Easy Curried Butternut Squash Soup

soup5RSoup prepared any time of the year is a welcome repast in our house. One of the things I love about soup is the infinite variety of tastes and textures that it can provide. Whether hot or cold, savory or sweet, thick, chunky or thin…all soups say “comfort” to me.

Spring is here, the trees are blooming and my hellebores are having a banner year. The daffodils and tulips have been in full glory this week and even the azaleas are showing a little color in their buds. Our temps have ranged up to 80 degrees F on and off for the past few weeks and we’ve enjoyed spending a few nights grilling out on our deck…when it hasn’t been raining. Today is another beautiful day—but cold, and it’s due to go back down to freezing tonight. Seems like a perfect time to make a warming pot of soup!

This recipe features butternut squash with a good bit of spice. Richly colored and flavored, but light in texture, this savory curried butternut squash soup is fast and easy to make during the week, and can stand alone or be served with another dish. The depth of flavor comes from roasting the squash, onion and apple until they are tender and just caramelized, causing the “meat” of the fruit and veg to easily release from the peel. Then I mash them right in the soup pot, adding some light coconut milk, chicken or vegetable stock and a few warm spices. Heat it all up and cook just long enough to blend the flavors, then give it a whiz with a stick blender and it’s ready to serve.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, like most soups, this one tastes even better the next day. I love to serve this soup with a dollop of Greek yogurt swirled on top and garnished with a thin slice of apple for a light lunch. For a heartier meal or dinner, I often pair it with a simple green salad topped with some fruit, toasted almonds, some shavings of a rich hard cheese and a light vinaigrette. Or better still, and if you have the time, it’s simply stunning with a hot grilled cheese and thinly sliced apple panini.

Soup’s on, dig in!

soup4REasy Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6-8

2 – 1 1/2 lb. butternut squashes, trimmed, split in half and seeds removed
2 medium apples, cored
1 large sweet onion, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1- 14.5 oz. can light coconut milk
6 cups low sodium chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five spice
additional kosher salt to taste
Greek yogurt and paper thin slices of apple for garnish, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a cookie sheet in aluminum foil and spray it with non-stick cooking spray or lightly coat with canola oil. Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the cut sides of the vegetables and fruit evenly, using your hands to coat each piece well. Place the squash, apple and onion cut side down on the aluminum foil and roast in the oven, watching carefully, until the skins are slightly blistered and pulling away and the veggies and fruit are tender when pierced with a fork—about 15 – 20 minutes for the apple and onion and another 10 – 15 minutes for the squash.

When the fruit and veggies are tender, remove them from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool for about 5 minutes, then carefully remove the meat from the skins, discarding the skins, and place it into a large stock pot. Using a potato masher, mash all the vegetables to combine them, then add the coconut milk, chicken or vegetable stock, salt, curry powder, cayenne and Chinese five spice and stir well. Heat to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and carefully puree the soup with stick blender until smooth (or in batches in a traditional blender then return the soup to the pot.) Return the soup to the stove and heat just until warmed through. Taste the soup and add any additional salt as needed, to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt and a paper thin slice of apple, if desired.

Note: We happen to like curry in our house so this recipe as written has a strong curry flavor. You may cut back on the curry if you like, and the recipe will still make a wonderful and flavorful soup. If you truly do not like curry, take a peek at my Asian-Inspired Butternut Squash soup…very similar, but no curry.

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Spiced Beluga Lentil and Spinach Salad-Three Ways!

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This tiny beluga lentil is now my most favorite legume.

When I first met the Puy, or French Green Lentil, it was love at first taste. All those pretty little green disks of peppery, firm goodness combined with a bit of very finely diced carrot, celery, some thyme and tossed a light vinaigrette. Served as a lovely French green lentil salad…absolute heaven on a summer’s day.

Then there was the red lentil. Mellow, sweet and mysterious. They start off red and turn gold and soft when cooked, perfect for making a naturally thickened and richly spiced soup. I love to make curried lentil stew with these babies…filled with some Indian spices and a little tomato. Winter warmth personified in a bowl.

