Potato-Broccoli Soup

I asked for help with vegetarian recipes for Lent (we’re not going vegetarian all the way, but I’m trying to learn more meatless recipes that our whole family can enjoy) and got a bunch of great recipes from friends on Facebook. I wanted to share one of our favorite vegetarian recipes, and it seemed easier to type it up here and then post the link than to put the whole recipe in Facebook. The recipe is originally from the Baltimore Sun (and originally called for chicken bouillon cubes and water instead of veggie broth–I’ll use either chicken broth or vegetable broth if I don’t care that the soup is vegetarian). As you’ll see below, you can do a lot of fudging on amounts.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter (or you could use olive oil)
  • ~1 cup chopped onions (Since my kids aren’t big onion fans, I put in just enough for flavor–usually about half of a medium onion.)
  • ~2 pounds diced potatoes (I don’t peel them, but you can. You can also adjust the amount of potatoes pretty easily to make a little more soup.)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable broth (enough that all the potatoes will be covered easily)
  • 12 oz. frozen broccoli or about 2 big heads fresh broccoli (more or less as desired)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste (grocery store broths are usually pretty salty, and there’s the cheese, but the potatoes do suck up a lot of salt, so taste before serving.)

Instructions:

  1. If the broccoli is not frozen, cut it up and cook it in the microwave or in a steamer until just done. It will get cooked a little more in the soup at the end, but you want it to be not crunchy before you put it in the soup.
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot (non-stick is what I prefer, especially with the potatoes and cheese) over medium heat. Add onion and sauté about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the potatoes and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15-20 minutes.
  4. Remove 1 to 1 1/2 cups potato cubes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Blend the rest of the soup together until smooth with an immersion blender. (You can also transfer to a regular blender or food processor, but this would not be one of my favorite soups if I had to do that regularly.)
  5. Mix in reserved potatoes and broccoli, reheat over medium-low to medium.
  6. Add cheese in and stir until cheese is completely melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Cucumbers and Pickling

Thursday is our last CSA pick-up for the year. On the one hand, I’m always a little sad to say good-bye to the farm family and their employees, who we’ve gotten to know over the last 5 years. On the other, I am thankful that I will not have to brainstorm ways to use up the weekly bounty before it goes bad. Overall, I feel pretty good about how we’ve done this year. I’ve had to throw out some lettuce, a few cucumbers and squash, but I think we’ve gotten better about either eating up the produce or cooking and freezing it for later. Some appeals to friends on Facebook definitely helped–especially when we had a bumper crop of cabbage back in the summer.

Our last extreme bounty this years was cucumbers. I like cucumbers just fine, so does my husband. My kids range from indifferent to opposed. We don’t eat a whole lot of salad as a family, so while I used a few cucumbers in salads and even made a couple just-cucumber salads, that didn’t nearly take care of all the cucumbers we were getting. Since four out of the five of us like pickles, I finally decided to give pickling a try.

My experience in food preservation is pretty small. I will cook and freeze lots of things (my husband keeps joking about getting me a chest freezer for Christmas; part of the joke is that I would actually enjoy the gift even while laughing at it), and that includes having made freezer jam. I have never canned anything that requires processing in boiling water. Every time I think I will try that, I get a book out and start reading it and get scared off by the warnings that sounds something like “Follow the recipe exactly or you might die of botulism!!” Maybe next year I will be brave enough to try real canning. For now, I found a refrigerator pickle recipe here: http://spoonful.com/recipes/the-worlds-best-and-easiest-dill-pickles that sounded good, easy, and up for tinkering with amounts (since I didn’t know if I would have enough cucumbers to make a full recipe).

The recipe was as easy as it advertised, and it was a recipe that easily lent itself to small helpers. I made the brine, and then the kids helped me fill jars while we waited for it to cool. We are dill pickle fans–no sweet pickles or bread and butter here!–and the only ingredients besides the brine and cucumbers were fresh dill (which we had to buy special, but I managed to use it up just for pickles, so it wasn’t wasted), garlic cloves, and peppercorns. Then we just had to wait for a couple days while the pickles pickled.

They turned out wonderfully. I’ve ended up making these pickles three times: one half batch, one full batch, and one double batch (when the cucumbers just kept coming) and so far all the jars except one turned out great (that one turned out mushy). I had enough to give some away, and all the reports have been good. I may make one more batch if I can get to it in the next day or two, and then I will say so long to cucumbers for a very long time. At this point, I’ll probably discover a recipe I have to try that calls for 20 cucumbers or something. But such is life.

I did actually think to take pictures while making my first batch, so here they are:

Filled pickle jar, waiting to add brine.

Filled pickle jar, waiting to add brine.

Jar from the side.

Jar from the side.

Cucumbers turning into pickles.

