Vegetable Lasagna with Homemade Ricotta and Béchamel Sauce


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I love lasagna. I mean, it’s layers of cheese and pasta and assorted yummy things. How can you not like it? But this particular recipe is especially good – and was created rather “accidentally” as I just started putting things together. I had ordered some spinach and garlic noodles from Papardelle’s. I first discovered them at their booth at one of my favorite places in the U.S… Pike’s Market in Seattle, WA. And I have been ordering from their incredible selection of pastas and oils ever since. I knew I wanted to do a vegetable lasagna with the green noodle layers… and a white sauce would let you see the color of the noodles. So I mixed up a traditional bechamel with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then I added my homemade ricotta mixed with my homemade pesto Genovese and then the magic happened. I took lots of photos of the preparation to hopefully help take the mystery out of it all! Bon apetito!

INGREDIENTS
9 no-bake lasagna noodles (preferably spinach-garlic noodles but any will do)
2 cups homemade ricotta (recipe here)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 medium zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1/2 of a medium sweet onion
1/2 cup sliced cremini mushrooms (baby bellas)
2 tablespoons olive oil (for sauteing)
2 large eggs salt and pepper to taste

Pesto Genovese (this is traditional pesto)
1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bechamel Sauce (also known as white sauce)
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (I use 2% – I wouldn’t use non-fat or it will not thicken properly)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

PREPARATION Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Get your mis en place together. Slice your zucchini into thin dials. I sliced mine using a mandolin and sliced them on the diagonal so they would cover more surface space. Dice your bell pepper and sweet onion. Slice or dice your mushrooms – depending on our preference. Saute onion, bell pepper and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until tender. Set aside. Make ricotta mixture:

Mix ricotta, pesto and shredded parm - taste and add S&P if needed. Then add eggs and stir (don't mix or whip).

Mix ricotta, pesto and shredded parm – taste and add S&P if needed. Then add eggs and stir (don’t mix or whip).

Make bechamel. Do this right as you're ready to assemble your Lasagna or it will become too thick when it cools.

Make bechamel. Do this right as you’re ready to assemble your Lasagna or it will become too thick when it cools.

Begin layering: Start with covering the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of the bechamel sauce. And lay 3 dry noodles lengthwise. Next spread a layer of the ricotta mixture. Then spread a layer the sauteed vegetables (you should use all of them). Then sprinkle one cup of mozzarella. Top with 3 more dry noodles. Brush several tablespoons of bechamel sauce on top of noodles. Add another layer of ricotta. Layer zucchini concentrically. Add another cup of mozzarella. Top with 3 more dry noodles. Brush final layer of bechamel sauce onto noodles. Be sure they are completely covered so they will cook. Sprinkle with last cup of mozzarella. I happened to have some fresh (in water) mozzarella and I tore it and added it on top as well.

Your noodles may not perfectly fit. Don't be afraid to break off a corner here and there so they lay flatly. Try not to over lap or they may not cook through.

Your noodles may not perfectly fit. Don’t be afraid to break off a corner here and there so they lay flatly. Try not to over lap or they may not cook through.

Layer zucchini concentrically.

Layer zucchini concentrically.

I use a pastry brush so I'm sure to spread the bechamel evenly covering the entire noodle. Since they are no-bake noodles, they need moisture to cook.

I use a pastry brush so I’m sure to spread the bechamel evenly covering the entire noodle. Since they are no-bake noodles, they need moisture to cook.

The final layer!

The final layer!

