Spicy double chocolate cookies, for the Cookie Swap


It is once again time for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap — the third annual GFBCS, in fact. This is the brainchild of the wonderful bloggers at Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. Each blogger participant makes a batch of cookies, and sends a dozen each to three other bloggers. In return, we receive cookies from three other bloggers. Our hosts manage all the details (and there are many, especially considering that roughly 600 bloggers participate each year).

We also each donate to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, an organization that raises money toward a cure for pediatric cancer. We raised nearly $14,000 this year!

I received buttery almond sugar cookies from Spoonful of Flavor,  delicate pinwheels from White Lights on Wednesday, and beautiful lemon sugar cookies with royal icing and lustre paint from Stirring Things Up.

I was in a quandary about what to make. I lamented the fact that I’d already posted about my very favorite cookies — my version of my family’s molasses cookies. (one of the Swap rules is that you only post a new-to-you recipe.) Then I remembered the glorious moment when Luke and I slathered these amazing cookies with Nutella. The angels sang, I swear.

So, working on the assumption that everything is better with chocolate, I began fiddling with the original recipe, starting with replacing some of the flour with unsweetened cocoa powder. They were tasty right away, but it took a few practice rounds to get the balance just right. My son and his college buddies were willing test cases for the first batch; my library pals offered helpful tips on the second.

The final version lightens up on the cloves, then replaces the heat with finely chopped dark chocolate with chiles. For less heat, you can certainly use plain dark chocolate. Since the ingredients include molasses, chocolate, and cocoa, the resulting cookies are nearly black. Multicolored sprinkles took them from gloomy to festive, and added a fun crunch.

Spicy Double Chocolate Cookies
makes about 5 dozen 2-inch cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1  stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup chopped dark chocolate with chile (or 1 cup chocolate chips)
multicolored sprinkles

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and spices. In a large bowl, place the butter, shortening and brown sugar. Beat together just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the egg and beat just until incorporated. Stir in the molasses.

Add the dry ingredients a third at a time, mixing just until incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour until firm.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pour the sprinkles into a shallow bowl. Scoop a heaping teaspoonful of dough and roll in your palms to a ball. It should be about the size of a fresh cherry. Drop in the sprinkles and roll to cover completely. Place on the parchment-covered cookie sheet. Continue with the dough, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart –they will spread.

Bake for about 7 minutes until the tops are slightly cracked. Aim to slightly underbake–they will continue to cook on the hot cookie sheet. Let them rest for 1 minute, then move the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Posted in sweet stuff | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Apple-walnut cake


Note: This is a post I started in early November. Now that my breast cancer treatment is done, I’m getting back in the habit of regular blogging.

Back to work, back to life, back — finally — to blogging. I feel positive, energetic, and remarkably flabby from three months away from the gym. I’m aiming for a lifestyle that is healthy and pleasurable at the same time. More exercise helps. I still want food to be delicious, but I’m trying to eat a little less of it. Incorporating more vegetables (which I love) and fruit also helps.

My colleague and friend Patsy had a bumper crop of apples this fall, and was generous with them. I sent some off with Tom when he went to visit Luke in college; Luke loves fresh fruit (especially apples). I had several fruit-and-cheddar plates as light lunches. And I made a cake.

This cake is mostly fruit, with just enough batter to hold the apples together. It manages to be both moist and light at the same time, with lovely caramel tones from the brown sugar. The cinnamon sugar topping creates a delicate, crackly crust.

Once again, I have my mom to thank (she’s often my source for baked goods). I’m not sure where she found the original recipe, but it’s been tweaked along the way. I use less sugar than Mom does, and brown sugar instead of white. We both like the apples in larger, bite-sized chunks, while others prefer the fruit to be finely chopped or even shredded. I like the additional crunch of  walnuts (or pecans), but you can leave them out. I’ve added raisins at times, and made the cake with pears instead of apples. I’ve even made a version of this cake with carrots and apples.

The cake is sweet enough for dessert, but with all that fruit and the whole wheat flour, you can feel relatively virtuous eating it for breakfast or a snack.

Apple-Walnut Cake

3 1/2 cups peeled, cored, chopped apples (to about 1″)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
topping, optional:
2 tbs. white sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Grease and flour an 11×7-inch pan.* In a large bowl, toss the apple chunks with the brown sugar. (I just used the quart measuring cup that I measured the apples in.) Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla.

