Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

A Minnesota classic.  We love wild rice here, in many forms.  Soup, stuffing, side dish, casserole, cold salad.  Nothing says fall to me like wild rice.  Or, specifically, this soup.

A local restaurant and grocery store called Byerly's made this famous.  The old Dayton's store restaurant served this soup as well.  Some recipes call for ham, not chicken, not all use almonds and mushrooms, some are thicker and creamier, some brothier.  Mine has evolved into this current version, depending on what's in the house and how it tastes.

It's an ideal soup to make after Thanksgiving, when you might have leftover turkey, the makings for good broth, and some pre-cooked wild rice.  I made it from start to finish today, cooking the rice, taking broth and cooked chicken out of the freezer, and thankfully having everything else in the house.

The following recipe makes a huge pot, enough to feed my family of 8 for two meals, and maybe even some lunch leftover.  This, with some crusty bread or popovers, and a fresh green salad, makes a perfect chilly-evening supper. 

Feel free to omit anything that doesn't sound good to your family, but don't rule out the almonds, they add a bit of bite and some sweetness that is surprising and good.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup shredded carrot
3/4 cup chopped, slivered almonds
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup dry sherry (NOT cooking sherry)
salt and pepper
handful of freshly chopped parsley

In a large soup pot, heat the butter on medium low.  Add the onions and shallots and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.   Add a bit of salt and pepper, then the flour, and stir, coating the onion/mushroom mixture with all the flour.  Cook for a minute.  Turn the heat up to medium high, add the wine, and then the broth, stirring all the while to make it smooth.  Bring to a simmer for a minute or two.  Add the wild rice, carrots, almonds and chicken and cook for a few more minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and add the half and half and the sherry, and heat through.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you see the need.  Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.

(Note:  you made need to add more broth or water the second day, as the liquid may be absorbed and create a thicker soup than you like.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spanish Shrimp

I have no idea if this is really Spanish.  All I know is it was served to me at the lovely home of my beautiful Spanish friend Mari Luz.  She put on a full tapas spread for me, which included these shrimp, chorizo, bread, cheese, roasted red pepper salad, olives, tortilla, and I don't know what else.  It was divine.  There we were, two suburban moms on a Thursday, eating this fabulous food, drinking a delicious wine, and chatting away.  Did I say the word lovely yet?

Watching carefully, but not taking official notes, I really wanted to remember how Mari Luz made these shrimp.  I'll say hers were better, because they were, but what I replicated wasn't half bad.  It's hard to say which is tastier - the shrimp themselves or the luscious oil they cook in.  Whatever.  Pass the bread.

Spanish Shrimp

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, tail on (jumbo is great, large is fine)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and barely smashed, but kept whole
8 small, dried red chiles
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

Salt the shrimp.  In a large skillet (cast iron is great), heat the oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and chiles and let them simmer carefully for 5 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't brown, but just hums.  Turn up the heat to medium, move the garlic and chiles to the outer edge of the pan, and add the shrimp in a single layer, not crowding the pan.  It'll take a few batches to do them all.  Sprinkle with some of the paprika.  After 2-3 minutes, turn and cook til just barely done on the second size.  Remove to a pretty, rimmed dish and keep warm.  Continue with the rest of the shrimp, adding paprika to each batch. 

When finished, pour the oil, garlic and chiles over the shrimp in the dish and serve at once.  Don't forget the bread, you'll want plenty to mop up the delicious oil.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine, Smashed Potatoes, Maple-Thyme Carrots and Delicata Squash

This is a Fall meal.  No doubt about it.  Lots of flavor, richness, healthy and hearty and satisfying.  And simple, really.  Just a few steps, plenty of ignoring, and there you have it - dinner is served, even when your football team loses.

The ribs recipe is a morph of a variety I read and pondered.  I was lucky to find my local health food store selling organic, grass-fed beef short ribs for 25% off and I pounced. 

If you are a lover of a bit of fat, some bones to gnaw, and amazingly tender and falling apart beef, then this would be the recipe for you.  The slightly creamy, winey, mushroomy gravy just adds to the beauty of it all. 

