Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dak Bokkeum with Spinach (Korean Stewed Chicken)

It is a weekend at home in between trips.  Last week I was in Boston; next week I'll be going to Tokyo.  So I'm enjoying some downtime.  Today was a day of a trip to the gym, running errands, etc.  The usual weekend stuff.  But I've relished just being at home and with Wayne.  After the 20 degree temperatures I experienced in Boston which reminded me that "cold" is relative, I enjoyed our day with highs in the upper 50s.  Still cool enough to make and enjoy a stew, but very civilized compared to the situation on the East Coast where they are shoveling their way out from 2-3 feet of snow.

I've been wanting to make this recipe for quite some time, and the upcoming trip to Asia has me in the mood for Asian fare.  I haven't cooked any in quite a long time.  Wayne was commenting tonight about my long-neglected wok.  But this is not a stir-fry, so the wok continues to be relegated to the back reaches of my cabinet, envious of the red new-comer amongst it.  In keeping with our theme, the dish is a Korean chicken stew.  The recipe was given to me by my friend Angele who does ALOT of cooking and is always trying out new recipes.  She tried it out around this time last year and liked it, so passed it along to me and two of our other friends (who happen to be Korean).  I don't know whether they've tried it or would consider it close to authentic, but it sure is flavorful and tasty regardless.

The recipe is from Cooking Light and can be found at My Recipes:
It has a couple ingredients I didn't have on hand that I had to buy - gochujang (Korean chile sauce) and dark sesame oil.  Both were available at Whole Foods.

The first step in the recipe is to make a delicious-smelling marinade that consists of the gochujang and sesame oil as well as soy sauce, fresh minced ginger and garlic, brown sugar and green onions.  Based on the ingredients and the wonderful aroma of the marinade I knew I was going to like this dish.

After the chicken marinaded, it was transferred to Le Creuset with a little water added to simmer.

Once the chicken is cooked through and the sauce reduced slightly, the green onion tops and spinach are added.  It always amazes me how quickly a large bunch of spinach can wilt down to nothing.

The Dak Bokkeum is served over rice with toasted sesame seeds on top.  It is a nice presentation.

We really liked the flavor of the sauce.  It has the perfect amount of spicy heat, and there is a subtle bit of sweetness in the background.  The greens offer a nice contrast, and the toasted sesame seeds add some nuttiness.  It all works very well together.  When I asked just now if Wayne had any comments on the stew, he replied, "It was very tasty.  I liked it". So there you have it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

West African Soup

Ah, Superbowl weekend.  Whole Foods was packed.  I wouldn't have thought Whole Foods would be the place people would go to buy Superbowl party fare.  I think of Doritos, pork rinds and other snacks that are seemingly the antithesis of the Whole Foods concept.  But over the intercom we heard that they were offering buckets of chicken wings featuring our favorite free range chicken, Mary's Air Chilled, available with three different flavored sauces.  Who would have thunk it.  It seems as though chicken wings now reign supreme as football viewing fare.  I saw an estimate on the news that Americans will consume 1.2 billion wings tomorrow.  That's 300 million chickens.  Yikes.

But we weren't at Whole Foods for Superbowl party food.  We had a short grocery list for the soup I made tonight.  I'm not sure when I first came across a recipe for West African soup, but it made an impression because of the use of ground peanuts to season the broth.  The two other ingredients that feature prominently are chickpeas (yum always) and sweet potatoes.  In the course of pursuing the latter we discovered the great US government yam scam.

When we went to buy the sweet potatoes, we saw that there was one variety of sweet potato and two of yams.  As the recipe called for sweet potato, we naturally chose some of that kind.  They were light skinned and looked like this:

I cut into one and it was a very pale yellow inside.  I immediately thought it did not look like a sweet potato, which I was used to being orange inside (think sweet potato fries).  Wayne wanted to try some as he happily eats any raw vegetable, and he said it was dry and starchy and not at all sweet.  So I got online and did some research.  It turns out that what they call a "yam" in the store is actually not a yam, but a different variety of sweet potato that has a darker color skin and the darker orange flesh.  The USDA - yes, the US government - decided to start calling the darker sweet potatoes yams to distinguish them from the lighter ones.  But they are not yams.  Yams are a tuber that is found in South America and the Caribbean and can grow to be seven feet long.  They don't import true yams here.  So the name "yam" is a misnomer, and this whole thing screwed up my soup prep!

Wayne was an absolute dear, and offered to go back to Whole Foods to get some of the sweet potatoes called yams for our soup.  Whole Foods was even more packed on his second visit of the day.  But he got some nice looking garnet "yams", brought them home, and we were back on track.

I found this recipe on My Recipes, and it was originally published in Cooking Light:
It's another fast and easy recipe.  The only parts at all labor-intensive are the chopping of the onion and sweet potato, and creating a homemade peanut butter from the roasted peanuts.  I chopped the sweet potato into slightly smaller pieces than the 1 inch cubes the recipe calls for, probably more like 1/2 or 3/4 inch. It took some time processing the peanuts in the food processor for them to finally get creamy.  This is thicker than the peanut butter you can buy prepared since jar peanut butter has alot of extra oil added to it to give it that spreadable consistency.  This was smooth but thick.

After sauteing the onion all the other ingredients were added to Le Creuset and brought to a simmer.

By the recommended 30 minutes the sweet potato had softened sufficiently and the broth had started to thicken.  We added some freshly chopped Italian parsley for garnish, and we had a meal.

We loved the flavor of the broth with the peanuts in it.  It went really well with the chickpeas and tomatoes.  The sweet potato wasn't too sweet, and with all the fiber and complex carbohydrates in the sweet potato it is quite filling and satisfying without needing to eat much.  The fresh parsley on top adds some nice contrasting brightness to the flavor.  I also chopped up some leftover peanuts, and we really liked having a little crunch in the soup when we sprinkled some on top.

I'm very interested to see what it will be like upon reheating.  Presumably the broth will thicken further and the flavors will enhance.  With such good results after just a short simmer it should be great.  Another tasty and healthy soup that is easy to prepare.  I feel on a roll!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Simply put, I love lentils and lentil soups.  I realized at some point last week that I hadn't yet made a lentil soup this winter, and when I came across this recipe on Heidi's 101 Cookbooks site I knew it had to be the next soup I made.

Rather than calling for the brown/green lentil that most people associate with "lentil" that results in a brown - and let's face it - bland-looking soup, this recipe uses lentils common to Indian cuisine.  I used to cook alot of Indian cuisine and have a supply of these lentils that I keep around.  This recipe calls for two kinds that I had on hand, masoor dal (small flat salmon-colored lentils) and chana dal, or yellow split peas (larger and yellow).  The salmon-colored lentils turn yellow when cooking and essentially disintegrate, so you would be disappointed if you thought you would still have pink individual lentils left after cooking them.  The chana dal is meatier and retains its shape and some firmness even when cooked through.

What attracted me to this particular lentil soup were the rest of the ingredients.  The base of the soup has some coconut milk added.  This was intriguing to me, because I associate use of coconut milk with Thai cuisine, so thought this might be some tasty amalgamation of the two cuisines.  My friend Sushma, who I would consider an authority on authentic Indian cuisine, tonight confirmed that coconut milk would not be found in any traditional Indian cuisine, though fresh coconut might.  So we agreed that this recipe must have just been someone's culinary creativity at work with yummy results.

The recipe can be found at:
It is quite straightforward but fun to make, and it left the house smelling just fabulous - of fresh ginger and curry.  After softening the lentils, a fragrant mix of green onion, fresh ginger, golden raisins, tomato paste and curry powder is added to the lentils along with the coconut milk.  Sauteing those ingredients together was quite unique and my favorite part of making this dish.

Once those ingredients are added to the lentils together with the coconut milk, the soup is a creamy orange color that is very visually appealing.

The recipe suggests allowing the soup to simmer for 20 minutes or so with the lid off to thicken the soup.  It starts off relatively thin, and I knew that I wanted a thick soup.  So I ended up simmering for probably an additional hour before I felt it was sufficiently thick.

Once again I ended up not eating the soup until the following day.  On Sunday night when I made it I was having my last serving of the White Wine Coq au Vin.  As an aside, I must say that recipe was a big winner.  It was impressively good every time I had some.  A keeper I'll be making again.

I came home at the end of the next day to a house still smelling of curry, and I reheated the soup with much anticipation.  I served it topped with a generous amount of freshly chopped cilantro and green onion.  I happened to have an Alsatian pinot gris on hand which was a great accompaniment.

This soup is really good.  The flavors developed significantly between the first and second day, and it did not need any additional seasoning.  I have greatly enjoyed it both of the times I've had it, and I can't wait for Wayne to try it when he gets home tomorrow as I think he'll really like it as well.  Here's to another vegetarian soup that is flavorful and satisfying yet quite easy to make!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

White Wine Coq au Vin

It is so delightful to have a 3-day weekend so soon after the winter holiday break.  It's been a pretty low-key one as I fight the sore throat I succumbed to (likely infectors will not be implicated here).  I'd much rather have a sore throat than head cold/congestion when I lose my sense of smell.  Not being able to taste and enjoy food is a total downer for me, and that is when I get whiny about being sick.

