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 Tasty Twist on Beans & Greens

Beans and greens have been friends forever.  Combinations include: collards, escarole, spinach, kale and chard on the green team and cannellini, kidney, and pinto for the bean team.  Put them together and you’re guaranteed a healthy and generally tasty meal or side dish. However, for it to be really memorable, things needed to be switched up in this old standard.  A recipe I found in Bon Appetit did just that by changing the beans and adding pasta and sausage.  That’s a guaranteed winner in my book!

There are a couple of things that make Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta unique.  First: the shape of the pasta – paccheri – which is like rigatoni on steroids.  I’m talking huge, short tubes of pasta goodness.  Second: it trades out the standard beans for chickpeas (always a fan favorite in this house).  Finally, there’s the crumbled fried rosemary sprinkled on top.  Enough of me blabbering on — just trust me.  This dish is special.  It’s got a great combination of textures and flavors and is the perfect thing to curl up to prepare for the craziness of the holiday season.

Sausage, Greens, and Beans Pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

⅓ cup olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary

8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, patted dry

¼ cup dry white wine

12 ounces paccheri (large tubular) pasta

Kosher salt

8 cups (lightly packed) torn kale

¾ cup finely grated Parmesan, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedure:

  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Fry rosemary, turning, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  2. Add sausage to same pot and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.
  3. Add chickpeas to pot and cook, tossing occasionally and mashing some chickpeas with spoon, until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Transfer about half of chickpeas to plate with sausage. Add wine to pot, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
  5. Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to pot with chickpeas and add kale and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing often, until kale is wilted, pasta is al dente, and sauce is thickened, about 4 minutes. Add another ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add ½ cup cheese, tossing until melted and dissolved into a luxurious, glossy sauce. Thin with more pasta cooking liquid if needed. Season with pepper, and more salt if needed. Add butter and toss to combine, then mix in reserved sausage and chickpeas.
  6. Divide pasta among bowls. Crumble rosemary over top and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup cheese.

Weekly Winner:  Crispy, Crunchy Chicken Cutlets — with a great salad

Ramen noodles.  I gotta admit, I love the things. I’ve used them in place of regular pasta for spaghetti-and-meatballs-gone-Asian. I make a mean ramen noodle salad. I love them in soup, and they got me through college as-is with just a bit of cheese sprinkled on top. The one thing I never thought of using them for; however breading. That is until now.

Crispy Ramen-Crusted Chicken with Asian Slaw comes from Southern Living Magazine. Honestly I was a bit skeptical about this since you use the noodles raw. However the chicken turned out amazing. The noodles “cooked” just enough while browning the chicken and the chicken itself stayed amazingly moist. And just in case you’re feeling a little guilty about eating chicken fried in ramen noodles (you shouldn’t be — it’s tasty!) there is a fabulous Asian kale salad that goes with it. The salad, with its honey-soy-lime dressing is the perfect light zesty accompaniment to the rich chicken. This dish, in a word, is a “keeper”. And it gives me a great excuse to stock up on more ramen!

Crispy Ramen-Crusted Chicken with Asian Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 bunch kale (about 8 oz.), stems removed, chopped (about 6 cups)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1/3 cup)

3 green onions, thinly sliced diagonally

1 1/4 cups matchstick carrots

3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon honey

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 (3-oz.) pkg. chicken-flavored instant Asian ramen noodle soup mix

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 (5- to 6-oz.) chicken cutlets

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

Preparation

1. Toss together kale, cilantro, green onions, and carrots. Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, honey, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl; pour over kale mixture, and toss to coat. Set aside while preparing chicken, tossing occasionally.

2. Break ramen noodles into pieces. Process ramen noodles, seasoning mixtures from ramen packages, ginger, and cayenne pepper in a food processor until combined, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a shallow dish, and set aside.

3. Place each chicken cutlet between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and flatten to 1/4-inch thickness, using a rolling pin or flat side of a meat mallet. Dip each cutlet in eggs, and dredge in ramen mixture, pressing to adhere.

4. Cook half of chicken in 2 1/2 tablespoons hot olive oil in a large skillet over medium until golden brown and done, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Place on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and keep warm in a 200° oven. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken and olive oil.

5. Sprinkle peanuts over kale mixture, and serve with cutlets.

Weekly Winner:  All Hail Kale (again)

When you make a new kale salad for lunch and your husband not only willingly eats it but comments “Oh, wow this is good!” You know you’ve got a winner of a recipe.  That’s exactly what happened this past week.  Now granted, the name of this recipe gives great insight as to why we thought it was so spectacular:  Steak House Kale Salad With Hot Bacon Vinaigrette. Boo yah!

Yes it contained bacon and yes, that makes it tasty.  But this salad is one of those magical combinations of ingredients that just work.  Everything comes together beautifully for a yummy addictive salad.  And in my view, the kale and other veggies cancel out the three slices of bacon used in this substantial salad that feeds four.  That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

The only problem is that, for the life of me, I can’t determine where I pulled the recipe from so I am unable to give proper credit.  But regardless, this is a salad that I will be making year-round on a very regular basis.

Steak House Kale Salad with hot bacon vinaigrette

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 strips thick-sliced bacon, diced

3 Tbsp canola oil

1 Tbsp minced shallots

1 tsp minced fresh garlic

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

6 cups baby kale salad mix

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1/4 cup slivered red onion

1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 hard-cooked egg, grated

Procedure:

  • Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and discard drippings.  Heat oil in same skillet; add shallots and garlic and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  • Whisk in vinegar, sugar, Dijon, and thyme; season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to low and keep vinaigrette warm.
  • Toss kale mix, carrot, and onion with vinaigrette to coat.  Garnish servings with pumpkin seeds and egg.

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.

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.


Weekly Winner:  Stealthy, Healthy, Comfort in a Bowl

I truly believe that the right bowl of soup can save your soul. There is something wonderfully comforting and nourishing about hunkering down over a big bowl of steaming goodness.  Usually, my favorite, go-to comfort-food soups include cheese or cream, or at the very least pasta — heck, some include all three!  But this soup, while it does contain a bit of cheese, is satisfying, cozy and surprisingly healthy.  Most importantly, however… it is amazingly tasty!

The recipe for White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens comes from Real Simple Magazine and there is no false advertising there.  Besides all the attributes I’ve listed above, this soup is a breeze to pull together.

White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth [full disclosure:  I used chicken broth – sue me!]

1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

1 small bunch collard greens or kale, stems discarded and leaves cut into strips (4 cups) [I chose kale]

1 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 oz) plus more shaved for serving.

Procedure:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the broth and tomatoes with their juices and bring to a boil.  Add the barley, reduce heat, and simmer until the barley is tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Add the collards or kale and the beans and cook until the greens are wilted and the beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • Serve the soup drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with shaved Parmesan.

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