Best of all - it cooks in the crock pot!  Perfect for a Sunday of football and laundry.

Second best of all, the potatoes and vegetables roast in the oven on separate baking sheets, same temp, same time - handy!


Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine

3-4 pounds of bone-in beef short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 more tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1/2 cup good red wine (zinfandel, burgundy, or blend, whatever you like)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sour cream

Salt and pepper the ribs.  In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium high.  Add the ribs, browning on all sides, in batches if necessary.  Remove to crock pot.  Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, turn heat down to medium low and add onions.  Cook, stirring a bit, until they are just soft.  Add the red wine and scrape the pan, simmering for a few minutes.  Add the onions/wine to the crock pot over the beef.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8, until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones.

Keep the ribs in the pot, remove the cooking liquid and strain the fat (mostly).  In the skillet, on medium, cook the mushrooms in the butter for 3-4 minutes.  Add the skimmed cooking liquid and simmer for 7-8 minutes until reduced a bit.  Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour the mushroom sauce over the ribs and serve.

Smashed Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds small yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
seasoned salt, or just salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
a bit more salt and pepper
freshly chopped parsley, or dried

If your potatoes are NOT small, cut them into 1/2 or 1/4.  Toss in olive oil, season, and roast on a rimmed baking sheet for about 40 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, add the butter, and smash gently, just to break up the potatoes.  Add a bit more salt and pepper if needed.  Stir in the parsley and yum!

Maple Thyme Carrots and Delicata Squash

carrots, as many as your family will eat
delicata squash (we ate 2 whole ones)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Peel the carrots, leave whole.  Slice the squash into rings, remove seeds.  Place all on a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle with the oil, syrup, salt and thyme.  Roast at 375 for about 40 minutes.


I do not want a big meal.  Almost never.  The feeling of being stuffed as become disgusting and even painful to me, taking away the true pleasure of what eating well ought to be.  The philosophy of satisfaction is something that's been developing in my mind and life for a while, and one I want to pass along to my children.

Some years ago, I was very overweight.  I loved food (still do!) and loved to fill myself up with it.  It was security and love and comfort.  Pretty typical of a lot of people, right? 

I still feel that way sometimes, and will not be phony and pretend I have it all figured out.

It's a constantly evolving philosophy, this concept of Satisfaction.

Rather than being full, I want to walk away from a meal being Satisfied; filled up with all the pleasant sensations of an excellent meal (or even a snack).  Taste, texture, aroma, temperature, and atmosphere are ALL so important.  The first two or three bites of any one dish tell most of the story. 

This is why I so appreciate how many restaurants offer "small plates."  You can call them appetizers, or half portions, or any number of other phrases, but at their finest they are a much smaller size of a typical starter, salad or entree.  I don't need a 16 ounce rib eye.  I might want one, but I don't need one!  This approach to eating, whether in a restaurant or at home, will serve the diner better than any pretentious ingredient or cooking method one can conjure up.

Smaller portions of a few, well-chosen dishes with the best ingredients I can muster are where it's at in my food-mind.  Lovely wine, if you choose, can complement and round out the lighter dining experience.

Eric and I often eat this way when we're out.  We choose an appetizer, salad and entree from a "small plates" menu and share everything.  That way, we might get to enjoy shrimp or scallops, mixed greens, and some sort of beef, pork or lamb, for a fraction of the cost for two full entrees with all the accompaniments.  We get to taste some of the best things a restaurant may have to offer without stuffing ourselves or breaking the bank.

How does this translate to home cooking?

A typical family meal in America might feature a huge plate of pasta, with bread and maybe some salad.  Or a large piece of meat, plus potatoes, vegetable and salad.  What about casserole (or as we say here, "hot dish")?  Lots of things mixed together, plopped on a plate and served with more bread.  All of those items have a place at the table, but it's the portion size and pleasure that gets out of whack.

Most of our children won't want to get near their vegetables and salad if they have a big pile of buttered noodles and two pieces of chicken to get through.  What about half of a chicken breast, a few bites of pasta, plus vegetables and salad.  Their hunger will guide them to finish their meal, not the other way around. 

