Vegan Minestrone & Crostini with Roasted Garlic White Bean Dip

The title sounds all crazy and challenging, but really…it was just dinner.  A dinner that involved a little chopping and a little blending, but no big deal.  In the end we had a beautiful, healthy, filling, home cooked vegan dinner and that feels good.

The minestrone is based on a recipe I found here.   I changed it up a little, but not much.  Here’s the scoop on the soup:

Minestrone Soup Serves 4

Olive Oil

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can stewed tomatoes  (15 oz)

6 baby carrots, diced

6 c. vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp celery salt

1 c. small shell macaroni

2 c. kale, chopped

Salt to taste

1/2 c. frozen peas

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

2 T. fresh rosemary, chopped

1/4 c. red wine

1 T. balsamic vinegar

Black Pepper

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot that has a lid.  Heat oil and add onions.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  In the last minute of cooking, add the garlic.

Add the tomatoes to the onions and garlic and simmer for another 4-5 minutes.  Add the carrot and the broth and bring to a boil.  Add the bay leaves, and celery salt cook until the carrots begin to soften.  Add the wine and the kale.  Then add pasta and garbanzo beans and stir often.

Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Simmer, uncovered, until the pasta is cooked.  Add the peas and the balsamic vinegar.  Stirl.  Turn off heat, add fresh herbs.  Stir again.  Ladle in to bowls.  If you aren’t concerned about the vegan status of the dish, some fresh parmesan grated on top is delicious, too, but completely unnecessary.

Here’s mine, simmering away and smelling scrumptious…

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In the meantime, I was also working on the toasted bread with white bean spread.  Grab a baguette from a local bakery, and slice it up.  Put it on a baking sheet, rub or brush a little olive oil on to it, and pop it in the oven at around 425 until it begins to get lightly browned on the edges.  Take it out and top it with some dollops of this yumminess that I found here.  I love her stuff, by the way….

Roasted Garlic White Bean Dip (from Kitchy Kitchen)

2 cups cannelini beans (canned or cooked)
1/2 cup reserved liquid (from cooking or the can)
1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
1 head, roasted garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
To roast garlic, cut the top off of the head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Wrap in aluminum foil and roast in a 425 F oven for 45 minutes, or until tender and golden brown.
In a food processor or blender (I used my regular old blender), combine the beans, rosemary, roasted garlic, and balsamic until pureed.  To make the texture looser, add a little liquid a little at a time until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

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And so, dinner was complete.  Packed with the superfoods of kale and garlic, I’m sure this dinner could cure anything.  Maybe.  Since I have a decent cold right now, I’ll keep ya posted on that….

Banana Nut Muffins with Chocolate Chips

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I prefer not to use baking recipes that use oil, but this recipe is an exception (and so says everyone who has had this particular recipe!). This cookbook, The Muffin Lady: Muffins, Cupcakes, and Quickbreads for the Happy Soul, is a breakfast baking staple in our household and I highly recommend it. Makes for a great gift for anyone you know who loves baking!

2-3 ripe bananas
1 cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mace
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts
chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the bananas in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pureed or mashed. Add the oil and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Sift the remaining dry ingredients and gradually add. Add the vanilla. Fold in the nuts. Bake in a parchment paper-lined 12 unit muffin pan for 30-34 minutes

Optional: Sprinkle a few chocolate chips on top of each muffin before baking.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

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There are no Chinese places around our small town.  None.  I’ve seen a few buffet type places, but mama doesn’t do buffets, so I’ve been living sans Chinese food for close to two years.  That’s not right.  I make stir fry now and then but I decided to try a more authentic type of Chinese food.  This was really easy, not too sweet, light and fresh.  I subbed broccoli for yellow peppers.  You could certainly add more of your favorite veggies.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound of boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1″ chunks (I used both)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks (reserve juice)
  • 1/4 cup juice from the canned pineapple
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks (I used broccoli)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Directions:

1. In a bowl, combine the chicken with the egg white, salt and cornstarch. Stir to coat the chicken evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2. In the meantime, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar.

3. Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat until a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates. Pour in the 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl to coat. It’s important that the pan is very hot. Add the chicken and spread the chicken out in one layer. Let the chicken fry, untouched for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned. Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken should still be pinkish in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.

4. Turn the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of cooking oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the bell pepper chunks and ginger. Fry for 1 minute. Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Turn the heat to high and when the sauce is simmering, add the chicken pieces back in. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Timing depends on how thick you’ve cut your chicken. The best way to tell if the chicken is done is to take a piece out and cut into it. If it’s pink, add another minute to the cooking.

recipe found here.

Meatball Parmigiana Sliders

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Remember when I said that I rarely cook/eat Italian food?  Well would you believe that I’ve never made a freaking meatball?  For real.

I found this recipe on Pinterest and it looked simple and delicious.  I had some friends coming over for a casual dinner so it seemed like a good time to test it out. The friends are pretty honest with me and I know they would have told me if it sucked.  It didn’t.  I enjoyed it a lot and it happens to be on the dinner menu for tonight.

Recipe can be found here.  I did make a few changes which I included in my recipe.  I used 2% milk rather than whole milk and I omitted the veal.  I’m sure veal would be delicious but I know it would’ve totally changed the flavor and I liked it without.  Pardon the horrible photo.

Ingredients

  • For The Meatballs

    • 2 slices white or sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
    • 1/2 2% milk
    • 8 ounces ground beef (85 percent lean)
    • 8 ounces ground pork
    • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
    • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 large egg
    • Coarse salt
    • Marinara Sauce (I used a jar of Trader Joe’s Marinara Sauce)
  • For The Sandwiches

    • 2 dozen rolls, split
    • 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese (5 ounces)
    • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)
    • Small basil leaves

Directions

  1. Make the meatballs: Soak bread in milk for 5 minutes. Gently mix bread and milk with meats, pecorino Romano, parsley, garlic, egg, and 1 teaspoon salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Roll mixture into twenty-four 1-ounce balls (each about the size of a golf ball).
  3. Heat sauce in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Drop meatballs into sauce, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, partially covered, until meatballs are cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Make the sandwiches: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Working in batches, arrange rolls, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Place 1 meatball, a spoonful of sauce, 1 tablespoon mozzarella, and 1 teaspoon pecorino Romano on bottom halves. Bake until cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Sandwich with basil.

Pepper Lunch Nom Noms

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When living in Asia, I LOVE eating at Pepper Lunch, a Japanese chain restaurant whose most popular dish is a hot skillet plate with a mound of rice and corn in the middle and very thinly cut shabu-shabu beef sizzling around it, topped with lots of pepper and a runny egg if desired (click here for a picture). While we are lucky enough to have one here in the South Bay, it’s just barely far enough away that I don’t feel like driving there (plus it’s kinda divey here… no idea why, it’s not like that overseas). Thankfully, my area is chock full of Japanese markets where finding shabu-shabu is a snap, so I make my own version. It’s very quick and way more flavorful than my above description. As testament to that, know that when I make Pepper Lunch for dinner, there is no talking at the dinner table. Just the sound of Nevan going “MMMMMmmm” after every bite.

After some researching other homemade versions of the famous Pepper Lunch skillet plate, I tossed together my own recipe. Many Pepper Lunch lovers are sticklers for the sauces they make there, but personally I just prefer it with soy sauce. If you’re interested in reproducing their famous sauces, this page looks promising.

