Vietnamese Braised Beef over Rice Noodle Salad



Sometimes I find myself in an eating rut. For someone who loves to cook, I eat out or order in far too often. Even I’m surprised at how often I end up skipping the kitchen in favor of letting someone else prepare my meal for me. What can I say? I’m lazy. And by the time I get home from work I’m exhausted. While the idea of actually cooking doesn’t usually bother me, the thought of cleaning up afterwards is more than I can take.

So we get pizza.

Boring. And, to be honest, not all that tasty.

There’s no excuse. I have an entire category on here devoted to Quick Weeknight Meals. There are hundreds of great restaurants within in fifteen minute drive from my house. And, if I really wanted, I could make my own pizza in the amount of time it takes to get one delivered. That would taste better. And that wouldn’t require a ton of time spent on cleanup.


So. I recently made a resolution that if I was going to be lazy and not cook for myself, I at least deserved to eat something good. Not pizza. Not fast food. Not a salad with twelve million calories from a chain restaurant.

Which lead me to discover a great Vietnamese restaurant that I had never been to before, despite the fact that its practically walking distance from my house. (It probably walking distance, but there we go with that whole lazy thing again.)

And that restaurant has lead me to discover that Vietnamese food consists of more than just pho. Like their mussel appetizer, where mussels are served on the half shell drizzled with a sweet and spicy coconut curry. Or Bun Thit Nuong, grilled pork served over vermicelli, which has quickly become my favorite thing to order.

When I received a gorgeous enamel coated, cast iron dutch oven the other day (keep reading to find out how you can get one too!), I immediately decided that I wanted to make something loosely inspired by that dish. It was too hot outside to eat soup or stew, so a richly flavored braised beef served over a cool noodle salad seemed like it would hit the spot. Which it did.


Brunch at Northern Spy Food Co (NYC)



I love blogger get-togethers, and I’ve been looking forward to this one for what seems like forever. I think we might have actually started talking about it back at the Foodbuzz festival in November! Mardi and her husband, Neil, were going to be in New York City and wanted to get a group (including Andrea from High/Low Food/Drink, Mary Ann from Puff and Choux, and Christine from Fresh, Local and Best) together for brunch. Since New York is only a short drive from us, there was no way that I was going to miss out on that!
As it turns out, arranging a brunch for a group of 9 isn’t as easy as you’d think it would be – a lot of places don’t take reservations! Seeing the size of the restaurants, it was understandable though. Our small group took up a good third of the restaurant. If they took reservations and ended up with no-shows, that would seriousy cut into their profits! Anyway, Andrea managed to arrange for us to get a table at Northern Spy Food Company, a small farm to table restaurant in the East Village. While thye don’t normally take reservations, they were happy to accomdate our group, and even let us in before seating their other guests when they opened. It was very VIP. :) It’s apparently also the place to be on a Sunday morning! Even taking into account the restaurant’s small size, it was surprizing how quickly it filled up! I suggest getting their a little before they open if you want to snag a table. Which you do. Believe me.
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Spicy Pork Meatballs with Parmesan Risotto


I’ve been on a meatball kick lately. They aren’t something that I typically make very often, but lately I can’t seem to get enough. It’s funny, because when I was a little kid I actually hated meatballs. I remember sitting in my high-chair throwing them (and making a huge mess) and demanding that my mom rinse off the sauce and give me ketchup instead (ew). But lately, I’ve been craving the familiar comfort of this dish — from classic spaghetti and meatballs or meatball subs to meatballs with sauerbraten sauce over egg noodles.

When I recently learned that there’s a restaurant in New York City entirely devoted to these tender balls of ground meat simmered in sauce (The Meatball Shop), I immediately browsed their menu and decided what I would order if I went. And then I made it. (PS I went to the Shop this past weekend and it’s every bit as wonderful as you’d expect!)

For as often as I make risotto, I never thought to pair it with red sauce. When I saw that The Meatball Shop offers it as a side dish though, I was immediately sold on the idea. It’s such a nice change from pasta, and it gives the dish an entirely different feel. It makes spaghetti and meatballs seem like kids food; this is for grown ups. Meant to be eaten lazily by candle-light while drinking red wine, served with a side of bitter greens (in this case, with some sauteed broccoli rabe).


The parmesan risotto that I made was a very simple backdrop for the bold meatballs and sauce, but the cheese also gave it enough flavor to hold its own. It was delicious both mixed with the sauce and eaten plain. I took my time and cooked the risotto very slowly, allowing each grain of rice to absorb what seemed like an impossible amount of broth and resulting in the perfect al dente rice suspended in a rich and creamy sauce. If my risotto looks a little ark, it’s because I used Kitchen Basics chicken stock. I really like the flavor of this stock, but it’s a lot darker than other brands — it almost looks like beef stock when you pour it from the carton. If you use a different brand of stock (or homemade), your risotto will probably be whiter.

I also used a jar of Bertolli Spicy Arribata Sauce that I received a while back as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. The sauce was really good — nice and thick and not too spicy. I added some crush red pepper to kick things up a bit. If you’re using a different sauce, you might want to increase the amount of spice to your liking.


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Roasted Shrimp with Orange and Fennel over Polenta



Every once in a while, I see orange and fennel salad in a magazine on a menu, or I hear people talking about it. I always thing it sounds fabulous, but I ever know what to serve it with. Plus, if you haven’t noticed already, I don’t prefer meals that contain multiple courses. Especially on weeknights when I don’t have a ton of time to get dinner on the table — it’s just easier to make one dish than it is to fiddle with a bunch of different components. Although I’ve never made the orange and fennel salad, the flavor profile always intrigued me and it’s something tat I think about from time to time when planning my menu for the week.

I was recently thinking that I wanted to try making something new and different, so I used orange and fennel as my starting point and created this recipe, which I enjoyed a lot. Throwing everything in a pan and roasting it together makes this shrimp, orange, and fennel dish super easy to make and brings out the natural sweetness of the fennel and shrimp. I was originally planning to use orange zest in the butter and deglaze the pan with orange juice and white wine at the end — but at the last second, I decided to roast orange segments right along with the rest of it. I’d never heard of roasted oranges before and I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it did and they were amazing. The oranges stayed nice and juicy in the oven, but the flavor became concentrated and vibrant — they added a really nice burst of fresh flavor to the dish. Instead of deglazing the pan with wine like I had planned, I decided to finish the dish with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar to add a touch of acid and round out the flavors.


The result was so much better than I had ever imagined it would be! It was light and fresh, with the perfect amount of sharp bite from the citrus and fennel. Soft, creamy polenta was the perfect accompaniment to this dish, adding a little bit of bulk to the meal and providing a nice textural contrast. I quickly cooked up some instant polenta while the rest of the meal was in the oven (I like to prepare my polenta with chicken stock instead of water to give it a little more flavor).

This dish was great the first night and even better the next days at lunch — allowing the dish to rest gives the flavors a chance to meld and intensify. I ate my leftovers cold to prevent the shrimp for overcooking in the microwave, but you could also reheat it gently on the stovetop.


Taco Casserole


This taco casserole is one of the first “recipes” I created on my own and one of the first posts I ever put on this blog (all the way back in March of 2007!). Back when we were still on weight watchers, I was still a busy graduate student, and I wasn’t that comfortable in the kitchen, this was one of our go-to dinners. It’s easy to throw together, cheap to make, and tastes like junk food – in particular like those obscenely huge plates of nachos that you’ll find on the appetizer menu at a low-end chain restaurant.

Pork and Pineapple Stacked Enchilada


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When I saw the May 2010 Daring Cooks Challenge (hosted by Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food), I had to laugh. I’ve owed Shawn a stacked enchilada for probably close to 10 years now. Back when we were only dating for a year t two, we went out to dinner one night and the restaurant that we frequented had one as their daily special. It sounded amazing, and he ordered it, but I wanted something with more vegetables so I got the pasta primavera. Which was awful. Apparently I was a budding foodie even at 16 or 17 years old. ;) But I remember it well — the pasta and vegetables were overcooked to the point of mush and the whole thing was very bland. So I pouted, and we traded entrees. He had already taken a few bites of the enchilada and he knew how delicious it was, but he still gave it to me because he’s that awesome.

BUT I haven’t heard the end of it since. I vaguely remember trying to make a stacked enchilada a few years ago, but it wasn’t very good at all and didn’t count toward settling the debt. This one on the other hand? It’s been repaid. Ten-fold.

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At first I was a little intimidated by the recipe, which calls for making your own enchilada sauce, but it really isn’t very difficult or time consuming at all. And it’s totally worth it – I’ve never had an enchilada that was so incredibly fresh tasting, bursting with flavor in every bite. The original recipe was for just a plain chicken and green chile stacked enchilada, but I decided to mix it up with pork and pineapple in the filling and a fresh corn and avocado salsa over top. It sounds like a lot of different flavors, but they didn’t compete with each other at all. They blended the perfect amount while still retaining their own identities. A think the crunch of the corn and the creaminess of the avocado really contributed a lot to this dish. While it’s a very versatile recipe and the flavors can be changes in an infinite number of ways, I do think that it needs a fresh salsa on the top.


It’s already been decided that I’ll be making this again, but I think next time I’ll use smaller tortillas (that might mean having to make them myself) or larger tortillas. The size that I ended up with here was just a little too much. I could have made one for us to split, but I knew that wouldn’t go over very well. So I made two and planned to eat just half of mine. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I have no sense of self-control when I have a plate full of food in front of me that tastes this good. So I’m thinking smaller tortillas for individual servings or larger ones to make a huge enchilada that you can cut up and serve like a pizza.

I know that I’m gushing, but words really can’t describe how amazing this tasted. I made this and my strawberry-rhubarb tart in the same evening and let’s just say that if I wasn’t married already, I’m pretty sure that this meal would have sealed the deal. It also inspired Shawn to ask if I could create a new category of recipes called “Shawn’s Favorites” so that he could look through them and pick something when I ask him what he wants to eat or when he needs to come up with something to cook. You’ll see that category over in my sidebar — it’s pretty empty for now, but it will grow. He’s already told me a few others that he wants me to include. Not all of them are my favorites, but if you’re looking for a recipe with some third-party validation — or just something likely to make a man happy — you might want to check that out.