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.

quinoa

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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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.

Fish Tacos with Avocado Crema Sauce



I may or may not be addicted to fish tacos. Okay, so what… I am addicted. I could have them several times a week, easily. But I’m picky. I want a corn tortilla (seriously you flour tortilla serving people need to stop it)… I want battered fish (yes, I know it’s not the healthy version – sue me)… and I want a good, flavorful avocado-based drizzling sauce and crunchy cabbage (not wilty lettuce). And cilantro. Yes, there must be cilantro.

By the way… for this particular recipe, I broke my purely homemade rule and used Trader Joe’s small battered fish fillets. Mainly because they are made from halibut and are only 6 grams of fat per serving (2.5 fillets) and THEY’RE BATTERED! And I have not figured out their secret yet…

So as usual, when I love a certain food I set out on a quest to perfect a recipe that I will love and prefer to all else. Here’s what I’ve come up with – but be forewarned  – I may continue to tweak it. It’s only close to perfection. One day…

Ingredients
Uncooked corn tortillas (one for every taco you want)
Trader Joe’s battered Halibut fillets (one per taco. Use a different brand if you want – but you’ll regret it)
1/2 cup purple cabbage – shredded (this will be enough for 3 tacos)
small red onion – diced
1/3 cup cilantro (leaves only)
1 large avocado
4 tablesppons Mexican crema
2 teaspoons green Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons Smart Balance vegetable oil
Course sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Dice red onion and shred purple cabbage – quantities vary based on number of tacos you’re preparing. Scoop avocado flesh out into small food processor or blender. Add Mexican crema, green Tabasco and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy. It should pour like thick cream. Add more crema if necessary. Set aside and cover with plastic wrap.

Ready to cook?
Bake halibut according to directions.
While fish is baking, heat vegetable oil in a fry pan. When it becomes fully heated (it will become shiny – test with a drop of water if unsure – it will sizzle when ready), place one tortilla in pan at a time. As soon as the edges begin to crisp and brown turn over and fold in half. Flip one or two more times until edges brown. Remove and place on paper towel to drain. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt immediately. Repeat for each tortilla.

When fish is done, place a fillet in each tortilla shell and stuff with onion, cabbage and avocado sauce. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy!

The Perfect Bite
Warm and dripping with avocado sauce of course!

The Perfect Pairing
Taco night just screams to be paired with margaritas. But since we’re trying to keep this figure-friendly why not try the new Skinny Girl Margarita mix? It’s a mere 100 calories versus the 500 calorie version served in most restaurants. And guys… just cover up the word “Girl” with some duct tape and you can indulge without having your man card  revoked.

The Perfect Health
Check out these great health stats on the Trader Joe’s halibut fillets!

Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup


This recipe is adapted from something I saw in Cooking Light Magazine (March 2011).  Winter is STILL alive and well in Nashville, but I’m growing tired of heavy cold-weather soups. So I was searching for something light and healthy but substantial enough for a main course. With 4-5 modifications (though still keeping the health benefits in tact) I came up with a very satisfying meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup sweet onion – chopped
1/2 cup fennel bulb – julienned
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 links sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup homemade garlic vegetable broth (hopefully you’ve made a batch before and froze some!)
1 (15oz) can Cannellini Beans or Great Northern Beans – rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups kale leaves – torn (you can substitute escarole or swiss chard if you prefer)
3 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese

Preparation
Start by getting your Mise en Place together. This is crucial because once the meat is browned, everything moves quickly. Dice your onion (you’ll probably use 1/2 of a medium onion). Julienne your fennel. Be sure to peel off the outer layer which can be pretty tough and bitter. Mince garlic fine if not using pre-minced from a jar. After rinsing your kale, fold leaves lengthwise so that the spine shows. Pull away from spine and tear leaves into one inch pieces. Discard spines. Rinse and drain your canned beans. Okay – everything in place?

