In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!
We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!
As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.
Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke.
Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.
15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid
3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.
The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.
Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).
Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.
Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.
Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.
You didn’t know it when you opened this post, but you are about to witness something that doesn’t happen all that often in my kitchen—a simple, two-ingredient twist that will transform a basic fruit bowl into a mouthwatering side dish that is almost as sumptuous as dessert. Unlike some of my other “make-the-whole-thing-from-scratch” ideas, this one really is ridiculously simple. You can apply this easy twist to virtually any kind of fruit, including pre-cut if you are short on time, and the fruit itself does not have to be fancy. Look at my salad again—it’s only pineapple, grapes and berries. What elevates this simple fruit combo into an elegant and special treat is the dressing.
It may be that you have never considered “dressing” a fruit salad, but why? We don’t often see a vegetable salad served dry, and fruit is just as worthy of dressing up a bit. Dressing a fruit salad is not only tasty; it also helps the fruit retain moisture and color. Try this once and you’ll be craving fresh fruit salad every day.
The dressing for this salad depends on two special ingredients that can only be purchased in a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and they are worth every penny. You have probably seen one of these stores, with all their shiny stainless steel containers lined up on a high table. Those containers, called “fustis,” hold exquisitely flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ingredients which have uncanny power to change the way you cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I used to work in one of those shops here in my city, and it was one of my most fun jobs ever—a true foodie fantasy, come true!
These days, nobody is paying me to share about these products, but I feel compelled to do so because of the one question we received over and again at the shop, from customers who enjoyed the flavors but asked, “what would I ever do with it?” Part of my job as a sales associate was taking home various products and coming back with inspiration for the home cooks who shopped our store. I guess you could say I took my job seriously, because I’m still doing it. 🙂
The combination I’ve used for this fruit salad is blood orange-fused extra virgin olive oil and honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar. The vinegar has a slight tartness to it, but it is mostly sweet with the warmth of honey, and the ginger is subtle but present. The olive oil is rich with the flavor of blood orange, because the oranges and olives are pressed together during production. The result is so good, it makes itself at home in sweet and savory dishes alike.
At the end of the post, I’ll share some other ideas for using up these two ingredients.
2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized bits
1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, sliced into quarters
1 cup fresh large blueberries
1 cup fresh white seedless grapes
3 Tbsp. honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar* (see notes)
3 Tbsp. blood orange whole fruit-fused extra virgin olive oil*
Lime zest or fresh chopped mint or basil, optional for garnish
I wish I could offer up a universal brand name for the olive oil and balsamics that I use, but they are bottled under various franchised shop names. Here’s a tip—if you have this type of store in your community, ask for the name of the supplier. If it is Veronica Foods, you’re in the right place. 😊
Wash your fruit just before assembling the salad, and it’s best to add berries just before serving or they tend to get mushy. Combine all the fruit in a bowl large enough for easy tossing in the dressing.
Pour the honey-ginger white balsamic into a small bowl, or a glass measuring cup for easier pouring. Slowly pour the olive oil into the balsamic, whisking quickly and constantly, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.
Immediately pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to coat the fruit. Serve right away or refrigerate up to one hour before serving.
If you would like to put a little extra pizzazz onto the salad, sprinkle with fresh lime zest or thin strips of fresh mint or basil.
One of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility to carry out personal tasks during my workday. It is not unusual, even during my job’s “busy” seasons, for me to be working on a loaf of sourdough bread or some other dinner prep amid online conference calls or in between answering emails. So when my friend, Ruthanne, texted a few weeks ago to ask if she could come to my house for an online job interview, I instantly answered, “of course!”
Her own home was more than 45 minutes away, and she needed a quiet place to land where she could conduct her meeting without attracting suspicion from management at her current job. My place was an easy solution, being just a few minutes down the parkway, and (obviously) I also promised her a tasty lunch.
Ruthanne has a fit, healthy lifestyle that is usually along low-carb lines with an emphasis on clean, whole food ingredients, and I took that into consideration when I planned this simple lunch. It was mostly made in advance—I cooked up the quinoa and sauteed the onions and tomatoes before she arrived, then I set her up in the loft space in our home, where she connected to our wi-fi, took a few deep breaths, shook off her nerves and started her call.
