Has Spring finally sprung where you are? It hasn’t really here in New England, but it’s very close! It has teased us, poking a toe out here and there, calling a little “yoohoo!” from around a corner. I am optimistic, though, that it will come on out for real very soon.
While we wait, we eat.
This week I tried out some dishes that are new to me – one that I have wanted to tackle for a long time. Avgolemono is a Greek chicken soup that I have long wanted to explore but somehow had the impression would be difficult and challenging. Wrong. This was so simple and is definitely a come-together-quickly weeknight meal. It is tops for chicken soup comfort but has a twist of lightness from the lemon, just what a springtime transitional soup should be. It might seem tricky with the egg but, honestly, this was not an issue at all and the result is smooth and bright and rich. If you want to squeeze in one last soup of the season, this should be it.
1 ½ lb chicken breast, pounded or cut to minimize thickness.
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup orzo or rice
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cups baby spinach
Heat a soup pot over medium with a bit of olive oil. Salt the chicken and place it into the pan. Cook on one side for 5-7 minutes then flip, cover the pan, and cook another 5-7. Remove the chicken to a plate or cutting board then pour in a few tbsps of the chicken broth to deglaze the tasty cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Pout in the rest of the broth and bring it all to a low boil. Add the orzo. Cook this for 8-9 minutes, until tender. While it is cooking, put the two eggs and the lemon juice into a blender. Spoon in a little of the broth then blend it all together. Slowly add about a half cup of the broth and don’t be concerned if some of the orzo slips in – it will help thicken the soup. Turn the heat on the soup down to medium low then slowly pour in the egg and lemon mixture, stirring all the while. Cut or shred the chicken. Add it and the spinach to the soup to warm and wilt. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
What do you crave? What treat do you go for regularly and wouldn’t want to give up? For many the choice would be something sweet – ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies, a rich cake or piled high ice cream sundae. While I like a good dessert, I could go on ok with my life if I never had one again. Cheese, however? Bread? Step back and hands off. That is my happy place. Add butter to that bread and make the cheese melty? Hello. Now we’re talking. This month, April, aka National Grilled Cheese Month, was made for me. Whomever it was who came up with this homage is brilliant. I bet if we met we would be fast friends. And a month is full of days – 30, in fact – so there are plenty of chances to enjoy all manor of grilled cheese variations. Since you will be looking for ideas in order to do the month justice, I am here for you. How about adding some sweet, smokey, tangy bbq chicken to your melted handful of joy? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, then, hit that kitchen and get it going.
BBQ Chicken Grilled Cheese
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded to a uniform thickness
8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
8 slices of hearty bread – I prefer sourdough
1 cup ketchup
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1-2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup (adjust to your preferred sweetness)
2 tsp apple cider or white vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp mustard
1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cracked pepper
To make the bbq sauce, mix together all ingredients from ketchup down to pepper. Adjust flavors as necessary to your liking. Heat oven to 375. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish and place chicken breasts in it. Spoon a few tbsp of the sauce over the chicken ad flip it around to coat it all over. Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, until there is no hint of pink left. Remove the chicken to a bowl and use two forks to shred it. Pour on the remaining sauce and mix well. To assemble the sandwiches, lay out the pieces of bread and place a slice of cheese on each one. Pile some of the bbq chicken on 4 of the pieces. Top with another of the bread/cheese combos. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Place whatever number of the sandwiches you can comfortable fit into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and full of melty cheese. Repeat with any you couldn’t fit in the first round.
For vegetarian: bbq sauce works very nicely with mushrooms – as does cheese.
The first day back to school after a vacation is always a tough one. The week of later bedtimes, days of freedom and lowered demands make the return to regular life feel a little grind-y (for me as well as the kids). To ease the transition I like to have something nice on those days. It might be a doughnut on the way to school or a special activity planned after. It always involves extra hugs (mostly for me) and a beloved dinner. This time that dinner ended up being mac and cheese. Now, I don’t want to brag (or maybe I do), but my home made mac and cheese is something to celebrate. It’s not difficult or complicated, just simple and delicious. I make many variations – with bacon and smoked cheese, or beans and pepper jack, for example, but for the small mac fans in the family, the folks effected by the school return, straight up traditional is the way to their hearts.
