By Amy Hughes
With a maiden name like Schillings I am about as German as it gets. But I have long fantasized about being part of one of those large, unnaturally close Italian families that gets together every Sunday to make the ‘gravy’, drink red wine and commiserate over immense platters of meat, pasta and antipasti. My dad feels the same way. Together, we have developed a love of cooking, of family gatherings, and of making way too much food for any given occasion. And ultimately, we both end up in the kitchen instead of enjoying the moment.
Don’t get me wrong…I love making the effort. I love the result. I love seeing people enjoy it. And I love that I am known for creating an abundance of food. But there is one night where I want maximum impact with minimal effort so that I can enjoy the company…and that’s the night I lovingly refer to as Mom’s Night In.
No Spanxx, no skinny jeans, no heels, makeup or jewelry. Just those forgiving yoga pants, tired sweatshirt, a ponytail and good humor. Cards, dice and games are on the table. They might get played…they might not. The games might be superseded by conversations of kids or jobs or gossip or nonsense…or all of the above. Why on Earth would I want to stay in the kitchen and miss all of that?
So there are a few tried and true small bites that I have developed over the years that I know I can put together fairly quickly and with the confidence that they fulfill my need to show my love through my food. Add to this a single selection of your cheese and/or some cornichons and olives, and your girlfriends will be full and happy.
First up? Arugula Pizza.
Note: For each of these recipes I am including a wine recommendation from my friend and favorite wine guy, Russ Anderson, owner of The Caviste on Robinhood Road.
Arugula is my favorite green. Dark and peppery, it has such a unique flavor that it only needs a very small amount of dressing (if any at all!). Combine arugula with the salty goodness of pancetta on my favorite food vehicle – a pizza crust – and I can die happy.
– 4 cups of baby arugula
– 4 oz. of pancetta (I prefer the pre-packaged, thinly sliced rounds from Boars Head for this recipe)
– 1 TBSP of Red Wine Vinaigrette (Newman’s Own Light Red Wine Vinaigrette is hands down the best one on the market. Rather than dirty up a tablespoon, I pour a capful of dressing into the arugula)
– 1 Archer Farms Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (available at Target…if you haven’t tried these crusts yet, run, don’t walk)
– Shaved Parmesan Reggiano to taste (get the good stuff…it makes a difference…use your vegetable peeler to get the shaved look)
– Garlic oil to brush the crust (see note)
– Salt and Pepper to Taste
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees
• Place pancetta rounds on a rack on a sheet pan and cook in oven until crispy (You can do this in a frying pan if you prefer)
• Brush the crust with garlic oil; add salt and pepper to taste. Bake crust in oven for 4 minutes
• While crust is baking, combine arugula and Red Wine Vinaigrette in a bowl; add salt and pepper to taste
• When crust is finished and cooled slightly (if it’s warm, your arugula will wilt…some people like this, but I’m not a fan), top evenly with the arugula, pancetta and shaved parm to taste
• Cut in squares and serve!
NOTE: When I start this recipe, I throw a couple of peeled/smashed garlic cloves into a small sauce pan, cover them in olive oil and add crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper, and a little fresh basil and let it stew on low heat. This is perfect to brush the crust with. You can also use it on the baguette in the recipe for the pork. Put any leftovers in a container with a lid in the fridge and it will keep for a week.
Russ Recommends serving the arugula pizza with a Trebbiano, which is a wonderfully light white wine from Italy. This particular bottle retails for $14 at The Caviste.
PORK TENDERLOIN ON BAGUETTE WITH CARMELIZED ONIONS
Pork is a recurring theme in many of my favorite dishes. While I could probably live without chicken or beef, you’d be hard pressed to see me give up pork in all its beautiful forms. This particular recipe brings thinly sliced pieces of pork tenderloin together with spicy mustard and savory sweet caramelized onions. The first bite is always a ‘wow’ moment and I am forever asking myself why I don’t make it more often.
– 1 Whole Pork Tenderloin (I like Smithfield and yes, cook the whole thing. You can use the second piece for lunch or dinner the next night!)
– 1 Large Sweet Onion
– 1 TBSP of Dark Brown Sugar
– 1 TBSP Butter
– 1 French Baguette
– Spicy Brown Mustard (I like Silver Spring’s Beer and Brat Mustard. You can find it at the Teeter for $2.99, but I’ve also seen it at the Dollar Tree!)
– Olive Oil
– Salt, Pepper and Granulated Garlic/Garlic Powder to Taste
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees
• Cut the onion in half and then into thin slices
• In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter with a splash of olive oil over medium high heat; add the onion, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine; reduce heat to low and cook for 20 – 25 minutes until onions are caramelized and dark brown
• Trim the excess fat and silver skin off of the pork tenderloin; season generously with salt and pepper and granulated garlic (garlic powder would work too!)
• Heat enough olive oil to coat a large, oven safe skillet over high heat until it is just about to smoke; add the pork tenderloin and sear it on all sides; put the entire in the skillet into the oven and cook until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 – 150 degrees (that will be a little pink); pull the pork out, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes; slice thinly on the diagonal
• Cut the baguette on the diagonal into ¼” – ½” slices; place them on a baking sheet and brush them with olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste; bake until toasted, but not overly brown (I usually flip them midway through)
• To assemble, layer a piece of pork on top of a toasted baguette round; spread a thin layer of mustard and some caramelized onions and enjoy! (You can pre-assemble these for your guests or create a ‘do-it-yourself’ platter)
Russ Recommends serving the pork with a Spanish Grenache, which is terrific red, but not too overpowering. This particular bottle retails for $16 at The Caviste.
SPICY TUNA TARTARE
We go every year with two families to the beach in South Carolina, and we always stop on our way in at the Big Tuna in Georgetown. We start with one tuna tartare appetizer and inevitably end up ordering one or two more. We finally wrangled enough info out of the manager to make it ourselves and cannot believe how easy it is to make something so delicious.
– 2 Ahi Tuna Steaks cut into ½ inch dice (You want sushi grade — these are the beautiful pink/deep red ones you see at the Fresh Market. BTW – Fresh Market has them 2 for $7.99 every Friday in April!)
– 1 Avocado, diced
– 1/3 c Stonewall Kitchen Sriracha Teriyaki Sauce (available at Fresh Market)
– 6 Green Onions Chopped (green parts only)
– Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (If you want to get crazy, you can cut wonton skins into triangles, fry them up, and serve those as chips. But, no need…the blue corn chips are perfect!)
• Mix everything together (gently!) in a bowl
• Serve (yup…that’s it)
Russ Recommends serving the tuna with a bubbly pinot noir. In fact, he said if you want to just one wine for the night, this would work with everything. Don’t let the pink color fool you. This is an incredibly drinkable bottle that will surprise the heck out of you…not too sweet, perfect level of dryness, definitely the favorite of the bunch for our crowd! BTW…not into wine? Russ said that a light, Asian beer would also be a great choice for any of the dishes mentioned above.
Amy Hughes is the owner of Invisible Ink Communications, a Corporate Communications consultancy based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Clients have included the chief executive officers and senior leaders of Victoria’s Secret, Express, Sycamore Partners, Talbots, Nine West, Jones New York, Coldwater Creek, Krispy Kreme, Chico’s, Bath & Body Works, Limited Brands, Ford’s Gourmet Foods and Tween Brands. Most importantly, however, Amy is mom to Ty (9) and Nash (3), and a passionate advocate of good food, wine and friends.