Melt in your Mouth Meatballs

Okay so let’s talk meatballs, they are delicious and a little polarizing if I am being honest; seems like everyone likes them prepared in a different way.

First is size, some think size matters but I don’t necessarily think that is important unless you consider for what purpose you are using them. Generally speaking, smaller meatballs are good for soups and I think that’s about it. The medium sized ones are good for appetizers, sandwiches and pasta dishes. The larger ones, I believe, are good for side dishes only. Seriously, what else could you use a larger meatball for? Seriously, I am asking…..

I used the medium sized meatballs for this dish because I was serving with gnocchi and crusty garlic bread. There are many tricks to a good meatball:

  • binding agent – what you use to “bind” the mixturerest – letting the ball
  • cheese – isn’t cheese important in all regards?
  • size of ingredients – consistency is key
  • meat used – this is a big one, what to use….
  • a compact ball – really ensuring the mixture is combined well and there are no “pockets”
  • rest after you have formed it
  • pre-cook method – this one is pretty polarizing on its own

The binding agent is really the most important part, there are so many options but I found the best one to be panko bread crumbs. You can use really anything that is “bread like” such as crackers, potato chips or bread but my best experience has been with the panko, more about how they are used in the recipe below.

The cheese you use, to me, is negligible. I like to use pecorino romano if I have it but I won’t die if I have to use Parmesan, use what ever you have really as long as it is a hard cheese. No food wasted right?

I guess size does matter because this is the second time I am mentioning it. You need to make sure all components of the ingredients are small; this applies specifically to the onion. There is nothing worse than a meatball with giant chunks of onion, my last batch had some larger pieces I wasn’t happy with but it didn’t ruin them. The larger pieces also create “cracks” that will break the ball apart when you cook them.

A compact ball is achieved by really mixing the mixture together before you add the meat and mixing with your hands; any other implement could lead to an inadequately mixed composition. I mean, you could use anything you like but it is my recommendation you use your hands because that gives you the best result.

Forming the balls is part of the “comparing” process. I use a large ice scream scoop with one of those handle things that “pushes” the ice cream out to scoop the mixture. I scoop out an amount that fills the scoop itself without a significant amount meaning over the top, you can use the handle thing to sweep the mixture out of just hit it on the bottom part of your hand to force it from the scoop.

Next you just press the mixture together with your hands compacting it as much as possible. I toss the meatballs between my hands pretty aggressively to help compact them then rolls them in my palms To form a perfect “ball”. You will notice if there are crack and you can just continue to compact them. A bowl of water helps if you dip your hands in it before working each meatball.

Rest is super important, you really need to give them a time out in the fridge before you cook them. This helps the flavors meld and the “ball” to stay intact when you cook it.

The meat is use is also heavily debated and I am a firm believer that it really doesn’t make that much difference if you use good quality meat [see note]. Some people will tell you using pork, beef and veal is the key but I don’t necessarily agree with that because it is up to your preference. For me, using different meats makes it more difficult to get a nicely compacted meatball because of the different textures. I use just ground beef a lot, it is just my preference but use what you have.

Note: whichever combination of meat you choose, be conscious of the fat content of the meat. A fattier ground beef will result in a potentially disastrous result looking like a bolognese because the meatballs could disintegrate, look for a lesser fat content when making meatballs, I use 96%.

Pre-cooking method is another hot topic for sure: some say fry them and some say bake them. They are very aggressive in their opinions about this. For me, I bake them for less mess and, if you turn them often while baking, you can get an “all around brown” if appearance matters to you. That’s really my only opinion on it.

Now let’s get to the size discussion, regardless of the desired size, consistency is important. If you don’t make them all the same size, you will have a cooking disaster. You don’t need a scale or anything dramatic like that, just use your eyes and if the look to be consistent, you are okay.

I will include a simple tomato sauce with this recipe, I could write six blogs about the types of sauce to use but that’s for another day. What you will need for the meatballs and a simple ragu (makes ~13 medium sized meatballs):

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (I used 96%, see note above)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup pecorino Romano
  • 1 small chunk of pecorino Romano or a Parmesan rind
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk, beaten together
  • 1 28 oz can of tomatoes [see note]
  • 1 small can or jar of tomato puree (you can use tomato sauce if you can’t find tomato puree)
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning (or 1/2 each of basil and oregano)
  • olive oil

Note: I use whole peeled tomatoes, San Marzano, and blend them using an immersion blender but you can use crushed tomatoes if you like.

