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Carnitas Tacos with Escabeche

If you’ve met Joe and I, it’s no huge secret that Mexican is pretty much our favorite genre of food. It was omnipresent for me growing up in Texas, and since Joe grew up in the Midwest… well, let’s just say that once he discovered good Mexican food in California, he’s never been able to get enough of it.

When eating at home, we’ll usually stick to simple things like tacos and basic enchiladas, so last week when I saw Sara share a recipe for carnitas, I thought it might be the perfect thing to try on a lazy Saturday. Since we were staying home and doing absolutely nothing, there’d be no problem in letting the meat cook away in the oven for hours.

This would be a GREAT recipe for entertaining — the meat can be braising while you hang out with your guests or do other things around the house. I topped our tacos with peppers and veggies pickled in escabeche, a must for a rich, fatty taco filling like carnitas. Ever been to a taco truck? Escabeche is that delicious, spicy, vinegary concoction of jalapenos, peppers, carrots, onions and sometimes cauliflower. So good. A little avocado and a few sprigs of cilantro, and we were ready to go.

Well, once the margaritas got made.

Recipe notes

For the carnitas, I basically followed Sara’s recipe with a few changes. I used 1.5 beers (specifically, Victoria lagers leftover from our party) instead of one. I did not drain off the fat before putting everything in the oven, instead, choosing to let the meat cook in it and then draining it off at the end. Carnitas, after all, is basically pork confit. I also quadrupled the garlic and used Mexican oregano instead of regular. When the meat was done (I let it go for about 3 hours), I shredded it with two forks, and after draining the fat off of the cooking liquid, had so little left that I put all the meat back in and mixed it up with the softened garlic and juices. Do I really need to say more? It was ridiculously good.

For the escabeche, I followed this basic recipe, but of course had to make a few changes to that too. I used the same amount of apple cider vinegar recommended, and sauteed the veggies as instructed. However, since I was using a large aluminum pan (which can be reactive with that much acid), I made the sure the veggies were good and soft before adding the vinegar. I then quickly warmed the mixture up (but did not simmer it) before transferring to a glass bowl and allowing to sit for several hours. Also, I quartered the jalapenos instead of leaving them whole. And I did NOT attempt to can anything.

Really, this was so good and something I’d make again and again. Tons of leftovers too. Give it a try!

[PS — Don’t forget to enter the I Am print giveaway! There’s also lots of other places you can go to try your luck and win. Go here to see where!}

‘Green’ Chicken with Summer Corn Salad

I don’t know what it is, but so far this summer, I really feel like I have not been taking advantage of the amazing produce available this time of year. Seriously, that baked ratatouille I made recently has kind of been the highlight. I’m lucky enough to work somewhere that has a farmers market right outside my office door each week, so I really, REALLY have no excuse not to be enjoying as many fruits and veggies as possible!

Last Friday night, Joe and I decided to stay in and make something summery at home to remedy the situation. I opted to roast some bone-in chicken breasts, smothered in garlic, lemon zest and LOTS of basil. While they were in the oven, I tossed together a simple salad of fresh corn, tomatoes, chopped kale, avocado and even more basil, dressed with a zippy lemon and dijon vinaigrette. Despite the fact that it was 55 and misting outside, it was totally summer on a plate.

Green Chicken (aka Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Basil and Garlic)

Serves 2, easily

This chicken is so named because before you stick it in the oven, the herbs should cover it so fully that it looks, well, green. Once this starts cooking, your kitchen will smell amazing. Fair warning.

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil (about two loose handfuls), cleaned and finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 bone-in split chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels. 

Preheat your oven to 425°.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the meat and stir to combine. The mixture should be pretty thick with herbs. If it’s not, chop some more basil and throw it in.

In a baking dish, place the chicken skin side up. Gently loosen the chicken skin from the breast, then using a small spoon, stuff/spread some of the herb mixture underneath the skin. Using your fingers, move the herbs around under the skin until it’s coating most of the meat. Repeat with the other chicken breast, then pour and spread the rest of the herb mixture all over the top of the chicken. Go wash your hands. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes (this could take a bit longer if the chicken breasts are large). Half way through the cooking process, use a large spoon to baste the chicken with some of the juices accumulating in the pan. Roast the meat until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast reads 160°. Remove from the oven, baste with the juices again, and let rest for five to ten minutes. Serve.

Summer Corn Salad

Serves 2-3 easily (probably more if you’re doing a light serving of this salad!)