Fortunately that is not the case currently, so today I embarked on a recipe that piqued my interest when I saw it on My Recipes last month.  It's a recipe from Sunset for white wine coq au vin:
It was billed as a "fresher, green herb-laced version of the original French classic".  Truth be told, I've never made the real deal coq au vin with red wine.  But this sounded like a lighter version, and it had a couple ingredients in it that got me excited - herbes de provence (a wonderful blend that includes a bunch of green herbs and also lavender - smells wonderful) and tarragon (which is an herb that smells to me like fennel or anise - which I love).

So here is most everything (but the chicken!) before I started.  Note the use of a French burgundy for the wine.  The recipe calls for a "chardonnay", and I couldn't imagine a heavily oaked chardonnay from California would be the right choice.  I wonder what would even happen to that stuff if you heated it to try to cook with it.  Seems unpleasant.

The recipe is pretty straightforward.  The herb-coated chicken looked and smelled fantastic after browning in the bacon fat.  There was alot of burnt flour - (notice how that is euphemistically called "browned bits" in recipes ) - on the bottom of Le Creuset after browning all the chicken, but it all came up easily while the vegetables were sauteing.  Note that I added a medium sized potato cut into 3/4-inch chunks when I added the broth, wine, chicken and bacon.  I knew that the recipe only called for 15 minutes of simmering time, and that the broth would likely still be pretty thin without the potato.  It worked really well, as in 15 minutes it had already thickened.

While the soup was simmering I warmed up some of the Acme Italian Batard, my absolute favorite soup and stew accompaniment.

Freshly chopped Italian parsley and tarragon are added immediately prior to serving.  We paired it with the white burgundy that was the vin of the coq au vin.

It was really flavorful for such a short cooking time.  And the flavors are so... French!  With the bacon, white wine and herbs, it tastes distinctively like French cuisine.  We really liked it.  I think that adding the potato was a great idea to make the broth thick enough the first day of serving, as it was pretty thin before the 15 mins of simmering.  In the absence of potato, it might be best to wait until the day after you cook it for it to set and thicken overnight before serving - if you can resist with all the good smells in the house!

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I realize I am venturing outside the soup and stew realm in posting about meatballs.  But I can't not share something this good.

Wayne and I had these meatballs (exactly one each) during the Russian River Valley Wine & Food Affair in November.  For a little more info on that fun event, see and
They were serving them at Mill Creek Vineyards.  At the time, and after sampling only one meatball, I proclaimed they were THE BEST MEATBALLS EVER.  (more accurately, it was THE BEST MEATBALL EVER).  I am pretty darn fond of the meatballs at Barbacco in San Francisco, so I took that judgment seriously.  I have now made them myself twice, and there is no doubt about their status.

So with no further ado...

These meatballs have alot of tasty ingredients in them that make them so good.  That is onion, garlic, parmigiano reggiano, basil, pepper and currants in there.

Part of what makes them so good in my opinion is that they have both beef and Italian sausage in them. Egg, milk and bread crumbs help hold them together and keep them really moist.  Note Le Creuset in the background at the ready to do some browning.

The meatballs are browned on all sides in batches (this is what takes a LONG time), then baked in the oven to cook them through.  There is also a simple tomato sauce to make to go with them.  I don't think you want or need to have a large amount of sauce with these. Just a little to keep them moist.

After browning and baking, I put them all in Le Creuset with some warm sauce on top to head over to Mike and Shirley's for the Patriots game.  In our haste to leave, I didn't think to take a picture of the finished product.  At Shirley's my Le Creuset had the opportunity to become acquainted with hers as they sat on adjacent burners on the stove while the meatballs rewarmed a bit.  Unfortunately I failed to capture that special moment in a photo. Hers is colored Marseille, which is my other favorite Le Creuset color.

The meatballs were very well received.  I was really happy that Shirley liked them, as I was making them at her request.  Shirley is an extremely good cook - both how she cooks and what she cooks - and I love when she cooks for me.  I eat so much that I end up in pain or passed out in a food coma every time.  But this makes me very happy!  So it was really fun to have her enjoy them so much and give back.

Note that the quantity below will make about two dozen meatballs.  I think if you are going to go through the effort, you'll want to make at least a double batch.  I made a double batch of the meatballs with a single batch of sauce, and it was just right.  You want just a little bit of sauce clinging to the meatballs and keeping them moist.  And you want to taste the flavors of the meatballs.

Nonna's Italian Meatballs
Chef Ken Rochioli

1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons milk   [I used whole]
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese   [I used parmigiano reggiano]
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 egg
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons pine nuts   [it is critical to chop these or they come off during browning]
2 tablespoons dried currants

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the bread crumbs and milk in a medium bowl and let them stand 5 minutes [I try to break it up well so you don't have a big clump].  Add the Parmesan, onions, basil, egg, garlic, pepper, sausage, ground beef, pine nuts and currants, and blend well [I blend it really thoroughly with gloved hands.  The entire mixture should hold together well when thoroughly blended].  Using wet [or gloved] hands, form the mixture into balls [I go for slightly larger than golfball size].  Saute the meatballs in a nonstick pan over medium heat until they're uniformly browned [this is done in batches, and I use a little olive oil for the first batch so they don't stick].  Place them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  [Break open a meatball after 10 minutes to check whether cooked all the way through.  I've found it may take 15-20 minutes at the size I've made].


