Adzuki, I’m so glad I ate you.

I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation.  You go to the market.  You see something new and exciting you’ve never eaten.  You buy it, sure that you’ll go home and promptly find exactly what to do with it.  And then you do go home, throw it onto your bean shelf in the bedroom (you all don’t have those? …Weird) and then promptly forget about it.

But thank goodness for the internet, specifically the group of uber-talented, delicious people who write food blogs. Like constant motivation, the food blog world weekly slaps me about the head and reminds me to get in the kitchen.  And it daily (hourly!) lends me ideas.  Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recently posted an adzuki bean and butternut squash soup and I remembered I had unused adzuki beans on my bean shelf in the bedroom (yes, I’m totally crazy and have no design skills.)  I’d imagined they would go in a soup when I bought them but of course forgot everything by the time I got home.  But now here was the perfect soup, on my screen.

It’s got lots of butternut squash and just enough chipotle to make you sweat.  Onions and tomatoes and 6 cloves of garlic.  And ground cinnamon, of which you’d hardly know it was there, but would miss it if left out.  I added some kale because I had some.  A little cumin because I love some.  [And meatballs because we’d been at the butcher and who doesn’t leave their favorite butcher without some ground meat?  Sadly, though, the soup was made and photographed the day before, sans meatballs, and I was too hungry the next day to stop and do anything other than eat my meal as soon as it was done.  Another time, maybe. And you don’t need the meatballs, anyway, I loved it just the same without.]

It was spicy and a little sweet and wholesome and comforting and whoo-damn it was good.  Jim deemed it the best soup we’ve ever made, and I was hard-pressed to disagree.  Adzuki, I’m so glad I (finally) ate you.

Adzuki Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

serves 6-8, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 generous teaspoons finely chopped chipotle pepper (from can, or rehydrated from dried chile)
  • 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • 2 medium-large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 – 6 cups water
  • 5 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 4 cups cooked or canned adzuki beans
  • chopped cilantro for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, coriander, chipotle and salt and saute for a minute or two – until aromatic. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and butternut squash and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of water. Increase the heat to bring to a boil, and once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the squash begins to soften, 15-20 minutes or so.

Once the squash has softened, break up some pieces with the back of your spoon (it should be soft enough for you to do this relatively easily). Add the tomatoes, and cook a couple more minutes before adding the kale and beans. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the cilantro.
Heidi’s recipe was adapted from Jae Steele’s Get It Ripe: A Fresh Take on Vegan Cooking and Living (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)

New beginnings.

It doesn’t feel like so long ago when I was last having new beginnings.  It seems that graduating from college and facing the big-people world works that way.  You get a job, any job, and then realize you don’t want any old job.  You work for a while, gain some confidence and start looking for the next challenge.  You may then, even, find your perfect place, a nice Mom and Pop of a school, perfect hours, summers off, and wonderful people all around.  Ok, that’s unlikely, though it was what I had.  But, like the rest of the world, things fall apart. Companies get sold, disgruntlements ensue, and you start wanting to begin again.

So that’s where I stand now.  A part-time job and a fledgling personal chef business.  It’s exciting.  And scary.  And lovely… unimaginably lovely.  Kind of like this soup, really.  The whole time I was preparing it, from breaking down the garlic cloves to passing it through the food mill, I was scared for what was to come, but pretty thrilled for it.  Four heads of garlic?  Garlic soup?  It sounds like something out of True Blood, but there’s no vampires to fend off here.

You don’t need to be warding off blood-suckers to love this soup anyway, because it’s hardly pungent, almost indiscernibly garlic—that is until someone tells you it’s garlic soup and you become altogether terrified that someone who hasn’t eaten the soup will kiss you tonight.  Not that they would notice.  Or care.  (Because who doesn’t need a kiss, anyway?)

You won’t notice the thyme much either, though it’s not the same without it.   Fresh thyme is best, and it’s the same for garlic.  Don’t make this soup with brown-bottomed, half-dead garlic bulbs—make sure they are fresh, resilient, and either white or purple.  Check the roots because (not that I want to get into the whole nature/nurture discussion) brown spots at the root is bad news.  Luckily, finding good garlic is the hardest part.

