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Ham and Corn Chowder

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Life is made up of a series of memories; some big, some small, some clearly life-changing, and some seemingly inconsequential. My wedding day, the births of my children, the loss of loved ones…all clearly consequential. But the little memories…like singing the soundtrack to Grease with my sisters while we played on our childhood swingset or selling candy bars outside the grocery store or riding our bikes in the park…turns out that those are just as consequential. We just don’t always realize it in the moment.

So, I’m lying on the couch last night, glass of wine in hand, playing around on my computer and distractedly watching American Idol, when two of the contestants come on stage and begin singing Islands in the Stream, a duet originally performed by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. In an instant I was transported back to my childhood, in my parents’ room, where my sisters and I used to stand at the foot of their bed, with our toes jammed between the mattress and boxspring, so that when we’d lean forward, the edge of the mattress would catch our calves and we’d suspend there, bobbing forward with our arms outstretched. We’d sway back and forth, mock-gliding over the mattress singing Islands in the Stream at the top of our lungs…with all the wrong lyrics, I am sure.

Such a simple little memory and yet it’s etched in my mind. Because it’s more than the ordinary event of singing a song with my sisters. It was a matter of being together, of laughing, of loving, and of feeling at home. Those are consequential, life-altering sorts of things wrapped in a silly little memory and tied together with a country song.

Every morning, our boys come bursting into our bedroom. The baby is usually already there by that point, drowsily enjoying a morning feeding. But the older boys don’t wake drowsily. They wake with a lightening bolt and go 0 to 60 in the moment they open their eyes. They fly into our room in a flurry. They do not stick their toes between our mattress and sing a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet. They mostly just make animal noises and shout things like underpants. They climb into my armoire. They climb under the bed. They jump on top of the bed. (Just imagine if you released a couple of monkeys into an enclosed space…it’s exactly like that.) Every so often we can convince them to climb under the covers for a snuggle. And sometimes we’re inclined to just send them back to their room because the activity level far exceeds what we’re prepared to handle that early in the morning. But those morning memories, of waking to a family that loves them…those memories matter.

This weekend we’ll be making more memories, the kind that add a bit of mystery and magic to childhood. Though I’ve expressed my half-hearted support for the Easter bunny, he will be visiting our home, hiding eggs, and leaving a basket filled with soft, stuffed-bunny toys, bubble wands, chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, and animal crackers hidden under the cellophane grass. We’ll color eggs and make a coconut-covered bunny cake with shoe-string licorice whiskers and a jelly bean nose. It’s tradition. And tradition matters too.

For dinner, we will most likely enjoy slow-roasted lamb with a fresh mint sauce, along with roasted red potatoes, roasted asparagus, and slices of warm French baguette. Our family prefers lamb over ham, but for many families, ham is the star of their traditional Easter feast. With that in mind, I came up with this ham and corn chowder, which would make perfect use of leftover Easter ham. This satisfying soup is worth making, even if you don’t have leftover ham on hand! It’s hard to go wrong with sweet kernels of corn in a warm, creamy broth. Use fresh corn, cut from the cob, if corn is in season or use frozen when it is not. I used frozen corn kernels and it was perfect.

P.S. I just purchased Islands in the Stream from iTunes and have been listening to it on repeat as I write this post. I’m considering teaching it to the boys and showing them how to stick their toes under the edge of my mattress.

Ham and Corn Chowder

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 15-ounce cans vegetable broth (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups ham, diced (approximately)
  • 2 1/2 cups sweet corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 6-8 green onions, sliced
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Additional sliced green onions, for garnish

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, until lightly golden and tender. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and garlic. Stir to coat and cook for another minute or so. Whisk in the vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes. (The broth should begin to thicken slightly.) Add the ham, corn, green onions, potato, and half and half to the pan. Bring the soup to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Ideally they should just be beginning to break down (to add extra thickness to the soup) but not so mushy that they’re falling apart. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm, garnished with additional sliced green onions.

