Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

After such extravagant holiday eating, we are officially in need of a week that includes healthy vegetarian meals and lots of exercise. To start things off, I looked in my cupboards to see what ingredients I might already have on hand. I ran across a bag of dried organic split peas and decided that a vegetarian split pea soup would get our eating right back on track. I have never prepared vegetarian split pea soup (I usually make it with ham) but about ninety percent of the soups I make from scratch are vegetarian. I found the following recipe and moved ahead with preparation.

3 cups dried split peas
6 to 7 cups vegetable broth or water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried mustard
2 tsp kosher salt
1 carrot, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 cups onion, diced
1 potato, diced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 4 tsp balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar, to taste

Optional Toppings:
sesame oil
fresh ripe tomatoes, diced
fresh parsley, minced

Place first five ingredients in a large pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer partially covered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent split peas from sticking to bottom of pot. Add onions, garlic, celery, carrot and potato (you can saute these first or add them directly to soup for fat free soup).

Partially cover and allow to simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may need to add more water. Serve topped with a drizzle of sesame oil, tomatoes and/or parsley if desired. Season to taste with pepper and vinegar. Serves 6 to 8 people.

This soup smelled heavenly while simmering on the stove. The final result was hearty, healthy, tasty and perfect for a stormy day like today. Balsamic vinegar was brilliant in this recipe and even though the addition of sesame oil sounds strange, it really worked. Prep time was about 20 minutes and consisted only of dicing and mincing vegetables along with occasional stirring. I highly recommend this recipe if you are craving healthy soup that requires minimal preparation.

Recipe Source:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cranberry Apple Pie and Thanksgiving Table

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

As mentioned in my previous entry, Metropolitan Market provided a pumpkin pie with our meal so I decided against baking pumpkin pie this year. I opted instead to make Cranberry Apple Pie. I hold very special childhood memories of my mom making apple pies from scratch. She had a pie crust recipe that even I loved (that is saying a lot because I am not a traditional pie crust kind of gal). It was rich, buttery and flaky; everything a pie crust should be. I have never tried to recreate her pies because she had such a gift for baking that I don't even want to make an attempt. As my cooking and baking confidence grows, I may change my mind but for now, I will stick with alternate recipes such as the following:

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (I freshly grated mine)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp apple pie spice
1/4 tsp lemon juice
2 cups fresh cranberries (I purchased gorgeous fresh cranberries from our Farmer's Market)
4 cups peeled and sliced tart apples
pastry for double-crust 9-inch pie (I used a local, all-natural pie pastry from Met Market)
2 Tbsp butter

In large bowl, combine first seven ingredients. Add apples and cranberries; toss gently.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Line 9-inch pie plate with bottom pastry. Add filling; dot with butter. Roll remaining pastry to fit top of pie. Cut vents in pastry, using small apple cutter if desired. Place over filling; seal and flute edges.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 50 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

I was unfortunately, a bit disappointed in the end result. The pie was aesthetically pleasing but the inside was watery, which I believe was due to the addition of orange juice. I was a bit skeptical when I saw that the recipe called for orange juice and I should have gone with my gut. The pie flavors were nice; the texture was just off.

Instead of placing a full crust on top of the pie, I opted to use my Williams-Sonoma pie shape-cutters to create a montage of leaves and acorns. The top of the pie turned out very pretty so at least it added to the beauty of my Thanksgiving table.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

As you can see in the photo above, I used cranberries and Satsuma oranges as the central theme for the table. I borrowed the idea from a photo of a centerpiece bowl filled with pears that I saw years ago. The cranberry idea came from a table decorating presentation I attended two weeks ago with my mother-in-law. I tend to prefer simple decorations that allow our guests to see each other across the table and my decorating scheme worked well for this purpose. We invited our friends, the Matzens, for Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner, the kids played while Brad, Tom, Heidi and I played music and talked. Our house was full of activity and love, which is exactly what Thanksgiving is about. What a perfect day.

Recipe Source:

Amuse Bouche Pecan and Bleu Cheese Grapes

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I am going to come clean and admit that for the past two years, I have ordered the bulk of our Thanksgiving dinner from Metropolitan Market. The market prepares a beautiful array of side dishes (you can pick and choose which items you would like) as well as a free-range roasted turkey that is ready for pick up on Thanksgiving morning. I purchase the turkey, a double serving of mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls and then fill in the blanks with my own creations. I usually bake two pumpkin pies but Met Market includes one with the meal so I decided to bake a second type of pie this year, which you will see in my next entry.

The only required preparation for the Met Market meal is a reheating process. Because preparation is so simple, I am able to focus on other aspects of the meal such as setting a pretty table and preparing hors d' oeuvres. This year, I decided to make a one-bite appetizer to serve in amuse bouche spoons that I purchased last month. When I saw the spoons, I knew immediately that I wanted to use them for Thanksgiving. By the way, an amuse bouche is a single bite-sized hors d' oeuvre that cannot be ordered off the menu but is instead designed especially by the chef. It is meant to be a tingler for the taste buds in preparation for the meal to come. Fun, right? I set out to find the perfect amuse bouche for the holiday and ended up finding this recipe for Pecan and Bleu Cheese Grapes. The recipe follows:

4 ounces cream cheese
6 ounces soft bleu cheese (I used Saint Agur Bleu)
20 seedless red grapes
2/3 cup pecans or walnuts

Toast pecans under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly toasted. Transfer to small bowl. In another small bowl, mix cheese together. Put in refrigerator, cover and allow to firm slightly; about 15 minutes.

Place one heaping teaspoon of mixture in palm of hand with grape and roll until grape is completely coated, then roll in toasted pecans. Place on plate in single layer without touching each other and chill for 30 minutes, or until coating is firm. Place each piece in serving spoon (amuse bouche spoon) and serve. Serves 20.

This is literally one of the tastiest bites I have eaten in the past number of months; which is saying a lot considering all of the dishes I have prepared. Grapes and bleu cheese are natural partners but the cream cheese and toasted pecans added important elements to the dish. The cream cheese mellowed the bleu cheese flavor and added a smooth quality to the bite. The toasted pecans were rich and provided the perfect crunch. This dish was so good that I am already planning to prepare it again for our New Year's celebration.

As a side note, I served several additional hors d' oeuvres including Greek olives, large black olives (the kiddos love to put them on their fingers :), Rollingstone Chevre Pistachio cheese and Rollingstone Herbed Chevre with La Panzanella Croccantini crackers, and almonds with cranberries, honey and sea salt by Sahale Snacks. We ate like kings and queens today!

Recipe Source:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Cider

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I don't believe I had eaten brussels sprouts since early childhood until last week. I have always thought of them as cute little cabbages that I have no desire to eat. My brother was in Seattle for a visit and we took him to a West Seattle restaurant called Blackboard Bistro that by the way, is fantastic. The restaurant's menu consists of small plates that are meant to be shared by the whole table. I love this type of dining because you can order three or four items to really get a feel for the style of food. My brother happens to like caramelized brussels sprouts with bacon so he recommended that we order the pan fried brussels sprouts with bacon, lemon and sage to start our meal. We also ordered a beautiful salmon dish with baby potatoes and pearl onions, turkey with homemade dumplings and gnocchi with autumn pork ragout and sage. This meal was truly divine and the pan fried brussels sprouts ignited both Brad's and my interest in this vegetable. For tonight's recipe, I decided to try Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Cider. Welcome to my maiden voyage with these "little cabbages."

1 pound brussels sprouts
4 slices smoked bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup apple cider
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp sugar (more or less depending on sweetness of cider)
salt and pepper

Bring 3 quarts water to boil in medium saucepan. Blanche brussels sprout halves in boiling water for 2 minutes, covered. Drain and rinse in cold water.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in medium saute pan. Add bacon and onion. Saute until bacon is nearly cooked and onion is translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Push bacon and onion to side of pan and place brussels sprouts in pan in single layer, with cut side down. Leave in pan without stirring, letting them brown slightly, about 5 minutes.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

When they have caramelized, add cider, chicken broth and sugar. Turn heat to medium-high and bring mixture to medium boil. Cook until liquid has reduced to a glaze and brussels sprouts are cooked. If liquid reduces before brussels sprouts are tender, add additional liquid.

Taste for salt level and season with salt and pepper. Add more sugar if desired. Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon of butter until incorporated into glaze.

These were nothing like the brussels sprouts we had at Blackboard Bistro but they were tasty for sure. The flavor was probably more saturated than any dish I have prepared up to this point. The bacon soaked up the sweetness of the cider and sugar, which was delicious, but it did prevent the bacon from being in the forefront. Brad suggested that perhaps the bacon should be kept separate from the brussels sprouts and cider until the liquid was fully reduced. I think this is a brilliant suggestion because the smokiness of the bacon would then shine through to balance the sweetness. Even without this slight change, we enjoyed the recipe immensely.

I served the brussels sprouts as a side dish with chicken and rice. I of course, did not eat chicken, but instead ate a Quorn meatless Chik'n Cutlet. I know I have touched on the Quorn brand of meat substitute products in the past but I am going to get on my soapbox again. This company, along with Field Roast, makes my favorite meat substitute products. If you are looking for a way to take meat out of your diet and you don't choose to depend on tofu, you should look for Quorn products in the frozen food section of your grocery store. You can also click on the link to their website to see the products they offer. As information, we highly recommend the Gruyere stuffed Chik'n Cutlets.

Recipe Source:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crispy Roasted Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I found my new guilty pleasure today. Have you checked out the website called Pinterest? It is an online pinboard to "pin" and share anything and everything that makes you happy. For example, if you see a recipe you like, you can pin and feature it on your pinboard. If you see a fashion photo or interior space that inspires you, pin it as well. The possibilities are endless. I see it as an online collage where I can feature my interests and inspirations. I signed up to become a member but there is a waiting list. I anticipate it will be a short while before I can start creating my own pinboards. Until then, I am thoroughly enjoying checking out boards created by current members.

I was perusing one of the boards today and I came across this recipe for Crispy Roasted Chickpeas. What a fabulous idea! I can't believe I haven't been introduced to preparing garbanzo beans in this manner. I am always on the hunt for healthy snack ideas and since I am a huge fan of crunchy snacks, this provided immediate appeal. After finding this recipe, I googled additional information and ended up finding a few sites that provided roasting tips. The recipe below contains one simple way to season the chickpeas but I also included several other seasoning ideas at the end of this entry.

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (I used Natural Directions organic beans)
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt
cajun spice blend or spice blend of your choice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain can of garbanzo beans in strainer and rinse with water to clean beans. Shake and tap strainer to remove excess water. Lay paper towel on baking sheet and spread beans over towel. Use a second paper towel to gently press and absorb water from top of beans. Roll beans around with paper towel and remove thin skin from beans. Discard skins and paper towels.

Drizzle olive oil over beans and use hands or spatula to toss around and coat.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Roast for 30-40 minutes until beans are deep golden brown and crunchy (chickpeas can sometimes pop like popcorn so don't be surprised). Make sure that beans do not burn. Season with salt and spice blend to taste.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Oh my goodness! Crispy chickpeas, where have you been all my life? I love, love, love them prepared this way! The final product possesses a crispness that worked beautifully and the spice flavors were right up my alley. I chose to use garlic flakes, chili powder, chipotle and sweet paprika that I ground in my mortar and pestle. I am now motivated to try several of the additional spice blends, located on the list below; especially the tarragon, fennel, roasted garlic, honey and lemon juice blend. If you try any of the other spice blends, let me know what you think. One last side note, you might as well plan to double the recipe because these chickpeas seem to disappear at a fairly rapid rate. Enjoy!

15 ways to flavor roasted chickpeas:
-garlic, pepper, rosemary
-soy sauce, sesame oil, chili powder
-tomato juice, curry powder
-brown sugar, rosemary, cayenne pepper
-cinnamon, cumin, chipotle powder, smokey sea salt, smoked paprika
-coriander, cumin, chili powder, sweet paprika, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cayenne pepper
-lime juice, chili powder, pepper, cilantro
-sage, roasted garlic
-agave, basil, white pepper, cinnamon
-peanut flour, salt
-maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon
-honey, cinnamon
-apricot jam, wasabi paste, horseradish
-tamari, rosemary, lemon juice, agave
-tarragon, fennel, roasted garlic, honey, lemon juice

Recipe Sources:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

If I had to name one ingredient that best evokes fall, I would choose squash. I happen to have thoroughly enjoyed every variety of squash I have eaten. This list includes Acorn, Butternut, Pumpkin, Spaghetti, Green Zucchini, Yellow Zucchini, Crookneck, Pattypan, Italian, Banana and Kabocha. I purchased two Butternut Squash at the pumpkin patch last month and in the spirit of next week's holiday, I decided it was time to turn the squash into something delicious.

