Chowda

My brother inspires me in lots of ways, and lately it’s most often been in the way of dinner.  His patience in the kitchen far exceeds mine (though he may never admit it!), and his audience is arguably a bit easier to please than mine — but when he mentioned corn chowder the other day, I knew on the spot that I had to make it.

My criteria for soup:  

  1. It must be cold outside.
  2. The soup must be hearty (i.e., contain lots of veggies so I don’t feel the need to make anything else).
  3. There must be a likelihood that my kids will eat it.  Or at least dunk their bread in it.

Bonus points if I get to use my immersion blender.

So, that corn chowder?  Check, check, check, and bonus points!

Stealing Borrowing Bro’s foundation for the soup, I browned some chopped bacon pieces.  Removed those and used the rendered fat to sauté about half an onion; then threw in some carrots and a lone parsnip (have no idea how long that thing had been in the veggie drawer…) and let those soften a few minutes.  Next, added cubed potatoes and a little diced red pepper. 

Sprinkled S&P and thyme, gave everything a toss and then poured on some stock, brought it to a simmer, and let it work for about 15-20 minutes, or the equivalent of a shared beer and conversation with The Husband.  Once the bottle was empty, I added some flash-frozen, divine Iowa sweet corn and let it heat through.  Finally, about a cup–give or take–of half and half, set just below a simmer for a few minutes, and the soup was ready to yield to Magic,aka my beloved immersion blender.  I first tried blending some right in the soup pot but didn’t like the texture that was producing.  So I ladled some of the soup into a separate vessel, pureed it and stirred it back into the soup.

I topped each serving with a little of the bacon and a slice of crusty bread alongside. 

It met with rave reviews The Husband and The Boy, and they each cleaned their bowls.  It was okay but not what I’d tasted in my mind (I ate the leftovers for the following two days so it obviously wasn’t that bad, but aren’t we all our own biggest critics?).  It was too sweet for a soup and the texture was crumbly rather than a smooth backdrop with good-sized pieces of veggies for heartiness and texture.

I’ll make it again, but I’d do the following differently:

  • Forgo the carrots.  The contributed to the sweetness (did I mention that my flash-frozen corn was crazy sweet?!  we’re talking picked-at-the-peak-of-freshness-last-summer kind of sweet…) and their flavor was too much for what I wanted. 
  • Why did I add the red pepper?  I don’t know but I almost immediately wished I hadn’t.  Combined with the carrots, it gave an “off” color to the soup and added a not-entirely-pleasant taste dimension.
  • Add less liquid.  Use just enough stock to cover the potatoes.
  • Simmer the potatoes for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cube, of course.  I let mine go too long and the potatoes were softer than I would have liked.
  • Lastly, before adding the corn, I’d remove half the boiled potato mixture and blend that up.  Then stir it back in, along with the corn and some cream/half and half.

Aah, so there’s some unintended kitchen camaraderie across the miles.  It’s funny to me that this feels a bit like a back-and-forth exchange between squabbling siblings, even though it’s totally not.  It’s just proof to me that I can and do learn from my little brother, despite my thinking from a young age that I knew everything. 😉

Drink it up

 

A few months back, I instituted a change in my morning routine: I have a glass of water and a piece of fruit before I allow myself that coveted cup of coffee.  For many reasons, I needed this change.  The results have been noticeable and I’m so glad I’ve incorporated this habit. 

There are mornings, however, when the prospect of peeling an orange or cutting an apple or seeding a pomegranate make me groan and think meekly “maybe I can skip it today?”  But nope! 

Enter:  smoothies.

My family is no stranger to smoothies.  Thanks to my BFF in the whole wide kitchen…

my beloved Kitchen Aid immersion blender, aka Magic

…smoothies are a cinch and have been a regular  in my son’s diet since he was itty bitty.  Our smoothie-making habits go in fits and starts, however, and we hadn’t made them in a while.  My brother made them for the kids when we visited last week and, since then, we’re making them more and more. 

This week I discovered a new favorite (for me!).  Blend:

1 fresh banana

¾ cup orange juice

½ cup plain yogurt

Drizzle of vanilla

It tastes like an Orange Julius!  Does anyone remember those from childhood??  (Yeah, there are still a few scattered in Midwest malls but the drinks don’t taste like they used to!)

The kids aren’t too crazy about my new favorite.  They prefer their standby:

1 frozen or fresh banana

1 cup of frozen blueberries

½ cup plain yogurt or a couple splashes of milk

Drizzle of vanilla

If the fruit is frozen, the end result is almost like a fruity milkshake which they love.

