Monday, January 9, 2017

Meatless Monday--Chunky Creamy Mushroom Soup

I debated about posting this soup.  Y''s kind of ugly.  Like "U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi" ugly.  But oh. my. goodness.  It is heavenly.  

And it's garnished with a pat of butter.  So there's that.

If you're a fan of rich, silky, buttery steakhouse style sautéed mushrooms--and I am--you're going to love this soup.  It's basically like eating a bowl full of those beloved mushroom which, let's be honest, are better than the steak anyway.

This recipe came from Chrissy Teigen's Cravings cookbook.  My best friend's parents gave it to me for Christmas and it pretty much proves, once again, that they know me so, so well and love me so, so much.  Nearly every single recipe in the book had me ready to get right to work in the kitchen.  The narratives had me literally laughing out loud.  Basically, I want to be Chrissy Teigen's friend.  Does anyone know how to make this happen?  If you do, please let me know.  I'll make sure you're invited to the party.  Promise.

Rich, meaty mushrooms get the star treatment in this buttery vegetarian soup that's oh so reminiscent of everyone's favorite steakhouse sautéed mushrooms.    

Chunky Creamy Mushroom Soup
very slightly adapted from Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat

2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for serving (use all olive oil to make vegan)
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs. assorted mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped (or pulsed in the food processor)
1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 TBSP dried, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c. mushroom or vegetable broth, plus more if needed

1.  In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more.

2.  Add the mushrooms, thyme, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper and cook approximately 10 minutes, stirring, until the mushrooms release their water and shrink to about half their size.

3.  Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the mushrooms are tendera nd the soup thickens slightly, 15-20 minutes.

4.  Using an immersion blender, partially purée the soup.  Alternately, carefully purée half the soup in a blender and return to the pot.  Thin with additional broth, if needed, and season to taste.

5.  Ladle into bowls and garnish each bowl with a pat of butter and sprigs of thyme.

Yield: 4 servings 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Meatless Monday--Harissa-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

I've heard a lot of people say January is one of their least favorite months.  They point to gray skies, cold weather, and a schedule that seems quite empty after the inevitable holiday rush.

I see it quite differently.

I actually look forward to evenings free from shopping trips and parties and cold Saturday afternoons spent binge watching old tv shows while snuggled up in front of the fireplace.  I really love Christmas decorations and Christmas music, but I also like the feeling of a freshly cleaned and cleared out house and the particular kind of quiet that comes from an overcast sky.  

Most of all, I like the possibility the new year brings.  Chances to recenter myself, focus on new goals, and reflect on new resolutions.  As fun as the ever decadent chocolate-covered, wine-soaked holiday season is, a January menu filled whole, healthy meals just always feels so right.  So get ready for a whole lot of piping hot soups and roasted vegetables, readers.  2016 was pretty rough.  We're going to make 2017 a whole lot better.

Start the new year off right with a big, comforting pot of this butternut squash soup.  With protein-packed chickpeas, smoky cumin, and spicy, warming harissa and cardamom, it's the ultimate healthy vegan meal for a cold winter's day.

Harissa-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Real Simple, October 2016

3 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in. cubes
5 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled or thinly sliced
2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 1/2 TBSP harissa paste OR 2 TBSP dried harissa powder
6 c. vegetable broth
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
plain Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro, for serving

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Toss the squash with 
three tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and  1/2  teaspoon pepper and divide between two rimmed baking sheets.  Roast, tossing once, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.  (This may be done ahead to make for a quicker, easier weeknight meal.  If roasting the squash ahead of time, pull it out of the refrigerator to begin coming to room temperature while completing the following steps.)

  1. 2.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large pot over low heat.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about five minutes.  Add the garlic, cumin, cardamom, and the remaining salt and pepper.  If using harissa powder, add it here, as well.  Cook two minutes more.
  2. 3.  Add the harissa paste (if using), broth, and chickpeas.  Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.   If you roasted the squash ahead of time, add it to the soup and simmer for five minutes.  If using squash straight from the oven, remove 
the pot from heat after simmering and gently stir it into the soup.  Serve topped with yogurt and cilantro, if desired.