Stir about a third of the dry mixture into the egg mixture, just until combined. Stir in half the apples and sugar. Repeat with another third of the dry, then the rest of the apples, then the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the walnuts. The batter will be nearly as thick as cookie dough. That’s fine: the apples will release a lot of liquid when the cake bakes.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. In  a tiny bowl, stir together the white sugar and cinnamon for the topping if using, and sprinkle over the batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging, but not raw batter.

*If you choose to make this cake in a 9-inch square pan, bake for about 50 minutes. If you use a 9×13-inch pan, start checking after 20 minutes.

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Roasted tomato and farro gratin


A few weeks ago, on a whim (and because Deb Perelman never steers me wrong), I tried Smitten Kitchen’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes. They’re drier than the oven-roasted tomatoes I’d made before, but more moist than sun-dried tomatoes. The flavor is sweet, but still with an underlying acidic tang. I was sold.

Tom doesn’t usually care for either sun-dried tomatoes or cooked tomatoes in general, unless they’re puréed into a sauce. But he grabbed one off the cookie sheet where they were cooling, and was an instant fan.

We’ve folded them with shredded chicken and cheese in tortillas for a quick lunch. We tossed them with pasta and sautéed bell peppers for a dinner that was mighty tasty. I made batch after batch, stuffed the extras in jars, drizzled them with olive oil, and popped them in the freezer.

Deb roasts hers at 225 degrees F for three hours. My oven must be slow, because my first batch took over 4 hours. I found that two hours at 300 degrees F was perfect, for my oven anyway.

For dinner tonight, I once again used Smitten Kitchen as inspiration (this happens quite frequently), but this time more as a jumping-off point. My creation is a hybrid of the Wild Rice Gratin with Kale, Caramelized Onions and Baby Swiss from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes, from her blog.

My version has the cheesy creaminess and golden, crunchy topping of the gratin, but the nutty chewiness of farro and tangy sweetness of the roasted tomatoes. I also added a handful of toasted pine nuts to the crunchy panko topping as a favor to Tom. He adores pine nuts, and I forget to use them. They added terrific flavor that echoed the nuttiness of the farro. I won’t leave them out ever again.

For the cheese that mingles with the farro and the tomatoes and creates a sauce, I used a mixture of fontina and a soft, mild cheese with flecks of green onion that we’d gotten locally. (We do live in the Cheese State, after all.) I’d recommend any creamy, mild melting cheese.

Farro is an ancient form of wheat. It is available whole-grain, semi-pearled and pearled (pearling removes the outer bran layer). The cooking times vary greatly; pearled farro cooks in as little as 15 minutes, while whole-grain can take an hour. Your package might not indicate the level of pearled-ness (so to speak), but you can rely on cooking times. The farro from the organic section of my grocery store provides no clue at all; turns out it’s whole-grain. I soak it in hot water for half an hour, then cook right in that same water with a little salt for about 45 minutes. It freezes well, so cook a big potful, then pack it in 2-cup batches, which fit nicely in pint-sized freezer bags. Flatten, close, then freeze.

The pan-seared chicken breasts were ignored tonight. Tom and I dove into that creamy, chewy, cheesy, tangy, nutty gratin with the crisp crust over and over again, saying “Just one more bite…” We’ll be fighting over the meager leftovers tomorrow for lunch.

Quick health update: I have 8 more radiation treatments left, and am feeling … okay. Essentially, it’s like having a bad sunburn in a very sensitive area. My energy level is lower (but not too low to avoid the kitchen, obviously). In less than two weeks, I move from breast cancer treatment phase to recovery. I’m thankful every day that my tumor was slow-growing, and caught so early. I’m also blessed with great friends and a loving family. All is good.


Roasted Tomato and Farro Gratin
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
serves 4 as a side dish

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tbs. butter
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 tsp. dried
2 cloves roasted garlic (see below)
1 cup roasted cherry tomatoes (see below)
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, divided
2 cups cooked farro
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a mixture of fontina and a creamy, mild onion cheese)

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry medium skillet over medium heat. Watch carefully: they go from pale gold to burnt very quickly. Set aside to cool. Add the butter to the skillet, then the panko once the butter is melted. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toast, stirring constantly, until light golden. This will only take a few minutes, so watch carefully. Set aside to cool with the pine nuts.

