Last year I had the rather brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea to host a soup swap for myself and some girlfriends. The concept was simple: do the work of cooking one soup, but wind up with a fridge full of 4 or 5 different soups. This was mostly born from the fact that while I love to cook big batches of things to take in my lunch for the week, I don’t exactly want to eat the same thing 5 days in a row. So, in what I hope will become an annual tradition, we got together and traded soups (and stories of youthful indiscretions, but that’s for another blog… or not!).
Once again I made two soups, this Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin (sooo good!!), and an “African-inspired” carrot soup from Moosewood Daily Special that had peanut butter, lime and chili sauce. The carrot soup sounded like a good idea at the time, but I had to majorly tweak it to get it to taste good to me. I added a pretty significant amount of brown sugar, upped the peanut butter, and also added coconut milk. It ended up tasting like peanut satay sauce, which I guess was not a bad thing, but the fact that I altered it so much makes it pretty impossible to give a recipe. (But make the cheese soup- that turned out great!)
This year’s batch of soups were no less delicious and satisfying than last year’s. So without further ado, here are my “tasting notes”. For the recipes, just follow the links.
French Lentil Soup
First of all, the “French” refers to the type of lentils used, not the style of the soup, so don’t worry- it’s not some heavy-cream-and-butter bomb! French green (Puy) lentils are so great in soup; they are much firmer than regular brown lentils and have a nice chew to them. This soup is seasoned with mint and cinnamon, among other things, which gives it a delightful Middle Eastern feel. There is an optional garnish of thick Greek yogurt. I would up the suggested salt content a tiny bit, but other than that I found it to be just right as-is. Oh, and there are greens in it too so it’s super healthy. Thanks Kate, this is definitely going into the rotation!
Caldo Tlalpeño (Chicken, Chipotle & Chickpea Soup)
The soup for those who like to eat alliteratively! Amanda says she makes this for weeknight suppers on a pretty regular basis, and it seems pretty straightforward and simple. The only thing that might throw you off is finding fresh epazote, but I believe she made this batch without and it was still delicious. I tend to prefer dark meat so I would probably sub out an equal weight of bone-in, skinned chicken leg quarters, but that’s just a personal preference and it was certainly good (and probably a bit healthier) with the breast meat. Although it’s not in the recipe, I couldn’t resist adding some chopped cilantro when I reheated mine.
Shrimp & Corn Chowder with Fennel
Shrimp, corn, fennel, bacon… what’s not to like about this soup? Some of the commenters on the Real Simple site (where this was taken from) were pretty harsh, saying it was very bland. I could definitely picture a dash or two of Tabasco, and just a wee bit more salt, but it was far from being as bland as they implied! (You’re probably starting to think I’m a salt freak at this point, but a pinch of salt can be the difference between bland and just right. Taste and add as you go… everyone’s taste buds are different!) Michelle made this with the suggested (optional) bacon and I would too, but I would maybe crumble it in just before serving. The only other tweak I would consider is adding a bit of cornstarch to give it a thicker, more “chowdery” feel (dissolve cornstarch in cold water before adding to the soup).
African Curried Coconut Soup
This vegan soup was delightful and looks really easy to make. The rice is listed as “optional” but I would definitely include it- not only does it make it a bit more filling, but it’s beneficial to eat rice and legumes together, especially for non-meat eaters. Sarah added some spinach at the end of the cooking (not in the recipe) and it was a nice touch.
Thanks again, ladies… Can’t wait for our next swap!
As the years go by, I find it increasingly difficult to come up with gift ideas for my parents, especially my dad. There isn’t a whole lot that he needs or wants that he wouldn’t just pick up for himself, so when it comes to gift-giving time, I’m always a bit stumped. To make matters even more difficult, his birthday falls within a week of Fathers’ Day. This year I decided I was done going to the mall and spending money on some useless object that would end up in the back of a closet. So for Father’s Day I planted some herbs in his garden, and for his birthday I made him a few pounds of sausage!
My dad is very health-conscious- he rarely eats red meat, and usually goes for the low-fat option when possible. He also loves to grill, so I thought what better gift than a bunch of homemade chicken sausage? I found out through reading online that most of the chicken sausage you buy in the store is actually not that low fat, but by making it at home, you can obviously control what goes into it and make a much healthier product. Milk powder is supposedly the “secret ingredient” to keep things moist. (Also, apparently cooked white rice is a great fat substitute, although I didn’t try it.)
