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Just Carrot Soup


Soups are simple.  Actually…soups can get very complicated…but most of the time it is unnecessary.  Soups are a peasant food…made with leftovers and bones and carcasses and bits and pieces.  Soups are what you make when you have a few things and you cook them up in a pot of water and add whatever aromatics you might have around.  Lastly, soups are perfect for fall…even California fall.

We had an abundance of carrots.  I suggested a Carrot Ginger soup…and W’s reaction was “…nothing sounds grosser”.  Ummm, really…?  Because it is actually quite a classic combination.  Carrots themselves are sweet and can end up a little like thin, bland baby food if not processed correctly…but okay…no carrot ginger!   Just carrot soup!

Start with carrots.  Lots of them.  Slice into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick diagonal slices.  No points for prettiness…it will all be puréed in the end.

I start almost all of my soups with a basic mirepoix of the holy trinity – onions, celery and carrots.  Since it is carrot soup…I just upped the carrot percentage.  Of course garlic is great as well.  Heat a large pot, add some olive oil and a little butter and throw everybody in the pool.  I start with the heat on high to jumpstart the veggies and sauté for a few minutes until they are coated and beginning to warm.  Season with salt and pepper and any other herbs you would like to add.  Once the fragrance of all the wonderful things in the pot is wafting through the kitchen…then it is time to add stock, broth or water.  I put just enough to barely cover the vegetables.  Put the lid on and let cook for at least 15-20 minutes so the carrots are tender.

Check the vegetables for doneness, and now it is time to purée.  One of the most useful small appliances I have in my kitchen is my hand-blender.  It’s affordable (models ranging in price from $15.00 to $60.00), saves on dishes (you don’t have to transfer the hot veggies in batches into a blender and then back to the pot), small and compact (perfect for apartments and small kitchens), and is easy to clean.

Use your hand-blender or your counter-top blender (purée in batches), to blend the soup.  At this point you might need to add additional broth or water to get the soup to the proper thickness.  Make sure to correct for seasoning as well.  I typically add a touch of cream or half and half…but if you plan on freezing any of the soup, set that portion aside – the cream won’t freeze well, and you’ll be better off adding it to the soup once you’ve re-warmed it.

A lot of the fun you can have with soups is what you put in them or on them once they’re in your bowl.  Everything from seared scallops, fried herbs, sliced sausages, crumbled bacon, a splash of vinegar or cream, a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of cheese.  We went for simplicity…with a touch of cream, a single leaf of parsley and a few drops of really good Arbequina olive oil.

Serve immediately.  Soups make great leftovers as well…sometimes even better the second day.  Enjoy!

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Dinner last week…Spaetzle!


I. Love. Spaetzle. 

Woody is teaching this quarter on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and so I’m on my own when it comes to dinner.  I threw together some vegetables we had on hand and cooked up some spaetzle and poof…dinner!

 

Roasted Pepper Hot Sauce – Hotter than you think!


It was inevitable.  Eventually we would open our box of weekly vegetables from our CSA, and find we had a whole lot of something that we aren’t quite sure what to do with.  Peppers.  Many peppers.  Please don’t misunderstand my conundrum…I appreciate peppers, I enjoy their flavors…in small quantities.  I’ve mentioned before that I have a little problem with spice.  As in heat…I am a complete and total self-admitted pathetic wuss when it comes to spicy heat!  I’m trying, really, I am!

After holding onto them for a few days…hoping they would make themselves into some wonderful dish…we finally knew what to make.

Inspired by our local taco joint, and their amazing hot sauce made purely of crack goodness that Woody has often considered offering them cash for one of squeeze bottles of sauce…hot sauce it was.

We started out roasting the peppers to mellow their flavor just a bit.  We used bell peppers, jalapeños and serrano peppers.  The skins are easy to remove; once you’ve blackened the skins, place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  This steams the pepper and helps the skin release.  After the peppers have sat for 10 minutes, the skins should peel off easily and a little running water can help the process along.  I de-seeded a few of the peppers and then threw everything into the blender together.

