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We get cravings for pasta quite often, but we wanted something a little different than our typical tomato sauce based pasta, and we weren’t quite in the mood for a creamy pasta dish.  Greens and beans over pasta would do the trick.  You may select from a number of different greens for this recipe, but we chose kale because it looked the best in the grocery store.  We were going to go with spinach, but for some weird reason there was no spinach on the produce shelves.  None!  Wanting to stay with fresh and not frozen, we selected the kale, and since we do not eat kale often (try never), we thought it was adventurous. 

 

This meal smells good right from the beginning when you are adding the garlic and crushed red pepper to the hot olive oil.  You inhale this delicious peppery scent, and it actually makes you want to add more red pepper just to make sure that smell continues. 

As the garlic simmers and you begin to add the kale, the firm light green leaves with curly edges soften and turn a deep dark green, but then you add the white beans which brighten the greens up again.  The chicken broth adds a hearty flavor, but can be replaced with vegetable stock for an all veggie meal.  Then comes the wine vinegar which changes the smells completely and provides the perfect sweet and tangy smell, exactly what this bitter kale needs. We served it over thick ziti with grated fresh pecorino on top and everywhere in between.  There were so many flavors, and they all stood out, none being overpowered by the other.  

Sautéed Kale with Cannellini Beans over Pasta (adapted from Epicurious)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 large bunch kale (other greens will work too)

1 ½ cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans rinsed, drained

1 teaspoon (or more) wine vinegar

Prepare greens by removing stems, and cutting into 2 inch strips.  In large nonstick pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and add garlic and dried crushed pepper.  Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly browned. About 1 minute.  Add greens and stir until greens begin to wilt, adding more as space allows, and coating with the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. 

Add chicken broth, cover, and simmer until greens are just tender. Add beans and simmer until hot and almost all liquid is absorbed.  Add vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir together. Serve over pasta (ziti worked well), with freshly grated parmesan or pecorino.

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There are about a zillion ways to roast a chicken.  Although it seems easy enough, I rarely choose to roast a chicken, usually because it always winds up being dry.  I thought that roasting a chicken in a crockpot may prevent dryness, and I was correct.  Of course, so were the rest of the food blogging community who suggested this and provided another zillion ways to do it.

The recipe directs you to brown the chicken in a large pan before placing in the crockpot.  Browning the chicken is a little difficult.  It is hard to move the chicken around, and impossible to get all sides browned.  I did my best, trying to hold the birdie up with two spatulas while the sides browned, but I would not recommend this as the chicken kept slipping away. 

The chicken in the crockpot, surrounded by lemon quarters, garlic and rosemary looks picturesque, like from the pages of some French country cookbook.  The chicken is moist and flavorful with hints of garlic, lemon, sage, rosemary, and the saltiness of the soy sauce adds a tanginess to mix up those traditional flavors of roasted chicken.

Crockpot Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary Roast Chicken (adapted from The Kitchn)

3-4 pound chicken (labeled fryer or roaster)

Seasoning:

3 garlic cloves–minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 springs rosemary-leaves stripped and minced

2 teaspoons ground sage

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (keep the rinds)

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 whole lemon–quartered

1 head of garlic–cloves separated and peeled

2 chicken bouillon cubes

3 sprigs of rosemary

Prep the chicken:  Remove gizzards, wash chicken thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. 

Season the chicken:  Combine seasoning ingredients in a bowl, gently rub between meat and skin, being careful not to break the skin all over the chicken.  Any remaining seasoning rub inside the chicken cavity. 

Heat a large pan over  medium-high heat and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Pan-sear the chicken on all sides for 6-8 minutes until the outside is browned. Transfer the chicken to your crockpot–breast side up.

Combine lemon juice, soy sauce, and chicken broth, and add half the liquid to the same pan until just boiling, and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan with a spatula. Then pour mixture over the chicken in the crockpot.

Put lemon rinds (reserved from squeezing the juice), one whole bouillon cube, and a few of the garlic cloves inside the cavity of the chicken. Place lemon quarters, remaining garlic cloves around the chicken toward the edges of the cooker. Crumble the other bouillon cube over the chicken and rub it into the skin.  Place the lid on the cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. Twenty to thirty minutes before the time is done, pour reserved lemon juice mixture over chicken and add the rosemary.

Remove chicken from the slow-cooker and allow it to rest on the carving board for about 20 minutes before carving.

If you want a simple, yet tasty and impressive snack, then you want a tomato and feta phyllo tart.  I must caution you though, this snack is only as good as the quality of its ingredients.  So if you have nice looking tomatoes, good quality olive oil, and real feta cheese with some flavor (nothing packaged in plastic from the grocery store…think cheese shop), then I encourage you to try this.  The reason being is that the phyllo is rather tasteless.  It is the topping that provides the real flavor.  If your tomato and feta are bland, then this entire thing is bland.  You have been warned.

Next time I would make the tarts smaller and with more topping, thereby eliminating the wide phyllo edges.  When I took my first bite, all I got was phyllo…not very tasty.  So I would make the topping go all the way out to the edges.  

