Carrot, Ginger, & Orange Soup with Walnut Pesto Panini

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When I was a kid Easter was a pretty intense time for my sister and me. You see, the Easter Bunny used to hide our baskets every year. But he wouldn’t just hide our baskets, he would HIDE our baskets! He was pretty extreme, and took pleasure in stashing our baskets in impossible-to-find places and delighting in the length of time it took my sister and me to find them. His signature hiding spots were places you wouldn’t think to look as a kid, like on top of the furnace in the creepy basement that my sister and I hated; or hanging in the laundry chute, suspended between two floors; or wrapped in a garbage bag under the kitchen sink. In my 8-year old mind, I was sure that the Easter Bunny didn’t give it up as easily as Santa because we left him carrots instead of cookies. He was jealous. And bitter. And everyone knows that there’s nothing worse than a bitter bunny. Well, maybe not. But still it got me thinking, surely our little cotton-tailed friend would be much happier if we left him something tastier than cold, raw carrots. Something warm and creamy and slightly sweet. Something a little bit like this….

Carrot, Ginger, & Orange Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. carrots (about 3 cups), chopped
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Finely ground white or green peppercorn
  • parsley and sour cream for serving (optional)

In a medium soup pot, heat olive oil until shimmering. Sauté carrots and onion until soft and onion becomes translucent but not brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add stock, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, until carrots are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

Carefully remove and discard cinnamon and bay, then using an immersion hand-blender, purée soup until smooth, or alternatively, working in two batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth, return to pot.

Add OJ and stir until fully incorporated, season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into preheated bowl, then top with sour cream and parsley.

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Walnut Pesto Panini

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Glancing down at this recipe it may look like it has many parts, but it’s actually very simple: 1) grill chicken, 2) make pesto, 3) assemble sandwich. Done! Oh, but I forgot, then you have to eat the sandwich, and lick the tomato juices off your fingers, and wipe the melted cheese strands off your chin, and then get up and make another sandwich because the first one was so good. So, yeah, I guess it is a difficult recipe, but I think you can handle it.

Walnut Pesto Panini

Serves 4

FOR THE CHICKEN

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

FOR THE WALNUT PESTO

  • 1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste

FOR THE PANINI

  • 2 pre-split whole wheat pita pockets, cut in half
  • 4 slices mild white cheese (such as Gouda, Swiss, or Provolone), cut in half
  • 4 slices of tomato, cut in half

TO MAKE THE CHICKEN

In a bowl, mix together lemon juice, Dijon, and salt and pepper. Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally (making a cutlet), and place between two pieces of plastic wrap and, with a meat mallet, pound until ¼-inch thick. Place chicken in the lemon/Dijon mixture, coating evenly, and allow to marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Lightly mist a skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, letting excess drip off, and place in the hot skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook second side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing very thin.

TO MAKE THE PESTO

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor and process until mostly blended and somewhat paste-like, season with pepper.

TO ASSEMBLE THE PANINI

Preheat a panini press to medium-high heat, or alternatively, heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.

Spread 1-2 Tbsp. of pesto on the inside of pita pocket, covering both sides.  Place sliced chicken inside of pita and top with 1 slice of cheese, cut in half so that it fits within the pita.

Place pita sandwiches in a panini press and cook until cheese has melted and pita starts to brown, about 2-3 minutes. If using a griddle or skillet, put pita sandwich on griddle/skillet and place a plate, weighted down with a tin can, on top of pita. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then flip pita and cook on the other side, topped with the weighted plate, until cheese has melted and pita starts to brown, another minute or so.

Slide tomato slices into sandwich, slice in half and serve hot.

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THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE EASTER BUNNY.

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Egg Drop Soup with Pork Roast Sandwiches

Egg Drop Soup

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Egg drop soup is one of those often overlooked soups; something you may order in a Chinese restaurant, but rarely think to make. This version is healthy, bursting with flavor, and very easy to make, and if you pair it with a simple pork roast sandwich, you’re got yourself the perfect meal for a light Easter lunch or dinner.

