Monthly Archives: September 2012

Greek Glory Cruise–6th Stop: Argostoli (Part 1)

Sorry for the long delay on the posts about my Greek Glory Cruise.  I have been busy at work of late and figured that I would switch things up and give you a few recipe posts and restaurant reviews.  But let’s see, where did I leave off?  The last city I wrote about was Athens which was a wonderful visit full of culture and history.  The next stop on our trip was the much small port city of Argostoli.

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We spent some time walking around the actual city of Argostoli, but were also very interested in going to some of the wonderful beaches that the island is known for.  Also, because we had yet to try any Greek food , we wanted to try and get a late lunch at a local restaurant.

The first stop of the day was a gorgeous beach called Makris Gialos.

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The beach was perfectly sandy white and the water was warm and perfect for floating, swimming and playing paddleball.


The beach was sandy white and the water was warm and perfect for floating, swimming and playing paddleball.  After all the activity, it was also nice to enjoy a beer and overlook the gorgeous scenery.

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After hours of walking to the beach, swimming in the water and relaxing at the beach café, Tommy, Kate and I had worked out quite the appetite.  After perusing the menus of various restaurants, we ended up at one called Tabepva Euptaki.

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Tabepva Euptaki had a wonderful outdoor seating area and true to Greek form blue chairs with white and blue tablecloths.  To start, we ordered a round of Greek beer.

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In addition to the delicious cold beer, this restaurant also offered some wonderful traditional Greek food.  To start, we ordered some spanakopita which is a mixture of spinach and feta cheese (dill, parsley and mint are also traditional herbs included) stuffed inside filo dough.

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Typically if you order spanakopita as a main entrée, it comes in large squares.  Theses were pre-portioned in little triangles and great for sharing between three people!  We also ordered tzatziki which is a yogurt sauce full of cucumber, dill, garlic and lemon.  It is traditionally served alongside pita or other types of bread.

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After we finished off the two starters, we inquired about two other pretty standard Greek dishes – saganaki and charbroiled octopus.  Saganaki is a pan-seared fried Greek cheese (usually halloumi or kasseri) that is set on fire (with brandy) and then put out with lemon juice.

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This particular saganaki was “well done” and we suspected it was maybe even fried?  Regardless, it was delicious sprayed with some fresh lemon juice.  In addition to all this great food, we were also interested in the octopus from the start.  Our only concern was that the octopus wasn’t super fresh, however our waiter quickly put that concern to rest when he told us that it was still living and residing in a tank in the kitchen!  And man was it ever fresh!

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If you have never had it, octopus is absolutely fabulous.  The best way I can describe the texture is that it is the most “meat” like fish I have ever had – it is chewy and rich.  Charbroiling it is also a wonderful method to cook the octopus because it gives it a smoky flavor and a crunchy exterior.

I am so happy we stopped at this particular restaurant because not only was the beer cold, the food delicious and the service wonderful and friendly, but it felt like a truly traditional Greek experience.  After we finished, we made a two mile trek back to the port and enjoyed some time on the pool deck before dinner.  I am going to reserve our dinner at Jacques – one of the specialty restaurants on the boat – for my next post.  The food was so wonderful and the cheese plate alone could have its own post!

Restaurant Recreation–Santa Fe Style Eggs Benedict

A few weeks ago, Tommy and I visited a restaurant that is among our all time favorite brunch spots in Boston – Masa

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Tommy and I love Masa because they have a great brunch menu and an awesome deal on it on Saturdays.  Masa’s Brunch Fiesta menu includes two course and a cup of coffee (plus their delicious complimentary corn bread) for just $7.95.  You are not going to find a better deal for that amount of food anywhere in Boston!

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While I have had everything on the fiesta menu, two of my favorites have to  be the Caramelized Plantain Empanada to start and the Santa Fe Style Eggs Benedict for my main course.  Also – Masa starts you off with some of their delicious corn bread and homemade butter and jams.

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From left to right, the spreads include a maple butter, chipotle raspberry jam and a habanero apricot jelly.  I would love to pick a favorite, but truthfully they are all extremely delicious.

The empanada is also always a highlight of the meal.  It has a flakey yet doughy crust and is stuffed with plantains.  The empanada itself is not overly sweet, but it comes with a sweet and gooey maple/butter sauce that gives it the perfect sugar leve.

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The Santa Fe Style Eggs Benedict includes includes two poached eggs atop a freshly baked biscuit and avocado all smothered in a deliciously spicy hollandaise sauce.  This is also served with pico de gallo (Mexican salsa made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and chilies) and sautéed potatoes.

