Recipes

Braised Fennel & White Beans

What a delicious side to meat or standalone vegetarian dish! I made this to go alongside my brined pork chops in citrus sauce, which I shared last week, and then ate the leftovers as a light lunch all weekend. Lucky me that a co-worker was looking to get rid of fennel from their farm share, and that’s what inspired this recipe! Despite not really liking licorice, I love fennel and have ever since I studied abroad. Italians are all over it. The fragrance mellows quite a bit when you cook and blends nicely with contrasting flavors like cider vinegar, red onion, savory stock and a touch of butter.

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I’ve hung onto the greens in the past when making soup, and I’ve heard that it makes a slammin’ pesto, too, though I haven’t tried that myself. Generally, though, you just want to keep the “bulb” part of fennel, which you slice up any which way you please before cooking. I love that this recipe offers a protein boost with the white beans, another staple of Italian cooking, and that the cooking process softens the bite of the red onions enough that they just add a nice seasoning and don’t overwhelm. Paired with the vinegar and a touch of butter, this comes in a creamy sauce seasoned with oregano or whatever Italian-type spices you have on hand. The last time I made this, I used my Wildtree spaghetti sauce blend, and it came out fab.

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Braised Fennel & White Beans

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped/sliced, greens discarded
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1 can of white (cannellini) beans
  • 1 can chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 TBSP butter (omit if desiring a vegan dish)
  • 2 TBSP red wine or apple cider vinegar
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt, pepper and oregano (fresh or dried) if available, for seasoning

DIRECTIONS

Heat the olive oil in a good sized saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and onion and cook, stirring, until they are tender and the edges are browning, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the beans, chicken stock, oregano or other seasoning you’re planning to use, plus salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by about half, which should take less than 5 minutes.

Stir in the vinegar and butter and remove from the heat. Serve warm!

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Martha suggests making this with pork chops, as shown above, and suggests cooking those first then making this in the same pan with the browned bits left over for extra flavoring. That would obviously make it non-vegetarian, so that’s your choice! I didn’t do it that way — we cooked each dish separately, though they were served together — but I’m sure it would taste great.

Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Pork in Citrus Sauce (plus, a tutorial on brining meat)

Here is the how-to on brining that I promised a couple posts back. It’s very easy! And it makes cooking potentially tough meats impossible to screw up. I’ve never had dry pork chops since learning to brine before cooking. 

I used to do this a lot back when we’d have dinner parties and I was a very strict vegetarian, and it always got rave reviews from our guests. So if you can make something good without even tasting it, it’s got to be a fairly decent method.

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How to: Brining

Brining is a process of soaking meat in brine, a.ka. salty water, often alongside onions and other vegetables or seasonings to draw in flavor, moisture and to tenderize cuts of meat that tend to dry out while cooking. Generally speaking, you can brine any meat using the following ratio: 4 TBSPs of salt for every 4 cups of water. You want to use enough water and salt to completely submerge your meat, so keep adding water and salt in a ratio of 1:1 (tbsp to cup) in whichever container you are going to use to brine. Since my fridge is small, I use a large plastic freezer bag sealed and nestled into a mixing bowl. Any container that closes will do. I brine overnight or while I’m away at work, but you can brine in as little as one hour! Just make sure you rinse off the meat between brining and cooking or the salt taste will be overwhelming. And as far as seasonings go, you can look to aromatics like fresh ginger, thyme, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, garlic, even sugar. If you are hoping to brine a holiday bird, like a large turkey, or a roast, definitely make sure you give it overnight to soak. For the following recipe, I used sliced red onions, since I was planning to use them in the finished dish as well.

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Pork Chops in Citrus Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Pork chops (double recipe for larger crowd)
  • 1 red onion, sliced (you can use the same one from brining)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • flour for dredging (I’m still using and loving TigerNut)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • olive oil for the pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

If you’re brining, do that as early as the night before or as close to cooking time as one hour prior. Drain and rinse the meat and onions or whatever else you use to season the brine, reserving the pork chops and sliced onions.

Season the chops with salt and pepper on each side. Dredge in flour.

Heat a saute pan to medium-high and coat with olive oil. When the oil is hot, cook the chops until golden on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

In the same pan you used to cook the chops, reduce the heat to medium and add another bit of olive oil. Add the red onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, quickly.

Add the lemon and orange juice and zest and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by a third, just two or three minutes. Return the pork to the pan and simmer until the sauce is thickened, 1 or 2 more minutes. Taste the sauce and if it’s too tangy, sweeten it with a pinch of sugar or maple syrup!

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I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart using what I had on hand.

