The Most Delicious Dish I’ve Ever Made…

Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cookbook authors – I find her recipes well researched, easy-to-follow and consistently delicious. But the depth and complexity of flavor in her Coconut Pork Stew with Garam Masala make this recipe, hands down, the most delicious dish I’ve ever made.

And it wasn’t even difficult. (To be fair, two elements require day-before preparation, so planning is required. But making a list is about as complicated as this recipe gets.)

I decided to make this recipe because I found the enveloping NYT article, Pork Stew Gets A Chile Kick intriguing, and I like Indian flavors and coconut curries. Plus, we were having an east coast March ‘blizzard’ on Tuesday, so I knew we’d be house-bound and I’d have a good three hours in the afternoon to let this bake. So Monday evening I had my butcher cube and trim two-and-a-half pounds of ‘pork butt’ (which I’d never heard of before) and collected the rest of the ingredients.

Normally, I reject recipes which require day-before prep and/or browning the meat first (too much of a hassle), but because I’d watched Ms. Clark’s video, I knew the day-before prep was simple and the browning step wasn’t fussy – just toss the cubes into the pot and let them ‘get golden’ for about 5 minutes.

Along that same vein, there’s not even much to chop or mince in this recipe – especially if you use fresh, already-diced onions. Which I always do. That said, in my view the chopped cilantro garnish is absolutely not optional – it adds a lot to the dish.

My only concern with this dish was nutritional. This recipe calls for coconut oil, which has a lot of saturated fat, a lo-co no-go. For information on why, in general, you should avoid coconut oil, read The Cleveland Clinic’s Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

That said, if you omit the garlic-coconut oil topping (which doesn’t add a lot IMHO, other than another pan to clean!) this recipe really doesn’t have THAT much coconut oil and thus, is not so terrible, lo-co wise. (And certainly better than Shake Shack or fast food!) And, always good to serve with a green vegetable – I steamed green beans – or a salad.

I followed this recipe exactly and have no edits at all – it’s easy to follow and the steps make sense. My only quibble is that Ms. Clark suggests the yellow split peas are the dish’s starch. For me (and other commenters on her recipe page) the split peas were just not enough. I served it with basmati rice (yes, a better choice would be brown rice but I didn’t have that on my shopping list as it was not in the recipe. LOL.)

I also love that the NYT recipes now – finally! – have nutritional information!  Without rice, the nutritional analysis proffered on the recipe page indicates 19 grams of saturated fat. When I uploaded this recipe into ‘My Fitness Pal’ and included about 3/4 cup of basmati rice, I got a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat – 118% of of daily allowance! Not good.

But omitting the garlic-coconut oil drizzle brings that to a still-high-but-more-reasonable 15 grams of saturated fat or 73% of daily allowance.

So if this recipe sounds appealing (and believe me, the complexity and depth of flavor are ‘restaurant-quality’ which is not something I can usually easily deliver!) just make sure you’re not overdoing it with other high-saturated-fat dishes that day!

If you prefer, download a PDF of the Coconut Pork Stew With Garam Masala recipe.

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Tangy, Healthy, Homemade Yogurt

Two things happened mid-February that messed with my decade-long half-bagel with smidge of cream cheese and slice of lox breakfast habit.

  1. My fabulous local delicatessen can no longer get the nirvana-like H&H bagels from NYC (yes, I know the real H&H closed years ago but the ‘other’ H&H bagels are great too). And I despise their CT-made replacement bagels. DESPISE.
  2. In the NYT, I read a Melissa Clark article about making homemade yogurt and became obsessed – especially because there was a kitchen gadget I could buy.

I tried to be more open — to embrace change and learn to love the new bagels. I could not. I then bought a dozen bagels from a deli in NYC and brought them home on the train. Nope. Tasted right but they are the size of a softball and I hate that.

Yes, I am picky. I know I am not flexible. It’s sad but I’m just not. I’d say I’m working on it, but at least food-wise, it’d be a lie.

