Category: Meats


Spring has sprung!

Spring is late this year–there’s even still some snow on the ground in the shady areas. (That’s the last time I ever trust a groundhog to predict the weather!)  But a few glimmers of hope are finally starting to shine through.  Tulips are trying to come up, birds are building a nest out on our balcony, and asparagus that was not grown in Mexico has reappeared in the grocery store.

I bought some, not quite sure what I intended to do with it, but I knew that I wanted to leave it raw or nearly so.  Further inspiration struck in the form of a lovely brick of cheese at Trader Joe’s – it was a mix of cheddar and gruyere: a perfect combination of flavor and melt-ability!

I decided to make a pasta dish with a basic white sauce as its base that would really show off the freshness of the asparagus.  At the last minute, I also decided to throw in a handful of fresh green beans, but you could totally use frozen as long as you thawed them out first. Peas would be another excellent and springlike addition.  Just go with whatever looks good!

The key for the asparagus, though, is tossing it in to the sauce at the end, just before you add the pasta–you want it to heat through, but you don’t want it to lose any of its delightful, crisp freshness.  So don’t overcook it!

Ready to eat!

Springtime Asparagus Pasta
(Serves 2-3)

  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 handful green beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces.  Feel free to use frozen, but thaw them before adding to the dish.
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/2 c grated cheese (I used a cheddar-gruyere blend)
  • 112g pasta (I used papardelle)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pancetta (optional)

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.  Cook the pasta to al dente and drain.  While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Once it’s melted, whisk in the flour.  When the roux is smooth, pour in the milk, whisking steadily to combine.  Add the garlic, and keep whisking until the sauce begins to thicken.  If it starts to bubble, reduce the heat.  Add in the cheese, and once it’s melted, add in the asparagus and green beans.  Toss in the pasta, and mix to combine.  Season with salt and pepper, and, if you like, top it with some crispy pancetta bits.  Enjoy!

Soup!

A new soup recipe to start your February off right!  It’s a good day for soup today–as I write this it is a whopping -5 degrees outside with a windchill of -24 F.  Yeah, that’s right: -24.  But this hearty and spicy soup will warm you right up, and as an added bonus, it’s healthy too!

I actually didn’t originally intend for this soup to be a blog recipe–I came across Smitten Kitchen’s soup with lentils, sausage, chard and garlic while making my grocery list for the week, and had every intention of making it exactly according to the recipe.  Since our household’s resident vegetarian was going to be out for the night, I was excited at the prospect of trying my hand at a recipe using meat.  I figured I’d just make two pots, one with Italian sausage and one without so that my husband could share in the leftovers.

When I got to the grocery store, I discovered that sweet potatoes were on sale.  I like sweet potatoes, and I figured they’d go well with the Italian sausage, so I picked some up.  Then I went looking for the sausage itself.  The recipe called for sweet Italian sausage, which I found, but in my opinion Italian sausage should always be spicy.  Alas, spicy Italian sausage was nowhere to be seen.  Of course, I could just add my own spices after the fact, but I decided that if I was going to spice it myself anyways, I should buy something healthier.  That was when I saw the package of ground chuck.  It was three quarters of a pound–just the right amount given that I’d be the only one eating it.  Perfect.

At this point I was still intending to follow the recipe (just with the meat substitution and the addition of sweet potatoes), but I kept thinking about how big of a nuisance it would be to make two separate pots of soup (and how I didn’t really have two appropriately sized/shaped pots to do this), when finally the idea of doing meatballs popped into my brain.  I could make spicy meatballs to put in the bottom of my bowl with the soup, leaving the leftover soup untainted by meat so that my husband could share in it later!

So then I had to figure out how to make meatballs.  Because I’d never done it before.  (Yeah, yeah, I know–I write a cooking blog and I’ve never even made meatballs.  I’ve never made a steak either.)  But how hard could it be?  I figured I needed meat, breadcrumbs, and egg plus some spices, but I decided to consult Google just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything.

As it turns out, most meatball recipes call for fresh breadcrumbs.  From white bread.  With the crusts cut off.  Well, I didn’t actually have any white bread, crusts or no.  I had a jar of panko breadcrumbs.  And since it was freezing cold out, my car was covered in snow, and its door likely frozen shut, I decided to just go with it.

Panko!

In the end, panko worked just fine and the meatballs turned out to be juicy and flavorful.

