Monday, May 31, 2010

Dinner with Dan II: Soup and Sandwich Night

Italian Tuna Melts with Perfect Tomato Soup
I rather enjoy my dinners with Dan. He's good company. Good conversation. And (as we discovered tonight) our bratty dogs seem to get along with each other. Spring time in Oregon is never sure what it wants to be. Today went from grey overcast chill to hot, muggy sunshine rather quickly. On my way to the store, I considered scrapping the whole hot soup and tuna melts idea for something that required less time bent over the stove. By the time I pulled into the Trader Joe's parking lot, however, the cold and sudden wind changed my tune again. Besides . . . this particular tuna melt variation is not heavy and mayonnaise-laden. Instead, it's full of veggies and a light tasting dressing. The perfect meal to share with a friend on movie night or just sitting around and chatting on a spring evening. Nothing too fancy, but certainly delicious and filling.


- 2 7 oz. cans albacore tuna packed in olive oil
- 1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley, divided
- 1/4 c. Kalamata olives, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. capers, chopped
- 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
- juice from 1 lemon
- 4-5 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1 ciabatta loaf, halved lengthwise
- 4 slices Provolone cheese
- 1 white onion, peeled and diced
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juices
- 4 oz. roasted jarred piquillo peppers, diced
- pinch of sugar
- lemon pepper
- 2 c. chicken broth
crème fraîche

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium. Add white onions and cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until they become translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add tomatoes in their juices and piquillo peppers, stir to combine. Add several grinds of lemon pepper and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat, cover, and cook over low for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350˚ F. Place halved ciabatta loaf, open faced, on a foil-lined baking sheet. In a large bowl mix together tuna (with its oil), half the Italian parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, red onion, artichoke hearts, capers, and olives. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Spread tuna mixture equally onto ciabatta halves and top with Provolone cheese. Place in oven and bake until cheese begins to melt and bread becomes toasty, about 15 minutes.

After soup has simmered, remove from heat and add a pinch of sugar, remaining Italian parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Puree soup in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender until soup in smooth.

Remove cooked tuna melts from oven and cut each half in half crosswise. Divide soup among four bowls and top each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche. Serve each bowl of soup with a slice of tuna melt. Perfect for dipping.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Comfort Food Kinda Night

Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Bacon Bake

Sometimes you just need a little comfort food . . . right? Rainy, dreary days (ah springtime in Oregon) can stir up the desire for something warm and oven-baked. I know I'm often in the mood for those great one-dish meals, packed with veggies . . . no side salad necessary. And I'm going to go back to one of my favorite food truisms: EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH BACON.


- 1 lb. chicken breast meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 slices bacon, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 lb. broccoli florets
- 1 qt. whole milk
- 1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 handful Italian parsley, chopped
- 7-8 oz. mascarpone cheese
- 1/4 c. flour
- 1/4 c. dried breadcrumbs
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- 1 lb. penne pasta

Butter a 9x13" baking dish and set aside.

Place diced bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook about 5-6 minutes until bacon just begins to crisp. Remove from Dutch oven and drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Place chicken breast pieces in Dutch oven with rendered bacon fat, season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from Dutch oven and set aside. Add onion to Dutch oven and cook in remaining fat (if pan has become dry, add a little olive oil), stir often, and season with salt and pepper. Add Italian parsley and stir to combine. Melt butter in Dutch oven with onions and parsley. Add flour and whisk to combine. Whisk constantly for 1 minute to create a thick paste. Slowly add milk by 1/4 cupfuls, whisking to combine. Let milk warm over heat, then add cheddar and mascarpone cheeses and stir thoroughly to combine.

Meanwhile, blanch broccoli in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside. In the same pot, heat water and cook penne pasta to al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain.

Remove cheese sauce from heat, add cooked chicken, broccoli, pasta, and bacon. Stir to combine thoroughly. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and top evenly with breadcrumbs. Refrigerate to heat and eat later or cook for 35-45 minutes in a preheated 375˚ oven. Cook until the pasta is heated through and the top begins to brown.

Berry Nice to Sweet You

Blueberry Shortcakes with Brown Sugar Biscuits (For Kaite)

Of all my many favorite things about spring and summer, perhaps one of my most favorite is the presence of berries in my life. So good and so good for you! It doesn't take too much to throw together a fantastic springtime berry-based desert with a few basic ingredients and a little time in the kitchen. I had my friend Kaite over for a spring-time salmon dinner the other night and put together this as a light and complimentary dessert to the meal. I told her if she liked it, I'd name it after her . . . I think she liked it.

- 2 c. fresh blueberries, rinsed
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 8 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 1/4 c. flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. lightly packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- milk
- vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1/4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400˚F. In a large bowl, sift together flour and baking powder, whisk in sugar to combine. With a pastry blender or two forks break up cold butter into flour mixture until combined, but not overworked. Dig a well into the dry ingredients. Break egg into measuring cup, add just enough milk to make 3/4 c. liquid. Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract and syrup to liquid. Pour liquid into well and combine with dry ingredients. Work mixture with forks until a sticky, soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and pat out into a round about 1" thick.

Cut into 8 wedges and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in oven about 10-12 minutes until the biscuits are rising and very slightly browned on top. Place on wire rack to cool.

