Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen: Oiishi!

Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen: Oiishi!

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

When I posted a pic of my Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I was surprised by the response.  So many people wanted to talk about it: the ingredients, how I made it, and naturally, the recipe.  Jen (as in Jen’s Vegetable Lasagna featured in my cookbook) wanted to come over for a ramen filled afternoon.  Kipp and I decided that ramen beats pho any day (what a great hashtag #ramenbeatspho). Even picky eater Korey had to chime in about her thoughts on egg yolks.

So I’m using my website to share my recipe with you (I know, I know, I haven’t updated in FOREVER!  Forgive me, I’ve been busy).

Now, when I say ramen, I’m speaking of a delicious, savory, umami-filled bowl of noodles and protein, the kind of wonderful comfort-food goodness that makes noodle bars a worldwide sensation.  I know many people hear the word ramen and think of things like Top Ramen and Oodles of Noodles, but that’s instant ramen….. and while that’s quite good to a college kid or 20-something hipster, I’m speaking about a traditional Japanese food staple that has taken the world by storm.  If you haven’t been to a ramen noodle bar, you are truly missing out.  My favorites bowls are found at Momofuku in NYC, Slurping Turtle in Chicago and Sakuramen in Washington, D.C.  And if your town doesn’t yet have a noodle bar, I strongly encourage you to make ramen at home. In fact, when you realize how easy it is, you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often!

To make ramen at home, I use two pots: one for the broth and one for all the other proteins.  A good ladle strainer, often called a “spider” is a great tool to use, but tongs or a slotted spoon will work just fine.  Everything will cook quickly — just give the ingredient a quick “bath” in hot water — then set it aside.  It really is that easy.

Miso, thank goodness, is available in most grocery stores and organic markets.  You just have to know where to look.  Fresh miso paste is refrigerated, so look for it in the dairy section or where organic foods are kept.  Shelved miso is usually in some sort of bottle and can be found in either the international foods section or even where salad dressings are kept.

Finally, a word on noodles.  You can certainly use instant ramen noodles if that’s all you can find (just remember to throw out those seasoning packets).  Chuka-mein, also known as “chinese noodles” are very good, as are fresh egg noodles and even buckwheat soba noodles.  For me, the longer the noodle, the better, because that means I can slurp up all of the savory goodness.

Proteins are easy — it’s whatever you want them to be.  Leftovers from last night, extra veggies in the fridge, hot or cold.  That’s the fun of ramen noodle bowls — you can experiment with ingredients every time.  Happy slurping!!

Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen
Serves 2

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Ingredients:

1/2 lbs. ground chicken
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 carton good chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (if desired)
4 tablespoons yellow miso
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 package chuka-mein, “chinese noodles” or 2 packs instant ramen
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Additional protein ideas:
1 egg
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
sliced fresh cabbage or baby bok choy
firm tofu, diced
fresh green onions, chopped
shrimp

  1. With the first pot, heat a few tablespoons of oil (canola, vegetable or olive) over medium high heat.  Add the red chile flakes and cook for 1 minute.  Add all of the ground chicken along with the onion and grated ginger and saute until cooked, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the entire carton of chicken stock with the miso paste and 2 cups of water.  Stir to incorporate all the miso, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer gently, uncovered.  Add the sesame oil and soy sauce and season to taste.
  2. In a separate pot, bring cold water to a boil.  Add the ramen noodles and cook until just before done (do not let noodles go too soft, they should still have a bite, about 2 minutes in boiling water).  Using a spider, tongs, or slotted spoon, remove the noodles from the pot, strain and rinse under cold water (keep the water boiling on the stove).  Set noodles aside.  In the same pot with boiling water, cook the spinach leaves (about 1 minute) and again, use the strainer or a pair of tongs to remove and set aside.  Do this with all of your proteins (except green onions) but do not overcook them.  You may want to keep a large clean platter beside the stove or a bunch of small bowls for your cooked proteins.  Lastly, prepare the eggs.  Soft boil eggs in their shell or poach lightly in the simmering water.  Be sure to keep the yolk soft.  Remove egg from boiling water and set aside.
  3. To bring it all together, place the noodles in the bottom of a deep soup bowl, creating a cone-like mountain.  Using tongs or chopsticks, place small sections of proteins around the noodles (spinach, tofu, shrimp, etc). Using a slotted spoon, scoop the ground chicken meat from the broth, and section it around the noodles.  Place the poached egg or soft boiled egg (shelled and split into two pieces) at the very top of the noodles.  Ladle the hot broth over the entire bowl.  Garnish with a generous amount of chopped green onion.  Serve with a soup spoon and chopsticks. Enjoy immediately.
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Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training is in full swing — and to celebrate the return of summer sports, I thought I would share a great, light and healthy pasta dish that is sure to please.

