Another Soup – Tomato Bisque

IMG_1860.JPGWhat I secretly love most about soup for dinner is that it’s almost a full meal in one pot. Add some bread and/or a salad on the side and you’ve got dinner in 30 minutes. The cleanup is a snap and the leftovers are always in demand, unlike other meals that end up taking up valuable fridge and Tupperware real estate until you guiltily toss them a week later.

Tomatoes are the number one reason I grow a garden. I eat them daily during the summer months, which makes it all the more inexplicable that until this year I could not make a homemade tomato soup that I actually liked.

Enter: bacon. It really is the key to deep flavor here. While you could leave it out and add a dash of smoked paprika to appease any vegetarians in the crowd, it wouldn’t be quite so delicious.
Tomato Bisque

Adapted from: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/11/12/recipe-tomato-bisque/

4 tablespoons butter

1 onion, diced

2 slices bacon

4 cloves garlic

5 tablespoons flour

5 cups chicken broth/stock

1 28-ounce canned diced tomatoes

3 parsley sprigs or 2 tsp dried

3 fresh thyme sprigs (remove leaves from stem) or 1 tsp dried

1 bay leaf

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt (salt to taste based on your broth’s saltiness

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Cook diced onion in butter for about 5 – 6 minutes or until it softens and begins to brown.

Add bacon and garlic and stir for another minute or two or until the bacon gets crisp.

Sprinkle flour over all and stir for 1-2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid scorching.

Add tomatoes and broth, whisking constantly.

Add herbs and simmer about 30 minutes.  Remove bay leaf.

Puree the soup either in a blender (in batches) or with a handheld immersion blender

Stir in the heavy cream and salt & pepper to taste.

Butternut Squash Bisque

IMG_2381

It almost never snows where I live, so when it does, making soup is a requirement.  Today we saw the first, and possibly last, white flurries of the season and while the kids were wildly planning to build a gigantic snowman with the 0.047 inches of snow, I was dreaming of a rich, luscious bowl of soup.

I still have a few butternut squash from our garden in storage and I have been brainstorming the perfect recipe for weeks now.  I wanted it to have layers of flavor, like my favorite tomato bisque (I PROMISE to post that recipe this week as well) and be creamy without masking the flavor of the squash.

I used several recipes as a baseline for this one, and I think it turned out to be the perfect combo of easy prep and gourmet taste.  You’ll want to pull out your blender, one of these amazing jelly roll pans and a heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven.   I love this one and may in fact consider saving it during a house fire if all my people were safely accounted for. Other than that, you’ll be sitting down to a steaming bowl within 45 minutes.  If you served it with a side of sourdough bread and butter, I’m certain no one would mind.

Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

1 large or 2 medium butternut squash peeled and sliced (or use a combo of butternut and white acorn, which you won’t need to peel)
4 medium carrots, cut lengthwise
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
½ a large onion, cut into large chunks
olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
salt
pepper
4-5 cups chicken stock
2 large fresh sage leaves or a pinch of dried
salt and pepper to taste
¾-1 cup heavy cream

2 -3 cups mushrooms
1 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Prepare squash, carrots, garlic and onion and arrange on a jelly roll pan.  Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Slice 2 Tbsp of butter and place on top of veggies.

Roast for about 20-35 minutes, or until everything is beginning to char, but before it really burns.

Remove from oven and transfer veggies to blender with about 3 cups of the stock.  Puree until smooth.

Combine puree with as much remaining stock as necessary to reach the desired consistency. Add sage leaves and simmer gently for 10 minutes or so to combine flavors, stirring often.

Meanwhile, clean and slice mushrooms and saute in a little butter.  They will sweat out a lot of liquid.  Keep sauteing until the liquid is evaporated and the mushrooms are coated in a golden glaze.  

Taste for seasoning and adjust.  Stir in the heavy cream and heat through, but DO NOT ALLOW to boil.  Remove sage leaves or inform your guests that they may find a “lucky leaf” in their bowl.

Serve drizzled with plain or flavored olive oil and with a spoonful of mushrooms for garnish.  Sourdough bread with butter is the perfect accompaniment.

IMG_2371IMG_2372IMG_2374IMG_2375IMG_2381

Two Easy Caramel Sauces

IMG_0595

Simple 10-Minute Caramel Sauce

I am indebted to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe for this recipe.  I have made small changes, but she deserves the credit on this one.

1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

Combine butter, sugar, salt and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat.  Stir gently, then increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil.

Boil for 10 minutes without stirring. Watch closely for signs of scorching and lower heat if necessary.

Remove from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla bean paste.  Avoid mixing too vigorously or scraping the sides as this may cause the sauce to crystallize.

Use immediately or let the sauce cool a bit before pouring into a container to refrigerate. Keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.

 

Easiest-Ever “Cheater” Caramel Sauce

Caramel (premade)
Heavy whipping cream.

The caramel I use for this is here.  You know when you’ve bought a huge bag full of those tiny squares in the bulk food section and then unwrapped them for what seemed like hours so you could melt them down?  This is the same idea, BUT it’s infinitely better tasting and comes in a block, so you can easily slice off as much as you need without the hours of small-motor skill practice.  It LOOKS like this may be the same product (based on the description and reviews) for less, but the title says it’s a “chocolate caramel sauce,” which is confusing and may be something different.  I haven’t used that second link personally before, but I can vouch for Amazon’s return service if it is, by chance, the wrong thing.

Anyhow…This caramel makes the most delicious sauce for apples and pretty much anything else.  It’s truly worth the price tag for special events and splurges.

To make the sauce, simply melt the caramel in your crock pot for about an hour or so.  Alternately, you can do this in a double boiler or in your microwave on LOW for VERY SHORT increments.  If you microwave it for too long or at too high a temp, it may crystallize or harden, so take care with this method.

Stir in enough cream to thin the sauce to the desired consistency.  I use around two cups if I’m melting the whole five-pound block.  Continue stirring until the sauce is well blended.  Enjoy!

IMG_2246

Easy Roasted Vegetables 

By request, I give you:

Easy Roasted Vegetables

Vegetables, of course! (We use this technique for Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, thick slices of cabbage, and butternut squash (or other winter varieties)

Olive oil (or avocado oil)

Kosher or coarse salt

Freshly-ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and prep all veggies.

  • Broccoli/Cauliflower: separate large clusters into single pieces about the size you’d see on a raw veggie tray and then slice in half, exposing a flat side.
  • Brussels Sprouts: peel outer layer away. Trim stem ends and slice in half the long way (hot-dog style!).
  • Cabbage: peel outer layer and cut 1 inch slices (they will be a circle) from the whole head.
  • Winter Squash: peel (this peeler will change your life for under $10, promise!) and either cube or cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices.

Toss veggies in olive oil until well coated. (Except cabbage, which you will put directly on the pan and then drizzle with oil).

Arrange veggies, cut side down, on a baking sheet. You won’t need to grease it as long as you’ve oiled your vegetables well.

Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast at 450 until the underside that is contact with the pan is nice and golden. Use a spatula to lift a few specimens from the pan to check for doneness. Resist the urge to flip them or turn the oven down. I promise they will be perfection!

Enjoy!

A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

I prepared this a year ago for a little mini-class I taught on gardening in my zone, which happens to be 8b.  Knowing your zone is essential in timing planting and harvesting, because it is based on your last spring frost, first fall frost and your overall winter low temperatures. Find your zone here.

I generally follow this schedule each year and it helps me to grow more in less space.  As some crops finish, others are planted in their place for a second harvest.  With our long, hot summers, we truly can get two seasons out of the garden!  Hope this helps you plan your 2016 gardening year!

A Year in the Zone 8 Garden

January: Beginning- order seeds, start onions, brassica family indoors.  Mid-month- start tomatoes, artichoke indoors.  Plan the garden-remember to rotate your crops!

February: Beginning-Buy any remaining seeds.  Plant peas, potatoes, onions spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, brassica family.  Start peppers, eggplants and herbs indoors.

March: Last frost will be sometime early or mid-month!  

Plant, Plant, Plant!

Beginning-plant tomatoes (with frost protection wall of water or wait for mid-month), artichokes, beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant (with frost protection or wait till mid month), peppers (with frost protection or wait for mid-month), spinach/lettuce, radish, squash, swiss chard, kale, herbs.

April: Beginning-plant melons, okra, radish, spinach/lettuce.  Begin harvesting salad greens.

May: Beginning-last chance to plant artichokes, okra, radish.  Ramp-up watering.  Start harvesting!

June: Enjoy the bounty of your harvest and go to war with the bugs.  Ramp-up watering.