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Given that I don’t live in Boston anymore, I decided that I needed to come up with a way to get my Masa fix anytime and anywhere (actually, the truth is, my sister came up with the recipe many years ago after I initially introduced her to Masa and she needed her fix).

Southwestern Eggs Benedict – Serves 1 (Inspired by Masa’a Santa Fe Eggs Benedict)

Although this is certainly inspired by my favorite dish at Masa, it is definitely unique as well.  The similarities include forgoing the traditional english muffin in favor of a biscuit, adding avocado, poaching the eggs and serving it with a hollandaise sauce.  The main difference is the flavoring of the hollandaise sauce.  Mine is a spicy chipotle and lemon flavored sauce while Masa’s includes green chilies and definitely not as much spice.  Also, I am sure that Masa makes its own hollandaise sauce from scratch? Mine uses packaged hollandaise sauce as a base and makes the whole process much easier!

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The other thing that makes this dish easy is the use of an egg poacher pan. I actually don’t own one, but used my mom’s this past weekend and it worked great.  Poaching eggs can be a bit of a pain because you have to get the water to the perfect heat, know when to remove the egg and often times have the egg stick to the bottom of the pan.  If you don’t have a poacher – just add about 2-3 cups of water to a nonstick sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  Add about a table spoon of vinegar, drop the egg (its easier if you crack the egg into a small bowl and then pour it into the water) and let it cook for about 5-6 minutes.

Finally, I did not make biscuits from scratch per se.  I just used Bisquick and milk and followed the recipe on the back of the box.  This couldn’t be easier and the biscuits always turn out delicious.  If you are super ambitious and want to try and make your own biscuits, try this recipe from Tyler Florence.

Final Note – The recipe below yields two biscuits even though you will only need one and also yields double the amount of hollandaise sauce that you would need for one serving.  I think it is easier to use a full package of the hollandaise and a cup of Bisquick so I just make the double the quantities for these two items and save them for another time (the biscuit freezes well and the sauce will keep in your fridge for at least a week). 

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Bisquick Mix
  • 1 and 1/3 cup milk, separated
  • 1/4 medium sized avocado, sliced
  • 1 package hollandaise sauce
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1-2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, chopped (depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 2 TB of lemon juice
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • S+P to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix 1/3 cup milk and Bisquick together in a small bowl with a fork until combined.  Cook for 12 minutes or until browned on top and cooked through.

Add water to an egg poaching pan and bring water to a simmer.  You don’t want the water touching the bottom of the part of the pan that holds the eggs because you could risk having them over cook.  Once the water is at a simmer, spray the part of the pan that holds the eggs and drop the eggs.

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Cover with lid and cook for 7-8 minutes or until the egg whites are just cooked through.

Meanwhile, it is time to make the hollandaise.  Add the contents of the packet to a sauce pan with 1 cup of the milk and bring to a simmer whisking constantly so that the package contents disintegrate.  Add the butter, the chipotle, lemon juice and lemon zest (reserving some lemon zest to go on top of the final product). Cook all ingredients together for 5 minutes or until thickened.

All that is left to do is the assembling!

Step 1: Slice one of the biscuits in half and place on plate

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Step 2: Add sliced avocado and top with salt and pepper

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Step 3: Add poached eggs

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Step 4: Smother the entire thing with the hollandaise sauce! You can see that mine is a much darker color than Masa’s thanks to the adobo sauce.

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Step 5: Sprinkle lemon zest

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Serve the benedict alone or with some sautéed breakfast potatoes.  My parents had some leftover baby new potatoes from the night before, so I heated those up and added them to my plate.

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The only thing left to do is to cut into the poached eggs and incorporate the runny yolk into the sauce!

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Restaurant Recreation–Farfalle ai Due Salmoni

One thing I have been trying to do more of is eat more Salmon.  I know how good it is for me and want to reap all of the health benefits.  However, for a long time, I was certain that the only salmon I liked was either the raw variety, like what I get in my favorite sushi restaurant, or the smoked which often comes on top of a bagel with cream cheese, fresh tomato, red onion and capers.  Although I had tried cook salmon many times, it always seemed very strong and fishy to me.  That is, until I tried wild Alaskan salmon when I was in Vancouver a few months ago for work.  What I learned is that wild salmon is nothing like the orange farmed stuffed that is usually called “Atlantic.”  Wild salmon is a deep red-orange color and does not have a trace of fishy flavor (if its good fresh fish of course).

After discovering this, I have been on a mission to incorporate Salmon into my meals once a week.  This is easy to accomplish because Costco has fresh Coho salmon almost everyday and for a very reasonable price (someday I will do a post about my love for Costco and my favorite items at the store).  I paid $20 dollars for a huge piece of fish that yielded six portions.  This is roughly $3.50 per meal for a substantial and healthy protein – not bad at all!

I actually ate salmon alongside some green beans and acorn squash a few nights ago, but had a craving for it again last night.  However, I didn’t want to just make the standard sautéed piece of fish, I wanted to use it in a more creative way.  That is when I thought about one of my favorite pasta dishes at, where else, Topo Gigio.  You guys probably think that I don’t eat out any place else, but I do!  I just know so many of the dishes at Topo, and they are all so good, so it make sense to attempt to recreate them at home.

This time, I thought about Topo’s Farfalle ai Due Salmoni – or Farfalle with two kinds of salmon – cooked and smoked – in a tomato cream sauce.  Not only is this dish delicious, but really its’ recipe includes ingredients that you probably have on hand – tomatoes (either fresh or canned), pasta (farfalle is traditional, but you could substitute whatever you have), onion, garlic, cream or half and half (whatever you put in your morning coffee) and salmon.  If you don’t have salmon in your freezer, go out and get it!  It freezes well and you know that you will always have a healthy and easy protein ready to go.  Not only do salmon filets freeze well, but smoked salmon does as well.  Just let it defrost on your counter top for a few hours and you can have lox anytime.

I made my sauce with some fresh tomatoes.

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They are still abundant at the farmers markets and very tasty.  Canned tomatoes would work well in the winter time, but what I plan to do this weekend is get a bunch of tomatoes at the market and make a huge batch of fresh tomato sauce to freeze and use in the middle of the winter when there are no fresh tomatoes in sight.

Farfalle ai Due Salmoni – Serves 4 – 6 (Inspired by Topo Gigio’s Pasta)

To make the sauce for this dish, I actually used a similar recipe as the tomato sauce I made and wrote about in this post.  The only difference is that I excluded the pancetta and added some olive oil to sauté the onions and garlic in.  Also, staying true to the original, I added some half and half at the end of the cooking process to make the sauce a beautiful pink shade that matched beautifully with the salmon.  Finally, I didn’t add the basil to this sauce because the original dish has dill in it.  I forgot to buy dill at the store, but the sauce was still fabulous.  If you have dill (or remember to buy it at the store!), I would add it because dill and salmon are a wonderful pairing.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Farfalle
  • 8 small-medium tomatoes, chopped or 2 15 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 TBs onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 TBs half and half or cream
  • 4 ounces of salmon (preferably wild and from the pacific)
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • S+P to taste

Directions

Bring large pot of water to boil.  Cook farfalle per package directions.

To cook the tomato sauce, pour 3 TB of olive oil into a large sauté pan over low heat.  Add chopped onions and cook for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent but not brown.  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the garlic isn’t burning.  Add the chopped tomatoes and bring the heat to medium. Add salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes break down a bit.  I wanted my tomato sauce to be somewhat smooth, so I used an immersion blender to break down some of the tomato bits even further.  If you before a chunkier sauce you don’t have to blend it.

Once at the desired consistency, add approximately 3 TB of cream.  You may way to add more or less depending on how creamy you like the sauce.

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Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Season the piece of salmon (not the smoked salmon) with salt and pepper and once the oil is hot, sauté salmon skin side down for 3 minutes per side (my salmon was about a 1/2 inch at its thickest part).  I cooked my salmon until it was medium-well because I do not like overcooked fish.  If you like it more well done, cook it for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes per side.  Once it has finished cooking, remove the pan from the heat and let sit.

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Once cooled, break the salmon into large chunks and cut the smoked salmon into pieces.

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Add the salmon to the tomato and cream sauce and stir to combine.

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Once the pasta has finished cooking, add the pasta and some reserved pasta water (approximately 1/4 cup) right into the sauté pan.  This is when it comes in handy to have a big pan!

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Cook the pasta and sauce together over low heat for 1-2 minutes.  Pour everything out onto a beautiful platter (bonus points if it is from Italy like ours is!)

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Normally when I make a big batch of pasta for everyone, I would sprinkle the whole thing with freshly grated parmesan.  In this case, I did not because there is controversy over whether you should add cheese to seafood dishes.

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However, as you can see by the portion on my plate, I don’t buy into not mixing seafood and cheese because in this case it works really well!

This dish was amazing – it had rich salmon flavor, an acid yet creamy tomato sauce and perfectly cooked al dente pasta.  I think my mom (who orders the Farfalle ai due Salmoni from Topo often) was especially impressed with how easy this dish was to make and how much it tasted like the real thing.  This is definitely going to be a keeper in my household and will bring me a step closer to fulfilling my goal of eating salmon once a week!

Lobster Bisque

A few weeks ago when Kate and I were in Chatham for the holiday weekend, Tommy’s mom, Carol, got us all lobsters for dinner.  Needless to say it was a delicious meal as lobster always is.  We served it with melted butter, boiled potatoes, corn on the cob and a fresh salad with summer’s best tomatoes.  After we were stuffed to the brim, we got the idea to use the lobster bodies and corn cobs as the base for a lobster stock.  We didn’t have a recipe but just put in 3-4 corn cobs, 5-6 lobster bodies and about 12-16 cups of water in a large pot and brought everything to a boil.  Once boiling, we reduced the heat and cooked everything on simmer for about 8 hours.  After it had reduced and the flavor intensified, we put the the stock through a cheese cloth to remove all of the little lobster bits.  What remained was a wonderful stock full of lobster the flavor.

The only thing left to do? Decide what we were going to do with it.  The answer? Make a lobster bisque soup based on a recipe from one of our favorite Boston spots – New England Soup Factory.

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Tommy and I actually own the New England Soup Factory Cookbook and have made a lot of delicious soups out of this book and I recommend it highly.  One of our favorite soups at the restaurant is a Lobster Newburg, which is essentially lobster bisque with rice mixed in.  Unfortunately, the cookbook only had a recipe for lobster bisque, so we were nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as the Newburg.  Luckily for us, we were wrong because this soup was amazing.  We made a couple of adjustments to the original recipe, but the main ingredients are the same.  If you don’t have your own lobster stock, you can typically find it at your fish monger.  However, given that you are using fresh lobster in this recipe, you could make fresh stock in the hours before actually cooking the soup.

Lobster Bisque – Serves 8 (Inspired by New England Soup Factory’s Recipe):

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups lobster stock
  • 1 1/4 lb lobster meat, chopped (approximately 2 1/2 lb live lobsters)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, chopped
  • 4 TB salted butter
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup dry sherry or brandy
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • S+P to taste

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Directions:

Chop onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

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Celery, carrots and onion are known in French cooking as Mirepoix – otherwise known as the holy trinity.  This, along with with the garlic, are what give the soup so much flavor.

Heat the butter in a large stockpot.  Once melted add the garlic, onion, celery and carrots.  Sautee for 12-15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  At this point, add the potatoes, white wine, lobster stock and tomato paste.  Stir until incorporated and then bring to a boil.

Once at a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.

Once the potatoes are finished, it is time to blend the soup.  Add the soup in batches to the blender or blend smooth with an immersion blender.  This soup is best when served completely smooth so make sure you get all of the vegetable chunks out.

After the soup is blended, return to the pot and add the sherry or brandy, heavy cream and hot sauce.  Add the chopped lobster pieces in as well.

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(it helps the taste of the bisque significantly if you have a handsome man chopping the lobster!)

Once the soup is hot, taste it and make sure that the seasonings are right.  I thought that this had just the right amount of salt (without adding anything! Lobster is salty!), but needed a bit of pepper.

Serve this soup with nice crusty bread for optimal “sopping!”

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I cannot tell you how wonderful this soup was.  One interesting element about it is that it had absolutely zero corn starch or flour in it.  This soup was thickened by nature’s thickener – potatoes!  I have also used potatoes to thicken an asparagus soup that my mom introduced me to and they work like a charm.  Not only are the potatoes starchy enough to make this soup thick but they also added great nutritional value (love potassium!).

I served my soup alongside a pumpkin beer which was the perfect compliment and a great, well rounded meal, for a chilly fall night!

Door-to-Door Organics and Portuguese Chorizo and Kale Soup

A few months ago, Kate and I stumbled across a coupon for Door-to-Door Organics.  Door-to-Door Organics is an online grocery shopping delivery service that delivers fresh and organic produce (often times locally sourced) right to your door.  According to the website,

Door-to-Door partners with organic farmers to bring the freshest seasonal, local produce and the perfect selection of natural groceries, right to your doorstop.

