Tag Archives: Soup

Meatless Monday: Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons” and Savory Butternut Squash Soup

Photo by Kathyhuntphoto.com

Meatless Monday seems to be growing in popularity and meat lover that I am, I’ve been avoiding it like the plague! But now that the holidays are over and I’m back to eating relatively healthful food day to day but…I still have pants in the closet that I can’t fit into anymore!

While I’m well aware that eating veggies only once a week isn’t going to make a significant impact it’s certainly a step in the right direction. It also starts off the week with a kick to my immune system and sets the stage for eating good wholesome food throughout the rest of the week.  So, meatless Monday it is!

Bacon bits just wouldn’t have been right so I went with the garlic “croutons”. These are not actually croutons but simply pan toasted chopped garlic. These yummy little tidbits pack a punch, are easy to make and great as a garnish for soups, salads, or even cooked vegetables.

I use a little dairy in both of these recipes. If you avoid dairy try making the tomato stack with firm tofu in place of the mozzarella cheese and unsweetened almond milk would be very good in the soup.

Note: The soup is best if made the day before and it also makes this an easy dinner to prepare on a Monday night!

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

1 – Large butternut squash
1 – Whole head of garlic
1 – Med yellow onion, halved then sliced thin
1 Tbsp – Fresh ginger, grated
6 Cups – Low sodium vegetable broth
1 Cup – Low fat kefir, plain (or non-fat buttermilk)
Olive Oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (or canola)
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and spritz with cooking spray. Quarter the squash leaving the seeds intact and place skin side down on the baking pan. Spritz the squash with a little of the cooking spray and season with salt and pepper.

Very carefully cut roughly ½ inch off the top (pointy end) of the garlic head. (The idea is to expose as many of the cloves as possible without removing too much of the meat.) Place the garlic on a piece of foil then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil evenly over the top. Season with salt and pepper then bring the edges of the foil together over the top of the garlic head to seal.

Now place the baking sheet into the oven then place the neat little package of garlic on one of the corners of the baking sheet alongside the squash. Bake for 45 minutes, carefully remove the garlic and bake the squash 15 minutes more. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash is cooling add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a 4 quart sauce pan and place over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the pan is sizzling and the onion has begun to become transparent. Lower the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the onion turn golden, about 10 minutes.

When the squash have cooled enough to work with remove the skin and the seeds. (If they are not too burned; save the seeds for garnish or to munch on later.) As you work, place the cooked squash pieces into the pan along with the onions continuing to stir once in a while. Carefully remove the garlic cloves from the head and gently squeeze the roasted meat out of the skin, adding this to the pan with the onions and squash.

When you have all of the squash and the garlic added to the pan, add 2 cups of the broth, raise the heat to medium high and cook stirring often until most of the broth has evaporated. Stir in 3 more cups of broth and reserve the remaining cup for later. Allow the soup to just come back to a boil then remove it from the heat.

With the pan off of the heat, use an immersion blender to carefully puree the soup while adding the kefir a little at a time. Blend until all of the ingredients are well pureed and the soup has become silky smooth. Check the flavor and add salt and pepper if needed then return the pan to the heat and cook stirring often until heated through. If the soup is too think stir in the reserved cup of broth to bring back the consistency. Serve garnished with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons”

1 – Med to med-large very fresh, very ripe tomato per person, rinsed well
4 – ¼ thick slices fresh mozzarella per tomato
1 branch – Fresh basil, per tomato
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used12 year old)
Extra virgin olive oil
Mixed baby greens salad
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Slice enough off the bottom of each tomato to allow it to sit flat. Working one tomato at a time and slicing horizontally cut each into five equal slices including the top. Position the tomato slices in such a way that you can easily reassemble them into the original tomato shape.

Starting at the bottom, sprinkle the first slice with a little kosher salt & pepper. Now add a slice of mozzarella and a leaf or two of fresh basil, then drizzle this with a little of the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Set the next tomato slice on top and repeat the process until the tomato is reassembled with salt and pepper, cheese, basil, and oil and vinegar between each slice.

Before putting the top back on the tomato carefully cut out the stem, then after placing the top back on the tomato, drizzle a little more oil and vinegar into the hole left behind. Pinch the top of f of a branch of basil and place the stem end into the same hole so that it appears to be leaves on the tomato.

