Thursday, October 29, 2009

Garam Masala Mulligatawny

In my last post I talked about where I'd found inspiration for the soups I'm writing about this week.

I mentioned my favorite Thai dish, the French classic, Vichyssoise, and Russian Borscht as influential.

Today's soup was inspired by a fun little indie movie, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston; I watched Management the other night and was pleasantly surprised. It really is a delightful flick.

There is a hilarious scene wherein Woody Harrelson's character, a former punk rocker turned yogurt guru, has made dinner spiced with garam masala.

Jennifer Anniston, Woody's ex-girlfriend now wife, is eating a plate of Woody's garam masala along with Mike (played by Steve Zahn), Jennifer's forlorn, former one-night stand.

Steve Zahn's character asks Woody if he's eating, since Woody doesn't have a plate in front of him. Woody replies that he's drinking his garam masala and he holds up a long-stemmed glass filled with a yogurt-infused brown liquid.

"Yum" isn't what comes to mind!

But the image of that glass of whirled food reminded me of comments I made on Monday comparing summer smoothies to winter soups -- both are made up of whole nutritive produce, and oftentimes a blender is involved.

Additionally, Woody's garam masala smoothie took me back to the first time I had a really spicy winter soup. I was working in a ski resort in Australia and one of the village's lunchtime spots served a great chicken sandwich and a soup the likes of which I'd never had.

It was a version of Mulligatawny made with stock, pearled barley, vegetables, lamb, and Indian spices. Mulligatawny is Tamil for "pepper water," which alludes to the heat or spiciness of this soup, though pepper is not a primary ingredient, but garam masala is in many variations.

The variation I like to make includes the ingredients in the pic above: brown lentils, brown rice, onion, butternut pumpkin, garlic, fresh ginger and garam masala, raisins, and chicken stock.

Sometimes I'll use barley or no grain or all. Or I might add celery, and acorn squash, and or a can of peeled tomatoes. And sometimes I'll make it with lamb stock or just plain water.

Like Woody, I like the addition of yogurt, though I prefer a big blob on top of my bowl of soup versus blending the lot a la smoothie.

Garam Masala Mulligatawny
1) In a large pot saute 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves of smashed garlic, a heaping tablespoon of garam masala and a tablespoon (or thereabouts) of peeled and grated or chopped fresh ginger.
2) Peel and chop a small butternut pumpkin or a small acorn squash and toss into pan. Continue sauteing gently over low heat.
3) Add a cup of brown lentils and a 3/4 cup of brown rice (optional). Coat grains well with ingredients in the pot.
4) Saute gently on low for another few mins. Add about 6 cups of water or stock and about a 3/4 cup of raisins (optional).
5) Place lid on pot and simmer gently on low for about 45 mins or until rice and lentils are soft. Add more water or stock as needed.
6) Taste-test. Add salt if you wish.

To Serve: Ladle mulligatawny into bowls. Top with a blob of yogurt or a generous swirl of coconut milk. You may also like to serve sides of chopped banana, chopped apple, toasted cashews, and or chopped chicken pieces. Add these sides to your soup just as you'd add toppings to a plate of curry.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Borscht with Beef & Orange

The theme this week is warming, fall-winter soups. Yesterday's soup was inspired by the French potato and leek classic, Vichyssoise.

Monday's soup, Carrot, Coconut and lime, was inspired by my favorite Thai dish. Today, Russian Borscht influenced the soup I created (pics to left and recipe below).

"Inspired and influenced," I use these terms because despite my classical training, I improvise in the kitchen, using whatever ingredients I have on hand to create something unique and seasonal.

Improvising in the kitchen is the basis of recipe-independence, I term I use often in this blog. I encourage experimentation and improvisation because so long as your cooking is bound by recipes, staying on-budget grocery shopping is a challenge.

All the produce, vegetables and fruit, I've used in my soups are in-season -- in other words, they're abundant and thus priced well. Shopping and cooking seasonally is nature's way of keeping us healthy and on-budget at the grocery store.

The challenge once home is to prepare seasonal produce purchased so that interesting and appetizing meals result. One rule of thumb that anyone can implement: make your meals colorful by including lots of colorful produce.

For example, the beauty of Borscht is its magnificent reddish-purple color, due, of course, to the beets and the purple cabbage. I added a big blob of tinned tomato paste toward the end of the cooking to enrich the flavor; the red paste naturally enriched the color too.

