Not My Mama’s Gringo Chili


chili2

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!

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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 veggie stock
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
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 (from the can for a thicker soup, unsweetened from carton for thinner soup – I use canned)
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
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.

Orzo with Vegan Feta, Tomato and Haricot Verts


A friend of mine made me something similar to this dish a few years ago and I have continually thought about it over time – which means it must be pretty darn good! This is my version of it – I think I got pretty close.

If you are on a “no pasta” diet (which is just unthinkable in my book) you can substitute the orzo with couscous. But don’t get me started on the fact that couscous really is pasta – cuz… it is. It’s basically semolina rolled into tiny dry pellets. But people keep calling it a grain. Okay, now you got me started. Anyway,  try Israeli couscous for something a little heartier, if you must substitute.

Ingredients
1 lb haricot verts (thin French green beans – fresh)
2 cups orzo
1 medium sweet onion
4 garlic cloves – minced
4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (I used red and yellow – but red is fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
2 cups crumbled Vegan feta
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
Get your mise en place ready. Fill a 4 quart pot with salted water for both the orzo and the green beans.

Finely chop onion and mince garlic. Quarter and seed tomatoes. Chop into 1 inch pieces. Trim the ends of the beans and cut in half. You can leave them whole or cut them smaller – it’s all preference here.

Have a bowl of ice and cold water standing by for the blanching of the green beans.

Ready To Cook?
In a large skillet saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, until translucent. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring continually until softened – about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.

In the boiling salted water blanch beans for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon or spider transfer beans to the ice water so they will stop cooking. This process will keep your beans bright green and they will retain a crunch. If you put them in the dish raw – they will be a rather bitter – but blanching brings out their sweetness. Drain beans well and pat dry.

Add beans to the tomato mixture and return water in the pot to a boil. Boil orzo until al dente (it will continue cooking when added to mixture – so you don’t want to overcook it in the boiling process). Drain orzo and add to mixture. Add the white wine vinegar, parsley, feta and salt and pepper to taste. BE SURE TO TASTE! The feta is pretty salty – so don’t over do it. Toss to combine well.

This is great warm or cold!

The Perfect Bite
Here’s where I love to stack my fork to get a good complex flavor bite. Be sure to get some orzo, tomato, a haricot vert and feta together on your fork or in your spoon. Sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy! It’s truely a perfect bite…

The Perfect Pairing
And try pairing it with a sweet yet oak-y Chardonnay like Fat Bastard. (sorry mom, but it’s French!) Smooth in the mouth with light aromas and a long, toasty finish. It’s  a perfect pairing with a creamy pasta dressed in olive oil and tangy feta.

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

Savory Galettes


Spinach and Smoked Salmon Galette

Zucchini, Prosciutto and Basil Pesto Galette

The beauty of the galette is that it can come in any shape, size and flavor. It’s simply a free-form rustic tart and can be either sweet or savory, or both. My favorite, not pictured here because my friends ate it before I could snap a photo, is fresh fig and goat cheese drizzled with dark honey.

These galettes are made with a “cheater” crust – store bought rolled up in a box. But it worked in a pinch. But use whatever your favorite pie crust recipe is and I’m sure they’ll be delicious and even more rustic looking. Or cheat as I did… whatever works best for you.

On a side note: I just won an ebay auction scoring a 1967 edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That deserves a blog entry all its own.. but I looked up galettes according to Julia and she made them as small individual appetizer tarts! About 2″ in diameter and often a chunk of (French) cheese served as the base, topped with ham, or an egg or both. Then wrapping the crust around and baking – things of perfection, I’m sure.

So there’s a few extra ideas for you. Listed below are the recipes for the two galettes pictured above. If you try your own version please come back and post it on this blog so we can all benefit from your culinary genius!

Each galette serves 3-6 people depending on whether you are serving it as an entree, a side or an appetizer. TIP:  You’ll notice that both galettes call for homemade ricotta. Please, please, please do me a favor and don’t buy that pasty store-bought stuff. Click on the link provided and you’ll see just how very easy it is to make your own. And once you do – you’ll never eat store-bought again – I promise! Try making the ricotta a day or two before and it won’t feel like such a big job all in one day.  One batch of ricotta should be enough to make roughly three galettes.

Ingredients
Galette #1
1 roll of store-bought pie crust
1 cup homemade ricotta
1 large egg
1 half small sweet onion – finely diced
1.5 cup baby spinach leaves (washed w/stems removed)
3/4 cup smoked sockeye salmon (or whatever your favorite smoked salmon is)
1/4 pine nuts
pinch of fine sea salt
pinch of ground pepper
egg whites for brushing on crust

Galette #2
1 roll of store-bought pie crust
1 cup homemade ricotta
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese – divided
1 large egg
1 tsp of garlic paste or very finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon of pesto
1/2 cup of red bell pepper – julienne
1/2 zucchini slices (roughly 8-10 dials)
1 sheet of prosciutto – sliced into strips lengthwise
pinch of fine sea salt
pinch of ground pepper
egg whites for brushing on crust

Preparation
Galette #1
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. Parchment paper is best because it will help to transfer the galette to a plate later.

