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I just returned from my nine-hour-each-way road trip to North Dakota.  I do my best to eat healthy when I travel, but sometimes I end up failing miserably.  This trip I had a hard time saying no to the most delicious bacon cheeseburger in the universe– again.  And it went downhill from there.  Now I’m making up for my gluttony by trying to eat my weight in vegetables, and today’s post is a good start.

I’ve been craving a crisp spinach salad for awhile now.  Not the pre-packaged spinach that has “bag smell”, but fresh garden spinach that you can find at almost every farmers’ market.  I’m talking about the kind that is curly, has loads of wrinkles, and personality.  And although tomatoes aren’t quite in-season here in Minnesota, I knew I could get a few greenhouse-grown beauties.  Along with the veggies, I wanted a few crunchy bacon crumbles– not much, just a enough to add a nice saltiness.  Since I was thinking about a salad that could serve as a complete meal, I mixed in a whole grain.  You’ve probably noticed that I do this a lot with my salads.  This one and this one are two earlier favorites.  This time around, I chose farro.  It comes from the wheat family and has a nice, toothsome bite.  Finally, I wanted to bring it all these fresh ingredients together with a creamy gorgonzola dressing.

I know there are a many of you that purchase bottles of salad dressing from the grocery store.  My goal for today is to convince you to start making your own for every salad.  It’s easy, and tastes amazing.  No preservatives, and you know exactly what is going into your dressing.  Plus, you can play around with the ingredients.  Switch out the gorgonzola for blue cheese.  If you have extra yogurt on hand, use that instead of the buttermilk.  Just give it a try.  I’m guessing you’ll like it enough that you won’t buy bottles again.  This particular dressing is simple and beautiful.

One last note about Spring spinach.  You’ll need to clean it thoroughly– more than just a spray of water and throwing it in the salad spinner.  Instead, soak it in a large bowl of cold water for a minute or so to allow the dirt to settle to the bottom.  You don’t want to ruin this beautiful salad by biting into a fresh green leaf that still has dirt hidden in one of the folds.  Enjoy!

The Recipe:  Spinach, Farro, and Bacon Salad with Gorgonzola Dressing

1 large bunch fresh spinach

small bite-sized tomatoes

8 ounces bacon, cooked

handful of homemade croutons

1/2 cup farro, cooked

lemon

4 ounces (1/4 pound) gorgonzola cheese

1/2 cup buttermilk

sea salt and cracked black pepper

To start, rinse the farro in a mesh strainer.  Place the farro in a small saucepan and cover with water by about an inch.  Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a small/medium simmer.  When the farro is tender, but still has a toothsome bite to it,  remove from the heat — about 15-20 minutes.  Pour into a strainer and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare the homemade croutons by cubing about 1/4 of a fresh or day old baguette.  Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil (about 2 teaspoons) and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Place in the oven and toast for about 10-15 minutes, stirring a couple of times.  They are done when they are golden brown and have a nice crunch to them.

Prepare the dressing by placing the gorgonzola cheese in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the buttermilk.  Mash with a fork until it is mostly incorporated.  Be careful to leave some small chunks of cheese, as it adds to the texture of the dressing.  Add a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper, to taste.  Set aside.

Fill a large bowl with cold water.  Place the spinach in the bowl and swish it around a bit, then leave it alone.  All the of the dirt will sink to the bottom.  Gently remove the spinach and place in a salad spinner.  Give it another rinse with running water and then spin it dry.

In a large salad bowl, place the spinach, tomatoes,  farro, and bacon.  Pour some of the dressing on it.  Toss and top with croutons.  Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by Relishing It  — have a lovely day!

Laurie

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This is one of my family’s favorite weeknight meals.  It’s quick, easy, pretty healthy, and best of all it tastes fantastic.  The pea and mint combination is so refreshing– it’s perfect for this time of the year and will remind you of Spring.  Ideally, I like to use fresh peas in this dish, but frozen ones make an exceptional alternative.  And the little salty bites of crisp, smoky bacon are a nice contrast to the fresh flavors.

Now I love a good, rich carbonara– really, I do.  But this dish is not thick and creamy.  This is a much lighter version that contains very little cream and only one egg.  Despite this, it works remarkably well.   I reserve the heavy version for an evening when I feel like being a bit more indulgent,  but for our everyday meals, I cut back significantly.  The key to this recipe is to remember that it’s really just an outline.  Use as much bacon, mint, peas, and parmesan cheese as you like- it’s a matter of personal taste.  My family loves peas, so we use an entire package.  You can certainly add more parmesan, as well.  Just remember to loosen the pasta with reserved pasta water to get the level of creaminess that you want.  And most importantly, be ready to eat this dish immediately.  The creaminess will not last long, so it’s best served right away.

