Chef Joanne Weir shares two of her favorite recipes for delicious dinners. Get more of Joanne’s recipes in the May issue of Better Homes and Gardens.
I am Joanne Weir: chef, cooking instructor, author, restaurateur, television personality, travel guide, daughter, wife, and friend. And, as my latest cookbook/memoir Kitchen Gypsy details, I am also a born wanderer. I love to travel and explore the world and its cuisine. I am in constant motion, hopping from recipe to recipe, project to project and country to country. With so many roles to juggle, I often find it hard to remember which way is up. So when it comes to weeknight meals, let’s just say I’m not a planner.
I’d love to tell you that I have the secret to effortless weeknight meal preparation, but I don’t. If I’m being honest, what happens most evenings that I’m actually at home is this: I’m sitting in my home office in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, completely absorbed in whatever recipe, menu, article, or project I’m working on at the moment. I glance at the clock to discover it’s getting dark and well past time to get started on dinner.
I fly down the hallway into the kitchen, flipping on lights as I go. How long have I been working in the dark? I wonder. As I land in my kitchen, my first stop is the freezer. The main reason I’m able to pull together dinner without a plan? I always keep my kitchen well stocked.
The freezer is my friend. It’s filled with a variety of proteins- sausages, ground meat and shaped into patties, chicken, and pork, as well as bread, nuts, and homemade chicken stock. A favorite option for a fast weeknight thaw is boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I make sure to freeze the thighs completely flat, so that they thaw in no time. Another favorite? Homemade burger patties, frozen and wrapped individually. My Moroccan-Style Lamb Burgers with Cucumber-Ginger Yogurt are fast becoming one of my most-requested meals. With these waiting in the freezer, I can prepare a meal (fit for guests, even) in a jiffy.
As the meat thaws in the sink, I move on to the pantry. Here you’ll find extra virgin olive oil, a wide variety of vinegars, mustards, capers, anchovies, every spice you can imagine, dried fruit, nuts, canned Italian tomatoes, lentils, beans, quinoa and rice. This variety allows me to make almost anything I can think of. The fridge is no different. I keep an array of seasonal, fresh produce on hand at all times. With a well-stocked kitchen, a side dish like warm, vegetable-studded lentil salad, to compliment my spiced lamb burgers, is easily attainable.
My second trick is to keep things simple. Though I studied under famed chef Madeleine Kamman and was trained in the elaborate French tradition, my cooking style simplified after cooking at Chez Panisse. As I’ve traveled the globe, I’ve noticed that the simplest dishes are often the most delicious. It’s all about using quality ingredients in smart combination. One of my absolute favorite weeknight dishes is Chicken Breast Stuffed with Dried Figs and Fontina. Made with just five ingredients that I honestly have on-hand at all times, it’s rich with creamy fontina cheese and sweet dried figs. So simple, yet delicious, it’s a last-minute favorite that never disappoints. Get the recipe here.
I also love a good make-ahead meal. If I know I have a busy week coming up, I’ll spend time on the weekend preparing a meal in advance. Things like chili, soups, stews, and my mom’s Skillet Riblets with Balsamic, actually get better over time. Prepared in advance, the pork ribs get more tender and the rosemary-infused glaze richer in flavor. To get dinner on the table, I simply reheat and prepare creamy polenta to go alongside.
And finally, when all else fails, I turn to breakfast-for-dinner. Though I’ve vowed to never eat cold cereal for dinner, you might be surprised how simply satisfying a warm, oozing cheese omelet or a soft poached egg on wheat toast can be at the end of the day. That’s why a dozen eggs is always, always part of my well-stocked kitchen.
Joanne’s Favorite Dinner Recipes
These pork riblets are falling-off-the-bone tender. Inspired by my Mom’s dizzying delicious spareribs, this is one of my favorite make-ahead meals.
SKILLET RIBLETS WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR
2 pork baby-back or St. Louis spareribs, halved lengthwise, about 4 pounds total
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup dry red wine like cabernet sauvignon
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
6 ounces good quality balsamic vinegar, aged if possible
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups low sodium beef broth
1 ½ cups coarse polenta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cut the ribs into two to three rib sections and either salt overnight of brine overnight covered completely in a solution of 1 cup water to 3/4 tablespoon kosher salt. Make sure the ribs are completely submerged in the salt solution.
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the ribs, turning occasionally, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the pan with tongs. Pour off the excess fat and discard.
Add the garlic and cook the garlic until golden. Add the wine, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and add the rosemary and ribs, meat side down, to pan. Add broth to almost cover the meat and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer, turning occasionally until the meat is soft and almost falls off the bone, about 1 hour.
In the meantime, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Whisking constantly, gradually add the polenta in a shower. Season with a teaspoon of salt and continue to whisk until it beings to bubble, Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the polenta is thick and a wooden spoon almost stands up in it, about 10 to 20 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper. Set aside.
To serve, add the butter to the polenta and stir together. Warm the polenta over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove the ribs from the pan and strain the sauce. Skim off any fat that has accumulated. Add the sauce back to the pan and reduce if needed to thicken the sauce to a syrupy consistency. Gently turn the ribs gently to coat. Spoon the polenta into bowls and place the ribs onto the top and serve.
I always keep several of these boldly spiced lamb burgers prepared and frozen in my freezer. Once thawed, they’re easy to grill for a weeknight escape to magical Morocco.
MOROCCAN STYLE LAMB BURGERS WITH CUCUMBER-GINGER YOGURT
1 1/4 pounds lean grass-fed ground lamb
1/2 pound ground pork
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons paprika
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons prepared harissa or more to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
6 slices coarse textured bread, toasted
Cilantro sprigs as a garnish
Place approximately one-quarter of the ground lamb, pork and garlic in a food processor and process until well ground. Add the paprika, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1 ½ teaspoons harissa, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and pulse several times until well mixed. Add the remaining lamb and cilantro and pulse a few times.
To test for flavor, heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Make a small thin patty with a walnut size piece of the mixture and cook until done, 3 minutes. Let cool. Taste and season with salt, pepper and spices if needed.
Preheat an outdoor grill.
Form into the mixture into 6 patties. Cook the lamb burgers, turning occasionally until medium rare, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.
To serve, place a slice of the toasted bread on a plate and place the lamb burger on top. Top each burger with some Cucumber and Ginger Yogurt and garnish with cilantro sprigs.
CUCUMBER AND GINGER YOGURT
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
½ English cucumber, peeled, seeded and ¼-inch dice
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
Place the yogurt, cucumber, lemon zest, ginger and garlic in a bowl and stir together. Season with salt.
Makes 1 ½ cups
Get more of Joanne’s recipes at www.joanneweir.com.
A 4th-generation professional cook, Joanne Weir spent 5 years cooking at Chez Panisse after receiving a Master Chef Diploma with Madeleine Kamman. Joanne is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, cooking teacher, and host and Executive Producer for several award-winning PBS TV series, including her latest, “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh.” Joanne has written 18 cookbooks, most recently her food memoir Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifetime Romance with Food, which was released in Fall, 2015. She is co-owner of Copita, a tequileria & restaurant in Sausalito, California. In 2012, Joanne was also appointed by the State Department to the American Chef Corp, a select group of chefs chosen to promote world relations through food. Joanne writes for several national publications and travels and teaches extensively around the world as well as in her San Francisco studio kitchen.
Get Joanne’s latest cookbook, Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifetime Romance with Food.