Lamb Chops with Spiced Pistachios and Yogurt Dipping Sauce

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I think I’m like most of you when it comes to lamb chops: straight up with a rosemary and garlic rub. But my copy of Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook had been sitting on the shelf long enough. Sure, I’ve looked through the pages MANY a time to drool at the beautiful, glossy pictures and so earnestly wish I were friends with Deb. But the execution just hadn’t happened. And though I’ve never had pistachio crusted anything before, I did have (almost) all the ingredients on hand for this recipe. Which is rare.

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I was lucky I had just enough pistachios left over. You can bet that I was shelling them there were two bodies hovering around me picking them out of the bowl. It worked because I was working with such a small batch (the recipe was written for 6, I had just two lamb chops). And contrary to the directions in the recipe, I crushed the pistachios with a rolling pin instead of a food processor. Does anyone else find it a huge pain in the butt to clean the food processor? Sure, some spices made its way out of the ziploc bag as I banged out the mix, but doing so over a cutting board helped rescue some escapees.

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This was the first time I used chaat masala to actually cook something. Chaat masala, for all you non-masala eaters out there, is a South Asian spice mix. It’s bright. It’s funky. It’s spicy. It’s savory. It’s Heather from work. A combination of some usual (cumin, coriander, black pepper) and some unusual (dried mango powder, black salt, asfoetida) ingredients. It usually adorns pani puri, bhel phuri, chatpati, and other street foods that if consumed every day, from actual Dhaka street vendors, over the course of 2 weeks will give you the nastiest stomach bug known to man (truth). I usually put it over fruit and yogurt to make fruit chaat. It’s delightful.

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The spices, the cooking method, the superb meat – it’s like when all the pieces come together to make a beautiful work of art!

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I have nothing further to add to this glorious hunk of meat. It didn’t even need the yogurt sauce. But. If you do go down that road, make sure to add 1/4 cup of shredded cucumber to make a proper raita. I didn’t have cucumber on hand, but I did have some handy dandy black salt (it’s got a wonderful smokey/savoriness to it that’s hard to imitate).

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Recipe adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I used 1/3 of the recipe for the chops.

Ingredients

Raita

  • 1 cup full fat plain yogurt
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of black salt (if you don’t have black salt, do a 1/4 tsp cumin)
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh mint or cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup grated cucumber
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Chops

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 tsp chaat masala
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 6 lamb chops, 3-4 ounces each
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Directions

  1. For the raita: mix all the ingredients in a bowl and adjust the seasonings to taste.
  2. For the lamb chops: pulverize the nuts with the spices in a food processor or by putting them in a ziploc bag and beating with a rolling pin. Pour onto a plate and set aside.
  3. Season lamb chops with salt and pepper and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over high heat. Add oil. When it’s hot but not smoking, add chops, two at a time. Cook for 2 minutes on each side then place directly onto nuts. Coat in nut mixture then place on baking sheet. Finish cooking the chops in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Serve with yogurt sauce.

Valentine’s Surf and Turf: Rib Eye Steak & Jumbo Shrimp

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This Ribeye from Honest Chops was absurd…

Ly delicious. I’ve only had a handful of steaks in my life. Namely because halal steaks are so hard to come by. Most halal butchers don’t differentiate between all the wonderful cuts (I think we’ve discussed this before). Nowadays, you can find some halal steaks at select NYC restaurants by way of Creekstone Farms. However, the last steak I had at Marc Forgione, just wasn’t that great. Not so much a reflection of the meat, rather the preparation.

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When you cook up your own steak, you can season it to your heart’s content. My absolute favorite part of steak is the salty, peppery, crusty exterior you get when the seasoning’s just right and the caramelization’s just right. The last time I had the pleasure was when my brother in law owned a butcher shop and gifted me an entire tenderloin. You can bet I sliced off the tip and made myself a filet mignon that was to die for. It was my first proper steak. There was a party in my mouth.