To serve, spread a serving of mixed baby greens on the plate then carefully set the tomato in the center. Sprinkle the greens with a little of the oil and vinegar, then garnish with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Toasted Garlic Croutons

 2 to 4 Tbsp – Garlic, roughly chopped (large mince)
2 Tbsp – Olive Oil
1 – Pinch of kosher salt

Warm a small non-stick pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer lower the heat to low and stir in the garlic. Stirring very often to avoid burning, cook until all of the garlic has become evenly cooked and golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic to drain on a paper towel much as you would with bacon. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and shake the paper towel a little to distribute and to spread out the garlic so the pieces don’t stick together. Allow “croutons” a minute or two to dry before serving.



Speaking of Comfort Food – Pho Ga

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

Even in the warmest months of the year I am still quite fond of soup. Because this is historically the season of lighter meals I will usually choose a broth based soup as opposed to the heavier chowders or other cream soups. Just lately too I have been feeling a little under the weather so I figured it was a perfect time for a pot of soup.

It was once chicken noodle soup that cured my blues, until I discovered miso soup, that is. With its salty essence of the sea combined with the health benefits of tofu and seaweed…miso soup just seemed so, well…healthy! Ah, but then I found Pho; a Vietnamese soup steeped with perfumey flavors of the orient in a warm and comforting bowl of goodness!

Pho is a light, broth based soup most commonly made with beef, featuring tender rice noodles, vegetables, and aromatic herbs and spices. Also very popular is Pho Ga, which is essentially the same soup, made with chicken. Upon reading Jaden’s Pho Ga post over at Steamy Kitchen this is the Pho I set out to make this past Sunday morning.

I decided I could come up with a reasonable facsimile of the broth using my good old standby chicken stock recipe along with a few additions I already happened to have in the pantry. I was very pleased with the results! Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you…it really comes together quite easily with the hardest part being the long slow simmering of the stock.

Starting right after my morning coffee I spent only 15 minutes getting the ingredients prepped and inside of 30 the stock was well under way. The garnishes on the other hand would require a trip to the market while the stock was simmering gently on the stove. As a bonus…the house smelled delicious by the time I got back from the store!

The garnishes by the way are the fun part of Pho! Usually served alongside so that you may add as much (or as little) as you like, the most common garnishes are: Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, fresh lime, and bean sprouts. With so many to choose from, each bowl of Pho tastes just a little different depending on the individual diner.

Of special note: In this recipe I am using a technique for “Velveting” the chicken. I searched for what seemed like forever trying to find out just how Chinese and other Asian cuisines get their chicken so wonderfully tender and I have finally found it. Look for more about this technique in future posts!

Pho Ga

Notes: For the most authentic Pho flavor use a grill to brown the chicken parts instead of the oven. The spice quantities are approximate based on how strong you would like these flavorings to be.

Step 1 – Prepare a chicken stock as written in Singing the praises of Chicken Stock, omitting the Thyme and adding the following ingredients at the same time that you add the chicken pieces to the pot:

2 to 3 ounces – Fresh ginger root, about 2 inches, roughly chopped
2 to 3 pods – Star anise
3 to 4 – Whole cloves
1 Tbsp – Ground coriander
1 Tbsp – Whole celery seed
1 Tbsp – Dark agave nectar, or molasses

Step 2 – While the stock is cooking, “Velvet” the chicken…

Whisk together…

2 Tablespoons – Shaoxing wine
2 Tablespoons – Warm water
2 Tablespoons – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Pinch kosher salt

Then marinate 1 large chicken breast half, split lengthwise then sliced very thin, in this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.

Fill a wok (or a large wide frying pan) at least half full with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Carefully add ½ of the chicken, drained of excess marinade, and cook for one minute gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.

When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes) remove to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.

Step 3 – Slice a large white onion first in half, then in paper thin slices. Soak the onion slices in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 4 – Cook the noodles and serve…

Prepare one package of Bahn Pho (or Rice Noodles) per the directions on the package. Add a serving each of the noodles, the onion slices, and the prepared chicken to each serving bowl, then ladle over the broth to cover. Serve with your choice of bean sprouts, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, and fresh lime slices on the side.



