Wild Mushroom “Fondue”

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This New Year’s Eve, I intend to make a few toasts. As in, toasted baguette slices, slathered in creamy Wild Mushroom Fondue and drizzled with a little black truffle oil. One last holiday hoorah before the austerity of the New Year begins.  Then it’s back to carrot sticks and kale salad for a while.  Continue reading

Zero-Calorie* Creamy Vegetable Soup

OK – technically speaking, this soup has 96.5 calories per serving (still a bargain), but since you can burn 100 calories by cooking for 34 minutes, this soup nets you zero calories. That’s my kind of math! (Similar to “subscribe and save 80% off the newsstand price” or “buy 2 pairs of shoes, get the 3rd pair free”; how can you go wrong?)

(Calorie information is from sparkpeople.com. I was excited to learn that you can also burn 100 calories by rearranging furniture for 14 minutes – finally justification for one of my favorite pastimes!)

Besides having “zero” calories, this soup 1) tastes rich and complex, 2) is gluten and dairy-free, and 3) contains four types of vegetables but no one will ever know. (We have some vegetable-phobes in our house.) And – like any pureed soup, it can also be dressed up for Halloween with a sour cream spider web.  This will up the calorie count a little, but will keep the attention away from the exact contents of the soup. (I called it Mystery Soup.)

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Harvest Salad with Apple, Blue Cheese & Maple-Glazed Walnuts

Normally I’d have a lot to say about a salad as beautiful as this. I’d talk about the perfect balance of sweet and tart, tender and crisp. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Autumn on a plate. Something old, something new, something borrowed, some cheese blue. And so on. However, I’ve waited until the last minute (once again) to iron and sew on Girl Scout uniform insignia for a meeting tomorrow, and there are way too many dishes piled up in the sink for me to expound upon this lovely salad at the present time. So I’ll be brief: Honeycrisp apples + candied walnuts + blue cheese + lettuce + vinaigrette = a delicious and satisfying fall salad. If only the new “Everyday Mathematics” were this simple! (Partial sums and column addition, anyone?)

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Prize-Winning Chile Verde

Verde Vidi Vici! Amid a highly competitive field of entries, my prophetically titled chile verde took top honors this past weekend at the second annual Chili Cook-Off fundraiser for MS. I promised to post the recipe if I won, so here it is – secrets and all. (Guess I’ll have to come up with a new chili recipe and bad pun title for next year.) 

One of my secrets for prize-winning chile verde is freshly roasted poblano chiles – a green and relatively mild type of chile that still delivers a nice amount of heat as well as flavor.  You can make this recipe without them, but the chile verde won’t have the same zing. I usually roast a whole grill-full of chiles at one time, and then freeze the extra in little packets for future use. Another secret for my chile verde: jarred (gasp!) green salsa; I use Xochitl brand, which is made from tomatillos, onions and jalapenos. If you’re morally opposed to using shortcuts such as this, go ahead and make your own roasted tomatillo salsa. (But I bet you won’t taste the difference in the end.)  Finally, for this winning recipe I used pork tenderloin – which I know some people will find crazy since pork tenderloin is pricier and leaner than the pork roasts typically used for slow cooking. Allow me to defend (or at least explain) myself: a) I found a 4-pound value pack at Costco, and b) I simply prefer the lean, uniform taste and texture of pork tenderloin. (I make this recipe with turkey breast as well.) So call me crazy if you want, but now I have a trophy so I can’t be that far off my rocker.

Some chili tasters at the cook-off may have been swayed (as was the plan) by my dish-enhancing garnishes: diced avocado, homemade corn tortilla crisps, and a drizzle of my no-longer-secret cilantro lime sauce. (I featured the cilantro sauce recipe in my Almost Famous Turkey Burgers post, but have reprinted it here below.) The avocado and cilantro sauce lend cooling, fresh notes to the spicy, slow-cooked chile verde, and the tortilla crisps provide textural contrast (something I’m always striving for). If you don’t feel like making homemade tortilla crisps, a handful of crushed tortilla chips would deliver similar results.

