Sunday, December 19, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I love gifts. I love getting them and I especially love giving them. I like to think that I've been on fire this year with my (online) shopping. I also happened to pick up some things for myself along the way. (Did you put yourself on your shopping list this year?) Here are some of my favorite purchases I've recently made:

Sorel Boots
In the last post I mentioned this crazy blizzard we had last week and my three treacherous walks with the dogs. Well, besides the sideways-blowing snow, the 45 MPH winds, and the ice-encrusted sidewalks, what made my walks so treacherous were my gosh darn Ugg boots. As anyone who has ever tried to stay vertical while wearing these in a snowstorm knows, they're so slippery! So I jumped online last weekend and ordered myself a pair of Sorels. They arrived this week and I am OBSESSED! If you need boots that are super light, super non-slip, super cute, and super warm you’ve got to get yourself a pair of these bad boys. Oh, and unlike when we were five and they were purely functional, they're stylish now to boot (hehe). Check out the adorable pair that I'm sporting now:
Starbucks Christmas Blend
I used to be a Starbucks girl (Venti nonfat misto, please!) But lately, I prefer making my own at home. During a recent stop into my local joint, I asked the friendly barista what kind of bean he recommends for someone who likes a nutty flavor. He suggested the Christmas Blend. Whether he gets bonus points (or dollars) for encouraging me to shell out for a seasonal bean is of no consequence to me--his recommendation was spot on. It's rich (but not too bitter), smooth, and, yes, nutty. I'm thinking about stocking up on the blend to last me through the other 40 weeks of the year.

Brendan James
A Facebook friend recently posted a video by this singer and I was immediately hooked. His lyrics are packed with emotion, he's a mean piano player, and he's really cute. What more could you ask for? So I promptly bought all of his albums on iTunes. Check out the new video on his website and you may just do the same:

Three Soups Coming At Ya!

Hey guys!

Sorry it has been a little while since I last posted. What can I say? It’s the holidays. Life is full. What I’m loving so much right now is how my friends have been putting in just a little extra effort to get together when we can. It’s awesome. We’re all going to be away or with our families over the holidays, so my friends and I have been making sure that we see each other before we scatter.

Anyway, I thought I’d jump on and post some of my recent soup/stew experiments, all of which have been great successes. A few weeks ago I started to second guess whether posting these recipes was a stupid idea. Who am I, a total cooking newbie, to be posting recipes? And who the heck is going to make them besides, well, me? But then I got an e-mail from my Great Aunt in Delaware. (Aunt Jackie, I hope you don’t mind me sharing it here—it made my day!)


I just wanted to tell you, I finally found your Blog page. I enjoyed reading your page. You come across as a very down to earth writer. I could understand what you were saying. The first page I read gave a recipe for Minestrone soup with collards. My first thought was, "What on earth does a little Jewish girl born and bred in New York know about collards and beans?” As it turns out, quite a bit. I made the soup yesterday and it was delicious. Aunt Kit and Cathy tried it, my neighbors and Uncle Bob all said keep that recipe. I just wanted you to know we try to keep up with you and Leah and your careers. Your Grammy must be smiling down on you, especially when you are in the kitchen. Keep me up on your latest recipe.

How cool is that? Best e-mail ever. I sure hope Grammy’s watching! She was an unbelievable cook. So it’s with this in mind that I’d love to continue posting my soup/stew successes. I’ll go in reverse order, starting with what I whipped up this week:

Veggie-Packed Turkey Chili

I had been craving chili since I started this endeavor. But I wanted to wait until it was true chili weather. I got my wish last Sunday during a Chicago blizzard that kept me inside all day long—except for three semi-treacherous trips outside with the pups. I knew that I wanted to make chili with turkey instead of red meat since I’d be having it every night. I also knew that I wanted a chili that packed as many veggies into it as possible—especially corn. So after a little Internet search, I started with this Rachael Ray recipe as my guide. Then, I called my sister to discuss the recipe. (Actually we discussed it over Google video chat.) I needed to talk through it because a) I had never made chili before and b) I knew I wanted to change that RR recipe A LOT. (Um, it didn’t have beans. How can a chili not have beans!? I ended up adding two cans. Score!) Enough of my blathering, let’s get to this fantabulous recipe that is seriously the best chili I’ve ever had. Yep, even better than the famous turkey chili at Deer Valley, which I believed was the best chili on the planet…until I had my own. Yep, I said it. Sorry, DV, you’ve got nothing on me.

