Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Caribbean Inspired Dinner

Recently Gavin and I have been searching tons of travel sites to plan our honeymoon. Although I'm super excited to go on a tropical vacation (probably Costa Rica) for our honeymoon, the four months till that happens seems like a long time to wait. Looking at pictures of beautiful beaches coupled with talking to a friend of mine who set off for St. Thomas today has peaked my desire for hot sun, crystal-clear blue water and maybe even a margarita. Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of a busy quarter at school and Gavin has to save up his vacation days for that actual tropical adventure we are planning to take in the fall. So instead of blowing all of those things off and jumping on the first plane to a beach, I decided to make a dinner worthy of any Caribbean island. I know it's not the same, but it definitely felt nice to spend an hour or so pretending. And with the super hot weather in NC, all you have to do is open a window and you'll feel like the beach is right around the corner. Nothing says island eating to me more than pineapple, so this entire dinner is centered around that delicious, tropical fruit. Play a little Caribbean music, open the window, and pretend for a bit that you're somewhere tropical.

Grilled Pineapple Salsa:
(Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Refrigerate until ready to use.)
  • 1/2 of a fresh pineapple (see below for tips*)
  • 1 red bell pepper, small dice (reserve 1/3 for rice pilaf)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Salt and pepper
Grill the two slices of pineapple on a grill pan over medium high heat (or better yet, fire up the grill) for about 8-10 minutes per side, being careful to avoid burning.
Let the pineapple cool and slice into small cubes, about 1/2 inch.
Combine the pineapple, red pepper, jalapeno and lime juice.
Season with salt and pepper, mixing well.

*Although you won't need the whole thing for this meal, go ahead and buy a whole, fresh pineapple since it's worlds better (and cheaper) than the pre-cut or canned versions. To prepare the pineapple, first cut of the top and bottom. The flattened bottom will then provide a sturdy base to cut off the outside going from top to bottom. Then cut the pineapple into four quarters, again from top to bottom. To remove the tough core, lay each quarter flat and cut in at a diagonal. Chop two of the quarters into bite size pieces for delicious snacking. The other two quarters will go into the pineapple salsa.

Pineapple Chicken with Sweet and Spicy Rice:
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 18 fl oz pineapple juice (3 x 6 oz cans)
  • Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper (reserved from salsa)
  • 1/4 cup onion, small dice
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
Marinate the chicken breasts in 12 fl oz (2 cans) of pineapple juice, a couple dashes of Tabasco and salt and pepper for at least one hour and up to 8.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan with a lid over medium heat.
Saute the onions for a few minutes until they start to become translucent.
Add the bell pepper and saute another minute.
Add the rice and stir to coat. Season with a pinch of cayenne and some salt.
Pour the remaining 6 fl oz of pineapple juice into a 1 cup measuring cup and top off with water.
Pour that into the rice along with another 1 and 1/4 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Fluff with a fork when done.

While the rice is cooking, heat a grill pan over medium high heat, or use an outdoor grill.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, season with salt and pepper, and grill on both sides for about 5-8 minutes or until cooked all the way through.
Serve with the Grilled Pineapple Salsa and rice pilaf.

For a printable salsa recipe, click here.
For chicken and rice, click here.

Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeno Salsa

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spicy Mussels Marinara

I love mussels and often order them when I'm out to eat. My favorites right now are those at Pop's Restaurant in Durham. They are nice and spicy with great flavors of garlic and tomatoes. Although I've had mussels at a number of different restaurants, I've never made them at home. For one reason, they aren't always available at the fish counter. And the other is that I just don't think to do so. But when Harris Teeter had mussels on special, I couldn't pass on the opportunity to try them at home. They are super easy to make and this simple sauce was delicious over pasta. Mussels are great because they tell you when they are done by opening up. Those that don't open aren't good anyway, and should be discarded. So next time your fish counter is selling mussels, definitely pick some up. The other ingredients are all things you can keep on hand. Be careful when adding salt to the sauce as the mussels add a lot of salt themselves.

Spicy Mussels Marinara
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced small
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 -1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bag mussels
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I used whole wheat linguini)
Heat olive oil in a large pot with a lid.
Saute the shallot and garlic together for a few minutes.
Stir in the red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds.
Add the diced tomatoes, oregano, basil and white wine.
Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors.
Clean the mussels and discard any that are broken.
Toss the mussels in the sauce and cover.
Let them steam for about 3 to 4 minutes and then check them.
Remove any that are wide open, stir and recover.
Repeat this process a few times until most of the mussels are open; discard any that fail to open.
Taste the sauce and add a pinch of salt and pepper if needed.
While the mussels are cooking, cook the pasta in boiling salted water.
Portion the pasta out and spoon some of the sauce onto each portion.
Add the mussels and serve with an extra bowl for discarding the shells.

