Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tired of turkey yet? Try this.

I was reading a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated today when I came across a recipe for pissaladière, a Provençal pizza with olives, caramelized onions, and anchovies. Also, Anne Burrell was making a similar thing on her show, "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" today, so I took this as a sign from the universe. Thus, moving on from turkey and dressing, tonight I tried my hand at pissaladière, but instead of the salty little fishies, I substituted some crispy bacon when it came out of the oven. Also, I added a layer of my homemade ricotta as in Chef Burrell's Tarte Flambee.

Here is one of the pissaladières before it finished baking. It was quite delish! Would have been better if I had bread flour, though. I thought I did, but as it turns out, I have two bags of self-rising. Oh well. It was still YUMMY!

(Source: Cooks Illustrated)
Yield: Makes 2 tarts, 8 to 10 first course servings

2 cups bread flour (11 ounces), plus extra for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional oil for brushing dough and greasing hands
1 cup water (8 ounces), warm (about 110 degrees)

Caramelized Onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Olives, Anchovies, and Garnishes:
olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup niçoise olives, pitted and chopped coarse
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped coarse (about 2 tablespoons)*
12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry for (optional) garnish*
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1. For the dough: In workbowl of food processor fitted with plastic dough blade (see note), pulse flour, yeast, and salt to combine, about five 1-second pulses. With machine running, slowly add oil, then water, through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust work surface with flour; using floured hands, transfer dough to work surface and knead lightly, shaping dough into ball. Lightly oil 1-quart measuring cup or small bowl, place dough in measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in draft-free spot until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

2. For the caramelized onions: While dough is rising, heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering but not smoking; stir in onions, salt, and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture released by onions has evaporated and onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in water; transfer to bowl and set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. To shape, top, and bake the dough: When dough has doubled, remove from measuring cup and divide into 2 equal pieces using dough scraper. Working with one piece at a time, form each piece into rough ball by gently pulling edges of dough together and pinching to seal. With floured hands, turn dough ball seam-side down. Cupping dough with both hands, gently push dough in circular motion to form taut ball. Repeat with second piece. Brush each lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut two 20-inch lengths parchment paper and set aside.

4. Coat fingers and palms of hands generously with oil. Using dough scraper, loosen 1 piece of dough from work surface. With well-oiled hands, hold dough aloft and gently stretch to 12-inch length. Place on parchment sheet and gently dimple surface of dough with fingertips. Using oiled palms, push and flatten dough into 14- by 8-inch oval. Brush dough with oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Leaving 1/2-inch border around edge**, sprinkle 1/4 cup olives, 1 tablespoon chopped anchovies, and 1 teaspoon thyme evenly over dough, then evenly scatter with half of onions. Arrange 6 whole anchovy fillets, if using, on tart and sprinkle with fennel seeds, if using. Slip parchment with tart onto pizza peel (or inverted rimless baking sheet), then slide onto hot baking stone. Bake until deep golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. While first tart bakes, shape and top second tart.

5. Remove tart from oven with peel or pull parchment onto baking sheet; transfer tart to cutting board and slide parchment out from under tart. Cool 5 minutes; sprinkle with 11/2 teaspoons parsley, if using. Cut tart in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 8 pieces; serve immediately. While first tart cools, bake second tart.

*I skipped the anchovies and added 1/4 pound of crispy bacon pieces to the top of each pissaladière when it came out of the oven.
**Here is where I added a layer of ricotta, about a half cup to each pissaladière.

And if you AREN'T sick of turkey yet, you might want to make this: a crock pot version of my very favorite turkey and wild rice soup. I wait for it every year! (Though I don't know why. It would be very good with chicken, too.)

Crock Pot Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
(adapted from Taste of Home)

8-10 cups turkey or chicken stock, divided
8 oz. uncooked wild rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chicken soup base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half or cream
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or one tablespoon dried parsley flakes)
salt and pepper to taste

Add eight cups of stock and the uncooked wild rice to a crock pot set to high. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and saute onion, celery and carrots until onion is transparent, about 10 minutes. Season with the black pepper, and add the sauteed veggies to the crock pot. Stir in the chicken soup base. Cook on high for 3-4 hours (or on low for 6-8 hours) until the wild rice and veggies are sufficiently tender.

In the same skillet over medium heat, melt 1/2 stick of butter. Whisk in the flour, and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add the half-and-half or cream, whisking constantly. You may wish to thin this mixture out with an additional cup of stock at this point. Once thickened and completely smooth, add the white sauce to the crock pot and stir to combine. Add the turkey and the parsley (and perhaps another cup of stock if you prefer a thinner soup), and cook on high for another 15-20 minutes until heated through. Taste to correct seasonings before serving.

