Weekly Winner:  Another Bowl of Lusciousness

It seems as if I’ve been a bit fixated on soups lately.  I always seem to have a stack of four or five new soup recipes that I’m just dying to try out.  The problem with that is then there’s all the soups that I’ve already made and dearly love.  When am I going to eat them?!?  I guess I’m just going to have to hope for a very long, cold winter.

Potato-Kale Soup is absolutely luscious.  Creamy, (without cream) garlicky potato goodness amped up with shreds of glorious kale.  Yes, I am a kale lover.  I like how it stands up to cooking while retaining a nice bite and seems more substantial and tastier than simple spinach.

This soup is so simple, yet totally elegant. It would make an amazing first course at a dinner party.  Me? I had it for a midweek lunch.  But I gotta admit, I felt just a bit fancy as I sat at the table enjoying this soup while going over client menus and checking Facebook.

The recipe comes from one of my new favorite cookbooks – The Chef Next Door, by Amanda Freitag.

Potato-Kale Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp canola oil

2 Spanish onions, diced

10 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 leek, cleaned and thinly sliced

2 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cups chicken stock

3/4 pound Tuscan kale, ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Optional Garnishes: hot paprika, extra virgin olive oil.

Procedure:

  1. Heat the canola oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, garlic, and leek, season with 1 tsp of the salt, and sweat until the vegetables are cooked down and really soft with no color, up to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes, stock, and remaining 1 tsp salt and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are fully cooked, about 30 minutes.
  3. Let the potato-leek mixture cool to room temperature, then purée it in a food processor or blender, working in batches as needed, or directly in the pot with an immersion blender, until completely smooth.
  4. Return the purée to the original saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat.  Stir in the kale and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve the soup in deep bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of hot paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.
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Weekly Winner:  Best. Meatloaf. Ever.

I may have mentioned that when I was younger I was never a big meatloaf fan.  Didn’t mind it, but never sought it out.  I’d almost always would rather have a hamburger or something with meatballs.  A big loaf of meat just wasn’t my thing.  But apparently, with age comes wisdom.  I find that now I have joined the “pro-meatloaf” team.  I’m sure part of the reason is that I have been asked by various clients to make meatloaves for them so I’m always anxious to try out a new recipe.

Which is exactly what happened last night.  I found this recipe for Gochujang Glazed Meatloaf and thought it sounded tasty. The few things I have made using gochujang (Korean Chili Paste) I have really liked.  The problem was, to properly test the recipe I felt like I should make the whole thing.  That’s a lot of meatloaf for two people and I didn’t really want a bunch of leftovers.  That’s when it’s nice to have friends you can call up and say “hey, feel like being my guinea pigs for the evening?”.  I know they are big fans of meatloaf and always like spice, so this seemed like a perfect fit.

Not only was it a hit, it was without a doubt, the best meatloaf I’ve made to date.  Truly.  I had every intention of taking a picture of it as it came out of the oven or after it was sliced but it just disappeared! So I must rely on the magazine’s picture (which is far more artistic than mine would have been) but trust me when I say, mine looked exactly like this (before it was devoured).

The recipe for Gochujang Glazed Meatloaf comes from Good Housekeeping.  If you are leery of heat, don’t worry, this isn’t a super hot recipe.  It’s just enough of a kick to make it far more interesting than your typical ketchup-brown sugar glaze.  I must admit I was a bit skeptical about only using 6 saltine crackers as a binder for two pounds of meat, but it worked.  Beautifully.

Gochujang Glazed Meatloaf

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork

1 small onion, grated

6 saltines, finely crushed

1/2 c. packed fresh mint, chopped

5 tbsp. gochujang, divided

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. ketchup

Directions

Mix beef, pork, onion, saltines, mint, 3 tablespoons gochujang, egg, and salt.

Mold into loaf on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in 425F degree oven for 25 minutes.

Stir together ketchup and remaining gochujang; brush over meatloaf. Bake 30 minutes or until cooked through (160 degrees F).


Weekly Winner:  An Odd Little Dinner without a Country

So the beginning of the new year always brings with it tons of healthy and light recipes that I am all-too-willing to try.  I am always ready to discover new combinations of flavors, or the new “it” ingredient and find ways of incorporating them into my diet.  This recipe, while definitely healthy and low-calorie, did not introduce anything new to the party.  I’ve had every ingredient listed a hundred times but for some reason, it just sounded intriguing.  I thought it would be a good dish to try out when I was short on time but wanted something light and new.  Which was just where I found myself last night.

As we sat down to eat, I was stumped.  It’s good…very savory and tasty and extremely familiar, but then in other ways it seemed quite unique.  My husband was also confused.  He saw the pork cut up along with the mushrooms and carrots and I think he was expecting either a stir-fry or a stew.  This however was neither.  There was not one single Asian ingredient to bring the dish over to the stir-fry team, and it certainly wasn’t any kind of stew.

So what exactly was this dish?  I have no idea.  The name certainly didn’t give any clues: Pork with Mushrooms and Barley.  It wasn’t Asian, Indian, French, German or Italian.  Perhaps it was a new take on a good-old American dinner. Regardless, it was delicious in a perfectly harmonious, unassuming sort of way.  I’ll be making it again I’m sure.  The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine.

