Tag Archives: quick dinners

Garlic Shrimp and White Beans (and the Best Kale Ever)

The past couple weeks have been full of exciting discoveries.  I figured out how to replace a headlight (a tricky thing with a Mazda), which completely trumped my sense of accomplishment regarding the back light replacement.  Because my car repair self-efficacy is fairly low, I recruited my brother-in-law for moral support, but really, I did it myself.

Even more exciting, and more relevant here, I found out that our big cast iron skillet fits in the broiler of our oven, and I found my new favorite kale recipe.  I’m guessing you’re more interested in hearing about these things.

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The cast iron skillet discovery came in handy for this Bon Appetit recipe for Garlic Shrimp and White Beans.  I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I do have a few comments (don’t I always?)

  • I used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes rather than fresh chopped tomatoes.  Who wants to buy fresh tomatoes in February?  This did make it a little more liquidy, but this wasn’t a problem with me since I had some delicious sourdough bread to soak it up.
  • Next time I think I would squeeze a little lemon juice over the shrimp just before serving.  It could use a little citrus-y brightness.
  • I don’t think the last two tablespoons of olive oil (drizzled on the shrimp after broiling) are really necessary.  (Although if you had a citrus-infused olive oil, that might work well instead of just using lemon juice).

Generally, this was a really tasty recipe that came together easily and quickly, and reheated well for lunch.

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And now, the kale.  This is ridiculously simple, and not that different from how I have cooked it in the past, but this particular formula seems to be magical in creating a pile of greens that I would never tire of.  It is fully endorsed by Nick, too.  Thank you, Alice Waters.

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Sauteed Kale with Garlic and Vinegar (from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters; serves 4-6)

2 bunches kale (about 2 pounds), torn and washed (drained, but no need to spin dry)

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 or 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Salt

Heat a large saute pan and add olive oil and just enough kale to cover the bottom of the pan.  Allow these greens to wilt down before adding more.  When all the kale has been added, season with salt, stir in garlic, and cover the pan.  The greens will take anywhere from just a few minutes to 15 minutes to cook, depending on their maturity.  When they are tender, remove the lid and allow any excess water to cook away.  Turn of the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Note: The recipe mentions that most leafy greens can be cooked using this method.  I’ve cooked Swiss chard like this, and indeed, it’s excellent.

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Eggplant and Zucchini Stir-Fry

Have I mentioned that I have a terrible habit of buying produce without any idea of how I intend to use it?

Actually, there are a lot of times that I purchase something knowing exactly what I want to do with it, but it never happens. I throw away a lot of potatoes. Two autumns in a row I have purchased a pumpkin, planning to try to make kaddo borawni (aka, pumpkin with a garlic yogurt sauce, aka, the most delicious thing ever). And two Januarys in a row, I have realized there is still a pumpkin sitting in our dining room. On at least one occurrence, there were little cat tooth marks in it, too.

I know I have mentioned that I hate wasting produce, so sometimes buying an unfamiliar vegetable forces me to find a way to use it.  That’s how I discovered Swiss chard, fennel, and broccolini, for instance.

It might sound odd, but eggplant is actually a fairly unfamiliar vegetable to me.  I never liked it as a kid (I still do not understand the appeal of eggplant Parmesan), and while I’ve had some dishes with it recently that I liked, I have not cooked it much myself.

The little Japanese or Chinese eggplants are less intimidating to me.  I added some to a curry last summer with relative success.  Trying to replicate baked slices of eggplant that I had at a friend’s house… not so successful.

When I saw some little eggplants at the farmer’s market last week, I had to take advantage of them, especially since Nick was going to be out, allowing for a low-pressure, experimental dinner for one.

I semi-followed a recipe, but didn’t keep track of precisely what I did.  So I suggest you use this as inspiration, and check the Bon Appetit recipe for Stir-Fried Eggplant and Green Beans more structured guidance.

