Homemade Ricotta

I admit sometimes I can go a little overboard.  A four course dinner, homemade rolls and party favors.  Not one, but two specialty cocktails.  My husband and close friends often point out there is no need for 6 appetizers, let alone all of them made by scratch.  So when I said I was going to make my own cheese, I knew I would catch a certain amount of grief.  So worth it!  It’s like a mad science experiment in your own kitchen and the result is super yummy cheese – sold.  The process is easy but it’s definitely the kind where even the most experienced cook would second guess herself.  So apologies in advance for the not terribly interesting pictures but they do speak a million words in terms of how the ricotta is supposed to look.  At one point I almost chucked the whole thing away because I thought I had messed up but I am so glad I didn’t.

these 4 ingredients make cheese?!?!

these 4 ingredients make cheese?!?!

What to do with all this ricotta you ask?  I made it to use in a stuffed shells recipe (which was not blog worthy I am sad to say) but I think it’s delicious simply spread on grilled bread or on a homemade pizza (as in the featured picture), with eggs, dolloped on pasta with pesto…honestly the options are limitless.  It lasts for 3 weeks in the fridge so it’s a great make ahead appetizer – make the ricotta one weekend and then bake it in a dip the following.  It would be easy enough to cut in half if you aren’t as crazy for ricotta like me.  Note – I was not always a big ricotta fan but I have discovered that it was because I was eating super processed, tasteless supermarket ricotta.  Once I had some from the H Street Farmers Market it was a revelation in soft, buttery cheesey goodness.  Homemade is even better and you have control over the firmness – this go around I made it not very firm at all since it was going into a baked pasta recipe but if I were eating it on its own I would have let it drain for several more hours to reach the perfect (to me) consistency.

Homemade Ricotta (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Fine Cooking Magazine

Special Equipment:  cheese cloth, candy thermometer (I used one but according to the original recipe you can skip it – the milk is ready when bubbles form at the edge of the pot)

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

DSC03167Cut 3 or 4 pieces of cheesecloth slightly larger than the size of your colander or alternatively do what I did and take a huge piece and just fold it over 4 times.  Run it under the faucet to get wet and then wring out the cheesecloth and line a colander.  Place it in a larger bowl or in your sink.  I did a bowl but had to empty it a couple of times so if you can spare your sink for several hours it’s probably the best way to go.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a large pot (your pasta pot would work well here). Pour in the milk and cream and slowly warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it’s 185 degrees.

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The original recipe said it would take 20 minutes, it took me 30, just be careful not to get impatient and jack up the heat.  You want a slow gentle heat.  Once its at 185 degrees take it off the heat and stir in the salt.  Then you want to slowly pour the lemon juice over the surface of the milk.

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Ok here is where it gets exciting – start to stir the whole thing gently.  Nothing will happen immediately so don’t start vigorously stirring.  Give it a minute or two and suddenly you have curds!

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After 2-4 minutes you have all the curds that you are going to get and that is when you are likely thinking you just wasted a whole gallon of milk.  The curds are quite small and not cheese like at all but don’t dispar.  Gently ladle the curds into the prepared colander, they will start to collect and all the sudden it looks like a bowl of cheese!  Ladeling can be tedious but don’t skip this part otherwise all your curds will go right down the drain.

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Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds to  cover and let it drain away.  If you are going to let it go a long time make sure to use the bowl method so you can place it in the fridge.  If under 3 to 4 hours then the sink will be fine.  You can drain it for as little as 30 minutes and up to a day depending on how firm you want it.  As you can see quite a bit drains out.

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Transfer the drained ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

after 2 hours

Homemade Ricotta

  • Servings: 4 cups
  • Time: 1 hour or up to 1 day
  • Print

Special Equipment:  cheese cloth, candy thermometer (I used one but according to the original recipe you can skip it – the milk is ready when bubbles form at the edge of the pot)

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Cut 3 or 4 pieces of cheesecloth slightly larger than the size of your colander or alternatively do what I did and take huge piece and just fold it over 4 times.  Run it under the faucet to get wet and then wring out the cheesecloth and line a colander.  Place it in a larger bowl or in your sink.  I did a bowl but had to empty it a couple of times so if you can spare your sink for several hours it’s probably the best way to go.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a large pot (your pasta pot would work well here). Pour in the milk and cream and slowly warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it’s 185 degrees.  The original recipe said it would take 20 minutes, it took me 30, just be careful not to get impatient and jack up the heat.  You want a slow gentle heat.

