Easy Rice Pilaf

 Homemade Rice Pilaf – Quick, Easy, and Delicious:

Homemade Rice Pilaf - easy and delicious

When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock, and goodness knows what else – all set to prepare with water on the stovetop. The results were salty, addictive, and fragrant. My brothers and I would fight over who got to finish the bowl on the dinner table. One box was never enough.

These days, I make pilaf from scratch – and you probably do, too, without realizing it. The principle behind pilaf is that rice, or another grain such as bulgur or farro, is sautéed to lightly toast the grains, and then steamed in a flavorful broth, along with spices and a few aromatics such as onion and garlic. When ready to serve, the rice is fluffed to separate the grains and prevent stickiness, and handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped almonds, or chilies are added for extra flavor, texture, and color. You can choose to keep the rice simple or add the garnishes selectively to your taste. I tend to pile them on, because they add sensational flavor and freshness, while nudging an unassuming side into a stand-alone dish. So, before your reach for a box of pilaf in the supermarket with a long list of multi-syllabic ingredinets, remember that it’s really quite easy – and much cheaper – to make your own from scratch.

Homemade Rice Pilaf

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 as a side dish

2 3/4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian option)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Generous pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup orzo
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cup basmati rice

Optional garnishes:
1 scallion, white and green part thinly sliced
1 small red jalapeño, finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Combine the stock, 2 tablespoons butter, the salt, paprika, and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.
2. Heat the oil and melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a deep skillet (with a lid) over medium heat. Add the orzo and sauté until light golden, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and sauté for about 1 minute, and then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly to coat and lightly toast the rice, for about 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook, undisturbed, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes
4. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled over the top.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops

A little magic mushroom dust does wonders to your meat (not that kind of mushroom, silly):

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops Recipe

You want these mushrooms – namely dried porcini mushrooms – in your kitchen. They keep indefinitely in your pantry, and can easily be reconstituted for use with pasta, risotto, soups, and sauces. Or you can simply blitz the heck out of them and turn them into dust.

Porcini mushroom dust is a magical elixir, fragrant with umami-rich aroma and flavor, and a gorgeous ingredient to add to rubs and marinades. Its earthy smoky flavor melds beautifully with garlic and herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, and is an excellent complement to meats, such as beef and lamb, when used as a rub.

While dried porcini mushrooms are pricey by the pound, the good news is that you don’t need a lot to make this rub – all you need is a half-ounce. When the mushrooms are dried, their flavor intensifies, so a little goes a long way. Other dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes, may be substituted, but in terms of flavor, the porcini is best. I use a spice grinder to blitz the mushrooms before mixing them with the rub ingredients, for a pasty consistency. If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can use a mini-food processor, with slightly coarser, results.

Note: If the dried mushrooms are slightly spongy and not entirely crisp before grinding, then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces, spread on a small baking tray, and place in a 300°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature before grinding.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Loin Chops

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus 20 minutes drying time if needed
Serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 lamb loin chops, each about 1-inch thick

1. Finely grind the mushrooms in a spice grinder. Transfer to a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons oil, the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and stir to blend.
2. Coat the lamb on all sides with the rub and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the lamb to the pan without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook to your desired doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Black-and-Blueberry Clafoutis

Got berries? Make a clafoutis:

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

If you have more fresh summer berries than you know what to do with (this is a good problem) then here’s a great way to add them to a dessert. Clafoutis (clah-FOO-tee) is a French flan-like dessert. It’s light and elegant with a baked custardy batter streaked and studded with fruit. It’s also a perfect lazy-cook recipe that is whipped up with little effort and a simple list of ingredients. You can get creative with how you present clafoutis. Bake it family-style in a tart or shallow gratin dish, or for dinner-party fun, divide it between individual ramekins. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vessel you use, so simply bake the clafoutis until the top is tinged golden and the custard is set. This can take up to 45 minutes for a tart or 25 minutes for ramekins. Feel free to mix and match your berries. This recipe uses a combination of blueberries and blackberries. Raspberries and cherries are also delicious.

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Makes six (6-ounce) or one (10-inch) clafoutis

Unsalted softened butter for greasing the pans
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh blueberries
6 ounces fresh blackberries
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups half and half
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter six (6-ounce) shallow ramekins (or one (10-inch) ceramic tart pan). Sprinkle the ramekins with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and tap out any excess. Place the ramekins on a baking tray. Arrange the berries in one layer in the ramekins.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the half and half, flour, lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt until just combined.

3. Pour the mixture over fruit. Transfer the clafoutis to the oven and bake until the top is tinged golden brown and the custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes for the ramekins (or 40 to 45 minutes for the tart pan). Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

4. Before serving, sprinkle the clafoutis with powdered sugar and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

30 Minute Dinners: Asparagus Carbonara

Easy Carbonara Pasta with Asparagus
Just do it – in a skillet: Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus.

My favorite cooking vessel is my cast iron skillet: it’s one stop shopping in the kitchen equipment department. Not only is a cast iron skillet handy on the stovetop, you can use it in the oven and even on the grill. Last night I used my skillet to make this simple carbonara pasta dish.

Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup – a comforting dish for all ages – which consists of pasta and cured pork (guanciale) or bacon, whisked in a slick sauce of eggs and gads of grated Pecorino cheese. The method is quick. It relies on the heat from the freshly cooked pasta to sufficiently cook the eggs and melt the cheese, while the sauce is vigorously stirred to prevent the eggs from scrambling. From start to finish, this dish can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.

I often mix in vegetables to my carbonara, which add extra oomph to the dish and allows me to call it a one-dish family meal, replete with the nutrients from the veggies. Peas are a year-round contender, since frozen peas can easily be added to the mix. In the springtime, though, I like to add fresh asparagus.

