Friday, January 10, 2014

The Three Bs

Sweet and Smoky Beans with Beer and Bacon
I love beans. I could eat them every day and never get bored. Flavorful, versatile, and budget-friendly, beans are a nutritional home run! They are naturally low in fat, protein-packed, and full of iron, folate, fiber, and B vitamins . . . and did I mention they are delicious? One of our household goals in 2014 is to be more budget-conscious (particularly where trips to the grocery store are concerned) and beans are a great staple to include in the rotation. Slow-cooked with an inexpensive cut of meat or as the backbone to a tasty vegetarian chili, these little babies will keep our bellies and wallets full.  I was craving something a little sweet, a little spicy, and very meaty the other night and came up with this delicious winter dish. Using a coupon and timing the sale just right, I got a hold of an organic pork tenderloin for less than $5 and added some of my pantry ingredients. It wasn't exactly a "quick" dinner, but it was easy and delicious. Slow cooking inexpensive cuts is a great way to get tender,  flavorful meat on a budget. While I cooked it over low heat in my Dutch oven, this could easily be made in a Crock Pot. Coming home to hot dinner? Yes please!

- 1 lb. dried pinto beans, rinsed then soaked overnight in cold water 
- 6 slices smoky bacon, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped chili peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 pork tenderloin, cut into 2" chunks and sprinkled with salt and pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly riced
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 20 oz. of ale (I used a sour cherry ale - worked great, but use what you have/like)
- 3 c. chicken broth
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
- 2 Tbsp. ketchup
- 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips or crusty bread for serving

Cook bacon in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat begins to render. Remove from heat with slotted spoon and add olive oil to pan. Using tongs, arrange pork chunks in a single layer in hot pot. Allow meat to brown on each side (about a minute per side). Remove from heat and add chopped onion. Stir onion in rendered bacon fat and olive oil until it begins to soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Then turn up heat and pour ale into the pot. Deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return bacon and pork chunks to pot. Drain beans from their soaking liquid and rinse in cold water. Add beans to pot with chicken broth, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, mustard, ketchup, chilis in their sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, brown sugar, and paprika. Stir all ingredients to combine and raise the heat to high.

Once the mixture starts to boil, partially cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow beans to simmer for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. (You will find after about the first hour the meat will become tough . .  don't despair! The connective tissues will break down and the meat will become incredibly tender with more time and low heat.)

After the first hour and a half, check on the meat and beans, give it a good stir and season liberally with salt and pepper. Taste. Return the pot to heat and allow it to simmer an additional half hour or so. Check again, at this point he meat should shred easily with a wooden spoon - shred meat chunks and remove from heat.

Serve up with sliced avocado and sour cream if desired. (Matt had his with a little grated cheddar cheese - also yummy!) It's great with bread or tortilla chips! Feeds a hungry army of eaters! Beer . . . beans . . . AND bacon . . . what's not to like?


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Veggie Tales

Kale and Pepper Stir-Fry with Orange-Ginger Salmon
My book club is currently reading Michael Pollan's Cooked. Pollan, I will point out, is a very engaging writer and, so far, the book has been an enjoyable read. His central thesis, lamenting the apparently dying kitchen arts, however, is absolutely preaching to the choir of our food-obsessed club. I have very little interest in consuming bad food, and I find so much "fast food" is simply "bad food." I like to take the time and care to cook a good meal I know will taste good. I want to eat good food, and honestly, what I cook at home usually tastes better (and is less expensive and healthier) than I would typically get eating out. So why bother? There's a great line from one of my favorite movies, Ratatouille, uttered by the menacing food critic, Anton Ego to Linguini: "I don't like food - I love it! And if I don't love it, I don't swallow." So rarely does a fictional character capture my feelings so precisely. I absolutely LOVE food, but I am not going to bother ingesting crap just because it's there when there are so many delicious and nourishing options I can easily make myself. Does this way of life come with challenges? Sure. It takes planning each week and a willingness to give oneself over to the delightful rhythms, sights, smells, and textures of the time in the kitchen. I have come to find food-planning and preparation relaxing, a welcomed stress-relief at the end of a day. I look forward to it. Preparing dinner for me and my husband while sipping a glass of wine and listening to music is bliss. I see this "work" or "chore" as a expression of creativity and love for my family. But I am realistic - I get it. Really. I work a more-than full-time job, my schedule can be erratic and demanding (especially when I'm directing), there are always meetings, chores, laundry, animals to take care of, and errands to run. Spending hours each evening simmering complicated sauces or slow-roasting a juicy cut of meat would be lovely . . . but that simply isn't an option for "everyday" cooking. Many evenings things need to be fast and easy. But that doesn't mean defrosting a microwavable lasagne or ordering a pizza. Enter . . . the stir-fry. Packed with veggies and quality protein, versatile, and FAST. Stir-fry is so easily tailored to one's taste and dietary needs - a little lime juice and fish sauce and it's Thai-style or heavier on the ginger and more soy sauce, it's got a Chinese flair. It's whatever you want it to be! Tonight's Orange Salmon with Sesame Kale came together simply because those were the fresh ingredients I happened to have in my fridge. As far as creating a go-to stir-fry arsenal, check out the Asian section of your supermarket and do a little experimenting. Swapping one ingredient for another is a perfect way to keep your pallet engaged - just keep elements within the same flavor-realm - acid for acid or aromatic for aromatic. Prefer rice to buckwheat noodles? Go there! Don't like salmon? Try chicken instead, you crazy maverick! The point is to have fun and to satisfy your appetite! Yum.

