Smoky potato & linguica soup.

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I didn’t know it was possible to make potato soup that wasn’t thick as oatmeal, but I did it. For years, my husband has loved the creamy potato soup I make with bacon and scallions, topped with a sprinkling of cheddar or sometimes bleu cheese. I guess you might call it a “loaded baked potato” soup. Confession: I dread his request for that soup. I find its heaviness so unwelcome that it cancels out how good it might taste; flavorful as it really, really is, I don’t like wading through a bowl. But let’s get back to the positive news now: this is not that loaded soup. My new version of potato soup is lighter– it can almost be described as ‘brothy’– and just as delicious, maybe more so. The lightness comes from the cooking method: I essentially steam-boiled the potatoes rather than allowing them to cook down and thicken in the broth. I also took care to choose a variety that isn’t overly starchy; in this case, that was a Yukon gold, but I’ve also had luck with thin-skinned red potatoes. The soup gets a lovely smoky flavor from my current favorite ingredient, linguica, and paprika; linguica is a mildly spicy smoked sausage notable for its perfect balance of sweetness and smokiness. It reminds me of taking a bite of kielbasa and Andouille sausage at the same time and I love how it adds so much flavor to this soup. The list of ingredients is short because the linguica does so much work for you. Linguica can be found in most well-stocked groceries near the bacon and sausage; if you can’t find it, a smoked sausage or kielbasa would be a reasonable substitute. Finally, a few bits of nutty, decadent gorgonzola cheese round out the flavors and add the perfect finishing touch.

In the heart of winter, whether you’re watching another snowfall or just looking at a gray sky, a bowl of this smoky potato & linguica soup is just what you want to eat.

smoky potato & linguica soup

Smoky Potato & Linguica Soup (serves 4)

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 c. linguica, cut into small dice
  • 1/3 c. diced sweet onion
  • 1 lb. Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ dice
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika (or use ‘plain’ paprika if you don’t have smoked)
  • 4 c. good quality chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. cream
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • crumbled gorgonzola to garnish, about 2 oz. total

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the linguica and cook until it begins to brown and release its oil, about 4-6 mins. Using a slotted spoon, remove the linguica from the pan to a small plate or bowl. You should have about 1 T. of oil left in the bottom of your pan; if you have more, pour it off. If you have less than 1 T., add more olive oil to compensate.

Add the onions to the still warm oil and cook for about 5 mins., stirring once or twice, until they soften and start to become opaque. Add the diced potatoes and paprika to the onions and mix well to coat the potatoes. Cook for 3-5 mins. without stirring. Add about 1/2 c. of broth (estimate, no need to measure) to the potatoes and use a wooden spoon to scrape all the good flavorful bits from the linguica and seasoned potatoes from the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the broth and bring the soup to a slow boil. Now, here is the key: reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook for 25 mins.; check the potatoes for doneness by mashing one or two against the side of the pot. They will mash easily, with little pressure, when they’re cooked.

When the potatoes are done, remove the pot from the heat and add the cream. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend the soup; use short, pulsing bursts to avoid an unpleasant, gluey consistency. I don’t recommend using a blender or food processor because the consistency can go wrong so quickly. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a potato masher and call your soup rustic.

Once the soup is blended, add a few good cracks of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Be judicious with salt, since the linguica and gorgonzola will introduce some saltiness to the mix. Reheat on a low burner if necessary, then ladle into bowls and garnish with cooked linguica and crumbled gorgonzola, to taste. Serve immediately. This soup is also surprisingly good cold, if you’d like to try something different.

Product review: SushiQuik!

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homemade sushi rolls and pickled ginger

I am fan of sushi, especially sushi rolls. I tried sushi for the first time maybe a decade ago; I don’t even remember ever seeing a restaurant in Maine (though I am sure there are plenty now), but Seattle certainly has its share and I’ve sampled more than one. My favorite is Moshi Moshi, with its beautiful lit cherry tree sculpture, creative cocktail menu and extensive list of rolls; I would walk a mile for a Ginger-san roll. I’ve spent a good amount of time at Japonessa, Musashi’s, Wasabi Bistro and even Blue C. Though I am comfortable ordering and becoming more adventurous in what I try, sushi always seems like a restaurant-only meal, something too complicated to make at home, with too many exotic ingredients and fancy techniques. As of last night, my opinion has changed! I am comfortable and confident making sushi rolls at home after spending an evening testing out my new SushiQuik set.

California roll on the left; vegetable & tofu roll on the right

I spent the afternoon shopping for ingredients at Uwajimaya; as it was my first time, I needed everything from rice to wasabi powder to the fish and vegetables we bought as fillings. I was lucky to have my friend A there to help, both with the shopping and later with the roll making; she made rolls with a bamboo mat previously and was able to offer expertise and opinions, comparing this to her prior experiences, as well as some fantastic ideas for ingredient combinations and fine, fine knife skills. She also found the cutest box (yes, box) of sake for us to drink with our meal. It was a blast to cook with her and I am incredibly grateful for her expertise and feedback.

