Cacio e Pepe Cabbage

I have been cooking cabbage consistently for years – my ODE TO CABBAGE was my first foray into sharing my love for this veggie with you all, but holy moly, I think this was/is my favorite cabbage dish YET. Coincidentally, a traditional Cacio e Pepe is one of my go-to pasta dishes (especially when it’s served at Via Carota) and it’s SO DARN EASY to make! However, this cabbage was variation was just as satisfying and had the exact same flavor profile.

Shopping List: green cabbage, olive oil, butter, parmesan cheese (grated and shaved), freshly ground black pepper, garlic salt

THE KEY here is to slice your cabbage in half, lengthwise, through the core, and then VERY THINLY slice your cabbage along the grain. VERY THINLY. This is key because it’s going to give your cabbage a thinner, noodle-like consistency. Once you get your cabbage sliced very thinly, the rest is easy peasy. In your large saucepan, add 2 tB. of olive oil and 1 heaping tB. of butter (or plant-based butter, which I’m a big fan of these days). Keep your pan over medium-high heat, add your cabbage, and sauté for about 5 minutes.

I don’t like to mix the cabbage TOO much or else you won’t get any browned bits — BROWNED BITS=FLAVOR in my opinion so let your heat do its job and caramelize the cabbage. Season your cabbage with garlic salt and a ton of FRESHLY grated pepper. Start with 1 tsp. and maybe add a second. The dish has the word “Pepe” in it for a reason, so you want the pepper flavor to shine. Once your cabbage is wilted and browned, add 2/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese. OH YEA!!!!! You could even go crazy and add 3/4 cup – who’s going to judge you!? The cheese, the pepper and the drop of butter are what MAKE this cabbage so insanely yummy.

Give the cabbage and cheese a quick mix so the parmesan gets all incorporated and melty and mm mm delish. After you plate your cabbage, finish with a sprinkle of SHAVED parmesan because it looks pretty and the textural difference between the grated and shaved parmesan actually makes a difference. And then become addicted because honestly, if you don’t like THIS cabbage, you basically really really really dislike cabbage — and that’s OK too — you can always re-make the entire recipe with your favorite par-cooked noodle.

“Sausage” and Peppers

BIG big fan of hot Italian sausage over here so your basic Sausage + Peppers has been an easy go-to in our household for years. I always like using the mini tri-colored peppers when making this dish because they are so sweet and they get SO juicy when you roast them. However, from watching Jersey Shore, because my husband has insisted on re-watching this trash from Episode ONE *kill me* I saw “The Situation” makes traditional Sausage + Peppers in one casserole dish by topping a bed of sliced onions and full-sized peppers with WHOLE Italian sausages and just popping that right into the oven. So aside from being emotionally disturbed from the relationship that was Sammy + Ronny, I learned that my version of sausage + peppers isn’t what you’d find on Staten Island.

So when a vegan girlfriend of mine told me she was obsessed with this plant-based Italian sausage I knew I wanted to trick my husband to see if he could tell the difference. WARNING: When trying to trick your husband, don’t ask him to RECYCLE the craft paper wrapper for your vegan sausage. Whoops! I’ve actually never tried any other sausage substitutes so the No Evil Foods The Stallion Sausage was my first foray into plant-based alternatives. Look how exciting this is!

SHOPPING LIST: 2 bags mini peppers, 1 jalapeño, No Evil Foods The Stallion Sausage, chopped garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper

Chop the stems off of your mini peppers and slice your entire jalapeño into rounds. Jalapeño, as always, is completely optional but I love throwing this spicy little pepper into the mix. Toss your peppers with olive oil, salt, pepper and onion powder and BROIL for 5 minutes. Your peppers should get black and blistered. Flip the peppers over and give them another 3-5 minutes under the broiler.

