Sunday, May 30, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian wedding soup is one of my favorites.  There are endless variations on this soup, but the focus is on the bite-sized meatballs, and greens which include spinach or kale and dill.  Although, the name may be misleading, and you may assume that this soup is served at Italian weddings, which sounds good to me, it actually is a mistranslation of minestra maritata, which translated means the "marriage" of the greens and meat in the soup.

This is a hearty soup that can be served up anytime of year.  More importantly, it is healthy, easy to prepare, can be made to serve a crowd, which means it is perfect for freezing and enjoying later.

I would encourage you to use a homemade chicken stock as it really adds a level of depth that canned stock cannot match.

As a side note, for the first time, I purchased grass fed organic beef to prepare the meatballs.  The beef is definitely leaner and has a slightly grassier flavor.  I am immediately reminded that cows eat grass, not corn as used in commercial beef processing.  

Italian Wedding Soup
Serves 6-8


For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground round
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
3-4 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground pepper

For the Soup:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
10-12 cups homemade stock or canned
3/4 cups small pasta (e.g. orzo)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
12 ounces fresh baby spinach


  1. Combine the ground meat, bread crumbs, egg, parsley, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Mix well. Form into bite-sized meatballs.  Bake on a cookie sheet for approximately 30 minutes at 350 Degrees.
  2. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart pot.  Add onion, carrots and celery.  Sauté until vegetables are translucent.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and spinach.  Cook until tender.  Add meatballs to hot stock, bring to a simmer.  Add dil.  Simmer a few more minutes.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Limoncello-gin cocktail with grilled thyme

It's 5 o'clock somewhere....

When you are getting ready to fire up your grill to prepare something delicious, place a few thyme sprigs over a direct fire to draw out the herb's floral qualities.

Limoncello-gin cocktail with grilled thyme
Serves 1
Recipe from Fine Cooking

2 large sprigs fresh thyme; more for garnish
1/2 fluid ounce (1 tablespoon) fresh lime juice
1-1/2 fluid ounces (3 tablespoon) good quality gin
1/2 fluid ounce (1 tablespoon) limoncello

Prepare a gas grill for direct cooking over medium-high (500 degrees).  Grill the thyme sprigs until fragrant and lightly charred, about 15 seconds.  In a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, gently muddle the grilled thyme with the lime juice.  Add the gin and limoncello and fill the shaker with ice.  Stir well.  Strain into a chilled glass filled with fresh ice, garnish with thyme, and serve.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pan- Seared Scallops with Carrot-Ginger Sauce

My husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy the weekend alone without children (woo-hoo!).  Of course, leisurely cooking was at the top of the list and we decided to get a little saucy preparing a carrot-ginger sauce to go along with pan seared scallops.

When you are trying to find ways to enjoy healthy, flavorful and delicious food think about vegetables that can move beyond their side dish status to rise to a more fun and sensual journey.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Carrot-Ginger Sauce
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Fine Cooking

16 Sea scallops
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of butter

For the Carrot-Ginger Sauce:
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 3/4 cups lower-salt chicken broth; more as needed
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over low heat.  Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not brown, about 2 minutes.  Add broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Stir in the carrots, return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the carrots are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Pour the carrot mixture into a blender and add the soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, honey, and sesame oil.  Puree until smooth.  Pour the sauce into a fine strainer set over a bowl and gently press it through the strainer with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Discard the solids.  If the sauce seems thick, thin with additional broth to the desired consistency.

Note: This sauce may be made and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead.

Pat scallops dry.  Sprinkle scallops with sea salt and pepper.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large non-stick skillet over high heat.  Add scallops and cook until golden on both sides and just opaque in center, about 2 minutes per side.

Spoon-carrot ginger sauce onto the center of a plate and top with seared scallops.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guava and Cream Cheese

I grew-up in South Florida and often enjoyed Cuban pastries that were filled with guava and cream cheese.  These pastries were readily available from food carts in downtown Miami, walk-up cafeterias or in a variety of local Latin bakeries speckled all over Miami.  Living in Tallahassee these pastries are not readily available, and I have adapted a new way to enjoy the flavors of guava and cream cheese.

I don't know how many of my visitors to my blog are familiar with guava paste.  This fruit paste is made from the pulp of the tropical fruit guava, and is best described as sweet, with the texture of fruit leather.  Guava is easily found in the ethnic section of most supermarkets.  If you are not familiar with guava paste, don't shy away from trying, it is inexpensive, versatile and you can add it to your list of new foods that you enjoy.

This is a quick and easy appetizer that highlights the flavor combination of guava coupled with cream cheese, served on galletas (Cuban water crackers, also easily found in the ethnic section of your local supermarket) is a great way to serve up something a little different for yourself or friends.

Guava and Cream Cheese served on Cuban Water Crackers

1 pound guava paste, cut into squares
1 pound block cream cheese, cut into squares
1 bag of gallestas (Cuban water crackers)

Place the cream cheese on a cracker, top with a guava square.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spinach and Avocado Salad with a Basil Vinaigrette

Summer is almost here!  This salad is a wonderful way to say goodbye to Spring. I have been serving up this salad for several years, and use it often when entertaining guests.

We rarely serve salads in bowls. Instead, we serve up our salads on large family style platters, where everyone helps themselves, and encourages the communal style dining experience.

Spinach and Avocado Salad with a Basil Vinaigrette
Serves 12

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2-6 ounce packages baby spinach leaves
1 red onion, peeled and halved, then thinly sliced
1-cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
3 avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced

Whisk oil, vinegar, dried basil, garlic and sugar in a small bowl until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in fresh basil, season dressing with salt and pepper.

Mix spinach, red onion and walnuts in a large bowl.  Add avocados and dressing. Toss gently to coat. Transfer to a large serving platter.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grilled Pork Fajita Style Soft Tacos

We often purchase a large pork loin from Costco, to cut-into chops and roasts for several meals.  We often cut the last pound or so into thin strips to make tacos or fajitas.

For these tacos we used a sweet and spicy pork seasoning blend from the Great American Spice Company called Hog Tale Rub to flavor the pork for this kicked-up version.

This is one flavorful and healthy way to serve up soft tacos, fajita style at your house.

Grilled Pork Fajita Style Soft Tacos
Serves 6

1 1/2-2 pounds pork loin sliced into thin strips
Good quality pork spice rub seasoning (We used Great American Spice Company Hog Tale Rub)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 large vidalia or other sweet onions, quartered into eighths
2 tablespoon olive oil
6 warm tortillas

Monterey Jack, Colby Jack or Cheddar Cheese
Good quality store bought fresh salsa (we prefer Jack's Special Salsa)
Fresh bunch cilantro, chopped
Sour cream

Generously season pork loin strips with Hog Tale Rub or other good quality pork spice blend. Let sit at room temperature for 1-hour.  While the pork is marinating, slice the bell peppers, and quarter the onions.  Place the peppers and the onions into a large bowl and toss with olive oil until evenly coated.

In a grill pan or basket, first place the pork loin and top with the pepper-onion mixture.  Sprinkle a generous amount of pork seasoning.

Heat grill to high and places basket or grill pan to cook on direct heat for 12-15 minutes.  Using tongs toss the mixture frequently until the vegetables are lightly roasted and the pork is no longer pink.  Remove the grill basket or pan from the heat.  Set aside.

Place the flour tortillas directly on the grill grates for approximately 10 seconds on each side.

To serve, place the pork, pepper and onion mixture, cheese, salsa, sour cream and cilantro into the warm tortilla and fold over.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Limoncello Champagne Cocktails with Mint

Happy Mother's Day!

Limoncello Champagne Cocktails with Mint
Serves 2
Recipe from: Bon Appetit

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup limoncello
2 tablespoons sugar plus additional for dipping Champagne flutes
Lemon peels strips from 1 lemon
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 lemon wedge
1 cup (about) chilled Champagne or sparkling wine.

Note: Limoncello- a sweet lemon liquor from Italy, is available at some supermarkets and at liquor stores.

Place mint, limoncello, 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon strips in blender;blend until mint is finely chopped (lemon peel will be coarsely chopped), 10 seconds.  Strain into small cup; discard solids.  Run lemon wedge around rim of 2 champagne flutes.  Dip rims into sugar.  Divide limoncello mixture and lemon juice between flutes.  Top with Champagne.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta

We are delighting in the vegetables that are in season, and what better way to show that Spring has really arrived than tossing up fresh seasonal vegetables in this quick and easy pasta dish.

Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta
Serves 4
Recipe from Bon Appetit

12 ounces fettuccine or penne
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
1-1/4 pounds asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
2 cups shelled fresh green peas, blanched 1 minute in boiling water, drained, or frozen peas (do not thaw)
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, white and pale green parts separated from dark green parts
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Return pasta to pot.

Meanwhile, cook pancetta in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain.  Pour off all but 1 teaspoon drippings from skilet.  Add asparagus to drippings in skillet; saute 3 minutes.  Add peas, white and pale green parts of the green onions, and garlic; saute until vegetables are just tender, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Add vegetable mixture, 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid, dark green parts of green onions, 1/2 cup Parmesan, cream, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon peel, half of parsley, and half of basil to pasta.  Toss,
adding more cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls if needed.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Transfer to large bowl.  Sprinkle pancetta, remaining parsley, and basil.

Serve, passing additional Parmesan cheese.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Photo submitted by Dan Vickers

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fresh Lemon Sorbet

This lemon sorbet is insanely good. More importantly, it is easy to make in your ice cream or frozen yogurt maker.

Fresh Lemon Sorbet

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1-1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest

Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3-5 minutes.  Cool completely.  This is called a simple syrup, and may be made ahead in larger quantities to have on hand for making fresh lemon sorbet. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

When cool, add the lemon juice and zest; stir to combine.  Turn the machine ON, pour the lemon mixture into freezer bowl through the ingredient spout and mix until thickened, about 25-30 minutes.