1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-low heat.  Add the onions and saute until they're golden, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, stir the pot for one minute, then add the tomatoes and their juice, and half of the basil, and bring them to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce on low heat until it thickens - at least half an hour.  Mix in the remaining basil and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, January 14, 2013

White Bean Soup

Wayne and I had a busy weekend this past weekend.  We had his company holiday party to attend Saturday night, and we planned to watch the Patriots game over at Mike and Shirley's on Sunday.  For the latter I was planning to make THE BEST MEATBALLS EVER (recipe at  So on Saturday afternoon I wanted to make our soup for the week, and I was looking for something relatively quick.

A couple months ago my friend Helen had pointed me in the direction of a White Bean Soup recipe by Williams-Sonoma, and I'd been wanting to give it a try.  For Christmas I had been given a bunch of cool new toys for the red cucina, including a super neat can opener (who knew they were still innovating that kind of thing!) and an immersion blender.  The latter I had been wanting to get because it's such a pain to puree anything hot.  You're supposed to let the soup cool somewhat first, but I'm way too impatient for that.  Ladling hot liquid into a food processor only to have hot steam and soup spray go everywhere is a messy and potentially dangerous proposition.  The immersion blender promised to make pureeing a delightful and fast experience done directly in Le Creuset.

The other improvement to my instruments de cuisine was that I finally got all of my knives sharpened last week.  They were in terrible need.  A local grocer called Piazza's has this great knife sharpening service I recently learned about.  You drop off your knives, and each Tuesday they have a mobile knife sharpener come and sharpen them for $7 each.  Then you pick them up when convenient.  Simply fantastic!

So with my immersion blender and freshly sharpened knives at the ready, I embarked upon this recipe:

The soup has a large amount of flavor for the few ingredients in it.  You start out with some chopped pancetta to flavor the oil and season the sauteing vegetables.

It's quite fast to soften all the vegetables and get to the point of adding the seasonings, beans and broth.

After a bit of simmering it is time for the immersion blender to do its thing.  What I hadn't expected was that there would be this powerful suction force pulling the immersion blender to the bottom of the pot.  It was pretty cool.  And it did its work FAST, with no mess.

The soup is really creamy without having any cream.  The immersion blender pureed everything really thoroughly so the soup had the right consistency, and then the addition of the parmigiano reggiano takes it up another creamy notch and adds some depth and saltiness.

We did not eat it the night I made it, so I can't comment on the difference between when it is first made and once it has had some time for the flavors to develop.  Tonight it was delicious with some crusty Italian batard - note my bread bunny.  I love the Acme Italian Batard; it is my favorite bread to warm sliced in the oven to get it nice and crunchy crusty to dip in soup.  This soup has enough flavor that it was a satisfying meal to have just the soup and bread (and some red wine).  I'll definitely make it again.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Eat a Rainbow" Vegetable Soup

This was my first weekend of this winter as a "ski widow".  Once Wayne has access to his ski house, if there is snow, he is up there most weekends.  So I use the time to rest and nest.  I clean, reorganize and get caught up on things that have been on my "to do" list for months. And of course, I cook.  Each Sunday I'll prepare something for us that will be ready when he arrives so we can eat dinner together.  The lucky guy ;) gets to come home to a warm house that smells of whatever is simmering on the stove.

So today I glamorously cleaned the oven and rearranged my spice drawer.  I am quite excited about the latter, actually.  When I first moved in I chose the top pull-out drawer in my pantry for my spices, and they were all in their upright position in a barely organized way.  Whenever I needed something I'd have to pull out the drawer and stand on my tip-toes to lift each container trying to be able to read the label on the side to find what I was looking for.  And pulling out things from the back was always a pain.  Why I lived with that situation for over 6 years, I can't explain.  But today, I moved them all down one drawer and put them all on their sides with the labels facing up (which I noted is the way my friend Shirley keeps hers; I was inspired).  So now only the really large jars for spices I buy in bulk are upright in back.  So much better!

