Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rose & Vanilla Tea Pots de Crème for Food 'n Flix: Simply Irresistible

These Rose & Vanilla Tea Pots de Crème have been living in my head for a couple of months now, ever since I watched the wrong movie for Food 'n Flix back in September. September's selection was Just Desserts (you can see my post here), but I accidentally watched November's pick of Simply Irresistible instead, and from an exchange between the two main characters, this dessert was born.

Tom: "That smell..."
Amanda: "It's vanilla and flowers."
Tom "It's incredible!"

Simply Irresistible is a foodie romantic comedy starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Gellar plays Amanda, who inherits her late mother's restaurant but does not seem to have inherited her mother's cooking skills, turning out culinary disaster after culinary disaster that results in the restaurant failing fast. Just when all seems lost, Amanda is sold some crabs by a mysterious man at the local farmers market. One of the crabs escapes his fate as a poorly made meal and becomes a sort of pet for Amanda and as it turns out, just happens to be magical. Also at the market, Tom (Sean Patrick Flanery), who is opening an upscale restaurant in his department store and who Amanda begins to fall for. With the magical crab, Amanda begins to cook food that has people clamoring for more and causes those who eat her dishes to express the emotions Amanda had when making them.

Simply Irresistible is definitely chick movie fluff, and as much as I adore SMG, (she was Buffy for Pete's sake!) she has a surprising lack of chemistry with Flanery. Still, it's cute fluff and a good foodie diversion.

The vanilla and flowers mixture bubbling in a pot on Amanda's stove made me think of something smooth and creamy such as a panna cotta or pots de crème. I happened to have a box of Tazo "Rest" Tea hanging out in my tea collection, an herbal tea that Tazo says is "A lulling blend of rose petals, valerian root & citrusy herbs," and I thought it would be fun to use the tea as a base for a creamy custard.

Rose & Vanilla Tea Pots de Crème
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen (inspired by multiple Pots de Crème recipes)
(Makes 4 Servings)

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split sideways and seeds scraped
3-4 rose-scented herbal tea bags like Tazo Rest
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
small pinch of salt
1/2 tsp rose water
1/2 tsp vanilla
pink or red food coloring (optional)

Bring the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds and tea bags up to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Arrange 4 (6-oz) teacups or ramekins in a baking pan (large enough to hold the cups without touching one another). Bring a pot or kettle of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, rose water and vanilla. Remove the tea bags and vanilla bean and discard and reheat the infused cream mixture over medium heat. Whisk the reheated cream into the yolk mixture and strain it through a fine sieve into a bowl or pitcher. Add a couple of drops of food coloring if desired.

Pour the boiling water into pan, being careful not to splash any inside cups, until water comes about halfway up the sides of the cups. Pour the mixture into the cups, dividing it equally. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and poke several small holes in the foil to let steam escape. Bake about 30-35 minutes, until custards are set but still slightly wobbly at their centers.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven, removing the foil. Remove the cups from the hot water in the pan and set on a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes. Once cool, cover the cups with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until the custards are firm (about 2 hours or so).

Garnish with whipped cream or candied rose petals and serve with thin crisp buttery cookies.

Notes/Results: I give these more points for taste than for beauty. ;-) The custards are creamy and have a light rose and vanilla flavor that is very pleasing. I wasn't crazy about the color of the base with the tea, eggs and vanilla and thought it would be fun to make them a pale rosy pink, but a couple of drops of red food coloring made them a kind of funky salmon color. Ah well! Experiments don't always turn out perfectly. I covered it up with some candied rose petals--that (and maybe some dim lighting!) helped a bit. If you can't find the Tazo tea (I'm not sure if they still make it?) look for another rose / floral tea, or a favorite herbal tea and (carefully so as not to overpower), add a little extra rose water. Overall, I was pleased with my Pots de Crème, they were fun and excellent with the buttery cookies.

Our Food n' Flix November pick, Simply Irresistible is hosted by Leslie of La Cocina de Leslie, who will be rounding up the entries on her blog soon. The deadline for this month is today (I am sneaking my entry in under the wire--whoops!) But, if you like food and movies consider joining us for December's film, the classic Christmas in Connecticut (one of my favorite holiday flix), hosted by F'nF's founder, my pal Heather of girlichef.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ouzo Sorbet: A Greek-Themed Frozen Treat for Cook The Books: Harlot's Sauce

One day I will go to Greece. I say this every time I open up a cookbook full of Greek food, or eat at my favorite Greek(ish) restaurant, or see a picture of the brilliant blue water, or read a book like Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Harlot's Sauce is the current selection for Cook The Books, the virtual foodie book club I host along with Rachel, The Crispy Cook and Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food, our host for this round. It's a colorful memoir about the author's experiences meeting "gorgeous Greek" Gregori and ends up marrying him, against the wishes of her Italian-American family, particularly her Sicilian father. Major clashes of culture ensue of course as the author deals with her husband's family and adjusting to life in Greece.

I like how descriptive Volonakis Davis is in her writing--especially in describing what life is like for an American expat in Greece. She has a sense of humor too, so as much as I wanted to grab her and shake her multiple times throughout the book for some of her choices, I was also able to laugh along with her. I do think that the book's tagline "A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece," should be re-ordered to be like the ingredient list on a package with the order of the "ingredients" based on the amount contained inside. There just wasn't quite as much food presence as I was looking for/wanted and it was listed first. ;-) Still, the writing was engaging, and at the end of the day, I admired the author for owning the mistakes she made and ultimately finding her voice and herself.

I was a little stuck about what to make for this round. Of course, Patricia's grandmother's (Nonnie) salsa puttanesca or "sauce of the harlot" would have been a great choice. Ultimately, I chose something simple, an Ouzo Sorbet. The book starts with the author recounting a night that she accidentally drank too much ouzo and was dropped off ("abandoned") at her hotel by (her then "lover of three months") Gregori. After a shower she finds two "uninvited guests" (ginormous winged cockroaches) in her room and panic reigns as one flies onto her pillow. I can totally relate to the horror of "B-52" roaches, also common here in Hawaii. I attended a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house soon after I moved here and all the doors and windows were open on a humid, rainy night. All of a sudden a half-dozen or so of the disgusting creatures flew in and started dive-bombing the table and the group of us gathered around. It was not pretty! Enough to make me want to drink a lot of ouzo, or at least enjoy it as a frozen treat. This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros.

Tessa Kiros says, "This is like a soft snow, sweet and ouzo-y, and it works well after a meal--like an after-dinner mint."

Ouzo Sorbet
Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 6 to 8)

1 cup sugar
7 Tbsp ouzo

Stir the sugar into 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. Stir in the ouzo and transfer to an ice-cream machine. Freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, pour into a shallow baking sheet and out in the freezer, breaking it up and beating with a fork 3 or 4 times before it becomes solid.

Notes/Results: Oh this is GOOD! Sweet, refreshing, slightly licorice-esk. The nice man at the liquor store told me the "better" ouzo was worth the extra few dollars and I think he might have been right--it is very smooth. (Although I am not sure his claim of getting "less of a headache" from it is really true!) This sorbet is so simple and would be perfect either after dinner, or for a palate cleanser in between courses. This will be featured at a Greek-themed dinner party in my future. ;-)

I am sneaking this post in under the deadline once again (surprise). If you like reading, food and cooking, consider joining us for the December/January round of Cook the Books. We will be reading Outlaw Cook, a book of food essays by John and Matt Lewis Thorne, hosted by Rachel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cream of Spinach Soup (& Polenta Pizzas with Shaved Romano): 5-Ingredient Recipes from Robin Takes 5

There are days when you you have the time, energy and ingredients to spend lingering over a complicated recipe and then there are the days when you need to get something quick, easy and hopefully healthy on the table with just a few simple ingredients from your pantry. Robin Miller's new cookbook, Robin Takes 5: 500 Recipes, 5 Ingredients or Less, 500 Calories or Less, 5 Nights a Week at 5:00 PM is for those busy days.

Robin Miller is a food writer and a nutritionist who specializes in creating quick and easy recipes that are simple enough to make you think twice about ordering take out. She even has a Food Network series, Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller (which unfortunately Food Network seems to bury in the earlier weekday morning hours) that helps families get healthy meals to the table fast.

The book contains 8 chapters: Soups, Stews & Chowders, Pizzas, Flatbreads, Calzones & Strudels, Pasta, Risotto & Rice, Chicken & Turkey, Beef & Pork, Seafood & Shellfish, Side Dishes, and Desserts. Nutrition information is included with each recipe and the lower sodium recipes are tagged to make it easier for those trying to limit their salt intake. In order to meet the need for quick meals (most recipes can be made in about 20 to 30 minutes), there is some use of canned or packaged foods, but it isn't excessive. Ingredients are ones that you have have handy in your fridge, freezer or pantry, making coming home and preparing a weeknight dinner easy. Miller did include many recipes that are marked as suitable for entertaining on nights when you are feeling a little fancier or want to have friends over. There are several sections of color photos so you can get a look at some of the dishes in each chapter.

Recipes I tagged to make include; Sesame Miso Soup with Tofu and Scallions, Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Almonds, Hummus Pizza with Roasted Red Pepper, Wild Mushroom Strudel with herbed Cheese, Linguine with Olive Butter, Somen Noodles in Miso-Black Bean Broth, Penne with Seared Tuna and Capers, Grilled Salmon with Sriracha Mayo, Coconut-Almond Mahi Mahi, Grilled Shrimp with Peanut-Lime Dip, Fennel and Lemon Salad, Tempura Brussels Sprouts, Rice and Goat Cheese Cakes, No-Bake Chocolate-Peanut Butter Oat Cookies, and Bittersweet Fudge with Dried Cherries.

I was especially pleased with the many soup recipes, so when choosing a couple of recipes to "road test" this book I selected the Cream of Spinach Soup (I have been eating far too many brown foods this week with Stuffing, potatoes, mushroom gravy, etc. and needed some green.) Rather than a sandwich or salad, I thought the little Polenta Pizzas with Shaved Romano would be a fun and colorful accompaniment to the soup and I happened to have tube of polenta in my pantry and homemade pesto in the freezer.

Robin says, "What makes this rich soup creamy is the addition of Yukon gold potatoes. I like Yukon golds because they're not as starchy as regular baking (russet) potatoes. I also add half-and-half for extra creaminess, but you can cut calories and fat by substituting low-fat milk."

Cream of Spinach Soup
Adapted from Robin Takes 5 by Robin Miller
(Serves 4)
Prep Time 5-10 Minutes / Cooking Time 15 Minutes

6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (I used low-sodium veggie broth)
3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lb baby spinach
1 cup half-and-half (I used 1/2 almond milk and 1/2 non-dairy creamer )

Combine the broth, potatoes, and garlic in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Puree with an immersion blender or regular blender (when using a regular blender, work in batches to prevent spillover). Stir in the spinach and half-and-half and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving.

Nutrients Per Serving: Calories: 222, Fat: 9 g, Saturated Fat: 5 g, Cholesterol: 36 mg, Carbohydrate: 25 g, Protein: 11 g, Fiber 4 g, Sodium: 262 mg

Robin says, "Tubes of prepared polenta are sold in most grocery stores, and they make preparing meals with this cornmeal treat a snap (rather than spending the time cooking the cornmeal until tender and waiting for it to cool so you can cut it into rounds). Be sure to buy ripe (preferably vine-ripened) tomatoes so that you can enjoy the tomato's full flavor potential."

Polenta Pizzas with Shaved Romano
Adapted from Robin Takes 5 by Robin Miller
(Serves 4)
Prep Time 10 Minutes / Cooking Time 10-15 Minutes

1 (1-lb) tube prepared polenta, cut into 12 rounds
1/2 cup prepared basil pesto
1 cup thinly sliced beefsteak or plum tomatoes, about 2 large beefsteak or 4 small plum
1/2 cup shaved pecorino Romano cheese (use a vegetable peeler)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Transfer the polenta rounds to a baking sheet. Top each round with the pesto, tomato slices, and cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the polenta is toasted and the cheese is melted.

Nutrients Per Serving: Calories: 314, Fat: 19 g, Saturated Fat: 7 g, Cholesterol: 19 mg, Carbohydrate: 24 g, Protein: 12 g, Fiber 2 g, Sodium: 761 mg

Notes/Results: The soup and polenta pizzas were both on the table in less than 30 minutes and tasted great. I liked the simple flavors in the soup--the spinach got to be the star and the soup tasted silky and rich. I did make my soup vegan--using veggie broth, almond milk and non-dairy creamer. The polenta pizzas went well with the soup and had good flavor. Next time, I would take an extra few minutes and bake the polenta circles for 5 minutes or so before adding the pesto, tomatoes and cheese--just to make them a bit more crisp in texture. Otherwise, I would make both of these simple recipes again.

Robin Takes 5 is a handy resource to have in the kitchen--the 500 recipes are a great place to look when you aren't sure what to make for dinner. It would be a great gift for a busy family that wants to eat healthier, someone starting out and gaining kitchen confidence, or even a more experienced cook, looking for new ideas and recipes to add to weekly menu planning. Miller has done a great job making healthier options accessible.

Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher but as always, my thoughts, opinions and experience cooking from the book are entirely my own.

Now lets take a look in the Souper Sunday kitchen where we have some delicious and warm bowls of goodness waiting.

Janet from The Taste Space has a healthy, stew to share and says, "Continuing with my white bean kick, and my abundance of kale, I modified Isa’s Quinoa, White Bean And Kale Stew from Appetite for Reduction. I thought it might be plain and boring, but it was anything but. It was sublime. A great, comforting stew with tons of mellow flavours without bogging you down. I substituted the leek for onion and fennel, swapped the white potatoes for sweet potatoes, upped the carrots and parsnips and used up the last of my kale including the stems, which was only 1/2 lb. Thankfully, this soup makes a ton. I will be slurping it up all week and then some!"

Joanne of Eats Well With Others jazzed up her soup bowl with this Rosemary White Bean Soup with Fig and Walnut Tapenade and says, "Soup is the answer to all of life's most rhetorical and profound problems. Feeling cold? Soup. Feeling tired? Soup. Feeling like skinny jeans are just too much for you to handle? Soup. Feeling like you need a stiff drink in anticipation of all of the cooking meltdowns you know you'll be having in the next four days? Soup with vodka. --- A house smelling like rosemary with a soup that tastes like comfort is totally our answer."

Heather of girlichef says that this gorgeous Poor Man's Bread, Kale and Black Pepper Soup from Mediterranean cooking wonder Paula Wolfert is a "...simple rustic soup chock-full with ribbons of lacinato kale, the hint of porky goodness, and a toasted country bread rubbed with garlic that sucks up the flavorful broth like a brand new sponge. girlichef also notes that, "It was a delicious escape in the midst of Thanksgiving dinner preparations."

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes tried Ina Garten's Mexican Chicken Soup and says, "I know. You were probably expecting some wonderful post about what to do with all your turkey leftovers. Except that it’s only the Friday after Thanksgiving, and if you’re like me, today is just yesterday warmed up, or maybe made into a turkey sandwich; you’re not really into the whole using the turkey meat for something else yet. So, then this post is kind of timely, because you could easily make this with a turkey carcass or a turkey leg or two. I used a couple of my rotisserie chicken carcasses that I have always have readily available in my freezer."

