cafela: (salt is magical)
I have a couple of tomato plants. We don't have enough of a yard for an actual garden, but we have a couple of large planters, and we get a lot of sun. So this year, I decided I was going to try to grow our own tomatoes. The main motivation is the fact that we go through at least one tomato a week, and I thought that a couple of tomato plants would probably net us one or two tomatoes a week. As it turns out, it's more like 4 or 5 tomatoes a week, and so when I realized we had 10 tomatoes waiting to be eaten (with at least 15 more growing) I decided it was probably time to do something with them. Spaghetti is the obvious thing, but it seemed too heavy. So I decided I'd try my hand at a tomato soup.

Tomato soup is not my favorite kind of soup; it's generally not even in my top 5 kinds of soup, because I'm picky about it, and few places make it the way I like it. Every summer, I test out a new tomato soup recipe, but while those soups have turned out okay, they've not been what I want them to be. My favorite tomato soup is served at a local restaurant called Plates; it is amazing, and everything a tomato soup should be. I always want my soup to taste as fresh and scrumptious as theirs, and until tonight, I've failed. Something was missing.

Tonight, however, I hit upon the missing ingredient. Or at least, a missing ingredient: bacon. You don't need much--I used one small slice. It took my tomato soup to a whole new level. As did roasting most of what went into it. It is the best tomato soup I've ever made. I will actually make this tomato soup again.



Roasted Tomato & Bacon Soup
Ingredients:
about 2 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used about 10 plum-sized tomatoes), quartered
six large garlic cloves
1 vidalia onion (a large yellow onion will suffice if you can't get vidalia)
olive oil
salt
pepper
2 tb butter
1 large shallot
1 more clove of garlic
1 slice of bacon, diced into small pieces
5 sprigs of thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
10 basil leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried basil)
10 sage leaves (or 1/2 tsp rubbed sage)
3 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup cream
a blender
parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Get a large, shallow pan with an edge to it. Quarter your tomatoes and slice your onion. Place tomatoes and onion into the pan along with your six garlic cloves (cloves should have the skin still on). Drizzle olive oil over the veggies (you don't need much) and salt and pepper. Put them into a 400 degree oven to roast for about 35 minutes.

While the veggies roast, mince your shallot and your other clove of garlic. Add to the pot you're making your soup in, along with the butter. Turn to low (or if your oven vents through one of the stove eyes, just put it there and use the residual heat). If you're using fresh herbs, also use this time to chop those. Dice your bacon.



When the veggies are done roasting, turn your soup pot to medium heat, and add the bacon. As soon as the shallot starts to go translucent, add your roasted tomatoes and onion. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from their skins, and add them (not the skins). Let cook for maybe 5 minutes, until it gets thick, and add the herbs and the chicken broth.



If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it so that you have a super smooth soup (if you want that; it will be good chunky, too). If you just have a regular blender, that works, too; you'll just have to blend in a couple of batches, and be careful to blend slowly at first (and take the lid off in between pulses to keep steam from building up). Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in the cream. Let simmer another 10 minutes; it can simmer longer, but give it at least that long so all the flavors have time to develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.



Yields about 3 medium bowls of soup--add more chicken stock or more tomatoes to get more. Garnish with parmesan cheese or a few drops of cream. Perfect when accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich.

cafela: (Default)
I love cheese grits. I also love shrimp. My husband also likes both, and he especially likes the combination. Yesterday, as I pondered what to make for dinner, knowing that I didn't want to make the stuff I usually make, I decided to find a good shrimp and grits recipe. I also wanted to make a tomato gravy to go with it, as I had the best tomato gravy ever at my friend Jenn's wedding reception this past June, and it was served with parmesan cheese grits. So after looking at a lot of recipes on Pinterest, I cobbled this recipe together. It's kind of involved, but it only took me about 40 minutes to make it. The tomato gravy isn't as good as it was at Jenn's wedding, but it's still quite tasty.

So this dish was an experiment--and luckily, it turned out to be a delicious one. Unfortunately, experiments don't always get pictures taken while I make them, so all I have is one measely camera phone pic of the end result. If I'd had fresh chives, I would've added them in with the thyme, so those of you who have them, that wouldn't be a bad addition. You could just make the grits, or just the shrimp w/ tomato gravy...but they're pretty awesome put together. We both went back for seconds.



Ingredients:

For the Grits

1 c grits

4 c water

1 tsp salt

2 tb butter

1/2 container of Boursin cheese (I used the garlic and herbs flavor)

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese

3/4 c grated cheddar cheese

For the Shrimp & Tomato Gravy

3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lemon

tabasco sauce

1/4 tsp old bay seasoning

4 slices of thick bacon, diced into small squares

1 diced ugli tomato (or regular tomato when it's summer and they're in season; ugli tomatoes are my go-to during winter)

2 scallions or green onions, sliced

1 shallot, diced into tiny pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c chicken broth/stock

1/4 c cream

1 tb fresh thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

So, first, make your grits, the same way you would always make grits, 1 c grits to 4 c water, with salt to season. They will cook on medium low while you make everything else. If you have stone-ground grits, you will need to cook them however it says on the packaging.

Put the shrimp in a bowl with the juice of the lemon, several splashes of tabasco, and the old bay seasoning. Let marinate.

Slice/dice the bacon first, and put it in a large skillet on medium. Slice/dice the garlic, scallions, and shallot; add when the bacon is mostly cooked. Dice the tomato, add it. Let it cook down a bit, then add the chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes, add the cream. Let sauce thicken.

In a smaller skillet, partially cook the shrimp (don't flip them) with 2 tb of the juice they were marinating in. When one side is cooked (about 1 minute), add them to the tomato sauce. Let sauce thicken. Add the thyme at this point.

(If sauce doesn't thicken after 5 minutes, mix 1 tsp cornstarch into 1 tb cold water, and stir that mix in. I do this anytime I have a sauce that doesn't thicken properly.)

By this point, the grits should be done. You want them to be pretty thick (not soupy/watery at all) before adding the butter and cheese, because that will loosen them up. Anyways, add the butter, then the cheeses, and stir in well. IF it gets too thin/watery, you can put the grits in your bowls to eat and microwave for a couple minutes until it's the right consistency.

Top with the shrimp and tomato gravy sauce. Voila!

Serves 2-4.

**Also, to get extra shrimp flavor, if you have shrimp that need to be peeled, toss the leftover peels/tails into the chicken broth and microwave for 45 seconds (until the shells are pink), and let sit until ready to add the chicken broth. Obviously, strain before adding the broth.**
cafela: (Default)
I have to admit, excluding bacon, I'm not a huge fan of pork, or at least, I haven't always been. Too often, pork chops end up overcooked and dry, which is never very tasty. But, with the FDA lowering cooking temperatures for pork (and my conveniently getting an instant-read meat thermometer from my mom for Christmas) and after seeing the chefs on Cook's Country cook a pork loin, I decided to try a new flavor profile with my pork chops: apples. It didn't hurt that I had a honey crisp apple that needed to be used up, too.

These pork chops turned out fabulously, and the leftover savoury apple bits were great on the cornbread I made to go with this dish. They would go well with biscuits or even rice, I'm sure. It started as an experiment, but I'll definitely be making this again.



Comforting Apple-Sage Pork Chops

Ingredients:

2-5 pork chops (I used boneless)

1 apple (most any kind will do)

2 tb minced garlic

2 tb sage

1 tb bacon fat (if you have it; if not, you can either dice one slice of bacon and toss it in with the apple bits, or just add more butter/oil in its place)

2 tb olive oil or butter

garlic salt

pepper

1/4 c Apfelkorn liqueur/Apple schnapps (if you have it)


First, you need to peel, core, and dice your apple. I used a really small dice because I wanted the apple to cook down as easily as possible, but a larger dice would be fine. In a large skillet, heat your olive oil/butter and garlic on medium. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the apple bits. Stir and let cook for at least a couple of minutes before adding the bacon fat.



Season your pork chops with the sage, garlic salt and pepper--I just sprinkled it on lightly, on both sides. Make room for them in the skillet; you don't want to put them right on top of the apples, because then the meat won't brown as nicely. I just moved most of the apples to the edge, and left a small mound of apple in the middle.