Their other favorite (though they get it less often) is:

1 frozen banana

½ c. yogurt

Drizzles of chocolate syrup

Drizzle of vanilla

Again, it’s like a milkshake.  I also like that one with peanut butter (mmm….) but the pb has a tendency to stick to the blender (gah!).

In the event I make too much smoothie mix, we’ve sometimes frozen the remainder in popsicle molds or just in a bowl.  When they want a snack, we defrost it a bit and mix it up like a slushie.  Yay, healthy, easy treat!

Lastly, at the other but arguably no-less-healthy end of the spectrum, I would be remiss if I did not mention my other new favorite drink.  I love chocolate–not that crappy, supersweet milk “chocolate” crap; I love deep, dark, almost bitter chocolate.  Perfection in a mug?  Look no further than Mexican hot chocolate.  Read here for how to make this divine (and good for you!) drink at home.  So good.

Valentine’s dinner

Welcome to my brainstorm.

I’m regularly updating this work in progress…Stay tuned!

Beef tenderloin?  Maybe.

Stuffed mushrooms?  Oh, how I love thee…  But if stuffed mushrooms are a starter, can I still make mushroom risotto??

Cocoa pancakes.  Yeah.

Red velvet cupcakes.  Oh…  Though a friend suggested this one.

Or molten lava cakes.  Because, well…obviously.

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The final analysis:  I should have listened to my brother.

The mushroom-stuffed tenderloin would have been divine.  Instead, I did a collection of pepper-crusted tenderloin medallions.  They were okay, though just this side of overdone, and the pepper was much stronger than the last time I made them (um…three years ago).

I did make squash risotto, which was fantastic, and I soooo wish it was lunch time because I want to eat the rest right! now! 

My roasted green beans were far from ideal and plainly illustrated the case for using fresh, beautiful-looking produce.  The beans I used looked a little sad from the get-go; they were pale, with very little body.  Hence, they shriveled up during roasting and the texture was odd.

The cake?  Was okay, but the frosting was a massive fail.  Unless, of course, you’re the type who likes a cottage-cheese-y textured frosting that tastes like pure butter.  But I seriously doubt any of you exist.  I’m less bummed about the frosting fail than I am about losing half a pound of butter in the process.  (Damn! Do you know what I could make with that much butter?!  Cookies, roux, brownies, more mushrooms…aaahhh!!)

So, here’s what went right:  Tenderloin, after all, is tenderloin, so the meat was actually delicious.  I sauteed some sliced mushrooms in oil in the pan I used for the meat, and then deglazed the pan with some Zin.  Oh! those were fabulous.  They were a fantastic bridge for the steak and risotto. 

The big winner:  The Brie-stuffed mushrooms.  The easiest, most delicious stuffed mushrooms I have every made or tasted.  Go forth and make them.  Now!

Super Bowl food for the birds

This might be unAmerican, and is certainly against the code of football fans everywhere, but I cannot stand chicken wings.  The very sight of them makes my stomach lurch, and the prospect of cooking them would surely render me…well, not upright. 

I do, however, adore teryaki.  And so when I saw this recipe while perusing the Web for Super Bowl dishes that would delight and surprise my party animals (aka, husband and kids), I knew I had to make something sauced with that fabulous-sounding sweetness.  The result:  teryaki and honey mustard chicken bits.

In the interest of satisfying persnickety palates, I knew I also needed pizza.  What’s more, I need an inventive interpretation of pizza and one that would accomodate the kids’ and husband’s desire for pepperoni and my desire for another way to eat mushrooms veggies.  I asked The Husband last week for his wish list for Super Bowl eats.  His (joking, I hope) response:  Totino’s Pizza Rolls.  “The Boy might like ’em,” he defended.  A bout of quick thinking (or maybe it was happenstance) brought to mind this terrific idea for pizza bites.  I’d seen them on a blog earlier in the week and couldn’t wait to find an opportunity to make them. 

I made half with pepperoni and mozzarella and half with a mix of sauteed mushrooms, peppers, and onions and served them with a dipping sauce.  Definite crowd pleaser.

I know from experience that it doesn’t take a ton to fill this crowd and the more I make, the longer I’m in the kitchen and not watching the game. So I made myself stop at these two “cooked” pieces and filled in the rest of our spread with raw veggies and fruit.  And beer.

