Monthly Archives: October 2016

Pumpkin and Swiss Chard Lasagna

I was hesitant to post a recipe with pumpkin this season because of pumpkin spice overload. Come fall, most markets dedicate a whole section to products with pumpkin spice. Trader Joe’s started this trend a few of years ago and other supermarkets quickly followed suit. There is pumpkin spice in chips, crackers, BBQ marinade, and even in kombucha. It has gotten so out of control, Anthony Bourdain said “I would like to see the pumpkin spice craze drowned in its own blood. Quickly.” Even though this lasagna recipe doesn’t contain any pumpkin spice, pumpkin has gotten a bad rap, kind of an instance of guilt by association.

Despite Bourdain’s loathing of pumpkin spice, pumpkin is a wonderful autumnal ingredient perfect for savory dishes. This pumpkin lasagna recipe is a nice change from your traditional meat sauce lasagna. There are two layers of pumpkin purée and one layer of Swiss chard/ricotta, and the dish is topped with béchamel, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. There is also sage brown butter in the pumpkin purée, which adds a layer of nutty and woody flavor. There is some advanced preparation involved before assembling the lasagna, so plan ahead. This a good dish for a crowd, or if you omit the chicken stock, a nice vegetarian option at a potluck. Serve it with a side salad for a complete meal. Enjoy!

Serving Size: about 12

Non-cooking spray, preferably olive oil-based
Béchamel sauce (see below)
1 lb. of lasagna noodles, no-boil
Cooked Swiss chard (recipe below)
Pumpkin layer (recipe below)
Ricotta layer (recipe below)
1 cup of grated mozzarella
1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup of chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°

2. Spray the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ x 3″ baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Ladle and spread half of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of the baking pan.

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3. Place 4 lasagna sheets, overlapping, on top of the béchamel layer.

4. Spread 1/2 of the pumpkin mixture on top of the lasagna noodles.

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5. Add another layer of lasagna sheets.

6. Spread the remaining ricotta mixture on top of the lasagna sheets.

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7. Evenly spoon all of the Swiss chard mixture and top with 1/2 of the grated mozzarella.

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8. Add another layer of lasagna sheets.

9. Spread the remaining pumpkin mixture on top of the lasagna noodles.

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10. Add another layer of lasagna noodles.

11. Ladle and spread the remaining béchamel, then the remaining mozzarella, and finally the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. If using, pour the chicken stock along the sides. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes.

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12.  Remove foil and increase the heat to 400° and bake for 10 additional minutes.

13. Place the lasagna on a cooling rack. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Swiss Chard

2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of chopped onions
1 teaspoon of chopped thyme leaves
Pinch of red pepper flakes
8 cups of chopped Swiss chard
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté of for 15 seconds. Add the onions and thyme leaves. Sauté for 3 minutes.

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2. Add all of the Swiss chard and red pepper flakes. Sauté and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Season to taste.

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3. Add the lemon juice and transfer to a bowl until ready to use.

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Béchamel sauce

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of low-fat milk, heated
3/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1 pinch of ground nutmeg (half of 1/8 teaspoon)
Freshly ground pepper

1. Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and stir until melted.

2. Slowly rain in the flour while whisking to prevent clumping. Cook while whisking for about 1 minute.

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3. While whisking, slowly add the heated milk. Add the salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Continue to whisk and cook until the sauce thickens and the mixture bubbles on the sides. Turn off the heat. Set aside until ready to use.

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Pumpkin layer

2 tablespoons of butter
8 fresh sage leaves
3 cups of cooked pumpkin (fresh or canned)
3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper

1. In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sage leaves. Cook until the butter turns brown and toasty. Turn off the heat, remove the sage leaves and set aside.

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2. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, nutmeg and few turns of the pepper mill. Stir to combine.

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3. Add the brown butter. Stir well and set aside until ready to use.

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Ricotta layer

1 1/2 cup of ricotta
1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

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Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai was one of the first Thai recipes l learned how to make back in college. This fragrant chicken coconut soup has a lovely balance of many flavors: spicy, savory, sour, and slightly sweet. The wonderful flavors come from the combination of a variety of ingredients: galangal root, Kaffir lime leaves, garlic, lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce, chili paste and coconut milk. The coconut milk adds a level of creaminess without making the soup heavy. This Thai dish and a few others were taught to me by an incredibly talented Thai chef who was in the United States on a temporary work visa. Over the course of a few lessons, she taught me this dish along with several others, but unfortunately her visa expired and she had to return to Thailand. I am forever grateful to have met her and to have learned from her the basic foundations of cooking Thai food.

