Coconut Curry Soup with Roasted Salmon

Oh the weather outside is frightful (OK, not so much in California), and the chill in the air (mainly because we don’t have the best insulation in California houses) means it’s time to cook warm soups to help warm the body.  When cooking for two, soup is an effective way to make lunches for the week.  A pot of soup equals 6-7 meals, all that’s needed is really good Tupperware to make sure it doesn’t spill while commuting.

Another reason to love soup is it’s incredible capacity to use up leftover or past their prime vegetables.  Soups are endlessly adaptable given what’s in the fridge or taste preferences.  The soups I make are quick, between 20 and 40 minutes to prepare.  This soup is Thai inspired.  It looks like a sunset with its  pinkish-orange color from the mix of coconut milk and chicken broth.  Instead of adding in the salmon to cook in the soup (a possible variation), I roasted the salmon separate in order for the soup base to maintain its unique Thai curry-coconut flavor.  This method allows the soup and the salmon to remain two distinct but complementing flavors.

Here are the ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen
1 14-ounce box low-sodium chicken broth
1 13 or 14-ounce can low-fat coconut milk
3 small potatoes, peeled, and diced
1 pound fresh salmon sprinkled with salt pepper, and 1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh lime wedges and chopped fresh parsley (not pictured)
In addition to the parsley I forgot to photograph 3 small peeled and diced potatoes.
First saute the aromatics (onions, poblano pepper, celery, and garlic) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Instead of a classic Latin sofrito where I’d usually add tomato paste or sauce, I used Thai Red Chili Paste, a fun ingredient to have on hand for easy Thai flavor without the fuss of finding and figuring out ways to use items I’m not familiar with.
Then add the liquids, chicken broth and coconut milk.  The color of the soup will look like a sunset, pinkish-orange.
Also add the diced potatoes.  Bring the soup up to a boil, then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes or so, enough time to roast up some fresh salmon.
Whenever I’m cooking for two, I prefer to use the toaster oven for small baking needs since it’s a manageable size and doesn’t need more than a minute or two to preheat.  I lined a mini baking sheet with tin foil for very easy clean up, and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little olive oil on top of the fish.  Salmon’s a fish with more oil than others, so it doesn’t need a lot.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the fish is flaky and pink.  Don’t you love those close up sizzling bubbles?
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with chunks of roasted salmon and chopped fresh parsley.  Squeeze half of a lime on top of each bowl for added flavor.  Add a bowl of fresh salad and you’ve got yourself one tasty soup and salad combo.
Buen Provecho!

Chicken Tostadas

Has it been one of those days?  Long?  Exhausting?  You need dinner in 20 minutes?  I got you covered.  One word: tostadas.

This is another 3-2-1 meal.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  The other recipes are the Yucatan-style Chicken Soup and this Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Tostadas are one of my go-to meals.  One makes a great snack, 2 makes a light meal.  They are an ideal way to use up leftover meat from previous meals.  For me, one thing that is essential in making tostadas is having a lot of colorful ingredients.  I often use red (really purple) cabbage in addition to cilantro.  Other colorful vegetables you might want to consider playing around with are colored bell peppers, carrots, red onion, green onion, roasted beets, cucumber….  You get the idea.  The more colorful your tostada, the more fun you’ll have.  (I just got an idea for rainbow tostadas- I wonder what that could be?)

Printable recipe: Chicken Tostadas

Here’s how you make tostadas in under 20 minutes.

start with your quick refried beans.

1 14-ounce can low sodium black beans (or pinto beans)

1 tablespoon roasted garlic flavored olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Rinse out the beans in a colander.  Combine the beans, oil, and cumin in a small bowl and smash with a fork until you get quick refried beans.

In another bowl, combine 1 cup shredded red cabbage, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (about 1/3 of a bunch), and 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar.  Mix well and enjoy the beautiful color, especially when the vinegar turns a little purple.

Take 4 tostada shells and layer each with a 1/4 of the beans.  Then add leftover shredded rotisserie chicken.  Layer on the cabbage and sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with fixings like salsa or sour cream.

