Peanut Soup

IMG_1297eEvery time I think about ruthlessly winnowing down my extensive cookbook collection, which takes up more space and collects more dust than I’m comfortable with, it just so happens that I will be idly thumbing through a long-forgotten tome and come across a recipe that turns out to be a real winner.

That’s the thing about print, if I may be allowed a librarianly aside.  No doubt I can find any number of iterations of peanut soup on the Internet.  Some of them will have been tested and some of them won’t, but I can certainly apply my critical skills to perusing as many of them as I have patience for, and decide which one to use.  But with a printed cookbook, there’s something so familiar and comforting about the leisurely progression through the pages and the finding of hidden gems.  Not to mention that there’s a kind of perverse, old-fashioned-seeming ease to just taking the book into the kitchen and cooking from it.  With recipes I find on my computer, I have to either print them, email them to myself on my iPad or phone, or re-search them on the phone or pad.  Then there’s the hassle of cooking from the screen, which I have yet to master satisfactorily, though I have certainly done it enough.   I think I’ll keep my books a little longer.


In any case, I found this recipe in a very old cookbook set called Great Meals in Minutes.  I adapted it to my own tastes quite a bit so I’m not going to copy it straight out of the book, but rather I’m going to tell you how I did it.  Since this comes from the …in Minutes series, it’s no surprise that it was quick and easy.  Next time I plan to cook some rice separately and add it at the end.  And it can easily become vegetarian with just a broth substitution.

Peanut Soup
serves 4-6

1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1 cup peanut butter
for garnish and accompaniment, all optional:
diced tomatoes
sliced green onions
lime wedges
chopped peanuts
red pepper flakes
chopped cilantro
In a saucepan, heat olive oil.  Sauté onion and garlic until soft.  Add curry powder and cook for a minute.  Add broth, coconut milk, and peanut butter.  Heat at a simmer until slightly thickened.  Serve with any or all of the garnishes.


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Fried Rice

IMG_9759eFried rice is not rocket science.  It’s so easy, providing you can make good rice in the first place.  It depends on having nice, fluffy, non-sticky cooked rice that has had some time to cool.  Ideally it would be made with rice that was cooked the day before and refrigerated, making it the ideal quick-to-cook meal that also has the advantage of using up leftovers.

Fried rice can be made with any meat and any vegetable, pretty much.  This is my favorite treatment of it; ham isn’t traditional but I like using it in fried rice because the meat stands up and stands out.  I find chicken fried rice a little bland, but it is certainly a good alternative, as are regular cooked pork, seafood, or even cooked beef.  A mix would be awesome too.

As for vegetables, most restaurants add peas, and I would too if I kept them around.  You can add carrots, broccoli, mushrooms…anything you like.  To me, the absolutely necessary add-ins are the egg and the green onions.  The rest is very flexible.

Ham Fried Rice
(about 8 servings as a side dish)
2 cups raw rice (I like to use Jasmine for this, but any long grain rice will work fine)
1 Tablespoon oil
2 eggs
1 cup diced ham
4 green onions, sliced
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
red pepper flakes to taste
Cook the rice according to package directions, or however you usually cook rice.  Allow to cool–overnight is best, but if you are pressed for time, cook it and immediately turn it out onto a cookie sheet, spread it out, and let it cool as long as possible.IMG_0131e

Have the vegetables and meat prepared and ready to go.  Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes in a bowl and set aside.

In a wok or a very large frying pan, heat the oil to very hot.  Break the eggs in a bowl and beat them, reduce the heat to medium, then pour into the wok.  Allow them to cook on one side until completely set, then flip the omelet over and cook the other side.  Remove the omelet to a cutting board and dice.IMG_0133eIn the same wok and without wiping it out, add the cooked rice.  Stir it around to break up any clumps, and add the sesame oil/soy sauce mixture.  Stir fry it until it is all one color.IMG_0135e

Add the vegetables and meat, and stir fry until everything is heated through.  Add the egg and serve.IMG_0140eIMG_9763e

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Chiles Rellenos de Camarones

IMG_0114eA few days ago my brother, who has been annoying me for the past 58 years and shows no signs of stopping, sent me a Youtube video of a guy making chiles rellenos with a shrimp and cheese filling.  The video was in Spanish but cooking translates pretty well visually.  So well, in fact, that I became suddenly obsessed with chiles rellenos.  It was the culinary equivalent of getting a song stuck in your head, except in my case it was food.  Every time I thought about cooking something, a little voice piped up and suggested that I might want to make chiles rellenos.  So finally, I gave in.

