So many plums, so little time. The countdown is on for the end of the stone fruit season, but right now you can find perhaps a dozen plum varieties at both your local farmers’ market or supermarket. A recent stroll down the grocery aisle revealed Pluots of the red, green, and dinosaur varieties, as well as Sunrise Reds, Midnight Moons, Damson, Greengage, Mirabelle and Stanley Rubies. The colors both outside and in reflect the rainbow. I love buying a few of each so that chopped and mixed you can create a colorful salsa with tastes that run from tart to sweet, then pump that flavor further with fresh lime, crystallized ginger and loads of fresh mint.
Plums are an essential flavor in many Asian cuisines, but especially Japanese and Chinese. While neither the salsa nor the pork marinade are authentic, they reflect my modern update on classic cuisines using the palate of flavors and pantry staples that represent their birth regions. I first traveled to both Japan and China shortly after my year-long stint in four kitchens in France, where I drilled down on classic techniques. That travel, more than anything else in my life, transformed both my palate and thoughts toward technique, opting for less reliance on fat-first flavor and relying more heavily on quick cooking techniques and bold aromatics, like ginger. It has been said I am a fiend for ginger. That is no lie.
I found this bamboo ginger grater on one of my trips, and it is much easier to clean and gives a higher yield of grated ginger than a microplane. If you ever see one, snag it. The two recipes in this post rely on crystallized ginger for the salsa (love the little texture contrast that crystallized gives when mixed with fruit) and fresh for the marinade. Fresh ginger is also a terrific meat tenderizer, so this marinade works well with less primo cuts of meat.
Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin
This marinade recipe in its first iteration came about from a bet with the great Josh Wesson, lord of all things food and wine pairing. Once during Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic, he smugly dared me to serve up blue fish in any possible way that would EVER pair with a wine. Once thought to be too oily to be wine-friendly, the pesky poisson was handily tamed by this robust marinade. I WON. I don’t remember where we landed for the wine, but believe it was a Gewurztraminer or something in the Alsatian family. The marinade went on to earn me a spot in the Gourmet Magazine Healthy Menu Awards final round, and in yet another reboot it was featured in Great Women Chefs. Until I saw the parade of plums this week, I had not thought of the marinade in quite a while, but dusted it off and tweaked a few ratios and ingredients, and it’s just as full of flavor (and simple to prepare) as I remember. And as is required to qualify for my list of favorite “dump and stir” recipes, this Asian marinated pork lets some of the store-bought ingredients like black bean garlic paste and hoisin do the heavy lifting, flavor-wise.
With all the plums in season right now, it’s the perfect time to whip up a little Asian-inspired Ginger Plum Salsa. And what could be better than serving that with this flavor-rich and a snap to prepare Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin?
Ginger Plum Salsa
2 cups pitted and diced plums (assorted varieties, about 4 or 5 plums)
1/2 cup diced, peeled cucumber
2 Tablespoons minced red onion or 1 scallion, thinly sliced
Juice of one lime (about 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice)
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons chiffonade (thin ribbons) of fresh mint
2 1-pound pork tenderloins, trimmed of silver skin and fat
Make Ginger Plum Salsa
Combine the plums, cucumber and red onion (or scallions) in a small bowl.
In another small bowl, whisk together the fresh lime juice, honey, crystallized ginger and red pepper flakes. Pour over the fruit and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Add the mint just before serving.
Makes 2 1/2 cups
Make Asian Marinade
Combine all marinade ingredients and marinate the pork at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. If you are marinating for more than 1 hour, refrigerate, covered.
Grill Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Start over a hot grill to mark, then cook on a cooler part of the grill (with the lid down) about 20-30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 145oF. Alternatively cook in a 425oF until meat reaches temperature, 20-35 minutes.
Remove from the grill or oven and let rest 10 minutes before carving.
Serve alongside ginger plum salsa.
Prep Time:20 minutes (plus marinating time)
Cook Time:25 minutes
Fresh mint and lime juice really elevate the flavors in the salsa and brighten the whole plate.