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This gorgeous, bone-in Rib eye from Honest Chops is perfect for my surf and turf Valentine’s Day meal. I’m going to be transparent here: I’m usually not big on Valentine’s Day. I remember how much it sucked being single and watching every other girl get showered with balloons and chocolates and yadda yadda. But, now that I am married, who’s gonna say no to some good chocolates once a year. Amiright?! But for my good friends over at HC – I am pulling out the big guns (read: shrimp):

  • Perfect, just shy of Medium, Rib eye Steak
  • Skewered chili and garlic Jumbo Shrimp (hey, if both people have garlic, then it cancels out, right?)
  • Baby Spinach Salad with pears, blue cheese, dried cranberries and slivered almonds with a honey balsamic dressing

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Hear me out on the cooking time before people start going all Planet of the Apes on me for daring to go anything beyond medium rare. Pretty much any recipe I read on rib eyes advised on a cooking time of 3-4 minutes per side over a high heat (either grill or pan) for medium rare. However, after reading this article on Food52, I decided on 5 minutes per side to just venture beyond the medium rare stage (I’m not crazy about the metallic taste of blood, so sue me). They say rib eyes are best just shy of medium doneness. I personally just tried reaching for an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. And though my meat thermometer never reached 145, I trusted the cooking temp and time and tented the meat with foil after the allotted 10 minutes. Oh My Goodness. Was it a perfectly cooked piece of meat. I could eat it for days. I could tout it as a body scrub, once the whole coffee scrub craze passes.

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I cooked up some caramelized onions and peppers to serve alongside the steak – but it totally didn’t need them! So I’m not bothering including that here. The skewered jumbo shrimp is a luxurious compliment to the steak. Alongside, is one of my favorite salads. You don’t want to go heavy on the carbs for your Valentine’s day meal and risk passing out from a food coma! I had a Costco sized pack of jumbo shrimp, but you can easily halve the recipe for two. Finally – don’t pour all the dressing at once! Leftover dressed salad is no fun.

 Ingredients

For the steak

For the shrimp

  • about 2 lbs of jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

For the salad

  • 3 oz organic baby spinach
  • half an anjou pair, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (if blue cheese is too strong for you, substitute goat cheese)
  • 3 tbsp toasted slivered almonds (just add slivered almond to a warm pan and heat until lightly browned. Keep a close eye on them!)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Make the steak: leave the steak out at room temperature for 45 minutes. Heat a cast iron skillet (preferable but any heavy skillet will do the trick) over high heat for 5 minutes (for me that’s at heat level 5 out of 6 on my hottest burner. I actually toasted my almonds in the cast iron skillet as it was heating up. Clever girl, Naureen.) Rub your steak with the garlic clove (optional) and season it liberally with salt and pepper. Add some vegetable or olive oil (NOT extra virgin) to your pan and immediately add the meat. It should sizzle. Do. Not. Touch. It. For the next 5 minutes. When 5 minutes are up, flip it over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Finally, remove from the pan and cover with aluminum. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
  2. While the steak rests, cook the shrimp. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the shrimp with the garlic, chili, oil and salt and toss to combine. Add to skewers, 3 per skewer (TIP: soak your sewers in water for at least 30 minutes to keep them from burning). Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.
  3. For the salad: combine spinach, pear, blue cheese, dried cranberries and almonds. Combine the next 6 ingredients in an empty jar, put the lid on, and shake! Use dressing as required.

Fettucine with Mushrooms and Leeks

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I have been using a dastardly amount of heavy cream in everything. Coffee – splash of cream. Pie – whipped cream. Fruit – sweetened AND whipped cream. Pasta – cup o’ cream.

I have a officially regressed from my diet of quinoa salads, eggs, oatmeal, and fruits/veggies. Size 2 – it was nice knowing you!

IMG_3652 But let’s talk about the shrooms here. People can get downright militant when it comes to mushrooms: Don’t wash them!! Don’t crowd the pan!! Don’t season them too early!! All advice I’ve taken to heart many a time. And as much as I love properly sautéed mushrooms with bits of brown butter speckling the surface and all the right caramelization in all the right places, these mushrooms fare perfectly fine all in one pan, with leeks and all!   IMG_3654  And not just “fine”. How can I explain to you how well mushrooms and leeks pair without going into a series of clichéd analogies? Let’s try some non-clichés. Mushrooms are to leeks as

Going off on a tangent here. Reign it in, Naureen. Reign it in.

