One of more than a hundred recipes I have for soup. I’m not kidding.

Spicy Chickpea Soup with Curried Vegetables
Inspired by this.

I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach.

While I like to elicit a few oohs and awes at dinnertime, I am a busy lady, and can’t spend my entire day chiffonading in the kitchen. The best recipes, to me, impress with the barest minimum of effort. You end up with more time casually drinking wine and talking to your dinner guests. Or, you know, watching Animal Cops and petting the cat.

This soup takes 15 minutes, start to finish, but I get compliments every time it’s served. Here I’ve paired it with some simple curried vegetables, which are also great stuffed into a whole wheat wrap/pita for a super tasty lunch the next day. Go to hell, PB&J. (You know I didn’t mean that, PB&J. Please forgive me.)

Spicy Chickpea Soup

2 16 ounce cans chickpeas, drained
1 14 ounce can light coconut milk
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup vegetable broth

1. In a blender, combine the drained chickpeas with the coconut milk, salsa garam masala and ground ginger and puree the mixture until smooth.

2. Transfer the puree to a medium saucepan. Stir in the broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes until flavors combine.

Slurp.

Curried Vegetables

3 small red potatoes, cubed
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 ½ tsp olive oil
¼ cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or a little less if you’re not a curry fiend like me)
3 cups of spinach

1. Boil the potatoes until just tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and sauté until tender.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and curry powder Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

4. Add spinach, cook until just wilted.

Fast Food At Home (minus the clogged arteries)

Veggie Burger and Fries

Seconds before ravenous eating commenced.

Oh, how I love french fries. Of course, what goes better with fries than a burger? Why not put the real star of the show at the beginning where it belongs? To me, that’s all a burger is, really–something I eat so my dinner doesn’t wholly consist of a greased-up potato. But what I don’t love is the stomach ache that is sure to follow a trip to your local fast food joint. Those little wedges of starchy joy instantly make me feel like I need to wash my face and go to the gym.

I’d never give up fries, but I could sure do without the guilt. These fries are parboiled, baked, and broiled for ultimate crisp, served with a veggie burger that’s 1000 times better than those hockey pucks you find in the freezer at your local grocer.

Veggie Burgers

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, shredded
1 small zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup instant oatmeal
1/4 breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons shredded Cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 flour

1. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a skillet over low heat, and cook the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add the carrots and zucchini, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, let cool slightly.

2. In a bowl, mix oats, breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, and soy sauce. Add in cooked veggies. Refrigerate 1 hour or until cool.

3. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

4. Place the flour on a large plate. Form the vegetable mixture into 3 or 4 (depending on how big you want them) patties. Drop
each patty into the flour, lightly coating both sides.

5. Grill patties 4-5 minutes on each side, or until heated through and nicely browned.

Fries

2 large potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic and onion salt

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Put sliced potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes ONLY. Potatoes should not be completely cooked, otherwise you will end up with very mushy fries.

3. Drain in a colander and place under cold running water. Shake off excess water, and dry potatoes on paper towels.

4. In a medium bowl, add the potatoes, olive oil, and your seasoning preference to taste, stirring to combine.

5. Lay fries on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Cook for 25 minutes, turning fries once halfway through.

6. Place fries in broiler for 2-5 minutes–please watch carefully, these fries burn easily. Serve with ketchup or nothing at all.

Put the meal back into breakfast.

Mrs. P’s Breakfast Potatoes


It’s time to get unreasonably excited about another skillet seasoning opportunity! Cast iron and home fries enjoy a perfect symbiosis, the oil from the potatoes greasing the pan while the starchy buildup seals it in for a nice long moisturizing. The frequent scraping off and incorporation of the browned coating lends a crispness that contrasts delightfully against the clumps of soft potato and caramelized onion. I don’t recommend adjusting the salt in this recipe; were I facing dietary changes due to high blood pressure, I’d sever my relationship with the home fry completely before I’d witness it lose its soul to the realm of the low-sodium.

