Pork and Chestnut Ragu

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Winter is here, and you know what that means…sickness! Everyone seems to have some form of cold, cough, or sore throat. I’ve definitely caught the bug. While everyone is out and about doing their Christmas shopping, I’ve had to stay in for most of the weekend and take a sick day today from work. This is tougher for me than it should be. General American working culture makes it seem like taking a sick day and, therefore, taking care of yourself, is a bad thing. It’s as if coming into work even though you’re sick is a badge of honor and dedication. Thankfully, I work at a company where culture dictates that taking care of yourself is a top priority. And, who wants to catch my germs, anyways?

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Taking care of yourself 101: Drink mugs and mugs of this beautiful tea—preferably in your favorite mug.

My boss just told me this today, and I think we all need this reminder on the daily: Never apologize for taking care of yourself. You know your needs better than anyone else does.

Part of taking care of myself includes nourishment, of course! When I’m sick, I always muster up the energy to cook myself something, even if it’s just warm chicken broth. Now, when most people are sick, they think “soup!” Well, when I’m sick, the first thing I think of is, “pasta!” (Are you at all surprised?)

So, earlier this week I saw peeled and cooked chestnuts at Trader Joe’s, and something came over me that said “you MUST buy these and cook with them!” even though I’ve never cooked with chestnuts before in my life. I was kicking myself later in the week, staring at these chestnuts dumbfounded. Then I took out all my cookbooks and cooking magazines to look for a recipe. Thank goodness, I found a copy of Jamie Oliver’s magazine (aptly named Jamie Magazine) from November/December 2011. He had a whole section on cooking with chestnuts. Perfect! His recipe was for Chestnut Tagliatelle with Venison Ragu. Well, I hate venison (don’t hate me!) and I did not have the ingredients to make the homemade tagliatelle, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to make my own version of it! Behold (let’s show this beauty pic again…):

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Pork and Chestnut Ragu

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 vacuum-packed package of peeled and cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used Chianti)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  1. Add finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion to a sauté pan with 2 tablespoons butter, the bay leaves, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground pork and break that up in the pan. Sauté until cooked through.
  3. Add the chestnuts and nutmeg and stir together.
  4. Add the tomato purée, stir in, then add the red wine and stir again.
  5. Add the chicken broth and let the mixture come to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and mix into the sauce. The sauce will thicken at this point and should only need a few more minutes to simmer.
  7. Taste the ragu and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this with a pasta of your choice. Rigatoni pairs perfectly, if you were looking for a recommendation!

The holiday season is about giving to others, but please remember to give to yourself, too. Happy December!

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Is it just me, or was kale not really around in the 90s? I’m sure it was, but as a child I was too fixated on Dunkaroos, those fake cheese snacks with the bread sticks or pretzel sticks for dipping, and Little Debbie oatmeal pies. My family ate healthfully for the most part, but hearty leafy veggies like kale were not exactly on our radar.

I ate kale for the first time when I moved to Boston in August 2013. When I hosted a dinner party with new friends, one of them brought sautéed kale with cumin. This same friend brought a kale salad with wheat berries, apples, and a smoked paprika vinaigrette to another dinner party. Kale began to intrigue me. The hearty, earthy flavors mix so well with fresh fruit and smokier spices. The one thing I could not get over was the texture of raw kale. Treated incorrectly, raw kale feels like rubber in my mouth.

When I interned at America’s Test Kitchen, I discovered this quick video tip about how to handle raw kale:

While raw kale is totally edible, I prefer this nutritious veg braised.

What is braising, you ask? Braising means cooking something in a small amount of liquid that will evaporate and allow the main ingredient to caramelize without getting burnt. It’s magic.

I love mixing whole grains with salad greens. Sweet Green got me hooked. I feel full, but I don’t experience that food coma you get when you eat too much of that homemade mac and cheese.

America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook has a recipe for Braised Kale that’s amazing (I urge you to check out this cookbook, even if you eat meat). I adapted that recipe for the amount of kale I had, and then I added brown rice (I used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley with long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon radish seeds). Adding grated pecorino romano cheese at the end was the slam-dunk perfect finishing touch.