My home variation obviously takes into account my preferences. Per person, you will need:

1/2 cup cooked white Japanese rice
A pat of butter
soy sauce
Several tbsp of chopped green onions
A good amount of chopped cilantro (not in original recipe)
Approximately 1/4 cup frozen corn or boiled and cut off the cob
1 clove of garlic, sliced or chopped (not in original recipe)
1 egg
Oil
However much shabu-shabu sliced kobe/wagyu/angus beef you’d like
Lots of salt and pepper
Some Thai roasted chili paste (or whatever favorite chili sauce you have)

Cook the rice. Make a little mound and put your pat of butter on top to melt. In a hot pan, heat up a little oil and throw your corn and garlic in until hot and cooked through. Place on top of the rice. Fry your egg and place on top of the corn. Season your beef with plenty of salt and pepper and quickly cook through, being careful not to overcook. Place that on or around your rice/corn (I usually throw it all on a cutting board and roughly chop it up just to make it easier to eat). Top with green onions and cilantro and lots more ground pepper, and splash a little soy sauce on there if desired. Put a spoonful of chili paste on the side and chow the hell down.

Crock Pot Chicken and Beer

Yep, you read that right. I cooked some chicken in beer today. And my house smelled so very delicious. 

I started with 6 bone-in chicken thighs. I doctored them up with salt and pepper, oregano, and thyme. Go with whatever spices work for you. 

Heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a frying pan (again, I use ceramic) over med-high heat until it’s rippling. Add about 1/2-1 tsp minced garlic (to taste), and stir for 1 minute. Add all 6 pieces of chicken. Sear each side for 5 minutes, and then transfer chicken to your crock pot. 

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Next dump a bottle of beer over the chicken. I chose a local brew made right here in Stratford, CT. It’s Two Roads Worker’s Comp Saison. It really brought out the savoriness of the chicken and herbs I used.

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Set the crock pot on low and cook for 6 hours. Add some thawed carrots (I had a bag of frozen baby carrots in the freezer that I ran water over to thaw) about 30 minutes before the 6 hours are up.

Holy God was this good. And easy. I’m going to make this like every week. I paired it with Jasmine rice (a staple in our house), and it was scrumptious. 

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Soy and Apple Cider Honey Mustard Pork Loin

I scored a 6 lb pork loin for under $6 right before Christmas. Our local grocery store runs the sale a couple of times a year, and there was no way I was passing it up. When I got home, I sliced it up into 6-1lb portions, froze 5 of them, and cooked the 6th for dinner that night.

Last week, I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest, so I took a pork loin out of the freezer, mixed up the marinade in a ziploc bag, added the frozen loin, and let it defrost and soak up the flavors over the next two days. My marinade was as follows:

 

2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (Kikkoman)

2 tbsp apple cider honey mustard (got it at a farmer’s market in Mass. Shaker Kitchen is the name of the husband and wife team who makes it, highly recommended. You can order any of their delicious products at shakerkitchen.com)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

fresh cracked pepper to taste

 

Once you’re ready to prepare the pork loin, preheat the oven to 400*F. Add 1 tbsp EVOO to a frying pan (I love my ceramic stuff) over medium heat. Once you see it start to ripple, add the pork loin (make sure to shake off the excess marinade first). Sear for 5 minutes, then turn and sear another 5 minutes on the other side. Turn off heat when done.

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Once that’s complete, transfer the pork loin to a baking sheet lined with foil and pop in the oven for 30 minutes.

While that’s baking, prepare to make your reduction sauce (my first reduction sauce ever!). Add 1 tbsp butter to the still hot pan. Do not turn the heat back on yet. Let it melt. Then add about a 1/4 cup of the marinade and about a 1/2 cup of water (the original recipe calls for 1 cup veggie stock, but water works just fine). I’ve looked it up and yes, you can reuse marinade that was on raw meat provided you boil it for at least 15 minutes. Otherwise, you can just prepare a new one. It’s up to you. Turn the heat to med/med-high, and get the mixture bubbling. Stir it occasionally, getting all the delicious little bits off the bottom of the pan. I reduced for about 22 minutes before I deemed it thick and safe enough to eat.

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By the time the sauce is done, the loin is ready to come out of the oven. Take it out, but let it rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting. Then slice the meat thinly and serve.

