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A Bowl Full of Autumn November 4, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, soupe du semaine.
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Don’t you love eating seasonally?

I mean, everything is at its best when it’s in season.  Let’s face it – a tomato out of season just isn’t worth the bother.  But a tomato in season?  There is very little better, is there?

Besides the just plain better quality, in-season produce is usually easier to get – and much cheaper.  Of course, there’s the “free” aspect of growing things in your garden (especially an herb garden!) – but even if you’re paying for it, a bunch of, say, fresh sage, is going to to set you back a whole lot more in February than it will now, when the bushes are giving their all before their winter hibernation!

So I’m browsing the internet last weekend, looking for something to do with the pumpkins I brought home from the market.

I still say there is nothing wrong with bringing two pie pumpkins home, even though you’ve got no intention of making pies!   Pumpkins aren’t just for dessert, you know!  (Though I will admit – they work quite nicely as muffins.)

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So I’m looking for something to do with this dollar’s worth of pumpkins, and I ended up on the Better Homes & Gardens site.

Do you know my first cookbook was an old Better Homes cookbook?  I still have it, too.

And there I found just the thing – pumpkin, barley and sage soup. I’ve got pumpkin, I’ve got barley, and I’ve got sage – this was definitely worth checking out!

And with a few minor alterations, I was set to make soup!

The first ingredient was, surprisingly, neither pumpkin, barley nor sage.

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It was andouille sausage.

Huh.  Fortunately, we had a package of Emeril’s smoked sausage that we’d picked up at Sam’s Club a while ago.  (It must have been a while ago, because it appears that they don’t even make it anymore.  Huh.  Better use that up soon!)  I pulled a couple of links out of the package, diced ‘em up, and added them to a diced onion and a handful of chopped sage.  The recipe says 1 Tbsp – I used about twice that.

And that all gets cooked in an oiled Dutch oven until the onion starts to soften – about five minutes.

PhotobucketThen we added about a Tablespoon (heaping) of my veggie bullion, half a cup of pearled barley.  You could probably add more if you’re going to serve the soup right away, but I knew this would be sitting in the fridge, so I didn’t want to end up with a giant pot of barley.  Plus, I’m not really sure how “quick-cooking” barley differs from regular barley, and the full cup called for in the recipe seemed . . . excessive.

And anyway, we then add 4 cups of water.

I wouldn’t bother with chicken stock – you’ve got that whole smoked sausage thing going on already, not to mention the veggie bullion.

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Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the barley is cooked – about half an hour for regular pearled barley (10-15 minutes if you do use quick-cooking, and probably closer to an hour if you go crazy and use hulled barley), stirring occasionally.

And then, once the barley is just about done, add about a cup and a half of pumpkin puree – either from a can (not so much) or fresh, plus 2-3 Tablespoons maple syrup and a Tablespoon of cider vinegar.

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And that’s it – your soup is done.

Now I’m going to tell you this – we ate this soup the same evening I made it, Saturday, and it was quite good.  Even Peeps was surprised that he liked it as much as he did.

We were both happy with it – it was quick to put together, full of  healthy, seasonal ingredients (plus, of course, sausage), and it was fabulous with a fresh baguette.

But I had leftovers for lunch a few days later, and it was absolutely fantastic.  Do try to make it at least a day ahead – it’s worth the wait!

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: Gazpacho! August 24, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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I apparently have a bit of a problem.

PhotobucketNot a unique problem, mind you, but a problem all the same.

I have tomatoes.

I planted 10 tomato plants, 6 San Marzanos and 4 of various other heirlooms.

The romas are fine – I’ve been drying those and sticking them in the freezer to use when I need “sun-dried” tomatoes – I figure “oven-dried” is close enough, and probably what most of the “___-dried” tomatoes that you buy in the store are anyway.

But that doesn’t help the 4 globe tomato plants – and for those of you playing the tomato game at home, you know that 4 tomato plants is too many tomatoes to eat out of hand, and not enough to can.

PhotobucketA problem, that.

But then – then! – we got the July/August issue of Cook’s Illustrated (in, um, June) (before we had actual tomatoes) (work with me here), which contained a recipe for Creamy Gazpacho.

Gazpacho?  That’s creamy?  Really?