Note: You can make your own tostada shells by lightly coating tortillas with cooking spray and baking them at 350 degrees for 4-7 minutes, flipping them once, until crisp.

Buen Provecho!

Chicken Soup for the Soul- Yucatan-style


“Have you been taking your vitamin C?  Flu season is coming.”

Get ready to keep telling your mom (or anyone else who cares about you) that you are taking care of your health and getting plenty of Vitamin C.  I don’t know how Vitamin C became the panacea for all health-related maladies, but it is the most prescribed “medicine” from my mom.  Got a cold?  Take Vitamin C.  Feeling low energy?  It’s because you haven’t been taking enough Vitamin C.  Runny Nose?  Vitamin C, to prevent it from getting worse.

Of course, there’s also making sure that you are eating well and adding vegetables whenever the opportunity arises, like in this recipe, a chicken soup for the soul, Yucatán-style.  In Spanish it is called sopa de limón or sopa de limo.

The Yucatán Peninsula geographically looks like a foot kicking a soccer ball off the Southeastern shore of Mexico.  Though most of the Yucatán Peninsula are 3 Mexican states (Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo), it also contains northern parts of Belize and Guatemala.  It is considered the eastern heartland of the ancient Mayas.  Many American tourists know it for the resort town, Cancún and the Mayan Riviera.  More cultural and historical tourist destinations include the beautiful colonial city Mérida and the famous Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza and Tulum.  Yucatán food is full of flavor and Mayan influence.

This soup is both healthy and fast.  It’s even faster if you use part of a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  It has vegetables like carrots and celery.  But don’t stop there.  Add zucchini if you have it or pre-cooked butternut squash.  Corn kernels would be a tasty addition as well.  It also has plenty of Vitamin C in the form of fresh lime juice.

Some people believe in substituting lemon juice for the lime juice.  For me, these two citrus are not interchangeable, close, but not equal.  Lime juice gives the soup a sharper sweetness and tanginess.  Lime juice is also more authentic.  If you can, please for me, use lime juice, but I’ll still love you if you use lemon juice.

Get the recipe: Yucatan style chicken soup

This recipe is part of a 3-2-1 series.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  Stay tuned for 2 more recipes for 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken. Buen Provecho!

Blackened Chicken Salad

Which side are you on with Cajun food?  Love it?  No, thanks it?  I enjoy it because of the explosion of flavor that it always has.  Flavor like that asks, are you living life as fiercely as you could?

Well…are you?

Print this recipe and be fierce: Blackened Chicken Salad for Two

We’ll start with the dressing.  The amounts I’m giving you here are for 2 servings.  Math is required should you be needing more than that.  I am sorry, but Wednesdays are not my math days, Thursdays are.

I put my ingredients in a bowl for production value, aka a pretty picture.  You should just plop all of them into a blender and whizz it all together.

I’m on a tofu craze, so I started with 1/3 cup of soft silken tofu.  Plus 1 tablespoon of deli style mustard (Please use one that’s Dijon style with visible mustard grains in it, not the fluorescent yellow kind).  1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.  And the twist, the zest and juice of 1 lime.  A dash of salt and black pepper is good too.

This is an intense dressing, but it has to be able to cut the spiciness of the blackened chicken.  The citrus from the lime and tang of the apple cider vinegar do just that.

Liquify all this in your blender, and let it wait while you finish everything else.

Surprisingly, blackened chicken is an easy thing to make.  You need 3 ingredients: chicken, Cajun seasoning, and oil (olive or vegetable or canola all work).  You’ll make an assembly line for your spicing process: olive oil (2-3 tablespoons), 1/4 cup of Cajun spices (this was my entire small bottle of Cajun spice!), and a saute pan warming up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.

Now all we have to do is add chicken. I cut 2 boneless, skinless breasts long-wise into tenders.  Again, math required for more servings.

I know, it’s intimidating to use this much spice.  Cajun food really asks you to take risks.  Honestly, this is the one and only time in my life where I’ve used an entire brand new bottle of spice in one recipe.  It seemed absurd, but oh man, once I tasted that spice delight crusted on the chicken, I forgot everything.