prepping ingredients for sushi rolls

We made four rolls altogether: spicy tuna with cucumber and scallions; classic California with imitation crab (surimi), avocado and cucumber; a vegetable roll with fried tofu, red bell pepper and cucumber; and shrimp with cucumber, avocado, wasabi and cilantro. The latter was my favorite, so sweet and flavorful. All the vegetables were cut while the rice steamed; A mixed up wasabi and I made an easy spicy mayo for the tuna. A quick note about fish for sushi: Uwajimaya was a deliberate destination, knowing that their seafood department offers some of the highest quality, sushi-grade tuna, salmon, and other raw fish. It is imperative that you use high-quality fish when you make rolls at home; if you’re at all skeptical about the fish you have access to, if it doesn’t specifically say “sashimi-grade”, stick to cooked fish and seafood, like the surimi/crab sticks we found or shrimp, and vegetables. It’s just not worth risking. You can make many fine rolls with vegetables.

bamboo mat on the left; SushiQuik rolling mat on the right

We made three of the rolls with the SushiQuik set and the last with a traditional bamboo mat in order to compare the process. With the SushiQuik Starter Kit, you receive a base stand, a training frame for putting the rice onto your nori sheet, a rice paddle, a rolling mat, two end caps and a sushi roll cutter. All items are dishwasher safe, a definite bonus and one of the highlights for me of this product. You can’t put your bamboo mat through the dishwasher, so it must be painstakingly wrapped in plastic wrap before each use if you want to keep it for any length of time. The rolling mat was covered in nori flakes, sticky rice, avocado and a little bit of spicy tuna when I was done and it was great to throw it right into the dishwasher.

SushiQuik base with training frame over a sheet of nori

As for the process of rolling the sushi with a SushiQuik, it was essentially comparable to using a bamboo mat; the plastic rolling mat that comes with the kit was just as effective and easy to roll as the bamboo one we had. A and I both agreed that the base stand was unnecessary, so wobbly that it complicated the process, so we stopped using it. The training frame was helpful for getting the right depth and coverage of rice on the nori sheet, especially for me, since I had no, well, frame of reference. We didn’t use the end caps, but I thought it was clever that they double as containers for your soy (or other dipping) sauce when you are ready to eat. By far, the most useful and best part of the kit was the sushi roll cutter. It holds everything in place and allows for even, perfect cuts. That roll cutter is a must-have for anyone who plans to make sushi rolls at home on a regular basis. The picture below is not a great one, but does show how evenly the roll can be cut with the roll cutter.

spicy tuna roll cut with the SushiQuik sushi roll cutter

After a few weeks of recipe research, a busy shopping afternoon and a really fun evening of making rolls, I am so excited to have the SushiQuik set so I can make sushi rolls at home all the time! I have 46 nori sheets, a ton of wasabi paste and most of a package of surimi to ensure that I will do it again… but the truth is that I had so much fun and was so proud of the rolls we made. For a beginner and a novice trying a new product, we turned out four restaurant-quality, tasty rolls in just about an hour, and most of that time was spent prepping ingredients, steaming rice and reading directions. I would be proud to serve any of those rolls again, and have a few more ideas to try– we ran out of cooked rice last night, or there would have been other combinations on the table. My husband was so impressed he asked me to make more rolls for dinner tonight, which I will probably do, since I have so many filling ingredients left over. If you are a sushi lover hoping to replicate some of your favorite rolls at home at a fraction of the cost, consider checking out SushiQuik– in addition to the products, the website has a video, customer reviews and even some recipes to help get you started. You should go take a look! Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen trying some out new rolls.

our dinner: four rolls, steamed edamame and hot sake

I was given a SushiQuik Starter Set to test, but the opinions and words in this review are unbiased and my own. 

Maple buckwheat muffins.

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I’ve been working on this recipe for a solid month. I had an idea, and was determined to see it through, and for once I’m glad I was so stubborn. I think these muffins are delicious and the trials and errors were worthwhile. My initial inspiration was twofold: I wanted the flavors of buckwheat pancakes in a portable form, and I wanted to use whole grain flours and less refined sugar to make them. After two not-quite-right batches, I made some adjustments to the second goal for textural reasons, and I am proud to put my name on the final version of these maple buckwheat muffins. They are nutty and substantial from the buckwheat flour but stay soft and light, and they’re tasty– orange, vanilla and maple is a flavor combination I’d have trouble passing up in a baked good.

My recipe was very loosely based on this muffin recipe from The Kitchn; I want to credit it because it looks like something I’d like to make, so maybe the same is true for you, and also because I learned from it ratios of flour to other ingredients as well as important tips for working with buckwheat flour. If you haven’t used buckwheat flour before, it has a dark brown, almost purplish, hue and a mild nutty flavor. You can find it in the baking aisle of the grocery store, and often in the bulk foods section, too. Buckwheat actually has no relation to wheat (fun fact: it’s more closely related to rhubarb and sorrel) and is gluten-free, commonly used in Japanese soba noodles, sweet and savory pancakes, and porridge. I am a big fan of buckwheat and want to learn to use it more often in baked goods. The most important takeaway from the recipe I linked above: don’t skip the step of “resting” the batter before portioning it out into your muffin tin. It really helps with the consistency of your muffins. Another important tip, though not buckwheat related: you must, must use real maple syrup. The pancake topping substitutes will not do. If you follow those two directions, you can make the muffins your own by substituting pink grapefruit for the orange juice and zest, using plain yogurt in place of buttermilk, or adding a handful of blueberries to the batter.