Ready to Cook?
Start by browning the sausage. Peel casings off sausage links and break into one inch pieces while stirring and browning. If you have an enamel cast iron pot, you can do this all in one vessel. But if not, use a frying pan or a pan that browns meat well. Turkey sausage doesn’t render a lot of fat so you may need to give it a splash of olive oil while browning. Once meat is browned and almost thoroughly cooked, add olive oil, onion, garlic and fennel and saute until tender, probably 5-7 minutes on medium heat.

Once the veggies are tender, add the chicken and garlic vegetables broths. [By the way, you can make this with just chicken broth, but I promise you - it won't taste as amazing.] Add the beans, cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. About 5 minutes. Then add the kale and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the kale wilts.

Sprinkle the Parmesan shavings on top right before serving. Tip: I pre-shaved extra Parm and have it ready for leftover soup!

The Perfect Bite
Now this is one of my favorite “perfect bite” moments… when you can load your spoon with a little bit of everything. Seriously, scoop up a chunky piece of sausage, a couple of white beans, some leafy kale and some garlicky broth. And be sure to get some Parmesan on there! It’s like they were created to go together. You will hear poetry in your head.

The Perfect Pairing
Pairing wines with soup recipes can be tricky. If you breakdown your soup ingredients and view them as you would a pasta sauce or something of similar status then your task will be less intimidating. If your soup is a tomato base then you’d want a wine with a little less acidity and lighter on the tannin content. If your soup (or stew or chili) is heavy on beans or meat then you could also get away with a wine that has a bit more body and strength. Which is why I chose a 2007 Malbec from Pannotia Vineyards for this soup. With a hint of clove and cinnamon and full tannins, it will play nicely off the sweetness Italian sausage and hold up against the slightly bitter kale.

The Perfect Health
Thanks to Cooking Light Magazine who provided all the health specs for this soup.
Calories:230 Fat: 4.6g Protein: 179g Carbs: 15.5g Fiber: 4.7g Chol: 49mg Iron:1.3mg Sodium: 624mg Calc: 87mg

Roasted Pork Tenderloin in a Mustard Horseradish Sauce



Pork loin is such a great cut of meat. It’s versatile, inexpensive and easily impressive. And as far as pork goes, it is probably the healthiest way to enjoy some pig.  :) Simply by seasoning and searing the outside and roasting in a dutch oven you will have the juiciest, tastiest slices of meat you can imagine. I learned from Chef John’s video that if pork loin is cooked properly, you can cut it with your fork. If you follow this recipe your fork will glide though your meat like buddah (butter).

Most pork loins come 2 to a package… and because of their versatility you can make both pieces and use them to create amazing leftovers through the week.

I discovered this recipe HERE (scroll half way down).  With the exception of a couple of tweaks, it’s pretty much all his recipe. I love that Chef John shows the whole process on video. I suggest watching the whole thing. He makes it all pretty effortless.

Ingredients (makes 2-3 portions)
1-2 pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (smooth, not course)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon fresh chives – chopped finely
1-2 tablespoons cold butter

Preparation
Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.

Trim any of the silver tissue that might be on the tenderloin, though most come pre-trimmed now. There will be a little fat, but be sure to leave that alone. Your pork needs it to melt in the pan to brown it properly.

Ready To Cook?
Using a pan that can go from stove top to oven, pre-heat your oil on a medium burner. Sprinkle both sides of the tenderloin generously with the salt and pepper. Once your oil is ready – it should glisten – you want the meat to sizzle the SECOND it hits the oil or it won’t brown. Place your pork tenderloins in the pan. Leave them alone for 3-4 minutes. No seriously, LEAVE THEM ALONE! It’s tempting to pick up and peek to see if they’re browning every 20 seconds, but then of course, they won’t brown. Once ready, turn your meat over and the second side is going to brown in the oven. NOTE: The browning process is key to getting juicy meat. Don’t think you can skip this process. Unless of course, you’re a fan of shoe leather.

Cook in the 375 degree over for about 20 minutes. Use a meat thermometer – your pork tenderloin should be at an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Be sure to let your meat rest, uncut, for at least 10 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to 150-155 degrees while resting.

