Pork Amarillo

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“IF THERE WERE A CHILE TO TASTE LIKE SUNSHINE, THIS WOULD BE IT.”

How can you pass up a description like that?!!

Back when I discovered the chile pepper paste Gochujang, I spied another international paste called Aji Amarillo. It’s a bright yellow paste, from Peru, made from aji amarillo chile peppers.

From Serious Eats, “Aji amarillo is a bright-orange, thick-fleshed chile with a medium to hot heat level. It’s ubiquitous in Peruvian cuisine, working its way into soups and sauces, which are used in pretty much everything.”

Below are fresh aji amarillo chile peppers on the left, and the dried peppers on the right.

I wanted to use and taste this paste in its purest form, so I did what I often do with pastes and pestos, and that was to slather it on meat – in this case, pork tenderloin.

This is what it looks like – sunshine!

The options for using this paste, similar to paprika creme or an ancho chile paste, are endless. Rice or risottos, soups and stews, salad dressings, and so forth.

Pork with Aji Amarillo

2 pork tenderloins, trimmed, at room temperature
Salt
Pepper (I used Mignonette)
1 jar Aji Amarillo, about 7.5 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Typically I roast pork tenderloin, but I didn’t want the chile pepper paste too browned.

Place the tenderloins in an oiled baking dish and coat all sides with the oil. Tuck under the thin ends. Sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with pepper.

I discovered Mignonette pepper a while back, sold at Penzey’s. It’s a French-Canadian mixture of white and black pepper.


After the pork tenderloins are seasoned, slather them with the Aji Amarillo.

Place in the oven and bake, using an oven thermometer preferably. I take pork out when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.

Let the pork rest in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove them to a cutting board.

Slice the pork in 3/8″ slices; it gets a bit messy with the paste.

Serve immediately. I had some roasted zucchini that I served with the pork.

Isn’t that color spectacular?!!

And don’t let the description of its fruitiness fool you. This is a chile pepper paste after all!

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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Pesto Ranch Dip

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I’ve written before about what a purist I am in the way that I make most everything from scratch. It doesn’t matter if it’s barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, you name it. I just can’t do it any other way.

Sure, a lot of those products are real time savers. But they’re also horrible. Or, should I say, that home-made is always better. Plus you don’t have to include the uncessary salt, sugar, fake colors and preservatives.

During the summer months especially, I eat a salad every day. I typically use a good vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil on them – that’s it. Or, I use a vinaigrette that I’ve made ahead of time.

A few years ago, we were at a local restaurant with our daughter and son-in-law. I ordered a Cobb salad for my meal, and with it Ranch dressing. If you haven’t heard of Ranch dressing, then you’ve probably never lived in the U.S.
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My son-in-law kidded me about ordering such an “American” dressing. So I threatened him. Nicely. Something like, “If you tell anyone I ordered Ranch dressing I’ll have you killed.”

But to this day, at most restaurants, and for basic salads, I ask for Ranch dressing. I’ll tell you why. (And I still threaten folks if they tease me about it.)

1. Italian dressing, which is supposed to be oil and vinegar, is disgusting at restaurants. It’s not typically made in the restaurant kitchen. It’s a Kraft product, somewhat gloppy, overly sweet, with little unidentifiable bits in it.
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2. If you ask for oil and vinegar for your salad you will simply get stared at by nincompoop waiters.

3. If a “specialty” salad, say an Asian salad, is offered with a dressing, it is usually so disgustingly sweet that I can hardly eat the salad. I’ve learned that if the menu states “sweet chili lime dressing,” it basically means simple syrup. I wish I was kidding but I’m not.

So, that’s why I order Ranch dressing. At least I know what I’m getting. It’s not healthy, but it has its merits in the taste department.

Last week while grocery shopping, I happened to spot Ranch dressing. I quickly checked to see if I knew anyone near me, then I stuck the bottle of dressing under bags of produce. I actually purchased Ranch dressing for the first time in my life.

Flash forward to a recent impromptu evening with friends. I got out my usual hors d’oeuvres – cheeses, crackers and fruit.

Then I spotted a slab of bread cheese that I hadn’t needed for salad I’d made the week before and decided to grill the bread cheese at the last minute for a fun change.

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For a quick dip, I used freshly-made pesto, along with, yes, some Ranch dressing. The dip turned out so good I thought I’d share it with you. Here’s what I did.

