Friday, September 25, 2015

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup (Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana)

Last Year's Post: Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Pad Thai

My mother and I are different in many ways, not the least of which is restaurant preferences.  I tend to favor small locally-owned places, and she likes upscale casual chain restaurants.  I've tried a couple of times do the alternating thing (this time your choice, next time my choice) with less than spectacular results.  After one particularly disastrous visit to a local Italian eatery where she kept looking at everything and everyone with deep suspicion, she finally remarked to me "Why would anyone go to any other Italian restaurant when everyone knows that Olive Garden is the best?"  And there you have it.  Since I love my mother and like to see her often, I spend a fair amount of time at Olive Garden for lunch and thus have discovered their Zuppa Toscana soup made with Italian sausage, potatoes and kale.

I fully understand the irony in the fact that I have a less than enthusiastic view of Olive Garden but am not above copycatting their recipe.  In my (weak) defense, there are a lot of copycat recipes out there for this soup.  To my dismay, I discovered the purported "real" recipe contains cream so in my (continued weak) defense, I decided to try to create a healthy version that was just as good.  And the combination of sausage, kale and potato is a classic Italian soup not exclusive to Olive Garden.  Have I rationalized enough yet?

There are three things that I changed:  I eliminated the optional bacon because I haven't noticed bacon in the restaurant version anyway, I substituted hot Italian turkey sausage for hot Italian pork sausage, and I substituted 2% milk for the cream.  The last substitution might seem the most drastic but I have a secret to make it seem just as rich - you puree a few of the cooked potato pieces and stir them back in the pot.  It's a great trick for making cream soups taste rich without cream because the starch in the potatoes thickens the soup, and it worked very well here.  The original restaurant soup is not thick like a cream soup but has a slight richness, which is almost perfectly duplicated here.

You may notice the recipe calls for browning the sausage and onion in a separate skillet, then placing them in the soup pot.  The reason is that the sausage gives off juice and fat, will create a film on the top of the finished soup.  If you don't care about it you can make everything in the same pot.  The whole house smelled wonderful while this was cooking.


At the point (above) where everything was simmering but before pureeing any potatoes or adding the kale and milk the soup looked great and smelled even better. Next time I may just eliminate the puree step and the milk, using more chicken stock in place of the water and milk and serve it just like this.  Can you imagine how pretty it would be after adding the bright green kale?  In the next pictures I added the potato puree, then the kale and milk.

Although the soup requires a fair amount of chopping, it was fun to make and even better to eat.  It would be absolutely perfect for a chilly, rainy fall day or a snowy winter one.  It makes a big pot of soup and it's healthy with all that kale.  What more could you want? Serve with grated parmesan and crusty bread for a complete and comforting meal.

Update one week later:  when we had this for the second time, The Lawyer volunteered that this may be the best soup he's ever had.

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup
Serves 6-8

16-20 ounces spicy turkey Italian sausage 
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
32 ounces chicken broth
2 ½ cups water
1 ¼ cups of 2% milk
4 cups kale (about one bunch Tuscan kale), stemmed and cut into bite-sized ribbons

If the sausage is in the form of links, remove from casings.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add half of the olive oil.  Add the sausage and sauté until cooked through; breaking it up into crumbles with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  Remove from the skillet and add to a large soup pot.  In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil and the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove and add to the soup pot. 

Scrub the potatoes well but do not peel.  Slice each potato lengthwise in half and then crosswise into ¼” pieces.  Add the potatoes, garlic, chicken broth and water to the soup pot and bring to a brisk simmer, then turn down and simmer for 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender. 

Scoop 1-2 ladles of potatoes and broth out of the soup pot, trying not to get any sausage (put any sausage pieces back in the pot).  Put the potatoes and broth in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  (If you use a blender, be sure to remove the center knob from the lid and cover with a towel to prevent a hot liquid blow-up.)  Pour the puree back into the soup pot and stir.

Add the milk and kale and simmer 15 minutes more, until the kale is tender. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Healthy Baked Apples

Last Year's Post: Roast Pork, Fennel and Green Bean Salad
Two Years Ago:  Lavash Chips, Za'atar, Hummus and Green Harissa

Having grown up in the Midwest - one of the prime apple-growing regions of the country - I've always been a big fan of apples in any form.  The University of Minnesota is the largest propagator of new apple varieties and if you go to their Arboretum in the fall they have some of their newest available for sale with charming names like 1016 or 587 - varieties that may or may not make it to the commercial market.  Honeycrisp, the most popular variety ever, is from the U of MN (go Golden Gophers) as is its love child, Sweetango.  If you like Honeycrisp, you'll love Sweetango.  It's fairly new and in limited distribution right now but if you see it at your local store, buy it.

