cucumber à la julia child

This week would have been the 102nd birthday of everyone’s favorite food maven and former spy Julia Child. Julia was a firm believer in following your heart, stepping outside of your comfort zone and embracing life regardless of the obstacles placed in front of you. In honor of her and all she has given to a world of home cooks and great chefs alike, I have decided to reblog my post about Julia from last August and my (her) recipe for Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup.

Until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement 
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia, thank you for being you!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

salsa! (or was it a waltz?)

When life hands you lemons you make Limoncello (well at least I do). And when life hands you a bounty of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions you make… Salsa!

The calendar may read October but my garden is still churning out a summer’s share of the aforementioned vegetables. I’ve made countless batches of tomato sauce, sliced, diced and sautéed peppers and onions for every dish imaginable and made a super spicy simple salsa (say that three times fast), yet I still have plenty more vegetables left to use.

The traditional raw salsa I made was really fresh and delicious, but I wondered what would happen if I took the same ingredients and roasted them. I often slow roast tomatoes and serve them as appetizers along with herbed olives and cheese and I love how roasting broccoli turns the ordinary into extraordinary, so I was intrigued by the idea of a slow roasted salsa. As expected it was delicious with a depth of flavor the raw ingredients alone could never have achieved, although it struck me as more of a caponata and less like a salsa. Regardless of what you call it, I ended up with way more of this spicy little number than I thought we would eat with chips or enjoy in tacos. So, what did I do… Made soup of course!

We consume gallons of soup in our house. Once the weather cools off I often roast a chicken for dinner on Sundays, which means I always have a bit of leftover bird to do something with during the week. Soup is usually my solution and this spicy chicken and black bean soup was a particularly delicious creation.

It would appear that roasting is the never fail dance in 3/4 time method of cooking!

Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup
This soup is the perfect busy weeknight dinner.

spicysoup3

2 cups roasted tomato-chile salsa (see recipe below)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 cups leftover chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 tbsp. lime juice
diced avocado, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
tortilla chips, for garnish

  1. In a large stockpot add the salsa, broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer. Add the beans and let simmer for 15 minutes covered.
  2. Uncover and add the chicken and frozen corn and allow to cook until everything is heated through, about 8-10 min.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice (don’t skip the lime juice, it really adds a wonderful freshness to the soup), adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with avocado, fresh cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese with a few tortilla chips on the side.

Roasted Tomato-Chile Salsa
Roasting the vegetable and adding a little raw onion at the end makes this the perfect salsa.

2 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 lg. onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb. fresh Poblano chilies
3 fresh Habanero chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
a handful of cilantro
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup finely diced onion

  1. Turn the broiler on to high. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Break the head of garlic into cloves (leaving the skins on) and place in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the tomatoes, the quartered onion and chilies and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Toss to cover each vegetable in oil and place in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil until the skins begin to blister and pop (the peppers will be ready before the tomatoes.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the stems from the Poblano peppers, tear in half and wipe out as many seeds as you can (don’t make yourself crazy trying to get them all.)
  5. Add all the vegetables, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but the salsa is still chunky. Stir in the diced onion and allow to chill before serving. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

tweaked up chicken-corn chowder

If you’ve ever read this blog before then you know how difficult I find it to follow a recipe exactly as written. Even when I set out to play by the rules, I find myself making a little change here and there. No recipe is safe from my tweaking including as it turns out, one of my own.

Last January I posted a Chicken-Corn Chowder recipe that was crazy delicious, but also a little on the heavy side. I suppose my rational was that when the temps outside are frigidly cold you want a comforting, hearty meal that will not only fill your belly but also make you feel warm and toasty inside. However since it’s Summer (and heavy and toasty is the last way I’m hoping to feel), I happen to have both heavy cream lingering in my fridge from my Julia Child homage and a container of leftover smoked chicken looking for reinvention, I thought I’d revisit this recipe and see if I could tweak it up a bit.

It turns out that by simply swapping a little diary for chicken broth, using canned creamed corn (I know, the blasphemy!) and kicking up the spices a bit I had a tasty and way less filling meal on the table in no time flat. I do so love when things fall into place! The original recipe is still a good one, don’t get me wrong, but this one it’s just a little bit closer to perfect.

Spicy Smoked Chicken-Corn Chowder
I used leftover smoked chicken (we’ve been on a bit of a smoking jag around here) but leftover roasted or store-bought rotisserie would work just as well.

chowder-revisit2

3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups celery (about 3 stalks), thinly sliced
1 can mild green chilies (or diced jalapeños)
3 cups low-fat milk
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2-1 tsp. chipotle chili pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups leftover smoked chicken, shredded
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 15 oz. can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can cream-style corn
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, for garnish (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over a medium flame. Add the garlic, onion, celery and chilies and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until corn and beans are tender and the chicken is heated through, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Ladle into bowls, top with shredded cheddar and serve with a side of cornbread. (I think this chowder is even better after its sat overnight so I usually make it the day before I intend to serve it.)

