Friday, December 31, 2010

Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

First off, I just wanted to point out a new feature that Joe added to my blog: a print-friendly button!  It's way at the bottom of each entry, and it will take you to a preview screen where you can then click a button to remove all images if you'd like, and you can also click on the text to remove any paragraphs that you don't want to print, such as my summaries at the beginnings of each post.  Also, if you delete something you didn't mean to, there is an 'undo' button at the top.

Now, onto the real post: a soup that we actually made before Christmas.  I'm finally getting back into blogging mode after a lovely and relaxing holiday season.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't have high hopes for this soup.  About a month ago I made a smoky pumpkin soup that was only so-so (hence, the reason I chose not to blog about it), and I was about ready to throw in the towel and admit that I just wasn't a fan of smoky soups.  Luckily, I was proved wrong - so wrong - with this recipe.  It was amazing!

One thing that I have been unhappy with in some of the other pureed soups that I've made in the past is the texture.  They tend to be a bit...mealy.  Not silky smooth like pureed soups I get in restaurants.  For this recipe, we used our immersion blender as usual, but we kept going longer than we have in the past, and I think that was the ticket; we just weren't doing it long enough.  Gold star for improvement!

This soup achieves its bright orange color from a combination of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and some carrot, which I nearly forgot to add!  The carrot was shredded, sitting in a container by all the other ingredients, yet it somehow never made it into the pot.  When the soup was almost done I finally noticed it.  I'm sure it wouldn't have made much difference if I omitted it, nevertheless, I got out a little skillet and quickly sauteed it on it own, to catch it up with the other already softened veggies, and threw it in right before we pureed the soup.

Personally, I thought the soup had a quite a bit of heat to it, so I used a lot of sour cream.  I mixed a little into the soup, but that seemed to dull its cooling effect, so I found that I preferred to have a spoonful of the sour cream perched on the rim of my soup bowl, so I could dab a little onto my spoon with each bite of soup, thus increasing its spice-neutralizing ability.  We also made some pepper-jack quesadillas to go with the soup.

In case you are new to my blog, refer to my previous tip on what to do with the rest of the can of chipotle peppers.  It's not really my tip of course; I was given the suggestion by a co-worker a few years ago.

This recipe calls for either honey or maple syrup.  I grew up on Mrs. Butterworth's and it wasn't until I was much older that I learned to appreciate the taste of real maple syrup.  Now that's the only kind we buy.  Maple syrup comes in Grades A or B.  The best kind is Grade B.  While Grade A is more common in stores and cheaper, it is lighter and has a little less flavor.  That's what I've read anyway; I can't guarantee that I would be able to tell the difference in a taste test (maybe I should try sometime!).  Either way, it's still a better choice than pancake or waffle syrup (aka, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth's).  That stuff is really cheap, but doesn't have any actual maple sugar in it at all; it's mostly made of high-fructose corn syrup!  Even though maple syrup is more expensive, you don't have to use as much because the flavor is so much more intense, so you can make it last longer.  If you use the cheap fake stuff, you pour on a lot and it still doesn't even really taste like anything, not to mention it doesn't even soak into your pancake because it's so viscous from all the weird stuff they add to it.

Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine - October 2008
Makes 4 very generous portions

4 sweet potatoes (2 1/2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1-inch thick
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices smoky bacon, chopped (we just used regular bacon)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce (if you don't want it very spicy, use only half of a pepper, and remove the seeds first)
5 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
32 ounces chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated peel and juice of 1 orange
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey or maple syrup, for drizzling
Sour cream, for passing at the table.

Add the sweet potatoes to a large saucepan and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, add some salt, and cook until tender, about 12-15 minutes.  Drain, return to pot.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a medium pot.  Add the bacon and cook for about 5 minutes, until crisp, stirring often.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.  Try not to sneak too many bites, as you will need this later for garnishing the soup.

Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon  fat.  Add the onion, carrot, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.  Cook for about 6-7 minutes, or until the onions have softened.  Stir in the chicken broth, orange peel, orange juice and cinnamon.  Drizzle with honey or maple syrup and season with salt and pepper.  Let simmer for about 5 minutes.  Around the time the potatoes should be done.  Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.

