Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tomato Soup Like You Wish Campbell's Made It

Making your own tomato soup really is super easy I promise! Not quite as easy as opening a can and adding water to the concentrate but SO worth the extra (minimal) effort. Once you taste this fresh, zingy bowl of lycopene-packed goodness you'll never go back to the over-processed, corn syrup-laden cans of your youth. Except maybe every once in a while, for nostalgic purposes, but even then, you'll be disappointed.
As for that old best pal of tomato soup, the grilled cheese, you can easily recapture the experience of dipping the sidekick sandwich into your piping-hot soup (the way the soft part of the bread absorbs the sop while the toasty crust remains crunchy-joy!) by filling your soup bowl with toasted cubes of stale bread and topping your soup with copious shavings of cheese. It's actually easier than assembling and cooking a sandwich, and it makes you feel sorta sophisticated. Deconstructed, reconstructed, and all grown-up.

Tomato Soup!
1 28 oz. Can Organic Whole Tomatoes (preferably the Italian kind with the beautiful labels)
1 Medium Onion, chopped small
2-3 c. vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. balsamic vinegar
fresh basil (optional, minced), or dried (also optional)
olive oil
Other Options:
1-inch cubes stale, toasted bread
egg for poaching
parmigiano-reggiano, for shaving and grating

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot warm 1 Tbs olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until it begins to brown, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. W
hile the onions are cooking, open the tomatoes and pour into a strainer set over a bowl. Break the tomatoes into chunks, setting the chunks aside while letting the seeds fall into the strainer. When the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize, add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the garlic and broth (start with 1 or 2 cups, depending on how thick you like your soup) to the pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Turn off heat. Taste for salt and pepper, adding to taste. At this point you can puree the soup if you like it smooth, half puree it (as I do), or skip ahead to the ne
xt step if you prefer your soup brothy/chunky. Use and immersion blender to blend soup to desired consistency. Alternately, puree in a blender or food processor.
3. Add sugar and vinegar to soup, return to a low heat. Taste. Add a pinch more sugar if it is too tangy. Add chopped fresh basil, if using.
4. Ladle 2 cups soup into a smaller saucepan, heat over very ow flame. Crack one very fresh egg (if you are serving one, otherwise add 1 1/2 cups soup per person, one egg per person) into the soup, cover tightly and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the white is set.

To serve:
Place about 1 cup of toasted bread chunks into your favorite soup bowl, top with 2 ladles full of soup, top with grated cheese. If you are adding the poached egg (a very good idea), carefully ladle the soup from around the egg and pour over bread. Slide the egg onto the soup, topping with cheese, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Tuck on in!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Preserved Lemon and Green Olive Relish

Until I found instructions on how to make quick preserved lemons I had always written them off as a pantry luxury item. I had a feeling that even if I could find them at the international grocery they wouldn't be as good as if I made them myself and I just have not had the time or piles of lemons required to make them as of yet. Preserved lemons add a delicious salty/citrus kick to middle eastern food; they are superbly strong and best when chopped fine, minus the pulp, which tends to get a bit slimy in the fermentation process.
Mix them into some thick yogurt to dollop on vegetables and couscous and spicy soups, or stir them together with fresh parsley, chopped olives and mint to use as a relish for fish, chicken, or tofu, as I did recently (my fish was mahi-mahi, my tangled green side dish was broccoli rabe- a complete meal- yay!)

Green Olive and Preserved Lemon Relish

(note: this recipe makes a pretty small batch, as I am only on person with one fillet to top. You can easily double or triple the recipe to suit your dinner)

1/4 cup cracked green olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tbs. preserved lemon, chopped fine
2-3 Tbs. each fresh parsley and mint, chopped
fresh lemon juice
olive oil

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil and just a twist or two of cracked pepper.

Quick Preserved Lemons
1 whole lemon, organic preferably, since you will be eating the peel
kosher salt

Thoroughly wash the lemon with cleanser of your choice (I treat it like a dish, using dishsoap and a scrub pad).
Slice both ends off the lemon, set aside. Slice lemon into very thin rounds, layer in a small bowl with generous sprinkles of salt between each layer, squeeze the juice from the lemon ends onto the slices. Cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Done!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sprouts to Spite the Cold

... with flavors brighter than any feeble light the winter sun casts!

Staying indoors too much, saturating my mind-palate with flavors and ideas for foods, feeling mostly well but not my usual sprightly self... it must still be winter. January at that. How to snap out of my half-funk? Vegetables. Clean tasting with textures that challenge. Flavors invoking warm colors and foreign soils. It must be Indian, for what could be brighter than turmeric and ginger? Warmer than mustard seed and chile? Feel cleaner and healthier than steaming basmati rice and cilantro?
While hungrily leafing through Monica Bhide's book, Modern Spice, I found a recipe that brought together not only the flavors I craved, but that would also make excellent use of a bag of Brussels sprouts and a couple of misplaced turnips that had been languishing in my vegetable drawer for longer than I care to admit.
I steamed some basmati, chopped fresh mint and cilantro, and roasted tofu cubes in a paste of chickpea flour and olive oil for a little protein to round out the meal. It all came together in under an hour and filled my bowl and belly with enough warmth to get me through another few days of deep winter.

Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, and Curry Leaves
from Modern Spice

2 Tbs. Vegetable oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds (not yellow American mustard seeds)
10-15 fresh curry leaves (I didn't have these so I omitted them and added a teaspoon of curry powder instead- not at all the same, but I was in a pinch! next time I'll get the real thing.)
2 whole dried red chilies, broken (I used one fresh chile because that's what I had)
15 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into fourths (about 1 pound)
2 medium leeks, white and green parts only, chopped
2 medium turnips, cubed (my addition)
3 Tbsp. chopped toasted peanuts
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. red chile powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. salt to start

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add the mustard seeds, cooking until the seeds sizzle and pop. Add the curry leaves (if you are lucky enough to have them), chilies, Brussels sprouts, leeks and turnips, if using.
2. Saute for 5 to 6 minutes, until the vegetables begin to brown.
3. Add the turmeric, chile powder, coriander and salt. Stir thoroughly and cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Add a tablespoon or two of water, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Top with the peanuts and taste for salt (amazingly, I found I didn't need to add any extra salt). Serve over rice.

Side note: when I ate the leftovers the next night I made another of Monica's recipes, these Besan Crepes, which turned out to be the chickpea pancakes of my dreams. I'm dying to make them again to share with my chickpea-lovin' friends so let's make dinner together soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do I have permission to gloss over the fact that I have not posted in waaaaaaaaaay too long and just pop up a little post here like it was a regular occurrence? Please? I won't even attempt to make excuses about being busy during the holidays or mention that I barely cooked a decent meal the entire month of December (thank you, Trader Joe's soup in a carton, for getting me through the holidays). Fine then, it's settled. Time for a blog post!

Let's start things off with one of the simplest pleasures of winter cooking: roasted vegetables. The same basic treatment can be applied to hardy winter vegetables and fruits and makes for a delicious side or salad topping or soup base. Start with a selection of sweet potatoes, turnips, butternut squash, rutabagas, apples, quince, new potatoes, celery root, yams, carrots, onions... pick a few that look good to you and get to peeling and dicing! Add some winter-y herbs for flavor bonus (rosemary, sage, thyme) if you'd like, but good ol' olive oil and salt and pepper is really all you need.
Here's a basic recipe to get you started.

Sage-Roasted Winter Vegetables

2 purple yams
1 sweet potato
3 medium turnips
1 quince (substitute 1 granny smith apple)
8 - 10 sage leaves
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Peel all vegetables. Cut into 3/4 inch cubes. The more evenly cut the vegetables are, the more evenly they'll cook, this is the only semi-difficult step in this recipe. Place cubed vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.
2. Heat 3 Tbs olive oil over medium-high heat in a small skillet. Test to see if the oil is hot enough by putting a pinch of a sage leaf in. If it sizzles, the oil is ready to fry the sage leaves in. Add the sage leaves to the skillet, 3 or 4 at a time, turning after 30-40 seconds. Continue cooking on the second side for another 30 seconds, then pull from the oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Save for later.
3. Pour the now sage infused olive oil over the vegetables in the bow. Add 2-3 tsp. kosher salt and quite a few grinds of fresh pepper. Toss the vegetables in the oil and spread evenly on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or sprayed with pan spray). It is important not to crowd the vegetables or have them piled on top of one another, otherwise you won't achieve the crispy edges and browned skin you desire!
4. Place the pan in a 350 degree preheated oven. I like to put an ovenproof dish filled with about an inch of water in the oven when roasting- I find it gently steams the vegetables so they cook through and you don't end up with a caramelized outside and crunchy inside. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring with a spatula after about 15 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and density of your vegetables. Test with a fork for tenderness.
5. To serve, top with the fried sage leaves, crumbled, and a little more salt and pepper. So good!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

As Promised, More Apple Ideas!

This apple-rific recipe is super easy and takes only minutes, minutes I say, to throw together and slide in the oven. They travel well and are an ideal treat to serve as a light dessert or snack with tea. The thinly sliced apples conceal a mixture of crystallized ginger, toasted pecans, brown sugar and spices. I chose to mix the varieties of apples I used not only for looks, but to get a nice contrast in flavors between the sweetness of a Jonathan and the tart Granny Smith. You can use all one kind of apple if its easiest, but I recommend mixing it up! you might also experiment with omitting some of the sugar and spices and instead use a sharp cheddar cheese as a nice surprise.

Apple-Puff Pastries
6-8 squares (5 inch) frozen puff pastry, thawed (or thaw one sheet puff pastry and cut into squares)
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1-2 Tbs crystallized ginger
cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
butter, melted
6 or so apples: Jonathan, Granny Smith, Fuji, etc.

1. Heat oven to 350. Peel Granny Smiths and core; slice into 1/8 inch (very thin) slices. Leave the skins on some of the other apples for contrast. Core and slice thinly, set aside.
2. In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, chopped pecans, a few dashes of each spice, and the ginger. Place puff pastry squares on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush each with melted butter and don't be shy. Sprinkle each square with 1-2 Tbsp. sugar mixture. Top with apple slices, starting at the back of the pastry and layering forward, alternating apple varieties.
3. Bake for 15- 20 minutes or until puff pastry is puffed and gold
en-brown on the edges. Cool completely if you wish to cut them in half before serving. They are good at room temperature but would also be great
hot out of the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream (or cinnamon!) or whipped cream.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the last of the truly warm October days I hopped in the car with some dear friends and headed out to Mills Apple Farm in Marine, Illinois, with the intention of picking, munching on, and getting inspired to cook with oodles of apples. A bumpy ride through the orchard found us ducking under and climbing on apple trees, filling our bags with the tastiest, crispest Jonagolds, Granny Smiths, Gingercrisps, and Jonathan apples. When we weighed up at the country store we found we had bagged over 30 pounds of fruit! Attribute our overzealous picking to the intoxicating weather, the endless rows of picture-perfect fruit-laden trees, or just our healthy appetites, it didn't matter. We all knew we were set on apples for a while. Nothing like being overwhelmed with goodness, right? So with a box of fresh apple cider doughnuts nestled in the console for a snack on the ride home we hit the road back to the city and to dinner.

While picking apples in the bucolic Illinois countryside was absolutely lovely, my favorite part of the day was (big surprise) dinner. Not just because it was delicious in every possible way, but because it was the product of sharing resources and skills between friends. As one who usually cooks alone and for one, the experience of sharing a kitchen and a good meal is a true treat.
I grabbed a few things from my fridge on my way to my Nick and Amber's house: new potatoes from my dad's garden, three bulbs of baby fennel from the farmer's market, and fresh shiitake mushrooms. I had a few ideas circulating in my head but knew I'd appreciate the suggestions and perspectives of my kitchen-mates (read: I am terrible at making decisions and relish the opportunity to avoid such problems). To roast the fennel with the potatoes and mushrooms? Throw in the apples too? Or to make a warm slaw with the fennel and a few tart apples to top the pork chops Nick was grilling? Lucky for me, Amber is good at making food decisions and sticking to them and she was enthused about the slaw. I set to work trimming and chopping, Amber stood stove-side and flavored and sauteed the slaw as I passed her the basic ingredients, which she deftly augmented with ingredients from the pantry.
Framboise was sipped, the grill was fired up, the potatoes and mushrooms were blanketed in a snowfall of finely grated Romano, baby Emerson nibbled cheese and kept mom on her toes...
And dinner was served!

Apple-Fennel Slaw:
olive oil
3 bulbs baby fennel, or 1 large, diced; chop 2 Tbsp. fennel fronds and reserve
2 tart apples (we used Granny Smith), diced
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1-2 slices turkey bacon
cider vinegar

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a lrge saute pan. Add bacon (whole slice) when oil shimmers, fry bacon until crispy and the fat has been rendered out. Pull from the pan and set to drain on a paper towel. Chop when cool. Add onion to the hot pan, saute 2-4 minutes or until onion begins to appear translucent. Add fennel and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper, and cover, sweating 10 minutes, or until fennel is tender but still slightly crisp.
2. Uncover pan and add the apple, a drizzle of honey and 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar. Saute 5-7 minutes more, or until vegetables are glazed. Taste for seasoning. If too tart, add a bit more honey. If too sweet, add a bit more vinegar and pepper. Stir in fennel fronds. Done!!

Roasted Potatoes with Mushrooms:
Mixed new potatoes: I used a mixture of baby yukon golds and red potatoes, with an estimated 4-5 small potatoes per person
Fresh shiitake mushrooms (about 1/2 pound)
olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme and/or sage, chopped fine
Romano for grating
Salt and Pepper

1. Prehaeat oven to 375. Wash and trim potatoes. Using a sharp paring knife, cut potatoes in halves or quarters (a little larger than bite sized) and put in a large bowl. using a damp paper towel, clean mushrooms of any dirt. Trip stems and cut mushrooms in half. Place in the bowl with the potatoes. Drizzle potatoes and mushrooms with 3 Tbsp. olive oil, toss to coat and spread evenly over a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Roast Potatoes and onions for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice. When potatoes are tender, pull the pan from the oven and liberally shower with grated romano and chopped herbs. Roast 5-7 minutes more, until cheese begins to turn golden in spots.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Its Never Too Late (in the season) to Grill!

I worked in catering for a while and we would have the grill fired up on our small back patio until it was so cold the gas burners couldn't force the temperature of the grill up high enough to cook a mushroom or a shrimp, so don't tell me grilling season is over! Don't tell me! Grilling into the evening at this time of year may require a headlamp or more oil for your tiki torches but so what! It's worth it. I know you agree.
One super-cool-food-trick I mastered this summer is grilling flatbreads and pizzas. Most people I talk to have "always wanted to try" cooking pizzas on the grill but seem a little hesitant at the idea of throwing perfectly soft pizza dough over a charred metal grate hovering just inches from sinister flames and glowing coals. Seems like it would fall through the grate and to its demise-- and make a mess and you'd end up hungry and pizza-less, right? Well, it's just not like that. The dough is sturdy enough to hold up for the few minutes it takes to form a nice crust before you flip it. phew.
The key here is prep work and proper flame. You want to have all your ingredients at the ready, tools, too, and to make sure the heat on the grill is at a medium. Otherwise, it's a snap! And oh so very tasty. So very very tasty. I will give a list of possible topping combinations for inspiration, or you can leave them plain and serve alongside dips, relishes, and cheese boards.

Grilled Flatbreads for the Apprehensive

1 1/4 c. warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
3 c. whole wheat flour (or all purpose or a blend)
2 tsp. kosher salt
5 tbs. olive oil (give or take)
Spice, herbs, seeds (If you are making flatbreads- I used thyme and toasted sesame seeds)
Pizza toppings, prepared in advance (see notes at the end of the recipe)

1. Place 1 1/4 cups warm water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk 3 cups flour and salt in large bowl. Add yeast mixture and 2 tablespoons oil. Using wooden spoon, mix until sticky dough forms. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with more flour if very sticky, about 6 minutes. (Dough will to look smooth)

2. Oil (or spray with Pam) a large bowl. Add dough; turn to coat. Cover with a clean dish towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours. Gently "punch" down dough (to deflate it); divide into 6 pieces. Shape each piece into ball. Roll out each on lightly floured surface to 7x4-inch oval or misshapen island-looking thing. (nothing wrong with the rustic look)

3. Get your grill ready! (medium heat).Brush one side of rolled dough with oil and carefully transfer to the grill, oil side down. You can work two to three at a time, depending on the size of your grill. Grill each flatbread until cooked through (it will feel firm) and golden, 2-4 minutes. For pizza-style: After you flip the bread add your toppings and shut the lid on the grill for 2-4 more minutes. Done! For flatbread-style: After you flip the bread brush with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, seeds, herbs, etc. Transfer hot flatbreads/pizzas to a cutting board to cut into wedges and serve.

Note: As with pancakes, the first attempt is usually not the prettiest, so please try one at a time before you go crazy and so you can find your pace and technique. Also this will give you the opportunity to taste test the fist finished product, which is of utmost importance!

Toppings. you say? I'll show you toppings!!!!
- thinly sliced, roasted sweet potatoes, rosemary, parmesean or crispy proscuitto
- grilled, chopped eggplant, parsley, tahini drizzle and smoke paprika
- bleu cheese, toasted walnuts, sauteed rapini
- grilled zucchini slices, ricotta salata or feta, fresh greens before serving
- grilled mushrooms, fontina cheese, extra cracked black pepper
- now tell me your ideas!