Before I came across this Baked Butternut Squash recipe, I learned a few interesting side notes about squash. First, there are two classifications of squash; summer and winter. The terms "summer" and "winter" can be confusing. Summer types are grown in the summer but on the market all year. They are thin-skinned. Winter types are grown winter through spring and are available late summer and fall, into winter. They are thick-skinned. Second, squash leaves and shoots are edible and they are particularly good in soups and omelets. How fabulous is that? Makes me want to run out and buy a squash that still has the leaves and shoots attached just to try it out. For now, I will continue with the recipe at hand.

1 large butternut squash, pared and cut into 1 inch cubes (remove seeds and fibers)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg (I used freshly grated nutmeg)
1/3 cup brown sugar (I ended up using 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tsp lemon juice (fresh is recommended)

Place squash cubes in 2-quart casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with spices and brown sugar. Drizzle with melted butter and lemon juice. Bake uncovered in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until tender. Makes 4 servings.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

This recipe is most likely the easiest recipe I have prepared thus far. The only aspect of preparation I would change is to purchase the butternut squash in cubed form instead of cubing it myself. I have never cut into a butternut squash and I have to admit, I found it more difficult than anticipated. In hindsight, I should have started off with a hacksaw instead of my Henckels Santoku knife. :) Even with this slight curveball, preparation was simple and pleasant. The flavors however, were anything but simple. The fresh quality of the squash married well with the richness of the butter, sweetness of the brown sugar and savor quality of the nutmeg and cinnamon. The squash not only tasted good, it smelled heavenly as it baked in the oven.

Recipe Source

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Linguine with Turkey Meatballs and Quick Sauce

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Autumn is officially in full swing at my house, comfort food and all. I have been pouring over seasonal cookbooks and magazines in search of soup, pasta and one-pot recipes that exude warmth. The recipe that excited me the most is a Turkey Meatball recipe from one of my favorite Italian cookbooks by Giada De Laurentiis. I am not a stranger to preparing meatballs but it has been years since I have done so. I have also never made them with turkey so this was an obvious choice for my next culinary experiment. The recipe follows:

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 oz pancetta, finely diced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb ground turkey, preferably dark meat
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb linguine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (28-oz) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and cut into pieces with kitchen scissors
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil

To make meatballs, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat olive oil in medium to heavy duty skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook for 2 minutes. Add onion and continue to cook until pancetta is crisp and onion is tender, about 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool.

In large bowl, combine pancetta and onion mixture with remaining meatball ingredients and stir to combine.

Form turkey mixture into balls about 2 inches in diameter, using about 2 tablespoons for each, and place on foil-lined and greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, warm 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes, garlic cloves, parsley, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Discard garlic cloves. Add cooked meatballs and cooked pasta and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water, about 1/4 cup at a time, if pasta needs moistening. Arrange on serving platter and top with basil.

Okay, all I have to say about this one is YUM! We loved this recipe. I am not particularly fond of sun dried tomatoes but I found an application in which they work for me. The saltiness of pancetta paired beautifully with the sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes. I also went out on a limb and purchased natural turkey that is ground on premises by Metropolitan Market. I usually choose ground turkey breast but this recipe recommended darker meat. I decided to go with it and boy, I could taste a difference. Darker turkey meat is richer than white meat (I'm sure this is caused by the extra fat content) and the flavor is more intense. I am not converted to regular ground turkey for every occasion but I will definitely return to it when I prepare turkey meatballs.

I think my favorite part of this dish is the Marzano tomatoes. They have such a sweet quality but there is still something savory about the flavor. Combined with garlic, olive oil and fresh parsley, they were absolutely delicious. I give this recipe double thumbs up but be warned that it could feed an army. We are going to eat it tomorrow for dinner and as a matter of fact, we may have two friends come over to help us finish it off. If you are having a medium to large group over for dinner, this is the perfect dish to serve. Make a dinner salad, this linguine dish, open a bottle of Malbec (I am speaking from experience...... I am still sipping on my glass of Columbia Winery wine club Malbec as I write) and you will have a perfect dinner party. Oh, and please remember to invite me if you decide to prepare this dish. I will be there with bells on my toes.