Grab one chicken tender.

Drop it in the oil and coat both sides lightly.  Drip off any excess oil.

Now plop the chicken tender in the Cajun seasoning.  Give it a bath basically.  Cover as much of the chicken in a coat of spices.  Really press it in, but keep in mind you have other chicken pieces, so don’t let one tender hog it all.

Then put the chicken in the heated saute pan.  Repeat with all your chicken tenders.

DON’T TOUCH THE CHICKEN for 5 minutes.  This is called blackened chicken, remember?  Not that it’s burned, it shouldn’t be, but every time you touch the chicken a little bit of the spices flake off making it less spice-blackened.  This bears repeating, the less you touch it, the better the flavor.

After 5 minutes, flip the tenders and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.  Here’s my one and only flip.  Fabulously spice-crusted.

Remove the chicken from the heat, and let it rest on a plate while you chop up the rest of your salad ingredients.  This is where you look at what you have in your fridge and use that or whatever you like in your salads.  Don’t have romaine, use iceberg.  Prefer the spring mix; you’re genius.  Have some leftover roasted veggies from last night’s dinner?  That’s one of my favorite things to add to salads.  We all have our own routes to Blackened Chicken deliciousness.

Here’s my route for two newlyweds.  I had 6 leaves of romaine lettuce.  1/2 cup of grated carrots, about 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (always needed on salads), 1 garden-fresh tomato, and 2 green onions.  (Shameful side note- we only had baby carrots which is why I decided to grate them up before taking the shot of salad ingredients.  I don’t recommend that, unless you want your knuckles an eighth of an inch away from sharp grates.  Blood is not an ingredient of this recipe).

Prettily arrange all your salad ingredients in a bowl.  Or just throw them in.

Now add 1 peeled and diced apple.  You’ll swoon, I promise because in one bite you can have spicy Cajun chicken, sweet apple crunch, and citrus lime tang.  Apples are one of my go-to ingredients on salads, especially for a touch of sweetness.  Once you start adding them to salads, you won’t be able to stop.

Cut the chicken into chunks the size of quarters and sprinkle over the salad greens.

Drizzle half of the dressing over each salad.

Buen Provecho!

Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Kale, and Olives

Skip the cooking tutorial, print the recipe, and get cooking: Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Ever poached anything besides eggs?  Even if you haven’t poached eggs, which is delicious and makes them creamy and delicate, poaching is an underrated cooking method.  It gets no love.

Poaching is actually very easy and fool-proof, my favorite way to cook.  At its heart, here’s the poaching equation:

liquid+something to cook=poaching

Of course variations exist for everything.

What kind of liquid? Water, chicken or vegetable broth, wine, dessert wine.  With herbs?  With vegetables like beets to add color?

What are ya cooking? Eggs, chicken, pears, fish….  You get the idea.

Today we’re making an easy herb-poached chicken with a sweet and piquant taste.  This method of poaching will make your chicken absolutely, flawlessly moist and flavorful, but here’s the caveat.  You have to follow directions to a tee.  I know this is hard (look who’s talking), following a recipe word for word makes me feel like I’m in a straight jacket sometimes.  However, due to some awful baking disasters recently, I’ve learned that directions have a purpose, especially in something where the method guarantees delight.

OK, I exaggerate, you don’t have to follow every single direction for ingredients, but THE METHOD of poaching including timing and taking it off heat MUST maintain its purity.  I repeat.  Follow the method like your life depended on it, but you can improvise with ingredients.  (In my personal opinion, though no one asked, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, piquancy of the olives, and extra healthiness of the kale are a very tasy and colorful combo).

Start with your poaching liquid.  I have 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth.  I’m going to have so much herb-flavor going on that I wanted a diluted chicken broth.  Here’s the list of herbs: 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, and 10-12 fresh basil leaves.  Oh yeah, plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  If you are flavor-phobic, just halve the fresh herbs; it’ll still give the chicken a subtle herb taste, just not as robust.

Don’t be intimidated by the amount of herbs here.  Or for that matter your hands smelling like an herb garden.  This is goodness.