READY TO COOK? Cover lasagna tightly with foil. It helps to spray the underneath of the foil with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to the cheese. Put lasagna in a 400 degree oven on the middle rack for 45-50 minutes – until bubbling. Remove foil and cook and additional 15 minutes until cheese starts turning a lovely golden brown. Remove and let set for at least 20 minutes so it will hold up better when sliced. The photo below is an example of cutting into it too soon. :)

When cutting the lasagna too soon out of the oven, it will start  to collapse and your layers will slide off each other. :)

When cutting the lasagna too soon out of the oven, it will start to collapse and your layers will slide off each other. :)

THE PERFECT BITE Of course the perfect bite here will be a perfectly stacked slice… which is why it’s all the more important to let your lasagna rest a bit before taking a knife to it! And it’s even better the next day…

THE PERFECT PAIRING This would go perfectly with my Backyard Salad (minus the chicken). It would also pair nicely with a Sauvignon Blanc to compliment the pesto and rich bechamel sauce. I found this great site that pairs wines with vegetarian foods – check it out! www.ohmyveggies.com

THE PERFECT HEALTH Meatless Mondays have become a recent trend and with so many chefs out there sharing their fantastic recipes – it’s so easy to find delicious, satisfying and healthy meals! Read HERE about the many benefits of taking at least one day a week off from eating meat.

Japanese Garlic Noodles


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Here in East Nashvville we have an amazing new restaurant called Two Ten Jack. It’s a Japanese-inspired izakaya…  which is a neigborhood pub usually featuring an array of ramen dishes. The first time I went I ordered the garlic noodles (I mean, why wouldn’t I?) and proceeded to fall deeply in love. I think I even had dreams about them. Then they did the horror of all horrors – THEY TOOK THEM OFF THE MENU!! I don’t even want to know why. There is no justifiable reason.

So I set out to recreate them. It took some serious research and trial an error.  And I believe I’ve done it! And I’ve been told by a couple of friends that they actually like mine better – so take that Two Ten Jack. :) I add shiitake mushrooms and shrimp to mine so it’s more of a meal instead of a side. I also serve it with crispy roasted brussel sprouts that are sauteed in the same sauce I use on the noodles. I’m not gonna lie. It’s pretty darn amazing.

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Ingredients
Yellow Noodles. Now you can use regular ramen noodles (just throw away those flavor packets – ick!) or you can look for yellow noodles at your local Asian market (like the flour stick ones shown in the photo above).  But I discovered an even better noodle that gives you a heartier, toothier feel and holds onto to the garlic sauce beautifully. And believe it or not – they’re German! Spaetzle noodles can be found in specialty food stores (I found these in the gourmet section of World Market).  Be sure you’re getting the noodles and not the dumplings.
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Garlic Sauce
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
2 heaping tablespoons minced garlic, or more to taste
1 tablespoon Maggi seasoning sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

optional (quantity is your preference – use a little or a lot!):
shiitake mushroom – julianned
jumbo shrimp – shelled, deveined, tails on or off – your preference

Preparation
Shell and devein the shimp. Julienne the mushrooms. Get a pot of boiling salted water on medium-high heat.

Ready to Cook?
Put noodles in boiling salted water. Ramen or Asian yellow noodles will only take a few minuetes. If you’re using the spaetzle it will take a little longer – about 7-8 minutes. Be sure to waatch them ans test – you want them a bit al dente or they will over cook and become mush.

Prepare the garlic sauce using a saute pan on medium to low heat. Add the butter into the pan and when it melts, add the garlic and saute until aromatic but not browned. Add all the seasonings into the pan, stir with wisk to combine well. Transfer 3/4 of the garlic sauce into a bowl.

Saute the shrimp and mushrooms in the remaining sauce. Add more if needed. Drain and rinse noodles and toss with the garlic sauce. Add shrimp and mushrooms. Serve hot!

The Perfect Bite
If you’ve followed this blog long enough you know that my perfect bite usually consists of stacking your fork with each of the components on your plate. That’s exacty what you want to do here!

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Not My Mama’s Gringo Chili


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My mother, God bless her, was not much of a cook. She only had a couple of tried and true recipes in her “go to” list. The rest, in the era that was introduced to convenience foods, was boxed, canned and highly processed. I didn’t like food much as a kid… thanks to meals like Chun King canned Chinese food and powdered potatoes and canned meatloaf (yes, I said canned. It even had the can rings imprinted in the meat when you pushed it out.). Fortunately, during college I dated a guy whose mom was a gourmet Italian cook and I discovered a whole new world!

