Monday, December 3, 2012

Spicy Sausage Soup (Olive Garden’s Zuppa Tuscana)

So years ago my wife fell in love with Zuppa Tuscana soup from Olive Garden… One evening as we sat at Olive garden, she said, “Here try this!” and gave me some of her soup… I thought, “Good… I could probably make this…”  I said so, and she held me to it… two weeks, half a dozen trips to Olive Garden to have some more soup, and I came up with a basic recipe for it…  And now you have it!

1 Pound Spicy Sausage (or 1 lb sweet with 1-2 tsp crushed red chili peppers added)
1 Large Yellow or Sweet Onion, diced
2-3 Cloves of Garlic, diced
1 cup coarse chopped Green Kale
1/4 cup diced Fresh Basil (or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Quart Water
2-3 Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut in to cubes
1 1/2 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
6-8 pieces of bacon
Salt and Pepper

Use a large stock pot and fry the bacon up. Remove it to a plate.  Keep the bacon fat in the pan. Fry sausage in the same pan.  Remove  the sausage and leave the fat in the pan.  Add the onion to the pan.  Salt with about 1 tsp or so of salt.  Cook until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the dried herbs and Kale. Add a pinch or salt and cook until softened (1-3 minutes).  Add the fresh herbs.  Add enough flour by hand to soak up the remaining fat in the pan and stir for about 1-2 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and water and stir.  Add the potatoes.  Add a pinch of salt and a bit of fresh ground pepper.  Cover and cook on Medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes are "fork tender".  Add sausage and cream and cook for ten more minutes.  Stir in bacon.  Dish up immediately or leave on warm for an hour or two.  Serve in bowls topped with fresh grated parmesana reggiano or regular parmesan.  Chiffinad some of the kale and/or fresh basil and garnish with that also.

So where has this soup gone now that I’ve been making it for a while…?  Well, I don’t use a recipe anymore… I just kind of “make it by taste”.  My current recipe changes a few things for my spin on the soup… a thicker, almost chowder-like sausage and potato soup.

I start by caramelizing onions… This is a great way to start just about any meal… I usually use bacon fat with some butter, about 50/50 (I said great tasting, not low-fat!).  I deglaze the pan with some water, and dump everything in to a crockpot.  I chuck in some homemade chicken-stock, and 2-3 large potatoes cubed small, add either some finely diced smoked sausage (yes, smoked on premises), or some browned ground sausage with crushed red chilies and a touch of maple syrup.  I let this all cook for 4-6 hours on high with some spices (I like basil and oregano, sometimes with a bit of bay leaf).  Once done, I add some cream, a touch of nutmeg (can’t taste it, but helps with the “sweet cream” flavor), a Tbsp of Agave, and a couple grinds of black pepper.  The last step I do is to add a bit of cold water and cornstarch “slurry”.  I use about 2 Tbsp of cornstarch and about 4 Tbsp on water, mixed with a wisk.  Wisk that in to the soup, let it cook for about 5-10 minutes (will thicken fast, don’t over do it, or you’ll have stew!)… Server and listen to the ooohs and aaahs!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sugar Free Maple Pumpkin Pie

Maple Pumpkin Pie
Prep time:  45 mins
Cook time:  1 hour
Yield: 8 servings (or 4 if you really like it!)

Ingredients

    1  9-inch pie crust (see below)
    4 medium eggs
    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree, (canned ok, just pumpkin)
    2/3 cup pure maple syrup
    Seeds of 1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 2t pure vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon sea salt
    1 Tablespoon holiday spice blend
    Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

Directions

    Set oven to 350F. Chill pie crust in the refrigerator while mixing up the pie filling.
    Whisk the eggs and cream together until blended and smooth. Add the pumpkin and maple syrup and whisk well.
    Add the vanilla, salt and spices and combine.
    Carefully fill pie crust and transfer to oven (or pour in to shell in the oven with retractable shelves).
    Check pie after 30 minutes. Rotate if needed, to ensure even browning of the pie crust.
    When the pie jiggles only slightly when the pan is moved, the pie is done, about one hour.
    Remove pie from oven and cool. When room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
    Pie will keep for about three days refrigerated, or well-wrapped (plastic and foil) and frozen for up to 8 weeks.


Holiday Spice Blend

    4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
    1 tablespoon ground ginger
    1 1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
    2  teaspoons ground allspice
    2  teaspoons ground cloves

Store in freezer to keep fresh for up to 2 months


Good Eats (Alton Brown) Pie Crust:
    17 oz flour (fine) - substitute 3 oz of cornmeal for more crunch
    3 Tablespoons Sugar (can use Maple Sugar)
    1 Teaspoon salt
    1 Cup (2 sticks) butter
    plus
    1/2 Stick Butter room temp
    5 T Apple Juice (probably only use 3T) in Spray bottle

Toss butter with a bit of extra flour, chop in to pieces, and refrigerate (keep it cold).
Mix dry goods in food processor, then pulse in room temp butter.  Chill.  Add 1/2 of the chilled butter with food processor (about 15-20 pulses).  and the other 1/2 butter and pulse another 4-6 times.
Transfer to mixing bowl, and spritz with Apple Juice. Turn in with spatula, and spritz again.  Repeat until about 3T of apple juice has been added, and mixture can be pressed in to a clump that holds.
Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for 4 hours.  Pull out and roll to about 1/4 in. thick.  Put in pie dish and use...

This recipe can be used with whole wheat flour (I recommend 1/2 to 3/4 soft white wheat flour), but it will need more liquid!  double or triple, depending on the humidity.

or

Whole Wheat Crust:
    4 oz unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
    6 oz whole wheat flour
    2 tsp sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp buttermilk (or applejuice)

1. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt.
2. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour. It should resemble a coarse sandy gravel when done.
3. Pour in the buttermilk and work with your hands, squeezing the liquid into the flour.
4. Form into a ball, flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just for Kelli

Ok, ok... I forgot that I promised you I'd post my crouton recipe...  Here it is :)

Take and cube up a loaf of bread... I recommend cubes that are 3/4 to 1/2 square... To much bigger and they get painful to eat!  Leave it out, preferably overnight, to get crusty. (I dice up extra bread and leave it open in a container for weeks, then put it all in one batch!)

In a pan, place about 1/2 C of Olive Oil and 1/2 to 3/4 of a stick of butter.  Melt down the butter and combine with the oil.

While the butter is melting, add in about 2 tsp of fresh cracked black pepper, 1 1/2 tsp of salt, a tbsp of Dried Garlic bits (or about the same  of fresh minced garlic), and about 2 tsp of dried Basil leaf.  You can also add a bit of crush Cumin seed or crushed/dried Rosemary...

Once the herbs and spices are all mixed in, and the oil and butter are thoroughly mixed, tae it off the heat and dump it over the top of the bread cubes.  Mix to coat well.

Pre-heat an over to 250F.  Put a sheet of parchment paper or tin-foil over a half-sheet or a cookie sheet, and cover it with a single thickness of the soft croutons.  Cook for about 20-30 minutes (this can change dramatically depending on how dry your bread was to start, the type of wheat used for the bread, etc).  Check carefully at 5 minute or less intervals after about 20 minutes.  I have had a batch take over 45 minutes before.  It will burn easily, so keep an eye on it.

If the croutons are a bit oily or greasy, drain them on some paper towels while they cool.  Once they cool, they can be stored at room temperature for a week or two, but they won't last that long :)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Carrot Cake... Yum!

Here's the cake I made for my daughter's 8th Birthday...

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients:
12 Ounces Grated Carrots

Dry:
14 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Each
    Baking Powder &
    Baking Soda
1/4 tsp. Allspice
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Freshly Grated
    Nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Salt

Wet:
10 Ounces Maple Syrup
3 Whole Eggs
4 Ounces Plain Yogurt
plus...
6 Ounces Vegetable Oil

Instructions:
Grease up your cake pan liberally with butter, up the sides. Flour it, tap out the excess, and press  parchment paper cut to fit right into the bottom.     

Shred twelve ounces of Carrots on the medium grater on a box grater

Prepare cake using the "muffin method". (All the dry ingredients should be mixed together, all the wet get mixed together, and then they are brought together.)

Put all the dry ingredients in to a food processor. Pulse to combine.

Once thoroughly combined, dump into a bowl with the carrots, and toss to coat.    

Mix all Wet ingredients except the Oil in a food processor... Drizzle in the vegetable oil to an emulsification.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, and mix gently with a wooden spoon or your hands, about ten stirs/mixes.

Pan up your batter, and put it in a 350 degree oven.

Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 degrees, and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature hits 205 to 210 degrees.  Cool down the cake before frosting, or it will melt!

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 Ounces Cream Cheese
2 Ounces Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
7 Ounces Maple Syrup

Mix all ingredients together, and chill for 5-10 minutes in the refrigerator then frost your cake.

Alternately, use the frosting as a filling (cut the cake in half), and top with freshly whipped cream and strawberries...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nothing like a BBQ... Even if there is snow on the ground!

If there is one thing I love, it's a BBQ, even in January!  There are a few good sauces out there, but if you want it to taste good, you gotta make it yourself!  Try this one out:

Josef's BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup grade B Maple Syrup
1 small can tomato paste (can sub about 1/4 cup chopped/cut sun dried tomatoes)
1/2 cup Natural Unfiltered Apple Cider vinegar
6-8 Tomatoes (good organic canned tomatoes work well in the off season)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce (or Bragg's Aminos or Nama Shoyu)
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
juice of one lime (or lemon)

This one is another great mix that can be put together raw or cooked.  For raw, cut the onion in half and puree everything in a good blender, like a vitamix.  blend up the tomatoes first and soak the sun dried tomatoes in the tomato mush for 30 minutes or so, them chuck everything else in and blend it good... Let it sit for a bit in the fridge before using it.

For the cooked version, saute (or caramelize for a sweeter flavor) the onions in a pan.  Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor (you can use the sun dried tomato instructions above, then add it to the cooked stuff too) with the tomato paste.  Add that and all the rest (except the liquid smoke) and simmer for a bit for it to come together. Take it off the heat and add the liquid smoke...  Give it a good sniff (and a taste)... That's BBQ!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sweet Treats...

I don't know if it is our society, or just human nature, but it is so much easier to get by with some "junk food" nearby.  This is usually something bad for you, but I found a couple of comfort sweets that are fairly healthy and great to eat too!

 

Crystallized Walnuts

  • Walnuts
  • Maple Syrup (I think grade B tastes better for this)
  • salt

Ok, so start by taking some raw walnuts and soaking them for a good 4-8 hours.  drain them, rinse them, and lay them out as thin as possible on a teflex drying sheet for your dehydrator.  Sprinkle them with a pinch or two of salt and dry for a day or two (depending on the local humidity).  They should be dry and firm, but not hard and crisp.

Mound them up a bit, and remove the tray above (this will take up two tray slots).  Pour Maple Syrup over the nut mound until you can see it just a bit on the edges of the mound.  Pop it back in the dehydrator.  Dry for 8-24 hours and check it.  Break up the clusters with a fork and re-mound them.  Reapply Maple Syrup again and back in the dehydrator.

You can do this a number of times, based on how maply you like it.  I usually go for 3 applications of Maple Syrup.  Following the last drying, they crisp up best if you break them up one more time, but don't remound them, spread them out and dry again (without new syrup).  This will help them crisp up.  They are the best fresh from the dehydrator as a snack... Most of the time, I'm lucky if any make it though to the end, as they are snaked on the entire drying time :)

 

Raw Almond Joy

This works best with a food processor to do the mixing, especially if its in the winter time... In the summer, the Coconut oil is so soft you can do this by hand (but the food processor is still easier)

I don't measure much, so here's the rough guidelines to make this stuff...  Start with a good chunk of Coconut Oil, this is the base of the desert.  Add some Agave Syrup (you can always add more, harder to add less) and some Cocoa Powder, as well as a pinch of salt.  Give it a good mix until the Coconut oil starts to get a little soupy (it will do this with nothing else in the processor, just because of the way it is).  Taste it and adjust for chocolateliness and sweetness.  Be careful not to add too much agave, because it you have too much your desert won't harden up anymore.

Add some shredded coconut (to taste) and cocoa nibs if you want any (they're kind of like chocolate chips in this).  A couple of quick pulses to combine and your ready.  Put down a sheet of parchment paper over a cookie sheet.  Pour the mixture on to the sheet, and lick the spoon!

Sprinkle the dehydrated almonds (I like to sprinkle just a bit of salt over them when they are wet from soaking, then dry until they get crunchy again) over the top of the mix, and gently push the almonds down in to the chocolate.

Place the tray flat in the freezer for about an hour or two.  Bring out your desert and sash it in to chunks.  Keep in the freezer if there's any left. :)

jn

Monday, December 17, 2007

Crunchy Tacos... Love 'em!

So I love a good crunchy taco... Not so keen on those kinda soggy shells, or the greasy cheese all over them... So here's my interpretation!  One of the things I love about this type of food is not using any utensils.  There's nothing that puts you in touch with your food like eating raw and doing it with your hands!

 

Ingredients-

2-3 large romaine lettuce hearts (for the shells)
3-4 fresh cobs of corn (can be replaced by good quality frozen)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion
2-4 cloves of garlic, diced (can be switched for green garlic too)
2 large avocados, diced.
2 Jalapeno Peppers, scooped and diced fine
1 lime
pinch of salt
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife.  Don't cut too deep, or you'll get the woody cob in your corn!  After cutting the corn off, reverse your knife and use the back edge to scrape down the corn cob and get the remnants of the kernels (should be milky yellow stuff, yum!)

Add the corn, both peppers, the onion, garlic, and avocado to a bowl.  Sprinkle a good pinch or two of salt over it.

Zest about 1/2 the lime peel in to the bowl using a microplane grater (optional, but I like the extra *pow*!), then juice the lime in the bowl.  Add some fresh black pepper to taste.

Mix the veggies a bit (don't go crazy or the avocados will start making it like Gauc!), then let it sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes, for the flavors to mix.

Scoop a couple heaping spoon full of the filling on to a lettuce leaf, and eat it like a taco! Repeat as needed... 
:)

You can add fresh tomatoes to this as well, but I made this up as a break from tomato salsa, and I like he creamy green and yellow colors, with just a splash of red from the peppers.

The Social Black-Eye of Healthy Eating

For a while now, I have been thinking and experimenting with my family on the impact of mealtimes.  From everything I've read, the establishment of "3 meals a day" and the "family dinner" actually do amazing amounts of damage to our families.  Sound odd?  Wondering what I've been smoking?  Read on...

You see, the establishment of the mealtime is a way of wrapping our time around food.  It is the facilitator to the "large meal", and "finish what's on your plate".  Where food is a requirement for bodily nourishment, the family dinner and the "3 square meals" turn it in to an institution that cares nothing for our actual health requirements, and more for expectations, social acceptance, and repetitious gluttony around the alter of tradition in the name of health.

By making our families "have" to have dinner, we train our bodies to eat, regardless of what our bodies need.  We also focus and train our children on family time = eating.  No wonder we have so many issues with childhood obesity in America!  Most children don't really recognize the difference between truly being hungry, and being bored some time around meal time.

I can't remember exactly where I read this idea first, it may have been in on of the Boutenko Family (the Raw Family) books, or possibly from Frederic Patenaude, but this truly is a revolutionary idea... Get rid of meal times...  I don't mean don't eat, I mean have food available.  "We're having taco salad tonight" doesn't have to mean we all sit down and have taco salad.  It would actually be much healthier to go a grab a bit of salad (or whatever) whenever you were hungry, then go back to what you were doing.

"But what about the lost family time at the table?" my wonderful wife said... You know, we tried this a bit and to make sure we didn't lose any family time, we replaced our usual dinner-time with night family game time.  We grabbed a game or two off the game shelf and played card games, board games, whatever the kids were in the mood for.

I think that as a family, we had more fun and grew closer from that tie than any amount of stuffing our faces, and "eat your salad!" arguments.  Although we've bounced around as a family both with what we are eating as well as how, this is something I am trying to continue experimenting with. 

Has anyone else tried this?  Let me know what you think... :)

-jn

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Good homemade salsa

I love good homemade salsa.  Its great with corn chips.  It's great as a salad dressing.  I even use it as a base sauce for some of my cooked dished (like Spanish Rice and such).

If there is one thing I've learned about food, it's that the quality/source of the ingredients is probably more important than the recipe.  Using good quality, fresh foods will pack the flavor in, and make the dish more forgiving of mistakes or changes.

This salsa recipe is a "rough" recipe, in that I never really measure this stuff.  It ends up looking more like a pinch or this and a splash of that when I actually make it.  The two most important things are good quality fresh ingredients, and using the "taste-and-adjust" method.

For fresh ingredients, some of my recommendations are as follows:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - Bragg's - so good you can just drink it... And some people do!
  • Salt - Real Salt - great quality "mined" salt, as opposed to dehydrated salt.  Much higher mineral content.
  • Canned tomato products - Muir Glen - high quality with great taste.  This is what I use in the off seasons.
  • Fresh Veggies - The nearest farm stand.  I much prefer local fresh picked veggies from a small-scale farmer to organically certified commercial veggies shipped across country (or worse, from another continent).

Taste-and-adjust means just that.  Taste it and see what it needs.  I also like to let mixed foods sit for a few minutes and taste again, as flavors combing differently if left for a few minutes.  One thing I always recommend is to taste each individual ingredient, so you have a good understanding of what it tastes like.  I do this with spices too.

Ingredients:

6 Roma Tomatoes (other "Paste" tomatoes can be substituted)
1 Large Sweet Onion
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
1/4 Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Jalapeno Peppers (add 2-3 Serrano chilies for the "spicy" version)
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
juice of 1 lemon or lime
1/2 to 3/4 of a "bunch" of Cilantro (approx. 2 cups)
1/2 red pepper, cored - optional
1 small can tomato paste (or cut sun-dried tomatoes)

Cut up all ingredients and place in high quality blender or a food processor.  Blend/slice up mixture until it reaches the desired consistency.  For chunkier salsa, use "pulse" settings... if you can't get good seasonal tomatoes, use organic canned WHOLE tomatoes (the less "processed" or cut up the better).  Don't settle for the pink/green hot-house tomatoes... The good canned one's have much more taste because they can them at the peak of the season, fresh off the vine, rather than picking them as a breaker tomato and gassing them to make them look ripe!

If you are going for Raw, use sun-dried tomatoes in place of the paste.  Just dice them up, and plop them in to 14/ to 1/2 of the tomatoes pureed.  Leave them alone for at least an hour to soften them up.  Then blend well to create some raw tomato paste.  Continue with the rest of the recipe.

Vegan Worcestershire Sauce

So, I miss the flavor of Worcestershire sauce in some of the foods I've been having lately, both cooked and uncooked.  I came up with this imitation of the flavor that works pretty good...  It can be made cooked, as it is listed, or raw by swapping out the brown sugar for chopped dates or 1/2 maple, 1/2 agave (as well as using Nama Shoyu and Raw ACV).  Also, to make it raw, warm it a bit in your dehydrator for a few hours, then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, then strain and use/store.

 

Ingredients
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger grated
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic coarse chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir thoroughly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer 10 minutes. Cool. Strain and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Stores in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks. For a slight twist, caramelize the onions first, then mix all ingredients together.
Makes about 3/4 cup.

Starting Fresh...

So I'm starting fresh here... I've been toying with the idea of a personal blog for a while... I've got a professional one I write (http://www.sharepointblogs.com/echef) on SharePoint technology, but it not really the right forum for some personal expression.

Something I've been struggling with a lot lately is healthy eating.  My family and I were doing really well back in Washington State, before we move down here to Utah, but since moving it has been a real roller coaster.

I'm a strong supporter of the Slow Food (wikipedia) or Real Food movements.  I'm also a fan of Raw Food and have been raw on and off for about 2 years...  My personal belief is that a high percentage of raw food is incredibly beneficial, especial the consumption of fresh greens, vivid colored veggies and fruits, and living foods such as sprouts.

I enjoy some of the fun raw food combos that involved hours of prep and dehydrating, sprouting, mixing straining, etc.  But I've found that I feel healthier and enjoy the simpler combos even more (plus it is very demanding trying to keep up with those types of high-maintenance meals multiple times a week!).

Food has always been enjoyable to me, from when I was a kid, to when I toyed with opening up a catering business.  I've enjoyed learning about and trying out making homemade cheeses, grinding my own hamburger (my record was 45 lbs. made in one sitting), cold smoking my own cheese and bacon.  Being that I'm vegetarian now, I steer clear for the bacon and hamburger, but I still enjoy learning about why foods do what they do, both raw and cooked.

I've rambled enough for an opening post, so I'll get on with the fun :)