IMG_3660 What is key here is to not skimp on the black pepper. Of course the pasta itself, the mushrooms and leeks have to be properly season. But reminiscent of the classical Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe, the flavors of this dish shine with a balanced contribution of Parmigiano Reggiano and Parsley, but with much stronger addition of ground black pepper. This coming from a girl who HATED black pepper growing up. Oh, how we change!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, rinsed and sliced (if you don’t have leeks, you can use half a yellow onion, diced, but try to add green onions or chives at the end for that verdant, mild onion flavor)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 lb cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned with a damp paper towel and sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
  • 1 lb fettucine

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat 4 to 6 quarts of water over high heat.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, prep your veggies. When veggies are cleaned, sliced, and ready, heat oil in a large sauté pan or wok over medium high heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. By this point, the water should have come to a boil. Add salt, and a drizzle of oil (fettucine tends to stick together!) and let cook for 12 to 13 minutes (follow the instructions on the box. Barilla is my pasta of choice.)
  4. Back to the pan: move the leeks off to the sides and add the mushrooms to the center of your pan (or wherever the hot spot is on your burner). Add garlic, salt and pepper (start out with 1/2 tsp each at first). Sauté with the leeks until cooked down and moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Moderate the heat so the veggies don’t burn. Add cream and let cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add cooked pasta, using tongs to transfer from the pot to the pan. Toss well. Add grated Parmigiano and parsley and combine well. Add up to 1 cup of the pasta cooking water if it’s looking too dry (start out with 1/2 cup). Check for seasoning.
  5. Serve with an extra grating of Parmigiano and black pepper.

Beef Tagine

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I have been bitten by the travel bug. Not recently. The bite’s been smoldering more or less my whole life with my actual escapades limited only by finances and well, youth. And now, in the absolute DEAD of winter. With over a foot of snow in NYC in the past two weeks and with even more snow on the way this weekend!!! This is usually about the time New Yorkers duck out for more tropical climates. My husband and I ran away from a devastating snow storm in March 2010 that brought down power lines and trees in upstate NY. So, we were jerks and literally left our friends in the dark while we frolicked around Montego Bay.

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That same winter I had gone to Fez, Morocco for a work retreat. Although I didn’t have a chance to see Casablanca or ride camels in the desert, it was a great bonding experience with my colleagues. We did this great exercise in negotiation where small groups of us ventured into the bazaar with trinkets we had brought with us from our respective countries and tried to barter for the best deal. Someone traded an NYC Taxi Magnet for a lamp. Someone else bartered a snow globe for, what was it…a tagine?!

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Segwayyyyy! A tagine is a Moroccan earthenware pot that’s meant for low and slow cooking. It’s got a flat bottom with low sides and a conical top that’s supposed to accumulate the condensation. That ends up basting the meat throughout the cooking time. Now, I didn’t make it back with a tagine, but I did score a Martha Stewart dutch oven when I got married. It’s got little bumps all along the inside of the lid that effectively does the same thing as the tagine top.

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With the bottom round roast from Honest Chops, you want something that cooks for a long time to break down and tenderize an otherwise tough cut of meat. I went through all my recipe books and as much as I would’ve loved to try beef bourguignon or a beef daube, or even a pot roast, I just don’t have a good substitute for wine! Do you?

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And since I’ve posted many a curry on this site, I thought I’d try something different. So I went with Jamie Oliver’s recipe for beef tagine. Spices, beef, chickpeas, vegetables, broth. Right up my alley, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I felt like there was a spice overload. A whole tablespoon of cinnamon – not bad. But then a tablespoon of cumin. A tablespoon of ground ginger. Paprika. Ras el hanout. I don’t even have ras el hanout (literally – top of the shop) spice mix. So I just did a quarter tsp of spices typically found in it – ground cardamom, coriander, chili powder, turmeric, nutmeg and all spice.

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You rub the spices into the meat and let it sit overnight (or at least 2 hours). They look and smell great at this point. Like fragrant truffles (is that redundant?). And when you brown it in the oil, it gives off the slightest golden hue from the turmeric. But that’s where my love affair ends. I tasted it 1 hour, 1.5 hours, and 2 hours into the cooking time. And I thought it was perfect at 1.5 (which is half the cooking time he suggests). I just wanted to avoid the fate of a certain boneless short ribs. But it was good at 2 hours as well. The prunes were a good additional as well. All in all – worth trying, just not my favorite.

Recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp cinnamon, cumin, paprika, ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric, nutmeg, coriander, chili powder, cardamom and all spice
  • 2 tsp salt (more to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (more to taste)
  • 1 to 1.5 lbs organic, grass fed, bottom round roast, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro stems, chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas (14 oz)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (14 oz)
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 summer squash, sliced (I don’t know if this is the type of squash he had in mind, but he didn’t specify so I went with the easiest one)
  • 6-7 prunes, chopped
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • cooked couscous, quinoa or rice for serving

Directions

  1. Rub all the spices with the meat and let sit in the fridge overnight or two hours at a minimum.
  2. Heat oil in a tagine, dutch oven, cast iron casserole, or large pot over high heat. Add the meat, spices and all, and let brown for 5-7 minutes. Add onions and cilantro stems and stir, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add chickpeas, tomato and broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.
  3. After an hour and a half, add squash and prunes. Cover and cook over low heat until squash cooks through (about 30 minutes).
  4. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve with preferably quinoa and a hit of lemon or lime juice.

Sloppy Joes

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I recall an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations when he was schooling his viewers on some things every home cook should know. Among them:

  1. How to slice and onion. Key take away: don’t leave your fingers sprawled all over the onion. You are asking for it. Tuck your finger tips under like you’re tossing a knuckleball. Life-saver.
  2. Beef bourguignon. It’s just a pot of unattractive, purple-hued beef cubes simmering in an even less attractive liquid base UNTIL the magic time is up. For the first two, two and a half hours, that’s all it is. But when the time is right, it all comes together to become the legendary French stew. That’s a lesson I’ve carried with me for all my stews and curries. The key factor is time. Time for the meat to flavor the broth and for the broth to cook/tenderize the meat. You have to learn what that time is for each dish to have truly delicious stews and curries.
  3. There were a few other lessons. Since I’ve forgotten them, they clearly weren’t as life changing.

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I’ve made sloppy joes the traditional American way before, loaded with ketchup, brown sugar, sometimes Worcestshire sauce and/or vinegar. It’s just too sweet for me. In my version, I add some warming spices, paprika to complement the bell pepper, a tiny bit of sugar to bring out the sweetness in the crushed tomatoes, and peas (hey food groups!). Both version wayyy surpass the school lunch version I had as a NYC public school student.  IMG_3588

I have my usual brioche buns as the delivery vehicle for this hot mess. You can use kaiser rolls, hamburger buns –  so long as it’s nice and porous and soaks up all the juices.

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Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion or 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red/orange/yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
  • about 1 pound Honest Chops organic ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne/chili pepper
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a pot and add onion, pepper and beef. Brown over high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and spices and mix well. Add bay leaf, crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20 min, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add peas and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Off the heat, add cilantro and stir to combine. Serve on hamburger buns, kaiser rolls, brioche buns – something that’s going to absorb all the juices!

Samboosa

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Samboosa, samosa. Tomato, tomahto. Either way – savory pastry stuffed with meaty goodness. A fellow homeschooling mom made this for a multicultural fair we had a few months back and it was so good I just had to recreate it. It is a traditional Omani recipe: ground beef infused with deep tomato flavor, spices, herbs and vegetables, enrobed in crispy fried pastry dough. Better than any of the samosas you’d find in Jackson Heights or any other South Asian enclave.

