Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Carrot and Ginger Soup

I realize I have been on a bit of a soup kick lately, but hey... soup is comfort food, I love chopping vegetables (don't judge, it's mean), and it lets me use the immersion blender I got for Christmas!  Tonight's culinary adventure in soup:  Carrot and Ginger Soup.

Mike and I visited my Auntie Theresa in 2011 and she made a lot of really awesome food for us.  No kidding, that lady can cook!  One of the meals had carrot ginger soup, and it was phenomenal.  I have been wanting to recreate that soup ever since.  This soup was excellent, but it wasn't that soup.  I did learn however, while gabbing to my sister about this great soup I was going to make, that she is in possession of a hand-written recipe for Auntie Theresa's soup!  She hasn't shared it yet, but I know where she lives, and I know where she keeps her recipes, so it won't be safe for long!

Anyways, back to the soup I made today.

This has some Indian spice, some Thai spice, and just some stuff I thought might taste good.  But you start with carrots.  Lots of carrots.  Two pounds of peeled and sliced carrots, to be exact.

And onions.  Because I always use onions.  Two medium onions, diced.

I melted some butter and added the spices for just a few minutes, until fragrant.

Then I put the carrots and onions into the spices, added some lime jest and fresh lime juice, and mixed it all together, letting it saute until the onions started to get soft, about 3 minutes or so.

Then the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Then comes the fun part:  the immersion blender!  Blend to desired consistency, stir in the coconut milk and sriracha sauce (aka "rooster sauce"). 

Then eat!  Mike added a dollop of sour cream and some cayenne pepper to his for a bit more kick.  I think you could also add some pancetta or bacon crumbles, maybe some red thai curry paste, and other spices to change the flavor to your liking.  This is one of those recipes that is easily customizable.

Here is the recipe:

Carrot and Ginger Soup
Serves 6-8, takes about 45 minutes

3 Tbsp Butter
1 1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Curry Powder
1 1/2 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, peeled and minced
2 lbs Carrots, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds
2 medium Onions, diced
1 1/2 tsp Lime Peel, finely grated
1 Tbsp Fresh Lime Juice
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1 Can Lite Coconut Milk
Sriracha Sauce, to taste

Heat butter in a heavy stockpot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add coriander, mustard, and curry powder.  Stir for about 1 minute.  Add ginger and stir for another minute.  Add carrots, onions, lime peel and lime juice.  Saute until the onions began to soften and start to turn clear.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered until the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.  Using your immersion blender, blend until smooth.  If you do not have an immersion blender, let the soup cool slightly, and then working in batches, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth, then return to the soup pot.  Stir in the coconut milk until completely incorporated, and then the Sriracha Sauce. 

Enjoy!  If you make this and do any variations, please let me know what you added/changed... I always like to try new versions.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Dear Tracy

It is with great sadness that I write today.  My Mom and I are in Texas to celebrate the life of my cousin, Tracy, and to say good-bye to her many years too soon.
A special thanks to one of Tracy's friends, who posted this beautiful pic of her on FB so I could share it with you here.

So many people have posted comments on her facebook page about the light that Tracy brought to them.  So many tributes are written on the impact that she had on people.  Reading them has been a beautiful and hard thing to do, and I am glad that these stories are there for her family to read later, when they are ready.

Tracy believed in leaving the world a better place than she found it.  Everything she did and said, how she raised her children, and the way she lived her life exemplified faith, family and love.  As I have read all the posts, one thing has become very clear to me:  for each of us that was lucky enough to know and love Tracy, our worlds are better because of her.

Thank you, Tracy, for the love, beauty and light you brought to all of us.  May you rest in peace.

I love you, Cousin.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Soup's On!

The temperature outside has been hovering between 20 and 30 degrees these days, every once in a while getting up to 40, but just way too cold for me!  When the temperature gets this low, I go for comfort food to warm me up:  casseroles, soups, and hot tea!

I found this amazing recipe on Closet Cooking and adapted it for my tastes, and it was so good, I just have to share!

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup with Aged White Cheddar

1 small head Cauliflower, cut into florets
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
5 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 tsp. Thyme
4 Cups Chicken Broth
2 Cups Aged White Cheddar, shredded
1 Cup Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cayenne and/or Paprika to taste (optional)

Start with a head of cauliflower...
Cut into florets.
 Toss the cauliflower florets in the olive oil with the salt and pepper and arrange them in a single layer on a large baking sheet.  I added the peeled garlic cloves to the baking sheet (no salt and pepper!) to roast them, as well. 

Toss the florets in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.  Put on a baking sheet and roast in the oven.  I added the garlic to the sheet and roasted it as well.
 Roast the cauliflower in a preheated oven (400F) until lightly golden brown, about 20-30 min.
The cauliflower is done when it is lightly browned. 

I roasted some broccoli, too.  Nice green to go with my dinner, and it turned out really good!
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  I chopped the roasted garlic and added that and the thyme, and sauted for about another minute or so.
Saute the onions in a little olive oil.
 Add the broth and deglaze the pan.  Add the cauliflower and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Add the cauliflower to the broth and bring to a boil.

