kale and white bean soup

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After all of the junk I ate over the holidays I decided I needed to atone for it in the new year and the first food that came to mind?  Kale.  It’s so good for you and I am actually quite a fan of it so it was not difficult to convince myself to seek out kale-based recipes.  Other foods that are good for you?  Carrots, white beans, garlic, and onions.  Check, check, check, and check.

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Last week was very cold with temps in the single digits at night so soup sounded like an especially excellent idea and also an easy way to combine all of the aforementioned ingredients.

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The recipe recommended adding kielbasa or other smoked sausage so I did, though the soup could easily be made vegetarian by omitting the sausage and substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth.  It would still be excellent with these changes though I am glad I used the kielbasa because it definitely added a nice smokey dimension to the soup and made it more hearty.

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Another key ingredient that I have never once added to a soup before is a hunk of parmesan cheese rind.  It totally works.  It partially melted into the soup adding a salty creaminess though there was still a substantial chunk of cheese left after it was done cooking that I discarded along with the bay leaf.  This may be my favorite new soup and it was very simple to make.  Certainly it would have been a little healthier without the kielbasa and parmesan but overall I think the good far outweighs the bad and it’s definitely a good way to start the new year!

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Kale and White Bean Soup (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Cooks’ note: Soup is best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Thin with water if necessary.

butternut squash and chickpea stew

If you are entertaining guests this holiday season who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions this stew could be a great thing to whip up to accommodate them but is also good enough for all to enjoy.  There is no wheat, dairy, or meat which seem to be the main three things that people are allergic to or just avoid altogether.  (While I respect the vegetarian diet and often choose/prepare meatless options for myself I like bacon way too much to ever give up meat.  But I digress.)

This stew starts with toasting some fragrant spices on your stove.  After they are properly toasted you grind them up in a spice mill/coffee grinder or go old-school with a mortar and pestle and smoosh them to a fine pulp using a little elbow grease.  Then you mix those spices with a little olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and crushed garlic.  This is called Harissa and it will bring a whole lot of flavor to whatever you’ve got going on in your kitchen.

Butternut squash gets peeled and chopped into small pieces and roasted in the oven.  There are onions, more garlic, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, carrots and parsley.  They all combine together to make a great fall stew that is hearty and comforting and filling and a bit spicy.

This is total guilt-free food, as a friend of mine would say.  You can eat as much as you like and know that you are putting good stuff (mostly vegetables!) into your body.  And better yet, your gluten-free sister and your vegan cousin along your meat-loving uncle can all enjoy it.  Together.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 ½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (either from dry beans or from two 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 4 teaspoons Harissa (see recipe below), or more to taste
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Harissa (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Warm a skillet over a medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. Toast, shaking pan, until seeds are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder until fine.

Place ground spices in a bowl, and add cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in olive oil until smooth.

Cook’s Note: Harissa can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 1 month.

slow cooker beef stew

It’s that time again.  Time to bust my slow cooker out of the high-up shelf where I put things I don’t use super often.  (I should use it more often though as it’s a great way to cook in the summer without heating up your kitchen the way turning your oven tends to do.)  This time I decided to make one of my all-time favorite fall comfort foods: beef stew.

My grandma used to make a really good beef stew when I was growing up and this recipe reminded me a lot of hers.  I’m pretty sure my grandma didn’t drop a garlic/ginger skewer into her stew, but it really did add nice flavor to it, so much so that I am thinking I might start dropping garlic/ginger skewers into all soups and stews going forward!

As with many slow cooker recipes the most time-consuming part is chopping up vegetables and meat but the beauty here is that if you use baby carrots and pearl onions there isn’t a whole lot left for you to chop up.  Genius!  I froze a couple of single-serve containers full of the stew so that I can heat up comfort-in-food-form deeper into fall/winter when I don’t feel like cooking.  I’m a big fan of freezing in single servings as evidenced by my very full freezer… gotta get myself a larger freezer one of these days…

Baby Vegetable Beef Stew (from Slow Cooker magazine)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ½ lb lean boneless beef stew meat or chuck, cut into 1” chunks and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package (1 lb) frozen whole pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 bag (1 lb) baby carrots
  • 1 ¾ cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ¾ cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

Coat 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray.  Place garlic and ginger on skewer or wooden pick.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in large ziplock bag.  Shake well.  Toss half of the beef gently in bag to coat.  Remove meat, shaking off excess, and then repeat with remaining beef.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown beef on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer to cooker and top with onions and carrots.  Mix broth, wine, and tomato paste in bowl and pour into cooker.  Drop in bay leaf and ginger-garlic skewer.

Cover.  Cook on low 4 to 6 hours.  Add mushrooms and cook 1 to 2 more hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard skewer and bay leaf before serving.

not your mom’s meatloaf

Last night I was not feeling super motivated to cook supper.  (PS- it’s only called supper on Sundays.  The rest of the week it’s just referred to as dinner.)  I wound up leafing through the most recent issue of Bon Appetit looking for some inspiration and found recipes for parsnip and Brussels sprouts side dishes and since I happened to have both on hand (and also love both) the meal was starting to take shape.  (Check back later in the week for the side dishes.)  But what to do for a main course?

A few weeks ago when I was home my dad sent me back with a cooler full of beef from his farm.  Grass-fed goodness right there in my freezer.  I’m not even a big meat-eater but this is definitely the way forward if you’re going to partake.

I started researching meatloaf recipes because that is always a great way to stretch out a small amount of meat into a proper dish.  Problem is now that I am off the wheat I was having a hard time finding a recipe that didn’t involve breadcrumbs and then I found not one but two recipes where oatmeal was substituted for breadcrumbs.  Eureka!  Better yet the recipe I landed on had lots going on in it including prunes and bacon.  Sold!

This loaf is moist and a little salty with a touch of sweet and I dare say it’s the best meatloaf I’ve ever had in my life and my dining companion (who doesn’t hand out compliments freely) agreed completely.  The perfect main dish for a Sunday supper.

Meatloaf (adapted loosely from Gourmet magazine recipe from 2008 found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
  • ½ cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef chuck
  • ½ pound ground pork (not lean)
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Soak oats in milk in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to oat mixture.

Finely chop bacon and prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, and eggs and mix together with your hands.

Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cooks’ note:
Cooked meatloaf keeps, chilled, 3 days.

sweet potato and carrot bisque

Last weekend was a total soup weekend. It was cold, it snowed like six inches on top of the six we already had, and I was in no mood to venture out to grocery shop so instead decided to shop my pantry. I had sweet potatoes. I had carrots. I had onions. I had vegetable stock. Done and done and done and done.

With baking you have to stick pretty close to actual recipes but with cooking you can be more free and soup is an especially easy arena in which to experiment. Some of my favorite soups (and salads for that matter) have been a result of the mix of ingredients I happened to have on hand at that moment that all worked together to create something better than the sum of their parts.

This soup is full of orange vegetables– you know, the kind that make you see further and help prevent cancer. Totally awesome. Added bonus: it tastes good too.

Don’t fret if you don’t have an immersion blender, (though I highly recommend investing in one) you can puree this soup in batches in a blender or a food processor. Or you could even leave it chunky– that would be great too. Totally up to you. Experiment!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Bisque

  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into quarter-inch rounds
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion, cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the carrots and sweet potatoes, cover and cook, stirring once, until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot and allow to simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer soup to blender or food processor in batches and puree until smooth.

glazed goodness

With a title like that you’d expect for this post to be about donuts, right?  Nope.  Afraid not.  I’m talking about glazed vegetables, people.  Might not sound quite as exciting, but I can guarantee they are (nearly) as tasty.

I made this recipe for Thanksgiving a few years back and remember that it was quite the hit.  I believe one of the little kids at the meal referred to the parsnips as “white carrots.”  It was cute.  And parsnips kind of do look like white carrots but don’t so much taste like them.  Where carrots are sweet, parsnips are a little sharp.

The hardest part about this dish is cutting the carrots and parsnips up into little matchsticks but after that it is a breeze and is cooked entirely on the stove-top, thus freeing up space in your oven on T-day for other important dishes like stuffing and the turkey.

You simply cook down the carrots and parsnips in some olive oil with salt and pepper and then add butter, honey, and rosemary after they are tender for the glazing.  Sweet and hardy with a little bite from the parsnips and nice scent and flavor from the rosemary.  I highly recommend it for your Thanksgiving this year, or even just as part of a quick weeknight meal.

Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

Yield: Makes 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound carrots (about 4 large), peeled, cut into 3×1/4×1/4-inch sticks
  • 1 pound large parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, cut into 3×1/4×1/4-inch sticks
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey (such as heather, chestnut, or wildflower)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and parsnips. Sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown at edges, about 12 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Add butter, rosemary, and honey to vegetables. Toss over medium heat until heated through and vegetables are glazed, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired.

what’s up doc?

Sometimes I like to tell myself that incorporating healthy things like vegetables into baked goods makes them less bad for you.  Seems logical, right?

Well, maybe by the time you add the butter and the sugar that’s not always the case but it sure makes me feel better about stuffing myself with a treat such as these inside-out carrot cake cookie sandwiches.

That’s a mouthful in more ways than one.  The cookies have shredded carrots (obvi), raisins, and walnuts (if you so desire; I happen to think nuts [with few exceptions] ruin desserts).  They are hardy and cinnamon-y and make your kitchen smell like a cozy fall afternoon.  Guaranteed.

The filling is two simple ingredients: cream cheese and honey.  I substituted Mascarpone cheese for cream cheese as I have been wont to do lately.  It complimented the sweeter cookie quite nicely.

I have tagged these as being appropriate for Thanksgiving.  I made them a few years ago for the young ones in case they weren’t into pecan and pumpkin pie like I wasn’t when I was their age, and adults ate them just the same.  I mean, who doesn’t love carrot cake?

Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

Yield: Makes about 13 cookies

  • 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 scant cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins (2 1/2 ounces)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (I substituted Mascarpone cheese instead)
  • 1/4 cup honey

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 2 baking sheets.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

While cookies are baking, blend cream cheese and honey in a food processor until smooth.

Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between.