Thursday, February 25, 2010

Springtime Means Light Soups!

Despite what the weather in your neck of the woods may be doing--if you're here in Georgia, it's still very winter...most days...--spring cometh! And with each changing season, so does the food we eat and prepare. It's a natural part of life. The foods that grow and flourish in a particular season are generally what the human body needs to make the most of that season. For example, in the fall we see root vegetables, which have the vitamins we need to live in a setting with less sunlight and less warmth.

So, you're probably thinking, what am I going to tell you about today as a spring food? Well...matza ball soup!

If you aren't Jewish, you've probably never had this soup. I'm not Jewish, and I was introduced to it by sheer curiosity in the grocery store about two years ago. You can buy it in cans, that have about three to four matzo balls, along with a lightly seasoned broth. You can also buy jars of matza balls in broth (simply to preserve them), or packaged matzo meal to make your own balls/dumplings.

There are a lot of things you can do with this soup. If you want a light meal, go with the simple broth and dumpling version. If you want something heartier, then let me point you to MY way of making this great spring soup...

~~~Herbed Matzo Ball Feast~~~

*For the dumplings:
1 package matzo ball mix
1 egg
1 tbsp olive oil (I recommend extra virgin, for the flavor)

*For the soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp fresh-ground Italian herb blend
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine
2 boxes chicken broth
1 box water (just measure with an empty chicken broth box)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Before you get started, you're going to need some basic (but essential) equipment: a refrigerator, a big soup pot, and a lid that fits on that pot. The lid is KEY to this process. If you don't have a tight-fitting lid for the pot, you might as well just toss some Cheerios into the pot, cause your dumplings will be utter fail and fall apart.

Alright, let's get down to business!

Pour your package of matzo mix into a bowl. Beat the egg in another bowl, and add to the mix as well as the olive oil. Mix *very* well, knead with your hands if you'd like. Place the bowl into the fridge for at least an hour. The longer you chill the mix, the more dense your dumplings will be. If you want them fluffy, take them out at an hour.

Grab your soup pot, and plop it onto the stove at medium-high heat. Throw in the olive oil and let it heat up. Put in the garlic, salt, herbs and crushed pepper. At this stage, you want to brown the garlic and toast those herbs to pull out their maximum flavor. Once a good bit of the oil has cooked down and the garlic starts to stick to the pan, add the white wine to de-glaze the pan and pull up all that yummy flavor. Take the pot off the eye and swirl it around to make sure you get every bit of flavor you can.

Return the pot to the stove, and add in your chicken broth and water. Bring up to a medium boil, add in the chicken breasts, and simmer for about fifteen minutes, to get the water nice and hot and let the herbs and garlic distribute through the broth.You can continue to let it simmer as you take the chicken breasts out and pull the meat apart. Return the meat to the pot. Retrieve your dumpling mix and begin to shape them into 1/2" balls. Make sure you pack them well, so that they don't fall apart in the broth.

Bring your broth to a rolling boil, and I do mean rolling. Crank that heat up, get it going nice and hot. Drop your dumplings in one at a time, and immediately cover tightly with the lid. Crank the heat down just a bit, so that it doesn't boil over, and let it boil the dumplings for 20 minutes.

VOILA! You've got yourself a great batch of matzo soup that is sure to pwn your taste buds.

P.S--it's even better the next day, like most good foods.

Taz'dingo, my friends! And remember: "tasty" is more than just flavor!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Captain's Log....empty?

Life's been a bit busy lately, with working late and trying to get our new house arranged and unpacked. I apologize for lack of updates. I'm putting together another photo tutorial--a bit smaller than the last--for my Hillbilly Crab Cakes...or, for you southerners, salmon patties. I took the old Baldwin family recipe and changed it up a bit. Husband Todd, the yankee, really enjoyed them; that tells me I got something right.

Oh, and I updated my home computer to Windows 7, so I'm still learning its ins and outs and photo editing, causing further delay.

Hillbilly Crab Cakes coming soon! I pwomis!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Husband Todd made a very good purchase for dinner this evening. He renewed his Sam's Club membership and found some chicken & apple sausages (Maker's Mark brand), and some asiago & spinach ones as well. The chicken & apple sausages are absolutely DIVINE. The meat is extremely moist, and the apple isn't necessarily an apple's a hint of sweet and fresh at the end of each bite. The apple helps to keep them tasting light and crisp, not heavy and greasy like many sausages tend to taste. I highly recommend them! (We boiled them for a few moments, then seared the outsides on the grill to get a crispy skin.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Internal Combustion Pumpkin

Autumn is upon us. It is, truly, my favorite time of year. Everything from the weather, to the leaves, to the scents and...the food! The season holds two very important holidays that both have their own special foods: Halloween and Thanksgiving.

There are a few ingredients that are key to Autumn foods: cinnamon, clove, pumpkin, apple, etc. And my favorite of all is...PUMPKIN!