While the meat is resting comfortably on the cutting board, you can make your sauce. I do encourage you, once again, to watch Chef John’s video for this… he really takes the mystery out of making what might “sound” like a complicated sauce. But basically, you start by de-glazing the pan (while it’s still hot) that you cooked your pork in by pouring in the chicken stock and scraping up all the delicious little bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the horseradish, mustard and cayenne pepper. Whisk until fully blended and then pour in the cream. Bring to a simmering boil – you’ll see bubbles surfacing around the edges of the pan. Then remove from the heat and stir in the cold butter. I’m not sure how the science of this works, magic possibly, but this creates a very silky sauce.

Drizzle over sliced meat and sprinkle with chopped chives. Yes, you may name your first born after me.

The Perfect Bite
My perfect first bite is when the meat is warm and I swirl it through the horseradishy mustardy sauce. Then I like to add a little of whatever else is on my plate – a crunchy bite of asparagus, garlicy mashed potatoes… this is a meat that’s meant to play well with others.

The Perfect Pairing
Try the Twisted Oak Winery Viognier 2005 for its super-silky finish, plus it has a taste of allspice and white raisins. It’s a $20 bottle but since you’re making such an inexpensive dish… feel free to indulge here!

The Perfect Health
The spicy root of horseradish can be used as a natural treatment against rheumatic disorders and respiratory disorders, especially the superior respiratory ways. It is so beneficial because it is laden with a high amount of vitamin C and B complex, nutritive minerals (potassium, calcium, iron), natural antibiotics, enzymes etc. Read more HERE.

Italian Pork Tenderloin


It’s not often that my first attempt at a new dish is successful. It usually takes some tweaking and experimenting until the flavor profile is just right. But after doing some online research and looking at all the ways people make pork tenderloin… I decided to go with Italian… and got right to work. The one consistent piece of advice I read regardless of the recipe… was that I should brine the tenderloin first. I’ve also never attempted to brine something before so it was quite a day of firsts!

So here we go!

Start with brining which enhances juiciness and is simpler than you think. Just mix a quart of cold water, ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup table salt in a large resealable plastic bag (include other spices, aromatics and lemon or lime zest for more flavor). Even 30 minutes will make a difference, but you can brine it up to 8 hours in the fridge. Be sure not to add any vinegar products or it will dry out the meat.

Ingredients
1-1.5lbs pork tenderloin
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ cup pesto
2 tablespoons each of the Italian Big Five (thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, basil)
1 pinch of salt (remember the brine already adds a lot of salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preparation
Remove any excess fat from the outside of the tenderloin. Then take a sharp knife (do you have a sharpening steel? A sharpened knife makes all the difference! Never sharpened a knife before? Check this out)… and slice through the tenderloin lengthwise but not all the way through… this is called a butterfly cut.

Stir together pesto (either store bought or homemade) and room temperature mascarpone until creamy and thoroughly mixed. Then take the pesto mixture and spread it across the meat interior. Fold meat back together and either tie together with kitchen string or seal edges with toothpicks.

On a flat plate… mix together all the dry herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, salt & pepper) and roll sealed tenderloin until covered with seasoning. The rub will stick best if meat is dry.

Ready to Cook?
In a stove-to-oven pan heat the olive oil. Use just enough to coat the bottom or you won’t get a good sear on your meat. Sear meat for a good 3-4 minutes on each side. And don’t forget the ends of your meat! Once you see a good darkened layer transfer the pan to a 425 degree oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until internal temperature is 145 degrees. I prefer my pork to be slightly pick in the center – if you prefer yours more well-done… let it get to 155 degrees. Remove from the oven and place the tenderloins on a plate. Tent the pork with foil and let it rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Cut your tenderloin into 1/4-1/2 inch slices and fan out on your serving platter. Make a quick pan sauce by de-glazing the skillet with chicken broth or white wine. Add a spoonful of mascarpone to thicken the sauce. Drizzle over your pork medallions and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

The Perfect Bite
Be sure to swirl your bite of pork in the herb and mascarpone sauce that you just made and drizzled over our dish. If serving with pasta or a couscous… be sure to scoop some of that as well.

