spaghetti squash vs. carnivore casserole

I’m not typically one to make new year resolutions. Instead I like to use the dawning of the new year simply as a time of reflection. Recently I’ve been reading a considerable amount about the power of the plant. Articles talking about how tiny microgreens and blue-green algae are total nutritional powerhouses and the overall health benefits of a more plant-based diet. This got me to thinking and thinking got me to deciding that 2015 should be the Greco family’s “Year of the Vegetable”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally giving up meat. I still fully plan on curing and smoking another slab of bacon when the weather warms up and I’ll never say no to a pastrami sandwich from The Deli King of Clark, but I feel like we could all benefit from a little more of nature’s candy and a little less of nature’s inhabitants.

Since I’m already such a veggie lover this undertaking really shouldn’t be that great of a personal challenge, no the trick will be getting my family to switch to the green side. Of course knowing full well the reaction it would get, I didn’t discuss this plan with them. Instead I’ve decided to be stealth about it; add a few more veggies to soups here, some greens braised there, fresh fruit smoothies in the morning with a few carrots added in “just added for color” and lentils and beans more often for some good ‘ol fashioned non-meat protein. My plan was coming together nicely, I was subtly reducing their meat consumption while upping their vegetable intake and they were none-the-wiser. But then I got greedy. I few too close to the sun. I messed with the bull without expecting the horns. I was drunk with power and made a casserole of spaghetti squash, kale and smoked mozzarella… and I expected them to eat it. I was wrong.

My son ate most of his but not before declaring it “seriously not worth making again”, my daughter on the other hand couldn’t even muster than much of an endorsement. Instead she made a wild-eyed retching pantomime, waved her arms frantically and ultimately consumed about two forkfuls before flat out stating that she was DONE! I however thought it was delicious. Seriously… really, really good. And my husband agreed with me. (Of course I was angry with him at the time, so there’s a strong possibility he just may have been trying to get on my good side.) Anyway I honestly thought it was delicious and totally worth a repeat performance, but there’s a chance I may be alone on this one.

So the moral of this story is never be afraid to try something different and… You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make a carnivore love spaghetti squash casserole.

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Smoked Mozzarella
This was really delicious. Really.

spaghetti squash2

1 4 lb. spaghetti squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
9 oz. frozen chopped kale, defrosted
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups spaghetti sauce (homemade or jarred)
16 oz. fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove all seeds and place on a rimmed baking sheet face down. Add some water to the bottom of the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Keep the oven on.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and minced garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the chopped kale, salt and pepper and continue cooking another 2-3 minutes, until kale is tender. Remove from heat.
  3. Once squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to shred the squash into large bowl. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Add to the eggs the Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Add the egg mixture to the squash strands and stir to combine.
  4. Pour 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a large baking dish. Spoon some spaghetti squash mixture over the sauce and spread evenly. Then add a layer of sautéed kale and onions over the squash, then half of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of squash, then kale, another cup of spaghetti sauce, the remaining mozzarella and finally the last of the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling and nicely browned on top.
  6. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.*

*I’ve found that the longer the spaghetti squash is allowed to sit and cool, the less watery it ends up.

spicy beet greens with chickpeas

My children have been away with their grandparents for the better part of the past two weeks. The first week with one set, the second with the other. That’s right, we’ve been childless for nearly 14 days. Just typing that makes me feel slightly woozy. FOURTEEN DAYS KID-FREE. (I know, the gods are clearly smiling on me.) So what you may wonder have I been up to? Well… I’ve been putting in some serious hours at work. I’ve done a significant amount of chillin’ on the deck. I’ve read a book. We met friends for drinks. I went shopping without anyone asking me “Are we almost done? How many more things do we need to buy?” We went to the movies (an advance screening of The Hundred Foot Journey to be precise). We went out to dinner. I did not watch a single TV show that revolved around Bart, Marge, Maggie and Homer, a family of British pigs who love muddy puddles or that famous duo Elsa and Ana. I got a pedicure. We actually talked to each other (imagine!) and we made things for dinner that the kids would never want to eat; Garlicky pesto over linguine, salmon with a balsamic glaze, lamb burgers with tzatziki, giant bowls of steamed mussels and one night we went totally vegan— beet greens, chickpeas, Habanero chilies and tofu with coconut milk over brown rice. Yup, I’m not kidding.