So I hung onto that issue, opened up to that page (plus it would fulfill our magazine project – making at least one recipe from each magazine we receive), and I waited.

I waited for TOMATO SEASON to happen.  Which, um, it has, hasn’t it?

Last weekend was a market weekend, and I made myself a list.

PhotobucketYou realize that I only go to the public market every other weekend, right? See, now that there are just the two of us, we don’t burn through fresh produce like maybe some bigger families would.  And, you know, since you never know what’s going to be there, it only makes sense to grab stuff when it’s available, and, um, I do tend to, um, over-stock on fresh, seasonal produce.

And did I mention that there are only the two of us eating this stuff?

A problem, that.  So we compromise, and I go to the market every other week, and Peeps puts up with a (maybe) vegetable-heavy menu those weeks.

PhotobucketSo.  The gazpacho.  This is great – we start with 3 pounds of fresh tomatoes, which I have just sitting on the counter marking time!

About a third of the veggies are going to be, ultimately, held out and diced into a 1/4-inch dice, then salted and drained and used as a “garnish.”

A word about that dice:  chopping a pound of tomatoes, half a cucumber, green pepper and onion into a 1/4-inch dice?  Tedious.  Seriously.  But worth it.  Really.

So we start out by rough-chopping 2 pounds of tomatoes, half a cucumber, half a green pepper, and half a red onion.  add a couple of cloves of garlic, half a jalapeno, and a bit of salt (1½ teaspoons), and toss together, then set aside for a bit.

Meanwhile, dice the rest of your veggies (1 pound of tomatoes, the other half of the cucumber and pepper) into the infamous 1/4-inch dice, toss with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and dump them into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl.  Let the diced vegetables drain for an hour – you’ll end up with about 1/4 cup of veggie liquid in the bowl.

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Now comes the interesting part.  You’ll take a slice of good sandwich bread (something like Pepperidge Farms or Arnold’s – don’t bother with Wonder bread), remove the crust, and cut it into about 6 chunks, then just add the bread to the drained veggie juice to soak it up.

Toss the now-soggy bread with the coarse-chopped vegetables, then transfer the whole mess to the blender.

You may need to blend in two batches – it’s going to measure about a quart and a half.  We used the Woot blender, which handled the whole thing quite, well, quite handily.

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Now the bits that elevate this beyond just a cold vegetable soup.

With the blender still running, we drizzled 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil into the soup.  A while back, I had the good fortune to find a truly wonderful Greek olive oil (at the public market) for an amazing price.  While the oil is only a part of the whole, you’re going to want an olive oil that’s fruity and rich – it really makes a difference.

And then you’re (maybe) going to strain the soup – I say “maybe” because, honestly, that step seemed a bit superfluous.  I mean, maybe it was our blender, but there just didn’t seem to be much to strain.

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Once your soup is strained (or not), we stirred in a tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and dry sherry, several coarse grinds of black pepper, then we added the finely diced vegetables back into the soup for texture.

After all, it’s soup, not puree, right?

I don’t have a final photo of the soup, but trust me when I say it was as lovely as it was tasty – and vice versa.

So here’s the thing – we finished the soup, stirred in what needed to be stirred, and then we divided the final product into 4 pint jars and stashed them in the fridge for later lunches.

Later lunches which were, if I do say so myself, quite lovely.

Plus, we got rid of a whole bunch of tomatoes, besides!

Corn Chowder: yeah, that’s seasonal May 26, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge, Freezer Meals, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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What do you think of when you think of corn chowder?

Wind and snow, big heavy wool sweaters?

Maybe relaxing in front of a roaring fireplace after a hard day of skiing?

PhotobucketYou probably don’t think much of corn chowder when it’s 80 degrees and sunny, with Memorial Day weekend fast upon you, do you?

Yeah, I used to think the same way, then I found this recipe for Chicken Corn Chowder on one of my morning blogs, Sisters’ Cafe, and I thought “hey, I’ve got just about everything on hand to do . . . something similar to that.”

PhotobucketSo don’t think of this corn and sweet potato chowder as a cold-weather winter dish.

Think of it as a clearing-out-the-freezer soup.

We’re getting ready for the new season!