First you want to Cook the onions and garlic. Place 3 turns of olive oil (maybe 2 tbsp) into a non-stick pan, make it large enough that you can make the sauce and add the meatballs to finish, I use a Le Creuset 3 1/2 quart braiser but you can use a large sauté pan; a wide pan with lower sides is best.

Once the oil is heated, add the onions and cook for ~5 minutes then add the garlic and 1/2 of the red pepper flakes, garlic cooks quicker and tastes bitter when overcooked so be sure to let the onions cook a bit first; you will cook this mixture for ~2 more minutes. Add salt and pepper liberally. Turn off the heat and relocate ~1/2 of the mixture to a large bowl.

While that is cooling, measure out the panko and do it in at least a 2 cup measuring vessel so you can add the water to that. Put enough water in the container with the panko so the water just reaches the top of the panko, you can judge this by slowly adding water to the container and pressing with the pack of your hand on the panko and feeling the water (I used a little more than 3/4 of a cup but less than 1 cup). You don’t want to see the water but you want it to almost cover the panko. Let that sit for at least 5 minutes but you can let it sit for more if you like, you want the panko to absorb all of the water.

While that is sitting, grate the cheese and place in the bowl with the onions and garlic and add the egg and extra egg yolk plus 1 tbsp olive oil; add a dash of salt and pepper.

Now you want to address the panko which should have absorbed the water by now. With your hands, “mash” it together in the same container. If there is extra water (and it has been more than 5 minutes), add a little more panko and mix it together and if the crumbs are still “crusty”, add a little water and let it sit for 5 minutes more. It should look like a paste when you mix it all together. You don’t want extra water or to feel the “stiffness” of the panko, it should feel… You want it to look as close to this as possible.

It should look pretty close to this.

Now this is where you really use your hands, roll up your sleeves because it is about to get messy. You really need to mix this well so you don’t see “clumps” of meat or panko or onion, really dig in and mix with your fingers; don’t just use your whole hand. Once you feel is is combined enough, start forming (see notes above on forming), you should have about 13 medium sized meatballs that are now ready for a rest.

Now this is where you really use your hands, roll up your sleeves because it is about to get messy. You really need to mix this well so you don’t see “clumps” of meat or panko or onion, really dig in and mix with your fingers; don’t just use your whole hand. Once you feel is is combined enough, start forming (see notes above on forming), you should have about 13 medium sized meatballs that are now ready for a rest.

Place them on a foil lined baking sheet in the fridge for ~30 minutes (you can leave them overnight also if you like), don’t cover them. Pre-heat the oven to 475 (if you are baking as the pre-cook method which is what I do) once you put them in the fridge. After the 30 minutes, remove the meatballs from the fridge and place them in the oven for ~20 minutes on the center rack.

Note: to ensure the oven has actually reached the proper temperature, you should wait at least 10 minutes after the oven indicates it has reached the desired temp.

While the meatballs cook, reheat the onions and garlic remaining in the pan and add the tomatoes (both kinds), sugar, spices, remaining red pepper flakes and the rind or chunk of cheese; let it simmer while the meatballs cook.

When the meatballs are done, place them in the pot with the ragu (turning them to coat) and let them simmer covered for about 15 minutes. I threw in some fresh mozzarella but you can finish your dish with some shaved parm of whatever you like. It is your food, make it your own. Enjoy!

Salmon Patties with Quick Pickled Slaw and Spicy Mayo

It is really hard for me to actually decide what I want to eat, I rarely have a craving for things so I end up buying things I don’t really want to eat right away. I shop almost every day to get what I want for dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning but I can’t do that now so I bought things I had to put in the freezer; before now, I had smoothie fruit, beer glasses and giant ice cubes in my freezer….