I eat vegetables everyday. Not because I think I should or because they’re good for me. I eat them daily because I love them. My family doesn’t exactly share my passion for Mother Nature’s candy, but the kids will eat baby carrots and garden fresh cucumbers for a snack, they love mashed turnips and grilled asparagus and only grumble minimally when I make grilled squash or string beans. But they draw the line at greens. Sure they can handle collards with bacon, but an arugula salad or god forbid sautéed spinach or beet greens… totally out of the question. My husband, who can deal with nearly anything but cauliflower, has come to accept that life with me involves much more than meat and potatoes.

Anyway back to the vegan meal… I stopped at the store on my way home one night thinking I’d make a coconut milk and brown rice number with some of the leftover veggies I had at home; A few bunches of fresh beets with greens that needed to be eaten, some Habanero peppers leftover from the mussels night and cherry tomatoes from my garden. I already had brown rice and chickpeas in the pantry so all I needed was coconut milk and shrimp and we’d have dinner in a flash. The shrimp ended up being both expensive and pathetic looking, totally not worth buying. I needed an alternate plan. I still wanted to add a bit more protein to the meal, but it needed to be something that required minimal prep and cooked quickly. That something turned out to be tofu. I think of tofu is a rather innocuous ingredient. It really doesn’t lend much by way of its own flavor but it’s more of a sponge for the other flavors in the dish, and it’s high in protein. So I sliced and diced, sautéed and deglazed, simmered and served and guess what… It was delicious. And vegan. And while my dearest did comment that “It would be better with sausage.” he cleaned his plate nonetheless.

The kids will be back tomorrow and while I have thoroughly enjoyed their absence, I’m ready for them to come home. I know this will mean listening to their bickering, watching their dopey kid shows and answering 50 million times the question “How many more bites do I have to take?” But I’m ready for them to return all the same.

And if you ever remind me that I said that, I’ll completely deny it.

Spicy Beet Greens with Chickpeas and Tofu 

Deilsh and vegan. Who knew… 

vegan2

1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
a handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
3 Habanero peppers, seeded and julienned
3 tbsp. lemon juice
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
greens from two bunches of beets, stemmed and julienned
14 oz. can coconut milk
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
brown rice, for serving
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, Habanero peppers and 1 tsp. of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the lemon juice to deglaze then pan then add the chickpeas and beets greens. Stir to coat well with the onion mixture and allow to cook until the greens have just begun to wilt.
  3. Add in the coconut milk, remaining teaspoon of salt and ground cinnamon. Bring the mixture to a simmer then turn down the heat to low and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the chickpeas just begin to soften.
  4. Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

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.

closer to “home” clam chowder

I like food. All kinds of food prepared in all kinds of ways. In fact I’d like to think there aren’t that many food-realted absolutes in my world; sure I like my coffee strong, my chocolate dark and my curry spicy. I hate fast-food, I’m not a big fan of pb&j’s and I can’t stand pancakes. I am however willing to consider an exception to all those rules, if it’s the right exception. Where things become hard and fast is when we start talking about dishes connected to my Connecticut childhood.

My family was the car trip type; gas on up, pile on in and move on out. Whether it was driving for hours on our way to a fun-filled vacation or just going out for a drive because it was a beautiful Sunday without pressing plans— my parents were always up for it. We met a wide range of people on our travels and the opportunity to experience an endless array of different foods was always part of the adventure. It was fun, it was eye-opening and I’m pretty sure it was the basis for my love of food. I saw a considerable amount of the country from the backseat of our station wagon, but it was the time we spent traveling through the New England countryside that was always my favorite. This is no doubt the reason I have such a longing to move back and such an unflinching opinion on how some of the foods I associate with New England should be enjoyed. For example; In my book Lobster Rolls are carefree summer food meant to be eaten out of little paper trays, preferably at picnic tables with squawking sea gulls nearby. They should never be considered fancy restaurant food that costs a small fortune. French Fries taste the best cut thin and doused with salt and malted vinegar, not ketchup. (And take it from me, they taste even better if you happen to purchase them from a booth at a local country fair.) And Clam Chowder should never be anything but creamy and white. Sorry Rhode Island, but your permission to call the seafood soup you’re famous for clam chowder should be revoked. And don’t even get me stated on Manhattan.

