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Recipe: Chicken and Potato Leek Soup

Early last week, I felt a cold coming on, and even though the symptoms never got too bad, I took it as a sign that I needed to slow down and take it easy for a few days. The fatigue was the worst part — it felt like rolling out of bed would be the most laborious thing imaginable.

On the day I headed home from work early, I was craving a soup that was thick and chicken-y (always a sure sign that I’m sick). I stopped by the store and picked up a few ingredients to make myself a “get well soon” soup. Along with lots of rest, I’m convinced this is what got me back up on my feet!

This soup is extremely easy to make, even when you’re under the weather. After quickly browning some chicken and sweating vegetables, everything simmers together until soft, then is pureed to velvety smoothness. Try this on a cold, snowy night…or when you’re feeling the effects of the season. Either way, it’s guaranteed to satisfy.

Get the recipe: Continue reading

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

Even with boots, chilly weather, and blog posts about pumpkins, to me, it’s not officially fall until I make a batch of butternut squash soup. For one thing, it’s easy, filling, and oh-so healthy. But the soup’s gorgeous, saturated orange color? The way it warms you from the inside out? Fall. Totally fall.

Butternut squash soup is great in that it’s simple on its own, but you can zhush it up with garnishes and other add-ins to make it fancier. It’s also the perfect thing if you’re looking for a vegan/vegetarian friendly recipe — there’s definitely no rule that says you have to include chicken stock or cream in it!

Below is a version I made on Monday night to bring for lunches throughout the week. I like making my soup with something to add just a touch of sweetness. This time, instead of apples, I used two pears that were on their last leg. Along with a sweet potato and some regular potatoes to help thicken things up, this soup was SO satisfying. Feeling fancy? You could dress it up with a dollop of crème fraîche, or swirl some cream right into the soup once you’ve heated it. I’m guessing a garnish of chives and crumbled bacon would also not be horrible. I’ve tried butternut squash soup with toasted hulled pumpkin seeds on top, too — it’s really good!

Simple Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8 (at least)

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium sized butternut, peeled and diced
–kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp if you are using fresh
1 dried bay leaf
2 Bosc peers, peeled, cored and roughly chopped (could substitute apples, too)
1 large orange sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced (you could also substitute Yukon gold or russet — whatever you have)
2 quarts vegetable stock

In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add in the onion and the diced squash, then season well with salt and pepper. Stir and let sweat, until the onions are softened and beginning to turn translucent. Pour in the white wine and stir. Add in the thyme, the bay leaf, the pears, the potatoes and the stock. Gently stir, and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer and let cook for half an hour, or until the largest pieces of potato or squash are very tender. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is velvety smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add batches of the soup to a blender and process. Be careful not to add too much; work in small batches so as not to accidentally burn yourself. Taste the pureed soup and adjust the seasonings.

Serve hot with the garnishes of your choice.

Also, here’s a quick tutorial on how to cut up a butternut squash. No need to be intimidated by their strange shape and hard skin!

1. Of all the winter squashes, I think butternuts have the thinnest skin. I used to cut away the skin with a knife, but I hated how much squash I’d lose (and I almost chopped off my finger a time or two). A few years ago when I was recipe testing for a local newspaper, a chef showed me how I could just peel it with a sturdy vegetable peeler (I like the Good Grips one from OXO), and I’ve never looked back. It’s much safer, and you get more squash that way. You can also cut the squash in half first (see below) if it’s easier for you to peel it this way.

2. Once you’ve peeled the butternut, cut it crosswise where the base of the squash starts to balloon or bell out. This is approximately where the seeds are.

3. Cut both pieces in half; this will make them more manageable to cut down further. Use a spoon to scoop the seeds out and discard any of the stringy pulp.

4. If you’re cubing the squash like I was for the soup, cut the longer part into planks, then into sticks, then into cubes. You can cut the round part of the squash into half circles, then dice from there.

Presto! Your squash is all cut up and ready to go, and you didn’t slice off your hand trying to deal with it.

Baked Ratatouille

Fall may have my heart when it comes to fashions, but food wise? I’m totally a summer girl. Who can say no to the bounty of fresh vegetables, fruits and fragrant herbs that hit their peak this time of year?

One of my absolute favorite dishes to make in the summer time is ratatouille. A traditional dish hailing from the Provence region of France (and pronounced rat-eh-too-ee…it took me forever to get it right), ratatouille is traditionally made by stewing together tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, squash and herbs. There’s much debate about the ‘proper’ way to make it, and like many French dishes, it seems like the right way to make it is the way your grandmother did.

