Friday, March 28, 2014

Curried Broccoli-Cauliflower Soup with White Cheddar

I am heading out of town in a few days, and I wanted something to eat this week that would be readily available and somewhat detoxifying, as I know calorie-laden food will probably abound while I’m on vacation.  I settled on broccoli soup, akin to the one in this post, but as I contemplated my plan of attack, the recipe evolved throughout the day, into a new and blog-worthy form.  Initially, it was supposed to be the vision of simplicity: broccoli, onion, and potato, simmered in chicken broth, then pureed and finished with a little white cheddar, but this beast had a mind of its own.  First, I thought that cauliflower would be a welcome addition.  Then, while skimming through Google searches for recipes, the word “curry” seemed to leap off my computer screen, and land squarely in my mouth.  My dinner’s direction and suddenly become very clear.

The truth is: the smell of curry powder destroys me: mystifying, intoxicating, delightful.  This reaction may seem extreme, but perhaps you have never experienced the aroma that ensues when curry powder hits a hot pan.  Or maybe you weren’t paying attention.  It is one of those instances when the whole exceeds the sum of its parts.  I love foods that fall under this category, as it is truly the magic of cooking; a great pot of soup and other slow cooked dishes tend to spring to mind, as I ponder this notion.  What could be more fitting that a curried soup?  My most recent jar of curry powder (curry powder must be fresh) had a detailed list of ingredients, relative to the other available brands of curry, whose ingredient lists’ consisted vaguely of “turmeric and other spices.”  The jar I purchased included fenugreek, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, amongst other things.  I was pleased to have access to the list, and tried to engage in a little sniff test to see what I could identify; yet, all I could do was deeply inhale and smell the whole earthy combination.  I nearly chocked a couple of times, but it was worth it.

The recipe that resulted from all this excessive thought is a winner for more reasons than one.  First of all, I started the right way: with butter.  This soup is essentially a big bowl of pureed vegetables, and I felt that it needed the rich boost in its base that only butter can provide.  Well, that and bacon fat, but that’s sort of crossing a line when it comes to being considered “vegetarian.”  Regardless of semantics, butter provided a richness in both texture and flavor that was the right fit.  Onion and garlic were then sautéed in the frothy butter foam, until tender; curry powder, nutmeg, and a little cayenne were then lightly toasted in the buttery onions.  Next came the cauliflower and small-diced potato, with just enough broth to cover.  The potato is only there for body, so dice it fine, allowing it to disappear into the soup.  Additionally, it’s crucial to not use excess broth because that will make this pureed veggie soup seem unsatisfying.  After a few minutes, I threw in the broccoli and a touch more broth, and allowed everything to become soft and unctuous.  I whirred the veggie concoction together with my favorite toy, my immersion blender, until it was smooth, with a few stray pieces of curry-stained cauliflower.  A bay leaf would have been a nice touch, but I was too twitterpated by the aroma of the curry powder, and it just slipped my mind. 

I finished the soup with cheese: a sturdy, sharp white cheddar.  Cheese may seem a little off-putting in conjunction with curry; however, the soup needed some sort of salty, creamy, savory element to round out the flavors, soften the edges, and bring them together.  Cream certainly would have been the more obvious choice, and could easily by substituted with about a quarter to a half-cup, but cheese is a clear favorite in my book.  I also think the sharpness of the cheddar adds depth, and a little “je ne said quoi.”  On night two, I actually bedazzeled my soup bowl with a lightly fried egg with a runny yolk.  Delicious.

Curried Cauliflower and Broccoli Soup with White Cheddar

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
4 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or lemon juice
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
Toasted pine nuts for garnish (optional)

-       In a large soup pot, preheat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat
-       Once butter has melted, add onion, and season with salt and pepper.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened, about 8 minutes
-       Add garlic, curry, cayenne, and nutmeg.  Sauté for about 1 minute
-       Add cauliflower, potato, and enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables.
-       Bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. 
-       Then add broccoli, and simmer until all vegetables are very tender.
-       Puree with am immersion blender until smooth, with a few stray chunks of cauliflower.

-       In the soup bowl, serve soup with a couple of tablespoons shredded white cheddar, stirred in so that it melts.  Garnish with additional cheese, toasted pine nuts, and/or a poached or over easy egg.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trader Joe's, I think I love you

I retract my previous statement; I KNOW I love Trader Joe's. On February 14th, mayhem broke out across the Denver metro area, when 3 brand-spankin'-new Trader Joe's opened their doors to desperate Coloradans.  The parking lots overflow with agitated customers, jonesing for inexpensive olive oil and frozen berries.  Patagonia-clad Boulderites tap their feet impatiently, with their carts busting at the seams with Pesto gouda (yes, it exists), tamari almonds, cookie butter (Trader Joe's riff on the mythical Speculoos butter), and bags of pre-washed, baby arugula.  Everyone is irritated by the crowds, but it is worth the delight that ensues from rejoicing in the spoils within the privacy of our own kitchens.  

If there has been some sort of media blitz on unethical business practices employed by Trader Joe's, please let me know; current affairs are not my strong suit.  I cannot begin to fathom why their products are so inexpensive.  The only explanation is that something is amiss, but the Polly Anna in me so badly wants to believe otherwise.  Without concrete evidence, I will continue bingeing on soft and chewy ginger cookies, organic spaghettios, and Spanish cheese samplers, and I will be doing so at curiously reasonable prices.

This week, I tried Trader Giotto's Porcini and Truffle Triangoli. That's a ravioli shaped like a triangle (cheeky, I know). For under 4 dollars per package, these little pillows boast tender pasta and a palpable truffle-y funk (and yes, that is most definitely a good thing).  The scent hit me like a ton of bricks upon opening the package. 

There was quite a bit of pasta in the package, so I prepared it two ways. First, I made a quick tomato sauce, that I'm dubbing "pomodoro crudo." It's very simple: 1 chopped tomato, sautéed in olive, garlic, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Then I added about a half cup of chicken broth and a glug of white wine. This simmered for about 10 minutes.  When the pasta was finished, it was gently coated with this quick tomato sauce, with a few splashes of pasta cooking water, as needed.  I finished it with a ton of fresh parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  The tomato sauce added a nice, bright acidity to the earthy, rich filling of the pasta.  The dish was surprisingly filling, but I guess I should expect that from stuffed pasta laced with truffle oil.  

Later, I ate the unaltered leftovers with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper, parsley, and Parmesan. You can't go wrong with either preparation; however, the inclusion of parsley and parmesan cheese go a long way no matter what.  I look forward to exploring the seemingly infinite array of novelly items, such as Truffled Triangoli, at my new favorite retail store.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tacos “Americano”

I spend my workdays helping children communicate. That looks different depending on each kid’s needs: I may teach them how make an “s” sound (we call that the snake sound); I may teach them how to communicate nonverbally, through sign language, pictures, or speech generating devices; we focus on grammar, on the fact that “who” refers to a person, and “where” to a place.”  Basically, I teach kids things that most people don’t have to be taught; communication is basic human right, but some people have to fight for it.  To me, it is a serious job, and I have to find the bright spots, and the fun wherever I can. 

Naturally, with a focus on communication, I want to communicate with all my tikes about food.  In all seriousness, I ask at least half of my kids about food every day.  “What did you have for lunch?”  “What’s your favorite food?”  “I love mac and cheese, too.”  These things come out of my mouth on a daily basis, often directed towards 3 year olds.  To my delight, some of my kids get into it; others look at me like I’m crazy.  I tend to spend a good portion of time at the Boulder Public Library, searching for picture books to use in therapy.  The truth is: I’m not a very creative therapist, and I rely heavily on books as a crutch.  So, when I stumbled upon a book called “Dragons Love Tacos,” which happens to be a New York Times Best Seller, my heart skipped a beat.  Finally, a quasi-appropriate way to discuss food with my kids!  What kid doesn’t love tacos, and what kid doesn’t love dragons?  The book has been a huge success with every kid I have introduced it to, and I have been the most fun, engaging speech therapist I could possibly be when reading and discussing it with my clients because I am having just as much fun as they are. 

The first day I had it, I read it to four different kids; and all I have been able to think since is… I want tacos.  So I made tacos.  It was the only logical conclusion.   I wanted them to be traditional, American, Tex-Mex tacos.  The ones my mom would never make for us (largely because my oldest brother and my dad wouldn’t touch a taco with a 10 foot pole).  They needed to be completely inauthentic of true taco identity because those were the tacos the dragons ate in the book.  While I wanted the flavor to be traditional in an über-American way, I wanted the ingredients to be high quality.  So, I made my very own kitchen sink spice mixture, that was vaguely familiar of Old El Pasa Taco Seasoning, but with less preservatives and more flavor.  I stuffed it into hard taco shells, with shredded Colby-jack, salsa, shredded lettuce, and sour cream.  I fought all my will power in an attempt to photograph them, and then quickly devoured them, as taco juice dripped down my forearms. 

Tacos “Americano”

Taco Filling:
1 pound 90% lean ground beef
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-2 teaspoons chile powder
1-2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt, or to taste
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons Tabasco Chipotle Hot Sauce
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Taco Toppings (take your pick):
-       Shredded mild cheese, such as Colby Jack
-       Salsa
-       Chopped tomato
-       Shredded Lettuce
-       Sour cream
-       Taco shells

-       In a medium skillet, preheat oil over medium heat.  When hot, add ground beef, breaking it up with a spatula.
-       When broken up, add tomato paste, and all other ingredients (except broth, hot sauce, vinegar, and honey).  Sauté, stirring to evenly distribute spices.
-       Add broth and hot sauce.  Cook through, stirring frequently.  Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, if needed.
-       When meat is cooked through, turn off heat and add vinegar and honey.

-       Assemble tacos and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stuffed Peppers

Unlike the typical 9 to 5 job, I work 4-10 hour days.  The days are undeniably long, but a weekly 3-day weekend more than makes up for my intense workweek.  It’s like a weekly mini-vacation.  My favorite part of my three-day weekend is Sunday.  Not working on Mondays, Sunday has been transformed from a somber, stressful affair, focused on preparing for the workweek, into a relaxing and delightful day.  I spend most of my Sunday evenings hunkered down at a good friend’s house in Denver, sipping vodka, eating antipasto, and verbally dissecting the world at large.  Our Sunday meal is typically low maintenance; however, this Sunday, my friend expressed a hankering for stuffed peppers, which I have never made before, and I quickly accepted the challenge, and the change of pace.

When I went to the store, red bell peppers just happened to be on sale, and the whole scenario seemed meant to be.  I went with an Italian theme for the peppers.  I didn’t grow up eating them, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the traditional flavor profile would be, so I chose the direction I know and love best: Italian.  I used ground beef, sausage, rice, tomatoes, basil, onions, garlic, pesto, and, of course, cheese.  I chose a combination of ground beef and sausage because I felt that sausage exclusively would be too fatty and rich; a lot of pasta sauces have both in them, so why not my stuffed peppers?  It turned out lovely, but I will warn you to make sure your stuffing is well seasoned.  The stuffing seasons the actual pepper, in addition to the filling, so over-seasoning a tad is wise.   I used diced tomatoes and a can of sauce for tomato products, but a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste added to the beef and onions would work well; despite the double hit of tomato, a little more would have brought warmly welcomed depth of flavor.  Cheese, glorious cheese, was naturally a pivotal ingredient, and it renders the pepper filling a complete dish in and of itself (we gleefully ate spoonfuls from the pan).  The peppers are stuffed, put in a baking dish with a touch of chicken broth (white wine would also be nice), and sealed with foil before baking.  When they are just about done, they are blanketed in cheese, and broiled.  I chose a combination of mozzarella and asiago, but a sticking solely with a young asiago would be lip-smacking good.  Pick your poison.   

Stuffed Peppers

1/2 lb. ground sirloin
1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage
1 cup rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups shredded cheese (such as mozzarella, asiago, parmesan, or a combination)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
6-ounce can of tomato sauce
1/2 cup good quality pesto
1/4 cup basil chiffonade
4-6 bell peppers
Salt, pepper, red chile flakes, oregano

-       Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-       Prepare rice by adding it to 2 cups of simmering chicken stock.  Cover and simmer for 15-20, lifting lid as little as possible.  Set aside when finished.
-       Prepare peppers by cutting of the top, and removing seeds and large ribs.  Set aside in a 9x13 inch baking dish.
-       Preheat a large skillet over medium heat with oil.  Add ground beef and sausage, breaking up chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula.
-       When meat is broken up and beginning to brown, drain excess fat.  Then add onion and minced garlic.  Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and red chile flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon of each, maybe more salt, and little less hot pepper flakes).  Cook until onion and meat is cooked through, stirring occasionally.
-       Add rice, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce (if you want it more tomato-y in flavor, add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste with the onions).  Stir to combine, taste, and re-season. 
-       Turn off heat and add basil, pesto, and 1/2 the cheese.
-       Fill each of the peppers until heaping with rice and tomato mixture.  This recipe makes enough for about 6 medium-sized peppers, and the rice mixture also is very tasty on its own.
-       Place filled peppers, standing up, in the baking dish, and add remaining chicken broth (or better yet, white wine).  Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

