Warm and wonderful—potato soup

Is there anything more delightful, food wise, than realizing a dish you’ve just prepared also happens to be the best version you’ve ever tasted?
Today I made potato soup. I hadn’t planned on it. As often happens, I had leftover ingredients and wanted to do something different with them.

Potatoes are versatile little tubers, and I love them prepared any which way.

Of course, it helps that I love soups. Creamy and hot, they’re perfect for cold weather—satisfying in a warm and cozy way.

Served with crispy crackers and a tasty cheese, or with warm homemade bread, soup is a wonderful meal.
And wonderful food should be shared.
So, here’s a (lovely) potato soup recipe (that includes step-by-step instructions) from The Pioneer Woman website:
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/01/perfect-potato-soup/
Enjoy!

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Make your own mayo

I’m on the warpath against high fructose corn syrup.

In a recent ingredient-reading flurry, I discovered that two of the condiments I was using on sandwiches had HFC in them: sweet pickle relish and mayonnaise.

Store bought relish and pickles are easy to replace—I now buy them at the local farmer’s market. I pay more, but I’m satisfied knowing that the product is free of cheap, unhealthy sweeteners. Plus, the flavor and freshness are superior to anything I’ve tasted from the grocery store.

But HFC-free mayonnaise is slightly harder to come by, so I’ve been experimenting with making my own. It isn’t hard to do. The only drawback is that it doesn’t keep for as long as commercial brands. Meaning, it can’t sit in the fridge for two months. Raw eggs spoil. And with no preservatives, it’s not a good idea to keep homemade mayo around too long.

I’ve used a combination of grape seed oil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil with excellent results. I like fresh lemon juice for its bright flavor. I love being able to control the consistency, and the pride I feel in making something that tastes so fresh. What I don’t love is how much whisking it takes to get it to emulsify. So, I talk loved ones into being the whisk wiz, which allows me to add the oil slowly.

I’m not above using bribery to get an extra hand in the kitchen.

Sandwich anyone?

 

Here’s the Epicurious mayonnaise recipe I use:

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • 3/4 cup canola oil, divided

Preparation

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Whisk until blended and bright yellow, about 30 seconds.

Using 1/4 teaspoon measure and whisking constantly, add 1/4 cup oil to yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, about 4 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup oil in very slow thin stream, whisking constantly, until mayonnaise is thick, about 8 minutes (mayonnaise will be lighter in color). Cover and chill. do ahead Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Makes ¾ cup.

See the recipe at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Homemade-Mayonnaise-241868

Caramelized onions—worth the wait

It takes me about 15 or 20 minutes to slowly coax chopped onions into a blissful state of dark caramelization. And it’s worth every second.

I recently made Mjudara (pronounced “mm-jud-da-ra”), a Lebanese dish of brown lentils, rice or bulgur, seasonings, and you guessed it, plenty of caramelized onions.

I used two giant yellow onions, thinking that would be plenty. It wasn’t.

It meant chopping onions by hand, which makes my eyes burn and water. It’s still worth it.

This particular dish suggests reserving half the caramelized onions for topping and leaving the rest in the pan with the other ingredients. But I’ve decided that if the topping is that tasty, I’ll call it a side dish and make as much as I want.

Happy eating!

Mjudara recipe from the Food Network website:

Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/lebanese-lentils-rice-and-caramelized-onions-mujadara-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Ingredients
1 cup brown or green lentils (not lentils du Puy), sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt, for serving, optional
Directions
Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.

Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.

Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.

Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)

Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.

Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon.

Extraordinary Salads

Let’s be honest. If you were to ask most people what they’d choose for their last meal on earth, probably none of them would say “salad.”

We’ve all seen it, and eaten it—a pile of cold, limp greens with a few anemic slices of tomato on top and a blob of dressing accompanying it as a consolation prize. Also, “diet” and “deprivation” were two words that came to mind when I heard the word salad.

But no more.

A salad, done right, is a celebration of flavors and textures. It can be something anticipated, and savored, and then remembered fondly. Greens are often the foundation, but they needn’t be. Forget iceberg lettuce—most produce sections offer an abundant selection of leafy greens from romaine to arugula, and even beet greens and tender leafy herbs. Add raw or steamed vegetables for a hearty and satisfying base. Then, be creative. Meats, cheeses, pastas, grains, more vegetables, nuts, seeds, olives, bread, pickled foods—all add bright, flavorful morsels of goodness and crunch. Basically, if you like an ingredient –you can add it to a salad.
Here’s just a few of my favorites:

toasted pine nuts

artichokes

avocados

pecan pieces

olives

roasted or pickled beets

raw or steamed green beans

sweet piquante peppers

And then there’s dressing—another opportunity to elevate an ordinary salad to extraordinary status. Make your own, if there’s time. Or use a good quality store bought dressing that complements your meal, salad or satisfies your palate. Vinaigrette is easy to make, and best made fresh. Creamy dressings use more ingredients, but are worth the extra effort.

Served with hearty bread, salad makes a wonderful light meal. Adding diced chicken, beef or even fish (sliced seared Ahi tuna, anyone?), salad can be as satisfying as meat and potatoes.

Ingredients for Herb Vinaigrette dressing from Andrew Weil’s website
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 bunch parsley, stemmed
3 tablespoons basil, chopped
Instructions
Combine all ingredients except oil.
Whisk to combine, slowly adding oil to emulsify.