Slow Cooker Italian Braised Pork with Polenta

Slow Cooker Italian Braised Pork with Polenta takes 8 hours to produce a finished product but it is outstanding. The pork is juicy and tender. The braising liquid is rich and savory. Served over freshly made creamy polenta this dish an absolute winner.

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Slow Cooker Italian Braised Pork with Polenta
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Cooking Light, January/February 2015)

Serves 4 to 6

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sliced onion
1 cup sliced yellow pepper
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 Tbsp dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 cups 2% milk
3/4 cup cornmeal for polenta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper. Add pork to the pan and brown all sides. Transfer the pork to a slow cooker. Add onion, yellow pepper, and garlic to the pan, saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker. Add season with salt and pepper, add tomatoes, rosemary and thyme. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 1/2 hours. Add vinegar and Worcestershire. Cook, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes. Turn off the slow cooker and shred the pork using two forks.

To prepare polenta, put milk in a medium-sized non-stick skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; add cornmeal, whisking constantly to eliminate lumps. Cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cheese and season with pepper.

Serve pork over polenta in shallow bowls with some of the braising liquid. Garnish with additional grated Parmesan.

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Steak and Egg Sandwich

Steak and Egg Sandwiches are a great way to use leftover steak from the weekend. Slicing the medium-rare steak super-thin is the key to this classic sandwich. Serve the sandwich with a few sweet potato fries and some fruit salad and you’ve got yourself a meal. These Steak and Egg Sandwiches are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or, even, a late night snack.

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Steak and Egg Sandwiches
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

1 loaf of ciabatta or a wide baguette
Extra-virgin olive oil
Thinly sliced leftover steak (10 – 12 ounces for 2 to 4 sandwiches)
Dried oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 – 4 large eggs (one per sandwich)
4 – 8 thin slices of smoked mozzarella
Sriracha (optional)

Cut the bread into the appropriate number of portions. Drizzle the cut sides of the bread with olive oil.

Season the steak slices with salt, pepper, and oregano. Place the steak on the bottom half of each sandwich. Cook the eggs until the yolks are just firm. Place an egg on top of the steak on each sandwich. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with Sriracha, if desired. Top with slices of cheese.

Place the sandwiches in a hot panini press and cook until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 3 to 4 minutes.

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Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad

Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad is a way to use leftover grilled chicken to make a healthy and filling meal. Just incorporate the sliced chicken along with a handful of fresh vegetables on top of leafy greens and add a little salad dressing and dinner is ready.

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Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

Serves 4

4 – 6 chicken thighs (or 2 – 3 breasts)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cajun Seasoning
1 head red romaine lettuce
8 oz. arugula
1 avocado, halved, pitted and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
4-6 asparagus sprigs, cooked and cut into 1 1/2-in long pieces
1/2 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
2 hardboiled eggs, halved
Blue Cheese Salad Dressing (or dressing of choice)

Heat grill to medium-high, direct heat.

Pat chicken pieces dry. Brush all sides with oil. Season all sides with salt, pepper and Cajun Seasoning. Place chicken on grill and cook for 1 minute, turn pieces over and cook for 1 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, indirect heat and cook until chicken registers 180F internal temperature.

Set chicken aside to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse greens and add them to a large salad bowl. Add the onion, asparagus, red pepper and tomatoes. Toss to combine. Slice the chicken into 1/4-inch thick pieces.

To serve, divide the salad between serving plates or bowls. Top each salad with chicken pieces, egg halves, and avocado slices. Drizzle with dressing and season with freshly ground pepper.

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Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs

Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs can be used to accompany any grilled meat, poultry or fish. The onions are super tender and the seasoned Panko breadcrumbs enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

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Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of FoodandWine.com, January, 2015)

Serves 6

3 medium onions, peeled and halved lengthwise, root ends left intact
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 bay leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp dried sage

Preheat oven to 425F.

Brush the onions halves with oil, season with salt and arrange, cut side down, in a 9X13 Pyrex baking dish. Add the chicken stock and scatter the bay leaves around the onions. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

In a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and allow to cool, then crush the seeds. Transfer to a small bowl, add the Panko, sage and 2 tablespoons of oil and toss.

Carefully, turn the onions cut side up in the baking dish. Spoon the fennel bread crumbs on top and bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned and crispy. Discard the bay leaves and serve the onions warm.

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Smoky Black Bean Soup

Smoky Black Bean Soup is a classic recipe that is kicked up a notch with the addition of chipotle and adobo sauce.

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Smoky Black Bean Soup
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

Serves 4 to 6

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped onion
Kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
1 quart hot vegetable stock
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Sour cream for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Soften carrots, corn and onion, about 8 minutes. Season with salt.

Add garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook for about 1 minute. Add the beans and chipotle and sauce. Stir to combine. Add stock and 1 cup of water. Simmer and cook, covered, until thick and creamy, about 45 minutes.

Add lime juice and re-season with salt. Puree the soup using an emersion blender. Serve with cilantro and sour cream.

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Thai-Style Water Spinach (Pad Pak Boong)

Thai-Style Water Spinach (Pad Pak Boong) with crispy pork sausage bits and a fried egg makes a nice lunch or dinner meal. To make the meal more substantial add some brown rice.

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Thai-Style Water Spinach (Pad Pak Boong)
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

Serves 2

2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp chile-garlic paste
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp cold water
6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
8 oz. ground pork
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. bok choy (2 large heads), green pieces cut into 3-inch sections
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
3 tsp fish sauce
1/4 lower-sodium chicken broth

In a bowl, whisk together the pepper flakes, chile-garlic paste, sugar, and water.