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If it’s summer, it’s grilling time and what better way to get a little entertaining help than a Pot Lucky. After the success of last year’s Slider Grill-a-thon, I picked Fajita Fiesta for a theme. I also had a brand new jar of Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread land on my doorstep and immediately thought of chipotle. To be specific, Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken Thighs! Are you feeling me? On a grilled tortilla with some refried beans, maybe a little guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro sprigs and perhaps a grilled veg or two? Well don’t stop there! We got so many wonderful contributions that the pairings and combos of flavors were virtually endless.
But let’s get this party started properly. Normally my potlucks are a BYO event (leaving me time to focus energy on coordinating culinary contributions, trying to weed out duplicates). But this time one couple decided to bring her dad’s signature and award-winning margarita in lieu of food. Score! They also brought that darling baby that appears further down this post. The cocktail recipe itself is a secret, but I have it on good authority that there is a certain blue collar beer in the mix. Nobody seemed to remember Hop Skip & Go Naked, but that was one of my earliest (college) blender memories. Starting with frozen lemon or limeade, all other “liquids” added used the juice-can-as-measure technique. Beer was definitely in the mix. Anybody?
Readers have asked how to host a Pot Lucky, as I have taken to calling the Curated Pot Luck. ICYMI, I have a deep-seeded fear of pot lucks. Shivvvvvvvvvvver. One too many frilly picks atop Velveeta cubes atop Slim Jims. True fact: I ate that last summer. I was THAT hungry. So it occurred to me a couple years ago to help people help themselves. By creating a theme (which makes it easier for guests to focus on their contribution to the menu), suggesting categories, and having a Sign Up for Your Dish List, you can create an amazing feast. We’re pushing our tenth Pot Lucky, all covered in this blog, but a few of my favorites are sliders, pizza, meatloaf, and nautical style. Like any good mother, I can’t really choose.
Here’s the 101 Crash Course on how to host a Pot Lucky. Doubtless there will be additional thoughts coming in subsequent posts, but let’s start with the basics.
The 411 on Pot Lucky 101
Like most things in life, the devil is in the details, and I am a firm believer in plan, plan, planning. Make a master list for any gathering and create sections for who is coming, what they are bringing, your shopping, prep, and set up.
Create a Theme
Creating a theme to curate your Pot Luck around is step one to giving menu directions. This is the best possible insurance against Velveeta with a frilly pick on a Slim Jim. Because unless your theme is Junk Food (I actually did that theme for a Chefs’ Night Out after the James Beard Awards, because let’s get real – that’s what chefs crave) or White Trash, there is a high likelihood you can avoid this culinary treasure. I have done sausage making, pizza toppings, soup swaps, sliders, nautically themed, Thanksgiving family treasures, meat loaf and more. What about a clam bake? Salad Palooza (my next Pot Lucky), American BBQ classics, fondue, Chinese New Year’s, Indian street food? So many possibilities.
Who is Game?
Most times when you entertain, the cast of characters is pre-ordained. An office party? Family gathering? School reunion? But if this is just a time to pull folks together around this menu, consider who would enjoy it. I’m all about being inclusive and fully believe everyone can whip together something using ready-made components – I have offered to give tutorials to those that might feel a teeny twinge of stress over this – but what you don’t want is take-out. That is a whole other party. Calvin Trillin used to host an annual dinner in NYC to benefit the NY Public Library and he had minions scattered all over Chinatown to scoop up and swoop in with military precision, delivering NY’s Best Chinese Take Out.
Look for people that think this is fun. It might not be everyone you know, but you might be surprised how many people jump on the bandwagon and show up with papier mâché marionettes wearing sombreros. Be prepared to yield a wide berth for exceptions and provide a hall pass to anyone happy to pitch in in other ways. Do you do dishes? You are absolutely most welcome!
