Sunday, November 29, 2015

Giada's Comforting Pastina Soup

When you've had your fill of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pie; when you've lazed about for days; and when your stretchy pants are starting to get's time to get up!  Put that Fitbit back on, turn off the TV, and get back to leading an active lifestyle!

But...the weather? Yes, the weather doesn't help. It's cold and rainy, and let's face one likes cold, rainy weather.  It's ultimately unpleasant. So, we still need comfort food, but we need comfort food that satisfies without weighing us down. After all, it's Christmas time and we have way too many things on our "to-do" list. 

A quick look through Giada's newest cookbook, Happy Cooking, and I noticed this recipe for Pastina Soup. A very comforting and kid-friendly soup made of chicken broth, tiny pasta shapes, peas, carrots, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. The perfect recipe.

The best news is you probably already have everything you need to make this! I will say, with a simple soup like this I do think it's best to use a homemade chicken, or even turkey broth. However, even if you only have store-bought broth this is still a great go-to recipe. We all agreed this is a great family-friendly soup. Children, and adults, love the fun little pasta shapes. The veggies add great color, and flavor, and the sprinkling of Parmesan cheese adds that little touch of indulgence. A feel-good favorite that warms you up without weighing you down.

Pastina Soup
Adapted from Happy Cooking
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, minced
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmesan rind 
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/4 cups little star pasta*
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

Notes: Use any small-shaped pasta you like. Giada uses stelline (star-shaped pasta). I used alphabet letter pasta to make it fun for the kids.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, celery, carrot, and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, salt, Parmesan rind, chicken broth, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. 

Add the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking to the pan. Return to a simmer and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes more, or until the pasta is cooked and the liquid is slightly thickened.

Remove the thyme sprigs and Parmesan rind. Stir in the peas. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the grated cheese and lemon zest, if desired.

Theme: November Potluck

Sunday, November 22, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Corn Spoonbread with Goat Cheese and Chives

Spoonbread...have you ever tried it? If you have, then you know it's really nothing like cornbread. If you haven't, think of it as a savory pudding or cornmeal souffle. It cannot be cut into slices like cornbread, but instead is scooped out with a spoon. The bites closest to the edge have a firmer texture while the bites closest to the center are moist and light in texture. Spoonbread can be flavored as you would any souffle, with different cheeses and herbs. Ellie's recipe features goat cheese and chives, which pairs perfectly with my Thanksgiving dinner, but feel free to change it up as you like. 

Here the goat cheese is mixed into the warm cornmeal and melts into the base of the mixture, leaving behind a wonderful tangy flavor. That tangy flavor is balanced by the burst of sweet flavor from the fresh corn kernels. Finally, the chives (quite possibly my favorite herb) are magical. Not only are the chives pretty, but they kick the spoonbread up a notch with their subtle oniony flavor. Give this a try in place of your corn or cornbread this Thanksgiving. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

 Corn Spoonbread with Goat Cheese & Chives
Adapted from The Washington Post
Serves 6

2 cups low-fat milk (1 percent) 
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (from 2 ears) 
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal 
3 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre; 1/2 cup
 1/4 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives 
2 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks 
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 2-quart souffle dish or high-sided baking dish.  Combine the milk and corn in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium and gradually stir in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the mixture thickens to a dough-like consistency. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the cheese and salt until evenly distributed (the white should disappear). Transfer to a mixing bowl; let cool for 15 minutes, then whisk in the chives and egg yolks until well incorporated.
Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-low speed until foamy, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 2 minutes, until soft peaks form.

Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the cornmeal mixture to loosen it a bit, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites just until no trace of white is left. Transfer to the baking dish; bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until slightly puffed, golden brown on top and just set.
Theme: Scentsational Sides!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Brussels Sprouts with Juicy Bits of Pork

Nothing against bacon, but these juicy chunks of pork compliment Brussels sprouts WAY better than bacon ever could. In fact, I dare say this Brussels sprout dish could turn any I-don't-like-Brussels-Sprouts person into a fan. A perfect proportion of succulent juicy pork bits to sprouts ratio makes for one satisfying dish.  I could hardly wait for my fork to spear each bite. Small slice of turkey for me, please. My Thanksgiving dinner will be all about this dish.

Do yourself a favor and save the bacon for breakfast.  

Brussels Sprouts with Juicy Bits of Pork
Adapted from How To Cook Everything Fast
by Mark Bittman
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons butter
about 1/2 pound ground pork*
1-1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup water, chicken broth or wine
salt and pepper, to taste

*Note: The recipe says you can use chorizo, sausage, or bacon in place of pork, but I opted for the succulent juicy flavor of ground pork because I thought it would compliment the traditional Thanksgiving sides like cornbread and potatoes best. It ended up being the most incredible combination of flavors.

Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes.  Add the Brussels sprouts to the skillet, followed by the 1/2 cup of water, chicken broth or wine to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until just tender. Check on them a time or two and add a bit more of your liquid (water, broth, or wine), if necessary.  

When the sprouts are just about done, remove the cover and raise the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring just once or twice, for a couple of more minutes. The liquid should evaporate and the sprouts should be starting to get brown. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Sweet Potato Casserole with Meringue Topping


Let's talk about Thanksgiving real quick. I think we can all agree that it's A LOT of work. In fact, if you're hosting Thanksgiving then odds are you will be preparing for over a week. After you've hosted years upon years of Thanksgiving dinners you may very well start to feel burned out. Burned out on the work, the cleaning, and quite frankly, the same typical ingredients and recipes. You may even have years where you refuse to cook a turkey with all the fixings and opt for other dishes, such as prime rib, ham, and spaghetti and meatballs. I've been there. In fact, I've opted out of traditional Thanksgiving for the past 5 years.

Perhaps the break was just what I needed because I have a renewed interest in all things Thanksgiving this year! I have a few fun and unique ways to serve up those traditional ingredients and I'm excited to be sharing them in the weeks to come.

This week I have a very pretty and fun take on the old sweet potato casserole. Gone is the heavy casserole dish packed with butter, sugar, nuts, and marshmallows. Say hello to the new sweet potato casserole with simple ingredients: sweet potato, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and a tiny bit of sugar need to make the meringue topping. The sweet potato is definitely the star of this new and healthy casserole. The addition of egg makes the sweet potato layer quite fluffy and the meringue topping adds a beautiful texture and touch of sweetness. I think this casserole would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving table. 

Sweet Potato Casserole with Meringue Topping
Adapted from Comfort Food Fix
by Ellie Krieger
Serves 8 sevings

3-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (5 medium) peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8x8 casserole dish (or an 10" cast iron skillet as I've used).

Place the sweet potatoes in a large steamer basket fitted over a pot of boiling water.  Cover and steam until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add the honey, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg,and salt and whip using an electric mixer. Spread the sweet potato mixture into the prepared dish.

In a small bowl, using the electric mixer, beat together the egg white and cream of tartar until foamy. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating for about 10 seconds between each addition. Then continue to whip until stiff peaks are formed and the mixture is glossy and smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, pipe 1-inch dollops on top of the casserole. Bake until the meringue is browned on top and the casserole is warmed through, 40 to 45 minutes.
Theme: Anyway You Slice It!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Bacon Sarnie

Isn't it funny how we evolve as cooks? We start off simple, then move on to try more complex dishes, new cuisines, and before you know it we are trying our hands at elaborate recipes with mile long ingredient lists. I've been there and I've done the dishes.  Nowadays, I feel like I've come full circle in a way. My thirst for elaborate dishes is fairly quenched and lean more towards simple food with quality ingredients.

That's what makes this post for Jamie Oliver's Bacon Sarnie so ironic. It's one of those full circle kind of moments. You see, for years I've laughed at Jamie's Bacon Sarnie recipes. He has a recipe for a bacon sarnie in nearly ALL of his cookbooks so it always caught my attention, but not always in a good way.  In my more elaborate cooking stages I scoffed about why anyone would want to eat ONLY a bacon sandwich. I can remember being totally perplexed why he wouldn't want to add egg and cheese, or tomato and lettuce, etc. I was so busy wanting to add more, more, more. I just didn't get it!

Wouldn't you know day last week I was home alone indulging in my guilty pleasure, an episode of Nashville, and I started thinking about nothing other than a Bacon Sarnie. I had some fresh sourdough bread from the farmer's market and way too much bacon hanging around the house.  I let out a little chuckle and set about making one.

Surprisingly, there are lots of techniques for making a Bacon Sarnie. Toasted bread, untoasted bread, types of bacon, size of bacon, placement of bacon, things to dip the sarnie in, and on and on. One could literally try a bacon sarnie a different way for weeks. Either way, you could certainly have fun finding your favorite version. Of course, it tastes way better home alone on the couch, in your pajamas, watching you favorite guilty pleasure. Turns out Jamie was right all along. Happiness is a Bacon Sarnie.

Bacon Sarnie
Adapted from Comfort Food 
by Jamie Oliver 
Serves 1
15 minutes

 Jamie's version: Jamie says he prefers two 1/3-inch thick slices of a simple standard white crusty loaf. Then he likes to use back-bacon for his sarnie, cooking 3 pieces of back-bacon under the broiler on full whack. Jamie rubs a little olive oil on a baking sheet and the bacon, then blasts it in the oven under the broiler until golden and crispy, which encourages the fat end of the bacon to curl up, creating a little pond of delicious bacon juice in the middle. Jamie removes the baking sheet from the oven, pushes the bacon aside and lays the bread in the fat for a few seconds before assembling, letting the bacon slices sit on the bed of bread like spooning lovers. Then Jamie assembles his sandwich, cutting it diagonally from corner to corner and serves a bit of HP sauce for dipping.

Pete's version: Pete is Jamie's long-time friend and he makes his sarnie a little different. Pete's  version uses the same size bread but the 3 pieces of bacon are cooked in a frying pan, starting out from cold with a little drizzle of olive oil and gradually bringing the temperature up to medium-high so the fat renders out, placing something flat and heavy on top to ensure super-even crispy bacon. Then the bread is buttered and the bacon is laid side by side, like floorboards (north to south) on the bottom bread before topping with the second slice.  Once sandwiched, Pete likes to cut his sandwich into thirds (east to west) to get 3 perfect bites.  Pete likes to serve his bacon sarnie with an artist's palette of dipping sauces - (60% ketchup, 30% English mustard, and 10% green chili sauce, feathered together with a knife).

My version: I borrowed ideas from both Jamie and his friend, Pete. I used slices of sourdough bread and cooked 3 slices of bacon in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-low heat until crisp (I don't like fatty ends). I wanted my bread to be lightly toasted so it would hold up to a little bacon drippings so I toasted it in my toaster. Once toasted I piled the 3 slices of crisp bacon, and some of the drippings, onto the bottom slice of bread.  The top half of bread went straight into the drippings in the cast iron skillet to soak up some of that bacony goodness before being placed on top. I cut my sandwich straight down the middle and served it with Dijon mustard (my fave condiment) and some baby cherry tomatoes to make myself feel better about my indulgence.

Theme: October Potluck