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.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot Sausage Pasta

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This post might look a little different because of the lack of photos, but I just had to write about Damn Delicious’ One Pot Pasta. Usually, wen I forget to fully document my food photographically, I’ll wait until the next time I make it to write a post, but this one, which turned out to not go quite as planned, was just too good to hold off on.

When I first came upon this recipe, it popped right off the page because of its seemingly simple nature. Throw several tasty things into a pot with some water and come out with dinner AND a limited number of dishes to clean? Yeah, I’m down with that.

Ingredient-wise, I followed the directions as written. For the sausage I went with Smithfield Hickory Smoked Sausage, Ronzoni Garden Delight Fettucini pasta and a mix of red and orange cherry tomatoes. With everything, I got to chopping and throwing into the pot, following the recipe as written. It was after everything was in the vessel that I mixed things up a bit. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of water, but that didn’t come close to covering the pasta. I wasn’t clear if it should or not, but I went with the former and about doubled the amount of water.dd one pot pasta 2

All that extra water upped the amount of time I boiled it all. I’m not sure what the final amount of time wound up being, but it must have been around an hour because my wife and I went to our lawyer’s office to sign the contracts on the house we’re buying. By the time we got back it had finally thickened but was looking for like soup than pasta. Still, I wasn’t sure how the pasta would hold up, so I pulled it off the stove and we ate it with spoons instead of forks.

I’m not sure if the meal would have turned out this way anyway, but the first thing I thought when I took my first bite was, “This tastes like fancy Spaghetti-Os with hot dogs!” I used to eat Spaghetti-Os all the time as a kid and this reminded me of that, but much fresher and better. The cherry tomatoes and basil joined together to make a surprisingly sweet sauce that mixed well with the smoked sausage and everything else. I will definitely be trying this one again, but follow the recipe more directly to see how it turns out.

Cooking Good Housekeepings Kielbasa Stew

I know what you’re thinking: what kind of fool makes a stew in the middle of one of the hottest New York summers he’s ever experienced? This one, apparently. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past few weeks, we’re working off of a budget lately, so I’ve been a lot more conscious about using up everything I have on hand as far as ingredients go. Last week I happened upon Good Housekeeping’s recipe for Kielbasa Stew in my Big Blue Binder, realized I had almost everything already on hand — I only had to buy the sauerkraut and kielbasa, which was on sale — so I decided to give it a shot.

As far as preparation goes, this is a pretty simple recipe, but you’ve obviously got to have the time to get it together in the middle of the day (or morning depending on if you’re cooking on high or low). I cooked the celery, onion and caraway seeds in a pan and then threw it in the bowl with the cubed potatoes and all the other ingredients. The only change I made was using a pour of apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider because, you know, it’s the middle of summer. With all that together, I put the slow cooker on high and went back about my day.

I’ve got to say, even though I made this on a hot day and it’s a stew, this wound up being a really wonderful meal. The potatoes and chicken stock turned into this creaminess that worked so well with the kielbasa and the added sauerkraut. It all came together for a very German dish that made me think of a soup version of the kind of dog sausage you’d get while walking around NYC. My wife had the genius idea of putting some deli mustard on top, taking up another level of greatness. I will one hundred percent serve this again, though I might wait around until the temperature takes a bit of a dive. I will say, though, that a slow cooker is a great way to keep your kitchen from heating up too much.

I will also add that this was a great dish to make with my three year old helping out. She loves to stir things, so I had her do that and add in the new ingredients as I was done cutting them up. It gets an extra thumbs up for that!

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.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Chicken Pho

In a strange twist of fortune, I made one of my favorite meals in ages on a day I didn’t feel like taking pictures. A few weeks back, I saw Smitten Kitchen’s new recipe for Chicken Pho and was instantly interested in giving it a shot. I remembered seeing something on this Vietnamese soup on a travel food show, most likely an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and have been interested in trying it ever since.

At first, I was a bit skeptical because I have an aversion to working with full chickens. They just seem like so much work. But my intrigue trumped my laziness and I spent one day a few weekends back following this recipe very closely. The only ingredients I didn’t include were sprouts and black cardamoms because I couldn’t find them at my grocery store. I even bought some star anise and used about five of them for my broth. I can’t quite remember the exact measurements I used for cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or ground cloves, but I think I was in the teaspoon-per arena.

With those few variables in place, I followed the recipe by charring the onion and ginger on my gas stovetop, let the stock cook for several hours and got as much chicken off the bones as possible. I wish I was a better food writer to properly explain to you how good this broth turned out. It had so much depth of flavor thanks to the combination of sweet, salty, tangy and even a bit of sour that I wanted to eat it all day. You throw in some well cooked chicken, rice noodles, crispy fried shallots (which I should have cooked a bit longer as mine didn’t get too crispy) and the rest of the garnishes and you’ve got one of the best, most unique meals I’ve made in a very long time.

Cooking Thai Chicken Soup

As I’m slowly discovering, I’m a big fan of Thai food or at least the combination of lime, chicken and coconut that I’ve been experiencing in the recipes I’ve tried. One such recipe was found in The Ultimate Soup Bible called Thai Chicken Soup (page 304). This one was so good that we’ve had it twice in a fairly short period of time which almost never happens.

The recipe calls for creamed coconut or coconut cream, but I couldn’t find those and went with a 13.5 oz can of coconut milk. I also skipped out on the cilantro and red chilies because those aren’t flavors we’re real keen on. Otherwise, though, this went along pretty smoothly. After cooking a chopped up garlic clove in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven, I cut up two chicken breasts into cubes and cooked them1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.

While the chicken cooks for three or four minutes, I mixed 3.5 cups of warmed chicken stock with the can of coconut milk. When the chicken was done, I added the stock/milk mixture and then stirred in two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, the juice of a large lemon and a few ounces of thin egg noodles. You cover that and then simmer for 15 minutes.

