Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Introduction to Farro

If you're one of those people that believes pasta is evil and to be avoided at all costs, yet miss diving into a bowl of warm, comfort filled with all sorts of textures and flavors, meet your new best friend.

Farro is a type of wheat, also called emmer, that was among the first plants to be domesticated in the Middle East. And while obviously you're not going to be able to wrap it around your fork like spaghetti (the grains are about the size of peas), it comes pretty damn close to pasta in other respects. For instance, you can put anything into it you would pasta. It's the perfect canvas, as its nutty whole grain texture is lovely with everything from vegetables to meat to cheese to nuts.

The only two drawbacks are that you have to soak it first (for a minimum of 20 minutes) and it's definitely pricier than a box of rigattoni. But again, if you're on an anti pasta kick, it's well worth it to be able to relive your Olive Garden days, sans the guilt. (And yes - I realize they make whole wheat pasta nowadays - but I'd rather eat cardboard. The texture literally makes me gag;)

Farro with Salami, Sundried Tomatoes, Artichokes, and Basil

1.1 lb farro

32 oz chicken stock
32 oz water
2 garlic cloves

12 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
3 tblspns olive oil, or to taste (you can use fresh or the oil from the artichokes if desired)
16 sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and halved
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/3 cup diced Parmesan (slightly larger than pea-sized chunks)
1/4 cup diced salami (cut into about pea-sized chunks)
1 large bunch (3 handfuls) fresh basil, torn
1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt


Place the farro in a large pot or dutch oven. Cover with water and let soak for 20-30 minutes, then drain, returning to the same pot. Now add 32 ounces of chicken stock plus 32 ounces of water along with 2 garlic cloves to the pan, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to reduce down to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Drain, discarding the garlic cloves, then return to the pot once more to stir in the rest of the ingredients (the artichoke hearts through the walnut pieces.) Stir in 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt, and taste before adding more (it'll depend on how salty the chicken stock was you cooked the farro in as to how much you need.)

Serve warm, in big bowls full...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Melt in your Mouth Lamb Meatloaf with Rosemary, Sundried Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar

I know it's not nice to play favorites, but life's too short not to express your true feelings about things. I love this meatloaf. It is quite possibly my favorite recipe. And while obviously it's not the lightest thing on the planet, containing three kinds of meat and bundled in prosciutto like an edible football, it is surprisingly light on the palate. I also love the twist of the balsamic vinegar replacing the obligatory ketchup, which I love to douse over once I've sliced and plated it. The meat soaks it up like a sponge which I find fascinating. It almost makes me lament all those times I fell asleep in during science.

I have made this meatloaf with both ground turkey to cut the lamb's gaminess and ground sirloin - both are delicious but the sirloin definitely wins the 'over the top' award, creating the most velvety, embarrassingly rich texture. This recipe is also one of the world's precious and few that actually reheats well, tasting as perfect and rewarding and bright as the moment it was baked.

Okay - no more from me on this one - if I say anything else, it's bound to make my beloved meat a disappointment.

Melt in Your Mouth Lamb Meatloaf with Rosemary, Sundried Tomatoes, and Balsamic Vinegar

1 lb ground lamb
1/2 pound ground turkey or pork or sirloin
1 egg
3 tablespoons chopped sundried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil, lightly drained - usually about 8-10)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus extra for serving
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 slices of prosciutto, minced plus 3-4 slices for wrapping around the loaf
1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a small rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Add the ground lamb and secondary meat (pork or turkey or sirloin) to a large mixing bowl. In a second mixing bowl, crack and lightly beat the egg. Stir in the sundried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, salt, pepper, minced prosciutto. When all is incorporated, fold in the bread crumbs. Add this mixture to the ground meat and carefully stir together until just incorporated (don't over mix or you will have a tough meatloaf.) Place the meat onto your greased board, patting gently into a 'loaf' shape. Wrap with the extra prosciutto slices, trying to space them evenly while covering the entire exterior.

Bake the loaf for 55 minutes. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with extra balsamic for people to pour over.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How You Know Spring Is Here: Lemon Chicken Cutlets with Slivered Sundried Tomatoes

Living in New York is a fascinating paradox. You experience the most extreme of highs and lows. This past winter was pretty brutal and had even the most loyal New Yorkers down on their beloved city. And with ongoing (and never ending) construction on our apartment building, the bloom had seemingly fallen off the rose of my own NY love affair.

