Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter Vegetable Soup with Walnut Pesto

Last night I tried a recipe from America Public Media’s "Splendid Table."
Winter Vegetable Soup with Walnut Pesto
(Adapted from The Splendid Table’s Weeknight Kitchen from November 7: Cold Weather Soupe au Pistou)

Walnut Pesto
¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ cup curly parsley, lightly chopped
1/3 cup (3 oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/8 cup (or about 1 oz more)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino-Romano)
Salt and pepper

4 overflowing Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (plus enough for a drizzle more)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, scooped of seeds, and cut into small cubes
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 medium potato, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper
8 cups chicken broth (or 8 cups water, salt, and 2 tsp sodium-free granulated chicken bouillon*)
14 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Cut up all of your vegetables. Put the carrots and onions in one small bowl. Put the rest of the vegetables in another bowl. Set aside.

Make the pesto. Put the nuts, garlic, and parsley in a mini chopper (food processor) with the 1/3 cup olive oil. Pulse until blended. Stir in the remaining olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste. Set aside.

Back to the soup… heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and carrots. Season and sauté about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the other vegetables, drizzle in just a little more olive oil, season, and sauté about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chicken broth (or water and bouillon). Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer soup 10-20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Ass cannellini beans and heat through. 
Serve soup topped with a spoonful of pesto and bread. (Pumpernickel bread is especially good with this soup.) Enjoy!

*Most chefs I’ve read or heard have said that if you don’t have homemade stock or broth, they would suggest using water rather than store-bought broth. The reason for this is that store-bought broth/stock has huge quantities of sodium, and can make it difficult to season your own food. I don’t keep homemade stock. I like to idea of being in control of my seasoning, so water and adding my own salt makes sense. However, I like to get some of the chicken flavor that broth imparts. Thus, my substitute has become water and some of a sodium-free granulated chicken bouillon made by Herb-Ox, plus salt to my liking. Sometimes I use the 1 tsp bouillon to 1 cup boiling water. Other times, as is the case here, I use less for a more subtle effect. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Apple Orchard Experiments: Take 2 – Apple Walnut Cake

Winding down the stash of apples now, this weekend I still had a handful left for baking and a handful left for eating. (There are a few apple recipes still to come from the past couple weekends.) The next apple baking adventure had me stumbling across a recipe for an “Apple Ginger Snack Cake.” It sounded awesome, so I went for it. I was not disappointed.

My version was a little bit less like cake and little less like Apple Ginger than it was Apple Walnut. This was because Christiane, who blogged about this recipe in her blog, “Taking on Magazines,” made a lovely sounding cream cheese frosting to spread on top of her cake and also scattered it with crystallized ginger. Although this sounded tasty, I actually preferred the cake all on its own, without the frosting or the ginger topping.

The flavor was terrific and with 1 ½ cups of sugar (you could even go less if you wanted) for the entire 9x13 pan, it seems reasonably healthy… a yummy cross between bread and cake, sweet from the apples, super-moist, with the little bits of walnut. And yes, I may have had a piece for breakfast with coffee.

Note: Christiane said that her cake took 45-50 minutes, but mine took less than that, so simply keep an eye on yours to see how long it takes in your oven.

Apple Walnut Cake
(Adapted from Taking on Magazines: “Apple-Ginger Snack Cake from All You Magazine’s Back to School Issue 2012”)

1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 large (or 6 small) Yellow Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and chopped fairly small

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scatter walnuts on a 9x13 baking pan and toast in the pre-heating oven until lightly toasted, keeping an eye on the nuts to ensure they don’t burn, 7-10 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven and let the nuts cool.

While the walnuts are cooling, in one bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. In another, large bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until well incorporated. The batter will be extremely thick. Fold in the apples and the walnuts.

Take your 9x13 baking pan, spritz with cooking spray, and spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35-45 minutes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Food & Wine Recipe Day: Zinfandel-Braised Lamb Chops

My office was closed today, which was the perfect opportunity to make another nice “weekend meal.” I had just read a recipe in Food & Wine from Grace Parisi, for cooking lamb chops in a “big, jammy red wine.” It sounded like a lovely meal to try on this grey, cloudy, chilly fall day.

Zinfandel-Braised Lamb Chops with Dried Fruit
(Adapted from Food & Wine’s October issue to serve 2)

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb lamb shoulder chops (I used organic lamb chops from Wegman’s)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ Tbsp ground coriander
4 garlic cloves, halved
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ cup California Zinfandel (I used 7 Deadly Zins, which was a great choice. Use the ½ cup to cook and accompany the meal with glasses of it to drink.)
¼ cup dried cherries
¼ cup dried apricots, quartered
1 cup beef broth

Rub the chops with salt, pepper, and coriander. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb chops, garlic, and thyme and brown the meat, about 3 minutes on each side. Add the zinfandel and dried fruit. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat, around 5 minutes, until the sauce is reduced to about half. Pour in the beef broth and once the sauce begins to boil again, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for around 30-40 minutes. Stir every once in a while and turn the lamb chops once or twice during cooking. When the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, serve.

I served over rice, although the recipe also suggests Israeli couscous (and regular couscous would be good as well).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Night Steaks

I often save steaks for the weekend, when a more leisurely dinner is an option and you can sip on a glass of wine throughout the evening. This recipe came from the October 2012 issue of Food & Wine. It was intriguing to me not only for the flavors, but also because it called intentionally for hanger steak, a cut of steak that is on the less expensive side.

I paired the dish with baked sweet potatoes and green beans, which I blanched until crisp-tender and then sautéed briefly in the pan that had cooked the leeks (see below). The vibrant green beans straight from the farmers’ market next to the rich orange flesh of the potato rounded out a beautiful range of colors on the plate, as well as a variety of tastes.

Grilled Hanger Steak with Parsley-Brandy Butter and Sauteed Leeks
(Adapted to serve 2 from Food & Wine’s October Issue)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ Tbsp chopped curly parsley
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ Tbsp brandy
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for brushing the steaks
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced ½” thick
1 lb hanger steak

Mix together butter, parsley, garlic, and brandy. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Prepare the steak for grilling by brushing it lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.

Heat the 3 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the leeks for about 10 minutes until tender. Season with salt and keep them covered in between occasional stirs.

Grill the steak over high heat until medium-rare, about 5-6minutes per side. Let the steak rest for about 5 minutes, and then slice against the grain. Serve atop a large spoonful of leeks and spread the butter across the slices to let it melt over them. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Apple-picking and Applesauce

Chris and I went apple picking this weekend. So much fun! I love apple-picking, have enjoyed returning a couple of years in a row now to Stribling Orchard in Markham, Virginia, and we had an absolutely gorgeous Saturday to go. After picking a half-bushel of apples, I am now, of course, looking for different “apple orchard experiments” to do with our pickings. But, 2 standbys for apples are always applesauce and cinnamon-brown sugar sautéed apples.

Simple (Apple)Sauce

10 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 ¾ cups plus 1 oz water
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until the apples are completely soft. Use a potato masher or hand mixer to blend apples until as smooth as desired. Serve warm or cool and refrigerate in an airtight container. This applesauce can also be frozen.

Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Sautéed Apples

Apples, peeled and sliced
Brown sugar
Quanties for this dish have to be all to your preference. Put the apples in a large skillet. Add butter and brown sugar as you desire. Sauté over moderate heat until the apples are tender. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Penne, Peas, and Neufchatel Cheese

Tonight I made a pasta recipe titled “Creamy Pasta Salad with Bacon, Peas, & Bell Peppers,” from the website An Edible Mosaic ( As a side note, if you are cruising An Edible Mosaic, the writer’s philosophy on food is nicely stated. It also looks like she has a cookbook out, so take a look.

Here is my take on the salad, served simply over lettuce, with roasted golden beets on the side:

Penne, Peas and Neufchatel Cheese
(Adapted from An Edible Mosaic’s Creamy Pasta Salad with Bacon, Peas, & Bell Peppers)

8oz penne pasta (or other preferred pasta)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking pasta
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
4oz Neufchatel cheese (American Neufchatel cheese is a lower-fat alternative to cream cheese)
½ of 1 onion, finely diced
3-5oz greek yogurt, to taste
1 Tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 ½ Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 red bell pepper, diced (or orange or yellow)
1 shallot, halved and thinly sliced

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside. Whisk all ingredients from ½ teaspoon salt through thyme leaves in a large bowl until completely mixed. Add peas, bell pepper, shallot, and pasta and stir until coated. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chimay and Sausage Stew

Recently I was looking for a quick new recipe to try and I had a few andouille sausages that I wanted to use up. I chose a dish that I had just pulled out of the July issue of Food & Wine for a Hungarian Sausage Stew with Ale and adapted it to my preferences (and my refrigerator). Rich, with a little kick, and great paired with the rest of the Chimay I opted to use as the ale, I will keep it in the repertoire. Chris made one suggestion, though, that I think I’ll take him up on next time. He decided that instead of serving it simply as a stew with crusty bread on the side, he would really like it spooned over rice. I think this is actually a really good idea – having that nice bed of starchiness (rice or couscous, for that matter) could round out the meal nicely and balance the kick and textures. You could even add some spinach to the stew for something green. Or add a lightness with a simple green salad on the side. But, however you choose to serve it, I recommend getting the big bottle of ale, tipping it back for a toast before drinking the rest and enjoying your meal.

Hungarian Sausage Stew
(adapted from Food & Wine, July 2012)

5 slices center cut bacon, cut into about 1/4 in pieces
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
12 oz andouille sausage (or, as the original recipe calls for, kielbasa or chorizo)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon paprika
1 ¼ pounds plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup Chimay or other ale
1 bay leaf
freshly ground pepper
quick-cooking rice or couscous

In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-low until slightly crisp. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and bell peppers and cook until softened and lightly browned. Stir in the sausage slices, red pepper, and paprika and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until softened and they begin to break down. Pour in the beer and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low or moderate-low, cover lightly, and cook about 15minutes more. While the stew is finishing, cook the rice or couscous. Season the stew with salt and pepper and serve scooped atop the rice or couscous. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chris’ Birthday Weekend

It’s Chris’ birthday tomorrow, so we’ve been celebrating this weekend. Yesterday, I hosted a BBQ party at our house. I spent a couple weeks thinking about what food we’d have, picking up some party supplies, and then Friday and Saturday setting up and cooking before the party started. We had gorgeous weather and it was a fun day. We had a great group come out for the afternoon, most of them Chris’ friends from work.
Chris was surprised over a couple things. The first was when I gave him a pack of craft beer and a galvanized steel beverage tub from my parents to kick off the party. Then, friends started trickling in, each armed with a pack of craft or microbrew beer. I had hatched the plan to cook up all of the food but to see if everyone would be willing to bring a pack of craft beer and set the party up as sort of a beer tasting. To my surprise, there weren’t even any duplicate choices, which was awesome. We had a whole variety of different beers and everyone was opening drinks to share and trying different ones. Finally, Chris was ecstatic to find that the main dish on the menu was Dreamland BBQ that his parents and I had gone in on together and I had shipped up from Dreamland BBQ in Alabama (and that I successfully hid in the back of the fridge) for the event.

Aside from those surprises, I set up the basement with different food tables, pulled out all of my platters and serving dishes, and had picked up fun red dinner plates and cute little dessert plates with a cookout design. I spruced up the basement with painted daisies and a couple vases of bright yellow bursting sunflowers. Chris pulled out the extra chairs and set up the “redneck golf” or “ladder toss” to play.

Of course we had other dishes to go along with the Dreamland pulled pork, homestyle bread, and extra sauce. I picked up Wegman’s coleslaw, Bush’s baked beans, chips and French onion dip, and ranch dip and selections for a veggie tray. I sliced up a lemon, orange, and a cucumber to perk up a pitcher of water. Then, most of Friday and Saturday morning were spent making the following menu:
  • Crockpot macaroni and cheese
  • Deviled eggs
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Strawberry-rhubarb hand pies
  • Homemade vanilla ice cream

Everything turned out really well, but I think my favorite experiment was the choice to make the homemade vanilla ice cream. That was because I served it to make chocolate stout beer floats. I will definitely make them again. A Rogue chocolate stout was recommended to me at Total Wine beverage store, and sure enough, a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped by a pour of the chocolate stout was great. It bubbled all up like the coke in a coke float, had the unique, rich, chocolately undertones of the stout but took on the creaminess of the melting ice cream.

Want this treat for yourself? Check out Rogue chocolate stout from the Oregon brewery and churn up the vanilla ice cream below.

1 cup whole milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

Blend together the milk, sugar, and salt with a whisk or mixer until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the vanilla and cream. Let the mixture steep for at least 2-3 hours or overnight. Mix according to your ice cream maker’s directions. In my Cuisinart maker, once I had turned on the ice cream maker and poured in the cream base, it took about 20 minutes to thicken. Then I left it to freeze up for a few hours into the hard ice cream texture that I wanted.

You can most certainly use the vanilla ice cream for any treat you wish – top it with hot fudge, make milkshakes, serve it with cobbler… or select a brew such as a chocolate, milk, or vanilla stout and pour it over the ice cream for floats. However you serve it, enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Baked French Toast

French toast is the perfect way to use up the last of a French baguette that threatens to get hard if you don’t use it in a timely fashion. I found a baked French toast recipe in Junior League Cookbook from Birmingham, AL, 2006 called Table of Contents. The recipe is based on the Junior League’s version from Lavallet Tortorici. Follow this simple recipe for a scrumptious breakfast.

enough (on the diagonal) slices of French bread to form single layer in 9x13 baking dish
3 eggs
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2¼ cups milk
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup butter
1 cup berries, ripe peaches or mango roughly chopped, or apple or pear compote (basically any soft fruit you prefer could work here)

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add the milk and blend. Pour the milk mixture over the bread and let sit overnight in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Turn bread slices over and sprinkle fruit on top. In another bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut the butter into mixture to form a streusel topping. Top French toast with streusel. Bake 35-40 minutes until toast has puffed slightly and streusel is browned.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stracciatella con Spinaci

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a great, super simple soup by Linda Meyers in the December 2011 issue of Food & Wine. This Italian soup called Stracciatella with Spinach, with egg and spinach, is so easy to whip up and makes for a lovely meal.

According to Food & Wine, this version was created for 8 servings.

3 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground, if possible)
fresh ground pepper
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
2 quarts chicken stock
1 ½ cups baby spinach leaves

Whisk the eggs, parsley and nutmeg together. Season with salt and pepper, and then add the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Meanwhile, boil the stock over medium-high heat. While whisking continuously, add the egg mixture. Once incorporated, add the spinach. Turn down the heat to low, and let the egg bits are fully cooked and the spinach has wilted and cooked. Season with more salt and pepper to taste, and serve with additional cheese and crusty bread.

Chris’ Conquistador Chicken Pasta

Chris named this pasta as tribute to the mix of old and new world flavors. Did you know that tomatoes are native to Central America and South America? Read more about tomato history in this article by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone ( However you identify the flavors, this is a chicken pasta dish that is simple enough for any weeknight.

1 cup pasta, cooked to al dente (select any pasta you like, such as elbow macaroni or rotini)
½ lb chicken, seasoned, grilled (or baked), and chopped (I used Penzey’s Spices’ Arizona Dreaming seasoning)
2 slices bacon
Fresh ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 cup baby spinach leaves
2 oz fresh goat cheese

Ensure that your chicken and pasta are prepared, or boil pasta and grill chicken while beginning the other steps. Cook bacon in skillet until crisp over moderate heat. Set aside bacon strips. Add olive oil to bacon drippings and swirl around pan. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir to coat. After about 2 minutes, add garlic and sauté mixture until the first few tomatoes threaten to burst. Add the baby spinach and stir. Once the baby spinach has wilted, toss in the chicken and pasta. Heat through and then crumble in the bacon strips and fresh goat cheese and stir to warm the cheese and incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and then serve.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blueberry Shortbread Buttermilk Ice Cream

What to do to use up the last of some buttermilk…

Let’s make ice cream! Blueberries, buttermilk, crushed Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, plus a few more ingredients combined into my wonderful ice cream maker – and poof, I have a fun new ice cream flavor to try out.

  • 1 pound blueberries (if frozen, thaw)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  2 cups buttermilk
  • handful shortbread cookies (such as Lorna Doone, around 10), crushed
Puree blueberries with sugar, brown sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk.

Transfer to the container of an ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's directions. At about 10-15min, as the ice cream begins to firm up, sprinkle the crushed shortbread cookies and complete the ice cream for a few more minutes. Pack the ice cream into an airtight container, cover and freeze for at least 2 hours to allow the ice cream to harden before serving.