Mexican Rice with Cilantro Dressing

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced seeded serrano chiles
2 cups long-grain white rice
3 1/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon salt

Cilantro Dressing
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon minced seeded serrano chile

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and serrano; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Mix in rice; stir 2 minutes. Mix in broth and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until rice is just tender and broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

For dressing: combine all ingredients in processor. Blend until almost smooth. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Makes one scant cup.

Transfer rice to bowl; cool to barely lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Add 1/2 cup cilantro dressing to rice; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

Cornbread

2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400° F. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl and add sugar. Mix well. In a separate bowl, stir dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the yogurt to the egg mixture. Stir in cooled, melted butter. Bake in a greased 10-inch round for 15-25 minutes – time will vary.

Vietnamese Chicken Lettuce Wraps w/Fresh Pickles

Gooooooood. Here’s a hint – serve with Spicy Peanut Sauce.

For chicken:
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons tamari
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 medium lime’s worth)
1 1/2 teaspoons chili oil or chili sauce
2 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

For pickles
2 medium carrots, peeled
1/2 lb daikon radish, peeled
1/2 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

8 large red- or green-leaf lettuce leaves; about 8 fresh mint, basil, and/or cilantro sprigs; any Asian hot chile sauce

Marinate chicken:
Whisk together garlic, sugar, tamari, vegetable oil, lime juice, and hot sauce in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add chicken and toss to coat, then marinate at least 15 minutes.

Make pickles while chicken marinates:
Cut carrots and radish into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (2 inches long). Whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt in a bowl until sugar is dissolved, then add vegetables and toss to combine. Let stand, tossing occasionally, until wilted, about 15 minutes.

Grill chicken:
Cook chicken in batches. First, sear chicken in one pan, then transfer to another, sauce and all, and simmer on medium heat, covered, from 10 – 15 minutes (depending on how thick chicken strips are). Keep chicken warm. Serve with pickle and accompaniments – wrap a lettuce leaf around the mess and scarf as delicately as you can.

Makes 4 servings.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

There’s no need to start with peanuts to make a kickass peanut sauce. A high-quality natural peanut butter works fabulously – and you can make ahead.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh gingerroot
1 cup water
1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili oil

In a saucepan heat canola oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and garlic and ginger, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring. Simmer sauce, stirring, until smooth and cool to room temperature. Sauce may be made up to 3 days ahead and chilled, covered. If sauce is too thick after chilling, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water until sauce reaches desired consistency.

Serve sauce with grilled poultry or meat, on noodles, as a dressing for spinach salad, or with my lettuce wrap recipe.

Korean Beef Salad

Serve this salad with a dish of cucumbers, lightly dressed in red wine vinegar, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds.

1 1/2 lbs. boneless beef top round, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
1 head red leaf, green leaf, or butter lettuce, washed and drained
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
Oil: canola, sesame, and chili

With a very sharp knife, cut beef across the grain into 1 1/2 inch long strips about 1/8 inch thick. In a medium bowl mix together tamari, sugar, and vinegar. Add beef and allow to marinate at least 15 minutes.

Shred or slice the lettuce. Arrange tomatoes and mushrooms over lettuce and set aside.

Boil somen noodles (usually takes only about 3 to 5 minutes). Rinse in cool water until slightly chilled. Toss with about one teaspoon each of the three oils: sesame, chili, and canola.

Saute the beef in a couple tablespoons of oil, until just after the beef loses its pink. Toss hot beef on layered salad and serve with cold noodles.

Perfect Baked Potatoes

OK, I’m not an amazing cook – but I can bake a good potato with the 59 cents a pound variety. Here is my inexact, but guaranteed perfect baked potato formula (even people who HATED potato skins have complimented these):

Medium sized russets or bakers, 1 per serving.

Preheat oven to 400. Scrub the taters well. Dry off. Prick with fork multiple times. Rub skins with a generous amount of olive or canola oil. Apply kosher or semi-coarse salt. Bake for an hour, 20 minutes longer if potatoes are large. Allow potatoes to cool for about 5 minutes before busting them open to put in butter, etc.

A few tips: DON’T wrap in foil. Aesthetically pleasing to some, but moisture needs to escape while baking to allow a fluffy texture. DON’T use margarine on baked potatoes unless you do so for moral reasons. For the love of God people – butter.

Turkey Meatballs with Cheddar Cheese

Soul food? Yes.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole bran cereal, crushed, or corn flake crumbs
2 slices whole wheat bread
2 teaspoons Bragg’s
2 large carrots, finely shredded
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 teaspoons dill weed

Sauce
6 cloves garlic
2 28 oz. cans tomato puree
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp thyme

1 – 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

In a mixing bowl combine eggs, cereal, shredded bread, and Bragg’s. Add turkey and shredded carrot. Mix well and shape into medium-sized meatballs; brown in large skillet and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. For sauce: dice and saute garlic. Combine sauce ingredients and heat until almost boiling. Transfer meatballs and sauce to pot; simmer for at least 20 minutes (alternately, throw in the crockpot for 2 hours on high). Transfer to casserole dish; top with cheddar cheese and broil until cheese is melted.

Serves 6 – 8.

Asian Cabbage Salad with Almonds

It ain’t especially classy, and the Top Ramen and full cup of white sugar insures it ain’t health food either. But whip up a batch and you’ll agree it’s T-A-S-T-Y.

1 medium head of savoy cabbage
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
1 package dried Top Ramen noodles, crumbled
1 (14 oz.) can black olives, sliced in quarters lengthwise

Dressing

1 seasoning packet from the Top Ramen
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash black pepper
Couple dashes sesame oil

Slice cabbage thinly into a large bowl (or use a food processor – I do). Add almonds, noodles, and olives; set aside.

Heat dressing ingredients in pan until sugar is dissolved. Pour dressing over cabbage mixture; marinate overnight. Drain to serve.

Cabbage Rolls

Rolls:
1 medium head cabbage, cored
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Sauce:
1 28 ounce can stewed tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, cook cabbage in boiling water for 10 minutes or until outer leaves are tender; drain. Remove eight large outer leaves (refrigerate remaining cabbage for another use); set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. Mix tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer for 15 minutes.

In a bowl, combine beef, sausage, cooked rice, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and 1 teaspoon salt; mix well. Place about 1/2 cup meat mixture on each leaf; fold in sides and then
roll up leaf to completely enclose filling. Place seam-side down in a loaf pan. Top with the sauce. Cover and cook in a 350 oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Damn. That thing is good.