Cucumbers turning into pickles.

Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

Yikes, I have gotten behind in blogging. I guess that’s just life sometimes.

I actually started this post way back before Halloween, because we had several winter squash and a pie pumpkin from our CSA box. However, we actually carved a jack-o-lantern this year (the first time at least since the kids were born, and by “we” I mean my husband with an enthralled audience of 4), so it seemed a good time to finish up the post.

Many of you probably already know how to roast pumpkin seeds, and the process is the same for winter squash. From The Joy of Cooking, the instructions are basically to separate the seeds from the strings and gunk, don’t wash them, toss them with some vegetable oil, spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 250° for a very long time (Joy suggests 1 1/2 hours, but basically until they are dried out). Then you can toss them with salt or other seasoning or, if you are really feeling like torturing yourself, break off the outer shells to use the seed kernels in fancy dessert recipes. (My sister makes an excellent pumpkin brittle, but I think she’s gone to buying pre-shelled seeds.)

The problem with this process is that, as far as I can tell, there is really no quick and easy way to separate all those seeds, and the smaller the pumpkin/squash, the harder it takes. However, I’ve gotten a process down that seems to work fairly well, so I share it in case it proves useful to anyone else.

pumpkin_seeds_towelFirst, once I scoop the seeds out of the squash or pumpkin, I spread them out on a dishtowel–preferably a terrycloth towel over a tea towel. Then I use a spoon to sort of scrape the seeds away from the strings. It’s not fast, but it seems to go faster than using my hands to separate the seeds, since they are so darn slippery. I usually separate the seeds in small batches, and it took me about 40 minutes to get them all out when I did our pie pumpkin. My husband did the jack-o-lantern seeds, and he was a lot faster, which is normal for anything we both try to do, but I say he had the advantage of fewer strings in the bigger pumpkin.

The first picture shows them all spread out, while the second shows where a couple of the seeds have been pretty well separated.pumpkin_seeds_separated

After that, I just follow the recipe instructions and spread them out on a cookie sheet, bake, shake with salt, and enjoy!

pumpkin_seeds_sheet

 

Cookbook Recommendation: The Mom 100

The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back PocketThe Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket by Katie Workman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this cookbook as a Christmas gift last year, and it has been a good one. I have only made about 4-5 recipes so far (and one of those, I actually delegated to my husband…but hey, I found the recipe!), but they’ve all been well-received, and most of them have been either very easy or easy to make in large batches so I don’t have to cook as often.  Particular favorites so far include  her granola recipe, Mexican tortilla casserole (I’ve made similar recipes before, but this has been my favorite all-vegetarian version), and roasted potatoes (which has convinced my non-potato eating son to eat a potato or two). I have plans to make at least 3-4 more of the recipes in the near future.

Beyond the individual recipes, this is a cookbook that is both fun and useful to just sit down and read. I wouldn’t recommend it as next month’s book club selection or anything, but when I go searching through the recipes, I often lose half an hour just reading. Her comments about trying to feed healthy things to kids are both funny and helpful, and when I first looked through the book, I was laughing out loud at some of her chapter titles and tag lines. For example, there’s a chapter called “Let’s Call a Carb a Carb!” and her seafood chapter has the tagline, “Just eat the damn fish!” (This one could probably apply to me as well as my kids, so that might be why it tickled my funny bone. On the “useful” front, she includes many dishes that I already have recipes for, but with variations that are nice to keep in mind, and lots of the recipes include “Fork in the Road” suggestions to vary one dish for several picky palates.

If you are looking for a low-meat cookbook, this is not it. It has some great vegetarian recipes, but many of the meat dishes call for a lot of meat. I personally love meat, but it’s a good thing to know in advance, and that also means that some of the recipes are on the expensive side. One other criticism is that most the chicken recipes, including several roasting recipes, call for the chicken to be cut up before cooking. Not a problem if you remember to buy chicken parts; I was just a little disappointed because I expect a roast chicken recipe to involve sticking a whole chicken in the oven and moving on with the day.

Aside from these slight criticisms, I think this is a great book and I look forward to cooking from it more over the coming months.

Zucchini and Summer Squash

I like zucchini and summer squash, but I can’t say I love either one (at least not in their purest forms), and we have gotten a LOT of them this year. My basic plan for using them is:

  1. Make zucchini bread. Possibly a double batch, and you can use shredded summer squash just the same as shredded zucchini. (I use these two vegetables basically interchangeably no matter what.)
  2. Have at least one meat and potatoes dinner where zucchini or summer squash is the vegetable. The default way I cook it is sauteing with onions and butter–I really like it best when it has cooked so long (at a low temperature) that there is probably no nutritional value left, but nobody else in my family seems to especially like it at all, so I cook it my way. I tried grilling it this summer, but it just didn’t seem quite done enough for me.
  3. Hide extras in such dishes as ratatouille, chili (they make a good substitute for meat if you want to make a vegetarian chili, at least in terms of bulk), soups, stews.