Add olive oil to the skillet along with the onions and thyme. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until they’re tender and browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the stock to the pan and stir well to scrape up the browned bits. Mash the roasted garlic into the liquid. Add the farro and cook for a minute, till the farro is warmed through.

Lightly grease a small casserole dish (I used a 10-inch pie pan). Add 1 cup of the grated cheese to the faro mixture. Scrape into the casserole dish. Sprinkle the reserved panko and pine nuts on top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over all.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the dish is bubbly and browned on top.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 pint tomatoes (cherry, grape, or very small Roma)
a few cloves garlic, unpeeled
about 1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
about 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Halve the tomatoes (lengthwise for grape or Roma tomatoes). Lay them close together on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Nestle garlic cloves among the tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and with thyme if using.

Roast in the oven for about 2 hours, until the tomatoes are shriveled and moist, not juicy but not completely dried either. Store for several days well-covered  in the fridge, or freeze in an airtight container. Recipe doubles easily.

Posted in main courses, sides, vegetarian (or easily adapted to), veggies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharp cheddar and summer vegetable tart


When considering what to make for dinner these days, I’m building meals around vegetables. My peppers, chiles, and tomatoes are all producing madly. I do want to roast some of the tomatoes to stash in the freezer, but for now we’re just eating them fresh off the vine.

This tart is a balance of decadence and virtue. The puff pastry, sinfully buttery, is piled high with a rainbow of vegetables. As a nod to my meat-loving menfolk, there are a few shreds of salty prosciutto; underneath is a touch of sharp white cheddar — not enough to overwhelm the freshness of the tomatoes and broccoli, but just enough to give the tart substance.

Taking a few minutes to pre-cook the broccoli, onions, and peppers ensures that they are the perfect texture when the tart is finished. You can cook the veg while the pastry par-bakes, to save a little time. The acid of the tomatoes balances nicely with the rich crust.

The transparently thin layer of cream cheese is just enough to keep the tart from being dry. You could easily substitute parmesan for the cheddar; in fact, the second time, I used cheddar beneath the vegetables and parmesan on top. Leave off the prosciutto for a vegetarian version; try substituting calamata olives for that salty hit.

We liked this so much that we had it twice in one week, and would gladly have it again right away. I’d also cut it in small squares and serve it as a summer appetizer.

Sharp Cheddar and Summer Vegetable Tart
serves 2 for dinner, 3-4 for a light lunch

2 cups small broccoli florets
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbs. chopped fresh basil
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but cold
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar
2 slices prosciutto

Heat the oven to 400  degrees F. Steam the broccoli for about 5 minutes until just tender. While the broccoli steams, sauté the onion and bell pepper in olive oil over medium-high heat until just tender. When the broccoli is done, add it to the pan with the pepper. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the basil and cherry tomatoes. Set aside off heat.

Lightly roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface till it’s slightly larger. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Using a fork, prick the dough all over, leaving a 1/2-inch edge. Bake for 8-10 minutes until just barely cooked and not at all browned. Remove from the oven, but leave the heat on.

Spread the hot pastry with a very thin layer of cream cheese. Sprinkle with about 3/4 cup of the cheddar. Scatter the vegetables over the cheese, then tear the prosciutto into small pieces and add them over the vegetables. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheddar. Bake for another 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cheese is melted. Enjoy hot or at room temperature.

Posted in appetizers, main courses, vegetarian (or easily adapted to), veggies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s all good.

I haven’t had much of a presence on the blog the second half of the summer. Part of my time, as I’ve mentioned, has been taken up preparing to send my only child to college. But another issue has derailed me—temporarily.

In July I had my yearly mammogram. I got a callback to recheck an area that was unclear. I wasn’t too worried; I’d had extra mammograms before, which have always turned out to be benign.

Well, there was a cyst, and it was benign. But there was also another area, a section of breast tissue that didn’t look like a tumor but didn’t look normal either. It wasn’t anything we could feel, and it didn’t show up on ultrasound, but the mammogram was unclear.

I met with a surgeon who recommended that I have a biopsy. There was an 80 percent chance it was benign. Surgery went well, and despite the 3-inch incision, there was very little pain.

A few days later, while we were away registering our son for college, I got the call.


But once we got past that initial, terrifying word, the news wasn’t all bad. Good, in fact, in context. Stage 1, slow-growing and unlikely to spread. Caught early. Very small tumor, less than 1 cm. No family history–at all. I had a second surgery, to make sure the tumor margins were clear and to check my lymph nodes to make sure the the cancer hadn’t spread.

