Italian Vegetable Soup

Another soup to cure a cold (see my post on Mexican Chicken Soup). This one is scented with garlic and full of good-for-you vegetables.

Italian Vegetable Soup BowlItalian Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ large white onion, diced (~¾ cup)
  • 1 generouscup diced carrots
  • 5-6 medium stalks celery, diced (~1 cup)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • ½ tsp. each dried basil & dried oregano
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced¼½” thick
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15.5-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs – a mix of flat-leaf parsley, basil & oregano, depending on what you have
  • Fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
  • Pesto, for serving
Heat oil over medium-low heat in a deep heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Add garlic slices. Cook for 5 more minutes; try not to let them brown. Add onion, carrot & celery. Turn up heat to medium-high & cook 5 minutes. Add broth and dried herbs. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add mushrooms & zucchini. Bring back to a boil, cover & reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes. Check vegetables for done-ness – simmer 5-10 more minutes if needed. Taste for salt & pepper and season accordingly. Add diced tomatoes, beans & fresh herbs. Bring to boil to incorporate the beans & tomatoes. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pesto on the side.
If you really want to wow your diners, serve with homemade croutons for garnishing the soup.
Soup is, in general, a very forgiving dish to make. Using high-quality ingredients is important as is cooking each the appropriate length of time. Feel free to personalize according to your own tastes and what you have already in your kitchen.
You can substitute tortellini, rice, ditalini pasta or potatoes for the cannellini beans but you should cook them separately and then add to the soup. If you cook them directly in the soup they will absorb too much of the delicious garlic-flavored broth.
Enjoy! Let me know what your favorite soup is for cold rainy days.

Mexican Chicken Soup

Happy February everyone! Where in the world did January go to?

I was sick with a head cold all last week (thankfully I had several posts already written & ready to go) and didn’t feel up to cooking until Friday. By then I was ready for a big, piping hot bowl of sinus-clearing soup. Even better, this Mexican Chicken soup is still delicious when you aren’t sick.

Nate's Bowl of Mexican Chicken SoupThis recipe is not a tomato- and/or chile-based tortilla soup; it is a clear golden broth with chicken, seasoned with Mexican flavorings and then served with a plethora of different mix-ins for each diner to personalize their bowl with (all the better when you have picky eaters in your family).
Frequently I have homemade chicken broth in my freezer that I will use (whenever I buy a rotisserie chicken I either make chicken broth immediately or freeze the carcass to make broth with later) but, if you don’t, just use a boxed low-sodium chicken broth. I went spelunking in my freezer and found a container of turkey broth from Thanksgiving!
Broth & Chicken
Serves 6 generously as a main course
  • 4 chicken breasts (use bone-in skin-on if you are using a purchased broth)
  • 2½ quarts chicken broth
  • 4 garlic cloves – unpeeled & smashed with the side of a knife
  • ½ large yellow or white onion, cut into large chunks
  • 6 sprigs cilantro
  • ½ tsp cumin
Raw Ingredients for BrothAdd all ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, covered, skimming off the foam as needed. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Simmer broth & vegetables for an additional 30 minutes. Remove vegetables. (Optional – strain soup through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a clean pot). When cool enough to handle, pull chicken pieces off the bones, shred with your fingers and return to the soup pot. Discard chicken bones and skin, garlic, onion & cilantro. Bring soup back to a boil and taste; add salt if needed. Serve soup piping hot with tortilla strips and mix-ins. If you are serving more people add a salad or make a platter of quesadillas to go alongside.
Tortilla StripsBaked Tortilla Strips for Garnishing Soup
  • Flour tortillas
  • Spray oil
  • Coarse Kosher or sea salt
I used 5-6 of the smallest flour tortillas (“fajita” size) I can find at my local grocery. Basically I lay them put whole on my baking sheet to see approximately how many I can fit & that’s what I use.
Place one tortilla on a cutting board & lightly spritz with spray oil. Flip over & spritz the other side. Season with salt. Place second tortilla on top, spritz with spray oil & season with salt. Continue adding tortillas in this manner.
Cut the stack of tortillas crosswise in half and then lengthwise into strips. Scatter evenly across your baking sheet. Bake at 350º for 10-15 minutes. Watch closely, they go from under-cooked to perfect to burnt quickly.
Mix-InsMix-Ins (use amounts according to the taste preferences of your dinner guests)
  • Diced tomatoes (in the winter I like to use the ones labeled “ugly ripe” that I can find at my local Publix)
  • Yellow or white onion, diced
  • Coarsely chopped cilantro
  • Assorted hot sauces – we use the green Jalapeño Tabasco and the Chipotle Tabasco
  • Avocado, cubed
  • Cheese – Mexican melting or crumbling cheese (link) or Monterey Jack or Cheddar
  • Lime, cut into wedges
  • 3 cups cooked long grain rice (1 1/2 cups before cooking)
  • Crumbled dried ancho chile peppers