Liquid- check.  Now place 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the poaching liquid.

Warning: this is the part where you HAVE to follow directions.

Bring the pot up to a boil.  Cover it.  Bring down the heat so the liquid has a nice simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  TURN OFF THE HEAT, and let the chicken sit, covered, in its poaching liquid for 15 minutes.  After you’re done, take the chicken out.  Don’t keep it cooking in the pot otherwise it’ll get dry and over cooked.  Make sure you use your microwave or oven timers to remind you about this process.

OK, that’s the end of the mandatory method.  Let’s get to work on the topping for this chicken.

Start with prepping the kale.  I have 1 bunch of dinosaur kale.  I love how the grooves on the leaves look like dinosaur scales.

We’ll need to remove the woody stems.  Fold the leaves in half.

Then carefully, slide your knife along the stem to cut it out.

When you open the kale back up, it’ll look like it has legs.

Once you have all the kale trimmed of the woody stems, rough chop it.

Next.  Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  You’ll see the skin start to crack open like a flower bursting on some tomatoes.  Others will begin to gush their sweet, red juices.

Sprinkle the kale on top.  Now add in about 1/2 cup of dry white wine.

Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass.  Cooking is tough stuff.  If you don’t cook with alcohol, use chicken broth or, worst case scenario, water.

Cook this about 5 minutes until the kale starts to wilt and look like it’s hugging the cherry tomatoes.

Now add 1/2 cup of mixed flavorful olives.  I like kalamata and pimiento-stuffed green olives.

Have I told you that I now have 3 jars of kalamata olives in my cupboard?  Just gotta make sure we’ll never run out of them.

Cook the olives, kale, and cherry tomatoes another 3-5 minutes.  Make sure some cherry tomatoes have maintained their shape- oh Lord, when you bite into them, warm sweetness will explode on your tongue.

Once you’re ready to serve, cut up the herb-poached chicken in slices, then top with the Cherry tomatoes, kale, and olive mixture.

I promise, your taste buds will dance in delight.

Veracruz-Style Tilapia (Tilapia Veracruzana)

We’re riding the end of summer produce wave here in NorCal.  It started with zucchini, now we are in the midst of a tomato influx.

For more tomato recipes see Homemade Tomato Sauce and Chilled Gazpacho.

Skip the story and get a cookin’ with the printable recipe: Veracruz-Style Tilapia

Some of my favorite foods are from what Christopher Columbus intriguingly called “The New World.”  These foods include tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, avocados, and let’s not forget potatoes from the land of the Incas.  As much as we equate tomatoes with Italian food, it was a Central American ingredient first, and indeed some of the tastiest uses for summer-ripened tomatoes can be found especially in Mexican food.

Veracruz-style fish is the most popular fish dish in Mexico, followed closely by fish tacos.  OK, I made up the fish tacos taking second place, but Veracruz, a state on the eastern edge of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea, is well-known for its seafood.

Traditionally it’s made with red snapper, a medium-firm white fish, but bass and (in this recipe) tilapia make fine substitutes.  The only thing to remember with tilapia is that very thin fillets have a tendency to fall apart since it is such a light fish.  You can see this evidenced in my above final dish picture.  What this means is you have to cook the fish at the absolute last minute before you’re ready to serve so it doesn’t totally fall apart.  OK the last 6 minutes; they do need to cook.  Another option would be to cook the sauce and fish separate, then top the fish with the rich, red sauce when ready to serve.  Your delicious choice.

We’ll start with tomatoes, about 1 large tomato per serving.  We’ll need to peel these with a paring knife which is a short, sharp knife, usually with an edge about 2-3 inches long and a handle that just feels like it’s made for the palm of your hand.  It’s used for precise cutting requirements, like peeling tomatoes.  Adult supervision is required for anyone over age 18.  First hint: be careful.  Second hint: have confidence in your abilities; the knife, not to mention the tomato, can feel it.  Third hint: don’t use overripe tomatoes since there is a higher chance of cutting yourself as you peel the skin off.

Start at the top, where the core is.  Slide your paring knife just under the tomato’s skin.  This is the kind of cutting task that will let you know if you have a sharp knife or not.

