Creamy Roasted Carrot Soup

roasted carrot soup with cayenne and ginger
Fall means soup.  Soup means it’s cold enough outside to not want to die at the thought of eating soup for dinner.  And it being cold enough outside seems to make everything around here better.  I sleep better, we can play outside longer without my redhead overheating and everything just feels fresh.  And I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to hailing soups as a surefire way to get your kids to eat their vegetables, but I’m going to say it, again.  Cooking just about any vegetable and pureeing it into a soup is the easiest way to get a baby, toddler, picky adult to eat a vegetable otherwise sneered at due to its texture or appearance.  Olive used to eat asparagus.  But then, she turned two and decided she was no longer interested.  But the other day I made a batch of asparagus soup and she drank it down.  Same flavor, different delivery vehicle.  And when you add a piece of crusty, buttery bread on the side, the soup suddenly seems like a complete meal.

My go-to soup in the fall is usually butternut squash.  But I nearly always have a half-used bag of carrots in the fridge, waiting to become something more exciting than diced up for chicken pot pie.  The other day I made this soup and I loved it.  We ate on it for several days – always a good side dish or starter, and good for dunking toasted bread.  I don’t need to say it, again, but this batch of soup would fill up about 12 baby food jars.  Can you lend 30 minutes to making a vegetable soup?  How about $3 for a 2lb bag of carrots?  How much is a jar of baby food, again?  You get the point.

Yay, soup!

roasted carrot soup
Roasted Carrot Soup
serves 6-8

1 sweet onion, diced
3 TBS olive oil
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
ground ginger and paprika for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Toss in the onion and saute until tender but not browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Add in the carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring to coat in the oil.  Add the stock and let the pot come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.  Puree directly in the pot with an immersion blender, or take in batches to a standard blender and puree until smooth.  If you used a standard blender, return the soup to the pot and add the heavy cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then ladle into bowls and sprinkle with ground ginger, paprika and a splash of cream or sour cream.

Parchment Baked Fish with Bruschetta and Pine Nuts

parchment steamed tilapia with bruschetta
A totally simple weeknight dinner recipe for you using the bruschetta recipe from Monday!  We bake, roast, and pan fry fish a LOT around here.  I buy the bags of frozen fillets and throughout the week, when I “don’t have anything to cook” I can generally reach in, grab three fillets and thaw them out in about 30 minutes to use alongside rice, roasted potatoes, soup, etc.  Olive thankfully loves all fish and so it’s a meal that is never stressful for me.  What’s even easier is just placing the fillets on some parchment paper (foil also works) with some oil and seasonings, wrap it up and let them bake!  I did this last week and it always feels like I went to a lot of trouble, is healthier than my usual pan-fry standard preparation, and the fish is always steamed perfectly.

Get creative with the ingredients you put in with the fish – the possibilities are endless!

steamed fish with bruschetta
Parchment Baked Fish with Bruschetta and Pine Nuts
serves 4

4 tilapia or cod fillets (really, any type of fish will work)
1 TBS butter or olive oil
3 TBS prepared bruschetta 
1 TBS toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Tear off four squares of parchment paper or foil.  Place the butter in the center of each square and place a fish fillet on top of the butter.  Season the fillet with salt and pepper.  Top with bruschetta and pine nuts and squeeze a lemon over the top of all of it.  Fold the sides up and together and crimp to close.  Place packages on a rimmed baking sheet and bake together for 20 minutes.

You can add just about anything to the fish that you have in your fridge – olive tapenade, green beans, corn relish, fresh herbs and sour cream – honestly, just have fun!

Classic Bruschetta

bruschetta
It’s nice to know an Italian.  They have the goods on traditional recipes and the right way to process a bumper crop of tomatoes.  I have such a friend, Jennifer, and this year, fortune smiled on her plants and she started to get WAY more than she could use and process on her own.  So she asked if I wanted some. (huzzah)  Since that same fortune didn’t happen to fall on my plants this year and my crop looked more like a handful of marbles, I enthusiastically said YES (plus, what crazy person turns down garden tomatoes?!)  I was so happy we could finally make our homemade BLTs before the last whiff of summer is completely gone.  I made a wonderful, basic tomato sauce (recipe coming soon) and canned it for the winter and with the rest of the tomatoes she brought, I saved two for our BLTs and the rest I asked her for her favorite bruschetta recipe.

