Italian, Savory

Stuffed Zucchini

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This is a versatile recipe and it will most certainly make the “veggie-haters” eat zucchini.  For this particular recipe, I used ground beef with Italian flavors.  You could use taco spices for a Mexican spin and you can change up the protein with ground chicken or turkey.  You can also make this a 100% vegetarian meal by using beans, corn, quinoa, and peppers as a filling.  I have also heard a friend use crabmeat as a filling, which I have to try next.   However you choose to make this, it is a fool-proof way to jazz up zucchini!

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Ingredients

2 large medium-sized zucchini

1 medium onion, chopped

1.5 cups of ground beef

1/2 tsp of minced garlic

1/4 tsp of Calabrian chili paste

1 tsp of Italian seasoning

1 tsp of tomato paste

1/2 cup of tomato basil sauce

1 Tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp of olive oil, plus additional oil to brush on zucchini

Shredded mozzarella cheese for melting on top, as much as you like

salt and pepper for seasoning.

Method:

Slice zucchini down the middle, length-wise.  Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the inside of the zucchini, making a hollow “boat”.  Season with a little bit of salt and let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes to an hour.  This will pull out some of the excess liquid in the zucchini and also season the flesh.

Preheat oven to 375F.  While that happens, move on to making the filling.

Heat oil in a skillet and add the ground beef.  Saute till it starts to brown.  Then add all the remaining spices except for the tomato basil sauce and parsley.

Cook all the ingredients, till the beef is dark brown, and all the spices have bloomed and are married together.

Finally, add the sauce and parsley and cook for an additional 7-9 minutes.  At this point, you can store the filling in the fridge for later use or you can proceed to the next step.

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Using a paper towel, blot the excess moisture off the Zucchini and arrange them, cut-side up, on a greased baking pan.  Sprinkle the cavity with some black pepper and bake the zucchini for 10 minutes.

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Pull out the zucchini and fill then with beef mixture.  You will note in the picture that two of the “boats” have more filling than the other two, personal preference really, I like more vegetable and my husband prefers more beef.  He also likes more cheese as you will see in the following pictures.

 

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Baked the filled zucchini for another 10 minutes.

Top the boats with cheese (as much as you like) and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and bubbly!  Turn the broiler on at the end if you want to brown the top of the cheese.

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Serve piping hot!

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Classics, Dinner, Italian, Meat, Savory

Braciole

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This is my take on a classic Italian Braciole or beef-roll ups.  This is an easy and hearty dish that looks extremely elegant.  You can make the filling several days ahead and if you use store-bought marinara sauce, this meal comes together in about a half an hour, elevating any boring weeknight to date night!  Here is how I made this dish.

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Ingredients:

For the roll-up:

2 pieces of flank-steak, pounded thin (the package might say “braciole)

A double batch of Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach

1 Tbsp of breadcrumbs

Salt and cracked black pepper to season the meat, about a 1tsp of each.

1 Tbsp of olive oil

Kitchen string cut into 6-8 pieces, long enough to wrap around and tie the rolled meat

For the sauce:

1 cup of marinara or tomato-basil sauce

1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tsp of Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar

Method:

Cook the spinach and mushrooms (you can find the recipe here).  You will need to double the recipe so that you have enough filling.  The filling can be made several days in advance.

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Mix the bread crumb with spinach and mushroom filling.

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Divide the filling on to the two pieces of flank steak and spread it on to the meat.  Press the filling down, so that it sticks to the meat–it will stay in place when you go to roll it.

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Starting from the short end, roll the steak up like a jelly-roll, tightly; tucking in any filling that may fall out.

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Using the pre-cut kitchen twine ( I like to cut it ahead of time), tie up the rolls tightly.

Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet and once it is hot, add the beef roll-ups.  I like to add some additional cracked black pepper at this step, makes for a really nice crust!

