Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish

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While your Instagram feed may be blowing up with everything pumpkin spice, it’s still summer in my kitchen. Last winter, I signed up for my first CSA share. CSA stands for ‘Community Supported Agriculture’, and essentially it’s an investment into a farm. In exchange, you have the fortune of (in my case) 22 weeks of outstanding organic vegetables. Each Wednesday night, I walk about about 15 minutes to the pick-up site. I choose and weigh my vegetables and load them into my granny cart (glamorous, I know). A sample share from July:

  • fennel: 1 piece
  • peppers: 3 pieces
  • eggplant: 1 piece
  • fava beans: 1 pound
  • beets: 1 pound
  • garlic scapes: 0.25 pound
  • cucumbers: 2 pounds
  • greens: 1 pound
  • lettuce: 2 pieces
  • squash: 3 pieces

As you can see, you have to be cool with eating tons of veggies throughout the week. I’ve made countless batches of ratatouille, hot and cold soups and all manner of salads. My grocery shopping these days usually consists of breakfast staples, proteins/meat and fruit. I opted out of the fruit share, but I now wish I did (one week they got 5 lbs. of sour cherries…jealous!) Aside from a packed fridge to work through, it’s actually simplified the cooking I do at home.

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of eggplant all summer. Long, skinny eggplant, baby ‘fairy tale’ eggplant, even white ones. To prevent eggplant burnout (it’s a thing), I try to vary how I use it week to week. One week, it’s pasta alla norma, a recipe my Aunt Lee introduced me to. Another week, it might be miso-glazed eggplant over rice. This falafel-stuffed eggplant has got to be one of my favorites. I made it late last summer and dreamed of making it again ever since. What’s cool is you actually get two recipes in one – save the inside of the eggplant for baba ganoush.  This is your chance to use the last of the season’s tomatoes – get them before they’re gone! And if you’re not a member of a CSA, check out your local farmer’s market for most of the ingredients.

Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Green Tomato Relish

Recipe from Cooking Light

Tahini sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Eggplant:

  • 2 eggplants (about 12 ounces each)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper (I used Piment D’Ville)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas ( or 1 15-ounce can)

Relish:

  • 1 cup chopped seeded tomato  (I used a green tomato, use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Ground sumac, for serving (optional)

Heat oven to 475°.

To prepare eggplant, slice the eggplants in half lengthwise; score cut sides with a crosshatch pattern. Place the eggplant halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with olive oil. Bake at 475° for 7 minutes or until slightly tender and browned. Remove from oven; carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell. Reserve pulp for another use (such as babaganoush). Season cut sides with about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Combine about 1/2 teaspoon salt, onion, and next 11 ingredients (through chickpeas) in a food processor; process until smooth. Spoon 1/2 cup chickpea mixture into each eggplant shell. Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until eggplant halves are tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned.

To prepare sauce, combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Set aside.

To prepare relish, combine the tomato and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir to combine.

Top eggplant with relish and sauce. Sprinkle with sumac before serving.

Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken

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Sometimes I need to remind myself of certain things. Put my house (and work) keys in my bag. Wear sunscreen, even if it’s not sunny. Reconsider that third cup of coffee. Make fried chicken more often.

While it might be categorized under #chefproblems, I feel as if I need to remind myself to COOK sometimes. When I get home from work, the last thing I usually want to do is pull out pots and pans and pick up a knife. Yes, I cook quite a bit at home, but not what you might expect. Huge grain salads, various pickled things and freezable soups make up the majority of my weekly home “cooking”. Nothing fancy, to me at least.

My roommate recently celebrated a birthday and I asked her to choose a meal, any meal, to celebrate. She chose fried chicken. This is why we make such great roommates. I have been working on my fried chicken game for the past year or so. I was set on making a classic buttermilk version until I stumbled upon the pickle brine. Boneless, skinless thighs, brined in a quick pickling solution, quickly dunked in buttermilk, flour and fried? SOLD. While I love a bone-in, skin-on fried chicken, the skin is awfully difficult to crisp beneath the coating and can take a solid 15 minutes in the fryer. I’m sure America’s Test Kitchen (or at least Thomas Keller) has perfected this, but I didn’t have the energy to play Alton Brown.

