Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

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Tricolore Pear Salad

Dinner, Vegetarian, Summer, Fall, Italian, Recipe, Salad, SidesLeannda CavalierComment

Sweet, soft pears and pine nuts complement a mix of buttery, nutty and bitter lettuces dressed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

I need summa those sweet greens—jump to the recipe, please!

Summer isn't over yet and I'm trying to squeeze out every last drop, but... fall has undeniably started creeping into my thoughts. Maybe it's just from spending the majority of my life in school and teaching, but once August hits everything goes into overdrive, hurtling toward September like a defensive end on a pass rush. 

I truly love fall. I love the start of school and football. I love the foliage and wearing sleeves again. I love pumpkins and bold spices. But it still feels like everything summer is ending way too fast. Pools are closing and I'm seeing school buses everywhere. Didn't we just do the Fourth of July? 

Luckily, I've got the perfect dish if you're also struggling to accept all that comes with the inevitable shift from summer nights to autumn evenings.

This Tricolore Pear Salad is incredibly simple from the short ingredient list to the simple dressing, but trust me, it has an undeniable wow factor. 

It's based on the classic Italian insalata tricolore, which uses a mix of dark and light lettuces brilliantly to balance bitterness and sweetness as well as softness and crunch. It also happens to feature the three colors of the Italian flag, green, red and white. 

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Some also call caprese salads insalata tricolore, which makes sense with the color theme, but we'll leave that in its own pedestal where it belongs. 

I do a little catering as a side job, mostly for small events, but sometimes I do personal catering too. I developed this Tricolore Pear Salad for a client whose family wanted to eat a version of the paleo diet, in an effort to keep the choices from getting stale and, oh boy, I could not have predicted what happened.

He told me the first time he picked up the salad that he had never had a fresh pear before—which is actually something I hear pretty frequently about peaches and pears—so nobody here really knew what to expect. 

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They LOVED it. Like ordered it multiple times a week from there on out. It got to the point where I was visiting multiple grocery stores a multiple times a week because I was buying out all the ingredients for it. Once we got into the later fall and fresh pears got harder to find, I had to limit the amount of times they could order just because I literally could not find enough ingredients.

It was a problem, but you know, a nice one. If you guys are reading this, know I love you and your pear madness!

I recommend using green d'anjou pears for this salad, though I've also used green and red bartletts with great results. There's just something special about a d'anjou pear—it's sweet and buttery with just enough crispness. Red ones are nice later in the fall as they're a little more robust.

Whatever you do, use a good one! If all the d'anjous are rock hard? Move on to the next kind. If it's so soft it falls apart in your hand? 

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You got a million ways to get it. Choose one

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I've actually been putting pears on salad for years now, usually in an arugula salad with goat cheese and a sweeter dressing, but I think using no cheese, a more acidic dressing and bitter chicory takes this salad up several notches. 

It's pretty common to serve a tricolore salad with shaved parmesan, but I actually really like this salad without the cheese. The softness of the pears and the nuttiness of the pine nuts and arugula pretty well takes care of that desire for me in this case. 

Speaking of simplifying the dressing, HOLY COW is this EASY. Just combine three ingredients and shake. If you want, you can switch it up with other vinegars or add other things (I might add a garlic clove and let it sit for a different salad), but there's no need, and you probably have balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt on hand already if you cook often. 

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I can't say enough about how much I love this aspect of Italian cooking. I'm a person who tends to make things much more complicated than they need to be, which is sometimes good, and sometimes makes my life a living hell.

Maybe that's why I go back to Italian food so often. Or maybe it's that my husband is Italian, I'm coastal Croatian, and Italian food is TASTY.  

One piece of advice I do have is that when you're making something so simple, use the best quality ingredients you can find. That's one of the reasons simplicity works so well in Italy: pretty much everything they use is grown nearby and freshness is key (with exceptions, of course, because they clearly know how to preserve tomatoes and cheese like wow).

I'm not telling you to break the bank here, but I am saying you can uplevel your kitchen game approximately 100 notches just by investing in a good extra virgin olive oil for cold foods like salads. I typically buy an okay brand in bulk for cooking, but I keep a big bottle of my one of my favorites on hand for dressings and drizzle. 

What are my favorites? I love going to an olive oil specialty store and doing a tasting to figure that out. My favorite is Oil & Vinegar in Greenville, South Carolina. Their products are all high-quality, their staff is super knowledgable (but not snobby!) and they're so friendly and enthusiastic that it's tough to want to buy anywhere else.

My most recent buy, pictured in the background above, was their extra virgin olive oil from Puglia , and it is SO good—robust, peppery and a little sweet. It's got low acidity and high polyphenols (antioxidants), making the flavor more intense and the oil better for you. 

That being said, if you just wanna pick some up from the grocery store or order some from Amazon, that's totally cool too. In that case I encourage you to experiment, but I recommend California Olive Ranch EVOO as a good starting point. 

