Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower

Behold: the mighty cauliflower!

If you need an easy, healthy weeknight dinner, look no further. Cauliflower is quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables for its versatility. You can mash it like potatoes, chop it finely and mix it with breadcrumbs to make cauliflower grilled cheese, whisk it up in a soup like this, sauté it on its own and add spices… it can be light and rich at the same time, and is a much healthier option to some of the simple carbs it can replace.

Cauliflower Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30-45 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

2 carrots
2 celery sticks
1 medium sweet onion
2 garlic cloves
1 head cauliflower
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste

Fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Step 1
Coarsely chop the onion, carrots, celery, and cauliflower. Heat a saucepan pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and sauté another 5-8 minutes to soften the carrots.

Step 2
Add the cauliflower, water, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for about 8-10 minutes. The cauliflower should be soft when pierced with a fork.

Step 3
Let cool about 10 minutes. Working in batches, pulse in a blender until smooth.

Step 4
Season with salt and white pepper, and top with chopped parsley and parmesan cheese.

If you need something a little heartier, this is delicious served with whole wheat toast.

Spani-brocco-kopita

Chopped broccoliNow that I’m 8 months pregnant (!!!) and the reality is sinking in, I’m starting to make lots of dishes that I can freeze. Just about everyone has told me that having quick things to pull out and bake in you first few weeks (even months) is a crucial element of not losing your mind as a new parent.

Spanikopita is one of my absolute favorite casserole dishes, alongside lasagna and baked mac-and-cheese. Since my brother is the lasagna king (and I fully expect him to bring me homemade lasagna in the coming weeks… ahem) I started down the path of freezer-preparedness with the Spanikopita.

However, pregnancy brain is a real thing. There’s even a Hebrew phrase for this specific phenomena that I learned from a pregnant Israeli friend as I was sharing some of my more embarrassing stories, טפשת הריון (transliteration: tepeshet haraion; loose translation: silly pregnancy). Whether from lack of sleep, crazy hormones, or something as of yet undiscovered, it’s happening to me. Which is highly entertaining to my husband, because I’m the one in the relationship that remembers everything, and he… well… let’s just say I can’t get mad at him anymore because I now understand what it’s like.

All of this to explain that when I go to the store, even with a list of groceries and quantities carefully written out, there is no guarantee that I will return from said store with what is on that list. How does that make sense? I’m LOOKING at a list which has EXACTLY what I need, but somewhere between my brain processing the letters and my hands reaching for an item, there’s a little gremlin chuckling as he pulls a lever that says “abort!”. Which is how I ended up with not nearly enough spinach and this turned into Spani-brocco-kopita, which I argue is an excellent mistake to have made given how tasty it turned out. But, if you’d prefer your Spanikopita without broccoli, simply double the amount of frozen spinach.

Spani-brocco-kopita

  • Servings: depends on how pregnant you are.. 6-8?
  • Time: 1 hour prep, 1 hour baking
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz frozen spinach
2 cups broccoli
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ lb feta cheese
½ cup fresh chopped parsley
1-2 tbl fresh chopped dill
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 package phyllo dough (should be about 18 sheets)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Olive oil for sautéing

optional: 1/3 cup pine nuts

Directions

Step 1
Heat a sauté pan and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Step 2
While the onion and garlic are cooking, thaw the spinach in the microwave. Squeeze out all of the excess water so your spanakopita doesn’t get soggy. Sit down because you’re 8 months pregnant and somehow THAT made you tired.

Step 3
Steam the broccoli and chop into bite-sized bits.

Step 4
Sing along to the Whitney Houston song you’re playing! Stop, because you realize you have zero lung capacity and feel like you’re about to pass out after half a chorus. Realize you left the onion cooking for too long, but since it’s only on medium heat it hasn’t burned yet.

Step 5
Mix the onion, garlic, spinach, broccoli, parsley, and dill and eggs in a large bowl. Crumble the feta cheese over the mixture, add the salt and pepper and pine nuts (if you remembered to buy them…) and continue to mix until the cheese is evenly distributed.

Step 6
Debate using olive oil because it’s much healthier, but then decide that the extra fat from the butter is good for the growing baby. Melt the butter. Then melt a little extra, for good measure.

Step 7
If you’re baking this right away, preheat the oven to 375º. In a 9×13 glass baking dish, brush the bottom with butter using a pastry brush. Layer the phyllo in the pan one sheet at a time, brushing each layer with butter. Typically the sheets are larger than the pan, so each sheet can get folded over and act as two sheets. You’ll use half of the box for the bottom layer, and save the other half for the top layer. I use a whole box of phyllo per casserole, which comes to about 9 sheets for the bottom layer and 9 sheets for the top. This is a lot of phyllo, so if you like yours less crunchy you can use fewer sheets for each layer and freeze the rest.