What’s so great about this version is the ratio of tender meat to crispy coating. Every bite is the best bite. A friendly reminder why it’s worth it to fry chicken in the first place.

 

Pickle Brined Fried Chicken

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit via Rose’s Luxury. I served it alongside a few simple salads. It’s really all about the chicken here.

Ingredients:

Brine

  •   2 tablespoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • cup kosher salt
  • cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill

 

Chicken

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, preferably organic (about 3 lb.), halved if large
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 10 cups)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Honey and hot sauce, for serving (see note)

Directions:

 
Toast mustard and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over medium heat, tossing often, until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until salt and sugar are dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in dill and 4 cups water. Let coo.
 
Place chicken and brine in a large resealable plastic bag; chill 3 hours. Remove chicken from brine, scraping off seeds, cover, and chill until ready to fry.

 

Fit a large pot with thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2”. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.

 

Meanwhile, place buttermilk in a large bowl. Place flour in another large bowl; season with kosher salt. Working in batches, coat chicken in buttermilk, then dredge in flour, dipping your fingers in buttermilk as you pack flour on to help create moistened, shaggy bits (the makings of a super-crisp crust); transfer to a baking sheet.

 

Working in batches and returning oil to 350° between batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Sprinkle with flaky salt

 

Drizzle chicken with honey/hot sauce.
 
Note: I would highly suggest pairing with a honey-spiked hot sauce on the side. We used sriracha, because, sriracha.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Pan-Roasted Pork with Date-Cilantro Relish

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Full disclosure: this is not a turkey. There is no cranberry sauce alongside. I wouldn’t suggest serving it with gravy. Truth be told, I’m a little turkey-d out, and Thanksgiving is still days away. Between Friendsgivings and T-day cooking classes, I’m approaching poultry burnout.

#chefproblems

If you’ve never cooked pork tenderloin, or you’re a bit rusty, try this method. By searing the meat first in a hot pan, then transferring the pan into a heated oven (aka pan roasting) you ensure the meat is cooked evenly (aka not dried out). You also free up some space on your stove if you’ve got a side dish working. The tenderloin is very lean, so watch it carefully and test with a meat thermometer so it doesn’t overcook.

I am smitten with this date-cilantro relish. Medjool dates, orange and cilantro go surprisingly well with roasted pork. OK, it also goes surprisingly well with chicken, too. And yes, turkey.

Pan-Roasted Pork with Date-Cilantro Relish

I served this with crispy roasted cauliflower with lemon and parsley. Sauteed greens, roasted root vegetables or brussels sprouts would be nice, too.

Serves 3-4

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1½ lb.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅔ cup Medjool dates (about 4 oz.), pitted and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus leaves for serving

Heat oven to 425F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet (like cast iron) over medium-high heat.

Pat dry pork and season well on all sides with salt and pepper. Sear pork in hot pan, turning to brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.

Transfer skillet to heated oven and continue to roast pork until temperature reaches 140F, about 10-15 minutes. Allow pork to rest before slicing, setting aside the pan drippings.

Combine dates, orange zest, orange juice, 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, pork pan drippings and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice pork against the grain (into medallions) and spoon relish over pork. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

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This recipe is a Jamie Oliver classic, by way of my aunt. I am a big fan of Jamie, in particular what he’s doing across the pond at Recipease. I would love to travel to London and teach take a class there one day…

At first glance, this looked like any old recipe for beef stew. But looking closer, there was squash and sunchokes and a garlicky gremolata. What really caught my attention was the cooking method: Jamie doesn’t brown his meat, instead he sweats the onions, then throws everything else in the pot. This goes against all my training, but lo and behold: it worked. With the addition of the vegetables, the stew had a distinct sweetness; a welcome change from most other dark, intense beef stews.

