More Soup Please!

White Bean Soup with Kale and Italian Sausage

White Bean Soup with Kale and Italian Sausage

What happened to our early summer weather? Just when we New Yorkers were starting to forget about the coldest winter in recent years and beginning to complain about the humidity and heat in crowded elevators, temperatures suddenly drop?  And now we’re pulling out our sweaters again and craving hot bowls of soup?

Okay, fine.  So with my bones a little cold and wishing I’d not worn the linen skirt, I turned for comfort in my kitchen.

In my fridge I grabbed some summer greens, carrots and celery, four or five hot and sweet Italian sausages. Staring into the pantry I grab a can of organic cannelinni beans and a box of organic chicken stock.

Here’s what I came up with.

Ingredients:

1 pound kale, stems (and veins, if desired) removed and leaves washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 scallion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large cellery stalk, chopped
1 cans cannellini beans, (29 ounce), drained and rinsed
4-5 Italian sausage (I used two sweet and three spicy) removed from casing
4 cups water
2 cups chicken stock, or reduced-sodium canned broth
Sea aalt and black pepper
4 thick slices country bread
Grated Parmesan cheese, (optional)

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, scallion, carrot and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add sausage and cook until brown. Break up into smaller bits with a fork.

Add about half of the beans, and lightly mash with a fork. Add water and stock, and bring to a boil. Stir in kale, remaining beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer until kale is tender, about 20 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Grate fresh Parmesan and enjoy.

Baked Ziti a la Comfort Food

Baked Ziti

Ingredients
1 pound dried ziti pasta
Sea salt
3 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and boil the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain.

Baked Ziti

Toss the cooked pasta with the marinara sauce, cubed mozzarella, half the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and pepper flakes. Transfer the pasta to an oiled baking dish – again, I used my Le Creuset. Cover the top of the pasta with the sliced mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/4 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add anchovy paste and dissolve. Add the sausage and cook until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Baked Ziti

What Do You Get When You Cook With a Portuguese Girl Who Loves Italian Food? Chicken Cacciatore with Sweet White Yams!

chicken cacciatore

While Jason and a friend watched movies on Netflix and my sixteen-year-old busied herself in her usual way, texting and taking photos, I sought my own solitude by cooking Chicken Cacciatore in the kitchen.

This dish was absolutely one of our favorites in 2014.  My only regret is that I didn’t make it more.  But hey, better late than never.  I love the colors of fresh green herbs and red bell pepper glistening in the Greek extra virgin olive oil, and their aroma, along with the garlic and Greek Oregano filled the air.  (Jason’s brother-in-law from Greece brought us the oregano and oil.  It is to die for)!

I prepared the Cacciatore in my Le Creuset French Oven – slow cooking it of course; set it on top of the stove and when it was done, family and friends were invited to serve themselves. The chicken was so tender and juicy; no knife was needed.

Ingredients:

6 boneless chicken  breasts, halved crosswise
2 large white yams, halved crosswise then quartered
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celary stock (optional)
8 baby carrots, halved (optional)
3/4 cup dry white wine (or 50/50 water to apple cider vinegar)
1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves (I had to substitue flat-leaf parsley this time)
1 sprig of thyme

Directions:

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly. I do this by using a large vegatable plastic bag from the grocery store. Just add the chicken, salt, pepper and flour and shake!

In a large heavy sauté pan, (again I used the 9 1/2 Ct Le Creuset Oval French Oven) heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic and white yams to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, include any juice resting in the plate, and turn them to coat in the sauce. Add the sprig of thyme.  Bring the sauce to a simmer.

Stop.   Wait!  Here is where I change it up.  Because I started cooking in the morning, rather than simmer for 30 minutes as the directions say to do, I turned the oven to 250 degrees and let the stew cook for approximately two hours.

Now, if you need this dish to be ready in 30-40 minutes, just pretend I didn’t say the above and follow accordingly:

Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes for the breast pieces, and 20 minutes for the thighs.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup: Highly nutritious and warming in cold, winter weather

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup

Kale, Chicken and Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olivie Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped Celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (I made mine from scratch)
1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed (or other leafy herb, such as Italian flat-leaf parsley)
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh kale (about 8 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 8 ounces)
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry red lentils (I used one 15 oz can of Westbrae Natural Organic Lentils)
Directions:
Coat a large saucepan (I prefer my Le Creuset round French oven) with extra virgin olive oil (non-stick spray works too). Preheat over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to saucepan. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are nearly tender, stirring occasionally.
Add *chicken broth and dried basil (if using) to vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in kale, salt, and pepper. Return to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Stir in chicken, tomato, red lentils, and fresh basil (if using). Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more or until kale and lentils are tender.
Makes 6 servings.
*I made my chicken broth by boiling the 8 ounces of uncooked chicken breast in 6 1/2 cups of salted water.  Then used the chicken in the soup.

