“Since hunger is the most primitive and permanent of human wants, men always want to eat, but since their wish not to be a mere animal is also profound, they have always attended with special care to the manners which conceal the fact that at the table we are animals feeding.” - John Erskine

31 July 2011

Creamed Asparagus Soup

It was my original intention to make a different asparagus soup – Steve loves asparagus and his sister runs a farm and had fresh asparagus for several weeks, since our spring was so cool and damp – but I never got around to getting some while it was on and I was hungry for some asparagus soup now.  So, being the instant gratification lover that I am, I pulled out this recipe and found that I had (most) of the ingredients I needed on hand.  Ok, I’ll admit it, I cheated.  A little.  I don’t think it will scar my children or prevent me from ever serving on a school board, but you never know.  Not only did I not have any fresh asparagus, but I can’t stand onions.  Leeks either.  Anything remotely onionish and I find myself choosing not to eat.  (Not that not eating is necessarily a bad thing.  I could certainly stand to miss a meal or two.)  So this recipe has been ... adapted to fit my personal taste and the ingredients I had on hand.  So I’ll give you the actual recipe first and then tell you what I did to cheat.  One of these days I really need to make it the way it’s written ... mostly. 

Creamed Asparagus Soup 
serves 12
9 tablespoons butter
3 leeks, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds fresh asparagus spears, each cut into thirds
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
3 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons pepper
1½ cups chive & onion cream cheese spread
¾ cup milk

Melt butter in medium saucepan on medium heat.  Add leeks; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Stir in garlic; cook and stir 2 minutes.  Add asparagus, broth and water; stir.  Simmer on medium-low heat 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.  Stir in salt and pepper.

Mix cream cheese spread and milk until well blended.

Process asparagus mixture in food processor until smooth.  Pour into 4 soup bowls.  Add cream cheese mixture; swirl gently with spoon.

Garnish with additional cooked asparagus tips just before serving.

So my first cheat adaptation: this recipe was actually intended to feed 4.  Remember me mentioning that our family of 5 is never satisfied with 4 servings of anything?  That meant that I was going to have to make more.  So, because I had enough frozen asparagus for 12 servings - almost exactly - I timesed everything by 3.  Luckily the math was fairly easy and I didn’t even have to break out my calculator.

Now having a recipe adapted to satisfy my hungry animals, I had to adapt again to the ingredients on hand.  Frozen asparagus, remember?  (Are you cluing in to the fact that I’m a frozen food kind of girl?  I really intend to use more fresh fruits and vegetables in our meals, but I’m easily distracted and fresh things tend to turn into something else altogether by the time I remember to use them.)  So I read over the recipe and decided that since most of the boiling/simmering is to cook the asparagus, the onions and the garlic, I could totally skip that part.  So I stuck my asparagus in the microwave and put the butter in the pot to melt.  And even though I can’t stand onions or anything remotely resembling an onion (although I really like garlic – love the stuff – go figure) I know that they are often necessary as flavoring.  Now this may seem totally weird to some of you, but I don’t mind the taste of onions as long as I don’t have to crunch into one or feel their slimy guts slithering around in my mouth.  So with this in mind, I added a liberal amount of onion powder (a staple I cannot live without) to my butter.  Here's the link for that. Tone's Onion Powder  I buy it by the boatload at Sam’s.  (This blog seems to be turning into a commercial for Sam’s Club.  Wonder what I did before they opened one around here...?)  It tastes really nice mixed into the butter and browned a little.  Well, not just the onion and butter, but when mixed into whatever it is I’m cooking.  And then – vampires beware – I added the garlic to the butter too.  Ok, ok, I know the recipe implies fresh garlic, but I just can’t keep it in the house.  No, we don’t eat it up immediately.  *sigh*  It simply turns into some unrecognizable goo in the produce bag in my crisper.  So Sam’s Club to the rescue again, with this little beauty.  Spice World Minced Garlic  “Fresh” garlic whenever I need it and no mincing necessary.  Woo hoo!