Making a circular path, continue cutting the peel until you reach the bottom.  With practice, it should come off all in one long, funny looking concentric circle piece.  Don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like that.  We all need a goal to work towards sometimes.

When you get to the end, sometimes you can just pull the last chunk off.

Rough chop your tomatoes and place in a food processor.

Whir them until they look like this.

Many people like to puree half the tomatoes and chop up the other half for a chunkier sauce texture.  This is a delicious variation.  I’m lazy, so I just puree them all.

Dice up 1 onion of your color choice.  Dice up a bell pepper of your color choice.  There can be a lot of color combos here.  I’ll leave the algorithms to people who know how to figure that out.

We’re also going to seed and de-membrane 2 fresh jalapeno peppers.  This means cut the peppers in half and slip your knife right under the membranes to cut the white parts out.  Can you handle a lot of heat?  Then be lazy and leave the seeds and membranes in and just dice the pepper up.

Saute these pieces of aromatic bliss (onions, peppers, jalapenos) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Don’t forget about the 5 cloves of minced garlic.  This recipe is not for the flavor-phobic.  Then again, none of my recipes are.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Slice up some pimento-filled green olives.  Those are the ones with the little red peppers stuffed inside, but don’t worry they’re not hot peppers.  Think 4-5 olives per serving.

Oh goodness this makes me want to have a dirty martini.

Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Or, if you’re in a rush, make a slurry by dissolving 2 teaspoons of corn starch in 2 teaspoons of water in a small cup.  Once it turns a murky white color, drop it into the tomato sauce, then continue the simmer until thickened.

Add your tilapia fillets.  Drown them in sauce as best you can so they soak up all the delicious flavor. Cook until flaky, about 6 minutes for super thin fillets, like mine.

Serve with sliced, boiled potatoes for a true New World dinner.  This dish gets along with white or brown rice also.

Homemade Chili

Who doesn’t love those cook once for several meals recipes?  This is ingenuity at its best.  One recipe, 3 meals.  Did I mention that these were camping meals? Though, of course, they don’t have to be.

This chili recipe is one of those cook once for several meals, and it is an ideal time saver for camping.  When camping you don’t have to sacrifice a delicious meal because you have to cook over a fire or only have a 2 burner camping stove.  From my mother-in-law, Pat, an all-star camper, I’ve learned that all you need to do is a little bit of preparation.  The day before we headed out, I cooked up a batch of this chili.  While camping, it became the key ingredient for 3 dinners.  I kept it in a tight fitting Tupperware in our cooler.

First night: Classic chili with toppings: cheese, green onions, and tortilla chips for dipping

Second night: Chili Dogs.  Roast the hot dogs over the campfire until the casing has cracked and the juices leak out and sizzle.  Lightly toast the bun over the fire as well.  Top the hot dogs with chili beans, cheese, green onions et al.

Third night: Stuffed baked potatoes.  Cook potatoes by the campfire by wrapping them in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil.  They take between 30-45 minutes, and you have to remember to flip and move them around so they evenly cook.  (Warning some parts may burn, just cut those off)  When potatoes are fork tender, cut them in half.  Pile on the remaining chili and any other toppings of your choice.

I hope you’re going camping soon because we all need to get away for a few days and sit chatting around a campfire.

Printable Recipe: Homemade Chili

You’ll need one large pot so you can minimize clean up.

Start with browning 1 pound of ground beef.  Since we don’t eat ground beef very often, when we do, I like to buy 100% grass-fed beef.  The taste is much more flavorful and heartier.I love using this gadget, I call it my ground beef breaker-upper.

Also add 1 small diced onion.

Cook these over medium heat until just barely browned, 7-10 minutes.

Since grass fed beef generally has more fat content, I drain it by placing paper towels in a colander in order to soak up the excess fat.  If you’re using beef that has a 10% or less fat content or really like the fat, you can skip this step.Eewww, gross.  That’s why we’re throwing it out.

