Spain-Inspired Dinner

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One of the casualties of my returning to work full time a few years back was having people over for dinner.  Mostly because my dining room table became ground zero for all “work in process”: unfolded laundry, unpaid bills, school books and bags of chips that no one had time to put away.  I couldn’t even begin to think about entertaining as the task of organizing the chaos was overwhelming.

Towards the end of last year, I was feeling especially disconnected from friends.  And I realized how much I missed those dinner parties. I also realized it was about time I got a handle on the disorganization that had taken over my house, so I spent a few weekends cleaning and purging and FINALLY seeing my dining room table for the first time!20170211_185110500_ios

Then the planets aligned with a few other couples whose sons wrestled in high school with our son and we got a date to gather and wine and dine!  I thought a sunny Spain-inspired menu would be the perfect way to break up the mid-winter monotony.  For starters I put together this platter of traditional Spanish cheeses and charcuterie: Cana de Cabra (tangy goat cheese), Campo de Montalban (a 100 day aged cheese is a blend of cow, sheep and goat‚Äôs milk from La Mancha), prosciutto, sausages and my favorite Marcona Almonds.20170212_001516606_ios

Olives too!  Oh my…these Castelvetrano Olives Marinated with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika were spectacular: 20170211_191404314_ios-1

There are so many versions of paella, it was difficult deciding which one to make!  I ended up with this Chicken and Seafood Paella from Jo Cooks since it offers a bit of everything.  A little tweaking was necessary as I omitted the clams, added some chopped roasted red peppers and about one cup of peas at the end.  16/20 shrimp is the perfect size and andouille sausage can easily be substituted if chorizo is not available.  With the right equipment and best quality ingredients (see Resources section below), this dish was a knock-out:20170212_023654293_ios-1

Because I love wine and especially Spanish wine, there was plenty of it to go around as well. For red, I chose a silky Tempranillo : 2014 Hito Cepa 21 available locally at Binny’s Beverage Depot for just $13.99/bottle.  Be sure to decant this one about an hour before serving so all of its complex fruit and smooth tannins are at their best.  For white, I didn’t want to veer too far into anything floral, so opted for a 2015 Naia Verdejo, which had just enough straw and citrus to compliment the seafood and work with the more assertive saffron/smoked paprika elements in the dish.  Available at Binny’s for just $10.00/bottle.  It’s a great value!

We ended the evening with chocolate covered strawberries, other sweets and of course more wine!

To me this is what cooking is all about and I can’t wait to gather friends together for another meal to share.  Whether I can keep my dining room table cleared until then remains to be seen ūüėČ

Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!

Ann

~RESOURCES~

PAELLA PAN – Do you HAVE to buy one to make paella?  Well yes and no.  The week before I gave the recipe a test run in a shallow Le Crueset pan and it was very good.   For my dinner party, I borrowed a more authentic paella pan from a friend and the paella was even better. The large surface area and dimpled carbon steel base allowed for even cooking and that wonderful authentic paella “crust” to form on the bottom.  Would also make a great pan for sauteeing vegetables and for other rice-based dishes.  At just $29.95 for a 15″ pan (large enough to make a paella for 8),  at Williams Sonoma, how can you resist!20170212_153824811_ios

SAFFRON – In addition to a paella pan, it’s worth investing in some good quality saffron for this dish, as it is truly the star flavor ingredient.  Unless you’re in a bind, I would not recommend supermarket saffron as it is typically grossly overpriced and has likely been sitting on the shelf for ever.  Instead, head to Amazon and purchase a bottle of this Mehr Premium All Red Saffron.  3 grams will run you around $20 and yes I know that is a lot of money but this is a generous quantity and will last you a long time.  And with this stunning silky gift box, think of it as a gift to yourself!20170208_000645233_ios

OLIVE DISH – Part of the fun of entertaining is digging through my shelves of serving plates, glassware, etc. It’s amazing how much I’ve accumulated over the years. This pretty ceramic olive bowl makes frequent appearances at parties. Mainly because I LOVE olives and serve them at almost every occasion.  One compartment for the olives, one for toothpicks and a third for pits.  And it just happens to have been made in Spain. Perfect!  Available online at La Tienda for $29.95 + shipping.20170212_151906702_ios

 

THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast-dinner-is-servedBehold the one and only slow cooker pot roast recipe that takes under one minute to prep and requires only a slow cooker and a pair of kitchen shears!