Roasted Poblano Chile Verde                         Click Here for Recipe Only

  • 3* poblano chiles, roasted, skinned/seeded and chopped (see below) [*double this amount to make a freezer stash]
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 lbs pork tenderloin, pork loin or turkey breast, trimmed and cut into 1½” cubes
  • 2 large yellow or white onions, finely chopped (approx. 3 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon dried cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 jars (15 oz. each) salsa verde (Xochitl brand, preferably)
  • 1 box (14 oz.) chicken stock
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 squeeze (approx. ½ teaspoon) agave nectar or honey
  • Kosher salt

Roast the Poblanos

Heat a gas grill to medium-high. Place the whole chiles directly on the grill grates and close the lid.

After 5 minutes, check the chiles; if they are nicely charred on the bottom, turn them over using tongs.  Check again after a few more minutes. Repeat until chiles are charred on most sides; then remove from grill and set them on baking sheet or large plate. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool. [Note: you can also char the chiles on a baking sheet under a broiler.]

When chiles are cool, slip off the burnt skins (wearing gloves if you have sensitive skin), then pull off the stem tops and seeds. (Use a spoon to scrape off seeds, or give the chiles a quick rinse under cold water.) Be careful not to touch your eyes during this process! Slice the chiles into strips and then chop into pieces.

Prepare the Chile Verde

Trim most of the fat and silver skin from the meat and cut into approx. 1½” cubes.

Heat oven to 325ºF or set out slow-cooker/crock pot. Place a very large, heavy pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon (a splash) of olive oil to the pan. Working in batches to prevent pan overcrowding, add the meat to the hot oil and let sear for 5 minutes. Resist the urge to stir; the meat will release from the pan when it’s nicely browned and ready to turn.

When at least 2 sides of the meat cubes have browned, remove from pan and repeat with the next batch of meat (adding more olive oil as necessary). The meat cubes will not be all the way cooked. To keep dirty dishes to a minimum, you can place the browned meat back on the same platter/baking sheet with the uncooked meat cubes since it’s all going back into the pot anyway.

Once all the meat has been browned and removed from the pot, add the diced onions and sauté a few minutes until softened, adding another splash of olive oil if necessary. Note that in this batch I got lazy and just added the onions to the pot with the meat. Since the chile verde cooked for so long in the oven, it didn’t matter in the end. Sautéing first is safer, though; the texture of not fully cooked onions would detract from the dish. Then add the browned pork and any accumulated juices back to the pot.

Add the garlic and cumin and sauté another minute. Add oregano, salsa verde, chicken stock, bouillon cube and chopped poblanos.

Cover pot and bake in oven at 325ºF for 3+ hours (or place in crock pot and set on low for 8 hours or high for 3-4 hours), until sauce has thickened and meat is falling-apart tender. (It should flake apart with a fork.)

Stir and then taste for seasoning; add a small squeeze of agave nectar or honey (this helps round out the flavors), and then a few pinches of kosher salt only if necessary. If mixture seems dry or overly salty, add a cup of chicken stock or water. 

Serve in bowls with desired garnishes. (Shown here with corn tortilla crisps, diced avocado and a drizzle of my Cilantro Lime sauce.) Can also be served over rice or with warmed tortillas.

Serves 8-10

Corn Tortilla Crisps

  • 1 package white corn tortillas, cut into ¼” slivers
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt

Cut tortillas into ¼” slivers.

Set a large tray or baking sheet covered with paper towels next to the stove. In a large cast iron pan or Dutch oven, pour in approx. ½” – 1” vegetable oil. Heat on medium high until shimmering. Fry tortilla slivers in batches, about a handful at a time. Using a strainer or tongs, stir the tortilla slivers around a little until they are golden brown. (You don’t need to turn them.) Remove slivers from oil and let drain on paper towel tray. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still hot. Repeat with the next batch until all strips are fried. Store in an airtight bag or container. Will keep for several days if you hide them from kids or other snackers.