Using the same pot, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute some of the veggies that require more cooking time: red pepper and carrots were what I had in the fridge.  Cook these over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.  Add 5 cloves of minced garlic.  It sounds like a lot, you can always use less.  In my house, we are flavor junkies, so we like lots of garlic.

Add the beef back to the pot.

Open a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and dump it all into the pot.  I only had a can of whole tomatoes on hand, so I had to break them up with my fingers before adding them in.  Here’s hoping your pantry is more prepared than mine.

Here’s what we have so far.

The secret to good chili is spices.  My preferred ones are cumin for smokiness, chili powder to make it taste like chili, and dried oregano for earthiness.

You cannot make chili without spices.  If all you have on hand is chili powder, at least add that in.  If you don’t have anything, now is the time to go to the store and get some.  We cannot move forward in a chili recipe without spices.

Drain 1 14-ounce can of red kidney beans (pinto would be good too) and add it to the chili.Your chili will be thick.  Some people like it this way and others, like me, need more juices. I added 1 cup of water plus 1/2 of a 6-ounce can of tomato paste.  You can’t just add water to chili without bringing in some flavor.  A small can of tomato sauce would be a nice substitute.

Do some soul-searching and figure out how you like your chili.  Don’t take it personally if someone criticizes your chili and thinks it needs more or less liquid.  Chili is one of the most personal dishes one can make; be especially careful when serving Southwesterners; they are VERY opinionated about their chili and every Southwesterner I know likes to share his/her opinion whether you are listening or not.

If you’re trying to use up zucchini from you garden this is a good time to chop it up and add it in.

Simmer the chili for 20-30 minutes.  The flavor only gets better with each day which is why it’s perfect for taking on a camping trip.

Sorry no end photo- I was getting sleeping bags, tent, and other camping gear ready.

Zucchini Curry

Sometimes I buy ingredients that are on sale, but they are not my everyday staples, so they sit in my pantry gathering dust, staring me in the face every time I open the cabinet door.  Coconut milk is one of these culprits.  About 2 years ago I went through an obsessive curry phase, alright, I only made 2-3 recipes, but that was 3 recipes more than I’d ever made in my life.  So, for the past few years, 4 cans have been continuously reminding me that someday, somehow, I gotta put their delicious sweetness to good use.Enter the cookbook Gourmet Today.  I bought it from one of my favorite stores, half price books.  Lucky me, the cookbook included a free year subscription to the magazine.  Too bad the magazine no longer exists.  I’ve adjusted the recipe to have less coconut milk (read, less fat), added extra garlic, some extra spices, and decided to toast all the spices together instead of only 2.

You may be thinking, ok, so she’s used 1/2 a can of coconut milk, what about the other 3 1/2?  Yes…well…I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.

Printable Recipe: Zucchini Curry

Start with fragrant spices.From the far left: 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, pinch of cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds.

Toast these in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor.  Breathe deeply, your kitchen will smell like you’ve traveled across the world to India.Next prepare 2 other ingredients to make the curry paste.  Rough chop 1 jalapeno, and grate 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger.  How do you get rid of the rough brown skin from the ginger, you ask?  Use the edge of a spoon to scrape it off, like your skinning it.  To grate it use a microplane, but you can also use a cheese grater.  Do you have a mortar and pestle?  Excellent!  Just add the jalapeno, ginger, and toasted spices to the mortar and grind the shape out of them.  I couldn’t find mine, so I had to use my oversized food processor.  I had to add in a few slices of zucchini and a splash of water to help the puree process.  Doesn’t matter how you get there, the end is the same, a rich yellow curry paste.  OK, OK, mine is slightly chunkier than it should be because I used the food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.  Set this aside, but you may find yourself leaning in to smell it everytime you pass by.

Now, in the same skillet (the Gourmet Today book had us grabbing a new pot-I’m looking out for our well-being.  We don’t need more dishes to wash, that’s for sure) saute the diced onion and minced garlic with a tablespoon or so of oil.  I like olive oil.  We have it all around.  People may say it has such a sharp flavor and you should use something more mild.  Either my taste buds are unsophisticated or we buy cheap olive oil; I can’t taste the difference.There’s some residual curry powder here from toasting the spices, and it’s all good; everything going into the same dish, no need for another pot.  Now plop in the curry paste.And the sliced zucchini.Now mix it all together, so the curry paste coats EVERYTHING.  When the zucchini starts to look like it’s sweating you’ll add the liquids.

