Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Daring Cooks' Challenge #7: Stock to Soup to Consomme

Hey friends and DC buddies! I'm baaaack after missing last month's challenge :(( so sorry about that! I promise I HAVE been cooking quite a bit recently, the problem is that I've been cooking so much I can never chose which things I want to blog about! Ugh! There's never enough days in a week! I will try to keep my picture page up-to-date though so if you see any new cool things on there and you want info on it or a recipe that I have not posted, just ask me on m contact page and I'll get you hooked up :)
Anywho, moving along here, as you can see, the challenge this month was on stocks, soups, and consommes. Our host, Peta, challenged us to make our own stock from scratch and then use it to make either a soup or a consomme or both (for over-achievers) and some kind of accompaniement for you soup, such as bread.
I don't know about you guys, but I.LOVE. SOUP. I'm more of a hot-rustic-soup-full-of-veggies-on-a-cold-winter-night than a sophisticated-chilled-summer-fruit-soup person, but all the same I love me a bowl of good soup! Hence, I was pretty darn excited for this challenge (even if I would have prefered it come a few months later...). For those of you who don't know, consomme is a soup made from stock that is clarified (removed of impurities to be clear) and then flavored and garnished with small pieces of vegetables, meat, herbs, and even tapioca pearls. However, as cool as consomme is, if I have a choice between a good hearty soup and consomme, I WILL choose the soup, so sorry, we'll save the consomme for another time guys!
We make all our own stock at school in huge 30 gallon batches that sit around all day, smelling like childhood memories while we all hussle and bussle about our culinary lessons for that day so I wasn't too worried about that portion of the challenge, though I rarely make stock at home. Yes, I did make some pretty awesome chicken stock in a previous post, but honestly I rarely have much need for stock so I just don't put forth the effort. Usually if I'm making soup, the stock kindof is one in itself with the soup as I'm making it. But of course, for this challenge I would take the extra work.
Unfortunately, my plans to have this great day of making stock and soup didn't go quite as planned. First of all, the broccoli that I was going to use for cream of broccoli soup and broccoli stock dissappeared -Dad?!- and all I had left for stock vegetables was onions and carrots, which isn't too bad for a beef or chicken stock, but for a VEGETABLE usually want more than 2 vegetables to work with! *sigh* So what did I do? Did I do the good food-loving thing and run out to get some celery and parsnips and the sort? Ah, no. Sadly, I decided to turn my unfortunate situation into an experiment of sorts. A very lame experiement. Without much measuring and scientific thought I chopped up some carrots and onion and lightly browned them in my stock pot, added a few cups of water and a sachet of herbs, and I winged my stock. 
I wish I could tell you that all of my culinary training and my ingenious food instinct paid off and I some how made an incredible 2-vegetable vegetable stock...however that would be a terrible lie. The real end result? My stock was looked right and had potential, but lacked a lot of body. However, I wasn't too depressed because the few times we have made veggie stock at school, this seems to be the case. We often have to let it cook much longer than the recommended 45-60 min and add a whole lot more vegetables because otherwise it is just watery and bland without the stong supporting flavor of beef, fish, chicken, etc. So I don't have really any beautiful set of posed veggie stock pictures for you to enjoy (I'm lame I knoooow), but I'll have to make up for it this winter when I decide to start keeping stock on hand.
And now onto happier trails...THE SOUP! Yes, it is rather depressing that I was not able to make my much-anticipated broccoli soup, but I promise that it won't be long my friends, cold days are coming fast! Instead, I found a fabulous-looking recipe on the blog Satisfied for a Roasted Tomato Bell Pepper Soup with Italian Herbed Polenta Croutons. I was sort of forced into choosing this recipe beause I was down to only so many vegetables, but all the same, it sounded so good and provided a great way for me to utilized my stock (even if it came out less-than-satisfactory).
So here's the funny thing about this recipe: it sounded really great from a glance, pretty simple and straight-forward without being boring, yet when I went about making it, it got pretty complicated. Granted, it may just be me, unable to leave a recipe alone, but I feel like this recipe just need some good tweaks here and there. Now don't get me wrong, the end result was AMAZING. I LOVED the soup and I'll definitely be making it again, but how I went about getting that result was by using the recipe much more as a suggestion than a guidline. Still, because it was so good, I'm going to try and write-out what I did and you can all check out the original recipe on the link above to see the differences.

