Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Asian Pesto Udon--Something a Bit Different for Food 'N Flix: Ramen Girl

OK, this recipe might have you scratching your head when you read the ingredient list--smoked almonds, ginger and coconut milk along with soy sauce and brown rice vinegar might seem like an odd combination for a pesto but it is the genius of Eric Gower and one of my favorite cookbooks, "The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes." If you can find a copy of it or his other more recent book, "The Breakaway Cook: Recipes That Break Away from the Ordinary," I highly recommend them both. The guy is a master of mixing diverse ingredients and flavors to create unique, tasty dishes, and this Asian Pesto Udon is a great example.

I know you were probably expecting a big bowl of Ramen to represent this month's Food N' Flix film Ramen Girl but I've been there, done that. I first saw this movie about a year and a half ago and did a dinner and a movie post with a Tyler Florence ramen recipe here .

My first interpretation of the movie: Tyler Florence's Chicken Noodle Ramen Soup

This time I thought I would change it up a bit with a different kind of noodle. Udon are a thicker, wheat-based noodle rather than the thin, crinkly ramen. I buy a fully-cooked udon, made in Hawaii out of the refrigerated case that just needs to be heated, so this recipe took just minutes to prepare. (Gotta love that!)

Gower says, "A satisfying and easy sauce that can be made in less time than it takes to boil the water. It's equally good hot or cold. Hot version: heat the sauce, serve over hot udon. Cold version: make the sauce, chill it, plunge the just-cooked noodles into ice water, and mix. Either way it's nice with a chilled glass of dry riesling or semillon blend."

Asian Pesto Udon
"The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen" by Eric Gower
(Serves 2)

1/2 cup smoked (or roasted) almonds (I used "smokehouse almonds")
3 Tbsp fresh ginger, diced
1 Tbsp walnut (or other light) oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar (or other vinegar)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
udon for 2, about about 1/2 lb (225 g)
1 cup cilantro, chopped (or to taste)

Set a pot of water to boil for the udon. Combine everything except the cilantro in a blender and blend. When the water boils, add the udon and cook until al dente, and then drain. Transfer the sauce from the blender to the pot, add the udon, and mix. Taste for salt, top with the cilantro, and serve in warm bowls.

Notes/Results: A little smoky--I used "smokehouse" almonds, a little kick of ginger and creaminess from the almonds and the coconut milk, this is a unique sauce that tastes great on the thick noodles. I tried it both hot and cold and I am not sure which way I like it best--texturally I preferred it warm, but some of the flavors like the ginger seem to come out more when it is cold. I liked this a lot, it is different but really good. The sauce, thinned out a bit would make a great dressing too. So quick, easy and flavorful, I will make this again.

Aren't my $1.99 chopsticks cute? Love the shiny dragonflies. ;-)

So, a review of the movie? Here's what I said in my original post (I'll be honest--I didn't watch it again): "A girl needs a good chick flick now and then, something light and fluffy, where you don't have to think--a feel good movie. I ended up needing one last Friday; I was tired, grumpy, stuffy from allergies and needed a low-effort evening. In one of my Netflix envelopes was "The Ramen Girl", a total chick flick, and seeing the name of the movie made me crave some ramen to eat while I watched it.

Brittany Murphy is Abby, an American alone in Tokyo after her boyfriend breaks up with her and leaves her stranded there. Finding comfort in a bowl of hot ramen from a noodle shop across from her apartment in Japan, and searching for some direction in life, she trains to be a ramen noodle chef under the tutelage of the surly and usually drunk owner and ramen "master". It's not the best movie you'll ever watch, it is complete fluff; the acting just OK, the story improbable at best, but it is sweet and cute."

In addition to Food 'N Flix (BTW--you can stop by the site & see the round up for Ramen Girl in December),

I am also sending this easy unique pasta dish to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by its fabulous creator, Ruth at Once Upon A Feast.

And I'm linking it to the Hearth 'N Soul Blog Hop hosted by hosted by my pal girlichef as well as A Moderate Life, Hunger and Thirst, and Frugality and Crunchiness wth Christy, and Alternative Health and Nutrition News.