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl
Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

Braised Kale and Parmesan Whole Grain Rice Bowl

For braised kale

  • 1 10 oz. bag of tuscan kale, or 10 oz. fresh kale rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (if you don’t have broth on hand, you can use 1 cup of water and 1 bouillon cube)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup parmesan

For brown rice 

  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 1/4 cups water

1. Heat olive oil in a 4-Quart pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 7–8 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper, cooking for about 1–2 minutes. Just make sure the garlic doesn’t brown.

3. Add in half the kale and cook it so it wilts down. This is a fabulous ATK tip I learned, and this will allow you to fit all the kale in the pot.

4. Put the rest of the kale in the pot along with the broth and some salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir every once and awhile until the greens are tender. This will take roughly 20 minutes.

6. While the kale is cooking, grab another pot and cook your brown rice. Follow your package’s instructions. If you have a rice cooker, even better. My parents just got an Aroma rice cooker and love it.

5. Now, remove the lid of the pot with the kale and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the kale until the liquid has pretty much evaporated. This will take about 10 minutes.

6. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and any additional salt and pepper you may need to the kale.

7. Take your now cooked brown rice and add that to the pot of braised kale. Mix together. Then add the pecorino romano cheese and mix until combined.

There’s nothing better than food that is super healthy and super easy to make. If you are just getting introduced to this leafy vegetable, I guarantee you’ll love this dish.

Lessons in Chinese Cooking

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a restful, joyous holiday season full of delicious food. My immediate family resides in Ohio, so I was there for about 10 days delighting in family recipes. This holiday was different for me, however, as I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time! His parents are from Shanghai and have resided in Atlanta for a long time now. His mother has the reputation for being an amazing traditional Chinese chef, so I was even more elated with the opportunity to bond and learn a few things from her repertoire!

My flight was delayed four hours, but this did not deter me from missing lunch. Thank goodness.

First, I witnessed Mrs. Chang make scallion pancakes. Her version is a little puffier than you’ll find in Chinese restaurants, but the flavor is the best I’ve tasted. She uses bread dough, fresh scallions, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil to create this masterpiece. The pancakes are placed in a skillet with a little olive oil and water. The pan is then covered so that the pancakes steam until the water evaporates. The heat is then turned on low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides without getting burned. Note: I am going to attempt these recipes for myself and then provide the full recipe on the blog to be sure I convey the best tips and tricks.

Scallion pancakes
Scallion pancakes

Then I watched as she created steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao. She used the same dough for these as for the scallion pancakes. The dough was broken apart into small balls and rolled out to be round and flat, about the size of a typical sand dollar and about a quarter inch thick. The main ingredients for the filling include ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallion, sherry, one egg, salt, and pepper. From what she told me, I am going to recreate these myself and post the recipe with exact ingredients and measurements. She put a small amount of the ground pork filling in the middle, and then made folds upwards that met in the middle. The buns are cooked the same way as the scallion pancake, with oil and water until the water evaporates, and then the bottoms are browned on lower heat.

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

The next day she taught me how to fold wontons and make wonton soup. Mrs. Chang used Twin Marquis wonton wrappers from the Asian supermarket. These have the same filling as the steamed pork buns. You just put a little filling in the center of the wrapper. Take a little water and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper “hamburger style” up so that it meets the dampened edge. You then fold the top edge in towards you, and finally fold the two sides down so that they meet at the bottom. You wet one of the edges and then press them together. They kind of look like Italian tortellini! The wontons are then boiled in water until they float to the top. In the meantime, take your bowl and add salt, pepper, sesame oil, fresh scallion, and fresh ginger. When the wontons are done cooking, all you do is ladle the wontons with the hot water into your bowl. So easy!

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Finally, one of the best lunches we had there included a roast chicken stuffed with fried rice. Oh my goodness gracious. The chicken was marinated overnight and came incredibly tender. The fried rice absorbed the flavorful juice from the chicken – need I say more? Again, once I gather exact measurements and ingredients, all will be revealed on how to make this!

Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing
Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing

What new things did you learn while cooking over the holidays? I hope these discoveries inspire some of your culinary adventures in this new year!

