Weekly Winner:  Crock Pot Comfort

We have just shattered the record here in Chicago for the coldest February ever. EVER! It is insanely, crazy cold here and when it’s like this, I throw all good eating intentions aside. I need comfort! I need warmth! I need pork!!

Luckily, all three of these are easily had with the Pork and Black Bean Soup that I have been making for years. As a matter of fact, I was somewhat shocked that I hadn’t written about it before, but apparently not.  This incredible recipe comes from Woman’s Day magazine of all places. Not your typical source for foodie-wonderfulness, but hey, they hit the nail on the head with this one.

This is serious, soul-satisfying stuff here. Earthy, spicy, porky, creamy …. well, you get the idea. And it is incredibly easy. If you have a crock pot and you can dump ingredients into said crock pot …. you can have this soup. And you should. Calories and fat content be damned! It’s cold! 

Pork & Black Bean Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotle peppers in adobo, plus 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
  • 1 large red onion,  chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic,  finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder,  trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt
  • Sour cream, fresh salsa or chopped tomatoes for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a 5- to 6-qt slow cooker, whisk together the chicken broth, chipotles and adobo sauce, and cumin; stir in the beans, onion and garlic.
  2. Add the pork and cook, covered, until beans are tender and pork easily pulls apart, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours.
  3. Transfer pork to a bowl and, using a fork, break it into large pieces. Using a handheld immersion blender (or a standard blender), purée half the soup.
  4. Stir the pork back into the soup and season with 1 tsp salt. Serve with the sour cream, salsa or tomatoes, if desired.
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Weekly Winner: Great Green Goodness!

IMG_1598Maybe it’s the arctic freeze that has Chicago in its unrelenting grip. Maybe it’s the vast, white blanket of snow and ice covering everything I see outside. Maybe it’s simply the fact that it’s February, but lately I’ve been craving the site of something green. And preferably warm … like a soup! Well, my wishes came true because I have never seen a greener bowl of soup…. ever!! Seriously green. Emerald green. Kermit green. (Don’t worry, no celebrity frogs were harmed in the making of this soup).

I’ve also been on sort of a chickpea kick lately. I honestly never thought much about them, but find that I’ve been cooking them a ton lately — for us and for clients. In salads, in side dishes, of course as hummus. So when I saw this recipe for Creamy Spinach Chickpea Soup, well, it’s like the stars aligned and I knew what had to be done. I had to make this soup. And man, am I glad I did! It is fabulous. Actually, I find it better than it has any real right to be considering the short list of ingredients and super-easy preparation.

The recipe comes from Sunset Magazine. And trust me on this, you may think that making the curry-lime oil to drizzle on is fussy and unnecessary — It’s not!!  It is critical to making this delicious soup complex and special. Don’t cheat yourself out of this and it really only takes a second.

Without further ado — the greenest soup to ever come out of this kitchen. And one of the tastiest too!

Creamy Spinach and Chickpea Soup

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

4 1/2 Tbsp canola oil, divided

3/4 cup diced shallots (2 medium)

1 Tbsp minced garlic

2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

2 cans (15 oz. each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp kosher salt

6 cups packed spinach leaves (from about 10 oz. bunch spinach, rinsed well and stems trimmed)

1 1/4 tsp curry powder

1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice

2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves

Preparation:

1. Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a medium pot over medium heat and add shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute more.

2. Add chickpeas, broth, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until flavors are well blended and chickpeas are very soft, about 25 minutes. Add spinach and cook just until softened and bright green, about 2 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Stir in curry powder and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

4. Whirl half of soup at a time in a blender, starting on low-speed, until very smooth. Ladle into bowls. Just before serving, stir lime juice into curry oil and drizzle over soup. Garnish with mint.

 

Weekly Winner: A Classier Tuna Noodle Casserole

IMG_1585  If you like tuna and you’re a fan of pasta (and if you’re not, I don’t want to know you) then you’ve obviously had some sort of tuna noodle casserole. Usually, this amounts to dumping canned tuna, egg noodles, and some sort of condensed soup in a casserole dish and baking it until bubbly. While it may not be earth-shatteringly delicious, it is comforting and will take the chill off of a cold winter evening.

I think it is safe to say that I will never make one of those casseroles again. Why? Because I have found a better way. A step up from the basic, boring casserole. Enter Creamy Shells and Tuna with Walnut Gremolata. I believe the recipe came from Cuisine at Home and while it is a much classier dish than the standard casserole, it is a lot quicker as there is no baking required. Bonus!

Creamy Shells & Tuna with Walnut Gremolata
Serves 4

For the gremolata: combine 1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts, 1/4 cup chopped parsley and the zest of 2 lemons. Set aside.

Ingredients for the pasta:
8 oz dry medium shell pasta
1 cup diced shallots
1 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp country Dijon mustard
2 cans solid white albacore tuna in water (5 oz each), drained
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:
Cook shells in a pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; drain, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water.

Sweat shallots and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until shallots soften, 7-8 minutes.

Deglaze skillet with vermouth, increase heat to high, and reduce until nearly evaporated, 3 minutes. Add cream, broth, and mustard; boil sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in shells, tuna, and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Add pasta water to reach desired consistency. Garnish with gremolata.

 

Weekly Winner: Pumpkin Pockets of Perfection

IMG_1576 As a rule, I do not make pasta. There are way too many perfectly wonderful, hand-crafted pastas out there for me to bother. I think it all goes back to my panic towards pastry or really dough of any kind. I leave that to the hubby. He’s good at it, so why should I struggle with it?? Also, there are loads of good store-bought versions of pie crusts and biscuits and puff pastry so I see no need to stress myself out doing it myself. My perfectionist tendencies only carry so far. I know when to give in — and with pasta, I almost always give in.

So what was I doing making homemade pumpkin ravioli last night? Well, first of all I had the evening to myself. I had no clients to cook for and nothing to prep nor did I have any leftovers to reheat. The entire evening and a totally clean kitchen lay ahead of me. What to do? What to do?

I saved this recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Browned Butter back before Thanksgiving. I got the recipe from The Pioneer Woman and I wanted to give it a try. Mainly because it promised fabulously tasty ravioli without making pasta dough. The trick? Wonton Wrappers! Seriously, where have these been all my life? They are perfect squares just waiting to be filled with some sort of wonderful-ness and the options are endless! Best part? They really stay together if sealed properly. I did not have one single blow out and I didn’t even bother to trim them with a cutter.

I have a feeling we’ll be having a lot more ravioli dishes around here.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Browned Butter
Makes 18 ravioli

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp butter
2 clove garlic, minced
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 stick butter
36 whole wonton wrappers
1 whole egg, beaten
black pepper to taste
fresh Parmesan
fresh sage, sliced very thin

Procedure:
Melt 2 Tbsp butter with the garlic in a skillet over medium heat and cook for a couple of minutes to release the garlic flavor. Add the pumpkin puree, salt and chili powder. Stir and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing occasionally, until golden. Remove from heat and pour the pine nuts onto a small plate.

In the same small skillet, brown the butter by melting it over medium-high heat, then letting it cook and bubble for an additional minute or so until the foam is golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the ravioli: Lay out 18 wonton wrappers and put 1/2 tsp of the pumpkin mixture in the center. Beat the egg with 1 Tbsp water. Using your finger, smear the egg mixture all over the surface of the wrappers surrounding the pumpkin. Place a clean wrapper on top, matching up the edges. Press the edges together and use your fingers to press out any air pockets that form. Repeat with the res of the wrappers.

This is where if you want to, you can cut them with a circular or square cutter or ravioli trimmer.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the ravioli three at a time into the water and cook for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spatula and put the ravioli on a plate. Continue cooking the ravioli in batches of threes.

To serve: spoon a little browned butter on each plate. Place desired amount of ravioli on each plate, then spoon a little more browned butter over the top. Sprinkle on the pine nuts, and a little black pepper and then the shaved parmesan. Finally, top with slivered sage and serve.