Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower

We like to think of cauliflower as a versatile, guilt-free cravings-buster. It works well as a substitute for pasta in “mac-n-cheese.” We’ve seen recipes for cauliflower “fried rice” that look good enough to try sometime when we feel like Chinese food, but don’t want all the calories. One of our vegan cookbooks even has a recipe for cauliflower “meatballs.” (A little skeptical about that one). I’m not about to tell you that cauliflower will satisfy a craving for a juicy ribeye or tender filet mignon, but these cauliflower steaks are a hearty and delicious option for a vegetarian dinner. As much as we love our roasted potatoes, this recipe for garlic-roasted cauliflower is a great alternative with less calories and carbs but similar roast-y flavor and texture. Even better, the cauliflower cooks in about half the time as the potatoes and does not require parboiling. Win, win! Now if only someone could please come up with a way to make cauliflower taste like fried chicken, we would be forever grateful.

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Sedano e Mela Insalate (Celery & Apple Salad)

It probably seems pretentious to use the Italian translation in the title of this post, especially considering that we don’t speak Italian. “Vino bianco” or “vino rosso” (depending on the time of day and/or season), is about as bilingual as we get. But the title of this post is the name of a beautiful salad that we found at one of our favorite local Italian restaurants. So let’s just say we’re being “authentic” rather than pretentious. Speaking of authentic, one of the things we love about this Italian place is how they pride themselves on their authenticity. They even incorporate this aspect into their name, “Trattoria D.O.C.” According to their website, “D.O.C. is an acronym for ‘Denominazione di origine controllata,’ a wine appellation which requires that a product be produced following strict guidelines to ensure quality standards. Our attention to detail and time honored recipes, along with our dedication for fresh ingredients, is the reason we call ourselves ‘D.O.C.'” (“Appellation” refers to a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where grapes for wine—or other foods—are grown. Yes, I had to look it up. Who’s pretentious now?) We love Trattoria D.O.C. so much that we once ate both lunch and dinner there in the same day:  blinded by an intense pizza craving (SUCH good pizza there) during a bike ride break one afternoon, we completely forgot we had dinner reservations with friends there in just a few hours, but we kept the reservations and enjoyed some delicious pasta that night. They have amazing, authentic Italian food there, is what I’m saying. The Sedano e Mela salad is my go-to (in addition and as a precursor to pretty much any of their pizzas), so much so that it became necessary to recreate it at home. Aside from the taste, the best thing about this salad is how easy it is to make—so easy that it doesn’t even warrant an actual recipe. Celery, apple, radicchio, pecorino cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and salt & pepper. That’s it. An authentic, simple, fresh—and decidedly unpretentious—flavor explosion. Buon appetito!

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Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

There’s nothing quite like a big bowl of hearty, spicy, comforting chili to warm you from the inside out on a cold winter day. Our recipe repertoire includes several different kinds of chili:  Dan’s famous, Texas-style sirloin chili that actually won an award; a healthier white chili made with ground turkey that we like to have simmering on the stove while we decorate our home and tree for Christmas; and the peculiarly delicious version that Cincinnati is known for. Since this was our first attempt at vegetarian chili, we used a recipe by the experts at America’s Test Kitchen from their book “Slow Cooker Revolution.” It was really good, with all the right chili-esque flavors and texture that you expect from a cold weather, comfort food favorite. As I usually do when trying a new recipe, at the end of the meal I asked Dan if he would do anything different with the dish. He replied, “Two things:  increase the amount of chili powder, and add about three pounds of sirloin.”

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“Found” Kale Salad

You know that moment when you try a dish at a restaurant and realize that you will henceforth be compelled to return to that restaurant simply to eat that menu item, and that you will order it every single time you dine there? The kale salad from Found Kitchen and Social House is that dish for us. It’s somehow light yet also hearty, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures from the kale, swiss chard, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and (a recent addition) blueberries, all dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Every time we order it, Dan wonders (out loud, usually to our server): “How do they make KALE taste so good?” Although our homemade version of Found’s kale salad can never be as delicious as the original, we discovered a trick to making kale taste good, for a salad that comes pretty darn close to restaurant-quality. The key is massaging the kale with a little olive oil, salt and lemon juice. I discovered the secret while looking for vegan recipes in the book “My Beef with Meat” by former firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who explains why massaging kale softens its texture and improves its flavor: “Massaging [kale] salad drives the lemon juice and salt into the cell membrane of the kale and lightly ‘cooks’ it, making it much more tame and less ‘angry.'” (He had recently read a reference to kale as “angry lettuce,” which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever taken a bite of plain, raw kale.) We will still crave Found’s kale salad (and order it whenever we go there), but it’s also nice to be able to satisfy our craving with a quick and easy homemade version, and to know we have a backup plan if they’re ever crazy enough to take it off their menu!

