What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.
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Soup: So Easy, So Elegant

This weekend I had the rare good fortune to receive a beautiful bag of fresh Jerusalem artichokes. Since I was not familiar with them, my mind immediately started whirling as to what to do and how to proceed.

If you haven’t seen sunchokes up close, they are a root that looks very much like ginger root. But, straight out of the garden it is a very different story.  They can be a real tangled mess of hairy shoots, extraneous knobs, and matted soil. Thanks to my friend Kathy, she would have none of that.  She is so meticulous she probably vacuums her garden. My artichokes were so gorgeous, Kathy must have vacuumed them too!

Jerusalem Artichokes

Turns out Jerusalem artichokes are first peeled, and then they can be eaten either raw or cooked. They have a clean, slightly nutty flavor, with a texture between a potato and a radish.

This particular weekend was dedicated to testing pressure cooker recipes, so it was the obvious tool for me to use. Regular followers may recall that lately I have become so smitten with cauliflower that it keeps popping up on the blog, in one form or another.

My choice was pre-destined.  A creamy hot soup would feature a lovely combination of cauliflower (of course) and Jerusalem artichokes, reminiscent of French vichyssoise. The cauliflower adds plenty of thickening power and blends well with the artichokes. Turns out, it is a very simple soup, thanks to an assist from my latest pressure cooker, a Fagor Multi-cooker.

It begins with a quick sauté of leeks and garlic in melted butter, then cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes are added, seasoned, and all briefly stirred together.  Chicken stock is poured in to barely cover and the unit is set to pressure mode for a mere 6 minutes.

To finish the soup, an immersion blender purees it all while it is thinned with a bit coconut milk. The flavors are subtle yet intriguing – only requiring an adjustment of salt, white pepper, and dash of nutmeg.

This is a beautiful soup, both in taste and appearance. I served it piping hot, topped with a float of sautéed mushrooms and green onions. So easy, so elegant.

Cauliflower and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Mushroom Salad Float

Prepared in pressure cooker, but not required. If not using, proceed as directed, but simmer the soup about 30 minutes instead of 6 minutes in pressure cooker

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white only – about 1-1/2 cups
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups riced cauliflower or florets cut up
1 cup Jerusalem artichokes peeled and sliced (5 oz.)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup lite coconut milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Garnish:  Sliced mushrooms and onions sautéed with rosemary; and/or sliced green onion.

Instructions

  1. In pressure cooker set to SAUTE, cook leeks and garlic in butter over medium heat to soften.
  2. Stir in the cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes, season with salt and white pepper and toss well. Pour in chicken stock to cover.
  3. Cover with lid, set to PRESSURE mode and cook for 6 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile prepare Mushroom Salad for garnish. In olive oil, sauté mushrooms, onion, rosemary, salt and pepper in olive oil to release liquid. Set aside. Slice green onion for garnish.
  5. When complete, use quick release method, then remove lid.
  6. Using immersion blender, puree until smooth thinning with coconut milk. Add nutmeg and adjust seasoning with salt or white pepper to taste.
  7. Ladle hot soup into bowls, top with Mushroom Salad and sprinkle with green onion.

 

Light of my Life

It’s always a party when I pull out my kitchen torch.

Today’s occasion:  French onion soup.  Earlier at the farmers’ market, pearly white sweet onions—still kissed with morning dew—looked almost too gorgeous to touch.

A sudden vision of the well-picked-over roast chicken carcass in the fridge at home was a wake-up nudge that a tasty chicken stock was  waiting in the wings.

A hearty beef stock really makes onion soup sing, but a chicken stock simmered in the remains of a flavorful roast is a beautiful thing, too.  In my slow cooker, stock is an effortless commodity.  For the onion soup stock, I’d add onion cuttings, a carrot for a touch of sweetness, and fresh herbs, then cover it all with boiling water and check back later in the day.

My go to Onion Soup follows, but I tend to change it up it depending on what I have on hand.  Sweet onions with a high sugar content are key; sauté them over moderately low heat until they begin to turn color and caramelize. If necessary, add a teaspoon of sugar while sautéing the onions to encourage the full caramelization process. Once the stock is added, the soup is ready within a half hour—or it can be set aside and reheated when ready.

