Springtime Chicken & Spaetzle Soup

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Shawn said that I should call this chicken and spaetzle soup “awesome soup.” That pretty much sums up everything I have to say about it.

If you could turn the perfect spring rainshower into a meal, this soup would be it — it’s calm, restorative, and in a weird way, beautiful. Loaded up with extra celery, peppery watercress and fresh dill, it’s the perfect soup to curl up with on a chilly, damp spring night. The flavors are familiar, but chewy spaetzle and bright citrus notes from fresh lemon juice make it something special and keep you coming back for more. I typically prefer vegetable-based soups, but when it comes to nursing a spring cold or allergies, it really doesn’t get any better than this.   

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Lightened-Up Swedish Meatballs

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My cookbook collection was taking over the dining room. What started as a few carefully selected books calling the top of the radiator home had become a mess of books stacked every which way and cluttering up the space. Even our marble bookends couldn’t keep the heavy stack upright, and when they came crashing down for the millionth time, we realized that we needed some real shelves in the space. You totally see where this is going, right? Yup… we talked about going to Ikea and buying some shelves to turn into a fake built-in.

Which inevitably lead me to crave Swedish meatballs (which is funny, considering I don’t particularly care for the ones that Ikea serves.) Anyway, we never made it to Ikea but a few weeks later the idea of Swedish meatballs was still nagging at me. Traditional Swedish meatballs are very heavy though — full of pork and beef, fried in ungodly amounts of butter, and coated in cream — and well, stores are already selling bathing suits….

I found a recipe from Elise that looked easy enough to lighten up and I made a few substitutions: extra-lean turkey instead of red meat, baking instead of frying, way less butter. Served over egg noodles and next to some sauteed chard, these Swedish meatballs made a delicious meal that definitely satisfied my craving. (If you’re wondering, the cookbooks have been relocated to a better shelf in the living room where they stay put without any bookends.)

Kitchen Tip: We don’t eat a lot of bread, so I don’t buy it very often. When we do buy it, it tends to get stale before we can eat it all. I’ve taken to throwing the past few end pieces into a bag in the freezer to use as fresh breadcrumbs, which yield softer meatballs than “regular” bread crumbs. Just pull out a frozen pice of bread or two, smash it with a mallet to make crumbs, and let it defrost for a few minutes.

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Jambalaya-Stuffed Peppers

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Lesson learned: If you find yourself adding Tablespoons full of cayenne pepper to recipes and you still don’t think they’re spicy enough, buy some new pepper! A million apologies to the few people who recently emailed me that recipes were far too spicy – I realized that my cayenne was ancient! I bought a new jar and wow, what a difference. I’ve adjusted the amount that my recipes call for more appropriate levels. With that said, I do like things pretty hot so if you have a lower tolerance you might want to use even less.

Now that that’s out of the way… I’ve been on a stuffed peppers kick lately — after not making them for over a year, we’ve had them for dinner twice in as many weeks. My favorite version so far has been these Jambalaya-Stuffed Peppers – instead of putting peppers in the jambalaya, I put the jambalaya in the peppers!

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What I loved most about these was the built-in portion control. One of these little guys left me feeling pretty full, but I know that had it not been for the pepper I could easily have polished off at least twice as much jambalaya (and gone back for more!). Of course, the fact that they tasted pretty awesome didn’t hurt either.

Want a quicker version? These jambalaya-stuffed peppers take a little longer to prepare than I typically like to spend on a weeknight meal, but they’re absolutely worth it. Plus they make great leftovers! If you’re really pressed for time though, there are a few shortcuts that you can take: 1) Use instant rice, which will shave about 20 minutes off the time the jambalaya simmers; and 2) Start cooking the unstuffed peppers while you prepare the jambalaya filling (yay multitasking!). Cook the peppers for 15 minutes on their own, then 15 minutes once they’re stuffed. Just keep in mind that although these methods will dinner on the table faster, the flavors won’t have as much time to meld.

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Steak and Asparagus Salad with Hoisin Dressing

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Every year, I end up with a new go-to salad recipe. A salad that I turn to when I don’t know what else to make for dinner, or to fall back on if I need a quick meal for entertaining. Two years ago it was a salad with sliced strawberries and cinnamon pecans. Last year it was an herb salad with lemon-poppy vinaigrette and fried goat cheese. This year… you’re looking at it. (As an aside, I just noticed that my favorite salads always seem to involve fruit. Interesting!)

Topped with steak, onions, and asparagus, this salad is loaded with traditional steakhouse flavors; fresh fruit and a hoisin vinaigrette give it an Asian twist. It’s hearty enough to please the most ardent meat-and-potato lovers but light enough to keep dieters happy. But most importantly, it’s outrageously good. It has a sweet and salty thing going on that’s simply amazing and there are so many interesting textures. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

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While the original recipe from Fine Cooking was pretty healthy as-is, I made a few changes to cut down on some of the fat. I also added more fruit to keep things interesting and bulk the salad up enough to ensure it fit square in the “entree” category. (Play around with the fruit to suit your own tastes but if you like pineapple, I highly recommend using it — it pairs incredibly well with the dressing.)

A few months ago, I bought a non-aerosol oil mister similar to this one. I love it!! I never really liked to use cooking sprays (like Pam) because I don’t know what’s in them and they kind of creep me out. But with my mister, I know it’s just the oil that I use normally. It’s helped me cut down a lot on how much oil I use in my pan, and it’s also helpful in recipes like this one. Instead of trying to coat the steak with oil from a spoon or a brush, I just spritz it with my mister – I end up using less oil, and it ends up with a more even coat. Win-Win!

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