Pasta Shells with Chicken, Collard Greens and Cheese

Pasta shells with cheese

I love mixing cheese with pasta. The cheese gives pasta a big dose of umami if you use a lot (and I love cheese, so I do). This dish is a good balance of carbs, protein and fiber. The collard greens are full of nutritional goodness and are a pretty color contrast to the pasta shells.

Ingredients:

1/4 bag of pasta shells
2 chicken thighs, cut into cubes
1 Roma tomato, cut into cubes
1/2 bag of pre-cut collard greens
shredded aged white cheddar to taste

Bring water to a boil in a pot, and cook the pasta until al dente (about 10 min.). Drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, saute the chicken and tomato in a pan with olive oil until the chicken is cooked, then add the collard greens so it soaks up the juices. When the pasta is ready, mix it into the pan and stir in the cheddar. Shred a bit more cheese when you plate the dish if you want garnish.

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Hanabi Ramen

Ramen Hanabi

I took a stroll to the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA, this afternoon and stopped by Hanabi Ramen for lunch. I was greeted by a friendly host, who was also an attentive server. I asked him what he recommended, and he said the Tsukemen since it was a hot and humid summer day. I ordered mine with an extra egg, mushroom slices and tofu.

This was indeed a good choice for a hot day because Tsukemen is served with cold noodles separate from the broth, so that you can dip the noodles in the broth without the heat of the dish being concentrated.

The broth here is made with a blend of pork, fish and soy sauce, according to the menu. I could see little glistening fat globules in the broth, which is a good sign it’s been simmering away with all that pork goodness for a long time. The broth had a creamy look to it; I’m not sure what made it look like that, but I did appreciate the rich flavor. There were cubes of tender pork hidden in the broth; a nice surprise when I dipped the spoon in.

I chatted a bit with the chef, who said he sources his noodles from the West Coast. The noodles were somewhat wide and flat (like a fettucini noodle) and had the perfect toothsome texture. They picked up the flavor of the broth quickly when dipped.

Two pork slices were served atop the noodles. They were thinly sliced and tender and cold like the noodles.

I liked the coating on the tofu cubes. I asked the chef what he used, and he told me–but I promised to keep his secret.

I love soft-boiled eggs marinated in soy sauce, so I had a second helping for the meal. I enjoyed talking to the chef about the process for making a perfect soft-boiled egg. He told me the trick is to prick a tiny hole at the bottom of the egg so that the internal gas can escape and to cook the egg for 6 min., then stop the cooking process with cold water and let it sit for 20 min.

The verdict: A hearty, pleasurable meal. I recommend you visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

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Food Truck: Miami Vice Burgers

Miami Vice Burgers

I haven’t been visiting the food trucks near my office much, but I recently stepped out and got a chicken sandwich from Miami Vice Burgers. It came with red pepper and blue cheese and was quite tasty. I was impressed. It was a restaurant-quality sandwich. The chicken was breaded and tender, the bun wasn’t soggy and held up, the blue cheese gave it a creamy tang, and there was a zing of heat from the pepper. My only regret was that I didn’t order shoestring or sweet potato fries to go with it. Maybe next time.

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Burritos

Burrito

Burritos are simple, hearty and easy to make, which is why I love them. This recipe adds color and freshness with Thai basil. The green is a celebration of summer.

Ingredients:

1 pack ground beef
1 can black beans
aged cheddar, shredded or cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil leaves
tomato chunks (optional)
1 pack of tortillas

Cook the ground beef in a large skillet, and when it’s almost cooked, stir in the black beans and salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-10 min., or until the beans reach desired texture. Add the cheddar, turn off the heat and cover to melt the cheese. Serve on a tortilla, and garnish with fresh basil and/or tomato.

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Shrimp Fried Rice

shrimp fried rice

Rice is like pasta; a blank starch canvas that you can dress up with any protein and/or veg you want. This is a fun and quick meal to put together that’s good for any day of the week. The large shrimp gives it a little special something.