Here’s the rub, though – one family member with a lactose intolerance and another who has gone keto*. Welp, THAT complicates things. Luckily, the mac and cheese recipe is simple enough that it leaves time and room to make other components of the meal. This night that was teriyaki steak tips and a simple oiled and salted pile of spring mix (my absolute fave). Perfect. Everyone happy. Maybe even happy enough to get up a little easier for the next round of school. Find the recipes below.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb elbows or any short pasta, I like to use penne
4 tbs butter
¼ cup flour
3.5 c milk, warmed
½ lb sharp cheddar, grated
½ lb emmental or jarlsberg, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional, only for baked version:
4tbs butter, melted
2 c bread crumbs
Put your water on to boil. While waiting for it to boil is a good time to grate your cheese. If you bought time saving pre-grated, all the better. Pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two so your cheese sauce doesn’t taste like flour. Add about half of the milk and whisk until smooth and then do the same with the other half. Cook this over medium until it thickens up. Meanwhile, the water has likely boiled so pour in your pasta. Check it after about 8-10 minutes. Very important – do not let it go mushy! It is ready when there is no hint of crunch but you still feel some *there* there. It shouldn’t all but disappear between your teeth. Drain when you deem it done. Back to the sauce – mix in the grated cheese a couple of handfuls at a time. When it is all incorporated, taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Pour in the pasta and mix until all the pasta is covered. If you are not baking, it is ready to be spooned out and enjoyed. If you are going for the baked version, preheat the oven to 375. Place the mixed mac and cheese into a casserole pan. Mix the bread crumbs into the melted butter and spread the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese. Bake this for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and the casserole is bubbly.
2 lbs steak tips (or turkey tips if you can find them)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup maple syrup
1-2 inch piece of ginger, grated
Lightly salt the tips. Mix together the garlic, soy sauce, syrup and ginger. Toss the tips well in this mixture and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (longer if you have the time). Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add the tips in batches, being careful not to crowd them into the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side. The time will vary greatly depending on the size of the pieces, how well done you like your steak, or if you are cooking turkey tips. As you likely know, the turkey needs to beef cooked fully through – there is no rare option here. You have wiggle room with the beef. I will sometimes cut larger pieces for faster cooking, but usually cook ours 3-4 minutes per side (cooking on just 2 sides – they almost always have irregular shapes) and that gets us medium rare on big tips. You will just have to check and experiment.
*I mention keto, but this tips recipe is NOT. Said diner has relaxed his keto-ness some, so though this works for him, if you are following a strict keto diet, this is not for you. I haven’t tried it but you could try subbing the maple syrup with erythritol sweetener.
Sometimes, that’s the method I take when writing a recipe or making dinner. Try stuff out, see what happens. Little bit of this, little bit of that, riff on one thing or another. Case in point, recently I had in mind the makings of a gratin. However, we have a family member who is not eating potatoes. No worries, we had parsnips – that would be a cool swap. Also, I am all about the one pot/pan full meal, so decided to use the ground beef and the kale I had in the refrigerator. Cream. Parmesan. Done. I put it together and honestly thought, “well, I have no idea how THAT is going to turn out to be.” Result? Deeeelicious. Obviously, I had some thought that it would be decent, or I wouldn’t have tried it (“oooh, that sounds horrible – let’s do it!”). I definitely had the sense, though, that it would be simply adequate. Wrong. I LOVE this thing. The cream is so good at taming the bite of the parsnip, leaving just the sweet to come through, and that sweet balances the beefiness so nicely. The kale just feels good. My least veggie eater in the house gobbled this. Give it a try, and also try your own hand at tossing things up and seeing how they land. More often than not, your will hit the target.
