Friday, February 22, 2013

Wild Mushroom & Wild Rice Chicken Soup

Last Year's Post: Very Lemon Chicken and Fruited Couscous

It's Still Soup Weather
I saw a picture for a wild rice chicken soup recipe a while back that intrigued me because it was broth based, not cream based.  I like cream soups as much as anyone but they're not the healthiest option, so I used that recipe as inspiration for creating my own.  The challenge I gave myself was to create a deeply flavorful, earthy and nutty soup minus the cream that is substantial and satisfying enough for dinner with some French bread.  After discussions with The Lawyer and a co-worker (thank you Nancy P!) I decided the key ingredients would be wild mushrooms, wild rice, fresh thyme, leek, shredded chicken, and a combination of chicken and beef broth.  The beef broth turned out to be key because it darkens the color and adds richness to the flavor of the soup.  No pale broth here!

I was really pleased with the results.  The soup is healthy yet very satisfying, and it was the perfect solution for Sunday dinner when we had gone out to a fancy restaurant the night before for a birthday celebration and over-indulged.

The original recipe was featured in an article on different ways to use rotisserie chicken, which is why the chicken was precooked and shredded as opposed to being cooked in the soup.  I liked the concept of shredded versus cubed chicken, plus it makes the soup really fast to prepare.  You can buy a rotisserie chicken or roast a chicken breast in advance.  The salad bar at my local store carries shredded roast chicken which was the easiest option of all.

The other advance prep work is to cook the wild rice.  After those two steps, the soup only takes about 30 minutes to prepare.  (I thought about cooking the wild rice in the broth itself, but was concerned that it would turn into wild rice broth and become overwhelming.)

I decided to use a combination of cremini and shiitake mushrooms, but you could also add portobellos if you like.  I read somewhere that you're supposed to scrape out the dark gills on portobellos so they don't turn your broth muddy, and that seemed like too much work.

It really does seem like a lot of mushrooms, especially after they're sliced, but they do shrink a lot when they cook and they are a key ingredient.

I always use low-sodium products including the chicken and beef broth here, so I ended up adding a teaspoon of salt to the broth.  Different packages of broth vary widely in their sodium levels, so be sure to check the label so you have a general idea before adding any salt to the recipe at all.  Always taste and adjust seasonings in small increments.

I really hope you try this recipe, because I'm pretty proud of it.  Dorky, but true.

click here for a printable recipe

Wild Mushroom & Wild Rice Chicken Soup
Serves 6

¾ cup uncooked wild rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
16 oz baby bella (cremini) mushrooms
3.5 oz shiitake mushrooms
1 leek, white and light green parts cleaned and thinly sliced
¼ cup Madeira or Marsala
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
Pinch garlic powder
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ -1 teaspoon salt (start with the lower amount and adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 cups roast chicken, shredded
Snipped chives (optional)

Rinse the wild rice thoroughly and place in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Drain and set aside. 

Clean the mushrooms and remove stems, then slice thinly.  Heat oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and stir to coat.  Cook 2 minutes, then add the leeks and sprinkle the vegetables lightly with salt. Cook and stir 3 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and let vegetables sweat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms darken and their juices have cooked off.  Add the Madeira and cook until evaporated, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. 

Add the beef stock and chicken stock to the saucepan.  Add garlic powder, pepper, ½ teaspoon salt and herbs and stir.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil.  Add rice and chicken; stir and heat through.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve garnished with snipped chives (optional).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Linguini alla Puttanesca

Last Year's Post:Chocolate Turnovers

Whoa.  This recipe probably should be rated "R" for Adult Content. It may look innocent but it's not.  Puttanesca (poo-tah-nes-kah) actually comes from the Italian word for harlot, if that tells you anything. If you're one of those people who thinks ketchup is a spice you probably should stop right here and check out last year's post instead at the link above this paragraph (chocolate turnovers, yum).  But if you like big, bold flavors and a little spice in your life, this one's for you.  This dish makes you sit up straight and pay attention - just the thing to shake you out of the mid-winter doldrums.

The big, bold flavors come from garlic, olives, capers and anchovy paste.  Anchovy paste?  Yup.  Don't be afraid, the sauce doesn't taste fishy but the anchovies add a pungent note.  No one will even know they are there.  Still, opening a can of oily little fish can be relatively disgusting so anchovy paste is a much better solution.  You'll find it next to the canned anchovies in the grocery aisle.

You will smell anchovies when you first put the paste into the pan, but don't panic.  The smell goes away as soon as you put the tomatoes in 30 seconds later.  Just don't let any timid family members into the kitchen during that phase.

The spiciness in the recipe comes from crushed red pepper flakes.  1/4 teaspoon might not seem like much, but all I can tell you is that my lips were tingling for five minutes after I was done eating (The Lawyer was measuring things at this point while I was still chopping, and I suspect his 1/4 teaspoon was on the heaping side).  It's not hot enough to make you sweat - if you're one of those strange people who actually like to sweat while you eat you could always add more red pepper.  But I usually like to make a recipe according to the directions before I start messing with it.  My perception of how hot something is will not be the same as yours.  One last thought about chopping - there's a fair amount involved in this recipe so if you're making it by yourself I suggest doing the prep work before you actually start cooking.  It'll make things simpler.

A few teaspoons of sun-dried tomatoes add depth of flavor to the sauce in addition to turning it a darker, more beautiful red.

When you add the olives, capers and herbs the sauce gets even prettier.

This is a meatless meal, but you'll never miss the meat.  I like to go meatless for dinner once or twice per week, especially if I had some sort of meat at lunch. The trick is to make the flavors interesting enough that you don't miss the protein.  Trust me that this meal fits the bill.  Serve it with fresh crusty bread and a glass of wine, and you're good to go.

click here for a printable recipe

Linguini alla Puttanesca
serves 6-8

1 lb dry linguini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, slivered
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers, drained
¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

For the pasta, bring a large pot of water (salted if you prefer) to a boil over high heat. 

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy paste and red pepper flakes.  Stir, cooking for 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, brown sugar, and vinegar; stir to combine.  Simmer sauce until slightly reduced, 10-15 minutes.  

Meanwhile, add linguini to the boiling water and stir.  Cook pasta as directed on the package.  Before draining, remove ¼ cup cooking liquid to thin the sauce if it looks too thick.

Finish the sauce by stirring in the olives, herbs, capers and salt.  Thin with pasta water if the sauce seems too thick.  Transfer the sauce and pasta to a large bowl and toss until the pasta is evenly coated with sauce.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Banh Mi

Last year's postSpecial Dinner - Chicken Gruyere and Fig in Puff Pastry

This is an installment in my "famous sandwiches of the world" occasional and erratic series.  Banh Mi (banh mee) is a famous Vietnamese sandwich with distinct French influence.  I'm a Banh Mi fanatic and search it out at restaurants wherever I go, so I've had plenty of experience with great and less-than-great examples.  At its best, it's a sublime combination of flavors and textures.  It's deceptive because the assembled sandwich seems pretty simple, but it's the quality, preparation (and proportions) of the individual ingredients that makes all the difference.

The essential ingredients of a Banh Mi sandwich are as follow:  a light, crisp french roll or baguette, mayonnaise, meat (char siu pork is common), pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno.  Some traditional Banh Mi also include pate but I decided against it to make the sandwich lighter and because a lot of people don't like pate. Banh Mi can also be made with roast pork, chicken, or even tofu if you so desire.  The reason why I like Banh Mi so much is the interplay of flavors and textures - crisp bread, creamy mayo, rich meat, crunchy tart vegetables, and the warmth of the jalapenos.  Interestingly, the jalapenos don't taste very hot at all even though they're raw - I think it's partially because they're seeded and partially because of all the other ingredients.  You can spice it up further by adding some Sriracha sauce, one of the uber-trendy ingredients you see in restaurants these days.  Sriracha is a hot chili sauce from Thailand that's closely associated with Vietnamese foods, and readily available in the Asian aisle of your grocery store.  I like to serve it on the table so each person can add it to their liking.

Daikon radish is the other unusual ingredient - a very large, white Asian radish that can be found in most grocery stores.  It resembles a giant carrot in shape.  Because they're so big, I bought one that was just a partial and it was plenty.  It's crunchy but very mild compared to regular radishes.  The taste somewhat reminds me of jicama, if that's at all helpful.

Since we had invited friends for dinner and they had never had Banh Mi sandwiches before, I decided to go all out and even made homemade mayonnaise.

You certainly don't have to do that, but I included a recipe here in case you want to (it's actually very easy).  I made char siu pork a day in advance in a slow cooker, then brought it to room temperature over very low heat the next day.  (Be sure to drain the meat for a moment before adding it to the sandwich or you'll end up with a pretty messy sandwich.)

Finally, I made the carrot and daikon pickles an hour in advance and sliced the fresh ingredients. That's what makes Banh Mi so great for entertaining - all the ingredients can be made in advance and the sandwich is served at room temperature.

A note about the bread - Vietnamese baguette is light and crisp, not chewy or rustic.  If you don't have a local Vietnamese bakery you can use any petite or regular baguette you find that doesn't have a hard crust and isn't heavy.  And about the meat - Banh Mi sandwiches usually contain meat with relatively strong flavor as a balance to the vegetables, but you can use any leftover meat you want.  As I mentioned, I chose to make Char Siu Pork but I think roast pork or shredded Char Siu Chicken (which I posted previously) would also be excellent. Finally, proportions are important - go lighter on the meat and heavier on the veggies than in a normal sandwich - no more than 50% meat compared to the vegetables.

click here for a printable recipe

Banh Mi
serves 4

½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white sugar
1 large carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
1/3 daikon radish, cut into thin matchsticks
4 petit baguette rolls or a long baguette, cut into four  pieces (the bread should be light and crisp, not chewy or rustic)
Mayonnaise (good quality purchased or homemade*)
Your choice of Char Siu Pork*, roast pork, cooked chicken, or tofu, sliced and at room temperature
½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
4 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and cut into thin rings
Sriracha sauce

Place rice vinegar, water and sugar into a saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute.  Allow the mixture to cool. Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over the carrot and radish in a bowl, and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes.  Drain after the vegetables have marinated.

Slit the bread lengthwise, and then use your fingers or a bread knife to hollow out the insides, making a trough in both halves. Generously spread the inside with mayonnaise. Layer in the cucumber slices, meat, carrot and radish, cilantro leaves, and jalapeno rings.  Note: go sparingly on the meat; the vegetables should be 50% or more of the filling.

Serve with Sriracha sauce to be added to the sandwich by each diner as desired.

* See recipes at the links above in the blog post

Friday, February 1, 2013

Lobster with Pasta and White Wine-Butter Sauce

Last Year's Post: Tuxedo Strawberries

Time for a special dinner - Valentine's Day is coming up!  I think nothing is more romantic or special than an elegant and intimate dinner for two that you took the time and effort to prepare yourself.  And when I think about a special dinner, I usually think of lobster.  That good news is that although lobster is expensive in a nice restaurant, it's affordable when you prepare it at home.  You don't even need to buy really big lobster tails for this dish (although you certainly could if you wanted) because the lobster meat is combined with pasta and a delicious white wine-butter sauce.  A small-ish lobster tail per person is plenty (that's what I used in the picture above) and is often on sale at your local store around New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day for a very reasonable price.  I bought two 8-ounce tails for $8.99 each.  Including the rest of the ingredients, a loaf of french bread, and a very nice bottle of wine, I spent about $50 for this meal.  Think about what a bottle of wine and two lobster dinners would cost at a restaurant!

I've always liked the idea of lobster with pasta and spent many years searching for a great recipe.  I noticed that most lobster pasta recipes have either a heavy tomato sauce or a heavy cream sauce.  Either way, they tend to smother the lobster.  What's the point if you can't taste the lobster?    Plus, I love the taste of lobster and butter, so I knew I found the perfect recipe when I found this one and switched out olive oil for butter instead.  The sauce is light but very flavorful, and complements the lobster flavor rather than smothering it. The arugula adds a bit of color and flavor as well. The net result is truly a restaurant-quality dish.  As if that wasn't enough, it's really easy to make and isn't as messy as most lobster recipes because you simply take the raw meat out of the shell and saute it in the sauce.

Butter, wine, garlic, a little tomato puree, and lobster...yum yum
It's also easier to eat lobster this way rather than trying to get it out of a shell after it's cooked.  The Lawyer and I enjoy cooking together and we had fun preparing this meal, which is a great idea if you and your partner both like to cook.  (Not so great if you don't.)

Because the sauce isn't thick and heavy, it's important to add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss it over the heat for a couple of minutes to allow the sauce to thoroughly coat the pasta and infuse it with flavor.  The entire meal only takes about a half hour to prepare.  Set a pretty table with some candles and flowers and you're all set!

click here for a printable recipe

Lobster with Pasta and White Wine-Butter Sauce
serves 2

2 small to medium lobster tails (7-10 ounces each), thawed
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato puree
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
6 ounces uncooked spaghetti (slightly less than half of a 1 lb package)
1 cup fresh arugula or baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Using a sturdy scissors, cut down the middle of the lobster shells without cutting into the meat.  Pull the shells open and carefully remove the meat.  Cut into 1 inch pieces and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Sauté the garlic in the butter for 1 minute, watching so the butter doesn’t brown.  Add the wine, tomato puree, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then add the lobster and lower the heat to maintain a low simmer uncovered for 5-6 minutes or until the lobster is firm and opaque.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain the pasta; add to the lobster mixture and toss to coat.  Stir in the arugula, lemon juice and peel; cook for 1-2 minutes or until the arugula is wilted.  Serve immediately.