Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thai Chicken Nachos



Normally when I go on a culinary tangent I like to mete out my recipes in any one particular theme slowly, but since we've only got a few weeks of football snacking left, I thought I should get my nacho recipes out in short order. Last time I shared nachos of the Italian persuasion, but this time I borrowed from a totally different culinary tradition for something lighter and spicier, Thai Chicken Nachos. Where Italian Nachos were rich and deeply savory, these nachos are light and spicy, two different but equally satisfying ways to satisfy your nacho craving. A generous amount of scallions, cilantro, and jalapeno make these nachos fresh and give a nod to the traditional recipe. Feta cheese maintains the requisite cheesy goodness in light and salty fashion, and the chicken and peanuts make them substantial and savory. If you're looking to spice up your football snacks or simply indulge without doing too much damage, this is the recipe for you.

Thai Chicken Nachos
serves 1 to 2

Cooking spray or canola or olive oil
4 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
2 ounces tortilla chips
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1 fresh or pickled red or green jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons prepared peanut sauce, diluted with 1 to 2 tablespoons water
Finely chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, preheat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add chicken and cook until meat is no longer pink and at least 170 degrees F.

2. Place tortilla chips on an oven-safe platter in an even layer. Top chips with scallions, cooked chicken, half the cilantro, jalapeno, and feta cheese. Drizzle diluted peanut sauce over the top.

3. Place platter in the oven and bake until nachos are warmed through and cheese is slightly melted (feta does not melt like mozzarella, etc.). Top with the remaining cilantro and peanuts, if using, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Italian Nachos


There are bowl games and NFL playoffs coming up, and let's face it, you need snacks. I spent most of the Packer season making personal pizzas/flatbreads and experimenting with different variations on poutine, but after I decided I'd exhausted my creativity with those foods (at least for the time being), I starting flexing my culinary muscle with nachos. First of all, I should say that I'm using with word nachos very loosely here (i.e. tortilla chips with toppings), but since no real Mexican cuisine actually includes nachos, I don't feel bad about flexing the definition. That being said, who doesn't love tortilla chips smothered in cheese, sauce, meat, and veggies? I started my nacho tangent with something very standard and about as Mexican as nachos ever get-chicken, black beans, corn, cheddar, salsa, sour cream, scallions, and cilantro. While that was an absolutely delicious plate of indulgence, my mind immediately started to calculate other delicious combinations, this being my first nonstandard creation. It may be a bastardization of two cultures, but there's no denying that  sausage, peppers, onions, marinara and mozzarella are all great friends and make tortilla chips just as happy as they do pasta. But if this rich dish makes you feel a little too guilty, just sneak it in before New Years' resolutions roll around and make up for it in 2013.

Italian Nachos
serves 1 very hungry person or 2 average appetites

1 link sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 small yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces jarred roasted red bell peppers, rinsed and cut into strips
2 ounces tortilla chips
1/2 cup marinara sauce
2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, remove the casing from the Italian sausage, and cook in a large skillet about 7 to 8 minutes, until sausage is nicely browned. Add the sliced onions to the skillet and continue to cook until onions are browned and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes more, adding the roasted red peppers during the last few minutes of cooking to warm through.

2. Place tortilla chips on an oven-safe platter in an even layer. Top chips with sausage, pepper, and onion mixture, pour marinara over the top, and sprinkle with mozzarella.

3. Place platter in the oven and bake until nachos are warmed through and cheese is melted and browned in spots, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw



I have the ambitions to cook for a crowd, but not the audience. Although I'll host a bigger meal from time to time, most of the time I'm just cooking for one or two. A lot of time I'm scaling back recipes that feed many more, but a linear adaptation isn't always the best one. I don't have the time to tweak my scaled back recipes until they're perfect, and so America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two has become my new cookbook obsession and my guide to tackling my six pound head of cabbage. In addition to spot-on main course recipes like Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken, they have great recipes for using up leftover odds and ends of ingredients, like Beer Braised Cabbage. This slaw, the third cabbage recipe I made from ATK's Cooking for Two, is the perfect accompaniment for a rich protein like salmon or barbecued ribs. It's light, crunchy, and refreshing, with a dressing that expertly balances acidic, sweet, and rich elements. A nice contrast to the traditionally heavy dishes of winter, this burst of freshness cut right through my succulent smoked salmon sandwich and the bitter winds of winter blowing outside.

Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

1/4 small head cabbage (4 ounces), cored and chopped fine (about 2 cups)
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thin matchsticks
1 scallion, sliced thin (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

1. Toss the cabbage with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a colander set in a bowl. Let sit until wilted, about 1 hour. Rinse the cabbage with cold water, then drain and dry well with paper towels. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in the apple and scallion.

2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, oil, mustard, and red pepper flakes to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the mixture over the cabbage and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour, or up to 1 day. (If refrigerated for longer than 2 hours, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken


My last CSA box contained, among other things, a 6+ pound head of green cabbage. It was an intimidating presence at first, but I've since found many a culinary destiny for that hearty head of cruciferous goodness. I'm soon to embark on my first attempt at making sauerkraut, but I tackled a few lighter recipes first, starting with this delicious chicken salad. As long as I like the ingredients, I can count on any America's Test Kitchen recipe to be delicious, and this certainly continued that pattern of excellence. The salad is in principle quite simple - a generous bed of fresh and crunchy vegetables and herbs topped with tender chicken and tossed with a light dressing. The success of this recipe is in great part because of the dressing, which really showcases the precise nature of America's Test Kitchen - just the right amount of a host of ingredients blended in salty, sweet, savory, spicy harmony. No one ingredient dominates the flavor of the dressing, but each brings just enough of itself to contrast and balance all the others.

My winter eating patterns are a study in opposites - I crave both hearty, heavy comfort foods like meatloaf and chili that fill me up and steel me against the cold and light and spicy meals like this one that transport to warm and sunny lands that knoq nothing of snow and subzero temperatures. When I initially saw this recipe,  it didn't feel quite hearty enough for a winter dinner, but it was more than enough to fill my belly and remained refreshing and satisfying even the next day.

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

Salad
1/2 small head napa or green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (about 1/2 pound)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 scallions, sliced thin on the bias (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peanuts

Chicken and Dressing
1 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated or minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon Asian chili-garlic sauce, or to taste

1. For the salad: Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. For the chicken and the dressing: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken breast in the skillet and cook until lightly browned on the first side, about 3 minutes.

3. Flip the chicken, add 1/3 cup water, and cover. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes longer.

4. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.

5. Discard any water left in the skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the shredded chicken and cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds.