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Grilled Baby Bok Choy

Okay Chicagoland, we get it now. Afternoon trips to the beach, Saturday morning shopping for fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market, neighborhood art festivals nearly every weekend, dinners on patios with a sweater in case it gets chilly when the sun sets—summertime is why people live here. And we are enjoying every single second of ours. One of our favorite summer activities is finding new ways to cook the vegetables we pick up from the farmer’s market each week. This recipe from Martha Stewart has become one of our go-to side dishes of the season because it’s easy to make, it complements a variety of main courses, and the char flavor from the grill makes it taste like summer.

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Slow-Cooker Lentil Soup

When we think lentil soup, we usually think Christmas. Not only because its delicious-ness is a gift, but also because this soup is the perfect way to use up every bit of the Greenberg smoked turkey that Dan’s East Texas colleagues generously sent us for the holidays. My parents make their own holiday version of lentil soup most years too, using a ham bone and ham, which is what I grew up eating for Christmas dinner every year. The smoked turkey version (with homemade turkey stock) will probably always be our favorite, but this recipe from the cookbook “Slow Cooker Revolution” is also really good, takes less time and effort to prepare, and does not require the use of a smoked turkey or a ham bone. So realistically, we can (and will!) make it more often than once per year.  Although the list of ingredients is rather long (onion, garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, dried porcini mushrooms, thyme, chicken and vegetable broths, bacon, carrots, portobello mushroom caps, lentils, bay leaves and Swiss chard), the slow-cooker does most of the work, and the nearly vegetarian result (the bacon is just for flavor) is a lighter, yet still robust and earthy take on our old holiday favorite. Merry Christmas Eating!

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Roasted Broccolini w/ Winey Mushrooms

Broccolini is one of our (few) go-to vegetables. For me and my (child-like) palate, the beautiful thing about broccolini is that it does not have an overpowering vegetable flavor, unlike regular broccoli and other vegetables prepared in certain ways (looking at you, sauteed spinach). We have a quick and easy sauteed version of broccolini that we love so much and make so often that even I don’t need to consult the recipe anymore when cooking it. But they say that variety is the spice of life, so the time eventually came to try a new broccolini recipe. Trying new things can be difficult (says this Texas girl living outside her home state for the first time in more than 30 years), so we went with a broccolini recipe that not only incorporates several of our other favorite ingredients: mushrooms, wine and Parmesan, but also calls for the simple preparation method of roasting the broccolini. The rich flavor of the mushrooms and Parmesan pairs well but doesn’t overwhelm the fresh, light flavor of the more delicate broccolini. Sometimes change is good, and we appreciate putting an elevated, more fancy spin on an old favorite.

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Mozzarella and Celery Salad

Has anyone in the history of cooking ever used up an entire bunch of celery before it spoils? Even considering how long it lasts (weeks!), we almost always end up with a sad, wilted collection of stalks that we throw away and replace with a fresh bunch every month or so. Celery is an under-used vegetable, is what I’m saying. Yet it’s one that we pretty much always have in the fridge — to flavor a soup or a stew, to make stock, or to chop up for a garden salad. Aside from this recipe that we love so much we always serve it at our Thanksgiving dinner (as well as other times throughout the year), we rarely come across a dish where celery gets to shine as the main ingredient. It’s a shame, since celery has many health benefits, including antioxidants and nutrients with anti-inflammatory effects. So we were pleased to see Lidia Bastianich’s take on caprese salad — with a celery twist — in her latest book, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.” We never would have thought of replacing the tomatoes in traditional caprese salad with celery, but it works and it’s genius; especially during the winter, when high-quality tomatoes can be hard to find, but good ole celery is as plentiful as always.

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“Your Dressing”

For the sake of variety, we generally try to branch out with our vegetable side dishes; yet for the sake of convenience, the regular old green salad appears on our weekly menu at least a couple of times per month.  Lately I can almost always count on Dan to ask “Is this your dressing?” every time we have salad, no matter what combination of salad veggies and leafy greens we happen to be eating.  By “your dressing” he means — in the most complimentary way — the homemade balsamic vinaigrette I make that we both love.  I take his question as a compliment because I’m generally more of a recipe follower than creator and can count on one hand the number of recipes I feel like I created (and even then, they are based on researching and tweaking other people’s recipes for the same thing.)  The vinaigrette is simple — honey, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper — but goes really well with pretty much any green salad we’ve ever dressed with it, even as it tends to taste a bit different each time, depending on what’s in the salad.  Basic and easy, yet consistently praise-worthy and versatile is my kind of recipe.  Now it can be yours too.

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