IMG_3524 IMG_3526 IMG_3529 A long time ago, I was downright terrible at frying things. I would add things to the oil before it heated up properly. Or I wouldn’t regulate the heat carefully so after the first batch or two things would just go BAM – overly browned and out of commission. But then – then I got a candy thermometer. A wonderful little kitchen tool that helps with my caramels as much as my samosas (truth be told – this is the first time I’ve made them!).

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I kind of winged it with the wrapping. I recalled some filo wrapping directions for Spanakopita ages ago and tried to apply it here. I tried cutting a single sheet in half and folding – the results were way too big. I tried thirds – still too big. Folding a sheet in half, and cutting it down the middle made the perfect size and thickness.

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You will have some leftover filo left after making these. Not to fret. I am already dreaming up things to do with them. Baklava tassies? Or perhaps fill them with coconut (or nutella?!) and deep fry? I’ll keep you posted ;)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro or parsley
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (not a heaping tbsp, not even a full tbsp, rather a scant tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp each turmeric, cumin, black pepper and cayenne/chili pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste (I needed 1 1/4tsp, just taste it to make sure it tastes really good)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas
  • filo sheets for wrapping
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add beef, onion and garlic. Cook until meat browns, 7-8 minutes, breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon. Keep scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add carrots, parsley/cilantro, tomato paste, spices and salt. Saute for 2 minutes. Add water and cover with a lid. Cook until liquid evaporates and carrots are tender.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil to 350 to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Take one sheet of filo, fold it in half lengthwise and cut down the middle, so you end up with two strips, two layers each. Place one tablespoon of filling on one end. Fold up into a triangle as shown above. In a bowl, mix flour and water. Brush on the final edge of the pastry to seal shut. Fry 3-4 minutes until golden.

Sausages with Peppers and Onions

IMG_3461 This past Sunday, my daughter turned 4. There was a time, a dark time, deep in the winter of 2011, when I thought I wouldn’t live to see that day. In my zombie-like state, trying to comfort my colicky baby between bouncing on an exercise ball with white noise machines running and skin to skin contact – her infancy seemed like an eternity. Days kind of melted into each other, with nothing more signaling a new day then the slight shift of the hour hand on our clock.  IMG_3441 But, thankfully, I did survive those first few months, and apparently first 4 years. And despite all my attempts to outsource the party by hosting it at a charming local art studio – I still had quite a bit to do in the kitchen! From making waffles (with homemade blueberry compote), to the fruit platter, to my homemade Bengali milk tea, and the birthday cake, of course.

IMG_3305 IMG_3339 So, it was a relief, to be able to whip these Honest Chops sausages up the next day. It’s as easy and popping them on a hot skillet for 3-4  minutes on each side, then DONEZO. Butter up some warm rolls. Make the pepper and onion mixture if you’d like. If not, opt for the usual ketchup & mustard. IMG_3446 But I must say, the sweetness of the peppers and onions perfectly complements the savoriness of the sausages. Plus – they’re veggies so this constitutes a complete meal, right?IMG_3449  I remember throughout the course of my Italian language education, at San Gennaro festivals or cultural events, sausages with peppers and onions always being a popular, yet out of my reach option (recall I keep halal). But thanks to Honest Chops, I can enjoy and customize the dish to my liking!IMG_3468 I topped mine with a cheese sauce but then decided it was better without it. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, core and seeds discarded, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, core and seeds discarded, thinly slice
  • a pinch dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Honest Chops sausages
  • hot dog buns/rolls
  • butter

Directions

  1. In a large skillet or fry pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion, peppers, oregano, salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp each) until softened – about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and let caramelize for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  2. In a cast iron skillet or non stick skillet, butter the surface and heat over medium heat. Add the buns. Warm through until browned on one side, then flip. When both sides are browned and bun is warmed through, remove from heat. Set aside on a (preferably) warmed plate.
  3. In the same skillet, lightly grease with oil or non stick cooking spray. Add the sausages and do not move for 3-4 minutes (3 minutes for a thinner sausage, 4 for a thicker one). After the allotted time, flip and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.
  4. Assemble hot dogs: place hot dogs in the buns and top with peppers and onions.