Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Curly Kale & Potato Soup

If you're looking for a healthy soup that is open to interpretation, look no further than Alice Water's recipe for Curly Kale and Potato Soup. Adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Art of Simple Food, this soup will leave you warm and toasty on a gloomy day. I've never cooked with kale before so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it bared no resemblance to how I imagined it - tough, bitter and hard to swallow. Instead, it mellowed out and became a delectable companion to the potatoes. Not to mention, I've heard it's really good for you!

If you're not a vegetarian and want to serve this soup as a main course I suggest sauteeing some italian chicken sausage and tossing bite-size pieces into the soup.

Curly Kale and Potato Soup
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale, tough center stem removed and leaves chopped
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds
2 quarts chicken broth
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh nutmeg, to taste (optional)
Shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese, for garnish

1. In a heavy soup pot or enamel cast iron Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, stir to coat with oil, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until soft and just starting to caramelize. Stir in garlic and cook for another minute. Add kale and potatoes, and stir to coat with oil. Cook for a couple minutes, then add broth. Bring broth to a simmer, reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not Just for St. Patty's Day

So last week was a crazy week and not in particularly great way - some last minute projects at work but thankfully I'm heading into calmer waters now. My intention was to blog about the merits of a Irish soda bread, just in time for St. Patrick's Day. Though I'm a week late, I still think it's a great recipe that needs no occasion.

I found the recipe on Epicurious.com. Incidentally, they had a big article that talked about what makes Irish soda bread so special. What makes it special to me is that it's easy to make by hand and doesn't take 3 hours to bake (like it would in my bread machine). Not to mention, it's a lovely looking loaf, lightly browned and dusted with sugar.

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins
from Bon Appetit, February 2005

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8-inch-diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in until coarse meal forms. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk. Gradually stir dry ingredients into milk to blend. Mix in raisins.

Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'll Take Seconds, Please

One of my favorite vegetables these days is butternut squash. I used to be afraid of buying any kind of squash b/c all I could imagine was the major kitchen accident that would ensue because my knife slipped after trying to split and pry the darn thing open. After successfully dismembering several butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squashes I have yet to lose a finger (knock on wood). If you're a slave to convenience and your grocery store already carries bags of pre-cut squash, you may want to throw in the extra buck. Regardless, I have a great side recipe that I wanted to share. It's a good accompaniment to roast turkey/chicken maybe even pork. Or I'm sure you could add it to pasta for a vegetarian dinner.

Butternut Squash w/ Shallots and Sage

-About 4 cups peeled, diced butternut squash (Trader Joe's carries handy pre-cut bags, 2 bags would be needed)
-1/2 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
-dash of nutmeg
-chopped sage, to taste
-extra-virgin olive oil, about 1-2 T.
-salt & pepper

Split, peel skin and clean one buttternut squash. Remove seeds. Dice into bite-size pieces. Heat about 1-2 T. olive oil in pan.
Saute shallot until soft. Add squash and saute until soft but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add dash of nutmeg and chopped sage. Cook for 1-2 minutes until flavors meld.

Serves 3-4.

P.S. You can also roast the squash on a baking sheet at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Just toss squash and shallots in a bowl and brush them with extra-virgin olive oil. Put them on a sheet in the middle rack and roast until soft but not mushy. Add the spices in the same manner as above.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cheat to Win

Okay, so I'm a big believer in cooking and baking from scratch. Why? It not only tastes better but it's much healthier - you don't have to worry about nasty chemicals and preservatives. However, at times I am willing to bend the rules to prevent slaving in the kitchen for an entire evening. So when you have to make a dessert at a moment's notice (or you're lazy), I recommend a recipe that I discovered in Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cookbook. It's called Chantilly Cream and it tastes as good as it sounds without the guilt you may experience after eating anything with cream! I'm not usually a fan of swapping out full-fat for low-fat ingredients when baking b/c more often than not, if effects the taste and texture. And seriously, when's the last time you really enjoyed those cookies made with applesauce or prunes instead of BUTTER. Yes, yes I enjoy eating healthy but it's okay to enjoy treats occasionally. But I digress.....

Anyway, so here's the recipe for Chantilly Cream. The recipe serves the cream atop sliced pears but that didn't sound appealing to me in the least, so I bought some angel-food cake, blackberries and blueberries.

Chantilly Cream

1 container Cool Whip, thawed (the recipe says the regular flavor but I bought Vanilla and loved it)
4 instant packs of vanilla-flavored pudding (the kind you find in the dairy aisle that's already pre-made in the 6-pack plastic cups)
1 t. almond extract
1 loaf of angel-food cake (or pound cake)
1 container of blackberries
1 container of raspberries (or any other fruit)
toasted sliced almonds for garnish

Mix the thawed Cool Whip and pudding packs in a bowl till smooth. Add almond extract. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice cake, add berries. Spoon or pour cream over berries and cake. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top.

Serves about 6.

P.S. I plan to experiment next time and try this recipe with rum extract or some other kind of liquor - maybe Grand Marnier. And I'm sure the recipe would work well with different kinds of fruit.