Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tomato Tortilla Soup

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love soup. I would even dare to say that I have a favorite soup - tortilla. I have had so many varieties of tortilla soup, both at home and out in restaurants, and they are all quite different. But they are all fantastic. I never met a tortilla soup I didn't like. And now I have one more to add to the list.

This is a simple and satisfying soup with a hint of spiciness and a rainbow of Mexican flavors. The texture is perfect - velvety smooth with the occasional chunk of tomato. The crisp of the home made tortilla chips is a beautiful contrast. The avocado's creaminess helps to finish off the balance of flavors. If you've never had tortilla soup before, this is a great one to start with. With each bite you'll find yourself thinking of all the possibilities this sub-genre of soup holds.

All I have to say is, when there are no leftovers, you know something went wonderfully right in the kitchen.

Tomato Tortilla Soup
adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave
serves 2-3


1 corn tortilla, halved and cut into strips
cooking spray
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon EVOO
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups low-sodium veggie or chicken broth
one 14.5 ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with juice
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 avocado, pitted and sliced


1. Preheat toaster oven (or oven) to 375. Spray a baking sheet lightly with nonstick spray, and put the tortilla strips on the tray. Spray the tortilla chips lightly as well. Sprinkle with salt, and toss around to coat. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until browned and crispy. Set aside.

2. Heat EVOO in a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes, or until onion is translucent and just barely starting to brown.

3. Add broth, tomatoes, jalapeno, and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and turn off the heat.

4. Puree soup with immersion blender (or preferred method), but leave many chunks of tomato for texture. Serve topped with cilantro, tortilla chips, and sliced avocado.

It's pretty hard to go wrong with this combination of flavors. This will definitely be a repeat performance. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Garlic Rosemary Bean Salad

I have really grown to appreciate beans in recent months. Partially for their versatility, and partially for how inexpensive they are for a Main Ingredient. The beans themselves come in all sorts of varieties, and you can buy them dried or canned with similar success. They're incredibly good for you, and they are pretty tasty too.

We had a potluck luncheon at work today and this bean salad was my contribution. It's meant to be served warm, but I served it at room temperature and it was really delicious. There were many more decadent dishes on the table, and my beans went somewhat ignored, I'm sorry to say. But those who knew what was good for them (literally) tried it and I received compliments from those noble few.

It seems like there is an insane amount of garlic in this salad, but take my word for it - you want the garlic. You need the garlic. And if you have rosemary growing in your garden (or your front deck, if you're like me and don't have the luxury of a garden) this is a great use for it.

Feel free to substitute the bean(s) of your choice, but I'd recommend that at least half of them be white beans.

Garlic Rosemary Bean Salad
adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
serves 6 as a side dish


1/2 slice crusty bread, preferably whole grain
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
5 large garlic cloves, crushed with a pinch of salt and coarse chopped
1/4 cup good quality EVOO
2 springs fresh rosemary, leaves coarsely chopped
one 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
one 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
additional salt and pepper to taste

1. Start with the topping - coarsely grind the bread into bread crumbs using a food processor. Toast in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat until the crumbs are lightly browned, stirring often. Transfer to a small bowl to cool. When cooled, add parmesan and pepper, and stir to combine.

2. In the same pan, heat the EVOO and garlic gently over low heat for about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the rosemary and cook for another minute or so, stirring frequently. Be careful not to burn the garlic.

3. When garlic is fragrant and beginning to soften, gently add the drained beans. Toss very gently with a spatula or spoon, coating the beans with the oil, garlic and rosemary. Be careful not to squish any of the beans. Cook until warmed through, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Pour the bean mixture into a casserole or other serving dish, and sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture. Serve warm or room temperature.

This could be a main dish over a bed of greens, or a side dish alongside fish, chicken, or just about anything. It's simple and delicious. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lime-Cilantro Grilled Chicken Sandwich

This is another one of those recipes that you don't really need a recipe for. It's more a great suggestion of something to make for dinner. But I will still supply the recipe for you as I made it, because that's what I do. I'm a giver.

This is another Mexican-inspired meal. It's so easy, quick, and satisfying. And if you're not a fan of the avocado salsa, you can skip the topping and just have it with lettuce. My husband assures me it was just as delicious that way.

So imagine, if you will, slices of spicy grilled chicken breast in a big crusty roll, topped with a delicious, cool avocado salsa. Well now you don't have to imagine it. Here's how you make it.

