Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pumpkin Bisque with Toppings

I made pumpkin bisque last night, and happily cheated by using canned pumpkin instead of roasting the little guy in the pic above. It's an extremely simple soup (basically two ingredients) and the topping below make it killer delicious.  The concept of taking building a soup like this is from one of my favorite food writers, M.F.K. Fisher, writing about borscht.

1 15-oz can pure pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
3-4 cups chicken or veggie stock
pinch of curry powder
salt & pepper to season
In a pot, whisk together the pumpkin, stock, and curry powder, adding the stock a little at a time so that the soup doesn't get too thin. Simmer 10-15 minutes, until heated through. Season well with salt & pepper. 

You could also add cream at the end if you wanted too, but once you add the stuff below you won't miss it. 

Toasted walnuts
Homemade croutons, made with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh sage
Goat cheese
Sautéed onions

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Black Bean Soup

When I was a student, there was a dive of a bar where I'd sometimes go for lunch with friends. They weren't known for their food, but it was cheap and filling---both essential for the student budget. Usually, it tasted pretty good too. The only particular dish I can remember from there is black bean soup. It was thick, tasty, and served so that when you dug your spoon into the bowl you'd find fluffy white rice at the bottom. Add some Tabasco sauce and it was oh-so-good. 

That pub is gone now, but when I make this I always think of finding the rice at the bottom of the bowl. I use ham in this recipe, but have used bacon with success as well. If you are vegetarian, I strongly suggest using a vegetarian ham or bacon (or liquid smoke) to give it a good smokey flavor. Tabasco is essential!

This can be made in a slow cooker, or on the stove. For best results, use black beans you've cooked at home; I'm no stranger to using canned, but I think it really does make a difference.

2 T oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4 c black beans (cooked or canned)
4 c chicken or veggie stock
1 T chili powder
2-3 tsp taco seasoning
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper
1/2 to 3/4 c cooked ham, bacon, etc., cubed
cooked white rice for serving

Cook the onion and garlic in oil (if making on the stove, do this in a big soup pot; if using a slow cooker, cook in a pan and then transfer to cooker). Add beans, stock, seasoning, and ham. Bring to a boil and simmer 15-20 minutes (if using slow cooker, let it go 6-8 hours, and longer won't hurt). 

At this point you can do one of three things:
(1) leave as is (beans whole)
(2) purée half the soup, to thicken (this is what I usually do)
(3) purée all the soup, it'll be very thick & creamy

Add lime juice before serving, and adjust seasonings. Serve over cooked white rice and garnish with toppings such as avocado, shredded cheese, chopped green onion and/or Tabasco.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Pan-fried Farfalle Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

Photo from

We've finally entered the realm of cold weather, watching small bits of snow whirl around us as we bike around the city. This makes me realize a couple things: (A) I need better gloves for biking in cold weather and (B) it's time to get the oven going. My kitchen is now in full swing with warming comfort food.

I found this recipe (and the above image) on AT's The Kitchn, and have found a new earthly delight. It, um, rivals mashed potatoes as "feel good" food. I changed up just a couple things, so here is my version of the recipe. 

1 medium butternut squash, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/2 cut fresh sage leaves
1 lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta
3/4-1 c. chopped walnuts, toasted
goat cheese to serve

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, half of the sage, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet and roast approx. 45 minutes.

Near the end of the roasting time, cook pasta according to package directions. When the squash mixture is done, toss it with the cooked pasta and remaining sage. Pan-fry in olive oil until slightly browned and crisp. I originally did this in two batches in my cast iron skillet, but am thinking I could do it all at once in the wok if needed.

To serve, top with toasted walnuts and bits of goat cheese. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Apple Butter

For my parents this turned out to be a great year for apples, Red Delicious, and we brought plenty of them back with us to Chicago. They've never used pesticides on the fruit, which is fantastic, so we were ready to gobble them up. However, I knew we'd never get through a huge bag of them and I didn't feel like making a dessert. The solution was to make apple butter, my first time ever!