Also good for soups is the more commonly found brown lentil. It holds it shape a bit better when cooked and has a mild, earthy flavor that combines well with other ingredients as a hearty soup or an Indian dal. As a side dish, they’re especially nice seasoned with some spices and caramelized onion and served over plain, brown or nutty wild rice. I’ve had some mighty fine lentil burgers made from brown lentils, too.

And then along came the beluga lentil, crossing my radar and changing everything.

I’d first spotted them in the grocery a few years ago, all nestled in their bin…shiny little black pearls beckoning to me. I had no clue what they tasted like, but they were so pretty, I bought some. Shortly thereafter I attended a party where someone had made a vegan salad with beluga lentils cooked in coconut milk. Very nice, though I couldn’t really taste the lentil per se because of the strong coconut flavor…but it was still an inspiring salad.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at cooking these little guys and set about creating a simple dish that I thought would compliment them. These lentils hold their shape very well, which is nice because they provide great texture and color contrast in a dish. Their flavor is perhaps the earthiest of all lentils, and so they begged for some earthy spices to enhance that flavor. I chose cumin and coriander as the base of my flavor profile, added some shallot for depth, some celery and carrot… because lentils love that, and some good quality chicken stock to cook them in. Once cooked and while warm, I stirred through a little sherry vinegar, some baby spinach (more earth) and salt and pepper to taste, then soft fried/oil poached an egg and laid it over the top of a mound of the salad. Dinner was served.

And what a fine and complete meal it was! (And yes, healthy, too.) The warm spices combined perfectly with the lentils, which are firm on the outside and creamy on the inside. Spinach added some good crunchy texture to give the dish its “salad” mouthfeel, and the sherry vinegar brought out the depth of flavor in the whole with an undertone of acidity. When you cut through the egg, the soft yolk runs into the salad and adds to the mix with a rich and silky hit of goodness. You could poach your egg if you like—I like the oil fried/poached method because the tiny bit of additional olive oil adds to the whole of the dish—or you could hard-fry your egg if you don’t like runny yolks and it would still be good…the choice is yours.

lentilswsalmon2The first time I made this, I knew there would be a next time. And so a few weeks later when we had a little warm spell, I purchased some salmon filets on sale and we grilled them to place atop the lentils…a classic. I lightly seasoned the salmon with salt and pepper and dusted it even more lightly with just a hint of cumin and coriander to bind it to the salad. Magnificent.

Now I must say that while beluga lentils have become my quick favorite, I know they aren’t available everywhere, so don’t let that keep you from trying this recipe with a brown lentil substituted—just make sure you do check the cooking times for the larger lentil. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan, this base salad recipe stands alone, and would work well made with vegetable stock. We definitely enjoyed it as a lunch salad all by itself.

If you haven’t tried lentils, and particularly beluga lentils, you really should give them a go. In addition to being a high source of protein, low in fat and a good source of fiber, they contain many essential elements our bodies need such as folate, iron, potassium and phosphorus. They’re also an inexpensive and healthy alternative to animal protein when eaten as a vegetarian or vegan option. But the best reason of all to try them? They’re delicious! Happy eating.

Spiced Beluga Lentil and Spinach Salad
Makes 6-8 servings

3/4 cup minced shallot (about 2 large)
3 small carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 cup finely diced celery (about 2-3 stalks)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups dried beluga (black) lentils, picked over for stones, rinsed in a fine meshed sieve
4 cups good quality low sodium chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 oz. baby spinach
More salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the shallots, carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables until the shallots are translucent and the carrots and celery have softened, about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and stir for one minute to cook the spices, then add the lentils and stir to mix and coat well with the veggies, spices and oil. Add the 4 cups of stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover. Cook until the lentils are just tender and the broth has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove the lentils from the heat and place into a large mixing bowl. Allow the lentils to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the spinach to the warm lentils and stir through. Add the sherry vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

Serve the salad alone as Version 1.0 for a meatless and eggless (and vegan if you used vegetable stock) meal.

