Ground Pork Ragu

A while ago I subscribed to one of these meal kit delivery services, where they deliver recipes and all the ingredients pre-kitted and packed.  Unfortunately while the ingredients seemed great, one of the recipes was for something that really did not pique my culinary interest and so the ground pork made its way into my not-so-cavernous freezer.

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I finally decided that I should do *something* with it, as it was very good quality, and because I wanted to make something in the crockpot now that the weather is ever so slightly starting to turn cooler.

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After perusing a couple recipes, it seemed that there were a few consistent ingredients of a pureed mire poix, tomato paste, boxed (or canned) tomatoes, and some red wine (of course in addition to either ground beef or pork).  After making some educated guesses on about how much of each to throw in, I threw it all in the crock pot and crossed my fingers that it would turn out reasonably good.

All I can say is that coming home to the scent of cooking ragu was one of the best feelings, and on top of some whole wheat linguine, made for an extremely satisfying dinner.  Paired with a strong California Zinfandel, it was the perfect Monday night no-brainer dinner.  (It also made for leftover for at least 2 more meals, which is always great for those nights that there really isn’t time to cook much!)

Ingredients

  • 1-2 large carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 box (28 oz) Pomi crushed tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups red wine
  • 1 lb whole wheat linguine (whole wheat optional, but adds nice texture)
  • parmesan cheese, grated (optional for topping)
  • 1 lb ground pork

Directions

  1. Put the onion, celery and carrot in the bowl of a food processor (easier to chop into 1″ chunks first) and puree until fairly smooth.  Empty into crock pot.
  2. Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and red wine to crock pot.
  3. In a skillet, heat to medium-high and brown the ground pork unless mostly cooked.  Add to crock pot.
  4. Mix everything in crock pot thoroughly, set for 8 hours on low (longer is okay, as well).
  5. In a pot of salted water, cook linguine (or whichever pasta you prefer) according to box directions.  For us, the whole wheat linguine was 12-13 minutes.  Drain the pasta noodles.
  6. Serve with sauce poured liberally on top.  Add grated cheese if you wish on top and eat immediately!

Serves about 4 very hungry people

Molten Chocolate Cakes for Two

Oftentimes I look at recipes for dessert and get really excited about making these large, elaborate cakes until I realize that there are only two people eating it.  Which of course means, either I need to commit to a lot of chocolate cake eating contests or something out of Matilda.

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Thankfully I happened to come across this wonderful blog that specifically makes desserts for two.  I modified it a bit because I wanted to use dark chocolate.  The cakes turned out delicious, though I think I’d panicked and baked them a smidge too much when I thought they were undercooked.  As it turned out, when I did it again in round 2, 13-14 minutes was perfect to get a runny center.  Just be 100% sure to butter the ramekins or custard cups you use to make sure the cake will easily plop out.

Regardless, the result was deliciously chocolatey.

Ingredients

  • 1 /2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray two small (~6 oz) custard cups liberally with cooking spray or rub with butter.  (Make sure to do this as otherwise the cakes just won’t “flop” out.)
  2. Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler over low heat until the mixture is homogenous.
  3. In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and vanilla using an electric hand-held mixer until thick ribbons form, about 3 minutes.
  4. Fold the flour into this mixture, and then the chocolate. Divide between the two custard cups and bake for 13-14 minutes, until the tops of the cakes look well done. If you under-bake, the center of the cake will pour out the top when un-molding.
  5. Let stand for one minute before inverting onto plates.

Adapted from Food and Wine Molten Chocolate Cakes and Dessert for Two.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the first recipes I tried with whole wheat flour in baking was chocolate chip cookies.  Cookies have extremely short shelf lives in our home as they seem to go straight out of the oven and into our happy stomachs.

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But given how easy they are to make, it’s surprising that I haven’t made a chocolate chip cookie in a while.  While there are some extremely decadent ones out there that I’ve certainly made, I thought I’d try this twist on the classic with whole wheat flour and olive oil.

