Chicken Soup with Fregula Sarda

March is always a welcome relief to the many months of winter, with its hints of warm, spring days. But it also seems to be the month in which my family develops the last great sickness of our cold season. This week has proven to hit my family hard in the viral department, with my son bringing home some unwelcome germs, then my husband contracting the disease, and now, finally, my daughter. Fortunately, while I type this post, I have not yet come down with this bad cold, and I am extremely happy about that, because as any other mother knows, if mamma falls ill, the whole ship goes down with her!

There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup when you aren’t feeling well. You can feel the warm liquid nutrients working their magic as they pass into your body, working their sickness-healing magic. Science has now confirmed that chicken soup actually helps to break congestion and contains an amino acid called, cysteine, which inhibits white blood cell production and the triggering of the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and phlegm. I guess grandma did know a thing or two.

For this chicken soup, I decided to use some fregula sarda I had in my pantry, which is an Italian pasta, originating from Sardinia. The pasta dough is rolled into tiny balls, resembling Israeli couscous, and toasted twice, which promotes its pleasant nutty flavor and golden colors. If you aren’t able to purchase fregula sarda, then Israeli couscous (or another type of small pasta) would be an excellent substitute for the following soup.

Of course, this soup is delicious whether you are under the weather or sailing atop clouds of health. But if you find yourself with a bit of a cold, this soup will definitely hit the spot. Stay healthy and happy eating!

1-1.5 lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
1 small onion, whole
4 stalks celery, cleaned, halved and chopped into small pieces*
5 md. carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into small pieces**
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
small bunch of fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
12 cups water
1/2-3/4 c. fregula sarda
small bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped

In a pot, large enough to accommodate 12 cups of water, add the chicken thighs, one carrot, one celery, the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Be sure not to add too much salt at this time. You can add more before you add the fregula sarda. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any fat that floats up to the top. Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the base of your soup to continue cooking for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, and discard the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. I find it works best to do this with a large, cook’s spoon that has holes. Remove the chicken thighs, and allow them to cool slightly before you remove the meat from the bone. Place the chicken back into the pot, along with the chopped carrots and celery. Bring the liquid back to a slow boil. After about 15 minutes, add the fregula sarda, along with about 1.5-2 cups of water. Allow the fregula to cook through, about 8 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the finely chopped parsley. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

*Leave one celery stalk whole to make the soup base
**Leave one carrot whole, unpeeled to make the soup base

TDB Homemade: Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

Who doesn’t love shrimp cocktail? I often have a supply of pre-cooked shrimp in my freezer, just waiting to be thawed out for a quick snack or dinner ingredient. I do not, however, stock my fridge with cocktail sauce because (as my mother taught me long ago) making it on my own is just as quick and easy as opening a jar. There are just two ingredients that are necessary – ketchup and horseradish. Now, granted, commercially prepared ketchup is not always one of the most highly regarded condiments on the shelf when it comes to healthy eating, but there are quite a few brands now that make it organic, low salt, low sugar, or all-natural, and almost every home has some of it sitting around. And, to be honest, I think this cocktail sauce is just as good as any kind I’ve had in a restaurant or out of a jar. Try it, and see if you can tell the difference! So here’s the basic recipe:

2 Tbsp. ketchup + 1 Tbsp. horseradish — stir it together in a small bowl, and it’s ready to serve.

Add more or less horseradish to your liking. Other items may be added to enhance the flavor to your taste, such as hot sauce, a twist of lemon, Worcestershire sauce, or wasabi powder, but I don’t find any of those necessary and usually stick with what’s simple.

So, here you go – something quick and easy that you can make in less than 30 seconds. Serve with cold cooked shrimp, and enjoy!

Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

Weekend Breakfast: Dutch Pancake

One of my fondest  childhood memories is my father’s Saturday morning pancake ritual. Throughout a majority of my youth, my father worked third shift, which meant I didn’t get a chance to see him too frequently during the week. Weekends were cherished moments, accented by raucous backyard trampoline jumping, visits to the cinema, and baking chocolate chip cookies. How I loved to watch my father mix the pancake batter to the right consistency, then add a small dollop of butter to a cast iron skillet, before he spooned out the batter in some shape we children had requested. I always wanted the first pancake off the griddle, as that was the one which had the slighty fried and crispy bottom ring from the batter hitting the sizzling butter.

