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning contains no gluten-containing ingredients.  Please always check store-bought mixes for hidden gluten!

Add the chicken stock to a large stock pot.  Heat to a boil over medium heat.  Trim any fat from the chicken breast, then place in the boiling stock to poach.  Return to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through.  Remove breast from stock, set aside to cool.  Optionally, skim any bits of fat from the stock.  While the chicken is poaching, chop the onion on a medium dice, and drain and thoroughly rinse the beans (if using canned).   In a small skillet, cook bacon.  Remove to side to cool.  Add onions to the skillet, cook for about 3 minutes in the bacon grease.  Spoon onions out with a slotted spoon.  When the broth is hot and you have removed the chicken, add the onions, beans, tomatoes and corn.  Raise the heat to return soup to boil.  Stir in garlic, taco seasoning, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, and cilantro.  Shred the reserved chicken, and chop the cooked bacon into small pieces.  Add meat to post, stir, and return to boil.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, a lime wedge, and more cilantro.  We served our with margaritas!  Enjoy!


Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Risotto

risotto close 2

The short list of recipes/food creation in the kitchen that intimidate me:

  • Kale chips
  • Deep frying
  • Souffles
  • Homemade stock
  • Butchering
  • Risotto

All of these seem to have this aura of difficulty or precision or just a mystical, well-kept secret to success that isn’t shared with home cooks.  After my kale chip attempt proved utterly successful and laughably easy, I was ready to tackle my list again with a little more confidence.  M and his godfather both started with a seafood risotto (full of paella flavors) when we went out to eat.  I stole a bite, of what is my first taste of risotto in my memory.  It was just as creamy and lovely as I had hoped, and, after stumbling across more and more recipes, I finally bit the bullet and set up for my first attempt.  All that I had read about risotto made me certain that I wanted to make this recipe by the book.  I’m prone to substitution and modification, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

risotto mise en place

I did a bit of research and cobbled together what seemed like the most-often used ingredients and ratios for a basic risotto.  Then I played a little, finally settling on my tangy combo of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and chevre.  I was a bit heavy-handed with my basil, since I used a finely pureed frozen version that completely immersed the dish, but otherwise, it was the warming dish that I had hoped.  And, again, like my kale chips, risotto was much easier than I had anticipated.  It does require constant stirring, however, beyond having to stand at the stove, it is actually fairly simple in terms of ingredients and additions.

risotto stirring close

I have scaled back the amount of basil in this recipe.  My best advice would be to use the fresh herbs.  When your chopping it, you can control just how small to chop the leaves (and therefore just how invasive the flavor will be).  The basic recipe covers the technical requirements, otherwise, play around and have fun adding other flavors!  Since most add-in’s are added at the end of the cooking period, or else at the very beginning, they do not have much of an effect on the general order of the recipe.

risotto plate

Basic Risotto

Serves 4 | Prep: 15 min | Cook time: 30-45 min

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1 c. arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated*
  • Salt and pepper

*If Add-in ingredients to the basic recipe includes a focus on a different kind of cheese (like the goat cheese in mine), sub 1/4 of the parmesan for the focus cheese.

Add the stock to a medium pot and bring to a low simmer.

Prep all ingredients completely before putting heat to your risotto pan.  Use the time while the broth is warming to prepare the mise en place.  I have heard the advice and lectures about mise en place (french for “everything in place” or the ingredient set up for cooking–chopped, measured and prepped–before beginning to cook, as used in professional restaurants).  I, often times, do not follow it or else only halfway: everything chopped, but not measured.  Risotto is not a recipe to ignore mise en place.  Have all of your ingredients measured, chopped, minced, etc before you add anything to the pan.

When the broth is warm and everything is prepared, place a large saucepan or saute pan over medium heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil and melt together.  Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until turning translucent.  Add rice, cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Stir vigorously, to coat each rice grain with the oil-butter mixture.  A lightly “toasty” smell should be detected under the onion.  Add garlic and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant.  Add the white wine and, stirring constantly, cook until absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of warm broth and continue to stir and cook until absorbed.  Repeat with another 1/2 cup of broth, waiting until the liquid is absorbed entirely by the rice before adding the next 1/2 cup.  With 4 cups of broth, you should have 8 rounds, total, of adding 1/2 cup of broth and stirring until absorbed.  It takes around 25-30 minutes.  The more broth you add, the creamier the rice will get, but you should always be able to notice that the liquid is finally absorbed.  In the last few rounds, a small taste is helpful.  Ultimately, the rice should be chewy, with the hint of a “bite” or slight firmness, like al dente pasta.

Remove the rice from the heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parmesan, and any Add-in ingredients.  Serve immediately.

Risotto will not keep well, refrigeration will make it gooey.  Enjoy it just cooked.  If you are cooking for less people, halve or quarter the recipe (approximate on the butter and oil.  Everything else is pretty easily divided).

My add-ins last night were spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and basil, but I’ve rounded up some of the more classic pairings.  Search through a couple google results to get your on inspiration for add-ins:

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Add-Ins:

Spinach, Goat Cheese, & Tomato Risotto

  • 1/2 c. sun dried tomatoes, chopped fine
  • 1/2 c. frozen or 1 c. fresh spinach, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1 tsp. frozen/dried or 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
  • 1/4 c. chevre, crumbled

Stir into risotto with the butter and parmesan after it is removed from the heat.  Continue stirring until goat cheese is melted.  Serve.