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Pesto Ranch Dip

2 heaping tablespoons prepared basil pesto
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup Ranch dressing
Olive oil
Approximately 10 ounces Halloumi or bread cheese, cut into 16 or so pieces
Fresh pepper

Place the pesto and lime juice in a small blender and process until smooth. Then add the Ranch dressing; set aside.

Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the pieces of cheese and cook until browned on both sides. Place them on a serving platter and sprinkle them with pepper. Continue with the remaining pieces.

Pour the pesto ranch dip into a small bowl and serve with the warm cheese.

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Dip away!

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I realize that this isn’t much of a recipe, nor is it that creative, but this dip is so good with the bread cheese. See what you think!

And if you’re even more stubborn than I am, substitute sour cream, heavy cream, or creme fraiche for the Ranch dressing!

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Asparagus Gremolata

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No, you didn’t read it wrong. This isn’t asparagus with gremolata, this is actually gremolata made with asparagus!

I’m the first to snicker when cooking terms are wrongly or “loosely” used – especially on menus! Sometimes it just makes it hard to figure out what the dish is. Names like “confit” and “coulis” and now, “gremolata.”

Gremolata is a fabulous condiment of sorts, Italian in origin, made up of lemon, parsley, and garlic. It’s often served with Osso Bucco, but it’s also good with roasted meats.

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My husband and I once dined at a restaurant that served us bread with gremolata as soon as we sat down. Within a short time, the restaurant had run out of gremolata, probably because of us devouring it!

In any case, my friends had me over for my birthday in April, and I sat down to a lovely meal of steaks, grilled by him, and pasta with asparagus gremolata, made by her.

She told me it was called asparagus gremolata, and it was in a recent Bon Appetit. I was a little confused because I was familiar with traditional gremolata. In any case, it so so ingredible, I got the recipe from her and I’m making it. Here’s the recipe, photographed from the magazine.

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Besides serving the asparagus gremolata with meats and fish, Bon Appetit suggested adding pasta and arugula, which is how it was served to me. I used half spinach and half arugula!

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There was a little prep work involved, but it didn’t take much time. One thing I did was to remove the ends of the asparagus spears, so that only the thinly sliced asparagus stems were part of the gremolata.

The sliced asparagus was rinsed multiple times in icy water to keep it crisp. I was so tempted to parboil the asparagus, but it was so good as my friend made it that I didn’t want to change a thing!

A ribbon pasta would be beautiful tossed with the gremolata, but I chose pipe rigate.

Once the gremolata, the pasta and the arugula/spinach combo was tossed together, I added much needed salt and a generous amount of olive oil.

You can treat this dish as a side dish, or also like a pasta salad.

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It would be good with some shaved Parmesan as well.

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Although the arugula adds some spiciness, I could see sprinkling a little cayenne pepper flakes on the top of the pasta.

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But I just offered salt and pink peppercorns. Enjoy!

note: What was especially nice about the whole dinner, is that many friends won’t cook for me! That made the whole celebration even that more wonderful. People, if you have friends who are cooks, whether it’s their main passion in life, a hobby, or their livelihood, please cook for them! They will love it!

Almond Herb Pesto

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We love a good pesto in our family. Of course there’s the popular Genovese pesto made with baby basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan, which is divine. You can find this traditional recipe in any Italian cookbook. But it’s also fun to create different pesto varieties. If you want to stick with the authentic version, I understand, but you’re missing out on many wonderful flavor sensations!

My pestos always contain olive oil, Parmesan and garlic, but I love to play with the nuts and the greens. You can substitute any nut or seed in pestos, and for the basil, you can substitute anything green, from cilantro to spinach.
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Today’s Almond Herb Pesto was inspired by our love of almonds. We order all of our almonds from Nuts.com*, and they’re always fresh. Many varieties are available but I typically purchase plain whole almonds with the skins intact.
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For the green part of today’s pesto, I’m using a combination of half basil and half parsley. Basil provides a unique flavor, and parsley provides a distinct freshness. Fortunately, my basil and parsley are still surviving in the garden in spite of our rainy spring.

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The wonderful thing about home-made pesto is how versatile it is. Pesto on pasta? Of course! That’s what I’m doing today. But what about pesto slathered on chicken breasts or salmon steaks? Or topping grilled asparagus or roasted tomatoes? Yes!



