Maybe I should have called this blog “soups, stews and other soup/stew-related dishes” because it’s true that I post quite a bit of those kinds of recipes. I never used to be a big soup eater, especially the brothy variety. I never felt completely satisfied after finishing a bowl, and Matthew felt the same way. Lately, however, that seems to be a lot of what we eat and they always end up hitting the spot.

I’m also big on making (and subsequently photographing and blogging about) meals that don’t require multiple side dishes to complete the perfect dinner trifecta — grains, veggies, protein. I prefer all three of those things to come together in one meal, be it a stew over rice/polenta or a soup. So that’s probably the main reason for the overload of the latter on this blog.

But that’s OK because they are all YUMMY! Like this soup, for example. When I saw the original recipe online, I immediately thought “Oh, that would be so good with shrimp. And added veggies. And extra spiciness.” So I wrote down all of my changes and voila, delicious! It’s spicy, but still is packed with flavor from the vegetables and shrimp. Feel free to make any changes you’d like — add more or less of your favorite vegetables or experiment with different spices. You could even switch out the shrimp for tofu, chicken or leave it out altogether for a perfect vegetarian meal. This recipe is very versatile.

Spicy Asian Noodle Soup
inspired by The Daily Spud
serves 6

1/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 lime, juice of
1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 tsp sriracha sauce
2 tsp Thai chili garlic paste
1 Tbsp lightly packed brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken broth, +/- 1 cup water
6 oz. thin rice noodles
2 cups cauliflower
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
2 cups packed kale leaves, shredded
3-4 cups napa cabbage, shredded
1 lb raw shrimp, deshelled (I used the 31-40 size)
cilantro, for garnish

In a bowl, mix together first eight ingredients (soy sauce through minced garlic) and set aside. In a large pot, add 6 cups chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add rice noodles, cauliflower, carrot, kale and soy sauce mixture. Lower heat to medium and cook until carrots begin to soften (roughly 5-8 minutes). Add napa cabbage and raw shrimp; cook until shrimp is pink (3-4 minutes). Add extra 1 cup water if necessary. Garnish with cilantro. Consume with abandon (and try not to lick the bowl).

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Otherwise known as Brazilian fish stew, consisting of mostly slurpy, rich, fresh-tasting stuff. Oh, you wanted real ingredients? Fresh white fish couples with coconut milk, cilantro, garlic, bell peppers and (my addition) zucchini in this amazing stew. Yeah, there’s the zucchini again. I can’t seem to stop myself from adding zucchini to nearly every dish. It’s a disorder, I tell you!

But it works here, luckily. I got this recipe from one of the first cooking blogs I started reading, Simply Recipes. Great blog, great recipes. The author, Elise, posted this Moqueca recipe a while ago and I fell in love with it, despite despising (for real) onions and bell peppers at the time. I have since gotten over my fear of both. This is big, for those who know me. I actually took a bite of a RAW red bell pepper the other day and…. and…. found that it tasted…. it tasted… good. How weird.

Anyway! Great recipe, with a few changes to fit my need to shove a few more vegetables into every dish. Enjoy!

Moqueca
minimally adapted from Simply Recipes
serves 4

1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod (I’ve also used fresh tilapia with success), rinsed, bones removed if needed, cut into large portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
2 small-medium zucchini, halved and sliced
2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
1/4 cup green onion greens (scallions), chopped
1 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika (I used regular because that’s all I had)
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
hot rice

In bowl, add fish and coat well with garlic and lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

In large pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened. Then add bell pepper, zucchini, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables are soft (roughly 5-8 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and onion greens. Simmer for 5 minutes then stir in chopped cilantro.

Remove half of vegetables to bowl, then spread remaining vegetables in pan to make a bed for fish. Place fish on top of vegetables, then add back previously removed vegetables to cover fish. Pour coconut milk over fish and bring to simmer. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve atop hot rice and let the comforting flavors seep into your very being.

Isn’t it appropriate for traditions to begin as a newly-married couple? I didn’t set out for that to happen, but after sinking my teeth into this fragrant, yeasty pastry, I decided right then that stollen would become mine and Matthew’s Christmas tradition. Stollen is a popular Christmas bread in Europe, where rum-soaked dried cherries and raisins combine with lemon zest, cardamom seeds and almond paste to form a sweet-scented bread. My family’s dinner tradition (hopefully to be posted soon) is something I look forward to every year — Cornish game hens in a brandied shiitake mushroom sauce with pancetta wild rice. Yum? But now — NOW, my friends — I have an amazing dessert to look forward to as well (and some hilarious memories).

