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Posts Tagged ‘weeknight dinner’

Dinner Rush! Seared Lemon Caesar Salad

Now that we’re a fresh and free-wheeling three weeks into the New Year, it’s clear that you’re doing everything right. You’re hitting the gym, drinking less, sleeping better and pounding back salads for lunch like it’s your job. Right? Three out of four? Really it’s that last part that’s cause for most concern.

There’s a pandemic of bad dressings out there, and Caesar seems to be the hardest hit. Of course not everything from the store shelves or restaurant kitchens is bad but, like many things in this life, if you want something done right you gots to do it yourself. Be not afraid, kitchen commandos, of what looks on paper like a flirtation with disaster and halitosis. The combination of raw garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon, cheese and a raw egg yolk (you’ll be fine; I promise) produces something fresh and magical that’s tough to replicate in a bottle. Give it a go; you’ll see what I mean.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s just say what we’re all thinking: the idea of a crouton is pure divinity. Wrestling with a 1-inch cube of stale, dry herb-coated, roof-of-your-mouth shredding bread is, in a word, not. Enter the crispy bits. Making your own crunchy salad topping by toasting coarsely chopped fresh bread is the only way to go. They’re crunchy; they’re chewy; they actually fit in your mouth; and “salad topping” is just the tip of their iceberg.

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Dinner Rush! Hummus Plate with Spiced Ground Beef

I think it’s a bummer that we treat hummus only as a dip or a condiment. Don’t get me wrong; I’m more than okay with its ubiquity. The fact that I can now snack on my commute home with a grab-and-go pack of roasted garlic hummus and pretzels from the train station kiosk makes my day complete. But I see hummus bound for bigger and better things. Forget the warm-up act; I see hummus playing the main stage.

My husband often speaks of a meal our buddy, J. M. Hirsch (who you should absolutely follow on Twitter), once made for him that was simply a plate of hummus topped with deliciously spiced ground beef and served with torn pita in place of silverware. He waxes poetically about how it was simple, boldly flavored and one of those fun meals that you get to eat with your hands. What more could a guy ask for?

Rife with opportunity to personalize it to your own tastes, meals like this are well-deserved. They shake up the daily routine by bringing in the flavors of a global cuisine that you may not get to experience everyday. Plus, second only to tackling foods eaten on a stick, eating with your hands may just be the most playful thing you do all day long.

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Dinner Rush! Vietnamese-Glazed Pork with Edamame

I spend a lot of time with recipes, usually writing, photographing or testing them. Like reading anything consistently, the work becomes familiar and you start to pick up on its patterns — in the case of recipes, that tends to mean similar cooking methods or ingredients. I had a record-scratch moment the other day as I came across a recipe for Vietnamese shrimp that started out by making a dark caramel. Step 1: Almost burn a pot of sugar. Huh?!

Turns out, lots of Vietnamese dishes — which are known for big, bold flavors — build their sauce or marinade from a dark caramel foundation. When I say “dark caramel,” shutter out those visions of some sensual portion of a dreamy indulgent confection. We’re talking almost-burnt sugar that is cooked so long it loses its sweetness and transforms into an enriching base that soaks up savory flavors like a sponge. It’s in that almost-burnt moment, my friends, when greatness happens.

So, as you start to prepare this dish and begin with a whole bunch of honey going into a bowl, ignore that inner record scratch. Go with it and watch as the glaze reduces, bubbles and thickens its way toward that luxe caramel base. Sure it’s a bit different, but be not afraid. You’re doing it right.

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Dinner Rush! Linguine with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts

I find few things in life to be as transformational as roasted broccoli. That’s right, I said it: transformational.

I’ve always been a big fan of the green machine (especially in the presence of cheese sauce, but that’s a recipe for another time). It has served me well in many a Chinese takeout container and is simply superb in a cream soup.

It’s not until you roast it, though, that your eyes are finally opened wide and you realize just what you’ve been missing. Deeply caramelizing the tender ends of a broccoli floret not only makes them crunch a little when bitten into, it awakens a hearty, almost meaty flavor that otherwise lies dormant in one of America’s favorite go-to vegetables. Word to the wise: Don’t rush the roasted broccoli. The deeper and darker it caramelizes, the more payoff you’ll have at the dinner table.

Try it alongside toasted walnuts and a balsamic glaze that harmonizes so well you’ll be salivating for the next Meatless Monday.

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Dinner Rush! Veal Cutlets with Peppery Braised Green Cabbage

My husband grew up with an Italian-American great-aunt who treated veal cutlets like a food group. While I never had the chance to visit the Staten Island home that played stage to so many of his early childhood memories, the stories he tells about her and his adventures in that house are as vivid as reality.

Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey while clad in all of her jewelry — and hair still in curlers, mind you — is a popular one. As is his Uncle Joe slowly making a Manhattan drinker out of him by way of the cocktail shaker’s dividends topped with a heaping helping of 7Up. The most popular and recurring story I hear, though, is about the stash of cutlets she would keep in her basement chest freezer in quantities fit for the post-apocalypse.