For the dressing:

  • 1 small shallot, skin removed and minced
  • Juice of 2 small lemons
  • 1 tbsp dijon 
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • — kosher salt and freshly pepper to season

For the vegetables:

  • 2 cobs of corn, husked, de-silked and kernels cut from the cob with a knife
  • 1/2 pint sun gold (orange) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes, diced
  • small handful of kale, chopped (any variety of kale will work — lacinto or curly)
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 6-7 basil leaves (whatever’s left of the bunch), cut into a chiffonade or chopped

In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and gently whisk together until emulsified. In a medium bowl, combine all the vegetables, then pour in as much of the dressing as you’d like. Toss everything together and allow to sit while the chicken finishes cooking. Serve together.

One Skillet Mediterranean Chicken

I appreciate virtually all genre of foods, but one of my absolute favorites is Mediterranean. The textures, bright flavors and use of healthful ingredients (greens! citrus! herbs! olive oil!) make it easy to love. Last week, I woke up one morning with a big  craving for Mediterranean, and set out to make something to sate my appetite that evening. The catch? I’m going to Cabo this week. I needed it to be bikini friendly!

Now, lest you read the rest of this recipe and think “bikini friendly?!”, I should note that for me, that meant limited carbs and only healthy fats. I don’t mind being stuffed to the gills if it’s with mostly vegetables! But, my splurges in this recipe included the use of dark chicken meat (which, to be honest, I normally use anyway because I think it has so much more flavor and is easier to cook), as well as a little bit of feta cheese. But otherwise, I think I did pretty well!

Starting with a quick marinade of lemon juice, honey and herbs, I cooked the chicken legs to golden brown deliciousness. While they finished in the oven, I whipped together a side “Greek” salad with tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and feta cheese. I loved that this dinner packed so much flavor and nutrition, but since everything was cooked in one skillet, it was also a cinch to clean up!

Mediterranean Chicken with Honey, Lemon and Oregano, Quick-braised Chard and Greek Salad

Easily serves 2 hungry people; Difficulty Level: Intermediate-Beginner

For the Chicken:

  • 3 Meyer lemons (see note at bottom)
  • 5 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped, minced
  • 1 tbsp honey (more to taste, see note at bottom)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 for cooking
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
  • Two whole skin on, bone in chicken legs, split between leg and thigh (you can also buy separately if whole legs are not available), cleaned and pat dry with paper towels

For the Salad:

  • 4 extra small vine cluster tomatoes (look for ones a slightly bigger than golf balls — I used the Campari variety), cut into eighths
  • 5″ piece of organic cucumber, washed well, sliced however you prefer (I did quarter rounds. Note: you can peel the cucumber if you like, but I personally like the rind, as long as it’s from an organic cuc)
  • 1 medium shallot, outer paper peeled and roughly chopped 
  • 2 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped and minced
  • 0.2 oz feta
  • Juice of half a lemon (use the leftover lemon half from the marinade, above)
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste (I used about 3 tbsp)
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

For the Chard:

  • 1 whole bunch white Swiss Chard, cleaned, tough white stems removed and leafy greens chopped into large pieces

For the chicken:

Preheat your oven to 375°. Zest two of the lemons and place the zest in a small bowl. Cut all three lemons in half and juice 5 of the halves (2.5 lemons total) into the bowl, taking care to not let any seeds fall in. Reserve the last half of lemon for the Greek salad. Add in the minced oregano, the honey, 3 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Stir until the honey and lemon juice are well emulsified into the oil.

Place the chicken pieces in a shallow baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken. If you have time, you can let this sit for 20-30 minutes, otherwise, let it sit for five (I was in a hurry and did the quick marinade, and it turned out great). In a medium oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add in the chicken pieces skin side down with tongs (do not pour in the marinade yet) and allow to brown on the first side, about 2 minutes. Try not to move the meat around, so it will turn brown without tearing. The honey will cause things to brown more quickly, so keep an eye on it.

When the meat has browned on the first side, quickly turn all the pieces over with tongs and pour in the marinade from the baking dish. Quickly stir with the tongs to release any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you are using a pan that has a wider diameter and the amount of liquid looks low, add in a few tablespoons of water. You want the total amount of liquid to be about 1/4″ deep, maybe a tiny bit more. Immediately move the entire pan to the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered, or until the chicken is just cooked through, depending on the size of your pieces and your oven. The juices/sauce will have reduced down.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and transfer the pieces onto a heat proof plate. Using oven mitts (careful!), pick up the skillet and pour about 2/3 of the leftover juices over the chicken on the plate. Tent with foil until ready to serve.

For the salad:

While the chicken is cooking (or marinating, you can do this step during either break), combine all the ingredients for the Greek salad, toss, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Having this extra time will allow the ingredients to meld a bit.

For the chard:

Okay, so your cooked chicken should be resting on the plate and now you have the skillet with a bit of the marinade leftover. Using an oven mitt (’cause remember, the pan is hot since you just took it from the oven!), place the skillet with the chicken juices and reduced marinade onto the stove over medium heat. It should begin simmering quickly, since the pan is already so hot from being in the oven. Add the chopped chard into the skillet, turning with the tongs until it is wilted and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You shouldn’t need to season this very much since the juices in the pan already had seasoning.

