Saturday, May 8, 2010

Easy Peasy Carrot Fennel Soup

I did a little bit of searching before I settled on this recipe.  The primary reason for my selection was because once I bought the fennel, I already had all of the other ingredients.  I was inspired to try this interesting combo by an old Books for Cooks recipe (book bought in London, in a little book shop in Notting Hill across the street from the travel book shop in The Movie) and then did some searching on the internet.  During that search I did in fact find another really interesting food blog, "My Man's Belly", which is now in my hall of fame to the right, too.  I plan to try Pamela's soup as well.  As always, if I vary the recipe, I write that far below. 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced; fronds reserved
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sour cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1.  In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter until foamy. Add the fennel slices and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the carrots and garlic and cook another minute. Pour in 6 cups of water and season with salt. Simmer, covered, until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.

2.  Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the orange juice, sour cream and reserved fennel fronds. Use the back of a spoon to mash some of the carrots and fennel, but leave the soup chunky. Season with salt and pepper.

My changes:

Less water (4 cups) and in fact I was sorely tempted to use chicken stock but thought I'd give the actual recipe a shot first. 
Pre-cut thinly sliced carrots. 
Pre-minced garlic in a glass bottle (you know the kind).  In fact I also forgot to stir the darn stuff in the fennel/butter mixture which would have been better - I literally added it about 20 minutes into the last stage - the water reduction stage.
TIME:  I bet I had this simmering for an hour and a half.  I think the writer was nuts - 20 minutes would do nothing to those carrots, even the thin ones.  Let it simmer on down!
Probably closer to half a cup of sour cream.

I was skeptical, thinking it would be bland (water?) but it was actually very tasty.  This was even without settling overnight.  I am sure it will be even better tomorrow!

Let me know if you try it, I think you will like it.


Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm keen for Quinoa

Which must be like saying "I'm Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" but in a more mature way.

That is the theory, at least.  It's bubbling downstairs, I'll soon take a bite.  This is a slight break from Five Easy Pieces - to resume later this week.

Here is the recipe:

Baked Quinoa With Spinach and Cheese


1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, minced
4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 cup uncooked)
2 large eggs
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish.
2. Heat a medium frying pan or a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Wash the spinach and without spinning dry, add to the pan and wilt in the liquid left on the leaves after washing. You may have to do this in 2 batches. As soon as the spinach wilts, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water. Squeeze dry and chop. Set aside.
3. Wipe the pan dry and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in it over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir with the onion until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
4. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the quinoa, the onion and spinach mixture, the Gruyère, and the sage. Add freshly ground pepper and stir the mixture together. Scrape into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place in the oven and bake until nicely browned on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to sit for about 5 minutes, and serve.

Advance preparation: The cooked quinoa will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. The recipe can be made through Step 3 several hours or even a day ahead. The gratin can be assembled several hours ahead.

The verdict?  On paper, it looks like it should be amazing.  It's not bad, but something is missing.  It's a little bland.  Maybe the spinach makes it taste too healthy (or the quinoa). 

The recipe called for salt and I didn't use it (I figured I could do that afterwards if I wanted it) and perhaps cooking with salt (instead of sprinkling it on after) is important... also, I forgot until the last second that I needed to rinse the quinoa and I don't think I managed to strain it adequately afterwards and as a result I think there was too much water - I may have overcooked it a little. I ended up straining the result! I know you are supposed to cook it until it's fluffy like rice. Next time I am buying a sieve - colanders have big holes.

It wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected. I already doled out my portion for lunch so we'll see if settling overnight helped to set the flavors in.  Also, I work with a number of Peruvians, I'll inquire with the experts.

Next day:  leftovers were much, much better.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Five Easy Pieces IV

This was definitely easy, but, my verdict:  don't bother.  Also a Mark Bittman recipe from the NYTimes. 

As Louis XVI would say on July 14, 1789:  Rien.

17. With thanks to Szechuan Gourmet restaurant: Finely chop celery and mix with a roughly equal amount of pressed or smoked tofu, chopped. Dress with peanut oil warmed with chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns, then mixed with soy sauce.

Now I have a whole lot of leftover tofu and no where to go.

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