So the story goes, every time the family came to visit, she’d take his little boy hand in her large, heavily jeweled lady-of-a-certain-age hand and they’d head to the Italian butcher down the street. Pork was a fine choice, but for special occasions none other than a dinner of veal cutlets and risotto would do. Back at the mansion, with her electric burner on high, Auntie’s paper-and-twine-wrapped bundle of meat would transform itself into a feast. His favorite part of the meal, being a short-attention-spanned child, was the etched crystal dish of Parmesan cheese passed at the table. It overflowed with freshly grated powder that would flurry over his dinner plate one demitasse spoonful at a time.

I only got to meet Auntie once before she passed several years ago, so I suffice to live her legacy vicariously through stories of her antics, relics of her Staten Island home and attempts at her famous veal cutlets.

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Dinner Rush! Spicy Korean Beef Lettuce Cups

Those of you that read my blog know that I love a grocery store. Some people have shoes or gadgets or lotions and potions. Not me. I’ve got the dairy case, cheese counter and friendly deli staff. Since this is my drug, and guilty indulgence is imminent with every visit, I’ve amassed a pantry full of random odds and ends, all of which I clearly need to have. The spoils of this most recent visit? Fresh-packed kimchi.

Kimchi is a spicy condiment made of fermented cabbage with other vegetables. It is an essential staple of the Korean diet and also boasts a ton of health benefits as a result of being a probiotic. The off-putting-to-some smell shouldn’t deter you from experiencing its hot, sour, salty and sweet balance that is surprisingly versatile across several different types of cuisine.

Taking some inspiration from classic Korean flavors, this dish is a bit of a riff on beef bulgogi. A classic in Korean barbecue houses, bulgogi is a simple presentation in which slices of beef are marinated in a sweet blend of soy sauce, sugar, garlic and sesame oil and then seared or grilled. The service is often an elaborate DIY spread with my different condiments, rice and leafy greens available to package all of the flavors together.

The point of this whole story?  Next time you’re out shopping try and pick up just one new thing. You might just end up surprising yourself.

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Dinner Rush! Whole Branzino with Grilled Peach Caprese

I’ve been called many things in my life, but a slave to fashion is not one of them. I don’t care what the calendar says. What, just because Labor Day has passed I should pack up and forget about all things summer? Fine, the white hot pants can retire for now, but I’ll be damned if the grill is being nestled back into the far corners of the garage. Not now. Not yet.

As the bounty of summer fruits has come pouring into my local farm stands, peaches and tomatoes are nailing it right now.  Chefs like to say that “if it grows together, it goes together,” and I, for one, couldn’t agree more. I love a good old fashioned watermelon-tomato salad during the warmer months, but slipping a few peaches into your caprese takes it to a whole other level. The flavor of the peach is heartier and totally satisfying, especially after a quick go with the grates of a hot grill.

For those of you squeamish about working with a whole fish, I make one simple request: try something new. Enjoying a whole fish is a great interactive eating experience that encourages lots of sharing of plates at the table (be mindful of the bones in the meat). Any reputable fish market will take care of all the mess work, too — just ask them to gut the fish for you (they’ll even take the head off if that’s a bit too much for you.)

Sorry, one more request: don’t let the calendar tell you what to do, either. Enjoy the warm outdoor weather for as long as we’ve got it.

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Meatless Monday: Cheap and Tasty Frittata

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

A frittata is a great way to clean out your fridge, but it’s also a budget-friendly option when the shelves are looking pretty bare. For a delicious, wholesome frittata, you’ll need eggs, seasonal veggies, good melting cheese and fresh herbs. With such a short ingredient list and a multitude of combinations to try, it’s a quick and easy dinner you can play around with time and time again.

Crisp asparagus and smooth jack cheese are two good options when choosing your ingredients. Aida Mollenkamp adds cilantro for a touch of fragrance and extra oomph. Serve with a side salad or grilled veggies. If there are leftovers, I think a wedge is just as tasty room temperature for breakfast or lunch the next day.

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Dinner Rush! Tandoori Spiced Chicken With Tahini Carrots

I do hope you’re sitting down for this one, because this post is so loaded with delicious, time-saving “do-ahead” ideas that it’ll make you weak in the knees (please, hold your applause). I know that a cursory glance at this post may incline one to believe there’s a lot of work ahead just to get a simple chicken dinner on the table. Be not deceived — read on with empowered optimism.

One of my favorite spice blends available at my local market is billed simply as tandoori powder. Borrowing inspiration from the famous Indian chicken dish bearing the name tandoori, this creation is bright, aromatic, pleasantly spicy and seriously amazing on everything from meat to fish to tofu to vegetables. If your market doesn’t have this available (or if you’re one of these awesome people who’d rather get all DIY on it), make some of your own and keep it close by — you’ll want to put it on everything. In a small bowl stir together 3 tablespoons ground coriander, 3 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder. Store the mixture in an airtight container at room temperature (makes about 3/4 cup; you won’t need all of it for this recipe).

What pantry of sound being is complete without a staple salad dressing, too, right? I love having a hearty tahini dressing on hand to toss with shredded kale, grilled romaine or — in this case — a raw carrot salad. In a medium bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons tahini, juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 finely grated clove garlic, salt and pepper and 3 to 4 tablespoons warm water. Adjust the dressing’s consistency with more or less water and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week (makes about 3/4 cup).

See, not so tough, right? Plus you’re two steps ahead of the game for dinner the rest of the week! Alright, enough do-aheads — let’s make this into a meal!

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