Herb Roasted Asparagus

We could all use a little more green in our lives, right? But eating a salad can sometimes be a bit boring. Something I can never get tired of though–roasted vegetables. It’s amazing what a little heat and seasoning can do to ordinary veggies to make them spectacular.

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetable side dishes. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a heavy meat dish, to complete a weeknight meal, or even to be the star of the dish. Try it topped with a poached egg and hollandaise for a healthier take on traditional eggs benedict. Yum! This recipe for Herb Roasted Asparagus is so easy and comes together in no time at all. Plus, asparagus just seems so elegant and impressive–no one needs to know how easy it was to make!

Ingredients

  • Asparagus, 1-2 bunches
  • Lemon
  • Herbs de Provence (can find in Trader Joe’s for a great deal)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees
  2. On a sheet pan, place a piece of parchment paper — while not necessary to cook, parchment paper prevents sticking and also makes for easy cleanup
  3. Cut or break off ends of asparagus spears — if using your hands, the fibrous ends will break off naturally. You won’t want to eat these since they’re very woody and tough, but they’re excellent for soups
  4. Toss the asparagus with enough olive oil to coat, a big pinch of salt, pepper and herbs de Provence — Remember to season aggressively!fullsizeoutput_4ba8
  5. Using a microplane or part of a box grater, add the zest of 1 lemon to the asparagusfullsizeoutput_4ba7
  6. Squeeze the juice from half of that lemon onto the asparagus as well 
  7. Roast the asparagus in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they’re tender and slightly crisp
  8. Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon

 

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Creamy Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that sounds super fancy–and it definitely tastes luxurious!–but is actually far easier to make at home than most people think. In fact, it doesn’t even need cream or milk to make it creamy. You just need to buy the right kind of rice and give it a little love and attention and you’ll be whipping up some restaurant worthy risotto in no time. Flavor it with your favorite mix-ins like roasted asparagus, caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash or more. Bon appetito!

Ingredients

  • Arborio rice, 2 cups — you must use arborio rice for this dish. Arborio rice has a super high starch content and this is what makes your risotto creamy and delicious!
  • Garlic, 5-6 cloves chopped
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian/dairy), 4 cups — if you wanted to do a super rich and earthy mushroom risotto, you could make some mushroom broth by rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms for a truly luxurious risotto dish!
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan (or nondairy substitute such as nutritional yeast), optional but always worth it
  • 1 cup of Herb Roasted Asparagus (or your favorite mix-in)

Directions

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and add any flavorings you’d like to it such as herbs, lemon juice, spices etc.
  2. Sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant and slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper
  3. Add rice and toss to coat. Sauté the rice so it gets nice and toasty. This will give it a wonderful and deep flavor later on
  4. Add about a cup of white wine of your choice — you can also use champagne, sparkling wine etc. Just make sure it’s something you like. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it! The flavor will just concentrate as it’s cooking
  5. Stir the rice, and once it’s absorbed the wine, start adding about a cup of broth to the rice and stir it around
  6. Every time the rice absorbs the liquid, it needs to be stirred. As it cooks and gets stirred, it will start to release its starches which creates the creaminess that is characteristic of risotto
  7. After about 18 minutes, you will have added several cups of liquid and the ride should be creamy and have expanded. Give it a quick taste for seasoning and to make sure the rice is al dente (should have a little bit of chew left)
  8. Now would be the time to add anything to the risotto like some roasted asparagus, maple roasted butternut squash if you wanted to go sweet, or anything you like
  9. Turn off the heat and add some nutritional yeast (if meat meal) to give it some umami or a cup of grated Parmesan cheese if a dairy meal and stir.
  10. Serve while still warm. To reheat, heat risotto into a saucepan with a 1/4 cup of water and stir until steamy and ready to inhale

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Chicken Marsala with Mushroom Sauce

So I’ve recently started offering small group cooking classes through my catering company, J2Food, and the theme for the first session was all about love. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day, and it was a couples-themed class, It’s a Date! And what can be more romantic than cooking for your loved one? Or, even better, cooking together. So as I was considering what we should make for the meal, I thought we should have all foods that not only taste delicious but also look amazing and can be made by any amateur chef (and easy to clean to boot!).