Egg Drop Soup

Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 leek (white and light green parts only), finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger root
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipes in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1½ cups peas (preferrably fresh)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. greated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

 

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Set a soup pot over medium heat and add olive oil, heat until shimmering. Add leeks and cook until soft, about 2-5 mintues. Add garlic, lemon zest, and ginger  and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a liquid measuring cup whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and a pinch of salt.

Once stock is boiling, add peas, then slowly drizzle in egg mixture in 4 or 5 spots, stir until egg sets. Season with salt and pepper and ladle into preheated bowls. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper. Serve immediately.

 

Pork Roast Sandwiches

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Pork Roast Sandwiches

Serves 6

  • 1½ -2 lb. pork tenderloin
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 onion rolls
  • 6 Tbsp. whole grain mustard

Preheat oven to 400°F. Generously season tenderloin on all sides with salt and pepper. Place tenderloin on a rack set above a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, or until internal temperature of pork is 145°F.

Meanwhile, on a griddle or under a broiler, lightly toast onion rolls. Keep warm.

Remove pork from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. With a very sharp knife, slice pork paper-thin. Spread each roll with 1 Tbsp. of mustard then pork, divided evenly among rolls.

Sidekick: Serve with a glass of Riesling.

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.

Soup’er Bowl Splurges

Soup’er Bowl Splurges

Julia Child once said, “Fat gives things flavor,” and I wholeheartedly agree. But, unless you’re a triathlete, you can’t eat whatever you want whenever you want. Most people, myself included, need to sustain a healthy balance between fit and fun. With that being said, I’m not going to pretend that the following recipes are in the least bit healthy. Because they aren’t. I mean, not even a little bit. But they’re good. Really good. And that’s what “splurges” are for, right? Eating good food that’s bad for you. So forget about the healthy snacks on Sunday and indulge in one of these crowd-pleasing favorites. Come Monday you can always stuff yourself with salad and spend an extra hour on the treadmill.

Baked Hawaiian Roll Ham Sandwiches

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This is a great lunchtime treat that you can make a day ahead, put in the fridge, then pop into the oven right before halftime. — You can halve the recipe for a smaller group, but I guarantee you’ll want leftovers! (Recipe slightly adapted from King’s Hawaiian)

Baked Hawaiian Roll Ham Sandwich

Serves 12

2 – 12 pack King’s Hawaiian Bread Rolls
1 lb. paper thin shaved ham
8 oz. Swiss cheese slices (about 10 slices)

Glaze:
¾ cup butter, melted
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. dried onions
2 tsp poppy seeds

Melt butter, then whisk together with all the other glaze ingredients, set aside.

Slice the entire pack of rolls in half, horizontally, keeping rolls in tact.

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Lightly mist 2 – 9×13 inch baking dishes with cooking spray. Lay bottom half of rolls in the first dish.

Evenly distribute half of ham over bread.

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Layer cheese on top of ham.

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Place tops of rolls over the ham and cheese, then drizzle half of the glaze evenly over sandwiches. Using a spoon, scoop glaze from bottom of dish back over the tops of the rolls until evenly covered, lightly pressing on the tops to help them absorb the glaze. Repeat with second package of rolls and remaining ham, cheese, and glaze.

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Cover and refrigerate overnight. (*Note, this is an important step as it allows the glaze to fully saturate the buns).

Before baking, let the sandwiches come to room temperature for 1 hour. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 2-3 minutes until tops begin to brown.

Cut sandwiches along the seams and dish out with a spatula.

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Bacon & Cheese Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

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This fun appetizer is always a hit when I serve it — each bite-sized cube packs a mouthful of cheesy-bacony-Ranchy goodness.

Bacon & Cheese Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

1 large, round sourdough bread loaf
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2-3 oz. real bacon bits
1 package Ranch dressing mix
1 cup milk (whole or 2% works best)
1 cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, whisk the contents of 1 Ranch dressing package together with milk and mayo. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes to thicken.

