I ‘d always look forward to this time of year when I worked at North Dakota State University. One of my colleagues would bring a big slow-cooker full of her delicious Beer Cheese Soup. Up to that point in my life, the only Beer Cheese soup I had tasted was served at a Fargo restaurant. It was very thick, very cheesy and very goopy. In my opinion, too thick, too cheesy and too goopy.
Nancy’s Beer Cheese Soup would send a sweet, yeasty beer aroma wafting through the NDSU hallway. Lunch that day would be a big mug of soup ladled from the hot slow-cooker topped with freshly popped corn right out of the microwave oven.
Now, I don’t normally do much cooking with Cheez Whiz, but I just can’t make this soup any other way. You’ll see why when you taste it. The soup is light and creamy with just the right amount of beer and cheese flavors. I use unsalted butter in this recipe. The soup gets plenty of salt from the Cheez Whiz and chicken broth.
It always amazes me how a handful of ingredients can come together in such stunning ways. Take carrots and raw cashews. Who knew? Combining them with some chicken broth resulted in an extraordinarily different kind of soup. It is creamy and light as a cloud at the same time. Neither liquid nor broth, but more of a puree with texture.
First I cooked the carrots in chicken broth until they were tender, then I dropped them into a blender with cups of raw cashews, salt, and a dash of ground cloves.
I loved the taste, but wanted to layer on another flavor. At first I thought about topping the soup with a swirl of port glaze. I've always loved carrots and port together. Yet, when I spied a bunch of cilantro sitting on the kitchen counter, I opted for the green. With a quick pulse or two in the food processor with some deep green oil, salt and bit of garlic, I had my drizzle.
This soup is sublime. Healthy. Simple. And totally satisfying.
A couple of years ago if someone told you that your blueberries were loaded with anthocyanins, you'd probably have dumped the bowl down the garbage disposal and called 911 to report being poisoned.
Anthocyanin sounds scary, kind of like cyanide. Fortunately it's a good word; "anthocyanin" is derived from two Greek words, "anthos " (flower) and "kyanos" (blue). It makes sense, therefore, that anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the blue, purple, and red color of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
When it comes to food, anthocyanins are little health workhorses. They're associated with a decreased risk of many illnesses including cancer, high blood pressure, and even Alzheimer's. Fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored are even better for you. That helps explains why pomegranates, blueberries, broccoli, and red grapes are on virtually every Top 10 Healthiest Foods list ever written.
One of my new year's resolutions is to use more of the food stored in my pantry. My shelves are overflowing with packages of grains, heirloom beans, dried pasta, Asian sauces, jams, mustards, sardines, cans of tomatoes and more. My goal is to cook with something that is languishing in the pantry or my equally stuffed-to-capacity freezer, every single day. Yesterday I chose some Christmas lima beans to transform into a vegetarian main dish. Eat less meat and more vegetarian food! That is yet another new year's resolution.
Christmas lima beans are sometimes called chestnut lima beans. When uncooked they are beautifully speckled like a calico horse, and when cooked they are more uniformly brown like chestnuts--but they really don't taste like chestnuts, despite what you may have heard. They have a texture a bit like russet potatoes and a mild earthy flavor but none of the characteristic sweetness or dry crumbly texture of chestnuts.
A few years ago a press trip took me Spokane, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. The area is well-known for its agricultural products, most importantly lentils. A representative of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council gave us a "Lentils 101" talk that described the many varieties of lentils, their nutritional value and economic importance to protein-starved regions of the world. Each of us was given a copy of The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet which has recipes using dried legumes in dishes as varied as appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts.
Cooking with lentils is easy.
The basics are wash and rinse the lentils. Discard any broken or misshapen lentils. Generally speaking lentils are cooked in water at a ratio of one cup of lentils to two and a half cups of water. Simmer covered for 30-50 minutes, tasting the lentils as they cook and removing the pot from the stove when they are to your taste. Cooked longer, lentils will soften and can be used in purees for soups, dips, sauces and spreads.
I like the lentils to retain their shape so I cook them only until they are al dente.
Mushroom soup should be like a good friend -- there for you when you need it, full of understanding and comfort, and spicy enough to make you laugh. Consider this Creamy Mushroom Chestnut Soup a best friend.
We met rather informally last fall in my kitchen while I was entertaining a number of other friends including tender red bliss potatoes, earthy chestnuts, and aromatic sage. We liked each other instantly, and our friendship has continued to grow.
Meaty, smoky chestnuts and savory fresh herbs add depth to an otherwise ordinary, creamy mushroom soup. Use bottled, dried, or -- if you're up for the challenge -- freshly roasted chestnuts. For a richer soup, I suggest using cream; 2% milk is best if you're looking to save calories.
I'm not a possessive person, so I'd like to introduce you to her. She'll be one of the truest friends you've ever had.
There is probably no other fruit more versatile than citrus. Most people would assume citrus fruit, because it's sweet, can only be used in desserts. But citrus is great in both sweet and savory recipes. Just think of lemons, which are widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. And oranges, too, are often used in savory recipes. Citrus juice also makes a flavorful marinade and tenderizer for meats. I love oranges in salads, especially when they are paired with Asian flavors in the form of a dressing. This salad features peppery watercress, flaked almonds for crunch, and tangelos, which lend wonderful flavor and juiciness.
My love for citrus fruit continues this week with tangelos. You have probably heard of tangerines, so that is half the story behind tangelos, which are a genetic cross between grapefruits and tangerines. The most popular variety is the Minneola, named after the city in Flordia. The fruit features a knobby stem end and has easy-to-peel skin and juicy flesh. The flavor and aroma of tangelos are very unique, not too sweet and exotically subtle. I've only been familiar with tangelos for a few years now, but I've come to love eating them almost immediately. Their juice is what makes them so renowned.
If it wasn't for citrus fruit, winter's selection of produce would be pretty sad and boring. Once you've had your share of squashes and root vegetables, it's time for something different. Citrus offers a welcome respite. When markets begin to overflow with oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit, things finally get exciting. You may even see unusual citruses, such as blood oranges, tangelos, and pomelos. I love them all, but I particularly adore the sweet-tart flavor of grapefruits. This time of year, they replace my apple-a-day routine. But grapefruits aren't just for a dessert or snack, they shine in savory dishes, like this salad.
The classic fennel and grapefruit salad is a wonderful combination. Crunchy and sweet anise-flavored fennel goes well with the tart citrus flavor of grapefruit. This recipe reinvents the salad by adding wheat berries for a wholesome twist. The actual grains of wheat—the berries, as they are called—come in hard and soft varieties, where the hard is higher in protein and the soft higher in starch. Both work fine in this recipe. Once cooked, the berries are chewy on the outside, but tender on the inside. Enjoy them as a side dish like a pilaf or add them to any salad. They are especially nice in this recipe as they absorb the vinaigrette and grapefruit juices.
Homemade vinaigrettes just taste better and it's really worth the extra few minutes it takes to shake up a batch in jar.
I like to use this recipe during the winter, when there are lots of great citrus fruits to choose from in the grovery store.
Blood oranges, clemetines, or any favorite orange make a nice additiion to this simple green salad and compliment the marmalade in the vinaigrette.
Is there another name as fun to say as "kumquat"? Yes. Lemonquat, limequat, and orangequat (also called mandarinquat). I didn't make these up; they are citrus hybrids -- part kumquat and part lemon, lime, or orange, respectively.
A soft-spoken, affable farmer named George T. Schnurer, who owns and operates Betty B's Ranch in Ramona, California, sells a wide variety of cheerful citrus, including orangequats, lemonquats, and di rigeur Meyer lemons.
Though the juicy sweet-tart orangequats have a robust orange flavor that I love, I am positively smitten with the lemonquats. You might expect given their name that lemonquats are overly sour or acidic. They aren't. Like lemon drops, they're rather sweet with hints of tartness.
Lemonquats like kumquats are entirely edible. Though wonderful raw, they're simply amazing in baked goods. Despite their playful name and unique flavor, there aren't too many recipes for lemonquats, that is, except for hard drinks. Since this is G- rated blog, I figured I'd do something more wholesome, like cake.