I’ve digressed again.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.  Asparagus microwaved to “crisp-tender” and “smoothing” in my food processor with about a cup of the 3 cups of water called for.  (Steve surprised me with my food processor.  Just showed up with it out of nowhere for no apparent reason.  And not because he had just discovered the joy of fresh pico de gallo using tomatoes from his sister’s farm.  Ok, maybe because he had just discovered the joy of fresh pico, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?)  I don’t know if my asparagus needed to be cooked past "crisp-tender", if I needed to add more water and/or the butter, or just why, but my asparagus didn’t “smooth” to my satisfaction.  I wanted Campbell’s Tomato Soup smooth.  I got little bits of chunky smooth.  Ran it for what seemed like a good half hour (but wasn’t) but couldn’t get it any smoother.  Maybe next time I’ll try the blender.  While that was “smoothing” I dumped the rest of the water and the chicken broth in with the butter – didn’t want my onion powder to get too brown and I did need to heat the broth.  I'm thinking of trying a vegetarian version using vegetable broth instead.  Oh yeah, I also used a little more chicken broth than was called for.  I opened two 14-ish ounce cans which added up to slightly less than 4 cups, so I used the additional broth instead of some of the 3 cups of water.  (Did that make sense?  It did to me, but I’m hoping I’m not leaving anyone behind.  I've been known to do that when I wax eloquent.)  I thought the extra flavor might be good, since I cut out the leeks.  And the chive and onion cream cheese, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

So I dumped my still-slightly-lumpy smoothed asparagus into the pot and added a little season salt.  (Thanks again Sam’s!  Morton's Season Salt)  Again trying to bump up the flavor a little.  I stirred and smelled and tasted a little first in an attempt to figure out what would taste the best and I decided on just plain old season salt.  Am I weird or do some of you do this too?  Something I’ve done ever since I started cooking – sniff the stuff, sniff my spice, sniff them together until I find the right combo.  Then a little shake, a little taste until I think I have it right.  Ok, I’m digressing again...

I let the stuff in the pot come to a boil and then simmer while I mixed up the cream cheese and milk (hoping the additional cooking might help my asparagus bits “smooth” a little more).  I was willing to try the chive & onion cream cheese, but didn’t have any.  I did have some whipped cream cheese, and some ordinary cream cheese.  I was going to try melting the ordinary cream cheese in the microwave and then adding the milk, but I ended up just using the whole tub of whipped cream cheese because, a) it was the exact amount I needed (12 ounces) and b) since it was nice and fluffy I thought it would be easy enough to mix it with the milk.  Not.  I was left with little lumps that no amount of whisking would smooth away.  Guess I was destined to have lumpy soup.  But hey, the soup was already hot and simmering, so maybe the lumps would melt if I added it.  I’m not much for swirling much of anything gently with a spoon into individual bowls anyway.  So I turned off the heat and “gently swirled” the mix into my hot soup.  Mixed in quite well.

Can you see the lumps?  No, that's pepper.  No, that's the cream cheese.  Yep, there they are, the green bits.

This is how we serve soup to the little guys at my house.  Stir ice cube until melted, then taste to see if you need another.  Rave reviews from the husband and the oldest, who had it slurped down in no time.  Youngest claimed to love it, but I found most of his portion designing my countertop when I went to bed last night.  I have to add a little info here about my youngest.  He is a grazer and a hoarder of food.  Always has been, from the moment he was born.  When he got old enough to feed himself, he always kept both hands full of food while he was eating – one to eat now, and one for later.  When he learned that I would clean the food out of his “hoarding” hand when the meal was over, he started pitching food onto the floor.  After I cleaned him up and started on the high chair he was cleaning the floor for me, squirreling food away anywhere he could think of for later.  Because of these tendencies (and because I’m sick of finding rotting food in hidey holes all over the house) we leave his dinner on his plate - or in his bowl – until bedtime so that he can go back and eat more later.  Anyway, the point of this whole story is that, although he claimed to love the soup, apparently it was better for decorating than for eating.

So here it is, my glorious asparagus soup.  It really was quite tasty.  Steve added a piece or two of buttered whole-grain bread and seemed – I thought – quite satisfied.  Until he decided we needed dessert.  I told him he was in charge of that.

This is what he came up with.

30 July 2011

Poisson Florentine

Ok, I admit it, I have made this recipe before.  A lot.  It's one of my family's favorites and a great way to get kids to eat a little more healthy.  Strangely enough, even my vegetable hater will eat this, although he does push some of the spinach aside in favor of the cheese and the fish.  I debated whether to share this recipe or not since it doesn't really follow the point of the blog, but hey, some of you may try it and like it.  (Disclaimer: the author of this blog takes no responsibility for recipes tried and found unpalatable to any or all readers.)  And we all have those days where we fall back on the tried and familiar, right?