Apricot Jam Simply Delish

Apricots

Nothing better than a great slice of crusty bread, toasted with butter melting over the sides and a spoonful of apricot jam on the top. It’s a bit indulgent with the butter but I ask, is it any worse than eating a croissant? I don’t think so.

Yesterday, running errands in our beautiful city, a 3-pound carton of farm-fresh apricots caught my eye. Jason humored me as I retold him the story of having an apricot tree in our back yard and filling up on these in the summer until I got a tummy ache. $4 dollars got me the carton. What a great deal. I handed the man my money, (feeling I was getting the better part of the deal) and said to Jason, “These will make great jam!”

The rich sunset color, the downy skin and the sweet meaty fruit on the inside just make me happy. Memories of my Granny Mary fill my mind; it was her favorite too and we always had this for breakfast at her house. She’d give me a glass of milk and she would drink her coffee, which she liked “blonde” meaning, with a lot of cream.

close up apricot

This morning I washed them and cut them into halves to prepare them for canning. I looked to the experts for advice on a wholesome recipe. The last time I’d made jam was when I was just a little girl, along side my Grandma Lee (my mom’s mom). I came across a very simple recipe with a few simple ingredients and set out to make this beautiful, slightly tart, mouth-watering golden-orange elixir.

 

I adapted this recipe from David Lebovitz.  I substituted Kirsch for Vanilla but you could choose your own flavoring additive. Neither is overpowering, but both will enhance the rich, warm goodness of the apricots and give a smooth aftertaste.  I also added lemon zest to my recipe.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 Pounds of Apricots

1/4 Cup Water

3 Cups Sugar

1/4 Tsp Lemon Zest (minced)

1 Tsp Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice

1 Tsp Kirsch (I used Vanilla)

Prep:

Wash, cut in half and pit apricots.
washed and halved

 

Cook:

in the french oven with water and lemon zestPut the apricots in your French oven. Add the water and lemon zest.  Cover with the lid. Turn heat to medium high, stirring frequently.  Cook until apricots begin to turn tender and appear cooked through.

 
Place a small plate in your freezer.

 

Add sugar and continue stirring with the lid off.  Skim any excess foam that forms on the top.  Once the jam begins to thicken and reduce stir more frequently to keep the jam from burning on the bottom of the pan.

stirring frequently

When the mixture begins to jelly, remove from the heat and place a tablespoon of jam onto the plate in your freezer. Let sit for about 3 minutes.

 

 

 

You want the jam to wrinkle and mound when you press it. If it doesn’t do this, return to the heat and cook for a while longer. If this isn’t clear then just make sure your jam reaches approximately 220ºF, 104ºC.

220

Add lemon juice and kirsch (or vanilla); stirring in to fold in those rich flavors evenly. Remove from heat; using a ladle, spoon jam into your jars. I reused old jelly jars.

jarring

Since I will be gifting two of the jars and eating one myself, there is no need to use a formal canning method. Cover jars tightly while jam is still hot. Clean any excess jam off the sides. Allow them to cool down to room temperature.

repurposed jars

 

butter and jam

A Little Lamb Ragout with Sausage and Arugula

A Little Lamb Ragout

A Little Lamb Ragout

I didn’t have time to post this recipe right away.  My photographer has had the flu and I needed to cook up something hearty to get his strength back.  I should also add that Jason (the photographer aforementioned) has been working tirelessly to renovate our second bedroom, or as he refers to it, his office.  What that all means is that he’s had no time to photograph all the many meals I have prepared over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  Oh well…perhaps next year.  Hoping everyone enjoyed their holidays as much as we did!

Here is the recipe for tonight’s little dish.  I took a little from my lasagna and a little from my bolognese and came up with, “A Little Lamb Ragout with Sausage and Arugula.”

