Saturday, December 22, 2012

Acorn Squash Halves

I like acorn squash because it comes ready to eat in its own little "bowl".  It makes for an interesting presentation on your dinner table. You can make one squash half per person (which is what I do because I looooooooove me some acorn squash) or you can cut the roasted halves in half when serving so that one whole squash will serve four people. The choice is yours.

  • 1 acorn squash
  • grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp clarified butter, divided (or you could substitute additional coconut/grapeseed oil if you don't do dairy)
  • 2 tsp agave nectar honey, divided
  • palm sugar
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Slice the acorn squash in half, lengthwise, from stem to end. Use a sturdy spoon to scoop out the seeds and innards. Take a sharp knife and score the inside several times.
  3. Brush the exposed squash meat with grapeseed or coconut oil to prevent burning. Fill each inner cavity with 1/2 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp agave honey, and 2 generous pinches of palm sugar. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, to taste. (You could even spice it up a bit more by sprinkling some cinnamon, ground cloves, or nutmeg as well.)
  4. Place squash cut-side-up in a baking dish filled with 1/2" water. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour - 1 hour 20 min. The squash should be very soft, the top browned. Halfway through baking, spoon the sweet buttery sauce over the squash meat to distribute the flavors.
  5. Serve one half for each person, or cut the halves in half, taking care to split the buttery sauce between each half.

I like to use my large serrated knife to cut squash.

Scoop out the innards, just like you would for a pumpkin.

Don't forget to score your halves with a knife before filling!
(I always forget and wind up having to cut through butter and
sticky honey right before baking.)

And yup, forgot to score the squash. Gotta do it now.
Don't judge me.

Very important to fill your baking dish with water
so the squash stays moist and doesn't burn.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chicken and Bits Soup

Sorry it's been a while since I posted. Things got pretty busy around here after the storm. I also lost the memory card to my camera which had hundreds of food pictures on it, so I have to re-make those recipes in order to get the photos. Boooooo.
As we get deeper into winter, I find myself gravitating more towards some nice warm soups. I re-worked my classic chicken soup recipe into what you see here. This soup is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. It has pretty much the same ingredients, but the main difference is the texture.
Whereas the classic chicken soup has large chunks of veggies giving it a rustico feel, all the veggies in this version are finely diced. (Hence the name - Chicken and Bits!) When I took that knife skills class a few months ago, the chef instructor talked a bit about texture and how it can affect the overall experience of food. So one night while making chicken soup, I got carried away with the knife and wound up dicing everything up tiny. By merely changing the texture of the soup, I experienced this recipe a whole new way. (Needless to say all that dicing took a while, so the second time around I used the food processor to cut down on some of the prep.)
  • 8 - 10 cups chicken stock
  • 6 - 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 sundried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 4 carrots, minced
  • 4 sticks celery, minced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • a few large handfulls of spinach, minced 
  1.  In a large stockpot, combine chicken stock, chicken thighs, diced onion, and diced sundried tomato. Season the soup generously with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the onions are translucent and the chicken is cooked through. 
  2. Prepare the carrots and celery by pulsing in the food processor until minced. You can also put the spinach in the food processor, or mince it manually with a knife, but keep it separate as you won't add the spinach until the end.
  3. Add in the carrots, celery, thyme and rosemary (NOT THE SPINACH). Let simmer until the veggies are soft. At this point, the soup will look pretty liquidy and devoid of "stuff". You may panic and want to add more vegetables, but fear not. Once you get to the end it will be thick and hearty, I promise!
  4. Remove the chicken thighs to a plate and shred with a knife and fork. Return the shredded chicken to the pot and add in the minced spinach. Let cook another minute or so until the spinach is wilted.
Tips for Variations:
  1. If you do dairy, sprinkle a little grated parmesan cheese in the soup when serving.
  2. Introduce other veggies like zucchini (diced up, of course), or switch out the spinach with escarole.
  3. Stir in a little cauliflower rice for even more hearty texture.

