Thursday, February 24, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

When I was home over Christmas, my mom had made butternut squash soup. In fact, it was what she fed me right when I got into town. Butternut squash soups I've had in the past have been flavorless. Maybe because they were store bought. But this soup was thick and creamy and perfectly spiced. To make it even more special, my mom chopped up a Granny Smith apple and added it to my bowl. 

I wanted to replicate her soup, so I asked her how she made it. I took her suggestions into account but I did my usual internet browsing and recipe combining before I decided exactly how to do this.

First things first, I added chicken stock. This took away some of the creaminess, but added flavor that I thought was essential. I also added milk and honey. Instead of chopping up a fresh apple, I sauteed it in butter and brown sugar, but not until it was soft, just enough to bring out the natural juices. The crunch of the apple is what made the soup special, and I didn't want to ruin that.

Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium sized butternut squash
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk
1 qt chicken stock
2 tbs honey
1 Granny smith apple, chopped
4 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
1. Using a fork, poke several holes in the squash. Heat in microwave for 5 minutes. This will take away the intimidating task of trying to cut through the squash.
2. Chop squash into cubes. Place on cookie sheet topped with a few pads of butter, and roast until squash is soft - about 20 minutes.
3. While squash is roasting, chop the onion and garlic and sauté in olive oil until tender. 
4. Remove squash from oven and combine with onions and garlic.
5. Place squash, onions, and garlic into food processor or blender and puree.
6. Pour mixture back into a sauce pot on the stove. While cooking over medium heat, add spices, half of the brown sugar, and all other ingredients (except apple). Let come to a boil. Reduce hit to simmer.
7. While simmering, chop the apple and saute in butter and brown sugar for about 5 minutes.
8. Ladel soup into bowls, top with apples, and serve immediately. 

I'm tellin' ya...pumpkin pie in a bowl. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Taste of Thailand

I don't know what inspired me to go down this road. I do l-o-v-e LOOOOOOOVE Thai curry, which I was introduced to by coworkers about a year ago. I think coconut milk has some addictive properties, probably because it's high in fat. The addition of Thai spices to coconut milk create this sweet heat comfort food medley that give off this smells-so-good-you-can-tase-it-with-your-nose aroma.

I wasn't really in the mood to make something I'd already eaten. That'd be boring. So I asked my good friend Google for some Thai recipes and found Tom Kha Gai - Thai coconut chicken soup. The ingredients didn't seem to deviate too much from things I'd already heard of, and I thought I'd be able to find all of them (which was almost true).  So this was my winner.

Coconut milk and chicken - that was easy. Thai fish sauce? Keffir Lime leaves? ... Not so much. Sunflower Market landed me coconut milk, cilantro, and straw mushrooms. Their chicken seemed super overprice so I thought that I could get that at King Soopers when I went there to look for lemongrass, Thai chiles, fresh ginger (Sunflower was out), and fish sauce. I saw the price of ginger and walked out ($3.99/lb!!!!) - because I knew I'd be going to H. Mart anyways to find the Thai chiles and the lemongrass. But of course, I got my chicken (and a box of Samoas and Thin Mints from the ever present Girl Scouts at the King Soopers entrance).

H.Mart is interesting. I had no idea that place was like an Asian Super Target! But I found my lemongrass and my ginger ($1.29/lb...take that King Soopers), and not my Thai chiles so I scored a giant bottle of sweet Thai chile sauce for $2. But this took me eons because a lot of the things sold in bottles/cans/boxes at H.Mart are in Chinese, Thai, Korean, or Japanese. Oh, and the lime leaves were just completely not findable. But most internet sources I read said that it wouldn't really kill my soup's flavor.

Honestly, the hardest part of this Thai thing was finding the ingredients. My recipe, an amalgamation of many that I found online, is as follows:

Tom Kha Gai
1 quart chicken stock
1 lb chicken breasts
2 stalks lemongrass (the white part only), cracked
1/4 cup ginger, finely chopped (I used my food processor)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (food processor again)
2 - 13 oz cans coconut milk (what? I love this stuff!)
1 can straw mushrooms
2 tbs Thai fish sauce (Don't fear the fish sauce. Seriously. You can hardly taste it in the soup but it adds flavor!)
2 tbs Thai chile sauce
1 tbs sugar
salt & pepper to taste
cilantro to garnish

1. Cook chicken breasts in broth over high heat. Remove from broth and set aside.
2. Add lemongrass, ginger, and garlic to broth. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes so flavors can blend with broth.
3. While broth is simmering, shred the chicken with a fork.
4. Add coconut milk, chicken, and mushrooms. Bring to boil over medium heat.
5. Add fish sauce, chile sauce, sugar, and salt & pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with garnish of cilantro and/or fresh ginger.

*note: take out the lemongrass before serving!

Also, since Jon is not the biggest fan of mushrooms, I made him some mango chicken.

Thai Mango Chicken
2 chicken breasts
1 ripe mango
2 tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tbs Thai chile sauce

1. Puree mango, coconut milk, brown sugar, and chile sauce in food processor.
2. Place chicken in tupperware or ziplock bag and cover with sauce. Marinate ~1 hour in refrigerator.
3. Pan fry in olive oil until cooked through, about 4 minutes each side.