I made this one with my mom, who came up with my stepdad to visit us for our first Christmas. We had a blast as we muddled our way through the recipe for the first time, giggling and cracking jokes every now and then. Who knew cardamom seeds looked so funny once they pop out from their pods? And who knew how far those little pellets can fly? We had our own rendition of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” with the “precious” pellets.  I’m laughing just remembering it.

And, as with EVERY dessert I make, this one came with the inevitable mistakes. I really can’t say what happens to me when I make desserts, but it seems as if I’m handicapped against making them the way they were meant to be made. I must have handicapped my mom, too. Refrigerate dough overnight? Oops! Cool dough before putting browned butter on top? Cool again before sprinkling powdered sugar?? Heh…heh.. oops, oops and oh well! Improvise!

So we did, multiple times — and no one was the wiser when we all dived in and enjoyed the first slice of a new tradition.

*Note: The final, baked product freezes well. Also, try to go the extra mile and find cardamom pods for this recipe instead of ground cardamom. The pods can often be found in bulk bins, allowing you to pick out only as many as you need.

Stollen
slightly adapted from Relish Magazine

Stollen:
8 cardamom pods
1 cup soy milk (or 2% reduced-fat milk), scalded
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried cherries
3 tbsp dark rum or orange juice
2 (.25-ounce) packages active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
2 eggs
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
5 ounces almond paste

Topping:
½ cup butter
powdered sugar

Put cardamom pods in bowl and add hot milk. Let stand for 10 minutes. In separate bowl, combine dried cherries and raisins and add the rum. Let stand. Combine yeast, warm water and 1 tsp sugar in another bowl and set aside until mixture foams (roughly 10 minutes).

Remove cardamom pods from milk and squeeze each softened pod open until black seeds come out. Scrape seeds into milk. Discard the pods. In large bowl, stir yeast into milk mixture. Add 1 cup flour and beat well. Cover mixture (called “sponge”) with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

Place 2 cups flour and butter in food processor (or use pastry cutter) and pulse until combined. Add salt and remaining sugar and pulse a bit more. Drain fruits, reserving liquid. When sponge is ready, add to flour/butter mixture. Add lemon zest, eggs and soaking liquid from fruits. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Now, add fruit, toasted almonds and remaining 1/2 cup flour and mix. Scrape dough into large, oiled bowl and set aside. At this point you can refrigerate the dough overnight or, as I did, let rise for four or five hours.

After dough has risen, punch down and divide in half. On heavily floured surface, gently pull dough into large, oval shape (each of mine were a bit bigger than a sheet of paper). Divide almond paste in half and dot half of oval, the long way, with pieces of almond paste. Fold other half of dough over almond paste and gently close seams. Repeat with second piece of dough.

Transfer to silpat or parchment paper and let rise until dough is puffy or nearly doubled in size (roughly one hour). Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Before end of baking time, begin browning butter. Put 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over medium heat; when butter melts, lower heat and cook until browned (roughly 8 minutes). Once dough has cooled a bit on racks, pour browned butter over top of loaves. After butter has soaked in a bit, generously sift powdered sugar over top.

Let cool (roughly 10-20 minutes, depending on self-control) and cut into thin slices and serve warm, making sure to lick your fruity, buttery and sugary fingertips afterward.

This was one dish whose name I could not for the life of me come up with — there were way too many delicious ingredients to leave out of the title. But, instead of making it “Creamy peanut butter sesame noodles with soy sauce garlic chicken and crunchy radishes and celery,” I stuck with the current title. Thank you, Matthew, who came up with that one within a minute of looking at the ingredient list. And thank goodness for patient husbands who put up with random recipe-title-creating requests.

On to the recipe — yum times infinity! I’ve made this dish dozens upon dozens of times but have never once attempted to stray from the original ingredients. After eating it the first time I knew there was no way you can tamper with this sort of delicious concoction. Creamy peanut butter melds seamlessly in a sauce made with dark sesame oil, garlic, honey, fresh ginger, red pepper flakes and honey. And soy sauce. How could I forget? Once the linguine noodles are cooked, the peanut butter mixture is poured on top, creating a perfectly (I do not use that word lightly here) creamy sauce in a recipe which could happily end there — but thankfully does not. Crunchy is needed to combat creamy, and celery, radishes and freshly sliced green onions fit the bill here. Chicken breasts marinated in garlic soy sauce adds a bit of moist protein perfection.