I bought a rather large piece of salmon from Costco and made one piece fresh, reluctantly put the rest in the freezer. Long story short, I ended up defrosting it on a day I didn’t want to eat it so I seasoned it and threw it in the oven at 425 for ~20 minutes, cooled it and put it in the fridge for later (I hate to waste food). This is how this recipe was born, I love crab cakes so why couldn’t I use salmon?!?

Note: I won’t lie, my husband asked “do we have cereal as plan B?”. He thinks he is funny.

This is what you will need for ~4 normal sized patties:

  • 2 cups cooked and flaked salmon (I seasoned with salt and pepper when I cooked it and made sure the pieces were really small)
  • 1 cup binding agent plus more for coating later (see note)
  • 1/4 red bell pepper (diced very small)
  • 1 green onion sliced down the middle and sliced thin (~halfway up the green part too)
  • 1 heaping tbsp minced chives (you can use fresh or dried)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely minced
  • 2 tsp spices (I used Italian seasoning that has an amalgam of spices or you can use anything you like such as parsley, dill, oregano, etc. mix however you want)
  • a heavy pinch of salt and pepper (I used the Borsari savory salt I put on everything)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1.5 tbsp mayo
  • 1.5 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 lemon zested and squeezed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Note: I used the Keebler Club crackers I had in my drawer but you can use just about anything like panko, potato chips, pork rinds (for low carb), saltines, regular bread crumbs (but I would use seasoned for this), or any seasoned cracker. Just make sure they are crushed really well and don’t have any large pieces.

I mixed the salmon, binding agent, bell pepper, green onion, chives, garlic, and spices in a bowl. Then, in a separate bowl, I mixed together the salt and pepper, egg, mayo, garlic, lemon juice and zest plus the olive oil then I combined the two making sure it was evenly combined.

I portioned them out into four patties, really pressing them together so they didn’t fall apart then rolled them in some extra binding to give the outside some “crunch”; this is in addition to the 1 cup you put in the mixture. I put in the fridge to firm up while I made the slaw:

What you will need for the slaw (but you can use anything you have like cucumber, red onion, daikon, kohlrabi, radish, etc.):

  • 1 cup of green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of red cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 4 peeled and shaved radishes
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Put the vinegars, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. While that is getting to temp, slice the vegetables and place in a glass or metal bowl. When the liquid comes to a boil, pour over the vegetables and stir to combine; set aside.

The cakes can sit in the fridge as long as you want, just make sure it is at least 20 minutes. Place 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and heat For maybe 3 minutes at medium high heat, this is where your choice of oil is important. Grape seed oil has a very subtle and clean taste with a very high smoke point so it is pretty forgiving, this is the oil I use mostly but you can use olive oil also. I wouldn’t use vegetable, corn or canola oil but you can if that’s what you have.

When the oil is ready, place the patties in the pan and let sit (undisturbed) for maybe 3 minutes then turn over when brown and cook on the other side until brown and warmed through. Remove to a plate let sit for a few while you make the mayo:

What you will need for the mayo:

  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 1 tbsp sriracha
  • 3/4 tsp soy sauce

That’s it, mix together and put in a bottle to “drizzle” or you can place in a ziplock bag and snip the corner so you an squeeze over the cakes.

To serve the slaw, just pull from the bowl and drain well before plating. Place a handful on the plate with the patties and drizzle with the mayo. I sprinkled over additional chives and some cilantro over the slaw. That’s it, enjoy!

Easy, no knead, delicious Cheddar Jalapeño bread

So I took the easy, no knead, delicious bread recipe and just added the jalapeños and cheddar, so easy. So good.

As I always say, it is your food so make it your own. Add anything you like, just try to stay within the same textures and quantities (substituting the jalapeños and cheese only if I were you, baking is kind of a science).

As with the other bread, you will definitely would want to have a scale, an electronic scale, if possible but I realize not everyone has one so I will give you the measurements for both. I cannot make any guarantees on the bread made using anything other than a scale….