Spring is a great time to go outside and do long distance exercise, whether it’s long walks, bike riding, running or cycling. Since many of my friends are marathon runners, I’ve become accustomed to their high carbohydrate dinners the night before a race. Carbohydrates have long been a favorite for distance runners because they have a “slow-burn” effect on the body, meaning, runners have more energy to go longer distances.

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

What we’ve recently discovered is that fortified pastas, such as multi-grain or whole grain pasta, have added fiber, which increases the slow burn and is even better for the body. The only problem is the taste and texture. Not everyone seems to enjoy the extra bite and chewiness that comes with whole grains, and some people refer to the pasta as “eating cardboard” when compared to the mild taste of durum or semolina noodles.

My Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta seeks to change that thought and attitude simply by changing the way we look at pasta dishes. Who says every plate of noodles has to be covered in tomato sauce and cheese? The truth is, if you hold onto that kind of mental block, you’ll surely notice the change in pasta. But if you leave out the acidic tomato sauce, and concentrate on fresher flavors, you may find your mouth longs to bite, while the vegetable sauce complements the texture and nutty flavor of the pasta.

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts. Here’s to the athlete in all of us!

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta
Serves 6

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

1 lbs. whole grain pasta (such as penne or rigatoni)
1 lbs. fresh turkey Italian sausage (casings removed)
4 strips center-cut bacon (low-sodium), diced
1 small yellow onion, quartered
3 small carrots, peeled
3 stalks of celery, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large stockpot with lightly salted water to boil. Cook the noodles until desired tenderness. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  2. At the same time as the noodles, use a food processor or other chopping device, and add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Pulse until there is a chunky sauce, but not paste like. You should see tiny cubes of each vegetable. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and diced bacon over medium high heat. Once the bacon begins to crisp, add the sausage and break into small pieces. Cook thoroughly and drain any fat.
  4. Return pan to heat and add the vegetable mixture, along with the seasonings. Mix well to incorporate, and stir until the vegetables soften, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the white wine and cook until fully evaporated. Add the chicken stock and do the same as the wine.
  6. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings as desired. Discard bay leaves.
  7. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce until well incorporated. If the sauce is to dry, incorporate the reserved pasta water. Serve with cheese if desired.
Winter Comfort Foods: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole

Winter Comfort Foods: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole

Cheesy tater tot casserole

Cheesy tater tot casserole

When my friend Scott announced he was preparing a tater tot casserole, my ears perked up.  Tater tots? As in the crispy, little potato nuggets that I loved as a kid?  I begged him to tell me more.  A native of Nebraska, Scott says he grew up on tater tot casserole, and prepares the same recipe his mother made, which he happily shared with me.  Scott’s tater tot casserole is a playful rendition of shepherd’s pie — ground beef, diced vegetables, canned soup and plenty of tater tots. It’s something the kid in all of us would enjoy… and here is my interpretation of the dish.

I created this recipe using a popular hash brown casserole as an inspiration, then added flavorful chicken sausages and sweet bell peppers to the mix.  I used sun-dried tomato smoked sausages, but regular hot dogs or shredded chicken breast will substitute nicely.  Serve this casserole with a side of steamed broccoli, lima beans or a fresh salad and you’ll have an easy comfort food favorite.

