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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Balsamic & Ginger Pork Tenderloin

A quick weeknight dinner for me is usually a salad or a quick pasta. It's easy, reliable, and healthy. But today I got a really great looking pork tenderloin from the market and decided to turn it into dinner.

A pork tenderloin is a great cut of meat because it really satisfies that meat craving without a lot of fat. It also takes on the flavors of whatever or however you cook it, and it doesn't take long at all! With so many great reasons to cook pork tenderloin, I am starting to think that I should do it more often.

Oh, and one more thing.... This meal is the one that keeps on giving! It doesn't take any more effort to make extra, but the leftovers make a great topper for a salad or an incredible sandwich! In fact, we just sliced last night's leftovers and made a killer sandwich with whole grain flax bread, mayonnaise, tomato, sliced white onions and green leaf lettuce. These sandwiches were so so fantastic and much tastier (and I am sure, healthier also) than any sandwich made from store bought deli meat! (I would have posted a picture, but I ate the sandwich so fast, there are only crumbs left!)

Balsamic & Ginger Pork
Serves 2

1 Pork Tenderloin (400-500 grams)
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 cup White Wine
1/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup Water
1 1/2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, minced
2 tbsp Honey

Season all sides of the pork with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Sear the pork so that it is brown on all sides (about 2 minutes per side).

Add the white wine, balsamic, water, ginger and honey. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and let cook for about 15-18 minutes, until cooked through, turning once during cooking (it will be feel medium- firm to the touch). Remove the pork from the pan and place on a cutting board. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Serve drizzled with pan sauce.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hearty Lentil and Kale Soup

Usually when I think of Lentil Soup, I think of my blended, middle eastern style Cumin Scented Lentil Soup. However, seeing that I am currently blender-less (yes, we are still waiting for our furniture and stuff to arrive in our new scantly-furnished-yet-functional apartment), I wanted to find an easy lentil soup recipe with the same heart warming qualities as mine but didn't require a blender.

Yes, given I could have made my lentil soup recipe and left it chunky, but I guess it was also the opportunity to try something new in the lentil soup realm. So, I stumbled upon this recipe for Lentil and Kale Soup in a book by Ellie Krieger (yes, I did modify it a little). It was delicious and completely different from my soup, but comforting just the same.

Also, after making this recipe, I realized that it could be make more soupy with the addition of more broth, or it could be made almost dry, then squeezed with lemon juice and topped with fresh lemon zest at the last minute and served as a side dish!

Anyway, it was healthy, hearty and delicious and I would easily make this recipe again for a quick meal or side dish. Oh, and the flavors do get better with age so make a lot and take it for lunch all week!

Hearty Lentil and Kale Soup
Recipe modified by Ellie Krieger's Book "So Easy"
Serves 6

1 tbsp Canola Oil
1 Medium Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, chopped
3 Celery Stalks, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 cups Dry Green Lentils
2 tsp Italian Herbs
1 tsp Salt
14 cups Chicken Broth
6 cups Kale, chopped
1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Lemon Zest

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cook for about 5-7 minutes until the veggies just start to soften. Add the lentils, herbs, salt and chicken broth. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the kale. Cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add more broth as necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gourmet Rice Krispies Squares with Dark Chocolate, Dried Cranberries & Walnuts

I have eaten various forms of rice krispie squares since as long as I can remember. The most frequent "twist" on this classic when I was a kid was changing the white marshmallows with the colored ones. Yes, that's right. A rice krispies square with gooey strands of pink, green, and white. That was as daring as it got.

Move forward 20 years, and I am still crazy about these oozy squares of puffed rice. The difference is that I like to put a bigger twist on things. And by that I mean the addition of dark chocolate, cranberries, and walnuts. It is just as simple to make as the original, but it takes this classic recipe up to the caliber of gourmet treat while still maintaining all the delicious, gooey, satisfying qualities of the original.

Does it get any better than that?

Gourmet Rice Krispies Squares 
with Dark Chocolate, Dried Cranberries & Walnuts
Makes 1 pan- 9” by 13”

4 tbsp Butter
1/4 tsp Salt
4 3/4 cups Mini Marshmallows
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
6 cups Rice Krispies
3/4 cup Dried Cranberries
1 cup Walnut Pieces
1/2 cup Dark Chocolate, cut into chunks (about 100 grams), cold or frozen
(this prevents the chunks from melting too much)

Grease a 9 by 13 inch pan with butter. Set aside.