Ok, a couple of things before we get started.  First, this recipe feeds four.  Four, if none of the four eating are very hungry.  I always double it - just use a 9x13" dish - and I still have to augment with other food to satisfy everyone.  Also, before cooking this, or any, recipe make sure you have all the ingredients you need.  Ug.  I went to make the sauce and found myself on a quick trip to Target for milk.  Again.  Why is it we're always running out of milk?  And why is it that unnamed members of my family seem to think it's perfectly reasonable to put the last carton of milk back in the fridge with only 2 tablespoons of liquid left in it - without bothering to tell mom (who is responsible for purchasing said milk) that we need more?  Lovely shock on those mornings when I already have cereal in my bowl.

Another interesting tidbit: some of you might have noticed the name of this recipe is in French.  That does not mean this is a fancy French dish that's going to be difficult to make.  It is VERY easy.  It just means fish and spinach.  Anything "florentine" means it's cooked with spinach, but saying "florentine" instead makes it more palatable to some family members when they ask what that green stuff is.

Ok, enough digression.  On to the recipe!  (Which I've colored for those of you who just want the recipes and don't want to be bothered by my verbososity.  Hey, it's a word!  Ok, it's not, but it ought to be.  It's descriptive and fun to say.  Say it with me, verb-os-ity.  See?)

Poisson Florentine 
4 servings
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon
pepper (or lemon pepper) to taste (remember you're adding lemon juice too)
1 cup milk
2/3 cup shredded Swiss or Cheddar cheese
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pound fish fillets, cut into serving pieces
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat butter over low heat until melted; stir in flour, bouillon and pepper.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.  Stir in milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Add cheese; cook, stirring constantly, just until cheese is melted.

Place spinach in ungreased oblong baking dish, 12x7½x2 inches, or square baking dish, 8x8x2 inches; sprinkle with lemon juice.  Arrange fish on spinach; sprinkle with salt.  Spread sauce over fish and spinach.  Cook uncovered in 350° oven until fish flakes easily with fork, 20 to 25 minutes.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  (This is optional, but tastes yum, especially if your parm is fresh.)

Ok, a few notes:
1- I am a firm believer in REAL food.  Real butter, real whipping cream, real sugar.  I think your body knows what to do with real food, as opposed to things like synthetic or physically altered fats (hydrogenated oils like those found in margarine, Crisco, Cool Whip, Oreos - YIKES!) - so I will always include ingredients that contain real food.  Ok, almost always.  I do like an Oreo now and then, especially in ice cream.  Anyway, when the recipe says butter, I use butter, and so my results may differ from yours if you use margarine.  But if you like margarine, hey, knock yourself out.

2- I think this recipe turns out better if you use lower fat-containing cheeses like Swiss.  I have made it with cheddar and it turns out just fine, just a little greasier.  (Which, face it, can taste pretty good.)  If using cheddar we think it tastes better to replace about 1/4 cup of the cheddar with fresh Parmesan.  I buy a blend (parm, asiago, and a couple of others) in the refrigerated section of Sam's Club in a big carton that lasts several months so it's always handy.  Here's a link for those who are interested.  Bella Collina 4 Cheese Blend

3- Last night I found that I only had Swiss slices.  Have you ever tried to grate a cheese slice?  Not worth it.  Don't ask me how I know this, I just know this.  I just broke the cheese slices up and added them to the rue.  (Sorry, that's a sauce made from butter and flour.)  Took a bit longer to melt, but it turned out just find.  Be careful not to add too much cheese though.  It tastes nice but makes for a sticky sauce instead of a nice smooth one.

3- Ah the convenience of frozen spinach.  Put the whole package in your fridge the night before in a baggie to prevent leaks.  I've never tried this with fresh spinach but I suppose you could if you blanch it before putting it in the dish.

4- I usually use tilapia, although every other fish I've tried works out just as well.  I found some nice tilapia at Sam's club.  Here's a link for this too, so you know what I'm talking about: Treasures from the Sea Tilapia  Put it in the fridge the night before so it's thawed.  Tastes much better that way than the "quick thaw" suggestion on the back of the bag, which I think leaves a strong "fishy", dirty taste.

5- For the salt, I usually use sea salt.  Hey, it's fish, right?  hehe

And I have pictures!  Ok, not step-by-step pictures, that would require you seeing too much of my kitchen, which may or may not meet your personal cleanliness standards.  Of course my kitchen is CLEAN!  I mean, would I cook for or feed my family in a dirty kitchen?  Never!  I'm offended that you could even think I might!  Anyway, my oldest kept asking me why I was taking pictures of food.  I told him I'd show him why today.  So here they are:

Yummy nummy from the side.  The fish kind of blends into the cheese sauce so it's hard to see.  And NO that is not all cheese sauce!  You do get a great image of the spinach... uh... florentine.  (Please ignore my uneven placement thereof.)

 Hot and bubbly from the top.  Mmm.  Cheesy, buttery, lemon peppery goodness!

For the hungry little (and big) monsters I added some hot, crusty rolls.  Aren't I the great little baker?  Ok, I was going to bake my own rolls, but I used up my time at Target buying milk, so a nod goes to Rhodes for their heat & serve crusty rolls.  Soft and squishy inside, crumbly crusty outside.  Paired with, of course, a pat of melty butter.

All nicely laid out on the plate and ready to eat!

I whipped up (literally!) some fresh whipped cream.  When using real cream when I know there will be left-overs I like to add a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar.  It keeps the cream from going runny in the fridge and helps keep the animals happy.  And a splash of Mexican vanilla.  Sadly, that's about all I have left.  I really need to get some more...

Dolloped onto a slice of warm razzleberry pie.  Thanks for joining us for dinner Marie Calendar!  Did you know you can get this stuff from the store?  It's in the freezer section.  No need to take a tin into the restaurant.  Lucky, lucky husband!

So there you are.  A yummy, well-rounded dinner that made for full tummies and happy mouths.  I'd love to hear your questions or comments, especially if you try this out.

27 July 2011

Getting Started ~ how this blog began

"What's for dinner?"  One of my least favorite questions ever.  I hate when my husband asks it.  I hate when my kids ask it.  For some reason I hate it even more when someone ask it while I'm cooking.  And there is inevitably some point in every day when I must ask it of myself.  It is one of my goals in life to learn not to react poorly when this question arises.

Some time ago my husband and I watched the movie Julie and Julia.  Pretty much the whole way through I found myself thinking one of two things: 1-yes, just about every yummy thing ever made has butter in it, and 2-that Julie must be crazy to want to cook everything in a cook book.  Any cookbook.  I have yet to find a cookbook that would tempt me to try every recipe it contains.  Apparently, I am quite picky when it comes to food.  Most of my cookbooks (and granted, I don't have many) have one or two favorite recipes that I make over and over, although I do consult them from time.  (That's how I learned to make a rue, for instance, and where I go to remind myself how long to cook fresh vegetables.)  But I am also easily bored and constantly find myself looking for new recipes and new ways to cook the same old foods.

Recently my kids were playing in my desk and I found a recipe that I clipped from somewhere a very long time ago, and it brought back the movie and reminded me of the fact that, while I don't have a lot of cookbooks, I do have a lot of recipes.  And I mean a lot of recipes!  I have been collecting them in one form or another since I made my first foray into the real world by moving more than 2000 miles from home.  I also subscribe to several recipe websites and blogs.  But out of the gigantic collection of recipes I've acquired, there are very few that I have tried.  I'm thinking it's time to change that.

Another thing I should share ~ my husband hates when I try out new recipes.  He is always asking me why I don't just make things I know everyone (read he) likes.  My answer?  There could be the perfect food out there just waiting to be discovered, but you will never find it if you don't try new things from time to time.  However, since I love him and want to continue to live with him, I am going to have to consult him somewhat throughout this experiment.  So I am letting him chose an old standby least once a week.

So, this is my blog.  It's my own form of Julie and Julia ~ my attempt to try every one of the recipes in my vast files ~ or most of them anyway ~ and either keep or discard them.  It's my attempt to expand my experience and my family's experience with food, to boldly take our taste buds to places they have never gone before, to cut down on the things slowly rotting in the bottom crisper of my refrigerator, to find the perfect food (or combinations of food).  It is my attempt to finally answer the dreaded question, What's for dinner?