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Posts Tagged ‘Winter’

Purple Cauliflower Soup

Isn’t this a gem?  That’s one of the most beautiful vegetables you’ll find anywhere.  I don’t know how broccoli and cauliflower get such bad raps, because they are really tasty, very easy to prepare, very versatile, and very healthy (maybe that’s the problem).  And when purple!

We vacillated between making a pasta dish with little roasted purple florets or a soup, and I’m sure you know which won out.  In truth, the soup wasn’t quite the color we were hoping for, but it was purple nonetheless, a nice companion to the orange, green, and red soups already in our repertoire.

As with any soup of this nature we started with sauteed onions and celery.  In the oven we roasted the cauliflower (cut into small florets) and garlic, tossed with oil and salt.  Add the roasted vegetables to the sauteed vegetables, blend by whatever means you have available (which may require adding broth at this point).  Add remaining broth (in total we used about a quart) and simmer.  Oh, and one more thing!  We added lemon juice to our soup, and we discovered that the lemon juice reacted with something in there to produce a very vibrant, almost fluorescent, purplish pink, which unfortunately got washed out when stirred.

And what to do with the cauliflower greens?  Sautee them in oil with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Cauliflowery in taste, but definitely greens.

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Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve posted.  Not sure how that happened.  I would like to blame it on various health problems (one person sick, then had an accident and needed stitches, then another suffered acute pains for a day landing us in the hospital, then is sick again), and travelling (we spent the early part of this week in DC!).  But that wouldn’t account for the past–was it 3 weeks?

So, to break the spell: we made a lovely spinach dish last night and a delicious mac-and-cheese the week before that.  Extreme irritableness due to illness prohibited us from taking pictures, but they looked like what you think they look like (feel free to use google images if you need help).  Give us some time and we’ll have lovely posts about mussels and fresh cheese and purple soup and extravagant cakes–all with pictures.

For now: both dishes are pretty similar, though they are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Both are made with a base ingredient (pasta, spinach), a sauce made with a roux and cheese, and topped with bread crumbs and baked at 400F for 20-30 minutes..  However, one is certainly going to kill you in short order, while one is surprisingly healthy.

The mac-and-cheese (okay, it was actually shells not mac’) was to die for (and maybe I will).  We made enough for dinner and lunch the next day (or two?) and we both found ourselves salivating over our meal and emailing the other to say, “My lunch is incredible!!” (maybe it’s true that only one of us has salivation problems).  The spinach, on the other hand–I don’t worry for a second about overeating.  It’s a very light twist on the creamed spinach I grew up eating out of microwaved containers and at fancy New York steakhouses (thanks to the World of Finance for all those free dinners).  Hardly any butter, flour, or cheese, and no cream.

In either case, the bread crumbs really top it off (I swear I no pun intended). The texture is great–especially against the spinach. We made a less than stellar loaf of bread recently, which lives in the freezer and emerges to enter our food processor to make crumbs.  Fresh bread crumbs are pretty awesome.  It might be worth always saving away a slice of whatever bread you are having; the marginal cost (you don’t get to eat that last slice) pales in comparison to the marginal benefit (fresh bread crumbs on demand).

Mac and Cheese

1box pasta (shells, mac’, penne…)
half stick butter
3 T flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheese
spices to taste
>1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400F, put water to boil, butter baking dish.  Cook pasta until 2 minutes from al dente, strain, run under cold water to stop cooking.  In medium saucepan, melt butter and add flour to form a roux, heat on medium heat until brown.  Stir in milk (which can be heated gently in another pan ahead of time) slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, with whisk.  Stir in cheese.  We used half cheddar, half romano because that’s what we had, but you could easily use gruyere or anything else for that matter.  And it’s possible we used closer to 3 cups.  Oops.

Add pasta to baking dish, stir in sauce.  Spice as desired.  We used paprika, red papper flakes, oregano, black pepper.  Top with bread crumbs and bake for 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Spinach Gratin

at least 1 pound of spinach
1T butter
1.5-2 T flour
1/2-3/4 cup grated cheese
1 cup stock
>1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400F and butter baking dish.  Cook spinach with butter in large pan (maybe a pot is in order)salted and covered until wilted.  It will really cook down.  Add flour and stir.  Add stock.  Add cheese.  Stir stir. Pour into baking dish, cover with bread crumbs, bake for 20-30 minutes.

This is a great simplification of the other recipes we saw.  You could cook the spinach, remove from the heat, shock with cold water, and squeeze out to drain; then make a roux, add stock, replace spinach, etc.  But our way does a good enough job, and came out plenty creamy, so why make things more complicated?

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From time to time I feel a little like Julie Powell of Julie & Julia. Just kidding, I hope I’m a little more endearing than she is. We watched this movie a few weeks ago and found her to be a little loopy and self-absorbed. I think she would agree. That said, from time to time, I do find myself fully engrossed in my blog, reading comments and brainstorming future posts while I should be hard at work at the very important work that my non-profit does. Now if only I worked at a dronish government agency, then I’d really get my blogging on…

But until then, enjoy these cookies! (As you know, I’m just a bit insecure about continuing to post cookie recipes well into the new year, but conveniently and rightly,  my last church fully celebrated all twelve days of Christmas.) That said, these are decidedly Christmas cookies, gooey rich chocolate treats with chewy little flecks of peppermint candy cane. They do expand quite a bit so keep that in mind when spacing them out on cookie sheets.

Chocolate Peppermint Puddle Cookies

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 T butter
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
6 T cocoa powder
2 t baking powder
1/3 c milk
2 candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saucepan over simmering water or a double boiler, melt together chocolate and 3 T of butter. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in cooled chocolate mixture. On low speed, add half of flour mixture. Slowly pour in milk. Fold remaining flour mixture and crushed candy canes in. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. (This step hardens the dough to make it easier for shaping and to prevent excessive spreading while baking.)

Remove batter from refrigerator. Using a teaspoon and hands, roll dough into 1/2″ balls. (Caution: this may be messy!) Place on cookie sheets with 2″ between cookies and bake for 12 minutes. Cookies should still be a bit moist in the center so they retain softness. Place cookies on a rack to cool.

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Happy New Year’s Eve, readers! I hear there’s a rule about not sharing cookie recipes immediately after Christmas. Something about the world being cookie-d out and cookie recipes getting tossed aside with glazed eyes and full bellies. Good thing it’s almost new year’s — you can think of these as being inaugural 2011 cookies instead of Christmas 2010 cookies!

See below (and above) for an incredible batch of ginger molasses cookies. These cookies come out really soft and chewy with an amicable sweetness and bite of spice. They don’t have the usual heavy, dark molasses flavor, and if you’re a big ginger fan, you may want to increase the amount of ginger just a bit to get a really nice kick. (Of course, I’m one who loves ginger in all of my desserts married to one who doesn’t love ginger in any of his desserts — what are we to do?! Minimize the ginger, I suppose, and call it an act of love. Or sneak it in when he’s not looking!)

If I had cookie cutters, I would definitely make these into fun shapes like little gingerbread boys and girls, maybe a gingerbread family with a gingerbread Christmas tree and gingerbread letters that spell out something fun and festive. Without cookie cutters, I think these cookies are a little more adult, but who needs adult cookies anyway?

Ginger Molasses Cookies

1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t cloves
1/2 c salted butter, room temperature
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/4 c unsulfured molasses

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and molasses and mix until well-blended and an even brown color. Slowly add in the flour mixture, mixing just enough to incorporate.

Roll heaping teaspoons full of dough in the palm of your hands to form a ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and space about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies until they are soft in the center and there are several large cracks on top, about 10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

* I dusted these with a bit of confectioners’ sugar after baking. I also tried rolling them in confectioners’ sugar before baking, but the sugar melted and glazed over in a sort of listless gray way.

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Christmas Day Soup

We had anticipated hosting Christmas for months, and correspondingly we had been planning our menu for almost as long.  It was an intimidating task but also an enjoyable way to count down to hosting our first Christmas as a married couple.  The final, executed menu was a 9 lb slow-roasted pork shoulder, mashed purple and sweet potatoes with kale ribbons, brussel sprouts with shaved Romano, savory-citrusy cranberry sauce, New York style cheesecake, and butternut squash soup.

I’m going to talk about the soup because I’m bitter about how the pork turned out.  Sure, everybody loved it and thought it was great.  Even the people who know that after cooking for 12 hours it still wasn’t done.  But I didn’t like it at all, and I don’t know if it’s just a mental thing, but either way, I’m off of pork for a while (except maybe I’ll cook ribs again soon).

There was a bit of debate over whether to serve the soup first (per Western tradition) or last (nod to Chinese tradition), but given that the rest of the meal (though arguably not the occasion itself) was Western, we settled on soup as a first course. This soup can be modified a number of ways — with curry, sage, or coconut milk. Add in some quinoa or brown rice and you have a full meal. Chopped nuts might also be a good addition, along with some lemon or orange zest.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
1 quart chicken broth
3 stalks celery
1 onion
salt and pepper to taste
curry powder or sage if desired

Preheat oven to 400F. When butternut squash is cleaned, peeled, and cut, place in Pyrex baking dish. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper. Roast for ~1 hour until squash is very tender.

Chop celery and onion into small pieces. Saute with olive oil in bottom of a large saucepan or stock pot. Add butternut squash. Remove vegetables from heat and cool.

When cooled, puree vegetables in blender or Magic Bullet with enough chicken broth to cover.* Transfer vegetables and broth back into saucepan or stock pot. Add the remaining chicken broth. Bring soup to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, sage or curry powder to taste.

*Note: If you don’t have a blender or a Magic Bullet or even an immersion blender, cut the vegetables into very small pieces initially, and you’ll have a slightly chunkier soup.

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Green Food Galore!

One interesting fact I’ve learned from my holiday literature lately is the danger of diversity: When presented with ten colors of M&Ms versus seven colors, research subjects tend to consume ~40 extra M&Ms. I conducted a similar experiment with myself as the research subject when a co-worker recently brought in a package of sour patch kids in red, orange, yellow, and green. I ate four of each color just to determine which was my favorite, then went back for more of my favorite for a total of way more than enough.

Another interesting fact is that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans tend to consume ~600 extra calories per day than during the rest of the year! With this in mind, we decided to make a very-vegetably pesto for dinner last night to make sure we’re incorporating enough leafy greens in amongst these extra calories. This one is loosely adapted from a recent 101cookbooks creation. (loosely adapted meaning the original inspiration for a kale pesto came from there, but one of the cooks in the kitchen exclaimed confidently, “Recipe? Recipe!? No, no, no, I don’t need a recipe.  I can make this up as I go.”  And that’s just what we did.)

Ricotta-Kale Pesto

2 handfuls of kale, stalks removed and washed
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 c ricotta
1/2 c hot pasta water
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated to serve

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in the kale and cook for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kale from the water and deposit in food processor. Add garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and ricotta. Puree until smooth. Add hot pasta water to thin out if needed. Season with salt and black pepper.

In the same pot, boil pasta according to package instructions. Drain pasta and plate. Stir in pesto and mix well. Top with Parmesan cheese and a few grinds of black pepper to serve.

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