Shake the coconut milk.  Don’t brush this step off.  The fat chunks (yes I just wrote fat chunks) will drop to the bottom, so shake, shake, shake (do-do-do-do-do-do) shake, shake, shake; shake your booty, I mean coconut milk.  Add only half the can- we’re trying to be healthy here.  Also pour in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock or veggie stock if that’s how you roll.Cook it all together for about 5 more minutes.  At this point in time, I’m thinking, cool, I just adapted this Gourmet recipe to have less fat.  Go me!  Then I do a double take; the curry is very liquidy, and I like my sauce to coat everything around it, not run all over my plate like egg yolks.  So, I decide to try the ol’ cornstarch thickener trick.  I use it all the time because I have a tendency to not measure my liquids.  In a small bowl I whisked 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with about 1 tablespoon of water.  Then I mixed it into the zucchini curry and simmered it another 4-5 minutes.  The curry continues to thicken especially as it cools.It is super important that you do this thickening trick in a SEPARATE dish, so you have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  This bears repeating: you will have control over the cornstarch dissolving.  You will make a grievous error if you add the cornstarch straight into the hot curry mix.  Please trust the person who’s already gone down that awful, ostracizing road.  You will end up with clumps of cornstarch in your curry, and it is not a pleasant experience to forewarn guests that they might bite into a dry pocket of bitter cornstarch.  Lesson learned here: control the cornstarch.

OK, so now, you’re ready to serve your own lower fat version of Zucchini Curry.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Serve it with rice.  Dang it-I should’ve done brown rice to continue the healthiness.  You should use brown rice.  Sprinkle it with fresh cilantro.  Nothing complements curry like freshly chopped cilantro.  Do you have nuts lying around?  Awesome- sprinkle those on too for some added crunch.

Forbidden Rice with Spicy Sausage and Collards

Forbidden Rice with Spicy Sausage and Collards

What’s not tempting about a name like forbidden rice?  If you’ve never tried it before, it is a special treat.  I like to eat it because it makes me feel subversive.  Originally in China, only the emperor could eat black rice, so it was called forbidden.

It’s a deep, beautiful black rice that will tint your wooden spoon purple while you mix and cook it.  The flavor is much richer and more nutty than brown rice.  Hardcore white-rice-only-please people will become converts. Its price, which for rice, a world staple, is high, is still doable for special occasions or small meals for two.

I paired the fancy forbidden rice with some cheap meat and greens.  Just kidding, well, not totally.  Here’s how that previous sentence could be rewritten: I wanted to highlight the black rice’s nuttiness by contrasting it with spicy sausage.  To add some color and vitamins, I also included some forest-green collards.  On a whim, I also added sweet potatoes to steam with the rice.  They turned a little purple on the edges, but generally maintained their color.

The end plate was a riot of color: deep purple-black of the rice, bright orange of the sweet potatoes, earthy green of the collards, and tan bits of sausage.  Sausage and collards was plain, but the black rice and sweet potatoes transformed the dinner like Cinderella going to the ball.

Forbidden Rice with Spicy Sausage and Collards

-12-ounce bag prepped collards
-8 ounce bag spicy Italian sausage
-2 shallots
-5 cloves garlic, minced
(not pictured black rice, sweet potatoes)

1.  In a medium saucepan, cook the rice according to directions.  It’s usually about 1:1 ration rice to water.  USE WATER; the rice has such a strong flavor, I’ve found that sometimes using broth clashes with the rice’s natural nuttiness.  Bring water/rice to a boil; cover and cook for 20 minutes.  After about ten minutes, add small pieces of sweet potato to steam cook with the rice.

2.  In a large saute pan, cook the sausage, breaking it up into small bits.  Set aside in a bowl.  Don’t throw away the excess grease in the pan, it’ll give the collards a flavor-kick.