I always provide detailed descriptions of the evening’s flow from arrival time to what to bring (already plated with serving spoon). I also like to include a list of everything I am providing. And then I plan for contingencies for that one person that shows up with the bowl, the ice, the cocktail sauce and no shrimp. I might not have shrimp to make that dish whole, but I will have a backup appetizer to fill the void. A day or two before, I provide a general head count for everyone so they know how much to bring. Nobody has to make enough to feed the total crowd because there will be so much food. 2 or 3 cups of a salsa goes a long way when sprinkled on a fajita. But I usually specify quantity on proteins (2-3 pounds each for the fajita mains; 2 dozen 2-ounce sliders for the burger party) and ask the people bringing lower priced or less time-intensive items to bring 2 or 3 items. And, some Pot Luckys are geared toward sharing the food beyond the night. So make sure folks bring containers to nab portions of the many meatloaves that were sampled, but not finished.
Provide Sample Menu with Categories
I put some time into coming up with categories and then list a smattering of ideas under each category. Don’t assign particular dishes to guests, unless it’s their signature and you must have it (Deb’s shrimp burger as a slider is an example.) Everyone comes from different places – work, home, yet another soccer game – so let them figure out what they are comfortable with making that fits their skills, palate, schedule, and budget.
Track the Menu
As much as I would like to say your job is done, I want you to avoid the all-pork-tenderloin dinner party. Every Pot Lucky has one item that is the highly coveted I MUST MAKE THAT. For fajitas, it was pork tenderloin. By asking guests to reply to you directly (no need to clog everyone’s inbox), you can track what is already taken. And if you got this email and want to bring one particular thing, reply ASAP!! You can also set up a private event page online and let people sift through all the comments to see what is already nabbed, or better yet, use an app that tracks commitments by whatever categories you specify.
Set the Table
Whether the event is at my house, on a boat, or at the park, I always pack extra serving spoons and forks, some condiments and seasonings, and plates, silverware, and napkins. For smaller groups, it may be a sit down with linens and table décor. For portable events, I try to consolidate, but still throw in a tablecloth and a pot of herbs for décor. Sometimes people show up with their own decor ideas, and you might turn around to find a prayer candle for the Virgin of Guadalupe and a big sombrero right where you left your chip basket. Get creative, but be organized with a master list of what you will need.
Organize Arriving Food
Once the food starts arriving, try to categorize it by how it will be used. For pizzas, that means putting all the sauces in one area, the cheeses in another, the scattering-type toppings in yet a third. For fajitas, put the tortillas at one end of the table and the cilantro sprigs at the other. This is your chance to be restaurateur for the day, so make a plan to lay out all contributions in a logical order. There may be some things that are for noshing now, so you can stage them in a separate area to clear space for working and setting up your buffet.
This is like point number 7 on every Girl Scout badge – after Be Prepared, there is Be Flexible. Even the best planning will go off the rails at some point or in some way, but just roll with it. Extra people? No problem because I have extra plates! Forgot your spoon? Got it handled – because I pulled out extras. Didn’t read the part about having the soups to swap in individual containers for take away? Done and done! We will wash all the containers from the tasting portion and repackage with the soup that needs to be portioned. At the end of the day, this is a party and the only rule is to have fun. Be inclusive. Be gracious. Share! Generosity of spirit covers a multitude of mistakes (that nobody but you needs know about).
Let’s leave this place better than we found it. That goes for the host and also the participants. Whether the party is in your own home, someone else’s or at the park, enlist help to return to pre-party conditions. Too often we don’t want to break the spell by doing the mundane, but many hands make light work. Don’t be a martyr – this is a community party so it’s a great time to get some extra hands to hand back platters and serving utensils, pack up the dirty things and make a trip to the recycle bin. That leaves you free to wake up tomorrow and bask in the memory of a great party, not to face a mound o’ mess!
Meanwhile back at the fiesta….
here are some of the amazing dishes that arrived for the Fajita Fiesta. One section of the table was reserved for the more app-type contributions to nosh on while the grill was firing up – chips & salsas: pineapple, pico and mango, and guacamole.
And there were so many toppings, among them grilled onions, squashes, and peppers. Pickled and fresh jalapenos, cilantro & lime, tomatoes, scallions, lettuce & arugula, sautéed mushrooms. Oh my! Cheeses ranged from goat to queso fresco, and Monterey Jack to habanero cheddar. Corn and flour tortillas were given a quick pass on the grill to warm up and slightly char. Dan brought his legendary refried beans and there was a tomatillo cilantro rice.