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Sear on high heat, about 2-3 minutes per side, making sure you get the entire surface of the roll browned–not just top and bottom.  After you get the initial sear, you may lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, rolling the beef to a different surface ever 2 minutes.  The entire process will take about 15- 20 minutes.  It might take longer if your rolls are larger.

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let the beef rolls rest for at least 5 minutes before you cutting the string and slicing the meat.

While the beef is searing, heat all the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepot.  You are looking to warm up the sauce so that all the ingredients get a chance to blend in and impart their flavor.  You keep the sauce on a low simmer the entire time the beef is cooking.

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To plate dinner, spoon sauce on a plate and arrange two slices of the braciole/beef-roll up.  Pour yourself a glass of red wine and dinner is served!

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Fish & Seafood, Savory

Blackened Tilapia with Crispy Okra

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When I saw fresh okra at the grocery store I knew I had to make this.  And what goes well with okra? Something “blackened” of course!!!  If you are not a fan of fish, you can rub the spices on the chicken and bake/grill chicken.  You could also pair this with baked chicken or fried chicken.  I personally love blackened fish, it reminds of my childhood, as does okra.  So, this meal is truly comfort food for me.

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Ingredients:

For the Okra:

2 cups chopped okra (medium-rounds)

3 Tbsp of cornmeal

3Tbsp of rice flour

1 tsp of salt

1tsp of chipotle chili (or any kind of chili powder)

1/2 tsp of cumin

5 Tbsp of oil

3 Tbsp of water

1 egg

For the blackened spice rub:

1tsp of each of the following

  • salt
  • black pepper
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • smoked paprika
  • garlic powder

For the fish:

1 Tbsp of oil

3-4 tilapia fillets

Method–For the Okra.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Chop okra and add to bowl.  MIx with cornmeal, rice flour, and spices.

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In a separate bowl, mix 3 Tbsp of oil, water, and 1 egg.  Beat thoroughly to mix and add the okra

Spread the mixture on a baking sheet or a cast-iron skillet and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil.

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Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring the mixture every 10 minutes.

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Method–For the Tilapia.

Mix the blackening spices with 1 Tbsp oil to create a paste.

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Pat dry the fish fillets and massage the spice paste on to the fillet.

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Arrange fish on a lined baking sheet, if you are using aluminum foil, you lightly spray the foil to prevent the fish from sticking.

Bake the fish for 20 minutes till flakey,

Serve with fish with okra and corn and enjoy!

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Fish & Seafood, French, Savory

Scallops with Le Puy Lentils

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Ever since I had this dish at the Blue Heron Restaurant, I have been looking for a recipe to recreate it.  A few months ago a friend of mine, send me a link to the restaurant’s recipe and then I realized that the recipe was published in Bon Appetit magazine!  You can find the original recipe here, but this is how I adapted the recipe for home cooking.  I omitted the mascarpone cream and reduced the amount of butter in the recipe and it still turned out delicious!

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Ingredients:

For the Cider reduction
2 cups apple cider
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped shallots

For the Lentils
6 whole cloves
1 medium onion, peeled
6 cups of water
1 1/2 cups French green lentils (lentilles du Puy; about 12 ounces)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of salt
6 slices thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

For the Scallops
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
10 sea scallops, patted dry

Method:  For the Cider Reduction

Place cider, vinegar, and shallots in a saucepan.

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Boil until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 15-25 minutes.

Strain; discard solids in strainer.

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Cider reduction can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate if you are not using immediately

Method:  For the Lentils

Press the thin end of cloves into peeled onion. Place onion in a large pot. Add 6 cups of water, lentils, and bay leaves.

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Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes.

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Drain lentils, discarding onion (with the cloves) and bay leaves.  I did this in the morning and left the lentils in the strainer, till I was ready to sautee them

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Cook bacon in large pot or skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels.

 

Pour all but 1 tablespoon of fat from skillet. Add shallots to skillet and sauté over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes.

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Add reserved bacon, lentils, and thyme to shallots.  Continue to sautee and then add the cider reduction to the lentil.  Adjust for salt and pepper.  in the original recipe, the cider reduction is mixed with a lot of butter to make a finishing sauce.

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Note: I wanted to use all of the reduction and reduce the amount of butter used in the recipe.  The cider reduction is very tart and a little sweet, so instead of adding the entire reduction to lentils, add it a little at a time to see if you enjoy the flavor.  

Continue to cook until most of the cider reduction is absorbed by the lentils.

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Lentils can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring often.  There will be plenty of leftover lentils, but I wanted leftovers so followed the original recipe.

Method for the Scallops:

Pat the scallops dry and season with salt and pepper.

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Melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil in a heavy-bottomed large skillet/cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat.

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Add scallops and cook until brown, about 2 minutes per side.

 

Spoon lentils onto a plate and arrange scallops on top. Serve hot and enjoy a restaurant-style meal, right at home!

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Meat, Moroccan, Savory

Pork Chops with Harissa

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The past few days have been hot and humid.  It is too oppressive to turn on the oven and the sudden, thunderous, downpour (providing no relief by the way) makes grilling difficult. Under these circumstances,  I try to make quick, skillet dinners.  I also recently bought a jar of harissa paste, so I decided to make the best of the situation and make this dish.  It was a little experimental but turned out delicious.  If you are not a fan of pork or have dietary restrictions, the sauce will work really well with chicken, shrimp, or mixed vegetables.

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Ingredients:

3, center-cut, boneless pork chops

1/8 cup flour

1/2 tsp each of salt, pepper, coriander, and smoked paprika

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 tsp of minced garlic

1 tsp of tomato paste

3 tsp of harissa paste (not sauce)

1 tsp of chicken broth concentrate + 1 cup of water OR 1 cup of chicken broth

1/2 tsp of dried parsley

2 Tbsp of olive oil

Additional salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a skillet.  While the oil warms up, mix flour with flour, salt, pepper, coriander, and smoked paprika in a bowl.

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Dredge, pork chops in the flour-spice mixture, and add to the hot oil.

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Fry the pork chops, about 2-3 minutes per side, till folder brown.  Set aside.

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Heat remaining 1 Tbsp oil in the same pan.  Coat the sliced onions in the remaining flour mixture and add to the pan.  Sautee on medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes till they soften.

Once the onions start to soften, add the garlic, tomato paste and harissa paste.  Continue to saute for another 3-5 minutes.

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Add chicken stock concentrate and water, dried parsley, and reduce the temperature to medium-low.  Simmer the sauce for 3-5 minutes.

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Return the pork chops to the pan.  Continue to simmer till the sauce thickens. Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper as needed.  If the sauce taste too tart, you can add a pinch of sugar to cut through the acid.  This will depend on the harissa paste and tomato paste brand.

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Plate the pork chops with healthy dollops of the harissa sauce.

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Savory, Sides

Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach

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Now that it is grilling season, I am spending most of the time making sides and salads to go with whatever protein is being cooked on the grill.  This is a quick and hearty side dish that will pair really well with a nice steak.  This side dish is good at any time of year so consider it for your holiday meals as well!

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Ingredients:

4 oz of mixed mushrooms (scale up for a larger portion)

1 cup of fresh baby spinach leaves

2 Tbsp of olive oil

1 medium shallot, sliced

1/4 tsp of minced garlic

2 tsp of soy sauce

1 tsp of balsamic vinegar

a pinch of nutmeg

cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Heat oil in a large skillet and add shallots and mushrooms.  Sautee on medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes till the vegetables start to soften.

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Add the minced garlic, nutmeg, and spinach.  Continue to sautee as the spinach wilts.

Finish the dish with soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.  Add liquid and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom on the skillet.  Continue to saute till all the liquid evaporates, about 1-2 minutes.

Taste the veggies and add additional salt the (sodium levels will depend on the type of soy sauce you use) and cracked black pepper.  I add a lot of pepper because that is the way we like it.

Serve piping hot with a juicy steak!

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Poultry, Quick Dinner, Savory

Tequila Lime Chicken

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It is warm in New England, which means, it is finally grilling season!  Thank god for that because boring chicken breast tastes best when grilled.  Here is a fun marinade for chicken tenders which I adapted (a.k.a made a smaller batch) from Ina Garten’s recipe.  As long as you have all the ingredients, it is super easy!

Ingredients:

8-10, boneless, skinless chicken tenders

1/4 cup tequila

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 Tbsp of chili powder

1/2 Tbsp of minced garlic

1 jalapeno, diced (remove the seeds if you don’t want it to be spicy)

1 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of black pepper

Method:

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Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl or large measuring cup.

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Pour the marinade over the chicken in a zip-top plastic bag and marinate in the fridge for 4-6 hours.

Bring the chicken to room temperature and grill till cooked through.

I like to serve this particular chicken with a salad/salsa made with black beans, corn, avocado, tomatoes, bell peppers, and scallions.  I like to dress this salad/salsa with a little bit of lime juice (prevents the avocados from browning), salt, and pepper.

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Serve the chicken hot and the salad at room temperature.  I would recommend eating this meal outside with a cold margarita!!

 

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Savory, Sides

Foolproof Popovers

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Popovers would be best described as the New England cousin of the English Yorkshire pudding.  My first introduction to popovers was in college when we would go to a local restaurant called Judie’s.  I have fond memories of Judie’s popovers with apple butter.  Being a New England native, my husband too loves popovers.  So much so, that we had them at our wedding.  It was important to have a recipe for popovers and I had stumbled across this many years ago while watching FoodNetwork.  Ever since then, I have been following the recipe to the “t” and it is truly foolproof!  You can find the recipe here

 

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons melted butter, divided

2 eggs

1 cup milk, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave (should be lukewarm to warm)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt ( I add some black pepper too)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Using a pastry brush, coat 6 muffin cups (I like the muffin tins that are made for extra-large muffins) with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter and put the tin in the oven for 5 minutes.  I like to cut up 1 tbsp of butter and divide it into the cups, melt them in the oven while it is pre-heating.  Then I use a brush to coat the cups with the melted butter.

 

Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a blender until light yellow.

 

Add the warmed milk and blend. Add the flour, salt, and remaining melted butter, and blend until smooth.

 

Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin.  Try to divide the batter evenly amongst each tin to yield popovers that are the same size.

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Return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 35 minutes.  It is critical to NOT OPEN THE OVEN during the baking process

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

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Poultry, Savory

Chicken Roulade

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The humble bird gets an elegant makeover.  This is a showstopper but does require a bit of effort and planning.  I made it extra hard on myself as I did not have a single, large piece of chicken breast to work with.  Usually, you can take a large piece of breast meat, cut it open like a book, pound and thin, and then fill and roll like a jelly roll.  I only had thin cutlets (these cuts are really popular because my husband loves cutlets and Jägerschnitzel), which made the process a bit more challenging.  As for the filling, this is where you can get creative.  I use roasted red peppers and prosciutto, I have read recipes with spinach, cheese, and tomatoes.  Anyway, this is a labor of love, but certainly, worth it if, you like me, are bored with eating chicken!

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Ingredients:

For the Roulade:

5-6 thin chicken cutlets OR 1 large chicken breast, cut open like a book and pounded thin

1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

5 slices of prosciutto

2-3 roasted red peppers from a jar, shredded (you can use your fingers for this, they are usually really soft)

For dredging and frying:

1/8 cup flour

1/4 tsp of salt, black pepper and poultry seasoning (1/4 tsp of each)

1 Tbsp of olive oil

For the pan sauce:

1 medium shallot, sliced

1/2 Tbsp of olive oil

1/2 cup chicken stock, plus an additional 1/4 cup if you need to cook the chicken longer

4 Tbsp of white wine

1/2 tsp of dried parsley ( use fresh if you can, I did not have any)

Method:

Shingle the thin chicken cutlets to form a sort of continuous sheet of chicken.  You will want to do this over a plastic food cutting board.

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Cover the “sheet” of chicken with a large piece of plastic wrap and then flip the cutting board.  img_20200508_110424img_20200508_110437img_20200508_110525This will ensure that the plastic wrap is on the very bottom and the chicken on top.  Lift the cutting board to start the filling process.

Season the chicken sheet with salt, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes.

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Arrange the prosciutto slices to cover the entire sheet of chicken.

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Using your fingers, shred the roasted red pepper on top of the prosciutto.

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Now, very carefully, ensuring that you get all the pieces of chicken to move in unison, roll up the chicken tightly like a jelly-roll.

Wrap the rolled-up chicken tightly, with the plastic wrap underneath.

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Twist the free ends of the plastic (two ends of the chicken roll) tightly.  The tighter you twist the more cylindrical the roulade will get.

Chill the roulade for 3-4 hours.  Longer the better.

When you are ready to cook the roulade, place the roulade in a shallow skillet (plastic-wrap and all) and fill with some water and bring it to a simmer.  Continue to simmer the roulade till the chicken turns from pink to white.  Remove from the skillet and place on a cutting board.  Remove the plastic wrap and cool the roulade.

On a plate, mix all the ingredients fro dredging.  Roll to coat the cooled roulade.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the roulade and all the excess flour into the pan– you will need the excess flour to make the sauce.

Brown the roulade on all sides (2-3 minutes per side).  Remove from the pan and set aside.

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Add the sliced shallot and 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil to the same pan and sautee the shallots till golden.

Add the wine and chicken stock to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low and simmer till the stock reduces.

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In the meantime, slice the roulade with a serrated knife.  Depending on the thickness of the roulade, the chicken may or may not be cooked all the way through.  I notice that my roulade was not cooked all the way, so I returned the slices to the pan with the sauce and added an additional 1/4 cup of chicken stock.

Cook the slices till cooked through and the sauce is reduced.  You may have to remove the slices out of the skillet and continue to reduce the sauce.

Spoon the sauce over the roulade and serve with your choice of sides.  I made green beans and rice pilaf.

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Appetizers, Savory, Sides

Zucchini Fritters

 

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In India, on a raw, rainy night, you will often find family members gathered over hot cups of tea and plate of piping hot fried fritters.  These fritters are usually vegetarian, like potato, onion, and eggplant (all separate–not mixed together).  Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day turned into a gloomy, rainy evening–which led me to crave fried food.  I could have pulled out some samosas, but I have zucchini in the fridge that needed to be used.  Also, earlier in the day, I came across this recipe in Cooking Light magazine, so it must have been a combination of all these different sensory inputs (haha, can you tell I am a biologist?) that led to this recipe.

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchinis, grated and drained

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 small onion, minced

1 egg

2 Tbsp of flour

1 Tbsp of rice flour

1/2 tsp of salt

A dash of black pepper

1 tsp of olive oil for the batter plus more for frying

Method:

Grate and or chop finely the zucchini.  If you have a food processor, you can grate it.  I have a handheld grater which almost pulverizes the zucchini.  So, for some texture I grated one and chopped the other–the different textures give the fritters some body.

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Place the zucchini on a paper towel or dishcloth and let it drain for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

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Squeeze out all the water and add the zucchini to a mixing bowl.

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Add egg, flours, salt, pepper, jalapenos, and oil to the zucchini and mix thoroughly.

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a skillet.  Using a tablespoon, gently dollop the batter into the hot oil.  Using the back of the spoon, flatten out the dollops to form a pancake shape.

Fry on medium-high to high heat for 2-3 minutes or till golden brown.  Then flip the fritters and cook the other side.

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Blot the fritters on a paper towel and serve piping hot!  This makes a great evening snack or a hearty side dish for a simple chicken dinner.

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