Tigerfish from Teczcape - An Escape to Food made a simple Mixed Beans Cabbage Soup to combat holiday excess. She says, "Well. Ok. Thanksgiving is over. No more hard work in the kitchen for a while (at least in the next two days). But eating out 3 meals a day is not an option. A well-accepted idea for busy cooks is to cook one big pot of food and have leftovers for the next 1-2 meals. Sure beats eating out. Me included. The same but for a different reason.I am the lazy cook."

It's nice to have Shri from Tiffin Carrier Antic/que's! back at Souper Sundays and here with a lovely Butternut Squash and Adzuki Beans Soup. Shri says, "This dish mimics the traditional Kerala dish, the Erisseri where coconut is ground with cummin and also roasted to meld with pumpkins, raw plantains, yams, beans and lentils. Heat comes from black pepper. Fried Shallots were added in some regions, or on some occasions. In the 'feast/sadya' version, the moisture was cooked away and coconut oil was used generously. In this soup, I have used coconut milk with ground cummin powder and white pepper powder for the heat."

Such a good variety of soup this week, a little something for everyone. Thanks to everyone who joined in on this holiday weekend. If you have a soup, or salad or Sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Brussels Sprouts and Wheat Berry Slaw with Smoked Paprika Dressing

Lest you think it was all stuffing, mushroom gravy and decadent Sage & Rosemary Mashed Potatoes gracing my holiday plate, there was also something a bit healthier, Brussels Sprouts and Wheat Berry Slaw with Smoked Paprika Dressing. This dish caught my eye in the November issue of Sunset Magazine and since I had some wheat berries in my pantry I decided to make it. Although it was from an article on Thanksgiving vegan side dishes, I think it also makes a great grain salad for a winter's lunch.

Sunset says, "Instead of using currants, you could try shredding a small sweet apple into the salad. Adding wheat berries to salads like this one gives them texture and makes them even more nutritious." (I chose to add dried cranberries to my version--I like the pop of color and their sweet/tart flavor.)

Brussels Sprouts and Wheat Berry Slaw with Smoked Paprika Dressing
Recipe by Adenna Sussman, Sunset Magazin
e, Nov 2011
(Serves 8--Makes 7 Cups)
Time: About 1 1/2 Hours

1 cup wheat berries
About 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
About 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika
3 tablespoons dried currants (I used 1/3 cup dried cranberries)
3/4 pound brussels sprouts

Bring 1 1/2 qts. water, the wheat berries, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil in a medium covered saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until wheat berries are tender but not mushy (some should start to burst), about 1 1/4 hours. Drain.

2. Whisk 1/2 tsp. salt, the pepper, oil, 3 tbsp. vinegar, the paprika, and currants together in a large bowl. Let stand while wheat berries cook.

3. Cut brussels sprouts into fine shreds, preferably using a food processor with a slicing disk or a mandoline. Add brussels sprouts and wheat berries to dressing mixture and toss to coat. Taste and add more salt and another splash of vinegar if you'd like. Serve immediately.

Make ahead: Through step 2 up to 1 day, chilled. Bring to room temperature.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 173, Calories from fat: 38%, Protein: 5g, Fat: 7.7g, Saturated fat: 1g, Carbohydrate: 23g, Fiber: 4.3g, Sodium: 201mg, Cholesterol: 0.0mg

Notes/Results: Once the wheat berries are cooked, this tasty salad goes together in no time--especially if you use a mandolin to shred the sprouts. The smoked sweet paprika adds great flavor to the vinaigrette and contrasts nicely with the dried cranberries. The wheat berries are nice and chewy, making this a satisfying salad or side dish and making me realize I need to cook with wheat berries more--I forgot how good they are. ;-) The recipe directions say to serve immediately, but it also tastes good cold and I'll be noshing on the leftovers for lunch. I would make this again.

What's a grain you want to cook with more often?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sage and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes: A Side Dish to Be Grateful For...

With it being Thanksgiving week here in the states, we have an "Attitude of Gratitude" for our theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Which foods are we grateful for? Which recipes represent a bountiful table? For me, it has always been the side dishes at Thanksgiving that hold the highest place in my heart (after my family and friends of course!). Give me big helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and I am pretty content, so I picked the Sage and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros to try.

Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food for me and this one combines some of my favorite ingredients; garlic, sage and rosemary. I did put a vegan spin on the dish and upped the herbs and garlic. My changes are in red below.

Tessa says, "You can make these plain without the herb-flavored oil, if you like. This is easy and once you get past the idea that there might be more dishes to wash. it's quick to make. There is really nothing to compare with a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes on your plate, especially with a stewy, saucy dish..."

Sage and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 4)

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I used Yukon Gold)
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and squashed a bit (I used 3 cloves)
2 sage sprigs (I used 3 large sprigs)
1 rosemary sprig (I used 2 sprigs)
4 1/2 Tbsp butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
4 Tbsp heavy whipped cream (I used non-dairy creamer)
salt (optional)
(I added black pepper)

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook them for about 20 minutes, until you can pierce right through them and they look frayed around the edges. Drain well.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the garlic, sage, and rosemary, and cook over medium heat for just long enough to lightly flavor the oil. Add the potato chunks and sauté for a few minutes so that they are well coated in oil and absorb the flavors.

Heat the butter, milk and cream in a small saucepan just until the butter has melted. Pass just the potatoes (I left some of the sage in with the potatoes) through a food mill into a bowl, or mash with a potato masher. Add the hot milk mixture and fluff it through with a wooden spoon, trying not to over mix but keeping it light and fluffy. Add a little extra milk and cream if it seems too stiff, and add salt if needed. Serve immediately.

Notes/Results: These are silky, fluffy decadent clouds of herby mashed potato heaven. (In other words I REALLY liked them) ;-) They are definitely an indulgence not a health food with all the butter and cream, but I did at least cut the saturated fat by making them vegan and dairy-free with Earth Balance "butter" spread, almond milk and a non-dairy creamer. I knew from reading the recipe that I would want a more assertive presence from the garlic, sage and rosemary so I increased the amounts and it made it perfect for me. I could definitely taste the flavors I wanted but they were not overpowering. I also left some of the sage in with the potatoes when I mashed them--nothing wrong with some bites of crispy sage in my book. These potatoes stand on their own just fine, but will work well with the vegan mushroom gravy I am making for Thursday. I will make them again, happily,for special occasions or really bad days.

You can check out what foods make the other IHCC peeps feel grateful by going to the post here and following the links.

What foods are you grateful for?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier): A Classic Soup and a Book Review of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Back from Paris and her Le Cordon Bleu training, Kathleen Flinn impulsively follows a woman and her daughter around the grocery store watching as their cart is loaded up with processed food. An impromptu cooking and shopping lesson followed, and an idea was born to teach a group of volunteers who have little skill and comfort in the kitchen how to cook and feed their families and themselves and not rely on the processed and packaged foods that are making Americans fat and unhealthy. In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks, author Flinn chronicles the cooking lessons and the impact they have on the nine women she finds to take part in her journey. We meet each of the nine volunteers as Flinn films and interviews them, looking into their kitchens and having them cook a "normal" meal for her.

Starting with the basics of how to choose and hold a knife to cut vegetables and then cooking those veggies, the group moves through the basics of meat, chicken and fish, baking bread and making pasta dishes, eggs and omelets, soups, etc. Probably the chapter with the most impact for me about not wasting food and using leftovers. On average, Americans throw out about 30-40% of the food they buy according to Flinn's research. Although I guesstimate I throw out less, any amount is really too much and I can do much better. I put into practice an exercise Flinn did where she put a post it note with the cost of the food on items that were slowly expiring in her fridge and pantry so that she would understand the cost if she threw them away. For myself, having this recognition that I am not just tossing a mango that fell to the back of the veggie drawer, but instead I am putting a dollar bill and some change in the trash can has made a big impact and made me more creative in using my ingredients. The impact of all of the lessons is seen at the end of the book as after the program Flinn returns to view the kitchens and see and hear the changes that have occurred in how the volunteers now cook and view food.

