Archive for October, 2009


Ginger Pork Lettuce Cups

These lettuce cups might be a little too P.F. Chang’s for some people, but this is a recipe I’ve come back to time and time again for quick, delicious results.  Big on flavor and a cinch to prepare, ginger pork lettuce cups are an amazing start to an Asian-inspired menu and have even taken center stage on more than one dinner occasion.

Here, unctuous ground pork and umami-rich oyster sauce mingle with crunchy water chestnuts and finely diced red bell pepper to create a filling that is as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate. The contrast in texture between the hot, salty filling and the cool, crispy lettuce is a combination that has me coming back to this recipe over and over again.  The best part? Once you have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry, whipping this dish up on a weeknight is as easy as it gets.

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Spicy Chicken Sandwich Vibrant

When it comes to fast food guilty pleasures, for me, a good spicy chicken sandwich ranks near the top.  Having eaten my fair share from just about every fast food chain out there while I was in high school, I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to the crispy, neon-orange chicken pucks of the world.  I know, I know, that crap is not only horrible for you, but also made from ingredients we’d all rather not know about.  That’s precisely why I set out to recreate this drive-thru favorite at home.  Think of it as a slow food take on a fast food classic.

Made with organic, boneless-skinless breasts, a spicy buttermilk marinade and fiery Cajun seasoning blend, the flavor of this scratch-made rendition easily outranks that of its greasy, artificial cousin.  When combined with ripe tomato slices, crisp lettuce and creamy mayonnaise on a homemade sesame seed bun, you have a fried chicken sandwich good enough to get excited about without the guilt of processed, chain food.

It might not be the healthiest sandwich out there, but like mozzarella sticks, you’ll feel better knowing its homemade.

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Split Pea Soup

While my Mom is good at cooking many things, my Dad and I both agree that she is especially great at making delicious, comforting soups.  From minestrone and lentil to chicken tortilla and roasted butternut squash, she would be the first to point out that, “it’s kind of hard to screw up soup”.  Ever the modest chef, my Mom’s casual approach to cooking is something I look to emulate in the kitchen on a daily basis.  With a propensity to sweat the small stuff when it comes to recipe components and cooking techniques, it is while making soup that I feel the most at ease.  In fact, I’ve found that soup making can be one of the most relaxing of kitchen tasks.  Throw a bunch of quality ingredients in a pot, simmer low and slow until the flavors come together and you have a simple and satisfying supper with leftovers for the week.

A hearty and warming soup, split pea with ham is one of my all-time favorites for the Fall because of its earthy flavor, rustic texture and tender shreds of smoky pork.  There are countless way to make this comfort classic, but I am particularly fond of adding bit of cream sherry at the end of cooking for a unique, sophisticated sweetness.  This is a very simple soup to prepare and certainly one falls into the category of dishes that are difficult to screw up.

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If you are any kind of home cook, chances are you’ve made your own hummus at least once – a can of garbanzo beans, some tahini, a little garlic and lemon juice and you’re set.  Those of us who are a bit more adventurous in the kitchen may have even attempted making our own baba ghanoush; the other ubiquitous Middle Eastern dip now found on the shelves of nearly every major grocery store.  Considering the overwhelming popularity and mainstream appeal of these healthful dishes, I will never cease to be amazed that more people haven’t heard of muhammara – let alone tried it.

Popular throughout Syria, Turkey and Lebanon this delicious paste of walnuts, breadcrumbs and roasted red peppers is certainly a taste combination you must try.  Savory, sweet and a little spicy, the distinctly flavored dip gets much of its unique character from the intense sour flavor of pomegranate molasses.  Like hummus, muhammara has a taste and texture that belies it’s dairy-free blend.  Here, walnuts give the dip a rich, creamy consistency while roasted red bell peppers lend the dish it’s beautiful brick red color.

Served with crispy, homemade za’atar dusted pita chips and you have an appetizer so good you’ll be kicking yourself for having never tried it until now.  Who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing fourteen different brands of muhammara lining our grocery store shelves in the near future.

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Mozzarella Sticks with Buttermilk Dip

When I told my friends I was planning on making homemade mozzarella sticks for a guy’s weekend out of town the idea was met with a profound lack of enthusiasm.  Everybody knows that I like to experiment in the kitchen, but somehow the idea of making a bar food staple like mozzarella sticks from scratch seemed like a complete waste of time to the group.  After being lectured about the innumerable brands available in the freezer section at the grocery store and a heated debate about whether marinara or ranch is the better dipping accompaniment, I decided to risk further heckling and see if I couldn’t one-up T.G.I. Friday’s in my own kitchen.

It might have been the alcohol, but the first batch was gone within a matter of seconds.  Simultaneously crispy and gooey, these mozzarella sticks seem to defy the laws of physics and flavor.  After the second batch had been demolished, a few halfhearted concessions came my way; they had to admit,  homemade outranked frozen by a long shot.

With the right breadcrumbs, fragrant Italian spices and an organized assembly line for the essential double-dredging technique, perfect, scratch-made mozzarella sticks can be made at home in no time and with little effort.

With the question about whether or not it’s a waste of time to make mozzarella sticks at home answered, the question of the perfect dip remained.  We decided to go with a buttermilk dip that was tangy, cooling and delicious.  But I wouldn’t mind trying these with a marinara sauce, too.

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