With my friend Scott

With my friend Scott

Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole
Serves 6

Ingredients

6 cups frozen tater tots
1 red bell pepper, diced
4-5 smoked chicken sausages, sliced
2 10-oz cans of cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.  Spray or grease a 13×9 rectangular baking dish and set aside.
  2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and bell pepper over medium high heat.  Add the sausages and saute until peppers are softened and sausages have toasted, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the condensed soup, sour cream and milk.  Add the garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.  Once combined, add all the cheese, tater tots, peas and the sausage mixture.  Mix until well combined.
  4. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake, uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  The casserole is done when the tots are slightly browned and the cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Slow Cooker Beef Brisket: Simple and Straightforward

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket: Simple and Straightforward

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket

Everyone needs a special roast recipe. It could be your favorite pot roast, rib roast or tenderloin, but I think every home cook needs a recipe where a massive piece of meat is ceremoniously pulled out of the oven and placed onto a special platter, giving you a reason to carve and serve with flair!

This is why I am sharing my tried and true Slow Cooker Beef Brisket recipe. Just imagine a plate of tender, juicy, savory slices of beef, paired with sweet onions, carrots and a delicious gravy, and you’ll know why this is one of my best and easiest recipes.

Unlike other recipes that call for barbecue or tomato sauce, my recipe is simpler and straightforward, allowing the beef’s natural flavors to shine. I use a flat cut brisket, between three to four pounds, with a nice one-inch layer of fat. A brisket of this size will serve a party easily, and is budget friendly too! If you have leftovers, sliced brisket makes for delicious sandwiches and most people think it tastes better overnight.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can prepare this in a conventional oven, going low and slow (just under 300 F). I would encourage you, however, to consider purchasing a slow cooker. The convenience factor along with the ease of cooking is really irresistible (and yes, we are having a sale on a very special slow cooker at HSN!) And, yes, before I forget, I always use a slow cooker liner. It makes clean-up so easy.

Once the brisket finishes cooking, remove it from the slow cooker and allow it to rest for a few minutes on a cutting board. Giving the meat a rest will ensure easy carving, while allowing the brisket to retain moisture and flavor. Using a sharp knife, cut against the grain (the opposite direction of the meat fibers) creating long, thin slices of delicious, tender meat. Spoon the gravy on top and serve with onions and carrots. Enjoy!

With a slow cooker, this recipe is simple, easy and delicious!

With a slow cooker, this recipe is simple, easy and delicious!

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket
Serves 4

Ingredients:

3-4 lbs. beef brisket, flat cut
2 large yellow onions, julienned
1 1/2 cup carrots, shredded
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
Ground cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Rinse the brisket with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season the meat generously on both sides, using the salt, pepper and cumin.
  2. Fill the bottom of the slow cooker with the onions, carrots and garlic. Pour the melted butter and chicken stock over the vegetables, and with tongs, mix well, coating the vegetables.
  3. Place the brisket on top of the vegetables, fat side facing up. Pour the balsamic vinegar evenly over the brisket, coating well.
  4. Cover the slow cooker with the lid and cook on HIGH for six hours.
  5. When the cooking has finished, remove the brisket and allow to rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board.
  6. Stir the chopped parsley into the cooked vegetables. Taste the gravy. If desired, add more chicken stock and adjust seasonings.
  7. Slice the brisket, cutting against the grain. Remove any fat. Ladle the gravy over the meat and serve with the cooked vegetables.
Winter Vegetable Minestrone Soup

Winter Vegetable Minestrone Soup

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Winter Vegetable Minestrone

When I see bundles of rainbow chard, full heads of green escarole or bushels of curly savoy cabbages, I know it’s time for a savory winter vegetable soup. Warm, hearty and satisfying, winter vegetable soups are great meals that are simple to make and even better the next day.

Although chard, escarole and cabbage are among my favorite ingredients, shaved Brussels sprouts or dark leaves of kale often work as substitutes. I also like to swap dark red onions for sweet yellow ones, as I find they have a heartier flavor.  Sometimes, I’ll even rinse creamy white cannelli beans for additional protein, and other days, I prefer the comforts of chewy ditalini pasta tubes to bite on.

That’s the brilliance of a good soup base — if you have a good recipe, you can interchange the ingredients based on whatever you can find.  Although my soup creations vary, I think the following guidelines yield great results:

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A bundle of rainbow chard

Patience — When I make soup, I give myself plenty of time to sweat the vegetables. Sweating vegetables means you cook them without allowing them to caramelize.  When vegetables caramelize, they release their sugars and turn brown, which often leads to a bitter taste.  By sweating the vegetables, they retain their texture, shape and moisture, without sacrificing taste.  To sweat vegetables, simply lower the heat, use a good oil, stir the vegetables often and be very patient!

Leafy Greens — If you’re making soup, one or more of the following leafy greens are needed: escarole, parsley, kale, cabbage or chard. When it comes to chard, take each leaf and lay it flat on a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, make two long cuts, one on each side of the stem.  Once the stem is removed, you can chop the stem and add it to the soup.  Chard stems are colorful and flavorful, with a texture similar to celery.  Save the leaves for the final cooking phase of the soup.

Cheese Rind — When making a soup with a tomato base, add a piece of cheese rind like  Parmigiano-Reggiano, for a nutty and rich layer of flavor.  Most grocers and cheese markets will sell you just the rind if you ask.  If you happen to buy fresh cheese regularly, save and freeze the rinds for such an occasion.

Finish — All soups need a garnish: a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of herbs, a dollop of cream.  For minestrone, I take the extra step to make a pistou.  Pistou is a simple sauce made from basil leaves, garlic and olive oil.  Very similar to pesto, but there is no cheese or nuts.  Just a few seconds in a mini-chopper and you have the secret to a truly savory and satisfying soup.  You can also refrigerate or freeze pistou for future use.

Winter Vegetable Minestrone Soup
Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

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Vegetable Soup with Pistou

1/2 lbs. pancetta or bacon, medium dice
2 red onions, medium dice
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch rainbow chard, stems removed and chopped
1/2 head escarole, leaves only, chopped
1 piece Parmigiano Reggiano rind
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups ditalini noodles (mini-tubes)
Water for the soup
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Pistou:
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

  1. Heat a large dutch oven with olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the pancetta, onions, celery and carrots.  Stir frequently, allowing the vegetables to sweat, but not brown, for 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped chard stems.  Allow stems and vegetables to sweat for an additional 20 minutes.  Lower heat if necessary, to prevent from browning.
  3. Add the potatoes and garlic to the pot and combine well.  Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt.  Move all the vegetables to one side of the pot and add the tomato paste. Allow paste to cook for a minute or two, then fully incorporate into vegetables.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes with all their juice.  Add enough water to cover vegetables and create the soup (water line should be about two inches above vegetables).  Stir and bring to boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. In a separate pot, boil the noodles in salted water.  Strain and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Prepare the pistou.  Using a food processor or mini-chopper, combine the garlic, basil and olive oil with a generous pinch of salt.  Add more olive oil if needed.  The pistou should be a smooth and thick sauce, not chunky or dry.  Set aside.
  7. When cooking time has passed, taste the soup.  Adjust flavors with salt and pepper.  Continue simmering, if needed, until vegetables are tender.
  8. To serve, ladle bowls of soup then add a spoonful of pasta noodles.  Drizzle with pistou.
Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

My chicken matzoh meatball soup

I am the worst kind of lover.  When I have it, I take it for granted.  I love ’em, leave ’em and never look back.  However, when love is gone, I long for it — desperately, insatiably, craving just one more touch upon my tongue.  And this, my friends, sums up my true stomach-aching story:  I’ve had a long, tumultuous, heart-stopping love affair with soup.

Living on the East coast, I could walk to any deli, noodle shop or food truck and grab a bowl of steamy pleasure whenever I wanted.  I wouldn’t think twice about sipping, slurping or savoring hot broth, but I would always complain or grumble when drops of soup trickled off my face and onto my scarf or blouse.  Because soup was available everywhere, I took for granted how warm and comforting a savory cup of tomato and basil could be, how intriguing and fulfilling layers of beef pho with fresh veggies could fill my belly or how decadent and spoiled a seafood velouté would make me feel.  Oh  Soup, I never fully appreciated you and I’m sorry.  I miss you more than you know.

