Menu Plan Monday

For the past two months, I’ve been taking part in Menu Plan Monday. I can honestly say it has changed my life. Not only have I eliminated the “oh-my-goodness-what-am-I-going-to-make-for-dinner?” dilemma that I used to experience mid-day, but it has also provided some relief to my wallet. I try to plan my weekly menu based on ingredients already in my fridge and pantry. If it is a recipe that requires meat, I make sure I can bring it home from work.  I no longer have to make last minute runs to the supermarket, which usually resulted in impulse purchases and overspending. Thanks to Organizing Junkie for a great idea!

Here is this week’s menu:

Monday: Barbecued Spare Ribs, Macaroni and Cheese, and Baked Beans
Tuesday: Pierogies with Sauteed Onions and Spicy Sausage
Wednesday: Skirt Steak Tacos, Black Beans, and a Side Salad
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Baked Falafel with Molly’s Mouthwatering Tzatziki Cucumber Sauce
Saturday: Spaghetti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella, and Prosciutto
Sunday: Leftovers

What’s on your menu this week?

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Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Ever heard of or seen pork belly and wonder, “What the heck is that?” Yeah, me too.

At work, I go through dozens and dozens of invoices each week, looking over the product sent to us by wholesale distributors. We go through hundreds of boxes of pork belly each month and I always used to wonder, “What do people use this for?” It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered most of the restaurants and cuchifritos we supply cut the pork belly into small chunks and deep fry. Talk about a coronary on a plate!

Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia

Pork belly is exactly what it sounds like — the meat from the belly of the pig. It’s very fatty and definitely not diet food. Besides being commonly used in cuchifritos, I discovered that pork belly is extremely popular in Korean and Chinese cuisine. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to check for that the next time we order from Oriental House!

When I saw Anne Burrell braise a piece of pork belly on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, I said to myself, “Hey, I’ve seen pork belly! I know what that is!” My inner foodie jumped at the chance to make it. This is definitely not part of a low calorie, low fat diet. Don’t check your Weight Watcher’s Points Calculator, unless you want to pass out. This is a delicious, once-in-a-while, “wow, I made that?” dish. Start it in the morning and let it braise while you do a few loads of laundry, mow the lawn, whatever. The result will be a succulent piece of pork that falls apart in your mouth. Yum.

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Adapted from Anne Burrell

Dry rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
zest of one lemon
2 sprigs rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 pounds pork belly, skin removed
Pork belly:
extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
2 cups chicken stock
fresh thyme bundle
3 bay leaves

Combine all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl. Massage the rub all over the pork belly, then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat a large, high-sided pan with olive oil and put over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic. Season the vegetables with the crushed red pepper and salt, to taste. Cook the vegetables until they start to soften, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock. Add the pork belly, then toss in the thyme and bay leaves. Cover and put in the preheated oven. Braise the belly for 6 hours, checking occasionally and rotating the pan half way through the cooking process.

After the 6 hours, remove the lid and set the oven to broil. Broil the pork belly for a few minutes, until it gets a nice golden color. Transfer the pork belly to a cutting board and cut into portions. Arrange the pork on a platter, or serve onto plates and pour some of the braising liquid on top. This goes nicely with mashed potatoes or rice, and some wilted greens, such as kale or mustard greens.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

What a gorgeous day. After a winter of record-breaking snowfall, and a recent torrent of rain, we were finally blessed with a weekend filled with sun and 50 degree weather. The huge block of ice on our back porch thawed to reveal a neglected Kenmore grill. When I realized the propane tank was nearly full, I could almost taste grilled steak in the near future.

I can still remember the first time I ate skirt steak. I was in my mid-teens, and Papi the Butcher had brought home the strange-looking cut of beef for dinner. If you’ve never seen skirt steak before, it’s a long, flat cut of beef. When I asked what it was, he replied, “Skirt steak.” At first, I thought he was joking. I mean, why would someone name a cut of beef after an item of clothing? He explained that skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle of the cow, which is attached to the ribs. It tends to be tough, but is extremely flavorful when cooked properly. Skirt steak is the cut of beef traditionally used for fajitas and is commonly called arrachera or churrasco. Many people commonly confuse skirt steak with flank steak, but they are actually two different cuts.

Years ago, skirt steak was one of the cheaper cuts of beef. Nowadays, it averages about $4 a pound, which is on the pricey side. Many people discovered that despite it’s toughness, when grilled or pan-seared, skirt steak can be tender and delicious. It’s also a great steak to braise or marinade.

For weeks, I’ve been anxious for the opportunity to make my own chimichurri. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce used as a marinade or condiment for meat. It’s most commonly made with parsley, garlic, oil, and other seasonings. From what I’ve heard, Argentinian’s use chimichurri like Americans use ketchup.

When I heard the weather forecast for a gorgeous weekend ahead, I brought home some skirt steak and went to work on making my sauce. When you make this chimichurri, you’ll want to lick the spoon.

When you buy skirt steak, be sure to have your butcher remove the membrane and trim a good portion of the fat, unless you’re feeling adventurous and want to attempt that at home. Before grilling, I seasoned my skirt steak simply with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. No fancy pants here. The star of the show is the chimichurri.

Chimichurri

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
8 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf

Toss the parsley in a small food processor with the vinegar, water, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and olive oil, then give it a whirl. Add the bay leaf, then let the sauce stand, at room temperature, for at least an hour. This will allow the flavors to come together.

If you don’t have a food processor, be sure to finely chop your parsley and garlic by hand. Stir together the vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaf, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until combined, then whisk in the finely chopped parsley. Be sure to discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve this sauce alongside grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, or whatever your heart desires. Enjoy!