Once its at 185 degrees take it off the heat and stir in the salt.  Then you want to slowly pour the lemon juice over the surface of the milk.Ok here is where it gets exciting – start to stir the whole thing gently.  Nothing will happen immediately so don’t start vigorously stirring.  Give it a minute or two and suddenly you have curds!After 2-4 minutes you have all the curds that you are going to get and that is when you are likely thinking you just wasted a whole gallon of milk.  The curds are quite small and not cheese like at all but don’t dispar.

Gently ladle the curds into the prepared colander, they will start to collect and all the sudden it looks like a bowl of cheese!  Ladeling can be tedious but don’t skip this part otherwise all your curds will go right down the drain.Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the curds to  cover and let it drain away.  If you are going to let it go a long time make sure to use the bowl method so you can place it in the fridge.  If under 3 to 4 hours then the sink will be fine.  You can drain it for as little as 30 minutes and up to a day depending on how firm you want it. Transfer the drained ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Ginger Beef

The restaurant industry in DC has been absolutely transformed over the last decade.  Once known for stuffy steakhouses filled with lobbyists, Washington can now boast to have one of the hottest food scenes.  In fact in 2014 Bon Appetit named Capitol Hill’s own Rose’s Luxury the best restaurant in the country!  So why, oh why, is it so hard to get some decent chinese food???  Any of you who have been to DC’s Chinatown will know that its laughable to call it so, unless making Ann Taylor Loft and Starbucks have their signs in english and chinese somehow makes it authentic.  I was spoiled by years of great dim sum in Boston’s Chinatown and visits to San Francisco and New York.  There are amazing Vietnamese and Korean places but not so for chinese food.  So if you have a craving for some yummy chinese take out the best option is really to make it yourself.  Honestly even if you do live in a place blessed with decent chinese, cooking it yourself is often quicker than waiting for delivery and certainly a lot healthier.  One of my favorite make at home take out options is this ginger beef recipe.  The mix of pickled ginger (that funny pink stuff served with sushi) and fresh ginger is great.  Ginger root can be sort of intimidating at first but don’t be scared off by its gnarly exterior.  Cut off the peel with a small paring knife (though I see lots of people telling you to scrape it off with a spoon) and you expose the spicy, fragrant, edible part.  Ginger can start to get shriveled up after a while so if you aren’t using it frequently try freezing it.  Once you have peeled it throw it in a freezer bag for months – bonus that its much easier to grate and cut when frozen.

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This stir fry is great because you can add in any vegetables you like, I used snow peas but sugar snap peas, bell pepper, green beans, any would work.  You can increase or decrease the amount of ginger or chili sauce depending on how hot you want it or do what I do and make the full sauce recipe but only half the beef so there is lots of it to sop up with rice or noodles.  Either way its a fast, delicious meal that is great as leftovers – just like good chinese take out should be.

Ginger Beef (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Beef Stir Fry with Fresh and Pickled Ginger by Food and Wine magazine
Special Equipment:  none

  • 3 tablespoons sherry (any kind works – I use cream sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese chile-garlic sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup julienned fresh ginger
  • 1/2 red or white onion sliced
  • 8 ounces snow peas
  • 2 tablespoons pickled ginger, sliced into strips

In a bowl, whisk the sherry with the soy sauce and cornstarch (this is called a slurry – no idea why). Add the steak and turn to coat with the marinade.  Let it sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.  In another bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the broth, sherry, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chile-garlic sauce and cornstarch. wpid-20150527_181706.jpg Heat a skillet over high heat for a minute or two.  If you have a wok use it by all means but a skillet can do the job and won’t take up as much space.  I find nonstick is the best for stir fries as you can use less oil – the hands down best pan is Swiss Diamond.  Pricey but totally worth it and often hugely discounted at William Sonoma Outlets if you are near one.  Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and let it get hot.  Add the beef using a slotted spoon so you just get the beef and not the marinade it’s sitting in.  Be careful here – when the beef hits the hit pan it might spit and splatter a bit so make sure you are wearing an apron.  Let the steak sit for 1 minute so it can brown then move it around the pan till its cooked to your liking – only another minute should do if you have cut it thinly.

