Tuscan Sausage & Kale Soup

We’re not quite into fall weather yet, but heading into “soup season” I wanted to try out some new recipes.  And with the glut of fresh late-summer vegetables we have, it was a no brainer to come up with this savory, but surprisingly light, Tuscan soup.  For those that aren’t kale-lovers, I bet you’ll have a hard time putting your spoon down!

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TUSCAN SAUSAGE & KALE SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb. Mild Italian Sausage (no casing)
  • 1 Medium White Onion, Diced
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic, Chopped
  • 2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Large Tomatoes, Peeled & Diced
  • 1 15-ounce Can White Beans, Drained
  • 4 Cups Fresh Kale, Chopped
  • 3/4 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 4 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Tbs. Dried Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 3-inch Chunk of Parmesan Rind

Instructions

  • In a heavy bottom pot, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and brown sausage until cooked through and crumbly – about 8-10 minutes.  Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add 1 Tbs. olive oil and the diced onion.  Cook 2-3 minutes until translucent and then add garlic.  Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and any juice to onions and garlic.  Season with 1 Tsp. salt and cook for 5 minutes until tomatoes are soft and begin to break down.
  • Add white wine to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  • Add chicken stock, water, remaining salt, pepper, parsley, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir the kale into the hot liquid and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.  Kale will soften and turn bright green, then darken.
  • Add sausage back into the pot along with the white beans and Parmesan rind.  Reduce head and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with a sprinkle of parmesan and/or croutons.

For about an hour of work, you’ll get a rich broth and amazing flavors from this soup.  Homemade stock and fresh tomatoes are best, but using canned for either still works really well.  For a little kick, add double the red pepper flakes or use hot Italian sausage.  The Parmesan rind is optional, but gives a rich nutty flavor to the broth.  Now that we’re wrapping up summer, this recipe will serve you well through the fall months and on cold winter nights too.  Dig in!

Blackberry Cobbler

We’ve really been focused on eating more local seasonal ingredients this year and have really loved it.  The farm share we subscribe to has been amazing and we’ve tried to come up with recipes to take use such abundance!  This past weekend we visited a local berry farm and found the biggest sweetest blackberries around.  Of course, they were begging to be a dessert and we had a family fish fry/pool party Sunday that offered the perfect occasion.

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BLACKBERRY COBBLER

Ingredients

  • 8 Cups Fresh Blackberries
  • 2 Tbs. Lemon Juice
  • 3 Tbs. Sugar

For the topping:

  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 2 Eggs, Beaten
  • 9 Tbs. Butter, Melted

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Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Wash blackberries and pat dry with a towel.  Place blackberries in a 13×9 baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray.
  • Pour lemon juice over berries and then sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar.  You can use more or less to taste based on the sweetness of your berries.
  • In a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Stir in the eggs until combined – the mixture should be crumbly.
  • Spoon mixture over the blackberries.  Do not press down or even out the crumbles – this is what makes the fantastic crispy bits of crust!
  • Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbled mixture and place in the oven.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until the berries are bubbly and the topping is golden brown.
  • Serve immediately or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

This recipe is fairly straightforward and can easily substitute any fresh berry or combination.  I like the proportions of this recipe because it lets the fruit be the star of the show and doesn’t completely cover it with crust – save that for pies!  I’ll tell you this didn’t last long at our picnic, but if there’s leftovers keep the pan just loosely covered or the topping will get mushy.  Now get our there and pick some for yourself.  Dig in!

Roasted Beet Salad

I have always loved beets!  Granted, as a child and into early adulthood, my exposure to beets were limited to the canned variety or pickled beets.  Both are delicious, but you can’t full appreciate the true flavor unless you roast them yourself.  Luckily, our farmers market had some this past week and I was able to make this fantastic salad.  As a side or a main, this one hits all the right notes of sweet, salty, crunchy and fresh.IMG_0771

ROASTED BEET SALAD

Ingredients

  • 4 Medium Red Beets
  • 6 Cups Spring Lettuce
  • 4 Ounces Semi-Soft Chèvre (Goat Cheese)
  • 1/2 Cup Roasted Pistachios
  • 8 Tbs. Ken’s Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette
  • Fresh-cracked Black Pepper
  • Flaked Sea Salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Trim and wash beets thoroughly to remove dirt.  Do not dry them!  Wrap each wet beet individually in aluminum foil.
  • Place beets in a shallow baking dish or 9×9 pan and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • Remove beets from oven and allow to cool about 1 hour or until you are able to handle.
  • Remove beets from foil.  Unless you want red hands, wear rubber gloves and carefully peel each beet with a knife.  The skins will come off easily like a roasted sweet potato does.
  • Dice each beet into 1-inch cubes and place in a glass bowl.  You can refrigerate or use them at room temperature for this dish.  I prefer them chilled.  (HINT:  you can peel and dice beets with a pair of tongs and a knife, but be careful!)
  • Assemble 1 1/2 cups of lettuce mix on each of four plates.  Drizzle each plate with 2 Tbs. (or less) of the vinaigrette.
  • Arrange 1/4 of beets on each bed of dressed lettuce.
  • Sprinkle each salad with 1 ounce Chèvre and 1/4 of the pistachios.
  • Top each salad with fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste.
  • Serve immediately.