Lime-Cilantro Grilled Chicken Sandwich
adapted from Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book
serves 2


1 handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
3 sprigs thyme, leaves finely chopped
1 lime
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons grill seasoning
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 chicken cutlets, pounded to 1/4 inch thick
1 medium ripe avocado, pitted and gently chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 small plum tomato, seeded and chopped
a few leaves of green leaf lettuce
2 crusty rolls, warmed


1. In a shallow dish, combine half the cilantro with chives, thyme, zest and juice of half the lime, hot sauce, grill seasoning, and EVOO. Coat the chicken and marinate for about 10 minutes.

2. While chicken is marinating, preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Prep remaining ingredients. Combine avocado, juice of remaining 1/2 lime, jalapeno, tomato, and remaining cilantro and gently toss to combine in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. When grill pan is preheated, spray with nonstick spray and then grill chicken cutlets, about 5 minutes per side. Remove when done and set aside to rest for a few minutes. After resting, slice the chicken into pieces about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick.

4. Build your sandwich - split the rolls, put lettuce leaves on the bottom, then chicken pieces, and then the avocado salsa. Cover with the top of the bun and serve.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Pan-Fried Falafel Pitas

Holy vegetarian, Batman! This is one of those meals that convinces me that yes, I could do the whole vegetarian thing if I so desired. I did it once before, for nine months in high school, but my palate was less sophisticated then. The only things I ate as a teenage vegetarian were pasta, cereal, eggs, and cheese. That was back when I thought I didn't like beans or vegetables. Ha, teenage vegetarian self, I laugh at you now. If only you knew such beautiful things as falafel existed. And better yet, a healthy version of falafel.

This recipe produces a non-greasy, non-heavy, non-oh-my-god-what-did-I-just-eat patties of chickpeas, herbs and spices. I'll admit they don't look gorgeous, and I had trouble getting them to stay in one piece, but it didn't really matter. I whipped up a beautiful sauce (recipe included below) and the whole thing tied together wonderfully. It's sort of a deconstructed hummus. In a word, yum.

I've included my suggestions for veggies to include in the pita sandwich below, but you could certainly include whatever veggies you'd like. I'd try to stick to just two, as anything more than that and you'll suddenly be trying to bite into a middle Eastern-style Chipotle burrito.

Pan-Fried Falafel Pitas
adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Eat Well
serves 2-3


14.5 oz. can no salt added garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
small handful chives, torn
2 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (or more) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup tahini
juice of one lemon
4 tablespoons EVOO, divided
salt to taste
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
6 or so leaves lettuce
2 whole wheat pitas, warmed and halved


1. In a food processor, combine chickpeas with chives, garlic and parsley and process until coarsely pureed. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in baking powder and cumin. Chill mixture until cold, at least half an hour.

2. While the falafel mixture is chilling, make the sauce. Whisk together tahini and lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon EVOO, pinch salt and red pepper flakes. Add water to thin out the sauce to a pourable consistency. Set aside.

3. When the falafel mixture is cold, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, use wet hands to form small patties, about 2-3 inches in diameter, from the falafel mixture. You should get about 8 patties out of it. Place into the oil in the pan. Cook as many patties at a time as will fit without touching. Cook, turning once, until both sides are browned, about 6 minutes. If you have to do the falafel in batches, add more EVOO as necessary between batches.

4. Build your pita sandwich - put in the lettuce and red bell pepper, followed by 2 falafel patties (depending on size) per half pita. Serve with sauce on the side or drizzled over the falafel.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower is hardly a sexy vegetable. Most people don't particularly like it. Those who do like it don't particularly love it.

All that being said, I'm not above a challenge. I was ready to make a delicious cauliflower-based dish. And I have to say, I succeeded thanks to Heidi Swanson's recipe for creamy cauliflower soup. (I realize the picture above looks like abstract art - let's pretend I was drawing a picture of Mary Todd Lincoln using herbed olive oil as paint and the soup as a canvas, shall we?)

This soup is velvety, spicy, and surprisingly flavorful. You can top it with whatever you like - pesto, flavored oil, chopped fresh herbs, you name it. I used a balsamic and sun-dried tomato olive oil. Even without the oil, the soup was very tasty. We had ours with some crusty sourdough and it was a satisfying lunch.

So put away your cauliflower skepticism and try this soup. I think you'll be pleased with the results.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking
serves 4


1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 head cauliflower, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups low sodium veggie or chicken stock
2 tablespoons heavy cream
sea salt to taste


1. Heat the EVOO in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes, and saute for 3 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Stir in potato and cauliflower, and cook for another minute or two. Add stock and bring to a simmer.

2. Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes, or until potato is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Turn off the heat and puree soup thoroughly with an immersion blender (or your preferred method).

3. Stir in cream and season with salt to taste. Serve as is, or topped with a drizzle of flavored oil or pesto.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, I admit it. I bake a lot of cookies. They're fun to make, convenient to eat, and universally loved. (At least within my universe, anyway). This weekend felt like a weekend for good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies. No frills, no muss, no fuss. Just yum. And they come from Martha Stewart, so you know they have to be good.

Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies
makes 2 dozen


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or silpat liners.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add salt, vanilla, and egg, mixing until well blended, about 1 minute. Mix in the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.

4. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough, 2 inches apart, on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating cookie sheets halfway through, for 12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown but centers are still soft. Let cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.

Pour yourself a glass of milk and sneak a couple of cookies while they're still warm. They'll remind you of the days of after school snacks. Enjoy!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Warm Spinach Salad

I bought a huge bunch of spinach at the beginning of the week.  I had big plans for it.  Big. Plans.  But today I suddenly had a craving for warm spinach salad.  With hard boiled eggs, bits of crunchy bacon, slightly wilted spinach, and a richly flavorful dressing.   So I turned to good ol' Rachael and together we came up with a great version of warm spinach salad.

It's not a glamorous dish, by any means.  It made me feel a bit like a 1970's mom, though I'm not sure why.  But it was comforting, a little bit gluttonous, and filled with good-for-you veggies and protein all at the same time.  It got the job done.  So if you're ever looking for a great meal-sized salad that will satisfy your 1970's mom craving, this is it.

Most of your time will be spent on the prep work - the actual cooking and assembling of this meal is remarkably quick. 

Warm Spinach Salad
adapted from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals (2008)
serves 3


1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
2 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 pound spinach leaves, thoroughly washed and spun dry
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered lengthwise


1.  Heat EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  When it's hot, add bacon and cook until crispy and browned, about 5 minutes.  Spoon out the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel. 

2.  Add onion, garlic, and asparagus to the skillet and cook 3-5 minutes, until onions are starting to brown and asparagus is crisp-tender.  Deglaze the pan with apple cider vinegar, scraping browned bits from the bottom.  Turn off heat.

3.  Put the spinach in a large salad bowl; sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and toss to distribute.  Pour the veggies and drippings from the skillet onto the spinach while it's still hot, and toss.  The goal is to wilt the spinach a little bit, so try to get the hot stuff evenly distributed.  Add bacon and toss.  Serve topped with hard-boiled egg.

And of course, this can easily be made vegetarian by eliminating the bacon, but if you're not a bacon-hater, I wouldn't recommend leaving it out, as that's where most of the flavor comes from.  Enjoy! 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Risotto

Just when you thought I had finally gotten over my asparagus craze, I go and dump another asparagus-oriented meal at you. Well I'm sorry, but it's spring. I can't help it.

Today I am sharing with you a zesty and hearty risotto. It's a lot like your typical risotto, but with a few interesting twists - most notable of which is the substitution of leeks for what would normally be onions or shallots. Leeks are a seriously under-appreciated flavor source, and I think this recipe showcases just what they can do. The leeks, chives, lemon zest, and parmesan work together to carry the asparagus and let it do its thing. They all join together like a happy little spring time family.

I changed this recipe pretty liberally from the original, but if you want more variety in your veggies you can do what Ina Garten suggested and include peas and fennel, too.

Spring Risotto
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
serves 3


2 teaspoons EVOO
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups simmering low-sodium chicken stock
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
zest of one small lemon
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoons minced fresh chives


1. Heat olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, toss in the chopped leeks and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for about a minute, to coat with the oil and butter. Add the white wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until most of the wine is absorbed.

3. Begin adding chicken stock, a ladle at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next. (About 2-3 minutes between ladles). This process will take about 18 minutes or so.

4. When you only have a couple of ladles full of stock left to add, stir in asparagus and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue adding broth until none is left. When it is almost completely absorbed, stir in parmesan and chives.

So simple, so comforting, so good. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spice-Rubbed Chicken & Veggie Soft Tacos

My husband and I love Mexican food. It's bordering on an obsession, really. I almost never make it at home, though, and I'm seeking to rectify that. Tonight's meal wasn't exactly authentic, I'm sure, but it was extremely tasty and healthy. And easy. Are you starting to see a theme in my cooking??

The key to success in this recipe is the spice rub. It absolutely makes the dish. It gives this great, complex spiciness to the chicken and red pepper that is difficult to identify unless you know what's in it. When you put the chicken on the hot grill, the spice rub forms a magnificent sort of skin around the chicken.

As for the slaw, I used broccoli slaw mix, and it was tasty but a bit strange. You might want to stick with a more traditional cabbage slaw, unless you're feeling adventurous.

Spice-Rubbed Chicken & Veggie Soft Tacos
adapted from Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook
serves 2


1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
cooking spray
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, pounded to 1/2 inch thick
2 cups coleslaw (or broccoli slaw) mix
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 warm corn tortillas

1. Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. While it's heating, combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the chicken and rub into it with your fingertips, both sides.