Now that I am a mother, I try to continue this Saturday morning tradition with my children. I usually give my father a phone call to invite him over, at which point he laughs and says he’ll be right there! [My father lives about 470 miles away from me, thus the chuckle.] Whether I make pancakes and eggs, or scones, or muffins, I try to recreate that magic feeling surrounding weekend breakfasts for my children, just as my father made for me.

 The other day I came across a recipe for a Dutch pancake. The accompanying magazine picture, showcasing this lovely ballooned pancake, made me immediately want to try it. And so, we did. I must say it was extremely uncomplicated to make and a ton of fun for my children (and myself!) to watch while baking in the oven. It is quite a crowd pleaser, and would be a welcome addition to any sort of brunch you may be planning for company. Feel free to add a nice dusting of powdered sugar to the top of the pancake, and, or homemade whipped cream. I omitted both of these ingredients, opting for a simple sprinkling of cinnamon instead, as my children certainly didn’t need the extra “energy” from yet even more sugar in the morning. If you do decide to omit the sugar or the whipped cream on top, I do recommend adding about a 1/4 c. of sugar into the batter prior to baking, or a drizzle of maple syrup upon serving.

Here’s to weekend breakfasts and making lasting memories with your loved ones!

Dutch Pancake Recipe:

3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole milk, room temperature
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (optional)
1/2 c. maple syrup
confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon for dusting

Put an 11″ ovenproof sauté pan in a cold oven and preheat oven to 475° F. While the oven and pan heats, place the eggs, flour, sugar (optional), milk, and vanilla in a blender. Blend on high until frothy, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and blend again if necessary. Once the oven reaches the required temperature, remove the sauté pan. (Be sure not to touch the handle of the pan by accident without an oven mitt. The pan will be VERY hot!) Add the butter and return the pan to the oven. After the butter melts, about 2 minutes, remove the pan once again and carefully pour the batter inside. Return the pan back into the oven and allow the batter to bake for about 17-19 minutes, or until the  pancake is lightly brown on top and the sides have risen.

When the pancake is fully cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Allow the pancake to cool for about 3 minutes before cutting it into wedges. If you choose, serve with whipped cream and sliced orange rounds or fresh berries.

*My children love to watch the pancake balloon while baking, so I recommend turning the oven light on and taking a peek now and then. Just be sure no one leans up against the oven glass in the thick of excitement, particularly if your oven is situated low to the floor!

Whipped Cream Recipe:

1 c. heavy cream, chilled
1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, add the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until the mixture has a thick consistency. Taste and add more sugar if you like. Keep chilled until ready to use.

TDB Homemade: Guacamole

Super Bowl weekend is rapidly approaching, and for some, that means hosting a party and making numerous appetizers to stave off hunger during the hours it takes to watch the game. With ballet in our blood, the Dancing Buckeyes are more at home in the theater than the stadium. But considering that the NY Giants will be playing, I’m sure my New York City household will at least watch some highlights from the game, and guacamole is certain to be gracing our menu that day!

Guacamole is one of those beloved accompaniments to the ubiquitous game-watching tortilla chip. You can tweak it to your liking, adding more or less spice, plus it’s extremely healthy, which you can’t claim about numerous other chip dips. So whether or not you will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend, you may eventually have a need to enjoy a dip or two of guacamole.

1  ripe avocado
4-5 grape tomatoes
1 Tbl. finely diced onion (red or white)
1 clove garlic, pressed
small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
twist of lime (about 1 tsp.)
1 small dried chile, crushed (optional)
salt to taste

Slice lengthwise through the avocado , around the seed, to divide the avocado in half. With a spoon, scoop out the flesh from the shell. Remove the avocado seed by hitting a knife into its center, then twisting clockwise. The seed should easily be removed if the avocado is fully ripe. If, for some reason, the knife won’t remove the seed, you should be able to push it out with a spoon.

