Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup

I've been making soup once a week since before the holidays. Usually on Wednesday nights when I'm not running to the gym and have plenty of time to cook. I make enough to eat the leftovers on Thursday plus a lunch or two. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the short, dark, wintery days.

I made plenty of soup when we lived in Fort Lauderdale, but now I'm enjoying it even more. I don't really think about cooking anything else on Wednesday nights--I just consider what kind of soup I want. I have a nice cache of new recipes bookmarked, and I have no problem repeating old favorites (like this one I'm making tomorrow!).

Last week's soup was inspired by this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It's easy because you just put nearly everything in a pot and go. The original recipe, from the book Love Soup by Anna Thomas, is vegetarian, but I made some additions to turn it into a heartier main course. While I have plenty of veggie soups in my repertoire, I often like a little meat to help me feel satisfied. A can of cannellini beans and crumbled turkey sausage worked well with the sweet potatoes, greens and fresh ginger.

Since you don't start out by sauteeing carrots, celery, onions and spices to build flavor as in some soup recipes, I recommend using a good-tasting vegetable or chicken broth. The generous amount of ginger will give it a nice lift without coming off too strong. Have you been making more soup lately? If you have a current favorite recipe, feel free to leave links in the comments!

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I used Jennie O fresh turkey sausage, but I think simple ground turkey breast would work just as well--it's also lower in sodium. You can mix up the types of greens you use (kale, Swiss chard, mustard, escarole, broccoli rabe) but I'd recommend at least 2 different ones for textural contrast. Heartier greens will need to simmer longer than delicate varieties.

Serves 5 to 6

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh turkey sausage links, or 3/4 lb ground turkey breast
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
1 large sweet potato (about 14 oz), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
8 oz chopped collard greens
8 oz spinach leaves
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until very tender and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. You want it to caramelize, so stir just occasionally and reduce the heat to low after about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Wipe out the skillet and turn heat to medium high. Coat with cooking spray and squeeze the sausage out of its casings into the pan (if using ground turkey, just add it to the pan and season with salt, pepper and spices of your choice--chile powder, cumin, paprika, etc.). Break up the meat with your spatula as it cooks. When turkey is cooked through, transfer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess fat and blot with additional paper towel on top if using sausage. Set aside.

While the onions and sausage cook, get the soup going: Add the broth, water and ginger to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato, return to a simmer, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add the collard greens, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Add the spinach, cover and simmer 1 minute or until tender.

If necessary, you can partially cover the soup and let it rest off the heat until the other components are finished. When ready to serve, put the pot over medium-low heat to warm and stir in the beans, onion and sausage. If soup seems too thick, add an additional cup of water and bring to a simmer just to warm through. Taste for seasoning (you'll probably need some salt) and serve immediately.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

This is a hearty vegetarian soup I came up with when we were in the mood for something healthy and invigorating. After I've eaten a few rich or heavy meals, I find myself craving heat and spice. Somehow it wakes up my body and makes a virtuous dish taste perfectly satisfying.

Roasting some poblano peppers is an easy extra step that gives this soup a little something special. It seems to be more of a stew than a soup despite coming together in less than a half hour, not counting a few minutes spent roasting the peppers. I patterned it after a delicious smoky turkey chile I love to make. Try it when you need a pick-me-up meal. I'll also note that, like any meat-based stew, the leftovers take on a very appealing, steeped-in-flavor effect the next day.

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

Roast the poblanos ahead of time directly on the burners of a gas range, under a broiler or on a grill. When skin of peppers is black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skin with your fingers, then remove the stem and seeds. See detailed instructions here.

Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
Red pepper flakes to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 to 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2 14-oz. cans, rinsed and drained)
1 (14-oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
Chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder, coriander and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until garlic is tender and spices are fragrant.

Add the broth, cover and raise heat to high. As soon as liquid comes to a simmer, add sweet potatoes and return to simmering once again. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and poblanos. Simmer just until heated through. Taste to check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary or beef up the spices (you might want more curry flavor, or some ground cumin to supplement the whole cumin seeds, etc.). Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Easy Thai Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

Apparently, we're on a soup kick here at A Mingling of Tastes, but don't try to tell me that's a bad thing! This is my simple, anytime take on those spicy, aromatic Thai broths that can seem unattainable to American cooks. You don't need to track down any exotic ingredients or drive around town looking for Kaffir lime leaves. Of course it wouldn't hurt if you did that, but I can't be asked.

Since this is a version of Tom Yum Goong, the big flavor is lemongrass. You can find it in most supermarkets these days near the fresh herbs. You don't have to bother with peeling away the rough outer layers or identifying and chopping the inner core. All you have to do is throw it in a pot with some chicken broth, ginger and chiles and simmer for about 20 minutes to create your soup base. Add shrimp and any other additions you like, and you have a tasty first course or a healthy main dish.

Thai Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (Tom Yum Goong)
Most similar recipes don't call for ginger, but I love it here. If you have access to fresh Thai chiles, use them in place of serranos. For less heat, just cut the seeded chiles in half and remove them from the broth before serving. A spoonful of Thai or Korean chile paste or fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves (remove before serving) are also nice additions. If you don't have canned straw mushrooms, use any fresh mushrooms and simmer until tender. Canned bamboo shoots may also be added along with the shrimp and mushrooms. Serve with rice, if desired.

Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 serrano chiles seeded and chopped (see head note)
1 Tbs. Thai or Korean roasted chile paste (optional)
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup drained canned straw mushrooms (any fresh mushrooms may be substituted)
Juice of half a lime
Chopped fresh cilantro for serving

Finely chop half of the ginger. To a large pot, add the chopped ginger, the remaining chunk of ginger, the chicken broth, lemongrass and chiles. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the chile paste if using, the shrimp and the mushrooms to the pot. Simmer until shrimp are firm and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. Discard the large pieces of lemongrass, ginger and chiles (if you opted not to chop them). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup

What you see above is the nicest day in Seattle ever. Mike and I were there last week to meet our new niece, who divides her time between eating, sleeping and being adorable. We spent most of the week in Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle, but we did spend our last night downtown where we had this awesome view from our hotel.

Even though we didn't do much eating in Seattle, I'm writing about it because we had a few incredible dishes I have to mention, and because Seattle inspired this velvety beet soup.

After reading this article about the egg craze among Seattle chefs, we were determined to try the lamburger meatball (there's a video clip in the article--watch and you'll understand) at Andaluca. It's a soft boiled egg wrapped in ground lamb. Enough said. The restaurant has a great tapas menu including a Middle Eastern-spiced meat patty made with juicy duck meat...really original.

On my sister-in-law's excellent recommendation, we ended up at Lola, where we had our favorite dish of the whole trip: grilled octopus with morel mushrooms, ramps and a poached egg on top (I think it's only on the menu while the veggies are in season). I've never seen so many of the northwest's seasonal morels in one dish, and the octopus was perfectly charred. We want to recreate this one at home, although we won't have the same gorgeous ingredients.

And finally, beet soup. You see a lot of beets in the Pacific Northwest (back me up on this, Seattlites?). That's fine with me, and the ubiquitous pairing with goat cheese is only common because it's truly delicious. Our first day home, we wanted a meal with lots of healthy veggies, so Mike suggested one of our favorite creamy soups...with beets. I'd never done anything with pureed beets, but I consulted a few cookbooks and learned that it works beautifully.

This particular recipe is adapted from Passionate Vegetarian and is loaded with Indian spices. I gave it a nice amount of heat too. No goat cheese in the soup, but I did save my beet greens and made a "northwest omelet" with the sauteed greens, garlic and plenty of chevre. I think the turmeric intensified the color and turned the soup more blood red than beet red. Consider this as part of a Halloween supper in a few months, perhaps.

Love your beets? Try this pink risotto, Double Beet Penne, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, or Smoked Fish and Beet Salad.

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
The cumin is a big flavor here, so I think toasting and grinding it fresh (with an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle) is worthwhile. If that doesn't work for you, use 2 tsp. of ground cumin. Jalapenos aren't very hot (especially with seeds removed), but use the smaller amount if you need to keep the soup mild.

Serves 4 to 6

4 medium beets
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 medium red onions, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 jalapenos, seeded if desired and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (use smaller amount for less heat)
1 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted for 3 minutes in a dry skillet and ground
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
7 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. honey
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (no salt added, if possible)
1/4 cup uncooked basmati rice
3/4 tsp. garam masala
Sour cream for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim the beets, leaving 1 inch of stems attached. Wrap in a foil pouch and seal edges tightly. Roast on a baking sheet for 75 to 90 minutes, or until very tender. Open pouch and, when beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skin off with your fingers. Cut into small cubes.

While beets roast, make the soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium low. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and ginger and cook 3 more minutes, stirring often. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and crushed red pepper and cook 2 minutes more, stirring continuously. Add the broth, tomatoes and 1 Tbs. of the honey and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the chopped beets to the soup and remove from heat. Using a handheld immersion blender (or working in batches with a regular blender), puree until you have a smooth consistency. Put soup over medium-high heat and bring to a bare simmer. Stir in the garam masala and remaining honey. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If soup is thicker than you like, add a small amount of water. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Creamy Celery Root Soup with Swiss Chard

Here is the perfect dish for the current meteorological moment. This soup is rich and warm on a cold day, but it's full of fresh spring flavor. As gnarly and uninviting as celery root looks, it has the bright, herbaceous taste of, well, celery. Simmered in a quick soup with some potatoes to make it extra creamy, it is equal parts light and satisfying.

I love making pureed soups with my trusty hand blender. A regular blender works fine too. You can build a fantastic soup using all sorts of different veggies--no recipe required. Use this recipe to get the hang of it, then create new soups whenever the mood strikes. Here are some tips on getting it right:

1) Build flavor with aromatics - Start your soup by sauteeing garlic, onions, shallots, ginger, dried herbs, fresh or dried chiles, or spices in some oil. Any combination of these is great. If you feeling fancy, add a splash of wine and reduce it before you add the broth (I love dry Sherry for this--it keeps in the fridge forever).

2) Pick blendable veggies - I love chunky soups too, but the idea here is smooth and creamy. Artichokes and asparagus need to be pushed through a sieve to remove all the fibrous bits that won't puree. Carrots, potatoes, eggplant (discard the skin), fava beans, mushrooms, peas and cauliflower get smooth without straining.

3) Add something starchy - I prefer Russet potatoes, but white rice or Cannellini beans can also be used to thicken and add a stick-to-your-ribs quality to healthy soups without using cream.

4) Do a fun garnish - I had a jar of vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts on hand, which were a great complement to the mellow celery root. However, you can also use chopped olives, a dollop of pesto, chopped onion, roasted and chopped nuts, yogurt or sour cream, diced sun-dried tomatoes...and a fresh herb is always right.

5) For more inspiration, take a look at these soups: Carrot Curry Soup, Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup, Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint.

Do you ever make soup on the fly? Is it still soup weather where you live? Share recipes in the comments!

Creamy Celery Root Soup with Swiss Chard

My supermarket, to my grateful amazement, stocks these fantastic chestnuts year round (we're talking the roasted and shelled European type, not water chestnuts). If they are not available, try any of the garnish ideas mentioned above (walnuts would be nice), or just stick with parsley. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the celery root (also called celeriac), then trim any veins of skin running through the flesh with a paring knife.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
Pinch of coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
Dried red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley, plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup dry Sherry (optional, but encouraged)
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 celery root, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
Cooking spray
1/3 cup chopped roasted chestnuts (optional)
1 bunch Swiss chard (8 to 10 leaves)
1/2 lemon

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and shallot, season lightly with salt (broth will add additional salt) and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the Sherry, and simmer until reduced by about three-quarters. Add the chicken broth, celery root and potatoes; raise the heat and cover to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until vegetables are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-low heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the chestnuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat remaining oil in the skillet and add the Swiss chard. Season with pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove soup pot from heat and puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. Alternatively, you can puree in a blender, working in batches. Return pot to low heat and stir in the Swiss chard. Add lemon juice to taste. Check seasoning. Ladle into bowls and top with chestnuts and parsley leaves before serving.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup

Want a hot bowl of creamy, hearty soup without too many creamy, hearty calories? Then you will appreciate this EASY sweet pea soup. For me, comfort food isn't all that comforting when I know that ever bite is loaded with calories and saturated fat. This soup on the other hand, is flavored with fresh herbs and blended with Russet potatoes for that creamy, mouth-filling texture you want.

Lately, I've been enjoying a robust work flow (can you taste the euphemism in that statement?). And times like this require simple and satisfying dishes. Last winter, I made a lot of creamy, blended soups (scroll to the end for links), but I haven't done it nearly enough this year. And why not? It's so easy and this one in particular is a cinch thanks to super-convenient frozen peas.

I seared a slice of cooked ham and added it to the soup for a meaty element. You can add bacon, pancetta or even chicken to this soup. Of course, you can also keep it vegetarian. Sour cream or yogurt is a nice finishing touch, but you could also opt for some flavorful grated cheese, like Parmigiano or Gruyere...mmm.

So, eat this healthy soup this week so you can indulge in something special this weekend. You know Valentine's Day is coming up, right? Do you already have something planned? If you're the type who plans their meal or dessert before anything else, share it in the comments section!

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup with Ham
The mellow garden-fresh taste of peas contribute the main flavor here, so I used a lot of fresh and dried herbs to perk it up. Add any combination you like, but I particularly love mint with peas.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 3/4 lbs. Russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 thick slice cooked ham
1 (1-lb.) bag frozen peas
1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. chopped fresh chives
Sour cream, plain yogurt or creme fraiche, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and ginger and cook 1 minute. Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender.

Cook the ham in a skillet over medium heat until heated through and lightly browned. Chop into small pieces.

When potatoes are tender, add the peas to the saucepan and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender. You can also use a regular blender, working in batches. Stir in the ham and about two-thirds of the mint and chives. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and remaining herbs.

More Healthy, Creamy Soups

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Carrot Curry Soup
Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale

This is what you need for those between-party days during the holiday season. These are days when your meals are not comprised of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and cookies. No, these are the days when you have the luxury of cooking a simple, healthy homemade meal to get your body rested and ready for the next festivity.

The kale gets a head start in the pot before quick-cooking barley is added. In the meantime, I saute a whole lot of mushrooms and add them to the soup at the very end. This helps maintain their texture and flavor--mushrooms really don't benefit from being simmered for any length of time. It's as simple as that.

And just in case you are on the Christmas-Cookie Diet, there was a great article in the New York Times on Wednesday about how to handle your butter for better baking. There are some great tips, so check it out!

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale
You could certainly throw in meat or beans to add some protein. Try chicken or crumbled turkey sausage.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of chili flakes, or to taste
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
12 oz. chopped kale
1 heaping cup quick-cooking barley
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portobello caps, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on medium-high. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the kale. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the barley, cover and cook 15 minutes or until barley is tender. (If the package directions call for a longer or shorter cooking time for your barley, adjust accordingly.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their liquid, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. When barley is finished cooking, add the mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: The Summertime Anytime Cookbook and Mushroom and Leek Soup

Summer may not officially begin until the solstice on June 20, but what we consider the summer season in the United States kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. So naturally, now is a great time to talk about a new summer-themed cookbook. Written by Dana Slatkin, chef at Shutters on the Beach, a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook has some simple, fresh ways to do California cuisine even if ocean breezes don't necessarily blow your way.

The book is full of color photos of many recipes, plus a few beach shots that will make you sigh on a chilly night. The organization is novel, grouping recipes into chapters that evoke a certain mood or occasion: Sunny Days, Cloudy Days, Balmy Nights, Stormy Nights and Misty Mornings. At first I thought the concept was a little silly, but I quickly began to enjoy thinking about the dishes with this mindset. It's a neat trick that provides a context in which you'll view the recipes. Flipping past chicken breasts with smoky lentils; butter bean salad with oven-dried tomatoes, black olives and pesto; and apple-jack (as in Monterey jack cheese) pie with ginger custard sauce in the Stormy Nights chapter, I envisioned myself in a warm kitchen as the wind whips outside and rain lashes the windows making Slatkin's radicchio soup with smoked mozzarella cheese.

The majority of the recipes are simple and easy to pull off even if you don't have access to fabulous California produce. If ingredient substitutions are not suggested, the casual, easy-going feel of the book should encourage you to swap broccoli for broccolini or frozen corn for fresh. I like the advice Slatkin gives in the headnotes to the recipe for wild mushroom and leek soup:

This soup is pure mushroom indulgence. Once pureed, it is so creamy that you could easily omit the cream and never miss it.

Oh, you don't say. If you recall my love for pureed veggie soups, you can understand why I chose this recipe (provided below) to try out. I was skeptical about the level of "pure mushroom indulgence" I was going to experience, but I can honestly say that the soup was simply, deliciously mushroom-y, as promised. With no cream, it was still thick and rich, if not a very lovely color. Swirl some sour cream on top and it's perfectly presentable. Very easy and definitely something I will make again.

I also tried a "Cloudy Days" recipe for lemon-ginger string beans, which was a new-to-me, yet low-maintenance, version of a vegetable I don't usually get excited about. Scattered throughout the book are cute bits of Martha Stewart-ish lifestyle advice on "beach table chic" or "six uses for a bucket of sand." These bonus tidbits might be an added draw to some people, but the collection of 130 recipes plus photos doesn't need much enchancement. I'm looking forward to reliving the California vibe of my formative years (I grew up just south of Santa Monica) by making Tomatillo, Chile and Bean Chowder; Truffle-Scented Salmon with Mustard Vinaigrette; and Strawberry-Rhubard Cobbler (desserts aren't neglected here, including fruit-focused treats, as well as things like Peanut-Butterscotch Crunch Bars).

If summertime can be an escape from work, routine and responsibility, this book plays off that mystique to create a culinary escape. Through the accessible recipes, you can transport yourself to a Southern California beach, basking in the sun and reveling in the moist, salty air. This is a book you'll be happy to curl up on the couch dreaming of vacation with, or turn to for new salad ideas, simple fish dishes or inspiration for your haul of summer produce.

Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup
Adapted from The Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin

If you want to use heavy cream, add one cup along with the sherry. Pacific Foods makes a very good mushroom broth available at Whole Foods market and many other stores. For vegetable broth, lately I've been loving the rich, dark version made by Kitchen Basics, available in supermarkets. Any kinds of mushrooms would be good; I used a mix of portobella, white and shiitake.

1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped
3 to 4 large leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 cups mushroom broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbs. dry sherry or lemon juice
sour cream for serving
chopped fresh chives for serving

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, then raise the heat to medium high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown.

Reduce heat to medium, add the leeks and cook until soft. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the broth, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add the sherry and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes so vegetables get very soft and flavors develop. If you think too much liquid is evaporating, cover the pot for a portion of this time.

Puree soup in batches in a blender (I used an immersion blender, but I think a traditional blender may give a smoother texture--it's up to you). Return soup to the pot and heat thoroughly without boiling to avoid splatters. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives.

The Summertime Anytime Cookbook was sent to me for review by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Does that photo of a simple (yet elegantly presented) soup get you excited? Not really? Well, it should! No, it's not a fudgy brownie or a tender scone, but it's been making me incredibly happy lately.

Since I made this Carrot-Curry Soup, I've been having a field day with my immersion blender. And to think I would never have purchased such a gadget if left to my own devices. It was actually given to me by the kitchenwares buyer when I worked in the corporate advertising office of Filene's, the venerable department store chain in the Northeast that has since been absorbed by Macy's. I worked as an assistant buyer there right after college, then moved to advertising and had to deal with buyers who loved to drive me crazy by changing the items, prices or photos they wanted to feature in the print ads and catalogues we produced.

Anyway, this little immersion blender was one of the many samples used for photo shoots that were always laying around the buying offices. This was about 6 years ago, and it's only recently that I've truly learned to love my blender. You can make pureed soups in a regular blender, in batches, but a hand-held model does the job in no time with less potential for mess.

So, I've been making pureed soups every chance I get. I did a nice one with celeriac which tasted vibrantly of celery (shocking), but it was an even duller green color than the picture above, so I didn't post it. The thing about soups like this is that you don't need a recipe after you try it once or twice--you can just choose any vegetables or legumes that take well to being pureed (anything too seedy, fibrous or stringy may not work; or it may need straining), combine them with herbs and spices of your choice, add some diced potato or cauliflower for incredible creaminess with a neutral flavor, and go crazy! I'm in love with the creamy texture I can create with just potato or cauliflower and not a drop of cream.

In this particular soup, fava beans add quite a bit of creaminess on their own, so I went with cauliflower instead of starchier potato as my thickener. The flavor is mild, like fava beans, and it's nicely underscored with fresh rosemary. Don't skip the sprinkling of fresh mint or drizzle of lemon juice; with such a simple soup, it's the little things that take it from basic to memorable. Mint is an incredible accompaniment to vegetables--it's a classic with peas, and I've been loving omelets with sauteed zucchini, goat cheese and mint. And finally, I always serve my creamy vegetable soups with either sour cream or yogurt swirled in. The cool tang elevates the other flavors, and it looks beautiful.

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Whole Foods markets sell great frozen, shelled fava beans year round. If you can’t find frozen (or fresh), use lima beans. This soup gets its amazingly creamy texture from the pureed beans as well as cauliflower, which has a neutral flavor in this soup. Make it vegetarian--use vegetable instead of chicken broth.

Makes 4 main course servings

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and florets chopped into approx. 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups frozen, shelled fava beans, or lima beans
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (2 to 3 tbs.)
Yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until onion is soft and golden. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and cauliflower and season with salt and pepper; cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender; add fava beans and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more, or until heated through and tender.

Remove pan from heat and puree using a hand held immersion blender (alternatively, puree in batches in a regular blender). Return to low heat, but do not simmer, or soup might splash out of the pot. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice; taste and adjust seasoning and/or add more lemon juice, according to taste. Ladle into bowls and dollop with yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle with mint.

Here are some more soup recipes from the archives...I love them all.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham
Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk (scroll down)
Vegetable Barley Soup with Poached Egg

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carrot Curry Soup and Cornmeal Biscuits

I’ve always been one to favor chunky soups over smooth, creamy purees. Probably because I was afraid the purees contained an unholy amount of actual cream. I’ve recently figured out that this is not the case. Simply pureeing vegetables will give you a thick, satisfying texture with little or no cream.

I’ll just say up front that I love this carrot soup. It is so thick, rich and loaded with curry flavor. It is mostly made of carrots (shocking, I know) simmered with cumin seeds, red curry powder and some potatoes, which provide extra body and creaminess. Once all your veggies are peeled, it’s really easy, too.

I started with a carrot soup recipe from Once Upon a Tart, a cookbook I really like (and have used mostly for scone recipes and this soup). I opted for coconut milk (reduced fat works fine) to give the soup just a little extra creamy oomph and some more Asian flavor. I honestly thought I would need to punch up the seasoning at the end, but the curry and cumin flavor is perfectly assertive and balanced.

Soup demands bread, rolls or biscuits on the side, so I made these cornmeal biscuits from Cooking Light. For a lighter recipe, they worked really well AND you can make them easily in one bowl; you don’t have to bother with a pastry blender either, just work the very cold butter in with your fingers. The only change I made was to use all whole wheat pastry flour instead of half AP, half whole wheat. Also, they needed a good 4 or 5 extra minutes in the oven.

If you’re celebrating Easter today, have fun! I think I’ve made lamb for the past 3 or 4 years, but today we’re cooking all Asian food. As has been customary for the past 3 years, we were awakened at 6:30am by some lunatic in our building who plays Christian rock CD’s excessively loudly (penetrating ear plugs loud) once a year on this day…awesome. And by that I mean, not awesome.

Carrot Curry Soup
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

I like the flavor and medium-spicy heat level of Spice Islands red curry powder. If you have a very spicy curry powder, use the lower amount.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine (about 2 tablespoons)
1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry powder
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2 small)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus up to 1 cup additional for thinning soup
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (lowfat or regular), divided
2 fat lime wedges, plus additional for serving
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat; add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger, cumin seeds and curry powder; cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously. Add the carrots and potatoes; stir for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the chicken broth and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Season again with salt and pepper, as desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cooked, covered, until carrot and potato is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and use a hand-held immersion blender to puree soup. You can also do this in batches in a blender. You should have a very thick consistency. Return to low heat and add the remaining coconut milk, reserving about 3 tablespoons for garnish. Add up to 1 additional cup of chicken broth to get the consistency you want. Squeeze in the juice from the 2 lime wedges. Taste and add more salt and pepper or lime juice as needed.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle with coconut milk in a swirl pattern. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Potato Chowder Recipe

I am sneaking in one more St. Patty’s Day-inspired recipe. This is what I made to eat with my Irish Soda Biscuits from the previous post. It is a quick, healthy chowder recipe that I modeled after my Corn and Seafood Chowder.

I spent an inordinate amount of time debating what else I should add to this chowder. I originally conceived it as a “vegetable chowder” instead of just focusing on the potatoes. But, the idea was to have an Irish theme, and it doesn’t get more Irish than tender chunks of russet potatoes. Leeks and scallions provide a vegetal counterpoint to all that wonderful starch; a handful of Irish cheddar adds richness and protein; and bacon just makes it all good.

When I told Mike over the phone about making this chowder for myself on Wednesday (he travels for work every week), he said, “You made chowder without me?” in a sweetly pathetic voice. Well, I have to eat too, don’t I? I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the biscuits until the next day. I did save him plenty of leftovers, which are excellent.

Irish Potato Chowder
You can add anything you want to this simple, healthy chowder. Cut back on potatoes a bit and add carrots, parsnips or sweet potatoes, for example. If you don’t have marjoram, use all thyme.

Serves 3 to 4

5 slices bacon
2 large leeks, trimmed of tough outer leaves, sliced lengthwise and chopped in to 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
2 tbs. all-purpose flour
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups lowfat milk
1 tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
2 tsp. white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup grated Irish cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)
5 scallions, thinly sliced

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-low heat. Drain on paper towels, break into pieces and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pot. Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and marjoram; cook one minute, stirring constantly. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and give them a few turns to combine. Add the broth and milk, season again, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken chowder slightly. Stir in vinegar and bacon pieces. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Ladle in to bowls and serve topped with cheese and scallions.

Kiss me, I'm giving you some great Irish recipes from other blogs:

Skillet Irish Soda Bread from Smitten Kitchen - I wish I had thought of this!
Irish Buttermilk Scones from Albion Cooks - Super-simple and perfect.
Agnes O'Sullivan's Brown Bread from Tea & Cookies - With whole wheat flour, bran and wheat germ.
Irish Lamb Stew with a Twist from Simply Recipes - This recipe amps up the flavor.
Bailey's Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies from Baking Bites - Reminds me of those days when I drank Bailey's with reckless abandon.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup

Some things make great leftovers--lasagna, soups and stews, enchiladas. Other things, like risotto or shrimp n' grits, not so much. When you're cooking for one, it helps to go for the things that make great leftovers.

Mike just started a consulting project that requires him to fly to Hartford on Monday mornings, work at the client's offices during the week and get back to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday night. He's done projects that involved a lot of travel in the past, and it's the nature of his job. He doesn't mind the traveling and staying in a hotel, and I don't blame him--I'd rather do that than work in the same office, in the same cubicle, day after day without variation. He has a good gig.

What it means for me on a very practical level is that I don't have someone to cook for as often. Since Mike loves trying new dishes as much as I do, I feel bad making new and exciting things when he's not here. But what are you gonna do? Last week, I needed to cook, and there was a soup recipe in the February issue of Food & Wine that combined two of my very favorite foods--lentils and roasted eggplant. There are a couple lentil recipes on this blog, but that doesn't truly reflect how much I love lentils. They are my go-to ingredient when I want something satisfying and healthy.

This soup is not glamourous, but it is really good. I ate it for dinner three nights in a row, and I have to say that it grew on me. Night one was nice. On night two, I thought, yum, I like this. Night three--so creamy, so light yet filling, subtle yet flavorful--I'd make it again. I've never pureed lentils this way, and it really does create a creamy texture along with a little bit of milk. With a good slice of buttered bread, this is a tasty meal.

The actual recipe as printed in the magazine was lacking--the soup was begging for some aromatic vegetables so I worked in sauteed onion and garlic. The method was a little convoluted, so I tried to streamline it in my version. Finally, F&W tried to gussy it up with a fried sage leaf garnish. There is no way that I would get another pot dirty when I could garnish this soup with a sprig from my thyme plant. A perfect weeknight dinner for one.

By the way, I saved Mike some soup to try when he got home, and the review was good.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine, February 2008
You can used any combination of dried herbs you like--try sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram or mint. If you want to use fresh herbs instead, add them to the blender with the eggplant instead of sautéing them.

One 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
Cooking spray
1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 cup lowfat milk
1 tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant quarters, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake until eggplant flesh is lightly browned and very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in the saucepan with 1/2 tsp. salt, add enough water to cover by about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and add the spices. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add onion mixture to a blender and set aside.

When eggplant is done, let it cool slightly, then scrape the flesh into the blender with the onion mixture. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Transfer to the saucepan. Now, add the drained lentils to the blender along with the other cup of chicken broth and puree. Add to the saucepan with the eggplant mixture.

Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve, garnished with fresh herbs if desired.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn

This soup is one of our favorite recent recipe discoveries. I’m happy to say that it came in its original form from another food blogger I recently discovered. I have been enjoying Nicole’s blog, Cucina Nicolina, and this soup attests to her culinary sensibility (I love fawning over other food blogs--you guys are endlessly inspiring!).

You know quinoa is good for you, right? It’s an ancient grain, a superfood, a complete protein and all that jazz. But none of that would be any comfort at all if the stuff wasn’t so delicious. I’ve been making steamed quinoa for a couple years now as a side dish, usually a pilaf. This is always very good, but I’ve never enjoyed quinoa as much as I do in this soup.

This recipe is for a very big batch, and I don’t recommend scaling it down. Not because you can’t, but because you’ll want a lot of this soup to eat for lunch, for a quick leftover dinner, whatever. A lot of liquid is required here because quinoa is like a sponge that never tires of soaking up anything in its wake. You’ll notice the soup continue to get thicker in the days after you make it. Just add a bit more liquid to get the consistency you want, or eat as is and enjoy the luxurious thickness.

The first time I cooked this soup, I thought it would need something more to add richness and substance, so we topped it with poached eggs. While this is really delicious and is vital to other soups such as this one, you just don’t need it to make the quinoa soup complete. The particular quality of starchiness in the quinoa thickens and enriches the broth enough on its own.

I know I’ve written about nothing else in this post but soup, so I’ll try to wrap it up quickly. Mike and I LOVE it. We’re not vegetarians, certainly not vegans, but we couldn’t ask for more than a bowl of this. Try it with the Honey Spelt Bread in the previous post. And by the way, it’s done from start to finish in under 30 minutes, and that’s if you’re fairly lazy about it.

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Adapted from this recipe at Cucina Nicolina
I prefer chicken broth (especially Swanson’s low-sodium or Whole Foods regular), but you can certainly use vegetable broth if necessary. This soup is easy to play with, so add any dried or fresh herbs, or seasonings that sound good. If you really want to speed up the process, you could cook the mushrooms in a separate skillet while the quinoa is simmering.

Serves 7-8

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (use white, Portobello, or a combination)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large red or white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups quinoa
8 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups frozen or fresh corn
12-14 oz. spinach leaves
2 tbs. soy sauce

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the water they release nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until lightly browned and soft. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, season and cook until soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and add the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then add the quinoa. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and add the water and corn and return to a simmer. Add the spinach leaves a few handfuls at a time. Add the reserved mushrooms and soy sauce. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve as is, or with a poached egg on top.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham

When it comes to Christmas dinner, does tradition dictate most of the meal, or is yours the type of wild and crazy family that changes it up from year to year? When I was growing up, we went the traditional route. Even though sides, desserts and even the location of the meal changed, we always had a baked ham for Christmas Day. Just like we always had a turkey for Thanksgiving. I have to admit that there is some comfort in cooking routines, even though I was never a great fan of the sometimes dry, sometimes salty ham.

One thing I did like about the Christmas ham, however, was the yellow split pea soup my mom made with the leftovers. To make good split pea soup, you really need to have a ham bone to flavor the broth. All those little leftover pieces of meat can be added at the end to make a substantial, creamy soup infused with the flavor of pork--serious comfort food.