Over time, I made some modifications to this recipe. Instead of the traditional straw mushrooms that most Thai restaurants use in this soup, I added brown beech mushrooms. You can’t find fresh straw mushrooms in the US, only canned versions, and I find that the beech mushrooms are similar in size to the straw mushrooms and have a similar texture. Also, I marinate the chicken pieces and poach them prior to adding them to the soup, which gives the chicken a tender and velvety texture. It is an extra step, but I think it is well worth it in the end. Enjoy!

Tom Kha Gai

Serving Size: 4
8 ounces of boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon of Mirin
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
Kosher salt
8 ounces of Brown Beech mushrooms, trimmed and washed
1-2 teaspoons of Thai chili paste*
1 tablespoon of minced fresh lemongrass
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 cups of homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
6 Kaffir lime leaves, divided
3 two-inch lemongrass stalks, bruised with back of a knife
5 slices of galangal, 1/4″ thickness
3 tablespoons of fish sauce (add more to taste), Red Boat or Three Crabs brand
2 teaspoons of organic sugar
1 1/2 cups of Thai coconut milk**
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice and extra lime wedges for serving
Sea salt to taste
Red jalapeño slices
Thai bird chili slices, optional
Cilantro sprigs for serving

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1. In a small bowl, add the sliced chicken and Mirin. Stir. Sprinkle the baking soda all over the chicken. Stir. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Don’t over marinate to ensure a perfect texture.

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2. Add a quart of water in small pot. Add 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms. Boil for 1 minute. Using a spider strainer, remove the mushrooms and transfer to a bowl.

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3. Bring the same water back to a boil. Add the marinated chicken, reduce heat to a simmer and poach for 1 minute. Turn off heat and set aside.

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4. Heat a 2-quart pot to a medium-high heat. Add the chili paste, garlic, and minced lemongrass. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock, add 3 Kaffir lime leaves and bring to a boil. Strain the stock and return stock to the pot.

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5. Add the lemongrass stalks, galangal, the fish sauce, sugar and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.

6. Strain the poached chicken and add it to the soup along with the mushrooms and simmer for 1 more minute. Add the lime juice, 3 Kaffir lime leaves, a few slices of the red jalapeño, and the Thai bird chili (if you like it really spicy).

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7. Ladle in individual bowls with a couple sprigs of cilantro. Serve with extra lime wedge.

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*You can find Thai chili paste at your local Thai or large Asian supermarket. Make sure you purchase Thai chili paste in soy bean sauce.

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**Thai coconut milk is available in the Asian food isle at you local supermarket.

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Apple Cider Breakfast Cake

Growing up and living in Southern California, it feels like summer all-year round, but my favorite season is fall, and it’s such a treat to see fall foliage when I visit my friends in New Jersey and Delaware. I recently learned of Oak Glen, a small section of Yucaipa just an hour and a half away from LA, where you can experience fall like on the East Coast. Oak Glen is famous for their apple orchards, and the leaves on the apple trees transform to various shades of autumn. Visitors from all over Southern California make the trek this time of year to go apple picking and purchase delicious apple cider. My trip yesterday inspired me to make a breakfast cake using the apples from their farm.

This breakfast cake, similar to coffee cake, has layers of apple flavors with grated apples, chopped apples and apple cider. You also taste the lovely warm spices of fall like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The cake is incredibly moist with a nice crispy cinnamon and sugar topping. It’s perfect for breakfast, bunch or an afternoon snack and pairs well with hot apple cider or coffee. Enjoy and Happy Fall!

Apple Cider Breakfast Cake

Serving Size: 9 slices

1 2/3 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon of ground allspice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of neutral oil like sunflower or organic canola
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of fresh-pressed apple cider*
1/2 cup of grated apples (Pippin, Fuji, Pink Lady or your favorite baking apple)
2 cups of diced apples, 1/2 inch (same apple type as above)

Topping
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 325°. Grease a 9 x 9 square a pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, Kosher salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice. Whisk and set aside.

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3. In a large bowl, add the eggs, oil, and apple cider. Whisk well.

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4. Add in the flour and sugar mixture to the wet ingredients. Fold in with a rubber spatula until only a few streaks of flour are visible.

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5. Add the grated and diced apples and gently fold to combine. Don’t over mix.

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6. Pour the batter into the greased baking pan.

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7. Whisk the topping ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly on top of the batter.

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8. Bake in the oven for about 40- 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to test for doneness.

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9. Place the cake on a wired rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm with a cup of hot apple cider or coffee. Enjoy.

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*You can find fresh-pressed apple cider at your local apple farm or farmers market during the fall. You can substitute store-bought cider if fresh-pressed Apple cider isn’t available.

