Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spicy Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup

I just so happened to be working last week on the lucky day that my colleague brought this soup in to work, with enough to share! Seriously, this is THE BEST soup I've had this year. Last year I was crazy about Hungarian mushroom soup, and this year I am crazy about this recipe. Bonkers. It's incredible, especially if you are a fan of kale. Kale has been my #1 favorite vegetable for some time, and I don't see that changing.
The best news: thirty minutes. That's how long it takes to make it, if you short cut and buy chicken broth and a bag of ready cleaned and stemmed kale. Subtract more time if you buy frozen diced onions. This afternoon I started from scratch, and enjoyed the time chopping onions, garlic, kale, and potatoes while listening to Sam Smith radio on spotify.  I'm feeling generous, so I'll let you in on a little secret. Roasted garlic triscuits are my new kryptonite, and are perfect with this recipe! Of course one can never go wrong with a crunchy baguette either. 

Spicy Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup
from The Candid Appetite

 - 1 pound spicy italian sausage (use regular or mild for a less spicy version)
 - 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
 - 1 large onion, chopped
 - 3 garlic cloves, minced
 - 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
 - 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
 - 2 large bunches of kale, stemmed and chopped, about 4 overflowing handfuls
 - 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 - 4 medium or 2 large russet baking potatoes, sliced
 - 8 cups chicken broth or stock, 2 boxes
 - 1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute milk)
  1. Heat a large heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Once the pot has heated through, add the sausage, which you removed from the casing. Using a wooden spoon, begin to break up the sausage and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until it has fully browned. Remove the crisped sausage from the pot and transfer it to a plate or bowl. Set aside.
  2. Lower the heat to medium, add the butter or oil and throw in the onions and garlic. Stir, scraping down the bottom of the pot picking up the browned bits of sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until soft and translucent about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Continue to sauté until the onions have caramelized. Add the chopped kale in batches, allowing it to wilt down as it cooks. It might seem like a lot of kale but it will cook down, just like spinach! Add the nutmeg and stir. Cook the kale for another 3 minutes until it has turned bright green and completely wilted down. Throw in the sliced potatoes and cooked sausage.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock or broth and bring it up to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer until the potatoes are cooked tender and soft. Taste the soup for seasoning, at this point you may add more salt, pepper or red pepper flakes, if desired. Once the potatoes are fully cooked, stir in the heavy cream. Serve right away with some bread on the side. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Carry Your Own Weather

I'm going to share a story today from years ago.  I swear my dad got personal amusement and pleasure in torturing my brother and me, though always with a higher purpose. We resisted, but he was the boss. I use the word torture loosely, but it was just not the fun stuff most parents did with their kids. Not the going to the ballpark kind of stuff. I think most parents try too hard to make their kids lives easy, to focus on fun and being friends. 

My dad adopted a different approach. The wake up early, get your tush out here and help me cut down trees and carry lumber kind of stuff. Sometimes physical labor, sometimes mentally challenging tasks like understanding how to balance a checkbook, or sometimes instances like I am about to share. On a family vacation we were driving to the Outer Banks, and dad decided we would start the vacation by listening to the audiotape version of  Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. The book is now a sort of family joke yet also a book that has come to mean a lot to each of us individually. My brother and I can exchange a look in about 2 seconds that screams "seriously". Yep, seriously. You are going to listen to this book, and then we are going to talk about it. 
I love this image - posted on this blog with a great lesson! 

After working a challenging weekend in the ICU and dealing with a few personal things, I was reminded of my favorite tip from Steven Covey: Carry Your Own Weather. I may just have a little umbrella tattooed on my body, as I think if there is one thing I need to be reminded of every day, it's that. We get to choose our reactions, our moods, and set our own internal barometer each and every day. Put on negative glasses, and you will find negativity all around. I'm wearing my virtual sunnies today - and damn it, it feels good. Not because everything is good, but because I'm looking for and choosing to see the good today. 

With all that aside, Habit #1 is Be Proactive. We all have the inner power to choose how we feel and how we react to the various circumstances and instances in our lives.  Here is a paragraph from Steven Covey: 

“Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tortilla Dip

This is one of my Grandma Shirley's famous recipes which is in our McLean family cookbook. She would bring this dip to gatherings and parties, and it was always a crowd pleaser. 
The kitchen has slowly evolved into a sanctuary for me, a place where I can escape to recharge my batteries, find balance, and cook for the people I love. As I was in the kitchen today, I thought about how my grandma had a boy first (my dad) as did my mom, and I am just a few weeks away from joining them in being a mom myself to a little boy. While I am a little scared, I know that the overwhelming joy that comes from being a mom is going to amaze me.  I'm also going to bribe my girlfriends to come and play with me and Charlie by offering this dip along with large glasses of wine! 
You can layer this dip in a 13x9 pyrex glass dish, but I prefer my 15x7 ceramic serving dish I found at Marshall's to really show off the layers. 