Almond Herb Pesto
Makes 12 ounces of pesto

4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, or less
2 ounces Parmesan, coarsely chopped
Herbs, in this case parsley and basil
4 ounces plain, whole almonds

I’m taking different steps to make this pesto because I want the almond to be in chunky bits, not completely puréed. Therefore, I’m starting with olive oil in the blender and adding the garlic and Parmesan.



Next I added a handful of basil leaves and a handful of parsley leaves. I used both curly leaf and Italian flat leaf parsley. Blend until smooth.
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Lastly, add the almonds to the mixture and blend only until you have chunky almond bits.

For my pasta today, I chose bucatini, but any spaghetti-type pasta will work well. Toss the cooked and well-drained pasta with the pesto until it’s evenly distributed. Don’t cook your pasta al dente because there’s not enough moisture in the pesto for the pasta to absorb and cook more.

Serve the pasta hot.
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You can always add more grated Parmesan if you wish.
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If the pasta dries up a little, add a little olive oil or cream and toss gently.
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* If you need a good resource for nuts, seeds, dried fruits and more, check out Nuts.com! We’ve used them forever and they have great customer service, which is important to me. I store all of these pantry staples in the refrigerator.
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note: If you plan on slathering the pesto onto something that will be baked, like salmon, for example, I would omit the Parmesan completely in the pesto. Or just use the pesto as is after the baking is complete.

Pesto’d Lamb Chops

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The thing that I learned about meat a long time ago, is that you have to cook it properly. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Whether it’s grilling a steak, roasting a pork loin, or braising a rabbit, it’s all about cooking the meat properly. It doesn’t matter if you’re adding a sauce to the steak, roasting the pork with sweet potatoes, or braising the rabbit in tomatoes. It’s all about cooking the meat properly.

Now to most of you this might seem like a simpleton statement, but many years ago, it was an epiphany to me.

When I first started cooking a lot, which was when I got married, we couldn’t afford most “fancy” meats, unless it was a special occasion, so I was very used to braises and stews, even if these were globally inspired, such as Ethiopian Doro Wat with chicken, and French Boeuf Bourguignon with beef.

As our financial situation improved, I was able to buy steaks more often, which is my husband’s favorite cut of beef. Such a man thing. But I got to play around with other cuts as well.

Because I hadn’t had much experience with just cooking meat, I bought a few meat cookbooks. And the books really taught me nothing. Why? Because the recipes were all about the icing – a red wine sauce for a veal chop, or a salsa to top a chicken breast, or an orange glaze for duck breasts. No matter what the accessory ingredients were in the recipes, the meat was always cooked the same. For example:

4 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

4 duck breasts
Salt and pepper

4 – 1″ thick filet mignons
Salt and pepper

Pork chops
Salt and pepper

See what I mean? I really hadn’t thought much about this fact until after I read the meat cookbooks, and I really haven’t referred to them since. As long as you know how to properly cook cuts of meat, the rest is easy.

To me, it’s mostly about the rareness of the meat. I prefer my beef at 125 degrees, or medium-rare. The same with lamb. Both chicken and pork I stop cooking at 155 degrees. A thermometer is a good way to cook meat properly, or to your liking, until you get to the point where you can tell the doneness with your tongs.

So the doneness is quite important when cooking meat, and also the seasoning. There’s always salt and pepper, but of course, other spices and herbs can be used as well. But there’s always salt and pepper. Look at any meat chapter if you don’t believe me. No, don’t. I could be wrong…

Regarding salt and pepper, some chefs believe in adding them after the meat is cooked, mostly, if I understand correctly, so that the pepper doesn’t burn. I do a little of both, but I definitely don’t meat in dried herbs before searing them. They would burn.

So I’ve been craving lamb, and lo and behold my local grocery store had loin chops on the shelf today. Not my favorite cut, but I knew I could manage. And here’s my recipe:

5 loin lamb chops, approximately 3/4″ thick
Salt and pepper

Olive oil
Prepared pesto

Bring the lamb chops close to room temperature before cooking. If you prefer well done meat, then this step isn’t as critical.

Add a little oil to a large skillet over high heat. For a good sear on meat, the oil must be sizzling hot. Also have your ventilation system on.

