What’s In That Jar?

Everybody (except maybe germophobes) loves a buffet and potlucks. 

There’s nothing like lining up and filling your plate with roast beef, egg rolls, broccoli casserole, French fries & gravy, and two or three taquitos.

But it’s not a very cohesive meal.  The only thing it says it that you probably eat too many carbs, and OMG, would a green salad kill you?

It’s the culinary equivalent of pajamas and a tiara.

You could go with a little black dress in the form of a single dish meal; soup, salad or Cap’n Crunch.  But honestly, as much as I love an LBD, humans need variety.

That is why, in chef-driven restaurants, the plates are carefully curated for gestalt.  The kitchen has worked hard and experimented, and each plate is designed with an eye to cohesive, collaberative,  texture, taste, and aroma.

The dinner I made the other night was designed so the flavors repeated and echoed each other, like a well-styled outfit in lush fabrics.  Recently I was visiting Trader Joe’s and noticed in the freezer section they carry this fire-roasted corn with all the flavors of elote, the delicious Mexican street corn. 

At home I had a new bag of orzo and some pork chops.  Then I remembered I had two Joe’s jars, and decided to make some Tex/Mex, a perfectly styled designer outfit for dinner.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Elote Pasta

1 cup orzo

1 bag Trader Joe’s Mexican-Style Roasted Corn

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup chives, green onions, or Chinese chives, sliced thinly

Make orzo according to package instructions—make sure the cooking water is very salty.  Reserve 1 cup pasta water and set aside.

Make corn according to instructions on package.  When finished, pour cooked pasta into pan with corn.  Gently stir until everything’s mixed and coated.  Pour in the pasta cooking water until the sauce is silky and not dry looking.

Serve in skillet garnished with chives and the cheese packet from the corn.  Serves 4.

Sandy Mexican Pork Chops

*I call these sandy because after baking the crumbs take on a sandy texture—not like the beach, but like a buttery, crumbly shortbread cookie.  If you like your spice with a side of heat, add some cayanne into the flour or hot sauce into the buttermilk to taste.  If you put it into the crumbs it will burn.

4 boneless pork loin chops, about ¾ inch thick

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s chile lime seasoning blend

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups fat-free buttermilk

About 60 Captain’s Wafers crackers (1 ½ sleeves), ground to fine crumbs in food processor

2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagle Sesame seasoning blend

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place crushed crackers and everything bagel seasoning in a 9X13 pan in a 350° oven.  Toast until golden—10-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour into a shallow dish.

Preheat oven to 425°.  Put 1 tablespoon oil in bottom of the same pan you used to toast the cracker crumbs.

Coat the meat with a three-part dredge:

In a large plastic bag, mix flour, chile lime, and salt.  Set aside.

Pour buttermilk in a shallow dish.

Line up bag and the pans with buttermilk and crumbs in a culinary assembly line.

One at a time, coat meat in flour, then buttermilk, then crumbs.  As you finish, set in oiled pan.  Drizzle coated chops with remaining oil.

Bake for ten minutes, spin pan 180°, and bake ten more.  When the internal temp is between 140° and 145°, remove from oven and let sit, lightly covered with foil, for five minutes.


So you’ve got a game plan for dinner, you get started in the kitchen, and you run into a couple of roadblocks.What do you do?


It kinda depends on the roadblocks.

My troubles, luckily, were fixable.  One was of my own making, and one was a little bit my fault, but mostly microbiology.

Let me start back at the beginning.I decided to invent a new pasta bake.  It would be orzo, in an asparagus pesto cream sauce, with peas and spinach, all covered in parmesan breadcrumbs.

I cooked the orzo until it wasn’t quite al dente.

While the orzo was cooking I made a basic cream sauce.

Classic Béchamel


¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

2 cups 2% milk

Salt & pepper

Put a saucepan on medium.  Melt butter and whisk in flour; this is a roux.  Let cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in milk.  Whisk constantly until it thickens and comes to a boil.  Season, taste, and season again.

White sauce is one of the ‘mother’ sauces in classic French cooking.  For the casserole I was making, I stirred in ¼ cup of grated Parmesan, a couple tablespoons of snipped Chinese chives, and 10 good gratings of nutmeg.

When I made the roux, I was afraid I’d made too much, so I discarded a little.  Then of course, I realized I actually needed it thinner so that the finished dish wasn’t dry.

Oops—snafu #1.

I was planning to put fresh spinach into the bake.  I’d wilt it in the microwave, squeeze out the water, then chop it.  Instead, I put four big handfuls of raw spinach into the hot béchamel.  This thinned the sauce. Next, I planned on adding half of a jar of asparagus pesto which I had in the fridge.  I unscrewed the lid and looked inside.  Right on top was a big ole spot of mold. I guess I’d had it for much longer than I thought.

Oops—snafu #2.