Place the avocado flesh in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until you have a smooth, silky texture. If you prefer, leave a few medium size chunks of avocado for a slightly different texture. Add the onion and garlic. Squeeze the juice and seeds from the tomatoes and chop them into quarters. Add to the bowl. Add the cilantro, dried chili (optional), and salt. Add the twist of lime. You may also add some lime zest if you choose, which adds another level of zesty citrus. Combine all the ingredients together. Taste and add more salt if you need. If you choose not to add the dried chili, you may want to add a good grind of fresh pepper. Serve with some blue corn chips (my favorite brand is, Xochitl) for an added burst of color. Go team…..and go guacamole!!!!

Tips and variations:

  • Guacamole is very versatile and should be made to taste. Feel free to adjust the amounts on any of the ingredients.
  • Add a bit of finely diced jalapeñ0 or a pinch of chili powder for another dimension of flavor.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled!) depending on your crowd and appetites.
  • Guacamole is best when made fresh because it oxidizes very quickly. If yours must be made a few hours ahead of time, or if you have any leftovers, preserve its freshness by covering it with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent air contact.
  • Guacamole makes a great spread on sandwiches, by itself or mixed with a just a bit of mayo.

Cilantro-Tomato Sauce Over Chicken

This recipe came about when trying to concoct something for dinner that would use up several random items hanging out in my fridge. And, as luck would have it that night, my family loved it! The cilantro-tomato sauce works very well with chicken, but it can be served over rice, vegetables, tofu, potatoes, eggs, or fish, as well.  In fact, this is a wonderful recipe for when you are cooking for vegetarians and meat eaters in the same meal because you can keep the sauce and meat separate until the very end. This also makes a great weeknight meal — with a little prep work, your entire dinner can easily come together in 20-30 minutes.

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup buttermilk (for marinating the chicken — optional)
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cups or 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbl. tomato paste
zest from one lemon
1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt (can be substituted with sour cream or buttermilk)
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Either in the morning or the night before you plan to make this (8-24 hours prior), prepare your chicken by trimming the fat and cutting the breasts into small serving sizes, about 4 pieces per breast. The small size makes the cooking go fast, and it also gives a lot of surface area to be coated with sauce later on. Place the chicken in a well-sealed container with the buttermilk and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Let sit in the refrigerator until ready to cook.  You can omit this step, if you want, but the buttermilk makes the meat super moist and tender.

Prepare a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to grease the bottom. Drain and pat dry your chicken breast pieces; season them on both sides with a little salt and pepper. Lightly brown the chicken in a single layer in the pan, about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on the heat and size of your cuts. When lightly browned and fully cooked, remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or sauce pan over medium heat and add a quarter cup of olive oil — the oil should be hot, but not smoking. Add the garlic, ginger, and cumin. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes while the mixture becomes fragrant. Stir in one cup of the chopped cilantro leaves, the tomato paste, the diced tomatoes, and the lemon zest and bring to a slow simmer. If necessary, add 1/4-1/2 cup of water to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, or cilantro, if desired. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and, using a standing blender or immersion blender, purée the sauce until smooth (just be very careful if you have to transfer the sauce out of the pan to do this!) Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the yogurt. At this point, the sauce is ready to be served over vegetables, rice, eggs, etc.  However, when serving chicken, add the browned chicken to your pan and cook over low heat for just a few more minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

I like to serve this dish with simple brown rice and steamed vegetables. Fresh green beans pair very nicely, as does a light, citrusy white wine. Feel free to garnish your meal with any remaining chopped cilantro. Quick, healthy, versatile, and delicious – enjoy!