Kate and I each ordered a “small box” which is described as enough organic produce (either all fruit, all vegetables or a combination of the two) for a 2-3 person household for the week.  We had yet to redeem our coupon for the box despite having it for many months because the farmers market in Chicago has provided us with such delicious, organic and local produce all summer.  When we realized that we would be unable to hit up our favorite farmers market this past week, we decided to redeem one of our coupons.

We opted to go all vegetables for our box because we had a lot of fruit (think delicious blueberries and perfectly ripe peaches) that we stocked up on from the market the previous week.

Although Door-to-Door has a pre-set box every week based on what is fresh and locally available, they also allow you to make up to five substitutions for vegetables you might want more.  For our box, we opted for bell peppers (local), tomatoes (local), potatoes (local), carrots (local), kale (local), green beans (local) and acorn squash (local).  Do you notice a theme?! Everything we got was locally sourced and organic and the total price we paid for this box was $15 with our coupon.

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All of these goodies came packed in a box that was delivered to my front door and kept cool with an ice pack. 

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Even though this service is obviously a little more expensive than a run of the mill trip to the store, I thought it was well worth it.  This company means that even the busiest of people can still have access to fresh, local and reliable produce (I just don’t trust the produce from Peapod!).

After all these vegetables were delivered, Kate, my mom and I felt inspired to do something delicious with them for dinner the next night.  Kate and I immediately thought of a stew to utilize the potatoes and the massive amounts of kale.  After a little bit of foodnetwork.com searching, we came up with a Portuguese Soup full of potatoes, kale, chorizo sausage, garbanzo beans and tomatoes all cooked together in chicken broth.

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If you are looking for a hearty, warm your soul from the inside out type of meal, look no further.  This is the perfect tribute to those summer-to-fall transition vegetables, like the ones I received from Door-to-Door organics.  Also, because this recipe is inspired by one created by Racheal Ray – you know that it will be prepared in no time!

*Full Disclosure: My mom was 95% responsible for the execution of this dish! I came in at the last minute and adjusted the seasoning slightly, but she was responsible for making it taste as good as it did.  Doesn’t your mom’s food always taste better than your own?

Portegese Chorizo and Kale Soup – Serves 8 (inspired by Racheal Ray’s Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

This soup/stew is full of fresh vegetables and will fill you up without making you feel stuffed.  I added chorizo to my soup, but feel free to omit it and also substitute vegetable broth to make this dish 100% vegetarian.  The only recommendation I would make if omitting the chorizo?  Add some spicy red pepper flakes to the broth while it cooks to give it a spicy kick.  The chorizo adds wonderful heat which makes this dish even better.

Ingredients

  • 2 TBs EVOO
  • 3-4 small yukon gold or new potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 pound kale (roughly two bunches), coarsely chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can garbanzos, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 LB spicy chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • S+P to taste
  • 1 loaf crusty french bread

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Directions

Heat EVOO in a dutch oven or deep pot over medium heat.  When EVOO is heated, add potatoes and onions.  Coat everything with the fat and cook until the onions are tender (approximately 5 minutes).

Once the onions are tender, add the minced garlic, the dried bay leaves and the chopped kale to the pot.  Cover the pot and cook greens until they wilt (approximately 2 minutes).   Once the greens are wilted, season everything with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the chicken broth, drained garbanzo beans and the canned tomatoes to the pot and stir to incorporate all the ingredients into the broth.  Bring broth to a boil.

While broth is boiling, heat another pan over medium heat and cook the chorizo until crispy.  This is an important step because the chorizo has a significant amount of oil that you likely do not want in your soup!  Once the chorizo is done cooking (it is quick – approximately 2-3 minutes), add it too the soup.

Reduce the soup to a simmer and cook for approximately 15 minutes to let all the flavors incorporate and cook the potatoes through.

Ladle a few large spoonfuls of this soup into a bowl and serve alongside some delicious french bread which is perfect for dunking into the broth.

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We thought that this dish really highlighted the ingredients we got from Door-to-Door and also left us feeling full and satisfied.  Its no wonder it was such a satisfying dish really.  It has everything you want – protein (from the beans and the chorizo), tons of vegetables (everything from the tomatoes to the potatoes to the kale) and carbs from the delicious french bread.

I am so glad we have leftovers because this would be a wonderful, quick and easy meal right out of the freezer when the weather in Chicago actually does get cold (it was 85 degrees in Chicago today!)  And sure, while it might not technically be fall, this recipe made me realize that I am ready for it to be!

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