Until recently I had never made New England Clam Chowder, but I figured there was no time like this snowy winter to give it a shot. I knew my son had grown fond of it while spending time in Connecticut with my parents, my husband I were already fans and my daughter was a soup lover from way back— so why not? The thing that made me hesitant about clam chowder, or any cream based soup for that matter, is its lofty calorie count. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t normally do things like count calories, avoid carbs or drink spritzers just to shave 100 calories off my day. But if a lighter version of something can appear, taste and satisfy the same way the full fat version does, then I’m all for it. So I decided that if I was going to make New England Clam Chowder I would try to make a “lighter” version. I did some recipe research and spoke with my dyed-in-the-wool New England mother (who frankly was aghast when I suggested possibly adding celery, garlic or a bay leaf to the recipe) and finally worked out a creamy, delicious but not overly guilt inducing recipe. A recipe that makes New Jersey seem a little closer to “home”.

New England Clam Chowder
This chowder is delicious with a thinner more traditional broth, not pasty, gloppy and heavy like clam chowder can sadly sometimes be.

clam chowder2

1 cup white wine
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and diced large
3 slices bacon, minced
1 medium onion (about 2 cups), diced small
4 6.5 oz cans chopped clams*, drained, juices reserved
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup low-fat half and half
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tbsp. ground arrowroot powder
oyster crackers, for serving

  1. Drain the canned clams, reserving the juice and set aside. Add to a large pan the white wine, bottled clam juice, reserved clam juice and diced potatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until it gets crispy and brown and render its fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they’re translucent, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and gradually whisk in the milk and half and half.
  3. Bring just to a simmer, then stir in the clams, bacon and potato mixture and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the black pepper and arrowroot powder (1-2 tablespoons depending on how thick you want the chowder) and serve with plenty of oyster crackers.

* When I set out to make this recipe I fully intended to use fresh clams however, the selection at the three stores I went to was pathetic! So instead I bought the best “gourmet” canned clams I could find and omitted any additional salt from the recipe. I still plan to try this recipe with fresh clams, but until then…

the michael corleone of bread

After my last bread baking fiasco I swore that I was done. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t make anymore attempts until I finally took that baking class. I just couldn’t face one more disappointment. But the thing is, I have a sickness. An obsession. A undeniable need to fulfill my bread baking desires. I just can’t stop myself from attempting another “this might be the one” recipe. Sigh… It’s as if the very moment my latest baking disaster wound heals, there I am with yet another recipe to try. But the odds are in my favor, right? Sooner or later I’m bound to find success. I mean, you remember the pretzels don’t you!?!

Sure enough and completely true to form, a few weeks post fiasco I had my lastest bread baking blast of brilliance (say that three times fast). “Wouldn’t it be lovely if my family woke up to something freshly baked for breakfast?” I thought over coffee one morning. I’d been jonesing to try my hand at bialys, those wonderfully oniony cousins of the bagel, and (since the sting of my last disaster had dissipated nicely) this quiet Saturday morning seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

A little mixing, a bit of kneading. Some proofing and then sautéing. Deflate, form, spoon, bake and… “Just when I thought I was out— they pull me back in!” Yeah they were good, really good. So good that I will undoubtedly be lulled into giving “the perfect crusty loaf” another go sometime soon. And who knows (big wink), maybe this next recipe really will be THE ONE.

Bialys
These contain way more onions than traditional bialys, which is perfectly fine by me. Slather a little butter on one of these babies fresh out of the oven and— Whoo-hoo, call yourself a rock star!

bialys4

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast (such as SAF)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup + 2 tsp. lukewarm water

for the filling:
2 cups onions, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

  1. Place the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Allow to knead on medium for about 8 minutes, or until you have a smooth, fairly stiff dough.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours, or until it’s just about doubled in size.
  3. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Sprinkle the diced onion with salt and sauté in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until it’s a dark golden brown. Remove from the heat, stir in the poppy seeds and transfer to a small bowl to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  5. Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (depending on how large you want your bialys). Shape each piece into a disc, place the discs on a prepared cookie sheet and use your thumb to flatten out the center and give the bialy it’s classic bowl shape. (Be sure to keep the remaining dough covered until you’re ready to use it.)
  6. Spread the onion filling into the center of each bialy.
  7. Top the prepared bialys with a sheet of parchment paper; then with another cookie sheet. (You want to weigh them down so they don’t puff up too much.)
  8. Bake the bialys for 5 minutes. Remove the top cookie sheet and parchment paper and continuing baking for another 8-10 minutes, or until they’re a dappled golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, slather with butter and enjoy the adulations.

