Better Bites: Re-imagined Vodka Sauce

My passion for food was sparked when I was younger and we got a DIRECTV package that included the Food Network. Even to this day, shows about food are my default background noise. One of my favorite shows is Top Chef– in fact, when my husband and I are at any sort of new restaurant or food event, we always pretend we’re judges critiquing a Top Chef challenge. One of the staple challenges in Top Chef asks the chefs to reimagine the dish that inspired them to become a chef. This week, I gave that challenge to myself and was really happy with the results.

The dish is Penne ala Vodka. It is the first dish that I made with my best friend growing up. I still have memories being in her kitchen with our recipe– sometimes making the dish WAY too spicy, and other times nailing it. This dish has also been something I have carried with me throughout the years. Seriously, I used to have the recipe on an index card in my wallet. I made it for my high-school boyfriend on his birthday. I made it as a thank you for one of my first bosses. I even made a dairy free version for a close friend in college who had an allergy.

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Summer Side: Lemon and Balsamic Rainbow Chard

When it comes to summer, the last thing you want to spend too much time doing is standing in front of a hot stove or oven. Sadly, this can lead to a lack of cooking during the hot summer months. But it can also lead to the creation of some delicious and quick recipes that take advantage of fresh produce that is in abundance this time of year.

This week I bought some rainbow chard and took a pretty big risk: creating a recipe that highlights the vegetable as opposed to hiding it (my normal MO for getting my husband to eat healthily). I had bought some maple mustard pork and some bread so needed a pretty simple recipe to compliment the meal.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of rainbow chard, stems and leaves chopped roughly
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp bouquet garni (or italian seasoning)
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp fig balsamic vinegar (or balsamic vinegar and honey)
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon olive oil (or 1/2 tsp lemon zest)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add butter and olive oil. The combination of both is one of my favorite tricks for really deep and robust flavor that makes your dish feel guiltier than it is. Add the onions and saute until golden brown. In the mean time, prep the rainbow chard. Rainbow chard is so fun and colorful– it’s almost too pretty to eat! I was a little sad that my batch only had yellow and white stems– I think the red ones are really awesome too! sort me! 119In order to prep the chard, wash well and then trim the bottom of the stem (about as much as you would cut off from the top of celery). Slice the rest of the stalk thinly and rough chop the leaves. You can eat most of the stem, I just usually cut off the parts that are too thick, but they add a nice crunch to the dish! If you don’t like the stem, you can just cut the leaves off and discard it. Once the onions have been cooking for about 3-5 minutes, add thinly sliced chard stems (these will need a little more time to cook than the leaves). sort me! 122The chopped chard will look like a giant amount, but like all other greens it will really shrink down once cooked. sort me! 123Once the stems and onions have been cooking about 3 more minutes, add the greens, garlic salt and bouquet garni. Let the greens sautee for about a minute and then add water and cover. This will help the greens cook down faster and will help soften them up a bit and chard is a bit thicker than spinach. You can skip this step if you like the texture of raw chard. The chard should only need about 5 minutes or so, but you can taste along the way and cook until you get the texture that makes you (or your picky eaters) happy. sort me! 125To finish off the dish and add some sweetness and lightness I turned to my birthday present: fancy oil and vinegar. Those oil and vinegar specialty shops are really popping up everywhere and are really fun to visit– maybe you even have some in your house! One of our favorite snacks is fresh bread dipped in thick balsamic vinegar. My latest purchase includes a lemon olive oil and a fig balsamic.sort me! 120 If you don’t have these you can easily use regular balsamic with a bit of honey for sweetness and lemon juice or lemon zest to mimic the brightness of the lemon olive oil. But if you have some fancy flavors I’d encourage you to try them out! I added 1 1/2 tsps of balsamic before the last minute of cooking and then the other 1 1/2 tsps of vinegar and lemon oil right before you serve it. Stir quickly to combine and serve immediately. sort me! 126

This dish had a great balance of flavor and really complimented the meat and bread. It would be a great side dish for chicken or even red meat. During the winter you could make it more hearty by adding some beans and if you wanted to give it a more asian twist you could add some ginger and soy sauce in place of the oil and vinegar.

Hope you’re having a great summer full of fresh produce and experiments in cooking!

Better Bites: Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

Brunch is one of those weekend highlights– but it can be pretty frustrating. After waiting 30+ minutes of waiting for a table you treat yourself to what is usually a pretty indulgent meal, spend way too much money, and then want to nap for the rest of the day. It’s also amazing. My mission for this morning was to lighten up a classic brunch dish: french toast.

You know, I never figured out why more people don’t make french toast at home. It’s super simple, delicious, and makes you feel really fancy for making such a fun brunch! It’s one of my go-to impressive brunch dishes. The bonus? You can make a really delicious healthy version with just a couple of simple ingredients :egg, bread, cinnamon, oil/butter.

Here’s what I used today for 2 servings:

  • 4 slices cinnamon raisin sprouted grain bread (my new obsession)
  • 1/2 c egg beaters 
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 2 tsp coconut oil 
  • whipped cream 
  • maple syrup 

The prep is really simple: combine egg beaters (or 3 egg whites or 2 regular eggs) with 1 tsp ground cinnamon (you can also add some milk if you want, it will help create more liquid without adding more eggs). Dip both sides of each slice of bread until coated with egg mixture. Add 1 tsp coconut oil to pre-heated non stick pan (you can also use canola oil, butter, or Pam) and add bread to pan. Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side. The way I can tell when it’s ready is that the eggs start to set around the edges of the bread and the bread can move around the pan easily (if it sticks it’s not ready yet). 

My pan allowed me to cook 2 pieces at a time so I used the other tsp of coconut oil for the last 2 pieces.

To serve, I sliced each piece diagonally, added some whipped cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some dark maple syrup (from Cedarvale of course). I added grapes for fruit and to make it feel more like we were eating at a restaurant… without the weight, the cost, and the nap. I challenge you to make french toast next weekend (or today if you’re a really late sleeper).