Feel free to play around with the vegetables here. Swap out the butternut for sweet potato or kabocha squash and use any root vegetables you like (turnips would be good). Do not skip the gremolata – the stew needs a bit of herby tang to bring all that butternut sweetness into focus.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

Serves about 4-5

Ingredients

Stew:

  • Olive oil
  • A small knob of butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • handful of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
  • Handful sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), quartered (optional, see note)
  • 1 lb. small potatoes, quartered (optional, see note)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-1 3/4 lbs. beef stew meat (such as beef chuck), cut into 2″ pieces and tossed with a bit of flour
  • 1/2 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 1/4 cups beef or chicken stock

Gremolata:

  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Handful fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 glove garlic, minced

Heat oven to 300F. Melt butter and oil in a large oven-safe Dutch oven. Add onion and sage and sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips, carrot, butternut, sunchokes and/or potatoes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the meat, wine and stock and stir together. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and place in the heated oven.

Braise the stew for 2-4 hours, checking after 2 hours for doneness. The meat should fall apart easily with a fork. Cooking time will depend on your meat; it may take as long as 4 hours depending on how fresh your meat is. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You may hold the cooked stew until ready to serve at 225F.

Stir together the lemon zest, rosemary and garlic. Sprinkle a bit of the gremolata on each bowl of stew before serving. Best eaten with good red wine.

Note:I decided to omit the potatoes, as the sunchokes provide enough texture for my taste. One of my favorite ways to serve a braise like this is over mashed potatoes, so in lieu of potato overload, I opt to nix them.

You may find sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) at Whole Foods or your local farmer’s market. They look like a gnarly potato, but have a sweet, nutty flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. If you can’t find them, don’t sweat it, just add potatoes.

Moroccan Braised Chicken

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While I was working as a full-time personal chef here in NYC, I had a number of clients whose homes I visited once a week to cook. I prepared a work week’s worth of meals, ranging from soups to salads, protein dishes and grains. Each morning, I trekked to Whole Foods with my uber-stylish granny cart, equipped with a list and a plan: in under 5 hours, I needed to shop, set up, cook, package and label 8 different dishes in my client’s kitchen. It was a bit like a Quickfire Challenge, plus the added pressure of making sure everything would be delicious after a few days in the fridge. Oh, and I usually had 2 client’s in one day, so I would turn around do the same thing in the afternoon.

I loved it.

I know a lot of people take issue with reheating food. How long does it really last? Won’t it go bad? What’s the best way to reheat? Now, hear me out. With a few exceptions (like soups and braises), I admit a lot of meals taste best right after they’re made (think fish, pasta, a perfectly seared steak). But that just upped the ante for me. It became my mission to make the best reheatable meals this side of the Hudson. The key? Take a cue from those delicious 3rd day soups and stews, which are scientifically proven to taste better after a night in the fridge.

This braised Moroccan-inspired chicken became one of my client’s favorites. They loved the exotic flavor, but with the familiarity of chicken, carrots and chickpeas. What they didn’t know was it could be made in one pot, took about 30 minutes and was a largely hands-off process, allowing me time to make the 7 other dishes. The best part? It reheats beautifully on the stove top with a bit of it’s cooking liquid. What? You thought I would say zap it in the microwave? I am a chef, afterall.

 

Moroccan Braised Chicken (Quick Chicken Tagine)

Serves 3-4 (2 thighs/person)

  • 6-8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic*
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • About 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or golden raisins
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 can, drained)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Blot the chicken with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. You aren’t looking to cook the chicken all the way through, just get it nice and brown. Transfer to a large plate or rimmed sheet tray.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot with a big pinch of salt, adding a bit more oil if there is a lot of sticky residue in the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout and stir to coat the vegetables, allowing the spices to toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking some of the water out of the tomatoes, for about 2 minutes. Add back the chicken to the pot and cover with the chicken stock (just enough to barely cover most of the chicken). Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a serving platter.  To reduce the sauce, increase to high heat and bring to a rapid boil. This will allow the flavors to concentrate and the sauce to thicken. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the dried fruit and chickpeas. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a little honey or a few more pinches of ras el hanout if it needs it.