The Perfect Pairing
A great wine to go with just about any pork dish… but especially this one’s Italian flavor profile… is the A to Z Pinot Noir. This wonderful little 2008 Oregon wine is heartier than most pinot noirs and its peppery tannins bring a great balance to the sweetness of the mascarpone filled pork. You can find in in most wine stores for about $20.00 a bottle.

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. Best Tip: Avoid cured meats.  Read more here.

Butternut Squash Lasagna


It’s a misnomer that butternut squash are just a Winter vegetable. Here in Middle Tennessee we have big beautiful squash year long… especially if you get them from your local Farmer’s Market. Granted, there’s a larger abundance of them in the Winter – but you can still easily find them now.

This recipe is made with a butternut squash puree and a nutmeg & basil rue. Sound a little complicated? Only slightly… but the results are ridiculously tasty and you can make a large batch and freeze the remaining. I’ve also included sweet Italian sausage in in this but you can make it vegetarian-friendly if you prefer.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash
1 lb sweet Italian sausage (usually found in links)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (optional of you can’t find)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

The Rue

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the remaining sauce in the pan and stir to blend. This is your basil-nutmeg rue. Season the rue with salt and pepper, to taste.

The Squash Puree

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds, then quarter if squash is large. Coat in olive oil and place flesh side down on cookie sheet. Roast on top rack of oven at 425ountil tender… roughly 45-50 minutes. Be sure to use a cookie tray with at least a 1/2 inch lip as squash will give off a lot of water.

When squash is done, scoop flesh from peel and put in food processor. Add crumbled amaretti cookies and a pinch of salt. Puree until smooth. TIP: When blending hot liquids – remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Ready To Cook?
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

*Saute and brown sausage in a skillet. Break up into 1/2″ pieces.  Drain and set aside.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of rue over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times. *Scatter sausage on second layer and cover with the mozzarella.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes then remove and uncover. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. To firm up, let the lasagna stand for at least 20 minutes before serving.

The Perfect Pairing

It’s a sultry summer – try your hand at making a sangria. Sangria’s come in all types and flavors – check out this great site filled with Sangria recipes.

The Perfect Health

Butternut squash is not just low in fat and calories, but these squash are high in Vitamins A & C and high in Potassium and dietary fiber. It’s also a great source for anti-oxidants and works toward heart and lung health. Read here for more details

Rosemary, Sage & Shiraz Beef Tips w/Herbed Goat Cheese Dumplings


The secret to cooking with wine, especially red wine, is to use one that you think tastes good when drinking it by the glass. Many people make the mistake of cooking with a wine that’s been open too long and has become a little bitter. I appreciate not wanting to waste it.. but if it tastes bad in the glass… it’s going to taste bad in your food. So, please – toss that sour stuff out.  You don’t have to buy anything super expensive… the little Shiraz I used for this stew was only $7.99 a bottle!

INGREDIENTS

For the Stew
(serves 4-6)

2 pounds beef, cubed (I use locally-grown grass-fed beef from Whole Foods – Stew cut)
1-2 cups flour
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
2 cups wine – I used a Shiraz (wait, make it 3 cups – 1 for drinking while cooking)
5 cups beef stock
5 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb – cored & sliced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 medium red potatoes, cubed
2 bay leaves – whole
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary – whole
4-5 fresh sage leaves – whole
pepper – a pinch to taste

For the Dumplings:
2.5 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons each of fresh parsley, sage and thyme – finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 cups chicken stock (you can use beef stock if you have leftover, but chicken is lighter and doesn’t discolor the dumplings).

Preparation
There is a lot of chopping and mixing required to prepare this dish. So it’s a perfect example of when Mise en Place would be a necessary discipline. 

Ready To Cook?