Here are a few things to pay attention to if you're picking one up on your own: 

How to choose a grocery store olive oil: 

  1. Is it fresh? Most good olive oil brands will have a harvest date somewhere on the bottle, as olive oil doesn't necessarily age well. 
  2. How is it bottled? Olive oil should be stored in a cold dark place, so a dark, glass bottle is the best packaging. You don't want the oil deteriorating as it sits in the truck. 
  3. Where is it from? Check the country or region of origin. First of all, it should only have one. Second, foreign isn't always best, as the further away it is, the longer it probably took to ship and the harder it is to find out about the source. This is why I recommend California Ranch Olive Oil. Now if you're buying imported oil from a specialty store, you can probably go for it safely as they will be more discerning about the source.
  4. How long is the ingredient list? Hint: it should only list one thing. Extra virgin olive oil. 
  5. Is it cold-pressed? Good olive oil is processed with olives that are crushed and pressed without help from heat or chemicals, so the bottle should say cold-pressed. According to Larousse Gastronomique, this designation doesn't necessarily tell us much anymore as processors now have machines that are temperature-controlled, even if they don't use traditional extraction methods. First-pressed means virtually nothing as modern methods don't typically require a second press. Still, if a bottle doesn't even bother saying it? I'd steer clear unless you know the person who made it.
  6. Other factors? Higher polyphenols means more antioxidants and a bolder flavor. The lower the acidity, the better (extra virgin olive oil must have less than 1 percent acidity). You might not be able to find this information on bottles of grocery store olive oil, which is okay, but it's a good sign if you can. 

If all else fails, try out Google University! Here's a great article from The Kitchn that does the work for you with recommendations from Italian cooks.

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I tend to give balsamic vinegar a bit more of a pass, for better or for worse. Don't get me wrong, really good balsamic vinegar makes a huge difference, and you should get an aged vinegar marked Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale with a D.O.P. certification if possible. The thing is... a lot of grocery store brands are pretty good in their own right, and purity is less of an issue. 

That being said, if you live near a specialty store, go in for a tasting! A top-quality balsamic isn't as necessary to me as top-quality olive oil, but it is undoubtedly one of my favorite special occasion splurges. Especially a cherry-flavored one. Mmmmmm. 

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Now let's talk about that green. And red. And white.

You can make many variations of this salad depending on what's available (my local grocery stores don't always make it easy to find good greens), but here are the leafy ingredients I like to use:

  • Arugula (rocket) - A soft, nutty green and situation where stems are okay. You don't have to use it, but I highly recommend it.
  • Baby kale and baby Swiss chard - Soft versions of the big leafy bunches you know. Earthy and lightly bitter, but much more subtle than their later stage selves. You can often find a mix of these (sometimes along with arugula, spinach and other young greens) marketed as "super greens". Bonus: baby swiss kale adds a nice aesthetic touch with its bright pink stems. 
  • Radicchio - It looks like thin red cabbage, but it's not! Radicchio is an Italian chicory with a mildly spicy, slightly bitter flavor. It's not thick and woody like cabbage (and doesn't have the same side effects), but it does still have a crunchy bite. Don't sub in red cabbage. Just don't.
  • Belgian endive - Another chicory plant with delicate, buttery leaves and a nice crunch. This one is a little bitter too, but it's subtle and it works with the dressing and pears. Embrace the bitterness. I typically peel off the outer leaves and then cut off the hard bottom as needed to pull the rest off easily, but you can also cut a cone into the bottom to get all the leaves off at once. 
  • Substitutions - Some of these can be a little hard to find, I'll admit. I don't know if I'd made this unless I can find at least two of them or else it's a different salad, but here are some recommendations. In a pinch, I've used baby romaine instead of endive. It's not the same, but it has a similar texture. If you can't find radicchio, seriously, don't use red cabbage. My grocery stores typically have a box of four "artisan lettuce" varieties that typically include chicories you could use instead. If it's curly and spindly, it's probably a chicory or something with similar flavor.  For the darker greens you could use spring mix if you have to.
  • Red Cabbage - Just don't! I'm warning you.
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The last, but definitely not least important element of my Tricolore Pear Salad is the toasted pine nuts, and yes, I do think toasting them makes a big difference when you're eating them raw. Pine nuts are earthy little tree nuts that give pesto its nutty flavor.

They're much milder than pecans and softer than almonds, which you might typically put in a sweeter salad. I would almost call them creamy based on the feeling of chewing them. 

Toasting them may feel like one more step, but it's super easy and fast. The one skill you need to have is vigilance. 

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How to toast pine nuts: 

  1. Heat a pan over medium heat.
  2. Pour in the pine nuts and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes, or until you start to smell them and they leave grease trails on the bottom of the pan, and remove them to a plate to cool. Watch them closely and if they start to brown or smoke, remove them to a plate immediately so they don't burn.
  3. That's it!
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This Tricolore Pear Salad is far from rabbit food, and I have family/friends/happy customers to back me up on that if you don't believe me. BUT I hope you'll make it to find out for yourself! You could even make it into an entire meal instead of a side dish by adding a little chicken or even sliced steak, which I sometimes do when I pack up the leftovers for lunch the next day. 

If you do make it, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help out others looking for a salad they don't have to force themselves to eat!

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Let's get this pear party started!

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Date Night Peach-Glazed Pork Chops

Dinner, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Cowboy cut pork chops seared to perfection in a sweet peach sauce with just enough spice to keep things interesting. A showstopper for date nights in, or you can slice the chops to feed up to four.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

Tonight's date night and I'm hungry—jump to the recipe!

What's better than a night out on the town? How about one where no one has to find parking, everyone gets a big juicy pork chop with a sweet, peachy glaze, and no one has to drive home after eating said deliciousness?

Sounds pretty good to me!

I really can't say enough about what a magical combo peaches and pork are, as you may know if you've been around long enough to have read my Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Tomato Peach Sauce post (no worries if you haven't been, but I would do that next!). 

It's just the perfect mix of sweet and savory, and if you add ginger? JACKPOT. With this particular cut of meat, you have the added benefit of texture. A crisp crust of rib pork chops with braised peaches? Holy yes, please do this. All of this. 

