Thursday, February 28, 2008


It's cold and I want soup. This one is really easy to make, and inexpensive to boot. Light, healthy, and full of bright flavors, it’s a perfect cure to the late-February blahs that seem to be creeping in.

[This recipe is especially for Lainie whose pre-wedding eating plan requires low-carb, dairy-free meals (and occasional Red Robin splurges). Stir-fries are boring her, but maybe this soup will hit the spot. It’s Asian—kind of like wonton soup without the wrappers—but it’s still a change of pace.]

Ginger Broth with Sesame-Ginger Meatballs
serves 2
Ground chicken or pork would work equally well here. Bok choy would be a great substitute for the spinach—just add it in 3 to 4 minutes before the meatballs.

1 (3-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, half grated, half cut into thin matchsticks, divided
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/2 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 scallions, finely chopped
½ lb ground turkey
1 quart chicken stock
½ pound spinach, washed, stems removed, and roughly chopped

In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon soy sauce, the grated ginger, and the next 7 ingredients (through scallions). Mix thoroughly. Add the turkey and mix lightly with hands to combine. In a soup pot, combine sliced ginger and chicken stock; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Let simmer, covered, 5 minutes.

Uncover pot and with a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of turkey mixture into simmering stock to make freeform meatballs. Stir very gently to fully submerge meatballs. Add spinach; cook, uncovered, 3 minutes or until meatballs are firm and no pink remains inside (cut one open to check). Add remaining soy sauce.

Coming Out of the Dark

Woe is the Brussels sprout. They are quite possibly the most reviled of all vegetables. Can you think of one other veggie that elicits such passionate hatred? I really can’t. And when you start looking at the way they were cooked back in the day, or the way some people still cook them, you really can’t be that surprised. Boiled into complete mush and emitting a gag-reflex-inducing cabbage smell, they are a pathetic excuse for nourishment.

But there’s hope! Brussels sprouts can be truly delicious when cooked the proper way. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to choke down a mushy aforementioned sprout, you may be hesitant to believe me. But I have converted more than one Brussels sprouts hater, and I won’t stop until I’ve done my part to exonerate the little leafy guys.

Slimy texture and strong taste can both be remedied by cooking the sprouts at a very high heat for a short amount of time. Oven roasting renders the sprouts caramelized, still lightly crunchy, and irresistibly yummy. Another method, slicing the sprouts into a mound of slivers and quick-sautéing them, also turns out bright green, crunchy and mild-tasting sprouts. This option is delicious tossed with brown rice or, in our case, pasta. Lemon zest and juice add the right touch of zing. It comes together quickly, too, so it’s a perfect midweek two-pot, one-bowl meal.

Linguine with Brussels Sprouts

serves 4

¾ pound Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
½ pound dried linguine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, zested and juiced

Thinly slice sprouts, discarding tough cores. Cook pasta per package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper; sauté until tender and golden brown in spots, about 4 to 5 minutes. When pasta is finished, scoop out about 1/4 cup cooking water, drain the pasta, and add it to skillet. Sprinkle in lemon zest and remaining olive oil. Toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water if mixture look dry. Finish with lemon juice, toss once more, and serve.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Would Do Anything for Loaf

Meatloaf is too often relegated to the throwback meal…it evokes visions of bad TV dinners, school cafeterias and beehived moms in seafoam-green kitchens. It’s a product of the Depression when meat was scarce and it went a lot farther when mixed with bread, eggs, and veggies. It is admittedly old school and not at all refined, but with the right recipe, meatloaf can be very worthy of your dinner table.

I follow two rules when making meatloaf. Number one, I think the best part is the top crust, so mini loaves make much more sense to me. That way you maximize the crust and everyone gets his own share. Number two, be creative, but don’t overdo it. Meatloaf has been around forever because it’s the most un-trendy food you could possibly think of. It’s fine to experiment with different flavors, but let’s call a spade a spade. At the end of the day, it’s still meatloaf and, in my opinion, it should be as uncomplicated as you can make it.