In any case, I had yet to make a batch this summer, and was dying to get back in to the kitchen after several weeks of vacationing and dining out. I had also had this image pinned on Pinterest for a while, and it inspired me to try my hand at a sort of baked ratatouille, made a bit more decadent (and very non-traditional) with a crusty, cheesy topping. All the same flavor, but it would look much prettier when it was finished! As I was making this, I remembered another French dish called confit byaldi, which is a variation on ratatouille and was also featured in the 2007 Pixar film by the same name. Mine is definitely not as fancy as that, but it was SO simple to put together and it tasted like summer. On a Wednesday night in August, who can ask for more?

Baked Ratatouille

Serving: The recipe below makes enough for one large round baking dish. I divided my vegetables up in to one medium oval dish, and another smaller one. Depending on whether you were serving this as a main course or as a side dish, the recipe can feed between 2 and 4 people.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • –pinch crushed red pepper flake
  • 1 medium-large zucchini
  • 1 medium-large yellow zucchini
  • 1 orange heirloom tomato
  • 4 medium vine tomatoes
  • 1 small Japanese eggplant
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • –Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Note about the vegetables: Be sure to purchase squash, eggplant and tomatoes that are roughly the same size in diameter. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you end up with a really skinny zucchini and a fat eggplant, you may have to do some trimming to get the dish to look as nice. When I made this dish, I used a regular bell shaped eggplant, and that made things more difficult, which is why I’m recommending the use of Japanese eggplant. They tend to be more cylindrical.

For garnish:

  • –Asiago or your choice of cheese (I’d try Parmigiano Reggiano, or even goat cheese! But whatever you have around and will melt well.)
  • –Fresh basil, julienned

Preheat your oven to 400°.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add in the onions and let cook for a minute until they just begin to soften. Add in half of the chopped garlic, the crushed red pepper flake, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occassionally, while you prepare the vegetables. Lower the heat if you notice the onions are browning too quickly.

While the onions cook, slice the ends off the squash and eggplant, as well as the stems off of the tomatoes. Then, slice each vegetable so that it is about 1/4″ thick. You can make this more thick or less thick — the most important thing is that you make your cuts consistent, so the vegetables will all cook evenly. If you make the cuts thinner, keep in mind they can cook faster; thicker, and they will take a bit longer (though the flavor can develop more).

Once the vegetables are prepped, add in the tomato paste to the pan with the onions. Stir to distribute and “melt,” until the paste has coated the onions and the mixture is fragrant. Transfer the onion mixture to the bottom of your baking dish, and drizzle with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Next, begin arranging your sliced vegetables in the dish, alternating by color. You can arrange these in whatever pattern you want; I like to stack them in an outer circle first, then fill the inside area with leftover pieces. Sprinkle the rest of the garlic over the top of the arranged vegetables, then season the whole thing with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the mixture is very bubbly and the vegetables look tender. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn your broiler on to high. Layer shaved or sliced cheese on top of the cooked vegetables, then bake underneath the broiler until the cheese gets bubbly and brown. Let the dish sit for a couple minutes, garnish with freshly chopped basil, and serve. This is delicious with grilled steaks, roasted chicken, and would also be awesome with pasta or cous cous!

One Skillet Mediterranean Chicken

I appreciate virtually all genre of foods, but one of my absolute favorites is Mediterranean. The textures, bright flavors and use of healthful ingredients (greens! citrus! herbs! olive oil!) make it easy to love. Last week, I woke up one morning with a big  craving for Mediterranean, and set out to make something to sate my appetite that evening. The catch? I’m going to Cabo this week. I needed it to be bikini friendly!

Now, lest you read the rest of this recipe and think “bikini friendly?!”, I should note that for me, that meant limited carbs and only healthy fats. I don’t mind being stuffed to the gills if it’s with mostly vegetables! But, my splurges in this recipe included the use of dark chicken meat (which, to be honest, I normally use anyway because I think it has so much more flavor and is easier to cook), as well as a little bit of feta cheese. But otherwise, I think I did pretty well!

Starting with a quick marinade of lemon juice, honey and herbs, I cooked the chicken legs to golden brown deliciousness. While they finished in the oven, I whipped together a side “Greek” salad with tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and feta cheese. I loved that this dinner packed so much flavor and nutrition, but since everything was cooked in one skillet, it was also a cinch to clean up!