Chicken Marsala is one of my favorite dishes to make for guests and even crowds. It sounds and tastes very complex, but is actually very simple to make and very impressive in its presentation and flavors. It’s a recipe that I teach all of my cousins when they go to college so that they have at least one quality trick up their sleeve to throw down. This dish is also great for a quick weeknight meal. Serve it over some herbed egg noodles, with creamy garlic mashed potatoes or even with a fresh arugula salad. Enjoy and let me know how yours turns out!


Ingredients

  • Chicken breasts, boneless – while I often opt for the more forgiving chicken thighs, it’s very traditional to use chicken breast in this recipe for texture and size
  • Mushrooms, halved – I like Cremini (mini portobellos), but button mushrooms or any variety are good to use. Sometimes I like to use a mix of mushrooms…you can never have too many
  • Bottle of Marsala wine – I would definitely use real Marsala wine (usually found in the dessert wine section near the Madeira or sherry). Resist the urge to use Marsala cooking wine found in the grocery store since those are loaded with salt and MSG.
  • Chicken stock
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried herbs – whatever your favorite flavors are (we used rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Garlic, 8-10 cloves chopped
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pound the chicken breasts out to about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Doesn’t need to be super thin since these are getting twice-cooked
  2. Add enough olive oil to a heavy-bottomed sauté pan to coat and start to heat on medium
  3. Mix a heavy pinch of dried herbs, salt and pepper into about 1.5 cups of flour — you may need more later on, so don’t be skimpy now
  4. Dip the chicken pieces into the seasoned flour mixture one by one to coat then add to the hot pan — How hot should the pan be? You should hear a small sizzle or see some small bubbles form around the edge of the chicken 
  5. Cook the chicken pieces for 2-3 minutes per side so they both get a slight crisp and are golden to golden brown on each side
  6. Reserve partially cooked chicken for later to finish cooking
  7. In the same pan, add a heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic
  8. After the garlic has started to brown, add the mushrooms — it’s important that mushrooms have room to cook or they’ll steam instead of sautéing so don’t overcrowd the pan
  9. One the mushrooms have cooked, add a few spoonfuls of the flour mixture to the pan and stir to coat the mushrooms and so that all of the flour gets to cook off some
  10. After a couple of minutes, deglaze the pan with about half the bottle of Marsala — the pan should start to sizzle rapidly and this is the time for you to use your spatula/spoon to scrape up the good, crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. This is pure flavor…Yum!!!
  11. Add about 1 cup of chicken stock to the pan, and also season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce mixture come up to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook for a couple of minutes to get rid some of the sharpness from the wine and stock
  12. At this point, the floury mushrooms acted as our roux, and the sauce should be starting to thicken. Add the chicken back into the sauce and submerge.
  13. Cover the pan with a lid of tight aluminum foil and cook for another 20 minutes on simmer or medium-low heat. The chicken will get nice and tender and the sauce will thicken some more
  14. Once done, serve on a big platter with some risotto, egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley

Bon appetit!

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Recipe: Morroccan Chicken Tagine

The other day, someone who I had met at a food festival asked me for the recipe for this Moroccan Chicken. They had eaten it at an event I had catered in Philadelphia a couple of months ago though my catering company, J2Food, and loved it. I don’t always give out some of my more secret recipes, but since she was so nice, I decided to write it up and post it here for all of you 🙂 This Moroccan Chicken dish isn’t actually cooked inside of a “tagine” pot, but it echoes a lot of the flavors that I love when I ordering tagines at Moroccan restaurants — a little bit sweet, salty, sour, savory and the protein is always fall apart tender. It’s very comforting in this winter weather, and is also great to make in the slow cooker! Let me know how yours turns out.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion
  • 5-6 carrots chopped into chunks
  • 2-3 medium onions chopped roughly
  • 1 cup of pitted green olives
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Spices: smoked paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, coriander
  • Saffron, 2-3 threads
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup lemon juicephoto-nov-20-6-45-21-pm
  • 2 preserved lemons, chopped — can substitute 2-3 regular lemons, juices and zest grated. Can buy preserved lemons at most specialty food stores
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro (optional)

Cooking Directions:

  1. Blend the spices and any other spices you like into a rub and divide in halfphoto-nov-20-5-52-19-pmphoto-nov-20-5-54-06-pm
  2. Mix one half of the rub with olive oil to form a loose paste and Coat the chicken on all sides with itphoto-nov-20-6-17-19-pm
  3. Sauté chicken in olive oil in a hot Dutch oven or deep pot on both sides until browned but not fully cooked throughphoto-nov-20-6-40-23-pm
  4. Remove chicken and set aside. You’ll come back to it
  5. In same pot add garlic and onions and cook until starting to brownphoto-nov-20-6-40-05-pm
  6. Add carrots and onions and keep cooking
  7. Add more of the same spice mixture to the pot with the vegetables and heat until fragrantphoto-nov-20-6-40-39-pm
  8. Add preserved lemon, lemon juice, saffron, (zest) and cook for a couple of minutesphoto-nov-20-6-45-06-pm
  9. Add broth and make sure to scrape bottom of the pot for flavor bits — add just enough broth so that the liquid covers the ingredientsphoto-nov-20-6-45-51-pm
  10. Add olives to the pot and make sure to give everything a good mix!photo-nov-20-6-56-01-pmphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  11. Add the chicken back in and stir all together — taste the liquid and adjust seasonings to your taste. Maybe add more lemon, salt etcphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  12. Heat on medium high for 5-10 minutes, then cover and lower heat to medium low and simmer for about 45 min – 1 hour
  13. Add parsley and simmer for another 5 minutes on high uncovered photo-nov-20-7-52-16-pm
  14. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro then spoon over couscous or serve in a bowl with sides of your choosing

I served this dish with some braised collard greens, herb roasted tomatoes and some crusty bread to mop up the sauce. It was a big hit!

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Middle Eastern Night at Home

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The other night I was thinking about what to make for dinner on my way home, when I passed by one of the ubiquitous Halal carts. I don’t know why, but whenever I pass a Halal food cart, I always take a big sniff…it just smells so good! It immediately made me think of Middle Eastern flavors with lots of spices, citrus, and conversation. That night I made chicken shawarma for dinner with fixings, and instead of using store-bought dips, I decided to make my own–and it was so easy! Rustic lemon hummus consists of a quick trip to the pantry for most of the ingredients, and roasted eggplant babaghanoush will make your fellow diners think you’re a spice savant! Try these Middle Eastern spreads at home and you’ll never feel the need to head to the grocery the next time you want to eat some hummus.

Rustic Lemon Hummus

  • 1 can of chickpeas—canned chickpeas are super easy and always in my pantry, but dried chickpeas that you soak overnight are really the best for this recipe and will give you a cleaner flavor
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 2 lemons—juice of both, and the zest of one
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • Olive Oil
  1. Rinse the chickpeas off under cold water until you get rid of all of the gunk from the can off of the chickpeas
  2. In a food processor or blender–I only had my KitchenAid mixer available, so that’s what I used–add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper4
  3. Start to mix all of the ingredients on low to slowly break up the chickpeas until it becomes a thick paste5Photo Oct 15, 7 45 21 PM
  4. Add in the rest of the spices, and gradually add the oil as you increase the speed to mediumPhoto Oct 15, 7 47 05 PMPhoto Oct 15, 8 17 59 PM
  5. The hummus is done when it gets to your personal consistency preference—I like mine a bit chunky—great for pita chips!Photo Oct 15, 9 01 48 PM
  6. Spoon out into a bowl and eat with chips, pita, or use it was a topping for your favorite falafel. Hummus is also delicious as a spread or used in place of mayonnaise or mustard on sandwiches

