kale and white bean soup

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After all of the junk I ate over the holidays I decided I needed to atone for it in the new year and the first food that came to mind?  Kale.  It’s so good for you and I am actually quite a fan of it so it was not difficult to convince myself to seek out kale-based recipes.  Other foods that are good for you?  Carrots, white beans, garlic, and onions.  Check, check, check, and check.

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Last week was very cold with temps in the single digits at night so soup sounded like an especially excellent idea and also an easy way to combine all of the aforementioned ingredients.

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The recipe recommended adding kielbasa or other smoked sausage so I did, though the soup could easily be made vegetarian by omitting the sausage and substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth.  It would still be excellent with these changes though I am glad I used the kielbasa because it definitely added a nice smokey dimension to the soup and made it more hearty.

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Another key ingredient that I have never once added to a soup before is a hunk of parmesan cheese rind.  It totally works.  It partially melted into the soup adding a salty creaminess though there was still a substantial chunk of cheese left after it was done cooking that I discarded along with the bay leaf.  This may be my favorite new soup and it was very simple to make.  Certainly it would have been a little healthier without the kielbasa and parmesan but overall I think the good far outweighs the bad and it’s definitely a good way to start the new year!

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Kale and White Bean Soup (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Cooks’ note: Soup is best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered. Thin with water if necessary.

potato and rutabaga gratin

Awhile back I bought myself a mandoline so that I could slice vegetables razor thin and do cool stuff with them but the kitchen tool had gone unused until I busted it out at Thanksgiving to make a gratin.

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In addition to using to using the mandoline for the first time this was also the first time I’d ever done anything with rutabaga.  I love working with foods that are new to me!  Rutabagas are in the turnip family and paired beautifully with potatoes in this gratin.  In addition to the two root vegetables there was also garlic, red onion, fresh thyme, and of course the gratin staples of heavy cream, milk, and cheese– in this case Gruyère.  Several people remarked that it was their favorite dish of the day and one of those people may have been me.

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This weekend I plan to do a little Christmas cookie baking so stay tuned next week for ideas for your own holiday baking!

Potato and Rutabaga Gratin (recipe found at www.saveur.com)

  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 lb. rutabagas, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. minced thyme leaves
  • 2 cups (about 4 oz.) grated Gruyére cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425°. Heat butter and oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook until smooth, about 1 minute. Add milk and cream, and stir until smooth. Add potatoes, rutabagas, and 2 tsp. thyme, and bring mixture to a boil; cook, stirring often, until vegetables are slightly tender and broken apart, about 5 minutes. Stir in half the cheese and salt and pepper, and then transfer to a 9″ × 13″ baking dish; top with remaining cheese and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining thyme before serving.

butternut squash and chickpea stew

If you are entertaining guests this holiday season who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions this stew could be a great thing to whip up to accommodate them but is also good enough for all to enjoy.  There is no wheat, dairy, or meat which seem to be the main three things that people are allergic to or just avoid altogether.  (While I respect the vegetarian diet and often choose/prepare meatless options for myself I like bacon way too much to ever give up meat.  But I digress.)

This stew starts with toasting some fragrant spices on your stove.  After they are properly toasted you grind them up in a spice mill/coffee grinder or go old-school with a mortar and pestle and smoosh them to a fine pulp using a little elbow grease.  Then you mix those spices with a little olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and crushed garlic.  This is called Harissa and it will bring a whole lot of flavor to whatever you’ve got going on in your kitchen.

Butternut squash gets peeled and chopped into small pieces and roasted in the oven.  There are onions, more garlic, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, carrots and parsley.  They all combine together to make a great fall stew that is hearty and comforting and filling and a bit spicy.

This is total guilt-free food, as a friend of mine would say.  You can eat as much as you like and know that you are putting good stuff (mostly vegetables!) into your body.  And better yet, your gluten-free sister and your vegan cousin along your meat-loving uncle can all enjoy it.  Together.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 ½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (either from dry beans or from two 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 4 teaspoons Harissa (see recipe below), or more to taste
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Harissa (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Warm a skillet over a medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. Toast, shaking pan, until seeds are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder until fine.

Place ground spices in a bowl, and add cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in olive oil until smooth.

Cook’s Note: Harissa can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 1 month.

gratineed baked acorn squash

I love picking up fresh produce at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings but I have to say there is something that happens this time of year that I don’t love: the produce gets REALLY heavy thus making it difficult to lug around for very long.  Potatoes, pumpkins, beets, and the myriad varieties of squash.  I of course love squash so I don’t so much mind, but I am thinking of investing in one of those granny-esque wheeled basket-numbers to save my back.  But I digress.  Today we are working with one of my favorite kinds of squash.

Acorn squash is thus named because it is shaped like acorns, only a lot bigger and green on the outside with a lovely orange flesh on the inside.  The shell is quite thick on acorn squash so please be careful when cutting them down the middle and keep your digits out of the way of the knife.  Then scoop out the seeds and you are halfway done with the hands-on portion of this recipe.  Place the squash halves (cut-sides facing up) in a baking pan with half a cup of water in the base of the pan, then season the squash halves with salt and pepper.

Next you heat up some heavy cream with torn sage leaves and thin slices of garlic over medium heat until it simmers.  Pour the cream sauce evenly in each of the squash halves (recipe below is for two whole acorn squash or four halves) and bake in 375 oven for 30 to 40 minutes.  In the meantime grate some Gruyère cheese in preparation for the final step.  After the squash has baked for the 30 to 40 minutes remove it from the oven and sprinkle the cheese evenly amongst the halves and bake for an addtional 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.  Then remove from the oven and enjoy.

Gratineed Baked Squash Halves (recipe from Reader’s Digest magazine)

  • 2 acorn squash, halved crosswise, seeds removed
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 8 fresh sage leaves, torn in half
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place squash halves, cut sides up, in 9-inch baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour about ½ cup water into baking dish around squash.

Combine cream with sage and garlic in small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then pour into squash halves, dividing evenly.

Bake until squash are tender when pierced with tip of sharp knife, 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove from oven; sprinkle with cheese, dividing evenly.  Continue baking until cheese is melted and golden, about 10 minutes.  Serve hot.

slow cooker beef stew

It’s that time again.  Time to bust my slow cooker out of the high-up shelf where I put things I don’t use super often.  (I should use it more often though as it’s a great way to cook in the summer without heating up your kitchen the way turning your oven tends to do.)  This time I decided to make one of my all-time favorite fall comfort foods: beef stew.

My grandma used to make a really good beef stew when I was growing up and this recipe reminded me a lot of hers.  I’m pretty sure my grandma didn’t drop a garlic/ginger skewer into her stew, but it really did add nice flavor to it, so much so that I am thinking I might start dropping garlic/ginger skewers into all soups and stews going forward!

As with many slow cooker recipes the most time-consuming part is chopping up vegetables and meat but the beauty here is that if you use baby carrots and pearl onions there isn’t a whole lot left for you to chop up.  Genius!  I froze a couple of single-serve containers full of the stew so that I can heat up comfort-in-food-form deeper into fall/winter when I don’t feel like cooking.  I’m a big fan of freezing in single servings as evidenced by my very full freezer… gotta get myself a larger freezer one of these days…

Baby Vegetable Beef Stew (from Slow Cooker magazine)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ½ lb lean boneless beef stew meat or chuck, cut into 1” chunks and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package (1 lb) frozen whole pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 bag (1 lb) baby carrots
  • 1 ¾ cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ¾ cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

Coat 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray.  Place garlic and ginger on skewer or wooden pick.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in large ziplock bag.  Shake well.  Toss half of the beef gently in bag to coat.  Remove meat, shaking off excess, and then repeat with remaining beef.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown beef on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer to cooker and top with onions and carrots.  Mix broth, wine, and tomato paste in bowl and pour into cooker.  Drop in bay leaf and ginger-garlic skewer.

Cover.  Cook on low 4 to 6 hours.  Add mushrooms and cook 1 to 2 more hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard skewer and bay leaf before serving.

curried squash and red lentil soup

Do you remember a few weeks ago when I told you you’d thank me for sharing a soup recipe?  Well if it wasn’t already, it definitely is soup weather now and I just can’t help myself– I haven’t wanted to make anything but soup lately!  This time it involves butternut squash, red lentils, ginger, and curry.

The ginger adds warmth to the soup and the lentils make it hardy so that it can be the main course and not just a starter.  Butternut squash is just starting to show up at farmer’s markets in these parts so when I saw it a few weeks back I had to pick some up and do something with it.  The soup is already vegetarian but could easily be made vegan with the omission of the butter.  I personally think that cooking the onions in olive oil and butter is luxurious but it would certainly still work without it.

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup (found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

in a few days you’ll thank me

Massive apologies for the large gap between posts.  I went on vacation and severely neglected my blog along with much else in life.  It was great, but now I’m back to tell you how much I love fall.  I love it, I do.  Favorite season of the whole darn year.  And even though it was a sticky 90 degrees today by the weekend it will be in the 50’s at night and you will want soup, mark my words.

It definitely felt like fall at the farmer’s market this past weekend.  I wore jeans for the first time in ages and it was kind of gray and windy and I got there early enough to avoid crowds and really take my time perusing the seasonal wares.  Since it was feeling so much like fall I decided to pick up some standard soup ingredients: potatoes, onions, garlic.  Done and done and done.

I made a beautiful soup by roasting the garlic and shallots and then sticking them in a pot with some potatoes, wine, broth, and a little fresh rosemary.  My apartment smelled amazing and the resulting soup was rich, creamy, and filling in a nice, not overly-stuffed way.  With a little fancy “ancient grain” bread I picked up at Whole Foods it fed me well all weekend.  And now hopefully it will feed you well some weekend this season!

Roasted Garlic and Shallot Potato Soup (adapted from recipe found at www.cookinglight.com)

  • 5 whole garlic heads, unpeeled
  • 3 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, divided
  •  1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 10 shallots, unpeeled (about ¾ pound)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped onion
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups cubed peeled baking potato (about ¾ pound); I used 2 cups unpeeled fingerling potatoes cubed and it worked just fine
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (can substitute with thyme if you prefer)
  • 1 cup 2% milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove white papery skins from garlic heads (do not peel or separate cloves), cut off tops, leaving root ends intact.  Place garlic in a shallow roasting pan.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over garlic, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Cover with foil.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.  Add shallots to pan.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over shallots, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Cover and bake for 25 minutes or until tender and browned.  Cool.  Squeeze garlic to extract pulp; peel shallots.  Discard skins.  Set garlic pulp and shallots aside.

Heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion.  Cover and cook 15 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic pulp, peeled shallots, and wine.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.

Stir in broth, potato, and rosemary (or thyme); bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender.  Cool slightly.  If you have an immersion blender use in Dutch oven until soup is smooth, if you do not own an immersion blender place half of potato mixture in a blender; process until smooth.  Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl.  Repeat procedure with remaining potato mixture.  If you used a blender return pureed mixture to pan.

Stir in milk, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper into pureed mixture.  Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.