2. Spray a small amount of cooking spray on the strips of red pepper. Rub the spice rub into the pepper strips. When the grill is preheated, spray with cooking spray. Cook the chicken breast and pepper strips, turning once or twice, until peppers are tender and chicken is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Slice the chicken into strips.

3. While chicken and veggies are cooking, combine slaw mix, cilantro, lime juice, and canola oil in a large bowl. Toss.

4. Assemble the tacos: distribute chicken and pepper strips among the four tortillas, and top with slaw. Serve.

It's nothing fancy, but it tastes amazing and you won't need to be rolled home afterward. Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce

It was abnormally hot in Southern California today, and unfortunately most of the recipes I had chosen for this week were of the slaving-over-a-hot-stove variety. Needless to say, they didn't sound too appealing. Then I remembered a recipe I've been meaning to make, in fact, meant to make last week, but had abandoned for no apparent reason. And while it still involved a hot stove, it involved virtually no slaving. It was easy, quick, and incredibly rewarding.

This is not your typical pasta-with-tomato-sauce, folks. This one is filled with bold spices that make you think of the Greek Isles, even if you've never been (as I haven't, sadly). The cinnamon pops out at you, and the oregano serves as a lovely mellow backdrop for it. The garlic and red pepper flakes create a gentle hum of spice in the back of your mouth. And if you opt to include the goat cheese, there is a whole extra layer of creamy deliciousness in each bite.

And an ingredient note - I highly recommend using tomato paste in a tube. It just makes way more sense. Whoever invented it, I salute you.

So no matter how hot it is, just suffer for a few minutes in the kitchen to make this dish. Or if you live near the coast like we do, open the window and let in the ocean breeze to cool you off, and imagine you are, in fact, on those Greek Isles. Sigh...

Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce
adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
serves 3+


2 tablespoons EVOO
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
one 14.5 oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes (w/ juice)
1/2 lb. short hollow whole wheat pasta (elbows, cavatappi, penne)
2 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled (optional)


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. While the pot is warming up, coat the bottom of a straight-sided saute pan with the EVOO and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions, parsley, and generous amount of salt and pepper. Saute the onions until they are just turning golden brown. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and cook for another minute.

3. Add the diced tomatoes and juices, and smush them with a potato masher or similar implement. Raise heat to medium high and cook the sauce for 8 minutes, or until thickened. Turn off heat and cover the pan.

4. Cook pasta until just al dente, according to package directions. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce over medium-high heat. Toss to incorporate with the sauce, and cook for a minute or so to let the sauce permeate the noodles. Serve with goat cheese, if using, and stir in to melt.

Absolutely delicious, and yet another way to keep pasta interesting. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Maple Cornmeal Drop Biscuits

You might have noticed that I love to bake. This is in large part because I love to eat baked goods. But it's also because there is something inherently comforting about baking. Maybe it's because it's more scientific than regular cooking, and therefore so long as you follow directions, you know it will come out okay. Or maybe it's just knowing that when you're done, you get to eat something amazing.

Whatever the reason, these drop biscuits are the perfect choice for a bout of comfort baking. They are sweet without feeling quite like a dessert, they are wholesome, and they just feel like home. Drizzle them with honey, split them and spread on some jam, or just eat them plain. All I can say is, I know what we're eating for breakfast in the morning.

Maple Cornmeal Drop Biscuits
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
makes 11-12 biscuits


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup cold skim milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup


1. Center a rack in the oven, preheat it to 425. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat liner.

2. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Drop in the pieces of butter and toss with your fingers to coat in the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender (or your fingers) to cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.

3. Stir milk and maple syrup together and then pour over the dry ingredients. Mix gently just until ingredients are mostly combined and you have a soft dough. Do not overmix.

4. Use an ice cream scoop (or implement of your choice) to drop mounds of dough onto the baking sheet. The original recipe says you'll get 12, but if you use an ice cream scoop like I did you'll probably get 11.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm.

If you want to serve these the next morning, you can reheat them in the oven for a few minutes at 350. They are good at room temperature too, but there's nothing like warm biscuits straight from the oven.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sauteed Chicken with Herbed Soba Noodles

This is another easy, quick, healthy and flavor-packed recipe from our friend Rachael. A food processor makes the prep time on this dish all of, oh, about 5 minutes. And the actual cooking time is only about 15.

But more importantly, the herbs that coat the noodles deliver a huge flavor punch. The chicken is slightly spicy, and together they'll make your mouth sing. Not literally, because singing with your mouth full is rude.