Hope you are having a fabulous week. ;-)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brazilian Chicken Soup (Canja) for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays & Regional Recipes

Everything month when the country for the Regional Recipes event, hosted by my friend Joanne at Eats Well With Others is announced I have the same simple goals--I won't wait until the last minute to choose something to make and it won't be a soup. But come the end of the month, it happens--I am scrambling to make something and it is almost always soup. What can you do?!? Procrastination and soup are intertwined in my soul! ;-)

This month the country is Brazil and I am making a classic bowl of comfort: Brazilian Chicken Soup (or Canja as it is known in Portuguese). Basically it is a basic chicken and rice soup and something your Brazilian mom or grandma might make for you. This one comes from
"Soup's On!: Soul-Satisfying Recipes from Your Favorite Cookbook Authors and Chefs" by Leslie Jonath and Frankie Frankeny. A great book by the way if you love creative soups from chefs like Mark Bittman, Alice Waters, Charlie Trotter, and more.

"Soup's On" says, "This chicken soup or canja, as it is called in Portuguese, is the Brazilian grandmother's cure-all. This recipe, by cookbook author and historian Jessica Harris, is adapted from her book Tasting Brazil."

Brazilian Chicken Soup (Canja)
From "Soup's On!" by Leslie Jonath and Frankie Frankeny

(Serves 6)

half a 3- to 4-pound chicken
4 medium, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped (including 1 1/2 tablespoons leaves)
1 sprig fresh parsley, minced
3 large carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken, tomatoes, onion, celery, and parsley into a large stockpot. Add 2 quarts water, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the broth is flavorful, about 1 hour. Remove the soup from the heat.

Remove the chicken from the stock and let it cool. When it is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones. Set the meat aside and discard the bones and skin.

Put the cooking liquid and vegetables through a food mill (or you can use an immersion blender) to obtain a thick, rich chicken stock.

Return the stock to the pot, add the reserved chicken meat, carrots, rice, and 2 cups water to the pot. Place it on medium heat and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or a bit longer if you like mushy rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Notes/Results: Simple but good, sure to make you feel better if you are sick, sad or tired and it makes your kitchen smell like home when it is cooking. I had a good, thick and hearty homemade chicken stock already in my freezer, so I started with the final steps, adding some chopped rotisserie chicken breast and adding a little celery to the carrot and rice mix. This was the perfect light dinner on a breezy night--perfect for the after-Thanksgiving detox. I would make this again.

Joanne will be rounding up all the Brazilian fare on the Regional Recipes site after the first of the month.

Due to the busy Thanksgiving holiday week, we are a little slower in the Souper Sunday kitchen today (actually kind of a nice little holiday break for me), ;-) but we still have some very delicious soups and a hearty sandwich to share--let's take a look.

Lovely Roz at la bella vita kicks us off with her mother's version of the Italian classic Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup) and says, "My parents may not have enjoyed abundance when they were growing up as children of immigrants, but their mothers kept the kitchen aromas filling their homes, as pots of soups or pasta simmered slowly on the stove. My father said they had Pasta e Fagioli soup nearly every night for dinner when my grandfather was a coal miner in the Midwest. Nothing represents love and comfort as much as a simple, hearty warm soup and some bread to sop it up with! Although this soup was considered the food of the poor, one certainly is never hungry after one full bowl; it is that satisfying. Plus soup is so restorative to our health and our souls!"

Always creative Reeni at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice came up with a new way to eat spaghetti squash with her Spaghetti Squash and Mini Meatball Soup with Roasted Red Peppers. Reeni says, "The broth is drenched with the flavor of aromatics including onion, garlic, roasted red and green bell peppers. It is the perfect backdrop for the tender little orbs of mini meatball deliciousness and the squash spaghetti which makes up the bulk of the soup by adding great body and texture. My father was quite impressed with the entire concept and summed things up best when he asked "Who else do you know that is making spaghetti squash and meatball soup?" A quick Google search turned up nothing, making it a truly unique original that I hope I've inspired you to try!"

A win by her favorite college team is the inspiration for girlichef to celebrate with her warming Spartan (Green & White) Chili. She says, "My boys are Big Ten Champs!! Go Spartans!! Okay, we're tied for first, but I'll take it. This chili is perfect for a game day. We warmed up with a bowl while tailgating...and refueled with a bowl during half time. There's nothing a little GREEN and WHITE can't fix. Not today, at least. Serve topped with any or all of the garnishes. Keeps well in a warm crockpot all day long. Tastes even better after sitting (in the refrigerator) overnight and then re-heated! Go Green! Go White!"