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Date Night Peach-Glazed Pork Chops take about 35 minutes to make, and barring any major fiascos, I really mean that. It's important to point out any recipe can take beginners a little longer, but there's honestly not a lot of prep here besides gathering ingredients and cutting the peaches, so we'll solve for that right now:

  • How to slice peaches: Cut the peach in half around the pit along the "butt", twist the halves and pull apart, spoon out the pit, slice each side in half lengthwise and then slice those halves in half.
  • How to chop fresh sage: Remove the stems, stack them on top of each other, roll them together lengthwise, slice the roll lengthwise, then slice it horizontally like you're slicing a carrot thinly until you have tiny pieces. 
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Let's go back to that crust real quick. To form a good crust on meat, you need dry meat and a nice hot pan. I mean, REALLY hot. That's why I'm asking you to pat the meat dry (just blot it with paper towels) and heat up the pan before you ever put it on the stove. You need that maillard reaction at work to get that caramel-y brown top with the crispity-crunch. 

Pro-tip: once you take it out of the oven, leave an oven mitt on the handle so you don't forget it's HOT. If not you'll end up like yours truly, whose knuckle currently looks like a cat butt thanks to pregnancy brain.

Yes, you read that right. Gail from Bob's Burgers would totally put it in her art exhibit. 

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So, what exactly are cowboy cut pork chops? 

If you've never heard of or cowboy cut pork chops before, you're not alone, I'm sure. They're just thick bone-in chops from the rib portion of the loin, with the rib bone frenched (a.k.a. that little bare handlebar you see poking out). They're basically the pork equivalent of a ribeye steak, and they're typically about an inch thick and well-marbled—they also have less connective tissue than many of the chops you see packaged at the grocery store, so they're nice and tender if you cook them right. 

Living in a small town, I don't see the cowboy cut around often—though because that town is in the South, they do pop up here and there. If you can't find them in your butcher's case, you can usually ask the butcher to cut some up for you, but make sure you give them time! They might not have a fresh rib rack in the back at all times. Ask about them at least a couple of days before you need them. 

My great-great grandfather Josef Juričić was from Croatia, where "butcher" translates to "mesar" in Croatian. When he crossed from Fiume (now Rijeka) to the United States, the immigration officials at Ellis Island asked him who he was, which he took to mean what he was. He replied he was a mesar, and ever since that mistaken scribble, my maternal line has had the surname "Messar".

P.S. my Pop-Pop, George Messar, goes by "Butch", so he's basically Butch Butcher. 

All this to say between family legacy, the idea that custom and local is better than mass-produced and my attempt to treat animals with respect despite eating meat, I appreciate a good butcher. I think they're way under-appreciated in much of the grocery industry. 

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Seriously, treat your butcher well and most will go out of their way to answer your questions and get you the cuts you want. A good one is a great resource, plus they might be able to make your shopping experience WAY less frustrating, for instance, if you typically put significant milage on your car just because you live in a small town and love lamb.

I have this theory that if we rely on and appreciate butchers a little more, grocery stores will see that and invest in helping them run departments with better quality meats, better training and more flexibility.

Let's try it, shall we?

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Like last week's Cheesy Fusilli with Tomatoes and Sausage, this is a meal I started making in college that has evolved greatly over the years. Almost 9 years to be precise (WHAT?!). I used to make this with itty-bitty pork chop cuts and frozen peaches (still do sometimes) and I would portion it out into containers with some greens for dinners on the go. 

I started out making it just on the stove, adding in the peaches and liquids after the second side was mostly done, then adding brown rice directly to the pan. The technique I use now is definitely more of a showstopper, but not gonna lie, the original was pretty good for a budget college meal!

 Baby, baby. GLAZE IT REAL GOOD. 

Baby, baby. GLAZE IT REAL GOOD. 

Speaking of technique, you may have noticed earlier I said the peaches are braised. They are (sort of), since they're seared and then finished in liquid, but the meat is not. In my previous method the pork chops were (kinda) braised, which is why despite being tasty, they never had the crust we're seeking here.

Taking the meat out before making the peach sauce and then glazing the meat after a good rest is how we get around that whole mess. Plus it makes sure the meat doesn't get overcooked and dry while the sauce thickens—which takes longer when all that juice is leaking out of the pork chops and into the pan, for the record.

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Yup, it's also how you make sure the inside is as beautiful as the outside. Tell me you don't want a piece of that. 

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So what's your favorite date night meal? Do you like a 30-minute stunna, or an all-day sleeper hit like a roast? Let me know in the comments!

If you try out this recipe, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help other pinners find their next date night recipe!

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Let's get sizzling!

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Cheesy Fusilli with Tomatoes and Sausage

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Pasta, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Pasta in a creamy parmesan sauce, topped with roasted tomatoes, spicy sausage and nutty arugula. Simple enough to throw together tonight, flavorful enough to make again for company this weekend.

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My mouth is watering. Jump to the recipe, please!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

I've had a whole lot to celebrate lately. Between the little girl we're expecting in November and all the excitement that comes with planning, visits with loved ones, and a slew of weddings—including three of my bridesmaids: my bonus sister Marie and two of my best friends since childhood, Kaitlynn (of The Keto Show) and Hannah—it's been an incredible whirlwind season of life!

Everyone should have a go-to special occasion recipe. Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is one of our favorites of all time. Don't get me wrong, we switch things up all the time and I love to try out new dishes, but this is the one I know I can make from memory—grocery store to plate.

This is the one I make for my husband's birthday. This is the one I make when we're celebrating small victories. This is the one I make when we need a little extra homey comfort. 

It's evolved a lot over the years. I started making a version it in college because the most of the ingredients were affordable, and I learned at an early age that keeping parmesan in the fridge was a priority. The technique is a little more sound now, but the roots are the same. 

Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is perfect for summer when you've got fresh grape tomatoes all over the place, but guess what? Grape tomatoes are also some of the best to go for year round. They keep well and smaller tomatoes don't need as many resources as larger varieties to be packed with juicy flavor.

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I made cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage a few weeks ago because pregnancy cravings pretty much demanded it. Whenever I make it, I like to do this thing where I just happen to not mention what I'm making to Adam until he figures it out on his own—usually around the time he smells the sausage and sees me piling on the arugula with a mound of fresh grated cheese on the cutting board.

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You'd think it would get old after 8-ish years, but nope! The reaction is always so worth it. Huge smile, high-pitched questions ("Good smells— wait, is this what I think it is?!"), fist pump and the only kind of hovering from another grown adult I can tolerate. It's like I brought home a winning lottery ticket. It's the best

After we finished eating, Adam asked if I would post this recipe for his birthday this year. That's in October. I thought about it and realized this is a pretty great summer recipe with all the cherry tomatoes bursting onto the scene right about now. I asked if he'd mind if I made it again that week to post this month.

He didn't take long to answer yes, but there was one condition. He wanted me to tell you it has a good mouthfeel (too much Food Network?), and... I mean, he's not wrong! Between the creamy cheese sauce, al dente pasta, acidic tomatoes, fatty sausage and the arugula to lighten it all up? Yeah. 

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So there you go. Good mouthfeel.

Another major perk of this recipe is just how EASY it is to make. It looks like it takes a lot of work, but really it comes together in about 25 minutes if you just prep the ingredients ahead. It might take you a little longer if you're a beginner and cutting still takes a while, but hey, all the more reason to in some practice with your knife!

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Nervous about making a cheese sauce? Don't be. 

Like a lot of my favorite recipes, you can learn how to make other dishes without realizing it too. Sneaky education is my favorite kind. If you can make one cheese sauce, you can make lots of cheese sauces. Just try out different cheeses, liquids and seasonings and you can make hundreds of totally different pastas or toppings, all your own. 

This one doesn't use a roux, which I think is great for two reasons: 

  1. It shows there are lots of ways to make a tasty cheese sauce.
  2. It gives you some low-stakes practice in moving quickly with heat and cheese, because if you want to cook at home often and easily, you probably should learn to make a roux at some point. It's really not as complicated as it seems as long as you have everything ready. Make this first to get your cooking confidence meter nice and high.
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Why use Fusilli in this recipe?

You could definitely use other types of pasta for this recipe, and if already you have most of the ingredients I wouldn't send you to the store just for this, but I do think fusilli is the best choice here.

Fusilli (foo-silly) is a corkscrew shaped pasta, and all those nooks and crannies do a great job of holding onto the cheese without making it pool like shell-shaped pasta might, for instance. But here we're trying to get it to hold onto two different textures: the smooth sauce and the chunky tomato and sausage topping. The spiral shape of the noodles does a nice job of keeping both in check on the plate and, more importantly, on your fork. 

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If you can get your hands on it, I really recommend trying cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage with fusilli bucati noodles. It's basically the same thing, except the noodles are hollow, which adds a fun new texture into the mix. They're a little harder to find (which is why I didn't use them here), but I see them in my regular grocery store on occasion.

You could even use fusilli bucati lunghi if you're trying to check all your pasta shape boxes. They're just super long fusilli bucati noodles you can sometimes find in stores with specialty Italian products. Warning: they will break apart as you cook and eat—so not a lot of twirling action—but they're still fun!

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Funny story, I took the photos for this post before our vacation home to West Virginia in late June/early July so I wouldn't fall too far behind, and I've already made it once since then. My bonus parents came to us with some projects around the house to get ready for baby, and hey, we needed to eat! And celebrate!

It's too late for us hopeless pasta addicts. Don't send help. Join the cheesy side

So what's your go-to dish when you've got something to celebrate? Let me know in the comments! If you don't have one yet, I'm happy to share this one ;)

And hey, if you make this, show it off! Let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter! You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to encourage other pinners to give it a go.

So let's get fusilli!

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Summer Party Panzanella

Dinner, Italian, Party, Recipe, Salad, Slow Food, Summer, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This Italian bread salad boasts the best summer garden bounties and toasted bread cubes, all tossed in a tangy white wine vinaigrette. It’s big enough to bring to your block party—and keeps well enough to keep all to yourself. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

Ready to party but less ready to read? Click here to jump straight to the recipe. 

Is there any better feeling than walking out to the garden on a sunny day, picking a juicy cucumber, rinsing it off, and eating it right then and there like an apple? Adding a sprinkle of salt and a splash of vinegar might enhance things a bit, but otherwise, probably not.

Growing up in Wellsburg, West Virginia it seemed like every other house had a garden, or at least a vegetable patch. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more abound. Though my Pop-Pop’s garden was huge and we had some tomatoes and peppers sprouting at my house most years, neighbors would still bring over grocery bags full of their extra bounty all summer.

This is what July tastes like. 

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I could walk outside, grab a cucumber, rinse it off and eat it like an apple—and never run out as long as it was warm! I thought I fully appreciated it then, but now that I have a shady yard hundreds of miles away, I’m really missing the abondanza.

Whether you have a plentiful garden, a bustling farmers' market, or even a decent grocery store, sometimes you just end up staring at all those beautiful veggies thinking, "okay, but what am I actually going to do with all of this?!"

Enter panzanella.

What is panzanella?

Um, just the manifestation of summertime joy and happiness. With bread.

