Weekly Winner: Keeping it Creamy and Dreamy with Cashew-Cauliflower Soup

soupSoups On!!  It is definitely soup weather and I couldn’t be happier about it.  While I’m a lover of all soups, stews, chilis, and chowders, I gotta admit that my all-time favorite type is a creamy, pureed soup.  And have I found a winner here with this beautiful Cashew-Cauliflower Soup.

The recipe comes from Real Simple and you know what?  It is!  But it is also, quick, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free.  Not that I particularly care about any of that but a lot of my clients do.  If I can produce a soup this luscious and creamy without… well, cream… then I’m a happy camper!  It also freezes great, so I’ll be making vats of this to keep on hand for chilly autumn nights or time-crunched lunches.  Quick, tasty, healthy and of course, creamy and dreamy.  Definitely a weekly winner!

Cashew-Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3/4 cups raw cashews, divided

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 5 cups)

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place 1/2 cup each cashews and water in a microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes; let cool.  Transfer to a blender, add 1/2 cup broth, and blend until very smooth
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add cauliflower and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add beans, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, and remaining 2-1/2 cups broth. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 10 minutes.
  4. Toast remaining 1/4 cup cashews on a baking sheet until golden, about 6 minutes; chop and set aside
  5. Add cauliflower mixture to blender and puree until smooth.  Serve soup topped with toasted cashews, a drizzle of oil and several grinds of pepper.

 

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Weekly Winner: Pork and Pears Perfect a Salad

pork saladThis time of year, weather in Chicago is somewhat psychotic.  One minute it’s still blazing hot, the next a cool, autumnal breeze is blowing and you can just tell fall is around the corner (yay!).

So while it still can be considered “salad weather”, I also find that for dinner at least, a simple salad doesn’t cut it.  I need more.  I need….. pork!  Raspberry-Walnut Pork Salad is the perfect season-changing dinner.  The recipe comes from Taste of Home Magazine (which, by the way has come a long way since I last perused the recipes.  I’m glad I gave it another look!)

Now, back to the recipe:  Coating the pork in a mix of flour and ground walnuts give it a nice crunch and nutty taste.  All in all, this is one of those fabulous salads that give you a different taste with each bite – there’s a lot going on here.  And all of it is super tasty!

Raspberry-Walnut Pork Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 pork tenderloins (3/4 lb each), cut into 1 inch slices

1/3 cup ground walnuts

2 Tbsp flour

1/2 tsp salt, divided

1/2 tsp pepper, divided

4-1/2 tsp walnut oil

1/3 cup chopped shallot

1 medium pear, chopped

3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1/3 cup raspberry vinegar

2 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

2 tsp minced fresh sage

2 pkgs (6 oz each) fresh baby spinach

1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Procedure:

  1. Flatten tenderloin slices to 1/2 inch thickness. In a large bowl, combine the ground walnuts, flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Add the pork, a few pieces at a time, and turn to coat.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook pork in oil in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned.  Remove and keep warm
  3. In the same skillet, sauté shallot until tender.  Add pear; cook 1 minute longer.  Add the chicken broth, preserves and vinegar.  Bring to a boil; cook until slightly thickened, 6-8 minutes.  Stir in rosemary, sage and the remaining salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  4. Place spinach in a large bowl.  Add pear mixture; toss to coat.  Divide among six plates; top each with pork.  Sprinkle with cheese and chopped walnuts.

Weekly Winner: My New Go-To Meatball

ricotta pork meatballsDoes the world really need another meatball?  Heck, yeah!  A more appropriate question might be: “Is there such a thing as too many meatballs?”

These big, beautiful meatballs are incredibly moist and tender and made out of two of my favorite things – pork and cheese! The recipe for Pork and Ricotta Meatballs comes from Cook’s Country magazine and I’m seriously considering making this my “everyday” spaghetti and meatball recipe.  This one takes just about the same amount of total time, but more of it is “hands off” which means I will probably make it more often.  And I should make this often because it is awesome — you should too!  Here’s the deal:

Pork and Ricotta Meatballs

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

Meatballs:

4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces

8 oz (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese

2 lbs ground pork

1 oz Parmesan cheese grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 large eggs

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp salt

1-1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp grated lemon zest

Sauce:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes

salt and pepper

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil

Procedure:

  1. For the meatballs: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.  Set wire rack in aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and spray evenly with vegetable oil spray.  Combine bread and ricotta in large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with fork, until smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add pork, Parmesan, parsley, eggs, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon zest to bread mixture and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.  Divide meat mixture into 24 portions (about 1/4 cup each) and place on platter.  Roll portions between your wet hands to form meatballs and evenly space on prepared wire rack.  Roast meatballs until browned, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.  Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
  3. For the sauce: Meanwhile, combine oil and garlic in Dutch oven set over low heat and cook until garlic is soft and golden on all sides, 12 to 14 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and 1 tsp salt.  Cover, with lid slightly ajar, and bring to simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce has thickened slightly, about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Nestle meatballs into sauce, cover, and transfer pot to oven.  Bake until meatballs are tender and sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Transfer meatballs and sauce to serving platter.  Sprinkle with basil and serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.

 

Zesty Za’atar Zalmon

zatar salmonOK, sorry… couldn’t resist.  The actual name of this incredibly easy, incredibly complex-tasting meal is Mediterranean Za’atar Salmon but come on, where’s the fun in that?  Where’s the alliteration??  Seriously though, this is a stellar salmon dish.  Ha! See?  I did it again — Seriously Stellar Salmon… now that’s what this blog entry should have been titled!

All alliteration aside (sorry, I just can’t seem to stop!), this is a one-pan dish that is just different enough to make it interesting.  If you’ve never tried za’atar spice, you should!  I have a handful of recipes that I use it in and have never been disappointed.  The Za’atar gets used twice in this recipe.  It seasons the broth that is used to cook the couscous and it seasons the mayo which is spread on the salmon before cooking.  By the way, if you’ve never topped salmon with mayo before cooking, um, yeah…. it’s a very good thing.

The recipe comes from Kraft Food & Family. Now, don’t go looking down your nose at me or this recipe because of the source.  I’ve gotten some really killer recipes from the magazine.  They are always well-written, creative and definitely darn tasty.  They just need to work on their alliteration.

Mediterranean Za’atar Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup mayonnaise

4 1/2 tsp. za’atar, divided

4 skinless salmon fillets

1 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup Israeli couscous, uncooked

1 5-oz package mixed baby spinach and arugula salad greens (I actually used baby kale)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped Kalamata olives

1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Procedure:

  • Mix mayo and 1 Tbsp za’atar until blended.  Brush half the mayo mixture onto salmon fillets; place, mayo sides down, in a large skillet.  Brush remaining sides with mayo mixture.  Cook on medium heat 5 to 6 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness.  Remove fish from skillet and cover to keep warm.
  • Add broth and remaining za’atar to skillet; stir until blended. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in couscous; cover.  Simmer on medium-low heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add all remaining ingredients except cheese; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or just until greens are wilted.  Top with fish and cheese and continue to cook, covered, 2 to 3 more minutes or until fish is heated through and cheese is slightly melted.

 

Weekly Winner: Conquering the Perfect Thigh – chicken, that is!

IMG_0853I love bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs,  but rarely am I able to prepare them perfectly. They are either underdone, overdone, flabby skinned or the skin rips off and sticks to the pan when I go to turn them over.  The struggle is real!! But still, I keep trying.  I’ve tried nonstick pans, I’ve tried broiling (to avoid turning), I’ve tried grilling … you name it, I’ve attempted it, with varying degrees of success but never anything near perfection.

So when I saw the recipe for One-Skillet Chicken with Buttery Orzo from Bon Appetit magazine, I was skeptical.  But as usual, I was drawn to the picture of perfectly bronzed, crispy-skinned chicken thighs.  I would give it one more try.  Can I just say…….. NAILED IT!

