Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

It is 103 degrees as I type this right now!! Not much soup making happening around here this week. I made this delicious fall soup last week when I hosted my girlfriends for dinner. One friend’s comment after her first bite was, “This is a flavor party in my mouth!”.  With a comment like that, I had to share the recipe. This is a perfect fall soup. I actually made it a couple years ago for a holiday party  I had and served it in these cute little mugs along with some other small plates. If you are somewhere with lovely fall weather…MAKE THIS SOUP! If you are in southern California like me, make it as soon as this awful little heat wave is gone.

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This soup is subtly sweet, and a little spicy. I used some Ancho chili powder for a little heat and some harissa. If you aren’t familiar with harissa, it is a North African chili paste that is full of flavor. I bought this one at Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s also sells their own version. Be careful with how much you use…I went with 2 1/2 tbsp and it had a decent amount of kick to it. It goes really well with the flavors in this soup!  Ginger and orange zest also join the “flavor party”.

You can buy peeled and cubed butternut squash just about anywhere these days. That’s what I always use to save some time. For this I used four 12 ounce bags of Trader Joe’s squash.

Butternut squash soupGarnishes are optional, but come on…don’t they look yummy?!? I found some spicy pumpkin seeds and they added some extra punch. Good apple wood smoked bacon really knocks it out of the park!

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Start out by roasting all of your vegetables. You will need 2 sheet pans for this. This part takes a little time, but adds so much flavor to the soup. And once the roasting is all done, it comes together quickly.

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Onion, peppers & carrots ready to roast. No need to chop things too small since you will puree it all later.

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Butternut Squash ready to go in the oven.

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Soft and roasty garlic cloves.

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All of the veggies in the pot with the harissa, ginger, coriander, and additional maple syrup…just waiting on some chicken stock.🙂

As I have said before on the blog…the lazy girl side of me likes to line my baking sheets with foil so I have less dishes to wash! I also made a little foil tent for the garlic so it wouldn’t  brown too much while the other veggies roasted. It came out perfectly soft and roasty.

As with salting any soup, you will need to taste as you go. You will use a lot of salt to season the vegetables while they roast, and you will also get some salt from your chicken stock, but you will need to add more. Salt is pretty important to get the flavor just right. It really enhances all the other flavors. If you feel like something is missing, it is likely just a little salt.

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup

Click here for a printable version of this recipe

Makes 8 servings
Ingredients:
  • 3 lbs of peeled and cubed butternut squash (approximately 2 butternut squash)
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 large carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 small sweet onions cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4-6 whole garlic cloves
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp of ancho or chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 – 3 tbsp of Harissa
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger grated on a microplane
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Optional Garnishes:
  • cooked bacon
  • creme fraiche or sour cream
  • chopped fresh mint and chives
  • roasted pumpkin seeds or spicy pumpkin seeds
Directions:
Preheat oven to 425

Line 2 baking sheets with heavy duty foil or parchment paper. Mix 2 tbsp of the maple syrup with 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large bowl. Put the squash in and toss to coat it all evenly, then put it in a single layer on one of the baking sheets. Sprinkle the squash with plenty of salt and pepper and a little of the chili powder (the more you use, the more heat you will get). Add 2 more tbsp of olive oil to the bowl (no maple syrup this time) and toss the bell peppers, carrots, and onions until they are coated in oil. Arrange the veggies in a single layer on the second baking sheet and season generously with salt and pepper. Put the garlic cloves in a small piece of foil and drizzle them with a little olive oil and close the foil up. Put the foil on the baking sheet with the veggies. Roast all of the veggies for 30 – 45 minutes or until the squash is very tender and there is some caramelization on the onions and peppers. The garlic should be very soft as well.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil (or bacon fat if you have it from cooking the bacon you are using to garnish!) in a large dutch oven over low to medium heat. Add the harissa to taste (1 tbsp is mild to medium, 2 is medium to spicy, 3 is spicy!), the grated ginger, and the coriander, the remaining 2 tbsp of maple syrup,  and cook for 3 minutes. Add all of the roasted veggies and garlic and 6 cups of the chicken stock (reserve 2 cups of stock to thin the soup out if needed). Bring to a simmer and cover the pot and cook for about 20 minutes. Taste your stock to see if it is well seasoned… you will probably need to add more salt at this point. You will get some salt from the seasoned roasted veggies, and some from the stock, so taste as you go to see how much more you need. I added about 2 more teaspoons of salt.

