Vegetarian Springtime Rigatoni

Vegetarian Springtime Rigatoni

Rigatoni with Broccoli, Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula, and Buffalo Mozzarella
Recipe by Nicole Putzel

All hailing from Chicagoland, Chef Nicole Putzel and I were virtually introduced a few years back by our mutual friend and discerning foodie, Peg. We recently thought it might be fun to collaborate on some of our cooking experiences, especially during these challenging times.

Nicole sent me a copy of her delightful book just published last year, The Seasoned Plate: Delicious and Healthy Real Food. She says, “This cookbook is the result of a beautiful recipe: one of food, friendship, and wellness, told by the seasons.”

Throughout the seasons, Nicole would create a vegetable-centric recipe every Friday, often harvesting the produce from her own organic garden. Her friend Photographer Claudia Chocano would shoot the dishes, after which they would partake of the fruits of their labors together.

The first recipe I chose from the Spring section was this fresh, vibrant, vegetarian rigatoni dish. Nicole wrote, “This colorful pasta dish came together on an evening  when my house was filled with company and my guests asked for a tour of the vegetable garden. The broccoli, arugula, and basil were all ready for harvest and everyone was hungry, so voilà! This was a true crowd pleaser.”

Springtime Rigatoni Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway!

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Heirloom Bean and Tomato Crostone

Heirloom Bean and Tomato Crostone

Heirloom Bean and Tomato Crostone

Have you been baking a lot of bread during this pandemic time? More than you and your family can possibly eat? Maybe you have some slices in the freezer? Here is a delightful meatless meal to use the remainder of the bread that may be becoming a little hard and stale.

The flavorful bean broth rehydrates the toast…and for such a simple dish, this crostone is really extraordinary. Butter AND olive oil add rich mouthfeel while colorful cherry tomatoes add sweetness. Fresh thyme adds herbaceous earthiness while yellow eye beans bring a deep creaminess. It’s a peasant-style vegetarian dish drenched in flavor and texture, and is extremely satisfying. And extremely economical.

Heirloom Bean and Tomato Crostone

Heirloom Bean and Tomato Crostone Recipe

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Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile

Tortilla Soup with Pasilla Chile and Masa Harina

Many years ago, I fell in love with Tortilla Soup over dinner al fresco on a lovely courtyard in Sinaloa, Mexico.

We were on a trip to the Barrancas del Cobre and had an overnight at a quaint hotel in Los Mochis. The soup was divine – a simple chicken broth with melting queso fresco, fried tortillas, and herbs. When we got back home I had to recreate it, and still do to this day.

Fast forward more than a couple of decades in these pandemic times, and I find myself watching more Facebook videos than before, one in particular caught my attention. A true master of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless making a Tortilla Soup.

Now the Chef has probably made a zillion versions of tortilla soup but this one resonated with me – with its addition of mild, smoky, raisiny pasilla chiles.

As a polar opposite to my Los Mochis version with its brothy style, here I also added a quarter cup of masa harina to the soup as a thickening agent. The masa added heft and a super corn flavor. The result was an extraordinary amalgamation of complex chile and earthy corn. Rich and satisfying, it is a meal in itself.

Since pasillas are not particularly spicy…and for another layer of flavor and texture, I made an oil with the hotter chile de arbol, and sprinkled some of these toasted chile crumbles over the soup.

Tortilla Soup Recipe

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How to Bake Artisan Bread $0.68 per Loaf!

How to Bake Artisan Bread @ $0.68 per Loaf

How to Bake Artisan Bread $0.68 per Loaf!

Sixty-eight cents. Yep, that is what it costs to bake a beautiful, crusty loaf of artisan style bread.  Flour, yeast, and salt. These three ingredients plus water yields a masterpiece that would cost upwards of $6 at a decent bakery.

Not surprisingly, the global pandemic has spurred an interest in bread baking. Since people have extra time at home, don’t care to run out to the supermarket often, and are happy to save over $5 with every loaf…why not bake it yourself?

And not least of all, baking one’s own bread brings a sense of satisfaction, pride, and joy which is probably the best reason to bake at this challenging time.

How to Bake Artisan Bread

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Cooking in Challenging Times

Chickpea Stew with Lots of Veggies

Chickpea Stew with Lots of Veggies
Kale, Cabbage, Spinach, Carrot, Onion, Celery, Tomato

We are cooking in some challenging times, my friends. But we can do this and we can do this well! Look in the fridge and get excited!

We are cooking without the luxury of just popping over to the supermarket to get whatever ingredient our original recipe requires.

Today’s meal started in the pantry with a can of chickpeas and progressed to the veggie drawer in the fridge. There was a very small head of cabbage left over from my Stuffed Cabbage rolls. Less than a half bag of pre-washed spinach, and an aging bunch of curly kale.

Staples of carrot, onion, celery and garlic are almost always on hand. It was here that this hearty, healthy, satisfying stew recipe began to take shape.

Also, don’t underestimate dried herbs. They definitely have flavor and can substitute for fresh in these unusual times. Hopefully the dried herbs in your pantry are not too old!

Chickpea Stew Recipe

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Eggplant Steaks, Restaurant Style

Eggplant Steaks, Restaurant Style

Eggplant Steaks, Restaurant Style

A couple months ago we had an absolutely delightful and completely unique meal at Roy Choi’s restaurant, Best Friend, at Park MGM on The Las Vegas Strip.

“Best Friend is… Koreatown in a capsule – a portal to the streets of LA, but also rooted in what makes Las Vegas… VEGAS. Hip hop-to-bibimbop. Kimchi-to-spaghetti. BBQ and late-night food. I want Best Friend to energize the minds of people looking to experience the best in life. Whether they are from Hollywood or Hong Kong, D.C. or Down Under, I hope all guests are licking their fingers with their mouths full saying ‘holy sh!t’ as they reach across the table for another bite. LA food in Las Vegas. Los Vegas. Best Friend. Forever.” – Roy Choi

Blown away by the KALBI Korean BBQ marinated bone-in short rib; SLIPPERY SHRIMP crispy rock shrimp, chili mayo, walnuts; ELOTES kewpie mayo, lime juice, tajín, cotija, cilantro; and EGGPLANT SCHNITZEL.

The eggplant was simple yet elevated with its silky interior and crunchy exterior. The sauce was intriguing, creamy, and mustardy. Fresh peppery green arugula provided the perfect balance to the fried eggplant. Brilliant.

In his endearing, personal, and somewhat irreverent cookbook L.A. Son, Chef Choi writes, “I make a mean schnitzel.” Yep, he sure does.

Eggplant Steaks Recipe

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Broccoli and White Bean Soup with Tempeh Croutons, Microgreens

Broccoli and White Bean Soup

Broccoli and White Bean Soup
#glutenfreevegan
Tempeh Croutons, Microgreens

I’ve got a corned beef brisket cooking on the stove top right now, but that won’t be ready in time to share with you for St. Patrick’s Day dinner. I do, however, have a gorgeous striking spring-green soup here.

It’s vibrant and velvety and vegan. It screams of springtime with its verdant color and micro purple princess flowers which have a delicate texture and mild green pepper flavor. Tempeh croutons add just the right amount of crunch and earthiness.

This Broccoli and White Bean Soup is hearty enough to be served as a satisfying lunchtime meal, one that is healthy and happy… chock-full of protein, veggies, and fiber.

Broccoli and White Bean Soup Recipe

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