This recipe for ground chicken and eggplant lettuce wraps was inspired by the menu at P.F. Changs. They have a similar chicken and eggplant dish that’s one of the best things I’ve ever ordered at a Chinese restaurant. My recipe is pretty different from theirs, but it captures my favorite components of the original — especially the contrast of sweet, spicy, and salty flavors and the way the tender eggplant practically melts in your mouth. Adjust the amount of chili paste to suit your desired level of spiciness, or leave it out and allow each diner to add it directly to their own portion to accommodate a variety of tastes.
Like most of the country, New York has been suffering through a heat wave for the past week. Quite frankly, it’s too hot to cook or even to eat anything very substantial. For the first few days I was content eating salads for dinner, but after more than two or three days of salad I start to get cranky so I tried to think of something that would satisfy my raving for real food without requiring me to actually cook (since the minutes I spent over the stove sautéing onions last night left me so hot that I couldn’t even enjoy the steak that Shawn grilled for me).
An ice-cold gazpacho seemed like it would hit the spot, but that suggestion was met with a resounding, “No way!” My effort to convince Shawn that gazpacho is basically just pureed salsa (the only way he’ll eat raw tomatoes) didn’t get me anywhere. Luckily, I had this recipe up my sleeve — a sightly spicy watermelon soup without a single tomato.
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I was flipping through an old issue of Food + Wine this weekend, when this unassuming recipe for chicken thighs braised in apple cider vinegar caught my eye. There was no picture and very little by way of a description, but for some reason I felt compelled to make it. Despite a brief moment of fear when I thought I might end up with something resembling pickled chicken, I immediately added the ingredients to my grocery list and prepared it for dinner that same night.
Within ten minutes of being put into the oven, this chicken filled the entire house with the most amazing smells and made our stomaches grumble. It doesn’t look like much in the pot, but this is hands-down the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. Shawn agreed.
Although the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender from braising, a few minutes under the broiler crisps the skin right back up — a trick I’ll definitely use again in the future. The cider vinegar permeates the chicken with its sweetness and gives the sauce a subtle tang that goes perfectly with sides of wild rice and steamed collard greens — go ahead and make extra sides, because you’ll want something to help sop up every last morsel of sauce.
(We’re hooked on wild rice right now but brown rice, mashed potatoes or couscous would also make great starchy sides for this meal. Also, while any green vegetable would work, the combination of collard greens and cider vinegar is a classic.)
The subtle, smoky heat of chipotles peppers and the bright snap of pickled onions make this rich stew one of our favorites, and Shawn often requests it.
Unlike other chili recipes that use ground meat, this one calls for cubes of stew beef that, combined with the cornmeal used to thicken it, give the chili a rustic feel that reminds me of cowboys eating around a campfire. This chili is hearty enough to serve on it’s own – no need for rice – but I like to have a few corn tortillas on the side to help sop up the last bits of sauce.
Don’t be tempted to skip the onions – they’re what makes this dish, and it just isn’t the same at all without them.
Tip: I almost always buy packages of pre-cubed stew beef for this recipe, but I find that it’s best to cut each cube into two or three pieces before cooking. Otherwise, they’re too big and I need to use a knife in order to eat my chili. Cutting the cubes into smaller pieces also increases the surface area of the beef, making more room for the other flavors. If you can’t find pre-cubed meat, you can use a chuck roast or any other cut of meat suitable for stewing/braising.
I don’t know how I managed to make it through 20-some years of life without trying cassoulet, but I have a feeling I’ll eat enough this fall and winter to make up for it. I made the one pictured here about two weeks ago, and I’ve been dying to have it again ever since. I actually have another one in the oven as I write this post.
Don’t let the fancy French name scare you off. When it comes down to it, cassoulet is nothing more than a white bean and tomato stew. A fragrant sauce flavored with fresh herbs cooks quickly on the stove before being mixed with the rest of the ingredients and baking in the oven. It’s pure stick-to-your-ribs comfort food full of rich and delicious flavors typical of the French countryside.
This dish takes a little longer to make than most of my recipes, requiring about 20 minutes of active time and an hour or so in the oven, but with a little planning it can definitely be made on a weeknight. Go ahead and make a big batch — it tastes even better the next day.
Traditional cassoulet uses duck or goose confit, but since that can be difficult to find (not to mention expensive!) I’ve taken the liberty of using turkey instead. I like the flavor that using some poultry gives the cassoulet, but you can leave it out and use only sausage just as easily.
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This Greek-inspired Baked Orzo with Lamb may not be the most beautiful dish that I’ve ever served up, but when it comes to comfort food it can’t be beat. This stick-to-your-ribs meal reminds me of a cross between baked ziti and dirty ice: plump orzo is combined with a thick, chunky tomato sauce, spinach, feta, and deliciously seasoned ground lamb before its baked to perfection. Alongside a simple cucumber and tomato salad (chop and toss with red wine vinegar, sea salt, and fresh dill), this meal is the perfect way to transition to fall’s chilly evenings.
Ground lamb can be hard to find sometimes, but it’s worth seeking out for the rich flavor that it contributes to this dish. If you can’t find it – or don’t care for it – ground beef also works well. For a vegetarian version, you can also substitute chopped mushrooms. I also like to use an oven-safe cast iron pan (I’m obsessed with this pan) when I make this, because it prevents me from dirtying a second dish. If you don’t have a pan that can go in the oven, simply transfer the mixture to a baking pan before topping it with the asiago.
The other day, I was thinking about the way I used to eat. Back when I was in college and shortly after I graduated. Let’s just say it wasn’t very healthy or very delicious. Looking back, I think there was a period of time where I just completely forgot that I knew how to cook a decent meal. Plus, I couldn’t really be bothered. Like a lot of people, I had the misconception that cooking a real dinner out of real ingredients would be too expensive and take too much time. So we’d boil a box of pasta and mix it with a jar of sauce and some sausage. Or we’d try to be “healthy” and make a chicken stir-fry, but we would totally ruin it by using store-bought marinades that were loaded with sugar. For a special treat, we’d buy a box of zatarain’s mix and make jambalaya.
I don’t miss the other stuff at all, but I do kind of miss the jambalaya. And with Foodbuzz pledging to donate $25 to the Greater New Orleans Foundation (helping fishermen who were effected by the oil spill and their families) for every Gulf-Inspired post this weekend, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make it. Of course, I wasn’t going to resort to using a box – I know better than that now! (And a quick look at the back of the box confirmed my suspicions — 21% of your RDA of sodium? MSG? Sodium dioxide?? No thanks!) No, this jambalaya is 100% real food and 100% real flavor. Sure you have to spend a few minutes chopping vegetables, but other than that it really isn’t any more difficult or time consuming than the boxed stuff. And the final product is so much healthier and so much more delicious that there really isn’t any excuse to take “shortcuts”!
Looking for more Gulf-inspired flavor? How about a nice, steamy bowl of gumbo? Gumbo is very similar to jambalaya, but it’s prepared as a soup enriched with a roux. In gumbo, the rice is cooked separately from the other ingredients and added in the final step instead of cooking along with everything else and absorbing all of the flavors.
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Last week I promised you a recipe for habanero hot sauce, but I ended up getting side-tracked by a few exciting (and top-secret) projects and didn’t have time to post it. But here you go! I made this sauce to go with the tamales that we had a few nights ago, but I’ve also used it in a few different ways since. It’s a great way to jazz up a frozen burrito, and its also pairs nicely with eggs. I’m planning to use it later this week in a squash hash as well. You might want to scale down the recipe a little – that’s a 12-ounce bottle you see up there – but this is a really nice condiment to keep around.