Pictures of a few specialty ingredients:

Ancho Chili Peppers

Ancho Chili Peppers

Mexican Specialty Cheeses

Mexican Specialty Cheeses

How I assemble my personal soup bowl:

My Bowl of Mexican Chicken Soup

My Bowl of Mexican Chicken Soup

Start with large spoonful of rice then ladle in broth & chicken. Squeeze a lime wedge over your bowl and then drop said lime wedge into your soup. Add tomatoes, onions, cilantro, cumbled ancho peppers, avocado & tortilla strips. If you are sick, have with a large glass of orange juice, otherwise a Mexican beer would be perfect. Cheers!!

Chicken Pot Pie

Sometimes you just want some delicious comfort food. For me, chicken pot pie is one of those dishes that I want to be eating when it is cold and raining (or worse) outside. My recipe doesn’t use a can of “cream of XYZ soup” – it’s all from scratch except the crust (which will be my next project).

Chicken Pot Pie on plateHomemade Chicken Pot Pie
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 handful green beans, trimmed & cut into 1″ pieces
2 carrots (regular size not those baby carrots), cut into rounds
1½ cup red potatoes, diced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
½ small onion, diced
⅓ cup flour
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
¾ cup whole milk
1 unbaked piecrust
1 egg yolk
Directions
Preheat oven to 435º. Place diced red pepper and peas in a large bowl.
Cook green beans until just barely crisp tender. Transfer to bowl with red pepper & peas. Cook carrots until just barely cooked & added to bowl with other vegetables. Cook potatoes until just barely cooked and add to vegetable bowl. (I cook all these vegetables separately in the microwave but you can also boil or steam them).
Poach chicken, cool and cut into large dice. Add chicken to vegetables.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and onions and cook until softened and liquid has evaporated. Add flour, pepper and thyme. Cook and stir until combined. Whisk in broth and milk. Increase heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened slightly and smooth.
Add reserved vegetables and chicken to saucepan and mix to combine. Pour into a 2 qt. baking dish. Top with piecrust and crimp edges. Cut 5 slits in top of crust to vent steam. Whisk egg yolk with 1 tsp. cold water. Lightly brush egg wash on crust. Bake for 20-30 minutes until crust is lightly browned and filling is bubbling. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Chicken Pot Pie

Brussels Spouts, Cranberry Relish and Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce

Back in early November 2012, I was starting to test recipes for Thanksgiving and never got around to posting them. This dinner was a such a definite winner and perfect for the cold weather we’ve been having that I’ve decided to share it with you. The menu consisted of roasted Brussels sprouts, a raw cranberry relish and instead of turkey, sautéed chicken with a mustard cream sauce. I rounded out the meal with mashed potatoes from Costco.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Raw Cran Orange Relish Chick Mustard Cream SauceSimple Roasted Brussels Sprouts
The family (except Andy of course) LOVED the roasted Brussels sprouts. I had never served Brussels sprouts to my family but had seen several recipes for roasted sprouts and decided to try them. They came out deliciously crispy & caramelized and Nate was eating them like candy! Since then we’ve cooked them several more times with variations. I used the method described in my FineCooking Roasting magazine:

Trim sprouts and cut in half lengthwise, through the stem end. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt & pepper. Preheat oven to 475º. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Place sprouts cut side down on the parchment. Roast for 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of your Brussels sprouts).

Raw Cranberry-Orange Relish
I was looking for a low-sugar recipe for cranberries and came across this one from Epicurious.com. The fresh orange taste really complements the cranberries.