FYI: This recipe makes about 10 servings – I froze half.


1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 bell pepper, one red and one green, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (FYI, I’m not a spicy person so I just used a tiny sliver of the jalapeno for flavor. But if you like spicy, knock yourself out and use the whole thing.)

1 bottle Corona or other kind of beer

3 Tbsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin

2 pounds light meat turkey

1.5 cans (28 ounces each) San Marzano tomatoes (if you can’t find this brand any kind will do. These will just take your chili experience to a whole new glorious level.)

Bag (16 oz) frozen corn kernels

1 can (15 oz) kidney beans

1 can (15 oz) black beans


In a deep pot, heat EVOO over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion, jalapeno, and a little S&P. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the peppers. Cook, stirring, until tender. Add the spices. They’ll start to toast on the bottom of the pan and become fragrant and make your apartment/house smell delicious. Once this occurs (within a few mins of cooking) add about half the bottle of beer and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Add the meat and the rest of the beer. Unless you already drank it. Oops. Let everything cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour. Then add the beans and corn. Continue simmering for at least 15 minutes or as long as an additional hour. Serve with brown rice and a side of roasted kale. At least that’s what I did and it was perfect! YUM!

Red Lentil with Collard Greens Soup

This recipe comes from my friend Ali in Vermont. She’s one of my best friends there and is a genius in the kitchen (last time I was there she made a pumpkin risotto with dried cranberries that would knock your socks off.) Ali’s a vegetarian, so any time I want to know how to cook a new vegetable (I swear, she’s tried them all!) she’s my go-to gal. She sent me this recipe a few weeks ago and I made it that same week. I changed up her recipe a bit (I used chicken stock instead of veggie because that’s what I had on hand) and whereas she used spinach as the green, I used collards because I already had them in my fridge. This recipe is also great for sneaking in tons of veggies. The lentils create a smooth consistency, so adding tons of carrots and celery adds a little chunkiness. (Btw, no worries if you’ve never cooked red lentils before—I hadn’t cooked or eaten them prior to this and they were super easy to make and totally delicious to chow.) Here it goes:

[Makes 4-5 servings]



Medium-sized onion, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

1 leek, chopped

8 cups chicken broth

2 bunches of collard greens, stems removed and leaves cut into small pieces (no collards? No prob. Ali used 4 cups frozen spinach.)

2 cups dried red lentils (find them in the bulk bin at WF)


In a big pot, heat EVOO over medium-high heat. Add onion, s&p, and sauté. Add carrots, celery, and leek. Cook until veggies soften. Add garlic. Sauté for a few more minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add lentils and lower heat to a simmer. About an hour into cooking, add the collard greens. Once they cook down, it’s ready to eat. Or you can keep cooking for another hour or so. Add s&p to taste and dig in!

White Bean, Kale and Chicken Sausage Meatball Soup

You guys, this is a killer recipe. You’re going to love it. I basically combine two of my faves: This one that I invented a few weeks ago and a Barefoot Contessa classic, Italian Wedding soup. Check it out:



1 onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 leek, cleaned (cut it down the middle and rinse out the grit that’s inside) and chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes

6 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth

1-2 cups dried Great Northern Beans

2 bunches kale, stems removed and cut into small pieces

1 pound chicken sausage out of the casings

salt & pepper


Heat EVOO. Add onion, sprinkle with s&p and sauté. Once onion is translucent (a few minutes) add carrots, celery, and leeks. Cook, stirring, until carrots soften. Add garlic. Add tomato paste. Add the tomatoes with juice, the broth, and bring to a boil. Add the beans. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