Just break up 4 heads of garlic, brushing off the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel the cloves.  Throw them in a pot with 12 or so sprigs of fresh, fragrant thyme.  Splash in a quart of roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water, and simmer away until the garlic yields to the gentle pressing of the back of a spoon.  Run everything through a food mill with a fine grater (or take out the thyme twigs and blend) and then add the juice of one lime.  Serve piping hot with a slice of good, crusty bread, or all by itself for a warming first course.  It tastes exciting and different from any other broth soups, and is invigorating enough to sustain you through a long kissing session afterwards.

Garlic and Thyme Soup

adapted from James Peterson’s Splendid Soups

serves 4 in small bowls

  • 4 heads good garlic
  • about 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 quart roasted vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
  • 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Break down garlic heads into cloves, brushing away the white, papery skins but not bothering to peel.  Wrap the thyme into a bunch.  Add both to a 3 qt pot and cover with 1 quart of the vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water (I use roasted vegetable stock and it is lovely here.)  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the garlic cloves are soft and yield to a fork, about 40 minutes, depending on your garlic.

Run the soup through a food mill fitted with a fine grater, or take out the thyme sprigs and blend in a blender (if you blend, you’ll need to pass your soup through a sieve afterwards.  Add the juice of one lime to the soup and taste for seasoning, adding a little salt or pepper if you like.  Serve in warmed bowls.

Comfort and a butternut squash.

I’d planned to be right back to tell you about my cilantro-laced dinner.  You still have some oil, don’t you?  Good; now get yourself a butternut squash.

Some of you may have noticed this soup in last month’s Gourmet.  February was The Comfort Food Issue and, of course, I am going to make everything in it.  Because who doesn’t need comfort in the middle of February, whether it comes from your valentine, or your soup spoon, or (preferably) both?

The soup was a curried butternut squash and red lentil soup and it wasn’t supposed to be pureed, but I left it on the stove just a wee too long and the lentils were too soft.  I was happy for this mistake in the end, though, because after a few post-mistake tweaks the soup really shone.  A pinch of saffron, a dash of smoked paprika, and a little extra salt—what couldn’t be better for it?

The end result was a smooth yet full-bodied soup; you could taste the lentils and their earthy note while the complex sweetness of the squash and all the curried spices lingered.  The cilantro oil added an extra green pop—taste-wise and aesthetically. The look of this soup—bright warm yellow and stark green swirls—is enough to make it tasty.  But thankfully, the flavors don’t disappoint.

Curried-Squash and Red-Lentil Soup

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 quarts water
  • pinch of saffron
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper

Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add lentils and water and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 40 minutes. Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender.  Add saffron, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve drizzled with cilantro oil.

Sick-day soup.

When I’m sick (yes, I got sick—my body’s way of  saying look, you’re on the couch anyways…) I like to eat foods that are acidic and spicy.  No noodle-soup, give me something to wake up my nasal passages and energize my stuffy head. And if nasal passages and stuffiness doesn’t get your tummy growling… this tomato & black bean soup will do the trick.

It’s more acidic than my regular black bean soup, with equal parts tomato and black bean.  Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce lend a spicy smokiness that screams earthy, complex… sexy. (Because who doesn’t need a bit of sexy in their sick-day soup?)

If you can, find some fresh oregano to use for the soup.  Fresh and dried oregano are really different animals. Dried oregano is too piney, akin to thyme, and gives off a deep, woodsy flavor—great for a sauce but, as I didn’t want to feel like I was eating a bowl of marinara, too strong for this soup.  Fresh oregano, on the other hand, is mild (depending on the type of fresh you have, some are pungent, mine was mild) and citrusy, with a touch of bright bitter.  If you wrap up a bunch of fresh oregano and drop it into the soup,  you’ll add a taste that will seem clean on the palate, a bright flavor that’s non-acidic.  It’s a way to counterbalance the tomatoes without adding a dairy, and I think it gives the soup that hidden-flavor mysteriousness that I like to call the sumthin’-sumthin’.  And, since this recipe is almost entirely made from canned goods, herbs elevate it into freshness.  If you don’t have fresh oregano, go for marjoram or cilantro or even nothing at all; just don’t substitute dried.