One last thing:  be sure to enter my cookbook giveaway I’m having to celebrate Relishing It’s First Anniversary– enter here!

The Recipe: Whole Wheat Pasta Carbonara with Bacon, Peas, and Mint

(Makes 4 servings)

1  pound of whole wheat spaghetti or linguine

1 10 ounce package of organic sweet peas

6-8 slices bacon, or more to taste

handful of grated parmesan or grana padano cheese (about 1/2 cup)

about 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 large organic egg lightly beaten with 1/4 cup organic heavy cream

a few grates of fresh nutmeg

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove from pan and wipe pan clean with a paper towel.  Chop the bacon and set aside.   In a small bowl lightly beat the egg, cream, and nutmeg together.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions on package.  Add the peas into the hot water when the pasta is one minute from being “al dente”.  Reserve one cup of the pasta water.  Drain pasta and peas and pour into the skillet the bacon was cooked into.  Pour the egg/cream/nutmeg mixture over the hot pasta and toss with thongs.  The hot pasta will cook the egg.  Add a bit of the reserved pasta water to loosen the pasta more, if you desire.  Sprinkle the parmesan over the pasta.  Top with the chopped bacon and chopped mint.  Eat immediately!  Enjoy.

Source:  Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners

Thanks for stopping by!

Laurie

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Let’s add one more tasty, healthy, soup to the repetoir.  This one is interesting because the main ingredient is cauliflower.  That’s right, cauliflower.  Sure, it probably hasn’t crossed your mind to make cauliflower soup before, but let me try to convince you that you should.  I love cauliflower (thankfully my kids are HUGE fans, too), so it’s no surprise that I really like this soup.  But aside from the great flavor, cruciferous vegetables are wonderful for your health.  Don’t believe me?  Read here.  Aside from snacking on fresh cauliflower, I love it pureéd.  Mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes?  Divine.  The flavor mellows a bit and the texture is soft and creamy.  Those same characteristics are what make this dish so good.  Here, you get the illusion of eating a thick, cream-laden soup, when in truth it’s almost entirely healthy vegetables that your body needs.

If you’ve never heard of sunchokes, they are also called Jerusalem artichokes.  They’re kind of a funny-looking tuber with a distinct, subtle, earthy flavor.  I guess the best comparison I can come up with is that they taste like a cross between a water chestnut and a potato.  Here, they’re marvelous.  The leeks and rosemary are nice additions, too.  Use fresh rosemary if you have it (even a bit more than the dried amount listed).  I often turn to my dried herbs in the winter time, as fresh can sometimes be a bit pricey.

While dried rosemary is fine here, you’ll definitely want to use fresh parsley for the garnish.  It’s not expensive, and it’ll really brighten the soup.  Finally, there’s the bacon.  I’ve been told that bacon makes everything better, and for the most part, I think that’s about right.  Just a few crumbles on top, and you have the perfect complement to the subtlety of the puréed cauliflower.  If you want to go vegetarian, skip the bacon and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken and enjoy the pure earthiness of the herbs and vegetables.

The Recipe:  Cauliflower and Sunchoke Soup with Bacon Crumbles

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 1/2 pounds sunchokes, peeled and chopped

2 pounds cauliflower florets (from about a 3 pound head), chopped

2 large leeks, white and green parts only, chopped

1 quart plus 3 cups (7 cups total) organic chicken broth

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 dried bay leaf

kosher salt

5-6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled, for garnish

chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil.  When hot, add the leeks and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.  Add the chicken broth, cauliflower, sunchokes, rosemary, allspice, bay leaf, and a sprinkle of salt.  While covered, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a medium simmer.    The pot will look a bit crowded, but the vegetables will soften and reduce as it cooks.  After about 25-30 minutes or whenever the vegetables are soft, remove the bay leaf from the soup.  Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until it is uniform in texture and without lumps.  Alternately, a stand blender can be used to purée the soup, just make sure to do it in batches, as it all won’t fit at one time.  When the soup is puréed, taste it.  Adjust seasonings, if necessary.  Serve sprinkled with bacon and fresh parsley.  Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by Relishing It!  Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dishsponsored by KitchenAidRed Star Yeast and Le Creuset

Laurie

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So, how glamorous does meatloaf sound?  Personally, I thought Bat Out of Hell was a fine album, though I wouldn’t say he sounds glamorous.  Er, wait.  Wrong meatloaf.  Poor jokes aside, the dish generally doesn’t sound that elegant either, but this recipe makes me weak in the knees.  It’s one of those meals that I think about far too often.  The problem with most meatloaf– aside from the unappetizing name– is that it’s usually a bland brick that’s really only edible when covered in a pile of ketchup.  I always think of the grade school lunch variety.  This is a whole different experience.  Just look at that bacon!  And if you’re ready to move on from Thanksgiving leftovers, this hearty version is perfect. 

So what makes this meatloaf different?  What makes it special?  As always, it’s the ingredients.  Aside from the carrots, celery, and onions that form a good base, this dish relies on mushrooms for a complex earthiness.  There’s also cheddar to add more depth, texture, and a hint of saltiness.  And beer.  I used one of Radd’s home-brewed dark stouts, which worked nicely with the mushrooms and cheddar.  Finally, there’s the bacon.  Wow.  It makes the dish.  Not only does it add so much flavor, but it helps keep the meatloaf juicy.  Keeping this meal moist is key, so aside from the bacon, the milk-soaked bread is essential.

This meatloaf would be a wonderful centerpiece meal, accompanied by several sides, but– to be honest with you– I made it for sandwiches.  I was craving a to-die-for meatloaf sandwich and I got it.  I cut a nice thick piece and put it on a ciabatta roll, covered it with a bit of mayo and harissa and a mound of hot peppers.  Amazing.  I also found that it was incredible when paired with the homemade ketchup I made this Summer.  I’m not sure which one I like better, so I’m tempted to make another meatloaf just to find out.

The Recipe : Cheddar and Stout Meatloaf

Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup chopped onions

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped

1/2 cup celery, finely chopped

3/4 cup crimini mushrooms, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

4 ounces french bread,  (about 2 1/2 cups, cubed)

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup Stout ale

2 pounds grass-fed ground beef

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

10 ounces thin-sliced bacon (about 9 pieces)

Heat the oil in a 10- to -12 inch skillet over medium heat.  Cook the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and mushrooms until softened and just beginning to brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the stout ale and simmer until almost all of the liquid is gone, about 4-5 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile,  in a shallow dish soak the bread and milk, flipping once, until soggy but not falling apart, 5-10 minutes, depending upon the freshness of your bread.  Gently squeeze the milk from the bread with your hands.  You will want the bread to be moist, but not drenched.  Finely chop the bread and add to the bowl of cooked vegetables.

Position rack to center of oven and pre-heat to 375°F.  Begin to add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of vegetables and milk soaked bread — ground beef,  eggs, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, and cheddar cheese.    Use your hands and gently mix all of the ingredients until just combined — try not to compact the mixture as you do this.

Line the bottom of a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Put the meatloaf mixture on the pan and form a 10 x 4 – inch rectangular block (it will become loaf shaped as it bakes).  Wrap the meatloaf with the bacon in a diagonal pattern.  Leave a 1/2- inch over hang around the edges and tuck under the meatloaf.  Some pieces of bacon will need to be trimmed.

Bake until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the meatloaf reads 160°F, 50-60 minutes.  Then, broil the meatloaf 6-inches below the heating element until the bacon is brown and crisped, about 3 minutes.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Source:  Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Feb/March 2011

Thanks for stopping by today!

Laurie

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So how much Halloween candy have you been sneaking this week?  Me?  Far too much.  Though I love how worked-up my little ones get about trick-or-treating, when I take stock of how much candy I have eaten I feel more than a little guilt.  That’s why there’s no better time to eat a nice, light dinner of…dried beans and cabbage.  I know, I know.  It doesn’t sound too tantalizing, but take a look at this dish.  It’s so satisfying.  I love cooking with dried beans.  If I can convince you of anything (aside from the benefits of eating organic, local, and unprocessed foods), its to use more dried beans in meals.  They’re inexpensive, and their taste and texture is so much more appealing than canned versions.  The only drawback is that using them requires just a bit of planning.  But even this isn’t difficult, as cooked beans can be stored in the freezer and thawed for whenever you need them.

Cabbage is another of those ‘lost’ ingredients that often goes unappreciated.  I love it’s versatility– it works in salads, soups, and main dishes.  Cabbage has that nice crunch when you want it, or you can rely on it for a softer, underlying texture.  And that mellow, slightly sweet flavor works well is so many dishes.  For this meal, I’ve also turned to the amazing smoky, saltiness of bacon, though it’s not necessary.  The flavorful beans and cabbage are powerful enough to stand up on their own here.  I make it both ways, depending upon my mood.  This is a simple, healthy, and most importantly, delicious dish.  Make it this week– it’ll become one of your everyday light meals, too.

The Recipe:  Cabbage, White Beans, and Bacon

(serves 4)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 smallish yellow potatoes, unpeeled, cut into cubes

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cups cooked and cooled white beans (roughly 1 cup dry)  OR 1 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained

3 cups finely shredded green cabbage

1 garlic clove

1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled  (use more or less to your liking)

freshly grated parmesan or grana padano cheese, for sprinkling

sea salt and cracked pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until your desired crispiness.  Remove from pan.  Crumble when cool.  Begin to cook the potatoes next.  For more flavor, cook them in the bacon grease — or for a healthier version, drain the grease and add the olive oil.  Season potatoes with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat.  Cover and cook until the potatoes are cooked all the way through, 5-8 minutes.  Be sure to stir a couple of times, so all sides become golden brown.

