Tuscan Two-Day Christmas Soup

Tuscan Two-Day Christmas Soup

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During the winter months, as life gets busier with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and I am wont to run around with my family spontaneously looking at holiday lights but still needing desperately to meet deadlines, I find something has to be trimmed down in the ol’ sche-duly. The only place left to make cuts in such a tightly packed schedule seems to be in the making and eating of food. But since we are not a fast food family and we really hate boring food (my boys are foodies too!) I turn to other kinds of easy to please meals. One of which is soup, like this Tuscan Two-Day Christmas soup. (more…)

A FEAST Fit for Fall’s Bounty

A FEAST Fit for Fall’s Bounty

Ready for a taste of fall’s bounty

A Taste for Fall

Fall is beginning its descent all across the country. Here in Portland, it’s not coming fast enough for me. I’m ready for it to kick into high gear — maybe even wanting to force it a little before its true time.

As a fall baby, I’ve always had a great affinity for my birth season. Even in the midst of a 80 degree day, I can feel myself wanting to bake more. (I’m working on perfecting a super-moist, gluten-free pumpkin cream cheese muffin with candied pepitas right now. Look for it here on the blog soon!) (more…)

Marx Foods Makes Me Go Berserk! Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

Marx Foods Makes Me Go Berserk! Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto w/spinach and brie stuffed chicken breasts

As a food blogger (and 1/12 of  The Virtual Potluck (VP)) I get to try out new foods, cookbooks and appliances from time to time for free — for a foodie like me, this is some kind of perk! Sometimes those perks are a little better than others and sometimes those perks go a little berserk.

Recently, the VP was approached by Marx Foods who, though based in our soggy sister city to the north –Seattle, I had never run across before. We agreed to let Marx put together a selection of random ingredients for us to try out in our own signature recipes this Thanksgiving. After perusing their site, I was excited to see what they would send us.

Wanna see what the other 11 foodies came up with? Visit our Host Page for this event and follow all the action on Twitter #virtualpotluck!

What I found, when I received the tiny brown box, was a menagerie of seemingly unrelated items, packaged in small quantities. Upon opening the box, I was hit full force by the sweet sensual aroma of dried Madagascar (bourbon) vanilla beans (they sent two small bags — Yay! extra vanilla!)  I confess, I couldn’t stop sniffing the bags– it was addictive!

Besides the glorious vanilla beans, which made their way into banana smoothies, raspberry thumbprint tea cookies, whipped cream filling in my decadent Mt. Hood cupcakes, and a bevy of other dishes and drinks (watch for them later in the week!) was that my box contained 2 deeply cherry-toned, dried Guajillo chilis, 9 dried fiery Habaneros, a palm full of dried porcini mushrooms, a slightly larger handful of dried Maitake mushrooms, and 1 cup of Italian Vialone Nano Rice — only THE best rice for making a saucy risotto!

While I was excited by the amazing quality of the ingredients (this stuff is top-notch — their quality control must be super sticklers — there was  not a bad, crumpled or spotted item in the bunch), I was sort of sad to see that I had so little,  in terms of quantity, to work with. We were all creating brand new recipes from scratch here and having so little of each ingredient, meant the ultimate test of cook’s skill, I was working without a net — I had to get this recipe right in one-shot! Could I do it? What ingredients should I choose? What wouldn’t be a lame cop-out — surely just whipping up some homemade vanilla bean cupcakes was too easy. What to do? What to do? And then it happened ~ all that thinking ~ all that pressure made me pop a spring!

So what did I do?I take that perfectly wonderful perk — and go berserk!

For those of you that do not know the proper definition of the word berserk let me present it to you now, courtesy of Merriam Webster:

1:  an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable

2:  one whose actions are recklessly defiant
Though this would be a frenzied battle (and one in which I would, indeed, prove to be invulnerable) I am NOT ancient (no matter what my 3-year-old thinks) nor am I — Scandinavian. I was however, in light of the short supply, recklessly defiant in my own kitchen. (Somebody call the authorities — I might just run with scissors next!)
I decided to use all of my supplied ingredients (each and every one but not all quantities provided) in one dish.  So I said it — out loud, for the first time, as a joke — “I should make spicy vanilla mushroom risotto.”  As the words escaped my lips, I laughed but inside a little voice said, quietly, “Why not?”
The next time I said it, was in a Facebook chat with my VP cookmates and as I typed the words, the little voice said, “You should do it ~ it would be a great challenge.” A few moments later, I found myself typing in “I’m not kidding. I’m gonna do it.”
And so — Can I get a drumroll, please? I present to you, my GrooVy Readership:  Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto
A few things you should know before you’re too impressed with me:
  1. I am NOT a risotto rookie. Do not try this at home unless you have mastered the art of risotto, first. I learned how great risotto should taste in Italy but I actually learned to make my first risotto well before that, from Nigella Lawson (or I should say from her fabulous cookbook, Nigella Bites, it just makes you feel as if Nigella is standing right next to you, chatting away as you cook together. So, NO. . .I do not actually know Nigella but I Love her just the same!)
  2. I remembered once seeing a recipe floating around the interwebs for Ostrich Steaks with Mushroom Vanilla Sauce, though I’ve never tasted, attempted, or known anyone who has tasted or attempted this dish — just knowing that it existed gave me the courage to dive off this recipe’s cliff.
  3. I am a wuss when it comes to heat (heartburn issues), so I was extremely happy that one of the peppers I was sent were the beautifully mild and sweet Guajillo (often used for tamales and mole’ dishes) and the small but fiery, Habanero (whose scale is only about 1 rung above cayenne’s in terms of heat units on the Scoville — it’s hot, but not Ghost pepper hot!)
  4. We all did NOT get the same ingredients. True — we all got vanilla and the same rice and we all received mushrooms and peppers but the combination of those peppers and mushrooms varied. The ingredients I received really lent themselves well to this dish.

The result was a distinctly flavored and pleasantly complex risotto — one unlike either I or my hubby has ever experienced. The flavor combination itself, was surprisingly, autumnal and very nearly addictive. (We devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day and he has already asked me to make it again.)

Moral of the story: It pays to take risks in the kitchen — all the best chefs do — you should, too! So the next time you have some seemingly random ingredients lying around your kitchen, I hope you think to yourself,  “Maybe I should go berserk and take a risk!”

Happy Cooking!

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

  • 2 small or 1 large shallot(s)
  • 2 ribs celery (cleaned and de-stringed)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of dried Porcini mushrooms (rehydrated, reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1/4 cup of dried Maitake mushrooms (rehydrated,reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1  cup Italian Vialone Nano Rice (you can sub Arborio)
  • 1 quart chicken stock (a little more or less depending on your heat and stirring action)
  • 1 med dried Guajillo pepper (rehydrated and de-seeded, ribs removed)
  • 2 small dried orange Habanero chilis (rehydrated and de-seeded)
  • 1 vanilla bean (scraped completely)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, plus more, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Good grating of fresh ground black pepper
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

Dice (or process) the shallots, onion and celery. Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan, adding the shallot, onion and celery mixture. Cook until softened and transparent (about 5 minutes), making sure it doesn’t stick. Drain the mushrooms (you can soak them together in hot water for 30 minutes) and reserve the resulting liquor. Chop the mushrooms and add them to your saute pan. Add the liquor to an already simmering saucepan of chicken broth, that is just waiting to be added to the rice, one ladleful at a time.

With gloves or well- oiled hands and proper eye protection, remove the peppers from their water (where they have been rehydrating for the last 30 minutes as well) and slice off their stems, cutting them open to de-seed and remove the ribs  (this reduces the heat — if you like more heat, leave them in.) Once the peppers are cleaned, dice these as well and add them to the sauteing mixture. Once it’s all been incorporated, mix in your rice, stirring to give it a good coating of flavor and oil.

Begin adding your ladleful of simmering stock to the rice, continually stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful continuing to stir. Continue to do this until your rice is al dente and saucy but not too thick and sticky. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to augment with additional hot water, if your stock runs out before completion.

Mix the scraped vanilla bean, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl or mug along with the grated parm and pepper. When the risotto done – the rice is no longer chalky but is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed but is not starchy – remove  it from the heat and add your vanilla, egg, cream mixture, folding it into the risotto along with the butter and salt, to taste. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with Parmesan.

Serves 2 to 4 by itself or as a side dish can work for 4 to 8.

I served mine with a simple spinach and brie stuffed chicken breast, seasoned only with sea salt and olive oil, because I wanted the risotto’s flavors to be the focus, with the chicken complementing its deep, rich flavors but ideally, you’ll serve yours with turkey this Thanksgiving!

