Good Dirt

Where I attempt to dust the cobwebs off of my brain and get back to writing for writing’s sake. 

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7 Healthy** Dinners for Getting Back on Track

** I define healthy as nourishing but mouth-watering and down home enough to combat the brie cheese and cookie inertia. Something you can look forward to and enjoy absolutely, but that also makes you feel good. I ruined myself on dietary extremism long ago and forever swore off harsh regiments or cleanses.  Nor do I ever want to eliminate cheese, pie, crackers, BLT’s or brownies from my life permanently.  But sometimes you gotta make a concerted effort to take care of yourself in a deeper way than you have been.  And that’s what these dinners were for me.  A week’s worth of good, straightforward, healthy food, planned in advance (including time for cooking and enjoying). The rest of the day I had avocados, eggs, salad for breakfast, Vinny salads, MG smoothies.  I laid off the sugar, specifically Mexican Cokes.

 

Many of these are my own mom’s recipes or my grandma’s, who I wrote about last Mother’s Day. (Note: I am not vegetarian so I apologize to my veg friends as these are all pretty meat heavy. I stand by you, but it’s not my path.)

 

Also—all these recipes serve 4-6 servings.

 

Chicken Throw-Together with Green Olives, Orange, Bell Peppers & Fennel

With mashed cauliflower and farm greens

(This was inspired by a recipe I once tried in Food52 but I think this is way better. I just did it intuitively so I hope this recipe captured what I did.  My own mother gets extremely annoyed with my loosey goosey cooking style because it’s very difficult to pin down in a recipe.)

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up—do it yourself or have the butcher do it.  Melissa Clarke has a good video about how to cut up a chicken which I have to watch every time.

  • 1 TB flour (a single TB or two of flour I deemed acceptable and necessary to make the sauce a million times better, but you an omit this if you are that serious about gluten.)

  • Salt and pepper (probably 2 tsp total of salt, used throughout)

  • 2 TB butter (if you are off dairy, use all oil, but I think the butter makes it so much better)

  • 2 TB XVOO

  • 1 yellow onion, thinnish-sliced the long way as for French onion soup

  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned (thin but not too thin)

  • ½ fennel bulb, core trimmed, julienned  (if it’s a huge bulb, use 1/3—the fennel is an accent, not the main idea)

  • 1 TB fresh chopped rosemary

  • ½ TB fresh marjoram leaves

  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes

  • 3 large peels of orange peel, using veggie peeler to get nice wide strips

  • 1 cup brined green olives (greek style, NOT Castelvetrano)

  • ½ to ¾ cup Sherry, Marsala or white wine—use what you got.  I used Marsala, which is going to impart some sweetness and played nice with the orange.  But white wine would have been tangier and played nice with the olives.  I think either works.  A super amazing Manzanita Sherry such as La Gitana may have been best of both worlds.

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • ½ cup fresh parsley

 

Season generously all your chicken parts (except the back, which you can freeze or save for gravy or stock).  Sprinkle flour over the top.  Get 1 TB oil and 2 TB butter hot over high heat in a saute pan, and brown your chicken, skin side down. Then flip and brown other side. 

 

Remove chicken to a platter.  If you have full-on burnt spots in the pan (like black not brown), as I did in one spot, take a paper towel and wipe out that spot only, but leave all the dark brown good stuff.

 

In the pan with all the yummy brown bits, add the remaining XVOO, and over medium heat add onions, bell peppers, fennel.  Saute until soft.  Salt your veggies as they cook. Then add chile flakes, rosemary, marjoram and stir to combine and release flavor for a jiff.  Then add olives and orange peel and stir through.

 

Now, deglaze your pan with sherry/marsala/wine, letting it burble up all those yummy brown bits on the bottom, using your wood spoon to help the process out.  When the alcohol has reduced down to very little thick stuff running around the bottom of the pan (about three minutes I’d say), add your chicken stock and stir.

 

Let this sauce come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer—let it come together for another few minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Then add back your chicken, skin side up, let it come up to a simmer, reduce temp to super low, and COVER and cook for 1 hour on super low low heat.  Check a few times to make sure your sauce is just dancing on the surface.