If you’re looking for a muffin recipe with some stick-to-your-ribs qualities; if you love buckwheat pancakes with syrup; if you’re trying to cook with more whole grain flours; or if you just want to try something new and delicious, look no further than these maple buckwheat muffins. We’ve had them four weekends in a row and I’m still eager to make another batch!

maple buckwheat flour

Maple Buckwheat Muffins (makes 1 dozen standard muffins)

  • 8 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • zest of one orange
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour*
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. buttermilk

Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl, either in the microwave or over a pot of simmering water. Stir in the brown sugar, honey and syrup; add in the eggs, one at a time, and mix until you have a soupy but uniform base. Stir in the orange zest and juice and the vanilla.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add to the wet ingredients and pour the buttermilk over the top; stir just until all dry ingredients are moist. Rest the batter at room temperature for 30 mins. Don’t skip this step! It will improve the texture of the final product.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with papers, or grease each well thoroughly. After the batter has rested, divide it equally among the 12 muffin cups and bake for 20 mins., rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through baking. Remove from the oven promptly and cool for 10 mins. before serving. The muffins are best served warm but will keep, tightly covered, for about 5 days.

*If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, replace with 1/4 c. white (all-purpose) flour, or even 1/4 c. whole wheat flour. The pastry flour is lighter, which helps with the texture and lightness of your muffins, but it’s also less nutritionally dense.

Caramelized onion dip.

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Every respectable Super Bowl party has good food. It’s the key element to fuel the festivities, a must if you want to bring even non-football fans into the fold. Yes, the commercials are fun and the half-time show is entertaining (at least in alternate years), but good food is a universal constant. This year, with my team in the game (!!), I may be too absorbed in the on-field action to eat much, but I know I’ll have some quality snacks ready if I get hungry: spicy gochujang wings, maybe chili or pulled pork, a sturdy cocktail and this fantastic onion dip. Most of us know onion dip, but too often it’s a packet of onion-scented dust stirred into sour cream. I’m here to change all that, take your Super Bowl spread from good to The Best: my caramelized onion dip is perfectly balanced, elegant-but-classic, and tasty, tasty, tasty.

Making caramelized onions in the slow cooker is one of my favorite kitchen tricks. It takes about 8-10 hours to do, but requires less than 10 mins. of active work/prep time before you sit back and let your appliance do the hard work. They don’t burn, they cook evenly, and they smell positively heavenly. My onion dip uses about half of the yield of one batch of caramelized onions, leaving you plenty left over for soup, quiche, pizza or whatever you choose. You can certainly use caramelized onions prepared traditionally on the stovetop, or a store-bought product. If you’re caramelizing the onions yourself, make sure they cool completely before making the dip.

This recipe makes a Super Bowl-sized amount of dip, just shy of 3 cups. That’s great if you’re hosting a crowd, and leftover dip is surprisingly versatile; try using it as a sandwich spread with turkey, roast beef or sprouts, or mix a little with cubed cooked chicken, steamed broccoli and pasta or brown rice. The recipe can be halved easily if you prefer not to make a lot. That said, there’s a chance you won’t have any left over from a full recipe; onion dip tends to be a popular draw. Make sure to buy enough chips, carrot sticks or other dip vehicle of your choice.

Regardless of your football loyalties, whether you’ve been waiting for this game for two weeks or struggle to name the teams involved, caramelized onion dip is a necessary addition to your Super Bowl spread. The decadently sweet onions are balanced perfectly with spicy black pepper, savory Worcestershire sauce and the refined bite of a balsamic vinegar. It tastes a lot like the pre-made stuff you can buy, but *so much* better– why not take a few extra steps and make some? I can’t recommend this dip enough, so I’ll give you a mini, football-style pep talk: It’s time to step up your game! Lose the packaged dip mix. Wow your guests. You’ve been working hard all year and you deserve this. Your guests deserve this. You can do it! On three…

caramelized onion dip

Caramelized Onion Dip (makes about 2 1/2 c.)

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 c. caramelized onions
  • 2 tsp. crushed dried parsley
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • lots of black pepper, preferably freshly ground
  • extra caramelized onions to garnish (optional)

By hand: Mix the softened cream cheese and sour cream in a large bowl until completely smooth. Get the lumps out now, since it will be progressively harder to do so as you add ingredients. Add the parsley, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, salt and several cracks of fresh black pepper (at least 1/2 tsp.) and mix. If your caramelized onions are long and stringy, turn them out onto a cutting board and chop roughly into smaller pieces. Set a few aside to garnish, if you want, and fold the rest into the dip. Cover and refrigerate the onion dip for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, to let the flavors meld. This is a necessary step– it really needs the time to mellow out and combine properly. Do not skip the waiting step!

Remove the dip from the refrigerator and taste; add more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with extra caramelized onions if you set them aside and a few extra cracks of black pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving for best flavor.