Mediterranean Chicken with Honey, Lemon and Oregano, Quick-braised Chard and Greek Salad

Easily serves 2 hungry people; Difficulty Level: Intermediate-Beginner

For the Chicken:

  • 3 Meyer lemons (see note at bottom)
  • 5 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped, minced
  • 1 tbsp honey (more to taste, see note at bottom)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 for cooking
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
  • Two whole skin on, bone in chicken legs, split between leg and thigh (you can also buy separately if whole legs are not available), cleaned and pat dry with paper towels

For the Salad:

  • 4 extra small vine cluster tomatoes (look for ones a slightly bigger than golf balls — I used the Campari variety), cut into eighths
  • 5″ piece of organic cucumber, washed well, sliced however you prefer (I did quarter rounds. Note: you can peel the cucumber if you like, but I personally like the rind, as long as it’s from an organic cuc)
  • 1 medium shallot, outer paper peeled and roughly chopped 
  • 2 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped and minced
  • 0.2 oz feta
  • Juice of half a lemon (use the leftover lemon half from the marinade, above)
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste (I used about 3 tbsp)
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

For the Chard:

  • 1 whole bunch white Swiss Chard, cleaned, tough white stems removed and leafy greens chopped into large pieces

For the chicken:

Preheat your oven to 375°. Zest two of the lemons and place the zest in a small bowl. Cut all three lemons in half and juice 5 of the halves (2.5 lemons total) into the bowl, taking care to not let any seeds fall in. Reserve the last half of lemon for the Greek salad. Add in the minced oregano, the honey, 3 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Stir until the honey and lemon juice are well emulsified into the oil.

Place the chicken pieces in a shallow baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken. If you have time, you can let this sit for 20-30 minutes, otherwise, let it sit for five (I was in a hurry and did the quick marinade, and it turned out great). In a medium oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add in the chicken pieces skin side down with tongs (do not pour in the marinade yet) and allow to brown on the first side, about 2 minutes. Try not to move the meat around, so it will turn brown without tearing. The honey will cause things to brown more quickly, so keep an eye on it.

When the meat has browned on the first side, quickly turn all the pieces over with tongs and pour in the marinade from the baking dish. Quickly stir with the tongs to release any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you are using a pan that has a wider diameter and the amount of liquid looks low, add in a few tablespoons of water. You want the total amount of liquid to be about 1/4″ deep, maybe a tiny bit more. Immediately move the entire pan to the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered, or until the chicken is just cooked through, depending on the size of your pieces and your oven. The juices/sauce will have reduced down.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and transfer the pieces onto a heat proof plate. Using oven mitts (careful!), pick up the skillet and pour about 2/3 of the leftover juices over the chicken on the plate. Tent with foil until ready to serve.

For the salad:

While the chicken is cooking (or marinating, you can do this step during either break), combine all the ingredients for the Greek salad, toss, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Having this extra time will allow the ingredients to meld a bit.

For the chard:

Okay, so your cooked chicken should be resting on the plate and now you have the skillet with a bit of the marinade leftover. Using an oven mitt (’cause remember, the pan is hot since you just took it from the oven!), place the skillet with the chicken juices and reduced marinade onto the stove over medium heat. It should begin simmering quickly, since the pan is already so hot from being in the oven. Add the chopped chard into the skillet, turning with the tongs until it is wilted and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You shouldn’t need to season this very much since the juices in the pan already had seasoning.

To plate, mound a bit of the greens up, place one or two of the chicken pieces on top, and garnish with the salad on the side. Pour as much of the reserved chicken juices over the meat as you’d like.

NOTES: If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons instead. You might want to taste the marinade and see if you want to add in more honey, as Meyer lemons tend to be sweeter than regular lemons. You can also try this recipe with chicken breasts if you don’t want to use dark meat, just be SURE not to overcook them, because the moist heat in the oven will quickly make the meat tough if you don’t watch it. Finally, if you have any leftovers and store this in the fridge, don’t forget to pour any reserved sauce over the chicken. It’ll continue to marinate overnight and be extra delicious when you heat it up tomorrow (I did this and trust me, it’s good stuff).

3C Soup

The other day I was at the gym at a Barre Pro class (kind of similar to a Bar Method class, except more awesome), and we were in the middle of set 1,000,000 of some shoulder press/squat routine. The whole class was starting to poop out, but Stephanie, our fearless and amazing instructor shouted, “C’mon ladies, you can do it! Four more sets!” When this didn’t have the intended effect, she simply yelled, “SWIMSUITS! BEACH! BIKINIS!”