It sounds pretty simple, but the star of the show is the beet!!  I recommend the salad dressing above, but you can easily make your own light vinaigrette.  I recommend a fruity vinegar as it helps bring out the flavor and sweetness of the beets.  I enjoyed this for an easy lunch at home or topped with seared salmon for dinner or it would be a dazzling starter for your next dinner party – how gorgeous would this look on a large platter?!  Enjoy the bounty and eat those red and yellow beets while you can get them fresh.  Dig in!

Bacon Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

I’m constantly looking for and creating new small bites for holidays, parties, Sunday suppers, tailgates, etc.  Who doesn’t love an afternoon or evening of cocktails, cold beer and appetizers??  I like to make things that don’t require a ton of work, but taste like a million bucks with the convenience of friends/guests being able to grab-and-go with something.  Think of it as “what can I pick up and eat while never putting my drink down”!  Behold, the best stuffed mushrooms below…

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BACON PARMESAN STUFFED MUSHROOMS

Ingredients

  • 2 Quarts White Button Mushrooms
  • 2 8-ounce Bricks Cream Cheese
  • 6 Ounces Real Bacon Bits
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Tbs. Parsley Flakes
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Garlic Powder

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Instructions

  • Lay out cream cheese to bring to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Wash and stem mushroom.  If there are thick ribs on the underside, scoop out with a spoon.  Place on paper towels and blot dry.
  • In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to mix cream cheese, bacon bits, parmesan and garlic powder until well combined.
  • Using a spoon, fill and smooth a teaspoon or more of filling in each mushroom.  These should be mounded, but not overfilled.  A good rule of thumb is that the filling should be about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mushroom cap.
  • Continue filling and place mushrooms on a large foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake mushrooms at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked and the filling has browned on top.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately.  These can also be transported but place a few paper towels in the bottom of your contained as they will seep liquid as they cool.

You’re going to love the earthy, creamy and salty bite of these mushrooms!  The recipe above will fill a large cookie sheet, but you can easily cut this recipe in half or double it depending on your event.  Oh, and if you have any filling left over, it’s ridiculously good on a toasted everything bagel.  Now go get that party started.  Dig in!

Garlicky Roasted Cauliflower

It seems like cauliflower is everywhere these days!  From pizza crust to faux fried rice to “steaks” on the grill, everyone is obsessed with it.  I’m not quite on the bandwagon wholeheartedly, but I do love it both raw and cooked.  We’re going through a kitchen remodel and have limited resources for prep and cooking.  So I came up with the recipe below to accompany grilled chops and dirty just one bowl and cookie sheet.  If you’re looking for a savory alternative to carbs for your next meal, give this smokey-garlicky recipe a try!

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GARLICKY ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Ingredients

  • 1 Medium Head Cauliflower
  • 3 Tbs. Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Wash cauliflower thoroughly and dry with paper towels.  Cut out the core, cut into 2″ florets and place in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle cauliflower with olive oil and stir to coat evenly.
  • Sprinkle remaining ingredients over cauliflower and stir again to coat everything in the spices.
  • Pour cauliflower onto a foil-lined cookie sheet and spread out into a single layer.
  • Place in oven and roast for 20 minutes.
  • Remove and serve immediately.

There’s no rocket science to this recipe, but simple ingredients expertly prepared always make a delicious dish!  You’ll love this side with your favorite grilled or roasted meat or fish.  Try making a variation of this using five spice powder and brown sugar instead of garlic powder and smoked paprika.  I’d love to hear other ideas you have.  Dig in!

Tuna Noodle Casserole With Mushrooms

Growing up, I absolutely hated tuna noodle casserole – it was guaranteed PB&J night!  Of course, that was back in the day of the terrible boxed stuff full of dried veggies and salty sauce.  Now that my tastes have changed and I have come to embrace all things tuna and noodles!  This recipe is a riff on the classic with the addition of mushrooms and it’s super-creamy.  What a perfect quick dinner that won’t gross out your kids!

