Posts Tagged ‘Herbs’

Running Hot and Cold – Summertime Bread Soup with Pesto

Things are really heating up around here, in more ways than one. First and foremost I want to give a big shout out to my fabulous mother who has been working hard to help P4P (penchant for produce) gain some more exposure. And she has done so with great success – the blog hits are certainly coming on more heavily and I am excited to have new readers. To all of the newcomers out there, thank you very much for taking the time to peruse my blog. I hope you come back and visit often and am looking forward to hearing your questions, comments, and suggestions! You are what makes writing this blog exciting!

But as I mentioned earlier, its been getting hot hot hot. The South has been experiencing a major heatwave and temperatures in my new home state of Tennessee have been in the high 90s and low 100s for the last few days. Unlike the Northeast summers of my childhood, where mornings would start cool and temperatures would rise gradually and peak in the afternoon cresting and then falling as the cool moved back in for the evening, the heat here in the American South is hard hitting and unrelenting. When I left the Yoga studio yesterday at 7AM it was already 87 degrees and the evening temperatures are not much better. And in times like these, when the sun will not relent, the folks down here do what they have always done to beat the heat: they wear wide brimmed hats, they eat Popsicles and drink ice cold beer, and, whenever possible, they stay indoors and crank up the AC.

Since arriving, I have felt as though I have been living in two entirely different climates. On one end of the spectrum there is the hot, humid and sunny outdoor climate, which I inhabit only briefly and in short spurts as I dash from indoor location to indoor location. On the opposite end is the cool, dry, and shaded indoor world where I spend most of my time. But the problem is that some places, (mostly restaurants, malls, and grocery stores) are downright cold! And while I am becoming more vigilant about bringing a sweater with me when we go out for dinner, when I walk into a meat locker like establishment from the outrageous heat outside I find myself searching the menu for something to warm up my once burning and now freezing arms and legs.

And this brings me to today’s post, a very comforting and surprisingly summery bread soup, inspired by yet another Ottolenghi recipe. This soup is entirely vegetarian and can even be made vegan by simply substituting olive oil for the butter I use to sautee the onions and fennel. The fennel is what makes this soup truly special, its slightly sweet and anisey flavor bring a great deal of freshness to the soup.

Be patient when sauteing the onions with the fennel, keep the heat fairly low (med or so) and don’t stir them too often. After 10 minutes the veggies should begin to caramelize. This light caramelization is possibly the most integral component in the soup as the sweet onions and fennel mellow the acidity of the otherwise dominant tomatoes. The recipe calls for a dollop of pesto which tops off the soup and gives it a great dose of fresh herby flavor. While I love Trader Joes I am not a huge fan of their pesto, I prefer the brighter flavors of a refrigerator pesto to a canned one for this dish – I have used the one from Costco with great success (it freezes well as well. Whole foods carries great pestos as well.

Summertime Bread Soup with Pesto

3 TBSP Butter
1 ½ Onions Sliced
1 Large Bulb of Fennel Sliced
4 Cloves Garlic Minced
3 Large Carrots, Peeled, Cut Lengthwise in Half and Sliced
3 Stalks of Celery Sliced
1 TBSP Tomato Paste
1 ½ Cup White Wine
1 28-Ounce Can Plum Tomatoes with Their Juice
1 TBSP Chopped Oregano
1 TBSP Chopped Fennel Fronds
1 TBSP Chopped Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 TSP Sugar
6 Cups Vegetable Stock Reduced
3 Large Slices Stale Italian Bread Well toasted and Cut into Small Cubes
2 Cans Chickpeas, Rinsed Well

In a large sauce pan melt butter over medium heat. Add Onion, Fennel, and two small pinches of salt and sautee for 10 minutes or until fennel and onion turn golden and begin to caremelize. Add garlic, celery, and carrots and sautee 4 mins more.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for an additional minute, stirring. Add wine and bring to a boil. After boiling for a minute or so add the tomatoes, herbs, sugar, and broth and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the soup is simmering place the chickpeas in a small bowl and lightly mash them with a potato masher. Some should remain whole while others will eventually melt into the soup.

When the soup has finished simmering taste and add salt and freshly cracked pepper as needed. Remember when adding salt that the dollop of pesto on top will add saltiness to the dish.