But one meal Mom used to make, that I absolutely loved, was what she called her “Gringo Chili”… and though the beans were canned, she did brown some hamburger and warm some flour tortillas… and that was HUGE for her! Mom grew up in New Mexico where you eat your chili with tortillas, not cornbread, so that’s how she served it to us. And we couldn’t have been hapataks_hot_curry_pasteppier!

My palate has improved over the years, so I needed to spice it up a little.  This recipe is a tribute her her.  I love the nostalgia this chili brings… but of course I had to make it my own. I made a huge crock pot of it and took it to work today and it literally disappeared in 10 minutes. What was the magical ingredient that everyone loved and kept trying to guess? That’s right… red hot curry paste!  It gives it heat and a depth of flavor that’s a little unexpected.  My boss even had sweat beads on his forehead – but he ate every last bit of it!

Ingredients (This serves about 10 people – adjust according to size you’re feeding… but you’ll definitely want leftovers)
1 pound ground turkey (feel free to use beef)
2 cans chili beans (use liquid)
2 cans red kidney beans (drained)
2 cans light red kidney beans (drained)
2 cans pinto beans (drained)
2 cans stewed tomatoes (drained)
1 small can diced jalapenos (optional if you need it tamer – us substitute with diced green chilies)
1/2 medium Vidalia onion )or any sweet onion) – diced finally
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Hot red curry paste
Salt & pepper to taste

OPTIONAL for garnishing:
Sour cream
Monterey Jack cheese
Flour tortillas (warmed)

Ready to Cook?
Brown the meat in a large skillet, adding the onion, cumin, curry paste and salt & pepper. If using a fatty meat that will need draining, cook meat separately and saute the onion with the seasonings in another pan. Drain meat and then combine. This is the main reason I use lean ground turkey – no draining necessary!

Add all the ingredients to a large stock pot or slow cooker.  If using a slow cooker, leave it on low for 6-8 hours. Or on high for 2-3 hours. If cooking stove top then cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes or until you see all the juices rising to the top.

The Perfect Bite
As a kid, I used to roll my tortilla up like an empty burrito and use it to scoop the chili up instead of a spoon. I may or may not still do that. :)

The Perfect Pairing
The heat in this chili goes perfectly with an ice cold beer. My favorite is Negra Medelo.

The Perfect Health
The main component in chillies is a chemical called Capsaicin, which is responsible for the intense heat sensation. Capsaicin lowers blood sugar levels, improves heart health, boost circulation and protects against strokes. Eating chillies can have a very positive impact on people who are overweight or suffer from diabetes because they reduce the insulin levels. Known as circulation boosters, chillies can have a major impact on your health by boosting circulation and also act as a blood thinner to help protect against strokes.

Important! Frequent consumption of fresh chillies may cause stomach problems. Dry chillies don’t have the same effect. They still do contain Capsaicin but don’t harm your stomach.chili

The regular intake of chillies can help to minimize the effects inflammatory diseases have on the body. Capsaicin also provides effective pain relief if applied on skin and also has antibacterial properties..

The Great Benefits of Eating Chili – Chillies Help to Burn Fat
Capsaicin is also a thermogenic compound and increases the metabolic rate, which aids in the fat burning process. Chilli oil is used in anti-cellulite creams and it was proven to be very effective. I actually tried it myself and I was amazed. You can prepare chilli oil at home. Choose a base oil (preferably cold pressed – I used olive oil) and add a couple of chopped dry chillies. Pour the content in a small bottle and place it in a cool, dry place. Leave it there for about 2 weeks then start using it.

Red Anjou Pear, Walnut and Goat Cheese Galette


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For some reason I am just discovering the beauty of pears. I mean, I’ve always been aware of pears. They were just never really my first choice of fruit. And what I’m now (finally) discovering is that they are a wonderful Autumn fruit! Bosc pears, Bartlett pears, Concord pears and the ones I used in this galette – Red Anjou pears. Red Anjou pears are sweet and less acidic than their green counterparts. I also liked using the Red Anjous because I like the contrast of the color of the skin peeking out of the galette. And like Bosc pears, they hold up well when cooked. Bosc pears are probably my favorite as they are more woodsy and their sweetness is more like honey than sugar. Each has a distinct aroma and taste – so buy one of each and do your own taste-test!