Meanwhile, with a sharp bread knife, slice sourdough loaf lengthwise into 1-inch strips, cutting down to the bottom crust, but not all the way through. Turn the loaf and cut 1-inch strips in the other direction, creating cubes.

Carefully separate the bread cubes and sprinkle half of cheese and bacon into the seams, distributing evenly. Pour Ranch dressing over the loaf and into the seams (if you don’t use all of the dressing, reserve it for dipping later). Sprinkle remaining cheese and bacon evenly over the top of loaf.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cheese is melted and starting to bubble.

Serve on a large platter with extra Ranch dressing for dipping.

And, here’s a close-up…

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Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction, Fried Sage; Open-Face Tuna Melt

Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction and Fried Sage Leaf
Served with Tuna Melt Toast and Arugula Salad

Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction and Fried Sage

This is one of my all-time favorite soup recipes. My mom used to serve a version of this every Christmas, and after a while, the family started referring to it as, “Christmas Soup.” The recipe has evolved over the years with the addition of orange zest and balsamic vinegar, and is now no longer relegated to being served exclusively on December 25th. (Note: the recipe can easily be adapted to suit a vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken stock.)

Serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
3 fresh sage leaves finely chopped
28 oz. can peeled whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 ½ tsp. freshly grated orange zest (about 1 large orange)
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
6 oz. can tomato paste
8 whole cloves
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 ¼ cup whole milk
2 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°. In a large glass baking dish, combine onion, celery, carrots, garlic, orange zest, chopped sage leaves, bay leaves, drained tomatoes, and olive oil. Season with 1 tsp. salt and dot the top with butter cubes (Figure 1). Bake for 75 minutes, stirring half way through.

Figure 1 – Slow roasting tomatoes and vegetables

Slow roasted tomatoes

Remove baking dish from oven and let cool slightly. Find bay leaves and set aside. Pour tomato/vegetable mixture into a soup pot with ¼ cup reserved tomato juice, and using a hand blender, purée until smooth (or working in two batches, purée tomato/vegetable mixture and ¼ cup reserved tomato juice in a blender or food processor until smooth, then pour into soup pot). Use more tomato juice to thin if necessary.

Add tomato paste, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, 1 tsp. salt, fresh cracked pepper, whole cloves, and reserved bay leaves to tomato/vegetable purée. Simmer for 1 hour partially covered, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens. Add milk and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove bay leaves and whole cloves, discard. Season with more salt and pepper if desired.

When ready to serve, ladle soup into pre-warmed bowls, drizzle with balsamic reduction and top with a fried sage leaf.

Balsamic Reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 sage leaf
2 whole cloves

In a heavy sauce pan, bring all ingredients to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer, watching closely, until liquid is reduced to ¼ cup, about 30-40 minutes. Pour reduction through a fine-mesh sieve and allow to cool before using.

Fried Sage Leaves:

Fried Sage Leaves

6-8 fresh sage leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Gently place sage leaves in oil and fry until leaves stop bubbling and are crispy but not burned, about 8-10 seconds. Transfer leaves to a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.

Sidekicks: 

  • Consider serving a cup of Zesty Tomato Soup with an Open-Face Tuna Melt: Slice French bread on the diagonal. Drain a 12 oz. can of tunafish and combine in a bowl with ¼ cup mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce, and 1 finely chopped shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Spread a heaping spoonful of tuna mixture on the bread, and cover with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. Place slices on a cookie sheet and broil until cheese has melted and is bubbly at the edges. Top with a handful of arugula dressed with equal parts olive oil and white wine vinegar, season with salt and pepper and enjoy!
  • This soup pairs well with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Shortcuts:

  • Substitute store-bought stock for homemade stock.
  • Instead of roasting tomatoes and vegetables in the oven, replace 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes with a 28 oz. can of fire roasted whole peeled tomatoes. Start by sautéing the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in butter and oil directly in your soup pot. Once vegetables are soft and starting to brown, about 10-15 minutes, add the drained tomatoes, orange zest, and herbs. Cook for 15 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before following the instructions on puréeing.