Kale and White Bean Soup in Lemon Parmesan Broth

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Yeah, so I went missing for a bit there, again. It’s annoying how life gets in the way of important things like personal grooming and blog posting. But, in what’s now become my classic pattern, I return from a hiatus with soup.

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I’m not sure what it is about a bowl of soup that I have a hard time saying no to. There’s the feeling of warmth and comfort that rises with the steam, and I’m a total sucker for a good savory broth. It’s been odd weather around here recently, with ups and downs and windy bits, and this dinner totally hit the spot for us a few nights ago. It checks all of my weekday meal boxes: it’s damn delicious, healthy to boot, kid-friendly, uses a single pot, and is really quick (as soups go) with minimal human intervention needed. And to add to all of these already convincing reasons, it tasted unusually amazing. Neither of us could put a finger on exactly why, but it just seemed weird that such a simple collection of ingredients could come together to taste so addictive. My husband thought it was the parmesan and kale that permeated the broth, I thought it was the lemon and white beans. Try it, and I think you’ll find we’re both right.

Kale and White Bean Soup in Lemon Parmesan Both

Adapted from Flourishing Foodie

1 can white beans, drained (we used great northern beans, but cannelini or navy would work equally well)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into small cubes
5 cups vegetable stock
1 lemon, squeezed
1 cup dry ditalini pasta
3 oz parmesan cheese, grated
3-4 cups kale, chopped

In a large soup pot, on low-medium heat, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the carrot and continue to fry for another minute. Add the vegetable stock, juice from one lemon, and beans and simmer for 5-7 minutes to soften the beans.

Add the pasta and parmesan cheese, and continue to simmer until the pasta is al dente, approximately 10 minutes. Add the kale and simmer until tender, and the pasta soft. At this point, you may need to add some boiling water to the soup, as some of the stock may have evaporated (1/2 – 1 cup should be sufficient).

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top, season with salt and pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese.

Note on dried beans: if you have more foresight than I do and care to use dried beans, start with a cup of the dried white beans of your choice. Soak them overnight and drain. Increase the quantity of stock to 8 cups and proceed with the recipe, increasing the simmer time to about 40 minutes after adding in the beans, and before adding the pasta and cheese.

Cherry Poppyseed Lemon Loaf

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Lemon poppyseed cake was something new for me when I moved to this country in 2002. I’d never heard of the combination, and clearly didn’t realize it was a thing. I remember seeing a box of Knudsen lemon poppyseed cake mix at the grocery store and thinking, that would make a good muffin. Shockingly, it turns out I wasn’t the first one to make that leap.

Fast forward a decade, and box mixes are all but banned from my kitchen. (A rare exception may be tres leches cake, which for reasons unknown, turns its nose up at my homemade yellow cake and seems to soak up all that leche goodness better with a box of Betty Crocker. I’m still smarting over this affront.) And the lemon poppyseed has come a long way, too – lemon zest rubbed into sugar! additional fruit! punchy glazes!

This new experiment may become a favorite. For one, it features my favorite of all the spring/summer bumper crop of fruit. I know strawberries may be the more popular choice, and rhubarb is what the true foodie sophisticate prefers, but cherries do it for me every time. One of the only “specialized” kitchen gadgets I own is a cherry pitter, which should tell you about the depth of my love. This recipe is from a fantastic new book, Sweeter Off the Vine by Yossi Arefi, a baker I have long admired for her unusual flavor combinations and droolworthy food photography. The ultimate vote of confidence came from our three year old, who cried when he discovered we were down to the last slice. So, there you have it. Cake so good, it could make your toddler cry. Not that they really need a reason.

Cherry Poppyseed Lemon Loaf

Recipe from Sweeter Off the Vine

¼ cup flour

2 tbsp rolled oats

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp poppy seeds

¼ tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

2 tbsp butter at room temperature

Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

grated zest of 2 large lemons

1/2 cup canola oil

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, dust with flour, and tap out any excess.