Ingredients
Filling:
5-6 medium ripe (but not mushy) pears of your choice.
3/4 cup organic pear juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons corn starch
a pinch of salt

Crust:
You can either buy store-bought crust (no shame in that game) or you can make one from scratch. Check out this crust recipe. It’s from the Pioneer Woman… or I guess I should say it’s from my new BFF, Ree. Now that we’re tight twitter friends and all. :)  As you’ll see…it’s a lot of work.  And since I no longer own a KitchenAid stand mixer (moment of silence) I would have had to make it completely by hand. So yea, I bought my crust at Publix.
1/3 cup goat cheese crumbles
1/4 cup non-dairy vanilla creamer
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preparation
Preheat over to 425 degrees F. If using store bought pie dough let it sit out and get to room temperature. Wash and core pears, removing tops and bottoms. No need to peel. Cut pears into thin slices (about 1/4″ thick). You should be prepared to use the pear slices right away or they will brown. If not using them immediately, put in bowl of water with lemon to stave off browning.

Have your pie crusts rolled out and ready on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or use non-stick spray). It’s important to fill your crusts while on the cookie sheet because they will probably fall apart if you try to move them once they’re filled. Note: If using store-bought this will be enough filling for two galettes that will each be 8″-10″ in diameter. I actually combined the two sheets of dough and re-rolled it out to make 3 smaller ones that I needed for 3 separate events. They were about 6″-7″ in diameter.

Ready to Cook?
Toss pear slices, pear juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, corn starch and salt into a non-reactive pot and cook on stove top over pear4medium heat, gently stirring until sauce thickens and pears are all covered. Do not cook the pears – just heat long enough to become thick and jammy.  Remove from heat and let cool. Once filling is cool to the touch (this is important – if too hot it will melt  your dough and tear it), spoon into the center of your crusts piled about 2.5″ high and leaving about 2″ of room around the edge to fold over. Fold crust up and over filling and circle around pinching and overlapping the edges until circle is complete. The filling should be visible (see photo). Now brush vanilla creamer on the dough and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Place on middle rack and bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on size).  TIP: To keep your crust from getting too dark lay a piece of tin foil flat on top of galettes to shield them. Then remove the last 5 minutes for perfect browning. Do not wrap tin foil tightly or your dough will steam. Just simply lay it on top.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and goat cheese crumbles. Lavender sprig optional. :)

The Perfect Bite
Slice the gallette like you would a pie.  Though it is best served warm, do let it cool and set once it’s out of the oven as it tends to fall apart if too hot.  My perfect bite is to make sure I get walnuts and goat cheese on each fork-full. I kept a few of each on the side just in case.

The Perfect Pairing
I personally did not want to add anything to my little slice of pear gallete, but surely a nice dollop of homemade whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would be lovely with this! And a perfect beverage to pair with these red pears? Try it with my Red-Headed Martini. Unless you’re having it for breakfast (ah go ahead… no judgment here).

The Perfect Health
Pears provide a very good source of fiber and are also a good source of vitamin B2, C, E, copper, and potassium. They also contain a significant amount of pectin, which is a water soluble fiber. Pears are actually higher in pectin than apples. This makes them effective in helping to lower cholesterol levels and in toning the intestines. They are often recommended by health care practitioners as a hypoallergenic fruit that is high in fiber. Read more about the health benefits of pears here.

The “Blushing Dutch” Martini


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I love a summer cocktail. I also love experimenting with different flavors combinations. The good news about these ingredients is that you can change them up. Try lemons and raspberries. Cilantro and cucumber. Blueberries and mint. The Vling mixer comes in cranberry pomegranate, citrus and regular tonic. So have fun with it!

Ingredientsphoto
New Amsterdam Berry infused vodka – 1 part
Vling cranberry pomegranate mixer – 3 parts
Sweetened lime juice – a splash or so to taste
Fresh lime – 2 slices per glass

Preparation
Slice limes. Chill glasses in freezer.
Fill cocktail shaker halfway with ice  and fill with first three ingredients. Shake lightly (the Vling mixer is fizzy!). Poor into chilled glasses and enjoy!