Step 8
When you’re halfway through the phyllo, spread the spinach and broccoli mixture evenly in the baking dish. Continue to layer the rest of the phyllo on top, buttering in between each layer. Butter the top as well.

Step 9
Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, until golden brown on top. Rotate once halfway through baking.

Note: if you’re freezing this to bake for later, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and put in the freezer. Take it out about an hour or two before baking to thaw (and to let the glass baking dish warm up!) then follow the same baking instructions as above.

Spanikopita

 

Mussels in Makrut Lime and Curry

mussels

I discovered the joy of bivalves late in life. Mussels, clams and oysters were a foreign food category to me until my early 20s, but now I love them! Perhaps one of the most incredible food experiences during my travels was discovering Coromandel mussels. While they’re not my favorite to eat, they are my favorite to look at. They’re MASSIVE at 3-5 inches long (that’s almost the size of my hand), and they have a stunning iridescent green edge to them, hence they’re called green-lipped mussels. They’re native to New Zealand, and that’s the only place I’ve seen them in grocery stores. I don’t actually like my mussels that large – I prefer daintier bites of mollusk – but they are certainly worth trying if you find yourself in that neck of the world.

I’ve talked with a number of friends who are nervous making mussels at home. But really, cooking mussels is easy and safe: so long as you know what to look for. There are some straightforward guidelines to make sure your mussels are alive and well: throw away mussels with cracked or broken shells, mussels that don’t open when you run water on them or tap them, and mussels that don’t open after they’ve been steamed… if it’s borderline, the rule is better safe than sorry. Can it go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing? Yes. I had a friend who didn’t follow these guidelines and I ended up with a middle-of-the-night trip to the emergency room. It took me a while to like mussels again, but so long as I’m cooking them for myself I’m happy as a clam! Or a mussel.

Mussels in Makrut Lime and Curry

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

1 tbl coconut oil
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 13oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup white wine
2 tbl curry powder
6 Makrut lime leaves*

2lb bag of mussels

Fresh chopped parsley and grated parmesan for garnish
French bread for sopping up the broth

*If you didn’t see my recipe for the Lao Blossom cocktail, here’s why I’ve chosen to use the indigenous name for Kaffir lime.

Directions

Step 1
Prep your mussels! Scrub the outside to get them free of any muck or seaweed, and then “debeard”. I don’t know why they call it debearding, there’s nothing beardlike about the process. It’s more like playing tug of war with a mollusk that got floss stuck between it’s teeth (gills?), but you can only use your finger strength. Rock climbers will excel at debearding. Regardless, here’s a great description on cleaning and debearding your mussels. Throw away any that have cracked or broken shells, or any that don’t close up when you’re rinsing them.

Step 2
In a large saucepan with a lid (ideally a glass lid), heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until fragrant.

Step 3
Add the coconut milk, wine, curry powder, and kaffir lime leaves. Heat until boiling, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom. Make sure you’ve poured yourself a glass of said wine, too!

Step 4
Add the mussels and cover the saucepan. Cook for 5-7 minutes. At five minutes the mussels should be opening. Mussels that don’t open after 7 minutes should be thrown away.

Step 5
Top with the chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese (as much or as little as you want), and serve with crusty French bread for sopping up all that delicious broth.

Fun fact: My husband has two pet peeves. One, he hates the phrase “pet peeve”. Two, for some reason he really hates the phrase “sop up the broth”. I mean, HATES it. I don’t understand it, but any time we eat mussels at a restaurant and I ask for more bread to “sop up the rest of this delicious broth!” he gets inexplicably irritated. So of course as a caring, thoughtful wife I’m selective in my word choice… or, not. It’s not that I forget; it’s just that I find it so gleefully entertaining that I keep doing it. Don’t tell! Now, go eat your mussels and don’t forget to sop up that broth.

New Zealand Apricot Glazed Lamb

apricot-glazed-lamb-1

A friend of mine once told me that her dream is to go to a place like Scotland or Ireland, drive around, encounter a flock of sheep in the middle of the road, and have to get out and “shoo” the sheep away. (If you’ve seen the movie Leap Year you can get a good sense of what she means from watching Amy Adams in the cow scene.) Now everywhere I travel, I look for flocks of sheep so I can send that friend pictures to keep the dream alive and well. In New Zealand, where sheep outnumber people about 6 to 1 (it used to be 22 to 1…), this was alarmingly easy. Lamb in New Zealand is everywhere. Which makes it affordable, and since it can be pricey in the US, we ate it all the time.

The other thing that’s everywhere in New Zealand is high-quality, local, fresh fruit. There are still fruit stands on the sides of the road where you can stop and pick up a handful of juicy nectarines, unassuming-yet-delicious greengage, or my favorite: apricots. I created this recipe one night as sort of an ode to two of my favorite signature Kiwi ingredients.

