Learning to Love Tomatoes – Heirloom Tomato Summer Pasta

August 23, 2011 § 6 Comments

I have never been one for tomatoes – you’d never find me snacking on them or making them the star of any meal. In fact, those individuals that could eat a tomato like an apple always perplexed me – why on earth would they do that? Even cooked tomatoes are sometimes too acidic for my liking – but all this changed within the last two months and I’m a new tomato fanatic. Me, tomato lover, can’t get enough of them…If my mother is reading this right now, she’s shocked.

There are two parts to my new-found tomato fanaticism. One: being vegan has definitely changed my tastes. Usually I’d crave an oozing piece of cheese pizza or a bowl of creamy pasta but not anymore. Maybe its summer but I think its more likely due to my changing diet. Eating more fruits and veggies has in turn made me want – well, more fruits and veggies.

The second reason for my new tomato cravings: I’ve finally tasted what a tomato should taste like. I’m not talking about those lifeless mealy barely red things you find at the grocery store. I’m talking about firm, juicy, bursting with fruity goodness, barely needs any seasonings, freshly picked from the garden tomatoes. I was recently treated to some tomatoes of this very nature and have been dying to get my teeth into some tomatoes similar to what I experienced, causing me to order anything that looks remotely close when I’m out and about.

No pizza or pasta for me, I’ll take the fresh tomato salad please! :-)

Due to my recent tomato cravings I’ve ordered gazpacho at every restaurant I’ve been to that has it on the menu. My favorite was a charred green tomato gazpacho that I enjoyed at Park Grille in Chicago. As I sat and looked over the menu, the waiter greeted me and informed me this gazpacho was vegan if ordered without the crab – I didn’t even tell him I was vegan! Was quite a change from my Seattle trip. Ah, Chicago, how do I love thee. The soup was delicious – refreshing with a hint of smokiness due to grilling the tomatoes and let’s face it, the view didn’t hurt either.

I drug Luis to the farmers market this weekend with one thing in mind: yup, you guessed it, tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes, I really had my heart set on heirloom tomatoes, the more colors the better. While I didn’t find any at the farmers market, I found some standard tomatoes that the gentleman assured me would be sweeter and have more flavor than those in the supermarket. On the way home we stopped in Whole Foods for some necessities and I couldn’t resist the heirloom tomatoes sitting like royalty on stands. I can be a bit cheap at times, but let me tell you, I shelled out about $7 for these beauties. I got a large heirloom with a deep purplish green and red color combo and a small carton of tiny round and pear orange, yellow, and purplish tomatoes. They looked like a rainbow in a carton.

This pasta was a take on a pasta I saw here and have been thinking about for several weeks. I loved the idea of a fresh pasta that required little to no cooking in the summer’s heat.

Given how beautifully fresh these tomatoes were, I didn’t even see the need to marinate them but I began about 30 minutes before Luis got home so they did sit a bit.

All I did was slice, toss with some nice fruity Spanish olive oil I use for special dishes like this, and add a splash of balsamic for a little kick. A little salt and pepper for seasoning, and at the last minute I added one clove of minced garlic. Honestly though, I’m not sure the dish really needed it – you could easily do without it. Sliced basil tops it off and keeps the dish light and earthy.

At first I was worried the whole wheat pasta would be overwhelming for this dish but it was all I had on hand – and it turned out to be really good. I made sure to cook it al dente to provide texture against the soft tomatoes. Boil the pasta and allow to cool before mixing with the tomatoes. This dish is delicious cool and at room temperature – providing juicy freshness on a hot summer day.

Heirloom Tomato Summer Pasta
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 large heirloom tomato
1 carton small heirloom tomatoes
2 – 3 tablespoons fruity, good quality olive oil
a few splashes of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sliced fresh basil
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 package of pasta of your choice

Directions

  1. Bring water to a boil for pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. Slice large tomato into several segments and smaller tomatoes in half.
  3. Toss in large bowl with several tablespoons of olive oil, or enough to generously coat tomatoes.
  4. Add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, sliced basil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss and set aside.
  5. Once pasta is finished drain well and set aside to cool. Once cooled, serve with tomato mixture over top.