The irony of the situation is that my friend was hoping to land a position with a company that exclusively employs remote workers, and that was their practice even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many companies to create a remote plan. Job interviews are stressful under the best of circumstances, but this one was a high-stakes situation. After 15 months of pandemic-forced remote work, her existing employer had mandated an immediate return to the office. Like so many other people, my friend had adjusted to working productively in the quiet environment of her own home, and despite her pleas to continue the arrangement for a few more weeks so that she could manage new family obligations, it was a no go. She needed this new job.
When she descended from the loft with a huge smile and an expression of relief, I popped the top on a bottle of blood orange seltzer for a quick workday-friendly mocktail. We had to celebrate what she said felt like a sure thing. With the pressure of the interview behind her, we had just enough time left for lunch. I did a super-quick sauté on the shrimp (using the pesto compound butter I already had in the fridge) and arranged this tasty plate.
This was a light, clean bite with a good, healthy dose of protein. Quinoa is the only plant-based food that satisfies all nine of the amino acids our bodies need, yet it doesn’t feel heavy or too filling. Mixed salad greens in vinaigrette were a fresh backdrop to the quinoa and the gently sauteed tomatoes provided a juicy pop of acid against the sweetness of the shrimp. It was exactly what we needed, and my BFF was able to scoot back to work on time.
It’s exciting to see how quickly things can happen when you are courageous enough to put yourself out there. Ruthanne begins her new job today, and I’m so proud of her! 😀
Serves 2 for lunch
1 cup cooked red, white or mixed quinoa* (see notes)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 sweet onion slices, chopped
Small handful organic baby tomatoes, halved
2 handfuls mixed baby greens
4 Tbsp. vinaigrette (I used the last bit of some Good Seasons dressing, but any vinaigrette would work)
Cook the quinoa ahead to allow time for chilling it. If you have found quinoa to have a bitter taste, you may have missed the step of rinsing it before cooking. Give these instructions a quick review to see how I prepped the quinoa. I made a large batch and used up the rest in other dishes.
The shrimp I used for this dish were “16-20” size, which means a pound of the shrimp would include 16 to 20 individual shrimp. Each portion of this salad included about 4 ounces of shrimp.
This recipe makes use of the compound butter I shared in my previous post, or you could swap in regular butter or extra virgin olive oil, but add a little minced garlic and herbs to the pan when you cook the shrimp.
Place a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and heat until shimmering. Sauté onions and baby tomatoes just long enough to soften them. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette until lightly coated. Arrange the greens on the plate, reserving leftover dressing.
Add the quinoa to the bowl with dressing and toss it around to absorb it. Mound the quinoa on top of the dressed greens, then scatter the onions and tomatoes over it.
Heat the compound butter in the same skillet used for cooking the onions. When it is melted and the skillet is hot, lay the shrimp into the pan, taking note of the order you added them. After about one minute, turn each shrimp over, following the same order, to cook the second side.
Arrange the shrimp on top of the salad. Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the top of the shrimp.
Don’t be surprised to see a lot of late winter recipes showing up here with highlights of fresh summer herbs. No, I haven’t lost track of the seasons (not possible with all the bad weather news everywhere). It’s more a situation of appreciating the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
My husband, Les, undoubtedly tired of my chronic lament over the deer having eaten my summer garden, gifted me this year with an AeroGarden. It’s a hydroponic, countertop device with individual seed pods for growing whatever your heart desires (or, at least, whatever is legal in your state). Knowing my love of using fresh herbs in the kitchen, Les opted for the herbal variety pack, which included two basil varieties, chives, mint, thyme and two kinds of parsley.
At first, the thing just sort of sat on the table by the kitchen window, blazing its bright blue light across the kitchen for 15 hours a day. The thing comes on by itself at 5:00 a.m., waking the pets, who then wander in to wake us, because they know it must be almost time to eat. It took me a couple weeks to adjust to this new growing schedule, about the same time that tiny sprouts emerged, first from the Genovese basil. It has been fun to watch our little herb babies grow. 🙂
What began as a fun “let’s see what happens” Christmas gift has turned into a “holy moly, what are we gonna do with all this parsley” adventure. By Valentine’s weekend, I realized I needed to do something with the parsley before it consumed the kitchen, as my outdoor basil did last summer in the backyard garden. Les had asked for simple embellishments to our romantic dinner of lobster tails, including roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad (his fave).
“How do you feel about green goddess dressing,” I asked. And so it was.
Green goddess is a throwback food, originally created in the early 1920s at a San Francisco restaurant, and at that time the dressing included mayonnaise, chives, scallions, parsley, garlic, anchovies and tarragon vinegar. By the late ‘40s, The New York Times published a recipe for it, and it hit the grocery shelves in bottled form about 1973. Thank you, Wikipedia, for all that helpful information.
