Tuesday, November 19, 2013

transcendental burritos

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In his book on meditation, director David Lynch credits the practice with helping him conceptualize some of his most unique and imaginative ideas. I credit my personal meditation practice with the concept for this burrito. So on a creative genius level, I can TOTALLY relate. And while I’m fairly certain many meditative gurus might fail me for turning my savasana into a 15 minute lunch fantasy; I emerged from the mat that afternoon energized and inspired. What could possibly be more Zen than that?

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It's pretty funny (slash typical) that when I travel to the depths of my subconscious I emerge with burritos. But the resulting burrito was, in fact, totally transcendent and I must spread the word.  I would fully start a meditation-based lunch cult based on these burritos and I would hope that you would join me in this spiritual quest. Much like my favorite veggie tacos this is more a collection of ideas than a traditional recipe, but each component is simple to prepare, fairly healthy and tastes delicious. This would make a great “Meatless Monday” dinner option, or just a healthy, yummy meal perfect for the middle of the week. The squash only takes about 5 minutes to prep and 20 to cook and while it’s roasting in the oven you can make everything else you will need.

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Smoky Roasted Acorn Squash with Lime and Honey

1 acorn squash, seeded and sliced
Juice from one lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
Generous pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 425. Split squash and scoop out seeds; slice into 1 inch thick slices and place into a large bowl. Pour over the olive oil, lime juice and honey and toss well to coat. Sprinkle in paprika, cumin and salt, tossing to coat evenly. Set to roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until fully tender and bronzed on the edges, flipping once.

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Refried Black Beans

1 can black beans, or 1 ½ cups homemade cooked black beans
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin

Empty black beans into a blender or food processor and pulse a few times until slightly more liquefied, but uniform smaller chunks of bean are still present. Heat oil in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, add garlic and cumin and stir together for about a minute. You want to ideally toast the cumin, but not singe the garlic; adjust the heat if necessary. Pour in pureed beans and stir together. Let simmer and allow the liquid to reduce a bit, about 10, minutes, stirring often and reducing heat if the beans start to scorch. Add a few pinches of salt to taste. Serve immediately.

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Spicy Sriracha Yogurt Sauce

¼ cup Greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons Sriracha
Juice from ½ lime
½ - 1 teaspoon cumin
Pinch sea salt

Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk together with a fork. Taste and increase hot sauce/adjust seasonings if necessary.

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I used wild rice because I had some leftover in the fridge, and it really worked well here. You could sub in any rice that you prefer, whether it be white, brown or yellow; or even toss some quinoa in if you’re feeling super virtuous. Each of these recipes is delicious separate from this particular dish: the black beans are awesome with traditional tacos or enchiladas; or even dropped onto nachos with guacamole. The acorn squash is great to have alongside fish, chicken or pork or would even make a dead-simple Thanksgiving side dish. The Sriracha yogurt is my go-to sauce for fish tacos but would also make a great condiment for a grilled chicken wrap or an egg sandwich. They are all star players in their own right.

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But no matter how well they function independently, know this: together, along with a few slices of ripe avocado and some crunchy salted pepitas, this group of components is so much greater than the sum of its parts. This burrito has every texture and flavor that I want to experience at one time: salty, crunchy, tangy, soft and creamy, slightly sweet and spiced. If this is what transcendence feels like, I’m into it.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

a proper meal

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One of the gifts we got for our wedding was an amazing collection of five wines from my friend Tim. Tim has been a wine buyer for almost a decade and has phenomenal taste in both wine and food. He’s also, probably one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He carefully curated the selection, so that each wine would be at its peak at a specific year in our marriage and offered tasting notes and advice on what each bottle would pair perfectly with. In case you’re wondering I totally cried when I opened the present, and so did my mom and all my aunts.

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Our first wine was the 2008 Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc. We paired it with marinated pork tenderloin, roast broccoli with walnuts, steamed green beans and cous cous and we drank it on a Thursday night, the week of our first anniversary. The wine was stunning and the meal was memorable. I can’t wait to keep working through these wines over the years, because more than just a cool collection of good wines, Tim gave us five occasions on which to prioritize ourselves, reflect on our marriage and to drink some really, really good wines. And if there’s anything I love more than a delicious glass of wine it’s having the opportunity to talk about my feelings over a proper meal. Talk about a customized gift!