At that time, I toasted some sweetened coconut flakes that we had in the pantry. The recipe calls for unsweetened, but this seemed to work out pretty well, though you do need to make sure they don’t burn which can happen pretty quickly. After the 15 minutes are up, you throw in some cut up green onions and parsley — dried or fresh, whatever you have on hand — and then cook for another five minutes. To serve, I simply sprinkled the soup with the cooked (almost candied, really) coconut. This is such a nice, sweet and sour soup with a nice little crunch thanks to the coconut.

Even though we first tried this soup a while ago, it stuck around in my mind and seemed like a good choice to try again now that it’s getting cold out. The second time around I used limes, because that’s what I had on hand, and didn’t include the toasted coconut because I must have used up what little we had in the pantry when I made it the first time. I wish I would have remembered my one complaint from the first time I made the soup, though: there’s not enough of it! Next time I bust out the Thai Chicken Soup, I think I’m going to double it.

Cooking Soup Addict’s Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

While looking around for new food blogs to follow, I came across one called Soup Addict. Now that it’s getting colder out and our kiddo can handle a spoon better, I’m back in the soup game. Recently, a new recipe for Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup popped up and I wanted to give it a shot.

I’ve made tortellini soups like this in the past before and am a big fan. Since I’m lazy and don’t have the time on a regular weekday to make my own cheese-filled pasta, I get the store bought stuff. For the most part, I followed the directions as written, but did make a few additions too beef this meal up.

Like the recipe suggests, I cooked the onion followed by the garlic before pouring in the tomato sauce and chicken broth. Since I wound up buying twice the amount of tortellini promised, I added about a cup more chicken broth and upped the flour and half and half a bit as well. I also added in some dried parsley and basil as well as a glug or two of Yellow Tail Cabernet-Merlot. Since I used alcohol, I did bring the soup back up to a boil which is not recommended in the post.

I was really impressed with house this soup turned out. While cooking and tasting I was a bit worried that it was going to be a bit bland, but between the basic recipe and my additions it turned into a flavorful mix of creaminess and traditional Italian flavors. I think next time, though, I might use either a homemade tomato sauce or, if I don’t have any around, blend up a can of stewed tomatoes just to get a few more elements in early on.

MacGyvering Thai-Style Lentil, Coconut & Green Bean Soup

Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.

After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.

I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!

I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Forgotten Food: Chile-Chicken Posole

Once again I have a post about a dish that I think was pretty good, but has been forgotten thanks to a lack of timely posting and lots and lots of meals between then and now. I think I was looking around for something chili-esque on Food Network’s website, came across this recipe for Chile-Chicken Posole and went with it.

It looks like the only changes I made were getting rid of the cilantro, which my wife isn’t a fan of, and using a poblano pepper instead of a jalapeno. I have no idea if that’s a swap that makes sense, but I don’t like a lot of heat, so I tend to avoid non-popper jalapenos.

Aside from that, it looks like the rest was business as usual: cook the chicken in olive oil, do the same with the onion and pepper, throw a bunch of stuff in the food processor and then put everything together in a big pot for a while.

Something in my brain tells me that we enjoyed this meal, which is the main reason I’m writing about it here. It’s basically like leaving a message for my future self:

“Dude, try the posole again and, this time, WRITE ABOUT IT!”

There, hopefully that will do the trick.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

While flipping through Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson I was absolutely drawn to her Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup recipe (page 82). So far under the spell was I that I ignored two very basic facts: 1) our two-year-old doesn’t do so well with soup and 2) it was just starting to get crazy hot when I made it. Ah well, it turned out to be super good, so who cares? I’d rather sweat through making a really great dish that I can use again later down the line than make one that’s not so good any day.

Like a lot of the dishes I’ve made out of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge, there’s a lot of prep work involved here. You cut the pork tenderloin up and then mix it with lime, soy sauce, paprika and fish sauce. While that marinates for about 15 minutes, you can cut up the bok choy, start the pasta water and get the other ingredients ready. I couldn’t find the sprouts and skipped the chiles, so there were a few things I didn’t have to deal with.

Then you’re off to the cooking races. The chicken broth goes in its own pot while you start cooking scallions and then the pork. I used a regular pan this time, but think I’ll go with the wok next time just to see how the process differs. Anyway, there’s more cooking and then transferring of ingredients until you wind up with a pot of noodle-y, porky, boy choy-y soup just begging to be eaten.

If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this dish. The tenderloin took on great flavor even with such a short marinade and the broth had that great saltiness to it that actually made me excited to eat leftovers the next few days. I will definitely make this dish again, but most likely when it’s a bit cooler outside.

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: And The Rest

My apologies to regular readers for the intense lack of posts the past month or so. Between the lead-up to vacation, vacation itself, getting back into the groove with work and being sick and not cooking for all of last week, writing about food unfortunately fell pretty low on the priority list. I know the Disney trip seems like it was pretty long ago at this point, but I wanted to finish things out (if you’re curious to see what else we ate either scroll down or read, this, this, this and this).

pizzafari lunch

The Wednesday we spent at Disney World — which also happened to be my dad’s birthday — was spent hanging out in Animal Kingdom. As happened last time we all went there, it was a rainy day, though not nearly as bad as the previous visit. For lunch we went with a counter service at Pizzafari. When I think about food like this I always think it’s going to taste like the box it was delivered in, but I’ve got to say it was a pretty solid little pizza. I mean, it was nothing like the places around us in New York, but it also wasn’t terrible. I’m always a fan of Cesar salads and also went with the pudding for desert. I have no problem recommending Pizzafari if you’re in Animal Kingdom looking for a good lunch place.

boma soup

To celebrate my dad’s birthday, we went to the African buffet dinner at Boma which is located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The last time we went to Disney World, this place was easily our number one favorite eating spot. I’ve got to say, though, that the experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable this time around. For one thing, the place was PACKED, so it was kind of hard to navigate the buffet line. Making matters a bit worse, the actual buffet is set up kind of poorly. People tend to line up for the carved meat, but are you supposed to get in that line before going after the other sections? Some people clearly think so while others did not. I went rogue when I needed to, as is my want.

