Friday, April 29, 2011

A triple play

Photo: Better Homes and Gardens
In two days it will be May. Today was sunny, but as evening approaches there is still a definite chill in the air. Time to make soup, and this one doesn't take very long to do.

I'm watching a baseball game as I write this post--a triple play doesn't happen very often in baseball. But, in keeping my promise to feature some low-calorie recipes, I found a "triple play" that is pretty easy to achieve.

The inspiration for this recipe came from Better Homes and Gardens. Their website has a "Triple Tomato Soup". There were only two comments--one reviewer loved it, but didn't stick to the recipe. The other followed the recipe and complained that it was "bland." Since I've not made this recipe (yet), I need to put on my Sherlock Holmes cap to find a solution to ramping up the flavor without increasing calories.

My first rule is "always use the best ingredients". If you use canned tomatoes, use the best ones you can find--not the generic bottom-price variety. Secondly, use fresh herbs whenever possible. And my last rule is--think about your cooking technique. Is there some way of encouraging more flavor out of these ingredients?

Here's the recipe from Better Homes:


  • 1  large  onion, sliced
  • 1  Tbsp.  butter or olive oil
  • 1  28-oz. can  whole tomatoes
  • 3/4  cup  dried tomatoes (not oil packed)
  • 1/2  of 6-ounce can  no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1  14-oz. can  reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1/2  cup  sliced celery (1 stalk)
  • 2  Tbsp.  snipped fresh parsley or cilantro
  • 2  to 3 tsp.  lime juice or lemon juice
  •     Dairy sour cream
  •     Fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley


1. In 4-quart Dutch oven cook onion in hot butter, covered, over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until tender. Add undrained whole tomatoes, 1/2 cup of the dried tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, celery, and parsley. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes; cool. Meanwhile, in microwave-safe bowl cover remaining dried tomatoes with water. Microcook on high (100% power) for 1 minute. Cool. Drain. Snip into pieces; set aside.

2. In blender, blend half of the tomato mixture at a time until smooth. Return to saucepan; add lime juice, heat through. Top with sour cream, snipped dried tomatoes, and parsley. Makes 4 side-dish servings

Nutrition Facts

Servings Per Recipe 4 side-dish servings
Calories128, Total Fat (g)4, Saturated Fat (g)2, Monounsaturated Fat (g)1, Cholesterol (mg)8, Sodium (mg)786, Carbohydrate (g)22, Total Sugar (g)14, Fiber (g)5, Protein (g)6, Vitamin C (DV%)56, Calcium (DV%)10, Iron (DV%)21, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet


Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But how can we improve it? My first thought is--what about the canned tomatoes? A lot of the work has already been done--they are peeled, diced, and "cooked". They also contain lots of natural sugars. Why not carmelize them in the oven? So, here's the Carb Diva approach to "Tomato to the 3rd Power Soup".

Carb Diva's Triple Tomato Soup
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
1/2 of a 6-oz can no-salt added tomato paste
1 14-oz can reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 bay leaf (fresh, if possible)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Strain canned tomatoes, reserving juices. Spread canned tomatoes on large baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast in oven about until carmelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute onion, celery, and garlic in large saucepan until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, sun-dried tomatoes, broth, and bay leaf. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove bay leaf. Puree soup in pot with immersion blender until smooth. Stir in chopped parsley and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Revisiting an old friend

Photo: Leo Michels

As promised yesterday, I'm going to focus on low-fat, low-calorie recipes. Lighten things up a bit. When I think "diet", salad always comes to mind. Salad for dinner. Main dish salad. A famous (and fabulous) main dish salad is the "Cobb Salad" invented in the 1930's at the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant. The original consists of chopped greens, tomato, crisp bacon, chicken, hard-boiled egg, avocado, and Roquefort cheese.

I wondered if I could perhaps update and improve the original. I replaced the traditional romaine lettuce with a healthier, more nutrient-rich salad green. I deleted the bacon and chicken, choosing instead shrimp as the protein--the smokey bacon flavor is replaced by the smoked paprika. I deleted the egg and used instead raw mushrooms and blanched green beans (they contain no fat grams and are both very low in calories). And I replaced the fat-laden roquefort with an equally assertive goat milk feta cheese.

