Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

soup.jpg I love making and eating soup when the weather turns cold.  Every year I just keep trying new ones.  When I am at the grocery store, I just look at all the different ingredients, grab a few and always find a recipe online that works.  It is kind of a fun challenge.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter ( I only had peanut butter with nuts, but just put it in the blender with the soup and it was great)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste
  • 1 large Roma (plum) tomato, seeded and diced  (I only had cherry, so chopped fine and deseeded by wiping with a paper towel)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and lime zest. Set aside in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add sweet potatoes, and chicken stock. Season with cumin, chili flakes, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender. If using a countertop blender, puree in small batches, filling the blender just a bit past halfway to avoid spillage. Whisk peanut butter into the soup, (I added in the blender) and heat through. Stir in lime juice, and salt.
  4. Ladle into warm bowls, and top with a dollop of the reserved sour cream, a few pieces of diced tomato, and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Serve with a salad or nice piece of French Bread and it is a lunch or dinner for kings. Oh, and don’t forget to add a nice glass of wine.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

I do not like Stuffed Bell Peppers

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This photo is nowhere near as bad as what my mother used to make on a weekly basis.  She used only hamburger and rice and put it in the green bell pepper.  The gook from the hamburger sat on top and it was hard to look at, let alone eat.  To this day, the thought of it takes away my appetite.

Here is the problem.  My husband loves it and has fond memories of eating it when younger.

So I thought about it and came up with my own version of Stuffed Bell Peppers

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Ingredients

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the tops off the peppers. Remove and discard the stems, then finely chop the tops; set aside. Scoop out the seeds and as much of the membrane as you can. Place the peppers cut-side up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them upright.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the lumps, until the meat is cooked through and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to get rid of the fat.

Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and chopped peppers and cook until beginning to soften (3 to 4 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and a pinch or 2 of red pepper flakes. Cook until everything is heated through, then stir in the beef and rice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in 4 oz of the cheese.

Fill the peppers with the rice mixture and top each with a sprinkle of the remaining cheese. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and drizzle the peppers with a little olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake until the peppers are soft and the cheese is melted and lightly browned, another 15 to 20 minutes.

Since I still could not get my head around the “bell pepper” part of this, I put a little in miniature pie plates and just baked.  I actually liked it. It is not as pretty, but it was yummy.

 

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The other thing that I actually did, was use leftovers.  I had made mushroom and onion risotto the previous night so I just used it in place of the rice, onion, and garlic.  The risotto was a good way to use a bottle of white wine that I did not like the taste, but if you added a bit of butter to the risotto, it was DELICIOUS!   I used Romano cheese, so the risotto was dairy free.  But the pepper jack was not.  It is amazing how much different Pepper Jack cheese tastes when cooked, as it is not one of the cheeses I would normally buy.

The original recipe was from Lee Drummond, but she added zucchini, and even though I have it over-growing in my garden, it did not appeal to me in this dish.

BTW my husband loved it.  I served it with baby carrots, so he was a happy husband.

I do not like Stuffed Bell Peppers

Yummies from my garden

Cauliflower Soup and Caprese Salad for dinner the other night was perfect, although I think either one would have been enough for dinner with a little delicious bread.

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup (Vegan)
serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (about 2 cloves), plus more to taste
2 cups (200g) chopped leeks (white parts only, from 2 or 3 leeks)
Natural salt
1 head cauliflower, chopped
7 cups (1.65l) vegetable broth
1/4 cup (35g) raw unsalted cashews or 1/4 cup (35g) blanched slivered raw almonds, soaked
3 tablespoons chopped chives or a grating of nutmeg (optional; choose one, not both), to garnish

Directions:

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the garlic, leeks, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the cauliflower and saute for another minute. Add the vegetable broth, increase the heat to high, and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is completely tender. Stir the mix periodically and mash the cauliflower with a wooden spoon.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly; stir in the nuts. Pour the soup into your blender in batches and puree on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy. (Remember to remove the plastic cap in the blender top and cover the opening with a kitchen towel so steam can escape while you blend.) Return the soup to the saucepan and warm it over low heat. Stir in salt to taste. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with either chopped chives or grated nutmeg.

