Lamb Rolls with Tzatziki Sauce

I am the first to admit that as a person who grew up not eating lamb, I had a hard time warming up to the idea as an adult.  I always kind of thought I had plenty of proteins in my lineup so there was no real reason to add another, but then I made this dish.  It’s the first lamb dish I ever made and I use it as a litmus test for those who are skeptical about lamb (read: my mom).  In the years that I’ve been making it, I’ve never had someone determine that they truly disliked lamb after eating it, so if you aren’t sure, give it a try.

The recipe originally came from a Rachael Ray cookbook we received as a wedding present nearly 7 years ago.  I generally am not a huge Rachael Ray fan – I find that in her “30 Minute Meal” gimmick it generally translates to 30 hours of dishes, which I’m so not down with, but in an effort to actually try something out of each cookbook, I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised at the lack of dishes.  I usually serve mine with a big Greek salad, and estimate that each diner will eat half of one roll (it makes 2 big rolls or 3 moderately sized ones).

Lamb Feta Rolls with Tzatziki sauce

1lb. ground lamb

1 cup feta cheese

2 green onions

1 jalepeno (only use half if you’re heat sensitive)

2 cloves garlic

10-12 sheets phyllo dough (I just buy a package – inevitably some will rip) – defrosted

6T butter

for the sauce:

2 cups Greek yogurt

1/2 of a cucumber

1/4 of an onion

1 clove garlic

1 small handful of mint leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Finely chop the green onion, mince the garlic and jalepeno, and melt the butter.  Mix the lamb, feta cheese, garlic, green onions, and jalepeno together in a mixing bowl.

2. On a large cutting board or cookie sheet, lay out your first two sheets of phyllo dough, brush it with some of the melted butter, season with salt and pepper, then add another 2 sheets, butter, salt and pepper again.  Continue until you have 6 sheets of phyllo dough.  Spoon the mixture in a log shape in the center of the dough and fold it up like a burrito.  Repeat for the second and, if you want smaller portions, a third roll.  Use a little butter to seal the edge and brush the tops with a bit before you place them in the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, until the phyllo is a golden brown.

3. While the rolls are baking, grate the cucumber and onion, mince the garlic, and finely chop the mint leaves.  Stir together with the Greek yogurt to make a sauce.  Serve the lamb rolls with the sauce.



Spicy Pasta with Prosciutto

For some reason or another, I’m not really a huge spaghetti fan.  I love pasta, marinara sauce is definitely my jam, but there’s something about plain old spaghetti and marinara that really doesn’t do it for me.  Not long ago, I realized that it was actually just the shape of the noodle (for the record, I’m not big on fettucine either).  Since I had this revelation, I’ve made a bunch of new pasta dishes with various pasta shapes and my interest in pasta and sauce meals has gone up tenfold.  This is a perfect example of that.  The sauce is pretty chunky, so it needs a substantial noodle, but you could definitely use spaghetti if that’s what you like or what you have in your pantry.  We used a curly rotini (my personal favorite).

All told, this meal is really easy and fast – and while I think it would be great to take for lunch the next day, we’ve never had any leftovers to save. Oh, and it has wine in it, which is awesome because you have a great excuse to drink the rest of the bottle of wine on a random weekday!

Spicy Pasta with Prosciutto

1lb. dry rotini noodles

4 oz. proscuitto

1 onion

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup red wine

28oz diced tomatoes

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

small handful of fresh basil

Olive oil

1. Chop the prosciutto, mince the garlic, and dice the onion.  Start the water for the pasta.  Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and fry the prosciutto until browned (about 10 minutes).  Transfer the prosciutto to a paper-towel lined plate and add the onion, cooking until softened and translucent.

2. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and salt, stirring everything together for about a minute.  Pour in the wine and cook for a few minutes while the wine reduces.  Then add the tomatoes and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes.  Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Chop the basil.