Serves 6-8
Roasted Tomato and Bell Pepper Soup
·         2- 28oz cans peeled tomatoes
·         1 cup roughly chopped white or yellow onion (about 2-3 small onions)
·         3-4 large garlic cloves
·         2 medium roasted red peppers, peeled with stem and seeds removed
·         ¼ cup olive oil
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
·         2-3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
·         10 large fresh basil leaves or 1-2 Tbsp dried basil
·         Vegetable stock to thin, if desired
·         Strips or roasted or sauteed yellow bell pepper to garnich (optional

1)      Preheat oven to 450 degrees, place rack in the top of the oven, and line a large baking sheet with foil.
2)     Drain tomatoes, reserving the juice, and then gently squeeze the tomatos to remove as much excess juice as possible. You should have about 4 cups of juice.
3)     Place tomatoes, pre-roasted peppers, onion, and garlic on baking sheet and gently toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and sugar.
4)     Roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes (check at 20 and make sure everything is cooking evenly and if you need to stir things around). You want everything to be nice and soft with blackened edges if possible.
5)     Remove from oven and carefully spoon/pour everything from the pan into a blender or food processor or put it all in a pot and use an immersion blender. Add the basil and blend everything together until smooth. If you want a thinner consistency, add some vegetable stock.
6)     Continue blending and gradually add in the reserved tomato juice.
7)     If not already in a pot, pour your soup into a pot. From here you can serve the soup slightly warm/room temp, like I like it, or you can heat it up or chill it down. It is delicious at any temperature. Serve with Italian Herbed Polenta Croutons (recipe below)
·         2 cups vegetable stock or water
Italian Herbed Polenta Croutons
·         ½ cup milk
·         1 cup polenta (or yellow cornmeal)
·         1 Tbsp dried basil
·         2 tsp dried oregano
·         1 tsp dried rosemary (chopped up if it is large)
·         1/8 tsp dried thyme
·         Salt
·         Freshly-ground black pepper
·         1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
·         1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
·         Olive oil

1)       In a medium sauce pot combine stock/water and milk and bring to a boil. In the meantime, grease an 8X8 in square pan.
2)      Add the polenta all at once and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring until thick, 5-10 min.
3)      Remove from heat and stir in the butter, cheese, and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour the polenta into the prepared pan, smooth into an even layer, and refrigerate at least 15 to firm up.
4)      Cut polenta into small cubes (about the size of large dice) or into other desired size/shapes.
5)      To cook, either heat some oil in a sauté pan and brown the polenta on both sides, or toss the cubes with oil and bake them in the oven at 450 F until crispy and browned (I’m not exactly sure of the time on this because I kept working on other things and checking on them, but it seemed to take a while. I’m thinking about 15 min, but watch them carefully).
6)      Serve croutons right away on top of the soup. Left-overs soften-up the next day so you may want to eat them all right away.

Say hi to my sad stock everybody! Okay,
now say goodbye because we're aren't going to
see this guy anymore. No, we didn't like him,
but he'll be better next time! Okay moving on!

Next time I make this soup I would like to see if I
could eliminate the extra step of roating the peppers.

I like how this soup is unique in that everything gets
roasted in the oven instead of simmering on the stove.

After 30 min of roasting, my pan had warped
in the oven, meaning the oil slid all to one side
leaving me with some vegetables unbrowned
and others frankly black. Still, I scraped it all
together and it was fine, but I'll ues another
pan next time!

From a pot of veggies and fruit....

To a pot of very delicious, very impressive soup.
(it might look really thick like pasta sauce, but
when you taste it, it is actually very light and full
and perfect, so don't let looks deceive you).

Onto the croutons!...oh the croutons...

I'm not a big polenta person, so I really was
winging this whole polenta crouton thing, but
my mom's favorite thing about them was the
cheese, so don't leave it out! (unless you want
these to be vegan, then okay). By the way,
this is high quality parmesan-reggiano, oh yeah.
Good stuff.