Beef Parsnip Kale Gratin
1 lb ground beef
2-3 cups (you decide!) baby kale
½ lb parsnips, peeled and cut about 1/4 inch thick on the bias
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup grated parmesan
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cracked pepper
Heat the oven to 375. Cook the beef in a skillet over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, until no longer pink. Stir in the kale, cream, ½ cup of the parmesan and the salt and pepper. Line the bottom of the baking dish with the parsnips. Pour the beef mixture over them then top it all with the rest of the parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the parsnips are tender and the cream is bubbling and thickened.
Sometimes, dinner turns into breakfast. Sometimes this happens when the leftovers are so delicious, you don’t want to wait until lunch to have them. Sometimes, you get up early to enjoy your quiet kitchen and make dinner for later in the day, or test a recipe for your blog and take a picture. Then it might happen that you give the bowl to your husband and he decides to eat the whole thing for his breakfast because he loves it so much. Soon after, your friend stops by to pick up your son for the baseball carpool, sees the potful and says, “ooh, is that black bean soup?” “Yep, want some?” Vigorous nod. Small bowl offered. “Mmmmmmmmmm”, Saturday morning bliss. Oh, and, by the way, you might end up with this as your cooking snack.
All this is to say 1) dinner can be breakfast and 2) apparently, this soup is irresistible. So make it.
Cuban Black Bean Soup
4 oz pancetta
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup chopped onion (1 small or ½ medium-large)
1 green pepper, diced small and divided
2 cans black beans, partially drained
1 cup broth*
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
Splash of red wine vinegar
Place a soup pot over medium high heat. Cook the pancetta in this for about 6-7 minutes, until fat has rendered and the meat is crispy. Scoop the meat out into a bowl, leaving the drippings. Pour in a bit of the broth to loosen the bits of flavor at the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, onion and about ⅔ of the pepper. Cook these until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the cumin, oregano and salt. Add the beans and broth. Let this simmer for about 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree about half the soup. Stir in the splash of vinegar. Serve the soup topped with some sour cream, the reserved green pepper, some cooked pancetta and chopped cilantro.
*I say broth because you can use any sort that you want or have around. It is equally good with vegetable, beef or chicken. Each one will certainly give the soup a different flavor, but all are tasty options.
A while back I made a mistake in my meal plan (if you don’t know about the meal plan you can learn about it here). Now, this did 2 things: 1) freaked me out because I hate mistakes – not because I rationally think they are a big deal but because my irrational anxiety brain freaks out. It just does. But 2) it made me think about how that mistake highlighted my whole goal of helping people confidently step away from always needing a recipe when they cook.
Here is how it went down. A subscriber wrote and pointed out that in the method portion of the recipe I mention adding the honey but there was no honey listed in the ingredients. Oops. I fixed it asap, but also thought back to why it happened and how it could be a helpful thing on which to shine a light. I knew immediately the reason: I was undecided about the honey. I made a carrot salad and had tried it both with and without honey, and liked it both ways. I hadn’t decided right down to the wire, so even changed my mind mid recipe writing – decided no while listing out ingredients, but apparently yes while writing up the method. Because, guess what – they were both good! Long story short, a recipe is more often that not a guide rather than a rule. Try things out. Mix things up. Follow your own path. Here is the recipe. Try it both ways and see what you think.
Shredded Carrot and Radish Salad
4 medium/large carrots, grated
4 medium/large radishes, grated
1 tbsp chopped chives
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
Mix juice, oil and honey until the honey has dissolved into the liquid. Toss the carrots, radishes and chives together with the dressing. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Sign up for our mailing list today and get recipes, cooking tips, instructional videos (and the ocassional free meal plan, too!) Come join the fun - your tummy will thank you! And when you join our mailing list, we promise not to send you any spam, we hate that stuff (unless you fry it and serve it with eggs then it is surprisingly good...)