While your peppers are finishing up under the broiler, remove the casing from your sausages and slice all four sausages into 1/3″ thick rounds. In a large saucepan, add 1 tB. of coconut and sauté 1 tB. of chopped garlic. (I would actually add an entire sliced red onion at this point but my husband is one of those grown ups who still picks onions out of his food so I omitted for his sake). Because the vegan sausage has lots of sodium, I do not add any additional seasoning at this point. Once the garlic is lightly toasted (or your onions are translucent), add your sliced “sausage.” Continue to sauté until both sides of your sausage rounds are browned on each side and then you’re ready to go. Grab your mini peppers out of the broiler and add them to your sausage on the stovetop – JUICES INCLUDED. Give a quick mix and FINITO!!!!

While the dish is vegan AS IS, I like to put 1 tB. of pesto sauce on the bottom of my serving dish. After I pour the sausage (vegan or otherwise) and peppers into my serving bowl, I give the mixture a quick toss and the pesto just adds the final OOMPH of flavor – a little herbs, a little nuttiness, a little cheese – a little bit goes a long way. OH, and as for my “ruined” experiment, my quite opinionated husband said he definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell that his sausage was actually a vegan substitute. While the The Stallion maybe wasn’t as juicy as a pork or turkey-based sausage, it certainly had that delicious hot Italian flavor and a really nice, firm consistency that seared well on the stovetop for textural differentiation. Success! See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Taste No Evil. Love No Evil.

Eggplant Caponata

Just look at this beauty. I’m a frequent customer at my local Eataly for their caponata. It’s just one of those prepared foods that’s delicious cold, full of flavor!!! and is yummy alone or paired with food (I like to eat it with the Eataly chicken salad which I know sounds weird but don’t knock it). Making my own caponata is something I had been toying with for ages, so this weekend I finally put myself up to the task. Actually, I picked up a JAR of caponata at the grocery store, looked at the ingredient list, which included, SUGAR and thought — I can definitely make this better myself — and with my own spin, of course:)

SHOPPING LIST: 2 eggplants, red onion, jalapeño, kalamata olives, capers, pine nuts (toasted), parsley, tomato paste, olive oil, salt, pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice your eggplants in half vertically, rub them with olive oil, salt and pepper on all sides and place them on a baking dish flesh-side-up. Bake the halved eggplants for 40 minutes or until they are soft to the touch.

While the eggplants are baking, slice your entire red onion and jalapeño into thin rings. (Remove the seeds if you don’t want your caponata spicy. I purposely chose to include jalapeños as at the “pepper” in my caponata for the spice factor. If you want it extra spicy you can always add a dash of red pepper flakes as well). In a saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tB. of olive oil and 1 tB + 1 tsp. of chopped garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add your sliced onions and jalapeños and continue cooking over medium heat until your onions are translucent. Add 2 tB. of tomato paste to your onion and jalapeños and mix well.

Remove your eggplants from the oven and give the four halves a rough chop. Add the chopped eggplants to your saucepan of sautéed onions INCLUDING THE JUICES. This is important as A. the juices are seasoned from the seasoning of the eggplants and B. the tomato paste needs a bit of moisture to get “saucy.” Once your eggplant is mixed in, continue cooking the mixture over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of halved kalamata olives and 2 tB. of capers and 1 tsp. of the caper JUICE as well. Mix well. In a smaller pan, toast your pine nuts for 5 minutes until nutty and golden brown and then add them to the mix. TASTE your caponata. At this time you will determine if you need any more salt and pepper to perfectly season your dish (or the aforementioned pepper flakes).

The finishing touch: 1/4 cup of freshly chopped parsley. Nothing like a generous sprinkle of fresh herbs to add a pop of color and vibrant herbaciousness before serving.

Personally, I PREFER the caponata room temperature (or even COLD from the refrigerator). It really gives a chance for the flavors to settle and come together. If you’re looking for a little extra BANG, top your caponata with a sprinkle of briny feta cheese. Or keep it vegan and just pair with a beautiful Barolo, as seen above! Barolo is always a good idea.

Lemon Ravioli (a la Misi)

When I went to Misi in Brooklyn we ordered the “sheep’s milk ricotta filled occhi, bottarga, lemon,” cleaned the plate in about 5 seconds, and then proceeded to do the same thing 2 more times. It was, and remains, one of my favorite pasta dishes ever. Simple but BRIGHT!!! It was like these little “occhis” were exploding in my mouth and I couldn’t get enough. When I spotted a mini ravioli in the freezer aisle of my local Best Market, lightbulbs went off like little lemons dancing around my mind.

