Saturday, December 20, 2014

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies

My 2-year old took a 3 hour nap yesterday. It is something that happens fairly unpredictably in the last few months. Whenever that nap matches up with a day that I actually don't need one myself, I am amazed at how productive I can be.

I might have written the day off as a bad one, based on our morning. As we ran out to get cranberries from the store, I ran into some car problems. This meant that both our vehicles would now be away at the "car doctor" for a bit, and we also needed daddy to come rescue us at the grocery store. But he did rescue us, and the nice mechanic who called me Signora, and told my husband to listen to me next time I complained of noises from the car, was able to fix it in a few hours. On a side note, this is why I love my new suburban city - it's filled with all sorts of nice old-school charmy folks doing nice things and saying nice things and kissing both cheeks when they don't even know you. Not to say it's without politics, drama or hot issues - but the kindness is just more overt here than the city. I'm sure if daddy hadn't rescued us, some kind stranger would have, without hesitation.

Somewhere in the middle of this interesting day, my son threw down a perfectly timed 3-hour nap. I did dishes, showered and baked 2 batches of biscotti and these thumbprint cookies. Any parent of toddlers might agree, that no matter what else happened, this is a downright perfect-day-maker. Oh, and the kid loves the cookies too, and they're not all that unhealthy, so that's fine! He doesn't feel the same way about the pumpkin cranberry biscotti (which are pretty great), saying "I don't like them for my mouth" (he's got molars cutting through - joy).

Quick Pumpkin Cranberry Biscotti with Ginger
For the thumbprint cookies, a recipe from Food & Wine caught my eye. It used half almond flour, and was spiced with cardamom. Not my personal favorite spice, but my family all like it, and most likely I'd be giving most away. The only problem was that my husband's family don't eat eggs. I decided to give egg-replacer powder a second chance in this recipe, and it actually worked out! (I didn't have such luck with it in cake). I also added the jam halfway through baking, instead of after, so that it got firm enough to stay in place.

My husband asked if these are easy to make. For me, I'd say no, they're not easy. But not difficult either. I just really hate holding a heavy hand-mixer, and waiting for butter to soften, and shaping each cookie. Here is my version of the cardamom thumbprint cookies, neither too easy nor too difficult (but very delicious):

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 36-40 2-1/2" cookies

1 C almond meal
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 T egg-replacer
3 T water (filtered)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C sugar

Fruit preserves or chocolate spread. (I used Mixed Berry preserves and Nutella)

1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. Mix together almond meal, flour, cardamom and salt in a bowl.

3. In a small bowl, mix together egg replacer and water. Add vanilla and almond extract.

4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. (It may take quite a while, maybe 4-5 minutes).

5. Add egg replacer and extracts to the large bowl and continue to mix on medium speed. Add the flour mixture slowly until incorporated and a dough forms. 

6. Using your hands, form the dough into a large ball. Pinch off a little at a time and roll using your hands to make small 1" balls. Place the balls 3" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball to 1/4" thick using your hand and use your thumb to make a well in the middle. Bake for 8 minutes.

7. Remove cookies and use a small spoon to press down the wells in the centers. Fill each with 1 tsp of preserves or drop 1/2 tsp dollops of spread. Bake 8-10 more minutes, until firm but not browned. Cool a few minutes and then remove from pan to a cooling rack. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

I can cook a lot of things, but for whatever reason, I just can not poach a proper egg. My husband asked if I could do it one day, and my answer was: "Nope, I can't do it. Not gonna happen, I just SUCK at poaching eggs. I need that special contraption like my mom has, from 1965." He could hardly believe me, like, how the heck can't I of all people, cook a stupid little egg. Why on earth is it so freakin' hard to poach an egg?  I know I'm not alone.

A conversation about this struggle with fellow moms - over delicious, perfect, poached eggs at Buckram Stables - left me wanting to try my hand at it again. So, I tested the method of adding a splash of vinegar to the water. I'm not real sure it helps much, but certainly didn't hurt. I also tried deeper water, but ended up fishing in a sea of loose whites for the lost little eggy stuck on the bottom. It's like baking for me - I can do OK, but not great. I didn't throw out any eggs, but I couldn't make them look pretty, or perfectly runny either.