Grated Aged White Cheddar... yum!

 Puree the soup until it reaches your desired consistency with a stick blender.  I used my new Cuisinart Immersion Blender that Mike got me for Christmas... love that thing!

Stir in the cheese, let it melt without bringing it to a boil again.  Stirring in a figure 8 works really well to completely combine the cheese without allowing it to clump.

Stir in the milk.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  A little smoky paprika (like Hungarian Paprika) or Cayenne sprinkled on top adds a nice touch of heat to the soup, too.  Remove from heat, and serve!

After blending, add in the cheese and stir until melted. 
Voila!  Dinner is served
I served this with some garlic cheddar bread that I picked up from the Great Harvest Bread Company here in town.  If you have not been to this place, you are missing out!  Phenomenal bakery, helpful staff, and samples.  :)  What more can a girl ask for?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Homemade Baked Tater Tots

So I have this... thing... for tater tots.  Can't get enough of them.  Not exactly a healthy option, I know... but I just love them. 

For the last two or three days I have been craving tater tots.  And due to the holidays, I have a refrigerator full of leftover mashed potatoes... so why not? 

For this batch, I used some leftover garlic mashed red potatoes (with skins), an egg to bind, cheese (because this is me we are talking about), some plain bread crumbs, and a foil-lined baking tray.  You can use any kind of mashed potatoes for this, including instant, and any flavor of bread crumbs, or you can add spices to them... whatever floats your boat.  I toyed with the idea of adding onions and bacon to this batch, but decided the garlic would be enough.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Mix the egg, cheese and potatoes together until well combined.

Pour the bread crumbs into a shallow dish and use your hands to form the potato mixture into tater tot looking shapes.  Roll the tater tot in the bread crumbs until well coated, and place on the baking tray.

 Bake the tater tots for 40-45 minutes, until desired crispiness.  Then enjoy!  I dipped mine in a horseradish dipping sauce, but ranch or ketchup would also be great!

If you don't have the patience for the tots, but still want a quick and yummy treat made out of your leftover mashed potatoes... I recommend a potato pancake!  Same ingredients you would use in the tater tots, but you don't need the bread crumbs (unless you want them!).  Mix it all together, form it into a patty, and pan fry it in a little butter... about 4 minutes or so on each side!

Yum!  Now that is a great way to start the weekend.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tradition... Tradition!

Sorry... obscure Fiddler on the Roof reference.  But Tevya was right... tradition is important.

I love food.  I know... shocking, right?  Food is a major part of my life - sustenance for the soul, not just the body.  My family has always had celebration and holiday dinners and meals, and so cooking and certain foods really hold great memories for me.  I am sure most of you can probably relate... a particular scent, flavor, or a special dish can remind you of a certain person or time in your life.  In my family, a lot of our traditions involve food.

My father is Swiss, so we often have special traditional meals for holidays.  We have fondue, or raclette, spaetzle, wurst, lebkuchen... I am getting hungry.   Impressive, since I just finished a super-yummy dinner.  Anyway, my Mom has always made black-eyed peas for dinner to celebrate the New Year.  She said it was to bring good luck in the new year.  Now, I am not a superstitious person, but I will fess up that I did add some black-eyed peas to the dinner I made tonight... just in case.  :)

I want to share this dinner with you because I am feeling sentimental... I blame it on the wine.  In any case, my grandfather (I miss you, Pago!) used to make meals by emptying the refrigerator into a skillet.  We would have scrambies for breakfast, which was eggs scrambled with everything else in the refrigerator.  For dinner, same concept, only using rice or pasta or potatoes as the starch.  This is a fabulous way to get rid of your leftovers, by the way.

So tonight... in honor of Pago, my celebratory New Year Dinner cleaned out the fridge.  And had black-eyed peas, in case Mom is right.  :)  I am never one to turn down the chance at good luck.  Although, please don't curse me by sending email chain letters because I confess, I delete them without reading.
 Tonight's dinner started with wurst.  Some bratwurst and weisswurst from Edelweiss Deli in Portland, OR.  If you are local to the Portland area, you have got to check out this place.  They make their own wurst (sausages), and have a phenomenal cheese selection, cold cuts, European Beer, bread, chocolates, spaetzle... it is a gastronomic heaven, I swear.

 Then I added some onions and garlic, because everything Pago made had onions and garlic.  I learned this from him, and I am firm believer that onions and garlic go with everything!

 The sausages go in a skillet on medium high-heat.  No need to add oil or butter... just the sausages.

 As the sausages start to sweat, add the onions and garlic.  Saute until the onions are translucent.

 Now you add your leftovers... I added black-eyed peas, green peas, and spinach.  Then I added some spices.  I have a spice problem.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that my spice cabinet is out of control.  In any case, because I was using wurst today, I added some mustard powder to the spices, which normally consist of basil, oregano, red pepper flakes (another Pago thing!), onion powder, garlic salt, and whatever else I think will go well with the food.  Saute all this together until warmed through.

 Add the starch.  My starch tonight was rigatoni, so I cooked the rigatoni, drained it, and tossed it into the cooked meat and vegetables.  Then, because this is me we are talking about, I added cheese.  Tonight's cheese selection was Appenzeller.

 Delicious!  Nothing quite like a mix of traditions to start the new year.  A bit of Pago, a bit of the Swiss relatives, and a bit of my Mom.

Happy 2013 everybody!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Home-brewing New Year Cheer!

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone has recovered from the revelry of last night and is ready to take on 2013!

Personally, I am not big on resolutions.  I used to resolve to lose weight, exercise more, save money... but then life always happened and something would go horribly wrong.  And since I hate to fail at anything (a sad but very true character flaw!), I have stopped making resolutions.  Oddly enough, this works quite well for me.  I finished 2012 seventeen pounds lighter than I started it, and I achieved some personal goals of traveling to Switzerland and playing more tennis.  A LOT more tennis. This year, I hope to keep up the good work.  More traveling, more healthy living, and more balance of work/life.

That said... I do believe I promised you some home-brew fun on the last post, and I am ready to deliver!  One of Mike's DIY hobbies is brewing his own beer.  This started when his sister, Beth, and her family provided him with the Mr. Beer home-brew kit for Christmas in 2011.  He brewed his first batch of beer from the prepackaged kit (it included a can of wort and instructions) and it was HORRIBLE.  Mike is not a quitter, and so he decided there were some things about the kit that he thought he could do better... and it snowballed from there!  He is now set up to brew one 5-gallon batch at a time, but he has a larger brew pot on the way, so he will be able to increase that to a 10-13 gallon batch.

Right now, we have a Bee Cave IPA that just (and I mean JUST) got bottled, and a blackberry ale that is in the fermenter.  I like fruit in my beers, and last year Mike made me a raspberry ale that is a clone of the Ruby that they make at McMenamins.  So yummy!  So in the summer, we went blackberry picking and froze them, and that is what he has used in this batch of blackberry ale.  I am very excited to try this beer... the color is fantastic!

Currently, Mike brews his beer in the kitchen.  I have recruited him to help me with this post, since I am not as familiar with the process and the language of brewing as he is.

This is the mash tun.  It is used to extract the sugars from the malted barley.  Did you know that the malted barley smells just like Malt-o-Meal?  I grew up eating malt-o-meal, so whenever Mike brews, my stomach growls.

Mike is adding extra water to the grains to get the desired recipe volume.  Mike is using the strainer to slow the flow of the water so that it does not disturb the grain bed, which acts as a filter.

The wort is being filtered by the grain bed in the mash tun.  It drains into a food-grade plastic bucket.

These are the spent grains in the mash tun.  The sugar has already been extracted and is ready to be turned into beer.  Currently, we throw the spent grains away.  Some breweries, like Full Sail in Hood River, give their spent grains to farmers to feed the cattle.  Talk about happy cows. 

These are the blackberries that Mike added to the blackberry ale.  He heated them to sanitize them, then strained the fruit so only the juice was added to the boil.  This removed all skins, stems, and other organic matter.

This is the boil.  The boil is currently done in a turkey fryer in the garage.  My parking spot, I might add.  The bag tied to the handle contains the hops.  When the boil is finished, the beer is cooled and put into food-grade plastic buckets.  The yeast is added, and the bucket is sealed for fermentation.

After fermentation, Mike opened the bucket to dry hop the beer. 

Mike is racking the beer to dry hop it.  This moves the beer from one bucket to another, effectively removing the yeast cake from the bottom of the bucket.

The hops are in a mesh bag in the new bucket.  The next few photos show the dry hopping process in more detail.

That is me standing on the chair.  Any excuse to stand on the furniture.

The beer on the left is the blackberry ale.  The one on the right, being dry hopped, is the Bee Cave IPA.

Mike is taking a hydrometer reading to test the alcohol content of the beer.  The Bee Cave IPA is right about 6.5% right now.

This is me, sanitizing bottles for the bottling process.  We reuse bottles and caps, so the sanitation process is very important.

Mike is racking the beer off the yeast cake into the bottling bucket.

Liquid gold, soon to be bottled!

The sugar has been added to the bottling bucket.  This will start the carbonation process once the beer is bottled.  The yeast still left in the beer will go back to work, eating the sugar and causing carbonation.  This process will also cause the beer to become more clear.


Mike makes sure to leave room in the top of the bottle for the carbonation process.  He does not seem excited about the prospect of blowing the bottle top off from too much carbonation and not enough room.

Once the yeast is done with it's final job, this bottle of beer will be more clear and ready to drink!  This process takes one to two weeks for this type of beer.  Some beers need to sit much longer.  Barley wines and other higher gravity beers can take months.

So... that is the home-brew adventure!  This particular batch was bottled in 16 oz and 12 oz bottles.  It is the equivalent of fifty-three 12 oz bottles of beer, or just over 2 cases.  The blackberry ale will make a little more, maybe two and a half cases.

If you have questions about the process, recipes, anything... just drop a comment and I will get a Q&A going with Mike.

Happy New Year!