Dumplings
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk to the eggs. Add the egg/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the goat cheese and the herbs. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Have the stock boiling in a small saucepan. Make sure the sauce pan is small enough that the dumplings will have room to float. Using 2 tablespoons, drop the dumpling batter into the boiling stock. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Remove the dumplings from the stock and place on a plate. To finish: Place the dumplings into the stew.

*Note: This is a fairly messy process. Do not be discouraged if your chicken stock is full of goo and looks disgusting. It will. The key is to leave the dumplings alone for 5 minutes so they can cook. The more you mess with them the more they’ll fall apart. I suggest reserving some of the stock to add after each batch. It’s probably best not to cook more than 3 at a time. Give them room in the pot.

Stew
In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 the butter or olive oil and sauté the celery, onion, potatoes and garlic until slightly browned. Set aside.

Combine flour, paprika, parsley and some pepper in a shallow bowl –  roll the beef in it until well coated on all sides. (TIP: Pat the beef dry with a paper towel and the flour mixture will stick better and your meat will brown. Meat will not brown if it is too wet. Julia Child was right!). Melt remaining butter or pour oil into in a large stew pot, and then add meat.

Sauté the meat until well browned. Make sure to have your pan well-heated – the key to a good sear is high heat. You only want the outside browned… not cooked all the way through. Add the previously prepared vegetables and sauté for about two minutes with the beef in the stew pot.

Add the wine, and sauté another three or four minutes.*

*This is when you would transfer the contents of your pot to a slow cooker if that is the method you’re using to make this stew. Otherwise, leave everything in your soup pot.

While the pot is hot, pour in the beef stock and the Bay Leaves, rosemary and sage and allow to simmer covered for about 2-3 hours in a preheated 300 degree oven. After this time the vegetables and beef should be very tender. You should be able to easily cut the meat using only a fork when it’s ready. TIP: I always thought I was cooking the meat too long which is why it was coming out tough – but actually I wasn’t cooking it long enough! It needs time for all those connective tissues to break down… so be patient!

At this point remove the lid, sift in any additional flour required to thicken to a desired consistency (use fresh flour – not from bowl), and allow the liquid to simmer roughly 30 minutes.

You may add pepper and salt to taste. But you shouldn’t have to if seasoned well. ;o) Serve with one dumpling per bowl of stew.

The Perfect Bite
The perfect bite for this stew consists of stacking your fork (yes, your fork… it’s thick enough to for-go the spoon if you’d like) with a piece of juicy meat, rich red potato, a bit of tangy celery and of course, be sure to include a chunk of the dumpling… so you can swirl it all around in the gravied-juices. I’m just sayin’… this may change your life a little.

The Perfect Pairing
There’s a fun little wine I recently came across called Luna Di Luna… it’s fun because none of their dual varietals are too overpowering or too weak. It’s kind of a wine you don’t have to worry about. Be sure to click on the link to their site and enjoy some groovy tunes.  Each varietal blend comes in solid colored bottles that take people by surprise and look great on the table. I paired this stew with the Merlot/Cab blend… which went perfectly with the hearty roasted beef and tangy goat cheese dumplings. Here in East Nashville I can find it for about $8.99 a bottle.

The Perfect Health
Did you know that a 6-ounce steak from a grass-fed steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer?  If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year! Read more here about the health benefits of eating grass-fed livestock. Also, I highly recommend seeing the movie Food, Inc. I can no longer just buy a hamburger at the drive-thru or pick up the cheapest chicken at WalMart or Kroger. It may be more expensive to get the grass-fed beef but it’s worth it and you can actually taste the difference!   Keep in mind that when buying free range chicken this is not what you think it means in the U.S. The only way to know how the chicken was raised is to buy from local farmers that you can get to know and trust.  That may not be an option for you… but just don’t be fooled into paying more by misleading labels and claims.

Sage Sausage & Garlic Lentil Soup


It’s Fall!!! Well, almost… the official autumnal equinox is in T-2 days! It’s one of the loveliest times of the year… soup time!

One of my favorite soups to make each season is this Sage Sausage and Garlic Lentil Soup. It’s hearty like stew and plenty enough for an entrée. Especially when I make it with sausage and served with a toasted baguette.