- 2 6-7 oz. salmon fillets
- salt and pepper
- juice from one orange
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided
- 1 Tbsp. grated garlic
- 1 Tbsp. grated ginger
- 1 tsp. hot Chinese mustard
- 1/2 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 6 c. chopped fresh kale
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 3 oz. soba noodles, cooked and drained, lightly rinsed in cold water
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced
- 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, grated ginger, grated garlic, mustard, Sriracha, and olive oil. Season salmon filets on both sides with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Lay fillets side-by-side in a shallow dish and cover with orange juice mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for 20 minutes - 2 hours.

While the fillets marinate, chop remaining veggies and cook noodles. Rinse noodles in cold water and set aside. Whisk together 1 Tbsp. cooking sherry and remaining soy sauce and set aside.

After fillets have marinated adequately heat 1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in two separate, heavy pans. (This takes a little coordination, but it is possible to cook two things at once.)

In one pan combine garlic, jalapeno, and pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add chopped red bell pepper and stir over heat until pepper begins to soften slightly. Add kale and soy sauce-sherry mixture to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the kale is bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, toss with cooked noodles and sesame oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place salmon fillets in second pan, reserving marinade. Sear until a slight crust appears on outside of fish, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove fillets to a plate, turn up heat and add remaining sherry to the pan. Deglaze pan by scraping up bits with a wooden spoon. Splash reserved marinade into the hot pan and mix together to make a very quick pan sauce. Remove from heat.

Divide veggies and noodles between two plates and lay a piece of salmon over each. Pour pan sauce over fillets and garnish plate with avocado slices and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. So, so good!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Yes We Can!

Tangy Tuna and Tomato Rigatoni 
It's the eve of a new term. I had a fantastic 2013 and a great Winter Break of travel, delicious food, and relaxation. But it's (once again) time to focus on work, health, and life. Weeks of celebration can give anyone a bit of a food hang-over and I'm in need of something easy, light(er), and tasty. Matt commented the other day, "It's so nice when you're home more." Yeah . . . this near-month of non-work has its advantages (clean-house, completed projects, yummy slow-cooked dinners) but also its disadvantages (isolation, over-indulgence, etc.) And so here I am ready to delve into a new term of teaching and a new directing project. Once again, my evenings will be monopolized by rehearsals and my days full of teaching. How will I feed my family nourishing meals with such time restrictions? Well . . . things like this. Mostly using panty ingredients, I devised this tangy tuna pasta dinner. It makes a ton of food - great for leftover lunches! I also got to use some of my delicious canned tomatoes from my 2013 crop! The sour zip from briny olives and artichoke hearts play nice with the rich and flaky canned tuna. Yeah . . . not everything is "market fresh" - but it's January for crying out loud! Recipes like this are a great way to get a helping of veggies, fiber, and protein in one deeply satisfying pot! Enjoy and Happy 2014!

- 1 lb. dried rigatoni pasta
- 2 cans tuna (packed in oil or water - olive oil tastes better)
- 28 oz. canned tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 8 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and lightly rinsed
- 1/2 c. chopped olives (a mix of Kalamata and green make a great flavor)
- 1 c. dry white wine
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. capers, drained and roughly chopped
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
- juice from one lemon
- grated Parmesan for serving
Set a large, heavily salted pot of water to boil. While waiting for the water to boil heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high in a large, heavy pot. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions become sweet and translucent (about 6 minutes).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until the garlic becomes sweet and fragrant. Increase heat to high and add white wine, deglaze pan, scrapping dark bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minutes and add tomatoes, sugar, olives, capers, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and drained cans of tuna.

Bring mixture to a boil, then partially cover, lower heat, and simmer over low for 20-25 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken a bit.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water to al dente (about 9-11 minutes according to package directions). Once pasta is cooked, drain, reserving about a cup of pasta cooking liquid.

Add cooked pasta to sauce then splash some pasta water to loosen sauce. Toss with butter to make a silky and tasty sauce! Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Sprinkle pasta mixture with chopped parsley and stir gently to combine. Serve rigatoni in bowls, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. Very yummy and filling without being too heavy - the perfect January dinner!