All smiles with a steaming bowl of pho

OK, I know I’m being dramatic, but allow me to explain.  I now live in Florida and there is no soup to be had – nothing, nada, nowhere.  There are no deli’s or diners with daily soup specials.  There are no ramen shops or noodle counters to speak of.  Curry houses and soup bars are non-exisistent.  And food trucks?  Forget it.

Yes, I know there are some restaurants here and there that offer soup.  But soup in Florida always seems to miss the mark.  Aside from the grab and go convenience that we love on the East Coast, there is a comfort factor that is absent.  Soup has to wake your tastebuds, coat your throat and fill your body with soothing energy.  I’ve found that in order to assuage my troubled soul and to quench my longings, I must turn to my own kitchen and rely on my own culinary abilities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Emilio’s Caldo Gallego, a hearty and savory soup from the hills of Spain.  Today, I give you my rendition of chicken and matzoh ball soup, where both ingredients are combined into one.  I use ground chicken and matzoh meal to make moist little meatballs, all cooked in a vegetable and chicken broth.  It takes about 30 minutes to come together, and every delicious slurp reminds me of why it’s so important to appreciate good soup.  Soup is simple, easy, delicate and nutritious.  It’s comforting, soothing and warm, and something I promise to never take for granted again.

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup
Serves 4

I combine ground chicken with matzoh for moist, delicious, meatballs

Ingredients
1 lbs. ground chicken (I use white meat)
2 packets matzoh ball mix (I use Manischewitz)
2 eggs, gently scrambled
1/2 large onion, grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
Additional oil for quick saute
Salt to taste (I recommend kosher)

  1. Heat a heavy stockpot over medium high heat with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil.  Add the grated onion and stir frequently, do not allow onions to brown.  When onions are translucent, after 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and place in a bowl.  Allow onions to cool.
  2. Add the ground chicken, eggs, matzoh meal, 2 tablespoons of oil and chopped parsley to the onions.  Add a generous teaspoon of kosher salt.  Use your hands to combine well.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. With the same stockpot used for the onions, return to medium high heat.  Add a little more oil, then quickly saute the chopped celery and carrots.  After 1-2 minutes, when the vegetables begin to soften, add the chicken broth and water.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer 10-15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Raise the heat on the soup to high and bring to a rolling boil.  Using a small portion scoop, a spoon or your hands, form the meat mixture into small 1-inch balls. Drop the balls into the soup until the entire mixture is used.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  The meatballs will expand and float to the top, so use a spoon to bob and turn the balls every 5 minutes or so.
  5. After 15 minutes, add the spinach and stir into the soup.  Adjust seasonings if needed.  Cover and allow to simmer for 5 minutes longer.
  6. Take the soup off the heat, remove the lid, and allow to rest 5-10 minutes.  Serve immediately following.
Salmon Filet with Lentils and Vegetables

Salmon Filet with Lentils and Vegetables

A salmon filet with green lentils

I love fish.  Whether it’s cod, tuna, tilapia or halibut — you name the fish and I love it.  The fish I eat the most is salmon, simply because I can’t get enough of smoked salmon.  Whether it’s on a salad, in a sandwich or with a simple drop of lemon juice, there’s something so refreshing, light and delicious about a paper thin slice of the rich pink fish.  Especially when it’s seasoned with a hint of dill or just a light sprinkling of sea salt.  It’s so delightful!

I love to make smoked salmon deviled eggs

When I eat a salmon filet, however, I want more than just the fish.  I want flavorful, tangy, savory bites, enough to last me through the entire slab of fish.  Eating a salmon steak can be extremely monotonous, especially if the fish is overcooked or poorly prepared.  My favorite way to prepare salmon is with a grainy mustard and seasoned breadcrumbs, served over sauteed spinach or a bed of hearty lentils.

There’s no fancy trick to cooking fish — it’s probably one of the easiest and quickest proteins to make.  In fact, fish is very similar to eggs, as they can be fried, baked, poached, boiled and steamed, and they are often paired with a wide variety of sides.  For salmon, I prefer to do a pan fry, as it’s simple and easy, with minimal risk of overcooking the fish.  I take my salmon medium rare, with two shades of pink to please my eye.