The next calls were all good news: no cancer in the lymph nodes, clear margins on the original tiny tumor. Therefore, I have no need for chemotherapy or further surgeries. I’ll have radiation that will reduce the small chance of recurrence to pretty much nil, and I’m taking preventative medication.

Right now, I’m rocking the sports bras. My breast is tender (all right, incredibly sore, after two surgeries in a week), and spectacularly colored. But those conditions are temporary, and better every day.

Tom has been my anchor. He keeps me positive and focused, and reminds me there’s no need to panic. My son is as calm and collected as he always is; he knows that his mom will be around to bug him for a very long time. My friends have surrounded me with love and positive energy.

My surgeon says that when I’m 80 I’ll look back on this time as a difficult blip in my long life. I hope I can use this experience to give back some of all the love that I’ve gotten, and to use my time for things that matter.

We’ve been focusing on the positive these last few weeks, not to ignore the reality of cancer but to put it into focus. So, to repeat the phrase that has become our mantra, it’s all good.

Posted in not food | 5 Comments

Broccoli with lemon and feta

broccolifetacloseupGreat produce, straight from the garden, is wonderful. Here in Wisconsin, where the growing season is so brief, gorgeous, straight-from-the-earth produce is  a gift.

I’m lucky enough to work with Brigid Ferkett, one half of the team that runs organic Gravel Road Farms. Their produce is both beautiful and delicious. So far, I’ve had some crisp ruby-red radishes, delicate white baby turnips, and multicolored carrots.

Today I picked up some broccoli. They’d harvested the large heads earlier in the spring; these were the smaller florets that regrew from the original stalks.

The crisp florets were nestled in deep green leaves. I wanted to preserve that sweet, fresh flavor. A brief steam to enhance the tenderness, a touch of lemon, and a few crumbles of salty feta were plenty.

I had it warm as a light lunch, but it would be equally good at room temperature or chilled. It would be equally good with broccolini, and even tasty with grocery-store broccoli.

The whole dish came together in a matter of minutes. There’s just enough lemony dressing to enhance the fresh green broccoli. Feta adds a salty counterpoint.

Broccoli with Lemon and Feta
1 serving

1 small head broccoli
juice of 1/2 lemon (2-3 tsp.)
1 tsp. olive oil
pinch salt
few grinds black pepper
2 tbs. crumbled feta

Cut broccoli into florets. Lightly steam until just tender but still bright green, no more than 5 minutes. While the broccoli steams, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a tiny bowl.

If you’re serving the dish hot, just drain the broccoli well. To serve warm or room temperature, rinse broccoli briefly in cold water, then drain. To serve cold, plunge the broccoli in ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Lightly pat the broccoli to remove excess water. Toss the broccoli with the lemon dressing. Top with feta and enjoy.

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Corn chowder redux


I apologize for my prolonged absence. Evidently, when you prepare to send your only child off to college, days and weeks disappear in a moment. I was absolutely certain I’d posted just over a week ago, not nearly a month ago.

I’m beyond proud of my Lucas. Next week we’re in Madison while he registers for classes; a few weeks later we move him in. It’s been an hour-by-hour emotional ride: one minute thrilled for him, then heartbroken at the thought of having him gone, then excited for future plans with my husband–then back to being sad again.

Anyway, it’s corn season again. This year, my son is working for a local farmer’s market, so we get the inside track on some fantastically fresh corn. We’ve been enjoying it every day, and I’ve been blanching and freezing as much as I can.

Last summer’s corn-chicken chowder is still a favorite in the summer. I decided to tweak the soup a bit, to boost that fabulous corn flavor even more. I added more corn and bell pepper, and replaced the chicken with ham for a salty balance to the sweetness.

But the secret ingredient in this chowder is in the corn — the corn cobs, to be specific. When they’re simmered in the soup, they intensify the corn-iness (so to speak), and also slightly thicken the chowder, creating a creamy texture without any actual cream.

This chowder is rich without being heavy, and healthy without being righteous about it. We loved it so much I made a second batch right away.

