Jan 202013
 

Yellow eye beans
If you’re like me, these days our legislative branch makes you go all frothy at the mouth. So why, you ask, would I endorse something that is served daily (and has been for many, many years) in the Senate cafeteria? I offer the following reasons:

  1. This soup won’t make you the laughing-stock of the free world.
  2. This soup won’t spiral you down into debt.
  3. You’re not stuck with this soup for the next six years, especially if it’s really bad.
  4. And, finally, unlike its name-sake, this soup gets the job done.

Senate bean soup with yellow eye beans

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Jan 062013
 

Chicken tortilla soup

Names are funny things.

Take this soup, for instance: tortilla soup. I think that ostensibly, this type of soup is usually served with strips of fried corn tortillas or (in a pinch) bits of tortilla chips… or something. I’m not really sure. To me, this is tortilla soup, though nary a flat-bread has ever graced it, as far as I know.

And really, that’s fine with me. I’m normally kind of stickler for those sorts of things: I like to know what things are called and how to use names and terms properly, because they mean something. In this case, though? Whatevs. See, this is my grandmother’s recipe, and far be it from me to go changing the title. She was a wise old bird, so I figure that she knew what she was talking about.

And really, once you throw on a goodly hand-full of cilantro, squeeze on plenty of lime, stir in half a bit of an avocado, and take a bite of this, who cares what it’s called? You may find that after all, the only truly appropriate name is get-in-my-face soup, and isn’t that the only name that matters?

Chicken tortilla soup

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Jan 042013
 

I have been bursting-at-the-seams excited about something happening in my kitchen this week.

Something so scintillating, it has propelled my kitchen into a place of magic.

It is a magic elixir.

It is duck-stock. (What, you want a recipe? Couldn’t be simpler. Take everything from the duck that you didn’t eat — backbone, neck, all other bones, gizzards, skin, rendered fat, everything — put it in a pot, cover with water, simmer 4-24 hours, cool slightly, strain it, skim off fat and save it, reduce the stock if desired, and store it.)

Made from the remnants of Christmas dinner, this precious liquid also gave me something else: duck-fat.

Shiver of excitement (Yes, I stole that line from Alton Brown. He summed it up perfectly.)

These two substances have led me to the question: what to do with them?

The duck-fat query is the easier question to answer: anything. It’s one of the finest cooking fats in the world and can beat up bacon-fat and take its lunch-money any day of the week. Its flavor is unsurpassed and the smell… oh my, the smell. If you’ve never had the pleasure, please, let me know, and I’ll invite you over next time I’m cooking with it. I’m always looking for an excuse to pop up some pop-corn in duck-fat. Yes, you read that right.

Shiver of excitement

But what to do with the stock? Being totally flummoxed, I asked Facebook and immediately got nothing-short-of-inspiring answers from my friends Heather and Adri: risotto.

I’m just gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Ok, are you better now? Because I certainly felt as though I had been taken by a case of the vapors when I first heard their suggestion. However, I think I’m going to wait until the spring to make it because I can think of nothing better than fresh in-season asparagus to go into the risotto with my favorite fowl.

So what to do in the meantime?

I thought about putting it in a soup: something simple that would really let the stock shine. Perhaps a cream-less potato-leek soup? That certainly sounds amazing! But what could I do if I wanted to expand beyond soup?

Duck pot-pies! Poach up some duck in the duck stock and then use it to make the gravy that goes in the pie — glorious, yes? And we all know that the crust is easy to make (if you have the right recipe that calls for some vodka), but really good fat makes for really good pastry…

You see where I’m going with this, right? It’s only logical:

Duck-fat pie-crust! YESSSSS!

I did a bit of research, and of course, I’m not the first one to think of this (Exhibit A | Exhibit B). It turns out that duck fat is excellent in pastry, producing a wonderfully flaky and flavorful crust. Which means…

It’s on like Donkey Kong.

I simply can’t wait to do this. You know you’ll be hearing from me when I get an opportunity to get into the kitchen and go bananas!

Dec 302012
 

Red lentil stew with quinoa

This recipe came to me by way of a dear friend and backpacking/adventure buddy. About a year ago, Heather and I had kicked the planning for our six-day Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim backpacking adventure into high gear and had begun to draft a menu so that I had plenty of time to cook and dehydrate all of our dinners. I was basing much of the menu off of that summer’s Denali menu, but because the Grand Canyon adventure was longer, I needed more meal ideas. Heather suggested this chili, and I was impressed by its credentials. Her husband, a weirdly picky eater, loved it, so I decided to make a test batch.

Now, my husband is not a weirdly picky eater (he’ll eat anything I put in front of him — even the most fail-y of my experiments), but he isn’t normally so vocal about food that he enjoys. He repeatedly enthusiastically complimented it, so I knew I had a winner on my hands. That’s right: it got the stamp of Manproval from both of our husbands! So by all means, hurry up and try this yourself — your taste-buds will thank you!

Red lentil stew with quinoa

For guidance on making this for dehydration, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.

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Dec 092012
 

Turkey soup!

If you’re like me, when you’re cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey carcass (with plenty of bits of meat still clinging to the bones) starts to look a lot like opportunity. I am loathe to ever throw away any animal bones: you can make too many delectable things with them (well, really, I’ve only ever made stock with the bones, but you can make so many things with the stock that it totally counts).

I’m also well-known for not thinking that turkey sandwiches are the bee’s knees. Given left-over turkey, there are several other things that I’d rather make with it, and one of them is soup! I have such a proclivity to it and The Hubs has such a proclivity for the sandwiches that we have always ended up in turkey-turf-wars about how the leftovers are going to be used. Not being possessed of two ovens but still needing to make several sides while the sacrificial bird is cooking, we grill our turkey so the birds we buy have to be relatively small so that it can fit on our Weber — hence, there’s not enough turkey to go around for both of our needs and strife ensues. This year, I avoided marital turkey-drama by buying two birds. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a solution to the problem, but then I went and shot myself in the foot by discovering turkey pot-pies, creating yet another need for large amounts of turkey. What’s a cook to do? And don’t you dare suggest I buy yet another bird: it’s not that it’s madness, it that there isn’t enough room in our cooler to brine three of them!

So, without any further adieu, I present a recipe for turkey soup, which is something my family has been making ever since I was a wee one. Like most soups, the ingredient list is more of a suggestion than a rule. It’s also slow-cooker friendly, which we found to be very welcome this year, since, well, y’know how on Thanksgiving Friday you don’t want to cook at all? Well, I kinda screwed that one up big-time by experimenting with the pot-pies, so come Saturday we really super-mega didn’t want to cook, but luckily I had slow-cookered up a big batch of this the night before. Victory, “turkey soup” is thy name.

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Nov 062009
 

By now, you’ve probably been able to tell that I’m having a love affair with Rancho Gordo beans. They’re just so damn good (and good for you) – I can’t help trying to put them into every food imaginable. I love them so much that someone who possibly lives in my house may have possibly placed an order for 45 pounds of beans from them a couple of weeks ago. My thinking was that I was buying a year’s worth of beans, but at the rate I’m finding fantastic recipes, the ten pounds of garbanzos may only last a couple of months. We’re not even going to mention the fifteen pounds of black beans and fifteen pounds of borlottis that arrived in the same shipment. But I digress.

I’ve recently started reading the Rancho Gordo blog and was ecstatic to find this particular recipe on there last week. It sounded so delicious, so healthy, and so satisfying, that I had to hurry up and make some chicken stock post-haste (as we had just run out two days before – like I’ve said before, the stuff burns a hole in my freezer) so that I could put this soup on the table.

Clearly, I hadn’t really been paying attention when I read up on the ingredients – I must have just been skimming for the produce I would need to add to the grocery list. So I didn’t really notice that it called for cinnamon until I was mise en place-ing everything. It was such a pleasant surprise though – we Americans are really missing out by regarding cinnamon as a wholly sweet spice rather than something that can be used to great effect in savory dishes. It brought a whole new dimension to the soup: adding a fullness not otherwise present and bringing to mind the most comforting of comfort foods. Try this on a cold, dreary winter night with a glass of lush cabernet and discover it for yourself!

Chickpea soup with barley and chard

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Nov 012009
 

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

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Sep 272009
 

I have been meaning to post this for a loooooonnnggg time. In fact, if the word “long” was as long as the length of time I’ve waited to post this recipe, it would be approximately sixty-three syllables long. But I digress.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

I’ve long had a soft spot for minestrone. It’s such great comfort food, and super-healthy to boot. I suppose that soup is normally a fall or winter endeavor, but here I’m going to give a Tucson summer (the fact that it’s late September is irrelevant – it’s in the upper nineties today) the finger and make this soup anyway. That’ll show the bloody weather!

There I go with my digressions again.

I’ve been through a lot of phases with this soup. I first got hooked on it at an Italian restaurant when I was a teenager, so when I started cooking a lot of vegetable soups after I moved to Alaska I decided to try this one out. To be honest, I hated my first attempt. I hadn’t yet started making my own chicken stock, and this was when I learned the hard way that using commercial chicken broth as the base for a soup is Officially a Bad Idea because it is Utterly Repugnant. However, at the time, I didn’t know that was the cause, so I just thought the recipe was a dud.

Many months later, something strange came over me and I decided to try it again – on unsuspecting dinner guests, no less. This time I was using homemade stock, and when I put the stuff in my mouth I had a foodgasm. It was that good. But because I am crazy, I am hardly ever 100 percent satisfied with a recipe, no matter how good it is. I decided that what this soup needed was an improvement in the bean department. Since then, I’ve tried all manner of beans: pinto, cannellini, kidney, great Northern whites, and heavenly borlottis. But all of these were canned and none of them were quite right.

Enter Rancho Gordo beans! These heavenly heirloom beans are as fresh as dried beans can get, especially when compared with lowly supermarket beans that are more than likely about five years old, which explains why those inferior beans cook slowly, unevenly, and blandly. This company carries many little-known and rare varieties of beans, including – look out for the squeeing – borlottis! I tried them for the first time when I was throwing together this soup, and finally, I have found my 100 percent satisfaction. These creamy, velvety, supremely flavorful beans add an entirely new level of flavor that ties minestrone together perfectly. It is definitely worth the time to find and cook the beans. And considering that I only just discovered the key to bean bliss, it was also worth the wait in posting this recipe!

Minestrone soup

Click for the recipe →

Jul 112008
 

Lasagna: there is so much to love about it. It’s cheesy, it’s gooey, it’s a meal in itself, it’s comfort food. It’s easy to make to boot. This was something I could make in my dorm kitchen, following the recipe on the back of the Barilla box. What that recipe lacked in finesse it made up for in cheese. Not that we minded – we were college students starved for a homemade meal, and so we always had fun popping this into the ovens in the dorm kitchens, opening a bottle of wine, and making a meal such that we were the envy of most dorm residents.

Now that I’m out of college though, that cheese-laden flavor-lacking thoroughly Americanized version isn’t going to cut it anymore. And that Souffer stuff? Forgetaboutit. Why oh why would you buy something like that when lasagna is like the easiest thing to make ever??? Anyway, I’d been looking for a good recipe for a several years until this winter when we had a dinner party at my swim coach’s house and my friend Ginger brought a tray of the most fantastic lasagna. It had just the right amount of cheese and wasn’t greasy and had some substantial herbs to it, which is really something that most recipes lack. So what did I do? I asked her for the recipe, of course.

The assembled lasagna awaits the oven
Nikon D50

“Oooh, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mom about it!” Apparently the lasagna recipe is akin to a state secret: Ginger’s mom worked really hard to develop the recipe (it shows!) and only gave it to her daughters under the condition that they would keep it as proprietary information. Lucky for me though, Carol agreed that it was ok for Ginger to give me the recipe because I had shared my family’s pumpkin cookie with her. Totally a great swap, if you ask me. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have permission to share this recipe on this blog! I’ve modified it only a little bit, because the core premise of the recipe is so solid. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which I think is a really great idea because it’s really tough to find good ricotta in the States. I absolutely love the sauce that you make for the recipe, and it’s fantastic with either traditional or turkey Italian sausages. I did substitute dried Italian herbs for dried basil because basil’s flavor is so volatile in the presence of heat and the dried version retains so little of the fresh’s flavor – but I just added in the fresh basil later in the recipe. The overall effect of the recipe is a way-less heavy version of the typical lasagna, but still retains all of the flavor that you want.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing this recipe with me! You did an awesome job creating this lasagna and I really appreciate being let in on the secret!

Mmmm lasagna
Nikon D50

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May 182008
 

The scene: a beautiful summer’s evening. A gathering of friends has come together to feast on grilled halibut, lemon linguine, and flash-cooked veggies. Everything was quite delicious and fresh, and all tummies were singing with joy. But the dessert was yet to be served!

Succulent strawberries form the base of this fresh, healthy dessert
Nikon D50

Yours truly decided to serve another dish in the vein of fresh summer fare. I pulled out vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and a good balsamic vinegar and proceeded to combine them. I could tell this had thrown my guests for a loop and no one was particularly looking forward to trying this syrupy brown stuff drizzled all over their perfectly good berries and ice cream. But the moment that combination touched their lips, I could tell that I had a table full of converts.

Should you have a similar reaction to the thought of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, I ask that you recite this eleventh commandment to yourself:

Thou shalt not doubt the culinary creations of your hostess, for lo, she will not lead you astray on the path to yumminess.

Strawberry-balsamic vinegar sorbet
Nikon D50

This sorbet is in the same spirit of the combination I served last summer. This recipe really doesn’t get any easier. Sorbets are usually based on a simple syrup but even that didn’t make it onto this three-ingredient list. That’s how simple it is! It’s really delicious too – strawberries are always good, and when you add a good balsamic to the mix you get something really special. When you add the fact that it’s a frozen dessert, well, that just makes it the perfect summer dessert, doesn’t it?

Let the simple, fresh flavors shine!
Nikon D50

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