Friday, August 26, 2016

Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry-Tomato Sauce

I feel like I should start this post with an apology, so here goes--I'm sorry I held out on you with this recipe.  I made it at the beginning of the summer and it was amazing.  Then I didn't post it  But now here we are, nearing the tail end of summer, and I cannot let berry season pass without making sure you've seen this recipe.  That would just be downright hateful.

Because wow.  It is outstanding.  

Pork and blackberries have long been established as friends.  But when you add juicy, ripe summer tomatoes, sweet red onion, tart pomegranate juice, and a good splash of balsamic vinegar to the mix, you come up with something really special.  And, as it turns out, pretty darn easy to make, as well.

The tenderloin gets the basic season, brown, and put in the oven treatment.  While that's happening, the sauce gets put together, which pretty much consists of putting things in a pot to simmer together until the flavors have found the perfect way to bring out the best in each other.  

Then you get to eat.

And you'll be very happy.    

Lean pork tenderloin topped with antioxidant-packed berries and pomegranate juice make this meal a healthy, hearty, perfect way to fill your belly and stay on track with your summer fitness goals.   

Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry-Tomato Sauce
source unknown

1 lb. pork tenderloin
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 tsp. black pepper
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, sliced
12 oz. blackberries (about 2 c.), divided
1/2 c. halved grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 c. pomegranate juice
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme

1.  Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Pat the tenderloin dry with a paper towel and season with half the salt and pepper.  

2.  Heat half the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the pork and brown on all sides.  Place the pan in the oven and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 145° F, approximately 20-25 minutes.  Remove and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

3.  While the pork cooks, heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and remaining salt and pepper and cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.  Add half the blackberries and all the tomatoes and cook about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are mostly broken down.  Add the pomegranate juice and vinegar.  Increase the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.  Add the remaining berries.

4.  To serve, slice the pork, drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle with thyme.

Yield: 4 generous servings    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Roasted Summer Vegetable and Rice Casserole with Chicken

My goodness.  We've been having the most amazing stretch of weather.  Last week, we were slogging through our twelfth straight day of hundred degree temperatures.  Then the clouds rolled in, the raindrops came, and the temperatures went way, way down.  And it's wonderful.  Eighty degrees in Texas in August?  Yes please!

With weather more like early October than mid-August, I couldn't wait to get in the kitchen and make a dinner that required more than heating up the grill or putting together a salad.  A quick search of my friend Courtney's blog, and I knew exactly what I'd make.

Let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.  In fact, it's one of my new favorites.  It was a snap to put together--I got the rice going, then prepped the chicken and the vegetables while it cooked.  By cooking the rice and chicken ahead of time, the casserole could easily become a weeknight staple.  The leftovers were fantastic, too.  I loved it so much, I'm already thinking about the vegetable combinations I'll use as the seasons change.  Fall and winter, I'm comin' for ya.

For now, I'll just keep smiling through this glorious bit of decidedly non-August weather.  

Summer's bounty really shines in this easy, healthy,  flavor-packed casserole your whole family is sure to love.  

Roasted Summer Vegetable and Rice Casserole with Chicken
adapted from Cook Like a Champion

1 medium zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 medium summer squash, sliced into half moons
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
2 eggs
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
1 c. cottage cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
2/3 c. corn kernels (cut from 1-2 ears or frozen)
2 c. cooked brown rice
2 c. cooked, shredded chicken (chickpeas would be a great vegetarian substitute)
1/3 c. chopped fresh basil, divided

1.  Preheat the oven to 425° F.  

2.  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together the zucchini, squash, and bell pepper with 1 TBSP olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Roast 10 minutes and remove from the oven.  

3.  Add tomatoes and remaining oil.  Toss to combine, then roast 15 minutes more.  Remove from the oven and reduce heat to 350° F. 

4.  While the vegetables cool, make the sauce by whisking together the eggs, Dijon mustard, cottage cheese, garlic, and half the Parmesan cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste.

5.  When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut the pepper strips into bite-sized pieces and add them to the egg mixture along with the remaining vegetables, rice, chicken, and half the basil.  Stir to combine, then transfer to a prepared 2 quart casserole dish or 9x13 baking dish.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and lightly cover with foil, taking care not to press the foil down onto the cheese.  (You want all that goodness to stay with the casserole!) 

