Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part Two: Thin Wheats

This post highlights the second homemade cracker I made to go with the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. The method is very similar to the Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers, with the added twist of whole wheat flour and no cheese or cream. Thinner and a little less rich, as well as nuttier from the whole grain, these make a great accompaniment to soup or salad or as just a stand-alone snack.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Potato and Corn Chowder

There are many philosophies regarding corn chowder. The same applies to potato chowders without corn. Many recipes include bacon, using that as the source of the fat. Others include red peppers, for color and flavor. I'm a purist, though. While a sprinkle of crispy bacon on a chowder is wonderful, I don't want that smoke throughout the soup. The same with peppers -- great as a garnish on occasion, not something I want dominating this soup.

Still, the different schools of thought show what a great base a dish like this is. If you want to punch it up with other flavors, it can take it. Bacon or peppers, sure, but also a little crushed garlic or curry powder. If you want to make it more substantial by adding some leftover diced chicken or ham, it's cool. In the spring, change it up with leeks instead of onion. If you like a thicker base, increase the amount of flour. You can use whole milk or cream instead of half-and-half. Etc.

Another point about this chowder is that while it was featured in the Thanksgiving Soup Bar, it's something I've been making for years. This is the first time I've written down the recipe, though, because I've always made it by feel, and based on what I had on hand. I don't worry too much about measurements, I just shoot for general proportions. It's all good.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part One: Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers

This cracker is a recipe that I've made several times, but not in a while. I pulled it out of the file to include as part of the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. Crackers are one of those foods that we tend to take for granted as coming from a store. They are actually quite easy to make at home, though, if you have a reasonable amount of experience working with cookie or pie crust dough. They are lower-pressure though -- for some reason cracker dough isn't as fussy as pie crust can be, and don't have the expectations associated with Good Pie Crust.

Crackers can be simple -- flour, salt, water -- or enriched with fat, or punched up with whole wheat flours or other grain flours, or flavored with an endless variety of herbs and seasonings.

I first ran across this recipe in the fabulous, now retired, Minimalist column from Mark Bittman in The New York Times. Then Deb Perelman posted the recipe with her commentary on her blog Smitten Kitchen, and I had to make this cracker.

Of course you can use the recipe as a jumping off point and add whatever seasonings or seeds you like, either mixed in the dough or as a topping. You can also vary the liquid, switching from cream to half and half or milk (or buttermilk, or yogurt, or sour cream, or ....) Instead of cutting into squares, you can cut out shapes or even bake the sheet whole and just break apart by hand after baking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Black Bean and Tomato Soup

The next feature from the Thanksgiving Soup Bar is the Black Bean and Tomato Soup. This recipe has been in my repertoire for a couple of years. I'm not a huge fan of legumes, actually, but I try to eat them occasionally because they are cheap and nutritious. I like it best when the beans are pureed, as in hummus or as in this soup. The other thing I like about this recipe is that it has a lot of flavor going on -- it's not just "bean soup." It is so good that I actively like it rather than just tolerate it. That says a lot!

This was another pantry soup -- I had (nearly) everything on hand to make it. I didn't have the chipotle or serrano pepper called for, but I did have an Anaheim chile. That's a larger pepper than the chipotle or serrano, but milder, so I thought the heat level would be roughly equivalent. It worked out fine and I provided minced jalapeno as a garnish for the soup bar for those who might want more heat.

This recipe calls for cooking dried beans without soaking beforehand. Soaking doesn't shorten cooking time that much, so the extra step isn't really worth it. Just be sure that the beans are fresh. Many supermarket beans can be several years old, and old beans can fail to cook. If your beans don't cook up right, or you just don't want to risk it, you can substitute canned beans; see the end of the recipe for details.

Update of an Old Post - Mahogany Glazed Tofu

Today I discovered an old post of mine contained a link to a blog that is now invitation only. Back in the early days of this blog I just linked to recipes on other online sources rather than repeating the recipe here. Luckily some other folks had reblogged the recipe, so I've added it to my post.