Caprese Salad

This is a simple salad that I often make for dinner or for friends.  I do make my own pesto and this one was pesto from my garden.  Grab a handful of Basil (a few stems are ok), some toasted pine nuts, good EVOO, a few heads of garlic, Reggiano Parmesano to taste and throw it all in your blender.  Add a little salt and/or pepper to taste.  Just sample till it tastes great to you.  Couldn’t be simpler.  I had to laugh a few years ago on a Rick Steve’s trip to Italy that people thought the demo on how to make Pesto was impressive.  I thought it was runny and not particularly tasteful.

Now, you’ve mastered making your own pesto, put it in layers with the Heirloom tomato (sliced 1/4″) with Burrato mozzarella (the good kind with the runny middle – YUM) and drizzle a little Balsamic Reduction over the top.  Not only is it pretty, but it tastes delicious!

Pair it with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio and you have the perfect summer dinner with hardly any cooking.

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Yummies from my garden

12 MYTHS ABOUT COFFEE

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12 MYTHS ABOUT COFFEE

Two Buck Chuck ~ The Real Stor

HOW TRADER JOE’S WINE BECAME CHEAPER THAN BOTTLED WATER

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“CHARLES SHAW WINE USED TO BE GREAT — AND NOBODY DRANK IT. NOW, IT’S TERRIBLE AND IT’S SELLING LIKE GANGBUSTERS.”

“I TRIED TO PUT IT ALL BEHIND ME BUT I NEVER STOPPED THINKING ABOUT WINE.”

Two Buck Chuck

Charles not in charge

Two Buck Chuck
Two Buck Chuck ~ The Real Stor

Basic Orecchiette Pasta

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This handmade pasta is delicious with the classic broccoli raab sauce, with an uncooked sauce of tomatoes and basil, or in a cream sauce with mussels and mint. The dough comes out best if you work the water in very slowly; don’t try to bring in too much flour at one time. Flour amounts are listed by weight (oz.) and by volume (cups); use either measurement.

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I made mine with chicken and home-made pesto with basil from my garden, with a little cilantro and parmesan on the top.  It was yummy and very easy.  It does take a little time. I usually watch the cooking channel or a funny movie.  You have to happy when you cook.

Ingredients

225 g/ 1 1/2 cup semolina flour

255 g/3/4 cup + I Tbl unbleached all-purpose flour

255 g/1 cup warm water

2 tsp salt

Preparation

1. In a bowl, whisk the flours together well. Mound the flour on a work surface, make a deep well in the center and pour 2 Tbs. of the water in the center. With two fingers, stir in a little flour from the walls of the well. When the water is absorbed and a paste has formed, repeat with more water until you have a soft but not sticky dough.

You can do this in your KitchenAid with the dough hook.

2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s smooth and supple, 7 to 8 minutes. If it crumbles during kneading, wet your hands to moisten the dough slightly. Cut off a golfball-size chunk of dough; cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll the chunk into a cylinder about 1 inch in diameter. With a very sharp knife, slice the cylinder into disks about 1/8 inch thick

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3. Pick up a disk. If it’s squashed from cutting, squeeze it slightly between your thumb and index finger to return it to a circular shape. Put the disk in the palm of one hand and press down on it with the thumb of your other hand. Swivel your hand (not your thumb) twice to thin the center of the ear, leaving the rim a little thicker. If the dough sticks to your thumb, dip your thumb in a little flour as you work. Repeat with the rest of the dough. As you finish the disks, lay them on a clean dishtowel. When you’ve shaped an entire cylinder, sprinkle a little flour over the ears and repeat the process with a new chunk of dough.

4. If you’re not cooking the pasta immediately, spread the rounds out on floured baking sheets and leave them at room temperature at least overnight, or until they’re hard enough that you can’t slice them with a knife. (The time they take to dry depends on humidity and the moisture level in the dough itself.) Once the orecchiette is dry, transfer them to covered jars and store at room temperature.

5. You can as an alternative, freeze them on a baking sheet with parchment and then put in a sealed container once they are frozen.  Cook directly from the freezer – do not thaw.

 

6. Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Add the orecchiette and simmer until they float to the surface, 2-3 minutes.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes more, until al dente.  Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and serve right away.

 

The recipe I used is from “Pasta by Hand” by Jenn Louis and I totally recommend buying this book!

Basic Orecchiette Pasta

Worst Generation of Cooks in the Kitchen

I found this article interesting, as all three of my sons and my daughter-in-law love to cook and have made some wonderful meals.  My sons would make me breakfast in bed for my birthday and for Valentines Day, starting when they were eight or nine.  They are all excellent cooks and they definitely know what and where to put a butter knife.  We sat down and ate with candles and cloth napkins whenever we could at home.  I thought it was important that they have good manners and know the basics in the kitchen. I always wanted them to be comfortable with any and all dining situations!  And, you what!  It worked.

According to Tasting Table, Millennials Are the worst generation of cooks in the kitchen

Only 60 percent can confidently identify a butter knife
Millennials Don't Know How to Cook

They might be able to apply Snapchat filters better than you can, but if there’s one thing millennials can’t do, is find their way around the kitchen.

According to a study from Porch, between millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers, millennials rate themselves as the worst kitchen cooks of all, with only 5 percent of twenty- to thirtysomethings considering themselves “very good” at home cooking. They rate themselves last in being able to tackle (very) basic dishes like fried eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lasagna. (Though, they do feel more confident than baby boomers at baking store-bought plop-and-drop cookie dough.)

And while many baby boomers aren’t so great at identifying a salad spinner, Thrillist notes it’s not so bad once you consider about 40 percent of millennials can’t even recognize a butter knife.

The one thing they are good at? According to the study, millennials are the top generation investing in meal delivery services and utilizing internet videos for cooking advice. Hey, at least they’re trying.

 

Worst Generation of Cooks in the Kitchen

15 Rules for Great Wine & Food Pairings

15 Rules for Great Wine & Food Pairings

Choose the Right Wine:

Ray Isle

Overwhelmed. Baffled. Bewildered. That’s how most people feel when shopping for wine. Our executive wine editor went undercover as a wine salesman and uncorked seven solutions.

Suppose you walk into a grocery store looking for chicken soup. But instead of a few well-known brands, you find an entire wall of chicken soup—hundreds and hundreds of brands. Plus, the chicken soup ranges all over the place in price, from 50 cents to 50 bucks a can. And in case that isn’t enough, every year, every single chicken soup is slightly different. Some years are better (sun is shining; chickens are happy; great taste); some years are worse (chickens get hailed on and feel like hell; taste like it, too). So if you buy the wrong brand of chicken soup from the wrong year, you’re going to have a way less pleasurable soup experience than if you’d bought a different can. Anyone sane, walking up to a wall like that, would have to think to themselves, “Man, what is with all this ding-damn soup?”

Now, instead of chicken soup, think Chardonnay.

Recently I spent a few weeks working in wine stores around the country. I wanted to get an on-the-ground read on wine in America today. Way back when, in the antediluvian 1990s, I worked for a wine importer and spent a lot of time hanging out in stores. These days, the number of wines on the market is vastly larger, but at the same time, there’s far more information about wine available to anyone with an internet connection. I wondered: Were people more baffled by all those choices? Less? Did consumers stick to the tried and true, or had we become a nation of wine adventurers, lighting out for the territories with nary a look backward? I figured the best way to find out was to don an apron and start selling wine.

If you drive down Cotner between Pico and Olympic in Los Angeles and take a left just before the 405 on-ramps, you’ll find The Wine House. Big and warehouse-y, crammed full of wine (over 7,000 selections), it’s a destination for bargain hunters and Burgundy collectors alike. Jim and Glen Knight, whose family owns the place, thought it totally reasonable to let an itinerant wine writer parachute into their store and pretend to be a salesperson. (Possibly this was lunacy on their part, but who was I to argue?)

Ray Isle

But back to Chardonnay. The Wine House sells about 600 different Chardonnays. At Western Market in Birmingham, Alabama, where I also worked a stint, there are more than 300. Super Buy-Rite, outside the Holland Tunnel that separates New York City from New Jersey, sells 400, from nine different countries. And as Dwight Shaw, the manager of Total Wine & More in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, told me, “People come in and say, ‘Where’s your Chardonnay?’ and I tell them, ‘It’s this entire aisle.’ And they just freeze.” That’s because the Chardonnay aisle at that particular Total Wine is about 50 feet long.