Cilantro Lime Sauce

  • 1 small bunch cilantro, washed & dried (roots and thick stems twisted off) (approx. 2 cups packed)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½  teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup reduced fat sour cream or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Few drops agave nectar or honey

Add all ingredients to food processor or beaker if using stick/immersion blender. Pulse and puree until smooth. (Add a little more olive oil to aid pureeing, if necessary.) Adjust seasoning to taste (i.e., another pinch of salt or drop of agave/honey) Refrigerate until ready to serve; will keep for several days.

See original recipe here for photos of steps. (Scroll down to end of post.)

You might also like:

Turkey & Roasted Poblano Empanadas

 

Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

While my 9-year-old has always had a taste for adventure, she’s not been known for her adventurous tastes. No sauces, limited vegetables, no comingled ingredients – you get the idea. Then one day she blew me away by asking if she could please have a salad. A few days later when I was sautéing mushrooms for this recipe, she asked if she could try one of those things in the pan that smelled so good. What?! Aliens have abducted my firstborn and replaced her with a vegetable-craving clone! Fortunately, my 7-year-old is still subsisting on bread, butter and milk products so all’s right with the world.

 

Back to the mushroom pasta. The inspiration for this dish was all the stuff in the fridge that needed to get used up before a President’s Week ski trip: a box of crimini (baby portabella) mushrooms, half a block of cream cheese, a little cream, and half a box of chicken stock.  If I had had some rotisserie chicken, I would’ve added it for a complete meal-in-one. (Meal-in-one = fewer dishes to wash!) For those of us happy with vegetarian meals, this dish is already a meal-in-one. With or without the chicken, I’d serve it with a simple green salad (and perhaps a glass of pinot noir). It reheats well for leftovers and probably would freeze well also.

Every time pasta goes on sale, I stock up in all shapes and sizes. One of my favorite shapes is campanelle, aka bells or lilies. I’m a sucker for the little ruffles, which get nice and crunchy on the top layer of a baked dish. I also love how the bell shape traps the sauce or filling. Feel free to use any shape pasta – even spaghetti would work.

Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

Serves 6-8

  • 1 box (16 oz.) campanelle (or any shape dried pasta)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 large shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 lb. white or brown (crimini) mushrooms, sliced (stems trimmed or removed)
  • ½ teaspoon dried or 1teaspoon fresh thyme (optional but complements the mushrooms nicely)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • Splash (¼ cup) dry sherry (or white wine)
  • ½ block cream cheese (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (16 oz. or ½ box)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
  • Optional: 2 cups (+ / -) rotisserie or leftover chicken, shredded or cubed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions (using 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt in the pasta water). Drain and set aside. (Reserve some plain pasta for picky eaters.)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. In large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in butter until softened. (2-3 minutes)

Add sliced mushrooms; stir to coat and then let sit in the pan for a few minutes to develop some color. (This really does make them taste better!)

Stir in thyme and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.  Add sherry or wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Stir in cream cheese (if using), chicken broth, bouillon cube or salt and cream.

Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and stir in chicken, if using, and 1 cup parmigiano cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Combine sauce with cooked pasta and pour into an ungreased casserole dish or lasagna pan. Sprinkle remaining parmigiano cheese over top. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling.

Can be made up to a day ahead (though add about ½ cup more chicken stock if you do). Reheats well for leftovers.

As a side dish side note, the sautéed mushroom mixture would be delicious on its own – even without the pasta and cheese. Omit the chicken stock and reduce the cream to 1/4 cup or omit altogether. Serve as a vegetable side dish, or as a topping for steak, burgers or chicken.

 

Corn & Leek Chowder with Cheesy Drop Biscuits

Few things are better on a cold January day than hot soup and biscuits. Except maybe this soup and these biscuits.