Peppers , garlic, onions, lemon basil (’cause we had some) and cilantro went, I added a little olive oil, a little vinegar, and of course salt and pepper.  BEWARE…when you remove the blender lid after puréeing, don’t lean over and take a deep breath of the hot sauce fumes…it went straight to my eyes and throat…and Woody laughed.  I made him sample a bit, we adjusted the seasonings and called it good.

For dinner that night, I made cornmeal crusted pan-fried tilapia with a quick pico of onions and cherry tomatoes served with cilantro rice and black beans, some roasted spaghetti squash and sliced avocado with a dollop of sour cream.  Unfortunately, I can’t always stop everyone else from digging in to get a few pictures…so the photo below in my plate…and therefore the hot sauce does not make an appearance on my plate.  Details!

 

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz


Summer tomatoes to good to cook call out for a gazpacho…especially this one made with fresh vegetables and puréed with a secret ingredient for creaminess.  Drizzled with a touch of sherry wine and olive oil…it lives up to the promise of being fresh, rich and satisfying.

Following the recipe, roughly chop the vegetables and salt them helping to bring out their moisture.

While the vegetables are getting to know each other, dice the remaining veggies into a brunoise…or small uniform cubes.

Salt these as well, mix together and then set in a colander over a bowl to allow the excess liquid to drain.

Don’t you dare throw out that liquid…now to use the secret ingredient…white bread.  Tear the white bread into chunks and let it soak up all of the vegetable sweat.

Toss the soaked bread in with the roughly chopped vegetables…mix it around…and now it is time to blend.

Use your blender to puree the mixture…make sure that you have as smooth a consistency as possible.  Most likely, you will need to do this in 2 or more batches.

The color is gorgeous and it smells amazing.  While the blender is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil which will begin to emulsify the mixture.

Transfer the mixture to a fine mesh strainer to remove the solids by pressing the mixture with a spatula or back of a ladle.

Add the sherry vinegar, minced herbs, season with salt and pepper and add in half of the small diced vegetables.

This is a soup that gets better the longer it sits…all the ingredients and flavors need a chance to marry and connect.  Overnight in the fridge is best, but a couple of hours will do.  Remember to salt and pepper the soup again when it is chilled to make sure the seasoning is correct.  The temperature of the food can greatly affect the seasoning.

If I were serving this in a restaurant, I would bring a bowl to the table with a small pile of diced veggies in the center and a small pitcher full of the soup, and a side plate of the various accoutrements.

Lade the soup around the vegetables.

Finish the soup with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil, and a few drops of sherry vinegar.

Voilá!

Serves 4 to 6.  From Cook’s Illustrated.

For ideal flavor, allow the gazpacho to sit in the refrigerator overnight before serving. Red wine vinegar can be substituted for the sherry vinegar. Although we prefer to use kosher salt in this soup, half the amount of table salt can be used. Serve the soup with additional extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, ground black pepper, and diced vegetables for diners to season and garnish their own bowls as desired.

Ingredients

3 pounds (about 6 medium) ripe tomatoes , cored
1 small cucumber , peeled, halved, and seeded
1 medium green bell pepper , halved, cored and seeded
1 small red onion , peeled and halved
2 medium garlic cloves , peeled and quartered
1 small serrano chile , stemmed and halved lengthwise
Kosher salt (see note)
1 slice high-quality white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar , plus extra for serving (see note)
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley , chives, or basil leaves
Ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of cucumber, half of bell pepper, and half of onion and place in large bowl. Add garlic, chile, and 1½ teaspoons salt; toss until well combined. Set aside.
  2. Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into ¼-inch dice; place vegetables in medium bowl. Mince remaining onion and add to diced vegetables. Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Set aside 1 hour.
  3. Transfer drained diced vegetables to medium bowl and set aside. Add bread pieces to exuded liquid (there should be about ¼ cup) and soak 1 minute. Add soaked bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.
  4. Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to blender and process 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, using back of ladle or rubber spatula to press soup through strainer. Repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and 1/4 cup olive oil.
  5. Stir vinegar, minced herb, and half of diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors. Serve, passing remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper separately.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls


What a perfect summer food…no need to use the oven, just boil a little water in the teapot…chop some veggies and herbs and you’re all set.