Pat the chops dry, and season with the salt and pepper, if you believe in doing that.
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Add the chops to the skillet, only about 2-3 at a time.
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After a couple of minutes, turn them over and brown the other side.
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As with steaks, there are two ways to go about finishing the chops. Because these lamb chops are fairly thin, they could easily have been cooked only in the skillet, lowering the heat after turning the chops over, and cooking until medium-rare, or your preferred doneness.

However, chops and steaks can also be placed in an oven and finished off at 350 or 400 degrees. This works especially well with thicker steaks and chops.

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a lamb chop simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but I wanted to serve myself these lamb chops topped with pesto* (no one else around here eats lamb). So I chose to sear the chops, then put them all back in the skillet, off of the stove. Then I topped the chops with pesto.
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I turned on my broiler, but my rack was at the middle level, not at the very top. When the broiler was ready, I placed the skillet in the oven. Within about 4 minutes, the pesto was melted, and the chops had cooked a little more through.

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I served the chops with a sweet potato mash and Brussels sprouts.


It’s not pictured, but I later took some of the oil and jus from the skillet and poured it all over the Brussels sprouts.
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Fabulous!!!

* My pesto does not contain cheese, because I make so many jars of pesto during the summer months and freeze them. So it’s quite condensed. But pesto that contains Parmesan would work just the same. You could always grate Parmesan over the top when you serve the chops.

note: Pesto is also good on chicken breasts and pork. Of course, we’re kind of addicted to pesto in this household.

Pesto-Roasted Squash

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There are two varieties of winter squash I can depend on being available where I live. These are acorn squash and butternut squash. I discovered too late last fall that my local store quits selling pumpkin soon after Halloween. Lesson learned for this year.

I would love to be able to try all of the fabulous squashes I see in food bloggers’ photos from farmer’s markets, but because of my living in a more rural area of the United States, I must be satisfied with what I can get my hands on.

If I plan on roasting peeled chunks of squash, I always reach for the butternut. I mean, would you ever even consider peeling an acorn squash with all of those ridges?
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Alternatively, If I want to roast squash for a dip, a puree, or as vessels for stuffing, I reach for acorns.

Today, I’m roasting chunks of butternut squash, but using pesto instead of tossing the chunks simply in olive oil. It just adds so much flavor, and pesto is especially handy flavoring ingredient during the months when fresh herbs aren’t growing outside.

When I make large batches of pesto to freeze every summer, I always omit the cheese. First of all, it reduces the volume of pesto, and thus, the number of jars, and secondly, I prefer to add my own amount of freshly grated cheese when preparing a dish – such as, for example, pasta with pesto.
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So the pesto I’m using on this squash contains basil, parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. The flavor is condensed, without the dilution of cheese. I actually think the inclusion of cheese in the pesto might cause some burning and sticking during the roasting process. If you really want cheese on the squash, wait till the roasting is over, and sprinkle some on right before serving. I did not add cheese.

Pesto-Roasted Butternut Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Place 1/3 – 1/2 cup of pesto (without cheese) in a large bowl. Add a little olive oil, if necessary, to make a nice slurry. Set aside.
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Meanwhile, trim and peel a large butternut squash. Remove the seeds, then chop up the squash into uniform-sized pieces. Obviously, the smaller the pieces, the less the cooking time, so it’s really up to you and how well you know your oven. Just try to get the pieces similar in size.

Toss the squash pieces in the pesto mixture. Add a little more pesto if you think it’s necessary.

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Add a little salt only if you don’t include salt when you make pesto, which I don’t. Toss, and gently pour the squash into a large roasting pan. Just so you know, I happen to love my 15-year old Mauviel roasting pan, and highly recommend the brand. It’s non-stick and heavy duty.

Place the pan in the preheated oven. The squash should be tender within about 30 minutes, but it depends on your oven, and how small you cut up the squash. Test the squash at some point to make sure you don’t overcook it, or else you’ll end up with pesto-flavored squash mash!
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Today I served the butternut squash with some grilled filet mignon.

You can really mix and match the pestos to the proteins included in a meal. For example, a cilantro pesto would lend itself well to an adobo-rubbed filet. Alternatively, a lemongrass pesto would pair beautifully with an Asian-marinated filet.

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note: If you don’t have any leftover pesto to use simply blend up a slurry of any herbs you can find at the grocery store, such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. Add garlic and olive oil and make a thick marinade of sorts; nuts are not necessary.