To plate, mound a bit of the greens up, place one or two of the chicken pieces on top, and garnish with the salad on the side. Pour as much of the reserved chicken juices over the meat as you’d like.

NOTES: If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons instead. You might want to taste the marinade and see if you want to add in more honey, as Meyer lemons tend to be sweeter than regular lemons. You can also try this recipe with chicken breasts if you don’t want to use dark meat, just be SURE not to overcook them, because the moist heat in the oven will quickly make the meat tough if you don’t watch it. Finally, if you have any leftovers and store this in the fridge, don’t forget to pour any reserved sauce over the chicken. It’ll continue to marinate overnight and be extra delicious when you heat it up tomorrow (I did this and trust me, it’s good stuff).

Easy weeknight salmon

Confession time: I used to really hate cooking fish. I’d often come home with some beautiful filet, pan fry it with a bit of olive oil and maybe butter, only to dig in and find I’d seriously misjudged the doneness before taking it out of the pan. Nothing worse! It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that my fish cookery skills were so bad, since I’m pretty sure there was an entire course on that during culinary school.

But after a bit of trial and error, I’ve discovered the easiest, no-fuss way to cook really delicious fish is to roast it. Virtually any fish can be easily cooked in the oven, whether it’s a light, flaky red snapper, a heftier, richer salmon, or even a whole fish like branzino. You can throw it in with nothing more than some slices of lemon, some thyme, and a drizzle of olive oil, or go all out and create a sauce to bake it in (like Ina’s mustard roasted fish I made a ways back).

Last week, I picked up a couple salmon filets, and with a few simple ingredients, was able to create a bright, zippy little marinade/coating/sauce in about five minutes. In another 10, dinner was done. I can’t argue with that!

Weeknight Salmon with Lemon and Chive Sauce

  • 1 whole bunch of chives, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice (about the juice of half a lemon)
  • — kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (depending on how big your filets are — the final ‘sauce’ should be thin enough to easily mix, but thick enough to spread and not run everywhere.)
  • 2 6-8oz filets of wild salmon. Ask your fish monger to give you similar size pieces, that are cut from the center of the fish, so that one end of your filet does not taper too much into a thin little piece that will overcook! I look for pieces that are less skinny and rectangular and more square(ish).

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Mix all of the ingredients (except for the salmon, natch) in a small bowl until well combined. Spread on the flesh side of your filets (the skin should be face down in the baking pan), and bake until the fish is cooked through but still tender and flaky, around 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet. The sauce that has oozed over the sides will be bubbly and smell really good. I served our fish with a garnish of parsley and lacinto kale sauteed in olive oil and garlic!

A little note about purchasing salmon. I personally choose to only buy wild salmon. I saw a news segment on farmed salmon a few years back and it kind of grossed me out. From what I’ve read, the quality of the omega-3s you get from wild salmon (and almost all wild cold-water fish) is better than that of farmed fish. And, wild salmon doesn’t always have to cost more. Look for sockeye or coho varieties, which do not refer to any quality difference, but are an entirely different variety of salmon that I think taste great and are usually much less expensive than king salmon!

Recipe: Hearty Stuffed Peppers

Do you have a recipe that you often forget about, but whenever you make it, you want to kick yourself for not preparing it more because it’s so easy and so delicious? That’s how I felt when I recently made my roasted stuffed peppers. Ridiculously easy to put together, you can make this recipe as sinful or as healthful as you’d like — but no matter which route you choose, the results are irresistibly satisfying.

I like to stuff peppers with ground turkey meat, but you could of course substitute chicken, pork or beef — anything you’d like really. During my most recent attempt, I used a mixture of dark ground turkey meat, onions, garlic, lots of herbs and just a hint of parmesan. The mixture is spooned into red and yellow peppers, then baked with marinara sauce until the peppers have browned and the meat cooked through. The best part? The juices from the meat always leak out of the peppers, mixing with the marinara and leaving you with a tomato sauce that tastes like it was cooking all day.

The great thing about stuffed peppers is that you can customize them to any genre of food you’d like. You could stuff them with cooked rice, corn, black beans and diced chicken, top each with some monterrey jack, and bake with green enchilada sauce. I’m betting they’d be delicious stuffed with ground lamb, spinach and feta, then smothered in a creamy white sauce (yes, that would definitely fall in the ‘decadent’ category). Stuffed peppers are a great way to clean out your fridge, if you think about it!

You can also choose to make these as a side dish — just buy smaller peppers and adjust the amount of filling you make.

