In her debut cookbook, Meseidy Rivera argues that easy but memorable meals may be only a matter of changing your approach. In "Weeknight Gourmet Dinners," (Page Street Publishing, $22) the Rossville, Georgia, author and culinary blogger shows you how.
"I took most of my inspiration from the everyday cook," she says. "My goal was to take dishes that, on the surface, look familiar and give them a gourmet twist."
The cookbook offers techniques and recipes for gourmet meals that don't require spending hours in the kitchen with expensive ingredients. Her advice is to use common foods and flavors in ways everyday cooks may have never considered.
For example, chicken thighs with pink peppercorns and grapefruit zest marry beautifully, as does a side dish of sweet potatoes and tahini. These are just two of the many recipes found in "Weeknight Gourmet Dinners."
As an Army brat, Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, has lived across the United States.
"I feel my Puerto Rican pride, paired with my nomadic life, is very much reflected in my cooking," she says. "When it comes to Puerto Rican cooking, I'm a traditionalist. I grew up in a very Puerto Rican home where we spoke Spanish and ate traditional Puerto Rican food. We also traveled home every year, and I lived there for high school and some college.
"Cooking has always been a constant in my life, and in Puerto Rico, I did a lot of cooking with my grandmother. Otherwise, my cooking is inspired by the many places I have lived throughout the U.S."
Rivera spent about seven months writing the first draft of the book before sending it to the publisher for editing. She says the cookbook gave her a renewed sense of freedom.
"I was able to let my creativity free, which helped me reconnect with my love for cooking," she says. "I hadn't been able to do that in some time since my main focus has been the blog. When you create a recipe for a blog, you are more limited by what people are looking for — there aren't many people looking for pink peppercorn and grapefruit chicken thighs or orange and olive steamed mussels."
Though her interest in cooking was realized at an early age, it didn't translate into a culinary career at first. Rivera had planned to become a paralegal and then attend law school. That didn't happen. After marrying, she took a little time off to decide exactly what she wanted to do, and that gave her some free time for experimentation in the kitchen. One thing led to another, and before long, she was a graduate of Platt College in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with an Associate of Science degree in the culinary arts.
"Culinary school let me hone my cooking skills and opened the door to many opportunities," she says.
Opportunities that have included catering for television and movie productions; working as a culinary assistant to "Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond; working the line at restaurants; and doing some freelance work as a culinary assistant for some of her instructors — all while still maintaining her food blog, The Noshery.
Rivera moved to the Chattanooga area about a year and a half ago.
"We fell in love with the area about four years ago after I tagged along on my husband's business trip," she says. "At the time we were living in Texas and knew we wanted to land back East somewhere. Chattanooga checked all of the boxes."
The Noshery, a blog that Rivera started a dozen years ago, now averages 270,000 page views a month on two major social-media platforms — Facebook and Instagram. The name comes from "nosh," one of her favorite words to use, depending on the situation.
"I need a nosh; let's nosh on something — I have no idea where I got fixated on that word, but I used it all the time," she says. "So I thought that my blog would be a place to get some noshes, and I came up with The Noshery. I didn't realize when I named the blog that nosh is a Yiddish word. So in the early days, people thought it was a Jewish blog and were surprised to find so many pork recipes on my blog, but pork is the staple protein of Puerto Rican cuisine."
On Sept. 16, Rivera launched a podcast, "My Plate Is Always Full," with fellow blogger Rebecca Lindamood of Foodie With Family. The women have been friends for a decade, and Rivera is hoping the podcast will add even more followers to her fan base of more than 135,000 on Facebook and 12,000 on Instagram.
Thinking of starting your own food blog? Rivera says to just do it.
"There are so many resources out there now, and it can be very overwhelming. The best thing you can do is to just start it and tackle all the extras a little bit at a time. If you wait till everything is perfect, you will never get it done. Nothing is ever perfect, and the technology is constantly changing, so it's better to just start and ride it out.
What about writing a cookbook? Her advice is simple: Pick a topic you are passionate and confident about. That's what she did.
"You're going to spend a lot of time developing and tasting the food, so you better love it."
She shares these recipes from "Weeknight Gourmet Dinners" with Times Free Press readers.
Grapefruit Chicken Thighs with Pink Peppercorns
Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of grapefruit, you will swoon over this 30-minute meal. The chicken is cooked until the skin is crisp and is served with a light and creamy sauce.
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (4 large thighs)
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed pink peppercorns
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/4 cup grapefruit segments, for garnish
Minced fresh parsley or rosemary, for garnish
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Prepare the chicken: In a large bowl, combine the chicken thighs, grapefruit zest, crushed pink peppercorns, garlic, salt, rosemary, grapefruit juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss until the seasonings are well combined and the chicken is evenly coated with seasoning.
Heat remaining tablespoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, about 1 minute, sear the chicken thighs, skin side down, for 3 minutes or until the thighs no longer stick to the skillet. Turn, and sear for another 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer the skillet to the oven, and roast for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the thighs reaches 165 degrees. While the chicken is in the oven, line a rimmed sheet pan with foil.
Remove the skillet from the oven, and transfer the chicken thighs to the prepared sheet pan. Tent with foil, and set aside.
Prepare the sauce: Pour out any drippings in the skillet, then reheat the skillet over medium heat. Add the minced shallot and rosemary, and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the grapefruit juice and wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits in the bottom of the skillet. Add the crushed pink peppercorns and cream to the skillet, and whisk until well combined. Bring to a simmer, and let reduce for 5 minutes to thicken. Add the butter, and whisk until velvety and emulsified.
Return the chicken thighs to the skillet to warm for 5 minutes. Serve the thighs with the sauce, garnished with grapefruit segments and minced parsley or rosemary.
Notes: The chicken thighs can be seasoned ahead and stored in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator. This will save time and allow the flavor of the chicken thighs to further develop. To save time, you can purchase no-sugar-added grapefruit segments in the fruit section of the grocery store.
— From "Weeknight Gourmet Dinners" by Meseidy Rivera
Roast Sweet Potatoes With Tahini Dressing
First, a warning: These sweet potatoes may not make it to your plate. First time I made them, I picked them right off the sheet pan, dipped them into the dressing and put them straight into my mouth.
3 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 cup ghee, melted
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon sumac
2 cloves garlic, grated
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
1/4 cup tahini, well blended
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Prepare the potatoes: Heat the oven to 450 degrees, and line a rimmed sheet pan with foil.
On the prepared baking sheet, toss the potatoes with the ghee, salt, paprika, sumac and garlic. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and browned, about 25 minutes.
While the potatoes roast, prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until well combined and emulsified. If the dressing is too thick to drizzle, add up to 1 tablespoon of water. Serve the sweet potatoes drizzled with the tahini dressing and garnished with cilantro, if desired.
— From "Weeknight Gourmet Dinners" by Meseidy Rivera
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.