Kim at Liv Life puts her Thanksgiving leftovers to good use with this gorgeous bowl of goodness and says, "With many of us here in America cooking Turkey, leftovers are another thing to be thankful for! Garlicky Tortellini Soup is a perfect vehicle for some of your spare turkey, and a simple, satisfying meal to toss together when you may not really feel like cooking. Filled with ingredients that you most likely have in your pantry or freezer, this fragrant soup goes together in record time, and if you make enough, will provide its own leftovers for another day." Kim's beautiful soup photo made the FoodBuzz Top 9 yesterday--Congrats Kim!

Speaking of hearty and gorgeous soups, Nicole at Cocoa and Coriander made a warm-your-belly, Bacon Tomato Soup and says, "I have had a recipe for Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque bookmarked since it first showed up on my Google reader. I decided to try and make it tonight because of the fact that I have bacon in my refrigerator for once, but I needed a simpler recipe (mostly because fresh tomatoes are way too expensive when they aren't in season). The version I adapted from is creamy in consistency but lacks the dairy that would make it a bisque. It is really just a simple tomato soup, but the bacon adds a nice smoky, saltiness. Matt made a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches that we cut into 1 inch squares and served on top of the soup. Perfect!"

Along with our soups, we have a made-healthier, but not necessarily better Fish Po'Boy sandwich from Michelle at Ms. Enplace. She says, "Most seafood po'boys are loaded with fried seafood and fatty tartar sauce. Mmmm...fatty tartar sauce. And if I want to keep you thinkin that I'm some hot little number (ha! sucker!) I need to lay off all that and eat like a grown up. So I decided to be sensible and lighten them up. I did this some time ago, but other more seasonal things kept cutting in line. That gave me time to think about what I've done. And learn my lesson ...which is not to mess with a good thing. Is it wrong to want a po'boy just for the tartar sauce?"

A few fabulous soups and even a sammie too--thanks to Roz, Reeni, Heather, Kim, Nicole and Michelle for joining in this holiday week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the guidelines and details.

Have a great week!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fall-Inspired Chop Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (Or When Life Gives You Hickory Farms Cheese & Summer Sausage, Make Salad)

Last week the UPS man delivered a large box to my door and inside was a Hickory Farms"Home For The Holidays" box--full of 3 Summer Sausages, 4 kinds of cheese, crackers and two kinds of mustard. Thanks to the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program and Hickory Farms, I had enough for multiple holiday gatherings. Besides enjoying it with friends, I wondered how else I could use some of the bounty and my thoughts ran to a Fall-Inspired Chop Salad. I love a good chop salad with lots of even-sized bites full of different ingredients, tastes and textures.

I used the Hickory Farms Summer Sausage, two of the cheeses, a can of garbanzo beans and veggies (cucumber, radish, tomato and romaine) from the fridge, and added a few fall touches like fresh pear and candied nuts. I dressed the salad in one of my favorite dressings, a Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (using both kinds of the mustard in the box). This a hearty salad with the flavors of fall. No Hickory Farms gift box? A chop salad is still a good way to use up any extra cheese and salami and other goodies in your fridge after a holiday party.

Fall-Inspired Chop Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 12 cups of salad)

1 heaping cup Summer Sausage or salami, chopped (I used a mix of Beef Summer Sausage and Italian Recipe Summer Sausage)
1 heaping cup cheese, chopped (I used Big Barn Cheddar & Creamy Havarti Blend)
1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 Japanese cucumber, chopped
3-4 large radishes, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 pear, chopped and mixed with lemon juice to maintain color
4 cups baby romaine, shredded/chopped
Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Honey-Sesame Glazed Walnuts, (recipe below)

Make sure all ingredients are chopped roughly the same size as the garbanzo beans. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl and serve with the Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette and garnish with the Honey-Sesame Glazed Walnuts.

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette
By Eating Well Magazine, Feb/March 2006
(Makes 1 1/4 Cup Dressing)

1/2 cup olive oil, or canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse-grained Dijon mustard (I used 1 Tbsp each Hickory Farms Sweet Hot Mustard & Honey Pineapple Mustard)
2 tsp soy sauce (I used 2 tsp Braggs Liquid Aminos)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Put all ingredients into a small jar and shake vigorously until well-mixed.

Per 2 Tbsp serving: 62 calories; 6 g fat (1 g sat, 1 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbs; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 92 mg sodium.

