Minestrone soup

I hosted craft night last night and a friend who is having her 40th birthday this week said that her favorite dessert is cheesecake. So cheesecake topped my menu plan. Add some strawberry topping, check. Now what to make for dinner? I perused some magazines and books for ideas and came across some spring pasta with a warm goat cheese salad in the Cook’s Illustrated Menu cookbook. The pasta was a bit involved (it’s pasta??) and I wanted something that I didn’t have to mess with when people were arriving. But the warm goat cheese salad….

It was little rounds of chive and goat cheese, rolled in crushed pecans. It was divine. Sorry, it was gone too fast for picture taking. I will make it again! Especially considering the massive amount of chives growing in my garden.

So that’s a lot of cheese on the menu so far! I decided to go with a healthy soup as the main meal. Something non-cream based to offset the richness of the goat cheese and cheesecake.

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Minestrone Soup

1 onion, diced small (about 3/4 cup)
3 carrots, diced small (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, diced small (about 3/4 cup)
2 zucchini, diced small (about 2 cups)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup red or white wine (optional)
3 tsp. Better than Bouillon (mixed with 1 quart of boiling water)
1-28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes with juice, tomatoes chopped
1 15-oz can of white beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tb chopped fresh basil
2 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup Ditalini or elbow pasta
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven, add olive oil and onion, celery and carrots over med-high heat. Sauté until soft and beginning to brown. Add zucchini and sauté another few minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté 30 seconds. Deglaze pan with wine (I actually used hard cider because that is what I was drinking — our homemade that is on-tap).

2. Add the Better than Bouillon (mixed with water) and the chopped tomatoes with juice. Add beans, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil.

3. Reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 30-45 minutes.

4. In the last ten minutes, add the pasta.

5. Serve with crusty bread, goat cheese salad, etc.

And since it was Craft Night, I even got a very old WIP done!

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15-minute Brown Rice and Chickpea Curry

I am recovering from a cold, and didn’t much feel like cooking tonight.  But, also didn’t want to go out to eat since I’m recovering from a cold.  Hubby had a long day at work and I knew he would appreciate a hot meal and not eating leftovers or a sandwich.  What’s a girl to do??  Make up something random, hope it turns out, and not take any bloggy pictures.  But, trust me.  It was yummy, healthy and super-quick!  The kids wouldn’t eat it, but I guess you can’t have it all.  They had the leftovers.

I wanted to make something with chickpeas and rice, and I found this recipe when I Googled those ingredients.  Her recipe is based off a curried rice with chickpeas recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which was my starting point for dinner.  Then I changed it based on what I had in my pantry, and making sure that my liquid to rice ratio was correct for the brand of rice that I was using.

15-minute Brown Rice and Chickpea Curry

1 Tb. olive oil
1/2 diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t. salt
1 Tb. curry powder
1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
1 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained (I like the Hunt’s fire-roasted kind)
1 16oz can of rinsed, drained chickpeas
2 cups of Minute-brand brown rice
1 cup of frozen peas

Now the ability to get this done in 15 minutes lies with the use of the canned tomatoes and chickpeas, and the Minute brand brown rice.  If you used regular brown rice, it would take 50 minutes.  I did a quick search and verified that quick-cooking brown rice has the same nutritional value as regular brown rice.  Check!

1. In a 2.5 quart saucepan with tight fitting lid, heat your olive oil on medium heat.  Add the diced onions and saute for a few minutes until softened.  Add the garlic, saute about 30 seconds.  Add in the curry powder and salt.  Mix into the onions, and roast the curry powder for about a minute.  I used some homemade curry powder that I made last weekend when I ran out.

2. Add in the coconut milk, tomatoes with juice, and rinsed chickpeas.  Bring to a boil.  Add in the rice, give a nice stir, lower heat to a simmer, and cover and cook per rice package directions (5 minutes on simmer, give a stir, then take off the heat and let sit for five minutes covered).  Put the peas in when you do the mid-point stir after five minutes.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.  Depends on your curry powder, and the amount of salt in the other components (tomatoes, chickpeas, etc.).