 

 The next step is to puree the soup. You can do this with an immersion blender or let it cool a bit and do it in batches in a blender. I think the blender gives you a smoother texture. You will need to do it in 2 – 3 batches depending on the size of your blender. Make sure your soup is not piping hot when you blend it. Add more stock at this point if it is too thick. I ended up using all 8 cups.
 Return the blended soup to the pot and add the the orange zest and heavy cream. Check again for seasoning…more salt and pepper may be needed. Heat over low heat until it is hot. Garnish with the cooked bacon, chopped mint and chives, and pumpkin seeds.

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Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

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In the cooler months, I make soup at least once a week. My big green Le Creuset pretty much lives on top of my stove all winter long. Soup is not only comforting to eat, but I really enjoy making it. I know there can be a lot of chopping and prep involved with a good soup, but I actually like that part. If I can paint a picture for you…Cold night, sweats on, occupied/content children, BIG glass of wine, while making soup = perfect evening for me! I feel like all the work that goes into prepping each ingredient is like adding little “layers of love” to your pot. Kinda cheesy, I know, but that is how I feel about soup.

This soup really turned out to be so delicious. The little bit of cream and yogurt give it a richness that is satisfying without being over the top. It is definitely a “lightly” creamy soup, not a thick and creamy one. The wild rice is the star of this soup and it gives it such great flavor. To save time, I bought an organic rotisserie chicken at Whole Foods and it was perfect for this. I like when a little of everything can fit on your spoon, so I cut my potatoes and carrots into smallish cubes and I chopped the chicken into pretty small pieces to match the size of the veggies.

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When you add the yogurt at the end, don’t forget to temper it a bit with some of the warm soup so that it doesn’t separate from the heat. I talk about this trick in my post for Corn Chowder. It is such a great way to add a little rich, creamy flavor without adding too much fat. You can leave out the cream, or add more to suit your preference. Also, remember that salt is pretty key in making a soup taste great. I think the biggest issue with recipes that end up being on the bland side is simply a lack of salt. Salt brings out the flavor of every ingredient in the pot, and getting the right amount is pretty crucial. You can always add, so go slowly. And keep in mind that chicken stock will vary on salt content so you really have to taste as you go. I used regular (not low sodium) stock for this soup and added about 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

For a printable version of this recipe, click here

Makes 6 – 8 hearty servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, quartered or sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup wild rice (5 ounces)
  • 2 medium gold potatoes, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cups cooked chicken *See note below
  • 1/2 cup low fat or full fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Instructions:

In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat (I used my 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset), melt the butter and add the splash of olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until they give off all of their liquid (you may need to turn up the heat a bit). Add the garlic and thyme and cook a minute or two more. Add the flour and stir well to incorporate it with the veggies. Cook the flour for a couple minutes letting it brown a little but being careful not to burn it.

Add the stock and the water and stir well scraping up any bits of flour from the bottom of the pot. Add the rice and potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with the lid cracked open just a bit and simmer for about 35 minutes, checking/stirring every 10 min or so to make sure it stays at a low simmer and not a boil.

Add the cooked chicken and cook for about 10-15 more minutes or until the rice done and the potatoes are tender. Temper the Greek yogurt by adding it to a small bowl and ladling about 1/2 cup of the hot soup stock from the pot in with the yogurt. Whisk until smooth, then add to the soup. Next stir in the heavy cream and parsley and turn off the heat.  Check for seasoning and add more salt/pepper if needed. Serve with crusty bread and a glass of buttery chardonnay!

*Ingredient Note* I used the meat from a whole small rotisserie chicken (about 2 lbs) and chopped it into  bite size pieces. It gave me right about 3 cups of chicken. You can chop or shred your chicken…which ever you prefer.


My Best EVER Corn Chowder!

Summer Corn Chowder 1Oh YUM, this was good! I make corn chowder quite a bit, but this one was the BEST! There are a few things that made it extra delicious. The first is fresh corn. I make corn chowder in the winter as a cozy warm-you-up soup, but I use frozen corn because fresh is not in season.  Using really fresh summer corn makes a very different soup. It just tastes like summer. I know soup is not the usual go-to for a summer dinner, but the summer weather here in San Clemente isn’t too hot. We get this “marine layer” thing that keeps it nice and mild. Plus, I just love soup and can’t go a whole season without making it!