Make the streusel by mixing the 1/4 cup flour, oats, brown sugar, poppy seeds, cinnamon or cardamom and salt in a small bowl. Add the butter and use your fingers to break the butter into small pieces, until the streusel is in small bits. Set aside.

To make the cake, whisk the flour, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together very well with your fingers, encouraging the lemon oil to saturate the sugar. Whisk in the oil, eggs, yogurt and lemon juice. Add the flour mixture all at once, stirring with a rubber spatula until it’s almost completely incorporated. Fold in half of the cherries and scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Dot the remaining cherries over the top and sprinkle with streusel. Bake the cake until golden brown on top and it feels set in the center, about 45 to 50 minutes. (Mine took almost an hour so check with a toothpick in the center to check for doneness. It should be crumb free.)

Let the cake cool on a wire rack. When cool, run a knife along the outside of the cake to help it release from the pan and tip the cake out of the pan.

 

Zucchini Cheddar “Spouffle”

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Ugh. (Yes, I know. Winning introduction.)

This one is tricky, people. I’m feeling conflicted about posting it, mostly because I try to emphasize easy to make, whip this up on a regular weeknight type recipes on this blog. But this one is decidedly more of a fancy dish you might pull out when entertaining. And to make things more complicated, I happened to make it on an average Thursday night, out of sheer laziness. Have I confused you yet?

Mostly, the snafu came about because I read this recipe title in a book, thought it sounded fantastic and added it to my weekly menu list. It promised a mock soufflé with the addition of some pasta for heft and I thought, sounds fun! Somehow, I forgot the whole part about soufflés requiring a ton of time and an insane number of prep pots and bowls.

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But I sincerely hope all this complaining hasn’t turned you away from this ah-mazing recipe. Most of the mistakes here were my own. If I had read through the instructions more carefully, I would have saved this to make over the weekend. Which is what you should do. Preferably this weekend. Good spouffles don’t wait. Just assign someone to be your dishwasher, and you’re set. You will be rewarded by a spectacular, puffed and incredibly delicious combination of sautéed zucchini, billowy egg whites, cheddar and pasta in every bite. The flavors are delicate,  sophisticated, and sure to impress your party audience. Or, as in my case, one slightly surprised but still very appreciative husband.

 

Zucchini and Cheddar “Spouffle”

Recipe slightly adapted from River Cottage Veg

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 of a small onion
a few black peppercorns
4oz penne or similar pasta
2 gloves garlic, chopped
3 medium zucchini, sliced thin
3 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
6 tbsp flour
3oz cheddar cheese, grated
a little freshly grated nutmeg
3 eggs, separated, plus 1 extra egg white
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and put a baking sheet in the middle rack to heat up. Butter a 1.5 liter soufflé dish or similarly sized casserole dish. Put the milk, bay leaf, onion and peppercorns into a small pan and bring to just below a simmer. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

Cook the penne until al dente, drain well and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the zucchini and garlic and a hefty pinch of salt. Sauté slowly over medium heat for about 15 minutes, breaking up the zucchini with your spoon as it softens. you should wind up with a kind of soft zucchini purée.

Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat, stir in the flour to form a roux and cook for a few minutes. Strain the infused milk and slowly stream it into the roux, beating well: you will end up with a very thick bechamel sauce. Cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, nutmeg, and season to taste. Beat in the egg yolks, then fold in the cooked penne and zucchini purée.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks. Stir a spoonful into the bechamel mix to loosen it, then carefully fold in the rest.

Tip into your buttered soufflé dish, place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and golden. Serve straight away.

Anything/Everything Granola Bars

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Before I became seriously interested in cooking, which happened maybe a decade ago, I used to think certain things were better bought at a grocery store. This ranged from things that just seemed more convenient to buy (salad dressing or pesto) to the ones that seemed stupidly complicated to make at home (almost everything in Trader Joes’ frozen meal section). Turns out I was mostly wrong. And over time, the needle from “impossible to try making myself” to “this is honestly easier and better than anything I could buy” has gradually shifted. There are still things I buy that I don’t see myself making – mostly endless jars of cookie butter to eat directly out of the jar put on toast, but I’ve been surprised by how much tastier the results are when you make things yourself.

