Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

I am going to skip all my usual flowery introductions (I just like to talk, okay??) and get right down to business on this one. Here are the important things you need to know about this recipe:

1.) It’s unbelievably delicious.
2.) It looks REALLY impressive.
3.) It’s actually really easy to make (and not ALL that time-consuming).
4.) You will feel like a bad-ass when you’re done making it. Because you are.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu
serves 4-6 as a main course
gnocchi recipe (barely adapted) from here

For the gnocchi:
15oz whole milk ricotta*
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 T butter
2 cloves garlic, smashed
additional parmesan for garnish

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

For the ragu:
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large (or 2 smaller) carrots, cut into very fine dice
1 medium sweet onion, very fine dice
1/2 a large red bell pepper, very fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground lamb
2 T tomato paste
1/4 tsp celery salt
1 cup dry red wine
15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
kosher salt
black pepper
3 T fresh parsley, minced

*If your ricotta is on the watery side, spoon it into a mesh strainer and set it over a bowl for an hour or two. This will give you a thicker, less wet base to begin with.

1.) To start, get the ragu going. Heat a pot over medium heat, and add the olive oil and butter. Once the pan is hot, add the carrots, onion, and bell pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with a small pinch each of salt and pepper.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

2.) Move the vegetables to the side of the pot, and add the lamb. Season the lamb with a bit more salt and pepper, then break the lamb up with a spoon, and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat from the pot.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

3.) Add the celery salt, and the tomato paste. Stir until the tomato paste coats all the meat and vegetables, and cook for a minute or two, so the paste caramelizes a bit. Add the red wine, diced tomatoes, and the bay leaf, and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and bring the mixture back to a simmer; cover partway with the lid, and simmer for about an hour, until the ragu is no longer watery, and has cooked down to a thick, rich sauce.

4.) While the ragu simmers, you can make the gnocchi. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

5.) Add the flour to the ricotta mixture, and stir until the flour is fully incorporated. Lightly flour your countertop, and turn the gnocchi dough out on to the counter. Pat it into one cohesive ball, and then cut into three equal pieces.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

6.) Take each of the three pieces, and gently roll them into long ropes, about 1″ wide. Use a paring knife to cut the ropes into pieces about 1/2″ wide. Move the gnocchi to a parchment-lined baking sheet (be careful to lay them out in a single layer – they’ll be a bit tacky, and will definitely stick together).

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

7.) Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, and melt two tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add the two crushed gloves of garlic to the pan, to the infuse the butter.

8.) Add the first batch of gnocchi to the pan, setting them cut-side down, and leaving enough room between them to turn them easily. You will likely need to pan-fry them in 3 or 4 batches. Allow the gnocchi to cook on the first side for 2-3 minutes, until they’re golden brown, then flip and cook the second side until brown. Remove the gnocchi to a paper towel-lined plate, and continue with the rest of the gnocchi, adding more butter to the pan as needed.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

9.) When the gnocchi are all fried, garnish them with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Pile some gnocchi into the bottom of a bowl, and then top with a generous ladleful of lamb ragu. Sprinkle a bit of fresh parsley over the top.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Do you think it would be a problem if I ate ricotta gnocchi every day for the rest of my life? Because that’s the plan, at this point. For every dinner, every day, I will fry up a handful of pillowy, cheesy gnocchi, and then douse them with freshly grated parmesan cheese, pile them into a bowl, and eat them in bed while watching crappy reality TV. Because I’m an adult, and I can.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Okay, seriously… this meal was GOOD. The ragu is rich and hearty, but the gnocchi are light and airy and crispy on the outside, so they make a perfect pair. You could easily pair either component with something else – the ragu would be great with spaghetti, or spooned over some roasted potatoes. The gnocchi would be fantastic with a simple marinara sauce, or some browned butter with sage. But, I think you should try them together first, because I they’re kind of made for each other!

Go forth and impress your friends and family,
Tina

(Side note: If you find that the gnocchi recipe makes too much, you can easily freeze them. Just lay them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop them in the freezer for a couple hours. Once they’re pretty solid, you can load them into a ziploc freezer bag, and keep them until you’re ready for them! When you’re ready to make them, pan-fry them the same way – they’ll just need an extra minute or two.)

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

If you like jalapeno poppers, you are going to pass out when you see this recipe.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

They came to be a few weekends back, when I was in South Carolina visiting Crist. We were spending the weekend at the beach, and the weather was predicted to be bringing some nasty storms – so we limited our plans to hitting the grocery store early, and then staying in and drinking and eating and watching crappy TV and movies all day (Mystic Pizza, anyone?). The rain never did come, but our plan to eat, drink, and be merry held fast, and we spent some time brainstorming deliciously unhealthy things to cook… and this is the result.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers
makes 16

8 large, fresh jalapeños
6 slices of bacon
about 3/4 cup pimento cheese*
1/2 cup all purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
olive oil

*If you do not live in an area where pimento cheese is readily available at the grocery store (ahem, MICHIGAN), you can use Crist’s recipe here.

1.) Start by cooking your bacon until crisp, in whatever fashion you prefer (microwave, stovetop, oven, etc). Allow the bacon to drain any excess fat on some paper towels, and preheat your oven to 375°.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

2.) Cut the stems from the jalapeños, and then slice them in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds, and be sure to wash your hands very well when you’re done (and dear god, do not touch your eyes or your face or anything else before your hands are thoroughly washed).

3.) Chop your crispy bacon into small pieces. Add the pimento cheese and bacon to a small bowl, and combine well. Spread the cheese and bacon mixture into the jalapeños halves, and then pop them into the freezer for about 15 minutes so they harden up a bit.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

4.) While the poppers chill, set up a breading station: flour (whisked together with a pinch each of salt and pepper) in one wide, shallow bowl, eggs (well beaten) in a second, and panko in a third. Coat the poppers in the flour, then egg, then panko – being sure to tap off any excess flour and egg, and pressing the panko into the poppers so that it sticks well.