On this egg-poaching morning, I actually concocted a pretty yummy recipe with random ingredients I had on hand. I wanted to make something like my favorite brunch dish, eggs florentine, but had no spinach. So I used some frozen kale. I discovered my heavy cream had soured, so I used the Kefir I've been drinking to cream it up, along with some shredded parmesan I've always got around. I puréed it to make it less chewy and fibrous, without having to cook it forever. I think our bread might have been moldy too, so I baked some Trader Joe's latkes from the freezer, which my 2 year old loves to eat.

There you have it: impromptu eggs florentine with a twist. A healthy, hearty little brunch at home. Also a great way to use up leftover latkes, if you've got those around. By the way, I suck at making those too, but I bet there's a way I figure that one out eventually!

So, how do YOU poach an egg?

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

poached eggs
cooked potato latkes
frozen kale
plain kefir (cultured milk)
grated parmagiano cheese

Heat the latkes and prepare the creamed kale. In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter (about 2 T butter to 1 C kale). Add kale and cook until heated through. Lower heat and add kefir (about 2 T to 1 C kale), cheese to taste, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes or so, until some of the liquid evaporates. Puree or pulse to break up the stems, make it as smooth as you like. 

Poach eggs and serve over latkes and kale sauce. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa

I love the idea of stuffing things for vegetarian meals. It's a little more exciting than a casserole, but pretty much the same thing. Just prettier. Topping things with colorful salsa doesn't hurt either.

Anyone know what the skinny one is? It's medium hot, but I don't know the name!
The day I made these peppers, I had been to the farm to buy vegetables. They had a whole table of peppers in all shapes, colors and sizes that day. I just had to make something with them, heartburn or no. I guess it took me long enough to post the recipe, because it's now December and the farm stand has closed for the winter! Guess I'll be replacing farm-stand runs with wine shop sprees. I've certainly been hitting the bakery pretty hard too. I hate winter.

Developing a good pepper recipe requires a beer in hand at all times. 
Anyways, these stuffed peppers came out pretty awesome. Next time you see some beautiful peppers, grab a few and get some color, crunch and bonus vitamins and minerals into your dreary winter life. They're packed with Vitamins A, C, K and B-6. Good stuff.

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa
1 hour

3 servings, as a meal. 6 servings, as a side dish

For Peppers:
3 medium sweet peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
2 T olive oil

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
½ C onion, minced
½ tsp dried oregano
½ C instant quick cook polenta
1 C vegetable stock (or no-chicken stock)
½ C heavy cream
1-1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar
½ C shredded Mexican blend cheese (or more cheddar, jack or pepper jack)
¾ C fresh corn
¼ C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

For Salsa:
½ tsp garlic, minced
2 T onion, minced
1 C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
½ C fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ C canned crushed tomatoes
1 T lime juice
1/8 tsp fresh chili pepper, jalepeno or cayenne, very finely chopped (to taste, depending on how hot)
½ tsp cumin

1. Heat oven to 425F. Rub peppers, inside and out, with olive oil. Lay cut side up in a baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes.

Peppers ready to pre-roast
2. In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, add butter and olive oil. Sauté onions 3 minutes, add garlic and cook 1 minute.

3. Have all ingredients ready near the stovetop to add them quickly. Add stock and milk and bring just barely to a boil.  Using a wire whisk, add polenta slowly while stirring, continuing to stir 1 minute. Working quickly, keep whisking, and add cheese until melted. Still whisking, add corn, beans and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and keep whisking another 3 minutes.

4. Stuff polenta mixture into the peppers and roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Extra polenta can be baked in ramekins or muffin tins.

5. Prepare salsa by combining all the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with lime juice, cumin, and salt, or more hot peppers if desired.

6. Serve each pepper topped with salsa.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Baingan Bharta (Fire Roasted Eggplant Stew)

The eggplants were so shiny and stacked up high at the farm stand last week, I couldn't resist. They were the perfect small/medium size for good flavor, and I thought I might make eggplant parmesan this week.

However, we are trying to eat a little healthier these days. The holiday, birthday, anniversary season is here and food is getting heavy! So we need to compensate a bit with what we can control. But, ugh, it's a lot more work making healthy dinners sometimes, isn't it?

I dipped into my experimental archives to find the bharta recipe I created last year. After moving, we were having fun with our bbq grill, and had actually made the effort to grill the eggplants and tomatoes over flame. I searched my computer and drawers and finally found my barely decipherable scribbling of a rough recipe in a drawer.  This time I did not feel like firing up the grill, so I broiled the eggplants and used canned tomatoes. This year's version was not as smokey as the first, but I did improve the seasoning of the dish well enough to share it here.

Baingan Bharta
1 hour, 4 servings 

2 small eggplants (3” thick / 8” long, about 1lb)
Olive Oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/4  tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp (1/2” thick / ½” round piece) ginger root, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (about 1 T)
*½ tsp fresh hot chili pepper, finely minced (Thai/Bird chili or Cayenne) *optional, add extra chili powder to taste if not using fresh
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder (Indian chili powder)
¾ tsp garam masala spice mix
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ C fire roasted tomatoes (canned with juices, or 3 fresh tomatoes broiled or grilled)
½ C green peas (frozen)
1 or 2 T fresh lime juice
¼ C Cilantro, plus more for garnish
*pinch of methi (fenugreek) leaves, *optional

1. Grill or broil the eggplants until mushy inside.

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a knife and rub with olive oil. Grill outside over flame or broil them on a foil lined pan. Grilling will be quick, 10-15 minutes, so check and turn every few minutes. Broiling takes about 20-25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes (don’t keep them too close to the oven’s coils or flames to avoid oil flare-ups). If you don’t have these options, 30 minutes in a 500F oven is fine. Test for doneness: a knife inserted should go in to the center easily and move around easily, you want a squishy mushy texture inside (like an over-baked sweet potato).

If using fresh tomatoes, add them (whole, coated in oil) for the last 5 minutes, just to char the skin. Chop them, including the skin.

Let the eggplant cool while preparing the other ingredients. Peel and discard most of the skin and stem (a few charred skin bits are good to keep) and give it a quick chop to break up the lengthwise strings of the flesh (careful to reserve the juices – I just run a paring knife through the mass inside a bowl to break up the strings).

2. It’s best to prep and measure all the ingredients before cooking. Measure out the powdered spices into a small dish ahead of time (turmeric, cumin, chili and garam masala). Also, making a paste of the onion, ginger and garlic is also a key to a more flavorful curry. If you have a food processor or mini chopper, add 1-2T of the onion, sliced ginger and garlic cloves and pulse until well chopped or even pasty. Otherwise, finely chop the 3 together and use a large knife blade at a 30 degree angle to mash and scrape them together with a little salt.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin seeds, stirring until fragrant and they start to pop a bit. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes until softened. Add the onion/garlic/ginger paste and fresh chili and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the dry spices and add the tomatoes, eggplant and salt. Turn the heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste.

4. Add peas and simmer covered for another 5-10 minutes. Add lime and cilantro, methi leaves if using, and re-taste for seasonings. Leave hot or simmering until ready to serve.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or hot naan (or other lightly toasted flatbread).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Famous Eggless Lemon Cake

Eggless Lemon Cake for a boy obsessed with "Yellow Balloons"

Here it is. The famous eggless cake from Ian's first, and now second, birthdays.

Last year, caught up in Pinterest fever for my son's first birthday, I threw him an elaborate themed party. (I swear it's some sort of hard-wired hormonal situation that moms of 23-month-olds simply have no control over). For that party, I felt that I absolutely needed 3 varieties of cupcakes - all eggless, as appropriate for vegetarian family members. Only the best eggless cake would do. I tried mixes, and even bought some from a vegan bakery, but was driven to concoct a from-scratch recipe that I fine-tuned over the course of a few weeks. Cake flour made dense cake, egg replacer powder made dense cake, soda gave it a chemical taste, and so on. We had a lot of cake last October, and we don't even like cake that much, ourselves. I'm also a notoriously lousy baker.

Oh look, we were a little obsessed with Brown Bear and making things cute.... Pinterest accidentally threw up in my house... (FYI this is just one station... there was one for each character... who was I a year ago and where did I find the time???)

So, being a lousy baker who hates cake (I had pie at my wedding, not cake), why should you even continue reading for my recipe? Because, I somehow created an eggless cake recipe that's super easy with only a few ingredients that I always have on hand. Even I have not managed to screw it up, after several batches. Everyone at our party last year loved this cake, hardly believing it was actually eggless. There were no high-pitched "oh these are... great" comments... like, they took them home, ate more, and emailed me for the recipes. I think that qualifies as a "famous" recipe you might want to try!

Cupcakes for the class
I recently repeated the lemon version of the cake for Ian's second birthday. It took a giant batch of batter, but in just 45 minutes I pumped out 12 cupcakes for his pre-school class and a double layer 9" cake for the family. Frosting time is additional, but that's up to you what type of frosting you prefer and how crazy you get with it (I don't expect many re-Pins of my cake pics based on their decorative merit). The cake holds up nicely when made ahead of time (even a few days) and refrigerated, protected by a layer of frosting. The 2-year olds devoured them, and the family was happy to see it again too. My MIL informed me that I'll need to make all the family cakes now.

Just a quick shot of the inside, in the hurry to hand out slices
Eggless Lemon Cake
Two 9” round cakes for a double layer cake
or 24 cupcakes

3 cups milk (2% or Whole) – or use your favorite vegan milk (I like almond or hazelnut, or use soy if you’re going nut-free)
3 tsp apple cider vinegar (white is fine in a pinch)
3 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp almond extract (omit for nut-free)
4-1/2 tsp lemon extract (this is not a typo, you need a lot)
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (vegetable oil is usually from soy, it works slightly better here)
3 cups all-purpose flour (cake flour does not work well here)
2-1/4 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 T fresh lemon zest (from 3-4 lemons)

Cupcake liners or non-stick spray
5 Cups Frosting (see below for Basic Buttercream recipe)

1. Heat oven to 350F. Prepare pans with non-stick spray or cupcake liners.

2. Measure out milk and whisk in vinegar. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, soda, powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, combine sugar, milk and vinegar mixture, oil and extracts. Whisk it vigorously until it bubbles and froths.

5. Right before you are ready to bake, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients a little at a time. Combine and whisk just until the lumps have disappeared. Whisk in the lemon zest.

6. Pour the batter into the cake pan, or use a 1/3 C measure to scoop batter into cupcake pans. Bake at 350F until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 9” cake: 25-30 minutes. Cupcakes: 18-20 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes and remove cake from pans to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting. Refrigerate frosted cake covered in plastic wrap (I suggest serving within 1-3 days, but it keeps for much longer), or freeze wrapped in plastic and foil.

Chocolate Cake
Omit lemon extract and zest. To the dry ingredients, add 1 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Dagoba)

Chai Cupcakes
(These go great with a whipped cream frosting)
Omit lemon extract and zest. Use chilled Chai tea made with milk instead of plain milk. Add spice mix to dry ingredients.

Spice mix:
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

For the tea:
Use 3-1/4 cups milk or soy milk (extra to account for evaporation), bring to a boil in a saucepan. Toss in 6 Chai tea bags (Indian Masala tea) removing paper from the strings. Reduce to a simmer for a few minutes and remove from heat. Discard tea bags and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

Basic Buttercream Frosting
One 9” cake (1 or 2 layers is fine) or 24 cupcakes

1 C unsalted butter at room temperature (this may take 2-4 hours)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 C confectioners sugar
1 T milk or cream, optional

Using a hand mixer in a deep bowl, cream the butter and extract. Add sugar a little at a time, blending on low-medium speed, until the consistency is creamy but not too thick. You can add milk to thin it, or more sugar to thicken it.

Some novice notes on buttercream:

I stick with a basic buttercream frosting because it’s easy. Milk helps it spread easier, but it’s not necessary. I leave out the milk if I plan to let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours. I usually frost my cake, reserving any extra frosting. I blend a little more sugar into the extra, along with any coloring to make a thicker decorating frosting.

It’s always easier to make a big batch of frosting than a small one, so if you will do much decorating, increase the recipe right from the start (such as use 3 sticks butter + 6 cups frosting, 1-1/2 tsp vanilla).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pappardelle with Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Wild Mushroom Pappardelle and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Whoa! I have two new recipes for you! Did you miss me?

How can I possibly sum up the last few months' hiatus? I can't. Life is just busy with a toddler. Not just chasing, carrying, caring-for busy, but MENTAL busy.

My tired brain is not here today to impress you with funny anecdotes or witty comments. Or maybe I will, let's see where we go with this.

We've been in one heck of a food rut during this exhaustive and picky period, and there's now a light at the end of the tunnel. That light happens to be called SCHOOL. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with my kid. But, this little sponge is thirsty for more than I can provide, leaving me physically and mentally drained long before dinner time. School provides me with 3 guaranteed hours of freedom to do and think whatever I want. That's what I like to tell myself, although I usually end up doing chores, or just enjoying an early shower (early meaning before 2pm) and eating my breakfast in peace.

I got real excited the first day of school and drove around doing errands. 3 hours was an eternity. The 2nd day I got to do a 90 minute yoga class. The 3rd day my house looked pristine. The following week, 3 hours started to go by quickly. A month in, I feel like I get home and have to turn back around and pick him up! And apparently he's so stimulated in school that he just can't bring himself to nap consistently anymore. So my 3 hour school plus 3 hour nap dreams have gone right out the window.  Fortunately, this is likely a phase and things will even out. We've got a few months before potty training, so maybe we can get back on the good meal bandwagon.

This week I'm to provide snacks for the 7 pre-nursery kids, so I'll try to share the menu here later. The class snack rule is organic, (mostly) whole foods that are healthy. I bet you're thinking, oh sure, that food snob would send her kid to a prissy school like that, wouldn't she? Actually it's just one of the parents, and everyone has agreed to support her initiative - otherwise it would be goldfish and crackers. My objective is to get a little more protein in there, since popcorn and apple slices have been sending my 2 year old home in a hunger tizzy of tears and terror.

Enough already with the long-winded excuses, right? I'm sure everyone's too busy to read it anyways.

Last week, my little adventure was to find a different Trader Joe's in a town I've never been to, just to see if it was a better experience than the crowded area we usually shop. The answer is no, since my cart wasn't overflowing with frozen meals, as it usually is at the more populous store. However, I was inspired by a display of dried egg pappardelle and low-priced dried wild mushrooms on the side. Mushroom pappardelle is a dish that usually catches my eye at restaurants but I never order, because I feel like the giant bowl of pasta soaks up the oil and becomes dry when you are half-way through it. I like a good, hearty, cream sauce that reminds me of popular dishes in Germany around Oktoberfest time when the best mushrooms are abundant.

In summoning memories of brauhaus dishes and crisp fall air, I happened to come up with a really nice creamy pasta dish. Personally, I like to stay away from all kinds of mainstream button and cremini mushrooms, so I think the choice of porcini, oyster, shiitake is a nice combo with cream. They are milder, gentler, earthier mushrooms. I used pecorino romano cheese also, more because parmigiano was too expensive this week, but it has a nice tart flavor to it.

On the side, I baked another fall favorite: delicata squash. Finally found at Trader Joe's! It's been scarce this year in the stores. I like this one because you don't have to peel it (I hate peeling squash it sucks), and it's almost always sweet when baked - where acorn and butternut are very hit or miss. Acorn squash have been particularly crappy and watery this year, even locally. I threw some maple syrup over the delicata, along with ginger and nutmeg, as I wanted it to contrast the creamy, garlicky, richness of the sauce. It would make a really fantastic festive holiday dish, too.

Hopefully I find a little time this fall to start making interesting food again. October is usually an extra inspiring month for me, being a Libra. We shall see what it brings!

Approx 4 servings 

8oz pappardelle pasta

3 T butter
3 T olive oil
½ C shallots, sliced into thin rings
1 T (2 cloves) garlic, minced
8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1 oz dried wild or porcini mushrooms
1 C heavy cream or whipping cream
1 C Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 T dried parsley flakes

1. Rinse dried mushrooms thoroughly in cool water bath. Pour hottest tap water over them to cover (about 2 Cups). Soak for 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms, and chop. Reserve soaking water, you will need about ½ Cup for the sauce.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.  Wait to add the pasta to the water until the mushrooms are cooking in the pan, in the next step. You will want the pasta just undercooked, al dente, about 2 minutes less than total cooking time.

3. Heat butter and olive oil over med-high heat in a deep skillet. Sauté shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in fresh mushrooms, cooking about 3 minutes, and add the soaked dried mushrooms. Cook another 2-3 minutes and add cream and ½ C of mushroom liquid.

4. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring frequently. Cook 3 minutes and stir in the cheese. Continue to simmer over low heat and stir. Add parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add a ladle of pasta water (1/4 C)  to the sauce and stir in. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering sauce pan. Fold together gently for about 2 minutes before removing from heat.

4-6 servings

2 medium (6-8” long) delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed, cut into ¼” slices. Doesn’t need to be peeled, but you can if you like.

3 T Extra virgin olive oil
½ C Maple syrup
1 tsp Ginger powder
½ tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Sea salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

Toss squash slices by hand with oil, syrup, ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Follow the measurements, or just use your best judgement and eyeball it depending on how much squash you have.

Place in a large glass baking dish and bake 30-40 minutes, checking often. Cooking time with depend on how big your baking dish and how deep the layers of squash are. Toss and turn them every 15 minutes for even cooking. The squash will look a wet dark orange and tender when done.

*I baked mine about 30 minutes at 400 and kept it warm at 275 for another 20 while dinner cooked.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Green Garden Soup, 3 Ways, For Rainy Days

It's rainy and cool outside today. It's a perfect day for a warm, comforting, vitamin-packed soup. 

And how did I find the time to make it? 

Well... Ian is extra tired from hardcore teething for the past week. He's cutting the four canines, so it's been rough. Today he had no problem sitting quietly in front of educational videos for a while, as I chopped everything green I could find. I just hope he eats some of it (which I doubt he will). He's just barely getting back on the vegetable wagon after a 6-month fruit and dairy bender. He did have some Coconut Almond Pancakes from the freezer this morning, so there's at least one nutritional win today. Everything else will be "gravy", right?

This week I was looking for some fresh (or re-freshed) meal ideas. I was looking back at my blog posts from Springtimes past, and came across the Tarragon Zucchini Pea Soup I had forgotten about. I decided to play off that recipe and add a few more green ingredients. I divided it up into 3 parts before seasoning it with my garden herbs, so I could experiment a little bit. I thought I might even be able to utilize the lemon thyme I bought by mistake instead of the classic type. 

My little patio herb garden - spinach, lemon thyme, oregano, tarragon, sage, mint, dill, basil and chives (and some baby marigolds too, which are moving to the tomato section soon)

tarragon, basil, chives, lemon thyme

chopped herbs ready to play

For the first portion, I left out the herbs and just added an ounce of cashew cream I had in the freezer. It made a nice smooth soup with just a bit of creaminess. The cream enhanced the flavors of the vegetables nicely.

Green Garden Soup with Cashew Cream
In the second portion, I added lemon thyme and basil. It was light, bright and fresh - especially with a squeeze of lemon. A little lemon thyme does go a long way, it's pretty potent! I think this soup would make a nice small portioned starter for a meal. It was delicious but I don't see myself eating a big bowl.

Green Garden Soup with Lemon Thyme and Basil
The third portion I seasoned as I had originally intended. Tarragon and chives are a pretty solid combination with the green vegetables. It was the most savory version of the soup, with some zing from the herbs. It balanced quite nicely. It also left me staring into the wine fridge wondering why I hadn't stocked any light crisp white wines lately.

Green Garden Soup with Tarragon and Chives
Overall, all the versions came out nicely. The cashew cream version is versatile enough for anyone's taste. The tarragon chive was my favorite, as it has a nice personality without being overpowering. The lemon thyme basil worked, but had a bit too much flare to stand alone as a main course.

Green Garden Soup
approx. 6 Cups

3T unsalted butter (or your favorite fat, such as olive oil)
3 C green peas (frozen)
1 1/2 C zucchini, sliced
1 C celery, sliced
1 C (or more) fresh spinach
4 C water

Variation 1:
1/3 C cashew cream (cashews soaked in just enough water to cover, overnight, blended well)
1 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Variation 2:
3 T basil, chopped
1-1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves
1 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
*1/4 C lemon juice, optional

Variation 3:
1/4 C tarragon leaves, chopped
2 T chives, chopped
1 T Kosher salt
3/8 tsp white pepper

1. Melt butter over medium low heat in a soup pot. Add onions and cook gently, sweating them - they should whisper, not sizzle. Cook 4-5 minutes until translucent.

2. Add all of the vegetables and enough water to cover (about 4 Cups). Raise heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer 20-30 minutes.

3. Stir in the desired seasonings in the last few minutes of cooking. Remove from heat and puree until smooth. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Portobello Mushrooms Florentine

Portobellos Florentine, before baking
Last night, I made some really great stuffed portobello mushrooms. I only cook real food about once or twice a week lately, so I'm always happy when my efforts are worthwhile.

Meanwhile, apologies for the recent ill-prepped photos - I have absolutely zero patience for primping my food these days. I'm glad I just made anything to begin
with, and that it was good enough to post! And apologies for not posting so much anymore. Life is just too busy chasing an 18-month old, just getting through a minor sleep regression and entering the "tantrum" phase. My good meals come from the local sushi joint via delivery man who knows to be super-stealth quiet after bedtime (even my dog likes him enough not to bark). My great meals come from Trader Joe's freezer section - man those are fancy-ass good times, we're really livin' it up over here! Even my son falls into a funk of rotating options that sound like junk - burger, pizza, pasta... although I assure you they are probably more gourmet than the norm.

I've made the social life a bit more priority over my other projects too. I took a jaunt down to Atlantic City for a night with my girls, and I started a Meetup group to find some local girls (and kids) to hang with. We're also planning a trip to Prague and Vienna soon, with the kid in tow, so that should be quite interesting, as well!

Portobellos Florentine: firm, but tender, with a thin layer of spinach and crunchy pine nuts, and a crispy cheese and breadcrumb topping.

So about the portobellos... I did plan ahead on this, although I did not plan on harvesting my spinach garden quite so soon. I am SO not the gardening type, but I'm giving it an effort this year. I have a little container garden going on my patio, despite the big yard, because we have "Peter Rabbit" living in our yard, who likes to "num num num" on everything at 7:30pm nightly. So I thought the pest issues would be minimal at the side of the house. But as I picked my first handful of spinach last week I found little white larvae on the leaves. Thanks, Google, we've got Spinach Leaf Miners. GREAT. Oh yeah, and there's no remedy except manually removing larvae (pinhead sized) and harvesting frequently. Who-the-F in this house has time for that shit? And now I have to wash and rub clean every single leaf? It took me upwards of a  fricken hour to get it all done. I did NOT sign up for this when I planted my happy little spinach box.

But my spinach stuffed mushrooms came out really fantastic! All the elements are there: balsamic vinegar for acidity, cheese for binding and a crunchy top, pine nuts for texture. Mmm.

Portobello Mushrooms Florentine

Mushroom prep:
6 medium portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T aged balsamic vinegar
garlic powder

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C onion, diced
1 T garlic, minced
5-6 C fresh spinach, any thick stems removed, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp Italian seasoning or dried basil/oregano (I used a tuscan blend heavy on the celery seed)
3 T Italian seasoned bread crumbs (or plain)
1/2 C grated parmigiano cheese
1/4 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 C toasted pine nuts

Heat oven to 400F.

1. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large glass baking dish and place mushroom caps gill side up. Drizzle each lightly with olive oil and about 1 tsp balsamic vinegar on each. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

2. Heat 1T oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, cooking until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Toss in spinach by the handful, stirring until wilted, and adding more. Cook about 2-3 more minutes until thoroughly wilted. Season with salt, pepper and herbs. Remove from heat.

3. To the pan, add 2 T breadcrumbs and 1/4 C parmigiano (reserving the balance for topping). Stir in the mozzarella and pine nuts.

4. Spoon spinach mixture onto mushrooms and top lightly with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 400F for 40-45 minutes. The topping should be browned and the mushrooms will become quite flattened - the clue that they are done.

Serve with pasta, salad, bread or even maybe a quinoa pilaf or cold couscous salad.
*For gluten-free, just skip the breadcrumbs, they're not absolutely necessary.

Monday, April 28, 2014

BBQ Taco Fiesta!

You know what I love? Tacos! For some reason, I get really hung up on fresh, healthy, tacos in the Spring time. And Spring is also time for another thing I love: grilling! It doesn't even matter what you're putting on the BBQ, as long as you're outside and there's sizzling and smokiness happening. Helps shake off those residual winter blues.

Last weekend I threw a little taco BBQ fiesta for my friends who took the hour-long train ride from the city to visit us. Call it an early Cinco de Mayo celebration, a BBQ, an early birthday party for my friend Bess, whatever. It was so fun and delicious.

I whipped up some extremely over-sweetened pineapple ginger punch with Prosecco. It's supposed to go with club soda, but I thought, genius that I am, I would serve it with sparkly. By round two everyone was exhausted from their sugar-high and my toddler (drinking straight punch) was spinning in circles and tumbling all over the place.

Aside from the super sweet welcome drinks, everything else was pretty healthy. Luckily, the chicken and shrimp were quick to grill, because the weather turned from sun to rain just as they were cooking. We got a little preview of BBQ season before we had to head inside. Nobody minded, because the tacos were delicious!

I stocked my taco bar with a mix of proteins, crunchy and colorful veggies, sour limes and tangy onions, contrasted with rich crema and spicy hot sauce. Yummy explosions of flavor and texture in every bite, customized for each plate, because that's what I love about tacos!

Taco Bar 
for 8-10 people
Most items can be prepped ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. When you're ready to eat, just throw the meat and fish on the grill, reheat the beans, and warm the tortillas for 1-2 minutes on the warming level of the grill. 

Starter: Chips, salsa and guacamole

24 Multigrain Corn Tortillas (Trader Joe's)

Black Beans - Sauté 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 T onions in a dash of vegetable oil. Add 2 cans (rinsed/drained) black beans and 1 C water. Season to your liking with about 1 t cumin, 1 t oregano, 1/2 t garlic powder, 1/2 t turmeric, pinch of cayenne and salt and pepper. Simmer 30 minutes, covered.

Shrimp - 1 lb medium shrimp, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grilled 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, on a metal sheet pan with holes for the grill. (I used cleaned, pre-cooked, frozen shrimp for convenience)

Chicken - 2 lb boneless chicken breasts or tenders with Asado marinade (I used Trader Joe's Pollo Asado and it was delicious and easy). Grilled and sliced.

Purple Cabbage - 3 Cups, thinly sliced into shreds

Cilantro - 2 Cups, chopped

Tomatoes - 2 Cups, diced

Lime wedges - 4-5 limes

Pickled Onions 1-1/2 C (I followed - and basically halved - this recipe from Michael Symon, but used red wine vinegar as I prefer that)

Crema (or sour cream)

Hot Sauce (I'm addicted to Frank's Red Hot... so it was a giant Costco sized bottle)

If you're getting ready for a Cinco de Mayo feast, here are some other ideas you might like:

(crunchy tacos with beans, veggie grounds, guacamole)

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