Anyway, baked apples are a great alternative for people trying to eat healthy because they don't involve pie crust but have many of the same flavors as apple pie.  This recipe is particularly healthy because it cuts down on the butter and sugar and is served with yogurt or low fat ice cream rather than whipped cream or maple syrup.

The type of apple you use will influence the ultimate taste, texture and appearance of your baked apples.  Apples that stay firm when baked are preferred because some apples will bake down into mush, which is great for applesauce but not so much for baked apples.  I used Pink Lady apples and was very pleased with their firm texture and sweet apple flavor but I think Honeycrisp or Braeburn would work just as well.  If you like your baked apples a little softer, just cook them a little longer.  Test the apples by sliding a small knife down from the top to see how much resistance there is.

The Lawyer has been known to bake apples whole (without cutting the top off) while possibly choosing the wrong kind of apple because they sometimes tended to come out wrinkled on the top and brown rather than red.  That's another reason to like this recipe - choosing the right apple and cutting the top off makes for a very pretty final presentation.

Are baked apples for breakfast, or for dessert?  The answer is yes.  I tend to think of them as a great breakfast alternative but they would be a spectacular, simple and healthy dessert for any entertaining you do.  And although the recipe says to serve the apples warm, they're also great right out of the refrigerator the next day.

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Healthy Baked Apples
Serves 4

Note: Use whatever kind of apples you like best. Cooking apples such as Jonathan, Rome Beauty, or Granny Smith work well, as do Honey Crisp, Pink Lady and Braeburn.

4 medium apples
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Up to ¼ cup chopped dried fruit, nuts, or granola (optional)
½ cup apple juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off the apples. Remove the core and seeds with a small spoon or knife.  Place the apples in an ovenproof baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and optional ingredients. Spoon this mixture into the centers of the apples. Pour apple juice into the baking dish.  Using a small spoon, take a little of the juice from the bottom of the dish and drizzle it on top of the apples to moisten.  Bake apples for 40 to 45 minutes or until the apples are firm but tender, basting them occasionally with the juices from the baking dish.  Let cool for a few minutes.  Drizzle with pan juices one last time.

Serve warm with yogurt or low fat ice cream.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mexican Baked Egg Casserole

Last Year's Post:  Pesto for the Freezer
Two Years Ago:   Smoked Turkey, Kale and Blue Cheese Sandwiches

When I first saw this recipe from a restaurant in Mexico City I fell in love with the little individual casserole dishes they used and spent a fair amount of time looking for "individual casserole dishes with handles" online until I realized they were actually French onion soup bowls, easily found at my local Bed, Bath and Beyond.  You may choose to make a large family casserole instead but I'm obsessed with anything individual or miniaturized so I just had to have them.

Anyway, this casserole is equally perfect for a weekday dinner or a lazy weekend brunch with layers of beans, ham or turkey, eggs, salsa and cheese all baked until the cheese is nice and gooey.  The original recipe called for re-fried beans, thin slices of ham, eggs, red salsa, and cheese.  I made it lighter by using whole beans instead of re-fried and salsa verde instead of ranchero sauce (basically red salsa) but the specifics are up the you - any beans, ham or turkey, red salsa or green, and your favorite cheese.  You can cook your own beans and make your own salsa verde (my favorite recipe follows) or you can buy a can of beans and a jar of your favorite salsa, which is perfectly fine.

Assuming you have beans and salsa already prepared, this dish takes about 20-25 minutes to prepare so it's pretty easy even for a weeknight dinner.

 I sauteed the ham in a little butter to add color and flavor but that's optional.

Then you start layering: salsa verde, beans, ham, egg, more salsa, cheese.

Pop them in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts and you're done.  One tip -  slightly undercook your eggs (although making sure the whites are done) because they'll cook a little more in the oven.  If you don't like runny yolks that's fine, but they add a nice rich sauce as you eat.

I served the eggs with toast and strawberries for brunch, but if I served the eggs for dinner I would probably add either tortilla chips or warm tortillas alongside.

One last thought about the Salsa Verde - it's lighter and brighter than red salsas and totally delicious when the vegetables are grilled for a nice smoky touch.  And it's easy:  grill, puree, then simmer for a few minutes with some lime juice.  The salsa keeps well in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for up to a week or for several months when frozen.  I always make this salsa and my favorite red salsa every fall and freeze plenty for the winter months.