The secret ingredient to making any soup, I believe, is in the stock you use. Starting with a flavorful and fresh base will not only enhance the taste of all your ingredients… it will lengthen the life of your soup… whether you’re having it for leftovers the next day or freezing it for a later time.

I recommend… for just about any soup… my *vegetable garlic broth. Not only is it a healthy anti-oxidant added to your soups… but it’s delicious all by itself. I like to sip a cup of it when I’m not feeling well. You won’t have the best breath… but you’ll feel a lot better! Also, so many people make the mistake of using chicken stock in vegetable soups… including tomato, potato and butternut squash soups. This not only changes the health benefits of your soups, but keeps our vegetarian friends from enjoying a purely vegetarian dish. If you’ve ever had soup at my house and wondered what that “oh my gosh!” taste was – it’s the garlic broth. There… my secret is out!

Start Here: *Vegetable Garlic Broth
you can make as much or as little as you like… I prefer to make the largest batch I can manage so I can freeze small containers worth and have this ready to add to any soup, any time. This recipe is based off of 2.5 quarts. (More recipes to come using this tasty broth!)

2.5 qts vegetable stock preferably from scratch but try to use organic if purchasing cans or boxes of broth (it’s roughly six 14oz cans).
4-5 tablespoons (heaping) coursely diced garlic (roughly 2 bulbs)
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
3 pinches dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 pinch salt

Add all ingredients to the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat… cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth. Use immediately for soup or freeze in individual portions. TIP: freezing broth in ice cube trays allows you to use small portions at a time.

Nutritional info per serving:
110 calories
6 g total fat (1 g sat)11 g carbohydrates
5 g protein
0 g fiber
150 mg sodium

Now… onto the Lentil Soup!

Ingredients
4 cups dried lentils
1 med fennel bulbs, diced (substitute celery or leeks if not in season, 1.5 cups)
1 lb sage sausage (*feel free to eliminate this if you want a vegetarian dish)
1 med sweet onion, diced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
1 quart garlic broth
1/2 quart water

Preparation
Dice onion, and fennel. Remove fern and stalks from fennel (this can be done a head of time and can be used for the vegetable stock). Wash lentils and remove any pebbles or rocks. Leave springs of Rosemary whole.

Ready to Cook?
Brown sausage in olive oil in bottom of large stock pot, 5-7 minutes. Add onion & fennel, cooking for an additional 3-5 minutes until tender. Add white wine and cook until mixture is almost dry. Add garlic broth and water, lentils and rosemary sprigs, bring to a boil; then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Should simmer for 45-60 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally as lentils will stick to bottom of pot. Remove from heat and let rest. Test to make sure lentils are tender. If soup thickens too much, add broth until you achieve desired consistency. Should be thick like stew but not solid, broth should be evident.

Serve with shaved Parmesan or Manchengo cheese on top.

The Perfect Bite
Be sure your first mouthful includes a chunky piece of sage sausage! This is also great served with toasted French baguettes or and warm flour tortilla. Scoop some up on the bread and enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
Lentil soup is an “Old World” kind of dish… digging deep into a hearty bowl of these earthy legumes makes me feel like I should be sitting at a rustic and gnarly wooden farm table, seated outside under an old equally gnarly oak that over looks the expanse of a ripe vineyard. So this calls for a pairing like Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel. Its smooth yet peppery tones perfectly compliment the spicy sausage and garlicky lentils. Enjoy!

Did You Know?
Whole books have been written about garlic, an herb affectionately called “the stinking rose” in light of its numerous therapeutic benefits. Did you know that garlic is a member of the Lily Family? Just like Allium Lilies (which I’m growing in pots in my front yard), garlic is rich in a variety of powerful sulfur-containing compounds. While these compounds are responsible for garlic’s characteristically pungent odor, they are also the source of many of its health-promoting effects. All of which help promote a healthy heart and act as a anti-inflammatory agent. Read here for more benefits of garlic!