Cooking Trick: Use Rotisserie Chicken

I started cooking on my own in my Junior year of college. A rookie to the core, I tried tackling complicated recipes in an effort to prove myself. One of my major mistakes occurred when I defrosted a chicken breast for too long. I left the poor raw chicken breast out all day (for more than eight hours) to thaw. When my Mom told me the chicken wasn’t safe to eat, I cried. Tears fell down my cheeks. Oh goodness.

Cooking chicken is an interesting endeavor, one that requires immense experimentation. Boneless, skinless chicken breast can dry out so easily in the oven. Chicken breast on the bone comes out more tender and juicy, but it takes much longer to cook. For anyone on the go, you have to remember to defrost your chicken promptly, putting it in the fridge the night before so that by the next day’s dinner time it’s ready to go.

And that’s when I say…why all the hassle? Sure, it’s nice to bake chicken in the oven, but when you are strapped for time, there’s another way. Buy a rotisserie chicken.

Rotisserie chickens at the grocery store are usually $6-8 and give you plenty of meat when pulled apart.

My suggestion: Pull apart a rotisserie chicken, separating the meat into individual portions in plastic bags. Freeze these bags and take out one when you need to make a dish. This is incredibly useful when making chicken enchiladas, jumbleaya, fried rice, etc. You can put the frozen meat straight into a pan and it will thaw out perfectly.

Favorite Food Product: Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards

My parents are true wine connoisseurs. I grew up watching them drink specialty wines from around the world. The wine cellar in the basement always awed me as a child. I’d sometimes sneak down there and just look at all the bottle designs and their origins. Memories in the kitchen include having my Dad let me smell the wine and guide me towards what my olfactory senses should be identifying. Wine is made out of grapes, yes, but so many more factors combine to create a unique taste. The species of grape, the soil quality, the type of wood in the aging barrel…it all matters.

When I came of age to drink, my taste buds began to mature. At first, I could only handle Moscato and Reisling wines, fruiter varieties that are light and sweet. Though I’m beginning to venture into red wines, white wines are still my favorite to drink. Chardonnay in particular goes well with happyhour, with fish, or even just by itself.

Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena, CA makes the most amazing Chardonnay I’ve ever sipped. The wine is smooth and buttery, with hints of fruit and wood.

Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards
Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards

As you can see, I just returned from Cape Cod where my parents were vacationing. We partook in a chilled bottle with our happyhour and baked fish (that post is coming soon)!

If you can find this wine for around $30.00 – $36.00 a bottle, you have yourself a good deal. This is a more expensive wine, but if you need to buy a white wine for a special occasion or if you just want to plain treat yourself, I highly recommend Rombauer Chardonnay.

Favorite Food Product: South African Potato Chips

So far I’ve written a recipe post and a restaurant review. Now I’d like to introduce you to another type of post where I’ll be reflecting on my favorite things, whether it be cooking tricks, cookbooks, or “food finds.”

Recently, I was perusing Trader Joe’s, the closest fully stocked grocery store to my studio. Trader Joe’s rarely disappoints me with their innovative, wholesome approach to food. I needed a snack, and I was craving potato chips. We all crave potato chips at some point, and in my opinion it is entirely okay to fulfill this craving in moderation.

True confession time: sometimes I treat grocery store shopping like bookstore browsing – I wait for a product to inspire me. There is nothing like the thrill of discovery. It’s such a risk, but most of the time I find my next favorite thing. This is what happened when I discovered…

My discovery!
My discovery!

South African chips! I’ll admit, my boyfriend loves South Africa. He fell in love with the country after working there for six weeks. With such a connection, and the promised smoky barbecue flavor, I just had to try these out.

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Seasoned with paprika, hickory smoked salt, basil, and parsley, these chips do not disappoint. The seasoning is inspired by South African barbecue, called braai in Afrikaans. I also appreciate that these chips are not too greasy. You know when, after a few minutes of eating chips, your fingers become really oily? These chips will not burden you with that feeling. Follow the link at the top of the post to read more about the product. If you are craving a new potato chip flavor, certainly give these a taste.

I’ll be out of town this weekend, but next week I’ll be back with more of my recipes!