When I asked customers to describe what they found the experience of buying wine to be like (once I ditched my disguise and revealed what I was actually up to), they used words like “daunting,” “overwhelming,” “confusing,” and “total crapshoot.” Even with all the easy-to-access wine knowledge out there on the internet and in magazines at their fingertips, people still feel like they’re drowning in an ocean of wine. (In case it’s any comfort to everyday wine shoppers, people in the wine business often feel that way, too.)

But here’s the other thing I learned from my time selling wine at these stores: There are some simple ways to get your bearings and become a more empowered wine buyer—starting right now. Wine shoppers of America, take heart! Here’s what to do.

How to Buy Wine at Any Store

1. Buy your wines from a store with employees who actually can help you. Skip the usual unstaffed supermarket aisles, and avoid places like a store I stopped into recently, which had all the soul-draining fluorescent charm of a methadone clinic and seemed to be staffed by the undead. And if anyone ever makes you feel dumb, walk right out and find another store.

The truth is, the best wine stores are the ones that are staffed by people who love wine. One reason I could sell some guy I’d never met before an entire case of German Riesling when I was in L.A. is because I really love Riesling, and he was getting into Riesling, and we got to talking—and when it comes to wine­, passion is infectious.

2. Ask for help. It is the first, best thing you can do. During a stint on the sales floor, I was surprised and amused by how gender roles shaped how people did their wine shopping. Men, when I asked whether they could use help, typically said no. Then they’d go off and look at random wine bottles, in case their lack-of-needing-help hadn’t been made fully clear, and then five minutes later circle back and say something like, “Actually, I was looking for…” Women, more often, simply said thank you and told me what they were trying to find, a far more effective strategy that I’d say everyone should learn from.

3. Be sign-savvy. Those little signs that hang on wine shelves (“shelf talkers”) typically are placed there by the wholesale rep who sells that wine. Their basic purpose is to convince you to buy this wine rather than that wine. (And handwritten ones work better—i.e. move more wine—than preprinted ones, something wholesale reps know.) But that doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful. Shelf talkers that say something like “staff selection” with a particular person’s name are most often there because some actual human being on the store’s staff really likes that wine.

4. Take a picture. If you ever have a new wine you like at a restaurant, or anywhere really, take a picture of it with your phone. Otherwise, you’ll forget what it was, and even die-hard wine geeks like me have a hard time narrowing down requests like, “I’m looking for this wine … I think the label maybe has elephants on it?” (Though I actually did know that one: Michael David Winery’s Petite Petit. Unfortunately, we didn’t have it in stock.) Consider using a free app like Vivino or Delectable to help keep track of the wines you try.

5. Be as specific as you can. If you say, “I’m looking for a medium-priced Chardonnay,” which I heard more than once, that’s hard to parse. Most good stores will have wines ranging from $5 a bottle to $500 or more, and your idea of “medium-priced” is probably not the same as a billionaire’s (unless, of course, you are a billionaire). By “medium,” one customer I spoke to meant $15; the next person who used exactly the same word meant $50.

But being specific doesn’t have to mean talking like a master sommelier. You don’t have to whip out your Burgundian terroir skills and say, “Ah yes, do you happen to have any Corton-Charlemagne’s from the Aloxe side of the hill, perhaps from the 2013 vintage?” Instead, try describing what you plan to cook that evening, and ask for a wine to go with it, or mention a specific bottle you had recently that you loved, and ask for something like it; or even mention a bottle you had that you didn’t like, and ask for something different. Think of the clerk you’re speaking to as a walking, talking Google search (though maybe don’t tell them that). The more specific your query is, the more useful the output will be. Katherine’s letter “C” wine is a good case in point. The price range she mentioned and the fact that the wine had been a gift were enough for me to suss out that she was probably talking about Caymus Special Selection Cabernet.

6. Be a wine buyer, not a beverage buyer. A lot of people shop for wine the way they do any other drink, they want a six-pack of beer, or a carton of orange juice, or a bottle of Merlot, and their hand moves to whatever brand name is most familiar. That’s beverage buying, not wine buying (at least that’s how I think of it). Being a wine buyer simply means being curious: about something new, about something different, about why the clerk talking to you thinks a certain wine is good or why it’s a great value, about what “Valpolicella” or “Assyrtiko” or “premier cru” means. Wine rewards as much interest as you put into it.