Halfway into the cooking, I also tossed one whole orange into the pot (pic above). Though not in season, the sweet-orange citrus flavor added zing in the same way lime added zing to Monday's soup. Orange and beets are great flavor pals and well, they're great color pals too!

Traditionally, Borscht might include carrots, so though I've not included them in my variation, if you have them on hand try adding them. Carrots and orange and beets and purple cabbage all compliment one another in color and flavor.

I've added beef to my soup. I had ground beef in my freezer and some Borscht recipes call for a beef-stock base. Because I intended eating the Borscht as a main dish, the addition of red meat created a substantial, highly nutritive, iron-rich bowl of soup so thick, it's almost a stew.

Borscht with Beef & Orange
Into a soup pot toss the following:
1) 2 medium-sized washed and scrubbed beets.
2) One quarter of a large purple cabbage, washed and chopped.
3) 1/2 lb ground beef, you could use pork or chicken, if you wish. (The addition of meat is optional.)
4) One large onion (optional).
5) Several washed, scrapped, & chopped carrots (optional).
6) If you have any dill or caraway seeds on hand, add a couple teaspoons.
7) Cover ingredients with water, put lid on pot and simmer for about 45 mins or until beets are tender.
8) At around the half-way mark, add one washed, scrubbed and chopped whole orange (skin included).
9) Once the soup is cooked, remove the pieces of orange, and add a heaped tablespoon of tomato paste. Stir well, and then season with salt and pepper.

To Serve: Ladle soup into a bowl. Top with a blob of sour cream or yogurt or sliced avocado or a mix of all three. Adhere several corn chips to the sour cream mix and sprinkle the lot with chopped chives and or the grated rind of an orange.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Celeriac, Pear, and Leek Soup

As I mentioned yesterday, creating seasonal soups is simple and potentially effortless.

All that is required is a sense of adventure in the kitchen and a sense for pairing flavors.

A blender is helpful too.

Today's soup has a strong celery flavor because it features celeriac or celery root.

As you can see in the pic to the left celeriac is a bulbous root vegetable with the appearance of a turnip.

It is light brown on the outside and white on the inside. And it has celery-like green tops that grow above the ground while the bulb grows below the ground.

When you cut open a celeriac bulb it has a distinct celery aroma. When you cook it, it's not fibrous like celery stalks, rather, once mashed, it's quite creamy, like mashed potato or turnip, and the flavor is a combination of a turnip, potato and celery.

Slightly earthy, slightly acrid, with mild bitter tones, celeriac pairs well with other root vegetables and it also pairs well with sweet juicy pears.

If you think about Waldorf Salad with its combination of celery, apples, and walnuts, you'll realize where I'm borrowing the flavor combination for this soup. Because of the mild bitter quality of celery, sweet and fleshy autumnal fruits like apples and pears are great texture and flavor pals to celery, and celeriac.

Add leeks to celeriac and you might be aware that I'm borrowing from the French classic, leek and potato soup or Vichyssoise.

Leeks have a mild onion flavor so they're suited to soups with fruit (they'll compliment rather than overwhelm the fruit) and to soups with a smooth, creamy texture (leeks love creaminess, think Creamed Leeks).

Leeks combined with fruit to create a smooth, creamy texture describe well the soup I'm sharing with you today.

Celeriac, Pear and Leek Soup
1) Cut the outer skin from the celeriac bulb. It's easier to cut the skin off rather than try and peel it off; the skin is too tough for peeling.
2) Chop the peeled bulb into small cubes and set aside.
3) Wash and chop several pieces of the celeriac stalks (optional, since usually the bulb is sold without the top stalks intact.) You can use regular celery instead of celeriac stalks, if you wish.
4) Top and tail 2 leeks; slice and then wash the pieces, removing any dirt caught in the leek.
5) Wash and peel 2 pears. Try either Bosc or Bartlett Pears. Bartletts are soft and very juicy and will disintegrate quickly upon cooking, whereas Bosc pears are firm and crunchy and hold their texture upon cooking. Either is fine, experiment. Or you could use apple instead, after all, it is the main ingredient in Waldorf Salad.
6) Melt butter and a bit of light oil in a soup pot on the stove. Add the leeks, sauteing over low heat until they're wilted; then add the chopped celeriac stalks (or celery), cubed celeriac, and finally the pears (or apple).
7) Gently saute over low heat until all ingredients are slightly wilted and then cover with either chicken stock or water. Place lid on pot and gently simmer for about 45 mins or until celeriac is tender.
8) Run soup through a blender, taste-test and add salt and pepper to your liking. Return soup to pot and keep on low heat until ready to serve.