Tomato and Feta with Olive Oil Phyllo Tarts

1 package phyllo dough

1 large tomato

2 cups feta cheese crumbles

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for brushing onto phyllo

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thaw phyllo dough, and brush a sheet with a light coat of olive oil, and set aside.  Then brush the rest of the sheets, and place one on top of the other. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into squares-two rows, four squares in each row.  Chop tomato and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese on top of each square, covering the entire square.  Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until phyllo is golden brown.

 

This meal is very adaptable.  It could be breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The title basically tells you all the ingredients that you need.  Pancetta is Italian bacon, or unsmoked pork belly.  It is fatty and salty.  You cook the pancetta (which I have never purchased before) until crispy, and then cook your potatoes in the oil left over from this salty meat.  When the potatoes are cooked to your liking, you add broccoli and cover the pan for a few minutes to soften it up.  Then add your crispy pancetta back in and place a poached egg on top.   The pancetta makes the potatoes salty and delicious, and the broccoli gives the meal a nice crunch. 

Now…the poached egg.  Having never made eggs of the poached variety, I set out to find instructions.  I particularly liked the directions that included a drop of distilled white vinegar and a whirlpool of water.  You heat water in a saucepan with a drop of the vinegar, and before the water starts to boil, but is very hot, you create a whirlpool in the pot by taking your spatula or spoon and swirling the water around.  Once you have this whirlpool effect going, you drop your egg in, and wait a few minutes before using a wide slotted spoon to retrieve it.  I suggest putting the egg in a small dish, and sliding it in the water instead of cracking the egg into the pot.  You may need to help the egg along with your spatula or spoon.  I tried to guide the egg whites, but I do not think it did much.  Also, be very gentle removing the egg from the water because you do not want it to break.  I went through several eggs before getting a few decent looking ones.  Practice definitely helps, and once you go through 6 or so eggs, you will get the hand of it.  One more helpful hint that I can provide is to only use maybe 3 or 4 inches of water.  You do not need to fill the saucepan, and in fact, too much water will not work well.

Potato Hash with Broccoli, Pancetta and Poached Egg (adapted from SmittenKitchen)

 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice

6 red skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch diced cubes

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cups broccoli florets, slightly chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs, poached

Heat a large pan with a lid over medium heat and cook the pancetta until brown and crispy.  Remove pancetta from the pan and place on a paper towel.  Using the oil in the pan from the pancetta, cook the potatoes until browned.  Cooking the potatoes may take awhile, depending on your desired level of crispiness.  When the potatoes are almost done, add the onions and cook for 3 minutes.  Then add the broccoli, and place lid on pan for 3 minutes or until broccoli is tender.  Remove lid, then add pancetta.  Toss the potatoes, onion, broccoli and pancetta together.  Serve with a poached egg on top.

We have many favorites out there that we would never think to try to cook at home.  Mozzarella sticks, sushi rolls, spring rolls, etc.  There are many reasons why we have not attempted these things at home:  they appear more complicated to make than they look, the experts on the outside probably will do it better, and why go through all the effort when these things are easily accessible for purchase.  Empanadas are also on this list, but since we do not see empanadas all that often, deciding to bring empanadas home was a wonderful plan.   Cooking homemade empanadas seems adventurous, but I decided to try it out, and although it may be a flop, I wanted to see what went into making these delicious little pastry pockets.  I also thought that if it went well, there could be empanadas on the regular!

 

Choosing a filling for our empanadas was the first step.  I had several ideas, but settled on turkey piccadilo.  I found a recipe for this Latin dish in a Weight Watchers cookbook.  I eliminated the raisins, bell pepper, rice, red pepper flakes, and tomato sauce, and instead added carrots, cayenne pepper and diced tomatoes. This yields a slightly warmed spiced filling with the added sweet texture of the diced tomatoes.  Using a food processor to chop the onion and carrot finely took seconds, so I recommend this.  Other fillings I may try in the future include black beans with cheddar cheese and chicken with picante sauce slow cooked for 4 hours.

Now for the adventure…empanada dough.  I wanted to blend the butter into the flour with my food processor, but the food processor would not fit the 4 ½ cups of flour and 2 sticks of butter cubes.  So I split the flour and butter in half and blended it in the food processor separately.  Then combined the two batches back together in a large bowl and used my fingertips to blend together.  When I finished, I still had a little flour remaining that had not blended with the butter, but I kneaded that flour back into the dough.  I attempted to roll out even piece of dough to make my empanadas.  In the end I had a mix of sizes, but relatively in the same category of not too small and not too big.  I even changed up my decorative crimp for the edges, sometimes using my finger  to seal the empanada and then rolling the excess dough inward to create an edge, and other times using a pie pastry cutter to get a crimped edge. 

These were relatively simple to make, and I think they will be making another appearance in our kitchen.  I would love to try the different fillings.  The dough is slightly buttery, slightly flaky and slightly crunchy.  The filling could be a little spicier (maybe some more cayenne pepper), but it was delicious. 