It's so easy that there is hardly a recipe for it. You could do this on the stove, but I prefer the slow cooker as it is completely hands off.

Apples, peeled, cored and sliced (or chopped)---you'll need enough to fill your crockpot to the point that the lid almost doesn't fit.
2 tsp cinnamon
Other spices (ginger, cloves, nutmeg)--totally optional, I didn't use them because I wanted a very mild butter

Contrary to some beliefs, apple butter doesn't have any butter in it.

Combine the ingredients above in a slow cooker, and let it run 10-15 hours or so. I started mine at 6pm one day and turned it off around 9am the next morning.

At this point you can puree the mixture, or store it is as with tiny chunks of apple (I didn't mind the chunks). I have yet to learn how to heat process anything in jars, so I simply filled 3 jars of apple butter and stored them in the fridge.

This is great on just about anything, like toast...!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Musings on a Rainy Night Salad

At times when my family gets together, we've played a what-if game titled "If you were stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life, what is the one food item you'd want to have with you?" (I guess we were short of other fun things to do that day.....)

My immediate answer was always potatoes, mashed with plenty of butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. French fries would also do if fat wasn't an issue. My dad, however, would promptly reply "a fresh green salad." I could never quite figure that out---if I was stuck on an island, I'd want something comforting. Like potatoes, obviously.

At any rate, I think my dad was on to something. When I was living in California, a friend of mine would mention the word "salad" as if she was dying and the only medicinal compound that would extend her life included greens and dressing. She apparently knew something too.

Well, folks, I just had my favorite fresh green salad (so far). It is (un)cleverly called Rainy Night Salad.

I purchased arugula salad mix in bulk, and balanced the bitterness with some grated carrot. Sliced some cucumbers.

I had half a leftover baguette, and cut it into small cubes. Tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny pinch of Italian seasoning. I "toasted" them à la Julia and Jacques, by lightly frying/tossing in a pan (or wok), but you could probably bake them, instead, until crisp. I tend to like mine a little on the soft side, so that they can be pierced with a fork easily when eating.

A simple vinaigrette.
Combine the following in a small jar:
6 T olive oil, 2 T apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, pinch of salt, and a twist of freshly ground pepper. Either put a lid on the jar and shake to combine, or whisk together. This will keep for about a week in the fridge.

The dressing soaks into the baguette croutons...and now I'm craving salad, too.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dough for Two Pizzas

When the weather turns cold and it makes more sense to turn on the oven, we make homemade pizza at least once a week. I'd throw a few dough ingredients into Ye Olde Bread Machine and then take it from there.

Sad fact: the old bread machine is dying. Yes, it's true. The temperature isn't as regulated as it used to be, things aren't rising as they should. After all, it is almost ten years old.

I had to find another dough solution. There were two very important criteria: (1) ready to use in less than half an hour and (2) makes more than one crust.

Here's what worked, I found the recipe here; the beauty of this recipe is that you can prebake the crusts and freeze!

4 cups flour (white or whole-wheat)
1 T honey
3 tsp yeast
2 tsp sea salt
1/4 c oil (olive or canola work best)
1-1/3 c warm water (slightly warmer than room temperature)

Combine the dry ingredients, then add oil and water. Knead this mixture for about 3-4 minutes. The dough will be soft and smooth. Let this rest in a bowl for about 20 minutes or so. It will rise slightly.

At this point, divide the dough in half and follow either (A) or (B) below. Mini-pizza crusts are possible, too!

(A) If you are using the dough right away, go ahead and roll out....add toppings...and bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. I like to roll the dough in some cornmeal for texture, and it helps to keep the dough from sticking to the stone or pan.

(B) If you would like to freeze the dough, roll out and pre-bake about 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely, then package (plastic wrap, then aluminum foil; ziploc bags would work for smaller crusts) and freeze until ready to use.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


We have a long standing joke at our place: "when funds get low in the bank, it's all right—we'll just eat rice and lentils!"