3. Add the prosciutto and the 75% of the cheese into the sauce and stir to combine.  Add the cooked pasta and stir everything together to coat the noodles.  Serve with the reserved cheese and basil.

Tandoori chicken with mango and pineapple salsa

There are certain friends you have in life who become more of kindred spirits than friends.  The friends who really get you and, regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve seen them you’re always able to pick up where you left off.  One of our friends like that often comes over bearing a makeshift tupperware full of marinated meat and, upon his arrival, makes plans to grill it for us (a true friend brings dinner that they cook for you!).  Tandoori chicken is his specialty and this recipe is inspired by his many visits bearing delicious food.  He loves garam masala and, actually introduced me to it.  It’s totally worth buying – it’s a unique taste that can’t really be replicated by any other combination.  I like it mixed with greek yogurt as a dip.

This meal is great for a Friday, especially if you’re having company because you can make it all ahead of time.  In the afternoon (or night before), you make the mango salsa and marinate the chicken.  I made a quinoa salad to go with it last time, and it’s best made ahead, too.  Then you can clean the kitchen, and come dinnertime all you have to do is grill the meat and serve.  It’s also very flavorful and tastes very fresh.  I cut the chicken breasts in half width-wise before marinating them to increase the surface area and to avoid the unfortunate mass of dry chicken you sometimes get when grilling a whole chicken breast.  Alternatively, you could pound them out flat.

Tandoori Chicken with Mango and Pineapple Salsa

4 chicken breasts, butterflied or pounded flat

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

2 garlic cloves

a small piece of ginger

half of a lemon

1/2 cup greek yogurt

For the relish:

1 can diced pineapple (or fresh)

1 ripe mango

1/2 red onion

1 red chile

1 lime

1. Several hours or the night before you intend to serve, mince the garlic and finely peel and chop the ginger.  Mix the spices, ginger, garlic, and the juice of the lemon together with the greek yogurt to create a marinade.

2. Butterfly the chicken and place it into your “marinating tupperware” (or a big ziploc bag), pour the marinade over the chicken and move the pieces around, coating all of the sides.  Place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to finish your dinner.

3. Dice the mango into a size similar to the pineapple.  Finely dice the onion and mix the pineapple, mango, and onion together.  Start by mincing half of the red chile and adding into the relish with the juice of the lime.  Taste and add the rest of the chile if you need a little more heat.  This can also be made ahead of time and left in the fridge until ready to serve.

4. When you’re ready, grill the chicken until cooked through.  Serve with the relish.

Vegetable Lo Mein

One of my goals for 2014 was to incorporate more Asian cuisine into our menu.  Some dishes, I’m really excited about (hot & sour soup, eggrolls, thai shrimp), but vegetable lo mein wasn’t high on my list.  See, when I think of it, my mind immediately goes to the sad vat of colorless vegetables and greasy noodles at Panda Express, where, when given the choice, I always choose the fried rice.  However, I’m a sucker for a vegetable dish, so I decided to start my quest with this dish.  I’m so very glad I did because it was wonderful.  The vegetables were crisp, the noodles were flavorful, and the whole dish was really comforting.  Also, I typically associate Asian cuisine with spice, which I adore, but my dear toddler does not.  This dish isn’t spicy at all and my little girl really liked it, so that makes it a win for sure.

I was able to find all of the ingredients at my standard grocery store.  The chow mein noodles came in 6oz. packages, sort of a tray wrapped in cellophane.  I bought 3 of them, so I had a little more than a pound, which was fine.


Vegetable Lo Mein

Serves 4-6

1 lb. chow mein noodles

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 T fish sauce

2T oyster sauce

2T sesame oil

1 onion

1 bell pepper

4T olive oil

1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms

1 zucchini

1/2 lb. broccoli

1 inch of fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves

1. Boil the noodles according to package directions (about 4 minutes).  Strain and toss with about a tablespoon of oil (vegetable, olive, whatever) to keep the noodles from sticking together.  Chop the onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms.   Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.  Cut the broccoli into small pieces, removing most of the stems.