There wasn’t a recipe associated with the video, and I don’t understand enough Spanish to follow it all, but I figured it out well enough to get the thing done.  Here’s how I did it.  I will say by way of a disclaimer that I did not add cheese because I’m not crazy about cheese, but these would certainly benefit from adding cheese to the filling if you are a cheese person.  I like shrimp, and these were really delicious, but I would also like to try these with a ground beef filling.

Chiles Rellenos con Camarones
(makes 3)
3 fresh whole poblano peppers
1/2 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup grated Monterrey Jack cheese (if desired)
3 eggs, separated
flour for dredging
oil for frying
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
3-4 canned chipotles in adobo sauce
1 fresh Roma tomato, diced
1 clove garlic
cumin, salt, and pepper to taste
First, roast the fresh poblanos over an open flame or on a griddle until blackened.  Place peppers in a plastic bag, close the bag, and allow the peppers to cool.  When cool enough to handle, remove them and peel the charred bits off the peppers.
Make a slit down the middle of each pepper, and remove the seeds with a spoon.  Set aside.
Coarsely chop the raw shrimp.  If you want, you can certainly pulse them in a food processor briefly, but since I was already using every implement in my kitchen I decided not to get the food processor dirty.  

In a mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold peaks.  Add the egg yolks and mix together briefly.
Fill the peppers with the shrimp (and cheese, if using) and close the peppers.  Fasten with toothpicks.IMG_0087e
Dredge the filled peppers in flour, then submerge in the egg batter.  This batter is very fluffy but it should stay on the pepper pretty well.  IMG_0091eIMG_0093e
Heat about a half inch of oil in a frying pan.  Place the battered peppers in the hot oil, and cook on each side until browned, approximately 5 minutes total, depending on the heat of the pan.IMG_0097eIMG_0098e
Preheat the oven to 350°.
In a blender, combine the tomato sauce, the chipotles, the fresh tomato, and the seasonings.  Blend until it is as smooth as you like it.
Pour the sauce over the peppers in an ovenproof pan, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes.  At the end of this time, the shrimp will be done and the pepper will still have a little bite; if you want the pepper to be softer, bake longer.IMG_0104e

Serve with Mexican rice and beans, if desired.

I think I have at least put that obsession to rest, now.IMG_0112e

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Steamed Pork Dumplings

IMG_6466textAn oldie but definitely a goodie.  I’ve been making these since I first saw the recipe in Bon Appetit back in the 70’s.  When my kids were small, we used to have a New Year’s get together with friends and I made these every year.  I tend to make them for parties because they make a lot, you can make them ahead, and re-steam them to serve.  For buffet tables, I like to put my electric wok out with the steam basket inserted, and keep it going on low with these dumplings in it.

The making of these is simple, considering the rewards.  The filling has a lot of ingredients but after you do the chopping, all you have to do is mix it together a bit with your hands, like meat loaf.IMG_6450eAfter the filling is mixed, fill potsticker wrappers (found in Asian groceries and some supermarkets) with a little of the mixture (a small cookie scoop makes this a breeze), hold it in the palm of your hand, and bring the wrapper up around the filling with the top open.  I like to tap the completed dumpling on the counter once to flatten the bottom.IMG_6460eIMG_6464After filling all of the dumplings, it’s time to steam them.  I like to use these bamboo steaming baskets sitting  inside my water-filled wok, but you can do it with anything you might have handy that you use for steaming.  Just be sure to spray the basket you are using with cooking spray, because otherwise these things will stick.  I promise you, they will stick.IMG_6454Steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 20 minutes, and immediately remove from the steamer and allow to cool a bit.  I like to serve them with a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and a tiny bit of rice vinegar as a dip.

Steamed Meat Dumplings (Siu Mai)
1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
8 water chestnuts (about 1/2 of 8 oz. Can), diced
3/4 cup chopped canned straw mushrooms, or one can regular mushrooms, chopped
1 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
5 dozen purchased won ton or siu mai wrappers
Combine all ingredients except won ton wrappers in large bowl and blend well.  If using square won ton wrappers, cut corners off with scissors.  Put about 1 teaspoon filling on each wrapper, gather up sides and allow dough to pleat naturally.  Flatten filling slightly with thumb and gently tap bottom on flat surface so dumpling will stand upright.

Arrange dumplings in steamer and steam 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve hot with dip.
makes 5 dozen

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Blackberry Clafoutis

IMG_5659eBehold the clafoutis.  It is so pretty, and easy, and delicious, and best of all, versatile.  It tastes kind of like a thick crepe, and you can put different fruits in it depending on your mood or what you have on hand.IMG_5640ecroppedThis one has blackberries, but I have made it with raspberries, blueberries, and cherries.  I believe that the cherry clafoutis is the classic, but certainly the other fruits are a great substitute.  A mixed berry clafoutis would be really good too.IMG_5656eThe prep for this dish took about 5 minutes, and it bakes for 45 minutes, so you can have this delicious dessert ready in an hour.  It tastes good hot, at room temperature, or cold, and I like it best with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, neither of which I had on hand today, sadly.  But it is totally delicious by itself.

This is the recipe I followed, which I believe is an adaptation of Julia Child’s recipe.  The only variation I made was to use almond milk in place of the dairy milk, something I have been doing more of in baking.  I didn’t really see any difference in the finished dish.IMG_5648e

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Yum Nua

I’m still cooking my way through the Quick & Easy Thai cookbook (see previous entry) by Nancie McDermott.  I still haven’t found anything in this book that I don’t like.IMG_5563etitleI’ve always been a big fan of the beef salad from Thai restaurants.  I’ve made a couple of attempts to reproduce it using other recipes, but this is by far the most accurate rendition, in my mind.  I could barely tell the difference between this and takeout Yum Nua.

Grilled Beef Salad with Chilies and Lime
serves 4-6
1 lb. boneless beef steak, grilled medium rare (I used top sirloin, and I grilled it rare)
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes
2 Tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 green onions, thinly sliced
a handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
a handful of fresh mint, chopped
Sliced cucumber, lettuce, and rice, to serve
Thinly slice grilled beef across the grain into bite-sized strips.
Combine chicken broth, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili flakes.  Mix.  Add beef.  Add the shallots, green onions, cilantro, and mint and mix. Serve with lettuce and rice.Yu

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Thai Trio

pork w rice and grapefruit salad

A friend (thanks, Pat!) gave me a Thai cookbook, Quick & Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott, for Christmas, and I’ve been reading through it like a novel.  As you do.  And I’ve been marking the recipes I want to try with little post-it strips.  As you do.

I finally got around to going to the Asian grocery and buying a few supplies I needed, and the past two days I’ve tried three dishes from the cookbook that pretty much blew me away with their fresh and bright tastes.

The first thing I made, because the Asian grocery had some pretty, thin-skinned Asian eggplants, was the Roasted Eggplant Salad with Cilantro and Lime.  I ate it for dinner last night, at room temperature.  I finished it off tonight though, and I have to say that even though it was really great yesterday, the chilling and mellowing overnight improved it and it was even better tonight.roasted eggplant saladRoasted Eggplant Salad with Cilantro and Lime
serves 4

