Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Damn, that's Good! Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup

Occasionally I strike out.  I made something the other night that Tony so over-salted.  I got the message.

Tonight, on the other hand, home run.

Wow. What's with all these sports metaphors? That's so not me.

Anyway, back to my home run.  Or really, back as far as Passover.  I got this idea that I would make some mushroom matzah kugel for Seder.  So I bought a couple of trays of crimini mushrooms.  But my friend Sharon offered to bring this winner of a sweet potato dish, and I realized I could drop back one dish.  I'm an ambitious hostess, but I know a gift when I see one.  At that last moment, having one less thing to prepare is a blessing.  Thank you, Sharon!

Passover was a bit ago already, but I still have a couple of gallons of turkey broth, and two packages of mushrooms.  Perfect storm for Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup.  This is the easiest soup ever, hearty and delicious.  And demonstrates the value of having frozen broth on hand.  If you don't have broth, click this sentence for my fast and easy Vegetable Bin Broth recipe.

Wild Rice & Onion Mushroom Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced thin
1 container of mushrooms (about 8 oz), sliced
8 cups or so of turkey, chicken, beef or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of uncooked wild rice (or, use quinoa, barley, beans or lentils)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep saute pan.  Add sliced onions to hot oil, and turn the heat down to medium low.  Push the onions around so they all get coated in oil, and then stir occasionally.  Saute until onions become translucent, and then caramelize.  To caramelize the onions, you simply cook them over medium to low heat long enough for them to brown, stirring occasionally so they don't stick and burn.  If they seem to be sticking, just turn the heat down and stir more frequently.  This process takes about thirty minutes.  If you want a fuller explanation about caramelizing onions with lots of pictures, click this sentence to be whisked to one of my favorite recipe blogs, Simply Recipes.

Once the onions are how you like them - or if you've never done this before, a warm brown color, push the onions to the side of the pan to make room for the sliced mushrooms. Toss them in, and push them around every few minutes, for about ten minutes, until they are well sauteed, but still firm.  Set the onions and mushrooms aside.

You can see carrots in my soup.  These were already in the
turkey broth, but aren't necessary.
In a pot, pour the broth and add the wild rice.  Heat to barely boiling, then lower the heat and simmer gently for thirty minutes, until the rice is al dente.  If you're using something other than wild rice, adjust the time accordingly.  Lentils, for example, usually take longer than 30 minutes.  

When the rice is ready to eat, simply stir in the onions and mushrooms, and let them heat in the broth for a couple of minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Ready to serve.

Before we say goodbye so you can go make this simple and beautiful soup, I feel the need to make mention of my suggested substitutes for wild rice.  Not everybody has wild rice in the house all the time.  You could, I suppose, substitute regular white rice for this dish.  It's not as hearty and the flavor is different, but it would work pretty well.  You could substitute pasta.  Almost everyone has regular rice and some sort of pasta sitting around the cupboard.  But I specifically did not recommend those things because they are high on the glycemic index, and low on nutritional value.

They are the comfort foods of your childhood, but if you don't give them up or at least reduce their incidence in your diet significantly, they will be the bain of your old age.

But don't take my word for it.  If you don't understand glycemic index, read what Harvard says about it by clicking this sentence.  To see Harvard's food chart listing glycemic index of 100 foods, click this sentence.

Was that easy or what?

Vegetable Bin Broth

Fridge clean-out day.  I didn't plan it that way, but when I opened the bin this morning, so many melancholy veggies looked up at me with those big, sad eyes.  I knew it would be Vegetable Bin Broth day.  Vegetable Bin Broth is the perfect antidote for pouting veggies.  Almost anything that is so far gone you wouldn't buy it from the market, but not actually rotten can be put into the pot to create a delicious, healthy soup base.  Use it now, or freeze it for later.  

Here's the recipe.  Don't despair that my measurements are not exact.  You really can't do any harm here as long as you have adequate water in the pot with the veggies.  Quantities depend on how many veggies you're trying to get rid of, and how big a pot you're using.  And you will notice I don't have you remove skins or leaves.  These add flavor, color and nutrition, and you'll strain them out later.  If you don't have a regular strainer, use your spaghetti strainer!

Vegetable Bin Broth

Nice to Have Ingredients:

You can make a nice soup with only the following ingredients.  But even if you don't have all of these, you can just use whatever you have.  Really!

An onion or two, quartered.  Don't even bother to remove the skin
Two or three cloves of garlic.  Leave their skins on too.
A couple of carrots cut into pieces

Pepper corns
A bit of salt
A couple of bay leaves or a sprout of thyme or parsley 

Optional ingredients

Whatever uncooked, limp but un-dead vegetables in your fridge. Celery, root vegetables, peppers, past-prime (but never sour tasting) tomatoes, parsley or other herbs, broccoli, brussel  sprouts, squash, mushrooms.  Anything, really.  The only vegetables I strongly advise against are cucumber and particularly starchy vegetables like potatoes.  Trim off bad spots and stems, but use the leafy tops.

This soup is perfect for vegetarians and vegans, but if you are a meat-eater and want to  toss in a couple of chicken quarters or beef bones, feel free.  But don't feel you have to.  A purely vegetable stock is a lighter concoction with a more delicate flavor, and you'll find lots of uses for it.   Some of my favorites:  as a base for Asian soup recipes, a flavorful broth for steaming or poaching fish, or a substitute for water when simmering rice, lentils or beans.   