Turkey Piccadilo Empanadas (adapted from Weight Watchers)

For the dough:

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

For the filling:

1 pound ground turkey

20 ounce can diced tomato

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 carrot (or handful of baby carrots)

1 ½ onion

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Egg Wash:
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Dough:  Sift flour with salt into a large bowl.  Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some very small butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. In the large bowl (or lightly floured surface) knead the dough mixture gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 6 hours total.

Filling:  In a food processor, chop onions and carrots until very fine.  In a large pan, cook ground turkey with salt and pepper.  When the meat is almost cooked add the chopped onions and carrots.  Mix onions, carrots and turkey together and cook until meat cooks in to crumbles.  Stir in spices, and cook about 2-3 minutes.  Then add diced tomatoes.  Turn heat down to low-medium, and allow meat, tomatoes and spices to cook for 5-7 minutes.

Empanadas: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Break off a piece of dough, about 2-3 inches in diameter, and roll out the piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-6 inch round that is 1/8 inch thick.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center, and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together around the filling to, and crimp or roll the edges with your fingers for decoration.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place empanada on the baking sheet. Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash. Repeat the process. 

Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Allow empanadas to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Since we are on a chickpea kick, we decided that this recipe from Smitten Kitchen would suit us just fine on a Monday evening.  It is pretty simple, no real technique needed, except washing, draining, heating and stirring.  It is a hearty meal, and it looks like it should be spicier than it really is, so next time I would add more cumin and perhaps a touch of cayenne pepper to fulfill the look.  I purchased two bunches of fresh spinach leaves, which is probably over a pound, but I might suggest to you to add maybe a half bunch more.  The leaves reduce drastically.  Also I increased the amount of tomato sauce, just because I love tomatoes, but I did not increase the spices to meet this increase (which may account for the lack of spiciness).  I have adjusted for extra tomato sauce below. 

Speaking of spices, when you add the cumin to the bread crumbs, garlic and olive oil, a delicious scent will arise from the pan.  If you have additional time, you can cook dried chickpeas for this recipe, but I opted for the canned variety.  Once the chickpeas and spinach are hot, and you have swirled the spinach leaves through the mixture a few times,  heat some olive oil in a small fry pan, and place pita bread in, flipping it to slightly coat both sides in oil, and heat on a low to medium heat on both sides until slightly browned and crispy.  Cut pita bread into quarters, and scoop spinach and chickpeas.

Spinach and Chickpeas (adapted and revised from Smitten Kitchen)

2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spinach, washed
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

2 cups tomato sauce

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash spinach and cut off stems.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the spinach leaves.  Stir well and remove when leaves are tender.  Drain in a colander and set aside.
Heat 3 more tablespoons olive oil in the same pan, and add the bread crumbs, garlic, cumin, and pepper.  Cook until garlic begins to brown (5-6 minutes).  Then transfer to a food processor.  Add vinegar and process until smooth, like a paste. 
Return the paste to the pan, add the chickpeas and tomato sauce, and cook until hot.  Then add the spinach, salt, pepper and paprika, and cook until hot.  Serve with pita bread that has been fried in olive oil.

Combining two delicious things, nutella and chocolate, seemed like a perfect plan.  When I first saw this recipe, I thought-wow, how smart…and look at all the chocolate!  These brownies were extremely rich, but also extremely delicious.  They are so heavy that you really only need two or three bites before it is overkill.  However, even though I melted tons of nutella  (1 and ½ cups to be exact), there was no trace of this decadent spread.  How could that be?  No hazelnut flavor at all.  Just deep dark chocolate…but who is complaining?  Next time, I may use the nutella spread, slightly melted, as a frosting on top of the brownies, so that the hazelnut flavor stands out. 

 

 

As the bittersweet chocolate, nutella and stick of butter melt together in a sauce pan, the incredible chocolate smell permeates throughout the entire house.  My husband, who was three rooms away, yelled from the living room about how good it smelled.  It takes several minutes to melt these ingredients together, mainly because the nutella is thick and takes time to incorporate into the melted butter and chocolate. 

 

Once melted, I suggest allowing this delicious chocolate/hazenut/butter mixture to cool for a few minutes.  I did not.  So excited to baked these smells into brownie form, I added my eggs while the chocoalte was still pretty hot, which made for some chunkiness throughout the batter.  Although the smoothness of the batter was now gone, and what remained what the equivalent of the texture of a soufflé or molten lava cake (both excellent), and the brownies were still wonderful.

 

     

Nutella Brownies (adapted from ChezUs)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

8 oz bittersweet chocolate (bar or chips; we used Ghirardelli chips)

1 ½ cup nutella

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup cocoa powder (we used Ghirardelli)

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a square baking pan with parchment paper or butter the pan. 

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, chocolate and nutella until it is a smooth and even consistency.  Whisk in sugar.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa power and pinch of salt, and whisk together. Add eggs one at a time to the melted chocolate, whisking well, after each egg.  Add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients, stir until combined.  Then add vanilla and stir to incorporate.  Pour into the baking pan.  Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool before cutting.