Carb Diva Cobb Salad

For the dressing:
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. salt
1 10-oz. pkg. arugula or spinach leaves
1 cup haricot verts (thin green beans), blanched
1 cup raw button mushroom slices
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 ripe avocado, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese feta

Make the Dressing:
Combine juice, oil, and mustard in large bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Set aside.

Make the Salad:
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with smoked paprika and salt. Add to pan and cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Add arugula or spinach leaves to large bowl containing salad dressing. Toss to coat. Divide mixture among 4 salad plates. Top each serving with shrimp, green beans, mushroom slices, tomatoes, avocado and shredded cheese.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lighten up already!

Photo: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr
Today I'm struggling to hang onto my sanity. The weather forecast is for the possibility of snow in the lowlands--perhaps at the 500-ft level. THAT'S ME!! It's almost May 1 for goodness sake, and we're still talking about snow??!!

OK, let's take a deep-cleansing breath and focus on the future, on Spring, on hope. Some day we will have Spring, and if not warmer weather, at least warmer rain. Who knows, we might even some day have a Summer. So in search of a positive spin on life, let's move away from heavy soups and stews and pastas and lighten up our moods (and waistlines) with lighter, Spring-like foods.

A few weeks ago I asked for feedback on what kinds of foods you would like to see featured in this blog. One comment was "low-fat or low-calorie please". I started out in that direction, and then quickly veered off-course. I apologize. May we start over?

The May 2011 issue of Cooking Light contains a recipe for "Spanish Rice Salad". I read the recipe, and although it sounded good, I thought it could be improved upon a bit. So, I'll give you the original recipe as published, and then my changes.

Spanish Rice Salad (as published by Cooking Light magazine)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup uncooked medium-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup diced piquillo peppers or roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Set aside.

2. Place rice in a large bowl; stir in salt and black pepper. Add dressing, artichokes, chickpeas, and remaining ingredients to rice mixture; stir well. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Spanish Rice Salad (Carb Diva version)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 small garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 cup cups cooked brown rice (I use pre-cooked bags from the freezer case)
1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained  
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 15.5 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup diced roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Set aside.

2. Cook rice according to package directions.

3. Transfer rice to a large bowl; stir in salt and black pepper. Add dressing, artichokes, chickpeas, and remaining ingredients to rice mixture; stir well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rest in peace dear Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

We are officially one month into "Spring", Easter is past.......and it is snowing in the mountain passes! I'm beginning to wonder if we will ever have two consecutive days of weather above 50 degrees. Looking at my garden, I have discovered that my thyme has not returned, the sage is dry and brittle, I can't even remember where the parsley is supposed to be, and all but one rosemary bush was killed by the sub-freezing temperatures of last Winter.

To say that I am disappointed is a gross understatement. Those of you who have been reading my blog know my love affair with rosemary. I love the taste, the smell, the versatility. I love that is evergreen. I love the beautiful purple blossoms. I love that the deer don't eat it. And, I didn't lose a few 6-inch herb pots. These were large, well-established friends who had reigned in a corner of my garden for many years.

But, there still is one. One hearty soul survived. I've trimmed his branches and when the weather warms (and dries out) a bit more, I will replant and give my old reliable friend some new cousins with which to share the garden.

I mentioned versatility. I've used rosemary in cookies and scones, salads, soups, stews, and (of course) in meat dishes. The stems, stripped of their leaves, make wonderful skewers on the barbecue. But today I want to focus on bread. A dear friend at church told me that she had recently begun reading this blog. She admitted that she, like me, is a carbo-holic. She loves cookies, cakes, pastas, and bread. So Mary, this blog's for you!

Rosemary French Bread
2 pkgs. dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dry milk powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon shortening
1 clove garlic
7 to 7 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in the 2 cups of warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit about 5-10 minutes or until foamy.

In a small bowl combine the dried rosemary and olive oil.

Stir the dry milk, salt, corn syrup, shortening, rosemary/oil mixture, and garlic into the yeast in the bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add 7 cups of flour. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. You might need to add up to 1/2 cup more flour.

Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover and set in a warm place* free of drafts and let rise 90 minutes. Punch down. Let rest 5 minutes. Divide into 2 rounds. Shape into oblong loaves and place on greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal.

Cover and let rise 2 hours. Bake at 400 degrees about 25 minutes.