5.) Arrange the jalapeños on a foil-lined baking sheet, and lightly mist or drizzle them with the olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until they’re nice and brown and crispy. Serve warm.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

I mean… there is not much that can be said about these jalapeño poppers, really. Spicy, crunchy jalapeños stuffed with gooey pimento cheese and salty, smoky bacon, and coated in golden brown panko? SIGN ME UP. Damn, they were tasty. I would like one (or a half dozen) right now, as a matter of fact.

This recipe will definitely be added to my “go to appetizers” list. I love that they could be largely prepped ahead of time (seed and stuff the peppers with the cheese and bacon, then refrigerate, covered, for as long as 24 hours; bread them and bake them when you need them). And who doesn’t love a cheesy, crunchy jalapeño popper?? They’re sure to be a hit with everyone you know.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

They’re healthy because they’re basically just stuffed vegetables,
Tina

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

In my continuing quest to not hate fish, I try to find ways to dress the fish up a bit – and mask any potential fishy flavors. This particular idea hit me like a bolt of lightning as I was staring into the Trader Joe’s fish case (some people get struck with ideas for the next Great American Novel… I get struck with the next Great American Dinner)… and lucky for me, it worked out pretty fantastically. I’ve actually been craving it since I made it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a good sign in regards to my war on boring and fishy fish.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese
serves 2

2 tilapia fillets
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 eggs
4oz shelled pistachios, ground until coarse
1 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
2 oz goat cheese
juice and zest of half a lemon

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

1.) In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, kosher salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Crack the eggs into a second bowl, and whisk well. Add the ground pistachios to a third bowl.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

2.) Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. While the pan heats, bread the tilapia fillets – first with the seasoned flour, then the eggs, and finally the pistachios, pressing the pistachios into the fish gently to make sure they stick well.

3.) Cook the fillets for about 3-4 minutes per side, flipping once, until the fish is cooked through. Be very gentle when you flip the fish, as the pistachio crust is relatively delicate, and will come off the fish if you’re not careful!

4.) While the fish cooks, make your lemon goat cheese. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

5.) Remove the fish from the pan; top with the goat cheese, and serve!

If you like pistachios, you will LOVE this fish. The pistachios get all roasty and brown in the pan, and they add a beautiful crunch to the delicate, flaky tilapia. The tart lemon goat cheese cuts the richness of the nuts, and adds a fresh, light note. You could definitely use this crush on a chicken breast, or a pork tenderloin – or you could switch it up and use something like pecans, instead. Best of all, the whole thing came together in less than 15 minutes… amen for quick-cooking fish! (I am imagining this crust used on a piece of chicken – sliced and added to the top of a salad filled with goat cheese and dried cranberries and a lemon vinaigrette, and now I’m starving. Dammit.)

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

I wouldn’t say I’m a FAN of fish these days, but I’m not NOT a fan…
Tina

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

In the last year or so, I have become moderately obsessed with Thai food. The tiny little Thai restaurant near our house sees my face a lot… and if I go too long without some pad Thai or curry, I start to panic a little. Despite my love for the cuisine, Thai food is complicated, and involves a lot of ingredients that are not terribly common or easy to find, so I’ve not really had the urge to try my hand at making anything (especially when, for $8 and a 1.5 mile roundtrip drive, I can have a nice, steaming order of massaman curry on the table in less than 15 minutes). I’m sure this salad is FAR from authentic, but it incorporates a lot of the tastes and textures that I love in Thai food – crunchy cabbage, salty peanuts, sour lime juice – and is nearly as satisfying as the real deal!

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing
serves 2 generously

one head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
one large heart of romaine, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
half a red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
8oz boneless, skinless chicken breast
kosher salt
garlic powder
one batch of Peanut Lime Dressing

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

for the dressing:
1 T fresh lime juice (about half a lime)
1 T mirin (you can use sugar instead, if necessary)
1 T soy sauce
1 t sesame oil
large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 T honey (optional)
up to 2 T water

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

1.) Let’s start with the chicken. Season the chicken well with kosher salt and garlic powder, add a few teaspoons of oil to a skillet, and cook over medium heat until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

2.) While the chicken cooks, chop and prep all your vegetables. I like to shred my cabbage and romaine into roughly 1/2″ wide pieces.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

3.) For the dressing, whisk together all ingredients except the honey and water. It will take a minute for everything to fully incorporate, but just keep whisking and it’ll eventually smooth out into a nice, creamy dressing. Once you have everything well-combined, whisk is as much water as you need to get a nice, drizzle-able consistency (I used about 2 tablespoons). Taste test your dressing; I found mine to be a LITTLE too sour/acidic, so I added a tablespoon of honey. If you’re happy with it the way it is, carry on!

4.) Once your dressing is made and your vegetables are prepped, shred your chicken (or cut it into bite-size pieces).

5.) Toss the cabbage, romaine, carrots, and bell peppers together. Pile this mixture on to each plate, and then top with shredded chicken, chopped peanuts, and cilantro. Drizzle the dressing over the top, and serve.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Lime Dressing

I don’t think I’ve ever attacked a salad with such intensity in my life! The flavor and texture combinations in this salad are fantastic – and the light, crunchy vegetables keep it from feeling too heavy. It would be absolutely perfect on a hot summer evening (not that it will ever be HOT in Michigan again… I’ve given up hope), or for a summer barbecue. I can’t wait to make it again!

I won’t tell anyone if you accidentally eat a spoonful of peanut butter straight from the jar,
Tina