1 lb. Asian or globe eggplant
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced shallots
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped garlic
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh hot green chilies (I used fresh jalapeños)
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts
If you use the Asian eggplant, cut them in half lengthwise.  If you use a globe eggplant, cut it lengthwise into quarters.  Cook these eggplant strips, skin-side down, on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place all of the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.  Cut the thick strips of eggplant crosswise into 2 inch chunks and add to the bowl.  (If you use globe eggplant, remove the peel first).  Gently toss well to mix the eggplant with the seasonings.  Mound the salad on a small platter, juice and all, and garnish it with a pinch of fresh cilantro leaves.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Tonight I made another salad from the same chapter, and it turned out to be kind of a variation on the theme of the eggplant salad–the dressing was very much the same.  This one may sound a little odd, but I loved it: Pink Grapefruit Salad with Toasted Coconut and Fresh Mint.grapefruit salad

The author goes into detail about the fruit called the pomelo, which is the fruit of choice for this salad.  I have never used it, but the author says that it is quite dry and easy to section.  Once, for a different recipe, I tried sectioning grapefruit, and they are not easy to section–I ended up making a big mess.  So since my HEB produce section did not have pomelos (big shock) I went ahead and bought a jar of already-sectioned grapefruit.  Much more expensive, but in my mind it was well worth the extra money.

Pink Grapefruit Salad with Toasted Coconut and Fresh Mint
serves 4

3 Tablespoons shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 cups bite-sized chunks peeled, sectioned grapefruit
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped shallots (I was out of shallots and I used green onions)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot green chilies
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint or cilantro (I used mint)

Toast the shredded coconut in a small, dry skillet over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, tossing often, until toasted.  Cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar and stir well to dissolve the sugar and form a smooth sauce.  Add the grapefruit, toasted coconut, peanuts, shallots, chilies, and mint, and toss gently to combine.

Finally, I made a dish called Nahm Prik Ohng, or Northern-style Dipping Sauce with Ground Pork and Tomatoes.  Apparently the “dipping sauce” idea comes from the author’s suggestion that you use pork rinds to dip up the dish, but…ew.  She also says it’s okay to serve it over rice, so that’s what I did.  It was delicious, and combined with the grapefruit salad, I thought I was in heaven.  Then I may have finished up the eggplant from yesterday.  I had to test it for y’all and see if it was better the second day, and it was.  You’re welcome.pork and riceNorthern-Style Dipping Sauce with Ground Pork and Tomatoes
serves 4-6

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped shallots (I used green onions)
1 Tablespoon red curry paste (available in Asian groceries and many supermarkets–not mine. )
1/2 pound ground pork
20 cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used grape tomatoes and left them whole)
1/2 cup water
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
In a medium skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat and then add the garlic and shallots.  Cook, tossing now and then, 1-2 minutes, until they are shiny and fragrant.  Add the curry paste and cook, mashing and stirring well to soften, about 1 minute longer.

Add the pork and toss well.  Stir in the tomatoes, water, fish sauce, and brown sugar, and bring to a gentle boil.  Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring now and then.  Serve with cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, rice, or pork rinds (ew).

I love this book.  I will be cooking more from it

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Peanut Butter-Sriracha Toast

peanut butter sriracha toast

Hello, weird sandwich that I didn’t even know I needed in my life.  Hello, wonderfully delicious spicy sandwich that just woke up my mouth.

Peanut butter and jelly?  Never again, not while I have Sriracha.  This baby will make you beg for another one.  From the new (February, 2014) issue of Bon Appetit, a publication that is just a shadow of its former self, but that occasionally makes me remember why I keep subscribing.

Peanut-Butter Sriracha Toast
Spread peanut butter on a slice of toast.  Top with sliced scallion, fresh cilantro leaves, and Sriracha.  Finish with lime juice and flaky sea salt.

I’m off to have another one.sandwich partially eaten

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Pasta e Fagioli Soup (Olive Garden copycat recipe)

PFcompleteI found this recipe a long time ago when copycat recipes were first appearing on the Internet.  I had always enjoyed the soup at the restaurant, and I gave it a try.  It tastes pretty close to the original, makes a ton (unlimited soup, anyone?) and comes together fast and easy.  Seriously, the hardest part about making this is opening all the cans.

Here are the ingredients.ingredients

If you read through the list of ingredients on the recipe, you will see that celery appears there, but not in my picture.  This is not a mistake.  Celery is the food of the devil and I will not have the nasty, smelly, stringy, horrible, crunchy, watery stuff in my house.  But you may add it if you like.

