cucumber à la julia child

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!

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.

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

bitter, spicy + obsessed

There are two types of people in this world; those who enjoy sweet, mellow and subtly spiced food and those who prefer savory, assertive and intensely flavored dishes. I happen to fall in the later category; give me salty chips, strong coffee and spicy vindaloo and I’m a happy girl.

Whether I’m at Shop Rite or one of the ethnic grocery stores I like to frequent, I’m always on the lookout for interesting foods or ingredients to try. I recently discovered Shim’on Ariche Harissa Forte at Fairway and I’ve become a bit obsessed with this little condiment. Harissa is a spicy paste of chili peppers, garlic and salt that adds a delicious kick to everything and anything. I’ve been putting it on everything from grilled chicken and salads to sunny-side-up eggs and my morning toast. (Sometimes when I need a little pick me up, I actually eat it by the spoonfull right out of the jar.) The other thing I can’t seem to get enough of these days is broccoli rabe— I just love, love, love this bitter green! I usually sauté it with garlic, olive oil and some harissa (of course) and then throw in a few chickpeas or poach an egg for on top. Delicious!

You already know that I make a lot of soup, so it seemed like a natural progression to try to incorporate my harissa/broccoli rabe obsession with my soup infatuation. Happily this proved far easier to do then I expected. The soup turned out to be wonderfully soothing creation; filled with fiber rich beans, super antioxidant broccoli rabe, and some fantastic chicken sausage just to round things out. I added a little harissa for a background kick of metabolism boosting heat and served it with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A simple bowl was enough to put a smile on my face!

But my quest to combine my two latest obsessions didn’t stop there, my final creation was a panini of broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and anchovies, a little fresh mozzarella and a hearty schmear of harissa all sandwiched between some lovely fresh ciabatta bread. Man it was good, just typing these words makes me want to hit save and head into the kitchen for another one.

I realize I have a bit of a bitter/spicy monkey on my back, but I’m okay with it. Thankfully we have a Fairway close by so I’m never without this obsession evoking condiment or my favorite greens for long. However if anyone from Fairway is reading this… I’m begging you, please start selling the harissa in larger jars. I don’t have enough pantry space for all the little jars required to feed my need!

Broccoli Rabe & Fresh Mozzarella Panini
This would no doubt be equally delicious with a couple slices of sharp provolone or perhaps a combination of mozzarella and provolone. But— even if you don’t like anchovies don’t omit them, the flavor is very subtle but it really does make a difference.

panini2

1/2 a bunch of fresh broccoli rabe, chopped into thirds
4 flat anchovies packed in oil, finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
2 wedges ciabetta bread (or other hearty bread), sliced in half
4 thin slices fresh mozzarella
harissa

  1. Quickly steam (or blanch) the broccoli rabe until it is just crisp tender and set aside.
  2. Cook the anchovies and garlic in olive oil until the garlic just begins to turn golden and the anchovies begin to dissolve, about 2-3 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe to the pan, sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and cook (stirring frequently) an additional 3-4 minutes.
  3. Heat a panini or sandwich press according to manufacturer’s instructions until hot. Brush one side of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a work surface. Layer the broccoli rabe mixture and two slices of mozzarella on each bottom slice. Spread the top slice with harissa and place on the sandwich.
  4. Put sandwiches on the press, pull down the top and cook until the cheese has melted and the ciabatta is browned and crisp, 4 to 7 minutes.

Broccoli Rabe & Chicken Sausage Soup
This soup is one of my all time favorites. It’s makes a wonderfully satisfying lunch and is perfect with a simple panini for dinner.broccoli rabe soup3

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 cans small white beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped into 1″ pieces
2 quarts chicken stock
4 tsp. harissa
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium stock pot over high heat. Add the sausage and brown 2-3 minutes, breaking up any large pieces.
  2. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until the vegetable begin to soften. Add the chopped broccoli rabe, stir well to coat with the vegetable mixture and allow to cook 1-2 minutes until the greens begin to wilt.
  3. Add to the pot the chicken stock, bay leaf, harissa and beans and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Fish out bay leaf, adjust seasonings and serve with grated cheese and some crusty bread.

game day chili

Let me begin by introducing myself; my name is Jim Greco and I’m the husband of the tour de force behind Beets and Blue Cheese. I’ve been asked to be this weeks “Blogger Emeritus” because it’s Super Bowl Weekend and (since the Giants didn’t make it this year) that really only means one thing in our house…CHILI!

Chili typically means the following: “Chili- noun \ˈchi-lē\: A small hot-tasting pod of a variety of capsicum, used chopped (and often dried) in sauces, relishes, and spice powders or a spicy stew of beef and red chilies or chili powder, often with beans and tomatoes.”

However in my house it has many connotations; football, cold weather, skiing and fermented hops consumption to name a few. Now chili may not be a strictly cold-weather food, but the only time it seems to appear in our house is when the cold northwest winds are blowing. Once the weather gets warm it’s “Jim can you light the grill— I give got some chicken/skirt steak/pork chops marinating…” (I know, your heart breaks for me, right?) Anyway, back to the chili. Jan didn’t just happen upon her chili recipe, she’s actually been working on it for years but only recently did she actually write it down. It was always good, but some batches would definitely be better than others depending on how much of this and that she put in it. After much begging and pleading on my part she finally has a real recipe to refer to, and I have perfect chili every time!

Jan’s chili is a pot of pure tasting delight with a definite dash of heat. She makes it with ground turkey rather than beef (I suppose because of my cholesterol levels), but believe me you won’t care a bit. In fact it takes quite a bit of control to eat just one bowl! (Actually I usually add an extra scoop to my dish without anyone looking, but lets just keep that between us.) Since our kids can’t really appreciate the intense heat her chili of old used to crank out it’s been “toned down” lately, but based on her ingredient list I’m sure you can modify the recipe and get the Scoville level up to where it’s perfect for you. I usually add a little of Franks’ Hot Sauce or sliced jalapeno to kick it up to a sweat-enducing level.

I’m lucky to be the husband of a food blogger and quite frankly, any way she chooses to make chili suits me just fine. Especially when it is accompanied by some nice hoppy brew and her delicious homemade cornbread! So my friends and fellow followers of Beets and Blue Cheese enjoy this fantastic chili recipe and remember, there’s no shame in seconds!

Turkey & Bean Chili
This recipe makes enough chili for a Super Bowl party sized crowd, but never fear it freezes beautifully as well.

chili

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs. ground turkey
3 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (homemade or jarred)
1 cup water
4 cups chunky chipotle salsa
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
2-3 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
7 cups canned kidney or pinto beans (or a mix of both), rinsed

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven, add the onion and sautee over medium-high for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and turkey and cook about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stir well and allow to cook an additional 2 minutes, until the juices are absorbed.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, salsa, water and all the spices. Give a good stir, add the rinsed beans and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for an hour fifteen to an hour and a half, or until the beans are tender and the turkey is cooked through.
  3. Serve garnished with sliced jalapeno, cheddar cheese or sour cream and with a side of homemade cornbread or tortilla chips.

“To place different elements alternately” (i.e. Sandwich…)

Sandwiches. They come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Fancy little tea sandwiches and big honkin’ heroes (sorry my New England friends, I mean grinders!), ooey gooey grilled cheese and simple avocado with hot sauce on toast. They can be the perfect accompaniment or the star player. I don’t truly believe anyone who says they don’t like sandwiches, I think it’s more likely they just haven’t tried the right one.

With all the soup I’ve been making lately it should come as no surprise that sandwiches have also been on the menu. So much so in fact that my husband bought me a panini press for Christmas. (Yes a rather self-serving gift but, since I got him a subscription to a wine club I think we’re even!)

One of my favorite sandwiches (with or without the side of soup) happens to be curried chicken salad. Sure it’s a bit more involved than say a simple ham and cheese, but it’s oh so good. And since this recipe makes a considerable amount of chicken salad you’ll have plenty leftover for more lunches, dinners and a few “I’m hungry what’s in the fridge that I can eat while standing in front of it” forkfuls during the week.

Curried Chicken Salad
I love this chicken salad between a couple of slices of bread, on a bed of salad greens or even served on crackers as an appetizer.

sandwich2

4 cups shredded poached chicken (see recipe below)
1/2 cup celery, diced small
1/3 cup onion, diced small
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 an apple, diced small
1 cup light mayonnaise
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. Madras curry powder (hot or mild)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

  1. In a medium bowl, toss together the shredded chicken, celery, onion, parsley and apple. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry powder, raisins, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently mix to combine. Serve on multi-grain bread or refrigerate until ready to use.

To Poach Chicken:
10 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 leek quartered
10 baby carrots
2 stalks celery, halved
1 1/2 lb. boneless/skinless chicken breasts (about 3)
1 quart chicken broth

  1. Place the parsley, thyme, onion, carrots, celery, and chicken breasts in a medium saucepan. Cover with broth and bring to just a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and cover. Poach the chicken for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat, uncover and cool the chicken in the poaching liquid for 30 minutes.
  2. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow cool the remainder of the way. (Reserve the poaching liquid for a later use and eat the carrots sprinkled with a bit of salt, they’ll be delicious). When the meat is cool enough to handle use a fork to shred it.

*adapted from food network

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.

Stop the Insanity Meatloaf

“I’m talkin’ ’bout meatloaf, I’m a meatloaf lover
I’ll tell you brother, yeah, don’t need no other
Talkin’ ’bout meatloaf, meatloaf lover
Warms you from the inside like it’s made by your mother.”
~Phineas and Ferb (the Meatloaf Festival episode)

We all lead busy lives, there’s no denying that. If your life is like mine then there’s no doubt one day out of the week that’s your non-stop crazy day. For me that day is Wednesday.

Here’s how my Wednesday’s go: Up and out the door to get my son to school for 8:30; drive across town to get my daughter to nursery school by 9:00; run to the grocery store and then home to clean up from breakfast, do laundry, deal with the dog, straighten up the house and eat bonbons on the couch while catching up on my shows (yeah, imagine!). Head back across town to pick up my daughter and take her to dance class (try to talk her into using the ladies room before changing into her leotard, lose that battle and instead take her during the middle of class— it happens every week!); change her back into her clothes and tell her that next week she has to pee before class (to which she heartily agrees). Drive back home for an hour before heading out the door to pick my son up from school at 3:30. Deep breath… Come home from school (after having the weekly “No you can’t stay to skateboard or play wall ball today because you have basketball” conversation); give the boy a quick snack and have him change his clothes before heading back to school for basketball practice (which also entails dragging a crying little girl who wants to stay and play basketball too, back to the car); only to turn around an hour later to pick him back up from practice. But hold on, we’re not done yet… Yes we’re finally home for the night but dinner still needs to be made and consumed, homework needs to be completed, lunch needs to be packed, baths/showers need to be taken and tv/ipod/ipad/relaxation time needs to be had before the bedtime bell rings. (You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I go to bed when the kids do.) So what do I serve for dinner after a crazy day like this? Something I can make ahead, something that can be cooking while I’m still busy running around and something that everyone will eat without complaint. Something like… meatloaf.

We all have a meatloaf recipe, some great and some not so hot. My go-to recipe calls for ground turkey, chunky corn & bean salsa, oatmeal, fresh onion and some spices— and it’s a plate cleaner every time! It may not be pretty (but then most meatloaf isn’t) but it is delicious right out of the oven or between a couple of slices of bread a few days later.

Turkey Meatloaf with Salsa
I use a mild chunky corn and bean salsa for this recipe, but you should feel free to use whatever type you prefer.

2 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup chunky salsa
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
4 tsp. olive oil, divided

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl mix together 2 tsp. of olive oil, the ground turkey and all the remaining ingredients.
  2. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with the remaining 2 tsp. of oil. Add the turkey mixture and mold into a loaf shape. Bake for an hour 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing.