Sopa de Albondigas


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This was inspired by by sister from another mister’s mother… yes, you heard me right. My best friend’s mother, Josie, used to have a pot of soup or beans or something on the stove all the time… which was made living next door quite delightful! I recently discovered a genuine Mexican market up the street from me (which I’ve missed since moving to Nashville from Los Angeles) and I went a little crazy shopping. Seriously – support local vendors any time you can. I mean, FIVE limes for $1.00 and they’re .85 each at Kroger! With the exception of the seasonings (which I already had) I got every ingredient listed below at my new favorite market. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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Japanese Garlic Noodles


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Here in East Nashville we have an amazing new restaurant called Two Ten Jack. It’s a Japanese-inspired izakaya…  which is a neighborhood 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.

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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!

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Kale and Walnut Pesto


If it weren’t for my friend Stephie who posted on Facebook that she’d just made kale pesto… I would have never thought to do this! I’ve made pesto from basil, spinach, parsley and even arugula. But never thought to use kale!

Kale is such a super food… add walnuts, olive oil and lemon zest and this little gem is unstoppable.  I’ve struggled to find ways to prepare kale that I enjoy. It can be bitter and a little tough. But I could eat this pesto by the spoonful!  I’m currently enjoying it on a Triscuit® but you can put it on just about anything. I’m thinking about smothering a chicken breast with it for dinner.

So run , don’t walk, to your nearest grocery (or better yet, Farmer’s Market)… buy a large batch of kale (curly, flat – it doesn’t matter)… a good size lemon (Myer lemons if you can find them!) and some fresh garlic and make enough to eat all week!  Keep in mind that the shelf-life for this pesto is about a week… so try to eat a little every day. Read the Perfect Health section below to see why you want to incorporate kale into as many meals as you can.

Ingredients
4-6 cups (about 6.5 ounces) kale leaves, ribs removed, coarsely chopped
2 large fresh garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped (or 2 tblspns minced)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (raw is fine but toasting brings out their nuttiness)
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup olive oil (for extra walnut taste (blend olive oil with walnut oil)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

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 from kale 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 pat dry.

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!).

Ready to Make?
In a food processor, add the kale, garlic, Parmesan and walnuts. Pulse 6-7  times until it’s well-combined. Slowly, through the feed tube, drizzle the oil until mixture is moist and holds together. Remove lid and zest your lemon directly into mixture. Zest, and not juice, makes all the difference here. It’s sweet and tangy and every once in a while you’ll get a burst of it in your mouth. So delish.  But feel free to add a little juice for extra lemony flavor. Now add salt and pepper, return lid and pulse a couple of more times. 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 and not make mush. I may or may not be speaking from experience.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. And presto you have pesto!

The Perfect Bite
Whenever making a dip or spread or something that is not meant to be eaten on its own… it’s important to taste-test it once just with a spoon and then again with what you plan on having it with. On it’s own it may taste like it needs more salt, but if you plan on eating it with salty chips or crackers… it may be fine as it is once combined with it’s dipping partner.

The Perfect Pairing
Since this is a new item to me… I may discover more and more pairing as I go.. so check back regularly, I may be adding more pairings as the week goes by. Right now I am enjoying this on a cracker… but as I mentioned earlier, I plan to try it on a chicken breast for dinner. Also, I’m certain this will be delightful on a crostini and absolutely divine mixed into some whole wheat pasta. Let me know if you try it on something yummy! Enjoy this with a crisp pinot grigio.

The Perfect Health
Kale’s risk-lowering benefits for cancer have recently been extended to at least five different types of cancer. These types include cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from glucosinolates in kale play a primary role in achieving these risk-lowering benefits. Read more about the benefits of here.

Toasted and Roasted Vegetable Israeli Couscous



So I’ve had this jar of tri-color Israeli couscous in my cupboard for awhile now. Wasn’t sure what to do with it. But after a little research I decided roasting and toasting stuff to go in it was my best bet. Sometimes great things happen by accident. I just started throwing stuff in there and voila…. the result was pretty darn awesome. Savory, nutty, spicy… and that mysterious “umami” taste everyone’s talking about. Technically, the term is borrowed from the Japanese, meaning “savory taste”. But we use it meaning “beyond savory”… that something extra that makes you say, “wow!”