* I have a tried and true method for proofing yeast dough. I turn on my oven to it's lowest setting (about 200 degrees F) for just one-half minute. And then I turn off the heat. That's just enough time to create a warm environment for yeast dough to rise. Turn on your oven, wait one-half minute, and then place your dough in a clean, greased bowl into the oven and wait. You'll be amazed at what happens.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I lied!

Photo by

Well, I didn't actually lie lie. I changed my mind. Lemon Cheesecake Bars didn't happen yesterday. I just wasn't in a cookie-kind-of-mood. Pie. Pie is what I wanted. Creamy dreamy pie.

With the help of, I was able to use some of the ingredients I had already purchased for the cookie bars. Thank you Kraft for a quick, easy dessert which received lots of oohs and aahs.

Lemon Cream Pie
Vanilla wafers, finely crushed (enough to make 1 1/2 cups)*
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 pkg (3.4 oz) Jello lemon-flavor instant pudding
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
zest from 2 lemons
1 tub (8 oz) Cool Whip, thawed
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix cookie crumbs and butter; press onto bottom and up side of 9-inch pie plate. Bake 10 minutes. Cool.

Beat pudding mix, 3/4 cup milk and zest in medium bowl with whisk 2 minutes. (Mixture will be VERY thick). Stir in 1 1/2 cups Cool Whip. Spread in onto bottom of cooled crust.

Beat cream cheese, remaining milk, and sugar in separate medium bowl. Stir in remaining Cool Whip. Spread over pudding layer in crust.

The people at Kraft provided a recipe for a lemon curd recipe on top. But I was in a bit of a hurry (and feeling somewhat lazy) so I purchased a small jar of lemon curd (look in the jelly/preserves section of your grocery store). I used 1/2 of the jar, loosened it up a bit by stirring in 2 teaspoons of water, and then placed it in my piping bag with the largest star tip and decorated the edge of the pie with lemon curd rosettes.

* I used shortbread cookies (I like the ones made by Keebler). They tend to make a finer crumb, so you'll need 1 3/4 to 2 cups of crumbs

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A sure sign of Spring!

In just a few days we will be celebrating Easter--my favorite celebration in the church year, and my favorite season of the year. Yes, Spring has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Daffodils have been up and in bloom for almost a month, but they've been know to stick their pretty little yellow heads out of the snow. Robins and hummingbirds overwinter.

No, my acknowledgement that Spring has finally arrived comes from the native ferns in my garden and out in the forest. When the days are still short and temperatures are barely above freezing, I remove all of the fronds from my ferns--right down to the ground. It's a rather alarming sight. All one is left with is ugly brown mounds, some not even an inch tall but others well over a foot. It all depends on the age and size of the fern. And they continue to slumber until the days lengthen and the weather begins to warm. Then, one by one, they begin to send up new fresh fronds. Those new fronds are so very soft and green, and they tell me that Spring has finally arrived.

We'll be enjoying a somewhat non-traditional Easter dinner this Sunday. Instead of the usual oven-baked ham, I'll be serving an assortment of salads, using fresh vegetables and fruits. Deviled eggs will also be on the menu, and for dessert I'll be making lemon cheesecake bars--an easy-to-do recipe from Duncan Hines. 

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

For Crust:
1 pkg Duncan Hines Pudding Recipe cake mix*
1 egg
1/3 cup cooking oil

For Filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix dry cake mix, egg, and cooking oil until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup. Pat remaining crumb mixture in bottom of an ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg, and lemon juice until light and smooth. Spread over baked layer. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 15 minutes longer. Cool, and cut into bars.

*Duncan Hines has many flavors that will work well with this bar cookie--yellow, classic white, french vanilla, lemon supreme, orange supreme, or pineapple supreme

Friday, April 15, 2011

I have a crush on Curtis Stone!!

I did not use that title in this post simply to drive more traffic to my blog. Honest, I didn't. Those of you who know me know that I love my husband more than words can express. This year we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. And, just like a fine wine or aged cheese, yes it does get better with age. (OK, my kids are probably rolling their eyes about now). you remember when "Take Home Chef" was on TLC? No matter what I was doing, when 4 o'clock rolled around I would stop, turn on the TV, and for 30 minutes smile and sigh and swoon a little over Curtis. For those of you who have not heard of Curtis Stone (really? You must be from another planet), he is a  professionally-trained chef from Melbourne, Australia who has cooked in the finest restaurants in Europe. He worked at the Mirabelle, London as Sous Chef, helping create the Mirabelle Cookbook.

