January 27, 2020

Polish-y Cabbage Soup with Root Vegetables and Kielbasa


1 1/4 lb kielbasa, sliced
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 large purple top turnip, cubed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
2 bay leaves
1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
14 oz coleslaw mix (or the equivalent of hand-shredded cabbage and carrots)
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock


Brown the kielbasa in a large skillet. Add it to a 4 or 6-quart slow cooker. the onion, turnip, garlic, potatoes, spices, and vinegar. Add the coleslaw mix/shredded cabbage. If it looks like too much to safely fit in the slow cooker, saute the cabbage briefly into the same pan you browned the kielbasa to to wilt it slightly. Add to the slow cooker and pour in broth. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Discard bay leaves, stir. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
Cabbage soup isn't the most beautiful looking or sounding dish but you know what? It's very good! I don't think I've actually ever had cabbage soup until I made this. I set out to make a fresh version of this very very good sauerkraut soup I somehow made way back in 2012 even though it seems like yesterday and ended up with another amazing soup. I think part of the trick is to use very flavorful kielbasa. I picked mine up at a local Polish deli. I like kiełbasa ​czosnkowa best. It's lightly smoked and flavored with marjoram and garlic. To accent the smokiness I added smoked paprika. Caraway is one of the best things to flavor cabbage with, in my opinion, so of course that had to go in! I'm not claiming this is some super authentic Polish soup by any means (my ability to read Polish was severely taxed while reading Polish cabbage soup recipes and I admit, I gave up and did my own thing) but caraway is a frequent addition and it just makes sense to add it. Caraway is such an underutilized flavor outside of bagels and rye bread. Let's remedy that!

I "cheated" and used a pre-shredded coleslaw mix (it's just plain, dry shredded cabbage and some carrot) instead of shredding my own cabbage and carrot. It's actually cheaper at Aldi to buy the mix than it is to shred my own whole cabbage. It's a huge time saver and meant I only spent about 10 minutes in the morning chopping the onions, potato, and turnip while browning the sausage and the soup was ready to go! If I hadn't bought the mix I would have chopped everything up the night before and refrigerated it until I was ready to add it to the slow cooker for more ease in the morning.

The result was so good! Perfectly savory and rich-tasting but full of vegetables and oddly light. The broth came out oddly clear despite the paprika and was so flavorful. Yum. A surprise delight. The perfect meal for a cold January night. 

January 22, 2020

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy-Caper Giant Croutons


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 anchovies
1 loaf day-old (or older) crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 head cauliflower
1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley


In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, anchovies, and capers and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the anchovies have broken down. Add the bread cubes and saute until golden. Remove everything to a large bowl.

Add more oil if needed, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and cauliflower to the same pan. Saute the pan until starting to brown. Cover and cook until nearly fork-tender, then remove the lid and continue to cook until lightly browned. Add the croutons back into the pan, sprinkle with parsley and stir. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:

I admit this is a bit of an odd recipe. I had a whole loaf of "country French" bread I bought at Costco last week. I used the first loaf for sandwiches but the second loaf just sat on the counter going stale. I've been trying really hard to reduce food waste so I was trying to think of something to use up this bread which was rapidly bearing resemblance to a doorstopper. Bread crumbs seemed obvious but I really didn't need any.

I also had two heads of cauliflower taking up a lot of room in my refrigerator--they were on super sale last week so I impulse bought two. I googled "bread and cauliflower" (ha!) and mostly came up with recipes that called for breadcrumbs or some sort of "lower carb" stuffing where you sub cauliflower for some of the bread. That seemed a little sad. Then I was thinking about how some Italian recipes like panzanella take stale bread and turn into new dishes without pulverizing it into crumbs. Why not do that with cauliflower? 

Since cauliflower isn't as juicy as tomatoes are, I heavily seasoned the bread cubes. I made big cubes (about the size of cauliflower florets) so the middles of the bread softened up a bit and there were large surface areas to brown vs tiny cubes that can go from crispy and delicious to burnt and greasy very quickly. I love anchovies and capers so it was clear they needed to be included. I even finished up a jar of anchovies I've had forever so it was satisfying to use that up too. Adding so much savory flavor to the croutons meant I could simply prepare the cauliflower and still have a fantastic dish. The parsley had been languishing in my fridge for a week too so I really checked off all "eliminate food waste" boxes and it added a pop of color and freshness.