Oh my goodness, I want to make this again right now as it closes in on midnight. The recipe came from a coworker at my first job as a fledgling reporter in a small town in Southwest Colorado. Loved that place, but seriously, I love this recipe. Hope you do, too. Merry holiday! 😉

Creamy Thai Peanut Noodles with Radishes
serves 4-5

3 chicken breasts, pounded flat
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb linguine noodles
2/3 cup soy sauce, halved
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp powdered ginger/1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup dark sesame oil
2 celery stalks, chopped coarsely
1 bunch radishes, rinsed, chopped coarsely
2-3 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
2/3 cup peanuts, chopped coarsely

Place flattened chicken breasts, garlic and 1/3 cup of soy sauce in large bowl. Make sure chicken is coated, cover, and place in refrigerator until ready for use.

Clean and chop celery, radishes and green onions. Place in bowl with peanuts and set aside.

Remove chicken from fridge and saute in large pan over medium high heat until no longer pink in middle (roughly 10-12 minutes).

Cook linguini noodles in large pot of water, drain. In separate bowl, combine remaining soy sauce, water, peanut butter, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, honey and sesame oil. Add to cooked noodles, stir until combined.

Add chicken, celery, radishes, green onions and peanuts to noodle mixture and serve immediately. Attempt to keep slurping noises to a minimum when devouring dish.

Growing up, Christmas never seemed complete without Finnish Christmas stars (and Grandma’s sweet trail mix, but that’s for another post). These pastries are best when they come straight out of the oven, barely cool enough to consume. The warm, gooey center is a perfect match for the flaky, crackling puff pastry. A shower of powdered sugar tops everything off, creating a delicate and picturesque star for nibbling daintily.

Uhhh, right. I believe in eating these with abandon, devouring them so fast that plumes of powdered sugar and puffy pastry go every whichaway.

“Is that how a princess eats her Christmas cookies?” Matthew asked me after I had let the first batch cool for all of two seconds.

I nodded enthusiastically in response, my mouth too full of the buttery, sweet pastry to actually say anything.

“Well, you’ve got some in your hair there…”

That made me laugh, which made more of a mess, but that’s how good these things are! And can you guess what is actually in the center? PRUNES. Prune-lovers (me!) rejoice and prune-haters fear not because these pastries taste delicious. Try it. And they’re a snap to make. Want to see?

Cut your thawed pastry sheet into nine squares, then make one-inch cuts from the corner to the center.

Begin by folding the edge towards the center. Start with filling already in the center or place it on top after folding.

Keep folding….

Once more…

Tadaaaa!

Mmmm… ready for the oven.

Years ago, my mom took a Finnish cooking class when my siblings and I were growing up and these pastries were the one recipe my mom wrote down and remembered. The woman instructing the class was a Finnish opera star (how cool!) who somehow ended up in suburban Georgia. My grandmother remembers her mother making Finnish Christmas stars, but with pie dough instead of puff pastry. Feel free to go with either, but we enjoy the puff pastry variety the most. If you manage to have leftovers (surprisingly, we also did — how Matthew managed to get me away from the rest of the batch is beyond my recollection), let the pastries cool down before placing them in a ziploc baggie. They’ll keep for a few days, and just pop one in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to warm up the center. Recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

Finnish Christmas Stars
makes 18 stars

1 box puff pastry, thawed
25 pitted prunes
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
dash nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To make filling, combine prunes with water, sugar and spices and in medium-sized pot, then simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and mash prunes with fork or small masher. Click here to see consistency.

While mixture is heating, open up thawed pastry sheets and cut each sheet into nine squares (18 squares total). Make cuts from each corner of square, halfway to the middle. Create pinwheels by taking each corner of pastry and pressing it in the middle, repeating with each corner until a pinwheel forms. Place dollop of prune mixture on top of pinwheel (this makes for a prettier star). Alternatively, place dollop of mixture in middle of square and create pinwheel over filling.

Put stars on cookie sheets (will probably take two sheets) and put in oven for 15 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Cool on cookie rack and top with powdered sugar. Place in the hands of Christmas cookie-eating monsters and watch stars disappear instantly!

I love eggplant. Stuffed, layered, sautéed — you name it, I’ll eat it. Except raw. That was one eggplant (Parmesan) disaster from my early years that I hope to never repeat. Using Asian eggplant in a recipe was a first for me and — yum — it won’t be my last. They’re a slender, milder variety of eggplant without as many seeds.