Chicken Soup with Cannelloni and Kale

(or What to do with all that Chicken Stock – Part 2)

One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning is sipping coffee, listening to The Sunday Blues with Dar , and cooking a big pot of soup. The work is indeed therapeutic for me and I feel the stress of the previous week slip away as I slice onions, chop celery and carrots, and build the foundation of a flavorful meal. Then as the kettle begins to heat up and the steam begins to rise, that pleasant and familiar aroma fills the house and warms me to my soul!

To be honest I had misgivings about posting this recipe as the photo is not particularly glamorous and this soup in particular is really quite simple. Then as I thought about it I realized that soup is one of my favorite things to cook, I make it quite often, and it has become an integral part of the culinary routine in my home. Soup is economical as it is often made with the trimmings and leftovers from previous meals, and who can deny the heartwarming qualities of a big bowl of soup and a hunk of fresh bread?

So there you have it. This too is a Recipe Randy Cooks. And so it will be included.

This soup is a recent favorite and one of the easier soup recipes that I make. The garlic is a recent addition and it not only boosts the flavors but also raises the antioxidant levels of the dish. I guess the jury is still out on the old “Jewish Penicillin” theory but if we can raise the nutritional benefits of a dish by adding a little flavor then I am all for it! It may be surprising to you that with a whole head of garlic in the recipe, the garlic flavor is really quite subtle.

Sometimes I make this soup with chunks (2 cups) of browned Italian turkey sausage; sometimes I make it with chicken. Both are quite good and satisfying. Although I did not do it in the soup pictured, another favorite way to add flavor to this soup is to add a tablespoon or so of pesto to the bowl before ladling in the hot soup. Also of note in the photo, the “garnish” is a few good grinds from a McCormick Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder .

I served this soup with a fresh green salad and a warm whole grain baguette.

Chicken Soup with Cannelloni and Kale

2 Cups – Boneless Chicken Breasts, cubed in approx. ½ inch cubes
2 cloves – Garlic, minced
2 to 3 Grinds – McCormick Italian Herb Seasoning
2 – 14.5 oz Cans, Cannelloni (White Kidney) Beans, rinsed and drained
4 Cups – Kale, rinsed, trimmed and chopped large
1 Whole Head – Garlic
8 Cups – Homemade Chicken Stock
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Using a knife or kitchen shears trim the top of the garlic head just enough to expose the tops of the cloves inside. Remove as much of the papery “skin” from the outside of the head as you can, without the cloves falling apart. Place the garlic in the center of an approx 12” square of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper. Bring the foil up around the garlic and seal loosely into a package. Bake for 30 minutes or until the garlic cloves are brown and soft through and through.

Meanwhile, place a large soup pot on the stove and bring 7 cups of chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add the beans and the kale, stirring to blend. Reduce the heat enough to maintain a light simmer.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and season the oil with 2 to 3 grinds from the Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder. When the oil is shimmering add the chicken and 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook stirring frequently until the chicken is brown in places and cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon (or a Spider) remove the chicken and garlic from the skillet and add it to the soup.

When the garlic is done roasting, separate the cloves and squeeze the contents of each clove into a blender. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the soup, stirring to incorporate. Simmer the soup another 30 minutes to allow all of the flavors to develop.



Singing the praises of Chicken Stock

Singing the praises of Chicken Stock

As I populate my blog with more and more recipes you will notice that chicken stock will show up in the ingredients over and over again. Indeed, I use chicken stock in a ton of different ways and find it to be an invaluable ingredient especially in healthful cooking. Aside from the obvious soups, risottos, and sauces I use chicken stock in place of water nearly every time I cook rice or couscous. Adding a little chicken stock to simmered beans adds body and richness, especially if you are going to make a puree. And, don’t forget those veggies either! A little stock boosts the flavor of blanched then sautéed vegetables nearly as well as a pat of butter and with much less fat.

Inasmuch as I tout the glories of chicken stock, I cannot emphasize enough how much better it tastes if you take the time to make your own! While I will at times use a canned chicken “broth”, there is simply nothing better than homemade. I say “broth” because I have yet to find a commercial stock that comes even close to the goodness of homemade. If I must used canned broth, I nearly always go with my favorite, Swanson’s Certified Organic Chicken Broth . For flavor, sodium level, and value, most others pale in comparison.

