a beacon in the night chowda’

This is recipe makes me think about a cold rainy Summer day in Cape Cod. Let me set the scene; It was the 80’s and my family had decided to go to the Cape for our annual vacation. I had a ‘totally mint’ new pair of flashy red sunglasses, Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” was playing nonstop on the radio that Summer (and I sorta new all the words) and my favorite partner in crime would be joining us on the trip. Good times were clearly on the horizon! And then the bottom fell out…

First I discovered that we’d be camping on the Cape— I hate camping. Secondly my cousin who had planned to come along got sick and bailed, so it was just pre-teen me and my parents. Ugh. And then it rained.

Rain is never fun on vacation. Rain when you’re camping on the Cape is even less fun, take my word for it. Rest assured we made the best of it and continued to sightsee and explore just as we would if the sun had been shining. (“What can I tell you? Let’s just make the best of it.” was such a frequently used phrase in our house I should have had it printed on a t-shirt.) However those damp Summer days actually did hold two bright spots for me; The first was finding an old-fashioned penny candy store where a couple of dollars could still buy you a boat load of sugary goodness and the other was a truly no-nonsense lunch we stumbled into one afternoon.

We had clearly spent the morning out in the elements ‘making the best of the situation’ because I remember being cold, wet and unhappy in a sulky pre-teen kinda way. We then piled back into the truck, destination unknown, when my father abruptly decided to steer the car down to the end of one of the docks, just to see what’s there. That’s when we found a tiny dockside shack that made and sold steamy cups of soup. New England, Manhattan and whatever the fisherman had caught that day Fish Chowda’. The rain drizzled down and seagulls swooped from piling to piling while we ordered and quickly took it back to the truck to stay dry. And then suddenly the clouds lifted, the sun shone through and like a beacon in the night or manna from heaven the soup instantly warmed us and lifted our spirits! (Okay so it wasn’t actually that dramatic. It in fact continued to rain and I was sandwiched between my parents eating soup out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. But… the soup was seriously delicious and it did warm my chilled body and make the remainder of my soggy day more tolerable. And frankly, that says something.)

So the moral of this story could be something like: It never hurts to try and make the best of a situation; don’t be afraid to suddenly take a new road or it is possible to find simple, delicious, perfection in a little styrofoam cup!

Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash
This reminds me of summer at the Cape and works perfectly well with either haddock or cod.

cod chowder

5 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced small
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cream sherry
3 cups fish or chicken stock
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 lbs. skinless haddock or cod fillets
1/2 cup heavy cream
cayenne pepper, for garnish

  1. Dice the bacon, add to a large stock pot and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced onion, celery and thyme to the bacon fat and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add the flour to the pot and allow to cook until golden brown. Then add the sherry to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any stuck on bit from the bottom.
  3. Stir in the stock, clam juice and butternut squash and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the squash is just tender 10-12 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish fillets into large bite sized pieces. Stir in the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. When the squash is tender add the fish to the pot, cover and simmer until it flakes apart easily, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the cream and allow to cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Serve with a hearty sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

*inspired by epicurious

porcine aplenty pea soup

Since last Sunday’s dinner we’ve eaten leftover ham in every fashion imaginable and yet I still had plenty of leftovers and a ham bone sitting in my fridge. You too? Yeah I thought so. Typically when we have ham for Easter someone ends up taking home the bone and returns sometime later with a few containers of split pea soup. This year I decided to take the “boar” by the horns and make it myself.

Frankly I’ve eaten enough pea soup over the years to know exactly how I like it; super thick, with plenty of carrots (potatoes optional) and I prefer the ham diced rather than shredded. With those factors in mind I forged ahead and created an “almost as good as my mothers” split pea soup. (Although she actually makes hers with smoked turkey and not ham, so perhaps mine is actually the winner in the smoked porcine category!) Either way it turned out so good that I decided to share it with you. So good in fact that no one grumbled about dinner, questioned how many bites were required or feigned fullness just to get the meal over with. And frankly in my world, that spells total dinner success!

Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham
This is the perfect recipe to use up holiday ham. Perfect!

pea soup

2 lbs. split green peas, rinsed
1 ham bone
4 large carrots, diced
4 stalk celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water

2 tsp. Kosher salt 
1 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups leftover smoked ham, diced
8 oz. baby carrots, steamed and diced

  1. Put the split peas, ham bone, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, bay leaves, chicken broth and water in a large stock pot and stir to blend. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower to a simmer, cover and cook until the peas are tender, about 1 hour.
  2. Remove the ham bone, thyme stems and bay leaves and using an immersion blender, puree the soup to the desired consistency. Add to the pureed soup the diced ham and steamed carrots and allow the soup to come back to a simmer. Adjust the seasonings and serve with crusty bread or cornbread.

drinking in the last of summer

Goodbyes are never easy. Even when you know they’re coming they’re often tuff to take. But it seems to me that every time I say goodbye to something, the opportunity to say hello to something else usually follows close behind.

Goodbye carefree youth… Hello modern maturity.
Goodbye cute but destructive puppy… Hello (slightly) better behaved dog.
Goodbye Summer… Hello back-to-school!

Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that last one does it? I thought I would give you a few recipes to properly celebrate summers end and the beginning of a new school year. Cake? Candy? Cookies? Nope… Cocktails!

Truth be told I’m a wine drinker with the occasional beer thrown in for good measure, but there’s just something about summer that calls for a mixed drink. This summer I was introduced to five cocktails that were so delightful I thought I’d pass the recipes along to you. Perhaps you’re already familiar with some of them and will agree with me that they’re worth trying, or perhaps they’ll be new to you as well— either way, here are my newly discovered favorite cocktails:

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme; the perfect summer combo with a fresh herbal note. Campari Shandy; a lovely balance of bitter and hoppy. Pisco Sour; the Peruvian National drink. Stormy Coconut; a riff on the classic Dark & Stormy. And Redneck Margarita; deceptively simple and refreshing.

So while it’s once again time to say goodbye to the lazy carefree days of summer and hello to the hustle, bustle and woeful hours of homework; these cocktails are the perfect way to toast the new opportunities September will also undoubtedly bring along with it. Cheers!

Limoncello & Gin with Fresh Thyme
(makes 1 cocktail)

limoncello&gin

3 large sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) gin
3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) homemade limoncello (or store bought)

  1. In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle the thyme with the lime juice (if you don’t have a muddler you can use the handle of a wooden spoon). Add the gin, limoncello and several cubes of ice and shake.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice, garnish with another sprig of thyme and serve.

*adapted from fine cooking

Campari Shandy
(makes 1 cocktail)

shandy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) Campari liqueur
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
1 lime wedge

  1. Pour the Campari into a tall glass. Add the beer and stir gently to mix.
  2. Squeeze the lime wedge into the glass and enjoy.

*adapted from food 52

Pisco Sour
(makes 1 cocktail)

pisco4

1 egg white
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Pisco
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) simple syrup
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) key lime juice
Angostura Bitters
ground cinnamon, to garnish

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add to it the egg white, Pisco, simple syrup, and lime juice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass, add a dash or two of Angostura bitters to the center of the foam, sprinkle with ground cinnamon and enjoy.

*adapted from oh! calamares restaurant

Stormy Coconut
(makes 1 cocktail)

stormy

3 tbsp. (1.5 oz.) dark spiced rum (I used Kraken)
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) key lime juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp. (.5 oz.) simple syrup
1/2 cup (4 oz.) coconut water (NOT coconut milk)

  1. Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker, top with ice and shake.
  2. Fill a glass with fresh ice, pour in strained cocktail and enjoy.

*adapted from foodista

Redneck Margarita
(makes 1 pitcher)

margarita

1 12 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) tequilla
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) Sprite soda
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) pale beer (such as an IPA, Landshark or PBR)
wedges of lime
salt for glasses, optional

  1. Pour limeade, tequila, soda, and beer into a large pitcher (you can use the can from the limeade as your measurement tool). Stir until well-blended and limeade has melted.
  2. Salt the rim of two large glasses and fill with ice. Add the margarita mixture, garnish with lime wedges and enjoy.