To Serve: Ladle soup into bowls, swirl in either half-and-half, a blob of sour cream or yogurt and sprinkle with chopped chives or chopped parsley.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carrot, Coconut & Lime Soup

I've had a week off -- while a new hard drive was being installed in my computer -- and during the week, I made healthful, seasonal soups.

Like cooling fruit smoothies in summer, fall / winter soups are choc full of nutritive and satisfying, warming seasonal vegetables.

Preparing soup can be quite effortless; you don't need a lot of time, nor complicated recipes to create something
original and delicious.

What you do need is a sense of adventure, and an active imagination and by that I mean the ability to imagine what flavors will go well together once cooked and blended.

If you're a smoothie fan, you'll know that soft summer fruits automatically taste great when blended together either with water or with juice or milk.

In-season fruits and vegetables have an uncanny knack of complimenting one another. It's nature's way of ensuring that we make the most of the variety of fresh produce available.

In fall and winter, root vegetables, like soft summer fruits, are great flavor pals to one another. In other words, toss lots of chopped root veggies into a pot with either water or stock, simmer gently for an hour, and voila, delicious soup! It's hard to go wrong.

I like to experiment with flavor and texture, and still I find it's hard to go wrong -- so long as I taste-test along the way to ensure that I'm not being too heavy-handed with one flavor over another.

For instance, the soup idea I'll share today is a variation on a red Thai curry but with apple added. Apple compliments carrot and celery, plus it smoothes the texture of the soup which might otherwise be quite chunky and fibrous due to the carrot and celery.

To finish, I added coconut milk to taste. It enriches the soup with its creaminess, plus it's a staple in Thai cooking, as is lime, which I squeezed into the soup at the very end to counteract the sweetness of the apple and carrot.

Do you see how easy it is to create a unique soup by simply matching flavors and textures?

Drawing on your taste memory also helps. When I decided on the ingredients for today's soup, I visualized the red Thai curry I enjoy at my favorite Thai restaurant, recalling the texture, flavors, the vegetables in the dish, and then I improvised with the ingredients in my fridge and pantry.

Here's the basic recipe; feel free to experiment, improvising according to the ingredients you have on hand.

Carrot, Coconut & Lime Soup
1) Wash several organic carrots, scraping them with a knife to sloth off any dirt or debris.
2) Wash several stalks of celery, leaving the leaves on for extra celery flavor (the bitterness of the celery leaves will compliment the sweetness of the apple and carrot).
3) Wash and chop one or two apples. I leave on the skin, but you can peel them if you wish.
4) Wash and chop either a leek or white onion, toss into a pot with a little oil, and saute on med heat.
5) Add a teaspoon of Thai Red Curry Paste or if you use Thai Kitchen Original Pad Thai sauce, add a tablespoon (it's not hot like the paste).
6) Toss in chopped carrot, celery and finally the apple. Use a wooden spoon to gently stir ingredients over a med-low heat.
7) Add either water or chicken stock, enough to cover vegetables, cover pot with lid and cook contents gently for about 45 mins or until vegetables are soft.
8) Blend soup in a food processor or blender, pouring blended ingredients back into soup pot.
9) Taste-test and add salt if you wish. Pour in coconut milk to your liking while soup pot is on low heat.

To Serve: Squeeze lime into soup, taste-test to ensure the flavor is to your liking. This is a fairly sweet soup so it can withstand a good amount of lime juice. Ladle soup into individual bowls and serve with a chunk of lime on the side, and a sprig of green in the center, i.e. basil, Thai basil, parsley, lemon grass, or chives.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Broccoli Timbales

I'm not a big fan of broccoli. It's a member of the cabbage family, and to me it can sometimes taste too much like cabbage.

However, I eat it because it's green, full of phytonutrients, and therefore good for me.

In the effort to enjoy broccoli, I like to prepare it with other vegetables and ingredients so that it's anything but plain and cabbage-tasting.

That's the beauty of vegetable timbales or mini vegetable egg custards; they disguise disagreeable vegetables.

The name "timbale"comes from the thimble-shaped individual molds in which the vegetable custard is cooked in the oven in a Bain Marie (water bath).