For a printable recipe click here

Friday, May 21, 2010

Triangle Restaurant Week and Piedmont Review

If you haven't heard, it's Triangle Restaurant Week, which means tons of restaurants in the triangle are offering three course dinner menus for only $25 (and lunch menus for $15). Some of the triangle's best restaurants are participating, giving food lovers a great opportunity to try a new restaurant without breaking the bank. The website lists all of the restaurants involved, so if you're thinking about going out to dinner one night this weekend, definitely check it out and try something new. Gavin and I did just that last night. Although it's only a couple of blocks from our apartment, we have never been to Piedmont, and have wanted to try it out for awhile. We figured that the special offer was the perfect motivation to give it a try and we are definitely glad we did! The food was great, the service was excellent and the wine was fantastic. The dining room is split into two floors and our table for two was on the second, looking over the lower level. It was a great way to spend a night out together and get to enjoy some great food and wine.

We both started out with the farmers' lettuce salad with fresh herbs and roasted shallot vinaigrette. A simple salad, it highlighted the fresh ingredients and delicious homemade dressing.

For my entree, I chose the pan seared local chicken breast with creme fraiche mashed potatoes, braised greens & herb jus. The chicken was cooked and seasoned perfectly. Although I don't tend to order chicken when I'm out since I make it so often at home, this was definitely worth it. The mashed potatoes and braised greens were both delicious and perfect with the chicken.

Gavin went with the herbed goat cheese ravioli with arugula pesto, pine nuts & parmesan, which turned out to be another excellent choice. The goat cheese was creamy and full of flavor and the sauce was worth scraping up every last bit.

Our desserts, a treat for us since we normally don't order dessert, were an excellent ending to this great meal. Shortcake with local strawberries and lemon panna cotta were just the right touch of sweetness to round out this great meal.

For the wine, I went with our waiter's suggestion of the Garofoli Podium (2007) Verdicchio, an Italian white that was so good that even Gavin ordered a glass (he usually drinks red). The waiter, by the way, was excellent. I really appreciate great service after being a waitress for so many years. He was the perfect combination of attentive without being overbearing. Overall our experience at Piedmont was a great one. Hopefully you'll get a chance to give it a try or check out another great restaurant in support of Triangle Restaurant Week. Happy eating!

Piedmont on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Turkey and Fennel Tomato Sauce

For my nutrition class, I had to find two recipes that were relatively high in sodium and find creative ways to redo them to reduce the sodium content. One of the recipes I chose was a meatloaf that combined ground beef with Italian sausage. Since most sausages contain a lot of sodium, I chose to substitute a mixture of ground turkey (also lower in fat) and Italian seasonings to mimic the taste of the sausage but in a healthier version. Oregano and garlic both give an Italian flavor to the meat and fennel seed adds another depth of flavor and is often used in sausage. The sauce I made tonight was loosely inspired by this nutrition assignment and, although it didn't taste like sausage, it made for a great pasta sauce. The fresh fennel adds a touch of sweetness to the sauce as cooked fennel is much milder than raw fennel, which can taste like licorice. I used all white meat ground turkey, which can get a little dry so 7% fat would also work well as would lean ground beef or bison. I served the sauce over whole wheat penne but any pasta would do. If you haven't cooked with fennel before, I definitely recommend this as a good place to start. It is very mild when cooked and blends in well with the meat and tomatoes.

Turkey and Fennel Tomato Sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup onion, small dice
  • 1/2 fennel bulb
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound pasta
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet with straight sides.
To prepare the fennel, first cut off the green stalks, then cut the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom. Reserve one half for another use.
Cut the remaining half in half again, from top to bottom. Cut out the tough core.
Thinly slice the fennel into strips.
Saute the onion, garlic and fennel in the hot oil till they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the ground turkey, breaking up into small bits.
Season the mixture with the red pepper flakes, oregano, nutmeg and salt and pepper.
Stir to combine and cook till the meat is almost fully cooked.
Add both cans of tomatoes and cook till heated through. Season to taste.
Serve over hot pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cajun Spiced Pork with White Wine Honey Reduction

After spending five hours in the kitchen at school, I rarely want to come home and spend another couple of hours making dinner. I usually throw a stir-fry together or roast some vegetables and grill chicken or fish. Not that these dinners aren't tasty and healthy, but sometimes I like to try something new or experiment with flavor combinations. Pork tenderloin makes for a great alternative to chicken and can be made with any number of spices and flavor. This Cajun spiced pork has a kick of heat from the red pepper flakes, which is balanced out by the sweetness of the honey in the reduction sauce. Searing the meat first allows the sugar in the rub and the proteins in the meat to caramelize and form a crust on the outside of the meat. Pork can be eaten slightly pink so I cook mine to about 140F but if you prefer it fully cooked, wait till it reaches 150 or 155. Make sure to let the meat rest for 5, preferably 10, minutes before slicing it to allow the juices to calm down and not rush out onto the cutting board. Serve the pork with grilled polenta and broccolini or any of your favorite sides.
Cajun Pork with White Wine Honey Reduction:
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1-1.5 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 c dry white wine
  • 1.5-2 tbsp honey
Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
Rub the pork to coat in the spice rub.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, heat proof pan (such as a dutch oven).
Sear the meat for a few minutes on each side.
Put the pan in the oven and cook to desired doneness.
Remove the pan and set the pork aside to rest.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine over low heat, scraping up all of the spices off the bottom.
Stir in the honey and let reduce for a few minutes.
Taste to check seasoning and add salt or pepper, if needed.
Slice the pork into 1/2 inch rounds and drizzle with reduction.

For a printable recipe click here