I am finally feeling settled in New York City, as we’ve been here for almost 2 months. Can’t believe it. We dearly miss our friends and our cars, the weather, etc in North Carolina; but are enjoying city life so far.

With the crisp fall air in New York, and the abundance of broccoli at the farmer’s market.. I was craving something warm, cheesy and broccoli-ly (new word!) this past week. Given this combination of events, I made a simple broccoli cheese soup for dinner on Friday. It was delicious!

Simple broccoli cheese soup
Makes 6-7 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 Large onion, chopped
3 Tb. Butter
1/8 Tsp. Salt (just a pinch or two)
1/4 Cup flour
5 Cups Milk, skim
1-2 large head(s) broccoli, chopped (you need about 4 cups)
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 Tsp. Black pepper
6 oz. Extra sharp cheddar, shredded (I prefer Cabot Seriously Sharp)

1. Melt butter in a medium sized soup pot. Add onion and salt.  Cook until translucent.

2. Add flour and stir until flour cooks a bit. Then add milk, broccoli and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes or until the broccoli is fork tender.

3. Add the cheese and stir until melted. If soup too thick, add a bit of water or chicken stock to thin. I couldn’t find my trusty immersion blender (may have gotten misplaced during our move)..so I did not puree this at all. You could choose to use an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor to blend the soup to your desired texture (ranging from chunky to fully pureed); however, I was too hungry to deal with a blender in our tiny 5′x8′ kitchen.

4. Serve with your favorite crusty bread, or in a bread bowl. Enjoy!!! Keeps well in fridge for 2 days, if you can’t consume in time (and believe me.. you’ll most likely finish this off) it may freeze OK; but I haven’t been able to test this as we finished our batch off today.

Well I got married, defended my PhD, went to 2 conferences, 1 wedding, to the mountains and twice to the beach.. So in sum the past few months have been crazy! I’ve made lots of great food and am excited to post some recipes and such soon! Now I’ll just tease you with some pictures..

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So as luck would have it, Deb of the fabulous blog “Smitten Kitchen” posted this amazing recipe a few days before Valentines day. As I was deliriously tired from travel home from Malawi and not in my most creative moment, I decided to adapt this recipe for our celebratory meal. So without further ado, this is according to Joey the best thing I’ve ever cooked! Note it takes a few hours to prepare.

Lasagna Bolognese
Serves 12-15, or more, depending on how you cut the squares

Ingredients:
Bolognese sauce

1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tb. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 Lb. ground beef (I used 10% lean)
12 oz. tomato paste (buy the best paste you can afford)
8 oz. red wine (I used a hearty old vine Zinfandel)
Water
2 bay leaves
1/4 Tsp dried basil

Béchamel sauce
8 Tb. unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (I used 1%)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
1 box lasagna noodles (I used no cook noodles from Whole Foods)

1. First make the sauce! This will take a few hours. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating blend the onion, carrots and celery in a blender or food processor until more finely chopped. Add the chopped vegetables to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are browned and golden (this is necessary for the sauce to be fully developed) for about 15 to 20 minutes. Once the vegetables are fully browned, add the ground beef and more salt and pepper.Brown the beef for another 10 minutes until fully cooked and browned. Then add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Finally, add the red wine, deglaze the pan by scraping up anything browned and stuck to the bottom, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the bay leaves and the basil. Cook for another 3 hours or so, adding water about a 1/2 cup of water as the liquid cooks off. This will make about 1.5 times the amount of sauce you will need. It freezes well and tastes wonderful, so you’ll be happy that you made it!

2. Next, make the béchamel sauce. In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. After it is melted, add flour and stir until the flour is incorporated into the sauce. Cook for a minute to remove the flour taste, and then pour milk slowly (like a slow drizzle) and whisk until the milk is all incorporated. Then add, salt, garlic, nutmeg and a dash of black pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

3. Finally, assemble the masterpiece. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large rectangular lasgana pan, spread about a 1/3 cup of the béchamel, then place a layer of the noodles, then add a cup of the bolognese sauce (make sure to drench the noodles, as they need to be moistened to fully soften during cooking). Then add another 1/3 cup béchamel and sprinkely a layer of shredded parmesan. Repeat the layers adding pasta, bolognese, béchamel and parmesan for three more layers of pasta. Top with another layer of pasta and then add a bit more béchamel and then parmesean. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown. Rest for a few minutes after removing from the oven, and then enjoy!! It keeps well in the fridge for a day or so, and also freezes well!

I have been on a taco salad kick lately. While driving to Cleveland for the holidays, and multiple times on that trip, I wanted and then consumed taco salads. Upon my arrival in Malawi in January after 25+ hours of travel, my lovely housemates were making taco salad. We took turns cooking meals for the guest house, and when it was my turn I chose to make a taco salad spread! So when you are in Malawi, or other similar places, tortilla chips may be hard to come by. As such, tomato Fritos stood in. In addition, you may end up spending $3 on taco seasoning, which I usually would abhor using, as I’m in to making my own seasoning mixes (without MSG). You also may find a bug crawling out of your (already cleaned and dried) lettuce, making you want to wash it 5 times and with soap for two of those times. Those things of course, didn’t happen to me :)

In brief, I browned ground beef with the taco seasoning until cooked and served with a plethora of goodies including (avocado, tomato, cheese and green leaf lettuce) and some stand-ins such as plain yogurt for sour cream and Fritos for tortilla chips. We also had a wonderful homemade ranch dressing made with a Hidden valley ranch packet that my house-mates brought back from the US. I also concocted a wonderful salsa with tomato, red onion, jalapeno pepper and seasoned with salt and pepper. It was a wonderful meal!! Too bad my stomach was unhappy from drinking bad water or eating something that didn’t sit well (requiring a full course of antibiotics). C’est la vie.

Mwasera bwangi (Good afternoon in Chichewa, the common language in Malawi, other than English). So as some of you know I am in Malawi for work for a few weeks. The trip has been great thus far. I am staying in a guest house with surgery residents and we have dinner together every evening.  The Malawians I’ve met are very kind and generous, and are helping me learn Chichewa. It is rainy season now, so everything is lush and beautiful, and there is an abundance of produce at the markets.

As part of my trip, I am working with an amazing nutritionist Martin. We’ve hired six wonderful Malawian women to help us cook many foods for our food composition tables for the amazing study I work on at UNC Chapel Hill. Anyways, I’ve been able to watch these women cook, and learn how to make some of the traditional dishes. We’ve made so many of them. The primary dish that most Malawians regard as their staple food is nsima, which is made from corn flour (we’ve mainly made ufa mgaiwa). Most foreigners have mentioned that they don’t like nsima much and that it feels like a rock in your stomach, and I actually really like it! Next to nsima, a relish is always served. This one is pumpkin leaves and groundnuts, and we also had red beans next to it. More post  to come. Stay tuned!

nsima with beans and pumpkin greens (with groundnut flour)

nsima and cowpeas with tomato and onion relish

Sandwhich is a wonderful sandwich shop in Chapel Hill that I adore. They also have seasonal salads that are superb! I treated my super undergrad assistant, Krishna, to lunch at the end of the semester, and we both selected this salad. Bibb lettuce with hard boiled eggs, pomegranate seeds, apples,  cheddar and more with a light vinaigrette dressing. Served with crusty bread and their marinated carrots. Delicious. I want to replicate at home, and go back to Sandwhich too. Doesn’t the picture make you hungry?

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