Butter Sautéed Garlic Shrimp w/ Angel Hair Pasta

As I mentioned in my previous post, it was my daughter’s 13th birthday, and she asked me to make her a mussel dish and a shrimp dish for her birthday meal.  I made her a shrimp dish that included her other favorite ingredients, corn, mushrooms, garlic, and pasta.  It was delicious!

BUTTER SAUTÉED GARLIC SHRIMP WITH ANGEL HAIR PASTA

2 lbs Shrimp (16/20) – shelled & deveined w/ tail still on
8 tablespoons organic Butter
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large head Garlic – minced
1 lb Crimini or Button Mushrooms
4 ears Sweet Corn
1 cup Vouvray Wine – or any white wine
1 pint Heavy Cream
2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 lb Angel Hair Pasta
Big pot of heavily salted boiling water for the pasta.
2 tablespoons Chives – finely chopped

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms, removing the corn from their husks, and peeling the garlic.  Finely mince the garlic, slice the mushrooms, and slice the kernels off the ears of corn, and place them to the side.

Make sure the shrimp are completely dry.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper on the shrimp.  Mix well.  In a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium high heat, add the olive oil and 4 tablespoons of butter.  Sauté the shrimp in batches for about a minute or two on each side.  The shrimp is done, when it turns a beautiful orange pink color.  Do not overcrowd the pan, or the shrimp will stew and steam instead.  Remove the seared shrimp, and place them on a plate lined with two paper towels.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the mushrooms and the corn to the pan.  Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened through.  Add the minced garlic, and allow the mixture to sauté for another few minutes.  Add the wine.  Allow the wine to reduce by three quarters.  Make sure to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to a large pot full of boiling salted water.  Stir the pasta immediately to prevent it from sticking together.  Slightly undercook the pasta, since it will finish cooking in the sauce.  For best results, follow the package instructions minus two minutes.

Once the wine has reduced, add the heavy cream, the remainder of the salt, and pepper to taste.  Turn the heat to medium low, and allow the creamy mushroom and corn mixture to cook for another few minutes to get the flavors to meld together.  Turn the heat off, then add the remainder of the butter to the sauce, and allow it to melt completely.

Once the pasta is slightly undercooked, drain it, while reserving a little pasta water, and place it into the sauce.  Stir gently.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta water to get the desired consistency.  Top the pasta with the cooked, and now cooled, shrimp.  Stir gently.

You may serve your pasta and shrimp dish in a large serving bowl, on a serving plate as an individual portion, or leave it in the pan.  Whichever method you choose, make sure to garnish the beautifully cooked dish with some fresh chives.  I hope you love it, as my Amanda loved it.  Bon appétit!

 


Mussels in White Wine Sauce

My daughter Amanda loves all kinds of seafood, cooked in every which way.  For her 13th birthday, I made her two seafood dishes she requested of me, one with mussels and another with shrimp.  Let’s just say that she was in heaven!  I had never seen her eat so much!  Everyone else was finished, yet she continued to indulge.  It was a good thing I made a lot of food.

MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE SAUCE

2 lbs Mussels – cleaned & debearded
3 large Shallots
6 large cloves Garlic
4 tablespoons organic Butter
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups white Wine – I used Vouvray & Sauvignon Blanc*
3 sprigs fresh Thyme
Pinch Red Chili Flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Chives and/or Italian Parsley – garnish – finely chopped

 

*You may use any wine you like; however, I like to use about a cup of Vouvray and a cup of Sauvignon Blanc for the balance they lend to the dish.  Vouvray has a little fruity sweetness, while Sauvignon Blanc is dryer and very crisp.  

Begin by cleaning and debearding the mussels under cold water.  If you find any open mussels that do not close after you squeeze them gently, toss them, as they are already dead.

