Monday, January 8, 2018

Soups of January - Enchilada Soup

Enchilada Soup was an experiment that turned out quite well indeed! It is fun to think of the things we like to eat, and then figure out how to make it a soup.

I used a pound and a half of ground chuck, browned in a cast iron skillet. In the meantime, I pulled out one of my 1/2 cup jars of chile puree and a plop of tomato paste from the freezer, (see my previous soup posts for that info) and dropped it into a cup of simmering chicken broth (because it was leftover in my 'fridge). I spooned out a quarter cup of leftover canned corn into the mix also. Then I dumped in the browned meat and let it simmer and heat.

I cut up a half of a yellow onion and lightly browned it in the remaining traces of grease from cooking the beef (If your beef is more fatty, you'll want to drain most of the grease off). When it was done, I stirred in a couple of large, chopped garlic cloves and cooked until they were fragrant. (over browning garlic makes it bitter). Then into the soup pot they went, along with a generous pinch of dried oregano. The skillet was still a little bit wet with grease and onion juice. I stirred in about a scant tablespoon of ground cumin and toasted it until it was fragrant but not browned. I slightly deglazed the pan with some water and dumped it into the soup. A half a can of drained, pitted black olives followed that.

Now it was just fine-tuning it with some salt, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some more hot water.

I served it with some shredded cheddar cheese, a scoop of our version of sour cream--whole milk greek yogurt, and tamed jalapeño nacho slices. It was incredibly delicious, and healthful!

I did serve a couple of sides, a fresh cucumber and onion relish, and "squaghetti," spiralized zucchini seared briefly in the still-spiced skillet with a little more oil, adding paprika and garlic powder also.

Maybe this one gets my week's vote!!!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Soups of January-- Italian Sausage Soup

I made Italian Soup for one of last year's SOJ, and I'm sure I didn't use all the same ingredients this year. But I was too lazy to go back and see what I did, so I just handled this one as I saw fit.

I didn't have any chicken Italian sausage this time. I had shopped at Walmart, and they don't have the kind I like, so I just figured I'd make some with my handy Kitchen Aid meat grinder and a portion of my boneless skinless chicken thighs.

I ran the meat through the coarse-sized grinder, like I always do, and figured about a pound and a quarter would be enough. I stirred in pinches of Italian Seasoning (Penzy's of course!), cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, dried basil, black pepper, salt, and garlic powder. I made the mixture into balls and fried them up in a non-stick skillet with a little oil. I didn't worry about cooking them all the way through, since they would be going into the soup to finish cooking.

Meanwhile I cut up half an onion and 2 cloves of garlic. When the meat was finished, I used the hot oily skillet to sauté the onions until they were lightly browned. I added the minced garlic and cooked only until it was fragrant, about a minute. Then they went into my broth.

Here is my broth: A can of S&W petite cut canned tomatoes and a half can of tomato paste, with chicken broth to thin it to how I like it. Whenever I open a can of tomato past to get a spoon of the red glop, I scoop out the rest of the can in spoonfuls onto plastic wrap and freeze them. When they are frozen, I drop the whole thing, plastic wrap and all into a ziplock baggie and store it in the freezer. Tomato paste whenever I need it!

This whole way of cooking, with cans and pre-made stuff may seem like cheating sometimes, but honestly, the Soups of January are about everything to be kind to the harried cook and the over-fed family!

Meanwhile I was cooking up one of our family's favorite starches: gnocchi. I'll take a pile of gnocchi over noodles any day! They only take a few minutes to simmer done, and I had them in a separate pan, ready to add at the finish.

I cut up a zucchini and boiled it into the soup until crisp-tender, and then I added the Italian meatballs and more Italian seasoning. A couple spoonfuls of leftover canned corn also went in. The gnocchi was last into the pot, and then I tasted it. It seemed to lack a certain zest. I decided a couple splashes of balsamic vinegar and a squirt of Worcestershire sauce would cure that, and it did.