When I sent Mark for pork chops at Trader Joe’s, he got the bone-in kind, which I don’t really eat because I’m not big on country-style cuts or rib meat and lots of fat. It did, however, come out just the same as when I use boneless loin chops, so you can get whatever you like! Here’s a good reference guide to pork cuts, which sometimes have non-intuitive names like “New York Chop.” 

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I hope you enjoy this one. I served it with a fennel & bean salad that could really be its own vegetarian main meal, which I’ll be blogging about next week! I always like to serve pork chops with mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes and applesauce. More often we have it in the fall, but I wanted to change things up a couple weeks ago and this was very light thanks to the citrus flavor profile! My family ate it up and I hope yours will, too.


Beauty & Fashion · Tips and Tricks

Stop Melting Makeup (and get back to enjoying summer)

This is random, but it’s 90 today and it’s so stressful if you need to get dressed up for a baby shower, wedding, birthday party or — you know — WORK, in this kind of humidity. I don’t know what I’d do without these two items on days like this, one pretty cheapie and one more pricey, but both 100% worth it!

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I buy the Baby Skin primer at Target (but you can also find it at Ulta and Walmart) and the Urban Decay setting spray at Sephora in-store or online. I don’t like to wear lots of makeup any day, but when it’s steamy and you have no choice, you really can’t go wrong with these for preventing slide-off. Urban Decay also makes an amazing eye shadow primer and NYX makes the best knockoff version of it.

I used to think these kinds of items were a waste of money, but when I realized how much longer they make makeup last, it made sense — no more reapplying midday or wasting product, especially pricey ones you’ve invested your hard-earned money into.

These aren’t affiliate links, just a couple products I can’t do without in summer. Since nobody can think about cooking in this kind of weather, this is what I’m doing instead. And, if the heat is getting you down, a few inspiring images to remind you why summer in New England is worth waiting for all year: the Fourth of July, lobsters, fried clams, picnics, splash pads, and sparklers. Have a great week, everyone 🙂
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Recipes

I made Caesar Salad the night before, and it came out OK!

I also made a new version of my usual Caesar dressing that added mayo and omitted anchovies, which is even further outside my comfort zone than potentially soggy salad — but I digress before I’ve even begun.

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Last night, Mark and a few other Boston-based artists were performing at an outdoor concert sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. Wanting to prepare ahead and not to eat takeout junk one more time, I decided to make a hearty Caesar Salad with Baked Salmon the night before. So, after putting Georgia to bed, I got down to business cooking fish, chopping greens and oven-roasting bread for croutons, then packaged it all up to grab n’ go the next day. The results were surprisingly excellent! Here’s what I did.

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Make-Ahead Caesar Salad

Ingredients: one sourdough bread ball, two salmon fillets, two romaine hearts, two garlic gloves, 1 TBSP white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 lemon, grated Parmesan to taste. Makes two dinner-sized portions.

The key is to do all the prep but save the mixing until 5 minutes before you need to leave. Then, to assemble, you just toss grated Parmesan in the bottom of the bowl, add the salmon and the croutons on top, pour over the dressing, and squeeze the two lemon halves over top. Toss with your hands, and dig in! 

Prep the Lettuce: Wash, dry and rough chop two heads of romaine. Set aside in a stainless steel bowl that will keep the greens colder and fresher in the fridge overnight. I like Ikea’s compact salad spinner and stainless mixing/serving bowl, and this lettuce knife which are both easy to store in a small kitchen, to make quick work of this often-onerous aspect to preparing fresh salad. To store, seal with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

Make the croutons: Pre-heat the oven to 350. Tear up a ball of sourdough bread by hand and place on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through. (In the past, I’ve just used English muffins or whatever old bread I had lying around to make croutons. Sourdough seemed very hard to me, but it actually works great once you cook it with olive oil! This was one idea gleaned from Blue Apron that I’ll be using over and over). Let cool and set aside in a plastic or glass storage container.

Cook the salmon: Dry off two salmon fillets, season with salt and pepper, and cook in a non-stick pan on medium-high heat with olive oil, starting skin-side down, for 8 minutes, then flip and cook another 4 minutes longer, adjusting to your level of desired doneness. Remove from the heat let cool then place in a storage container. Before storing, use a fork to flake into pieces and toss the skin.

Make the dressing: Mince two garlic cloves into a tablespoon of white wine (or other) vinegar. Zest one lemon’s peel into the mixture; slice the lemon into quarters and juice two of them into the dressing, reserving the others to squeeze over the salad just before you’re actually about to eat it. Stir in a quarter cup of mayonnaise and season with a bit of salt and pepper. This makes enough dressing for the two romaine heads, plus a little extra. I don’t love my Caesar swimming in dressing, but you can tailor to your preferences.

I stored each component in a plastic bag or glass storage dish, then assembled the salad in between coming home from work and going to the concert.