For Version 2.0, soft fry/poach eggs in oil with this procedure to serve 2, and add more oil and eggs proportionately for more servings:

Place a scant 1 tablespoon of olive oil into an appropriate sized skillet large enough to house two eggs. Heat the oil over medium low heat, then carefully crack your two eggs into the oil. Keep the eggs close to the skillet when cracking them and try to drop them slowly, they will spread less this way. Add about 1 teaspoon of water (for two eggs) to the skillet in between the eggs, being careful not to splatter yourself with hot oil, then immediately cover the skillet and cook the eggs for 2-3 minutes, checking for doneness. The water will create steam to soft poach the top of the egg while the olive oil fries the white. Continue cooking, watching carefully, until the white is fully set and the yolk is just beginning to set but is still runny inside (or to your liking), then remove the eggs one at a time and place on top of a serving of the warm, room temperature or cooled lentil salad. Sprinkle with a tiny amount of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy.

For Version 3.0, grill two 6 oz. skin-on salmon filets to serve 2, and add more salmon and proportionate ingredients to serve more folks, following the procedure below.

Prepare your barbecue grill or grill pan. Prep the salmon by drizzling about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil per filet and rubbing it all over. Then dust the flesh side of the two filets with 1/8 teaspoon of cumin and coriander, divided, and a tiny sprinkle of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. If using an outdoor grill, place the salmon filets on a square of heavy duty aluminum foil and proceed. Grill your salmon skin side down over medium high heat, covering the grill if outdoors and checking it every 3-5 minutes, until the salmon is just done through and still barely showing signs of uncooked at the thickest, most central part. Remove the salmon from the heat and allow it to rest for 3 minutes, covered (the salmon will finish cooking through), then place it on top of a serving of the warm, room temperature, or cooled lentil salad. You can garnish with a few slivered baby spinach leaves for color if you like. Enjoy.

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The girls vote for the salmon version of this dish…but we liked them all equally!

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Footnote: (Because this post just wasn’t long enough!) Here’s a 4.0 way to enjoy this salad. Place a healthy portion of leftover salad inside a tortilla wrap, sprinkle with a little cheese or, even better, some pimento cheese and some salsa verde, and add a little more raw spinach if you like. Wrap it up burrito style and you have a wonderful sandwich!

Time to Catch Up with Some Recipes New and Old

Potsdecreme1I’m in denial that February is almost over. It seems like this year is flying by even faster than the last. Although for those of you in the northern U.S. and Canada who have had weeks upon weeks of tremendous snow, I’m sure Spring can’t arrive fast enough!

So what’s been happening here? Well, we’ve tried to get back into our wonderful hiking schedule every Saturday, but winter weather—even here in the deep south—can be daunting. We’ve managed a few nice, long hikes so far this year, but will probably  have to wait until March or so to get back to our routine. Here are a few scenes from some those hikes and as you can see, even winter forest is quite lovely. Enjoy these moments of peace and solitude along with the myriad of textures and pattern that a winter forest reveals.

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This hike is one of the top Atlanta area hikes, the Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area Gold Branch Trail, north of Atlanta. We hiked 4.5 miles of trail across some significant elevation changes. We’ll go back to hit the remaining 3 miles.

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Another top Atlanta hike we’ve managed this year is this 7.12 mile hike into, and around Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, GA, just east of Atlanta. We hiked along the Cherokee Trail which circles the base of Stone Mountain itself, which is an interesting quartz monzonite dome monadnock.

And then suddenly, it was Valentine’s Day! I’d intended to post before then, but it didn’t happen. I hope yours was lovely. We chose to stay in and explore a cookbook that my husband found on pairing cocktails with small plates, main dishes and desserts…and prepare our Valentine’s meal TOGETHER! Add a nice roaring fire and some music, and it made for a very special evening. This was a really fun way to explore recipes together in the kitchen, and I will definitely make some of these dishes again for us and for company. Here are some scenes of our cocktails, the dishes they paired with and the lovely roses my husband gave me. You can click on any image to see a slideshow if you like.