wpid-20150527_183156.jpgScoop the steak out of the pan and add a little more oil if you need.  Add the fresh ginger, onion, and snow peas and cook for about 2 minutes, just so the onion is no longer raw.  Toss the steak back in along with the pickled ginger and the sauce you made earlier.  Cook it down and stir it around until everything is combined and the sauce has thickened a bit, probably 1 minute more.

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Ginger Beef

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 3 tablespoons sherry (any kind works – I use cream sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese chile-garlic sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup julienned fresh ginger
  • 1/2 red or white onion sliced
  • 8 ounces snow peas
  • 2 tablespoons pickled ginger, sliced into strips

In a bowl, whisk the sherry with the soy sauce and cornstarch. Add the steak and turn to coat with the marinade.  Let it sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.  In another bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the broth, sherry, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chile-garlic sauce and cornstarch.  Heat a skillet over high heat for a minute or two.  Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and let it get hot.  Add the beef using a slotted spoon so you just get the beef and not the marinade it’s sitting in.  Be careful here – when the beef hits the hit pan it might spit and splatter a bit so make sure you are wearing an apron.  Let the steak sit for 1 minute so it can brown then move it around the pan till its cooked to your liking – only another minute should do if you have cut it thinly.  Scoop the steak out of the pan and add a little more oil if you need.  Add the fresh ginger, onion, and snow peas and cook for about 2 minutes, just so the onion is no longer raw.  Toss the steak back in along with the pickled ginger and the sauce you made earlier.  Cook it down and stir it around until everything is combined and the sauce has thickened a bit, probably 1 minute more.

Intro to the menu calendar and a cocktail for the weekend

I cook almost every single day.  To people who know me well that doesn’t come as much of a surprise but anytime I meet someone new they marvel at the thought.  How do you have the time?  Where do you get the energy?  Don’t you ever just want to call takeout?  The answer to that last one is yes – for sure.  Everyone has days where the thought of putting something in a pan seems impossible.  However, I have to say even on rough work days, or at the end of a busy weekend, I am usually happy, even eager to cook.  Sure I have to check my blackberry while cooking but trust me I have mastered simultaneously stirring and typing.

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the last resort…

Stop looking at cooking as a chore and start thinking of it as a creative outlet and a way to decompress.  The key to changing that mindset is setting yourself up for success by menu planning. When building the week’s menu I go through recipes I want to try and think about what we already have in the fridge that I can incorporate.  We have some standbys that show up often but generally I like to make something new at least a couple of times a week (because I am a masochist).  If you are just trying to get in the groove of weeknight cooking go with tried and true meals you feel confident making.  I also put thought into the week as a whole.  Sure we might have chicken multiple times a week but no one needs to have it two days in a row so I stagger the proteins.  I also mix it up when it comes to cuisine – if we are having beef tacos one night I wont make turkey chili the next day.  Ok so now you have a couple of meals planned – next you have to make sure to have everything on hand.

I loathe grocery shopping.  Part of it has to do with the quality of grocery stores in Washington (seriously Safeway you are out of milk??) but it’s also a total bummer after a long day of work having to wield a huge cart down ridiculously narrow aisles, just to get home and have to put it all away and then start cooking.  That is wpid-20150604_065257.jpgwhy I try to shop once a week, usually on the weekend, and make it last. When considering produce, use the most perishable items early in the week and leave the heartier stuff towards the end of the week (or frozen) to ensure that you have fresh veggies each night.  Also buying in bulk is your friend, especially when it comes to meat.  We head to Costco, buy meat for a family of 18 and then vacuum seal them in more reasonable portions to be defrosted for weeknight meals.  My freezer (ok freezers, we have 2) are stuffed to the gills but it makes shopping and cooking much easier (also means you are ready for last minute dinner parties and the apocalypse).

I started to put our dinner menu on a shared google calendar so I could keep track and so Patrick could see what wpid-20150604_071952.jpghe will be eating each night.  When I decided to start the blog my friends Dave and Ashley lobbied in the best DC way to get our menu calendar on the blog – so here it is.  Every Friday I will update the menu calendar page with some weeknight meals for the following week and post a shopping list for the ingredients you will need on the blog.  Some assumptions will be made (you all have salt, pepper and olive oil right??) but it should set you up pretty well to not have to think at all and still put several healthy, homemade dinners on the table.  Once I have a good inventory of recipes on the blog most of the dinners will circle you back to a previous post but for now most of them will take you to other sites.  Even if you don’t want to make the recipes provided it will give you a sense of what types of things really can work on a weeknight and some ideas of sides etc to round out a full meal.

Mi Vida

Let me know how you like it and if it’s getting you cooking more during the week.  Its been a month of A Capitol Contessa and over 1,600 visitors – cannot thank you all enough for reading and following.  Please send the blog along to friends and family – the more readers I get the more good ideas for posts I have!  And don’t worry – I havent forgotten that its Fiesta Friday.  I will not leave you high and dry without some inspiration.  We tried the Mi Vida from Food and Wine several weeks ago and were very happy indeed.  The smokiness of the mezcal goes really nicely with the grapefruit and the pink peppercorn and sugar rim takes it to the next level.  If you don’t have pink peppercorns just do sugar – black pepper wouldnt work as well and wouldn’t be as cute!  I also cheated and used Tropicana grapefruit juice instead of fresh and it was still delicious.  Happy weekend!

Shopping List for June 8-12

Items are tagged with the day of the week they are used so if you don’t want to cook that day just scratch it off

  •  4 chicken breasts (Mon)
  • eggs (Mon)
  • breadcrumbs (Mon)
  • grated parm (Mon)
  • salad greens for 4 (Mon)
  • 3 lemons (Mon/Wed)
  • 2% milk (whole if fine too) (Mon)
  • instant dry polenta (Mon)
  • cream cheese (Mon)
  • 2 pounds cod fillets (or other white fish) (Wed)
  • white wine (Wed)
  • mixed olives (Wed)
  • parsley (Wed)
  • baby spinach (Wed)
  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes (Wed)
  • 2 poblanos (Fri)
  • 1 onion (Fri)
  • frozen corn (Fri)
  • light sour cream (Fri)
  • 1 1/2 pound skirt steak (Fri)
  • white rice (Fri)

Take Your Travels Home – an Italian Dinner Party

In April I travelled to Italy for 2 weeks with my mom and Patrick.  We started our trip in Bologna, which is in the region considered the “food belt” of Italy, and then made our way down to Florence and Rome with stops in Ravenna, Parma, and Siena.  At first we started counting how many delicious bottles of wine and bowls of pasta we consumed but it was starting to get ridiculous by day five so we stopped.  Needless to say we ate very well and have a true appreciation for the amazing fresh food products there.  Whenever I am travelling in a place like Italy, busting with fresh vegetables and cheeses in all the lovely outdoor markets, I am desperate to just cook and cook.  Until I get a villa in Tuscany that’s probably not in the cards but I do bring as much back with me as possible.  I try to pack as light so we have room to bring back the good stuff you just cant get here in the states – its tough leaving that extra pair of shoes behind but its worth it when you can drizzle fresh green olive oil straight from the fields.

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Our amazing friends watched the kitties while we were gone and I figured what better way to thank them then dishing up some of the goodies we smuggled in along with a menu full of our favorite dishes.  I also had brought home some beautiful entertaining pieces like this amazing cobalt blue acrylic pitcher.  In Florence I purchased small Chianti bottles and then repurposed them as salt and pepper shakers.  To add a little elegance to the evening I bought place cards from one of the beautiful paper stores in Siena.

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Of course lots of delicious Italian reds were drunk and both Dave and Ashley and Devin and Erica went home with hand painted olive dishes from Florence as a thank you.  Honestly, no one wants to sit through a slide show of your vacation no matter how awesome it was – but here is a delicious and fun way to share your experiences with folks back home.