Asparagus Carbonara

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette
3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
2. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until blended and set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente; drain.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until the asparagus are bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more. Serve immediately and garnish with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

30 Minute Coconut Chicken Curry

January weather invites slow-cooking and one-pot meals. When it’s crazy cold, icy, and wet outside, it’s a good time to hunker down and make a steaming pot of fragrant, spicy curry. This chicken curry is brimming with vegetables and napped with coconut milk. It’s rich, aromatic, and bright  – a perfect antidote to the winter blues. It’s also  a one-pot wonder, simply prepared in 30 minutes, which is perfect for a weeknight meal or a no-fuss apres-ski (or shoveling!) dinner. Feel free to switch up the vegetables to your taste. Chicken thighs may also be used in place of the breast meat – just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Coconut Chicken Vegetable Curry

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced 1/4–inch thick
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
6 to 8 leaves lacinato or curly green kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pot or deep skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot in one layer without overcrowding. Cook until the chicken colors on all sides, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate. (It will continue to cook when it’s added back to the stew.)
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot and then add the carrot and onion and sauté until the carrot brightens in color and the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 more minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, to coat the vegetables and lightly toast the spice, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and coconut milk and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Serve the curry in bowls with basmati rice. Garnish with the jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro.

Time Out Soup: Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a Sunday soup (or, in this case, a Tuesday soup). It’s a perfect antidote to a long holiday weekend punctuated with big meals and late evenings. It’s restorative, healthy, and nourishing and a perfect time-out meal to enjoy on a relaxed evening with no social agenda. It’s also a simple way to use some of that leftover turkey lurking in your fridge. If you don’t have turkey, fear not, chicken works just as well, so if you’ve soldiered through your Thanksgiving leftovers  you can easily use cooked chicken meat or a rotisserie chicken from your local store or farmer’s market. That’s why I often call this a Tur-Chicken soup.

There are two important ingredients I like to add to this soup. Shiitake mushrooms impart a slinky umami flavor to the stock, and farro, an ancient nutty wheat grain, lends satisfying heft to each slurp. Use pearled or semi-pearled farro for easiest cooking. Whole grain farro, while the healthiest option, requires soaking and a long cooking time of at least one hour, and has a distinct earthy flavor. Milder semi-pearled farro still retains some of its nutritious bran and germ but is scored to hasten cooking, and pearled farro is completely stripped, thus the least nutritious, but quickest to cook. If farro is not available, pearl barley is a good substitute.

Turkey and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitake Mushrooms

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 50 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 ounces small shiitake mushrooms, ends trimmed
6 cups turkey or chicken stock
1/2 cup pearled farro or pearl barley
2 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken breast meat
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens without coloring, about 3 minutes. Toss in the carrots and mushrooms and sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the mushrooms begin to release their juices, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the farro and cook briefly, stirring to coat and lightly toast the grains, and then add the stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the chicken (or turkey), salt, and pepper and top off with additional stock if needed. Simmer until the chicken is heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls, and serve hot, garnished with the parsley.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Marinated Skirt Steak Noodles - one dish dinnersOne Dish Dinner: Vietnamese Skirt Steak Noodles

There is something infinitely satisfying about presenting a complete dinner heaped on one platter. The arrangement suggests a family-style feast. It’s a fun method for casual dining, which allows everyone to dig into a balanced meal combining meat, greens, and grains, or in this case, noodles.

This Vietnamese-inspired recipe embraces budget friendly skirt steak, a flavorful cut of meat that loves a good marinade, piled over a tangle of Asian noodles. A sweet and sour marinade is perfumed with lemongrass, a key ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, which infuses the meat with flavor and spice. The longer the beef marinates the better the flavor, but that’s the only time consuming step in making this dish, which requires little effort – only advance planning to allow for marinating.

Lemongrass, also known as citronella, is a commonly used to flavor stir-fries, marinades, and curries. It looks like a woody spring onion and has a uniquely fragrant lemon-floral flavor concentrated in the oils in the centers of its stalk. For the purpose of a marinade, the stalk need only be sliced to release its flavor. For other dishes where the lemongrass is eaten, the outer stalks should be removed and the center stalks minced or pounded to a paste. Lemongrass is sold in the fresh produce section of well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass in the produce section, it’s also sold as jarred paste. Simply add 1 tablespoon of the paste to the marinade. The other marinade and dressing ingredients are available in the international section of grocery stores and in Asian supermarkets. Once the ingredients are on hand, this dish comes together quickly for a family-friendly weeknight dinner that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes (plus marinating time)
Marinating Time: 2 to 24 hours 

Marinade:
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, outer leaves removed, stalk thinly sliced (or 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds skirt steak
8 ounces Vietnamese wheat noodles, Chinese egg noodles, or ramen

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Vegetable oil for pan frying

Garnishes:
1 to 2 red or green jalapeño chile peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and/or torn mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Lime wedges

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Slice the skirt steak on the diagonal against the grain into 1-inch strips. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate at for least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

2. Cook the noodles until al dente per manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and transfer to a bowl. While the noodles are cooking, whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the drained noodles and toss to thoroughly coat.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and add to the skillet, in batches if necessary, without overcrowding the pan. (The steak may also be grilled over direct medium-high heat.) Discard the marinade. Sear the steak on both sides until cooked to your desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat.

4. To serve, spread the noodles on a serving platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Arrange the skirt steak strips over the noodles and scatter the chile peppers, cilantro, mint, and sesame seeds over and around the steak. Garnish with the lime wedges and drizzle the remaining sauce over the steak and noodles. Serve warm.