Linguine with Fresh Spinach, Red Pepper, and Lemon

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I love going to the grocery store; I do it several times a week, if only for a few things. I know, I know, it is poor planning on my part, but I enjoy weaving through the aisles, checking out new and interesting ingredients I may have missed during my previous visit. I recall going to the grocery store with my dad when I was small. He would take a list with everything we needed but inevitably, we’d return home with something he wanted. I remember riding in the cart or walking alongside my dad down every aisle in the grocery store. He’d take his time, selecting a bottle of this, or a jar of that, turning it over in his hands, considering its use, before returning it to the shelf or placing it in our cart. Mom never really knew what he’d bring home. Sometimes it was a jar of pickled herring, sometimes it was a new mustard, and sometimes it was a package of cookies he’d open on the drive home for the two of us to sample.

Perhaps my love of grocery stores is rooted in nostalgia. That’s fine, I’ll take that. But as much as I love grocery stores, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like going last night. I hadn’t planned dinner and I didn’t want to shop. My only option was to use what we already had in the house; in a way, I chose to “shop” our cupboards. Sometimes I forget what we have, so was a nice surprise to find that I had enough items to throw together a pasta dinner.

Pasta dishes don’t have to be complicated. With a few simple ingredients, you can create a lovely, luscious, and delightful dinner in the time it takes you to boil your linguine (or spaghetti, or penne…you get the idea).

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I always have dried pasta in the cupboard and this time around, it was linguine. I also had a red onion, a lemon, some garlic, a red bell pepper, and fresh spinach (not pictured). As usual, if you find that you have different ingredients on hand, feel free to substitute; pasta is flexible!

The method for this pasta was dead simple – finely dice the onion and pepper, mince the garlic, grate the zest of the lemon, and wash and dry the spinach. Put the water on to boil, sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic, and by the time the pasta is al dente, everything is ready to be tossed together and voilà! Dinner is served.

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Shopping my cupboards and fridge ended up working in my favor last night and I’d be willing to bet that if you challenged yourself to shop your own, you’ll find that you have the ingredients for a lovely and delicious pasta dinner. And you didn’t have to leave the house!

Linguine with Fresh Spinach, Red Bell Pepper, and Lemon
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:

1/2 pound dried linguine
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on preference)
one bunch fresh spinach leaves, washed and spun dry in salad spinner
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Method:

Bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot. When water is at a rolling boil, toss in 1 tablespoon kosher salt and allow it to return to a boil. It’s essential that you salt your pasta water, as this is the only seasoning your pasta will get until mixed with the rest of your ingredients. You don’t want under-seasoned pasta. As a result of salting your pasta water, you may find you need less salt in the overall dish. You’ll want to boil the pasta according to the package directions until it is al dente (usually 8 minutes or so).

Once water is back to a boil, add pasta and give it a good stir. Stirring pasta for the first minute or two will ensure your pasta doesn’t stick together. Don’t go nuts and stir throughout – just a few good stirs within the first 2 minutes should suffice.

In the meantime, heat a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and one tablespoon butter; allow the butter to melt, turn heat down to medium and add onion, red pepper, and garlic. Season with 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, and a pinch of kosher salt. Sauté for several minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are softened – make sure they do not burn. If you find the vegetables are getting too much color, turn heat down a bit. Add spinach and red pepper flakes; stir gently to wilt spinach – turn heat off.

When the pasta has reached al dente, dunk liquid measuring cup into the pasta water; save at least 1/2 cup cooking water. Drain pasta in colander and return pasta to pot. Add vegetable mixture to pasta along with lemon juice, lemon zest, and the remaining two tablespoons butter and toss gently with tongs until butter is melted and all ingredients have been combined.  If you find the pasta is a bit dry, add a few splashes of the pasta water and toss.

Serve in bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan (if desired) and a few turns of  freshly cracked black pepper.