TDB Homemade: Ginger Ale

I’ve had my eye on a water carbonation system, namely a Soda Stream, for quite a while now. So you can imagine my joy when my husband gave one to me for Christmas. I enjoy a good glass of bubbly water every now and then to give me a little lift. I just don’t enjoy lugging bottles of the stuff from the grocery store up to my apartment; a dilemma not faced by my suburbanite driving counterparts. (Sometimes I do envy you all!) Sparkling water is a fantastic alternative to sugar-laden sodas. You get the fizz without any of the calories or potentially harmful ingredients, like phosphoric acid and caffeine.

For a long while, I upheld the myth that carbonation actually leached calcium from your body. Honestly, it was the main reason holding me back from consuming numerous glasses of the stuff on a daily basis. But after doing a bit of research, I am happy to share with you that carbonation is not the calcium-leaching culprit it has been made out to be. Many sodas contain phosphoric acid and have been linked to an increase in bone fractures among children and postmenopausal women. Now, I’m not going to tell you not to have a soda here and there if you so choose. The problem occurs when it becomes your main source of liquid on a daily basis.

I have not consumed soda pop regularly since my childhood years, as I now find it to be overly sweet and harshly carbonated. Occasionally my husband has the urge to stock the refrigerator with cans of cola, but soda is not a regular commodity found in our home, and our children, except for the occasional Italian soda at a restaurant, have never consumed the stuff. If parents realized their children’s teeth were getting an acid bath of phosphoric acid, followed by a nice coating of liquid sugar, they probably would not be so willing to whip out the “pop” from the fridge door so easily. (I won’t even go into the time on the subway when I saw a mother give her baby cola in a bottle! Yikes!!!)

So what about those times, like when your stomach is a bit queasy, when a can of soda feels exactly what the doctor ordered? You could go to the store and buy a can or two, but why not make a delicious and healthier option at home? Trust me, it’s not as difficult as you may think. And anything you make from scratch is always more delicious than the store-bought version! May I suggest to you a homemade ginger ale? Ginger possesses numerous health benefits, such as gastrointestinal, nausea, and motion sickness relief, as well as anti-inflammatory effects and possible protection against colorectal cancer. Not so shabby for a little spicy, underground rhizome [rootstock]!

Being a fan of ginger ale, and not wanting to buy the artificial caramel color and high fructose corn syrup version, or shell out almost $8 for a four-pack of high-end, organic ginger ale, I opted to make my own version. What I like most about making homemade ginger ale, is that you can vary the sweetness or spiciness, depending on your palate. I also included another drink recipe below, which incorporates ginger ale, kiwi, and mint. And when Halloween falls upon us once again, the kiwi drinks makes a fantastic “witch’s brew,” which can be consumed with or without a splash of alcohol, depending on the size of witches in your home. Cheers!

Ginger Ale:

1 -5″ piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8″ rounds
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
carbonated water

Add the peeled, sliced ginger, sugar, and water to a small saucepan. Give it a good stir. On low heat, slowly bring the water to a boil, stirring every minute or so, to make sure the sugar is dissolving nicely into the water. Allow this process to go on for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the heat and allow the ginger to seep into the simple syrup until the liquid has cooled. Pour the ginger and the syrup into a glass container with a top and store in the fridge. The ginger syrup should stay well in the fridge for a few months, just like any other fruit preserve. However, I seriously doubt it will last that long!

To make the ginger ale, pour about 2 Tbl. of the ginger syrup into a glass. Add about 8 oz. of carbonated water. Give it a gentle stir and you are ready to take your first sip of homemade ginger ale…….ahhhhh! Refreshing, isn’t it?!?

Kiwi Ginger Ale with Mint (aka Witch’s Brew):

6 kiwis, peeled and roughly chopped
5-6 c. ginger ale (see recipe above)
large bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed from stem

Place the kiwi and mint into a food processor and process until there are no large chunks of kiwi remaining and the mint is finely chopped. Pour the kiwi mixture into a large pitcher and add the ginger ale. Add some vodka or rum, if you desire. Refrigerate until chilled. The drink will separate in the fridge, so just give it a good stir before serving.