Menu

Cheese plate with Parmesan and fennel sausage from Florence

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Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

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Porchetta Style Roast Pork

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Fennel Salad

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Affogato with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

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The cheese and sausage we got from the incredible Mercato Centrale in Florence.  I had been there once before and described it as my version of heaven but they have managed to make it even better.  The first floor food market, which has been in operation for hundreds of years, has everything you can imagine from cured meats, to vinegars and fresh vegetables.  However, now you can take an escalator to the 2nd floor and a whole new layer to the market opens up.  It’s as if the next generation of the families that operate downstairs decided they needed their own new hip spot to play.  There is a cooking school, a small Eataly outpost and amazing spots to have pizza, a beer or watch cheese being made.  The bolognese was inspired of course by our time in Bologna but honestly it was not the best version I have ever made.  The taste was really rich and deep but I didn’t love the texture so stay tuned and hopefully I will find a version I like that’s blog worthy.  The porchetta is my attempt at a version we had at Il Latini in Florence.  This is a unique Italian experience that’s a little confusing at first (definitely get a reservation) but so incredible.  Food just keeps coming and coming including this ridiculous meat plate with porchetta, Florentine steak and a whole duck!  It was delicious and one of the best nights we had.  I threw in a fennel salad with lemon dressing just to lighten things up, basically fennel sliced thinly with a little red onion, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  To finish things off we had Sambuca we brought from Rome and affogato, the world’s easiest dessert.  Scoop vanilla gelato into bowls and pour over hot espresso – done.  I added chopped chocolate covered espresso beans for crunch.  It was a great night and a terrific way to remember our trip.  Buon appetito!

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Crusted Pork Tenderloin

I honestly don’t know what I used to do before I found this recipe.  We must have it at least once every two weeks for dinner because it’s so easy, healthy and versatile.  Pork tenderloin is the king of weeknight meals as its quick cooking, portion controlled and cheap – but don’t sleep on it for a nice dinner party either.  It’s the perfect main protein when you really want to fancy up the sides or apetizers.  It’s also incredibly easy to scale up if you want to make 3 or 4 tenderloins for a crowd.

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Everyone can get their hands on djion mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil – I bet the only thing that would trip
folks up here is having to grind your own coriander seeds.  I realize most people don’t even have ground coriander in their spice drawer let alone the whole seeds but this is definitely worth some real estate in your DSC04479kitchen.  First off ground coriander will not work here – all it will do is burn and leave a bitter taste to the pork.  But secondly the seeds are so much more fragrant and delicate than the ground powder or horrors of all horrors the coriander plant better known to some as cilantro.  Such a controversial herb – my best friend Karin is a cilantro hater so I basically removed it from my repertoire for years – but coriander and coriander seeds have no “soapy” or cilantroy flavor.  If you are really adverse then I would recommend using fennel seeds which I do on occasion just to mix it up.  However that still leaves us with the dilemma of having seeds we need to crush!  How is that making your life easy?  Well if you have a spice grinder it’s incredibly easy.  I have this one and love it.  Cheap and small it does the job.  If you have a mortar and pestle old school style that will work too.  Dont want to buy special equipment?  Just throw the coriander seeds into a plastic baggie and wack away with the bottom of a pot to crush them.  This pork is so delicious and easy you will be glad you made space for these seeds and I will hazard a guess you will find other uses for them like these insanely good looking fries from Bon Appetit.  This time around I served the pork with some roasted asparagus and my favorite whole grain mustard on the side but this pork can go with practically anything.  Roasted veggies just make a good side because you can throw them in the same oven.

Crusted Pork Tenderloin (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspired by:  Coriander Crusted Pork Tenderloin by Fine Cooking Magazine

Special Equipment:  spice grinder, mortar and pestle or just wack away at the seeds and skip both, meat thermometer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.  Grind the coriander seeds onto a plate (I like to throw the peppercorns into the spice grinder and do them together but by all means just grind pepper directly onto the plate, as much as you want).  Grind pepper as well if you havent already and add salt.  Toss spice mixture around to mix (this can be made in bulk and kept in a baggie so you can use it anytime).  Rub the mustard onto the pork and then roll it on the plate with the spices making sure they stick all over.  You can do this in advance as well and just store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before but honestly this process is so easy I usually just do it right before cooking.

