Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Cream" of Mushroom Soup with Rosemary and Thyme

In the past two weeks, I've made this soup twice!  Along with a bunch of other soups- I think we're going through 3 batches weekly.  It's soup season, and I'm making the most of it.  Soup is such a great way to warm and fill yourself up with nutritious foods, without too many calories.  Unless you add a bunch of oil or cream, but we're not doing that here!

No cream/milk and just a little oil or butter to get things started.  The rest is just pure nutritious goodness and flavor.

I used my own wild picked mushrooms that we dried during the summer, but you can use whatever is handy at the grocery store.  There is usually porcini or a mixed bag of wild dried mushrooms, found right next to the regular mushrooms.  If you don't have quite the 3/4 of a cup, that's fine- just use more regular mushrooms to help make up for it.

If you're not a fan of thyme or rosemary, leave them out.  When I made the first batch of this soup a couple weeks ago, I didn't use them and it still tasted great.  No need to substitute anything else unless you want to.

What you Need:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 large onion, sliced
~half bulb of garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
1-2 large sprigs EACH thyme and rosemary
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup dried wild mushrooms
1/4 cup red wine
4 cups beef broth
salt and pepper
cooked and crumbled bacon (optional, for garnish)


Start by soaking the dried mushrooms.  I just go ahead and put them in the broth for this.  That way, you get to use the flavor that goes into the broth while soaking.  Put the mushrooms in a bowl or a 2 cup measuring cup, and fill with broth.  Let soak for at least 20 minutes.

While the dried mushrooms are soaking, heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat in a large pot.  Add the sliced onion, garlic, and herbs (still on their stems).  Saute for about 15 minutes, or until they begin to lightly brown.  Add the sliced mushrooms and continue sauteing for another 10 minutes.  Keep the heat on medium and stay patient- cooking them a little lower and slower will develop nice flavor. Deglaze the pan with the red wine by pouring it in, and using a spatula to stir up anything that started to stick to the bottom.

Add the now not-dry mushrooms, broth they were soaking in, and the rest of the broth. Turn up heat to bring to a boil, and then turn back to medium to reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Take off heat.  Pick out the herbs (or whatever is left on the stems) with a spoon.  If you want to have some chunks left in your soup, spoon out a couple large ladles of onion and mushrooms and reserve.  Otherwise, puree the whole batch using an immersion blender or regular blender.  If you use a regular blender, I recommend waiting about 10 minutes to let it cool a bit before transferring to the blender.  After pureeing, add the reserved mushrooms/onions back in (if you reserved).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with bacon, if desired.  Enjoy!

Simply Delicious Butternut Squash Soup

This isn't a particularly fancy recipe.  It's quite basic, but can be spiced up to suite your menu or mood. The wonderful thing about butternut squash soup is that you don't really need to do much to make it taste good.  Microwave the squash, add liquid and a little salty flavor, and puree.  With just that, it'll taste decent.  Now, if you want to take it up a notch, adding a few extra vegetables and roasting the squash will lend more depth of flavor.  And that's what this recipe has you do, while still coming together pretty quickly and without any fancy ingredients.

If this recipe seems like more work than you feel like on a particular night, microwave the whole squash (make sure to poke holes!!) and omit all extra veggies and the apple except the onion.  I've made it this way and it's still quite tasty.

This will make a good sized pot of soup... I think I got about 8 servings.  It's perfect reheated for lunch the next few days, and it also freezes well.

If you want to make it a little richer, you can add Greek yogurt, milk, or coconut milk at the end.  Coconut milk goes particularly well if you are using the curry powder for seasoning.

What you need:

1 medium/large butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
Olive oil, salt, and pepper

1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 apple, cored and sliced/chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste

Seasoning options:

1) 2-3 teaspoons curry powder (or possibly more if you have a mild curry powder)

2) 1-2 chipolte peppers in adobe sauce, added after apple and before broth.
2 teaspoons cumin

Start by roasting the squash.  This can be done ahead of time if you want.  Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on the cut sides of the squash.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place cut sides down on a baking sheet.  Roast for about an hour, or until tender.  Remove from oven to let cool enough to handle.  After it has sufficiently cooled, remove skin and cut into large chunks.

Heat a large pot over medium-high.  Add olive oil.  Add the onion, celery, and carrots.  Saute for 5-6 minutes, or until they begin to get a little color.  Add apple.  Saute for a couple more minutes.  Add cooked butternut squash and stir.  Add broth and your choice of the above seasonings.  Once it has come to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10-30 minutes.  30 will allow more flavor-melding, but 10 is sufficient, so do what you have time for.

