Weekly Winner: It’s Ugly, but C’est Magnifique!

mushroom soupI realize that this week’s Weekly Winner is not going to win any beauty awards.  It really isn’t much to look at — a bowl of grayish-brown liquid.  Yum!  Although what it may lack in presentation, believe me it makes up for in taste.

Paris Mushroom Soup is one of my standard, go-to winter soup recipes.  It is always in heavy rotation in this house.  It is one of the most satisfying, earthy, complex and luscious soups I make.  And if you are a fan of mushrooms, once you start making this soup you will come to crave it on a regular basis.

The recipe comes from my cooking bible – Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.  My copy of this cookbook has more sticky-notes, dog-eared and food-stained pages than any other cookbook I own.  I adore this book.  The recipes are amazingly easy to follow and the dishes just always seem to come out better than expected. What I truly love about this book are the stories and descriptions of the dishes.  Every recipe has some little side note or back story that instantly transports me to France — what more can you ask for?  OK, maybe a prettier soup.  But the true beauty lies in the taste. Bon Appetit!

Paris Mushroom Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the Soup:

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1-1/2 large onions, coarsely chopped

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1-1/2 lbs white mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 parsley sprigs

1 rosemary sprig

6 cups chicken broth

For the Salad:

6 large white mushrooms, wiped clean and trimmed

2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (optional)

1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

1 Tbsp minced fresh chives

Crème fraiche, for serving (she says its optional – it’s not)

Instructions

To make the soup: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large Dutch oven over low heat.  Toss in the onions and garlic, season with salt and white pepper, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.  Add the mushrooms and the remaining tablespoon of butter, raise the heat to medium, and cook, continuing to stir, for another 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms release their liquid.  Increase the heat to high and cook until almost all of the liquid evaporates.  Pour in the wine and let it boil until it, too, almost evaporates.

Toss the herbs into the pot, add the broth, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover the pot almost completely, and cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes.  Pull out herb stalks.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor.  Taste for salt and white pepper.  Pour the soup back into the pot and heat it gently – it shouldn’t boil, but it should be very hot.

To make the salad and serve: Divide the mushrooms, scallions (if using), parsley, and chives among six soup bowls; season lightly with salt and white pepper. Ladle the soup into the bowls, and top each with a dollop of crème fraiche, if desired. (Trust me, it is desired)

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Weekly Winner: Sweet & Sour (and Surprisingly Spicy) Pork Stir-Fry!

sweet and sour porkActually, now that I think about it…. there really wasn’t much in the way of sour.  It was mostly sweet and spicy pork — fabulous, but a bit of a surprise.  The dish, while attractive and relatively easy, looks like your run-of-the-mill sweet and sour stir fry but yet, I am always surprised when I make this at how complex it tastes and, holy cow! it packs a bit of a punch.  Do not be fooled by its charming good looks and succulent pieces of pineapple.  It sneaks up on you.  As long as you’re OK with that — by all means, whip up this dish and enjoy.  The recipe originally comes from Cuisine at Home magazine but I have tweaked it just a bit over time — this is my version.

Sweet & Sour Pork Stir-Fry

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the Sauce:

1 can pineapple juice (6 oz)

1 Tablespoon chili garlic sauce

3 Tablespoons each rice vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar

2 Tablespoons each dry sherry and cornstarch

For the Pork:

1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed, cut into 2-inch chunks – seasoned with salt and pepper

3 Tablespoons canola oil, divided

For the Stir-Fry:

1 Tbsp each minced fresh ginger and garlic

2 red bell peppers, cut length-wise into ¼ inch strips

1 cup thinly sliced carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups snow peas, trimmed

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts separated, cut into 1-inch bias-sliced pieces

1 cup cubed fresh pineapple

Whole cashews

Instructions

For the sauce – whisk together all ingredients in a bowl until smooth; set aside

For the pork – sear pork in 2 tablespoons oil in two batches in a wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat until browned, 5 minutes per bath.  Transfer pork to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Wipe wok clean.

Stir-fry ginger and garlic in one tablespoon oil in same wok over medium-high heat until fragrant, 30 seconds.  Add bell pepper and carrot; stir-fry 2-3 minutes.  Add snow peas and scallion whites; stir-fry 1-2 minutes.

Add pineapple and reserved sauce mixture; simmer to thicken, about 2 minutes.  Stir in reserved pork and simmer until heated through, 2 minutes.  Garnish each serving with scallion greens and cashews.