This recipe has been staring me down (literally, from my cookbook stand) every day since… forever. I would walk by and drool at the closeup photo of the seared, browned eggplant and bits of ground pork, all soaking up what seemed to be a spectacular-sounding sauce. Then I finally made it and it met every single one of my expectations from days of staring at the recipe.

And the sauce. I cannot describe to you how great this sauce is so I’ll settle with pleading that you find the chile bean paste (in the Asian section of any regular grocery store) and not omit it from the recipe. Feel free to bump up the sauce (I did) from the measurements below.

So go. Go and make this. Unless you hate eggplant, then I’ll settle with crying for the loss in your life.

Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant
minimally adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
serves 4-6

1 1/2 lb Asian eggplants
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp canola or peanut oil, or as needed
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp chile bean paste (also called “hot bean paste” or “Sichuan chile sauce”)
1 tbsp black vinegar (I used balsamic)
2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch (add a little water to make a slurry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup celery, minced
1 tsp grated fresh or prepared horseradish
1/2 lb ground pork
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
hot rice

Cut each eggplant on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Place eggplant pieces in large bowl, add cold water to submerge and stir in salt. Weight the eggplants with a plate and keep them submerged for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 2 tbsp of canola oil in a wok or large saute pan over high heat until very hot. Working in batches, add eggplant to cover bottom of pan in a single layer and saute until crisp and brown on all sides (roughly 7-10 minutes). Remove pieces using slotted spoon and transfer to another bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil if necessary. Set pan aside but do not rinse.

In another bowl, make sauce by stirring together stock, chile bean paste, vinegar, soy sauce, tomato paste, sesame oil, sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

Return pan to high heat, add 1 tbsp oil, stir in garlic, ginger, celery and horseradish. Saute until golden brown (roughly 2 minutes). Stir in pork and stir-fry until meat turns opaque (roughly 5-7 minutes).

Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil. Stir in eggplant, reduce heat to low, cover, and braise eggplant until tender, (roughly 7-10 minutes). Uncover and simmer for a few minutes to thicken sauce. Place eggplant and sauce over hot rice and garnish with green onions. Feel free to smack your lips when devouring this dish.


When Matthew’s mom got me the Williams-Sonona Eat Well cookbook as a belated bridal shower present, I squealed happily, clutched it to my chest and ran into my bedroom where I proceeded to pour over the book’s beautiful pages like a starving child. I had this same reaction to another cookbook we (er, I) received as a wedding present and I hope to reenact that scene once again when Christmas day rolls around (*cough*cough* to any family members out there reading this).

Back to the book. I have a thing for Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and the recipes in here are just as gorgeous as the first WS cookbook I received a few Christmases ago. The theme of this particular book, if you couldn’t tell from its title, revolves around creating healthy dishes that inspire you to think about what you eat while also enjoying every bite.

A bit of forewarning — this pesto, because it lacks one of pesto’s primary ingredients (freshly-grated Parmesan-Reggiano), tastes (and is!) healthy. If you’re seeking the unique cilantro-pumpkin seed flavor but want to retain the richness that comes with regular pesto, feel free to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Also, the remainder of this pesto is delicious as a spread on sandwiches. Also, I’m going to shut up now.

Grilled Garlic Chicken with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto
from Williams-Sonoma’s Eat Well Cookbook

serves 4

Marinade (from Kalyn’s Kitchen):
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tsp poultry seasoning (or any favorite seasoning blend)
4 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Pesto:
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
2 cups packed cilantro leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lime juice
2 garlic cloves
1 serrano chili, seeded
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For marinade (to be done 6-24 hours ahead of time):
In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, seasonings and olive oil. Make small slits down the length of each breast so marinade can fully penetrate. Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag and pour in marinade, making sure each breast gets coated. Place in fridge for 6-8 hours or up to 24 hours.

For pesto:
If pumpkin seeds are not already toasted, preheat oven to 350 degrees, spread seeds on baking sheet and toast until fragrant or golden at the edges (roughly 8-10 minutes).

In food processor, blend toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, 4 tbsp olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chile, salt, freshly ground pepper and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Scrape down sides of processor as necessary. Set aside.

For chicken:
If using a grill, heat to medium high and oil rack. Place chicken on rack and grill, turning once, until cooked through (roughly 12-13 minutes). If using stove top (my preferred method!) heat large skillet over medium-high heat and add chicken breasts. Saute until cooked through (roughly 12-13 minutes).

Transfer chicken to plates and spoon pesto over top. Lick your lips and greet this healthy dish with a grin.