The cookbook with recipes for the cocktails and the two dishes we made from the book can be found here. I halved all of these food recipes. You can find the Arugula, Grape and Almond Salad with Saba Vinaigrette from Bon Appétit magazine that I chose to go with the sea scallops hereI used an aged balsamic vinegar in mine instead of the Saba and roasted some of my grapes…delicious. The Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème recipe from Food and Wine magazine is here and I added the zest of half an orange to my chocolate which gave it a delicate and superb flavor. The salad and dessert recipes are keepers…easy and adaptable. The Truffled Popcorn with Pecorino is to die for, but I’d recommend making it when you have several folks to share it and here’s why…it’s addictive, and not in the least bit good for you in any way, but so divine. The recipe said it was for two, but we couldn’t eat it all and I think it would make a nice appetizer for 4-6…in small bowls.

The cocktails were magnificent and wonderfully paired with their dishes…we’ve made the Rouge again, as well as the Fireside 75 from the same book, though we haven’t yet made the chicken and waffles it is paired with. I’d highly recommend any of the food and drink recipes we made for Valentine’s, but I might make my own version of chimmichurri sauce next time for the scallops as I felt it was a bit too strong in onion and pepper…especially because we couldn’t get jumbo sea scallops. And be forewarned, it make a TON of sauce, even in a halved recipe.

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned above, we’ve taken some time for a quick visit to see dear friends in Chattanooga, I’ve been making more clay pots and working a lot.

This week we’ve had some threats of snow and some very cold weather…and in my house that means soup time. With an excess of rich foods for Valentine’s Day, I decided it was high time to have a pure veggie infusion with my Veddy Veggie Soup—which turned out to be one of the best batches I’ve made thus far. You can link to that post through the title and as with most soups, this one gets better each day.

So now that we’re all caught up, I’ll give you a little preview of what’s coming next…

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Mmmm! That’s all I’m going to say about that for now, but stay tuned for the next post.

What have you been up to? I’m making my way around to catch up and read about your adventures. I hope you’re all doing well and that you’ve had a great week and weekend.

 

The BEST Chocolate “Fudge” Pie

You know how you have those favorite recipes you keep in your handwritten book and make over and over again, so much so that they become as much a part of you as they were of the person who wrote them originally? This is one of those. As promised, the second of my savory and sweet pie posts, and this time it’s a fantastically easy and absolutely delicious pie of the sweet variety, the perfect dessert for all occasions.

Original recipeHere’s my go-to pie to make for holidays and company, because most everyone loves chocolate and it comes together in a snap with a pre-made pie crust or an unbaked pie shell. Yes, Chocolate Fudge Pie is indeed just what you need when the rest of the meal is troublesome or time consuming, or if you’re entertaining at the end of a busy work week, or even if you just love chocolate pie and have a craving. The pie you see here was made during the holidays…for Thanksgiving in fact, but I’m just getting around to posting. It’s such a great recipe to have in your back pocket and that’s really why I wanted to share it. Truly a recipe that deserves to live on and on.

When I first tasted this pie I was much younger. A dear family friend named Rachel served it at her home. I immediately fell in love with it, even though I’ve never been a big pie eater. Both the texture and the taste of this pie spoke to me. And even though I didn’t cook much back then, I really wanted the recipe…and I’ve been making it ever since! I was told at the time where the recipe originally came from and I believe it was either from a church cookbook or a community club cookbook from Birmingham, Alabama. Since I don’t know who to attribute it to I will call it Rachel’s pie in honor of her sharing the recipe, and I thank her as well as the original recipe creator out there, whoever you are! I guarantee if you make this, you’ll be thanking them, too.

In texture, this pie is a cross between a true chess pie and a cream pie. The pie forms a crust on top very much like a chess pie, but within lies a creamy and light, but fudge-y tasting center. Just chocolatey enough, and not too much. While it is wonderful unadorned, I like to serve mine with a little dollop of some Grand Marnier and orange zest-flavored whipped cream (mostly unsweetened) and I find that to be the perfect accompaniment. (Or a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, whatever floats your boat!)

Is this decadent? Sure. But if you share it, you can’t feel too bad about it. That’s my motto and I’m sticking to it. Live life and enjoy it!

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Note: You’ll see my cool Colonial Williamsburg pie plate was the cooking vehicle for this pie, too. See my last post for details on that.

Rachel’s Chocolate Fudge Pie
Serves 6-8

1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey’s works well.)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use cane sugar)
2 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
dash of salt, I use kosher or kosher sea salt (1/16 teaspoon is a dash of table salt, 1/8 teaspoon is a dash of kosher salt)
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract (I use Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla)
1- 9 inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter over low heat and remove it from the heat. Stir in the cocoa powder and the sugar. Beat the 2 eggs with a whisk and stir them into the butter/sugar/cocoa mixture until well combined. Add the evaporated milk, salt and vanilla and stir to blend well. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. (Puffed and shaky when done, it falls.) Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, Grand Marnier and orange scented whipped cream, or ice cream.

Grand Marnier and Orange Scented Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier Liqueur

In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar, zest and Grand Marnier. Whip another few seconds until the ingredients are combined and the cream is just beginning to stiffen. Do not overbeat. Serve a dollop on top of above pie. Stir any leftovers into coffee or hot chocolate.

Rustic Spinach, Pancetta, Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Quiche

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Not the most carefully composed nighttime shot, but a nice quiche just the same!

Sometimes pie is just the right thing for dinner or dessert. This is the first of two pie recipe posts…one savory pie and one sweet.

My spurt of pie making started when my friend Diane gave me a wonderful authentic ceramic pie plate from Colonial Williamsburg as a birthday present and I’ve been making pies with it ever since. It was the perfect vehicle for inspiring this quiche with it’s cozy colors and even clay cooking. Of course you can use any pie plate you happen to have, but I like either clay or glass pie plates for cooking a quiche.

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My very cool pie plate!

As you’ve now guessed, this first pie is savory. Quiche isn’t something I make too often, but I do enjoy a really good one. Because it has a tendency to be quite rich, I always load my quiches and frittata with lots of veggies and a little less egg than many recipes call for, and this particular pie is no exception to that rule. This winter quiche is filled with fresh spinach, tasty pancetta, wild mushrooms and caramelized onions, and makes for a very satisfying and savory meal all by itself. If you like, you can serve it with a side of very lightly dressed salad greens to balance the richness…and oh yes, a nice glass of wine!

I made my quiche with a prepared pie crust that I thawed and rolled out to save time, and also because I didn’t have any homemade pie crust on hand. You can make your quiche with a homemade crust, a prepared and ready to roll out crust or an uncooked pie shell.

This is definitely another dish in the winter comfort food category, but I really think it would be great any time of year. Enjoy!

Rustic Spinach, Pancetta, Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Quiche
4-6 servings

1 uncooked refrigerated 9-inch pie crust, rolled out and placed into a 9 inch pie plate
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped
3 oz. Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup gruyere or swiss cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the pancetta in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat until it is cooked through and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and place it on a paper towel to drain. Add the onions to the pancetta grease in the pan and cook on medium heat until they are translucent and begin to caramelize, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the onions from the skillet and set aside. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the skillet, then add the spinach and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper, and cook the spinach over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until wilted and tender. Remove the spinach from the skillet and place in a fine mesh sieve to drain. Add 1-2 teaspoons more of olive oil to the same skillet and add the shiitake mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté them over medium low heat until they are done and tender, about another 5-8 minutes.

Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the cooked spinach with a paper towel, and layer the spinach evenly in the bottom of the pie crust. Sprinkle the pancetta on top of the spinach, then layer the onion, mushrooms and the cheese in that order. In a blender of food processor, combine the 4 eggs, the milk, the cream, the nutmeg and another small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend until well mixed. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the layered ingredients in the pie crust. Place the quiche into the oven on a center rack and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is golden, puffed and set, but the center still slightly wiggles in the center. If your pie crust edges start to brown too much, cover them with foil. When the quiche is done, remove it from the oven and allow the quiche to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut into 4-6 wedges and serve.

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup…just what the doctor ordered!

bowlofsoup2I’m baaaaack!!! I hope all of you had really lovely holidays and that 2015 has been a great year for you so far!

I apologize for the radio silence for so long, as even with taking some time off for the holidays, I certainly didn’t intend to stop posting for so long. It appears I became a bit run down by the time Christmas was around the corner and I managed to contract one bug after another. I’m now finishing up my third cold/flu/stomach thingy in as many weeks. I know it’s been going around, but for someone who rarely gets sick, I think I’ve had more than my fair share! Definitely not what I had in mind in ringing in a new year. My heartfelt thanks to you all for hanging in here with me in spite of my lack of posting. I assure you that I’m more than ready to get back to my regular programming.

Winter is now upon us and it’s been very cold here indeed. And with the chilly weather my thoughts naturally turn towards soup. A nice, hearty soup is just the perfect meal to brighten up these short, dark days and warm you up. And a chicken soup has the added benefit of all those famous medicinal qualities.

So, boy (and girl) have I got a great one here for you! This chicken, wild rice and hearty mushroom soup is to die for. It’s a warm, comforting and luxurious soup filled to the brim with tender pieces of chicken breast, a toothsome and nutty mixture of wild rice and brown rice, lots of tasty veggies and some woodsy, earthy mushrooms. The added bonus here is that the chicken makes its own broth for the soup, so nothing is wasted. By finishing this soup with a little cream and some dry sherry, it becomes a creamy and savory bowl of goodness—truly a meal unto itself, although a wee salad alongside or some cheese toast is mighty fine as well. Check it out and see what you think..it’s good for what ails you, or for no ailment at all. I know I’m feeling much better already!

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
Serves 6-8

1 3/4 lb. split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
10 cups water
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and minced
a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons of flour
1 cup wild rice blend (1/2 wild rice and 1/2 brown rice)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
8 oz. Baby Bella or Cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 – 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Place the chicken breast into a large, heavy bottomed stock pot and cover with the 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the chicken until it is tender and just barely done through. Remove the chicken breasts from the liquid and set them aside to cool, reserving all of the “stock” in a large bowl. Allow the stock to cool and skim off as much fat as you can. Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and tear the meat off the bone and into bite sized pieces. Reserve the meat.

Wipe out the stock pot well with a paper towel, and add the butter and olive oil to the pot. Melt the butter and oil together over medium heat, then add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and some ground pepper over the veggies. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes to cook it, then add the rice and stir it in. Then add the 10 cups of reserved broth and the thyme. If you don’t have a full 10 cups of broth, make up the difference with water. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while. After 30 minutes, add in the chicken and the mushrooms, and cook for another 15 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper a little bit at a time, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Pour in the cream and the sherry and stir until the soup is hot again. Ladle a generous portion in your bowl and enjoy. Keeps for several days and reheats well, but try not to boil when reheating as it may break the cream.

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A Very Merry Christmas to All!

Wishing you and yours peace and all the joy of the holiday season.

To all who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas filled with fun times enjoying family and friends. May your cup runneth over! (But not on the rug, please.)

And may all of your fondest dreams come true in 2015!

Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. They did not disappoint!

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readytobake2Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies are so easy to make ahead and wonderful to freeze, then have on hand to slice, bake and decorate a few whenever you need or want them. Prettily packaged, they make a sweet gift as well.

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Sweet Cider Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal Cookies have festive flavors and aren’t quite as heavy as some cookies…so you can eat more than one, not that I can only eat one anyway!