Trust me, you want to make this! It sounds a little nutty but it so so good! Salty, savory and very satisfying. My husband was amazed I came up with this and that it was so delicious. I can't wait to over buy bread and have to use it up again. 

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January 20, 2020

Sesame Noodles with Roasted Duck, Sugar Snap Peas and Cabbage


for the sauce:
1/4 cup Chinese "pure" sesame paste*
1/4-1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons chile-garlic sauce
1/2 tablespoon hot sesame oil

everything else:

12 oz  wide egg "lo mein" noodles
1 1/2 cups sliced cold, roasted duck
10 oz sugar snap peas (raw or lightly steamed)
3 scallions, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 small cabbage, thinly sliced
sesame seeds


for the sauce: (can be made a few hours ahead of time)

Place all ingredients in a blender, blend until a smooth, pourable sauce forms, adding additional water if needed.

for the noodles:

Cook according to package instructions, add a couple drops of hot sesame oil to keep them from sticking and allow to cool.

for the salad: (minutes before serving)

In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cabbage, scallions, and sauce. Top with sliced duck, snap peas and sesame seeds.

*It's made from roasted whole white sesame seeds. Purchase at Chinese grocery stores or online. Tahini isn't quite the same (it is made from unhulled, raw sesame seeds and has a different flavor profile) but can be used with tasty, if not quite as intended results. If using tahini, I suggest adding a drizzle of toasted sesame oil to the sauce as you mix it.

My thoughts:
It's been ages since I've made sesame noodles. I'll admit, I posted a fairly similar recipe a couple of summers ago so you aren't imagining things if this looks familiar to you but I made it again and tweaked it to be more winter-appropriate. Sugar snap peas are available year-round now (I think the ones I bought were grown in a greenhouse?) and add a lot crunch and an appreciated respite from winter squash. I love cabbage so I tossed it in raw for even more crunch. I also went with wider, dried noodles this time. I enjoy fresh noodles a lot but these are much easier to find (all of my local supermarkets carry them) and since they are shelf-stable, I don't have to plan ahead so much to make this dish. 

Having leftover duck is a luxury, I know! I actually heated up a frozen half duck portion (look for these in more high-end supermarkets) vs roasting a whole duck myself because it was our lunch for our New Year's Eve game theme (duck is game meat!) and I didn't have the time or energy. It makes the perfect amount for two people to have hearty portions. If you don't have duck, leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken would be great or even tofu or steamed shrimp. 

The leftovers (or plan for this) are great for packing for cold lunches too. Even though it's cold out, it's okay to eat some cold food. 

It's a really satisfying meal and every time I make it, I wonder why I don't make it more often and how easy it is. 

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January 13, 2020

Modernized Spinach Dip


16 oz fresh baby spinach
1 small carrot
1/4 small red onion
1/2 stalk celery
16 oz sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons finely diced Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper


Heat a small amount of water to large skillet. Add the spinach in batches until wilted. Thoroughly squeeze dry.  Coarsely chop. Place in a medium bowl.

In a small food processor (I used this mini manual chopper) or if you have the patience to chop vegetables very finely, finely chop the carrot, red onion, celery.  Add to the bowl with the spinach.

Stir in the remaining ingredients until well distributed. Refrigerate at least one hour and up to overnight before serving.

My thoughts:

Our theme for NYE this year was games so of course, I had to make dip! What better game night food is there? If you are actually serving it on game night, I suggest crackers because they are sturdy (this is a hardy dip!) and won't leave your hands greasy. It's also really good with cucumber spears, pretzels and thicker chips. 

My inspiration for the dip was those old school dried vegetable soup mix spinach dips that were everywhere from around the 1960s on. Does anyone really make soup from that mix? Even the packet photo is of spinach dip! 

This version is just as easy but so much more flavorful. The little dehydrated vegetables never got 100% soft so I just finely chopped them here vs sauteing them so they retained a little bite and didn't add any butter or oil to the dip which can make a dip greasy. I opted for fresh baby spinach becuase I find the flavor and texture is so much better than frozen which can have a lot of stems. This makes for a more velvety dip. 