About an hour into simmering the soup, make the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350˚. Cover two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray (the meatballs stick big time if you don’t take these precautions.) Taking about a Tablespoon of the meat at a time, roll in your hands, creating cute little meatballs. Place them on baking sheets. Bake for about 30 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned. (Don’t overcook. They’ll dry out. I’m speaking from experience here.) When they’re done, set aside

Once the soup has been cooking for about two hours, add the kale and the meatballs. Cook until the kale cooks down and then it’s ready to eat. Bon appetit!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew Part Two

After my week-long Thanksgiving in Vermont that involved a total of about 33 hours of driving (15 hours there, 15 hours back, and 3 hours from Burlington to Mount Snow in the middle) I resumed The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew this week. I spent the holiday, as I often do when I’m with my family, picking my sister’s brain for cooking tips.

Leah told me that she’d been making soups with dried beans and found that doing so made the broth a little thicker. I decided to put her advice to the test this week. The result is a recipe that’s similar to my first soup post, but is a total upgrade.

She was spot on about the dried beans. I’m never going back to the canned ones. (Goodbye BPA!) I also added dried lentils because I still had some left from the salmon and lentil recipe I made a while back. If you’re a little hesitant about dried beans like I was, don’t be. You don’t need to soak them or do anything fancy when using them in soup. You just dump them into the pot, simmer for several hours (about three), and they’ll soften and plump up. And, whenever possible, scoop up dried beans/lentils from bulk bins. You get exactly the amount that you need, save money, and you'll cut down on packaging (remember to reuse the plastic bag).

The new veggie this week? Leeks! I had never cooked them before, but Leah suggested adding leeks along with the carrots and celery and I dutifully obeyed. They’re definitely going to be a regular staple in my soups as well. They’re like delicate oniony-flavored ribbons.

Week After Thanksgiving Detox Soup (aka white bean, lentil, and kale soup--hello fiber!)



1 onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 leek, cleaned (cut it down the middle and rinse out the grit that’s inside) and chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 can diced tomatoes (I used diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings because that’s what I had on hand and it added great flavor—I barely added any s&p)

6 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth

1-2 cups dried Great Northern Beans (I used 1 cup, Leah recommends 2)

¼ cup dried lentils (any amount is fine, this is what I had left)

2 bunches kale, stems removed and cut into small pieces

Salt & pepper


1. Heat EVOO. Add onion, sprinkle with s&p and sauté.

2. Once onion is translucent (a few minutes) add carrots, celery, and leeks. Cook, stirring, until carrots soften.

3. Add garlic.

4. Add tomato paste. Stir, but also let it toast a little in the pan. Leah informs me that it brings out the flavor and she’s right.

5. Add the tomatoes with juice, the broth, and bring to a boil.

6. Add the beans and lentils. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

7. If needed, turn off the stove and take your dog to the vet because he hurt his foot while running through the woods while you were home. If your dog doesn’t need to go to the vet, continue simmering.

8. About two hours into cooking, add the kale.

9. Simmer for an additional hour (not crucial—it’s ready to eat once the kale has cooked down, but the longer everything simmers the yummier it gets)

10. Thank your awesome sister for great cooking advice.

Small Changes. Big Results?

This time of year life is so robust. Yet I’ve been thinking about the small stuff. In this quest for achieving and maintaining a balanced life, I’ve discovered that it’s about constant refinement. Once you nail down the healthy habits that make you feel good, you continue making miniscule adjustments so that those habits become even easier to sustain. Here’s a look at some of the little shifts I’ve recently made.