-       Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Remove peppers from the oven, and turn on the broiler.  Put remaining cheese on each pepper, then place under the broiler until browned and bubbling.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kale, White Bean, and Kielbasa Soup

A magical time of year is descending upon us.  From the depths of December, we have emerged, earning about a scant minute of additional light each day.  Now that we have reached March, those tiny moments have accumulated into a meaningful amount, and regardless of the temperature, we can literally see and feel the light at the end of winter’s tunnel.  As if that weren’t enough, the added bonus of Day Light Saving’s Time is around the corner.  No one is happier about these lighter days than me, but it also makes me grateful for the last few cold days that allow me to relish soups, stews, roasted chicken, and other hearty dishes that become insufferable during the hot, bright summer months.  I can handle bring; hot is a different story.  I will cling to every last minute that affords me hearty winter cooking, knowing that the dog days of summer will allow for more than enough grilling, salads, and chilled pasta salads.

And thus, kale/white bean/kielbasa soup is my latest brainchild, born of my ironic depression over losing the indulgent, lazy coziness of winter.  I will indulge until it’s too hot to simmer soup on the stove, and too hot to turn on the oven.  I’m not sure how this idea in particular got planted in my brain, but I had something very specific in mind, regarding this soup concept.  I make a lot of kale soups, but they are usually tomatoey, and I knew this one should not be.  I ideally wanted it to be pure as the driven-white-bean-snow, then studded with kale and kielbasa.  I did not want it broth-y, but rather a creamy-beany texture.  This blending was an automatic requirement, which means I get to use my immersion blender, and my immersion blender makes me grin from ear to ear.  I also knew I did not want the kale or the sausage blended. 

Kielbasa was another absolute certainty in my one track mind: smoky, garlicky half moons percolating my soup.  Sadly, I love Johnsonville kielbasa (it is like a slightly more complex hot dog. YUM.), yet I knew that I would be disappointed if I didn’t go for something less processed.  I am becoming increasingly paranoid about the quality of ingredients that I use, and a growing percentage of my pantry and refrigerator are organic, and purchased at Whole Foods.  Alas, there was only one thing to do… purchase the kielbasa at Whole Foods.  The brand is called Wellshire; it is (allegedly) humanely raised; I recognized all 6 ingredients listed on the package as actual, recognized foods.  Good enough for me.
I digress.  The soup consists of celery, carrots, onion, and potatoes simmered in a rosemary-scented broth, with a chunk of parmesan cheese rind bobbing about, giving it a lovely, umami flavor.  (The base flavor is the smoky pork fat rendered from the kielbasa, which was set aside after it was browned).  When the aforementioned vegetables were simmered into tender submission, I then added 2 cans of great northern beans, and blended it up to a quasi-chunky consistency.  The potato added body in conjunction with the beans, but the soup probably would have been much prettier without the carrot.  Oh, well.  I then returned the kielbasa to its natural environment (the soup pot where it initially became browned and carmalized), and added ribbons of curly, green kale, and continued to simmer it until all was tender and lovely.  A delicious soup, but admittedly better the next day with a shower of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, as is the nature of all good soups.  Enjoy.

Kale, White Bean, and Kielbasa Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound kielbasa, sliced in half moons
2 cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves sliced into half inch ribbons
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrot, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons minced rosemary
1/2 cup white wine
7-8 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese rind

-       Over medium heat, preheat oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot.
-       Add the kielbasa, and sauté until browned
-       Remove kielbasa, drain, and set aside.  Drain fat from the soup pot, leaving 2 tablespoons in the pan
-       Add onions, carrots, and celery.  Sauté for 10 minutes, seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes.
-       Add garlic, rosemary, and potato.  Sauté for 1-2 minutes.
-       Add white wine, and let reduce by half.
-       Add chicken stock and Parmesan cheese rind, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
-       Add white beans, and simmer for 5 minutes to heat through.
-       Set aside cheese rind, and using an immersion blender, blend the soup, leaving some chunks, but breaking up some of the beans.  Add cheese rind back into soup.
-       And the kale and kielbasa, and cook until kale is tender, about 5 minutes.
-       Serve and garnish with Parmesan, if desired.