SHOPPING LIST: 1 lb. mini cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen), lemon, butter, olive oil, salt, white pepper (optional)

The first step is going to be zesting the entire lemon. When the lemon is zested, it is time to cook your pasta. Honestly, mini ravioli, regular-sized ravioli, tortellini – go crazy! – this dish is about the vibrancy of the lemon, so for the sake of recreating the Misi dish I used mini cheese raviolis but regardless of what you use, you want to PAR-COOK your cheese-filled pasta. If you have frozen ravioli, drop them in your boiling and SALTED water for about 3 minutes. If you have fresh ravioli, you will only need about 30 seconds. Reserve 1 tsp. of your cooking liquid, strain your ravioli, and set aside.

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, add 1 heaping tB. of butter, 1 tB. of olive oil and the tsp. of reserved cooking liquid. Let the butter fully melt and taste with the back of the spoon. Season with salt and white pepper IF NECESSARY. *** The use of white pepper is necessary in this dish because you want a hint of peppery flavor without interfering with the simple yellow beauty of the plate *** Add 3/4 of the zested lemon, stir into your sauce, increase to medium heat, and re-add your raviolis to finish cooking in the lemon butter sauce. You do not want to heat the lemon butter sauce TOO HIGH because your butter will start to brown. After about 3 minutes cooking on the stovetop, your raviolis will be ready to be plated. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of the remaining 1/4 of the zested lemon.

If you want to be extra fancy and go there extra mile to re-create this dish, find yourself some bottarga to grate on top as well — they DO NOT carry bottarga at Best Market 🙂 Also, if you think you DON’T like bottarga, like my friend who said “she hates bottarga” but loved this dish and ate it 3 times with me in one night, give it another chance. HOWEVER, if you don’t love lemon, this dish is probably not for you. If you hadn’t noticed.

Head of the Class

We eat A LOT of cauliflower in my house. It’s a vegetable my husband and my daughters actually enjoy so it’s often on repeat, and often just roasted florets with coconut oil, salt and pepper. So it was time to tackle the WHOLE ROASTED CAULIFLOWER trend. My concern? Getting the flavor to permeate throughout the entire cauliflower since it’s such a large and dense vegetable.

To combat this problem I went to the trusty international aisle at my local Whole Foods and found the succinctly named Mother in Law’s Gochujang Bibimbap Chile Sauce – Sesame – ha! FYI this sauce is peanut-free and vegan and comes it a variety of sub-flavors. Having found our marinade for the evening, here was the gameplan:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. The first step is to trim all of the leaves off the cauliflower and cut the stem a little bit without interfering with the structure of the cauliflower head. Then, in a glass dish, I melted 3/4 cup of coconut oil in the microwave. I mixed the entire jar of gochujang sauce in with the coconut oil and then added a giant heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic. ***Adding the coconut oil was a necessary step for me because the oil allows the cauliflower to get the perfect crisp exterior. Without the oil, the marinade would just absorb into the cauliflower and it would get soft without getting that beautiful charred exterior you see above.

Once the marinade was well-incorporated, I flipped the cauliflower heads UPSIDE DOWN on my baking dish and drizzled the marinade into the underbelly of the cauliflower. THIS IS KEY!!! If you skip this step, your cauliflower head will only have flavor on the outer perimeter and be completely bland on the inside. Once the marinade has been administered, give an even sprinkle of garlic salt and pepper to the undersides of the cauliflowers before turning over.

Once your cauliflower heads are upright it’s time to get DIRTY. Split the remaining marinade over the tops of the 3 cauliflowers and use your hands to massage it evenly into all surfaces. Again, once the marinade is covering the tops of the cauliflower, season with garlic salt and pepper and its ready for the oven. I roasted my cauliflower in the 425 degree oven for 75 minutes, and then reduced the temperature to 350 for the remaining 15 minutes so this took 1 1/2 hours total. Because of the density of cooking cauliflower this way, it is SO important to take the time to cook it longer or use you will end up with cauliflower that is raw, cold and hard in the center.