As you can see in the picture, the ingredients needed to make broccoli timbales are basic:
  1. broccoli
  2. leeks
  3. half and half or regular milk
  4. grated cheese
  5. nutmeg
  6. salt and pepper
  • The portion of broccoli in the pic above is in equal portion to the amount of leek, in total it's about 1.5 cups of vegetables per two eggs.
  • Saute the broccoli and leeks in some butter until they're wilted and soft, but don't let them overcook. Now turn them into a food processor and blend the veggies to a pulp. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the veggies into a mixing bowl.
  • Separate the eggs, adding the yolks to the mixing bowl with the veggies, beat gently with a wooden spoon. Add 1 cup half-and-half, half a cup grated cheese, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Whip egg whites till they're stiff and fold them into the ingredients in the mixing bowl.
  • Meanwhile, grease individual timbale containers with butter. If you don't have timbale containers, use a muffin tray or cupcake containers. Pour the egg and vegetable mix into your container(s), leaving a little space at the top for the timbale mix to rise slightly.
  • Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place filled timbale container(s) into a baking tray and add enough water to the tray so that it comes part-way up the timbale containers.
  • Cover the baking tray with foil and place it in the oven for about 35-40 mins.
  • Remove the foil at around the 30-min mark if you'd like the top of the timbales to brown slightly.
Allow timbales to cool before running a knife around the inside edge of each container, loosening the timbale so that you can turn it out onto a plate or cookie tray.

Once you've upturned each timbale onto a plate, cover them with foil and reheat in a 325-degree oven (or you can serve them warm or cold).

To Serve: Since they present so well, timbales can be the focus of a main meal with a side of fish or chicken, and a salad. Or they can be served as a starter with a generous dollop of hollandaise and a sprig of fresh tarragon.

I fancy them as a side to fish or white meat since the flavor of custard-infused broccoli timbales is delicate, not at all cabbage-like, and thus a delicious way to eat a green that I might otherwise avoid altogether.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Economical Meals with Mahi Mahi

As you're aware, I'm a budget grocery shopper.

In these economic times, I'm always on the look out for ways to reduce my grocery bill while not compromising my preference for healthy, whole unprocessed foods.

This means I always shop the edge of the grocery store for the best deals on fresh produce, fish, dairy, meat and bulk dry goods.

I venture into the middle aisles for bottled, packaged, tinned and frozen items irregularly and then I do because usually I'm enticed as a result of a coupon for a pantry or condiment item.

I've been clipping coupons more frequently lately because Whole Foods Whole Deal newsletter has some truly great deals, as does their What's on Sale flier which is available online as a pdf.

Yesterday I mentioned that Continental Veal Brats are on sale this week, which I discovered perusing the What's on Sale flier. WFs Whole Catch Mahi Mahi is also on sale for $3 off a frozen packet of two, 6 oz fillets --which means the fillets are about $3.50 each.

Since 3 ounces of animal or fish protein at a main meal is sufficient (truly, google how much protein we need and you'll find that consuming more is not beneficial to one's health at all, rather it can be detrimental), then one pack of two, 6 oz mahi mahi fillets will feed a family of four -- so long as you supplement it with plenty of vegetables and perhaps a grain or starch.

The pics I've posted today are just a few of the delicious meals I've made with mahi mahi.

In the pic above, you'll note I lined my skillet with spinach and squash, laid a fillet of fish over the veggies and topped it with slices of lemon and then a lemon and green-olive tapenade which I purchased in bulk (I take in my own containers) from WFs olive bar.

I poured about half a cup of white wine over the lot and turned the heat to low, placed the lid on the skillet and let the meal steam cook for about 15 mins.

Similarly, I made a skillet meal with organic broccoli, red and green bell peppers, spring onion and corn kernels (I froze uncooked kernels from about 10 cobs late this summer when corn was incredibly inexpensive).

Pouring a little water over the lot, I dotted the fish with a couple teaspoons of butter, a teaspoon of dill seed, and the juice from one lemon, and with the lid on the skillet, I slow-cooked the meal, again for about 15 mins.

The meal to the left is one mahi mahi fillet cut in half, so it's about a 3 ounce portion. I marinated the fish in Braggs, lime juice and a little honey (some crushed garlic and grated ginger root, which are optional) and then I barbecued the fillet, and a baby bok choy.