If it seems like I have quite a few slow cooker pot roast recipes on my blog, you would be correct. Four of them to be exact! ¬†Do we really need another one? ¬†Well yes of course we do! ¬†Especially one that is hands down the most basic and simple and can be assembled in about a minute or less in the morning. ¬†Intrigued? ¬†Read on…

I first spotted this recipe a few years ago on Facebook. At that point I had already perfected my original Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic Thyme Gravy so this recipe, which uses just three packets of gravy/salad dressing mix and water seemed to be a step back.  Actually a few steps back.three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast1

Pardon my food snobbery but this is not the way I cook!

As is often the case fate intervened one day. I found myself with a chuck roast that was near its expiration date and neither the time nor the ingredients to make my classic pot roast. But lo and behold, I did have on hand these three magical packets of seasoning so I decided to give it a go.20170127_133713550_ios-1

Much to my surprise/chagrin, the roast was delicious! ¬†My fears that the gravy would be overpowering or salty or just plain weird, were totally unfounded. I mean I didn’t even brown the roast and it was STILL delicious. ¬†How can that be?

I did make some minor modifications to the original recipe, diluting the seasoning mx¬†a tad. And because I love carrots with pot roast¬† added them in along with about 1/2 of a large onion, sliced.¬† On the back end, you’ll want to strain and degrease the cooking liquid as well.

But for the most part that’s it.¬† Pure comfort food with the minimal amount of effort. I’ve added an Equipment Note below highlighting the key kitchen tool for this recipe: the best ever pair of kitchen shears.¬† No kitchen should be without one!

Until next time…be well, eat well and love lots!

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THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

  • 1 chuck roast, about 3 pounds
  • 1 (0.7 oz) packet dry Italian Salad Dressing Mix
  • 1 (1.0 oz) packet Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 (0.75 oz) packet Brown Gravy Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 cups peeled carrots or parsnips (optional)
  • 1/2 large onion sliced (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Trim any large pieces of fat from roast and place in a slow cooker.  Combine the three packets of salad dressing and gravy mix with the 2 cups of water, whisking to combine.

Scatter carrots and onion (if using) over roast and pour only about 1 1/2 cups of the gravy mixture over all.¬† Note I do not use the full 2 cups as that is just slightly more liquid than you’ll need.¬† Discard remaining liquid.

Cook on low for between 8-9 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove roast and vegetables and transfer to a platter to keep warm. Strain liquid through a fine mesh metal strainer.  Using a spoon or a gravy separator, remove any excess fat from the gravy.

Pour over roast and vegetables, top with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4-6

***Equipment Note***

20170128_153814127_iosWhen you think of kitchen essentials, a pair of scissors probably does not come to mind and yet a solid pair of shears like these from Pampered Chef can multi task and become one of your most valuable tools.

From cutting up chickens, to snipping chives, trimming an artichoke, cutting up clusters of grapes and yes, opening packages of seasoning mix, a good pair of shears can do it all.  I especially love these from Pampered Chef as they are spring loaded and make even the toughest tasks, easy on the hands.

My only caveat would be: keep your kitchen shears IN THE KITCHEN!¬† You don’t want to use these for craft projects or cutting through cardboard boxes, etc.¬† Not only do you risk dulling the blade, but they’re likely to get lost (I speak from experience!).

No well stocked kitchen should be without them!

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-coverHard to imagine a dish more worthy of Sunday Supper than a bowl of tagliatelle served with a hearty Bolognese Sauce, warm Italian bread and a bottle of red. I grew up in a non-Italian household with the quick “Americanized” version of this sauce (browned ground beef and a jar of marinara) ¬†and not ashamed to admit I still make that version for the family when I’m pressed for time. ¬†Simply referred to as “spaghetti,” it may not be the real deal but we all enjoy it.

This year, I have decided to go back to my Sunday Supper roots and resurrect some of the classic recipes, made from scratch with no shortcuts. ¬† I’ve made¬†Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce¬†many times, but wanted to give my new slow cooker (see Equipment Notes after the recipe) a try, so made some adaptations and came up with a sauce that will comfort one and all.