Serve the sauce and chickpeas over the chicken with a big handful of chopped parsley, and more lemon if you want. Serve with couscous, quinoa or millet.

To reheat: Heat over low in a high-sided skillet or small saucepan with cooking liquid. Do not microwave, chicken will toughen.

*General PSA: please buy happy chickens (happy = organic). Aside from the fact that they more humanely raised than commercial brands, they taste better and are altogether more chicken-y. A bang for your buck if you ask me. Trader Joe’s carries organic chicken, along with Whole Foods and most likely someone at your local farmer’s market. They probably have eggs, too.

Baked 4-Cheese Macaroni

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I interrupt this regularly scheduled (healthy) programming.

Let’s take a break from vegetables for a moment, shall we? Everyone needs a killer mac ‘n cheese recipe up their sleeves. It’s one of those dishes that works all year, whether for a wintery Sunday dinner or summer backyard BBQ.

The catch? Ask anyone what their idea of the BEST macaroni and cheese is, and you’ll get many, many different responses. If you grew up on blue box variety, you’re partial to stove top versions. From the South? Yours is probably super-creamy and may include Velveeta. I recently had a version at Yardbird in Miami with 5 (count ’em – five!) types of cheese, curly torchio pasta and herbed breadcrumbs. Uh, yeah. It was the perfect first course for the fried chicken, shrimp and grits and Mississippi mud pie that ensued. Proof that I don’t live in kale and quinoa, as my Instagram may lead you to believe…

Growing up, I enjoyed many a mac at family gatherings. They were always casserole-style and topped with crispy breakcrumbs. My version uses 4 types of cheese: Pecorino-Romano, Gruyere and 2 types of cheddar, an sharp Irish variety and a super-aged crackly English one. I’ve been known to mix it up, but I like this combo. Afterall, it’s called macaroni and CHEESE, so do your guests a favor and use the best you can afford. The bonus? Sharper cheese means more flavor, which translates into a more satisfying (re: smaller) plate to satisfy.

I like the rustic look of a bubbling, volcanic casserole dish, but you can also bake it in a rustic cast-iron skillet or oven-safe ramekins for individual portions.

Baked 4-Cheese Macaroni
Makes one 3-quart casserole (about 8-12 servings)

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
5 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard
8 ounces extra sharp chedder, grated (about 2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)
4 ounces grated Gruyère
4 ounces grated Pecorino Romano
1 lb. small shape pasta (use your favorite – I like classic shells)

  1. Heat oven to 375F. Remove the stick of butter from the wrapper and set aside. Rub the inside of a 3-quart casserole dish with the butter wrapper. Set aside. Have all your cheese grated and placed in a large bowl before you start cooking.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add panko and stir, coating with the butter until just lightly brown. Remove from heat, allow to cool and transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl. Wipe out the skillet.
  3. Warm the milk in a saucepan over low heat. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in the skillet. When the butter starts to bubble up, sprinkle in the flour. You’re looking for a mixture that resembles wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
  4. While constantly whisking, ladle in the hot milk a little at a time. Cook, continuing to whisk, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, pepper, cayenne, dry mustard and about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until smooth.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta underdone, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse well. Stir into the cheese sauce and combine well.
  7. Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and panko.
  8. Bake about 30-40 minutes until golden. To really crisp up the top, place the dish under the broiler for a few minutes. Allow to rest for a few minutes before digging in.

Lemon Risotto with Green Garlic and Fava Beans

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Confession: the rice used to make this risotto has been sitting in my cabinet for oh, about a year. Allow me to backtrack. In culinary school, we learned to make risotto. Lots of risotto. Pans and pans of it, in fact, until we achieved what Chef deemed worthy of his fork. We chopped. We sweated (both the onions and ourselves). We stirred. And stirred. Until, wait, yes, our rice reached creamy perfection.