Making the most of the leftover marinade, I added it to a pot with 3 cups of water and 3/4 of a cup of polenta, cooking the mixture over low heat for about 30 mins.

As you can see the fish is sitting atop the set polenta with a side of green salsa that I made with cilantro, cucumber and spring onion.

Mahi Mahi can be dry and lacking in flavor if overcooked and served plain. So consider slow cooking it with liquid (water, stock, wine) and fresh vegetables, as in the two skillet dishes above. Or marinate it and then grill the fish for maybe 10 mins, since this will ensure that it's flavorful and moist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall Veggies with Herbs & Sausage

I've been working on the "Fall" section of a book proposal I'm writing, a book proposal based on this blog.

It's been easy to write because we're in the midst of autumn, and in Colorado it's turning out to be a rather cold one.

The bears have been particularly active around my cottage in Chautauqua Park foraging for the last of the apples and the now shriveling berries, and unfortunately trash, which though it's sealed in bins, the bears still manage to pillage.

Their frenzied activity, according to local bear watchers, portends a cold winter. But before we think about winter, here's what I had to say about fall in my proposal:

"As the weather transitions, our inclination to eat cooling, water-dense salads naturally shifts to a preference for warming autumnal foods such as fall's harvested vegetables: acorn squash, dense and fleshy pumpkin, egg plant, texture-rich cabbage and brussel sprouts, beets, carrots and turnips.

Softer in color compared to summer's rainbow-hued cornucopia, fall's produce is nevertheless imbued with strong, earthy flavors. We're drawn back into the kitchen to cook hot meals with those earthy root veggies which are great flavor pals to gamey-flavored turkey, pork and lamb.

Adding garlic, leeks, and rosemary to braised pumpkin or acorn squash and tossing in chunks of grilled pork and cranberry or lamb and garlic sausage makes for a deliciously warming and aromatic meal."

I love to use various kinds of sausages as an addition to hearty vegetable meals; they add great flavor and texture and make economical meals for one or more.

You may recall that earlier this year, I posted several meal ideas with golden beets (pic left).

Red beets, featured in the colander of fall veggies in the pic above, are abundant right now and would be a fabulous color addition to the simple meal to the left, which also includes chicken sausage, shelled peas, and corn.

Braising any fall veggies with onions and garlic and tossing in fresh sage, rosemary, and dried fruits like cranberries or raisins, and your choice of grilled sausage makes for a nutritious, colorful and tasty lunch or dinner.

I made the meal to left at the end of summer. It features fried green tomato, fresh cucumber and basil polenta topped with chopped chives and to the side, sliced grilled turkey sausage.

This week at Whole Foods, made-in-Colorado Continental Veal Brats are on sale for a savings of $2 per pack. I have a pack in my freezer which I intend cooking up this evening with that colander of chopped veggies above.

I'll lightly grill the brats (since they're pre-cooked), slice them, and serve them atop the veggies which I'll braise in my skillet and season with dill seed that I foraged here in Chautauqua from the drying plant.

On the side, I'll have some Seeded German Mustard; it will add piquancy to what I imagine will be a very colorful and warming autumnal meal.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tomato and Baguette Casserole

Remember that .99c French baguette I bought from Whole Foods a couple of days ago?

I have some leftover and its turned rock hard, which baguettes do if not eaten the day they're baked.

Yesterday I spritzed a chunk with water, heated it in the oven, and then ate it smothered in butter with my rustic lunchtime soup.

The spritzing softens the hardened crust in fact, depending on the amount of water you use, once heated in the oven it will soften up and be almost doughy.

Today, I'm making the most of that last chunk of baguette. I'm using it in a dish I learned about from a friend's mum. If you have a surplus of harvested tomatoes at home, the following casserole is a tasty, economical way to use up tomatoes and stale bread.

Tomato and Baguette Casserole
1) Boil a large pot of water. Turn heat down so water is gently simmering.
2) Remove green stems from tomatoes and score the other end with a small "X".
3) Gently place tomatoes into pot of simmering water with a ladle. The skin will peel away where the tomato was scored. As this happens, remove tomatoes and put them into a colander, running colander under cold water to stop cooking process.
4) You don't want the tomatoes to fall apart in the hot water, so do remove them before they start to disintegrate into mush.
5) Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin away, placing tomatoes onto a chopping board. Quarter the tomatoes and remove seeds and membranes, chopping the remaining flesh into small chunks.
6) Put chopped tomato into a pot on the stove and simmer on low. The liquid in the tomato flesh will gradually evaporate leaving a thickened tomato concasse.
7) To enhance the flavor, add a little white or brown sugar, and a slurp of balsamic vinegar to taste.
8) You could add sauteed onions and garlic, and or your choice of fresh herbs if you wish.