What is it really? A bread salad filled with all your favorite summer produce. I think everyone makes it a little differently, but I like a good mix of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion and basil. 

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Add a deliciously tangy white wine vinaigrette for good measure and you're golden. Well, golden and all the other colors that taste good. 

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This summer party panzanella lives up to its name. Panzanella in general is great for cookouts because it can safely sit out at room temperature, plus it's best after sitting for a while. Primo vegetarian option, but no one is skipping this dish just because it's not barbecue. 

This specific panzanella recipe has another advantage: the bread is toasted in the oven rather than pan-fried. I do realize both stovetops and ovens are hot (especially in the middle of summer), but the oven method is so much faster, less messy and less greasy-feeling. It’s also a little easier to evenly cook the bread this way.

Hold up, is the bread cooked in authentic panzanella?

Classic panzanella, as it's made in Italy, features stale bread soaked in vinaigrette and tomato juice in yet another example of what I love about Tuscan cooking—finding a way to use what's around and still managing to make it irresistible.

Somehow over the years, especially in American versions, it's evolved a bit to the point where we're grilling, frying or toasting the bread to dry it out enough to really soak up the vinaigrette. I'm gonna be honest. I REALLY like it that way. The texture. The flavor of the slightly browned bread. The crisp from the hot olive oil. Everything about it. 

How do you toast bread for panzanella? Simple. Just toss it in a little olive oil and salt...

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Toast it in the oven until it's just turning golden-brown, turn the oven off, and leave it for a few minutes to dry off.

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That's. It. 

Another difference from panzanella purist recipes? The OG dish is typically made with bread, tomatoes, onions, vinaigrette, maybe basil, and that's it. Sounds delicious, but I have all this amazing produce laying around and it all tastes SO good together. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's a time and a place for making food perfectly authentic, and I'm all about knowing the rules, but you're missing out on some incredible food if you're not willing to be a rule-breaker sometimes. 

HOWEVER, there is one unbreakable rule here. 

This recipe is great for bread that's a day or two old and starting to get a little stale, but for just about everything else it's all about freshness. That goes for all the vegetables down to using garlic you cut yourself—not the jarred stuff. This is a true peak of summer recipe. If you’re not eating all your ingredients as fresh (and ripe) as possible, don’t make this.

You’ll thank me when you take a bite.

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I like to make this with red and orange bell peppers (orange are my favorite to eat raw), but yellow is great too. Green peppers are a little too grassy for me in this particular recipe, but hey, try it out if you have some on hand you want to use up. Let me know how it goes!

I’ve made summer party panzanella for a bridal shower, for dinner parties, for hungry football players who helped us move, and plenty of times on regular old weeknights. My husband and I have been known to destroy one of these in 24 hours—yeah, that’s an entire loaf of bread for two. Yikes. Such a good yikes. 

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As it sits, the vinaigrette and the juices from all those veggies meld and soak into the bread for such explosive flavor that you don't even need fireworks, okay? Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, because you can blow minds all on your own with this. 

Some people will beg you for this recipe. Everyone else will just ask you to make more. 

Luckily for me, we do travel to the land of veggie-sharing (aka West Virginia) pretty often during the summer. I'm actually surrounded by fresh tomatoes and basil at this very moment, some of which I just ate in a frittata. We also live fairly close to some great farmers markets and the famous Grainger County tomatoes in Tennessee, so I’m not completely missing out.

Still, if you live in a community like the one I grew up in, know I’m jealous. Go out and pick the biggest, most misshapen, sun-ripened tomato you can find and slice it up with some salt for me!

So what's the produce situation in your area, and what's your fave summer vegetable or fruit? A super-ripe peach or plum might be runners-up to tomatoes and cucumbers for me. Basil and mint are great too though... Oh God, I almost forgot watermelon! For the record, that was an actual, unedited stream of consciousness.

Anyway, freshen up the comments below with your picks!

If you try out this summer party panzanella, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help others find it too!

Let's get toasting!

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Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

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I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

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This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

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The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

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Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

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Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

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I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

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I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

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There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

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Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

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If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. If you sign up, you get a free guide to overcoming one of the biggest commonalities of people who say they're not good at cooking—and one of the easiest things to fix! Just click on the graphic below to sign up and download.

P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

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Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

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Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

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Sheet Pan Sweet Spiced Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

Dinner, Make-ahead, Recipe, Sheet Pan, Meal PrepLeannda Cavalier3 Comments

A simple sheet pan meal with tender chicken thighs and crunchy vegetables coated in sweet spice and umami flavors. Perfect for a big family meal, or meal planning for the week. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Cool blog post, but I'm hungry. Skip to the recipe, please!

Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you'd rather walk into a lion's den than cook (at least you'd get in one blissful pet)?

HA. Hilarous question right?

I'm pretty sure EVERYONE has this feeling sometimes. I do more than I'd like to admit, especially during busy periods. I even feel it sometimes when I'm on a roll with food blogging work, which is a little bit of a head-scratcher. I really don't think anyone is immune. 

And you know what? Sometimes it's okay to give in to that feeling. Maybe you go out or pick up some general tso's. Maybe you decide grazing is enough. Maybe you've already prepared for this and have some pre-made meals in the refrigerator or freezer—

Hold up, you prepared? That's great! Then this recipe for sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is PERFECT FOR YOU. But wait. There's something else.  

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The thing about not feeling like cooking (and yes, I know some people don't want or need to cook) is that if you give in too much, it becomes a habit. I give in my fair share, but I know when I don't I usually end up enjoying cooking by the time I start chopping and slicing.