This weekend I decided to make a soup for which I've had the recipe since grad school.  I got it from a post-doc in the lab who made it for a lab potluck.  It is surprisingly flavorful for how little seasoning is in it and that it calls for water instead of broth.  One clever aspect of it is that it includes arborio rice, the rice used to make risotto.  If you've ever made risotto, you know that the rice essentially dissolves into and thickens the broth you are gradually adding.  In this soup, it does the same thing.  By the time you eat it the rice has completely dissolved and thickened up the broth quite nicely.  The best part of this recipe though, is all the different vegetables in it.  I am calling it "Eat a Rainbow" because there is quite a spectrum here:

As likely many have heard, it is supposed to be quite healthy to eat vegetables of many different colors as they all contain different vitamins.  I love delicious AND healthy, and this soup is it.  But the other reason I wanted to call this soup "Eat a Rainbow" is because ever since I was little, I've loved rainbows and to organize things by color.  To this day, I have the blouses hanging in my closet arranged by the spectrum of the rainbow.  This time of year we have them often in the Bay Area given the weather patterns.  I sometimes see them driving up 101 to work in the morning, and it brightens the start of my day.

This recipe is really straighforward.  My one suggestion is to monitor it as it is simmering to decide whether it needs more broth.  Originally the broth looks thin as below, but as the arborio rice dissolves and it is simmering away you may feel you'd like to make sure there is enough broth.  I just add more water by the 1/2 cup.  When finished it is intended to be a dense, chunky soup without too much broth.

It is amazing how thick and flavorful this soup is despite the few seasonings added.  Some freshly ground pepper and a generous sprinkling of parmigiano reggiano is all it needs.  Delicious.  Enjoy!

Vegetable Soup
Chef unknown

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves  [the original recipe doesn't call for garlic, but it only adds flavor]
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large red-skinned potato, cut into 1-inch dice
1 yellow squash, cut into 1-inch dice
1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch dice
1 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1-inch dice  [I omit this as I don't like the flavor and texture in this soup]
1/2 cup arborio rice
28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped  [note I do not add all the excess juice in the can to the soup]
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 stalk broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets
1/4 head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1 rib celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup frozen peas
Grated parmigiano reggiano for garnish

Saute onion [garlic] and bell pepper in olive oil for 6 minutes.  Add carrot, potato, zucchini and squash and saute for 5 minutes.  Add rice and stir really well for awhile to coat the rice.

Add tomatoes, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and 6 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and add broccoli, cauliflower, celery and peas.  Simmer 35 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with parmigiano reggiano accompanied by a warm crusty Italian bread.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chicken Tagine (aka Wayne's favorite meal)

I've been away from Le Creuset and the blog for awhile.  Had a great Christmas in Denver with family.  Lots of catching up over good food and drink.  My sister Ali and her fiance Michael (who also loves to cook) shared cooking responsibilities with me.  For Christmas morning brunch they made an apple cake from Smitten Kitchen that was absolutely delicious:
They made it in a 13x9 glass pan instead of a bundt pan so it took alot less time to bake.  When I make it (and I most definitely will!) I will use the glass pan with gala apples as they did so it turns out just like theirs did.  Perfection.

Also worth mentioning, for Christmas Eve I tried out for the first time a meatball recipe from the Wine and Food Affair and they are THE BEST MEATBALLS EVER.  I promised to make them for my friend Shirley, so I will post about those along with the recipe sometime soon.  [Here it is!]

Wayne didn't join me in going to Denver for Christmas.  Before I left I promised him that I would make his absolute favorite meal, chicken tagine, over the holidays when I got back.  Upon my return I made a couple non soup or stew things, and we also ate out a few times (including Oren's Hummus Shop - more than once!).  It was getting close to the end of my holiday break, and I hadn't made good on my tagine promise.  So I decided for it to be our New Years Day meal with mimosas to sip as I chopped.

The downside of this recipe is that it requires ALOT of chopping.  But the flip side of that is that it makes a huge batch, so you get a great return on your investment with several meals where the flavors just get better with time.  But to give you a sense of what is involved - all 1/4 inch dice:

Note bowls are much larger than they appear!

But really the chopping is the bulk of it.  You brown the chicken at the beginning, then you saute the onions and garlic, bring the chicken broth to a simmer, and add all of the remaining ingredients over time.

It makes a very rich and flavorful broth.  You have the curry spices and the slight sweetness from the cinnamon and dried fruit.  Served over couscous it is an extremely satisfying winter comfort food.

Now a note of warning/advice.  This tagine is not at its best the day you make it, especially if you serve it right after it has finished the recommended amount of cooking time.  This really, really improves when it has time to set.  The broth thickens substantially and becomes much richer when it takes up the flavors of all of the ingredients.  If you can force yourself to wait until the next day for the first meal, you will be rewarded with a much more satisfying and soul-warming broth.