Ground turkey is flavorful and has less fat and saturated fat than many kinds of ground beef, so I generally go to it as my meatloaf foundation. The additions to the meat seem ho-hum traditional, but when they combine, they really are spot on. The addition of pancetta makes the crust even more delicious and adds moisture and fabulous flavor throughout. Served with roasted potatoes, it’s comfort food at its best.

Mini Meatloaves

serves 2

1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup Italian seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 (1.3-pound) package ground turkey
4 1/4-inch slices pancetta

Preheat oven to 450˚.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, 4 to 5 minutes or until onions are golden and very soft. Put cooked onions and garlic in a large bowl and cool slightly. To the same bowl when the onions are cooled, add breadcrumbs, soy, Worcestershire, ketchup and egg. Mix thoroughly. Add turkey; mix lightly with hands until combined. On a small baking sheet, form mixture into two loaves and top each with 2 slices of pancetta, slightly overlapping to fit. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Visualize Whirled Peas

Pea soup often gets a bad rap—it’s a literary description of sooty fog, for goodness sake. It’s definitely not beautiful, but what it lacks in good looks it makes up for in flavor. The earthy sweetness of dried split peas is only enhanced by nearly anything you throw its way. Bacon? Sure. Pancetta? Bring it on. Onions, carrots, celery? Why not? Curry powder? If that’s your kind of thing. Lemon zest? Absolutely! Plain yogurt would be excellent, as would thyme and/or parsley.

My soup is a version of the one Heidi recently published on Her food always looks spectacular and so healthy. I had a few extra slices of pancetta in the fridge, so I threw them in for good measure. A dash of smoked paprika added the deeper flavor level that bacon or smoked ham hocks would provide, and the lemon zest at the end totally made the dish. I worried that not using chicken broth would be bland, but it definitely was not. A dollop of crème fraiche and I’m starting to wonder if sooty fog is all that bad.

Perfect Pea Soup

serves 4

2 thin slices pancetta
1 medium onion, diced finely
1/2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
2 cups split peas, rinsed and picked over
5 cups water
Zest of 1 lemon
Garnish: crème fraiche or sour cream

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Chop pancetta as finely as possible, and add to pot. Cook, stirring, until some fat has rendered into the pan, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and stir. If pot looks dry, add a bit of olive oil or even water to moisten. Add 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika. Cook pancetta and onion, stirring often, until pancetta is lightly browned and lightly crisp and onions are soft and golden, about 5 minutes.

Add peas and stir to combine. Add water, cover pot, and raise heat to high. When mixture comes to a boil, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 35 minutes, or until peas are tender. About 15 minutes into cook time, add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Check on soup regularly and add water a bit at a time if it doesn’t look soupy enough.

When peas are tender, puree with a handheld mixer until slightly smooth, leaving some texture. Alternatively, puree about half of soup in blender and return to pot. If you find the soup too thick, add water in small increments until you like the texture. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and top each with a bit of lemon zest and a sprinkle of the remaining smoked paprika. Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, if desired.

Better Late Than Never

I have been a very remiss blogger this week, but I do have a few recipes to share with you from last week, and I promise to get to those soon. Until then, behold our eats for the rest of the week…

Tuesday – Linguine with Brussels Sprouts, salad
Wednesday – Ginger Broth with Asian Meatballs
Thursday – Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, garlic bread, salad

Sunday, February 17, 2008

This Week's Menu

Sunday - Weekend Detox: Brown rice, spinach, broccoli, tofu
Monday - Vegetarian Spit Pea Soup, crusty bread, salad
Tuesday - Mini Italian Meatloaves, oven-roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts
Wednesday - Quick Linguine Bolognese, salad
Thursday - Teriyaki Chicken, sticky rice, sesame spinach

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Week Ahead

Forgive my week away--it was a crazy 7 days, so I didn't have time to fill you in on our weekly menu. It wasn't anything too exciting, though, so you didn't miss much!

Before I get to this week's menu, I want to say thanks to everyone who's reading! From Atlanta to Winter Park to Portland to DC to North Carolina and everywhere in between, it's so much fun hearing from all my friends. I know a lot of you all cook, so if you have a moment, share the recipes you're loving right now in the comments section so we can all see what you're making.

Here's our menu...we're doing Valentine's a day early, and I'm on my own for dinner Thursday, so depending on my laziness level, it may end up being takeout or a bowl of pasta. Hope y'all have a great week!

Sunday - Seafood boil, cole slaw
Monday - Mini Italian pancetta meatloaves, garlic oven fries
Tuesday - Chicken soup with tomatoes and cilantro
Wednesday - Tuna sashimi, sticky rice cakes with soy-ginger glaze, edamame (and lots of Champagne)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Bowled Over

In my last post, I mentioned that I could eat Tex-Mex all the time and not get tired of it. I have to say I feel the same way about Asian food. The flavors are all so vibrant—you can’t help but feel good after you eat it.

I must admit I rely heavily on one tried-and-true dish in my limited Asian repertoire—stir-fry. It’s easy and quick, and when you can get half of your daily veggie intake in one sitting and love every bite, I find it hard to break outside the box. Plus you can pair it with any starch for a hearty meal with or without meat. Pretty much any vegetable works well for stir fry—whatever you like, toss it in. Broccoli, bell peppers, carrots sliced thinly, cabbage, green beans, peas, edamame, even tomatoes are delicious flash-cooked.

The secret is knowing when to put each ingredient in so nothing gets mushy and nothing’s too crunchy. Think hardest to softest—carrots would go in before green beans; tomatoes would go in last. And everything should be served piping hot. There’s a Cantonese term, wok hay that loosely translates as the “breath of the wok.” I love this term, because it captures the essence of truly fresh, steamy-hot food. (Note to self, get a proper wok…I don’t think there’s any such thing as skillet hay.)

I always like to experiment with a different sauce. I’ve done Thai curry, spicy chili, teriyaki, carrot-ginger, ginger-lime…I don’t usually make the same one twice. But there’s one in particular Jason really loves, so I’ve done it a few times.

Lightly peanut-y without being overwhelmingly so, this sauce makes brilliant use of two of my favorite flavors in the world: lime and ginger. Soy sauce and a touch of honey round out this oh-so-simple topper for a veggie stir-fry, or in this case, a noodle bowl. I didn’t have any, but a healthy squeeze of sriracha garlic-chili paste would be a fabulous addition.

Chicken and Veggie Noodle Bowls
with Peanut-Lime Sauce

serves 2 big eaters

If you don’t like peanut sauce, you can definitely omit the peanut butter here and still get a tasty sauce. You may want to add a touch more honey and/or oil to thicken and sweeten it. If you don’t already have natural-style peanut butter on hand, just use the regular kind. Taste it before you add the honey, as regular peanut butters tend to be sweeter than the natural kind.

For the noodle bowls:
½ pound broccoli
¼ pound angel hair pasta
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, cut into thin, bite-size pieces
1 red bell pepper cut into matchstick-size pieces
Handful snow peas
Two of the following:
½ cup shredded or thinly sliced carrots
¼ head red cabbage, shredded
Handful English peas
1 large tomato, seeded and cut into bite-size chunks

¼ pound angel hair pasta

For the sauce:
1 2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon natural-style peanut butter
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon chicken broth
2 teaspoons honey

Garnish: Green onions, sliced thinly on the bias
Crushed peanuts

Remove tops of broccoli from stems and cut tops into bite-size florets. Peel off the tough outer layer of the broccoli stems with a vegetable peeler and cut stems into matchstick-size pieces.

Make the sauce: In a blender, combine all ingredients and process until combined. Alternatively, in a large bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk vigorously until combined. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds being careful not to burn it. Add chicken in one layer and sear each side for 1 minute (2 minutes total). Add broccoli to the skillet and a tablespoon of water or chicken broth. Toss to make sure garlic does not stick to bottom and burn. Cover skillet and cook 3 minutes. Uncover and add red peppers, snow peas, and (if using), carrots, and cabbage. If using peas or tomatoes, toss in at the very end.

While veggies are cooking, cook pasta per package directions. Carefully drain pasta and add it directly to the skillet with the chicken and vegetables. Add half of sauce and toss to coat. Add more sauce a bit at a time until it’s sufficiently coated to your taste. Garnish with sliced green onions and crushed peanuts, if desired.