Now slice stale baguette and toss it in a skillet (or casserole dish), drizzling it liberally with olive oil. Or you may prefer to saute several rashers of bacon and toss the bread in with the bacon and bacon fat.
10) Ladle tomato sauce over bread, covering it generously with sauce.
11) If you chose not to use bacon in step 9, and if you like bacon, lay several rashers over the top of the casserole.
12) Bake in 350-degree oven until bacon is cooked and the dish is hot all the way through -- about 30 mins.

To Serve: Scoop portions of casserole into a bowl or onto a plate, making sure you've scooped some bread from the bottom of the casserole. Toss a little crumbled feta over the top, or your choice of grated cheese.

Scrambled eggs on the side are an option or sausage if you prefer. Or you may enjoy a simple, green side salad as an accompaniment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baguette with Rustic Soup

I began making apple corn bread late yesterday to accompany the soup I'd made and to take to a friend's for dinner.

But time got away from me and I abandoned the bread -- though the ingredients are still sitting out.

On the way to my friends, without the intended corn bread, I stopped and picked up a French baguette from Whole Foods.

When I worked in Courchevel in the French Alps for a British ski company, I cooked for groups of 10-20 people who were staying at the chalet I managed. Evening meals were always 3 hearty courses, plus baguette with the starter or with the main dish.

Most evenings I'd do something fancy with the fresh baguette purchased that morning. From slathering the sliced baguette with garlic butter, wrapping it in foil and heating in the oven, to variations on that favorite such as parsley butter, mustard butter, butter beaten with grated cheese, and so on.

At some point during the winter, I had a chalet of 18 guests from Nice -- an extended family plus family friends. They were a rowdy bunch at the dinner table, talking animatedly about politics, skiing, skiing and politics.

Because I ate dinner with my guests, I was very away that their rowdiness had more to do with the copious wine they drank and they're home-brew grappa and brandy, which they drank after dessert with coffee, than the favored topical conversation.

I thought the first couple of evening meals went very well. At 23, I was a bit nervous cooking for a chalet full of sophisticated Nicoisians and so I'd put my best chef-foot forward. This included heating the dinner baguette with one, then another of the butters mentioned above, and serving it piping hot on a platter with the foil slightly opened to release the delicious aroma of the baked, buttery bread.

After the second night's dinner, one of the women approached me in the kitchen. She very graciously asked that the evening menu be altered slightly. For instance, the family and friends didn't eat the kind of fancy desserts I'd prepared, could they just have "fresh fruit and yogurt?"

Secondly, they preferred not to have their baguette heated with garlic or parsley butter or any other butter for that matter. Instead, could they have at least "4 plain baguettes, uncut, and placed in the center of the table."

Both were very easy requests since it made my work easier. Certainly I was a little surprised because I'd imagined that they'd prefer fancier fare, yet I was wrong. So plain baguette at dinner it was, followed by fruit and yogurt, and then coffee with that wicked home brew!

Since the baguettes were placed directly onto a long, wooden table with no cloth and since the guests could easily break chunks off while they ate, drank and talked animatedly, the amount of baguette crumbs scattered across that table and on the floor beneath the table was something akin to a sea of confetti post wedding nuptials.

As my guest's two-week stay came to a close, I came to appreciate that the messier the table and floor with baguette crumbs, the more successful the dinner both in terms of the food and conversation.

Last night I simply sliced the baguette I'd purchased, placing the pieces on a plate. We had it plastered with buttered as an accompaniment to our salad and salmon.

Today, I'm having the leftovers warmed in the oven (I'll spritz it with water first; this softens the day-old crust) and again, I'll slather it with butter, and then I'll dunk it in the soup I made yesterday (pic above).

Chances are there'll be bits of bread on the kitchen bench at which I'll sit to eat, and on the floor beneath my stool; I learned from my Nicoisian guests that in order to fully appreciate baguette one must break off chunks from the whole, sop up whatever is in front of you with those chunks, all the while inadvertently scattering crumbs about -- since the resulting mess is a direct correlate to a meal truly enjoyed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Soups with Apples, Leeks, Cabbage & Beets

Remember the Chicken with Foraged Apples post from last week?