Another thing that set this soup apart is simmering the corn cobs in the stock to get a rich and sweet corn flavor that adds so much to the soup. Pureeing some of the cooked corn with some stock in the blender gives a great texture to the soup as well.

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Now, last but not least, the final thing that put this soup on a whole other level…drum roll please!!! GREEK YOGURT!

I know this is a simple addition, but it gave the soup a rich, creamy texture without adding the fat that heavy cream does. It also adds a fresh flavor that compliments the fresh corn so well. The trick to cooking with Greek yogurt is tempering it first so that it doesn’t separate in the soup. The high protein content of Greek yogurt can make it react funny in high heat. Whisking a little hot soup into the yogurt before adding it to the pot helps this problem. You also want to add it at the very end with the heat low or off.

Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes thinking, “simmering corn cobs” and “tempering yogurt”…ugh! Yes, these are extra steps to an otherwise simple recipe, but they make such a difference in the flavor. I don’t think I will ever make my corn chowder any other way again.

Summer Corn Chowder 2

Summer Corn Chowder

For a printable version of this recipe, click here

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 6 ears of corn
  • 2 quarts of chicken stock (8 cups)
  • 8 slices of bacon
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 pound gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) 2% or full fat greek yogurt (I like Fage)
  • Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
  • Grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar for garnish

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees to cook the bacon. Remove the corn kernels from the cobs and set aside. Once the corn kernels are removed, put the cobs in a large stock pot and add all but one cup of the chicken stock (you will need this reserved stock to blend some of the corn later). Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the corn kernels to the pot and simmer for 10 more minutes.

While the corn cobs are simmering, cook the bacon on a cookie sheet lined with heavy duty aluminum foil until crisp (about 15-20 minutes). Drain the bacon on paper towels and set aside to crumble for topping the soup.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

In a large dutch oven (I used my 5.5 quart Le Creuset), heat the olive oil and the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat on medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 – 10 minutes or until golden. Add the celery, red pepper, and the remaining raw corn kernels and saute for 10 more minutes.

Remove the corn cobs from the stock and discard. Using a strainer, strain the stock into the pot with the onions, red pepper, celery and corn and add the cooked corn from the strainer to a blender. Add the potatoes to the pot with the stock and veggies, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. I used 3 teaspoons of salt with my low sodium stock, but the amount you will need depends on how salty your stock is. Start with 2 teaspoons and add as needed.

Simmer all of the veggies for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. While the veggies are simmering, add the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock to your blender with the cooked corn and blend until smooth. After the potatoes are tender, add the blended corn to the pot and mix well. In a small bowl, temper the Greek yogurt by whisking in some (about a cup) of the hot soup gradually until it is mixed in well. Turn off the heat and add the tempered yogurt to the soup and mix well.

Serve topped with crumbled bacon, grated cheese, and fresh chopped parsley on top. And of course…good crusty bread!

 

 

 


Lean, Mean, & Green Chicken Chili with Garbanzo Beans

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I know that chili isn’t really a warm weather dinner, but we have had our typical June Gloom around here and a warm bowl 0f chili still hits the spot for me. And, this is not your typical meaty and heavy chili! This chili is light and zippy, thanks to the lean ground chicken and the tomatillos. I used garbanzo beans, which I love, because I had a bag in the pantry. You can used canned too, but it’s so easy to boil up a pot of beans if you have the forethought to do it and they taste a step above the canned ones. You could sub whatever your fave bean is and it would be just as delicious!

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You may know from some of my other posts (like my avocado and tomatillo rellish) that I LOVE tomatillos! They are so easy to cook with and add such great flavor to sauces, salsas, soups and stews. The only prep they need is removing the green husk and rinsing them well in warm water to remove the sticky film that they have. You can roast them whole and blend them for a sauce or chop them up and throw them in a pot like I did for this dish.

IMG_3604A quick saute of some chopped poblano pepper and onion start this easy dish. From there you just need to brown your ground chicken (organic if you can get it!), then add in your chopped tomatillos along with some stock and beer.

IMG_3605IMG_3607Once you bring it to a simmer, you just throw the lid on and let it do it’s thing. After it “stews” for about 30 minutes, the tomatillos will break down and make the perfect green sauce.

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Keep in mind…this is a really mild chili. If you want to heat things up a little, throw in a couple of finely chopped jalapenos or a serano when you are sauteing the onion and poblano. I kept this mild for my 6 year old. My heat loving husband and 9 year old added plenty of jalapeno slices to their bowls.

IMG_1919Jalapenos aren’t the only thing you will want to top this with. Garnishes can make a meal! I topped ours with diced avocado, queso fresco, and some sour cream. GOTTA have the garnishes 🙂

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After I served this, I thought it would have been great over some white rice. I think I will make some to serve it with next time. I did make some little quesadilla roll-ups with these cute mini corn tortillas I found. They were tasty for dipping!

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Green Chili with Chicken and Garbanzo Beans

Click here for a printable version of the recipe

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium onion – chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 4 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound tomatillos – husked, washed, and roughly chopped
  • 1-7oz can whole roasted green chilis (like Ortega) – seeds removed and chopped small
  • 1 cup Mexican beer (like Pacifico or Modelo Especial)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4 1/2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans, OR 3 cans – rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Optional Garnishes:
  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Diced Avocado
  • Crumbled Queso Fresco or shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
  • Sliced Radishes
  • Sliced Jalapeno pepper

*Cooked white rice to serve over if desired

Directions:

In a large dutch oven, saute the onion and poblano pepper for about 7 minutes. Add the cumin and minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the ground chicken and cook, breaking it up with the side of a spoon, until it is cooked through. Add the salt, chopped tomatillos, chopped green chilies, beer, and stock, and bring to a simmer. Cover and lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the tomatillos have broken down.  Add the garbanzo beans and cilantro and cook until heated through. Taste to see if you need any additional salt – that will depend on how salty your stock is. Serve in a bowl, over rice if desired, with optional garnishes.


Simple & Delicious Chicken Noodle Soup

The perfect cure when you are feeling under the weather…

IMG_1141You don’t actually have to feel under the weather to enjoy this delicious soup, but it does hit the spot if you do! Both my boys came down with pretty nasty colds over the weekend and I made this soup to warm them up.

IMG_1139There is no substitute for good home made chicken soup with chicken stock made from scratch. I do rely heavily on store bought chicken stock for making a quick pot of soup, but when I have the time I make the good stuff! It is really simple to do, you just need a little time. Trust me…you will be glad you did! Making chicken soup this way is a 2 step process. First, you need to cook your chicken which also gives you your stock, then you make the soup.

IMG_1127I like to use a whole (organic, please!) chicken, but you can also use breasts and thighs with the bone in. Celery, onion, carrots, garlic, and herbs give the stock great flavor. Since you don’t need to worry about chopping the veggies up small, you can throw this together quickly. You simmer the chicken slowly for about an hour (only about 30 minutes if you use breasts and thighs). Once the chicken is cooked, you remove it and let it cool before removing the meat for the soup. The bones go back in the pot and the stock simmers for about another hour. This step can be done a day or two in advance.

You can use your home made chicken stock in a ton of different recipes, but you have to try it in this soup! I used the breast and thigh meat in the soup, but feel free to use what ever you prefer. This is also a good way to cook chicken for recipes that call for cooked shredded chicken. Better than buying a grocery store rotisserie chicken that is probably loaded with things you don’t want to eat…yikes!

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I put linguini noodles in this soup, but it is also good with other pasta shapes or a combo of white and wild rice. What ever you choose to use, just cook it separately and add it to the bowl when you serve it. If you cook rice or pasta in the soup, your leftovers will have mushy pasta or rice that has absorbed a lot of the broth.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients for Stock:

  • 1 whole 4-5 pound organic chicken
  • one onion, quartered
  • 2 celery stocks, cut in half
  • 2 carrots, cut in half
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a few sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 tablespoon of peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon of kosher salt

Method:

Remove the neck and any giblets from the cavity of the chicken and rinse well inside and out. Add the chicken and all of the ingredients to a large stock pot and fill with enough water to just cover the chicken (at least 3 quarts). Bring to a boil over medium/high heat and then reduce the heat and cover, keep it at a slow simmer for an hour. Check occasionally to make sure it stays at a slow simmer.