So break this recipe out on a week night. Use your favorite fresh herbs in whatever combination works for you. It's good to stick with the soft leafy ones, so I wouldn't go with rosemary or thyme for something like this.

Sauteed Chicken with Herbed Soba Noodles
adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 2


2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 generous handful fresh cilantro leaves
1 generous handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
slightly less generous handful fresh tarragon leaves
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil (divided)
1 large chicken breast, butterflied and halved OR 2 chicken cutlets
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
3 oz. soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)


1. In a food processor, process scallions, cilantro, parsley, tarragon, garlic, and ginger with vinegar and half of the oil. Don't get it completely smooth; let the herbs stay a bit chunky.

2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. While it's warming up, heat remaining vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

3. Season the chicken cutlets with cayenne, salt and pepper, and cook in the skillet until just done, about 4-5 minutes each side. Remove from skillet. Thinly slice it after it has been resting for 5 minutes.

4. Cook the soba according to package directions. Drain and put back in the pot. Add the herb mixture and toss until well combined. Serve topped with chicken.

Eat up and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spinach Salad with Citrus and Avocado

Salads are a genre of food with infinite possibilities. Any type of leafy green, or no leafy green at all. Crispy veggies, soft veggies, a combination thereof. Fruit, nuts, cheese, even meat. A homemade dressing to tie it all together. This salad started with a recipe in a book and was brutalized with substitutions on my part. That's the beauty of salads in general.

My husband came back from Chicago with a nasty cold, and I can sense it around the corner for me, so a salad that includes citrus (along with vitamin-filled veggies, of course) seemed like the way to go tonight.

Citrus season is technically over, but here in California we're lucky to have pretty great citrus even into the spring. Navel orange is the star here, along with avocado - I guess this is a very Californian salad, come to think of it! The avocado came from my coworker's garden, and it was one of the richest, creamiest, most beautiful avocados I've ever tasted. It finished off this salad beautifully.

Spinach Salad with Citrus and Avocado
adapted from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook
serves 2


1 medium navel orange
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups (tightly packed) baby spinach
3 red radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
1/2 medium avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chevre (or other flavorful cheese), crumbled


1. Start by segmenting the orange. Cut a slice off the top and bottom, exposing the flesh. Stand the orange upright and, using a sharp knife, thickly cut off the peel, following the contour of the fruit and removing all the pith and membrane. Over a small bowl, carefully cut along both sides of each section to free it from the membrane. Discard seeds and let sections and any juice fall into the bowl. Squeeze the membranes over the bowl to extract remaining juice.

2. To make the vinaigrette, in a glass jar or other salad dressing shaker, combine 1 tablespoon of the captured orange juice, the vinegar, mustard, EVOO, and salt and pepper. Shake vigorously to combine. (You can also whisk the EVOO into the other ingredients in a bowl).

3. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, radishes, orange sections, and pine nuts. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat. Serve in individual salad plates and top with avocado slices and chevre.

This salad is definitely hearty enough to stand alone as a meal, but some warm crusty bread never hurt anyone. Enjoy!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Best Mashed Potatoes

I have always been a fan of creamy, fluffy, decadent mashed potatoes. I'll happily eat the "skinny" mashed potatoes, too, but the key for me is that they have to melt in your mouth. And they have to have flavor.

One of my contributions to our Easter/Passover lunch yesterday was mashed potatoes. I had never actually made them before, believe it or not, but I knew I wanted to do my favorite potato dish justice. I didn't want it to be too frilly and fancy, but it had to be flavorful and interesting. And fluffy.

Not only was my first attempt at mashed potatoes a success, but I have to say they're the best mashed potatoes I've ever eaten.

A note - I highly recommend using home made stock. If you don't have any, then warm up a little more than a cup of stock-in-a-box with a bay leaf and a generous amount of pepper for about 10-15 minutes; remove the bay leaf before you add the stock to the potatoes. You want the stock to pack a punch.

Another note - I also highly recommend using a potato ricer to mash the potatoes. It's so much easier than using a masher, and you get beautifully smooth results. If you use a masher, I'd recommend peeling the potatoes for a smoother consistency.

Best Mashed Potatoes
makes 8 servings


3 pounds baby red and/or gold potatoes, washed/scrubbed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup good quality low sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste


1. Put the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with water up to about 2 inches above the top of the potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. When it comes to a boil, remove the lid. Cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are very easily pierced with a fork or knife.

2. Drain potatoes well. Use a ricer to mash the potatoes directly back into the pot. (If you're using a masher, return potatoes to the pot and then mash them). Put back on the stove over low heat and add the butter. Stir.

3. Slowly pour in the stock, milk, and cream, and stir to combine. Add rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. As soon as everything is combined and butter is completely melted, serve.