Risotto al Pomodoro

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (replace butter in basic recipe)
  • 1 c. plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced

Use olive oil in place of butter, adding according to basic recipe.  Stir in tomatoes and basil with the parmesan at the end.  Serve.

Risotto alla Milanese

  • 4 c. beef stock (to replace chicken/vegetable stock)
  • 3 Tbsp beef marrow (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp lard (if you want to be really authentic.  Butter is easier to find)
  • 1-2 tsp. saffron

Heat the saffron in the beef stock.  Stir in the marrow when you cook the onions.  Use lard in place of butter.  Follow directions above.

Mushroom Risotto

  • 12 oz mushrooms of choice, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Cook the mushrooms alongside the onions and through the broth-adding process.  Stir in the herbs after removing from heat.

Spring Risotto

  • 1 1/2 c. asparagus, chopped into one inch pieces
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. parsley, finely chopped

Cook asparagus in microwave while stirring risotto.  Add all ingredients after removing risotto from heat.  Serve immediately.

What  would you put in your risotto?


Quick and Easy Weeknight Chicken Fajitas (+ Pico de Gallo & Guacamole)

fajita center

When I first began to cook, when it became more than just mixing up a boxed cake mix when I was bored or overloading on cookie recipes near the holidays, I was mostly driven to surprise my mother with dinner.  A few trusty dishes developed, but they were nothing too extraordinary.  Sauteed chicken and onions tossed into jarred marinara sauce over spaghetti.  Thin slices of chicken cooked with peppers and onions and sprinkled with McCormick’s fajita seasoning.  I remember feeling especially revolutionary on the day I decided to add a squeeze of lime juice.  Simple as these dishes may be, they were still delicious, and remain as quick and easy standbys for when my creativity runs out (or when I can exercise prudence and restrain myself from running to the grocery store for more ingredients).

A few things have changed–corn tortillas instead of flour, my own spice mix instead of prepackaged–but much has stayed the same.  A minimum 2-to-1 ratio of onions to peppers (I think restaurants’ tendency toward extra peppers is what prompted me to make my own in the first place.  Onions are the best part!), served up with guac, sour cream, and pico de gallo.  This comfort food is easy and tasty to toss together fast.  If you are more prepared than I am, you can set the chicken to marinade in the morning, giving it a full day to soak up those flavors.  If you are really proactive, chop and toss the pico de gallo together, too.  The longer it sits, the better the flavors meld.  If you are more like me, don’t worry about it.  Just give the chicken and the pico at least 30 minutes to mingle!

m's fajita

We used thick corn tortillas that we found at our international market.  I piled mine up, but M preferred a more deconstructed method.  The tortillas made these fajitas a bit more of a knife-and-fork kind of meal, but they were still delicious!  Also, if you’ve noticed a drastic improvement in photo quality (if you haven’t, I’d be highly surprised) you can thank M.  He has been lending me his photography skills and his iPhone 5 camera!  I love the quality of these photos, compared to my grainy snaps.  The iPhone (camera-wise) definitely kicks my Droid Incredible’s butt.  Next on the list after paying for rent, a cruise, and my student loans…a new phone?  Haha, maybe this summer!

fajita table

Chicken Fajitas

Serves: 4 | Prep: 20 min (total) | Rest time: 30 min+  | Cook time: 15-20 minutes

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 3-4 thighs)
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 c. chicken broth (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ancho chili powder*
  • 1 tsp cumin powder*
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder*
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper*
  • 1/2 tsp paprika*
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 med. onion, sliced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color) sliced

*Or use 1 1/2-2 Tbsp of a prepared/packaged fajita seasoning mix

Fixings:

  • 1 batch prepared guacamole (recipe below)
  • 1 batch prepared pico de gallo (recipe below)
  • Sour cream
  • Corn tortillas

Mix the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of oil, garlic, a pinch of lime zest, and dry spices to make a paste.  If you would like a more liquid marinade, add the 1/4 cup of chicken broth.  Spread paste over all surfaces of chicken, or dip chicken to cover in the marinating liquid.  Place chicken and marinade (paste or liquid) in a ziploc.  Press out the air and seal tightly.  Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes, up to several hours.

Heat half of remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Remove chicken from marinade, season with salt and pepper, and place in hot skillet.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the pan-side is nicely browned.   Flip, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes more until cooked through and evenly colored.  Remove chicken from skillet.  Add remaining oil and add sliced vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of lime zest.  Cook until slightly softened, with onion beginning to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.  Slice the chicken thinly.  Turn heat up to high, add chicken back into skillet, and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Serve with corn tortillas, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole.

guac+pico

Pico de Gallo

Serves: 4-8 | Prep time: 10 min | Rest time: 30 min+

  • 2 plum tomatos, diced and seeded
  • 1 sm. onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes, up to several hours.

guac_side_shot

Guacamole

Serves: 4-8 | Prep: 10 min

  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 sm. onion, finely chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (usually a generous pinch of each)

Juice lime over avocado immediately after dicing avocado.  Add remaining ingredients and mash and mix to preferred consistency.