Zuppa Toscana

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Wintertime is soup time! Last night I made zuppa toscana, which is apparently a soup made famous by Olive Garden (??) I personally had never heard of it before yesterday when I was browsing the food blog Budget Bytes (perfect for poor students like myself). I thought it looked delicious and easy to make, and I already had most of the ingredients on hand. The version I’ve made is much lighter than the restaurant version.

I ended up making a lot of modifications, mostly to the meat and the seasonings. Because the original recipe calls for Italian Sausage, there weren’t any additional seasonings included in the recipe. I did not have sausage and didn’t want to buy it, so I used some farmer’s market ground beef we had in the freezer. Because the beef was just plain, I looked up typical spices used in Italian Sausage and just added those to my browning meat separately. More details below.

Before we get to the recipe though, I want to point out that the real star of this soup is this beautiful, handmade ceramic bowl that I received as a Christmas gift (and it was part of a larger set!) from Boyfriend’s sister! A wonderful present. Also, since we got engaged in December, I guess Boyfriend is now Fiance. 2015 was a big year.

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Recipe

  • ½ lb. Italian Sausage (hot or mild)–Like I stated before, I used ground beef and added about 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of the following spices: oregano, basil, garlic salt, cayenne pepper (1/8 tsp), thyme.
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 (15 oz.) can Great Northern beans–I used cannellini beans since I already had some in the pantry
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 cups chicken broth–I used “better than bouillon” chicken base, 1 tsp for every 1 cup of water.
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups half and half–I cut this down to just 1 cup
  • 3 medium red potatoes (1.5-1.75 lbs.)
  • 1 bunch (8 oz.) kale
  • pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • freshly cracked black pepper (optional)

My process (for nice step-by-step pictures, go to Budget Bytes’ original recipe)

  1. Saute the ground beef in a large pot. I added about 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to this. Add oregano, basil, thyme, a little bit of garlic salt, a little bit of cayenne pepper.
  2. Add onion and garlic. Wait for onion to soften, stirring occasionally.
  3. Drain, rinse beans and add to the pot.
  4. Add chicken broth, paprika, 1 cup water. Put the lid on and simmer for a bit.
    1. In the original recipe, she added half-and-half here. I waited until the end to add this because in a review I read some people had issues with the dairy curdling while on heat.
  5. Add potatoes (quartered, sliced thin). Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until potato softens. Test to make sure you don’t have any raw potatoes.
  6. Add kale. It’ll take up a lot of space in the pot but will very quickly wilt into the soup.
  7. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes, or longer, depending on how things taste when you test it.
  8. Add half-and-half! You can add up to 2 cups. I added only 1 cup, tasted it, and it was plenty creamy for me.

Boyfriend/Fiance was a big fan, probably because I NEVER make meat dishes and this was like the one time this year where he had meat in a meal that he didn’t make himself… aside from that, it’s filling, creamy, savory, and full of yummy vegetables like kale, potato, onion, and beans!

We put it in the fridge and had it for leftovers the next day; still great.

Spinach, Onion, and Cheese Quiche

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This past 4th of July, my boyfriend and I drove upstate to visit his mother’s side of the family. The countryside was beautiful, the people were lovely, I shot a gun for the first time in my life (!!!) but of course the real star of the weekend was the food!

Quiche probably isn’t the most patriotic meal, but my boyfriend’s Aunt W made us a great breakfast the morning of July 5th with quiche as a centerpiece and it was delicious.

I’ve made quiche several times before (and blogged about it here as well, once) but I’ve never been able to truly wow myself with my own efforts. Either I didn’t have the right recipe, the right crust, or the right baking time/temp–in any case, my quiches were underwhelming and occasionally watery??? I’m not sure if I didn’t cook the vegetables enough or what, but sometimes my quiche came out watery. It sounds gross and it was not the most appetizing. Boyfriend ate it without a complaint because he is contractually obligated to do so.

ANYWAY, it didn’t happen this time! I also deviated from the recipe which called for using a pie pan. I usually use a regular glass pie pan as well, but this time I used a cast-iron skillet which was a wonderful housewarming gift from a good college friend who recently visited us in NY. I don’t know what it is about cast-iron but it makes everything seem more authentic and I can pretend like I’m a real professional cook. It also looks better in pictures.

Aunt W says: “This recipe is very forgiving. I often substitute if I do not have exact ingredients. I really like to use this pastry shell for quiche. I like the flavor and the flakiness the the oil gives.”

My thoughts: The pastry shell is indeed super flaky, no doubt about it. A great oil crust. I’ll use this oil crust recipe again, maybe for other items as well. And the recipe was quite forgiving. Instead of 1 cup milk and 1 cup cream, I just used 1.5 cups milk (didn’t have any cream). I also quickly cooked up spinach and onions instead of broccoli, and used a mix of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. I didn’t put in any meat.

Pastry Shell (can mix in the pan, but I mixed in a bowl then pressed into the pan with fingers)
1.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
2 Tablespoon milk

Measure all ingredients into 9” pie pan (I used a 10″ cast-iron skillet) and toss together with a fork. Press into shape and flute edges.

