Foodie Tuesday: Two Soups = Twice as Super

Photo: Roasted Veg for DinnerI’m experimenting with various vegetable combinations lately, for whatever reason, and finding more and more of them that please me than ever before. That said, no recipe or variation thereon is guaranteed to be ideal, either in its as-written form or to my personal taste. To wit: a split pea soup recipe I tried out recently.

Unlike my normal practice, I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter, the only change being to substitute russet for fingerling potatoes in lieu of an extra, last-minute run to the grocery store. This alone undoubtedly did skew the recipe, because of course russets or baking potatoes are mealy and liquid-stealing by nature, and I knew that the resulting blend would require a little more of its liquid to arrive intact…so I adjusted that amount very slightly and accounted for the concomitant change in seasoning with a pinch or two extra as needed.

Now, I grew up with split peas as a thick porridge or stew rather than a watery soup, so I had no worry about the stuff turning out thick, which it did. But this was no stick-to-my-ribs hearty porridge, only grainy and mealy slushiness. Worse, it was, as my superhero supertaster of a spouse agreed, the superlative of blandness. Even he couldn’t detect enough flavor in this mixture to warrant eating a whole pot of it, fresh or reheated.Photo: In a Maelstrom of Soup Madness

I will not, however, be defeated by a bunch of boring and dull-textured vegetables. Still, I had other meals to make in the meantime, so the remainder of that dinner went into the fridge to sit in the naughty corner and think about its misdeeds in the dark for a day or two. I had roasted vegetables to make.

This is something I crave in the cooler months, or what passes for such things in Texas. It’s one of my favorite ways to boost the flavor and character of not only the individual veg themselves when straight out of the oven but also the dishes to which I can add some or all of them later as slightly caramelized booster versions of themselves. This time I prepped a two-pan batch for the oven. One was a mix of thickly julienned potatoes and carrots and onion with a touch of garlic plus a paste made by blending turmeric, smoked paprika, a little smoked salt, and yellow mustard (the vinegary American kind) with a spoonful of my homemade veg broth (also turmeric-and-paprika tinged in this batch). I stirred those all together with a few brown mustard seeds, and stuck them in a big baking dish.

Joining this pan in the oven was another, filled with asparagus spears, julienned celery and red capsicum, quartered brown mushrooms, a small handful of broccoli flowerets, and pitted black olives. This got a good spoonful of veg broth in the bottom to keep the onions and garlic from over-roasting. Then, I dressed over the whole admixture with a sprinkling of dill, a slick of light-style Italian vinaigrette, and a sliced whole lemon.Photo: Thick & Hearty Asparagus-Mushroom Soup

Having these two ready at dinnertime, all I wanted to round out the meal was a light, crisp salad of romaine leaves and sweet kernel corn, lightly toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and piñons (pine nuts), a grind of black pepper, and my orange-orange-orange salad dressing (a puree of blood orange olive oil, blood orange vinegar, and canned mandarins in their super-sweet no-sugar-added fruit juice).

The asparagus mix went well together, but as roasted vegetables sometimes do, lost its good looks in the ‘old age’ of just-past-dinnertime, so I chopped it all up (except for the limp lemon rinds), poured some more veg broth in with it, and sealed it up overnight in the fridge to meld together. This, in turn, brings me back to redesigning or rehabilitating a dish from past days in a way that pleases better than mere reheating. For today’s lunch, I took out that batch of Asparagus and Friends, pureed it all together with a little extra water to make it less fork-meal and more spoonable, and it made a fine asparagus-mushroom soup, whose lemony intensity I balanced with a garnish of the aforementioned sweet corn and a flourish of cracked black pepper.Photo: Curried Cream of Split Peas

Meanwhile, back at the Land of the Lonesome Pease-porridge…. I pureed the pea-soup boringness into a nice, smooth actual soup with the help of a little coconut milk plus a goodly seasoning with my latest batch of home-ground curry masala, and by George, that was a major improvement! With a spoonful of plain whole-milk yogurt and a shaving of fresh nutmeg over the top, it was even my favorite of the two, today. (Pardon my steam for that blurry shot.) We shall see what tomorrow brings, whether a new favorite between them, or only more leftovers on which to experiment. Either will suit me fine.Photo: Two Soups, You Choose

Update: I did make a change to the asparagus soup that puts it in direct competition for first place with the split pea curry. I added some whole coconut milk to it. The added creaminess and the mellowing of the flavors was a good balancing element for the intensity of the other flavors. And then I topped the bowl with a dose of additional sliced mushrooms that had been slow-browned in vegetable broth, sautéed without fat but a hearty dash of coconut aminos and regularly-added splashes of the veg broth at intervals to deglaze the pan and keep the mushrooms from sticking. And behold, it was very good!

Foodie Tuesday: Rinse and Repeat

You all know what a fan I am of leftovers and ‘repurposed’ ingredients. Most of the foods I’ve been fixing lately have been a continuation of that tradition of mine, especially because it’s been a particularly busy time around our place. We’ve had the usual spate of spring concerts and recitals, more than the usual number of social and business-social events at home and other places, and planning and preparation for a large quantity of upcoming happenings. The garden’s been coming in at top speed. I’ve been trying to clean house more seriously than I had in a long time, because it’s really overdue and I’d love to sell off and give away a lot of underutilized Things. Oh, and I’m trying hard, really I am, not to fall behind with my writing and artwork.

That latter means, naturally, keeping my blogging current, but in addition it means working on two art commissions—one a super-fast turnaround project I just got a few days ago. It also includes attempting to continue with the development of several books to follow up on the one I published in January.

I’m neither complaining nor bragging, just stating a truth that is pretty much like the daily one facing the majority of people I know, each with his or her variations on the details. And it reinforces my attachment to quick, simple, reusable and flexible ingredients and dishes more than ever. Today, for example, I made and froze what will (I’m certain) be a delicious potato side dish for later this week, when friends are coming over for a casual dinner visit. I used a combination of a smashed microwave ‘baked’ potato, a handful of chopped and mashed leftover french fries—good hand cut ones from our favorite old school steakhouse—a handful of crushed leftover potato chips, and enough leftover pimiento cheese from the batch I made for our party the other night to make it all into a cheesy potato casserole. I had some crisped bacon in the fridge, so the casserole is topped with that for the finish. It doesn’t look like so much yet, being in the freezer and all, but I’m expecting to enjoy it quite a bit, along with whatever else I manage to put together for the occasion.photo

Confession: I got an itch to do something trendy, despite being so rarely trendy myself, and I made a lattice out of the bacon. Silly, but kind of fun. And if one is going to wrestle with trying to cook a little in the midst of lots of real life busyness, shouldn’t there be a little bit of silly fun involved? No, wait: a lot?

 

Foodie Tuesday: Gallimaufries and Slumgullions

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Easy Chocolate-Raspberry Mousse, made with 1 avocado or the equivalent in pre-made avocado mash, 2 ripe bananas, 1 cup frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons clarified butter, 1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla paste, 1/2-1 teaspoon real almond flavoring, and a pinch of salt, all pureed together until smooth and chilled thoroughly.

I’ve soliloquized on leftovers here many a time, because few of us don’t have, and use, them with a certain amount of frequency. It can be, as I’ve mentioned, something that lives on only as the humorously known YMCA (Yesterday’s Muck Cooked Again), or with a little thought and effort, it can be a whole new being. It can be a watery mishmash of tasteless goo, a slumgullion, or with some inventiveness and luck, a tasty new experience in and of itself. My recent post on rethinking the remains of broth-making is one example of happily finding the latter.

In addition to making use of the extant collection of remains on display in the museum of the refrigerator and cupboards, one can always prepare those foundational foods that become ingredients for a gallimaufry of further dishes and meals. It’s a sort of slower or longer-term version of mise en place. One that has proven particularly useful to me is the simple fix of mashing a few ripe avocados with lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt and keeping them in the fridge in a zipper bag. In a two-person family that lives in a warm climate, it’s hard to keep whole avocados fresh for any length of time, so since this particular family is also a one-car family and I don’t wish to finagle grocery shopping almost daily, this simple avocado mash stores, unchanged, in the icebox for a fair length of time while I take out daily bits, squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it, and chill it again until the next use.photoThat easy fix for my avocado problem (you can decide whether that means spoilage or addiction in this case) has presented a whole world of possibilities not previously quite so accessible. Straight out of the bag, the mash can go directly into any number of dishes, both savory and sweet: add a little cumin and chipotle and cilantro, and it’s guacamole; mash in a ripe banana and some cocoa powder and vanilla and honey, and it’s chocolate pudding. Or the avocado can just go directly into my mouth, because lemony avocado mash is a delicious accompaniment to all sorts of good meals.

The broth-offspring remix turns out to be pretty versatile, too. The second time around, instead of making separate dishes of carrot pudding and beef pate, I combined the two ingredients into a different sort of pate that gave me nearly two weeks of very flavorful protein that I could eat in a wide variety of ways. The first time, I ate it simply as a room temperature mousse, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and it was very satisfying not only because I liked the taste and the creamy texture but because I knew it was a reasonably good source of protein and a great way not to waste–you guessed it–leftovers. Unfamiliar to my palate and yet instant comfort food. Easy to fix even the first time around, too; the broth itself, while it takes a little forethought to stock up the slow cooker with the mix of veg and bones and spices that I like, just tends itself for the long cooking, other than the occasional stir to keep all of the ingredients dunked in the liquid. Straining the finished broth and picking out the parts takes some time, yes, but the process of recombining those parts into the new mousse iteration is really pretty easy and fast work, and getting a couple of weeks’ eating (or one big party’s hors-d’oeuvre spread) out of it is a rather fine payoff.photoBeef Ginger Mousse

This, given the leftover-centric nature of the concoction, was a truly approximate recipe. I used about 1 cup each of leftover beef bits/marrow and carrots from beef broth making, 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3-4 eggs, a sprinkle of salt, 2 tablespoons of ginger juice and 1/2 cup of the beef broth. I pureed it all thoroughly until it was the consistency of a creamy pudding, spooned it into buttered small casserole, set that casserole on top of a clean dish cloth in a larger casserole, set the rig on the middle rack of the oven, filled the larger pan with an inch of water, and baked it like a standard custard. Given my oven’s unconventional concept of temperature, I recommend to anyone attempting replication of this ‘recipe’ that you use your own time-and-temp standards for custard making and just watch the progress until the mousse responds properly when the pan’s given a slight jiggle. Lightly set, neither wet nor dry. Serve room temperature, or chill for future use.

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And soon, my friends, I will show you how you can use this mousse further in such repasts (the only term truly appropriate for feasts of leftovers, don’t you think?) as Ploughman’s Lunch and Cavegirl Quiche. I’m nice that way.

Foodie Tuesday: Clean Hands and a Cooked Chicken

 