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Instead of chili-garlic sauce, I had Thai roasted red chili paste* on hand, so to make it a little more garlic-y, I sauteed some sliced garlic in the olive oil first.  I used zucchini instead of green beans because that’s what I had around.  I didn’t use tofu, because I just cannot bring myself to like tofu, unless it is in soup (of the miso or hot and sour variety).  But I tried this with sliced mushrooms another time (not pictured) and that was excellent, if you want to add a bit more meatiness to the dish. If you choose to add mushrooms,  saute them in the garlic-infused oil for a minute or two before you add the other vegetables.  Also, I use the term “stir-fry” very loosely, as I don’t think my technique necessarily adheres to stir-fry tenets.

Eggplant and Zucchini Stir-Fry

(This made a very generous serving for one person. Don’t judge me. It’s all vegetables, so it’s okay. If you add mushrooms, or a second zucchini or eggplant, you’d have plenty for two people.)

Thinly slice 1 garlic clove.

Quarter 1 zucchini, lengthwise, then halve each quarter lengthwise so that you end up with 8 spears. Cut each spear into 2- to 2-1/2-inch pieces.

Halve 1 large or 2 small Japanese or Chinese eggplants**, then cut into 1/2-inch slices on a diagonal.

Mince a handful of scallions (dark green parts only) or chives.

Heat some olive oil (1 tablespoon or 2) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute garlic slices in the oil, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, discard garlic slices and reserve oil in skillet.

Add eggplant and zucchini to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and brown, about 2-3 minutes.  You can add some red pepper flakes at this point if you like a little more heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1-2 tablespoons chili paste and 2-3 tablespoons water with a splash of soy sauce if you like.

Pour sauce into skillet with vegetables and simmer until sauce slightly thickens, about one minute.

Serve over rice with scallions or chives sprinkled on top.

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*I just realized this has fish sauce, anchovies, and shrimp as ingredients so it’s not actually vegetarian. But for my purposes I still see this as a meatless dinner.

**I have a vague understanding of Japanese eggplants being shorter than Chinese eggplants, but I have no idea which ones I was working with.  When it comes to how many eggplants to use, go with your gut.

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Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Ravioli

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like ravioli.  And then I figured out that I just don’t like typical frozen cheese-filled ravioli (unless it’s deep-fried).  Fresh ravioli filled with yummy things like asparagus and gruyere or exotic mushrooms are a completely different thing.  Our grocery store carries La Pasta ravioli, and they’ve been a dinner staple in our house for at least a year, now.  They are delicious with just a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped basil, but every so often, I’ll be inspired to make a fancier sauce while I’m waiting for the water in the pasta pot to come to a boil.

I’m enjoying hands-off cooking right now. Something like this roasted cherry tomato sauce that needs minimal attention. Such little attention, in fact, that you have time to prepare salads and enjoy a martini while the sauce is cooking.

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The sauce is based on the Bon Appetit Roasted Chicken and Cherry Tomato recipe I cooked last summer.  It turns out the tomatoes are pretty great sans chicken, either on top of baked polenta or ravioli.  It seemed to be particularly complimentary to the whole wheat roasted vegetable ravioli we had in the fridge, so if you happen to come across roasted veggie ravioli, this is a great accompaniment.

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Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl stir about 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes with 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil and 1 1/2 tbsp herbes de Provence.   Season with salt and pepper.

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Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet (I recommend cast iron) until oil shimmers. Carefully add tomatoes to pan (splattering is likely!). Transfer skillet to oven and roast for about 15 minutes, turning once. Tomatoes should burst and start to release juices.

Transfer tomatoes with juices to a bowl, and stir in a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Put to the side.

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Return skillet to stove, over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 garlic clove, pressed, stirring often for about 30 seconds. Add a splash of red wine vinegar and return tomatoes with juices to the skillet.   Simmer until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Optional: swirl in about a 1/2 tbsp butter and/or 1 tbsp chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

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Serve sauce over ravioli; garnish with sliced fresh basil.

