Friday, January 27, 2017


Last Year's Post: Sesame Salmon en Papillote
Two Years Ago:  Hand Blended Loose Leaf Chai Tea

Although Porchetta (pronounced porketta) has been around for a while in the United States, it's recently become very trendy because its fatty nature goes well with the current pork belly craze.  From Wikipedia: Porchetta is a savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlicrosemaryfennel, or other herbs, often wild. 

The Lawyer's family used to buy an Americanized version at a local grocery store, which involved the traditional herbs patted onto the outside of a boneless pork loin.  Since pork used to be less dry, that worked pretty well.  But pork is so lean now that a pork loin can dry out, which is why chefs have started rolling pork belly into the roast along with the herbs.  I find pork belly to be chewy, fatty, and generally disgusting so I was looking for a better alternative.  Pork tenderloin is naturally tender, roasts faster and has the advantage of feeding a small family without massive leftovers so I challenged myself (and The Lawyer) to make a pork tenderloin porchetta.  (If you want to make a porchetta using a larger pork loin and wrapping it in pancetta for moisture, here is the recipe I used as inspiration.)

It was a fun little project and we were very happy with the results, both that night and in sandwiches the following day.  I cut down on the amount of salt and pepper in the herb mixture, but otherwise used the traditional mix of garlic, sage, rosemary, fennel seeds, lemon juice and orange peel for the herb rub for both the inside and outside of the roast.  The only slightly tricky part was how to butterfly such a small cut of meat.  Rather than the traditional approach which involves carefully cutting a flap around the outside of a larger roast, we found the easiest way to open a tenderloin is by making 3 long and deep cuts down the length and then gently pounding the meat flat to even thickness.

Then all you have to do is rub in the herb paste, tie up, and roast it.  

Because the herb paste gives the meat so much flavor, all you really need for a delicious sandwich is some high-quality mayonnaise and lettuce.  If you want to go big, I've seen porchetta sandwiches on restaurant menus with broccoli rabe pesto and provolone which is also great.  The big bold flavors go particularly well with beer, which is why you'll often see porchetta sandwiches on brewery menus.  Just remember their version will likely have pork belly and be quite fatty.  I'm happier with this healthy version.

Serves 4

1 (1.25 lb) pork tenderloin
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ cup packed fresh rosemary leaves
¼ cup packed fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 strips (each ½” x 2”) orange peel, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kitchen string, for tying

Preheat oven to 350d.

Prepare the pork by removing any extra fat or silver skin.  Pat dry.  Make a cut down the center of the pork loin about ¾ of the way through, but do not cut in half.  On either side of this cut, make another deep cut to open the tenderloin so it lays flat.  Cover with plastic wrap and gently pound the tenderloin to an even thickness.

Place the garlic, rosemary, sage, salt, pepper, fennel seeds and orange zest in a small food processor and finely chop them.  Add the lemon juice and olive oil and process again until a thick paste forms (add a small amount more oil if necessary).

Spread half the herb paste on the tenderloin and roll up from the long edge.  Tie at regular intervals with kitchen string to keep it closed.  Spread the remaining herb paste on the outside of the tenderloin and place in a roasting pan.  If desired, the tenderloin can be prepared to this point and refrigerated, covered, for several hours.  Remove and let come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes before proceeding.

Roast, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat is 140-145d.  Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Skinny Chicken Caesar Salad

Last Year's Post: Shrimp and Bacon Ramen
Two Years Ago:  Eggplant and Rice Parmigiana

Everybody loves chicken Caesar salad, don't they?  The only part that's not to love is the fat and calories in a classic Caesar dressing that's typically made with lots of oil and raw egg yolks.  A slightly less authentic version uses lots of mayonnaise which gets rid of the ick factor of raw egg yolks but does nothing to help the fat and calories.  This version substitutes Greek yogurt for the oil and/or mayo.  It doesn't taste exactly like the classic version, but it's very close and very good and very much better for you.

The other way to elevate a chicken Caesar salad beyond the typical bag of salad at the grocery store is to use impeccably fresh hearts of Romaine (they tend to dry out when they're pre-chopped in the bag) and make homemade crispy bread crumbs instead of those big, hard croutons.  Add in some shaved Parmesan and you have a Caesar salad worthy of a restaurant, not a bag.

Anchovies are an important part of Caesar dressing - they give it umami, which is a nice savory taste but not at all fishy.  Even so, a tin of oily smelly fish can be off-putting, and heaven forbid your kids catch sight (or smell) of them.  The solution is to buy a tube of anchovy paste, which you'll find near canned tuna and other canned fish.  The paste isn't oily or smelly and lasts a long time in the refrigerator.  Don't tell your family, and they'll never even know they're in there.

Skinny Chicken Caesar Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated
1 ½ teaspoons anchovy paste
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon water
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 hearts of Romaine lettuce
1 slice of stale bread (or leave a piece of fresh bread out on the counter for an hour to dry out)
½ cup shaved Parmesan

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that Parmesan is salty so go easy on the salt).  Set aside.

Rub the chicken breasts with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook on a grill, in a pan, or in the oven until golden and fully cooked through.  Set aside to cool, then thinly slice crosswise.

Cut the end off each Romaine heart, then cut crosswise at 1” intervals.  Thoroughly wash and then drain the lettuce; pat dry.

Tear the piece of bread into large pieces, then pulse in a small food processor into coarse crumbs.  In a medium skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the crumbs, tossing to coat all the crumbs evenly.  Cook for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, watching closely and stirring often, until golden brown.  Remove from heat and place crumbs in a small bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine.

If the dressing has been standing for a while, it will probably thicken up.  Add an additional tablespoon of water to thin to desired consistency. 

To plate the salad, toss the greens with just enough dressing to coat and divide among the plates.  Top with chicken slices, shaved Parmesan, and toasted bread crumbs.  Pass additional dressing on the side.  (Alternately, serve the dressing on the side with each salad.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Slow Cooker Marinara

Last Year's Post: Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Two Years Ago:   Chicken Pho

Marinara is a very versatile tomato-based sauce typically used with spaghetti, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, baked pasta, and any one of a number of other dishes.  I've been making my favorite marinara recipe on the stovetop for years, but it takes several hours of attention and stirring so it doesn't burn.  It only recently occurred to me that marinara is perfectly suited to the low-and-slow approach of a slow cooker, so I immediately made a big batch and was happy that I didn't have to hang around and keep stirring.

There are a couple of advantages to making your own sauce:  you can customize it to your liking, you control the sodium and fat levels, and it can potentially be much less expensive than buying jarred sauce.  I say potentially less expensive because it all depends on the ingredients you add to your sauce, and the type/brand of sauce you would otherwise buy.  If you normally buy the least expensive private label pasta sauce in the store, you may not save much.  But if you buy a more expensive brand, you might.  And again, I chose to add organic fire-roasted tomatoes to my sauce for texture and flavor, which increased the price.  If you use store private label tomatoes, you'll save money.

Besides chopping and sauteing some onions and garlic, this is basically a dump-everything-in approach.  You could even forego the saute step for the onions, but then I would probably cut down on the amount of onions in the sauce.

Start checking the consistency of the sauce around 6 hours and cook until you're happy with its thickness and color.  I like to add some chopped parsley at the very end for little flecks of freshness and color.

Cool the marinara completely and place in glass jars or heavy zip-top bags, then freeze for up to several months.

This is a great weekend project for cold winter months.

Slow Cooker Marinara
Makes 9 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups chopped onion (about 3 medium)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt*
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 medium garlic cloves, grated
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes, undrained
2 (14.5-oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained (use fire-roasted, if desired)
2 (6-oz) cans no-salt-added tomato paste
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion and sugar and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place in slow cooker and add remaining ingredients (including the remaining tablespoon of olive oil) except the parsley; stir well paying particular attention to breaking up any lumps of tomato paste.

Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours, depending on how cooked down you prefer your sauce.  Check after 6 hours and continue cooking until desired consistency is reached.  Taste and adjust salt to your preference.  Stir in the parsley before serving.

To store:  cool completely and place in glass storage jars or resealable plastic bags.  Freeze for up to several months.

* Salt levels vary widely according to the brand of tomatoes and especially tomato paste that you use.  I recommend using no-salt-added tomato paste because regular tomato paste is very high in sodium.  If you use low-salt brands, you will likely need to add salt at the end or on the table, but it’s better to start low and add more later.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Endive, Apple and Avocado Salad

Last Year's Post: Chicken and Wild Rice
Two Years Ago:  Miso-Glazed Scallops with Quinoa and Grilled Pineapple

It's the time of the year when everyone is looking for lighter, healthier meals after the holiday.  This salad was originally created by Giada deLaurentiis' aunt as a holiday side salad but I thought it would be more than substantial enough for a nice vegetarian entree with a few small modifications.  It's got an interesting combination of ingredients.  Fruit and nuts aren't uncommon in a salad and cheese isn't all that unusual either, but corn is the unique addition to the party.  The original recipe called for regular defrosted corn but I happened to have some freeze-dried corn on hand, which I love and thought would work better.  The light crunch and slight sweetness was a great addition.  If you can't find freeze-dried corn (try the produce section of your grocery or a natural foods store), substitute regular corn or just leave it out.  It's still a delicious and substantial salad.

If you're not familiar with Belgian endive, it looks like this.  My checkout person at the grocery store had quite a time figuring out what the right code was for it so apparently not just everyone buys it.

It's mild and crunchy and doesn't wilt in a salad, which makes it great for entertaining or big family get-togethers.  But again, you could certainly substitute other hearty greens or lettuces.

Served with warm crusty bread on the side, this makes a great start to the New Year as a main dish, or a spectacular side salad for a buffet.

Endive, Apple and Avocado Salad
Serves 4 as an entrée or 6-8 as a side salad

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
6 medium heads Belgian endive, ends trimmed and cut crosswise into ½” pieces
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into ½” cubes 
1 avocado, flesh cut into ½” cubes
¼ pound firm white cheese (such as Gouda, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella) cut into ½” cubes
¼ cup dried cranberries, or the seeds of 1 small pomegranate
½ cup freeze-dried corn or defrosted corn kernels
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds

To make the dressing, place the olive oil, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl and whisk, or shake in a small jar.  Set aside.

Combine the endive, apple and avocado in a large bowl and toss immediately toss with a small amount of dressing so they don’t turn brown.  Add the remaining ingredients and enough additional dressing to coat lightly.  Serve.