Finely chop the shallots, and finely mince the garlic.  In a large pot, heat the butter and the olive oil, and add the garlic, shallots, thyme sprigs, red chili flakes, salt, and pepper.  Sauté them until they are translucent.  Add the white wine, and bring to a boil.  Add the cleaned mussels, and stir well.  Now cover them and cook them over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the mussels from the heat, and discard all the unopened shells.  Serve them immediately in a large serving bowl.  Top the plated mussels with the finely chopped chives and Italian parsley.  Serve with some delicious homemade garlic bread to soak up all that delicious sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  Enjoy!


French Onion Soup – Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Steaming hot French onion soup in a bowl, topped with crusty bread and Gruyère cheese that is melted to golden perfection … Enough said!  This soup is one of my favorite soups to eat on a cold day. It is very simple to make, yet it takes some time for the onions to fully cook down. Regardless of the time it takes, it is all worth it at the end … trust me!

FRENCH ONION SOUP – SOUPE À L’OIGNON GRATINÉE

5 large Sweet or Yellow Onions – sliced
4 tablespoons organic Butter
1 tablespoon Salt
8 Garlic cloves – finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1 cup Vouvray white Wine
6 cups organic Beef Stock
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 teapoon Sherry Vinegar – omit if you use a dry white wine
TOPPING

1 block of Gruyère Cheese
1 Baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves

Begin by slicing the onions into half moons and finely mincing the garlic.  In a large pot on medium low heat, melt the butter, then add the sliced onions and salt.  Allow the onions to cook down until they are translucent.  Add the garlic, thyme, and freshly ground pepper.  Stir and allow everything to cook until the onions are completely soft and caramelized.  The whole process should take about 45 minutes to an hour.

Add the Sherry wine and the Vouvray, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer until the wine has reduced, and the onions are almost dry.  Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) is a demi-sec or ‘half-dry’ white wine.  In other words, it has some fruity sweetness to it.  If you choose to use it, then you may add the Sherry vinegar.  If however, you use a Pinot Gris (Grigio), a Sauvignon Blanc, or any other dryer white wines, then omit the Sherry vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the slices on a baking sheet and into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they are toasted.  Remove from the oven, and set aside.  Grate the Gruyère cheese.

Add the beef stock and Sherry vinegar (if using Vouvray), and simmer the onion soup for about 10 minutes.  Taste and season, if needed.

Turn the oven to a high broil.  Ladle the soup into individual oven proof bowls, and top with the toasted baguette slices or croûtes and the grated Gruyère cheese.  Place in the oven for 2 to 5 minutes for the cheese to melt to a golden color.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  You may serve it alone or with an Arugula Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette.  I hope you love it as much as I do!  Bon appétit!


Olive Oil Roasted Baby Eggplant w/ Red Pepper Salsa & Ricotta Cheese

I love fresh vegetarian dishes.  Last weekend, I went to the international grocery store, where I get most of my not so easy to find Lebanese ingredients.  I found the most beautiful baby eggplant that are often used in Lebanese cuisine, whether stuffed, fried, or roasted, and made into some wonderful dishes.  This time, I decided to make them into a lighter dish, something that can be part of a Mediterranean lunch or brunch … or even a side dish.

OLIVE OIL ROASTED BABY EGGPLANT WITH RED PEPPER SALSA AND RICOTTA CHEESE

10 baby Eggplant
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
15 oz whole milk Ricotta Cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

SALSA
2 Red Bell Peppers – fire or oven roasted
1/2 cup Cilantro – finely chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic – finely minced
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon – zested
Pinch Salt
Few fresh Black Pepper grinds

Begin by washing and drying the baby eggplant, red peppers, cilantro, and lemon.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the red peppers on a baking sheet and into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.  While the peppers are roasting in the oven, start working on the eggplant.

On a clean cutting board, cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and place them in a large bowl.  (I remove part of the eggplant stem that might burn in the oven.  See pic above.)  Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Mix well.  Place the oiled eggplant cut side down on a baking sheet.

If the red peppers are done roasting, remove them, and place them in a bowl.  Cover them with plastic wrap for 10 minutes to keep the steam inside the bowl.  This will help remove the peel instantly.