In a large pan, melt butter over medium heat. As it is melting, rotate the pan to ensure that it is entirely coated with butter. Add the salt and marshmallows and stir constantly until almost melted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Then add the rice krispies, cranberries, and walnuts and stir until coated with marshmallow. Quickly fold in the dark chocolate chunks and immediately transfer to the prepared pan. Press the mixture into the pan (** trick, use a piece of wax paper and press with your hands to get an even batch without making a mess!).

When cool, cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for about 2 days or freeze and let stand for about 10 minutes before eating!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicken Waldorf Salad

Waldorf Salad is a classic combination of apples, grapes, celery and walnuts in a creamy dressing.

Over the years, everyone has made their own version, and this is mine. It is pretty simple and stays very close to the classic Waldorf. However, since I made this the meal for two, I added some chicken.

Now, let's talk about the chicken for a moment. Most of the time, salads using chicken use chicken breasts which are cut into slices or cubes. I, however, used chicken thighs, which I cooked on the stove top, let cool, then hand shredded. Of course, if you prefer chicken breast, by all means use them. And if you prefer your salad to look less rustic, then of course you can cut the chicken into cubes. However, I love chicken thighs because they have far more flavor and stay super moist. In fact, I cook them with bone in and skin on, then remove both once the thighs are cooked. Then I hand shred them. Yes, a little rustic, but the salad dressing seems to stick better to the shredded chicken.

I also used only sour cream in the salad dressing. You could use yogurt, mayonnaise or a mix of the three, but I happened to have sour cream on hand and it turned out great!

This is a really great salad to make as a meal for 2 or as a starter or side dish for 4. And because there are no "greens" this salad doesn't wilt in the fridge. In fact, it tastes better with age, so make it in advance and keep the leftovers for a quick lunch. It really couldn't be easier.

Chicken Waldorf Salad
Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a starter or side

1 Apple, cored and cut into cubes (I prefer the tartness of granny smith)
3 ribs Celery, cut into 1 cm pieces
1/2 cup Walnut Pieces, lightly toasted
1 cup Seedless Grapes, cut in half
4 Chicken Thighs, with skin and bone
Salt and Pepper

For the Dressing:
1/3 cup Sour Cream
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Lemon Zest
1 tsp Celery Seeds
Salt and pepper

Heat a pan over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place skin side down in the heated pan. Let cook for about 4 minutes until the skin is brown and turn over. Cover and oook for 6-8 minutes until cooked through. Remove from pan and let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, mix all the salad dressing ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cut apple, celery and grapes. Remove the skin from the chicken and remove the meat from the bone. Tear into pieces about the same size as the rest of the ingredients. Toss everything together.

At this point, I would refrigerate the salad until I am ready to serve it. Just before service, toss in half of the toasted walnuts. Then sprinkle the rest on top for garnish.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The One Pan Meal: Pan Seared Pork Chops, Potatoes & Veggies

No one will ever believe that this entire meal was made in just one pan!

It really is a complete meal with meat, starch and veggies all cooked separately but in the same pan. Not only does this mean less dishes, but it also means more flavorful food, as each component (pork, potatoes, veggies) is cooked in the same pan (without cleaning!), building on the flavors of the ingredients before it. The end result? A delicious meal with minimal effort!

Since this meal is cooked in the same pan, and the total cook time is about 20 minutes, make sure that all of your ingredients are cut in advance and ready to throw into the pot.

For the potatoes, you could boil them until fork tender, drain, pat dry, then cut into chunks, but I find stabbing a knife a couple times into them and putting them into the microwave for about 4 minutes each does the trick.

So, make a quick dinner for yourself or impress you friends. This one is not to be missed!

The One Pan Meal: Pan Seared Pork Chops, Potatoes & Veggies
Serves 4

4 Pork Loin Center Chops (about 750 grams), room temperature
4 large Potatoes (about 1 kg)
1/2 Medium Sized Red Onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 tbsp Butter
1 head Chinese Cabbage (or bok choy), chopped with white stems and green leaves separated
2 tsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Water
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

Microwave potatoes whole and with skin on until fork tender. Cut into large chunks and set aside.

For the Pork:
Season both sides of the pork loins with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium heat, heat up about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the pork chops and let cook for about 3-4 minutes without moving, until nicely browned. Flip and cook for about 3- 4 minutes on the other side until browned. You should see clear juices coming up to the top of the pork chops which means they are cooked. Remove from pan and let rest while the potatoes and veggies cook.