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TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE WITH MUSHROOMS

Ingredients

  • 12 Ounces Uncooked Egg Noodles
  • 12 Ounces Canned Tuna, Drained
  • 2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms
  • 1 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 Cup Frozen Green Peas, Thawed
  • 16 Ounces Low-Fat Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tsp. Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Swiss Cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Saute mushrooms in butter until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Set aside.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Fold tuna, peas and cooked mushrooms into noodles.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayo, mustard, parsley, garlic salt and pepper.
  • Fold sour cream mixture into noodle mixture.
  • Spray a 4-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour mixture into baking dish and top with swiss cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered, until top is golden and casserole is bubbly.
  • Serve immediately.

I’m overdue in posting this recipe for my friend Missy, but I hope she and you all love it.  Want to save some fat and calories?  Use fat-free sour cream and mayo and substitute breadcrumbs for the swiss cheese.  The consistency is still great with low-fat or fat-free dairy and the texture of the breadcrumbs makes up for the cheese.  Either way, I think you’ll find it better than that old box.  Dig in!

Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

Do you ever walk or drive by somewhere often and always say “we really should go there”?  Salazar New American Restaurant has been THAT place for over a year now for me.  Fortunately, I finally made it to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood specifically to have dinner there.  And I am happy to share that they did NOT fall short of the rave reviews and high expectations.

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A farmhouse-like setting in a historical building in downtown Cincinnati, there is a comfortable feeling when you walk through the door.  It’s cozy, and I mean small, but not loud or overcrowded.  As we looked at the menu, our server approached us with specials and recommendations.  What I love is that she told the story behind the restaurant, the local vendors they procure their food from and why they do what they do.  I love when you get an experience vs. an in-and-out meal.  She made a recommendation of a delicious wine and we made some selections from the farm-to-table menu.

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We began with simple warm marinated olives and manchego cheese, which were a perfect compliment to our wine.  Next, the duck leg rillette with pickled onion and jalapeño jam on Blue Oven toast.  The richness of the duck was expertly balanced by the acidic condiments.  Finally, the starter du jour was Blue Oven toast spread with spring pea puree and topped with cured meats, pickled vegetables and edible flowers.  It was almost too pretty to eat!

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I had the roasted sea bass with spring peas, potato puree and hazelnut butter.  My artistic plate was rich, tasted of summer and somehow tasted like everything was separate and perfectly combined at the same time.  My fellow guests all had the steak special which was a hearty portion of local beef.  We finished dinner and could barely utter the words fast enough that we wanted dessert.  The warm chocolate cake with coffee cremeux was a decadent treat!  And how could you not love the berry fry pie with chocolate ganache and lemon buttermilk ice cream?  Every day, I want to eat it every day…

Chef Jose Salazar makes this experience one that you’ll want to relive over and over again.  Local ingredients, beautifully prepared and served by passionate experts.  This is everything I had hoped it would be.  Find out more and make a reservations at salazarcincinnati.com.  Dig in!

Twiisted Burgers & Sushi – Medina, OH

You don’t exactly expect to find the unusual combination of burgers & sushi anywhere, but especially not 30 miles south of Cleveland in Medina, Ohio.  The surprise and delight were both there though when we settled on this spot this past weekend for dinner with my aunt and uncle.  A few miles north of the town square, this free-standing building has a modern, but causal decor split into a dining room and bar with high top tables.  We were greeted quickly on a Friday night and sat immediately at a dining table close to the sushi chefs.

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Our friendly server took our drink order as we settled on various martinis, wine and a Kentucky mule.  There’s a good selection of cocktails, wines and craft beers and the prices are all reasonable.  With drinks in hand, we looked over the large menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and of course their signature burgers and sushi.  While we didn’t get any starters, the duck wings and pulled pork egg rolls sounded and looked amazing.

Two in our group had burgers.  This Fun-Gi was a fresh burger patty topped with a marinated portobello mushroom, roasted garlic mayo, onion straws, melted swiss and a fried egg.  My uncle thought it was awesome and it looked delicious!  My wife had the Twiisted Classic with bacon, cheddar, pickled onion, lettuce and tomato and was equally pleased.  Both were served on fresh brioche buns and were topped with a “sushi pickle” – dill and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed.  Your choice of sweet potato waffle or regular fries were hot and crispy, the latter served with house made ketchup.

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My aunt and I sampled a few sushi rolls which were fresh and well-prepared.  The traditional spicy tuna and Philly rolls were good and prepared well, but nothing special.  The specialty rolls though were fantastic combinations, and frankly, gigantic!  The Embassy is shrimp tempura, smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese, tempura battered and fried, then topped with spicy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce.  The Medina Bee (the high school mascot) is shrimp tempura, spicy crab, tuna and carrots topped with eel sauce, spicy mayo and wasabi mayo.  Equally tasty, both specialties were beautiful and expertly prepared.