Like any other recipe, green goddess can be switched up to match your flavor (and consistency) preferences. If you want to use it as a dip, ease up on the buttermilk and add more mayo. Hate basil? Leave it out and use extra parsley. If you are gaga for garlic, double it—or roast it for milder flavor. I went rogue a little bit and added a small handful of baby spinach leaves to this version (hey, they’re green), and I love a recipe that is so flexible. The dressing seems to me a mash-up of ranch and Caesar, but with a bounty of freshness to punch up the flavor and, thankfully, a perfect vehicle for freshly picked herbs.
I’ve made my own salad dressing for years, and this was my first green goddess but definitely not my last. Obviously!
1/4 cup thick cultured buttermilk
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Small handful of curly or flat parsley leaves
Several stems of fresh chives
2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed
2 cloves fresh garlic
4 to 6 fillets of anchovy, to taste* (see notes)
2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Small handful fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Remember that anchovies are fairly salty on their own, and you may or may not want additional salt in the mix. If you prefer to omit the anchovies, consider substituting a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to add a similar punch.
In the small insert bowl of a food processor, combine herbs, scallions, Dijon, salt and pepper, anchovies and lemon juice. Pulse several times to chop herbs into somewhat uniform mixture.
Add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and pulse about 8 times. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings or ingredients as desired, pulsing to incorporate additions.
Turn processor on steady and slowly drizzle olive oil into the dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and chill several hours or overnight.
Cold weather and shorter days gettin’ you down? Me, too. We’ve had a few close calls this season for snow or wintry mix, but not much has materialized here in the South, though we’ve had our share of cold, dreary days and nights. My friends and family around New York and Boston have seen far more than their share of winter this week, thanks to the Nor’easter that dropped a foot or more of snow. And Punxsutawney Phil, the jumbo rodent in charge of this whole thing, saw his shadow (or perhaps felt the snowflakes falling against his fat cheeks) this morning, and declared “six more weeks of winter.” The bottom line is that winter is getting old; we are all tired of it. What we need is some warm and nourishing comfort food.
I finally pulled out our 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and made a huge batch of this soup that never fails to chase away my midwinter blues—a steaming hot bowl of Italian flavor that is chock-full of fresh, nutritious vegetables, spicy Italian sausage, creamy beans and petite pasta. This is the kind of food that warms you from the inside, whether you’re dining at the table or curled up with a soft blanket on the sofa while eating your minestrone from a pottery mug and binging on Netflix. Whatever comfort looks like for you, this soup has it covered.
Minestrone is Italian, obviously, so I’ve seasoned it with my own “Mamma Mia” blend of herbs and spices. This seasoning blend was born more than a decade ago when I participated in a “reverse offering” experiment at church. We were given $20 and challenged to double (or more) that money for charitable donation. The effort was intended to show how we could use our own talents to make a difference in the world. I bought a bunch of bulk spices, turned them into blends and packaged them into baby food jars (which I found for free on Craigslist) with little fabric-wrapped tops for individual sale. The end of the story is that my $20 turned into almost $60 (a fine return), and I still have several of my blends in regular rotation today. Mamma Mia seasoning contains dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram and ground fennel seed, plus garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s zesty, herbal and a little bit spicy, and just the right punch of flavor in this minestrone.
Nothing says “comfort” better than a bowl of nourishing soup, and I hope you’ll find it just right for stuck-at-home days, snow days, waiting for snow days, sick of the snow days and—well, pretty much all the days.
This recipe makes about 4 quarts. You will need a large soup pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven to hold all the ingredients, but the recipe can easily be halved for a more manageable batch. This soup also freezes well, so you can pack some away for another gloomy day.
Ingredients from the pantry
Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic
1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth
1 carton low-sodium chicken broth* (see notes)
28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)
15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini)
15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. Mamma Mia Seasoning blend (see the end of the post for ingredients, or substitute another salt-free Italian seasoning + a few hearty shakes crushed red pepper flakes)
2 cups dry ditalini (or other petite shaped pasta, such as small elbows or mini farfalle)
Ingredients from the fridge
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup each green and red bell peppers, chopped
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced and chopped*
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 fat handful kale leaves, chopped small*
1 handful fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, cleaned and finely chopped for garnish at serving
1 or 2 lbs. bulk hot Italian sausage* (optional, see notes)
Minestrone is perfectly adaptable for a vegetarian, or even vegan, option. Simply swap more vegetable broth for the chicken broth and skip the sausage in favor of additional beans. For texture and interest, I’d recommend a can of garbanzo beans in place of the meat.