The comical part of this is that we've never made good on that threat to ourselves. We usually end up eating pasta instead.

Rewind to an evening eating out at Sultan's Market on North Avenue (just west of Damen). We ordered our usual falafel pitas, spicy and complete with Jerusalem salad and hummus. On this night of nights, however, we branched out and got (gasp!) a side dish: rice and lentils. It was delicious.

So I finally made this at home, and am kicking myself for not attempting this alchemy sooner.

You'll need:
2 cups cooked lentils, the brown or green kind. I usually cook an entire pound and freeze in 2-cup portions.

2 cups of dry white long grain rice, cooked according to package directions,
adding 1 vegetarian or no-MSG bouillon cube (I used beef flavored) and 1 tsp cumin.

2-3 sweet onions, sliced into rings and cooked in a skillet until brown and carmelized in plenty of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and black pepper. This part might take 20+ minutes.

good, thick Greek yogurt.

When all of the above are ready to eat, assemble this way:
Mix together the rice and lentils. Stir in half the fried onions. Spoon into bowls, and top with remaining fried onions and yogurt.

Yes, it really is that easy.

Some variations: bulgar can be used instead of rice, and sour cream instead of yogurt. You could also add garlic, curry powder, or whatever else feels right.

Monday, August 18, 2008



Last night we met up with our downstairs neighbors for an outdoor potluck! We got the grill going and enjoyed corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and portabellas. R. made a salad of greens, pears, and a homemade vinaigrette that was perfectly complemented by some raw sheep's milk blue cheese...and, an amazing chocolate cake topped with raspberries (which, by the way, was vegan and lovely). All in all, it was a good night.

I will admit, though, that cooking corn on the cob on our little grill was tough; it took forever!! Next time I might boil it first, then finish on the grill...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tofu and Ground Pork in a Black Bean Sauce

A couple weeks ago, my friend A. took us to a family friend's restaurant in Chinatown. We've been living a few blocks from it for years, but never found ourselves inside. Perhaps it was the weather beaten exterior, or lack of signage displaying the restaurant's name. Most likely it's because we don't know any Chinese and were totally intimidated. It's called Gourmet Food, and as we found out it's the neighborhood's best kept secret. The food we had was cheap, filling, like nothing you'd get in a typical Chinese-American restaurant...and it was GOOD.

I have not tried to recreate the dish I ate there (after all, it's within walking distance and the frugal foodie's best friend—why bother?) but it did get me thinking about giving Chinese food another shot in my kitchen.

I loosely followed a recipe for Ma-Po Tofu, but seeing as there were so many substitutes it really became something else entirely. It may not be pretty, but was certainly satisfying!

1 block tofu
1/2 lb ground pork
3 T Chinese black bean sauce (with garlic)
1 T soy sauce
1 T rice wine
1 tsp grated ginger
2 T finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp raw sugar (or brown)
1/4 c stock (veggie or chicken will do)
salt & pepper
1 T cornstarch dissolved in 2 T hot water

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a work, add ginger and onion. Cook for 30 seconds.

To this, add ground pork, black bean sauce, garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. Cook 1-2 minutes.

Add tofu and stock, simmer 15 minutes on low heat. After this time, add the dissolved cornstarch and heat a minute or two. It will thicken. Season with salt & pepper and serve with white rice.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grilled Sweet Potatoes & Onions

Last night we took advantage of the cool weather and grilled out--burgers, coleslaw, and this yummy sweet potato side dish. More on the burgers later, I didn't get a very good photo.
The potatoes are super easy, and would translate well to a campfire. The directions are very loose, and open to interpretation!

2 sweet potatoes, peeled & diced in roughly 1" cubes
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
salt & pepper
aluminum foil

Toss potatoes and onion with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Using a sheet of aluminum foil, form a packet and seal tightly on the edges (you might need to make two or three packets, I've found they cook faster when in smaller groups). Poke a few holes in the top of the packet(s) with a fork. Grill for about 20-30 minutes on medium-high, they're finished when the potatoes are pierced easily with a fork.