Want to win some booty from Marx Foods?

Some of the Virtual Potluck members are giving away ingredient samples. Visit the host page and don’t forget to visit ALL of the blogs. There will be some things given away (different items on different sites),  some discounts  (how about 10% off your Marx Foods purchase, any time between November 21 and 27. Just enter the word POTLUCK into the Coupon Code field at checkout for 10 % off everything.) There’s also plenty of great recipes and fun to be had on Twitter–so make sure you check it all out!

A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Two Ways

A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Two Ways

Growing up, I was never much into squash of any kind. My mom seemed to favor zucchini and occasionally, yellow crookneck squash. She was passionate about fried zucchini (as was my middle sister) but I hated it! I didn’t mind the breading but when I got to the center and was met with the taste of squishy, squashy bitterness — ugh, I just had to pass. I remember, many a time, just eating the breading and then tucking the squash into a napkin, smooshing it smaller with each new piece added, in order to hide enough, that my mom would let me leave the dinner table. (I did something similar with the eggplant in another of my mother’s favorite dishes — eggplant parmigiana. Ick.)

The Picky Eater

Flash forward to today. I am a mom now, of a picky and precocious 3 year old. He is a child who loved his veggies before this last year — though, he was never too much into the green lettucy stuff. He used to love eating such a variety of good-for-him foods like broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, avocados, beans and sweet potatoes.

In fact, for a while we thought he was going to be a natural vegetarian because he wouldn’t eat meat (except for nitrate-free hot dogs.) But, alas those days are over and my pediatrician says it’s fairly normal for toddlers to give up the “bitterness” of veggies at this age, opting for the sweetness of fruits instead. (More TRIVIA: It has to do with our cave man survival instinct and the fact that, were we in the wild, our little ones might pluck something poisonous from a bush or vine and pop it into their mouths. Which means, at this stage in life, they are naturally averse to bitter flavors for their own protection.)

To top it all off, as much as I want him to eat his veggies, when he finally agrees to eat some (through sheer bribery or threats) I can’t stand seeing that look on his face when he’s chewing something he really hates. I know it all too well, the feeling like you might just throw up a little in your mouth. It’s at this point, I usually whisk the plate away and thank him for at least trying whatever it was.

UGH! Motherhood.

As I wait this stage out, I can’t seem to sit idly by and give up on him getting good nutrition. I fret about it and I find ways to sneak vegetables (and even some fruits) into the handful of foods he seems hell bent on eating each and every day. Noodles, it turns out, are the king of foods (along with pizza, burritos, and tuna sandwiches)  and I strike a balance by giving him whole grain brown rice noodles and Barilla’s Plus line of noodles that are full of a variety of whole grains and legumes, as well as Omega 3’s (and no they are not sponsoring my blog or paying me in any way to tout them — I just like ’em!)

So imagine my glee, when one of my favorite food bloggers (and one of my Virtual Potluck cohorts) FarmgirlGourmet posted her recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash & Brie Mac & Cheese with Smoky Bacon. It was as if the heavens had opened up and shined their golden butternutty light down upon my pasta. Yes! A new way to sneak a super healthful veg (TRIVIA: though considered veg in cooking, in actuality it’s a fruit) into my little one’s diet — and it comes on the holy grail of food for him — the noodle!

Creamy butternut mac and cheese

The dish is sweet, creamy and cheesy and was a big hit at our house.  I highly recommend you head on over to her blog for that recipe and the other bountiful ways in which she has been using up the butternut squash from her garden. We ate it for dinner and lunch the next day and it only used up half of a roasted butternut squash and half of the brie and cream cheese I’d purchased, so I decided to use those ingredients again for lunch the following day for soup, baguette with brie, and a wilted kale salad.

A little bistro flair at home

This bright idea was great for mom and dad (felt like upscale bistro fare for a weekday lunch) but the kiddo was not buying into the soup (he only likes — you guessed it — noodle soup!)  — which is why, I boiled up some more noodles and ladeled on some of the soup, topping it with cheddar cheese for a quick and dirty version of FarmGirl’s mac.) We paired this with some fresh strawberries for a well-rounded meal that any toddler will adore.