Hearty Stuffed Peppers

  • 4 medium to large bell peppers, if serving as a main dish (I used two red and two yellow)
  • 3-4 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves stripped
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, cleaned
  • 1.25 lb ground dark turkey meat
  • 1/2 yellow onion, very finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8-10 cremini (dark brown) mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan, plus extra for garnish
  • –salt and pepper to season
  • 2 jars of your favorite marinara sauce
  • –extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375°.

Slice the tops off of the peppers and set aside. Using your fingers, clean out the seeds and white ribs from inside the pepper, being careful not to tear the sides of the vegetable.

Combine the herbs on a cutting board and mince together. In a medium bowl, combine the turkey meat, onion, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, egg and parmesan cheese. Season well with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly combine, as if making a meatloaf. With a spoon, tightly stuff each pepper with the turkey mixture. It’s okay to overfill these a little.

Select a baking dish that will fit all your peppers. Pour enough marinara into the dish to completely cover the bottom. Place the peppers into the baking dish, then top each with a little extra parmesan if you’d like. Pour sauce over each pepper and into the baking dish (I used a little less than 1.5 jars of marinara total), drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top of each pepper, then place its “lid” on top.

Bake for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on your oven and the size of the peppers you chose) until the peppers have begun to brown and the sauce mixture is bubbly. You may want to spoon some of the sauce over the peppers part way through baking to help speed the pepper cooking process along. Serve with pasta, vegetables, or on its own!

Recipe: Steamed mussels and shrimp with white wine and Dijon

Time for a little confession that I think every attached woman can relate to, even just a little bit. Ready for this one?

I secretly love it when Joe is gone from the house.

Now, we’re not talking about extended periods of time here. I would miss him too much. What I’m talking about are work dinners, one to two days of out of town business, or simply a boys night out. I relish those days and nights every few weeks where I get the house to myself, can watch girly reality TV (The Rachel Zoe Project, anyone?), and take a long bubble bath, with no obligation to anyone else. Of course, I’m always glad when lover boy comes home, but you know how it is. One of the best parts of having the house and the day to myself is planning what delicious vittles I’ll cook up — ones that I normally never make, since there’s no usually convincing him to partake.

One such dish, which I made this last Saturday afternoon (Joe was out all day at a football game with some friends) is steamed mussels. I LOVE steamed mussels; in fact, I love steamed shellfish of any kind. Though mussels and clams are very affordable, there’s something luxurious about eating a big bowl of fragrant, briny shellfish, and using some crusty bread to mop up the steaming liquid. Wash it all down with a crisp white wine, and it’s pretty much my idea of the perfect meal. Joe has a weird thing about his hands getting messy when he eats (if you know him well, you’ll realize that any time he eats a sandwich, he washes his hands immediately after), so hands-on shellfish eating is not really his thing.

So of course I jumped at the chance to cook up a pot of bi-valves on Saturday.

mussels steamed in white wine

When I got to the store, they were nearly out of mussels, so I supplemented the dish with some large shrimp to ensure I’d have enough to make a good meal. When making steamed shellfish, you could use any combination of clams, shrimp or mussels you like. If you’re entertaining with steamed shellfish, try different varieties to make the final bowl look extra pretty — New Zealand green mussels, for instance, have a beautiful emerald green lip on their shells.

While you steam the shellfish, you can toast some baguette, rub it down with some garlic, and drizzle it with olive oil. It’s perfection in less than 20 minutes. Here’s the recipe: Continue reading

Recipe: Chicken and green chile stew

Chicken and Green chile Stew

I’m pleased to report that when it comes to bringing my lunch to work, I’ve been doing great these last few weeks. {Pat on the back}. It really does help you save a boatload of money, and you have the benefit of eating something that’s a lot more healthful than what you’d probably end up shoveling down at the local deli.

Tonight I made a big dish of tuna noodle casserole (this recipe from Gourmet (RIP) is so good!); last week it was this fabulously hearty chicken and green chile stew. Actually, it was less of a stew and more of a chili, but naming this Chicken and Green Chile Chili is just silly. Really.

Though this isn’t a difficult recipe, it’s probably a good one to do on a Sunday afternoon, as roasting the Hatch peppers isn’t something I’d want to do on a weeknight (read: a little bit of stove cleanup). If you’re vegetarian, you could also omit the meat, use vegetable stock, and supplement in a few other types of beans in addition to the cannellinis. The beauty in this stew-chili is that it also gets better the longer it sits. If you make it on Sunday, it’s still delicious come Tuesday or Wednesday. You can also garnish it with whatever colorful accoutrements you favor — little cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of heady red onion, diced avocado, some freshly torn cilantro, a dash of Tabasco sauce. And of course, the cheese. It’s essential that you don’t forget the grated Cheddar with this one.

chicken chili

Here’s the recipe: Continue reading

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