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While delicious, I definitely would have added waaaay more chocolate and then these would have been perfect (given that I used olive oil and not butter).  Also of note, make sure to roll the dough into balls, or else you’ll end up with these delicious but not quite as pretty cookies:

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(In fact, we found quite a few excuses to gobble up all of these less perfectly shaped ones first!)

Ingredients
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 egg
  • 4 teaspoons molasses
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • coarse or flaked sea salt, for sprinkling

Adapted from Ambitious Kitchen.

Take-IN Chinese food

chicken soong

I guess my cooking goes in phases – all Mediterranean, lots of Asian or South Asian or just plain, delicious comfort food. I have recently been looking through old recipes and came across one that I always loved and which somehow fell off of my food rotation. It’s called Chicken Soong and is Chinese lettuce-wrapped ground chicken. The recipe is hand-written and is probably at least 35 years old based on the note paper I found it on. I have no recollection of where I got the recipe, but I have no trouble recalling that I really liked this dish. I will serve it alongside a comforting beef, mushroom and broccoli dish over rice. It’s possible that 35 years ago, I might have made several other dishes alongside it, but I’m a little more realistic in my expectations now.

The prep could all be done the night before so when you get home from work or school or soccer practice, all you have to do is cook up your rice and throw the ingredients in the wok. The prep for two dishes takes about an hour. Perhaps if I were a faster chopper or more used to making Asian food, it could be done more quickly. The result is delicious and satisfying in under an hour – sort of. And the bonus is that if you have any of the lettuce wraps left-over, they make a wonderful lunch the next day.

Chicken Soong

Yield: This will not be satisfying as a dinner on its own. Combined with another dish like the one below, this will easily serve 6 people. If you make two more dishes, it could easily satsify 8 people unless you are feeding teenage boys – then all bets are off!

Ingredients:

10-12 lettuce leaves from either iceberg or leaf lettuce

1 pound ground chicken (I like the chicken to be a mix of white and dark meat so it isn’t so dry)

1 egg white (save the yolk for an omelette or baking pastry)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1-2 jalapeno chilis, cored and shredded/sliced (Know how much heat you like in your food; you can always substitute 1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet peppers)

jalapeno

10-12 water chestnuts, thinly sliced, then diced

1/2 cup finely diced celery  finely diced celery

1/4 cup finely diced carrots (about 1 medium carrot)

1 rounded teaspoon finely chopped ginger (you can buy it in jars in the produce section to save time)

3-4 scallions, finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic (you can buy this in the produce section also to save time)

3/4 cup oil (Canola or Peanut are good here)

For sauce:

2 Tablespoons dry Sherry

1/2 Tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

1/2 Tablespoon chili paste with garlic (harissa or Gochujang can be substituted)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (You must use the toasted Asian sesame oil)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch combined with 1 Tablespoon water

Directions:

  1. Add egg white, salt and 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch to ground chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  2. Combine the celery, carrots, water chestnuts and peppers with ginger. Set asidecarrot celery water chestnut mix
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the scallion and garlic and set to the side.
  4. Combine the ingredients for the sauce except for the cornstarch and water
  5. In a separate dish combine the cornstarch and water and whisk with a fork or chopstick to make sure that it is well combined and there are no clumps
  6. Heat 3/4 cup of oil in a wok or deep skillet. Make sure that the oil is very hot before putting in the chicken so it doesn’t absorb the oil. Add the chicken, breaking up the pieces and stirring constantly for about 1.5 minutes. Drain over a strainer and set aside.drained chicken
  7. Return 2 Tablespoons of the oil to the wok and add the celery mixture. After 30 seconds, add the scallion and garlic. After 10 seconds, add the chicken and cook for 30 more seconds.chicken soong in motion
  8. Add sauce mixture with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (if you like it HOT, you can use the sesame oil with hot peppers). Cook for 30 seconds and then add the cornstarch mixture. Mix through and immediately turn off the heat.
  9. Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter and the filling in a bowl on the side. Everyone can take a tablespoon of the filling and roll it into a lettuce wrap.

