Chinese Five-Spice Acorn Squash Soup

>> Monday, February 23, 2015

Chinese Five-Spice Acorn Squash Soup

This is recipe number 2 from Joe's Valentine's Day dinner. I planned to make a fairly healthy soup full of that beta-carotene goodness, and the acorn squash was looking mighty good at the grocery store. The end result was a super-easy, super-creamy soup without the calories that come from cream.

One thing we noted is that the five-spice powder ingredients contain cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, which all turn bitter with long cooking. If you know you'll be warming the soup for a long time - we were serving it a few courses down the road - add the spice near the end.

Joe's Valentines' Day Dinner


2 large acorn squashes
2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
6 oz. fat-free cream cheese
2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp chopped chives


Cut the squashes in half and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down on a plate, and microwave for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Let cool until they are easier to handle.

Heat a saucepan to high and and throw in the pecans. Shake and cook until the nuts are slightly golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and put in a bowl so they don't cook any further in the pan.

Puree the squash, garlic powder, salt and pepper, broth, and cream cheese in a blender. Pour into the pan and heat to a simmer. Stir in the five-spice powder, then heat through. 

Serve in bowls topped with the pecans and chives.

Serves 4-6.


Crispy Polenta Wedges with Olive Tapenade

>> Friday, February 20, 2015

Crispy Polenta Wedges with Olive Tapenade

This recipe is one I came up with while planning a special Valentine's Day dinner for Joe. I was serving the wedges alongside duck a l'orange, a rather heavy and a bit sweet main course. The olive tapenade had just a little tart bite and a lot of flavor.

I've said before that Joe does most of the cooking, but last weekend I wanted to make a special meal. I gave myself a couple of challenges. 1) I wanted to use up some of the things that had been lingering in our pantry and freezer. 2) I wanted to stretch myself by coming up with different dishes and very little guidance from other peoples' recipes. 3) I wanted to serve a 7-course dinner with minimal interruptions between courses - that meant I had to get an awful lot done ahead of time, while leaving some surprises for Joe.

The big reveal last Saturday morning was a great success with Joe. He was excited to dive into the day's cooking.

The tapenade-polenta recipe was a big standout in our minds, but we'll be posting all of them to let you decide. Joe used the rest of the tapenade on Fat Tuesday in his muffaletta sandwich. This is one of the best things you can add to your grinder or sub sandwich.You can also serve the crispy polenta in little squares, with the olive tapenade on top, as a appetizer.


1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

For the tapenade

1 cup green olives, pitted
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 tbsp capers
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp anchovy paste
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Crispy Polenta Wedges with Olive Tapenade


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Grease a round baking dish and spread the polenta evenly. 

Put the polenta in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until crispy on the edges. 

Meanwhile, put all tapenade ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until a crumbly mixture. Let it stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Let the polenta cool slightly and cut into wedges. Top with the olive-tomato mixture before serving.

Serves 4 as a side dish; more as an appetizer.


Paprika-Spiced Caramelized Carrots

>> Monday, February 16, 2015

Paprika-Spiced Caramelized Carrots

I fell for these beauties as soon as I saw them - long delicate carrots, brilliant orange with their fuzzy tops bright green. I had to have them.

We're in a passion over smoked paprika as well, and when I sprinkled the paprika on the carrots and roasted them slow and tenderly turned them, they were a revelation. These are nothing like the boiled carrots I grew up with.


1 lb. thin carrots, scrubbed
1 tbsp smoked or sweet paprika
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste


Slice the carrots in half, length-wise. Brush half the oil on a baking sheet, and arrange the carrots on the pan. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the carrots. Marinate for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the carrots about 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until tender. Drizzle with the caramelized marinade before serving.

Serves 4-6.


Fish Stuffed with Spinach and Pecans in Puff Pastry

>> Friday, February 13, 2015

Fish Stuffed with Spinach and Pecans in Puff Pastry

Every year, Joe's company throws a lavish annual party in Chicago's Loop, and man do we love dressing up and eating well. This year our dinner theme was a Casino Night at the Palmer House. I've only walked through that glorious building, but in January we stayed there overnight.

Palmer House Chicago, the Great Hall
Palmer House Chicago, the Great Hall

This year, I was especially excited to go to a black-tie event because Joe was planning to wear his gorgeous charcoal pinstripe suit and I had a sparkly new dress.

Angela selfie
I look like I'm about to cry, but I'm actually trying to correct the fisheye lens effect so my face isn't bulging forward in the pic. What's up with that, iPhone?
The dinner theme was "Casino Night", and I know very little about casinos except what I saw on the movie "Rain Man". I used to play BlackJack with some friends back in the day at a nightclub, but  I didn't really remember the intricacies. By the end of the night, though, I had a huge stack of chips to trade in for raffle prizes.

I went to bed bragging that I was naturally lucky with Blackjack. In the morning, under a quick shower, I remembered that I'd started playing at the table by announcing I was a newbie, and I had some very talented people giving me advice each round. 

Oh well, at least I felt like a  million dollars. 

This recipe is similar to an entree at the fish carving station. It was a big stand-out in my mind and we knew we had to develop a similar recipe. This is actually pretty easy and looks elegant on the table (if you're not recipe-developing at 10 pm on a work night). If it makes you feel special, why not put on your prettiest dress-up clothes for dinner?


1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz baby spinach, rinsed, dried, and stemmed
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 (2 1/2 to 3-ounce) white fish fillets (we used cod, but I would have used orange roughy or sole if it was on sale.)
2 tsp fish seasoning (we used Emeril's)
1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

For the Lemon Sauce

4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
dash salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2  cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place lightly greased parchment paper in a cookie sheet.

Sprinkle the fish with the fish seasoning and let marinate in the fridge while you're making the rest of the dish.

Heat a large skillet to medium-high, then add the chopped pecans and shake them in the pan while they toast slightly and become fragrant. Set them aside. Melt the butter in the skillet, then add the garlic and spinach, salt and pepper to the pan. Toss the spinach over medium high heat 2-3 minutes, until the leaves are bright green and slightly softened. Let cool.

Sprinkle the counter or a large cutting board with flour. Place one sheet of the puff pastry on the work surface, then roll it out very thin - about 1/8" thick. Lay the pastry on the parchment paper and roll out a second sheet.

Lay the fish on the pastry sheet and cover with the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with the pecans, then add the top layer of pastry and pinch the edges together.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg with 1 tablespoon of water Brush over the parchment package. Bake until the puff pastry is golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes

To make the lemon sauce, melt together the butter and olive oil and let cool. Place in a blender or food processor with the salt, lemon, wine, and  shallots; pulse until well blended. Heat the sauce in a small pot until boiling, then reduce to a simmer. Stir the water and cornstarch together, then slowly stir into the lemon sauce. Cook until the sauce is the consistency of gravy.

Remove the fish from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving with the lemon butter sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

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