Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pureed Vegetable Soup

Being a "recipe cook" myself, I have long admired people who can simply look in the cupboard, check what's in their fridge, and whip together a scrumptious meal. No cookbook, no directions, no guidance needed save what they already possess, whether from instinct, practice, or lessons absorbed from a mentor or two along the way.
I am thrilled to have discovered just such a mentor, though she's one I've never met except through her book. The teacher is Ellen Ecker Ogden, the book is From The Cook's Garden, and today's lesson is all about vegetable soup.
Did you know you can pretty reliably combine vegetables that grow in the same season and come up with taste combinations that just work? (Tomatoes and eggplant and basil in the summer, for example; or potatoes and leeks in cooler weather.)
I learned that from Ellen Ecker Ogden. I also learned that she starts most of her cooking from the garden simply by heating up a little olive oil, adding chopped onion and garlic, then running outside to see what's ripe.
Sounds like a successful recipe to me.
In that spirit, I recently tried her pureed vegetable soup. The olive oil, onions, and garlic were already on my shelves. From the freezer, I plucked a zippered baggie of 1 1/2 c. pumpkin puree I had made back in the fall (for instructions, see this post from Kevin's Closet Cooking blog). From my fridge came a couple of carrots. And from my kitchen window ledge came some home-grown, dried rosemary.

Have a little rosemary, won't you? Please. I insist.

The result? The best soup I have ever made. Absolutely delicious. Here are the instructions, in case you want to try it yourself.
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 t. finely chopped fresh herbs or 1/2 t. dried herbs (I used rosemary)
3 c. chopped mixed vegetables (I used pumpkin puree and a couple carrots)
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 c. vegetable broth (I used 4 c. water plus 4 vegetable bouillon cubes)
salt and pepper to taste
In large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add the herbs, vegetables, and potato, and cook about 5 more minutes, stirring often. Add the broth and let simmer over medium heat, with the pot partially covered, for about 30 more minutes. Vegetables should be tender. Process in blender in small batches until it's all pureed. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold.
A couple more hints from this book: You can add cream to this soup, or sherry, or fresh leafy greens before blending. You can also top with a dollop of sour cream or, my choice, plain yogurt.
So how about you: Are you a recipe cook? Or are you blessed with that instinct that lets you create away in the kitchen without written instructions?
NOTE: This post is linked to Works-for-me-Wednesday at the We Are That Family blog. Check it out for zillions of great ideas.
NOTE #2: Check out the "grow your own" roundup, for a collection of recipes that contain home-grown ingredients. Roundup hosted by Nate @ House of Annie blog.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Salad a la Marinated Peppers

Last summer's garden produced quite an abundance -- more tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers than the inhabitants of this castle could wolf down.

We had all kinds of fun figuring out what to do with the excess. One solution, discovered from someone's blog somewhere, was to slice the peppers into slivers and tuck them in the freezer in zippered plastic storage bags, ready for a rainy day.

Well, that rainy day has come. And several times now we have enjoyed these lovely orange, green, and red pepper slivers, marinated very simply -- and yummily, I might add, if yummily were actually a word -- and added to a salad. Along with anchovies, for my fellow anchovy lovers.

Or not.

The marinade makes a fine dressing. And while the simplicity of lettuce, peppers, anchovies, and vinaigrette is quite satisfying, feel free to add whatever other salad goodies make your heart sing. This recipe is hospitable that way.


a bunch of bell pepper slivers (maybe 1/2 - 1 large whole pepper)
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 T. wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed,
1/4 t. salt
pinch pepper
anchovies, diced, as many as your little heart desires
lettuce and/or spinach

Sliver up the peppers (or if you already have some in your freezer, just take 'em out). Mix together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. Marinate for four hours (or however long you like). Serve over lettuce and sprinkle anchovies as desired.

Recipe adapted from The Wonderful World of Freezer Cooking by Helen Quat, circa 1964.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Today's Quiz

So guess which one of these recently-tried recipes was the winner -- the one I'll be making again soon.

Was it the lemon-blueberry bread, complete with glaze?

Was it the braided cheese bread, sprinkled with sesame seeds?

( Please excuse my ooze.)

Was it the mushroom-sherry sauce, served over a fine piece of beef?

Or would our winner be the from-scratch chocolate cake, made with nearly one whole pound of butter?
Ticktock. Ticktock.
I'm waiting while you make up your mind.
Got your answer?
Let's see if you were right.
The lemon-blueberry bread, alas, was nothing special.
The cheese bread, while making a lovely albeit humongous loaf, was also nothing my taste buds are screaming to experience again.
Likewise, sad to say, the chocolate cake with nearly one whole pound of butter.
Did I mention there was a lot of butter in this recipe?
The hands-down winner, in spite of my blurry little photo, was the mushroom-sherry sauce, adapted slightly from a Julia Child/ Louisette Bertholle/ Simone Beck recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
You wanna try it yourself? Here are the instructions.
First, fry up some filet mignon steaks in a skillet with 2 T. butter and 1 T. oil. Cook on medium-high, about four minutes a side for medium rare. (Yes, filet mignon is very expensive. Yes, this is a dish to save for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary or Valentine's Day dinner.)
In separate skillet, saute in butter 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced, until lightly browned.
When meat is done, remove from heat and keep warm. (I used my oven's "warm" setting.) Pour out any excess oil from pan you cooked your meat in. Stir into the pan 1/2 c. beef bouillon (I used 1/2 c. water and about 1/2 t. powdered bouillon) along with 1 T. tomato paste. Boil rapidly for a couple minutes, scraping up whatever's in the pan, until liquid is down to 2-3 T.
In measuring cup, stir together 1/4 c. sherry and 1/2 T. cornstarch. Stir this mixture into stock mixture. Boil rapidly for one minute to let the alcohol evaporate. Add the sauteed mushrooms and serve over the beef, sprinkled with a touch of dried tarragon.
Et voila. Julia, your sauce is tres magnifique.