Like magic, we were all ready to do five sets instead of four.

I don’t know about all of you, but with my tush getting ready to make its beach debut at the end of June, I’ve been a little extra conscious not only with how often I’m hitting the gym, but also what I’m chowing down on. This isn’t to say that I’ve been binge dieting or doing anything crazy (um, hello, on Tuesday night I went out for Mexican food and yesterday I had Thai for lunch). But, you know, a few extra vegetables, easy on the refined starches and dairy. That kind of thing.

Last night I made a big pot of soup that was not only super filling, but was packed with flavor, and chock FULL of vegetables and fiber. It was also a snap to make, and I’m betting it will be perfect for lunch over the next couple days.

As I was cooking, I was trying to come up with a name for it. Was it a dal? Kind of, except I put in way more vegetables and pureed it, so not really. The best I could come up with was Curried Carrot and Cauliflower soup. If the ‘curried’ part scares you away, fear not — this soup strikes a perfect balance. It’s bold enough to feel satisfying despite its humble ingredients, and even with such zippy flavor, I thought it could still handle a little dollop of crème fraîche on top.

Since it’s pureed, you could easily throw in other vegetables you have on hand. And depending on how smooth you like your soup, you can either do a quick puree and leave a few chunks of veggies in there, or blend it to velvet. A little 3C soup, some pilates, and you’ll be beach ready in no time.

Curried Carrot and Cauliflower Soup

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, skins removed and finely diced
  • 1 small bunch carrots, tops removed, washed, cleaned and sliced into rounds (I used a small bunch of carrots sourced from my local farmers market. All in, the rounds amounted to about 2.5 cups of carrots)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp curry powder, any variety (I used a basic, somewhat non-authentic variety from McCormick)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or even less if you don’t like spicy
  • Dash of paprika powder
  • Dash of turmeric (optional — this will help give the finished product color)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.25 cup brown lentils (see here for a visual. You can use any variety of lentil you like, but I think brown lentils puree the best, and they also cook quickly. Weeknight bonus!)
  • 1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1.5 quarts chicken stock (can also substitute vegetable stock)
  • –kosher or sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice to season
  • –chopped parsley for garnish

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Once very hot, add in the olive oil and turn the pot about to coat the bottom with the oil. Add in the onion, garlic and carrots, and saute until fragrant and beginning to soften. Stir in the cauliflower, and let cook for 1 minute. Add in all of the spices except the bay leaf, and stir. Adding in the spices this early, along with the oil, will help toast them and give more flavor to the soup later on. Add in the lentils, and stir again. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the vegetables are softening and the brown bits forming on the bottom of the pot, add in the potato, and the white wine. Stir to release any golden bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook for two minutes to allow the alcohol in the wine to burn off.

Pour in the chicken stock. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cauliflower and potatoes are very tender. Test a few of the lentils to make sure they’re also tender. If they need a few more minutes, give it to them. It’s okay if the vegetables are very soft at this point — you’re going to puree it all anyway.

Using an immersion blender or stand blender, puree the soup. If you use a standing blender, do this in batches and put in far less soup than you think will fit into the blender. Since this is boiling liquid, you don’t want to take any chances in having this spill or explode on you. Puree the soup to desired texture, then taste (NOTE: If you want your soup velvety smooth, use a blender). Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice as needed (I find that sometimes these soups with lots of spices need a bit of acidity to separate out all the flavors).

Ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish with parsley. You could also try garnishing with sour cream, crème fraîche, or even toasted pumpkin seeds. Super healthy!!

Recipe: Hearty Stuffed Peppers

Do you have a recipe that you often forget about, but whenever you make it, you want to kick yourself for not preparing it more because it’s so easy and so delicious? That’s how I felt when I recently made my roasted stuffed peppers. Ridiculously easy to put together, you can make this recipe as sinful or as healthful as you’d like — but no matter which route you choose, the results are irresistibly satisfying.

I like to stuff peppers with ground turkey meat, but you could of course substitute chicken, pork or beef — anything you’d like really. During my most recent attempt, I used a mixture of dark ground turkey meat, onions, garlic, lots of herbs and just a hint of parmesan. The mixture is spooned into red and yellow peppers, then baked with marinara sauce until the peppers have browned and the meat cooked through. The best part? The juices from the meat always leak out of the peppers, mixing with the marinara and leaving you with a tomato sauce that tastes like it was cooking all day.

