Pop Poppa Original Recipes: Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup

kielbasa soupAs I mentioned a few weeks back, I found myself in a dilly of a pickle one night when my slow cooker failed to cook slowly and I needed something to feed my family. I looked in my fridge, saw a packaged kielbasa sausage, some chicken stock, half of a head of cauliflower and figured I could make something work.

My initial idea to make a soup with the kielbasa was partly influenced by a slow cooker recipe I’ve made from Good Housekeeping called Kielbasa Stew. I had an idea that these basic flavors would work together. The red wine vinegar and ground mustard just came to me and wound up working really well to add some tang to the recipe.

Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup Ingredients:

1 lbs. kielbasa sausage, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves diced or grated on a rasp (my new preferred method)
2 carrots, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, cleaned & diced
Half a head of cauliflower, diced
2 cups of orzo
Enough chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups)
2 Tsp. ground mustard
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Sauerkraut to serve

As always, I did all of my prep first which meant chopping up the vegetables and then the meat. I got the veggies cooking in a few tablespoons of olive oil as well as the red wine vinegar until tender in a Dutch oven which took about five minutes.

Then I added the sausage and cooked that for another five minutes, until it browned. After that, I covered with chicken stock, added the ground mustard and brought to a boil.

Once the liquid started boiling, I added in the orzo, gave the mixture a few stirs and then popped the lid on for 10-15 minutes until the orzo was cooked through. Once it is cooked, you’re good to go. I happened to have some canned Sauerkraut in the pantry, so that seemed like a natural accompaniment.

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Smoothies For Breakfast

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get myself on track to tackle the next phase of adulthood. I turned 31 earlier this year and have definitely started feeling it when I don’t eat well or drink a bit too much. So, while I’m watching those things, I’m also trying to give myself the proper fuel to watch two kids. If you don’t follow my dad blog over at PopPoppa, we had our second child about seven weeks early two months ago. With my wife’s maternity leave coming to an end in the relatively near future, I know I need to not only be really organized, but also equip myself with food that will help fuel me throughout the day. I do my best to cook healthy, homemade meals most nights that make for great lunch leftovers, but I tend to skip or overlook breakfast.

In an attempt to remedy that and also get a lot of fruits and vegetables in early in the day, I’ve started making smoothies in the morning. The process is super simple, but does take a bit of grocery store planning. I’ve added frozen strawberries, store brand vanilla Greek yogurt and kale to my weekly grocery list and also increased the number of apples, carrots and bananas I usually get, but I wouldn’t say that’s much of a hardship.

So, here’s my basic recipe:

1 banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries*
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup kale leaves
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, chopped
1 tablespoon peanut butter

* = you can definitely use fresh, but if you’re like me and your kid adores strawberries, you give them the fresh ones and use what you can get

Basically, you just throw all this stuff into your blender or food processor. I’ve never used a juicer, so I’m not sure what the deal is there. For instance, I don’t know if you’d put the dairy products in there or mix later. Anyway, with our blender, since we’re dealing with a pretty full bowl, it takes a walk down the settings to get everything properly decimated. Even so, I still wind up with leafy bits and the occasional chunk of carrot or apple. That doesn’t bother me at all, but my wife can barely look at the finished product.

The beauty of the smoothie is that you can put pretty much anything in there and come out with an easy to consume breakfast. When I first started making smoothies years ago, I would put whey protein in there. I’ve swapped out the peanut butter for actual nuts like peanuts, walnuts and almonds, but you could also put in all kinds of nut butters. Same with the berries. This is also a good way to get rid of mushy bananas if you don’t feel like making bread of muffins. Last week I used up some leftover fruit salad instead of going with the berries which gave the smoothie a much different taste. Kale can be swapped out for spinach, endive or whatever other non-lettuce greens you might have. I’ve even tossed in extra mint and basil. Lastly, sometimes I’ll throw in a few tablespoons of orange juice or freshly squeezed lemon or lime to give it some nice tang.

I find cooking very relaxing and am quite fond of prep stuff like measuring and chopping, so an added bonus of making this smoothie in the morning — something I do after getting up with the kids, drinking my coffee and getting my morning work done — is that it gives me a bit of that zen kitchen experience early in the day which can be as good for me mentally as the nutrients in the drink are physically.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.