These granola bars are a prime example. Although I’ve made my own granola for ages now, I’ve never thought of actually transforming them into homemade bars. I’ve bought a variety of brands over the years, and usually have at least one old Kind bar disintegrating at the bottom of my handbag at any given moment. Well, no longer. Who knew just how simple, convenient, budget friendly and delicious it was to slip a pan of these out of your own oven? And how amazing that I no longer have to spend hours scanning the ingredient lists of granola bars at the store, annoyed that it has almost everything I want, except ugh – why oh why do they insist on adding peanuts to everything?

If you’ve ever found yourself as ridiculously obsessive over your granola bars as I am, here is your solution! This recipe is super flexible. Add any nuts, fruits, seeds, and ground up mystery ingredients (or let’s be honest, chocolate chips) you like. Add more or less sweetener, depending on your preference. And bake it all together into golden bars with the perfect chew-crunch ratio, individually wrapped in plastic if you prefer to go the extra mile. And the next time you need breakfast or a snack on the go, pick up one of these babies and give yourself a pat on the back for being so badass.

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Anything/Everything Granola Bars

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (I went light on the sugar)
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, processed till finely ground in a blender)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts (I used a combo of dried cherries, golden raisins, chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, and flax seed this time, but go wild!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted butter (or an equal amount of a combo of vegetable oil and butter)
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (such as Karo)
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper so you have some overhang on the sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper with a non-stick spray.

Combine all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges but still seem a bit soft in the middle. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, remove from the pan using your parchment “sling” and cut with a sharp serrated knife into squares or rectangles. These can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap for added convenience, and store well in the fridge or at room temperature.

Butternut Squash with Red Onion and Tahini

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I’ve lived in California almost 14 years now, but there are certain American pastimes I will never fully understand. Camping (gasp!) is one of them. And…I’m a little afraid to say…football is another. That may be not be the most popular thing to confess, but hey, it’s not like I started a food blog to make friends.

Football in this country confounds me. The bizarre name for a game where your feet almost never touch the ball, the aggressive physicality, and the fact that really…for the life of me, I can’t understand why no one seems to move more than ten feet without getting slammed into by another player, and somehow, its called a play, analyzed from a thousand different angles, and followed by a commercial break.

So you can see why, with all of my issues, I have no choice but to host a Superbowl party almost every year. I like all parts of this event except when there’s an actual game happening. The ads can be really great. The halftime show is a total fun spectacle (Beyonce and Bruno Mars killed it last night! I hear Coldplay was there too). Best of all, I get to try out some new recipes on an unsuspecting crowd. And there’s no nachos or seven layer dips in sight.

This platter of roasted deliciousness was my slightly unorthodox opening act for our Superbowl munchies last night. It was probably also the best received, and deservedly so. Why had no one ever told me that butternut squash and tahini are a marriage made in heaven? And sneaky red onion is the true star, in a way that won’t make sense until you actually taste it. I can see myself eating nothing but a bowl of this for dinner on a weeknight, and it’s easy enough that you can, too. The only ingredient that may not be in your spice rack already is za’atar, but once you’ve tasted it, you’ll find ways to use this amazing blend again and again.

Butternut Squash with Red Onion and Tahini

Adapted from who else but Yotam Ottolenghi

1 large butternut squash (about 2lbs), peeled, seeds removed and cut into wedges
2 red onions, cut into wedges
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp tahini paste
Juice of one lime
3 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 Tbsp za’atar
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Put the squash and onion on a large baking sheet, add 3 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon salt and some black pepper and toss well. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through. Set aside to cool. 

To make the sauce, place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini if necessary.

Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil into a small frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

To serve, spread the vegetables out on a large serving platter and drizzle over the tahini dressing. Sprinkle the pine nuts and their oil on top, followed by the za’atar and chopped cilantro. Dig in.