Yield: Between 4-5 quarts

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crazy Cranberry Concoction

Despite ALL the other things I made for Thanksgiving, Cyd had the nerve to gripe that there was no cranberry element. Now I don't miss it on the table, but I do like it as a zippy condiment for my turkey sandwich. And yet, I didn't have all the stuff to make a salsa, chutney or Jezebel. So working with what I had on hand, I've invented (drumroll, please): CRANBERRY STRUMPET! She wantonly breaks all the rules, but she's temptingly spicy.

Cranberry Strumpet

12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
2 Fresno peppers, seeded and finely diced (serranos would be good, too)
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (I like a LOT of garlic!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

Wash and pick over the berries. Put orange juice and sugars in saucepan (large enough to prevent boil over) and bring to a boil. Add berries, onion, Fresno peppers, and garlic and return to a boil. Cook on medium for 15 to 20 minutes from the time it returns to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, then stir in the salt, pepper, Dijon mustard and ginger. Refrigerate for a few hours at least and enjoy!'s how you make the world's greatest turkey panini. First, sprinkle some turkey pieces with a little granulated garlic and black pepper, then on one side of the (oat nut) bread, put a slice of baby swiss, then a layer of the zesty cranberry strumpet, the turkey, then provolone, then the other slice of bread spread with a wee bit of mayo. Griddled in the pan with a pat of real butter and pressed until GBandD. OH SO YUM!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Turkey-Lurkey Time!

I hope everyone enjoyed a great meal and quality time with loved ones today. We were supposed to go out of town for a dog event in New Jersey, but then my roommate thought she had to work Saturday, and I didn't want to drive all that way by myself, so we didn't end up going. We did have an invite to a friend's house, but we just decided to stay home and make our own feast.

Of course, I had to carry on the tradition of the Thanksgiving pickle bucket (which usually lasts until the New Year). It had only my favorites this year: dill pickles sliced into thin spears, baby carrots, yellow wax beans, and pepperoncini cut in half. Everything was homemade except the peppers. YUM!

As for the turkey, I tried something that I have been thinking about doing for years--spatchcocking the bird (or butterflying, which is much less fun to say), rubbing it underneath and over the skin with an herbed compound butter (can you believe that I still have fresh herbs--parsley, sage, thyme, and oregano from my garden in late November?!), and roasting first at a high temperature--450 for 30 minutes--and then lowering it for the remainder of the cook time, about two hours at 350. Turned out FANTASTIC--flavorful and perfectly moist in only 2 1/2 hours for a 14-pound hen!

And the process of spatchcocking was easier than I anticipated: You just use strong kitchen shears (and maybe a cleaver) to cut out the backbone, then flip the turkey over and press down with both of your hands until the breastbone breaks. I tucked the wing tips underneath so that they didn't burn, and I roasted it on a rack over some chunks of carrot, celery and onion to give more flavor to the gravy that I would create later.

For my make-ahead sides, I prepared my basic sausage and herb stuffing, and for the first time ever, a green bean casserole! I have actually never made one before because I loathe canned green beans. But I made this with fresh green beans, real mushrooms, and a proper from-scratch cream sauce. I did use the pre-fab French fried onions because, well, I love them! I prefer them to croutons on a salad, in fact. Anyway, I forgot to take a picture of the casserole, but I assure you, it was DELISH! It's going to be a new holiday staple around here.

Best Ever Green Bean Casserole
(adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in a large stock pot. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the diced onions and sliced mushrooms, one teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid and the onions are transparent, approximately five minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for one minute. Add the broth and simmer for one minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the green beans. Pour into a 13x9 glass baking dish. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Top with one can of french fried onions and return to the oven for five minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Besides prepping the dressing and green beans a day ahead, I had to enlist my trusty crock pot in the holiday preparations. I used it to make some excellent garlic mashed potatoes from the Crockin' Girls Fecebook page. I made a few substantive changes, though: butter in place of the olive oil, chicken stock rather than water, plain cream cheese instead of flavored (and only 4 oz.), and buttermilk in place of the milk or cream. Oh, and I peeled my potatoes--personal preference. Definitely a make-again, and not just for special occasions. But this recipe is particularly useful at holiday times when oven space is at a premium.

Garlic Smashed Potatoes
(adapted from the Crockin' Girls)

3 lbs. small red potatoes (I used Yukon Golds)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used butter)
2/3 cup water (I used chicken stock)
1 cup cream cheese with onions and chives (I used 1/2 cup plain)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk or heavy whipping cream (I used buttermilk)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes in large chunks. Place potatoes in the slow cooker. Add garlic, onion, olive oil (or butter), salt and pepper to taste, and water or broth. Mix to coat.

Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until potatoes are tender. Remove lid and mash potatoes to desired consistency. Stir in cream cheese, butter, and add milk or cream (or buttermilk) to your desired consistency.

Serve right away, or switch your slow cooker to warm.

And naturally, I have saved the very best for last. I made the most INCREDIBLE pumpkin pie with a walnut crunch topping that was the 2005 National Pie Championships pumpkin winner. And BOY HOWDY, did it deserve it! Oh, and as a flattering sidebar, if you are into the pie championships (as aired annually on the Food Network), I am unabashedly delighted to report that TWO past winners were kind enough to comment on the beauty of my pie when I posted this picture to Facebook. I know...I'm such a foodie geek!

Walnut Crunch Pumpkin Pie

Christine Montalvo, 2005 First Place Pumpkin Category, National Pie Championships

Pastry Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, add flour and salt. Pulse to mix. Add cold butter and shortening, which has been cut into small pieces. Pulse 6 to 8 times until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 4 tablespoons ice water evenly over and pulse 3-4 times more until dough holds together. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time until dough holds together. Form into 2 balls, and then flatten each into a disk. Wrap disks separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Divide dough into 2 pieces. On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin roll out one piece of dough into a 10-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick). Fit a 9-inch pie plate with one piece of dough and flute edges. Reserve 2nd piece of dough for another time. Refrigerate (or freeze) while preparing filling.

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cups canned solid pack pumpkin
2 tablespoons mild-flavored (light) molasses (I swapped out dark maple syrup)
3 large eggs
1 cup whipping cream (I used evaporated milk)

Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450F. Whisk first 8 ingredients together in large bowl to blend. Whisk in pumpkin, molasses, eggs, and whipping cream. Pour mixture into frozen crust. Place pie on preheated baking sheet in oven. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325F and bake until sides puff and center is just set, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. Preheat broiler. Prepare walnut crunch topping.

Walnut-Crunch Topping:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1-cup whipping cream plus 3 Tbsp powdered sugar

In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt butter. Stir in walnuts and brown sugar and mix until well mixed. Spoon evenly over pie. Broil pie 3 minutes, 5 to 7 inches from broiler, or until topping is golden and sugar dissolves. Cool pie again on wire rack.

In a small bowl, beat heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Pipe around edge of cooled pie. (I skipped this part and served mine with Breyer's Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ready to Call It: The BEST Dish of 2011

I know we have close to six weeks remaining in the year, but I already declare this the BEST dish to come out of my kitchen in 2011! This is Bon Appetit's red wine-braised short ribs that I served with homemade buttermilk, parsley and garlic mashed potatoes. WOWZA! Here's the recipe, which I HIGHLY recommend! It's a lot of prep, but sooooooo worth it in the end--layers upon layers of rich, succulent flavor! And SURPRISE: I did NOT make this in the crock pot! I made it in the old school French version of a slow cooker, my beloved Le Creuset Dutch oven. However, I think you could transfer everything to a crock pot at the point where the recipe calls for you to put it in the oven, then cook for 5-6 hours on high or 8-10 on low. But anyway you make it, MAKE IT!

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs
Bon Appétit, October 2011
Yield: Makes 6 servings

5 pound bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2" pieces (I used about four pounds, left on the whole bone, cut into 2-bone sections)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
3 medium onions, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled, diced
2 celery stalks, diced (I used 3 stalks)
*I also added 1/2 pound of sliced Baby Bella mushrooms--next time, I would use a whole pound!
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 750-milliliter bottle dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon)
*I also added about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs rosemary
*I tied the fresh herb sprigs with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
*I also added a pinch of red pepper flakes
4 cups beef stock

Preheat oven to 350°F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery (and mushrooms) to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine (and balsamic vinegar), then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic (and red pepper flakes). Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2-2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. (I fished out the herb bundle and the bay leaves, but I did NOT strain the sauce. Why would I want to throw away all of those yummy vegetables?) Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard. (Alternately, refrigerate overnight, remove the solid fat, then reheat.) Shred the meat with two forks, and season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

Cooks' Note:
To test if the ribs are done, pull on a bone. It should slide out freely.

As for the potatoes, I peeled and cut into big chunks about three pounds of gold potatoes, boiled them in salted water until tender, drained, added a stick of butter(!), maybe 1/2 cup of buttermilk (or to desired consistency), 1/2 (up to a whole) teaspoon of granulated garlic, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. YUM!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yep. More crockpot soups.