I’m not going to lie- making sausage at home is a labor of love, and the two main reasons to do it would be a) controlling the ingredients, and b) making some creative flavors that you couldn’t find in a store. The meat counter at my local grocery makes sausage on-site, and has a decent variety, so until now I never felt much need to make my own. But I always like to try new and challenging food projects, so this was as good an excuse as any! I made two varieties, a chicken “bratwurst”, and a sweet Italian-style sausage. The bratwurst recipe was adapted from this one, and I didn’t use a recipe for the Italian sausage- I just added a bunch of fresh garlic, fennel seeds, a few red chili flakes, basil and oregano. I used a 2:1 ratio of boneless thighs and chicken breast- I wanted it lean but not totally dry.
I’ve used my meat grinder attachment before to make chorizo, but had never used the sausage stuffer before, so that was a new frontier. The first time around, I had some trouble with getting the timing down, and ended up with some air pockets, etc. Fortunately, the second time went a lot more smoothly, which encourages me to repeat the experiment, knowing it will get easier with practice. The directions tell you to grease the nozzle before putting the casing over it, but I found that if the casing is wet, that works much better than grease.
You have to really be cool with playing with intestines to make your own sausage. It’s fun, once you get the hang of it and get over the fact that what you’re putting meat into was formerly a thoroughfare for “waste material” as we’ll delicately refer to it. Rinsing the casings is entertaining- you fit one open end over your faucet and let the water flow though, and it inflates like a water balloon. Fun stuff!
I haven’t gotten any feedback yet from Dad, as I think he put the sausages in the freezer for later, but Marvin & I grilled a few leftovers the other night and I was pretty pleased for a first-time effort; enough so that I’m inclined to attempt it again before grilling season is through. I’ve been dying to try a Vietnamese sausage, and maybe even a boudin noir if I can get my hands on some pig’s blood (anyone having a hookup should email me!). If you want more info on making your own sausage, check out the blog Saucisson Mac, or if you’re really serious and don’t already have the book Charcuterie, go pick that up at your local bookstore.
This past Sunday I finally got the chance to meet some of my fellow MLFB’ers (that’s Michigan Lady Food Bloggers to the rest of you) at a get-together at Rena‘s lovely Ann Arbor home. I can’t quite recall how our theme was chosen, but it was decided that we would all bring a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you who have ever seen my cookbook shelves, but I actually don’t own any Julia Child cookbooks. I guess I always thought of MtAoFC as démodé and somewhat irrelevant to the modern kitchen. Still, I got a copy from the library and flipped through, settling on the recipe for Mousse de Foies de Volailles as my contribution. As I read through, some of the recipes did seem obtuse, but others were definitely appealing. Most of all, I was pleasantly surprised and amused by the voice in which the book is written. I also read Julie & Julia over the weekend and will do a book review of that soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it probably aided my appreciation for MtAoFC.
I wasn’t able to find fresh chicken livers at the grocery store, so I wound up using frozen, but the taste of the finished product was still good. Since cognac was not in the budget, I substituted brandy, which worked just fine. I had some quatre-épices (a French spice blend of pepper, clove, nutmeg and ginger, typically used to season pâtés), so I substituted that for the seasonings the recipe called for.
The pâté came together just as easily as the conversation among the group that day (aided, I might add, by a lovely selection of French wines, chosen for us by Matt Morgan of Morgan & York in Ann Arbor). My friend Kate came along with me and was just as excited as I was to sample the dishes of these talented ladies. It was great to finally be able to put some faces to the names of bloggers I’ve been following and corresponding with for several months now, and I regret having missed the last gathering (Summer in January). But I’m confident there will be many more to come, and that the food will be just as delectable!
Some of the offerings Sunday included quiche à l’oignon, tarte Tatin, a country pork liver pâté, champignons à la Grecque, some chocolate-filled choux pastry puffs, a chocolate crème brulée, some baguette and cheeses, and a wonderful chicken and sausage stew with rouille made by our hostess. I wanted to pace myself and taste different
foods with different samples of the wine, so I was making my way rather slowly through all the goodies on the table. Much to my dismay, when at last I got to the desserts, the tarte Tatin was completely gone! I had to content myself with a little scraping of the crust, which tasted heavenly… I think I may have to make one for myself in the near future to make up for this disappointment. In spite of that, Kate and I left the party blissfully satiated, and she was cool enough to let me nap in the car on the way back
since I was exhausted (long weekend!) and had band practice immediately upon returning home. There are no rewards without time and hard work though, and that goes for music as well as cooking. That said, this recipe is an easy one that you can put together in 30-40 minutes the next time you want to add a little French sophistication to your appetizer spread.
Mousse de Foies de Volailles aka Chicken Liver Pâté (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I)
1 lb chicken livers
1 stick (4 oz) + 2 tbs butter
1 shallot, minced
1/3 cup cognac or madeira (I substituted brandy)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp quatre-épices
1/2 tsp salt
Rinse and drain the livers and remove the stringy fatty bits. Julia instructs removing any green or black spots (eww), but my livers fortunately did not have any. Cut the livers into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt the 2 tbs butter in a heavy skillet and sauté the shallot until it begins to soften, then add the livers. Cook until firm but still rosy on the inside. Scrape pan contents into the bowl of a food processor.
