Monthly Archives: October 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup

What did you dress up as for Halloween? I was the sick lady on the couch. (The timing wasn’t so terrible—Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday anyway.) But I think I’m finally on the mend. Thanks, in part, to my homemade chicken noodle soup. When I woke up Saturday morning feeling like my brain was filled with sand the only thing I could think of was getting some chicken soup in my body and the kind that comes in the can wasn’t going to cut it.

I mustered just enough energy to pick up ingredients at Whole Foods, and spent the rest of the day mustering up just enough energy to make it. My patience paid off and Saturday evening while most people were slipping into their Black Swan or Borat costumes, I tied on my apron and got to work slicing and dicing. (FYI, cutting onions works wonders for clearing the sinuses.)

Just like my minestrone, my chicken soup comes out slightly different every time I make it. Now that I’m on a lacitano kale kick, I added two bunches to the soup, hopeful that the antioxidants would blast this bug out of my system. I’ve never actually added noodles to chicken noodle soup before, but it seemed like the right thing to do (go figure). So I grabbed what I had on hand—whole-wheat spaghetti—and broke it carefully into pieces inside the pot. (That’s a lie—I broke it way above the pot and shards went flying. Let’s just say Remy and Pippa (my dogs) did a little trick or treating of their own and I learned my lesson about breaking pasta.)

When the soup was finished, I helped myself to a heaping bowl, finished a movie (Soul Surfer, if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it along with The Tourist and Secretariat, the other movies I watched this weekend) and tucked myself into bed long before most people made it to their first party. I may not have piles of candy lying around my house, but I have plenty of chicken noodle soup. This year, that’ll have to do.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped (white part only)
5 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, diced
8 cups chicken broth
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
Fistful of whole-wheat spaghetti (I didn’t measure—it was about a quarter of a package)
2 bunches lacitano kale, stems removed & cut into bite-sized pieces
1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat shredded off the bone
Black pepper to taste

Preparation
Heat oil in a big pot over medium heat. Add onion and sautee until fragrant. Add leek, carrot, and celery and sautee until they soften (about 5 to 10 minutes). Add chicken broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Return to a boil and add spaghetti, breaking it carefully inside the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes. Add kale and chicken and cook until kale wilts. Serve into bowls and season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper. (I’ve found that this is more flavorful than adding the pepper to the pot—I also didn’t need any salt.)

Homemade Applesauce

There’s something about cooking that can link you to your past. It doesn’t happen all the time, but every once in a while I get a hit of it and wonder, “Did my grandma (Grammy) or great-grandmother (Nana) ever do this exact thing?” I can assure you they never sat at their computers blogging about their recipe du jour. But as I scooped warm apples with a wooden spoon from a pot on the stove and plopped them into a food mill last night, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times they’d repeated that very same action in their lifetimes.

The setup. Thanks to Robert who just happened to own a food mill : )

Perhaps that’s what I love most about cooking. It’s just so basic. You have to eat so you may as well cook good food. In this day and age where we bound from our iMacs, to our iPhones, to our iPods, to our iPads (guilty!) it becomes more and more difficult to feel connected to everything and everyone that came before us. While you can still get fancy in the kitchen and use these gadgets to find and follow recipes (lord knows I do it all the time) the simple act of cooking has changed very little since my Nana flipped her very first homemade pancake.

Applesauce in action

Last night I made applesauce with the remaining stash of apple-picking apples. I realize you can easily buy the stuff in jars at the grocery store, but if you’ve never made or tasted the homemade kind then you’re truly missing out. There’s a level of natural sweetness you’ll never find in a bottle. Lately, I’ve seen lots of recipes for applesauce that call for heaps of sugar and even (gasp!) butter (I love butter as much as the next gal, but wtf is it doing in applesauce?) My version—which comes from my Mom and may very well have been handed down from my Grammy and Nana—involves four ingredients: Fresh apples, water, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It needs absolutely nothing else. Unless you count love.

The delicious finished product.

Homemade Applesauce

Ingredients
Apples (any kind, any amount)
Water (you could use apple juice or apple cider instead)
Cinnamon
Nutmeg

Preparation
Cut apples into quarters and dump them into a heavy soup pot. (Keep the skin, stems, and seeds—these will be removed when you use the food mill.) Generously sprinkle with cinnamon (I’m not sure how much flavor this adds to the end product, but it will make your home smell incredible while they cook; you could also add 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks.) Fill the pot with about 1 inch of water. Put over a medium heat and allow to cook. When the fluid begins to boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and check it every 5 to 10 minutes to see if you need to add a bit more fluid and stir the apples with a wooden spoon to cook them evenly. As the apples cook, their juices will naturally come out. Cook until the apples are fork tender—about 20 to 30 minutes total. In small batches, add the apples to a food mill and churn over a big bowl. Once you’re finished with the apples, add lots of cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Note: Instead of using ground nutmeg, I prefer using an actual nutmeg seed (I got a bottle of them at WF). It’s a trick I learned from my Mom and you’ll notice the nutmeg releases a much more powerful flavor than the pre-ground kind. Holding a cheese grater in one hand I grate the seed until I have the desired amount (I used about half a seed for the applesauce.) You can also use it while baking or sprinkle on top of oatmeal. Here’s what it looks like:

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Puree with Baked Chicken Breast & Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This time of year (and pretty much until spring) I develop a slight obsession with sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I love everything about them from their bright color to their texture to their natural sweetness. The thing is, I’ve only ever cooked these veggies one way: Roasted. In fact, I’ve never even used them as ingredients in other dishes such as pastas, soups, or stews. This week, however, I took one small step toward changing that and combined my two beloved ingredients in a butternut squash & sweet potato puree. It was one of the easiest, yet tastiest things I’ve ever made and I can assure you it’ll be making an appearance on my plate time and again this winter. And let’s not kid ourselves with the fancy puree name (I learned never to make that mistake after my kale-braising adventure). I simply mashed those suckers.

If you’ve ever stared down a butternut squash at the store, had no idea what to do with it, and then made a beeline for the pre-cut variety, trust me I’ve been there. But making that unruly squash look just like those chunks that come in the plastic container is easier than you’ve ever imagined. Of course, it’ll take a little more time, but with practice it’s only a couple of extra minutes and well worth the money you’ll save as well as the satisfaction you’ll reap. Here’s what you do:

  1. Hold the squash in one hand and peel, going from top to bottom. (I recommend a good quality peeler such as one made my OXO.) 
  2. Place the peeled squash on its side and cut off the ends.  Slice the squash from top to bottom.
  3. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds. 
  4. Flip each half to face cut-side down (the opposite way from the photo above). Cut one of the halves into 4-6 vertical slices (the long way) and then cut horizontally to make 1-inch cubes. Repeat with the other half. 

Voila! Roast…mash…or do other things with it that I haven’t yet tried!

Mingling with its sweet potato buddy.

Easy peasy, right?

Last night I paired the puree with roasted Brussels sprouts (because I can never get enough of those, either) and baked chicken breast. Bonus: the Brussels and chicken cooked in the oven while I made the puree. Everything was finished in less than 40 minutes, making this a simple (and healthy) weeknight meal.

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Puree
Ingredients
1 sweet potato, peeled & cubed
1 butternut squash (any size), cubed (follow instructions above)
1 Tbsp butter
Salt & pepper
Dash of cinnamon

Preparation
Place cubed sweet potato and butternut squash in a pot (I used the big one I use to make soup). Fill with water until water is about 1 inch above veggies. Cover and bring to a boil on the stove. Continue boiling for 15-20 minutes until veggies are fork-tender. Drain. Return squash and potato to pot. Add butter, salt, and pepper. Using a handheld electric mixer, mash until totally smooth (this happened in under a minute). You could also use a potato masher to create the puree. Add cinnamon and mix to combine. Adjust seasonings as desired (I recommend lots of pepper).

Adapted from Smells Like Home 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Ingredients
Brussels sprouts (any quantity)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350. Rinse Brussels sprouts. Remove tough ends, cut in half, and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 Tbsp total), season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, tossing halfway, depending on desired doneness (I like mine dark brown and slightly crunchy.)

Baked Chicken Breast
Preheat oven to 350. Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and paprika. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet or oven-safe dish (such as a casserole dish) sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for 30 minutes.

Split Pea Soup

(I borrowed this photo of the same recipe from FoodismMom. My photo skills need serious work.)

It’s bizarre that I like this soup. But I don’t just like it I crave it. You see, I’m not a fan of soups with a consistent texture, which split pea soup normally is. Take, for instance, butternut squash soup. The first few spoonfuls are delicious, but by the fourth or fifth I just get bored. Not so with this split pea recipe—there’s so much going on in every single bite.

Let’s start with the unique preparation of adding the split peas in two batches. The first batch breaks down to form the creamy base. Plus, that base combines with the red boiling potatoes to up the creamy factor without a drop of anything fatty. At the same time, the potatoes maintain some of their original texture so every spoonful or two you bite into a soft chunk of pink-skinned spud. The second addition of split peas, which cooks for less time than the first, gives the soup another layer of texture. I can’t really describe it. Since they don’t completely break down like the first batch, let’s just say they give you a reason to use your teeth. Then you’ve got the carrots. Oh, the carrots, the unspoken heroes in the pot. Not only are they another way to intrigue your palate and diversify the nutrients, they’re also a treat for your eyes since the pops of orange break up the predominant green hue. Although this soup needed no help in the protein department, I added small pieces of boneless ham steak. Because, well, if I was going the comfort food route (perfect for this cold, dreary day) I was going to go all the way.

Split Pea Soup
Makes about 4 servings

Ingredients
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 carrots, peeled and diced
3 small red boiling potatoes, diced (leave the skin on)
1 pound dried split green pas (find them in the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
Optional: 7 oz boneless ham steak (I found one at WF by Wellshire Farms that’s all-natural, uncured, with no preservatives, nitrates, nitrites, or antibiotics.)

Preparation
In a big pot on medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper until the onions are translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, about 1 ½ cups of split peas, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Skim off the foam while cooking. Add the remaining split peas and continue to simmer for another 40 minutes. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom.

Optional: When soup is almost finished, spray a pan with cooking spray and heat on medium heat. Add ham steak and heat until it browns (about 5 to 10 minutes). Flip the ham and brown the other side. Remove ham to a cutting board and cut into tiny bite-sized pieces. Add the pieces to the soup and stir to combine.

Note: The soup will thicken considerably when you store it in the fridge. When reheating leftovers, add some water or chicken stock to thin it out a little.

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa 

Apple-Raisin Cookies

Hi everyone! Happy Friday! I’m jumping on here for just a moment to tell you about a quick cookie recipe I made in under 30 minutes. Like, literally just now. It’s supposed to be windy, chilly, and perfectly fall-like here in Chicago this weekend and these cookies are the perfect way to kick it off. Plus, they helped me make the tiniest dent in the heap of apples I’m still working through from last weekend’s apple picking trip.

So go ahead, pour a mug of cider or tea (or wine) and take a bite out of these chewy cookies with bits of apples, raisins, and the autumnal flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Enjoy!

Apple-Raisin Cookies
Makes about 26 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½  teaspoon coarse salt
Ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons milk (I used non-fat)
1 ½ apples, peeled, cored, and diced small
½ cup raisins

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and pinch of cloves. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on high, scraping down bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl after each addition. With mixer on low, beat in half the flour mixture, then milk and remaining flour mixture. Beat just until combined. With a rubber spatula, fold apples and raisins into dough. Drop dough on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are firm around edges, about 14 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.

Adapted from Martha Stewart 

Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup

I can’t believe I’m about to write a post on sausage. Oh, it’s happening. And just for kicks I’m going to attempt to do it while keeping a straight face. So here it goes.

I hated sausage for the majority of my life. I think it stems from tasting it at my grandparents’ house in Maryland when I was a kid. It was the breakfast kind that came in links and was stored in the freezer. No, not that freezer—the second freezer. The one in the laundry room. Well, I thought sausage was gross (I’m guessing it was the fennel) so I stuck with bacon.

As the years went by and I became interested in health, I further avoided sausage. I learned about the sodium and nitrates that go into curing sausage, and let’s not talk about what’s in the casing. I decided I’d never touch the stuff.

But then I became interested in cooking. And food. And I noticed menu items like orecchiette with broccoli rabe, sausage, and sun-dried tomatoes. Don’t the words sound so delicious you could just eat them? Sausage wasn’t only being paired with scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes anymore.

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to give sausage a second chance. I think it may have something to do with one of my favorite soup recipes, Italian Wedding Soup. My sister made it for the first time several years ago and I fell in love with the tiny chicken sausage meatballs. No longer did fennel turn me off—it was a deep and complex flavor with just the right amount of bite. I loved that sausage was no longer limited only to pork—this was chicken! And where was the casing? Raw, this stuff looked like ground meat with seasonings.

Last winter I made Italian Wedding Soup on my own several times and fell more in love with sausage’s bold flavors. Sometimes, I’d even order items at restaurants that contained it. But I’d never cooked anything else with sausage…until Monday. A while ago, I saw a recipe for kale and white bean soup. The moment I saw the word kale I was pretty much sold. I then saw a recipe for sausage and white bean soup. These recipes had to meet. And I was just the girl to set them up.

It was only a matter of time before kale, white bean, and sausage soup came to be. Of course, this wasn’t going to happen without interrogating the Whole Foods meat counter guy first. Yes, I’ve been known to do this weekly from time to time. I had to know what was in his sausage. (I’m still keeping a straight face here.) Is the chicken sausage white meat or dark? It’s dark. I could live with that. Is it organic? Yes. Has it been cured? No. So no nitrates? No nitrates. It’s simply ground meat with seasonings already mixed in and has never been in a casing before? Yes. No casing. I’ll take a pound, please. This soup was as good as done. I picked up some onion, carrots, celery, and two giant bunches of lacitano kale (after last week’s success I figured I’d give this variety another shot—and there wasn’t even any braising involved!)

Now I’m just going to come out and say it. This is the best soup I’ve ever made. Ever. In history. Hands down. No competition. There are a million different flavors going on here, but it’s like they were meant to be together. (Maybe I’m destined to be a food matchmaker?) The beans, kale and carrots provide a perfect backdrop for the slightly spicy sausage and sweet fire-roasted tomatoes to pop on your palate. Even the textures are ideal. I’m not going to lie: I had two heaping bowls last night and am happy to say there’s still plenty left to feed me through Thursday (at least). This is a recipe I’ll be making again and again. After all, I have a lot of sausage eating to make up for.

Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup

Ingredients
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound spicy chicken sausage (out of the casing, if possible)
3 large carrots (or 4 smaller ones), chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz can great northern beans, drained and rinsed, pour half into a bowl and mash with the back of a fork
2 bunches lacitano kale, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces

Preparation
In a soup pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, break up the meat and cook until starting to brown. Add the carrots and celery and cook about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 to 30 minutes. Add the beans and kale and cover again, cooking until the kale wilts, about 5 to 7 more minutes.

Apple Crisp

I had the perfect outfit planned: Skinny jeans, brown riding boots, and a pinkish-purple flannel shirt. I may have even worn a scarf just to complete the look. We were going apple picking after all.

As a Big Apple native, apple picking is practically in my blood (New York is the second biggest apple producing state.) Nearly every single year of my childhood, my family would go apple picking upstate. Of course, we’d down warm apple cider donuts, feed a goat, and schlep a few pumpkins home, too. So it’s only natural I had the perfect apple-picking attire hanging in my closet.

Except Mother Nature had other plans: August weather in the middle of October. We’re talking 81 degrees and hot. I have to admit I was a little off as the tractor pulled our hay-filled wagon deep into the orchard. Instead of my pinkish-purple flannel, I was wearing a pink tank top. And sweating. Despite the warm sun and the wonderful company, it felt just a little…wrong. Like we accidentally went apple picking a few months too early.

But then something happened. As I climbed off the wagon and fixed my eyes on row after perfect row of apple trees—many still heavy with fruit just waiting to fall into our palms—I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the delicious things these apples would one day be. Homemade apple sauce…apple pie….apple-raisin cookies…apple-braised pork chops (y’know, now that I braise.) And just like that, I dove into the orchard and started filling my bags—two bushels full—with whatever variety I could lay my hands on. Golden delicious…red delicious…gala…

During the hour-long drive back to Chicago, Robert asked if I would make apple crisp that night. Did he really want to eat more apples after scarfing what I estimate is about half a dozen during our apple picking adventure? He gave me a look like I was out of my mind for asking such a ridiculous question. Apple crisp it was. With vanilla ice cream, of course.

Now, in addition to the dozens of apples sitting on my kitchen table I have two more signs that prove I spent my Sunday apple picking: What’s left of the homemade apple crisp and, sigh, a sunburn (sorry mom).

Apple Crisp 

Ingredients
10 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 9 small to medium-sized apples or 6 large apples)
¾ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 ½  teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Sprinkle ground cloves

Topping:
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, melted

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350. Place the sliced apples in a 9×13 inch pan. Mix the white sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, nutmeg, and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples.
For the topping, combine the oats, 2 cups flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and melted butter together in a bowl. Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Adapted from: The Girl Who Ate Everything