For the scale/measuring cup:

  • 430 grams/ 3 cups flour (see note)
  • 1 gram/ 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 8 grams/ 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 345 grams/ 1 3/4 cup water or half water/half beer or all beer (why not right?)
  • 3 jalapeños (2 diced and 1 sliced into rings) – it is always important to remember to identify the level of spice you want here, if you want it less spicy definitely remove the ribs and seeds before dicing.
  • 2 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese – I would use extra sharp and look for Cracker Barrel or Tillamook if you can’t get good quality small batch cheese (like from Whole Foods).

Note: For this recipe, I would use white flour so the flavor of the jalapeños stand out.

So you mix everything in a bowl except 1/2 cup of the cheese and the sliced jalapeños and stir, no proofing the yeast or anything else; just mix together until combined and cover with plastic wrap.

I set mine on the countertop for about 20 hours. You have options here. You can put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days for a slow rise or you can let sit for a little as 12 hours but the longer it sits, the better it tastes. For however long you decide to let it rise, just know you shouldn’t go to the next step until you see small bubbles on the surface of the dough but you will not notice much of a change in the volume of the dough at this point.

For the second rise you need to turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and turn it over itself once or twice. Just take the right side and fold it over to the left and the left side over to the right, kind of like folding it in half. Cover it again with plastic wrap and let it sit for a bit, I left it for ~30 minutes.

Drizzle some olive oil into a bowl and make sure it coats the bottom and sides then place the dough into the bowl seam side down. Cover with a cotton cloth and let sit for a couple of hours, I left it for ~3 hours.. Now you will need a heavy pot (cast iron is best) with a lid or you can fashion one out of another pan or something but whichever vessel you use (I used a large cast iron Dutch oven), you need to place in a 450 degree oven while it preheats, I left it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Once the heat time has elapsed, carefully remove the pan from the oven (I did not heat with the lid) and place on the stovetop. Dump the dough from the oiled bowl into the hot pan, don’t worry too much about how it looks in the plan as it will flatten out during cooking. You can shake it around to distribute better but I am of the belief the less you touch that 450 degree pot, the better off you will be. Brush some oil I’ve oil on the top of the bread and sprinkle the reserved cheese and slices of jalapeños.

Place the lid on the pot and relocate to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid after 30 and bake for another 15 and that’s it! Crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, a truly delightful bread! You can get fancy if you want but this is a simple bread for people who don’t like the complication of baking bread, add whatever you would like but it is simply perfection on it’s own.

This is a photo of the “plain” bread as I haven’t taken a photo of the other…..

Easy, no knead, delicious bread

Okay I know you think that title is an oxymoron but I swear it isn’t! It is time consuming in terms of “waiting” but hands-on time is literally about 10 minutes.

You definitely would want to have a scale, an electronic scale, if possible but I realize not everyone has one so I will give you the measurements for both. I cannot make any guarantees on the bread made using anything other than a scale….

For the scale/measuring cup:

  • 430 grams/ 3 cups flour (see note)
  • 1 gram/ 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 8 grams/ 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 345 grams/ 1 3/4 cup water or half water/half beer or all beer (why not right?)

Note: you can use white or wheat or half of each, you can use rye or toss in some seeds. The type of flour isn’t really that important, break flour or AP flour, white or wheat, whatever. Make it your own!

So you mix everything in a bowl and stir, no proofing the yeast or anything else; just mix together until combined and cover with plastic wrap.

I set mine on the countertop for about 20 hours. You have options here. You can put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days for a slow rise or you can let sit for a little as 12 hours but the longer it sits, the better it tastes. For however long you decide to let it rise, just know you shouldn’t go to the next step until you see small bubbles on the surface of the dough but you will not notice much of a change in the volume of the dough at this point.

For the second rise you need to turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and turn it over itself once or twice. Just take the right side and fold it over to the left and the left side over to the right, kind of like folding it in half. Cover it again with plastic wrap and let it sit for a bit, I left it for ~30 minutes.

Drizzle some olive oil into a bowl and make sure it coats the bottom and sides then place the dough into the bowl seam side down. Cover with a cotton cloth and let sit for a couple of hours, I left it for ~3 hours.. Now you will need a heavy pot (cast iron is best) with a lid or you can fashion one out of another pan or something but whichever vessel you use (I used a large cast iron Dutch oven), you need to place in a 450 degree oven while it preheats, I left it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Once the heat time has elapsed, carefully remove the pan from the oven (I did not heat with the lid) and place on the stovetop. Dump the dough from the oiled bowl into the hot pan, don’t worry too much about how it looks in the plan as it will flatten out during cooking. You can shake it around to distribute better but I am of the belief the less you touch that 450 degree pot, the better off you will be.