Start with the holy trinity of flavor bases: onion/carrots/celery.  First chopped then finely minced (note the personalized Dinner Is Served cutting board!)slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-3

Add a few pinches of classic Italian herbs:slow-cooker-bolognese-sauce-dinner-is-served-1

And let us just pause for a moment to admire this freshly opened bottle of Savory Spice Shop’s California Basil:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-2

And some best quality tomato products:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-4

Along with a little vino (red instead of the traditional white wine), and balsamic vinegar.  Then just let your slow cooker do all the work!  A last minute addition of creamy mascarpone cheese or cream cheese provides that extra dose of richness.

I have to say, this sauce is MADE FOR the slow cooker. The meat is incredibly tender and the sauce develops such a unique complexity. I will still approve of the “quickie” version for a busy weeknight but weekends are made for slow, old-school kind of cooking.

Until next time…be well, eat well, love lots!slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-cover2

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup EACH chopped onion, celery, carrots
  • 1 TBS chopped garlic
  • 1 can whole tomatoes (28 oz), preferable imported Italian San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add beef and sausage and cook until no longer pink. Drain through a sieve and place on a paper lined plate; set aside.

Mince the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor and transfer to a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Pour the whole tomatoes along with their juices into the food processor and pulse a few times until chopped.  Add to the slow cooker.  Add all the additional ingredients except for the mascarpone cheese.  Stir.  Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.  Just before serving, stir in mascarpone or cream cheese.  Serve over pasta and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese or slivered fresh basil.

Serves 6

EQUIPMENT NOTE

On Christmas Day, I was heating some cocktail meatballs and sausage in my slow cooker when my old faithful totally died.¬† Bummer!¬† I looked up my order history on Amazon and turns out the model was six years old.¬† Eh…not a super great lifespan, in my opinion.

I decided to go with another brand, Cuisinart, as a replacement and found this ultra cool model on Amazon.com. It not only slow cooks, it has a heating element to brown food and a steamer insert (perfect for steaming artichokes, corn, etc.).  I love the lighter weight interior and non stick surface.  So far I am totally in love with it and fingers crossed it will make it past 6 years!cuisinart-slow-cooker

 

 

 

 

Savory Shortbread Biscuits with Parmesan Cheese and Herbs

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Last weekend we spent a quiet evening with great friends and amazing food, ringing in 2017. I think for many, 2016 was a year of great challenges and I know that was certainly true in my case. ¬†I thought about things I want to do more of this year (or less of!) and at the top of my list was sharing more recipes with you so…to start off 2017, I am presenting this recipe for savory appetizer shortbread biscuits that are so easy to make and a sheer delight to eat!

Also new to my blog: A “postscript” section after the recipe on “Equipment Notes” featuring a kitchen gadget or appliance that I have found particularly helpful in making the recipe ūüôā

Now back to the biscuits.  As someone who has had their fair share of challenges with various pastry doughs, this short pastry thankfully is very forgiving and requires a handful of ingredients:

20161231_163051507_iosReally, just flour, butter, Parmesan cheese, some fresh herbs and not much else! ¬†Combined into what at first may seem a crumbly mess but never fear!20161231_163940001_iosJust work in a little water, a little kneading and a cooling off period in the fridge and you’ve got a nice round of dense, flavorful dough which rolls out effortlessly.20161231_164335266_iosAlthough you may certainly roll the dough into a log and slice it into rounds, I much prefer using my little 1 1/2″ biscuit cutter, a souvenir of my culinary school days.biscuit-cuttersAnd one final prep tip that literally involves the tip…of your knife, to loosen each little circle of biscuit dough before placing on the sheet pan to bake. Works like a charm!20161231_175228849_ios-1Now just bake for about 23 minutes until golden. These melt in your mouth, buttery biscuits pair beautifully with any kind of wine or cocktail or along side a salad course. ¬†They make a nice hostess gift, wrapped, and they keep well for days OR freeze for future use.