So what’s a non-food-flexible girl to do? Well, that’s the upshot of the story because Melissa Clark’s homemade yogurt recipe was a revelation.

When I read How to Make Yogurt at Home, I was immediately intrigued by her statement that it’s both simple to make and delicious – far more delicious than store-bought and since I’m not a huge fan of yogurt I thought I should try it. And bonus: my doctor wants me to consume more calcium and, um, ice cream is not on the lo-co calcium list.

Then it got fun. As I re-read Ms. Clark’s article, I realized she inserted a mystery into her story. And who doesn’t love a good mystery:

“I fell in love with a whole-milk yogurt that was so smooth, thick and milky tasting that it blew away anything I’d had before. Naturally, it was made by a Brooklyn artisan, it cost a fortune, and it was in such high demand that the fancy shop where it was sold was often out of stock.”

Finding out what yogurt she was obsessed with became my obsession.

After a ridiculous number of hours reading yogurt reviews and searching online, I did not know the answer but narrowed it down to either The White Moustache or Sohha Savory Yogurt.  In NYC for the weekend, I could not find Sohha but did find The White Moustache, so I bought one of the single-serve jars for a whopping $6.

Then I re-read the ‘simple’ recipe and started laughing. Sure, it’s simple, if you have a lot of patience. But I’m neither flexible nor patient (at least I know my faults, right?)  Her two “tips” about how easy it was to make yogurt were what prompted me to immediately buy a yogurt maker.  To me, these did not sound easy:

Tip #1: “…rub an ice cube over the inside bottom of the pot before adding the milk. This keeps it from scorching as it heats.” (For me, this reads like a guarantee of a scorched pot and is thus to be avoided at all costs.)

Tip #2: “I’ve tried placing it in a turned-off oven with the oven light on, in a corner swathed in a heating pad, on the countertop wrapped in a big towel, and tucked on the top of the fridge. They all worked, though the warmer the spot, the more quickly the milk fermented.” (OMG…too many options / too many ways I could go wrong, so, um, no.)

When I told my sister what I was going to do, she said, “Oh, making yogurt at home is easy, you just cook it and leave it somewhere warm.”  Or something to that effect.  So I guess these ‘tips’ would act as ‘tips’ for some (most?) people, but for me it led me straight to the internet.

Where I realized there was one final challenge with making yogurt: timing. The entire process takes at least 18 hours. While none of it’s hard (except for that scorched pot part) and none of that time is actually active work, it does mean you need to plan out exactly when you start or you’ll need to get up at 3am to jam it into the refrigerator. And that’s a big no for me. Armed now with information, I searched on Amazon.

Cuisinart Electronic Yogurt MakerFirst I bought an “InstantPot”. Too many issues to enumerate so let me say, “just don’t believe the reviews; it’s not good as a yogurt maker.” I immediately returned it and bought the fabulous Cuisinart Electronic Yogurt Maker with Automatic Cooling.  At $99 it was not a small purchase but I’ve been thrilled with it – you just mix 2 cups of organic 2% milk (for lo-co yogurt I’m using 2%) with 3-4 TB of the White Moustache plain yogurt, turn it on for 12 hours and when it’s done, it then keeps it cool for 12 more hours – so at any normal time of day, you can remove it to the refrigerator. To me, that’s worth the cost of the pretty slim, nice-looking appliance!

Not only is this truly easy, but it makes yogurt that’s rich, creamy and tangy. With NO sugar, that tangy taste takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m trying (look at me, being flexible after all!)  I add fresh berries and mash them up to give the yogurt a bit of color and also a handful of granola for some crunch and texture.

The only problem is – I am eating it for lunch, not breakfast. Turns out I really crave hot (or at least, not cold) for breakfast.  So I’m still eating the last of my NYC frozen bagels (can’t let them go to waste, right?) and trying to gear myself up to try yogurt for breakfast.