But then spring came and it was like God singlehandedly dusted the city off himself, picking up the drooping, winter-worn trees and painting lime green buds on them, pumping in extra oxygen to the weary citizens, and releasing the 'beautiful people,' as Kris and I like to call them, onto Bleecker Street to peruse Marc Jacobs and serve as human ornaments.

I can't even tell you how many celebrities we've seen in the past two weeks - I couldn't even remember them all, though I'll try. I saw 'Christopher" from the Sopranos at my local day spa, ran into Tom and Rita Hanks as they were going into a hotel for dinner with the editor of Vanity Fair, saw the 'old lady' Olsen twin at Morandi staring sadly at her breakfast, nearly ran over Edie Falco ('Carmella' from the Sopranos and recently on Alec Baldwin's girlfriend on 30 Rock) with my bike as she was crossing the street to go into The Little Owl, and sat across from Stefan Sagmeister at Norwood having coffee.

And yes, sadly, all those sightings made me forget how miserable I'd been just the week before when it was still 30 degrees and sleeting. But don't worry - I won't sit on my high horse for long. It IS New York after all, and before I know it will find a way to make me feel very small and humble again (such as the time I fell on the subway stairs in front of a hundred people:)

In the meantime, here's a lovely, piquant recipe to welcome the reawakening of spring and life for wherever you live.

Lemon Chicken Cutlets with Slivered Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves 2 (sauce will be enough for up to 4 servings of chicken if you're feeding more people)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets, pounded flat to 1/4 inch thickness
salt and pepper, for seasoning
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons of slivered sun dried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil)
lemon slices for garnish, optional

Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides, then dredge in your flour (I use a wide, flat bowl for this or a pie plate.) Shake off excess flour and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat up 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the butter is foamy - after a minute or so - add your chicken. Cook for about 3-4 minutes until you have a beautiful, golden crust (my cutlets were HUGE and took about 5 minutes) then carefully flip to the other side and cook another 3-4 minutes, until cooked through.

Remove chicken and set aside, preferably in a low 200 degree oven to keep warm. Pour off excess fat from your skillet, then dump in the remaining ingredients (the vermouth through the sun-dried tomatoes) as well as the last tablespoon of butter.

Raise the heat, scraping up the browned bits from the pan, then lower back to a strong simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Plate your chicken and spoon the sauce and sun dried tomato slivers over, and garnish with lemon slices and extra sun-dried slivers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cork Screw Pasta with Peas, Pecorino, and Prosciutto 'Chips'

This is one of those pastas that has something for guys and girls. The peas are sweet and make you feel your getting your veggies in, there's not a bucket of cheese or oil to make you feel guilty and sad afterwards, and the crispy prosciutto makes guys feel like they're eating a meal.

I like it when everyone's happy. It makes me want to open a bottle of bubbly. I think I will...

Cork Screw Pasta with Peas, Pecorino, and Prosciutto 'Chips'

1/2 pound cork screws
sea salt, to season your pasta water

1 cup of frozen peas
3-4 slices of Prosciutto, baked on a cookie sheet for 12 minutes at 350, until 'crisp'
heaping 1/4 cup of grated pecorino, plus extra for garnish
1/3 cup of toasted walnuts, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper
sea salt, to taste

handful of chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt, allow to return to a boil, then add your pasta cooking for 7 minutes or just until al dente. Transfer the pasta with a large spider or slotted spoon to a large serving bowl. Drizzle over the tablespoon of olive oil and the 1/4 cup pecorino, and gently stir to incorporate.

Meanwhile, add the frozen peas to the still boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes, just until they turn a beautiful bright green, then strain and add to the pasta. Add the 1/3 cup of walnuts and some fresh cracked pepper and a teeny bit of salt to taste. Stir carefully then add the prosciutto chips by breaking them up with your hands over the pasta.

Give a final taste for salt and pepper, and serve garnishing with fresh parsley, additional pecorino and walnuts if desired.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wasabi Pea-Crusted Salmon

This dish was supposed to be a beautiful green color. However, I managed to buy the only package of yellow wasabi peas in the whole world, which I didn't realize until I got home.

So ignore the pale, unappetizing color of the salmon in my photo and know that when you make yours - you'll have a beautiful, Jolly Green Giant colored crust instead.