Ingredients:

2-4 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
2 Small Carrots Chopped
1 Celery Stalk Chopped
1 Medium Yellow Onion Finely Chopped
1-2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
1/2 Tsp. Dried Thyme
1 Tsp. Fresh Sage Chopped
1 Tsp. Fennel Seads
1 Tsp. Home Dried Parsley Crumbled
1/2 Cup Dry Red or White Wine
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2/3 Cup Water
2 Tbsp. Corn Starch or Flour
1 Lb. Ground Lamb
1/2 Lb. Sweet Pork Sausage, skinned and crumbled
1/2 Lb. Spicy Pork Sausage, skinned and crumbled
Portuguese Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 Lb. Pasta
1/2 Cup of Shaved Italian Parmesan

Heat half of the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat adding lamb and sausage.  Brown.  Set skillet aside covered to keep the meat warm.  I added a little less than 1 teaspoon of salt, withholding the pepper for the final stages.

In your favorite dutch oven or large skillet or pot, heat the remainder of the olive oil, add the carrots, saute for two minutes, then add garlic, onion, and celery.  Cook about 3 minutes or until tender.  Add tomato paste and herbs and keep cooking until the veggies start to turn a little brown, about 2 minutes.  De-glaze with wine, pulling up the little bits.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in heavy cream.  In a separate small bowl combine water and corn starch until mixed well; adding water mix to pot.

Transfer lamb and sausage mixture to the pot and cook on medium-low for about 20 – 30 minutes.

In the last 10 minutes or less add 1-2 cups of fresh arugula over the top, cover and let steam.  Mix well before serving over your favorite pasta and top with shaved Italian Parmesan.

Little Lamb Ragu

Little Lamb Ragout

Center Cut Chops in Lemon-Garlic Infused Olive Oil

Center Cut Pork Chop with Roasted Butternut Squash and Arugula

Center Cut Pork Chop with Roasted Butternut Squash and Arugula, Photo by Jason Homa

One of my favorite meals as a kid was “Pork Chops and Apple Sauce.”  Not only did the crispy edges of fat taste delicious but my brothers and I had a swell time imitating the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby sought to adopt the personality of Humphrey Bogart.

When I prepare them, I first get the pan nice and hot.   I cook them in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil that has been infused with fresh herbs and garlic, making sure to sear those edges of fat, cooking on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes.  Tonight’s meal was prepared wtih a lemon, garlic and bay leaf infused oil (I found this recipe idea on Williams-Sonoma).  I love the citrus zing of the lemon, however, my boyfriend prefers a more rustic flavor, so for him, at his suggestion,  infused olive oil with  garlic, rosemary, thyme and bayleaf -sans the lemon.

Ingredients:

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
4 fresh bay leaves, or 6 dried bay leaves
2 Meyer lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 halved
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or dried)
1 teaspoon thyme
4 bone-in, center-cut pork chops, 6-8 oz. (185-250 g.) each
Portuguese sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed frying (or grill) pan, heat the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves over medium heat.  Substitue for herbs of your choice.    Saute until the garlic is lightly golden and the oil is infused with the aroma of garlic and bay leaf, about 5 minutes. Transfer the garlic and bay leaves to a plate and set aside.

Bay Leaf and Garlic Infusing

Bay Leaf and Garlic Infusing

 

Return the pan to the heat and add the lemon slices. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate with the garlic and bay leaves.

Infusing the Olive Oil wtih Lemon

Infusing the Olive Oil wtih Lemon, Instagram photo taken by Dena Ferreira

 

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat the pan to medium-high and arrange the chops in the pan. Sear until nicely browned on the bottom, 7 minutes each side.  Squeeze the lemon halves over the chops and turn to coat them with the juice. Return the garlic, bay leaves and lemon slices to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the chops are cooked through, 1-2 minutes longer. The pork chop should spring back but still feel tender if gently pressed with a finger, and the center should be very slightly pink.

 

Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter and spoon the pan juices, along with the lemon slices, over the top. Serve right away. Serves 4.

Pork Chops in Pan

Photo by Jason Homa

The butternut squash was a last-minute add-on.  I simply pre-heated my oven to 400.  Drizzle olive oil over cut pieces of squash, added 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, a dash of ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Cooked in square pan in oven for 30-35 minutes.  Served over a bed of arugula and topped dish with juices from chops.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Dried Cranberries

Photo by Jason Homa