Bring the oven temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the eggplant in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Finely chop the cilantro and finely mince the garlic.  Place them in a small bowl with the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Remove the plastic wrap from covering the red peppers.  Peel and deseed the peppers.  Slice them into cubes, and place them into the bowl.  Stir the salsa to combine all the ingredients.

In another bowl, add the Ricotta cheese, and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

When the baby eggplant slices are out of the oven, serve them in small plates or in one large serving plate.  If you choose to serve them into individual sides, as I did, then place a few baby eggplant in one small dish.  Make a quenelle, or football shaped dollop, out of a large spoonful of Ricotta cheese, and place it in between the eggplant slices.  Drizzle one or two small spoonfuls of the red pepper salsa over the eggplant slices.  With the assertively zesty and fresh flavor of the salsa, the mild flavor and creaminess of the Ricotta works well to bring balance to this delicious side dish.

 


Ricotta & Pecorino Romano Stuffed Pasta Shells

Pasta dishes can be very easy and simple to make, yet cooking the pasta to al dente is not such an easy task for most.  Al dente, which means ‘to the tooth’ in Italian, is where the pasta is cooked through, but still retains some resistance or chewiness in the center.  Make sure to have enough boiling salted water, in which the pasta can cook and swim freely.  If the water is not salted enough (like sea water), the pasta will be bland and flavorless.  Also, wet or fresh pasta cooks at a much faster rate than dried pasta.  And certain sauces go with different pastas, depending on their shapes and sizes … but that is for another post.

I found these very pretty imported and bronze cut pasta shells at a specialty store a few weekends ago.  I decided to use them for a stuffed shell dish.  Since I had some Ricotta cheese and many tomatoes to use, I made a stuffing out of the Ricotta cheese and a few other ingredients, and a very fast and simple sauce out of the tomatoes.  I then put the sauce on top of the shells, and topped them with a generous amount of one of my favorite cheeses, Pecorino Romano.  Into the oven, and then on the table.  My family loved this dish!  I hope you enjoy it as well.

RICOTTA AND PECORINO ROMANO STUFFED PASTA SHELLS

17.6 oz (1 bag) bronze cut Pasta Shells or any kind you prefer
2 tablespoons organic Butter
2 large Shallots
2 large Garlic cloves
30 oz whole milk Ricotta Cheese
2 cups grated Pecorino Romano** – filling
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 cups grated Percorino Romano** – topping
Basil to garnish

**When using Pecorino Romano, please be careful not to over salt your food, as this cheese is very salty on its own.**

THE SAUCE

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small yellow Onion
2 large Garlic cloves
8 ripe Tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh Basil – chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano – chopped
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Sugar

Begin by finely chopping the shallots and garlic.  In a sauté pan on medium low heat, sauté the shallots and garlic in butter.  Once they are caramelized, take them off the heat, and allow them to cool.

In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the grated Pecorino Romano, the cooled shallots and garlic, salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Stir to combine, then taste to make sure the seasoning is right.  Leave the stuffing to the side, while you cook the pasta and make the sauce.

In a very large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta, and immediately stir to keep the shells from sticking together.  Closely monitor the pasta, as the cooking time depends on its dryness and thickness.  Do not cook the pasta to al dente.  The shells need to be undercooked by a few minutes,  as they will finish cooking in the oven.  You do not want mushy pasta.  When the shells are a bit undercooked, drain them from the pasta liquid, and set them to the side.  Make sure to reserve some pasta water, in case the sauce is too thick.

Roughly chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes, basil, and oregano.  In a pot on medium heat, begin sautéing the onions and garlic in olive oil.  After about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the sugar, stir, and then cook for another few minutes.  Taste the sauce, to make sure the seasoning is right.  Place the sauce in a blender, and purée it until it is very smooth.