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It was a surprising night out in Medina, but it won’t be anymore when we return again and again!  And there’s no doubt why the folks here have catered for the Indians, Cavs and many companies in the area.  Whether a weeknight, special night out or a group event, I suggest you add Twiisted to your list of places to visit.  You can find out more on their website at twiisted.com.  Dig in!

Tano Bistro – Loveland, OH

A night “out on the town” doesn’t always mean heading to downtown.  Tano Bistro is one of the most popular spots in Loveland and does a great job of making each trip feel both special and like you’re coming home every time.  Tucked in a storefront on Loveland Avenue, this cozy upscale restaurant has a bar, dining room and patio for al fresco evenings.  While the decor and feel is a combination of modern and historic charm, you’ll find guests dressed in everything from casual to formal.  And none of it ever feels out of place.

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Stopping in on the Friday before Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d try for a table without reservations (recommended on weekends).  While it was booked for the next few hours, the bar and high top tables are first-come first-serve.  Lucky for us we grabbed the last table for two.  There’s a great selection of beer, wine and cocktails, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  It’s hard to pass up the happy hour specials with $5 wine pours and dirty vodka martinis!  We took advantage of those prices and ordered the charcuterie to start our evening.  We had a beautiful assortment of fresh meat, cheeses, veggies and spreads.  It was a delicious plate and definitely enough for 2-4 people to share.  Our server was friendly and attentive and made sure we were taken care of all night – even though we were taking our time chatting the evening away!

The menu has a lot of small plates/starters and just the right amount of choices of salads, entrees and sandwiches.  We’ve had the eggplant pasta and bone-in pork chop before, both of which were delicious.  Given our huge charcuterie plate though, we settled on the Alabama BBQ sandwich and the mussels.  The sandwich, a spicy not-too-sweet pork bbq served on the perfectly crispy toasted white Texas toast, was a great portion served with salty potato wedges.  The ample bowl of mussels was served in a light broth of butter, garlic, chorizo, tomatoes, white wine and herbs.  I couldn’t get these eaten fast enough to dip the toasted ciabatta in that broth.  I love that dish anywhere, but they hit the nail on the head particularly well.

Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, you have no excuses to not stop by and enjoy the service, atmosphere and locally sourced menu at one of Loveland’s best restaurants.  And you’ll be interested to know they have a Tano To-Go location in Loveland as well – awesome for delicious food you can warm at home!  You can find out all the details and menu on their website foodbytano.com.  Get there and dig in!!

Pork Burnt Ends

I love to grill, smoke and BBQ – even through the winter!  I’m always looking for new recipes, methods and cuts of meat to try some experiments.  Thankfully, I always have plenty of willing taste-testers.  The recipe below was inspired by one I read in The Smoking Bacon & Hog Cookbook by Bill Gillespie.  Burnt ends are traditionally beef, but I really like this take using pork.  They make a perfect dinner, appetizer or snack for the Super Bowl next Sunday!

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PORK BURNT ENDS

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Lbs. Boneless Pork Country Ribs
  • 1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard
  • Savory BBQ Rub or Any Dry Rub (I used Butt Rub on these)
  • 6 Tbs. Butter
  • 2 Tbs. Cayenne Hot Sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Honey
  • 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Packed

Instructions

  • Coat country ribs evenly with yellow mustard.  Dust liberally with BBQ rub of your choice.  The mustard will help tenderize the meat and help the rub to stick.
  • Using a smoker, charcoal grill or gas grill, cook ribs directly on the grate offset from the heat at a temperature of 250 degrees for roughly three hours or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.  I used my charcoal grill, natural oak lump charcoal, this time with applewood chips for smoke.
  • Remove ribs from smoker or grill and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.
  • While the ribs cool:  In a small saucepan, melt butter and add hot sauce and honey.  Stir to combine well.
  • Cut ribs into 1-inch cubes.  Using an injector fill each pork cube.  The butter mixture will run out some, but that’s OK.  Place cubes into a shallow foil pan.  You will have some butter pool in the pan as it runs out of the pork.
  • Sprinkle the cubed meat with brown sugar and another light coating of rub.
  • Return foil pan to the smoker or grill and continue to cook on offset heat at 275-300 degrees for 1-2 more hours.  Stir every 15 minutes to evenly coat pork with rub and sauce.
  • Your burnt ends are ready when they reach your desired darkness.  Given the fat content and butter in the meat, you can create a great bark without drying out the meat.

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So this was my first run at making these and I couldn’t be more pleased with how they turned out!  You could easily finish these with your favorite BBQ sauce instead of the rub and brown sugar, but be careful of the sugar content.  It could cause them to burn quickly.  Served as a main, in a sandwich or as an appetizer, you’ll look like a BBQ pro for your family and friends.  Give them a try and let me know what you think.  Dig in!!