About 20 minutess before serving time add the chickpeas to the soup. Wait till about 5 minutes before to add the bread.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve topped with Pesto and a small sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Categories: Carrots, Celery, Soup, Tomato Tags: , , ,

Back to Cooking – Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Yogurt Sauce

I have been somewhat slightly obsessed with Yatam Ottolengi’s recipes since I first saw his cookbook “Ottolenghi” at Borders bookstore about a year ago. While I have been trying to hold back on buying too many cookbooks, I knew I would have to take this one home, and the reason was simple, I had never seen anything quite like it. There was no particular “cuisine” or ethnic slant to the recipe, this was not a book about making pasta, or baking bread, and there was no specific diet in mind and yet there was a clear point of view that shone out through each and every recipe.

Since that first encounter I have been following Yatam on the web (i.e. flipping through his webpage and restaurant menus and drooling) but more than anything I have been anxiously awaiting the US debut of his new book “Plenty.” Plenty is a compilation of recipe’s from Ottolenghi’s column in London’s “Guardian” Newspaper called “The New Vegetarian.” While Yatam is not, himself, a vegetarian, the dishes featured in the column are and they represent a bright and multifaceted take on vegetarian cuisine that both vegetarians and their more omnivorous counterparts can appreciate and enjoy.

This book had also helped to inspire me to cook more vegetarian friendly foods. As this column is about the wonderful cornucopia of nature’s bounty, it would make sense that many of the recipes featured herein are vegetarian in nature. And I will do my best to feature at least 2 Vegetarian and one Vegan recipe each month. This one, in particular, is one of my new favorites. Ottolenghi originally wrote it to feature Freekeh, but as I had bulgur on hand I opted to use the variation offered in the recipe for bulgur wheat and it turned out wonderfully. Don’t be afraid of the quantity of herbs in this recipe, I was a bit trepidations at first but the volume of herbs really brings big flavor to the table. The yogurt sauce is likely my favorite part of the dish. Its pungent garlic and creamy flavor add new dimension to the slightly-sweet and definitively-herbaceous pilaf.

Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Yogurt Sauce

Ras El Hanout is a middle eastern spice that can be found at gourmet cooking stores (like Williams Sonoma where I bought mine) and specialty spice shops. If you cannot find it substitute 1/4 TSP Cumin and 1/4 TSP Cinnamon.

2 Medium Onions Thinly Sliced
2 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 1/4 Cup Bulgur Wheat
1/2 TSP Ras El Hanout
3 Cups Vegetable Stock Reduced to 1 1/2 Cups
1/2 Cup Full Fat Yogurt
1 Clove Minced Garlic (TJs Frozen Garlic Works Fine)
1 1/2 TSP Lemon Juice
1/8 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley
1/8 Cup Finely Chopped Mint
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro

Heat a large sauce pan (with a good fitting lid) over medium heat. Add butter and, once melted, onions, to the pan and sautee for 15-20 minutes or until the onions are very soft and beginning to brown.

While the onions are cooking place the bulgur wheat in bowl and cover with cool water, allow to soak for 5 minutes and drain well.

Once the onions have browned, add bulgur, spices, and stock and bring to a boil. Immediately cover, reduce to low and simmer or 5 minute.

While the pilaf cooks, mix together yogurt, garlic and lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

When the pilaf has finished cooking remove from the heat and allow it to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and let stand for another 5 minutes to cool a bit. Stir in the herbs and serve topped with the yogurt sauce. This dish also tastes great with a light sprinkling of aleppo pepper.

Categories: Grains, Onions Tags: , , ,

Dinner Parties, A Juggling Act – Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

I have always loved to cook for friends and family. As there is usually only Dustin and I at home, and cooking a gourmet feast for two is generally completely impractical and often completely daunting in our tiny kitchen, whenever we go to visit family I jump at the opportunity to cook up a small feast. I have been doing this (cooking up a storm for parties and get-togethers) since I was 10 or 11 years old and while things generally come together now, historically I have fallen victim to practically all of the kitchen disasters that can derail any carefully planned dinner party and put the cook very much on edge. Looking back at so many early-year party-time nightmares, I have come up with some general guidelines for myself which I would like to share with you as they keep my dinner prep on the straight and narrow path to victory (well, at least most of the time):

1) Pick a dish to plan the meal around – perhaps your Uncle Bubba is coming for dinner and you know he loves a good plate of BBQ Ribs and you want to incorporate that into your meal. Make this one dish your focal point and choose dishes that will complement it flavor wise and that will disperse the work around your kitchen.

2) When I say “Disperse the Work Around Your Kitchen,” here is what I mean… Dustin and I generally team up to get dinner on the table on time. We generally man two separate areas of the kitchen and divvy up some of the major responsibilities. For example, if I decided that BBQ Ribs was our way forward Dustin would likely take on the Rib Grilling and assist in the kitchen on smaller items that don’t need constant supervision so that he can maintain focus on the ribs. I would tackle the tougher indoor projects- the kind of things that need constant love and attention like a big pot of grandmas Mac and Cheese. This not only helps to ensure that all dishes are “covered” from a work perspective but it also divides the operation into separate work areas. And while I am on the topic of Mac and Cheese, lets move on to piece of advice numero tres.

