Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to Make Mushroom Soup like a Polish Granddaughter (swag method)

I mentioned the Polish Deli in Norwalk in an earlier post. It's still in business and better than ever. Ken and I went there  a few weekends ago for lunch, and I noticed that they had dried crepe mushrooms on sale. 

Growing up, Christmas Eve was traditionally spent at my Polish Grandparents, and one of my favorite food items was the mushroom soup. It was very rich in flavor, and served over thick mashed potatoes. Good hearty peasant food bursting with mushroom flavor, and filling without being too heavy. I'd thought about making it for a while, then my aunt told me I needed a source for dried mushrooms. Bingo!

I saw the mushrooms and asked the proprietor if she knew a good recipe for mushroom soup. She laughed and went on to ring up the next customer. Then, while we were eating, she motioned me over, "Come here, quick lesson." I left with a .7-oz package of dried crepe (also known as porcini) mushrooms  and a head full of advice. (Martha would have you use shitake and buttons as well, but a) this isn't a Japanese recipe and b) my sweetie doesn't like cooked button shrooms)

First off, I reconstituted the shrooms in boiling water. I had about a cup of dried mushrooms, which were very fragrant when I opened the package. I figured 2 cups of boiling water would work.  I covered the shrooms with the water and let them soak for a couple hours. I have no scientific basis for doing so in this proportion, bear in mind. A quick taste of the mushroom liquor told me I was on the right track. Delicious. 

Next up, a little richness but not too much, and a little aromatic. I sautéed one finely minced garlic clove in about a tablespoon of unsalted butter. Normally, I consider garlic a vegetable, but I'm (slowly) learning to back off a bit and use it as an enhancement in some dishes, like this one.

To this pot, I added 1.5 cups of organic beef broth. I actually goofed at the store and did not get the low-sodium version, so I decided no more salt was to be added. I poured in the mushrooms and the mushroom broth. Next, about six grinds of black pepper (the Lithuanian grandmother is responsible for my love of black pepper, but I digress). I hoped this amount of beef broth wouldn't overwhelm the mushrooms, and my SWAG (aka some wild-assed guessing) was right on the money. I added about a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley, that may have been a bit too much, and because I wanted a little more freshness, a pinch of thyme. I simmered for about an hour to let the flavors blend. 

Next up, preparing the rest of dinner. Mashed potatoes for the soup to go over. I used small reds, and left the skins on for reasons of texture, taste and laziness. I hate peeling potatoes. In retrospect, next time I make this, I'm going to go for potatoes I peel. Maybe some Yukon Gold.

Some protein as well. Out of my fridge came some very nice pork chops. I lightly brushed them with olive oil and covered them with a 50/50 mix of panko and a spice blend called, of all things, Gobs of Garlic, which you can purchase here. Be warned, their blends run a little salty, hence the panko to cut it. Bake chops at 375 F for about thirty minutes, turning over halfway through.

For greens, a fresh salad, heavy on the frisee, dressed with a little olive oil and some white wine vinegar.

I stirred in half a cup of heavy whipping cream into the soup before serving it over the mashed potatoes. I wanted a bit more thyme, Ken thought it was delicious as it was, so I just added it to my bowl. I was really happy with the flavor. Without the cream, the soup was earthier than a bad Bordeaux, but with it, there was the earthiness of the mushrooms and the smoothness of the cream, plus the thyme and parsley.

Then, if you're me, forget, once again to take photos of the finished product. I'll get better, I promise. I served this with some hard cider, but I think beer or a full-bodied white would work just fine as well.

Now here's a question: do I enter this into Epicurious' recipe contest? Or do I use my chili recipe? Let's hear from you!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I believe I mentioned a while back that ground beef is not my favorite thing. I really do try not to be a snob (sometimes I even succeed!), and this week's recipe is me exploring something I hadn't tried before--ground lamb, specifically meatballs.
To my surprise, I found this recipe on Cooking Light. You'll recall my original Adventures in Lemon Chicken I ended up adding wine (and therefore quite a few calories) to my lemon chicken.  
Without further ado, I bring you Greek Pasta with Meatballs:

2  cups  hot cooked orzo Cook the orzo while the meatballs are in the oven. 
1/3  cup  plain dry breadcrumbs I used panko, which I find a little softer than American bread crumbs. Completely up to you, of course.
1/2  teaspoon  dried oregano
1/4  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1  pound  lean ground lamb
1  garlic clove, minced I used two, I'll use one next time. It overwhelmed the cinnamon
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley, divided
2  large egg whites If you've never separated an egg, check out this video featuring Chef Paul Prudhomme
1 1/2  teaspoons  olive oil
2  cups  jarred marinara sauce I don't know about you, but having the time to make a good tomato sauce from scratch  isn't always in the cards for me. 
3/4  cup  (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

I added 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel.