beef and broccoli plated

Beef with Broccoli and Mushrooms

Yield: 4 – 6 servings with anothe rdish like the one above

Ingredients

10 ounces flat-iron steak thinly sliced against the grain (You can use flank steak but it will cost you about 2-3 times more and it really isn’t worth it)

3 cups broccoli florets, separated, with any stems, trimmed and sliced thinly on an angle

1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

About 4 ounces of mushrooms sliced (any kind will do so it is based on preference and budget)

About 2 Tablespoons of oil, preferably peanut oil divided

2 Tablespoons of water

For the meat

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

2 Tablespoons dry sherry

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon  sugar

For the sauce

2 Tablespoons dry sherry

2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 Tablespoon oyster sauce

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil for garnish

Directions

  1. Comine the ingredients for the meat in a bowl or heavy-duty plastic ziploc bag and refrigerate until ready to use. This can even be done the night before.
  2. When ready to cook, add 1 Tablespoons of the peanut oil to a hot wok. Pour the oil down the side of the wok, not into the center where it could easily splash you and burn. Add the meat, separating the pieces and moving them around until mostly cooked through. This only takes a couple of minutes.
  3. Carefully remove the cooked meat to a clean bowl and set nearby.
  4. Add 1 more Tablespoon of the remaining peanut oil to the hot wok and then add the onions. Stir for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the broccoli and mushrooms together and stir for 3 minutes.broccoli and mushrooms
  6. Then add back the meat and stir through. Add 2 Tablespoons of water. Cover the wok and cook for 3 minutes.
  7. Mix the sauce together so that all of the cornstarch is distributed and absorbed into the liquid. Uncover the wok, push the meat and veggies to the side a bit and carefully pour the sauce into the center of the pan. Immediately stir everything well to distribute the sauce and turn off the heat. The sauce will continue to thicken so do not leave the heat on.
  8. Serve over the rice of your choice. I’m usung brown rice tonight. Just be sure that your rice is cooked BEFORE beginning everything else.

Apple Cake – Take 2

apple cake

Frances and I always tell each other what we are making and recipes that we discovered. We send each other photos and our respective husbands drool. So when I heard that Frances was making an apple cake for the holidays, I decided that it sounded like a good idea. Mine is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Frances turned me on to her website about a year ago and she is often a fun read for me when work is less than exciting. I have to admit that I prefer reading her blog than making her recipes, but I already knew that Frances had made this cake with great success. Since I am almost incapable of NOT changing a recipe, I made several tweaks – and one BIG mistake, which turned out to be actually quite a good discovery. Here is my version.

Apple Cake – adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 12 – 16 servings

Ingredients

6 baking apples like MacIntosh, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes ( I happened to be at the Farmer’s Market, so was able to purchase some heirloom baking variety apple to use)

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar (See NOTE below. You can use less sugar if you want. I would think that 1.5 cups is perfect plus the 5 Tablespoons)

2.5 cups all purpose unbleached flour

1/4 cup toasted wheat germ (I like Kretschmer’s)

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup Canola oil

1/4 cup orange juice

2.5 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

2 Tablespoons brandy or cognac

Zest of one orange

4 large eggs

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Confectioner’s sugar for sifting over the top

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and generously butter or coat with nonstick spray a 10 inch tube pan with straight sides (think Angel Food cake pan).
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples and toss them with the cinnamon and 5 Tablespoons of the granulated sugar. Add the orange zest.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Then add the wheat germ, which won’t go through the sifter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla bean paste, brandy and eggs.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones, scraping down the bowl to make sure that everything is thoroughly combined. Stir in the walnuts.
  5. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread half of the apple chunks over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1.5 hours or until the tester comes out clean. You can learn to smell when baked goods are ready. Set your timer, but try seeing if you can smell when the cake is done. It’s a good skill to learn because every oven is different and timing can be off.
  6. When the cake is finished, transfer it to a rack to cool completely. When it is completely cool you can flip it out of the pan and then over onto a serving platter with the apples facing down. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. This cake will get moister as it ages. It will last for about 3 days if covered.