I kind of left Sauces & Salsas open, with only a few ideas offered, and the range of things that came in did not disappoint. A red chili sauce, the roasted Hatch chili salsa verde, a yogurt cumin sauce and several chunky salsas, including black bean & corn, mango coconut and pineapple. Lots and lots of guacamole.
What I love is that everyone is into working the theme into the décor. Props showed up by the boat load (literally – across the lake by boat with a serape and maracas). Look how great these sauces are in the Mexican terracotta.
Next up the mains: In addition to the chipotle fig glazed chicken thighs, the main event included pork tenderloin, fish, shrimp, sirloin, chorizo, pulled brisket and shredded pork.
Chipotle Fig Chicken Fajitas
My contribution was this sweet heat chipotle and fig glazed chicken thighs. The chipotle fig marriage lands this chicken dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé! Throw some tortillas on the grill, stuff with chicken, avocado, cilantro and a big squeeze of lime and you are on your way to a party in your mouth.
The marriage of figs and chipotle lands this dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé!
10 ounce jar Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread
1/2 cup olive oil
3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
Juice of two limes
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
Make the marinade:
Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Makes 1 2/3 cups.
Using about 1/4 of the marinade, combine with chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, up to overnight. The remaining marinade will keep, refrigerated and covered, for several weeks.
Remove the thighs from the marinade, shaking off any excess marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire (or bake the chicken at 350oF) until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Internal temperature should reach 165oF.
Let the chicken rest for ten minutes, then cut in strips if making fajitas.
Prep Time:5 minutes (plus marinating time)
Cook Time:15 minutes
At first I thought this little doll was eyeing the margaritas, but I realize now she was on to the cake. The cake on the left – Feliz Cumpleaños – was brought because, yes!, there has been yet another spin around the sun, and the other lovely was a wonderful Tres Leches.
Considering having a Pot Lucky of your own? Let me know in the comments or pick my brain at [email protected].
I just had the chance to join Maranda on WOTV 4 Women’s program Maranda Where You Live to share with her viewers some ideas on how to zhouzz up a party –in this case graduation – by adding a few easy details that give it real style. For entertaining, like most things in life, it’s the details that make the difference. Most of these style tips, with just a tweak here or there, will seamlessly slide from graduation, to Father’s Day…even to a wedding celebration. It’s summer entertaining at the brink of the season.
Summer Entertaining – Graduation with Style
I created a graduation celebration, themed around an outdoor event. In Western Michigan, we wait all year for this time. It’s great because the temps are mild, the days are long, and who doesn’t want to keep the masses and that mess outside. One of the tricky parts of any entertaining is how to avoid the long lines that form around buffets. I’m more likely to not at eat at a party than to stand in line, and as a host that is not something you want! To hack that, I created a menu that is grab and go. Everything is pre-served and portable. And I suggest scattering dishes around the patio, grouping two or three items together, to help spread the crowd. It’s best to cluster around a central theme – maybe a vegetarian station, or a dessert station, or together by temperature – the hots, the colds…you get the idea.
Kicked-Up Southwestern Turkey Burgers
One of the portables that I served was a slider. Assuming you don’t want to grill while you have guests – though I am fully aware that some hosts love that distraction – these turkey burger sliders can be grilled earlier in the day and reheated to serve. But won’t they dry out? Au contraire! By adding a jar of drained salsa to the ground turkey, the flavor profile is kicked up a notch and the salsa adds both moisture and depth of flavor. Its super simple and you are letting the salsa factory do all the heavy lifting of lots of chopping and roasting the chipotle.
Turkey burgers can get a real boost in the flavor profile category by just adding a jar of drained salsa to the ground turkey. The salsa adds both moisture and depth of flavor. Why not let the salsa factory do all the heavy lifting by roasting chipotles and doing all the chopping for you. More time to enjoy, less time in the kitchen.