6. Pour the chicken and dressing over the cabbage mixture, toss to combine, and serve.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mini Honey Mustard Meatloaves


As for many people, meatloaf is one of my favorite comfort foods, but without a big family to feed, recipes that make one or two loaves at a time can be a bit much. This recipe, however, is absolutely perfect for feeding one or two people for a just meal or two. It's only a short list of readily available ingredients that go into these miniatures, but they still induce all the warm and fuzzy feelings that a good meatloaf should. Delicious piping hot from the oven with a side of mashed potatoes, the leftovers are splendid repurposed into a meatloaf sandwich topped with caramelized onions and even more cheese. If you want to freeze extra (uncooked) meatloaves, as I did, skip the honey mustard-ketchup mixture and cheese topping until you're ready to bake them. Even if the darkness and cold temperatures of winter aren't to your liking, it's the perfect time to cozy up at home with a hearty plate like this one.

Mini Honey Mustard Meatloaves
adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food
serves 4

2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat panko
1 cup shredded cheddar (about 4 ounces)
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil. In a small bowl, mix together honey  mustard and ketchup.

2. In a medium bowl, combine beef, egg, panko, 1/2 cup cheddar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Form into four 2-by-4-inch loaves; place on baking sheet. Brush with mustard mixture; top with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar.

3. Transfer meatloaves to oven and bake until loaves are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets after 10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moroccan Stuffed Squash


Thanks to my winter CSA, I've eaten seemingly countless different kinds stuffed squash, but I have to say this is my favorite. I've gotten a lot of recipes from tried and true sources, made up recipes on the spot with whatever I happened to have around, but The Sprouted Kitchen is my latest cookbook obsession because of perfect recipes like this one. The first stroke of genius is cooking the quinoa in coconut milk, something I'm ashamed I never thought to do myself. It makes the quinoa unbelievably creamy and the crunch of the pistachios and pop of the pomegranate seeds have the perfect textural contrast. These same elements also contrast each other beautifully in flavor - subtly rich coconut milk quinoa is the perfect canvas for tart pomegranate seeds, rich pistachios, salty feta cheese and fresh herbs. I happen to think that combination of nuts, fruits, cheese, and herbs is paragon of flavor, but feel free to swap out any of these elements for others than strike your fancy. By far the most interesting collection of ingredients I've ever had the pleasure of stuffing into a squash, this dish is sure to appear on my dinner table until my bounty of squash is depleted.

Moroccan Stuffed Squash
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
serves 4

2 medium acorn squash
3 tablespoons coconut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon each ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon each ground cumin
1/4 cup thinly sliced preserved lemon peel or 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup feta cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup chopped toasted pistachios (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Rub 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil on the cut sides of the squash halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and pierce the skin a few times with a fork. Roast 20 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking until you can easily poke a knife through the flesh at its thickest part, another 10 to 20 minutes depending on its size. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. While the squash are cooking, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa; turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 15-18 minutes; then turn off the heat and let the quinoa steam in the saucepan for 5 minutes.

3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil, the paprika, coriander and cumin to the quinoa and toss to combine. Add the preserved lemon peel, mint, cilantro, orange juice, pomegranate seeds and feta and toss together. Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary

4. Divide mixture between the squash halves. Garnish with a sprinkle of feta and the pistachios. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup


The only thing I can count on with my winter CSA is that I'm going to get a lot of squash and root vegetables. I'm always browsing for recipes that use up a lot of one vegetable, but once I'm done with I'm those, I'm often left with an assortment of small amount of vegetables that I'm not quite sure what to do with. The last bits of my first CSA box included parsnips, celeriac, carrots, potatoes, and leeks, so it seemed almost supernatural fortune to find this recipe that used up all my odds and ends. Although there's a lot going on root vegetable-wise in this soup, they all balance each other nicely. The carrots, celeriac, and leeks are a subtle variation on the classic mirepoix, with the parsnips adding a bit of zestiness and the potatoes body and creaminess. Blending the vegetables makes this hearty soup silky and infuses garlic and fresh herbs into every bite. Although the particular combination of root vegetables and herbs was especially delicious, this recipe is also an excellent template for experimentation. Between plates of indulgence at holiday celebrations, use this recipe to fill yourself with healthy vegetables and brilliant winter flavor.

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small celery root, peeled and sliced 1/3 inch thick
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium red potato, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large leek, white and tender green, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 fresh thyme sprigs
Salt
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock or canned low-sodium broth, defatted
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the parsnips, celery root, carrots, potato, leek, garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of water. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, cover the pan and reduce the heat to moderately low. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, blend the soup in the both with an immersion blender). Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the rosemary and serve.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beer-Braised Cabbage


Despite a decidedly English last name, I have a lot of German heritage. That, combined spending my formative years in Wisconsin, has left me with a deep love for the perfect pair of sausage and cabbage. Although sometimes my cabbage cookery can get a bit more exotic, there's still nothing better bratwurst and sauerkraut or slow-cooked cabbage and kielbasa. Unfortunately, there's not always time for fermentation or hours of braising when you've got a hankering for some cabbage (or one from your CSA box that needs to be used), but this recipe is the perfect solution to that problem. Adapted from a recipe from the paragon of precision cooking, America's Test Kitchen, this uses just a few common ingredients to turn cabbage into a flavorful side in just a few minutes. With so few ingredients, even the choice of beer is important here; more intensely flavored beers could become bitter in this recipe, so a mild beer is the best choice. Being the beer snob that I am, I still couldn't use a mass-produced American adjunct lager, opting instead for a mild craft beer (Three Floyds Pride and Joy Mild Ale). The butter and reduced beer make this silky and just a bit rich, but the mustard and vinegar accents maintain a sharpness that cuts through the fattiness of the accompanying sausage. As frigid temperatures being to make their entrance, this soul-satisfying dish will be most welcome at your winter table, the perfect excuse to indulge in some rich sausage and a frosty mug of beer.

