Healthy Greek Pasta

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Halloween is only two days away which means I still have time to sneak in another healthy recipe before for the proverbial candy hits the fan. This Greek inspired dish is fiber rich which will sustain you through hours of trick-or-treating, flavor packed to help you avoid dipping your hand into the candy bowl, and takes less than 15-mintues to make allowing you to focus your time and energy on dressing your little ghosts and goblins! Continue reading

Cold Asian Noodle Salad

IMG_9116 On steamy days like these, I absolutely hate slaving over a hot stove — an outdoor grill is fine, but my kitchen stove? No thank you. Lately I’ve been cooking much of our dinners in the mornings when the temperature is still cool, then refrigerating everything and assembling the meal right before we eat. This “cook & cool” method (I just made up that term, do you like it?) works really well for pastas, rice, and other hearty grains because they store well, and taste great chilled. For this Cold Asian Noodle Salad, the pasta only takes a few minutes to simmer, so it’s easy to do right before you leave for work. Just drain the noodles, then cover and refrigerate (and if you’re feeling extra ambitious, chop the veggies and store separately in the fridge). Then when you get home, all you have to do is whip up the dressing, then toss everything together. Voilà! Done! And this easy summer salad can be served alongside grilled chicken, or dished up as a vegetarian entrée. Either way, you’ll thank me tonight when you’re enjoying a cool meal on the patio rather than sweating in the kitchen. Continue reading

Stuff My Kid Eats: Beet Risotto

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Beets are one of those things that people either love or hate, kind of like boy bands or the Twilight series. I, for one, am definitely in the “Team Beet” camp, and so is my toddler. I don’t know what it is about them, but they just scream summer to me. Maybe it’s because their smell reminds me of cut grass, or their bright color is worthy of a beach ball, but as soon as the weather starts getting warm, I crave them in my salads and pastas. I served this beet risotto to my family last week and when my toddler saw the colorful rice she said, “Oh Mommy, I’m going to eat all of my dinner tonight!” — and she did.

Beet Risotto

Serves 4

  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups fish stock, or chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 roasted beet, coarsely chopped (*see How To)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 4-5 chives sprigs, chopped
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese for serving

In a food processor or blender add beet and 1 Tbsp. oil and blend until smooth, set aside.

In a saucepan, bring stock and wine to a low simmer. Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, melt butter and oil in a large straight-sided skillet until bubbly. Add shallots and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add risotto and garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

Using a large soup ladle, pour 1 ladle-full (about ½ cup) of stock into risotto and stir until liquid is absorbed. Gradually stir in remaining broth 1 ladle-full at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladle. Continue this process until all but 1 ladle-full of stock has been used, approximately 25-30 minutes. Add the last ladle of stock with puréed beet, stir, then reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, covered. Uncover and stir until all remaining liquid has evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with a sprinkle of chives and grated parmesan.

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*How to Roast a Beet:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scrub beets clean, then wrap in tin foil. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut into ¼-inch cubes. Set aside. (I always roast about 3-4 beets at a time, then freeze the extra in a resealable plastic bag to use later, like in my Creamy Roasted Beet Soup.)

Tip: Beets can stain hands, clothing, cutting boards, and light-colored sinks and countertops. To avoid turning everything in your kitchen red, wear cooking gloves while handling beets, and peel over an open plastic bag set in the sink.

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Sidekick: Serve with a chilled glass of Riesling, Chablis, Rosé, or Pinot Blanc.

 

 

Pesto Pasta Salad

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Well the Mid-West is finally getting those hot temperatures that we’re known for, which means that my stove will be getting no love for a couple months. I just can’t think of anything worse than sweating over a hot oven after spending the entire day sweating over everything else in the house. Now, it’s only been in the 80’s for a couple weeks, but I’ve already burned my family out on salads and grilled meats, making meal planning a challenge. In the mornings I find myself standing in my kitchen staring at my stove with utter contempt, thinking How can I avoid firing you up tonight? And that’s when a brilliant idea occurred to me: why not cook dinner early before the house heats up, then serve it cold come evening? Why not turn the pasta I was planning to make into a cold noodle salad? Why not? I said, and so I did!