Soup Prep

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 an oven roasted butternut squash (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pds)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth (depending on consistency you like)
  • 1 small onion diced carmelized in a saute pan with 1Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (to taste and heat you desire)

Saute the onion in butter, caramelizing it lightly. Pour into blender or food processor. Scoop the roasted butternut squash out of it’s skin and into the blender, adding enough liquid to allow it to begin blending (you may need to do this in batches depending on blender or processor size.) Add the cream cheese and continue to blend, adding the additional broth as needed until the soup is smooth, creamy and the desired thickness you prefer. Then pour into a deep saucepan heating it on low, as you season to taste with cayenne and  salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 heaping bowls of soup. Serve with toasty baguette (we like Trader Joe’s parbaked whole grain baguette) and the wilted kale salad below for a warming taste of fall this holiday season.

Accoutrements, or in plainspeak -- sides

Super Simple Wilted Kale Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano

  • 1 bunch regular, lacinto or red kale
  • 1/2  to 3/4 tsp sea salt (depending on your tastes)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can change the vinegar to match your meal — apple works well with the squash here)
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano + extra for topping

Clean and destem your kale, patting it dry (with paper towels.) Cut or rip the cleaned kale into bite sized pieces or  ribbons. Add olive oil and salt. Next take your freshly washed and dried hands and work the salt into the kale by grabbing handfuls and kneading the kale tightly in your fist. Continuing throughout the entire bowl of kale. After it’s all mixed and the kale has significantly reduced in size (a few minutes) add apple cider vinegar to the mix and toss. Then, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes as you prep other items for your meal, this allows the kale to wilt, softening the leaves for easy eating and toning  down the bitterness. Add freshly grated parmesan reggiano and pepper to taste, tossing to mix. Serve topped with more freshly grated parmesan reggiano.

We love this with any kind of soup or as a side dish with chicken or beef. You can also use this recipe and add it to roasted yukon gold or new potatoes tossed with a little tahini and lemon for an out of this world hearty, warm salad.

Happy Eating!

Emeril Giveaway Winner Announced!

Emeril Giveaway Winner Announced!

These go well with. . .

And now it’s time to say goodbye to Emeril — but first, (drumroll) announcing the winner of the Sizzling Skillets and One-Pot Wonders Giveaway, GroovyFoody blog reader, Ms. Shahleena Weller of Seattle, Washington!

Shahleena is an avid cook, “who loves trying out new recipes.”  She became interested in cooking out of a desire to eat good food, yet not break the budget. She says she was tired of eating the same “not-so-great stuff” and started using recipe sites for inspiration. Five years later, she says she is, “a decent cook who enjoys a good adventure in the kitchen!” She also claims never to have won anything before — well, now she has! 😉

Congratulations Shahleena and thanks for reading the GroovyFoody!

Did you miss the winner of our Emeril 7pc Zak! set of serving bowls? Read the Update.

Emeril's Chuck Wagon Chili

Red Beans and Rice: Emeril One-Pot Cooking Party

Red Beans and Rice: Emeril One-Pot Cooking Party

This is the last post of the cooking party before I announce the winner of the Cookbook Giveaway tomorrow. I know that we’ve been sort of Emeril-centric around here the past few weeks but we also had some awesome giveaways! After tomorrow’s announcement (and one more recipe peek to round it out) we’ll be back to diving into an exotic variety of food, most of which you can cook in 30 to 45 minutes or less.

In fact, I’ve been saving up pics of some fabulous dinners we’ve had in between and before Emeril mania started around here, so keep an eye out for tons of great new recipes!

Now, without further ado, Emeril’s Red Beans and Rice (supposed to be Soup but I just couldn’t bring myself to put the rice in the pot and instead served it atop a nutty brown rice.)

PREP: Jalapenos, red kidney beans and short grain brown rice

This is Emeril folks and this dish is, traditionally, a dish with a wee bit of heat. While I like and can take a little heat, mostly in the name of flavor, because of heartburn issues — I took this down a notch (sorry, Em!) The way to reduce the heat in this dish, while still retaining the flavor is this: I changed the chorizo for kielbasa sausage, removed the seeds and ribs from the jalapenos and skipped the Louisiana hot sauce. This made the dish mild enough to bypass the heartburn but flavorful enough to enjoy.

Bringing the beans to "simmer n' soak" to soften and de-gas

PREP: Chopping & assembling ingredients in slow cooker

PREP: Add the beans!

Swimming in broth

A finished dish of red beans and kielbasa, Emeril-style, topping rice:

Red beans and rice -- sooo nice (Kudos to anyone who notices)