Soupalicious

So yesterday may have been warm enough for me to go gallivanting about my neighborhood in running shorts for over an hour, but the evening still had a lingering bite to it and left me wanting a hot shower and a good bowl of soup. But who wants stew in March, or something heavy after exercising? Thankfully, there are out there transitional soups that are light and healthy while having still a buttery richness to them, and they of course are easy. If soups like this are your thing, investing in an immersion blender might be a good idea.

Winter Vegetable Soup

This recipe is pulled from one of my favorite recipe sites ever: www.cookstr.com.The thing I like about it is that with some good scrubbing of the veggies, no peeling is necessary and it is easy to double or triple the recipe.  Except for the potatoes, which will quickly brown, all of this can easily be cut up a few days in advance. If a leek (essentially a large green onion) is too fancy for you, regular yellow onions would be fine too. Also experiment by throwing in other root vegetables like rhutabaga, yams or turnips.

Ingredients

  • 4 small red-skinned new potatoes
  • 4 large carrots (i.e not baby carrots)
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2½ cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Slice the potatoes, carrots, sweet potato, and leek crosswise into rounds about 1/8 in (2–3cm) thick. The potatoes can be peeled or unpeeled. Rinse the leeks well.

2. Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3–4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add the potatoes, carrots, and sweet potato, and stir for 1 minute.

3. Pour in the stock, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart.

4. Transfer about one-third of the vegetables to a blender or food processor with the cooking liquid. Purèe then return to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Notes

Prepare ahead: The soup can be made 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated, or frozen for up to three months

Curried Carrot Soup

It really doesn’t get any more simple than this.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 pounds carrots, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water, or as needed

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute onion until tender and translucent. Stir in the curry powder. Add the chopped carrots, and stir until the carrots are coated. Pour in the vegetable broth, and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. Transfer the carrots and broth to a blender, and puree until smooth. Pour back into the pot, and thin with water to your preferred consistency.

Pesto….Presto!

Quote

Don’t be misled. This isn’t how to make pesto quickly (here’s a recipe for that ). Rather this is how to make a couple delicious and fast meals using pesto, which, when added to something, has the magical ability to turn ordinary food into the best thing ever. Since oil is a natural preservative, the shelf life of pesto is quite long. So these are things you can pull out when you’re in a time pinch over and over.

To the unaware: Pesto is a super nummy, crushed mixture of pine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil and sometimes cheese. The brainchild of the Genoese in Italy.

Italian Grilled Cheese
This may or may not be truly Italian but with all the red, green and white colors stacked together– you are pretty much taking a bite out of their flag (I mean that respectfully). Feel free though to experiment with whatever cheese you have on hand, or use a few kinds in one sandwich. White cheese does have a lower fat content so it won’t get as melty or sticky as say, cheddar, but it is healthier. If you’re like me and refrigerate your butter i.e. doesn’t spread easy on bread, quickly run the stick over the hot pan and throw the slice of bread in. It’ll work just as well as if you had buttered the bread directly. You may need to re-butter the pan when you go to flip the sandwich.

2 slices of bread, buttered on one side
1-2 slices of tomato
2 slices of white cheese (muenster, Swiss, mozzarella, etc)
1 T of pesto

Heat a frying pan over medium heat on stove. Spread pesto on the non-buttered side of a slice of bread.  Put slice of bread in pan, buttered-side down. Then lay down a slice of cheese, tomato, 2nd slice of cheese and 2nd slice of bread (butter side up) on top. Cover. Cook on one side until bread is nicely browned, flip sandwich. Cook until cheese is melted through and serve.

Pesto Pasta
This is so easy and delicious that I have to give credit to my girl Lauren for serving this to me once and enabling me to share it with you. If you are making this in a one-two punch some week, try dicing up some of the left over tomato from your grilled cheese and throw it in this.

1 package of tortellini noodles
5 tbls pesto, roughly
shredded Gruyere, Parmesan or Romano cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles and place in large bowl. Spread pesto over noodles until evenly covered. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve.

