Cavatappi with Pork Sugo

A long simmer turns cubes of pork fork-tender in this rich sugo.

A bowl of Cavatappi with Pork Sugo
The other night, my friend, Pam, and I ventured into the city for dinner and Portugual. The man at the Shrine Auditorium. We ended up at Josef Centeno’s Bäco Mercat in the old bank district for the meal. His Spanish-fusion fare was the ideal aperitif before anything with “Portugual” in the name and his flavors did not disappoint. My favorite dish of the evening was a pork sugo on maltaglianti with soujouk sausage, raisins, kale and pine nuts.

This version, although very different than the dish I had that night,  is a take on this Bon Appetit recipe, but using some of the ingredients from my beloved Bäco Mercat dish.


Cavatappi with Pork Sugo

A long simmer turns cubes of pork fork-tender in this rich sauce.


Ingredients

  • Ingredients here
  • 1½ lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1½” cubes
  • ½ cup pepperoni, finely chopped
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ⅓ cup dried golden raisins soaked in hot water then drained
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, ribs removed, torn into 2” pieces
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving-
  • 1 lb. cavatappi, cavatelli or other short pasta, cooked al dente and drained

Directions

  1. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over high heat. Working in batches, cook meat, turning occasionally, until browned; transfer to a large plate.
  2. Add pepperoni to pot and cook until beginning to brown. Add onion, carrot, and celery to pepperoni and cook until golden. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Deglaze pan with red wine, scraping up any browned bits. Tie rosemary, oregano, and bay leaf into a bouquet garni with kitchen twine; add to pot along with pork and any accumulated juices, tomatoes, pepper, nutmeg, and clove. Add water just to cover meat (about 1 ½ tomato can’s full) and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is very tender, about1½ hours.
  3. Discard bouquet garni. Using 2 forks, shred meat in pot; cook, uncovered, over high heat until sauce is thickened but still saucy, about 8 minutes.
  4. Cook pine nuts in butter until golden watching closely so they don’t burn. Reserve butter and pine nuts.
  5. 5.Add golden raisins and kale to sugo; cook until kale is soft, about 4 minutes. Mix in ½ cup Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Serve sugo over pasta; drizzle with pine nuts, browned butter, and top with more Parmesan.

Q. Why not use a can of diced tomatoes? Canned diced tomatoes usually have added calcium chloride, which helps them hold their shape through cooking – exactly what I don’t want when making a sauce. I use canned whole San Marzano tomatoes and chop them myself so they melt into the sauce.

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Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.

A platter mounded with Moroccan Chicken

Looking back at one of my old blog posts feels like pulling out an old high school yearbook from a dusty closet shelf. I first prepared this recipe in February 2014. At the time I hit “post,” I was feeling reasonably accomplished and proud to post both recipe and photograph. Four plus years later, I cringe – at the poorly lit and composed image and appallingly written recipe, for starters. What. Was. I. Thinking. In the future, when I’m exasperated by my lack of noticeable improvement, I’ll revisit a post from 2014 to remind myself how far I’ve truly come. Oh, the horror.

Inspired by Epicurious’s Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons.


Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.


Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • Handful Italian parsley
  • Handful cilantro
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs (about 3.5 – 4 lbs.)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” slices
  • ¾ cup pitted oil-cured black olives
  • 1 ½ preserved lemons, sliced (or one fresh lemon very thinly sliced)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, process first 12 ingredients through saffron to make a marinade. Arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon in a 13×9” pan and pour marinade over and around ingredients. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least two hours and up to one day.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place dish, covered with foil, in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 30 additional minutes until chicken is cooked through. If desired, broil for an additional 5 minutes to crisp skin on chicken.
  3. To serve, arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon on a platter. Degrease sauce and pour over chicken and vegetables. Serve with aromatic rice.

The author in a photo from highschool

Speaking of school years…yep, gloves, a walking stick, and check out those shoulder pads!

 

Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Poached Salmon with Fennel Salad

“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.”
– Doug Aitken

This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?

In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.

Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?

Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.


Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce

Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.

Ingredients

    Fennel Salad
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Poached Salmon
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 2 sprigs dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
  • Caper Sauce
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
  3. Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
  4. To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
  5. Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.

Crispy Burnt Rice

Crispy Burnt Rice

Dining out at an inspired chef’s restaurant simultaneously motivates and chastens me.  Often, I end the night well satiated yet lamenting, “Why can’t I come up with a meal like that?’  This is one of those dishes.   In the mind and hands of a creative chef, this all-too-common kitchen disaster – burning rice –morphs into a crispy nutty culinary epiphanic filling for lettuce wraps.  After munching down a few wraps, I couldn’t wait to purposefully burn my rice at home.  Why couldn’t I come up with that?


Crispy Burnt Rice

Burning the rice doesn’t have to be a bad thing – this nutty version is the perfect crispy base for Asian lettuce wraps.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Calrose rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Pinch salt

Directions

  1. Rinse rice with water until it runs clear. Combine rice with 1 cup water in a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove rice from heat and let steam, with lid on, for another five minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat about 30 seconds until vinegar is hot and sugar has dissolved. Transfer rice to a large greased baking dish and let cool slightly. Drizzle with vinegar and pat rice evenly into dish, about ¼ – ½ inch thick.
  3. Preheat broiler. Broil rice 6-10 minutes, turning baking dish as needed, until rice is golden brown with areas of dark brown on top. The rice should be crispy on top and slightly chewy underneath. Break into pieces.
  4. Serve as a base for lettuce wraps or as a crunchy counterpoint in Asian salads.

Burnt Rice

Burning rice on purpose

Creamy Tomato Chicken Stew

Chicken Stew
The other night, my friend commented that I couldn’t #deletefacebook because of this blog – I’ll lose my followers. It made me realize that my friends don’t understand the details of this passion hobby diversion of mine (and most likely don’t care). I take that as a good sign I’m not blathering on and on about “my blog” every second or every day. In truth, Facebook only accounts for 3% of traffic to my site. Surprisingly, my primary source in 2017 was the lesser-known Fridgg, making up about 25% of visits followed by various search engines with 13%, Foodgawker with 10% and my WordPress readers with 6%. I’m a devoted fan of Fridgg, a site that doesn’t determine what photos are worthy and unworthy based on some intangible – if the submitter believes them worthy, Fridgg does, too. Food photo democracy.

2018 is shaping up a bit differently. My primary source in 2018 has been search engines (15%), closely followed by Foodgawker (13%), with WordPress and Fridgg both at 10%. Facebook is still about 3%.

This brings me to another insight – My recent Foodgawker acceptance rates, THE site that determines if your photos are “worthy.” I think I’ve finally managed to crack their submission code. The first few years, my submission acceptance hovered around 30% – actually not too bad for the gold-standard of food photo sharing sites. Now, I’m at 45%, with February’s at 83% and March’s acceptance at 87%.

87%??! I’ll take that. I’m still undecided about Facebook.


Creamy Tomato Chicken Stew


Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups Gruyère cheese
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cook chicken (in batches if needed) until brown on all sides. Set chicken aside. Add carrots, onions and garlic cloves to pot and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook until mixture forms a golden crust at the bottom of the pan. Add tomatoes with juice and stock, scraping up the crusty bits on the bottom of the pan and breaking the tomatoes apart. Heat until boiling, then return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan.
  2. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes. Stir in cheese, cream and balsamic. Season with salt and pepper. Serve chicken and sauce over noodles, rice or polenta, sprinkled with a little more cheese, if desired.