Turn off the heat.  If you an immersion blender- awesome!  Just puree up that soup until smooth.  If not, use a blender.  Let the soup cool a little first (maybe wait 10 minutes), and then transfer in batches to your blender.  Blend each batch until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And that's it!  If it's a little too thick for you taste, thin with water, broth, or milk.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Arugula Salad with Roasted Harvest Vegetables, Goat Cheese, and Pepitas

As soon as the cooler weather hit, I was all over the winter squash selection.  Butternut squash soup and spaghetti squash with meat and veggie sauce came first, which put roasted winter squash on my to do next list.  And since I was contributing it to a dinner party, I figured I'd jazz things up a bit.  So I roasted the squash along with beets and rutabaga, and then used these as topping for a salad.  Definitely had better presentation than a simple pan of roasted squash, and the flavor was more festive too!

You can use a different mix of vegetables if you like.  Butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, or sweet potato would all work.  I liked the mix I used because it gave a fairly varied flavor profile and texture.  

This makes about 8 hearty side dishes or about 4 main course servings.

What you need:

Roasted Veggies:
1 large acorn squash, cut into ~1 1/2 inch chunks- I did NOT peel (or use butternut or your favorite winter squash)
1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into ~1 1/4 inch chunks
1 bunch of beets, or three medium beets, cut into ~1 1/4 inch chunks
3 tablespoons walnut or olive oil
salt and pepper

Salad Stuff:
1 (5 ounce) container arugula
4-5 ounce goat cheese (the one I used happened to be herbed)
1/4-1/3 cup pepitas

1/2 apple cider or apple juice
1/4 apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 teaspoons mustard (I used a sweet and spicy Dijon-like variety, but really whatever mustard you like will do)
salt and pepper to taste

Roast the Veggies:

You can make this ahead of time and then reheat if you want.  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread all three cut veggies on a jelly roll sheet or 13 x 9 baking dish.  Drizzle with oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to evenly mix. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, tossing once about halfway through.  Veggies should be very lightly browned and tender.

Create the Salad:

Optional step: Toast the pepitas by placing in a small saucepan on medium heat.  Stir frequently for 4-5 minutes, or until they start to very lightly brown and you can smell a nutty aroma.  Take off heat and set side.

Make the dressing by whisking or blending all ingredients listed under dressing.

Place arugula in a large bowl.  Crumble goat cheese on top and then sprinkle with the pepitas.  Spoon the roasted vegetables into a pile in the middle.  Drizzle dressing on top.  Once you've let any guests/family members admire your presentation, toss it all together to evenly distribute the dressing.  
Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grilled Pizza with Peaches, Blackberries, Ricotta, and Balsamic Glaze

I probably should have written this post back when I made this pizza a few weeks ago, as it would have been more seasonally appropriate.  Today it's in the 60's and cloudy, which is delightful after all of the heat, but it doesn't seem like grilled fruity pizza weather.  Oh well, better late than never.  And come a few more weeks, when the weather really starts to cool down, making this can be a summery reminder of those dog days past.

I was inspired to make this pizza when I stumbled upon The Food Charlatan's recipe for Blackberry Ricotta Pizza late at night laying in bed.  I showed my husband, and he was all "please make that!".
It took me a few days, since blackberries were a little less accessible than I had hoped (got them at Target, of all places.  Thanks for nothing Trader Joe's and Safeway).  If you've read many of my posts, you'll also know that I am incapable of following someone else's recipe- it squashes my creative spirit.  So I added peaches, a balsamic glaze, and grilled it- the oven was NOT allowed to go on for a couple weeks there because of the heat.  

While it's fruity, it's not really that sweet, and there are savory components.  So it can be a main dish, side dish, or be served as dessert.  Or breakfast.  Whatever you're feeling, pretty much.  

You also do not, of course, have to grill it.  I did because I didn't want to turn the oven on, but as we approach these cooler months, I'd just make it in the oven.  If you are doing it in the oven, check out these instructions at Mel's Kitchen.  The secret to awesome homemade pizza is a HOT oven, and she has great instructions, both using a pizza stone and without.

As for dough, I just bought mine at Trader Joe's.  I did jazz it up a little with the addition of flax seeds.  I prefer to buy multigrain, which is usually a white flour dough with different seeds and grains added, but they don't always have this at whatever grocery store I'm going to.  So I buy white.  You can also buy whole-wheat, but I don't like the texture as much, and pizza is a treat, so I make it the way that it tastes best.  Or you could, of course, make your own.  I've used some different recipes over the years, but this one from Men's Health is super easy (no kneading!).  I add flax seeds, chia seeds, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds in as well to keep things interesting.

What you need:

1 pound pizza dough, leavened (store bought or make your own)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
~1 cup ricotta (I used full-fat)
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella (I used part-skim, but either is fine)
1 pint blackberries
1 large or 2 small peaches, sliced (I left the skin on, but you can peel if you want)
small handful fresh basil, sliced
black pepper


Preheat grill on medium-high heat.
Next, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, reduce heat to LOW and let it keep boiling until it becomes slightly thick.  And be careful not to take a big whiff while it boils, that stuff is pungent!  You can have this going on while you start the rest of the pizza.
Stretch the dough out on a lightly greased surface (preferably something that you can pick up and transport outside). I usually just use my hands, but you can use a rolling pin, beer bottle, whatever.  Try to get it under 1/2 thick.  If you are having trouble getting it to stretch out, work it a bit, let it rest for a couple minutes, and then go at it again.  Don't worry about making it a perfect shape.  An irregular shape has a nice rustic quality.
Bring pizza dough out to the grill.  If you have a buddy, he/she will come in handy here.  Place pizza dough on the grill, trying to keep it as stretched out as possible.  I use somewhat of a slinging motion, and then (carefully) adjust the edges to stretch it back out a bit more.  With two pairs of hands it will be easier to simply pick it up and place it stretched out onto the grill.  Close the grill.  Let cook for 2-4 minutes, depending on the heat of the grill.  Use tongs to gently lift a corner to make sure it isn't burning.
As those 2-4 minutes go by, bring the ricotta, mozzarella, blackberries, peaches, and a fork out to the grill.
Flip the crust using tongs.  If there were any huge bubbles, burst those with the fork before flipping.  Turn the grill temperature down to low.  Now, add the toppings:  First the ricotta, then mozzarella, then blackberries and peaches.  Smoosh the blackberries a little with the fork.  Shut the grill and let cook for 5-7 minutes, checking to make sure it isn't burning (sometimes there is one hot spot, so rotating might help).  Take the pizza off the grill.  

Drizzle with the balsamic reduction.  Sprinkle with the sliced basil and black pepper.  Slice and enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Escarole Loaded Tomato Sauce with Fresh Basil

Our home of the moment on this nomadic adventure is Utica, New York.  We've only been here a few weeks (and only here for about one more), but in that little time, it's become obvious that Utica has about three claims to fame: beer, the Boilermaker, and Utica Greens.  Since we didn't sign up in time for the Boilermaker, and I'm not a big fan of beer, I've been focusing on the latter.  I'm from Central New York, so I've experienced Utica Greens before- in fact, I've made my own "healthified" version before.  I had no idea though that Utica Greens are on the menu of just about every restaurant in the Utica/New Hartfod area. Each restaurant has its own proportion of ingredients, which largely stay the same no matter the maker.  Those key ingredients are escarole, hot cherry peppers, Parmesan/Romano, prosciutto, and bread crumbs.  Since we've been here, we've sampled a few variations on the weekends, but they are a little too indulgent for my normal weekdays.

 Still, I've got escarole and cherry peppers on my mind, even if I don't want to douse them in cheese and breadcrumbs.  I had some calamari in the freezer, which made me think marinara sauce, and combined that thought with my obsession with escarole.  I made the sauce completely separate from the calamari, and had enough for the next night's dinner as well, where it was combined with rotisserie chicken (on sale for $2.20!! can't beat that).  I just took some meat off of the chicken and threw it into the sauce as it was reheating.  It would also be great with meatballs, as a dip for bread, rolled up in roasted eggplant pieces, or on spaghetti squash (or pasta if you're into that ;-)).  And though I avoided adding cheese on this particular occasion, some Parmesan would make an excellent addition.


1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 head of garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sliced hot cherry peppers, fresh or pickled *
2 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 LARGE or 2 small heads escarole, WASHED and torn into large chunks**
salt and black pepper to taste
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomato
5 anchovies, or a scant tablespoon anchovy paste
10-15 kalamata olives, sliced
1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add onions and garlic.  Saute for a couple minutes, then add cherry peppers and saute for another couple minutes.  Add tomatoes and stir.  Add escarole, stirring as you add.  It won't all fit in the pot all at once, but as it wilts, you'll be able to add more.  Once all of the escarole is added, add the can of crushed tomato, the anchovy paste, and the kalamata olives.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and let it continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes, uncovered unless it starts to get too thick.  Stir every now and then as it simmers.  Add the fresh basil, reserving a little for garnish if desired.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*this will make it HOT, so use less or omit if you don't want spicy
**if your escarole looks like it is lost in the tomato sauce because you didn't have a big enough head, you can add in some romaine lettuce leaves to up the green proportion.  I did this and couldn't even tell what was romaine and what was escarole when I was eating. :-)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mushroomy Meat Sauce atop Roasted Eggplant with Spicy Cottage Cheese Puree

Mission empty the fridge/freezer/pantry continues, and it's got my creative juices flowing.

I also may be slightly obsessed with pureeing cottage cheese.  But, hey, there are worse obsessions.  

As are the rules of the emptying the kitchen game, last night's creation was constructed only of ingredients I already had.  If I were to make this same sort of thing some other time, I would likely modify a few things: add garlic cloves, use crushed tomatoes instead of jarred sauce (and then add more of my own seasonings), make the cottage cheese puree with roasted garlic, maybe add some fresh basil...  I'm going to write down the ingredients for what I actually did, which turned out great, but you might want to keep these modification ideas in mind. 

This'll make about four servings.

What you need:

Mushroomy Meat Sauce:
1 pound lean ground beef (I used 96/4... if you can't find that, just make sure to drain out the grease after browning)
1 medium onion, chopped
8 ounces cremini or baby bella mushrooms, diced
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cup pasta sauce, no sugar added if possible (I used arrabiata)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or your own mixture of dried oregano, basil, thyme)
salt and black pepper

Spicy Cottage Cheese Puree:
1 1/2 cups low fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons pickled hot crushed peppers*
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

*If you don't have hot pickled crushed peppers, you could sub a bit (definitely not 2 tablespoons) red pepper flakes and a splash of vinegar.  Or use chili-garlic sauce.  

Roasted eggplant:
Olive or coconut oil spray
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2-3/4 inch thick rounds
salt and pepper

Start by making the sauce:  Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat.  Drain if necessary.  Add the onions and mushrooms.  Saute for a 3-4 minutes.  Add the red wine and scrape up anything that was sticking to the bottom.  Add the pasta sauce, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning.  Stir, bring to a boil, and then reduce to low heat.  Cover.  Let simmer for AT LEAST 30 minutes, and up to an hour or so.  If sauce is too watery, remove cover to let it reduce.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the cottage cheese puree:  Add all ingredients to a small blender or a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down and stirring as necessary.  You may need to add a small splash of water to get things going, depending on the power of your blender.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Roast the eggplant:  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with olive or coconut oil spray.  Arrange eggplant rounds on the sheet so that they are not overlapping (touching is fine).  Lightly spray the tops with oil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, or until eggplant is lightly browned and soft.  

To serve:  Arrange a few slices of eggplant on plate, top with meat sauce, and drizzle the cottage cheese puree over the top.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Blueberry Salsa with Cilantro and Jalapeno

We've got just a few days left here in Florida, and I'm still trying to empty out my fridge/freezer and resist buying anything new from the store.  And there was a bag of frozen blueberries that I bought for smoothies, but I'm a creature of habit and always go for the frozen banana instead.  I already knew I was making fish for dinner, and figured a blueberry salsa would go nicely.  Whipped this up real quick with a few other pantry staples.

As mentioned, I used frozen blueberries, and I think these would be preferable to fresh because they get all juicy when they thaw.  However, fresh would still work, you just might want to do a little extra muddling and maybe cut in half if you have larger berries.  You could also try cooking fresh berries for 10 minutes or so on the stove to break them down a little more.

I also really wanted to use lime or lemon juice in this, but didn't have any.  So I made do with a little rice vinegar, and I think it turned out great. If you have lime or lemon juice, though, you might want to give that a try!

I served this on top of broiled flounder fillets seasoned with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Thought about adding cumin to the salsa as well, but went with it just on the fish.  If I were serving this with something like plain chips, I'd probably add the cumin to the salsa to boost the flavor.

What you need:

1 1/2-2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed (I recommend Trader Joe's wild Boreal blueberries... they are so much better than any other frozen blueberries I've ever bought!)

1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro, thickest stem end removed

2 jalapenos, diced, seeds and pith removed

2-3 tablespoons diced onion

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

salt and pepper to taste (I probably added somewhere around 1/2 teaspoon of each)

Simply mix all ingredients together, mashing lightly to help the blueberries break down a little.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes, and preferably for a couple hours, before serving to allow flavors to meld.