Well, I have plenty of foraged apples still and though I'm a fan of stewed apples, apple butter, apple crumble, apple pie etc., these are all sweet variations and I love apples in savory dishes.

Do you also remember I talked about making stock from the chicken bones I froze with the intention of making soup?

Well, I didn't make chicken stock, but I did make several soups, and I used some of those foraged apples.

In the pic above you can see the ingredients I used in one of my soups. The apples, leeks, and cabbage also featured in the Chicken with Foraged Apples I link to at the top so in effect, soup could easily be made with leftovers from that casserole.

Simply add water to the leftovers and simmer the contents in a pot for about 30 mins and then run the lot through a blender.

I chose to add a large beetroot to the above mix. I love the combination of apple and beetroot, and the addition of leeks and cabbage make this quite a hearty soup that can be eaten chunky or blended to a smooth consistency.

Because it cooks into a lovely purplish-red color, a la Borscht, topping it with a spoon of sour cream or yogurt is a natural. The sourness of the cream or yogurt compliments the sweetness of the apple and beet. Adding a sprinkle of chopped dill is optional, but if you do have some dill it's a delicious compliment.

Using chicken stock as a base will certainly add richness to the soup, but you don't have to use stock, you can simply use water -- the flavor will still be full and delicious.

If you're not a big fan of beetroot and cabbage, you might like to try the combination of soup ingredients to the left: apples, leeks, celery and rutabaga, which is a cross between a turnip and cabbage.

Celery can be bitter, but add apples to celery and you have sweet plus slight bitterness -- a great combination.

Obviously a soup just of celery and apples is lacking so the addition of the leeks and rutabaga adds an earthiness to the sweet/bitter. I also added a sprig of rosemary to this combination which added a delicious fragrant note.

If you choose to blend the ingredients, take the rosemary sprig out. You may find you'll need to strain the blended liquid because of the copious celery fiber.

The resulting soup is thick, and it's a subtle green. Salt and pepper it to your liking, and finish it with a spoon of (real) whipped cream or a drizzle of half and half and some chopped parsley.

Perhaps you don't fancy the idea of apples in your soup. If not, the combination of green, purple, and red-root vegetables (pic to left) creates a spectacularly colorful and hearty, stew-like soup.

So that's purple cabbage, celery, leeks, beetroot and rutabaga. I cooked this combination of veggies with some leftover beef ribs which I'd bought home in a doggy bag from a recent dinner out.

It was more convenient for me to just pop the leftover beef ribs into the pot with the veggies and water than make a beef stock from scratch. And the meat from the leftover ribs came off the bone and became an additional ingredient in the soup, adding richness and flavor to the veggie combination.

I also added a couple dried bay leaves and a few whole peppercorns. Though don't dash out and buy these two ingredients; they're optional. You could add thyme if you have it. Fresh or dried herbs add a subtle flavor, however, salting and peppering before serving is often enough to enhance the natural flavors inherent in soup.

Serve this soup chunky rather than blended, since blended meat is often unappetizing in appearance. And because this one is sans apple, you may consider making apple and corn bread to serve as an accompaniment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wonderful Chicken Meals

You may have read my posts from last week with suggestions for creating meals with one whole chicken.

There were 2 stove-top skillet meals, baked stuffed chicken breast, and on Friday it was chicken with foraged apples.

This weekend I had a leftover chicken quarter from Friday's meal and though my palate was beginning to feel chicken-weary, I made a leftover meal with the cooked thigh (I'd eaten the drumstick for lunch.)

When you have leftovers, the challenge is to create a new meal with a different flavor so that you don't feel as though you're eating the same thing over and over.

The meal I made with the leftover chicken quarter (which had been previously cooked with apples, leeks and cabbage), was heavy on the eggplant, red pepper, squash (pic above), plus I cooked the dish with rosemary, and in red wine -- quite in contrast to the flavors of the previous meal.

I sauteed all the veggies in olive oil and garlic, tossing in a couple sprigs of rosemary and then a glug of red wine, before placing the lid on the skillet and turning the heat down.

If I'd added tomatoes the dish would have been a version of ratatouille. But I decided to leave the tomatoes out and instead I added more eggplant, which because of its sponge-like quality, sopped up the red wine and the flavor of the rosemary.