*adapted from king arthur flour

turnip vindication

If you’ve visited a farm market recently you’ve no doubt noticed that the sweet tender fruits of summer have been replaced with an array of sturdy greens and root vegetables. Glorious carrots and parsnips still damp with soil, beets in every golden and crimson shade imaginable, giant heads of cabbage, lush bunches of collards and chard, squash and gourds of every shape, size and color and of course one of my all time favorite root vegetables… turnips. Turnips are one of those vegetables people claim to either love or hate. They’ve gotten a considerable amount of bad press over the years but I’m here to say that if you think you hate turnips, it’s because you haven’t tried the right recipe. Luckily I happen to have a recipe that’s guaranteed to convert you.

I won’t deny that turnips have a strong flavor, in fact the larger and older the turnip the stronger the flavor, but if you look for small young ones and balance out their inherent bitterness with some sweet onion and smokey bacon—you won’t believe you ever dared to slander the lovely turnip! In an effort to do right by this most maligned of vegetables, to make amends for the years of unfounded shunning and to give a boost to the turnip farmers of America… I offer you a challenge. I would love for each and every one of my readers to add this mashed turnip recipe to their Thanksgiving menu. (Unless of course you already have a killer recipe of your own and then— hi-fives all around!) Here’s how I see it… if we were all to serve one really amazing turnip recipe at this years holiday dinner we could be well on our way to having a nation full of turnip eating converts by days end. Imagine, “More candied sweet potatoes? No thanks. But pass the turnips please!” The very thought makes my head spin.

So give this challenge of mine a bit of consideration and by all means let me know the results if you do undertake it. Think about it, not only will everyone consider you an amazing cook for making “turnips” delicious, you’ll also be making up for years of turnip snubbing. And seriously, don’t you owe turnips a little public relations payback anyway?!?

Mashed Turnips with Bacon
I prefer yellow turnips over white and I like to buy a few small ones rather than one large one. Not only do the smaller ones tend to be sweeter, but they’re easier to handle as well.

turnips2

1 3/4 lbs. fresh small turnips
1/2 cup finely diced raw bacon
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. butter
1-2 tbsp. 2% milk

  1. Peel and dice the turnips and add to a large pot of cold well salted water. Bring the turnips to a boil, uncover and allow to cook until the they’re extremely tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  2. While the turnips are cooking sauté the bacon it a large pan until it’s crisp and has rendered some of it’s fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced onion to the pan and sauté until the onion is soft. (If your bacon is particularly lean and hasn’t rendered much fat add a bit of olive oil to the pan.) When softened add to the reserved bacon and set aside.
  3. When the turnips are cooked through, drain and return them to the pot. Add to the hot turnips the black pepper, butter and milk and with a potato masher, mash the turnips to a smooth consistency. (I don’t like my turnips perfectly smooth so I purposely leave them a bit chunky.)
  4. Stir in the reserved bacon and onion, adjust seasonings and serve.

love + red cabbage

Last year I read the book My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss. To me it was one of those books you look forward to picking up each day and are truly saddened when it’s finished. It’s a memoir written by a former publishing assistant/cookbook editor/food blogger (www.thewednesdaychef.com) who discovers that for her, the key to dealing with life’s ups and downs is to be found in the kitchen. Her touching memories of simple childhood meals and stories of life, love and food truly resonated with me. And the glorious yet simple recipes at the end of each chapter made me want to head directly to the kitchen.

My Berlin Kitchen isn’t the first food centric novel I’ve been drawn to. A quick scan of my bookshelf and you’ll read titles like Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, Rosemary and Bitter Oranges by Patrizia Chen, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, Licking the Spoon by Candace Walsh and of course Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (the book, not the movie). Each story focusing as much on the characters as the meals they prepare and enjoy. When I finished My Berlin Kitchen I jumped right into trying out some of the recipes. The very first one I made (and the one I still like best) is the braised red cabbage.

Let me begin by saying that my husband is a self-proclaimed red cabbage hater. A pint of German beer… You bet! Bratwurst… He’ll take two. Spätzle… Stop talking and start serving. But traditional German-style red cabbage… Nope, no thanks, not now, not ever. I on the other hand love braised red cabbage but I had never attempted to make it. The recipe sounded so easy, truly requiring minimal time and effort to prepare, that I figured it was worth a try. And so what if I was the only one who ate it! (Perhaps I could bribe my kids into giving it a shot, it would after all be my daughters favorite color.) But just to stack the deck in my favor I was sure to serve it along with tasty chicken sausages and of course mashed potatoes. How could they possibly resist!