Eventually, he became Head Chef at Quo Vadis in Soho, London. Curtis was included in a book about London's finest chefs titled "London on a Plate." The book led to Curtis getting an agent and a number of opportunities within the media. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, I idolize him for his brain. And did I mention that he was included in the 2006 People Magazine list of 100 Sexist Men?

In December last year, my younger daughter asked me what I wanted for Christmas. "Curtis" was my reply. Well, she couldn't actually give me Curtis--the shipping costs would have been exorbitant (after all, he's 6'4"!). But she gave me one of his cookbooks, and a wonderful one it is.

"Cooking with Curtis--Easy, Everyday, and Adventurous Recipes for the Home Cook" presents traditional seasonal favorites. And for each "featured" main ingredient there are three separate recipes--one for the novice, one for the semi-experienced cook, and one for the pro.

Today I leafed through the book searching for something special I could prepare for my husband (still my No. 1 guy!) and my older daughter. And my eyes landed on "Pigeon and Foie GrasTart". Why? I have no idea. I'll never eat pigeon (but I can substitute chicken breast). And, do you know what foie gras is? I do and I'll NEVER go there. So what could I use instead? What about the mushroom pate that is commonly used in a Beef Wellington -- duxelle!!??

So, with a plea for forgiveness from Curtis, I present my own version of his recipe, "Chicken and Mushroom Pate Tart".

 Chicken and Mushroom Pate Tarts

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sheets puff pastry
2 cups baby spinach, blanched and squeezed to remove excess moisture
tomato fondue (see below)
mushroom pate (duxelle) (see below)
1 egg, mixed with fork
3 tablespoons milk

For the tomato fondue (as published in Curtis's book)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 10 plum tomatoes, peeled and de-seeded
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and sweat for 2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic,thyme, and bay leaf and leave to sweat until soft. Pour the red wine into the pan and stir to deglaze, then reduce the liquor to a glaze. Add the tomatoes and reduce to a thick paste. Remove the pan from the heat and cool. Transfer to a bowl, cover and leave to chill in the refrigerator until required.

For the mushroom pate (duxelle)
  • 1/2 lb.mushrooms (morels are great, but button mushrooms work)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter; divided
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth, sherry, or white wine
Finely chop the mushrooms in a food processor. Scrape mushrooms out into a clean, cotton towel. (Note: Do not use terry cloth, and choose an old towel as you will stain it.) Twist the towel around mushrooms and wring out as much liquid as you can over the sink.
Heat a large (10-inch) non-stick skillet over a burner set between medium and medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon butter and swirl to melt and avoid burning. Add mushrooms, shallots, a pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms appear dry and are beginning to brown; about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter, and, when melted, the sherry or wine. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vermouth has evaporated. Remove from heat and cool.

To assemble the tart
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, swirling to coat. Carefully add the chicken breasts and saute about 4 minutes per side or until no longer pink in the center and nicely browned. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Cut out 4 large circles (about 5 inches across) from each puff pastry sheet. Place 4 pastry discs on a waxed-paper lined tray. Place a little spinach in the center of each disc to form the base of the tart, then place a cooked/cooled chicken breast on top. Spread the tomato fondue on the breast and spread about 2 tablespoons of the mushroom pate on top of each (using 8 tablespoons total). Lay another pastry disc on the top and press down the sides of the pie to make a tart tht looks slightly like a ravioli.

Place the tarts in the refrigerator and leave to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Beat together egg and milk. Remove the tarts from refrigerator and brush with egg and milk wash. Prick the tops 3-4 times with a small knife.

Place the tarts on a baking tray and bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If summer ever arrives...

Cuban Beans and Rice Salad Recipe
Photo: Randy Mayor, Melanie J. Clarke,

In response to my friend's request, I'm searching through my files this week for low-fat, low-cal recipes. Here's one I developed several years ago, when we had a real summer:

Cuban Beans and Rice Salad
1 large avocado, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced cilantro (optional)

Gently stir together avocado, vinegar, oil, and seasonings in large mixing bowl until avocado is covered with vinegar-oil mixture (this will prevent discoloration). Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When life hands you lemons....