This soup was absolutely delicious! Unfortunately, I am sure it won't win the favorite soup of the week poll because my husband isn't particularly fond of tomato-based dishes. But I like it, and I know it is very healthful, so it gets my vote!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Soups of January - Chile Colorado

Well, perhaps this is not really a soup. But it is sort of like one, so there! It is incredibly rich and has extreme dried red chili presence. (By the way, I periodically educate myself on when it is "chili," and when it is "chile," and then I forget. So do your best to ignore it if I get it wrong here.) It is very warm, but not so spicy-hot that you have to keep drinking milk to calm the fire on your tongue.

I don't even keep chili powder mix in my cupboard anymore. I do use dried chipotle, dried ancho powder, smoked spanish paprika, and regular paprika as random spices, but when I need to create a real authentic red chili personality, I fix up a sauce from whole dried chile peppers. Always choose peppers that are pliable and leathery. They they are more fresh and flavorful. You just pull off the stems, rip them open to dump out the seeds and pull the membrane if it is prominent. Rinse them because sometimes they are dusty. Pour very hot or boiling water over them, cover, and let rest for 20-30 minutes. Drop them in the blender with enough soaking water to process them, and blend until pureed. They should be like applesauce. One thing I do is make more than I need and store it in 1/2 cup sized canning jars in the freezer.

I found this recipe online, and I really like it!
You can play with the spice amounts, but be careful with the salt until you are able to taste it at the end when it is all cooked down and about done.

Chile Colorado

7 ancho/pasilla dried peppers
2 guajillo dried peppers
(you may have to toy with these numbers when the peppers are small or randomly sized)

Cover with 3 c. boiling water and let steam 30 minutes. Puree.

2 lb beef, cut in 1/2 inch sized pieces
salt, pepper
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 cups beef broth

Brown meat in a little oil. Add spices, Stir around until fragrant. Add 5 cups beef broth. Simmer uncovered one hour. Stir in chile puree. Simmer another 45 minutes.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Soups of January-- Chicken with ushrooms and Wild Rice

I had bought a nice-sized tray of boneless skinless chicken thighs ("No antibiotics ever") and figured that I could make several soups out of the lot. I'd been thinking about the jar of dry wild rice I had bought for Christmas dinner and had a bunch left over. I could just imagine cooking a chicken soup using it!

I used Swanson's chicken broth from a carton to simmer a few tablespoons of wild rice until it was just tender, but still quite chewy. I knew from past experience that overcooking wild rice makes a disappointing, broken up finished product. This took about a half hour. I added the cut-up chunks of chicken meat and a snack-sized bag of baby carrots. When everything was done and tender, I added a big pile of sliced mushrooms. I knew that the rest of the ingredients would be more forgiving for overcooking than I wanted for my mushrooms.

A few thin shreds of cabbage were then stirred in for the texture and nutrients. I didn't want to make a cream based soup, but I know that my husband doesn't care as much for the thin broths and he does the thicker, starchier ones. So I thought I would finish it off by adding just a few splashes of half and half. The pot went off the heat for this step, and then it was ready to serve. Surprisingly for me, I didn't feel the need to add any further seasonings. It was rich and savory. A perfect Soup of January!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Soups of January '18-- Thai Red Curry

Well yes, it's been awhile, but there's nothing so inspiring as my annual "Soups of January" to motivate me to post. I started this tradition several years ago when post holiday reflection on our eating and waist expansion seemed to strike a glum note in our souls, and raised the bar on our bathroom scale. You can't go too wrong with soup, as long as it isn't cream and starch-based. Lots of hot liquid to fill you up and you can pile on lots of vegetables to meld into the savory broth.

This is a new one for me. We love the curry dishes, which are more like soups and stews, at Thai restaurants. Every since our favorite restaurant closed down, we have been adrift, looking for just that right Thai place. Even though I know I'm not doing it totally right, ethnically speaking, this incarnation is close enough to work.