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Heat the olive oil in a ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes until brown, turn it over and then put the skillet into the oven.  The original recipe called for browning on all sides but the bottom gets really crusty in the oven so the double browning seemed like overkill.  Cook until the pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer  about 18 to 20 minutes. Cover with tin foil and let rest for  5 minutes before slicing thinly.

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Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  spice grinder, mortar and pestle or just wack away at the seeds and skip both, meat thermometer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.  Grind the coriander seeds and pepper on to a plate and add salt.  Toss spice mixture around to mix (this can be made in bulk and kept in a baggie so you can use it anytime).  Rub the mustard onto the pork and then roll it on the plate with the spices making sure they stick all over.  You can do this in advance as well and just store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before.  Heat the olive oil in a ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes until brown, turn it over and then put the skillet into the oven.  Cook until the pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer  about 18 to 20 minutes. Cover with tin foil and let rest for  5 minutes before slicing thinly.

Turkey Tacos

Happy fiesta friday!  Even though it was a short week it sort of felt long so I hope everyone has a great weekend.  We are almost at a month of A Capitol Contessa and it’s really been a challenge but also so much fun.  Next week I will launch the menu calendar that will have weeknight menu suggestions along with a printable shopping list so stay tuned.  Also one more housekeeping note – our camera broke so the picture quality has been less than ideal of late.  Hope to get it fixed this weekend but if you were wondering why all the pics looked like cell phone shots it’s because they are!  Now on to the post…

Poor turkey – cousin to the oh so popular chicken, usually overcooked and dry, blamed for making you sleepy and relegated to the 3rd thursday in November and then forgotten about the rest of the year.  No longer!  Making turkey doesn’t have to be an all day affair partnered with heavy sides and family drama.  Don’t go for a whole bird – just buy a breast or cutlets and use them in place of chicken to spice things up.  Or totally throw tradition to the wind and try these terrific turkey tacos.  Here you use turkey legs as they can do a long braise, the flavor stands up to a punchy sauce and they are CHEAP.  I changed up the recipe a bit to impart more of a smoky, chili flavor and to cook down the sauce even more so it becomes thick and mole-like.  I also included chipoltes in adobo (which I should have had in the pantry blog post).  These are smoked jalapenos stored in a vinegary sauce that you can buy in a can at really any supermarket these days.  They pack some heat so you will probably never use the whole can at one time – that’s fine, just transfer to a plastic container and store in the fridge indefinitely.  I like to puree the whole chilis with the sauce and keep that on hand as well to stir into sauces or mayo for sandwiches.  For zero effort you can add a smoky, spicy, tangy flavor to practically anything.  Thanks to Pati’s Mexican Table for this excellent pic to you see what the chipoltes look like and a recipe to make your own (which I am now dying to try).  If you aren’t familiar with Pati Jinich she is an incredible Mexican cook from the D.C. area who does lots of fun local food events and has her own cooking show so please check out her website.

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I really like these tacos served simply with chopped onion and a squeeze of lime.  If you wanted to skip the taco route you could serve this as a main course with rice and beans or in a sandwich sort of like pulled pork.  It freezes really well so make the whole batch and freeze the left overs in smaller portions so you can have a slow braised meal any night of the week.

Turkey Tacos (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:   Beer Braised Turkey Tacos by Food and Wine Magazine

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • one 2 to 2 1/2 pound package of turkey drumsticks, skin and fat removed
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large oregano sprigs
  • 2 to 4 chipoltes in adobo depending on how much heat you like
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bottle of Mexican dark beer, such as Modelo Negro
  • 1 cup water

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle the turkey drumsticks with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until all the sides are brown.  Transfer them to a plate and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, oregano springs, chipoltes and tomato paste.