The great thing about stuffed peppers is that you can customize them to any genre of food you’d like. You could stuff them with cooked rice, corn, black beans and diced chicken, top each with some monterrey jack, and bake with green enchilada sauce. I’m betting they’d be delicious stuffed with ground lamb, spinach and feta, then smothered in a creamy white sauce (yes, that would definitely fall in the ‘decadent’ category). Stuffed peppers are a great way to clean out your fridge, if you think about it!

You can also choose to make these as a side dish — just buy smaller peppers and adjust the amount of filling you make.

Hearty Stuffed Peppers

  • 4 medium to large bell peppers, if serving as a main dish (I used two red and two yellow)
  • 3-4 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves stripped
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, cleaned
  • 1.25 lb ground dark turkey meat
  • 1/2 yellow onion, very finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8-10 cremini (dark brown) mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan, plus extra for garnish
  • –salt and pepper to season
  • 2 jars of your favorite marinara sauce
  • –extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375°.

Slice the tops off of the peppers and set aside. Using your fingers, clean out the seeds and white ribs from inside the pepper, being careful not to tear the sides of the vegetable.

Combine the herbs on a cutting board and mince together. In a medium bowl, combine the turkey meat, onion, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, egg and parmesan cheese. Season well with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly combine, as if making a meatloaf. With a spoon, tightly stuff each pepper with the turkey mixture. It’s okay to overfill these a little.

Select a baking dish that will fit all your peppers. Pour enough marinara into the dish to completely cover the bottom. Place the peppers into the baking dish, then top each with a little extra parmesan if you’d like. Pour sauce over each pepper and into the baking dish (I used a little less than 1.5 jars of marinara total), drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top of each pepper, then place its “lid” on top.

Bake for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on your oven and the size of the peppers you chose) until the peppers have begun to brown and the sauce mixture is bubbly. You may want to spoon some of the sauce over the peppers part way through baking to help speed the pepper cooking process along. Serve with pasta, vegetables, or on its own!

Quick-braised Brussels sprouts with pancetta

Two Sundays ago I did something I normally don’t even do on Thanksgiving. I roasted a turkey. Not a whole turkey, mind you, but a whole turkey breast, which I’d brined all night.

If you’re like me, and tend to crave turkey when it’s definitely not Turkey Day, purchasing a breast from the store is an easy way to get your fix and also have meat to spare for lunches and subsequent dinners.

But to accompany the turkey, I made something both a little healthy, and a little decadent: Brussels sprouts with pancetta. It’s the tail end of the Brussels season, but I saw some that looked good at the market and decided to go for it.

If you think you hate Brussels sprouts or simply want a new way to prepare them, this recipe is a good place to start. Cooked in rendered pancetta fat and a splash of white wine and vegetable stock, this side dish has a hearty flavor but is super simple to make. Along with my roasted turkey, it was about as Sunday Dinner as you can get.

Quick-braised Brussels sprouts with pancetta

  • 1″ thick slice of pancetta, cut into large (~3/4″) cubes
  • 20 Brussels sprouts, loose outer leaves torn off, stems trimmed, and cut in half
  • –extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • –freshly ground black pepper to season

Add the pancetta to a large skillet (I used a big soup pot because all my skillets were dirty!), and turn the heat to medium low. You’ll want to render the meat slowly, to extract as much of the fat as possible without cooking the pancetta too quickly.  This can take a while, maybe even ten to fifteen minutes.

Once the pancetta has browned and has given up a lot of its fat, remove the pieces to a small bowl and set aside. Drain the pan so that you have about two to three tablespoons of fat left (the bottom of the pan should look nicely coated). If you don’t want to use only animal fat to cook the vegetables, you can drain out all the fat and use olive oil instead.

Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and turn the heat up to medium high to brown them. Stir the sprouts around every minute or so. Once the sprouts have browned nicely, deglaze the pan with the white wine, and stir. Season with black pepper. (I didn’t use any added salt to this recipe, as my pancetta was particularly salty, but taste as you go and decide if you need to add salt.)

Once the white wine has cooked down to almost dry, add in the vegetable stock and the pancetta. Reduce heat to medium, and cook at a steady simmer until the liquid has almost completely evaporated and the sprouts are cooked through.

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