Category Archives: lunch

transition, through chowder

There’s been a change in the air these last few weeks…have you felt it? Just the slightest shift in temperature, a chill in the evenings that makes sleeping with windows wide open not only possible, but pleasant. The breeze is changing, carrying with it the scent of a backyard grill, the sound of fallen leaves skipping along pavement, a smattering of goosebumps across a forearm. Afternoon light has a new quality, a dreamy, golden hue that elicits memories of high school football games, apple picking, the feel of a scarf wound loosely about the neck.

Autumn begins officially today, but I’ve seen signs of her impending arrival for most of September. I won’t deny my excitement, for this time of year is truly my favorite, but I will miss the bounties of Summer. There’s been an urgency to our visits to Charlottesville’s City Market each Saturday for three weeks now. A pressure to gather up one last load of roma tomatoes to roast, to pick up a dozen freestone peaches knowing they’ll be absent until next July, to seek out a few more ears of fresh corn before being forced to rely on the kernels stashed away at the back of the freezer.

I bought our first butternut squash just last week. It stood out in our market basket, a dull cloud against the sunset of tomatoes, peaches, and eggplant. Once home we roasted it to sweet perfection before pureeing it with celery, onions and carrots into an earthy potage. The recipe is an Autumn staple, one that will grace our table many times in the next few months. We loved the soup that night as we always do, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

What I wanted instead was a chowder we’d made the week before, one that took advantage of the last of Summer’s produce while introducing the initial tastes of Autumn. Those final few ears of sweet corn, the bell and jalepeño peppers, the first potatoes and carrots of Fall, a cream base with heat that hits from the belly out, all come together to create a soup that perfectly represents this time. The transition from one season to another, from tank tops and flip flops to light jackets and closed-toe flats, embodied in a chowder.

A chowder perfect for those of us on the fence, clinging to Summer while welcoming Fall.

I mentioned, way back at the end of August, that I’d found a new trick to releasing corn kernels from their cob. Well, here it is friend.  I introduce to you the bundt pan, a vessel so perfectly designed for handling fresh corn that I feel it should be marketed in that way.  Sure, it also makes a pretty cake, but really, lots of pans can do that. The central tube fits the end of an ear of corn quite perfectly, and as you cut the kernels from the cob they fall neatly into the pan. No more corn kernels all over the counter and floor. I am probably the last to discover this handy trick, but wow, was I excited when I did. My dogs, however, miss the sweet kernels falling from above.

Spicy Potato Corn Chowder

adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
serves 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1.75 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3.5 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalepeño peppers, minced (no seeds unless you want your soup really spicy)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 California bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk (1% or 2%)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Method

  1. Cut corn from each cob.
  2. Bring cobs, water, broth, potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs.
  3. Meanwhile, cook onion, carrot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add bell pepper, jalepeño, corn, thyme, bay leaves, and one ladle of liquid from potato/corn pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in potatoes with water/broth and cream and gently boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in milk.  Be sure not to allow soup to boil after this point, as milk will curdle. Heat through, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  7. Use an immersion blender to pureé some of the vegetables, to thicken soup.  Be sure to leave some large chunks of potatoes, peppers, and corn. If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle two scoops of soup into a regular blender and pureé, then add back to soup pot.
  8. Stir in scallions, white pepper, cayenne, and salt to taste, then serve.

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finally, a piece of NOLA

July.  What a busy month this has been.  I know I’ve said that a lot these last few months, remarked often about the quick passing of time and my inability to sit behind my computer to put words on this digital page of mine.  Are you tired of that yet?  I sure am.  So, rather than dwell on my mile-long ‘to do’ list I’ve decided to share with you one of my favorite places. A city that my mind escapes to when life gets hectic and all I want is a cool spot in a shady courtyard, an ice-laden cocktail in my hand and notes of jazz wafting on the breeze. Am I procrastinating? Maybe a little.  But “write a flippin’ post for Bella Eats!” is definitely on my list, so I AM accomplishing something…

It is difficult to explain the draw that Brian and I have to New Orleans.  It just…is. We feel it as soon as we step off the plane, a bubbling of emotion from deep within, a giddy excitement that manifests itself as raised hairs along goose-bumped arms. Neither of us have ever lived in the city, we have no family in the area, our first visit together occurred just seven years ago. Yet after that initial stay in the Big Easy we were hooked. Completely and totally.