Corn and Ham Chowder
serves 4-6

1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked ham (I used half a ham steak, about 5 oz.)*
2 tbs. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 hot red chile, minced (I used a cherry pepper), optional
2 tbs. flour
salt and pepper
2 cups whole milk
2-3 cups chicken stock
3 tbs. chopped fresh basil, divided
1 cup diced potato (I used 2 small red-skinned
kernels from 3 ears of corn (save the cobs)

Pour the oil into a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring now and then, just for a few minutes until the ham is very lightly browned and any liquid has evaporated. Using a slotted spoon, lift the ham out and set aside in a bowl.

Melt the butter in the hot pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper and chile and cook for about 5 minutes longer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes to get a little color on the vegetables.

Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes. In the meantime, heat the milk and stock in the microwave for one minute. (This helps the soup to thicken without lumps.) Pour the hot milk and stock into the soup gradually, stirring constantly. Add the corn and potatoes, and half the basil. Chop the cobs in half and add to the chowder. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the ham and check the seasoning. Simmer 10 minutes longer. Lift the cobs out with tongs and discard. Serve the chowder hot.

*Oops! In the original version, I forgot to add ham to the ingredients list. This happens when you (and by that I mean “I”) write and post directly without letting it sit. It’s fixed now.

Posted in main courses, soups | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Spinach-scallion egg rolls with chicken


Calzones continue to defeat me. I’ve got the filling down, but there always tends to be too much bread. When I saw this recipe for oven-baked egg rolls (bless you, Pinterest!) it called to me. “You could use that same fantastic filling in a thin, crunchy crust, instead of in wads of dough!” it whispered.

That temptation, combined with my serious aversion to deep-frying, was impossible to resist.

The original recipe from Nutritious Eats had a Southwest filling, which I’ll make eventually. But I was looking for a new vehicle, so to speak, for my ricotta-based calzone filling. By “ricotta” I mean homemade ricotta. If you want to use regular store-bought ricotta, that’s fine, but Id consider whisking in a tablespoon or two of cream cheese or goat cheese to match the velvety texture of the ricotta you make (so easily!) yourself. Add chicken for protein, spinach for color and nutrients, scallions for flavor and the aforementioned nutrients, and a handful of good melting cheese for texture and flavor, and you’re good to go.

Leave the chicken out (and double up on the ricotta and veggies) for a vegetarian egg roll.

When brushed lightly with oil and baked in a blazingly hot oven, egg roll wrappers become shatteringly crisp, almost like phyllo but without the many layers of butter.

These egg rolls would be delicious served with a fresh salsa or pesto, but they’re so packed with flavor that they are mighty tasty all on their own. We gobbled them up (hot! hot!) before I could even think of a sauce — and made them again a few days later.


Spinach-Scallion Egg Rolls with Chicken
makes 8-10
adapted from nutritiouseats, who adapted it from Taste of Home

6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 fresno or jalapeño chile, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. olive oil, divided
10 oz. coarsely chopped fresh spinach
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups ricotta (preferably fresh–I used one batch of this)
1 1/2 cups shredded pepper-jack or cheddar cheese
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
egg roll wrappers

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Sauté the scallions, chile, and garlic in 1 tbs. of the oil until tender, 3-4 minutes. Rinse the spinach and shake off excess water. Add the spinach to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for just a few minutes until wilted. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, pepper jack and chicken. Stir in the vegetables until well-distributed. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Fill a small bowl with water. In another small bowl, pour the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Set a pastry brush alongside.

Lay one egg roll wrapper on the cutting board. Spoon about 1/3 cup filling down the center of the wrapper, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top and bottom of the wrapper. Fold those short edges up over the filling. Dip your finger in the water, and run it around the remaining edges. Fold one long edge over the filling, then fold the other edge over to seal. Brush the sealed side very lightly with oil and lay the egg roll seam-side down on the parchment. Brush the top lightly with oil.

Continue with remaining filling and wrappers; this should make 8-10 egg rolls. Bake for about 8 minutes until golden; carefully flip each egg roll and bake for another 7-8 minutes until golden. Serve hot.

Posted in appetizers, main courses, meat, poultry,and fish, vegetarian (or easily adapted to) | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sweet pea and spinach soup with chicken


A current trend among bloggers is the green smoothie. Kale + banana, spinach + strawberry, even dandelion greens + peaches. The smoothie aficionados swear that you don’t taste the kale/spinach/greens at all!

Vegetables are some of my favorite foods. I say this with no sarcasm whatsoever. I like the taste of greens, thank you very much. I decided to take the concept of a smoothie — greens plus other healthy ingredients, puréed until silky — and translate it into a savory soup.

A handful of basil and mint from my deck garden — more green! — adds to the sweet, summery goodness. If you have fresh peas, by all means use them; otherwise, frozen ones are fine. The result is as tasty as a great cream of broccoli soup without the cruciferous edge. A tiny amount of heavy cream elevates the richness without making the soup heavy.

This soup is easily converted to vegetarian by using veggie broth and skipping the chicken; leave out the cream and feta and it’s vegan. I’ll try a vegetarian version topped with toasted chickpeas next. The large chunks of tender chicken breast do turn the soup into a healthy entrée, though.

Best of all, this soup comes together speedily. It takes longer to prep the ingredients than to cook. In under half an hour, you have a lovely bowl of verdant, delectable soup.

Feta offers a salty contrast to the mild soup but doesn’t overpower it. Shards of parmesan would also be lovely here.

Sweet Pea and Spinach Soup with Chicken
serves 4

1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
2 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas, divided
6 oz. fresh spinach
1/4 cup fresh basil and/or mint (I used half of each)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbs. heavy cream
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
crumbled feta for garnish, optional

In a stockpot over medium-low heat, cook the onion, garlic and celery in the oil until tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Add 1 cup of the peas. Add a handful of the spinach, stir for 1 minute until wilted, and add another handful. Continue until all the spinach is in the soup and just wilted. Add the herbs and take the soup off the heat. Stir in the cream.

Purée the soup, in batches if necessary, in the food processor until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pot; stir in the remaining 1/2 cup peas and the chicken. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Heat the soup over medium-low heat just until hot. Garnish with feta, if desired.

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Red pepper-shallot hummus


This version is adapted from the brilliant Smooth, Simple Hummus by Inspired Taste. Their secret for extra-creamy texture is in the order and length of time the ingredients are puréed.

The tahini and lemon become thick and creamy when puréed on their own for at least 90 seconds. I used the clock/timer on my phone to make sure I let it go long enough. The veggies and spices go in next, and are subjected to another long whirl; I gave them about 2 1/2 minutes total, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides and check the texture. By the time the chickpeas join the party, the mixture is already light and creamy. They get a few minutes’ processing as well.

The result is silky, rich, and surprisingly light in texture. The lemon is prominent; I added a careful few drops of honey to balance the acidity, but it’s not necessary.

I tweaked the Inspired Taste duo’s recipe by adding sweet bell peppers and toasted shallots, and used paprika (smoked mild) instead of cumin. Sautéing the shallots and peppers first not only makes the vegetables sweet and caramelized, but flavors the oil that was going in the hummus anyway. You could use a jarred roasted pepper or roast your own, if you prefer. I was planning to sauté the shallots and garlic anyway, so  it seemed easiest to just toss the pepper in the pan.

I used Aleppo pepper and mild smoked paprika instead of cumin, since they’re in the capsicum family and would enhance the flavor of their bell pepper sisters.

I sliced a few carrots on a long diagonal and we used these to scoop up the hummus. We dove in with bagel chips, and even spread it on popovers. Hummus makes a healthy and tasty substitute for mayo on a sandwich.

I’ll be playing with this technique again soon. Scallion hummus, anyone? Black olive? Roasted garlic?

Creamy Red Pepper and Shallot Hummus
makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 tbs. olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper, optional
salt and pepper
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 tsp. paprika

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallot, bell pepper, garlic, Aleppo (if using) a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the shallots are lightly browned and the peppers are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Set the skillet aside to cool.

Pour the chickpeas into a colander, rinse well, and set aside to drain. Put the tahini and lemon juice in a food processor fitted with a blade and process for 1 full minute. Scrape down the sides, stir the bottom of the bowl as best you can around the blade, and whirl for an additional 30 seconds. The mixture should be decidedly thicker and very smooth.

Using your spatula, scrape every last bit of the pepper mixture and oil into the food processor. Add a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt and the paprika, whirl for 1 full minute, scrape down the sides, and whirl again for 30 seconds. It should be very nearly smooth; whirl for an additional 30 seconds if it’s too chunky.

Add half the chickpeas and purée for  a full minute. Scrape down the sides, add the remaining chickpeas, and purée for another full minute. Taste and add more salt if necessary; if it’s too sharp, add a few drops of honey (no more than 1/4 teaspoon). If the hummus is still too grainy or thick, add a tablespoon or two of water and whirl for another 30-60 seconds.

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