6.  Bake 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more.  Allow the casserole to rest for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining basil and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Last-Minute Sort-of Spanish Shrimp

That's quite a name, huh?  I saw it while scrolling my New York Times Cooking app.  I probably would have kept on scrolling because, let's be honest, that name doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the recipe.  But I love Spanish flavors, I had some cherry tomatoes to use up, and nearly anything Mark Bittman does is fantastic.  So I tapped the picture to see more.

There were no tomatoes listed in the ingredients.

I was thoroughly confused.  Just as I was about to chalk it up to an error with the app, thinking surely the wrong picture made it to the recipe posted, I noticed the picture was actually a video.  I clicked on it and, wouldn't you know it, there was Mark Bittman, surrounded by a whole mess of ingredients, talking.

As it turns out, this "recipe" is more of a basic guideline, which is why the tomatoes weren't listed.  If you're not a terribly confident cook or you need a recipe for everything you make, I think you'll get a lot of information from this video about how having basic pantry staples on hand can make easy dinners possible and how certain ingredients work together.  As a more experienced home cook, I really enjoyed hearing his thought process on putting ingredients together to develop flavors.  If you do watch the video and read Bittman's recipe, you'll notice I didn't exactly follow either--I did what he said and used what I had on hand!

No matter your experience level, I can assure you you'll want this dish in your weeknight repertoire.  It truly took 20 minutes, including cleaning the shrimp and chopping the ingredients.  If you prefer to cook your shrimp with the shell on, it'll be even quicker.  Served with a glass of wine (or two) and some toasted bread, such as the fantastic olive bread I get at my grocery store, to sop up the deep red, flavor-packed oil, this is sure to become a new staple.    

In a rush and not sure what to make for dinner?  With just a few pantry staples and about a pound of shrimp, you can make a dinner that home that'll be tastier and quicker than your usual takeout.  

Last-Minute Sort-of Spanish Shrimp
based on a recipe from Mark Bittman, New York Times

1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for drizzling, if desired
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili flakes
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and black pepper, to taste
3/4 c. halved cherry tomatoes
chopped parsley and lemon wedges, if desired

1.  Over low heat, warm the oil in a sauté pan large enough to cook the shrimp in one layer.  Add in garlic and chili flakes and adjust the heat so it barely sizzles.  Cook until garlic becomes fragrant and blonde, but do not let it brown.  Add the paprika and cumin and cook, stirring a couple of times, until ingredients are incorporated and oil is a deep red color, 2-3 minutes.

2.  Salt and pepper the shrimp and tomatoes, then add to the pan in one layer.  Raise the heat to medium-low and cook, turning once, until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the size of the shrimp.

3.  To serve, spoon shrimp into three or four shallow bowls, distributing oil evenly.  If desired, drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.  Serve with lemon wedges and/or toasted bread.

Yield: 3-4 servings

Monday, July 11, 2016

Meatless Monday--Linguine with Sweet Pepper Sauce

Here's the good and bad of this recipe.  The good is really two-fold.  First of all, carbs.  Love.  Clearly.  Second of all, it's a quick and easy, light, summery recipe that make for great lunch leftovers.

The bad.  I went to Italy shortly after making this, so it all of a sudden paled in comparison to what I had in the trattoria with the adorable Italian nonnas making fresh pasta at a table next to the window.  But we can't all have that everyday now, can we?  Unless we're Italian.  Which I'm not.

Even still, I recommend adding this to your summer weeknight dinner list.  Better yet, make it for a weekend lunch like I did.  Since it comes together in a breeze (you can even make the red pepper sauce in advance), you'll have more time to enjoy the sunshine, swimming pool, and all the other things we'll miss when the season passes.

Sweet summer bell peppers, creamy cheese, and fresh basil combine for a light and healthy vegetarian pasta that's out of this world.

Linguine with Sweet Pepper Sauce
adapted from Cooking Light, June 2014

8 oz. uncooked linguine
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
4 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more for finishing
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more as desired
4 oz. semi-soft cheese, such as Burrata or mozzarella, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
1/4 c. fresh basil leaves, julienned

1.  If you have a gas stove, turn burners on medium and place peppers directly on to grates.  Turn as needed, until flesh is black and bubbling.  Put peppers in a large brown paper bag and close.  Let sit ten minutes, then peel all charred skin from the peppers, remove flesh, and cut into strips.  Discard seeds and stem.  Alternately, preheat boiler to high.  Halve and seed the peppers and place, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Flatten with hand and place under the broiler.  Broil eight minutes or until blackened.  Wrap peppers in foil and let stand ten minutes.  Peel black skin from flesh and cut into strips.