NOLA is so much more than Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras and frozen drinks in phallic cups. The city has soul, and to find it one needs only to spend a few hours walking slowly down her cracked sidewalks. Underneath the peeling paint, the sagging balconies, the leaning cottages, and the rusty ironwork is a humble elegance steeped in history and perseverance. She keeps her chin up and dances to her own soundtrack; a mix composed of melancholy notes from a jazz clarinetist on Royal, the rumble and clang of a street car on Saint Charles, the clink of an oyster shell tossed on a pile behind a bar, a “what can I getcha, baby?” from the busy woman behind a restaurant counter.

Her natives are loyal, devoted to the place they’ve called home for most, if not all, of their lives. They are drawn to her magic, held hostage by an appeal that keeps them coming home even after high waters threatened to wash that possibility into the Gulf. Sit down at a table in any well-established restaurant and learn that your waiter has worked there for 40+ years. He loves his job and has been well taken care of for all that time, because that’s how they do things in the Big Easy. Filter in and out of shops and restaurants in the French Quarter and be thanked not only for visiting that particular address, but for visiting New Orleans. “Come back soon, y’hear? This city needs you.”

We do go back, as often as we can. With each visit we try to experience new places, new food, new music; but it is difficult to stray from those that have become favorites. It just wouldn’t be a weekend in NOLA without a black ham biscuit, beignets and cafe au lait at midnight, a muffaletta, blackened Louisiana drum, Fritzel’s, Doreen. Tell any lover of New Orleans that you’re planning a visit and watch their eyes light up as they rattle off their own list of places you must see, meals you must eat.  But most of all, they’ll be excited that you’re going to New Orleans, and that the city will have another set of fans to add to her list.

We last visited NOLA in May.  You might remember me mentioning our trip and making promises to share recipes inspired by the fabulous meals we had while there. Oh, and photographs…I promised those too. I also mentioned the stifling heat we experienced during our stay and my relief that we’d be spared from such temperatures in Virginia for another two-ish months.  Ha. If only I had knocked on wood after hitting ‘publish’ on that post…

The record-breaking temperatures have kept us from doing much cooking in our kitchen, as even the thought of turning on the stovetop raises a bead of sweat at my hairline. I’d just about given up on the idea of sharing red beans and rice with you anytime before October when I read this article on The Kitchn about slow-cooking in the summer. I know that it seems counter-intuitive to pull out the Crock Pot in the middle of a heat wave, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense.

For this recipe, which I adapted from a traditional stovetop variation, all of the preparation was completed in the morning before work when my house was cool and the setting sun wasn’t blaring through the west-facing kitchen window. The ingredients were tossed in the Crock Pot, I turned the heat to low and out the door we went.  When we arrived home that night the house smelled amazing and dinner was ready without either of us laboring over a hot stove.  We ladled up the beans, poured ourselves cold cocktails, and settled into our dark den. Not exactly a shady New Orleans courtyard, but a respite all the same.

These beans were really fantastic; smoked and earthy with just a hint of spice.  My ingredients are very close to Chef Prudhomme’s; it was really just the process and the color of the bell peppers that I altered. Also, Brian and I don’t have quite the tolerance for spicy heat that most native New Orleanians do, so I knocked that back a bit as well.

Red Beans + Rice with Andouille Smoked Sausage

recipe adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans
  • water
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 2 cups diced red bell pepper
  • 2 large smoked ham hocks, about 2.5 pounds total
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
  • 1 pound andouille sausage links
  • salt to taste
  • Basic Cooked Rice (recipe below)

Method

  1. The night before, place the dried red beans in a large saucepan and cover with water 2-inches above the beans. Let soak overnight.
  2. The next morning, drain the red beans and rinse thoroughly.  Refill the saucepan with fresh water to cover the beans by 2-inches.  Bring to a brisk boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove the beans from the heat and drain.
  3. Place the boiled beans in a slow-cooker (crock pot) and add ten cups of water over top. Add everything but the andouille sausage, salt and Basic Cooked Rice to the pot and stir well.
  4. Set the slow-cooker to the ‘low’ setting and let cook for 6 to 7 hours, until the beans are tender and just starting to break apart. (I came home for a late lunch to check on the beans, and turned the slow-cooker to the ‘warm’ setting for the remaining 4 hours of my work day).
  5. Add the andouille sausage links (split in half or quarters, depending on the size of the links) to the slow-cooker and continue to cook for 1 additional hour.
  6. Salt to taste.
  7. Serve over Basic Cooked Rice.

***UPDATE***

Thank you to InternationalRoutier for bringing to my attention the fact that dried red kidney beans cooked in slow cookers have been known to cause food poisoning!  You can be protected from this possibility by soaking the dry beans for at least 5 hours, and then boiling the beans briskly for at least 10 minutes prior to adding them to the slow cooker.  I’ve modified my recipe above to reflect this change.

Basic Cooked Rice

from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen

makes about 6 cups of rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked rice (I used brown rice)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped bell pepper (the recipe calls for green, I used red because I love them)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • a pinch each of white pepper, ground red pepper (cayenne), and black pepper

Method

  1. In a 5x9x2 1/2-inch standard loaf pan, combine all ingredients and mix well. Seal pan snugly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350º until rice is tender, about 1 hour, 10 minutes. Serve immediately.*

* I made the rice the night before.  If you are planning to do the same, DO NOT use green bell peppers, as they tend to sour quickly. Reheat the rice in a skillet with a bit of melted butter.

We can’t even begin to imagine the affect that the explosion of the DeepWater Horizon oil drilling rig will have on the Gulf, the coast, the country, the world. The stories and images are devastating. If you are able and would like to help the recovery, I’ve provided links below to organizations that would appreciate your contribution.

Greater New Orleans Foundation

National Wildlife Federation

International Bird Rescue Research Center

on a whim

As Spring quickly approaches, I’m finding that the evening meal has become a very relaxed affair. With daylight extending itself to an hour that allows for chatting with a glass of wine on the back deck after work, thoughts of dinner don’t start to cross the mind until the sun dips behind the trees and the temperature drops to a point that requires either a move inside or the addition of a lightweight sweater. It is only then that we notice the clock (and our bellies!) telling us that it is past 7pm, and time to pull something together in the kitchen.

I haven’t been planning our meals very far in advance, something that is unusual to my character. Typically our weekly menu is fully laid out by Saturday afternoon, neatly written in bright-white across our pantry doors coated with black chalkboard paint. I consider the menu carefully before finalizing my grocery list, receiving feedback from Brian and swapping days according to the longevity of ingredients to be purchased. The planned meals may vary slightly after Sunday’s trip to the store, when I discover that there are perfect golden beets that I hadn’t counted on calling my name, or that red cabbage has been particularly popular lately, and therefore its typical spot in the produce department is empty save for one sad, wilted purple leaf.

Lately our trips to the grocery have been more rushed than usual, the product of two very busy schedules finding only slivers of overlap in which to make the drive to and wander the aisles of the market. Oftentimes we wind up stopping in on our way to or from other errands, on days not typically designated as ‘grocery days’, leaving me standing in the middle of the produce department, overwhelmed and without a list. And so we rely on stand-by ingredients, items we purchase most weeks religiously, and add in whatever else looks or sounds good at that moment. I quickly assemble meals in my head, substituting ingredients in and out of pastas and soups, making sure that we’ll be able to use whatever we purchase and not be left with a bag full of yellow brussels sprouts at the end of the week. It still happens occasionally, but at least I try.

Which brings me back to the weeknight, post-7pm. Brian and I stand in our kitchen, him ravenous and me a little chilly, peering into the pantry and refrigerator, pulling out ingredients to assemble a spontaneous meal together. Our preferences are changing with the season, moving from heavy and hearty to light and bright.  ‘Quick’ is a new requirement now that we’re getting started on preparation later in the evening, and ‘warm’ still plays a role for me after having been outside, barefoot and sweater-less, after the sun has set. The results have been fantastic; pasta tossed with leftover chicken, local ham and a light parmesan broth; a mélange of roasted chickpeas, potatoes and brussels sprouts; an on-a-whim creamy soup of potatoes, parsnips and asparagus.

