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Archive for the ‘Entrees’ category

labeled tacos

I love Mexican food. Tacos, Spanish rice, tamales, quesadillas… you get the picture. While Tuesdays are usually saved for tacos, we tend to enjoy our Mexican food on Fridays. Actually, we don’t specify a night for Mexican. We have it whenever we want… except when it comes to Cinco de Mayo.  On Cinco de Mayo we always have Mexican, and there’s no easier Mexican than tacos.

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We usually have ground beef tacos because they’re super easy and the kids love them. But then, thanks to Melissa’s Produce, I met Pati Jinich. She’s a chef who’s been making Mexican food accessible to the masses for decades with PBS’s Pati’s Mexican Table, a culinary program that consists of live cooking demonstrations and tasting dinners. Since Table, Jinich has hosted several celebrity dinners, started a blog and written two cookbooks, including Mexican Today. It’s full of delicious Mexican recipes both classic and innovative, and has everything from salsas to soups to tacos.

These tacos are unlike any taco I’ve ever seen or heard of. Jinich has tacos made with bacon, with fish and even just plain cheese. But the most interesting tacos in this book are tacos made with plantains! I know… banana tacos! And they’re not a dessert! These are filling, savory tacos that are perfect for the original taco holiday.

If you’re worried about where you might find plantains, I’m here to help. Yes, you can get them at most Mexican or Hispanic markets. But since Mexican and Cuban food has become so popular I’ve started to notice plantains at regular supermarkets as well. They’re right there next to the mangos and other unusual fruits. But if you can’t find them there, Melissa’s always has them ready to order. So, while plantains are becoming easier to acquire, there are still some rules that apply to eating them, the main one of course is making sure they’re ripe.

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You might think, like a banana, the plantain is ripe when it’s yellow. But I’m sorry to say they’re still pretty hard and flavorless at that point. You actually have to wait until the plantains are at least brown if not black before they’re ready to be eaten. At that point you can peel them and eat them straight or better yet sauté them up and have them as dessert or in these delicious tacos.  Serve them up with some simmered shaved corn and a couple margaritas and you have a fiesta well worthy of Cinco de Mayo.

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Plantain Tacos (adapted from Mexican Today)

Ingredients:

  • 2 very ripe plantains
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 7 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1-1/2 cups refried beans
  • 10 corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/2 cup salsa verde

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F, line a baking sheet with tin foil and set aside.
  2. Roll the ripe, unpeeled plantains on the counter to soften. Place the plantains on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the plantains have broken through their skins, are lightly browned on the outside and caramelized.
  3. While the plantains bake, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and cook for another minute. Add the sunflower seeds and cook, without stirring, for about 30 seconds. Then stir the seeds into the onions and continue to cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat.
  4. Heat the refried beans according to the directions, remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. Peel the plantains while they’re still hot and slice them on a slant.
  6. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of refried beans onto the center of each tortilla, add 3 or 4 slices of plantain and top with the sunflower seed mixture. Drizzle with salsa and serve.

labeled pork

I have a confession to make: I’m an addict. A food magazine addict. It’s true… I have tons and tons of food magazines. They’re mostly Fine Cooking, but there are also a few Better Homes and Gardens, some Food and Wine‘s as well as two or three America’s Test Kitchens. I’ve used them all and for some reason I just can’t bare to get rid of them, mainly because I continue to go back to them for recipes or dinner ideas.

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One such recipe is this delicious Mapo Pork with Bok Choy. It came from one of my Food & Wine‘s and is utterly delicious. But better than that, it’s super easy to make. All you need is some ground pork, a few heads of bok choy and some Asian sauces.  It’s really just an easy way to have some Chinese food in your home without having to order in.

If you’re worried about where you can get bok choy, you’re not alone. I love bok choy but was never sure where to find it. I had it all the time when I got Chinese food, and I love it on it’s own. I’ve even had it as the main greens in salads. But where could I buy some? There is one vendor at my farmer’s market who sells it. There are Asian markets of course, but unfortunately there aren’t that many near me. Then one day an amazing thing happened. While in the produce department at my local grocery store I spotted a pile of bok choy. A whole bunch! So, now whenever I’m in the mood for sautéed bok choy, this pork recipe or even just a salad, I run to Ralphs and grab some. It’s that easy for me, which means it’s probably that easy for you.

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So, while I have piles and piles of magazines, and a corner of my kitchen that’s covered in recipes, it turns out those piles are actually good for something. They allow me to occasionally flip through the stacks and find new recipes or if I have a specific craving, they let me revisit some of my old favorites. And that’s why I keep all those magazines. They may be from two or three years ago, but they all have at least one or two recipes I love and continue to go back to again and again.

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Mapo Pork with Bok Choy (adapted from Food & Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced on the angle
  • 4 heads of baby bok choy, halved lengthwise

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the cornstarch and one cup of water in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the pork and a generous pinch of salt, and stir, breaking up the meat, until crumbly and browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic, hoisin and soy sauces and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the sliced scallions and set aside.
  4. While the pork cooks, add about an inch of water to a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Add the bok choy, cover and steam until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the bok choy to 4 plates. Spoon the pork mixture over the bok choy, sprinkle with more sliced scallions and serve.

labeled chicken

I love this time of year because all the fresh berries and stone fruits are coming back in season. The first fruit that lets you know summer is coming are strawberries. There are so many different things you can do with strawberries: from eating them right off the vine as a snack to mixing them into cake or muffin batters. But did you know you don’t have to limit yourself to sweets when cooking with strawberries? Turns out they’re great in savory dinner dishes as well.

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While strawberries are perfect for fruit salads and desserts because they’re sweet, it’s actually that sweetness that makes them great for savory recipes. So, you can understand why I was ecstatic to find a chicken recipe from Eating Well magazine that used those bright, red berries and turned them into a delicious relish, which was then spooned over the top of the chicken.

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I really liked this relish because unlike savory salsas or relishes, this one is sweet and really lets you know spring is here. It’s that pop of sweetness, that wonderful berry flavor, that actually enhances the saltiness from the chicken. The fact that the chicken is covered with an herb crust makes this relish even better because it brightens those herb flavors, and ties the whole dish together, turning it into the perfect spring dinner.

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Herb-Crusted Chicken with Strawberry Relish

Ingredients:

  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the olive oil, oregano, 1 tablespoon of the chopped chives, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat.
  3. Place the herb-coated chicken in a roasting pan and roast until no longer pink, 35 – 45 minutes.
  4. While the chicken cooks, make the relish by combining the strawberries, lime zest, sugar, vinegar, remaining chives and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl.
  5. Once the chicken is done, spoon the relish over the thighs and serve immediately.

labeled chicken

Every year Passover comes around I’m always struggling to figure out what to make for the seder. I mean, we can’t have pork. No, I don’t keep kosher, but I always try to follow the rules during the holidays; no pork means no ham. Beef is is a possibility but that usually takes more time than I have. So, all I’m really left with is chicken or lamb. The only issue with either of those is you usually need to make a lot because if your seders are anything like mine, there are usually tons of people at the dinner table.

For years my mom and I would always tear through her cookbooks looking for something that would feed the army coming through the door in a few hours.  Every year we made something different and survived. But one year my mother was at a brunch and tasted what she said was one of the best chicken dishes she’d ever had.  When she asked the host for the recipe, she directed my mother to the Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook. It’s a cookbook that she’d been using forever and one of the first cookbooks I bought when I moved out on my own.

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There are plenty of great dessert recipes in this book, and several main course dishes we’ve made over the years as well. But my mother always avoided the Chicken Marbella because of its ingredients. It calls for prunes and olives and brown sugar. Does that combination sound good to you? It didn’t to my mother or me either. But this recipe showed me you can’t always trust an ingredients list. I mean, just because the ingredients sound awful, doesn’t mean that when mixed together they won’t be amazing. And that’s exactly what this recipe is: amazing. The fact that it tastes delicious and feeds a ton of people makes it ideal for either Passover or Easter.

