Posts tagged ‘smooth’

October 15, 2012

Rosemary Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup paired with a stringy mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich is a classic.  It’s been copied and modified a million times over and I still think the traditional rosemary scented soup and crunchy buttered sandwich makes any Tuesday night a little more special.

Soup should really be considered it’s own food group.  I pride myself in being the sole person to order a warm tortilla soup in the middle of Houston summer, or chilled cucumber-melon bisque when it’s 20 below.  (I happened to have both melon bisque and puréed corn chowder with chili oil at my wedding.)  There’s something about soup I find utterly addicting.  The combination of flavors, the variety of textures, and most importantly the crunchy garlic croutons, crispy bacon, or fresh herbs that get delicately placed on top and slowly sink into the silky, savory bisque.

The roasted, sweet tomatoes combined with the tangy bite of rosemary sourdough bread soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day.  The bread gives this soup a thick texture with a mouthy richness I often find missing in perfectly velvety broths.  Aromatic sweet basil with hints of mint and pepper brighten the flavor and offer you a taste of summer just when you think fall has taken over.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 28oz
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 4 large slices of sourdough rosemary bread
  • 3/4 cup light whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Freshly sliced mozzarella cheese for topping
  • Basil for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add butter and red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Onions should become transparent but should not brown.
  4. Add stewed tomatoes, canned tomatoes (including juice), salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to the pot.  I break up the bread so it’s easier to spoon out and purée.
  7. Next you’ll puree the soup in small batches, so I usually remove it from the heat and let it cool a little before I begin this process.  The soup should still have texture and not be completely smooth.  The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s perfectly silky in texture.
  8. Carefully puree, along with the basil leaves in small batches. You can use a blender, food processor, or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the pot.  If you use a blender BE CAREFUL!  The heat will force the top off the blender and you’ll be cleaning soup off your ceiling for weeks, or you’ll burn your hands so just fill it up half way and pulse it gently.
  9. Return to saucepan and add cream and milk, while stirring, over low heat.
  10. Garnish with basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and serve with a warm slice of sourdough bread.

For a healthier version, leave out the butter and replace the cream with non-fat milk.  Enjoy!

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November 14, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Ok, I waited long enough.  It’s now officially holiday season with Thanksgiving only 10 days away!  I’ll continue to post some healthy alternatives to get you through the cookie season, but this is not one of them.  This is melt-in-your-mouth, buttery, sugary heaven, and a perfect way to begin the festivities.

These quick, easy powdered sugar-covered shortbread cookies are known as Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cookies.  Either way they’re delicious, and dead easy to make.  They’re very similar to a shortbread cookie, but have the added flavor and texture of pecans and the silkiness of powdered sugar.

The secret to great tasting Mexican Wedding cookies is to use a high quality butter and pure vanilla extract.   Yep, it’s that simple.  The distinctive quality of these cookies that make it stand out from others is the smooth, velvety texture, light as air yet buttery flavor, and the surprising hint of crunchy nut which elevates this from simple cookie to a grown-up confection. I remember being horribly disappointed by these cookies as a kid because they aren’t overly sweet.  Now I appreciate that subtle sweetness and complex nutty flavor.

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.*
  • Line cookies sheets with parchment paper.
  • Take one tray and line with chopped pecans.  Toast nuts for about 10 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant.  Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the batter
  • Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer at low-speed until it’s smooth and light in color.
  • Beat in vanilla, almond extract and nutmeg at low-speed.
  • Keep mixer on low and gradually add the flour.
  • Once you add all the flour, remove mixer from stand and mix in the pecans with a spatula.
  • With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent.
  • Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies.
  • Place crescent shapes prepared cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Before the cookies are ready to come out, prepare a shallow bowl with confectioners sugar
  • Remove cookies from oven and when cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners sugar
  • Cool on wire racks

* QUICK TIP: If you’re short on time, you can raise the oven temperature to 350 and cook for 12-14 minutes per batch.  I prefer the slow cooking method, it keeps them evenly cooked and you have less chance of overcooking them, but the hotter oven also works.

Buying vanilla extract can be a challenge as there are so many choices. The first thing to do is to make sure that it’s labeled “pure” and not “imitation”. The best I have found, although it is quite expensive, is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that can be found in specialty food stores and online.

 

 

November 9, 2011

Hummus with Homemade Pita Chips

Hummus is one of my go to’s when organizing my list for party snacks.  It’s far healthier than the traditional ranch dip (although that does have it’s place at times) and packs huge flavor in a small bite.  It’s also an impeccable match for vegetables, breads, chips…. pretty much anything you like to dip.  It’s one of those dishes that will leave you with a perfectly clean bowl and happy, full stomachs after every party.

Hummus is a Middle Eastern spread or dip made with chickpeas, which are also known as garbanzo beans.  By themselves, I’m definitely not a fan, in fact, I hate them.  I pick them out of soups and salads, and toss them away without the littlest thought.  I find them mealy, dry and flaky and have no need for them.  But all blended up in the food processor with some other goodies and they make a fantastically good dip!  I can’t resist the creamy deliciousness that makes simple pita turn into a delicacy.  Serve it with some olives and a glass of wine and you’ll feel like you’re on a Greek vacation… ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but it will make your ordinary Tuesday something special.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice, about 1/2 lemon
  • Handful fresh cilantro

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line baking tray with foil, and spread the pine nuts out
  3. Once oven is preheated, toast pine nuts for 10 mins.  Keep your eye on them; if your oven runs hot or it’s touchy, you’ll want to check on them after 6-8 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.  You can also do this in a dry skillet on medium heat.
  4. Once they turn golden remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes
  5. Add all ingredients with the exception of 1 tbsp. pine nuts and cilantro to the food processor.  The reserved pine nuts will be your garnish
  6. Pulse on high for 30 seconds until mixture is well blended
  7. Add cilantro and pulse a few more times until cilantro is incorporated
  8. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water or olive oil, this is the time to taste it to see if the salt and spices are at the right level.  Add a little more salt if needed but be careful, you can’t take back
  9. Scoop hummus into serving bowl and garnish with the remaining pine nuts and a little olive oil
  10. Serve with chips, pita bread, jicama, or carrots…. Anything you like to dip!

If you’re feeling like really treating yourself, you can make homemade pit chips to go with your hummus.  They beat the ones from the store any day.

Ingredients

  • 1 bag fresh pita (white or whole wheat)
  • 4 tbsp.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Cut pita bread into 8 wedges
  3. Pour olive oil into a bowl and brush pita chips with olive oil on both sides.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange pita chips on baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown

 

October 21, 2011

Jalapeño Corn Spoon Bread

I discovered corn spoon bread at a family Thanksgiving my junior year of high school.  How I could go 16 years of my life without knowing about this delicacy is beyond me.  My family was invited over to a friend’s house, and Meghan made her special recipe.  I didn’t even know what it was until it came out of the oven warm and steaming.  Similar to a thick pudding texture, this sweet, creamy dish is a welcomed partner to steak, chili, pork chops, ribs… ok, pretty much anything.

This corn bread meets corn chowder under the alias of spoon bread, is something that I happily mound on my plate knowing it’s both healthy and sweetly delicious.  This is a great substitute to your traditional mashed potatoes, yams, parsnips, root vegetables and other purees that serve as the piles to sop up everything delectable that runs off our main courses before our forks can catch it.  To offset the sweetness of the corn, I add onions and jalapenos to give a mild spice.  I’ve modified the original recipe, but the staples are still there.  Thanks Meghan, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can whole can corn undrained (no salt added)
  • 1 can creamed corn (no salt added)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 jalapeños, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. jalapeño powder
  • 1 package corn bread (jiffy)

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Combine sour cream, butter and egg in a medium size bowl and whisk until smooth
  • Add the remaining ingredients, corm, onion, jalapeno, jalapeño power and corn bread and mix with a wooden spoon
  • Spray a 9” pan with cooking spray
  • Place on center rack in oven and cook for 1 hour
  • Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving, it will be very very hot!

THANK YOU MEGHAN!  This one’s for you!

October 18, 2011

Yellow Chicken Curry with Vegetables

You might be interested to know that curry is not a spice. In fact, there are several definitions out there designed to describe curry’s various combinations of piquant flavors, with many of these relying on origin just as much as how it’s used in the kitchen.  The important thing to remember is that it’s a blend of spices that can be selected and mixed by hand or purchased as curry powder to get the exact level of heat, spice or mellow warmth you’re looking for.  In my quest for the perfectly mild, yet also spicy curry, I began working on my own concoction.

My yellow curry can be altered to suit a spicy palette or toned down for those who prefer a mild heat, either way it’s depth of flavor and fragrant bouquet of spices will have you craving Indian more often.  I prefer a rich, velvety sauce with lots of meat and vegetables that offers up a variety of textures and flavors.  I use big chunks of carrots and cauliflower that soften as they simmer and absorb all the flavors of the cooked spices.  The rich flavor and velvety quality of the curry is perfectly paired with freshly steamed jasmine rice; you can’t help but go back for seconds.  Just adjust the amount of cumin and red pepper flakes to change the level of heat, either way you’ll get a traditional Indian curry worthy of being  part of your menu.

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 4 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. cardamom
  • 2 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. dehydrated jalapeño peppers
  • 2 tsp. cumin

Sauce

  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 2 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. dehydrated jalapeño peppers
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 jalapeno, finely chopped (include seeds if you want more heat)
  • 4 Bay leaves
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 2 10 oz. cans light coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1-2 tbsp. semolina flour (for thickening)
  • Handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Raita

  • 1 pint plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp. fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. lime juice (1/2 medium lime)

Method

You’ll start this recipe by cooking the chicken in a mixture of spices, similar to the ones that you will use in the sauce.  This gives the chicken way more flavor than if you just dropped it in at the end

  • Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a large, heavy bottom skillet at medium heat
  • Add paprika, turmeric, cardamom, coriander, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, dehydrated jalapeño peppers and cumin to the hot oil and slowly cook the spices.  This will bring out all the deep flavors and give you a great base for the chicken.  Use the spice amounts listed in the top part of the ingredients under “chicken”
  • Let the spices cook for about 1-2 mins until aromatic
  • Drop chicken in the pan and let cook for about 6 mins. You don’t need to worry about cooking the chicken through, you just want to coat all sides with the spices and oil and slightly brown the pieces.  Carefully toss until everything is coated and the outside is golden
  • Remove from pan and leave in bowl for later
  • No need to wipe out or rinse the pan, just add in the oil and continue cooking on medium heat
  • Add oil and spices: paprika, turmeric, cardamom, coriander, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, dehydrated jalapeño peppers, cumin and salt and cook for 2 minutes until aromatic
  • Add onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeño and bay leaves stir to evenly coat the onions.  Cook on medium for 10 minutes, you don’t want the onions to turn brown, you want them translucent (it’s called “sweating”)
  • Once the vegetables cook down, add tomato paste, coconut milk, and carrots.  Stir in new ingredients, cover and bring to a simmer on low heat.  Leave for 20 minutes to let all the flavors meld.
  • While the curry flavors develop, it’s time to make the raita.
  • In a medium bowl, add yogurt, mint, cumin, salt, pepper, lime juice and bell pepper.  Mix well, cover with saran wrap and leave in the fridge until dinner
  • Add chicken and cauliflower continue to simmer for another 20-30 mins.
  •  Serve over rice with a side of Puppodums and raita.

Puppodums are wafer thin Indian “crackers” made with lentil flour and sometimes spices usually served at the beginning of a meal, or alongside the main dish with chutney and raita for dipping.  I LOVE THEM!  I usually eat a whole box when I make curry, I break them up and use them like a spoons.  I just can’t have curry without them, and the ones from the store are easier than making them from scratch.  I buy the Tiger brand Spicy Puppodums, spray a little oil on them, and them pop them in the microwave for 40 seconds.  Puppodum perfection!

October 4, 2011

Polenta with Bacon & Parmesean

This is a dish that will always remind me of home, and more importantly my mom.  She would make this for me on ‘special’ nights and to this day I’m still not sure why this was a ‘special’ dinner.  Either way, I enjoyed it and would hold off eating any snacks for the afternoon in anticipation of warm polenta topped with bacon and cheese.  This is a very easy, affordable dinner that only consists of 3 ingredients, can’t get much simpler than that!

There’s something warm and inviting about  creamy polenta when it’s fried up in a skillet.  It gets a delicate crisp coating on the outside, but the middle is smooth and creamy.  The Parmesan cheese slowly melts on top, and the crispy, salty bite from the bacon give the dish a nice change of texture.  It’s hard to imagine not liking this dish, after all it has bacon and cheese, what more could you want?  Give it a try; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients

  • 1 round of pre-cooked polenta (you can make it from scratch but I like to make life easier)
  • 1 packet of bacon, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or 1/2 cup if you love it like me)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

Method

  • Preheat skillet to medium~high
  • Cut bacon into bite size pieces with scissors directly into the pan
  • Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp
  • When the bacon is nice and crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove from pan and place on a plate lined with paper towel to drain the excess oils
  • Wipe out pan with paper towel and add 1 tbsp. of olive oil and return to medium~high heat (you can also use the bacon fat instead of olive oil, your choice)
  • While pan heats up, take the round of cold polenta and slice into 1 inch thick pieces
  • Once oil is hot, carefully place the cut rounds of polenta into skillet
  • Cook for 6-8 minutes until golden brown and turn
  • Brown other side for 6-8 mins
  • Remove from pan
  • To serve, place polenta on plate, sprinkle crumbled bacon and Parmesan cheese on top
  • YUMMMMMMMMMM!

If you make Polenta from scratch, the basic ratio for polenta is 4 parts liquid to 1 part polenta. I recommend making 2 cups polenta and add a teaspoon of salt, cook as normal and then pour it into a shallow dish to set in the fridge (takes 2-3 hours).  Then slice the polenta and fry up just as you did above.

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