Cooked sausage bits

3.  Wile those juices release more, add minced shallot to the pan.  Saute until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook for about 1-2 more minutes.  Add the entire bag of pre-washed, pre-chopped collards.  I told you this was easy.  If you feel inclined, wash the collards before you put them to cook.

Saute the collards

4.  Cook the collards for about 7-10 minutes, until they begin to wilt and turn a brilliant green.  It’s nature’s way of saying, “I’m perfectly done, just a little crispy, just a little wilted.”

5.  Add the sausage and ALL accumulated juices back to the pan, mix together.

6.  Scoop out rice with some sweet potato pieces, then ladle on the side some spicy sausage and collards.

Bon Appetit Usurpers!

Manchego Quesadillas with Sweet Potato and Kale

I am not a kale fan.  I grew up seeing this curly leaf brassica as filler on the salad bar at the pizza restaurant I worked at.  I didn’t know humans could eat it until a college roommate one night added it to her vegetarian stir fry.

“Wait,” I hollered at her, sometimes she was on the ditzy side, so I thought this ingredient addition was just another fluke.  I mean she once burned one of my pots boiling water, really!?

However, she began to teach me about kale’s amazing vitamins and dietary benefits.  I tried it, hated it because of its bitterness, and vowed never to trust her stir-fries again.

Fast forward 8 years, Kris and I are walking on a beautiful November day at our local farmer’s market, and I see a brilliant, beautiful purple leafy vegetable lounging on the table, next to kale and other salad greens.  Curious, entranced by its stunning purple color, I ask the stand worker what this jewel of a vegetable is.

“Kale,” he says, smiling.  He must have been amused by my look of disbelief since he added an explanation of the 3 types of kale he had.  “Dinosaur kale, curly kale,” and noticing my affinity for the colorful purple one, “Russian kale.”  Without hesitation, so hypnotized by its color, we buy two bunches.  I am convinced that nothing this beautiful in hue could be bitter, and so far, the two recipes I’ve made with it, have confirmed my color/lack of bitterness hypothesis.

Such a stunning color

This recipe is to use up all those Winter vegetables.  Two words best describe it: nutty and gorgeous.  It’s a combination of whole wheat tortillas, the manchego cheese, sweet potatoes, and hint of ground cumin.  The blast of orange from the sweet potato and the contrasting purple of the Russian kale make this easy dinner an aesthetic and gustatory pleasure.

Manchego Quesadillas with Sweet Potato and Kale (2 servings)
-whole wheat tortillas
-roughly chopped Purple/Russian kale, 2 springs per serving
-2 small sweet potatoes
-2 cloves garlic
-2/3 cup shredded Manchego cheese (Fontina would be good too, or smoked gouda)

1.  In a small saute pan, add 1 Tablespoon olive oil.  Heat over a medium low setting.  Mince garlic with a press over the pan, and cook garlic for 1 minute, being careful not to burn it.  Add in roughly chopped kale.  Saute for about 4 minutes.

Maintain purple kale color at all costs

2.  Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes, and chop into 1/4 inch disks.  Place in a small sauce pan, add a touch of water to coat the bottom, then cover and cook over high heat until soft, about 6-7 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces you cut.

3.  When sweet potatoes look cooked through, they turn bright orange, drain excess water, and mash up the potatoes in the pot with a touch of butter for flavor (optional).

Gorgeous Color, and I'm not talking about the butter

4.  When kale is cooked, set aside in a bowl, then clean out your pan with a paper towel.  This way you have less dishes to clean.  You want to get any leftover bits of garlic so they don’t burn with further cooking.

5.  Grab a tortilla, place in the pan, then add about 1/3 cup Manchego cheese.  Also add a pinch of ground cumin on top of the cheese for extra flavor.  If you’ve never had Manchego cheese, you will die and go to heaven the second you do; it is that awe-inspiring.

6.  Top cheese with half the potato mash and half the sauteed garlic kale.  When the tortilla is warm, fold the other half over.  After a couple minutes, when the bottom side is lightly golden brown, flip quesadilla to the other side, and cook until golden delicious brown on that side too.

Cooking with color is so beautiful