Next, stir in the onion, garlic, and beans.  Try to cook each side of the beans, so they brown a bit, as well.  When the beans have developed some color and are a bit crispy, stir in the cabbage and cook for another minute, or until the cabbage begins to wilt a bit.  Stir in the bacon.  Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.  Sprinkle with a bit of cheese.  Enjoy!

Source:  Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day

Hope you all have a fun Halloween evening — my kiddos are super excited to go trick-or-treating!  Thanks for stopping by today.

Laurie

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Confession time:  I may have a bit of an addiction to cookbooks.  Obviously I cook a lot, so this probably doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary.  Here’s the thing though, even when I acquire a new one (which seems to be happening more and more lately) I’m not satisfied.  I plow through it looking for ideas and admiring the photos, yet almost immediately want another.  This is true, no matter how good the book.  Yup, its an addiction.

There has been chatter lately that with the advent of electronic reading devices, cookbooks may become a thing of the past.  I guess the idea is that the internet (including blogs) and paperless “cookbooks” will make those comforting recipe tomes obsolete.  I disagree.  It seems that as a country, we’re becoming more interested in real, wholesome food.  As people become more comfortable with cooking at home again, I think they’ll return to beautifully written and photographed hard-copy cookbooks.  Sure, being able to find a meal based on ingredients you have on hand by using your computer is nice, but stumbling across a recipe that expands your horizons is what it’s all about.

Anyway…2010 was a stellar year for cookbooks.  Take a look at a few lists here or here.  Today’s recipe comes from one of my favorite new books– Harvest To Heat by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer.  It’s a collaboration of recipes from America’s best chefs, farmers, and artisans.  It is an absolute stunner.

This dish uses pea shoots, which are in-season, locally.  Hopefully, you can get your hands on some of these little gems.  If you can’t, don’t worry.  You can still make it by simply omitting the pea shoots at the end.  Pea shoots are the leaves and tendrils of pea plants.  They are delicate and taste just like peas, but with a bit of a crunch.   Mixing them with salad greens is another way to really enjoy them.  In this dish they are sauteed for just a few seconds and then placed on top of this fantastic risotto.

The risotto itself has a pea puree  swirled into it.  My first thought was to skip making the puree and just add whole peas.  I’m so glad I didn’t.  The puree is lovely and gives the risotto a beautiful soft-green hue.  This dish comes together quickly, so go ahead and put the extra effort in by making the puree.   The herbs add loads of character to what would otherwise be a straight-forward risotto.  The fennel, in particular, really stands out.   The additional acidity of the white wine, countered by the rich flavor of the bacon really brings it together.  It’s creamy, salty, smokey, and fresh– all at once.

The Recipe:  Risotto with Pea Shoots and Bacon

(Serves 6)

2 cups fresh peas (or frozen)

4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, 2 left whole and 2 chopped (2 tablespoons)

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 small yellow or white onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice

2 cups dry white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire– though next time I’ll try a less aggresive style.  Perhaps a Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio.)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

1/4 pound bacon or pancetta (about 6 slices), diced

2 cups pea shoots

1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

Course salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the peas and cook for 1 minute.  Drain and cool.  Transfer to a food processor or blender and puree; strain through a mesh strainer and discard and solids.  Set aside.

Wrap the whole parsley sprigs, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, and fennel seeds tightly in cheesecloth and tie with butcher’s twine.

Heat the broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat to a simmer.  Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; add the bouquet of herbs, the onions, and the garlic.  Cook until the onions and garlic are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat evenly with the onion mixture.  Add the wine, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine is almost completely absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium, then add the warm broth 1 cup at a time, stirring the rice constantly until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding additional broth.  Continue to add broth, stirring until the rice is almost cooked through, about 20 minutes.  ( Note: you may not need to use all of the broth.)

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon or pancetta until crisp, 5-8 minutes.  Drain on a paper towel-lined plate, then transfer to a small plate and set aside.  Wipe out the skillet and heat 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat; add the pea shoots and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute.  Set aside.

When the rice is just cooked through, remove the bouquet of herbs,  then add the pea puree, chopped parsley, chives, and Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle the risotto into soup bowls.  Top each bowl with the crisp bacon or pancetta and pea shoots.  Enjoy!

Source:  Adapted from Harvest to Heat Cookbook

Thanks for stopping by!  I love your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment.  Have a fabulous weekend!

Laurie

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