Garganelli with Asparagus and Pecorino Cheese Recipe
Photo: Francesco Tonelli, recipe: Rori Trovato
Styling: Philippa Brathwaite

It's only Monday, and already I'm wishing for the weekend. T'was not a great day, and I'm not too sure of the prospects for tomorrow. That said, I was pleased to find a special request in my mailbox--one of you asked if I could focus on low-cal and/or low-fat recipes.

I'm happy to oblige, and now that Spring m-i-g-h-t be close, it's time to lighten up our focus a bit, steer away from the heavy sauces and stews and focus on fresh, new vegetables and herbs. Here's a pasta dish from Cooking Light magazine:

Garganelli with Asparagus and Pecorino Cheese

  • 8 ounces uncooked garganelli pasta
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 1 pound)
  • 1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shaved fresh pecorino Romano cheese
Cook pasta in boiling water with 1 tablespoon kosher salt according to package directions, omitting additional fat. Drain.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add asparagus to pan; cook 3 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add broth, lemon rind, and garlic to pan; cook until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup (about 6 minutes). Return asparagus to pan. Add pasta, grated cheese, salt, and pepper; toss well. Place about 1 1/4 cups pasta mixture in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons shaved cheese. (Serves 4)

Amount per serving:
Calories: 340
Fat: 11.9g
Saturated fat: 3g
Monounsaturated fat: 6.4g
Polyunsaturated fat: 1.9g
Protein: 14.1g
Carbohydrate: 46g
Fiber: 4.7g
Cholesterol: 54mg
Iron: 4.9mg
Sodium: 610mg
Calcium: 138mg

Monday, April 11, 2011

Olive Garden - I have an "app" for that, redux

First, let me state that I do not have a fear of dining in restaurants. My family has (finally) grown accustomed to my desire to create everything and anything related to food in our kitchen. While others watch an advertisement for a local restaurant and say "Mmmm, that sounds good. Let's go there to eat", I always say "Mmmm, that sounds good. I'll bet I can make that."

Such is the case with the most recent television commercial for Olive Garden's cheese-filled soffatelli. I have no problem with the folks who operate Olive Garden. I've eaten there many times and have enjoyed each and every meal. But.....I also enjoy cooking, enjoy finding ways of making new things, and enjoy Italian food. So, why not try to replicate a recipe from a place I hold dear in my heart?

Well, for one thing, I've not tasted the soffatelli at Olive Garden. And, since it's being offered for a limited time only, the chances that I will eat there before it disappears are pretty slim. So, I'm exercising a tremendous amount of ego to offer this recipe, and, if you choose to use it, you are taking a giant leap of faith in my culinary skills. Let's jump off that cliff together, OK?

Carb Diva's Cheese-Filled Soffatelli
One 17.3 oz pkg. puff pastry sheets
One pkg. Stouffer's Spinach Souffle
Cooking spray
One 8-oz pkg Sargento Fancy Shredded 6 Cheese Italian Cheese
2 whole fresh lemons
1 bunch fresh parsley
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Puff pastry sheets are typically found in the frozen food section at your grocers. Unwrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minute to thaw. There are two sheets in each package. Unfold them, and cut each into 4 pieces, to make 8 squares total.

Remove the spinach souffle from its package. Lift one corner of the plastic wrap to vent; cook on full power in the microwave for 5 minutes. Remove, stir and return to the microwave. Cook for another 2 minutes. Mixture will be almost firm but not fully cooked. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

Divide spinach souffle mixture into 8 equal pieces. Place one piece on each puff pastry square. Top each spinach souffle mound with 1 tablespoon of Italian cheese.

Bring the corners of each puff pastry up to the center--pinch together and seal the sides to form square "envelopes".

Lightly coat a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place spinach/cheese-filled puff pastry enveloes on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees F. for about 20 minutes, or until well-browned and puffed.

While the puffs are baking, prepare the sauce.

Using a zester, remove the yellow portion only of the lemon rind (don't cut into the white pith--it's bitter) and set aside.  Mince the parsley until you have about 3/4 cup.

Heat the butter and olive oil over low heat. Add the minced garlic and lemon rind; cook until the garlic and lemon are fragrant and then remove from heat. Stir in the minced parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the sauce among 8 serving plates and place one baked soffatelli on top of each.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's not just about the pasta

Did you know that Italy is the leading producer of rice in Europe? It is not known when rice was first introduced to Italian farmers, but it was most likely in the mid-14th century when Venetian or Genoese merchants brought it back in their ships. Rice thrives in the climate of the Po River valley where first courses of rice are more popular and common than pasta.