New Zealand Apricot Glazed Lamb

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30-45 min
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

Lamb shoulder steaks (or whichever lamb steak you can find in your local market)
4-6 ripe apricots, diced*
1 tbl honey
2 tbl coconut sugar (optional)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbl chopped fresh mint
Salt

*If you don’t have fresh apricots, you can substitute 16 dried.

Directions

Step 1
Place the diced apricots, coconut sugar, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. If the apricots are ripe, the liquid should start to seep out pretty quickly. Cook until they’re soft and mushy, then add the balsamic vinegar and mint. Cook for just a few minutes more to allow the flavors to blend, then remove from the stove to cool.

Modification for dried apricots: Chop the dried apricots finely before sautéing in a saucepan with the honey, coconut sugar, and ¼ cup water. Once most of the water has evaporated, let them cool and then mince in a small food processor.

Step 2
Brush all sides of each lamb steak with the glaze.

Step 3
Place the lamb steaks on the grill on med-high and cook until just on the rare side of medium (about 4-5 minutes on each side, but best to use the finger test since not all grills are created equal). They will keep cooking after you remove them from the grill, so this will ensure you have the perfect, tender lamb steak.

If you don’t have a grill you can use a broiling pan and cook these in the oven, just be prepared to spend some time scrubbing dishes!

When in New Zealand (or when making New Zealand inspired dishes), drink Kiwi wine! Specifically, drink Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region. It’s shimmeringly delicious, and I’m not typically a Sav Blanc kind of girl. Look for a bottle that describes tropical fruit flavors, rather than citrusy flavors. Cheers!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bread Pudding (aka: Food of the Gods)

smuckers-peanut-butter

For those who aren’t up to speed – check out the Chopped Birthday Challenge that precipitated this recipe.

I HATED bread pudding for over twenty years. But here’s the funny thing: I had never actually tried it, I just hated the idea of it. As a kid, the words “bread” and “pudding” did not sound like they belonged together. I fabricated an image in my head of soggy Wonderbread with butterscotch flavored Jell-O pudding spooned over it (I don’t know why it was butterscotch, but there you have it). The whole idea made me want to gag. So when I first actually tasted bread pudding, I was shocked. This?! THIS was bread pudding!?! But this was tasty. Not just tasty, this was borderline orgasmic!! How had I been missing out on this my whole life? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME?!?!

Since that fateful day, bread pudding has become one of my favorite desserts. My dad judges a restaurant based on its cocktails and crème brûlée. Me? I used to use the crème brûlée test (after all, like father like daughter!) but now I judge a restaurant based on its bread pudding.

This particular recipe is an over-the-top indulgence when it comes to bread pudding. But, if you like chocolate and peanut butter it is certainly indulgence worth making!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bread Pudding

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 2.5 hours plus 1-24 hrs resting
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

12 slices / 1 lb brioche
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
10 oz bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
8 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Step 1
Cut the crusts off the brioche and discard. Cut the remaining fluffy bread centers into ½ inch cubes. Place the cubes in a 9*12 baking pan.

Step 2
Heat milk and cream on the stove until just simmering around the edges. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted, then add the peanut butter and stir until blended. Remove from heat.

Step 3
In a large bowl, whisk the 8 egg yolks for 30 seconds until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined.

Step 4
Pour the cream/milk/chocolate/peanut butter mixture in a slow stream into the egg mixture, beating constantly. Continue until all of the mixture is added. Pour over the brioche and let sit for at least an hour, up to overnight (so the brioche can soak up all the yummy goodness…). If you let it sit for more than two or three hours, put it in the refrigerator.

Step 5
If you’ve let the brioche sit in the fridge, remove it one hour before you bake it. Preheat oven to 350˚ and bake… to be honest I forget for exactly how long, but it was somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. I think. There was a lot going on. Best thing is to poke the middle of the bread pudding: it should be springy, and the custard should be cooked through.

Step 6
Let cool a smidge, then proceed to eat your masterpiece.

Mom’s Baking Powder Biscuits

 

biscuitsFor those who aren’t up to speed – check out the Chopped Birthday Challenge that precipitated this recipe.

These biscuits hold a special place in my memory. Do you have one of those foods that when you smell it, taste it, eat it, you get a warm fuzzy feeling in your core? Something that makes you think of childhood and comfort? For me, that’s my mom’s baking powder biscuits. You can make them plain and eat them with butter and jam, or you can jazz them up by adding… well, just about anything. For this batch, I added rosemary and cheddar cheese. Well actually, my brother added rosemary and cheddar cheese… I was busy making the rest of dinner so he took the lead on biscuit making for my birthday. (Thanks, Alex!)