ASSEMBLING THE PASTA SHELLS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ladle a couple of scoops of the puréed sauce into an oven safe casserole dish.  This will keep the pasta from sticking to the dish.  You can use a small spoon, a small plastic bag, or a pastry bag to stuff the shells with the Ricotta filling.  Place each stuffed shell in the casserole dish, until it is full.  Ladle the rest of the sauce over the shells, and place them in the oven for 30 minutes.  Take the shells out of the oven, and top them with the last 2 cups of the Pecorino Romano.  Grind some black pepper on top of the cheese, and place the shells back in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and serve with some fresh basil leaves.  Enjoy!


Lebanese Meat Pies – Lahm Bi 3ajeen – Sfeeha

Lahm bi 3ajeen or sfeeha are delicious and savory meat pies that are eaten all over Lebanon, usually as part of a mezze spread, a side dish, or just as a snack.  What makes them so mouthwateringly tasty is that the raw lamb (more traditional) or beef cooks inside the dough, not separately from it.  This allows all the flavorful meat juices to be absorbed by the dough, yielding an amazing flavor.  For me, making and eating these exquisite meat pies takes me back to when I was young in my mother’s kitchen.  Whenever she made these meat pies, the intoxicating aroma filled the house, as we all gathered to devour them.

LEBANESE MEAT PIES – LAHM BI 3AHEEN – SFEEHA

Recipe yields about 36 to 40 small Lebanese meat pies.

BASIC DOUGHrecipe below
2 lbs ground Lamb (or beef)
1 large yellow Onion – finely chopped
6 large Garlic cloves – grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped
4 Roma Tomatoes – finely chopped and drained
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1/4 cup Tahini
1/4 cup Labneh or Greek style yogurt
3 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses (optional)
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Sumac
2 Lemons – juiced
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – for brushing pies

LEMON WEDGES – to serve with the finished Lebanese meat pies

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, finely chopped onion, grated garlic, finely chopped parsley, finely chopped and drained tomatoes, tomato paste, tahini, labneh, pomegranate molasses, salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, sumac, and lemon juice.  Cover the lamb mixture with plastic wrap, and allow to sit in the refrigerator until the dough is made and has risen.

Make the dough and allow it to rise.

Now that you are ready to make the pies, roll out the dough on a lightly floured clean surface.  Using a round cookie cutter of your choice, cut the dough into rounds.  Remove the lamb mixture from the refrigerator.  Scoop about one tablespoon of the mixture into the middle of the dough rounds.  Do not overstuff the dough.  Pinch the two opposing ends of the round dough, making sure the stuffing stays in the middle.  Then pinch the other two opposing ends, forming an open square.  Repeat until all the dough is stuffed with the lamb mixture.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place all the meat pies on a lightly greased baking sheet.  With a pastry brush, lightly brush all the pies with extra virgin olive oil.  Place the meat pies in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the meat is cooked and the pies are golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges or yogurt.  Enjoy!

BASIC DOUGH

3 cups all purpose Flour – plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little extra for finished dough
1 – 1 1/2 cups warm Water – depending on humidity
1 pkg rapid rise Instant Yeast – about 2 1/4 oz

*You may use regular active dry yeast, but you will have to proof the yeast in the warm water and sugar before you add it to the flour, salt, and olive oil.  I like using rapid rise, because it is much easier and takes less time for the dough to rise.

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in a stand mixer, and turn it on low.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, and slowly add in the warm water.  Start with a cup; should you require more, add a little drizzle at a time.  If your dough is too moist, add more flour.  Turn the stand mixer to medium low and keep kneading the dough for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

On a clean board, sprinkle some flour and transfer the dough to the floured board.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to coat the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it a warm dark place to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.


Olive Oil Roasted Vegetables w/ Barley & Feta Cheese

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  I wish all of you a very healthy and happy year to come.

Lately, I have been using many kinds of whole grains as the base for my vegetarian dishes.  I love using Farro and Barley.  Both are anciently cultivated grains that have made a comeback.  They are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber; so, they are very good for you.  They are also quite budget friendly.   For this recipe, I used hulled barley, as opposed to the pearl variety, since it is more nutritional.  Because it retains its bran and endosperm layers, hulled barley takes longer to cook than the more polished pearl kind.

OLIVE OIL ROASTED VEGETABLES WITH BARLEY AND FETA CHEESE

BARLEY
2 cups Hulled Barley – uncooked
6 cups Water or Stock
1 teaspoon Salt

ROASTED VEGETABLES
1/2 red Bell Pepper
2 Shallots
2 Celery stalks
4 Garlic cloves
2 large green Zucchini
10 large Brussels Sprouts
4 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1/4 cup White Bordeaux – Optional – or any white wine you like

HERBS & CHEESE
1 tablespoon Dill – finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped
1 Lemon – zested
8 oz Greek Feta
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil – per plate

Rinse the barley under cold water.  In a large enough sauce pan, bring the barley, water (or stock), and salt to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer, and cover for 45 – 60 minutes.  If the barley is not cooked through and looks dry toward the end of the cooking time, add more water, and cook it for a longer time.  After the barley is cooked through, turn the heat off, and allow it to sit (covered) for 10 minutes.  However, while the barley is simmering away, get the sautéed and roasted vegetables ready.

Mince the garlic, finely chop the shallots, and dice both the celery and the red bell pepper.  In a sauté pan, sauté the garlic, shallots, celery, and red pepper in 3 tablespoons of olive oil with  1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated black pepper, until they are translucent.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and allow it to reduce, as most of the alcohol will cook out.  Remove from the heat.

Clean, wash, and slice the Brussels sprouts and the zucchini.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the vegetables on a baking sheet.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add 1/4 tablespoon of both salt and freshly ground pepper, and mix the vegetables well.  Place the baking sheet in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and slightly golden.

Now that the barley is cooked and is done resting for 10 minutes, rinse it under warm or hot water to remove the excess starch.  Drain the barley well, then place it in a large bowl.  Add the sautéed garlic, shallot, celery, red pepper, and the roasted Brussels sprouts and zucchini to the bowl.     Gently combine the vegetables with the barley.

Add the dill, Italian parsley, Greek feta, lemon zest, and the salt and pepper to taste.  Stir, serve, and top each portion with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  You may garnish the plate with a few celery leaves for some added freshness.  ENJOY!

 


Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters are quite an easy brunch dish to make, whether just for family or for friends.  You may make them any way you like, using whatever you have in your refrigerator, as I do.  In this recipe, I use Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve White English Cheddar; it is my husband’s and my favorite cheddar cheese, and it is always in our refrigerator.  However, you may use Parmesan, Asiago, or even Pecorino Romano as your cheese of choice.  Also, instead of corn flour, you may use regular flour (this will make the fritter a bit more pancake-like), potato flour, chickpea flour … the list is practically endless.

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

7 green Zucchini
3 tablespoons Corn Flour
1 organic Egg
1 large Garlic clove – grated
1/2 cup grated aged white English Cheddar – Barber’s 1833
1/2 teaspoon Salt
10 grinds Black Pepper
1/4 cup Grapeseed Oil or light Olive Oil

GARNISH

3 tablespoons Lebanese Labneh or Sour Cream
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped
3 grinds Black Pepper

Begin by washing and grating your zucchini using a box grater.  Squeeze all the moisture out of your shredded / grated zucchini, and place them in a bowl.  Add the corn flour, egg, grated garlic clove, grated aged Cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper.  Mix well, until all the ingredients are properly incorporated.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Form the zucchini mixture into patties, and very gently place them individually into the hot oil.  Do not crowd the pan, as you want the patties to caramelize and form a crust.  Also, be careful not to splatter yourself with the oil.  After they form a crust on one side, which can take 2 -3 minutes, gently turn them over, and allow them to caramelize until they reach the desired crispiness.

