Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pork with Thai Peanut Sauce

I want to tell a quick story that has absolutely nothing to do with food, but it's true and it's funny.  First I must confess that I bruise easily, am always in a rush, and am a klutz.  Not a good combination.  So last week I was in urgent care dealing with the lingering symptoms of one of my more spectacular recent bruises and the doctor looked at me, squinted his eyes, and said "maybe you should slow down a little".  What? How did he know?  OK, maybe my one or two other bruises were a clue.  I explained to him that really I'm just a klutz.  He gave me a slight smile and said "well, if you slow down you might still run into things but you won't bruise as much".  A doctor with a sense of humor!  I like this guy.  For a moment I considered changing my blog name to "The Black and Blue Blogger" but that was too much alliteration.

OK, enough silliness and on to the recipe.  This is truly one of my all-time favorites.  It's warm without being overly spicy, and it's really all about the sauce.  Peanut butter and salsa might sound weird but trust me, it works.  The recipe calls for boneless pork chops which can often turn out dry, but are nice and juicy here because they're cut into strips and cooked quickly.  I tried the recipe once with pork tenderloin strips reasoning that they might be even more tender, but I actually prefer the pork chop strips.  The pork tenderloin tended to be too soft when cut into strips.  I usually serve this dish over brown rice but it would certainly work with white rice or even pasta.  Of course if you like spicy food, feel free to add in some crushed red pepper or minced jalapenos.

***for a printable recipe version click here***

Pork with Thai Peanut Sauce
4 servings

18 oz boneless pork chops, cut into stir fry strips
1-1/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (I use half toasted white and half black)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
3 cups hot cooked brown or white rice

For sauce, combine salsa, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, molasses and water in a medium saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring often.  Keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large plastic bag combine chili powder, ginger, garlic salt and pepper.  Add pork strips and shake until the pork is coated with spices.  In a large skillet heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat; cook and stir pork strips for 2-3 minutes.

Spoon the rice onto plates.  Pour sauce over the rice, arrange pork strips over the sauce, and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

You Say Tomato

It's the time of the year when vegetable gardens explode.  I know that because we rented a community garden for three years.  One year in a fit of giddy spring enthusiasm we planted 28 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes.  That's right, twenty-eight different kinds. Needless to say, I've tried virtually every recipe and method of preserving/cooking/canning/freezing tomatoes on the planet.  The following technique for roasting tomatoes is far and away my favorite for a variety of reasons - it's easy, it doesn't require specialized equipment, the tomatoes don't take much room in the freezer, and they have a delicious, concentrated flavor.  The texture is halfway between a sun-dried tomato (which can be dry and chewy), and a canned tomato (too watery for some recipes).  Roasted tomatoes are ideal for egg dishes, tarts, quiches, pizzas, and stirring into other dishes such as cooked lentils served alongside a nice grilled salmon.  Close your eyes and picture them tossed in a green salad!  They would also work perfectly for spaghetti sauce, lasagna, and any other dish calling for diced or crushed canned tomatoes. 

Assuming for the moment that you don't have 28 different varieties of tomatoes to contend with, why would you want to buy and roast your own?  First, you can't buy tomatoes with this particular texture and flavor from a store.  Second, you're in control of the salt and other flavors.  Third, they'll remind you of summer when you break them out of the freezer in January and will make you smile.  And fourth, they're pretty darn spectacular when showcased in a tart, pizza, or salad. All you need is a baking pan (or two) with a rim, lined in foil to prevent the juices from running all over your oven.  I typically use the bottom part of the broiler pans that always seem to come with ovens.  When you're done, all you have to clean is a knife and a spatula.

So if you have the opportunity to buy some tomatoes at your local market in the next few weeks and a few hours of time when you'll be hanging around the house, I encourage you to give it a try.  It's fun!

printable recipe
Roasted Tomatoes
Tomatoes - beefsteak or roma (just not cherry tomatoes)
Olive oil
Optional:  slivered garlic, fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350d. Line a rimmed baking pan with foil and brush with olive oil.  Core the tomatoes and cut in half.  For romas, cut through the stem end.  For beefsteak tomatoes, cut through the horizontal middle (not the stem).  Poke the seeds out with your fingers and put the tomatoes cut side up on the baking sheet.   Rule of thumb - I was able to fit 12 romas (24 cut halves) per broiler pan.  Beefsteak tomatoes would probably fit 8-10 per pan depending on size.  Brush the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with garlic and herbs if you wish. Put the pan in the center of the oven.  If you have two pans, put them in the top and bottom thirds and rotate after half the time.  Roast romas for 2 hours, and beefsteak tomatoes for approximately 3 hours, until shrunken and dark.  Cool and pack in a container with any juice or olive oil that remained in the pan.  If you want roasted tomato olive oil for bread dipping or salad dressing, pour additional olive oil over the tomatoes.  Freeze.

48 roma tomato halves in one small container

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Perfect Little Summer Salad

This is one of my top all-time salads, and we eat a LOT of salads.  It's great for summer for a couple of reasons - you can do the hot cooking in advance and just toss everything together at the last minute, plus it's a wonderful reason to go to your local farmers market to buy all the herbs.  It's light and refreshing, yet very filling and satisfying as an entree.  Serve with a breadstick on the side, or better yet a fresh red ripe sliced tomato.  If you try the recipe please leave a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

I use cavatappi pasta because I like the way it curls and I like saying "cavatappi".  But you can use any short cut pasta such as ziti, penne, or bow ties.  For the corn, it can be fresh or frozen, whichever is available.  The chicken can be grilled, roasted, or pan sauted.  The only thing that really shouldn't be changed is the fresh herbs.  This recipe is all about the herbs.

Advance preparation:  you can cook the pasta, chicken and corn the day prior or in the morning.  Refrigerate all components separately, then assemble at the last minute.  That makes it an easy weeknight meal.

printable recipe
Chicken Pasta Salad with Fresh Herbs and Corn
serves 4

6 oz dry cavatappi pasta
5 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 small or 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
salt and pepper
1 large or 2 small fresh ears of corn, husks removed (or frozen corn)
3-1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup packed fresh flat leaf parsley, torn
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro sprigs, torn
1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn
1/8 cup packed fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup packed fresh baby arugula, torn
4 lemon wedges

In a large pot, bring water to boil.  Add cavatappi and cook until done according to package directions.  Drain, rinse, and toss immediately with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to keep from sticking.  Refrigerate until cool.

Heat a grill, grill pan, or saute pan to medium high.  Brush the chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.  Grill or saute until golden and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes per side.  Let the chicken cool and then cut it on the diagonal into thin strips.

Cook the ears of corn in boiling water until tender, approximately 5-6 minutes depending on freshness.  Cut the kernels off the cob and reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic and cumin.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add all remaining ingredients (pasta, chicken, corn, and herbs) and toss.  Serve garnished with lemon wedges.