Pork with Mushrooms and Barley

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup quick cooking barley

4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

4 tsp packed light brown sugar

1 large pork tenderloin (about 1-1/4 pounds), trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch chunks

Kosher salt and ground pepper

1 cup chicken broth

2 tsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

8 ounces cretinism mushrooms, sliced

2 leeks (white and light green parts only), chopped

3 carrots, chopped

Chopped fresh parsley, for topping

Procedure:

  1. Cook the barley as the label directs.  Cover and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce with 2 tsp brown sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the pork, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Whisk the chicken broth, cornstarch and the remaining 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp brown sugar in a small bowl until smooth; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add the pork and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 4 minutes.  Remove to a plate.
  4. Wipe out skillet and add the remaining 1 Tbsp vegetable oil.  Add the mushrooms, leeks, carrots, 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes.  Return the pork to the skillet and add the broth mixture.  Cook, stirring, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Serve with the barley; top with parsley.

Weekly Winner:  Pasta Fagioli?  Basta! — this soup is better!

Is there such a thing as finding salvation in a bowl of soup?  I believe there is.  When it comes time to “lighten up” by eating better and undoing all the damage that the holidays caused, I truly think soup is the way to go.  First of all it is liquid and takes longer to eat than, say a sandwich.  Also it’s hot which slows you down a bit as well. But there is also something deeply satisfying about a steaming bowl of soup.  It truly feeds your soul as well as your appetite.

Having said all that, I am generally more of a fan of puréed and creamy soups than those that are chunky and broth-based.  That is possibly, until now.  This soup is a game changer.

So, what makes Italian Chickpea Soup soup so fabulous?  I mean it is basically Pasta Fagioli but instead of beans it has chickpeas.  I think a few things that makes this so fabulous is that a portion of the soup is puréed adding body and richness to the broth.  Secondly, there’s a nice balance of heat in this soup.  Just enough to wake up your taste buds without blowing your head off.  Finally (and perhaps most importantly) is the generous sprinkling of crisped pancetta that is sprinkled over the top.    This is a healthy, fulfilling, and darn tasty soup and the recipe comes from Cuisine at Home.

Italian Chickpea Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 cup dry ditalini pasta

3 oz. pancetta, diced

2 Tbsp olive oil

1-1/2 cups diced onions

1/2 cup each diced carrot and celery

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp each minced fresh garlic, rosemary, and sage

1 tsp anchovy paste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups chicken broth

2 cans chickpeas (15 oz each) drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes in juice (28 oz)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan

Procedure:

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
  2. Cook pancetta in oil in a large pot over medium heat until crisp, then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve 2 Tbsp drippings.
  3. Sweat onions, carrot, and celery in drippings in same pot, covered, over medium heat until vegetables soften, 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, rosemary, sage, anchovy paste, and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
  5. Deglaze pot with wine, scraping up any brown bits.  Cook until wine nearly evaporates, 3-5 minutes.
  6. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, and pasta water.  Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes.
  7. Transfer 2 cups soup to a food processor or blender; carefully purée and return to pot.
  8. Stir pasta into soup, cook until warmed through, 3-5 minutes.  Season soup with salt and black pepper; top servings with Parmesan and pancetta.

Weekly Winner:  Reclaiming Control with Kasha and Kale

It has been a banner holiday season food-wise around here. Dinners out with friends, house guests, bowl games, celebrations large and small.  All of these had several things in common:  bountiful tables of gloriously indulgent food and copious amounts of festive drinks.  I am a firm believer that the holidays call for an extra dab of decadence which I am guilty of adding to what I cooked as well as accepting in what others offered.  I’m not complaining … or at least I wasn’t, until the holidays were over and I ever-so-cautiously stepped on the scale.  Ouch.  Yeah, OK, I sort of saw that coming.

I’m fortunate in that, unlike most people who dread going back to the “daily grind” when the holidays are over, I not only welcome it, I crave it.  Enough is enough and it’s time to get down to the business of working out again and eating reasonably.  Which is exactly why I made this for dinner last night:  Kasha with Kale and Pancetta.  I don’t believe I had ever eaten Kasha before last night and I know I’d never made it.  It’s very similar to Farro which I dearly love.  It’s easy to prepare and it is super satisfying.  This is not a dish that will blow you away with spectacular flavors.  This is a subtle, sumptuous and soul-satisfying bowl of comfort.  All of that is just what the doctor ordered around here. The recipe comes from Sunset Magazine, which is appropriate, because the sun has definitely set on the holiday eating frenzy.

Kasha with Kale and Pancetta

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

About 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

3 to 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup kasha (roasted buckwheat)

3 oz diced pancetta

1 large bunch Tuscan or curly kale, stemmed and leaves sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/4 tsp red chile flakes

1 Tbsp lemon zest, plus lemon wedges

1/4 tsp pepper

Poached eggs (optional)

Preparation

1. Bring broth, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 tbsp. oil to a boil in a small saucepan. Add kasha. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
2. Meanwhile, sauté pancetta in a 12-in. frying pan over medium heat until golden brown and starting to crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon from the pan to a small plate.
3. Add kale and chile flakes to fat in pan. Cook, stirring often, until kale starts to soften and turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Add lemon zest, 1/4 tsp. salt, the pepper, and a splash of water if pan starts to get dry; cook a couple of minutes more. Stir in kasha mixture and 2 to 3 tbsp. more oil to moisten.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature, with an egg on each serving if you like, and lemon wedges on the side.