This was so yummy and quick!  The rice and chickpeas together are a complete protein if that’s important to you.  Serves 2 as a main dish.

Next time I make it, I will take a picture, I promise!  Hubby thinks we should add some spinach or kale next time.  It’s a great launching off point for a quick meal.

Blueberry Pie

Blueberries

Blueberries

Who doesn’t love these little balls of juicy, antioxidant-filled, goodness??  The boys are funny.  They will only eat blueberries from our backyard bushes.  They don’t like any other kind.  I guess they taste better when they are still warm from the sun.  We have two high bush blueberries in a backyard berry patch, as well as several raspberry bushes.  We used to have strawberries there as well, but the raspberries have taken over.  We planted some new strawberries this spring, so we’ll see if we get any more next summer from the new plantings.  But, I think we are going to have to re-locate the strawberry patch.

Blueberry / Raspberry patch

Blueberry / Raspberry patch. The frame and net is so the birds and deer won’t eat our berries before we have a chance to pick them!

Our blueberries are hitting their stride, and we picked almost three pounds this past weekend.  We probably have another three pounds still ripening on the bushes.  Mmm…now what to do with those yummy blueberries??  Usually I make lots of muffins and quick breads with them, or eat them fresh or in yogurt/oatmeal.

The other thing I do with blueberries is make pie and jam!  However, we don’t use our backyard high-bush berries for that.  I buy Maine wild blueberries (AKA low-bush) for that from local sources.  My favorite recipe for blueberry pie is from Cook’s Illustrated.  I use their pie crust for all of my pies.  It’s different than other pie crusts in that it uses vodka as part of the liquid.  The addition of the vodka allows the dough to be moister, and thus easier to roll without breaking.  However, then the vodka evaporates when it cooks, and you end up with a flaky, tender crust.  Unfortunately, the raw dough tastes sort of icky, but the final product is excellent!  (That’s okay, dissuades the dough-snitches.)  The other thing that I love about the CI blueberry pie recipe is the addition of a grated granny smith apple.  It disappears into the fruit and you don’t even know it’s there, however it adds a good amount of pectin which thickens the pie without the gumminess that can occur if you use too much tapioca or cornstarch.

Pie crust ready to be filled and baked. Look at all the buttery goodness!

Into the oven!

Blueberry Pie

I’m not the best pie crust shaper, so I like to think of my pies as “rustic”.  And rustic sure is tasty!

Blueberry Pie with Vodka-Crust

(Cook’s Illustrated)

Ingredients

Pie Dough  
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka, cold
1/4 cup cold water
Blueberry Filling  
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground in a spice grinder to a powder
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. For The Pie Dough: Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no un-coated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.  (TINA’s NOTE:  I put my cut-up butter/shortening in the freezer on a plate for about 10 minutes before using it just to make sure it’s super-cold.)

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. (TINA’s NOTE: mix water and vodka and put in the freezer for about 10-15 to get super-cold.  The vodka will help the water not freeze if leave it in there a bit longer.) With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

4. For The Filling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

5. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

6. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.  (TINA’s NOTE: I like to use mini shaped cutters like leaves, flowers or stars.)

7. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

8. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Even better….serve with ice cream!

Blueberry Pie, recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, July/Aug 2008, Issue 93.  See how dense the filling it?  Not runny at all.

Souper Sunday – Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup is one of my favorite soups to make.  I usually couple the soup on my weekly menu plan with a roasted whole chicken.  So, make a roasted whole chicken one day, then make stock from the chicken and use it (as well as any leftover meat) to make the soup a few days later.  Great, low-cost dinners!

The corn tortillas cook into the soup and give it a nice, creamy texture.  The soup ends up somewhat halfway between a soup and a stew.  While you can make the soup using canned chicken broth and thighs/breasts that you roast (or pick the meat from a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store), the most cost-effective way to make the soup is to make a roasted whole chicken one night.  Then, pick through the meat to get a cup or two for the soup (assuming your family doesn’t eat the entire chicken), and turn the bones into stock.  You can use fresh jalapenos in the soup, but I find it easier to just buy a small can of fire roasted chiles (I buy Old El Paso brand).  I’ll admit it….I don’t like cutting up jalapenos ever since I didn’t wash my hands well enough after cutting one (I thought I did!), and got jalapeno juice in my eye.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About one hour
Serves: 4-6

2 Tb. Olive oil
1 chopped medium onion
1 chopped red bell pepper
6 cloves of garlic, minced
8 corn tortillas, cut into one inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Small can of fire roasted chilies (1/2 to the whole can depending on your preference)
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
3 bay leaves
14.5 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne powder (depending on your preference)
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups shredded chicken (good use for leftovers)

Serve with:
Sour Cream
Shredded cheese
Tortilla strips
Chopped fresh avocado
Etc.

1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven on medium. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, corn tortillas, cilantro, and can of chilies. Saute 3-4 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and drained black beans. Mix in and bring to a boil.

3. Add cumin, chili powder and bay leaves. Mix in.

4. Add chicken stock, and season with salt and cayenne.

5. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes.

6. Remove bay leaves.

7. Add shredded chicken and corn. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.

8. Serve with toppings of your choice.

 

Souper Sunday: Smoked Fish Chowder

The other day 7.5yo J made dinner and chose to make barbecued ribs.  Well, this necessitated pulling out the smoker (actually we keep it out all winter on our covered back porch because you never know when you need to smoke some meat!) for the ribs.  And since the hubby was going to be heating up the smoker, he couldn’t waste all that smoker space with just one rack of ribs.  Therefore, he came home on Friday with 3 pounds of fish too.  2 pounds of pollock that was locally caught and inexpensive, as well as some salmon.  The salmon, he smoked for bagels and lox.  The pollock, he smoked for fish cakes, and we decided to make soup with the leftovers.

We have a Weber smoker, and to be honest, I’ve never used it.  But, here is the recipe that Hubby wrote out for the fish.

Smoked Whitefish

Generously sprinkle rub on fish (we used pollock).  Rub it in to cover the fish, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.  Rinse off the rub, pat fish dry, and let sit open to the air in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  This should create a tacky film on top of the fish.  Smoke the fish at 225 degrees for 90 minutes, looking for an internal temperature of 165F.  If it’s not done after 90 minutes, you can bake it in your oven for an additional 10 minutes at 350F.

FISH RUB:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 Tbsp. dried dill
1 tsp. fresh black pepper

We smoked 2 pounds of fish, and there was plenty of rub leftover.  It will probably make about 4-5 pounds of smoked fish.

Hubby used most of the fish to make fish cakes.  I took one fillet and made this super-yummy fish chowder.  Nothing fancy in the ingredient list (except the smoked fish, I suppose), I had all of it in my cupboard.

Smoked Fish Chowder

I started with a recipe that I got off Allrecipes for a Smoked Salmon Chowder.  Did a bit of tweaking to it although not too much.  I didn’t have any of the half-and-half called for in the original recipe.  So, I did a bit of Google research, and decided to use 2% evaporated milk that was already in my cupboard.  It was perfect for the soup!  And much less fat.  I think I’m going to only use evaporated milk from now on.  Not sure how I’ve gone on this long without knowing about this little substitution tidbit.

2 Tb. butter
1 Tb. olive oil
1 onion, diced medium-fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound red potatoes, diced medium (about 3/4 inch dice)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
(1/2 tsp. dill and 1/2 tsp. tarragon – Optional *Note)
8-10 oz. smoked fish, cut into chunks
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
A few dashes of Tabasco
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup evaporated milk (I used 2%)

*Note – I used the herbs stated in the original recipe, which included the dill and tarragon.  Next time, I would omit them because they were a bit too strong for the  pollock in our opinion.  Play around with it!

1. Heat Dutch oven/soup pot, melt butter and oil.  Throw in onions, garlic and celery, and cook on medium-low until transparent, about 10 minutes.

2. Add flour, and stir for about 1 minute to toast the flour.

Dry roux

3. Gradually add the chicken broth, and stir until slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Stir in thyme and paprika (and other herbs you may choose to use), throw in the potatoes, cover and simmer for 15 minutes on medium-low.

4. Stir in the fish, lemon juice, white wine, Tabasco and pepper.  (Pour a glass of white wine for yourself.)  I scraped away that brown part of the fish because I find that it’s pretty “fishy” tasting.  Use your judgment.  Simmer on Low, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

5. Stir in the evaporated milk, and continue to simmer on Low for 30 minutes.

It was so, so good.  And awesome the next day, of course.  I’m sad that it’s gone to be honest.  As an aside, I need to work on my food photography skills.  Especially when taking photos at the stove.  The lighting is terrible!  Anyway, there has been lots of cooking being done on this crafty blog, but not so much craftiness.  Don’t worry!  I have been extremely crafty recently, I just can’t share it because I’m participating in a swap with the ladies who were my roomies at the Squam Art Workshop last year.  It is going out in the mail very soon, and I’ll be sharing some of the fun things in the package in the next few weeks.

I want to add that I made this soup a second time yesterday with some of the leftover smoked salmon.  We didn’t have all the ingredients, so I had to do a few substitutions.  I didn’t have any chicken broth and used all vegetable broth.  And I used a mixture of evaporated milk and regular 1% milk.  It was just not as good at all.  Very disappointing.  What I took away from the experience was that you need to use chicken broth.  I think the vegetable broth made it thin tasting.  Also, I didn’t care for the salmon and preferred the whitefish.   That might just be a personal preference of course, as I know a lot of people love salmon.  While using a bit of regular milk mixed with the evaporated milk made it a little less creamy, it wasn’t a big deal.  I’m enjoying everything I’m learning from these cooking-soup adventures!

Kids Cook

We are on school vacation this week, so I suggested to my boys (who are now 9.5 and 7.5) that perhaps they would like to each make dinner one night this week.  We have a Children’s Quick and Easy Cookbook that they paged through and then picked something to make.  While I don’t quite agree with all the recipes as they are written, there are great pictures, and the book was useful for the kids to pick something and be excited about what they were preparing.

J picked the barbeque spare ribs.  Now, the recipe calls for grilling the ribs for 15 minutes on each side.  That is NOT how we make ribs around here!  Low and slow!  This gave the hubby an excuse to pull out the smoker, of course!  We prefer baby back ribs, so I picked up some of those.  J helped Daddy rub the spice rub all over the meat (“gross!”) in the morning.  Normally, we would do it the night before, but we forgot until after J had gone to bed.  We use a homemade spice rub that we make in larger sized quantities and store in the cupboard.  He then helped Daddy put the meat in the smoker, check it, take off the aluminum foil, take it off the smoker, baste with sauce, etc.  For the sauce, we just use Bullseye Original if we aren’t making our own.  J is not fond of vegetables (we keep trying!), so he and Daddy made an apple slaw for a side dish.  They julienned three apples (different varieties) using a mandoline (carefully monitored as it’s super sharp), and tossed with an awesome little sauce that Hubby made up.  Stellar!  And then we also roasted up some Brussels sprouts.  J was so excited about making dinner and licked his plate clean.  The ribs were worthy of plate-licking.

Apple Slaw

3 apples, unpeeled and julienned (we used granny smith, honey crisp and fuji)
Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
Salt to taste

Stir up dressing.  Mix into apples.