If you are more flexible than me (a low bar indeed) and/or like yogurt for breakfast but would prefer a tangier, no-sugar option at a fraction of the cost of buying individual serve yogurts, give Melissa Clark’s recipe a whirl.

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Hearty Mushroom-Spinach Soup

While I am not usually a fan of soup for dinner, my husband is, and this month I found two soup recipes that looked hearty enough to possibly satisfy. Plus they both had the alluring added bonus of “requiring” the purchase of a new kitchen gadget. Though there’s barely room in my ‘magic closet,’ I could not resist.

So two weeks ago, I made New York Times “Recipes For Health” columnist Martha Rose Shulman’s Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks – because it looked tasty and required a food mill, a kitchen implement I’ve often wondered about. More on that adventure in another post.

Last night, I was tempted by a recipe that appeared that day (oh the spontaneity!) in the NYT. I always have good luck with Melissa Clark recipes, so I went right on out and purchased an immersion blender and ingredients for her Mushroom-Spinach Soup With Middle Eastern Spices.

The immersion blender was a bust. Literally. I need to find and buy a different brand; luckily I have an old fashioned blender, so that saved the day. Which was good because this recipe was delicious – both very tasty and hearty enough for the not-soup-lover in me. Beyond a new lo-co meal, the whole reason I tried it (besides the fact that I love mushrooms) was Ms. Clark’s quite accurate description:

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

“This is a very hearty, chunky soup filled with bits of browned mushroom and silky baby spinach. A combination of sweet and savory spices – cinnamon, coriander and cumin – gives it a deep, earthy richness.”

Sounds good, right? It was. It even looks hearty, as you can see in this picture that accompanied the recipe.

The picture and description enticed me to try the recipe – to run right out and buy the ingredients, actually.

But I have two quibbles with the recipe as Ms. Clark published it.

First, it does NOT take one hour. It took me 1.5 hours – and I didn’t even dice shallots.  So if you are going to try this recipe, give yourself at least 90 minutes. AT LEAST. Nothing’s hard, it just takes time.

Second, once the soup is cooked, step 4 of the recipe is not quite accurate. The recipe says, “Using an immersion blender or food processor, coarsely purée soup.” After my immersion blender mishap, I poured the soup – nearly all of it – into my blender and hit puree. Once back in the soup pot, I realized the recipe was not accurate for use of an – oh wait – she said food processor, not old fashioned blender.  My bad.

OK, so what I was going to say is that the directions should say to purée only half of the soup or something to that effect – because Ms. Clark’s soup has some beautiful big chunks of mushrooms in it post-puréeing (and mine did too, before I puréed it – see picture below on the left.) But puréeing pulverized nearly all of my mushroom chunks (see photo on right). I was a little sad about that – but now see that was my fault (though actually, I’m not entirely convinced that if you put ALL of the soup in a food processor and coarsely puréed it, you’d still have some nice big mushroom slices. A guess on my part, but I still think you should not food processor purée ALL of it!).

MushroomSoup2

Pre-purée: looks like recipe pic!

MushroomSoupBlended

Post blender: few mushroom chunks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly that was not my only error. I also forgot to buy shallots. This recipe calls for 1/2 pound of diced shallots – that is a LOT of shallots: far more than the 1 head I had on hand. Instead, I used fresh pre-diced onions and diced them further. (And still, it took me 1.5 hours to make this soup without peeling and dicing a huge number of shallots!)

MushroomSoupFinalMy mistake(s) notwithstanding, this was still delicious. It does have a vaguely Indian flavor profile – so if that’s not your deal, you may prefer different spices. You can see from my terrible picture that I served this as suggested, with a dollop of plain greek yogurt. Along with a nice loaf of fresh French bread, both my husband and I enjoyed this dinner. It’s a tasty lo-co meal that’s a great change of pace from a meat-based meal, and to my surprise this was a totally satisfying dinner. Plus, it’s easy to make on a weeknight – as long as you have the time for and don’t mind dicing.