The best part has been creating these recipes, together, according to our own at-that-moment preferences rather than the recommendations of a book, magazine or blog.  It is easy, when I have a plan, to lose myself in the kitchen to the preparation of dinner, excusing Brian to take care of one of the many items on his ever-growing ‘to do’ list. But when there is no plan, and the task is to create quickly, we come at it from both sides, each tossing in our own suggestions to make a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ll admit that this egg drop soup is a recipe that has been in our repertoire for years, but it is so simple and satisfying, and we nearly always have its ingredients in our kitchen, that it is perfect for a spontaneous lunch or dinner.  It is not enough on its own, which lead to the creation of the vegetable fried rice variation below, on a whim.

Egg Drop Soup

serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • chunk of fresh ginger root, 1/4-inch thick by 1-inch diameter
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh scallions
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Reserve 3/4 cup of the broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Add the salt, ginger and scallions, and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk together using a fork. Drizzle the egg a little at a time from the fork into the boiling broth mixture. The egg should cook immediately.
  4. Once all of the egg has been dropped, stir in the cornstarch mixture gradually until the soup is the desired consistency.

This dish was nearly spontaneous, the only forethought being that I made extra brown rice a few days prior, so that it would be ready and waiting in the fridge for some version of fried rice that had yet to be determined.  It just so happened that the night we decided to make egg drop soup was also the night that the leeks were starting to look a little haggard, and I wanted to use the brussels sprouts before they reached that same state.  Thus, a new star was born.

Fried Rice with Leeks and Brussels Sprouts

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp peanut oil, divided
  • 2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts, ragged outer leaves removed, sliced thinly (a food processor is a wonderful tool for this task)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced leeks and brussels sprouts, and saute’ until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes upon impact.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until just starting to smoke.  Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer, and cook for 30 seconds.  Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the brussels sprouts and leeks, stir-frying to combine and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

winter’s setting sun

Winter and I have had a rocky go of it this year. We’ve waffled back and forth in a love / hate relationship that rivals the one I’ve currently got going on with my gym membership. On one hand, I’ve loved the quiet beauty a good snowstorm lays gently across my world and the resulting desire to cozy up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a season of Entourage. On the other, I am tired of feeling stuck indoors, the outside ice, mud and frigid air enough to keep me hibernating under a quilt with the lights turned low. The result has been a bit too much cozying, and my motivation to cook, write, or log miles on the treadmill seems to be hiding in the same dark place as the sun. I am lost in the monotony of February, floating through scenes of white and gray, desperately seeking a reprieve in the form of a warm day, tiny chartreuse buds on the backyard Maple tree, fresh produce from local farmers that isn’t squash or cabbage.

There have been some brighter moments lately, a few shrieks of excitement released from my heart after witnessing the sun pierce a hazy layer of clouds, revealing a small patch of brilliant blue sky. I was thrilled to notice last week that two copper-toned birds have chosen to make a nest in the cold, drab ally outside my office window, and just this morning heard a woman excitedly discussing the yellow crocuses popping out from under a blanket of snow in her yard. All are sure signs of Spring’s impending arrival and moments I am desperate to capture permanently. Should snow fall again in the coming weeks I’d like to have a photograph stashed away in my back pocket to remind me that the end is near, that productivity will return with a sunshine-filled sky and baby birds chirping on the sill.

In the meantime, the meals I am managing to cook seem to have several similar qualities.  They are simple.  They are hearty and warm and filling.  They incorporate some ingredient that brightens the dish at multiple levels; to the eyes, to the nose, to the tongue. Whether it be golden citrus tossed in a salmon salad, vibrant leeks bobbing amongst emerald isles of kale, the scent of fresh lime wafting from my oven, each recipe is very carefully chosen to lift our spirits and carry us through these last (25!) days of Winter.

This salad is no exception to my new rules.  Hearty grains are joined by warm, earth-scented mushrooms to create a salad base as warm and satisfying as a family quilt enveloping shivering shoulders. Jewel-toned grape tomatoes and bright flecks of fresh parsley are the harbingers of this dish, reminders that Spring, followed closely by Summer, will be joining us soon. Served over a bed of spicy arugula and layered with shavings of Pecorino Toscano, this salad makes for a lovely, filling, early dinner, and is best enjoyed beside a window in the rays of Winter’s setting sun.