Place the lid on the pot and relocate to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid after 30 and bake for another 15 and that’s it! Crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, a truly delightful bread! You can get fancy if you want but this is a simple bread for people who don’t like the complication of baking bread, add whatever you would like but it is simply perfection on it’s own.

I’ve also created a blog for jalapeño cheddar bread so click here to see how to convert…..

Lamb Chops are easier than you may think…..

I think you are going to be quite surprised at how easy lamb chops really are! First, let’s talk chops….

There are essentially two different types of lamb chops: pork loin chops and pork chops. Pork loin chops look like small T-bone steaks and lamb chops look like little bone-in ribeye steaks; specially named loin chops or rib chops if you are being technical. I prefer the rib chops just because it is a more consistent experience, the loin chop is, as the description identifies, has two different textures. One is much more tender than the other just as is in the T-bone steak.

Let us forget the loin chop for now, I will address them in a later blog.

So I have tried a couple of different ways to purchase the rib chops: individual chops and whole “Racks” which are literally called “rack of lamb”. You can preppare the “racks” whole/intact or slice for individual ribs; you can even roast whole to the desired temperature, slice and sear which is referred to as a “reverse sear” which I will get into when it gets to my steak blog. For the purposes of this blog (and simplicity), I am working with individual rib chops.

I have purchased individual rib chops at Whole Foods and a rack at Costco. Amazingly enough, the taste was equal. Chris enjoyed both very much and had no indicator they were not exactly the same. Equally shocking (All things equal), I believe the rack ended up being slightly more expensive than the individual chops at Whole Foods. My point: six of one, half dozen of another. I wouldn’t however, recommend buying them from a Jewel or Mariano’s due to quality. Indulge me on a rant for a quick moment….

Taking into consideration simple supply chain knowledge, large scale, “box box” on the corner types of markets gain the benefit of volume discounts which they pass on to their customers. Win-win for everyone of course! That, for me, is important when you are purchasing 1:1 such as canned tomatoes, potato chips, sparkling water, etc. when you wouldn’t necessarily care about where you were buying it more than you would about the brand you love, I am not buying bathroom tissue at Whole Foods because I like a certain brand they don’t sell. Don’t buy your lamb chops at Jewel because they are, by default, purchasing a slightly lower quality meat than Whole Foods which you pay for handsomely.

Costco does put a good emphasis on what they are purchasing and from whom they purchase so they tend to be a little more expensive when it comes to meat also but it is worth it. I rarely purchase all my ingredients from one market so I spend a great deal of time purchasing and prepping the meals, if you do not have time to do that then do what’s best for your of course. IF I have to choose two markets, it would be Whole Foods and Jewel focusing more on Jewel for the bulk of the shop. Off my soapbox, back to the chops….

If you purchase the rack just be sure to slice them as close to the bone of the next chop as you can getting the most of the meat on one side of the chop; just slide your very sharp knife down the bone and through the flesh.

If you are purchasing individual chops, the butcher may ask if you want them “frenched”. I don’t bother with that, it is just pushing the fat from the bone down closer to the flesh to show a more dramatic separation of the bones; I do it myself when I get home. He (she?) may not ask, depends on where you purchase them.

Now, here is the actual important part, prepping for the actual cooking and you won’t believe how easy it actually is: bring to room temperature, season with olive oil and salt (see note) and heat the pan. Yep, that’s it.

Note: I use Boursani Savory Seasoned Salt for this and everything else! It is a little expensive at ~$14 for a jar but it really enhances the flavor of almost anything, especially these chops. I dump it in my salt container on the stove and sprinkle it on everything!