Here is to a happy healthy 2017, to good friends and memorable meals. I look forward to sharing many more recipes with you in the months to come ‚ô•

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SAVORY SHORTBREAD BISCUITS WITH PARMESAN CHEESE & HERBS

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan Cheese (preferably freshly grated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon water, or more as needed
  1. Place the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low until creamy.
  2. Add the Parmesan, salt, pepper, herbs and flour one at a time until evenly combined.
  3. Add 1 1/2 tablespoon of water and the dough will start to clump. Empty the contents of the bowl to a surface and knead lightly to form a ball, adding additional water, a few drops at a time, until the dough just comes together.
  4. Flatten the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Roll the dough to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to make small crackers, re-rolling the dough as needed.
  7. Place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for approximately 22-25 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in container. Biscuits may be stored in the freezer for up to a month.

Yields: About 40, 1 1/2″ biscuits

EQUIPMENT NOTE

My single blade, carbon steel Mezzaluna (literally “half moon” in Italian) has been a prized tool in my kitchen for over 20 years. It’s gentle rocking motion and super sharp blade, make mincing herbs a breeze. Also works great for mincing garlic, onions and just about any other vegetable. ¬†They’re also very safe to use, making it a perfect tool to introduce an older child or teen to food prep.

Mezzaluna knives are available at many online retail outlets and vary in price from very inexpensive ($7.99 for this¬†HIC 6.75-inch Chopper) to pricey ($69.95 for¬†Wusthof’s 9-inch Knife). ¬†My pick would be this wooden-handle, 10-inch¬†SCI Mezzaluna, made in Italy and available on Amazon.com for just $18.27. ¬†Happy chopping!20161231_163351825_ios-1

 

A Special Reason to be Thankful

This Thanksgiving is extra special but not because of the food. ¬†Special because we’re able to celebrate the holiday with my dad, who turned 94 years old in September and has gone through many health challenges this year. ¬†We are thankful he’s home with my mom and sister and close by to me and my family.

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My Thanksgiving wish to you is of course to enjoy good food, but more importantly, to take the time and realize the blessings in your life and enjoy the moment.   I know I will be doing just that.

Ann – Dinner Is Served

Thanksgiving 2016

Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo)

Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo) - Dinner Is Served1

I will never forget a summer a very long time ago when my husband I lived in the city in a third story walk-up condominium.  With no central air and a window unit that cooled it down to just barely above melting temperature.  We worked all day in stuffy suits and traveled to and from work in crowded buses.  Those were the days we found salvation in a neighborhood restaurant named Chardonnay.   A dark and sleek spot with marble table tops that were  cool to the touch. If felt like plunging into a swimming pool, washing away the heat and grit of the day.

The days of bus commutes, stifling suits, panty hose are long gone.  And there is no Chardonnay (the restaurant that is), but I do have this creamy chilled, no-cook soup to fulfill that need on the hottest of summer days.

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This creamy, chilled bread-thickened soup has is origins in the Southern region of Spain near Córdoba, where sun ripened tomatoes are blended with fruity olive oil, onions, garlic and day-old bread.  Traditionally topped with Spanish  Jamón and hard boiled eggs (note I took the liberty of substituting crispy pancetta for the Jamón). I also added a red bell pepper as recommended by a blogger from the region.

How much do I love this soup? ¬†Well I recently entered it into a cooking contest at work and took second place among a group of other Spanish-themed soups. ¬†The winner, ironically was a delicious goat meat stew which technically is African, not Spanish… But I was not about to quibble because it was truly wonderful

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Cannot think of a better way to cool off and enjoy the best summer has to offer. Enjoy!

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Chilled Spanish Tomato Soup (Salmorejo)

3 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

8 medium-sized, ripe tomatoes, cored, halved, and seeded

1 small red bell pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 dense baguette (about 10 oz.), cut into large pieces (see Note>)

1‚ĀĄ2¬†small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

¬ĺ-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tbsp. sherry vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

1¬†1‚ĀĄ2¬†cups finely chopped pancetta, saut√©ed until crispy

Freshly chopped chives (optional)

Instructions:

Place salt, tomatoes, pepper, garlic, bread, and onion in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit for 1 hour. Drain vegetables, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid; place in blender. Squeeze water from bread; place about ¬ĺ of the bread in blender with reserved soaking liquid, oil, and vinegar. Pur√©e until smooth. If soup seems to thin, add the extra bread. Add additional olive oil to enrich soup, if desired. Season with salt and pepper, and chill. Pour into chilled serving bowls; top with eggs, pancetta, chives and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 8

Note> Bread can be either fresh or a day old.  Just make sure it is a dense bread so that it can soak up the liquid without falling apart.