BonJour Torch

 

To finish it all, I carved and toasted thick slices of a multi-grained artisan bread and sprinkled them with a combination of shaved Parmesan and Havarti cheese. No need to crank up the broiler on this warm summer day.

My trusty torch was on hand for the artful transformation of simple ingredients into a glorious soup crowned with essential rafts of toasted cheesy goodness.

 Onion Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon brandy
6 cups rich beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon each fresh savory and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry
Accompaniments:  6 croutons (1/2” thick slices toasted baguette)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté onions with butter and olive oil over medium heat until aromatic. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cook until onions are deep golden and caramelized, 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Deglaze pan by carefully pouring in brandy and stir well. Add stock, seasonings, wine, and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
  3. In individual bowls, place a crouton in center and sprinkle with cheese, pour a generous amount of onion soup over each. If using oven proof bowls, broil 3” from heat source, watching carefully until tops bubble and brown. Serve with more cheese.   Serves 4 – 6.

Spring Green: Posole

These days I’m channeling spring—seriously.  Soup still remains a favorite, but now I’m looking for light, bright flavors that will dance right out of the pot.

Happily, this easy, green posole does just that.

It still has hominy to deliver its characteristic flavor, but instead of dark stewish elements like pork and guajillo or ancho chiles, this soup gets its power from tomatillos, jalapeno peppers, and chicken or vegetable stock.

The secret comes from giving tart tomatillos and other vegetables a quick roast in the oven. This yields surprising depth and unexpected character, no thin imposter here. It’s all transferred to a soup pot with chicken or vegetable stock and pureed lightly with an immersion blender. I like keeping a bit of texture for a touch of rusticity.

The soup is heated with hominy and a few sprigs of cilantro tied with a bit of string, making a bouquet garni for easy removal. For a more robust soup, add a few handfuls of cooked shredded chicken. If it needs more flavor, give a squeeze of two of fresh lime just prior to serving.  My soup needed absolutely nothing.

No question, this brilliant posole is meant for any time, any occasion. In fact, in a lighthearted Irish moment, it could very well be a breath of fresh air—spring green air, at that.

Easy Posole

Inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Posole in It’s All Good

Ingredients
6 tomatillos, peel, clean and lightly chop
1 large onion, peel and lightly chop
2 jalapenos, seed, lightly chop
1 clove garlic, peel and slice
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
sea salt to taste
3-4 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
15 oz. can hominy, drain and rinse

Garnish: diced avocado, cilantro leaves, 2 thin slice scallions, 2-3 sliced radishes, 1/2 cup Añejo cheese crumbled, 1 lime in wedges

Directions 

  1. Toss the vegetables with olive oil to coat, salt and roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.
  2. Place roasted vegetables in soup pot with 1 cup stock. Puree lightly with immersion blender leaving a bit of texture.  Add remaining stock, hominy, and cilantro stems tied with string.
  3. Bring to a boil simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors.  Adjust seasoning.
  4. Remove cilantro, serve in bowls and pass garnishes.  Serves 4.

 

Slow Cooker Strategies for the Impatient

Slow cookers have had a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the slow food movement and technology.  Once referred to as a crock pot, the new breed can have all manner of shapes from oval, oblong, and round, and a variety of settings from browning to completely programmable.

In my current small space living, I was attracted by its size and the minimal power it demands. My 2-quart cooker uses a maximum of 95 watts—a light bulb can draw more than that!  In this small size, I can plan on 3 to 5 servings, depending on the menu.

Many drop a concoction of odds and ends into their slow cooker, set it on low, and 8 to 10 hours later dinner is served. Give me time, I haven’t reached the dump mode yet.

Admittedly, I’m impatient, and watching the slow cooker perform is up there with watching grass grow.  Nothing seems to be happening—especially if you keep lifting the lid.  Some warn that every time the lid is removed you lose 20 minutes of cooking time. Yes, I have learned that this can set you into a deficit mode where nothing is happening at all.

If I’m home for an afternoon, I love firing up the slow cooker mid-day and let homey aromas waft about as dinner simmers away ‘unattended’. I theorize, I’m up for just about anything that will cook on high in 4 hours or so.  Even tough country pork spare ribs become fork tender in that amount of time!

To make that happen requires a little advance planning. Avoid placing ingredients in the pot that are extremely cold or frozen. Bring them to room temperature in advance.  If working with extremely perishable items like meats, remove from fridge 20-30 minutes ahead.

