Monday, January 31, 2011

IT’S IN THE SOUP

Whenever I start to rattle off the laundry list of my shortcomings, worrying that they have somehow destroyed the psyche of my husband and kids, a good friend has a saying guaranteed to halt the pity fest:

“You’ve already put a lot of good stuff in the soup. It’s already in the soup.”

What she means is that I have spent enough years simmering love, commitment and humor that I cannot possibly mess with my kids’ head. Here’s hoping.

Even if future psychiatric bills prove otherwise, the soup metaphor is a wonderful one, particularly when it comes to family. For instance, my mother was far from perfect. She struggled with her own demons –namely a dearth of confidence and clinical depression—which impacted us to some degree. Nevertheless, in my experience, her lifelong determination to cultivate the good far outweighed the bad, creating my family experience (aka the soup). Perhaps even the dash of bitterness Mom inadvertently added gave the soup that much more flavor and meaning.

Before I take this metaphor way, way too far, let’s get back to the main objective: Making soup. During her Weight Watchers days, Mom would whip up huge batches of Weight Watcher’s Vegetable Soup. She added mustard seeds and maybe curry powder, and served it with plain yogurt and pita bread. I thought it was awesome, and loved the fact that I could eat it for snack or lunch without guilt. (I’ve always been big into guilt.) I still make it every now and then.

The other day, however, I craved Mom’s veggie soup more from a conceptual standpoint than for flavor. I wanted soup available for lunch in my fridge, but one that tasted rich and creamy. Thus I returned to the beloved butternut squash, whose orange fleshy cubes caught my eye once more.

The trouble with butternut squash soup is that it’s not really a meal unto itself. Without protein or other veggies, you’ve got to add other components to the meal, such as a sandwich or salad. In lieu of other dishes, I put lentils and cauliflower directly into the soup.

Fearing a clash of flavor, I referred to some of my favorite corresponding recipes. Hence, I went back to Amy Bodiker’s Awesome Thai Butternut Squash Soup for inspiration. With curry permeating my taste buds, I remembered another winner from Epicurious.com: Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew. (I’m actually toying with pureeing this entire dish and calling it soup. Will keep you posted.)

After melding a few techniques from each recipe (as well as a few lentil soups too), I threw it all in the blender and tossed it with lite coconut milk.

The results were pretty spectacular. Although next time I would lay off the cinnamon. As I symbolically learned from Mom, too much sweetness can ruin a good soup. (The recipe below calls for less cinnamon.)

But the best thing about my Curried Butternut Lentil Cauliflower soup (pardon the German construction of its name) is that it embodies the phrase: “It’s all in the soup.” Now I have a visual to go with my mantra.

Let’s hope my kids don’t bring this blog to their shrinks someday.

‘IT’S IN THE SOUP’ SOUP

  • 2 Tbsp, olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup red lentils, dry
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces
  • ½ butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp curry
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • ¼ tsp red chili peppers
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt, added gradually
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • ½ can of lite coconut milk

Directions:

  • Place lentils in large pot and add about 1 Quart of hot water. Bring to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, in a separate large pot, sautee shallots and garlic in 1 Tbsp of oil over medium high heat, until soft.
  • Add butternut squash and let cook covered for about 15 minutes. As squash begins to soften, add cauliflower and additional oil.
  • Add spices (curry, cumin, cinnamon, chili peppers and ½ of salt) and mix while it cooks.
  • Once the “stir fry” begins to soften and the spices are well blended, add the lentils and water CAREFULLY!
  • Simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils soften. Turn off heat and let cool for another 10.
  • Transfer to a blender or Cuisinart, and puree. (NOTE: You may need to do this part in two shifts. If food processor gets too full, it will splatter. Not pretty)
  • Once pureed, add coconut milk and remaining salt and pepper. Serve with croutons and parsley.

NOTE: If coconut is not your thing, try plain yogurt.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MASHED POTATOES UBER ALLES

As a shameless carb-lover, mashed potatoes trump all other food groups, even perfectly aged and prepared steak from Peter Luger. When I've had the pleasure to dine at this storied steakhouse, I've been known to hungrily eye the side dishes during the ceremonial presentation of prized meat.

Luger’s mashed potatoes have nothing on Jeanne’s. Mom created potatoes with the perfect airy texture including a few lumps to keep things real. Unlike many others, hers also had flavor, thanks to chicken stock. A few minutes of baking added a lovely crust atop these snowy breasts of starch. But I drone on...

When they didn’t think I was listening, my parents would trade tales about building volcanoes out of mashed potatoes and gravy as kids. (Sixteen years apart, my parents came from different generations, yet this stands out in my memory as one of their shared childhood experiences). I never mastered such volcanoes because we didn’t do gravy; empty mounds of potatoes-cum-volcanoes are lame and toothless. Nevertheless, mashed potatoes were my go-to request for birthdays and special occasions.

Of course, Mom left no recipe for something so mundane. She learned her craft from my Irish grandmother, Gert, who often pawned the task off on one of the six offspring. As my Uncle Paul remembers, Gert always said that he made the BEST mashed potatoes, ensuring that he would happily volunteer for potato duty. “I was 35 years old when I realized that I didn’t actually make the best potatoes,” marvels Paul. “I was just a sucker!” Well played, Gert, well played.

With potatoes coursing through my veins, I too make a decent mash. Not only did I observe Mom’s techniques firsthand, but I also inherited the family’s most precious tool: Gert’s potato masher (pictured on left). Fret not. A large fork will do the trick. Here’s what I got:

GERT’S MOUNDS OF MASHED POTATOES

Serve 4 to 6

These measurements are guesstimates. I urge you to play around with them until you hit the texture you like best. The key is to add the liquids in as you are whipping, allowing air to fluff up your taters.