So what is the difference between stock and broth? To put it simply, stock utilizes more bones than meat in its preparation and nearly always involves browning of the ingredients before simmering.  Broth on the other hand uses more meat than bones and generally involves no browning of the ingredients before simmering. Stock is typically cooked longer than broth and usually contains less salt. While the two are entirely interchangeable, stock is essentially a richer more flavorful version of broth which is why it is preferred in sauce-making while broth is used more often in soups. Because I always seek to maximize flavor in my cooking, I nearly always use stock.

What is my secret to a good pot of chicken stock? Store-bought Rotisserie Chicken no less!

Out of habit, I freeze all of our chicken scraps stashed in a zip lock bag and when I have enough saved up, I make stock. While I have long browned my chicken parts before making stock, when I started buying Rotisserie Chickens from Costco for quick dinners on busy nights, I noticed an immediate improvement in the richness of my stock. Maybe it is the browning the rotisserie imparts on these chickens or maybe it is the marinade they use. Whatever the case the difference is remarkable enough that before I make a pot of stock I always wait until at least half of my stash of ingredients is from these chickens. To add additional flavor I also freeze any fresh herbs or vegetables (IE: onions, garlic cloves, apples, etc…) that were originally cooked with a home cooked chicken. Brown these right along with your chicken and you would be amazed how much flavor they can bring to the party!

When I make a batch of chicken stock, for convenience alone, I keep a quart or so in the fridge for up to a week. The rest I freeze in usable batches of 2 cup and ½ cup measures. For the former I pour two cups of cooled stock into a 1 quart Zip Lock Freezer bag, squeeze out the excess air, seal and stack them in the freezer. For an approximate ½ cup portion I pour the cooled stock evenly into a silicone muffin pan, cover loosely with stretch wrap, and freeze. The next day I pop the frozen portions out and store them neatly in another Zip Lock Freezer Bag. An ice tray does the same trick for even smaller portions but I don’t usually bother. I am a big stickler for fresh foods and perhaps it is because I go through it so fast but I really haven’t noticed a difference between fresh or frozen homemade stock.

Please remember, for the sake of food safety it is always best to refrigerate or freeze your stock as soon as it comes close to room temperature. To hasten cooling you can:

  • Pour the hot stock in to smaller and/or flatter containers to cool.
  • Set your stock pot into a sink or tub of ice water or even cold water, refreshing the water a time or two as it gets warm.
  • Freeze water a day or two ahead of time in a sanitized an empty ½ gallon milk container. Gently place the frozen container into your stock.
  • Fill a gallon sized Zip Lock Bag with ice cubes. Gently lower this into your “warm”stock.

Google “food safety” if you have any doubts and always use care in your handling of any food.

Homemade Chicken Stock

1 – One gallon Zip Lock Bag stuffed full of chicken necks, wing tips, and carcasses, thawed.
1 – Large yellow onion, sliced very thin
3 – Branches celery including leaves, chopped
2 – Large carrots, chopped
2 – Large garlic cloves, crushed
12 – Black peppercorns
1 – Tablespoon kosher salt
4 – Springs fresh thyme (or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 – Bay leaf
Olive Oil spray or mist
Fresh water to cover all by 1 inch.
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet with an olive oil spray or mist. Cut or chop chicken into manageable sized pieces and spread evenly on cookie sheet. Mist lightly with olive oil spray or mist then season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in upper third of oven and cook 20 minutes undisturbed. Carefully remove and cool for safe handling. (Note: If chicken pieces do not show substantial browning, bake 8 to 10 minutes more before continuing.)

Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large stock pot with a spray of olive oil and cook the remaining ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, to release flavor.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, add all of it including any collected juices, to the stock pot. Carefully swirl a small amount of fresh water in the cookie sheet to dissolve any browned bits and add this to the stock pot. Pour in enough fresh water to cover all ingredients by about 1 inch. Increase heat to high and monitor closely until nearly boiling, skimming off any excess foam. When the liquid reaches a near mild boil reduce the heat to simmer and cook 3 to 4 hours checking from time to time to keep from reaching a full boil.

After 3 – 4 hours remove the stock pot from heat and allow to cool somewhat before straining. When the stock has cooled enough to handle, using a slotted spoon, remove the largest solids to a colander or sieve set in a bowl to capture any draining stock. When most of the solids have been removed, strain remaining stock through cheesecloth or a sanitized dish cloth to clarify. Skim any remaining fat as it accumulates at the surface and/or remove any fat accumulations after the stock had been refrigerated.