We actually made these sometime in July…but I thought I would post about them in honor of the 113° day we had this last Monday.  I love these for their refreshing and crisp taste, and that you can go in any number of directions for their dipping sauce.

Ingredients used:  shredded carrots, cucumber spears, butter lettuce, basil, mint, cilantro, chopped peanuts, cold rice noodles, and shrimp.  Other possible additions include tofu, bean sprouts, cabbage, radish, shredded chicken or duck, or anything else you can think of.  The rice noodles get soaked in water just off a boil and then drained and dunked into cold water until you are ready to use them.

The wrappers can be a little tricky.  They need to soak for a minute or so in hot water.  If you let them soak too long, they can tear and be unwieldy…if you don’t soak them long enough, they will crack and not be flexible.  I find that using a pie dish or shallow tart pan works well and I keep a kettle of warm water available to refresh the water as I go.  Another trick is to lay them on a damp tea towel while you pile in the fillings, this will prevent them from sticking and allow you to pick up the edges to fold and roll them burrito style.

I layer flat cilantro leaves on the bottom and shrimp over those  as that will be the prettiest side, pile all the other ingredients you want in and then fold the top down, both sides in tight and then roll towards you.  You can make these ahead of time and store in the fridge covered with a damp towel.

I neglected to get any photos of the fabulous dipping sauce that Woody threw together…which was perfect.  It involved mayo, sriracha, soy sauce, ponzu, a little rice vinegar, and sesame oil.  You really can’t go wrong.  A simple peanut sauce would be delicious as well.

Meyer Lemon Limoncello!


Because who can say no lemons and alcohol?  I mean, really????

Back in late winter, we had more lemons than we could think of things to do with them.  Until some friends of ours, mentioned that they make their own limoncello, and that it was quite a simple process.

Remember all those lemons!

We used our microplane and grated the rind off of A LOT of lemons and then you put that in alcohol.  We went with vodka.  Next, you let it sit in a cool, dark place for a couple of months.  Yep, just let it sit there.  Give the jar a shake every so often, this helps distribute the essential oils from the peel and zest.

Last week, it had been a few more than a couple months…probably at least 6 months…I decided it was time.

The time had come to strain the peels out from the vodka.  A few recipes I looked at recommended using cheesecloth, I substituted a coffee filter and fine strainer which worked well.  In the meantime, I made a simple syrup – with equal parts water and sugar…and simmering until the sugar has dissolved.  Let the simple syrup cool completely.

Once cool, add the simple syrup (ratio of 1:1) to the infused vodka, and pour into clean bottles or jars that will seal tightly.  Make sure to leave some head space if you plan on putting the mixture in the freezer.  The alcohol content should keep it from freezing solid, but it will still expand.

To take it one step further…you can make a limoncello crema by adding milk to the mixture.  I first mixed the vodka with the simple syrup and then added milk to the mixture as well before bottling it.  So the ratio is probably 1:3 milk to vodka/syrup.  Again, leave plenty of head space in the crema bottles, as this mixture will expand a bit more than the simple limoncello.

Once bottled, place in freezer.  You’ll want to let this mellow and marry for at least two weeks before tasting.  Typically, limoncello is enjoyed post-meal, ice-cold and in small doses.  You may need to let it sit on the counter for five minutes to make sure it is defrosted enough to pour smoothly.

Disclaimer:  We have yet to taste this fabulous creation…but we expect nothing but greatness.  Also, I may have just read a book which mentions that Meyer lemons should not be used for limoncello as they are not tart enough…oops!  We’ll find out soon enough.  All things considered…I highly recommend Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It – an amazing book that I am eager to make more recipes from.

Have you made your own limoncello before?  Tips, thoughts, ideas…???!!!  Comment below.  I foresee many more endeavors into the makings of limoncello!

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