smoked beer can chicken soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the world smells. Around this time each year I’m typically elbow deep in end of the season garden veggies; namely peppers, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. But not this year. This summers garden was a serious bust. I gave it just as much love as I ever do and the meager amount of veggies it produced was beyond disappointing. Sure my cucumber plants grew so voraciously we were eating cucumber with nearly every meal, but I got exactly two habanero and six bell peppers, the yellow and acorn squash flowered but then nada, the radishes and beets were nothing but greens and the tomato plants grew taller than me but only offered up a few handfuls of fruit. It broke my heart. What did truly flourish and produce in abundance were the tomatillos. The plants were so tall and willowy they resembled trees and each was covered stem to stern in little paper-thin green lanterns that would later be filled with the tomatillo fruit. It was the bountiful harvest I had been longing for. So you may be wondering, what did I do with all those lovely tomatillos? Well… I ate them sliced in salads and as a garnish for tacos. I made an insanely spicy Salsa Verde and I threw a handful in with some heirloom purple tomatoes for a kooky homemade pasta sauce. And I made soup.

Ours is a house of soup eaters, in fact my daughter is so crazy for soup that she’ll frequently request the leftovers for breakfast. No problem… In my mind there’s nothing like a warm comforting bowl of some homemade goodness to make a chilly Fall day (or morning) seem downright toasty. Believe it or not I’ve actually been planning for my first pot of Fall soup for a few months now. I know, seems a little crazy right? But it’s not really. You see my husband really honed his smoked beer can chicken technique this past summer. What started out as a good recipe in June turned into a killer recipe by August. It was so good that beer can chicken was the meal requested by my son’s friend the night he slept over. (And you know when a super picky 10 yr old requests one of your recipes it must be good!) Anyway, to ultimately get to this poultry of perfection recipe he made beer can chicken fairly frequently— sometimes as often as two weekends in a row. Mind you I’m not complaining, just explaining that we had a considerable amount of leftover chicken in the house and one can only eat so many chicken salad sandwiches! So, I decided to quietly squirrel away some of the leftover bits in the freezer in anticipation of that first pot of soup.

Fast forward to a chilly day in September, a day that begged for soup. Into the pot went some onion, a green pepper and a bunch of those lovely tomatillos. Out of the freezer came my carefully rationed chicken and an hour later… into our belly’s went some of the tastiest soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

And yes, my littlest love did in fact have a bowl of it for breakfast the next day.

beer can soup

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Soup
Any sort of leftover chicken will do but the smoked beer can really brings a nice flavor to the party.

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
4 cups leftover beer can chicken, cut into bite size pieces
Sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro, avocado (optional garnish)

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat warm the oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent. Then add the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. Season with salt and let cook until the tomatillos break down and become soupy.
  2. Add to the pot the spices, corn, black beans, stock and leftover chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and enjoy garnished with sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and avocado if you like.

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.

tomato soup and scooby-doo

Grilled cheese and tomato soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food combination. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m betting you have some memory directly connected to this classic combo; for me it’s cozy weekend lunches as a kid. I’d set myself up with a tv tray smack in the middle of the living room, turn on one of my favorite shows; perhaps Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats or Schoolhouse Rock and settle in with a piping hot bowl of tomato soup and a good ‘ol grilled cheese. Simple. Classic. Perfect.

Flash forward 30+ years and nothing has changed. Sure the show on tv is probably SpongeBob, Fairly Odd Parents or Uncle Grandpa (Unfamiliar with this one? Count yourself lucky.) The soup is Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque and the sandwiches are Grilled Rosemary Ham and Muenster on Marble Rye; but the cozy, comforting perfection is just the same.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque
You can also make this soup with canned whole tomatoes and it will be perfectly good, but nothing beats fresh.

tom soup2

2 1/2 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup low-fat half and half

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cloves, salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each half with olive oil then sprinkle liberally with the brown sugar mixture.
  2. Roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until the tomatoes begin to soften and collapse. Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender. Add the vegetable stock and blend until smooth.* Transfer the puree to a medium pot and heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

*To make ahead: Follow the directions up to this point, then pour into a storage container and refrigerate. When ready to use heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute, then serve.

*adapted from injennieskitchen.com

grandma’s minestrone

There’s a market about 10 minutes from my house that’s a grocery shopping adventure unlike any other. A trip there is a total sensory experience; from the Benetton ads worth of languages being spoken, to the enormous varieties of produce being sold (some completely exotic and unfamiliar). From the olive bar, fish market and cheese counter (which on any given day may include a sweet little old man making fresh mozzarella) to the fresh “you name it-they’ll make it” smoothie stand and united nations of a bread aisle. And let us not forget the bakery and chocolate department; an enormous chocolate fountain, hand dipped fruit, and chocolate Easter eggs the size of a small child’s head— Yeah they have it. Sounds like a crazy place, right? It is, but it’s also such an interesting no-two-visits-are-the-same kinda place that my kids actually jump at the chance to go. Even the NY Times has written about the experience of shopping there: “It’s mid afternoon, and as usual, Corrado’s is thronged with customers. In front of the deli counter, two women chat in Italian as they wait to buy sausage. A woman in a diaphanous pink sari prowls the spice aisle. In the produce section, a young Chinese man examines huge papery heads of garlic. ‘We cater to everybody and everybody comes to us,’ said Joe Corrado of Corrado’s Family Affair, one of the Northeast’s largest ethnic markets.” Don’t you wish you lived near me? Anyway, on to the point of my story…

Corrados has an entire aisle dedicated to pasta and grains. Seriously, an entire aisle! I’ll be honest with you, typically when I buy pasta I buy the brown rice type— it is after all the healthier and less filling option. But when I’m at Corrados all bets are off. You’ll find pastas there in shapes, sizes and varieties that you never imagined existed. How could I possibly walk away from such an amazing selection?!? On a recent shopping trip I loaded my cart with enormous rigatoni, spaghetti the thickness of no. 2 pencils and a couple of bags of pearled Italian Farro. In case you’re unfamiliar with Farro I’ll give you a quick primer: Farro is an ancient grain that’s steadily gaining in popularity. It can be made into hot cereal, served as a cold or warm side dish, turned into a risotto of sorts and even be served as a warm dessert with a little crumbled fresh ricotta and a drizzle of honey. However when I bought those bags of Farro I didn’t really have any of those uses in mind. In fact I didn’t really have anything in mind, I just thought I’d buy it now and figure things out later. The Farro sat in my cabinet for a while just waiting to be used until one day I found myself thinking of my little Italian grandmother. Not for any particular reason or of any particular memory, just thinking of her.

Grandma Perrone was the littlest of ladies, sweet and soft spoken and an amazing cook. She could take the simplest of ingredients and turn them into a feast. I can’t think about her without remembering the delicious soups she used to make; pasta fagioli, chicken with pastina and tiny meatballs and a hearty minestrone… and suddenly I found my inspiration.

Minestrone with Chicken Sausage + Farro (á la Grandma Perrone)
This is a wonderfully hearty soup that works equally well with escarole, kale or spinach. And while I prefer to use chicken sausage you can certainly use spicy pork if that’s more your thing.

farro soup

7 oz. pearled Italian Farro
2 tbsp. olive oil
14 oz. chicken sausage, broken up
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced onion
4-6 garlic cloves, grated
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
2 14.5 oz. cans fire roasted tomatoes (with their juice)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups low-sodium beef broth*
1 medium head fresh escarole, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish

  1. The night before you plan to make the soup place the dry farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight. The following morning drain, rinse and set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the sausage pieces and allow to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add to the pot the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook 5-6 minutes or until everything begins to soften. Add the mushrooms, salt and black pepper and cook until the mushroom have released all their liquid.
  3. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the tomatoes, broth, farro and reserved sausage. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Add the escarole and crushed red pepper and allow to simmer for 3 more minutes or until the escarole is tender.
  4. Adjust seasonings and serve garnished with additional crushed red pepper and a healthy sprinkle of grade cheese.

*I realize this seems like a lot of broth, but the longer the soup sits the more liquid the farro absorbs. 

not so ordinary butternut squash soup

It’s hard to believe it’s already mid-November, which means Thanksgiving is basically right around corner (I know, just typing that gives me palpitations.) Naturally I’ve been thinking about my dinner menu for a while now, in fact being the list-maker that I am I already have the menu (the current version of it anyway) taped to a cabinet for me to consider and reconsider as the big day approaches.