Chicken and Vegetables with Couscous
From The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

2 chickens (2 1/2 to 3 lbs each), each cut into 8 pieces  [I use 3 lbs of boneless skinless thighs instead]
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
8 cups chicken broth
3 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large white turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
5 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups pitted prunes, halved
1 cup golden raisins
steamed couscous

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven.  Cook the chicken in batches until opaque and slightly golden on both sides.  Do not overcook.  Transfer to a dish and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic to the dutch oven, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Then add the chicken broth, cinnamon sticks and all the spices.  Bring to a boil, then continue boiling for 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, and add the chicken legs and thighs, carrots, zucchini, turnip and bell pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Then add the chicken breasts, tomatoes, prunes, and raisins, and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the cinnamon sticks, and serve the tagine in deep bowls over steamed couscous.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

I felt like giving Le Creuset a second spin of the weekend to make another soup.  This way we'll have good eats to tie us through the week and possibly leave some vittles for Wayne for while I'm away for Christmas (I'm not-so-secretly still holding out hope he'll be able to join me in Denver...).  Not that there is anything wrong with his love for toast, but toast for breakfast and dinner for six days straight would be nutritiously monotonous in my opinion, so I would love to leave him alternatives.

I decided to make another dish I'd made before that needed some tweaks.  This one is a pumpkin and black bean soup.  The original recipe has ham in it, and I decided to leave that out.  I also recalled from last time that it was relatively too much bean and too little pumpkin, so I had wanted to add more pumpkin this time.  The finished product tonight was quite delicious, and you could make out the pumpkin, black bean and tomato flavors.  It had a nice complexity, even when served right after making it.  And it was also nice and thick without having to set overnight.  Wayne had three bowls.  Need I say more.

The recipe can be found at:
Good to know before buying ingredients is that I used only 2 cans of black beans, and I used a larger 29 oz can of Libby's pumpkin instead of a 16 oz.  Also, no sherry vinegar.  In addition to the spices listed, I used coriander powder, curry powder and paprika.

So the first trick for this recipe is to use a food processor to do the chopping.  Since you have to use it to puree the black beans and tomatoes and are going to have to clean it, you might as well put it to work for you twice.  You can throw in and chop together the onion, shallots and garlic.  I used a whole medium-sized yellow onion and three good-sized shallots along with the 4 cloves of garlic.

Once all of that plus 1Tbsp of cumin was sauteing in 2 Tbsp of olive oil (I have a raging butter aversion), I wiped out the food processor and pureed two cans (not three) of black beans (from which I had reserved a generous half cup of whole beans), and a cup of chopped tomatoes plus two more tomatoes until it was coarsely pureed.  After the onions et al were browned, I added the 4 cups of beef broth, pumpkin, bean/tomato puree and a little less than a half cup sherry.  I also added 1 tsp each of coriander powder and curry powder and 1/4 tsp of paprika.  I could tell right away when stirring in the pumpkin that it was going to be nice and thick and sufficiently pumpkin-y.  

I simmered for about the recommended 25 minutes, then added the reserved black beans and heated them through.  A little more salt and pepper, and it was ready to serve.  Quite fast and really good.

Highly recommend this one.  It is tasty and really healthy.  Will definitely make it again with these modifications - so glad that I'm writing them down!  :)

Chicken, Quinoa and Green Olive Stew

Today was one of those cold, wet winter days when we were glad we could just spend the day indoors.    I was really looking forward to cooking something - it is such joyous relaxing time for me.  I decided to make a stew that I had made last winter and really liked the combination of flavors.  It is a chicken stew with some smoky/spicy flavor from fire roasted tomatoes and ancho chili powder, and it also had olives and orange zest for additional dimensions and contrast.  I thought it was pretty inspired and worked really well.  The first time I made it I had noted a couple tweaks I would try the next time to make it even better, so I was looking forward to giving it a go.

The recipe can be found at:
The first change I made was to brown the chicken instead of boiling it in the broth because I thought the browning first would help to seal in moistness.  I cut each thigh into thirds and browned them on both sides in a tablespoon of olive oil in two batches.  I removed the chicken and set it aside while I sauteed the onion in the olive oil that was left in the pot, plus a splash more.  With the onions softening it was possible to scrape up the browned bits from the chicken.

After adding the cumin, coriander, etc and cooking for a couple minutes, I then added the full 4 cups of chicken broth and reserved chicken along with the remaining spices, tomatoes and orange zest (but not the quinoa). I let this come to a boil, then added the quinoa.  Then I covered and simmered for 15 mins.

One of the other things I had remembered was how much I had liked the olive flavor in the stew, and thought it would be better if the olives had been cut into smaller pieces rather than leaving them whole so that they would be more distributed throughout the stew.  Rather than using olives with pimento as per the recipe, I bought some pitted green olives at the Whole Foods olive bar that had been marinated with chopped garlic.  I quartered these to add to the stew.

After the stew simmered for 15 mins to cook the quinoa, I added the quartered olives and chickpeas.  I also used my spoon to break apart the chicken into some slightly smaller pieces.  After the olives and chickpeas were warmed through, right before serving, I added an extra bunch of orange zest (at least 1 teaspoon) to add that contrasting brightness.

We had the stew with tortilla chips and a nice Spanish red wine from Jumilla.  From our experience last year we know it goes very well with an amber ale as well.  You definitely need the right beverage that can stand up with the heat of the dish.  It does have a kick, but without being so hot you can't taste the flavors.  So beer is a really good choice, or it has to be the right wine that doesn't have too much alcohol.  We thought the stew was really good, and it paired well with the wine we had.

All in all I thought it turned out better this second time than the first.  I don't know that browning the chicken made a big difference, but I think the broth may have been richer and more flavorful because of  it.  I recall it thickened quite a bit last time between when I first made it and when I reheated it.  We're definitely looking forward to having it again in a day or two to see how it has developed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turkey and White Bean Chili

I have been remiss in posting about my last adventure with Le Creuset.  It has been a busy week.

Last Sunday I hosted a holiday party for the people in my group.  For a similar gathering in past years I had served several warm appetizers and ended up spending far more time in the kitchen than hanging out with everyone.  So this year I wanted something less labor-intensive the day of.  I decided to go with some appetizers I could prepare in advance, and I thought it would be a great occasion to make a chili that Wayne and I had at Lynmar Estate during the Wine & Food Affair in Russian River Valley in early November.

The Wine & Food Affair is an awesome event for foodies who love wine - like me :)  All of the participating wineries prepare a food to pair with one of their wines during tasting, and the participants receive a cookbook containing all of the wineries' recipes.  In addition to being a great new cookbook, it serves as a directory the day of the event so you can find the foods you really want to try and head to those wineries.  It was an absolutely beautiful, warm day for early November.  Wayne and I should have been joined by my Mom, who had planned to visit that weekend to go the event with us.  She canceled her trip, but we decided to go anyway.  Lynmar Estate is an especially beautiful winery with gardens where they grow their own vegetables interspersed with ornamental plants.  It was exceedingly picturesque at their vineyard that day.

They served a Turkey and White Bean Chili meant to be paired with their pinot noirs.  It was one of the tastiest chilis I'd ever had.  When I took a close look at the recipe I understood why - "Turkey and White Bean Chili" was a euphemism for chili with turkey AND bacon AND beef.  Paired with some cornbread it seemed like a good winter meal to make for the peeps.  And I could use Le Creuset!

So again I cooked some bacon.  This time I was in luck because Whole Foods had available their own meat counter applewood-smoked  thick cut bacon.  It looked pretty darn delicious.

After browning the bacon, I added all the chopped veggies to saute them with the bacon.  All the chopping was the most labor-intensive part of this recipe, but it really wasn't that bad.

I made the chili the day before so that I'd have the opportunity for it to set, and for the flavors to meld and develop overnight.  Here is the finished product the next day just before serving.

It tasted just like I remembered.  I served it with thinly sliced green onions, crumbled cotija cheese, lime wedges and some warm cornbread.  Some happy chili eaters:

Definitely a chili I would make again.  And very different than the other chili I like, the Jalapeno Chile from The New Basics Cookbook, which has mild and hot Italian sausage, so is pretty different in flavor with more of an Italian bent.  Recipe for Turkey and White Bean Chili, by chef David Frakes, follows.  Enjoy!

6 slices thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1/4-inch dice
1 large yellow pepper, seeded and chopped into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon paprika (smoked or regular)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb lean (85%) ground beef
1 lb ground turkey (I used thigh)
1 cup dark Mexican beer (I used Negra Medelo)
1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Great Northern, but would use cannelini next time)
1 24 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 24 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice

In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until the pieces are lightly crisp, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic, onions, bell peppers, chili powders, cumin, oregano and paprika, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook the mixture until the vegetables are tender and the seasonings are aromatic.

Add the beef and break it up with a wooden spoon.  Once the beef is broken up and beginning to brown, add the ground turkey.  Break it up with the spoon and brown it until it's no longer pink, roughly 4 minutes.  Stir in the beer and beans.  Add the crushed and diced tomatoes.  Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1.5-2 hours.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Transfer the chili to serving bowls and garnish with lime wedges, sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced scallions.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bacon-Corn Chowder with Shrimp

Last night's soup represented two firsts for me.  The first first was making a chowder.  Despite liking seafood and having spent several years living on the East Coast, I've entirely stayed away from eating them, let alone cooking them, given the perceived high cream/butter content.  Those who have eaten with me tend to know that I don't eat butter - or cream - or cheese - basically any foods rich and creamy with high animal fat content (and yes, that does include many desserts - such as ice cream).  I've been this way all my life, and those who love cheese are generally most appalled.  But back to the soup.