I didn't use a recipe, I just thought about what I wanted to put in, added it, and then tasted as I went along. One of the ingredients I really like in my curry is the sliced pieces of pumpkin. I just happened to have a large butternut squash in the cupboard, so I peeled and sliced a 2" section of the top. I simmered the pieces in water until they were tender, but not mushy, and then set them aside.

Into the soup pot went a cup or so of chicken stock and about a pound or less of sliced boneless, skinless chicken thighs. When they were more or less done, I dumped in a whole can of coconut milk. I never bother with the "Lite" stuff. This is the whole fatty coconut stuff. Yum! I had a couple tablespoons of Thai red curry paste left in my little jar (Thai Kitchen brand) and added that to the broth. As it gently simmered, I cut up one smallish-mediumish zucchini into small quarter slices and stirred them in, along with sliced mushrooms. I added the butternut squash to the soup and added in a small handful of very finely sliced cabbage, for the texture and nutrients. At the last minute I remembered the Thai basil from my garden that I had dried and put into my spice cupboard. I rubbed a couple generous pinches in my palm and mixed that in too.

When I tasted it, it was warm, but just not quite hot and spicy enough for my tastes, so I added about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I dressed it with a few lime slices and served it with hot jasmine rice.

I told my husband that he would be voting on his favorite of the week soon, and I suspect this one might be a finalist!

Friday, October 27, 2017

MOG - Smoky, Spicy Jamaican Chicken, pg. 248

It seemed like a good time to grab my Master of theGrill cookbook and look for a good way to handle these chicken thighs I had, and do it in time for dinner. It was a little late to be brainstorming, a little over an hour before I wanted to serve dinner, but I was optimistic. My spice cupboard was full, and boneless-skinless almost always turn out well.

At first I had planned on a Thai green curry. But that was before I realized I had not bought that extra can of coconut milk like I had mis-remembered. As I was muttering about what to do with my chicken pieces, my husband said, “Try something Cajun.” I thought he said “Jamaican,” which made me think of Jerk Seasoning, which I hadn’t really done before. So I dug around in my cookbooks and pulled an interesting one out of my “America’s Test Kitchen– Master of the Grill” book. The list of spice ingredients was exhaustive and looked interesting, so I figured I would try it out, and in the process add another entry to this series!

I laid out my plan. The subjects were: spice paste, side dishes, grill readiness. First the spice paste, so the pieces could marinate a bit.

I have made a great peace with substitutions. Although I didn’t need many, I made a few, but all in the spirit of the original recipe.

Grind up in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle: ( I have a Krups blade coffee grinder specifically for spices, and I just wipe it clean with a damp paper towel after use)
1 ½ Tablespoons coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon allspice berries (I used 1 teaspoon ground allspice)
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns

Put these in a blender container and add the rest of the paste ingredients:
1-3 habanero chiles, stemmed, seeded and quartered (seriously!? No, I don’t have those fellows just hanging around. I used 1 teaspoon chipotle powder and 2 small fresh sweet peppers. Orange, to honor the habaneros)
8 scallions, chopped ( I guess scallions are green onions. Didn’t have any, but I did have some young shallot sprouts in my poor neglected garden, so I made do)
6 garlic cloves, peeled (no fresh stuff at hand, so I used the equivalent freeze-dried chopped garlic, Penzy’s brand)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil, my new choice for higher heat oil instead of canola)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons grated lime zest- 3 limes (I had been wondering what I was going to do with that lonely shriveled lime left in my crisper drawer! I got a respectable amount of zest from it, and then added the juice to try to make up for the missing zest.)\
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon dried Thyme
1 Tablespoon dried ginger
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried rosemary (didn’t have dried, but I do have a bush with the fresh stuff on it!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (ever since I discovered grinding myown little nutmegs, I have never bought the pre-ground stuff again)

Run all this in the blender until smooth, about a minute or two.  Get your chicken up close and personal with the paste, and shove it in a gallon ziplock, or do as I did and just mash it into a baking dish.

Now, the recipe called for 3 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, but I used what I had, 2 ½ pounds of boneless-skinless thighs.

I got the grill ready, with briquettes over the starter flame and hickory chips in the water bucket.

While the coals were heating, I got my sides ready. Basmati rice went into the microwave. I knew from experience that it would cook in less than 20 minutes, but stay hot for another hour in there. I cut up some pre-cooked butternut squash pieces into a dish and set near the microwave. (One big honkin’ squash, baked whole for about 2 hours the other day in the oven) Then I was ready to grill.

I got the coals set for indirect heat, piled on the soaked chips, and laid a couple sprigs of rosemary on top. The chicken cooked off to the side with periodic turning, and then I finished them directly over the hot coals. The platter went to the table with the bowl of hot rice. I nuked the squash for 2 minutes, and then set it out with butter and Penzy’s Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle. A formidable companion to the meal was a bottle of Paso Robles “Roustabout” Meritage 2014 red wine.

This meal will definitely be repeated. It was totally excellent. Everything went wonderfully together, and the spiced chicken was complex and delicious!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Should I Get a Sous Vide Machine?


Well, I think the answer is yes. Because according to my research, it will mash wort at a perfect temperature. And also cook things.

I had heard about Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites, that they were fantastic. And expensive, like all Starbucks food. Since I already had a sous vide machine on my mind, from a running thread on my Brew-in-a-Bag Facebook group, I decided to see whether they could be as good as all that. I decided to set up a sous vide situation on my stovetop with a large stockpot, lid, instant-read thermometer, and 4 little half-cup canning jars.

I hunted down a copy cat recipe online ( This one seemed to have the most positive comments on the finished product. The ingredients are pretty basic to a quiche-like dish. It called for a tablespoon of cottage cheese for each egg. I used four. The cottage cheese is to help lighten the egg and keep it from being too dense when it's cooked. It called for a quarter cup each of shredded Gruyere and Monterey Jack cheeses. But since I decided to use what I had, that ended up being an Italian blend of cheeses like mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago, etc. You are supposed to press a piece of thin crispy bacon at the bottom of each jar, but since I only had thick-sliced, after I fried it, I snipped it into little pieces with kitchen shears. Just a little salt, and then it was time to blend. The blender is an important part of making the finished egg bites smooth and creamy. So I blended the heck out of my egg mixture.

A squirt of pan spray went into each jar, and a big pinch of the bacon snippings. Each jar got just enough mixture to go to the fill line, and then the lids went on, only lightly tightened. In the meantime I had heated my stockpot full of water to just a little over 167 degrees, which was my target. A couple crocheted pot holders went into the bottom, and I set the jars on them. The water covered my jars by an inch or so. Now came the hard part, keeping the water temperature as stable as possible for 35 minutes.

It wasn't easy. My temperature started out low because of the heat loss by sticking the jars in. I was confused that the temperature wasn't rising in spite of me bumping up the heat on the electric burner. Until I realized I was turning the wrong knob. I didn't want to put too much heat at the bottom of the jars, so I tried to raise it very gently. Every five minutes or so I would give the water a little swirl and then slap the lid back down to save the heat. I gave them another ten minutes to make up for the low temp at the beginning. Finally I called them done.

I slid my egg bites out of their jars. Perfect! Not tough and rubbery, not runny, but tender and smooth. I packaged three of them into the fridge, but decided I needed to eat one for my research. I wished I hadn't had that second piece of pizza, but this second supper was for a good cause. I sprinkled some cheese on top, and then used my little torch to melt it and give it some pretty brown touches. It was really, really good!

The picture I used here is actually one I reheated up this morning and had for brunch. I wanted to be sure not to overcook it, so I decided to warm it by slipping it into a ziplock sandwich baggie and dropping it into some almost simmering water for a few minutes. It was enough to bring it to a just-right temperature. After torching the cheese sprinkled on top, I dressed the plate with fresh tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and sweet fig balsamic vinegar. Superb!