July: Plant winter squash from seed by the 4th of July.  Can still plant-beans, cucumber, eggplant, melons, peppers, summer squash, carrots.  Beginning of the month-start brassica family indoors.  Keep those plants well-watered!

August:  This is a big month for winter planting.  Seeds will need lots of water to germinate!

Around mid-month plant-brassica family, spinach, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs

Can replant or 2nd plant-tomatoes (or prune original plants), beans, cucumbers, squash

Also keep up on water needs!

September: Plant-radish, lettuce/spinach.  Should be able to back down on watering some.

October:  Last chance to plant-radish, lettuce/spinach (mostly for spring harvest).  Start harvesting what you planted in August.  Back down on watering.

November: First frost is mid-month.

Clean out beds when tender plants freeze.  Keep up on the bugs (too bad they don’t die when our tomatoes do!)  Plants should need substantially less water now-even those wintering over.  If the weather is dry, water once a week or every other week through winter.  

December:  Take the month off (ha!) and look at seed catalogs.  Harvest spinach, beets, carrots, brassica family (don’t let these freeze solid or they won’t be good).  

Cabin-Fever Play Dough

My daughter stayed home from school yesterday with a nasty headcold. School had only been back in session for one day.  I hope this isn’t an omen of how our next few months are going to go.  It had also been raining for three days and no one was able to play outside at home or during recess. By the end of the day, we all had cabin fever. Me most of all.

Enter homemade play dough. Somehow there’s enough magic in combining just a few household ingredients and getting out the cookie cutters to bring everybody out of their funk. While this recipe lacks the strange trademark smell of the commercial versions, it’s both cheap and quick to whip up. You almost certainly have everything you need on hand already.
The real key to longevity and success here is the variety of tools you offer. No, I do not mean the 492-piece-set Ice Cream Factory Playland that costs $49.99. Think more along the lines  of measuring spoons, plastic knives, spatulas, a rolling pin, some cookie cutters and a garlic press. Be imaginative here. If it’s not dangerous or breakable, let them try it out! They will undoubtedly create a mess and a masterpiece.
 

Play Dough

1 cup flour

½ cup salt

1 T cream of tartar

1 T oil

1 cup water

6-10 drops food coloring

Heat all ingredients except food coloring over medium heat. Stir constantly until a dough forms. Remove from heat and knead in coloring. Consider wearing rubber or latex gloves unless you enjoy rainbow-colored hands. Store in an airtight container.



Simple Cabbage Salad With Lemon

The cabbage of my childhood came in a Styrofoam container with the red initials, “K.F.C.” on the outside.  Truth be told, I’m not sure I even knew there was cabbage in that slaw.  My dad loved it, and still does to this day.  Personally, the combination of mayonnaise and cabbage don’t do much for me.  Give me a good potato salad, or a creamy chicken salad with purple grapes bursting with juiciness, but coleslaw?  I’ll pass.  It’s simultaneously too heavy and sweet for my taste.

So, I really hadn’t actually eaten much cabbage until three years ago, when my husband and I took a trip to Israel.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we saw cabbages the size of beach balls.  I was flabbergasted!  Cabbage was everywhere at the roadside stands and in the city markets, which were sometimes nothing more than a woman with a few bags and piles of produce.  We found it pickled and dressed in every imaginable way at lunches and dinners.  Though it sometimes lay hooded in mayo-based sauces, it was also bright and crisp, sleekly dressed with the simplest of ingredients.

IMG_0343 IMG_0925

I found that I loved cabbage, though I still preferred it sans the white sauce.  This salad was born of that trip, and is now a staple at my house.  We keep a big container in the refrigerator and eat it with everything: soups, sandwiches, meat that’s been roasted or grilled and even a plate full of quickly scrambled eggs.  You probably already have everything you need for the dressing on hand, which means this side dish comes together in five minutes or less.  It keeps great in the refrigerator up to a week and is equally delicious leftover.  Even my daughter, who for the first five years of her life claimed to hate salad, comes upon me slicing huge heaps of cabbage and cries out, “Are we having cabbage salad?” in an excitement she rarely bestows upon vegetables.

IMG_4287.JPG

Simple Cabbage Salad With Lemon

1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thinly
1/2 head purple (I refuse to call it red) cabbage, sliced thinly
Juice of one lemon
¼ – 1/3 cup tasty olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, rinse the heads well and cut in half.  Remove cores, slice thinly and toss in a big bowl.  Drizzle the olive oil over the sliced cabbage and then squeeze half the lemon over the top.  Add about two teaspoons kosher salt and a good helping of freshly ground pepper.

Toss everything together to combine and then taste it for flavor.  It will likely need more lemon juice, though perhaps not the entire second half.  Depending on the size of your cabbages, it may also need more of salt, but taste it first to be sure.  It should be zippy from the lemon juice and well salted.  If you’re puckering up after the first bite, drizzle on a little more olive oil.  Ideally, you would prepare this and let it sit while you work on the main dish, but feel free to eat it right away if needs be.  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

IMG_4291.JPG

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

IMG_1787.JPGThere’s definitely a chill in the air and everyone seems to be passing the sniffles back and forth, which means it’s time for some chicken soup. While I do love a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, I admit that sometimes I like my soup sans noodles. This version is gluten free, but hearty and delicious. The batch here serves a crowd of 8-10, so cut it in half if you have fewer people, or, better yet, invite some family or friends to share it with you, unless you are sick, in which case enjoy a bowl a day for a week as you recuperate.

The amounts and types of vegetables aren’t set in stone here.  Feel free to experiment with other types or use what you have on hand.  Regular peas would be fine in place of sugar snap.  Green beans, broccoli and corn would also work well.  If you don’t have wild rice, you may substitute plain brown rice in its place.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 Tbsp butter
2 cups wild rice blend
2 tsp salt (or more depending on the saltiness of your stock)
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
12 cups chicken stock
1-2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced bell peppers
1/2 cup diced sugar snap peas
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (may use canned)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Cook onion in butter until soft and beginning to brown.  Add rice, salt and pepper and stir for a minute.  Add chicken stock and simmer for 45 min – 1 hour or until the rice is cooked through and the darker grains split open and begin to curl.

Add carrots and celery and simmer 10 minutes.  Add peppers, peas and chicken and return to a simmer.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Remove from heat, stir in parsley and enjoy.

This soup is great alone or topped with a drizzle of olive oil or a dollop of pesto.

Salted Maple Pecans

Did you know that a once ounce serving of pecans contains ten percent of the fiber you need in a single day? They are also a great source of low-carb protein and low in saturated fat. A little research will yield a myriad of health benefits gained from regularly enjoying pecans. I do love them for their health benefits, but mostly I eat them because they’re delicious!

While I don’t grow my own pecans in the backyard (yet), we do cook with them regularly at home. We grind them into pecan butter, toss them in salads and enjoy them over hot cereal in the morning. They are a great addition any time of the year, and while they are delicious cloaked in the caramel of a pie, they have a natural sweetness that needs little adornment. These five-minute salted maple pecans are perfect in a spinach salad, chopped and sprinkled over grilled fish or on their own as a snack.

IMG_1728

Five-Minute Salted Maple Pecans

2 cups pecan halves
1/3 cup real maple syrup (no substitutions!)
¼-1/2 tsp salt

Heat the pecans on medium-high heat in a large skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Pour syrup over nuts and stir or toss continuously for 30-45 seconds until the syrup begins to thicken and stick to the nuts. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool and enjoy!

IMG_1730

Bonus Simple Spinach Salad Recipe

4 cups baby spinach, washed
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
½ cup salted maple pecans (above)
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

30 Day Eat-In Challenge Evaluation

Here are some lessons and ideas I came away with from our challenge to eat strictly from home for the whole month of November:

  • Having a meal plan is imperative if you intend to eat more home-cooked meals. Look over the calendar and make arrangements for each day (I usually just plan dinner as breakfast is oatmeal, smoothie etc. and lunch is leftovers or something quick). If you have a busy night upcoming, plan for a freezer or slow cooker meal.
  • Leftovers are worth their weight in gold. Making several extra portions can save time and hassle during the following days. Who doesn’t want to open the fridge to an already-made lunch or dinner staring back at them?
  • Involving your kids in meal-planning and preparation usually means they will happily consume what is served.  A definite win-win!
  • Grocery-shopping with a menu and list means you really do save a few dollars!

I enjoyed tracking what I ate each day (through my Instagram posts).  I liked the feeling of self-reliance that came from planning and preparing all our meals and I can say with certainty that we will take this challenge again at least once in 2016.  Hopefully you’ll join us!

IMG_0666