The second first is that I had never cooked bacon in my life.  That first is likely more surprising.  I'm not really into breakfast foods, and sausage is by far my breakfast pork product of choice, so here we were.

So why, given the above, was I embarking on this bacon-y chowder?  It had been prepared for me by my friends Ron and Katie in Boston over the summer, and I devoured it.  It was that good.  When they told me they had made a chowder for dinner, I was obviously quite dubious.  But over the years I've shared many great meals with wonderful conversation, wine and food with Ron and Katie in their home, so I was going to embrace this chowder.  When I heard that it was a Cooking Light recipe, and that they were going to be opening a Hartford Court pinot noir to drink with it, I thought ok, if ever I was going to have chowder and enjoy it, this would be the occasion.

So fast forward about 4 months.  Ron had sent me home with a photocopy of the recipe, and I had been thinking during the week that this would be the weekend to give this soup a try for Wayne and me.  In addition, it was going to be tree trimming night, so a bit of a special occasion.  The recipe says it is "super fast" 20 minute cooking.  It wasn't too much work, but it definitely took longer than 20 minutes.

Here is a link to the recipe:
I made some modifications I'll mention below.

The Le Creuset is ready to saute some bacon (a first for both of us):

Roasted corn from Trader Joe's.  A tip from Ron.  Imparts some good smoky flavor used instead of plain corn kernels:

The "special" extra ingredient Ron jazzed it up with.  Some large scallops.  I reduced the shrimp to about a half pound, took off the tails and cut the shrimp into smaller chunks, and added 3/4 lb of these big beauties leaving them whole:

The finished product:

The only other change I made was to puree 3 cups of the corn mixture rather than 2, and I used a food processor to do it instead of a blender.  I was a little unsure of the consistency. but after adding the half-and-half and seafood, it all came together nicely.  One modification I would make next time would be to add a little bit of chopped jalapeno or some crushed red pepper flakes to add a little contrasting heat.

Definitely glad I made it.  Only enough for one meal with a lunch-sized portion left for Wayne :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ribollita reboiled

After 24 hours of much anticipation, we reheated the Ribollita.  Before heating it was as thick as stew, and only slightly thinned upon heating.  Per the recipe, I served each bowl with a splash of olive oil and the chopped oil cured black olives and grated parmiggiano reggiano.

The addition of those three toppings makes this soup.  The saltiness of the olives, the tang of the cheese and the richness when you have a little pool of olive oil in your spoonful is absolutely divine.  Just as I cautioned about the necessity of the grated cheese for the Wild Rice, Butternut Squash and Cannellini Bean Stew, the olive oil, black oil cured olives and parmiggiano reggiano are necessary to elevate this dish.  It has been quite a lesson for me on how important these "extra" items added to the top at the end, rather than cooked in, can be to adding complexity of flavor and taking a dish to wow.

Now, as Wayne says, I must follow my muse as I decide what to make next.  In the meantime we'll get a couple more yummy meals out of this pot of Ribollita.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Back from Costa Rica and ready to start soup and stew season in earnest!  Tonight I created my first meal in the new Le Creuset dutch oven Wayne got for me (thanks again, Wayne!).  I am in love.  It heats so evenly.  Simmering was like no simmer I've experienced before.  I am excited for all the soups and stews (and occasional pot roast, braised chicken, etc) I will make in it.

Tonight I made a Ribollita - Italian "reboiled" vegetable soup.  I first had this in Rome in 1998, and after the first time I had it on the trip, I was trying to eat it at every restaurant we went to.  It is a really thick, hearty soup, and the magic happens by adding chunks of bread to the soup, simmering until they dissolve, and then letting it set overnight.  When you reheat the next day, the flavors have come together and the soup is rich and satisfying.

Before adding the bread:

Here it comes:

Bread is dissolved and broth is much thicker:

The recipe I used is from 101 Cookbooks.  This is the link:

So far the only modification I have made is to add only about half of a lemon's worth of lemon zest.  When I reheat tomorrow I will check seasonings and adjust as needed.  Will post how it turns out.

In the meantime, since I officially started soup and stew season two weeks ago when I made Wild Rice, Butternut Squash and Cannellini Stew, I wanted to post the link for that recipe from Sunset.  It is one of our favorites, and is really, really good with LOTS of parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top.  It transforms the dish which is not nearly as good without it, so don't make it without buying the grated parmigiano reggiano!  Yes, that is a disclaimer for anyone who makes it without!
As for the link:

Finally, a big thank you to Helen for the suggestion of the White Bean Soup from Williams Sonoma to try.  Sounds delicious!  Will definitely be giving it a try.  [And I did!  See:]

Enjoy and be healthy!