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Chipotle and Adobo Chili

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While this winter has been pretty brutal for most of the United States and huge portions of Canada, Seattle has been blessed with remarkable weather. Sure it’s been a bit drizzly every now and then, but when it’s sunny and blue skies in January and February, I can’t help but think how lucky I am. Earlier this month I saw people wearing shorts just blocks form where I live and just yesterday we hit a record high for March (70 degrees, which, for Seattle, is awfully warm for the time of year).

My one critique of this unusually lovely winter is that weather was rarely bad enough to really get in the mood for rib-sticking, hearty, comfort food. Sure I made some decadent and rich braises and argues, but for the most part I kept it pretty light and healthy. As Seattle is having yet another lovely day, I bring you an incredibly hearty and comforting chili recipe, that manages to not be too heavy. I could enjoy this in the middle of a blizzard, but would be perfectly content eating it on an impossibly sunny and warm day.

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Chipotle and Adobo Chili

Adapted from Ellie Krieger

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef (I used 85/15)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano are my favorite)
  • 1 12-ounce beer (I used an ESB)
  • 1-3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, seeded and minced (use to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can of chipotles (more or less to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add ground beef, breaking up with a large spoon into small chunks, and brown, stirring infrequently, until the beef is nicely browned (about 8-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and pepper, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes. Add cumin and garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, beer, chipotles and adobo sauce, oregano, and an additional sprinkling of salt and pepper. Reduce heat.

Simmer uncovered for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rinsed beans and cook an additional 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

I like this served with sour cream, cheese, scallions, and avocado; perhaps with some chips, roll, or cornbread on the side. And of course beer.

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Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

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Hello, WordPress! How have you all been? Well, I hope. I certainly haven’t intentionally ignored my blog and all of the great blogs I follow for the past two months (more like several months), but I’ve been rather busy. My summer was full of anniversaries, reunions, vacations, weddings, parties, barbeques, volunteering, and working. It seems like just last week I couldn’t decide how to spend my 4th of July so it’s a bit hard to believe that Halloween is in two days! Where has the time gone? Summer is practically just a memory.

With weather that’s more and more rainy and cloudy it’s nice to think back on the warm days of summer and all of the exceptional, seasonal fruit and veggies that were practically spilling out of my refrigerator. While it would be almost impossible to choose a favorite summertime vegetable, corn is definitely at the top of my list. While corn on the cobb, lightly boiled, with the tiniest bit of butter and salt is delicious, every now and then corn just begs to be added to entrees. In particular, I found the bright, fresh flavor of corn to be a fantastic addition to rich, thick, hearty grits.

(Good) fresh corn may be a bit hard to come by this time of year, but thinking of this dish makes me nostalgic for summer and I look forward to 8 or 9 months from now when fresh corn is in abundance. If you happen to have the hookup on fresh corn on the cobb, definitely consider this recipe. Otherwise you just might have to wait until next summer. But trust me, the wait will be worth it.

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup grits (not instant)
  • 1 cup shredded, sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons minced, fresh oregano
  • ½ teaspoon paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1½ pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact
  • Chopped fresh chives (for garnish)

Grate 2 ears of corn on the large holes of a box grater over a medium bowl, catching as much juice as possible; set aside. Cut kernels from remaining ear of corn into another medium bowl; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring broth, milk, and 1½ cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and gradually add the grits (whisk constantly as you add the grits). Cook for 20-25 minutes uncovered, stirring often (every few minutes). Mix in cheese, butter, and grated corn. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once oil has heated, add garlic, paprika, and cayenne and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add fresh oregano and cook and additional 30 seconds. Add whole corn kernels and cook for 2 minutes before adding shrimp and cooking an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve shrimp and corn over grits, topping with chives.