3) Make as much as you can ahead of time. I cannot stress this point enough, determine your menu several days in advance. Pick recipes with ingredients you know you will be able to find and write out a plan of attack. This should include a VERY detailed shopping list, check and double check that you have what you need to execute and if you need to make a trip to more than one store or think you might want to order a special cut of meat or obscure produce item MAKE SURE you do this in advance. Pick at least one major component of your meal that can be prepared in advance. If you’re making BBQ Ribs you might select a good dish of Mac and Cheese and a Cake for dessert that you can make a day ahead. Salad dressings and many sauces can be made in advance. Start the steps for your mis en place. There is no reason you cannot carefully shred cheese for a salad or chop celery or bell peppers and store these in water if you have extra time in advance. This will all make dinner day run smoother and allow you to fret less and enjoy the party more.

4) For the “day of” set out a time line. If I am making a roast or slow cooking something I set up my dinner to all come out when that long term dish has finished. Make sure you include time to bring items up to temperature before roasting, grilling or pan frying. Dishes like Mac and Cheese should not go into the oven straight from the cold refrigerator. These, like meat, should come up to room temp first.

5) Make sure you have an appropriate serving platter or bowl for each dish. I have often found myself getting to serving time to realize that the only platter big enough to serve a certain roast was already in use. So, if you don’t have a great wealth of specific types of plates and dishes make sure you save these for the right use. Also, make sure you have appropriate and functional serving utensils for each dish.

6) Set the table in advance. Typically the last 30 minutes before your meal hits the table are the most stressful – this is no time to clear boxes off of your dining room table, hunt for plates, and attempt dig up enough silverware. Make sure you lay out trivets for hot dishes, serving platters will need ample room on the table.

6) Lastly, take on dishes you know you can manage. If you have never roasted a leg of lamb or have no idea how to BBQ perhaps a large dinner party might not be the best venue for an experiment of this nature. Keep the experiments centered around dishes you have the flexibility to tweak (like a salad dressing) or make ahead. Alternatively, if you are absolutely adamant about running with a temperamental and risky dish, use your family and friends as guinea pigs and test out that souffle you are dying to make a few days in advance. This way, when the day arrives, you have worked out the kinks in your process and are confident in your ability to execute under pressure.

I have made each and every mistake listed above at least once, sometimes the first time was not a good enough lesson as I have certainly been guilty of incurring the same dinner debacle at a later date! The best way to learn what not to do is to test out your own dinner party abilities! In the next couple of posts I am going to depart from my usual MO to run a series of 3 posts containing 3 recipes which I cooked for a small family gathering the other evening. These are fairly simple and straight-forward dishes which will hopefully lead to dinner time success in your own kitchen.

We have a lovely butcher shop near where my parents live. The last time I went to visit they had some fantastic looking skirt steaks in their frozen case. I had squirreled them away in the freezer where they remained for 3 or 4 months until I commenced a great freezer cleaning as part of our efforts to get ready for the move. I knew that this thin cut would work well on a high temp grill and concocted a slightly spicy Argentinian herb sauce typically called a chimichurri to propel those hearty meaty flavors into overdrive. The steak should go over high heat on the stove and only needs a short amount of time to cook. It should rest for several minutes tented on a resting board before serving. This resting time will allow you to make last minute adjustments to the other dishes and have them prepped and ready to serve by the time the steak is well rested and ready to eat.

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

2 lb. Skirt Steak Seasoned Liberally with Salt and Pepper and “Marinated” for 24 hours

Sauce Ingredients
1 c. Parsley Leaves, Packed
3 Garlic Cloves Minced
2 TBSPs Fresh Oregano
2 TSPs Mint Leaves
1/2 c. Olive Oil
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
1 TSP Sea Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Cracked Pepper
1/2 TSP Red Pepper Flakes

One hour before cooking remove steaks from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp.

Heat grill till it reaches high heat. While the grill is heating Make the herb sauce.

Chop herbs finely and place in a small bowl. Place all other ingredients in a small food processor and blitz until smooth. Add chopped herbs to the oil mixture and taste for balance.

Grill steaks over high heat for approximately 2 1/2 mins per side. Rest on a board tented with foil for 5 mins before serving. Top with a drizzle of Chimichurri and serve with extra sauce on the side.

Categories: Beef Tags: ,
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