The book sprinkles in recipes at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book, including some of the recipes learned in each lesson, as well as other simple recipes from Flinn to illustrate some of the key moments. I chose to make the Leek & Potato Soup because it is a favorite of mine and I had a large organic potato that was looking a little "worn" as well as some leftover non-dairy creamer to use up. (Waste not, want not.) ;-)

I enjoyed Finn's first book about her Le Cordon Bleu experiences, "The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry," but I liked this book even more. There is a something in it for the experienced cook as well as the novice. My only complaint was in the formatting of the book for Kindle (I received a Kindle copy to review), and the way the sources were annotated and the footnotes were somewhat messy and distracting--this would not be a problem in a written copy. Overall, a worthy read.

Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher but as always, my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

And on to the soup...

Flinn says, "This is inexpensive French soul food. If leeks aren't available, try sweet onions."

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier)
From "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" by Kathleen Flinn
(Makes about 4 to 6 Servings)

3 medium leeks
2 Tbsp butter (I used Earth Balance)
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf and 1 tsp dried thyme, or a bouquet garni
2 quarts water, or chicken or vegetable stock (I used veggie stock)
1 cup whipping cream, or 2 Tbsp butter, softened (I used non-dairy creamer)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
cayenne to taste (optional) (I used smoked paprika)
3 Tbsp minced parsley or chives

Prepare the leeks by discarding the roots and the tough green upper stalks. Slice, then rinse them in water to remove any residual dirt. In a 4-quart or larger saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, then sauté the leeks for about 5 minutes, until they are softened and translucent. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, thyme or bouquet garni, and water or stock. Simmer for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaf. Break down the vegetables with a fork or a potato masher, or puree in a blender. Return to the heat. Add the whipping cream or 2 tablespoons of butter. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of cayenne if desired. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives and a couple of cranks of black pepper.

Notes/Results: Silky, rich and full of flavor--this recipe affirms how much I love a good leek and potato soup. It's the perfect soup to snuggle up with on a gloomy day. Leek and Potato Soup is one of the easiest and most delicious soups to make. Flinn notes that you can replace the leek with onions, but I encourage you to use leeks if you can--their delicate sweetness adds so much to the soup. I made my soup dairy-free by using veggie broth, Earth Balance in place of butter, and non-dairy creamer, but the beauty of it is that you can adjust it to your ingredients and tastes. The cayenne adds a nice kick, or I like to put a little smoky hot paprika in instead. I also like my soup a little chunky so before adding the creamer, I scooped out about half of the soup, blended the remainder with my immersion blender, then mixed the chunks back in and added the creamer. This soup smells heavenly enough while cooking that my mail carrier wanted to know what I was making and then asked me to tell her how to make it.

Speaking of soups, we have a few lovely ones waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look.

Janet from The Taste Space is here with a colorful Brazilian Black Bean and Vegetable Stew and says, "This stew is filled to the max with colourful veggies (sweet potato, red pepper, green pepper, tomato, kale) on a background of black beans. Garlic, cumin and thyme flavour the broth. While I cooked the stew, it was also spiced with orange zest. I was worried it would be overpowering. It wasn’t until I added the final hit of lime juice that I was seriously satisfied with my beautiful and delicious stew."

Tigerfish from Teczcape-An Escape to Food has been helping her fractured elbow heal with bone broth soups like this Oxtail Soup. She says, "This is my first time cooking oxtail and for similar reasons, the purpose is to drink up the "collagen" and minerals (calcium, iron, etc.) that hopefully helps me heal faster. Why did I choose oxtail? It can be beef shanks, other bone parts too. Oxtail is bony and gelatinous too, and usually takes a long time to cook till fork-tender. If it means requiring a relatively longer duration to cook, it also means they contain more connective tissues, muscle fibers and collagen. These days, I am super sensitive to such words related to the bone. :D"

Kat of Our Adventures in Japan made Creamy Tomato Soup and says, "I recently purchased a copy of Ellie Krieger's "Comfort Food Fix". I haven't "read" through the whole book yet, but since I wanted to make tomato soup for dinner, I flipped through to see if she had a recipe...she did. I didn't follow the whole recipe, just parts. the original recipe called for chives, cream and garlic. I thought adding garlic would be a little too strong a flavor, so I left it out and added thyme instead. I didn't want to go and buy cream, so I subbed skim milk. And I didn't have chives so I used Italian parsley instead.I liked how easily this soup came together and it was tasty too."

Joanne of Eats Well With Others had a not so successful and somewhat stressful go at at vegetarian Thanksgiving dish but that didn't stop her from trying this healthy Swiss Chard, Chickpea and Tamarind Stew. She says, "This dish may be the epitome of all things healthy, but it, unlike my disgusting side dish attempt, does not skimp on flavor. It is tart and a bit sweet from the tamarind and tomatoes...and so good that you'll actually find yourself wanting to eat your greens. Fancy that."

Wonderful friends and delicious soupy creations. Thanks to Janet, Tigerfish, Kat and Joanne for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts: Easy, Healthy Fall Fare

Are you a Brussels sprouts fan or foe? I didn't like them much myself until I started blogging and Tyler Florence got me to love them with his Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pancetta and Cranberries. Since then I have made them with bacon, in soups, with lemon and poppy seed and have grown a little more fond of them each time I eat them

The November/December issue of Eating Well had quite a few "taggable" recipes that I wanted to make, but the one that I kept going back to was the Garlic Roasted Salmon with Brussels Sprouts. It's a one pan dish, simple, made in my underused roasted pan, and full of the flavors of garlic and oregano.

You can also find this recipe on the Eating Well website: here.

Eating Well says, "Roasting salmon on top of Brussels sprouts and garlic, flavored with wine and fresh oregano, is a meal that is simple enough for a weeknight meal yet sophisticated enough to serve to company. Serve with whole-wheat couscous."

Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts
Eating Well November/December 2011
(Makes 6 Servings)
Active Time 25 min / Total Time 45 min

14 large cloves garlic, divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
6 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
3/4 cup white wine, preferably Chardonnay
2 pounds wild-caught salmon fillet, skinned, cut into 6 portions
lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mince 2 garlic cloves and combine in a small bowl with oil, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Halve the remaining garlic and toss with Brussels sprouts and 3 tablespoons of the seasoned oil in a large roasting pan. Roast, stirring once, for 15 minutes.

Add wine to the remaining oil mixture. Remove the pan from oven, stir the vegetables and place salmon on top. Drizzle with the wine mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oregano and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Bake until the salmon is just cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges.

Per serving: 334 calories; 15 g fat ( 3 g sat , 9 g mono ); 71 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 33 g protein; 3 g fiber; 485 mg sodium; 921 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin C (107% daily value), Potassium (27% dv), Vitamin A (20% dv), Folate (19% dv), Magnesium (17% dv)

Carbohydrate Servings: 1/2
Exchanges: 1 vegetable, 4 lean meat, 2 fat

Notes/Results: Wonderful flavor. The fresh oregano, enough cloves of garlic to stop a vampire, ;-) and crisp white wine combine well for a savory and really tasty dish. Besides a little peeling and chopping in the beginning, this recipe goes together very quickly and effortlessly. The only change I would make is that I would have caramelized my sprouts just a smidge more before adding the salmon. Otherwise I wouldn't change anything. The magazine recommends serving it with whole wheat couscous but I ended up just eating it without a starch and was perfectly satisfied. A great little recipe that I will make again.

So..., Brussels sprouts--do you love them or leave them?