Salmon filet with green lentils

Salmon Filets with Lentils and Vegetables
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup lentils (I prefer green)
3 slices of thick, slab bacon, finely diced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, stems removed
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
Salt to taste

For the Salmon:

2 salmon filets, skin on, bones removed
4 tablespoons stone ground mustard
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. Place the lentils in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and allow to simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes.  Drain the lentils.
  2. Heat a deep skillet or heavy pot over medium high heat.  Add the bacon and render the fat.  When bacon has crisped, add the onions, carrots and celery.  Stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the drained lentils to the bacon mixture.  Stir in the garlic and thyme and saute for 1 minute.  Add one cup of water (or chicken stock or wine) and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until lentils are soft.  Adjust seasonings to taste.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a separate fry pan over medium heat.
  5. While the pan is heating, pat dry the salmon filets with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and white pepper.  Spread the mustard over the flesh of the fish (not the skin side) into an even layer.  Then press the mustard side into the breadcrumbs to create a thin crust.
  6. Add oil to the hot pan.
  7. Place salmon into hot pan, mustard side down, skin side up.  Leave un-disturbed in pan for 3-4 minutes, then flip onto skin side.  If you want your fish medium rare, it will only need a few more minutes on the skin side.  To cook your fish longer, place the pan into a hot oven (450 degrees) and bake.
  8. Serve fish over lentils.
Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Emilio’s delicious Caldo Gallego

Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends.  Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses.  One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends.  But that’s an idea for another day.

Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain.  Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego.  His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street.  Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone.  I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi.  The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.

Emilio and I share a hug in the kitchen

Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this.  By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen.  It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.

This soup comes together easily in one pot.  If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour.  However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process.  When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up.  Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.

I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.

The finished Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)

  1. In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
  2. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.

Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer  gently until wine is completely evaporated.

For the Soup:

1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed

* Cubing the salt pork is optional.

Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.

To Make the Soup:

  1. Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
  2. When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
  4. Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.

Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.

Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

If there’s somewhere I don’t want to be, it’s caught in a rut.  A rut, by definition, is a “sunken, deep track.”  In a figurative sense, it’s simply being stuck — trapped, without inspiration, creativity and probably worst of all, without hope.  If I start to feel like I’m going into “stuck mode” I do everything I can to break out: I travel, I listen to music, read books and meet new people — and when all else fails, I step out of my comfort zone.

Recently, I decided to learn a new skill — nothing related to the kitchen or any of my current work.  My new skill would be golfing, and I was determined to learn how to play.

Now, I’ve never golfed in my life. I knew nothing about the sport (and I still don’t).  However, it was time to learn something new, so I picked the one sport I’ve never held any interest and went all in.  I signed up for a Golf Boot Camp and that was it.

On my first day of camp, I was lost.  Literally.  I couldn’t find the golf course, I didn’t know where I was headed and I found myself driving around aimlessly while my GPS was “re-calculating.”  (Geez, that has to be the most frustrating sound to hear when you’re lost).  When I finally found the camp, I had no idea how to swing or grip the club correctly.  I was lost, frustrated and angry.  I would swing for the ball and miss — like an un-coordinated idiot.  I kept wondering: “Why am I doing this?  What was I thinking?”

At the Golf Boot Camp with Cathy Schmidt

Instead of giving up, I put my head down, corrected my grip and started to swing for the ball.  I decided that no matter what, I was going to power through and complete the lesson.  I’m not sure what it was:  a spark of fight, a bitter streak of stubbornness, or a hard-headed sense of determination (I’ll never be able to shake these from my personality) but I knew I had to continue.  I was going to hit the ball – damnit!

My instructor, Cathy, was more than accommodating.  She kept a watchful eye on everything I did, making corrective steps and giving sound advice. By some miracle, I hit the ball.  Then I hit another and another.  Before I knew it, I was spending my afternoons on the golfing range, practicing, meeting new people and improving my swing.  It felt amazing!

My swing is starting to improve

As I look back, I am in awe with the amount of support and growth I have gained.  When I shared my golfing goals with my friends Jen and Dean, they instantly gave their approval.  Jen graciously allowed me to borrow her clubs and Dean shared great golfing advice.  It felt fantastic to have such encouragement.