16 ounce jar of favorite salsa, drained and liquid discarded (or saved to season a sauce)
3 pounds ground turkey
3 shallots, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pour the salsa into a fine mesh strainer, set over a bowl to drain. Set aside for 20 minutes or more until the liquid has been released.
Mix the turkey, drained salsa, shallots, cumin, salt and pepper by hand until mixed through and shape into patties.
Grill over a medium-hot fire until cooked through (timing depends on burger size). Poultry should always be thoroughly cooked.
These are best made ahead and left to chill in the refrigerator for an hour or up to a day or two. This gives the patty time to firm up.
They also freeze really well, and so I tend to make a large batch and wrap in plastic wrap, individually. I spread them out on a tray to freeze. Then once frozen solid, I transfer to a big Ziploc.
Prep Time:10 minutes (plus draining and chilling time)
Cook Time:20 minutes
The next idea I showed was veggie shooters – using a shot glass or even a disposable clear plastic. By transferring the ranch dressing to a squeeze bottle (think diner ketchup or mustard bottle), you can put a squirt in the bottom of each shot glass without “sliming” the sides. Then just tuck in an assortment of fresh veggies – carrot sticks, celery, multi-color peppers, snow peas. And I tuck different combinations in each glass because not everyone will like them all, so pick let your guests pick what suits them. Could this be any cuter?
For all the dishes, both savory and sweet, I used herbs, flowers and vegetables to create super simple garnishes for each tray. It’s that little extra touch that will let your guests know you “THOUGHT OF EVERYTHING”!!
Fresh Mozzarella and Grilled Pineapple Skewers
For the last savory dish, I used rosemary sprigs in lieu of toothpicks – both flavorful and adorable. I marinated some mini mozzarella and grilled pineapple rings, then assembled. Very fresh tasting! Be sure to get the pot of rosemary at the nursery or garden center and plant what remains in your herb bed so it can regrow…because you ARE going to want to do this again. Cut the sprig with sharp scissors so you get a point and remove the bottom few leaves to create the “pick”.
Mini Banana Cream Pies
For dessert and continuing with the portable idea – in this case pie – I used mason jars to create individual banana cream pies. This is a no-recipe recipe and takes good advantage of all basic supermarket items: vanilla wafers, banana pudding (2 minutes to mix with cold milk), sliced bananas and some whipped topping. Crush a few more wafers on top. Sometimes super cute goes a long way to mask shortcut cooking. Shhh don’t tell anyone. That’s a professional tip and I could get kicked out of my professional tip society. This dish lands squarely in the “People Love It!” category. A+!
And then just because I could……diploma cookies – using packaged pirouette cookies, tied with a ribbon. Adorable. Easy. Win. Win.
There is always a pride of ownership when you contribute to a meal, so let your guests help cook dessert with a DIY S’mores Bar – featuring GIANT Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows. (I’m personal friends with JP, the Jet-Puffed guy!)
There are a lot of ways to set up the fuel station – creating a bed of river rock – or even charcoal briquettes as a prop – to surround the fuel. Make sure to place this in a low wind area, with proper ventilation and pay attention to potential flammables, keeping them far away. (It wouldn’t hurt to have a fire extinguisher under the table, because like an umbrella, if you have it, you won’t need it). Now you can find Green Heat products that are environmentally friendly and bio-degradable, as well as safe for direct contact with food. They are plant-derived, and come from corn-based ethanol and are non-toxic. Look for those – good for you, good for the planet.
I ended the segment with a couple ways to make memories, something that is important for every celebration. Using a Jenga set – along with a bunch of markers – guests can add their wishes or advice, date and sign it – and the grad will have a keepsake to remember this day forever. Can you imagine the day when Bubba Junior will be playing Jenga with his grandchildren and a smile will cross his face thinking about this incredible party you hosted – back when?