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When the Husband’s Away, the Wife will…. Eat Soba Noodles

More often than not, there are at least a couple nights out of the week that Nick isn’t around in the evening.  I suppose there are some people that would be unhappy if their spouse wasn’t around for dinner.  Personally, I love it.  Besides giving us a greater appreciation for the nights we do have together, it gives me a chance to catch up on schoolwork that I should have done earlier in the day, watch television and movies I know he would hate, and cook things that he would be less than excited about eating: pasta and tomato sauce with canned tuna; anything with chickpeas; and now, soba noodles.

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I have to give credit to my friend Katie for bringing my attention to this Smitten Kitchen recipe. One day during the last leg of the semester, I was discussing (okay, complaining) about being too tired to do serious cooking, but really, really needing to eat some vegetables, and Katie mentioned that she had just cooked an incredibly quick and easy recipe for soba noodles with edamame and shiitakes. She had me at shiitake.

Even though I’ve made this at least three times, I have yet to follow the recipe directly.  One time, the grocery store did not have shelled edamame. One time, just as I was preparing dinner, I realized I had to skip the ginger, as mine had turned… squishy.* Most recently the grocery store was out of Napa cabbage, so baby bok choy served as a stand in.  Given the giant bunch of chives growing outside, it seems silly to buy scallions. Oh, and no sesame seeds, ever.  Unless they’re on a bagel or a sushi roll.  But that’s just a personal preference.

Also, I haven’t been able to locate Korean hot-pepper paste (although I haven’t looked too hard), so I’ve been using Thai roasted red chili paste. It’s worked just fine, as far as I’m concerned.

Soba Noodles with Shiitakes and Cabbage (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, and originally Gourmet magazine; Serves 4)

Make the sauce:

Whisk together 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup soy sauce, 2 to 3 teaspoons Korean hot-pepper paste, and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar until sugar is dissolved.

Make the veggies and noodles:

Finely chop 2 tablespoons peeled ginger and 1 tablespoon garlic. Stem and thinly slice 10 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms; thinly slice 1 1/4 pounds Napa cabbage or bok choy (should yield about 8 cups- don’t skimp- it shrinks down a lot!); and thinly slice 6 scallions (or twice as many chives, if that’s what you have handy).

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, cook the veggies. Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (The original recipe specifies to use a non-nonstick skillet. Our biggest skillet is, unfortunately, nonstick.  It works fine, but I can imagine stainless would be better.)  Saute ginger and garlic, stirring, until fragrant, just about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and saute, stirring frequently, until tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and then add cabbage and most of the scallions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is crisp tender, about 6 minutes.  Add sauce and simmer 2 minutes.

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Hopefully your water is boiling by the time you get to cooking the cabbage.  Add 8 to 9 ounces of soba noodles and 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame to the boiling water.  Cook until noodles are just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, rinse under cool water (to remove excess starch and stop further cooking), and drain again. Toss noodles and edamame with veggie mixture. Serve with additional scallions sprinkled on top for garnish.

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*I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever been tempted to insert an emoticon into a blog post. In case you’re curious, it would have been :-p  Yes, with an italicized p as an attempt to blend together :-p and :-/

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The Summer Preview Spinach Salad

Having high expectations is overrated.  At least in the kitchen.

Every so often, I’ll finally get around to trying a recipe that I’ve been looking at for months.  I make a special trip to the store, spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, and the final result is… meh.

And every so often, you don’t start thinking about dinner until 7pm, decide to throw together whatever is in the fridge, and end up with a dinner you are excited to repeat the following week.

I have a new favorite way of cooking chicken for everyday eating.  This method does not yield the prettiest or fanciest chicken, but I have tried it twice and ended up with moist chicken breasts to have on hand for quick meals during the week.  Even if you don’t think to make the chicken ahead of time, it’s hands-off enough that you can get a head start on tonight’s dinner while you’re cleaning up the kitchen from last night’s dinner. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who ever ends up in that situation.)

Easy Make-Ahead Chicken Breasts (from Dinner: A Love Story): Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place 2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts on a rimmed baking sheet and add 1/4 cup water to the pan. Tent with foil, and roast for 40 minutes.  Once cooked, let the chicken sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing it. *According to DALS, you can use this method with split bone-in chicken breasts as well. I have yet to try it, but it’s on my to-do list.