Tortilla Dip
1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning
1 (16 ounce) can refried beans (or 2 (9 ounce) cans jalapeno bean dip)
1 cup mayonnaise (can substitute cream cheese)
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 avocados
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Tostitos scoops or pretzel chips for serving

Layers from bottom up:

1 - refried beans OR jalapeno bean dip
2 - sour cream and mayonnaise mixed with taco seasoning
3 - guacamole (avocados, salt and lime juice)
4 - scallions and tomato
5 - black olives and shredded cheddar cheese

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Inspiration

I've been a long time follower of the blog Zen Habits, and Leo recently posted one of the best articles I've ever read on eating well as a lifestyle. He also posts about minimalism, the concept that less is more, and getting away from technology (TV, cell phones, etc) to live in the real world of people, friends, and the great outdoors. His blog is like a breath of fresh air with it's simplicity, beautiful words in a simple black and white font, with no ads or extra noise. It's a ray of sunshine. Enjoy! 

click HERE for article

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Banana Cream Pudding Cookies

Tonight I'm baking batches of cookies for the guys in my husbands family. This Saturday is the annual target shooting and survival extravaganza, and I am a firm believer that our best performance occurs when are bellies are full of good food! They are a competitive bunch, and I'm steering clear of the place until the awards ceremony at the end. I'm sending Josh with containers of cookies, and decided to add a new one to the list of old favorites. 
If you claim to be Southern, I just assume that you grew up eating banana pudding, barbecue, and homemade biscuits. I'm not born and bred Southern, but boy have I fallen in love with the South. I like fancy Southern food, simple Southern food, fried chicken on Sundays, and grits with any meal. I'll eat them with butter and salt, or I'll eat them jazzed up with gouda cheese and chicken broth. YES. 
While this is a cookie version and lacks the creamy pudding and crunch of the wafers, it's perfect for tailgating, gatherings, or camping. If you're looking for the real deal, I'd suggest Paula Deen's recipe

Banana Cream Pudding Cookies
from the recipe critic

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3.4 oz package banana cream instant pudding mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 and prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat.
  2. In a large bowl mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and banana cream pudding mix. Set aside.
  3. In your mixer cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix together. Add the bowl of dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Finally, add the white chocolate chips.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly golden. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Virtual Book Club

I absolutely LOVED the last book I read called the Perfume Collector, and needed a break for a few days to really think about the story and the ending.

Next on the list...

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I've already told you guys that I've been craving Greek food since I've been pregnant. Salty kalamata olives, french fries doused with Cavender's greek seasoning and dipped in tzatziki, and of course my favorite gyro sandwich.

With that being said, WHY IN THE WORLD am I just now discovering Pastitsio - often described as greek comfort food or greek lasagna! If you know me and have been holding out on me, I may never forgive you! I'll be adding this to my recipes for company, since you make a giant pan and pop it in the oven to bake for an hour. That way, when your friends or family arrive, you are prepared and can relax while this delicious dish bakes in the oven. 

I've watched Ina make this recipe a few times on her show, and the last book that I read was a strong reminder that watching is not doing! I took that advice and spent the afternoon in the kitchen making Ina's recipe, and it was so worth a few hours. I've already packed up to go containers to share with my favorite friends who love Greek food as much as I do. 

from Ina Garten

Tomato meat sauce:

3 Tbsp good olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp minced garlic (3 large cloves)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup Greek-style plain yogurt, such as Fage Total

3/4 pound small shells (I used Cavatappi)

For the meat sauce, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beef and lamb, and saute over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until it's no longer pink, crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Drain off any excess liquid, add the wine, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cayenne and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40-45 minutes. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the bechamel, heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan over medium0low heat until simmering. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Pour the warm milk and cream mixture into the butter and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth and thick. Add the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the meat sauce, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside. 

Add the pasta to the meat sauce, and the mixture into a baking dish. Spread the bechamel evenly to cover the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbly. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve hot. 

Simple Garden Salad - with the McLean family dressing

 Is it silly to miss a last name, because though I love my new last name, I was always so proud to be a McLean and at times (like typing the title of this blog post, in my current fluctuating state of hormones) I got a little teary eyed!

My mom is German, and this is her go-to dressing that comes in a little packet and is so easy because you just add water and oil, and shake it up in a little jar. It's fresh and simple, and reminds me of home. 

Simple Garden Salad
1 packet Knorr Salat Kroenung Garten Kraueter (buy in bulk on Amazon)
(garden herbs vinaigrette mix)
3 Tbsp oil (not olive oil)
3 Tbsp water

Mixed greens

+ any other toppings you would like

Friday, September 5, 2014

Olive Tapenade Dip

This olive tapenade dip is one of my mom's signature appetizers, and she's been making it for as long as I can remember. There are rarely leftovers, as you'll find yourself cleaning up after a party and eating the rest with a spoon or with torn pieces of baguette. I bet it would be an amazing pasta sauce or spread on a pita and baked. You may see the anchovies and tuna and think what I did - this is going to taste fishy - and I promise that it just gives the dip an amazing salty italian flavor! 
I'm going to turn up the volume on hors d'oeuvres around here, as I know after baby Charlie comes I will not want to host dinner parties like I do now, but will love having my girls over for happy hour with great appetizers. This dip is the perfect addition to a cheese platter or bruschetta, and I think you should make it right now! 

Tapenade Dip
makes 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup imported black olives (Alfonso or Kalamata), pitted
1/4 cup green olives (Sicilian), pitted
4 anchovy filets
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp capers, thoroughly drained
2 Tbsp oil-packed tuna, drained
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Combine black and green olives, anchovy fillets, garlic, capers, tuna, lemon juice and basil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth.

With the motor still running, dribble in the oil and make a thick, fluffy sauce. For a lighter sauce, ideal for raw vegetables, blend in the mayonnaise.

Taste, and correct seasoning. Scrape dip into a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Tapenade will keep, refrigerated, for 1 week.