Category Archives: this little piggy came to dinner

Stufffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

This past week, I’d been craving pasta like nobody’s business.  I think it was because the previous week, we’d gone out with a friend to Olive Garden for the endless pasta dinner special, where I ate some whole wheat linguine with roast chicken and marinara (which was good, but I won’t do it again).  I think having that gave me an Italian food jones something awful, and so I thought about things I could make at home with the ingredients I had access to.  The week before, I’d bought two large zucchini squash and had picked up some hot Italian sausage at Central Market.  I decided to make stuffed zucchini–it was easy, filling and really tasty.

Stuffed zucchini: easy to make, delicious to eat and full of antioxidants and fiber! The meat used can be changed to ground chicken or turkey sausage as well; pork was what I happened to have on hand. Serve with a salad and crusty bread, and you've got a filling dinner.

You will need:

  • 2 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise and cut in halves
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage*
  • 1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree

*certainly, ground chicken or turkey sausage could also be used here as well; pork sausage was what I had access to.  For vegetarians, I think I’d probably mince up 3 cups of Portobellos sautéed with onions, garlic and red pepper flakes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat until completely done. While the sausage is cooking, cut the zucchini in half vertically, then slice them lengthwise.  Take a grapefruit spoon or melon baller (or something that scoops that has a sharp edge to it) to scoop out the pulpy middle of the squash.  Reserve this pulpy goodness in a bowl.  Lay the hollowed zucchini quarters in a 13 x 9 baking dish.  You do not need to grease the dish, as there will be plenty of liquid to prevent the zucchini from sticking to the bottom of the dish.

Once the sausage is done, drain it and return to the pan, and add the garlic, stirring to distribute it evenly throughout, cooking at medium-high heat.  Add in the zucchini pulp, again, stirring to evenly distribute it throughout the meat, cooking for about 10 minutes until the pulp really isn’t so visible.  You are adding the pulp back in to add moisture to help the rice cook and to add a bit more fiber.  Add in the half cup of water and then stir in the instant rice until it is well-distributed.  Stir in 3/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese until it melts throughout the mixture.  Turn off the heat to the skillet, and stuff the zucchini quarters, mounding the filling into each quarter.  Pour the can of tomato puree over all the zucchini quarters, and sprinkle the top of the baking dish with the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned.

This recipe serves 4, or two really hungry adults, as it did the night I made it.  It is lovely with a bit of garlic bread and a salad.  You could serve it over pasta if you wanted.


Chile Colorado (Red Chile Stew)

Let me begin this post by saying that my mom and dad are both outstanding cooks.  Had it not been for watching them in the kitchen as a kid, I am pretty sure I would not be half the cook I am now.  I grew up on a lot of Mexican food, and by this I mean actual Mexican food–not Tex-Mex, but Mex-Mex.  The stuff you get from places like Taco Bueno or Taco Bell sure as hell aren’t Mexican (but sadly in some parts of the country, it’s what passes for Mexican food).  Real Mexican food is simple, wholesome and relatively healthy.  The stuff many restaurants pass off as Mexican food is as much a bastardization of the cuisine as the Chinese food that is found in many Chinese takeout joints.

But I digress…

You know those things your parents fix that only they really know how to fix right, that only taste good when they make them?  For me, those dishes would be my mom’s chile verde and my dad’s chile colorado.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my mom about red chile, and how I’d wanted to learn to make it, and she said, “It’s really easy.  You just have to buy the puree at the store.  Central Market has it in the freezer section.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather when she said this.  As a child, I remember my parents bringing back 50 pound sacks of dried New Mexico red chiles and 50 pounds’ worth of roasted Hatch green chiles from New Mexico whenever we’d go visit my grandparents in the summertime.  I also remembered that whenever mom and dad would make enchiladas, they had to rehydrate the red chiles in boiling water, puree them in the blender, strain it to remove the pulp and seeds and THEN they could make the chile sauce.  Really, the whole process is a pain in the ass, but the result is quite tasty.

The fact that you can get this:

already pureed is truly AMAZING, and a real time saver, because it saves you about an hour and a half of work!

So once my mom told me of the wonders of Bueno chile, I decided I needed to make chile colorado.  My mom makes it with oregano, which you can certainly do, as Mexican oregano complements the flavor of the chile nicely.  My dad’s version doesn’t use oregano and is equally as good, so it’s the version I went with.

No Tex-Mex here, this is Mex-Mex!

This was outstanding, and will be dinner for us for the next few days.  It’s got a bite to it, but it is really good and super easy.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2-3 pounds pork chops, trimmed and cubed, bones reserved with a bit of their attached meat for flavor
  • canola oil
  • 2 large Russet potatoes, skinned and diced into bite-size pieces
  • 14 ounces red chile puree, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven, heat about a teaspoon of canola oil and cook the pork (and bones) over medium heat until it is cooked through and no more of the cooking liquid remains.  Once the meat has cooked through, salt and pepper the meat to season it.  Add the red chile puree and garlic powder and enough water to cover the meat.  Let this come to a boil, and then simmer for an hour.  After about an hour, add in the potatoes and about 2 more cups of water and stir to evenly distribute the vegetables throughout the stew.  Allow this to continue cooking at a low simmer, about 30 more minutes.

Serve hot, with beans as shown.  Rice is also a good accompaniment, as are tortillas.  I ate mine with corn tortillas, and it was awesome.

This recipe makes about 14 1-cup servings.

Garlicky Kale with Crispy Salt Pork

Inexplicably, all week long I’d been jonesing for some comfort food–some serious, Southern comfort food.  Maybe it was because this past week, I’d increased my cardio workouts to 20 minutes every other day, or maybe it was because I just wanted some down-home, stick to your ribs food.  Whatever the reason, I decided when doing the shopping for the week that we’d have unfried chicken, mashed potatoes and some greens.  I didn’t want green beans (we eat a lot of those), and I didn’t want a salad (we eat a lot of that too).  Sticking to my resolve to try at least one new recipe a week, and at least one new vegetable a week, I decided we’d have kale.

Kale is a member of the mustard family of plants–the Brassicas.  This is the same group that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard/collard greens and Brussels sprouts.  I’m a big fan of the lot, and I’d had kale before, but had never actually prepared it myself and wanted to try my hand at it.

Last winter, my friend Julie and I had gone to a cooking class all about bacon over at Central Market, and one of the recipes we learned was kale with crispy salt pork.  I figured it would be a good accompaniment to my Unfried Chicken recipe, and decided that would be our green vegetable for dinner tonight.

A different take on traditional greens served with a lot of Southern cuisine, the saltiness of the salt pork here means you don't add any during the cooking.

They were not the soggy looking greens I’d been accustomed to seeing on steam tables.  These were toothsome, flavorful and a bit salty (owing to the salt pork in the recipe).  The salt pork here is cooked until it renders most of its fat, leaving it crispy.  The kale is then quickly cooked in a bit of the remaining fat until bright green, but not soggy or limp.  A bit of garlic is added, and then the crisp salt pork is then added back to the leaves and served while warm.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Optional:  red pepper flakes, Tobasco

Trim the thick layer of fat from the salt pork.  Trust me when I say there will be plenty of fat rendered from the meat to cook the greens in.  If you are all about the fat, then by all means, don’t trim the salt pork.  I trimmed the fat in an effort to reduce the fat content (and to not have to drain it off!).  Dice the salt pork into 1/2″ pieces and cook in a hot skillet until crispy.  Keep an eye on the skillet, as it will begin to smoke as the meat becomes crispier and crispier.

While the salt pork is cooking, remove the leaves from your kale.  It is best to do this by hand by tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces away from the stem.  Put the pieces into a bowl or colander so that you can wash them off thoroughly, removing any traces of dirt.  For me, this yielded about 6 cups of raw kale.  Your amount may vary, depending on how large your bunch of kale is.

Once the salt pork is crispy and has rendered nearly all of its fat, remove the pieces from the pan to a bowl.  Pour off all but about two tablespoons of the drippings.  You really do not need much fat for this next step, but you want enough fat to flavor the greens without drowning them entirely in it.

While the pan is still hot, add the kale.  It should sizzle when added to the pan.  Stir it around rapidly to coat the leaves with the fat remaining in the pan and cook until bright green.  This took me about 4 minutes, because my leaves were not terribly large to begin with.  Near the end of the cooking, add the garlic and stir.  If you like your greens with pepper flakes, this would be the time to add them.  Return the crispy salt pork to the pan, stir one last time and remove from heat.  Serve while hot.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

I think if I make this again, I am going to rinse the salt pork a bit to remove some of the saltiness.  I do not usually eat a lot of salt to start with, so this dish was a bit salty for my tastes.


Feij-what? you’re probably wondering.

I got the latest issue of Cooking Light in my mailbox this week and Friday night finally had a chance to read it.  In this issue, there was a collection of recipes for the slow cooker and among them was one that stuck out at me:  Brazilian Feijoada.

Traditional Brazilian feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-dah) is a meaty stew cooked with a variety of pork and beef products and is usually served over rice with orange wedges.  It is a dish that usually cooks all day long and is usually cooked in stages with varying techniques:  stewing, braising, roasting.  Because the cooking process for this dish is so involved, it is usually not something the average home cook makes often and is usually reserved for special occasions.   The Cooking Light version of this recipe made it seem like making it was no big feat, so I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications.  The original recipe called for both pork shoulder (a bit fatty, I thought) and onion, both of which I left out.  In place of the shoulder, I used a pork tenderloin that cut down the fat content but did not change the flavor.  Leaving out the onions of course changes the flavor, but I think next time I make this (and I do plan on making it again), I will use a bouquet garni and just take it out prior to serving.  I also used canned, rinsed black beans in place of the dried beans the original recipe calls for in order to save time.

This is a heavy dish, so we ate it with a bit of steamed rice, lime wedges and whole wheat tortillas.  You really don’t need anything else!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 4 very meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of their fat (about 2-2 1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans black beans, drained of their liquid and rinsed
  • Special equipment:  a 6 quart slow cooker

Cook the bacon until crisp in a large skillet.  While the bacon cooks, cut your tenderloin into 1″ chunks.  Remove the bacon from the skillet, and saute the tenderloin in the pan drippings along with the garlic until brown on all sides, about 6-7 minutes.

Once the tenderloin chunks have browned, remove them to the slow cooker.  Brown your short ribs on all sides in the remaining drippings.  Once the ribs are brown, place them into the slow cooker with the broth, beans, bacon, water, and ham hock.  Sprinkle the salt and pepper over everything, give it a good stir to mix everything and cook on low for 8 hours.

When the dish is completely cooked, remove the ham hock and bones from the short ribs.  Shred the rib meat with a couple of forks and serve over steamed rice.

This dish makes 8 1 1/4  cup servings.  It should be noted that this dish is not meant to be spicy, hence the absence of anything that might add fire to the flavor.  It is rather heavy, so it is best served as a standalone dish with rice or a salad.

This recipe was modified from its original form, found in the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light here.

Easy Meat Sauce

The good thing about being winter causing you to be cooped up in your home for 4 days is that you’re constantly eating at home, which is a good thing.  In a normal week, we go out to eat at least 2 or 3 times, partially because my schedule is so harried.  In addition to teaching full time, I also have a part-time job (that Master’s degree isn’t going to pay for itself) and work in time to get in about 30 minutes to an hour of activity each day.  As I am the chief cook in the house and do the majority of the cooking, some days there simply isn’t time or inclination to do it.

This week has been the exception rather than the rule, and so I’ve cooked every single day.  Last night, I cooked up a pot of pasta sauce that we froze a good chunk of, which we will probably eat next week once things return to their normal, crazy busy state.

Now, I am a meat eater.  Always have been, and always will be.  I crave protein, and prefer it to carbohydrate.  Funny how that works out, being diabetic and all.  So when I make pasta sauce, it always has a meat base.  This sauce uses ground sirloin (quite lean) and ground pork (also pretty lean) rather than my standby hot Italian sausage (which I had none of).  With the addition of herbs and spices, though, it tasted as though I’d made it with my usual sausage suspect.  It’s a thick, meaty sauce that’s good over any type of pasta, and could be used in a lasagna, if one were inclined to make it.


An easy, meaty sauce for all kinds of pasta.

Today I served it up over some farfalle, with a bit of shredded mozzarella.  It was even better today!  Here is how I did it.  You will need:


  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 28 ounce can tomato puree (I used Muir Glen)
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons red pepper flakes (we like ours with a bit of bite; reduce this if you like)
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper

In a large Dutch oven, brown both the sirloin and pork, breaking them up as the meat cooks.  You want the meat to be crumbly.  Add in a tablespoon of the pepper flakes.  Once the meat has cooked, drain off the excess fat and pour in the tomato puree, water and tomato paste.  Add the remaining spices and stir completely to combine.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce bubbles, and then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.

Serve over hot pasta, polenta or whatever you like.   This recipe made about 10 cups of sauce.

NOTE:  If I had had bell peppers, I would have added them to the sauce to up the veggie factor.  Also, onions would be superb in this recipe, and if I could add a diced onion, I would have done that.