Sure, I don’t keep Jiffy corn muffin mix around, but what I do always have on hand is everything to make a copycat version.

And of course, we have onions.  And garlic, cumin and oregano, too.

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Sweet potatoes?  Check.

I had a couple of sweet potatoes I found, buried under the regular potatoes, and they needed to get used up.  I, um, don’t remember exactly how old they were.

Still good; they can go in the pot too.

PhotobucketWe roasted a couple of turkey breasts a while ago, and, since two people  can only eat just so much turkey, we froze three of the four breast halves.  (One is earmarked for hot turkey sandwiches.  The rest. . . whatever.)

Turns out, roasted turkey worked out quite nicely here.

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We had just made a mess of chicken stock – probably the last time for a while that I’m going to want stock simmering on the stovetop all day, huh?  Not to mention the fun of pressure canning – summer’s here, and we don’t need that, do we?

For as cold as it gets in the winter, it’s certainly plenty warm – and humid – in the summer around here!

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What I found really neat about this chowder was the method of thickening.

Remember the Jiffy corn muffin mix that wasn’t?

That gets mixed with a couple (three) cups of milk, kind of like (not kind of – exactly like) a slurry.

Well, it makes sense – it’s got the flour, plus the corniness of corn meal – and a little salt and baking powder won’t hurt anything.

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And, just in case the muffin mix won’t provide enough thickening power, we melted a cup of Monterey Jack cheese into the chowder, too.  Melty cheese can’t help thickening!

Dump in some frozen corn (bonus points if it’s corn you grilled last summer and froze!), plus a bit of parsley, and you’re good to go.

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Now, while this may look like a cold-weather, winter staple, it’s really a spring is here, let’s make room in the freezer, lighter meal.  Because we’re using frozen corn (rather than canned creamed corn), and lowfat milk (1% here) rather than cream, this soup is much lighter and fresher tasting than you’d expect.

What do you find when you dig around in your freezer?

You Say Potato March 24, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, soupe du semaine.
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I say SWEET!

PhotobucketNow I know this may come as something of a surprise to you, given our Scandinavian heritage(s) and all, but we’re big fans of the potato.  We love the russets and the reds and the waxies and even the Yukons – and we love the sweets, too.

That’s right.  I said sweet potatoes.

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Now I’m not talking about the canned monstrosities that are smothered in butter and sugar and buried under marshmallows on the Thanksgiving table.  Oh no.  (Pass the insulin, please?)

I mean, come on.  They have “sweet” in their NAME – do they really need yet more sugar?  Really?

I say no.  I say Respect the Sweet Potato!

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Anyway.  A while back (um, 5 years ago?) I happened across a Top Secret Recipes website.  This was apparently before they started offering subscriptions – the recipes were free back then.  And I stumbled on the “Soup Nazi” section.

Did you watch Seinfeld?  I didn’t – not really.  I mean, I’ve caught a few episodes here and there – but I guess I was just never hip enough to “get it.”  (For what it’s worth, I don’t get South Park, either.)

Um, yeah.

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We’ve made the decision, for the month of March, to NOT print any new recipes from the internet – which means we’re either coming up with original creations, relying on old standbys, or wading through the several years’ worth of recipes we’ve printed to try some day and actually, you know, trying them.

Which is much harder than it sounds, let me tell you.

I mean, you clip/copy/print something that seems appealing at the time.

Then you shove it in a box/drawer/file and glance at it every so often, and it still looks like something you’d like to try – one of these days.

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Well, I guess this was “one of these days” (not to be confused with “one of THOSE days,” of which I have all too many).

We had a bunch of sweet potatoes piling up, a bit of half-and-half left in the fridge from . . . something, the thyme in the garden was starting to come back to life, and there’s always another soup night coming up.

We roasted a mess of sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds) and let them cool enough to peel.

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Add some water, butter, tomato sauce, half and half (just a touch), salt, pepper and thyme, and one more thing.

A kind of bizarre thing – a cup of blanched cashews.

Cashews?

Yes, cashews.

And then cook the whole mess for about an hour.

Now this is where the original recipe ended, but let’s face it – it was weird.  And kind of gross – chunks of cashew nuts and hunks of fibrous sweet potatoes.  I mean, sure, it smelled heavenly, and it tasted . . . not bad.  But, well, you know – we eat with our eyes, right?

PhotobucketSo we blended the soup in batches in Peeps’s awesome Woot Blender.

Remember, when you’re blending hot soup, it’s safety first, you know.  Never fill the blender more than half full, and always use a towel over the top of the blender.  It’ll take about 2 minutes longer, and, really, where are you going anyway?

I’m going to be honest with you here.  This soup tastes like a sweet potato in (semi) liquid form should taste.  It’s earthy and sweet, creamy and rich.  We couldn’t decide whether to garnish it with something spicy and crunchy (chipotle-seasoned croutons would be awesome here) or with something kind of crunchy and sweet (cinnamon roasted pecans maybe?), so ultimately, ambivalence won out and we did, um, no garnish at all.

And you know what?  It was still freaking amazing!

So anyway, our printable recipe, as revised from the original (ahem) Top Secret Recipe, is right here.

What’s in YOUR Pantry? March 11, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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We hear so much these days about “cooking from your pantry” and “shopping in your pantry” and “keeping a stocked pantry,” but what, exactly, constitutes a “pantry?”

PhotobucketSure, when I lived on the farm that was an easy question – the pantry was that space right off the kitchen with the shelves in it – much larger than a closet, but nowhere near big enough to be considered a room unto itself.  But now, unless you live in an old farmhouse, it may not be so simple to define.

(I don’t live in an old farmhouse.)

And besides, in this day and age, I tend to think of the “pantry” more as a state of mind than an actual physical space.

PhotobucketWhile I don’t have actual PANTRY space, I do have kitchen cupboards.  And shelving in the basement.  And the freezer(s).  And honestly, sometimes things just get away from us.  Stuff gets shoved to the back of the cupboard, shifted to the bottom shelf, or buried in the freezer.

Hey, it happens in the best of families.  (Or so I’ve been told.)

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I’m almost embarrassed to admit that we found a hunk of beef that we’d bought to make sauce, um, let’s just say we bought it a while ago.

But it had been vacuum sealed, and you know those ads about how much longer your meat will last when you vacuum seal it?

They’re all true.  This stuff was in the freezer almost five years – and there wasn’t a hint of freezer burn or loss of flavor.

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However.  It may have been the oldest thing we’ve found in the freezer (so far), so it had to go.

In addition to a few shallots and a leek or two, we had, of  course, carrots in the fridge, and I’d recently picked up some parsnips, so what better time to work on my knife skills than now?

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Once the beef was well-browned (with the shallots and leeks), I first deglazed with a bit of red wine (what kind of pantry would I be keeping if I didn’t have wine?), then once that liquid had cooked off, I tossed the carrots and parsnips into the pot and let them just soak up the beefy-winy goodness for a few, until most of the liquid had evaporated.

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But fear not!

There was more liquid to come!  I added a pint of (my very own) canned tomatoes, along with what was left of the beef stock that we’d canned that weekend – it doesn’t always come out even, you know, no matter how hard you try.

So call it a cup and a half of beef stock.

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Plus, I added my secret ingredient (which I just made up) – about a cup of our very own V-14 juice.

I’m pretty sure I wrote down, somewhere, what vegetables we used in this juice, but I don’t remember where.  I’m sure you could use V-8 and be just fine.

I do know that one of the vegetables in my juice was jalapeño peppers – and I’m reasonably certain that’s not one of the veggies in the commercial stuff.  I’m just saying.

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In addition to the tomatoes and the juice, we (of course) (yeah right) remembered to add a healthy scoop of my veggie bouillon, along with the tiniest head of cabbage ever, and a can of “small red beans,” drained.

And no, I’m not sure how small red beans are different than kidney beans, only they’re, well, smaller.

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And really, that was pretty much it.  I don’t have an actual recipe for this soup – it was mainly just tossed together from stuff lying around in the pantry, then left in the fridge for a few days to build its flavor – it was a great soup!   Full of great beef and vegetable flavor, hearty and filling – and healthy besides – how can you go wrong?  Add to that the fact that the soup was built entirely from ingredients on hand – or that should be on hand – and it’s a sure winner.

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