*adapted from cooking light and kerrygold.com

modernized tetrazzini

Some people love leftovers while others cringe at the very idea. I happen to be a leftover lover. A delicious meal with a fraction of the work, um yes please! In my mind what’s even better than a no hassle dinner of leftovers is turning those leftovers into something entirely new and delicious. Think shepherd’s pie with leftover mashed potatoes (remind me to give you that recipe, it’s one of my families favorites), pea soup with leftover glazed ham or ice cream with leftover egg nog. Yum!

I’ve already told you that one of my all-time favorite meals is roasted chicken, but with warm weather (finally) upon us I’d much rather crank up the grill than the oven. Thankfully my husband received a “beer can chicken” rack last Father’s Day and has recently started putting it to good use. Have you ever cooked chicken this way? It’s ridiculously good and strikingly easy, especially if you have a rack. Anyway back to the leftovers— we made and enjoyed a beer can chicken last Sunday and ended up with a container of leftover meat after dinner. Chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken a la king… nope Chicken Tetrazzini.

Chicken tetrazzini seems to be one of those classic dishes that has gone the way of tuna noodle casserole (complete with crushed potato chips sprinkled on top) and sloppy joe’s. It’s typically made with some diced chicken and mushrooms, tossed with spaghetti, smothered in a heavy butter/cream sauce and baked until the cheese on top is bubbly and toasted. Tasty I’m sure, but not exactly a 2013 idea of nutritious. But if you make a few lower fat substitutions and really punch up the flavor with a bit of onion and spices, hello perfectly acceptable and surprisingly kid-friendly modern day dinner!

Sometimes those oldies really are the goodies. Perhaps next week I’ll try to modernize franks n’ beans…

Welcome to the Future Chicken Tetrazzini
This recipe is great with either leftover chicken or turkey. I typically use fusilli pasta or rotini, but you could also use spaghetti if you prefer.

NEW:tetrazzini2

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
a pinch cayenne pepper
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 cup brandy
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup flour
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup set aside
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
8 ounces thin pasta (fusilli, spaghetti), broken in thirds
3 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced large
plain panko, for topping

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, black pepper, salt, thyme, garlic, cayenne and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add the brandy and cook 2 more minutes.
  2. Add the broth to the pan and gradually add flour. Use a whisk to incorporate the flour into the liquid and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and the cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until cream cheese melts.
  3. Remove from heat and add the pasta and chicken and stir until blended. Grease a medium high-sided ceramic baking dish and pour in the tetrazzini mixture.
  4. In a small bowl mix together the panko crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pasta and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove casserole from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

*adapted from cooking light

nana’s sweet apple + chicken curry

jim+nanaMy husband comes from a long line of stovetop dusting, dialing for dinner, non-cooks. This is not a criticism, rather a statement of fact. If pressed they can all whip up a perfectly fine meal, they just would rather not. However amidst all the pizza, McDonald’s and chicken rondelets of his childhood one truly from scratch meal does proudly stand out in his memories:
his grandmother’s curry.

I too happen to love curry and have made more than a few versions over the years. My husbands reaction to my curry however is always the same… sheer delight that curry is for dinner followed quickly by disappointment that it’s not like his grandmother’s. She traditionally makes curry with the leftover lamb or pork roast from a holiday dinner, to which she adds sweet apples, onions and a little bit of spice. I’m from the coconut milk, peanut, cilantro school of curry— which I imagine is why we’re at a curry crossroads. I’ve asked her for the recipe before, in fact we spoke about it before I attempted my version, but she says she doesn’t really have one. She’s been making her curry for so long that she just knows when its right. Oh well.

The other day I was reading the food section of the paper and lo and behold there was a recipe for Sweet Apple Curry which sounded exactly like the curry my husband’s childhood memories were based on. The article claimed that as far a curries go this recipe was totally inauthentic, but absolutely delicious nonetheless. Naturally I headed straight to the store and set about attempting to duplicate his Nana’s beloved recipe.

I’m not a big fan of lamb and pork just didn’t seem right to me, so I used chicken thighs instead. I served it on Jasmine rice just like she does and I kept it fragrant, flavorful and mildly spiced. Seriously I pulled out all the memory triggering stops on this one and I’ll give you one guess how it turned out… A total success! My other half said it was the closest thing to his Nana’s that he’d ever had. Quite the compliment indeed! Just like the article said; inauthentic but delicious.

So if you know Ginny and love her famous post-holiday curry, rest assured that her recipe (or at least an approximation of it) can now live on…

Sweet Apple & Chicken Curry
This is a sweet and mild curry, however if you’re like me and enjoy a little kick in everything you eat add a few diced chilies for garnish.

nanas curry2

3 ribs celery, diced
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
3 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. mild curry powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. cold water
Jasmine rice, for serving
minced fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
diced chilies, for garnish (optional)

  1. Trim the chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in a quart-size ziploc bag, along with 1/2 cup of flour, salt and pepper. Seal and shake to coat evenly. Set aside.
  2. Dice the celery and onion and grate the garlic, set aside. Peel and core the apples and cut them into medium-size chunks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
  3. Heat the oil, 2 tablespoons at a time, in a pot over medium heat. Working in batches, add the coated chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot you just finished browning the chicken in. Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have become transparent. Add the apples and stir to incorporate; cook for another 5 minutes, then add in the curry powder, cinnamon and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes, until the spices become fragrant.
  5. Sprinkle the apple mixture with a 1/4 cup of flour and stir to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the broth along with the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. In a small dish mix together the corn starch and cold water. Add it to the curry mixture and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.
  6. When finished, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for a several minutes before serving. Serve over hot Jasmine rice and garnish with diced cilantro and diced chilies, if you like.