Turn the heat up to medium high, and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the bottom side of the pork chops have browned somewhat. Flip the pork chops, let cook for a minute, then add the Apfelkorn if you have it. If you don't, you could add some chicken broth, white wine, or hard cider instead. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, then start checking the temperature. You want the pork chops to read close to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a thermometer, just be sure that both sides are nicely browned, and you can always cut into one pork chop to make sure it's done. It should be white to veeeeery pale pink. No red or dark pink juices.



Plate with a spoonful of the apple bits on top and eat!

cafela: (Default)
My grandma's chicken and dumplings are my most favorite food of all time. I love dumplings in all their many forms (steamed, fried, other variations of chicken and dumplings, etc.), but none are better than Grandma's. For me, it's not really Easter, a family reunion, my birthday, or Thanksgiving without chicken and dumplings. I'm lucky that chicken and dumplings were also a favorite of my GranGran, whose birthday was the day before mine, so often I would get to share in the pot of chicken and dumplings Grandma made for his birthday.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't had chicken and dumplings in a really long time, because I've missed the few "chicken and dumplings required" get-togethers over the past year. Around the same time, I came across a nice, fresh hen at the local farmer's market.

Now, prior to this, I had helped Grandma make chicken and dumplings before. One of my favorite things to do is to add the dumplings in at the end, so I knew the process, roughly. But I didn't know the details; cue a call to Grandma, who patiently explained each step of the process. I followed her directions to the letter, and I got awesome chicken and dumplings in return. SUCCESS!

It's been a couple of weeks since I actually made these, but having done it now, I'm fairly certain I'm remembering this pretty well. I wish I'd taken more pictures as I went, but c'est la vie. It's actually a very simple dish, with very few ingredients.



Grandma's Chicken & Dumplings

Ingredients:

1 fresh hen, 2-4 pounds (you can use a fryer or pieces of cut up chicken, but it won't be as flavorful)

a large stockpot full of water (needs to be tall enough that the water covers the hen, plus a couple inches of water above)

salt

pepper

all-purpose flour (start with 2 c)

about 2 cups of hot water

wax paper or parchment paper



Put the chicken, skin-on, into the pot. Fill with water until, as said above, the water covers the hen, and continue filling until there are a couple inches of water above the hen. I know, it seems like a lot of water--this dish will give you more broth than you actually need to make the dish, but the leftover is the perfect amount to use in cornbread dressing or a chicken pot pie (stay tuned for those recipes in the near future). Turn the heat on high until the water is boiling, then turn it down to medium or so--you want it to be simmering. Add a good amount of salt and pepper--I used probably 4 tbs of salt and 2 tb of pepper. There's enough water that it's not going to be too much, but even if you're skeptical, be sure to add at least a 2 tbs of salt and 1/2 tb of pepper. The hen will be better if it's seasoned while it's cooking. Cover and cook at a simmer for at least a couple of hours, preferably 3-4 hours.

While you wait for the chicken to finish cooking on the stove, now is the time to make your dumplings! On an episode of Cook's Country, they described these not as dumplings but as "slicks" and the resulting dish was called "chicken and slicks", so if you're familiar with that, this will be a similar dish. But I grew up with it being called chicken and dumplings, and that is what I'll continue to call it.

To make the dumplings, you need flour, water, salt and pepper. This is very much a "do until it feels right" approach, so I can't give you exact measurements. Make sure you have plenty of extra flour on hand. In a large bowl, mix about 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper into about 2 cups of flour. Make a slight indent in the middle of the flour mixture (kind of like making a well, but be sure to leave plenty of flour between the bottom of the well/indent and the bottom of the bowl). Pour about half of the water in and mix until you need to add more water. Add the water until the mixture comes together.

The texture you're looking for is akin to that of fresh pasta, and you should use enough flour that it's not sticky. When you've got it about right, turn the bowl out onto a floured surface and knead a few more times. Now, roll it out into a rectangle. You don't want it to be too thin or too thick. I'd say make it about 1/4 of an inch or about the thickness of sheet of frozen puff pastry.



Go ahead and get a roll of of wax paper or parchment paper to lay the dumplings on (you'll need several sheets, and you'll want it to be a manageable size because the dumplings need to go in the freezer). When you have roughly the shape of a rectangle and the right thickness, cut off the weird edges, but don't toss them. You can still use them as dumplings, they'll just be kind of a weird shape. Put them on the first layer of wax paper. Now, cut your dumplings! Grandma and I like them about 2 inches by 2 inches (any larger becomes difficult to get out with a ladle), but you could always make them smaller. Either way, line the dumplings on the wax paper, not touching.

When you're done cutting them up, wrap up your layers 'o dumplings and put them in the freezer for at least a couple of hours. If you seal them up, they can last in the freezer for a couple months, and they are much better if they're frozen a week or two ahead of time.The amount you'll make here will probably be two pots' worth, so you'll have them premade the next time you want to make chicken & dumplings. If you notice, I leave them in full strips rather than cutting them into squares right away.



When the hen is done cooking in the pot, you'll want to pull it out of the pot so you can take the skin off and separate the meat from the bones. It will be well-cooked through at this point, and very likely to come off the bones, so you might want to use a set of tongs and scoop it out with a mesh strainer/metal colander if you've got one large enough to hold the hen. Let the hen cool before trying to get the skin/meat off. Pour about 2/3 of the remaining broth into a smaller pot (I used a 5qt pot) to make your chicken and dumplings in. Let the remainder cool so you can put it in ziplock bags/other containers to use for other dishes.

Once the hen has cooled, remove the skin, and add as much of the meat as you want to the chicken and dumplings pot. At this point, taste the broth in the pot and add more salt & pepper to taste. If in doubt, don't add much, because you can always finish seasoning it when you've got your own individual bowl. Bring the chicken and broth to a strong simmer/low boil.

Hopefully by now, your dumplings have chilled for at least a couple of hours. Now you get to add them! If you left them in strips, now you can just tear/break them off into the right size, and drop them right into the pot. Stir every minute or two to be sure they don't clump onto each other. Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.



Remember that the dumplings will get bigger as they take on water, and adding them will thicken the broth. When you've added all that you want, put the remainder in the freezer, and be sure that you cook the dumplings at least 20 minutes.

After that time, they should be ready to serve! Best of all, any leftovers heat up wonderfully, and you can always freeze the leftovers to heat up on a chilly day.

cafela: (salt is magical)
One of my go-to French meals is the quiche. All you need is a crust, some eggs, milk, and then you put whatever else you want inside, and top it off with cheese. It's like the pizza of France, if you think about it. My favorite quiche is the Quiche Lorraine, but it's hard to get lardons (similar to bacon, but oh so much more delicious) here, so this is the variant I make most of the time. I have an actual quiche/tart pan, but if you don't, you can use a 9-inch or larger pie pan, or an 8 inch spring-form pan.

A lot of people here mistakenly think that quiche is a breakfast food--in France it isn't; it's strictly a lunch or dinner meal. It isn't quite enough for a meal by itself, but pair it with a salad or soup and it's plenty. My husband likes to eat it with salsa, and while I think that's sacrilege, some of you might want to try it that way.



Quiche with Prosciutto & Baby Bella Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 pre-made pie crust

1/4 lb prosciutto, diced

6 eggs

2/3 c half and half (or 1/3 c milk + 1/3 c cream)

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp thyme or herbes de provence

3 to 4 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped/sliced

5 oz shredded cheese (I use a mix of sharp cheddar and swiss; mozzerella works, so would colby or fontina or gruyere)

An ingredient note: I get prosciutto from the deli, sliced sandwich thin, which I then slice into 1/2 inch squares. If you don't want to run to the deli for prosciutto, you can substitute 8 slices of thick bacon, cooked but NOT crunchy (it's going to cook in the oven too, so you don't want it to overcook) and diced. I find prosciutto a lot easier to deal with than bacon, but my husband prefers the bacon flavor, so it's really up to you which to use; it will be tasty either way.



To start, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pie crust in your pan. You do not need to grease your pan; if you're concerned about the pie crust sticking, put a small circle of parchment in the bottom.You do not need to precook your crust.

In one large mixing bowl, whip the eggs until they are well mixed and starting to get a little frothy/light yellow. Add the milk/cream/half and half, the salt, pepper, and herbs, and mix until well combined. Set aside.

Dump the prosciutto, mushrooms, and 4 oz of the shredded cheese into the pan and even out. I try to have a good mix so that each bite gets some of everything. See below:



Now you just pour the egg/milk/salt/pepper/herb mixture over the ingredients in the pan. If you're using a larger pan and don't have enough of the egg mixture, you can just whip a couple more eggs and pour those over to add to it. Sprinkle the rest of your cheese over the top, and pop it into the oven.



Cook for about 25 minutes, until set. It may poof up a lot, but that will fall back down once it's out of the oven and cooling. It will keep for about 5 days, and it's just as good reheated as it is fresh out of the oven.

cafela: (Default)
Whenever I go back to Auburn, one of my favorite restaurants to visit is Amsterdam Cafe. One of the reasons I go is because they have the best chicken tortilla soup I have ever tasted. I've tried for a long time to make my own tortilla soup that mimics it, and finally hit upon a combination of ingredients based on different assorted recipes that comes pretty close.

It's a lot of ingredients, but the recipe is pretty straightforward. Also, while I don't include them in this recipe, you can add red or black beans to this as well, and probably other vegetables like zucchini or squash, too. I mention the beans because they're in Amsterdam Cafe's Baja soup, but I don't tend to have them on hand, so I leave them out.

I still need to figure out how to create their roasted red pepper mayo (literally the only "mayo" I have ever liked), but having this recipe in my back pocket helps a lot when a craving for Amsterdam's hits me.



Baja Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

3 tb oil (any plain vegetable oil works)

1/4 of one vidalia onion, minced

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 smallish Ancho chile/Poblano pepper, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 small tomatoes, diced (or one small can diced tomatoes)

5-6 cups chicken broth (reserve 1/4 c)

2 tb cornstarch

1 10oz can of chicken

1/4 cup corn (I use frozen)

3 tb lime juice

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground cayenne/red pepper

1/4 tsp oregano

6 oz mild cheddar cheese, grated/shredded + 2 oz additional cheese for garnish

4 corn tortillas, crushed

1/4-1/2 tsp garlic salt (to taste)

tortilla chips for garnish



Step one--make sure you have a large enough pot. I make this in my 3 1/2 quart dutch oven, and it is only just big enough.

Next--heat the oil in the pot on medium high. Add the onion and chile/pepper and saute until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes).



Add the garlic, cook for another minute or so, then added the tomatoes. Once they start to simmer, add the chicken broth--how much you add depends on how thick you want your soup. Either way, reserve 1/4 cup and stir the cornstarch into that before adding it to the pot.Stir well. When the soup starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium.



Next, add your can of chicken, and your corn. Keep in mind that you can always add up to double the amount of chicken and/or corn if you want a heartier soup. Let this get to a simmering point.



Now, add the lime juice and all your spices. If you want a spicier soup, you can bump the cayenne pepper up to 1/2 tsp.

Next, dump in the crushed corn tortillas. This part, as it turns out, is one of the most important steps. It both helps thicken the soup, and adds an important flavor that is noticeable if it's missing. Also, I know you're thinking, ack, I'm going to have chunks of tortilla chips all in my soup! But you won't--the tortillas dissolved surprisingly well, especially if they're mostly crushed going in.



Lastly, add the shredded cheese and stir. Once the cheese has mostly melted, turn the soup to medium low or even just low, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

cafela: (salt is magical)


This is a pretty easy dinner to throw together in under 30 minutes; it's my go-to meal during the week when I want to make something tasty quickly. Like a lot of the recipes I've posted so far, you can always tweak this to fit what you have on hand. Chicken works just as well, though you'd obviously need to increase the cooking time.


Garlic & Lime Shrimp Alfredo

Ingredients:

1/2 to 1 lb of shimp, peeled and deveined(fresh or frozen, just make sure frozen shrimp are thawed)

2 tb butter OR olive oil

2 tb minced garlic

1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

lime juice (about 2 limes or 4-6 tb)

2 tsp garlic salt

2 c pasta (I used a combo of mini penne and bowtie)

boiling pot of water

1 jar Bertolli or Classico alfredo sauce

1/4 c white wine (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay all work)**

1/4 c whipping cream or half n half

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (for garnish/extra flavor--do not use the pre-grated kind that comes in a can; that has its place, but not in this dish)

**May be omitted, but won't be as tasty--be sure to increase the cream amount to make up for the lost liquid



Start by getting your water boiling for your pasta. While you wait for the water to boil, in a separate, larger pan, cook the minced garlic in the butter/oil on medium. Once that begins to get fragrant, add the shrimp, along with the Old Bay, most of the lime juice (reserve about 2 tb or 1/2 a lime), and 1 1/2 tsp of the garlic salt. Add the remaining garlic salt to the water for the pasta. Don't forget to add the pasta to the boiling water once it's boiling!