The Perfect Bite
Of course there’s no “bite” in a cocktail unless you’re chomping on the vodka-soaked fruit – which is amazing! But also, a good tip is to keep vodka (and gin) in the freezer – makes for a perfectly chilled drink on a hot summer day.

The Perfect Health
Let’s be honest. It’s a cocktail. But using the Vling is helpful. It’s lower in calories and sodium then other tonics and is filled with electrolytes to help offset the dehydration that happens form alcohol. So there’s that!

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Miso Soup with Soba Noodles and Chicken


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If you’re like me soba noodle always sound a little intimidating. Do they require special handling? Are they high maintenance? The answer is yes… and no.  Super simple to cook – 3 to 4 minutes tops. And the only special handling is to remember that they continue soaking up liquid… so best to store leftovers dry.  Honestly, they are best freshly made but they cook so quickly it will just take minutes to prepare next time you need them! And since they’re lower in carbs and calories than regular pasta noodles… these buckwheat gems are worth it!

Ingredients (serves 2)
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth (I actually used my garlic broth for this)
4 ounces of organic soba noodles
1/4 cup fresh miso paste (found in Asian or specialty stores)
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or any fresh lemon)
1 cup roasted or rotisserie chicken breast (or other cooked chicken breast), warm or at room temperature
Thinly sliced scallion greens, for garnish

Ready to Cook?
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a medium pot, bring the broth to a simmer. Do not use salt or oil like you do for white pasta.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles, and using tongs, transfer them to bowls.

Meanwhile, ladle 1 cup of the broth into a heatproof bowl and whisk in the miso. Return the miso-broth to the pot and cook until hot, but not boiling. Add the lemon juice. DO not omit the lemon juice – you need the acidic to cut through the saltiness of the miso.

Top the noodles with the chicken. Ladle the hot broth on top of the noodles, garnish with the scallions and serve.photo 1

The Perfect Bite
I love to use chopsticks to scoop out the noodles and chicken… then slurp the broth from the side of the bowl… just as they do in Japan. But no shame in using a spoon if you prefer. Just get every last drop!

The Perfect Pairing
Try 2012 Terres Dorées Beaujolais l’Ancien Vieilles Vignes or 2012 Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes each pairs beautifully with the salty richness of this soup.

The Perfect Health
Soba (buckwheat) Pasta: Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate, meaning they’re a source of good long-lasting energy. In addition, you can cut calories virtually in half when you switch from regular white pasta to soba noodles. Buckwheat contains the vitamin B compound choline. Health Hokkaido lists that buckwheat, specifically the choline compound, assists with increasing metabolism and decreasing fat accumulation. Read more here.

Homemade Dill Pickles


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I love pickles.

Always have…  but it was never something I thought I could make myself. I imagined the process was complicated and required all kinds of equipment – who knew?! You really just need some canning jars – wide mouth are the best – and a few essential ingredients. Kirby cucumbers are the classic pickling cucumber. Be sure to pick ones that are firm and not overly ripe. English cucumbers don’t hold up well and get mushy – and waxed cucumbers are bitter and won’t pickle well. So go to Pubix (where I get mine) or your local Farmer’s Market and grab a bunch. I used about 6 pickles to make one quart, cut in coins.

Ingredients (makes 2 pints or 1 quart)
1 1/2 pounds Kirby or Persian cucumbers
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons dill seed (don’t be tempted to use dill weed – it makes a huge mess!)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 and 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 tsp of sugar

Preparation

  1. Prepare the jars: If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids. If you are planning to make refrigerator pickles, simply washing the jars and lids is fine.
  2. Prepare the cucumbers: Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
  3. Add the spices to the jars: Divide the garlic, dill seed, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar.
  4. Pack the pickles into the jars: If making spears, trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers. If making coins, try to pack them in tight up to an inch from the top.
  5. Bring the pickling brine to a boil: Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not use all the brine.
  6. Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
  7. Tighten the lids: Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
  8. Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage: For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first. NOTE: this method will make your pickles softer… so if you like more of a crunch… skip this process.
  9. Cool and refrigerate: Let the jars cool to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If unprocessed, store the pickles in the fridge. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open. They will start looking like pickles in a few hours… but will taste best after a couple of days.

 

pickle jars

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before…

 

after

after…

 

 

Enjoy!

Kale and Quinoa Salad


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This salad is loosely based off of my kale and walnut pesto recipe. But with a few revisions, I’ve come up with a salad that’s light, yet hearty enough for a main course! And as always, there’s room for plenty of versions – substitute your favorite nuts and dried fruits to make it your own. You can swap out the quinoa for bulger wheat or another of your favorite grains or seeds. Just remember, the key is in the blanching of the kale which brightens up the leaf and softens its texture.

The best thing about this is it combines several “super” foods:  kale, quinoa, cranberries and walnut oil which has 1.77g of Omega 3’s per serving! So feel free to indulge!

Ingredients
6-8 cups kale leaves (roughly 2 bundles), ribs removed
2 large fresh garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped (or 2 tablespoons minced)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup olive oil (for extra walnut taste (blend olive oil with roasted walnut oil – I found some at Home Goods for $8.99!)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice (roughly 1/2 of a large lemon – squeezed)
1/2 teaspoon course sea salt (to taste)
1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (raw is fine but toasting brings out their nuttiness)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup dried cranberries (I use Craisens Pomegranate cranberries)

Preparation
Remove ribs from kale and give it a rough chop. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with a couple of pinches of salt. Prepare a large boil of ice water and set aside. Once water in boiling, add kale for about 1 minute. Your kale will start to turn a brighter green. Remove kale from pot and immediately put in ice water. This is called blanching and is what helps give (and keep) your kale a bright green. Remove kale from ice water after 1 minute and squeeze dry.

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This is how your quinoa should look when it’s done.

Peel and roughly chop two large bulbs of garlic. If you are using pre-minced garlic, this is roughly 2 tablespoons.

If you are roasting your walnuts, place then in a dry saute pan over medium heat. Continue moving them in the pan until you begin to smell their nuttiness. It should take about 2 minutes.  Keep an eye on them – they burn

easily (which is why I don’t put them in the oven anymore – I always forget them!).

Using the water from blanching your kale, bring 1 cup to a boil. Add 1 cup quinoa and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once you see that the quinoa seeds are beginning to burst open you know they are about done. Once the water is absorbed turn off heat and fluff with a fork. The cooking process for this is similar to couscous. Add a pinch of salt and let completely cool. NOTE: Do not add quinoa to salad until cooled or it will wilt the kale.

Ready to Make?
In a food processor, add the blanched kale, garlic and Parmesan. Pulse 6-7  times while slowly, through the feed tube, drizzling the oil(s) until mixture is moistened and is well-combined. NOTE: It’s important to use the pulse feature and not let your processor run… you want to retain some of the leafy texture of the kale – you do not want it as fine as the pesto.   Remove lid and spoon into serving bowl. Zest a whole lemon directly into mixture and squeeze half of the lemon into the mixture.  Add DSC_0015dried cranberries, walnuts and cooled quinoa. Gently toss until thoroughly mixed. Add salt to taste.

The Perfect Bite
This is the perfect opportunity for the perfect bite – be sure to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, refreshing and hearty… it’s got everything!

The Perfect Pairing
One of my new favorite wines is the Cline 2012 Mourvèdre Rosé. It is crisp and refreshing, not overly sweet, and has hints of pomegranate, cherry and plum… which will pair wonderfully with the dried pomegranate cranberries and walnuts in this salad. Mourvèdre is a rare grape in California and has beautiful mouth-feel on this rosé.

The Perfect Health
Though quinoa is considered a whole grain – it is technically a seed. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” Quinoa is gluten-free and an excellent source of protein. For more health benefits read HERE.

