Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Wanted Pizza, but I Ate This Instead

My craving for pizza hasn’t abated since this summer. Today seeing someone eating a piece of leftover Uno’s pizza at lunch set me off. I forgot about it for most of the day, but saw the box in the recycle bin at the end of the day when I threw my soda can in there.

Before the pizza box incident I was planning to make spicy carrot soup with the carrots I received in yesterday’s CSA box. On the drive home the battle waged between carrot soup and pizza.

“I could order the pizza and still make the soup tomorrow.”

“But carrot soup would be healthier.”

“But I really want pizza.”

“It’ll take too long to make soup.”

I finally made my choice in my kitchen with the carrots in one hand and the phone in the other. Not so much because I thought the carrot soup would be better, but because I wanted to prove to myself I could cook a healthy meal in about as long as it took for the pizza to arrive. I might even be surprised about how good the soup would be.

I put the phone down and began peeling and chopping the carrots while the water boiled. After that I chopped an onion, minced a clove of garlic and sautéed them both in a spice mixture of cumin, ginger and cinnamon.

In about 15 minutes both the carrots and onions were tender and I was way ahead of the pizza guy. Until I took out my new immersion blender. It wasn’t new, but new to me, a hand-me-down from my sister’s kitchen. I hadn’t used it yet and thought this would be the perfect occasion.

Since I was in a hurry I didn’t bother to read the directions. How hard could it be? Not hard exactly, I found out, but rather a bit messy. I glossed over the “immersion” part of the name and ended up with splatters of orange puree all over my kitchen. But never a slow learner, I got the hang of it after lifting it out of the bowl without turning it off about 10 times. Finally, on number 11 as the soup was done, I managed to remember to turn it off before lifting it out of the bowl.

With only an additional 5 minutes added on for searching out splatters and wiping them off my wall and countertops my soup was almost done. I had one final step. I didn’t want to be too virtuous so I topped it with some chopped cashews and it was ready to serve. All told from refrigerator to table it took about 30 minutes.

And it was very good. So good, I wasn’t craving pizza anymore. One other benefit was the wonderful aroma the spices left behind. When I returned from an after dinner walk they greeted me at the door. That’s something a pizza box can’t deliver.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Giving Broccoli a Run for the Money

In the list of my most to least favorite cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower falls somewhere in the middle. So similar to broccoli (my favorite) in so many ways, it lacks not only the color, but the panache in my eyes. As such, and since I don’t like to eat it plain, I always have a hard time coming up with recipes to use it when it appears in my CSA box.

As a reminder, cruciferous vegetables are thus named for their cross-shaped flowers. They are the ones in the cabbage framily, from broccoli and cauliflower to greens and radishes and are known to have cancer fighting qualities. The same compound that is responsible for their bitter or pungent flavor has proven anti-cancer properties proven to remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing.

Knowing that, this week I was bound and determined to do something great with the great white head. I found my answer in my Bon Appétit Vegetables cookbook. I bought the book for $1 last year and it has turned out to be the best dollar I ever spent. It is arranged by type of vegetable and each vegetable only has a few choices unlike the thousand or so I can find on the Internet. It’s also much more organized than my stack of recipes.

The recipe was for a Cauliflower and Ham Tart. It’s basically an egg, cauliflower, and ham quiche. I cut down a few of the steps (using a store bought crust) and lowered the amount of fattening ingredients (substituting milk for the whipping cream), turning it into a dish I’ll make again. I also skipped a few steps, by just parboiling the cauliflower and skipping the step of lightly browning it and the ham. The changes cut down the prep time and I think resulted in a fine dish.

I might even say it gave broccoli a run for the money.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Easiest Soup Ever

I love my slow cooker. During the week there’s nothing like coming home to a hot, home-cooked meal after a long day at work. But it seems that most recipes for the Crock-Pot are high-fat or unhealthy. Most call for fatty cuts of meat or if they do call for chicken, they call for chicken thighs.

I understand that for some dishes, these juicier cuts of meat are used to keep them from getting too dry, but I’d rather use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. And when the recipe did call for boneless chicken breasts the recipe usually used some sort of cream soup to add in the extra moisture. To avoid any mishaps, up until now I stuck to recipes that called for ground beef or that were vegetarian.

But I recently came upon a recipe this recipe for Crock Pot Chicken and Rice Soup which not only used chicken breasts, but used them raw. Instead of cooking them first, they were cooked in the broth over the course of the day.

In addition, the recipe used raw rice and let that cook in the soup instead of cooking on the stove and adding later, as some recipes have you do.

With that discovery a new recipe was born. I stole the chicken and rice from the original recipe and turned my soup into a Broccoli Carrot Chicken and Rice Curry Soup. It couldn’t have been easier to make. I combined chicken broth, curry, ginger, broccoli and carrot to the slow cooker. Then, with a little trepidation, I cut up a raw chicken breast and added that to the pot. Next, this time fearing I’d come home to a starchy mass instead of soup, I poured in the raw rice. I flipped the slow cooker to low and left for work.

Ten hours later I came home and immediately smelled the soup from downstairs. Because I’d been gone so long I didn’t have a chance to check it right away, and instead took my dog Frisbee out for a quick walk. Back in about 10 minutes I ran up to the stairs for the moment of truth.

When I took the cover off the slow cooker I could see that everything had cooked together perfectly. I lifted out a piece of chicken and cut it in half. I was cooked all the way through and after it cooled a bit, a taste revealed that it was very tender.

I scooped out a bit of rice after that and it was cooked through, without any hard uncooked center as I also thought might happen. Although the rice was cooked through it did have a bit of an odd consistency in that it seemed to have fallen apart a bit. Instead of being regular rice-sized pieces, the rice seemed to have fallen apart into a couple pieces. I actually liked the consistency because it made the soup creamier. Alongside the broccoli it almost reminded me of the consistency of broccoli cheese soup, but at a lower calorie count.

All in all the soup tasted very good. I will make it again, but I’m also excited to come up with other new recipes now that I know I can cook chicken and rice raw in the slow cooker.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

5-Spice Lentil Soup

It’s not exactly soup weather. It’s 90 something today, with a heat index of 100 something. Which means the air conditioning is on, so maybe it is soup weather? Plus I hear by Labor day it will be 68, so I don’t feel too silly that yesterday I pulled out the crockpot and made my first lentil soup of the season.

I received leeks in this week’s CSA box, which are a perfect soup ingredient and a great match for lentils, one of my favorite ingredients. In fact, as I look at my recipe index I realize I must have had the exact same idea last year at this time when I started to embrace fall and the wonder that is soup. I even made Curried Leek and Lentil Soup which calls for many of the ingredients in my CSA box this week including kale.

I’m saving the kale for another recipe, so I kept the leek and lentil soup simple this time, using a tomato and a red pepper in addition to a cup of lentils, one leek and some water. But the magic ingredient was Chinese 5-spice powder.

My friend Heidi picked it up on a trip we took to Chinatown in Chicago this spring and was nice enough to share some with me. I hadn’t thought about it since before I moved and was glad to find it hiding in the back of my spice drawer.

She had made a point of asking the owner of the store what the blend included, since recipes for 5-spice powder can vary, but I can’t remember what he said. Five-spice powder mixtures seem to vary with some including star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds, and others including ginger or nutmeg.

In any case, the 5-spices added the perfect blend of spicy, sweet and salty against the tangy tomatoes and Earthy lentils. I used a full teaspoon, which I worried might overpower the soup as I poured it in, but it turned out to be the right call. I’m anxious to use the rest of my 5-spice blend in more soup recipes this fall.