This really was delicious! I kept coming back for more. If you've missed this old fashioned dip now is the time to make it again. 

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January 08, 2020

Coconut & Lime Bundt Cake (vegan)


3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups canola oil
14 oz (canned) full-fat coconut milk (not light!)
1/4 cup lime juice
zest of 2 limes
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

for the glaze:

2 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup confectioners sugar
zest of one lime


Preheat oven 350. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and coconut. Set aside.

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar, oil, coconut milk, lime juice, zest, and vanilla. Slowly stream in the dry ingredients and beat until well combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour or until a cake tester or thin knife comes out with just one or two dry crumbs. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, invert on the rack and cool completely.

When cool, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Drizzle over the cake. The cake can be made a day before serving but don't apply the glaze until ready to serve.

My thoughts:
I took inspiration for this cake from the Depression and wartime era "wacky" or "crazy" cakes that were made without eggs or butter as a cost and resource cutting measure. They rely on acidic ingredients and baking soda to make the cakes rise. They are also incidentally vegan. My sister-in-law recently became vegan so I took that as an opportunity to experiment with some vegan baking! She isn't a huge chocolate person but everyone in my family likes coconut so it makes sense to make a coconut cake. Lime juice not only adds flavor but it is the acid ingredient the cake needed to rise.

I was a little nervous making this cake since it was for a holiday and it's been ages since I've done any vegan baking but it came out great! I greased the pan and then used this wand to evenly distribute the flour to keep it from sticking. Since I've started using that I haven't had a single cake stick! I really wanted to make a cake where I wasn't using any ingredients that I normally wouldn't have on hand. I don't drink or use alternative kinds of milk like soy or almond, I don't use margarine (ahem, "plant butter") or want to bother with egg replacements. I wanted to buy enough ingredients for two cakes just in case so I didn't want to end up with ingredients I wouldn't use in something else. So coconut milk, canola oil and the mix of acid and baking soda make sense to me. The added bonus is that using coconut milk really ramps up the coconut flavor and adds a lot of body that can be missed due to the lack of eggs.

Luckily, it came out wonderfully! I hate to say that you'd never know it was vegan (because vegan food is very good on its own and it shouldn't be a surprise) but it really did come out like any other moist, super coconut-y bundt cake I've ever made. The zest added a ton of bright flavor in the glaze and every bite was full of coconut. It would be a great addition to any meal, vegan or not.

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January 06, 2020

Bookmaker Salad


for the dressing:

3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
tiny pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the salad:

2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1-pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I used an heirloom mix)
1/3 cup large Spanish pimento-stuffed olives
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 lb thickly sliced sweet soppressata, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/4 lb thickly sliced Genoa salami. cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/4 lb (imported, aged) thick-sliced provolone, cut into 1/2 inch strips
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut into wedges
4 pepperoncini


In a jar with a tightly fitted lid, shake together the salad dressing ingredients to mix thoroughly. Set aside.

For the salads: Evely divide the romaine among 4 plates, top with an assortment of the remaining ingredients.  Serve the dressing on the side so everyone can dress their own salad.

My thoughts:
This is my homemade version of possibly the most famous salad in Baltimore. It is from an old school Italian restaurant here called Sabatino's in Baltimore's historic Little Italy neighborhood. Going there is like taking a trip back in time and the menu is full of classic Italian-American dishes like lasagna and manicotti. However if you mention Sabatino's to a native Baltimorean, the first thing out of their mouth is either a mention of the bookmaker salad or the Sabatino's signature salad dressing. You can upgrade your side salad to be a bookmaker salad or get the signature dressing. It's serious business there! It's basically a chef's salad but with Italian meat or cheese or what I've seen called an antipasto salad. What sets it apart is the thick, parmesan-loaded vinegarette they serve on it. People love this salad! 

It's been one of my most requested recipes for years but I've never made it. I'm really not much of a green salad person. This year, following our New Year's Eve (and Day!) tradition of themed movies, games and food I finally made it. Our theme this year was "games" and while I had some duck (game meat), chess pie and Cornish Game Hens on the menu, we were really lacking on vegetables. Then inspiration struck and I remembered the bookmaker salad. Bookmakers (aka bookies) place bets on games! It was good enough for me. It has been years since I've had this salad at Sabatino's (I went there after my college graduation and then just a few times after that) judging from the pictures I found in reviews online nothing's changed. I wouldn't expect it to! I think you could time travel from 1961, go to Sabatino's and have it be unchanged. You get the salad as a meal with shrimp on it which sounds good but honestly, it's pretty filling without it! When I went there, it was popular to get a half salad as your vegetable (without the shrimp) with a heartier entree.  

The original just has Genoa salami and domestic provolone and that's fine but we have a great Italian grocery in our neighborhood* so I upgraded the salad to a mix of Genoa salami, aged, imported provolone and a personal favorite of mine, sweet (as in not hot, not sweet-sweet) soppressata which, while also a salami, has a different flavor profile than the Genoa and added a ton of depth to the salad. When there are these few ingredients, every single one counts. I also went for the pricier imported white wine vinegar and olive oil and of course excellent quality parmesan. 

I will say that the dressing is a tiny bit "gritty" or chunky thanks to the copious amounts of grated cheese in it, which according to some reviews I saw online people don't always love, but it is very tasty, I assure you! It's no grittier than it would be if you had sprinkled parm on your pizza (or salad!)  but I think people are used to creamy parmesan dressings from the supermarket so it stands out. It's served on the side at Sabatino's so you can dress your salad yourself and I found that worked well at home too. It's an assertive dressing! It really accents the flavorful meats and brings the whole salad together.

To drive home this salad's popularity, when the maitre d' who invented the salad, and named it after his gambling friends, died, the salad made it into his obituary.  He led quite a colorful life! He says he created a salad as a "lighter" option for his old bookmaker friends to entice them into coming to dinner at Sabatino's. 

*I also saw a pack of Italian meats at Aldi (and Trader Joe's) that had Genoa salami and sweet soppressata in it for about $4-6 if you don't have an Italian deli locally.

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January 02, 2020

Lemon Sesame Tuna & Chickpea Orzo Salad


for the salad:

8 oz dried orzo, cooked to package instructions and drained
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 bunch green onions, diced
3 3-oz pouches Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna
15-oz canned chickpeas, drained
3 oz crumbled feta
1/4 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (jarred, drained) fire-roasted red pepper, chopped
1/3 cup halved kalamata olives

for the dressing:

1 tablespoon tahini
juice on one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of one lemon
freshly ground black pepper


Toss together the salad ingredients in a large bowl, set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over salad, toss to evenly distribute.

My thoughts:
I know I can't be the only one who really doesn't like winter. Sure snow is pretty for a few minutes but it doesn't distract me from everything being cold and dead. The new year in our hemisphere really should start in April when everything is coming alive again. 

Possibly the worst part of this time of the year is that pretty much nothing is in-season in the mid-Atlantic. We can get citrus from warmer climes which is nice but the vegetable assortment is downright dismal. It makes it difficult to get excited about making meals. To re-energize myself I try to give myself challenges. Can I use the few things that are reliably good in the winter and bunch of pantry-stable items to create lunches that I would actually be excited about eating?

The answer is, happily, yes. I always have tuna on hand but I try to be careful where it is sourced. Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna pouches (in the interest of full disclosure, Safe Catch provided me with some samples to try but aren't paying me anything for this recipe) are just pure, wild, sustainably-caught tuna with low levels of mercury and don't need to be drained. Surely I'm not the only person who lacks the hand strength to drain tuna easily? I also like that I can stack them in my "pantry" aka the old wooden icebox I use for food storage and they take up a lot less space than the cans.

I love this tahini-based goddess dressing (and it's Aldi and Trader Joe's branded dupes) and often add it to tuna salad. Since I had actual tahini on hand, I took inspiration from the bottled dressing and made my own sesame kissed dressing to pour over the hearty salad. The tuna comes out of the pouch nicely broken up so it mixes well with orzo, which the chickpeas providing some texture in addition to extra protein. I added some feta for some tangy richness, salty olives, crisp celery and sharp red onions to round out the flavors and provide a lot of texture variety--key in any good cold pasta salad.

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