The Backyard Salad


I love a big salad. A leafy bowl of green goodness, garnished with bright fresh veggies, crunchy nuts, earthy avocado chunks, tangy crumbled cheese and of course , topped with my favorite part of the salad: Good Seasons All Natural Italian Dressing.

This recipe is quite simple and you may be thinking, “Deb, why do I need a recipe for salad? I mean, come on… it’s just salad!” But this particular “recipe” is packed full of proteins (which aren’t normally found in your average side salad) and is hearty enough to be a complete meal in itself. Even for the burliest hungry-man (he may protest initially, but he’ll find himself perfectly satisfied by the time he reaches the bottom of the bowl), and it’s tasty enough for even the pickiest of kids. Also, it’s a great source of filling protein for your die-hard vegetarians. I made this for my friend Cara and I last night. She’s a self-proclaimed “Veg-Head” who was completely full after one plate.

History of the Backyard Salad Name
Kids love this salad and you’ll finally get them to eat spinach without a fuss! When my niece Katelyn was 8 years old (she’s now 11), she took one look at the salad and said, “Aunt Debbie, did you just pick these leaves off the tree in the backyard?” I simply smiled and said, “Maybe…”. She laughed and said, “Cool!” And dug right in. She calls it my Backyard Salad.

So take the challenge and tell me if you finally got your kids to eat spinach. And tell me if you’re still left hungry after polishing off a big bowl of Backyard Salad!


Ingredients

(serves 3-4)
1 large bag of baby spinach leaves (much better for you than iceberg or lighter leaf lettuces & doesn’t turn brown when air hits it)
1 large avocado
2-3 med tomatoes-on-the-vine
1 large cucumber
1 package of your favorite croûtons
1/2 cup of roasted sliced almonds (I use Almond Accents Original when I don’t have time to roast my own)


1/2 cup of crumbled feta, goat or blue cheese depending on your preference.
optionalfor you meat-lovers:
1-1/2 cups grilled or sautéed chicken tenders (sauté in Good Seasons Dressing to maintain consistent flavor)

Preparation:

If adding meat to the recipe, sauté the chicken while chopping the veggies – that way it’ll have time to cool before adding to the salad.

-Wash bagged spinach leaves and put in large bowl.
-Peel and cut cucumber lengthwise in half, then cut into 1/4″ slices.
-Cut tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and then into quarters.
-Cut avocado in half, remove pit, then slice halves into 4 sections lengthwise. The skin will peel off much easier this way. Then cut your 8 slices into 1″ chunks. A too ripe avocado will turn into mush. Look for fruit that is semi-firm to the touch.
-Add cut veggies and remainder of ingredients (except chicken) to the salad and toss.
-Add 4-5 tablespoons of salad dressing and toss again. It covers a lot but add more if desired. Be careful to not add too much before tossing, or salad can end up soggy.
-If including chicken, add this ingredient last and after it’s cooled down some, or it will melt the cheese.
-Serve in large individual bowls and enjoy!

(If you reserve a handful of spinach leaves and croûtons, you can add them to your leftovers (if you have any) the next day, re-toss and it will revive your somewhat soggy salad. You probably don’t need to add any more dressing of tossed well.)

The Perfect Bite
I like to stack on my fork a piece of chicken, avocado and tomato with a big spinach leaf… then swirl it around to pick up bits of the crumbled cheese and almonds.

The Perfect Pairing
I’m not a fan of fresh fruit in my salad, though some people like to add pears, strawberries or mandarin oranges. Instead, I prefer to pair The Backyard Salad with a crisp, fruity fermented beverage. Monterey’s Bogle Chardonnay adds the perfect touch of green apple and ripe pear. All the fruit I need with this meal!


Did You Know?
A new little handy item I’ve recently discovered is the Hefty Fresh Extend zip-lock baggies. These one gallon gems literally extend the life of fruits and vegetables in the fridge. I like to stock up at the Farmer’s Market… but my fresh goods usually get tossed from rotting before I can consume them all (especially with my travel schedule). The Hefty Fresh Extend baggies have saved me from throwing away food and money.