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What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’

Jake Bellucci Le Creuset CC BY-NC-ND 2.0One of the things I love about winter is that it’s a season conducive to cooking in bulk — think soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, the list goes on. I have gotten into the habit of preparing one to two soups for the week on Sunday afternoons, and boy, has it been scrumptious, not to mention economical and time-saving. I thought I’d compile a list of my recent soup pursuits, with some of my forays into baking, fish, and why not, mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure. One of the pleasures of blogging for me is documenting what I cook throughout the year, so as I give into that, I hope that you find something posted here that you might consider trying. (Also, if you don’t already have one, I hope you’ll consider busying yourself an immersion blender… the one I recently acquired has been a godsend this winter, as evidenced by the list below. If not, a regular blender works too. Just a thought 🙂 ) Bon appetit!

tracy benjamin tortilla strips CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I first tasted this chicken tortilla soup recipe from Food and Wine at the home of my friend, Allison, on a much-needed getaway trip to Nashville, Tennessee. (The trip ended with the discovery of frozen pipes in our frigid condo, due to my flakiness in leaving the heat off just as Chicago morphed into Chiberia. Even our jar of olive oil was frozen solid, but that’s another story!) This soup makes clever use of the aforementioned immersion blender, thickening up the tomato/onion/garlic/five spice/chicken broth/cilantro base with fried tortilla strips, puréed. The cubed chicken is added raw and cooked conveniently in the broth, and chunks of avocado are mixed in at the end. It’s hearty, zingy, and deeply satisfying when topped with the usual Southwestern suspects: grated cheddar, homemade fried tortilla strips, sour cream, cilantro, scallions, and lime wedges.

Steven Lilley Broccoli CC BY-SA 2.0Padraic told me he felt like he was dining at Panera after eating Ree Drummond’s broccoli cheddar soup, and I took that as effusive praise! I used 2% milk instead of whole, and things turned out quite creamy nonetheless. The recipe starts with preparations for a roasted broccoli garnish, and proceeds with sautéing onions in butter, then simmering pieces of raw broccoli in a mixture of milk, half-and-half, flour, and nutmeg. Three cups of cheddar cheese are added, with the option of puréeing the mixture or breaking up the broccoli with a potato masher. I think this might be the most indulgent broccoli dish there is, but January/February is certainly a fitting time for it.

nick mote Lentil Macro CC BY 2.0Surprise, surprise, this recipe does not use a blender — no, instead, Ina Garten’s lentil sausage soup, from her cookbook Barefoot in Paris, is richly textured with softened vegetables, lentils, and chunks of sausage. In my unsuccessful search for the recommended French green lentils, I learned that French lentils are simply smaller in size, so I just bought the most petit ones they had in the store, which worked fine. The process starts by cooking onions, leeks, and garlic flavored with cumin, thyme, salt, and pepper; then celery and carrots are added. This mixture plus pre-soaked lentils, chicken stock, and tomato paste simmers for an hour, then pre-cooked sausage is added and warmed through. You finish it off with a drizzle of red wine vinegar or red wine, take your pick.

cookbookman17 White Beans CC BY 2.0Cristina Ferrare’s minestrone soup from the cookbook, Big Bowl of Love is another hearty, one-meal wonder. It’s basically a compilation of fresh vegetables, beans, and tomatoes, puréed thick and served with freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t find an exact reproduction of the cookbook’s recipe on the inter tubes, so I’ve posted the recipe at the bottom of this entry.

PINKÉ Pyrex Casserole CC BY-NC 2.0Then, of course, there comes a time when enough soup has been had and a casserole — what else? — beckons. The notion of chicken tetrazinni was so delightfully retro to me that I felt compelled to whip up a behemoth batch of it. Who else but Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, to guide me through layers of spaghetti, mushrooms, melted cream/Monterey Jack/Parmesan cheese, bacon, peas, and toasted bread crumbs? Hers is technically a turkey tetrazinni, which sounds delicious, but the only time I have cooked turkey on hand is the day after Thanksgiving. So I turned to The Kitchn for advice on poaching chicken breasts. Ree suggests adding up to two extra cups of chicken broth to the cheese/veggie/pasta mixture before baking it, even if it’s a little soupy. I second this — I added this amount and the consistency of the finished product was just right — cheesy but not overwhelmingly so, and moist. I skipped the chopped olives, but hey, that’s just me.

essgee51 Dill and Lemon 2 (20/365) CC BY-NC 2.0 Sometimes soup and casseroles don’t carry you through the entire week, which makes room for minimalist dishes like… salmon, roasted with lemon, butter, and dill. This is my go-to recipe for salmon — it’s as easy as melting butter with lemon juice and seasoning the fish with dill, minced garlic (or garlic powder), salt, and pepper. Comes out moist and flaky every time.

Anne White Yukon Gold Potatoes CC BY-NC 2.0I made a batch of these super easy, quick, and straightforward mashed potatoes to go with the salmon. It’s another find from Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love. I love this recipe because it turns what you normally think of as a special occasion, holiday side into a week night staple. The most work and time intensive part is peeling, boiling, and mashing the potatoes — after that’s done, you just add butter, milk, and salt, but in proportions that consistently produce a creamy, fluffy, apporiately-salted mash. The addition of lemon zest may sound strange, but I find that it brightens and freshens the dish in a beautiful way. Then again, I’ll add lemon to anything. A handful of chopped scallions add a peppery bite to the creamy potato canvas. I find that making mashed potatoes during the week is really quite practical — the leftovers can bulk up another quick-cooking protein a few days later or be packed in a lunch.

Tom Gill Apples CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Speaking of packing lunches, the discovery of a homemade scone in my lunch bag is worth the effort, I think. Lately I’ve been on a scone kick, as mentioned here. It’s the byproduct of my newly acquired “mini scone pan,” allowing you to just drop the dough into a greased pan, and the fact that scones are so versatile — good for breakfast, lunch, dessert… These apple and cheddar scones combine roasted chunks of tart fruit with a salty, cheesy bite, and the dough is non-fussily brought together in the bowl of an electric stand mixer — no messy wielding of a pastry cutter or hauling out of a food processor. The pre-roasted apples, grated cheese, dry ingredients (flour/sugar/baking powder/salt), and wet ingredients (butter/cream/egg) are simply combined in a single bowl and mixed together on low.

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 9.01.41 PMWith regard to other baked goods, this Valentine’s Day I was in the mood to make something chocolate, but I wanted to bypass some of the more decadent, ultra-sweet chocolate desserts. I still wanted to make something special, something I don’t normally make. I landed on Love and Olive Oil’s Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti, featuring my favorite chocolate-fruit flavor combination. The orange notes come through strongly, and the chunks of dark chocolate impart a subtle richness and decadence of flavor. I love the hearty crunch and mild sweetness of biscotti — making it at home transports you to your favorite café and gets the coffee pot percolating.

zoyachubby Basil CC BY-ND 2.0A second Valentine’s Day experiment, this time for the main course, was seared scallops with basil olive oil pistou. Somehow seafood is romantic to me, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine a Valentine’s Day dinner. I’m somewhat shy to say that this was my first time cooking scallops at home, but searing them proved quick and easy. Pistou (pronounced pee-stew) is a French term, and it’s similar to pesto: a mixture of herbs, garlic, and olive oil (in this version the herbs, parsley and basil, are blanched first. I’d never thought to blanche herbs before — aside from the nuisance of repeatedly hand wringing them dry, the blanching did make the sauce more delicate.) The pistou is spooned under each scallop and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top for a simple but slightly elevated presentation. The pistou certainly distinguishes this scallop dish and imparts lots of fresh flavor, but I have to say, it’s oily. I doubled the recipe, and even leaving out about 1/3 cup, the oil still saturated the plate. You might consider scaling back on it by paying closer attention than I did to the food processor.

John Robinson Lemon and lime CC BY 2.0Two final dinner recipes — last night I tried this fish taco recipe in lieu of Lent. It’s refreshing and light all around, a much-needed break from all these hearty, thickly puréed soups I’ve been making. You can use any white fish, I used cod — flavored with a marinade of lime juice, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and vegetable oil. For a healthier meal, the fish is grilled, not fried. The tacos are dressed with a cabbage slaw combining shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, cilantro, and more lime juice and veggie oil. Additional toppings include salsa, sour cream, and sliced avocado. (I opted against bottled salsa for an easy-to-make salsa fresca, containing chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, some diced red onion, and a pinch of salt.) Last but not least, what could be easier than this lemon spaghetti recipe, authored by the one and only  Giada Di Laurentiis. You literally whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and boil noodles, then make a few tweaks with pasta water, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and fresh basil (or in my case, dried). Couldn’t be simpler, and couldn’t be more delicious.