If I can do it, you can too.  I think the secret is the cast iron skilled and a cast-iron will not touch them for a good 7-8 minutes (I literally had to leave the kitchen so not to be tempted to poke around and mess with them).  Finishing them in the oven makes sure they get cooked all the way through.

One-Skillet Chicken with Buttery Orzo

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 pounds total), patted dry

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided

1 fennel bulb, chopped, plus fronds, chopped

1 leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped

8 oz orzo

1/3 cup dry white wine

2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Rain salt and then some pepper all over chicken.  Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a medium cast-iron skillet over medium-high.  Nestle chicken, skin side down, in skillet in a single layer with no gaps. Cook until meat is opaque around the edges and skin is deep golden brown, 6-8 minutes.  Turn chicken skin side up and transfer skillet to oven; bake, uncovered until chicken is cooked through, 10-15 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate.
  2. Set the same skillet over medium; combine fennel bulb and leek in skillet and sprinkle in some salt and pepper.  Cook, tossing occasionally, until leek is looking golden around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Add orzo and cook until pasta is darkened (it will take on a brown hue) to a nice nutty brown in spots and toasty smelling, about 3 minutes.
  3. Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting broth absorb before adding more, until orzo is tender and broth is mostly absorbed but pan is not dry, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove skillet from heat, taste and add more salt and pepper to your liking; mix in lemon juice and remaining 1 Tbsp butter, then chopped fennel fronds.  Serve chicken on top of orzo and finish with lemon zest

Weekly Winner: Silken, Spicy, Sumptuous … Swine!

IMG_0836So in my mind there is very little better than pig, noodles, and peanut sauce.  For me, that’s the trifecta of tastiness.  Guess what??  I found all of that in one recipe with some nice, bitter greens added to it.  Full disclosure, I didn’t have collard greens for this recipe so I substituted lacinato kale, which was awesome.  I’m guessing the collards would have been great as well.

This silky, spicy dish needs a hearty green and any would work just fine.   Peanut Rice Noodles with Pork and Collard Greens comes from Bon Appetit and is quick, easy and totally delicious.  Seriously, whichever green you like, buy it and make this dish!

Peanut Rice Noodles with Pork and Collard Greens (or Lacinato Kale)

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 12 oz. regular-width rice stick noodles
  • ¼ cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 1½” piece ginger, peeled, cut into match sticks
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch collard greens, (or Lacinato Kale) ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced

Procedure:

  • Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Remove from heat; add noodles. Let sit, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 4 minutes (time may vary by brand). Drain and rinse under cold running water.

  • Meanwhile, whisk peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water in a medium bowl. (Sauce will look a little broken and lumpy.)

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook pork, breaking up with 2 forks, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add collard greens (or kale) and cook, stirring occasionally, just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add sauce and noodles and bring to a simmer; cook, tossing occasionally, until sauce is reduced by half and coats noodles, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.

Weekly Winner: Apparently it is easy (and tasty) being green.

Parsley IMG_0835gets a bad rap. Actually, I take that back — parsley gets no rap at all — it’s totally overlooked and ignored.  That’s a shame.  This bright, verdant herb really adds a lot more than simple “curb appeal” to a recipe.

Take this salad for example:  Chicken & Cucumber Salad with Parsley Pesto.  The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and if you’re looking for a hearty, healthy, very “green” salad, then this one is for you!

Chicken and Cucumber Salad with Parsley Pesto

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (from one bunch)

1 cup fresh baby spinach

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp toasted pine nuts

1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1 medium garlic clove, smashed

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups shredded rotisserie chicken

2 cups cooked, shelled edamame

1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup chopped English cucumber

4 cups loosely packed arugula

Procedure:

  1. Combine parsley, spinach, lemon juice, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper in bowl of a food processor; process until smooth, about 1 minute.  With processor running, add oil; process until smooth, about 1 minute
  2. Stir together chicken, edamame, chickpeas, and cucumber in a large bowl.  Add pesto; toss to combine.
  3. Place 2/3 cup arugula in each of 6 bowls; top each with 1 cup chicken salad mixture.

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