If you’re short on time, you can serve the soup after about 15 minutes of medium-heat simmer time, but I like to simmer low and slow—over low heat for about 45 minutes—before pureeing the soup a bit with the immersion blender and serving.  If you don’t care for thick soups, you can nix the pureeing for a more minestrone-consistency.  You could also add some grated cheese and sour cream to garnish but if you’re eating this during a cold, eat it plain.  Your nasal passages will thank you.

Smokey Tomato and Black Bean Soup

serves a few hungry people as a first-course or lunch

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • half of one (7 oz.) can of chipolte peppers in adobo, with sauce
  • 1 (30 oz.) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted whole tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 small bunch fresh oregano
  • salt, pepper

Take half of peppers out of the can, split them open with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds.  Discard seeds. Chop peppers.

Add oil into a big saucepan or medium dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onions, cooking until they begin to brown.  Add garlic and chilis and about half the adobo sauce.  Cook for a few minutes.

Add black beans and tomatoes with liquid and water.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, leaving them in chunks.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off the foam if you are particular like that, and then lower the heat.  Add fresh oregano and simmer gently for the flavors to meld, 15 minutes if you are famished, 45 minutes if you can wait.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Ugly as a Monkfish’s Uncle

If monkfish can teach you one thing, it’s “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” There are hardly any foods in the world that are this ugly:

But monkfish isn’t simply ugly, it’s also hands-down the best fish to use in a stew, assuming you can get over the look long enough to cook it. That was easy for me—I found it’s ugliness rather intriguing, actually, and the monkfish I had this weekend was fresh, clean, and about one day off the boat—caught from local fishermen and bought at the farmer’s market.

As soon as I saw the vendor was selling monkfish, I knew I had to make a fish stew. Snagging some mussels and clams, I moved on to the other stands and bought some of the most delicate, flavorfully-bitter arugula I’ve ever tasted.

I went straight to Anne Willan’s The Country Cooking of France cookbook (my favorite new book) once I got home, knowing it would have some great fish stew recipes. To my delight, one of the recipes is for Cotriade Bretonne, a fish stew with sorrel and leek. It calls for a rich fish (monkfish), a white fish (I had some hake in the fridge), and mussels. I could easily substitute the arugula for sorrel and why not throw some clams in there! A perfect combination.

The resulting soup was perfect in more than just the ease it took me to procure the ingredients—it was flavorful yet balanced, creamy yet light, with a hint of bitterness from the arugula. The mussels and clams were a fun addition for a Saturday night (we spent hours eating and plucking the meat from the shells, which were filled up with all the leeky, arugula goodness) but you could easily omit both bivalves and make this soup in no-time on a weeknight. I’ll certainly be doing so often.

Cotriade Bretonne

Fish Stew with Arugula and Leek

adapted from The Country Cooking of France, by Anne Willan

serves 6

  • 1/2 pound white fish, without skin
  • 1 pound rich fish, without skin
  • 1 1/2 pounds mussels
  • 1-2 dozen clams (optional)
  • 1 pound arugula (or sorrel), stems removed, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 leeks, white and green parts, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 quart fish stock
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 3/4 cup creme fraiche
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Wash and dry the fish, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Clean the mussels and clams and arugula. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the arugula, cover, and cook until the green wilt. Uncover and cook until all liquid had evaporated. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a soup pot. Add onions, leeks, and garlic and cook until they soften, 8-10 minutes. Add the stock, potatoes, bouquet garni, salt and pepper and simmer until the potatoes are partially cooked, about 5 minutes.

Add the rich fish to the cooking liquid, immersing it in the liquid, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the white fish and simmer until all fish are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard bouquet garni. Add the arugula and creme fraiche, mixing gently. Top with mussels and clams (if using) and simmer until they open, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with baguette toasts.

Vegetable Soup? It’s freakin’ 80 degrees out there!

It’s getting hot in here. Well, not in here—this series of tubes that we call “the internets”—but out there, on the other side of my window, where tulips and blossoms are beginning to bud under the warm New Jersey sun.

Tomorrow’s temperature may reach 80, there’s a warm breeze blowing through the blossoming trees, and the kids at my school have a terrible case of Spring Fever. There’s no denying it—Spring has sprung.

So, why in the world would I give you a hearty, warm, comforting vegetable soup? I could make up excuses that I’m trying to reach out to those poor saps in Canada or wherever it is that snow is still on the ground. Or I could tell you I’m sick and that’s why I made it. That, thankfully, is not true (I’m feeling quite great, actually, and so is Jim.) I could tell you that the vegetables that went into the soup were so good, so irresistible, that I just had to post the soup. That, also, would be a lie.

In truth, the vegetables in this soup had been hanging around the bottom drawer of my fridge for quite a while. I bought them, used some, and left the rest to twiddle their thumbs in the frigid air. I had good intentions, mind you, of lots of vegetable spring dishes. And then I got lazy this week, falling back to our old standards—red lentil dal, risotto, dishes that have me going to the pantry more than the vegetable drawer. I almost forgot about all those sad, bored veggies, and I would have let them wither and die had I not decided, with spring-cleaning motivation, that I would clean out the fridge.

We’re going away for the weekend, to attend Jim’s uncle’s photography show’s opening in East Hampton. I’ll plan it out so that we do next week’s shopping on the drive home on Sunday and making room in the fridge is the last thing I’ll want to do when we finally get back to the apartment.

The best way to use up all your idle veggies is a pot of vegetable soup. The more, the better—I used leeks, onions, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and potatoes. You don’t even need a recipe, just chop everything up, render some bacon in a big pot (or simply use olive oil), add your vegetables, saute them until fragrant and golden, and then add enough water to cover. The vegetables will flavor the water to make a rich, delicious stock. If you are using potatoes, add them in about 10-15 minutes after adding the water. Simmer until all the vegetables are done. Ladel into bowls and top with a bit of salted butter. Pretend it’s cold outside and enjoy with a good French baguette.

Simple Miso Soup

This post may be uninteresting to you, especially since Japanese food in America has been wildly popular for the past few years. It’s a simple recipe for Miso Soup. And I am so excited about it!

I guess I missed the boat on this one—when all of my friend’s were lapping up miso soup in college, when I skimmed over blog posts and recipes of it uninspired, when I chose the gyoza over it in restaurants. I never cared to even try miso soup until one day last spring, when Jim and I were in New York for a play and (more importantly) a fancy dinner. We chose a restaurant, well-received on Zagat, whose name has vanished from my memory. Every item on the menu, save for the miso soup Jim ordered, was either unremarkable or inedible. I finally gave in and tried Jim’s soup out of hungry desperation. It was delicious! I loved the salty, briny flavor of the dashi and went wild for the crunchy green onions. I mostly stayed away from the tofu, thinking that I was allergic to it after I had a reaction to a soy-gingerbread latte a few months prior.

Since then, I’ve learned that I’m not allergic to tofu and also that I just don’t care for it. So, I’ve been hunting for a comprable miso soup in sushi places and gourmet shops since last spring, hoping beyond hope to find one that focuses as much on the other ingredients as it does on the tofu and not having to break the bank for it. I was unlucky to the point of being turned off by miso soup altogether—almost to the point of forgetting about it, until my soup obsession started this winter. I don’t know why I never made miso soup myself before but I should really give myself a kick in the ass. It’s so wonderfully easy—and I can make it to my tastes! Don’t like tofu? Screw the tofu!

So, that’s why I’m so excited about this simple miso soup. I see it as a jumping off point for me—today’s post is the classic miso, tofu and all, but next week I’ll try something different. Eventually I’m sure I’ll come up with my ultimate miso soup. The combination of the sea-laced kombu dashi with salty red miso is the broth-soup jump-off point of my dreams (wow, I really am turning into a soup-nut.) And to top it all off, miso soup is healthy and beneficial to my lazy winter immune system—maybe one of the reasons I’m already feeling better!

Miso Soup

Don’t let the ingredient list scare you off—they were all stocked in my supermarket without my knowing. I asked the clerk, thinking it was hopeless, if he had kombu and bonito flakes and the wonderful man said of course! and then politely gave me a lesson on how to make the best miso soup. Also, the ingredients store easily in the pantry—a plus in my book.

For the dashi:

  • 1 strip kombu, scored a bit with the tip of your knife
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup bonito flakes (dried tuna)

For the miso soup:

  • Prepared dashi
  • 1/3 cup red miso (you can use white or yellow if you think red is too strong)
  • 2 cups sliced shitake mushrooms
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced

To make the dashi: Combine kombu strip and water. Bring to a simmer but do not let boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove kombu with tongs and discard (or save for another use.) Add bonito flakes and simmer for a few more minutes. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve.

To make soup: Place dashi back on stove, reserving about a cup in a heatproof bowl. Whisk miso into the cup, combining well. Pour combined miso back into the dashi and stir. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add green onions, turn off heat and let it sit for another minute. Serve.

 

QUESTION! QUESTION!  Do you have any interesting (or simple) miso soup recipes or tips?? I’d love to hear them!

Hearty Fish Soup with Cider, Leeks, and Mushrooms

I don’t know what I find so funny about fish heads but, well, I think most of the prep I did for this soup involved me holding the fish heads up in front of my face, giggling and pretending that they were speaking to me in funny voices. I was literally laughing out loud, alone in my kitchen with a fish head.

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic to the poor fish that had to die for my soup. I really do respect him for that. I’m truly grateful. But unlike working with chicken heads or pig’s heads, which have an strikingly sad expressions, fish heads have this look on their faces, like they are half-surprised and half-tiffed that you are about to eat them. You wash them off, cut up your stock vegetables, and throw them all in the pot—and then the fish heads look up at you like “Seriously? You are seriously about to cook me?” You pour in the liquid and turn on the heat, and the heads look towards one another and say things like “Damn, man, this is it. Thought we’d fare better than our bodies, us heads being so cute and big eyed and all. But no, she’s going to actually frickin’ cook us.”

Continue reading “Hearty Fish Soup with Cider, Leeks, and Mushrooms”

Chestnut Soup

I’m not sure if these chestnuts were roasted on an open fire and frankly I do not care. My doctor advised me to start getting up and walking around a little. I’m sure that shelling chestnuts is not an activity he has in mind. But soup-making, especially when it involves little more than opening a few jars, seems like the perfect exercise.

I’m beginning to feel a bit better, actually, (knock-on-wood) and I’m itching to start back in the kitchen. This chestnut soup, so super easy, almost doesn’t qualify as “cooking” but it was easy on my back and, as I was told the other day, soup is good for everything. It was the first recipe I looked at when cracking open my newest cookbook, Splendid Soups by James Peterson. I put a lot of research into buying Peterson’s book (usually my book-buying is effortless and impromptu.) A few weeks ago, I decided I just needed to have a soup cookbook—one that would take me above and beyond my already somewhat attuned soup-making know-how. I asked on forums, I called friends to the task, I google-searched and google-searched, only to find mediocre soup “bible” tomes, ones that focused on easy, Americanized, everyman soups.

Continue reading “Chestnut Soup”

Car Accidents and Winter Squash Soup

Before I begin my post, I’d like to introduce my blogging buddy Deborah, from Taste and Tell. We got paired up in the Adopt-a-Blogger event and I couldn’t be happier. In the “about me” section of her blog, the first sentence reads “I am not a food snob. I just love to eat and love to cook.” I love that. Her website is full of wonderful recipes, some advanced, some easy, all delicious. I especially love her Shaggy Dog candies and her Tuscan Pasta with Sausage. Check her out!

On Tuesday, I was in a car accident. I was driving on the highway to work when the car in front of mine stopped short. I braked and stopped in time. But before I had time to pat myself on the back for leaving enough space between my car and the car ahead of me, the guy behind slammed into my Honda’s rear end. I got a bit banged up, hurting my hip and taking the ambulance to the hospital, but I’m okay albeit very sore. I’m home and not getting up off the couch, with some nice painkillers to leave me woozy and a box of chocolates. I’m game for watching TV and reading but I don’t think I’ll be doing much more than that for a few days. Luckily, I have a boyfriend who cooks me eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner and I even have a few posts that were sitting on the backburner—including this delicious squash soup.

Continue reading “Car Accidents and Winter Squash Soup”