I use a cast iron pan and, if I haven’t lectured you on that already please do get one, heat it with a little olive oil until smoking. You can use grape seed oil also which has a higher smoke point but I like the flavor of olive oil but it must be noted that I have a very sensitive palate and can taste very subtle differences. You may not notice and the lack of smoke is key if you don’t have an industrial or restaurant grade ventilation system to help to eliminate it.

When the pan has reached the correct temperature, I would say heat it for maybe 5 or 7 minutes, lay the chops into the hot pan. You can use tongs if you like but, whatever you do, be certain to lay them AWAY from you so you don’t splatter your skin. WhatI mean by that is to set the chop part into the pan and “push” it away from you all the way into the pan, laying the bone toward the back of the stove.

The second most important part: do not touch them until it is time to turn. The true sear comes from the consistent and direct contact with the hot pan (think about cooking scallops), this is how that beautiful crust is formed.

Most enjoy these chops at a medium to medium rare temp which is about 2 minutes per side for the “normal” sized chops; if you find the ends be a bit larger, just add a minute per side. Let rest for ~7 minutes and that’s it, you are ready to eat!

I serve mine with a vegetable puree of some sort and a sautéed vegetables. The crust of the meat mixed with the texture of the puree is a delight for your palate but you should serve with whatever you prefer. See my blog on cauliflower puree to get some tips on making these if you’d like, you can find it here.

Happy eating and please do let me know how you like it!

Butternut squash Soup

If you have ever eaten butternut squash soup, you know just how delicious it can be. If you have ever made it, you know that there isn’t just butternut squash in it; a lot of people don’t know this. A lot of people should because it is super easy to make!

I usually take the “what do I have that is about to turn” philosophy when making this soup, with everything going on now I really had some random stuff to use. You can really use anything you have at any combination if it fits the texture and savory/sweet profile. What I mean by that is that you shouldn’t substitute zucchini for sweet potato or throw in something like brussels sprouts, you’ll know if something wouldn’t fit quite right.

Here is my guide to a delicious soup!

Like I said before, I had a bunch of random stuff in the house so the following is what I used, I didn’t measure amounts because you just need the broth:vegetable ratio to be right. You will need to just cover the vegetables in the pot with the broth, not too much over the top of the vegetables; just to the point where they are covered. Following is what I used to use as a guide:

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 yellow potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • I stalk of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 of a large daikon radish, peeled and chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 32 oz carton of chicken bone broth (you can use vegetable broth for a vegetarian/vegan version)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (see note)
  • 1 light tbsp curry powder
  • Dash of cayenne

[Note: I use coconut milk and curry because I like that flavor combination. If you don’t like it, use a dash of nutmeg and finish with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl]

I put the butter in a 5 qt stack pot and melted then added the vegetables and sautéed for about 5 – 7 minutes, just wanted to get the onions a little brown and on the softer side. I added the broth, curry, cayenne and salt and pepper then cooked for about 45 minutes.

You don’t have to worry about size so much as consistency. Here are my vegetables in the pot, they will be blended so the size isn’t an issue as long as they are all about the same size for cooking time.

I transferred The softened vegetables to my Nutribullet and puréed, you can use a blender if you like too. I moved the vegetables, straining a lot of the liquid off so I could add it back to my desired consistency; add just enough to allow the blending mechanism to do the work. I added the puréed soup back to the stockpot and finished with some broth to get almost a thin as I would like then topped off with coconut milk.

After I put it in the bowls, I added some crisped up leftover chicken breast and pumpkin seeds. You can add anything to the bowl that you like to give it some texture, some are good suggestions:

  • Bacon (um, yeah!)
  • Sour cream
  • Pecans
  • Rice (wild rice would be great)
  • Orzo
  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Leftover pork
  • Anything you think would be good, it is your food so make it your own!

Lastly, you can either roast the vegetables or put them in a crockpot but I have found problems with both of those options. I am not trying to discourage you from trying it, just letting you know this method has returned the best result for me. Enjoy!

Pork Fried Rice (or chicken, vegetable, beef, etc…)

So easy, so good….