Monday, June 30, 2008

French Lentil Soup with Tortellini and Roasted Red Pepper Purée

Wow, the name of this dish is just way too long. It's difficult to know what to call it. Perhaps I'll just name it Stanley to make it easier on everyone.

It was time to start emptying the freezer and digging through the pantry. I found this to be a great soup to make with little odds and ends, and there are loads of variations. I was a little worried about serving soup in June (makes me think of cold weather) but it's nice and cool outside tonight; somehow this just worked.

1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 T olive oil or butter
1/2 c roasted red pepper purée (frozen leftovers from another dish)
1 T tomato paste (frozen remainder of a can I had to open for something else)
2-3 T pesto (frozen from the last time I made pesto)
2 c vegetable or chicken stock
2 c cooked French lentils (I cook a bunch at once, then freeze 2-cup portions in ziploc bags)
1 10-oz package tortellini (used the cheese variety from Trader Joe’s)
salt & pepper to taste
fresh basil, finely chopped
Parmesan cheese for serving

In the bottom of a large-ish soup pot, heat the olive oil or butter and cook onion until tender. Add the red pepper purée and tomato paste, then add stock and lentils. While this is simmering, cook the tortellini in a separate pot according to package directions (if you cook them in the soup itself, they'll absorb too much water).

When the tortellini are finished cooking, drain well then add to the main soup pot. Simmer just a couple minutes to acquaint the tortellini with the rest of its new family. Season with salt and pepper, stir in some fresh basil, and serve with a mound of Parmesan cheese on top.

Weekend Garden Blogging 2

Okay, okay--it's Monday (certainly not the weekend) but here's the weekend garden update anyway. Things are still blossoming! The roma is turning out to be super sturdy, and there are hardly any suckers (a bummer, since I really like pinching those off). The kung pao peppers are in blossom, and the eggplant is finally showing more growth:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Weekend Garden Blogging 1

Our deck is alive with greenery, a good mix of edibles and ornamentals. I took a few photos this morning (with the intention of an update each weekend) of what's growing.

While John is in charge of the ornamentals, my preference is to grow things that I eat. I blame most of this on coming from a long family history of agriculture! I did a mix of growing from seed, and purchasing transplants. Here's a list of what's cropping up:

roma tomatoes (seed)
kung pao peppers (seed)
jalapeño peppers (transplant)
miniature eggplants (seed)
Japanese cucumbers (transplant)
strawberries (transplant)
green onions (seed)
cilantro (transplant)
basil (transplant)
bee balm (transplant)

Here are a few photos, too! So far, the plants that have really taken off are the tomatoes and cucumbers. The kung pao peppers aren't far behind...

Simple Yogurt Waffles

We received a waffle iron for our wedding, and what a treat! (Um, yeah, I guess that's where I've been hiding out the past few months...getting married!)

Waffles have become a regular Sunday morning treat for us. Before we made our first batch, I began rummaging through the cookbook library looking for interesting waffle recipes with crazy names like blueberry-flax-chocolate-banana-oat-whatever waffles.

This waffle is, thankfully, nothing like that. It will not glue itself to your waffle iron because you've added cheese or something. In the spirit of simple cooking, the fun is in the toppings. I've pictured it above the way we like to eat them--just 100% pure maple syrup and some fruit. And, most definitely, a good slather of butter. (Side note: the link above will connect you to a great article about Iowa maple syrup. There is indeed Midwestern competition for this sweet delight!)

I use vanilla yogurt instead of milk, only because there always seems to be yogurt in the fridge but never the latter. Changing the flavor of yogurt would be an easy way to adapt the recipe to your own taste.

1 c. water
1 c. yogurt (I've used whole and low fat, with equally good results)
2 eggs
2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium/large bowl, combine the water, yogurt, and eggs. In a smaller bowl, mix together the remaining (dry) ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir to combine. Bake in a waffle iron (according to the directions that came with the appliance).