Is A Creamy Vegan Soup Possible? – Vegan Corn Chowder

July 30, 2011 § 10 Comments

I love making soups. They are usually super easy to put together and you rarely need to follow a recipe. Soups are perfect too for using the last bits of leftover vegetables in the fridge. I’m not sure why, but I’ve really been on a corn kick latley. I’ve wanted to put it in everything: salads, tacos, everything, and I’ve been thinking of this chowder for a while. This chowder is inspired by a shrimp and corn chowder I make a lot and learned from my mom. I love how silky and rich it is – it’s perfectly comforting – but calls for all sorts of non-vegan ingredients like cream and seafood so I figured I wouldn’t get to have it anytime soon. But, I figured out a way!

Doesn’t that chowder look all creamy and silky? You’re thinking surely there is at least a touch of cream in there – nope, not a drop! What’s the secret to that rich creamy base? Roasted cauliflower! And what’s best about this soup – not only does it not have any cream – but it doesn’t leave you with that heavy feeling a traditional chowder does.

As I said the beauty of this soup and any soup really is that there are no rules. If you don’t have one of these ingredients handy or want to switch it up, go for it. Experiment and see what it gives you. Soups are very forgiving – it’s really hard to mess them up. The key is seasoning. That’s really the only way to mess up a soup.

As I said the secret to this creamy delicious soup is the roasted cauliflower. You could do this the day before to speed up this easy weeknight dinner. Roast with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper at 425 until tender and the cauliflower has a little color.

This chowder starts with the traditional onion, celery, carrot base. Saute the onions until translucent in some olive oil then add the celery and carrots. I happened to have shredded carrots in my fridge which worked great here. Since you end up blending everything together it doesn’t matter. I love adding peppers to all my soups – and really just about anything. Sometimes I’ll do a duo of red and yellow but for this soup I just used a red pepper. If you wanted a little heat you could definitely add some jalapeno but I’d wait until later in the cooking. Then add the diced potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and season with a little salt and pepper.

b nbvcx

Next add the stock. To keep it vegan, I used vegetable stock but if you’re not eating vegan you could use chicken stock which will give it great flavor. I actually only had one 32 oz. package of stock which I knew wasn’t enough to cover all the ingredients. I was a little nervous to add another 32 oz. of water but it still had fantastic flavor. I threw in a bay leaf and generous amount of salt and pepper to season.

While the soup simmers, prep the corn. Set the cut corn aside. You simmer the soup just long enough to ensure the potatoes are fully cooked through. Once the potatoes are cooked, the soup is ready for blending. I used an immersion blender which is so easy and takes just minutes to blend this into that beautiful creamy base. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can easily use a regular blender. Now, before blending you want to remove the bay leaf like the pros always caution. But don’t worry, if you don’t, I learned it blends nicely. I forgot to remove it and didn’t even notice.

Once the soup is blended smooth, add the cut corn and let it heat through for a few minutes. Taste test and season with more salt and pepper as needed. I promise you’ll be licking the bowl clean!

Update: See my posts on five tips for reducing dairy intake and 10 tips for a 30-day vegan challenge.

Vegan Corn Chowder
Serves about 8 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 4 carrots (can use shredded as I did)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 6 small potatoes (red or new)
  • 2 32-oz. cartons vegetable stock
  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut up head of cauliflower into small florets. Coat well with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 until tender.
  2. Dice onion, celery, carrots, and red pepper. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add celery and carrots and saute a few minutes, then add the pepper. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  3. Dice the potatoes and add to the mixture. Add enough stock to cover the vegetables. Add the bay leaf and season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. While the potatoes cook through, cut and prep the corn. Once the potatoes are cooked through, remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup until smooth. Add the corn to the blended soup. Taste for final seasonings.

End of Week Two and More New Ingredients – Kale and Purple Sweet Potatoes

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ingredient discovery continued this week as I ended the second week of my 30 day vegan challenge. (Update: See how I did with my challenge here.) I ordered from a local organic delivery service for the first time in an attempt to save time and get more organic produce. While I appreciated the ease of ordering and having fresh produce awaiting my arrival at my door, I realized I really am a grocery shopper. I enjoy perusing the lanes and looking for the freshest produce, smelling it, feeling it, and thinking about what I’ll be cooking that week based on what’s there. So, I’m not sure I’ll keep this as a weekly service, but it’s pretty nice during weeks I have to travel to have fresh produce waiting for me at home.

One thing I can tell you – I never would have picked up these two items which arrived at my door with this service: kale and purple sweet potatoes. Both of them appeared unattractive (in my opinion) and well, not so yummy. But boy was I wrong. Both turned out to be winners – not only very attractive, dare I say even beautiful, but delicious and satisfying.

If you’re like me and you’ve never eaten kale, it can be a bit intimidating. The leaves are really rough and almost have the texture of crazy thick curly parsley. Just looking at it you can tell its chock full of vitamins and nutrients but it doesn’t look like it will be delicious. Kale is sometimes compared to spinach but there was nothing tender about these leaves. While I had read that you can eat the stems, that was just being too adventurous for me. I was already going for the leaves, so I left the stems out of the party.

I decided to cook the kale with pasta. I figured that was the best way to ease into it as straight on kale might be a bit much for a first try. I had some grape tomatoes on hand as I usually do and I sauteed it with lots of garlic and some crushed red pepper and capers to give it a kick. Luis was skeptical as I cut the leaves free of their stems and I have to admit I was a bit scared to dump it into my beautiful sauce I had cooking, but boy was it good. The resulting pasta was really delicious and the greens absorbed all the strong flavors of the pan, making the bites of pasta with kale the best tasting ones! This pasta was so easy to make and extremely satisfying. We both went back for seconds and there was barely any left for leftovers…always a good sign.

To make the pasta, slice the garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Fully wash the kale and remove the stems, cutting the leaves into strips. While the water boils, saute the onions in olive oil until tender. Then add the tomatoes for a few minutes and then the capers, red pepper flakes, and garlic.

Once the tomatoes are almost fully soft, add the kale. I let it steam on top of the tomato mixture first before folding in the leaves. They’ll fill the full pan but like spinach they will wilt down quickly.

Keep turning them in the tomato mixture until they are fully wilted and a bright emerald green. Seriously is that not the prettiest color combo above?Gorgeous green and bright red.

Once done, toss in the pasta and enjoy!

Just as the kale was pretty intimidating at first glance, the purple sweet potatoes didn’t look so appealing either. Reminder: beauty isn’t on the outside. Goes for people and veggies as it turns out.

Once you peel away those somewhat scary looking skins – behold the most beautiful purple ever. Seriously, this may be the most beautiful vegetable I’ve ever seen, or eaten. Nature tricks us once again as we think it can’t get more beautiful than that – and you cook these babies and they turn lighter, brighter, almost the color of amethyst. I don’t know if I had more fun prepping and cooking these to discover their changing colors or eating them. The taste did not disappoint!

I knew I wanted to make them Friday night for dinner but wasn’t sure what to make. I also had eggplant arrive in my delivery. As you may recall, I’m not a fan of eggplant. In a desperate attempt to turn this around I started googling “delicious recipes for eggplant haters” -while the search returned a number of results, apparently there’s a lot of eggplant haters out there, they all included vegan no no’s like loads of cheese or other dairy products. I went out on a limb and decided to make a vegan vegetable tempura with the eggplant and purple sweet potatoes. Mind you, this was last night, after a long work day, so Luis arrived home to see me cutting the eggplant and scary looking potatoes and wasn’t so excited. I had faith though – after my successful adventures with kale, I thought it would be OK.

I found some vegan tempura batters and settled on one that just called for flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. The resulting tempura were really delicious – and the batter almost had a sweet pancake flavor wrapping the veggies. Success – I liked the eggplant! And those purple sweet potatoes were so yummy. I’ll definitely be experimenting more with this ingredient in the future. As far as the eggplant goes, I’m not convinced I’ll like it any way other than fried. Now I know fried food isn’t really what veganism is all about, but come on, I’ve had enough salads in the past two weeks so I got a little restless. Also, I can assure you the pictures don’t do it any justice.

Garlicky Kale and Tomato Pasta

Ingredients

  • Whole wheat penne pasta – you can use any pasta you like, I wanted to ensure protein in this meatless pasta
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves – the garlic cloves I had were huge so this was probably closer to 6 normal sized cloves which produces a strong garlic flavor, just use less if you don’t like a strong garlic flavor
  • One big bunch of kale – I used what was delivered and I think totaled about 10 large leaves.
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook pasta in boiled salted water.
  2. Slice onion, garlic and tomatoes. Clean kale and remove stems. Slice leaves thinly into strips.
  3. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. This is the base of your sauce so you want enough to coat the pasta and vegetables. Add onions and saute several minutes until soft. Add tomatoes, garlic, capers, and red pepper flakes stirring frequently so garlic doesn’t burn. Cook until tomatoes are almost soft.
  4. Layer kale leaves over tomato mixture and let steam for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper to taste. Begin to stir and fold the tomato mixture over the leaves. Cook until all leaves are wilted and cooked through.
  5. Add cooked pasta to the vegetable mix. Stir until the pasta is coated and add extra olive oil if needed.