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Low and Slow Winter Country Ribs


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Country ribs. Big slabs of porky goodness cut from the shoulder of the hog. But boneless or bone-in, these are nothing like a rack of ribs. They are chunky logs of pork, trimmed with a small amount of fat, and they require slow, low-temperature cooking to become delicious. That’s the downside: You can’t do a fast country rib. The upside is that they are all meat, so you’re quick to fill up.

The best way to cook country ribs is over a wood fire, but you can cook them on a charcoal or gas grill. I did these in the oven because it’s winter and I didn’t want to brave going outdoors to the grill. Any of these methods work – but just repeat after me: Low and slow… low and slow…

You’ll want to sauce these ribs with something. It can be as simple as cider vinegar, or you could use your favorite barbecue sauce. I used my favorite bottled version and added a few things to give it an extra punch.

Ingredients
6-8 country ribs, about 3 pounds (quantity will vary depending on size of individual ribs – I got ribs from Porter Road Butcher and they were very large so I cut them in half.)
Kosher salt
pepper
Dark amber beer (I used Negra Madelo)
The barbeque sauce of your choice
I also added to my BBQ sauce (to taste):
Garlic paste
Worcestershire sauce
Bourbon

DSC_0014The Fab Four that made my BBQ sauce

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Soak ribs in beer for at least 8 hours, overnight is best. I did mine for almost 24 hours.
That should be the max you soak them or they will start to shrivel.

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Remove from beer and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper.

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Now coat ribs in your sauce and put on a rack on a foil-lined pan.

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Make sure your ribs are about 2 inches apart so they have room to breath.
Which is why you have them on the rack so the heat can circulate all around.

Now put your pan of ribs in a 250 degree oven (middle rack). You’re going to cook these for 4-5 hours… however, leave them alone for the first 90 minutes… then you will pull them out, turn them over and brush more sauce on them every 30 minutes until done.

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Be sure to get all four sides of the ribs!

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And don’t skimp on the sauce!

You will know they are ready when the meat starts to fall apart a little when you turn them. This means the fat has rendered into the meat and the connective tissues have broken down. When you finally get to this step, it’s time to brush them with sauce one last time and then move the ribs up to the top (or broiler) rack and finish them off at 350 degrees for 5 minutes… to get those yummy, crunchy, charred edges you would normally get on a fire grill. But be careful – no more than 5 minutes or you will undo all your hard work and dry out your ribs!

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Voila! A plate of succulent goodness. Bon apetit!

The Perfect Bite
For me the “money bite” is right in the center of the rib, it’s the juiciest! But you also may love a fatty-end… it will literally melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I normally list a wine for pairing but since these are filled with bourbon and beer goodness… I’d stay on theme. Try them with the beer you marinated them in, in my case Negra Madelo. Or try them with my infamous Red-Headed Martini (made of bourbon and beer!). These will also go really well with my Spicy Mac & Cheese as a side dish.

The Perfect Health
It’s true: Pork really is the other white meat. Ounce for ounce, pork tenderloin has less fat than a chicken breast. And food scientists are finding ways to make it leaner and leaner every year. Cured pork such as ham, bacon and pancetta are treated with salt, nitrates and sugar for preservation and are where all the bad health properties come from… but fresh pork, on the other hand, receives minimal processing, if any, and includes chops, ribs and roast. For more information read HERE.

Fall-apart Pot Roast


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Who doesn’t love pot roast? Well, I suppose some of my vegetarian friends are not fans, but most everyone else I know deems pot roast as the ultimate comfort food. However, I have heard many friends complain that they have not been successful… that often the meat comes out tough!

Contrary to belief, tough pot roast is not a result of over-cooking… but of UNDER-cooking! And the science of that is not always consistent. For example, the rule of thumb is to cook low and slow, about 1 hour per pound of meat. But temperatures in ovens vary and sometimes the weather can throw everything off… so shoot for an hour per pound, but if it’s not falling apart tender then put it back in and check it every 20 minutes. I had a small 2lb roast this time, yet it took 3 hours. You just never know. But the longer in the oven the more the connective tissues break down and turn into succulent deliciousness.