 


My Florida Connection via COOP

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I’m thrilled to share with you my second installment at COOP. For this post, I highlighted the many wonderful things I love about Florida. My husband is from the Sunshine State and is responsible for introducing me to crab legs, octopus, Gulf oysters, and sandy beaches; I wanted to pass along those experiences on to my best friend, Sophia. So, over Spring Break she and I spent five days enjoying what the Gulf coast of Florida has to offer. I plan to recreate in my own kitchen some of the dishes we enjoyed over our visit. Think: blackened grouper, fresh briny oysters, crab legs, and a refreshing glass of sangria. My Omaha kitchen will soon be my Florida oasis!


Puréed Vegetarian Mulligatawny Soup

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Guys, I’m sick. I caught a beast of a cold earlier this week and I am one grumpy Sara. I’m achy, I’ve been sneezing, and if I’d known this was coming, I’d have purchased stock in tissues. I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed, but I’m awake now and before I head back to the warmth of my blankets, I wanted to share this recipe with you. This soup won’t cure your cold, but it’ll sure make you feel better.

I should tell you a few of things about this soup before I get down to the nitty-gritty recipe stuff. First, it is by far my favorite soup on the planet. I could eat this delicious, hearty, and silky soup every single day.

Second, this soup is the reason the Vitamix blender was invented. My lovely husband gifted me this blender and we use it almost every day (we make a lot of smoothies these days). Though I love my immersion blender when I’m looking for a soup with more texture, the Vitamix creates the smoothest, creamiest, most luscious soups I’ve ever had.

And finally, this soup is super flexible. As long as you have the correct spices, you can play around with the veggies all you want. Don’t have turnips? That’s fine, use parsnips. Only have chicken stock? Totally cool, use that instead of vegetable stock! Fresh out of red lentils? It’ll be fine, use orange lentils or split peas! I do want to stress that the spices are pretty essential, so, hit up your local bulk section stock up, because my guess is you’ll be making this soup over and over!

I absolutely love Indian food. At one point in my life, I was a waitress at an Indian restaurant and I thought life couldn’t get any better! Imagine being surrounded by great people and amazing food every day and getting paid for it?! I’d go home and try to recreate what I’d eaten that day; I wasn’t always successful, but I came close. This soup is pretty darn close to what I use to eat, and it’s a good thing I love it so much, because I’ve been able to play around with the ingredients in order to get it “just right.” Even when it’s not perfect, it’s still pretty amazing.

Vegetarian Mulligatawny Soup
(makes 8-10 servings; warm leftovers on stovetop)

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chickpea (garbanzo bean, or besan) flour  (I would urge you to buy a package of this and keep it in your freezer)
5 to 6 cups vegetable stock (or low-sodium chicken stock, if you prefer)
1 large potato, diced (leave the skin on, as you’re going to purée the soup)
6 or 7 large button mushrooms (or cremini, if you can find them – more flavor!), roughly chopped
4 small, or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 small parsnips, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons orange lentils (red or green lentils will be fine, as well as split peas)
2 crushed bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Juice from 2 lemons
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, more for garnish
cooked rice, if desired

Method:

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, dry roast the peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and fennel seeds. Stir, and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Keep and eye on the dry spices, as they can burn easily and then you’ll have to start all over! Remove spices from the pan and allow them to cool for a few minutes. In a coffee or spice grinder, grind the spice mixture into a powder. Add the turmeric and cayenne to the mixture and set aside.

In a large soup pot, add the chickpea flour and a few tablespoons of stock. Whisk to remove any lumps. Add the remaining stock and whisk to combine.

To the soup pot add the ground spices, mushrooms, vegetables, lentils, bay leaves, garlic, onion, and ginger; bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from heat and in batches, blend soup in blender. If all you have is an immersion blender or food processor, that’s just fine. It won’t be as smooth, but the flavor should be great, so it’s okay! When all of the soup is blended, pour it back into the pot and return the pot to the stove. Add the coconut milk, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and chopped cilantro. Simmer the soup for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Adjust seasoning to your preference.

Serve in bowls with a few spoonfuls of cooked rice. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over and garnish with more cilantro, if desired.


