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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Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

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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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A Thai Lo-Co Crock-Pot Winner

Before today’s blizzard that thankfully didn’t hit where we live in CT (strange to be thankful for 6″ of snow and counting), the weather last Saturday was atrocious. I had decided to try a new crock-pot recipe so we would be treated all day to the enticing aroma of curry while stuck inside catching up on a long list of household chores.

And it both looked and tasted delicious. Which is a big thing, because my easy-going husband usually does not enjoy crock-pot casseroles.  A huge shame given the easiness of crock-pot cooking, but there you go.

But this one was a hit. On the plus side, it was relatively easy and quite flavorful. On the down side, it uses beef.  I may try again with chicken but had decided a little beef on a cold, miserable day seemed a fine plan.  And while it does have more cholesterol than I usually go for (50 mg/serving) that really isn’t too bad.

Thai Red Curry CrockPotThe recipe was from Cooking Light – my go-to for new, healthy recipes – and it was in an article entitled, 100+ Slow-Cooker Favorites. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure we’d like it as I’ve tried a few I didn’t love from recipes in this trove, but gave it a go and was glad I did. My plate of Thai Red Curry Beef didn’t look as pretty as the picture on the recipe, but hey, I’m no food photographer. What I can tell you is that it was quite tasty.

If you like curry, give this a try. Before you do, be sure to read the recipe and ALSO read the reviews so you can adjust to your taste, especially vis-a-vis spiciness.  A few things I’d suggest if you give it a go:

  • I used one whole jalapeño with seeds because we like very spicy – and it was very, very spicy.  When I make again, I’ll use only half the seeds …
  • Based on the reviews which said the sauce was thin, I debated dusting the beef with cornstarch before browning it as some suggested.  But that seemed hard. So instead I made a cornstarch and cold water ‘slurry’ (same as if making gravy) and spooned that in after the spinach. Easy and effective.
  • They don’t say to use cubed stew meat – but that’s what the picture looked like so that’s what I did. Buy or cut the meat ahead of time, even though that’s not in the recipe.
  • I did dice some carrots as you’ll see in my photo above (but not in the recipe photo) and that worked well. I cut 4 carrots into relatively big bites and added them when the crock pot had about 1 hour left.  They were great – not mushy; cooked just through.
  • I wish I’d added mushrooms.  Will do next time.
  • I bought freshly diced onion from Trader Joe’s to save time and highly recommend that. Probably would NOT use frozen diced onions as they’d release too much water to a broth that some considered watery.

For today’s blizzard-that-wasn’t I bought some fresh arctic char which I enjoyed last night with several glasses of wine… See recipe for Baked Arctic Char on my recipes page. So easy, healthy and delicious.

For tonight, we’re having chicken breast with bok choy and quinoa. I wish instead I’d bought a whole chicken to roast: my friend Michaela (a talented author who prefers writing to cooking) raves about this whole roast chicken recipe, which I keep meaning to try. She just emailed me to say, “You should try. It is fabulous and I’m an indifferent cook at best! But the bird is completely juicy and the skin crunchy.”  OK, the skin is a lo-co no no, but still – I bet it’s great. And with a name like How To Make The Best Roast Chicken Of All Time – and with video instruction on how to truss a chicken – how could you go wrong?

I’ll let you know about the whole roast chicken – but if you like curry and are of a crock-pot mindset, give Thai Red Curry Beef a shot.

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