Honey-Sesame Glazed Walnuts
by Alyssa Moreau
(Makes 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup walnuts or other raw nuts like pecans or cashews
1 tsp olive oil
sea salt
2 tsp honey
1 tsp sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a saute pan heated with the olive oil. Toss the nuts in the olive oil to coat, add a pinch of sea salt, the honey and sesame seeds and stir to coat. Place on foil or parchment paper to cool.

Notes/Results: Hearty and full of lots of flavor and texture, this is a great lunch or dinner salad. You can of course use whatever meat, cheese and veggie combo you have on hand. I used some sweet candied nuts I had already made but if I were making them special for this salad, I might add a little spice to them for another layer of flavor. The Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette is from Eating Well magazine and it is excellent--its sweet-tangy combination compliments the other elements of the salad. If you aren't going to serve and eat all of the salad at once, I recommend keeping the dressing on the side and adding it as you serve. I accompanied the salad with some of the Sesame, Caraway & Sea Salt Crackers in the box. I would make this again.

Mahalo to Foodbuzz and of course to Hickory Farms for providing the gift box and giving me the opportunity to enjoy a pretty delicious salad too. ;-)

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giada's White Bean and Roasted Eggplant Hummus: A Healthy, Tasty Appetizer

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--time to make any Giada recipe we want to make. I wanted quick, easy, healthy and something good to nosh on so I chose her White Bean and Roasted Eggplant Hummus. I loves me some hummus and this version pairs creamy cannellini beans with the eggplant for a dip that is tasty and full of fiber, potassium, iron, folate and phytonutrients.

You can find the recipe at Food Network here or there is a version on crostini in "Giada at Home" (pg 22).

White Bean and Roasted Eggplant Hummus
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis, 2008
(Makes 4 to 6 Servings)

1 (1 1/2 lb) eggplant or 3 Japanese eggplants, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
olive oil, for drizzling, plus 1/3 cup
kosher salt, for seasoning, plus 1/2 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
1 clove garlic
1 hothouse cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and place an oven rack in the middle.

Place the eggplant on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooled eggplant, beans, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add 1/3 cup of olive oil until the mixture is creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Place the hummus in a dipping bowl and serve with the cucumber slices. Alternatively, spoon the hummus over the cucumber slices and arrange on a serving platter.

Notes/Results: Creamy texture and great flavor with the roasted eggplant, garlic and lemon, it is basically like a cross between hummus and baba ghanoush and a great addition to my hummus collection. ;-) I made this to the recipe except that I roasted 3 cloves of garlic along with the eggplant--I almost always add extra garlic to recipes and why not roast it first since the oven is already going and get that great mellow garlic flavor. I served it with cucumbers (mine were local Japanese cucumbers) as Giada recommends in the recipe and it is a good pairing, but of course it is even more delicious with some good bread. It also makes an excellent sandwich spread. Always good to have another easy, delicious holiday appetizer recipe in your back pocket, and this one is definitely a keeper that I will make again.

You can see what the other IHCC participants made for Potluck by going to the post here and following the links.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Books & Treats: Book Reviews of Four Fun Mystery / Thrillers & "Brass Bound Trunk Candy" from "The Nancy Drew Cookbook"

In addition to the stack of review cookbooks in my living room, I have a large stack of non-cookbook review books by my bedside that is also a little out of control. Not a terrible problem to have for a book lover like me--other than the fact that I would really love to blow off all of my responsibilities and just shut myself away and read for a week or two solid. But since I can't I have been trying to get through them all, a little at a time each night--which is a bit challenging on the sleep front when one gets caught up in a good suspense novel. I just worked my way through a quartet of mystery/thrillers--each book a little bit different but all with a strong female protagonist, be she a police lieutenant, private investigator, assistant US attorney, or even a warehouse shipping manager.

Since this is a food blog, I like to accompany all book reviews with a recipe and where better to find one than by going to the original female sleuth, Nancy Drew, and "The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking" by Carolyn Keene. A fun little cookbook holding space in the vintage/retro section of my cookbook collection.

Since that brilliant idea struck on a Sunday afternoon when I didn't want to run to the store, I chose a recipe that I had all the ingredients for (including a sad little can of sweetened condensed milk that has been in my pantry for quite some time). Brass Bound Trunk Candy (named for #17 in the Nancy Drew series, "The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk"), is a super-sweet, retro-style confection that is simple to make. Cut it small--it is so sweet that just a little piece will do you, and pull up a chair while we review a few good books.