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Moroccan-Style Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

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Anyone else bursting out of their skin with excitement for The Hunger Games movie??? Only a few days away now and I can hardly wait! Honestly, I never would have even picked up the book, had my sister not bought it for me for my birthday. All I knew was that it was a “young adult” novel. And the last time I tried one of those (ahem, Twilight) I couldn’t bring myself to read past the first chapter. But, The Hunger Games arrived in the mail, so as I sat on the couch feeding the baby, I cracked it open and read the first few pages. And then I sorely neglected my children for the rest of the afternoon, as I was incapable of putting the book down. Shhh…Mommy’s trying to read. You’re 4 years old now…what do you mean you don’t know how to cook yourself dinner?? Go change your own diaper…Mommy’s busy.

Not my proudest parenting moment, to say the least. But The Hunger Games is a page-turner, with a plot so barbaric that it’s hard for me to believe it’s written for ‘young adults’. But then, so many of the books I read as a young adult had themes which took me years to grasp at more than a surface level. I think that’s sort of the thing with The Hunger Games. The story has the perfect blend of ingredients; sacrifice, survival, heroism, romance, and moral conflict; to make it instantly relatable and intriguing to all age groups, but there are also deeper themes about human nature, power, and human rights at work…the kinds of themes which take a bit more time and experience to fully digest. If you haven’t read it yet, go buy it right now or load it to your Kindle or whatever it is that you do when you read. Stop reading this blog post, and go read The Hunger Games.

Wait…Don’t go just yet! I have a recipe for you. And you’re going to want it because this book is going to make you hungry. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that when the main character, Katniss, is brought to the Capitol, she is introduced to the most decadent array of mouth-watering foods, unimaginably extravagant in comparison with her impoverished family’s meager portion of grains or the illegally hunted game she risks her life to acquire. This is drool-worthy stuff…sweet melons, decadent chocolate cakes, thick carrot soups (like this one), and her first taste of hot chocolate. But of all of the foods, her most favorite dish was a lamb stew with dried plums.

With The Hunger Games poised to premiere in just a few days, a celebratory lamb stew seemed in order. But, to be quite honest, I wasn’t so sure how I felt about adding dried plums (prunes essentially) to my lamb stew. Am I the only one who’s afraid of prunes?? Trepidations aside, I decided to go for it. I figure that if Katniss can volunteer as tribute to save her sister’s life, I can certainly put a few prunes in my stew. For good measure, I also threw in some golden raisins, dried apricots and sweet potatoes. Moroccan-inspired spices of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and fresh mint complete the flavor profile in this decadent, slow-cooked lamb stew. Somehow I suspect that Katniss’ favorite lamb stew would have been equally exotic.

And as for the dried plums…I was so wrong. They are spectacular in combination with the tender chunks of slow-cooked lamb and Moroccan-inspired spices. I can’t think of a better pre-Hunger Games meal. As Katniss would say, I could eat this by the bucketful!

If you’re in need of a little Hunger Games fix before Friday’s big premiere, check out the preview on Cinema Blend, where you can see all of the latest images, trailers, movie clips, and behind-the-scenes features!

Moroccan-Style Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

Ingredients

  • 2-2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, well-trimmed of exterior fat and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup dried plums (prunes), diced
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 6 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade *
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Toss the lamb in the flour. In a large dutch oven pan (or oven-safe stock pot with a tight fitting lid), heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat. Add the lamb to the pan in a single layer and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. (Cook in batches, if necessary. Do not overcrowd the pan.) Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium. Add the carrots and onions to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender and golden. Sprinkle the cinnamon, cumin, ginger, salt and pepper over the carrots and onions. Stir to coat. Cook for one more minute. Then, return the lamb to the pan. Add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and place the pan on the middle oven rack. Cook for 1.5 hours, then add the sweet potatoes and dried fruits. Cook for 20-25 minutes more, until sweet potatoes are tender, but not mushy. Finally, stir in the fresh mint. (If the sauce is thicker than desired, use additional chicken stock or water to thin it out.) Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Serve over hot buttered noodles or with crusty bread.

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cranberry Horseradish Relish

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My husband and I almost didn’t make it to midnight this year. We were totally ok with missing the official beginning of the new year, in return for sleep; sweet, precious sleep. But, the baby had other plans. The littlest man start fussing somewhere around 11. By midnight, he was in my arms vying for the first kiss of the new year. I told him that his daddy always gets the first kiss. Baby love got the second.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are not nearly as exciting as they were in the past, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. No streamers, no crowded bars with inflated cover charges and subpar food, no need to call a taxi home…just calm, quiet, together. Perfect.