But, the food was still really great. My personal favorite dish is the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup (above right). I’m also a fan of the Ginger Carrot Soup (above left). The interesting thing about eating at Boma this time around is that it wasn’t quite as revelatory. The food was still fantastic, but in the time since we ate there the first time, I’ve eaten and cooked a lot of different foods. Still, if you’re in Disney World, go eat at Boma, it’s worth it.

Croque Monsieur

Thursday was my daughter’s second birthday, so we tried to cater our dining choices to things she might get a kick out of. Since we were in Magic Kingdom that morning, we decided to try out one of the new eateries in New Fantasyland called Be Our Guest and as you might imagine, the place is Beauty And The Beast themed. This was the only place we ate at where diners could use a touch screen to order their food and while I love that idea, the practice was difficult because most people apparently can’t fathom how to use such a system just yet (even the helper at our station took longer to input our desired meal than it would have taken me). Anyway, my wife and I decided to split two different sandwiches because we couldn’t decide. So, we each had half of the Croque Monsieur (“Grilled Sandwich of Carved Ham and Gruyere Cheese and Bechamel with Pommes Frites”) and the Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich (“Served warm on a Baguette with Horseradish Sour Cream and Pommes Frites”) both of which would make fine choices for a hungry dining party.

Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich

To say a few more things about this restaurant, I really appreciate the theming they did. When you walk in you’re given a plastic spherical bar with a rose on it. You tap this to the screen when you order and then it acts like a GPS so the servers can find you. The servers themselves roll the food out in covered serving carts that both look neat and keep the food warm. Speaking of neat, the place is broken up into three different dining rooms, Belle’s Library, the West Wing and the ballroom. I’m actually not sure which one we were in, but one of the other rooms featured Beast’s flower and the other had windows set up to make it look like it was a dark and stormy night (though it was raining that day, so maybe that’s what it was). Anyway, if you have a BATB fan in your life, they’ll love eating at Be Our Guest.

princess dinner

For dinner that day we hoofed it over to Epcot’s World Showcase for the Princess Storybook Dining at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. Lu absolutely loved getting to meet and have her picture taken with Ariel, Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle so it was worth it for that alone. It was also nice that they had a great drink menu and rad food like Traditional Kjøttkake also known as, “Norwegian Meatballs served with Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, and Lingonberry Sauce.” It’s like that stuff they have at Ikea, but roughly 7 billion times better, plus you get the added bonus of knowing you don’t have to put frustrating furniture together after eating. They also do a complimentary buffet called “Taste of Norway,” but I don’t remember much about it aside from a sweet brown cheese that half the table enjoyed and half was not into at all.

kat korra dinner I din't eat

Unfortunately, I was not feeling very well for our last full day at Disney. I had some weird stuff going on with my stomach that was probably compounded by drinking more coffee and beer than water while on vacation. Not smart, people, be sure to stay hydrated. I really wish I had because we went to Kouzzina by Kat Kora for dinner and it was one of the restaurants I was most interested in checking out going back to the early days of planning this trip. Unfortunately, the strong Greek smells and flavors did not work well with my wobbly tummy, so, even though I ordered the Briami — “Oven-roasted Vegetables with Oregano, topped with Greek Cheese, served with Herbed Orzo Pasta” — I was only able to look it, sigh and go back to the room to take a nap. So while the Disney trip didn’t end on a high culinary note for me personally, I’ve got to say that, overall I probably haven’t had a better week of meals ever. Also, get the Dining Plan if you can!

I Had One Of The Best Meals Of My Life At Barnaby’s In New Paltz

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Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is a wonderful event held in and around the area I live in in New York where all participating restaurants offer a set menu for lunch and/or dinner with three or four options for a three course meal. While looking around for things to do last weekend while my parents visited and coming up with zero events, I stumbled upon the fact that we were right in the middle of Restaurant Week again. I did some looking around and saw that  a place in New Paltz called Barnaby’s Steakhouse was on the list and happened to be offering a pretty impressive line-up of appetizers, entrees and desserts for the $20.95 price tag. I scoped out a few other places, but decided on Barnaby’s not only because we’d never been there before, but also because it seemed like the most bang for the bucks. We headed up there on Saturday for a late lunch and man, was it a wonderful experience.

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I started off with the the Lobster Bisque partially because it sounded like the most intriguing of the appetizers on the list, but also because I figured it was the best value. The bisque itself had that wonderful richness that you get from the best bisques, but it also had a cream swirled throughout as a sweet corn and tarragon relish that really added a depth of flavor that made me want to dive into a vat of this and eat my way out.

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We all wound up going for the Grilled Petit Filet Mignon Steak for our entrees that came topped with “a crust of Gorgonzola cheese & herbed horseradish” that also came with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. The steak came perfectly cooked to medium and I probably could have cut through it with a fork. The gorgonzola and horseradish topping was a nice touch that didn’t overwhelm the solid flavors of the steak. The potatoes were good, clearly made in house and creamy, though I always compare these things with the ones my mom makes and they don’t hold up. I wasn’t into the creamed spinach, but that’s okay, I was already pretty full at this point. Of course, it wasn’t over yet. 

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I went with the Creme Brulee for desert and kind of regret it, not because it wasn’t good, but because I wound up being uncomfortably full the rest of the day. Also, even though I figured I wouldn’t worry about calories after eating such rich food, I did add everything up as best I could and was shocked at how many calories this dish added to the meal. If my rough calculations are correct it’s actually more calories than the steak! Anyway, the caramelized sugar was perfectly done and the creme was super nice and creamy.

I’m not that best at comparing meals in my head. If I like one, I remember liking it, but it doesn’t enter a ranking system or anything like that. But, I can tell when a meal really rockets past all the other ones and this was definitely one of those experiences. Aside from the one time I went to Peter Luger’s, I think this might be the best steak I’ve ever had in New York. It’s probably up there with the best steak experiences ever. Plus, it was all the better because I was with my family AND it was my mom’s first time eating a steak after years and years of being a vegetarian. There’s a lot of reasons she’s moving away from that, but I think the high quality of the food at Barnaby’s helped kickstart the process even more!

Second Christmas Remembered: Traditional Ruhlman’s French Onion Soup

The last thing I made for Second Christmas was French Onion Soup. It also happened to be the most complicated and worrisome of the group because you basically cook these onions for hours until they get to the right color. Because of the long cook time I was worried that I might let them cook too long or not enough, but thankfully I seemed to get it dead on and we had our French Onion Soup!

But, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The recipe itself from Ruhlman’s Twenty is called Traditional French Onion Soup (page 75) actually comes with pictures which was really helpful for such a long-form dish. One thing I didn’t mention in the other posts is that I went for a solid no-meat meal because my mom is a vegetarian. When I mentioned I was making FOS, she asked about the beef broth and I told her it didn’t have any. I hadn’t read the full description of the recipe, but Ruhlman writes that a lot of FOS recipes call for broth, but that’s not how it was made in France where poorer houses wouldn’t use more-expensive broth when you can get a solid flavor from just cooking onions in a tablespoon of butter.

Of course, the key to this dish is the onions. I sliced up almost a full bag of white onions on the mandolin which was faster than cutting them by hand, but still felt kind of clunky. Anyone, those went into the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of butter and cooked for about four hours. After you get to the right shade of amber, you add in the water, taste and then alter with vinegar, salt, pepper and sherry to get the flavor you want. Then you put your dried-out bread on top and the cheese (I actually used the Emmenthaler shown in the post about Mac & Cheese from the same meal), pop that under the broiler and have FOS a few months later. I actually thought it wound up being a little sweeter than I usually like, but as a whole I thought it wound up being a really good dish. The whole meal might have had a lot of cheese and onions, but I think it worked well together! Happy belated Second Christmas!

Bonus Food Pics: French Onion Soup & A Ruben At Fox Fiddle

The week before last I didn’t write any posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. I played it coy a bit, but as I explained over on Pop Poppa in my Photo Diary posts, I was actually commuting into the city with my dad and mother-in-law to visit my wife who was in the hospital post-surgery. Everything went well and she’s back home healing up.

Of course, you’ve still got to eat and after a few days of hospital cafeteria food, we decided to head out and get something. We were originally going to go to Chickpea, but it happened to be pretty full and I saw the sign for Fox N Fiddle and redirected us thataway. It’s an Irish pub which meant there would be two things there that I wanted: non crappy food (or at least less crappy food, depending on how Irish it really was) and beer.

I wound up getting a few Samuel Adams’ winter seasonal beers, then had a crock of French Onion Soup and followed that up with a Ruben. I probably wasn’t the best judge of anything that day, but I thought both the soup and sandwich were pretty darn good. I left very satisfied and didn’t feel like it was too expensive, which can easily happen at places in NYC.

Soup’s Off

I love making soup, you guys. It’s one of the reasons I like fall so much, spending some time with a pot, some stock, vegetables and usually meat all mixing it up together on my stove. What’s not to like? Well, a lot if you’re a baby, apparently. As the weather turned cooler a few weeks back, I got really excited and broke out my copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and started checking out new recipes to try. One week I made Cauliflower Cannellini & Fennel Soup (page 221) which you can see above  and the next I made Mediterranean Sausage & Pesto Soup (page 327) which is below. Neither blew my mind, but they were both good soups that made me feel warm and full, which is pretty much my criteria.

But, as I mentioned above, babies aren’t the biggest fans of soup. Even Lu, who’s gotten really good with her tiny utensils, didn’t find much to get excited about when presented with a mini bowl of soup. It’s something I didn’t even think of in my rush to get soup-ed up, but it either doesn’t look appetizing to her or she really wants to eat it herself which will just lead to a huge mess on our hands. I’m bummed out, but I’ve put soup on the backburner as far as meal planning goes for the time being (puns!).

Cooking Southern American Succotash Soup With Chicken

Being from Toledo, Ohio from parents who were both from Ohio, I had pretty limited exposure to southern food. We didn’t have a lot of barbecue places around from what I remember, though there are a number of ones in town now. And, as far as I knew, succotash was something only preceded by “sufferin'” in cartoon character exclamations. When I was flipping through the Chicken and Duck Soups chapter of The Ultimate Soup Bible, I stumbled upon a recipe for something called American Southern Succotash Soup With Chicken (page 296) that sounded pretty amazing. Anything with corn, bacon and chicken is aces in my book, so I decided to give it a whirl.

And it turned out pretty fantastic, plus the recipe isn’t all the difficult. You start off boiling some chicken breasts in chicken broth for bout 15 minutes. While those were going, I got to work on prep, chopping up a few strips of bacon, two onions and some parsley. When that was good to go, I started making the base of the soup which involved cooking the onions in butter for a handful of minutes. To that I added the bacon. My wife doesn’t really like squishy bacon in soups, so I tried to get it a little crispier. You then add in some flour to thicken, the hot stock from the chicken (which had been removed after it was done cooking and set aside for chopping) and some corn.

My grocery store didn’t have fresh corn, which was weird because they did a few weeks ago, so I went with frozen. You also add some milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes. Then you add in the cut up chicken, the lima beans and the rest of the milk and you are ready to go. I’m sure it would have been even better with fresh corn, but I think it turned out really well. It was thick and creamy without using cream, which I appreciated, but did have bacon and beans and chicken which all mingled together in a very satisfying and filling meal. Bonus points for being equally good if not better when reheated. Definitely give this one a try when you’ve got a colder day on your hands this summer.

Cooking A Potage Of Yellow Split Peas

This recipe is based on the Potage of Lentils recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 208), which I didn’t intend to put a spin on, but I mistakenly thought I had lentils in my pantry when instead I had yellow split peas. After I realized I goofed up a bit, I figured I’d give the whole thing a shot with the yellow split peas and you know what? It turned out pretty good.

Like a lot of soups, this one was mostly prep followed by putting things in the pot in the right order. I started off chopping up celery carrots, garlic and potato even though chopped onions were the first thing that actually went into the hot olive oil in the pot. After all that cooked for a few minutes, I added in the yellow split peas and vegetable broth and simmered for 30 minutes.