Balls

Simmering meatballs

Since I decided to make meatballs, the soup was no longer going to have any contact with the meat, and thus was not going to get any of the flavors of it.  So I needed to up the spice content.  I decided to use the same spices I used in the meatballs (fennel seeds, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt, and pepper) along with a star anise.  I also put this same combination of spices into the sauce for the meatballs.

cooking the veg

In the end, this turned out to be a ridiculous amount of soup.  Unless I freeze some, I’m not going to have to grocery shop or cook for a week.  Which may be a good thing as I look at the weather forecast…

Sweet Potato Lentil Soup (with meatballs)
(serves 6)

Soup:

  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 tbsp fennel seed
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 2 ribs of celery, sliced or diced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced or diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 medium or 3 small sweet potatoes, chopped into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • scant 1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • a few grinds of pepper
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry black lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 can (14oz) crushed tomatoes (fire roasted if you can find them)
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 1 large bunch of kale, roughly chopped

Meatballs:

  • 1lb ground chuck (I used a bit less, but I thought the meatballs could have been a bit meatier)
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • a small pinch of salt
  • grapeseed oil for frying

Sauce:

  • 1 can (14oz) crushed tomatoes (again, fire roasted if possible)
  • a small pinch of salt
  • a small pinch of smoked paprika
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • a small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • a small pinch of garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 whole star anise
  • a splash of water–just enough to thin it out

Heat the 3 tbsp of grapeseed oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the fennel seeds and star anise for the soup, and stir them around for a minute or two until they start to get fragrant.  Add the celery, onion, carrots, sweet potato, and all of the spices except for the bay leaf.  Cook the vegetables for a few minutes until the onions start to get translucent.  Then add the water, tomatoes, lentils, and bay leaf.  Stir, and then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes have passed, check on your soup, give it a stir, and then cover it and set a timer for another 20 minutes.  Combine the sauce ingredients in a pyrex measuring cup or other dish that pours easily.  Set aside.  Meanwhile in a large metal bowl, mix together your breadcrumbs, spices, and the Parmesan cheese for the meatballs.  Then add the ground chuck and beaten egg, and mix it with your hands until it’s just uniformly combined.  Yes, you should really use your hands, and be careful not to overmix (you don’t want the meatballs to be tough!)  Form the mixture into balls, about an inch and a quarter in diameter.  I ended up with 18 of them.

Add just enough grapeseed oil to just coat the bottom of a saute pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot (you can test this by gently setting one of your meatballs in it–if it sizzles, it’s hot enough), add all of your meatballs in a single layer, and use a pair of tongs to turn them occasionally until they’re browned on all sides.  How do you know when it’s time to turn them?  When they stop sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Seriously, don’t worry if they stick at first–they’ll come unstuck.  Once they’re browned on all sides, you can take the pan off the heat and skim out a bit of the excess oil if it seems like there’s a lot (do this quickly–you don’t want the pan to cool!), and then deglaze the pan with your tomato sauce mixture.  Be careful–it splashes.  Reduce the heat to low, and cover the pan.  Simmer for 10 minutes to cook the meatballs through.

Meanwhile, your soup timer has probably gone off.  Give the soup a taste, and check if the lentils are done.  If they’re not, keep the soup simmering.  Adjust seasonings as necessary, and then when the lentils are done, turn the soup down to low to keep it warm until the meatballs are ready.

Check the internal temperature of the meatballs–you want to see at least 165 degrees.  Make sure you check meatballs both in the middle of the pan and on the edges–mine cooked much faster on the edges of the pan than in the middle, so I ended up moving them around partway through.

Once the meatballs are done, put three of them in the bottom of a bowl, cover it with soup, and enjoy!

My fiance was having a guys’ night out the other night so I was left to fend for myself for dinner.  There was no food in the fridge, so I had to run to the grocery store to find something to make.  I wasn’t really in the mood to flip through cookbooks, so I decided to just let inspiration strike when I got there.  Looking around, the produce looked good, but there wasn’t really anything I wanted to eat until I saw the pea shoots.

I discovered pea shoots earlier this spring.  I was at a dinner at an Italian restaurant and my entree came with pea shoots garnishing it.  It was love at first taste.  They’re delicious!  So when I saw them at the store today, I knew I had to buy them.  From there it was just a matter of figuring out what to put with them.  I grabbed a few crimini mushrooms, a bag of frozen peas, and then I realized that since I was only cooking for myself, I could have meat!  (My fiance is vegetarian, and normally I’m perfectly content to eat vegetarian food, but lately I’ve been wanting to use some meat in my cooking.)  I looked around, and found organic spinach and feta chicken sausage.  It looked delicious and only had 120 calories!  Obviously I bought it.