I was stumped for a quick dessert that would be tasty, snackable, and not result in a ton of leftovers.  The Boy suggested root beer floats–which would have been a great idea, except (I don’t like root beer and) that we forgot all about it come Sunday.  Much as I would have loved chocolate anything, the last thing we need laying around the house is another load of chocolate. So I settled on Rice Krispie treats cut into football shapes.  Bonus: The Husband makes the Krispie treats in our house; it might be his signature dessert as he’s far more patient than I at stirring 75 marshmallows until they’re melted.  My contribution:  I have too much tubed frosting in my cupboard (I know…but it’s only for accents!), so I broke that out and painted laces on the footballs.

In the end, we had a pretty fair spread.  And I ended up with some new recipes that I’d love to make again–the pizza bites were genius!

Full pasta meal + one pan = YES!

Maybe it’s the little bit of purist in me, but why did I never think to cook pasta IN its sauce??  Certainly it’s easier to control the quality (of each ingredient, I suppose) when the pasta’s made separately but, for this recipe, it’s worth taking exception to that rule.

This week, Amy over at The Mother Load posted a skillet meal recipe based America’s Test Kitchen’s book.  The photo is beautiful, and the prospect of making an entire dinner in one pan totallywon me over.  Now, it’s not exactly indulgent fine cuisine but it is perfect for feeding my birds — or for a quick weeknight meal for anyone.

See Amy’s post here.  I used the recipe as a basic formula and did just a few things differently. 

First, I had a little less than half a pound of Graziano’s sausage in the freezer (and I suspect finding turkey sausage in the markets around me would be…well, not that easy).  I sautéed the garlic about 40 seconds, then added the crumbled sausage.  I browned that for a few minutes and then added about half a box of sliced mushrooms (The Pink One and I are wild about mushrooms!) and some thyme. 

Added the pasta, stock and milk; once the pasta was pretty much done, I added S&P and grated a little fresh nutmeg in the sauce.  I realized too late that I should have done that earlier but, eh, no harm done.  

Wilted the spinach as directed and added the cheese and tomatoes.  I did pour off a bit of the liquid at the end; I didn’t measure and probably added too much in the first place.

Final assessment:  First, the kids actually ate it!…okay, so they may have picked out the pieces they didn’t like, but they did eat most of it!

Also, the flavors were great.  The (slightly overdone, but I know better for  next time) pasta, sauce, mushrooms, and spinach were mild and an ideal backdrop. The tomatoes were the perfectly light zing.  And the Graziano’s was a standout.  I will definitely make this again.

I loved the versatility of this and, since last night, have thought of about 10 other ways to make it.  Bacon instead of sausage; peas instead of spinach; steamed beans instead of spinach; evaporated milk instead of regular milk; whole wheat pasta; different cheese.  If I was inclined to dirty more than one pan, I would have done the garlic, sausage and mushrooms in a separate pan, then added a splash of wine to deglaze the pan, maybe some stock to sauce it all together and then dump that in the with the pasta.  It surely would up the flavor a few notches, which might also make it less palatable to the kids.

 I’m thrilled to have something new in the rotation!

Milkshakes

I recently discovered Spilled Milk and am pretty amused by their podcasts.  Didn’t think I’d enjoy listening to kitchen gadget noises while erudite (and hilarious) foodies talk about and prepare food that I didn’t get to see, let alone taste.  But I do!  It’s like eavesdropping on friends in the kitchen, only it’s edited so you don’t have to hear the arguments or transition silences.

Anyway, loved the latest podcast about milkshakes.

Matthew prepares a fantastic-sounding lemon sorbet-buttermilk-sesame concoction that I would love to try on a summer night.

Oh, and chocolate malts–or more aptly, hot fudge malts–are a major weakness for me.  I think I’m going to have to use up that (Carnation!) malt powder in the cupboard…like, tonight.

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eta:

Saturday afternoon, The Boy and I enjoyed some DEEE-lish hot fudge malts.  There was no Hershey’s syrup in the house (once a cardinal sin, but the kids seem to have grown out of that) but I did find a jar of Hershey’s hot fudge that had resurfaced in The Great Refrigerator Purge of a few weeks back.  So…a generous tablespoon (or two…) of hot fudge, a couple scoops of unnaturally-shaped-rectangular-tub (as Matthew aptly notes in the podcast) vanilla ice cream, a splash of milk, and a generous quarter cup of malt powder later, we were happily slurping on some deliciousness usually reserved for warm summer nights or lazy lunches in 50s-style diners.

While nothing can top the hot fudge malts of my youth–or, more accurately, the sips I’d steal from my mom’s standard hot fudge malt from Goodrich Dairy–this was pretty damn good.  I got my fix. And now I’m good until Snookie’s opens for the season and my kids beg for sips from their mom’s malt.