2. Whisk the oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1/4 cup of water together in a small bowl and set aside.  Heat 2T of olive oil in a large skillet (or better yet, a wok or dutch oven) over high heat and cook the onion and bell peppers until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and zucchini and stir fry until they start to brown, about 3 more minutes.  Scoop the vegetables onto a plate or bowl and set aside.

3. Add 1T of olive oil to the hot pan and cook the ginger and garlic for about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Then add the noodles and cook for about 4 minutes, turning occasionally.  Then, add the vegetables back in and toss in the broccoli.  Pour the sauce over the whole thing and use tongs to toss the mixture together until the liquid is absorbed and the broccoli is slightly tender.

Source: Adapted from Williams Sonoma.

Rigatoni with Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash

I always associate butternut squash with baby food.  Mushy, bland, orange – not incredibly appetizing.  However, as a mother of a 5-month-old who is just beginning to enter the world of culinary goodness, I thought it was time to see what an adult could do with butternut squash.  As soon as I saw that this recipe contained blue cheese I was hooked – I love blue cheese!  I realized though that I’ve really never cooked with it – usually I just use it in salads and salad dressing.  Whatever your relationship with butternut squash or blue cheese, give this simple dish a try.  Bonus points in that it’s vegetarian, gives you a healthy serving of veggies, and, above all – it uses a small amount of wine (which is pretty essential) so you’re gonna need to drink the rest of the bottle.

One major change I made from the original recipe was omitting the pine nuts.  Though I adore them and think a cup of toasted pine nuts would be excellent, one tiny box costs 1/10th of my grocery budget for the week.  I don’t think the dish suffered from a lack of overpriced pine nuts.  This meal requires very little work, but the squash needs to cook down for a while, so plan to start about 45 minutes before you serve.


Rigatoni with Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash

Serves 6

1 butternut squash

1 onion

1/2 tsp paprika

2T olive oil

1T butter

1/2 cup white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1/2 cup water

1lb rigatoni pasta

5oz. crumbled blue cheese

1tsp dried marjoram

1tsp dried oregano

salt and pepper

1. Peel, seed, and cube the butternut squash into 1″ pieces.  I don’t know of a great way to do this, so I just hacked away at the thing.  Dice the onion.  Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over high heat and cook the onion until it begins to become golden and translucent.  Stir in the paprika.  Add the butternut squash and butter and stir it all together.  Pour the wine and water over the top and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, put a lid on the pot, and cook for about 15 minutes.

2. Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Before draining, reserve a little of the pasta water.  When the squash is fork tender, but not mushy add the marjoram and oregano.

3. Pour the strained rigatoni into the pot with the squash and onion and stir together.  Mix in the blue cheese until it melts and is evenly distributed.  Add some of the pasta water back in if it seems too sticky.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with the remainder of the white wine.

Source: adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella’s Kitchen

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

On Top Chef this week, Tom Colicchio lambasted a chef for using boneless, skinless chicken breast to the tune of “how stupid are you!” and “it has no flavor!”  All of the other chefs nodded in agreement – who, in their right mind would use boneless skinless chicken breasts? Boneless skinless chicken breasts are the scourge of protein – you might as well be using something *gasp* CANNED!

Look, I get it.  Chicken with the skin indubitably has way more flavor, fat, and other components chefs find sexy.  But you know what it also has?  Bones.  And at some point as either the chef or the eater you have to remove them, which totally grosses me out.  I have few exceptions to my “boneless” rule, and this recipe is one of them.  It’s the ultimate winter meal – hearty, comforting, inexpensive, and easy.  The only real prep here is chopping, and otherwise it all bakes in one pan as a complete meal.  Also note, you could easily substitute the vegetables based on what you have, what’s on sale, or what you prefer.  I do think the carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts are pretty integral.  It’s easy to scale this recipe, too – I plan on 2 pieces of chicken per person.  This iteration serves about 6.


Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

4lbs chicken thighs and drumsticks

1lb fresh Brussels sprouts

1lb small red potatoes

1/2lb parsnips

1/2lb button mushrooms

6 carrots

6 cloves garlic

2T olive oil

1T dried Thyme

4T butter

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 475.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (unless scraping schmaltz is your thing).  Prep the vegetables by chopping into bite-sized pieces.  Cut the sprouts in half, peel and chop the carrots and parsnips, quarter the potatoes, peel and half the garlic, and cut the mushrooms into fourths.  Place all of the veg in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil.  Arrange all of the veg onto the baking sheet in an even layer.

2. Melt the butter and stir in the thyme.  Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and season everything liberally with salt and pepper.  Next, using a pastry brush, brush the butter mixture onto the chicken until all pieces are covered.  Break the rosemary into small pieces and sprinkle across the top.

3. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning the pan once or twice to ensure that it cooks evenly.  Let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then toss the vegetables to make sure the juices from the chicken are distributed (the schmaltz on the bottom of the pan is the best part).

Source: Adapted from Cook’s Country

Drunken Noodles

When I first saw drunken noodles on a menu at a Thai restaurant I ordered it without reading the description.  Noodles?  With alcohol?  What could go wrong?!  When I got my plate, I was surprised to find that there’s no real “drunkenness” involved in drunken noodles, but I totally didn’t care because it was spicy and delicious.  I found this original recipe in Food & Wine magazine a few months ago and tried it, but found that the tofu it calls for took a while and I wasn’t really happy with the result.  I switched to shrimp the next time I made it and found it to be a really great substitute that made the dish a bit more filling.  The main trouble with this dish is that it requires a small amount of several of specialty ingredients – I have some suggestions for substitutions after the recipe to save some money on this dish.


Drunken Noodles

adapted from Food & Wine

1lb. pad thai rice noodles (I have used Udon, too)

2T olive oil

1lb. small shrimp, tails off and deveined (I buy the bag from Trader Joe’s)

1 cup chicken stock

2T oyster sauce

2T fish sauce

2-3tsp roasted red chile paste

2tsp soy sauce

1tsp sugar

1 bell pepper, sliced

1/2-1 large jalepeno, seeded and sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 red thai chile minced

small bunch basil, chopped (roughly a cup).

lime wedges for serving

1. Boil the noodles according to package directions.  Whisk the stock, oyster sauce, fish sauce, red chile paste, soy sauce, and sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the bell pepper, jalepeno, garlic, and red chile cooking over medium-high heat until fragrant (just a few minutes).  Add the noodles and shrimp and stir-fry until the noodles are browned and the shrimp is cooked through (4-5 minutes).

3. Pour the sauce over the top and toss until the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and fold in the basil.  Serve with lime wedges.

*Note that the level of spiciness can be altered based on how much jalepeno, red chile paste, and red chile you choose to add.  I like it spicy so I use a whole jalepeno, nearly 1T of paste (or sriracha), and a whole red chile.  You could easily scale this back for a less spicy dish.

Maximize your budget:

1. Any protein would work here – I love shrimp, but if you had a grilled chicken breast or two, some leftover brisket, pork, it would work well.  The original recipe calls for tofu, which is really cheap, but frying tofu takes forever and to me, isn’t worth it.

2. If you cook a lot of Asian food, investing in oyster sauce, fish sauce, and red chile paste is reasonable, but if you are unsure, I’d start with just the fish sauce (it lasts forever) doubled to replace the oyster sauce.  I’ve also had a hard time finding red chile paste at my regular grocery store, so I’ve substituted sriracha, which works well (in a pinch, tabasco would probably work fine, too).  The original recipe also calls for “black soy sauce” but regular works fine to me.

3. The original recipe calls specifically for a red bell pepper, which looks pretty in the dish, but they all taste the same.  Unless they are on sale, I use green.