Depending on the size of your shrimp, they should take 3-6 minutes to cook, stirring occasionally. If you've never cooked shrimp before, you'll notice they go from a sort of shiny translucence to white opaqueness. Before the shrimp are completely cooked, add the wine, and then the jar of alfredo sauce.



The reason you do this before the shrimp are totally cooked is to keep from overcooking them. Overcooked shrimp are not as good. At this point, add the cream or half n half. You can add more or less cream called for if you want to change the thickness of the sauce. It will thicken more from here, but if you like a really thin sauce, you'll want to increase the amount cream/half n half.



Stir this up good. Check your pasta. It should be getting close to done. Turn the heat down to medium low on the shrimp/alfredo sauce. Now, you can either add your parmesan cheese, or you can reserve it to be a garnish. I like just mixing it in.



By now, your pasta should be done. If it's not, turn the shrimp alfredo to low and wait for the pasta to get finished. When the pasta is done, strain out the water, then add the pasta directly to the pan with the shrimp alfredo.



Add the remaining lime juice. Stir everything together. Dish out into bowls to serve. This should make 3-4 servings, depending on how much shrimp you used.



Om nom nom!
cafela: (salt is magical)
I only have one picture of this soup, because I made it on a whim and it disappeared quickly. David doesn't like potatoes, so I don't make potato-based foods very often--but there was a sale on fingerling and red potatoes (my favorite!), so I got two small bags of them last week. I definitely plan to make more of this in the future, as it's simple and if you slice the potatoes thinly, very quick.



Cheesy Potato Soup

Ingredients:

3 heaping cups potatoes (fingerling, gold, red...most any kind will do--I used a mix of red and gold fingerling)

4 cups chicken stock

1 tb bacon fat (I had this on hand, but you can fry up 4-5 pieces of bacon to get the fat, then crumble the bacon to use as a garnish)

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic salt

1 shallot, minced

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

4 to 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese (depending how cheesy you want it)

1/2 cup cream or half n half

salt and pepper to taste

NOTE: Do NOT use pre-shredded cheese; it will not melt properly b/c the additives that keep it from clumping together in the bag also prevent it from melting easily in large batches)

If you need to fry bacon to get the bacon fat, do this as your first step.

If you don't have a bay leaf, you can substitute 1/2 tsp each of thyme and sage, OR 1 tsp herbes de provence.



First, saute the shallot, garlic, garlic salt, and onion powder in the bacon fat on medium high until the shallot is translucent. Next, add the chicken stock and the bay leaf. Turn the heat up to bring that to a boil while you wash and slice your potatoes.

I left most of the skins on; it gives the soup a good color and gives you extra fiber/nutrients. Plus it's just easier to leave the skins on the potatoes. In order for this to cook in the times I'm listing, you'll want to slice the potatoes very thinly, no more than a quarter of an inch thick. If you've ever had the Zuppa Toscana potato soup at Olive Garden, think of how the potatoes are sliced in that. If your slices are thicker, it will just take a little longer for the potatoes to cook, which isn't a big deal. Do slice instead of chop, however, because that will give a larger cooking surface, which also helps cooking time.

Add the potatoes and give the pot a good stir to ensure that none of the potatoes are sticking together. Once the pot is back to boiling, cut the heat on the stove back to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and easy to stick a fork through.

Once the potatoes are soft, take either a potato masher or a large spoon and pulverize about half of the potatoes in the pot--this will thicken the soup and give it a nice creamy texture, plus ensure that you have little bits of potato in every bite. Let simmer on medium low for about five minutes.

Now turn the heat to low (or even off) and add the cream. Stir it in completely. Now add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Whatever you do, do NOT do this step with the soup boiling, because the cheese will not behave nicely if the soup is boiling (and it will be infinitely harder to clean the pot). Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with crumbled bacon or extra shredded cheese.

This makes about 4 large bowls of soup, and you should be able to double the recipe with no trouble, though cooking times will need to be extended by a few minutes. It's a wonderful soup for the upcoming fall and winter seasons.
cafela: (Default)
This is the time of year where freshly grown tomatoes are abundant. This past weekend, we stopped at a roadside market and bought 5 of them. One was quickly sliced and eaten, but I used two of them to make a spaghetti meat sauce for the delicious meal pictured below.



Spaghetti Meat Sauce

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground meat (hamburger, turkey, chicken, or even pork are all fine choices--if using a ground poultry meat, add 2 tb olive oil)

2 ripe tomatoes, diced

8 oz mushrooms, sliced finely (I prefer baby bella, but button mushrooms are fine. If you hate mushrooms, you can omit them)

2-4 tb minced garlic (depending on how many vampires you want to keep at bay)

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme*

5 sage leaves*

1 3-inch long sprig of rosemary*

4 basil leaves*

2 tsp onion powder OR half of one onion, diced (I hate the texture of onion but love the flavor)

2 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp pepper

1 jar Prego traditional tomato sauce (or the equivalent of any other brand, but make sure it's a traditional sauce or marinara, NOT a vodka sauce)

1/4 cup red wine

NOTE:

The herbs with * after them can be mixed up a little--if you're missing one, sub more of another that you prefer. Or you can substitute 2 tbs italian seasoning if you don't have any of them. If you don't have the fresh herb, you can sub 1 tsp of the dried version.

If you're using plain tomato sauce instead of sauce from a jar, double these herbs.


The first step is to cook the meat. Turn the stove to medium high, and dump the meat in. With ground hamburger or pork, you shouldn't need to add any olive oil, but you probably will with ground chicken or turkey. In these pictures, I used ground turkey, and I can promise that there was zero taste difference between turkey and the hamburger versions.

When more of the meat seems cooked than not cooked, that's when I add most of the ingredients--the garlic, all the herbs, the garlic salt and the pepper. However, if you are the sort that rinses the fat out of the meat (as often done with hamburger meat), wait until after you've rinsed it to add the herbs. Once the above ingredients are incorporated and the garlic is giving off that wonderful garlic smell, add the sliced mushrooms (again, if you hate mushrooms, just leave them out). Your pan should look something like this:



Now you get to add the fresh diced tomatoes. Don't worry--if it's not fresh tomato season, you can just substitute a 14.5 oz can of petite diced tomatoes here. But in the picture below, you can see how luscious and red the fresh tomatoes are. I didn't even touch up the color in the photo!



Mix the tomatoes in with the meat and let them simmer for a couple of minutes, just long enough to get them hot. Add the jar of sauce, and stir this in. You're almost done at this point.

If you appreciate the depth that wine can bring to almost any sauce, then now it's time for a large spash of red wine. Most red wines will do-- for cooking, I gravitate towards Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot because they're cheap and easy to find, and because I'm not ready to sacrifice my French wine collection of Burgundies, Bordeaux, and Anjous to cooking when cheaper wines work just as well. Some people would argue you should only use the best wine when you're cooking, but I've tried both approaches and there's no discernable difference. Those people probably don't have a normal grocery budget either.

If you're not like me and don't drink wine, then you'll be forced to leave it out and miss out on the added flavor--you should add 1/4 water or beef broth to make up for the lost liquid.



Now all you need to do is let this simmer, covered, on medium low for about 20 minutes (longer is better, but you will need to add some water or beef broth to keep the sauce from drying out). When you're about to serve, do a taste test--you may want to add more salt or pepper depending on your preferences.

Serve over the pasta of your choice (I used angel hair) and garnish with the cheese of your choice. I used sharp cheddar in the picture, but parmesan, provolone, or mozzarella are all equally good. This amount of meat sauce should serve 5-6. Finally, a spaghetti sauce recipe that doesn't leave you tons of leftover sauce to use up!

cafela: (fried chicken)
I've been cooking for a long time, but up until a year ago, I had never attempted to roast a chicken. I thought it was a complicated thing to do, that would involve racks or somehow violating the chicken with a beer can. Then I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen that went through the process step-by-step, and it turned what I thought was a daunting task into something that now seems relatively easy.

The best thing about this approach is how easy it is, and how adaptable it is. If you don't have any other seasonings, you can use just salt and pepper and it will still taste good. And this particular recipe lends itself to a very simple gravy, the recipe for which I'll also include. The recipe itself is going to seem long, but it's just because I wanted to spell everything out for anyone else who, like me, had never roasted a chicken before encountering this recipe.

On a separate note, I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures. My nice camera is temporarily out of service due to a worn out shutter button, so I'm stuck with just my camera phone camera until I can get the other fixed.



Simple Lemon & Garlic Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

a whole chicken (about 4 lbs)

2 lemons, zested

6 garlic cloves

thyme (fresh or dried)

garlic salt

pepper

olive oil (or some other kind of fat--veggie oil or melted butter can work if that's all you have)

twine/string (you can get by without this if you don't have it)

A pot that can work on the stove and in the oven--a dutch oven is perfect, as is plain cast iron. If you don't have this, you'll just have to do a little more work in transferring the chicken



Start by prepping your lemons. Zest them, and set the zest aside. Next, slice one lemon into thin slices. Cut the other lemon into wedges. Now prep your garlic by peeling the dry bit off of two cloves and mincing them. Leave the other cloves alone. If you have fresh thyme, go ahead and chop it into smaller pieces.

Now, remove the chicken from the packaging. Pat it dry. Check the inside for the inner bits (liver, gizzard, etc.) that should be in a package inside the chicken, and pull that out if it's in there. I never use those parts, but some people like to fry those separately. Rub the chicken with a couple tablespoons of oil, then rub with garlic salt and pepper; I find that this is also a good time to add the thyme, and about half of the lemon zest. Don't be afraid to use your hands and get messy.

Then, add the rest of the seasoning--Put a couple of wedges of lemon inside the cavity of the chicken along with the minced garlic. Shove the lemon slices under the skin of the chicken--try to get about four per each side of the chicken; if you have more than 8 slices, that's fine. Tie the legs of the chicken together at this point; this will help keep the stuff you put inside from escaping by accident.

On the stove, heat a couple tablespoons of oil along with a bit of salt and pepper and the remaining zest. If you've got a pan that can go both on the stove and in the oven, use it, if not, you'll just have to use two pans. I put the whole chicken into the pan on the stove, breast side up. This is important, because the main reason for this step is to get the leg/thigh meat started cooking, since it takes longer than the breast does. Cook it on medium high for about 8 minutes. Then I put the pan in the oven at 450 for 30 minutes, adding the last 4 unpeeled garlic cloves then so they can roast with the chicken.

At 30 minutes, without opening the door, switch the oven off. Leave the chicken in the oven for another 30 minutes. I realize this sounds crazy, but it works perfectly every time, and keeps the breast from drying out.

After the 30 minutes are up, pull out the pan and set it back on the stove. With tongs, pick up the chicken and let the juices in the chicken drain into the pan. Set the chicken on a clean cuttiing board/plate to rest for 20 minutes. Pull the roast garlic from the pan and set aside. Squeeze a couple lemon wedges over the resting chicken. You can make the gravy while you wait for it to finish resting. Carve and serve!



Simple Chicken Gravy

Ingredients:

Drippings from roasted chicken

Roasted garlic cloves

1 shallot, minced

1/3 cup white wine (pinot grigio, chardonnay, or sauvignon blanc are good choices)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 cup half n half)


Turn the heat on the stove to medium with the pan full of drippings/juices. Add the shallot to the pan. Take the roasted garlic you set aside and squeeze the garlic part back into the pan (if you've never roasted garlic before, the inside gets all mushy and delicious, and you just have to open the skin to squeeze it out). Stir to help incorporate the roasted garlic. When the shallots are soft, add the white wine and chicken broth. Once that cooks for a few minutes, add the heavy cream, and simmer until the gravy reaches your desired thickness. If you want a more elegant/smoother gravy, strain it. Either way, this gravy works very well with rice or biscuits as a side.

April 2014

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