I don’t make risotto much these days.

And I really don’t know why. Despite it’s reputation, it’s really quite easy – if you are patient. See, you can’t rush the rice. You must slow down and cast the notion of a ‘fast easy dinner’. Truth be told, it is quite fast, about 30 minutes from start to finish. But you must stir.

This springy, lemony risotto was inspired by the long stalks of green garlic found this time of year. I love its mellow flavor, the perfect accompaniment to earthy fava beans, herbs and fresh peas.

I’d say it’s worthy of my fork.

Lemon Risotto with Green Garlic and Fava Beans
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup shelled fresh fava beans
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small yellow onion or 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • 1 large green garlic stalk, trimmed, white and light green parts finely chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup peas, frozen, defrosted or blanched fresh
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino
  • Juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • For garnish: chopped fresh dill and mint

Directions

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add fava beans and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water.  Drain and peel. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Keep warm.
  3. In a medium skillet or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and green garlic, stirring until softened and translucent You do not want the vegetables to brown.
  4. Add the rice and stir until translucent, about a minute.
  5. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Ladle about 1 cup of broth into the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Add another cup of broth, and continue to stir until absorbed, adding more stock for the next 20 minutes or so. Don’t worry if you don’t use all of the broth.
  6. When the risotto is al dente and creamy, remove from heat and fold in butter, fava beans, peas and pecorino. Stir in lemon juice and zest to taste.
  7. Garnish with chopped fresh dill, mint and bit more lemon zest.

Miso-Lime Noodle Bowl with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

noodles

Isn’t it weird how you get in certain habits with food? You find yourself eating the same breakfast, going to the same coffee shop or reaching for chocolate at the same time each day (I don’t know about you, but it happens at around 3pm for me.) While I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater and cook, I have my old standbys. I will never turn down a trip to Westville. I eat Greek yogurt almost every day. And kale? I still can’t get enough of it. I’m a creature of {healthy} habits.

Sometimes, I feel the urge to break out of  my comfort zone. Why not start with dinner? Pasta is a major go-to for me and many of my personal chef clients. After a long day of work, it’s just the thing. While I love an Italian pasta carbonara, Asian noodle dishes are becoming a new habit for me these days. The trick? I keep a few key staples around. Scallions, ginger and garlic are the starting point for countless noodle variations. Invest in a container of good miso, a bottle of tamari or soy sauce and some type of hot sauce or chile paste. Chances are you’ve made a stir fry before. See? You’re already halfway outside the box.

Miso-Lime Noodle Bowl with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

Serves 1-2

1 nest instant rice vermicelli or soba noodles*
1 teaspoon vegetable or coconut oil
2 scallions, finely sliced, white and green parts separated
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 heads baby bok choy, chopped
Miso-Lime Sauce
2 teaspoons white miso
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 lime, juiced
Gochujang* to taste (or another hot sauce/paste)
Sesame seeds and Korean chile flakes, for garnish (optional)

If you are using instant rice noodles, place a nest/bundle of noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and a plate or lid and set aside. If you are using soba or another type of noodle, boil according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add white part of scallion, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic.) Add the shiitakes and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bok choy and cook until wilted, another few minutes. Add a couple drops of water or stock if the veggies start to stick. In a small bowl, combine the miso, tamari, lime juice and hot sauce/paste of choice, to taste. Drain your noodles and add them to the veggie mixture, along with the sauce. Toss to combine. Serve with green scallions, sesame seeds, Korean chile flakes or hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice.

*Look for rice vermicelli noodles in the Asian section of the grocery store. You can sub in any type of noodle you prefer (I use buckwheat soba a lot).

*Gochujang is a fermented Korean chile paste . It has a nice balance of heat and a bit of sweetness.