Every task I complete is another box checked, another obstacle I've overcome. Sounds dramatic, but sometimes it's the little things. It is a lot for me, anyway.

One of the ways I push through is to pick something that doesn't require a lot of cleanup, and something that I can do without spending a ton of time prepping things. Bonus points if it makes more than one meal so I can skip tomorrow without ordering out again.

This. Is. That. Recipe.

And again, just for the record. Takeout is great! But doesn't it feel more special when it's a once-in-a-while thing? Doesn't that make your wallet happy? And doesn't it feel good to know you're eating healthy things you made yourself? You don't have to care about those things, but in my heart...

Five spice, so nice

The main flavoring in sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is Chinese five spice powder, which I have been on a real kick with lately. I don't use a lot of spice mixes unless I make them myself, but this is a notable exception along with garam masala, shwarma spices, za'atar and ras el hanout. Here convenience wins out most days, and it adds such a punch of flavor that I don't regret it.

Five spice powders are not all created equal, as they can include any variation of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, sichaun pepper, fennel, ginger, orange peel, licorice, turmeric and the list goes on. If you're a flavor savant, you might get the flavor profile going here regardless of which mix goes in the jar... sweet and spicy (like my current favorite tea!). 

Sweet and spicy goes really well with fattier meats like ribs, duck and yup, chicken thighs.

The mix I have right now isn't particularly spicy as it uses cinnamon, anise, fennel, ginger, clove, and licorice root. HEY, THAT'S SIX. Oh well, still nums. Anyway, that's why I added paprika to the recipe. You can add some chili paste or red pepper flakes too if you're really feeling spicy, you firecracker, you. 

Point is, you may want to look at the mix before you go out and buy a jar. Check to see if you might need more spicy or sweet to your taste, and if you're like me you probably want to avoid any extra ingredients like salt or MSG since you'll already be using salt and soy sauce in the recipe. 

It's all up to you, my friend. 

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Trimming the fat

When you're prepping the chicken, you may choose to trim excess fat off of the thighs. Don't stress about this too much, because it's easy and you might not even need to with good quality chicken. The fat is one of the draws of chicken thighs, and contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn't make you fat.

So how do you trim the fat? All you need to do is pick up the chicken by the fat so the chicken is just touching the counter, and gently scrape it off of the pink flesh with a sharp knife. Alternatively, if it's a neat little seam on the edge, you can lay the chicken against the cutting board and slice it off just like sandwich crusts. Just try not to cut through too much of the meat itself. 

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One way you can cut way down or even eliminate the need to trim fat is to buy organic or even better, free range chicken. The better treatment chickens get, the better the quality of meat.

Sorry if that sounds preachy, but it's true. Eating better, having the space to walk around, and being raised without hormones and antibiotics all naturally reduce the amount of fat and filler in your chicken.

Seriously, just compare a package of organic free range chicken to one of the bigger brands next time you're at the store to see for yourself. 

Plus, if you're like me it might give you a little piece of mind to support businesses (often local or at least regional) that treat their animals well, often against the odds. I've bought meat a lot more mindfully ever since I moved to a farming area where I see a lot of chicken transport trucks. Don't look that up before eating or going to bed, because it's nightmarish. 

Okay, off my soapbox. 

Just don't let the idea of trimming off the fat scare you, okay? First, you don't have to do it—some people like fat, and a little of it isn't the end of the world. Worst case scenario? If you "mess up" and hack a thigh to pieces, you can still eat it. Still nums.

Messing up is called practice, and it's no biggie. Especially if you still get a meal out of it.

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Choose your own vegetables to customize or save a trip to the store

This is one of those recipes I love because it's so adaptable. You can go through your fridge and use vegetables left over from other meals, or ones you bought on sale with good intentions, but a week later you have to use them or lose them.

One thing I will say is that I would use bigger vegetables you can chop up and that cook fairly quickly such as broccoli florets, peppers, thin strips of carrot, onions, and soft squash like zucchini. Something hard, dry and starchy like potatoes wouldn’t cook through in five minutes.

I like to use a chopped red bell pepper, a yellow onion cut into wedges and an Eat Smart bagged stir fry mix with broccoli, carrots, red cabbage and snow peas. Simple, quick and nutrish-on-trish-on-trish.

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My rule of thumb? Stick to veggies you’re used to seeing in stir fry. If you’re really nervous, go ahead and stick to the recipe to get comfortable. Once you feel good with that, maybe you can branch out and experiment. That's what cooking's all about, friend-o. 

Choose your own base

Brown Rice: I really like to use short-grain brown rice in this recipe. It's a little fluffier than long-grain and I think it's a little more tender without losing all of it's al dente bite. Plus the big benefit: it's a complex carb and thus better for you than white rice.

White Rice: Always a good bet flavor-wise if that's what you have on hand, and it's not the end of your waistline if you eat it once in a while. Sticky short-grain Chinese-style rice is a good choice, but there's nothing wrong with some jasmine or basmati rice!

Noodles: You can always go a little outside the box and serve this over some noodles. I would probably go with thicker styles like ramen or soba noodles. You may want to toss them with pan drippings or a little oil and soy sauce to keep them slick and flavorful, especially if you use udon noodles, which don't have a lot of flavor on their own.

Zoodles: If you try to keep refined carbs to a minimum, avoid gluten or you just want something light and fresh, you could always serve over some zucchini or other spiralized noodles. I'm sure cauliflower rice would work just as well. Both of these options add a little extra work though, so you have to really want it. 

In the nude: Feeling a minimalist vibe? Just eat the chicken and veggies. Let me know if the world ends or anything like that. 

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Why cook the chicken on a rack?

You could probably cook the chicken right on the vegetables instead of the rack if you don't have one, but I tend to like them that way so they don't get so mushy on the bottom, and so they don't cook with vegetable imprints at the end. If the difference between you cooking this and getting pizza for the third time this week is not wanting to clean a rack, SKIP IT PLEASE. Not a big deal at all.

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A bit of truth about sheet pan recipes

They're technically one-pan, but most of them actually aren't. I know, ugh. As with this recipe, you may have to marinate or coat things in different seasoning. But hey, that's not so bad!

There are still some big advantages, like the fact that everything cooks at once. That's great for beginners because you don't have to worry about juggling a bunch of cook times. It's still pretty great for me because everything cooks at once. Know what that means? Once it's out of the oven, I can eat everything at once.

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Also, I'm lucky enough to have a dishwasher, so I can throw everything but the sheet pan and the rack in when I'm done, unlike if I was using a bunch of pots and pans. 

I only mention this because I don't want to be misleading. Sheet pan meals definitely have advantages, I just think they're a little over-promising sometimes. You'll have some dishes, but the mess is pretty well contained, so if you have a dishwasher you're made in the shade. If you don't, you still cut down on scrubbing you might have to do heating a bunch of food in a bunch of pans. 

 Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

 BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

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Got a cooking quandary? Pantry pandemonium? A cupboard-stocking conundrum? Let me know! Submit any questions here and I'll do my best to help :)

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So let's get roasting!

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Did you make this? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

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New Year's lentil soup with sausage meatballs

Holiday, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This savory Italian-inspired soup is filled with earthy lentils, infused with aromatic herbs and peppered with tender meatballs. Lentils are a New Year's tradition, but this soup is great anytime.

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I'll reflect later, give me the recipe now!

Happy New Year! What are your New Year's resolutions?

I have mixed feelings on New Year's Eve and New Years. On the one hand, I think it's a little overblown. Reasons: I already stay up past midnight most days, I'd rather drink hot chocolate by the fire than go out and I already set expectations for myself I can't possibly meet without a holiday to mark the occasion.

On the other hand, I do think it's nice to have a symbolic check-in where you can create a blank slate along with all the other people trying to do the same. It's a good time for people who go 100 mph to stop in the quiet days after earlier holidays and reflect on what's working and what's not. 

Keeping things real with New Years Resolutions is a tough balance to strike, and it can get ugly fast.

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I know I said I don't need a holiday to tell me to set my expectations, but that's only half-right if I'm being honest. As a strategic communicator in my day-jobs, I'm always setting deadlines and benchmarks to measure against—otherwise how do you even measure whether you were successful or refine your strategy? How do you stay intentional? 

As a human, I should do that more in my own life. 

I'm thinking about that a lot right now, especially after this particular holiday season. I typically go all out baking and making food as gifts, but this year I just couldn't do it. I had too much on my plate, and didn't finish up my work from the fall in time before we set out on our holiday travels. 

Some of my favorites to make are salted, nutella-stuffed, browned butter chocolate chip cookies; peppermint hot chocolate mix; peppermint marshmallows; salted bourbon caramels and my favorite: povitica. Povitica (po-va-teet-sa) is a magical Croatian swirled bread stuffed with walnuts, chocolate and cinnamon. I started making it about four years ago as a way to connect with my roots, and it's become a tradition. An incredibly labor-intensive tradition where I spend two days making five delicate, twirly loaves. 

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Had to skip it too. It was the bread, or my sanity. Considering Christmastime is when I finally see all my family and friends, I needed the sanity. I'll send the bread later. 

I don't think we should be too tough on ourselves or beat ourselves up, but it's always good to consider what's actually realistic and give ourselves time to make it work. So, as much as I don't want to make it too big a deal, a year is a pretty good checkpoint. You have the symbolism of the cycling seasons, the restful few days to think (if you're lucky) and other people doing the same thing to help you get excited and keep you accountable.

Ready to set goals you'll actually reach? Start here.  

One year, five steps.

It might sound odd, but all of that ties perfectly into this recipe for lentil soup with sausage meatballs. Symbolism, tradition, realism, slowing down and hey, getting excited! Because this soup is really, really good. 

Eating lentils after midnight on New Year's is considered good luck in Italy, and the legumes have similar symbolic meanings around the world. The coin-shaped pulses represent good luck and prosperity to Italians, and are often served with pork sausage, stuffed trotters and other pig-based products because pigs root forward. Other cultures focus on the circular shape of the lentils as well, but they associate it more with the circle of life itself rather than fortune. 

Beyond that, lentils are incredibly nutritious and accessible, as hearty crops with plenty of vegetable protein. They've been a staple of multiple cultures' diets for thousands of years for a reason. 

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Prosperity, luck, forward-motion, health, life cycles. What's more New Year's than that? 

Well, if you're like me, a strong dose of realism. In life, that means trying to set goals I can actually achieve and reasonable time-frames. In this recipe, it means that I'm not making stuffed pig trotters with my lentil soup. Not that I have anything against it, and I'm not saying I would never make it or try it. Maybe I will one day, but it's just not going to become a tradition in the Cavalier house. 

More realistic? Sausage meatballs. Yes, please. Accessible. Simple. Still symbolic. 

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It's also so, so delicious. The earthy, peppery French puy lentils go beautifully with the mirepoix, tomatoes, herbs and spinach to finish. The meatballs add a kick to keep things interesting. Plus, for those of you who care, it's a pretty healthy start for the year. No, it's not plain leek soup, but it's balanced. Nutritious and filling and tasty. It's a great meal to ease you into good habits, as going cold-turkey is a change that's unlikely to stick or make you very happy in the meantime. 