Turns out they couldn’t. While the kids weren’t exactly knocked-out by the cabbage they both ate it without much complaint, perhaps due in large part to my husbands declarations of “It’s good, you’ll like it!” as he went back to the kitchen for seconds…

Braised Red Cabbage
Even proclaimed red cabbage haters will like this recipe. Yeah, it’s that good.

red cabbage2

2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium (2 pounds) red cabbage, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 medium apple, coarsely grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss until it begins to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add the brown sugar, mustard seeds, vinegar, wine and apple. Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and allow to simmer until the cabbage is soft, about 45 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve.

*adapted from the wednesday chef

cucumber à la julia child

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

nana’s sweet apple + chicken curry

jim+nanaMy husband comes from a long line of stovetop dusting, dialing for dinner, non-cooks. This is not a criticism, rather a statement of fact. If pressed they can all whip up a perfectly fine meal, they just would rather not. However amidst all the pizza, McDonald’s and chicken rondelets of his childhood one truly from scratch meal does proudly stand out in his memories:
his grandmother’s curry.

I too happen to love curry and have made more than a few versions over the years. My husbands reaction to my curry however is always the same… sheer delight that curry is for dinner followed quickly by disappointment that it’s not like his grandmother’s. She traditionally makes curry with the leftover lamb or pork roast from a holiday dinner, to which she adds sweet apples, onions and a little bit of spice. I’m from the coconut milk, peanut, cilantro school of curry— which I imagine is why we’re at a curry crossroads. I’ve asked her for the recipe before, in fact we spoke about it before I attempted my version, but she says she doesn’t really have one. She’s been making her curry for so long that she just knows when its right. Oh well.

The other day I was reading the food section of the paper and lo and behold there was a recipe for Sweet Apple Curry which sounded exactly like the curry my husband’s childhood memories were based on. The article claimed that as far a curries go this recipe was totally inauthentic, but absolutely delicious nonetheless. Naturally I headed straight to the store and set about attempting to duplicate his Nana’s beloved recipe.

I’m not a big fan of lamb and pork just didn’t seem right to me, so I used chicken thighs instead. I served it on Jasmine rice just like she does and I kept it fragrant, flavorful and mildly spiced. Seriously I pulled out all the memory triggering stops on this one and I’ll give you one guess how it turned out… A total success! My other half said it was the closest thing to his Nana’s that he’d ever had. Quite the compliment indeed! Just like the article said; inauthentic but delicious.

So if you know Ginny and love her famous post-holiday curry, rest assured that her recipe (or at least an approximation of it) can now live on…

Sweet Apple & Chicken Curry
This is a sweet and mild curry, however if you’re like me and enjoy a little kick in everything you eat add a few diced chilies for garnish.

nanas curry2

3 ribs celery, diced
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
3 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. mild curry powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. cold water
Jasmine rice, for serving
minced fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
diced chilies, for garnish (optional)

  1. Trim the chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in a quart-size ziploc bag, along with 1/2 cup of flour, salt and pepper. Seal and shake to coat evenly. Set aside.
  2. Dice the celery and onion and grate the garlic, set aside. Peel and core the apples and cut them into medium-size chunks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
  3. Heat the oil, 2 tablespoons at a time, in a pot over medium heat. Working in batches, add the coated chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot you just finished browning the chicken in. Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have become transparent. Add the apples and stir to incorporate; cook for another 5 minutes, then add in the curry powder, cinnamon and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes, until the spices become fragrant.
  5. Sprinkle the apple mixture with a 1/4 cup of flour and stir to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the broth along with the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. In a small dish mix together the corn starch and cold water. Add it to the curry mixture and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.
  6. When finished, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for a several minutes before serving. Serve over hot Jasmine rice and garnish with diced cilantro and diced chilies, if you like.

*adapted from the washington post

bitter, spicy + obsessed

There are two types of people in this world; those who enjoy sweet, mellow and subtly spiced food and those who prefer savory, assertive and intensely flavored dishes. I happen to fall in the later category; give me salty chips, strong coffee and spicy vindaloo and I’m a happy girl.

