Friday, February 26, 2010

Spicy tuna melts

I guess the biggest thing that hit me when I lost my job was the fact that one moment I was a writer and the next I wasn't one anymore. See, it wasn't the money or the humiliation —it was more the fact that for over three years I had defined myself by what I was doing, which was basically writing all day, everyday. And then, after a couple of days, it hit me.

I still am a writer.

I write this blog. I'm writing a novel. And, soon, I'll be writing for other publications. So I really didn't need my job to define who I am. It may seem obvious to most, but to me it wasn't until I started thinking about the possibilities that lay before me. I can now do and be whatever I want. I can travel. I can work for multiple organizations and publications. I don't have to sit in an office for a pre-set amount of hours each week. I can decide to make my own mayo to make tuna melts for lunch which, so far, is the only thing I've done in my new and improved life. But hey, one has to start somewhere, right?

Serves 2

2 English muffins, cut in half and toasted
1 can tuna
1/2 cup of mayo
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 onion, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tomato, sliced
4 slices of your favorite cheese

Mix tuna, mayo, capers, onion and jalapeno, and season with salt and pepper.
Divide mixture evenly over the four muffin halves, top with a slice of tomato, season with salt and pepper and top with cheese.
Place under the broiler for 3 or 4 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pork tenderloin with olives and capers

Well, I guess that I have already failed miserably at posting every day, but I have a good excuse. I swear. See, cooking without a dishwasher is something I'm not used to and after seeing how freaking long it took us to do the damn dishes by hand I kinda went into survival mode (surviving by using the least amount of pots and pans, that is.) But today is the big day when things are gonna change. Between 2 and 4 this afternoon the good folks from Best Buy will be delivering my brand spanking new dishwasher, so I thought I'd celebrate by posting one of my favorite recipes which, incidentally, can be made by using only one pot. It's a win-win situation, right? 

From Cooking Light

  • 1  pound  pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil, divided
  • 1/2  cup  dry white wine
  • 1/2  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2  cup  coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 2  tablespoons  capers
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cut pork crosswise into 8 pieces. Pound each piece to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle both sides of the pork with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge pork in flour.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Add wine and broth; bring to a boil. Stir in olives and capers; cook 4 minutes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stuffed onions

Let's take a break from soup, shall we? I'm also taking a break from organizing and cleaning the house and today I'm mostly dedicating my time to one of my unfinished novels (writing it, not reading it). Six days into unemployment and still I haven't finished doing any of the things on my to-do list, which could be attributed to the fact that I haven't written a list yet. So here it goes. I'm going to hear back from graduate school at the end of March, which means that until then I have no schedules, no deadlines and no obligations —the perfect time for taking care of all those projects I never took care of before because I was too busy.
To do:
Finish novel
Send novel to publishing house
Organize closet
Sell clothes to Plato's Closet
Organize pantry
Organize bathroom
Bake a cake for Tommy's birthday
Buy a new coffee maker 
Post on blog once a day

What do you think? Will I be able to post once a day... we'll see. Only time can tell.

Serves 6

6 large golden onions
1 1/4 cups (125 g) bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Olive oil
Grated pecorino romano
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel the onions and briefly blanch them in salted water. When they have cooled cut them in half horizontally, then scoop out the middle sections. Mince what you scoop out.

Heat oil in a small pan and cook the minced onion in it, season with salt ans pepper and let cool. Wet the bread crumbs thoroughly in the milk, and stir them into the sautéed onions, together with the eggs and the parsley.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Fill the onion halves with the filling, sprinkle with cheese, and bake them just until they brown.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pork, lentil and cabbage soup

That's right! More soup! I know January is supposed to be soup month, but the weather continues to be crummy and soup is usually an easy and cheap dish to put together, so you will probably see more soup recipes coming. As The Kitchen Witch wisely suggested, I should concentrate on recipes that are on the cheaper side now that I'm unemployed. It helps a bunch that I have all the time in the world to scout the local farmer's markets for inexpensive fruit and veggies, plus I will also have the chance to go to Costco and buy me some of that delicious pork tenderloin at $2.99 a pound. I mean, that's wicked cheap. If I buy it at the grocery store I have to dish out something close to $7/lbs. so, well, you do the math. 

Another thing that I have time to do now is clean and organize the house, and I cannot tell you how much it needs it. I started yesterday by attacking my closet —which was much worse than any closet I've ever seen. I kid you not, it was so bad that I didn't dare taking a "before" picture". I'll just take the "after" once I'm done with it and then I'll cart 10+ bags of clothes to Plato's Closet to see if they want to buy any of my crap. After I'm done with that there's the rest of the house to take care of, a thought that makes my knees feel weak, but at the same time makes me feel strangely comforted in a "at least I'm not gonna sit around and be depressed about it" kind of way.

And of course there will be some crazy cooking and baking —once we get the new dishwasher installed, that is. Because yes, on the same day I got canned, my dishwasher broke. As in forever. Cannot be repaired. But as soon as the new one comes in I'll have all day to cook and photograph all kinds of recipes so, if you have suggestions, please tell me. What should I attempt to cook now that I have all the time in the world?

Serves 6-8

Olive oil
One pork chop, deboned and cubed
Pork chop bone
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 cup lentils
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
7 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups finely sliced green cabbage
Salt and pepper
Minced parsely to garnish

Heat oil in a large dutch oven. Toss in the pork bone. Season cubed pork with salt and pepper and cook in heated pot until lightly browned. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook, constantly stirring, until vegetables are starting to brown.

Stir in lentils, tomatoes and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and add the stock and the thyme. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about a half hour. When lentils are tender add cabbage and cook for five minutes. Discard pork bone. Garnish with parsley just before serving.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eggdrop soup

Day 2 of unemployment. If you didn't know I am freshly out of a job you can read my previous post here. Anyway, someone today told me that I should write a blog about being unemployed, which kinda sounds like a neat idea, except that it would be the most boring read ever —I woke up. Made coffee. Looked for a journalism job in a town where there's only a newspaper (which just laid me off). Didn't find one. Made lunch. Had drinks. Painted my toenails. Watched paint dry which, incidentally, is more fun than reading this blog about being unemployed.  No, I definitely don't need to start a new blog about being jobless. I'll just bitch and moan about it on this blog, which is what I do most of the times anyways, so, there.

Yesterday I received a ton of sympathy messages from both ex-coworkers, friends and complete strangers (yes, I'm talking about you, Pat Butcher!) which made my day. And made me get all teary and sentimental, something that happens on average once a decade. It was kind of weird, getting chocked up because of e-mails and Facebook messages and blog comments. When Tommy saw me in such a state he asked me a question that, I guess, makes sense if you are not dating a psychopath: "Did you cry when they fired you?" I looked at him as if he had lost his mind —not because I was trying to be a snot, but because I was sincererly bewildered by the question. So I anwered with another question: "No. Why? Do people normally cry when they get canned?" To his credit, I have to say that he shrugged and said something along the lines of "not neccesserly", so that I wouldn't feel too crazy or abnormal. 

The truth is, crying didn't cross my mind at all. Yes, I was losing my job. Yes, I was losing my journalism job that I worked pretty hard to get in the first place. Yes, it was stupid and unfair on twelve different levels. But I just sat there, feeling detached from the whole situation —kinda like when you dream  and you can see yourself doing stuff in the dream and you would like to intervene but you really can't. Or you don't want to. And, really, I didn't get teary until yesterday when I received all those support messages. But I guess that's what you get from a person who, as a little girl, locked herself in the bathroom when she got yelled at so that her parents wouldn't see her crying. 

The teariness didn't last long, though. As I always do when I feel a little down, I made soup. Egg drop soup, to be precise, although is definitely a different version from what you get at a Chinese restaurant.
I felt better immediatly. 

Serves one jobless, hungry person

3 cups hot broth (I used chicken but you can use vegetable to make it vegetarian)
1/2 teaspoon five spice
1 Asian thin egg noodle nest
A handful frozen green peas
1 egg
Salt and pepper
4 scallions, thinly sliced

This is really easy. Warm up the broth and stir in the five spice to give it a little Asian kick. When the broth is boiling add the noodles and the frozen peas. Cook for 4 or 5 minutes, until noodles are done.
In the mean time, beat the egg and season it with salt and pepper. 
After the 5 minutes have elapsed remove pot from heat, stir in egg, sprinkle with scallions and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fired. Canned. Sacked. In one word, unemployed.

I don't want to be a Debbie Downer and ruin everyone's day, but the announcement has to be made: I got sacked yesterday. No. Wait. That's not the right way to say it.To use their words, my position was eliminated. Because saying so makes it sooooo much better, you know? Anyways, I am now officially jobless, one more unemployed journalist out there in a world that is literally up to its neck in unemployed writers and reporters. 

Every cloud has its silver lining, though. First of all it was good to see that some people actually care about what I did and what I will do. Then there is the fact that finally I have some real free time to work on stuff that I actually give a rat's ass about —this blog for instance and my two novels that sit there unfinished. Also, I now have the possibility to get the hell out of here and spend the summer somewhere nice, like Italy perhaps. And I wasn't going to say anything because I didn't want to jinx myself but, you know, what the heck. I'm going to tell you about it. In December, when I didn't know I was going to get canned, I had applied to go to graduate school. So there. I had something else planned anyways, something far more exciting that rotting away in Naples, Fla.
And then, of course, there is the beer. Because when you are unemployed, it's ok to have beer for breakfast. Too early in the day, you say? Nah. It's my unemployment party, and I'll drink beer if I want to.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chicken cordon bleu

This week was one of those weeks —one of those weeks when you barely have time to take a shower, let alone update your blog. I spent more than eight hours a day, every day, in the office, which isn't something that helps my sanity. And since I'm a reporter, I always feel that I should be out —you know— reporting. If you add the fact that the newsroom where I work is one of the noisiest places on earth, well you can imagine how "easy" it is to concetrate over there. I usually wear my noise canceling headphones and try to immerse myself in my indie rock nirvana but sometimes even that isn't enough to cut out the background noise so I just lose my mind a little (on the inside) and dream of the moment I'll be home with a beer in one hand and a martini in the other.

Also, I didn't cook much this past week because I was too broke to buy the ingredients —a very sad situation to be in at 29, but one that occurs every once in a while. So we lived out of the pantry, which thank god is well stocked, and had some "interesting" dinners. But since I got paid yesterday, here I am again, cooking away. This chicken dish is delicious and it's worth the pounding and the rolling. A suggestion: don't pound the chicken at 11 p.m. like we did. We got all our neighbors very concearned.

From Cooking Light
1/4  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
5  teaspoons  butter, melted
1  large garlic clove, minced
1/2  cup  dry breadcrumbs
1  tablespoon  grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1  teaspoon  paprika
4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  dried oregano
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
4  thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces)
1/4  cup  (1 ounce) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place broth in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave at high 15 seconds or until warm. Stir in butter and garlic. Combine breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and paprika in a medium shallow bowl; set aside.
Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and pound each to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt, oregano, and pepper. Top each breast half with 1 slice of prosciutto and 1 tablespoon mozzarella. Roll up each breast half jelly-roll fashion. Dip each roll in chicken broth mixture; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place rolls, seam side down, in an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Pour remaining broth mixture over chicken. Bake at 350° for 28 minutes or until juices run clear and tops are golden.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pasta Amatriciana

On the last night our good friends Erica and Jeff were in town from Michigan we were all worn out and tired from four days of too much drinking and not enough sleeping. Earlier in the day, when we were halfway sober and ambitious, we had decided to make cheeseburgers by the pool for their last dinner in town, but then the weather turned from shitty to shittier, and we all went into a semi-catatonic vegetative state on the couch, which meant one thing: nobody wanted to go to the store anymore and nobody wanted to grill by the pool either. So, as it always happens when I have to come up with something quick and easy to make, I turned to my Italian origins and made pasta.

This particular recipe hails from the town of Amatrice, near Rome, and is so simple to make it's almost a joke to post the actual recipe. But here it is, so Erica can try and make it in Grand Rapids.

Serves 4

1 box curly pasta such as cavatappi or fusilli
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
8 slices of bacon, chopped
1 28 ounce can of good quality pureed tomatoes, such as Cento or Pomi
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
Crushed red pepper

Cook pasta according to directions.

In the meantime heat up olive oil in a large skillet, add onions and bacon and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, season with crushed red pepper and keep cooking until warm. When pasta is ready, drain and add to the skillet, to mix with the sauce. Ladle into bowls, top each bowl with cheese and enjoy immediately.

NOTE: don't put any salt in the sauce -the bacon and the cheese are both very salty and infuse flavor to the sauce.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mock "pizza" with goat cheese and tomatoes

What makes this pizza a mock pizza, you might be wondering? Simple: it's made with phyllo dough instead of regular pizza dough, something that -since the very first time I've made- has both fascinated and terrorized me. Some of you might remember what happened the last time I tried to make this recipe, which is why I haven't attempted it in so long. If you have no idea what disaster I'm reffering to, you can read it here and laugh at my expense. On top of that, phyllo dough is -let's be honest- such a bitch I try to use it as little as possible. The whole drying out in 5 seconds and the brittleness do nothing for me, and I would never use it if it weren't for the fact that I actually enjoy the taste of it so much.

So last night I tried to be patient, which is not my forte, but they tell me is the only way to conquer phyllo dough. Well, they are wrong. There's another way, which involves losing your mind within the first minute of dealing with the stupid thing and pounding it into submission, patching up the tears as well as you can. Now guess which way I chose to use.

In the end though, the mock pizza was delicious -which wasn't really a surprise, because when you put together good tomatoes, goat cheese, parmesan, mozzarella and fresh basil, what's not to love?

Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 6 servings

1/2  cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2  cup finely crumbled goat cheese
1/2  cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray
2  cups  thinly sliced plum tomato
1/3  cup  thinly sliced green onions
1/4  cup  fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine first five ingredients in a bowl.

Working with 1 phyllo sheet at a time (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), place phyllo sheet on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat phyllo sheet with cooking spray. Repeat with 2 more layers of phyllo. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. Repeat layers 5 times, ending with 2 phyllo sheets. Coat top phyllo sheet with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. Pat tomato slices with a paper towel. Arrange tomato slices on top of cheese, sprinkle with onions and the remaining 6 tablespoons cheese mixture. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until golden. Sprinkle with basil leaves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Indian pepper chicken

If you had to pick one kind of ethnic food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? As much as I love Thai and Vietnamese, I think mine would be Indian. And it goes without saying that I live in a metropolitan area where there are only three Indian restaurants -two of which are ridiculously far from where I live, and the third one is so expensive you'd think you are at a top rated French bistro. This, of course, sucks, because I grew up a stone's throw away from Bombay Club, the best Indian restaurant in Milan and, as far as I'm concearned, in the whole world. When Tommy and I were visiting my hometown two years ago we went there all the time and, on our last night in Europe, I managed to forget my purse under our table. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, but my passport happened to be in there and we had to catch a flight to Miami the very next morning. I don't think you have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that inconsciously I didn't want to come back to Florida.

Anyhow, the purse was retrieved and we did come back to Florida and we also came back to the lack of good Indian food, so shortly afterwards I bought a book called "Fresh Indian" and started trying some recipes. Most Indian fare takes a while to make, as meats are braised in liquid for a long time, but this dish, the pepper chicken with jasmine rice, takes less than 20 minutes to cook and it's a very, very satisfying dish on a damp and chilly night (yes, the weather is still sucking here in Florida, so for those of you who are palnning vacations: wait until April!!!)

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, coarsly ground
4 whole cloves
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
Sour cream or yogurt, to serve

In a large frying pan heat up the oil, then add the peppercorns, bay leaves and cloves. Stir fry for a minute, until fragrant. Season chicken with salt and add it to the pan along with the minced garlic and ginger. Stir and cook for a few minutes, until chicken pieces start to color.

Add broth, curry powder and turmeric and stir well. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes. Drizzle with yogurt and serve over jasmine rice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pork Stroganoff

Yes. That's right. Pork stroganoff. The recipe is usually made with tougher cuts of beef, but when I was a child my dad spoiled the hell out of me by making it with filet mignon -so going back to the tougher cuts of beef was out of the question. Good thing Cooking Light came to the rescue, as usual, giving me the idea of making Stronganoff with pork tenderloin. How cool is that? 

When I told my dad I was going to try this recipe he said "You like to cook adventurously, don't you?", which I took as a compliment since -in fact- I do enjoy pairings and ingredients that are different. This particular recipe isn't adventurous at all, in my opinion, but it tastes really really good, so if you like Stronganoff you should definitely give it a try. It also takes less than twenty minutes to make, which on any given weeknight is a blessing, and the dill/sour cream/mustard combo is finger-licking good.

Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4

3  cups  uncooked medium egg noodles (about 6 ounces)
1  (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
2 1/2  teaspoons  butter, divided
Cooking spray
1/2  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2  cups  chopped onion
1  (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1  cup  low-fat sour cream
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh dill
1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
1  teaspoon  all-purpose flour

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.
Sprinkle pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Melt 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add pork; sauté 4 minutes or until pork loses its pink color. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.
Add broth to pan; cook 30 seconds. Add 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, onion, and mushrooms; cook 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.
Combine sour cream, dill, Dijon mustard, and flour in a small bowl. Add pork and sour cream mixture to pan; stir well. Serve pork mixture immediately over noodles. Garnish with dill sprigs, if desired.


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