Roasted Eggplant Babaghanoush

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of smoked paprika—this goes well with the roasted and charred eggplant, but regular paprika works just as well
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of cumin—add the extra teaspoon if you don’t have smoked paprika. The cumin has a natural smokiness that can compensate
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fo fresh parsley, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 1/4 of an onion, grated
  • Hot sauce (to taste)—I like mine spicy, but this dip is delicious mild as well
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit1
  2. Cut your eggplant in half lengthwise—Resist the urge to peel it at this point! The peel will not only help keep moisture in the eggplant flesh, but also hold it together in the oven.
  3. Use a fork or sharp paring knife to poke holes into the eggplant skin all over2
  4. Rub the flesh side with olive oil and season with 1/2 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 tablespoon of paprika and 1/2 tablespoon of cumin
  5. Roast the eggplant for 20-25 minutes until the skin is charred and the flesh becomes slightly creamy and the outside if browned—you want the skin to get black10
  6. Once the eggplant has cooled a bit, but still hot, use a knife or fork to remove the charred skin—it should come off very easily
  7. Discard the skin and spoon the flesh into the bowl of a mixer or food processor11
  8. Pulse together the eggplant with the remaining ingredients until it comes together in a thick dip—feel free to blend it as much as you’d likePhoto Oct 15, 8 21 40 PM
  9. Serve similarly to the hummus, and garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and extra parsley, and enjoy—One of my favorite ways to consume the eggplant is to make sabich, an Iraqi sandwich that consists of hard boiled eggs and fried eggplant on fresh pita bread. Babaghanoush would be a wonderful substitute for the traditional fried eggplant, and maybe add some salty feta cheese to give the sandwich a rich umami flavor22

All I know is that both of these spreads are absolutely delicious, and are perfect for any dinner party or even an afternoon snack. You can also feel free to customize your hummus and babaghanoush—substitute cilantro for the parsley for a more Mexican version, top your hummus with some mushrooms sautéed with zhatar spice, or make a festive zucchini version of babaghanoush and spread it on some thick toast and top with avocado. Yummy! I love to simply serve them with some homemade pita chips!

Recipe: Mediterranean Inspired Lamb Flatbread

The other day I was in the mood to make some fish tacos at home, but the local market I went to only had these small onion flatbreads. So, I decided to scrap the idea for the night. The  flatbreads actually turned out deliciously for my “new” tacos—or really chalupas maybe—and I ended up having a few of them leftover. So I thought of what I could do with a flatbread and was feeling in a very Mediterranean mood. I felt this was a very appropriate recipe since I’ve dedicated the last couple of weeks of blog posts to my recent vacation in the Middle East, and decided to do a fusion of Greek and Israeli cuisines.

These (not so mini!) lamb flatbreads were an experiment, but I knew the flavor combinations would mesh well together. The spicy lamb mixture, the creamy and tangy feta sauce, the briny pickled red onions and the soft, chewy onion flatbreads make a killer combination for dinner, appetizers or even to entertain!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground lamb
  • 8 oz block of Feta cheese–I’m going to echo the Barefoot Contessa by saying that you should make sure to use a quality feta in your dish—preferably Greek or Bulgarian
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1 teaspoon of mint, dried
  • 6 large garlic cloves (or 8-9 small cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • (optional) Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 7-8 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 can of pitted Black olives
  • 1 teaspoon Olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Feta sauce:

  1. In the food processor, add the 3/4 of the feta cheese, lemon juice, yogurt, mint, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  2. Whir it up until the feta is completely broken up, but the sauce still has some consistency to it—I like my sauce to still have some body to it, but blend to your own preference
  3. Taste for seasoning!—I don’t add any salt since the feta is already so salty, but everyone has a different palette.

Pickled red onions:

  1. Peel and slice the red onion thinly and place into a sieve or pasta strainer with small holes
  2. In a jar or bowl—whatever canister you’d like to use to make your onions, I use a mason jar for my leftover—pour the sugar, tablespoon of salt and crushed red pepper
  3. Cover with water and fill the jar, but leave enough room for the onions as well. Stir to dissolve
  4. Add the vinegar—plain white vinegar is alright as well. Even rice wine vinegar could make these delicious for a banh mi sandwich
  5. Boil a few cups of water in a kettle or on the stove, and when the water comes to a boil, pour over the onions
  6. Place the par-blanched onions into the sugar-salt bowl. There should be enough water/vinegar mixture to cover all of the onionsPhoto May 18, 11 48 35 PM
  7. Leave for at least one hour, but I left mine most of the dayPhoto May 18, 11 50 55 PM.jpg

Lamb mixture:

  1. In your food processor—no worries if it has residual sauce, it’s all going on the same dish—finely chop the olives, chilis, and remaining garlic
  2. Mix together the lamb, salt, cumin, oregano, chile-olive-garlic mixture, olive oil, and the rest of the pepper in a bowl—use your hands to really get the meat to absorb the marinadePhoto May 18, 8 42 24 PM.jpg
  3. Don’t mix the mixture too much or you might make the meat tough when it eventually cooks
  4. Let the meat sit and absorb the spices and marinade ingredients for at least 30-45 minutes and up to overnight