In a blender: Reserve 1/2 c. caramelized onions. Add the remaining ingredients to the jar of your Blendtec or similar blender and pulse at speed 4 to combine, about 20-30 seconds. Transfer the dip to a clean bowl and fold in the reserved onions, saving a few to garnish if you want; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. (See the note above.) Remove the dip from the refrigerator and taste; add more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with extra caramelized onions if you set them aside and a few extra cracks of black pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving for best flavor.

Roasted broccoli soup with goat cheese dumplings.

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Rustic. Homestyle. Comfort food. These are the words I would use to describe my new broccoli soup recipe, which took a distinct left turn from the dish I envisioned when I was first jotting down notes. I think many people think of cheese in tandem with broccoli in soup, but how many folks think chevre? While cheddar is usually the star of that show, goat cheese, especially fresh chevre, is well-suited to a pairing with broccoli and even better suited to be featured in dumplings. I pictured a delicate, brothy soup, flavored by the roasting process and a little squeeze of lemon juice at the end, with tender dumplings floating lazily about. Instead, I got a rich soup, flavored by roasted broccoli and shallots, brightened by lemon and dill, surrounding tender, creamy dumplings. This is how it should have been all along.

I chose to cook the dumplings in broth and use that same broth, clouded as it was by pieces of dumpling and strands of dill, to finish my broccoli soup. Why did I do this? Two birds with one stone: extra flavor in the dumplings from the broth and thickener for my soup from the bits of dumpling! Always thinking, I am. If you’d like to try a thinner, brothier soup like I first imagined, cook the dumplings in lightly salted water and use the broth for soup purposes only. Without the floury bits of dumpling dough, the soup won’t thicken in the same way. You could also make the soup without dumplings, if you’re concerned about dairy or gluten or just craving a lighter broccoli soup. Lastly, if you want to play up the heartiness of the dumplings, add additional vegetables like peas or cooked carrots (after you puree the broccoli), or cubes of pre-cooked chicken.

What you have in this recipe is a meal reminiscent of old favorites, particularly broccoli cheddar soup and traditional chicken and dumplings, but new and bright and interesting. The depth of flavor from roasting the vegetables, the creaminess of chevre, the classic duo of dill and lemon to keep your palate awake– no strange combination or juxtaposition of flavors here, just familiar ingredients put together in a new way. I think these goat cheese dumplings might show up in other soups I make, because they are great, but I will always think of this broccoli soup as their proper home.

roasted broccoli soup with goat cheese dumplings

Roasted Broccoli Soup with Goat Cheese Dumplings

(dumplings inspired by The Kitchn)

  • 1 lb. fresh broccoli
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T. fresh dill, chopped fine
  • 3 oz. goat cheese (chevre), at room temperature
  • 5 c. vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice

Start by roasting the vegetables. Cut the broccoli crowns into florets; keep them similar in size but don’t fret too much about them being exact. Shave the tough outer layer of the stems off with a vegetable peeler and cut into cubes similar in size to your florets. Cut small shallots in half and large ones in quarters; toss broccoli pieces and shallots with olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and a few good cracks of black pepper. Spread on a cookie sheet or similar roasting pan in one even layer and roast at 375 for 35 mins. The vegetables are done when the shallots have softened and the broccoli florets have some color and crispy edges. Set aside.

Next make the dumplings. (This can be done while the vegetables roast or up to a day ahead.) Combine flour, baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the milk, egg and fresh dill and stir until you have a uniform ball of dough. The dough will seem floury at first– keep at it with a wooden spoon until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Crumble the softened goat cheese over the dough and stir to incorporate. It’s okay if some streaks of chevre are still visible in the dough. At this point, you can wrap the dough and refrigerate for a day or proceed with forming and cooking the dumplings.

making goat cheese dumplings

Pour the broth into a large pot and bring to a simmer. Using a 2 T. cookie scoop, soup spoon or your hands, make golf ball sized dumplings. Drop the dumplings into hot, simmering (not at a vigorous boil) stock in a single layer; depending on the size of your pot, you may need to work in batches. The dumplings will sink and then float; cook them for 3 mins. after they float and remove promptly to a plate. Repeat this process until all dumplings are done; you should end up with 10-12. Set them aside and reserve the broth! Don’t strain it or anything.

Add the roasted broccoli and shallots to the reserved broth. Don’t be bothered by the remnants of dumpling– they are your secret thickening agent. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for about 5 mins., until you see the broth beginning to thicken. Remove the pot from the heat and cool slightly before pureeing the soup with an immersion blender, or use your Blendtec. Be careful! Hot soup is hot. Return the pureed soup to the pot and stove; add the lemon juice and taste for seasoning. I like a lot of pepper in this one and recommend at least a little more of that. Add the cooked dumplings to the pot and heat gently, just until warm. Serve immediately– a few dumplings into each bowl, topped with a generous ladle of soup– and garnish with a sprig of fresh dill if you like.

This soup is wonderful left over and will thicken significantly if the dumplings are stored with the broccoli soup. I like that a lot; it becomes almost like a good casserole. If you’d rather keep the soup soupier, consider separating the broccoli soup and dumplings into different containers before refrigerating.

Spicy pork & miso soup with udon noodles.

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I am barely exaggerating when I say I could eat this spicy soup for dinner every single night and be happy. Perhaps I would take an occasional break to acknowledge Meatless Monday; perhaps not. Would I miss old friends like mashed potatoes, spinach pie and lamb burgers? Sure. But I would have a bowl of delicious soup to ease my pain. Kidding aside, this is my perfect bowl. It is salty because of the broth and miso, sweet from the pork, spicy thanks to gochujang, umami from mushrooms and that lovely miso, comforting because it is brothy, interesting because of the multiple textures going on. It is even better on the second day, a factor becoming increasingly important as our calendars crowd and I try to make dinners ahead to be reheated. It is malleable: perhaps you want turkey or tofu instead of pork, or you have a tiny bit of Andouille sausage left from another meal that you think might just do the trick. (Spoiler: it does.) Maybe gochujang is not your thing– you prefer sriracha or no heat at all. Not a problem.

Some of the ingredients may be new to you, but all should be available in a well-stocked supermarket or local Asian market. Though I was initially intimidated by miso, I find it to be a versatile pantry ingredient now, useful for a quick bowl of broth at lunchtime, my new favorite salad dressing or a rub/sauce for salmon. I add mirin to all manner of noodle dishes and stir fries, and use gochujang to make marinade for chicken wings, season beef jerky and jazz up roasted cauliflower. Even if making this soup means a few extra items on the grocery list, I think you’ll get good use from them– plus, if you’re as smitten as me, you’ll probably want to make the soup multiple times! The original recipe, link below, called for additional flavors including a boiled egg and sesame seeds. I think either or both would be nice, and I like a few leaves of cilantro to garnish my bowl sometimes. Make the soup your own with additions or subtractions and know that you have a warming, filling, easy meal to add to your winter rotation.

spicy pork & miso soup with udon noodles

Spicy Pork & Miso Soup with Udon Noodles (adapted from this recipe)

  • 6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 T. grated fresh ginger
  • up to 1 T. gochujang*
  • 2 T. mirin
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/3 c. chopped green onions
  • 5 c. stock (chicken or vegetable recommended)
  • 1/4 c. red miso paste
  • 14-16 oz. udon noodles**

Place the shiitake mushrooms in a large mug or small bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for 15 mins.; remove the mushrooms and slice into strips or dice into 1/2″ pieces. Set aside. Reserve 1/2 c. of soaking liquid to use in later steps.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the ground pork, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and cook until brown. Add the ginger and gochujang to the browned pork and mix; cook for a minute or two. Add the mirin, soy sauce, pepper and reserved soaking liquid and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid reduces almost completely, about 5-6 mins. Don’t let the mixture dry completely; stop cooking when it looks like cooked pork with 1/4 c. or so of liquid added. Mix in the green onions, then add the stock, raise the heat slightly and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the shiitake mushrooms, lower the heat again to just below medium and simmer, uncovered, for 8 mins.

Put the miso paste in a mug or small bowl and ladle hot broth over it, about 1/2 c. or so. Mix gently to break up the miso and create an even, thick sauce. It will look grainy, which is fine. Add the miso mixture to the soup and stir to combine. Add the udon noodles and continue to cook just until the mixture is warmed through, about 2-3 mins. Use tongs to put noodles in the bottom of each serving bowl and then ladle the broth, pork and mushrooms over the top. Serve immediately. Leftovers, covered tightly, will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

*1 T. of gochujang makes for a fairly spicy bowl, which is great for me but sometimes too much for other folks, like my poor husband. Recently, I’ve been making the recipe with about 1 tsp. gochujang and adding more to my own bowl just before eating. If you don’t have gochujang at home, substitute sriracha, 1 tsp. at a time, to taste. The soup is also wonderful with no heat, but I would recommend adding a little of something, just for interest.

**Udon noodles are available fresh or frozen, packaged in individual serving pouches or large bags. I have been buying fresh 7 oz. packets and use two for this recipe. When I buy a large bag, my measurement is “two handfuls plus some more”, which is completely unhelpful to you, but is visually the same as 14 oz. The good news? A little more or less will work just fine.

Reflecting on 2014.

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Happy New Year! I like to take some time on the first of the year to consider the most memorable parts of the year past. In 2014 I was lucky to spend many beautiful days with friends and family in Maine and Washington: cooking, eating, camping, fishing, talking, laughing and playing games. We celebrated my parents on their 40th wedding anniversary and cheered for C&C on their wedding day. It would be impossible to capture everything in a simple list, but I’ll try– here are some of my favorite parts of a very good year.

Favorite book: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’ve mentioned this before, but no other novel came close to the beauty, emotion, drama and excitement of this story of connection, communication and trust set in coastal France and Germany. I read the last 75 pages through a veil of tears, mostly because I didn’t want it to end. The critical success of the novel indicates that I’m not alone in my adoration of Doerr’s novel. In contrast, my favorite story collection of the year was Wallflowers by Eliza Robertson; sadly, I’ve yet to find another reader who enjoyed those stories like I did.

Favorite cookbook: Another book that I’ve talked about often and usually with breathless excitement, First Prize Pies by Alison Kave is hands-down my favorite cookbook of the year. Here is the pineapple pie I was inspired to make in memory of my Gram; I think I’ve made more pie this year than I have in the past ten years combined! This book is lovely and you should own it if you don’t already.

K at Cafe Miranda, July 2014

Favorite meal of the year: This choice surprised me a little. It wasn’t the best food I’ve had all year, not the fanciest restaurant, but my very favorite lunch was the one I shared with my sister in Rockland, ME at Cafe Miranda. I can remember every detail of where we were sitting, what a perfect summer day it was, what we chatted about and what we ate. Love you, K!

pork sugo with orca beans

Favorite new meal to make: Pork sugo! I had never even heard of sugo until a week before I tried to make it for the first time, and now it is a favorite. I envision many years of sharing this rich, flavorful, comforting dish with folks I love.

Deception Pass State Park, June 2014

Favorite camping trip: Deception Pass State Park in June. I just really wanted to put this on the list. It was a fun, fun weekend, as the trips with our close friends usually are, and I can’t wait to go again. Here is a recipe for the “compromise cookies” we make every time we go camping.

gochujang wings

Favorite new ingredient: This has been the year of gochujang. I put it in everything from noodles to lettuce wraps to brothy soups, but the best thing I made this year with gochujang was for the Super Bowl… chicken wings! They were unreal. I think I’ll make them again this year. The recipe came from Eat the Love and is a keeper.

Blendtec Designer 725

Favorite new kitchen gadget: I don’t know if gadget is the right word for my shiny new Blendtec Designer 725. I don’t know how I cooked without one– I think I use it at least five days a week for everything from breakfast smoothies to soup. I made a curry paste in it for my New Year’s Eve laksa, then cleaned it out to whir up a creamy, light cannelini bean dip, then switched from the Twister jar to the Wildside jar and whipped cream for a dessert my husband was making. It’s so powerful and so versatile, and so much fun to use!

skordalia

I am excited to share that I will be writing some recipes for the Blendtec blog as a guest blogger. My first post, for a Greek garlic sauce called skordalia, went up yesterday! How’s that for a great way to end the year? You can find the recipe here; stay tuned for more Blendtec recipes from me this year.

I love revisiting the highlights of another happy, fulfilling year. Going through pictures of people I love, seeing all the beautiful places I visited and remembering meals and moments we shared reminds me that I am a lucky, lucky lady. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.

What were some of the highlights of 2014 for you?

Festive cherry swirl cheesecake.

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Looking for a fun and exciting dessert for Christmas or New Year’s? This is it! Stunning to look at and seemingly very fancy, but really not so hard to put together, this cherry swirl cheesecake feeds a crowd and a half. A little wedge goes a long way. Inspired by my Mom’s famous blueberry cheesecake and my thirty-year-plus love affair with cherries on cheesecake (I blame you, Andy), I’ve adapted a recipe from Joy of Baking to make this beauty with its festive red fruit swirl. You could replace cherries with blueberries or strawberries with equally good results. The most challenging aspect to this lovely dessert is waiting for the cream cheese to soften, the compote to cool, the cheesecake to set… I hope you and your guests will enjoy it as much as we did.

I’d also like to take a moment and wish Happy Holidays to all my readers– sending warm wishes your way! Enjoy every second of time spent with family and friends.

pretty & festive cherry swirl cheesecake

Festive Cherry Swirl Cheesecake (adapted from Joy of Baking)

For the compote:

  • 2 c. frozen sweet cherries (I used Bing)
  • 2 T. water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 half-pint (8 oz.) jar of red currant jelly*

For the crust: 

  • about 2 c. graham cracker crumbs (from 1 1/2 sleeves/13 full-sized crackers)
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake: 

  • 24 oz. (3 standard 8 oz. packages) of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 T. flour
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 T. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter or spray a 9″ springform pan; you can also line the bottom with a round of parchment paper to (mostly) ensure the cheesecake will be removable, for serving purposes. Yes, you can use a similar sized “regular” pan– just make sure it has high walls, at least 3″ deep, and know that you will need to serve it in the baking pan (which is no big deal) since there’s no way it’s coming out whole.

Start by making the compote: in a saucepan over medium heat, warm the cherries and water until the cherries are no longer frozen. (You can start with fresh or defrosted fruit, of course, but in December, frozen fruit may be your best option. Water is only necessary to help defrost frozen cherries; omit it otherwise.) Use a potato masher or fork to roughly break up the warmed fruit, but don’t take it all the way to a puree, as small chunks of cherry are really nice in the final product. Add the salt and currant jelly, stir, and continue to cook over medium heat, at a gentle boil, until the compote has thickened, about 8-10 mins. You want it to be pourable, but shiny and unctuous… like canned pie filling. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using; you can make this up to two days in advance.

