Monday, February 27, 2023

What We Ate for Dinner

"Wow, you're really organized," said my friend Fran, after I explained the process I had recently undertaken to clean up our "junk room." While I do like to complete things in a particular logical-to-me order, having a "junk room" in the first place makes me the opposite of "organized." I think I just like to make lists. I make lists to prepare for trips: clothes to take; restaurants in which to eat; subway directions to places I want to visit. I create a to-do list of goals at the beginning of every year. And in May of  2020, I started a spreadsheet for meal planning. 

We'd been home in COVID lockdown mode for 2 months at that point, eating home cooking most nights. In the Before Times, Mr Minx and I went out to eat 2 or 3 times per week, sometimes more if there were media dinners planned. We had both been working outside the home, full-time, and were not in the habit of cooking very often. That had to change pretty quickly and we soon found it difficult to keep track of what food we had on hand, what we had recently eaten, and what we should eat the next day. So I started a dinner spreadsheet. Three years later, that spreadsheet is still an important part of our daily nutrition experience.

I try to plan a week at a time. On Sunday I usually make something substantial that creates leftovers for at least another dinner--pot roast, chili, black bean soup. Currently, we go out to dinner every Saturday. That leaves five weekday dinners to plot. In the early part of the pandemic, we'd order enough carry-out or delivery from our favorite Chinese or Indian restaurant to eat at least three times. We don't do that as much now because we feel safer going to the grocery store more regularly--masked, of course. There's always a cauliflower in the fridge, canned and dried beans in the pantry, various types of sausages in the freezer, and potatoes, for those nights when I don't want to think too hard. Normally that would be Monday - Wednesday, the days I am expected to show up at the office in person. When I get off the bus in the afternoon, I am not in the mood to do much more than bake a potato and heat up some sausages. With my spreadsheet, I know exactly what I will be doing when I get home, whether it's plopping Italian-style chicken sausage in a skillet with some onions, or heating up the leftover Kung Pao chicken and Sichuan string beans from Saturday. 

We did Whole30 in February '23, so I attempted to plan most of the month at once. Restaurant choices become fairly limited on a diet that disallows grains and dairy, so our Saturday dinners tend to be at places that offer omelets and home fries, or barbecue. We buy more vegetables on our shopping trips so I have more green things to choose from, and we eat more baked potatoes and chicken sausages than usual. But we also add meatloaf and Swedish meatballs to the agenda, as we have favorite recipes for both. A meatloaf is also good for 3 dinners: with mashed potatoes; as a "sandwich" between Trader Joe's hash brown patties; as cottage pie, topped with the leftover mash. All with at least one healthy veg, of course. 

If you've read all of the above, thanks for sticking with me. I know I'm weird, and I embrace my weirdness. Allow me to reward your patience now with some photos of food I've eaten in the past three years. Surprisingly, while I plan every dinner, I don't photograph them all. (Most aren't that photogenic.)

On Saturday, June 27th, 2020, I made pork chops with grapes and leeks, and mashed potatoes for dinner. 

Saturday, September 5th, 2020, we had carry-out sushi from Yama Sushi. Love this place.

On September 11th, 16th, 25th, and 31st, October 14th and 23rd, and November 6th, we dined at La Cuchara. They had recently reopened for outdoor dining, ten concrete tables arranged a dozen feet apart in the parking lot. We wanted them to stay open, so we made sure we gave them our business. On several other occasions, we purchased their chef-prepared foods to heat at home or tuck into the freezer. Happily, La Cuchara survived the pandemic and is currently open for dinner 7 nights per week. 

On Sunday March 14th, 2021, I made a vegetarian curry with white beans and kale. We ate the leftovers on March 19th.

On Sunday, October 3, 2021, I made pot roast with a bottled Korean marinade (recipe coming in a future post). We ate the leftovers on Tuesday 10/5 and Friday 10/8.

On Friday, April 8, 2022, I pulled a Cajun Kate's "Brisket Baum" (roast beef and cheese in puff pastry) out of the freezer and served it with roasted brussels sprouts. 

Uncle, you say? Ok. I won't torture you any more. I know I'm not as interesting as I like to think I am. But hey, in a world that's not as safe to navigate as it was just a few years ago, one needs to find one's joy where one can. And keeping a record of the meals I have eaten (and will eat in the next week) makes me happy. 

Monday, February 20, 2023


As I was poking around this blog, looking for stew recipes, I realized that over the years I had written not one, but four different recipes for cassoulet. Go look at other popular blogs and tell me how many cassoulet recipes they include--I'll wait here.

Ok, back? I think you probably found a lot of variations of what we think of as a classic cassoulet, a combination of duck, fatty pork, and beans. Food writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt referred to it as Southern French Beanee Weenees. "What?!" you say, aghast. "Cassoulet is some fancy-ass dish that Julia Childs might make! Please don't compare it to all-Amurican hot dogs and beans!" Wrong! For one thing, it's Julia Child. No S. For another, cassoulet is just a casserole of beans and meat--oftentimes sausage, but also other fatty cuts of pork--with whatever other meat that happens to be around. It's a hearty peasant dish that requires a few slow hours of cooking time and is perfect for the dark winter season. 

While the French use white beans, fatty pork, and game birds in their cassoulet, there's absolutely no reason not to make substitutions. Yes, there is a Cassoulet Academy in France that will tell you there are three official variants of the dish, a Holy Trinity of sorts: the original, or father, recipe for cassoulet de Castelnaudary; the cassoulet de Carcassonne, thought of as the son; and the cassoulet de Toulouse, or the Holy Spirit. There are subtle variations between the three, in the types of pork products and other meats used as well as in cooking method (on stovetop or in oven), but they are essentially the same dish much as bourbon, rye, and scotch are all whiskeys. 

I do enjoy a cassoulet made with duck, but chicken thighs are just as tasty and much easier to find. I'm  not picky about beans, either, and am quite content to use canned cannellinis rather than tracking down the traditional tarbais beans. (However, I have purchased tarbais from Rancho Gordo, purveyor of all sorts of delicious bean varieties.) The pork element is also pot luck. I usually use some kind of sausage, even chicken sausage, and have not made a bad cassoulet yet.  

it's totally possible that these Chinese plates have lead in the glaze, which may explain some things

Chinese Cassoulet - duck legs, Chinese sausage, and canned beans make a tasty cassoulet.

Deconstructed Cassoulet is definitely fancy pork and beans with some duck on top.

Jerk Chicken Cassoulet - seems like a stretch, but works really well!

Southwest Cassoulet involves soaking black beans, but you could use canned beans and skip adding them to the chicken mixture until the last 20 minutes of cooking.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!
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Monday, February 13, 2023

Lamb Charcuterie - Sponsored Post

I grew up eating ham. My maternal grandfather worked for Esskay, a Baltimore-area company that produced hot dogs, sausages, and various other meat products. Even after he retired, the company continued to send us a ham for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas until Grandpa's death in 1979. Ham deli meat (imported, please, chipped into the thinnest shards) between slices of rye bread with iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing was my regular childhood lunch (with a side of Funyuns). By the time I was a teenager, I was honestly sick. of. ham. 

Now that I'm firmly into adulthood---tbh, on the slippery slope to old age--ham is very rarely on the menu. Certainly not for the holidays. A ham has never been in my oven (not a euphemism). 

Sure, I buy fancy ham sometimes, the raw stuff like prosciutto or Serrano. It's nothing like the flabby, water-logged, ham of my youth. I figured if I never ate pre-cooked ham again, I'd be ok. 

And then I discovered Lamb Ham. Aussie Select's Agave Rosemary and Tikka Masala hams, to be specific. This woman-owned business, based in Marietta, Georgia, was kind enough to send me samples of both products, and I have to admit I was blown away. I honestly had no idea that tender and lean Australian lamb could be turned into a ham-like product. It tastes very much like pork ham, but it's also unmistakably lamb. Unlike most sliced pork ham products, Aussie Select's hams have what I would call gentle flavor. In other words, they're not salt bombs. I used slices of the Agave Rosemary(my favorite) on both a charcuterie plate and in a grilled cheese sandwich, and was pleased at the way it stood out against the various saltier elements.

I thought I'd use the Tikka Masala ham in a completely different way: as a wrap for fresh asparagus. Typically, a dish like that would use a stickier and stretchier ham product like prosciutto, or one that is overall sturdier, like a deli ham (which is more of a Franken-meat, made of patched-together pork pieces). Lamb is a more delicate meat than pork, so my slices fell apart during the process of wrapping the asparagus. No worries (mate!), I simply did not turn the asparagus in the oven to prevent the ham from falling off. Eventually, the ham shrank to fit, and I had no problems getting the asparagus off the baking sheet and onto a plate.

I wanted to emphasize the Indian-inspired flavor of the ham by using a little bit of a sweet glaze, but opted instead to make a post-oven drizzle of mango chutney and mayo. And because I enjoy ALL the textures, I made a nut topping. This dish had it all--sweet and juicy fat asparagus, a lovely cured lamb with intriguing spices, a sweet and creamy touch, and something to crunch. I think this would make an elegant appetizer, but we Minxes enjoyed it as a main course.

Lamb Ham-wrapped Asparagus

For the asparagus
6 slices of Aussie Select Tikka Masala Lamb Ham
12 fat asparagus spears, tough ends snapped or cut off 
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
Kosher salt

For the sauce
2 T mango chutney
1 T mayonnaise
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

For crunchy topping
3 T chopped toasted nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews - I used hazelnuts)
1 T hemp seeds
1/4 t nigella seeds (also known as kalonji, charnushka, or black cumin, a tiny, vaguely oniony-tasting, seed and one of my favorite seasonings--optional)

To make the asparagus: Preheat oven to 425F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.

Carefully tease apart the slices of ham; they will tear. Divide the slices in half as best you can--not only will they tear, they'll tear unevenly. Wrap each half slice around an asparagus spear and carefully place them on the baking sheet. Make sure the spears aren't touching. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the asparagus and ham, and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on just the asparagus. 

Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. You will not be able to turn the spears, as the ham will fall off. But after 20 minutes, the ham will shrink and cling somewhat to the asparagus. If the asparagus still seems too crunchy, and the ham isn't too brown, you can leave it in the oven for an additional 5 or so minutes (I like tender asparagus).

To make the sauce: While the asparagus is cooking, combine the chutney and mayo in a small bowl or ramekin. Add a bit of lemon juice to taste. You want to be able to drizzle the sauce, so thin it out with a little bit of water...a couple teaspoons-ish. Taste again to make sure it still tastes like chutney. Add the barest pinch of salt and taste again. It should still seem sweet, with a hint of lemon. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the topping: Combine the nuts and seeds in a small dish. Set aside.

To serve: Using tongs, remove the spears to a serving dish. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with nuts. 

Serves 2-3 as a side or appetizer.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, February 06, 2023

Easy Three-Ingredient Chili

I promise this is the fastest and easiest chili you'll ever make. Let me clarify - it's a green (or white) chili, made with tomatillos, green chile peppers, and pork. I've made it from scratch many times and have posted recipes for both pork and chicken versions here on the blog. But why go to all the trouble to make it from scratch when you really only need 3 pantry items: a jar of salsa; a can of meat; and a can of beans. Heck, you don't even need to add the beans if you don't want to!
My salsa of choice is Desert Pepper Salsa del Rio. It's spicy, delicious, and contains only ingredients I'd put in my chili--green chile peppers, onions, tomatillos, jalapeno peppers, salt, lime juice, water, vinegar, cilantro, cumin, oregano, and garlic. No preservatives or other weird additives. And did I mention that it's delicious? And it can be hard to find, so when I spot it at the supermarket, I buy three or four jars at a time.

The second ingredient is a can of pork. Wait! Before you get upset at the idea of meat from a can, I can assure you that this stuff is good! I mean, you eat canned tuna and salmon, right? So why is the idea of canned pork or beef so abhorrent? 

Keystone products contain only 2 ingredients: meat and a little salt. Opening a can reveals a mass of meat chunks in a bit of broth and a few globs of fat. It's not pretty, but neither is homemade refrigerated pork shoulder, which will probably have even more congealed fat on top. Don't skim it! Add the entire can--juice, fat, and all--for optimum goodness. If you can't find Desert Pepper green salsa, you could use another brand, but I cannot vouch for the deliciousness of your final product. 

Fast & Easy Green Chili

1-16oz jar Desert Pepper Salsa del Rio
1-15oz can Keystone All Natural Pork (or chicken)
1-15oz can cannellini beans (optional)
Optional garnishes - cilantro, sour cream, sliced avocado, sliced radishes, shredded cheese, cilantro, green onions

Dump the three cans of stuff into a pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then turn heat down to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes, until heated through. Taste for seasonings, but you shouldn't need to add anything, unless you want it saltier or spicier. 

Serves 3-4 

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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