This plan generally makes use of all the squash I have laying around, but this year it wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I didn’t make enough stews or what, but we had a LOT of extra summer squash lying around, and I wasn’t ready to make more zucchini bread yet.

This led to my most recent food discovery, which is zucchini or summer squash parmesan. It’s exactly like eggplant parmesan, only substitute squash. Now, I used my one “real Italian” cookbook to make this (that’s where I found the recipe), so it was a somewhat involved process including homemade sauce (hey, we had a lot of tomatoes, too) and sliced vs. shredded cheese, but I think this was a recipe that can easily adapt. So if you have a good eggplant parmesan (or chicken parmesan, for that matter) recipe that you like feel free to sub in zucchini or summer squash as the main event. The one point I wouldn’t have thought of is to slice the squash long-ways, instead of in rounds–this will also make the overall process faster, since you can fry the bigger pieces.

This extra option for squash-usage has successfully rid me of all the squash that were hiding in my crisper drawer.

Now if I can just figure out how to use up all the cucumbers.

 

Guacamole Soup and the Wonders of Buttermilk

Last week, I dug out a recipe that we hadn’t made for years: Cold Avocado Soup, from our (1997) edition of The Joy of Cooking. My husband made it as a first course for a fancy dinner once, and I remember eating it, but not loving it (I still tend to approach cold soups with some suspicion–something just seems wrong about them). However, I was looking for something easy and cold, plus we’d been using up a lot of meat lately, and I wanted something with less or no meat.

Plus, all three kids love guacamole.

Here’s an overview of the recipe, the simplicity of which I’d forgotten:

Scoop out the insides of 2 avocados. Process in a food processor (or a blender would probably work, assuming the avocados are ripe) with 1-2 cloves garlic until smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir in 2 cups of buttermilk and a little bit of lime juice, plus some salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

That’s it.

I had forgotten how easy this was, but I was thrilled to rediscover it. We served it with tortilla chips (for everyone) and salsa (for the grown-ups), plus some CSA heirloom cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese on the side, rechristened as “Guacamole Soup.”

It was a huge success. Everyone ate at least 2 bites (this is already a big success given our current dining crew), and the two older kids ate two servings each. We had no leftovers.

I then had a good deal of buttermilk left, so we proceeded to do the following things with it:

  • make ranch dressing (and I know I’ve tried this once without success, so I need to share the cookbook I used for this at a later date)
  • make chess pie (my husband, the real family baker, did this, but I can write more about chess pie later, if anyone wants to know)

We still have a little left, so I may put it in some biscuits or get my husband to make pancakes.

It was an all-around happy rediscovery, both of the recipe and the usefulness of buttermilk.

*Update: I was playing around online this evening and happened across this article: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/31/207060436/buttermilk-makes-everything-taste-a-little-better

Apparently, I’m not the only one with buttermilk on the brain.

Cabbage

Cabbage has been my CSA nemesis this year. This is mostly because we haven’t had any collards to contend with, but also because cabbage has never been a favorite of mine. It’s big, it’s very distinctive, it lasts forever. And this year, we have received LOTS of it (and very big heads sometimes, too). Oh, and I don’t really like coleslaw.

Thanks largely to suggestions of friends (hooray for Facebook recipe calls!) and my husband’s creativity, I have come to better appreciate cabbage this year. In case you are also not a cabbage fan, here are some ideas for your over-abundance of cabbage:

  • Obviously, stir-fry it. If you cook something with enough soy sauce, meat, and other veggies, it tends to taste better. I will put it in chicken stir-fry when I make it, and we also frequently make a recipe (from the cookbook More With Less) called Formosan Fried Cabbage, which is basically a stir-fry of sausage, cabbage, onions, and soy sauce.
  • Continuing in the Asian vein, a friend recommended this recipe: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/japanese-pizza-recipe.html. This was very easy and good (although my kids didn’t really love it, my husband and I liked it enough to eat all the leftovers quickly), and rose even more in my estimation when it got mentioned on The Splendid Table after we had already made it.
  • We turned to good old Joy of Cooking and found a couple other ideas, one of which was to boil potatoes with cooked bacon, then add cabbage until it’s cooked, and add parsley at the end. With a little butter also added (not in the recipe, but it tasted pretty darn good), this was a family success. Bacon is often a key point in getting our son to try things.
  • I also made creamed cabbage (also from Joy) for the first time…not too bad with a homey meal of chicken and mashed potatoes. I put in too much salt, so taste before you salt!

That’s about it for now. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of cabbage for the year, though, so I’ll update if I find more to share.