To make the crust, crush the graham crackers into crumbs in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the sugar and cinnamon, then pour the melted butter over the top. Mix until you have a “wet sand” consistency. Press the crust mixture into your pan using your hands, the back of a spoon or a smooth-bottomed drinking glass until it is evenly distributed, running up the sides of the pan for an inch or so, and packed solidly into the pan. Keep the crust refrigerated while you make the filling.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and flour together until smooth, about two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed between additions until each is incorporated; scrape the sides of the bowl again. Add the cream and vanilla and mix on low speed (or by hand)– one key to a good cheesecake is not to whip too much air into the filling, so be sparing and stop mixing or stirring as soon as all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Pour half of the filling into the prepared crust. Dollop half of the cherry compote on the filling, about six spoonfuls around the edge and one in the middle. Pour the rest of the cheesecake filling into the pan. Dollop the rest of the compote over the top and use a butter knife to swirl the top into a pretty pattern. Just two to three passes with the knife are sufficient to swirl without mixing. Be careful not to drag the knife through the crust on the bottom.

nicely swirled cherry swirl cheesecake, ready for the oven

Place the cheesecake on a center rack of the preheated oven. Fill a pie plate or casserole dish with water and place on the rack below. Bake for 15 mins. at 350 degrees and then lower the oven temperature, without opening the door, to 250 degrees and bake for 60-75 mins. The cheesecake is done when the top is golden brown, the edges are set and only the very center of the cheesecake (about 2-3 inches in diameter) is slightly wobbly when you gently jostle the pan; start checking at 60 mins. and add 7 mins at a time to the timer until you reach this point. If you bake past the center-is-wobbly stage, you run the risk of a cracked top and dry edges.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool completely. It it helpful to run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake while it’s warm to loosen the edges. Cover tightly with plastic or tin foil and chill completely in the refrigerator (at least four hours) before serving. The cake is best at room temperature, so remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before serving for best results. If you used a springform pan, release the sides and transfer to a serving plate before bringing the cheesecake to room temperature.

*Currant jelly can be hard to find, if you don’t have a lovely jamming friend to share some with you. (Like me!) If it proves too difficult to locate, substitute seedless raspberry or blackberry preserves and don’t think about it for another moment. I would not recommend strawberry jelly or jam as a substitute; you need the tartness provided by the other choices.

Pumpkin soup with toasted spices.

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This is a peaceful pumpkin soup. It’s the kind of meal you want to eat from a mug, with your hands wrapped around to hold in the warmth and your face bent forward to catch the steam and aroma of spices. It’s a respite from the rich, heavy foods so prevalent in December. Preparing a pot is physically calming, compared to the fraught thermometer-watching of candy-making or the constant scoop-rotate-check-cool-repeat of cookies. The process feels like a recharge, a quiet moment in the kitchen.

So there you have my emotional reaction to pumpkin soup. (Who knew a humble soup could have such an effect?) But the words are true! Lately, when I’m going in fifty directions with a to-do list that’s longer than I care for, this is what I want to make and certainly what I want to eat. I like the ritual of toasting and grinding the spices with my trusty mortar & pestle. Inspired by my favorite flavors in both Indian and Thai curries, as different as they usually are, it’s nowhere near the spice level of a traditional curry from either cuisine. The uncommon combination of creamy soup with pungent spices is comforting, but I’ve taken care not to let the spices overpower the pumpkin. My soup is filling, flavorful and adaptable to suit vegan or dairy-free guests at a dinner party. I’ve made it vegan and dairy-free with vegetable stock and coconut milk (no fish sauce) and, when I didn’t have coconut milk in the house, an equally wonderful version with chicken stock and whole milk. It is elegant enough to work beautifully as the first course on an extensive menu and simple enough to make as a weeknight meal on the fly.

The first few weeks of December have passed in a blur. If you’ve been to more holiday parties than you can remember (ahem); eaten (or baked, or both) more cookies than you can count; wrapped more gifts than you have room for under the tree– this soup is for you. Put it in a nice big mug, wrap your hands around it and take a minute to just breathe. And eat.

pumpkin soup with toasted spices

Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Spices (serves 4-6)

  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. whole cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. cardamom seeds (not pods)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 small leek, cut in half lengthwise and sliced, white and light green parts only (about 1 c.), or 1/2 c. diced yellow onion
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3 c. pumpkin puree*
  • 4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 c. coconut milk or whole milk
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fish sauce (optional but recommended)
  • freshly ground black pepper

To your dry stockpot or Dutch oven, add the coriander seeds, cumin and cardamom seeds. Toast over medium heat, swirling the pan frequently to discourage burning, until you can smell the spices and notice a slight browning of the cumin. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar bowl and grind to a fine consistency.

To the same stockpot/Dutch oven, add olive oil and increase the heat slightly to medium-high. Saute the leeks until soft and starting to become fragrant; it’s not necessary to melt or brown them. Add the ground toasted spices, cinnamon and ginger and stir until coated. Cook the spices and leeks another minute or two, then add in the pumpkin puree and mix. Whisk in the stock, an eyeballed cup or so at a time, until all the stock is incorporated and you have an even mixture of pumpkin and stock.

Bring the soup to a gentle boil, lower the heat to low and barely simmer for 30 mins. Since all the ingredients are cooked at this point, you’re mostly reducing/thickening the soup and accentuating the spice flavors. (If you want to simmer longer, cover the pot so the soup doesn’t over-reduce.) When you’re ready to eat, remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the coconut milk (or whole milk), salt and fish sauce, if using. (Remember that fish sauce can be salty.) Return to the burner just until the soup is heated through; taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with a few grinds of black pepper.

*The pumpkin puree can be from a pumpkin you roasted or from a can, but should not be pumpkin pie mix.

Brown butter snickerdoodles with cardamom & orange.