NOTE: I have a confession to make. I got distracted when I was making the cake and only realized AFTER I had put everything nicely into the pan that I had forgotten to add the 2 cups of sugar to the batter. I didn’t panic and I didn’t want to lose the good ingredients or time I had already put into it. I suppose I could have taken everything out of the pan and mixed the apples through the cake along with the sugar, but I didn’t. I took 1/4 cup of sugar and evenly poured it over the top layer of apples. I then hoped for the best. The result was delicious apple bread. There was extra sweetness from the confectioners sugar on top. Cake would need to be somewhat sweeter in my opinion, but the texture and look was wonderful. My husband had the great idea of using Frances’ baked French toast recipe using the apple cake in place of the challah and adding 1/2 cup of raisins (no blueberries) to the mix. The point is, stuff happens – even with people who cook and bake a LOT. Don’t panic – think it through. Sometimes the experiment is great – sometimes not.

slice of apple cake

Roasted Plum Tomatoes

roasted tomatoes

Plum Tomatoes seem to be everywhere right now, so I recently bought up a big bunch at the farmer’s market and decided I would figure out what to do with them later. Sauteed in EVOO with lots of garlic and fresh basil, it makes a quick, easy and fresh tasting pasta sauce. Just add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water at the end plus some salt and frsh cracked pepper to taste. Drizzle with EVOO and add freshly shaved or grated parmesan or romano and wow!

I also thought I might make a Margherita Pizza, but I ended up oven roasting them instead. Kept in a glass jar, drizzled with some additional EVOO they will last for at least a week in the fridge or months in the freezer. I use roasted tomatoes in sauces, soups, on sandwiches and of course on pizza. You are only limited by your imagination.

Oven Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Ingredients

About 3 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes with the little core removed and quartered length-wise      Oven-Roasted Plum Tomatoes

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs like thyme and oregano fresh herbs

1/4 cup EVOO

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. With your fingers (yes, get a bit messy, okay!) scoop out most of the seeds and excess gelled liquid
  3. On a shallow baking pan, lined with parchment paper, lay out the tomatoes cut side up in a single layer.
  4. Sprinkle wit the garlic mixed with the herbs. Drizzle with the EVOO.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. and bake for 20 more minutes, until carmelized.
  6. Turn off the oven, but leave the pan in the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

NOTE: Only add salt after cooking. The flavor will be too intense otherwise and too salty.

Whole Wheat Apple Cake

There’s something about adding whole wheat to cakes and cookies that always make them seem “healthier.”  If nothing else, it tends to add a subtle textural difference to the average cake.

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I came across this recipe from the same book that the Siniyeh came from as I wanted to make something with apples for the holidays.  This was before we went apple picking, but we were able to find some beautiful apples at the farmer’s market that I lugged on the subway home, just to make sure this turned out right!

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I wish I could bake cakes and cookies more, but as there are only two of us to consume them, we’ve been trying to pace our sweets.  I’ve always loved cooking and baking with apples, and it’s fun to have an excuse to look for new, inventive ways to use apples in a sweet dish.  I did substitute the EVOO for the canola oil, and it turned out delicious all the same!

This was great because I didn’t need to make a separate crust or peel the apples, and I was able to throw it together in a jiffy.  We drizzled some honey on the slices, and it was perfection.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Golden Delicious (or any good baking apple) apples
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup EVOO
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • Honey, for drizzling (optional)

Directions

  1. Grease a 12 cup Bundt pan or tube pan well.  Coarsley chop the apples into 1/2″ pieces.  (Not necessary to peel the apples).  Preheat the oven for 350 degrees.
  2. Put the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and oil into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light.  Beat in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Mix in the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and baking soda until just combined.  Batter will be very thick.
  3. Stir in the fruits and nuts by hand.
  4. Turn out the batter into the prepared pan, and bake at 350 degrees for about 80-90 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool on a pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Serve with drizzled honey or sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

Adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene