Archive for January, 2011

I’ve spent more time cooking soups and stews this winter than I have anything else… and as soon as I saw this recipe, I had to make it.

It sounded delicious, slow-cooked white beans with caramelized onions, bacon, pasta, and a bit of spinach for some semblance of healthfulness, all in a rich, thick broth. This is a cheap meal, makes a lot, tastes great leftover, and is totally and completely warming on a cold winter night. Really, you have no reason not to make this (like the roasted cabbage). Leave the bacon out if you want to – the broth of slow-cooked beans and onions should be flavorful enough.

When making this one Sunday, I underestimated the amount of time required to cook the beans. I started the stew around 5 and didn’t start eating until 9 – and the beans were still slightly undercooked. If you want this for dinner, start earlier and really cook it slowly, like the recipe tells you to do.

Pasta e Fagioli – Bean and Pasta Stew

Serves about 8

1 lb. dried cannelloni beans, or another kind of dried white bean (I used great northern beans)
5 slices bacon, diced (or substitute 1 tablespoon olive oil for vegetarian version)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound pasta
5 thyme sprigs
3 teaspoons salt
10 ounces baby spinach

Soak the beans by placing in a large pot. Cover with cold water and let sit for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a heavy stock pot or dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat. Once crisp, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Pour off all put one tablespoon of bacon fat. Cook the onions slowly with 1/2 teaspoon of salt until caramelized and turn golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Add the celery and cook just until the celery is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove half of the onion mixture and reserve with the bacon.

Deglaze the pan with one cup of water, scraping up any brown residue that has formed on the bottom of the pan.

Drain the beans and pour them into the pot with the remaining onions. Add the bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans and onions by one inch.

Cover the pot and bake in the oven for an hour. After an hour, check the beans every 15 minutes until they are completely soft. This took a very long time for me – over two hours. Finally I gave up the oven, returned the pot to the stove-top, and cooked the beans that way.

If you haven’t done so already, return the pot to the stove top and set over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, reserved onions, whole thyme sprigs, remaining salt, and pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Add more water if necessary.

Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme stems. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

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Similar to the roasted cabbage from last week, this is another example where a few rich ingredients, used judiciously, can add generous depths of flavor.

This is a fantastic, simple casserole with great flavor and it reheats well for leftovers. It can also be easily tailored to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Just leave out the sausage and/or cream and Parmesan. Cooked slowly, the beans take on a very creamy quality – and the half and half doesn’t hurt this. The squash adds a bright color and sweet flavor to the dish the tastes great with the spicy, salty sausage… and the rosemary ties it all together.

Although the ingredients list is not long, it does need to cook for a while so plan accordingly.

From The Food Matters Cookbook, by Mark Bittman

4 oz. Italian sausage (about one link), casings removed

1/4 cup half-and-half or cream

1 T. chopped fresh rosemary (can use 1 t. dried)

3 cups cooked navy beans – can use cans. Drained and liquid reserved

salt and pepper

1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded

1/2 cup vegetable stock or water

3 T. olive oil

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 325. If you are using the sausage, heat a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the sausage and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t brown the meat too much.

Combine the half-and-half or cream, rosemary, and beans in a 2-quart baking dish. Spring with salt and pepper.

Add the crumbled sausage to the beans.

Cut the butternut squash halves into thin slices. Spread the slices on top of the beans and overlap them a bit. Press down gently. Pour the vegetable stock over the top, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with more salt and pepper.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is browned and glazed, another 45 minutes or so. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese for the last ten minutes of cooking.


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Wow. Who knew cabbage could be so wonderful? If you think you don’t love cabbage, and/or you just love bacon… you have to try this. And now is a great time to do so because cabbage is really, really cheap and in season.

This would also probably be almost as delicious without the bacon. Just increase the amount of olive oil used. But really, the bacon adds such a smokey, meaty depth of flavor and helps caramelize the cabbage. The textures are amazing too – blackened, crispy leaves on the outside and soft, creamy cabbage beneath. You really have to try it to believe how wonderful it is.

I served this with brown rice, but it would go well with noodles or bread too probably. It is also easy to put together. So really, you have no excuse not to make this. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Roasted Cabbage, from the Kitchn

Makes about four servings

If you are going to serve this with rice, get that started before doing anything else.

1 head of cabbage

1/2 T. olive oil

4 thick-cut slices of bacon

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450. Discard the outer layers of the cabbage. Then cut the head into quarters and cut out the core. Then cut each quarter in half again. You should end up with eight large wedges of cabbage. Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil on the wedges.

Slice the bacon into strips cross-wise. Scatter over the cabbage and around the pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper over everything.

Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until caramelized. Take out half-way through and stir around.

Serve with rice  (or bread or noodles… or  even on its own) and enjoy!

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I was just discussing with some friends this weekend how miserable January is. The holidays are over, the weather is the coldest of the year, and the warmth of spring has turned into a distant memory.This is the perfect time for a spicy, hearty, healthy, sweet potato and chili casserole, a.k.a shepherd’s pie.

This is a recipe I saw Rachel Ray make on t.v. once. Then, right after Thanksgiving when I was still recovering from the flu, no food sounded good. Except, strangely enough, for this.

In one of my first posts on this blog, I defended Rachel Ray, and I maintain that she cranks out some good recipes. This is one of those. The cheddar, orange zest, and sweet potatoes may sound strange, but combined, it makes an excellent combination with the spicy chili. If you are looking for a warming casserole to combat the January blues, this is a great choice.

Chili and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie, adapted from Rachel Ray

The original recipe says it yields 4 to 6 servings. I cut it in half and still ended up with four generous servings.

To make this vegetarian, just leave out the ground turkey and substitute 1 can of kidney beans, or another bean of your choice.

about 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, 2 to 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed


1 t. orange zest

1 T.  butter, cut into pieces

1/2 c. Greek yogurt

black pepper

grated nutmeg

1 T. olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 T. chili powder

1/2 T. paprika

1/2 T. ground cumin

1/2 T. ground coriander

2 T. tomato paste

1 1/2 c. chicken stock (or vegetable brother or water)

1 c. or so of grated cheddar cheese

Add the potatoes to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Salt the water and cook to tender about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and return to hot pot. Add the zest, butter, Greek yogurt, salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste.

While potatoes are coming to a boil, heat a large pot with olive oil,  over medium-high to high heat. Add the turkey and brown, then add in the onions and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Chop the peppers, then add them along with the garlic to the turkey.

Stir in the spices, and add salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the stock and simmer a few minutes to thicken and combine flavors.

If using beans, cook the onions, peppers, and garlic first. Add the spices and cook for a minute or two, then add the beans.

Preheat the broiler. Transfer the chili to a casserole dish.

Spread the potatoes over the top and cover with cheese.

Brown under the broiler until golden.



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Lemon Cake

Ah dessert. According to Ina Garten, it is the one course of the meal that guests will remember, and thus, the most important.

There was a lot of it around my parents’ house while I was home in Iowa over the holidays. (This will also be my last post about my Iowa cooking escapades until the next time I’m there). And my mom and I spent a great deal of time discussing what additional dessert to make for the Christmas dinner with my extended family that happened a few days after the official holiday.

This was actually a big debate… my mom was making a really delicious, really rich and heavy casserole (that happened to be an Ina Garten recipe), and we were trying to figure out what would be a light-ish dessert that wouldn’t be too rich and heavy after the casserole. My mom decided to do a lemon cake that she used to have when she was younger. I can’t remember all that it entailed, but I think lemon cake mix was involved.

Not that there is anything wrong with lemon cake mix, because there isn’t. But I wanted to try to hone my baking skills with a new recipe, and found this one for lemon cake on the beautiful blog, smitten kitchen. The recipe turned out to be from Ina Garten… so it would be a Barefoot Contessa meal. How bad could that be?

Baking at my parents’ house requires the use of  my mom’s super-intimidating, yet totally awesome, new stand mixer…

… impressive huh? (Personally, I’d take my food processor over this mixer any day, but to each her own.)

So, this cake takes some work, and planning ahead. You need to let both the eggs and butter come to room temperature, juice and zest lemons, make the cake, a syrup, and a glaze, and then put it all together. The results, however, were delicious. A perfect mix of tart and sweet that masked the slightly overdone crust which was my fault. (When baking, trust your nose. If you can smell what is in the oven, it is probably close to ready to be taken out). This was good, and I look forward to trying it again. Albeit, without my mom’s stand mixer and with a closer eye on the oven.

Lemon Cake, from Ina Garten

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 c. granulated sugar, divided (this means you do not use it all at once)

4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 c. grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)

3 c. flour

1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

1 t. kosher salt

3/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided

3/4 c. buttermilk, at room temperature

1 t. pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, sifted or whisked well

3 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one bundt pan (or 2 loaf pans).

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Whisk (or sift)  together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. Watch the cake closely. As you may be able to tell from the top photo, my cake was a little too dark.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cake to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

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Updated Broccoli Casserole

Growing up, broccoli casserole was not a staple at my family’s holiday meals. Green bean casserole was, and still is due to the consistent demands of my brother and sister, complete with condensed cream of mushroom soup and fried onions in a can. Our broccoli at dinner usually came steamed with a side of BBQ sauce for Michael, who used to be an annoyingly picky eater. I never loved broccoli, particularly steamed broccoli, but was never really picky and would eat it. Cooking on my own, I fell in love with roasted broccoli and marinated broccoli salad.

Since living in Louisville, I’ve now had broccoli casserole at least three times and found this recipe for the dish, which I wanted to eat immediately and sent it to my mom to place on our Christmas day menu. I was in charge of it. Unlike the usual broccoli casserole, which are tasty and homey in their own right, this relies on cooking the broccoli a bit less, and mixing up your own cream sauce instead of using condensed soups. The results are a bit fresher, if for a bit more work.

This is a rich dish laced with cream, whole milk, eggs, and cheese – not to mention bacon. And it was really good. I wouldn’t call it amazing because I think I overcooked it and the casserole ended up a little dry. My dad later informed me that it reheated well as leftovers.

The cooking range in the original recipe says to bake for 25 – 45 minutes, a pretty large window. My parents have a new oven that has been acting up… i.e. overcooking things, so I cooked it for just 25 and it was a little too much. Keep an eye on it.

Here’s the recipe for Broccoli Cheese Casserole, from Simply Recipes

Serves about 10 as a side dish

2 pounds broccoli, stems removed, cut into florets
Salt for boiling water
2 strips of thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips
1/3 c. all purpose flour
5 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. cream
1 c. whole milk
about 2 t. black pepper, if yours is strong, use less… lots of black pepper will add a nice zing to this dish
1/2 t. salt
2 t. Dijon mustard
8 oz grated cheddar cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the prepared broccoli and boil for 3-5 minutes or until just tender enough so that a fork can easily pierce the floret. You don’t want the broccoli too mushy. Strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking (this can be done a  day in advance, just drain well and refrigerate until ready to use).

While the water for the broccoli is coming to a boil, place the bacon slices in a frying pan and cook over medium heat.

Fry until lightly browned, but not crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess fat. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425. Butter or oil a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. In a bowl, whisk the eggs into the flour, then whisk in the cream and milk. Add the black pepper (more or less to taste), salt, and mustard. Mix in about a third of the cheese.

Place the partially-cooked broccoli florets in the casserole dish, sprinkling about a third of the cheese over the broccoli florets as you lay them down. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the broccoli.

Pour the egg, cream, milk, cheese mixture over the broccoli, moving the broccoli pieces a bit so that the mixture gets into all the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle the casserole with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 25-40 minutes, or until set. Once the top has browned, you may want to tent with aluminum foil to keep from burning.

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First… happy New Year!

Did you make any resolutions? I found this interesting post about celebrity chefs’ resolutions. As my collection of cookbooks continues to increase, I particularly appreciate Michael Pollan’s resolution to try new recipes more regularly. This blog definitely gives me the platform for doing that, but sometimes I still fall into ruts, particularly ingredient-ruts. I’ll end up making similar things, or turning to the same cookbooks, over and over again.

I haven’t made any formal resolutions. I’d like to get my eating habits in check, and start car-pooling to work more with my co-workers that live very close. And I’d like to keep going on this blog, which brings me to today’s recipe… and another story…

Did you know I have a brother? He pointed out to me recently, after I asked him for feedback about my blog, that I have never mentioned him on these posts. I talk about my parents and younger sister, but never Michael, my younger brother. A quick search on my part confirmed his accusations, so now I’m trying to change that embarrassing fact.

I made gumbo this Christmas for the third year in a row, as per Michael’s request. This was quite an accomplishment for me… to have Michael request a dish for me to make. There is a running joke in my family that I’m not that great of a cook. When I’m at home, I manage to forget the salt, use bad spices, or make something too “vegetarian.” I once made sweet potato and black bean burritos that made my dad and brother gag. I made saffron rice that was terribly bland because I forgot the salt. And I over-mixed and over-baked a flour-less chocolate cake that was too dry to choke down, just to name a few. So, I was very happy, thrilled even, when my mom told me that Michael specifically requested gumbo.

I used Paula Deen’s gumbo recipe, I think at the recommendation from my good friend and southerner, Andrew.

So here it is Michael, and sorry for not talking you up sooner.

Gumbo, from Paula Deen, with no changes

3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper (be careful with the salt, this dish can be on the salt side)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 lb. smoked sausage, cut into slices, between 1/4-  and 1/2-inch
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
5 T. butter
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped
4 c. hot water
5 beef bouillon cubes
1  14-oz can stewed tomatoes, undrained
2 cups frozen sliced okra
4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined (they can be precooked or uncooked, your choice)

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add sausage and cook until browned, stirring frequently.  Remove and set aside, along with the chicken.

Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool. This is a good time to chop all of your vegetables if you have not already done so.

Return the pot to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Between the Worcestershire sauce and bullion, you really might not want to add any salt. It is highly seasoned as-is. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp and chopped parsley. If your shrimp is raw, it will cook in under 3 minutes. They are done as soon as they curl and turn opaque.

My family enjoyed this soup on Christmas Eve with french bread. I think it even met Michael’s standards.

And thanks bro, for helping me take the pictures.



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