K made dinner tonight.  He chose a sausage/pasta baked dish.  It required quite a bit of assistance from Mama, but he helped cook the entire thing.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it “Quick and Easy” but maybe it would have been quicker and easier if a 9yo wasn’t doing every step.  He tried cutting up the onion, but that was a bit difficult for him, so we did it together.  (Sharp knives!)  He enjoyed using the garlic press, and the can opener, and especially the mini prep food chopper (we made fresh bread crumbs to sprinkle on top).  He was also able to cut up the sausage links (it had sweet Italian sausage in it) with a paring knife by himself.  We have these kids knives and while fun to use, not up to the task of dicing an onion.

I cook a lot, and always encourage the boys to help me, but they are usually too busy with their own activities to be interested…unless it involves licking the cookie dough bowl.  This little project really engaged them from start to finish.  I think the many photos in the book helped them pick something more readily.  And then having chosen the meal, they were more invested in its preparation.  We will definitely have to do this again!  Keeping in mind that the 30 minutes of prep + 25 minutes of baking really equals 60 minutes of prep +25 minutes of baking when cooking with a 9yo.

Souper Sunday – Roasted cabbage soup, Take 2

Yes, it’s Monday, not Sunday.  Does it count that it’s a holiday weekend?  In any case, this isn’t a new recipe as it is the only soup recipe that I had posted prior to this, when I decided to do a weekly soup feature.  However, I made it a bit differently and used some leftover ingredients, and thought I would talk about that.

The original recipe for Roasted Cabbage Soup calls for caramelizing onions and leeks before adding them to the soup along with the roasted cabbage + other veggies.  I hadn’t thought to make this soup when I went to the grocery store and leeks are not something that I normally buy.  So instead of the 1 onion + 3 leeks in the original recipe, I just used 2 onions.  It turned out great.  Yes, the leeks are excellent, but onions are a lot cheaper and more likely to be already in your pantry.

The other thing that I did differently is that I used leftover roasted cabbage.  We had roasted cabbage (purple which is why the soup is an odd color) for dinner one night.  We didn’t eat the whole head that we had roasted, and about half of it was put in the refrigerator.  Perfect for adding to the soup!  So, this was a relatively quick and easy soup since the “roasting the cabbage” step was taken out of the equation.

ROASTED CABBAGE SOUP
(adapted from the book, Love Soup – which is awesome and I highly recommend)

2 onions, diced  medium
1/2 head of cabbage (depends on the size of the head)
2 carrots, diced medium-fine (about 1/2 inch squares)
2 stalks celery, diced medium-fine
1 russet potato, diced medium-fine
4 cups vegetable broth (box/canned)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 tsp. dried dill (fresh is better if you have it, about 2 Tb.)
salt/pepper

I served with fresh bread, sour cream, and some freshly grated Parmesan.

1. Having roasted cabbage for dinner one night and using the leftovers for this is perfect.  If you want to roast the cabbage specifically for this, just thinly slice the cabbage.  Toss on a baking sheet with about 1 Tb. of olive oil and salt/pepper.  Roast at 425 degrees for about 30-45 minutes.  Tossing occasionally, until it’s getting brown all over.  We used purple, but I’d recommend green cabbage as it looks more appetizing in the finished soup.

2. Heat your skillet on medium, melt 1 Tb. butter with 1 Tb. olive oil.  Add diced onions and a little bit of salt, and saute for about 4-5 minutes.  Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to cook for about 20-30 minutes until nicely caramelized.  Cut up all the other veggies while the onion is cooking.

3. Dice the carrots, celery and potato.  Add to the pot with the vegetable broth and water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.  Add in the caramelized onion and roasted cabbage, and simmer covered for another 20 minutes.

4. Add the cup of milk, the dill, and salt and pepper to taste.  I used 1% as that is what we have in the refrigerator.  Whole would be great, but better to use what you have instead of buying special items, in my opinion.  Continue to cook on medium heat until heated through.  Serve with bread, sour cream, grated cheese, etc.

Next time I make it, I’m going to try blending a bit of it with my immersion blender.  I think it might give it a nice consistency.  I’ll report back!