Tomato Stelline and Escarole Soup with Anchovy Toast. Kiddie Soup with a Grown Folks Taste.

Life is frantically busy these days. A co worker asked me today , what was wrong, and why I’m so quiet lately. I snapped back and told her to walk in  my shoes the past few weeks and try being fun and sociable. I think she wanted something more to be wrong, and was taken aback. You can’t be everything to everybody, and I’m not even going to try.  By the time I come home from my varied schedule and commute, I force myself to cook something decent.  Because I owe  myself that.The thought of what I’m going to create that night takes the edge of of crazy day.It centers me. The dish need not be elaborate, as most times I’m doing a mental inventory of whats on hand. If I have to, I make a quick stop at the store for extra ingredients. Sometimes I just want a soup. I’m very picky about soup, and am never really satisfied with the offerings around me when out to lunch. I like to be creative with soup and have good clean, yet strong flavors. I whipped up this soup in my head and knew it would be a quick easy pantry type of meal for Certain Someone and myself  . One bite of it took me back to those cans of Chef Boyardee, when I  was a kid. Granted it tastes better, but the childish tiny Stelline pasta was a very Proustian moment for me. The childhood flavor was ramped up with adult tastes and textures of escarole. And then the clincher was toast rounds with a divine anchovy butter. Can you say heavenly satisfying. If your not a fan of anchovy’s, be pedestrian and make plain old garlic toast ( Certain Someones option). That will leave more anchovy toast for the connoisseurs.  Give yourself about 45 minutes to prepare .I cheated a bit with  a chicken soup base. But of course homemade stock is better, if you have it laying around. It’s worth the little extra effort, after a hard days work.

Tomato Stelline and Escarole Soup with Anchovy Toast. Kiddie Soup with a Grown Folks Taste.
Recipe type: soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
A childlike tomato soup, with grown up tastes.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup of diced carrots
  • ½ red onion minced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp of Vegeta ( optional seasoning mix)
  • Dried Italian Herbs
  • 1 28 oz can peeled stewed tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp chicken soup base and 6 cups of water or
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 head of Escarole washed and chopped
  • 1½ cups Stelline Pasta
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • Baguette cut into rounds about ½ inch thick
  • 4-5 tbsp of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp of anchovy paste
  • dried parsley
  1. In a large stock pot, add the olive oil. Heat on medium high.
  2. Add the chopped carrots, onion, garlic. Saute on medium heat for a few minutes until softened.
  3. Add the Vegeta (optional) and dried Italian Herbs . Stir.
  4. Add the tomatoes and the liquid. Pulse with a immersion blender until pureed.
  5. Add either the chicken soup base and water or the chicken stock.
  6. Pulse again with the immersion blender until completely pureed.
  7. Bring up to slight boil, and then reduce heat to simmer.
  8. Add the escarole. Simmer until wilted.
  9. During the last 10 minutes of cooking add the Stelline pasta.
  10. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper or more Vegeta.
  11. While the soup is simmering , preheat oven to 375 F.
  12. Cut the baguette into rounds.
  13. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  14. Mix the butter at room temperature with the anchovy paste until spreadable.
  15. Spread butter onto bread .
  16. Sprinkle dried parsley flakes.
  17. Bake , watching carefully until golden. You may raise the temp slightly to 425 the last few minutes to ensure golden crispness.
  18. Serve with the soup while hot.


Jassn Ceramic Knives Giveaway and Vegetable Fried Rice

Last spring I had the pleasure of meeting with representative of Jassn Ceramic Knives at the International Housewares Show. Over the months we started a dialogue. The whole use of Ceramic Knives is new to me. Admired form afar, but never had the opportunity to try them, let alone own them. As a food blogger, I admit I have a lot of knowledge about food related items, but still have so much more to discover and learn. Mikal was kind enough to send me a set and we talked about how I can spread the word about this great company. Whats sets Jassn apart for me from other ceramic knives is the sheer beauty. As a visual person I was blown away by the beauty of the knives. Particularly , this set called the Four Seasons.

Beautiful, strong and tough.  I was an added bonus to know that ceramic knives have a longer longevity than other knives, stay sharper, and are just below a diamond in hardness. They wont interact with your foods, absorb odors, and are non porous. All wins for when you work in the kitchen.Ceramic knives are to used only for fruit, vegetables, and fish without bones. I decided to give my knives a whirl while chopping vegetables for a delicious vegan fried rice.

Here is the recipe as promised for the Vegetable Fried Rice.

In addition I will be offering a giveaway to my readers for a 5 inch ceramic  Jassn Knive with a $45 MSRP. Please leave a comment and spread the word. I will chose one winner July 10, 2011.


All of my readers are eligible for a 15% discount for purchasing Jassn Ceramic Knives . Use the discount code coco-cooks.Click Here.


Vegetable Fried Rice
Recipe type: Entree , Side
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-4
A Vegetable based Fried rice. Fried rice varies within the Asian and other communities. Its a great way to use whats on hand or leftovers. No hard and fast rules here, except the rice must be at least a day old, and refrigerated.
  • 2-3 cups of cooked rice ( 1 day old or more, refrigerated)
  • ½ cup sliced cabbage
  • ½ cup died carrots
  • ½ cup zucchini
  • ½ cup onion
  • ½ cup mushrooms
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • ⅛ cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp Fish Sauce to finish
  1. In a separate skillet fry your beaten egg and set aside. Slice into slivers.
  2. Heat wok or skillet with the 2 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add onions and cook until almost translucent.
  3. Add zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, cabbage. Cook until softened.
  4. Crumble cooked refrigerated rice until loose, and add to pan with vegetables.
  5. Stir until vegetables and rice are mixed.
  6. Add cooked egg.Stir in.
  7. Add Soy Sauce and cook a few more minutes.
  8. Finish with Fish Sauce . Cook 1 minute and remove from heat. Serve hot.

Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno and the Value of Blogger Friends

It’s raining on this first day of spring. Not a cleansing healing  rain , but a gloomy one to me anyway. It’s like the world is crying. Japan, Wars both declared and not, The Middle East, unemployment, and even this cutie Knut who


decided to pack it in and leave us. Life is hard and no ever promised it would be easy. But our dreams , determination, faith and friends sustain us through the journey.When you don’t have those, you have nothing. I’ve been thinking of my friends, both real and virtual. Also how lucky I am to have many of virtual friends turn into real friends. They inspire , help, and lend a a shoulder to you in your hour of need. I’ve been thinking about Jeanne who lost her  beloved father this week, Marie who always has an encouraging word  , Barbara who has turned from more than  a web developer to a friend. There are many more friends real and virtual out there who are always there with tips, leads, and humor. These friends bring comfort to my life. You can say I’m in a contemplative mood these days.But I’m lucky to have my circle.

A good dish always soothes a troubled soul. Marie took me to Caputo’s at long last. Any ennui I felt lately vanished as we roamed the cheese room, and pasta aisles.Nobody knows Italian American food like Marie. She directed me to to the right purchases with advice on how to prepare the items.

So this Sunday as I wait for my Certain Someone to come back home from a business trip abroad, I  cobbled together this rich and comforting dish baked al forno ( in the oven). Using fresh Paccheri ( a large rigatoni) and Barese sausage ( small narrow sausage flavored with garlic and parsley, no fennel) simmered in white wine and finished off in the oven. Lots of cheese and heavy cream, lightly seasoned with nutmeg, and peas for spring.

Before the recipe I want to announce the winner of the $100 giveaway from US Wellness Meats. Congratulations Cheryl Lee Ferguson.I will email you with instructions to claim your prize.


Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno

  • 1 package of fresh Paccheri or Rigatoni
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella
  • 3/4 lb Barese sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Boil salted water for pasta.
  3. In a skillet simmer your Barese until gray in color and almost done.
  4. Place sausages  on a baking sheet and brown in oven until done ( about 10 minutes ). Cut into small bite size pieces.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
  6. Boil Paccheri until al dente ( about 6 minutes). Remove from heat and drain.
  7. In a bowl beat the three eggs with heavy cream. Add salt and pepper. Season generously  but carefully as cream dishes diminish salt in flavor.
  8. In a another large bowl combine drained pasta, cream and egg mixture, Mozzarella Cheese  and chopped sausage.
  9. Place combined mixture in a baking dish or casserole . Top with shaved Parmesan,   a sprinkle of grated nutmeg,salt and pepper.
  10. Bake at 350 for approx 45 minutes to 1 hour. The cream egg mixture should not run if pierced with fork and the dish should be bubbling.


Time to Move Forward and Onwards…and Why I Really Blog

My regular readers will know postings have been pretty sparse since the new year began. The reason being there was a lot of change going on and to sum it up, I was just exhausted. My longtime boss and mentor had resigned after over 40 years and in entered a new one. As with such things they have their own agenda and all one can do is their best, even if they haven’t been given the tools they needed for a long time to do it. So you plug along in a job essentially set up for failure and do your best to placate and partner with the angry loyal clients who have been given the short end of the proverbial stick along with you.

