Thursday, December 24, 2009

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup

Yes, I've posted a soup recipes this month already...BUT, I didn't post one in October so I am making up for lost times here! In November I posted Chicken Orzo Soup and oh that is one of the most comforting and warming soups ever. Earlier this month I posted Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream and I think it is impressive enough to serve as a first course to dinner guests.

This recipe for Roasted Potato Leek Soup is a combination of several recipes I found online. You know I love Ina Garten, and her recipe from Back to Basics looks like a GREAT one to follow. I also like this recipe from Simply Recipes, it looks rustic and very easy to pull together.

Here is what I did to make this scrumptious Roasted Potato Leek Soup: I started with five small yukon gold potatoes and left the skin on. Washed and scrubbed them, then cut into fourths. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet.

Chop the white parts (and a little of the green parts) from three leeks and clean very well. I recommend a salad spinner to make sure all the grit is out of there.

Add to the baking dish along with 4 garlic cloves and a large yellow onion chopped into chunks.

Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. About a teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 and roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender.

When done roasting, I put the baking sheet on the stove top and added a half cup of white wine, and used my spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the pan.

I didn't have chicken stock, so I used bouillon cubes to make four cups of chicken stock. All the roasted veggies go into the chicken stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat.

I added a few sprigs of thyme (because I had it) and let the soup heat and come to a boil. Once the soup came to a boil I removed the thyme stems and then off heat I used my immersion blender to puree the soup.

The last step is to make this soup extra creamy by adding 1/2 cup of mascarpone cheese and 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream. Do a taste test and adjust seasoning if you need to.

This Roasted Potato and Leek Soup is rich and yummy. Perfect on a cold evening served with a crunchy loaf of bread and a great glass of wine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard-Lemon Butter

When I was planning for Thanksgiving I found this recipe for Roasted Cauliflower on epicurious and just knew I had to make it for my family. My mother however is very allergic to lemon, so I made this for Jim's family at Thanksgiving. I was very pleased with how this turned out and this recipe will become my go to side dish when I need an easy vegetable in the future. (This and brussels sprouts!) Blasting cauliflower florets in a hot oven concentrates their natural sweetness, turning them into something akin to vegetable candy. I kid you not.

The ingredient list is simple, to serve 6 people you need:

1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 3/4 pounds)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

The cauliflower was about 1.5 pounds when I purchased it and then I cut the cauliflower in half, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Butter a rimmed baking sheet and spread cauliflower in a single layer.

Sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 degrees until cauliflower is slightly softened, about 15 minutes.

While the cauliflower is roasting, lets make the Mustard-Lemon Butter. I purchased this whole grain dijon mustard from Central Market.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat (I did this in a bowl and melted the butter in the microwave, I wasn't in the mood for dirtying another saucepan.) Whisk in lemon juice, mustard, and lemon peel.

This is what the cauliflower looks like after 15 minutes.

Spoon mustard-lemon butter evenly over cauliflower, toss again to coat evenly and roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes longer.

DO AHEAD! This lovely side dish can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. If desired, rewarm in 350°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer cauliflower to a platter. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream

I've made butternut squash soup before, and it was really good. But this, this recipe is superb, and it is the addition of apples and apple cider that lend a pleasant sweetness to this beautiful soup - cider cream and the fried sage leaf is what puts this recipe over the (freaking) top! O to the M to the G!

The list of ingredients is longer than most of my other recipes, but let me say this recipe is easy and REALLY impressive, so make it for your next dinner party! (and have the recipe handy, you will be asked for it)


5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped peeled carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried sage leaves
5 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives

Here is my butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch squares.

Before I add any veggies, I melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat and throw in several whole sage leaves.

This does a couple things...I'm "frying' the sage leaves, browning the butter slightly, giving it a nutty taste and also flavoring the butter slightly with sage.

Meanwhile, I sliced the leeks and cleaned them VERY well in my salad spinner. Leeks tend to hold lots of sand and grit.

When sage is crispy, remove and drain on paper towel. Reserve these wonderful sage chips for garnish!

Add squash, leeks, carrot and celery; saute until slightly softened, about 15 minutes.

I had a shallot, so I gave it a good dice and added to the pot. You should know by now I rarely follow a recipe exactly...

Next, peel and slice the apples and add to the veggies along with dried thyme and dried sage.

Add stock and 1 cup cider and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Cover and simmer until apples are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, I make the Cider Cream by boiling the remaining 1/2 cup cider in a heavy small saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Then let it cool down.

Whisk in sour cream. (Soup and cider cream can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.)

After 30 minutes, the veggies are very tender!

I used my immersion blender to puree the soup.

Mix in whipping cream last.

To serve, I ladled the soup into bowls, swirled the cool cider cream on top, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and topped with a fried sage leaf.

GOURMET cooking my friends! It wasn't a hard recipe, just took a little time to prep. This kept in my fridge for a long time, and it was really yummy. When we were sick of soup though, I boiled some pumpkin tortellini and spooned this hot soup over the top as "sauce." I love reinventing leftovers!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Foie Gras Stuffed Dates

I will start by saying that I realize there is controversy surrounding Foie Gras and I do apologize if this post offends. Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or is prepared into mousse, or pâté. French law states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France."

In this recipe, found on, I purchased a pate at Central Market that did not contain goose or duck liver. I was told that true goose foie gras is only available at CM at Christmas time. This particular pate is chicken and turkey liver flavored with truffles. It was GREAT! Check out that awesome price too!

Hint about the dates: These Medjool dates are found in the "bulk foods" section at CM. They are sun-dried, intensifying their natural sweetness.

This easy (and impressive) appetizer begins with slicing the dates length-wise and removing the seed/nut in the center.

I planned for 2-3 pieces per person, but you should really think about who you are serving these too and plan accordingly. To make 12 servings, purchase 6 dates and about 2 ounces of foie gras pate.
Take a teaspoon and fill each date half with a heaping teaspoon full.

The last step takes these appetizers over the top! Fleur de sel ("Flower of salt" in French) is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Due to its relative scarcity, Fleur de sel is one of the more expensive salts, but know that you use it sparingly (not only because of its price) but because it's most often used as a finishing salt. It is usually sold in airtight jars as it is slightly damp. Take this precious chunky salt, and sprinkle lightly over each foie gras stuffed date.

Arrange on a platter, and enjoy! This is sure to impress at your next holiday party!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brussels Sprouts - 2 Ways

We never ate brussels sprouts growing up, I don't know why my mom didn't make them...but I never questioned her since I heard my friends talk about how awful these little green basketballs were. I grew up thinking I hated them and never even tried them.

With the holidays approaching I started to see more and more recipes for brussels sprouts and they sounded really good. I mean, sauteed in butter and bacon, how bad could that be?? I decided to make this as a side for my mom's Thanksgiving but when I shared with her my plan she was horrified to learn I was using my family and the THANKSGIVING MEAL as my first test run on this side dish. I'm new to the kitchen, so basically everything I make is a first run recipe, I never know if it's going to turn out well or not...and how will I ever grow my repertoire unless I try new things? But her point was valid, this was a special occasion and she wanted me to make a tried and true recipe for our meal.

Fair enough. The week before I went home for Thanksgiving I purchased my first pound of brussels sprouts and I narrowed my recipe options down to two reliable sources: Ina Garten and Bobby Flay. Both recipes sounded great, but the cooking method differed. Ina cooks her brussels completely on the stove top. Bobby starts his brussels on the stove but finishes them in a hot oven which was appealing since the brussels will probably caramelized better.

In this side by side challenge, I split the pound of brussels sprouts in half and made both recipes in one night. I present to you a face off! Ina Garten's Brussels Sprouts Lardons VS Bobby Flay's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Ingredients for Ina's Brussels Sprouts Lardons:
2 tablespoons good olive oil
6 ounces Italian pancetta or bacon, 1/4-inch dice (I used bacon)
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts (2 containers), trimmed and cut in 1/2 (I used 1/2 pound)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 3/4 cups Homemade Chicken Stock, recipe follows, or canned broth

Ingredients for Bobby's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound sliced pancetta, diced (I used bacon)
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (I used 1/2 pound)
8 baby Yukon gold potatoes, quartered (I omitted)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon, juiced
Both recipes call for rendering pancetta fat but I'm using the more cost effective and readily available BACON. Cook bacon pieces over medium high heat until the bacon crisps and the fat is rendered, then move the bacon pieces to a paper towel to reserve for adding back later.

Ina: Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden brown and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Bobby: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat oil over medium heat in a roasting pan or large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels.

Bobby: Dice a shallot and add to the bacon grease and cook until soft.

Ina: Add the Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper to the fat in the pan and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. But I forgot to cut them in half, so after I took this picture I pulled each out and sliced in half.

Bobby: I also add a little bit of minced garlic to the shallots.

Ina: Sprouts are cut in half now.

Ina: Add the raisins and chicken stock.

Ina: If the skillet becomes too dry, add a little chicken stock or water.

Ina: Lower the heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes.

Bobby: Add the Brussels sprouts and potatoes (I omitted the potatoes in this recipe but think they would be a really lovely addition) and toss to combine.
Bobby: Season with salt and pepper and roast in the 425 oven until the vegetables are cooked through and golden brown.

Ina: Return the pancetta (bacon) to the pan, heat through, season to taste, and serve.

Ina: These were so good! I didn't need to do any seasoning, the chicken stock was absorbed by the little sprouts and plumped the raisins. This was a perfect combo of savory and sweet.

Bobby: Here is what the vegetables look like when I pull them from the oven. They are lovely and brown with some crispy pieces. Love the color!
Bobby: Stir in butter and lemon juice.
Bobby: Return the pancetta (bacon) to the pan, heat through, season to taste, and serve.
Bobby: I liked the crunch that happens when you roast the brussels sprouts, but it was missing the sweet addition that Ina had with the raisins. And I didn't care for the lemon juice added to the end. These were really good, and if I hadn't had anything to compare these too, I would have ate them and said they were yummy.

Ina: Oh my Ina, the Barefoot Contessa does it again! These were spectacular and I ate the entire half pound at the end of the night. Delish!!! Check out Ina's Brussels Sprouts Lardon recipe here. I have made this recipe at least four more times since Thanksgiving (and yes Turkey Day was only last week.)