Quiche egg filling
3 eggs
1 cup light cream
1 cup milk (I omitted cream and used 1.5 cups milk)
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
about 1 cup of whatever cheese (Aunt W had used grated swiss, I used shredded mozz and grated parmesan)

Mix the eggs, cream, salt, pepper together. Hold cheese.

Veggies
1 clove garlic
1/4 of a large onion
2 cups of loosely packed spinach

Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into a pan; saute garlic and onion until slightly translucent. Add in spinach, cook until just wilted, do not overcook.

Put it together:
Scoop veggie mix into the bottom of the pastry shell. Sprinkle cheese. Pour in egg/cream quiche filling mix.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.

Green Lentil Curry

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This is my go-to lentil curry recipe. I’ve made it several times now and it always makes for a filling dinner and delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. It’s also vegetarian! Actually, it’s probably vegan if you serve without yogurt.

A couple things I’ve found to be important as I made and re-made this recipe over the past year:

– Having the right spices makes a big difference. The first few times I made this, I didn’t have cumin seeds or coriander. They were a little pricey and not at my usual grocery store. But when I finally got some and added them to this dish, I figured out what I’d been missing the whole time.

– Eat with full-fat yogurt! Non-fat is not as good,of course 🙂 Full-fat everything!

– Curry is hard to photograph. Especially this color curry.

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Recipe (from here)

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
  • 1 1/4 cups dried green lentils
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 ounces green beans, cut into 3/4-inch lengths
  • 4 ounces kale, stemmed and leaves finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  1. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, coriander and ground cumin. Stir in 1/4 cup of water to make a paste. In a small skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and cook over moderately high heat for 5 seconds, just until sizzling. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the spice paste and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until thick, about 1 minute longer.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the lentils with the turmeric and 5 cups of water; bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are barely tender. Add the green beans, kale, carrot, three-fourths of the cilantro and the cayenne and season with salt. Cook until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 15 minutes. Scrape in the spice paste and the remaining cilantro. Simmer for 5 minutes, then serve with rice, naan, and/or plain yogurt.

Simple Apple Tart

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Yum! It’s summer and warm again!

This apple tart is really easy to make and can be in any shape or form you’d like it to be in. I ended up making a long oval-ish apple tart because I had a few too many apples compared to my tart crust, but in the original recipe photos, it’s a cuter circle shape. If you’re craving anything with apple and cinnamon and sugar, this is a very fast, quick option.

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The crust is buttery and flakey

Since I’m a student, cost is always an issue with any new recipes I try, and I’m happy to say that this dessert is very cheap! I used two little apples and I already had the baking essentials (flour, sugar, salt, etc.) in my pantry.

Recipe (original from Taste of Home)

Crust
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
6-1/2 teaspoons cold water
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling
1-1/2 cups chopped peeled tart apples (I didn’t peel mine)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon

Topping
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping, warmed (I didn’t include this)

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Apples + Cinnamon + Sugar = Winning combination!

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Gradually add water and vanilla, tossing with a fork until dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 10-in. circle. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Combine the filling ingredients; spoon over pastry to within 2 in. of edges. Fold up edges of pastry over filling, leaving center uncovered. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over filling.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. Drizzle with caramel topping (optional). Serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings (my boyfriend and I usually finish it off between the two of us in one sitting though…)

Warm Red Potato Salad with Cilantro and Toasted Cumin

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Last week we bought a bunch of cilantro to use in some fish tacos for Boyfriend’s birthday. We forgot about it in the fridge that night, and resolved to use it for our next batch of tacos. We forgot about it again. And again. And again. That bunch of cilantro began to haunt me.

So this weekend I made it my personal goal to do something with it. I googled things like, “What to do with a ton of cilantro???” and “I have so much cilantro! HELP!” and encountered many other people on the internet with the same problem as me.

I found this recipe and was intrigued, because I had never before considered potato salad with cilantro and cumin seeds, but it turned out so fragrant and delicious it kind of seems like a no-brainer.

We ended up getting some chicken tikka masala from a tiny Indian take-out place near our apartment to pair with it. It’s also great as a side dish or a small meal on its own.

Recipe taken and adapted from the kitchn.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds red potatoes, chopped into roughly 2-inch pieces (I used 4 medium-sized red potatoes)
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed and removed
3 large shallots (I substituted one small red onion)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin
1/2 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil a large pot of water with 2 tbsp of added salt. Add the diced potatoes and cook until tender, but not completely mushy. Drain and return to the pot.

Chop the cilantro roughly and stir it into the hot potatoes. Slice the shallots (or red onion onion) thinly and stir them in too.

Pour the olive oil oil into a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is quite hot, stir in the whole cumin seeds. Cook for about 45 seconds, stirring frequently, until the cumin and oil smell toasty and the cumin has darkened slightly. Pour the contents of the skillet over the potatoes (watch out, as some of the seeds may pop as they hit the cooler pan). Stir thoroughly.

Juice the 1/2 lemon and stir the juice in as well. Season to taste with black pepper, and any additional salt, if needed.