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I paired it with some Jasmine rice and broccoli covered with hummus (another pinterest find. It was only meh. Kind of bland. Maybe it needed more salt or heat or something. I’ll have to keep experimenting). The meal was fantastic. I got rave reviews from the Mr. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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Blackberry and Apple Pie

Welcome to the ugliest pie I’ve ever, ever made. I am the kind of person who likes to cut out little flowers and leaves for decorating and painstakingly crimp the edges of my pies. It’s so hideous I contemplated NOT posting a photo of it. Have I ever made a pie that looked like this? The answer would be no. Not even when I took Home Ec in HS. Please read my notes before attempting this pie crust (which by the way was delicious and worth it).

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From Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. Almost every single time I attempt a recipe out of this, even with being a seasoned baker, I have some sort of issue.

For the pastry:
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced
4 tbsp vegetable shortening, teaspooned out
1 1/3 cups self-rising cake flour
scant 1/4 cup fine cornmeal
2-4 tbsp salted ice water or enough to bind
squeeze of lemon juice as needed

For the filling:
About 1 1/2 lbs Golden Delicious Apples or other cooking apples
1/4 cup unsalted butter
7 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rosewater (my note: slightly less than 1 tbsp vanilla can be substituted if absolutely necessary)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 scant tbsp cornstarch (I needed like 6 tbsp – perhaps my apples were just very juicy)
12 oz blackberries

For the glaze:
1-2 tbsp milk
1-2 tbsp sugar

You will also need an 8 inch shallow pie plate. See notes regarding this.

Put flour and cornmeal in a bowl, add the cold, diced butter and shortening, and stir gently to coat. Put in the freezer for about 10 minutes. As you do so, put your water in a cup with a pinch of salt and transfer to the fridge. Either in a processor or free-standing mixer with a flat paddle attachment, blend your fats and flour until you have a mixture that resembles sandy porridge. Then, gradually process or paddle in the liquid until the pastry is almost coming together (my note: if it comes together too much, it will be too sticky. Add a little flour). Use your hands to form two discs, one slightly larger than the other, then wrap in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before rolling.

Preheat your oven to 375F, Remembering to put a baking sheet in at the same time. Peel, core, and slice apples. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the sugar, rosewater, and cinnamon, then cook the apples in the pan for about 3 minutes remove them to a dish with a spatula or tongs. Pour the caramelly juices into a cup and whisk in the cornstarch to form a paste (note: it doesn’t quite form a “paste” like I would consider a paste – think more like the consistency of Elmer’s glue… which is… a paste. lol).

Line the bottom and sides of the pie dish with the bigger disc of pastry, and put the apples and blackberries into the pie. Pour over the cornstarch-butter mixture and mix carefully if there wasn’t much. Roll out the smaller disc of pastry, dampen the edges of the pie with water, and put the pie lid on top. Crimp the edges, either by hand or using a form, to seal. Decorate as desired with any scraps.

Glaze with milk and cook for 30 minutes, by which time the still slightly knobbly top should be golden. Sprinkle with sugar when it comes out of the oven, and leave for about 15 minutes before cutting it.

Serves 6.

Notes:

First – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen self-rising cake flour. Just self-rising flour or cake flour. Cake flour doesn’t have any additives like self-rising flour, so I looked up how to convert flour into self-rising. The general consensus was around 1 cup of flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt, so with this recipe calling for 1 1/3 c cake flour, I thought I’ll stick with the amounts in that equation and not increase to compensate for the extra 1/3 cup. The baking powder was fine, but it was too much salt. Next time, I’d go with 1/4 tsp.

Second – I didn’t have fine cornmeal, but I did have regular cornmeal, so again being the genius I am, I thought I would simply use my pestle and mortar to grind it as fine as I could. Guess what? That’s practically impossible. I did manage to get it the texture down finer, but not by much. This made the crust a little bit crunchy, which was not desirable. Take the time to find finely ground cornmeal!