4. If you can't serve right away, reheat in a casserole dish in the oven at about 350 for 20 minutes.

Absolutely fluffy, gorgeous and delicious. And they are still healthier than your typical cream-filled, butter-laden mash.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Salmon Packets

This is one of the first meals I perfected on my own. It was inspired by a Giada de Laurentiis recipe that I saw on her show several years ago. That was when I was first starting to experiment in the kitchen, though I was definitely quite the amateur. I made this meal so many times, changing it a bit here and there, and eventually perfected it. On my own. No cookbook in sight. I decided this would be my Go To recipe, the meal I would impress friends, family, and most importantly, the future love of my life with. They do say, after all, that the way to a person's heart is through their stomach.

Well, the irony of course is that a year or so later, I fell in love with my husband, a man who doesn't eat seafood. I never got to test my theory that this would be the meal that would make the love of my life fall in love with me. And I think it's safe to say that if I had made this for him, he would have refused to eat it. After I dropped him off at the airport this morning for his solo trip to Chicago, I stopped on the way home to pick up salmon fillets, mushrooms, and spinach. I was going to make my piece de resistance.

And I did. So here it is, in all its glory. I chose to show you a picture of it (above) before it was cooked, since it is admittedly much more attractive that way. But trust me, it's delicious. If you make it for the object of your affection, I'm sure he or she will fall at your feet. Assuming they like seafood. And mushrooms, for that matter (though those are negotiable in this recipe. The salmon is not.)

Salmon Packets (a.k.a. Heartbreaker Packets)
serves 2


2 cups (loosely packed) baby spinach
6 cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass (or lemongrass paste)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 pound salmon fillet (preferably wild + Pacific)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
handful cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce


1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400. Place a large piece of foil, about 8 x 11, on a baking sheet. Create a lip by folding up the edges so that juices don't run over the sides during preparation.

2. Pile the spinach onto the middle of the packet. Don't be shy, as it will virtually disappear when it cooks in the salmon juices. Place mushroom slices and lemon grass on top. Drizzle lemon juice over it.

3. Place the salmon piece(s) over the vegetables. Top with ginger and cilantro leaves. Drizzle sesame oil and soy sauce over the top. Create a packet with the foil, folding over the top and the sides to enclose the salmon and veg. It should be completely enclosed.

4. Bake for 25 minutes. Check to see if the salmon is done by carefully opening the foil packet. If it isn't done yet, return to oven but leave the packet open. Cook another 5 minutes or so, until salmon is cooked through. Do not overcook.

This is excellent served over brown rice. Make sure you spoon out some of the juices from the packet over the top of your salmon. Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Matzo

Something magical happened today. To me, to my kitchen, to my culinary universe. It happened, and now I want to share it with you.

I should back up and tell you that I am a regular reader of several food blogs out there. I subscribe to them and any time they update, I'm there to check it out. And lately, due to the Passover holiday, several food bloggers were posting recipes for chocolate caramel matzo, or chocolate toffee matzo. It sounded tasty, but I didn't really think twice about it.

Then today I went out to lunch with my husband, and the bakery in the restaurant we went to was giving out samples of their own chocolate caramel matzo. I ate a sample and I almost burst with happiness. The saltiness, the crunch, the rich caramel and chocolate - it was sheer perfection in a small bite-sized piece. It was, in a word, delicious.

As soon as I got off work today I had to make it. So I checked out some of those food blogs that were posting it, and set about making it. And it was magical. The house smells of caramel. My taste buds are singing. If there is any of this stuff left, I'm going to take it to the Easter/Passover festivities to share with my family on Sunday. Who knew you could turn a boring old matzo cracker into something delectable? It's magic.

You may have had chocolate covered matzo before, but just wait until you try this.

Chocolate Caramel Matzo
adapted from Smitten Kitchen


4+ sheets matzo
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a half sheet pan with foil, then parchment paper. Place the sheets of matzo in a single layer to cover all of the pan. You will need to break up 2 of them to fill up the spaces and so that they all fit.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar, stirring frequently. When it comes to a boil, let it bubble for three minutes, stirring well. Remove from heat and add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the vanilla.

3. Pour the caramel sauce evenly over the matzo on the sheet pan. Spread with a silicon spatula right away, as it will start to solidify. Try to create a thin, even layer over all the matzo. It doesn't have to be perfect.

4. Bake for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if it starts to burn then reduce heat to 325.

5. Remove from oven and distribute the chocolate chips fairly evenly over the hot caramel matzo. Let sit for 5 minutes, then use an offset spatula to spread out the melted chocolate to create an even layer.

