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.

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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.

Basil Pesto: So Simple & Savory For Summer Dishes

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I triple wash them first then dry)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I often use walnuts or a combination of nuts)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add a little more than 1/3 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Great over pasta dishes, tomatoes, fish, beef, sandwiches, salads and crostinis.

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole: A Satisfying and Fun Last Minute Dish

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole, Photo by Jason Homa

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole, Photo by Jason Homa

Monday nights a lot of friends go to a NYC Mexican restaurant for “Fajita Night,” but this is not the Mexican food I grew up on in California. Fajitas came later and were more common in the Texas region that was once Mexico (ode to Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo).  I was raised on handmade tortillas, (my friend Amy Sierra’s mom used to make them) with chorizo and eggs, chile relleno, refried beans, tacos, salsa picante and enchiladas.  This is what I considered “real Mexican food.”  Everyone is entitled to their taste.

One of my favorite (and real simple to make) snacks was nachos.  I thought about them last night on our way home and stopped and grabbed a couple of avocados, vine tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime and a variety of corn and sweet potato chips and here is what I came up with.

Again, before I let Jason go at them, he took this beautiful photograph.  It was one of our quicker shoots, since, by the time we ate, we were starving. This recipe is for my brothers, my mom and dad and all my friends in Cali!!!  Good eats, good times and good memories!

Oh, and if you’re in the Bay Area of northern California, here were some of my favorite spots:

La Pinata

Tito’s Mexican Restaurant

La Taqueria

Beefy Enchiladas with Guacamole

Preheat Oven to 325

1 Lb. Ground Beef
1 Cup Beef Broth
1 Tbsp. Flour or Cornstarch
1/2 Lb. Sharp Cheddar Grated
1/2 Lb. Monterey Jack with Peppers Grated
1 Yellow Onion Minced
3 Cloves of Garlic chopped
1/8 Tsp. Hot Hungarian Paprika
1/8 Tsp. Smoked Spanish Paprika
1/8 Tsp. Cumin
1/8 Tsp. Dried Oregano
1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Small Jalapeno or Serrano Chile (more if you like to sweat a little)
Salt & Pepper

Guacamole
1 Large Haas Avacado
1 Tsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Small Jalapeno or Serrano Chile
1/2 Juice of Lime
Dash of Cumin
1/4 Yellow Onion Chopped
1 to 1 1/2 Tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Chopped and Seeded Vine Tomato
Salt & Pepper

Final Topping
1 and 1/2 Medium Vine Tomatoes Chopped
1 Tsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro

Be creative:  Add your favorites at this point.  I have to be careful with how spicy I make it for some guests and others love it when I load on more chile peppers.

In a skillet coat bottom of pan with olive oil.  Saute onions and garlic until caramelized. Brown meat in a separate oiled skillet (I coat the meat with a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch).  Once browned, add to caramelized onion mixture and adding jalapeno, paprikas, cumin, and oregano, mixing well.  Add beef broth, while stirring, add the cilantro and bring to a boil.  Simmer on low while preparing guacamole and chips.

For the guacamole I simply cut my ingredients into quarters and throw into my food processor until the texture is to my liking.  (I prefer a slightly chunky guac).

Assemble chips of your choice in a pyrex baking pan, layer with grated cheeses, repeat and pop in oven for about 5 minutes until cheese is melted through. Using a slotted spoon, top with beef mixture and put the nachos back in the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes (watch closely).  Take out and top with guacamole and tomatoes.  Serve immediately while catching up on Game of Thrones or The Good Wife!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Delicious Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Nothing like the toasty goodness of sweet and salty brussels sprouts, oven roasted and served over barley with shaved grana padana and lemon.  Jason’s been working all day repairing a wall in the kitchen that suffered greatly last rainy season and I’m trapped in the office doing a close reading of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy.  So a couple of things have been brewing here.  Firstly, our appetites and secondly, the mound of paint brushes, spackle tubs, dust and plastic covering over my spices , silverware and dishes.

To squelch the first tide, I squeezed into the fridge, dug out of the vegetable drawer the first thing I could grab.  Out came my little martian heads (that’s what I call them) and I grabbed a bag of barley from under the plastic (E.T. phone home).  Into my mini rice-cooker from my dorm days at I-House went 1 cup of pearl barley (just enough for the two of us) and 2 cups cold water, turned that on and wriggled my way to the kitchen sink where I washed and trimmed the sprouts.

Using a glass Pyrex roasting dish, I tossed the little heads into the pan with 1/4 cup shaved almonds, 1/8 cup dried cranberries, about 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, Portuguese sea salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, 1 tbsp. brown sugar and half the juice of a juicy Meyer’s lemon.  I’d already pre-heated my oven to 400° F so I just put the pan in the oven and set my timer for 35 minutes.

If you do this just the way I did, scattered and all, your barley should be done around the same time as your brussels sprouts.  From here I just fluffed my barley with 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, served into 2 pasta dishes and set aside.  Taking my sprouts out of the oven, I sprinkled a pinch of sea salt over them and dished them up over the barley.  Topping all of this toasty goodness, I shaved my favorite Italian hard cheese, grana padano, over each dish.

This proved to be the perfect late afternoon, pick-me-up snack for the two of us.  It’s full of nutrients and vitamins and the barley is a great way to keep my tummy from rumbling because it has to work hard to digest.

Jason is the first to admit to my girlfriend Laura, that he is a lucky man to have someone who cooks for him daily.  That being said,  I too must admit, that I am a very lucky woman to have such a handsome and loyal customer to cook for.