Third – 8″ pie dishes are not common in the US. Most standard pie dishes are 9-9.5″ here. I ended up having to double the pie crust recipe, which I didn’t fully realize until it was too late (I did suspect) and had to make another batch in a mad, panicked dash around the kitchen, which resulted in me not being able to dedicate another 20 minutes for refrigerating. This meant my top crust has way too soft to properly roll out. This is why it came out so ugly! Either because of the larger pie size or perhaps my oven wasn’t the right temperature, but I ended up having to bake this thing an extra 30 minutes, which was crazy. Remember to use more apples if using a larger pie dish.

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Me attempting to grind cornmeal… yeah right.

Macaroni & Cheese

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Caution: macaroni and cheese is not that appealing close up and under bright lighting.

If there is something every human should master, it’s a handmade macaroni and cheese. My general rules for a great mac are that it must:

– use a bechamel sauce base,
– have goat cheese for a little tanginess,
– have more than one kind of cheese,
– must have something of the onion family in it.

Now don’t get me wrong – I still buy Annie’s boxed mac ‘n cheese from time to time for Nevan – but if you’re going to make it from scratch, you may as well take your time and go for gold.

My method is a bit of combination of two of Martha Stewart’s mac ‘n cheese recipes from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, but mostly it’s the “Macaroni and Four Cheeses” recipe. Here is my little version with proportions halved from her recipes. Serves 5-6 people.

4.5 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing casserole dish
2.5 cups milk
1/4 plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups grated extra sharp or sharp cheddar
1/2 cup Gruyere, Parmesan, or Pecorino Romano cheese
10 scallions, white and pale green parts thinly sliced OR 1 leek, white part minced
5 oz goat cheese
1/2 -3/4 lb your favorite mac ‘n cheese pasta
1 cup panko (optionally, you can make your own buttered breadcrumbs)

Optional:
1/2 cup blanched broccoli, run under cold water and chopped
1/4 cup diced turkey ham or bacon, chopped

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish and set aside.

If you are using leeks instead of scallions, cook lightly in a little butter until soft and set aside. If using scallions, they do not need to be cooked.

Warm your milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, or until mixture is thick and smooth. Whisking constantly, gradually add the warm milk, allowing a portion to absorb before adding more. Cook over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, whisking occasionally.Remove the white sauce from heat, add salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg.

While you are making the white sauce, boil your pasta half way in salted water, then rinse under cold water.

Gently stir in half of the cheeses into the white sauce. Fold in your scallions/leeks and optional broccoli and meat. Stir in the boiled pasta, then turn out into your prepared casserole dish. Crumble the remaining goat cheese over the top, sprinkle remaining grated cheeses, and cover with panko.

Bake for 30 minutes and serve hot.

Crockpot Venison Chili

I think I originally found this recipe on the weight watchers site a few years ago. It’s a simple turkey chili recipe that’s cooked on the stove top. I found that it’s very versatile, in that you can use ground turkey, ground beef, and… ground venison. AND I’ve recently discovered it’s even easier to make in a crockpot. 

Ingredients:

1-2 tsp minced garlic (fresh or jarred)

1/2 a yellow onion, finely chopped

1-28oz can of crushed tomatoes (Tuttorosso in the green can is my personal choice)

2-3 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

a sprinkle of ground red pepper (we only like a little heat, but have at it if you like more)

salt and pepper

1 lb ground venison

1-15oz can of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Set crockpot to low. Add garlic, onion, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, ground red pepper, and salt and pepper. Stir until all spices are incorporated. Add ground venison (this can be added completely frozen or thawed). Make sure the venison is covered with the sauce. Set the timer for 2.5 hours, and let the crockpot do it’s thing. After 2.5 hours, use a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the venison; it should crumble easily. Next, add the kidney beans, stir, and set the timer for 1 more hour. Once the hour is up, stir again and spoon into serving bowls. We usually have our chili with some kind of bread product (tonight, Harry had biscuits and I had rye), spooning a little chili directly onto the bread and taking a bite.

Note: this chili tastes even better the next day. Just pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes and enjoy! 

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