She told me that there wasn’t really a recipe, but that this was how her granddad always made it and those kind of recipes are my favorite, anyway.  In the spirit of handing down family recipes, I’m not going to list quantities. I’ll basically give it to you like she gave it to me – the taste and adjust method!  If you have any tomatoes still coming off the vine (as many of us in this region do) then I hope you enjoy this recipe! If your crop is done, then look for the ripest plum tomatoes you can find in the grocery store.  We served this with Matt’s plain country bread, and honestly, it was the best meal I’d had in weeks.  Sometimes, nothing beats pure and simple.  Thank you, Jen, for sharing your tomatoes and your recipe with us – we benefited greatly from both!

bruschetta 3

Classic Bruschetta
makes a good amount

Dice up a few, ripe, plum tomatoes.  Add in minced garlic, a nice pour of good olive oil and add in a handful of shredded fresh basil.  Mix to combine and then add in a generous grating of fresh Parmesan cheese and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt and garlic powder.  Serve on toasted baguette or just about anywhere you can think to use it!

Rosemary Pork Chops with Grapes and Parsnips

rosemary pork chops with parsnips and grapes
Yesterday was rainy and dark.  A cold front moved in yesterday afternoon and cooled everything down a few degrees and it put me in the most severe autumn mood.  I bought the ingredients for this dish at the beginning of this week because the forecast said there was a chance of rain every day and it just felt like fall had officially arrived!  I found this extremely autumnal recipe a few years ago in an issue of Martha Stewart Living and it became a very frequent dinner occurrence for us.  It takes literally 15 minutes from start to finish – maybe 20 if you include peeling the parsnips.   It’s perfect for a family on a budget as I can usually find discounted pork chops no matter when I go to the grocery store.  Parsnips may be hard to find at a mega grocery store, but if you can’t find them, you can substitute in carrots.  Parsnips are like carrot’s albino cousin.  Maybe slightly more bitter, but they mellow out while cooking.  The combination with the sweet grapes is perfect, though, so if you can find them, branch out and try them!  For babies, simply steam come cubed up, or puree after steaming with a little water or chicken stock!

pork chops with grapes and parsnips

Pork Chops with Parsnips and Grapes*
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless pork chops, about 1/2″ thick
salt and pepper
2 or 3 large parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
1 cup red grapes
3 tsp fresh chopped rosemary

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Season pork with salt and pepper and add to skillet along with parsnips. Brown pork and parsnips on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Add grapes and rosemary, and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until pork is cooked through, parsnips are tender, and grapes have just burst, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve pork with parsnips, grapes, and pan juices.

*recipe adapted for quantity from Martha Stewart Living

Roasted Green Chile and Tomato Tart

Summer Tomato and Roasted Green Chile Tart
I am not a farmer.  I’m pretty crap at knowing why things die, what I’m doing wrong, why half my plant is brown and the other half is green, etc.  Last year, I all but neglected my tomatoes and they became like sea monsters in size and yielded dozens and dozens (if not with a little end-rot) of tomatoes.  This year, I switched where they were planted and am taking better care of them and they have all tapped out at about 4 feet tall, haven’t continued to grow in height in the last month and we’ve gotten maybe four, medium-sized tomatoes and a handful of cherry tomatoes, and all of them are split down the sides (too much watering).  Sigh.  It’s hard to win at tomatoes.  I’m sure some of you feel my pain.  I want that innate sense of what these plants need, but I am afraid I’ve learned that this instinct is no instinct at all, but trial and error.

The tomatoes pictured were, indeed, from our yard.  And they were, as all backyard tomatoes are, outstanding in flavor, despite their faults.  I will never know how a tomato that claims to be “field grown” at the store can STILL taste like NOTHING, and a tomato you go out and pick from your yard tastes like concentrated tomato paste, x 1,000,000,000.  Maybe it’s what Alton Brown said last week, that a tomato put in the fridge, even for a short time, loses a chemical designed especially for taste.  Whatever the reason, tasting just ONE perfect summer tomato will leave you satisfied for the rest of the year.  I don’t think I can be that enthusiastic about any other produce.  Especially since I’m such a crappy farmer.