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Slow Cooker Short Ribs with Chipotle Rub & Dark Beer

Braised Short Ribs Dinner Is Served

I know, it’s grill season. ¬†Trust me, we suffered through a winter-like spring here in the Midwest so yes, bring on summer! ¬†Bring on the charcoal and smoking chips! ¬†Put away that slow cooker!

Well….hold on just a minute.

As tempted as I am to stow away the slow cooker in favor of my Weber kettle, I think about this recipe and decide it’s not QUITE time to give the crock pot the summer off. After all, who doesn’t love tender, slow cooked beef on a tortilla with fresh guac and a slushy margarita. THAT…is summer to me.

This recipe was inspired by a not-so-ordinary gift from my son. After visiting a friend in the city, he arrived home with a 3# package of thinly sliced short ribs (the perks of having a friend whose parents own a grocery store)  These are the sort of gifts I love!  And I admit a bit of a challenge, this one.Flanken Short Ribs

Never before had I seen short ribs sliced in this manner. On to Google, and discovered this to be a “flanken” cut, often used in Korean cuisine. ¬†Yep, a first for me.

Expert meat people instructed that this cut should be cooked quickly over high heat, but for some reason I chickened out on that whole approach.  I thought back to an Italian-inspired braised short rib ragu recipe I made a while back. So tender with  a concentrated beef flavor. This time, though, I was feeling more Southwest flavors. I had zero time to tend to braising, so into the slow cooker they went along with a smoky, spicy chipotle rub, some onions and a cup of dark Mexican beer.  Beer Braised Chipotle Short Ribs - DInner Is Served3.jpg

Now to tweak the original recipe. ¬†The flanken ribs had great flavor but not enough meat for this purpose, so the first substitute was traditional English cut ribs. ¬†The chipotle rub was amazing…no changes there.Beer Braised Chipotle Short Ribs - DInner Is Served4

If you don’t cook a lot, I understand the reluctance to keep this many spices on hand. ¬†In that case, look for a good-quality chile/Southwestern seasoning blend like this¬†Mesa Rosa Chipotle Seasoning blend from Urban Accents. ¬†Otherwise, this recipe is incredibly simple. Just slice an onion, brown the seasoned ribs and throw it into the slow cooker with a cup of Negro Modelo.

Low and slow all day, the slow cooker is made for dishes like this. ¬†Tender, with intense beef flavor and complex spices, this meat can go just about anywhere. My creation: served “burrito” style with a flour tortilla, yellow rice, a spoonful of¬†Ann’s Essential Guacamole, sour cream, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

The possibilities are truly endless. ¬†Use this amazing flavorful meat as the star of your nacho platter, or on tostada shells or even serve atop some creamy polenta and topped with stewed tomatoes for a comfort food kind of dinner. Check out other recipe notes and tips following the recipe and a bonus: my recipe for¬†Ann’s Essential Guacamole.

Enjoy summer cooking low and slow my friends. This one’s a keeper!

PicMonkey Collage

~Slow Cooker Short Ribs with Chipotle Rub and Dark Beer~

3 1/2-4# Beef short ribs, English cut (see recipe notes)

Chipotle Rub

  • 1/2 tablespoon¬†ground red chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika if available)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (Mexican oregano if available)
  • 1/4 tsp teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups sliced white or yellow onion

1 cup dark beer, preferably Negro Modelo

Canola or vegetable oil for browning

For Serving

Combine Chipotle Rub ingredients together and store until ready to use.

Place ribs in a large bowl and combine with enough of the seasoning mix to coat, tossing well.  Let stand at room temperature approximately 30 minutes.

Heat a thin film of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add ribs and brown on all sides.  Remove to a platter.

Place sliced onions in the bottom of a slow cooker.  Top with browned ribs.  Pour beer over all.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove ribs and onions to a rimmed cutting board.  Shred meat using forks and place in a bowl.  Strain cooking liquid and skim fat from the top (a good quality fat separator is perfect for this!)