I got the idea of using wasabi peas from Andrea Immer. But her method of pan frying the salmon seemed like a potential disaster to me. I worried the peas would just fall off into the skillet with this method - especially during the flipping - so I decided to bake mine instead.

The result was damn delicious, even if a little anemic looking:(

Wasabi Pea-Crusted Salmon
Serves 2.

2 (6 oz) salmon fillets
1/2 cup Wasabi peas (gently smashed in a ziploc with a pan or mallet) mixed with 1 tablespoon Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons light/reduced fat mayo, or even plain yogurt
salt and pepper
olive oil - about a teaspoon for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a small baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying with nonstick spray. Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the tray.

Using a pastry brush, coat the tops of the fillets with the mayo (this will be your 'glue' for the wasabi peas.) Season the fillets with salt and pepper, then carefully add the pea mixture, coating the top with a nice layer. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil and bake for 8-10 minutes for medium rare, or 12-15 for well done.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chinese Takeout From Your Own Kitchen

You know how sometimes a chef on a cooking show will say to you, completely stone faced, "You can make this dish faster than you can call in for takeout!" (Yes, Rachael Ray, I mean YOU.)

Normally, I want to pick up my TV and throw it across the room when I hear things like this, simply for the reason that yes, if you had a sous chef (or a team of them behind the scenes at the Food Network kitchen) doing all the chopping and assembling, then perhaps this could be kind of close to being true. You'd still have to clean up though, and there's no magic button for that.

I guess my point is, if you're really not in the mood to cook, nothing beats the luxury of picking up your phone and dialing your favorite tried and true takeout (or here in NY) delivery place. It's man's greatest achievement as far as I'm concerned.

That said, there is also something wonderful about having your own 'takeout' dishes you can make at home. Maybe not faster than it takes to call in a delivery order, but still pretty quick, and without the random but inevitable pitfalls of takeout (i.e. that annoying little voice in the back of your mind that tells you that meat in your Cashew chicken is in fact deep fried...the occasional underdone turkey burger...or even God forbid, the little black hair in your Spinach salad.)

This is one of those meals. You can use any cut of steak you like, but for me, you know which one I'm using - the grand petite fillet. Once seared, rolled in Hoisin sauce, and baked off, the meat becomes tender and slightly caramelized from the sweet sauce and reminds me of my favorite childhood Chinese takeout dish - pork spare ribs.

The vegetables are the perfect foil for the slightly sweet meat - super fresh tasting with a little kick from the fresh ginger and red pepper flakes. And while 3 garlic cloves may seem like a lot, I promise you they just cook down and blend in with all the other flavors - elevating them slightly but without taking the limelight, much like the most talented of supporting actors.

If you're on the low carb thing, just prepare the beef sans the hoisin sauce, maybe sprinkling over a little garlic powder with the salt and pepper before searing.

Hoisin Glazed Fillets with Ginger Garlic Vegetables

1 small baking sheet, covered in foil and sprayed with nonstick spray, for easier clean up
1 large rimmed skillet, to sear the beef and cook the vegetables in
cutting board for the vegetables
sharp knife
small bowl for holding the Hoisin sauce

2 fillet mignon steaks
tongs, for handling meat
salt and pepper
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce (you can eyeball this - no need to dirty a measuring cup)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup broccoli florets, frozen or fresh
10 oz Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
pinch red pepper flakes
1 bunch fresh green onions, rinsed and cut into 1 inch pieces, green and white parts separated
1 small piece of fresh ginger, (about 1/2 inch), peeled and sliced into paper thin slices
1/2 cup vermouth or white wine

Preheat your oven to 375.

Meanwhile, season your fillets with salt and pepper. Heat up your large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, allow to heat through for 1 minute, then add your steaks. Cook for about 2 minutes per side (more for larger steaks) until seared and golden brown. Remove the pan from heat and using tongs, dunk the steaks in the Hoisin sauce one at a time. Be sure to coat them on all side, then transfer the steaks to your awaiting baking sheet.

Put in the oven for 6-8 minutes for medium rare. Once it's cooked to your liking, you can shut the heat off, leaving the steaks inside. This will keep them warm while you finish the vegetables.