I used my knife skillz to dice the onion,
but this can go in the food processor, too.

Food processor... such a time saver!

Looking a little thin at this point, but it will be awesome.

The chicken should be tender enough to pull apart with
a fork and butter knife - or even your hands.

Still looks kind of thin without the spinach in there...

Then... BOOM!
Once the spinach goes in, the soup immediately thickens up.

mmmm... bits

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sausage and Peppers

Making your own sausage meat is actually really easy. Putting it in a casing may require some special equipment, but who says sausage always has to be in a casing? I checked the ingredients on a package of sausages in the meat department of my local grocery store and guess what was on there, in addition to a host of nitrates? CORN SYRUP! Ick! Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!????

Now, there are some organic brands you could buy which don't contain any of those yucky additives, but they're usually more expensive, and unfortunately my grocery store doesn't carry them. Buy why bother when you can make your own with some ground pork and a few spices?!?!

You may remember my recipe test of Melissa Joulwan's Italian Sausage Eggplant Strata last year. I like making her Italian Sausage Seasoning Mix and keeping it on hand for times such as these. It turns plain ground pork into sausage in a snap!

This spice mix is more than you will need for the sausage and peppers recipe so save the extra in a small airtight container or empty spice bottle.

Italian Sausage Seasoning Mix
  • 4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seed (optional) - you should use this if you have it, though, it really gives the meat that sausagey taste
In a medium bowl, crush the dried parsley and Italian herbs with your fingers or a fork to release their flavor. Add the black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, salt, red pepper flakes, and fennel seed. Mix with a fork.

Sausage and Peppers
  • 2 lb ground pork
  • 3 Tbsp Italian Sausage Seasoning Mix
  • 4 bell peppers (mix of sweet red/yellow/orange and green), cut into chunks
  • 2 medium onions, cut into 1" pieces
  • Sea Salt
  1. With your hands, mix the Italian Sausage Seasoning into the ground pork, then crumble the pork into a large saute pan and brown the meat on the stove over medium-high heat. Remove the meat to a plate or bowl with a slotted spoon (leave the juices in the pan).
  2. Over medium-high heat, saute the peppers and onions in the same pan using the fats from the ground pork as your "oil". Season generously with salt.
  3. When the onions and peppers are tender, add the meat back to the pan and mix well. Cook another minute or so until well-combined.

mmmm... spices

amazing that a few spoons of this will turn ground pork into sausage

This is the leftover...

Boom. Sausage.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Flooding down my brother's block

Downed trees that tore up my father's back yard and crashed into the neighbor's house
National Guard lending aid on Long Island

Whoa boy. Hurricane Sandy rolled through here and left quite a mess. We were very lucky compared to others. We lost our power since Monday, but had no other damage or flooding. No one we know was injured, thank goodness, though several had flood damage or completely lost their homes. We've been doing what we can to help others and donate whatever we have to collection sites. Somehow, it doesn't seem like enough.

I was bummed to have to chuck everything in my fridge and freezer after the first few days of no power. Such a waste. I know it sounds silly, but for every bit of chicken I threw away, I felt like the poor animal died for nothing. :( Last night was the first night we had power back and I was verrrrry happy to cook a nice healthy meal in our kitchen. (Note: If you are having a bad day, Italian Sausage Eggplant Strata really soothes the soul.) Since our power returned, we also fed and housed my parents who can't currently stay in their home. We feel truly blessed to have literally weathered the storm so well.

While we count our blessings, anything anyone can do to help is greatly appreciated. It's getting cold here in the tri-state area and those with damaged homes or ruined homes will find their situation go from bad to worse. Here are some things we are doing to pay our good luck forward. We thank anyone who has the means and the motivation to contribute as well.

Donate Blood:
Never a pleasant experience for me, but I try to do this at least once a year. Hundreds of scheduled blood drives had to be cancelled due to the storm, so my husband and I are going out to give a pint to help make up some of the loss.
Find a Blood Drive

Give a Monetary Donation to a Legitimate Charitable Organization:
There are several organizations providing food, clothing, and shelter to those in need. Many are not accepting donations of actual goods and request instead monetary aid. NBC has put together a fairly comprehensive list of such organizations which have been checked out and vetted for legitimacy.
Give Money

Donate Food, Clothing, and Toiletries:
We scoured our pantries, closets and bathroom cabinets and gave what we could to a collection started by our CrossFit gym. There are dozens of local organizations (churches, firehouses, etc) willing to accept these items and distribute to those in need so check your local community pages to find such sites.

Help Your Neighbor:
We've spent several hours helping our families move furniture, mop up seawater, rip up carpet, move debris... There are plenty of others who need help, so if you are in the storm area, extend the hand of friendship to those around you. Sometimes, just a friendly face and an extra set of hands can go a really long way.
This Facebook Page is matching up volunteers with Long Beach residents needing help with cleanup - "like" it to get involved! We desperately want to go down there to lend a hand, but the gas situation is pretty dire and we don't have enough to travel back and forth, unfortunately.
Sandy Help LB

Our hearts go out to those devastated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. If you haven't taken a moment to really appreciate all of life's blessings and little conveniences, this storm will certainly help put things into perspective for you. Best of luck to everyone still recovering.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Recipe Test - Comfort Noodles (with Shrimp)

My good friend pointed me to this recipe on Melissa Joulwan's recipe blog She also recommended we add in some shrimp which is exactly what we did. This recipe is perfection, and suprisingly, the best part of it wound up being the scrambled eggs. Weird, I know. So the only change we made was to add in shrimp and scallions, and double to triple the whole thing to feed both of us for dinner with leftovers (as Melissa just whipped this up quick for herself only).

There's really no need to say any more. Just make it. It's awesome.

  • 4 - 6 zucchini, julienned (we used summer squash as the yellow makes your brain think it looks like real pasta)
  • generous 3/4 - 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon almond flour or almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 2-3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bunch scallions (sliced thin, white and light green parts only)
  • 6 eggs, scrambled
  • a handful of fresh parsley, minced for garnish (optional - I left it out because I didn't have any on hand)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound raw shimp, peeled and de-veined
  1. Place the julienned zucchini in a colander or wire strainer and toss with the salt until coated. Allow to sit for 20 minutes to drain excess water, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels. (Melissa advises you do this step to improve the overall quality of your zucchini noodles. Those of you that make zucchini noodles know how watery they can get if you don't sweat them with salt like this first.)
  2. While the zucchini is sweating in the colander, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Mix the almond flour with the coconut oil, sprinkle it with a smidgen of salt, then sauté in the pan, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until it’s toasty brown, about 1 minute. Remove from pan and save for garnish.
  3. Add the shrimp to the pan with a bit of olive oil and saute until just done when they begin to turn opaque. Remove shrimp to a bowl off to the side and drain the liquid out of the pan.
  4. Return the pan to the heat and add the scallions and zucchini noodles. Sauté until just tender, about 1-2 minutes. Push the noodles to the side of the pan, and reduce heat to medium-low. Wait a minute; it’s essential that the pan cools down before adding the eggs. Add the olive oil and garlic. When the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds, pour in the eggs and allow them to cook until just beginning to set a tiny bit. Mix the zucchini noodles into the egg and continue to stir gently and continuously until the egg is set and clinging to the noodles. Add the shrimp back to the pan and mix well. Taste, then add salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Serve noodles in a deep bowl and sprinkle with the almond flour crumbs and minced parsley.

Sweat that zucchini, baby!
Ick... zucchini water
Mmmm... almond breadcrumbs!



This part got a little weird for me, but I swear,
the eggs are the best part of the whole dish.

The idea is to scramble the eggs into the noodles and
give everything a good, eggy coating.

Monday, October 22, 2012


This weekend, my husband and I drove upstate to the apple orchards to pick our own apples. It was a beautiful fall day and we certainly got a workout carting around all those bags. Apple farmers in New York state didn't fare well this year, but we were luckily able to find almost every variety of apple we were looking for. I had in mind I wanted to get apples to make homemade applesauce, try my hand at an apple pie or apple crisp, and a get few extra ones for snacking during the week. For that reason, we picked a variety of tart and sweet apples. Empire, Rome, Cortlandt, Macintosh, Red Delicious, and Fujis overflowed from our bags and came together to make a very delicious applesauce this morning.

Think making applesauce from scratch is hard? Think again! If you get the right mix of apples, you don't need to add any additional sweetener. Just pure, delicious apples fresh from the orchard.

  • Apples (try at least 2 - 3 different kinds - more if you got 'em!)
  • lemon juice (optional)
  1. Wash the apples and core, if needed. (I cut around the core with a knife, but you can use a corer tool. No need to core if you are going to use a food mill, though.)
  2. Slice all the apples. (If your apples will be sitting out, try squirting a bit of lemon juice on them and mix around to prevent them from browning.)
  3. Heat about an inch or so of water in a large stock pot.
  4. Add the apples and bring to a simmer; simmer until the apples are soft.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to add the apples to a food mill*** (or the grinder/strainer attachment on a stand mixer); use the mill to puree the apples and leave the skins and seeds behind. Discard the skins and seeds.
  6. Store applesauce in the refrigerator in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks. (Feel free to serve with some ground cinnamon; you could also add some nutmeg and a few ground cloves!)
***What do you do if you don't have a food mill? You could peel all your apples by hand, and after softening them in the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon to puree in a blender or food processor.

I used about a peck and a half to make this applesauce
(the rest I saved for some baked goodies!)

I core my apples by slicing the sides off around it.

As I slice my apples and toss them in the pot,
I squirt a bit of lemon juice in there and mix it
around to prevent the apples from browning.
It shouldn't affect the taste of your applesauce.

Your apples should be mushy enough to mash
when pressed down with a spoon.

I used the fine grinding blade on my food mill.

The rich delicious applesauce comes out the bottom
while the skins are left behind in the mill.

Our applesauce wound up having a pink tint
because some of our Rome apples had these cute
little red veins running through the flesh of the apple.

My peck and a half of apples made about 5 quarts and 1 pint of applesauce.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Garlic Trick

My husband and I attended a knife skills class a few weeks ago at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. I'd been wanting to take a class like this for a long time now so that I could learn how to properly prep food items, what knives to use for what kind of jobs, and how to care for my knives. We had a wonderful time learning with Chef Brendan and couldn't wait to get home to try out our new skillz. Not only did we learn technique, Chef Brendan also imparted a few tips and tricks. One such trick is how to peel an entire head of garlic in less time than it is taking me to type out this post.

I kid you not. You can peel an entire head of garlic in under a minute.

Continue to scoff, all ye skeptics. But peer below and see how it is done.

First pull off the papery outer layers, then break apart the garlic
into individual cloves and place them in a metal or glass bowl

Once all your cloves are separated you can discard the tough root piece

Cover your bowl with another bowl (if you don't have a bowl
the same size you may be able to use a plate);
SHAKE VIGOROUSLY for about 35 seconds

Check the bowl to see if all the garlic has separated from its skins;
if not, cover and shake a bit more. The goal is to smash the garlic against
the hard surface of the bowl to get it to release from its skin.
Use those muscles!

And in less than a minute you have peeled an entire
head of garlic. Whatever you don't need at the time
can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container
or zipper baggie. It will keep for 1 - 2 weeks.
Note that by doing this the garlic will release some of
its oil making it a bit sticky. That just means you did it right.

UPDATE: Note that the best way to store your peeled garlic (that I've found, anyway) is in an airtight glass container. I tried a zipper baggie, but it overwhelmed my fridge with a garlic smell. I tried a plastic airtight container but the garlic got slimy quicker than I would have liked. With the glass container, my garlic stays fresh much longer and I couldn't be happier to have peeled garlic on-hand whenever I need it!