You might be sick of me and my crockpot soups by now, but I think it's a theme that is likely to recur until the spring get used to it! I really hadn't expected to make another squash soup so soon after the last one, but one of my best friends, Stacey, posted a really yummy-sounding one on Facebook, and as I still had lots of "mystery squash" left in the freezer, I felt compelled to try it. And of course, I adapted the recipe to be made in the crock pot. I love the flavor of the roasted squash in this soup. And you can make it even more delicious by adding any number of tasty toppers (see below).

Savory Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (Crock Pot Method)

6 cups of cubed, roasted butternut squash--or any winter squash you have on hand*
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 medium onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced (leaves and all)
4 carrots, diced
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
4 teaspoons dried thyme (I used a tied bundle of fresh thyme instead)
2 bay leaves
2 quarts chicken or veggie stock (preferably, homemade)
1 tablespoon chicken or veggie soup base
1 cup half and half, optional

Add the celery, carrots, garlic, herbs, stock and soup base into a 5 or 6 quart crock pot. Start on low while the squash is roasting, then add the roasted squash to the crock pot and continue cooking on low for 8-10 hours. Using a stick blender, puree the soup, and if you like, blend in some half and half or cream to desired taste and consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Makes five quarts.

fresh lime juice
chopped crispy bacon
cojita cheese crumbles
sour cream
cayenne pepper
cilantro leaves

*Roasting the squash:
You can peel, seed, and cube the squash, sprinkle it with oil, salt and pepper, and bake it at 400 for 30-40 minutes. Or you can do it the lazy way and halve, seed, cook cut side down, and then when it is done, just scoop out the soft flesh.

The second recipe that I'd like to share is a classic French onion soup. It is a particularly good idea to make this in the crock pot, because the onions take SO LONG to caramelize, and you have to keep a careful eye on them when they cook on the stovetop so that they don't scorch. But with the crock pot, you can chuck in  the onions and walk away! Then to finish the dish, you top each bowl with croutons and cheese and run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes. MMM!

Crockpot French Onion Soup

4 tablespoons butter
4 large onions, cut in half and then sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chocolate stout (or another dark beer)
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied into a bundle with kitchen twine
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 quarts beef stock
3 tablespoons flour

Add the butter, sliced onions, and garlic cloves to a preheated crock pot. Cook on high for about an hour, until the onions start to color. Pour in the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, beer, and the bundle of fresh thyme. Cook for another seven hours on high, stirring occasionally. Fish out the thyme bundle, then add 2 quarts of rich beef stock to the pot, plus the flour that has been whisked into a slurry with some of the stock. Cook another couple of hours on high, or as long as you prefer on low.

Ladle soup into ovenproof bowls or crocks, top with large croutons (I like those Italian panetini that I buy in a big bag at Sam's Club), then a couple/few tablespoons of shredded Gruyere. Broil for a minute or two until the cheese is brown and bubbly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My cheesy new OBSESSION!

I just have to share a delicious recommendation with you, tasteful readers. When we were downstate for Columbus Day weekend, we made a special trek to White Plains to visit Whole Foods. If you can imagine, I had never been to one. They opened one in Salt Lake City right before I moved away from there, but at the time, I was an impoverished grad student and could not afford to shop at "Whole Paycheck." I can hardly afford to shop there now! I would certainly go broke if there was one in my town. The prepared food/salad/hot bars alone are a siren's song to a foodie!

But the best discovery I made at Whole Foods by far was a Gouda cheese that they were sampling called Robusto (technically, it's Parrano Robusto by a Dutch company called UnieKaas). It is SO CRAZY DELICIOUS! It's a hard, crumbly cheese like an Italian Parmesan or Romano, but creamier in texture and nutty in flavor because it's aged ten months. It was about $15/lb., so I just bought a half pound to bring home, along with lots of other tasty tidbits from Whole Foods. But that small wedge of cheese was gone far too soon, and the nearest Whole Foods (the only U.S. distributor of the Parrano Robusto) is over four hours away in Massachusetts. :-(

So last week, I was whining about my dilemma to my dear friend Mike (who currently lives in Vegas but happened to be visiting SLC), and within the hour, he had taken himself to the Whole Foods, snapped this picture of the display, and purchased THREE POUNDS of the beloved Robusto on my behalf. Within another hour, he had the package in the mail to New York, and three days later, my special cheese delivery was on my front porch! GOD BLESS, MIKE!

For those of you lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods, RUN, DO NOT WALK there, and buy yourself some of my new favorite fromage. And while you're there, grab a few of your favorite apples (I am enjoying SweeTango of late), as this cheese and apples are M.F.E.O. You're welcome.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Crocks and crocks of soup!