A couple of notes:

  • If you don’t have leftover rice (I usually do not), you can cook the rice 5 minutes longer than the recommended time to dry it out a little more.
  • I use Basmati rice but you can use any kind (except instant or microwave type rice, it has some weird coating on it). Yes, you can even use cauliflower rice, couscous or quinoa!
  • You can use any type of meat, I always use leftover meat unless I am using pancetta which wouldn’t be leftovers. Cook pancetta from raw.
  • You can use any kind of vegetables, fresh or frozen, in this dish. I stick to the traditional.
  • There is no sarong way to make this, my recipe is a guide so make any changes, substitutions you think you will like.

What you will need:

  • 3 c. of rice
  • 1/2 c. meat (see note)
  • 3/4 c. diced vegetables (I use carrots, peas and onion)
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil (plus 1 tbsp)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger (or a pinch of powdered)

Whisk together soy, oil (2 tbsp), garlic and ginger, set aside.

Add 1 tbsp of sesame oil to a frying pan or wok and add the meat and vegetables, cook until soft At medium heat. Add rice and liquid mixture then stir to combine, increase to medium high heat and cook until rice starts to become “crispy” on the bottom. That’s it, super easy!

Ginger Honey and Soy Chicken Thighs

This is a long blog about a really simple dish, I talk about more stuff here so be patient or just scroll down to get the recipe.

Let’s talk chicken for a moment please, the debate can be polarizing: white meat or dark meat?

Both have merits and are excellent choices if used in the correct way. I realize everyone has specific preferences but this is a pretty good reference for use based on white or dark in case you are ever wondering if a substitute for the recommended type is a good choice (see note):

  • Fried Whole Pieces- White or Dark
  • “Nugget” Pieces Fried – White
  • Whole Roasted – White or Dark
  • Casseroles Or “One Pot” Dishes – White
  • Shredded (for tacos) – White
  • Cooked in a sauce whole – Dark

In whole: chicken breast tend to dry out when cooked for a longer period of time and thighs tend to have a “funky” flavor the next day; I would recommend making your own decision about this but I have never been able to eat thighs as leftovers.

Note: You know I always say “it is your food so make it your own” so please do this, I am only giving you my recommendation based on my experience. Yours may be different, keep trying to find what works for you.

Let’s start with the meat, I use boneless skinless thighs here for a couple of reasons: thighs tend to have a better flavor and retain moisture and the skin would get soggy during this process. If you use bone-in with skin, just let it cook for an additional 10 minutes during the baking time and an additional 2 or 3 under the broiler; watch it very closely under the broiler.

What you will need (I am just using 1 lb as a start, scale to the size you purchase and it doesn’t have to be exact but err on the side of more than less marinade)

  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 2 1/2 tbsp soy sauce (coconut aminos Can be used for gluten free)
  • 1 chopped green onion (slice 3/4 of the onion starting from the root, the rest is for finishing the dish)
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil (canola, vegetable, etc)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil (optional but really adds nice flavor)
  • 3/4 tbsp apple cider vinegar (can use white but not as good)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger (if you use powdered, use just a pinch)
  • salt and pepper

What makes this dish really good is the fact that the chicken is prepped via marinade so mix together all ingredients (except the chicken, salt and pepper) in a large bowl of container you can use to marinade.

Note: I like to use large zip-loc bags so I can turn the bag to ensure full exposure to the all pieces in the marinade.

You will want to dry the thighs with a paper towel to ensure proper adherence of the salt. Generously apply salt and pepper to the thighs then place in the marinade, refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour up to 24 hours.

Pro Tip: When you watch chef’s prepare food, you will see them salting using their fingers pretty high above the dish and there is a reason for this. Over-salting is the worst thing you can do and sporadic salting is the second worst, you want to salt evenly and with control. The only way to really do this is by using your fingers and “pinching” some salt and distributing from maybe 12” above the meat. The distance encourages the salt to disperse in a way that it lands over the entire surface instead of concentrating in one place like with a shaker. Just a tip, use your judgement.

Place everything (chicken and marinade) in a low sided oven safe pan like a cast iron or braising pan and bake at 425 for ~25 minutes. Just watch it for overcooking on the tops, I turn the chicken about halfway through to ensure proper saturation; broil for about 5-7 minutes to get the edges crispy. The final dish needs to reach 165 degrees to be safe.

