Tasty Thursday: What’s For Dinner?

Let’s mix up the Tasty Thursday posts. Instead of only posting restaurants and coffee shops, I’ll also post photos (and commentary) of food J and I have been cooking with links to the original recipes; the links will be in the heading for each section. We eat at home 95% of the time these days out of budget considerations, so solely blogging about new restaurants and coffee shops is getting a little tricky.

We’re not Food Network competitive here, and photos are taken with my smart phone with the real lighting challenges of my house. They’re taken quickly because I want to eat my food and chat with my husband or guests rather than spend forever staging it and taking pictures. Priorities, folks.

In other words, things look like real life rather than studio perfect. But, then maybe you’ll get a realistic idea about what the food might actually look like.

Grilled Chicken with Tomato-Avocado Salad

081116 grilled chicken with tomato avocado salad

If you’re having ingredient shock, a common side effect of reading Cooking Light recipes, we just used the mix of tomatoes we felt like — no real need to be precise on the mix of cherry tomatoes and regular tomatoes.

Also, the buttermilk dressing is tasty, but not required. The veggies and chicken have enough flavor of their own. I just use a little dab on the side for an occasional change of flavors.

The grilled chicken, corn and onions combined with the fresh heirlooms taste like the best parts of summer. Added bonus: this meal comes together fairly quickly for those nights when you don’t feel like being in the kitchen for long.

Pork Tenderloin Salad and Grilled Nectarines

081016 pork tenderloin salad and grilled nectarine

The photo is ugly. I own that. The Cooking Light picture looks way prettier than mine. I’m not sure how they stage their salad so artfully because grilled nectarines are fragile, messy things that crush easily.

Don’t judge the recipe on the ugliness of the photo.

So, while this looks like a hot mess (literally hot, since the pork and nectarines are straight off the grill), it tastes delicious. It’s a green salad even J will stand behind. The pork is juicy and tender, and the protein helps keep you full. The nectarines and dressing work well together; grilling peaches and nectarines brings out their juicy sweetness. All in all, it’s another delightful quick summer dinner.  I also like the blend of warm and cool temperatures in the salad.

Here’s what we changed from the original recipe: we omitted the red onion because who really wants onion breath for hours after dinner? And why bother adding it when we’re both just going to pick it out of the salad anyway?

Second, I had candied pecans leftover from another salad recipe, and they were an excellent addition to this salad. They brought some crunch, and the sweetness worked with the maple-balsamic vinaigrette. Also, the original recipe suggested a side of goat cheese toasts which I had no interest in making because goat cheese is gross.

Tomato and Peach Flatbreads with Basil

081116 tomato and peach flatbreads with basil

Y’all this is so fast to make. I almost skipped over it because it was marked as an appetizer, and I don’t have a lifestyle where I make appetizers for entertaining. That’s way more Domestic Goddess than I can muster up here. I’m doing good with main course and dessert when we’ve got dinner guests.

For us, this recipe is a perfect summer Saturday lunch or dinner. It takes like 15 minutes or less to prep and only a couple of dishes. Plus the protein of the ricotta and the bulk of the whole-grain naan keeps us full. That’s like finding gold in a recipe! It tastes like gourmet restaurant pizza, and it takes very little effort.

It’s so fresh! The tomatoes, peaches and basil sweetly partner together for a flavor explosion.

Full disclosure: I omit the oregano in the recipe because I am not a huge fan of oregano, and I’m usually not in a “gambling to try it again” mood. Also, I put all the green onions in the ricotta because I forget to reserve some for the top every time I make it. It tastes fine like that, so I’m not planning to do things differently any time soon.

Also, you can freeze the packages of naan, so you can have it on hand for a quick meal. During the summer, we almost always have peaches, tomatoes and basil at home, so this is an easy to dish to throw together in a pinch.

If you hate fuzzy peaches, substitute in nectarines. It’s your kitchen. Do what you like.

Cornmeal-Dusted Catfish with Quinoa Saute

081116 cornmeal dusted catfish with quinoa saute

I have to make this recipe at least once a summer. It’s one of my favorite recipes from Cooking Light. The fried catfish is reminiscent of my grandpa’s fried fish. Not quite the same, but close enough that I think fondly of Grandpa and summers I spent in Tulsa.

And the quinoa. Oh, the quinoa. This is the recipe that introduced me to the wonder of quinoa. I’d turned my nose up at it in the healthy recipe lists, but realized I’d been silly to be skeptical. Quinoa is now my favorite of the trendy whole grains touted by health nuts. Well, really, if I’m honest out of bulgur, farro, barley and quinoa — quinoa is the only one I actually like. The texture of the others bothers me.

As for modifications, we usually end up doubling the veggies in this and omitting the jalapeno because I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy. The doubling of the veggies is less intentional and more about chopping up the veggies we feel like rather than exact measuring.

I make this recipe as much for the quinoa as the catfish. I’m not even sure which I like better. J’s happy about the recipe for the catfish; the quinoa means I’ll overlook that the fish is basically breaded and fried.

One note on preparation: prepping the quinoa for cooking is a nuisance. I forget about the whole triple-washing the thing every time, and every time J and I grumble back and forth about it. He’s usually chopping veggies while I stand washing quinoa for what feels like forever. And I don’t really understand the science behind the washing; I’m just resentfully following recipe instructions because I’m a rule follower who is scared the recipe might not turn out otherwise. So, now, you’re warned about that part.

I still think the end product is worth the few minutes rinsing the grain.

Pork Chops with Grits and Red-Eye Gravy

081116 pork chops with grits and red eye gravy

This recipe is not as “summer” oriented as the rest, but we made it for the first time in July. It’s been sitting in my recipe book for years, but I never committed to making it.

My dad had long talked up tomato gravy, or red-eye gravy as some folks call it, but I’d never been curious to try it. Which begs the question of why I pulled the recipe out of the magazine to begin with? Sometimes I’m an enigma to myself.

But, anyway, as part of our eating healthier initiative this summer, I pulled out my adventurous pants and added this to the stack of things to make.

Oh my goodness! It was delicious. I felt like we’d gotten one of those $30 entrees at some fancy restaurant.

I now understand the earthy, comforting appeal of the red-eye gravy. The sum of the flavors is greater than each individual part. Where has this been all of my life? How did I not know this was so easy to make?!?

Like other Cooking Light recipes, this one gave me some ingredient shock. There’s a few things I was just like, “No, I’m not buying that.”

I skipped the Madeira/dry sherry, replacing it with a bit more of the tomato juice and coffee. I also skipped the sherry vinegar because I’ve already got four or five other kinds of vinegar in the house and I’m not about buying more weird vinegar to take up shelf real estate. I subbed red wine vinegar. You could probably also get away with balsamic vinegar if you’ve got that instead of red wine vinegar. I’m not spending wads of cash on obscure cooking liquors and vinegar to sit in my pantry mostly unused for 10 years or more.

Also, the exotic mushroom blend was a little fancier than I wanted to experiment with or spend extra money on at the grocery store — so we used pre-sliced regular mushrooms. And these modifications worked out to still be tasty.

Keep the shallots. They’re worth the effort (and tears) of chopping, and they form a rich base flavor for the gravy.

I’ll be honest: I eat the spinach because it’s good for me. The spinach’s real contribution to the meal is cutting the richness of everything else.

Last, a warning based on our experience. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, use decaf coffee instead of regular, or make this for a weekend lunch rather than dinner. J and I forgot about the caffeine in the coffee and found ourselves wondering why it was so hard to sleep the night we made it. Then, it dawned on us: the gravy was what kept us wide awake till about 2 AM. Learn from our mistakes peeps.

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