Add some of the degreased cooking liquid to the meat and toss.  Place a large spoonful of yellow rice on a tortilla.  Top with warm shredded beef, guacamole, then sour cream and cilantro.  Squeeze some fresh lime over all and serve.

Serves 6-8

RECIPE NOTES

  • If your grocery store does not carry beef short ribs, the next best thing would be a bone-in chuck roast. ¬†In a pinch, a boneless chuck roast will do just fine!
  • If early morning browning of the meat is not feasible, you can skip this step but…I would recommend coating the meat in the seasoning mix the night before to kick up the flavor.
  • If you don’t have ¬†these spices on hand, grab a good all-purpose seasoning like¬†Urban Accent’s Mesa Rosa Chipotle Seasoning¬†or any other Southwestern-inspired blend. Just keep an eye on salt contents of blends and adjust salt as necessary.

 

Ann’s Essential Guacamole

 

Ann's Essential Guac - DInner Is ServedThis post is going to be fairly short since it’s a tandem recipe to another one I will be posting later today or tomorrow. ¬†Bottom line though, it that guacamole is something everyone should at least try making from scratch. You’ll realize how easy it is to make and how FAR superior it is to any pre-packaged guac you buy at the grocery store.

Another advantage is that you can make it YOUR way. ¬†You control the ingredients, the creaminess (or not), the amount of spice (or none). ¬†There is really only one ingredient that’s a must: avocados. ¬†The rest of the add-ins are up to you. Here are the ones I love:Ann's Essential Guac - DInner Is Served2

And since I like just a hint of spice, I add some¬†Cholula Hot Sauce, starting with about 1/2 tsp and adding a little more, drop by drop, until it’s just right.

One final note before I jump right in. Finding avocados that are just the perfect ripeness is important. ¬†Bright green, rock hard ones just won’t work. On the flip side, mushy and overripe ones will just make your guacamole mushy and sad. ¬†Look for medium-ripe avocados, that yield just a bit, when pressed.

Enjoy!

Ann’s Essential Guacamole

  • 3 medium ripe avocados
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 a white or red onion, diced (or you can use about 1/3 cup chopped green onions)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 small lines (about 1-2 TBS)
  • Cholula hot sauce
  • Coarse salt and pepper

Remove pit from avocados and scoop insides out into a large bowl along with the lime juice.  Mash with a fork (or a potato masher works), until desired consistency.  I prefer somewhat smooth, but with small pieces of solid avocado in act.  Gently fold in tomatoes, onions and cilantro along with about 1/2 tsp of the hot sauce, a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Taste for seasonings, adding additional hot sauce, lime juice or salt and pepper if desired.

Place in a glass or plastic container and place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the guacamole, pressing down to ensure no air bubbles (this step helps it keep it’s beautiful green color). ¬†Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving.

 

Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers with Hoisin Glaze

Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers (5).jpgWhat an evil tease. ¬†This Spring in the Midwest. March was so winter-like, the season was dubbed “sprinter” (spring + winter). April we fared a little better, although I still recall having to wear my parka on occasion so not completely out of the woods.

Now, finally a string of nice days in Chicagoland, so I am officially kicking off grill season!  And what better way to usher in the warmer weather than these beautiful and easy pork, pepper and pineapple skewers.  A family favorite at the Dinner Is Served household.Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers (4)

This classic combo always makes me think tropics..luau..grab an umbrella drink and sing Don Ho tunes.  With lean pork tenderloin, pineapple and colorful peppers, it also wins in the healthy, low-fat category.Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers (6)

Perhaps the best part of these skewers, however is the hoisin glaze which is a ridiculously easy combination of ketchup, hoisin and minced jalapeno peppers. ¬†If you’re a fan of of Moo-Shu pork, you’re already well acquainted with hoisin: a most versatile, thick, soy-based Asian condiment. This serves as both a glaze and a dipping saucePork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers (2)

A few notes before I jump right in to the recipe:

  • You can definitely substitute chicken for the pork! My preference would be to use boneless skinless thigh meat. Breast meat works too but will cook more quickly.
  • You’ll note I did not add onions to my skewers. They remain a “no go” with the young adult crowd in my house but by all means feel free add some red onion wedges as you please.
  • Gluten-free hoisin can be used, making this a 100% gluten-free entree

Happy (FINALLY) Spring to one and all from Dinner Is ServedPork, Pepper and Pineapple Skewers with Hoisin Glaze - Dinner Is Served

Pork, Pepper & Pineapple Skewers with Hoisin Glaze*

  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 1/2#), trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 large sweet bell peppers, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • About 1/2 of a fresh pineapple, cored and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium red onion cut into wedges (optional)
  • Canola oil
  • Salt and coarse ground black pepper

Hoisin Glaze and Sauce

  • 1/3 cup Hoisin sauce
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 TBS minced jalapeno pepper (or spicy pepper of your choice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl.  Set aside about half for dipping and the other half for glazing.  (can be prepared up to two days ahead and refrigerated)

For skewers, toss the pork in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste.  In a separate bowl, combine peppers with a drizzle of canola oil, tossing to coat.

Thread pork, peppers, pineapple and onion (if using) onto metal or wooden skewers. Sear on a hot grill for a few minutes per side. Then move to medium heat; brush with a little of the glaze and continue to grill (turning and glazing a few more times) until pork is cooked through (about 15-20 minutes in total) and peppers and pineapple are slightly charred.

Serve with jasmine rice and  reserved hoisin sauce for dipping.

Serves 4

* Adapted from Big Flavors of the Hot Sun, Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, 1994.

 

 

 

A Few of my Favorite Things 4-7-16

Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from recipes and blogging and just share some recent food finds. Products that I love, or my kiddos love or make my crazed life a little easier. ¬†Today’s finds come from a store with a never ending supply of cool stuff: Trader Joe’s.

First up is a wine that we absolutely fell in love with for Easter. In fact after just one sipped my husband remarked “Go buy a case of this!” ¬†When I told him it was just $7.99/bottle, he said “Buy TWO cases!” ¬†Indeed, I am very tempted to do this since wines at TJ’s tend to come and go (ie. Chariot).

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Vouvray

This chenin blanc from the Loire Valley is all sorts of floral and crisp with honey and pear tones. It was a perfect pair with our Easter ham. And the label remarks that it also pairs well with spicy or Indian food, which is quite a feat! ¬†Perfect for patio sipping this summer so yes, if you spot it at Trader Joe’s or anywhere else get it while it’s hot!

Trader Joe's Asparagus Risotto

Of course Trader Joe’s is well known for their convenience foods and this Asparagus Risotto is a shining example of how they do convenience so well. In fact I will go out on a limb here and state it’s darned near as good as risotto made from scratch (which we all know is a labor of total culinary love).

This risotto has that perfect “bite” to the texture, yet creamy. I love the asparagus too, fresh and crisp, which is not what you would expect in a frozen meal. Cooks up in minutes in the microwave and makes a perfect meatless, meal. Or a nice side dish served with just about anything. And coincidentally, pairs very nicely with the Vouvray ūüėČ

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Something that does not probably pair well with any wine but is nevertheless over-the-top addicting: TJ’s Sriracha Potato Chips. Something I got for the teens and of course ended up practically licking the crumbs from the inside of the bag, they were so good.

I know some feel that Sriracha has overstayed its welcome in our world, along with kale, quinoa and chia seeds. Fine, well let me just state that I hope these chips never go away.  Or maybe they should go away because I need to stay away from chips. Ahhhh the torture!

Bottom line though is that these potato chips have just the right amount of smoky heat to please the palate. The lattice cut keeps them crisp and ready for dipping although I prefer them as is. Preferably by the handful or bag full.Mango Iced Tea

Last but not least let me please put in a plug for Trader Joe’s Mango Green Tea. We’ve been big fans of their Mango Lemonade and Mango Black Tea, so not a surprise, the mango green tea is fantastic as well!

LOVE that this has just 12g of sugar per serving (compare to 26g of sugar in Arizona “Mucho Mango” Tea). ¬† Since I am not keen on soda, this is a great alternative for the family and the teens love it.

More favorite things to come but for now, the paying job calls.  Until next time, my friends.  Eat well!

Ann