Fennel provides a real Italian flavor to minestrone, and the flavor is echoed in my Mamma Mia seasoning, which includes ground fennel seed. It has a crunchy texture that is similar to celery, and a slight licorice flavor that blends well with the other ingredients. Use only the white bulb part of the vegetable (see the slides for more description).
Any type of kale can be used in minestrone. Lacinato kale is commonly used in Italian cooking, but I used curly kale. If you prefer, you could also substitute about 1 1/2 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage. These hearty greens add texture and fiber to the soup.
You decide how much sausage, if any, you use in this recipe. My batch included only 1 pound this time, and I used a chicken sausage that was labeled “hot Italian.” Turkey or pork sausage would also work or as mentioned above, you could omit the meat altogether for a vegan version.
Want to make this in a slow cooker? Go for it! The soup doesn’t need much attention other than occasional stirring or adding ingredients. After the initial cooking of sausage and veggies, simply dump everything into the slow cooker and let it go on high heat for several hours, or low heat overnight. It may help to give the kale a quick sauté before adding to the crock, given that it is much larger volume before cooking and most slow cookers recommend filling only 2/3 full.
First, the pictures, or you can scroll down for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a spoon or wooden utensil.
Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, peppers, fennel and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables soften, and the moisture released from them has mostly evaporated.
Scatter Italian seasoning blend over the ingredients and stir to combine.
Move the sausage and vegetables to the outer edges of the pot and drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Toss in the mushrooms, half at a time, and gently toss them around to lightly brown them. If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the mixture at the end of this step.
Add the whole plum tomatoes, squeezing each thoroughly by hand directly into the pot. This will assist in breaking down the tomatoes for quicker cooking. Empty all puree into the pot as well.
Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir to combine. Heat soup to a low boiling point, then reduce heat to a simmer. This will take about 15 minutes.
Stir in finely chopped kale and stir. Add piece of Parmesan rind and allow it to simmer with the soup for a few hours.
Near the end of your expected cooking time, drain and rinse the canned beans. Season them with salt and pepper before adding them to the soup.
Fill a large pot with water and cook the ditalini (or other petite pasta) to al dente texture. Drain pasta and add to the soup just before serving. Alternatively, drain the pasta, toss with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking, and transfer it to a separate bowl to be added to soup as it’s served. This will help you enjoy the soup several days later, without mushy noodles.
It isn’t surprising that I would find another way to highlight a food that is among the “seven species of Israel,” after the lessons I learned earlier this week in an online celebration of Tu Bishvat. The history and symbolism of Jewish food fascinates me, and it’s something that isn’t prevalent across all cultures. Though I’m not Jewish, my husband is, and I’m pleased that we each appreciate traditions from the other side. In our home, we observe Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Easter and Christmas. I’ve attended temple with him, and he’s been to church with me. Over the past year, we’ve joked many times about having been “to church” online more regularly than ever before in person. It’s my not-so-secret hope that houses of worship will continue what they’ve started with online availability, even after the COVID fog lifts and the doors re-open. There’s huge potential for new outreach by these virtual means.
Until that time, I’m taking the lessons however they come, and the online “new year of the trees” celebration, honoring the many blessings of trees and nature, paid particular homage to wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates—the aforementioned “seven species.” So I’m going with it.
Several years ago, I picked up this cookbook on a bargain table at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places to find interesting culinary treasures and gadgets. I have been enthralled with the beautiful images of foods authentic to Morocco, and I’ve noticed many crossover ingredients to the foods of Jewish culture—it makes sense, geographically. Today’s recipe comes from page 16 of that book: a grapefruit and fennel salad, described by the author as a “lovely hot weather salad,” though I’m finding it a bright and refreshing addition to the table right here in the middle of winter. I’ve modified a few things from that recipe, as I always do. I believe this is how we discover new favorites.
The salad brings plenty of color to the table, and I can taste the sunshine in the beautiful winter citrus! I’ve used ruby red grapefruit, which leans sweeter than pink or white, in combination with navel and blood oranges for additional sweetness and color variety, plus licorice-y fennel slices and castelvetrano olives. If your supermarket has a bulk olive bar, this olive variety is easy to spot because it is bright green like Kermit the Frog. The flavor is buttery and creamy, almost akin to artichoke heart, and I love the slightly briny contrast it provides against the juicy citrus and crunchy fennel.