Anyway, the beauty of this dish is that you can swap out ingredients (like the veggies) for your favorites. Just be sure to prepare them the same way. Be sure to think about the type of vegetable you’re using to make sure it will go well with the spices used.

It’s a little labor intensive, but makes a huge batch you can eat on for days. Trust me, it’s worth it. Also, there are a few unique ingredients that if purchased in the grocery store, can be pretty pricey. Find a local International Market in your area (you’ll be surprised how many are out there!)… you will pay 1/3 of the price there and get twice as much. That’s where I purchased the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, saffron and even the sliced almonds (1/2 lb bag for $4!).

Ingredients
2 cups of Israeli couscous (tri-colored optional. Sometimes called “pearl” couscous)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or use veggie to keep this vegetarian)
1 cup water
1 cup fresh broccoli florettes
1 cup fresh cauliflower
1 whole red bell pepper (stemmed, seeded and julienned)
1/2 cup asparagus tips *and 2″long each)
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned, drained and rinsed because that’s all I had)
1 16oz can chickpeas – rinsed
1/2 a medium sweet onion – diced
1 tblspn minced garlic
3 sprigs green onion – diced
1/2 cup sliced almonds (use less if desired – I love almonds!)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp saffron
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

This is a perfect opportunity to organize your mise en place.

Dice sweet onion, mince garlic, cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper and green onion according to ingredients above. Toss cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and bell pepper lightly in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet into one even layer. You may need to do this in two batches.

Ready To Cook?
Place cookie sheet of veggies on top rack of oven (or use broiler). Rack should be roughly two inches from the top. Cook for 15 minutes or until broccoli and cauliflower edges start to get brown and crispy. You can smell when they’re done – yum! While that’s cooking,  drizzle olive oil and heat in  a large soup pot or dutch oven, over medium flame. Add sweet onion, garlic, saffron, turmeric powder and a pinch or two of sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent.

Once garlic and sweet onion are softened, add couscous to the pot and stir consistently. This will toast the couscous and will keep it from becoming mushy. Toast for 2-3 minutes… couscous will start to turn a slight color. Add chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Add another pinch of salt and pepper.

While that is boiling, drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on a saute pan. Once hot, toss in mustard seeds and cumin seeds. They will sputter and splatter so be careful. This only takes a minute – so don’t burn them! You’ll suddenly smell the aromatic seeds and they are ready to throw in the pot of couscous. Reduce pot to simmer. Add roasted veggies, almonds, green onion, chickpeas, tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Stir until well mixed. Remove from heat when all liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or cold!

The Perfect Bite
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m about to tell you to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! However, there are so many ingredients in this – that might be impossible. So, take a few bites… you’ll be amazed how each bite will taste like a different dish! I love getting a taste of the earthy mustard or cumin seeds… then heat from pepper flakes, or smoky from the roasted vegetables. You’ll never get bored, bit after bite.

The Perfect Pairing
This is a great dish paired with grilled chicken or sauteed shrimp. There are so many flavors happening here you want an uncomplicated wine. Try Cline Cellers 2010 Viognier. Cline’s Viognier offers rich and distinctive aromas of peaches, apricots, orange blossoms and honeysuckle which will compliment the smoky, earthiness of the spices in this dish.

The Perfect Health
I’ve heard so many people say that couscous is a grain. But, um, no. It is pasta. Believe it or not, it’s made from semolina. Often hand rolled and sprinkled with wheat flour to keep separated. Israeli couscous is toasted, rather than dried, which gives it a nutter flavor.

So is couscous healthy? Not necessarily. But it is a healthier option than most pastas. Especially since it’s generally paired with vegetables and not cheese. But it is a little “carby”. Read more HERE about the health pros and cons of our beloved couscous.

Summer Pea Soup with Green Curry and Toasted Mustards Seeds


Nothing says summer like a bowl of pea soup! Okay, maybe there’s a lot of things that “say” summer, like grilling, pool parties, vacations… yea, soup normally isn’t high on the list.