Using the same pan, add the rest of the olive oil and bring back up to medium heat. Add the broccoli, mushrooms, white parts of the green onions, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and saute, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have begun to soften and cook down - about 7 minutes. Add the white wine and the green pieces of the green onions, and raise the heat slightly allowing the liquid to simmer. Cook until the majority of the liquid has evaporate. Taste for salt and serve as a bed for the steak.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Low Country Dinner with a Twist

It pretty much kills me that while I get to travel quite a bit for my job to places I'd never dreamed of going (Malaysia, Spain, Germany, Sweden, France, etc.), I still haven't done a trip through the good old American deep south. (And yes - I know I'm a Texan - but Texas is its own breed of southern, stubbornly different from everything around it, for better or worse.)

And while I do love my Texas, I've had an inexplicable obsession with that moody, bayou-soaked terrain draped like a shawl across the bottom right hand side of the US from South Carolina to Louisiana. Something about those gnarled old Live Oaks with their droopy, sweeping Spanish moss canopies calls out to me. Savannah holds a particular fascination, probably because of the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, yet I've never set foot there. One day...

But until I get to embark on my southern tour, I occasionally churn out a 'low country' meal in my little NY kitchen - something stick to your ribs including grits and a hunk of meat - then eat it while dreaming about the sites and sounds of this familiar yet foreign land.

This particular recipe got a visit from my favorite spice medley - Garam Masala - which for those who forgot includes ground cumin, cinnamon, and coriander among other things and is far more approachable in reality than in name. Indeed, these spices fit right in with southern food and its myriad of influences.

Braising a pork chop does wonders for its texture and ensures a moist hunk of meat. When paired with creamy goat cheese grits, the combination is as soothing and seductive as those back country waters I so often envision. And just before you go getting too relaxed and nod off into your plate from all that southern tranquility - the red pepper kicks in reminding you that you are, in fact, in the deep south, and you better watch out for the damn alligators!

Lastly - I will admit that the thought of an orange in this dish sounded strange to me at first but I promise you it's not. You won't even taste orange in the end - it just gives the tomatoes a fuller, more rounded flavor. And while I always think I hate celery - you don't taste it in the end either. All you taste is delicousness.

Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes over Creamy Goat Cheese Grits
Serves 3 (can easily be doubled - just double the ingredients for the sauce and grits and use a larger pot)
*Adapted from The Newlyweds Cookbook

3 bone-in pork chops (not double cut)
couple of teaspoons of Garam Masala, to season the chops (or sub a combination of 1 tbspn cumin and coriander mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil

3 celery stalks, chopped into small dice
l medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
pinch red pepper flakes - or up to 3/4 teaspoon depending on how hot you prefer
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or a couple of sprigs fresh
juice of 1 orange, and one quarter of the rind reserved for later
1/2 cup of red wine
sea or kosher salt and pepper
handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the Garam Masala, being sure to include the edges. Add the olive oil to a large (I used my 5.5 oz Le Creuset which worked perfectly) rimmed pan (with a lid.) Turn onto medium high heat and let the oil heat through 1 minute. Add the chops and cook 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a plate.

Add the celery and onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium high heat until they've begun to soften and brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir, scraping any bits that stick to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute, then stir in the tomatoes, fresh orange juice, bay leaf, thyme, the quartered orange rind and a pinch more salt.

Add the pork chops back to the pan, trying to bury them as much as possible under the sauce (spooning a little of the sauce over them, if necessary.) Cover, lower the heat to lowest, and simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully flip the chops to the other side, cover again, and simmer another 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 250, and transfer the pork to an aluminum line, nonstick sprayed baking sheet. Put the chops in the oven while you thicken the sauce.

Raise the heat on your tomato sauce to medium high, bringing to a boil. Cook 5-7 minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Remove the orange rind, herb sprigs if using, and bay leaf, and serve the pork, set on top of a nice pile of grits, topped with the sauce and a sprinkling of the minced fresh Parsley.

Goat Cheese Grits

1/4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
3/4 cup instant grits
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
4 oz goat cheese
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino

Bring a medium, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat on your stove. Add the shallots, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the grits, stirring well, and lower the heat, cover, and stirring frequently to prevent the bottom from sticking - about 7 minutes until thickened to desired consistency. Add the goat cheese and pecorino, stirring through until melted.

Serve as a bed under the chops and sauce.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Coriander Crusted Chicken with Sauteed Mushrooms and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

I made this up as an homage to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Snack Taverna. Their coriander pork is lethally good. But while theirs has an accompanying Avgolemono sauce made out of egg yolks that I could bathe in if unchaperoned, my version is much lighter.

And yes - I realize I'm cooking with a lot of cumin seeds lately, but they're addictive little things. They have the scent of cumin, but are oddly mellower with a slight nuttiness about them. Go on - live a little and try cooking with them sometime.

Coriander Crusted Chicken with Sauteed Mushrooms and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of your skillet) plus 1 teaspoon
1 chicken breast, bone-in and skin on, split (for 2 people)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 oz baby bella mushrooms, washed and quartered
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 ripe tomatoes, quartered and seeds/pulp removed
1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock, plus extra on standby in case your pan dries out while the chicken bakes
1 sprig fresh dill, plus a teaspoon of minced

Pick out a medium/large, rimmed skillet or Le Crueset type dish to make this in - it will need to go in the oven after being on the stove top so make sure it is suitable for this.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Season your chicken breasts on both sides liberally with salt and pepper, then the coriander and cumin seeds (the seeds will stick better on the skin side, so I usually just put them on that side only.) Add a heaping tablespoon of olive oil to your skillet and turn on to medium high heat, letting the oil get nice and hot before adding your chicken.

When the oil is HOT, add the chicken, skin-side down. Lower the heat if the chicken spits too much, and let cook for 4-5 minutes to get a nice, golden crust. Flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the flame, and transfer the chicken to a plate or baking sheet. Using a paper towel, carefully remove any blackened seeds left in the pan (trying to leave in as much oil as possible.) Add any more oil, if necessary, to coat the bottom again, then put back onto a medium heat.

Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 5 minutes, until they've begun to wilt and cook down a little. Add the vermouth or white wine and lemon juice, bring to a simmer, and cook until liquid has reduced by half. Carefully stir in the quartered tomatoes, dill and 1/4 cup chicken stock. Make room for the chicken breasts, and return to the pan, skin side up, arranging the vegetables around them as necessary for them to all lie as evenly as possible.

Place in the middle of your 350 degree oven, and bake for 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through (if you have particularly big breast pieces, this could take up to 55 minutes.)

Check midway through baking to see if you need to add more chicken stock to prevent the bottom of the pan from burning.

Serve with buttered orzo or rice, sprinkling over the extra dill, or in a pinch, some crusty French bread.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sausage, Spinach And Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Poor Kris had his birthday last week, smack in the middle of a work hurricane. Our original plan of a night out raising hell with friends was reduced to a night at home, enjoying a home made meal. I was at least thankful I got to sneak out of work early to make him dinner and a homemade ice cream cake, which was the only thing he really wanted.

I got this stuffed shells recipe from a wonderful blog called Simply Recipes. I tweaked it a little, adding nutmeg, lemon zest (shocker, I know), and red pepper flakes, but it's a truly great recipe, and one you can make in two baking dishes, freezing one to have later.

1 (12 oz) box jumbo pasta shells
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, broken up and casings removed
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 large egg
1 (16 oz) tub part skim ricotta
1 (10 oz) box frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, and chopped further
1 1/4 cups grated Pecorino (or Parmesan - I like the tang of the Pecorino)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus a handful of whole leaves
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
zest of 1 small lemon
pinch red pepper flakes (or 2)
good grating of fresh nutmeg
2 (28 oz) cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes
2 additional pinches salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a hefty pinch of sea or kosher salt, and cook the shells for 6-7 minutes, just until al dente, or they will be too soft and mushy to handle. Drain and transfer to an oil or Pam-sprayed baking tray and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the sausage, breaking it up further with your wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and continue cooking the mixture, until the sausage is cooked through and no pink remains - about 5-7 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, beat the egg slightly in a large bowl. Mix in the ricotta, chopped spinach, 1/2 cup of the Pecorino (or Parmesan) cheese, tablespoon of the basil, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked onions/garlic/sausage, straining as much oil out of it as possible with each ladle. Stir in just until incorporated - you don't want to over mix your stuffing.

Prepare 2 9x9 baking dishes by spraying them with nonstick spray and turn oven on to 375.

While the oven heats, break up the whole, peeled tomatoes carefully with your hands (a smarter way of doing this is with kitchen sheers, snipping the tomatoes inside the cans - but I like the feeling of squishing them with my hands.) Divide the broken up tomatoes between the prepared baking dishes, making a bed for the shells. Sprinkle over evenly a small pinch of salt and pepper. Add an additional couple tablespoons of tomato juice if necessary to the trays - you'll need a little bit of liquid there to help them along while they bake and prevent burning.

Stuff each shell with the ricotta/sausage filling - filling them well but not overflowing them - they should be happily 'full.'

Lay them in the prepared dishes, not overcrowding (about 1/2 inch in between one another.) (At this point - you can also set one tray aside, cover well, and freeze it for later use.) Spread each tray evenly with the remaining cheese, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, transferring dishes to upper rack of oven, raise heat to 400 and bake another 5 or so minutes, until tops have begun to turn golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool and set for five minutes before serving. Sprinkle with the remaining basil leaves before doing so.

Lazy Pork Chops with Dijon Mustard, Shallots, and Breadcrumbs

Have you ever been so lazy that you actually scared yourself?

Last night was one of those times. First of all, I had no right to attempt cooking to begin with. My mind was literally somewhere else, hovering above me in my kitchen or possibly in Tahiti, due to me having just recovered a 48 hour stomach virus/food poisoning. But I wanted a home cooked meal to celebrate being able to eat solid food, so my stomach trumped common sense once again.

I had devised a very quick recipe for baked pork chops while I was laid up. One that I could literally throw together in 10 minutes (I was still a little weak), toss in the oven and be done with. The only hitch was, I needed to go get my food processor from the loft upstairs to make breadcrumbs out of the French roll I'd bought. Well, at 7:30 last night, walking up those stairs might as well have been up and deciding to walk home to Texas. It seemed both impossible and ludicrous to me.

So what did I do? I made the breadcrumbs manually, single-handedly breaking the bread apart into tiny crumbs. After a while, I resorted to stabbing at the bread with kitchen sheers, which gave me a hand cramp hand that lasted until midnight.

I guess Murphy's Law is such for a reason. It would have saved me a good 20 minutes had I just whipped out the food processor. All I can say is learn from me - I have many dumb mistakes to teach you...

Anyway, thank God the pork turned out wonderfully! If you don't have the time to toast your homemade breadcrumbs, substitute plain croutons pulsed in your processor (or bashed until chunky in a ziploc.) If the bread is too soft, it will become gummy from the butter in the oven instead of toasty.

Baked Pork Chops with Mustard, Shallots, and Breadcrumbs

2 boneless pork chops, about 1/2 inch thick (leave a thin layer of fat around the edge to protect them while they bake)
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium shallot, finely minced (about 2 heaping tablespoons)
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 mini french baguette, processed into rough crumbs (not fine) in a food processor, then toasted in the oven spread out on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes at 325 (or you can substitute 2 cups plain croutons, bashed into a rough crumb in a ziploc)
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter mixed with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or just melted salted butter)

Set oven to 350.

Prepare your mustard bath by combining dijon mustard, stir lemon juice, shallots, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and pinch of fresh cracked pepper together in a wide, shallow bowl. Set up the rest of your breading station by placing your breadcrumbs in another wide bowl or pie plate, and having your melted butter at the ready to drizzle.

Dip chops in the mustard mixture, coating both sides and edges well, then press into bread crumbs, turning over twice to get a good coating. Place the pork on an aluminum lined, Pam-sprayed sheet pan and drizzle the chops evenly with butter.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until pork is just cooked through and bread crumb topping is golden brown.

Oven Roasted Whole Carrots and Broccoli

1 bunch carrots, washed and dried, with tops trimmed but not removed
1 head fresh broccoli, washed, patted dry and cut into florets
kosher or sea salt, about a teaspoon
fresh cracked pepper
3+ tablespoons olive oil

(These can be made in the same oven as the pork - just put in 15 minutes before the pork goes in, to get a head start, then flip over before returning to the oven for the duration of the pork's cooking time)

Preheat oven to 350.

Scatter the carrots and broccoli out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle evenly with olive oil, turning over with your hands to get a good coating (each veggie should be lightly and individually coated to ensure caramelizing.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn again to mix up.

Place in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove to turn veggies over to the other side. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes, until well caramelized and roasted.