  • 1 12-oz. bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 navel orange
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅛ tsp cinnamon (which I omitted)

Raw Cranberry Orange Relish in Food ProcessorZest entire orange into food processor with a metal blade. Cut pith off orange & separate into sections. Place cranberries, orange sections, sugar & cinnamon in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Scrap into a bowl, cover & refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Raw Cranberry Orange RelishSautéed Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce
This was a really good stand-in for turkey with gravy and the mustard-cream sauce was delicious drizzled over the Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes in addition to the chicken. The recipe came from another favorite cookbook, EverydayFood Great Food Fast. I especially like this book because the recipes are divided into sections according to seasons, with soups, salad, main courses, sides & desserts for a particular season all grouped together.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine or chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. dried tarragon (I used thyme for a more Thanksgiving-y feel).

Season each chicken breast with salt & pepper to taste. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until cooked through 10-15 minutes, turning once. Transfer to a warm serving plate & cover with foil.

Pour the wine into the hot skillet; cook, stirring, until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Whisk in the cream, mustard & herbs. Cook, whisking, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Serve chicken with sauce on the side (for my picky child) or drizzled over the chicken.

Baked Pasta with Sausage and Four Cheeses

I received three cookbooks for Hanukkah (I am easy to shop for). One of them, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, I cooked from in a previous post. Today, I’m sharing a recipe that I made from the second one, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, by Frances Mayes & Edward Mayes, which my older son gave me for Hanukkah.

Tuscan Sun Baked PastaBaked Pasta with Sausage & Four Cheeses
From The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes & Edward Mayes
(with my own modifications in italics)
Serves 4-6
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. fresh sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 cup soffritto (recipe below)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, juice included, chopped
  • 1 lb. rigatoni
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) whole milk ricotta
  • 8 oz. fontina, cubed
  • 8 oz. mozzarella, cubed
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted in dry sauté pan
Directions
Preheat oven to 375º. Bring the pasta water to a boil and add salt. Make the soffritto (recipe below). In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat and cook the sausage, breaking it up as it browns, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine, turn the heat up to a boil, and cook until much of the liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the oregano, soffritto, seasonings, and tomatoes along with their juices. Simmer the sauce for at least 10 minutes, or until thick and savory.
Cook the rigatoni a minute less than the time required on the package (since it will continue cooking in the oven), then drain, reserving a bit of the pasta water.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta with the fontina and a splash of the pasta water, then add the drained rigatoni and continue mixing. Add the sausage mixture and mozzarella, tossing to mix well.
Oil a 9×13″ baking dish, and then pour in the pasta. Sprinkle the Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until golden flecked and hot.
This is my new favorite baked pasta, it is so yummy and comforting.
Soffritto
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Sauté the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until they begin to color and turn tender, 5-7 minutes. Reserve until needed in the recipe above.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Happy Hanukkah everyone! Here is a fabulous recipe to serve with your latkes as an alternative to brisket. And, if you aren’t making latkes, the meatballs are great with wide egg noodles. The original recipe came from one of my favorite Jewish holiday cookbooks, In the Jewish Tradition

Sweet and Sour MeatballsSweet & Sour Meatballs a la Suzanne

  • 2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 lg. white onion, minced (4 Tbsp. reserved)
  • 1 small green pepper, diced, optional
  • ½ cup golden raisins, optional
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • ½ cup matzah meal
  • cup water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 Tbsp. minced onion (reserved from above)
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • tsp. allspice

Combine all sauce ingredients, from tomato sauce through raisins, in a large, heavy-bottom pot. I use my cast iron Dutch oven. Bring to a boil.

While sauce is cooking, make the meatballs. Thoroughly combine the beef, matzah meal, water, egg, onion, garlic powder, salt, pepper and allspice. Form into small meatballs (about the size of golf balls).

Once the sauce is at a boil add the meatballs. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 45 min to 1 hour depending on the size of your meatballs.

Notes: the matzah meal is very important but if you can’t find it you can substitute dried bread crumbs.

I served the meatballs with latkes (from a mix) and an Israeli salad.

Hanukkah table

Election 2012 Dinner – Recipes and Photos

If you didn’t see the menu (or the ballot) for our Election Night 2012 Dinner yesterday, here it is:

  • Buffalo Left Wings (the drummettes) & Parmesan Right Wings (the flats)
  • Wedge Issue Salad with Blue State Cheese, Red State Tomatoes, Purple Swing State Onions and Pork Barrel Crispy Bacon Bits
  • Stuff Your Own Ballot Calzones

Buffalo Wings
I followed the instructions in this recipe on Epicurious.com for cooking these wings. The wings are baked on a cooling rack (such as for cookies) placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet. That way the grease & fat dripped down and away from the wings. It worked quite well although next time I will probably spritz the cooking rack with a little spray oil to keep the wings from sticking. If you line the rimmed baking sheet with foil you will really reduce the pans needed to be cleaned at the end of the night. I did not toss the wings with oil as per the recipe, because I felt I was trying to reduce the grease-factor, not add to it; plus the wing sauce already has butter in it.

Per the recipe referenced above, bake the wings at 400º for 45 minutes.

Plain Baked Chicken Wing Drummettes

While the wings were cooking, I melted 2 Tbsp butter in a bowl & mixed in ¼ cup Texas Pete Hot Sauce. After the hot wings came out of the oven, I tossed them in the bowl with the hot sauce mixture. It was the right amount of sauce for my 1¼ lb of wings. They came out on the medium side of mild.

Baked Chicken Wings in Buffalo Sauce

I served them with celery sticks, bottled ranch and bottled blue cheese dressing (Cindy’s brand which I buy at Whole Foods in the produce section).

Parmesan Right Wings
For these wings I used this recipe from TasteOfHome.com

The wings are dipped in melted butter with a pinch of garlic powder and then into a mixture of dried bread crumbs & Parmesan cheese (this is definitely the time to use the stuff from the green can).
They were cooked on a foil-lined cookie sheet but would probably be even better if they had been elevated as the Buffalo wings were. I baked them as directed at 350º for 50-60 minutes.

These were by far the winner of the family taste test.

Wedge Issue Salad
This was just a standard wedge salad with catchy names for all the components.

Wedge cut pieces of iceberg lettuce
Red State Tomatoes – diced tomatoes
Purple Swing State Onions – thinly sliced red (purple) onion rings
Pork Barrel Crispy Bits – cooked & crumbled bacon
Blue State Cheese – blue cheese dressing (the same the I used above for the Buffalo wings)

Stuff your Own Ballot Calzones
I can buy 1-lb bags of pizza dough at my local Publix which is exactly what I did yesterday. Each of two bags was split into two balls and then rolled out so I had the base of 4 calzones ready. I prepared a bunch of toppings and let each person assemble their own calzone.

Toppings I used: diced cooked onions, diced cooked green pepper, sautéed sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and precooked chicken Italian sausage which I sliced & sautéed. For calzones, the vegetables all need to be precooked or they will release too much liquid into the middle of your calzone.

Calzone Topping Bar

I followed an article in an old issue of Fine Cooking (May 2008) about pizzas, calzones & strombolis. Since it’s not available on their website unless you are a member, I’ve summarized the instructions that I used below.

You could certainly use a purchased pizza sauce or even marinara sauce but I used the quick no-cook sauce from FineCooking.com that was part of the article about calzones.

Before shaping the dough, preheat the oven to 500º.

Shape the dough – Using floured hands and a floured work surface, press one dough ball into a round disk with your fingers. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a circle or oval (or what ever crazy shape your dough wants to make) about ⅜” thick. Dust both sides with flour. Repeat for the other balls of dough.
Fill calzones – spread about ¼ cup of sauce on one half of the dough leaving a narrow border. Cover with about ½ cup of soft melting cheese. Add your choice of additional toppings. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp grated hard cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago).
Brush the edge of the dough with cool water and fold the empty half of dough over the filling. Crimp edges with a fork.Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (not wax paper). Brush top with olive oil and cut three steam vents (we tried to carve initials in ours).Put baking sheet in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 450º. Bake until crust turns a rich golden brown. Serve with additional tomato sauce for dipping.

My personal calzone – pepperoni and lots of veggies

I really had fun coming up with catchy ideas for Election Night and it definitely a great way to talk about concepts such as wedge issues and stuffed ballots without sounding too too much like a teacher.

Also, the wings & calzones are fabulous recipes for any football watching you might be doing this Fall. Let me know what you think!