Winter Chicken Stew

Every Wednesday I try to browse through the Dining section of the New York Times, looking for interesting recipes and other food-related news. Last week I came across a recipe for an Italian-style rabbit stew, and since I thoroughly enjoy rabbit, I tore out the article and tucked it into my stack of “to try” recipes. As I was planning my upcoming week’s dinners, I decided to pull out the rabbit stew recipe and give it a whirl. I placed a call to one of my local grocers, who specializes in carrying wild game, to make sure they had some on hand. I had never had a problem ordering rabbit in the past, but after three days and still no rabbit, I gave in, settling for some organic, free-range chicken instead. I must say, I was pretty happy with the results, and I hope you will be, too.

9 whole chicken legs (preferably organic), skin removed
olive oil
flour, for dredging
2 md. onions, finely diced
3 leeks, cleaned and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbl. rosemary, leaves removed from stem and roughly chopped
8 oz. baby Portobello mushrooms (or a mix of wild mushrooms)
1 c. chopped canned tomatoes
1/2 c. beer
1 c. unsalted or low-sodium chicken broth

Prepare all your vegetables; set aside. (Be sure to remove all the silt and dirt that tends to accumulate between the layers of the leek. This is most easily accomplished by slicing the leek in half, chopping it into pieces, then thoroughly rinsing the pieces inside a colander.) Season the pieces of chicken with salt and pepper; set aside. Prepare a large Dutch oven, or other oven-proof dish with a lid, with about 1/4 of an inch of olive oil on high heat. Prepare some flour onto a large plate and dredge each chicken leg, shaking off any excess flour. When the oil is hot, lightly brown the chicken on both sides, working in batches of about 3 legs at a time. Remove and set aside on a large plate.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lower the heat to medium and add the chopped vegetables and rosemary to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cook for about 4 minutes. Be sure to add a bit more olive oil if the vegetable mix becomes too dry. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the tomatoes and beer. Allow the liquid to reduce for about 2-3 minutes. Add the broth and adjust seasonings to your liking. Place the chicken legs into the pan, spooning the mixture evenly over top. Cover the Dutch oven or dish you will be using in the oven. Place it into the oven and allow it to cook for about 1-1.5 hours. Serve with a side of rice or pasta of your choice, or even a simple, crusty baguette.

If you would like to try the rabbit version that inspired this dish, you can find the NYT recipe here.

Oven Roasted Tomato & Pepper Pasta

For one reason or another, I have been on a veggie roasting spree. I came up with this recipe one afternoon, when I saw that the bowl of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter looked like they didn’t have more than a day left in their life span, and I recalled that red pepper sitting in my fridge that could use a culinary rescue asap. Once you’ve assembled your vegetables together and placed them in the oven, you can sit back and relax- ok, or clean the house, do the laundry, bathe the children, etc- until they’re done roasting. Chop some basil, boil some water, cook your pasta, and you are good to go. During the winter months, when summer heirloom tomatoes are a distant memory, grape and cherry tomatoes tend to be sweet and ripe, which is why I tend to have them on hand to use in salads and just as snacks. This dish is quite easy on the pocket with fabulously delicious results. Then, again, it’s usually the simpler things in life that are (and taste!) better.

1 lb. (box) of pasta, whatever shape you prefer
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves or quarters
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in halves
1 red pepper, seeds removed, chopped roughly
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
medium handful of fresh thyme stalks (optional)
1 large handful of fresh basil, torn in pieces by hand
1/2 c. olive oil
1/3-1/2 c. chicken stock
2 Tbl. butter (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, for grating

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Meanwhile, in a large roasting pan, place all your sliced tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and thyme (if using). Add the olive oil and sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. With your hands, toss the vegetables, making sure everything is coated nicely with oil. Pour the chicken stock into the pan from one corner, as you just want the liquid to remain at the bottom of the pan and not remove all the spices and oil from your vegetables. Place the pan into the preheated oven and allow the vegetables to roast for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until the tomatoes and peppers’ skins are wrinkled and browned nicely, and you begin to smell that lovely roasted smell wafting from your oven. From time to time, while the veggies roast, check to see if you need to shake the pan a bit to loosen any pieces that may be sticking to the pan, or if you need to add any more oil or liquid.