Toss whatever you've got into your pot, and add water to just cover the vegetables.  Now however high the water comes in the pot, add more water till it's double.  Bring to a boil and then quickly reduce the heat and simmer until the onions are translucent and the carrots have exchanged their vibrant orange for a muted rust color.  The process could take anywhere between twenty minutes and an hour, depending on how much stuff you've got in your pot.  

By the way, if you get involved in something else and forget your soup, and when you return, there's hardly any soup in the pot, do not despair.  Unless you've let it go so long that the veggies are scorched and stuck to the bottom of the pot, just add water back to reconstitute the very concentrated broth that's left.  It will be fine.  If it is scorched, you'll have to toss.  Scorched veggies leave an acrid taste in the broth.  Yuck.  If you're like me, and prone to time lapses where you look up at the clock and entire half days have gone by, consider setting a timer that goes off loudly.

To know when you're done, use your eyes.  When the colors are dull, the broth is ready.  Don't worry about how your veggies look - you're not serving them.  You're getting rid of those veggie carcasses as soon as they transfer their healthy goodness into the pot.  If they're still bright and colorful, then their value is still in the vegetable and not yet in your broth.  

Once your broth is ready for you, use a strainer placed over another pot to separate the vegetables from the broth.  Let the broth cool and refrigerate it.  Reheat your broth for soup tonight, adding some cut up veggies, rice, or lentils before serving, or you can freeze it for later use.  

I don't want to guilt you, but consider tossing your spent veggies into a composter.  They are still good for enriching your garden soil.  I seriously recommend clicking here to see this little composter guy.  It fits right under your counter so you don't have to run your scraps outside.  It is air tight, surprisingly doesn't smell at all, and turns out some really great compost, as well as compost "tea" for your house plants.  By the way, compost tea needs to be seriously diluted before using.

Once you've gotten into the habit of creating delicious stock from your vegetable bin, you will swear off bullion cubes forever.

Bon appetite!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Garlic & Kale Smashed Cauliflower

Can I write about food here?

I'm on a self-imposed diet.  I'm trying to keep my youthful figure, even though I'm upwards of that half-century mark where everything heads south, best intentions notwithstanding.  So, I've become a low carb, low glycemic kind of gal.  I also avoid fried foods, but more because frying tends to destroy perfectly good vegetables than that it's bad for me.  I know it's bad for me, but the best food in the universe is a french fry, and really crispy onion rings are right behind.  And a few other things, but I won't go on.  I occasionally do indulge.

Mostly I'm good.

I've noticed that when I don't record my recipes, I can't remember how I made something.  This has been vexing for baked goods, because, while I can pretty much improv anything else, I'm not much of a baker.  Tony likes his sweets, though, so it's worse than a shame when, after spending ages trying to force almond flour and sweetener substitutes into ice creams, cookies, brownies and bars that pass the Tony taste test, I can't remember how I made them.  From now on I record.

Today I'm not baking.  Today I am missing mashed potatoes.  I thought I would try to replace it with smashed cauliflower.  I read half a dozen recipes, and then created my own.  Here goes.  Maybe I'll remember to take a picture and post it here before I eat it.  Maybe not.

Garlic & Kale Smashed Cauliflower


One head of cauliflower, cut into large florets
Enough vegetable broth to cover cauliflower in a pot
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, chopped into smallish pieces
Two cups of kale, cut or torn into medium size pieces
One cup of basil, torn into medium pieces
1/4  cup grated parmesian cheese (optional)

Put the cauliflower and the broth into a pot big enough to hold them with room.  I actually made a vegetable-based broth because I only had left over Turkey broth in the house, and meat and cheese do not co-mingle in my kitchen.  I also think the gamier flavor of meat broth would overpower the basil flavor, but I'm not sure about that.  If you try it, let us know.

Making a vegetable broth, by the way, is an easy way to get rid of vegetables that are limping along in your refrigerator wondering if you even remember they're there.  If you already have broth, that's great.  But if not,  click here to check my fast and easy recipe for Vegetable Bin Broth.

So, where were we?

Oh, yes, the cauliflower is now in a pot, with broth to cover.  Bring to a boil on medium high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer.  While you are waiting for the cauliflower, rinse and chop your garlic, kale and basil, if you haven't already.

After 10 minutes, the cauliflower should be done enough to move a fork through the vegetable easily. It's best not to overcook it, to preserve nutrients, flavor and texture.   Use a strainer to catch the cauliflower, pour off the broth, let it cool, and refrigerate it for another use.

Put the cauliflower back into that pot or a smaller one, and mash it with a potato masher, mixing in a tablespoon of good olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Put the cauliflower aside.

In another pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, and add the chopped garlic.  Stir over medium heat until the creamy shade of the garlic begins to darken to a beige color.  You'll want to watch carefully, because garlic goes from beige to burnt fast.  Burnt garlic gives your oil - and hence your dish - an acrid flavor, forcing you to pitch the oil and start over.

When the garlic is ready, add the kale and stir.  It will begin to wilt within a couple of minutes. If you hear sizzling or cackling, add a bit more oil and reduce the heat.  As soon as the kale starts to wilt, toss in the basil. Stir for another moment, until the basil starts to wilt  too, and then remove the pan from the heat.  If you're ready to eat, move on to the next step.  If not, let it cool, and refrigerate the greens and cauliflower in separate containers until you are ready to eat.

When you are ready to serve, reheat the cauliflower if necessary, stirring in a few tablespoons of the left-over broth. Stir in the greens. If you want cheese, stir that in too.  When the cheese "disappears" into the dish, it's melted and you're ready to serve.  Serves four.