I'm not a vegetarian but I do frequently eat meatless meals. I don't go out of my way to use meat substitutes, but the occasional tofu dish or veggie burger will make their way onto my plate. This Mahogany Glazed Tofu, served over rice, is deeply flavorful. It's is actually quite a tasty dish overall, and I plan to make it again soon.  Check it out!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

The Thanksgiving Soup Bar idea started with the idea of doing a pumpkin soup, but I decided to do a butternut squash soup instead. I liked the idea of warming the soup flavors with curry. I could make a basic soup without a recipe, and I'd added curry powder to soups before. I flipped through cookbooks and web sites, though, to see if I could find a specific recipe. Curry and winter squash is a popular combination, and there were a lot of recipes to sift through. I settled on this one from Williams Sonoma. It appealed to me because it went beyond just adding yellow curry powder to a standard soup, but other than the squash, the ingredients were things I already had in the refrigerator and pantry.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemongrass to the already Thai-style flavor profile. Fresh lemongrass and ginger are wonderful, and I often have a knob of ginger on hand, but didn't last week. I keep tubes of Garden Gourmet pastes on hand as well, though, and using them here saved me a shopping trip. Because I was traveling for the holiday, I made the majority of the soup ahead. After the squash was cooked, I cooled the mixture and transferred it to a zipper bag for transport in an ice chest. Just before serving I pureed the squash mixture, added the remaining ingredients, and turned it over to my sister to man the strainer while I prepped the other soups. You can skip the straining step if you like - the little bit of remaining texture can give the soup a nice heft.

The soup was a little thin after straining; if I'd had more time I would have simmered it a bit to reduce as I prefer a little thicker soup. It was fine as it was, though. I could also see adding more coconut milk or even cream or half and half to make it a truly creamy soup; the amount of coconut milk here is enough to give it a little lightness, but not enough to make it creamy.

Next time I make this I'll add more than the designated 1 tsp of curry paste. I could barely tell

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar

For the Thanksgiving gathering at my sister's house this year, I volunteered to provide the appetizers. I've done this for many of the family holiday gatherings, typically making any number of a variety of dips, crudites platters, cheese plates, and the like. This year I wanted to do something a little different, and was hit with the inspiration of soup. Providing a single soup morphed into two soups, then three, and it went on from there to include homemade crackers and various garnishes.

I got the idea from an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats that I saw recently. He used a small cooking pumpkin to create a pumpkin soup. The pumpkin was hollowed out and seasonings, stock, cream, and goat cheese were added and the whole thing was baked. The cooked pumpkin and additions were then blended with a stick blender and the soup was served in the pumpkin shell.

The idea was appealing, but this time of year pumpkins aren't plentiful. I started thinking about butternut squash instead, but obviously cooking inside the vegetable wasn't going to be an option. I'd recently had a curried corn chowder, and thought about doing that instead. Once the Soup Switch had been turned on, I started thinking about other soups I like or have wanted to try.

I ended up with three: A plain corn and potato chowder that I created many years ago; a curried butternut squash soup, and a black bean soup. I settled on these three choices because the star ingredients in each were important New World foods, even if some of the flavors might be borrowed from other parts of the world. 

To accompany the soups I provided yogurt cream, minced jalapenos, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges. I also made two kinds of homemade crackers. I'll be posting the recipes for both crackers and all three soups in the coming week or so. 

One dilemma I was faced with was providing warm soup for leisurely noshing when a busy Thanksgiving kitchen would not have any stove space to spare. I indulged in a last-minute splurge and snapped up a triple slow cooker from Bella. Other manufacturers have triple slow cookers meant for dips, but the crocks in this device hold 1.5 quarts rather than the usual 0.5 quarts. I really only wanted a warmer -- I didn't need an actual slow cooker, but it was inexpensive (less than $30 at Target, although the MSRP is more than double that), and was also surprisingly well-designed and sturdy. I was a little hesitant to spend money on what could turn out to be a specialized, rarely-used device, but the quality for the price made me happy I got it. I can see using it at many future holiday gatherings and other occasions.