So, another Melissa Clark recipe win.

I’ll let you know if the immersion blender works better than a regular blender when the one I ordered from Amazon arrives!  I hope it’s not too big; my magic closet is filled to the ceiling. Literally.

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Heart Healthy Tomato Sauce Recipe

If you still have tomatoes left over from this summer’s amazing tomato season, you might want to give fresh tomato sauce a try.

I know, I know. It seems hard. And it’s so much easier to pour sauce from a jar.

But it’s not, actually. Well, OK, it is. But not that much harder, it turns out!  A few weeks ago, I read David Tanis’ NYT article, The Time Is Right To Make Tomato Sauce and my eyes flew to the 6 gorgeous tomatoes my friend Chris had given me (which truth be told, had been sitting on my counter for longer than I’d like to admit.)

Could this solve my, ‘I don’t know what to do with that tomato bounty’ dilemma? I decided to try it – spurred to action by these phrases Mr. Tanis used in describing his recipe:

  • “just make a small-batch” and “in a matter of minutes”
  • “quick-cooking sauce with relatively fast preparation. There’s no need to blanch and peel tomatoes or even use a food mill”
  • “All you need is a hand-held grater”

Quick and easy — check that as an ‘always’ requirement for me.  And while I normally like to use equipment, I do not own a food mill and I could not quite imagine how one attacks a tomato with a hand-held grater!

Plus, tomatoes are heart healthy. In fact, a study published in 2007 by the The National Center for Biotechnology Information is actually titled, “Tomato juice decreases LDL cholesterol levels and increases LDL resistance to oxidation.”  As I despise tomato juice and don’t get enough tomatoes in my diet, I thought I should pop a Prilosec and try this dinner.

And I’m glad I did.  While the sauce was a little thin flavor-wise (which would be great for kids / picky eaters) it was very fresh and light – a terrific change of pace from jarred sauce. Plus, I love learning a new cooking technique – and well, OK, using a grater isn’t actually a cooking ‘technique; but still, I’d never done it and didn’t quite believe it could work.

I mean, what does it mean, actually, to grate a tomato? Bizarre, right? Turns out it was easy and actually does work. Here’s how Mr. Tanis describes it in his Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce recipe – and it’s totally accurate: “Cut the tomatoes in halves or quarters. Squeeze out the seeds, or don’t (I never mind a few seeds in the sauce). Place the cut side against the large holes of the grater and gently rub until only the tomato skin remains in your hand.”  It actually worked and I was surprised to find it was kind of fun.

Here’s what it looked like while I was grating – and the resulting flat tomato skin, which made me giggle as it reminded me of Flat Stanley.

TomatoGrating TomatoesGrated

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a second recipe – for how to make the pasta dish using this quick fresh tomato sauce. Pasta With Fresh Tomato Sauce And Ricotta was an equally easy recipe and quite tasty.  It also held up well for lunch the next day – a winner in my book. Plus, the ricotta adds protein so this is a good meat-less dinner option, with the heart-healthy benefits of lycopene.

If you have fresh from the garden, sun-ripened tomatoes on hand, give this a whirl.  The recipe calls for 5 pounds of tomatoes which is A LOT – so I made a half batch and that worked fine.

BTW – in case you’re like me and don’t know how many tomatoes are in a pound, I looked it up. It’s about 3 ‘medium’ tomatoes to a pound. I had 6 tomatoes so halved the recipe – which isn’t exactly the right proportions, but exact measurements are not vital in this kind of recipe – close is good enough (which is why I much prefer cooking to baking!)

PastaFreshSauceRicotta_TanisHere’s how mine turned out – as I said, it was a little mild on taste (next time I’ll up the garlic and the red pepper!) and both my husband and I enjoyed it.

Click on the recipe links to see Mr. Tanis’ original article (with beautiful photos) or my recipe page has both of these recipes downloadable as a PDF: Pasta With Fresh Tomato Sauce and Ricotta…including Fresh Tomato Sauce.

