Wednesday, February 29, 2012

African Peanut Stew

As I left work today, the clouds were so low and dark, I knew we were in for a storm. The wind nearly blew me over on my way to my car. I hadn't even left the parking garage before it started snowing hard. Since this winter has been one of the mildest I can remember, I was kind of surprised that it finally decided to be winter the last day of February when we had all given up on it and were getting excited for spring. Isn't that life.  Wintery nights like this just make me want to stay home, curl up on the couch with a bowl of a warm, hearty soup like this one and watch it snow.  A cooking blog I follow, called introduced me to this recipe, I have only changed it a little over time. I love how this stew has such a wonderful balance of spice, richness, savory and a little sweet with an African kick! (yes it is supposed to be spicy)

African Peanut Stew
2-3 lbs of chicken legs or thighs (not breasts... they really won't do it justice)
3 TBSP peanut oil (divided)
1 medium yellow or white onion, sliced
3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 lbs sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 C chicken broth
1 C peanut butter
1 C roasted peanuts (whole)
1 TBSP ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish

In a skillet, brown the outside of the chicken pieces in 1 1/2 Tbsp of oil. You don't have to cook them all the way through, they are going to spend lots of time cooking after this so just get the outside dark golden brown. It adds a nice dark flavor that you'll love.

In your soup pot, saute the onions for a few minutes in the rest of the oil, then include ginger and garlic and cook until they are fragrant. Add everything else except the cilantro. Put in the chicken legs/thighs (the whole thing: skin, bone and all) to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer the whole concoction for at least 60 min. (90 min. if you can or I'm sure this would work on low for many hrs in a crock pot). You want to make sure the sweet potatoes are very tender and the meat wants to fall off the bone.

Remove the chicken pieces and let them get cool enough to touch with your hands. Discard the skin and  shred the meat off the bones and return it to the soup. Add in more salt, pepper or cayenne to you liking. Garnish with cilantro. Wow your dinner guests.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wonton Soup

This wonderful Chinese soup is fantastic and fast. I adapted this recipe a little from the one on Joylicious website. I was very inspired by her touching story of her mom but even more from her beautiful photography. I loved the Asian flavors and warm goodness of this soup.

Probably the hardest part is finding the wonton skins in the grocery store... but you can do that ahead of time. My first suggestion is to try the produce area... over where the fresh herbs and bagged salads are. That's where I found mine, because they are often refrigerated. If not, try the Asian food section of the store, by the bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms that I also used in this recipe (which are totally optional).

If you do decide to use shiitake mushrooms, most of the time you will only find them in the dried state. Start off by soaking the mushrooms in hot water for at least 30 min.

First start your water on the stove to get it boiling. Mix the pork and chopped shrimp (I used precooked frozen shrimp-thawed and squeezed out the extra moisture) and all the flavorings together in a bowl. Then you are ready to wrap the wontons. There are many ways to wrap a wonton, but here is my visual tutorial of how I did it:

Then they are ready to cook. Wontons cook up very fast. You do want to boil the wontons in water a separate pot than the broth because the starch on the outside of the wonton wrapper and sometimes filling spilling out causes the liquid to get cloudy and ruins the clear broth look of your soup.

If you are only feeding 2-3 people , you might have wontons left over. These can be frozen and used another day. Or, if you like, half the ingredients and make half as many wontons. The wrappers do dry out quickly so if you are storing them for later use (they make great ravioli or tortellini), wrap them in a moist towel or put a wet paper towel in a ziplock baggie with them to keep them moist.

Wonton Soup
1 lb. ground pork
6 oz shrimp (chopped finely)
1 egg white
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 tsp sesame or canola oil
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
1 TBSP soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ginger (minced)
1 tsp salt and pepper
1 package wonton wrappers
6 cups chicken broth
5 reconstituted shiitake mushrooms, sliced (optional)
few bamboo shoots sliced (optional)
salt and pepper if needed
1 stalk green onion, chopped, for garnish

Put a pot of water on stove and bring to a boil. In a different pot, heat chicken broth, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. While heating, put first 10 ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine for wonton filling. Wrap wontons by putting 1 tsp of filling in middle of wrapper and moisten the edges of wonton with water, then press with finger. Drop prepared wontons into the boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes (until they float) and remove with slotted spoon. Serve by placing several wontons in bowl and pouring warm broth over top. Garnish with green onion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zuppa Toscana Soup

This is a wonderful recipe I got from a dinner group a few of my foodie friends and I did for a year or so while we were all single and wanted to try out new recipes on understanding friends. It is kind of a knock-off of the Olive Garden's well-loved soup of the same name. Don't let the kale in it lead you to believe it is extremely's not. But it IS delicious. A good splurge once in a while. This is one of the only ways I have found yet to enjoy kale.  I have tried making this and substituting in lean ground beef and spinach for the sausage and kale before. It was tolerable but really not the same.

First, you start by chopping all the potatoes, garlic, and onions. Put these in a big soup pot and add the water and broth. Boil this until the potatoes are tender (between 15-25 min.).

 In the meantime, brown the sausage in a skillet (don't add cooking spray or oil or anything...there is plenty of fat in there, it won't stick). Break it apart into small pieces as it cooks. Drain off the excess fat (unless you really like to see pools of it in your soup) and set it aside in a bowl.

In the same skillet, but the bacon pieces and brown them. You don't need them crispy but you also don't want it super chewy. Again, drain excess fat and set bacon aside.

Add in the sausage and bacon to the soup when ready and simmer 5-10 more minutes.

Add the cream and kale and simmer for 5 more minutes. Note: Kale is more hearty than some other greens. I use spinach a lot in soups and once you add it to the hot liquid it shrivels up very quickly and cooking it very long just ruins it. Kale is not like this. It keeps it shape for the most part (ie. chop it into bite size pieces before putting it in, or else you will spend the next 5 minutes pulling it back out and chopping it more while your garlic bread in the oven burns and ruins the great smells you had going).  It also adds a great texture to the soup, so, two cups is plenty and it won't hurt it to cook in there for a while.

Finish off with a generous sprinkle of pepper and a little salt. You know how recipes always say "to taste"?  Well, just to warn you, I did end up using a good many turns from my pepper mill (I think it was about 15) and several shakes of salt to make it taste like Olive Garden's. Also, it looks like it makes a ton of soup, but trust me, 5 of us finished this off with no problem and no seconds.

Zuppa Toscana Soup
1 lb. spicy italian sausage (hot)
4 slices of bacon
2 large russet potatoes (scrubbed and diced)
1 small onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 quart of water
2 cans (14 oz) of chicken broth
2 cups chopped kale
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Cook potatoes, garlic and onion in water and broth in large soup pot until just tender (15-25 min.). Meanwhile, brown sausage and bacon in skillet. Set aside. Once potatoes are cooked, add meats to the soup. Simmer 5-10 more minutes. Add in cream and kale. Simmer 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Serves 4-6

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower is not one of my favorite vegetables. I will eat it raw, if I feel obligated, but never on my own accord. I tolerate it steamed or boiled, think it is actually pretty good when roasted with some good flavors  but thought it made a great soup.

Throughout the internet, there happens to be quite the controversy about cauliflower soup. There are the purists, who think you should leave the cauliflower unadulterated, the only flavor star of the show...with very little backup. Then there are others who would add all sorts of cream and butter and put in cauliflower just to make themselves feel good that they ate a vegetable. I tried several versions in between and actually came out with a surprising conclusion... the simplest version, with the least ingredients came out just as good, if not better than the one that was helped along with milk and butter. The trick, my friends, is cooking it slow and low.

Time helps develop the subtle flavor that cauliflower usually has and bring out a hint of sweetness. It doesn't need a lot else, well, maybe an onion. Remember this when you cringe at the fact that you use water... yes, water as the base. Resist the very strong temptation to add things (until the end), like all good recipe-tweakers like myself feel like they have to do. Give chef Paul Bertolli (who was the originator of this recipe) a little credit and allow yourself to taste cauliflower at it's best. I added only one thing at the end... the bit of nutmeg. It rounds off the flavors nicely bringing in that bit of depth I felt it needed, without destroying the creamy cauliflower goodness. Other people suggested tarragon, green onions, lemon, parsley, celery seed, etc. as garnishes. Knock yourself out with that. Nutmeg and pepper were just right for me.

Bonus: This is also one of the most allergy-friendly recipes you can find. 

Cauliflower Soup
3 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 pinch salt
6 cups water
fresh ground pepper
fresh ground nutmeg

  • Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Sweat the onions in the pan for about 15 min. on LOW heat (you don't want them to brown). 
  • Add the cauliflower, salt, and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and steam it for 15 min on MEDIUM LOW heat. 
  • Add 4 1/2 cups more water and bring to a low simmer for 20 more minutes, uncovered. 
  • Put into blender (in batches, if needed) and blend to a smooth, creamy consistency. I tried it with an immersion blender and couldn't get as great of a consistency. Use a blender.
  • Let it sit overnight. (if you can't do that, let it sit at least 20 min.)
  • Reheat soup and thin with 1 cup of water or to desired thickness. 
  • Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked pepper, pinch of nutmeg, and a little extra salt if needed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Souped up Ramen

This one is for all those cooks with a time crunch and tight budget, or without a good workable kitchen. It is not the most exciting of soups, but a satisfying one-dish meal with a little more nutrition than the alternative.  I made this a lot as a college student or when I was really sick and didn't have the energy for much more than this. All of the ingredients need minimal prep and you get some color and veggies!

First, you take simple ramen noodles. Wait! Don't open the bag yet. Just get your water boiling. I like to crush the noodles with the heel of my hand into bite size pieces so I don't have to eat my soup with a fork to get the noodles. 
Then you can open the bag and separate the seasoning packet. Put the noodles into the boiling water and wait for about 1 minute. Crack an egg right into the soup and mix it up so you see strands of egg white floating up with the noodles within a minute.

Add your chopped cooked chicken (if you have leftovers-don't cook chicken just for this) and a fresh chopped tomato. After about 4 minutes, it is done. Don't cook it more than that or your noodles will start to break down and get more mushy. Then add your seasoning (I like to use only 1/2 of the packet they provide and then add a little more flavors of my own (fresh cracked pepper, garlic salt, or red pepper flakes are probably my favorites to give it extra kick). Then throw in the fresh spinach to wilt it just before pouring it in a big bowl and reminiscing about college days.

Souped Up Ramen
1 package ramen noodles (I like the chicken flavor but use whatever you like)
2 cups water
1 egg
2 oz of shredded or chopped chicken (cooked)
1 fresh tomato
large handful of fresh spinach
cracked black pepper
dash of red pepper flakes
dash of garlic salt

Add noodles to boiling water in pot. Cook for 1 minute. Crack egg into boiling pot, mix. Add chicken, tomatoes and spices. Cook 2 more minutes and remove from heat. Add spinach right before serving.