Roll out a pie crust onto your work board and use your rolling pin to stretch and smooth it out. This should give you an extra inch of pie crust. Place the crust onto the cookie tin.

In either a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, blend together the ricotta, the egg and diced onion.  Add the salt and pepper. Don’t over-beat… it should look like cottage cheese when you’re done.

Place 1/2 of your spinach leaves in a single layer, forming  circle in the center of your pie crust. You should leave at least 2″ of crust edge showing.  Spoon your blended ricotta and egg mixture on top of the spinach leaves. Spread around with a spatula making an even layer, not exceeding the spinach leaves (as in, still leave 2″ of pie crust available).  Now put another single layer of your remaining spinach leaves on top of the mixture. Then your final layer is the Smoked salmon and pine nuts. Peel salmon into small thin strips and scatter evenly on top of the spinach leaves. Scatter pine nuts across the top.

Gently fold the 2″ crust up and over the layered smoked salmon. It will not cover the whole thing and will leave roughly a 3-4″ whole in the center uncovered (see photo above).  The finished shape will be rustic and rarely the same. Sometimes they’re very round, sometimes more triangle or square. It doesn’t matter… I think the more non-uniform the better.

Brush the outside of the pastry with the egg whites. You can also use melted butter if you prefer.

Galette #2
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. Parchment paper is best because it will help to transfer the galette to a plate later.

Roll out a pie crust onto your work board and use your rolling pin to stretch and smooth it out. This should give you an extra inch of pie crust. Place the crust onto the cookie tin.

In either a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, blend together the ricotta, the egg, garlic, pesto and 1/2 of your Parmesan cheese. Add the salt and pepper. Don’t over-beat… it should look like cottage cheese when you’re done.

Spoon your blended ricotta, pesto and egg mixture forming a circle in the center of your pie crust. You should leave at least 2″ of crust edge showing. Spread around with a spatula making an even layer. Now put a single layer of of the prosciutto strips on top of the mixture. Then scatter the red bell pepper strips as the next layer. You can be neat or haphazard it’s up to you. Then layer your thin zucchini slices, starting from the outside and working your way to the middle in a circular pattern. Sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Gently fold the 2″ crust up and over the layered zucchini. As mentioned before, it will not cover the whole thing and will leave roughly a 3-4″ whole in the center uncovered (see photo above). It’s okay of the hole is larger, as long as there’s a good lip of crust to keep in the ingredients.

Brush the outside of the pastry with the egg whites or use melted butter if you prefer.

Ready to Cook?
Place galette in a 375 degree preheated oven, on the middle rack for 25 minutes or until your pie crust is golden brown. On galette #1 the pine nuts should be lightly toasted. If they blacken, your oven rack it too high. On galette #2 the zucchini should be lightly browned and caramelized. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving, but serve warm.

The Perfect Bite
Cut the galette in triangles and eat just like a pizza. Take a nice big bite to be sure and get a taste of all the ingredients!

The Perfect Pairing
Serve by itself or with a lightly dressed side salad. If serving as brunch they go great with mimosas. To make mimosas simply mix 1-2-1 pulp-free orange juice with a sparkling wine such as Barefoot Pinot Grigio Champagne.

The Perfect Health
Did you know that smoked salmon is recommended By The American Heart Association? Smoked salmon is also high in Vitamin E, which is also a great antioxidant. Vitamin E can reduce or lower the risk of heart disease and has also been shown to play a protective role against cancer as well. Read more HERE.

Garden Vegetable Pasta Bake


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)
1/2 cup Vegan 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
2-3 tablespoons cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (you can you veggie stock if you prefer)
2 tablespoons vegan 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 water 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.

Using as cast iron skillet (or any nonstick), pour in 2-3 tablespoons 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 diced tomatoes. Then pour all the contents from your skillet over the pasta 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 (or veggie stock) and de-glaze the bottom of your pan. Add that to your pasta-veggie mix.

Immediately add 2 tablespoons of Vegan margarine so it can melt. Add half of your Vegan 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 – salted pasta may have added plenty. Always taste your food before seasoning!

Sprinkle top with remaining 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.

Buttermilk Onion Rings


I. Love. Onion. Rings.  As a kid, I would order them, crack them open, pull out the onion and and just eat the batter. Though I loved the flavor, I hadn’t quite warmed up to eating the actual onion yet. Now, I love them in EVERYTHING! Especially sweet onions. Vidalia’s, Peruvian, Maui, Walla Walla, Sweet Imperial, Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter… it doesn’t matter. If it’s a sweet onion… I’m a fan.

Most recipes for onion rings are pretty basic. But I’ve added a couple of little extras to make these special. Like buttermilk and Panko and an Asian hot sauce. I hope you love these as much as I do.