Remove the fritters from the oil, and place them on a plate lined with two or three paper towels.  This will keep your fritters from being too oily.  Allow them to sit for a minute or so, as you finely chop the Italian parsley.  Place the fritters in a serving plate, topping each fritter with a teaspoon of labneh or sour cream.  Sprinkle the chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper over them.  Serve and Enjoy!


Cannellini Bean & Vegetable Soup w/ Sprouted Bread Gremolata

With the holiday season upon us and winter eminently approaching, we tend to eat more than usual, and less healthy than usual.  So, In an effort to be a little healthier during the non-holiday meals, I have been making more vegetarian dishes for my family.  I hope this deliciously light and healthy soup serves as a worthy alternative to thick and creamy soups and stews for you this season.

CANNELLINI BEANS AND VEGETABLE SOUP WITH SPROUTED BREAD GREMOLATA

1 yellow Onion
2 large Shallots
6 large Garlic cloves
2 Tomatoes
6 Carrots – peeled
3 cups cooked Cannillini Beans
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
8 cups Chicken Stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (optional)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Begin by peeling and rough chopping the onions, shallots, garlic, and carrots.  In a dutch oven or a large pot on medium heat, sauté the peeled and chopped vegetables in the olive oil.  Once the onions, shallot, carrots, and garlic are translucent, chop and add the tomatoes.  Allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the cooked beans and stir.  Add the tomato paste, piment d’espelette, salt, and pepper, and stir  everything together to get all the ingredients incorporated.

Add the bay leaf and the chicken stock.  Cover the soup, and allow it to simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  You may serve it as is, in its current rustic style.  I, however, prefer it puréed and topped with a fresh gremolata.  Place the soup into a blender, and purée it.  Place the puréed soup back in the dutch oven or pot on very low heat, while you make the gremolata.

SPROUTED BREAD GREMOLATA

2 slices Sprouted Bread
2 Garlic cloves1 large Lemon – zested
1/2 cup Italian Parsley – loosely packed
Pinch of Sea Salt
5 grinds of Black Pepper

I usually chop the ingredients of my gremolata by hand, but this time I use a food processor.  Begin by toasting or broiling the sprouted bread on high.  Be very careful not to burn the bread, even though you want it to be well toasted completely through.  Let the toast stand (upright if you can), as it hardens a little more.

In a food processor, pulse the garlic cloves and salt.  Crumble the bread and add it to the food processor, and pulse.  Now add the lemon zest and Italian parsley.  Process all the ingredients together.  You may lightly sauté the gremolata in olive oil, if you want a crispier texture.  However, I decide to skip this part.   I am, after all, going for a lighter application.  The sprouted bread gremolata is ready.

In an individual serving bowl, ladle the puréed soup, and then top it with a spoonful of gremolata.  Serve and enjoy!


New Orleans, The Big Easy

New Orleans, what can I say about this incredibly charming city?  It welcomes you with open arms, greets you at every street, and fills you with wonder and respect.  But at first glance, New Orleans is smelly, dirty, disorderly, and overrun with drunk people.  But if you allow yourself to get to know this city, its history, its present, and its people, you will fall in love with it … with them all.

HOW IT BEGAN …
My lovely friend Melissa and I traveled to New Orleans on a girls’ trip.  As I had not been there before, I was excited to explore this new place.  Melissa did not tell me much about New Orleans; she wanted me to make up my own mind.  And thus, it began.

The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was very pleasant.  Our cab driver was kind and friendly.  After we checked into the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel, we decided to go out for a walk, to get to know the city, and to find a good restaurant for dinner, as it was almost that time of day.

As we began our journey, I was pleasantly surprised that people were walking around the streets holding their alcoholic drinks.  I guess things are different in New Orleans.  Soon, we came upon large gatherings of people, police, and road barriers.  It was evident that a parade was on the way, but what parade?  As we assembled with the rest of the gatherers, we were told that this was the Halloween parade.  It was so much fun!  Seeing all kinds of people participating in an event like this was awesome.  People from all walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds, were mingling and celebrating together, without any invisible, manmade borders.  This display of camaraderie was beautiful to see.  And though the city seemed overpopulated and unkempt, it was exciting and full of life.