I have another couple of terrific soups that work great in the crock pot. The wicked winter weather will come sooner or later (thankfully, later this year), and these two recipes will stick to your ribs and warm you through and through.

First, we have Zuppa Toscana, a soup not unlike the one that the Olive Garden serves but MUCH better! The sausage makes it zesty, and the kale is lovely and nutrient-rich to boot. What's not to love? This is an amalgamation of several different recipes that I perused online, adapted to suit my tastes. It's very forgiving, so feel free to put your own spin on it. But do try it!

Zuppa Toscana

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. ground sausage
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
pinch of salt
4 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons chicken soup base/bouillon
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into one-inch chunks
1/2 bunch kale, washed, de-stemmed, slivered
1 cup cream
scant cup of instant mashed potato flakes (optional)

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and brown the sausage and onion together. When the sausage is almost cooked through and the onions are tender, add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two. (Don't let the garlic brown!). Then add the oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, granulated garlic, red pepper, black pepper, and salt. Cook for another minute, then spoon this mixture into the crock pot. Add the quart of chicken stock (preferably homemade!), the chicken soup base, and the cut potatoes.

Cook on low for 4-5 hours, or until the potatoes are tender. Then add the chopped kale, the cup of cream, and if you like a thicker, chowder-like soup, up to one cup of instant mashed potatoes. Continue to cook on low for about another hour before serving. You'll get four large, meal-sized bowls of soup.

And the second soup of the day is one that someone posted on Crock Pot/Crockin' Girls. It mimics the same flavors as stuffed peppers, with a lot less labor. However, I don't like green peppers, so I swapped out some sweet red peppers instead. And I also threw in some kale, because I had half a bunch left over from the Zuppa Toscana. This recipe makes a ton, so I took the leftovers into share at work, as I often do. People LOVED it, and one colleague even said he would be making it and taking it to his relatives' Thanksgiving celebration!

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb. ground sausage
1 large onion, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
4 cloves fresh garlic (I used six!), peeled and minced
2 large green peppers (I prefer red ones), ribs and seeds removed, cut into chunks (I prefer to dice)
1 (14.5oz) diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
8-12 cups beef broth (start with 2 quarts, but you may need to thin it out more at the end)
4 teaspoons beef soup base/bouillon
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (up to one full teaspoon, to taste)
pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 cup rice (I used a brown/wild rice blend)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and sausage with the diced onion and celery. when the meat has cooked through and the vegetables are tender, add the minced garlic. Cook for another minute or so. Place this mixture in the crock pot along with all of the rest of the ingredients, except the parsley. Cook for 8-10 hours on low, or until rice is sufficiently tender. Remove the bay leaves, add the fresh parsley, and correct seasonings before serving.

Makes five quarts.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Crockin' up some rockin' chalupas!

Annnnnnd...back to CROCKPOT MADNESS! What's crockin' in my pot this time? A recipe that I ran across on Crock Pot Girls (now known as Crockin' Girls due to alleged copyright infringement) called Pork Chalupas. You cook dry beans and a pork roast with some fragrant spices, garlic, and chilies, and then you serve the resulting goodness in soft tortillas or taco shells or, as I did, over corn chips as in the classic and much-loved Frito pie. This really delish and feeds a crowd--or the leftovers could be used to fashion many other hearty dishes with a zesty, Latin flair.

Pork Chalupas

1 lb. dry pinto beans (I used Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
3 to 5 lb. pork roast (I used 3 huge country-style ribs instead)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small cans diced green chiles
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground celery
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
few dashes hot sauce, to taste

Rinse the dry beans then cover with 2-3 inches of cold water. Let soak for a few hours, then add to the crock pot.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the diced onions in one tablespoon of oil until tender and just starting to brown. Add to the crock pot. In the same skillet, add the other tablespoon of oil and brown the pork roast (or ribs) that has been seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Add the meat to the crock pot, then the minced garlic, the green chiles, and all of the seasonings. Cook on low for 8-9 hours or until the meat starts to fall apart.

When the roast is tender, take it out of the pot and carefully remove excess fat and any bones. Shred the meat and add back to the pot. Simmer with the lid off until thick (up to another hour), stirring occasionally.

Gina's Note: I cooked the beans with the pork overnight (9 hours), and by morning, the meat was done, but the beans weren't. So I fished out the meat and refrigerated it while I continued to cook the beans for another SIX hours! Then I shredded the meat (which was actually easier to do when cold) and added it back to the pot about an hour before serving. Just might want to start this recipe the night before, just in case.

Serve in warmed tortillas or over a bed of corn chips and add any or all of the following:
grated cheese
sour cream

P.S. Leftovers make great burritos!