Brass Bound Trunk Candy
"The Nancy Drew Cookbook" by Carolyn Keene
(Makes about 24-30 pieces depending on size you cut)

16 oz semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup dry oatmeal
1/3 cup any kind of chopped nuts, unsalted (less than a 3 oz package)
1/4 cup flaked coconut

Put water in the bottom of a double boiler and bring to a slow boil. In the top of the boiler melt chocolate pieces. Then add the condensed milk, vanilla, salt, oatmeal, chopped nuts, and coconut to the melted chocolate. Stir until well blended.

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan. Spread the candy mixture in the greased pan. Put in the refrigerator to chill. When the candy is firm, cut into squares.

A fun little candy to add to a holiday candy tray, and one you can adapt (different nuts, dried, fruit, no coconut, etc.) to your tastes.

And now on to the book reviews...

"The Immortals" by J.T. Ellison is the fifth book in her Taylor Jackson series and a creepy thriller that keeps the reader engrossed, even if like me, you haven't read the first four books. On Halloween (called Samhain--the Blood Harvest by believers in the occult), eight teenagers are found dead, with symbols of pentacles carved into their chests. Homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her team have to solve the crime quickly to calm a terrified city and have to delve into the murky world of witchcraft to find the killers. There are lots of twists and turns in this book and it was hard to put down--even at night. So much so that I ordered the first four books to read more from this author and to get more in-depth on the back stories of Taylor and her team. If you like fast-paced crime fiction, you will like this book.

Keeping with a paranormal theme but moving it to romantic suspense is Darynda Jones debut, "First Grave on the Right." Charley Davidson sees dead people, something that helps her in her part-time investigator role and helps her solve murders for her uncle, a detective with the Albuquerque police department. Charley's full-time calling however, is a Grim Reaper, helping the dead cross over into the light. Her latest case involves three lawyers from the same firm that are murdered and want Charlie to find their killer. It's been a tough week for Charlie and it isn't helping that she is distracted by and having some pretty hot and sexy dreams involving a mysterious Entity that has been following her all of her life. This book is very well-written, it's funny, sexy, full of a cast of memorable characters, and since it is the first book kicking off a new series, I am eagerly awaiting the next one--I want to read more about Charley and her friends--those living, dead and supernatural. ;-)

We leave the paranormal world and enter a equally scary one--the justice system in Washington DC. Another debut novel, "The Law of Attraction" by Allison Leotta, follows Anna Curtis, a newly assigned Assistant US Attorney in the domestic violence division. As a new AUSA, Anna is assigned to "papering" duty--turning arrests into criminal case files, when she meets Laprea Jones, badly beaten yet again by her boyfriend. At trial, Laprea lies on the stand to free her boyfriend and ends up dead shortly after and Anna works to bring the murderer to justice--struggling with her own guilt abut the case, her past and her current relationship which happens to be with Laprea's boyfriend's attorney. This book gives a inside look at the criminal justice system (the author is a federal prosecutor in DC), and is a good suspenseful whodunit with lots of twists and turns.

Finally, we move to an unlikely setting for a thriller, a shipping company in Oregon, and an unlikely heroine warehouse shipping manager Deborah Strickland. In "Shipping and Deceiving" by Tina deCoux, Deb has made her work her life, not letting many people into her confidence and her wold. The stress and pace of her job only gets worse during the holidays and Deb hires a new employee as extra help, finding herself caught in an escalating series of strange situations that culminate in the murder of a truck driver at the warehouse. Deb has to find the killer before she or one of her employees becomes the net victim. I received this book in a giveaway at GoodReads and wasn't sure I would really like it at first, but I ended up getting involved in the characters and story and ended up enjoying it. There are good characters and good twists and turns in the plot that kept me involved. This book is the second in a trilogy of warehouse mysteries, but stands on its own just fine.

So, a little candy and a few great reads. If the weather is yucky where you are or you need a break from the holiday prepping, consider curling up with one of these books. We all need a little "girl power" and a little mystery and suspense in our lives. ;-)

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: As mentioned, I received all of these books free, either as giveaways or to read and possibly review, but there was no monetary compensation and of course the opinions in the reviews are my own as a reader and lover of the written word.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kabocha Squash Soup with Toasted Cumin and Chile for "Simple Comforts" Review and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Have I mentioned the large pile of review books that has been steadily growing taller in my house? I am so behind! I usually try to "road test" at least four to five recipes from each book before reviewing, but time is not on my side so you may see some reviews with one or two recipes as I struggle to catch up. This little cookbook, "Simple Comforts: 50 Heart Warming Recipes" by Sur la Table made it's way to the top of the pile this week and I'm glad it did as it produced a delicious, sunny-hued bowl of Kabocha Squash Soup with Toasted Cumin and Chiles, that we will talk more about in a minute.