For the Potatoes:
In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and about half of the chopped garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the potato chunks and the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Let cook until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

For the Veggies:
Again, in the same pan (even if there are brown bits on the bottom, do not give into your temptations and wash! These brown bits will add flavor to the veggies!), add the rest of the garlic and white parts of the cabbage. Add the soy sauce and cook, stirring until the veggies just start to soften. Add the green leaves and the water. Cover, and let cook for 2-3 minutes, until the greens just wilt.

Serve the rested pork loin with the potatoes and veggies. I also like to serve it with some grainy Dijon mustard!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spicy Sausage Linguine with Bell Peppers, Onions & Tomatoes

My apologies for my absence everyone, but as some of you already know, I have just moved back to Canada after many years abroad. It has been really nice to get closer to family and friends, but moving has its downsides also. In my case, living in hotels has to be my least favorite part. Many people I meet are envious of the hotel life, however, I have to say, it is not as grand as it sounds. Living in a hotel room means no kitchen, which means no cooking.  When hunger pangs strike, you either need to reach for the half eaten box of shreddies on the table or the few remaining digestive cookies or pretzels from the day before. Or you need to call room service. And then wait....

And it's not only the waiting. It's also the fact that no matter how interesting and delicious a room service menu is, it just lacks variety. It is not really designed for people who stay in a hotel for a long period of time. After a couple meals, I started to repeat dishes done before. Yes, I could always ask for some kind of "self-modified" menu item, but to be honest, no ones wants to be the guest that inspires the order taker to curse and swear when he or she gets off the phone.

So, today, I was super happy that having found a suitable apartment and temporarily equipping the kitchen with the necessary supplies (we are waiting for our actual shipment with all of our furnishings and kitchen supplies to arrive from the middle east), I was able to cook our first meal in our new apartment. Yes, I didn't have all the herbs and spices I would usually have. And yes, I improvised. But it tasted great. And the best part is that it was homemade.

Spicy Sausage Linguine with Bell Peppers, Onions & Tomatoes
Serves 4

4 Mild Italian Sausages, cut into 1cm slices
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Medium Onion, diced
1 Large Yellow Pepper, cut into slices
2 Small Red Chilis, seeded and chopped
2 cans Diced Tomatoes (14 ounces each)
Salt and Pepper
500 grams Whole Wheat Linguine

Cook the linguine in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes less than instructed on the packagee (the pasta will be a little hard to the bite). Drain and set aside.

In a large pan over medium to high heat, cook to sausage pieces until browned. Drain about 3/4 of the sausage drippings from the pan. Then add the minced garlic, onions, yellow pepper, and chilies. Cook until the onions and peppers start to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the drained pasta into the sauce pan and toss. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let the pasta cook the rest of the way in the sauce. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and taste. The pasta should be al dente and the sauce should have thickened.  Garnish if desired with fresh cracked pepper and parmesan cheese.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ode to the Middle East: Part 2- Fattoush Salad

Fattoush. This is the salad that my brother fell in love with when he came to visit us in Syria (although he did mistakenly call it Phantoof....).

The reason why I love this salad (and probably why my brother loves it also) is because it has great texture and flavor. It is so fresh tasting and the tartness of fresh lemon juice, tanginess and saltiness of the olives, bite of the onions,  and the crunch of the fried or toasted pita bread all complement each other. It is a great starter salad, as it is traditionally eaten, or could be great as a meal, topped with some roasted chicken.

And the best part is that it can easily be made anywhere in the world!

Traditional fatoush uses a slightly bitter green called Purslane. If you cannot find purslane, you can use watercress, or baby arugula. It also uses a spice called sumac, which is ground from red berries and imparts a sour, lemony taste.

Here is my fatoush recipe:

Fatoush Salad
Serves 2

2 Tomatoes, cut into large dice
1 English Cucumber, cut into large dice (cut into 4 lengthwise, then chop)
1 bunch Purslane (Watercress, Baby Arugula, or Lettuce)
1/4 cup Black Olives (pitted, sliced, or whole.... your choice)
1 Shallot, thinly sliced

For the dressing:
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
2 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tsp Sumac
1 tsp Dried Mint
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Salt

1 Round of Pita Bread

In a large bowl, mix together all the salad ingredients. For the purslane or watercress, use the leaves and small stems only. For the lettuce, chop into bite sized pieces.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients.

Place the pita bread in the oven (350 degrees) until crisp- about 5 minutes. Break into bite sized pieces. (You could also fry this bread as done traditionally. Cut into 1 inch pieces and fry in oil until crisp).

To put it all together, toss the dressing into the salad and top with the crisp pita bread.