Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spicy Tomatillo Soup

With a number of record low high temperatures in Wisconsin this week, you would think my gardens would go on strike. But despite their distinctly summer soul, my tomatillo plants are still generously gifting me with a respectable amount of fruit. It won't be all that long until I start picking up my winter with all its glorious roots, so I certainly don't object to eating up these lighter veggies for a while yet. I'll admit my tastes are drifting towards fall, falling victim to the siren song of all things apple and pumpkin, but my taste buds don't object to that dichotomy.

Despite being located on opposite sides of my yard, my cucumbers also missed the memo about the fall slow down, so I was happy to use up some of those as well. All the veggies keep this soup nice and light with low calorie yogurt creaminess making it gently filling. (For vegans, avocado would make a nice substitution). It can be as spicy as you like, depending on whether you remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers, balanced by the roasty garlic and acidic lime. Add only a little water if you'd like this as as light main course, but it can certainly be stretched to many side dishes if you dilute it further. 

My favorite season might be well on its way, but it's too early to completely turn my back on the light and spicy tastes of summer just yet. Bring it on garden! I'm still ready for you.

Spicy Tomatillo Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 4 servings

2 pounds tomatillos, hulled and washed
6 garlic cloves
1 to 2 jalapeƱo or serrano chiles
2 cups diced cucumber
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned vegetable or chicken stock, skimmed of fat
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup plain yogurt
Water, to thin (optional)

1. Heat broiler. Place tomatillos, garlic, and serrano chile in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tomatillos are soft and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn all items; continue cooking until other side is soft and browned, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

2. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Peel garlic, seed peppers, if desired, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add tomatillos and any accumulated juices along with cucumber, onion, cilantro, stock, lime juice, and salt; blend until mixture is smooth. Add yogurt and desired amount of water; process until they are just combined.

3. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve cool, at room temperature, or slightly warm.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Simple Tomato Soup

It's hard to complain about my gardens producing too much, but it can to be challenging to make sure than none of what my moderately green thumb has cultivated goes to waste. But as is so often my move, when I've got a lot of something to use up, I turn to soup, which turns out to be the perfect move as the temperatures dipped sharply into fall this week.

This recipe is an ideal example of simple perfection. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about, fancy ingredients and techniques when they're called for, but sometimes all you need (or have time for) is the simplest of recipes. And fortunately for me, my tomatoes only needed that treatment. There's enough butter to be subtly rich, a touch of tomato paste up the umami factor, and herbs from the garden for a versatile freshness to make this a suitable side for almost anything.

If you do manage to have any of this left over, it freezes beautifully, saving a taste of late summer though the depths of winter. But in the crisp fall air, who can resist the siren song of grilled cheese and tomato soup? I know I can't, especially when I can toss a few slices of apple from a local orchard in with my ooey-goeey Wisconsin cheese.

Simple Tomato Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
makes 4 first course servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
3/4 cup minced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes—peeled, seeded and chopped, with juices
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or stock
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, etc.)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth  and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, about 15 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and puree the soup until smooth.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup

While zucchini is the cucurbit that most often gets recognized for its bounty, the real all-star in my garden this summer is the humble cucumber. I've used them generously in sandwiches and salads, as a happy vehicle for dips, and even in beverages, but there's only so many a girl can eat before they turn from fresh and crunchy to sad and soft. I'm not growing pickling cucumbers, so the most obvious bulk preserving method is out, but fortunately there's not much that can't be turned into soup. The eight pounds of cucumbers required for this recipe might have seemed ridiculous to me at one time, but this year that wasn't even enough to temporarily exhaust my ever-renewing supply.

As you'd expect from something primarily composed of cucumbers, this is a delicate and refreshing soup, especially when generously flecked with fresh dill, also from my garden. It gets hints of sweetness and acidity from the honey and vinegar, and sparing touch of avocado makes it luxuriously creamy without adding any heaviness. Enriching with avocado instead of cream means this freezes well, so whether you need to grab quick lunches for the next few weeks or want to taste summer once the snow begins to fly, this soup has you covered.

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 6 servings

11 large cucumbers (about 8 pounds), divided $
1/4 cup honey, divided
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 ripe avocado, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Dill sprigs (optional)
Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Sriracha (optional)

1. Cut 5 cucumbers into 3-inch chunks. Place half of cucumber chunks and 2 tablespoons honey in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour pureed cucumber mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl. Repeat procedure with the remaining chunks. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

2. Peel, seed (optional), and thinly slice remaining 6 cucumbers; place slices in a bowl. Add vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons honey; toss well to coat. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

3. Working with pureed cucumber mixture in sieve, press mixture lightly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to squeeze out juice; discard solids.

4. Place half of marinated cucumber slices, avocado, and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour cucumber mixture into a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining cucumber slices and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice; reserve any remaining juice for another use. Stir in chopped dill, salt, and pepper, seasoning to taste. Divide soup between 6 bowls and garnish with dill sprigs and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avocado Yogurt Dressing

Food can be both very healing and very damaging to your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with shingles, and after getting the appropriate prescriptions and advice from the doctor, I set to work figuring out how I could help heal myself through food and other lifestyle choices. If you're not familiar with shingles, it is the chicken pox virus reactivating in your nerve tissue, causing headaches, achiness, fatigue, and a blistering rash that makes the affected area as sensitive as an open nerve (the right side of my torso and back, in my case). And what's worse, this usually lasts around a month. Considering a light breeze or simply my shirt touching my skin causes a lot pain, I've had a much more relaxed lifestyle lately, leaving me with ample time to do some research on what else I could do to heal myself. I'm a scientist, so I'm very critical when it comes to buying into to folk remedies and the like, but I did find some evidence that diets high in lysine and low in arginine can help fight off viruses in the same family as shingles. I was disappointed to find out this means cutting back on nuts and chocolate, two of my favorite things, but I don't mind getting permission to eat a little more cheese, eggs, and meat, and the avocado and yogurt that compose this dressing.

And it doesn't get much easier to sneak in some edible medicine than making a dip or dressing! The avocado and yogurt are wonderfully rich and creamy, and the lime, garlic, and hot sauce liven it up just enough with brightness and spice. I've happily poured this over salads, spread it on sandwiches, used it as a dip for crackers, veggies, and chicken strips, and even used it in a dressed-up tuna salad. Whether you're looking for a little extra nutrition or simply a delicious new condiment, this dressing has you covered.

Avocado Yogurt Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 large avocado (about 6 ounces flesh)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup + 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 T. hot sauce (I like Chipotle Tabasco or Sriracha), plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Taste and season with additional salt and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap

I've got a pretty good thing going with putting fresh fruit on my sandwiches, so I figured there was no reason not to continue. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries have all gotten their turn, and it's only fair that blueberries get a chance to play too. Michigan might be known for blueberries, but we do pretty well here in Wisconsin as well, but when their season is so fleeting, you've got to chow down on them when you can. While in this prime blueberry time, you'll find me adding them to salads, oatmeal, and yogurt, preserving them en masse in Perfect Blueberry Syrup, and just generally adding them to everything that I can. Like the other fresh fruit sandwich recipes I shared, this recipe relies on the harmony of fresh fruit, bitter greens, and salty cheese, a template with infinite combinations yielding delicious results. Sweet pops of blueberry liven up each bite, mingling perfectly with the savory feta and crunchy veggies that surround the chicken with complementing, contrasting flavors. The chicken isn't strictly necessary here, but it does make this into a much more filling meal; vegetarians can substitute white beans for the same satisfying result. This wrap is good warm, room temperature, or cold, so whether you eat it as soon as it's prepared for dinner or the following day for lunch, you won't be disappointed with your meal.

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap
serves 1

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Cooking spray
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 whole grain tortilla or wrap
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
Thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1 ounce feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and cook, flipping once halfway through, until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Set aside to rest for a few minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on the center of the tortilla. Top with the arugula and red onion and then the blueberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

3. Add the cooked chicken and feta and roll up the tortilla. Cut in half and serve.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt

With all the great fruit at the farmers' market right now, I just can't help but keep going with my fruit-in-sandwiches trend. Madison may be home to the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country, but unlike the markets of California or other warmer climes, we are not lucky enough to have fruit year-round. So I'm making hay while the sun in shining, and putting all these lovely berries and stone fruit into so much more than desserts.

Though Wisconsin is only blessed with fruit for part of the year, we are always a great land of cheese, so there are no shortages of pairings at my locavore disposal. As a born-and-bred Wisconsin girl, my refrigerator is never at a loss for a variety of cheeses, but as soon as I picked up a gorgeous wedge of Gruyere from Forgotten Valley Cheese, I knew that nutty savoriness was destined to be paired sweet Door County cherries. A few slices of red onion and handful of arugula from the garden provide the right counterbalance of bitterness and acidity, and although this would certainly be delicious with grilled chicken, turkey, or ham, it is more the flavorful enough in its vegetarian form.

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 slices whole grain bread
4 or 5 sweet cherries, halved or thinly sliced (about 1 ounce)
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the cherries, red onion, and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula

As I am wont to do in my culinary experimentation, I've gotten into a bit of a phase - sandwiches with fresh fruit. This certainly isn't an original idea on my part, but with all the amazing fruit I've been getting at the farmers' market lately, I've been inspired to keep going beyond the leftover cranberry turkey sandwich I devour so voraciously at Thanksgiving.

The croque monsieur and Monte Cristo may be the reigning royalty of ham and cheese sandwiches, but this quicker, healthier alternative isn't all that far behind. Sharp cheddar cheese is an obvious partner for smoky ham, and the sweet strawberries, bitter arugula, and tangy Dijon mayo hit all the taste buds those featured players miss. I find myself rushing around even more than usual these days, and this has made meal time especially important, my time to refuel and recoup mental and physically. Even if there's just a small window for a bite to eat, there's almost always time for a sandwich. And if I can sneak in a bit of time for few simple, delicious finishing touches, it makes it all the better.

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole grain bread
2 or 3 medium to large strawberries, thinly slicd
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
2 to 3 ounces sliced smoked ham
1 ounce shredded or thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread. Top with the strawberries, lightly smashing them.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the ham and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.