And hey, if you don't eat lentil soup with sausage meatballs at midnight, don't see it as a missed opportunity, because this recipe is fantastic anytime for any reason. Tomorrow is just as good for a fresh start as any. 

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I actually intended to post this recipe last year, but didn't because the photos weren't what I wanted, which set up a whole string of posts I meant to put up at a certain time, and failed to do so. I also had hoped to get it up a little earlier this year. Another dose of that realism for me. I didn't give myself enough time or understanding, and things... spiraled.

Something I'm working on this year ;). For now, I'm mulling it over while the soup simmers.

I've been making lentil soup with meatballs for New Year's for several years, and just like me, it's evolved quite a bit. I've used different type of lentils, herbs, ground meats, proportions—I'll spare you all the nitty-gritty details for now. 

I'm sure it will continue to evolve, whether it's me making more changes, or you putting your own spin on this dish in your kitchen. 

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I hope you set realistic but ambitious goals for yourself this year, and I hope you reach them with a healthy dose of hard work and patience. I hope you're intentional both in your strides and staying present in the moment. Finally, I hope you have the year you want, with plenty of joy among the ups and downs. 

If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear from you and see it! Leave a comment below, or take a picture and tag me on social media—mine are in the links below if you want to connect!

P.S. Feel free to leave your resolutions in the comments to put it in writing ;)

So let's get simmering!

West Virginia creamed turkey

Dinner, Comfort Food, Recipe, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

Savory turkey in a rich, creamy sauce is perfect over flaky biscuits and mashed potatoes. Pimentos add unexpected brightness. This West Virginia favorite is the ultimate comfort food, and the best way to use leftover turkey.

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My mouth is watering—jump to the recipe, please!

I would imagine most kids don't exactly look forward to "hot lunch" days. I know I was probably ambivalent at best most of the time, but in the Brooke County, West Virginia school system, there was one day everyone counted down to: creamed turkey day. Chills.

When I say everyone, I do mean everyone—students, teachers, staff, I even remember some friends timing their visits back from college to have it—cafeterias were standing room only. The only other hot lunches I can remember getting a sniff were pizza turnovers and chicken fries.

When creamed turkey came up on the school lunch schedule, you circled it in red marker. It even got a shout-out in my high school yearbook. 

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Luckily for me, creamed turkey wasn't just a school treat. It was one of my Ya-ya's specialties. I'm not sure exactly how far it goes back, but I know she got it from her mother, my Nee-nee. Born out of frugality, this rustic recipe was created to use up and stretch out holiday leftovers so nothing would go to waste. Over the years it’s become a tradition just as important as the main event. 

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This is actually the first time my family's version has been put to paper, or even quantified into exact measurements. My Ya-ya taught me how to make creamed turkey after I moved to Tennessee. I'd never really been homesick before, but then again I'd never lived out of state, even if I was hours from home. West Virginia has a sense of place that I didn't realize was so strong until I started feeling like I wasn't fully a part of it anymore. Recipes like this help me feel rooted no matter where I am. 

Our Weese family recipe is a unique in that it uses pimentos. I love the unexpected brightness they bring to this dish, which is rightly heavy. I mean, it's mountain-region comfort food, right? We serve it over mashed potatoes and biscuits for the full effect. 

If you're a little wary of this, I honestly don't blame you. If this wasn't a childhood favorite, I'd think it was a little suspect. The first time I saw it I was a towhead, gap-toothed, tartan-uniformed little girl in St. John (the Evangelist) School's noisy K-8 cafeteria. So much peer pressure with the older kids around, but I was not an easy sell.

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On the beige, segmented tray it looked... odd. Okay, it looked like slop. DELICIOUS slop. I wasn't that picky an eater, but I was a kindergartener—I sulked and ate the mashed potatoes, biscuits and plasticky peas around the creamed turkey. At some point I accidentally got a little of the gravy on my fork. Then I accidentally got a little more.

Then I devoured pretty much all of it like food was a new concept.

As an adult, I don't generally go out of my way looking for such hearty food, and I would imagine it looks off-putting to newbies. I made some for my parents-in-law last month when they visited and not gonna lie, I was a little relieved when they said it looked delicious before tasting it. 

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My father-in-law says creamed turkey was a big event at his school in Southern West Virginia as well, made from one of his teachers' recipe for special occasions. His mother asked for the recipe and made it since her three boys loved it so much. I'd guess it's probably a fairly similar recipe, though they ate it over toast. 

A little extra I've added to our family's recipe is infusing a little thyme and sage into the cream sauce. It's totally optional, but it's an easy addition and I think it's worth it. Herbs make pretty much everything taste (and smell) better. Thyme is a fragrant chameleon, and I think sage may have actually been made for this.

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One of the great things about creamed turkey is that, as with most recipes, it can teach you how to make so many other recipes. You could do this with chicken, with veggies, or if you make it with beef and mushrooms you have your own version of beef stroganoff. Step 6 alone can help you thicken just about any soup or stew with a flour slurry (use cold water instead of hot cooking liquid for a cornstarch slurry). Just keep it in your back pocket. 

The tip, not the soup. Don't put soup in any of your pockets. 

I mentioned in my last post that this would be a bonus recipe for this week. That was... Tuesday? It's the holidays and we've been making our way to family things and trying to get all our shopping in since we don't exactly have free time in the fall. It's Sunday, and according to my personal calendar, that's the same week. Please forgive me if you don't agree. Make this if you need a more persuasive argument—I'm confident it will help my case.

Let's whip some up!

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