Seltzer Oh how I adore those frisky little bubbles! A couple of months ago I started buying seltzer very regularly. By very regularly I mean that I can down a liter in two days. (I go for the plain Jane fizzy water and sometimes add a squeeze of lemon.) Early on, I blogged about what was likely the very worst thing in my diet: Diet Coke. It wasn’t until several weeks into my new carbonated habit that I realized I hadn’t had a DC in, well, several weeks. I hadn’t even wanted one and still haven't had one since. The cold, crisp bubbly water completely satisfies whatever it was that DC seemed to achieve, but without any of the fake sugar, fake dye, and caffeine. This is why a seltzer maker is at the top of my holiday wish list. Although I recycle the bottles, it seems like such a waste when I could whittle my usage down to a single reusable bottle. Come December 25, I hope to be sipping homemade seltzer out of one of these bad boys:

Vitamins This is by far the simplest change of them all. But before I clue you in, let me give you the low down (at least my low down) on vitamins. (Specifically the ones that I’ve decided to take: a daily multi, calcium + vitamin D, and omega-3.)

Will popping supplements like Tic Tacs prevent disease, help you live longer, make you smarter, and ward off wrinkles? I have no stinking idea. But I will tell you that in every article I’ve written about cancer prevention, sources emphasize taking a daily multivitamin. It’s not a panacea for a crappy diet, but if you already eat reasonably well it can help fill in any nutritional gaps. There’s also no question that getting enough calcium and vitamin D daily is crucial for bone health and much more. I’m not sure I buy the science saying that we should pump ourselves full of D, the vitamin du jour, (especially in light of recent research), but getting at least enough if not just a little more than the RDA (which is based on preventing some old-school disease called rickets) won’t hurt. And finally, take omega-3. It’s good for your heart, your brain, your mood, and the list goes on.

In short, I follow the advice Michael Pollan sets out in In Defense of Food (if you haven’t read it, run—don’t walk—to the bookstore now): “Be the kind of person who takes supplements.” Why? The jury is out on whether vitamins will do all the fabulous things we hope it will. However, studies have found that in general people who take supplements are healthier than those who don’t. One reason may be because they live an overall healthier lifestyle and believe that taking supplements is part of that—whether or not vitamins actually have any direct impact on their healthiness. I get that. So, in order to be the kind of person who takes supplements, I thought it would be good to take supplements. At worst (within recommended doses) they’ll have absolutely no effect. At best, they’ll offer a leg up on an already healthy lifestyle.

Finally, here’s where the change comes in: Instead of storing my supps in the back of a cabinet where I forget to take them on a daily basis, I moved them to my kitchen counter. There’s a caveat: I’ve reported on how leaving your vitamins in a humid place, like your bathroom can decrease their potency. So I’ve been careful to place them in a location where they are not exposed to much humidity. Plus, my kitchen has pretty good circulation and doesn’t exactly feel like Miami in July, so I think I’m in the clear. Ever since moving those suckers to the counter, I’ve remembered to take them every single day. I don’t even have to think about them—I see those fat bottles and toss my daily dose down the hatch.

Oatmeal As we all know, I’ve struggled with breakfast options in the past. It started off with the granola fiasco, followed by eggs, which didn’t crack it for me, and then on to yogurt (good in summer, not hearty enough in winter). But I think (hope?) I’ve finally found my solution in the humble oat. When I mentioned to a friend and habitual oatmeal eater (the lovely and talented Leslie Goldman) that I feel hungry five seconds after eating a bowl of oatmeal, she offered this sage advice: “Eat more.” What a difference more has made. For the past few months I’ve been chowing on a bowl of oatmeal every morning made with either 1 cup of instant oats or ½ cup of steel cut oats (if I have time to make it, I prefer the latter thanks to its thicker texture and nuttier flavor). I cook it on the stove (I cannot properly work a microwave to save my life) and then drizzle raw agave, mix in about 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed (for fiber and additional omega-3’s), add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg and I’m good to go until lunchtime.

So what, exactly, are the payoffs of these little changes? Only time will tell. Fortunately, I'm willing to wait.