6. Sprinkle with remaining salt (or slightly less, whatever floats your boat). Let cool completely, then break up into more manageable pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yes, these are gluttonous. And yes, these are fabulous. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Asian Pulled Chicken Salad

Some time in the early 90's, my entire family, along with most of southern California, became obsessed with Chinese chicken salad. We first had it at California Pizza Kitchen, and we were shocked and delighted by its spiciness, tanginess, and the intensity of the scallions and cilantro. Fastforward to the present day, and Chinese chicken salad is on virtually every menu. We're used to it.

Well here we have a home made version that is refreshing, crunchy, and incorporates all the beautiful aspects of the popular menu item without loads of sodium and unwanted additives. It comes from the pages of Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, with a few of my own tweaks. Ironic, isn't it, that a California staple based on Chinese influences came out of a New England cookbook? Maybe not. Trends travel quickly, after all, and this is hardly a new concept.

This can be served over a bed of greens, in a wrap, or (my personal favorite) in a warmed-up whole wheat pita as a chicken salad sandwich of sorts. Feel free to adjust quantities - if you want it a little more limey, go for the whole lime instead of half. Throw in other vegetables, like jicama, bean sprouts, or cucumber. Add some chili peppers for more spice. The Asian pulled chicken salad is your oyster. Or something like that.

Asian Pulled Chicken Salad
adapted from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites
serves 2 (or 1 if you're really hungry)


1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, cut in half
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
4 scallions, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces and then into matchsticks
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon EVOO
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (1/2 a juicy lime)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste


1. Bring chicken stock, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon pepper to a simmer over high heat in a small-medium skillet. Place the chicken pieces in the simmering liquid and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 6 minutes at a bare simmer, carefully flip the chicken, and cook for 6 minutes more, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from stock and set aside to cool. Save the stock for another use. Discard bay leaf.

2. Use your hands to shred the cooled chicken into thin 1-inch-long strands (like peeling string cheese). Put chicken in a medium bowl and add ginger, scallions, red pepper, carrots, and peanuts. Toss.

3. Add lime juice, EVOO, sesame oil, cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, and toss gently to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature.

I highly recommend the pita pocket option - it was delicious! This isn't good date night food, as you'll have scallion breath after dinner. But it tastes so good that I think it's worth it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Asparagus Soup

Our enjoyment of asparagus season continues. Here it takes the form of a delicious, refreshing soup. And I'd like to make a (strong) recommendation - that you make this soup and serve it alongside its best friend, the grilled cheese sandwich. (April is Grilled Cheese month, as you may know).

This soup is velvety, flavorful, with a hint of lemon and a strong dose of asparagus. You can almost feel the nutrients seeping into you. In a good way.

Asparagus Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook
serves 2


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces
leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
14 oz. low sodium vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest


1. Melt butter in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add asparagus and thyme and stir to coat with the butter. Add broth and bring to a simmer.

2. Cook until asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes. Puree in batches in a blender, or use an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the lemon zest sprinkled over the top.

Don't forget the grilled cheese! Although I suppose something classy like crostini or fresh crusty bread would be good too. Enjoy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vegetable Ribbon Pasta

Some meals are almost as much about presentation as taste. This meal requires certain visual elements in order to be fully appreciated. The ribbons of pasta and vegetables intermingle so that you have a generally uniform look, and it becomes quite beautiful. I was going to just use a whole wheat pasta that I already had on hand, but in the end I went out of my way to get egg pappardelle, and I'm glad I did. (If whole wheat pappardelle exists, they don't carry it at Pavillions or at Trader Joe's. But if you find it, please, use it!)

The overall flavor of this dish is subtly sweet, with a hint of licorice from the tarragon and a nutty crunch here and there from the toasted walnuts. The flavors come together on your tongue in a really delightful way. Simple though this dish is, you can definitely fool your palate into thinking it's a lot more complex.

Speaking of complex. I am a fan of probably-unnecessary kitchen gadgets, I will admit - and this is the perfect recipe for digging out your mandoline if you have one. It makes the slicing of the carrots, zucchini and onion infinitely more manageable. If you don't have one, you can use a sturdy vegetable peeler to thinly slice the zucchini and carrots into ribbons.

Vegetable Ribbon Pasta
adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
serves 4


8 oz. pappardelle pasta
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 medium-large zucchini, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the pasta until just al dente, about 7 or 8 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking liquid.

2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until carrots are crisp-tender and onions are softened.

3. Add zucchini, cream and milk and cook, stirring, until the liquid begins to bubble. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook until sauce is thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in tarragon.