Warm Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 quart water
  • 1-1/2 cups pearl barley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 6 cups packed baby arugula, spinach, or mix
  • 4 oz Pecorino Toscano, feta or goat cheese, diced or crumbled (I used a hard pecorino, shaved over the top of the salad)

Method

  1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 425*.
  2. Toss the mushrooms, tomatoes, shallots and 2 tbsp of the oil together on a rimmed baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toast the veggies, stirring once, until the mushrooms and shallots are browned nicely, about 25 minutes.  Let cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, bring water, barley and pinch of salt to a boil in a large saucepan.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender but still a bit chewy, about 30 minutes.  Drain the barley well in a strainer and transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Toss the barley with the remaining 3 tbsp oil until coated evenly.  Add the roasted vegetables and parsley and toss to combine.  Cool slightly and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Divide the arugula or spinach among four large plates.  Spoon warm barley salad over each plate, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.
  6. Store barley salad separately from arugula or spinach and reheat for lunch the next day, if desired.

a bright spot

Let me start by saying that I am completely smitten with the city in which Brian and I live.  Charlottesville wooed us from afar with her top-notch university, her small-town feel just two hours from Washington D.C., her close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains and dozens of Virginia wineries.  We were drawn in by the qualities of a city that look good on paper: the quaint downtown district, public parks, academic culture, good hospitals.  What we received in addition to those important qualities was greater than we could have ever imagined: a strong local food movement, an impressive number of independently-owned restaurants that have kept us out of Chili’s, Friday’s and the like for the last five years, a health-concious population that promotes dozens of foot races year-round, like-minded classmates, co-workers and farmers who have become incredible friends.  And, especially exciting for two Floridians who lived without them for the first 22 years of our lives, four distinct seasons.

Nobody could have prepared me for the magic that is October in Charlottesville, the golden light that flares through the brightly-colored leaves and the festivals that occur every weekend.  And then there’s April, with her daffodils and tulips and cherry trees that resemble cotton candy attached to smooth, silvery bark. Late June brings the first of the summer vegetables to the farmer’s market and the intoxicating, oh-so-sweet scent of wild multiflora rose to the air.  For eleven months of the year I sing the praises of this place, this gem of a city nestled into the shadow of the Blue Ridge, and am pleased to call Charlottesville my home.

But there are those other four weeks, the weeks that span the end of January and beginning of February, when the first snow of the year has melted and left the yard a muddy mess, when the cuteness of the six sweaters in my closet has worn off and I stare longingly at the bright, sleeveless tops meant for warmer months.  These are the days that I resent pulling socks on instead of strappy sandals, when I crave a glass of white wine while sitting in a sunbeam on the back deck, when I’d give anything to not have skin flaking from my too-dry face.  These are the days that I wish I were still a Floridian, with 70* winter days and a year-round farmer’s market.

These are the days when citrus plays a prominent role in my diet, producing little sparks of Florida warmth with each juicy bite. Citrus fruit will get me through the worst days of winter, when the sky is gray and the air is moist and my boots make suction noises as I walk across my saturated front yard. There will be lemon cakes and orange juice-glazed tofu, citrus-flavored martinis and key lime pies. Clementines are tossed in my bag daily to be eaten as an afternoon snack, the draft leaking through my office window hardly noticeable as I savor each sunshine-filled wedge.

Also, there is this salad.  So light, so fresh, so summer, yet made with mostly seasonal ingredients.  It is a bright spot on the dreariest of winter days, sure to bring cheer and warmth to the coldest of winter nights.

The fennel provides a delightful crunch, similar to a slaw, that serves as a nice contrast to the soft oranges and the salmon that nearly melts in your mouth.  Poaching the fish creates a mild flavor that is enhanced by the juice from the oranges and a hint of mint.