Chili Cheese Dip [and a Song]

[Scroll to bottom for a great song]

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s the perfect, super easy appetizer to bring to game day celebrations. However, please don’t confuse it with the title of yesterday’s post, Chilly and Cheese Balls. Similar words, but very different meanings.  It is important to note that I stole this image from Meijer.com (which is essentially like a Sam’s Club) and they list the product as currently out of stock.  Seriously? Why of course, everyone has bought it up to make this delicious recipe. So it’s a total no brainer: Be cool and do what everyone else is doing!

I am proud to say this recipe was concocted by my father who first showed me how rewarding creativity in the kitchen can be (Thank you for that collective “Ahhhh.” It is rather sweet).  I’ve yet to find someone who didn’t absolutely love this dip.

Glen’s Cheese Dip

This makes a fair amount of dip, but will likely go fast. Think way ahead, double the recipe and freeze half of it for future parties. Heats up quickly. Also, while I really like my meat, you could leave that out to make this even faster; it’ll still be satisfying without the beef.

1 can Hormel Chili (no beans)

1 can refried breans with jalepenos

1 can nacho cheese soup

8 oz.  shredded cheddar cheese

1/2c. salsa

Small can, diced black olives

1/2 lb cooked ground beef (optional)

CHIPS!

1.  Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Bring mixture to a boil, over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Serve immediately. Be very happy.

Here’s a great song from Local Natives to listen to while you strenuously pop open those cans and dump. Skip to 1:33 to get groovin’.


Chilly and Cheese Balls

There is nothing like music to make you forget about the cold (okay that and a hot shower). It is about 42 degrees outside currently and I don’t think the heat is on in my place.  But as a backdrop to writing this post I started listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  I got so sucked into their performance on NPR that I forgot I was cold. It could be too that hippies are always associated with warm weather, smoke of some kind or another, and are probably very nice, welcoming people—so how can they not make you forget about the frigidity surrounding you.

There is also nothing like a party to make the short winter days more survivable. However, as we grow older, and supposedly more responsible, bringing a bag of chips or a 6 pack of beer (unless requested of course) isn’t really kosher.  The alternative: cheese balls (think more molded soft cheese, less fluorescent orange spheres). They are rather quick to whip up, handle more interesting flavors well, and, if you‘re the creative type, are fun to play around with in terms of food presentation.

You can find tons of variations online, but here’s two I really liked.

Note: If these are too smancy for you, stayed tuned. Homemade cheese dip, perfect for game day is up next.

Chocolate Chip Mint Cheese Ball  

Don’t try to make this with cream cheese just taken out of the fridge. It will be hard to break up and mix in the other ingredients; warmer is better. I like to roll this in cocoa powder, but you can also roll it in finely chopped pecans if you prefer. Serve with graham crackers.

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint (or to taste)
  • Cocoa powder
  1. In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips and mint. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  2. Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  3. Roll the cheese ball in cocoa powder before serving.

Pineapple Onion Cheese Ball

 Make sure your pineapple is well drained, otherwise it will make the ball mixture soggy and cause it to not stick together well. You can roll this one in chopped walnuts, otherwise for a more surprising blend I like to roll it in kosher salt mixed with raw sugar; I’ve also done all three.

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ c. red bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ c. can pineapple, well drained
  • ¼ c. green onion chopped
  • Chopped walnuts, kosher salt, raw sugar
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together well cream cheese with next three ingredients. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  2. Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  1. Roll in the walnut, sugar and salt mixture

Reality and Marinara Sauce, from Scratch

Okay. I should clarify that I don’t expect you to whip up some intensely awesome meal every night of the week. Let’s just balance it out so it is sometimes instead of, well, never. For instance, tonight I went for a long run, and upon arriving home, got distracted by my roommate and some makeshift Phantom of the Opera karaoke (it was pretty epic).  So by 8pm I wasn’t in the mood to be all chef-like. Let the mega grazing on chips and salsa and apples and peanut butter commence.

My guess is you’ll eventually have the same problem I will– our butts, and well any other fat collecting part of us won’t sustain such eating habits. So a recommendation to help you choose a different meal on the fly:  homemade marinara sauce.

The moral for today’s recipe instruction is you can only eat the elephant one bite at a time. This recipe is your elephant. So break it down into steps that you can do throughout the week, 15 min here, 20min there until all you have to do is assemble everything, cook it for 30min and you’re done.  And lots of leftovers i.e. dinner in 5 min.

Homemade Marinara Sauce
Let’s begin by saying if you use canned tomatoes, get minced garlic from a jar, use dried herbs, and have a food processor—you might as well do it all in one sitting. But if you want things as fresh as possible (they are going to give you the maximum flavor) and don’t own handy kitchen gadgets, this is the way for you.

Day 1– dice up into tiny pieces the carrots. You’ll want them small enough so that when they turn soft they’ll be easily hidden among the tomato sauce, or well get them as small as you have the patience for.
Day 2– dice up your onion, same principle in size as the carrots. Make sure you store in a glass or plastic container. It will stink up your refrigerator otherwise
Day 3– Cook your noodles. Let them cool fully before putting them in a Ziploc and storing in the refrigerator. While you wait for the water to boil on the noodles cut up your tomatoes.
Day 4– Mince your garlic. Here smaller is better for size, and easier to achieve. If you don’t like your fingers smelling like garlic, try wearing gloves or putting a sandwich bag over the hand that holds the garlic clove. Same idea as onion in terms of storage.


Day 5– Cook the dish. While the first few ingredients are cooking, cut up your basil.

(Variation: cook the sauce up to the point you would add the tomatoes. Store it and throw everything together to fully simmer the next day).

Full Recipe:
Marinara Sauce
2 T of Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic (roughly two spoonfuls of minced garlic from the jar)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced (roughly a cup)
½ c. to ¾ c. of carrots, minced (the more carrots you include the sweeter the flavor your sauce will have).
¼ c.- ½ c of red wine (cooking wine or red wine vinegar will work as well. You’ll essentially want to have the wine lightly cover all of the ingredients when added to the recipe).
2  cans of diced tomatoes or 4 c. of fresh.

½ lb. of sausage or turkey brats, diced (optional)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the finely chopped onion/carrot/garlic mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned, about 11 minutes. Add the wine and stir well, loosening any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced slightly, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot. Add meat at this point if you plan to. Add the basil let simmer gently until the flavors are concentrated, 35 to 45 minutes. Add the salt and pepper. Taste for sweetness and, if the sauce tastes too acidic, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar. If you are not planning on using the sauce immediately, let it cool to room temperature. It can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.

Note:  I’ve simplified the recipe slightly, but this is largely drawn from Myra Goodman’s Farm Stand Marinara Sauce recipe

Tomato, Peach and Basil Salad

So I am essentially reposting this recipe from Penny De Los Santos blog (which is a pretty awesome food and photography blog), which feels lame since this is my first real post. However, this is just too good to not mention. Not only does this dish look beautiful  on the plate– it’s so easy and fast to whip up. Certainly a must do for any beginner cook looking to do something simple yet sophisticated. And don’t scrunch your nose at the ingredients– they may sound like an odd combination but trust me it works. Especially great in late summer when peaches and tomatoes are in season and cheap.

I am not a huge fan of strong tomato flavor so I would add a bit more peaches than tomatoes. You can really make this to your flavor preferences, but I would say one tablespoon of fresh basil (don’t even try to do dried) to three cups of peach/tomato. Drizzle on as much dressing as you see fit and store any leftover dressing in the fridge; should keep up to a couple weeks. Note: don’t prepare this more than 20min ahead of serving. You’ll want to let the juices and flavors mix together, but if you wait too long it’ll get all soggy.

Ingredients for Dressing

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, optional
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

Lemme know how it goes.

What’s This All About?

The Short of It: A food blog for the untrained and overly busy chef.

The Long of It: I am not here to spew complex recipes, post drool inducing images of food you’ll never taste, or to make my life seem like some idyllic oasis of good eating. This is a blog for cooking in real life—when even making a PB and J can take too long, or the closest thing we get to ruling over a kitchen is choosing between a side of fries or a baked potato. Let’s face it: college’s meal plans are over and espresso shots and ramen noodle packets aren’t going to sustain us forever. Our solution is to learn how to approach food like the rest of our lives—efficiently, strategically and creatively. Trust me it will make eating, and life, a whole lot more interesting and enjoyable.