Chicken Soup

I have been so busy lately… I just got a new job!

I am still teaching middle school science but I switched the school where I am teaching. It’s only two blocks away from my house, so I really like the short walk in the morning. Moving in the middle of the year was pretty challenging and it kept me working late for a while. I had a lot of packing up, moving boxes, and setting up a new classroom.

Right in the middle of this busy time, I started to not feel so well. Not sure if I was trying to do too much or if it is the crazy warm and cold January weather, but I was wiped out! When I don’t feel good, no matter how tired I am, I usually end up making a big healthy dose of chicken soup.

Here’s my chicken soup recipe that always makes me feel better:

1 tbsp. olive oil

3-4 ribs of celery, from the heart with the leaves attached

2 carrots, peeled

1/2 of a medium onion

2 cloves garlic

8 oz. cremini mushrooms

1 cup shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken

8 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup ditalini pasta or cut spaghetti pasta

handful of Italian flat leaf parsley

Cut the celery into small pieces and slice the carrots into rounds and chop the onion and mince the garlic. Add the olive oil and vegetables to a pot heated over medium heat. Saute the vegetables until they begin to become soft and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute for about 5 minutes more until all the veggies are soft.

Add the chicken stock and shredded chicken and bring to a boil. Add in the pasta and stir occasionally until the pasta has cooked (about 7 minutes). Chop the flat leaf parsley and add it to the soup.

Sometimes, if I have it in the refrigerator, I like to add some fennel fronds to give the soup some extra flavor.

This soup is pretty quick and easy. You can make it in no time if you have everything on hand. Using the rotisserie chicken is a big time saver and it adds great flavor. I buy rotisserie chickens quite frequently because there are so many things you can make with them. I usually use part of the meat for a recipe that night and freeze the rest in 1 cup portions in zip-top bags. It thaws fast and it is really convenient if you are in a hurry. I’ll be adding more of my rotisserie chicken ideas this year!

Pickle Mania!

Happy National Pickle Day!

I’ve been pickling and fermenting a lot of veggies lately. This past weekend I made my own Kimchi (recipe to follow later this week).

I think I have finally discovered the perfect combination veggies, herbs and brine to make the perfect pickle (or at least come pretty close to perfect). Here it is:

3 cups water

1 cup aged white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon whole black pepper corns

handful of dill (a few whole sprigs)

3 big garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

5-6 Kirby cucumbers (or as many as you could fit into a large mason jar) or 3/4 lb fresh green beans, trimmed

Boil the water, vinegar, and salt together in a small pot until the salt is dissolved, allow to cool to room temperature.

Slice the Kirby cucumbers into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Pack the jar with the dill sprigs, whole peppercorns, smashed garlic, and pickle rounds or green beans (or both!)

Pour the brine over the ingredients – fill the jar up to the top. Screw on a clean lid and band and place the jar in the refrigerator for at least a day. This makes enough brine to fill two large mason jars, just make sure you buy some extra cucumber or other veggies.

You get awesome pickles!

Use the same brine and experiment with other veggies and herbs. Try these other combinations that I think are awesome:

carrots, basil, and garlic

asparagus, purple basil, and sweet onions

okra and garlic

cucumbers, fennel fronds, garlic, and dill

yellow wax beans, dill, and garlic

yellow and green beans, parsley, and sweet onion

Happy pickling!

Food Photography and Caprese Salad

Last month, my photographer friend Jason Bleecher took some photos of some food I created. I’ll be sharing the photos and the recipes over the next few weeks!

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

1/2 cup good quality Balsamic vinegar

3 fresh mozzarella balls

3-4 medium size red and yellow heirloom tomatoes

1 cup of red and yellow cherry tomatoes

purple and green basil leaves

Salt and pepper

Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a small pan, reduce the balsamic vinegar to half over medium heat. Slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices and half the cherry tomatoes. Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in alternating layers on the plate. Chiffonade the green basil and spread it over the salad, garnish with purple basil leaves. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction and olive oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper.

Simple and delicious, especially when tomatoes are in season.

Sausage with fall veggies and beans

Fall veggies are plentiful and the air is getting chilly. This dish is perfect for this time of year and really easy to make. It’s a one pot meal so the clean up is minimal, which makes it great for weeknights after work because it doesn’t take much time!

You can choose what ever sausage you like. I have made this with sage turkey sausage (from The Turkey Lady), chicken apple sausage, and sweet Italian pork sausage. I think my favorite was the sweet Italian pork sausage.

1 lb. sausage (your choice!)

olive oil

1 large sweet potato

2 medium beets (I like golden beets because they do not turn the whole dish pink)

1 medium sweet onion

I medium carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 can cannellini beans

1 can dark red kidney beans

1 bunch swiss chard or kale

salt and pepper to taste

Add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil to a dutch oven set to medium high heat. Sear the sausages and remove from the pot.

Chop the onion, mince the garlic, and cut the sweet potato, carrot and beets in to 1/4 inch cubes (to match the size of the beans).

Saute the vegetables in the dutch oven for about 5 minutes, until the onions turn translucent.

I used red beets this time, so my final dish turned out pink. I also had to substitute chick peas to the cannellini beans because I didn’t have any cannellini beans left. You can substitute with pink beans as well but I think the cannellini work best in this recipe.