Thankfully, this BEAUTIFUL (if I don’t say so myself) cauliflower was so tender you could cut through the entire head, including the stem, with the side of your fork. ALSO – the marinade was bursting with umami flavors! It actually reminded me of a much healthier version of one of my absolute favorite cauliflower dishes ever – the Cantonese Cauliflower at TAO Downtown, which is deep-fried and immensely satisfying. I served this cauliflower with a very simple soy-marinated, sesame-crusted salmon and while there was Zombies 2 in the background instead of French Montana, this Asian-inspired meal had our dining room popping!

Ginger-Spiced Cod with Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

At this point we might as well call me Sandra Lee because more and more my cooking techniques are drawing inspo from her old show, “Semi-Homemade.” I should also be sponsored by Whole Foods but alas, I’ll just share last night’s dinner.

Pacific Cod. Wild. On sale! Done! At this point I always buy 2 lbs. of fish for these recipes. It typically feeds the 3 adults at my table and renders some leftovers. By the seafood section at my Whole Foods they have their own selection of store-made spice rubs. To up the flavor for my cod, I selected the Organic Orange Ginger Spice Rub because I just love citrus undertones with seafood. With this spiced cod as my newly formed plan, I wanted to add an accoutrement that would double down on the fruit undertones without overpowering.

I was going to make my own mango salsa but time was of the essence. Instead, I bought the Whole Foods guacamole and a pineapple. When I got home, I sliced the pineapple into cubes, tossed about 1 cup of pineapple cubes in olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled them on a grill pan until they had grill marks on every side. When the pineapple cubes were grilled on all sides, I cut the pineapple into smaller cubes and added them to 1 cup of the guacamole with a dash of paprika to spice it up a bunch.

I cut the cod into individual (about 6 oz.) servings and then rubbed the entirety of each slice of fish in the orange ginger spice. With my grill pan already hot, I gave it another spray of Coconut Oil and grilled the fish on both sides until it was flaking and almost falling apart (about 3 minutes per side).

Once the fish was plated, I added a large spoonful of the grilled pineapple guacamole on top of each filet of cod and garnished with a little sprinkle of red pepper flake for color. I wish I had herbs, because they would have made a perfect garniture as well, and I just love fresh herbs with fresh fish, but that’s what happens when you use up all your herbs for your new favorite herb salad — which seriously, if you haven’t tried yet, you are really missing out. This is the jam, and would go perfect with this fish.

Cajun Mustard Salmon

Yesterday I had lunch at Le Bilboquet, and my brilliant friend Carly special ordered the famous Cajun Chicken as Cajun Salmon – which got me thinking!!!! I knew I was making salmon for dinner, and while my husband isn’t a “sauce” person, I wanted to try my own version of this dish using similar flavors.

SHOPPING LIST: 2 lbs. salmon (no skin), dijon stone ground mustard, old style mustard, cajun remoulade, truffle oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper

I sliced my salmon into about 1 1/2″ thick filets. On a sheet pan, I put 1 tB. of truffle oil and then I rolled each salmon filet in the truffle oil – I did this so A. the salmon wouldn’t stick to the pan and B. so their would be a hint of a truffle flavor, because, why not? Then I seasoned each filet with salt and pepper and set it aside.

Now while this dish was SUPER simple, the differentiation between the mustards can be a bit confusing – and you can just use a combination of regular dijon with stone ground dijon – just make sure that one of your mustards has mustard SEEDS for the textural additives. I am going to link the exact ingredients I used. So I started with 1 tB. of Maille Old Style Mustard, 1 tB. of Inglehoffer Stone Ground Dijon Mustard, 1 tB. of Whole Foods Cajun Remoulade and then the juice of 1/2 a lemon. I mixed the ingredients well and then I coated the tops of each filet of salmon. A GENEROUS, THICK, dripping off the sides of the salmon COAT!!!!! Then the salmon went under the broiler for 6 minutes and VOILA! Perfection 🙂

It was cooked perfectly, the mustard coating got blistered from the broiler, the mustard seeds popped in our mouths against the tender salmon flesh, and the hint of truffle flavor really brought it home. From beginning to end it probably took 20 minutes to get this salmon dish on the table and even less time to eat it all. I also should note that the aforementioned Whole Foods Cajun Remoulade is DELICIOUS. It’s discreetly spicy – almost like spicy mayo meets tartar sauce. It’s just a great condiment to keep in your home, to add to homemade tuna or chicken salad, or use as a crudite dip. If you want to exclude this step, you can just add 1 tsp. of cajun seasoning to your mustard mixture (but in my world, a little mayo goes a long way).