*adapted from jennifer bogart

lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats

my cruciferous conundrum

I’ve already told you how much I like soup and that I make it fairly often. And you also know that my kids are pretty good vegetable eaters, but that broccoli happens to be one of their favorites. So then you must have already guessed where this blog entry is heading…

After hurricane Sandy my parents came for a visit and since our grocery store shelves were still alarmingly bare, they brought with them an abundance of supplies to replenish us. They thought of everything those two; milk, bread, cold cuts, asparagus, homemade quiche, wine and of course fresh broccoli. But here’s the thing (and please don’t misinterpret this as a lack of appreciation), they brought enough broccoli to feed my entire neighborhood. Seriously, if broccoli could have been traded for gas I would have had quite the black market enterprise going! We ate a considerable amount of broccoli over the next few days and still seemed to have plenty left to spare. So faced with this cruciferous vegetable conundrum I did what I do best, made soup.

In my mind soup should be something that warms and nurtures you, but it shouldn’t be so laden with calories that you feel guilty enjoying it. I won’t deny that a creamy broccoli and cheddar soup is delicious, but it’s not exactly the kind of healthy food I try to serve my family. I wanted to make a broccoli soup that was light and lovely. Perhaps the kind of soup more suited as an accompaniment to a sandwich rather than a meal in itself. And to really knock my broccoli soups nutritional profile out of the park I decided to add to it the ultimate super food— kale! It didn’t change the flavor but it did change the health benefits. In fact my son, who thought the soup was delicious, didn’t even realize it contained kale until he read this post over my shoulder. “Kale?!?” he screeched, “It had kale in it?!?” “Hummm,” he said shrugging and walking away, “who knew…”

Who knew indeed that a little kale could change my simple broccoli soup from “soup” to “SOUPPPPPPPP!”

Creamy Broccoli & Kale Soup
Adding the kale to this soup really kicked its nutritional value up. So much in fact that I didn’t think twice about using a little half and half to thicken it.

8 cups broccoli florets
4 cups kale leaves, removed from stems and torn
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion (about 2 1/2 cups), diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1 tbsp. garlic powder
8 cups (64 ounces) chicken broth
3/4 cup half and half
1 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. cold water
grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

  1. Heat a olive oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven. Add onion and cook until translucent, stirring frequently.
  2. Add broccoli, kale, thyme, garlic powder, salt and chicken broth. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are very tender.
  3. Use an immersion blender (or food processor) to puree the soup until it’s smooth.
  4. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and slowly whisk into soup, allow to cook uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the half and half and serve topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

*adapted from cooking light done right

for the love of soup!

So long Summer and hello soup season. I love soup. During the cool months I usually have a pot cooking on the stove every Sunday. Soup makes for the perfect busy weeknight meal, satisfying lunch or even quick breakfast (yes I’m one of those leftovers for breakfast kinda people). Good ol’ Chicken Noodle, Curried Butternut Squash, Chicken-Corn Chowder and Lentil are a few recipes in my permanent rotation. I make my lentil soup with red lentils (rather than the traditional brown), carrots, lots of onion and a bit of bacon. I don’t imagine my kids would be compelled to dig into a big bowl of brown mush, no matter how much I assured them it was delicious, and the red lentils create a lovely soup in a kid-friendly shade of orange. But regardless of the type of soup on the menu, I always make homemade dinner rolls, cornbread or drop biscuits to go along side. There’s just something about freshly baked bread that can turn even a meal of leftovers into something special.

Red Lentil Soup
The consistency of this lentil soup is well, soup-like, rather than thick and stew-like as most lentil soups tend to be. However if you like yours thicker omit the two cups of water.

5 strips thick cut bacon, diced
2 large onions, chopped
4-5 medium carrots, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 16 oz bag red lentils, rinsed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
7 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

  1. In a Dutch oven cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove bacon and set aside.
  2. Add onion, garlic and carrots to rendered bacon fat and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add lentils, thyme, broth, water and bacon. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are almost done, about 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in salt, pepper and paprika and let finish cooking uncovered another 5-10 minutes. Fish out the thyme stems and serve.

*adapted from martha stewart

Homemade Herbed Drop Biscuits
These are terrific with the addition of fresh thyme, sage, basil or rosemary. Use whatever herbs you like most and happen to have on hand.

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl melt the butter. Whisk together the butter, milk, beaten egg and herbs and set aside
  3. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet mixture to the dry and blend with a fork until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Drop by the tablespoon full onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake 15-17 minutes, until the tops have begun to brown. Serve warm with butter or cool and store in an airtight container.