Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ginger Pork Meatballs with Coconut Broth

So, if I told you that our crew had meatballs for dinner your mind would naturally drift to red sauce (or gravy in my half-Italian world) served atop a mound of your favorite pasta.

You wouldn’t think that meatballs would be (or should be!) simmered in a delicious infusion of coconut milk, lemongrass, saffron, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce,Thai chilis and ginger.


Well, lucky for us, that conclusion would be flawed.

We had dinner at A.’s house last week and she made Ginger Pork Meatballs in Coconut Broth.  She drooled over the recipe when it appeared in her Instagram feed compliments of who, thankfully, spotted the recipe in Bon Appetit magazine.

Let me tell you a little about this dish.  First, the meatballs were so full of flavor that I quickly abandoned my initial reaction of wanting to bless myself for the blasphemy of meatballs being prepared in coconut sauce.  They melted in your mouth just they way their traditional counterparts do after being cooked in gravy for a several hours.  The broth is so flavorful -- creamy and sweet and savory -- that you will want to ditch your manners to slurp it through a straw but, no worries, the rice served with the dish happily soaks up the flavors and your palate won’t miss a thing.

One of the allures of this dish is that you don’t have to buy a ton of disparate ingredients for both the meatballs and the sauce.  The replication of the ingredients is perhaps the reason why the meat and the broth complement each other so nicely, kind of like first cousins…a little different but with a lot of commonalities. The meatballs reminded me of Chinese dumplings filing, which then reminded me that pork and ginger enjoy a long and wonderful relationship and I forgot all about the meatball/gravy thing.  This recipe, introducing coconut, takes full advantage of and capitalizes on that harmonious bond!  

Now all meatballs are made with breadcrumbs that act as a binding agent.  One gluten-free reader of the Shutterbean blog suggested that when a recipe calls for breadcrumbs she simply pulverizes a few rice cakes in her vitamix for instant, gluten-free breadcrumbs. Readers are so generous with their tips!

This is the perfect flavor-packed, warm, satisfying dish to add to your impending autumnal cool-down meal repertoire.   A., of course, improvised a bit by adding sautéed shallots to the meatballs, coconut cream and saffron to the broth and she tossed in diced baby boc choy and tomatoes right before serving.  Otherwise this dish was prepared as seen in the Instagram feed.  A. served the dish in a beautiful handmade casserole dish most by the host herself!


2 pounds ground pork
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1  13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup thinly sliced ginger
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 fresh red Thai chiles, slit but kept intact, plus thinly sliced chiles for serving
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, outer leaves removed and stalk cut into 1 inch lengths
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
kosher salt

For serving
thinly sliced mint
steamed jasmine rice

To make the meatballs, preheat oven to 425F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.  Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Form the mixture into 40 1 1/2 inch meatballs and arrange them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake until the meatballs are golden brown and just cooked through, about 15 minutes.  KOPO note…I would sauté them, but that’s just me.

Meanwhile, make the broth by combining the coconut milk, stock, ginger, garlic, slit chiles, lemongrass, lime zest and juice, fish sauce, and turmeric in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat so the broth is simmering. Discard the lemongrass.
Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer until cooked through and tender, about 15 minutes. Season the broth with more sugar, salt and lime juice if necessary. Serve with sliced herbs and thai chiles, lime wedges and rice.  

We enjoyed this dish with a flavorful Pinotage from South Africa.  The wine had some tasty mocha and coffee undertones and maybe not the best choice (by me) for a spicy-inspired dish but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Turkish-Spiced Chicken with Hot Green Relish

Our dinner crew had our first meal of the 2015-2016 season.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing this since 2010 and this is my 420th post!

So much has happened in the intervening years….trips to Europe, Asia, Latin America (including Cuba), and all around the USA.  There have been graduations, weddings, new jobs, remodeled houses and new houses, including a shore house and charming tiny house that you can read about here.  We’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays, a mayoral inauguration (The First Lady of our Borough is part of our crew!), planted new gardens and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  We’ve welcomed new puppies, bunnies, kittens and returning graduates (we seemed to have spawned the boomer-rang generation!).  We ate, drank, gossiped (just a little), giggled through the happy times and cried and supported each other when things got challenging.  All-in-all, it’s been a wonderful six years of enjoying meals and moments with cherished friends.   

We look forward to Dinner Night each week.  It’s like eat therapy.

To usher in this new season, we had dinner at M.’s house.  We also planned her birthday celebration and when we realized that she was cooking her own birthday dinner, we felt really bad.  To compensate, I made her a cake — Gingerbread Cake with Orange Buttercream Icing….it was really, REALLY good but not as good as the chicken M. served.  

This recipe is from The Splendid Table.  Listening to Lynne Rossetto Kasper on American Public Media is like listening to a dear friend tell a story.  She has a wonderful laugh and her style is so easy and conversational that it’s hard to believe she’s not sitting in the same room with you enjoying a cup of tea.  As I read the recipe, I could hear her voice saying these words as an introduction… 

“This dish seems simple, but I can’t tell you how much I love it. I’d heard about a Turkish relish-cum-salsa made with crushed green olives and chiles and the desire to try it became overwhelming one night. I have no idea whether this is anything like the Turkish relish I was told about and I don’t care. I just bashed everything together, adding and adjusting. When I’d finished I knew I would make this for the rest of my life. It packs a punch, it includes my beloved cilantro, and is so hot it makes you reach for a beer.”

You know what, Lynne, our crew agrees, although we reached for wine! The chicken is perfectly seasoned and the relish is absolutely delicious.  M. served the grilled beauties with basmati rice and more than one of us enjoyed seconds (not at all uncommon on our Wednesday nights!).  M. usually tinkers with recipes, but not this time…she made it exactly as written and it was wonderful.

This recipe calls for salt flakes or "fleur de sel." Flakes are formed when wind dries the surface of water that has a high salt concentration, producing thin, flaky crystals.  These crystals are known as salt flakes.  When using salt flakes, use a bit more than regular salt, so if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of salt, use 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt flakes.
We took advantage of the late summer magnificence and ate on the deck…it was peaceful and so completely wonderful.

Turkish-Spiced Chicken with Hot Green Relish 
The Splendid Table

For the chicken:
6 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, grated
salt and pepper
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs

For the relish:
2 garlic cloves, chopped
sea salt flakes 
1 green chile
1 red chile
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
leaves from 8 sprigs of mint, torn
1/3 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
A good squeeze of lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve

To marinate the chicken, mix the regular oil, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper together to make a marinade. Make little slits all over the underside of the pieces of chicken with the point of a knife. Put the chicken into a dish. Add the marinade and roll the chicken in it to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight. Bring it to room temperature before cooking.

Make the relish just before you cook the chicken. Put the garlic and salt into a mortar and bash it with a pestle until it is crushed. Halve and seed both chiles and chop them roughly. Add them to the mortar with the cilantro, mint, and olives and bash everything together, gradually adding the virgin olive oil and balsamic until you have a rough paste (it should be chunky, not puréed). Add lemon juice to taste and set aside.
Heat a ridged grill pan. Lift the chicken out of the marinade, shake off the excess, and set it on the pan. Start off cooking it on medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat to low and cook for another 4 minutes. The chicken should be cooked right through and charred, but not burnt.

Serve the chicken with lemon wedges, rice or flatbread, a bowl of Greek yogurt, and the relish. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

I love anything citrus so you would expect that I would adore Lemon Poppyseed Muffins.  

I had my first lemony muffin experience while working in an office building on Rittenhouse Square in the 90’s.  I would walk to the Commissary Market, that was located at 1710 Samson Street, and pray the pulpy confections were on the menu.  If I struck gold, I would stock up, sharing one or two with friends who did not work in the city, in particular, someone who I eventually married.  I don’t recall if I ever confessed that the yummies were purchased, not homemade, but I suspect my ruse was eventually exposed!   

Maybe that explains some things.

I lamented the day in 1991 when the Commissary Market closed because it was a reliable destination for all kinds of gourmet treats, not just baked goods.  You can read about the Commissary Market by clicking here.

I’ve not been able to find a Lemon Poppyseed Muffin quite as good as those baked by the Commissary, but I tried a recipe this weekend and, I must say, this version comes pretty damn close!  There muffins are a bit dense, like those I remember, and, courtesy of lemon zest and lemon yogurt, the lemon flavor is perfectly balanced…not overpowering at all.  I opted to not add the glaze and they were still quite moist and very delicious!  I gave some to my shore neighbors who were delighted!  

This recipe would make nice little mini-loafs too, and Target carries the sweetest little disposable loaf pans. Make a few loafs and tie with a festive bow for a wonderful, homemade holiday gift!

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 ounce jar of poppy seeds (use the full jar!)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup lemon yogurt (I used Chobani Lemon Blended)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Lightly grease a muffin tin. Combine the flour, 3/4 cup white sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, yogurt, vegetable oil and lemon zest. Blend well and pour over the flour mixture. Mix until just combined; the batter is quite thick so don't be surprised! Spoon batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

Combine the lemon juice with the Confectioners’ sugar. Stir into sugar dissolves.  Once the muffins are baked, drizzle them with or dip the tops in the sugar/juice mixture.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Apricot and Almond Cake

In the Ocean City ‘hood, we planned a little get-together to celebrate Labor Day and to welcome Fall, even though its official debut is a few weeks away.   The nice thing about not having to pack up and go home each week, or for the season, is that the end of the summer does not seem as final or gloomy.  There’s plenty of warm weather to be enjoyed and I’m looking forward to sitting on the beach enjoying the cool, crisp autumn air.

So, for the shindig, I contributed meatballs and baked ziti but I also wanted to make a dessert evocative of Fall. 

Perhaps figs will do.

So I searched a few of my reliable cooking sites and NYTimes cooking came through with the following recipe:

Younger daughter did not think this cake would appeal to some of the party-goers and suggested something chocolate.  If I could re-phrase her proposal it would sound something like this…”Mom, I want something chocolate, so please don’t waste your precious, shore-baking time making a not-too-sweet cake with ground almonds, butter, honey, and figs.  Just make something ooohy-gooey, delicious and chocolate and call it a day.”

Well, her wish almost came to fruition because I could not find figs.  I almost gave in to the cocoa request but thought to myself…”hmmmm, what would be a good substitute for figs?”  So I went to the market and browsed and take a look at these little jewels:

So I borrowed a mini chopper from a neighbor, ground up the almonds, and followed the recipe exactly as written but substituted sliced apricots for the sliced figs.  This cake is very, good, not too sweet and perfect with a cup of tea.  I found it to be just a little dry, so I’ll fix that next time by adding a little more melted butter (I adjusted the recipe below). But for this tasting, a scoop of coffee ice cream served along side compensated splendidly.

Sliced plums would also work well with this recipe and would be quite pretty!

Oh and, by the way, after all that, I forgot to bring the cake to the party so we just had to eat it ourselves!

Apricot and Almond Cake
by: NYTimes Cooking

5 tablespoons butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup natural raw almonds (not blanched)
¼ cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon almond extract
4 ripe apricots, each sliced in fours (or 12 figs, sliced in half)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan or pie pan; set aside. Put almonds and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; pulse to combine.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, honey and almond extract. Add almond mixture and beat for a minute until batter is just mixed. Pour batter into pan.

Slice the apricots and arrange them cut-side up over the batter. Sprinkle the apricots with sugar and bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden outside and dry at center when probed with a cake tester. Cool before serving.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Quinoa Avocado Salad

To accommodate vacations, weekend getaways and other general frolicking, Dinner Club seems to have taken an spontaneous sabbatical.  This is not that unusual given our schedules that seem to become even more challenging during the get-me-out-of-dodge summer months.

I have exciting news to share…I bought a house at the shore, Ocean City, NJ (a long-awaited item on my bucket list!).  It’s not big. It’s not fancy.  But it’s mine.  What this means, however, is that adorable pair of shoes I saw in Anthropologie won’t be walking on these feet anytime soon and that oh-so-charming vintage-stye dress from ModCloth, well, I’ll be wearing vintage circa 2010-2014 already hanging in my closet.  I don’t mind, really, because now I have something that I can and will happily share with family and friends that will be the joyful hub for many, many wonderful memories.

Also out of the budget is going out to eat which is fine with me because I and my brigade can prepare a meal better than most restaurants anyway…except for Lago in the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  I had the best red wine risotto there, plus the waiters were straight off the boat from Italy and so damn handsome.  I was in heaven (so were my travel colleagues although I don’t think they would admit it as freely me). 

So, when friends came to visit this week, we opted to eat in.  K, a native New-Englander (she’s the one who worked for The Barefoot Contessa and knows Martha) taught us how to properly cook and eat lobster.  She said, and I quote “you have to twist the tail off with conviction." Very Julia Childesque.  The instructions continued….use a heavy life to crush the claw in half to liberate the meat; knuckles contain the sweetest meat so twist the claw, poke your finger though and pull out the meat; there are some wonderful little jewels in the body if you are willing to work for them; serve with melted, salted butter and lemon wedges.  Younger daughter and K got the lobsters at Mike’s Seafood in Sea Isle and they were delicious

The next day, K, our friend D and I strolled along Asbury Avenue in OCNJ…we came upon a farmers market and bought scallops for our dinner that evening and some fixings for the Quiona Salad recipe I share below.  We also bought chocolate-covered blueberries, roasted red peppers and the most delicious corn and cilantro Sicilian-style pizza….it was delectable!
D, who is a sales rep, donated some very nice — and useful — product samples, including a Sparq Soapstone Appetizer Tray on which you can serve hot or cold foods.  She also brought some homemade pesto that we happily consumed mixed linguine and served as a side for the scallops that were lightly fried and served with lemon wedges.

Later that day, we headed to the beach where we saw the preparations of a life-guard competition…very cool!  My favorite time on the beach is between 3:30 and 6:30….it cools down a bit and is very peaceful!  

We meandered on the boardwalk the next morning…it was a wonderful visit with dear ones!

My friend V. who runs wine education events that you can read about here, shared this recipe from Wegmans with me last year.  I’ve prepared it several times and, of course, made some additions and substitutions.  It’s quite tasty and great for a quick lunch or as a side salad with grilled meat or fish.   At 140 calories (a little more since I add nuts), 0 cholesterol, 3 g of fiber, 3 g of protein and low sodium per 2/3 cup serving, it’s also good for you!

Red Quiona & Avocado Salad
Adapted from Wegmans

1 box (7 oz) Red Quinoa, cooked per package directions, cooled
1 small can Shoepeg corn or a cup of frozen shoe peg corn
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced on the bias (about 1 cup)
2 plum tomatoes, 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup) (we used fresh Jersey tomatoes, of course!)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing (Wegmans is good, so if Briannas)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper


Add cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes, garlic and nuts to mixing bowl; stir to combine. Fold in avocado and dressing; season with salt and pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature.