Pork Chops with Italian Relish

With its warm and rich flavors of tomato, basil, oregano and garlic, Italian “relish” has a way of transforming a protein into comfort food — sort of like Sunday Sauce without the pasta (and carbs.)  We’ve had Italian relish on fish and steak, but never really thought about putting it on pork, until we found this recipe on the Epicurious website.  Adding the relish is an easy way to liven up weeknight pork chops with just a few simple ingredients:  tomatoes, onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, basil and oregano.  We also added olives to ours, since we’ve never met an olive we didn’t like.  Buon Appetito!

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Celery Slaw

For the Super Bowl this year, we served one of our bar-food-at-home favorites, grilled wings.  We did the buffalo version and tried a new Asian-style as well (which I ended up loving even more than the buffalo-style.  Updated post coming soon.)  Because the wings were our dinner that night, I wanted to serve a healthy side dish, preferably one involving vegetables.  The two possibilities that immediately came to mind were celery salad and cole slaw.  Our much-loved celery salad recipe seemed a bit too fancy for wings and football, and we thought this flavorful hot & sour slaw would compete with the flavor of the wings a bit too much.  Instead, we combined elements of each into a lighter, sweet-yet-tangy coleslaw with tons of celery flavor.  Win, win.

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Butternut Squash Chowder

In our attempt to cook with seasonal foods more often, we recently made a hearty winter salad featuring butternut squash and apples.  As a side dish for just the two of us, the recipe didn’t require much squash, so we had quite a bit left over — more than enough for a soup or stew.  Since our prior experience cooking with butternut squash is primarily limited to roasting it as a decadent side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, we wanted a relatively easy and fool-proof new recipe for cooking it in soup.  For me, cooking doesn’t get much easier than throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot that you plug into an electrical outlet, then setting a timer and forgetting about it until the satisfying aromas wafting from the pot alert you that dinner is almost ready.  (Sort of like when Bill Murray’s character in the movie “What About Bob” learns how to “sail” while strapped to the sailboat’s mast — this method of food preparation allows me to say:  “I’m cooking!  I cook!  Well, actually, the slow-cooker does all the work.”)   We have had success with recipes from what has become our slow-cooker bible of sorts, America’s Test Kitchen’s “Slow Cooker Revolution” (most noteworthy so far, Chicken & Dirty Rice), and we found their chowder recipe to be deliciously successful as well.  Although it requires a bit of prep work on the front end and some assembly work at the finish, the recipe is easy and incorporates relatively healthy ingredients:  2 slices of bacon, 1/2 an onion, 2 garlic cloves, 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, a dash of nutmeg, 2.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 2 cups chicken broth, 1.5 cups vegetable broth, 1.5 pounds butternut squash, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil, 4 ounces kale, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/2 tablespoon fresh sage, 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar, salt & pepper and Parmesan cheese and roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds for garnish.  The resulting chowder was creamy, but not too rich, with sweet roasted squash flavor complemented by a hint of bitterness from the kale.

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Shrimp Salad Rolls (w/ leftover shrimp)

We cook with shrimp a lot, in many different ways — from pasta dishes to salads to gumbo.  We also like to take leftover cooked shrimp (or store-bought cooked shrimp) and transform it into a new dish, like we did with these quesadillas.  As often as we cook with shrimp, it can sometimes be a struggle to come up with new and different shrimp recipes.  Recently when I was planning our weekly menu and trying to come up with a meal using leftover shrimp, something made me think of a wonderful week we spent on Cape Cod with Dan’s side of the family several summers ago.  I remembered how Dan made it his mission that week to eat lobster every single day (he more than accomplished that goal, occasionally even eating lobster twice per day), and how much he loves lobster rolls.  That’s when I had a light bulb moment — how about a roll/sandwich filled with shrimp salad instead of lobster?  I researched several lobster roll recipes online and adapted this recipe to make it more compatible with the shrimp flavor.  The result was a light and creamy shrimp salad in a buttery sandwich that evoked fond memories of sunny, salty, fun times at the beach with family.  It’s a special thing when simple ingredients (shrimp, cucumber, celery, shallots, tarragon, lemon juice, mayo, cayenne pepper and Old Bay seasoning) combine to form a good meal that is also a reminder of good times.

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Apple & Winter Squash Salad

Despite the mild temperatures many of us have been experiencing so far this year (not complaining!), it’s still technically winter, and we’ve been attempting to cook more seasonal foods.  We have a favorite butternut squash recipe, so when we saw Chef Zane Holmquist cooking this winter squash dish on the Today Show, we thought it would be an interesting new spin on an old favorite.  We were not disappointed.  The squash flavor goes really well with the sweet apple, peppery arugula and rich, complex cranberry vinaigrette.  The salad itself is pretty simple, with butternut squash (or some other winter squash), apple, arugula, toasted pumpkin seeds and salt & white pepper.  The cranberry vinaigrette is made with cranberry juice, dried cranberries, shallot, lemon juice, canola oil, fresh thyme, green Tabasco sauce and salt & white pepper.  We may not be breaking out the winter coats, gloves and scarves this season, but we’ll definitely make this side dish another time or two before “winter” ends.

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Stuffed Mushrooms

So, what’s going on this weekend?  Anything happening in the wide world of sports?  Just kidding, I am aware that Super Bowl Sunday is upon us.  I’m not really a football fan (much to Dan’s chagrin), so the final championship is actually my favorite game of the season, no matter who is playing (sorry Daniel.)  Although Dan’s beloved Steelers aren’t playing in the Big Game like they did last year, we’ll be watching the Giants and Patriots duke it out, in between all the over-hyped commercials, while enjoying some type of delicious football fare.  This football season, we experimented with making sports-bar-appetizer food at home, including grilled buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers, potato skins and these stuffed mushrooms. The wings were our favorite, but the mushrooms would also make a really good (and relatively healthy) addition to any Game Day appetizer sampler.  Happy Super Bowl, everyone!  I’m off to choose which color jersey I’ll be rooting for this year.

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