3 baking potatoes, diced
1/2 large red onion, diced
1/4 C vegetable oil, plus more on hand
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried cilantro

Heat the oil in your skillet over high heat until it’s hot, about a minute and a half. Add the potatoes and spread them out in the pan, then leave them alone for 2 minutes. Fold them over with a wooden or metal spatula and leave them for another 2 minutes, and repeat this process until all the potatoes have at least two browned sides.

Open up a small circle in the middle of the pan and pour in another tbsp or so of vegetable oil, wait 10 seconds, then add the onion and fold into the potatoes. A metal spatula works best, as the potatoes will want to break apart as they soften. Scrape any stuck-on residue off the bottom of the pan and you fold.


Turn the heat down to medium, add the salt, pepper and cilantro, and continue to cook, folding and scraping every 3 to 5 minutes, until you achieve your desired level of done-ness. This will take a while, and you should plan on chopping your first potato about 45 minutes before you want to eat. The picture directly above illustrates the stage at which you’ll want to eat them, but remember that you trade looks for taste when it comes to home fries. I cook mine to the stage shown all the way at the top, then let them sit in the pan for 10 minutes or so off of the heat for a final crisping. Whatever your preference, don’t forget the eggs over easy for yolk-dipping, and jelly should figure into this in some capacity, whether on toast, English muffin, or a buttered and grilled bagel.

Introducing the Unparalleled Mr. H

Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes

It’s not surprising that the lovely and talented Mrs. Hamilton is married to an equally engaging and capable gentleman. Mr. Peña and I agree that Mr. Hamilton holds the top slot on our survive-a-zombie-attack-or-other-apocalyptic-scenario team roster. He’s also the easiest man I know to shop for. At the end of each January, he checks in with me to schedule his annual birthday dinner, and I pick up his gift at the meat counter several weeks later with the groceries. Both spouses were averse to mushrooms until the first time I made this for them, but now they’re believers.

I should warn you that you will open a door with this recipe that doesn’t close. For example, I acquired Mr. Peña with this meal, setting the bar a little higher than I would have had I not been in the heat of the culinary moment. Originally titled Teeny Tiny, my mother would make a petite version if one of us had an emotionally trying day and was feeling particularly teeny and/or tiny. I’ve renamed it as an homage to the man who may one day save my family’s brains.

To serve 4:
4 filet mignons, size dependent on budget and preference (I use modest 1″-thick cuts)
4 Russet potatoes
2 12-oz pkgs white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced with stems, 1/8″-thick
1 16-oz package baby carrots
1 C whole milk
1 C/2 sticks butter, to be safe
3/4 C grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 C cooking sherry
1 tbsp herbs de Provence (blend of savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender; you can just mix up whichever of those you already have)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
paprika

Set the oven to 350, grease up the potatoes with olive oil, and stab them repeatedly with a sharp fork. Bake them until it they hardly resist a poking. You’re looking at about an hour and a half.

Start the mushrooms when you’ve got about 15 minutes left on the potato clock. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium-high. Once the foaming subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté. After a few minutes of turning and cooking, add another 1 tbsp of butter and melt it in. The mushrooms will soften and release about 1/3 C of liquid. Keep the heat at medium-high until the liquid cooks off, turning the mushrooms frequently to prevent burning. Once the liquid has evaporated, add the sherry and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the alcohol boils off. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl, cover, and set on the stove-top to keep warm.

Ding! Either your potatoes are done, or you need to up your hustle. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Set a ricer over a large mixing bowl. Holding a potato using a dishcloth or folded paper towel, cut two slits in the top to form a lemon shape. Peel the cut skin off, and carefully spoon the piping hot potato into the ricer bin, getting out as much as you can without tearing the husk. Rice the potato, then repeat with the other three. Set the empty skins on a cookie sheet. Cut half a stick of butter into tbsp chunks and bury them in the potatoes to melt. Stir vigorously while you slowly pour in the milk, beating in as much air as possible. Then add the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and combine (don’t worry if the cheese doesn’t melt completely).