 

 

 

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Slow Cooker Part Deux – A Failure and A Find

A prevalent pet peeve is how Facebook distorts reality. With frequent postings of party and vacation pictures plus endless boasting about kids and jobs, it’s easy to conclude that more fun is being had by everyone else. Which is of course not true.

At least, I hope it’s not.

But all this bragging led me to consider recipe blog posts. It’s an apt corollary as the vast majority of recipe blog posts are about successes. Indeed, I do it too. I hadn’t realized until I looked, but to date, all my recipe blog posts have been about recipe successes. So with this post I am bucking the trend, because this post is about a lo-co cooking failure. And I think that it’s an important topic because cooking lo-co is tough enough without the false belief that everyone else’s dishes turn out well all the time. Because they do NOT.

Case in point: last week I tried a slow cooker recipe for Char Siu Pork Roast that had huge promise, but that failed. Miserably. Actually, it was absolutely awful.

This dish was so appalling I threw it out and ate cereal for dinner. Worse, I could not get the stench of this dish out of my house fast enough (challenging when it’s sub-freezing outside, but open the windows I did!)

I was particularly disappointed in Char Siu Pork Roast because: a) the recipe was from Cooking Light, and I always (now nearly-always) have good luck with their dishes; b) it was listed in an article with the promissory title of, “100+ Slow-Cooker Favorites“; and c) there were 108 reviews and it got four stars.  FOUR STARS. OUT OF FIVE. (I went back to see if it was four starts out of ten, but nope, four out of five).

I don’t know who these 108 people are, but their collective tastebuds are very different from mine. Not only that, my easy-going husband didn’t like it either. The problems were many. The five-spice flavor was overwhelming; several ingredients seemed to flavor-fight with each other; and worst of all, it was dry, dry, dry.  I guess I should have paid more attention to the several reviewers who panned this recipe; my experience was eerily similar.

So. A lo-co failure. I should have taken a photo, but there wasn’t time as I could not throw it out fast enough!

And then – another fail – I bought a pork tenderloin a few days later but accidentally grabbed one that was seasoned with pepper when what I wanted was plain.

Sigh. I am not a fan of peppercorn-marinaded anything.

pressure-29744_640But I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good pork tenderloin, so that inspired a search for a slow cooker recipe that would mask the massive pepper. I readied the cereal boxes in case it was another failure… but was pleasantly surprised last night with “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” dish. Especially since the recipe was from a site I’d never seen before (usually I only cook from Cooking Light or Epicurious).

This WhiskingMama.com site must have really great SEO — the only reason I clicked on this “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” recipe is that it was the #1 result in my search for “pork tenderloin crock-pot recipe.” I decided to try it because I already had the (wrong) tenderloin, these ingredients looked like they’d cover up the pepper, and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand (with a few substitutions: dijon for yellow mustard and garlic cloves instead of garlic powder).

This dish was easy, quite tasty, and while it might not be the “best” crock-pot pork tenderloin recipe (I mean, who’s to judge?), I’d make it again. The cereal’s been put back in the pantry for breakfast as we’re planning leftovers for dinner tonight.

Here’s the recipe for “The Best Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin” if you prefer a PDF to clicking on the link above. I made it with a one-pound tenderloin instead of two-pounds, and just read this morning in Sam Sifton’s A Simmer View of the Slower Cooker article that I should have cut the marinade in half. Mr. Sifton’s quote refers to different recipe/ingredients but the basic tenet is the same:

“The most important thing is not to have too much liquid in the pot. For a small slow cooker, use a smaller cut of meat and a proportionately smaller amount of fish sauce, hoisin and water.”

The next time I make this Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin recipe I’ll use regular rather peppered tenderloin and will either cut the marinade in half OR, more likely, I’ll make it with two pounds of tenderloin because it was delicious enough to want leftovers.

So one recipe to avoid – and one to try!  Feel free to send me your lo-co recipe failures or favorites!

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