While the vegetables are roasting in the oven, bring a large stock pot of salted water to a rolling boil. About 10 minutes before your veggies finish roasting, begin to cook your pasta. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, making sure to reserve a bit of the cooking water (about a cup or so). Toss in everything from your roasting pan, making sure to remove any of the thyme stalks, if you chose to include this ingredient. Add the butter and torn basil. Give everything a few good stirs. Adjust the seasonings, and if you need some more liquid in the sauce, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water. This dish is fantastic on its own, but if you crave something heartier, you could always include a few meatballs on the side.

Weekend Fried Rice

On the weekends, you may have to throw a fabulously complicated dinner party. However, most weekends are my time to “relax” a bit and not worry about getting the dishwasher unloaded from the night before, a load of laundry started, and escorting my son to school, all before 8:15 am! A leisure morning of pancakes and eggs, along with a late morning shower are all in order. I also don’t enjoy grocery shopping on the weekends. (Well, except for going to the farmer’s market!) And that usually leaves my fridge full of fantastic left-overs for lunch and a number of odd ingredients to throw together for an early evening weekend meal.

After an unusually warm January day in New York, filled with train rides downtown and afternoons spent in the playground, I was left with little time to throw together something for dinner. Luckily I had a few ingredients in my fridge, which allowed me to create a fantastic fried rice. It’s always a good idea to try to stock your pantry with a few items you enjoy, so when you are pinched with time, or mere idleness, you have the ability to whip up something easily that, at the very least, tastes fantastic.

I tend to stock my fridge with sweet peppers and fresh herbs and my pantry with coconut milk, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and various spices, such as cumin, curry, turmeric, and coriander. Most likely you have some left-over meat in your fridge, just waiting to be incorporated into a new dish. And if you don’t, no worries! You could always make a strictly vegetarian fried rice. The following recipe is what I had on hand today, but they are simply a guideline. Feel free to incorporate whatever you may have lying around your kitchen. And by all means, feel free to alter the amounts of each ingredient to your liking. I tend to put a splash of something here and there while cooking fried rice, without exactly measuring, so if you happen not to have a certain ingredient, you can always exclude or substitute it with another.

Yield: 4 adult dinner portions

1 1/2 c. jasmine or basmati rice
1 c. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 Tbl. butter, or oil
2 strips of bacon, heritage breed/organic preferred, chopped into very fine pieces
3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 red bell pepper, preferably organic
1/4 c. frozen (or fresh) peas
8 oz. coconut milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. peanut oil
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. whole corianer seeds, ground
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
2 Tbl. organic, low-sodium soy sauce
splash of rice vinegar
small squirt of rooster sauce
large handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely

Cook the rice with the chicken stock and butter. You may omit the chicken stock if you prefer, however it does give the rice another nice element of flavor, which the water can not provide. Keep covered; set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare each of the above ingredients, setting them aside until you are ready to heat your pan. Preferably, use a wok, however, if you don’t own one, you can still prepare a delicious stir fry with a large skillet. Add about 1/3 c. of peanut oil, or other vegetable oil, to your prepared, hot pan. Once hot, add the bacon (Note: if you are using another type of meat, such as a left-over steak or chicken, add the meat in at the end, just to heat through.) and allow to cook on medium-high heat. After about 2 minutes, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and dry spices. Add the chopped red pepper and allow it to cook for 1-2 mintues. Add the coconut milk, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish, oyster, and rooster sauce. Once you begin to smell the aromas of the spices, after about 2-3 minutes, add the beaten egg, being careful to contanstantly stir it until it has incorporated nicely. Add the peas and green onions, and give the dish a good stir or two. Add the cooked rice and soy sauce. Stir to combine. Take a taste and add whatever seems to be missing.

And that’s it! A nice, simple, tasty dish to satisfy just about anyone after a busy weekend afternoon. Enjoy the weekend and happy eating!