*adapted from the washington post

devil dog treats: take two

Life as a dog owner is much more involved then I expected. There’s puppy shots and house breaking; leashes, collars, toys, beds and crates; social time at the dog park and training classes to correct some not so hot behavior and don’t even get me started on dog food and it’s many many options. I almost think it would have been easier having another child, at least I know what to expect when you bring the little bugger home! Anyway back to the dog…

Trixie is a medium-sized (high energy) terrier-mix rescue dog who was beginning to develop some skin and ear issues. The vet didn’t want to jump to any conclusions or get crazy with tests but she suspected it could be (dum dum dummm) an allergy; perhaps seasonal or food. I don’t know about you but as soon as our pediatrician or vet says the word allergy alarm bells start going off in my head. That allergy road is no fun, I’ve been down it with both my kids and I didn’t want to go down it again with the dog. Being a bull by the horns type rather than a wait and see kinda girl, I decided to take it upon myself to switch her to a wheat free diet and see if it made any difference. Of course that would also mean rethinking those homemade devil dog treats I had so lovingly been baking her.

It turns out that making wheat free dog biscuits isn’t all that hard to do. They take a bit more time in the oven than your average chocolate chip cookie, but they’re considerably healthier and cheaper than buying them at the pet store. I discovered that oatmeal is a good alternate grain for dogs that are having issues with wheat and that pumpkin is great for canine digestion. Who knew! It’s been about two months since I changed Trixie’s diet and so far so good. I’m thinking wheat free just may be her ticket to ride. Oh the things you learn when you become a dog owner. I’m a little frightened to think what’s next…

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Oatmeal Dog Biscuits
You can make these in any shape you want. I happen to like the dog biscuit shape because it fits well in Trixie’s treat ball.

new biscuits

4 1/4 cups rolled oats, ground
2 eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. chicken broth, plus additional for brushing
3 tsp. dried parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place rolled oats in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the oat flour to the pumpkin mixture and combine with spatula to form a dry, stiff dough.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and pat into a circle. Place a sheet or wax paper over the dough and use a rolling pin to flatten it out the remainder of the way, to roughly an 1/4-1/2 of an inch thick.
  4. Cut the dough into shapes using a cookie cutter of your choice and using a spatula to pry them up, place the biscuits on a baking sheet.
  5. Brush each biscuit with chicken broth and bake for 20 minutes*. Carefully turn biscuits over, brush with more broth and bake an additional 20 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges.
  6. After both sheets of biscuits are baked turn the oven off and place the cookie sheets back inside. Allow the biscuits to dry out in the oven for another hour. After an hour allow the biscuits to cool the remainder of the way on a rack before serving to your canine friends.

*The bake time will vary depending on the size of your treats. I bake biscuit sized treats 20 minutes per side, but tiny training treats only 10 minutes per side.

Whatsa’ kid know!— Carrot & Parsnip Soup

I know I frequently post soup recipes, more than any other type of recipe in fact, but you see I really like soup. And my daughter; who orders Won-Ton soup if we get Chinese and Pasta Fagioli if we get pizza; really likes soup. So I make soup, a lot of soup!

Last weekend my little love and I were discussing soup and she suggested I make carrot soup (she loves carrots almost as much as she loves soup). Hmmmm, I think my girl was on to something. How about carrot and parsnip soup? (A natural pairing after all.) How about carrot and parsnip soup with a little curry and ginger? (A recipe was slowly beginning to take shape in my mind.) How about carrot and parsnip soup with a little curry and ginger and some coconut milk to round things out? (Oh yeah baby, I think we had the makings of something terrific here!)

So my girl and I headed to the store for ingredients and jumped right into our slicing, dicing and measuring. “This is going to be soooo good!” she told me. I had to agree. We sautéed, simmered and pureed and soon sat down to steaming bowls of Carrot & Parsnip Soup. “Um… I don’t like it,” she said. “But it’s delicious,” I say. Try it again!” [Grimace. Gag. Frantically motions for her glass of milk to wash the offending soup down.] “I don’t like it,” she says again. “Maybe next time you could just make Pasta Fagioli…”

Curried Carrot & Parsnip Soup
Even if my lovey didn’t like it, I still maintain that this soup is delicious. I like to have it for lunch with a couple of slices of buttered toast; it’s the perfect soup for dunking.

carrot soup

1 1/2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 1/2 lbs. parsnips, roughly chopped
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
3 tsp. Madras curry powder
4 cups (32 oz.) chicken broth
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 14 oz. can lite coconut milk

  1. Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook 7-10 minutes or until the onion is translucent, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the chopped parsnips, carrots and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer 45-50 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through.
  3. Use an immersion blender to process the soup to a smooth consistency. Add the coconut milk, season with salt and pepper and serve.