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dinner

book review, recipe

All Grown Up + Grown-Up Ramen

There was a time before my blog, and before I became obsessed with Goodreads, that I kept track of what I read with a Google spreadsheet. It was pretty simple – title, author, notes, date finished and a Y/N column for whether or not I’d recommend it. That spreadsheet is my only memory of the last time I read a Jami Attenberg novel and my succinct reaction was “the ending was predictable; I cared about exactly zero of the characters.” Four years later, with her novel All Grown Up, I found myself having deja vu.

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Andrea is a thirty-nine-year-old single woman without children. She wanted to be an artist, but instead finds herself in an unfulfilling career so she can pay the rent. In New York City, that’s not remarkably unusual. What is remarkably unusual about Andrea is that she refuses to grow up, and the people around her think that’s perfectly alright.  

I didn’t find it predictable, though perhaps I should have – a 40-year-old woman who still acts like someone fresh out of college can’t be expected to grow up at that late stage – but I didn’t care about any of the characters. In the end, I found Andrea’s life and the novel on the whole quite sad, but on the plus side, Attenberg’s writing was lovely and made the less than 200 pages easy to get through.

In a transformation like the one I hoped Andrea would have, I turned a college classic into something a bit more put-together, a posh NYC favorite – Grown-up Ramen Noodles. I found a recipe from Fork Knife Swoon to go off of and set to work.  

To start, I began cooking a chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper in a skillet with olive oil. Once the rounded side was browned – about 7 minutes – I flipped it over and cooked the other side for another 5 minutes or so. I transferred it to a small foil-lined baking sheet and placed it in my preheated 375-degree oven to finish cooking.

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While the chicken was cooking, I began my broth and set the water for my eggs to boil. In a medium saucepan, I heated some toasted sesame oil before adding minced garlic and ginger. I allowed those to cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Then, I added the soy sauce and rice cooking wine, stirring to combine. After another minute, I added the chicken broth, covered the pan and brought it all to a boil.

Once boiling, I turned down the heat and allowed it to simmer for 5 minutes. I added the dried mushrooms and let the broth continue to simmer. Meanwhile, I removed the chicken from the oven and set it aside. I also added the two eggs to the separate pan of boiling water and set a timer for 7 minutes.

I used this time to prep my scallions and seaweed, and once the chicken had rested, I cut it into slices.

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After 10 minutes, I removed the mushrooms and placed them in the waiting bowls. (If I had sliced them, I would’ve done so here. If I was making this again, I would slice the mushrooms into more bite-size pieces, as noted in the recipe below.) I also placed the eggs into an ice bath so they could cool before peeling.

I added the dried ramen noodles into the prepared ramen broth, discarding the flavoring packets that come with the noodles. (College memories!) You could cook the noodles in plain boiling water instead, but I have always preferred to make them in the broth/flavoring to impart some of that flavor on the noodles.

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Once the noodles are ready, carefully place them in each bowl and top with the broth. Carefully peel each egg, slice in half and place in the bowls on top of the noodles and mushrooms. Add the sliced chicken, scallions and seaweed. Serve and enjoy!

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Grown-Up Chicken Ramen

  • Servings: 2
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to season
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter, or olive oil
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 TBS low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 TBS rice cooking wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • ½ – 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 2 (3 oz) packs dried ramen noodles
  • optional: roasted seaweed snacks, in ribbons, for serving

Directions

  1. Cook the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Melt the butter (or heat olive oil) in an oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken breast, round side down, and cook until golden brown and it releases easily from the pan, about 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until golden.
  2. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, you may transfer the chicken to a small baking sheet lined with foil.) Remove from the oven, transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil until ready to serve.

  3. Make the ramen broth: Heat the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat, until shimmering. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the soy sauce and rice wine, and stir to combine. Cook for another minute. Add the stock, cover, and bring to boil. Remove the lid, and let simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, then add the dried mushrooms. Simmer gently for another 10 minutes, and season with salt, to taste.
  4. Otherwise, take the mushrooms out of the broth using tongs, and carefully, slice them into thick bite-size slices on a cutting board. (For particularly large mushrooms, you may cut them in half before slicing.) Place in bowls for serving.

  5. Make the soft-boiled eggs: Fill a pot with enough water to cover the eggs, and bring to a boil. Gently lower the eggs (still cold from the fridge) into the boiling water, and let simmer for 7 minutes (for a slightly-runny yoke) or 8 minutes (for a soft, but set-up yoke).
  6. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. When the timer finishes, transfer the eggs to the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Wait at least 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle, then carefully peel away the shell and slice in half, lengthwise. Set aside until ready to serve.

  7. Assemble the ramen bowls: Meanwhile, chop the scallions and slice the seaweed snacks into ribbons (if using). Slice the chicken into thin pieces. Set aside. When the eggs are in the ice bath, add the ramen noodles to the broth. Cook for approximately 3 minutes, until soft, then divide the noodles into two large bowls, next to the mushrooms. Add the ramen broth, dividing evenly. Top each bowl with half of the sliced chicken breast, a soft boiled egg each, fresh scallions and the seaweed. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Fork Knife Swoon

To save some time, or if you’re making this on a warm day like I was, substitute pre-made rotisserie chicken.


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book review, recipe

Dark Matter + Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

Usually when I finish a novel that I really enjoyed and think Scott would like it, I recommend he read it too. He tends to be more of a non-fiction reader, so I choose pretty carefully. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is one of those rare novels that Scott read first and then recommended to me.

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I love science fiction that grabs you from the start and has you rooting for something bigger (and usually stranger) than you ever imagined. This novel certainly fits the bill, and it’s one that everyone can relate to because, at its heart, it’s all about going home. After Jason Dessen is abducted, he finds himself in a situation he never would’ve imagined – one that calls into question all of the choices he has ever made.  

Since it’s a book that’s all about the plot, it’s hard to say too much without giving it away, so I won’t. It starts out simple but quickly gets complicated, pulling Jason into a twisty universe that will have you anxious to get to the end. If you loved The Martian (and I absolutely did!), you’ll love this.

Throughout Dark Matter, Jason is a bit untethered, guided only by his desperation to reunite with his family. His wife, Daniela, makes him a traditional Spanish dish once or twice a year that serves as a reminder of everything he’s missing. I didn’t have much to go on outside of “a bean stew made with an assortment of native legumes and meats. Chorizo, pancetta, black sausage.” So, I did some googling and found this recipe for a Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo.

With some minor tweaks (but still no black/blood sausage, thank you very much), Scott and I were ready to enjoy some of Daniela’s stew. First, I heated some olive oil in a medium pot and add the chopped pancetta, cooking until just crisp. Then I added the onion and minced garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until lightly browned.

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I stirred in the spices before adding the browned andouille chunks, white beans with their liquid and chicken broth. The whole stew got a few generous stirs and then I let it come up to a simmer.

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Once it simmered for about 25 minutes, I added the browned (slightly crispy) chorizo and cooked the stew for another 5 minutes or so. I didn’t need any additional salt and pepper, but check here and season as needed. I served it as The Dessens prefer it, with grated cheddar, chopped cilantro and a generous dollop of sour cream. A nice glass of Spanish red wine completed the meal.

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Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print


Adapted From: Whole Foods

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1½ andouille sausage links, cut into chunks and then browned
  • 3 16-oz cans white beans, with their liquid
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 oz. ground chorizo, cooked through until browned
  • Grated sharp cheddar, sour cream, cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil and pancetta in a medium pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is just crisp. Add garlic and onions and cook until lightly browned.
  2. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper, then add andouille, beans/liquid and chicken broth. Simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and serve with desired toppings. Grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro recommended.

book review, recipe

The Boston Girl + Fried Rice

Anita Diamant’s novel The Boston Girl had been on my to-read list for a while and when it finally got selected for one of my book clubs, I was excited. I didn’t know much about it beyond the description; it was about a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston with her immigrant family.

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Though this had quite a different story to tell, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the lovely Lillian Boxfish (which I had just finished a few weeks before). Both stories follow strong females making their own way in big cities during a time when most women were supposed to be making families instead. This one is also narrated by an 85-year-old woman, this time Addie, as she tells her granddaughter how she got to be the woman she is today.

Our book club’s consensus was that the story was “so light” but as we dove in, we realized it actually wasn’t. Perhaps it was the narration style or the benefit of knowing it all turned out okay (after all, Addie was here telling us what happened so long ago), but Diamant tackles quite a few tough issues and Addie certainly has her share of hardships throughout the novel.

Despite the fact that she ate “pie for breakfast every day [one] summer,” food isn’t a key player in the story. It does make an appearance in the few dinner dates that Addie shares with us, and on one such evening she is introduced to Chinese food for the first time. In the retelling, she asks her granddaughter, “Did you know there was a time before all Jews loved Chinese food?” I had recently read an article around Christmas that tackled this very question, which I had found quite interesting. Chinese food has since become so interwoven with Jewish culture and there is such joy in the experience that Addie describes, I knew what I had to make.

I found an unintimidating recipe for fried rice and got to work. (After actually making it, however, I don’t know why I was ever intimidated – it’s quite easy.) I began by prepping all of my vegetables. I finely diced my onions and carrots and chopped my chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. I was using leftover white rice, so thankfully that was already set to go. I put my egg into a small bowl, added 3 drops each of soy sauce and sesame oil and beat it until well-combined.

I let one tablespoon of oil heat up in my wok, then added the chopped onion. Once they were cooked through and starting to turn light brown, I removed them and set aside.

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With another small amount of oil heated in the wok, I added the mixture of egg, soy sauce and sesame oil. Once it was cooked, I transferred it to a cutting board and chopped it up.

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Again, I heated another tablespoon of oil and added the chicken, carrots, peas and cooked onion. (I would recommend adding the carrots in a few minutes earlier – perhaps even up to 5 minutes before the rest of the ingredients – to ensure that it gets cooked well enough to be a bit soft. My carrots ended up slightly crunchy, on the underdone side; my only complaint about the dish.)

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Once the chicken was mostly cooked, about 3 or 4 minutes, I added the rice and green onions (I didn’t use bean sprouts this time) and cooked for another 2 to 3 minutes. I was a little wary of undercooked chicken, which is why I cooked each stage a little longer than recommended in the recipe. Cook as long as feels/looks right to you, making sure to note that it will keep cooking throughout the process.

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For the last step, I added 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (plus a little extra) and the chopped egg, allowing the entire mixture to cook through for another minute and a half. The finished dish was quite tasty, one I would definitely make – and not be intimidated by! – again.

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Chinese Fried Rice

  • Servings: 4, 1 cup each
  • Print


From: Sue Lau on Food.com

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2½ tablespoons oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (or more eggs if you like)
  • 3 drops soy sauce
  • 3 drops sesame oil
  • 8 ounces cooked lean boneless pork or 8 ounces chicken, chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrot (very small)
  • ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 4 cups cold cooked rice, grains separated (preferably medium grain)
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (add more if you like)

Directions

  1. Heat 1 TBS oil in wok; add chopped onions and stir-fry until onions turn a nice brown color, about 8-10 minutes; remove from wok.
  2. Allow wok to cool slightly.
  3. Mix egg with 3 drops of soy and 3 drops of sesame oil; set aside.
  4. Add 1/2 TBS oil to wok, swirling to coat surfaces; add egg mixture; working quickly, swirl egg until egg sets against wok; when egg puffs, flip egg and cook other side briefly; remove from wok, and chop into small pieces.
  5. Heat 1 TBS oil in wok; add selected meat to wok, along with carrots, peas, and cooked onion; stir-fry for 2 minutes.
  6. Add rice, green onions, and bean sprouts, tossing to mix well; stir-fry for 3 minutes.
  7. Add 2 TBS of light soy sauce and chopped egg to rice mixture and fold in; stir-fry for 1 minute more; serve.
  8. Set out additional soy sauce on the table, if desired.

book review, recipe

The Trespasser + Corned Beef and Cabbage Pizza

I read Tana French’s first Dublin Murder Squad novel, In the Woods, about a year and a half ago. It reminded me of all the hours I had spent as a young girl reading Nancy Drew books and then, when I was little bit older, devouring Mary Higgins Clark mysteries. I read the second book about a month later, but until The Trespasser, I hadn’t picked up one of the series since then.

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This time, the detectives are trying to hunt down the person responsible for killing a woman in her apartment. With a boyfriend who insists he’s innocent, the spotless crime scene doesn’t help, but Antoinette and her partner are seemingly being pushed into charging him. They have to follow their guts without raising any flags.

Unless it pertains to the crime, this genre of novels aren’t usually rich with descriptions of food. In this case, the victim’s table was all set and ready for a romantic dinner when she was murdered, but the dinner itself hadn’t yet made it to the table and it was ruined by the time anyone found it.

That wasn’t exactly appetizing, but with all of the late nights on the case, there was ample opportunity to make something for an after-hours snack. I seized the opportunity and made pizza. Having once made an unexpectedly delicious strawberry balsamic bacon pizza, I was interested in trying out one that similarly unique. In honor of Ireland, where the novel takes place, I scouted out a recipe using classic St. Patrick’s Day fare – corned beef and cabbage (and potatoes).

I used store-bought dough, but otherwise I followed this recipe from the Food Network.

First, I sliced my potato, covered the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and placed them in the pre-heated oven on a sheet pan.

While those baked, I chopped up the cabbage, so it could begin to cook down on the stove with the pickling spices (below, before I wrapped them in the cheesecloth).

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Once the potatoes were done, I put the pizza dough into the oven to pre-bake for 8 minutes, as directed on the package. I also roughly chopped my corned beef and shredded my parmesan and combined the cheeses.

With the dough and toppings all ready, it was time to assemble the pizza. I sprinkled the dough with olive oil and covered it with the cheese. I then layered on the remaining toppings – the cabbage, the corned beef, and last, the potatoes. A sprinkle of salt and pepper and it was all set for the oven. After about 12 minutes, it came out all gooey and smelled amazing. We couldn’t wait to dive in!

Corned Beef and Cabbage Pizza

  • Servings: 4 with 2 slices each
  • Print


Adapted from: Food Network

Ingredients

  • Store-bought pizza dough, enough for 2 pizzas
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 3 cups sliced green cabbage
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spices, tied securely in cheesecloth
  • 1 large potato, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded monterey jack cheese
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 ounces sliced corned beef
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

[/recipe-directions]
1. Prep/prepare your dough according to directions or your own recipe.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, season with salt and cook until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pickling spices and just enough water to cover. Simmer over low heat, covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the cabbage and set aside (discard spices).
3. Place a pizza stone in the oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 degrees. Toss the potato with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a single layer on a baking sheet until golden, about 15 minutes.
4. Place one round on a floured pizza peel (if baking on a stone) or a large oiled pizza pan (if using two regular pans, you can prep both pizzas together].
5. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scatter half of each of the cheeses, corned beef, cabbage and potatoes on top. Season with salt and pepper. Carefully slip the pizza onto the hot stone, if using, or place the pan(s) in the oven. Cook until golden and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings, if needed.
[/recipe-directions]

book review, recipe

The Underground Railroad + Carolina-Style Pulled Pork

One of my book clubs unanimously selected The Underground Railroad for our latest meeting, and I was really excited. I began reading with high expectations – Colson Whitehead’s novel was not only recommended by Oprah (a book club selection) and Obama, it had won the National Book Award for Fiction as well.

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A piece of historical fiction, it re-imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad that exists underground traveling from the south through various branches as it makes its way north. It was the idea that drew me in initially, even though on the surface it does seem like a real train would be a lot more difficult to run and much easier to find. In the end, the Underground Railroad wasn’t as much of a “character” in the story as I had expected; instead, our story revolved around Cora, a runaway slave from Georgia.

The structure jumps around quite a bit, and though I got used to it about a quarter of the way into the book, I found it difficult to follow in the beginning. Jumping back and forth also took away from my ability to connect with the characters, particularly Cora with whom we spent the most time. The lack of emotion combined with the mismatched historical events left me feeling a bit confused and mostly just glad it was over.

In a novel that mostly depicted the terror and hardship of American slavery, it still had some victories. And making it to the safety and splendor of Valentine Farm is a victory for Cora. There, on Saturday evenings, they all got together for a family-style meal – with “hogs [as] the first order of business” alongside “smoky collards, turnips, sweet potato pie, and the rest of the kitchen’s concoctions.”

Since the hogs made up the center of their meal, I decided to make Carolina-style pulled porkCora spends a great deal of time in both Carolinas, and her time there changes both her course of action and her outlook on the future.

Pulled pork needs to be cooked slowly over low heat so that it truly tenderizes. It can be made at low temperatures in the oven, in a smoker or in the slow cooker, which is how I chose to make mine.

First, I combined 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and garlic powder. I rubbed the spice mixture onto my roughly 3-pound pork shoulder.

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While that soaked in, I sliced a large onion. (I used Spanish, but a sweeter onion would probably work just as well.) Mine probably ended up being a bit on the thicker side, but knowing that these are going to cook down all day as the bed of the pork shoulder, you wouldn’t want to slice them too thinly either. We didn’t mind the more prominent onions in our sandwiches, but use your best judgement.

I covered the bottom of the slow cooker with sliced onions and set the spice-covered pork on top.

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Next, I mixed together the wet ingredients – apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard and brown mustard – with cayenne pepper, crushed chili flakes and the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. I poured that into the bottom of the slow cooker. I didn’t think I had quite enough liquid so I added some water as the recipe suggested.

I set my slow cooker to low and let the pork and onions cook for about 8 hours. Once it was tender, I used two forks to “pull” it into small flakes and stirred the pork and onions together with the cooking liquid.

We ate the pulled pork on sandwiches, but it can also be used to make sliders, pulled pork tacos or even quesadillas. This recipe makes plenty for two, so it helps to get creative!

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Carolina-Style Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork

  • Servings: 8-12 sandwiches
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2–3 pounds pork shoulder butt roast
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, separated
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard

Directions

  1. If pork roast is frozen, defrost in fridge. Trim off any large sections of fat.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of brown sugar along with all of the smoked paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Rub spice mixture all over the roast until it’s soaked in.
  3. Place the sliced onions in a layer on the bottom of slow cooker with the roast on top.
  4. In small bowl, mix together remaining list of ingredients from apple cider vinegar to ground mustard, plus the leftover tablespoon of brown sugar. Gently pour liquid over roast. You should have about 2 inches of liquid on bottom; if not add a bit of water.
  5. Cook covered on low for 7–8 hours, until pulled pork is tender. Shred pork in slow cooker with a fork until flaked. Stir into liquid to incorporate flavor. Let sit for about 30 minutes, drain liquid and serve.