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Ma’amool is a Middle Eastern treat in the form of a fruit or nut stuffed semolina cookie that is molded into beautiful shapes. They taste as good as they look, too! No mold? No worries. You can seal them and decorate with the tines of a fork.

Toffee Bars are a wonderful gift to make and give to that special someone that you want to thank for all that they do. These were my gift to the Firemen who came to our house when it was struck by lightning. They are truly gift-worthy!

Hors d’Oeuvres, Noshes, Appetizers and Snacks

While I don’t snack during the day at all, I do love a good nosh with a glass of wine or a cocktail before dinner. Here are some of my faves to make as gifts and some more faves to make to serve.

almonds1R2olives4Glazed Red Pepper and Fennel Almonds are a hit with everyone and won’t last long at a party…or in your home in general. They’re a most welcome gift for a cocktail nibble or appetizer, and a few sprinkled atop a green salad with some fruit are a lovely way to enjoy them, too. You’ll also find these savory Provençal Olives in this post. They keep well for about a month or so, and make a great hostess gift. These two together as appetizers or tapas are a dynamic duo.

jarsfinal1This Walnut Thyme Honey is just amazing drizzled over cheese for a quick and impressive appetizer. Needless to say, it makes a lovely gift.

wholeplateMy Retro Cheese and Olive Bites make a “can’t believe how good these are” do-ahead-and-freeze appetizer to bake when needed, then serve or give away. They are truly addictive, so be sure to make enough for yourself and some to share. Also in this same post are the equally fabulous make-ahead-and-freeze Bacon Wrapped Dates with Pistachios and Apricots.

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Two more lively appetizers for entertaining are found in another post: Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli and Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. While the crab cakes take a little work, they can be made ahead and frozen, then rewarmed when needed. And the stuffed tomatoes are just too darn easy and good to be ignored. Seasonal colors, too.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

These Artichoke Squares are truly a revival of a favorite. A throwback recipe, circa 1960 or so, that I’ve updated with some fresh ingredients. These are the perfect accompaniment to cocktails, are rich little bites and can be made ahead, frozen and then warmed as needed. What more can you ask for in an appetizer?

Drink and Be Merry!

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Cranberry Liqueur is the perfect gift and keeps at room temperature for a year. There’s still time to get a batch made for holiday giving or New Year’s tippling. Be sure to make some while fresh cranberries are still available.

Chai Tea Mix is fast and easy to make, and who doesn’t love a good hot cup of chai tea, any time of the year? Make your mix and package it in mason jars tied with pretty ribbon for a lovely hostess gift.

The Raindog

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Champagne Cocktail

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Christmas Dawn

My post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of my favorite cocktails to go with all of this food. Here are some classics, perfect for holiday entertaining. The Raindog is an easy variation on the classic martini, fortified with some fresh herbal essence and tasty olives. The timeless Champagne Cocktail will never go out of style and is easy to make for a crowd. And if you’ve also made the Cranberry Liqueur listed above, try out these Festive Holiday Cocktails for an extra Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Busy Season: Some Food, Some Fun, Some Pots

I’ve been cooking, I’ve been hiking, I’ve been working…a lot, I’ve been making clay pots, and I’ve been traveling some. And then suddenly, it’s NOVEMBER!!!

Here’s what’s been going on (click the red links for more info and recipes:

RibollitaThere was a batch Ina Garten’s fantastic Ribolitta pictured above, to warm up the cold evenings.

There was a lovely hike to Raven Cliffs Falls in the North GA mountains. Spectacular leaves that weekend.

spooktacularchiliThere was some Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili made for Halloween!

And Punkitties were carved for the big event!

There was a lovely gathering of cousins in town that called for an early batch of my most favorite gratin and holiday potato dish, Potato and Fennel Gratin. It takes a little effort, but the flavor is show stopping.

And this week I’ve been carving some clay pots for a friend’s new lifestyle website…more on that later.

And then there was work…happily lots and lots of it! So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? Are you having a fun autumn so far? Happy Weekend!