At that point, I tossed in two bay leaves, a halved lemon and more garlic. This cooked for ten minutes before removing the lemons and bay leaves, squeezing the juice from another lemon in and giving the whole thing a stir. I let it cool down a bit and then transferred all the soup into the food processor and gave it whirl (heh). Once that was all set, I returned it to the pot and added cumin, some green Tobasco, salt and pepper. Boom, done.

This turned out to be a great little soup that worked well with my unintended tampering. It kind of reminded me of a soupier hummus, but with more citrus zing. We had this back when we were getting a pretty brutal cold snap a few weeks back, but I think I’ll definitely give it another shot when the weather turns cold again. I don’t know about you guys, but I just can’t wrap my head around soup in the summer.

Cooking Tortellini Soup

I’ll be honest, I have no idea where the basis of this recipe came from. It’s one I copied from somewhere online and pasted before printing off and putting in a binder years ago. So, I’m sorry if I’m ripping someone off. I did change and add a few things this time around and guess that’s probably enough to make a difference. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 10 oz. cans of chicken broth, low sodium
8 oz. package of tortellini (I went with cheese, possibly quadruple cheese)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bunch spinach
6 leaves of basil
1 roaster chicken

First up, separate the chicken from the roaster. You could also grill and chop chicken, but I wanted bones for some stock and went this route.

Meanwhile, heat the oik in your pot and saute the garlic for 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tortellini and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Mix in Parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper. Simmer until tortellini are just tender. Stir in tomatoes, spinach basil and chicken. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

That’s it. I vaguely remember making this year and years ago, but without the chicken and really enjoying it. I wanted to get some protein in there, hence the chopped up bird. I wasn’t sure if the stewed tomatoes should go in with or without being drained, I decided not to and I think it helped. The only problem I had is that the noodles and meat soaked up a lot of the broth, turning this into more of a pasta dish with a chicken broth sauce, really. I’d probably add even more chicken stock next time and would be even happier with the results.

This is a really easy meal to throw together, especially if you have a few things like spinach and basil lying around from an earlier recipe. It also has the fortunate bonus of being tasty, especially if you’re  fan of tortellini.

Cooking Tex Mex Chicken Taco Soup

For some reason while I was making this Food Network recipe for Tex Mex Chicken Taco Soup, I was under the impression that I was making chili. I should have known that it wasn’t when the recipe said it only takes 45 minutes to make…and by actually reading the title.

Anyway, I followed the recipe as it’s written with a few changes. I used low fat cream cheese to cut down on some of the calories. I also grilled the chicken on the George Foreman instead of boiling it. For what it’s worth, I used Old El Paso Mild Taco Seasoning and half a jar each of Pace Salsa Verde and Pace Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salsa that I had left over from various recipes and snack-fests.

I almost didn’t add the cream cheese mixture into the soup because I didn’t want it to get to thick or possibly screw up the good thing I had going, so I asked my wife. She said to pour it in and see how it came out. Good thing I listened to her because we wound up with a nice creamy, spicy soup with nice corn and hominy accents. You can really have fun with this recipe by playing around with different beans, meats and salsa.

Cooking Genoese Ministrone Soup

I was originally a little intimidated when it came to the recipe for Genoese Minestrone Soup found in The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 444) because of the laundry list of ingredients. But, upon closer inspection, I realized that most of them were just vegetables. I enjoy chopping, so I added celery, carrots, green beans, zucchini, potato, eggplant, cannellini beans, plum tomatoes, pasta, vegetable broth and pesto sauce to my grocery list. That’s pretty much all that goes into this recipe and I thought it wound up making a very tasty soup with tons of veggies.

First up, you cook the carrot, onion and celery in a pan in oil, then add in the beans, zucchini and potato (it also called for cabbage, but I skipped that for lack of anything to do with the rest of the head) and cook a bit more. Pop the eggplant, beans and tomatoes in, cook a few more minutes and then add the stock, salt and pepper and simmer for 40 minutes. At this point, you’re supposed to make your own, pesto, but I was feeling a bit lazy and am too cheap to buy a $10 jar of pine nuts, so I went with the jarred stuff.

After cooking for 40 minutes, you add the pasta, let simmer for five minutes and then add the pesto and simmer for another two or three minutes and you’ve got some soup on your hands. You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the soup turned out a lot thicker than I expected. The picture in the cookbook makes it look pretty clean and clear. Maybe I didn’t use the right amount of broth, but even though it didn’t look all too pretty, I thought it tasted great. All those vegetables mixed together really well with the broth and the noodles added some texture and beans some protein. All in all, this was yet another great recipe from one of my most consistently reliable cookbooks!

Cooking Mushroom Soup

I love mushrooms, but my wife isn’t such a big fan. I’ve been slowly introducing them into some of the dishes we eat and I think she’s turning the corner a bit, but I try not to push the subject too much. I had bought a bunch of mushrooms for some recipe that fell through the cracks and was therefore left with a package of baby portabellas and a mixed pack that included more baby portabellas, shitake and another kind I can’t quite remember. I didn’t want to waste them, so I flipped through the Ultimate Soup Bible and came across a Mushroom Soup recipe n page 182. I had all the ingredients and some time one day, so I made it for myself for lunch and it turned out pretty great.

Basically, you put some butter and oil in your soup pot and cook one chopped onion and four chopped potatoes in oil and butter and let them sweat for 5-10 minutes until browned. Then you toss in 12 ounces of chopped mushrooms along with one or two garlic cloves and either apple cider or white wine (I went with a mixture of white wine vinegar and water that gave it a tangy taste). After that cooked for 15 minutes, I ladled the soup into our larger food processor and wound up with some smooth mushroom soup. The recipe called for the addition of sour cream, which I tried later and was quite good, but at first I added half and half because that’s what I had in the house.

The half and half didn’t quite add the right flavor that the sour cream did, so I would recommend sticking to that part of the recipe. I wound up eating this soup throughout the day because I was so taken with the flavors. It is VERY mushr0omy, so I didn’t bother trying to have my wife try it, but a pretty simple recipe wound up giving me lunch for the next few days. I was happy with the results.