My New Adventure

Guys, I have some super exciting news. The lovely ladies over at COOP have asked me to become their newest food contributor! I couldn’t be more honored or thrilled!  I am lucky to be working with such creative and inspiring women!

My introductory post can be found here.  And many many thanks to Hooton Images for the amazing photographs!  Here are a few of my favorites:

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Little French Fudge Cakes

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I absolutely love (LOVE!) listening to The Splendid Table on NPR. I have been a fan for as long as I can remember and it is a staple in my podcast collection for long plane rides and road trips.  Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift developed this recipe for their cookbook The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper and I wanted to give it a try in my home kitchen.  Boy, they weren’t kidding when they said, “If you can melt chocolate and stir, you can make these cakes.”  They were so simple – albeit a bit expensive due to the required chocolate – but so worth it!

Lynne and Sally make note of the difference in baking times for different types of pans.  In my kitchen, I have a dark(ish) non-stick standard metal cupcake pan and my little cakes were done at 18 minutes.  They state that if you have a shiny cupcake pan that the baking time should be increased by a few minutes more.

As I said, these cakes are easy and delicious, but they can be a bit pricy due to the chocolate bars required.  Don’t skimp, though.  These little cakes had a deep chocolate flavor which tilted more toward the bittersweet than cloyingly sweet, but that is exactly what I like.  Try to find really good quality chocolate – you won’t be sorry!

I chose to double the recipe (super easy), but I will list the ingredients just as they did, which will result in 6 cupcakes.  Since I doubled the recipe, I used one Valrhona 71% bar and one Trader Joe’s 73% dark bar.

Little French Fudge Cakes
via The Splendid Table

Ingredients:

One 3.5- or 4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bar (Lindt Excellence 70%, Valrhona 71%, Scharffen Berger 70%, or Ghirardelli 70% Extra bittersweet, in order of TSP’s preference), broken up
1 1/2-ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk (for a double recipe, use 5 whole eggs)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 level tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Half of a 3.5- or 4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bar, broken into bite-sized pieces

Method:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a dark metal cupcake tin.

Combine the broken-up bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate with the butter in a heatproof bowl. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir frequently until all butter and chocolate is melted and has a smooth consistency.

In a medium to large bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, vanilla, eggs and yolk, sugar, and salt until creamy. Stir in the flour to blend thoroughly. Then stir in the chocolate/butter mixture until smooth. Finally, blend the bite-sized pieces of chocolate. Pour batter into the cupcake pan, filling each three-quarters full.

Bake cakes for 16-18 minutes. Insert a knife into the center of the cupcake. It should come out with some streaks of thick batter and THAT IS OKAY.  I got a little scared at first when I saw it, but after all, these are fudge cakes; they’re meant to be a bit fudgy. If you have any doubts about doneness, LRK suggests pressing the top of a cupcake to see if it is nearly firm. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes to serve warm, or for 20 minutes to serve at room temperature.

Wrapped, the cakes will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, if they last that long.

 


Chocolate Sea Salt Ice Cream

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I’m of the opinion, “Why buy something when you can make it?”  There are so many items we eat on a semi-daily basis that can be made in our own kitchens – why are we throwing money away on stabilizers, preservatives, and any number of other icky chemicals that comprise our “food”?  Think of that loaf of bread sitting on your counter; with a little time and practice, you could have a fresh loaf (or two) waiting to be toasted or used for your turkey sandwich!  Your morning bowl of granola from the box?  Yes, that too, can be quickly made, and you’ll recognize each and every ingredient in it!  Jams, jellies, and preserves can be made and jarred, and you can even make your own peanut butter to go with them!  Heck, I even made my own worcestershire sauce once!  I’m not saying you need to go that far, but you could if you wanted.

One of the easiest and most satisfying recipes to make at home is ice cream.  Most custard recipes are basic and straightforward – a little milk, a little cream, a few egg yolks, a little sugar, and voilà! you have the base for any number of flavors!  In the summer I go nuts with fresh herbs in my ice cream – I’ve made lemon thyme ice cream, basil ice cream, mint chip – but in the winter, I find that I gravitate toward “cozier” flavors like buttermilk, chocolate, and coffee.

This chocolate ice cream can play host to whatever add-ins you want to use.  Have a pan of brownies lying around?  Cut up a couple and stir them in after the ice cream has been churned.  I could imagine chopped dried cherries might be nice in this, or even some chopped almonds or cashews.  The possibilities are endless!  I’ve even made a chocolate and cracked black pepper ice cream – I know, it might sound strange, but the deep chocolate flavor paired really nicely with the hot bite of black pepper.

For this batch, I chose to go simple, but added a little Maldon sea salt to the churned ice cream.  Sea salt is a natural partner to chocolate, but, if it’s not your thing, leave it out and it’ll be just as good.

Chocolate Sea Salt Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk (trust me, if you’re going to make ice cream, don’t skimp on the whole milk or cream – go for it!)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (bar or chips), finely chopped
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt (if you’re wary, 2 teaspoons will do just fine)

Method:

To make an ice bath, fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water; place a medium bowl inside the bath and set a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl; set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine the cream and milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  When tiny bubbles form on the surface of the mixture, remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until fully incorporated.  Add chopped chocolate and whisk until totally melted and smooth; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks until smooth.  Slowly add sugar and whisk until pale yellow and thickened.  It’ll feel like you’re whisking wet sand, but trust me, whisk for at least 2-3 minutes.  Slowly and carefully, pour about 1/3 of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs don’t scramble.  This is called tempering.

Pour chocolate-egg mixture back into saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens a little  and coats the back of the spoon.  You’ll know it’s ready when you can draw your finger across the spoon and it makes a mark through the mixture and doesn’t run back on itself.

Remove pan from heat and strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer.  Stir vanilla extract into the base and allow the mixture to cool in the ice bath, stirring occasionally, until it comes to room temperature, at least 20 minutes.  Cover and chill in fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

(If you don’t have the means to make an ice bath, or simply don’t want to, that’s okay.  Just cover the bowl, place it in the fridge, and allow it to chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.  You want the mixture to be really cold before you pour it into your ice cream maker.)  

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (I use the freezer bowl attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer).  After it’s done churning, fold in the sea salt and freeze in air-tight containers until ready to eat.


Banana Cream Pie

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For the longest time I had been craving a slice of banana cream pie.  I know I could have probably satisfied that craving by heading to the local Village Inn, but why do such a thing when baking my own would much that much more satisfying?  Cream pies are, in my opinion, overlooked in the dessert world.  They’re finicky – what with the custard, and all.  They are time-consuming, as the crust must be pre-baked and totally cooled prior to being filled.  And often, they simply don’t turn out well; they may be too runny, too “stiff”, or the crust might not be hearty enough to stand up to the custard filling.  For whatever reason, I felt like accepting the challenge.  I love bananas and I love pastry cream, so what the heck, right?  Bring it on.

After many years of baking pies, I have finally gotten over my fear of making pie dough.  Really, it’s not that hard.  All you have to do is make sure your ingredients are really cold and you have to trust your instincts.  If, when you pinch the dough mixture between your fingers, it doesn’t stick together, add more water, but slowly.  Allow it to rest in the fridge, and then be confident in your rolling abilities; a floured surface is your best friend.

Once the pie crust is baked to a golden brown, it can sit cooling on the counter while you prepare the pastry cream.  The best advice I can give for making pastry cream is to have all your ingredients ready before you start, watch the heat on the pan, and whisk as though your very life depends on it.  Pastry cream can go from a liquid to a semi-solid in mere seconds, and if you’re not paying attention, you will burn it and have to start all over.  I don’t want that to happen, and I’m guessing neither do you.  I believe in you.  Be confident and trust in your instincts.  It’s just custard, after all.

After the custard has cooled, either chilled in the fridge or stirred in an ice bath, the pie can be assembled and eaten (finally!).  Yes, there is quite a bit of waiting for things to cool when it comes to cream pies, but trust that the cool time is essential.  You will be handsomely rewarded for all of your patience!

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