Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow's Remedy

Is it really snowing... AGAIN? This winter has been bedecked with snowfall... after snowfall... after yet, another snowfall. And what do I want when it's freezing and snowy? A bowl of soup. I bought beautiful green squash (aka zucchini) the other day, so today I will be making zucchini soup. It's one of the easiest soups to make, and like i pointed out in a previous post dedicated to everything SOUP, you simply don't need recipes for simple soups. Zucchini soup is just sauteed onion, celery, zucchinis, and fresh dill. Add a can of cannelini beans, smashed, or a cut up starchy potato to thicken it if you don't want to go to creamed route.

Thankfully, I found my camera cord, so I have 2 soup recipes today. One is a very hearty minestrone soup. Minestrone is an Italian soup, usually tomato based, that has many different vegetables, and traditionally includes beans and rice/pasta of some sort. However, I did not add rice or pasta, so I should I not call it Minestrone? Fine. It will be "everything but the kitchen sink" vegetable soup. There. That's better and way more professional sounding anyway. I like to make a big pot of soup so that I can freeze in containers, so this recipe made a lot.

Rustic Vegetable Soup
-Earth Balance & olive oil
-Salt & pepper
-Dried Italian seasoning (oregano+thyme)
-Fresh thyme
-1 medium onion
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 stalks of celery
-2 small carrots
-2 small zucchinis
-1 yellow squash
-1/2 eggplant (figure about a cup of each vegi chopped)
-1 container Pomi Chopped Tomatoes
-1.5 tbsp. tomato paste (I buy the Israeli brand that looks like its applesauce, 4 containers connected together)
-4-6 cups water or low sodium vegetable broth (preferred brand: Trader Joe's)
-1 can chic peas or cannelini beans
-1.5 cups chopped white cabbage
-3 cups kale or spinach (raw)

-Heat a tbsp. of Earth Balance and a tbsp. of olive oil in a soup pot, and saute the onion. When translucent, add the garlic and saute a minute until fragrant. Add a tbsp. fresh thyme, and a tsp. dried Italian seasoning, as well as a tsp. of salt and a pinch of pepper.
-Add the chopped celery and carrot and saute for a minute or two and then add the rest of the vegetables. Add a little more oil if necessary. Make sure that all the vegetables are roughly chopped to around the same size (big cubes) so that everything is uniform. Add some salt & pepper again. It's important to season the soup well now, so that you don't have to add salt to a bland soup once you're eating it.
-Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. You can substitute with tomato sauce, or marinara sauce, whatever you have on hand, it will probably still taste good. It's all about experimentation.
-As far as adding the main liquid, it is much easier to add more liquid at the end if need be, as opposed to taking liquid out. That's why I wrote 4-6 cups. It may be more, may be less. The rule of thumb is to initially add enough liquid to cover all the vegetables.
-Bring to a boil and prepare the chic peas (drain and rinse well), cabbage, and kale or spinach (wash and roughly chop). I prefer to buy a head of cabbage and cut strips myself as opposed to buying the precut bag, because I like rough, not finely cut cabbage. Once the soup is brought to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for a half hour. About 10 minutes before you think the soup is done, add the chic peas or beans, the greens, and cabbage. The chic peas and cabbage need to be just softened, and the greens just need to wilt a little bit. The hot soup will do all that in a flash. You can add basil too, or chopped canned artichoke hearts if you have on hand. Just like I said before, it really is everything but the kitchen sink, and a meal in a bowl!

My second soup is a Mushroom Trio soup. Normally, I never buy mushrooms because Avi can't stand to even look at one, but I was food shopping and saw such great shitake mushrooms. Obviously, at $4.99 a pound I'm not gonna buy 3 or 4 pounds of it, plus they aren't "meaty" enough to be the sole star of a mushroom soup, so thankfully enough, the baby portabellas and creminis were just as nice. I bought 2 containers of the baby bellas, and 1 container of the cremini, or typically known as white or button mushrooms. You can buy them pre-sliced, pre-washed, whatever you want to make your life easier. So, I bought 1/2 lb. of the shitakes, and 3 of those wide containers, I'm not sure how many ounces each container was, I want to say 10 or 12. In any event, I guess I used roughly 2-3 lbs. of mushrooms. The thing with mushrooms is that you don't want to soak them in water, because the mushroom will drink that water like a sponge, and get soggy in the cooking process. Obviously this isn't as much of a problem with soup as it would be for a simple saute, but any extra liquid in a soup that you are trying to thicken, won't be your friend. Also, steer clear of scrubbing the mushrooms, at the risk of totally bruising them. I know you're probably thinking that mushrooms are SO dirty. Yes, this is why buying the pre-sliced, pre-washed (or whatever they do) is a great commodity in the supermarket today. Just an "FYI," when using mushrooms, the whole button or portabella mushroom CAN be used (with the exception of shitakes, whose stems are way too woody to eat). For instance, when making stuffed mushrooms (yum! Though I never make them because of my husband's unrealistic aversion!!!) you chop up the stems, and saute them with a few other yummy ingredients to make the filling. I keep going on tangents don't I? Anyways, the best way to clean mushrooms is to rub the dirt off with a damp paper towel, or brush them with a pastry brush (not the silicone kind). This will do the trick, though it takes a lot of patience!

"Cream" of Mushroom Trio Soup
-1 medium onion
-1 stalk chopped celery
-6 cloves garlic, minced (mushrooms in and of themselves do not impart that much flavor, so 6 cloves of garlic sound like a lot, but it's not)
-Salt & pepper
-Italian seasoning
-4 sprigs of thyme
-2-3 lbs. of mixed mushrooms (cremini, baby portabella, shitake), cleaned & roughly chopped
-2 potatoes, peeled and chopped (any medium sized kind, I used red)
-4 cups water or low sodium vegetable broth (preferred brand: Trader Joe's)
-1/2 cup milk (optional)
-Wonton Crisps (Nasoya Wonton Wraps- my new best friend, cut into strips and lightly fry) and chopped dill

-Saute the onion in a little olive oil and Earth Balance, then add the garlic, then celery. Saute each by itself before adding the subsequent ingredient. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
-Add all the mushrooms and potatoes and saute for a few minutes before adding the water or broth. Season again with a little salt.
-Add the liquid slowly (enough to cover the mushrooms, add more later if you need to)
-Add the thyme sprigs. You will fish them out later, so if you happen to have twine to tie them together to make it easier later, then do that. Otherwise just remember to fish out however many sprigs you put in!
-Bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer and let cook until mushrooms and potatoes are all soft. Take out the thyme sprigs, and puree with an immersion blender. Add milk if you want a creamier effect.
-Garnish with wonton crisps and dill

Savor the flavor, not the weather!! And on that note, hopefully it will make like the soup and disappear!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Great Deal!

I usually update my posts on Tuesdays, but I have misplaced my camera cord! Hopefully it will turn up soon so that I can get back to posting all about food! In order to not let all 12 of you followers down, here is a link for today's Groupon! It is $30 for 2 boxes of Organic produce, which is great (that is, if you use a lot of produce like me who can easily spend more than that on a weeks worth of produce). The only set back would be not knowing exactly what will be in the boxes, but who cares! Just another reason to be creative... Me and a friend who also bought it will be challenging ourselves in an Iron Chef slash Chopped basket competition... so stay tuned for that :-).

Anyways, here is the link for the Groupon deal. Go onto the Organics Delivered website to see if they deliver in your area. Use this link, or my email ( as referral if you are not already a Groupon member- then I get $10 :-)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Simple Chicken

We're all always looking for simple, easy recipes for dinner. When I buy a package of chicken cutlets (I usually opt for Empire's Organic Chicken breasts when the price is right), and right when I get home I like to cut each chicken breast in half with a long, sharp fish filet knife (I have the Forever Sharp Fish Filet knife, which is great for this job). First I separate all the tenders and freeze them in a small Ziploc for making chicken fingers. I don't particularly enjoy butterflying and pounding the chicken, unless I'm making stuffed chicken breast. I think this job takes a little practice, to make 1 thick cutlet into 2 smaller cutlets; when I first started doing it I always screwed it up and ended up with something of the likes of what was once a chicken cutlet! Then I got the hang of it. After cutting the chicken I individually wrap each one in plastic wrap, and freeze all the cutlets in a big Ziploc. It makes it really convenient to make a last minute dinner. If you forget to defrost it in the morning, it's fine- the cutlets individually wrapped like this take no time to defrost in a bowl of cold water. Just switch the water every 10 minutes, and within a half hour (depending on the thickness), the cutlets should be well on their way into your stomach!

Another thing I like to do is take simple ingredients that you probably have in your fridge already and sophisticate them (can sophisticate be used as a verb?? Who knows!). For my first recipe, I took plain old duck sauce and added some other ingredients to make it even more delicious, but duck sauce is definitely a go to if you don't have time. I'm not a fan of buying pre-made marinades, because the first ingredient is most often- corn syrup. But not Gold's Sweet & Sour Duck Sauce.

My second recipe, Pesto Chicken, came about when I had made Pesto for pasta and had extra in the fridge. I was making chicken for dinner one night and since I was so busy, I figured why not just use the pesto on the chicken (just make sure it doesn't have cheese in it!), and it came out really great.

Citrus Duck-Sauce Chicken
-4 chicken breasts (I like to make extra to give Avi for lunch the next day ;-)
-1/2 cup Gold's duck sauce
-1 tbsp. dijon mustard
-1 tbsp. honey (tip: add a DROP of oil into the measuring spoon and rub around. Then measure out the honey and pour- it will slide right out, no need to scrape the sticky spoon with your finger to get it out)
-1 tsp. lemon zest, divided
-Juice of half a lemon
-1 tbsp. orange juice
-1.4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
-1 garlic clove, finely minced

-Heat a large skillet over medium-high with a little layer of olive oil
-Whisk together all the ingredients, except for 1/2 the lemon zest
-In a big plate or glass shallow dish, add some flour, salt, pepper, and the reserved lemon zest. Coat each cutlet in the flour, then add to the pan. Make sure to shake off any excess flour, you want the coating to be very slight. I find that this method gives the chicken great flavor, a little "crust," and when you don't have time to really marinade the chicken for hours, then this is a good option. However, you can definitely opt to skip this step. If you choose to marinate this chicken, I wouldn't let it marinate for more than an hour or the acid will effect the meat and start to "cook" and toughen it.
-Add the cutlets to the pan when the oil is hot. Cook for 4 minutes per side (depends how thick the cutlets are. When the edges on the top start turning white then it's time to flip)
-Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat to medium-low and add the marinade to the pan (be careful- it will splatter, so I recommend using a splatter screen). Let the chicken cook in the marinade just until the marinade is warmed through.

This next recipe can also be used with store bought pesto. If you are using store bough, jazz it up with just a little lemon zest and juice- it will make all the difference.

Spinach Basil Pesto Chicken
-I use the same dredging and cooking method as above. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, but can be made using any soft green such as spinach, arugula, or a mix of greens! This pesto recipe will probably yield more than you need for 4 chicken breasts, depending on how much you choose to use. You can marinate the chicken in it and then cook it, but I find that the pesto doesn't hold up all that well to the entire cooking process, which is why I like to add it at the end, when the chicken is already cooked through, just until it warms. This way, you maintain the fresh flavor of the pesto. You can also serve the seasoned floured chicken by itself, with the pesto as a dipping sauce.
-2 cups of packed spinach leaves
-1 cup packed basil leaves
-2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (since the flavor of the garlic won't really have a chance to cook out, you can add the garlic slowly and then add more at the end. It's easier to add more garlic then to take away a strong garlicky flavor!)
-1/4 cup walnuts (pine nuts or pignolias are the typical nut used in pesto, but walnuts are definitely a cheaper and more versatile nut, and definitely no sacrifice on flavor there!)
-1 tsp. lemon zest, + a light squeeze of fresh lemon juice (use bottled lemon juice or even lime juice if that's all you have at hand)
-Pinch of salt and pepper
-Pulse all ingredients in a food processor and stream in roughly 1/2 cup of olive oil (more or less, depending on the consistency that you desire). I do mine in batches in my mini food processor, way easier!

I find especially with pesto, the proportions are not usually cut and dry, rather to your individual liking, with adding more/less garlic, salt, and olive oil. So play around with the way you like it. To make it dairy to serve over pasta, just add some grated parmesan cheese- yum! In a previous post, I made pesto mayo as a dip for my grilled tilapia, simple and sooo good. Thin it out a little with some water or lemon juice for a great salad dressing. A little pesto goes a long way here. 

I hope these recipes help with some last minute dinner ideas! Take my advice on storing your chicken like I do, it will make such a difference when its 5 pm and you realized you totally forgot to defrost something for dinner! Happens all the time, admit it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Potato Crusted Salmon

Dijon mustard and fish go together like .. well, all the things that go perfectly together (forgive me for not being able to come up with a more suitable metaphor!). I use it all the time- Grey Poupon, my favorite brand of dijon mustard (no name jokes!!), on chicken too, but mostly I love it straight up on fish when I'm lazy, or with other ingredients in a marinade. Here is a delicious "all in one" fish dish, with thinly sliced red potatoes right on top, baked until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are crispy. The key is slicing them really thin so that they cook well. I use wild salmon, which I find to be a little fishier, but as long as you add a mix of good flavors, you are good to go!

-2 filets of (wild) salmon
-3 tbsp. dijon mustard
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-3 tbsp. maple syrup
-1 tbsp. honey
-Splash of orange juice
-1 red potato
-1 chopped scallion
-2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
-Combine the mustard, garlic, maple syrup, and orange juice
-In a baking dish, season the filets with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then pour the dijon maple mixture over the fish, reserving a little bit to drizzle on at the end  (you can marinate the fish if you want).
-Slice the red potato very thin, figure 6 slices per filet (depending on the size and shape of your fish. Layer the potatoes on to the fish, sprinkle some salt and spray with cooking spray.
-Bake for 25 minutes, brushing with the juices in the dish in the middle. When there is 5 minutes left, take the fish out and sprinkle with half the dill and scallions, and brush the potatoes with some of the fresh reserved marinade. Put back in the oven until done. You know the fish is cooked when it flakes off easily with a fork. The potatoes should be browned and crispy at this point. Drizzle on any remaining marinade, and garnish with the rest of the scallions and dill.
-Serve over wilted greens and enjoy :-)

(Avi insisted on taking the -very- close up picture!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Who doesn't like pizza raise your hand. Ok don't because if you do I may just have to hunt you down. Anyways, in the 5 towns we sure don't have a shortage of pizza stores (I counted, 4. Plus GG aka Chap a Nosh dairy now sells fresh pizza pies and let's not even get into the 5 dairy restaurants that have pizzas on their menu). Ok inventory ..check.

So I have to admit that I've never made my own pizza dough. I hate baking (besides for the occasional challah and the rare from-scratch dessert) partly because of the exact measuring, and partly because of the huge flour mess that ensues. Anyways, even though everyone says how easy pizza dough is, it still falls under the baking category (to further emphasize my dislike for baking, I am making butternut squash ricotta ravioli tonight and I am using wonton wrappers!!! I hope the filling makes up for the sheer culinary laziness that I call CONVENIENCE!!!)

Back to the pizza dough. Trader Joe's sells individual bags of fresh dough in the refrigerated section (NOT frozen!!) in 3 "flavors"- plain, 100% whole wheat, and garlic herb. You just roll it out with a little flour, pop it on a pizza or sheet pan and there you have it! Plus, you can't beat the 99 cents a bag!!

The star ingredient in all of my pizzas is a leafy green, whether it be fresh spinach or kale, I love to pile it on top and it wilts down and gives the pizza such a hearty taste. Plus, you won't feel like you are eating anything heavy. The crust is healthy, you can use as much or as little cheese as you want, and you can throw on nearly anything. You can use a base marinara sauce, or even forgo the marinara and spread pesto on the bottom and tehn top with toppings of your choice and then cheese. You can make a white pizza with vegis and dollops of ricotta cheese. OR YOU CAN USE ALL OF THE ABOVE!!! The sky is the limit in terms of pizza. I wouldn't call these "recipes" per se, because there are hundreds of variations depending on what you like. You can even use the plain (or whole wheat, I guess) dough to make a dessert pizza sprinkled with cinnamon sugar- when it's in the oven it will perfume your house with the BEST smell ever! I've never done this, but I've been talking about making a meat pizza with marinara sauce, ground meat of choice (beef/chicken/turkey), onions, and of course- spinach or kale. Throw on some sliced fresh garlic and it is a full meal on a pizza!

Pizza Essentials:
-Pizza wheel: no bells & whistles is fine (Pizza Scissors: Can you say "SERIOUSLY?????")
-Round pizza pan: the holes at the bottom allow the heat to reach the bottom of the pizza, making for a crispy crust
-Stone: I don't actually have a pizza stone, but one day I will get one. They (the pizza gods) say that the best pizza dough comes out on a pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal. The cons, though, are that they are heavy, and then you also likely need to get one of these pizza peels to take the stone out of the oven, both of which will end up being a pain to store in a small kitchen. However, I just came across this stone with handles, eliminating the need for a pizza peel altogether!
-Rolling pin: necessary for rolling out the dough! A tapered wooden rolling pin works wonders too.
-Sheet Pan: for like a year, my round Wilton pizza pan was m.i.a. (don't ask how a pizza pan goes missing, but Avi just found it in the drawer that I emptied a dozen times looking for it, the drawer under my stove- apparently it was hiding on top stuck). Anyways, I adopted the "sheet pan method" instead of the traditional round pizza, and I've come to like it much better. I don't know if I'll ever go back to round again! I have these Anolon "cookie" sheets, which I sometimes line with aluminum foil or parchment paper for easy clean up.

Grilled Zucchini Garlic & Kale Pizza with Shredded Cheddar & Mozzarella
-1 ball of pizza dough
-1 zucchini, cut into rounds
-5 cloves of garlic, sliced
-4 cups of shredded kale
-One red onion, diced
-Marinara sauce
-Shredded cheese blend (I use Natural & Kosher "Chef's Blend" which is a mix of shredded mozzarella and cheddar)

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
-Heat a grill pan or panini grill pan on medium heat. Drizzle the zucchini rounds & garlic slices with olive oil and season the zucchini with Kosher salt & pepper. Grill a few minutes per side, it's nice to get the grill marks on them. Grill the garlic also a few minutes per side, until it browns.
-Roll the dough with a little flour (flour the rolling pin too) and stretch to fit a sheet pan
-Drizzle the dough with a little olive oil and spread on with a pastry brush
-Pour on marinara sauce and distribute on the dough
-Sprinkle the diced red onion and kale, and then add the grilled zucchini and garlic
-Add the cheese & bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is brown and bubbly. The crust is thin so doesn't take that long to bake.

This next pizza takes time and patience to caramelize the onions but it is SO worth it.

Caramelized Onion & Fresh Greens Pizza with Ricotta & Shredded Cheeses
-3 medium sized onions
-1.5 tsp. salt
-1 tbsp. sugar
-2 cups chopped fresh spinach
-2 cups shredded kale
-garlic "chips" (5 cloves sliced garlic)
-Marinara sauce
-Ricotta cheese
-Shredded cheese

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
-To make the caramelized onions: slice the onions thin, and add to a hot saute pan with olive oil. Let saute for 10 minutes, and then add the salt & sugar. Let saute for 20-30 minutes until desired level of caramelization is reached (can definitely go longer but I didn't want it to turn into onion jam, so 30 minutes was good). Make sure to stir the onions while they are sauteeing.

-When the onions are done, take them out and saute the garlic slices with olive oil until slightly crispy
-Once rolled out and placed on a sheet pan, drizzle the dough with olive oil and top with the marinara
-Add the kale, spinach, onions, and garlic over the marinara
-Dollop ricotta cheese on the pizza and then top with the shredded cheese (as much as you like)
-Bake for 20-25 minutes
Before (without shredded cheese):


Embrace your inner Italian, and flip a pizza or two! Be creative and put on whatever you want! Plus, the leftovers make great next-day lunch :-)