After some regret and self-recrimination, I grabbed my jar of preserved lemons and a pack of fresh dill from the produce drawer.  I diced up a few lemon slices and chopped about a tablespoon of dill.  I stirred them into my sauce.  This approximated the slightly sour herbaceousness.


Green orzo bake

green-orzo-bake1 batch béchamel, adjusted as above

1 cup frozen peas, unthawed

½ pound orzo, undercooked by about 2 minutes

3 slices multigrain bread, toasted, and ground in food processor

¼ cup grated Parmesan, in addition to the cheese in the sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8X8 casserole dish.  Mix together the first three ingredients and pour into dish, smoothing the top.

Mix together breadcrumbs, cheese, and olive oil.  Sprinkle over top.

Bake for 45 minutes, spinning dish halfway through baking.  Let stand for 10 minutes after removing from oven.  Serves 4-6.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple nights later we had the leftovers.  I added ½ cup more milk, and a cup of some grilled chicken breast I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s.  I stirred it all together, but even without the crispy breadcrumbs on top it was pretty tasty.

Whenever I make a new recipe, I always warn Petey that there’s a possibility we will instead be dining on peanut butter and jelly.

This time, I was able to pull out a “W” for this meal; which is great, because, you know, I’m not too sure that Petey even likes PBJ.

I’ll bet if an eighteen-year-old Swedish bikini model served him this, he’d give up pork chops for this PBJ.

Thanks for your time.


Kitchen prestidigitation

I’m not sure what will happen.

The Kid no longer eats orzo.  “It’s a texture thing,” my child insists.

I, on the other hand, love the rice-shaped pasta.  It works really well with a light dressing, and smaller pieces of veggies and proteins.  For some reason I equate it to the spring, with lemon, asparagus, and ramps.

By disliking orzo, The Kid has ended up on the horns of a dilemma.  I recently discovered an orzo recipe that will send my spawn into vapors of indecision.

For while the recipe is a one-pot, no strain pasta, which is pretty darn cool, that pasta is orzo, which usually given no love.

The other dilemma that may change everything is the author of the recipe.  It is Melissa D’Arabian, winner of Food Network’s Next Network star.

The year that Melissa competed, we watched every episode, and Melissa caught our eye.   She wasn’t loud or a drama queen, in fact she seemed to have no time for crazy.

What riveted us to the screen was her quiet confidence.

In that she reminded us of JJ Redick.  When he goes up for a shot, in his mind, of course he’ll make it; he’s never missed.  It’s not delusion or ego-driven arrogance, it’s more like a child’s belief in the good in himself—in his mind he’s never missed a basket, so he launches the ball with nothing but complete, untainted optimism.  The “Yips” are incomprehensible to him.  It would be like trying to explain the concept of electrical engineering to a gerbil.

My round ball crush, JJ Redick.

Melissa was like that.  She had knowledge, experience and a stack of awesome, no-fail recipes tall enough to reach the top shelf.  Above all she possessed a quiet form of supreme confidence.  Doubt didn’t seem to be in her vocabulary.

But back to the orzo.  This recipe is like a ski lodge in the summer—it’s very accommodating.  You can add anything to this dish; protein, different types of veg, various nuts.

Petey and I love this, but The Kid has not yet had an opportunity to try it.

Melissa’s Lemon Thyme Orzo (by way of Debbie)

lemon thyme orzoIngredients

2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup orzo

½ lemon, zested + 2 tablespoons juice

2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves

2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary

1 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

¼-½ cup crumbled crispy bacon (optional)

Pea shoots

Heat large skillet on medium and add olive oil.  Stir in garlic and rosemary.  When fragrant, add orzo and stir constantly until it’s lightly toasted.  Deglaze with wine.  Add stock, and simmer on medium until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon zest, juice, thyme, peas, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with crispy bacon, a handful of pea shoots, and transfer to a serving bowl.  Serves 4.

Variations (Stir these in at the end of cooking, off the heat):

Instead of peas, use asparagus.  Or roasted broccoli and thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes.

Drop the peas and add snipped Chinese chives and halved grape tomatoes you’ve blistered in a very hot skillet with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Nix the pea shoots, and stir in 2 cups raw baby spinach.

Mix in salad shrimp or shredded rotisserie chicken.

Stir soft cheese (like brie or mascarpone) into pasta.

I watch what some people might consider way too much food television (but it’s purely for research purposes).  There are cooks that I love, some that are ok, but not my favorites, and a few that when they appear, I rush to change the channel.  Some hosts are very reliable sources for recipes, with many of their dishes recreated in my kitchen; most were big hits; a few, embarrassing flops.

But a Melissa D’Arabian recipe has never resulted in anything but success, yummy food, and kudos from family.  So much so, that at our house we refer to her as “Magic Melissa”.

Yup, that’s me in the kitchen…

I guess we’ll just have to see if she can cast a spell and make The Kid enjoy orzo.

Thanks for your time.