Weekly Winner:  Because You Can’t Always Be Good

For the most part I cook healthy food. My weekly repertoire consists of low-calorie, whole foods made from tons of veggies and lean meats with the rare exception of the occasional pork fest.  No processed foods, not a lot of fat (but come on, some!) and a healthy dose of all the right “super foods”.

But you know what?  Every once in a while you just gotta be bad. I’m not talking about three Big Macs and a couple of milk shakes kind of bad, I’m referring to heart-warming, soul-satisfying, ooey-gooey, cheesy bad. The kind of dish that restores your faith in humanity.  For me, that kind of dish is usually mac-n-cheese.  But just because I’ve decided to be bad (and be happy about it), that doesn’t mean I can’t dress up and “adultify” mac-n-cheese and transform it into something, dare I say, elegant?  Its spring and the asparagus (look, a vegetable!!!) is fabulous right now so lets add that along with a sophisticated pork-product (prosciutto) and put on our fancy jammies to enjoy this meal.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto is too good to be abbreviated and hyphenated.  This dish deserves to be called by its full name and eaten with reverence.  The recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is surprisingly a one-pot wonder.  No separate pan for a cheese sauce or even for a bechamel.  Nope, all you need here is one big ‘ol pot and the restraint to actually dish it out into separate bowls rather than diving in with the wooden spoon.  Not that I would ever do that. Because that would be bad.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt

3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

8 oz. elbow macaroni

2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup evaporated milk (not fat-free)

2 large eggs

5 oz. Fontina, coarsely grated (about 1-3/4 cups)

1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into thin strips

2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

Bring a 4-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. With a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a bowl, and keep warm.

Bring the water back to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, whisk the evaporated milk, eggs, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add to the pasta, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts, another 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the asparagus, prosciutto, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Weekly Winner:  Super Cozy, Super Tasty, Super Healthy -But What Is It?

I crave structure.  I adore lists and make them with wild abandon.  I organize, strategize and categorize literally everything in my life (yeah, I know…I’m working on it!) But I truly do love everything to have a place and to have a place for everything.

So then this recipe happens. Chickpeas and Kale in Spicy Pomodoro Sauce.  It’s fabulous. It’s easy. It’s healthy. I’m just not exactly sure what it is! Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Perhaps a side dish?  No, far to hearty and complete for a side dish.  Whatever its supposed to be, it was my lunch recently and I seriously enjoyed the heck out of it. I think the only thing I would possibly add to this is a piece of crusty bread along side it. Although honestly, I didn’t miss it.  This is a bowl you want to curl up in. It is incredibly satisfying and complex-tasting and I would make it again in a heartbeat if I could only find under what category I filed the recipe!  Seriously, I had to look up the recipe online as I could not locate mine. I’ve checked soups, side dishes, lunches, vegetables…nada.  Luckily I remembered pulling it from Food & Wine magazine. See, I told you I need to work on it.

Enough of my problems and hangups.  Make this dish.  Whatever it is.  Because all that matters is it is one big bowl of tastiness.

Chickpeas and Kale in Spicy Pomodoro Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

One 28-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Kosher salt

One 8-ounce bunch of Tuscan kale, stemmed and chopped

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Torn basil and marjoram leaves, 
for garnish

Finely grated Pecorino Romano, 
for serving

Procedure:

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant 
but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and 
the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes.

Stir the kale into the sauce and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Spoon into bowls and garnish with torn basil 
and marjoram leaves. Top with finely grated pecorino and serve hot.

Weekly Winner – A Rustic Bowl of Guiltless Comfort

I’ve said it before and I still believe it – a good bowl of soup can save your soul.  Especially if said soup is incredibly easy and comes together quickly.  Silky Tomato Soup with White Beans and Garlic Oil is the perfect example of that. Hearty and comforting, this soup has a bit of spice and enough substance to keep you going through the hectic holiday season. Perhaps best of all is that, while rich-tasting and wonderfully filling, it won’t contribute to the destruction of your diet like a lot of food will this time of year.

I actually made this soup awhile ago — almost two weeks! But have just now managed to post it.  It still stands as one of the best things I’ve made recently.  I found this winner in Cooking Light and will be making it regularly to ensure my own salvation.

Silky Tomato Soup with White Beans and Garlic Oil

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3-1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided

8 large garlic cloves, sliced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 (14.5 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped sweet onion

1/2 cup chopped carrot

2 thyme sprigs

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup vegetable stock (I used chicken)

1-1/4 tsp salt

3 lb. ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 oz whole-wheat bread, torn

Preparation

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil and garlic in a skillet over medium for 4 minutes or until garlic is golden. Add red pepper and beans; toss.

2. Heat remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, and thyme; cook 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Stir in stock, salt, tomatoes, and bread. Bring to a boil; cook 5 minutes.

3. Discard thyme sprigs. Place tomato mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Divide soup among 4 bowls; top with beans.

Weekly Winner:  Great Big Balls of Comfort

Things always seem to get crazy for the first few months of the year.  Always for different reasons, yet always hectic.  I always fall under the false assumption that once the holidays are over things will slow down and my beloved routine will return.  It just never seems to happen.

So when I do have some time to “play” in the kitchen and try new things — I am always looking for comfort.  Something I can curl up on the couch with and escape into.  These Curried Meatballs are just the salve I was looking for.  Meaty, spicy, warm and cozy.

The recipe comes from Bon Appetit and while the list of ingredients may seem a bit long and daunting, at least in my case, I had everything on hand.  Make this dish on the night you seriously need some soul-satisfying, heart-warming fare.  Pajamas optional (but highly recommended). Also you will notice the forbidden cilantro on top.  This was hubby’s dish.  The recipe calls for it but I have omitted it as I always do.  Do what you feel is right.

Curried Meatballs

Serves 8

Ingredients:

Meatballs

Olive oil

6 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 jalapeños, seeds removed if desired

6 garlic cloves

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 pounds ground beef (20% fat)

1 large egg, beaten to blend

3 tablespoons plain yogurt (plus more for serving)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Curry Sauce:
¼ cup olive oil

4 medium onions, chopped

10 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1½-inch piece ginger, peeled, chopped

3 dried chiles de árbol

4 teaspoons curry powder

4 teaspoons ground cumin

4 teaspoons ground turmeric

3 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Procedure:

Meatballs

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Purée scallions, jalapeños, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, garam masala, coriander, cumin, and cayenne in a blender until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add beef, egg, yogurt, and salt. Mix with your hands until mixture is homogenous and starts to become very sticky like sausage meat, about 1 minute. Roll beef mixture into golf ball–size portions and place on baking sheet, spacing 1″ apart (you should have about 24). Drizzle meatballs with more oil and bake until browned on top and cooked through, 20–25 minutes.

Curry Sauce

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often,  are translucent and starting to brown, 8–10 minutes. Stir in chiles, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and peppercorns. Cook, stirring often, until mixture is very fragrant and spices begin to stick to the pot, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, stirring and scraping bottom of pot, and bring to a boil. Add bay leaf, 1 Tbsp. salt, and 2 cups water; return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors have melded, 25–30 minutes.

Let curry sauce cool slightly, then transfer to a blender; blend until very smooth. Wipe out any bits remaining in pot and transfer curry sauce back to pot. Stir in lemon juice and cayenne; taste sauce and season with more salt if needed.

Gently nestle cooked meatballs into sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook until meatballs are heated all the way through, 10–15 minutes. Serve topped with dollop of yogurt.


Weekly Winner:  “Old Clothes” never tasted so good.

Yep, that’s what we ate this weekend.  Old Clothes.  It was better than you might expect.  Actually, it was Ropa Vieja the Cuban stewed beef recipe which means “Old Clothes”.  I suspect that’s because everything is stewed and shredded like rags.  Very tasty rags, I might add.

There is a fabulous Cuban restaurant by us which obviously has Ropa Vieja on the menu.  I’ve had it there and it is incredible, but I always assumed it was a long, laborious affair to make. That, and I’ve never found a good recipe for it.  Then I come across a slow cooker version and lo and behold…. I’m hooked! This is truly a succulent dish.  A bit sweet, a bit salty, but all around wonderful.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and you couldn’t ask for a cozier dish on a cool November night.  Just as you’d reach for your favorite old sweatshirt to get comfy, I’ll “reach” for this dish again and again.

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

serves 6

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1-1/2 lb flank steak

3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided

1 cup sliced white onion

1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 cup beef stock

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1/3 cup pimiento-stuffed olives, halved

hot cooked rice for serving. (The original recipe called for only 3 cups — you’ll definitely want more if you’re serving 6!)

Procedure:

  1. Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray
  2. Heat 2 tsps oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut steak into quarters.  Sprinkle steak evenly with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper; add steak to pan.  Cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned.  Transfer steak to slow cooker.  Add remaining 1 tsp oil, onion, bell peppers and garlic to pan; cook 3 minutes or until slightly softened, stirring occasionally.  Stir in raisins; transfer onion mixture to slow cooker.
  3. Combine stock, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp black pepper in a medium bowl.  Pour tomato mixture over steak and vegetables in slow cooker.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours and 15 minutes or until steak is very tender.
  5. Remove steak from cooker; shred using 2 forks.  Stir steak and olives into sauce.  Serve steak mixture over rice.

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.

Weekly Winner: Cozy-ing Up With a Comfy Korma

My apologies for the delay but once again I’ve been traveling.  And as usual, upon my return to reality I feel a bit heavy and, well, stuffed.  Good eating (especially on vacation) is a life-long love of mine but once back home I always decide it is time to lighten up and eat right.

This would be much easier if it actually felt like Spring here in Chicago, but alas, the Polar Vortex still seems to have a firm grip on Chicagoland and the winter-that-just-won’t-quit … well, apparently it just won’t quit!!  Therefore I am torn between my continued craving for comfort food and my new-found yearning for lighter, healthier food.  What is a girl to do??

turkey spinach kormaThis girl turned to one of my new favorites – Spinach Turkey Korma on brown rice.  It is a bowl of food you can really tuck into and it just warms you up and satisfies.  But it’s healthy!!  And light!!  Bonus!

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and if you have the slightest inclination to try a healthy Indian bowl of yumminess — try this.  Your soul and your waistline will thank you.

A quick note on the picture and the recipe itself.  My picture just didn’t do the dish justice, so this one is from the magazine’s website.  And anyone who had read more than two of my recipes knows I detest cilantro.  Therefore I replaced cilantro with parsley.  You do what you feel is right.  I won’t judge, but might just wrinkle my nose at you a bit.

Spinach-Turkey Korma

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 2 -inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 10 -ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for topping
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice, for serving

Instructions:

Puree half of the onion, 2 tablespoons water, the ginger, garlic, curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until almost smooth; set aside. Mix the yogurt with 1/4 cup water in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the remaining onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and tender, about 3 minutes. Add the turkey and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Add the onion-spice mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until dry, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the spinach and the yogurt mixture. Cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve over rice with more yogurt and topped with parsley.

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