photoNo fingers must be licked for chicken to be considered notably delectable. Still, being no stickler for any particular sort of manners, I am not averse to slurping at any remnants of good food stuck to my fingers no matter what they are or, possibly, where I am. And I find that some of the appeal of eating chicken is that it lends itself to an enormous range of edible iterations that are a pleasure in the making, in the dining, and in the finger-licking aftermath of it all. Chicken plays such a lovely supporting role to any number of costars among the pantheon of possible flavorings and ingredients that it’s never difficult to imagine yet another wondrous way to enjoy a chicken dish. Add to that the potential for re-imagining the chicken in numerous follow-up dishes if there should happen to be any left over from dinner, and you’ve got one fine, fine companion in the kitchen.photoOur friendly chicken on this occasion, a handsomely fat-breasted creature of purportedly wholly organic origins (and who am I to argue), was gently consigned, in a Dutch oven larded with a generous quantity of sweet pastured butter, and wearing a good dusting of homemade lemon salt and pepper, to lie on a bed of neck and giblets, celery chunks and quartered limes that suspended it above the cupful or so of white wine pooled underneath. The oven, set at about as low a temperature as it could sustain below the mere warming of its interior light could generate, brought the chicken up to moist-cooked interior temperature over a long, slow afternoon before being brought out from under its protective lid for browning under the broiler at the last moment. Not the fast food version of ‘finger-lickin’ good’ but rather a lengthily slow-cooked bit of tenderness that deserves hand-cleaning after the fact all the same.photoThe simple sequel to this supper can come from any number of inspirations. On the latest occasion it was pairing the chicken with some crisp-tender hash browns, along with warming some leftover marinara sauce, butter-cooked mushrooms and herbs together to create a facsimile of Chicken Parmigiana. Rather than create the breaded cutlets in the traditional style, I simply layered the slices of moist chicken next to the potatoes, spooned on some mushroom marinara, sprinkled on some shredded Parmigiano, and melted the cheese just a little to round out its flavor. Far from the heights of authentic Italian culinary art, but let me tell you, it wasn’t hard to eat all the same. Might be having some again soon, since there’s still more of that nice chicken that I cut up and popped in the freezer after roasting it the other day. Of course, I could veer off toward some Tikka Masala . . . or chicken noodle soup . . . or quesadillas con pollo. photo

Foodie Tuesday: Same Song, 99th Verse

Ingredients are finite. The possible ways to combine them and make them play together, not so much. I’ve found that true as a visual artist and as a cook just about equally, and in both cases it was clear from very early that I could choose between endlessly repeating myself and looking for fresh and interesting ways to play with the possibilities. If, say, I chose to choose. My friends, we have options.photo

Having finite resources of money and groceries complicates the cookery. Having finite tastes and interests as an eater takes the complexity further. I congratulate myself on being nearly omnivorous, but yeah, there are things I don’t want to eat. Blueberries (I can  never explain this idiosyncrasy to the hordes of blueberry aficionados in the world, I guess). Organ meats (whether of organs one can or can’t live without in one’s own inventory, I generally don’t want them between my teeth). Super stinky cheeses (sorry, Francophiles). Snails (slugs are slugs, whether they’re well dressed or nude, my friends). Being married to a fella with even more limited tastes than mine, well, that’s yet another challenge thrown into the mix. So it may take a tiny bit of puzzling to decide what to prepare and how to blend the available goods into a welcome meal that we’ll both like, never mind how tasty others will find it.photo

But really, when we’re hungry, it’s not exactly hard to find something that will please a whole range of palates, even if the something needs to come from that aforementioned short list of potential parts. Sugar snap peas: they’re not so specific in flavor or texture or mode of preparation that they can’t be tweaked to fit a huge number of meals and dishes. Raw and plain, they’re sweet and crisp and refreshing. Steamed, they can take in a wide variety of flavors and complement yet more. They work in salads, in hot dishes, and on their own. Hard to go wrong. Meats: beef as a classic steak or roast is no worse or better, no more or less flexible in company with other ingredients or dishes than if the beef is stewed or ground, served spiced or more simply flavored, hot or cold. Bits of food from one recipe that, left over, become the heart of another: orange peel remaining from the peeled supremes used in a salad gets cooked down with stick cinnamon, crushed pods of cardamom and some whole cloves (all, in turn, saved from a baking project or two) and sugar water to make syrup for spiced wine or to be chilled for sodas. The avocado that didn’t get used alongside yesterday’s meal, that one gets put into a smoothie.photo

Or a tasty banana pudding. Or used as a chopped salad ingredient. Mint frosting base for brownies or a chocolate cake. Who knows. I might even make a dish of avocado with peas, beef, and whatever other readily available ingredients come to mind, because that’s the way I tend to cook. And eat. And it never really gets old.

Foodie Tuesday: I’m Roasting! No, I’m Frying!

 

photoOh, I know, you all thought I was having hot flashes again. [Not that I wasn’t.]

But it’s Food Fun day again, and I’m referring to cooking edibles this time. Old broads still gotta eat.

And since much of the time I am thermostatically challenged myself, I generally try to find ways to make the hot foods I’m preparing require the least possible amount of time putting me in near contact with the oven or cooktop. Why risk further overheating, of either myself or my preparations, should I need to stray far afield from the heated zones of the kitchen.

One fairly easy solution, though it seems somewhat counterintuitive to me, is to roast or fry food. Yes, they’re relatively high heat methods of cookery. But by using them, I can usually evade the stand-and-stir duty: do all of the prep before even turning on the oven, then tuck the food into the would-be fiery furnace, set the temperature and timer, and head off to cooler climes until the alarm sounds for my triumphant return to check and/or finish the dish, and serve and/or eat it. Simple as that.

Roasted beetroot, for example, a nice way to enhance the flavors and textures of a cool late-summer salad, gets cleaned and quartered and then needs nothing more than a small amount of fat and perhaps a tiny bit of seasoning before it pops into the tanning booth. Goat cheese is delicious when lightly coated and shallow-fried, even if like me you’re not quite the culinary artist to present it with perfect Cordon Bleu pizzazz, and it takes no more than a couple of minutes, tops, at the cooker to brown that fine crumb crust.photo

Roasted Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad

Scrub and quarter a handful of medium-sized beets. (Clean and save the greens and stems.) Toss the beetroot pieces with a little fat (oil or melted butter; I used coconut oil to keep its noticeable flavor to a minimum), salt and pepper and scatter them in or on a baking or roasting pan. Since I was making such a small (2-person) meal, I just made a pseudo-pan out of heavy aluminum foil to keep any juices from dripping around the oven. Roast the roots at 350°F just until tender–10-20 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the beet pieces.

Meanwhile, pat 1/2-cup batches of cold chèvre (goat cheese) into patties and coat them with coarse almond flour, pressing it in on all sides. Quick-fry these in a little butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. You can see from my photos that I am far from adept at this part, so mine look less like haute cuisine than like something unearthed at Herculaneum, but I assure you, they taste quite fine.

Using in tandem these two homely yet highly edible items plus a small assortment of others, you can quickly assemble a presentable version of some hotshot chef’s beetroot-and-goat-cheese concoction and your stomach will not be critiquing the view anyhow. My version, this time around, consisted of a few of the tenderer, prettier beet greens pared down to the leaf and laid on the plate, a bit of peeled cucumber slices arranged in a green frame around the rest of the plate, and all topped with the chèvre rounds and roasted roots and a sprig or two of fresh dill. I’m sure that roasting any sweet enough veg or tuber–sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip for example–would make a similarly fine complement to the bright, fresh taste of the cheese, which in turn could be substituted for with any nice salty/sour cheese, undoubtedly.

Which of course leads me to another hot-weather or hot-mama advantage of this preparation: the leftovers (if any) lend themselves to innumerable variant cold, cool or room temperature dishes that can be popped out of fridge or freezer next time the climate or one’s overheated innards require such things. Behold tomorrow’s dish: minced beet greens and stems, steamed quickly in the microwave while the beetroot was roasting, and now blended with that remaining diced vegetal goodness, some leftover quinoa, some diced dried apricots, a few pine nuts, a little orange dressing . . . and the beet goes on . . .photo

 

Foodie Tuesday: Once Cooked for Eight Equals Four Times Prepped for Two

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Roasted cauliflower and red capiscum, sautéed celery, steamed green beans–what do they have in common? A new ‘recipe’ for dinner’s vegetable dish, apparently . . .

The complication, if there is any, of having a household of two (or one) is that so many foods, dishes and meals are easier to prepare in larger quantities than are appropriate or even desirable for a single meal. It’s very easy, if planning isn’t finely tuned, to have things spoil and go to waste before we’ve plowed through them at our own pace. The upside of this very problem, though, is that if I do plan reasonably well (and have a little luck as a side dish) I can make several meals out of little more than one prep.

I do this, in part, via the method of complexification and conglomeration. The one or two elements remaining after one meal get combined with each other, with some new element or ingredient from the next meal’s intended menu, or both. Yes, it’s quite possible and even sometimes preferable to simply repeat a dish as-is, especially if it’s already its own elaborate concoction. But often, things seem a little less tired and tiresome if they appear in new guises each time so as to stimulate the palate, if not the imagination. So the small amounts of leftover vegetables from lunch and dinner the last couple of days may find themselves married in a new mixed-veg medley with a little sauce or seasoning that helps them play together as nicely as possible and suddenly, they’re not just two spoonfuls of This and a handful of That but an actual, sort of, recipe.

photo‘Mains’–the central or focal items on the meal’s menu–are seldom hard to incorporate into some new iteration of a main dish. Even when they have already been prepared with a hard-to-ignore or -disguise sauce or presentation, they can find new playmates on the plate next time they head to the table. Roasted chicken, for example, whether homemade or grabbed ready-roasted on a busy day as one flies through the grocery store, is a truly marvelous ingredient when it comes to flexibility. Once seasoned or sauced distinctively, it can pose a slightly more complicated puzzle for renewal, but even then, if the dish is well liked once it’s pretty likely to be popular on a second visit.

So the chicken, whether it was already dressed in the satay-like peanut sauce–I took a shortcut with a pre-made one this time–or not–we liked it well enough to use the same pre-made sauce at the second meal even though it was not already on the chicken–can be reincarnated as a different dinner altogether simply by changing its context. One day, it’s served with a very simple wedge salad dressed with citrusy vinaigrette and a tangle of Pad Thai style rice noodles seasoned lightly with rice vinegar, a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of soy sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

photoNext day’s ‘satay’ is served with butter-steamed green beans, fresh cold apple slices and fried rice made from–yes, you guessed it–the fridge stash of jasmine or Basmati rice previously cooked up in broth and now pan-toasted until almost crisping with Persian lime olive oil, soy sauce, a touch of raw honey and a handful of chopped sushi gari (pickled ginger, if you somehow haven’t yet noticed, is one of my favorite seasonings for practically everything!). A sprinkling of white sesame seeds, just for a little visual contrast with yesterday’s offering, and there’s Chicken Pseudo-Satay 2.0 ready to be eaten.

And while there’s certainly nothing that says dessert is a required part of every meal, some of us kind of think of it as a specific food group, so even for dessert it’s nice to have some fine ‘recyclable’ ingredients for whipping up something to finish the day’s eating nicely. One of the things that very regrettably can go to waste far too often in a small household is fresh produce, and when I’ve a beautiful batch of fresh fruit on hand I can’t bear to think it will spoil before we can reasonably eat it all. So a large ‘find’ of sweet fresh strawberries, though it was far too great a quantity for two people on the day it was at its peak, got cleaned, sliced and frozen until the other day when it beckoned to me, siren-like, and I blended it thoroughly with a little whole-milk yogurt, splashes of vanilla and rosewater, a tiny pinch of salt and a bit of honey, poured it into a flat sealable container and froze it until it became a brightly fruity semifreddo or granita of sorts for later consumption.

photoNo matter what the small tidbit, most leftovers that are not on the edge of spoiling really do beg for a kindly reinterpretation before we give up on them. Once I get fully in my Friendly Frankenstein mode and think hard about how to zap new life into worthwhile remaindered ingredients, it’s only a matter of letting the locals trade their pitchforks for dinner forks and we can all remain good friends without fear of monstrosities. Good eating!