And the final portable for the party: a photo booth. Along with a few photo booth-type props (mortarboards on a stick) and one giant frame, this show can go on the road….grabbing photos of the grad and guests throughout the party. The frame can be decorated for a princess, a sports career, or the college that lies ahead. Just screw a couple drawer pulls into the back so all those in the photograph can help hold it. By being hand-held, this has the added advantage of going from portrait to landscape orientation and from straight on to cockeyed. That variety of angles will inspire a lot of candid moments, making for a great souvenir photo book which you can give at Christmas when your grad comes home from college! And what a great chance to reinforce the idea of gratitude. He can print the photos and write the guests a note of thanks …for the support …for the gift… for being part of the day. Just slap a stamp on it and mail a photo of the guest and grad enjoying this wonderful celebration.
Have Fun! And that’s an order!!!
The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the day. You have worked hard for whatever it is you are celebrating – getting a child through school, walked down the aisle, or even your own significant anniversary – put your focus on planning and prepping, but the minute the doorbell rings, close the door on stress and open the front door with a big old smile to greet your guests. This day is as much about your achievements as those of your graduate. No matter how awry a plan may have gone, no one but you will know. In the business, we have a saying no matter how a dish turns out: “That’s the way we like it.” That might be the most important lesson I ever learned from Anna Teresa Callen, the great Italian cooking teacher. She’d just shake her head and smile and in her wonderful Italian lilt, whisper….”Ah! That’s the way I like it!”
Even though #NationalShrimpDay is meant to be a 24-hour thing, I feel it’s more like a birthday and should really be celebrated for a week, a month, or even a season! I mean if Bubba can do it, you can too. “Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That…that’s about it.” Wait, Bubba, Wait!! You missed Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp!
Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp
It’s time you rip that cover off the grill and crank up a hot fire. This dish – loosely translated from a visit to the Rhode Island cousins – is great in pretty much any meal category. To paraphrase Bubba, shrimp appetizer, shrimp salad, shrimp entrée, and who doesn’t like shrimp for in lieu of dessert? Especially if it comes with a crisp Pinot Gris!!! Summer wine, I’m coming for you. Serve this with a fresh green salad and, if you’re game, roll back one blog post and whip up a batch of the Edamame and Chickpea Fritters with chili dipping sauce, conveniently linked below. This all simply screams “winter is dead to me!”
I like to keep things simple, especially as the days get longer and the temps heat up. Less time in the kitchen means more time for enjoying the meal. So here we have a classic dump and stir recipe. And like all sea and stream creatures, marinating is kept to a minimum – no more than 30 minutes. If you are building a charcoal fire, the timing is perfect. Start the marinade, then build the fire. When the coals turn white, you are good to go.
Use whatever size shrimp you prefer, but please leave the shells on. Sriracha & Chipotle Spicy Grilled Shrimp is a lick-your-fingers-while-you-peel-the-shrimp kind of dish. Cooking with the shells on not only helps retain moisture, but it adds depth of flavor. Timing will depend on the size of shrimp and strength of your fire, of course, so keep an eye on them. They cook quite quickly, 3 or so minutes per side.
Crack open a loaf of tangy sourdough and pour another glass of Pinot Gris and you are all set. Enjoy!
If you are not already hip-deep in cabbage and corned beef for this weekend while slogging green beer, permit me to suggest a deep dive into the land of meatloaf. I have wanted to take the Pot Lucky into meatloaf territory for some time and finally got the chance. For a while now, I have been hosting a curated and themed potluck where guests bring their version or contribution to the theme du jour. Instead of different sides to complement a meatloaf, everyone brought a meatloaf. Crazy, right? Or luuuuuuuucky?? Where potlucks have random cubes of Velveeta with frilly picks, the meatloaf Pot Lucky has meatloaf, meatloaf, and more meatloaf. Bring containers because you will feast for the week.
Not only did guests show up with some creative styles – chorizo/beef with queso and fresh cilantro – but also different shapes – spam & ham muffins, dosed with caramelized pineapple, Hawaiian-style. Despite a few common ingredients, there was virtually no overlap with the Maui Wowie Meatloaf. It was great to see different spins on a theme. Both were unique and both delicious. The Maui Wowie was beef and pork, with a secret ingredient ….”the stale remnants of mostly gone cracker boxes lurking in the pantry”. When you think about it, kind of brilliant – using all those random odds and ends in a recipe that calls for stale crumbs anyway. That’s Pot Lucky. We also had an old timey meatloaf with mostly beef and a little piggy, and I brought a Blue Plate Special with a healthy dose of shiitake mushrooms to add that unctuous umami.