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Pasta Puttanesca (and The Protein and Dairy Debate)

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When people ask me what my favorite food is, I typically say “anything with seafood.” It can be French, Italian, Vietnamese, Peruvian, or virtually any other cuisine that serves seafood. Provided the food is cooked properly, it’s rare I come across fish of any kind I don’t love. What’s my second favorite seafood you might ask? Cheese 

I personally don’t mind when fish and cheese are combined. I view it as a marriage of two of my favorite foods. However, I know some Italian traditionalists may view it as a huge faux pas.

The Kitchn has a page on the great fish and cheese debate, and while it in no way resolves the issue, it does shed some light as to why it may be in place. In summary, some may argue cheese overpowers the delicate flavor of fish, great cheese making regions tend to be landlocked and traditionally don’t have as much access to fish, and historically, and it was forbidden in some religions to have protein and dairy.

When I initially found a recipe for Pasta Puttanesca (hardly a fish dish, but it does have anchovy in it), I read through comments and noticed people said any cheese garnish was a no-no. So would a purist shun the addition of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top? Maybe. Probably. But I thought it was a delicious finishing touch, although perhaps garnish at your own risk.  

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Pasta Puttanesca

Adapted from The NY Times

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 or more cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 6 or more anchovy fillets
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
  • 1 pound linguine or other long pasta
  • Chopped fresh Italian Parsley, optional
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, optional

Bring pot of water to boil and salt it.

Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil with garlic and anchovies in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly golden and anchovies have somewhat disintegrated into oil.

Drain tomatoes and crush with fork or hands (feel free to reserve the drained tomato juice for a Bloody Mary). Add to skillet, with some salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down and mixture becomes saucy, about 10 minutes. Stir in olives, capers and red pepper flakes, and continue to simmer.

Cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is al dente. Drain quickly and toss with sauce and remaining tablespoon of oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, garnish with herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired, and serve.

Mushroom Cream Pasta (My Interpretation of Forest Floor Frenzy)

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Going out to a restaurant with me can be a bit of an adventure. Growing up it was sort of a given that my family and I would share (or at least sample) everything we ordered, and as a result we would consult with one another on all of the dishes we wanted. Under no circumstance would we ever order two of the same things. Why? Because there are always new menu items to try and what if the item we ordered two of was mediocre? Duplicates are boring.

These days when I’m out at a restaurant with friends I tend to subtly (or not so subtly) recommend dishes they should order—mainly dishes that I want to try but don’t want to order myself. When I went out to dinner with a good friend a few months ago I was torn between two items: some sort of ragu pasta and a Forest Floor Frenzy, a glorious pasta dish with a mushroom, sherry, and cream sauce. Shortly after opening our menus it was established that my friend would order the mushroom pasta since it is one of his favorite dishes. Since I refuse to order the same dish as anyone else at the table I decided to order the ragu, a dish that ended up being tasty, but rather forgettable.

I ended up having serious entrée envy after sampling a few bites of my buddy’s life-changing, delicious pasta dish. I quickly decided I would order the Forest Floor Frenzy every time I went back to that restaurant, even if everyone at the table ordered the same… although I might persistently recommend others order something else…

What made the dish so divine? I’m not sure. The chef has appeared on local cooking shows to prepare the dish and I’m sure you can find the recipe somewhere on YouTube. The recipe itself isn’t that difficult or complex: pasta, mushrooms, sherry, cream, and walnuts. While these are all simple ingredients the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s just a flawless combination. Here is my interpretation…

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Forest Floor Frenzy (Mushroom Cream Pasta)

Inspired by Bizzarro Italian Cafe

  • 1 pound pasta (a parpadelle, tagliatelle or fettucini is ideal but whatever you have on hand will work [I used mini bow tie])
  • 4 strips bacon, cut into lardons (small strips)
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 pound assorted mushrooms (I used portabello and crimini), cleaned and chopped into a medium to large dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup sherry (white wine would also work)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • Approximately 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional but a nice crunchy addition)
  • Chives for garnish (optional)

Cook bacon until crispy in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat, remove using a slotted spoon and blot grease with a paper towel; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente (usually a minute or so less than package instructions).