I let the veggies stew for about 15 mins, and part way through, I added the leftover chicken thigh. Obviously if I'd added it at the point when I poured in the red wine, the chicken would have taken on more of the red wine flavor. However, I don't like to 'twice cook' meat, instead I generally heat it or just warm it through; that way it doesn't dry out.

I still have one remaining breast from the whole chicken I purchased last week. It's in the freezer, along with some of the chicken carcass which I'll use to make stock and then soup.

As I alluded to above, I've had my fill of chicken for a while now, so though I thought I'd defrost the breast yesterday and do something with it for last evening's meal and today's post, I couldn't face another chicken meal; it's time for something else.

Nevertheless, I'm going to wax on excitedly for one more paragraph on the number of meals one can create from a whole chicken.

Last week I posted 5 meal-ideas and I cooked 3 of those meals and ate them, plus I had some cold, leftover chicken from those meals at a couple of lunches.

So it's possible to stretch 3.5 pounds of whole chicken (and in this case the chicken was a one-day sale at Whole Foods for $3.50 or .99c lb) over many meals, especially if you consume about 3 ounces of chicken per meal.

And 3 ounces of meat protein at one sitting is actually enough, so long as you're serving plenty of fresh vegetables and a grain too.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicken with Foraged Apples

I made another meal from the whole natural chicken which I purchased at Whole Foods the other day.

From a $3.50 bird, I've created stuffed chicken breast, and last night I made chicken quarters baked with foraged apples, leeks and cabbage (pic to left).

I still have one breast and some of the chicken carcass, which I've frozen. Probably by Sunday, I'll unfreeze it and do something with that remaining breast, and I'll make soup with the bones.

From one chicken, so many varied meals! You'll note that the chicken dishes I've shared this week have been cooked using the following methods:
  1. in a cast iron skillet on the stove top
  2. on a baking tray in the oven
  3. and the dish I'm sharing today was also cooked in the oven but in an Le Creuset casserole pot.
Le Creuset is actually fabulous cookware. Maybe you're familiar with it; it's everywhere nowadays. And as with my cast-iron birthday skillet, my mother also bought me my Le Creuset casserole pot, I think for Christmas one year, with a set of kitchen towels and matching pot holders -- my mother, forever practical.

In the pic to the left you can see the chicken quarters sitting upright in my Le Creuset casserole pot with a chopped leek, half a chopped red cabbage, and 4 foraged apples.

I love the foraging trend or picking fruit from overhanging trees. I saw a bloke on the footpath alongside a major road the other day picking apples from tree branches which hung over a private fence onto public property.

I've been tempted to forage pears from a tree in my neighborhood with a couple branches hanging over a public footpath, but I wasn't game enough.

The apples I foraged for today's dish are from a tree by my cottage in Chautauqua Park. There are at least half dozen trees in the park laden with apples ripe for picking, and residents of the park are permitted to help themselves.

I did just that yesterday. I helped myself to at least 4 pounds.

In addition to the above ingredients, to the pot I added coriander seeds, which I'd foraged from a friend's garden.

Coriander seeds form at the end of the growing season when cilantro plants no longer produce leaves.

Instead, small seeds appear on the stalks and these can be picked and used immediately or you can dry them and store them in glass jars.

The seeds have a spicy, citrus tone. You may be familiar with garam masala, an Indian dish, which relies on coriander in combination with cumin. Coriander seeds are also used in pickling.

I added about a teaspoon of coriander to the chicken and foraged apples; the zesty seeds enhanced the casserole no end. And before I put the pot into the oven--with lid on--I added about half a cup of water to keep the ingredients from drying out and sticking to the sides and base. At 350 degrees, it took about 45 mins for the casserole to cook.

To Serve: Because the vegetables and apple cook down, becoming quite soft and creating a delicious liquor, I served the meal in a bowl. I topped the chicken with a sprig of fresh dill as it has a flavor somewhat similar to caraway, and caraway is most often used to spice up cabbage and apple in eastern European dishes.

Rather than use another pot and the stove top to cook a side of rice or another starch for mopping up the juice, I economized on energy and dishes, drizzling a couple slices of crusty bread with olive oil and popping them in the oven on a baking tray.

Oven-fried bread was a good decision; there's nothing like dipping chunks of crispy browned-bread into a peasant-like casserole to make one feel as though eating dinner with your fingers and a spoon is perfectly acceptable.