Green Curry Tofu

I feel like fashion bloggers always show their ZARA hauls and I should do the same thing for Whole Foods. I love food shopping, I love picking my own produce, I love talking to the people at the fish counter about their recommendations, and I love seeing the new products at my local Whole Foods. The following vegetarian dinner was inspired by a new Yai’s Thai Coconut Green Curry sauce. Why did this particular jar of curry stand out to me? A. It’s not green and B. I liked the ingredient list, specifically the inclusion of lime juice and jalapeños, and the exclusion of any sort of chemicals or food stabilizers – YUCK. Also, it’s vegan – so HELLO VEGAN RECIPE 🙂

SHOPPING LIST: 2 packs of extra firm tofu, 1 bunch asparagus, 2 heads cauliflower, Green Curry Sauce, garam masala, chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper

You could make this dish with chicken, shrimp – whatever you are in the mood for – but I knew I already had tofu at home. For the the tofu, this first step is the MOST important so you don’t end up with squishy, falling apart, gross tofu. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and cover a sheet pan in paper towels. Take each brick of tofu and slice it in half linearly, so you end up with two equal rectangles. Then slice each rectangle into small cubes (you should get about 20 cubes per slice). I like to place all the cubes on the paper towels, and then use another few paper towels to squeeze out any excess water. Remove the paper towels, make sure your sheet pan is completely dry, and then drizzle your tofu cubes with olive oil. Mix well and season with garam masala and salt. I chose to use garam masala even though I was using a Thai sauce because there is just SO much flavor in your typical garam masala blend and tofu can be a very difficult thing to flavor. Roast you tofu cubes for about 40 minutes, using a spatula to mix every 10 minutes so that each surface gets a turn to properly brown. You’ll know the tofu cubes are done when they are FIRM to the touch.

While your tofu is roasting, the same applies for your cauliflower. Cut off your florets, toss the cauliflower in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast on a separate sheet pan in the 400 degrees for the same amount of time. For both the tofu and cauliflower, you really want to get a nice caramelization on your ingredients so they hold up nicely in the curry sauce. If your oven has a convection feature, I would highly encourage using it for roasting your vegetables. Once the vegetables and tofu cubes are sufficiently roasted, I reserved them in my serving bowl, covered with tin foil.

To finish this dish, heat 1 tB. of coconut oil in a sauce pan and saute 1 tB. of chopped garlic. Take your bunch of asparagus, slice off the ends, and then slice the entire bunch on a diagonal creating 1″ long spears. Once the garlic is browned, sautéed the asparagus over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Season your asparagus with salt and pepper. Once the asparagus has a little char, add the entire jar of Yai’s Thai Coconut Green Curry Sauce and bring to a simmer. *** I feel like a serious broken record here but you can do this EXACT dish with any another brand of a green curry, or a red curry, or an Indian tikka masala or any other sauce you tastebuds might be craving! *** Once your asparagus are fork tender, pour the entire sauce pan over the asparagus and tofu and mix well. We served this with Brazilian garlic rice, which has been on repeat at our house as of late. Anytime you are serving a “saucier” main course it’s nice to have some sort of starch to soak up all the flavors!

As you can see, this recipe yielded quite a large serving, and three adults literally licked this entire blue plate clean. As for this new non-green green curry sauce, the flavors are actually very mild. Because I am a flavor junkie, if I were using it again, I would actually add the zest and juice of an extra lime to really accentuate those flavors, and perhaps incorporate a chopped jalapeño into the sautéed asparagus to up the heat factor as well. What can I say? Some like it hot.