I call it a chowder because of the bacon, potatoes and cream, but it’s really just fancied up chicken soup. (That tastes nothing like chicken soup.) Fresh rosemary is really key here; most of the other elements can be modified to suit your taste, cupboard ingredients or Points plan. (I.e., use an onion or shallots instead of the leeks, or make a flour/butter/milk roux instead of using the cream, or add more or less potatoes or corn, etc.) Serve with large napkins and anticipate slurping.

Corn & Leek Chowder with Fresh Rosemary

Serves 6-8

  • 2 large or 3 medium leeks, chopped (white and light green part only)
  • 6 slices of bacon, cut into ½” slices
  • 1 heaping Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 64 oz (2 boxes) chicken stock
  • 10-16 oz. frozen yellow corn, or a mixture of yellow and petite white
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 ½ cups diced russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Cut dark green tops off of leeks and discard (or wash and save for making homemade stock, or add to the compost pile, or shred and dehydrate for homemade Easter grass). (That started out as a joke, but now it’s got me thinking. . . ) Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then cut into ½” slices crosswise.

Add sliced leeks to a bowl of cold water and swish around to rinse. (Sand and grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl.) Carefully remove rinsed leeks to a lettuce spinner basket or colander. Repeat if the leeks were especially sandy.

In large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; set aside for garnish.

Add chopped leeks to bacon grease left in pan (There should be about 1 Tbsp, but if the bacon is extra lean you may need to add a little olive oil.)

Sauté leeks until softened and starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add rosemary and sauté one minute more.

Add wine to pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock, corn, bouillon cube, potatoes and sugar to pot. [Here I go with the bouillon cube again; bouillon cubes are just handy packets of salt with a little extra flavor boost; feel free to use 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or a spoonful of “Better Than Bouillon” instead.]

Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender. Stir in cream.  Add freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste (a little pinch at a time, and keep tasting until it tastes good to you.) If you want a thicker soup, smash a few of the potato cubes against the side of the pot and stir to incorporate the potato starch. Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon.

Can be made several days ahead. In fact, tastes better if made several days ahead. If soup becomes too thick, thin with a little milk or chicken stock.

 

Easy Cheesy Drop Biscuits

Adapted from a 1999 Bon Appétit recipe for Cheddar and Stilton Drop Biscuits

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ¾  tsp cream of tartar
  • ½  tsp table salt (not Kosher)
  • 7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces
  • 1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère or extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • Optional: ¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk (or ¾ cup reduced fat sour cream and ½ cup skim milk)
  • 1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Add first 6 ingredients to food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add cheese(s) and pulse again. Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl.

Blend buttermilk (or reduced fat sour cream and milk mixture) and egg in the liquid measuring cup. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dough is moistened.

Using a small ice cream scooper or spoon, scoop approx. ¼ cup of dough for each biscuit and drop onto parchment lined sheets (2 apart). [Sorry – forgot to take a picture of this step, but it’s a lot like making cookies.] For best results, chill in refrigerator for an hour before baking, (Or chill overnight; you can load them all onto one baking sheet for chilling and then space out onto 2 sheets for baking.) Bake biscuits 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking.  (Worth doing even if you have a convection or true convection oven.)

Can be made several days ahead and warmed in a low oven.

Makes about 2 dozen mini biscuits.

 

 

More Broccoli, Please!

OK – so I’ve stretched this a bit.  My kids don’t always say “please” at the dinner table (though we’re working on it).  They do, however, devour roasted broccoli like locusts coming off of a cleanse. When friends ask me for advice on how to get their kids/families to eat healthier, I suggest they get out a baking sheet and try roasting some vegetables.  Roasting at a high temperature caramelizes the natural sugars in vegetables, making them sweet, crunchy and irresistible.  True story: the first time I made roasted broccoli for a Walter family gathering, the eleven kids polished off 3 huge (HUGE) bunches of broccoli before the adults had a chance to go through the buffet line.  Another manners moment: Kids, please leave some broccoli for the rest of us!

Roasted Broccoli

  • 1 large head/bunch broccoli
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Heat oven to 450ºF.

Chop the florets off one bunch of broccoli; reserve the stalks for soup, or peel and slice into pieces to roast along with the florets. Chop large florets into smaller pieces, since this makes for quicker cooking time and crispier edges.

Dump florets onto an ungreased baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. You want enough oil to coat the florets, but not so much that you turn your oven into a deep fryer. 1-2 Tablespoons should be plenty.

Using your hands, toss broccoli to coat, and spread out into one even layer. (If there’s not a little air space around each floret, use a second baking sheet to ensure crispy vs. steamed broccoli.) Sprinkle with a generous pinch (approx. ½ tsp) of kosher salt.

Roast in a 450ºF oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges have turned crisp and brown. Serve immediately for maximum crunchiness.

Tomato Fennel Soup with Gruyère Dippers

With the holidays right around the corner, my daughter’s birthday on Wednesday and my mother-in-law coming to stay for the weekend, a four-letter word comes to mind. Soup.

Quick, nutritious and versatile, soup is a one-pot solution for holiday entertaining and family-feeding stress. With a big pot of soup in the fridge, and/or some containers in the freezer, you’re set for just about anything.  Like the perfect LBD, soup can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion; serve it in big mugs with grilled cheese sandwiches for a casual lunch, or serve it in fine china teacups as an elegant and not-too-filling appetizer for a holiday meal.  My mother-in-law will be very impressed to be served a soup course, as if we were on the Queen Mary (or Titanic); she doesn’t need to know I just pulled it out of the freezer.

Fresh fennel may not be a regular staple in your produce bin, but this soup is a good reason to go out and buy a couple of bulbs. (Look for ones that are firm, with fresh leafy tops.) By pureeing the fennel, onions and tomatoes, you end up with a beautiful, “sippable” soup with good body and a delicate flavor – but looks like regular tomato soup. The fennel can be your little secret.

Tomato Fennel Soup

Adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

  • 2 fennel (aka fresh anise) bulbs
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ c butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (35 oz. each) Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ cup Pernod* (or other anise liqueur, like sambuca or absenthe)
  • 2 cups (16 oz or ½ a box) chicken stock
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • ¼ cup (+/- to taste) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt

Cut the tops from the fennel bulbs and reserve some of the leafy tops for garnish.

In large pot or Dutch oven over med-low heat, add the chopped fennel, onions and butter and cook until the vegetables are limp. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.  Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. 

Add the tomatoes with their liquid and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. (Now would be a good time to prep the gruyère dippers/croutons.)

Add the Pernod, chicken stock, bouillon cube and a few grinds of black pepper. Using an immersion (stick) blender, pulse/puree the soup right in the pot until smooth. (Alternatively, do this in batches in a blender once it’s cooled a little.) Stir in cream and sugar.  (This helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes.) *Note: The anise liqueur really helps highlight the flavor of the fennel, and it also adds sweetness. If you choose to omit it, you should add another teaspoon of sugar.)

Now is time for the most important step: Tasting and adding salt. Add kosher salt – tasting and adding ½ tsp at a time, up to 2+ teaspoons until it tastes good to you. [Salt is the SECRET to great-tasting soup.  If you’ve ever made a soup that just didn’t taste like much, it needed more salt.]

Serve with chopped fennel fronds for garnish, if desired. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator, or for months in the freezer.

8-12 servings, depending on portion size.

Gruyère Dippers

  • 1 baguette, sliced on the angle and then cut in halves
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Approx. 8 oz. freshly grated Gruyère cheese

If you can plan a day ahead, slice the baguette and leave out overnight to dry out. This will save a step.

Otherwise, arrange in one layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350ºF oven until dry/crisp.  Drizzle olive oil over toasted slices, tossing w/hands to coat. (Will not be evenly covered; it’s OK.)

Sprinkle grated cheese over slices and bake at 350ºF for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet.

Break apart when cooled. (Eat the crispy cheese bits that stick to the baking sheet.) Store in an airtight container, in pantry or freezer.