Heat a wok to the highest heat possible. Before cooking, back off to medium-high heat.

Add the pork the wok, breaking the pork apart into small chunks as it is browned. Brown until just crispy, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon move the pork to a small bowl, leaving the fat behind. Add oil and scrape for 15 to 20 seconds. Raise the heat to high and add the greens. Add the chile-garlic mixture. Stir for 15 seconds. Pour in the oyster sauce and fish sauce. Wilt and stir several times. Add the pork and broth and toss. Serve immediately, spooning any remaining sauce over the greens.

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Ratatouille Sandwich with Goat Cheese

Ratatouille Sandwich with Goat Cheese is a rich meatless sandwich with strong flavors emanating from the eggplant, beets and goat cheese. The toasted bread soaks up some of the liquid from the ratatouille giving the sandwich a crunchy and soft texture.

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Ratatouille Sandwich with Goat Cheese
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

Yields 2 Quarts of Ratatouille
Makes 8 – 10 Medium Sandwiches

2 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch dice
1 yellow squash, 1/2-inch dice
1 zucchini, 1/2-inch dice
12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, medium dice
4 small yellow beet, peeled, 1/4-inch dice
3 Tbsp capers in brine
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
2 Tbsp anchovy paste
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Soft goat cheese
Crust whole grain bread
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

For mayonnaise:

Whisk together 3 tablespoons of light mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute the squash and zucchini in oil for 6 to 8 minutes, until softening but still firm. Season with salt a pepper. Remove the vegetables using a slotted spoon to a 9×13 pyrex baking dish.

Add more oil to the skillet, as necessary, and saute the eggplant for 6 to 8 minutes, until softening but still firm. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to the using the slotted spoon to the baking dish.

Add more oil to the skillet, as necessary, and saute onion, garlic, anchovy paste, rosemary and capers until onions and garlic soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice to the skillet, crushing the tomatoes with your fingers. Heat through, stirring. Add the tomato mixture to the other vegetables in the baking dish, along with the beets. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for up to 1 hour. The ratatouille can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated.

Toast 1/2-inch-thick slabs of bread. Slather one toasted bread with mayonnaise and add torn pieces of basil. Slather a second slab of tasted bread with goat cheese. Ladle ratatouille juice over the goat cheese. Add several dollops of ratatouille on top of the goat cheese taking care to get some of each vegetable in each spoonful. Place the first bread, mayonnaise side down on top of the ratatouille and serve immediately.

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Slow Cooker Asian Chicken

Slow Cooker Asian Chicken is a perfect way to make use of your slow cooker, known to many as a crock pot. The long low-temperature braising of meats or poultry can be done in the slow cooker and this particular recipe is the essence of that cooking method. The combination of fast, simple preparation and letting the slow cooker do the work makes this dish perfect for a lazy NFL Championship Sunday afternoon or a weeknight.

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Slow Cooker Asian Chicken
(Mark Kelly, 2015)

Serves 4

3 large bone-in, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup honey
3/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3/8 cup blackberry jam
3/8 cup hoisin
4 Tsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Sliced scallions, for garnish
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Sesame seeds, for garnish

Arrange the chicken breasts in the bottom of a slow cooker.

In a medium bowl, mix the honey, soy sauce, jam, hoisin, olive oil, garlic cloves, onion and red pepper flakes. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover and cook on LOW for 4 to 5 hours, until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and reserve the liquids. Shred the chicken into smaller pieces. Place the chicken in a bowl and set aside.

Make a slurry with the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of cold water.

Put the braising liquids in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and whisk in the slurry. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook it until it is reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken, tossing to combine. Serve the chicken over brown rice topped with scallions, cilantro, and sesame seeds.

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Zucchini – Mozzarella Fritters

Zucchini – Mozzarella Fritters combine the doughy goodness of a veggie fritter with the stringy, gooeyness of fried cheese.

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Zucchini – Mozzarella Fritters
(Recipe courtesy of America Farm to Table, Mario Batali, 2014)

Makes 16 to 18 Fritters

2 medium zucchini
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 – 5 scallions, thinly sliced
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
Zest of 2 lemons
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 cup marinara sauce

Heat vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 350F.

Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Add garlic, scallions, and mozzarella. Mix well. Add pepper and a dash or two of salt, lemon zest, and eggs. Stir to combine. Add flour and stir gently until just mixed.

Cooking in batches, scoop 2-tablespoon dollops of the zucchini mixture and drop them 2 – 3 at a time into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt immediately after removing them from the oil.

Serve the warm fritters around a small bowl of marinara.

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Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade

Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade is a festive appetizer to serve before a Christmas dinner.

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Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

Makes 32 bites

2 (16-ounce) logs of prepared polenta at room temperature
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup arugula, finely chopped
4 Tbsp green olives, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 radishes, very thinly sliced

Trim rounded edges from polenta logs. Create 32 cubes. Spread Panko in a shallow bowl or dish. Press the polenta cubes into the Panko to cover all surfaces with breadcrumbs.

In a medium bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with lemon juice and whisk to emulsify. Add the arugula, olives, and radishes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to a shimmer. Cook the polenta cubes on all sides in the oil to golden brown and crisp. Place on a paper-towel lined rack.

To serve, pace the polenta bites on serving platter. Top each bite with the arugula tapenade and a slice of radish.

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