One night last week, I identified chicken and spinach as the starting point for a dinner salad, and then the rest came together pretty easily, based on what we had around. Cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado, feta, and in a moment of inspiration, I remembered that we had a couple strips of bacon in the fridge.

I even added some Greek yogurt to my typical cider-Dijon salad dressing to give it just a little creaminess. I never measure ingredients for salad dressings, so these proportions are very loose. Just mess around with it until it works for you.

Creamy Cider Dijon Salad Dressing: In a small bowl, add the following: 1 part Dijon mustard, 3 parts apple cider vinegar, and just a tiny bit of maple syrup. Whisk until blended. Then add about 3 parts olive oil and 1 part plain Greek yogurt. Whisk together, and season with salt and pepper.

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Oh right- are you wondering why I called this the Summer Preview Spinach Salad?  Because occasionally I would get a bite of a sweet cherry tomato with a crispy chunk of bacon, and I immediately felt like I was eating a BLT in late July.

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And the longing for summer tomatoes begins.

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Pan-Seared Scallops and Corn-Bacon Hash

Salt. Pepper. Heat. And a little butter or oil.

Good proteins like a really good filet or pork chop need little else to be awesome.

I’m thinking about a helicopter parenting metaphor when it comes to cooking. What I mean by that is you are not doing your meat (or your kids) any favors by constantly poking and prodding and turning. Instead, it’s better to prep them with the essentials, throw them in a hot pan, and then just keep a watchful eye from a distance and know when to intervene (coming in part from intuition and part from reading the words of experts).

Is this an odd way to think about it? Yes. But that’s what happens when someone studying child development enters the kitchen.

If you think this is a weird way to think about it, just imagine if I reversed the metaphor and told parents they should treat their children like a top quality steak. (Actually, in some crowds, I could see that being effective.)

I might be making the link between kids and cooking because today’s recipe comes from Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story, which focuses on making real, doable family dinners. I should note that I have not read anything in her cookbook or her blog that makes reference to cooking her children. Instead, both the book and the blog are filled with recipes, ideas, and inspiration for making dinners to share with the ones you love, whether it be a do-ahead chicken salad for a school night or fancier fare for entertaining adults.

Dinner: A Love Story was one of two blog-based cookbooks I received for Christmas, and the one that I read entirely before New Year’s. Even though Jenny is oriented towards providing support for parents who are trying to have regular dinners with their children, I still feel a connection to her writing. Reading through her book, I get a sense that we have similar philosophies about cooking and eating. Her partnership with her husband, Andy, and their collaborative efforts remind me of my relationship with Nick. I actually first discovered the blog through a Bon Appetit column (shocking, I know). It consisted of a series of text messages between Jenny and Andy discussing what kind of dinner they could conjure up using the random ingredients at home.

I have only cooked one thing from the book so far, but it is a winner.

I remember attempting to cook scallops for Nick early in our relationship. I don’t think it was disastrous, but I remember a lot of anxiety about undercooking the scallops (stemming from a poor decision made by a six-year-old Sarah to steal a raw scallop off a plate being prepped for cooking) as well as overcooking the scallops (stemming from many poor decisions to order scallops in restaurants that did just that). Actually, one time, I was convinced that the fried scallops were actually cylindrically-cut pieces of some type of white fish.

Anyway, I am sure that when I cooked scallops in the past, I turned them constantly.  For a long time, I think I did this with most meats, thinking that was the way to ensure even cooking. Don’t do that. You are not trying to recreate a rotisserie in a skillet. Also, searing works far better in a stainless skillet, rather than nonstick.

I know I said that good protein needs nothing more than salt and pepper. But when you sear scallops (or other proteins) in a pan, it leaves behind these tasty little brown bits (quite possibly my favorite culinary term) that you do not want to lose. So making a simple pan sauce with a little wine and lemon juice, butter, and garlic takes advantage of the brown bits without taking away from the scallops. In this recipe, the pan sauce also gets drizzled into the side dish of corn-bacon hash. Which, as declared by Nick, was the best corn ever.