To assemble the flatbreads:Photo May 18, 11 33 11 PM.jpg

  1. Lay flatbreads flat on a baking sheet—a pita or even naan bread would be a good substitute. Just make sure you use a bread that has a large flat surface and has some heft to itPhoto May 18, 11 35 25 PM.jpg
  2. Spoon some feta sauce on the bread and spread around the surface with a spoon to almost the edge—I put a good amount of sauce, but don’t use it all!Photo May 18, 11 38 00 PM.jpg
  3. Using your hands, spread the equal amounts of the lamb mixture onto each flatbread and form into semi thick layer—at first I was going to cook the lamb first, but actually ended up forgetting to. By the time I remembered, it has already started cooking and the fat from the lamb ends up absorbed by the bread and flavored the whole dish amazinglyPhoto May 18, 11 38 40 PM
  4. Sprinkle some feta over the top of the lamb, and slide these babies into the ovenPhoto May 18, 11 47 18 PM
  5. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes—some ovens vary so if your oven tends to get super high, maybe stay on 350 insteadPhoto May 19, 12 05 53 AM
  6. Remove from oven and let rest for a couple of minutes Photo May 19, 12 05 55 AM
  7. Scatter some picked red onions all over the flatbreads after it comes out of the ovenPhoto May 19, 12 07 49 AM.jpg
  8. Crumble some fresh feta over the top, as well as a few dollops of feta sauce
  9. This last step is purely optional, but I thought it gives it a wonderful fruity afternoon and a bit of panache. Pour a little bit of thick balsamic vinegar over the top to garnish. I used a deliciously thick grapefruit, white balsamic that I had in the pantryPhoto May 19, 12 09 44 AM.jpg
  10. Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Απολαύστε το γεύμα σας!

The Secret to Perfectly Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

When I asked people what their favorite breakfast food was, I got a lot of answers—French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, smoothies, Cheerios, etc. The most common answer I got was eggs. The incredible, edible egg is a common, but delicious ingredient. It can top your burger to give you that runny yolk that adds a new level of decadence, be incorporated into a cake batter, baked into a quiche for company, or just hard-boiled. Personally, I love a great plate of soft scrambled eggs. It makes a fabulous breakfast, or a simple, weekday dinner. There are a lot of methods that people use to get their eggs perfectly scrambled—some with sour cream, milk, oil—I am an egg purist. The secret to my perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs: extra egg…and patience. This recipe takes some time, but it’s worth it!

Ingredients:

3-4 eggs

1 tablespoon (or ⅛ of a stick of butter)

Salt + Pepper

Cooking Steps:

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  1. Crack 2-3 eggs into a bowl.
  2. Crack the last egg and add just the yolk into the bowl—you can save the egg white, maybe whip it for a meringue or incorporate it into a protein shake. While egg yolks may have a higher amount of cholesterol, they also contain lots of vitamins and iron. The extra yolk in this dish not only keeps the eggs moist and soft, but also helps it keep its distinctive yellow color.
  3. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper to the eggs.image3image2
  4. Using a fork, beat the eggs in a counter-clockwise direction from top to bottom. If it helps, tilt the bowl as you whip the eggs in the circular motion. Mixing the eggs this way will also help with the fluffy texture.image4
  5. In a medium sauté pan, add your butter and heat on lowimage5
  6. When the butter starts to melt, add your egg mixture to the pan
  7. Using a rubber spatula scrape the bottom and sides of the panimage6
  8. Keep cooking, continually moving the eggs around in the pan for 5-10 minutes. The eggs will start to solidify and come together, just make sure to constantly mix it upimage7
  9. Once the eggs are cooked, but still shiny and look slightly wet, turn the heat off and get your toast or sides ready—it might seem raw, but the eggs are cooked and safe to eat.image8
  10. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on the eggs to finish them off. The mixture will be fluffy, moist and you don’t need cheese with these eggs since they are so soft and luxurious. A nice addition might be some fresh herbs though, like dill or parsley. Yum!image10