100orLESS Soups: Cream of Asparagus

22 12 2009

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While this is completely seasonally irrelevant, I couldn’t wait to post this recipe  when I thawed and then microwaved a batch I had prepared in late Summer.  Much to my surprise, the texture had not changed at all.  This wouldn’t be all that much of a shocker if it were full of heavy cream, but the “cream” in its title refers mostly to its smooth texture and the addition of a little low-fat sour cream.  It wouldn’t easily fall into the 100 calorie or less format otherwise.

Why anyone would want a pasty-white, flavorless cream soup when they could make this verdant, robust homage to the loveliest of vegetables, I do not know.


Cream of Asparagus Soup

4c vegetable broth
1 small yellow onion
1 1/2lb asparagus
1 stalk celery
6oz cooked potato (Dutch creamers yield the best texture)
5T light sour cream
white pepper

I am almost ashamed at how easy this one was.  Bring the broth to a low boil in a medium pot.  Dice the onion and celery and add them to the broth.  Cook for about five minutes and toss in the asparagus–chopped however you’d like.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the asparagus is tender but still bright green.  Six or seven minutes should be plenty of time.

Next, toss the whole enchilada into your food processor with the potato—I highly recommend putting it through a ricer—and sour cream.  Whiz it up on high for a good two to three minutes.  Make sure you leave a vent for the steam to escape or you will look like an Exorcist extra.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Be careful, white pepper can be sneaky.

This soup is perfect as is, or with the addition of a cooked asparagus tip or (if you’re feeling super-luxurious) crab meat garnish.

(Recipe makes 6 8oz servings.)

Nutrition Facts for 1 8oz serving:

Calories: 74

Total Fat: 1.3g

Cholesterol: 3.6mg

Sodium: 550mg

Total Carbs: 13.4g

Dietary Fiber: 2.7g

Protein: 3.5g

(Nutritionals generated by SparkRecipes.)


Winter Lamb Stew

14 12 2009

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This week I was feeling adventurous at the farmers’ market and picked up a pound of lamb leg cubes in addition to my typical winter root veg bounty.  I’m usually not one to purchase a protein without a plan, but it was so stunning I simply could not leave it there.

The gentleman at the Loncito’s booth assured me the best possible accompaniment would be the turnips four stalls down, so I grabbed some of those as well and pondered my options.  Stew seemed a natural application.

Now, I realize lamb is not the most risqué meat out there, but I’ve barely dabbled in it—and never very successfully—so I thought I’d go the simple route and use the basic stew method I usually use for beef.  The results were pure magic.


Winter Lamb Stew
(again, these measurements are rough approximations)

1lb lamb leg cubes
1/4c fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
2c red wine (I used a big, spicy Shiraz)
1t poultry seasoning
1/2t dried thyme
1/4t freshly-grated nutmeg
1 large sweet potato, 3 large carrots, 4 parsnips and 2 medium turnips, all in generous chunks
2c water
1T chicken base
1T cornstarch

First, I salted, peppered and browned the meat. Most recipes call for oil to achieve maximum caramelization, but I generally find that when you’re stewing, this is unnecessary. A searing-hot pan did the trick nicely. I the added my onions and tomatoes and cooked for about five minutes—until the lamb was mostly-cooked and the veggies had softened.

Next, I added the wine, poultry seasoning, thyme and nutmeg and brought the mixture to a boil. I reduced it to a simmer and let it go for a little over an hour.

Normally, I would have added all the veggies in much earlier and tossed the whole thing into the oven for ease of cooking, but I thought I’d try something different this go ’round, and it payed off in spades.

Once the meat was tender I added in the chunked carrots, sweet potato, parsnips and turnips, and covered with a water/chicken base broth approximation. I simmered for an additional 20 minutes. Given the relatively short cooking time as stews go, the broth was thinner than I wanted. I made a quick slurry of cornstarch with a few ounces of water, mixed it in and brought it to a boil. Tada! Stew!

What made this batch so remarkable was the way the flavors of the root vegetables not only remained individually intact, but also added to the sweetness and overall complexity of the broth in a brilliantly unexpected way.

I served each bowl with a scoop of nutty, brown rice. Barley would be lovely, too—it definitely needs a hearty grain.

Spicy Cherry Truffle Biscotti

11 12 2009

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So, I’ve been sick for going on four weeks, which has severely limited my ability to smell, taste, and therefore cook anything remotely tasty.

My solution for the palatially-challenged: chiles.

Inspired by Chocolove’s Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate Bar, these biscotti deliver a captivating mix of sweet, tart fruit, gentle heat and velvety cocoa that morphs playfully during each bite.  Do not be afraid—think Mexican hot  chocolate meets cherry cordial.  It’s just lovely.


Spicy Cherry Truffle Biscotti

1/2c butter, softened
1c sugar
3 eggs
1t vanilla extract
2 1/2c flour
1t baking powder
1/4t salt
1/2c cocoa powder (Valrhona is my favorite for maximum chocolate intensity.)
1T light ancho powder
1c dried tart cherries, halved
1/2c bittersweet chocolate chunks (Chips will work too, but your favorite bar of baking chocolate given a couple of good whacks with a mallet or wine bottle will prove richer, and more elegant.)
1t cayenne pepper

Assembly is classic-cookie-method-style. Cream the butter and sugar together and blend in the eggs and vanilla. Mix your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa and ancho) and beat into the wet base in batches of about a cup at a time. Toss the cherries and chocolate with the cayenne and mix these in with a spatula or, if you’re feeling frisky, your hands. The dough should be pretty dense, so this takes a little muscle.

Halve the dough.  Form each half into a ten inch log and lightly flatten as you place them  on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet.  For an extra zippy batch, you could sprinkle the tops with chile-sugar at this point!

Bake the logs at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the top has cracked and the cookie feels fairly stiff.  As soon as you take them out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack to rest for at least an hour.  They need to be completely cool to the touch.

Using a serrated knife, slice the logs at a slight angle to create individual biscotti. Put them—cut side down—back on the lined baking sheet and cook them again (hence, BIS-cotti) for 10-15 minutes on each side at 250 degrees.  Any hotter and the cherries might burn.  This is not so tasty.

They won’t feel completely hard when they come out, but should be dry and firm.  They’ll taste more like regular cookies if you just have to munch on one right away, but after sitting out overnight, they’ll cure into perfectly crunchy treats.

Mix it up and try different fruit/fire combinations: mango with chipotle, blueberries with pasilla or even just cracked black pepper.  Or go more savory with peanuts and pepitas for a mole-style flavor.

100orLESS Soups: Mineste (Beans and Greens)

21 11 2009

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Few things warm you on a wintry day like a hot bowl of stick-to-your-ribs soup. Mineste, a variation on “Minestrone” or “the big soup,” fits the bill perfectly. You can make countless variations of this classic using whatever you have on hand: beans, rice, pasta, various stocks, veggies, etc., and can even take it in a totally non-Italian direction. Try it with collards, ham and black-eyed-peas for a savory cornbread accompaniment.


Mineste (Beans and Greens)

1 1/2oz pepperoni or other dry Italian sausage or meat
6 cloves garlic
1/4t crushed red pepper
8oz chopped kale
1/2t black pepper
1/2c dry white wine
2c water
4c chicken broth
15oz can cannellini beans, drained

Start with your sausage. I take it all the way down to a brunoise for maximum flavor spread.  Add it to a medium pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until most of the fat renders out and the bits are crispy.

At this point, you must make a decision.  Crispy garnish or softer flavor base?  If you choose the former, strain the pepperoni out with a slotted spoon and reserve for later.  If the latter, leave it all in the pan.  You may decide to add some salt later if reserving the meat for garnish as this is where a good bit of the soup’s seasoning comes from.

Mince your garlic and add it to the pan as well as the crushed red pepper.  Saute for 2-3 minutes until toasty.

Remove the thick ribs from the kale and chop the leaves into 1 inch pieces.  Throw it in the pan with the garlic, add the black pepper and wine, and stir to coat.  Turn the heat up to medium high and cook, stirring, until the greens have fully wilted.

Add your water, broth and beans and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to an hour.  The longer you let it go, the more the beans will thicken it.

If you’ve reserved the pepperoni, add it to each serving as a garnish.  You may want to crisp it up for a few seconds in the microwave on a paper towel.  Otherwise, garnish with a crack of fresh black pepper.

(Recipe makes 8 8oz servings.)

Nutrition Facts for 1 8oz serving:

Calories: 99

Total Fat: 2.9g

Cholesterol: 10.3mg

Sodium: 850mg

Total Carbs: 6.1g

Dietary Fiber: 3.4g

Protein: 5.2g

(Nutritionals generated by SparkRecipes.)

Tipsy Cranberry Sauce

19 11 2009

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I’ve been diligently putzing away at my early Thanksgiving feast, and it seems terrible not to post something about the greatest American food holiday.

When it comes down to it, to me, there’s little revolutionary about my bird or most of my trimmings.  The best way to bake the bird is the way your mom did, and no fu-fu stuffing can rival the stuff you ate way too much of as a child.

But, I assure you, you will never find a better cranberry sauce than mine.


Tipsy Cranberry Sauce

1 16oz package frozen cranberries (Don’t be fooled into thinking fresh is better; it’s just not true.)
zest and juice of 2 honey tangelos (or clementines or valencias)
1/2c sugar
1/4t of salt (At least go with Kosher, but if you’re feeling fancy, I HIGHLY recommend Gusto Mundial hibiscus flor de sal.)
1/2t grated high oil (Saigon) cinnamon
1/4 Grand Marnier

Bring cranberries, juice and zest to a happy simmer over medium-high heat. Stir in sugar, salt and cinnamon. Reduce to medium and cook until berries are about half-popped. Use your spoon to smoosh most of the remaining berries—carefully, unless you like fuchsia splotches on everything.

Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for five to ten minutes. Give it a good stir to release more heat and let it sit for another bit. Reward its patience with a stiff drink; stir in the Grand Marnier.

Chill, and spoon onto just about anything.  Even turkey.

Smoky Chicken with Romesco Relish

13 11 2009

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Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting Houston’s Midtown Tasting Room for a five course wine-paired meal featuring San Fran chef Joey Altman.  Two things made the evening: Joey’s impromptu jams with the house band, and his Pimenton Chicken.

As lovely as skin-on chicken thighs and olive oil are, especially in this particular configuration, I needed a lighter version to keep me safely enjoying this flavor-bomb of a dish as often as possible.


Smoky Chicken with Romesco Relish

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 cloves garlic
2t smoked paprika
1t poultry seasoning
1t your favorite powdered chile (I usually use ancho)
1t kosher salt

1/2c roasted red peppers
1/2c peppadew peppers
1/4c Italian parsely
1/4c marcona almonds
4 saltine crackers
2T lemon juice
1/4t kosher salt

For best results, I recommend marinating your chicken overnight. Mix salt, paprika, poultry seasoning and chile powder together and sprinkle liberally on both sides of the chicken. Mince your garlic, add the salt and crush it with the side of your knife until it becomes a rough paste. Then, rub the chicken with the garlic mixture and store overnight (or for at least an hour or two if pressed for time) in a shallow dish or plastic bag.

Take the chicken out twenty to thirty minutes before go-time to take the chill off. While you’re waiting, prepare the relish.

This is where my deep affection for my food processor comes in. Put red peppers, peppadews, parsley, almonds and crackers into a processor and pulse on chop until you reach your preferred consistency. Add the salt and lemon juice and give it one more whiz. If you want something more saucy, you can add a little more lemon juice or even some yogurt and let it rip for a full minute.

Give the flavors some time to mingle while you cook your chicken. You’ll get the best flavor by cooking about five minutes per side on a charcoal grill, but I usually just reach for my countertop model and do them on high for five minutes total. Rest your chicken for another five minutes, and top with the relish.

I love to cook a big batch and make wraps with the cold leftover chicken (sliced) and sauce. If you make some rice or other grain to go with the original meal, you can take my throw-it-all-in-a-bowl-and-see-what-happens approach to leftovers and make a killer salad!

100orLESS Soups: Hot and Sour

8 11 2009

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Traditionally, hot and sour soup is rich with pork and egg, which makes it a bit tough to fit into the 100 calorie or less format.  By removing those and adding some extra veggies and tofu, you can have a ton virtually guilt-free!


Hot and Sour Soup

3 oz extra firm tofu
1T Chinese five spice powder
1c water
1/2 oz dried shitake mushrooms
8c chicken broth
1T sesame oil
6T soy sauce
8T seasoned rice vinegar
1T chili/garlic sauce
1 clove garlic, grated
1T ginger root, grated
1 can straw mushrooms (appx. 190g)
1 can sliced bamboo shoots (appx. 150g)
1 can whole water chestnuts (appx. 140g)
1T cornstarch
3T chopped scallions

First, prep your tofu and mushrooms.  Slice the tofu into three or four strips and rub liberally with the five spice powder.  Then, broil or grill it until it has thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes.

Heat the cup of water to just off a boil, and add the mushrooms and cover.  This will steep while you prepare the rest of the soup, like a tea.

In a large pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Stir in the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, garlic and ginger, and cook at a boil for 3 to five minutes.  At this point, give it a taste and adjust the soy/vinegar/heat levels to your preference.

Reduce to a simmer and add in the veggies.  I like to slice the straw mushrooms in half and crush the water chestnuts with the back of my knife.  This adds nice body and texture.

Now, remove the shitakes from the steeping liquid.  DO NOT THROW THIS LIQUID AWAY!  Slice the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup.  Whisk the cornstarch into the now-cooled mushroom “tea,” and add it to the soup.  Bring it to a boil to fully thicken.

You can garnish the whole batch with the chopped scallions, or add it to each serving as you go.

(Recipe makes 11 8oz servings.)

Nutrition Facts for 1 8oz serving:

Calories: 70

Total Fat: 1.3g

Cholesterol: 3.6mg

Sodium: 1400mg

Total Carbs: 11.7g

Dietary Fiber: 1.2g

Protein: 3.3g

(Nutritionals generated by SparkRecipes.)