Garnish with sesame seeds and the remaining 1/4 onion that will you have chopped in the interim. That’s it, Enjoy!

I served with pork fried rice and roasted broccoli. Click the links for the rice recipe and the broccoli is just below (so easy, didn’t need its own blog post).

Take the amount of broccoli you would need to the people you are feeding and separate the florets and slice the stems. Place on a lined baking sheet, drizzle olive oil and garlic over the broccoli, toss to coat and place in the oven with the chicken. It will cook for the same about of time as the chicken.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter and Spicy Italian Sausage

Okay so this is pretty simple but it won’t be your soft pillowy type gnocchi made out of ricotta; this is a potato dumpling. The secret is how large you cut the gnocchi. The smaller the dumpling, the “softer” they will be.

What you will need (for 2 servings of gnocchi):

  • 1 large baking potato (baked, skin removed and cooled)
  • 1 cup pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • a pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan

Using a potato ricer or grater, rice or grate the potato into small bits and add the pumpkin puree; don’t mix too much but be sure it is incorporated completely. The potato should yield ~ 1 1/2 cups.

Mix the flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper and place on a working surface like a marble or granite countertop (or a wooden cutting board if you wish). Make a well in the center and place the potato/pumpkin mixture on top of the flour mixture, make another well in the pumpkin/potato mixture and add the egg. Whisk the egg to incorporate the white/yolk together and begin to incorporate all ingredients with your hands.

Begin to fold over the flour from the outer “mound” onto the top and just continue to fold on top of each other until it comes together; be sure not to over mix! When you feel like to is incorporated, mold into a small loaf type shape and cut off 1/4 and roll into a rope like shape.

Begin to cut the ropes into bite sized pieces but don’t make the mistake I did and make them too big, the perfect size for your fork is best! While you are cutting them, make sure they are covered in flour so they don’t stick to the plate.

If I am not making a mess, I am not cooking!

Continue with the remaining “loaf” and cut the rest of the gnocchi. While you are cutting, set a large pot of salted water on the stove on high heat; you want to taste the water and it needs to taste like the sea. Don’t skimp on the salt!

You will want to start cooking the Italian sausage at this point (see note) and I just placed it in a 325 degree oven while I finished off the rest.

Note: I just used the type of sausage you get from the butcher and cut two edges off of the sides of the “block”, enough for two servings. You can use links but you’ll want to remove the casing if you do but maybe not, that’s just my preference.

Once the water is at a rolling boil, drop the gnocchi into the water and pull from the pot when it rises to the top (which signifies it is done for this stage). I use a spider to remove it but a slotted spoon will do just make sure you drain the water really well before you place it on the plate. Once they are cooked, they look a little more orange and glossy. Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy water in which you cooked the gnocchi.

The gnocchi just out of the pot and the spider I use for easy removal from the boiling water.

Now place the butter in a large skillet and heat to sizzling then add the gnocchi; sprinkle with the cheese. Don’t disturb it, you want to get a “crust” on one side while the other stays “soft”; this will take maybe 5 minutes. Remove gnocchi to a plate and work on the sauce.

The gnocchi with a “one-sided crust”.

The Italian sausage has to be ready by now so remove it from the oven and cut into the same size pieces as the gnocchi. Set aside for now.

The sauce is super simple! Here is what you will need:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6-8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 clove of smashed garlic
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • Reserved starchy water
  • Parmesan for shaving
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds chopped

In the same skillet in which you cooked the gnocchi, place the butter, sage leaves and garlic. Cook on medium high heat until the sage gets crispy. Remove the sage leaves and the garlic and reserve the leaves.

Place the flour in the pan and whisk to combine and remove any lumps. Cook for 3-5 minutes to ensure you cook the “raw” flavor out of the flour then add the heavy cream; you should have a thicker type slurry in the pan at this point. Combine well reducing the heat to medium then slowly whisking in the water.

Once combined, add back in the gnocchi and the Italian sausage until well combined and both are warmed through. Place in two bowls and top with crispy sage leaves and shaved Parmesan. I decided after that sprinkling the chopped pumpkin seeds on top would add the perfect texture!

Enjoy!