Yield: 8 servings

Note: This soup freezes well, so I recommend making the whole batch.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Spiced Red Wine Hot Chocolate

2016 was a tough one.  

For so many of us, a year that started with so much hope and promise seemed to quickly spiral out of control.  Brussels, Mosul, Nice, Lahore, and Orlando.  An epidemic of police shootings.  Retaliation in my hometown of Dallas.  Brexit.  The loss of David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, and Harper Lee.  Elie Wiesel, his wisdom and his warnings, gone.  The election.  Aleppo.  One hit after another left us in a collective state of disequilibrium, looking to the heavens and to each other for answers, understanding, and relief.

I'd like to say history will look back on 2016 as a time of suffering, but also a time of renewed respect and collaboration.  A time when empathy was the emotion de riguer.  But I find myself, generally an optimist, entirely doubtful of this.  I'm afraid 2016 will be remembered as a time when we rapidly careened toward lows I'd like to never repeat.

But I don't want to lose hope.  I can't.  It's not practical and it's not productive.  Even though we've lost so much and made mistakes that still terrify me, I know nothing will get better if we don't pull together and recommit to listening, learning, and doing what we can to help.  2016 won't go down as the year we figured out how to put others before ourselves, but I pray 2017 will.

So here's a warm cup of comfort for these last cold days of 2016.  

May the new year bring peace, joy, and love to you and yours.  And may be we all remember it's in our power to make it happen.

Deep red wine combines with rich, dark chocolate and a subtle hint of cinnamon for an elevated take on a comforting classic that's sure to warm your hands and your heart. 

Spiced Red Wine Hot Chocolate
Apple a Day original, inspired by many recipes

6 oz. semisweet or dark chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 c. fruity red wine, such as Merlot, Cabernet, or Beaujolais
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 c. milk (at least 2%)
up to 1/4 c. water, if desired

1.  In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate into the red wine, whisking constantly.  Whisk in cinnamon and brown sugar and bring to a simmer.

2.  Add in milk and bring to bring to a simmer.  Whisk frequently until mixture comes to temperature, approximately five minutes.  Taste and, if desired, thin with water.

3.  Ladle into mugs and enjoy.

Yield: 2 generous or three regular servings   

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pfeffernusse (German Spice Cookies)

Of all my Christmas memories, the dearest to me are all in the kitchen.  Ever since I was a very little girl, my mom and I have spent the best parts of every Christmas cooking and baking together.  When I was small enough to sit up on the counter to help, she taught me to form balls of dough for molasses crinkles between my tiny little hands, then roll them in sugar and place them baking sheets.  She'd help me shake cookies like these pfeffernusse in bags of powdered sugar and arrange them on a special plate to take to church for the potluck after my Sunday school Christmas pageant.

Over time, my sisters have joined in (our poor brother stays faaaaar away until it's time to taste test) and our cooking and baking endeavors have become more complicated.  My sisters and I couldn't be more different and we haven't always gotten along.  I know these holiday kitchen sessions have been such an integral part of bringing us back together and I am beyond thankful for that.  In the past couple of years, we've brought my sweet little niece into the fold.  I hope one day I'll be able to make similar memories with a little one of my own.

This recipe is not the one my mom and I would've used all those years ago, but I think it's my new favorite.  These cookies are fully and boldly spiced, but not in an overly aggressive way.  They stay soft in a container for several days and the flavor only gets better.  Plus, I get to shake them in a bag of powdered sugar just like I did as a little girl sitting up on the kitchen counter all those years ago.

Soft, sweet, and spicy, there's nothing not to love about these nostalgic Christmas cookies.

from What's Gaby Cooking?

1/2 c. dark molasses
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. fresh, finely-cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp. anise extract
1 c. confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1.  In a large, heavy bottomed pot over low heat, combine the molasses, honey, and butter.  Stir together until the butter is just melted and the ingredients come together, making sure the mixture does not boil.

2.  Remove the pot from the heat and pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer.  If you will not be using a stand mixer, pour into a large metal or tempered glass bowl.