Do not use finely ground, powedery herbs for this
if you want your polenta to stay a nice yellow.
The color of your stock will also be a factor.
Then again, if you're just going to brown these in the
oven it doesn't matter much, but if you look at the pictures
in the original recipe you will see nice yellow croutons.
Hmmm, I'll have to work on that one...

Oh these guys? Yeah these are my sauteed
yellow peppers. My own addition. And a
good one if I do say so myself :)

Soooo I follow the original instuctions to panfry
the croutons, but I found that they didn't brown
evenly, they were difficult ot work with, they
kept coming apart, and the outside became crunchy
while the inside was still mushy. If that sounds like
what you are looking for, well then go right ahead
and panfry those suckers. I, however, tried baking
the other half to much better results. Even browning
and better texture, plus they didn't fall apart.

So after all my hard work and fun experiementing,
I was rewarded with one tasty bowl of soup and
I'll worry about perfecting my vegetable stock-
making skills later!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Easy AND Delicious AND Healthy Cookies :)

Hey just wanted to start off saying, SORRY guys I missed the DC challenge this month :((( I was all ready to get it done last minute as always and I even started and everything and the timing and stuff just didn't work out, I had to work and do a bunch of stuff and yeah, it just didn't happen, but I'll be sure to post it if I decide to retry. Really sorry, but I'll be back on track next month I hope and in the meantime, here's a post that I hope you all will love :)
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So we all love cookies, right? Yeah that was a rhetorical question because cookies are just...amazing. I love them way too much. However, there are several reasons why I don't make them too often. 1) I never seem to have softened butter sitting around ready to go 2) A lot of really good cookie recipes have way more steps and ingredients than I want to mess with for something that will most likely get inhaled 3) By change my sisters don't like them and eat them all...I have to eat them all...and whether they are tasty or not...I really do not need to make a habit of eating 4 dozen cookies. So, if you face these or similar cookie dilemmas, read on, there may be some hope for you! :D

I've dabbled with plenty of healthy cookie recipes before as well as "healthy" cookie recipes and most of them just haven't really stuck out to me. The truly healthy ones that could be confused with granola bars are okay, but they don't always hit the spot. Then there's the "healthy cookies" that might contain 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or rolled oats and besides that they are still loaded with refined white sugar and flour. Reeeeal healthy.

However, the recipes I am about to share with you combine the best of both worlds of "healthy" and "cookie". Oh yeah, they are also super fast and easy, which is AWESOME! They can also be messed around with to make them less or more healthy or whatever to fit with what you've got and what you do/don't like, etc.

First off, we've got Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies for ya! You may have heard of these or had them before or already be totally addicted with these because they are gaining popularity fast - and for good reason! However, if you are new to this addicting little things you may be surprised at the short, simple ingredient list and directions (see I told you!), but they really are that easy! My only advice on these is 1) I think using natural peanut butter makes these not only healthier, but also have a better taste and texture and 2) unless you like crunchy PB cookies (I don't!) then do NOT overbake these! You have to be patient when you take them out of the oven because they should be quite soft still, but they'll firm up just right if you let them!

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
§  2 cups peanut butter (preferable natural or homemade)
§  2 cups packed brown sugar
§  2 eggs
§  2 tsp baking soda
§  Halved or chopped peanuts for garnish

1.   Preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat the peanut butter with the sugar, then the eggs and the baking soda.
2.  Take tablespoonfuls of dough and form them roughly into balls, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet, then flatten them slightly and gently, but firmly push chopped of halved peanuts into them if desired.
3.  Bake 10-12 min, depending on how crunchy you want them. They will look very soft when they first come out, but do not over-bake them, they will firm up nicely as they cool. Cool at least 5 min on wire racks before serving.

YUM. Homemade peanut butter.
Now these are REAL peanut butter cookies!

Who needs shortening, flour, or hydrogenated oils?

These next cookies you may not have heard of before. Actually I'm sure you haven't because I pretty much made them up! Okay so I got the basic idea from a recipe from Clean Food. I'd like to think that I made these cookies way better though! Not only healthy, but also tastier! Feel free to mess around with this recipe as you like (that's what I did!). I tried to make a few helpful notes and alternate options, but the first option I give is the one I tried so I cannot promise that the other will work, but the recipe did give them as choices. The main thing I would be careful about is the oil. I used coconut oil because it is super healthy for you (yus!), these are coconut banana cookies (duh), and because it is solid when below a certain temperature so I thought it would mix in better than a liquidy oil. If you don't have/can't find coconut oil though, try out the oils or even just use butter if you don't need these to be vegan. Whatever you do, if you try these out please, please tell me how they turn out, I wanna know! :) thanks. Anywho, the recipe:

Healthy Coconut Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

§  1 1/3 cups brown rice flour
§  ¼ tsp baking soda
§  ½ tsp baking powder
§  ½ tsp salt
§  2 very ripe, medium bananas
§  ¼ cup coconut oil or sunflower oil (canola oil if you must)
§  ¼ cup honey or pure maple syrup
§  ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
§  2 cups almond flour (or other nut flour)
§  ½ cup or more shredded, sweetened or unsweetened coconut (depending on your own preference)
§  1 cup or more mini chocolate chips (I used an allergy-free brand that is vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, yeah you get the point, but you can use whatever you like)

1.       Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2.      In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the bananas until pretty well mashed, then add the coconut oil and beat until combined. Beat in the honey and vanilla then gradually mix in the dry ingredients until a soft dough is formed. Mix in the coconut and chocolate chips if desired.
3.      Scoop out small tablespoons of dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Flatten slightly and press more chocolate chips into the top if desired.
4.      Bake 10-12 min, until lightly browned. Cool at least 5 min on a wire rack before serving.

So I was pretty sure these suckers were
PERFECT for baking, not totally black, but
super soft and sweet and all right? But the
reviews I got back from the cookie experts
(aka the little sistahs) was that the banana
flavor barely came through, but they liked
them all the same. I of course couldn't be
a sampler because I'm allergic to bananas (sad
I know!) but I trust their cookie judgement.

I'm no expert on this stuff, but I
think it is super cool and I'm trying
to work more and more with it.
However, it IS expensive so I try
to be sparing, but I think it worked
well in this recipe even if I personally
couldn't try them.

Now THESE babies I DID for sure sample! I
was really thinking they might taste kinda
funny like special diet food from the store shelf
usually does, but NO MAN these were way
better than the usual chocolate chips I use
(which aren't all that good or anything, but
they taste like chocolate...) And if these guys
weren't ALSO super pricey I'd be using them
a lot more too, but I'm gonna have to hide them
away to be saved for my friends with special
dietary needs. I highly recommend though!

You can make these any size you want of

But I think they are just so cute when they
are bite-sized like this! You can't really tell,
but they were about the circumference of
a golfball, maybe a bit bigger.

For a health food I'd say they look pretty tasty :)

Maybe not THE BEST chocolate chip cookie,
but for a cookie that is truly good for you,
truly tasty, and can be enjoyed by all of your
friends with special diet needs too, I'd say
they're winners. You tell me!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Daring Cooks Challenge #6: My Noodle Hands!

Like some of the recent Daring Cook's challenges, I was thankful for this month's challenge in that the topic was flexible! Yay for freedom! haha what I mean is that our host Steph from simply assigned us the task of making homemade pasta without the use of motorized equipment and to prepare the appropriate sauce to accompany the pasta, which gave me a lot of liberty to choose something that would fit my schedule, my skill level, and just my own personal desires, which was really nice, just like the potato salad challenge last month and the edible containers challenge a while back.

So what did I pick with all the choices that were available to me? Well I've tried making fettuccine before and that didn't turn out too well though I'm sure if I put enough time into it I could do it right, I've also made some really good ravioli at school, but they have a handy dandy crank pasta machine that made it a bit easier and it was still too time-consuming for me, then there's gnocchi which I had a great time making in this post, but I certainly didn't want to make the same thing twice! So with these three popular picks knocked out I was lucky that Steph provided us with a great option that I was very excited to try: Spaetzle!

We made Spaetzle in school a while back, but I wasn't in the group that got to make it and I was pretty bummer. It always seemed like one of those things that would be tricky for some reason so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I did some searching around and found that most of the recipes were actually really quick and simple - woot! The recipe I ended-up using is from Tyler Florence, I'm not a huge fan or anything, but he's okay and I've liked all of the recipes of his I've ever tried and this one looked good! The main change I made was using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose because I'm a whole wheat pasta kindof girl, but that's an easy switch to make.

All in all, it probably took me like 30 min start to finish to make this recipe and I even had a phone call in the middle and it was my first time so with a little more practice I think this would be a great side or main dish for anybody to whip up that is impressive and fun and can be made as wholesome or as indulgent as you want if you choose to serve it with fish and spinach like I like or with cheese and butter and breadcrumbs...which I also like :)

However you choose to serve it, I definitely recommend this recipe because of how super easy and fun it was for me to make and there really weren't any special tools needed like most people associate with pasta-making. Anyways, here's my rather short slide show since this recipe is so quick with only a few steps, enjoy:

Whole Wheat Spaetzle
Adapted from Tyler Florence

§  1 cup whole wheat flour (can also use all-purpose flour)
§  1 teaspoon salt
§  1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
§  1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
§  2 large eggs
§  1/4 cup milk
§  3 tablespoons unsalted butter
§  2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or chives

1.       In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In another mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg-milk mixture. Use a spoon or your hands to mix and combine well; the dough should be smooth and thick. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
2.      Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot, then reduce to a simmer. To form the spaetzle, hold a large holed colander, steamer, slotted hotel pan, or slotted spoon over the simmering water and push the dough through the holes with a spatula or spoon. Do this in batches so you don't overcrowd the pot. Cook for until the spaetzle floats to the surface, stirring gently to prevent sticking if necessary. Dump the spaetzle into a colander and give it a quick rinse with cool water.
3.      Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the spaetzle; tossing to coat. Cook the spaetzle for a few minutes to give the noodles some color, and then sprinkle with the chopped parsley or chives and season with salt and pepper before serving. Good topped with toasted bread crumbs, grated cheese, and/or fried onions, or roasted meat, vegetables, and gravy, but try out whatever you want, be creative!

Serves about 4 medium servings or 2 large servings

The dough comes together real quick for spaetzle
and doesn't require any needing, just a 10-15 min
rest and you are good to go! I used the minimum
amount of water and it worked fine, but you may
need to mess with it some depending on what
type of flour you use.

Ready to go with my lovely new pans (love them!)
aren't they pretty?

Finally getting to use some of the parsley that
my sister has grown for me in her garden!
Isn't that sweet of her? :)

I used a colander to push my dough through
since I figured it'd be a little easier to clean
up, but a steamer would also be great I think
and Tyler Florence gave the option of a slotted
spoon, but I think that should be a last resort!
At school we used a slotted hotel pan which
would be great if you have one and want to
make a huge batch! Another recipe I saw
for "authentic spaetzle" that also recommended
using a potato ricer. I don't have one so I couldn't
try that out, but if anybody does, tell me
how it goes please! :) Oh! and if you actually
HAVE a fancypants spaetzle press, feel free
 to use that...correction, you'd BETTER
use that you silly goose, that's what it's for!

The recipe also said to cook the noodles for 3-4
minutes, but mine floated to the top after about
30 seconds so I was just winging it, pushing through
a bunch of noodles, then scooping out a batch,
and not really timing anything and it all
seemed to come out just fine whether I waited
to take them out or not.

Pushing the dough through the holes brought back
fun memories of those play-doh head guys
where you push the play-doh through their
heads to make hair and beards. Remember those?
aaah fun stuff!

I didn't seem to have much of a problem of my
noodles clumping, which was nice, even after I
drained them, I just rinsed them and they were fine!

For only 1 cup of flour you end up with quite a nice
amount of spaetle!

I used about 1 Tbsp of butter for each batch of
spaetzle I cooked-up for a little richness, but
not a whole lot, if you have nonstick pans you
should be able to get away with less if you want
or you can definitely add more for extra buttery
flavor, but a buttery sauce might by nicer so
that the noodles don't just absorb it all.

I liked my spaetzle slightly browned and crispy,
but if you want yours softer or crunchier, just
adjust the time to your liking - practice batches
might be a good idea!

I guess I didn't really end up making an accompaniment
sauce to my pasta as I just topped it with more chopped
parsley and a few grates of parmesan-reggiano, but oh well,
that will have to work I guess :p The cheese may not have
been an authentic addition, but it did taste pretty yummy.
If you have any better ideas I'd love to hear them!
Go make some pasta! :)