Top with butter, maple syrup, fruit, chocolate chips, anything!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bread Pudding

Leftover bread. A conundrum. The freezer is already stocked with fresh bread crumbs, and the pantry well supplied with dry ones. I could have made croutons, but a good old-fashioned dessert was calling my name instead. Bread pudding....and I've never eaten it before. The procedure sounded somewhat familiar to me, though bread pudding just wasn't part of the repertoire I grew up with.

I used some leftover bread I had made last week (a yummy multi-grain based on a traditional Icelandic recipe) that worked better than I had thought; most of the recipes I'd read utilized leftover sourdough, baguettes, or other white bread.

Here's the dish:
4 c cubed multi-grain bread (crusts are ok)
1-1/2 c milk (I used 2%)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c raw sugar
1/2 c raisins (if they're really dry, soak them in water a few minutes to plump them up)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

Pecan topping:
3 T butter, slightly softened
1/4 c raw sugar
4 T flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c chopped pecans

Place cubed bread in a baking dish. Mix milk, eggs, sugar, raisins, nutmeg and cinnamon together and pour over. Toss the mixture a little to make sure all the bread is covered. This should sit for about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, you can make the topping: just combine the ingreadients together until you have a crumble concoction.

Sprinkle the topping on the bread mixture, and place into a 350 degree oven. Bake 30-40 minutes, until browned and done.

While I'm happy with the way this dish turned out, my next experiment will be to make a fine sauce to spoon over!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Popcorn in a Paper Bag

What goes best with a big screen tv? Popcorn! I blame the dark winter months and our new high def television for the amounts of popcorn we're suddenly consuming. Is popcorn nutritious? Yes--high in fiber, it's an all natural whole grain food.

Ever since I'd heard about popcorn lung brought on by microwaveable packets, I wanted to figure out away to make it at home--without investing in an air popper. My mom and grandma both had air poppers... and I remember them being difficult to clean.

Enter the glorious paper bag method. Here's how I did it, yielding enough corn for two of us:

1/2 c popcorn kernels
2 T butter (if you want more, go for it)
dash of salt
1 small lunchbag sized paper bag (our grocery store uses small-ish paper bags when they pack breakables like wine or olive oil that we've purchased; they work perfectly for this, and can be used a few times!)
other seasonings (cheese, chili powder, whatever)
1 microwave

1. Melt the butter. Set aside.
2. Put popcorn kernels in small bag, and fold the top over so that the bag is sealed up.
3. Place this bag in the microwave, flap down.
4. Put the microwave on 4 minutes and do NOT leave the room. You'll need to keep an eye on this so it doesn't burn. Depending on your appliance, the corn will probably start to pop about a minute and a half into the process.
5. IMPORTANT: once the popping slows down to a single pop every three seconds, you're done. No, don't try to get that last kernel popped. It's DONE. Just take it out.
6. Put it all into a big bowl, dump in the butter/salt/seasonings and use or hands or a big spoon to get it all coated.

Be ready to make more--it doens't last very long!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pizza with Crimini Mushrooms and Black Olives

Oh, January....when will you end? I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days. Must be the heat of the oven... an easy way to stay warm & toasty!

Whenever crimini mushrooms are part of my Fresh Picks delivery, I make this pizza. The crust is up to you; I like to make mine in a bread machine and sprinkle with cornmeal before popping the whole thing in the oven.

Here is the sauce recipe I use; it makes enough for two pizzas, and I usually store any extra in the freezer.

1 6-oz can tomato paste
6 oz warm water
3 T Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
2 T honey
3/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust for heat)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust for heat)

Mix everything together and let sit about 20 minutes before you need to use it.

To assemble the pizza, slather the sauce on the crust. Add a bunch of chopped crimini mushrooms and a can of drained sliced black olives. Top with part skim mozzarella cheese. Bake this for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned. Eat while watching a good action movie.