Vegan Vegetable Tempura

If you try this recipe, I served it with soy sauce which was a bit too strong. It needs a light tempura sauce which I just didn’t have the ingredients on hand to make.

Ingredients

  • Desired vegetables – I used eggplant and purple sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup chilled water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for frying

Directions

  1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder together. Slowly add oil and water and mix until smooth. Chill for 15 minutes.
  2. Cut vegetables into uniform slices.
  3. Heat oil in large fry pan over medium – high heat. Dip vegetables into batter one by one and then add to oil, frying several at a time.

 

A New Way to Fish – Rosemary Potato Crusted Tilapia with Basil Oil

June 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I really do love fish and I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it. I prefer salmon, grouper, and of course, sea bass, but sometimes you just need an economical alternative. Enter, tilapia. I’ve never really been a big fan of tilapia – I’ll eat it and I don’t mind it but I’ve never craved it. My husband has developed a strong liking for it so I’ve been looking for new ways to prepare it. So far, simply grilled with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon has been a good way to go. Another option is sauteed with a light flour coating and finished in a parsley butter sauce. I recently saw a recipe by Giada de Laurentis for a potato crusted tilapia that looked amazing. I’m in for any recipe that involves a potato! Giada’s version called for purple potatoes and a chive basil oil. I was making this for a nice little Sunday lunch at home so I had to deal with what I had on hand – no purple potatoes or chives, but I did have new potatoes and some fresh basil.

This dish is surprisingly easy and produces a really elegant meal that takes fish to a whole new level. Giada’s recipe calls for a mandolin for super thin potato slices – I don’t have a mandolin so I just sliced the potato as thinly as I could manage. This worked fine but I think a mandolin would have helped produce a bit crispier potato which would have been delicious. However, if you don’t have a mandolin, don’t fret – just slice thinly and you’ll still be enjoying deliciously sauteed potatoes.

Once the potato slices are done, assembly is very easy. Season the tilapia with salt and pepper and then top with the potato slices. A little more salt, pepper, and some rosemary and the fish is ready to go. In an oven-proof skillet heat equal parts butter and olive oil over medium high heat. You want the skillet to be pretty hot so it gives a nice sizzle to the potatoes. I thought getting the fish potato side down into the skillet was going to be tricky but it actually turned out to be pretty easy. I found that placing my spatula over the fish and then flipping it potato side down and sliding out the spatula worked best. Once the fish is in, you pop it into a a 375 degree oven for about 15 to 17 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

While the fish cooks, make the basil oil. Simply mix chopped basil and olive oil together and a little salt and pepper and set aside. I added some more rosemary to the oil and happened to have some roasted garlic on hand which I mashed into the oil as well for a little extra flavor.

Once you remove the fish from the oven, flipping over to serve potato side up is quite tricky. After a few tries, a food scraper proved to be the best way to accomplish the task – carefully slide it under the potato while holding the top of the fish with a spatula and flip. The potato doesn’t actually stick to the fish so if it’s not held together it will fall apart. Top the fish with some basil oil and serve. I found a generous squeeze of lemon finished the fish nicely, but you could try it first without and see what you think.

As I’m coming to find – I like my own cooking a lot more than what I find in restaurants. I can assure you, you’ll like this dish and it will be very different than anything you’ll see in a restaurant – at least from what I’ve seen. Enjoy!

Rosemary Potato Crusted Tilapia with Basil Oil 
Adapted from Giada de Laurentis
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 (4- to 6-ounce) tilapia fillets
  • 4 new potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary leaves or half dried
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • roasted garlic – optional
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Season fish with salt and pepper and top each of the fillets with potato slices until completely covered. Season with more salt and pepper and rosemary.

Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the butter and heat until hot. Add the fish, potato side down and place skillet in oven. Bake until fish is cooked through, about 15 to 17 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the extra-virgin olive oil, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. If desired, add roasted garlic.

Place fish potato side up on a plate and top with the basil oil and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Click here for original recipe.

Update: Serve with lemon meringue pie for a truly decadent summer dinner. 

Coincidentally Meatless Monday – Zucchini Fritatta and Tomato Mozzarella Salad

February 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

It’s not unusual for us to have meatless dinners in this house. I’m a carbaholic with an aversion to many meats so there are many meatless nights to be had here. I’ve actually been thinking more and more about adding additional meats to my diet. I have a strange relationship with meat – yes I admitted it – I like chicken, crispy cripsy bacon (note the double crispy) and spicy tacos. So, you’d think I would go for pork tenderloin or even a hamburger but nope, don’t like those. The reason I’ve been thinking of adding more meats to my diet is because of my husband. He loves meat and with the cooking shows constantly on in the background, I catch him drooling at the TV when he sees a good roast or steak. But I have to tell you, after the dinner we had this week which was completely meatless, there was nothing left to be desired.

I had briefly heard of this new movement, Meatless Mondays, an effort to get Americans to cut out meat at dinner once a weak to help us create healthier diets but was surprised when I saw a sign for it at a restaurant last Sunday afternoon – actually a burrito joint no less. Orlando isn’t a city that jumps on the bandwagon of many culinary trends so I was a bit surprised to see this had gained some attention locally. While I was intrigued, I wasn’t planning on going meatless the following Monday night. But Monday came, and that’s just what we did (in fact we went all out meatless by accident Sunday and Tuesday too so kudos to us).

Monday came, and I had a strong craving for an asparagus and egg dish I’d made a few months ago. You make delicate thin omelets almost like a crepe and wrap around cooked asparagus – its a light, delicious, and coupled with a glass of wine can feel very Parisian. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people that ever knows what’s in season – I can only tell once I get the store and see the prices. So wouldn’t you know I got my taste buds all jazzed up for this dish only to get to the store and see my lovely asparagus for $4.99 a package. I just couldn’t do it with the beautiful earthy green zucchini next to it for just $2.99. As I write this I’m laughing that $2.00 dictated my meal, but it did.

I also picked up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, crusty bread from the bakery, and Buittoni pesto. Once home, I unloaded my goodies excited to make my quick, healthy dinner. My husband greeted me and asked the usual “What’s for dinner” to which I replied, “eggs”. Now in his defense, I could have been a bit more descriptive but there was disappointment all over his face. You could see his high hopes for dinner just plummeting. I didn’t let this phase me though; I knew he’d be happy in the end. So, I got to cooking a zucchini frittata with a side tomato and mozzarella salad and some toasted bread with garlic.

I sliced the zucchini in half moons and sautéed in some olive oil and one minced garlic clove. To that I added a mixture of five beaten eggs with some milk, salt, pepper, and chopped scallions. I cooked the fritatta on the stove over medium heat until the egg was mostly set, moving it around in the pan with a spatula. Then I topped it with salty parmesan reggiano cheese and popped it under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese turned golden. To serve i stopped with some more freshly chopped scallions. I’ve made fritattas a few times. I always thought a fritatta just meant it was finished in the oven but after a little research, turns out a fritatta is the fluffy egg which results from whipping the eggs as opposed to stirring them as you would for an omelet. By whipping the eggs, you get air into the fritatta resulting in a beautiful fluffy, puffy, egg dish. While my fritatta puffed in the oven and I saw delicious peaks and valleys of cheesy goodness through the window, once removed it went poof! and fell. It was still delicious though, light, fluffy, and full of flavor.

On the side I made a yummy tomato mozzarella salad with the Buitoni pesto I had bought. I’ve used this pesto before and really love its intense flavor. While I’d love to make my own pesto, with one this good and ready to go, I can’t see why I’d bother. So, I took some help from Buitoni and mixed in some with my fresh grape tomatoes and mozzarella. The result was a perfect side salad to celebrate the coming of spring – crisp, juicy tomatoes with creamy mozzarella and herby pesto. For the bread, if you’ve never done this trick you need to try it – drizzle bread with a bit of olive oil and pop under the broiler until browned. Watch it closely as it can burn in a second. Remove the bread when its the color you want and rub with a garlic clove for a delicious, strong garlic flavor. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.

So what did my husband have to say about his dinner of “sad” eggs or so he had assumed? “Baby, you hit it out of the park!” He actually asked if I’d taken pictures for my blog which of course I hadn’t as this was just a quick fix meal – but after his praises I decided I might as well snap a few before digging in. The best part of the evening – aside from his glowing praises – was that this was such an easy meal to prepare and so satisfying and healthy, even without meat in the starring role. All in all I think it took just under half an hour to make – not too shabby if I do say so myself. I think the next time he hears eggs for dinner he’ll be quite pleased.

Craving Warmth – Shrimp and Corn Chowder

January 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

It truly pains me to admit this but I have finally, maybe, still-fighting it, come to the realization that perhaps I’ll never move to a winter climate again. I spent the better years of my childhood in Chicago and have envisioned moving back there for years – living in a condo, walking everywhere, enjoying the many cultural attributes of the city, not to mention unbelievable food options. But alas, sometimes we must grow up and realize what we are and are not willing to do. After several trips this year to Washington DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, and yes, even Chicago, I come back home each time more and more relieved to return to my comfortable 60 degree weather.

Last week that wasn’t the case though – there were no 60 degrees to be had even in Florida – I returned home from a frigid Detroit where just 5 minutes standing in the snow storm waiting for a shuttle bus had left me slightly frozen for the better half of the week. Walking to my car back home at the Orlando airport, I expected to find myself able to remove my jacket – but no, I was met with a windy 40 degrees that encouraged me to leave it on. (I do realize that my friends living anywhere North of Orlando right now are probably calling me a big wimp if they are reading this – but it is what it is – apparently I’m quite wimpy when it comes to weather.)

All week I had a need to fill my body with a warm and satisfying something – something that would fill my stomach with warmth and spread to every last centimeter of my body – no fingers or toes to be left behind. Actually, this need started even before I’d left for Detroit and I attempted to make a lentil soup for the very first time on a cold Sunday evening. I’d been inspired by reading an incredible article on a spicy, thick lentil soup by Molly Wizenberg in Bon Appetit. In the end, the soup turned out ok – definitely hearty – but missed the mark and left me craving something comforting all week. So Friday night, I just couldn’t take it, enough was enough – I was determined to make a delicious soup that would do the trick. As I wandered through the supermarket looking for inspiration, I remembered a chowder my mom makes with crab and shrimp. I used to make a vegetarian version all the time but for one reason or another, hadn’t made it in some time. Seeing that shrimp was on sale, I figured it would be as good a time as any to give it another go and see if it could cure me of my need for warmth. It had probably been 2 years since I made this soup – thus, I was working from memory on how I actually used to make it but it turned out just as comforting and delicious as I remembered!

As I said, I’ve made this soup many times vegetarian without any seafood and its simply delicious. If you do like shrimp, it adds just a hint of sweetness and substance to the dish. This soup offers amazing depth of flavor – the slight spice of the bell peppers, sweet carrots, hearty potatoes, plump shrimp, and just a touch of cream – all make it truly luxurious. This soup is actually quite simple, really, and could easily be made on a cold weeknight. As with all soups like this, no hard-fast recipe is needed, just estimate as you go and feel free to experiment.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot. Meanwhile dice the potatoes into bite size pieces – you want to use a delicate skinned potato so you don’t have to peel them. Add the potatoes to the boiling chicken broth and reduce to medium heat.

Dice the onion, celery, and carrots. I slit the celery down the center and then dice and I just dice the carrot whole so I have pretty little orange circles. Add these veggies to a sauté pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to lightly coat, minced garlic, some salt and pepper, and sauté. Dice ½ a red and ½ a yellow pepper and add to the pan once the onions have become soft. You could add the vegetables right to the potatoes after chopping and skip this step for an easier recipe but I find sautéing them gives the best flavor.

Add all the veggies to the potatoes and allow to cook a few minutes and for the flavors to incorporate. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it reaches your desired texture. I like it to be about half blended so I see some flecks of color from the diced veggies. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can spoon out the desired amount and blend in a blender.

Add your desired amount of corn and a touch of cream for a luxurious texture. The cream can easily be left out if you’d rather not have the extra calories but it does add a beautiful silkiness to this soup.

Cut the shrimp in half and dispose of tails and add to the soup. It will take just minutes for the shrimp to cook – once they are pink, they’re done and the soup is ready. (Note: if using frozen shrimp you’ll need more cooking time.) Add chopped scallions and reserve some to serve on top as a garnish.

Ingredients

4 14oz. cans of low-sodium chicken broth
5 potatoes
1 yellow onion
4 ribs of celery
5 carrots
½ red bell pepper
½ yellow bell pepper
2 cups frozen corn
¼ cup heavy cream
½ Ib. shrimp
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions
olive oil
salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot. Meanwhile dice the potatoes into bite size pieces. Add the potatoes to the boiling chicken broth and reduce to medium heat.
  2. Dice the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté in a pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to lightly coat, minced garlic, some salt and pepper.
  3. Dice ½ a red and ½ a yellow pepper and add to the pan once the onions have become soft.
  4. Add all the veggies to the potatoes and allow to cook a few minutes and for the flavors to incorporate. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to desired texture.
  5. Add corn and cream.
  6. Cut the shrimp in half, dispose of tails and add to the soup. It will take just minutes for the shrimp to cook.
  7. Add chopped scallions and reserve some to serve on top as a garnish.

Update: See how I made this vegan with my vegan corn chowder recipe

Easy “Pea”sy Weeknight Dinner – Pasta with Peas, Bacon, and Parmesan

January 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

Happy one week 2011! As I sit here writing this I’m watching the clock count down and feeling as excited for the year as I did a week ago on New Years Day. I don’t know what it is but it seems that everyone is truly happy about this year – there’s definitely something in the air (and lots of commotion on Facebook). It’s been a wonderful week for me, a perfect week in fact, very productive, quality time with my husband, family, and friends, and I’m full of anticipation for all the year has to bring. It’s funny how something as “little” as finally sitting down to start a blog can really inspire you. My mind is whirling with recipes I want to test – causing my mouth to water for delicious new flavors and creations. But the truth is, I have a very full-time job, which doesn’t always leave me the time I’m looking for at night to put a meal on the table worthy of my mother’s teachings.

That’s where this pasta comes in – my easy “pea”sy all-time absolute favorite go-to meal. Its simplicity of several bold flavors is what makes it so easy and a sure win each and every time. We eat this meal regularly as it’s a quick supper and I always, always, have the ingredients on hand. Crispy, smokey bacon, al dente pasta, a soft bite of bright green sweet peas, salty parmesan, and spicy fresh cracked pepper all wrapped in the deliciousness of good old olive oil. Mmmm… if only I had some leftovers right now…

I’ve been making variations of this dish for over 10 years now. It was inspired by a pasta at a local restaurant my family used to go to for special occasions. I would look forward to that meal for days – enjoying an amazing Italian feast with a glass of sparkling San Pelligrino was all I needed – it was heaven. The dinner always began with a famous buccatini. Buccatini is like a very thick, hollow, spaghetti. Their version was served al dente with prosciutto, peas, mushrooms and parmesan. The result was this amazing, smokey, salty, pasta. I haven’t had that dish in probably 8 years but I can still taste it.

I distinctly remember starting to create my version of this pasta in my last year of high school. In fact, I remember that I’d make it as many as several times a week. It was a very simple version that I still make to this day of just pasta, peas, olive oil, lots of salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. That variation is actually the first meal I ever made my husband back when we were first dating in college – I guess it was good enough to stick around!

Over the years I’ve tried many variations adding garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, cream, tomatoes, fresh herbs, etc., and while they are all good, this one is absolutely my favorite. I encourage you to try it as is, and then experiment with new ingredients to see what your favorite combination is. This pasta doesn’t have hard-set directions. Use as much bacon and peas as you want – you can’t go wrong. Just ensure you flavor it well with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Most of the flavor comes from the salt and pepper so don’t be scared to add liberally. I like to add and taste several times until I get it right – you’ll feel like you’re adding a lot, but believe me, it needs it.

For the pasta – I usually cook with a whole wheat or whole grain pasta for extra protein but white pasta works beautifully here as well. You can use any shape of pasta you like. A new trick I’ve found is freezing my bacon. I love bacon but since it’s just me and my husband we never make it through the pack before it goes bad. I put it in my freezer and it lasts several months and is actually much easier to cut when frozen. If you’ve ever cut up fresh bacon you know this can be quite tricky. I like to cut the bacon perpendicular to the strips so all I need is several cuts and the bacon just breaks up in the pan perfectly.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Cut as much bacon as you want – I like to cut three pieces about ½ inch thick (this equates to about 2-3 strips of bacon). Cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon leaving bacon grease in the pan – I know you health nuts will be eager to remove it but believe me its worth it!

Add the desired amount of frozen peas. We love peas so I add enough to coat my pan – about 2 cups. Mix peas in bacon grease and cook until heated through. Add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, about 1-2 tablespoons depending on amount of peas, just enough so that the peas are shiny and coated. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper and mix. Reduce heat to medium-low.

When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the peas and mix for a few minutes to the pasta absorbs all the flavors.

Serve with reserved crispy bacon and freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese. If you manage to have leftovers, this pasta is equally delicious the next day, but sadly (or fortunately) we never have leftovers when I make this.

Pasta with Peas, Bacon, and Parmesan
Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 package pasta of your choice
2-3 strips bacon cut into small pieces
2 cups frozen peas
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
parmesan cheese to serve

Directions:

1. Bring water to a boil. Add salt and cook pasta al dente according to package instructions
2. Meanwhile heat a pan over medium heat. Cut 2-3 strips of bacon, or desired amount, into small bite-size pieces and add to heated pan. Cook until crisp and remove with slotted spoon, reserving bacon grease in pan.
3. Add 2 cups peas to pan and olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook until heated through. Reduce heat to medium low.
4. Drain pasta and add to pan with peas, mixing, and let it sit for a few minutes, absorbing flavors. Taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper.
5. To serve pasta, top with crispy bacon and fresh parmesan.

A Tortilla To Make Him Happy – Enchiladas Verdes

December 30, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve had many nights where I’ve stood in the kitchen, cooking away, ever-so-hopeful my husband would love my food as I try some new recipe. Usually he’s very happy with what I make and even goes for seconds if its a good night, but I’ve come to learn, he’ll never enjoy anything quite as much as a meal that involves a tortilla. I’ll never forget, one night I got home late and had nothing to make so I quickly fried some eggs, heated a can of black beans, and put it all on a tortilla with salsa and sour cream – to say he liked it was the understatement of the year and it was so simple – all I had to do was basically fry an egg! This is because he’s from Guatemala and tortillas are a central part of their cuisine. Many breakfasts and dinners consist of tortillas and beans so I think it is comforting to him and reminds him of home.

A few nights ago I made Chicken Noodle Soup which sadly didn’t turn out quite as I had expected. When I was at the market getting my ingredients I’d decided I’d make Enchiladas Verdes with the leftover chicken – you could even just buy a rotisserie chicken and it would work perfect here, or leftover roasted chicken. I’ve only made enchiladas a few times. Enchiladas Verdes are my husband’s favorite Mexican food and he always orders it when we go to a Mexican restaurant. I’m happy to report – tonight they were a huge success! He even claimed it was probably the best dinner I’ve ever made him! Not only did he go back for seconds, he went
back for thirds, a testament that he was being sincere with his compliments. I’m very happy with how these enchiladas turned
out.

To start, I heated the corn tortillas in the oven as it pre-heated. You definitely don’t want to skip this step as it makes them much easier to work with. I sautéed the green peppers and onions with spices for some added flavor but honestly I think the majority of the flavor came from the sauce so next time I may just skip that part and see if there is a difference. I used Pace Salsa Verde sauce this time and I’ve used Publix’s version before which is also very good. Making Salsa Verde can be tricky as it can be hard to find good tomatillos – I’ve always been happy with the pre-made versions and it makes it a quick and easy meal. Sauté the veggies until tender and then add the already cooked chicken with some chicken stock and cook until heated through. Last add a bit of the salsa to the mix.

Assemble the enchiladas by filling the center of the tortilla with the filling and top with a bit of shredded mozzarella before rolling up the sides. Then place the enchilada seam side down into a pan that has been coated with the sauce on the bottom. Top the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and some mozzarella and bake until heated and cheese is melted.

To serve, top with chopped onion, green pepper, cilantro and sour cream (if you like, I personally like it without the sour cream). The resulting enchiladas have a good spice and flavor with a nice crunch from the fresh veggies.

Enchiladas Verdes
Yields 8 enchiladas

Ingredients:
8 corn tortillas
Vegetable or Olive Oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 yellow onion
1/4 large green bell pepper
Several dashes of oregano, cumin, and coriander
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 16 oz jar Salsa Verde
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 lime plus wedges to serve
1 bunch cilantro
Sour cream

To Make:

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350° and warm corn tortillas
  2. Coat fry pan with vegetable oil or olive oil and sauté 1minced garlic clove with veggies (reserve some to top enchiladas with) and spices until tender
  3. Add cooked chicken and chicken stock and heat through
  4. Add some Salsa Verde, squeeze of lime juice, and fresh chopped cilantro to the chicken mixture and stir
  5. Coat the bottom of your baking dish with some Salsa Verde
  6. Fill warmed tortilla with chicken mixture and add a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese
  7. Roll sides to center and place seam-side down in the pan and continue with remaining tortillas
  8. Spoon Salsa Verde over tortillas ensuring tortillas are coated with a thin layer and top with a sprinkling of mozzarella
  9. Cook until enchiladas are fully heated and cheese is melted – approx 10-15 minutes
  10. Serve enchilada with fresh chopped onion, green pepper, sour cream, and wedge of lime

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Easy Weeknight category at Cooking Con Sal.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers

%d bloggers like this: