Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple Chicken & Cannellini Bean Soup

This is the soup I often turn to when we are just about to turn to takeout.

Though I love to cook, there are nights that I simply don't want to (or can't) expend one brain cell thinking about what to make. Being somewhat picky about just what we eat, however, leaves our takeout options a bit limited... and that's where this soup comes in. (In all fairness to this little soup, it does get called up on real cooking nights as well).

Soups, in general, are forgiving in this manner. They are adaptable creatures... a perfect go-to when we are, perhaps, feeling not so adaptable.

Most soups start with some sort of sauté... even if it's simply just a bit of chopped onion and dried herbs... before any liquids are added. This starter base is what gets the flavor of the soup humming so it's an important (yet easy) step. As long as you give some thought to this... most anything can be dropped into the pot. Being that this particular night was a don't-want-to-think-about-cooking night, I followed my rote method with this soup... sautéing up some onion, carrot, and celery in a bit of olive oil, then adding a generous sprinkle of dried herbs (parsley, italian seasoning), salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the mix and letting it all kind of warm up together to pop the seasonings a bit. I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I defrosted those in the microwave while I continued on with my soup base... adding in some chicken stock, and a can of diced tomatoes. Everything added so far is always available in my fridge and pantry... which is one reason this is a great, quick, no-thought-necessary, go-to meal.

Once my chicken was defrosted enough to handle, I diced it up into small bite-size pieces (easiest to get cooked through quickly) and dropped it all into the pot to simmer away for about 25 minutes.... just until the chicken is cooked through and everything has had a nice chance to mix and mingle. Season with some additional salt and pepper, to taste, and drop in your beans and whatever fresh greens you've got available in your fridge. I often add chopped fresh spinach but had already run through it, so I just chopped up the half bag of mixed baby greens I had on hand and dropped it into the pot to simmer... just enough time for the greens to wilt a bit and the beans to warm through. That's it! It's great served up with a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese (also always on hand) and a hot-out-of-the-oven french baguette to share.

This is the kind of soup that will make you happy you didn't turn to takeout... quick, simple, fresh, delicious... and no brain cells expended in the making!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Roasted Winter Vegetable Salad with Feta

Though I adapt a lot of recipes to our liking, there are some I come across and just know that there isn't one thing I'd even think of changing. The recipe reads like poetry, so perfectly expressed and balanced in flavor that you can taste it before it's even out of the oven. It's the kind of recipe where the words oh this is going to taste great begin to play in your head, in a kind of obnoxious giddy manner (where you wonder if you're actually humming it like a favorite tune).

I've had this little recipe (actually a whole spread that appeared in Food & Wine last March) tucked away for just the right moment. Sophie Dahl has been on my radar for some time but it wasn't until I traveled to London this past May that I realized what a food celebrity she actually is. If this recipe is any example of why, I totally get it.

Roasting vegetables is certainly not a new concept. However, putting a winning combination like this together is just short of spectacular. And these are veggies you might overlook, perhaps selecting more conventional choices to pair. Here, however, beets, sweet potato, parsnips, celery root, red onion, and carrot are combined in a beautiful harmony of flavors that just meld so perfectly together. The subtle sweetness of the beets, carrot, and sweet potato perfectly balance the more earthy flavors of the parsnips and celery root. And then the red onion pops the whole thing with a crisp, crunchy, kind of charred goodness that makes you want to seek out every little morsel to call your own. There's a simple little dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon, and flat-leaf parsley that you toss all these veggies with once they're out of the oven. It's really just a bit of a dressing, making you wonder if it's even enough to make a difference. Well... it does. It offers a light, bright note that is subdued, and yet so utterly perfect. I think I may just add a bit of a dressing to every roast of veggies I make from here on out. The recipe also calls for a handful of toasted chopped walnuts which, I have to admit, I lazily thought to pass on... and thankfully didn't. The nuts add a wonderful crunch that is subtle, yet entirely as important as any of the other components in this medley. And then... you sprinkle the whole thing with some coarsely chopped feta cheese. Not only does this addition work visually -- a rich and creamy white against the bold, deep red and orange hues -- but it serves to add a perfect tart note that amplifies the dressing beautifully.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Easy Tilapia Provencal

Quick, easy, delicious... and elegant. These terms don't often go hand-in-hand. In fact, some may consider them polar opposites when it comes to cooking a meal... but they don't have to be. So much of what's very simple can also be exquisitely elegant.

This particular dish is a perfect example. It's so incredibly quick and easy to prepare. It's almost as easy as opening a can of beans. And while I'm definitely not a trained photographer, I hope this photo gives you an idea of just how lovely a plating this humble little fish makes. It's an equally perfect choice for a busy night when you need something fast, or for guests when you want something special. And, it's a dish that comes together just as easy for a group of six as it does for just one.

The trick: foil. The only limitation: your imagination.

I've used this method with several types of fish and especially like it with tilapia, cod, or halibut. (It also works well with chicken... you just need to bake it longer to ensure that it cooks through.) Basically, each serving of fish cooks up in its own foil pouch -- making prep and clean up a breeze -- and you can add just about any veggie or seasoning you'd like. The only must is that you add a bit of liquid (dry white wine and fresh lemon juice are particularly good) so that you create a bit of a broth that works to keep the fish moist and wonderfully flakey.

You simply cut a strip of foil for each piece of fish you are preparing -- one that will easily wrap up and around an individual serving; smear a dab of unsalted butter in the center of each piece of foil; position your fish fillet over the buttered center of the foil and pull up the sides to create a bit of a bowl; drizzle each fillet with your "marinade" of choice; toss in a few veggies (if you'd like); and sprinkle in a few of your favorite seasonings.

Once you're happy with your creation, wrap it all up to seal in the fixings. Place your foil packets in a baking dish and pop them in the oven for a quick bake/steam.

While your fish does its thing in the oven, you can prep some rice, veggies, or a salad to serve alongside. That's it... quick, delicious, simple... and elegant. (And much more interesting than a can of beans!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Arugula and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Sautéed Leeks and Shitake Mushrooms, Candied Walnuts, and Asiago Cheese

Without wanting to appear disloyal to all the great foods I love, I have to admit that every so often I can develop a particular crush.

I'm not talking cravings here... those are just passing fancies... nothing you are particularly tied to for more than just a fleeting moment. You grab a coffee because the aroma draws you in; you nibble on a chocolate bar to satiate a sweet tooth...

A crush, on the other hand, is more serious. It's a taste that stays with you. It lingers in your mind. So much so that you want to tell anyone that will listen -- as I suppose you do when you are smitten.

My present crush is the Delicata squash. I almost hesitate to even admit this, as you might prejudge this little fruit of the gourd family and not listen any longer; toss it off as a silly rant. This crush, however, is rather significant; evidenced by the number of recipes I've come up with recently... just to have reason to roast up more!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Delicious Simplicity... and Some Well-Earned Kudos

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the very best...
though they're often things that go unnoticed
(even when they're sitting there right in front of you).

So close you can almost touch them... taste them.

And yet... still... not truly recognize them.

Sometimes they are so ethereal and lovely in their pure simplicity that they're simply overlooked (or thought to be something else... unattainable, perhaps).

Every so often in life it's good to take a step back... slow down...
get a better view of what's around you.

Try looking at things from a different perspective...




Sometimes this approach can result in a whole new rainbow of possibilities...
allowing you see things much clearer... up close and in full color.

Having a better view of the simple things in life can make all the difference...
force you to take note of what's right there in front of you...
(as if it was) served up on a platter just for you...

When in reality, it was there all along...
just waiting to be discovered.

So purely simple and delicious!

(hmmm.... chocolate truffles? little bon-bons? baked bits of cake?)