In the same sauté pan you cooked the bacon in (no reason to remove the grease), cook onions over medium-high heat for a few mintues, until softened, Add mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 2 additional minutes. Add sherry and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan and cook just until alcohol has burned off and has slightly reduced in volume. Add thyme, salt, pepper, and cream and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until thickened and reduced.

Toss together with cooked pasta, bacon, walnuts (if using), and parmesan; taste for seasoning, transfer to individual serving bowls and top with optional chopped chives and additional parmesan.

Beer and Harissa Steamed Mussels

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While I like to think of myself as a fairly adventurous person, in reality I can sometimes be rather predictable. I definitely will order something crazy like fried grasshoppers if I happen to see them on the menu at a restaurant, but more often than not I’ll chose one of my favorites, like pork belly, mussels, scallops, or some sort of slowly braised meat.

Why do I tend to order those four things so frequently? They’re all delicious and all things I decided were too difficult to make at home. Pork belly: I haven’t actually tried this but it sounds like it would be tedious. Braised meats are far from difficult, but they require hours and hours of cooking time… something far too cumbersome for an average weeknight dinner. Scallops kind of scare me… I don’t want to drop that kind of money and accidentally overcook them, which is why I leave it up to the professionals. And mussels? Somehow, for a reason now unknown to me, I decided cooking mussels was too arduous of a task to do at home.

Once I actually decided to take a stab at cooking mussels—and realized how straight forward and simple it was—I kicked myself for not doing so sooner. The process of cooking mussels only involves (1) soaking them, (2) a bit of cleaning, and (3) steaming. The best part about steaming is that you can cook the mussels in almost anything you want. Wine, broth, beer, juice, or any flavorful liquids of your choosing could be used and feel free to add anything from a classic mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) to chorizo to tomatoes. When cooking mussels you can use almost anything you have on hand, as the mussels hold up well to strong flavors and work with a wide array of flavor profiles.

While I love mussels steamed with white wine, shallot, and lemon, I knew I wanted to go a different route, and use beer. Since I think beer pairs so well with spicy food I decided to punch up the flavor by adding some harissa (chili paste). I had some lemon, onion, garlic, and parsley on hand and decided those ingredients would be more than enough for a simple but delicious dinner. Served with some crusty bread, salad, and a cold beer and I was one happy camper.

Notes:

  • I would imagine most lagers, pilsners, wheat beers, and mildly hoppy beers would work (I used a locally made Kolsch) but I would not recommend a stout or porter.
  • When buying mussels you want to make sure you buy ones that are still tightly closed.
  • I’ve found harissa spiciness can vary a fair amount from brand to brand so be sure to try yours first before deciding how much to add

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Beer and Harissa Steamed Mussels

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 lbs mussels
  • 1 12oz beer (see above notes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-4 tablespoons harissa (see above note)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Chopped, fresh parsley (optional)

Place 1/4 cup flour into a large bowl. Fill with water, and lightly mix in flour so it’s somewhat dissolved. Add in mussels and let sit for half an hour. This process allows the mussels to expel the sand within. After half an hour gently pull mussels out of water, being careful not to disturb the sand that has settled at the bottom of the bowl.

Scrub mussels of any grit stuck to the shell and remove the beard, which is a “tail” like thingy. I was able to just yank the beard off.

In a large, coverable pot (such as a stock pot or a dutch oven), heat butter over medium heat. Once melted, add onion and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes until garlic is aromatic, but not too browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add beer, harissa, and lemon and bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat (discard any mussels that haven’t opened). Top with parsley, if desired and serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Carbonara

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In a perfect world I would eat pasta every single day. Seriously, I just cannot get enough of it. During the dark days when I was on a no-carb, no-sugar, no-fat diet, the first thing I did when it ended was have a huge bowl of pasta with plenty of butter and a ton of cheese and black pepper.

While I think enjoying anything in moderation is okay, pasta is something that’s hard for me to not eat excessively. It’s just so good! As a result, I’ve tried to prepare it in healthier ways (i.e., less cheese, more veggies) and, you guys, I think I’ve come up with one of my favorite ways of eating it: butternut squash carbonara.

Anyone that has had carbonara knows how sinfully and richly delicious it is. The traditional method involves tossing hot pasta with pancetta or bacon fat, bacon bits, egg, and cheese to create a luxurious and decadent sauce. While this version still has fat and cheese (bacon and parm…. but in moderation!), the use of whole wheat pasta, butternut squash, and spinach makes it a healthier alternative.

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Butternut Squash and Spinach Carbonara

Adapted from Bon Appetit, serves 6

  • 4 oz. thick cut bacon or pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 2-lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into ½” pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta (fettucine, linguine, or spaghetti)
  • 2-3 cups fresh, baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmessan, plus more for serving

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add pancetta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Add sage and continue to cook for a minute or so more. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pan and set aside, blotting bacon and sage with paper towels to remove excess grease.

Remove the majority of bacon grease (leave a few teaspoons), add squash and onion to skillet; lightly season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8–10 minutes (add garlic the final minute or so of cooking). Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth. Reserve skillet (no need to wash it at this point).

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.

In the reserved skillet, combine pasta, squash purée, and 1/4 cup pasta water and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta water as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes (I found I needed less than 1/2 cup pasta water to get the sauce to the perfect consistency). Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan and spinach (I like my spinach just barely wilted, so add earlier if you like yours more cooked); season with salt and pepper.

Serve pasta topped with reserved pancetta and sage. Add additional parmesan cheese and pepper, if desired.

Just a note: I found my leftovers got very clumpy when they cooled, but actually reheated surprisingly nicely.

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Lamb and Red Wine Ragu

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Sometimes I can be a bit goofy when thinking about anniversaries. I have a weird memory and I recall milestones of the oddest events. For instance, I dislike driving on the day marking the anniversary of my first flat tire, I eat sushi every year on the day commemorating the first time I had sushi, and I always try to spend time with my close friends on our friendiversaries.

I recently celebrated a year of having my Dutch oven in my life. Enamel coated cast iron was one of the best additions to my kitchen and it’s come in very handy during the cold winter and fall months. I love dishes made in a Dutch oven since, for the most part, they tend to be relatively simple. Most of the time you start by browning proteins and vegetables, covering in a liquid, and simmering stovetop or baking in the oven for hours on end. While making these dishes isn’t a fast process, the majority of the cook time is hands-off. Best of all you sit back and enjoy the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen as food slowly cooks.

While I’ve already shared a 6-Hour, Lamb and Short Rib Ragu (which I declared one of the best things I’ve ever made), here’s another ragu! Is this one better? Not necessarily better, but just as good. It’s equally delicious and despite having similar ingredients (lamb, wine, and tomato), this recipe manages to be incredibly different. Red wine gives it a decidedly different taste than white wine (slightly bolder and fruitier) and the addition of aromatics (rosemary and thyme [both of which hold up very well when cooked for long periods of time]) give the dish an earthy, herbaceous, slightly piney and peppery taste.

I made this to serve with sweet potato gnocchi (after seeing a similar sounding dish on the specials board of one of my favorite restaurants). The light sweetness of the gnocchi was a great juxtaposition to the richness of the ragu. If you’re not up for making gnocchi, this was also delicious served over pasta. If anything ragu improves on the second day as the flavors have melded together and leftovers also freeze quite nicely, so no need to worry if this isn’t all served on the day it’s made.

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Lamb Ragu

Adapted form The Kitchn

  • 2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 big carrot, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups red wine (I used a Zinfandel, but use any red wine you enjoy drinking)
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano diced)

Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel and liberally coat with salt and pepper, set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, mince garlic, finely chop carrot, remove thyme and rosemary from stems and finely chop.

Place a Dutch oven or an ovenproof heavy pot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown, working in batches if necessary. You want the lamb to get nicely browned on all sides.

When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary, thyme, garlic, and the carrots. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add wine and simmer until liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. The longer it cooks, the better it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

Serve with sweet potato gnocchi or pasta.