GETTING TO KNOW NEW ORLEANS …

After the Halloween parade, we walked the streets, including the incredibly lively Bourbon street, and found this beautiful and very charming restaurant close by, Kingfish Kitchen & Cocktails, Diners’ Choice winner for 2015.  We began our dinner with cocktails, Pimm’s Cup to be exact.  It was made with fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice … needless to say, it was absolutely refreshing!  Melissa had the Rabbit Cordon Bleu with Collard Greens, and I had the BBQ Shrimp and Waffles, as I have never had waffles in a savory application before.  Melissa’s meal was amazing!  I never cared for collard greens; however, these greens were delicious.  They had the perfect acidic and smoke flavors.  Nothing about them was over powering.  The rabbit was stuffed with ham and cheese; it was breaded and fried to perfection.  It was not greasy at all.  It was accompanied with a creole mustard cream.  The slight acidity from the greens and the tartness from the mustard cut through the richness of the rabbit, yielding a harmonious bite, a perfect balance of flavors.  My shrimp was perfectly cooked.  Then again, I would not expect any less from any good New Orleans chef.  The flavors of the shrimp and the waffle with the toasted garlic, the poblano pepper jelly, and the Hopitoulas cream were authentically southwestern.  Bobby Flay would have been proud.  My only issue with this dish, however, was the waffle’s soggy texture; I would much rather have had a waffle with a crispy exterior, where I poured on the sauce or syrup immediately before consuming the dish.

The next morning, we decided to have brunch at the Salon by Sucré.  We first walked into this beautiful and elegant patisserie style shop and were greeted by a very professional and friendly staff.  The gorgeous pastries adorned each wall and counter.  Then we went up the large staircase, and in front of us was a small, but beautiful bar.  The restaurant upstairs had a Southern charm, yet a European influence.  It was beautiful!  I had the Charcuterie Sandwich with a side salad.  What can tell you about that sandwich?  It was the most delicious sandwich I had EVER had in my life, and I had many sandwiches all over the world.  Sucré’s was by far the best.  They start with a freshly baked French or Parisian baguette, they smear Pork Rilette on it, and top the sandwich with Salumi Gentilé, Lomo, and a generous portion of Grayson Cheese.  That combination with the mixed green salad, lightly tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette, was intoxicating!  I lost track of time and motion … I lost all awareness.  All I could think about was how incredibly delicious and all sensory consuming this sandwich was.

By now, it was raining.  It pretty much rained off and on the whole time we were in New Orleans; more on than off. We decided to walk off our brunch, regardless of the rain, by getting to know the city on foot.  Again, we went to Bourbon street and walked through the rest of that area, until we reached Jackson Square.  Obviously, like any self respecting visitor, I took many pictures.  After walking all that time, we decided to reward ourselves with the one and only Café du Monde beignets.  Even with the pouring rain, this café was so busy.  And Oh My!  The beignets were so delicious!   They were thick, but light, and fried (of course), but not greasy.  I know they were only fried dough topped with powdered sugar, but they were better than any fried dough with powdered sugar.  Melissa and I opted for the hot chocolate, instead of the chicory coffee.  It tasted like any packaged hot chocolate, nothing special.  But it was an experience, I will not soon forget.

Now, to walk off the beignets.  We went to the French Market, where many people were selling all kinds of things, hot sauces, nuts, art work, handmade bracelets and jewelry, Mardi Gras masks, and even jade from Pakistan.  We bought a few things for our loved ones back home after some lively negotiations, chatted with some vendors, and watched the rain come down all around us.  We continued our walk around the city, until we came upon Central Grocery Co., the home of the original muffuletta.  I would like to say one thing; initially, when Melissa planned our trip to New Orleans, I was excited about two things and two things only, the muffuletta and the beignets.  To my shock and dismay, I was slightly disappointed with the muffuletta from Central Grocery Co.  It was very oily, and it needed a little more vinegar to cut through the cheese and the deli meat.  Aside from that little change, the meat, cheese, and olive salad to bread ratio was perfect.  We continued our walk.  We passed many night clubs with lively Jazz music emanating from their speakers, in an attempt to draw in many patrons.  After a very long day of exploration and delicious eats, it was time for some rest and relaxation.  We still had quite a few restaurants we wanted to visit, but they will have to wait for the next day.

