Delicious Soups (that happen to be good for you)

butternutLast week it was really chilly here in California (54 degrees)!  Even though I grew up in New York and Michigan, after living in southern California for 12 years my skin has thinned a bit.  Okay, maybe a lot.  There is nothing I want more than a bowl of hot soup when the chill has set in.  One of my favorite soups is Butternut Squash soup.  This recipe is my mother-in-law’s recipe and it has just enough ginger to warm the back of your throat and leave you satisfied.  This should be in everyone’s recipe file because it’s sooooooo good and because you can make a huge batch of it and freeze it.

Gingered Butternut Squash Soup

1 cup chopped onions or leeks

1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2 stalks celery, sliced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon butter (or ghee)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

*1 butternut squash, 1 ½ -2 pounds, roasted

Slice of ginger, about 1 inch think, peeled

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

chopped cilantro for garnish (so yummy)

1 – In a large saucepan, cook the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in the butter and oil, covered, over low heat about 15 minutes or until vegetables are softened.

2 – Scoop the flesh of the squash and add it to the pot with the ginger and the stock.  Continue to cook, covered, for about 30 minutes.

3 – Puree in food process.  (This is where you would add the cream).  Be careful when pureeing hot liquids.  I usually take out the plug on top and semi cover it with a kitchen towel.

*To roast butternut squash: Cut in half crosswise, then cut each half in half (so you have 4 pieces).  Place, cut down on some foil on a baking sheet.  Roast at 425 for about 30-40 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife.  Let cool.

Serves 8-10.  This can be made a few days in advance.  It also freezes very well (without the cream).

Egg Drop

Egg Drop Soup

 There is no faster soup to put together than egg drop soup.  I remember eating this as a kid and had sort of forgotten about it until I started this Paleo thing.  It’s easy, simmer chicken broth (homemade is best), pour in a beaten egg whilst gently stirring with a fork, add some chicken and/or chopped spinach if you like and you’re done.  As Ina Garten always says, “How easy is that?”

posole

Posole

My neighbor made me some Posole a few months ago and I fell in love with it.  And my kids love anything they can “decorate” (i.e. garnish).  I used this recipe from Food&Wine, except that I left out the hominy because of the Paleo thing I’m doing.  It was good, but I think the broth needed a little more oomph.  Next time, I will add some chile powder.

Chili is more of a stew, but I’m including it here anyway because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.  This is another “decorating” recipe that my kids love.  My husband doesn’t like beans in his chili, so I created this recipe for him (and it’s paleo).  The spice of the chili and the sweetness of the sweet potato worked so well together.  (Sorry, I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture)

Chili (Paleo Style)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 diced onion (large)

2 lbs ground beef

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 T chili powder

1 T cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp salt

28oz can peeled tomatoes, pureed

2 baked sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

Cook onions in oil for a few minutes until softened.  Add garlic and spices and cook for another minute.  Add about half the tomato puree and then add the meat and cook through.  Stir in the rest of the tomato puree and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour (stir occasionally).  Uncover and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or so.  Add sweet potatoes and gently stir.

*Top with avocado, chopped cilantro, and chopped onion.  This freezes well.

Slow Cooker Chicken Broth

The base to any good soup is the broth.  I recently got a slow cooker and have been trying to figure out some new things to cook in it.  I read somewhere that you can throw your chicken bones (and necks and backs, etc. that I’ve been stockpiling in my freezer) in your slow cooker; fill with water and cook on low for 8 hours.  I cooked in on high for the first 2 hours and then 6 hours on low.  The result was nothing short of amazing.  In the paleo world this is called bone broth.  With a little bit of salt thrown in, it tastes amazing and is really good for you.

While doing this Paleo thing, I kind of wanted to make tomato soup and french onion soup, but decided against it, since each soup is just sooooo much better with cheese.  I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a grilled cheese sandwich dunked into some creamy tomato soup!

“Cuisine is when things taste like themselves.” – Curnonsky

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The Revelation of Roasted Broccoli!

Looking for a meal to please both the kids and you – and is healthy?  Look no further than chicken tacos with roasted broccoli (this ain’t your boring steamed broccoli)!  I had some organic chicken thighs (better than breasts for tacos because they stay so moist) and corn tortillas in the freezer and immediately thought of tacos.

There is a chicken recipe I’ve wanted to try from Fine Cooking August/Sept 2011 (my favorite magazine), where you marinate the chicken (you could also use fish) in Tamarind soda(Jarritos brand) and soy sauce – check it out here.

I’m not sure the Tamarind soda really came through, all I was tasting was soy sauce, but I still loved it because it tasted like one of those Asian fusion tacos.  I toasted the corn tortillas over a gas flame on my stovetop, which makes them taste so amazing!  Then I let the kids fill their own tacos, which they loved.  Fillings: chopped tamarind soy chicken, shredded sharp cheddar, diced avocado, and homemade salsa.  For the salsa: I grilled some tomatoes just enough to get some charred marks allover them, then threw them into the blender with some white onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and salt.

As for the Roasted Broccoli, heat your oven to 425 degrees and cut florets from either 1 large head of broccoli, or 2 smaller heads.  Put the florets on the sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and some kosher salt.  Toss everything really well with your hands and spread out.  Roast for about 20 minutes then toss around with a spatula and roast for another 10 minutes or so, or until the stalks are tender.  The broccoli develops little toasty bits all over them, transforming the broccoli to something so tasty that it doesn’t even taste like broccoli.  My kids scarfed them down and then asked for seconds and thirds!

Tacos and Mojitos!

Carnitas Tacos

I’m back, my fellow foodies!  My family and I were off to Scotland for a wedding, then a family reunion in New York, and after that we bought a house and moved.  Life is just getting back to normal and I’m so anxious to cook again!  We recently had a Housewarming +Plus+ party – celebrating our house, summer birthdays, surviving Carmageddon, among many other happy things.  I absolutely love Mexican food and I thought tacos and mojitos would be fun party fare.  Here is the full menu (I admit, perhaps I went a little overboard):

Carnitas (recipe follows)

Potatoes and Poblanos (recipe follows)

Red Peppers and Onions (sautéed peppers and onions in olive oil with salt and cumin)

Grilled Tomato Salsa (recipe follows)

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)

Smoked Gouda Cheese Dip (a mix of shredded gouda, mayo, goat cheese, jalapeno, cilantro, and scallions – it’s my copycat recipe from whole foods)

Chili con Queso Dip (cream, chilies, cheese, a bit of cornstarch – can’t remember exactly how I made it)

Sweet and Spicy Pepitas (a combo of salt, brown sugar, chipotle powder, and melted butter, mixed with roasted pepitas)

Guacamole (thanks Janette and Joanne for bring amazing guac!)

Red Rice (rice cooked with onions, diced tomatoes, and veg stock)

Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad (recipe follows)

Watermelon

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Buttercream frosting(recipe follows)

Rhubarb Crumble with vanilla ice cream (recipe follows)

Mango Blueberry Ice Pops (TJ’s mango passion fruit juice and blueberries in ice pop molds)

Mojitos (made with the mint in our backyard – recipe follows)

For the taco bar fixins’, I had flour and corn tortillas, queso fresco, shredded jack cheese, crema, chopped onions, and chopped cilantro

Pork Shoulder

CARNITAS

I adapted this recipe from a Costco cookbook years ago….I’ve made this tons of times and it is foolproof!

6-7 pounds boneless pork shoulder (best price at Costco)

1 large onion, cut into a few large hunks

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 T kosher salt

2 ½ cups water

Cut pork into 3-inch chunks.  Place pork, onion, garlic, salt, and water in a Dutch oven.  Cover tightly, bring to a boil and cook slowly for 2 ½-2 ¾ hours, or until pork is fork tender (stir occasionally).  Shred pork and let cool in juices.

Variation: BBQ Pork – add BBQ sauce and serve with sandwich rolls and coleslaw.

Variation: Hawaiian Kalua Pork – add 1 Tablespoon of liquid smoke along with the pork in the directions above.

*The pork can be frozen for up to 1 month.  Defrost in the refrigerator and gently reheat.

POTATOES AND POBLANOS

I adapted this from a cooking class I took a while ago.

12 poblanos (also called Anaheim chilis)

1 onion, diced

5 potatoes, baked, peeled, and diced

About1 1/2 cups heavy cream

First you need to char the poblanos.  I did this easily on my gas grill.  When the skin gets all black, put them in a bowl or on a tray and cover with a dish towel.  When they are cooled, peel off the black skin (do not rinse under water) and stem and seed the peppers; then dice.  Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onions until translucent.  Then add the poblanos, and potatoes and heat through.  Then add the heavy cream and lots of, you guessed it, salt.  The heat of chili peppers varies greatly, so you will want to adjust things to your taste.  This is an absolutely delicious taco filling with some queso fresco and cilantro – truly outstanding!

Grilled Tomato Salsa

SALSAS

For the salsas I just charred tomatillos and tomatoes on the grill, along with jalapenos, garlic, and onion.  I whizzed these up in the food processor with some lime juice, salt, and cilantro.  Tomatillos are a revelation.  I just bought some seeds and will be growing them in my backyard soon…

FRESH CORN AND BLACK BEAN SALAD

Corn is in season and it’s so sweet and delicious!  So I cut the kernels off the cob and sautéed them in a little olive oil.  I let them cool for a bit then added some black beans, lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and salt.

Vanilla Bean cupcakes with Buttercream frosting

VANILLA BEAN CUPCAKES

These are my go-to vanilla cupcakes, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I use vanilla bean seeds in place of the extract and make sure not to overcook them – I usually check them for doneness a couple of minutes before the recipe says to.  Also, Martha’s Buttercream frosting recipe is always delicious – I use organic butter, not just because it’s better for the environment, but it also tastes better.

RHUBARB CRUMBLE

I’d never had rhubarb until a couple of years ago, when I decided to give it a try – now I’ll do (almost) anything for rhubarb!  I got this recipe from Oprah’s website and made 2 changes: I added ½ cup of oatmeal to the crumb topping – I like the taste and texture it adds, and I reduced the granulated sugar down to one cup (I don’t like things overly sweetened).  This was a HUGE hit at the party – I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know I liked rhubarb!”  That’s why I love food and cooking for other people – it can unexpectedly bring joy into your life and then you can share that joy with others!

MOJITOS FOR A CROWD

We have a ton of mint growing in our backyard so, of course, mojitos came to mind.  I searched online for Mojito recipes for a crowd and got some great ideas and here’s what I mixed together:

Makes 24

Lots of mint leaves

3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

3 cups mint simple syrup (recipe follows)

6 cups of light rum

Ice

Seltzer

Put mint leaves in a pitcher and add just a bit of lime juice to make the muddling a bit easier.  Muddle the heck out of those leaves.  Then add the rest of the lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.  Guests should fill their glass with ice, pour mojito mix halfway up and then fill the rest with seltzer.  This is so refreshing that you have to remind yourself not to down too many too fast on a hot summer evening. (Perhaps that is the reason I forgot to take more pictures!)

Mint Simple Syrup

A bunch of mint leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Put the mint leaves and a little of the water in the bottom of a saucepan.  Muddle the heck out of the mint.  Add the rest of the water and sugar and bring to a boil and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Take off the heat and cool completely.  Strain and chill.

Good food helps make a good party, but great friends are what make a party wonderful!

Norm and Cindy – great friends!

Sweet Corn Tamales and Arroz Verde!

I hope everyone had a great Cinco de Mayo yesterday!  Mmmmmmm, Mexican food – my favorite of all cuisines, yet I still don’t cook that much of it because here in Los Angeles, great Mexican food at a great price is so easy to come by.  Yesterday, though, I was inspired by the fresh corn that is now in season, so I decided to try my hand at tamale making – starting with an easy non-filled tamale: the Sweet Corn Tamale!  I used Rick Bayless’ recipe from his website – click here for the recipe.  Chef Bayless won on Top Chef Masters with this recipe.

I was not disappointed with these tamales.  I opted not to fill with cheese and poblanos because I just wanted to get the tamale part down first.  I used some fresh corn husks, but mostly dried husks since they were larger pieces – they both tasted the same to me.  The only mistake I made was that I overcooked the tamales just a bit.  The recipe says to steam them until the tamales come free from the husks – I checked after about 50 minutes and they were coming free from the husks, but still seemed mushy – this is when I should have removed them from the heat.  As they cool, they firm up quite a bit – mine weren’t dry, but they could have been more moist – the flavor though, was delicious.  I used a collapsible steamer in my dutch oven to steam these babies – you can also steam them standing upright in a large stockpot.  Do not be intimidated by the process of tamale making – these were not that labor intensive at all!    Also, these can easily be a vegan dish with the use of Spectrum in place of the butter! 

And for a condiment: grilled tomatillo salsa – – grilled tomatillos, grilled jalapeno, some onions, cilantro, and salt – the spiciness of the salsa went great with the sweet tamales.  And for a new side dish to try…..how about Arroz Verde from Fine Cooking.com.  This recipe got such rave reviews that I had to try it.  It was incredibly flavorful and a nice change from the standard red rice.  This is the first time in over a year that I have cooked rice outside of a rice cooker and that was a mistake, because the texture was a bit mushy for me.  Next time I will make this in the rice cooker.  All in all, a great Cinco de Mayo meal.  Now I can’t wait to make filled tamales!