Enter: the tomato tart.  Garnished with fresh, roasted, green chilies and a bit of cheddar and Parm, all baked on top of The Crust and a good slathering of green chile and caramelized onion dip.  It was just about as perfect as you can get.  And even if you don’t have a home-grown tomato, just go get one at a farmer’s market this weekend and DON’T refrigerate it and use that.  Or, since we’re baking these tomatoes, go ahead and use a supermarket tomato.  Roasting a tomato brings out great flavor in even the weakest, most genetically modified tomato.  Happy baking!

pre-baked tomato and green chile tart
Roasted Green Chile and Tomato Tart

1 recipe of The Ultimate Pie Crust
1/4 cup corn meal
1 cup green chile and caramelized onion dip
3-4 medium sized tomatoes (such as a Roma-size)
4 fresh roasted green chilies
salt and pepper
cheddar or Parmesan cheese, if desired

Get your pie crust rolled out and pressed into a 13×9″ tart pan, or like I did here, a half sheet pan.  Trim off the excess (and you will have some) and refrigerate the pan for about 30 minutes, while you get on with everything else.  Preheat oven to 450.  Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights – I use a bag of dried beans over and over for this purpose.  I even keep them in a bag labeled “Pie Beans.”  Bake the empty pie shell for 20 minutes, remove the weights and parchment and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the crust is golden on the bottom.  Set aside to cool.

Whip up a quick onion/chile dip if you don’t have time to make the full recipe by pureeing 4 ounces of cream cheese, two tablespoons of olive oil, a large garlic clove, two roasted green chilies and a tsp of salt in a food processor until smooth. Spread this mixture onto the bottom of the tart.  Then, sprinkle the 1/4 cup of cornmeal over the dip.  This will help absorb the juices from the tomatoes and chilies so you don’t have a soggy crust.

ingredients
Slice the tomatoes and chilies thin and layer onto your crust.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  I shredded up a tiny bit of leftover cheddar and Parmesan on top of mine and loved the result.  I think it’d be good without it.  Reduce your oven to 375 and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the tomatoes look slightly shriveled and bubbly.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream (really – it’s awesome) and enjoy!

Green Chile Tomato Tart

 

Peperonata – new uses for old things

Peperonata with Cajun Shrimp and Cornbread
I love learning new ways to use vegetables.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much to do with most vegetables except roast them or turn them into soups.  Granted, those are two very easy and tasty options, but it lacks…creativity.  And in order to keep eating my vegetables, I need variety!  I have a new friend who is vegetarian and gave me the suggestion to purchase the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, a book based off the recipes served at Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY.  She said it was one of the best books for vegetarianism and had so much variety and the recipes were so easy, it was always her go-to for what to cook.

Matt dog-eared the recipe for Peperonata, a bell pepper and onion saute that can be used on just about any meal as a garnish or side dish.  Much like the Romesco sauce I posted about a few weeks ago, this dish is full of flavor and extremely versatile.  The night I cooked it, I made our favorite cornbread recipe and served the pepronata on top of a cut and buttered piece of cornbread and added some cajun broiled shrimp as more of the side dish and let the vegetable be the main course!  I like to flip-flop proportions every now and then to get more into the habit of seeing vegetables as the star of the show instead of the 30 second commercial.

First recipe from Moosewood: win!  I am excited to dig through and learn more as I go!

Peperonata with Cornbread and Cajun Shrimp

Peperonata*
makes about 6 cups

3 red bell peppers
3 green bell peppers
2 large white or red onions (about 3 cups sliced)
2 TBS olive oil
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, or 2 fresh tomatoes (don’t drain the can)
2 TBS red wine vinegar
salt and ground pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar

Slice the peppers and onions lengthwise into strips.  Heat the oil in a large (LARGE) skillet over medium heat.  Add the peppers and onions and saute, stirring frequently, until tender and slightly browned.  This took me about 20 minutes.
Stir the tomatoes and vinegar into the peppers and cook for about 5-10 minutes more, until the liquid evaporates.  Add the salt and pepper to your liking and sugar.
Serve over buttered cornbread, in pasta, tucked in an omelet, as a garnish on a hamburger, a topping for hotdogs – it’s really endless!

*recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Basil Risotto – Herbs are Vegetables, Too

Basil Risotto
Leafy greens.  For most Americans, this isn’t the most appealing set of words.  However, most of us might just think LETTUCE or  SPINACH or KALE and think, “How on earth am I supposed to eat several cups of that a week?!  Lettuce not forget about herbs (please forgive that pun, I really had no other choice.)  They are brimming with nutrients! It’s such an easy and flavorful way to add more vitamins and fiber to your diet and your recipes.  I always tend to forget that things like basil, thyme, oregano, mint – these are quite leafy and quite green, too!  Sure, you can’t eat as much of them as you can kale in one sitting, but a mild basil goes amazingly well with spinach and can really add a lot of interest to a dish.  Basil is full of beta-carotene, Vitamin A, K and its leaves are rich with essential oils known for being anti-inflammatory.  And lucky you, the summertime is a time when basil grows like a weed!  

I realize that lettuces, spinach, cabbages, etc, are sometimes challenging for little ones (and me) to eat.  But I’ve fully gotten Olive acclimated to the flavors of pesto and I consider that a small victory.  It’s green, so it opens the door for other vegetables to eventually be accepted as well.  For this creamy, bright risotto, I made a pureed basil (not really pesto as I didn’t have Parmesan or pine nuts on hand) with just basil, garlic and garlic oil and stirred it into my risotto in the last minute of cooking.  Garnished with a chiffonade of fresh basil and we had lunch!  Olive loved it and I loved that while it seemed like comfort food, it was actually quite healthy and nutritious for us both.  Not a lot of butter and oil – just good chicken stock (which is amazing for your health on its own), basil, onion and rice!

I encourage you to think of herbs as a choice for getting more vegetables into your diet.  And what better herb to start with than basil?

Pesto Risotto
Basil Risotto

serves 6-8 as a meal

2 cups arborio rice
2 TBS butter
5-6 cups good chicken stock (low sodium if store-bought or just use water and season later)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove
2 cups packed basil leaves
4 TBS olive oil (I used garlic oil)
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

In a large cup with an immersion blender or in a food processor, blend the basil leaves, olive oil, garlic and about a half tsp salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  You can full out make a regular pesto if you want, but this is what I had on hand and it worked great.  If you make a full batch of pesto, only stir in about 1/4th of a cup into your risotto.

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a simmer.

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to bubble and then saute the onion and garlic until soft, stirring to not let the garlic burn.  Stir in the rice and stir to fully coat in the butter and onion.  Begin adding 1/2 cups of stock to the pan, stirring pretty regularly to ensure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  When the liquid cooks off, add another 1/2 cup and keep this process up until you’re down to about a cup of stock and have been cooking it for at least 20 minutes.  Near the end, taste the rice – you don’t want it crunchy, but you don’t want it mushy either.  Think of it like pasta – a nice bite to it is key.  Stir in another half cup of stock if you think it could use it and then add in the basil paste.  Remove pan from the heat and serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh basil or a grating of fresh Parmesan and cracked pepper.

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Chilled Strawberry Soup
I ran across this interesting recipe last week and wanted desperately to try it.  A chilled strawberry soup!  What could be more summery or fun?

The original recipe called for Riesling and a garnish of black pepper and olive oil and next time I do it, I really want to try that version.  Since I would be serving it to Olive and wouldn’t be cooking the alcohol out, I decided to alter the 1/2 cup of Riesling for lime juice and I think the results were so refreshing.  Some might call this a smoothie, and it basically is, but it’s thinner and if you go the adult version route, it would certainly be more elevated than a smoothie.  Olive loved this different snack and I loved it for breakfast this morning!  I garnished the soup with a bit of chocolate mint from my plant out back.  Did you know there was such a thing as chocolate mint?!  I didn’t but was intrigued and I think there is a subtle smooth difference between it and basic sweet mint (which has the quintessential “gum” flavor).  I thought mint and hints of chocolate would be great on a strawberry soup and it was – next time I may even add some dark chocolate shavings as a garnish!

Enjoy!  It’s a hot one out there, today!

Chilled Strawberry Soup
makes about 3 cups

3 cups strawberries, hulled
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice from two large limes (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup raw honey
Garnish: mint, chocolate, cracked pepper

Put all ingredients except the garnish in a blender or food processor and blend for about a minute, scraping down the sides.  If you want to go the extra mile, strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Chill for at least an hour and garnish as you wish!  (I didn’t chill ours at all and it was great).

Vegetable Puff Pastry Pizza

Vegetable Pizza on Puff Pastry
This was lunch for me and Olive, today.  I LOVED it.  We had a random selection of leftover veg in the fridge and my mind always goes the leftover route of omelet or fritatta, but not today.  We had puff pastry in the fridge and a tiny bit of leftover Romesco sauce and so I knew I had a pizza in there, somewhere.  The flavors were amazing and the whole thing took 20 minutes to make (minus the time it took to let the puff pastry thaw out.)  Super winner in my book.

Olive took two bites of one tiny square and declared herself done, not hungry, anymore.  Okay!  I have to roll with things like that.  Inside my head, I think, “What could I offer her that I know she’d eat? Crackers?  Pasta?  Something without kale and asparagus on it?”  But no.  I can not get into that habit or I’ll have the toughest time getting out of it.  In the last few months, I’ve seen Olive eat potatoes of all colors (those purple things on the pizza are potatoes), tomatoes, asparagus, kale, carrots and cheese.  So in my head, I knew that this wasn’t a challenging meal for her.  She’s had a tough week with food, though, and I knew before I even made it that it would probably tank.  I asked her later how she liked lunch and she said, “It was good! I tried two bites!”  So there you go.  To her it wasn’t a failure.  To me it was because she didn’t inhale it like she would’ve a pizza with just pepperoni and cheese.  Quantity doesn’t always mean quality.  I have to remember that exposure and consistency are the major keys to training up good eaters.  Mere exposure is helpful because then you don’t have the kid that cries at the sight of vegetables on their plate and familiarity breeds comfort, eventually.  Eventually.  Eventually is the result of patience and to be honest, it’s not my strongest attribute.  But I’m learning and I’m trying and I will tell myself on days when my little half-pint only eats four bites all day that she will be okay.  She’ll learn.  Eventually.

unbaked Veggie Pizza
Here’s the pizza raw so you can see better what I found in my fridge to add:  kale rubbed with a bit of olive oil, leftover roasted root vegetables, leftover grilled asparagus and half a tomato.  The sauce was our leftover Romesco sauce and I put all this on top of one sheet of frozen puff pastry.  Puff pastry is flawless.  Super fancy-seeming lunch in 20 minutes.  I’ll take it!

Veggie Pizza

 

Vegetable Puff Pastry Pizza
serves two as a main or 4 as an appetizer

One sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 TBS tomato sauce or Romesco sauce
Any toppings you like.  I used:
1/2 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped (already cooked) asparagus
Half a tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 cup (already roasted) potatoes and carrots
1/2 cup shredded Italian blend cheese

On a rimmed baking sheet, spray with oil and lay out your puff pastry to thaw.  When thawed enough to unfold, spread it out and roll it out bigger on each side to be about 1″ longer all the way around.  Spread your sauce and then sprinkle the cheese to cover it well.  Arrange your vegetables and coat the kale in a little bit of olive oil and rub it into the leaves to soften them up.  Bake in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Leftover Veggie Pizza

Buffalo Burgers with Rosemary Roasted Root Vegetables

Buffalo Burgers
Get your grill heated up this weekend – it’s supposed to be beautiful!  I actually don’t know that for sure, but I’m trying to stay positive.  I made these burgers for us this week after seeing a recipe for lamb burgers.  I couldn’t find ground lamb here and didn’t really want to pay to have some lamb loin ground up so I figured I’d go with something just as lean (the appeal of a lamb burger) and go with buffalo!  We have a very small section in our local grocery store and they have a few pounds of ground buffalo always available.  I know it’s really, really lean, so it can dry out really easily.  The trick is cooking it low and slow, so I’d suggest if you’re grilling, to keep it off the direct flame and give it some extra time.  I love chopped onion in my burgers, so I added some to these and also a little bit of grated Swiss cheese and a couple tablespoons of water – a trick I learned in making the best meatballs ever, that gives the meat that extra tender-juiciness without adding a bunch of fat.  We topped these burgers with sliced avocado, baby bell peppers, pickles and extra cheese – they were really wonderful and still juicy!

I served the burgers with some roasted carrots and potatoes.  I love roasting vegetables with rosemary and just a touch of olive oil, and had I had more root vegetables, I’d have added them right in!  I’ve done this before with beets, turnips and parsnips and I’ve loved them all!

roasted root vegetables

Buffalo Burgers with Roasted Root Vegetables

1 lb ground buffalo
1/2 cup diced white onion
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
2 TBS water

In a large bowl, mix the buffalo and all the other ingredients until well incorporated and form into loose patties.  Salt and pepper both sides and cook on the stovetop over medium heat, or on the grill off direct heat for about 5 minutes per side, or until desired doneness is achieved.  I cooked mine until they were about 135F inside and that gave us a tiny bit of pink in the middle.  I served our burgers on toasted buns with mayo, sliced avocado, sliced baby bell peppers, sliced baby kosher pickles and extra Swiss cheese.  Top however you like!

For the root veggies:

A mix of carrots, potatoes, beets, turnips, etc (about 2-3 each)
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

Heat your oven to 400F.  On a foil-lined baking sheet, toss the chopped vegetables with the olive oil and rosemary and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the veggies start to get a little crispy along the edges.

Buffalo Burgers with Avocado and Swiss