Because of the intimidation factor so many feel when facing The Pot Roast… I took a lot of extra photos for some step-by-step assurance of what things should look like. Scroll through the photos with my comments and then read all of the directions before beginning… so you will feel confident as you go along. This is actually a very simple and inexpensive meal – so relax! And in 3-5 hours your patience will pay off and you’ll have an amazing meal to serve your family and friends.

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I chose a bottom round tender cut – but you can use a chuck roast as well. Look for good marbling.

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GENEROUSLY salt and pepper both sides!

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The other side had a layer of fat – don’t be tempted to remove this – you will need this for browning and it will render away! Put this side in the pan first.

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Start by lightly browning your vegetables in a teaspoon of oil. Then remove from the pan.

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Then put the meat in the same pan (fat side down). Add a touch more oil if needed. Brown on each side – I stand it on the ends to get every side, Only a few minutes per side is needed. You want a good caramelized browning.

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Now return everything to the pot! Add beef stock until it’s about half way up the meat.

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Isn’t it lovely?

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You know your meat is done when it easily pulls apart with forks.

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Voila! Great over mashed potatoes or rice or even egg noodles.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (4 To 5 Pounds) Bottom Round Roast or Chuck Roast
  • 2 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil (or an oil that has a high smoke point)
  • 2 whole Onions or one bag of frozen pearl onions (which I used)
  • 6 whole Carrots (cut in 1″ pieces) or 1/2 bag of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery (cut in 1″ pieces)
  • Salt To Taste
  • Pepper To Taste
  • 1 cup Your favorite Red Wine (optional, you can just use beef broth if you prefer)
  • 2 cups To 3 Cups Beef Stock
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme (or dried if that’s all you have)
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary (or dried if that’s all you have)

Ready to Cook?

First and foremost, choose a nicely marbled piece of meat. This will enhance the flavor of your pot roast. I chose the bottom round because it’s a little bit leaner. But make sure you do see a decent amount of marbling. Generously salt and pepper your meat.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil (or you can do a butter/ oil split). I use a ceramic-covered cast iron pot. It needs to a heavy, stove-to-oven pot.

Peel and cut two onions in half and cut 6 to 8 carrots into 2-inch slices (you can peel them, but you don’t have to). When the oil in the pot is very hot (but not smoking), add in the halved onions, browning them on one side and then the other. Remove the onions to a plate.

Throw the carrots and celery into the same very hot pan and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so. Remove and repeat process with the mushrooms, though for less than a minute (do not cook thoroughly).

If needed, add a bit more oil to the very hot pan. Place the meat in the pan (fat side down) and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate.

With the burner still on high, use either red wine or beef broth (about 1 cup) to de-glaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a whisk or wooden spoon to get all of that wonderful flavor up.

When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently de-glazed, place the roast back into the pan and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway (about 2 to 3 cups). Add in the vegetables, as well as 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (a teaspoon of each if using dried).

Put the lid on, then roast in a 275F oven for 2-3 hours (for a 2lb roast). For a 4 to 5lb roast, plan on 4-5 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board. Test it using two forks to pull meat apart. Is it easy? Then you did it! A little tough? Put it back in and test every 20 minutes. Once done, cut meat into chunks and serve with the vegetables over mashed potatoes (or other favorite starch). Be sure to pour the juices over the top.  Uh-Mazing!

The Perfect Bite
This is a perfect opportunity to stack your fork with a little bit of everything… swirl it in the juices and let it all melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I used the Rex Goliath Pinot Noir to cook with as well as paired it with the meal. This is a very heavy, rich plate and needs a lighter touch to accompany it. It’s smooth and velvety dry with a harmonic blend of black cherry with a touch of vanilla that stays on the tongue to produce a pleasant finish.

The Perfect Health
This dish is packed with vegetables and if you did like I did and your veg ratio to meat is much greater… then scoop up a few ladles full of veg and some broth and throw it all on the blender. Puree until smooth and use this instead of making a gravy with flour. Much healthier and incredibly tasty! Keep adding broth until you reach your desired consistency.