Truth be told that was my safety loaf. I created a lamb and veal loaf….My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf….but it was a maiden voyage. I couldn’t be loaf-shamed at my own gathering, so had to have a tried and true as a backup. I have now made the MBFG loaf several times and it does not disappoint. Chock-full of herbs and a healthy dose of feta and Pecorino, this loaf is kept moist with grated zucchini and a combo of ground lamb and ground veal.
If you can’t get your butcher to freshly grind the meat, be sure to combine the two meats well and work in all the ingredients evenly. I find that the vacuum-packed meat tends to be a bit harder to break up. The loaf won’t hang together fully if the ingredients are not well dispersed which can make the end result a bit crumbly. Basic meatloaf recipes will most likely use meats that are easy to source fresh ground – beef, pork, etc., but I realize that veal and lamb can be harder to come by fresh ground. There is nothing wrong with the Cryovac packages, but just use a little elbow grease when blending by hand.
The best tip I got came with the Maui Wowie: put slices of bread under the loaf – whether in a loaf pan or on a sheet pan or shallow roaster – to absorb all the juices. That is one issue I have always had with loaf pans – the juices bubble up the sides and keep the meat poaching in the juice and fat. Not only do you not shed all the unnecessary fat, you don’t get a crust because the sides are submerged in liquid. When I made My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf again, I tried a roaster with the slices of bread underneath and it got a nice crust on the sides (the top is covered with a chunky tomato glaze) and the cheeses get a lovely toasted flavor. Simply leave the slices behind when ready to serve. Or sneak a bite of crust, just to make sure you aren’t missing anything. No one is looking.
This and a big salad are all you will need for a feast. I use a lot of herbs including dill, cilantro, mint and parsley. Adding fresh herbs to any salad really elevates the profile. Okay – I lied. You can’t have meatloaf without a big batch of my goat cheese and thyme mashed potatoes. Oh, and a big pot of green beans tossed with shallot butter. This is a meal worthy of 4 face plants. Yum. Yum. Yum and yum!
I hope you are dabbling in the Pot Lucky. Potlucks are so yesterday. Why have one meatloaf when you can have six? Are you with me? In case you missed it, past Pot Luckys are linked below.
My Big Fat Greek Meatloaf is a new spin on an American Classic! Packed full of herbs and flavorful cheeses, this entree is the perfect foil to creamy mashed potatoes and shallot green beans. Sunday dinner will never be the same.
3 slices whole wheat bread, torn into pieces + 2 slices to line the pan
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground veal
1 small zucchini, grated
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped oregano
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Zest of one lemon
1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilis, with juices
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped mint
Preheat oven to 375oF. Pulse the bread in the work bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. You should have about 2 cups of crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
Put two pieces of bread side by side in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan.
Make the topping:
In a small saucepan, heat the tomatoes, brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 4 – 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in mint and set aside.
Make the meatloaf:
Add the lamb, veal, zucchini, Pecorino, feta, parsley, oregano, garlic, lemon zest, and egg to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Mix well by hand. Transfer to a cutting board and pat firmly into a loaf shape, about 9 x 5 inches, pinching together any cracks. Transfer to the roasting pan and place atop the bread slices. Make a slight indentation down the middle of the loaf.
Spoon the tomato mixture down the middle of the meatloaf and brush the juices across the top. Place in preheated oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Cool slightly, then transfer to a cutting board, leaving the bread behind. To serve, slice.
I find that the vacuum-packed meat tends to be a bit harder to break up. Basic meatloaf recipes will most likely use meats that are easy to source fresh ground – beef, pork, etc., but I realize that veal and lamb can be harder to come by fresh ground. There is nothing wrong with the Cryovac packages, but just use a little elbow grease when blending by hand. If the ingredients are not evenly dispersed, the end result can be a bit crumbly. Mix well and firmly shape the loaf.
Placing two pieces of bread side by side in the loaf pan or on a sheet pan helps sop all those liquids cooking off of the ground lamb and veal.
I’ve cooked this in both a loaf pan and on a sheet pan or shallow roaster, and prefer the latter two choices which gives more airflow and toasts up the cheeses creating a nice crust on the sides.
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:1 hour 15 minutes
Missed previous Pot Luckys, or don’t even know what a Pot Lucky is?
Muja what? I can hear you from here. Mujadara! You can spell it many ways and you can cook it even more. This dish – a combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF – seems a lovely way to break bread and bow our heads in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. #GreaterAs1 The culinary roots of mujadara date back to Genesis, when Jacob bought Esau’s birthright with a meal of lentils. While the version I share here with yogurt and caramelized shallots is more Lebanese, the dish is also popular with Syrian and Egyptian Jews who historically tend to eat it twice during the week: a simple (hot) meal for Thursday before a more elaborate Shabbat, and then again cold on the Sabbath. Mujadara often serves as a Lenten dish for Arab Christians.
Some versions of mujadara let the caramelized onions do all the talking. But given it’s the coldest dreariest time of year, I have added all the wonderful pungent spices that you might find in other Middle-Eastern dishes: coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and plenty of pepper. Trust me; they will brighten your mood. When I can, in a dish like this, I use whole spices (not peppercorns, but cumin and coriander, yes!) Since they will be simmering in liquid for a while, there is sufficient time to soften them up. As usual, they get a few minutes in oil before the liquid to toast them and to allow the spices to release their fragrance. Rarely will I add any spice directly to liquid. I can always taste that raw spice in the back of my throat if I was in too big of a hurry to take that one measly moment that I needed to toast it. For shame.
You may also notice that I have added a healthy dose of greens to this version of mujadara. Because I can. And because it’s winter and because they are good for you and because they add a hit of color. I know it seems like a lot, but I have made it with half that and prefer it with a generous portion. Up to you. (More, more, more, more.)
And a note on the crispy shallots: they really are caramelized not crispy here. If you want to make crispy shallots – which would be a great texture contrast – you really need to use a lot more oil and fry them. That’s not really the way I roll, but I do love the taste and texture. If you are leaning that way, you should make sure the thinly sliced shallots are patted dry and then toss them in a 50/50 combo of flour and cornmeal. Heat several cups of oil to about 300oF and drop the shallots in, frying til crispy, draining on paper towels. I used to do something similar for a lentil salad at New World Grill and while we didn’t have a deep fryer – the horror – let’s just say our technique was not far off. I. Just. Can’t. (But by all means!)
Mujadara is a warm and wonderful combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF.
1 1/4 cup brown or green lentils
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 shallots, very thinly sliced by hand or in a food processor
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 bay leaf
2 5-ounce packages (about 8 cups) mixed greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, chopped
Zesty Yogurt Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon whole coriander, toasted and coarsely cracked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped mint
Make the Mujadara:
Par-cook the lentils by simmering in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and reserve the lentils.
Divide the olive oil, placing 2 Tablespoons in a large skillet and heat over medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and cook until well browned and crispy, about 30 minutes. As the shallots brown, remove and transfer to a paper towel and drain. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. If making this ahead, store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container, once cooled.
Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onion to the stockpot, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon stick, allspice, black pepper, and cayenne; sauté for one minute until fragrant.
Add 2 cups water to the pot, along with the bay leaf, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the reserved lentils. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the lentils and rice are almost tender, about 15 minutes more.
Rinse the greens and distribute across the top of the rice and lentil mixture, checking to see if the rice/lentils require any more water. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir to combine greens.
Make the Zesty Yogurt Dip:
Combine the yogurt, coriander, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. To serve, add the lemon zest and chopped mint.
Makes 1 cup.
Serve topped with crispy shallots and Zesty Yogurt Dip, along with warm pita.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:60 minutes
This makes a great vegetarian entrée, but I took it to a friend’s who just happened to have a big ol’ pot of curried chicken thighs, and it was a match made in heaven. #damndelicious.