So there you go… a kitchen sink’s worth of good food links. Hopefully it stimulates some upcoming cooking adventures in your own kitchen. Thanks for reading, and please let me know if there’s a better recipe out there for salmon, mashed potatoes, soup, fish tacos, etc. etc. Happy hunkering down this winter!

Hearty Vegetable Minestrone Soup
From Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, cut small
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup cauliflower cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white navy beans or cannellini
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked small tube, shell-shaped pasta, or orzo
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil
  • red pepper flakes
  • balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

  • Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot. Quickly add the onion, and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; then add the water and stir. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli florets, cabbage, cauliflower, and salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to release their juices.
  • Add the canned tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the beans and stir. Cover and gently simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • In a blender, (or with an immersion blender), purée three-quarters of the soup until semi-smooth. Pour back into the stockpot and stir well. This will thicken your soup.
  • Adjust the seasoning (taste for salt; you will probably need to add more — 1/4 teaspoon at a time, so you don’t oversalt). Bring the soup back up to a gentle boil. Add the pasta and stir well so the pasta doesn’t stick. Cook the pasta for about 5 minutes or until al dente. You don’t want to overcook the pasta. Ladle into heated bowls. Garnish with 2 tablespoons freshly grated cheese per serving, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes to taste. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.
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Let It Melt Away

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 2.10.10 PMIt’s almost automatic for me, tuning into NPR on my commute home. I’m a bit of a news junkie, and my job(s) involve a lot of driving. Unexpected tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing can shake you out of the comfortable ritual of news consumption. This event was unexpected, incoherent, if nothing else, an impetus to pay closer attention to each other and the many forces at work in every individual. My heart goes out to the victims, the spectators, and even the perpetrators who are suffering right now. I’m sure that the healing process will require many small, tedious steps, putting one foot in front of the other. This recipe is one small token of solidarity.

Lemon Meltaways

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Key Lime Meltaways

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest of 4 tiny or 2 large lemons
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (aka 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Measure Your Ingredients

  1. Measure butter and 1/3 cup sugar and put in bowl of electric mixer.
  2. Measure out lemon juice/zest and vanilla and set aside. In a medium bowl, measure and whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt.

Mix It Up

  1. Cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add lemon juice, zest, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.
  2. Add flour/cornstarch/salt mixture to butter mixture and beat on low speed until combined.
  3. Shape dough into two, 1 1/4 inch diameter logs and chill for at least 1 hour.

Melt It Away

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 2/3 cups sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Slice logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place on baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  2. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, just three or four minutes. While still warm, place cookies in the sugar-filled bag; toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
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[Photos: “Key Lime Meltaways,” Rennings flickr photostream]

Best of Citrus Part 1

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 4.00.21 PMRemember the scene from Little Women when Amy nabs a large orange on Christmas morning? She clutches it possessively until her more noble minded sisters set out to distribute Christmas breakfast to the poor. I can still hear Kirsten Dunst reciting Amy’s line in a greedy little whisper, “Butter! Oh, isn’t butter divinity? Oh god thank you for this breakfast.”

There is something about citrus — we’re talking oranges, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, clementine, mandarin, kumquat — that inspires thanksgiving and connotes prosperity. Citrus is certainly glamorous – colorful, aromatic… Ah, let me count the ways I love thee…

As the worn-out saying goes, money doesn’t grow on trees — but citrus does 🙂 Add to its abundance the fact of its impeccable timing of being in season during the winter (in the United States, at least). So, to brighten up your gray skies or give a little pep to your sluggish internal clock, or, if you’re already feeling sunny like Florida, in the simple spirit of thanksgiving, allow me to share my zest for citrus with a few good recipes worth trying:

1. Citrus salad with feta and mint

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This is a sleek and simple salad to throw together for a dinner party (speaking of sleek, avocado would be a tasty addition…)

If you’re hosting brunch and want to emphasize breakfast flavors 1) forgo the feta 2) dress your mixed citrus with some granulated sugar, snipped mint, and lime zest, adapted from “lime-mint sugar” from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch. Here is the original, summer fruit salad recipe:
2. Lime-mint sugar

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  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint*
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest**
  • 2 each nectarines and peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 cantaloupe or other melon, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup seedless grapes
  • Juice of 1 lime

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, minced mint, and lime zest. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the nectarines, peaches, and melon. Cut the grapes in half, and add to the bowl. Drizzle the fruit with the lime juice and stir gently to coat. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture and turn the fruit once or twice to coat evenly.

*To prevent the mint leaves from discoloring when cut, strip them with scissors rather than mince them with a knife.

**Make the lime-mint sugar no more than an hour before serving the salad, as the aromatic oil in the zest quickly loses its potency.

3. Lemon sugar snaps

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I don’t have a problem with adding table salt to my food, but I have a habit of peppering almost any baked good with extra citrus zest or juice. (Tip: orange zest/juice is the KEY to unbelievable pie filling! Use the suggested lemon zest/juice and add some orange! You won’t believe it!) There has to be some method to my madness, because evidently, Martha Stewart agrees. This recipe for “lemon sugar snaps” from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook is a lip smacking endorsement for lemon infused baked goods:

MAKES ABOUT 4 DOZEN These cookies have a delicate texture and light, fresh taste.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for coating
  • 1 large egg
  • Freshly grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and lemon zest and juice; beat until combined. Add the flour mixture; beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 4.16.51 PMPreheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place sugar in a shallow bowl. Shape leveled tablespoons of dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar to coat completely, and place about 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the edges just begin to turn golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

I’m bursting with enthusiasm. (Did you just laugh?) For more where this came from, visit Best of Citrus Part 2.
[Photos: “Citrus,” blackeiffel’s photostream, Smitten Kitchen image according to photo guidelines, Uwe Hermann’s photostream, Florian Maul’s photostream, & pinprick’s photostream, “Lemon,” Chugy’s photostream]

Best of Citrus Part 2

Orange chocolate chunk cake

This orange + chocolate + chocolate ganache cake comes from Barefoot Contessa Parties, adapted above by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. We’re talking 1/4 cup orange zest + 1/4 cup orange juice flavoring some serious chocolate.

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Yogurt grapefruit cake

Here is a yogurt grapefruit cake/sweet bread that Deb Perelman tweaked from Ina Garten. I appreciate her consideration of how to capture grapefruit’s more elusive flavor in a baked good. I made it a few years ago, and took her suggestion of making two mini loaves. Somehow things are more scrumptious when they are miniature.

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Linguini with shrimp scampi

This lemon shrimp scampi recipe is one of my favorites. Lemon, garlic, butter, and white wine have a little party in a frying pan…

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Lemon risotto

It was a sad day when Martha Stewart said the thing she missed most in prison was lemons. And yet, not a disingenuous one — the woman makes a fabulous lemon risotto. This was the first (and only?) risotto recipe I have ever attempted. For anyone who is intimated by risotto, it is a doable and delicious place to start.

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And finally, here are some citrus recipes that I have tested with eyes only. Let me know if you try them. They come from much-respected sources that as a rule, leave very little desired for the inexpert home cook.

Roasted Citrus Wedges

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Serve as a side with waffles… or pork loin…or something

Lime Glazed Cookies

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These cookies remind me of Sanibel Island, Florida. And Martha Stewart usually gets cookies about right.

Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Orange
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This last recipe from Epicurious is calling my name like a long, sun-drenched nap on the beach… Seems like a  pretty elegant take on comfort food?

If you have reached the end of this ridiculously long post, I can only assume that you share a taste for what is inherently bright, sour, and subtle about lemons/limes/oranges/grapefruits, especially in these slushy winter months.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 4.08.12 PMAs I was aggressively chipping ice off my dashboard last week, following ongoing TV and radio coverage of the impending snow storm, I thought of Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors,” crooning campily for “Somewhere That’s Green.” On that note, I wish you plenty of something green (or yellow/orange/pink) and healthy dose of vitamin Deee-licious.

[Photos: Marcus Nilsson, frankfarm’s photostream, WGyuri’s photostream, & Chugy’s photostreampoopoorama’s photostreamDaniel Slaughter’s photostreamjmackinnell’s photostreampcarpen’s photostream]

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