For instance, here are some of the subjects that wine professionals I know  are obsessing about right now: Corsican wines; offbeat Loire Valley subregions like Anjou and Saumur; “natural” wines; grower Champagnes; lesser-known and more affordable Bordeaux appellations; Ribeira Sacra and Gredos in Spain; cru Beaujolais; volcanic soils (and any wine on earth that comes from them); Chenin Blanc; Portuguese wines; winemakers exploring alternative California varietals—the list goes on. But aside from that orange wine request I got in L.A., the number of times anyone asked me about any of those things was exactly zero. Now, admittedly, that’s partly because people in the wine business are obsessed with esoterica. It’s because customers don’t know what to ask for, so they default to the usual suspects: California Cabernet and Chardonnay; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; Argentine Malbec; Pinot Noir, particularly $20 or under; Champagne (by which most people mean “any wine with bubbles”); and rosé, which is now a year-round phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you like, but truly there is so much more to discover.

7. My final takeaway is for people who sell wine. After talking to a few hundred customers in several different states, I was blown away by how into wine people are these days. Sure, left on his or her own in an ocean of 7,000 bottles, someone may grab for the nearest name-brand Cabernet. It’s like reaching for a life preserver. But most of the time if I simply asked, “What kind of wine do you like?” that might lead us anywhere—to a small-production Valpolicella Ripasso from Italy like Tommaso Bussola’s Ca’ del Laito, or a Riesling from Germany’s great Helmut Dönnhoff, or a quirky Oregon Gamay from an up-and-coming young winemaker. Share your passion for wine with your customers—ask them what they’re making for dinner, or share your favorite varieties or regions (though maybe go light on wine-biz buzzwords like “soil character” and “minerality,” as most humans won’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about). As Jim Knight of The Wine House said to me, “What I see this year more than ever is people being more willing to take advice, to be open to new things.”

Which gets me to the other word I heard customers use all the time: excited. We really are living in a golden age of wine in the U.S. today, with more great wines from more different varieties and places than ever before.

Let’s all go buy a bottle and drink to that, together.

Choose the Right Wine:

Cook the Best Fish Ever

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Here are some great tips from the archives of Food & Wine Magazine for cooking fish.

Be gentle. “Basically, I’d suggest using the gentlest heat that you can possibly apply,” says chef Michael Cimarusti. “So if you’re grilling, grill over a gentle fire, not a raging fire. If you’re steaming or poaching, do it at a bare simmer.”

Let it rest. “You can actually cook a salmon to the point where it flakes beautifully in a 118- or 119-degree oven, provided you let it rest,” says Cimarusti. “Rest the fish for a good 10 to 15 minutes, for a good long period of time, in a fairly warm, ambient spot, and the fish will reveal textures you never knew it had.”

Get hands on. “There’s no exact timing,” chef Tom Valenti says about cooking fish. “Even with four or five fillets of swordfish, every piece of fish is different. With every fillet, I always have to poke it and squeeze it to figure out what’s going on.”

Buy an extra fillet. “When I talk to home cooks at the restaurant, they often tell me they don’t even bother to cook fish at home because they don’t know how to do it,” Valenti says. “The first thing I suggest is if you’re going to cook four fillets of halibut or salmon or swordfish or whatever you want to try, buy a fifth fillet to crack open to see if it’s done.”

Steam it. “Steaming is a powerful way to create pristine flavors,” says chef Mourad Lahlou. “When you take a piece of fish and steam it over water, or water with aromatics like spices or citrus peel, you actually taste the ingredients. Unlike, say, a curry, which is so heavily spiced you can’t taste the individual ingredients. There’s nothing wrong with a curry, but when you want to appreciate the clean flavors of a single piece of fish, you need to treat it with respect, and steaming is one of the most respectful ways to cook something.”

Start skin side down. “To ensure crispness, start the fish skin side down, pressing the fillet with a spatula,” says chef Rocco DiSpirito. “The skin will stick at first; when it releases, flip the fish over.”

Cook the Best Fish Ever