Beer-Braised Cabbage
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup beer (mild American lager, etc.)
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 small head green or red cabbage (12 ounces), cored and sliced thin
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beer, mustard, and thyme, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Stir in the cabbage and vinegar, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted and tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pumpkin Pecan Granola


I eat a lot of granola. Yogurt topped with granola is my breakfast a couple times a week, and because of the huge variety of granola that can be made or purchased, I never tire of it. That being said, this has to be the best granola I've ever made. It had me from the word pumpkin in the title, but sold me even more when I came to the words maple syrup in the recipe. All too often this time of year, I get lured to products that merely use pumpkin spice and not actual pumpkin, but this granola uses both with great success. The pumpkin flavor is definitely present, if subtle, its sweetness playing perfectly with that from the maple syrup. Sesame seeds, which I've only starting using them in my granolas recently, provide a contrasting richness and toastiness that complements the same elements from the pecans. Raisins deliver exactly what you expect, sweetness and chewiness, and complete the flavor profile. Sweet, toasty, crunchy, and delicious, I can't imagine a happier companion to my yogurt. Want a more delectable treat? This granola also makes a splendid couple with vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin Pecan Granola
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
makes about 3 cups

2 1/2 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup raw pecan pieces
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup crimson or golden raisins or dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree and whisk to combine. Add the oats, pecans, and sesame seeds and stir until evenly coated.

3. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet, keeping some of the cluster of oats and nuts intact so that the finished granola will have some chunks. Bake the granola, stirring every so often by scooping the  mixture from the edges of the pan toward the middle and spreading it evenly again, until dry and light brown in color, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the granola to cool a few minutes. Add the raisins and toss to mix. Add another pinch or two of salt if needed. Cool completely before storing. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Red Cabbage Stir-Fry with Coconut


Cabbage isn't something that I buy very often, but when it shows up in my CSA box, I'm more than happy to cook it and eat it. My first thoughts are usually of slaws and slow cooked dishes with sausage, but I'm always looking to try something something new and different.  Cabbage, particularly Napa, frequently makes its way into Asian dishes (or Americanized renditions of them) often, but this one is decidedly different than Moo Shu Pork or Chinese Chicken Salad. I've never thought of cabbage as part of Indian cuisine, but the suite of Indian flavors complement the cabbage wonderfully. The richness of the coconut tempers the spice of the chile, with the quintessentially Indian combination of mustard, cumin, curry leaves, turmeric, and garlic blooming into an irresistible aroma. Although it may sound a bit too out-of-the-ordinary on paper, this leap of faith will reward your taste buds handsomely and provide a bit burst of warmer climes in the depths of winter.

Red Cabbage Stir-Fry with Coconut
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 fresh curry leaves or 2 bay leaves
One 2-pound red cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped (8 cups)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt
3/4 cup water
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 serrano or jalapeno chile, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely shredded dried coconut (1 1/2 ounces)

1. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over moderate heat just until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and curry leaves and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cabbage and turmeric and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the water and cook until the water is evaporated and the cabbage is tender, 5 to 6 minutes longer. Discard the bay leaves, if using.

2. Meanwhile, in a mini food processor, add the garlic, chile, coconut and remaining 1/4 cup of water and pulse to a paste.

3. Scrape the paste into the skillet and toss to coat the red cabbage. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Season with salt and serve.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spicy Cauliflower and Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Coconut


The first time I cooked bok choy was two years ago, after picking up my first CSA share from Crossroads Community Farm (then Primrose Community Farm). I'm now in my third year as a member and still looking forward to that fresh and crunchy green. When I have it, I'll often use it in my ever-evolving fried rice recipe or simply stir-fry it in sesame oil and finish it with a bit of Sriracha, but I also love incorporating it into more elaborate recipes like this one. Though not through any particular effort on my part, coconut has been making into all manner of my recipes lately (including a coffee stout that is currently fermenting). The first non-baked-good recipe I can remember trying and loving is Baked Curried Rice with Apples and Coconut, but it was Crispy Kale-and-Tofu Salad with Coconut that really made me fall in love with coconut in savory dishes. Just a little bit of toasted coconut gives this dish a lot of richness, and it is nicely balanced by the freshness of the bok choy and herbs, spiciness of the chili sauce, and sweetness of the agave. Fish sauce sneaks in some umami without adding a fishy flavor and the shrimp/chicken/tofu turns this into a filling main that needs only a bed of rice or noodles to become a complete meal.

Spicy Cauliflower and Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Coconut

adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 2

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 large head cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 large head bok choy, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch strips (about 8 ounces)
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined or boneless, skinless chicken breast or tofu, cut into bite-size pieces
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek or other Asian chili sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves or cilantro, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons unsweetened flaked coconut, toasted
Rice or noodles, for serving (optional)

1. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower, and reduce heat to medium. Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add bok choy, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate, and loosely tent with foil.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, (or chicken or tofu) and cook until they begin to turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Flip shrimp and, using a wooden spoon, push them to one side, and add remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil to exposed area. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until very fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute.

3. Toss garlic with shrimp. Stir in sambal oelek, agave syrup, and fish sauce. Add vegetables, and cook until heated through, about 30 seconds. Add basil, and serve immediately over rice or noodles (if desired). Top with coconut flakes and more basil.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cranberries, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts


It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I began my Thanksgiving celebration a little early, cooking up a small traditional feast this past Sunday that was happily devoured while watching the Packers squeak by the Lions. While Thanksgiving leftovers might even be better than the  main event, whether eaten as is or repurposed into other meals, there's only so much heavy food my system can take before I just start to feel unbearably sluggish. When I know I've hit my indulgence limit, I turn to meals like this. If your Thanksgiving feast leaves you with any leftover roasted squash, it would be perfect here, but it's well worth the effort to roast cubes of squash specifically for this recipe. Sweet, caramelized butternut squash and tart cranberries are the very soul of fall harvest flavor, contrasting perfectly pungent blue cheese and rich, toasty walnuts. Although hearty and filling just as is, leftover Thanksgiving turkey would certainly be welcome, substituting for part or all of the butternut squash. Although I think of this as a light lunch, it is also beautiful and elegant enough to serve at a holiday celebration, particularly if you'll have vegetarian guests that can get short shrift as everyone admires the majesty of the turkey. No matter the occasion, this is a flavorful and beautiful dish full of the spirit of the season.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cranberries, Blue Cheese, and Walnuts
serves 1

4 ounces butternut squash, cut into small cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces baby spinach or other mixed greens, rinsed and dried
1/2 ounce thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
1 ounce crumbled blue cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast under cubes are tender and  nicely browned, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes. Let cool slightly, or to room temperature, if desired.

2. Spread greens evenly on a large plate and top with red onion, squash cubes, cranberries, walnuts, and blue cheese. Top with dressing of choice and enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Potato Poutine with Bacon and Caramelized Onions



Last weekend seemed a little incomplete without a Packer game and its requisite Packer snack. This Sunday I'll be watching the game with some family and a Thanksgiving spread I'm preparing, but if you're watching the game sans feast, I can think of nothing better to recommend that this over-the-top poutine. If I'm given the option between potatoes and sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes win out virtually every time. And although they're not the traditional choice for poutine, they bring all the crispiness of regular fries, but with an added sweetness and depth of flavor that plays perfectly off of the salty cheese curds and smoky bacon. If that isn't already enough, caramelized onions add an extra layer of flavor that infuses eat bite with pure savoriness. The crispy fry and bacon bookends perfectly contain the squeaky, spongy curds and tender caramelized onions for a delightful variety of textures in each bite. An unabashedly decadent dish, this is a soul-satisfying treat nobody can resist and the perfect companion to an afternoon of football.

Sweet Potato Poutine with Bacon and Caramelized Onions
gravy recipe adapted from The Food Network
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces frozen sweet potato fries
4 slices bacon (about 3 ounces)
1 small onion, sliced
4 ounces fresh cheese curds, at room temperature or slightly warm

1. Make the gravy: Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and beef stock, ketchup, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and make a roux, stirring until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk the stock mixture into the roux and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper and keep warm.

3. While the gravy is simmering bake the fries according to package directions. Shortly before the fries are ready to come out of the oven, strain the gravy.

4. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels, leaving 1 to 2 tablespoons bacon grease in the pan. Once bacon is cool, crumble into small pieces. Add onions to hot bacon grease and cook over medium-low heat until onions are soft and caramelized, about 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Split fries between two plates, topping each with half of the onions, cheese curds and bacon. Pour the hot gravy over the top and serve promptly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Indian-Spiced Cauliflower and Peas with Whole Wheat Pasta


Although it's a bit of fad, I really like Meatless Mondays. Like reusable bags and all manner of going green, this trend is one I hope to see continue. Chances are I've indulged a bit too much over the weekend and on Monday I need to get back to good habits with whole grains and plenty of vegetables. It's not to say that I don't enjoy dishes like that any other day of the week, but it is psychologically important to me to get the week off on the right foot. Chances also are that on Mondays I don't have a ton of motivation or time, and that's where easy, healthy pasta dishes become indispensable. This recipe became part of my menu during my last cauliflower kick before my CSA destined me to a winter of squash and root vegetables. I love all manner of ethnic food, but I find the spices used in Indian cooking particularly complementary to cauliflower, evidenced by the fact it shows up so often in that cuisine. Cauliflower isn't quite a blank canvas, but it does readily soak up all the fragrant spices that Indian cuisine has to offer. The heartiness of the cauliflower is balanced by fresh peas and acidic tomatoes, which blend nicely on a bed of nutty whole wheat pasta. Bursting with flavors of warmer climes, but satisfying enough for a cool fall day, this meal is an ideal transition between the seasons.

Indian-Spiced Cauliflower and Peas with Whole Wheat Pasta
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion, cut into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (one 16-ounce can)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen petit peas
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 pound small whole wheat pasta (penne, rotini, fusili, orecchiette, etc.)

1. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and coriander and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes longer.

2. Add the cauliflower to the onion mixture; stir to coat. Add the water, bring to a simmer, cover, and steam for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and salt. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the peas and cilantro and cook until the cauliflower is tender and the peas are hot, about 2 minutes longer.
3. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orecchiette until just done, about 15 minutes. Drain and toss with the sauce.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin Lasagna


Until recently, I didn't think of pumpkin as a likely companion for cheese, but I've come really to appreciate it's ability to pair wonderfully with all different types as of late. I know few people who can turn down a pumpkin bar with cream cheese frosting, and it really holds it's own against strong cheeses like chevre or Parmesan. In this lasagna it pairs up with a classic trio - ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan - blending seamlessly with all the richness and creaminess of those cheeses. Joining all the sweetness and richness are earthy shiitake mushrooms, which give the lasagna enough savoriness and heartiness to make the absence of meat a mere afterthought. Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and although this holiday lauds a perfectly roasted turkey, there's no reason that vegetarians shouldn't have a delicious main as well. Lasagna is an automatic crowd pleaser, and vegetarians and carnivores will happily dig into this classic with a harvest-y bent. Whether a vegetarian Thanksgiving centerpiece or simply a weeknight dinner, this meal speaks to the soul of the season.

Pumpkin Lasagna
adapted from Taste of Home
serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
Dash pepper
9 oven- ready whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. In a small skillet, saute the mushrooms, onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt in oil until tender; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, cream, sage, pepper and remaining salt.

2. Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce in an 11-in. x 7-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with three noodles (noodles will overlap slightly). Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin sauce to edges of noodles. Top with half of mushroom mixture, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles and sauce.

3. Cover and bake at 375° for 45 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas, and Raisins over Brown Rice


Today I will be picking up the first box of my winter CSA. While it will be overflowing with vegetables I love, sadly cauliflower will not be making an appearance. So before all my cauliflower cookery is just a distant memory, I've got a few fantastic cauliflower recipes to share. Chickpeas and raisins are common companions to cauliflower in Indian cooking, no it should be no surprise that they work so well together here. Garam masala, many of its iterations, has the perfect blend of smokiness, sweetness, and spice to harmoniously blend the flavors of the caramelized cauliflower, hearty chickpeas, sweet raisins, and nutty brown rice. Acidic accents of ginger, lemon, and cilantro brighten and lighten, creating the perfect blend of freshness and heartiness for a late fall meal. Full of Indian flavors, yet using the best of local produce, this is an expertly crafted mix of local ingredients and international flavor.

Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas, and Raisins over Brown Rice
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 pound cauliflower florets, each about 1 1/2 inches long, with one flat side
1 cup brown rice
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1/3 cup dark raisins
3/4 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
4 lemon wedges, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large, heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the canola oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Spread the florets, cut-side down, in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast until tender and well browned on the bottoms, 20 to 22 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to package directions or in a rice cooker. When done, set aside and keep warm.

3. Combine 1 tablespoon of the canola oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 2- or 2 1/2-quart nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garam masala, and a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened, and some onions are beginning to brown and crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes.

5. Add garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the raisins, chickpeas, and cooked rice, stirring until heated through. Remove from heat.

6. Add the cooked rice mixture and cauliflower to a large mixing bowl and stir well but gently. Add the lemon juice, cilantro, and almonds and stir again. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary. Serve right away, garnished with lemon wedges (if desired).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Baked Pumpkin Penne with Kale


Sick of pumpkin yet? I'm definitely not. And for all the other pumpkin devotees out there, I offer up another savory pumpkin pasta dish. In Whole Wheat Rotini with Pumpkin Alfredo and Walnuts, pumpkin pairs splendidly with nuts and Parmesan cheese, but this dish gets an extra boost from a bit more of each of those ingredients in the form of pesto. Just a scant couple of tablespoons adds a whole new dimension to the dish, the savoriness and herbaceousness of the pesto really making the sweet pumpkin flavor pop. When it comes to preparing kale, roasting is most certainly my go-to method, but blanching the kale in the pasta water enriches the flavor of both the pasta itself and the sauce, which uses reserved pasta cooking water, and hopefully recovers at least a bit of vitamins and minerals lost in the blanching process. Other hearty greens could be used in place of the kale, or even spinach, though the cooking time should be reduced for the more tender greens. Other winter squash puree could also be used in place of the pumpkin, with butternut being the most obvious substitution. A perfect balance of sweet and savory elements, this is dish is a more-than-fitting tribute to fall's favorite gourd.

Baked Pumpkin Penne with Kale
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 ounces whole wheat penne, cooked and drained
4 ounces kale (preferably lacinato), thick stems removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree, or homemade pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions in well-salted water, adding kale during the last 3-4 minutes of cooking time. Drain kale and pasta mixture, reserving at least 1 cup pasta cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin and pesto and season with salt and pepper.

3. Add warm pasta-kale mixture to the pumpkin-pesto mixture, tossing thoroughly and adding enough pasta cooking water so that the sauce thoroughly coats the pasta and there is enough sauce to cover all the noodles during baking. Transfer to a 9-by-9-inch baking dish and top with almonds and Parmesan. Bake until top is golden, about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oven-Roasted Quinoa with Spiced Apples, Carrots and Red Onions


Although I eat them all-year long, apples still seem really harvest-y to me. This summer's drought has really taken a toll on the Wisconsin apple crop, particularly here in Southern Wisconsin, so I'm really treasuring each one I get my hands on this year. I recently added Tasting Table to my food-related newsletters, and although they provide me with many opportunities for culinary creativity and inspiration each day, this one was simple and special enough for me to bookmark it and make it in short order. In my experience, roasting makes so many things better, from fruits and vegetables to grains and spices, all of which get that treatment in this recipe. Red onion, although mellowed and sweetened by the roasting process, retains enough of its sharpness to provide a nice contrast to the caramelized carrots and apples, with lemon and parsley adding acidity and freshness. Cardamom and coriander provide a nice balance of sweet and savory spices that become intensely aromatic during their time in the oven. This is the perfect dish to bring to any fall gathering, satisfying nearly any dietary restriction, be it gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan, without sacrificing anything in terms of flavor. Treat those apples right and give this recipe a try! With mere minutes of effort you'll have a beautiful fall dish everyone can enjoy.

Oven-Roasted Quinoa with Spiced Apples, Carrots and Red Onions
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
serves 4

½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 medium carrots--peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced on a bias into 1-inch pieces
1 medium apple--halved, cored and sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
Zest of ½ lemon plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a small bowl, stir together cardamom, coriander, pepper and ¾ teaspoon salt. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, add the carrots, apple, red onion and olive oil. Add the spice mixture and stir to combine.

2. In an 8- or 9-inch baking dish, add the rinsed quinoa and spread into an even layer. Place the quinoa and vegetables in the oven. Toast the quinoa until fragrant and golden, about 8 minutes, then pour 2 cups water over the quinoa and loosely cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. Cook the quinoa until it uncoils and looks fluffy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the quinoa from the oven, fluff with a fork, re-cover with foil and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, continue to roast the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to blacken around the edges and the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes total.

4. Transfer the quinoa to a serving dish. Stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, the lemon zest and lemon juice, then the parsley. Serve alongside the roasted vegetables.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Breakfast Poutine


I'm still on my poutine kick for Packer snacks. An over-the-top, decadent food that I'll eagerly try any time I see it on a menu, since I first made it myself at home I can't stop tinkering with the recipe. So far I've shared a classic poutine recipe and Reuben variation, but if you want to indulge in poutine for breakfast or brunch, this is really the recipe for you. We all know the cliche that bacon makes everything better, and quite often the same case can be made for a fried egg, its addition taking this poutine even further into the indulgent category. This is an unabashedly decadent meal - crisp and smoky bacon, salty and squeaky cheese curds, starchy and hearty potatoes, rich and runny egg, all happily co-mingling until a silky blanket of gravy. To complete your brunch or football-watching experience, pair this with a breakfast stout, hard cider, or other boozy brunch beverage your of choice (although I don't think mimosas quite work with this heavy-duty dish) and enjoy some quality time with friends or family. Go Pack Go!

Breakfast Poutine
gravy recipe adapted from The Food Network
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces frozen french fries
4 slices bacon (about 3 ounces)
2 large eggs
4 ounces fresh cheese curds, at room temperature or slightly warm

1. Make the gravy: Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and beef stock, ketchup, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and make a roux, stirring until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk the stock mixture into the roux and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper and keep warm.

3. While the gravy is simmering bake the fries according to package directions. Shortly before the fries are ready to come out of the oven, strain the gravy.

4. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels, leaving about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan. When cool, crumble into medium pieces.

5. Crack the eggs into the hot pan containing the bacon grease, frying until whites are set and yolk is warm, but runny, flipping halfway through, or to desired level of doneness.  (If you're unsure as to how to cook over-easy eggs, check out Alton Brown's expert instructions here).

6. Split french fries between two plates, topping each with half of the cheese curds and bacon, and one egg. Pour the hot gravy over the top and serve promptly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Smoky Charred Cauliflower and Potato Soup with Kale


Although today's 70-plus degree temperatures may make you think otherwise, we are fully entrenched in fall. Fall is my favorite season, in part because of the many cozy food traditions I eagerly anticipate and embrace every year. While I eat salads nearly constantly in the summer, I eat soups all fall. It could be because both of these dishes are ways to pack tons of veggies into your diet or that they easily embrace the season's best produce, but they are absolutely indispensable to my diet. Like so many recipes I find, I came across this while trying to figure out how best to utilize an overly enthusiastic farmers' market haul. I was hardly able to believe my luck when I found a recipe containing the three veggies I was trying to use up - potatoes, cauliflower, and kale - with the added bonus of using some of the can of chipotle chiles I opened for Smoky Chipotle Black Bean Chili. Chipotle chiles in adobo are another really high-mileage ingredient - just a couple chiles give the soup a nice smokiness with just a nice level of heat (disclaimer : if you like it spicy, you can definitely add more chipotles or adobo sauce, but proceed with caution). The pureed cauliflower mixture gives the soup silkiness, contrasted nicely by rustic, hearty chunks of potato and tender kale. This soup can be a meal in itself, but a side salad and nice chunk of bread with butter certainly would be welcome for those with heartier appetites.

Smoky Charred Cauliflower and Potato Soup with Kale
from Serious Eats
makes about 3 quarts, serving 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium onion, finely sliced (about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane grater
2 chipotle chiles packed in adobo sauce, chopped fine, with 1 tablespoon sauce from can
2 quarts water
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
1/2 pound kale leaves, thick stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally until well browned and lightly charred on all sides, about 10 minutes total, reducing heat as necessary if smoking cauliflower starts to burn or oil smokes too heavily.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and chipotles and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add half of water and bring to a boil. Simmer until cauliflower is completely tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Using a hand blender or standing blender, puree cauliflower/onion/chipotle mixture until smooth. Return to pot. Add remaining water, potatoes, kale, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until potato is easily smashed and incorporated into broth, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove bay leaves and mash potatoes with a large spoon or potato masher. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, drizzling with extra-virgin olive oil.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Whole Wheat Rotini with Pumpkin Alfredo and Walnuts



As I do every fall, I've been devouring every manner of pumpkin food I can get my hands on. It's been mostly sweet applications - muffins, scones, and the like - but pumpkin most certainly can be used beyond baked goods. Pumpkin has a perfect amount of sweetness for savory applications and pairs really well with assertively-flavored cheeses, like the Parmesan and goat cheese I used in this pasta recipe. The silky texture of pumpkin puree provides an excellent base for a sauce, providing full and rich flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients the accompany it. Nutty whole wheat pasta harmonizes perfectly with pumpkin, with a topping of rich and crunchy walnuts and sprinkling of fresh parsley rounding out the dish. If you're looking to move pumpkin into the savory realm, ease your way in with this simple and delicious meal. Full of flavor, but quick to prepare, it's the perfect salute to this glorious fall vegetable. And if you love it as much as I do, stay tuned - my next pumpkin pasta recipe is just waiting to be published.

Whole Wheat Rotini with Pumpkin Alfredo and Walnuts
adapted from Food Network
serves 4

Kosher salt
12 ounces whole wheat rotini, penne, or other pasta of choice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 chopped toasted walnuts, for topping
1 ounce fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Chopped fresh parsley, for topping

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta.

2. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until slightly soft, about 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in the milk and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to medium low; simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese and cook until thick, about 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss with the sauce, adding some of the reserved cooking water to loosen, if needed. Divide among bowls and top with walnuts, goat cheese, and parsley.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Caramelized Cauliflower with Bacon and Spinach


In my humble opinion, few vegetables take on caramelization as beautifully as cauliflower. I could eat Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower by the pound, and it was hard to tear myself away from one of my all-time favorite recipes to try something new with the many heads of cauliflower I've bought at the farmers' market this fall. Although it's become a cliche, bacon really does make things better. Vegetarians, vegans, and those adhering to a strict kosher diet aside, I don't know many people who don't love that smoky, salty, savory perfection. Bacon is a really high-mileage food - just a little bit gives a dish a lot of flavor and meatiness. I'm a meat lover, but not a huge meat consumer for environmental, moral, and health reasons, so when I do incorporate meat into my diet, I like to make the most out of my indulgence. The smoky bacon extravagance is balanced by fresh dill and spinach and bright lemon juice, creating a well-rounded dish that could almost be a meal in itself (and if you throw in a can of white beans or chickpeas, it most certainly can be). A balance of luxury and nutrition, this dish celebrates is a perfect way to celebrate one of the best vegetables fall has to offer.

Caramelized Cauliflower with Bacon and Spinach
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

2 ounces thick-cut bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small cauliflower (1 1/4 pounds), cored and cut into small florets
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped dill
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 ounces baby spinach

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until the fat has been rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

2. Stir in the cauliflower, onion, dill and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Cover, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the spinach, stirring constantly until the spinach is just beginning to wilt.

2. In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower mixture, toss and serve, garnished with the bacon bits.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reuben Poutine

Although I can't say I've been too pleased with some of Packer games so far, my snacks have been right on. I started off the season with Classic Poutine, and since then have come up with a few of my own variations, the first of which I'm sharing with you now. Adapting the Reuben to new dishes is kind of a theme with me (see Reuben Dip or Reuben Pizza), so it only seemed natural to make Reuben poutine. Classic poutine is a pure expression of savoriness, and while this poutine variation gains an extra salty, savory component (corned beef), the sour bite of the sauerkraut provides the perfect surprising contrast that allows each ingredient to pop. Although rye bread is swapped out for crispy fries and gravy replaces Thousand Island/Russian dressing, the spirit of the Reuben remains intact in this new spin on a classic. Perfectly paired with a porter or stout, this takes football snacking to a whole new level, satisfying even the heartiest of appetites.

Reuben Poutine
gravy adapted from The Food Network
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces frozen french fries
1/4 cup sauerkraut, drained and at room temperature or slightly warm
4 ounces shredded corned beef, at room temperature or slightly warm
4 ounces fresh cheese curds, at room temperature or slightly warm

1. Make the gravy: Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and beef stock, ketchup, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and make a roux, stirring until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk the stock mixture into the roux and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper and keep warm.

3. Meanwhile, bake the fries according to package directions. Shortly before the fries are ready to come out of the oven, strain the gravy.

4. Divide the fries evenly between two shallow dishes, layering half of the sauerkraut, corned beef, and cheese curds on top of each pile of fries. Pour half the hot gravy over each and serve warm.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Smoky Chipotle Black Bean Chili


Fall is chili weather. I've made traditional Better Homes and Gardens chili more times than I can count, each time bringing up fond memories of cooking up a batch in a big cast iron pot with my dad as a kid. Much like getting the wishbone is good luck with the Thanksgiving turkey, in my kid brain getting the bay leaf in your bowl of chili was good luck (so as long as you didn't find it by taking a big bite). Although I hope to develop my own signature, but still largely traditional, chili recipe at some point in my life, my recent experimentation in that department has been largely with bean-based chilies. Some may argue that they're not chili at all, but I find bowls of Pinto Bean and Sweet Potato Chili or Quick Three Bean Chili just as hearty and satisfying as any with beef. But of all the bean chilies I've had and made, this has to be my favorite. As in all Susie Middleton recipes, she builds a complex palate with a deft use of spices, each taste keeping you guessing about what you're enjoying in each bite. This chili has a complex heat from ancho and chipotle chilies with a layered smoky flavor, joined a by melange of sweet and savory spices that coexist in perfect harmony. Red wine allows the spices to bloom and intense tomato paste creates savoriness and umami without meat for a balanced and satisfying dish. Hearty, healthy, and packed with flavor this is the perfect way to fortify yourself for the winter to come.

Smoky Chipotle Black Bean Chili
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 6

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon ground (dried) chipotle chili
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Kosher salt
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems and leaves, plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus additional for garnish
2 teaspoons finely chopped canned chipotle in adobo, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the can
1 1/2 cups (one 14.5-ounce can) fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or two medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed
Three 15.5-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
Brown rice, for serving
Salsa, for serving (optional)
Sour cream, goat cheese, or queso fresco, for serving (optional)
Toasted pepitas, for serving (optional)
6 lime wedges (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine the ground ancho chile, coriander, cumin, oregano, paprika, brown sugar, cocoa, ground chipotle, cinnamon, cloves, and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

2. In a liquid measure, whisk together the red wine, tomato paste, finely chopped cilantro stems and leaves, the chopped chipotle, and the adobo. Set aside.

3. In another liquid measure or bowl, combine the crushed tomatoes with 3 cups water and stir well.

4. In a large Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, bell pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until the onion is lightly browned, another 7 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and jalapeno, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 1 minutes.

5. Add the dried spice mixture and cook, stirring and scraping until well incorporated, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste mixture and cook, stirring and scraping it against the sides of the pan, for 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Add the crushed tomato mixture and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until well combined. Bring the mixture to a gently simmer, and cook, loosely covered, stirring occasionally and continuing to scrape the bottom of the pan, for 20 minutes. Keep and eye on the heat and reduce it, if necessary, to maintain a gently simmer.

7. Uncover the pot and add the drained beans. Raise the heat to medium-high and return the chili to a simmer and then reduce the heat to medium-low and maintain a gentle simmer. Stir thoroughly and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

8.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro. The chili will stay warm, covered, off the heat for half an house.

9. To serve, spoon 1 cup rice into each of six deep bowl and ladle about 1 cup chili over the rice. Top with your choice of salsa, sour cream, cilantro, pepitas, and lime wedges.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Broccoli, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Salad


I really stepped it up with my lunch salad this weekend. Typically, at least one meal on both Saturday and Sunday is a main course salad for me, consisting of fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and cheese. I mix it up a lot, depending on what I happen to have around and strikes my fancy, and I never tire of it. This weekend I happen to have some leftover roasted broccoli, which conjured up memories of one of my signature dishes as a child, Broccoli Bacon Salad. I was no kid gourmand, but I could always be counted on to make Broccoli Bacon Salad or Parmesan Potato Pie for a holiday or family gathering. The broccoli in that dish was not roasted, but it started me thinking about how much I love the combination of broccoli, raisins, sunflower seeds, and bacon in that salad. With that recipe safely hidden away in a cookbook at my parents' house, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to adapt those ingredients to a main course salad. And sure enough, that combination still makes my taste buds dance with delight, even better dressed up with a bit of red onion and blue cheese. There's no doubt that there's a lot going on in this salad-smokiness from the roasted broccoli and bacon, sweetness from the raisins, saltiness from the bacon and sunflower seeds, sharpness from the red onion, and a pungent punch from the blue cheese-but it all manages to blend together in perfect harmony. No lightweight in heartiness or flavor, this salad is perfect fuel for raking the yard, picking apples, carving pumpkins, or any other favorite fall pastime.

Broccoli, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Salad
serves 1

2 ounces mixed greens, rinsed and dried
4 ounces broccoli, roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper until browned and tender
2 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1/2 ounce thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 ounce blue cheese, crumbled
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Spread mixed greens evenly on a large plate, distributing remaining ingredients evenly over the top. Dress with salad dressing of choice, and enjoy!



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roasted Pepper Salad


Like zucchini just a short time ago, bell peppers are everywhere at the farmers' market and at rock-bottom prices to boot. While I really like bell peppers, I usually think of them as accoutrements to dishes instead of the star. I'll heap roasted peppers on sandwiches, pizzas, or quesadillas and stuff frittatas and omelets to capacity, but I'm ashamed that I've never made a dish that really focused on the peppers before. One could argue that stuffed peppers, which I've made countless times, are pepper-centric, but really, it's all about the stuffing. I've always preferred my peppers roasted and that task has become much simpler and quicker now that I have gas stove, making roasted pepper salad an obvious way to use up my pepper surplus. Roasting the peppers intensify their sweetness, that simple flavor played up beautifully by a balanced dressing and fresh herbs here. I was surprised by how much I liked this simple salad, which turned out to be much more than just a decent way to use up some peppers lingering in the fridge, and provides an excellent template for further experimentation with other vinegars and herbs. The perfect contrast between the fresh flavors of summer and roasted heartiness of fall, try this if you're at a loss as to what to do with your early fall pepper surplus.

Roasted Pepper Salad 
from Gourmet, via Epicurious
serves 4 to 6

2 lb mixed bell peppers, tender-roasted and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch- wide strips
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons capers in brine, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. Toss together all ingredients and let stand, covered, 1 hour for flavors to develop.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Southwestern Spiced Butternut Squash and Apple Soup


I'm usually sick of butternut squash by the time my winter CSA share is over, but I'm nevertheless excited each year when it first shows up at the farmers' market. Although pumpkin is the king of squashes in my book, butternut and acorn aren't that far behind in the rank, making for marvelous companions for sweet and savory accents alike. In this soup, butternut squash combines its sweetness with both more from the Golden Delicious and savory onions and garlic, all cut with a bright punch of acidity. Even with no fat involved, butternut squash makes a supremely silky soup, but the extra richness from a modest amount of olive oil, butter, and Greek yogurt pushes this soup from just good to slightly decadent. The sophisticated blend of spices sing against this lush backdrop, a beautiful melange of smoky, sweet, and spicy with a positively  intoxicating aroma. Recipes like this highlight the quintessential flavors of fall, light enough for the not-yet-freezing temperatures, but hearty enough to satisfy the stomach and soul as the cold winter temperatures begin their slow creep in.

Southwestern Spiced Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups medium-diced onion from about 2 medium onions
1 1/2 pounds peeled butternut squash from about 1 medium squash, but into medium (3/4-inch) piecces
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Golden Delicious apple (about 7 ounces), peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups), or other apple of choice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pecans or pepitas for garnish (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, ground ancho chile, cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside. In a small liquid measure, combine the apple cider and soy sauce. Set aside.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat he olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir well. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and beginning to turn brown, about 8 minutes. Add the butternut squash and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook until the squash and softened (it won't be completely tender) and has taken on some browning and the onions are lightly browned (the bottom of the pan will be brown), stirring occasionally at first, as the squash steams, and more frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan, as it begins to brown, 12 to 4 minutes more.

3. Uncover the pot, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spice mixture and stir well. Add the cider-soy sauce mixture and stir well, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.  Add the apple and 5 cups water, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring and scraping the sides occasionally, for 15 minutes to blend the flavors and finish cooking the apple. Let the soup cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. In a blender, puree the soup in three batches, filling the jar only about halfway or just a little more and partially covering the lid with a folded dish towel (leaving a vent uncovered to let out steam) to prevent hot soup from splashing you. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three batches. (Alternatively, blend the soup with an immersion blender). Whisk in the yogurt, cilantro, lime zest, and 1/2 teaspoon of the lime juice. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Return the soup to the (rinsed) pot and gently reheat. Taste again and season with more salt or more lime juice (if desired).

5. Serve hot, garnished with toasted pecans (if using).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Warm Barley with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries


Even though temps made it into the mid-70s yesterday, it is most definitely fall here in Wisconsin. The leaves are changing, orchards are bursting with apples to pick, and the threat of a hard freeze has made it necessary to cover my herbs and vegetables at night. I'm going to be sad when the icy hand of Jack Frost kills my modest garden, but I can take solace in the staple crops of fall, like Brussels sprouts. These bitty cabbages turn into delicious cruciferous candy when roasted, expertly paired with sweet-tart cranberries and rich walnuts in the main course grain salad. A perfectly balanced sauce of butter, balsamic, maple syrup, and citrus blends everything together, highlighting the nuances of each ingredient without overwhelming the dish. In my mind barley is fall and winter grain, but this could also be made with wheat berries (Middleton's original pick), quinoa, or even brown rice. Whole grains will work best here (i.e. no white rice), the nuttiness and chewiness a wonderful contrast for all the other components. The grain mostly serves as a canvas for other flavors, but each choice brings it's own subtle flavor, so pick whatever flavor and texture pleases you most. A warm and hearty bowl of fall, this vegetarian main is an exceptional way to celebrate the season.

Warm Barley with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries
adapted from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 cup pearled barley
Kosher salt
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrups
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Prepare barley according to package directions, set aside, and keep warm.

2. While the barley is cooking, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Arrange the sprouts in a single layer in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish (they will be snug). Roast until brown and tender, stirring once, if you like, 18 to 22 minutes. If the sprouts finish ahead of the wheat berries, keep them in the pan, loosely covered with aluminum foil.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, vinegar, maple syrups, and lemon zest and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, just for about 15 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, whisking after each addition until the butter is melted and creamy. (Don't reheat the mixture, or the butter will break and the sauce will not be creamy.) In a large mixing bowl, combine the wheat berries, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt; and pour the sauce over them. Stir gently but thoroughly. Add half the walnuts and half the parsley and stir well again.

4. Serve warm, garnished with the remaining walnuts and parsley.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creamy Double-Mushroom Soup


It is now really, truly, unequivocally fall. My mental switch came with the conclusion of Labor Day weekend, but crossing the autumnal equinox gives me full license to dive into all things fall. Since Labor Day I've enjoyed a pumpkin cream cheese muffin, pumpkin scone, pumpkin custard, went to a sampling of Oktoberfest beers, and made and bottled Apple Crisp Ale, so I'm clearly ready to embrace all the wonderful flavors fall has to offer. Aside from pumpkin and apple-related products, I love spending fall and winter diving into big bowls of warm soups and stews, so I thought I'd share my first new soup of the fall season, Creamy Double-Mushroom. I'll readily admit this soup isn't much to look at, but it's imbued with tremendous savoriness and earthy flavor that makes it less-than-stunning appearance just an afterthought. It's thick and rich enough to be a light meal with a side salad and piece of crusty bread, but makes for a hearty fall supper when accompanied by a grilled cheese or panini. Part of my motivation to make soups is the allowance it gives me to make fancy grilled cheese to accompany them and. This soup was no exception, a perfect earthy complement to the sweet apples, sharp Dijon mustard, and nutty Swiss that composed my grilled cheese. If you're ready to jump in an embrace fall, try starting with this comforting soup - it'll make you only too happy to start to snuggle up for the fall and winter to come.

Creamy Double-Mushroom Soup
adpated from The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 teaspoon
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds cremini or baby bella mushrooms (not stemmed), 4 small mushrooms reserved for garnish and the remainder cut into thick slices
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus an extra pinch
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Fresh parsley or chive leaves (optional)
Crostini for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the porcini mushrooms, remove the pan from heat, and let soak for 30 minutes. Line a mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and put it over a bowl. Strain the porcini, squeezing the porcini in the cheesecloth to wring out as much liquid as possible; reserve the liquid. Discard the cheesecloth and finely chopped the porcini. Measure the liquid in the bowl and add as much water as necessary to make 2 cups. Add 4 cups water for a total of 6 cups liquid.

2. In a large Dutch oven or other wide 6-quart soup pot, heat the 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the thickly sliced cremini mushrooms and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cremini have released some liquid and the liquid is simmering, 6 to 8 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook (more liquid will be released), stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated and the pan is dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the tablespoon of the olive oil to the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until most of the mushrooms have darkened and shrunk and many of them are turning an orangey brown on one side, another 7 to 9 minutes. (Don't allow the bottom of the pan to blacken).

3. Add the garlic, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 1/2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the dry sherry and cook until it is almost completely reduced (this will happen quickly). Add the finely chopped porcini and the mushroom-soaking liquid, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the soup cook for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cut the reserved cremini mushrooms into thin sliced. In a small (8-inch) nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon butter with the remaining 1 teaspoons olive over over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and the pinch of rosemary and cook, turning with tongs when necessary, until the slices are nicely browned on both sides (they will have shrunk), 4 to 5 minutes.

5. In a blender, puree the soup in three batches, filling the jar only about halfway and taking care to distribute the solids and liquids evenly. Partially cover the lid with a folded dish towel (leaving a vent uncovered to let out steam) to prevent hot soup from splashing you. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three batches and then return the soup to the (rinsed) pot. Add the sherry vinegar and cream and whisk until well blended. Taste the soup and season with more salt and pepper (if desired). (It's best to taste the soup for seasoning when it's hot, as the flavors will more pronounced. So if you're serving it right away, go ahead and reheat it gently on the stove before doing a final seasoning. If you're not serving right away, microwave a small portion for just a few seconds to test the seasoning).

6. Divide the soup evenly amount four shallow bowls. Garnish each with a few sauteed cremini slices and a fresh parsley or chive leave or two for color (if using) and serve with crostini on the side (if desired).