The Joy and Freedom of Not Knowing

shrugLately I’ve acquired a newfound respect and appreciation of “The French Shrug”.  You know, that wonderful (if not slightly annoying) gesture the French seem to have perfected.  The Shrug.  Basically, you are saying “I don’t know” or “I couldn’t say” or even — “I claim no responsibility”.  Try it – go ahead, shrug.  What happens?  When you shrug lifting your shoulders to your ears and then releasing them, you release pressure and tension.  Inevitably, you relax.

As I get older, I find myself embracing the fact that I don’t know stuff.  Now, I’m not talking about shirking responsibility for things I should know, and I’m definitely not talking about silly forgetfulness (where are my keys? where did I park the car?)  No, what I am talking about is simply things that I’ve given myself permission to not know.  And it has made my life so much easier and less stressful.  Let me explain:

Say, for example that one of my friends asks me what another friend was thinking when she put on that outfit …  or why would someone I know behave in a certain way … or why Friend X raises their children that way?  Well, when I was younger, I felt I had to have an explanation or an answer for everything.  More than that, I felt that it was my duty to defend my friends or family member’s actions if I was truly a loyal friend.  But you know what?  All that wound up doing was inviting more questions, more inquiries and definitely more stress.  If I just stated the truth, that “Well, huh… I don’t know why Camilla said that to Patrick”  or “I have no idea why Martha lets her kids eat Oreos for breakfast” – that’s it.  I’m done.  I’m free!  No more questions!  We can move on to discuss something much more interesting and perhaps something that I do know.  Like, “What’s for dinner?” or “Which restaurant should we try?”  or “Would you like another glass of wine?”

Go ahead — shrug.  Dare to Not Know.  You’ll be amazed at how good you feel!

Weekly Winner: A Pretty Party in a Bowl!

sweet potato black bean chiliLet me say this right away:  I think is it obvious to all of my readers … a vegetarian, I ain’t!  Not that I’m a huge red meat-eater (although I adore it), for me – it’s all about the pork…. and the chicken….OK, and the beef.  So for me to find a vegetarian dish that I truly love and have made many times – well, that’s saying something.

But seriously, just look at this dish!  Isn’t it pretty?  The colors alone tell you that something tasty lies within.  And boy, does it.  This Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili is so good … you really don’t miss the meat.  No, seriously, you don’t! The recipe comes from Eating Well Magazine.  It’s easy, it’s relatively quick (especially for a chili) and it is incredibly satisfying.

Do not be fooled, however — yes, this is made up of only vegetables and beans, but this chili packs a wallop!  It is seriously spicy!  If you are a bit heat-adverse, I would definitely recommend cutting back on the chili powder and ground chipotle.  The sweet potato and a dollop of sour cream help to cool it down but this chili isn’t messing around.  I just can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be just a tad better with some bacon in it…. hmmmmm.  Stay tuned!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chili powder

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups water

2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

4 teaspoons lime juice

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

 

Weekly Winner: How the heck did I miss this?!

To date, I have included 85 “Weekly Winners” in this blog which spans almost two years.  Last night for a cozy, stay-at-home New Year’s Eve I made one of my all time favorite dishes EVER.  This is a dish I have had the recipe for since 2007! So why, oh why has it never made its way into my “Weekly Winner” list?  I simply do not have an explanation for this.  I even went through each month’s archives because I was certain — convinced! – that I had to have included it.  But nope, not there!  So to start 2014 off right I have decided to make amends.  Here is the recipe for one of my all time favorite dishes that I make at home.  Chicken Tikka Masala.

Chicken_Tikka_MasalaThis version comes from Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Yes, it is a bit time-consuming but I wouldn’t omit a single step.  Every time I make this, I am always amazed by how soul-satisfying and complex the sauce is.  It is always a bit more “tomato-y” than I remember yet I always make it the same.  Simply put, this dish surprises me in a pleasant way every time I make it.  How in the world could I have omitted this for so long?   So, without further ado… here is the recipe for the first Weekly Winner of 2014: Chicken Tikka Masala.  I always serve it with basmati rice and my hubby’s home-made fabulous garlic naan. The photo is not mine — I didn’t take a picture because I was sure I had already written about it … doh!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Chicken Tikka

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon table salt

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Masala Sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon table salt

2/3 cup heavy cream

Instructions
1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.
2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.
4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.