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Quick Dinners

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i got you right there, didn’t i? you know what that’s called? a hook, folks. i hooked you in with the special sauce, and you’re not going to regret that i did, because let me tell you, special sauce is like crack. crack that you smother on hamburger buns and dip french fries in. i mean, who doesn’t like crack, right? at least it’s not LSD (which is rumored to be the drug that hannibal lector wannabe was on when he got caught eating a man’s face off in miami on memorial day). anyWHO, case in point: special sauce is delicious. after you eat, you’ll never eat a burger with plain ol’ ketchup again. no offense to heinz, but there are other fish in the sea.  

memorial day weekend marks the official start of summer. the days of bare legs and tan lines and sunburnt shoulders and spiked lemonade and all that other goodness that comes with the season of sunshine. here in the northeast, there’s a moment where the seasons simply switch. one day, you wake up, and there’s a weight in the air, a heft that wasn’t there before. the phrase, “air so thick you could cut it with a knife” comes to mind. the sun will be shining and the birds will be chirping, and you’ll look out your window and see streets riddled with pretty young things in cut off shorts and tank tops, sunglasses perched noses and stuck behind ears like headbands. if you’re in new york like i am, you’ll also smell the faint scent of garbage, awaiting pickup and baking in the sun. glorious, isn’t it?

i’ll be the first to admit i’m not a summer person, i much prefer autumn leaves crunching beneath my feet. i can’t stand the heat, i hate feeling sticky, and i’m not particularly partial to summer’s sartorial options. but that being said, even i can appreciate a good picnic, a great day at the beach. i love a good dunk in the ocean, salt water stinging your eyes and rendering your hair a mess of tangled waves. i love that feeling you get when your skin starts to crisp, love the slightly coconut-y scent of sunscreen. and of course, there’s the food. the bbq-ed chicken and the corn on the cob, the potato salads and the watermelon mojitos. there’s little i like more than packing a cooler full of goodies for a day at the beach. standing there in my galley kitchen as the morning sun beats on in, molding ice packs around my sandwich meats and fruit salad, i feel like a mini martha stewart, except without the jail time or the naturally blonde hair. 

one of my favorite summer eats is beautiful in its simplicity: the burger. dressed up, dressed down, cheese or no cheese, fillings or no fillings, burgers are hard to screw up. don’t have a grill? there’s a grill pan for that. don’t have a garden? take it to the streets, to the park. there’s something about the juxtaposition of crisp lettuce and juicy tomato alongside the substance of a great, meaty burger. it melts in your mouth. and then when you add special sauce…WHAM KABAM. explosion of goodness in your mouth, i tell you.

let’s get cooking, shall we?


The Recipe (adapted from Brian Boitano’s West Coast Burgers)

1/2 lb of lean red meat  (enough to form 2 patties)

1/4 cup of chopped sweet onion

1/4 cup of chopped mushrooms

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 slices swiss cheese

2 slices of tomato

2 green lettuce leaves (i used spring mix instead of iceberg)

2 burger rolls (i like mine with sesame seeds)

For the Special Sauce (adapted from 

1/3 cup mayo

3 tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp yellow mustard

1 tbsp hot sauce (optional – i use sriracha) 

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp smoked paprika 

to make, saute the onions and mushrooms in a little bit of olive oil over low heat until soft and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. meanwhile, whisk the ingredients for the special sauce in a small bowl and set aside. Image

when onions and mushrooms are softened, add mustard, season with salt and pepper and stir another minute, until evenly incorporated. remove from heat and let cool a few minutes. while the mixture is cooling, heat up your grill pan with nonstick spray. 

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to make the burgers, separate your meat into two equal sized patties. make a hole inside each pattie and fill it with about a teaspoon of the mushroom and onion mixture. squish your patties around until the mushroom and onion mixture is evenly incorporated into the meat. reserve the rest of the mixture for toppings. 

place your burgers on the heated grill pan and cook, about four minutes. while they’re cooking, toast your buns slightly, either in your oven or on the other side of your grill pan.  flip, and cook another few minutes, until you can press on them with a spatula and no red juices leak out. top each burger with a slice of swiss and cook another minute or so, until the cheese has melted. Image

to assemble, split your toasted buns and top with special sauce. place lettuce and tomato on one side and burger on the other, then top the burger with your extra mushroom/onion mixture. Serve with thin cut french fries and a bit more special sauce on the side. 

[original recipe]

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when all else fails, i make pasta. it’s the quickest, generally the easiest, and of course, the carb-iest, which gets high points in my book. the other night while at trader joe’s, i was in the cheese section, stocking up – as cheese lovers do – and came across a log of herbed goat cheese. a lightbulb went on. i hadn’t the faintest idea what i would be making for dinner, and then i remembered this martha stewart recipe. in an age where cookbooks appear to be somewhat of a relic, what with everyone pinteresting up a storm and most, if not all, recipes living online, i’m proud to say i make great use of my great food fast book by the great MS. the title speaks the truth: it’s full of easy to make, quick and delicious recipes that generally call for ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. none of that complicated food network stuff. martha may be the queen of homemaking, but she understands the beauty of a simple recipe.

anywho, as the genius she is, martha came up with the thought of mixing a little bit of pasta water with goat cheese to make a simple sauce, and let me tell you – i am so on board. the beauty of cooking is that sometimes the best dishes are the simplest. case in point: this pasta.

i riffed on martha’s recipe, added lemon juice and zest, because i love a little citrus. i also used herbed goat cheese, because why not? and sautued my asparagus instead of roasting them, because it was hot out and i didn’t feel like turning on my oven. but you could roast yours, if you’d like.

so, let’s get to it.

The Recipe

2 bunches asparagus, tough ends cut off

1 cup frozen peas

1 box rigatoni or pasta shape of your choice

1 log herbed goat cheese (5 oz)

2 lemons, zested and juiced

to make, put a pot of water on to boil. zest your lemons and halve them. once your water is at a rolling boil, dump in your pasta with a little bit of olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon. stir every few minutes to keep pasta from clumping together.

meanwhile, cut asparagus into 2 inch pieces and saute over medium heat with a little bit of olive oil and about half a lemon’s worth of juice. season with salt and pepper as you saute. while the asparagus cooks, crumble your log of goat cheese. when asparagus is bright green and slightly browned at the tips, turn off burner and remove from heat.

about a minute before pasta is done, dump the peas into the pot. they’ll cook in the water.

drain your pasta/pea mixture and reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water. put pasta and peas back into pan with water and add asparagus, and add your crumbled goat cheese. squeeze your remaining lemon into the pot. stir – the goat cheese will melt and mix with the water and lemon juice as you go, creating a delicious, creamy sauce.

to serve, top pasta with grated romano cheese and lemon zest. now, go catch up on your DVR-ed episodes of revenge (if you’re not watching that show, you should be. emily thorne is one badass bitch) and dig in.

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the worst: those nights when you have no food in your fridge (or at least, no food that you feel like eating). those nights where you stand in front of your fridge, eying the avocado that’s probably gone bad by now, the parmesan cheese that’s begging to be grated, the mint that was supposed to end up in a wheatberry salad a few days ago. everyone has those nights – where you just can’t figure out what to do with what you’ve got in your fridge.

the other night, i had one of those nights. and i made this. and thankfully, it was delicious. hearty, interesting – a party in my mouth, really – and loaded with carbs. i mean, who doesn’t love carbs? i should start running marathons so i can carbo-load with reckless abandon. i bought a bunch of italian sausages on a whim a few months ago at my local organic grocery store, thinking i’d find something to do with them. i was bored of chicken and red meat and even my beloved tofu, so sausages it was. let it be known, sausages gross me out. that whole, jam a bunch of squished up meat and lord knows what else into a gross wrapper that kind of reminds me of a condom thing…not really my cup of tea. BUT, sausages, when out of their condom, are delicious. especially when you break them up and saute them with garlic and onions and other yummy things that make your kitchen smell like good ol’ rachael ray came to dinner.

so i bought the sausages a few months ago, and used three out of six to make a weird lentil dish that i probably won’t attempt again. it sounded good in my head, but it was just so-so in my mouth. i decided to freeze the other three sausages until inspiration struck.

fast forward to tuesday night, when i needed a dinner and didn’t really want to eat anything i had. LIGHTBULB MOMENT! i had sausages! and since there’s no legitimate sausage in my life right now to speak of (did i go too far?), i figured i’d whip those babies out and make them into something yummy. and that i did! i sauted them with a lil bit of garlic, threw in some sliced red onions and some tomato paste, deglazed the pan with a little bit of my dear friend white wine, then threw in fresh tomatoes and a bit more wine. then i threw the whole thing over a batch of penne, called it a sauce, and topped it with some fresh mint (a stroke of genius, might i add – could have been oh so wrong but somehow, it tasted oh so right!). et voila, a meal! in under 30 minutes, might i add.

so, want to make it for yourself? you do, it’s good. you can use any sausages, really (italian sausage, flavored sausage, chicken sausage) – though i wouldn’t recommend fake vegetarian ones. veggie peeps, this recipe ain’t for you. go eat some tofu.

The Recipe

Makes enough for two with a little bit left over for lunch.

1/2 box of penne or the pasta of your choice

3 sausages, cut out of their little holding cells and ready to be broken up

3 gloves of garlic, diced

1/2 red onion, sliced

olive oil, for the pan

1 beefsteak tomato, cut up into large chunks

3 tbsp tomato paste (use your judgement – you can add more if you want a more saucy sauce)

1/4 cup white wine

3 tsp fresh mint, chopped

grated parmesan cheese (though romano would be good too)

to make, put a pot of water up to boil for your pasta. meanwhile, throw a bit of oil into a skillet and toss the sausages in there. if you can handle touching the raw meat with your fingers, break the sausages up into bits – much like you would with chop meat if you were making tacos. if you can’t handle touching the sausages, use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. let cook until browned, about 5 minutes. while the meat is cooking, slice your onion and garlic and tomatoes. once meat is browned, add garlic and onion and tomato paste. turn your burner down to low. cook for a few minutes, until the onions wilt and the tomato paste is mixed in. add wine and scrape the bottom of the skillet to get up all the good stuff at the bottom. i love a good wine sizzle, don’t you?

your water should be boiling by now. add your pasta and throw a dash of olive oil in the pot. i learned this trick from rachael ray, and it’s a lifesaver. your pasta will never stick together again! GENIUS. i love that woman. and her husband is in a band that i once saw open up for hanson, so there’s that.

while pasta is cooking, turn your burner on the meat up to medium and add your tomatoes. feel free to salt and pepper your dish here, or add some red pepper flakes. my sausages were spicy, so i didn’t need the extra kick. but if your sausages are just so-so, a pinch of red pepper flakes will work wonders in taste department. once the tomatoes have wilted down, remove the skillet from heat. set aside.

drain pasta and reserve a tiny bit of pasta water. mmm, starchy goodness. divy up pasta into two bowls and top with sausage mixture. sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and top with the chopped mint. now, dig in and try and tell me this stuff ain’t GOOD.

the other night, after working my little (okay, big) tush off at bar method, i passed by a pizza shop in soho. the smell of fresh basil and mozarella wafted out onto spring street, and i thought to myself, PIZZA. THAT IS WHAT I WANT TO EAT FOR DINNER. then i thought, no, sarah. you just burned a shit ton of calories in class and now you’re going to ruin it with an oversized slice o’ pizza? no, girl. no you are not. so i kept walking, all the way over to the A train, and from there to the L train, and from there up first avenue. and all the while, i kept thinking, “pizza. i could order from posto. i could stop and get the cheap $1 slice in the east village.” i should mention here that i’m not really a pizza kind of girl. i mean, if the line at pomme frite is too long and ray’s is closed (that’s a lie, ray’s is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week) and it’s 2am and i need something greasy, i’ll get a slice of pizza. but it’s never really my first choice. i don’t know what came over me the other night, i really don’t. but after deciding i really didn’t want to eat anything BUT pizza for dinner, i realized there was really no reason to spend $16 on an overpriced (and undersized) pie from posto. especially when i could make my own! so, make my own i did. i used this recipe for the dough, and then threw on a hodge podge of stuff i had in the fridge: marinara sauce, homemade pesto, grated romano cheese, mushrooms and spring mix lettuce. and you know what? it was pretty darn good! in fact, it’s still good right now, as i sit here eating it for a late breakfast.

is there anything better than a 10 minute meal that doesn’t involve the words “microwave” “lean cuisine” or “frozen food”? i think not. this meal falls into that category, coming together in under 10 minutes if you’re a fast food chopper. pineapple fried rice is one of my favorite things to order when i go out for thai food, but until recently, it was another one of those “i don’t dare attempt at home” sort of meals. that is, until i stumbled upon this recipe. 

there’s something about the smell of soy sauce, curry, and sautéed garlic that makes a kitchen feel warm and cozy, isn’t there? it’s like the spicy, takeout version of a freshly baked batch of chocolate chip cookies.

i followed brooke’s recipe pretty much to a tee - but i used chicken broth instead of vegetable, and added way more curry powder than her recipe called for. i also omitted the coconut (i hate coconut). other than that, her recipe is pretty much foolproof. you can’t go wrong.