Yesterday was my last day of working for a much beloved company. You always wonder and fear when it will happen , and one day it does.As I faced the cold new boss and the HR manager , who seems to be doing  this chore more and more these days, I felt nothing but cold emptiness. I didn’t say a word and just took the manila envelope proffered to me , held my head high and walked out of there forever. All I cared about was the pictures of my mother , Certain Someone, and my scrap books and photos of my dear colleagues , many who are gone, that worked and toiled along with me to make my accounts successful and viable. Current friends and colleagues were shocked with disbelief as they let three of us go that afternoon. I have never felt more loved than I did yesterday afternoon and evening. When you are made to feel invisible and worthless by management, its nice to know others appreciated  and valued you, as I valued and loved  them. Even the  security guard was visibly upset who greeted me every day since 1998.

A few weeks ago a colleague and friend of Certain Someone asked him why I blog, cook, and dabble in all sorts of things. Certain Someone explained how I had a job that treated me and my accounts like crap, but I stayed  on to pay the bills and believed things would get better. My release came at night when I could explore my creativity through my cooking  and writing, and now soap making. It was in these areas I found value , worth,  happiness , and most important  MYSELF. Don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect the company  that took a chance on me many years ago. It was an honor to work for legends in Black America. I have learned so much there. The negative change  really didn’t occur until a major management shake up years ago. From then things were never the same for all of us, as with the rest of corporate America, along with the challenges of reviving a brand that was dated and lacking innovation.

So now I sit here typing this with sadness, but a sense of relief. As Certain Someone pointed out I haven’t been happy for a long time with my treatment, and they underpaid and used me.  Its time to find something I love and will be paid my worth. I can now focus on the things that I couldn’t working a 9 to 5. I will still seek that 9 to 5 , but one that values me and recognizes my worth. My mother always said throughout her short life that there  was no greater  feeling than being your own boss. I see the young professionals now moving on to a new company every few years. One no longer stays and makes a career or really create anything of lasting value. Loyalty to employees and employers is dying trait. If it’s one thing I learned is  this:

  • You can be up today and down tomorrow, and vice versa. Know that!
  • Its just a title / job and you are as disposable as anyone else.
  • It’s not your company and know that.
  • Give your best and  and observe to the signs. When you are not happy , it’s time to move on.
  • Do what you love  and brings joy and the opportunities will follow.
  • They can take your job, but they cant take the God Given  talents and drive that lies within you.

Shrimp Risotto

I made this recipe for shrimp risotto a few months ago when Fava Beans were full on in season. If you made it today I suggest perhaps substituting fresh shucked peas or maybe even fresh garbanzos . I see the fresh garbanzos in the local Latin markets all the time. If one were to tabulate the top all time carb loaded comfort foods, risotto would be right up there. The beauty of Risotto is that’s a vessel for all sorts of protein and ingredients. The possibilities are endless. With fall approaching imagine the butternut squash risottos coming along. One of my favorite risottos is one made with Barolo wine with shavings of cheese. I must make that for the blog one day. I’m getting into an Italian frame of mind as Certain Someone and I are leaving for Rome  next month. I’m literally counting the days and hours. Aside from a sleepy border town on my way driving to Lugano, I have never really been to to Italy.

A proper Risotto, which is actually Northern Italian in origin, requires a semi soft grained rice like Arborio, Carnaroli, or less common Vialone. These rice varieties are high in starch content and more glutenous. For this Risotto I used Carnaroli, which is pricier than Arborio, but preferred for risotto. The grains cooks soft , yet retain their shape and firmness throughout the process.The key to Risotto is to slowly simmer your rice and ingredients while slowly adding small batches of liquid stock, while constantly stirring.The effort yields a rich, creamy and satisfying dish. Yet its not complicated at all. I like to use leftover risotto to make a breaded fried rice ball called Arancini. Imagine a dinner al fresco with some cold crisp Prosecco to wash it all down with.


Shrimp Risotto

  • 2 1/4 cups Carnaroli  rice
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups fish or vegetable stock *I made my own from leftover fish bones and heads after filleting.
  • 1 lb fresh , deveined, shelled shrimp  coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup shelled Fava beans or peas
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • White Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  1. In a skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat until melted.
  2. Add minced garlic and soften.
  3. Add Carnaroli rice and heat for a few minutes to allow the flavors of the garlic and oils to coat to the grains. Stir while cooking.
  4. Add salt, pepper,thyme.
  5. Add about 3/4 cup of the stock as it slowly simmers while stirring. The rice will absorb the liquid.
  6. Add the raw shrimp that has been chopped coarsely, broccoli, and shelled fava beans or peas. Stir into rice mixture and add another cup of fish stock.
  7. Continue to add the remaining liquid slowly , as the rice absorbs the liquid as you stir constantly.
  8. The shrimp will lose its opaqueness and turn pink as the rice cooks slowly and takes in the liquid.
  9. Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese