Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cauliflower & Tortellini Soup

I got this soup idea from one my friend Jess made for me. It's so simple and delicious. We arrived for dinner one night and she had just thrown everything into a pot. By the time we were ready to sit down it was ready to be pureed and we had a bright, fresh soup course (she's so good with the courses! I never do that). The squeeze of lemon really makes a difference.We changed the pasta from bowties to tortellini to make it hearty enough for dinner. It would be very easy to make this even heartier (add chopped chicken) or vegan (go back to the bowties).

Cauliflower & Tortellini Soup
serves 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 medium cauliflower, roughly chopped
2 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
6 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 t fresh thyme
pinch of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste (always)
rind from a piece of parmesan (optional - it's just for extra flavor)
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 10oz package of tortellini (or other pasta)

  • As with almost every recipe I make, start by sauteing the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a medium soup pot. When the onion has just started to brown, add the garlic and continue until it just starts to brown.
  • Pour in half of the stock to stop the browning, then add the potatoes and and cauliflower. Add stock just to cover everything.
  • Stir in the bay, thyme, nutmeg, salt & pepper, and parm rind and bring to a low simmer. Let it bubble for about half an hour, stirring occassionally.
  • After about ten minutes I start the water for the tortellini (just cook it according to the package). It would be nice if you could cook pasta in soup, but I've never had good results with that. If the tortellini is done before the soup, be sure to toss it with a little butter so it doesn't stick together.
  • After the 30 minutes the potatoes and cauliflower should be falling apart. Fish out the bay leaf and the parm rind. Puree it with an immersion blender or let it cool just a bit so you can blend it in batches in food processor.
  • Stir in the grated parm, lemon juice, and the cooked tortellini. Done!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Risotto

I said it in my last post and I'll say it again - even when it's getting lovely out in Seattle in the Spring, it's still cold and I still need my comfort food. This is the time when I start making adjustments to many of my Winter favorites so that they're lighter, but hearty enough to satisfy after a day of gardening in the drizzle. I always make risotto the same way (my mom taught me and I think she learned it from Marcella Hazan's book, so I'm not fooling with it). If you have argula or sorel around instead of spinach, or different herbs, maybe a little white wine even, it's an endlessly flexible meal. Just keep the basics the same - 2 cups of rice, 6 to 8 cups of liquid, onion, flavorings, butter, Parm. I made a step-by-step instructable for a slightly different risotto, if you feel like you want a little more instruction.

Spring Lemon & Herb Risotto 
serves at least 6, but it works well to cut this recipe in half

2 to 3 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c Arborio Rice, or short-grain sushi rice in a pinch
7 c chicken stock, simmering
1 large lemon
3 T mixed fresh herbs (I used oregano, thyme, and chives)
2 large handfuls baby spinach
1 T butter
1/2 c Parmesan plus more for garnish

  • In a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onions and saute until they are starting to become translucent. Add the garlic and saute for about 5 minutes more. If things start to brown, turn down the heat a bit and move on to the next step. For the record, risotto doesn't traditionally have garlic, but I like it. 
  • Add the rice to the pot and saute until you see one or two grains start to brown. If you don't see that, just saute for 5 minutes and move on. This is a great time to twist in a little pepper, but not salt (it will make the rice tough).
  • Add 2 cups of stock to get started and stir well. Adjust the heat so that the rice is bubbling, but not furiously boiling. You should be able to walk away and just give it a stir every 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Now you'll add the stock in 1 cup batches when the liquid has mostly cooked off, but the rice isn't sticking to the pan (every 5 minutes or so). I think this is the intimidating part, but you can't really mess it up unless you let it stick and burn. For the first couple of additions you should be able to see the bottom of the pot when it's time to add more.
  • While the risotto is going, chop all your herbs and spinach and squeeze the lemon.
  • Before adding the last cup of stock, give the risotto a taste. It should be creamy and thick and the rice should be almost cooked, but not mushy. You should be able to eat it with a fork. Sometimes I don't need the last cup, sometimes I need 1 cup extra. 
  • With the last cup of stock, add the spinach, herbs, lemon, butter, and about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously.
  • Serve with a sprinkle of Parm and a little more herbs if you'd like.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dreams of Summer Fish Stew

We didn't go on a vacation to sunny weather this Winter, but this Seattle Spring has been so lovely it's almost making up for it. We're already craving lighter dishes, spending time in the garden, going on more walks. That also means we're running into the Summer dilemma of wanting to cook and post things to the blog, but not wanting to spend the time inside to do that. So Sunday evening we searched around online looking for inspiration for dinner. It needed to be something very fast (John had spent three days making cakes and cookies), light but hardy, and it had to satisfy the dreams of Summer that the weather was conjuring. We found it on the Everyday Food page (a great resource if you're comfortable tweaking the sometimes bland recipes). This would be a wonderful dish for entertaining because it all comes together so quickly and it's unusual, but delicious. It's one of our new favorites.

Dreams of Summer Fish Stew
serves 4 to 6

2 pounds firm-fleshed fish (we used Cod)
2 limes
1 onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 t cumin
cayenne to taste
2 T tomato paste
2 cups chicken or fish stock
1 15oz can coconut milk
2 15oz cans of diced tomatoes
rice and chopped cilantro for serving
  • Cut the fish into two-bite pieces (remove bones if there are any) and put this in a bowl. Squeeze the limes over the fish and let this sit while you work on the rest (about 15 minutes). Give it a stir after a few minutes to keep the fish coated with the lime.
  • In a small soup pot, saute the onion in a little olive oil. When the edges just begin to brown, add the garlic and let that saute for a few minutes.
  • Sprinkle the cumin and cayenne over the onions and garlic. Toast the spices for about a minute and then add the tomato paste. Stir well (so that the paste can toast, but not burn) for about 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, and the fish - including the lime juice - to the pot. Add salt to taste.
  • Add the stock a little at a time, stirring gently. Stop adding stock when the consistency is how you like it.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the fish is just starting to flake apart.
  • Ladle the stew over cooked rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

Here's what I learned about making yogurt - it isn't hard to make and it isn't hard to screw up. The overall time seems  long, but the time you're actually doing something is only about 20 minutes. For my second batch I tried to find an easier, faster method and it turned out thin and sticky and weird. But my most recent batch was exactly what I was hoping for - thick enough, tangy but not too tangy, and with a quick plum "jam" mixed in it tasted like having cobbler for breakfast. I eat yogurt almost every morning, but I'm weird about which store-bought kinds I like. Combine that with my effort to cut as much wasted packaging, plastic, and preservatives from my diet and this recipe is a dream come true.

Homemade Yogurt
makes about 8 servings and a little left as the starter for the next batch
  • Gather up what you'll need:
- 1/2 gallon of whole or 2% milk that is not Ultra-Pasteurized (This has to do with the temperature it was pasteurized at. If milk has been Ultra-Pasteurized it must be labeled that way, so it's generally easy to avoid. Unfortunately, the only organic milk I've found that will work is from Trader Joe's)
- 1 small plain, all-natural yogurt that has live cultures (like Nancy's)
- thermometer
- slow cooker or double-boiler
- small bowl, stirring spoon, and ladle
- an oven or closed space that you aren't going to need for 8 hours
- towel
- tea-kettle or pot with lid
- butter muslin or cheese cloth if you like thick (Greek-style) yogurt
  • Clean all the equipment you'll use very well, being sure to get all the soap residue off. Just to be sure, I like to boil a pot of water and dump it in my slow cooker and the bowl. Then I swish a stirring spoon, ladle, and the thermometer in the hot water. You want to avoid adding any other bacteria to the milk so that you can just cultivate the good, yogurt bacteria.
  • Heat the milk to 180 degrees in the slow cooker on high (or in a double-boiler). It takes my slow cooker about an hour and a half, but it needs very little attention through this stage.
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool to between 100 and 115 degrees. This takes about 1/2 an hour to an hour. It goes faster if you stir.
  • In a clean bowl combine the store-bought yogurt with 1 cup of the warm milk and mix well.
  • Add this yogurt mix back to the slow cooker.
  • Wrap the slow cooker (lid on) in a thick towel and put it in the oven with the light on. Boil some water in the tea kettle or pot and put that in the oven too. This keeps my oven at a perfect 100 degrees.
  • Let this sit undisturbed for 6 to 12 hours, depending on how tangy you like your yogurt. I do 8 hours.
  • Ok, now you should have yogurt! Put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation process and help it firm up. If you think you might make another batch, save about 1/2 a cup for the next time instead of using a store-bought yogurt.
  • You can be finished now, but I like thick yogurt so I line a colander with a square of butter muslin and scoop yogurt into it, then pick up the four corners and tie it into a little hobo bundle (this batch had to be divided into 3 bundles). 
  • I hang my yogurt over a bowl for about an hour to drain before mixing in sugar and fruit that I've cooked down for about an hour (depending on the fruit, I do 4 to 6 cups fruit, 1 cup sugar, and half a lemon).

I developed this recipe from a ton of online sources with most of the credit going to these two sites: A Year of Slow Cooking and How to Make Yogurt
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