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Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until the onion is softened and beginning to deglaze the plan. Add the canned tomatoes, ancho pieces and the cinnamon stick.  Now add the beer and water and scrape up any last brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Return the turkey to the pot and nestle them in among the liquid and veggies.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for about an hour, turning the drumsticks once.  Take the drumsticks out – you can tell they are done when the meat easily falls off of the bone.  Here see the before and after:

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Dont be a hero – let the turkey cool off before shredding it, otherwise you will seriously hurt your fingers speaking from experience.  While the turkey cools turn the heat up on the sauce and discard the cinnamon stick and oregano sprigs.  Cook the sauce until thickened about 20 minutes or until it’s the consistency you want.  This is why I subbed the whole fresh tomato in the original to canned tomato plus tomato paste.  The way it was originally written I felt it was a little too weak but look at how rich the sauce turns out with the tomato and chili flavor amped up.  Shred the turkey and stir it back in with the sauce.

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Now you can eat it right away, keep it warm on the stove for a while, or store it in the fridge or freezer for later.

Turkey Tacos

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Print
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • one 2 to 2 1/2 pound package of turkey drumsticks, skin and fat removed
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large oregano sprigs
  • 2 to 4 chipoltes in adobo depending on how much heat you want
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bottle of Mexican dark beer, such as Modelo Negro
  • 1 cup water

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle the turkey drumsticks with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until all the sides are brown.  Transfer them to a plate and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot.  Turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic, onion, oregano springs, chipoltes and tomato paste.

Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes until the onion is softened and beginning to deglaze the plan. Add the canned tomatoes, ancho pieces and the cinnamon stick.  Now add the beer and water and scrape up any last brown bits at the bottom of the pan.  Return the turkey to the pot and nestle them in among the liquid and veggies.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for about an hour, turning the drumsticks once.  Take the drumsticks out – you can tell they are done when the meat easily falls off of the bone.  While the turkey cools turn the heat up on the sauce and discard the cinnamon stick and oregano sprigs.  Cook the sauce until thickened about 20 minutes or until it’s the consistency you want.  Shred the turkey and stir it back in with the sauce.  Now you can eat it right away, keep it warm on the stove for a while, or store it in the fridge or freezer for later.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

I am a huge fan of any kind of cooking that only requires boiling water and throwing a bunch of stuff in the food processor – especially when the temps reach 95 plus here in D.C.  Pestos are such a natural for summer cooking but most people are only familiar with the basil Pesto alla genovese, delicious for sure but there are lots of pestos out there to explore.  Pesto actually means a sauce made by pounding ingredients together so they can take a lot of different forms and don’t have to include basil or even be green!  In the old country nonnas used a mortar and pestle for their pestos but this girl goes for the speed and convenience of a food processor.  If you don’t have the space or desire for a big expensive food processor I would suggest spending the $30 or so and get a mini chop like this one.  You may have to make pestos like this one in batches so all the spinach fits in but that really just adds a couple of seconds to the process (and they come in so many cute colors!).  I of course have both a mini chop and a large 9 cup processor but that’s me.  They are great for sauces like this, for making doughs, for slicing veggies or grating cheese – they really are the all purpose work horses of the kitchen.  In less than 10 seconds my food processor took the ingredients for this pesto from disparate ingredients to a beautiful sauce.

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This pasta salad is a nice greek twist on a classic and a great way to get in healthy dark greens into your diet.  I made quite a few changes from the original recipe, mostly because it made enough for a small army.  However, don’t let that stop you from making your own changes.  I served this with ricotta salata instead of feta because I find the feta crumbles too much in the salad but it’s still delicious if that’s what you have on hand.  Orzo was called for in the original and I like that shape but any short cut pasta would work.  You may notice that I don’t instruct you to add any salt to this recipe which for a salt freak like me is rare.  However, the parmesan, ricotta salata and olives really add a salty punch so wait until the whole salad is composed before adding any salt – you may feel like me that you don’t actually need any.  If you wanted to make it a whole meal throw some grilled chicken on top and call it a day.  I served it with lemon marinated grilled pork tenderloin but it would also be great with a lovely piece of fish.  This salad also holds up really well and can sit forever so perfect for a picnic or BBQ.  I would say you could make it up to 3 days in advance and it would be just as good.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives and Feta by the kitchn
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

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Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 12 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

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