1 ruby red grapefruit*
1 navel orange
1 blood orange
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bulb fresh fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 or 3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
1 tsp. cumin, caraway or fennel seed
Small handful of castelvetrano olives,* pitted (see notes)
Ruby red grapefruit is not as tart as pink or white grapefruit. If you cannot eat grapefruit, try using an extra orange plus a Meyer lemon in its place. You would still have a variety of citrus flavors and colors.
The castelvetrano olives really do stand out, colorwise, on the olive bar. If your market does not offer these, you may also look for the variety in jars. Substitute Kalamata olives from Greece as a good alternative. I would not recommend regular pimiento-stuffed olives or canned “ripe” olives for this recipe. Purchase pitted olives if you can, or carefully cut them in half to remove the pit before adding them to the salad.
To prepare the grapefruit, cut it in half crosswise, as you would enjoy it for breakfast. Next, use the tip of a sharp paring knife to cut the segments from the membranes. Do this for each half, then spoon them out into a bowl. Squeeze remaining grapefruit juice over a strainer into a bowl and reserve for another use.
To prepare the oranges, cut off the tops and bottoms so the fruit is stable on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut from top to bottom, removing the peel and bitter outer pith from the fruit. Cut the oranges in half, top to bottom, then lay them flat side-down on the cutting board. Slice the oranges into half-rounds, about 1/2” thick. Some may split, and that’s OK. Add the pieces to the grapefruit bowl, and give it a pinch or two of kosher salt.
In a small, dry skillet, toast the cumin (or caraway or fennel) seed over medium heat, swirling the pan continuously. After about one minute, the seeds to be toasty and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow them to cool.
Scatter the sliced fennel and olives into the citrus bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Sprinkle the scallion slices over the salad, then sprinkle with the toasted seeds and serve immediately.
A good many years ago, a work colleague from my radio days shared with me about his unusual mental habit of assigning colors to the months of the year—not surprisingly, several of the months were given colors that matched a holiday within the month, such as green for March (St. Patrick’s Day). My buddy gave July deep red, for its blazing summer heat. Orange was obviously the color of October, reflecting Halloween pumpkins and fall foliage. But January? You guessed it. Gray.
He’s right about that. The whole month of January looks and feels gray and lifeless, with the Christmas decorations down, no leaves on the trees, no flowers to enjoy. Gray is bland and boring, the color of a steak cooked in the microwave.
As many millions of other Americans, I let go an enormous exhale this week as our battered country took its first steps forward toward what we hope is a new chapter of compassion, cooperation and unity. The installment of a new president has me feeling hopeful for the first time in years, as if gigantic gray clouds have parted to allow sunshine and color back into our lives. I’m not naïve about politics, and I have seen enough in my years to know that smooth-sailing government is a goal rather than a given, but attitudes and intentions must be positive for progress to happen, and we are overdue. I’m ecstatic and proud about the historic swearing-in of our nation’s first-ever woman vice president (I’ll be raising a toast to her in a day or two here), optimistic about making up lost ground in our relationship with the rest of the world (and the planet), and relieved at the promise of giving science a louder voice than ego in our battle against this wretched virus.
Things are looking up, and I’ve needed something to be excited about after so much gloom.
And so, here begins a fun and color-filled parade of recipes to brighten up your plate. Nutritionists will tell you about the benefits of “eating the rainbow,” for all its varying vitamins, antioxidants and whatnot, and it’s undeniable that bright colors in general make people feel happier. I’m determined to bring that color!
To kick things off, I’m chasing away the gray with a mostly classic Cobb salad, authentic in the sense that it has all the key Cobb ingredients—avocado, bacon, hard-boiled egg, bleu cheese and tomatoes. In step with my recent celebration of seafood, I’ve swapped out the usual chicken breast in favor of a homemade artichoke-crab cake. I love the flavor of artichokes, with their slight lemony tang, and the pairing with crab has been a favorite for years. To pull the flavors together, I’ve punched up the vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice and a few shakes of lemon-pepper seasoning.
The end result is fresh, bright and cheerful. The flavors all work great together, and the colors are breathing some much-needed sunshine into gray and gloomy January. Enjoy!
Serves: 2 dinner salads with extra crab cakes for another meal Leftover idea: crab cakes benedict, with poached egg and english muffin, topped with sauce of your choice
1 1/2 cups lump crab meat, drained and picked over for shell pieces
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained well and chopped fine
4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 large egg
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cracker or panko crumbs (I used seasoned crackers)
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning (or more if using bland crackers)
Small handful fresh parsley
Lemon wedges for serving
Mix it up!
Combine all ingredients except crab and mix with a fork until mixture is completely blended.
Add crab meat and fold gently about 6 times, just enough to fully incorporate the mixture.
Cover mixture and chill about 2 hours.
Shape crab mixture into 6 equal-sized cakes*, then cover and chill again 2 hours until ready to cook.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake crab cakes about 25 minutes, until set but not dry.
*I misjudged my portions and ended up with a smaller seventh crab cake. Better than trying to re-shape them!
2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s orange muscat champagne vinegar* (or substitute any light or citrus-y vinegar + a pinch of sugar)
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 or 4 shakes lemon pepper seasoning (I used McCormick, which already contains salt)
Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and lemon pepper seasoning in a small bowl or measuring glass.
Slowly drizzle canola oil into the mixture, whisking constantly to create an emulsion. Repeat with the olive oil. Cover and allow mixture to rest to “wake up” the seasonings. I typically make my dressings several hours or even days ahead, then bring to room temperature for serving.
1 full romaine heart, washed, dried and chopped
1/2 cup finely shredded red cabbage (for color :))
1 small shallot, chopped (or substitute red onion)
8 baby tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium avocado, cubed
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, chopped and cooked crisp
There has been a fresh and flavorful shift in our kitchen over the past couple of weeks, and it feels so right! My husband, Les, and I have been eating healthier after the holidays, not for keeping resolutions (we don’t bother with those), but out of simple desire to care for our bodies better after a season of splurging. Seafood has been the star of this menu reboot, and I’ve brought back into rotation one of my favorite all-time recipes, a seared fillet of fish rested on a mélange of tender sautéed fennel with creamy cannellini beans and sweet tomatoes.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess right here that I actually did not use salmon this time, but steelhead trout. This is a sweet and creamy fish, similar in texture (and appearance) to a farm-raised salmon, and when I can get my hands on steelhead trout, I love to swap it into favorite salmon recipes, including the salmon in phyllo dish that I shared in December. But steelhead trout isn’t always easy to find, especially while adhering to the best practice standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (sustainability means a lot to me). The dish is every bit as delicious when made with your favorite salmon, which is usually much easier to find.
It looks and tastes more extravagant than it is, and although I’ve named it “fish with fennel,” it would be better described as fennel with fish, given that the fennel shows up in three different forms—the seeds are ground to a powder for crusting on the fillets, the vegetable is caramelized in the mélange beneath the fish, and the fronds are chopped and sprinkled on top.
Would it surprise you to know that you can have this meal on the table in about 35 minutes, start to finish? It’s true. And Les, who is practically a living nutritional calculator, announced after cleaning his plate that our meal probably checked in at fewer than 400 calories per serving, which is not too shabby for such a flavorful, satisfying meal.
2 portions salmon*, skin removed (see notes)
1 tsp. fennel seed, ground to a rough powder
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced* (should measure about 1 cup)
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, drained well)
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine* (or all vegetable broth)
15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped or minced
Any type of salmon (wild sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works well in this recipe, but you might also consider swapping in another fish, such as arctic char or steelhead trout, which I used. If you are not comfortable removing the skin yourself, ask the seafood clerk to do it for you. Learn this task, and you’ll be unstoppable!
Fennel is a less common vegetable, one that you may have passed over in the supermarket for something more recognizable. It resembles something between celery and bok choy, but tastes nothing like either. It is crunchy with a slightly licorice flavor, and it pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish, especially when sautéed or stewed. The seed part of fennel might be more familiar to you. It’s the flavor that makes Italian sausage taste Italian.
If you use wine to deglaze the skillet, make it a dry one, such as pinot grigio. Alternatively, I frequently reach for dry vermouth, given that I always have a bottle open in the fridge. If you prefer to not use wine, just add another splash of vegetable broth, no problem.
Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the fennel seeds to a rough powder. Don’t have either? Try putting the seeds into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Season the fish fillets with kosher salt and pepper, then sprinkle the fennel powder onto both sides of the fillets and press to fully adhere it.
Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmery (but not smoking), lay fish fillets into pan. Cook about two minutes, then carefully turn fillets to cook the other side another two minutes. Transfer fish to a small plate and keep warm. I usually slip it into the microwave while I make the mélange.
Add fennel pieces to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing occasionally, until fennel is caramelized and tender, about five minutes.
Add tomatoes, then broth, plus wine. Stir until combined and liquid is simmering.
Add beans and mustard. Toss to combine, reduce heat to low.
Return fish to the pan, resting the fillets on top of the mixture. Cover and simmer on low for about 8 minutes, which is just about enough time to set the table and chop the fennel fronds.
Plate the meal, with fish fillet resting on top of the fennel-bean mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top and serve.
It happens every time. The start of a new year is filled with good intentions, as everyone makes their resolutions to get fit, lose weight, improve their health. This is the reason for all the TV ads for gym memberships, weight loss products and home exercise equipment. It isn’t a terrible idea, of course, but there are simpler (and more sustainable) things we can do to get back into better habits, and most of them begin in the kitchen.
Along with many other people at the end of holiday indulging, I’m tired of so much rich food and find myself aching for fresher, lighter fare. After the heavy flavors of Thanksgiving dishes, it was spicy that I craved. But after the double whammy of Christmas and New Year’s, and all the sweets and booze that came with them, I just want to eat something—anything—fresh. Oh, and easy would be nice, too!
That’s where this recipe comes in, and there’s plenty to love about it. The dish is light and lemony, with big, juicy shrimp and bright, barely-crunchy asparagus. Piled high on a bed of al dente pasta, it looks like it came from a restaurant kitchen, and it tastes like fresh air after all the decadence we’ve plated in this house over the past six weeks.
Scampi is a simple dish to make, and the main thing to embrace is patience. You will cook the garlic slowly in olive oil over low heat, which allows it to essentially poach rather than sauté. This low and slow approach leads to the soft, mellow garlic flavor that is distinctive in scampi. And yes, it is a fair amount of oil, but remember that extra virgin olive oil is monounsaturated—what nutritionists call “good fat.” The meal will satisfy, and there are health benefits to boot. Sounds good to me!
If you don’t care for asparagus, sub in another crisp green vegetable, maybe some sugar snap peas or fresh broccolini. Or skip the sauteed veggie and serve the scampi alongside a salad. After the holidays, you deserve whatever fresh flavors suit your craving. Make it your own.
Serves: 2 Time to make it: About 35 minutes
2/3 pound fresh or frozen (uncooked) shrimp, 16-20 count* (see notes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced in crescent moon shapes
1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
A few shakes crushed red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy
The “count” on shrimp refers to its size, and represents the average number of shrimp per pound. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. I have no problem with using frozen shrimp, especially because supermarkets often receive the shrimp frozen anyway. For many reasons, including food safety, fair trade and human rights, I always purchase shrimp harvested in the U.S., and my preference is white gulf shrimp. It’s sweet and juicy, whereas some other types of shrimp can be sharp and briny. Check with your seafood department for flavor recommendations, and whatever you purchase, be sure to thoroughly clean and de-vein it (instructions for this at the end of the post).
Place a large, non-stick skillet over low heat. Add olive oil and garlic (plus the red pepper, if using) and leave it alone. When the oil heats very slowly, the garlic gets softer and more mellow, which leads to the flavor we all know in scampi. Rush this step and the garlic will burn, which is definitely not delicious. Expect this low, slow cooking to take about 20 minutes.
Thaw the shrimp (if frozen), and then peel and de-vein each one. If you have never done this before, it’s easy but extremely important, and I’ve provided some images at the end of the post to walk you through it. Removing the peel is pretty simple. Next, use a sharp paring knife to make a shallow cut down the outside curved part of the shrimp, revealing a dark stringy thing. I hate to tell you, but this isn’t actually a vein—it’s a digestive tract. Disgusting, but important to know. Slip the sharp tip of the knife underneath this nasty thing and pull it out. Lay the cleaned shrimp on layers of paper towel and set aside for now. If working ahead, cover and refrigerate.
Bring a large pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta. Season it generously with kosher salt and (once boiling) add the pasta, stirring to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente, according to directions on the pasta box. While this is underway, continue with the recipe below.
After the garlic has poached about 20 minutes, turn the skillet heat up to medium. When oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the onions and asparagus and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the asparagus is slightly softened but still bright green.
Move the veggies to the outer edges of the skillet and arrange the cleaned shrimp in the center. Cook only long enough for the bottom of the shrimp to become pink and opaque.
Turn the shrimp, season the whole skillet with salt and pepper, and add in the lemon zest. Squeeze the lemon half over the mixture and continue to cook until the second side of the shrimp is cooked. Move all the skillet ingredients to the outer edges.
Using tongs, move the cooked pasta directly to the center of the skillet and swirl it around to coat it with the flavors of the skillet.
Arrange the pasta on serving plates or bowls, hit it with a little parm-romano blend, if you’d like, and top with veggies and shrimp.
For goodness sake, do not skip this important step. As noted above, the “vein” in the outer curve of shrimp is actually a digestive tract, and the gunk inside is what’s left of the critter’s most recent meal (yuck). Food safety experts haven’t expressed serious concerns about eating it, but if it grosses you out (as it does me), grab a sharp paring knife and get that thing outta there!
Thanksgiving leftovers are a little bit like family—you can wait ‘til they arrive, and you sure are glad to see them go. So far, we’ve enjoyed full leftover plates, grilled cheese sandwiches made with leftover turkey and other accoutrements, and of course the comforting leftover turkey gumbo that I shared yesterday.
On the fresher side of things, how about a fall harvest-themed salad option that makes the most of leftovers in a bright new way? There are plenty of autumn ingredients in here, but lots of fresh and healthful things to soften the reality that you’re still eating leftover turkey.
For me, a salad must hold a variety of interesting flavors and textures, so this one has shaved fennel for a little crunch, dried cranberries for a little chew, roasted bites of butternut squash for soft sweetness, thin slices of gala apple for a little snap and an easy citrus-maple vinaigrette for a whole lot of mouthwatering goodness in every bite. The prep is minimal and the salad is pretty.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I made this salad more than a month ago, with a roasted turkey breast that we purchased at Costco for sandwiches and salads. It was filling but light, and it gave my taste buds a bit of that autumn pizzazz I was craving so much. But I know this salad would be just as good today with leftover roasted or smoked turkey breast, or if you downsized Thanksgiving this year for safety reasons and didn’t do a turkey, you could easily swap in cubes of deli roasted chicken. Heck, leave out meat altogether and make it vegan. As always, I hope you find inspiration and flavor in my recipe. Enjoy!
2 cups butternut squash cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 fat handful fresh washed kale leaves, rough chopped and thick stems removed
1 fat handful baby spinach leaves
4 romaine heart leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup chopped leftover turkey (or deli chicken)
1/2 fresh gala apple, washed and sliced thin
1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
Citrus-maple vinaigrette (recipe below)
Challah or brioche croutons (instructions below)
Citrus-maple vinaigrette w/sunflower oil and thyme
2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar* (see notes)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup*
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. toasted sunflower oil
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
The orange muscat champagne vinegar is a product from Trader Joe’s. If you cannot find it, I’d recommend substituting half apple cider vinegar and half freshly squeezed orange juice.
If you need to swap the maple syrup, I’d recommend half as much honey or a teaspoon of regular sugar.
Most of this recipe needs no instruction; I don’t need to tell you how to slice an apple or sprinkle on dried cranberries. But here’s a bit of info you may find helpful for the prep of the other ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Toss squash cubes with a tablespoon of olive oil, and arrange the cubes on the cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, or until fork tender and lightly caramelized. Cool completely.
In a large, deep bowl, drizzle a tablespoon olive oil over the chopped kale leaves. Using your hands, reach into the bowl and “scrunch” the kale throughout the bowl. As you massage the greens, they will soften up and wilt in volume. Give it a light sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper and then let it rest while you prep the other salad ingredients.
Make the dressing: combine vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Gradually stream in sunflower oil and olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing ingredients. Alternatively, you could combine all dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake the daylights out of it. Whatever works for you.
Massage the kale once more, then add the spinach and torn romaine leaves and toss to combine.
Drizzle about half of the citrus-thyme vinaigrette over the greens and toss again. Transfer the greens to a platter or individual serving plates.
Add the cubed turkey to the salad. Scatter the pieces of onion, apple and fennel evenly over the greens. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds and drizzle the remaining dressing over the entire platter.
Serve with croutons, if desired.
Cut up stale challah or brioche into large cubes or torn pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and arrange the bread pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure they dry uniformly. When they are crisp but still slightly soft, remove from the oven and cool completely. For this salad, I pulled leftover sourdough pumpkin challah from the freezer. The cubes roasted up nearly the same color as the butternut squash! 🙂