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Pan-Seared Sea Scallops and Corn-Bacon Hash (adapted from Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach)

Note: I suggest making the Corn-Bacon Hash first and then drizzling the pan sauce over it just before serving. Mostly because I wanted to use the same skillet for both recipes.

Corn-Bacon Hash

1 strip of bacon (I was tempted to do more but one strip really was plenty)

1 minced shallot

4 ears of corn, kernels cut off (Or, if you are lazy, one 12-ounce bag of frozen corn)

5-6 chopped basil leaves

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan (reserving fat in pan), blot with paper towel, and chop into pieces.  Add shallot to the bacon fat* and stir until soft, about 1 minute. Add corn and cook for 2 minutes. (If using frozen corn, cook longer, until heated through.) Add corn and chopped bacon to a bowl and stir in basil, and season with salt and pepper. Once scallops and pan sauce are prepared, drizzle some of the pan sauce into the corn.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

20-24 sea scallops**, rinsed and patted dry (this is important for getting a good sear) and seasoned with salt and pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

Juice from 1/2 lemon

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil. When the pan is hot but not smoking, add as many scallops as you can without crowding the pan and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. (I used a small spatula to flip them. Make sure you get all the way under the scallop so you don’t lose the brown crust.) Remove scallops and cook the rest. (While cooking the next batch I kept the cooked scallops on a plate tented with foil.)

After all the scallops are seared, lower the heat to medium and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Then add the garlic and cook briefly until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Make sure the garlic does not burn.

Add the wine and lemon juice and turn heat to high, scraping the brown bits off the pan. Let the liquid boil down until it is slightly syrupy, and remove from heat. Drizzle sauce over scallops, reserving some for the corn.

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*If you think sauteing shallots in butter or oil smells good, just wait until you saute it in bacon fat.

**I purchased scallops by the pound, and one pound had twelve scallops, so I would guess 20-24 would be about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.

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Something for Everyone: Chickpea Stew and Much-Anticipated Christmas Card Photos

Final paper submitted: check.

Final exams graded: check.

Final grades submitted: check.

Return to healthy eating: check. Kind of.

It was disturbing that I was pretty certain that I could count on two hands the number of vegetables I had consumed since Thanksgiving. So as soon as the semester was finished, I wanted to get some nutritious meals in my stomach, especially before I started baking and filling myself with sugar through cookie taste-tests (which are clearly necessary). I was also eager to take some time to cook a yummy dinner for Nick, who has been incredibly helpful and supportive (as always) while I was wrapping up the semester.

This recipe from Bon Appetit from Chickpea Stew looked like a good start. Quick and easy, lots of healthy ingredients. I made a couple of changes from the original:

  • As usual, organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs were not to be found at the store, so I used one large chicken breast instead. In the first step, where the chicken is browned, I seasoned it with both salt and some smoked paprika.
  • I drizzled some olive oil on the bread cubes and toasted them for about 15 minutes while the chicken was cooking.
  • Based on reviewers’ suggestions, I substituted four cups of chicken broth for the water. I also stirred in a few generous handfuls of torn kale at this step.

Delicious. There are no photos, but it’s not a particularly pretty dish, so you’re not missing much. But please do try it.

And now the holiday preparations can begin.

All of the gifts have been purchased. All of the cookie baking supplies have been stocked. And, most importantly, our Christmas cards have been sent.

This was the winner:

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Yes, I am wearing a tiara. And yes, Nick is wearing bronzer. And white eyeshadow to enhance the, “Oh crap, I left my sunglasses on” look. The facial hair is real. He grew his beard out for a month in preparation. Now that’s dedication.

Some other favorites:

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I was disappointed that none of the pictures with the cats made the cut for the card. But I do like this one where they seem to be reaching out to comfort each other.

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I would say the response to our card has been about 75% positive, 10% confused, and 15% silent. And now Nick and I are stuck trying to figure out how to top it next year.

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