3.  While the molasses mixture cools, sift together the flour, both sugars, cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, allspice, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt in a separate bowl.

4.  When the molasses mixture is nearly cooled to room temperature, stir in the eggs and anise extract.

5.  In three additions, add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture.  Mix on low until everything is combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl before each addition.  The dough will be quite stiff.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least two hours, up to overnight.

6.  Preheat the oven to 325° F and prepare two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

7.  Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out portions of dough.  Roll each scoop between your hands to form a ball.  Place each ball on a baking sheet and place two inches apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, then remove each baking sheet and set on a wire cooling rack for five minutes.  Once the cookies begin to firm up, remove from the baking pan and place directly on the rack.

8.  When the cookies are completely cooled, roll each in powdered sugar or place in a large plastic bag, a few at a time, and shake to coat.  (These are great jobs for little helpers.)

Yield: approximately four dozen cookies

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Classic Apple Pie

Like many of you, this time of year always gets me in a sentimental and reflective place.  Life isn't perfect--it wasn't really designed to be--but I have so much to be thankful for.

I made this pie in the kitchen of the house I own.  I was standing in my kitchen, freezing cold, because I had scheduled to have my front door painted.  I figured it would be the perfect day to take care of the door.  Lo and behold, our first freeze arrived that day and having the door open while it dried meant my little house was more like an igloo.  But yet, I was in a house I owned, with plenty of warm clothes to pile on and a refrigerator and pantry full of food to cook.  As soon as I could close the door, I had a working heater ready to go.  I am fortunate.

The crust I used in this classic apple pie was just one of six recipes I'd made that ice cold day in the kitchen.  One crust was for the freezer reserve and one was for this pie.  Three more were for the best friend anyone could ever ask for, and the last one was for my best friend's mom.  I met this amazing friend of mine freshman year of college.  We've been by each other's side ever since that day and I can truly say I owe my life today to her.  She and her sweet family put me back together when I was completely broken and helped me become an even better version of myself.  The compassion, humility, strength, and generosity they showed me is something for which I will always be indebted. 

The finished pie was for Friendsgiving with an amazing group of individuals who took me in to their already tight knit group.  We met in a newly-formed Sunday school class at a church I just adore.  They had already traveled the world together on Habitat for Humanity mission trips.  They opened their arms to me when I was new to Dallas and made me feel like it was okay to toss my safety net out the window and enjoy life again.  That hasn't stopped for even a second.

Now I'm with part of my family.  My family who, though we disagree, will always rally around each other.  My family who is always ready for fun and will find a way to make it if it isn't readily available.  My family who owes all we are to a mom who has sacrificed beyond comprehension, demonstrated grace beyond words, and shown us all an immeasurable amount of love.

I hope all of you have just as much to be thankful for.  I hope you and yours travel safely and find yourselves gathered around a table overflowing with food to nourish your body, memories to replenish your soul, and love to fill your heart.

This classic apple pie, brimming with tender apples and warming spices, and enveloped in the flakiest butteriest crust is sure to bring back memories of the happiest of Thanksgivings.    

Classic Apple Pie
Apple a Day original

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2-in. cubes
1 TBSP all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 TBSP tapioca
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 TBSP bourbon (or lemon juice, if you'd prefer)
1 egg, lightly beaten
raw turbinado sugar, for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F and the rack in the center position.

2.  Roll out one crust and place into bottom of a standard pie dish (this is not a deep dish recipe).

3.  In a large bowl, mix apples, flour, cornstarch, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and bourbon.  Pour mixture into bottom crust.

4.  Roll out top crust.  Roll part way over the rolling pin and place on the pie.  Trim and seal edges and slice a few small vents into the top crust.  Alternately, use small cookie cutters or pie dough cutters to create desired design for a top crust.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar.

5.  Place the pie dish on a baking sheet and put into the oven.  Bake 30 minutes, then check.  If the pie is browning too quickly, place foil over the top to prevent the crust from burning.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees and bake 15-20 minutes more.

6.  Remove from the oven and place pie dish onto a wire cooling rack.  Let cool at least one hour before serving.