Sunday, April 21, 2013

10 Essential Ingredients

There's nothing worse than trying to scrape together a meal with what you've got hanging around and realizing you are missing a few little things that could take your meal from edible to epic.

But if you make sure you always keep these items stocked, you will never again try to justify a bowl of cereal as a dinner option.

In no particular order:


Liquid smoke - This little bottle is full of big flavor. A little bit of this magical elixir transforms ground turkey, tofu, or portabella mushrooms into an amazing beef substitute. Or try a few drops in mac and cheese, potato salad or guacamole.


Onions -  In our house yellow, white and red onions are essential staples. White onions are very strong and are best used in fresh salsas or roasts. Yellow onions are sweeter and are perfect for sautéing. Red onions have a lightly sweet and pungent flavor that is best utilized uncooked.


Garlic - I think this is self explanatory. It's garlic. It's delicious. Use it.


Oils - Sesame, Olive, Chili, Sunflower - Having many different oils available can change the whole flavor profile of your dish. Want it spicy? Use chili oil. Want to stir fry at a high heat without scorching your food? Use sesame oil.


Lemons/Limes - A squeeze of citrus can brighten up any meal and balances out strong flavors. Got a slightly-too-salty sauce? A squirt of lemon will fix it. Got a too-spicy stew? A shot of lime will mellow it out.


Rice or Pasta - If your meal needs a little more substance, this is a great way to bulk it up. Add it to soups or toss with veggies and you've got an instant meal!


Beans/Legumes - These protein-packed little nuggets of tasty are my go-to for quick, high protein meals. Throw some chickpeas in your salad and suddenly it's a filling meal. Toss some red beans with broccoli rabe and sausage and you won't regret it.


Fresh herbs - If you're using the dried versions of any green herb, you might as well be sprinkling your food with sawdust. Green herbs get their flavor from chlorophyll and once that is gone, so is the flavor. They cost a little more but this is NOT the area you want to be cheap.


Dijon mustard - This little condiment is a lifesaver. Mix it with a little butter and lemon and you've got a killer dressing for veggies. Whisk with olive oil and herbs and BAM - your salads and pasta have never tasted better. Brush it over chicken, add it to potato and macaroni salads or use it in marinades for poultry and pork.


Chicken stock (not broth) - Chicken stock (not broth) is the base for the most flavorful gravies, soups, sauces and brines. If you don't have this in your kitchen all the time, you're doing it wrong.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spicy Thai Tuna

I don't cook fish. It's not that I dislike fish - I love fish. It's the fear of walking that very thin line between undercooked and overcooked. But recently, I have been testing the waters. And there's no better way to conquer a food I'm afraid of than with the support of my beloved cast iron griddle. I sliced the tuna into 1/4" slices and cooked it for about 2 minutes on each side on a very hot griddle. It came out perfect!

Soon my brain was flipping through my mental rolodex of flavor pairings and preparations. So what pairs well with tuna? The bright flavors of lime and chilies. The sweet crunch of carrots and green onion. And the distinctive flavor of black vinegar. And sesame! Don't forget that! Oh, what about ginger? And that was how this laundry list of ingredients turned into an actually delicious meal.

1/3 cup fresh cilantro
2 medium ahi tuna steaks, sliced in 1/4" slices
1/2 cup finely shredded carrots
5-7 green onions, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 tsp fresh lime zest
juice of half a lime
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 tbsp. black vinegar
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
rice noodles or angel hair pasta, cooked al dente
1 1/2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp hot chili oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce

Toss sliced tuna with 1 tbsp. sesame oil and soy sauce.

Heat cast iron skillet, griddle or sauté pan over high heat. Sear tuna, about 2 minutes on each side.

In large sauté pan, heat remaining oil, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, lime juice and lime zest over medium heat. Add stock and black vinegar and simmer about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add noodles, carrot, green onion, cilantro and tuna. Toss to coat and serve hot.

It's time to eat!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Veggie "Pasta"

As the weather gets warmer, I crave meals that are lighter. But sometimes a salad just isn't going to do it. Sometimes I want a meal that is filling and savory without putting me in a food coma.

One of my favorite ways to lighten up the menu and still feel like I'm eating comfort food is to substitute shaved veggies for pasta. Right now you're thinking "Yeah, because veggies are really what I want when I'm craving pasta." But really, it works!

Peel asparagus and carrots and then shave them into 'noodles' with a veggie peeler. Sautee them with some garlic and olive oil. Toss in some Italian chicken sausage and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and you'll have a new household favorite. I guarantee it! It's so easy that I'm not even going to list a recipe. It's time to eat!