Chop your swiss chard or Kale into smaller pieces. If you decide to use kale, remove the tough stems and use only the leaves. I chose to use black kale this time because it was available at market and it is slightly softer than the regular kale that I usually find. After experimenting a bit, I still really like using the swiss chard.You can use the stems of the Swiss chard too, the red and yellow colors are a nice addition.

Use 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock to deglaze your pot, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the swiss chard or kale and season with salt and pepper. Place the lid on the pot and allow the liquid to boil and cook down the greens (about 7 minutes).

When the greens have reduced in volume, add in the beans. replace the lid and bring the liquid back up to a bubble.

Nestle the sausages back in the pot vegetables. Try to submerge it under the liquid and cover the pot again, bringing the liquid back up to a boil. Allow the sausages finish cooking (about 5-10 minutes, depending on size).

Remove the sausages and slice them into pieces, add the sausages back into the pot and serve…. comfort food for a chilly day.

Stirred Up Caprese Salad… With Shrimp!

This is super easy!

1/2 lb. medium sized shrimp, cleaned and deveined

4 tbsp. olive oil

12 large basil leaves

1 large ball of fresh mozzarella

8 oz. heirloom cherry or grape tomatoes

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

You don’t have to use heirloom tomatoes but I love the colors! If you want to plant some in your garden, look for a variety of grape tomatoes called Isis Candy. They are sweet and the plants that I had the last few years produced tomatoes that were all different colors all on the same plant!

Cut the tomatoes in half, cube the mozzarella into similar size chunks, and chiffonade the basil. I used purple basil this time because I found it at market the other day and I love the color. It was so aromatic that the smell traveled out of my market bag and up to my nose the whole walk home.

Place the cleaned shrimp in a bowl with 1 tbsp of olive oil, half of the basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it up until all of the shrimp are coated in olive oil. Heat you pan to medium-high heat. Place the shrimp into the pan in a single layer. Cook the shrimp until it turns pink and it is opaque all the way through. Try not to over cook it or you’ll end up with rubbery shrimp. Place your shrimp in a shallow dish and let it cool for a few minutes.

Add the halved cherry tomatoes, basil, and cubed mozzarella to the dish. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar and remaining 2 tbsp. of olive oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything together to be sure everything is coated with the vinegar and oil.

This is a simple salad but it will impress your guests! We had it the other night along side the cool cucumber soup.

Crispy Prosciutto and Cherry Tomato Pasta

I had a great dinner with Dan out on the back deck last night. The weather was breezy and cool outside, it reminded me of a nice fall day. It is still the last bit of summer and the tomatoes are still flowing so I made another pasta dish with raw tomatoes.

I got these really nice heirloom cherry tomatoes from Sweet Annie Produce at Central Market this week. They were dark in color almost looking forest green on top. If you want to find them, the variety is called black cherry. It’s supposed to be easy to grow and have a sweet smoky flavor. I think they are great for pasta dishes because they are pretty hearty and hold up to some bolder italian flavors. Good tomatoes are such a bargain this time of year and we are eating a lot of them. I feel like I should eat my fill because come October they will start to disappear.

Fun fact I learned from the Today Show on Monday: Tomatoes can help prevent sunburn… because of the phytochemical lycopene! I wrote a whole paper on lycopene for my nutrition class in college. I think phytochemicals are pretty neat <insert dork comment here>. You could also build up your lycopene by eating ketchup. Lycopene actually intensifies when it is cooked!

Here’s the recipe for this fabulous pasta, it’s simple, quick and easy:

Crispy Prosciutto and Cherry Tomato Pasta

6-8 slices of prosciutto, sliced thin

12 oz. farfalle (or your pasta of choice)

2 large balls of fresh mozzarella

1 quart black cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 large vidalia onion, chopped

a big handful of purple basil leaves

a big handful of parsley leaves

Lay the slices of prosciutto on an aluminum foil or parchment covered baking sheet. Place it in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes (depending on how thick your slices are). The prosciutto will turn crispy and brittle and look kind of like bacon. Let it cool before handling it, it will be hot! When it cools you should be able to crumble it into small pieces. It is so much better than bacon! Once you try making this you’ll have a hard time going back to bacon crumbles for your salads. You can use the crispy prosciutto on anything! It is great with eggs, salads, sandwiches, and pasta. Try putting it in potato salad, yum!

Just a note* these slices were a little small so I used extra, I think they were cuts from the end of the piece of prosciutto so they were not as long as slices of prosciutto usually are. This filled up a medium sized baking sheet in a single layer. Use however much you want, it really depends on how much you like it!

Cook your pasta to Al dente and prepare your other ingredients.

Slice the black cherry tomatoes in half. If you can not find heirloom cherry tomatoes, use any kind of good cherry or grape tomatoes.

Cube the fresh mozzarella, chiffonade the basil and chop the parsley.

Mix these ingredients together and season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. You could eat it just like this too, it makes excellent tomato basil salad!

Saute the onions and garlic until the onions begin to turn translucent. Mix the onions and garlic into your tomatoes and mozzarella mixture, add in your pasta and crispy prosciutto and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and you are done, easy! I had a little white peach sangria with this dish and enjoyed a great dinner on the deck.