To make the soup, brown the ground beef in a soup pot, add the onions, garlic, and carrot, and sauté until they are softened.  Then add all the other ingredients except the pasta, simmer for an hour, and finally, add the separately-cooked pasta before serving.  It could not be any easier, and it goes down very nicely on a cold, gloomy day like today.

Pasta e Fagioli (a la Olive Garden)
(makes a bunch–about 8 servings)
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, diced (1 cup)
1 large carrot, julienned (1 cup)
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans (with liquid)
1 15-ounce can great northern beans (with liquid)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 12-ounce can V-8 juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 lb (1/2 pkg.) ditali pasta

Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat. Drain off most of the fat.  Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for 1 hour.

About 50 minutes into simmer time, cook the pasta in 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of boiling water over high heat. Cook for 10 minutes or just until pasta is al dente. Drain.  Add the pasta to the large pot of soup. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and serve.PF cooking

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Valentine’s Day Dinner–Salmon with Blackberry Lime Sauce (plus a dessert)

IMG_3821For some reason (maybe the pinkness?) I think this dish would be a fabulous choice for a stay-at-home Valentine’s Day evening with your honey.  And I’m also going to give you a dessert suggestion because…chocolate.

I found fresh blackberries on sale recently and went looking for a sauce to make with them.  I found this one, and oh, is it good.  And over roasted salmon…well, just look at it.  And it tastes that good, too.

Roasted Salmon with Blackberry-Lime Sauce
(serves 2)
12 ounces salmon filet
seasoning (I use salt, pepper, and Monterey Steak Seasoning
2 cups of blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons butter
Zest of one lime
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced fine
¼ – ½ teaspoon of chipotle chili powder
Dash of salt and pepper
Combine lime juice, zest, and butter in a small saucepan and heat gently to melt the butter.  Add the honey, chipotle powder, and blackberries.  Stir well and simmer over medium heat for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the blackberries have softened completely.  Place contents of the saucepan in a strainer and force the contents through over a bowl.  You will be left with a little blackberry pulp and all of the seeds.  Return the strained liquid to the saucepan and simmer until the salmon is done.  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 425°.  Place seasoned salmon, skin side down, on lightly greased baking sheet.  Roast until done to your liking–I usually roast mine for about 15 minutes, but it also depends on the thickness of the filet and your desired degree of doneness.

To serve, divide the salmon into two portions; put a little of the sauce on each plate and lay the salmon on top.  Drizzle with more of the sauce, and sprinkle with fresh rosemary.

And now for that chocolate dessert I promised.  I have been making these for years, and they are yummy.  They are good just the way they are, but I also like spreading a little raspberry jam on top of each one, and topping them with whipped cream and a single raspberry.Little Chocolate Mousse Cakes

Petits Fondants au Chocolat (Little Chocolate Mousse Cakes)
Makes about 24
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brandy
4 eggs
Set racks at the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 325°. Prepare mini-muffin tins by spraying with cooking spray, then place a small round of waxed paper or parchment paper in the very bottom of each.  (I have skipped this step, because it involves fussy things like measuring and drawing circles on waxed paper and cutting them out, but I have bitterly regretted skipping it, and wound up eating the little cakes out of the molds with a spoon.  Just saying.)
Melt the chocolate over hot water, stirring occasionally, then set it aside
to cool slightly. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a
boil over low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure all the sugar
crystals dissolve. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the butter.
When it has melted stir in the brandy, then the melted chocolate.
Beat the eggs until they become liquid then whisk them into the chocolate
mixture in a stream.  Be careful not to overmix. Pour the batter into the molds and bake about 35 to 40 minutes.  Cool briefly in the pans then unmold. Cool at room temperature.  To serve, spread raspberry jam on top of each little cake, and top with whipped cream and a raspberry.

I think this menu would be nicely rounded out with some tiny new potatoes, roasted in olive oil, and maybe some lightly sautéed spinach.

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