Today's recipe is a classic Sicilian dish--Sausage and Rice Timbale (or, in Italian, Timbollo) is a great make-ahead recipe, and something to keep in mind if you are trying to reduce or remove gluten from your diet.

Picture of Sausage-and-Rice Timbale Recipe
Photo: Anna Williams,

Sausage and Rice Timbale

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound Italian pork sausage (preferably luganega), casings removed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups grated pecorino romano cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 2 ounces deli-sliced provolone cheese


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring once or twice, until the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain, shaking the colander to remove any excess water. Spread the rice on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and place a baking sheet on the middle rack. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 6 minutes. Tear the basil and add to the skillet along with the garlic and tomato paste. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste browns, about 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Coat the pan with the breadcrumbs, tapping to remove any excess. Put the eggs and all but 3 tablespoons of the pecorino cheese in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Put the cooled rice in a bowl; add the egg mixture and stir to combine.

Transfer about two-thirds of the rice mixture to the prepared springform pan. Using moist fingers, pat the rice onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan, forming a 1/2-inch-thick layer. Place the provolone slices over the rice in the pan. Spoon about three-quarters of the sausage filling over the provolone, filling it to 1/2 inch from the top. Pat the remaining rice mixture on top to enclose the filling, then sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons pecorino cheese. Put the pan on the hot baking sheet and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool, 5 minutes.

Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the timbale, then remove the side of the pan. Slide a spatula under the timbale and transfer it to a platter. Thin the remaining sausage filling with a splash of water and reheat. Serve with the timbale.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Not your grandma's pot pie

Photo: Scott Phillips,,
March 3, 2011
My friends at church who asked for a recipe for rutabagas got me thinking about root vegetables. Typically, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and such make me think about winter foods, comfort foods--savory stews, creamy soups. But actually root vegetables can also be a part of spring--baby radishes, slender carrots, and green onions.

So, I'm giving you this recipe as a bridge from winter to spring. I found this innovative spin on the typical chicken pot pie at

Chicken Pot Pie with Fennel and Mushrooms in a Potato Bowl

For the stew
1-1/2 lb. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
2 cups sliced mushrooms, such as oyster, hen of the woods, or chanterelles
1-1/2 cups small-diced fennel (from 1 small bulb)
1 cup small-diced carrot
1 cup fresh pearl onions, peeled, or frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

For the baby carrots
16 baby carrots with tops, peeled and trimmed with 1/2 inch of the tops intact
2 Tbs. olive oil
Kosher salt

For the whipped potatoes
3 lb. russet potatoes (about 4 medium)
Kosher salt
2/3 cup whole milk
3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
Freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.
Make the stew Season the chicken with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Heat the oil in a 10- to 11-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken, flipping once, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and whisk the flour into the fat in the pan. Cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer gently, turning once, until the chicken is very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate and let cool briefly.

Meanwhile, stir the mushrooms, fennel, carrot, onions, and thyme into the sauce. Cover and simmer until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the mustard and butter, and keep warm.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, shred into bite-size pieces (discard the skin and bones), and add to the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Roast the carrots Put the carrots on a small rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with 1/4 tsp. salt. Roast the carrots until tender and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Keep warm.
Make the whipped potatoes Peel and quarter the potatoes. Put them in a 4-quart saucepan; add enough water to cover and 4 tsp. salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover, reduce the heat as needed to keep the water from boiling over, and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain well. Return the potatoes to the pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until they no longer steam profusely (a little steam is fine), about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming, about 2 minutes. Keep warm.

With an electric hand mixer on medium-low speed, beat the potatoes until they’re broken up, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot milk and the butter, and beat on high speed, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot occasionally, until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes (the potatoes should be fairly stiff, but add the remaining milk if needed). Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Tip: To pipe whipped potatoes into a bowl shape, the potatoes need to be stiff, but not too stiff. Try piping a little bit of potato into a circle, and if it’s too stiff to do so easily, add a bit more milk to the remaining potatoes before proceeding.
Spoon the whipped potatoes into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip (Ateco #806). Pipe the potatoes to form “bowls” on each of 6 plates; the bowls should be about 3 inches in diameter and about 2-1/2 inches tall. Spoon the chicken stew into the bowls and garnish with the roasted baby carrots and the chives.