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Gemelli Pasta with Assorted Mushrooms

We normally associate October with pumpkins, Halloween, and all things fall, but did you know we have dedicated the whole month of October to pasta? It’s not surprising since pasta is one of America’s favorite foods. So in honor of National Pasta Month, I am sharing an easy pasta recipe with some delicious fall mushrooms. If you love mushrooms, you will enjoy this pasta recipe. Unlike most of my previous pasta dishes, this recipe is made with store-bought pasta and easy to prepare on a weeknight. This pasta dish has layers of umami flavor, from the porcini water to the truffle salt. Also, the mushrooms aren’t masked in a thick creamy sauce; instead they are sautéed, so you can taste each type of mushroom in the dish. Gemelli or penne works well with a sauceless recipe. There is a method to the madness of the 60+ types of traditional pasta shapes in Italy. The type of sauce and ingredients will dictate the appropriate pasta to use.

In this recipe I have a couple of optional ingredients. I like adding chopped toasted walnuts to provide a contrast in texture, but I made it optional since my son and husband prefer the pasta without nuts. Also, the truffle salt adds a wonderful fragrance to the dish, but it is expensive and not essential. If you happen to have some truffle salt in your pantry, definitely sprinkle some on the pasta, but don’t go out of your way to buy some. Either way, the pasta will be tasty. Enjoy!

Gemelli Pasta with Assorted Mushrooms

Serving Size: 4-6

1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms*
1/2 cup of hot water
Extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
12 ounces of dried gemelli or penne pasta
12 ounces of assorted mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, chanterelles, oysters, maitake, etc.)
1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped thyme leaves
Sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of heavy cream (optional)
1/4 cup of chopped Italian parsley, plus extra for serving
1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra shavings for serving
1/2 cup of toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
Black truffle salt (optional)

1. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup of hot water. Set aside.

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2. Prep the fresh mushrooms by cleaning with damp cloth to remove any dirt. Slice and/or quarter the mushrooms. Set aside.

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3. Heat a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for 15 seconds.

 

4. Add the all mushrooms, chopped thyme, a pinch of sea salt, and a few turns of the pepper mill.

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5. Meanwhile, add 3 quarts of water and a handful of Kosher salt in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil.

6. Sauté the mushrooms for about 8 minutes until the mushrooms are full cooked. Transfer to a plate. Set aside.

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7. In the same large sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the sliced red onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat.

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8. Add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente (See instructions on package).

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9. Drain the porcini mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Finely chop the porcini mushrooms. Add the chopped porcini, the reserved liquid, and a pinch of sea salt to the pan with the red onions. Turn the heat up to high. Cook for 2 minutes.

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10. Whisk in the the butter and cook for 1 minute.

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11. Add the cream and cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

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12. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add the cooked pasta, the reserved sautéed mushrooms, the chopped parsley, and the grated Parmigiano-reggiano. Stir to combine and cook for 1 more minute. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen pasta.Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle extra olive oil.

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13. Spoon some pasta in a serving bowl. Sprinkle truffle salt, chopped walnuts, chopped parsley, and a few shavings of Parmigiano-reggiano.

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*I buy my dried porcini mushrooms from a mushroom vendor at my local farmers market. Dried porcini mushroom can also be found online or at a specialty gourmet market.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cookies

There is a reason why Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is the best selling candy bar in the United States. The candy bar is the perfect marriage of chocolate and peanut butter and it’s one of my favorite candy bars. I never buy them, but every Halloween I find myself scavenging through my kids’ trick-or-treat bags, looking for that distinct orange wrapper. I wanted to capture that flavor in a cookie, and I chose to create a chocolate cookie with peanut butter flavor rather than a peanut butter cookie with chocolate flavor. At first glance, you wouldn’t know there was peanut butter in these cookies. They look like chocolate cookies with chocolate chunks, but once you take a bite, both the chocolate and peanut butter flavors are pronounced. It’s rich, soft, and slightly chewy. If you are allergic to peanut butter, you can substitute the peanut butter with an equal amount of almond butter. Either way, the cookies will be delicious. A tall glass of milk is a must for these cookies. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield: about 18 large cookies

1 1/4 cups of Sonora wheat flour* or unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup Valhrona cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature, preferably organic
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of organic creamy peanut butter (w/o sugar or salt)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
6 oz of good quality dark chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

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3. In a stand mixer, add the butter and the sugars. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.

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4. Scrape the sides and add the peanut butter. Beat for 1 more minute.

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5. Scrape the sides again and add the egg and the vanilla extract. Beat until just combined.

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6. Set the mixer to the lowest speed. Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined.

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7. Finally, add the chopped chocolates and mix on low for about 15 seconds.

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8. Using a 3-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop the cookie dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

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9. Press down with the palm of your hand to flatten.

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10. Bake in the the oven for 8-10 minutes. Don’t overbake because you want the cookie to be slightly chewy and soft.

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11. Transfer to a baking sheet and cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm with a tall glass of milk.

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*I like to use the Sonora wheat flour from Grist and Toll.