Mike and I don't have a traditional meal we eat every Christmas, but this year we decided to give the baked ham another shot. But instead of having it for Christmas dinner, we baked our ham a couple weeks ago and have been loving the leftovers, especially this Golden Split Pea Soup. Ham really shines in leftovers--think sandwiches, omelets, frittatas or pasta dishes. My mom had an aversion to green split peas, and no wonder--the brownish-green color of a green split pea soup isn't exactly appetizing. The yellow ones, on the other hand, are just as easy to find and result in an inviting, cheery-hued soup.

For this recipe I turned to Cook's Illustrated and adapted a version on their website. It's easy and so, so good. You just simmer the ham bone to create a smoky broth, then cook the split peas until nearly dissolved and creamy, along with some potatoes. Caramelized aromatic veggies are added at the end, along with leftover ham pieces. It is of course even better a day or two later, as it thickens further and the flavors develop. Whether or not you usually eat ham for Christmas, it is perfectly fine to get one for the sole purpose of using the leftovers in recipes like this.

Onions, carrots, celery and garlic--caramelized and buttery.

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Golden Split Pea and Ham Soup

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
You don't have to pick the ham bone clean. Just trim off the large pieces of fat and all the nice chunks of meat you'll want to add to the finished soup. Sauteeing the vegetables separately and adding them at the end allows them to retain their texture and caramelized flavor.

Serves 4-5

3 quarts water
Bone from a baked half-ham or ham shank
3 dried Turkish bay leaves
14 oz. yellow split peas, rinsed and picked through
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, plus a pinch
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups new potatoes cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 to 2 cups ham cut into bite-sized pieces
Optional Garnishes: fresh thyme, diced red onion and/or balsamic vinegar for serving

Bring the water, ham bone and bay leaves to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove bone from pot and discard. Add the split peas, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the liquid they release evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of dried thyme. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until vegetables are deeply browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter and garlic, cook for 3 minutes and set aside.

After the potatoes have simmered for 15 minutes, add the vegetables and ham pieces to the soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Skim any fat off the surface if desired. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg

In my last post, I mentioned that we have been into healthy, comforting meals in the hopes of balancing out the holiday decadence. This is one of those recipes. Upon looking at the ingredients and method, you'll see there's nothing exotic here--but wait, the simplicity is deceptive.

This delicious soup is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It can be made effortlessly any night of the week. Once you've chopped onion and garlic, sauteed them along with some mushrooms and relaxed while the barley cooks in just 15 minutes, you'll wonder if you forgot something--it's just too easy, you'll say.

After you stir in some fresh spinach at the end and ladle the hot soup into bowls, it's time for the big finish--crowning each portion with a gently poached egg. Cook the eggs for a mere two minutes so the yolks remain soft and creamy enough to add a totally luscious quality to your soup. Honestly, this is unexpectedly good even without a poached egg, but with it--you'll want to eat this every night.

Now you have the perfect quick, satisfying meal for the crazy weeknights ahead when you don't want something too heavy, but you don't want to feel in the least bit deprived. It came from the November issue of Gourmet by the way, which also provided recipes for this beautiful Cranberry Crostata and another quick dinner we really liked (but didn't put on the blog), Sauteed Calamari with Bacon and Lemon Quinoa.

So, have you started doing any holiday baking yet? I did today--so much good stuff to blog about, I can't wait! We got our Christmas tree too. I love decorating it and going through all my ornaments, some that I've had since I was a baby. And I officially know it's the holiday season because Mike made his hot cider-rum drink with cinnamon--I could knock those back all day! So what are everyone else's favorite December traditions, whether you celebrate Christmas or not?

Vegetable-Barley Soup with Poached Egg
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, November 2007

Serves 4 as main course

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram (optional)
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (such as Muir Glen)
1 qt. vegetable broth (such as Swanson’s Organic)
1 cup quick-cooking barley
6 oz. spinach leaves
1 tbs. white vinegar
4 large eggs

Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and heat to medium. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until mushrooms are soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and vegetable broth; raise heat and bring to a boil. Add the barley, season with 1/2 tsp. salt and ground pepper to taste; cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until barley is tender.

Meanwhile, fill a large skillet with water, about 1 1/2 inches deep. Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Add the vinegar. As soon as the soup is finished, you want this skillet to be ready for the eggs.

When barley is tender, stir the spinach into the soup and cook for 1 minute. Check for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls, and immediately add the eggs to the poaching water by cracking the eggs, one at a time, into a ramekin or small bowl and gently tipping each one into the poaching water. Cook for 2 minutes and transfer the eggs directly into each soup bowl using a slotted spoon. Serve right away.

If you want to check out the round-up of posts for November's Sugar High Friday where the theme was beta-carotene, here's part 1 and part 2. Look for my All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake among the delicious entries.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Favorite Smoky Turkey Chili

When I think of chili, I think of windy fall evenings, football games and the weekend. Chili is such a weekend food because it takes at least a little while to simmer and feels like a feast--especially when you add some supporting players like skillet cornbread and a great beer. The Leffe in the photo, by the way, is one of my favorites of all time and an absolutely excellent food beer; it's worth tracking down, though we did recently find it in a mixed pack at Costco.

This chili is just the thing to have simmering on the stove as you decorate your Christmas tree this weekend. It's also great to make while watching football. Will you be tree-trimming and football watching simultaneously like I probably will? In that case, you can even make this ahead--it tastes even better reheated.

I made this chili for a Halloween dinner this year because of the festive color combo of the sweet potatoes and black beans. The smokiness comes from poblano chiles, a mild, easy to find dark green pepper that you roast, skin and cut into strips. If you don't like heat, remove all the seeds, and you won't have a problem. The pepper roasting is the only fussy part of this recipe, but you've done that before, right? And it totally pays off. I also recently discovered dried chipotle chiles which have the most intense smoky-sweet flavor in their dried form--but a little goes far. We grind these up ourselves to make the chipotle chile powder, but you can either buy it or use any chili seasonings you prefer.

Although I said I was feeling relatively healthy after our blowout Thanksgiving weekend, we've still been eating nutritious, comforting meals like salmon and lentils (my favorite healthy yet totally satisfying meal) and some great vegetarian soups. I have two outrageously good soups that I want to post soon--just in case you need a break from the holiday indulgence that's going to happen in the coming weeks--I'm sure I will!

Smoky Turkey Chili
Loosely Adapted from Food & Wine, January 2003
I’ve actually been making this chili since I received the January ’03 issue of F&W. I even hung onto the magazine because it includes quite a few great-looking, healthy recipes, though the chili is only one I’ve ever made. Because I love the intensely sweet flavor, I buy dried chipotles and grind them in a spice grinder. You can buy them already ground or use one or two canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Anything with the word “chipotle” is probably hot stuff, so use sparingly at first. You can skip it if you don’t like heat, but I’d encourage you to try it because the sweet, smoky flavor is wonderful. Of course, feel free to use your favorite chili seasonings and spices--it’s a fun dish to play around with. Here are some excellent instructions on how to roast peppers. I do mine (or I should say Mike does mine) under the broiler.

Serves 6

1 tbs. canola or olive oil
1 lb. lean ground turkey
Salt and ground pepper to taste
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbs. chile powder (the regular, mild stuff--Spice Islands makes a good one)
pinch of ground chipotle chile powder (or to taste) or 1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo (optional)
4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 quart water
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Two 15-oz. cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
4 large poblano chiles—roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup tomato paste
Sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions for serving (optional)

Add the oil to a large pot or Dutch oven and heat to medium-high. Add the ground turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking it up as you stir, until browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, both chile powders, cumin and cloves and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and water and raise the heat to bring chili to a boil.

Add the turkey, cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for 30 more minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add the beans and poblano, stirring to combine, then taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper or chile powder to taste. Stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions. Cornbread is an excellent accompaniment.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Healthy Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Wheat-Herb Biscuits

About a week ago, we could not decide what to eat for dinner to save our lives. The best we could do is decide we wanted fish, maybe salmon. Don’t you hate it when you just don’t know what you feel like eating (and cooking)?

Sometimes when this happens, I try to focus on things that I know will taste great no matter what mood I’m in. For me, if a meal involves biscuits or cornbread, life is good. I really enjoy making these quick breads, and since they go best with warm, comforting soups and stews, you suddenly find yourself with the makings of a delicious meal.

I’ve been wanting to try some biscuit variations after seeing some ideas in the November issue of Food & Wine. I decided to makeover my classic Buttermilk Biscuits with whole wheat flour. I added some herbs and some very good cheese, which is a decadent thing in a biscuit that’s already good and buttery. These biscuits have tons of flavor, and are a very different twist on the classic. I’m going to experiment more with them.

As for the Corn-Seafood Chowder, this was one of those recipes I put together on the fly that turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I remembered making a lighter seafood chowder a couple years ago that really turned out well, despite the omission of heavy cream. I used chicken broth and lowfat milk thickened with just a little bit of cornstarch. the texture is great, there is no raw, floury taste, and I promise this chowder does not have any tell-tale “lowfat” qualities--there's bacon after all. And it cooks in about 30 minutes total because there are no ingredients that require a long simmering time--the shrimp and scallops take just 2 minutes at the end!

Just a quick update on the Cranberry-Almond Crostata: Mike took down the last piece yesterday. This tart holds up just fine if you store it at room temperature, well-covered, for 2 to 3 days. I'm loving cranberries these days! I have a Cranberry-Lemon-Walnut Scone recipe to share soon, and there's a cranberry coffee cake I'm dying to bake!

Healthy Corn and Seafood Chowder
In the past, I’ve found the quality of fresh sea scallops at the supermarket to be somewhat uneven. So we recently started buying frozen sea scallops, and they are consistently delicious and sweet with a firm texture. I like the Whole Foods brand, but try what’s available where you shop--fresh or frozen--and see what you think. A good-quality fresh, dried chile powder is important for this dish because it adds not only flavor, but color. Don’t forget a good fistful of Italian parsley to sprinkle over the finished soup. The crisp, herby flavor is a nice counterpoint to the creamy chowder.

5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups lowfat milk
1 medium russet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 tsp. mild chile powder
2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3/4 lb. sea scallops, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each
Fresh parsley for garnish

Cook the bacon in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Transfer to a paper towel, leaving about one tablespoon of fat in the pot. Add the onion and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine. Add the chicken broth and milk. Raise the heat to high and cover until the liquid comes to a boil. Add the potatoes and return to boiling. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

Add the corn, chili powder. Return chowder to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the shrimp and scallops and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until seafood is opaque and cooked through. Stir in the reserved bacon. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Whole Wheat Herb Biscuits with Comté
I use a bit of dried thyme to punch up the flavor of the fresh thyme, which is sometimes not as potent as I like. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you can use 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme total. Comte is a French cheese similar to Gruyère. Either one is a great choice, as is Fontina.

Makes about 8 2-inch or 6 3-inch biscuits

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
7 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1/3 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk, all the herbs and the cheese and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough--do not over mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1⁄2 inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit and placing on the prepared baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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