This dish was really easy to put together.  Since the sausage was pre-cooked, all I had to do was heat it up.  I put the mushrooms and sausage into a dry, non-stick pan on “medium” heat (though who can say what that really means on an electric stove!) and tossed everything around until the sausage was sizzling nicely and the mushrooms were browned.

Meanwhile, I had water boiling on another burner and cooked a serving of brown rice pasta.  I used shells, but you can use whatever you have handy.  When the pasta was almost ready, I tossed in the frozen peas (which had been sitting on the counter and were thus not entirely frozen anymore) and then drained the whole mix.

I put the pasta and peas on a plate, cut the sausage and added it and the mushrooms, added salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and then topped it all off with a good handful of the pea shoots.  The flavor of the sausage kept this dish from needing too much other seasoning, but if you’re making a vegetarian version, play around with different spices, and also add a bit more cheese.

Pea Shoot Pasta
(one serving) 

  • 55g pasta of your choice
  • 1 chicken sausage
  • frozen peas
  • 3-4 crimini mushrooms
  • a handful of pea shoots
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions (the brown rice pasta I used takes longer to cook than other varieties).  Put frozen peas in a bowl on the counter to thaw.  Use as many or as few as you like.  Chop up the mushrooms, and then put them and the sausage in a dry non-stick pan on medium heat.  Rotate the sausage periodically to ensure even cooking, and stir the mushrooms frequently to avoid burning.
When the pasta is almost done, dump in the peas.  When the pasta is al dente, drain and put on a plate.  Cut up the sausage, and add it and the mushrooms to the plate.  Add salt and pepper, and toss everything together.  Top with a little grated Parmesan and the pea shoots.  Enjoy!

And just like that a month goes by and it’s April.  Apologies again for the lack of posts–especially after I had promised you all new posts!  I do have one dish that I made during that week after my last post that I’ll write about later (it was a Thai-inspired curry dish), but it’s a new month and for now I’d rather write about something new!

I went to the grocery store this week at about quarter after 9 on Tuesday morning.  On the one hand, this is an utterly ideal time to go to the grocery store because (at least by this store’s standards), it is empty. No fighting people to get your cart through the aisles…heck, there are actually carts available! The downside, though, is that clearly their shipments of produce must arrive on Wednesday or Thursday because there was not a whole lot to choose from, and a lot of what was there was pretty sad.  I quickly had to scrap plans to get some kale, or my second choice of spinach.  I did find the last good bunch of big organic beets, so I do have beet greens to work with, and then I found some watercress.

I’ve never bought watercress before.  I’ve had it a few times, mostly in foreign countries.  But it was one of the few greens they had that weren’t completely wilted and pathetic looking.  So I decided on the spur of the moment that I was going to make a watercress salad.  Which is weird for me since normally I don’t consider salads to be meals.  But I’ve had this for dinner the past two nights and it’s actually turned out to be quite good and filling.

But what else to put with the watercress?  I had bought pancetta for another recipe (I’m on a bit of a Jamie Oliver kick lately–more on that later), so that was definitely going to go in there.  I also wanted something sweet, but there’s not much in season right now in the fruit department (and the stuff from Chile is all coated in a thick layer of wax that’s impossible to remove!), so I decided to grate up a carrot, which worked out nicely.  I also added a couple green onions, just to get another flavor in there, and to tie it all together I made a dressing with lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Finally, I topped the salad off with some grated Parmesan cheese.  All in all?  Definitely a recipe worth repeating!

watercress

pancetta

lemon dressing

watercress salad

 

Watercress and Pancetta Salad

Salad

  • 1 bunch watercress, washed and picked over
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • approx. 6 slices of pancetta or bacon (more or less to taste)
  • Parmesan cheese (to taste)

Dressing

  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • olive oil (equal to lemon juice)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash and pick over the watercress, throwing away any bad leaves, tear it into bite sized pieces, and put it in a big bowl.  Grate the carrot and add it to the bowl with the watercress.  Chop the onions and do the same.  Cook the pancetta in a nonstick pan until nicely golden and crispy.  Tear it up and add it to the bowl.

To make the dressing, zest the lemon using a grater or microplane*.  Only get the yellow part of the zest–not the white part.  Put the zest in a bowl or 2 cup measure.  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice in with the zest, being careful not to lose any seeds.  Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and whisk it all together.  When you’re ready to eat, drizzle the dressing over the salad and top with a good amount of Parmesan cheese.

 

*Be VERY careful to keep your thumb away from the microplane.  Seriously.