Sunday, January 30, 2011

That's Amore

When the stars make you drool like a pasta fazool that's amore

Thank you Dean Martin for including food in your love song. This recipe is indeed loveable, wallet friendly and a quick fix. I think every chef on the Foodnetwork has a recipe for this soup so I thought I'd toss my version into the mix. I pantry shopped my recipe because I was not about to go the the market with a foot of snow on the ground and abominable road conditions to try and find pancetta and fresh herbs. I knew I could make it rock with what I had at home.

Pantry Pasta Fazool (Pasta e Fagioli)

1 T canola oil
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped onion
1 rib celery chopped
1 large carrot chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce with Italian herbs
1-1/2 cups water
2 cans (14.5 oz each) fat free chicken broth
1 cup linguini broken into 1 inch pieces
5 oz baby spinach
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

In large pot add oil and saute on medium low onions, carrot and celery. After a minute or two add bay leaves, salt, pepper, Old Bay, crushed red pepper and garlic. When vegetables are soft, add beans, tomato sauce, chicken broth and water. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta.

Most traditional recipes call for ditilini pasta, but I didn't have any so I broke up some linguini and used that. After adding the pasta, reduce heat to medium and cook soup stirring occasionally for 6 minutes. Add spinach and cook another 3 minutes. By the way- spinach is not traditionally an ingredient in this soup, but it works so well, you won't be disappointed. Fish out the bay leaves and serve with a dusting of cheese and a crusty loaf of bread.

This is one of those recipes that tastes as good, if not better on day two as it did right off the stove top. And there are so many ways to re-mix it, you'll never get bored. A few days after I made this I placed one giant, cooked meatball in the center of my bowl, ladled the soup over it and was most definately in amore. If you'd like to incorporate the traditional pancetta into the soup, use about 3 slices (1/8 lb) and saute before you add the onions, celery and carrots. If you're able to get fresh herbs, 1 sprig of thyme and 1 sprig of rosemary should do the trick. Add these when you begin cooking the veggies and use regular tomato sauce, not the Italian herb variety.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Go Bananas on World Nutella Day

World Nutella Day is February 5th, and in celebration of this festival for Nutella fans I postponed my diet and went bananas creating a recipe that would top my Nutella cookies. It's a Nutella banana bread that's almost rich enough to be called a cake, but you can still feel good about having it for breakfast. The recipe is a combination of an old family favorite and a mixing technique recommended by The Joy of Baking and other noteworthy bakers. You see, the secret to a tender banana bread is to fold the wet and dry ingredients together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon and leave the hand mixer in the cupboard. The bread bakes up tender, moist and out-of-this-world. This recipe comes together quickly, bakes for about an hour and there's not a big clean up. Gobble it up warm or enjoy it at room temp.

Nutella Banana Bread
makes one 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf

Cooking spray
1 T flour for dusting loaf pan

1-3/4 cups flour (I used my Trinity Blend but AP flour works fine)
3/4 cups sugar (I used Splenda No Calorie)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 large ripe bananas mashed
1/2 cup Nutella
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare loaf pan with cooking spray and a light dusting of flour. Discard any flour that doesn't stick to the pan.

In large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I use a big whisk.

In medium bowl combine mashed bananas, eggs, oil, vanilla and Nutella. You can use a hand mixer for this, but with a little elbow grease, a whisk works fine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and don't over-mix. According to The Joy of Baking you do not want the batter to be smooth. It should be thick and chunky. Over mixing will make a tough, rubbery bread. Now fold in the mini chocolate chips, pour batter into prepared pan and bake on center oven rack for 55 to 60 minutes.

Place on wire rack to cool (about a half hour). Remove bread from pan and let cool until you can't wait any longer and have to cut a slice.