4. Add the pasta, reserved cooking water, and walnuts to the skillet and toss to coat everything evenly. Serve.

This meal is a slightly more elegant and interesting version of your typical pasta and veggies. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Turkey Meatloaf

I can't claim to feel much nostalgia for meatloaf. We never ate it in my family when I was growing up. In fact, I tried it for the first time in high school, and that was in a restaurant when a friend ordered it and let me taste it. So I won't lie to you and say it reminds me of home, or brings a flood of fuzzy memories.

I will say, however, that I find it intriguing. And admittedly, the typical meatloaf is not that appetizing to me - ground beef and bread mixed up and formed into a loaf-like shape? No thanks. But if you take Ellie Krieger's recipe, which is made with ground turkey, whole grains, red bell pepper and other delicious flavorings, well now you have my attention.

I tweaked the recipe a little bit and what resulted was a tasty bit of home. Whose home, I'm not sure. But it just tasted comforting and delicious, without being too gut-busting and heavy. We ate ours with some roasted broccoli (roasted with smashed garlic cloves, EVOO, and a bit of salt - delicious!) and enjoyed it immensely. The turkey is moist and flavorful, and the tomato sauce and shallot on top are the show-stealers.

Turkey Meatloaf
adapted from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave
serves 6


1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons quick cooking oats
1/4 cup skim milk
1 shallot (1/2 thinly sliced, 1/2 finely chopped)
1 1/4 pounds extra lean ground turkey
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup canned all natural tomato sauce


1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a small bowl, combine oats and milk and set aside to let soak while you chop and prepare the other ingredients, at least 3 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine turkey, oatmeal mixture, chopped half of the shallot, bell pepper, egg, Worcestershire, ketchup, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix just until well combined - you'll probably need to use your hands.

4. Transfer the mixture to a pyrex (or similar) baking dish and shape into a loaf shape, about 2 inches high. Pour tomato sauce over the meatloaf and sprinkle with sliced shallot.

5. Bake until cooked through, about an hour. An instant read thermometer inserted into the middle should read 160. Let rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Whether this is something that reminds you of home or not, enjoy!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Carrot Coconut Cookies

These cookies are a work of art. They taste absolutely phenomenal, and there isn't a single ingredient in them that should inspire guilt. Nothing refined, nothing artificial, nothing animal-based. It seems impossible that something so flawless can taste so good.

I found the basis for this recipe on my very favorite food blog of all, 101cookbooks. Heidi comes up with the most incredible, wholesome vegetarian food. I own her cookbook, I visit her blog daily (or whenever she updates it), yet somehow this is the first recipe of hers I've ever actually tried. I changed it up a bit, but I would never have even dreamed it up without her blog. Heidi, I salute you.

I highly recommend you make these cookies this weekend, and keep them around to snack on. Healthy though they may be, they are still sweet, and they are still cookies - so be warned. They are dangerous. Especially when you make them bite-sized like I did.

Carrot Coconut Cookies
adapted from
makes 2 dozen +


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded carrots (about 2 or 3 medium carrots)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup real maple syrup

1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger


1. Preheat oven to 375, and line two cookie sheets with silpat liners or parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and oats. Add carrots, coconut, and pecans, and mix.

3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together maple syrup, oil, applesauce, and ginger. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

4. Drop cookie batter by level tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving an inch or two between each cookie. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden.

I waited about four seconds before tasting one. Ha, that's funny. One.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chicken Piccata

I bought chicken breasts this week with a plan. But as the week wore on, a serious craving for chicken piccata began to set in, and the other plan was tossed aside. The piccata was just too powerful.

Chicken piccata is a very reliable dish to order in just about any Italian restaurant, as it's pretty hard to screw up. Some places put a bread crumb batter and then pan fry it, which makes it a bit too heavy in my opinion. The perfect piccata should be gently dredged in flour (preferably whole wheat!) and then sauteed in a relatively modest amount of extra virgin olive oil and butter. Then you can make a beautiful pan sauce that is tangy, light, and buttery all at the same time. It's a beautiful thing.

We had ours with some fresh spinach sauteed in wine and garlic. It was a pretty fantastic meal, for something I threw together in about 15 minutes. Yes, I dare to toot my own culinary horn.

Chicken Piccata
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian
serves 2


1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast, butterflied and then halved
pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
a few tablespoons of flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon EVOO
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, and lightly dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the tablespoon of EVOO in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and sizzling, add the chicken. Cook just until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken with tongs and set aside on a plate.

3. Add broth, wine, lemon juice and capers to the pan, whisking to incorporate the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil (if it isn't already boiling), and then add the chicken to the sauce and simmer until just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.

4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to serving plates. Add remaining tablespoon of butter to the skillet and whisk until melted and incorporated in the sauce. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with parsley.

You can always count on Italian food to satisfy. This would also be great with pasta, or any roasted veggie. Enjoy!