But this soup is so refreshing and can be served hot or cold! Low in calories and quick and easy. See – it’s perfect for summer!

This recipe is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly. But you may use chicken stock or garnish with crumbled bacon if you are phobic about eating a meat-free meal.

Ingredients (yields 3-4 servings)
1 12 oz bag frozen peas – thawed
1 small sweet onion – diced
1 Poblano pepper
1 med fennel bulb – diced
1 tablespoon garlic – minced
1-2 tablespoon green curry paste
1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coconut oil (substitute extra virgin olive oil if you must)
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons of green onion (chives) – chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
Have a bowl of ice water standing by. Bring medium saucepan of water to boil. Add peas and reduce heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes until softened but not over-cooked. While peas are cooking dice onion and mince garlic.

Ready to Cook?
Saute onion,  garlic and fennel in coconut oil until translucent. Remove peas from boiling water and put into ice water to stop the cooking process (this is called “blanching”). This helps the peas keep their bright green color. Remove peas from ice bath and place in food processor. Roast Poblano pepper on the grill or on top rack of oven until nicely charred. After it cools a bit, remove skin with the backside of your knife. Remove seeds and stem. Add  peas, onion, garlic, Poblano, coconut milk and curry paste to food processor or large blender (remember to remove spout cap if ingredients are hot to allow steam to escape or you will blow the lid off! I may speak from experience). Puree until smooth. Add additional coconut oil or milk, if too thick.

Toast mustard seeds in a dry saute pan until golden brown. This takes less than a minute so be careful not to burn.

Here is an optional step: Using a sieve, pour pea soup through (with a pan below) and work with a spoon until all has been strained. This will help eliminate any pea shells or chunks of onion or fennel that did not get processed thoroughly. If you like a little texture in your soup, just skip this step. But if you’re looking for silky smooth soup – go this extra mile (extra 15 min).

Heat soup on low to medium until warm… or serve cold! Sprinkle with toasted mustard seeds and chives.

The Perfect Bite
Of course the perfect bite of soup is a slurp… but make sure it includes some mustard seed and chive! Also, this is perfect with crostini drizzlde in olive oil.

The Perfect Pairing
This soup is very filling on its own. But it’s great as a side with grilled cheese sandwich or for you meat lovers, with grilled chicken. Try pairing it with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. It’s a light, fresh, lively and delicate wine that will compliment this soup whether served warm or cold.

The Perfect Health
When your mom told you to eat your peas, she knew what she was talking about. Peas flaunt twice the protein of most vegetables, so they’re the ideal substitute for fattier protein fare, providing an excellent strategy for controlling your fat intake. Read more about the heath wonders of peas here.

Garlic Broth


Garlic-Bulb

Whole Garlic Bulb

I have finally posted this recipe separately because I have used it in so many of my dishes. Now I can just link to it and hopefully make it easier on you.

You can make as much or as little of this broth 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 of chicken or 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) coarsely diced garlic (roughly 2 whole 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 or mesh sieve. 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. If you freeze in containers leave a 1/4″ room at top for expansion.

KITCHEN TIP: Infusing Olive Oil


This is the first of hopefully many kitchen tips I’m going to start offering on this site.  Many of these are a result my “MacGyver” attempts of making-do in a less-than-desirable kitchen and trying to figure out how to be a brilliant gourmet cook on a pauper’s budget. But sometimes, they’re just going to be little tricks of the trade that if you’re not obsessively watching the Food Network,  pouring over Gourmet or Food & Wine Magazines, or questioning every chef you come across as I am… you may just have missed out on some information.

My first Kitchen Tip is about infusing your Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can buy many “flavored” olive oils these days… but there are two down-sides to that. They’re usually not made from Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil – which is what you should use instead of plain Olive Oil or Light Olive Oil  (there are no health benefits otherwise because the harsh processing has destroyed them). And often, the “flavoring” is chemically added and not naturally infused into the oil.

Being the bargain hunter that I am, I love buying the big net-sock of garlic heads at places like Costco or Sam’s. You get about 20 heads of garlic for $3-4.00. Which means you’ll have to chop, press or roast it all yourself. Which I’m okay with. But what do you do with all that garlic before it goes bad? Time to think outside the box…

As we speak I am infusing a quart of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I use quite a bit of EVOO so I buy it by the gallon at the International Market for close to half the price I would in a chain grocery) with whole garlic and fresh rosemary from my garden. I peeled about 5 heads of garlic (heads are the whole bulb, cloves are the individual pieces you break off). I dropped them into a quart-size canning jar, cut 4 twigs of rosemary from my garden and put them in the jar as well, then poured in the extra virgin olive oil over leaving about an inch from the top. After all, it’s gonna need to breath.

I’m going to leave it all in there for about 48 hours, then I’ll scoop out the garlic and toss it out. But I’ll leave the rosemary in the for another couple of weeks. Be sure to remove the garlic cloves after a couple of days so as to not overpower the flavor of the herbs. If you choose to leave the garlic cloves in the oil, be sure to refrigerate the oil to avoid the threat of botulism

The olive oil should have rich flavors that will naturally season whatever you use your olive oil in… salads, sauteing meat, drizzled on baguettes.  I personally love garlic and rosemary – two of my favorite flavors. But if you prefer thyme and sage; or spicy red peppers; or red onion and oregano… then go for it! Keep in mind you need to use fresh products. Fresh herbs, onion, garlic, etc. Powdered spices or herbs will not infuse and will just make a mess of the oil.

What are your favorite spice and herb combos? Let me know if you have tried this and if you have any further tips!

PS…
the question has been asked… do you actually throw away the garlic when you’re done?
My Answer: you are “allowed” to throw it out of you like… I mean, it’s served a great purpose already, had a good life, and so on. But, if you want to hold onto it there are a few options. Run it through your food processor and make a garlic paste or chop it finely and make minced garlic – you should get another few weeks of life out of it. Or, if you’re not a Twilight fan and would like to keep both Edward AND Jacob away…. make a necklace and wear it to bed. :o)

Garden Vegetable Pasta Bake (w/Italian Sausage)


This is one of my favorite go-to meals, especially if unexpected company stops by… which happens frequently at my house. If your pantry is regularly stocked with an assortment of dried pastas and a few fresh garden vegetables (or even better – you have a vegetable garden in your yard!) you can whip this up on the spot… an hour’s time max!

Yields: 4-6 main course servings / 8-10 side dish servings

Ingredients
1 lb Fusilli or Rotini noodles (uncooked – I use Barilla Plus)
3-4 links Sweet Italian Sausage (optional)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1 medium zucchini squash
1 medium yellow squash
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup asparagus tips
1 small sweet onion
1 medium red tomato (seeded – rind only)
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 pinch each of what I call The Italian Big 5 (dried): thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary
1.5 tablespoon kosher salt (divided)
1 teaspoon pepper as needed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

This is where your veggie chopping skills come in. I’m going to list how I chop my vegetables for this dish, but change it up to your own preference!
Zucchini – trim ends and then chop whole zucchini into three 1.5″-2″ rounds. Then take each round and quarter length-wise.
Yellow Squash – slice into 1/8″ dials. If the squash is fairly fat at the end (more than 1.5″) cut dials in half. The goal is bite-size.
Red & Green Bell Peppers – I cut them julienne. Which is a fancy word for skinny strips. Simply trim top and bottom off pepper and discard. Core and remove seeds and spines. Then slices in 1/4″ slivers about 1.5″ long.
Asparagus – I use just the tips because often the center can be a little woody if not cooked long enough. I cut the tips off about 2″ in. Then I reserve the remainder of the stalk for making soups or purees.
Sweet Onion – peel and dice finely… this should be for flavor and not something you want bite-size.
Garlic – same as the onion above.
Tomato – Slice in half and core out seeds and spines. We just want the fleshy part. Cut into 1″ chunks.

Ready To Cook?
Put a large pot of water on medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and add a tablespoon of salt to the water. I use a good amount of salt when cooking pasta… I’ve heard your water should taste like the ocean when you’re done. Infusing your pasta with salt is better than adding salt to your meal later.

