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Roasted Tomato and Chicken Stew with White Beans

It’s no secret that I love soup. What’s not to like about it? Easy to make, you can use scraps from your kitchen, they’re usually healthy, and make great leftovers. Win, win, win, WIN in my opinion.

Two weekends ago it was cold here in SF, and I was craving an Italian-style soup, but one without any pasta (I’ve been continuing to lay off the refined carbs). This Minestrone inspired soup, thick with shredded chicken, lots of vegetables, and a light garnish of salty parmesan cheese did the trick. To amp up the flavors, I roasted some fresh tomatoes and garlic — each tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar — and beyond the extra richness it added to the soup, the smell alone made this step worth it. While they were roasting, Joe kept drifting in and out of the kitchen, until he finally came in and asked, “Why does it smell so GOOD in here?”

Need I say more?

Get the recipe (and more food pics!), after the jump! Continue reading

Recipe: Chicken and Potato Leek Soup

Early last week, I felt a cold coming on, and even though the symptoms never got too bad, I took it as a sign that I needed to slow down and take it easy for a few days. The fatigue was the worst part — it felt like rolling out of bed would be the most laborious thing imaginable.

On the day I headed home from work early, I was craving a soup that was thick and chicken-y (always a sure sign that I’m sick). I stopped by the store and picked up a few ingredients to make myself a “get well soon” soup. Along with lots of rest, I’m convinced this is what got me back up on my feet!

This soup is extremely easy to make, even when you’re under the weather. After quickly browning some chicken and sweating vegetables, everything simmers together until soft, then is pureed to velvety smoothness. Try this on a cold, snowy night…or when you’re feeling the effects of the season. Either way, it’s guaranteed to satisfy.

Get the recipe: Continue reading

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

Even with boots, chilly weather, and blog posts about pumpkins, to me, it’s not officially fall until I make a batch of butternut squash soup. For one thing, it’s easy, filling, and oh-so healthy. But the soup’s gorgeous, saturated orange color? The way it warms you from the inside out? Fall. Totally fall.

Butternut squash soup is great in that it’s simple on its own, but you can zhush it up with garnishes and other add-ins to make it fancier. It’s also the perfect thing if you’re looking for a vegan/vegetarian friendly recipe — there’s definitely no rule that says you have to include chicken stock or cream in it!

Below is a version I made on Monday night to bring for lunches throughout the week. I like making my soup with something to add just a touch of sweetness. This time, instead of apples, I used two pears that were on their last leg. Along with a sweet potato and some regular potatoes to help thicken things up, this soup was SO satisfying. Feeling fancy? You could dress it up with a dollop of crème fraîche, or swirl some cream right into the soup once you’ve heated it. I’m guessing a garnish of chives and crumbled bacon would also not be horrible. I’ve tried butternut squash soup with toasted hulled pumpkin seeds on top, too — it’s really good!

Simple Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8 (at least)

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium sized butternut, peeled and diced
–kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp if you are using fresh
1 dried bay leaf
2 Bosc peers, peeled, cored and roughly chopped (could substitute apples, too)
1 large orange sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 large red potatoes, peeled and diced (you could also substitute Yukon gold or russet — whatever you have)
2 quarts vegetable stock

In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add in the onion and the diced squash, then season well with salt and pepper. Stir and let sweat, until the onions are softened and beginning to turn translucent. Pour in the white wine and stir. Add in the thyme, the bay leaf, the pears, the potatoes and the stock. Gently stir, and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer and let cook for half an hour, or until the largest pieces of potato or squash are very tender. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is velvety smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add batches of the soup to a blender and process. Be careful not to add too much; work in small batches so as not to accidentally burn yourself. Taste the pureed soup and adjust the seasonings.

Serve hot with the garnishes of your choice.

Also, here’s a quick tutorial on how to cut up a butternut squash. No need to be intimidated by their strange shape and hard skin!

1. Of all the winter squashes, I think butternuts have the thinnest skin. I used to cut away the skin with a knife, but I hated how much squash I’d lose (and I almost chopped off my finger a time or two). A few years ago when I was recipe testing for a local newspaper, a chef showed me how I could just peel it with a sturdy vegetable peeler (I like the Good Grips one from OXO), and I’ve never looked back. It’s much safer, and you get more squash that way. You can also cut the squash in half first (see below) if it’s easier for you to peel it this way.

2. Once you’ve peeled the butternut, cut it crosswise where the base of the squash starts to balloon or bell out. This is approximately where the seeds are.

3. Cut both pieces in half; this will make them more manageable to cut down further. Use a spoon to scoop the seeds out and discard any of the stringy pulp.

4. If you’re cubing the squash like I was for the soup, cut the longer part into planks, then into sticks, then into cubes. You can cut the round part of the squash into half circles, then dice from there.

Presto! Your squash is all cut up and ready to go, and you didn’t slice off your hand trying to deal with it.

3C Soup

The other day I was at the gym at a Barre Pro class (kind of similar to a Bar Method class, except more awesome), and we were in the middle of set 1,000,000 of some shoulder press/squat routine. The whole class was starting to poop out, but Stephanie, our fearless and amazing instructor shouted, “C’mon ladies, you can do it! Four more sets!” When this didn’t have the intended effect, she simply yelled, “SWIMSUITS! BEACH! BIKINIS!”

Like magic, we were all ready to do five sets instead of four.

I don’t know about all of you, but with my tush getting ready to make its beach debut at the end of June, I’ve been a little extra conscious not only with how often I’m hitting the gym, but also what I’m chowing down on. This isn’t to say that I’ve been binge dieting or doing anything crazy (um, hello, on Tuesday night I went out for Mexican food and yesterday I had Thai for lunch). But, you know, a few extra vegetables, easy on the refined starches and dairy. That kind of thing.

Last night I made a big pot of soup that was not only super filling, but was packed with flavor, and chock FULL of vegetables and fiber. It was also a snap to make, and I’m betting it will be perfect for lunch over the next couple days.

As I was cooking, I was trying to come up with a name for it. Was it a dal? Kind of, except I put in way more vegetables and pureed it, so not really. The best I could come up with was Curried Carrot and Cauliflower soup. If the ‘curried’ part scares you away, fear not — this soup strikes a perfect balance. It’s bold enough to feel satisfying despite its humble ingredients, and even with such zippy flavor, I thought it could still handle a little dollop of crème fraîche on top.

Since it’s pureed, you could easily throw in other vegetables you have on hand. And depending on how smooth you like your soup, you can either do a quick puree and leave a few chunks of veggies in there, or blend it to velvet. A little 3C soup, some pilates, and you’ll be beach ready in no time.

Curried Carrot and Cauliflower Soup

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, skins removed and finely diced
  • 1 small bunch carrots, tops removed, washed, cleaned and sliced into rounds (I used a small bunch of carrots sourced from my local farmers market. All in, the rounds amounted to about 2.5 cups of carrots)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp curry powder, any variety (I used a basic, somewhat non-authentic variety from McCormick)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or even less if you don’t like spicy
  • Dash of paprika powder
  • Dash of turmeric (optional — this will help give the finished product color)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1.25 cup brown lentils (see here for a visual. You can use any variety of lentil you like, but I think brown lentils puree the best, and they also cook quickly. Weeknight bonus!)
  • 1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1.5 quarts chicken stock (can also substitute vegetable stock)
  • –kosher or sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice to season
  • –chopped parsley for garnish

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Once very hot, add in the olive oil and turn the pot about to coat the bottom with the oil. Add in the onion, garlic and carrots, and saute until fragrant and beginning to soften. Stir in the cauliflower, and let cook for 1 minute. Add in all of the spices except the bay leaf, and stir. Adding in the spices this early, along with the oil, will help toast them and give more flavor to the soup later on. Add in the lentils, and stir again. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the vegetables are softening and the brown bits forming on the bottom of the pot, add in the potato, and the white wine. Stir to release any golden bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook for two minutes to allow the alcohol in the wine to burn off.

Pour in the chicken stock. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cauliflower and potatoes are very tender. Test a few of the lentils to make sure they’re also tender. If they need a few more minutes, give it to them. It’s okay if the vegetables are very soft at this point — you’re going to puree it all anyway.