Stocking Up: Beef

Alright, folks, this post has been a long time coming. After making my own chicken stock, I decided to give beef stock a whirl as well and it went really well, except when I burned my hand. The key to making beef stock is finding a place to buy beef bones, which I hear can be difficult, but I happened to be at my local Hannaford one day and they had big ones for sale. With those in hand, I busted out The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 32) and got to work.

I’m not sure how much of a difference it made, but the cow bones I got were not chopped up and I half-heartedly tried with my knife and failed, so I just put three of those big boys in a high-sided pan in the over at 450 degrees and got to chopping. Like most stocks, the recipe called for carrots, celery and onion, but also tomatoes. I got those and the herbs (parsley and thyme) as well as crushed black peppercorns and a bay leaf ready while the bones roasted for a half hour.

After the half hour mark, I added in the vegetables and roasted for another 25 minutes or so. At that point, I dumped the contents of the pan in the stock pot and boiled some water like the recipe suggested. While the water boiled I started doing something else–can’t remember what exactly–and accidentally reached for the handle of the pan…that was in the 450 degree oven…without a glove or a cover on the handle and burned the heck out of my hand.

I immediately got my hand under cold running water and soon transferred to a bowl of ice water (more on injury treatment in another post along with a few other dumb injuries I’ve sustained in the past month or so). While I kept a nasty burn and possibly blisters at bay on my right hand, I kept going with the stock-making. I poured the boiling water from the pan into the pot followed by about 18-inches of water and set it to boil along with the herbs and spices.

I simmered for six hours (I read in a Bourdain book that the longer, the better), then strained and let the stock cool. This time, I knew about how much liquid I would have, so after it cooled, I placed the stock in a big plastic bowl and popped it in the refrigerator. I left it there over night and when I went back to strain the fat, I was happy to find that it had solidified into a disk that I could easily remove, which is a heckuva lot easier than skimming, I’ll tell you that.

Instead of freezing ice cubes of stock this time around, I used my mother-in-law’s idea and instead measured out one and two cup amounts, poured that into marked bags and froze those bags in larger freezer bags. As I mentioned in the post about making Alton Brown’s recipe for Swedish Meatballs, I’ve already used the stock and it’s pretty great. The only problem with this method is that you wind up wasting the tiny bags when you tear them apart to get the stock out. The perfect solution would be ice cube trays with one and/or two cup sized holes. Do they make those? That’d be awesome.

Cooking Herb & Beef Soup with Yogurt & Naan

As I’ve said a few times here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen, I’m a big fan of soups and The Ultimate Soup Bible has become, well, my soup bible. If I’m looking for a soup recipe, I’m looking in there. I was flipping through a week or two back and landed on this one called Beef & Herb Soup With Yogurt (page 458). It sounded pretty interesting with what I thought was Indian origins–it’s actually Iranian I just saw) especially because it’s kind of a Middle Eastern version of Italian Wedding soup, which the bagel shop I used to work at back in Toledo used to serve.

As usual, I got as much prep done ahead of time. I combined five cups of water with a half cup of yellow split peas and one tablespoon of turmeric in a big container. I also combined a cup of brown basmanti rice and about three tablespoons of parsley and chives in a smaller bowl. Then I chopped an onion up and cooked that in olive oil in a Dutch oven. Once that turned brown, I added the water, peas and turmeric and simmered for 20 minutes.

While that was simmering, I made the meatballs which were made with about 8 ounces of ground beef, a chopped onion and some salt and pepper. As you can see in the photo, I kept them pretty tiny, thought not nearly as small as the ones I remember from my old Italian Wedding days at Barry’s.

I dropped the meatballs in after the 20 minute simmer and let simmer again for 10 minutes. Then I added the rice, parsley and chives (the recipe called for cilantro, but my wife hates that particular herb, so I skipped it) and simmered again for 30 minutes. In a smaller pan, I melted one tablespoon of butter and fried a chopped clove of garlic before then adding a handful of chopped mint. That got added to the soup before serving and then I laid out some more freshly chopped mint, Greek yogurt (that’s the only non fruity kind I could find at the store) and naan. I will not get the garlic naan next time because it was very overpowering, but all in all the soup was pretty good. I think next time I will add some acid, either lemon or lime juice, and maybe some curry powder to really round out the flavors because it did wind up tasting a bit flat.

Stocking Up: Chicken

One of the common things I’ve read in most of the cookbooks and books about food is that making your own stock is important. Not only do you know exactly what goes into it, but you’re also creating something very basic that you can use in many, many things. I’d been wanting to try my hand at stocks for along time now, but only actually got around to it in the past month. Why the delay? I was a little worried about the time commitment, plus I wasn’t quite needing stock yet. Now that it’s getting cold and I’m making more soup, I figured it would be a good time.

I started with a chicken stock recipe that I got out of The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 30) because it was an actual recipe. Anthony Bourdain had a much less specific one in  The Les Halles Cook Book, but I wanted to do it by the book and have my hand held for a bit before eying everything.

The recipe called for bone-in chicken pieces that included wings, back and necks, but I couldn’t find that at the grocery store and the butcher wasn’t around, so I went with a pair of bone-in breasts. Not sure how much difference that made, but otherwise, I followed the recipe.

I tossed the chicken, two unpeeled onions and some oil in a stock pot and started cooking until everything was brown. While that cooked, I chopped up two carrots and two celery stalks, grabbed some parsley and thyme stems, a bay leaf and ground about a dozen black peppercorns. I put all that in a container and waited until they were needed.

Once everything was browned, I filled the pot with 16 cups of water and waited for a boil. Once I got there, I dumped the container of veggies and herbs and simmered for three hours. After that, I strained out all the solids and let the stock sit. I tried scraping out fat and did my best, but came up with a much better method that I’ll talk about when I write about making beef stock.

Anyway, I had read in many places that making stock ice cubes is the way to go, so after everything cooled, I got to work on that. It was a multi-part project because we only had two extra ice cube trays and not a lot of space in our freezer anyway. I now have two bags filled with chicken stock cubes ready to go. I took about 10 or 12 back home for Thanksgiving intending to use them instead of turkey stock to make the gravy, but wound up making my own turkey stock. It didn’t go to waste though, because my mom used them in the stuffing.