Whether I’m at Shop Rite or one of the ethnic grocery stores I like to frequent, I’m always on the lookout for interesting foods or ingredients to try. I recently discovered Shim’on Ariche Harissa Forte at Fairway and I’ve become a bit obsessed with this little condiment. Harissa is a spicy paste of chili peppers, garlic and salt that adds a delicious kick to everything and anything. I’ve been putting it on everything from grilled chicken and salads to sunny-side-up eggs and my morning toast. (Sometimes when I need a little pick me up, I actually eat it by the spoonfull right out of the jar.) The other thing I can’t seem to get enough of these days is broccoli rabe— I just love, love, love this bitter green! I usually sauté it with garlic, olive oil and some harissa (of course) and then throw in a few chickpeas or poach an egg for on top. Delicious!

You already know that I make a lot of soup, so it seemed like a natural progression to try to incorporate my harissa/broccoli rabe obsession with my soup infatuation. Happily this proved far easier to do then I expected. The soup turned out to be wonderfully soothing creation; filled with fiber rich beans, super antioxidant broccoli rabe, and some fantastic chicken sausage just to round things out. I added a little harissa for a background kick of metabolism boosting heat and served it with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A simple bowl was enough to put a smile on my face!

But my quest to combine my two latest obsessions didn’t stop there, my final creation was a panini of broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and anchovies, a little fresh mozzarella and a hearty schmear of harissa all sandwiched between some lovely fresh ciabatta bread. Man it was good, just typing these words makes me want to hit save and head into the kitchen for another one.

I realize I have a bit of a bitter/spicy monkey on my back, but I’m okay with it. Thankfully we have a Fairway close by so I’m never without this obsession evoking condiment or my favorite greens for long. However if anyone from Fairway is reading this… I’m begging you, please start selling the harissa in larger jars. I don’t have enough pantry space for all the little jars required to feed my need!

Broccoli Rabe & Fresh Mozzarella Panini
This would no doubt be equally delicious with a couple slices of sharp provolone or perhaps a combination of mozzarella and provolone. But— even if you don’t like anchovies don’t omit them, the flavor is very subtle but it really does make a difference.

panini2

1/2 a bunch of fresh broccoli rabe, chopped into thirds
4 flat anchovies packed in oil, finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
2 wedges ciabetta bread (or other hearty bread), sliced in half
4 thin slices fresh mozzarella
harissa

  1. Quickly steam (or blanch) the broccoli rabe until it is just crisp tender and set aside.
  2. Cook the anchovies and garlic in olive oil until the garlic just begins to turn golden and the anchovies begin to dissolve, about 2-3 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe to the pan, sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and cook (stirring frequently) an additional 3-4 minutes.
  3. Heat a panini or sandwich press according to manufacturer’s instructions until hot. Brush one side of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a work surface. Layer the broccoli rabe mixture and two slices of mozzarella on each bottom slice. Spread the top slice with harissa and place on the sandwich.
  4. Put sandwiches on the press, pull down the top and cook until the cheese has melted and the ciabatta is browned and crisp, 4 to 7 minutes.

Broccoli Rabe & Chicken Sausage Soup
This soup is one of my all time favorites. It’s makes a wonderfully satisfying lunch and is perfect with a simple panini for dinner.broccoli rabe soup3

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 cans small white beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped into 1″ pieces
2 quarts chicken stock
4 tsp. harissa
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium stock pot over high heat. Add the sausage and brown 2-3 minutes, breaking up any large pieces.
  2. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until the vegetable begin to soften. Add the chopped broccoli rabe, stir well to coat with the vegetable mixture and allow to cook 1-2 minutes until the greens begin to wilt.
  3. Add to the pot the chicken stock, bay leaf, harissa and beans and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Fish out bay leaf, adjust seasonings and serve with grated cheese and some crusty bread.

game day chili

Let me begin by introducing myself; my name is Jim Greco and I’m the husband of the tour de force behind Beets and Blue Cheese. I’ve been asked to be this weeks “Blogger Emeritus” because it’s Super Bowl Weekend and (since the Giants didn’t make it this year) that really only means one thing in our house…CHILI!

Chili typically means the following: “Chili- noun \ˈchi-lē\: A small hot-tasting pod of a variety of capsicum, used chopped (and often dried) in sauces, relishes, and spice powders or a spicy stew of beef and red chilies or chili powder, often with beans and tomatoes.”