 

While that is happening—bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.  Break apart a head of cauliflower or two heads for a larger family into small florets.  Cut up the core into small pieces.  When the water is boiling, dump all your pieces in there.  You really want to kind of cook the snot out of it.  About fifteen minutes, or they won’t mash up properly. 

 

When very soft, drain your cauliflower in a colander, and return back to the pot on low low heat.  Let it dry out for a sec.  Then add a bunch of butter or oil (I did, like 3 TB.  Don’t judge me) and mash the crap out of them.  Also season with S & P.

 

When your hour of chicken cooking is up, uncover and taste your sauce.  It should have gotten really good.  May need just a hair more salt.  Spoon lovely sauce over all your chick pieces and add fresh parsley.

 

Take some salad greens in a bowl, whirl some olive oil over the top—two spins around the bowl Toss.  Then do one spin of vinegar.  Toss. Add S & P.  Toss.

 

Plate it up however you want, but I put a pretty blob of mashed cauliflower on the bottom, topped with a sexy piece of chicken, smothered in the yummy sauce.  Salad on the side!

Grandma D’s Pork Spare Ribs with Sauerkraut

And a roasted sweet potato

 

OMG this is so good and so easy. Not exactly seasonal, but I wanted to go hard on the probiotics and by day two of being more consciously healthy, I was already dying for soulfood. I ate this for dinner and then breakfast the next day.

 

  • 2 lbs. Country-style Pork Spare Ribs

  • 1 large jar Sauerkraut such as Bubbies

  • Salt & Pepper

 

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously season spareribs and place in roasting pan.  Put in oven for about 15 minutes to render/brown a bit.  Turn them a couple times and jiggle around.  After the fifteen minutes, turn oven temp down to 350, dump the entire jar of sauerkraut over the spareribs, brine and all, and put back in oven to cook for 45 more minutes.  Once or twice you can baste the chops and kraut with the hot brine that pools in the pan so the sauerkraut stays moist. 

 

1 Yam/2 people in your fam if they big (not your fam, the yams), or 1/person.  Poke holes in yam and roast at 350 for an hour or a bit longer until soft.  Serve with butter.  If you think about it—you can start early, and cook your yams at 200 for 3 or 4 hours.  This makes them super creamy but I’m never organized enough to do this.  

 
 

Tuna (or Salmon) Nicoise with Haricot Verts, Asparagus, Optional Potatoes, Tomatoes, Caper Berries, Anchovies & Runny Farm Egg

A riff off of one of Vinny’s most popular seasonal salads, a French classic.  Serves 4.

 

  • 4 small pieces sushi grade tuna steak or you can substitute Salmon or Trout

  • 4 good (preferably farm) eggs

  • 1 head Romaine, mostly the super crispy middle leaves, the heart.  Save the big leaves for later.

  • ½ of a clam of grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved

  • 5 or 6 new potatoes, unpeeled, cooked until tender (OPTIONAL).  Quarter taters when they done unless you are using super baby ones. *

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends snapped off

  • 1 bag haricots verts, which usually don’t need trimming (about 12 oz by weight methinks)

  • 2 TB chopped up oil-packed anchovies, or you can use fancy salt-packed white ones

  • 1 TB capers plus a little more maybe

  • 4 caper berries , sliced in half (you don’t have to use these, but they are cool—the fruited part of the caper plant whereas capers are the buds)

  • ¼ to 1/3 cup lemon dill dressing (recipe below)**

 

Alright.  First bring a big huge pot of aggressively salted water to a boil, and blanch your baby green beans for about 1- 2 minutes, JUST UNTIL THEY TURN bright bright green.  You want them to still be a bit crisp/toothy.  Have a bowl of icy water ready, and using a spider or tongs, pull them out of your boiling water and plunge into the frigid water to stop cooking. 

 

Let the pot of water come back to a boil, and then blanch your asparagus.  These guys are tougher, and will take a bit longer, but still, they should not be floppy.  So I’d say 3 minutes max. Usually early in the season asparagus are fatter, so may take longer.  Keeping them a bit separate from beans, plunge them in icy water too.  Cut your asparagus into 1” pieces on the bias. If you are feeling it you could also cut them in coins, that could be cool too.

 

Pull apart your romaine heart leaves, plunge in really cold water in the sink, then spin or shake dry (not bone dry) wrap in a kitchen towel and put in the coldest part of your fridge for a spell.