Unexpectedly, I’ve also grown on my professional side.  Jen and Dean have a daughter named Lauren, and Cathy has a daughter named Lucky.  Both Lauren and Lucky are pre-teens, currently interested in learning their way around the kitchen. It is an absolute joy to know that both girls have my cookbook and are spending the summer cooking their way through the recipes.

Hearing these two young ladies are excited to learn from my work has inspired me to reach out to both of them.  Together, we share a love for knowledge and cooking.  In fact, while talking with the girls, I realized how much fun it is to teach young people, and how wonderful it is to discover new things at any age.

Pretty Lauren enjoys Chicken Sausage with Peppers and Penne – that she made!

Also, after spending days in the hot sun, I’ve created several new recipes that are “picnic-friendly” and can go in any cooler, basket, poolside table or even in the back of a golf cart.  I’ll post these recipes in the coming weeks, as soon as they are tested and perfected.

In the meantime, I am posting my Cold Sesame Noodle recipe, with a big shout-out to Lauren, Lucky, Cathy, Jen and Dean — and of course, to all of my friends who have pushed me and encouraged me to try something new.  I may not be a good golfer (yet) but I am truly grateful for such amazing friendships.  The next picnic we have together will be on the links — and I can’t wait!

Cold Sesame Noodles
Serves 6

* Author’s Note: When I published this recipe in my cookbook, I encouraged the use of Chinese egg noodles, to make it more authentic.  Now that I’m bringing this on the golf course, I’ve switched to buckwheat soba noodles which are full of fiber, and I’ve added shrimp for extra protein.

Ingredients

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

2 pounds buckwheat soba noodles
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh snowpeas
1 cup freshly grated carrots
1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin

1/2 cup dark sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce (you may use low sodium)
3 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sambal (chili paste)
Sesames seeds for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook according to package directions.  In the last two minutes of cooking, add the shrimp and the snowpeas.
  2. Immediately rinse the noodles, shrimp and snowpeas under cold running water.  Drain well, cool and set aside.
  3. Make the dressing by mixing the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sambal and sugar.  Adjust seasonings to taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Combine the noodles, shrimp, snowpeas, carrots and green onions with the dressing in a large bowl.  Use tongs or extra long chopsticks to coat well.  Chill in refrigerator for two hours, turning every 30 minutes.
  5. Garnish with sesame seeds and pack in picnic basket or serve immediately.
Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Raspberry Vinaigrette from Food with My Friends, the cookbook

There’s something so refreshing about a vinaigrette — especially when the weather starts to warm up.  As the days get longer and the temperatures start to rise, our eating habits change too.  Gone are the thick sauces and heavy stocks, as we opt instead for small squirts of citrus, freshly chopped herbs and smokey dry rubs.

I happen to have a fondness for warm vinaigrettes.  There’s nothing wrong with a room temperature vinaigrette on a salad, but when I’m at the grill or doing a quick pan saute, I like to finish with a warm vinaigrette.  In my opinion, a little bit of heat intensifies the flavor of the vinaigrette, which means you can use less and taste more.

A basic vinaigrette is an emulsion of acid and fat.  Most of us know and love olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but if you’re feeling more experimental, use ingredients like freshly squeezed fruits, spicy mustards, creamy butter, chopped herbs, sweet preserves or tangy shallots.  For a warm vinaigrette, I like to start with a hot pan (preferably the one that you cooked your proteins in) and your chosen fat (for me, that’s typically olive oil).  I like to create an infused oil, adding chopped herbs or fruit zest to warm oil so it really takes on the flavor of the featured ingredient.  I take the infused oil off the heat and let it cool.  Then I whisk the warm oil with freshly squeezed fruit juice or vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and immediately brush it onto grilled vegetables or chicken.  Just a little goes a long way — and it really makes a splash on your tastebuds!

Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1 cup olive oil
2 lemons, zested and juice reserved
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. In a warm pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tarragon and lemon zest and remove from heat.  Allow the ingredients to infuse the oil as well as cool down, about 10 minutes.
  2.  With a reamer or similar juicing tool, add the juice from the lemons.  Use a whisk or jar to shake and create a creamy emulsion.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Use on grilled poultry or vegetables.