Pesto Pasta Salad

Serves 4-6

  • 1- 1½ lbs. thin spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, tender parts only, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 cooked chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (see recipe below) – omit to make this dish vegetarian
  • ½-¾ cup pesto (see recipe below)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese for serving

Cook pasta per package instructions, and at the end of the cooking time add asparagus to the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Pour pasta and asparagus into a colander and run cold water into the colander until pasta and asparagus are cool. Shake the colander to remove excess water from pasta and place pasta and asparagus in a large serving bowl. Add tomatoes, pesto, and chicken and toss to combine (now I like to use my hands because I don’t mind getting dirty and it’s easier to incorporate the ingredients without tearing the pasta, but a pair of cooking tongs will work as well). Season with salt and pepper. Either serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. Sprinkle with parmesan just before serving.

Lemon Chicken

  • 4-6 chicken breasts
  • ½ cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • Cooking spray

Place chicken and all remaining ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Mist a large skillet with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add chicken, cover skillet, and cook until brown on the skillet side and the chicken starts to become opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Flip, cover skillet, and cook until the other side is brown and chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 3-5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool before cutting. Chicken can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days prior to being added to the salad.

Homemade Pesto

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Homemade Pesto

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • ¼ Tbsp. pine nuts
  • ¼ Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper and more salt if needed.

 

Pesto Pastina Soup with Sourdough Grilled Cheese

I was watching the Weather Channel the other day (because that’s what plays in the locker room at my gym), and I noticed how divided the country is in terms of temperatures this month. The East Coast is still getting slammed with snow, yet the South is enjoying digits in the mid-80’s. The rest of us are somewhere in between; warm, sunny days immediately followed by cold, sleety days. So how, then, does a food blogger go about preparing a soup to satisfy our bipolar March climate? Well, it has to be versatile, that’s how. It needs to be a soup that’s substantial enough to take the chill off the brave souls on the Eastern Seaboard, yet one light enough for those of you already squeezing into bikinis (darn you!). I started rummaging through my dusty mental card catalogue of soup recipes, when suddenly it hit me: Ah ha! Pesto Pastina! Pastina, (literally meaning “tiny dough”) is any variation of small pasta. Pretty much any shape will work in this recipe, and I found some fun ones while perusing the pasta aisle at the grocery store (stars, the alphabet, little squiggly guys). The pastina adds a little bit of starch without making the soup too heavy, and the pesto adds a low-calorie punch of flavor. (Also, this soup can also be adapted for vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the recipe.) { Arancini di pepe pastina, or “little peppercorns” } Pesto Pastina Soup Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • ⅓ cup dry pastina, any shape
  • 2 cups pre-cooked chicken (either reserved from chicken stock recipe or store bought)
  • 3 Tbsp. pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
  • Fresh grated Parmesan for serving
  • 4-6 lemon wedges for serving

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and onion starts to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add pastina, partially cover, then continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add chicken and pesto and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into pre-heated bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing. VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS:

  • Replace chicken stock with vegetable broth (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • Replace chicken with a 15-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained

Pesto Homemade pesto is delicious and easy to make. This recipe yields a little more than you need for the soup, but that’s okay, because you can use the extra to add flavor to other dishes: spoon a tablespoon or two into cooked pasta, or smother some on chicken for a quick and tasty meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper.  *Tip: To freeze, line individual compartments of an ice cube tray with small pieces of plastic wrap  (allow a little extra to hang out the top). Fill compartments with 1 Tbsp. of pesto, and place in the freezer until solid. To release, pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, and peel it from the pesto cube. Place cubes in a freezer bag and freeze for 3-5 months. When ready to use, drop 1-2 pesto cubes into hot pasta and stir until dissolved, or thaw and spread over grilled meat or bread.

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Grilled cheese is an awesome partner to soup, but why settle for the plain old white-bread-American-cheese version when you can easily prepare something more interesting. Switch up the bread to sourdough, and use a few different cheeses. Follow the directions below for ooey-gooey greatness! 

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 slices Colby Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Gouda cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese, divided
  • 4-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each piece of bread. Working in 2-3 batches, place bread on hot pan, and grill until golden brown. Flip one piece of bread and place a slice of each kind of cheese on top. Take a second piece of bread and place it grilled side down on the cheese, creating a sandwich. Repeat with other pieces of bread. Grill until golden brown, then flip and grill the second side of the sandwich until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Repeat with all sandwiches. Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a Gewürztraminer.

Stuff My Kid Eats: Seafood and Asparagus Risotto

Stuff My Kid Eats

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“Risotto! Risotto! Risotto!” my toddler squeals with delight as she jumps about the kitchen clapping her hands. This is not a typical response to many of the dishes I serve for dinner. Dinner, in fact, is her least favorite meal, as it usually doesn’t arrive in the form of a sandwich or a waffle. But risotto is different; especially seafood risotto. She thinks she’s getting away with something when I serve it, “You mean I get to eat a whole plate of rice and nobody’s gonna stop me? Yes, please!” The only static this meal causes is when she runs out of shrimp and gets bent that my husband and I won’t fork over ours. Not a bad argument to have with a toddler, as far as I’m concerned!

Seafood and Asparagus Risotto

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Risotto is a traditional Italian meal made with a short-grain rice called Arborio. The higher starch content in the rice adds creaminess to the dish, without actually adding cream to the dish — so it’s a win-win for those calorie counters! This recipe takes a bit more hands-on attention, as it needs to be stirred continually for about 30 minutes, but it’s worth every bit of elbow grease — consider it part of your daily workout!

Serves 4

1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups fish stock, or chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc (see Note*)
½ bunch of asparagus, tender parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
24 uncooked bay scallops
12-18 uncooked medium shrimp, deveined and peeled with tails removed
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

*Note: All of the alcohol in the wine burns off as it cooks, so it’s safe to serve to children, however, if you prefer, replace wine with an extra cup of stock.

In a saucepan, bring stock and wine to a low simmer. Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, melt butter and oil in a large straight-sided skillet until bubbly. Add shallots and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add risotto and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Using a large soup ladle, pour 1 ladle-full (about ½ cup) of stock into risotto and stir until liquid is absorbed. Gradually stir in remaining broth 1 ladle-full at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladle. Continue this process until all but 1 ladle-full of stock has been used, approximately 25-30 minutes. Add the last ladle of stock with seafood and asparagus, and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until shrimp and scallops are fully cooked and asparagus turns bright green. Uncover and stir until all remaining liquid has evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

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Sidekick: Serve with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc or a non-oaky Chardonnay.

Shortcuts:

  • Replace homemade stock with store bought stock
  • Replace wine with an extra cup of stock
  • Use precooked seafood and toss it in at the end of the cooking process after the asparagus have been steamed. Stir until seafood is heated through.

Beef Phở

Beef Phở

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Beef phở (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup (typically made with beef although chicken and vegetable versions are also available), wide rice noodles, and served with a variety of garnishes. To me, there is nothing more comforting on a blustery winter day than sitting down to a steaming bowl of phở, slurping noodles off a pair of chopsticks, and feeling its warming effects spread to the ends of my fingers and the tips of my toes. The broth, steeped with spices and charred onions, is slightly sweet, highly flavorful, and wonderfully aromatic, which sets this soup apart from other “noodley” soups, as my toddler likes to call them. (If you don’t have time to make this somewhat labor intensive stock by hand, see the Shortcut at the end of the recipe for tips on how to quickly enhance store-bought stock.) Oh, and I promise next week’s soup will be an easy one. No really — chop a few ingredients, throw everything into a crockpot, then put your feet up and wait for the payoff! 

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(Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what phở is made of.)

Serves 6

 For the Stock:

  • 2 white or yellow onions
  • 1 hand of ginger root, about 6-inches long
  • 3 lbs. marrow bones
  • 2 lbs. oxtail
  • 1 lb. chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole star of anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 oz. yellow rock sugar (see Notes) or 2 Tbsp. Sugar in the Raw (or granulated sugar)
  • ¼ – ½ cup fish sauce, depending upon taste
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

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(Pictured from top: beef bones, oxtail, chuck roast)

 For the Soup:

  • 1 lb. rib eye, skirt, or flank steak, thinly sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 cups oyster mushrooms
  • 1 lb. Phở noodles (see Notes)

Garnishes for Serving:

  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 3 cups bean sprouts
  • 1-2 cups fresh basil
  • 1-2 cups fresh cilantro
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Thai chilies (Very HOT!), serrano peppers (HOT!), or Jalapeños (kinda hot), thinly sliced
  • Chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Fish sauce and/or hosin sauce

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(A few phở garnishes.)

Directions:

Char Onions and Ginger

Charring the skins of the onions and ginger gives the broth an appealingly smoky quality that’s quintessential to phở. Follow one of these three charring methods:

  1. On an outdoor grill: Place onions and ginger over direct heat on high. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Over an indoor gas burner: Turn on exhaust fan. With a pair of kitchen tongs and working one at a time, hold onions and ginger over open flame until skins have blackened, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes. (If your kitchen tongs are metal, you may want to wear an oven mitt — trust me!)
  3. In an electric oven (pictured below): Turn oven on to broil. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined roasting pan and place on an oven rack set 3-4 inches below the broiler element. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, about 20-25 minutes.

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The onions and ginger should be very dark and burned on the outside, yet soft and slightly cooked on the inside. (I swear the photo below isn’t one of my kitchen catastrophes – I meant to do this!)

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Peel onions and ginger, rinsing off any blackened bits. Cut into quarters and set aside.

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Make Stock

Add beef and bones to a large stock pot. Cover with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Dump water, beef, and bones into a colander set in the sink, allow to cool slightly. Rinse stockpot clean of any residue. Run cold water over beef & bones, and gently scrub any scum from the surface. This will eliminate cloudiness, leaving you with a crystal-clear broth. Beautiful!

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Return beef & bones to stockpot and cover with 5-6 quarts water (20-24 cups). Add onions, ginger, spices, sugar, ¼ cup fish sauce, and 1 Tbsp. salt and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for at least 5 hours, and up to all day, skimming any fat that rises to the surface. (Do not allow to boil otherwise your stock may become bitter.)

Once stock is done simmering, remove onions, ginger, and spices and discard. Gently scoop beef & bones from stock and set aside. Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large storage container. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.

Carefully remove any meat and connective tissue from the bones and oxtail and place in a storage container, cover. Slice brisket and place in a separate storage container, cover. In a third storage container, add the beef chuck. Cover, and refrigerate all three. Discard bones.

After the stock has cooled overnight, use a slotted spoon to gently remove the layer of fat that has risen to the top, discard.

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You may end up with more stock and beef than you need for 6 servings. Both stock and beef can be refrigerated separately for up to three days, or frozen for 4-5 months (see tips on freezing stock in Homemade Stocks).

Make the Soup

Evenly divide garnishes (bean sprouts, lime wedges, fresh herbs, green onions, and chiles) among 6 small plates.

Microwave reserved beef until warm, and place in three separate serving bowls.

In a large stock pot, bring stock to a simmer. Test for seasoning and add more fish sauce and salt & pepper if needed.

Add mushrooms to stock and continue to simmer until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add thinly sliced beef (rib eye, skirt, or flank steak) to stock and cook for 1 minute, until rare.

Cook phở noodles per package instructions, strain and divide among 6 bowls.

Ladle stock, thinly sliced beef, and mushrooms into bowls over top of phở noodles.

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Place serving bowls of reserved beef on the table, allowing guest to add what they like. Serve with Sriracha, fish and/or hosin sauce, and a plate of garnish for each guest.

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Notes:

  • Yellow rock sugar can be found in many Asian markets or online, however, you can always substitute Sugar in the Raw or regular granulated sugar.
  • Phở noodles can also be found in many Asian markets, however, if they’re unavailable in your area, look for another style of Asian noodle (see examples pictured below). And if you’re really in a pinch, you can always use instant ramen noodles.

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Shortcut: In leu of making your own stock, add 12-16 cups of store-bought stock (about 2 cups per person) to a large stockpot. Add 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole star anise, 2-inches peeled and sliced ginger root, 6 whole cloves, 2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1-2 tsp. sugar, 2-3 Tbsp. fish sauce (plus more for seasoning later) and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Scoop out spices and discard. Continue with directions: Make the Soup.

Sidekick: The choice beverage selection with this slightly sweet, somewhat spicy dish is a Vietnamese beer (which can be hard to find), so try looking for other more commonly found Asian beers such as Sapporo. For wine drinkers, a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer or Riesling would also pair well.

Your best bet for finding a Vietnamese beer is at a local Asian Market or World Market.