Salmon Salad with Fennel, Orange and Mint

from bon appetit, january 2010

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 4 cups cold water
  • (1) 1-pound salmon fillet with skin
  • 2 navel oranges (I think 3 would be better…)
  • 4 cups very thinly sliced fennel (from 2 medium bulbs)
  • 1 cup small fresh mint leaves (I only used 1/4 cup, and it was plenty for us…)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cups of arugula salad mix

Method

  1. In a large, deep skillet, combine water, sugar, vinegar and star anise.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add salmon filet, skin side up, to skillet.  Cover skillet and remove from heat.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, turn salmon over.  Cover and let stand until salmon is just opaque in center, 5 to 6 minutes longer.
  2. Remove salmon from liquid and cool.  Coarsely flake salmon into bowl, removing any bones and skin, and set aside.
  3. Cut top and bottom 1/4-inch off each orange.  Stand 1 orange on 1 flat end.  Using small sharp knife, cut off peel and white pith.  Working over large bowl, cut between membranes, releasing segments into bowl.  Repeat with remaining orange.
  4. Add salmon, fennel, mint and olive oil to bowl with oranges.  Gently toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve over bed of arugula.

Speaking of Florida, my good friend Jenn has started a new blog about fitness and running.  She’s a doll, so energetic and positive, and is sure to bring an infectious spark to the healthy living blog world.  Check her out at Reason 2 Run, and take note of the helpful fitness facts that accompany each post.  She’s a fitness professional, runner and balanced living enthusiast, and has a wealth of knowledge to share with us all.  Welcome, Jenn!

back on track

After all of the indulgent foods that we consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Brian and I have been more than ready to get back into our typical, mostly healthy*, eating routine.  We’ve bookmarked page after page of easy-to-prepare, full-of-veggies, yet still homey and comforting meals in some of our favorite cookbooks, and also in some new titles gracing the bookshelf. It is my hope that the month of January on Bella Eats will help all of us to get back on track and break our dependence on cheese plates before and dessert after most meals, as lovely as that may have been.

*To be clear, Brian and I believe in non-restrictive eating and the idea that nothing is off limits as long as moderation is practiced. So don’t be surprised when small amounts of butter, cream, bacon etc. still appear in the lists of ingredients for recipes that claim to be healthy. Balance is key to a healthy diet, and we strive to prepare meals that are full of flavor and satisfying so as not to feel deprived of something that is important to us – delicious food!

Mustard Greens-6

Whenever I feel off-track, out of balance, the need for a healthy meal after weeks of parties and holidays and travel and restaurants…I turn to dark greens.  Full of nutrients and flavor, the consumption of a heaping pile of kale, collard greens, swiss chard, mustard greens or spinach as a side dish or addition to soup or salads has me instantly feeling like myself again.  The most common preparation for us is to simply saute’ any of the above greens with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, finishing them with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly-ground pepper.  Occasionally though, I’ll have the desire to try something different, such as when our friends gave us a heaping pile of mustard greens from their garden just before the big snowstorm hit in December.

Mustard Greens-2

Mustard greens have a spicy, peppery taste, and these particular greens were especially flavorful.  We’d sauteed some in our typical fashion and, while still enjoyable, the spiciness was on the verge of being too overwhelming for us.  I turned to Vegetables Every Day for an alternative method of preparation (our go-to book for veggies, always) and was so pleased with the result of my search. The creamy sauce and sweet onion tempers the spiciness of the greens but still allows their mustardy flavor to shine through. I could have eaten the entire bowl-full as a meal on its own.

Brian and I enjoy greens on the side of many dishes, but a recent discovery has been the deliciousness of greens on top of one of our favorite meals, sausage with peppers and onions. We stocked up on pork sausage from Double H Farm to get us through winter, and will throw a few links on the grill for a quick and tasty lunch or dinner quite often. Saute’ red bell peppers with sweet onions in a bit of olive oil and garlic until tender. Serve sausage on a bun (whole wheat, for a healthier alternative) topped with peppers and onions and a generous helping of these greens. Add extra Dijon mustard if you’re as big a fan as we are.

Mustard Greens-5

Mustard Greens with Creamy Mustard Sauce

from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

serves 4 as a side dish, or topping for sausage in a bun

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds mustard greens (or turnip greens)
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup cream (light is fine)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Method

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
  2. Wash the greens in several changes of cold water, then strip off the leafy green portion from either side of the tough stem.  Discard the stalks and rip the leafy portions into small pieces.  Add the greens and 1 tsp salt to the boiling water.  Cook until the greens are tender, about 8 minutes.  Drain well.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes.  Add the greens and toss to coat with the butter and onion.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Whisk the cream and mustard together in a small bowl. Add this mixture to the skillet and cook just until the greens absorb some of the sauce, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.

small packages

I’d been wanting some of these little tart tins for, oh, at least one year. Its not that I make a lot of tarts and require a variety of vessels for filling…it really comes down to the fact that I love the tiny proportions of the tins themselves.  There’s just something very appealing about baked goods in small packages.

Although the tins aren’t that expensive, I hadn’t been able to justify purchasing them for their aesthetic appeal alone. I felt that I needed to have in mind a specific recipe that absolutely required the use of such tins. Or perhaps, at the very least, to have gone through some serious experimentation in the full-size tart pan that I already owned to justify my graduation to experimentation with its smaller siblings.

Lucky for me, my stepfather came to my rescue and put me out of my indecisive misery. While home for Thanksgiving, Joe took me shopping. For baking pans. Many, many baking pans. So many pans that Brian and I had to reorganize our entire kitchen. I now have my tiny tart tins, a beautiful tube cake pan, additional sheet pans and cooling racks, even some ice cream scoops for balling cookie dough. Suddenly recipe searching has taken on a whole new agenda, with me thinking “oh! I could use my new [insert baking tool here]!”.

And so, although things have been quiet on this little blog of mine this last week I assure you, I’ve been busy in the kitchen. And busy shopping. And busy wrapping. And busy writing out holiday cards. But mostly, I’ve been busy enjoying my new toys.

I have a few recipes I still want to share with you prior to Christmas Eve and so, in the interest of getting all of the items on my holiday ‘To Do’ list crossed off [and therefore maintaining my own sanity…I’m just a little bit OCD…] I’m going to have to keep posts a bit shorter than usual. I hope you won’t mind.  My guess is, you all are pretty busy too.  🙂

I was certain that the debut of these little tins would involve sharing something sweet with you all, and so was surprised when the urge to make a savory tart struck me first. The possibilities for fillings are endless, truly, but we were pretty pleased with the results of our first attempt, which I’ve shared below. I think they would be a great addition to the buffet table at a party, easy to pick up with one hand while holding your cocktail glass in the other.

Savory Winter Tarts

makes (6) 4-inch tarts

Ingredients

  • 9-inch pie crust dough (the rolled dough, not the kind in the aluminum dish)
  • 1/2 pound bacon, fried
  • 1 medium leek, light green part only, sliced
  • 1 medium red potato, very thinly sliced
  • 4 large mustard green leaves, washed and chopped finely
  • 3-oz chevre, crumbled
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • salt + pepper

Method

  1. Thaw your pie crust dough according to the instructions on the package.  Preheat oven to temperature indicated on package.  Roll out the dough until it is 1/8-inch thick, and cut into roughly 5-inch by 5-inch squares.  You’ll probably only get 4 squares from this first pass.  You’ll want to gather the scraps, ball them up, and roll the dough back out to cut the remaining squares.  Place a square of dough into each tart tin, pressing the dough into the bottom and sides of the tin.  Trim the dough to be flush with the top of the tin.  Place tart shells on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and bake according to the instructions on the dough package.
  2. Gather your filling ingredients (other than the eggs, milk, salt and pepper) and set aside.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Remove the tart shells from the oven once they are starting to turn golden brown. Set oven temperature to 400*.
  5. Once the tart shells have been baked and cooled about 10 minutes, you can fill them.  Fill tarts first with potatoes, mustard greens, leeks then bacon.  Do not overfill the tarts, you may not use all of the ingredients.
  6. Carefully pour the egg/milk mixture into each tart, dividing it evenly amongst all 6 tart tins, being careful not to let the custard overflow.  Drop chevre on top of the tarts in bits.
  7. Bake the tarts on the cookie sheet at 400* for 25-35 minutes, until custard is set and toppings are starting to brown.

*Note – Tiny tart tins aren’t absolutely necessary for this recipe, (1) 10-inch tart tin will accommodate these ingredients.  But, the miniature tins sure are fun…