Like I said, this hasn't been perfected in my home or my own life.  There are times when I stuff down something junky just to feel full and because it tastes good.  I usually don't feel great afterwards, but at the time it seems like a good idea.

Try eating less, and enjoying more.  Especially in the evening or when you eat out.  It has literally saved my life, and shown me what true Satisfaction is all about.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ramen Noodle Soup

Let me clarify - home made Ramen Noodle Soup.

This has become our new favorite lunch.  The kids ask for it all the time.  It started when Eric and I got back from New York and I wanted to make the noodle soup we had there.

I found some plain old ramen-style Chinese noodles at a better grocery store here in town.  You could also use the regular ramen packages, just toss out the flavor packet.  I start with my home made broth (chicken, beef, vegetable) and I add some extra water.  Then it's simply the noodles!

And then it's all about the toppings.

Ramen Noodle Soup

1 - 10 ounce package Chinese ramen noodles
2 quarts chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
1 or 2 eggs, beaten, (optional)

Bring the broth to a boil, add the noodles, and cook, separating them, for 3-5 minutes.  Slowly add the egg (if using), stirring gently the whole time with a chopstick, for just another minute.


chopped or shredded cooked meat
chopped green onions

chile flakes or chili sauce
fish sauce
soy sauce
sesame oil

Add any or all of the toppings as you please.  Eat with chopsticks, slurping the noodles, and then drink the broth.

Grilled Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, and Delicata Squash

I've heard tell you can grill anything.

Sure, why not?

I had six fat pork chops, 3 big sweet potatoes (ok, yams, they were orange) and two pretty yellow-and-green striped delicata squash.  They all wanted to sacrifice themselves on my grill for the benefit of my family - wasn't that kind?

This meal was meant to be cooked night before last, but then our family of 8 had too many directions to go and threw in the towel on dinner.  They ate mac and cheese and pizza instead.

But it all worked out in everyone's favor, because I'd already put the pork chops into a marinade.  Splash of white wine, some salt and pepper, and a couple of chopped garlic cloves.  I remember something I'd read in a magazine about letting pork chops sit in a "brine" for 24 hours before cooking and I said "ah ha!" and added a couple cups of water to the previous marinade.  Oh, and two tablespoons of sugar.  Into a plastic bag, into the fridge til the next day.

The squash and sweet potatoes would be easy, surely.

Delicata squash is lovely.  It's a winter squash, but you can eat the skin, as it's not terribly thick, and when cooked, becomes tender and sweet.  I sliced the squash about 1/2 inch thick (rings) and then used a small biscuit cutter to remove the center seed and pulp part.  The rings got tossed with olive oil and seasoned salt.

The sweet potatoes stayed unpeeled, sliced 1/2 thick as well into rounds, and went into a pot of boiling water, until they were just starting to get tender.  Then I drained them, let them cool, and peeled off the skin.  They got a treatment of just olive oil and salt, because later I'd crumble on blue cheese (for those who like) after they came off the grill.

I cook on a 20 year old Weber charcoal grill.  Rather, I should say Eric does most of the grilling.  Sorry to be severe on my own sex, but I really do believe that men were designed to cook meat over fire.  And they look so good doing it.

But I digress.

Tonight I grilled.  And learned two important lessons - go ahead and put the pork chops over the direct heat, but for pete's sake, don't cover the grill and let the heat go out.  A desperate phone call to my husband was made and I got things going properly, and the pork chops got marked nicely, and not at all over-cooked, and were the must tender, juicy, succulent chops I've ever put in my mouth.  It was due to the BRINE.  Trust me, it was not the cook.

The other important lesson I learned is DO NOT put delicata squash over direct heat.  That is, of course, you like your squash blackened.  Indirect heat.  Oh, well.  I learned!

All in all, the chops took about 7-8 minutes per side.  The squash and potatoes took about 3 minutes per side, if that.  Do the meat first, remove to a plate and cover with foil, then do the veggies. 

Here's a little plate of goodness.