After an hour, turn off the heat, remove chicken and let it cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard. Remove all of the meat and reserve, then return the bones/carcass to the pot with the stock. Return to a simmer, cover and let it cook for another hour.

When the stock is done, strain through a mesh strainer. You should have 3-4 quarts of stock. It can be stored in the refrigerator for about 5 days or in the freezer until ready to use.

If you want to remove the fat from your stock, you can use a fat separator or you can refrigerate the stock until the fat rises to the top and hardens, then you can easily skim the fat off the top.

Ingredients for Chicken Noodle Soup:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stocks (the more leaves the the better), chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 cups of chicken stock (2 1/2 cartons if you are using store bought)
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 carrots (depending on size), sliced into discs
  • 3 small red potatoes, diced (peel can be left on or taken off, whatever you prefer)
  • 2-3 cups of cooked chicken (breast and thigh meat from the cooked chicken)
  • 1/4 cup of fresh chopped Italian parsley (plus more for garnish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound of linguini or spaghetti noodles broken into 2 inch pieces
  • juice of one lemon, plus extra lemon to serve with soup

Method:

In a large dutch oven heat the olive oil and saute the leeks for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for about 10 more minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.

Add the stock, thyme, bay leaf, carrots, potatoes a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cover the soup and simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, boil some salted water in a separate pot to cook your pasta. Cook just until al dente (whatever the package recommends). Drain and return to the pot with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together.

Check the soup after 30 minutes to make sure the carrots and potatoes are nice and tender. Add the cooked chicken, parsley, the lemon juice, and more salt and pepper to taste (you will probably need at least one more teaspoon of salt). To serve, put a few good spoonfuls of noodles into a bowl and top with the hot soup. Serve with lemon wedges and extra fresh parsley.

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Short Rib Stroganoff

Serious Comfort Food…

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Happy Holidays Juicy Bites readers! I know posts are coming a little slowly these days…’tis the season :).  I am trying not to let too much time pass before I get a little something yummy out to my faithful readers.

I know I say this every year, but man…the Holidays seriously overwhelm me! Every year after Christmas, I tell myself to get ahead of the game the following year so that I won’t feel so stressed and I will be able to enjoy the season more with my family. Well…that has yet to actually happen. I had envisioned many Holiday-ish posts this month, but that’s not happening either. Maybe next year…

For now, here is a great winter dish that you can make for any Holiday company that might come your way. I LOVE beef that has been braised and slow cooked to fall-apart perfection. Especially when there is wine involved in the braising This dish is just that…tender, beefy, yummy goodness! It requires little prep time, but does need plenty of time to cook once it gets going.

beef stroganoff short ribs

You can make stroganoff with a number of different cuts of beef. Filet is great (but expensive) and cooks very quickly. You can also use top sirloin which is less expensive but not quite as tender. My favorite is chuck or these boneless short ribs. You need more cooking time, but I love the end result.

beef stroganoff short ribs brownedYou need to brown the beef first. This step is important, so don’t rush it. Depending on how much you make, you may need to do it in batches so you don’t over crowd the pan.

beef stroganoff vegies

The veggies go in the pan after the beef is browned. You cook them in the yumminess left behind after you brown the beef. It’s all a part of the “layers of flavor” that you get when you cook like this. DELISH!

beef stroganoff mushroomsMushrooms are a key ingredient in stroganoff. I used a mix of brown mushrooms and assorted mushrooms like shitake & crimini. You brown them separately and add them to the beef after it has finished cooking.

beef stroganoff bowlI like to serve this over egg noodles which is pretty traditional. It would also be scrumptious over mashed potatoes. You need some good crusty bread on the side and some red wine. Salad is totally optional…I find that sometimes greens just get in the way when I am craving a dinner like this :).

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This a great dish to cook for company. You could easily double it, and most of the work can be done in advance.

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Short Rib Stroganoff

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of boneless beef short ribs
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for the mushrooms)
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup red wine (I used a zinfandel)
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  •  1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound sliced mushrooms (I used assorted….use what ever you like)
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • 1 pound egg noodles, cooked, drained, and tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper for serving
  • fresh chopped Italian parsley to garnish

Method:

Heat the oil over medium/high heat in a large dutch oven. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and brown on all sides (about 2-3 minutes per side). Do this in batches so you don’t over crowd the pan. Once the all of the beef is browned, set aside and add the onion and carrot to the pan (add a little more oil if you need it). Saute the veggies, scraping up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for a few more minutes. Add the wine to the pot and deglaze any remaining bits from the pot. Return the beef to the pot and add the stock, the tomato paste, the bay leaves, and the thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the beef is very tender.

While the beef is cooking, heat the butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and cook the mushrooms over high heat so that they caramelize. Cook until there is no liquid left in the pan and the mushrooms are nicely browned. Set aside until beef is done.

Once beef is tender, add the mustard and worcestershire and mix well. Taste for seasoning, you may need more salt and pepper depending on how salty your stock is. Add the cooked mushrooms to the beef, then add the sour cream and mix well. Cook for about 5 more minutes. Serve over the egg noodles and top with fresh parsley.


Kicked Up Tomato Soup and Killer Paninis!

A slightly more grown up version of the classic combo…

My family loves tomato soup and grilled cheese. I love that it is an easy week night dinner that everyone will eat. I also love how warm and cozy a simple meal like this can be on a cold day. I’m sure you probably have a stand-by tomato soup recipe already, but this one may become your favorite.

I decided to try adding sun dried tomatoes to it this time to boost the tomato flavor. I also added 2 whole heads of roasted garlic. It really added a lot of flavor without making it taste to garlicky. I love the way roasting garlic mellows the flavor and allows you to use so much more of it without being overpowering.

The other key to great tomato flavor is to use good canned tomatoes. I love San Marzano tomatoes from Italy and they are available at most well stocked grocery stores. I use whole tomatoes since they will be pureed anyway.

I also like to buy concentrated tomato paste. It is sold in a tube near the canned tomatoes. It’s perfect to have on hand when you only want a little bit of tomato paste and not a whole can. It’s also concentrated so you don’t need much.

An immersion blender makes quick work of pureeing this soup. If you don’t have one, just do it in a regular blender in batches.

As for the panini, I went with a combo of goat cheese and mozzarella, prosciutto, roasted red pepper, and arugula. It was DELISH! I used focaccia and drizzled a little aged balsamic vinegar over the arugula before putting it in the panani press.

If you don’t have a panini press, you could do this on a grill pan or in a regular pan too. You will still get a very tasty grilled cheese! I actually don’t own a panini maker, but I do have a George Foreman grill (don’t laugh!!), and it works great for making paninis. 

For the soup, you just need a little extra time in advance to roast the garlic. I do mine in the toaster oven in a ramekin. It is really simple…just cut the top (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch) of the head of garlic off, drizzle with a little olive oil, then roast at 400 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes or until it is very soft. You could also use a muffin tin or just wrap the whole head in foil. Once it is done, let it cool enough so you can handle it, then you can squeeze the roasted cloves out or use a small fork to pull them out. You may even want to roast an extra head to spread on your sandwich!

Sun Dried Tomato Basil Soup with Roasted Garlic

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced small
  • 2 heads roasted garlic, cloves removed
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped (blot excess oil on a paper towel)
  • 1  (28 ounce) can of good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 large bunch of fresh basil (about a cup), chopped, plus some thinly sliced basil for garnish
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat and saute the chopped onion and carrots for about 10 minutes. Add all of the roasted garlic, the whole can of tomatoes (don’t drain) and the  sun dried tomatoes, the tomato paste, the chicken broth, and the chopped basil. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Puree soup with an immersion blender or you can do it in batches in a regular blender.  Add the cream and heat for a few more minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if it needs it. Serve with more basil on top.

Paninis with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper & Arugula

Ingredients:

  • Focaccia or Ciabatta bread, sliced for 4 sandwiches
  • 4 slices of prosciutto
  • 4 slices of mozzarella
  • 4 ounces of goat cheese
  • 1 jar of roasted red pepper, drained and blotted dry with paper towels
  • 1 bag of washed baby arugula
  • good olive oil
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

These are very simple…start by spreading some of the goat cheese on 1 half of the bread. Add the slice of prosciutto, some of the roasted red pepper, and a small pile of arugula leaves. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of balsamic over the arugula and season with salt and pepper. Put the slice of mozzarella on the on top and finish with the other half of bread. Brush the outside of the sandwich with olive oil and cook in a panini press according for about 5 to 10 minutes (time will vary depending on your panini maker).