Recipe Source:
"Everyday Pasta" by Giada De Laurentiis
Pages 177-178

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

I know many people associate stuffed bell peppers with the soggy, meat and rice-filled green bell peppers of their youth, but I am one of the people that actually loves stuffed bell peppers in just about any form. Prior to excluding beef from our diets, I would make green bell peppers stuffed with lean ground beef, brown rice, red sauce with herbs; topped with cheddar cheese. This was one of my stand-by recipes that I knew would always make a tasty meal. After we stopped eating beef, I started to experiment with vegetarian and turkey variations of the recipe. I never however, thought about changing out the starch for something other than rice.

When I was reading the precursor for these Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers, I was immediately drawn in because the author presents the recipe as a template to experiment with various ingredients and flavor combinations. Basically, you can choose the type of pepper, starch, vegetables, herbs and cheese you would like to use to create a dish that suits your palate. This breed of recipe is right up my alley because I now have an interest in experimenting with cooking. I was formerly afraid to take creative license with recipes but I am finally feeling a bit more confident.

Tonight, I chose to follow the recipe with the exception of a few small changes. Instead of using a fresh chile pepper, I used red pepper flakes in order to control the level of heat. I also chose to use small chunks of jack cheese instead of feta or goat cheese. We enjoy both feta and goat cheese but I wanted to use a less creamy, more melty (a new word for my culinary dictionary) cheese for the dish. I also used all organic ingredients with the exception of the jack cheese, which was all-natural but not organic. Recipe follows:

1/2 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed in sieve; rice, pearl barley or instant couscous also work
4 orange, yellow or red bell peppers, sliced in half lengthwise
1 cup water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup shallots or red onion, diced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh (from 2 medium-sized ears) or frozen corn kernels
1 chile pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
4 cups spinach, washed well, stemmed and roughly chopped; chard or kale can be used as well
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, basil or flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or queso fresco, ricotta, goat cheese or no cheese at all)
1/2 lemon (optional finishing touch)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to boil for quinoa. (Water amounts will vary for starch options; prepare according to package instructions.) Add pinch of salt, then add quinoa. Stir, then cover and simmer over low heat until grains are tender and begin to look starry and luminescent, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

Carefully remove seeds and membranes of peppers. In large saucepan, bring 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to lively simmer (not rolling boil). Add pepper halves (submerge peppers cut side first) and simmer until slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove peppers and drain excess water. Transfer to baking dish for later.

In large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add onion and chile pepper (I used 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes), and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, until slightly softened. Add garlic, corn and greens, plus 2 tablespoons water, and cook until greens are wilted, about 5 minutes.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Stir in herbs and quinoa and mix everything together until well combined. Taste for salt and pepper, and season as you see fit. Fill peppers with filling and dot with cheese, if using. Drizzle remaining oil over peppers and bake for about 20 minutes.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Serve hot or at room temperature, squeezing lemon over top, if you wish. Makes 4 servings.

We thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The filling was savory but it had a fresh, nutty quality. I would even cook the filling by itself as a full meal or side dish; that's how good it was. The corn that I used in the filling was purchased a few weeks ago at a local farm stand. It was fresh and sweet because I zipped it and froze it immediately after purchase. I chose to use cilantro instead of parsley, which worked out well. I loved the way it complimented the flavor of the peppers. Finally, we liked the jack cheese but I would definitely try a variation of the recipe with goat cheese. The McCoys dined with us last night and we decided collectively that my next experiment would be poblano peppers stuffed with bulgur wheat or brown rice, spinach, corn, cilantro and goat cheese; topped with homemade enchilada sauce. Doesn't this sound heavenly? Can't wait to try it!

I served the stuffed peppers with an organic kale salad that I dressed with a mixture of olive oil, red vinegar, garlic, kosher salt and pepper.

Recipe Source:
"The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook" by Kim O'Donnel
Pages 98-99