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When a ‘proper meal’ is on the docket, pork tenderloin is arguably one of my favorite things to make. It’s inexpensive, easy and delicious and has a versatility that lends itself to many different types of cuisine. Normally, I keep it simple and rustic with a little garlic, olive oil and herbs; but I also love how pork works so well with Asian ingredients. I had just purchased a fresh bottle of soy sauce and a new jar of whole grain mustard and I was really itching to use them in conjunction with one another (because that’s the kind of stuff that I think about when left to my own devices). I came up with this marinade based loosely on a classic combination I like to use for baked chicken wings and it was totally delicious (if I do say so myself).

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I was able to let this tenderloin marinate for about 3 hours; however, I think you could get away with 30 minutes if you’re in a pinch. The finished product tastes like Chinese food. To be clear: I mean that in the best, most positive sense. It’s not a greasy gut bomb or overly sticky sweet (not that those types of Chinese food don’t have their time and place- and the time is usually after 2 a.m. and the place is almost always Cathay Pacific). What I mean is, this pork has a flavor that is reminiscent of the salty-sweet, hot pink boneless pork sparerib that you might get in your late night pupu platter; but it’s just a bit more refined and grown up tasting. Super flavorful, juicy, slightly spiced and a little sweet, this pork marinade is one I will return to again and again. Now I just need a couple more bottles of Cab. Franc to go with.

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1-2 lb. pork tenderloin
1/3 cup soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
3-4 gloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed Schezuan peppercorns (optional)

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Remove tenderloin from packaging, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper all sides. Combine remaining ingredients in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Seal, squeezing excess air out and massage everything together a bit. Add tenderloin to bag and zip closed, once again squeezing excess air out as you seal so the tenderloin gets the maximum exposure to the marinade. Set pork in fridge for 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

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Preheat oven to 425. Heat an oven-proof skillet or grill pan over medium high heat. Place pork down and let sear for 4-5 minutes. Flip pork and sear for another 4-5 minutes. Place the whole pan in oven and let roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until a thermometer reaches between 145 and 150 degrees. Remove from oven, tent foil over and let rest for 10-20 minutes. We like our pork on the medium to medium rare side, so I pull it at 140 and let it rest for a full 20 minutes. The carry over cooking during resting time makes it absolutely perfect for our tastes: slightly pink and super juicy throughout. If you’re sketchy on that, simply remove from the oven at a higher internal temp. Slice thinly and serve with veggies and starch of your choice.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

this must be the place

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The first kitchen that was home to this blog was a slightly crusty rental in an otherwise splendid old apartment. It was an awkward set up where half the counter was around the corner towards the basement stairs. The stove stood against one wall, an island all its own and there was so little usable counter space that I turned to craigslist to buy a butcher block on wheels so I would have extra room to work with. Because of the age of our burner and mechanical ineptitude of Erica and myself, our heat would often go out and I would prep dinner in a full coat, scarf and hat until our landlord, Beachhouse, would come by and get the burner going again.

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But regardless of its awkward shape and dingy linoleum, I was able to cook many great meals in that kitchen. I threw my sister a baby shower, hosted tons of birthdays and I taught myself to cook a number of different things. I also had my first gas stove. A transition from which there is no going back. There’s only one way to cook for this girl: and that’s with fire.

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The second incantation of the Porky Dickens Test Kitchen had two walls of windows and east facing light. A boon for the photographs for sure and it was even pretty enough to get us noticed on a blog. In this place, I had just a scrap more counter space for prepping and a convenient little shelf for salts, oils and vinegars next to the stove. Oh, and the floors were faux wood, which classed up the joint a bit. In this kitchen I hosted festive Irish dinner parties, backyard barbecues, a mother’s day brunch and one night after dinner, I picked a fight with my boyfriend which was such an effective display of female manipulation that the fool asked me to marry him later that night.

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This kitchen was the birthplace of such seasonal super stars as pumpkin whoopee pies and cranberry moonshine and such incredible failures as the butterscotch pudding pie that wouldn’t pud. The room itself was still a bit dated and the shelves under the sink were held up with empty bottles of wine, but this place is where I hit my stride, as a cook, as a blogger, as a partner and a person. For that I will always love that space.

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And now we are in this place. The place. The most important room in our new house, the latest and last location for the Dickens Test Kitchen. My kitchen in our house: the place where innumerable meals will be made and memories will be cemented; where fights will be fought, faults will be forgiven and where (if we’re to trust MY family history) pants will probably be peed from laughing so hard.

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Not only is the kitchen always my chosen favorite space to spend time in, it’s the gravitational center of life at home. Everyone knows that no matter what the gathering and no matter how much you tell them to go hang out in the living room, anyone who comes to your house inevitably ends up hovering in the kitchen, whether you want them to or not (for the record, I always want you to, so long as you don’t stand too close, I’m all elbows when I’m in the zone). It’s the sweet spot with all the best smells, the brightest light and letsbeserious, the closest proximity to the wine. I can’t wait to see what we cook up here.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

how to be the boss

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My friend Mish is what I like to call Good at Life. Her house is well kept, she has an important and meaningful job, she’s the go-to organizer for group vacations, girls’ getaways and any manner of shower, whether it be bridal or baby. Her house is the type of place where if guests just dropped by, she would have the stuff to prepare a full meal, including wine and dessert. She has, as they say, her shit together. In college we gave her the nickname The Boss, because planning and strategizing come so naturally to her, that we always deflected to her to be the boss. Now that we are grown, she is an actual boss of, like, a lot of people and even though I don’t work for her I can guarantee she is wicked good at it.

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Her house is one of my favorite places to invite myself for dinner. I will call her on a Tuesday evening, when my husband is otherwise occupied and inquire as to what she’s doing that evening. She will tell me that her and Anthony are hanging in and making some supper with not much else on the agenda and I will act super interested in whatever she is making until she inevitably invites me over. I almost always accept. Because what awaits you at her house is not just good conversation, a variety of adult beverages and a delicious, balanced meal, but also a house that is cozy and neat and the kind of place you want to spend time at. It’s toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. Her back deck is peppered with healthy, mature plants, both edible and decorative. And she also has a giant jar of M&Ms in her cupboard at all times, so if you need a chocolate fix after a meal, you are covered.

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By comparison at my house I pretty much only have the groceries for the exact meal we are having that evening (with no leftovers) and the best I can offer for a sweet treat is raw almonds and some stale chocolate chips. My house is the living worst to snack at. Everything needs to be prepared or doctored in some way and often times if I’m tired I just wave a white flag and call I Love Italian Pizza Best (yes, that is the actual name of our go-to pizza place. It’s run by Albanians). At Mish’s house on the other hand, there are always the groceries you need as well as a vase of fresh cut flowers from the garden on the table. It’s the best and she is too. She is so good at life that I would probably kind of hate her if I didn’t love her so dang much.

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I encourage everyone to have a Mish. Everyone should also have a side dish like this: for week nights when you’re short on time but looking to pull together something homemade. On many occasions she has made me this cous cous salad and I always scarf down a ton and then accept leftovers. This is a healthy, simple side that can be dressed up or down easily and improvised with whatever happens to be in the fridge or pantry. It makes plenty for leftovers so lunch the next day is already accounted for. It also comes together in about five minutes, which means with this one in your arsenal, you can be Good at Life too.

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¾ cup cherry or golden cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, minced
1-2 ears of corn, steamed, grilled or charred; kernels cut from cob
1 zucchini, diced
½ red pepper, diced
½ cup almonds (or walnuts or pinenuts), chopped and toasted
½ cup golden raisins
Juice from one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil (3-4 tablespoons)
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 box plain cous cous, prepared according to package directions

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Set almonds to toast in a small nonstick pan over medium low heat. Toast, stirring occasionally until browned and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in the small pan over medium heat. Add diced zucchini and let sauté until browned and golden. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Once you’re ready to get dinner on the table, prepare cous cous. In a large bowl combine fully cooked cous cous with all vegetables. Salt and pepper generously and add lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Toss together gently to combine. Add almonds, golden raisins and herbs and gently toss together again.

You can mix and match the things you put in here based on what you have on hand; but the items you absolutely must include are the golden raisins and the nuts, they really make it. Serve warm or at room temperature alongside grilled chicken thighs or marinated grilled pork chops. Also terrific as leftovers with slices of ripe avocado.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

mostly and some

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So deep has my blog neglect been this summer that I plumb forgot that I had posted a second recipe in August. When I opened up the old Dickens home page the other afternoon I was like “oh snap, I actually posted twice in August” with a slightly surprised, slightly relieved feeling that I hadn’t been completely and totally MIA, only mostly and some.