Ingredients

ONION RINGS

  • 1 large sweet Vidalia onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 – 1 1/5 cup buttermilk, or as needed
  • 1 cup dry unflavored bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • salt to taste
  • 1 quart peanut oil for frying, or as needed (you can sub vegetable oil but peanut tastes better and takes the  high heat better)

DIPPING SAUCE

Preparing Dipping Sauce

Mix two ingredients thoroughly until completely blended. Use more or less of the chili sauce depending on your “heat” preference.

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or dutch oven to 365 degrees F.
  2. Separate the onion slices into rings, and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Dip the onion slices into the flour mixture until they are all coated; set aside. This will help the batter adhere.
  4. Gently beat the egg and milk into the flour mixture using hand mixer.
  5. Dip the floured rings into the batter to coat, then place on a wire rack to drain until the batter stops dripping. The wire rack may be placed over a sheet of aluminum foil for easier clean up.
  6. Mix together the corn meal, bread and Panko crumbs and scatter out on a plate or shallow dish. Place rings one at a time into the crumbs, and scooping over the ring to coat it. Give it a gentle tap as you remove it from the crumbs. The coating should cling very well. Repeat with remaining rings.I suggest completing this entire step before starting to fry rings. Its very easy to burn them if you’re distracted. I may or may not be speaking from experience. :o)

Ready To Cook?

  1. Deep fry the rings a few at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. They should float to the top immediately – if they don’t your oil is not hot enough. Turn rings over once during the frying time.
  2. Remove from oil and transfer to a paper towel to drain. Season with seasoning salt, and serve warm.

The Perfect Bite

Give them about 30 seconds or so to cool.. swirl slightly in the Sriracha Sauce and enjoy! Although they’re best served within minutes of cooking…  be sure to let them cool enough so as not to burn the roof of your mouth. Again, I may or may not be speaking from experience.

The Perfect Pairing

I enjoyed these with a bottle of my favorite beer, Negra Medelo. But any amber or pale ale would be a great pairing. Also, try putting a few of the smaller rings on top of a large summer salad or add one of the large rings to the top of your favorite grilled burger.

The Perfect Health

Okay, let’s face it – these are deep fried onion rings. I’m not going to try and fake a health benefit here. But, onions have a variety of medicinal effects. Early American settlers used wild onions to treat colds, coughs, and asthma, and to repel insects. In Chinese medicine, onions have been used to treat angina, coughs, bacterial infections, and breathing problems. 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.

Trois Fromages L’oignon Doux Tartlettes


These tasty little tartlettes are the perfect size to just pop in your mouth and enjoy the melted nutty goodness. I love appetizers and little bites… it allows you to try a plethora of options at the app table or from the “starter” menu.

Trois Fromages L’oignon Doux Tartlettes have become quite a party favorite. Last week I showed up with a plate full to an after church get-together… it was a mere 20 feet from the door to the table… but the plate was almost empty by the time I set it down. Better known as “those cheesy onion thingys” among my friends… they are simply three cheeses (Gruyere, Swiss, & Parmesan) and finely diced sweet Vidalia onions baked in tiny filo cups. Voila! You are certain to get the “wow” response from your party guests.

Ingredients
2 cups shredded swiss cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere (Austrian is the best – but Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s has a great imported selection)
1/2 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano
3 cups diced sweet Vidalia onions
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 pkgs pre-made Filo cups (15 count)
Ready To Cook?
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Add first 5 ingredients to a deep casserole dish. Stir until cheese, onions and mayo are thoroughly mixed. Cover with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes or until onions are tender. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes… allowing cheese to brown around edges. Remove from oven and let cool for 20 minutes.
Preparation
Line cookie sheets with baking paper. (*tip: baking paper helps items cook more evenly and aids in the non-stick process). Once onion mixture has cooled, use a teaspoon and scoop spoonfuls into the filo cups. Space filo cups up on tray about 1/2 inch a part. Be careful not to place too close or they will stick together. Once cups are all filled, sprinkle the tops with shredded parmesan. Return to over on top rack and back for 5 minutes until edges turn a golden brown.
The Perfect Bite
Make sure you let these little babies cool! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve burned the roof of my mouth, unable to control my urge to pop one in my mouth right out of the oven! Once cooled, eat whole. Sure, if you’re dainty… try and take a little “bite”. But like trying to bite into sushi… you’ll end up wearing it instead of eating it.
The Perfect Pairing
This is an appetizer… so “pairing” it has no limits! They’re great for anything from a Game Day snack to an appetizer for a French inspired meal. To compliment the nuttiness of the Gruyere and Parmesan taste, pair this snack with a Yazoo Dos Perros. This toasty amber ale is a descendant of old Austrian styles known for blending German, English and chocolate malts.
Did You Know?
Cooking with onions is like wearing underwear. You can’t get dressed with out them.  And why not? They’re low in calories, zero fat or cholesterol, and when it comes to cutting Vidalias – you can almost get away without crying! *Tip: using a really sharp knife will help reduce tears when cutting onions. Also, once an onion becomes even slightly over-ripe… prepare to cry. Read more here for health aspects.

Trois Fromages L’oignon Doux Tartlettes on FoodistaTrois Fromages L’oignon Doux Tartlettes