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Invent-A-Soup Sunday: Spicy Chicken Avocado Soup

I’ll admit, new posts have been a bit thin on the ground around here lately; chalk it up to Shiv and I trying to slog our way through The Winter That Refuses To Die™. However, today managed to surprise me with some morning sunbeams through my window, at which point I rolled out of bed in a panic and flung myself outdoors in an effort to catch a ray or two before they disappeared again. I am pleased to report that I had a solid 20 minutes of bona fide basking, and in my newly re-energized state, I decided that tonight would be a good night to invent a soup!

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When it comes to cooking something that I have not planned for in advance, I usually have trouble. This is because of two things: 1) I never seem to have anything to eat in my house aside from condiments, and 2) I live in a weird area where decent groceries are nowhere nearby, and the last thing I feel like doing on a lazy Sunday is schlepping on a subway down to Whole Foods. So, impromptu cooking? Not the easiest prospect, even though Invent-A-Dish is one of my favorite games in the world. Undaunted, I took stock of what was in my cupboards (some spices, some chicken stock, a can of corn, and some frozen chicken breasts from a trip to Costco a month ago) and walked a block over to a place that, although it has no meat or bakery or whatever, does tend to at least have some very basic produce (onions, garlic, an avocado, a handful of limes, some random dairy). Long story short, after blocking the aisles for far too long trying to figure out what I wanted to eat, I came home with exactly what I needed to invent a spicy soup that absolutely made my night.

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I will be completely modest at this point and just say one thing: this soup absolutely blew me away with awesome. The end result does what my favorite foods all do — hits flavor notes all over the place. Spice from the cayenne and chili, a deeper warmth from the cinnamon and cloves, a little salty, creamy, hot, cool, a little crunch, a citrus bite. Added bonus: it’s gorgeous. It also is a great example of what’s amazing about soup; the recipe is, at best, a suggestion. Sure, in this case it’s a strong suggestion, because yummmz, but you can swap anything in or out as you like, and chances are, it’ll still be pretty damn tasty. Another great thing about soup is that I totally have enough to store away for tomorrow…and you know it’s always better the next day.

Read on…

Blondies have more fun: Malted milk butterscotch blondies.

For all my dilettantish tendencies (see also: adventures in swordfighting/roller derby/gilding/laser etching/etc), I am in many ways a creature of habit. I am exceedingly fond of my ruts. Nowhere is this more evident than in my eating habits. You may not have realized this, but I am a seriously repetitive eater. It’s part of the reason I started blogging about recipes–coming up with new and fabulous things for y’all leaves me no choice but to branch out. If left to my own devices, I’d probably spend the rest of my life living on miso salmon, roasted brussels sprouts, and this totally wicked quinoa salad I put together last week (but that’s a different post)–delicious, but dull. It’s not that I’m not interested in new foods; I just take a weird comfort in eating the same thing.

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Which brings me to Sunday. Lady A and I had made a date for hanging out, baby snuggling, and baking. As I pondered what to make, my mind of course glided along the old standbys: black forest cookies, citrus pound cake…all the things I know and love. I came close to suggesting we make one of these, when a tiny voice in the back of my head called me out: “Wuss! Weenie,” it said. “What, are you afraid to try something different? Afraid to try something craaaaaaazy?

Well, much like Marty McFly, I don’t cotton well to being taunted. And so, in a fit of defiance (against my own brain, yes, I know), I decided to take a different tactic. After a brief consultation with my holy bible of baking, I decided to walk on the wild side of the street: I decided to make blondies. BUT NOT JUST ANY BLONDIES: malted milk butterscotch blondies.

Yeeeeeaaaahhh.

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And you know what? It was an adventure. The batter did not do what I expected it to (it was super thick–the spoon actually stood up in it. After I’d turned it out into the pan); it didn’t smell the way I’d anticipated; it looked different than I thought it might when it finished. But: the finished product was spectacular. I-could-barely-keep-my-hands-out-of-the-pan-spectacular (notable mainly because my sweet tooth is not a particularly demanding mistress). Rich and malty and butterscotchy, these things are a hit of sugary adrenaline straight to the brain.

It was a small step outside my comfort zone that really paid off. I recommend that you also take a small step outside yours–you may find yourself with a new favorite! So branch out. Try something new. Grab your best girlfriend and the cutest baby you know, and go to town.

Read on…

Why yes, I have spent some time in the South, recently. Why do you ask?: Dr. Pepper Roast Pork

To what will probably be the extreme delight of at least one part of my family, I’ve found myself plagued of late by rumbling suspicions that I am living on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line. It started when the neverending agony of the Snowtorious B. I. G. actually succeeded in breaking my soul; matters escalated when I went to Texas in January. Things didn’t get really dire until a couple weeks ago, however, when I had the colossal good fortune to find myself in New Orleans, shaking a tailfeather in the Muses parade with some of the most amazing, pink, sparkly ladies anyone has ever been lucky enough to meet.

I very nearly decided not to come back.

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Now, whether that’s a result of my aforementioned broken soul and its inestimable greed for sunshine, or the actual delights of the region remains to be seen. But the fact remains: I had the pants Southern Charmed right off of me, enough to seriously consider whether I could hack it down there for a spell. Fortunately for my fellow Yankees (*ahem*), the north has a few charms of her own, so odds are that I will not be making any sudden moves. I will, however, be pulling out this recipe for Dr. Pepper pork the next time I start to feel the pangs.