Once your water comes to a boil add your pasta and continue cooking until it’s just shy of al dente.  Remember, it’s going to cook a little more in the oven so we don’t want to overdo it. I prefer to use the fasilli or rotini noodles because the corkscrew shape holds the seasonings best… but feel free to use whatever your favorite pasta is – I’ve used to bowtie with this as well, which makes for a festive looking dish.

Next, if adding Italian sausage to this dish, you’ll want to start by taking the casings off of the links. In a large skillet using a wooden spoon, break sausage into small bite-size pieces. Cook over medium heat until browned. You won’t need to worry if they’re completely cooked because they’ll be going in the oven soon and will finish off nicely. Be careful not to overcook. Roughly 3-4 minutes should do it. The recipe calls for 3-4 links, but most packages come with 5 links. So, if you’re like me… you’ll want to cook all 5 to compensate for all the “taste-testing” you’ll do.

Using the same skillet (don’t clean it – you want all those great flavors!), pour in 1/4 cup of olive oil. While bringing it to a medium heat toss in The Italian Big 5 (dried thyme, basil, sage, oregano, rosemary). Once your oil is ready (it sizzles with a drop of water), gently add in your onion and garlic first. Stir well so that the dried herbs are worked through the oil, onions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes then slowly add the veggies in this order (based on cooking time): Peppers, asparagus, zucchini, squash. Reserve the tomato, which won’t be added until ready to bake. Pour the 1/4 cup of white wine over veggies and continue sauteing for 5-6 minutes or until the zucchini has become tender and can easily be stabbed with a fork.

Drain pasta and transfer to a large baking dish (a lasagna dish works best). Add sausage. Add diced tomatoes. Then pour all the contents from your skillet over the pasta and sausage, including olive oil/wine reduction that’s happened in the pan while sauteing. This is going to be the sauce. TIP: If your pan has become too dry while sauteing, you may have overcooked your veggies. Just add more olive oil and a splash of white wine and de-glaze the bottom of your pan. Add that to your pasta-veggie mix.

Immediately add 2 tablespoons of butter so it can melt. Add half of your Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly until everything is coated and you can see that the herbs are distributed evenly.

Taste your dish to see if additional salt and pepper is needed. TIP: Don’t assume it needs salt – the sausage and salted pasta may have added plenty. Always taste your food before seasoning!

Sprinkle top with remaining grated Parmesan and bake uncovered on middle rack for 20 minutes (or until cheese starts to brown at edges).

TIP: If making extra to freeze for later, do not bake the portion you want freeze. Freeze after it’s cooled. Should last in freezer up to a month.

The Perfect Bite
This is one of my favorite kind of dishes to get a perfect bite from. I love stacking my fork with a twirly little noodle, a juicy piece of sausage, a buttery bite of zucchini and sweet sliver of red pepper. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I love the nutty Parmesan and lightness of this invisible sauce.

The Perfect Pairing
This is a great summer dish so I prefer to pair it with a chilled glass of wine. Now, I’ve long since been a rosé snob. Pink wine? Really? My mind immediately goes to that giant box of Almaden Pink Blush Chablis that sits warm on the edge of my mom’s kitchen counter. Sorry Mom, but really?

However, rosé has come a long way… and I’m starting to warm up to them… well, at least when they’re chilled (again Mom, really?). Try pairing this dish with this French Rosé Note Bleue Cotôs De Provence Rosé 2009 – it’s sweet and earthy. A perfect compliment to the buttery pasta and veggies and peppery sausage. Served chilled, about 47 degrees.

The Perfect Health
Using Barilla Plus, reduces carbs and adds protein to any meal.  It’s made from legumes such as Chickpeas and Lentils as well as Egg Whites, Spelt, Barley, Flaxseed, Oat Fiber, and Oats.  Be sure check the box for cooking instructions – Barilla Plus can take longer to boil. Unlike many wheat or whole grain pastas that taste a little, well, cardboardy. This one is delicious! And I’ve found it holds up better in soups (as in, doesn’t swell and get mushy).  Read more here about its nutritional value.