2.  Cook pasta according to package directions.    

3.  Meanwhile, place half of each color bell pepper strips in a food processor along with 1 TBSP oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and all the pepper.  Purée until nearly smooth.  Set aside.

4.  Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Add three TBSP oil to pan and swirl to coat.  Add garlic and cook two minutes, until the garlic becomes fragrant and soft.  Add 1/4 c. pasta cooking liquid, puréed bell pepper, and the remaining salt.  Stir to combine.  Toss in pasta.  Taste and adjust seasonings, keeping in mind the cheese will add some saltiness.

5.  Divide pasta among four bowls.  Top each bowl with equal amounts of the bell pepper strips, cheese, and basil.  Serve immediately.

Yields: 4 servings 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Momma's Rhubarb Pie

When I count the many blessings in my life, my mom is right up at the top.  I could never, ever find a way to thank her for everything she has done for me.  Words and gestures simply could never be enough and I can't afford the farm in the Swiss Alps I think she'd really love.

We spent this past weekend in Las Vegas.  You see, among the many, many lessons my mom taught me was how to have just the right amount of fun.  This was no easy task.  I was a serious kid with a tough streak of perfectionism.  I was a know-it-all who had a tough time understanding and exhibiting patience.  But, as I learned during one of our many talks over the weekend, my mom recognized this early on and actually took it upon herself to seek out information on how to be encourage my love of learning, nurture my self-esteem, and surround me with opportunities to explore, even if my impressionable young disposition wasn't always the rosiest.  Many, many years later, I've learned to lighten up, trust in others, and find happiness in leading other children much like me.

So how did my amazing mom do all of that?  The short answer is I have no idea.  But what I do know is many of our best talks and fondest memories happened in the kitchen.  I've always loved to cook with my mom.  In fact, some of my first memories are making Christmas cookies for the church Christmas pageant with some classic Barbara Mandrell "Christmas at Our House" playing in the background.  My job was always to roll the cookies in powdered sugar.

Over the last several months, I haven't cooked nearly as much as I used to.  It wasn't intentional.  Between my new job, which has very different hours than I've had in my past ten years as a teacher, lots of travel, and a new and wonderful relationship, my routine has changed quite a bit.  But now that I've got my head above water with my job, I've come to realize that cooking isn't just a way to put food on the table.  To me, it's so much more.  It's one of my favorite ways to relax and it's an integral part of who I am.  I feel more settled, more grounded, and more complete when I'm in the kitchen.  I guess I have my mom to thank for that, too.

Sweet, tart rhubarb is the star of this seasonal and nostalgic family favorite.  With my tried and true ultra-buttery, ultra-flaky perfect pie crust and a scoop of farm-style vanilla ice cream, it's sure to become a favorite with your family, too.

Mom's Rhubarb Pie
family recipe, courtesy of my sweet momma

4 c. rhubarb, cut into 3/4 in. slices
1 2/3 c. sugar (vanilla sugar, if possible)
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 recipe perfect pie crust
2 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
1 TBSP Turbinado or demerara sugar (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F.  If you have a pizza stone, place it on the middle rack.  (This is my mom's trick to get a nice, crisp bottom crust on a pie.)

2.  Trim the leaves and the ends of both ends of each stalk of rhubarb.  Cut into 3/4 in. pieces and pt into a medium bowl.  Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small bowl.  Pour over rhubarb and toss to combine.  Let sit 15 minutes to bring out the rhubarb's juices.   

3.  Meanwhile, roll out both crusts.  Roll the bottom crust halfway on the rolling pin and place into the bottom of a deep pie dish.

4.  Pour the rhubarb into the bottom crust and dot with butter pieces.  Roll the top crust on the rolling pin and place on top of the pie.  Trim the excess crust, then crimp the edges to seal.  Alternately, use the excess crust to cut shapes with mini cutters or make braids to decorate the edges of the pie.  Brsh the top with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.  Make slits in the top crust. 

5.  Place the pie dish on a baking sheet, then place the baking sheet directly on the pizza stone.  Bake for 50 minutes, rotating halfway through and covering edges with foil if browning too quickly.

6.  Let stand at least one hour before serving.  Cut into eight slices and serve warm or at room temperature.  Best with a generous scoop of Oklahoma farm-style vanilla ice cream

Yield: 8 servings