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Dining-In

Short Stacks Aren’t Just for Pancakes

By Karen Schulz

When I think of summer, I immediately think of lobster, fresh corn on the cob, and glorious tomatoes of all colors. As a child, I remember eating tomatoes like apples, sprinkled lightly with salt. Mom would make all kinds of tomato salads on hot summer nights, depending on what was ripe in her garden.

Tomatoes can be the star of the show with just a little salt and pepper, some thinly sliced red onion, and a small amount of red wine vinegar and olive oil, or they can be a part of a bigger story. Just the other night I made a tomato salad with halved cherry tomatoes, three small sliced cucumbers, red onion, and an avocado. I drizzled some fig balsamic glaze on top with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and it was the perfect side dish to the rich steamed lobster with butter.

Nothing beats a classic Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and basil. The kids can even throw that together for themselves. However, as I am always looking for delicious new ways to enjoy the handsome heirloom tomatoes grown in an extreme array of colors, I discovered a new favorite way to feature these showstoppers.

Stacking slices of heirloom tomatoes with avocado and red onion is not only a special and unique presentation, but also an absolutely delicious combination. I have served this salad for family dinners as well as dinner parties, because it is impressive-looking. The dressing will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator, so consider doubling it to have on hand.

Stock up on some colorful heirlooms during your next trip to the farmer’s market and see how you stack up.

Heirloom Tomato and Avocado Stacks

Serves 4

<Dressing>

⅓ cup low-fat buttermilk

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 T. reduced fat sour cream

1 T. reduced fat mayonnaise

½ t. grated lime zest

¼ t. minced fresh garlic

¼ t. kosher salt

⅛ t. ground cumin

Dash of ground red pepper

<Salad>

4 medium heirloom tomatoes (about 2 pounds), different colors

¼ t. kosher salt

¼ cup red onion, sliced vertically very thinly

1 avocado, small dice

Fresh ground pepper

To prepare dressing, combine first nine ingredients in a small food processor or blender; process 30 seconds or until pureed, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Cover and chill.

To prepare salad, slice each tomato crosswise into four equal slices (about ½-inch thick). Place one tomato slice on each salad plate. Sprinkle slices evenly with ¼ t. salt. Top each serving with a few onion pieces and about 1 tablespoon avocado. Repeat layers three times, ending with avocado. Drizzle 2 tablespoons dressing over each serving. Top with black pepper.

By Karen Schulz

I don’t know the last time I came across a simpler more delicious dinner than this spaghetti a la carbonara. My maiden name is Napoli and until recently I’d never had spaghetti a la carbonara, granted I am also half Irish, but that’s neither here nor there. This dish has rocketed to the top of my go-to dinner list.

If you are not in the mood to cook, have picky eaters in the house, are very short on time, or did not get to the market, then this recipe is for you. Not only does it take just 15 minutes, start to finish, but odds are you already have the five or six ingredients necessary to make it.

To make it as “healthy” as possible use nitrate-free bacon, organic eggs, and feel free to use a gluten-free pasta, or banza, which is made from chickpeas. Serve a spinach salad on the side with light lemon vinaigrette and all the food groups will be covered.

This dish will be a crowd pleaser, as anything with bacon is delicious.

<<Spaghetti a la Carbonara>>

Serves 4

<Ingredients>

1 pound dry spaghetti

2 T. olive oil

4 oz. pancetta or bacon, cut in ¼” cubes

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large eggs

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving

Freshly ground black pepper

1 handful fresh Italian parsley

<Directions>

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure the spaghetti will be hot when the sauce is finished.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes or al dente. Drain the pasta well, reserving ½ cup of the water.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is crisp. Add the garlic and cook for less than 1 minute, careful not to burn garlic.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat.

Beat the eggs and cheese together in a small bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken.

If necessary, thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water until your desired consistency.

Add fresh pepper and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley (and extra parmesan if desired).

<Note: It is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.>

Add Frozen Shrimp to Your Staples

By Karen Schulz

One Wednesday at noon, a friend asked me what I was going to make for dinner. I had no idea. I’m famous for winging it, or if I’m being totally honest, procrastinating. I ended up making this tweaked version of Ina Garten’s fennel and garlic shrimp recipe and posted a picture of it on Instagram. The next Wednesday, my same friend said, “Really Karen? How can you not know what’s for dinner at noon and then whip out that crazy dinner?” The answer is simple; you should always keep a two-pound bag of frozen uncooked, peeled, tail-on shrimp from Costco in your freezer.

The key to delicious easy dinners is keeping certain staples on hand at all times. Frozen shrimp is one of them. Not only does shrimp cook quickly, it’s a great protein alternative to the often over-served chicken or beef options.