I made us a nice dinner after the kiddies were all tucked into bed; an incredibly simple roast rack of lamb over a cranberry horseradish relish with a big pile of roasted red potatoes. Notice the excess of potatoes and lack of a green veggie. Mmmm…potatoes! Totally overcompensating for the diet we knew we’d be starting the next day.

You may have noticed that I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my recipes. It doesn’t take a lengthy list of ingredients or elaborate techniques to get great flavor when you’re working with fresh foods. The shopping list for this elegant meal is short (you’ve probably got most ingredients in your pantry) and it’s a cinch to pull together. Makes a great date night meal too…you might want to mark this one for Valentine’s Day!

Cranberry Horseradish Relish

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Black pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until all cranberries have burst and the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with black pepper, as desired. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Easy-as-Can-Be Roast Rack of Lamb

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of lamb, trimmed and bones Frenched
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Trim off any excess fat or silverskin from the lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in an oversafe pan over medium/medium-high heat. Place the lamb in the hot pan and sear for about a minute on each side. Then, place the pan in the oven and cook until it reaches your desired doneness. 15-18 minutes should give you a nice, juicy medium-rare/medium. Allow the rack to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing between the ribs.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes. Use a spatula to occasionally turn the potatoes as they cook.

Meal Serves 2-4 People

Timesaving Tips:

  • Preheat the oven and prepare the potatoes first.
  • After the potatoes are in the oven, make the cranberry relish.
  • While the cranberry relish is simmering, trim and season the lamb.
  • Sear the lamb while the cranberry relish is cooling.
  • Place the lamb in the oven 20 minutes before the potatoes are done. The lamb will finish before the potatoes. Allow it to cool while you plate the cranberry relish and potatoes. Slice and plate the lamb last.

Steak and White Cheddar Panini with Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

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Happy New Year, my friends!!

Like millions of other people, I’m resolving to lose weight and live healthier in this new year. I know…such a predictable resolution! But, I’ve got at least 20 (ok, probably more like 30) pounds of extra weight still hanging around since giving birth to our third little love almost eight months ago. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses (some quite valid and some more of a stretch) for why I haven’t lost the weight yet. I was hoping it would just go away, but it’s become clear to me that it’s time to stop dragging my feet and to get proactive.

When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, my approach has always been one of balance. Eat mostly nutritious and unprocessed foods, enjoy a few indulgences, balance the indulgences with exercise. It’s an approach which has always worked well for me and makes good sense as a long-term plan. But, at this particular point in time, I feel that I need something with a few more ‘rules’ to get me jump-started on the right path.

So, beginning today, I’ll be following the South Beach diet, slightly modified (as I am still breastfeeding our baby and the first phase of South Beach is a bit too restrictive for a nursing mom). My husband and I have done the South Beach diet in the past and there are many things I like about it. It’s often confused for being a low-carb diet, but that’s a misconception. The South Beach diet is more of a good-carb diet. It’s a diet full of lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains. It makes me feel good to eat this way. In many ways, it’s the way most of us should be eating anyway.

South Beach is a diet with guidelines, rather than a detailed plan; guidelines that teach you to choose foods which keep you feeling fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels more stable in order to avoid the inevitable cravings and overeating which result from rapid peaks and plummets in blood sugar levels. Feeling more satisfied naturally makes it easier to eat less and lose the excess weight. (I like that part!)

My main gripe with the South Beach diet is in its suggestion to use artificially sweetened products and other processed food substitutes, particularly during the restrictive first phase of the diet where even fresh fruit is off-limits. I get the point, but personally, I’d rather enjoy real foods more sparingly than start introducing food substitutes like sugar-free jello and artificial ‘buttery spreads’ into my diet. So, I’m going to skip the recommended sugar-free snacks and stick with a smidgen of real butter when I need it.

You may be wondering what my new ‘diet’ means for this blog. Well…nothing, really. My little space here is not about to become a diet blog or a South Beach resource. Quite simply, this will continue to be a place to share my love of cooking delicious food. You can still expect to see all sorts of simple and crave-worthy recipes…just maybe a bit more broiled fish and roasted veggies in between the macaroni and cheese and triple chocolate cake.

Well, it’s really official now…put in writing for accountability’s sake. I’m starting a diet. I will stay focused. I will lose this weight.

But before we embark on our healthier diets, I had to splurge a bit…have something completely indulgent (in addition to diligently finishing off the leftover Christmas cookies). With that, I give you garlicky potatoes au gratin and a cheesy flank steak panini sandwich, loaded with horseradish butter and sweet caramelized red onions on a doughy loaf of French bread. This meal is worth a little extra time on the treadmill!

Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon of butter around the bottom and sides of a medium-sized baking dish. Rub the smashed clove of garlic in the butter. Arrange the potato slices, lying flat, in the baking dish. In a saucepan, heat the half and half, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, until it begins to bubble. Allow it to bubble gently for a minute or so. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Give the baking dish a little shake and press down gently on the potatoes to ensure the potatoes and sauce of evenly dispersed. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 55 minutes.

Steak and White Cheddar Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 cups aged white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 loaf French bread (batard or baguette)
Directions
For the steak: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the steak on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired doneness. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Slice into thin strips. Set aside.
For the caramelized onions: Heat one tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until sweet and tender. Set aside.
For the horseradish butter: Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the horseradish. Stir. Place the bowl in the refrigerator. Every few minutes, stir the butter. Continue checking and stirring until the butter has become firm enough to be spreadable. Remove from the refrigerator.
To prepare the sandwich: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the French bread in half lengthwise. Press down on the top of the loaf to flatten the bread. Spread the horseradish butter on both halves of the bread. Arrange the steak on the bottom half of the bread. Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the steak. Generously sprinkle with the white cheddar. Place the other half of the bread on top. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down as you wrap.
Place the wrapped sandwich in the oven. Place a heavy, oven-safe pan (or a brick wrapped in foil) on top of the sandwich to keep it flattened as it cooks. Heat the sandwich for about 20 minutes or until all components are warmed and the cheese is melty.

P.S. Though I’m not quite brave enough to share my starting weight with you, I will gladly keep you updated on the loss! Wish me luck! Anyone else embarking on a New Year’s weight loss plan??

Day: 1 Weight Loss: 0 Motivation: High

Favorite Thanksgiving Ideas

Hard to believe Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. I’d better get my butt in gear and start preparing.

To be honest, I’d been struggling to come up with new Thanksgiving recipes to share with you. I’m just really in love with my standard Thanksgiving dishes. It’s a menu that’s evolved over the past several years and in my mind, it’s the perfect Thanksgiving feast. But, as my husband reminded me, Thanksgiving is very much about tradition.

So, this Thanksgiving, we will be enjoying what has become our traditional Thanksgiving feast, but I have come up with a few new ideas to share. Over the next two weeks, keep your eyes out for a Pumpkin Vanilla Custard, How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust Photo Guide, Spiced Pumpkin Wontons, From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole with Homemade Crispy Onion Straws, Garlicky Creamed Spinach, a fun twist on a classic Apple Pie, and Braised Turkey Drumsticks.

Yikes! Ok…it’s probably unrealistic that I’ll be able to get all of that posted before Thanksgiving. But I’m gonna give it an honest effort. Let me know if there’s anything in that list you’re especially interested in seeing and I’ll try to prioritize that post.

In the mean time, take a look back at some of my classic Thanksgiving favorites:

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel 

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry Orange Sauce 

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts 

Hot Doughy Buns 

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs and Creamy Brie Potatoes

You know that show, Masterchef? The one where Gordon Ramsay and two other dudes put a group of amateur cooks through their paces, looking for America’s best home cook?? Enthusiastic friends of mine have mentioned that I should try out for that show. Never gonna happen. Competition and I don’t get along so well and I’m a big awkward goof in front of the camera. Seriously, it would make you cringe. Besides, they probably wouldn’t even let me on the show now that I’ve just called Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot those “two other dudes”. Just kidding guys! You know you’re my favorite, Joe! 

Anyway, I’m an amateur home cook, much like the contestants on that show. I share their passion for food, I’ve got a few culinary skills up my sleeve and I can come up with a tasty recipe or two on the fly. I enjoy watching what the contestants come up with and am constantly impressed by how quickly and creatively they can think on their feet. Not sure I could hack it.

But I’ve been thinking that there’s something missing from the show; something which many home cooks contend with on a day to day basis; something much more challenging than executing expert knife skills or producing the perfect souffle…

Don't let his cute little face fool you...this guy is twice as demanding as Gordon Ramsay!

I’m talking about children. Cooking in the presence of children changes the game. I’d be interested in seeing these accomplished home cooks produce such artfully-plated, mouth-watering meals while simultaneously bouncing a crying baby on their hip and preventing the older kids from razing the house. Now that would be impressive!

Because, for many of us, that is the reality of being a home cook. We may not have Gordon Ramsay standing over our shoulder making us question our choice of figs with the short ribs or telling us that our sauce is under-seasoned. And most of us are not racing against a big timer mounted on the wall. But we are constantly racing against the clock of a different kind. Children can turn every night into a high-pressure culinary challenge. It’s a challenge hard to replicate in a cooking competition. Perhaps we can ask the contestants to prepare their perfect souffle with wiggling 35-pound weights on both legs, a shrieking bowling ball in one arm, and a tower of antique teacups balanced on their heads?

Props to all home cooks who put meals on the table for your family, night after night…regardless of whether it’s boxed macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs and peas or braised short ribs with creamy brie potatoes and roasted asparagus! It’s a challenge regardless. I know all about it!

But what if I told you that preparing the braised short ribs would be almost as easy as the box of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs?? Seriously! This dish is really a cinch to put together and so, so satisfying. Adults and kids alike will love these creamy potatoes and fall-off-the-bone tender beef in a slightly sweet sauce.

This is a two day recipe. You can make perfectly delicious short ribs in less than two days (Check out my recipe for Braised Shorts Ribs with Creamy Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomato Polenta), but there are a few benefits to the two-day process. First, it will enable you to get the bulk of the cooking (and clean-up) completed the day before, making it easy to reheat the next night. Second, it gives the sauce a chance to cool, which will allow the excess fat (which is rendered from the short ribs during cooking) to rise to the top and become solid. This makes it super easy to remove the excess fat from the sauce. The night you plan to serve, you’ll simply scoop off the fat, reheat at a low simmer, adjust the seasoning of your sauce and serve!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs

Ingredients

  • 6-8 beef short ribs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/4 cup dry red wine (substitute 1 1/4 cup beef stock OR 1/2 cup grape juice and 3/4 cup beef stock)
  • 3 cups beef stock (plus more, if desired)
  • 10-12 dried Mission figs, halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the short ribs with a bit of salt and pepper and the 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a deep dutch oven or a large saucepan (big enough to fit all short ribs in a single layer). Place the short ribs in the pan. Cook for a minute or two on each side to brown. Remove the short ribs from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until tender and golden.

Return the short ribs to the pan. Add the beef stock, wine, and figs. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and place it on the middle oven rack.

Allow it to cook for about 3-3.5 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Once cool enough to handle, place the entire pan in the refrigerator overnight.

By the next day, the excess fat will have risen to the surface and become solid. Use a spoon to scoop away the fat. Over low heat, slowly reheat the short ribs and sauce. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired. The sauce  should have a strong, rich flavor.

(If the flavor is too strong for your preference, you can add a bit more beef stock to mellow the flavor. If the flavor is not strong enough, allow the sauce to simmer uncovered until you’re happy with the flavor. The flavor will intensify as the liquid reduces.)

Optional: If you’re happy with the flavor but would prefer a thicker sauce, stir a few tablespoons of the hot sauce with about 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce. Stir and allow it to gently simmer  for a few minutes. The cornstarch will help thicken the sauce.

Serve the short ribs (1-2 per person) over mashed potatoes with a spoonful of sauce.

A note about the wine in this recipe: Due to the long cooking time of this recipe, almost all of the alcohol in the wine will be cooked away. But, a very small percentage may remain. (See this chart.) I prepared this recipe for an adult dinner party, so the very small percentage of remaining alcohol was not a concern for our group, but if you are preparing this dish for your family you may wish to substitute beef stock for the wine or substitute about half of the wine with a no-sugar-added grape juice and the rest with beef stock.

For the Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes: Peel, chop, and boil 6-8 russett potatoes, until fork tender. Strain and thoroughly smash the potatoes to desired consistency. Combine with lots of butter (I used a whole yummy stick.) and milk or cream. While still warm, stir an 8-ounce wedge of brie (rind removed) into the potatoes, until melted. The potatoes can be made a day ahead of time.

For the Roasted Asparagus: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the tough end. (A little trick for determining how much to cut is to hold one asparagus spear by the ends and bend. The point where the asparagus snaps is generally a good place to trim off.) Toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Sweet and Spicy Pork over Smashed Sweet Potatoes

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Anyone else inherit the same paranoia about undercooked pork that I did? Do you find yourself perpetually overcooking your pork until it practically crumbles and barely resembles meat? You’re not alone. Overcooking pork is a common practice, stemming from the fear instilled in us by our well-intentioned elders, who warned us never to mess around with undercooked pork. Fearing for our lives and horrified at the thought of contracting some miserable illness, we did as we were told and cooked that pork to a dry 170 degrees.

Turns out that nowadays, Trichinella (the parasite of concern in pork) is not so much a problem as it once was. Improved sanitation standards and pig diets have resulted in a much safer pork quality. Furthermore, trichinella is actually killed at a temperature which is much lower than 170 degrees. There’s really no reason to cook your pork to death.

Wouldn’t you rather enjoy a juicy pork chop instead of something akin to cardboard? Well, you’re in luck! Recently, the USDA officially lowered it’s recommended minimum temperature for pork. You can now rest at ease with cooking your pork to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees. Add a recommended three minute rest time for a little carryover cooking and to let the juices redistribute and you’ll have yourself a delicious, juicy piece of pork. (Click here for more information on the USDA’s revised recommendations.)

It’s now easier than ever to remember the safe cooking temperatures for all types of meat. Just three numbers to remember for safe, delicious meat! Pork, beef, lamb, and other whole cuts of meat all have a minimum recommended temperature of 145 degrees. The recommendation for poultry remains unchanged at a minimum cooked temperature of 165 degrees. Ground meats maintain a minimum recommended cooked temperature of 160 degrees. (See my summertime safety note below the recipe.)

The best way to measure the temperature of any meat is with an instant-read meat thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the meat. If you don’t already own a good thermometer, get yourself one. It is, without a doubt, one of the most useful kitchen tools you’ll own.

I’ve got just the thing to celebrate the new, lowered safe temperature recommendation for cooked pork; a lean pork tenderloin glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce made of honey and sambal oelek (ground chili paste). Check in the international section of your grocery store for the sambal oelek. If you’re unable to find it, a ground chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo) would make a good substitute. Our perfectly cooked tenderloin will be served atop a mound of lightly spiced, smashed sweet potatoes and drizzled with a bit of the honey sauce.

Sweet and Spicy Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 1 1-pound pork tenderloin
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek
  • Salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove any excess fat or silver skin from the pork tenderloin. Place the tenderloin on a baking dish. Season with salt.

In a bowl, combine the honey and sambal oelek until well blended. Pour about half of the mixture over the tenderloin. Place the tenderloin in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes, until it has reached an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. Halfway through the cooking time, pour the remainder of the honey mixture over the tenderloin. Allow to rest for 3 minutes before slicing.

Serve over smashed sweet potatoes. Drizzle with excess honey sauce from the baking dish.

Serves 2-4

For the sweet potatoes: Place 2 large sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for about an hour, until very tender. Split the potatoes in half and scoop out the tender insides. Smash the potato with 3 tablespoons of butter and about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, until as smooth as desired.

**Semi-unrelated Summertime Safety Note**

The recommended minimum temperature of 160 degrees for ground meats includes burgers, despite some people’s preferences for a more rare-cooked burger. The higher recommended temperature for ground meat (as compared to whole cuts of meat) is due to the nature of the product. Whereas bacteria exists mainly on the surface of whole meats, which enables it to be fully killed during the cooking process, bacteria in ground meat has the potential to be spread throughout the entire product. If you prefer your burgers on the rare side, your best bet is to purchase the highest quality meat from a trusted source and grind it in your own, impeccably clean meat grinder.  Irradiated beef, which has been exposed to radiation in order to kill bacteria and parasites is another option for rare-cooked burgers, though personally, the idea of irradiated meat doesn’t sit well with me. I’d much rather just cook my burgers to the recommended safe temperature. Using a ground beef with a higher fat content (80/20) is the best way to maintain a well-cooked, juicy burger.

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