Archive for July, 2011


Soupy Coalescence

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup…”

-H.L. Mencken

So I’m an idealist then 🙂 or at least a cook dedicated to making better soup, as they say. Cloudy, rainy weather tend to increase the desire for hot, brothy food, but it’s the simplicity of soup recipes that make up the main attraction for me. And with so many cultural and regional variations, one is never short of new ideas. I have made Asian, Jewish, and Italian soups–spicy, salty, and creamy soups and, honestly, I have yet to come across a soup that I don’t like…most likely impossible 😉

Lately I’ve been keen to try out another soup recipe, sort of this idea I had that involves a combination of minestrone and tomato meatball soup; the final version I ended up making was a bit more elaborative than that and included baby pasta (at least that’s what I like to call it), bell peppers, and ground pork. I have newfound esteem for this last ingredient in particular because last weekend I visited a pig farm and got to see the adorable (and probably delicious) piglets that were born there by the hundreds every week. In my modest opinion, pork is cut-rate, lean, and tasty }:-) so I will be employing its scrumptiousness wherever I can.

The star ingredient in this recipe is the crushed tomatoes because it kicks up the flavor of the broth a notch; too much tomatoes will overpower all the other ingredients but the right amount compliments the garlic and peppers in the dish. Adding milk to the soup at the end of cooking gives it a creaminess that I think surpasses the usual broth of vegetable soups. Like everything, the soup needs a bit of seasoning to get to the suitable taste, but I ‘m happy to have come up with another recipe that is both hearty and healthy; now I’m curious to see how long it lasts…

Creamy Tomato Pasta Soup with Peas, Peppers, and Pork Meatballs

Ingredients

(for soup)

1 lb. stellini pasta (‘little stars’) or ditalini

3 cups frozen peas

1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

6 cups chicken broth

2 Tbs. lemon juice

2 cups white wine

1 tsp. garlic salt (or powder)

4 Tbs. fresh Parsley, minced

1 can crushed tomatoes

2 cups milk

butter

(for meatballs)

1 lb. ground pork

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 Tbs. fresh Parsley, chopped

3 eggs, beaten

4 garlic cloves, chopped

flour

sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) In a blender combine the ground pork, chopped onion, fresh Parsley, garlic, and the beaten eggs; season with salt and pepper and blend until the mixture is smooth and sticking together. Dusting your hands with plenty of flour, mold the meat mixture into meatballs about the size of small marbles and place on a plate.  (2) Heat 2 Tbs. butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and 3 minced garlic cloves; let cook until aromatic, 2-3 minutes. (3) Add 2 Tbs. white wine to the pan and then arrange as many meatballs as it will fit; cook the meatballs in batches until all of them are done, browning both sides (should cook through in 8-10 minutes) and adding tablespoons of white wine as you go to prevent sticking. Set the cooked meatballs aside and cover. (4) In a large pot, heat the appropriate amount of salted water to a boil and add the pasta; cook until al dente and then drain, putting in a separate bowl. Mix in 1 Tbs. butter and cover the pasta. (5) Add the bell peppers to the onion mixture and let cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Return the large pot to the stove and warm the chicken broth and 2 cups of water over medium heat until steaming; add the peas and crushed tomatoes, cooking another 10 minutes. (6) Lower the heat and add the lemon juice and 1 cup (or what’s left;) of the white wine, simmering another 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta to the soup and stir in 3 Tbs. fresh Parsley and 2 cups milk. Remove from heat and serve immediately in bowls with 5 or 6 meatballs and a layer of cracked pepper over the top (can be stored for a rainy day in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks:-)

Serves 8

It’s likely my craving for this steamy food will subside with all the sunny summer weather heading our way, so now I’m thinking something cold, flavorful, and filling…oh, the choices };-)

My question: What was the tastiest minestrone soup you ever had? (and we’ve all had some of this vegetable goodness…) What made it the best?

7.26.11

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Oodles of Noodles

When it rains (which is a lot), I find myself craving hot food ]:| This week I wanted to make a noodle dish that contained some of the salty, spicy elements from Asian cooking complete with plenty of broth (…the more the better). Asian food encompasses some of the best hot dishes that involve both noodles and broth. I love the soupy, herbaceous, peppery combinations that can be made from just a handful of ingredients. With a full kitchen at my disposal, I elaborated on my original ideas about the recipe in an effort to make something uniquely flavorful (but still steaming hot!)

The meal I ended up making most closely resembles the Chinese ramen recipe Shōyu which contains soy sauce, chicken/vegetable broth, curly noodles, and green onions. But there is always room for variation and adaption when working with dishes like this since the recipes themselves take on a regional forms depending on the ingredients available.  Many of the recipes are closely kept secrets so I suppose I’m taking my liberty in sharing mine ;] but hey, it was so tasty (and easy!) I felt compelled .

Since the vegetarian version of this dish is a bit lacking, I made my recipe with meat from a rotisserie chicken which I tore into manageable pieces before mixing into the broth. It’s almost too easy (and fairly inexpensive), to buy a rotisserie chicken which is already cooked and already spiced; the only hard (what I mean is messy) part is dividing the chicken up into portions and pulling out all the greasy bones yourself (trust me, if you like crispy chicken skin like I do, the job is not so bad…) One rotisserie chicken makes two meals as well as a hefty snack which I always do right after tearing it all apart because I’m already pretty greasy at that point };)

The star ingredient of this dish is the scrambled eggs. Why? While certainly contributing some texture to the meal (not to mention protein), scrambled eggs taste delicious (de-licious!), especially when topping noodles and curry. Maybe it’s the South African blood in me, but there is something devilishly delectable about eggs in curry, or some combination thereof. My advice for replicating this dish would be to use any fresh ingredients available–asparagus, peas, mushrooms, bean sprouts, celery, onions, cauliflower-anything you can soften and stir-fry will add only flavor (and nourishment:-)

Spicy Chicken Noodles with Green Beans, Green Onions & Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients

2 packets of ramen noodles

1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped

2 cups frozen (or fresh) green beans, chopped

2 cups of rotisserie chicken meat, torn into small pieces

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. dried Basil

1 Tbs. spicy mustard

1 Tbs. soy sauce

1 tsp. sriracha sauce

1 Tbs. rice vinegar

1 Tbs. lime juice

1 Tbs. yellow curry powder

1 cube chicken bullion (or 2 cups chicken broth)

3 eggs, beaten

olive oil

sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) Heat 1 Tbs. of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add the garlic, and 1/2 of the green onions, cooking for 3-4 minutes. Next add the green beans, cooking another 3 minutes. (2) In a separate pot, bring the proper amount of salted water to a boil and cook the ramen until soft, about 3 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. (3) Stir in all of the ingredients from dried Basil through chicken bullion and add 1/2 cup water, mixing well. Let cook 5-6 minutes until the broth is reduced (if the mixture becomes too dry, add some water from the noodles). (4) In a small frying pan, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat. Pour beaten eggs into the pan and whirl around to make an even layer. Brown both sides of the omelette, flipping once in between (this may get messy, but that’s alright). When done transfer eggs to a cutting board and let cool before cutting into strips. (5) Next, add the cooked ramen and chicken pieces to the vegetables and lower the heat, simmering until heated throughout (and preferably steaming:-). Stir in the remaining green onions, setting aside some for garnish. Serve the meal in bowls, topped with a generous portion of scrambled egg strips, a sprinkle of green onions, and a dot of sriracha.

Serves 4

I don’t think I’m alone when I say sriracha sauce is one of my favorite condiments (if not my favorite); you just can’t beat that bite! As the rain will persist this week, I’ll have to come up with some other meals that are hot and soupy enough to hold me over 😉

My question: What is your favorite form of hot sauce?

Tabasco? Sriracha? Frank’s Red Hot…Chipotle, Green chile, Harissa, Jalapeno…

7.18.11

And Finally…Breakfast ]:)

The sun rises so early over here (like 3:30 AM  and no, I’m not joking) that it’s hard to ignore the morning! I wanted to make an early breakfast for my bf since he gets up at the crack of dawn anyway to go to work. To accomplish this, I started cooking around 4:00 AM, which ended up being an all-nighter but at least I got to clean the kitchen before going to bed vs. after 😉

This recipe is from Fine Cooking and what fine cooking it truly is 🙂 I believe poached eggs (if done right) are the tastiest way to eat eggs (or embryos, anyway;). Granted, I overcooked mine just a little but I’ve already corrected my methods to reflect this. First I dealt with altitude in Colorado, now I’m at sea level–phew, there are definitely differences between the two! (practice, practice…) I found some tasty-looking Danish mushrooms while grocery shopping that were cheaper than any others in the store and proved equally delicious. The warm, wet climate here and miles and miles of forest contribute to the growth of a lot of wild mushrooms you can go out and pick yourself, assuming you know what to look for. Just make sure you don’t confuse them with snails because those suckers get pretty big in the forests, too }:)

As for the star ingredient in this recipe, it’s the garlic, which I ended up tripling since the original recipe only called for 1 Tbs. minced garlic (but really, why call it ‘garlicky mushrooms’ if there’s like 2 cloves in there?) I ended up adding onion, fennel seeds, and substituting frozen spinach for fresh but overall, I think the breakfast dish turned out to be tasty, filling, and nutritious (yeah, well luckily for me garlic is good for you…)

Poached Eggs over Toast with Garlicky Mushrooms & Onions

Ingredients

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced into chunks

2 white onions, finely chopped

2 cups frozen spinach

6 eggs

1 loaf of bread, thickly sliced (like focaccia or country bread)

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. fennel seeds

1 Tbs. oregano

olive oil

sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) Fill a medium saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add the onion and garlic, letting cook 2 minutes or until fragrant. (2) Next add mushrooms, fennel seeds, and vinegar to the frying pan and stir well, letting the mixture cook until the mushrooms have softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate (3) When the salted water is at a rolling boil, crack one of the eggs into a small bowl. Using a spoon, stir the boiling water in the center until a vortex forms (you know, like a whirlpool). Carefully drop the egg into the center. Repeat this process with the remaining eggs and let them boil for 2 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon. (4) Toast the bread until browned, setting aside. Dry the outside of the eggs on paper towels and trim away an excess egg white; cover to keep warm. Next, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in the frying pan over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until hot, about 3-4 minutes. (5) Season the mushroom mixture with dried oregano (and more pepper if needed), stirring until well blended. Arrange spinach on the bottom of bowls, then the toast, and top with a generous spoonful of the mushrooms and onions. Set the poached eggs on top and sprinkle withe cracked pepper & salt. Serve immediately (it won’t be hot forever…)

Serves 6

There’s something I really love about mushrooms, and who’d have thought they’d work so exceptionally well for breakfast! At the end of it all, this meal is best served up in the bedroom, which is where we ate our eggs and toast to keep comfortably. Then he went to work and I cleaned the kitchen and went to bed, now that’s a morning well spent };)

My question: What is the ideal breakfast in bed for you? I have a feeling it involves eggs, but then again, maybe not…

7.15.11

Country Style Comfort Food

This week I have the pleasure of staying at a house in the city of Silkeborg (it means silk castle🙂 which includes a beautifully spacious kitchen. I wanted to cook something simple, but still hearty since my motivation was to make some comfort food. I based this dish off a pasta recipe in Cucina La Italiana that incorporates fava beans, artichoke, and chicken ragu (if they only sold fava beans here, I’d be on that like white on rice;)

Instead of chicken, I used dried garlic pork sausage which added flavor as well as a little bit of fat for all the vegetables to cook in. I believe the final product  could have passed for a country supper, and a tasty, filling one at that! As for using the metric system, I’ve just stop looking at measurements altogether, since my approximation skills are a whole lot better than my conversions };)

In my aims for simplicity, I used lasagna noodles which I cut into squares after they’d softened in boiling water a bit; wouldn’t recommend this since scalding hot pasta is not fun to handle, but any other pasta substitute would work just as well in this dish. People may get a little apprehensive about all the celery but I think it’s a plus, and not just because of the nutrition; it adds zestfulness (ha) to the dish and besides, if cut small enough and cooked soft enough, the celery is not as strong a flavor as it may be made out to be.

As for the key ingredient, it is most definitely the white wine (seriously, don’t be shy), which enriches the sauce considerably. My advice, open the bottle first, have a glass, cook with a cup and a half, and finish it chilled alongside dinner 🙂

Cannellini Beans, Sausage, & Soft Noodles in a White Wine Celery Sauce

Ingredients

(for pasta)

1 lb. uncooked pasta (such as tagliatelle or bowtie)

1 can Cannellini beans, drained

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup grated soft cheese, (such as Havarti or Port-Salut)

(for sauce)

1 cube chicken bullion (or 1 1/2 cups chicken broth)

1 cup dry sausage, cut into squares

1 white onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

5 stalks of celery, finely chopped (reserve and chop the leaves for garnish)

3 oz. tomato paste

1 Tbs. herbs de Provence

1 1/2 cups dry white wine (like a Viognier or Pinot Blanc)

1 tsp. lemon juice

sea salt & cracked pepper

olive oil

(1) Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until softened. (2) Add the sausage and lemon juice and cook for another 5 minutes. Next, add the white wine, tomato paste, and chicken bullion, letting cook until the sauce has thickened, roughly 10 minutes. (3) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta, cooking until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the pasta and return to the pot; add the Cannellini beans and mix well. (4) Flavor the sauce with salt and pepper and herbs de Provence; taste to see if it needs a bit more wine, lemon juice, or pepper and season accordingly. Add all of the sauce to the pasta & beans and reheat the mixture over medium low heat, stirring well. (5) Stir in the beaten eggs and heat, mixing until the pasta has an even, juicy texture and is steaming hot, about 3-5 minutes. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with grated cheese and minced celery leaves; serve with a toasted baguette if desired.

Serves 4

Since all the cooking (and eating) went so well, I have already planned another hearty pasta dish to make (Asian cuisine this time) and a savory breakfast recipe for my week with a kitchen. It seems I’m just crazy about cooking (what I mean is food), but I’m sure I’ve mentioned that already! Considering that we have absolutely no leftovers from dinner last night, I’ll probably end up making something real soon…got to love that 🙂

My question: what was one of the most interesting pasta dishes you ever tried? Was it in Asian, French, or Italian? I’m searching for variation and creativity, maybe even some nutrition too…

7.12.11