Begin by preheating the slow cooker while prepping ingredients.  Lead off with items that take the longest to cook and add as they are prepared.  Pre-heat liquids before adding to pot. I keep a microwave-safe measuring container on hand for a quick reheat in the microwave.

One afternoon recently this warming Navy Beans and Kale Soup simmered away on my counter.navy-bean-kale-soupIt is nearly a no-brainer, but not quite in the ready-set-dump genre.  A couple slices of chopped bacon were added to the pot first, just enough flavor to get things going.  Once the bacon softened, the onion, garlic, and fresh dried herbs were ready for the pot. By the time they were aromatic the carrot and green pepper were prepped and dropped in. Then, the rinsed, soaked beans and about 2 cups heated chicken stock were added. This was left to simmer away undisturbed for about 3 hours (except for a quick peek/stir once an hour). Depending on the pot, more hot liquid may be necessary.

About 45 to 60 minutes before serving the cut up kale was added. Thirty minutes ahead the sausage or any pre-cooked meat items was stirred in.  Shredded Parmesan makes a terrific topping.

Navy Beans and Kale Soup, Slow Cooked

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
½ small onion, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
½ teaspoon dried herbs each or your choice: rosemary, thyme, savory
1 bay leaf
1 dried hot red chile pepper, seed and crush
1 small carrot, chop
1 small pasilla, poblano or other pepper, seed, chop
1 cup navy beans, soaked overnight, rinse and drain
2 cups simmering chicken stock or chicken bouillon plus water, more as needed
salt and pepper to taste
½ bunch kale, stem and chop
2 pre-cooked andouille franks, cut into chunks
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for topping if desired

Directions

  1. Heat slow cooker to high, adding ingredients as they are cut up.
  2. Add the beans, pour in the boiling stock or bouillon and simmer about 3 hours; half way add salt and pepper.
  3. About 45 to 60 minutes before serving stir in the kale. Thirty minutes out add the andouille, simmer and adjust seasoning. Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired. Yield: about 4 servings.

 

Fast and Slurpable: Sweet Potato Vermicelli

Feeling the weight of holiday festivities?  Too many cookies and rich food taking its toll?  This little number worked for me last night.

I have been reading good things about sweet potato noodles lately.  Some accounts put them ahead of mung bean glass noodles, a longtime favorite.   Described as clear, thicker than bean threads, slightly chewy and slippery; all of this caught my attention.  I’m not going out on a limb and advocating them for a paleo diet, that’s not my focus.  I’m looking for light, somewhat filling, a canvas for other foods.

Yesterday I headed to my favorite Asian market and sought out the advice of the owner.  I left loaded with the sweet potato noodles and a few other items to go along with them.  Her point was that you can make a quick, satisfying meal with just a few handy items: your favorite noodle, Memmi—a popular Kikkoman style soup base, perhaps sriracha for additional seasoning, vegetables, and any other protein that inspires you.Sweet Potato noodles fixings (505x640)

While at the vegetable cooler she recommended kai-lan, a baby bok choy looking item with thicker broccoli-like stems.  She suggested slicing the stems up and cooking them first and then adding the tops, which take no time at all. Any of the baby Asian greens will do, but the kai-lan has a sweet, mild quality which works nicely here.

Surimi (480x640) (478x552)I was a little dubious at the frozen case when she pointed out all sorts  of gray meat balls and tiny sausage shaped items. But, in the spirit of the moment I went for gobo maki, a fried sausage seafood on the order of crab surimi that’s made with bream and burdock.  Since it is cooked, simply add it to the noodles at the last minute. She claims all of these choices are mildly flavored to absorb seasonings of the base blend.

When dinnertime rolls around, all it takes to pull this together is a soup pot of boiling water and about 10 minutes.  There’s no stir-fry or fussing around with inventive steps.  It’s probably what Top Ramen is probably supposed to be:Sweet potato noodles (640x480)  A few good noodles, some fresh veggies, and just enough broth to make it all extremely slurpable.

Slurpable Sweet Potato Noodles

2-3 oz. sweet potato vermicelli
2 tbsps or more Memmi noodle base, or Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce, to taste
½ cup or more hot water
1 small bunch baby kai-lan (baby Chinese kale or broccoli), baby bok choy, or tender broccoli
1 small carrot, shredded
1-2 fried surimi seafood, or 1/3 cup fresh cooked shrimp
1-2 scallions, sliced
Salt and pepper

  1. For the seasoning blend:  In a small bowl combine the noodle base, sesame oil, and sriracha and part of the water to thin.
  2. To prep the vegetables:  Trim the ends of the kai-lan and slice the stems into ¼” thick ovals and slice the greens into 1” wide strips.  Peel the carrot; using peeler continue to slice into long peels.  Slice the green onion at an angle into thin ovals and set aside.
  3. To cook the noodles: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to break up.  When they are tender all the way through (don’t overcook) scoop into colander, drain and rinse well. Cut into shorter lengths with scissors.
    Place them in a soup bowl and toss them with the seasoning blend.
  4. To blanch the greens: After the noodles have been removed from the lightly boiling water, add the thicker stems of the kai-lan and cook a minute or two before adding the leaves and carrot.  Cook a minute or two longer until all are tender-crisp.  Remove to drain lightly and add to noodles in bowl along with surimi or shrimp, tossing to combine.
  5. Adjust the preferred amount of broth with additional hot water.   Sprinkle with the green onion and season further with sriracha or salt and pepper to taste.

Inside-Out Won Ton Soup

Now that we are heading into cooler weather, soup is beginning to look good again.  Here’s a tasty and fun soup that inspired my imagination because it immediately reminded me of my old favorite, Won Ton Soup—without all the work that goes into it.

I must be getting lazy. I’ve always enjoyed won ton making and have viewed the process of filling and folding and pressing each little won ton as relaxing and meditative.  I was intrigued; the further I studied the recipe, the more it resembled Won Ton Soup with its similar components, but lacked the cute little dumplings.  Perhaps this deconstructed version would yield a similar outcome without the fuss… I was all over it!

Credit for this soup goes to Jessie Price’s recipe Brothy Chinese Noodles in The Simple Art of EatingWell, where it is described as being inspired by Chinese Dan noodles.  Upon further investigation I learned that Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles are known for being spicy hot and frequently are served with very little broth.  For more background on Dan Dan Noodles, see Appetite for China.

With soup on my brain, I certainly wasn’t disappointed with EatingWell’s variation; it was beyond everything I had imagined. The soup broth has more flavor than my usual Won Ton Soup because it begins with ground turkey (beef or pork) broken into large chunks, browned in sesame oil along with ginger, garlic, and scallions, and then it is all removed.  The stock is built on the lovely brown bits left in the bottom of the pot and further enhanced by soy sauce and rice vinegar.  With the Chinese penchant for perfectly clear stock, this might appear a bad idea, but since the soup is already filled with chunks of ground meat, it really doesn’t matter.

Steamy soup pot

Steamy soup pot

I added bok choy,  hot peppers and other vegetables that would cook quickly along with the noodles. I opted for my current favorite, somen noodles, which gave the soup an even deeper, heartier flavor.

Inside-Out Won Ton Soup

Inside-Out Won Ton Soup

I finished the meal-in-a-bowl off with cayenne dusted cucumber strips and green onions.  In the blink of an eye the soup was done, with nary a flick of the wrist…

Inside-Out Won Ton Soup

A zesty soup that calls for slurping; inspired by Brothy Chinese Noodles in The Simple Art of EatingWell by Jessie Price.    

Ingredients
1 Tbsp hot sesame oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup scallions, sliced, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 cup baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
Red pepper flakes to taste
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups thinly sliced bok choy
½ cup red hot or mild pepper strips or small rings
1 cup snow peas, strings removed
8 oz somen noodles, or dried Chinese noodles
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 small cucumber, sliced into matchsticks

Directions 

  1. In a large saucepan, heat sesame oil over medium heat.  Add turkey, ½ cup scallions, garlic and ginger, stirring gently to break up turkey, but keep some clumps. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until no liquid remains.  Remove to a bowl.
  2. Deglaze the pan with a little broth, scraping to loosen bits of meat adhering to bottom of pan.  Over medium heat, add all the broth and the vegetables as they are cut up.  When it comes to a boil, add the noodles and the turkey mixture, reduce heat slightly and stir occasionally until the noodles are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Adjust seasoning and serve topped with scallions and cucumber.  Serves 6.