Possibly the biggest surprise of all was that Georgia tried it, ate some lettuce and croutons, but then said “mo’ fish??” And proceeded to steal all my salmon! 

Overall, this took very little time to prep the night before, and gave me a to-go dinner perfect for eating on the grass with my gal while listening to daddy sing. I’ll definitely do this again.

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The concert itself was also really fun. Mark did a great job and lots of his family were able to come. And there were balloons!
IMG_1257As my mother-in-law said, summer in America at its finest.
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Have a wonderful weekend everyone! We have a family reunion tomorrow and then it’s a Mommy and G day Sunday while Daddy works on the Freedom Trail. Our plans include church, checking out the new splash pad in town, and probably having a tea party. Summer is going by so fast!

Recipes

Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope you had a great weekend. We sure did (even though it was in the 90s and our old house barely has any AC!) Georgia and I kept cool with squirt guns, blowing bubbles in the shade, and taking our first boat ride on my dad’s paddle boat in New Hampshire.

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Thanks to Cup of Jo for this great, no-effort pasta recipe that’s perfect for hot/lazy nights when you just don’t have the wherewithal to cook something complicated. All you need is three ingredients: a package of Boursin cheese (the kind you might grab for a party appetizer), a box of medium shells, and fresh or frozen peas. Add a little lemon zest to enhance the complexity of the flavor, and grind as much fresh pepper on top as you like to really make it sing. Comes together super fast, tastes light yet is very filling, and easily feeds babies and toddlers, too. Enjoy!
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I chose to use a bag of frozen organic peas from Trader Joes because that’s what I had on hand. But I would imagine that fresh peas would taste amazing! To thaw this out, I ran the bag under hot water for a few minutes, broke up the frozen chunks in the package with the bottom of a drinking glass, and then added to the dish pretty cold so they could finish cooking in the pan.

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Creamy Boursin Shells & Peas

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. box of shells, medium or small
  • 1 bag of frozen peas (or fresh peas, if you can get them)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 package Garlic & Herb Boursin Cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: fresh basil and a bit of butter

DIRECTIONS

Put a pot of water on to boil. Add the shells and cook until al dente, as they’ll continue cooking in the pan with the sauce.

In a non-stick sauce pan, melt the boursin over medium-high until it turns liquidy. Zest one lemon into the pan and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook for a couple minutes to blend flavors.

Drain the shells, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the cooking water to the sauce, stir until combined, then add the shells. Cook for a few more minutes and add seasonings as well as a bit of butter if the flavor or creaminess isn’t where you want it. Top with freshly-torn basil and serve warm.
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I added torn fresh basil on top for a bit of extra flourish and fresh flavor. You can include or omit as your tastes dictate. Buon Appetito! 

Uncategorized

Georgia and Daddy Sing Show Tunes

This isn’t food related at all, except for the fact that Georgia is eating bread (so what else is new) throughout the entire video. The other night Mark started singing one of his go-to audition songs in preparation for a concert he had this week, and a little voice chimed in from the other room! It was so cute we whipped out the camera phone to take a video and she kept doing it, so I just had to share. I hope this brightens your week a little 🙂

If you’re interested (and have a life besides knowing musical theater standards), the song is “I Won’t Send Roses” from the musical Mack and Mabel, a Jerry Herman show from the 1970s.

Holidays · Slow Cooker · Tips and Tricks

Waste Not: tips for using up BBQ leftovers

I hate food waste. Mark (half-jokingly) says I’d eat around mold on leftovers rather than throw something out. He’s almost right! So parties can be my worst nightmare. I always buy enough food that there’s plenty of extra — I am part Italian, after all — but the next day that stresses me out, big-time. So what’s a hostess to do? Well, here are a few of my go-to recipes and alternate uses for the kind of leftovers you might have from a cookout or house party.

If you were grilling up burgers (veggie or otherwise), hot dogs, steak tips and chicken, then you probably have a hodge-podge of leftover meats, toppings and condiments, and possibly snacky things like chips, salsa, dip and crudites lying around, too. There are lots of ways to get rid of them.


Leftover chicken, and/or tortilla chips + salsa: Grilled poultry can get dry quickly, and leftovers are even worse. A great way to give these leftovers another life is to use them in soup, and what better way than a tasty tortilla soup that will also knock out the remainder of your almost-stale chips? I like this one from Allrecipes.com, since it has so few ingredients and comes together easily. Another great one: crockpot salsa chicken by Jo Cooks. This can use up any chicken you bought but never grilled, or you can buy new chicken and use this recipe to get rid of your leftover salsa and cheese (either slices from your burgers, or shredded cheese from your tossed salad).