I’m really glad I did this, not just because I feel like I’ve done something that not a lot of people do, but also because I finally just did it. Sometimes things seem like big hurdles, but once you finally do them, they turn out to be pretty easy. Sure, you’ve got to be home to keep an eye on the stock as it simmers, but aside from that it’s really easy and worth doing. I hope to make some killer winter soups now!

Cooking Tomato & Beef Soup

With the weather turning colder, I find it comforting to have at least one soup recipe on the menu per week. Last week I decided on Tomato & Beef Soup from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 343) because it was simple and didn’t require a lot of extra ingredients. Plus, it included at least one cooking method I had never used before. After cutting up the beef in strips, I put them in a pan and added a cup or two of boiled water straight out of the hot pot. As the recipe called for, I let the water cook the meat for two minutes, then drained and set aside. Pretty cool.

From there, everything else was pretty simple. I put two boxes of beef stock (it wouldn’t be until later that I actually made my own, but that post is coming, I promise) in a pot and started warming. I went with more of just about everything than the recipe called for because I didn’t want to have a lot of leftover ingredients. As such, I also used a full tiny can of tomato paste and seven tomatoes. The rest I eyed, but usually went with more than written.

You add the chopped tomatoes and some sugar, boil, then simmer for two minutes. After that mix cornstarch and cold water, add that and stir. Then you beat an egg white (or two in my case) and pour that in while stirring (not easy to do while trying to photograph the steps). I’ve done this with a few other recipes, but I always like how quickly the eggs cook when added to the hot soup. Reminds me of a much more appetizing version of the Cement Mixer shot I was given on my 21st birthday (for the uninitiated, you take a shot of Khalua or Bailey’s, don’t swallow and then add a shot of lime juice, it curdles in your mouth, a trick played on young whippersnappers who will take any shot without a thought).

I made a few other alterations to the recipe, but nothing huge. It called for sesame oil to be poured over each bowl, but it turned out that we didn’t have any, so I added some low sodium soy sauce along with some rice vinegar. I know they’re not the same, but they added some interesting flavors. The recipe also called for scallions to be added on top, but I chopped a bunch up and just put them right in the soup. If it tastes good on top, it must taste good in, right?

The overall flavor of this dish was interesting and a little difficult to get used to. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but my wife and I both agreed that an Asian soup with tomatoes was not something we were used to. Of course, neither of us are experts in that field, but I also think that my additions to the recipe might have made the overall flavor fit more firmly into that section of our mental flavor libraries. Like I said, I liked it and enjoyed having it for lunch the next few days, especially with that loaf of garlic bread I picked up at the grocery store.

Turning Anne Burrell’s Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapenos Into Soup

As I said the other day, I made Anne Burrell’s Braised Chicken with Tomatillos and Jalapeno, but my wife wasn’t super into it and I wasn’t hungry, so I decided to just turn it into soup. It was actually super easy. I pulled the braised chicken out of the broth, added the rest of the chicken stock I had and added some celery (just because I had it). As the broth cooked, I pulled the meat off of the chicken, ripping it up into smaller pieces. Once that I was done, I popped the chicken in, tasted for salt and pepper and cooked down. It wound up being super, super tasty. I even added in some of the lime sour cream that’s also part of the original recipe to give it even more of a citrusy kick. I highly recommend this change to the recipe.

Cooking Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup

Do you ever make a recipe that’s so simple and yet so good you wonder why everyone doesn’t make it all the time? That’s how I felt after making the Lima Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Soup recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 210). By the way, if you follow that link you’ll see that the book is selling for $250, which is bonkers because we got ours at Barnes & Noble for a couple bucks. Not sure why it’s so pricey.

Anyway, the recipe is crazy simple. You basically boil 56 ounces of strained lima beans, which are apparently also known as butter beans (had to look that one up on my phone because I was having zero luck finding lima beans at the grocery store). Once those are boiled you add in sun-dried tomato paste and pesto, boil, blend some up and then combine. There you go.

I also couldn’t find 28oz cans, so I went with four 15.5 ouncers. I also couldn’t find actual sun-dried tomato paste, so I got a small jar of them in oil and blended them up in the Magic Bullet. I guess that’s the same as tomato paste, right? We also didn’t have any pesto lying around from back when we had basil, so I bought a jar.

Man, oh man, this was great stuff. All those flavors combined so well and tasted so good together. It wasn’t like tasting something brand new, but more like tasting a brand new combo that makes all kinds of sense and is therefore awesome. My wife was actually pretty bummed out when I told her we were having a lima bean-based soup because she hates them. But, I convinced her to give it a shot and she really, really liked the soup. I will definitely be adding this one to regular rotation and perusing this book for more recipes to see if it’s worth that crazy-high price tag some people are selling it for!

Cooking Without Power

Last weekend we lost power. I documented it pretty well over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, but figured a post specifically about cooking in the dark would be interesting and hopefully useful to some. As I mentioned over there, we’ve got a gas stove, which I highly recommend both as a preferred cooking method and as a necessary piece of equipment if you live in a place prone to power outages. As you probably know, an electric stove just won’t work when the power goes out, but as long as you’ve got matches, you can get a gas stove working meaning you can cook, but you can also boil pots of water to help warm your house!

We hadn’t planned for the power to be out. The first time I heard about the oncoming snow storm was Friday as my parents were coming in for a visit. We went out to eat on Friday and decided to get pizza for lunch on Saturday as the snow started to fall. As it happened, I had a plan to make soup from my Better Crocker Healthy New Choices cookbook. It’s called African Vegetable Stew (page 198) and comes loaded with vegetables, lentils and rice which made the meal very filling. The power went out around 5:00PM on Saturday while my wife was making what turned out to be gourmet quality caramel apples. We intended to take them to the Halloween party that wound up getting cancelled, but instead had them ourselves. While she did that, I cleaned the green beans and assembled the other ingredients. I had luckily taken most of the vegetables out of the fridge before we lost power, but did have to jump in for a few things (and grabbed beers while I was in there for good measure). The key to this meal working out was a head lamp that my inlaws got for my wife and I after they wound up using theirs after a particularly long, New England power outage. You wear it like a headband around your noggin, so it winds up casting a light wherever you’re looking. Even something like this that included a fair amount of chopping (onions, garlic, carrots, celery) went pretty easily thanks to a fair amount of prep ahead of time. The soup wound up tasting really good as well thanks to the ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and other spices. Saturday night I didn’t bother putting the soup pot in the fridge. For one thing, it had been opened a few times and probably wasn’t going to stay cool for long. Plus, the soup was still warm and I didn’t want to heat the appliance up. So, the next day, I just gave it a good boil and we had it for dinner again along with the leftover pizza. All in all, it worked out pretty well. Had we lost power for long, I’m sure we would have gone out to eat, but this one meal served us really well (plus, I had some for lunch on Monday and it was still good!).

Bonus Vacation Food Pics: Lobster Bisque & Putanesca At Cafe Zabaglione

Cafe Zabaglione
1 Market Street
Ipswich, MA
(978) 356-6484

While on vacation in Ipswich, Massachusetts when not eating gloriously fresh seafood or other home cooked meals, we went into town and wound up at a place called Cafe Zabaglione. We hadn’t planned on much of anything, but when we saw it, it seemed like a good place to stop in and get some pasta. As it turned out, it was a GREAT place to stop and get some pasta. It’s not just Zagat rated, but apparently in the top thousand Italian restaurants in the country or some such. As you can see in the hazy picture above, it was a nice little place with a few waitresses working and a few other people behind the counter. When I saw Lobster Bisque on the menu I just had to try it and it was great. I love how creamy and tangy lobster bisque can be and they nailed it.

I went with putanesca because the menu said it had anchovies in it and I wanted to give it a shot. I’m trying new things, but I think the anchovies were in the sauce or maybe just a juice was used because I didn’t see any of those tiny, salty fish in there. Still, the olives and capers mixed with the sauce was a really nice treat. My wife and her dad got desserts from the huge case of cakes and pies and they both really enjoyed them. Plus, they’ve got a pictures of Robert De Niro in the bathroom which I could not resist taking a picture of.

So, if you’re looking for reasonably priced Italian food and a huge, killer dessert when not eating lobster or fried seafood, I highly recommend heading over to Cafe Zabaglione. Great stuff!

Restaurant Review: Main Course

Main Course
175 Main Street
New Paltz, NY 12561
(845) 255 2600

By now we’ve eaten at most of the places of interest on New Paltz’s main drag. There’s a few we haven’t hit up yet, but they’re a little more upscale and we’re usually wearing T-shirts when we head out there (I absolutely hate being under-dressed). A few trips back we noticed a place a little bit closer to the highway called Main Course that we decided to check out tonight. As far as I can tell from the website, the business started off as a catering company and somewhat recently opened up a restaurant. They boast “Farm to table foods and catering” on their signs and menus. Seemed like an interesting enough concept and the building itself looks so nice that I was actually worried I would be under-dressed. As it turns out, the place while quite nice inside, actually sells sandwiches, salads, soup, bread, bakery, sides and a handful of daily specials of the dinner variety, so we were good to go. Even though it’s been pretty darn hot lately, I decided to start off with their Tomato Basil Soup With Goat Cheese. I’m a big fan of this soup and quite enjoyed Main Course’s version. The tomatoes tasted really fresh and while the basil wasn’t very prominent I think they put in lemon, lemon zest or possibly lemon grass to add some acidic pizzazz. There could have been more goat cheese, but overall, I really dug this and so did my wife. It was a departure from the usual flavor profile, but I liked that. For my main meal, I ordered the (deep breath) Grilled Northwind Farm Hanger Steak which the menu described as coming with melted Cabot cheddar, fire roasted onions and portobello mushroom hash. I also went with the potato salad side dish. I started off by tasting the potato salad because it looked the most intriguing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen on with the taters cut thin like that, potato chip-style. The dressing itself was tangy with the onions giving it all some kick. I still like my mom’s mustard covered potato salad best, but this was pretty good, another nice take on something familiar. I tried the pickle next which is made in house and came with a few clumps of soaked dill. They weren’t super sour like I usually like my pickles (the ones in NY tend to be pretty weak as far as I’m concerned), but these reminded me of a dill chip dip and almost tasted a little creamy. Really good stuff.

Then I finally tried my sandwich and it was just okay. The Cabot cheddar and roasted onions were great, but the meat didn’t really add much to the flavor and now that I think about it, I’m not sure if there was any portobello hash on mine. If so, I didn’t notice it whatsoever and only remembered it was supposed to be on the dish when reading the menu for this post. My wife let me taste her Smoked Turkey sandwich which just about made me fall of my chair it was so good. She only wound up eating half of hers, so she let me finish her avocado, roasted pepper, cheddar and chipotle aioli covered mound of awesomeness. After working for years in a bagel place back home in Toledo, I have a strong love of smoked and honey roast turkey, this being the best I’ve had since moving out here. All those wonderful flavors mixed together so well to make a really enjoyable sandwich eating experience, rivaling the one I had last weekend at The Cheese Plate even. I even decided to get dessert, something I rarely do. While my wife went with the huckleberry pie, I got a coconut macaroon. I generally like coconut and thought (maybe erroneously, like I said, I’m no dessert expert by any means) that it’s generally a light sugary delight. This one wound up being pretty big–like if one golf ball ate another or more succinctly a big lemon–and really citrusy. I really enjoyed the first few bites, but couldn’t finish because the flavors did not mix well and wound up tasting bitter by the end.

Overall, I liked Main Course and would go back there, but they have a LOT of competition in New Paltz. It doesn’t help that they’re not among all the other restaurants. You’ve got to walk a little further or drive to get there, something that won’t help them when we’re trying to figure out what to eat after looking around the boutiques, book stores and record shops. But, like I said, good stuff for the most part and I like any place that mixes up their menu by tossing in specials, which Main Course definitely does.