However in my house it has many connotations; football, cold weather, skiing and fermented hops consumption to name a few. Now chili may not be a strictly cold-weather food, but the only time it seems to appear in our house is when the cold northwest winds are blowing. Once the weather gets warm it’s “Jim can you light the grill— I give got some chicken/skirt steak/pork chops marinating…” (I know, your heart breaks for me, right?) Anyway, back to the chili. Jan didn’t just happen upon her chili recipe, she’s actually been working on it for years but only recently did she actually write it down. It was always good, but some batches would definitely be better than others depending on how much of this and that she put in it. After much begging and pleading on my part she finally has a real recipe to refer to, and I have perfect chili every time!

Jan’s chili is a pot of pure tasting delight with a definite dash of heat. She makes it with ground turkey rather than beef (I suppose because of my cholesterol levels), but believe me you won’t care a bit. In fact it takes quite a bit of control to eat just one bowl! (Actually I usually add an extra scoop to my dish without anyone looking, but lets just keep that between us.) Since our kids can’t really appreciate the intense heat her chili of old used to crank out it’s been “toned down” lately, but based on her ingredient list I’m sure you can modify the recipe and get the Scoville level up to where it’s perfect for you. I usually add a little of Franks’ Hot Sauce or sliced jalapeno to kick it up to a sweat-enducing level.

I’m lucky to be the husband of a food blogger and quite frankly, any way she chooses to make chili suits me just fine. Especially when it is accompanied by some nice hoppy brew and her delicious homemade cornbread! So my friends and fellow followers of Beets and Blue Cheese enjoy this fantastic chili recipe and remember, there’s no shame in seconds!

Turkey & Bean Chili
This recipe makes enough chili for a Super Bowl party sized crowd, but never fear it freezes beautifully as well.

chili

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs. ground turkey
3 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (homemade or jarred)
1 cup water
4 cups chunky chipotle salsa
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
2-3 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
7 cups canned kidney or pinto beans (or a mix of both), rinsed

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven, add the onion and sautee over medium-high for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and turkey and cook about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stir well and allow to cook an additional 2 minutes, until the juices are absorbed.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, salsa, water and all the spices. Give a good stir, add the rinsed beans and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for an hour fifteen to an hour and a half, or until the beans are tender and the turkey is cooked through.
  3. Serve garnished with sliced jalapeno, cheddar cheese or sour cream and with a side of homemade cornbread or tortilla chips.

“To place different elements alternately” (i.e. Sandwich…)

Sandwiches. They come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Fancy little tea sandwiches and big honkin’ heroes (sorry my New England friends, I mean grinders!), ooey gooey grilled cheese and simple avocado with hot sauce on toast. They can be the perfect accompaniment or the star player. I don’t truly believe anyone who says they don’t like sandwiches, I think it’s more likely they just haven’t tried the right one.

With all the soup I’ve been making lately it should come as no surprise that sandwiches have also been on the menu. So much so in fact that my husband bought me a panini press for Christmas. (Yes a rather self-serving gift but, since I got him a subscription to a wine club I think we’re even!)

One of my favorite sandwiches (with or without the side of soup) happens to be curried chicken salad. Sure it’s a bit more involved than say a simple ham and cheese, but it’s oh so good. And since this recipe makes a considerable amount of chicken salad you’ll have plenty leftover for more lunches, dinners and a few “I’m hungry what’s in the fridge that I can eat while standing in front of it” forkfuls during the week.

Curried Chicken Salad
I love this chicken salad between a couple of slices of bread, on a bed of salad greens or even served on crackers as an appetizer.

sandwich2

4 cups shredded poached chicken (see recipe below)
1/2 cup celery, diced small
1/3 cup onion, diced small
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 an apple, diced small
1 cup light mayonnaise
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. Madras curry powder (hot or mild)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

  1. In a medium bowl, toss together the shredded chicken, celery, onion, parsley and apple. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry powder, raisins, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently mix to combine. Serve on multi-grain bread or refrigerate until ready to use.

To Poach Chicken:
10 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 leek quartered
10 baby carrots
2 stalks celery, halved
1 1/2 lb. boneless/skinless chicken breasts (about 3)
1 quart chicken broth

  1. Place the parsley, thyme, onion, carrots, celery, and chicken breasts in a medium saucepan. Cover with broth and bring to just a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and cover. Poach the chicken for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat, uncover and cool the chicken in the poaching liquid for 30 minutes.
  2. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow cool the remainder of the way. (Reserve the poaching liquid for a later use and eat the carrots sprinkled with a bit of salt, they’ll be delicious). When the meat is cool enough to handle use a fork to shred it.

*adapted from food network