On the third day, Melissa and I, being huge fans of Vietnamese food, decided to have a late breakfast at Nine Roses Café.  We started with the Chicken Spring Rolls and the Chicken Steamed Bun Sliders, followed by a hot bowl of Beef Phò.  The chicken spring rolls were fresh and tasty, not the best, but close enough to be in the running.  However, the steamed bun sliders were AMAZING!  The flavors were perfectly balanced, as sweet and savory were in perfect harmony.  We moved onto the beef Phò.  The beef was tender and the broth was good. Again, not the best I have had, but pretty good on a rainy day. And yes, it was raining again. After our Vietnamese experience, we walked around the city on a quest to find District Donuts Sliders Brew.

After much walking, we took the trolley. It took us by Lafayette Square and other notably historic places. Our stop was near a cemetery, an above ground cemetery. Now, that was an experience for me. Generally, I do not like Halloween (sad, I know), cemeteries, scary movies, dirty places … but this was something altogether different. As we decided to check out this old cemetery, it felt like a completely different world, like we stepped into another dimension. And it was … old, beautiful, eerie, and forgotten. I felt an overwhelming loss that gave way to sadness, yet I was happy to see this part of New Orleans’ history.

A few streets down, was District Donuts Sliders Brew. I had a Vietnamese Coffee and a Hazelnut Donut. Both were good, but not amazing. Melissa had Lemonade, an Apple Cinnamon Donut, and a Chicken Slider (which she shared with me). She absolutely loved her donut; she said it was the best donut she had ever had! She tried the slider, and liked it, but she was not a fan of the coleslaw. I, on the other hand, LOVED the slider and the slaw. I have not had such an amazing chicken slider in a long time. It was made with fried, yet not greasy, chicken thigh, topped with a sweet and spicy slaw, candied jalapenos, and crispy chicken skin, all in between two slices of fluffy bun. It was absolutely delicious! As this was our midday snack, we decided to walk around that area, since we had not done so before.

Dinner time was approaching, and since my friend, Melissa is very good at finding delicious restaurants everywhere we travel, she suggested we go to Lilly’s Café. I know it’s another Vietnamese restaurant, but it had very high reviews. We ordered the Beef Phò. One spoonful, and we were both experiencing a tingling sensation, followed by loss of hearing and vision, but with intensified feelings toward that lusciously intoxicating nectar of the gods … We had found it! The best Phò we had in both our lives, here in the US!  The angels began to sing, and we fell into a trance.

As our trip was coming to an end, we strolled back toward our hotel stopping at the Carousel bar, the bar at Hotel Monteleone.  It was a beautiful bar.  There was a carousel in the middle of the room, and yes, it turned very slowly.  The carousel and the tables in the bar area were full of people enjoying all sorts of libations and finger foods.  We were told that Carousel had the best Pimm’s Cup in town, so we ordered it.  It was less fruity and more tart than the one we had before.  I have to admit that I liked Kingfish’s Pimm’s cup much more than Carousel’s, but we still had a lovely time chatting and people watching.  So, after our short relaxation, we headed back to the hotel, where we took a cab to the airport.  Again, our cab ride was very pleasant.  Our driver was a very kind and engaging.

As we sat on the plane awaiting its departure from this city back home to my city of Dallas, I couldn’t help but to reminisce about the last few days I spent in New Orleans … oh, how I’ve grown to love this city.  The food was delicious, the people were kind and welcoming, the streets were full of history, and the music was lively.  I decided then that this will not be my last trip to this charming and exceptionally unique city, but the first of many.