 

Season your tuna steaks with salt and pepper.  Heat a saute pan or a cast iron skillet to hot hot and coat with oil.  When glistening hot, sear your tuna on one side for three minutes, and then on the other side for about half as long.  Remove to a board, ready to cut.

 

Bring an inch of water to boil in a small sauce pan.  Reduce to a simmer and carefully place your eggs in the simmering water. Cover and let the eggs cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from simmering water and run cold water over eggs to stop cooking.  After peeling you will have nice, soft boiled, runny eggs! 

 

Here is how you toss this salad: in a huge bowl, combine romaine hearts, potatoes if you want them, haricots verts, bias-sliced asparagus, tomatoes, chopped anchovies, capers and toss through.  Then whirl your lemon dill dressing around the outside of the bowl and across the top of your ingredients and toss toss through until everything is mixed into amazing bites all the way through.  Add more dressing as needed. Yum.  Lemon is everything.

 

Plate up a mound of salad on each plate.  Leave room for egg on top.  Slice the tuna into medallions and fan out on the side. Place your egg on top and cut in half right before service so it runs over everything. Serve with a caper berry.

 

Phew. Who said salads are easy?  They are so much work!

 

**Lemon Dill Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup XVOO

  • ¼ cup lemon juice

  • 1 tsp lemon zest

  • 1 T creamy Dijon

  • 1 ¼ tsp salt

  • 2 tsp dried dill

  • Optional—touch of sugar for balance

 

Mix everything but your oil in a bowl or a blender, then stream in oil whisking or blending until emulsified.

 

Steak Frites with Garlic-Parsley Butter, Sweet Potato Fries & Kale Peco Salad

Because I was missing the Steak Frites from the feel good sooo hard.  Steak-Frites is like a food archetype, one of the seven wonders of the food world, and I needed it.   This is a little different from our restaurant version, but still awesome.

 

  • 4 steaks of your choice and size.  I like Ribeye, my mom likes New York Strip. We use Hanger at TFG. 

  • 1 huge yam, cut into sticks slightly larger than matchstick, plunged in cold water while they wait

  • 4 TB soft butter

  • 1 large clove garlic, minced

  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley

  • Salt and pepper

  • Head of kale, stripped off stems and finely chopped

  • ¾ cup microplaned pecorino romano or toscano

  • 1 lemon

  • XVOO

  • Salt and pepper (for steak and salad and frites)

 

Alright, get your steaks out of the fridge and let them come up to room temperature.  When they aren’t stone cold anymore, salt and pepper them generously (especially if they are uber thick) on both sides.  Let them continue to come up to room temp.   Also pre-heat your oven to 350 or 400 depending on how you do your yam fries (see below).

 

Mix together soft butter, parsley, minced garlic, some salt in a small bowl.  Leave at room temp.

 

Par-cook your yams.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and blanch your sweet potatoes for about four maybe five minutes depending on the size of your pieces.  Drain them, run water to cool them, and put them on a sheet tray lined with towels to drain.  Transfer them to a fresh, dry towel, roll them up in a log, and put in freezer to quick cool them. You can skip this step if you are going to roast rather than fry them.

 

Cook your steaks.  Get a cast iron skillet screaming hot. Sear on each side for about four minutes.  If you have a thin cut, it might be done by now, if you have a big thick steak, pop it in the oven for another six minutes or so.  Pull out and let rest.

 

While all that meat stuff is happening finish your sweet potato fries.

 

I have a little home fryer that I used to cook these at 350 degrees for three to four minutes per batch.  If you have an airfryer, go ahead and use that but I have no idea how those work.  Or, just bring a skillet of canola oil, with about 2” of oil, up to 350 degrees. So super hot. Drop one fry in to test it.  Cook your fries in two batches. 

 

When they come out of the hot oil, drain as well as you can, and transfer to a stainless steel bowl lined with a paper towel, and toss with salt.  Hold in a warm spot.

 

Alternatively: toss your parcooked sticks with a little bit of salt and pepper and oil and cook in a 400 degree oven until nice and crisp, probably about ten to twelve minutes.

 

Toss your chopped kale with juice from one lemon, massage it into the leaves.  Sprinkle salt and pepper and then add XVOO and toss through with peco.

 

Top each steak with a blob of butter and a pile of fries sort of half on, half off!  Enjoy with your kale salad.

 

Ice Cold Caesar Salad with Steamed Crab and Drawn Butter

I mean.  My mouth is watering just thinking about the lemony, briny crispness and the dusty microplane of parmesan and the cold cold coldness.  Can amp it up with some baby kale if you want.  But also, eating crab is so sensual and animal and fun. That’s healthy. 

 

  • King Crab Legs (2 legs/person or so.  I much prefer Dungeness but I’m not in the NW right now and it’s not really crabbing season)

  • 2 heads romaine, root ends trimmed off, leaves separated and submerged in cold water, picked of brown limp leaves, then good crisp ones rolled up gently in a towel and placed in coldest part in fridge

  • Bunch of scallions, sliced on bias, light green and green parts

  • Grape tomatoes for color

  • 1 cup microplaned parmesan Reggiano

  • 1 cup Caesar dressing or however much you like*

  • Fresh lemon wedges

  • 2 sticks butter, melted and skimmed of foam

 

Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a giant pot. If you have a steaming basket you can use that or just drop in your crab and cover with a lid.  Most crab you buy in the store is already cooked and/or frozen so you are just heating it up.  If you are going the fresh Dungeness route, do a search for how to clean and cook fresh crab.

 

Prep your salad.  Get your cold leaves out of the fridge and tear them up in a big bowl. Toss with cold dressing and parmesan until every leaf is coated with dressing and lovely cheese.  Garnish with scallions, scatter some maters.  Serve everyone a huge salad with fresh lemon wedges (for salad or crab) and small ramekins of drawn butter. Put the steamed crab legs on a big platter everyone can share from.  Give everyone crab-cracker thingies or use a blunt object.  And you need a bowl for shells.  And extra napkins. So good.

 

*Caesar Dressing

  • 4 fillets anchovy

  • 2 TB capers

  • 1 TB creamy Dijon mustard

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 TB red wine vin

  • 2 TB lemon juice (plus more to taste)

  • 1 egg yolk

  • ¾ tsp salt

  • ½ tsp pepper

  • ¾ cup olive oil

  • ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)

 

Make a paste out of the anchovies, capers, mustard, garlic, in a blender or Cuisinart.  Add vinegar, lemon juice, egg yolk, salt and pepper.  Then stream in olive oil to make rich emulsion.  Add cream if you want.  Adjust seasoning and put in fridge so it gets cold cold.

 
 

South Dakota Chili

With cheddar, red onion, black olives. 

Don’t ask me why I was craving this in May.  But it so reminds me of my mom and my grandma and it’s a soupier chili, because my family has a thing about overthick stews and soups, so it doesn’t feel like a gut bomb. It feels good.

 

  • 2 cups small red kidney beans (the small ones, not the large)

  • 4 quarts water

  • 2 tsp salt (lotta people say not to salt beans. Well, my grandma salted her beans.)

  • 2 lbs ground beef, bison or venison

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

  • 6 TB chili powder (yes, it’s a lot)

  • 2 TB cumin

  • 1 TB oregano plus a touch more if you like

  • 2 tsp salt plus to taste

  • 2 15 oz cans tomato sauce (plus some canfuls of water)

 

In a large pot, cover beans with water and salt and cook, lidded/covered, on low heat, until soft.  This takes for fucking ever in the high desert.  Like two hours. Eeee. But you can just leave it, do other things, and check water level hasn’t gotten too low occasionally.

 

Towards the end of bean time, brown your meat in a large pan, and salt the meat too with some of your salt, and when the fat is nicely rendered add your diced onion.  When the onion is soft, add spices and cook for five minutes more, careful not to scorch spices. 

 

Add meat spice mixture and tomato sauce, and a canful of water or two, to the bean pot.  Add remaining salt and let simmer for about forty-five minutes or an hour.

 

Serve with cheddar cheese, minced red onion, black California olives (not fancy!) and optional sour cream. 

Rosemary Brined Grilled Pork Chock with Farm Arugula & Apple Salad

And mushy peas!

GUYS THIS IS THE ONLY RECIPE I STILL HAVEN’T MADE! HAVING IT TONIGHT AND WILL POST!

Beautiful photography: jenjudge.com