A Dollop of Tzatziki

SHOPPING LIST: cabbage, red onion, garlic, salt, pepper, ginger powder, tzatziki

This was so good. And yet another example of cooking on the fly. I knew I was going to cook some cabbage, of course, but I wanted something heartier, richer. I was probably hungover and looking to make healthy decisions but needed a little extra oomph to feel satisfied. This happens.

I heated 1 tB. of coconut oil over medium-high heat and added 1 tB. of chopped garlic. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep a 32 oz. jar of Goya Chopped Garlic in my fridge since I use garlic all the time. These little shortcuts save ALOT of time.

Anyways, once the garlic had a bit of color, I added an entire sliced red onion. I seasoned the onion and garlic with salt, pepper and ginger powder and continued cooking over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the red onion was translucent and a bit blistered. Next, I added the entire sliced cabbage and made sure to mix it well with the onions, garlic and coconut oil. After about 5 minutes, I again seasoned the cabbage with salt, pepper and ginger powder. Five more minutes and some occasional stirring and the sautéed cabbage and onions were done. On an average night this could be it. All done. But NO! I needed MORE!

I had made a simply grilled turbot for dinner – with blackened seafood seasoning and a squeeze of fresh lemon. I took the Cava Tzatziki out of my trusty refrigerator to serve with the turbot and had an “A HA” moment.” Why not use the tzatziki as a dressing for the vegetables!!!? I topped the sautéed vegetables with a pretty dollop of the tzatziki and I thought we might be onto something so I thankfully snapped a picture. The second after this photograph was taken, I mixed it up REAL well and TRUST ME when I tell you, the dollop of tzatziki proved to be MUCH more enjoyable mixed into the vegetables than it would have been served as a stand-alone accompaniment to the fish. This creamy, herbacious cabbage concoction was such a satisfying side dish that Ic caught it looking all pretty because this is certainly worth re-creating in your own kitchen.

Meatball Mondays

No offense to the “Meatless Monday craze,” but meatballs are quite common on Mondays at by house. They’re a great thing to make early in the week since I can send my husband to work with a meatball sandwich or repurpose the leftovers for my kids. Even better is this one-pot strategy to “poaching” your meatballs in your preferred tomato sauce since doesn’t take much time or clean-up at all.

SHOPPING LIST: 2 jars tomato sauce, 1 lb. ground turkey, 1 lb. hot italian turkey sausage, 2 eggs, chopped garlic, parmesan cheese, dijon mustard, milk, salt, pepper, onion powder

In a deep sauce pan, I bring 1 and 1/2 of the jarred tomato sauce (OF YOUR CHOICE!) to a simmer over medium heat on the stove. While the tomato sauce is coming to a simmer, I beat two eggs in a mixing bowl and continue to add 1 tB. dijon mustard, 2 tB. chopped garlic, 2 tB. milk, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. onion pepper and 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese. After this is well mixed, I add the ground turkey and turkey sausage and mix until incorporated – being careful not to OVER MIX once you add to the meat.

For the Italian turkey sausage, I go to Whole Foods and by the fresh un-cased sausage, but if you can only find turkey sausage links at your grocery store, it’s very simple to remove the casing on your own. I choose to use the turkey sausage because historically I have made this recipe with 1 lb. of turkey and and 1 lb. of pork and I while I love the flavor of the pork, I think the use of a highly seasoned turkey sausage creates an even better tasting meatball without using pork products. *** You will note there are no bread crumbs in this recipe, only a TON of parmesan cheese instead, which is how I roll 🙂

Once your sauce is at a simmer, I use a small spoon and form the meatballs into about 1″ thick rounds with my hands and drop them directly into the sauce. I used to broil my meatballs and then finish them in the sauce so the meatballs would get a crunchy exterior, but I have found that I enjoy the meatballs better when they are soft throughout. HOWEVER, sometimes, I like to use this exact same recipe and BROIL the meatballs entirely – about 8 minutes on each side – and then toss the crunchier meatballs in my favorite favorite Siete Spicy Cashew Queso and serve with roasted cabbage, fennel and/or cauliflower.