I think this bread would be great toasted. It could also be a pretty fabulous dessert with a dollop of whipped cream and a garnish of a few more mini chips. Thanks Nutella, and Happy 5th World Nutella Day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Warrior Salad

About 10 years ago I heard about a grain, which is not really a grain, but a seed from the spinach family called quinoa. Pronounced keen-wah. Of course I was pronouncing it kin-oa for the longest time. Thank you to whomever told me I was saying it wrong. Anyway, I've just recently embraced quinoa into my diet and am excited about it's versatility. And even more thrilled to share how high it is in protein, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidents. It has a fabulous nutty flavor and is a wonderful accompaniment to main dishes and can stand alone in a salad as I experienced today. Originally I planned on preparing 2 dishes with quinoa- a high protein chicken and bean salad and a quinoa chicken soup. I never got to the soup, so if that recipe is as good as I think it will be, I'll post it later in the week. The reason I'm calling this dish Warrior Salad is because legend says that the Incas, before they went to battle, used to eat quinoa to give them strength and victory. So let's forge on and get to this tasty recipe. First thing I did was season and roast 2 bone-in chicken breasts in the oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes and set them aside to cool.
To cook the quinoa you'll need:
2 tsp canola oil
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 tsp salt
1 14.5 can chicken broth (low sodium, fat free)
3/4 cup water

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium/high heat. Add onions and quinoa and toast about 4 minutes, until the seeds of the quinoa are golden brown. Add salt, chicken broth and water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and prepare salad.

To make the salad you'll need:
1 can (15.5 oz) canellini beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 scallions chopped
10 Kalamata olives sliced
1 roasted red pepper diced (I used a jarred pepper)
1 roasted chicken breast, skinned and shredded or diced
1/4 cup golden raisns (optional)
3 oz goat cheese

Juice of one lemon
2 T olive oil
1 T rice vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 T store bought hummus
salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together to form an emulsion.

Combine 2 cups of quinoa with salad ingredients, dressing and toss. Garnish with cilanto leaves if you like. And of course, pack some for lunch the next day.

Save the left over quinoa for the delicious soup we'll be making in a day or two. I can't wait for that!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Comfort Food Continued

Another snowy day and another craving for comfort food. Well I actually had the craving yesterday when the TV weatherpeople were all atwitter about a major snow storm hitting the Boston area. On my way home from work I stopped at the market and bought a beef brisket. I haven't cooked a brisket in about 3 or 4 years (it's quite a fatty piece of meat) but I put my prejudice aside and decided to give it a whirl.

A little history here: My mom, Elaine Dalton made the best brisket in the world. I'm not kidding. She cooked it on the stove top with onions, garlic and a combination of chicken stock and water. And that is how I always made my brisket. But after perusing the internet last night I decided to go with a new recipe and a new approach. I stumbled across Joan Nathan's Mothers' Brisket that's baked in the oven. There's no browning of the meat, and you don't have to keep an eye on the pot on the stove. Ideal for a lazy, snowy day off from work spent in my PJs. This is a simple recipe, perfect for a novice cook and has a sweet and sour tang similar to the sauce in Rae's Meatballs. A few things to note- the recipe called for 5 pounds of meat. I had 2-1/2, so I adjusted the recipe to accomodate a smaller piece of beef. Also, I didn't have white vinegar so I used cider vinegar. Delicious just the same.
Joan Nathan's Mothers' Brisket
2-1/2 pounds flat cut beef brisket
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp black pepper
1-1/2 T brown sugar
1/2 cup chili sauce
3/4 cup cider vinegar
Handful of chopped celery leaves
1 cup diced onions
3 small carrots sliced
1 to 1-1/2 cups water
COMBINE SALT, PEPPER, brown sugar, chili sauce and vinegar with a whisk. Pour over the meat and let stand overnight in your fridge. I pulled out my 40 year old Corningware dish and it was a pleasure to use it again.

REMOVE MEAT FROM the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about a half hour. Pre heat the oven to 325 degrees. Chop onions, carrots and celery leaves and place over marinated meat. Add water.
Cover and bake for 2 hours, basting with the marinade every so often. Remove cover and bake one more hour.

The original recipe said to strain the marinade and reserve the liquid. I didn't do that. But I did skim the fat off the top, slice the meat and return it to the delicious liquid it cooked in. It was a very satisfying dish and I bet you can guess what kind of sandwich I'll be bringing for lunch tomorrow.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

With a snowy start to the day and a stocked pantry and fridge, I decided to stay in, comfort myself and make a pot of Rachael Ray's Italian Wedding Soup. I made this a few years ago after I saw her cook it on TV and promised to make it again soon. That didn't happen, but just like all memorable meals- it's been in the back of my mind forever.

I did a little research and found that even though this soup is often served at Italian American weddings, the name "Wedding Soup" is actually a mis-translation of the Italian language. Minesha Maritata means married soup and is a reference to the fact that green vegetables and meat go well together- the flavors marry. And that they do. This recipe is delicious and moves along quickly (until you start rolling the meatballs and think you'll be doing that for days). But really, it's worth the time and effort because everything else including the prep is soooo simple.

I changed Rachael's recipe slightly by adding diced tomatoes in their liquid in addition to the chicken broth. I also used ground chicken instead of meatloaf mix, and the meatballs came out tasty and tender. A pinch or two of Old Bay found it's way into the broth as well as a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. I also cut down on the amount of chopped spinach and pasta. The original recipe can be found on if you'd like to compare.
Mini-Meatball Italian Wedding Soup
Inspired by Rachael Ray
1 T canola oil
2 carrots peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery chopped
3/4 cup diced onion
2 bay leaves (I use dried, but fresh is fine)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound ground chicken
1 egg beaten
2 cloves garlic grated or minced
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
1/2 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
2 cans (14.5 oz each) low fat/low sodium chicken broth
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (no salt added if you can find it)
1 can (14.5 oz) water
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup spaghetti broken into 1 inch pieces (I use Dreamfields low carb)
5 oz raw spinach chopped
IN DEEP POT over medium heat add oil, carrots, celery, onions and bay leaves. Season with salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Cover pot and cook five or six minutes. My stove cooks very high so I check it often and usually have to lower the temp. You want the veggies to soften, not brown. Stir occasionally.
WHILE VEGETABLES COOK, make the meatballs. Combine egg, garlic, cheese, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Now add the ground chicken. You may think this mixture is a little dry for meatballs, but remember they're cooking in broth and you don't want them to fall apart in the soup. They turn out beautifully.
UNCOVER SOUP POT and add broth, diced tomatoes with their liquid, and water. Add cushed pepper flakes and increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and start to roll chicken mixture into small balls (dumplings). Add the dumplings to the broth as you roll them. As I said before, this is the longest part of the process. Now add the broken spaghetti, stir, cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. Stir in chopped spinach in batches. When spinach has wilted , the soup is done and ready to serve.
I would have served this with crusty bread, but once again I'm cutting back on the carbs. So I did the next best thing and toasted up some cheesy lavash squares. The whole meal was extremely satisfying. And it feeds a crowd so I'll either eat it all week, share it with friends or freeze it. Very comforting.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Coconut Lemongrass Soup

Last week I caught an episode of Paula Deen on the Food Network and she was cooking Thai food. Being a lover of all types of Asian cuisine, I paid close attention and decided I'd give her lemongrass coconut soup a try. The big problem I have with cooking exotic dishes is that I usually can't get the ingredients locally and have to improvise. My market didn't have fresh lemongrass or Kaffir lime leaves, but I figured lime zest could replace the 4 Kaffir leaves and this adorable little squeeze bottle I discovered in the produce department could substitute for the one stalk of lemongrass.

I was right and I can't wait to share my new discovery. This little tube of loveliness is from Gourmet Garden and is called Lemon Grass Herb Blend. There's no ingredient label so I imagine it's just chopped lemongrass. Why they call it an herb blend, I do not know. The package boasts organic, no added flavors or colorings, and a long shelf life. How convenient is that? And after using it in my recipe, I'm hooked. It's just like fresh and will be a staple in my kitchen from now on. Getting back to the soup... I ended up re-mixing Paula's recipe by also cutting back on the amount of chiles and fish sauce. Plus she used sliced chicken. I omitted the bird and added more vegetables. And I love brown rice and thought that was a natural. So thanks Paula. You've inspired me once again.
Coconut Lemongrass Vegetable Soup
Inspired by Paula Deen
2 cans (14.5 oz each) fat free chicken broth
1 T Gourmet Garden Lemon Grass Herb Blend
Zest of one lime
1 T fresh ginger grated
1 can (14 oz) straw mushrooms drained and rinsed
1 can (14 oz) sliced baby corn drained and rinsed
2 small Thai or Serrano chiles
3 T fish sauce
2 T Splenda No Calorie Sweetener
1/2 can light coconut milk (about 6 oz)
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 oz fresh snow peas
2 cups cooked brown rice
In soup pot combine chicken broth, lemongrass, lime zest and ginger and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the infused broth, discard the aromatics and return broth to pot. Add mushrooms, corn, chiles, fish sauce, Splenda, coconut milk and lime juice and simmer another 10 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper and add snow peas and cook another 3 minutes. Ladle into serving bowls, add rice and top with cilantro.