(this would probably be good grilled, too. But my chicken breasts were very thinly sliced)



Sunday, February 20, 2011

Breaking the Silence

Hello followers!
I know I haven't been writing much. Mainly because I haven't been cooking much. I know, I know. Blasphemous! Travesty! Shame on me! But with Jon out of town for 10 days, Valentine's Day, and Marc's family in town...I haven't found the time and I've been eating out A LOT.

But this past Wednesday, when Jon texted me telling me he bought veal shanks and that he wanted to make osso buco...I was a little scared. First of all, I knew that this dish involves veal shanks but I had no idea what else went into it. Secondly, he wanted me to serve it over risotto. Another thing that I had never, ever made because I'd heard it required patience and strong stirring arms. Neither of which I have.

But off to Sunflower Market we went to collect everything we needed for our Italian feast. Carrots, celery, onions. Tomato paste and beef broth. Kitchen twine to hold the shanks to their bony centers. For the risotto: arborio rice, chicken broth, shitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

For those who don't know, osso buco is a traditional Milanese dish. Literally, osso buco means "bone with a hole", which makes sense because the shank comes from the...well...let's call it the baby cow's forearm...and has a big bone in the center of it. Sorry to those of you who don't agree with eating baby animals...

The shanks are braised sloooowly in a veggie tomato sauce. The vegetables are strained out of the sauce after the braising period to give you a nice smooth sauce to serve over the meat.

Osso Buco
4 veak shanks
olive oil
salt and pepper
flour, for dredging
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, copped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups beef broth
kitchen twine

1. Tie kitchen twine around shanks to hold the meat to the bone. Salt and pepper both sides of the shanks and lightly dredge in flour.
2. Heat olive oil in a large roasting pan or Dutch oven until it smokes. Sear shanks about 5 minutes on each side until browned. Remove shanks and set aside.
3. Add to pan: chopped onions, celery, garlic, and carrots. Cook until veggies are tender.
4. Add tomato paste, simmer for about a minute.
5. Add white wine and simmer for 5 minutes to deglaze the pan.
6.  Return shanks to pan and add beef broth.
7. Cover and braise at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, turning veal every 30 minutes and adding beef broth as necessary.
8. Remove veal from roasting pan and set aside. Strain vegetables from sauce and return sauce and veal to roasting pan. Simmer until bubbly and serve immediately.

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It's not so bad. Especially since I spent that hour and half making this:

Shitake and Parmesan Risotto
4 cups chicken broth
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
8 tbs (1 stick) butter
1 cup chopped shitake mushrooms

1. Heat chicken broth to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Reduce heat to low and cover to keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, melt 2 tbs of the butter in a large sauce pan. Add onions and garlic to butter.
3. When onions and garlic are tender, add rice and coat with butter.
4. Add 1/2 cup of the hot chicken broth to the rice mixture. Stir constantly until all broth is absorbed. Repeat this, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time until the broth is gone.
(to make my risotto extra creamy and flavorful, I also added a tbsp or so of the butter when I added chicken broth) :)
5. When chicken broth is gone, add Parmesean cheese and chopped mushrooms. Stir until well blended and cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

*In hindsight, I should have cooked the mushrooms with the onions and garlic to bring out more flavor...but like I said, this was my first time!

I'm pretty proud of the end result. The risotto was incredibly creamy, and the meat fell right off the bone!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crab & Corn Soup

Once again, my roomie's mom saved the day (and my wallet) with the seafood stash stocked in my freezer.

I had a pound of dungeness crab legs and an arctic blast on the way. Dungeness isn't my usual go-to crustacean. Being a Gulf Coast native, blue crab is what I'm used to. I can remember my dad bringing home a big brown paper bag full of the critters on Fridays during Lent, covering the kitchen table with copies of the Times Picayune, and shelling me crab legs while I waited rather impatiently. Now I can crack my own crabs and suck them down like a Hoover. Batter and fry me up some blue crab legs, and I'll inhale them at an embarrassing rate.

When we lived down South, I was constantly hanging out with my best friend Gia and her twin brother Alex, who lived spitting distance from our house. Their mom, Gina, made this soup recipe that I am going to share with you now. Of course, the crab she probably used was fresh from the Gulf, and the crab that I used here was not nearly as fresh and from the Pacific. I tweaked a few things here and there to change up the flavor a bit - and my quantities might be a little different than hers - but I credit her for the inspiration. The sour cream, lemon juice, and tomato were not originally in this recipe. I added this recipe to a) give the soup a little extra sweetness and tang and b) cut the fat with some acid. Citrus always lightens a meal. This soup can be incredibly heavy otherwise, kind of like a chowder.

Crab and Corn Soup
1/2 stick butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons flour
1 pint half & half
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cans creamed corn
1 lb crab meat, picked over for shells
1/4 cup Sherry wine
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Worstechire sauce
tabasco sauce (to taste)
juice of 1 lemon
1 hot house tomato, pulp removed and chopped
handful chopped parsley
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter and add onions, garlic, and celery. Cook until veggies are tender. Add flour, stirring constantly. Add milk and heavy cream. Stir well, and add in corn and crab. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes.

Considering that Old Man Winter has slapped us in the face in Denver, I've sucked down the whole batch of this soup. I told you, I'm a Hoover when it comes to crab.