I try to serve a mix of “never had for Thanksgiving before” appetizers and side dishes along with everyone’s “must-have to qualify as Thanksgiving” favorites. In past years we’ve started off the day with things like baked brie with honey and almonds, homemade smoked salmon and mini bean piroshki— all delicious but not necessarily good enough to become tradition. In our house tradition dictates that we always start the meal with butternut squash soup, locally cured kielbasa, an array of cheeses and of course shrimp cocktail. Followed a bit later by deep-fried turkey, mashed potato casserole, either collard greens or brussels sprouts, cornbread stuffing and finally pecan pie. I know, I need to loosen my pants just thinking about it, but oh man is it good! To my mind Thanksgiving is not about skimpy, restrained or I’ll just have a taste— No Thanksgiving, more than any other day of the year, is all about prolonged indulgence and second-helpings.

I mentioned that I make butternut squash soup every Thanksgiving and while I realize you can’t swing a horn o’ plenty without hitting a squash soup recipe this time of year, my Coconut-Curried Butternut Squash Soup is not just any other recipe. It’s incredibly flavorful, tastes holiday-appropriately indulgent and is the perfect toasty warm start a chilly Fall day. Oh and did I mention that it’s also healthy and low-fat. I know, delicious, satisfying and low-fat… clearly a Thanksgivukkah miracle!

Anyway I encourage you to give this soup a try then sit back, relax, enjoy the day and offer up a few words of thanks for elastic waist pants.

Coconut-Curried Butternut Squash Soup
You can garnish the soup with a bit of toasted coconut or roasted pumpkin seeds if you like, but it’s just as delicious plain.

butternut squash soup2

1 large butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. coconut oil (or olive oil)
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp. Thai Red Curry paste
2 tsp. Madras curry powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz can unsweetened light coconut milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Brush the cut sides of the squash with oil and place cut side up in a roasting pan. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, cover with aluminum foil and roast for 30-40 minutes or until a fork easily pierces it. When the squash is done and has cooled enough to handle, use a spoon to carefully scoop out the flesh and set aside.
  2. Heat the coconut oil and butter over medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the curry paste, curry powder and salt and cook for a few more minutes.
  3. Stir in the chicken broth, coconut milk* and squash. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring and breaking up any large chunks of squash.
  4. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender and serve.

*To make this soup ahead follow the directions but omit the coconut milk. On the day you’re going to serve the soup add the coconut milk and bring the soup back to a simmer. Serve and enjoy.

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.

wonton soup… who knew?!?

I love soup. Winter, Summer, morning or night; there is something so soothing about a nice warm bowl of homemade soup. It’s the perfect meal; one bowl, one utensil, one nice full belly.

After making the pesto and goat cheese appetizers last weekend, I still had half a package of wonton wrappers to find a use for. Having just used them in a non-traditional manner, I thought perhaps I should consider using them for their intended purpose. I had never made a dumpling or ravioli before, but since wonton soup happens to be one of my daughter’s most favorite foods, I was willing to give it a shot.

It turns out that making won tons is not only fairly easy to do but also quite gratifying. My homemade wontons actually looked and tasted like the take out version, only infinitely better. The wrappers were thinner, which made for lighter wontons, the pork filling was fresh and flavorful and the soup was really delicious with the addition of shrimp, Napa cabbage and a touch of sesame oil.

Attempting something for the first time only to discover that it’s both easy and rewarding is such a lovely surprise. I’m still marveling at just how simple and tasty this wonton soup was and how much my entire family enjoyed it. And rest assured, I will absolutely be making it again soon.

Shrimp & Wonton Soup
I added shrimp and Napa cabbage to my version of this soup. But straw mushrooms, a bit of broccoli or thin sliced carrots would work as well.

10 cups of chicken broth
1 pkg. wonton wrappers
1 bunch of green onions
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground lean pork
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
24 raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups of Nappa cabbage, shredded
additional tamari soy sauce and sesame oil, for garnish

  1. Slice the green onions and set aside all but 3 tbsp., finely chop those and put in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the pork, sesame oil, tamari, garlic, egg, salt and pepper. With a fork, throughly mix the filling together.
  2. Spoon a generous 1/2 tsp. of filling into the center of a wonton wrapper. Lightly moisten the front edges of the wrap with water and fold the wrapper in half (into a triangle shape) and press together to seal. Moisten the front two corners with water, bring them together (overlapping them) and press to seal. Set completed wontons aside and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to cook.
  3. In a large pot, bring the broth to a boil. Drop the wontons into the boiling broth and allow to cook for 4 minutes or until they float to the surface.
  4. Once all the wontons have floated to the surface reduce the heat to simmer and add the shrimp and cabbage. Simmer for 2 minutes, until the cabbage softens a bit and the shrimp turns pink.
  5. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining green onion, a drizzle of sesame oil and a splash of tamari.

*adapted from nasoya.com