Italian Sausage and Gnocchi Soup

Italian Sausage and Gnocchi SoupThis comforting soup is so easy to make, thanks to the prepackaged gnocchi that cook directly in the soup. Gnocchi, small potato dumplings that cook in just a few minutes, can be found vacuum-packed in the pasta aisle (I got mine at Trader Joe’s). An added bonus – the starches from the gnocchi release into the soup while cooking, which thicken the hearty broth and guarantee to warm you up on a chilly evening. Add some spicy turkey sausage, diced tomatoes, cannellini beans, shallots and zucchini, and you’ve got a healthy, flavorful, balanced meal that is ready in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 lb. Italian turkey sausage links (hot or mild)
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes (including liquids)
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. Italian seasoning
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 lb. potato gnocchi
2 medium zucchini, cut into small cubes
15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

Italian Sausage and Gnocchi Soup 2Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook sausage links in shallow baking pan until cooked throughout, about 15 minutes. In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, heat oil on medium-low heat, until shallots and garlic sizzle when added. Sauté shallots and garlic until fragrant, about 2 minutes, add diced tomatoes with liquid, chicken broth, sugar, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper, and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium and add gnocchi and zucchini. Bring back up to a light boil, and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until both are cooked. While gnocchi and zucchini are simmering, slice sausage links into discs. Add cannellini beans and sausage and stir until heated, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately and top with grated cheese.

Enjoy!

Wine Pairing:
Poggio al Casone Toscana 2010

(Make ahead tip: If you are planning to make this in advance, prepare gnocchi as directed on package, store separately from soup, and add gnocchi to soup as it’s reheating.  This will prevent the gnocchi from absorbing too much of the soup liquid while storing and becoming mushy.)

Top 5 Pizza Places in Austin

When I moved to Austin almost seven years ago, there weren’t a lot of good pizza options in town. Whenever I would visit my hometown in New York, my first stop would be my favorite hometown pizza place to get my fix. Fast forward seven years and pizza places are popping up all over the place. Here are my top 5 favorites (4 relatively new ones, and 1 Austin classic).

Pieous Fat Queen Pizza1. Pieous – The Fat Queen – crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni

Pieous is the only restaurant in Austin to have a VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification. This Neapolitan style pizza cooks in an 800-900 degree wood fired over for under 90 seconds and their yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char. The Fat Queen has more toppings than one would think possible. Getting a pizza from Pieous is well worth the 15 mile drive outside of town.

 

Via 313 The Original Pepperoni2. Via 313 – The Original Pepperoni – cheese, smoked pepperoni, tomato sauce

This Detroit style pizza is a Sicilian style pizza with a softer, thicker crust, topped with pepperoni, cheese all the way to the edge of the pizza and sauce on top. Cooked in a perfectly seasoned blue steel pan, the thick crust comes out crispy, with a little oil, and a lot of delicious. With one of their locations in the backyard of Craft Pride on Rainey Street, it’s the perfect place to grab a pizza and a beer on a sunny day.

 

Backspace Pepperoni Americano3. The Backspace – The Pepperoni Americano – picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, basil

Most of the tables in this quaint space are front row seating to watch the pizza makers in action with the wood fired oven. Lots of fresh mozzarella, basil, and spicy pepperoni tops this chewy crust, cooked to perfection.

 

 

Home Slice4. Home Slice – NY Style Cheese Pizza

Home Slice is the only place in Austin that you can get an authentic NY style pizza experience, ordering at the counter, and getting a large cheesy slice on a paper plate for only a few dollars. Wait at the outdoor pick up window on South Congress for some sun and people watching, or head inside for a much shorter line at the counter.

 

 

 

Luckys Puccia5. Lucky’s Puccias and Pizzeria – Margherita – tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella
Lucky’s pizza has a thin crispy crust and the perfect amount of cheese. Margherita pizza is traditionally topped with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, but Lucky’s also includes shredded mozzarella, so there is deliciously salty cheese on every bite. Stop at their new casual brick and mortar store on 5th street for pizzas and puccias (wood fired Italian sandwiches).

Honey Balsamic Jalapeno Poppers

Honey Balsamic Jalapeno PoppersThis take on a classic jalapeno popper gets a twist from using tangy goat cheese and a sweet honey balsamic drizzle. This recipe makes 30 delectable poppers, so perfect for a holiday get together or game day appetizer. Who doesn’t love the combination of bacon with something sweet?  WARNING, these are addictive!

 

 

Ingredients:
10.5 oz. package goat cheese (I used Costco’s Kirkland brand)
15 jalapenos, sliced in half the long way, ribs and seeds removed
1 lb. package of bacon (15 slices), cut in half
3 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Honey Balsamic Jalapeno Poppers 2Take goat cheese out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes before preparing so that it’s soft enough to spread into jalapenos. While preheating oven to 425 degrees, cut stems from jalapenos and slice in half lengthwise, removing ribs and seeds. This will cut down spice considerably from the peppers once they are cooked! Spread an equal amount of goat cheese in each halved pepper and wrap with a half slice of bacon. If the slices aren’t big enough to wrap around completely, they can be secured with a toothpick, but I usually do without. Place jalapenos in roasting pan or cookie sheet in 425 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until bacon is cooked. Make sure the pan has a raised lip so the oils from the bacon do not spill while cooking! Once bacon is beautifully browned, remove from oven and let drain on a paper towel. Wisk together honey and balsamic vinegar. Transfer peppers to a serving platter and drizzle with honey mixture before serving.

Enjoy!

Bundt Pan Roasted Chicken

Bust outBundt Pan Roasted Chicken 2 that Bundt pan because we are making some chicken! I saw this method in Food and Wine Magazine and thought it was pretty genius. Having the chicken sit upright while cooking exposes the entire exterior to the heat, and lets the chicken get deliciously crisp on all sides. Throw all your vegetables in the bottom of the pan, and not only do you have a “one pan meal” but all of your veggies cook in the savory pan drippings and are totally awesome. The vegetables and spices used are completely customizable.  I used Trader Joe’s Poultry Rub to season the chicken – they have some great spice mixes!

Bundt Pan Roasted ChickenIngredients:
Whole chicken
3 medium potatoes
Yellow onion
Red bell pepper
Yellow bell pepper
Trader Joe’s Poultry Seasoning
1 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing chicken
Salt and pepper

Bundt Pan Roasted Chicken 3Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover hole in center of Bundt pan with aluminum foil. Cut all vegetables into 1 inch pieces and mix with 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper and place in bottom of pan. Pat skin of chicken dry with a paper towel; having dry skin will ensure the crispiest skin possible. Place chicken in pan, arranging so that the chicken stands upright over the center tube of pan. Season liberally and brush with olive oil. Roast for approximately 1 hour, or until internal temperature reads 160 degrees. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve chicken and roasted vegetables on a large platter with juices from pan.

Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
Averaen Pinot Noir 2015

Pieous

PieousWho would think that a small pizza place, located about 15 miles outside the heart of downtown Austin, would be the #2 rated restaurant in all of Austin on Trip Advisor?  It’s second only to Uchi, the OG of badass restaurants in Austin, which is quite an impressive feat. (Update, Pieous has recently taken over the Numero Uno position).

 

 

Pieous Pastrami SandwichIt’s hard to impress someone that grew up in New York with pizza and pastrami, but Pieous knocks it out of the park.  Their pastrami is hands down the best in Austin, with a perfectly peppery bark.  Sliced thick and piled high on fresh baked sour dough bread, this enormous sandwich tempts me to order sandwiches over pizza, which is an unbelievable feat for this pizza lover.

 

 

Pieous Fat Queen PizzaBring and friend and share that delicious pastrami sandwich, so you have room to try some of their phenomenal pizzas.  The Fat Queen, topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni has more toppings than one would think possible. The yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char.

It’s a go to anytime heading all points west of Austin, but their pizza and pastrami are worthy of the drive on their own.

Sous Vide Carnitas

Sous Vide Carnitas TacosI’ve mentioned more than a few times that I love my Sous Vide Supreme. It just makes everything better! I’ve made the best ever sous vide fried chicken and it totally transforms flank steak. In my experience with everything I’ve cooked Sous Vide, it makes the biggest transformations of cuts of meat that are typically tough. I love pork shoulder, but our Kamado is in storage for a little while, and wanted to see how it would come out in the Sous Vide.

 

Seasoned Pork Shoulder for Sous Vide CarnitasUsing the same spices that I would use in my carnitas, I put a dry rub on a 2 lb. piece of pork shoulder, popped it in the Sous Vide for 24 hours at 145 degrees, and the result was perfectly cooked carnitas that were flavorful and juicy! After cooking, pull the meat apart, discarding any fatty pieces, crisp in a cast iron skillet to get those crackled edges carnitas is known for, and squeeze a little fresh lime juice on top. Seems like this is a whole lot healthier than traditional carnitas cooked oil or lard!  It also only takes about 5 minutes of prep to go into the Sous Vide and 10 minutes to crisp after removing.

Ingredients:
Pork butt
Dry Rub:
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper

Sous Vide Carnitas Tacos 2This recipe would make great tacos, nachos or sandwiches. Serve on corn tortillas with pickled onions, cilantro, queso fresco and lime for an easy taco night!

Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
Montgo Monastrell 2012
Solanera Vinas Viejas 2013

Pickled Onions

Pickled Onions 1Pickled onions are so delicious that if you make them once, you will forever have a jar of pickled onions in your fridge. They are perfect to top tacos, nachos, sandwiches, burgers, and you will never want to be without them!

 

 

Pickled Onions 2

 

Luckily they are pretty easy to make also. They can be made plain or by adding peppercorns, thyme, jalapenos, radishes, anything you want to give them an extra kick of flavor.

Ingredients:
Red onion
Boiling water
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 cup white vinegar

Pickled Onions 3Slice red onion, put in a colander and place colander in sink. Slowly pour boiling water over onions. In a glass bowl or jar, dissolve salt and sugar in vinegar. Add onions (and any other optional spices) and in 30 minutes you will have pickled onions. They are even better after a day in the fridge and will keep for a few weeks.
Enjoy!

Madrid

Beautiful coffee at Federal Café in Madrid

Beautiful coffee at Federal Café in Madrid

Madrid has topped the list of cities to visit for a long time. There is lots to see and do, so much history and eating in Madrid is a pleasure.

The coffee is fantastic in Madrid and Federal Café is a great stop if you are looking for some beautiful coffee and a light breakfast. In a city where brunch is hard to find, Federal Café offers a full menu of light breakfast and brunch fare and is packed by both locals and tourists.

 

 

Stop for a midday snack at Chocolateria San Gines for some freshly made churros with chocolate for dipping. Later in evening, take a stroll down Calle de Cava Baja, a cozy street lined with restaurants and bars. Casa Lucio is a must for some tapas, chorizo and, of course, Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Jamon Iberico de Bellota is a cured ham that comes from the noble black Iberico pigs that feed on acorns while roaming the Spanish countryside. After curing, the result is a fatty, salty, sweet cured ham that melts when it hits your mouth.

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines

Churros at Chocolateria San Gines

Calle de Cava Baja

Calle de Cava Baja

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was the Tapas and Taverns Tour, for numerous reasons. It’s a four hour tour of tasting Madrid’s best tapas, drinking wine, vermouth and beer. The mushrooms at Meson del Champinon, with garlic, lemon and chorizo are to die for and you will need a big hunk of bread to sweep up all the garlic from the Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) at La Casa del Abuelo. As you wander from tavern to tavern, you visit monuments, plazas, and historic buildings for some history of Madrid and to hear about some of the scandals from the royal palace. It was a great back drop to touring the royal palace and viewing the portraits of the royal family. There was that whole inbreeding snafu that resulted in some seriously ugly royals!

Mushrooms at Meson del Champinon

Mushrooms at Meson del Champinon

Chorizo at Casa Lucio

Chorizo at Casa Lucio

Spanish Royal Palace

Spanish Royal Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside of ancient Madrid, stroll around the Parque del Buen Retiro, one of the largest parks in Madrid, filled with magnificent sculptures, monuments and lakes before heading to the Prado museum. The Prado has one of the world’s largest collections of European art and is the largest collection of Spanish art in the world. Aside from the permanent displays, there are special exhibits that run anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Madrid is an energetic city, known for its history, vibrant culture, and of course, the food!