Add the broth mixture to the pot of sweet potatoes.  Puree until silky smooth with an immersion blender (or puree in batches in a food processor or blender).

Serve the soup with sour cream and bacon on top.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

I don't do a lot of baking.  Occasionally, I'll bake a treat for a friend's birthday or other special event, but I don't bake just for the heck of it. It's not that I can't do it or that I don't like it.  I just find it hard to fit that kind of food into my diet and still maintain my weight.  I don't have the best self control when it comes to having sweets around, so I usually just don't keep cookies or cake or anything in the house if I can help it.  I'm not the type to make a batch of cookies last all week.  One day, maybe two, and they're gone.  I would bring the rest of the batch in to work, but it seems like everyone is watching what they eat these days, so I try to keep that to a minimum.

However, I always make an exception for the holidays.  I try not to go crazy, but I give in and make a few different kinds of cookies or sweets.  It's fun, it's satisfying when the end result is successful, and it makes you feel good when people ooh and aah over what you've made for them. :-)

I had a lot of molasses in the pantry (from the Thanksgiving dessert) so I decided I was going to make some kind of gingerbread cookie.  I finally settled on Martha Stewart's Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread cookies.  Incidentally, it's the cookie that is pictured on the cover of her cookie cookbook.  Let me warn you: these cookies are dangerous!  They are hands down one of the best cookies I've had in a long time.  I had a hard time restraining myself when I packaged up most of the first batch to ship away to my relatives.  They are bursting with all the classic flavors of a gingerbread cookie, due to a combination of fresh ginger, ground ginger, and molasses.  They have a delightfully chewy texture that is interspersed with bits of semi-sweet chocolate chunks.  I can't really say enough good things about these cookies.  I will be making another batch later this week to share with our families when we visit for Christmas!

Note the ooey-gooey chocolate :-)
Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies
makes 2 dozen

Notes:  Another reason I love this recipe is because you can make them over the course of two days.  Make the dough one day, refrigerate, and roll and bake the cookies the next day.  You can just chill the dough for two hours, but at that point, my evening would be about over anyway.  So if you work all day and cook in the evening hours like me, baking the cookies the next day is the way to go.

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
7 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.  If you're planning on baking the cookies the next day, you can skip this step for now.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and fresh ginger together for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture has lightened.  Add the brown sugar, mix until combined, then add the molasses, mix until combined.

In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water.  (I boiled the minimum amount of water in our electric tea kettle, about 2 cups, then carefully measured the correct amount into the bowl.  Make a cup of tea with the extra water, if you want).  Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture.  Beat in the baking soda mixture, then the other half of the flour mixture.  Stir in the chocolate chunks, and turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Pat out the dough into a square or rectangle-like shape, about 1-inch thick; seal with wrap.  Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours, or overnight.  Martha did not suggest making the dough into a square or a rectangle, but I found it helpful the next day when it came time to roll the dough into balls.  If the dough is in a square or rectangle, you can use a pizza cutter to make a grid of 24 squares, making sure you make the full 2 dozen cookies.

Preheat your oven to 325 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment if you haven't already.

Roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, and place two inches apart on baking sheets.  Do not compromise on the two inches, these cookies spread out as they bake, just suck it up and do several batches if you have small baking sheets like me.  Chill on the baking sheets for 20 minutes.  For my second batch, I rolled all the balls at once and placed them on a large platter, put that in the fridge, then removed the balls as needed when it was time to fill a sheet to bake, since I had to do a few batches.  That seemed to work fine, just be sure to let your baking sheets cool between batches.

After chilling, rolls the balls in granulated sugar.  Be generous here, even though it looks like a lot of sugar.  The cookies will spread out as they bake, so the sugar will not look as concentrated over the surface of the cookie once they are done.

Martha says to bake the cookies until the surfaces just begin to crack, about 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.  Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  For my first batch, I took them out right when she said, when they were just beginning to crack, but I thought they were too soft and underdone, though definitely not inedible.  For my second batch, I let them bake until the surfaces had formed good sized cracks, still about 12 minutes or so, and they were perfect.  It could be a difference in oven temperature, or some other factor, I don't know.

Cookies are best the day they are made, but you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.  I highly doubt they will be around that long though.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Shepherd's Pie

I love homemade mashed potatoes, but I can get tired of them pretty quickly.  A good way to use up leftovers is to put them on top of Shepherd's pie.  I have already posted one recipe for a sweet potato Shepherd's pie from Natural Home Magazine, and tonight I made a version from the Tillamook Cheese Cookbook.  It's actually quite a nice cookbook, especially if you are a fan of Tillamook Cheese like me.  Joe and I spent a weekend at the coast this past summer so of course we had to stop by the factory for the free cheese samples!

Shepherd's pie with salad on the side.

Shepherd's Pie topped with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes
adapted from the Tillamook Cheese Cookbook
serves 4

Notes: I only had about half of the mashed potatoes it called for so I planned to just make half the recipe, which would be four servings instead of 8.  As I am typing this up however, it occurs to me that the only ingredients I actually halved were the ground beef, the mashed potatoes, and the cheese.  I accidentally used the full amount of everything else!  Since we thought it tasted really good that way, I'm going to type the recipe up that way too.  :-)

1 pound extra-lean ground beef
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup diced onion
1 large carrot, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups mashed potatoes
2 cups shredded Tillamook Sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and carrot for 8-10 minutes, or until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until browned.  Add the Worcestershire, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and pepper.  Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes.  Spoon the mixture into a 9x9 baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with 1/2 of the cheese and the parsley.  Spread this potato mixture over the top of the beef mixture with a spatula.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.  Place the pan onto a baking sheet (I guess this is in case the mixture bubbles over.  It didn't when I made it, but it's not a bad idea, just in case) and bake until it bubbles, about 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Baked Delicata Squash stuffed with Turkey and Wild Rice

We had two delicious Thanksgiving dinners this year (one at each of our parent's houses), and we took home full sets of leftovers from each.  That's a lot of turkey!  Besides the usual sandwiches, I used some of it to make an improvised turkey soup with mushroom broth, dried shiitakes, and wild rice, which was delicious.  I ate it for lunch every day this week!  

I still had more though, and we have lots of winter squashes lying around, so I decided to bake a delicata squash and fill it with a mixture of shredded turkey, wild rice, parsley, and cheese.  I got the basic idea from a recipe in Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals (she used butternut squash and chicken).  Miller has you microwave the squash, to save time, no doubt, but I since prefer baked squash, I looked to a recipe I like over at for baking instructions (It's called "Delicata Delish", and it lives up to it's name, even though, oddly enough, the picture on their website looks like stuffed zucchini rather than delicata).

I love squash, so of course this meal was a hit with me!

Stuffed delicata squash with turkey, wild rice, and fresh herbs
adapted from Robin Miller - Quick Fix Meals, and - Delicata Delish
serves 2

Notes: I made a lot of changes to Robin Miller's recipe, mostly because I was just using it as a guide to use what I had on hand.  I used wild rice instead of brown, turkey instead of chicken, I left out the cumin and sour cream, and used havarti instead of goat cheese.  But I always try to give the source of where I get my ideas from, so there you go.  There are lots of ways to modify this meal.  You could use almost any winter squash (except spaghetti).  Swap out the turkey for cooked chicken.  Any kind of rice will be fine, leftover from another meal, or made fresh that night.  You could use a wide variety of cheeses and whatever fresh herbs you have.

1 large Delicata squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons salted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 heaping cup shredded turkey
1 tablespoon of fresh minced parsley
1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded cheese, such has havarti

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Place the squash cut side up in a baking dish.  Fill with about 1/4 inch of water.  Put 1 tablespoon of butter in each half and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a fork pierces the flesh easily in several places.

Meanwhile, put the rice, turkey, and parsley into a pot and heat, just to warm through.  You could also use a microwave.

When the squash is done, remove from the oven and turn the broiler on.  Divide the mixture between the two halves, it will be heaping.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top.  Broil for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese, and serve.
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