It was late in the afternoon, maybe 5 p.m., when I decided to make this dish and all I had to pick up was a fennel bulb and baguette. Since I had made this dish before, I had the bottle of Pernod on hand, and all the other ingredients are always in my house. (Do not be afraid of fennel, the flavor mellows and is a great compliment to the garlic.)

This shrimp recipe is the perfect solution to a late-night dinner, because it is so light. I served it with a baguette and Ina’s balsamic roasted beet salad, also very easy. Beets are another staple for me. I roast my own, however, if you know you want to make this salad, you can buy beets already roasted at June and Ho. And if you don’t keep Marcona almonds in your cupboard, you absolutely need to pick some up next time you are at June and Ho while buying your pre-roasted beets; you will never not have them on hand again. Marcona almonds are perfect for snacking, make an elegant peanut substitution for cocktail parties, and are delicious in salads.

Go out and stock up on these staples, so you can wing them into delicious dinners as well.

 

 

 

 

Fennel Garlic Shrimp

Serves 4

<Ingredients>

8 T. olive oil

1 fennel bulb, chopped (fronds reserved)

10 cloves minced garlic

½ t. crushed red pepper flakes

2 lbs. shrimp, defrosted

2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 T. Pernod

1 t. sea salt

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

Baguette

<Directions>

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and sauté for 5 minutes or until tender but not browned. Turn the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the garlic just begins to brown.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels, add them to the pan, and toss together with the fennel and olive oil. If your pan is large enough, spread the shrimp in one layer and cook over medium for 2 minutes on one side. Turn the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes on the other side, until they are pink and just cooked through. If your pan is too small to spread shrimp in one layer, stir often until all shrimp are pink and cooked through.

Off the heat, sprinkle with parsley, 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chopped fennel fronds, the Pernod, sea salt, and black pepper and serve it with the bread to soak up the pan juices.

By Karen Schulz

I have a confession. There are times when my well-intentioned family dinners are not so wonderful.

The food may be delicious, or not, but more importantly, the dining experience can degrade quickly with bad manners, bickering, or when one lovely child is late to join the table despite a series of increasingly vociferous calls to the bedroom. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell moment of my dreams.

I think this is important to mention because despite having high hopes of laughing, bonding and sharing (which happens a lot of the time), the realities of life are always clear and present. People have bad days, manners come and go, and of course siblings can grate on each other’s nerves, all of which could lead to a reaction my husband had one night. “Why do we even do this? Family dinner is completely overrated.”

While throwing in the towel sometimes seems like the best idea, the science is clear, and I still adamantly believe in the benefits of family dinners —emotional well being, lower instances of risky behaviors in adolescents, and nutritional advantages. It’s important to recognize that even when there is trouble in paradise and food starts flying, it is indeed, still paradise. Sitting at a table together and working through disagreements is an important life skill, one of which I am actually still working on. In fact, without sitting down to dinner, I’m not sure if certain issues would ever surface. And on those nights when someone eats out, on some level, they know they are being missed at the table, which is something special.

So, please do not become discouraged if after making a family meal it turns into a food fight. Continue to try new, easy, nutritious recipes in hopes of making it easier to have family dinners as often as possible. Start with these delicious, sausage and pepper heroes, and be sure to use all three colors of bell peppers. Green is high in vitamin A, red is high in vitamin C, and yellow and orange are rich in carotenoids and antioxidants. At least you know the food will be good, even if the kids (and spouses) are not!

(with 3 pix, numbered in order of use)

<<Sausage and Pepper Heroes>>

Serves 4.

<Ingredients>

2T. extra virgin olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage (a mix of sweet and hot)

1 large Spanish onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 large bell peppers, 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow or orange, cut into ¼ inch strips

½ t. dried oregano

1/8 t. crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

4 Italian hero rolls, 7-8 inches long

8-10 thin slices provolone cheese

<Directions>

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large heavy skillet, heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, turning with tongs, until they are browned on all sides and no longer pink in the middle, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate to drain. When cool, slice in half lengthwise, then crosswise in thirds.

Wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in bell peppers, oregano, red pepper flakes, and ½ t. salt and mix well. Continue to sauté until the peppers are lightly charred and tender, about 8 minutes.

Return sausage to pan and add tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until heated through, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Split rolls in half lengthwise and hollow out some of the bread on each of the bottom halves, forming a cavity. Put rolls cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet and place an equal portion of the sausages and peppers on each roll. Top with provolone cheese. Broil until the bread crisps and the cheese melts, approximately 2 minutes.

Close the heroes and serve hot.

By Karen Schulz

Chances are, you’re either hosting a Memorial Day weekend barbeque or going to one. And in all likelihood, burgers are on the menu. After all, what’s more American? If you want to know the simple secret to a perfect burger, read on.

Burgers have definitely taken on a life of their own in the culinary world and who knew how fancy, elaborate, and complicated they could be? There are numerous kinds of meats, toppings, sauces, and buns to choose from, and cooking techniques to navigate.

Frankly, I never really knew how to make a great burger until a few years ago when I read a magazine article on “the best burger ever.” I remember thinking, ‘No way, that’s it?’ Seemed a little too obvious, but the authors were right and I’ve made every burger the same way ever since.

To elevate the ordinary burger to extraordinary, keep it simple and follow these steps.

• Make sure your beef has 20% fat. Less than that will result in a dry burger. So buy 80% lean meat.

• <<Do not>> over handle the beef while making patties, unless you like eating hockey pucks. The secret is to gently press your thumb in the middle of your patty to make a small divot. That way the burger expands as it cooks and stays juicy.

• <<Do not>> press down on burgers with a spatula once they are on the grill. That will only release all of the fat but create huge flames.

•The best cheese? Good old American cheese. The best buns? Soft potato bread rolls.

Sound too simple? Try it and have a tasty Memorial Day weekend.

<<Foolproof Burgers>>

Serves 4.

<Ingredients>

1 pound lean ground beef

4 slices American cheese

4 potato bread rolls

<Suggested toppings>

Sliced red onions

Avocado

Tomato

Lettuce

Spinach

Japanese mayo (or any mayo)

Ketchup

Mustard

<Directions>

Preheat grill to medium heat.

Gently divide the ground beef into four patties. Take extra care not to over handle or over pack the patty. When done, use your thumb to make a divot in the center. No need to add any salt or pepper.

Place patties on the grill with thumbprint facing up. Grill for 5 minutes before flipping.

After about 3 minutes, or just before taking burgers off the grill, lay a slice of cheese on each one. Also open up and lay your buns face down on the grill to toast. Close the lid for 30 seconds, or until cheese is melted.

Place a burger on each bottom half of a bun. Let everyone fix their burgers to their liking before putting on the top half.

By Karen Schulz

There are three excellent reasons to love soup on a cold snowy February day. 

 

1. It’s hard to mess up, and ingredients are easily substituted depending on what you have in your pantry.

2. It is warm, filling, and satisfying whether you play in the snow or are tucked in by the fire.

3. Soup recipes yield plenty to share with friends and family who may pop by unannounced, or to freeze for another day.

 

This recipe for Sausage and Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables will definitely become a regular in my house due to the ease in making it. It is chock-full of protein and vegetables, and, of course, delicious.

 

You can use any sausage you like — sweet, spicy, chicken, and so on. You can use whatever vegetables you like — turnips, parsnips, squash, or sweet potato. And you can use whatever greens you like — Swiss chard, kale, or collard greens. Feel free to experiment and see what happens. 

 

A big pot of soup can be made in advance and is therefore a convenient option for busy households. And, since it is a one-pot meal, cleanup is a snap.

 

So enjoy these wintery snowy days over some nourishing soup.

 

<<Sausage and Bean Soup with Winter Vegetables>>

Serves 6.

 

<Ingredients>

 

4 T. olive oil

3 sweet Italian sausage links, casings removed

¼ t. fennel seeds

¼ t. chili flakes

2 medium yellow onions, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 t. kosher salt

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 t. minced fresh thyme leaves

1 t. minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 bay leaf

2 parsnips, diced (about 1½ cups)

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (about 1½ cups)

1½ quarts (6 cups) chicken (or vegetable) stock 

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained

1 bunch Swiss chard, stalks removed and roughly torn

 

<<Directions>>

 

In a Dutch oven, or any heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 T. olive oil on medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon as it browns.

 

Add in the fennel seeds, chili flakes, and 1 t. salt. When the sausage is nicely browned and fully cooked, use a slotted spoon and remove from the pot, leaving whatever oil is left in the pan. Set the sausage aside in a bowl.

 

Reduce heat to medium. Add the onions, garlic, and 1 t. salt to the pot, scraping up all the brown bits from the sausage. Add the remaining 2 T. olive oil to the pan. Let this cook, and almost caramelize for about 10 minutes.

 

Add in the carrot, celery, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Let these vegetables and herbs cook for another 10 minutes or so. Now, add the parsnip and sweet potato along with the stock, 1 t. salt, and can of tomatoes. 

 

Cover the pot and let this simmer for about 35-40 minutes, just until the parsnips and sweet potato have softened.

 

Add the sausage, beans, and greens to the pot. Let them simmer uncovered for another 15-20 minutes, just until all the flavors have melded.