cafela: (salt is magical)
It's finally starting to feel like fall, and that means it is the best time to try out new soup recipes. I love this soup; the recipe is based heavily on one by Cook's Illustrated. While most butternut squash soups are sweet, this one is not. It's similar to the first soup recipe I posted, the French Vegetable soup, but I like this one better, and it is much quicker to make.

A quick note: if you don't have butternut squash handy, any similarly orange/slightly sweet squash will work, including pumpkin. If you want your soup to have a slight sweetness to it, increase the amount of squash and decrease the amount of potatoes by the same amount.

Savory Butternut Squash Soup
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash--seeded, peeled, and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 4 1/2 cups or one 2-lb squash)
1 pound potatoes (I used yukon gold)--peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
2 tb butter
salt and pepper
1 large leek or 2 smaller leeks, dark green top part cut off, sliced thin, washed thoroughly
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups chicken broth (veggie broth can be substituted)
1-2 cups water
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish if desired)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cream (or creme fraiche if you can get it) --You can omit this if you want.

Vital tools: immersion blender OR regular blender

First, prep your ingredients, particularly the squash and potatoes. Place squash and potatoes in microwave safe bowl, and microwave for 14 minutes. Stir halfway through the microwave time. I used the microwave time to prep the rest of the ingredients.

Next, melt butter in dutch oven/heavy duty soup pot, over medium-high heat. Add leeks, squash, potatoes, shallot, garlic, and 2 tsp salt. Cook, sometimes stirring, for about 14 minutes, until the potatoes and squash break down and the bottom of the pot begins to develop a fond (basically, browned residue from the cooked veggies).

At this point, add the broth, and stir while scraping the bottom of the pot to release the fond. Add 1 cup of water (and up to 1 cup more if you want a thinner soup). Add cheese, thyme, bay leaf, and cayenne. Increase heat and bring everything up to a high simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook at least 10 more minutes. You can cook up to 30 minutes more if you want to continue to develop the flavors, but you don't have to.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and the thyme. Process soup using either immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender. Return soup to the pot and bring up to a simmer again. Stir in cream/creme fraiche. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with drops of cream or with more parmesan cheese. Serves 6-8.

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
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
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)
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


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)



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: (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


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)
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


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: (salt is magical)
This is one of my favorite soups, and it's one you don't come across as often here in the US. It's creamy and very healthy. It's also a very forgiving and versatile recipe, and you can play with different assortments of veggies to figure out what you like best.

When I lived in France, we had variations on this soup every week, and we ate soup for 5 out of 7 nights. If you don't like or can't find a particular vegetable in the ingredient list, you can substitute in a similar veggie, no problem. The only things you probably shouldn't change are the shallot and the onions. You probably want to keep at least a couple potatoes for the starch/thickness they provide the soup. Everything else can be swapped for something else--even the herbs.

My host mom did a variant that took out most of the potatoes and swapped it for pumpkin. You can use yellow squash instead of zucchini, or add turnips, or parsnips, or almost anything, really. The biggest thing is to try to balance different veggies, so that you don't get a soup that tastes of one particular vegetable (unless that's what you want). Beef boullion or broth has a more pronounced (and as my host sister said, bizarre) flavor, but it works well enough if you've got red wine instead of white. You also don't have to make this soup in such large quantities; it halves very easily.

6 large red or golden potatoes
1 med-large leek
1 shallot
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium zucchini
5 large carrots, peeled
8 oz whole mushrooms (button or baby bella are ideal)
4-5 pearl onions or 1 baby vidalia onion
1 very large heirloom/ugli tomato (or two normal size vine-ripened tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 4 sage leaves, tied together with twine)
2 chicken bouillion cubes+water OR 6 cups of chicken broth/stock
1/2 cup white wine
Also, you need either an immersion blender or a normal blender if you want the smooth texture.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a large soup pot. Peel garlic cloves, shallot, and onions. Chop in half, then toss into the pot along with the bay leaves and the tied up herbs. Note: If you don't have fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni, sub in 2 tsp thyme, 2 tsp sage, 1/2 tsp rosemary. Let this heat up on low while you prep the other veggies.

Rinse the leek, chop off the root and top inch of green part and throw that away, then chop the rest of it up (1 inch slices are fine). Rinse it in a strainer, then add to the soup pot along with the mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium high. Chop the carrots and zucchini, add to the soup pot. Peel the potatoes (I left some of the skins on because red potatoes are hard to peel), chop into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Add to soup pot. Chop the tomato, add to the soup pot. Rough chop is good enough--remember, you're going to blend all of this later, so nothing has to be perfect.

Stir everything up, then add the remaining ingredients. The liquid should just cover the veggies (if it doesn't, just add a little more chicken stock). See the photo below:

Cover and cook on medium high for at least 30 minutes. Check and stir occasionally. Once the potatoes and carrots are soft, you can turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the bouquet garni.

If you have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup at this point. Have some water/chicken stock on hand in case you need to thin up the soup to blend more easily. If you have to use a traditional blender, let the soup cool for awhile, then puree in batches. Either way, ideally you blend the veggies until you have a thick, creamy smooth soup. At this point, you'll want to add salt and pepper to taste. You can heat the soup back up in the pot to serve, or store it in the fridge and heat up individual servings. It makes enough soup for 7-10 servings, depending on size of the bowls. To garnish, add a splash of cream, some grated parmesan cheese, or a sprig of thyme.

Voila, a very healthy soup with no fat except for the olive oil/butter used at the very beginning.

April 2014

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