Just before serving shortcakes, combine berries, honey, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside. While berries soften slightly in lemon juice combine heavy cream, 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, and powdered sugar in a large bowl. With a hand mixer on high whip ingredients into whipped cream- allow stiff peaks to form. Then assemble the shortcakes by splitting biscuits in half, topping with whipped cream and berries. Yum! It's good stuff.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Peasant Uprising!

Golden Polenta Cakes Puttanesca

The appropriation and reinvention "low culture" to suit the tastes of the social elite is apparent in many areas of society. The gentrification of run-down neighborhoods into boutique-ridden hipster haunts or the commodification of the deliberate youth revolt against materialism into "grunge fashion" come to mind . . . And so it goes with food. When I first encountered polenta, it was served rich and creamy under a braised beef shank. It was decadent and delicious, but my father was quick to dismiss the polenta as "Italian peasant food" and the use of it in a fine dining experience as somehow cheating the consumer of a more authentically highbrow meal. He is right. Polenta is "peasant food" - essentially a corn meal mush and, on its own, nothing to get terribly exited about. But in its elegant simplicity lies the potential for a fantastic meal. In an effort to embrace this concept of "peasant food," I put together the two most down-and-dirty ideas I could muster and came up with polenta with a puttanesca (translated literally from Italian as "whore"). This was a quick, easy meal that elevates this pair of Italian peasants something darn, near sophisticated.


- 1 8 oz. tube of polenta (I got it at Trader Joes) sliced into 1/4" disks
- 5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 lb. mixed cherry tomatoes, rinsed and sliced in half
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 small red onion, peeled and diced
- 3 Tbsp. capers, chopped
- 1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped
- 1/4 c. kalamata olives, sliced in half lengthwise
- fontina cheese, cut into 2" square slices

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, onion, vinegar, sugar, capers, olives, and parsley. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat broiler. Heat remaining olive oil over medium-high in a large skillet. Working in batches, fry polenta slices (about 2-3 minutes per side) in hot oil until the edges start to crisp slightly. Drain on paper towels.

When polenta slices are are cooked, arrange evenly spaced on a large pie plate or other broiler-proof cookware. Top each polenta disk with a small piece of cheese. place under broiler and cook until the cheese begins to melt and turns brown a bubbly. Remove from heat. To plate, arrange several slices of polenta and top with puttanesca It's vegetarian and really yummy. . . check it out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pantry Raid!

(Mostly) Pantry Pasta in a Snap

On many a morning I crack open the fridge and find an odd assortment of half-empty jars (or half-full depending on my mood). What exactly does one do with the remaining quarter cup of crumbled feta rapidly approaching its expiration date? There are only enough olives left in that jar to whip up a couple of tablespoons of tappenade . . . so now what? In these situations my inner food diva is extremely likely to come out- fired up on inspiration and the passionate desire to not let one ounce of a jar of sun dried tomatoes to end up in the trash. I came home from rehearsal the other night a bit spent and (no surprise) ready for something fast and satisfying to put in my face. The rather odd measurements are due to the estimates I made for what was left over in these opened jars I happened to find. It was a quick and tasty meal . . . sometimes after a long day dreams can come true.


- 4 oz. sun dried tomatoes (with olive oil), chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1/4 c. kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
-1/4 c. chicken broth
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 small handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 oz. penne pasta
- 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese

In a large pot boil water to cook pasta. Add penne to boiling water and cook to al dente according to package directions. While pasta is working, pour olive oil from sun dried tomatoes into a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add tomatoes, wine, chicken broth, basil, oregano, parsley, and artichoke hearts. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium low and allow mixture to work four about 5 minutes. Add olives and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

When pasta is finished working, drain and place in a large bowl. Toss with sun dried tomato mixture and feta cheese. Easy as all that . . . an pretty darn yummy too!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Old is New Again

Spicy Pork Loin Chili and Roasted Potato Salad

What to do with a refrigerator full of tasty dinner-party leftovers? Granted a bacon-wrapped rosemary and garlic pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes and carrots is just fine and dandy reheated . . . However, my foodie buddy Dan was coming over with movies and beer and I wanted to put in a little more effort than plopping some meat and starch onto a plate, shoving into the microwave and hitting the "start" button. What did I have sitting around my cupboard? Beans of course! And (for some reason) a large bowl of tortilla chips growing more and more stale with each passing hour. Ah!! Instant inspiration: a quick and dirty pork chili recipe with an easy side dish. Perfection alongside cold beer with limes and The Shining.

- 2-3 c. diced cooked pork tenderloin (if wrapped in bacon, just cut that up too)
- 1 15 oz. can pinto beans
- 1 15 oz. can black beans
- 1 15 oz. can kidney beans
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
- 1 7 oz. can diced green chilies
- 1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. chipoltle chili powder
- 2-3 c. roasted potatoes and carrots
- 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 stalks celery, minced
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 c. mayonnaise
- tortilla chips
- sour cream and shredded pepper jack cheese

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch over over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened and translucent. Add tomatoes, beans with their juices, diced green chilies, pork, cumin, pepper flakes, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium-low. Cover and cook about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, dice carrots, celery, and potatoes. Combine in a medium bowl with shallot, mustard mayonnaise, and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add additional mayonnaise if mixture is too dry.

Remove chili from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste. Put a handful of broken tortilla chips at the bottom of each serving bowl. Ladle chili on top of broken chips. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and shredded pepper jack. Serve with potato salad on the side.