From Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California (Amazon link), I made this butternut squash soup tonight. Its been snowing and blowing all day, so this seemed like a great choice for such a gloomy, read a good book in bed all day, kind of day. Unfortunately, I did have to venture out to buy the sage but Horrocks is quite close and the snow was keeping the usual Sunday crowd away.
I received this cookbook as my prize for winning the Cookbooker challenge by reviewing recipes from a featured cookbook. This is the first thing I’ve made from it. I’m intrigued by some other dishes, especially the lobster risotto (because really, who wouldn’t want that!?!). I doubt I would have bought this book of my own volition simply because I tend to avoid the Food TV cookbooks even though I do like Giada’s show.
There are some recipes which definitely are more suited to spring but a soup like this is perfect for mid-December. I have been eager to make a pureed soup since ordering an immersion blender (thank you Kohl’s Cash!) a few weeks ago. An immersion blender has been on my ‘wish list’ for-EVER and I discovered that Kohl’s carries a recommended one with a more powerful motor than the cheapie available elsewhere.
This one is from Wolfgang Puck and came with a number of accessories I don’t really need but for the price (with the coupon) it didn’t really matter. I did notice that the casing on the motor section gets hot so as I use it, I’ll need to be mindful of that.
The soup is easy enough: onion, carrot and garlic sauteed in butter/olive oil then diced butternut squash added along with several cups of broth. Bring to a boil, add sage then cook 20 minutes or until veggies are soft enough to blend. We liked it though I did have to adjust the salt for more flavor boost- I didn’t use low-sodium broth so this surprised me but it wasn’t enough to make me worry about sodium. I do think I might make this in the future with oven-roasted squash. A little (or a lot) caramelization never hurts.
The recipe called for fontina cheese melted on baguette which I didn’t have and didn’t see at Horrocks so I just picked something that would melt and sounded good. In this case, it was Beeemster XO Gouda. The XO stands for extra old or aged. It is a harder cheese and nuttier than regular gouda but not smoked, as you can sometimes find gouda. Good on the bread, and yummy straight up too.
Between the fun of immersion blending and the cool new soup mugs I won at the charity auction (through work) last week, I see plenty more soups in my future.
About a month ago, I started to review a cookbook for Cookbooker, a website for reviewing cookbooks and recipes from those cookbooks. There was a challenge involving a cookbook meant to provide lots of flavorful dishes with minimal time and labor. I didn’t own the cookbook but started with the freebie recipes. Thanks to my mom, I learned the website was giving away a copy of the cookbook, High Flavor, Low Labor, on their site blog. And I won!
Once it arrived, I made an effort to try an assortment of recipes from the sections: appetizers, main dishes, soups, sandwiches, sides and pasta dishes before the challenge was over. There are still five days left in the challenge and I”ll get through two or three more recipes but I don’t need to wait to call this cookbook a five spice hit. We’ve only had one thing not be a complete success and it was probably not the recipe’s fault.
Tonight, I made steak, marinated in garlic, lime, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar (seasoned for sushi). The steak is topped with an avocado and cilantro salsa which was tossed in some of the reserved marinade. To accompany this, we had mashed potatoes seasoned with dill and horseradish. Bonus for the Spartan-themed dish.
All week, we’ve been snacking on the tomato-bacon jam, either with cream cheese on a bagel or with goat cheese on sliced and toasted baguettes. I’ve also made the sloppy joes (subbing ground turkey for beef)
Other items made so far include chimichurri chicken with asparagus and roasted potatoes, pesto chicken and the previously reviewed steak and linguine. Before the challenge is over, I’m hoping to make the turkey & gouda pizza, a truffle oil extravaganza and something for Thanksgiving dinner but this book will see regular rotation as we work through all the recipes tagged with ‘try’, which just happens to be more than two-thirds of them!
While I can’t say this recipe is all super-healthy, its not horrible, nutritionally speaking. Well, except for those potatoes with the cream, butter and cream cheese. Importantly, the recipes live up to the goal of the book: lots of flavor, pretty easy to put together. I also like that many recipes have overlapping ingredients. We use a lot of balsamic vinegar so that is always on hand but when I buy a tub of goat cheese, its nice to know that I’ll be able to use it up in a week’s time by making at least two different, unique dinners.
The same author has written a vegetarian cookbook with the same focus on flavor first: Venturesome Vegetarian (amazon link) which I can’t speak for but is available used for $2.50! Kind of hard to go wrong in that case.
My e-mail inbox is out of control. I’m using the new Priority Inbox at Gmail but it is still stuffed full of old newsletters, mailing list digests and of course the non-spam spam (that would be the ‘today only!! Sale!!!’ announcements from any website you have ever purchased from*). I have been ruthless in my deletion of messages I know I won’t ever read. I’m also unsubscribing to a number of regular senders which often results in unsubscribe-confirmation emails. Aagh!
In my purging, I started to delete the email from Cookbooker, a website for posting cookbook recipe reviews. I signed up there at some point but never actually used the site. At the time, my focus was primarily ad-hoc cooking or using web-based recipes. Now I have about one-third of my cookbooks out of boxes, on a shelf, ready to be used and reviewed. But rather than start using those books and their recipes, I decided to take the Fall challenge by writing reviews for the recipes in the spotlight book, High Flavor, Low Labor. I don’t own this book but fortunately, the website provides you with three sample recipes to get you started. All three sounded pretty good to me and since Chris had been out of town for a week and would be leaving again in a week for another five days, I didn’t want to buy a fridge full of food that wouldn’t get eaten.
I decided to start with the sirloin and pasta because I either had a number of the ingredients on hand or knew that if I opened a jar of, for example, sun-dried tomatoes but didn’t use it all, I would be able to find another purpose easily enough.
The sample recipe, Chili Balsamic Marinated Sirloin with Fettucine & Sun-dried Tomatoes is the third one provided, when you follow the link. I think you could figure that out, though. Note, firstly, that my blog post title is linguine, not fettucine. For reasons I can’t explain, the only brand of fettucine at the most convenient grocery store (a Kroger) is the cheapest name brand. I did not want. They also had the fresh, refrigerated stuff but I didn’t need that much. Also, I think I like the smaller size of linguine better. I bought a whole-wheat version and was quite happy with the outcome.
I am not, historically, a buyer of steak so finding the right cut and the right size proved more work than I initially anticipated. I believe that my final choice was pretty close to the the recipe’s intentions although I couldn’t tell you what is was called, sirloin something**. I didn’t slice it in to strips before marinating/cooking because I was being lazy. And the trip to the store to buy the ingredients cut in to my time for cooking them (primarily because sun-dried tomatoes are in two places and I had to walk around a lot to find the right ones). But mostly because I am lazy.
Other than halving the amount of meat and reducing the amount of pasta for serving two instead of four, I followed the ingredient proportions. Next time, I will either not be lazy and slice the meat so it can absorb more marinade or add more shiracha since I thought it needed heat. I also added a bit of the marinade to the tomatoes and peppers which was not called for but I liked it. For food safety reasons, you will need to cook this a bit more than “warm through”.
The seasoning profile for this came out very well. Again, I would have liked a little more heat but you could definitely tell the shiracha was there. I salted the pasta water exactly right, apparently, because the linguine had a nice nutty wheat flavor but didn’t taste like salt. We both liked this and it really did only take 30 minutes.
*On the drive home from a party Saturday night, we discussed diagramming sentences (honestly, no alcohol involved). I very distinctly remember not learning how to do this in junior high. I think my English teacher spent one day on the uselessness of the exercise and on we moved. Fast forward to AP English in my senior year of high school where the formidable Ms. Moore was crusading against all sorts of grammar violations including writing ‘alot’ instead of ‘a lot’, avoiding redundancy, again and not ending a sentence with a preposition. This last one is a struggle for me as I balance using academic language and structure with not sounding like a stilted buffon. I was trying to explain the problem to Chris by example except I couldn’t think of a single suitable sentence! Since he reads this blog, the sentence up there with the asterisk is just for him as is the reworded example to be ‘correct’ located in this paragraph. (Note: I was pleased to see that Grammar Girl says this ‘rule’ is really a myth and I shouldn’t worry so much about it).
**I could have bought pre-sliced sirloin, apparently for stir-fry recipes except the premium on the per pound price was too high and the packages were only one serving each.
My review at Cookbooker is here. I have also made the pesto chicken dish and plan to make the tomato-bacon jam tonight. If this third recipe is a success, I’ll probably buy the book even though I don’t really need another cookbook. I should probably get rid of some that I don’t use now but its a hard thing, much easier to say than do.
I started out with the intention of making something Asian-y for dinner- a Chinese stir-fry type of thing. This is because the chicken we had was pre-cut in to strips, ideal for a quick cook. Looking around the house, I realized that a. I need garlic and b. this cilantro we planted is getting out of control. And c. warming up naan is way quicker than making rice.
So I detoured south and went for Indian cuisine. Using the cookbook, 5 spices 50 dishes, a gift for Chris*, I decided to make the chicken curry because I had all the correct spices. The other reason I was drifting from more Chinese-Asian was a lack of ginger- a key ingredient in most Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese dishes.
I did have to make a couple of changes based on what I had and a desire to add more veggies.
What I used- (followed by as in the book where necessary)
1 onion, 1/2 finely chopped, 1/2 sliced thin (2 onions, finely chopped)
14 oz can crushed tomatoes, no salt added (3 fresh tomatoes, chopped = 2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly (not in book version)
1 package chicken breasts, strips style (3 lbs chicken parts, bone-in)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, finely ground
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup chicken broth (1 cup water)
1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
What I did
Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook onions until they begin to brown (or completely brown if time permits).
Combine cayenne, turmeric and cumin with 1 tablespoon of water to create a paste. Stir paste in to onions, mix to combine and cook 3-5 minutes. Add tomato and stir constantly so mixture doesn’t scorch.
Add chicken and bell pepper; mix to combine. Cook about 10 minutes then add water plus salt. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a high simmer. Cook uncovered until chicken is completely cooked through, up to 30 minutes (boneless chicken strips only took about 15 minutes). Add vinegar and sugar, adjust seasonings.
Served with garlic naan and plenty o’ cilantro.
This was good, spicy with just a little sour from the vinegar. However, it was not thick so perhaps not suited to naan dipping. I didn’t have anything handy to thicken it up (i.e. sour cream or cream or yogurt) so we made do. I still like chicken tikka masala better but with no marinating, this was way quicker.
*So, this was meant to be a gift for Chris so he could make some Indian food. How many dishes has he made so far?
EDIT: add bell pepper with chicken or partly through onion sauteing, whatever floats your boat.
A little spicy, a lotta peppery, Arugula, also know as Rocket is a good source of potassium and Vitamin C. Its also Chris & I’s new favorite vegetable.
Or, it might be our new favorite vegetable. Following Chris’s first experience with it in early-May, we bought 4 plants for our container farm. And this stuff grows fast, especially in the cool spring temps we’ve been experiencing. We pulled a few leaves off one night as a base for some grilled chicken. Last night, I made a salad of fresh arugula topped with sauteed mushrooms, garlic and cherry tomatoes. We ate that with leftover grilled pork loin marinated in Dale’s Seasoning (reduced sodium please!). I mixed together a quick dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh thyme (also from the farm). The balsamic vinegar is from Italy via Cherry Creek Winery, aged 18 years.
I’ve had arugula before, most often part of a salad mix. In early May we ate dinner at Evan Street Station in Tecumseh, MI. I had a mixed green salad and shared it with Chris, pulling each green out so he could sample the different flavors. The salad included arugula, frisee, dandelion, mache and other lettuces.
Its now early June and our arugula is going crazy. We’ve been eating it a lot and still can’t keep up. Earlier this week, I used a Rachael Ray recipe (from 365- No Repeats) that included a rice pilaf with arugula and basil mixed in. Rather than a generic rice pilaf, I used Seven Grain Pilaf from Seeds of Change. Like much of our cooking lately, the recipe also used the fancy balsamic vinegar.
I’m looking forward to a sweet potato-arugula salad I found in a British cookbook in the Barnes and Noble discount bin. That recipe along with a roasted red pepper appetizer is what made me buy the cookbook to begin with. And I’m hoping our arugula keeps growing, without bolting, until our tomatoes are ready. Just imagine an arugula, farm-fresh tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar and good quality fruity olive oil.