· 6 regular sized, Idaho baking potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes

· 3 Tbsp of butter (adjust based on Fear of Fat)

· 1/4 cup of chicken stock

· 1/8 cup of milk or half and half (again adjust according to personal fat anxieties)

· Salt and pepper


Directions:

Boil potatoes until soft and drain

Immediately add ½ amount of butter and smash up with large fork or potato masher

Using either a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid with beater attachment, begin whipping potatoes

As you are whipping, gradually add chicken stock and milk

Keep whipping, scraping down the sides to push back stray lumps, for up to 10 minutes. Until you are satisfied.

Place in baking dish, top with additional butter, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes

Add salt and pepper.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

BATTLE OF THE MEATLOAF

Meatloaf night was always one of my favorites. Not only did Mom make a solid ‘loaf –classic with diced onions and breadcrumbs—but she usually paired it with mashed potatoes. I was a mashed potato junky and Mom’s were exceptional. She could whip a mundane Idaho spud into mounds of frothy whiteness worthy of Alta snow comparisons. (Stay tuned later this week for how she did it.)

Despite an aversion to most meat products as a child, I always ate the meatloaf. What could be more benign than glorified baked hamburger? For this reason, I am completely flummoxed by my son and daughter's outright refusal to eat ‘loaf.

I blame it on A Christmas Story. Every time, I joyfully announce that we’re to dine on meatloaf, my daughter launches into her favorite monologue from the 1983 movie. “Meatloaf. Meatloaf, double beat-loaf. I hate meatloaf!” Spotting my arched eyebrows, she quickly mumbles, “Just kidding.” Joking aside, she ain’t trying the stuff.

To be fair, I don’t serve The Jeanne’s meatloaf. Jeff and I have adapted a turkey version with mushrooms and basil that we consider superior to (and lighter than) Mom’s. Upon further introspection, I realized that maybe my meatloaf was a tad too sophisticated for the kids’ palate. Maybe I needed to bring on the loaf Mom-style –with tons of mashed potatoes to sweeten the deal.

My son was an instant fan, albeit under the delusion that it was a hamburger. My daughter pinched her nose and painstakingly tried to eat it. I cleared the dishes in a state of annoyed bafflement.

Discussing this harsh rejection with my father, he concluded: “They haven’t tried my meatloaf. It’s the world’s best.” (While my family is never shy to praise our own good cooking, the name of Dad’s recipe is, in fact, “World’s Best Meatloaf,” in the What's Cooking At Moody’s Diner Cookbook.) What Dad pointed out was that with ingredients like French onion soup mix and crushed crackers, his loaf might appeal to pesky kids. I gave it a whirl; this time with mashed sweet potatoes.

Oddly enough, the opposite occurred. My daughter gobbled down the World’s Best Meatloaf, proclaiming: “It tastes just like salty hamburger.” My son took a few mandatory bites, and continued his evening’s mission of being a difficult four-year old boy.

Thus, listed below are the final results of the Battle of the Meatloaf. Please note: I have only accounted for the children’s sampling of our test group. Sadly, nobody else's opinion counts much, since we're too polite to do the Beat-loaf bit.

The Under-7 Score:

Dad: 1

Mom: 1

Amy: 0

Why, may you ask, am I so hell bent on getting these kids to eat meatloaf? I could argue that it’s because meatloaf is a cheap, easy meal for the whole family. (What I particularly like about my Dad’s version is that all ingredients come from the pantry.) But, in truth, there is an unyielding sense of nostalgia to which I inexplicably must pay homage. I ate meatloaf, and so shall you. Damnit.

I may not have won the meatloaf competition in our house, but I’m curious what y’all think. Take a look at these three recipes, and shoot me back a note with your personal fave. Better yet, try cooking one, serve it to your family, and let me know how it goes. I do NOT recommend making two in one week. Groans guaranteed; may have even skew results.


Jeanne’s Meatloaf

1 lb ground beef

½ lb ground pork

½ lb ground veal

(NOTE: Often sold together and marked for meatloaf):

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp oregano

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp tomato sauce (or ketchup)

2 eggs

Salt and pepper

Paprika

Garlic salt

Mix meats together

In a bowl, combine: bread crumbs, egg, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. Mix all together and shape in a loaf shape, about 2 inches thick.

Sprinkle garlic, salt and paprika

Bake at 350 degrees for roughly 1 hour.

LOVE THE NOTE JEANNE ADDED HERE: Optional: Hamburger Relish. You can sautee onions first; makes them less gassy.

Arthur’s World's Best Meatloaf

From What’s Cooking at Moody’s Diner


2 lb ground beef

2 eggs

½ cup cracker crumbs

¼ cup milk

½ cup ketchup

1 ½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 package onion soup mix (Love how the Lipton’s package says “Recipe Secret” on it. Uh, not anymore, guys.)

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well.

Shape meatloaf in pan and back 60 to 70 minutes at 350 degrees.

Amy’s Mushroom Basil Loaf

From Canadian Living’s Best Light Cooking

2 tsp olive oil

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ tsp dried basil

½ cup dry bread crumbs

2 tbsp, parmesan cheese

2 green onions, chopped

¾ tsp pepper

1 egg, beaten

1 ½ lb ground chicken (I prefer Kosher turkey. It’s a bit more flavorful)

2 tbsp chili sauce

  • In skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook mushrooms, onion, garlic, and basil, stirring for about 3 minutes until softened.
  • In bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, green onions, salt, pepper, egg, and onion mixture; mix in ground meat. Press into greased 8X4 inch loaf pan, brush with chili sauce.
  • Bake in 350 degree over for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 185 degrees. Let stand for 10 minutes; pour out fat.
  • Make 8 servings.

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