While the recipe does take a little extra time because it should be marinated overnight, it’s totally worth it. See, the longer it marinates in the garlic, salt, vinegar, oil and other ingredients, the more flavorful this recipe becomes. It’s also that marinade that makes the chicken moist and even improves the longer it’s in the refrigerator; and there’s absolutely nothing better than flavorful moist chicken. The best thing about this recipe though, is the fact that you’ll probably have leftovers. You’ll be thrilled when you do because those leftovers are just as flavorful as the original no matter whether they’re hot or cold. Between you and me, I actually like the leftovers better than the original. But I’ll let you be the judge. The fact that it’s been a favorite at the Silver Palate stores for decades practically guarantees it’ll be a favorite at your house. It’s a favorite at mine and is now the go-to entreé for big holiday dinners, especially Passover. Maybe it’ll be your go-to, as well.

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Marbella Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 chickens, 3 pounds each, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/8 cup dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Spanish Green Olives, pitted and halved
  • 1/4 cup capers with the juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Combine the first 10 ingredients (through the bay leaves) in a large bowl and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on one or two large baking pans. Spoon the marinade over the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around the poultry. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, basting frequently with the pan juices.
  4. Transfer the chicken, prunes and olives to a large serving platter with a slotted spoon. Drizzle the chicken with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices. Sprinkle with parsley and serve, passing the remaining juices in a gravy boat.

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I’m a huge meat eater. I love chicken, beef, lamb… If it flies, walks or swims, I’m in. But every so often I want to take a break from the chicken and beef and eat a vegetable or two. It’s on those nights that I usually make a pasta dish or a dinner salad. While throwing together a quick salad or spaghetti is pretty easy, it also can get stale. I mean, how many times a month can one eat spaghetti marinara or a spinach salad? There just have to be other veggie options that are quick to whip up and don’t require dirtying an entire kitchen.

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Carla Snyder had the same thoughts. She knew there were plenty of people out there who were vegetarians or ominvores and wanted to consume more vegetables without all the fuss. So, when she saw how successful her book, One Pan, Two Plates: More than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two was, she decided to make a veggie version; only this time everything in the book would be made with vegetables or grains. The idea behind One Pan, Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers was simple: make delicious, versatile vegetarian dishes that weren’t complicated, didn’t take a lot of time, but were still full of flavor.

Having the opportunity to sample a few of Snyder’s vegetarian dishes at Melissa’s Produce a couple weeks ago, I’m here to tell you she definitely succeeded. Everything I tried was delicious from the Superfood Salad made with quinoa and blueberries to the Crunchy Black Bean Tacos. But the dishes didn’t just have me going back for seconds (and thirds), they’re so easy to make. Snyder actually whipped up the tacos for us in about 15 or 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. And the fact they they only take one pan, makes them even more enticing. I mean, if you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is spend an extra hour in the kitchen cleaning up a sink full of dirty pots and pans after you’ve spent an hour (or more) making dinner.

final combo

Now, I know it seems odd that you only need one pan to make a pasta dish, but seriously, that’s all I used. See, I boiled the pasta and the brussels sprouts in a large saucepan, drained them and then mixed everything together back in the same pot. The heat from the freshly boiled pasta melted the cheese and when combined with a little pasta water makes for a nice creamy sauce that coats everything. The recipe was so easy to follow I can’t wait to make it and several others in the book again.

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Bow Ties with Brussels Sprouts and Gorgonzola

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 8 ounces Bow Tie Pasta
  • 12-15 Brussels sprouts, quartered
  • 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the pasta and cook about 7 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and continue to cook for another 5 minutes until the pasta is al dente and the Brussels sprouts are tender; drain, reserving at least a half cup of the pasta water.
  2. Return the pasta and Brussels sprouts to the same hot pan. Mix in the cheese, butter, sunflower seeds, pepper, 1 tablespoon parsley and at least a quarter cup of the pasta water. Continue to stir until a creamy sauce forms. If the pasta is still too dry continue to add the pasta water until the sauce reaches the consistency you prefer.
  3. Mound the pasta on plates, sprinkel with remaining parsley and serve.