The flavor base for this dish is Asian. I don’t have soy sauce at the moment, so I used ponzu, which is more subtle in salt and has a citrus taste. I used Chinese broccoli, but you can substitute with spinach or regular broccoli. For a playful element, I made an omelette and put the slices in the dish.

Ingredients:

1 cup brown rice, cooked
1 bag Chinese broccoli, sliced
1/2 bag large shrimp, peeled
2 eggs, scrambled
ponzu to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste (optional)

Cook the broccoli in a large pan with olive oil and enough water to steam cook the broccoli while the pan is covered. Add more water if necessary. The broccoli is ready when soft.

In a separate pan, cook the eggs into an omelette and cut it up into thin slices.

In another pan, saute the shrimp. I recommend 1.5 min. per side.

Stir the rice in with the broccoli, adding more oil to taste. Pour in ponzu, add the garlic powder (and salt if needed), and mix in the omelette slices. Serve with the shrimp on top.

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Portland, Oregon

PortlandAfter a couple days in the moody, windy environs of Cannon Beach, Oregon, we drove off to Portland.

I loved staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Portland’s Pearl District. We had a studio that felt like a home with modern design and lots of windows/light. We didn’t cook there, but there was plenty of room to do that if we chose. It’s a short walk to the stores, bars and restaurants of downtown, including the iconic Powell’s Books. I reverted to my high-school predilections and bought a pair of cherry Doc Martens boots, right across from Powell’s.

Voodoo Doughnut

We stopped by Voodoo Doughnut, which got a huge boost from Anthony Bourdain when he visited for “No Reservations.” The line snaked out the door in the evening, but it moved fairly quickly. We got a Homer doughnut, a frosted doughnut with sprinkles. I can’t say it was the most amazing doughnut I’ve ever had, but the quirkiness of the store’s decor and the wild toppings on the doughnuts make it worth the visit.

Swank beef tartare

I have to rave about Swank & Swine, a farm-to-table place where we had dinner our last night in town. It’s a hotel restaurant, which I typically am not fond of (usually expensive for mediocre food), but this place was something else. I could tell the chef cares about creativity, serving fine-dining classics with a twist.

Swank pork belly

The beef tartare was served with what looked to be house-made potato chips, red-tinged. The buttermilk and quail egg enhanced the unctuousness of the tartare. The roasted pork belly with caramel, another appetizer, was cooked to an almost melting tenderness and served with savoy cabbage that seemed to be deep fried to give them a potato chip consistency. There was also a dollop of peanut sauce that mimicked the taste of a mousse pâté.

Swank burger

The sturgeon entree kept it simple; sturgeon, when cooked right, is a perfect balance between toothsome and tender. I loved the Swank burger with foie; I think the chef was reimagining the Big Mac with McDonald’s “special sauce.” When the dish came out, I asked the server where the foie gras was, and he said the foie has been ground into a sauce topping the burger. At first I didn’t like the idea–when I order foie gras, I want to see a nice little hunk of it on the plate–but when I started eating, I understood. This burger was good. Really good. The ground foie brought so much umami, I wanted a whole gravy bowl of it. It gave the burger two layers of decadence: the juicy, big burger patty combining with the richness of the foie. Such a clever idea. Kudos to the chef for bringing playfulness, technical mastery and beauty to every dish.

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Chicken and Edamame on Naan

Chicken naan

This dish is the ticket if you’re looking for a quick and easy weeknight meal. It’s basically a personal pizza. The edamame packs a nutritional punch with lots of protein and fiber. The blue cheese is a touch of decadence. You can add tomato slices if you want more color contrast and freshness.

Ingredients:

1 naan slice
1-2 chicken thighs, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup edamame, ground in food processor
mozzarella (desired amount), shredded
blue cheese (desired amount)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Saute the chicken on the stove top and stir in the ground edamame, adding salt and pepper to taste. Distribute the mix onto the naan, top with mozzarella and blue cheese, and cook in oven until cheese melts.

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