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I was so excited to participate in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap this year! I missed the sign-up deadline last year and pouted more than once as I read about the creative, delicious cookies being shipped around the country. This year, I started looking for information in August, determined not to miss out. I swapped in 2012– here is the post about that exchange, with a recipe for stuffed cookies– and had so much fun. This year’s experience proved I was right to sign up again.

The basic premise is this: anyone with a blog can sign up to participate in the exchange. In early November, the contest organizers from Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen assigned each blogger three Secret Santa-style matches. After choosing a cookie recipe I had never written about before, I sent each of my three matches one dozen cookies. In return, I got three boxes of cookies, which I’ll tell you about now.

cranberry pistachio shortbread from Cats and Commas

The first box to arrive was from Nora, who writes at Cats and Commas. She made shortbread studded with pistachios and cranberries, which made me smile because that was my back-up recipe in case my snickerdoodles didn’t turn out! A quick look at her blog showed that we have a lot of similar interests in the kitchen. Thank you, Nora! I miss having shortbread to dunk in my coffee and can’t wait to see your recipe so I can try it myself.

spiced shortbread from Two Places at Once

My second box came from Becca from Two Places at Once. Becca sent a lovely tin of spiced shortbread from Austin, TX; when I popped in to look at her blog, the first thing I saw was strawberry Dutch baby, which means I will be visiting again and often. The shortbread were so nice, not too sweet and perfectly crisp, another ideal cookie if you’re a dunker like me. Thank you, Becca!

raisin oatmeal walnut cookies from Mommy Powers

My third and final box came from Rosalynda, who writes both Mommy Powers and Sandy Gram. Rosalynda sent delicious raisin oatmeal walnut cookies, one of my favorites, from her home in northern CA. My husband said they’re the tastiest oatmeal cookies he’s ever had– thank you, Rosalynda!

So, let me tell you what I made to send to Jamie at Love Bakes Good Cakes, Jennifer at The Rebel Chick and Marcie at Flavor the Moments. I turned, as I so often do, to the Baked books, Baked Elements this time, and made a variation of their incredible brown butter snickerdoodles. These cookies are perfection on their own; I’ve made them a handful of times and they are always a hit, always turn out well. I wanted to do something to put my stamp on their recipe, so I replaced some of the cinnamon with cardamom and added orange zest to the brown butter. I am so over-the-moon happy with this recipe! The whisper of orange flavor is just enough, and the cardamom reminds me of so many favorite Swedish baked goods; these feel like a cookie my Nana might have served at Christmas Eve decades ago. They are chewy, buttery and warmly spiced, just plain good. If you’re looking for a cookie to make for holiday gifts, these brown butter snickerdoodles package and ship like a dream.

All of the participants of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap are sharing their recipes today– you can follow this link to see a partial round up of all the recipes submitted last year. Check Love & Olive Oil or The Little Kitchen on Friday, December 19th for the cookies made and shared this month. Thank you to Lindsay and Julie for organizing such a fun event; I can’t imagine how much work it is to arrange, and we all appreciate that you do! A nod to sponsors OXO, Dixie Crystals, California Olive Ranch and Brownie Brittle, who match the bloggers’ donations to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer; this year, we raised a little more than $12,000. I already marked my calendar to participate again next year; if you’d like information about how you can be part of the fun, click here. There is nothing quite like a good cookie swap!

brown butter snickerdoodles with cardamom & orange

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles with Cardamom & Orange

(adapted from Baked Elements; makes about 30 cookies)

For the cookies:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 3/4 c. flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 T. milk

For the coating mixture:

  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom

In a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue cooking the butter, swirling the pan occasionally to discourage burning, until the butter turns golden brown. This takes about 8-10 mins. depending on your stove and the pan you’re using. Don’t walk away– it goes from bubbling melted butter to perfectly brown to burnt in the blink of an eye. Remove the pan promptly from the stove and pour the brown butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can strain out the butter solids, but I really like the flavor they give the cookies, so I leave them in.) Add the orange zest and run the mixer on low speed for about 5 mins. to cool the brown butter; I use this time to gather my other ingredients.

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cardamom and salt. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly and add the milk.

After the butter has been in the mixer for 5 mins. or so, add 1 c. sugar and brown sugar and mix until combined. Add the egg mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture in three batches, scraping the sides of the bowl between each addition. Stop mixing as soon as you can’t see any dry flour and scrape the sides again to make sure no dry ingredients are pocketed near the bottom. Cover the bowl and refrigerate your dough for at least one hour (up to 24 hours)– don’t skip this step.

roll cookies in spiced sugar mixture to coat

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix together the remaining 3 T. sugar, 1 T. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cardamom; I find a pie plate or shallow bowl works well for rolling the cookies in the coating mixture. Use a medium-sized scoop to make golf ball-sized cookies. Smooth them by hand and roll each in the coating mixture until completely covered. Press down to very slightly flatten the top of each cookie as you place it on your cookie sheets. Leave space in between; I place 10-12 cookies per sheet.

Bake the snickerdoodles for 10 mins., rotating the pans midway through baking to ensure even browning. Remove the pans promptly from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 15-30 mins. Serve warm or at room temperature. Brown butter snickerdoodles will keep in a tightly closed container for up to a week.

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