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Leftover fruit salad: I had a TON of fruit salad left over from Georgia’s first birthday party because my aunt went to Costco and bought the place out. So, in that case, I always grab my pint-sized ziploc bags and make ready-to-go smoothie pouches. If you keep either coconut water/milk or juice around for your liquid, you can blend up a healthy and tasty breakfast or a snack in a jiff. As soon as Georgia could drink from a straw, I had her sucking down smoothies, too ~ they are a great way to sneak in some greens, from celery to kale or spinach! I did this a couple week’s ago after Mark’s 30th birthday party when I’d cut up 80% of some chard, kale and romaine stalks for a chopped salad and then had these little stumps left over. Also fun: smoothie bowls, which use a higher ratio of fruit-to-liquid than a drinkable smoothie, and feature fresh topped fruit, nuts, pomegranate seeds, you name it. Just blend frozen fruit to a thicker consistency with yogurt, or ice, or the liquid of your choice, and spoon it up. It’s like a cross between a smoothie and frozen yogurt.

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Leftover baked beans: Ladle into storage-safe plastic baggies and lay flat in your freezer. I use sandwich size bags because they stack neatly and hold just the right amount to thaw out later for dinner. A go-to weeknight meal for us is baked beans, butterflied kielbasa roasted on a baking sheet in the oven, and a salad or vegetable with hot buttered noodles. 

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Leftover hamburger rolls and hot dog buns: These will only stay fresh for about a week or so, so I try to prioritize using these for lunches before turning them over to stale-bread uses. I like to pick up some white fish salad at Costco, or make a tuna salad with mayo, dijon mustard and any leftover pickles or relish from the party, then serve them in extra hot dog rolls for lunch; failing that, you can always save old (non-moldy) bread in the fridge for use in soups or bread pudding later on, and as a last resort we keep a bag of old bread to bring to the pond to feed the ducks. (Although it’s actually better to toss them oats, corn, or peas, according to wildlife experts and conservationists). 

Leftover condiments: Use them for macaroni salad! With leftover condiments like pickles, sliced tomatoes and onions, just add mayonnaise and pasta and follow an easy recipe like The Pioneer Woman’s Best Macaroni Salad Ever. In my family, my mom always made macaroni salad with hard boiled eggs, finely chopped bell peppers, onions and Hellman’s mayonnaise, but I’ve had great versions that included pickles or relish or olives, and really you can customize this however you want for a nice picnic-ready dish. All you need to have on hand is a box of elbow pasta.

Leftover sliced or chopped onions that you used as burger and hot dog toppings: Already-diced onions can be the basis for a simple risotto, or to brine chicken or pork for dinner that week. I’ll be posting a how-to on brining very soon, but the basic idea is that you put your meat in the fridge in a bag or other container with water and salt in a ratio of 4:1 (4 cups of water per 1 tablespoon of salt) along with onions and any other seasonings you’d like to add (carrots, celery, garlic, nutmeg, the list is endless) for at least the entire work day or overnight, then rinse well before cooking. You can pan sauté the onions etc. right in with the meat after brining. Additionally, you can make a nice side dish by sauteeing up sliced onions with other items of your choosing (beans? garlic? Shallots? Zucchini? Fennel? Peppers?) until caramelized. Serve as a side, or use to top a pizza or pressed sandwich along with cheese and tomatoes, eggplant, even crumbled extra hamburger from your cookout.

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With leftover alcohol — which does happen, although not often — we use any opened bottles of wine in risotto and often make beer bread with any random bottles of beer we have left over that aren’t appealing for us to drink. I’ll be posting a simple beer bread recipe very soon, and a good staple to keep around is the boxed mix by Pampered Chef, if you know someone who sells their products. Using different kinds of beer really changes the flavor of this quick-to-make bread, so it’s fun to get creative with flavors the more you make it.

Got leftover Chex Mix, pretzels or mixed nuts? I like to grind these up very fine and use them to coat baked chicken or pork chops. (Nuts can also be used to make pesto). A new trick I just picked up from Blue Apron is to bread your cutlets in flour (I’ve been using Tiger Nut and loving it) then dip in a wash of mustard and water instead of egg, and finish with panko bread crumbs. As long as you let the excess drip off after each step, you’ll prevent gloppiness from resulting. I like to pan saute chicken or pork if I’ve breaded it this way, and the trick to making sure they are cooked through without getting soggy is to heat your oil or butter until you’re certain it’s very hot (test by tossing in a few panko pieces; if they sizzle, it’s hot enough) before adding the meat. Then, cook for about 3 minutes on each side, and let it get nice and brown before turning over. The result, as Georgia says: “yay!!”

Got any other good tips for using up leftover cookout food? Let me know, I’d love to hear about it! Funny, there never seems to be a problem getting rid of dessert, does there? 🙂