pinterest digressions and spicy curry noodle soup

I have a confession to make: I think I have a Pinterest problem.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pinterest it is essentially a virtual cork board.  Remember cork boards?  You probably had one on your wall in middle school with pictures of Salt N’ Pepa, INXS, and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on it.  (Or maybe that was just me…)

Anyhow, I have become almost obsessed with finding cool images of food/signs/flowers/home interiors, etc. on Pinterest and last night found myself up until almost midnight (aka waaaaay past my weeknight bedtime) pinning pretty images to my boards.  (If you’re already on Pinterest or are persuaded to join after reading this and care to follow me, my username is baxterandmain.  Little plug.)

All of this is leading me to a blog-related point or two.  1) I need to step my food photography game up, big time.  2) I need to get a real logo/header because I am tired of the up-close brownie shot.  Real tired of it.  Point 1 can be aided with natural sunlight (which should be more plentiful in Wisconsin in the next month or so, fingers crossed) and more thought put into the mise en scene of my pictures (and maybe a proper camera at a later date.)  As for point 2 I am real lucky to have a talented friend who has volunteered to help in this endeavor which brings me full circle as I have been looking for inspirational images on Pinterest to give to her to create some artwork for this here site.  So there we go.

And now the food!  I made some wonderful sweet potato chicken curry noodle soup to go along with the Thai iced tea for you!

Vegetarians please note that this dish could easily be made with tofu instead of chicken and sub vegetable broth for chicken broth and I bet it’d still be as amazing.

It’s spicy, a little sweet, and incredibly flavorful.  You will love it!  Unless spicy and curry is not your thing.  In that case stay tuned for butternut squash lasagne in my next post!

Spicy Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potato (by Mai Pham from Bon Appetit magazine)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass* (from bottom 4 inches of about 3 stalks, tough outer leaves discarded; NOTE: if you can only find dried lemongrass in your grocery store you will only need about 1 tablespoon as it is more potent in dried form)
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste*
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)*
  • 2 13.5- to 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk,* divided
  • 5 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups snow peas, trimmed
  • 2 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled red-skinned sweet potato (yam; from about 1 large)
  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli noodles or rice stick noodles*
  • 3/4 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 red Thai bird chiles or 2 red jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced with seeds
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add next 4 ingredients; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in curry paste, curry powder, and chili paste. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk (scooped from thick liquid at top of can). Stir until thick and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add remaining coconut milk, broth, fish sauce, and sugar; bring broth to boil. Keep warm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Cook snow peas in large pot of boiling salted water until bright green, about 20 seconds. Using strainer, remove peas from pot; rinse under cold water to cool. Place peas in medium bowl. Bring water in same pot back to boil. Add sweet potato and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Using strainer, remove sweet potato from pot and rinse under cold water to cool. Place in small bowl. Bring water in same pot back to boil and cook noodles until just tender but still firm to bite, about 6 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water to cool. Transfer to microwave-safe bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Bring broth to simmer. Add chicken; simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add sweet potato; stir to heat through, about 1 minute. Heat noodles in microwave in 30-second intervals to rewarm. Cut noodles with scissors if too long. Divide noodles among bowls. Divide snow peas and hot soup among bowls. Scatter red onion, green onions, cilantro, and chiles over soup. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

sweet potato and carrot bisque

Last weekend was a total soup weekend. It was cold, it snowed like six inches on top of the six we already had, and I was in no mood to venture out to grocery shop so instead decided to shop my pantry. I had sweet potatoes. I had carrots. I had onions. I had vegetable stock. Done and done and done and done.

With baking you have to stick pretty close to actual recipes but with cooking you can be more free and soup is an especially easy arena in which to experiment. Some of my favorite soups (and salads for that matter) have been a result of the mix of ingredients I happened to have on hand at that moment that all worked together to create something better than the sum of their parts.

This soup is full of orange vegetables– you know, the kind that make you see further and help prevent cancer. Totally awesome. Added bonus: it tastes good too.

Don’t fret if you don’t have an immersion blender, (though I highly recommend investing in one) you can puree this soup in batches in a blender or a food processor. Or you could even leave it chunky– that would be great too. Totally up to you. Experiment!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Bisque

  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into quarter-inch rounds
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion, cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the carrots and sweet potatoes, cover and cook, stirring once, until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot and allow to simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer soup to blender or food processor in batches and puree until smooth.

taking stock

I’d heard that making your own chicken stock was simple and that it tastes infinitely better than the stuff you buy in the stuff you buy in the grocery store but I just thought, who has the time?  Turns out I do.  On Saturday night (don’t get jealous now!) I stayed in and cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and made chicken stock at the same time.

It’s as simple as chopping up a few vegetables and throwing them into a pot with a few herbs, a whole bunch of chicken, and some water.  (I did some recipe research and it seems like most recommend using chicken bones, backs, or thighs so that you are not wasting meat.)  You bring all of that to a boil and then let it simmer for a couple of hours.

My apartment smelled wonderful as I cleaned and the stock was done before I knew it.  Straining was simple and Martha’s suggestion of putting the strained stock into the fridge overnight so that the fat rises to the top and can then be easily scooped off is a great one.  The next morning I skimmed off the fat and froze the stock in 4-cup batches.  It will be great to have on hand for soups and of course for Thanksgiving.  Sayonara to the over-salted boxed kind from the grocery store!   Our relationship was convenient while it lasted, but I’m afraid I won’t be needing your services any longer…

Chicken Stock (adapted slightly from recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

Yield: Makes 1 1/2 quarts

  • 4 pounds chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion peeled and quartered
  • 5 shallots, peeled
  • 1 large carrot cut into thirds
  • 2 celery stalks cut into thirds
  • 2 large or 4 small leeks cut in half lengthwise and well washed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 whole black peppercorns

Place all the ingredients into an 8-quart stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

As the stock approaches a boil, remove any impurities that rise to the top by skimming with a ladle. Reduce the heat and simmer the stock for 3 to 4 hours, continuing to skim impurities from time to time while the stock cooks. Taste after 3 hours for the strength of stock you want.

Remove from the heat and let the stock sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then ladle through a fine strainer. Once strained, remove the fat from the stock by skimming with a ladle (see Helpful Hint). Cool by placing the container of strained stock in an ice water bath, then refrigerate. The stock will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator, or freeze in 1-cup batches.

Cook’s Note: Another way to defat the stock is to place the cooled stock in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will set on the top and can be easily spooned off.

Variation: Use a large (5- to 6-pound) roasting chicken in place of the bones.  Use the meat for chicken salad or croquettes.

soup season

Fall is my favorite time of year for a variety of reasons– the brilliant colors of the changing leaves, the cooler temperatures, and of course for the abundance of foods that are prevalent this time of year: squash, pumpkins, apples, parsnips, Brussels sprouts– love them all.  I also love nothing more on a cool fall day than a nice hot bowl of soup.

When I went apple picking two weekends ago I also picked up a beautiful butternut squash at the same farm and this inspired me to whip up my first soup (chili doesn’t count!) of the season.  This recipe starts with roasting cubed squash for a nice caramelized flavor.

Then you chop up some onions, celery and fresh sage.  Sage is a wonderful herb that does a lot of work this time of year as it pairs very nicely with squash and pumpkin as well as poultry.  Bonus: it makes your house smell wonderful!

After these ingredients (along with some vegetable or chicken broth) had simmered for a solid half hour I busted out my immersion blender and made a beautiful smooth soup.

What goes well with soup?  Bread.  What’s one step better than bread?  Homemade croutons.  I chunked up a few slices of sourdough bread and tossed them with olive oil, more chopped fresh sage, minced garlic, finely shredded Parmesan and a little salt and toasted them in the oven until they were nice and crisp.

Nothing says “fall is here” quite like a hot bowl of butternut squash soup with homemade croutons…

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Parmesan Croutons (from recipe from Real Simple magazine)

  • 1 3-pound butternut squash—peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and the pepper. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn the cubes over and continue roasting for 15 minutes or until they are caramelized; set aside.

In a Dutch oven or a large stockpot, heat the butter and the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and sage and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent and tender, 10 minutes. Add the squash, broth, and the remaining
salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid is flavorful. Remove from heat.

Using a blender or a food processor, blend the soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and keep warm. Top with Sage and Parmesan Croutons and the grated Parmesan.

Sage and Parmesan Croutons (also from Real Simple magazine)

  • 3 ounces rustic white bread (about 3 thick slices), torn into 24 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage (about 6 large leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl to coat.  Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

slow cooker season is upon us

This past Sunday it was rainy and gray and gloomy out so I decided to bust out my Crock-Pot and make some chili. 

I do not discriminate against different types of chili.  I like traditional beef chili, Texas style with steak, white turkey chili– they’re all good in my book.  However, the chili recipe I fall back on time and time again is actually of the vegetarian variety.

It involves not one, not two, no not even three, but four types of beans.  It’s very hardy and packed with protein so much so that you do not even think about missing any sort of meat.

The original recipe called for couscous to be added during the last few minutes of cooking but I didn’t have any so I substituted quinoa instead and I really like what it did.  It made it thicker, added some color, (I had red and white quinoa on hand) and added to the non-meat meatiness of it.  So if you haven’t already broken out your slow cooker this season, now’s the time!

Vegetarian Chili (adapted slightly from Robin Miller’s recipe found at www.foodnetwork.com)

  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen baby lima beans or regular lima beans
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients but the quinoa, shredded cheese and salt and pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Five to 10 minutes before serving (depending on temperature of slow cooker) add quinoa, cover and cook, until quinoa is tender. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.

Just before serving, top each serving with shredded cheese.