Spoon the potato whip back into the shells, and pile any extra filling on the tops. Sprinkle with paprika to get a little Lawrence Welk-ish nostalgia going, and wedge a pat of butter into each. Put them back in the oven and bake until they’re hot all the way through, about a half hour. Give yourself a 15-minute break (just enough time for a cigarette and a fresh Diet Coke!).

Throw the carrots into a medium saucepan with 1″ of water, 1 tbsp of butter and a pinch of herbs de Provence, and set the heat to low. Put 2 tbsp of butter in your largest (flat) pan and set it over medium-high heat. Let the butter melt and froth, then add the steaks. You need an equal ratio of free space to meat in your pan to do this correctly, so cook them simultaneously in 2 pans if necessary. Fry the steaks over medium-high for 2 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat to medium-low, add the mushrooms to the pan, and give each steak another 4 minutes on each side, turning the mushrooms frequently. You’ll need to adjust the time slightly since it’s difficult to convey flame strength, but you want to end up with rare, not raw.

The carrots are done when they’re al dente, and that should be right about now, along with the potatoes, steak and mushrooms. By your thirtieth time making this meal, you’ll have perfected the timing, so don’t worry about being a basket case for the first one. Drain the carrots and plate everything up, generously topping the steaks with mushrooms.

The dishes are going to be a bitch for this one, but the acclaim and self-satisfaction more than compensate.

This little piggy has chutney…

Pork Tenderloin with Guava Chutney

I cry every time I watch Babe, but a little less if I’ve just eaten good pork. A Peña favorite is bone-in, thinly sliced pork chops with caramelized red onions and white rice, but every few months we’ll upgrade to a tenderloin. Pork, generally a husky meat, is at its most elegant when presented in medium-rare medallions, and this cut’s relatively little saltiness makes it the perfect vehicle for a brazen topper.

1 pork tenderloin (you can buy an individually wrapped half, which feeds 2 people generously, or a split whole tenderloin for up to 5)
1/4 C guava paste (Goya is the easiest to find)
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried cilantro (1 tsp for a half tenderloin,  2 tsp for a whole)
1 tsp crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
olive oil

Set the pork on a rack over a roasting pan. Drizzle the tenderloin with 2 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and cilantro onto the top and rub it in with your fingers. You don’t need to do the bottom, as the meat will be broiled, so when you flip it over in the oven, the bottom will be moist. Leave the rubbed pork at room temperature while you prepare the chutney.

Start your broiler. Position the top rack so that there will be two inches between the top of the pork and the flame. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil over med-high heat in a medium pan. Cook the onion until it softens, turning frequently, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, add 2 tbsp more olive oil, then add the guava paste to the pan, and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.  It will take about 10 minutes for the paste to melt into a thick, syrupy liquid. Once it does, add salt, pepper and 1 tsp crushed red pepper. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and let it sit at room temperature while you cook the pork. Waiting until you’ve finished cooking the chutney to start the pork will give the former just the right amount of time to set, both in terms of flavor and texture.

I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re doing the half-loin. Stick the pork in the oven, so that the flame bar spans the length of the tenderloin (if using a whole, it will take about twice as long to cook, and the halves should be positioned 2″ apart, parallel to each other, equidistant from the flame). Broil the pork for about 10 minutes, until the top begins to brown, then pull the rack out and use tongs to turn the meat over. Give it another 10 minutes to finish cooking. The meat should be completely cooked, just barely rosy in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it stand for five minutes so it reabsorbs some of the juice. The surface will have crisped, so use a super sharp knife to slice the tenderloin at a slight angle into 1/2″ rounds.

Transfer the chutney to a serving dish, skimming off any oil that has accumulated at the surface. This should be an on-the-side option, considering the widespread disdain for public onion consumption. Since you’re serving a starch as well, five end or four center medallions are sufficient for the average dinner guest. Fan them out on the plates if you don’t mind appearing fancy – I certainly don’t. I usually serve this with crispy tinned potatoes; pan-fry drained canned sliced potatoes in HOT vegetable oil with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley, then drain on paper towels before plating.

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