Return pan to heat, adding the cognac. Reduce to about 3 tbs, then add to food processor. In the same skillet, melt the remaining stick of butter. When melted, add this, the cream, and seasonings to the processor and blend until smooth. At this point, it will look like nothing so much as a meat smoothie, but don’t worry- all the fat in there will harden up just fine when it gets chilled. Julia instructs pressing it through a sieve, but I didn’t want to make that much of a mess, and mine still turned out plenty smooth.
Line a small loaf pan or a few large ramekins with plastic wrap or wax paper if you want to be able to unmold your pâté. If you’re ok with serving it straight from the container, you can skip this step and just pour it in. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled and firm. If serving at a party, keep in mind that it will become quite soft if left sitting out, due to all that butter. Serve with water crackers or little toasts or baguette slices, good mustard, and something pickled.
In college I worked at a restaurant in East Lansing called El Azteco (or simply “El Az”, for those in the know). Anyone who ever went to MSU probably has fond memories of their 96-cent burrito and margarita specials, and if you’re old school you remember when it was underground in a tiny basement location. I remember going there in high school with friends, ordering “friburs” (frijole burrito) and Mountain Dew, and leaving a pile of change for the waitress (cringe!). I started working there the summer after freshman year of college. There were many ups and downs to the job, but one thing that appealed to me was the management’s sense of equity. It didn’t matter if you had 10 years experience or none as a server- everyone had to start off in the kitchen and work there for at least a few months before graduating to server (or ”waitron”, as it was called). Consequently, all of the servers including myself knew exactly what was in the food and how to make it. Comes in handy for when I have a craving and don’t want to drive 80 miles! (You’d think that eating the same food 4-5 times a week for 4 years would make you sick of it, but oddly, no.)
Last week my friends Ian and Michelle welcomed their son Henry into the world. I wanted to bring them some food so that they could take a night off from cooking and hopefully relax a bit. I had eaten at El Azteco the week prior and it occured to me to make chicken enchiladas because I could make them in bulk and have enough to feed myself and Marvin as well. I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen on Sunday and made the works: chicken enchiladas with two kinds of sauce (chile verde & chile colorado), Spanish rice, refried beans and pico de gallo, all from scratch. Given how much food I ended up with, it was time well spent, I think. And when I delivered the food to Ian and Michelle, I got to peek in on an adorable sleeping brand new baby boy!
Very soon I will be posting my recipes for refried beans and Spanish rice, as well as a couple other El Az-inspired recipes that incorporate leftovers from this recipe, so please check back.
Please note: the given recipes make a LOT of enchiladas and sauce, so if you’re not feeding a crowd and don’t want to freeze stuff, I would recommend cutting everything in half. However, you can freeze the sauces and use extra leftover chicken in Chicken & Rice Soup (recipe coming soon).
Chicken Enchiladas, El Azteco Style printer-friendly version
To cook the chicken:
6 chicken leg quarters (about 5 lbs), preferably organic or Amish
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs tomato paste
1 bay leaf
about 2 liters chicken broth (see notes)
To assemble the enchiladas:
8 oz finely shredded medium or mild cheddar
16 oz shredded cheddar or muenster, or a combination
about 60 corn tortillas (I bought 2 packages of 30)
Chopped scallions for garnish
Notes: For the poaching liquid for the chicken, feel free to use low-sodium canned chicken broth, or water plus bouillon. I like this product called Better than Bouillon- they make an organic chicken bouillon that comes in a jar and has a paste-like consistency. I like it because it’s easy to add as much or as little as you need and to taste for saltiness as you go.
Directions: Roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion and smash the garlic. Put in a large stockpot with the chicken broth, bay leaf, and tomato paste (stir to dissolve) and bring to a simmer.
While the stock is simmering, rinse and pat the chicken dry and trim of all excess skin and fat. I find a kitchen scissors the best tool for this. Place the chicken quarters in the simmering stock, arranging them so that they are all covered by the liquid (if necessary, add more broth or water to cover- you want the liquid to just come to the top of the meat). Return to a simmer and poach for 25 minutes, covered. When done, remove lid and let the chicken cool in the poaching liquid while you get on with making the enchilada sauces (see recipes below).
When cool, remove the chicken from the liquid. Strain the broth and reserve for making Spanish rice or Chicken & Rice Soup. Skin and debone the chicken and chop into small pieces (you will want them pretty small so that your enchiladas aren’t too bulky). Combine in a bowl with the 8 oz. shredded cheddar. (If you are going to use any of the chicken for Chicken & Rice soup, set some aside before adding the cheese, and adjust the amount of cheese accordingly.)
To assemble the enchiladas, take about 15 tortillas at a time, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, and microwave for 3 minutes. Take them out and divide and flip them, so that the ones on the outside are now on the inside, re-wrap in the towel and nuke for another few minutes. You’re aiming for the tortillas to be completely steamed and pliable so they don’t crack when you roll them.
Take out 1 tortilla at a time, keeping the rest covered, and lay on a cutting board or your clean countertop. Place a small amount of chicken filling down the center (see photo). If you use too much filling, your enchiladas will not stay rolled. You want them about the thickness of a cigar. Take the bottom third and fold it over, scrunching the edge towards you to get a nice tight roll. (You can imagine the many references to illegal smokeables made at El Azteco when training new cooks on how to roll enchiladas ) Roll it up away from you and place in a lasagna pan or other container, seam side down. Because the tortillas have been steamed, they should be sticky enough so that your enchilada will stay rolled. If your tortillas are not hot to the touch, you’ll have problems, so try to work quickly so they don’t get cold.
You can roll as many or as few enchiladas as you like. This recipe will make quite a lot, so you can either roll only as many as you want for a particular meal, or roll them all and refrigerate or freeze some for later (cover well so they don’t dry out). Once they’ve been refrigerated, they’ll hold their shape well enough to be put in zip-lock bags for freezing, if you don’t have Tupperware.
When you’re ready to bake the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350. Place a cup or so of your sauce (Chile Colorado or Chile Verde, recipes to follow) in a shallow dish. You can replenish this as need be, but it’s better to do it in a separate container so as not to get stray bits of chicken and cheese in your sauce. Dip each enchilada in the sauce, making sure it is well-coated. Lupe, the general manager, would always instruct us to unroll the enchilada just a little so that the sauce could get under the “flap”. No one likes a dry enchilada! Place the enchiladas in a glass baking dish, fitting them snugly up against each other. Cover with shredded cheddar, muenster, or a mixture, and bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with frijoles and rice. The restaurant portion is three enchiladas, but I find I’m stuffed after eating two.
*Alternate cooking method: If you only want to cook a plate or two of these, you can do it in the microwave. I recommend a slow and low cooking, such as 8-10 minutes at 30% power. It helps if you can cover the plate during the last few minutes to trap the steam so nothing dries out.
Chile Verde Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CV Sauce”) printer-friendly version
1 20-oz (“family size”) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 16-oz container sour cream (I use reduced fat)- see notes
10-12 jalapeño peppers
1 tbs cumin
1/2-3/4 cup water
Notes: This will probably be the one and only time you will see me call for canned soup in a recipe, but that’s what it’s made out of! Go to Whole Foods; they probably have an organic version. I have to ‘fess up to using Campbell’s, in spite of the third ingredient being vegetable oil… Good thing I only eat this stuff once in a while anymore. According to my friend & fellow former El Az cook Dave, the actual proportions are more like 3:1 or 4:1 soup to sour cream, so feel free to cut the sour cream to a cup or less if you like.
Directions: Optional- remove the seeds and pith from the jalapeños (leave in for a truly fiery sauce). You may want to taste a tiny bite of one to see how hot they are, since it can vary greatly depending on the season and other factors, and use that to gauge how many peppers to use in your sauce. (This is supposed to be the “spicy” sauce though.) Finely chop the peppers by hand or in the food processor. If you’re sensitive, you may want to use gloves but I did not find it necessary.
Combine condensed soup and sour cream in a large bowl. Add jalapeños and cumin. Stir to combine well. The sauce may be somewhat thick, but will thin out upon being heated. That’s it!
Chile Colorado Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CC Sauce”) printer-friendly version
1 28-oz can tomato sauce (unflavored)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 mild dried chile, such as Anaheim
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
Notes: At El Azteco, the cook in the back kitchen made the CC sauce, so I don’t know what’s *actually* in it, I’m just going by taste. It’s a fairly thin tomato-based sauce and the predominant flavor is cumin. They probably use onion powder and garlic powder, but for my homemade version I decided to use the real thing. Please use salt and sugar to taste, as different tomato purées will have different flavor profiles. You don’t want it to be sweet, you just want to add enough sugar to take any bitter edge off.
Directions: Pour boiling water over the chile and cover; let sit until fully softened. Sauté the onion in some vegetable oil until translucent, adding the garlic about halfway through. Roughly chop the chile and add to the sauce, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the cumin and a little salt and cook for a moment to release the cumin’s flavor. Add the tomato sauce and thin with the reserved chile water to reach your desired consistency. Taste for sugar and salt. Transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.