If you’re not a rosemary fan, or if you’re planning on making this many times, other tasty additions are jalapeño and cheddar, chives, blueberries, Herbs de Provence… if you think it would taste good in bread, give it a shot! And of course, let me know how it turned out.

Mom's Baking Powder Biscuits

  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

4 cups all purpose flour (if you’re going for healthier, up to 1/2 of this can be whole wheat pastry flour)
2 tsp. salt
2 tbl. baking powder
2/3 cup shortening
2 cups milk

Optional:
2-4 tbl freshly chopped rosemary
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Directions

Step 1
In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter or two knives (most of the time I actually just use my fingers…).

Step 2
Make a well in the center of flour mix, and pour in most of the milk (for those of you who like recipes to be more exact, leave out approximately ¼ cup). Stir in the milk with a fork until just blended. Add the remaining milk if needed – you know you need it if there’s still too much dry flour sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Step 3
Roll out the dough to 3/4 inches thick on a floured board. Using a round biscuit cutter (the diameter can vary based on your mood) cut out biscuits and place on a greased cookie sheet. If you don’t have a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, you can use an upside down glass. Wine glasses work nicely because they typically have a thin edge, just don’t use too much force!

Step 4
Bake at 450 degrees until golden brown about 10-15 minutes, depending on size.

Step 5
Slather with butter and gorge yourself. Or put them in a nice, pretty basket to share with your dinner guests – it’s really up to you!

Deconstructed Al Pastor

For those who aren’t up to speed – check out the Chopped Birthday Challenge that precipitated this recipe.

One of my favorite foods in the entire world is tacos al pastor. I love the combination of spicy guajillo chile, sweet pineapple, tangy red onion, and citrusy cilantro. So when someone picked pineapple as an ingredient during the Chopped Birthday Challenge, I knew exactly what I wanted to make!

But, tacos didn’t really feel classy enough for a sit-down dinner party. So, instead of the traditional tacos al pastor I took all the ingredients, broke them down, and rearranged them into something with the same flavor profile and a more elegant presentation. I call it deconstructed al pastor (even though my brother made fun of me, saying: “deconstructed is just a chef’s fancy way of saying they were too lazy to put it all together correctly”). Lazy or not, this is delicious!

Deconstructed Al Pastor

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 1.5 hour prep plus 4 hours marinating
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

2 whole pork tenderloins, trimmed (pork tenderloins often come two to a package)
1 whole pineapple 

Pork marinade
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbl guajillo chile powder
1 tbl white wine vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tsp kosher salt

Corn and onion relish
¾ cups red onion, finely diced
1 ½ cups frozen corn
1 tbl mango balsamic vinegar (you can use regular balsamic as well)

Chimichurri
1 bunch each of cilantro, flat parsley, and mint
1 shallot, quartered
2 cloves of garlic
3 tbl lime juice
1 tbl white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp salt

Directions

Step 1
Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined. Split the marinade in half and place each half in a Ziploc bag with one whole tenderloin. Zip closed and shake to coat the tenderloin. Marinate for at least an hour, preferably four. I wouldn’t recommend preparing it a day ahead as the citric acid in the orange juice could start to break down the proteins on the surface of the tenderloin.

Step 2
Prepare the relish. Defrost the frozen corn, then mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes (or longer) so the flavors can meld.

Step 3
Prepare the chimichurri. Remove the stems from the cilantro, parsley, and mint. Place the herbs, shallot, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, salt, and half the oil in a food processor or blender. Pulse to blend, adding the rest of the olive oil in a stream until the mixture is the consistency of pesto. Be careful not to overblend.

Step 4
Prepare the pineapple. Remove the outside, and use a pineapple corer to remove the core. Slice into rounds about ¼ to ½ inch thick – determine the thickness based on how large the pineapple is and many slices you need (one per plate).

Step 5
Preheat the oven to 400˚. Place both tenderloins in a glass baking dish or oven skillet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the internal temperature in the thickest part reaches 140˚. Pork tenderloin is easy to overcook, so keep an eye on it! Better to poke a couple extra holes with the thermometer than to have dry, chewy tenderloin.

Step 6
Let the tenderloin rest for 10-15 minutes. While the tenderloin is resting, grill the pineapple rounds over a medium flame for about five minutes on each side. You want to see the grill marks, but don’t want the pineapple to burn.

Step 7
Slice the tenderloin in ½ inch slices. On each plate place one pineapple round, three tenderloin slices, and a couple tablespoons of relish. Dot the plate with the chimichurri (you’ll have extra to serve on the side for those who want it).

¡Buen provecho!

If you have leftover grilled pineapple (or decide to make extra), use it to make Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill’s Oaxacan Gold Margaritas. They’re out-of-this-world delicious, and a perfect complement to the al pastor. I mix some of the guajillo chili powder with salt and use it to rim the glass, which adds just a bit of a kick to the cocktail.

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