Using an immersion blender or stand blender, puree the soup. If you use a standing blender, do this in batches and put in far less soup than you think will fit into the blender. Since this is boiling liquid, you don’t want to take any chances in having this spill or explode on you. Puree the soup to desired texture, then taste (NOTE: If you want your soup velvety smooth, use a blender). Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice as needed (I find that sometimes these soups with lots of spices need a bit of acidity to separate out all the flavors).

Ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish with parsley. You could also try garnishing with sour cream, crème fraîche, or even toasted pumpkin seeds. Super healthy!!

A vegetarian chili that I (begrudgingly) love

When I was in college, I watched Food Network all. the. time. My roommates can vouch for this. If there was a long enough break between classes, you can bet I was on the couch, drooling over what Giada was whipping up. Back then, I adored Everyday Italian, Good Eats, and Barefoot Contessa. I was even known to indulge in a little Paula’s Home Cooking, but mostly because I was so fascinated by the obscene amounts of butter and mayonnaise in every recipe!

However, one show (okay, and maybe personality) I could never get behind was Rachael Ray. The rest of the Internet has done a pretty good job of explaining why she’s often not a fave. Her…um…perky…disposition aside, for me it was bothersome that she promoted the use of shortcuts that I thought were frankly ridiculous, in that they allowed people to save mere seconds in the kitchen while not encouraging any kind of culinary skill development on their part.

Example? The one that always comes to my mind is telling her viewers to buy pre-chopped onions. Listen, I’m busy too, and I’m tired when I get home from work. But there is no universe in which I will ever be lazy enough to buy pre-chopped onion (at double or triple the cost, I’m sure) versus spending one minute (or less) to chop one. I think the moment she pulled pre-diced onion out of the fridge, packaged in styrofoam and saran wrap no less, was when I was done with Rachael.

But. BUT. During Christmas 2009, I needed a recipe for vegetarian chili to use over the holidays, and in a pinch, found Rachael’s recipe for “Veg Head Chili.” It looked easy enough, with a good supply of different beans and veggies.

Lo and behold, it was a hit. And yes, it did take less than 30 minutes to make (and that’s without any pre-chopped veggies!).

Since that holiday, I’ve come back to this recipe so many times. One bowl is extraordinarily filling, and the chili will keep for a week in the fridge, making it perfect to take to work for lunch. The recipe itself is also versatile — you can sub in different types of beans, and garnish the chili with whatever you have on hand.

30 Minute Meals is definitely NOT my favorite show, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Rach, you did good with this one.

Do you guys have any tried and true recipes that you go to for a quick weeknight meal or for lunch leftovers? Share a link to them in the comments!

Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Veg Head Three-Bean Chili

  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow skinned onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (you can use only half if you’re sensitive to spice, or omit completely and add in a bit more green bell pepper)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 cup beer (Rachael recommends anything pale, but I’ve found I like to use an amber. If you don’t have or don’t want to use beer, you can also sub in any kind of stock — beef, chicken or veg. I’ve used all three with great results.)
  • 1 (28- ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (14-ounce) can dark red kidney beans or pinto beans (whichever you prefer)
  • OPTIONAL (makes a chunkier chili): 1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco, several drops (omit if you’re sensitive to spice)
  • 1 cup canned spicy or mild vegetarian refried beans
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to season and taste

Garnish ideas: Diced avocado, shredded cheese, chopped red onion or scallions, chopped cilantro, diced tomatoes, sour cream, fresh pico de gallo, tortilla chips….whatever you like!

Over moderate heat, add oil to a deep pot and combine onion, peppers, and garlic. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes to soften vegetables. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Deglaze pan with beer or stock, let simmer for one minute, then add tomatoes, black beans, red kidney beans, the garbanzo beans (if using) and stir to combine. NOTE:

Season chili with cumin, chili powder, hot sauce, and salt. Let the chili come to a simmer, then taste and adjust the seasonings with more salt and pepper, if desired. Thicken chili by stirring in refried beans. Simmer over low heat about 10 minutes longer, then serve up bowls of chili and top with the garnishes of your choice.

NOTE: When adding the beans to this chili, you DO use all the liquid in the cans. Because of this, I’d look for canned beans that aren’t stored in a high fructose corn syrup type solution. Beans with no added salt are also a good bet, too.

vegetarian chili

Recipe: Chicken and green chile stew

Chicken and Green chile Stew

I’m pleased to report that when it comes to bringing my lunch to work, I’ve been doing great these last few weeks. {Pat on the back}. It really does help you save a boatload of money, and you have the benefit of eating something that’s a lot more healthful than what you’d probably end up shoveling down at the local deli.

Tonight I made a big dish of tuna noodle casserole (this recipe from Gourmet (RIP) is so good!); last week it was this fabulously hearty chicken and green chile stew. Actually, it was less of a stew and more of a chili, but naming this Chicken and Green Chile Chili is just silly. Really.

Though this isn’t a difficult recipe, it’s probably a good one to do on a Sunday afternoon, as roasting the Hatch peppers isn’t something I’d want to do on a weeknight (read: a little bit of stove cleanup). If you’re vegetarian, you could also omit the meat, use vegetable stock, and supplement in a few other types of beans in addition to the cannellinis. The beauty in this stew-chili is that it also gets better the longer it sits. If you make it on Sunday, it’s still delicious come Tuesday or Wednesday. You can also garnish it with whatever colorful accoutrements you favor — little cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of heady red onion, diced avocado, some freshly torn cilantro, a dash of Tabasco sauce. And of course, the cheese. It’s essential that you don’t forget the grated Cheddar with this one.

chicken chili

Here’s the recipe: Continue reading

I still remember the heat

Though I grew up in Austin, my grandmother lived only a short drive away from us in the outskirts of Houston. So as a kid, my parents would often unload me let me spend long swaths of time at her house in the summer — sometimes three weeks or even a month. She would take me to Toys-R-Us and made sure to always have those green bottles of Coca-Cola  stocked in her refrigerator. Sometimes, we’d make homemade ice cream out on her backyard patio; the patience required for our cool treat was made all the more unbearable by the thick Texas heat. I yearn for those days now.

Every morning, my grandmother and I would wake up early, and brew a pot of coffee. It’s funny that I’m not much of a coffee drinker as an adult, and I wasn’t really then either — I think I just loved the smell and the ritual of brewing it. She would pour me a very small teacup full, and I would dump in spoonfuls of sugar and a heaping of milk that turned it into a light caramel color. We would go outside in our pajamas, and sit on a small wooden bench next to her swimming pool. As we sipped the morning brew, we’d sing songs and repeat nursery rhymes to each other. “Zippity-Doo-Dah” was a daily must.

And during my summer visits, we’d often drive down to the coast, to Galveston, about an hour from her house. She had a gentleman friend who was in possession of a very fine double decker boat, which was a joy to take out on those muggy, humid summer days. My grandmother still has a picture of me on the boat one summer, a too-big bright orange life jacket strapped tightly across my chest — I must be about 6 or 7 in it.

galveston

On these trips to Galveston, we would always stop at a small restaurant right on the beach, whose name I can no longer remember. But, I do remember that it wasn’t much to look at from the outside, and that it was built right over the water on stilts, with a large deck area in the back — much like the picture above. It was sandwiched between two souvenir shops, replete with “I went to Galveston and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” type gifts. But I never held that against it.

I remember the restaurant mostly for its gumbo. We’d sit out on that back deck, ignoring the oppressive summer heat and relishing the salty air, inhaling bowls of seafood gumbo with saltines and washing it all down with big, sweating glasses of iced tea. No matter the time or place, a day spent near or on the ocean always makes one hungry.

The roux in the stew was black as night — a sign of true devotion to the dish, for creating a base that dark requires at least an hour of work, cooking time for the rest of the ingredients not included. I don’t know what got me thinking about the gumbo I used to eat there — Maybe it was the spicy zing of the gumbo that would burn the back of my throat and numb my lips for an hour after eating it? Or the rich, nutty flavor of the base? — but last weekend, I had a big hankering for it. Joe was game for whatever I wanted to make for dinner, so when I floated “gumbo,” and he didn’t pass, I couldn’t either. Continue reading

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