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Mexican Baked Egg Casserole
Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 eggs
Salt and pepper
Non-stick spray
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups chopped turkey or ham
2 cups whole black or pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
2 cups red salsa or Salsa Verde (recipe follows for Salsa Verde)
2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded cheese such as Oaxaca, mozzarella or cheddar

Preheat oven to 375d.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil.  Crack each egg into a small bowl one at a time and slide into the skillet (this prevents any shell bits from getting in the skillet).  Alternately, use a small individual egg pan to cook each egg.  Cook until the eggs are just shy of the way you like them since they’ll cook a little more in the oven, but make sure the whites are fully cooked.  Remove to a plate and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium non-stick skillet and sauté the turkey or ham pieces for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Set aside. Warm the beans and salsa separately in the microwave. 

To assemble, spray a casserole dish (or individual ramekins or soup bowls) with non-stick spray.  Add a thin layer of salsa, then the beans and ham or turkey.  Place the eggs on top, then cover with a generous layer of salsa and add the shredded cheese over all.

Place in the oven until the cheese has completely melted, 8-10 minutes, then turn to broil for 30-60 seconds to lightly brown the cheese if desired.  Serve immediately.

Salsa Verde
Makes about 4 cups

6 unpeeled garlic cloves
11 fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed
1 large onion, quartered through root end
3-4 jalapeno chiles
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Friday, September 4, 2015

Grilled Hawaiian Filipino Adobo Pork

Last Year's Post: Baked Italian Sandwiches
Two Years Ago:  Watermelon Gazpacho

How can a recipe be Hawaiian and Filipino, you ask?  I adapted this recipe from Steve Raichlen's BBQ USA and he explains it like this:

"Filipino cuisine is one of the world's best-kept food secrets.  Even if you live in a city with a large Asian community, like San Francisco or Seattle, I bet you'd be hard pressed to name a single Filipino dish.  This is a shame, because Filipino cooks draw on two rich culinary traditions - the Iberian cuisine of its Spanish colonizers and the vibrant flavors of the Far East.

Consider the following pork tenderloin adobo.  As the adobo moved from Spain to the Philippines, it picked up some Asian seasonings, such as ginger and soy sauce, a combination that's hard to resist.  This recipe comes not from the Philippines, but from Hawaii - home to a large Filipino community and one of the few places in the United States where Filipino cuisine is accorded the respect it deserves." 

Compared to other Hawaiian adobos I've had, the sauce is less assertively vinegary and the fact that it's made with pork (instead of chicken) and grilled (instead of stewed) is unusual.  But it's still just as delicious and a great change of pace from your regular barbecue stand-bys.  And healthy!  Adobo is traditionally served with white rice to balance the big flavors and absorb the sauce, but brown rice or another grain would be just as good.  Be sure to throw some fresh pineapple rings on the grill at the same time for a perfect sweet accompaniment. Note that the pork needs to marinate for 2-8 hours so plan ahead.

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Grilled Hawaiian Filipino Adobo Pork
Serves 4

½ medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 green onions, minced (and additional sliced for garnish, optional)
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2/3 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
Kosher salt and black pepper
 2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, cut into chunks and layers peeled apart
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine the sliced onion, garlic, ginger, green onions, soy sauce, vinegar, paprika, bay leaves and sesame oil in a large zip-top bag; seal the bag and shake to combine the ingredients.

Trim the tenderloin of any extra fat or silver skin.  Cut into 1-inch cubes, season with salt and pepper and place in the zip-top bag.  Seal and shake to coat all the pork cubes evenly.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours, shaking and turning the bag occasionally.

Remove the pork from the marinade, brushing off any onion pieces.  Strain the marinade through a strainer into a saucepan to remove solids.  Bring to a brisk simmer for 5 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce, stirring as it cooks.  After 3 minutes add the butter.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper plus a splash of vinegar if necessary; the sauce should be piquant and highly seasoned.  Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat the grill to high.  Thread the pork cubes onto skewers, alternating with pieces of onion.  Clean and oil the grill grate, then grill the pork skewers for about 8 minutes total, turning to brown each side.  Baste with vegetable oil as they cook.  During the last two minutes of grilling, brush the kebabs with a little of the sauce.

Serve the kebabs with additional sauce on the side and optional green onions for garnish.