Monday, January 30, 2012

Manic Monday Meals

Kate’s Cashew Chili
It's that time of year again, when the Giants are going to DOMINATE in the Super Bowl! Who's making Chili for the Big Game? It's one of my tailgating and football party staples, but I didn't always have a good Chili recipe.

I used to work with a woman named Kate, who would bring lunch to the office wrapped in cloth napkins. Some days, the napkin would be filled with home made crusty bread, a generous spread of hummus, and some thinly sliced veggies. Other days, she would have a bunch of grapes, fresh whole grain crackers, and a handful of almonds. When I think of the term “Earth Mother,” an image of Kate gently floats into my brain, with her flowing hair, slender, graceful limbs, and bright smile. She used to share some delicious recipes with me and if I ever had a question about converting a meal to something vegetarian friendly, Kate was there with a head full of knowledge and a pencil to jot down recommendations.

My standard chili recipe comes from Kate’s Cashew Chili. Of course, I tweaked, fiddled, and changed until I thought it was just right, but the base of this chili comes from Kate. I’m not really in touch with Kate anymore, but I wish I were! Kate! If you’re out there, give me a shout out! She would gasp in horror at my suggestion to add a little meat if you wanted(1/2 lb of ground beef, pork, or chicken), or to serve it with a generous sprinkle of cheddar and heaping spoon of sour cream. This is another cupboard ready recipe, so you should have no problems whipping it up when you’re out of other meal ideas! It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but most of these are spices that you have around.

Total Prep & Cooking Time: 30 Minutes
Serves: 4 – 6, Depending on appetites

Kate’s Cashew Chili

1 15oz Can of Kidney Beans – Drained
1 15oz Can of Garbanzos – Drained
2 Onions – Chopped
2 Green Peppers – Chopped
2 Celery Stalks – Chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic – Minced
1 Cup of Corn – I use frozen
1 Quart of Crushed Tomatoes
2 Cups of Water
2 Bay Leaves
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter
3 TBSP Fresh Dill – Chopped (if you don’t have fresh, it’s fine to use dried!)
2 TBSP Cumin
1 TBSP Coriander
1/4 Tsp Cayenne
1/2 Tsp Oregano
1/2 Tsp Basil
1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews
1-2 TBSP Red Wine Vinegar

Heat the OLIVE OIL over medium low heat in a large cast iron or stock pot. Add ONIONS and GARLIC, sauté for 2 minutes before adding the GREEN PEPPERS and CELERY. Cook until tender-crisp. Slide veggies to the side of the pan

Melt in BUTTER, add all SPICES, HERBS, SALT, and PEPPER. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning. If you’re using FRESH DILL, avoid adding it now. If you’re using DRIED DILL, go ahead and add it with the other spices.

Add TOMATOES, stirring and scraping pot to incorporate all the sautéed spices. Simmer for 10 minutes. If you haven’t toasted your CASHEWS, now’s the time to do it. 350° for 10-12 minutes.

Add BEANS and WATER to chili, bring back to a simmer. Add toasted CASHEWS and FRESH DILL, simmer until heated through. Just before serving, add RED WINE VINEGAR. Start with 1 TBSP, taste. If it needs it, add the other tablespoon. Serve over rice and garnish with shredded cheddar, sour cream, and a healthy dose of Frank’s Red Hot.

There’s a joke in my family about trying to eat Chili without rice. I just don’t understand how it can be done. Do you eat your Chili over rice? Noodles? Potatoes? Crackers? Corn bread? Just in a bowl with a spoon? However you eat it, I hope you enjoy Kate’s Cashew Chili!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wegetarian Wednesday

Red and White Soup

This hearty and delicious soup originates from a great cookbook my Dad bought for me many years ago called “The Complete Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook,” by Emma Callery. The book is a treasure trove of amazing recipes from fresh pasta and basic sauces, comforting bakes and ragus, to the more adventurous pasta themed desserts like Cinnamon Fettuccine with Apple Sauce or Chocolate Pasta Torte.

I’ve modified Callery’s recipe a bit to adjust to my family’s taste, but the original is really great, too. Another delicious change is from Parmesan to Bleu Cheese, taking this soup to full on patriotic status, but most of the time I stick with Parm. The first time I made this, I was surprised at how rich the soup was for something that could be pulled together so quickly. Tossing the pasta into the olive oil give it a bit of a toasted hint that works really well with the beans.

Total Prep & Cooking Time: 30 Minutes
Serves: 4 – 6

Red & White Soup

3 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 Onion – Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic – Minced
2 Parsnips – Chopped (optional)
1 Cup of Dried Pasta – shape of your choice (I really love to use pastina)
2 TBSP Tomato Paste
1 14oz Can of Kidney Beans – Drained & Rinsed
1 14oz Can of Cannellini Beans – Drained & Rinsed
8 Cups Vegetable Broth or Stock
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley – Chopped
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Fresh Parmesan to Garnish

Heat the OLIVE OIL over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add the ONION and sauté 3 – 5 minutes until they start to become clear. Add PARSNIPS, PASTA, and GARLIC, sautéing for another minute, but not longer. The garlic tends to get bitter if overcooked.

Add BROTH and TOMATO PASTE. Raise heat, bring to a boil, and stir to incorporate the tomato paste. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Be sure to give it a stir every now and then so that the pasta doesn’t stick.

Add both beans and parsley. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. Cook until beans are heated through, 3-5 minutes. Serve with a liberal sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan and a little more cracked pepper.

You can serve this with some crackers, crostini, or just a simple loaf of bread. It’s packed with protein, ridiculously cheap, and oh so delicious. Aside from the parsnips and parsley, you should have most or all of the ingredients on hand. There’s something earthy and different about using parsnips in this soup, but if you don’t want to make a special trip, you can always leave them out or use carrots. This Red and White Soup is an excellent example of a vegetarian meal that doesn’t feel like it’s vegetarian. The soup is hearty and filling, I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think and what you're cooking.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Packing Your Pantry

Packing Your Pantry

As promised, I’m going to talk about what I keep in my pantry. I have a few categories that wouldn’t really qualify as items in your physical pantry, but I keep them on hand anyway. And can I just start by saying how much I hate the word PANTRY? Every time I type it or say it, I think, “Panty.” Then I start thinking about those panties that have secret pockets in them and what people might put in there. And no one wants to think about that. How about we say cabinets? Or create a new word? Suggestions?

Dry goods

Cans of crushed tomato
Chick peas
Kidney & Canellini beans
At least two different shapes of pasta (I like spaghetti & penne)
Peanut butter
Tortilla chips
Bullion cubes
Silken Tofu


Chicken drums & thighs
Sweet Italian sausage
An assortment of veggies like corn, green beans, peas, & spinach


Lemon juice
Soy sauce
Assorted salad dressings
Salad fixings
Ground meat
Assorted cheeses

With the above ingredients, you can whip up countless meals, including marinated chicken with rice and veggies; potato soup, cream of vegetable soup, chicken noodle soup, spaghetti and sausage or meatballs, hummus and chips, red and white soup (recipe coming up on Wednesday,) chicken stir fry with barley, pasta salad, fresh salad, Thai style lettuce roll-ups, mac and cheese, arroz con pollo, oh man, I could go on and on. All these meals can be made quickly, within 30-40 minutes, and offer various levels of nutrition. From comfort food to healthy meals, there’s something for everyone.

What are your must haves that are stocking your cabinets? What go-to meals can you whip up with a moment’s notice? And can you please help me come up with a new way of referring to my –ick- pantry?

Thanks for reading!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Secret Sauce

My regularly scheduled Wednesday posting was interrupted by this: SOPA. On with the show!

Secret Sauce

I have a secret. When I make traditional red sauce, I take out the traditional and add my own twist. At least I thought it was my own twist until I saw this on twitter:

Mario Batali is out there spilling the beans! Or the carrots, in this instance. I learned the carrot trick when I was living in South America and my Mama always added shredded carrots to her red sauce. It seemed so strange to me at the time. We are not an Italian family, though my Dad grew up in an Italian neighborhood. I grew up watching him grow his own vegetables, peel tomatoes, and can shelves upon shelves of sauce. His sauce is amazing, but I never tasted sauce quite like my Mama’s. I’ve been fiddling with this recipe for years and have always come back to “simple is best.”

So, now that my secret is out, I thought I’d share my sauce recipe with the rest of the world. It’s very simple and the optional add-ins can take the sauce to many different levels depending on how you plan to use it. In lasagna, I would keep it simple or perhaps add a little sausage. Over fresh ribbon noodles, I like to add some more veggies and keep the sauce a bit more chunky. If you are against using wine, go for some broth or stock.

Sara’s Red Sauce

2 29 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
2 Carrots – shredded
1 Medium Red Onion – chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic – minced
1/2 C Wine – Red or White, something drinkable, but not sweet
1 tsp Kosher Salt (more or less depending on your taste)
Pepper to taste
2 TBSP Olive Oil

1/2 Pound Mushrooms – sliced
1/2 Pound Ground Turkey/Chicken/Pork/Sausage
1 Bell Pepper – chopped

Heat OLIVE OIL over medium-low heat in a large pot and add the ONIONS. Liberally salt the onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes, adding the CARROTS about half way through cooking the onions. Add the other veggies, one at a time, cooking each for a few minutes and moving them to the side before adding the next. I always add the MUSHROOMS last, since they take the least amount of time to cook.

After all the vegetables are sautéed, deglaze the pan with the WINE or BROTH and add the GARLIC. I prefer adding the garlic with the liquid so as not to over cook it. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan before you add the TOMATOES to the vegetables. After adding the tomatoes, allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes and then eat it. Slather it on crusty bread, pour it over noodles, grab a spoon and fill your gaping mouth until you want to puke. Erm… Sorry, lost focus. Just, you know, enjoy in moderation. If you can.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Manic Monday Meals

Manic Monday Meals

I’m not sure what your pantry looks like, but next week I’ll be posting some staples and some suggestions for items you should keep on hand. One dish I like to be able to make at a moment’s notice is Hummus. The ingredients are cheap, nutritious, and don’t take up much pantry room. Once the Hummus is whipped up, you can pair it with chips, pitas, veggies, crackers, and sandwiches. It’s a great protein alternative, high in fiber, and let’s face it, Hummus is downright delicious! I usually use canned chick peas because they don’t require any prep time, but you are more than welcome to make them from dried beans. You can either use the liquid retained from the cans of chick peas or Olive Oil. The liquid will add sodium to your finished product while the Olive Oil will add fat, but the good kind. Also, most people don’t have tahini on hand, which isn’t an issue if you have natural peanut butter around. Just be sure you’re using peanut butter without added sugar. I know some people prefer more tahini, up to a 1/3 of a cup, but I really only use a little for texture and not for flavor. I love to load my hummus up with black pepper and cumin, or give it a couple dozen healthy shakes of Frank’s Red Hot. After you make it a few times, you’ll figure out how much garlic you like and whether you prefer olive oil or the reserved liquid. I like olive oil. Here goes!


2-15 oz Cans of Chick Peas (liquid drained and reserved if you’re going to use it.)
2-4 Cloves of Garlic
4 TBSP Tahini or Natural Peanut Butter
4 TBSP Lemon Juice
Olive Oil or Chick Pea Liquid
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mince up the GARLIC and add it to the bowl of a food processor along with the LEMON JUICE. Whiz it up for just a couple seconds and start adding the CHICK PEAS and pulse after each addition to break them up. Once all the CHICK PEAS are added, toss in the TAHINI or PEANUT BUTTER, SALT and PEPPER, and a little of the OLIVE OIL or LIQUID. Turn the processor on low and open the hopper (is that what you call that thing?) Slowly add liquid until the hummus reaches the consistency you want. I like mine with a little more texture, but you may like yours super smooth.

To serve, scoop it out into a bowl, drizzle some Olive Oil on top and give it a sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper, paprika, or cayenne. Eat it and attempt not to hork down the entire bowl before the rest of the family comes to the table. Fail. Make another batch and serve.

I like to serve mine with mini pitas, left over roasted chicken, carrots, celery, marinated olives, and chunks of fresh feta. Now that my mouth is watering, I’ll leave you to make your hummus while I go grab a spoon. You’re inviting me over, right?

Thanks for reading,


Friday, January 13, 2012

Frou-Frou Friday

Frou-Frou Friday

In an attempt to make some homemade gifts this year, I took inspiration from a recent Food Network Magazine article about edible offerings. I had never tried to craft candy before, but there were quite a few recipes in a little magazine pull-out that seemed simple enough to start. In particular, I wanted to make
Peppermint Stars without the peppermint. I thought I could fiddle with the flavors and come up with something deliciously non-peppermint. I decided to use the classic Orange and Chocolate combo by adding orange extract and the zest of one orange.

Using the original recipe found in the link above didn’t exactly work for me. My little discs of filling were too limp to dip in the melted chocolate. They practically melted at the touch even after chilling and the process made a huge mess, wasting quite a few ingredients. Amidst the pitying comments from my sister, “Don’t worry, Martha*. Candy is really hard,” and the less than sympathetic, “You can’t be perfect at cooking everything,” from my mother, I thought there had to be a better way. I could have used sticks like Sugartown Sweets did, but the filling still wouldn’t have held up to dipping.

I went back to the recipe and made a few modifications: removed the milk, added more butter, rolled the filling out a bit thicker, and thinned out the dipping chocolate. The resulting candy was much easier to work with, but I can’t lie to you. This isn’t a throw together kind of sweet. It takes time, patience, and a considerable love of chocolate. So, yeah. Frou-Frou.

Ingredients for Filling

2 Cups of Confectioner’s Sugar
2 TBSP Corn Syrup
4 TBSP Butter
1 tsp Extract, flavors like, peppermint, orange, lemon, root beer, or almond
Zest of one Orange or Lemon (optional, if doing a citrus flavored candy)

Ingredients for Chocolate Coating

6 oz Semisweet Chocolate Chips
2 TBSP Corn Syrup
1 TBSP Butter
1 tsp Water

Blend confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, butter, zest, and flavor until smooth. I found that using a mixer was easier than by hand, though you certainly can stir these up if you don’t have a mixer. A little tip: coat your tablespoon measure in cooking spray so that it slides right off into your mixing bowl.

Bring together in a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in wax or parchment, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

I used wax paper to roll these out so that I didn’t end up with sticky sugar all over my counter. Dust the paper and your filling with some confectioner’s sugar and roll out to 3/8 to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into desired shape, I used little circles so that I could make these look like peppermint patties. My circle cookie cutter measures an inch and a half in diameter.

After cutting out your shapes, insert a toothpick into each. Your fingers will thank me later. Put all of the little filling pops onto a cookie sheet and freeze until hard, about an hour. I did all of these steps the night before and then dipped them on the following day.

Melt Chocolate, corn syrup, butter, and water together over a double boiler. Not sure what that is? I use a rimmed glass bowl that sits over a sauce pan. Add water to the pan until it just hits the bottom of the glass bowl and bring to a soft boil over medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is silky and smooth.

Using the toothpicks as a handle, dip the discs into the chocolate, quickly coating the entire thing. It’s handy to have a spoon in your opposite hand so that you can hit those hard to reach places near the toothpick. Place the coated candy back onto the cookie sheet. When all discs are coated, put the sheet into the fridge until the candy coating sets up, about 20-40 minutes. Remove from fridge, pop the toothpick out, and eat.

One last thought. These candies are delicious, but you really can’t leave them sitting out, particularly if it’s warm in your house. They’ll either melt or be inhaled before they have time to melt. Store them in the fridge.

Hope you enjoy!

Thanks for reading,


*Yes, my sister calls me

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wegetarian Wednesday

In a former life, before a nine and a half pound baby sucked all the life, um- iron out of me, I was a vegetarian. I routinely slipped tofu into recipes with such ease that avowed carnivores never even noticed. One friend claimed he would never, NEVER eat tofu. And he never did, unless you count the entire pan of my lasagna that he inhaled, or that massive crock of cream of vegetable soup he took home, or the huge plate of mushroom stroganoff he housed… no, he never ate tofu.

This Stir fry recipe is good on its own, but you can add tofu if you’d like. I would pat dry some cubes of extra firm tofu and pan fry them in small batches before the onions. Also, the veggies I use are more for texture and less for taste. I really think that any combination of veggies could work in this stir fry, including snow peas, baby corn, cauliflower, or cabbage. Sometimes to mix things up, I put a segment or two of STAR ANISE into the sauce and remove them before adding it to the veggies. It infuses the sweet and salty sauce with a licorice like earthiness that takes it to another level. I like my veggies to have a bit of a crunch, so I don’t slice or chop them too thin, except for the carrots and onions. To garnish this dish, I would save a couple sprigs of cilantro and chop up a handful of nuts to sprinkle over the top.

Stir Crazy – Serves 4

1 C Barley


1/3 C Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Rice Vinegar
2 TBSP Brown Sugar or Sucanat
1 TBSP Corn Starch
1 TBSP Fresh Ginger – minced
1 Clove of Garlic – minced
Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes
2/3 C Cold Water

1 Small Red Onion, about 2/3 C – chopped
2-3 Celery Stalks, 1 1/2 C – cut on the bias
1 C Carrots – thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 Green Pepper – in strips
1 C Broccoli – in medium stalks
1/3 C Edamame – shelled
1/2 C Fresh Cilantro – chopped

2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Sesame Oil

Cook the BARLEY first! It will take close to an hour unless you have a rice cooker.
Bring 5 C of water to a rolling boil, add BARLEY. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 40-50 minutes and test for texture. Chewy! Yum!

In a small bowl, whisk CORN STARCH and WATER until smooth. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, SOY SAUCE, RICE VINEGAR, BROWN SUGAR, GINGER, GARLIC, and RED PEPPER FLAKES. Set aside

In a large skillet or wok, heat a tablespoon of each OIL over medium high heat. The idea with stir fry or wokery cooking is to flash cook each of the ingredients and then bring them all together at the end with the sauce. You’re going to add those later. The ONIONS will take the longest and will season the oil, so I like to start there. Once the ONIONS are almost translucent, use a slotted spoon to pull them out of the skillet and into a bowl. I usually just use the serving bowl I plan to use in order to avoid more dishes, but I’m lazy like that. From there, you can work your way through any of the ingredients one at a time except the CILANTRO and EDAMAME.

Once they’re all cooked, toss everything back into the pan including the EDAMAME. Give the sauce another little stir and pour it over the veggies. Bring to a low boil, allowing the sauce to thicken. This shouldn’t take more than 2 – 3 minutes. Serve over barley, garnish, and nosh!

What’s your favorite stir fry veggie?

Let me know how the recipe works for you! Thanks for reading!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Manic Monday Meals

Manic Monday Meals

I’m starting a weekly feature called Manic Monday Meals. If Monday in your house looks anything like mine, I’m sorry. The sloppy dismount of the Monday alarm clock, the whirl of coats, jackets, and scarves as you bustle out the door, wondering if there’s cash left in your kid’s lunch account because you left the lunchbox on the kitchen table. Work, family, laundry, cleaning. And after all that, you have to worry about dinner. Never mind lunch, you missed it. Well, worry no more! I’m going to post a meal a week, something easy, made from ingredients your should already have in your fridge and pantry.

This week, we’re going to do a variation on Vichyssoise. Don’t let the big fancy French word scare you, it’s just potato soup. Sometimes it’s served pureed and cold, but my version isn’t classic, so foodies? Turn away in horror as I bastardize this classic French dish. It's going to be chunky, hot, and tasty. No, that's not what she said.

Sara’s Potato Leek Soup

3 TBSP Olive Oil
6-8 strips of Bacon - cubed
4 C Potatoes - cubed
4C Spinach - uncooked or 10oz pack of Frozen Spinach
1 large Leek – thinly sliced or 1 Onion - diced
6 C Stock
2C Water
2 cloves of Garlic - minced
Salt/Pepper to taste
Sharp cheddar for garnish if you have it

A few notes before I give you some guidelines: I’m not a stickler for any of these ingredients. If you have kale instead of spinach, it works great as an additional texture in this soup. If you’re stocked up on carrots or parsnips and fresh out of potatoes, give that a go. Really, any mix of root veggies can work in the place of the potatoes. If you don’t have stock or don’t keep it on hand, use water and bullion cubes. I won’t tell! Here we go!

Heat the OLIVE OIL over medium heat. Add cubed BACON and render. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon cubes from the pan, but leave all the good stuff behind. Save this crispy deliciousness to garnish your soup.

Sauté the LEEK/ONION in the rendered fat and oil until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add minced GARLIC and sauté for an additional minute.

Add POTATOES, STOCK, and WATER to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Just before serving, stir SPINACH into soup and bring back up to temperature. Taste for seasoning and add SALT and pepper as needed. Serve and garnish with crispy bacon and a little sharp cheddar if you’d like.

And that’s it! In less than 30 minutes, you’ll have a hearty and delicious soup that your family will love. At least they should, I mean, who doesn’t love a pot of potatoes? And all that iron rich spinach you’re sneaking in there? They’ll never even notice it swirling in little ribbons of green amongst the crisp pieces of bacon and gooey cheese that you’ve tossed on top.

Hope this recipe makes your Manic Monday a little easier! Enjoy!

Thanks for reading,