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Cook orzo according to package directions; drain. Keep warm. Go to step 3, seriously. cook your orzo while the meatballs are baking. Warmed-over pasta can have a mushy texture. If you're like me and insist on al dente, trust me, cook the orzo later.

3. Combine breadcrumbs and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a medium bowl; stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley. Add egg whites, stirring mixture until just combined. Shape mixture into 12 (1-inch) meatballs; cover and chill meatballs 5 minutes. I see a large box of rubber gloves in my future. You really can't get the kind of blending from using a spoon that you get from putting clean hands in your mixture and seriously squishing it around. 

4. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs to pan; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Drain well; wipe pan clean with paper towels. Return meatballs to pan. Spoon marinara sauce over meatballs; sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 375° for 11 minutes or until meatballs are done. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons parsley. Serve over orzo.

A few comments. First off, I'm not sure how the author of this recipe got 12 1" meatballs. I got about sixteen 2" meatballs, which meant increasing the pan and the baking time by a few minutes each. While I am very much a proponent of rare meat, ground meat really needs to be cooked to at least medium rare. If you want tartare, make tartare.

We got a total of five meals out of this recipe. The initial serving, which came after some cold cucumber soup. Then Ken eating some leftovers, then the two of us eating the final leftovers. During the last  serving, I mixed some baby peas up with the orzo, which added a nice texture. I did like the coolness of the cucumber soup with it, though. I think I'll keep the two in combination.

Questions? Comments? Got a recipe you'd like me to try? Let's hear it!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Soupy Blender Tricks

I'm a big fan of the Food Network, both on the internet and on the television. Alton Brown remains a perennial favorite, I miss Mario Batali greatly, but I hadn't been familiar with Ellie Krieger.

I found myself cruising the site and found this recipe for a cool cucumber soup. I was intrigued. I haven't had a lot of cold soups in my culinary travels. Gazpacho, of course, I've tried, and when I went on a cruise in 2009 I got to try several cold soups, but those were all fruit-based.

One of the nice things about a lot of online recipe sites is you can often see commentary from people who have tried the recipes. I took several comments into consideration when I put this together:

  • 3 cups plain nonfat yogurt (several of the comments mentioned that Greek yogurt would be an improvement, so I went right to the Fage)
  • 1 English cucumber (about 1 pound), cut into chunks (These are also called hothouse cucumbers or "cuke in a condom." Big bad on Ellie here. Not everyone is going to understand intuitively you're supposed to peel and seed the cuke first. It's not a difficult, but it is a very necessary part of the operation)
  • 1 scallion, white and green parts, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup) I used two, since some of the comments mentioned it could be a little more flavorful.
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato (about 5 ounces), seeded and diced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

I also added a few grinds of red pepper.

The recipe itself was very easy to follow:

In a blender, combine the yogurt, cucumber, scallion and dill. Pulse until pureed. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle into individual bowls. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons of diced tomato, drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and garnish with a dill sprig.
A ladle is completely unnecessary, you can pour directly from the blender into the bowls.

In retrospect, I recommend adding the yogurt to the blender last so the cucumbers get lots of time on the blades. You'll probably have to stop pulsing a couple of times to push the cucumbers down. Altogether, I think it was about four minutes of blender time to make it nice and smooth.

The texture was delightfully smooth. We ate it with toasted English muffins, for some texture. Next time I make it, I think I'll try some multi-grain bread, or possibly some wheat crackers.

My favorite taster, also known as my sweetie Ken, suggested more dill, which I can certainly support. Myself, I wanted a little more salt, and more of that red pepper. I considered paprika, but I'm not 100% sold on the idea. This is a dish that will be experimented with over the summer.

I served this as an appetizer to a meal of Greek pasta with lamb meatballs, which will be next week's entry.

Questions? Comments? Have a recipe you'd like me to try? Let's hear it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

That wasn't what I intended

One of my favorite restuarants in the world, Cafe Trang in Salt Lake City used to serve a ginger chicken in a caramel sauce, with lots of black pepper. I never tried to duplicate it, but I did try for a couple years to make an apricot-ginger chicken, but I never got the balance quite right.

This week, I tried for a ginger chicken with tea. I see tea-smoked and tea-marinated things on restaurants all the time. So I thought I'd give it a shot.

I started with some chicken breasts, which I pounded to about 3/4 of an inch with a meat tenderizer. Next, I grated some fresh ginger, About an inch, which gives me about a tablespoon of grated rhizome.

As I pause and reflect, I think I should have marinated, but this was a purely improv evening, and I was hungry.

I put about three tablespoons olive oil in a pan on medium heat, and added the ginger, hoping to infuse the flavor of the ginger into the oil. When the oil was hot (but not smoking. Listen for the sizzle. Or put a drop of water into it, when it jumps around, it's hot enough) I added the chicken.

While the chicken was cooking, I chopped three green onions and set them aside. After about five minutes, I turned the chicken over and added four ounces of black tea and approximately three quarters of a cup of dried mushrooms, followed by a quick dash of soy sauce (I'm guessing about 1.5 tablespoons).

I cooked the chicken for another six minutes, then turned it back over and cooked it for another minute, finally throwing in the green onions. I then thanked the wonderful people at Trader Joe's for making heat&eat fried rice and made good use of my microwave

The chicken was not gingery, not by a long shot, but it was deliciously full of mushroom flavor, underscored by tea. The tea in this case was actually Irish Breakfast (I'm out of oolong). The green onions added a nice counterpart, and I definitely made the right decision in only cooking them for about sixty seconds.

Anyone have a favorite wing-it recipe? Or even better, what would you have done with this one? I'm not above a little more deconstruction. Hit me with your best shot.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hot stuff for a hot day

It's getting warmer, but that doesn't stop me from eating or wanting some good chili. I've had some fabulous ones over the years--a "Yankee" version that was cooked by a guy named Robert E. Lee, a vegan six-bean that was incredibly hot, Austin the minimalist housemate's version with tomato sauce, and much more.

As is becoming more and more frequent with me with recipes, I do a little research, learn a lot then design my own. The basics for me start with:
2 pounds of stew meat I am not found of ground beef. There are situations where I'll eat it, but it's not my favorite thing. Stew meat works well. Cutting it into smaller pieces is optional
2 cans of black beans  I love black beans and the flavor they bring to chili.
4 cans tomatoes and green chiles Rotel is my favorite brand here. There are others. Be careful when you shop or you may end up adding oregano and basil.
2 bottles or cans of Guinness If you've ever had beef & Guinness stew at a good Irish pub, you know how rich and delicious beef and Guinness are together. I like to bring that richness to my chili.
2 Tbsp vinegar this is to accentuate the flavor of the black beans. It doesn't give you a strong vinegar taste. 
1 large white onion large in this case, is about the size of a softball. Two smaller ones the size of your average orange will do just as well
2 tomatillos when I chose to add these to my first batch of chili, it was purely on impulse. They just seemed to go well in my head with all the other ingredients I was envisioning. 
1 or 2 squares of dark chocolate Ghiardelli's dark chocolate squares work well here, as do Lindt's Chili chocolate.
2 heaping tablespoons chili powder
2 heaping tablespoons cumin  To me, chili isn't chili without a strong taste of cumin. This proportion works well for me.

Last time I made this recipe, I pulverized a dried habanero (including the seeds) until it was dust. While not as hot as a scotch bonnet, it did the trick and this was a nice spicy batch.

I brown the meat in a little light oil (vegetable, canola), sometimes with about five cloves of garlic (if I do that, I chop another three to throw in the chili). Once that's done, I drain it and add it to either the crockpot or the dutch oven. If using a dutch oven, I start it on medium. The crockpot, I start on high.

Add the remainder of the ingredients, stirring well to blend.  Stir in your spices.
If using a Dutch oven, bring it to a boil, before turning it down to simmer for several hours (I prefer overnight). If using a crockpot, bring to low and cover.

Stir these occasionally. When you get up in the morning, stir and leave the top off for the last hour or so to let it thicken even more.

Serve in your favorite fashion. Myself, I like it over spaghetti, topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream. I won't say no to some crusty bread either. Austin the minimalist breaks up corn muffins into his, some folks go for rice.

How do you like your chili?