When asked, many of the Southerners I know swear that the official beverage of the region is iced tea; for me, it’s always been Dr. Pepper. Perhaps it’s a Texas thing, I don’t know (it could just as easily be related to my vicious hatred of tea), but there’s something about an ice cold DP on a blisteringly hot day that always makes me think of hard sun and soft accents. What I DO know is that DP does something absolutely amazing to braised pork–as the whole business bubbles away in the oven, the insane sweetness of the soda seems to mellow into something rounder and more complex, and the resulting sauce becomes the sort of thing that actually inspires people to cross a room to learn the source of the intoxicating smell (oh yes). I personally prefer making it with a loin roast, but a shoulder works equally well–just remember to degrease the pan as best you can before reducing the sauce.

It may not be a trip to the magnolia-scented shores of points south (sorry, family!), but in a long dark winter, it’ll do in a pinch.

Read on…

Sunshine in a Jar: Meyer Lemon Marmalade

I”ve always been partial to the idea of canning. I’d picture a nice steel shelving unit in a cool pantry, filled top to bottom with little jars. “Oh, this?” I’d say to visitors. “This is just a little stockpile of jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, and other assorted delicacies to tide me over when I’m feeling peckish. Homemade? Of course!” and then I’d chuckle modestly. However, in practice, I’ve never really had the space for a canning shelf, and the planning involved always seemed daunting when I actually stopped to think about it. After years of hemming and hawing about it, and, with a Costco membership card in hand, I finally promised myself that I would actually give it a try, and it turns out: dead simple. And fun!

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The first challenge to overcome involved equipment. I did my homework and read enough warnings about botulism and horrible death that I decided to go for the full-on sterilizing water bath stockpot approach. I opted for a Ball canning kit and set of 8 ounce jars to get me started. Second challenge: recipe. At last count, there are approximately 9,826,437 recipes for marmalades and jams online. What follows isn’t really from anywhere, so much as it’s an amalgamation of bits and pieces from all over. Plus something extra I came up with, because I am terrible at leaving well enough alone.

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I think cutting the channels out of the middles of the lemons really helped when breaking them down. It served the double duty of getting rid of all the seeds, and (with the help of my kitchen shears) it also quickly removed the most fibrous bits of of membrane from the center. I also opted not to put in additional pectin — I read conflicting advice on this count, with some people saying pectin was required, and others saying that citrus fruit has enough in their peels already. The deciding factor was pretty simple: I didn’t feel like going to a store to buy pectin, and I had faith that my pretty little Meyer gems were up to the challenge.

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I actually made two batches, in order to try out two variations I had in mind. To one, I added a quarter cup of Saint Germain, the elderflower liqueur of which I am so very, very fond. To the other, the seeds from a particularly fat and juicy vanilla bean. In the picture above, you can see the lovely dark flecks of vanilla steeping through my bubbling delight of lemon pulp. You can also see that the bubbles are looking pretty syrupy — I used that, and a little test of cooling off a drop of the gel to see if it sets, to decide when I’d boiled enough. Again: I didn’t feel like going to the store for a candy thermometer. A lot of my decisions in the kitchen boil down (no pun intended) to simple laziness, more than anything else. I am glad I bought the canning kit, though! If nothing else, the funnel was an absolute necessity when filling the jars.

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Both variations are pretty exceptional. The Meyer lemon-vanilla combo is the hands-down favorite, though — the vanilla lends an almost creamy flavor to the marmalade, smoothing out even the gentle bitterness from the Meyers. I want to eat it on every bread product ever invented, and it’s likely this is going to find an application on a roasted chicken in the very near future. The upshot of all of this: canning is as awesome as I thought it would be, the little jars have already made great presents to several people, and if I’m not careful I am going to need that shelving unit after all. Next up, I think I’m going to tackle berries, and secretly I want to make a mint jelly that 1) is not nuclear green and 2) contains actual fresh mint. Any other ideas? Sound off in the comments!

Read on…

Give me vitamins or give me death: Arugula salad with beets and maple-sesame dressing

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s That Time Of Year. The time of year in which I can no longer bear to even consider the existence of kale and turnips and all the rest of winter’s bounty. The time of year which every additional snowflake feels like a personal affront from Mother Nature. The time of year when I would happily cut a bitch if it meant feeling sunshine on my skin.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s February. It’s the least wonderful time of the year.

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Happily, I did get to take a brief sojourn a few weeks ago to a land where the sun still occasionally shines–I headed down south to the Lone Star state for a little family time and sunshine. And, oh, what a lovely little driveby it was! Seeing the family is always so nice–and having run of that fabulous kitchen isn’t so bad, either. Especially when my father volunteers for sous-chef duties, thereby allowing me to boss him around with impunity. (Which, if you haven’t met my father…well, let’s just say it’s comical.)

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Of course, it wasn’t all labors in the kitchen–I also got a brief introduction to Dallas’ burgeoning food scene at the lovely new(ish) restaurant, the R&D Kitchen. R&D stands for Research and Development, an (admittedly) rather apt title in my mind, as it gave me the idea for this salad, also known as The Antidote To The Winter Blahs. It’s a riff on the salad part of their Seared Tuna Salad, a lovely melange of peppery arugula, earthy beets, tangy goat cheese and myriad other delights. I know, it sounds simple, but it was revelatory–though that might have as much to do with my desperate need for vitamins and fresh produce as anything.

I will admit to one or two small bits of winterizing: I made a warm dressing out of maple syrup, white balsamic, and sesame oil; I also toasted up some pumpkin seeds (pepitas) to sprinkle over. These autumnal accents ended up being an excellent foil to the springy flavors of the salad–enabling two seasons to collide in perfect harmony.

If only I could pull such a trick with the end of winter and cusp of spring; does anyone out there have any great dishes for in-between seasons they want to share?

Read on…



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