Creamy Cauliflower and Potato Soup

Creamy, comforting, delicious and healthy!

The temperature is starting to drop…just a little. Ok, so it was 75 degrees today. At least it wasn’t 85, and with the evenings cooling down, I was ready for some soup! I have made this soup many times and my family really likes it. It is one of my kid’s favorites (they call it Snowman Soup) and I love that it is packed with good stuff. This soup tastes rich and indulgent…but it’s healthy!

I know cauliflower is not on very many people’s list of favorite veggies, but it really is delicious when you cook it the right way. I love it roasted with olive oil or in one of my favorite dishes…Linguini and Cauliflower (I will post that one some day!). One of my favorite blogs, In Pursuit of More, has an has an amazing post on Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Pesto  that you MUST check out. Her pictures make cauliflower (and kale) look like a superstar.

In this soup, the cauliflower works so well with the creamy yukon gold potatoes. They are a match maid in heaven.

Make sure you break down your head of cauliflower into small florets that are bite size. It may seem like you have a ton of cauliflower in this recipe, but it cooks down and you puree half of it so it ends up working out just right. I love having creamy texture, but also having nice big bites of cauliflower and potato. There’s something about a totally pureed soup that just doesn’t seem like a meal to me. I like them as a starter,  but if soup is the main dish, I like to have something to chew on. If you have picky eaters, you may want to try to puree the soup completely smooth for them.  Most kids like potato soup and they will never know that there is anything potentially yucky in it.

Beans? In a cauliflower and potato soup? Yes! I puree these cannellini beans in my blender with a little half and half (whole milk would work too, or even soy if you want to go non-dairy). You end up with a smooth and creamy puree that gives the soup really nice texture and body. You would have to add a cup of heavy cream to get the same creamy, thick soup without this trick. Not that I’m against adding a cup of cream to anything, it’s just not something I normally do when I’m cooking my family a weeknight dinner.

Lots of sauteed leek, onion, and celery give this soup great flavor. Make sure your veggies are nice and tender before adding the rest of the goods. Don’t rush this step because it is an important part of building the good flavor of this soup.

This recipe makes a good size pot of soup. If feeds our family of four (with seconds, of course) and makes great leftovers. My boys love to take it to school in a thermos. I think I saw rain in our forecast for Thursday…this is the perfect lunch on a rainy day!

This soup screams for some good crumbled bacon on top. A little dollop of sour cream is nice too! Oh…and you MUST have some good crusty bread or rolls with it. A salad is totally optional and I find that it usually just gets in the way :).

Even if you don’t like cauliflower…I dare you to try this soup. I bet you will change your mind.

Creamy Cauliflower and Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 1 small to medium brown onion, chopped small
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large head (or 2 small) of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  •  6 cups of chicken stock
  • 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced (if all you can find is baby Yukon Golds, you will need about 2 lbs or just under)
  • 1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup of whole milk or half and half
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Optional Garnishes: Cooked bacon, sour cream, chopped Italian parsley or chives

In a large heavy pot (like Le Cruset), heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, onion, celery, and a pinch or 2 of kosher salt and cook until they have softened (about 10 minutes). Add all of the cauliflower, the chicken stock, and the potatoes and season with more salt then bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook until the cauliflower and potatoes are very tender (about 15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, blend the drained cannellini beans and the milk or half and half until very smooth. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Once your cauliflower and potatoes are very tender, add about half to the blender (let it cool a little before blending).  Blend until smooth and add back to the pot along with the pureed beans. Cook on low for about 5 minutes so that it heats through. Taste for seasoning…you may need to add more salt, it just depends on the saltiness of your chicken stock.

Serve garnished with crumbled bacon, sour cream, fresh chopped Italian parsley or chives.


Spicy Italian Sausage and Seafood Stew

I made this last week when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting. We had a bit of gloomy weather and I wanted to make some comfort food. This dish is very similar to a cioppino (Italian Seafood Stew), but a little simpler to make. It does take a while to cook…it needs some time on the stove for the flavors to develop and the wine to mellow, but you can do almost all of it ahead of time so it is a great dish for company. I used a seafood blend that I found a local seafood shop that had a mix of calamari rings, shrimp, and bay scallops. They also sell a mix like this at Trader Joe’s. The addition of spicy Italian sausage to this gives it great flavor. Don’t leave out the fennel…it really adds something to this dish! If you haven’t cooked with fennel before…here is a good video I found that shows you how you trim and prep a fennel bulb:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Woq5xV7G_N0

Also, I’m sure it would be a punishable crime to serve it without some really good crusty bread 🙂

Chopped onion and shallot

Fennel Bulbs

Chopped fennel

"Cento" brand imported Italian tomatoes

Serve this with a good Pinot Grigio

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb (also called Anise), trimmed and chopped
  • One medium sweet onion (like maui or walla walla), chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound spicy Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
  • 2 cups white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 small yukon gold potatoes, diced into cubes
  • one 35 oz can of imported italian tomatoes blended into a puree in a food processor or blender
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 p0unds of  a mix of shrimp, scallops, and calamari
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley

Directions

In a large heavy soup pot (like a dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, onion, and shallots,  and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes. Add the sausage and break into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the wine to the pot and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in the canned tomatoes that have been pureed, the chicken broth, tomato paste, potatoes, thyme, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper (remember that the sausage and chicken stock will add some salt so taste as you go). Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for about an hour keeping in at a constant simmer and stirring occasionally. After an hour of cooking, check to make sure the potatoes are tender. At this point, you can let the stew cook a little longer which just helps the flavors to develop more if you have the time. If you are ready to serve, add all of the seafood and cook for a few minutes until it is cooked through. The seafood cooks really quickly and you don’t want to overcook it. It really only needs 3 -5 minutes of simmering. Turn off the heat and add the chopped basil and parsley (save a little to garnish) and re-season with salt and pepper if it needs it. Ladle into soup bowls and top with additional parsley and basil. Serve with good crusty bread and some good olive oil for dipping.

If you want to make this a day in advance (which would probably make it taste even better), cook it all the way up to just before adding the seafood and let it cool and put it in the fridge. The next day you just need to bring it to a simmer and add the seafood.

Serves 8


Hearty Veggie Soup with Pearl Couscous

Such a yummy and healthy soup! Lot’s of good veggies and the earthy couscous takes it up a notch. Pearl Couscous (sometimes called Israeli Couscous) is different than regular couscous. It’s bigger and usually made with whole wheat. It has a great nutty, earthy flavor and slightly chewy texture if you don’t over cook it. Whenever I add rice or pasta to a soup I like to cook it separate. I think the texture stays better and if you have left overs (which I always do) then it doesn’t soak up broth and get soggy the next day. This soup was a hit with all except my 5 year old. He ate a modified version with no kale or zucchini. Oh well…at least he got the carrots and potatoes!

Hearty Veggie Soup with Pearl Couscous

  • 1 medium yellow or sweet onion – chopped
  • 2 celery stalks – chopped
  • 3 small carrots – chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves – minced
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1  15 oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley) OR dried herbs
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 4 small red potatoes, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 cups of greens: I used kale – about a half of a bunch, ribs removed and cut into bite size pieces. Spinach or swiss chard would be great too.
  • 1 can garbanzo beans – rinsed and drained
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup Pearl (Israeli) Couscous

In a large heavy soup pot, saute onion, celery, and carrots in some olive oil for about 10 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 5 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, the canned tomatoes, the chopped fresh herbs, and the potatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer with potatoes for about 5 minutes then add the zucchini. If you are using kale or chard, add that also, if you use spinach you can wait until just before serving. Add the garbanzo beans,  season with salt and pepper, and simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes. While the veggies are getting tender, cook the couscous according to the package directions. By the time the couscous is done, the soup should be ready. Just make sure your veggies are tender and you have added plenty of salt (I think I ended up adding about 1 1/2 teaspoons). Serve with a generous spoon full of the couscous and top with some fresh chopped parsley. A little fresh grated parm and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil wouldn’t hurt anything either. 🙂

Oh yeah…I made these yummy bread sticks also. I bought some La Brea Bakery Foccacia bread sticks in the fresh bread section of the grocery store and brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with some of the fresh herbs I had chopped for the soup. I topped them with grated parmesan and baked them for about 15 minutes at 375 in my toaster oven. My kids went nuts for them!