I used to haunt the original Sur la Table store when I lived in Seattle and when they author a cookbook, you know it is going to include some delicious recipes. "Simple Comforts" follows the premise that we all crave comfort food because comfort foods are "the best things about childhood in edible form"--so true!

The book has sections on Sweet Breads, Savory Breads, Soups, Stews, and Sandwiches, Main Dishes, Side Dishes, and Desserts. Recipes I tagged to make included Banana Chocolate Chip Bread with Chocolate Icing, Parmesan-Herb Popovers, Tomato Soup with Saffron Cream, Stilton-Stuffed Burgers with Caramelized Red Onions in Balsamic Vinegar, Luxuriously Retro Beef Stroganoff, Apple and Ginger Spiced Sweet Potatoes, and Apricot-Cherry Almond Cobbler. Drooling yet?

The book includes color photos for most recipes and the recipes are easy to follow. In addition to the soup, I road tested one other recipe, these Chewy Oatmeal Cookies--simple and good, flavored with cinnamon and studded with bright cranberries. They were perfectly crispy and chewy too.

"Simple Comforts" is a great little book that would be a fun stocking stuffer or hostess gift, or paired with a casserole dish, popover pan, or cookie sheets. I'll let you know how that Banana Chocolate Chip Bread with Chocolate Icing turns out or you can try it yourself here.

And now on to the soup:

"Comfort Foods" says, "The Japanese kabocha squash is squat and round, and has nubby, dark green skin and dense, sweet flesh. Use a large heavy chef's knife to cut the squash into big chunks. Because the skin is too thick and brittle to peel, the squash is cooked and then the flesh is scooped from the skin. Pureed with coconut milk, it makes a rich, golden soup. Balance the richness with a generous addition of fresh lime juice, slivered chiles, and a shower of chopped cilantro."

Kabocha Squash Soup with Toasted Cumin and Chiles
"Simple Comforts" by Sur la Table
(Serves 4-6)

1 (4-lb) kabocha squash, cut into large chunks, seeds and membranes removed
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 (14 oz) cans light or regular coconut milk
2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 red or green jalapeno chile, halved lengthwise, seeded, and slivered crosswise
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pot with a steamer insert, steam the squash for 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove to a cutting board and cool.

Wipe the pot dry. Add the oil, place over medium-high heat, and heat the oil until hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon., for 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the cumin and cook for 30 seconds. Add the cumin and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Scoop the cooled squash from the brittle skins and add it to the pot. Stir in the coconut milk.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Add the salt and pepper.

Reheat the soup over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent sticking, until steaming. Do not allow to boil. Stir in the lime juice, half of the chile, and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish with the remaining chile and the remaining tablespoon of cilantro.

Notes/Results: I knew I would love this one as it marries the kabocha squash with some of my favorite ingredients and southwest flavors like chile, cumin, coconut milk and lime. It has a great texture and it so pretty in the bowl. I did make a couple changes--I halved and roasted my squash for about an hour in the oven instead of steaming it--I like roasted squash better and was already using my oven. I also cleaned the kabocha seeds and roasted them with olive oil and a mixture of cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt and used them to top the soup for a little crunch. A small bowl of this soup would be a great starter to a fall meal. I will make this again.

The Souper Sunday kitchen is chock-full of great recipes today, so let's take a look.

First off, I somehow skipped a soup the lovely Pam at Sidewalk Shoes made last week, so I want to make sure it goes up front and center this week. This St. John's Club Kale Soup comes from Emeril and Pam says, "It got down to 28 degrees last night people!! What happened to fall? Really, I was totally enjoying fall, not quite ready for frost on my windshield. So, anyway, FROST. Frost requires soup. Spicy, warm, comforting soup to be exact. This soup. I didn’t think there was a way to improve on a kale, bean soup, but there is. Chorizo. Just look at that amber goodness in the broth!"

Debby from A Feast For the Eyes has gotten over her aversion to butternut squash with this golden Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup inspired by a Tyler Florence version she tasted recently. She says, "This soup is not bitter, in the least. It's creamy and it doesn't have my beloved heavy cream. The acidity of the white wine and apple cider, balances out the savory of the butternut squash. The curry marries the sweet and savory with a very subtle "what is the wonderful flavor" in the background. My husband and son liked it. I'm taking some to work tomorrow and looking forward to it."

Ahkeela at Torview made a warming Indian Sambar (Lentil and Vegetable Soup), full of vegetables like eggplant, pumpkin, and carrots and flavored with red chile, fenugreek, turmeric, coriander and tamarind. She says that when making this soup you "can use any combination of these vegetables. Can also use mysoor or split red lentil instead of toor dal. Usually served with dosa."

Rachel from Rachel's Bite tried Rachel Ray's Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Stroup and says , "And I love making things like this on the weekend, when the house can smell all good while it's cooking, and then taking it for lunch. In addition, this uses broccoli raab which is something I've been trying to eat more of (dark green leafy veggies). All the flavors come together great in this dish. And in fact, it's a bit spicy! If you are sensitive to heat you may want to cut down on the chili pepper. But for me, it made it even better"

Corina from Searching for Spice made herself a Curried Bean Soup and says, "This is another of my meals for one that I make when I am home alone. Baked beans and sweetcorn are two of my husband’s worst ingredients. In his eyes I could only have made this dish worse by adding tinned tuna, which you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t . As nice as tuna is, there are too many ingredients in here already, and I doubt it would have gone quite so well with the baked beans. Anyway, I love dishes like this, partly as they are so easy, but also as they are great for using up leftover vegetables."

Nicole at Cocoa and Coriander made a Creamy Potato Porcini Soup that was perfect for a rainy day in Portland this week. She says, "The soup has a beautiful texture; it is really creamy like whipped potatoes because ... that is mostly what it is. The strongest flavor is the delicious porcini, but the marjoram and the black pepper give it a nice spicy, floral profile. This is definitely comfort food, but it has slightly complex flavors while still being simple due to the short list of ingredients."

Gwen at Simply Healthy Family has a theory that if you "give a kid a straw" they will drink anything--even healthy vegetables and tried it with this sippable Simple Chilled Gazpacho, that she makes for breakfast. Gwen says, "This is a powerhouse of vitamins and protein! So many good things for you in this zesty little glass of juice. Some of you may still be thinking, 'Gazpacho for breakfast, I don't think so.' and that's o.k. I was stubborn too once, you'll come around if you know what's good for you! I started having this for an early lunch then once I realized how yummy it was and how good it made me feel I started drinking it for breakfast, not first thing but after my coffee... first things first."

Roz from la bella vita brought back childhood memories with Pastina Chicken Soup and says, "Here's a soup that is near and dear to my heart that evokes childhood memories of my mother's cooking. Made with homemade chicken broth, it is extremely easy to prepare and will warm not only your heart but also your children's hearts. I say that this is easy with the caveat that simplicity comes after the broth is made. My mother made her version of chicken noodle soup with homemade chicken broth and tiny, tiny little pasta shaped in the form of stars . . . known as 'pastina'."

Reeni from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice tried her hand at the Olive Garden's very popular soup and says, "Recipes for Zuppa Toscana have been cropping up everywhere! On some of my very favorite blogs. Given my extreme love of soup I knew it was only a matter of time before it wound up on my dinner table.Crispy bacon and spicy Italian sausage give it sensational flavor. Meaty potatoes and fresh kale round it out to make a completely balanced meal. It has an air of indulgence to it with a finish of heavy cream. Serve it with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a wedge of crusty bread for a tasty, inspired and satisfying meal!"

It's nice to have Carla from RecipeAddict back with us this week and with this hearty Pasta e Ceci soup to share. Carla says, "I went outside of my comfort zone on this one and you know what? I was quite pleasantly surprised. This is one bowlful of fall/winter LOVE. Originally, I thought I wouldn't like this soup simply because it sounded like it needed to have sausage in it for it to be substantial enough, (even though it has garbanzo beans in it, which I love). I was so wrong! Warm, comforting, and fulfilling is all I can tell you. If you get snow where you are, this is a real warmer upper. For those of you unfamiliar, in Italian ceci is garbanzo."

Danielle from Cooking for My Peace of Mind morphed three recipes together with her own touches for this Pom-Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and says, "I love creamy soups. The weird thing is...I didn't always even know that I love them.....it just sorta snuck up on me. I especially love creamy squash soups. Butternut squash in particular. ... Now....Let me forewarn you....this is not difficult to make...but it is time consuming with several steps. It could easily be something you start one day and finish up the next...either roast the squash ahead of time or do it all up to the point where you've creamed the soup...it's up to you. With that said...let me also add that it is worth Every. Minute. Spent."

Christine from Kits Chow has a soup and sandwich combo, her Cheat's Beef and Barley Soup and Bahn Mi Op La (Vietnamese Fried Egg Sandwich). Christine says, "Nothing beats soup and a sandwich for lunch on a winter's day. I made Cheat's beef and barley soup from 2 cups of wine sauce and a piece of short rib, leftover from last night's Vietnamese braised short ribs with wine.So basically, this is a thinned sauce with bits of vegetables and barley. But my, the soup was delicious. The wine sauce gave the soup a rich flavour."

For the sandwich, she says "A friend described a sandwich she ate in Vietnam which sounded like a fried egg sandwich. She raved about it so often that I decided to make it. Note: I often do things backwards. After we had eaten the sandwich, I went online for information on bahn mi op la. I discovered that the sandwich is usually made with fried eggs and greens. Cilantro, cucumber and other greens are added to it. I'll have to remember that next time. And there will be many more times. Who knew a simple fried egg sandwich could taste so good!"

If I gave a "Soup Princess" award out, it would have to go to my pal girlichef who made three different soups this week and managed to throw in a sandwich made with egg salad too. And I thought I was soup crazy. ;-)

Starting with a childhood favorite revised and improved, her Chicken Corn Chowder, girlichef says, "I have this almost unexplainable excitement over certain foods. Foods that remind me of that remind me of something I loved so much as a child. I mean, I guess it's not unexplainable...everybody gets those flashes of nostalgia, right? But when I hear these three words together----chicken---corn---chowder----a certain giddiness washes over me! ... Go ahead. Grab a big bowl of nostalgia. There's nothing quite as sweet."

Next, girlichef tried her hand at the Brazilian classic Caldo Verde. She says, "It happened on a familiar visit at one of my regular haunts, Souper Sundays. I was just there...taking in the soups, fantasizing over oxtails...when I spied it. Wish you were here. It was so seductive with its white creamy potato base peeking out from the dark green kale that surrounded it. There were even a few pieces of golden-orange chorizo nestled on top. I just know I got googly eyes."

Her third soup, Spicy Southwest Tortilla Soup was made with a FoodBuzz Tastemaker trial of Pace picante sauce. girlichef says, "I knew immediately that I would use it for a quick version of Tortilla Soup...you know me...I'm on a quest and all. The result? "I liked it! It had a great amount of heat and the corn and beans added some great texture. The picante sauce was a quick, simple way to add a lot of flavor with no effort."

Finally, she had three successes with her soups but not so much on the sandwich, Giada's Egg Salad with Gorgonzola and Bacon. girlichef says, "I love gorgonzola. And bacon. And a good hard-boiled egg. And I think if I had just stuck to these and left out that questionable lemon zest, the world from my eyes may have been okay. But I told myself I was gonna let Giada have her way this week. I was gonna go ahead and add that zest to the egg salad. Blyyyeeccchhh! Yucka. Serious yucka. Sure, I ate a whole sammich. I hate wasting food."
Ah well, three out of four at least. ;-)

And we of course have a couple of lovely salads this week. The first, from Janet at The Taste Space, is this colorful and filling Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa Salad. She says, "Here, I made a Mexican quinoa salad bursting with flavour from tomatoes, green onions and black beans with a minty-lime vinaigrette. The flavour depends entirely on the flavour of your fresh tomatoes. The dressing is a bit subtle, but a nice supporting cast. The salad is deceivingly filling, so I ate it as a main course salad."

Megha at Live to eat!!! has a tasty, crunchy Mixed Salad with Peanut Dressing and says, "I'm not a big fan of peanut butter and this is not the famous Indonesian salad, Gado Gado. My visit to the Farmers Market on Sunday, motivated me to prepare a pest-free salad. I do give some credit to the lady selling salad at a food counter in the Farmers Market for cropping the peanut dressing idea...... I've used peanuts before in a dry powdered form; but never have I used it as a paste. Though I have tasted peanut chutney and raita made of chutney, which is mostly coconut and mint based, common in South India; but never have I thought of using it in a salad. There are no restrictions on what kind of veggies you would like to use...go ahead and use anything that you like or prefer."

Wow--so many delicious soups, salads and sandwiches to choose from this week! Mahalo (thank you) to everyone who joined in! 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 great week!