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I spent a bit of early August bellyaching, rather dramatically, that I was being robbed of a summer AGAIN. Last summer wedding planning co-opted all my spare time and this summer the necessity of having to move was victimizing me yet again. WAAAH. I know. I think I just pulled an ocular muscle rolling my eyes at myself. The truth is, if I spin my binoculars right side up and look at it right, that we were forced to have a bit of temporary inconvenience in order to reach a long term conclusion. Just like the wedding: all the planning and logistical maneuvering in the case, will also prove to be totally worth it. Completely and totally worth it.

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We have had the great fortune of staying with my aunt and uncle in their beautiful, wonderful house. A house that has always been one of my most favorite places in the whole world; a house that is four minute and twenty five second walk from the beach (at a leisurely pace, with a toddler in tow). And more than being in a great location with a real nice porch this house has been, as it always was, a place to bond with the extended family. We have had so much fun eating dinner with my aunt and uncle and seeing more of my other aunts, uncles and cousins than I ever normally would.

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The communal living of summer 2013 has certainly served us well.

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I have been cooking a ton, although I haven’t been quite as good at documenting and sharing; and for that I am sorry. But I had to slow everything down given the crushing pace of the spring and early summer. I had to really focus on enjoying my meals, rather than documenting them; and that is something, in this day and age, that I would pretty much urge anyone to do. By adjusting my pace a bit and letting go of the guilt of what I thought I SHOULD be doing, I was able to actually enjoy what I WAS doing, as I was doing it. Imagine that.

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So, when I sat down this morning and combed through all of the photos from the past two months I realized that I would look like a real baby to complain about a summer like this. I mean, there were far too many nights on a screened-in porch and about ten too many dunks in the ocean for it to possibly be classified as anything but perfect.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

something else

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Because I am still playing catch up from a fast paced summer, I am just now uploading photographs from things I cooked in June and July. And I mean, crap I did quite a bit of cooking. And not enough sharing! Such a classic youngest child. This pasta here was one of the last proper dinners I cooked in my cozy little apartment kitchen for Paul and myself before we moved out. I was catching up on a few of my favorite blogs in between packing up boxes and Molly on Orangette gave this such a rousing endorsement that I literally scratched out the ingredients on a scrap of paper and went straight to the store to buy pine nuts.

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This dish is a very different kind of pasta made up of a host of tastes that you probably wouldn’t normally associate with classic Italian-style pasta dishes. Basil sure, he’s a familiar one, and even peas and pine nuts but a blended yogurt sauce and a spicy, textured, nutty oil for garnishing make it truly unique and something else altogether. It just seemed like it might be too weird not to try and I’m glad I did. I ate the leftovers over the course of two days standing in front of the fridge with the door open, forkful by forkful. This is always a sign of success.

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Pasta with Yogurt, Peas and Red Pepper Pine Nut Oil
(from Jerusalem, by way of Orangette)

1 pound pasta (whichever shape you like I used shells and they worked great. Orchiette is another excellent choice)
2 ½ cups whole-milk Greek yogurt
2/3 cup olive oil, divided
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
1 pound fresh or thawed frozen peas
Kosher salt
Scant ½ cup pine nuts
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 cup basil leaves, coarsely torn
8 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

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In the bowl of a food processor combine the yogurt, garlic, 2/3 cup peas and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. Process into a uniform consistency pale green sauce and transfer to a large bowl.

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Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt generously. Add pasta and cook, according to package directions, until al dente. While the pasta cooks heat the remaining olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and red pepper flakes and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the nuts are golden and all the oil is a deep burnished red. When the timer on your pasta reads 3 minutes, toss the peas into the pot. You can cook and strain everything together to skip dirtying another pot.

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Gradually add the pasta and peas to the yogurt sauce, stirring together thoroughly at each addition so as not to curdle the yogurt with the heat of the cooked pasta. Add the torn basil, feta and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Toss together gently. Serve immediately, spooning the pine nut-red pepper oil over each individual serving. This is such a delicious study in contrasts...cool and tangy, salty and sweet with a nice punch of fire and crunch from the oil. Yogurt sauce might be kind of strange sounding for some but I would make this again in a minute.

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