We're all familiar with pumpkin pie, usually bought ready-made from a store or made from puree in a can. But fresh pumpkin pie? From fresh pumpkin? PREPOSTEROUS! In this day & age of instant food, instant wi-fi, instant instants, it's just natural to reach for the easiest way to make a food. But not me, and especially not for one of my favorite foods in the entire galaxy: pumpkin pie.

Making your own pumpkin puree from scratch is a time-consuming process, and most definitely an inexact science. You can find "recipes" in cookbooks and online, but every pumpkin behaves differently and if you're a first-timer for roasting a can go very badly, very easily.

But fear no more! I have come to the rescue, with this tutorial on roasting your own pumpkin!

What you'll need:

1 pumpkin*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
Aluminum foil
Baking sheet
Food processor

*There are a myriad of varieties of pumpkins. If you feel like doing research on them, that's totally your call. I just buy pretty orange ones that I can pick up without assistance.

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
(Just in case you need help with that part...)

Step 2: Gut your pumpkin, Jack o'Lantern style. Score a hole in the top around the stem, remove that piece. Reach inside and prepare to pretend that you're stranded in the frozen wastes of Hoth. Pull out all of the stringy bits--BUT! save those seeds! They're a very nutritious and tasty treat when roasted.
(That's my trusty assistant, Husband Todd.)
(The seeds will need to be thoroughly rinsed & dried. Find a recipe online.)
Step 3: Once all of the seeds and guts are removed, flip that orange bugger over and score around the base, just like you did on the top. Cut it into even halves. Take a large metal spoon (trust me, *metal* is best) and scrape away the remaining stringy bits. Don't damage the rind, but make sure it's clean, like this:
Step 4: Mix your oil, spices and salt into a small bowl. Blend well, and apply to the pumpkin rind with a brush *evenly*. Please note that if you want to use the puree for something that doesn't have these spices in it, omit them and simply use the oil and salt. Your pumpkin should now look like this:

Step 5: Cover the tops of the pumpkin halves in foil. It isn't necessary to cover them completely (as in, you don't have to wrap them in foil.
Step 6: Put the pumpkin into the oven, as in-the-middle as you can possibly get it. Depending upon the size of your pumpkin, you may need to put them on the very bottom rack. Do what you can to ensure that they do NOT touch the heating elements.

Now, here's where this turns into that "inexact science" I mentioned earlier. Every pumpkin is different. Every oven is different. The pumpkin I used today was about 7lbs and very round. Yours may be bigger, smaller, or a strange shape. The best place to start is 325 degrees and one hour. So, set a timer for one hour.
Step 7: At the one hour mark, check on your pumpkin. The consistency that you're shooting for is for a knife to fall into the meat of the rind without much pressure. It needs to be very soft. Make sure that every time you check it you put the foil back on as tightly as possible. Sealing in the pumpkin's moisture is extremely important. Here's what your pumpkin will look like once it's done. My 7lb round pumpkin took about two hours.
(Please note that the brown areas are NOT burn marks. That's the spices soaking into the meat of the rind.)

Step 8: Look at the picture above and you'll see score marks in the rind. That's to make it a bit easier to scrape out the meat. You'll want to do that now. DO NOT score it all the way to the shell. We aren't going to use the shell and it's definitely not "good eats", to quote a famous fellow Georgian.

Scooping out the meat is the fun bit. Now please note here: scrape out the meat a few moments after it comes out of the oven. If you let the pumpkin cool, it's gonna be very difficult to get that meat out. Take your metal spoon again and begin to scrape off the meat from the shell. Some of the meat won't come off, that's normal. Just get out what you can without having to use elbow grease. If you're having to use pressure to get it out, it's not roasted and you don't want to cook with it.
This is what your de-meated pumpkin will look like--a deflated basket ball.

And here's the scooped meat. It will be somewhat stringy, and warm. (Don't burn yourself!)
Step 9: Get out that trusty food processor and chuck the scooped meat into it. If you've got a puree function, use that. If not, a "blend" or "chop" will work, too. Let it process for about a minute and a half, depending on the quality of your processor. Here's what you want it to look like:

SO! You're now a pumpkin roasting champion! I hope these instructions & pictures will help in your attempts at making fresh pumpkin puree.

What? You want my pumpkin pie recipe, too? Sorry, kids. That's a secret. :)

The Disclaimer

Allow me to direct your attention to this post. It is my disclaimer for everything published on this site.

1) I am NOT a formally trained chef. I am a self-taught n00b that plays with food, with zero training of any kind, other than simple trial-and-error and reading books/watching videos. I make no claims to know what the heck I am doing.

2) I do not cook with measurements. When I am posting instructions or recipes, I will try my best to use actual measurements (cups, teaspoons, etc), however most of my cooking is done by "dash, splash and dollop."

3) I am 100% geek (I type as my husband makes wookiee noises behind me) and much of what I post here will have a geek bent to it. If you don't understand my references...that's not my fault. Wikipedia is your friend. If you do understand the references...Lok'tar, my friend...Lok'tar.

Now that all that mess is out of the way...let's have some FUN!

Long ago, in a kitchen far far away...

Welcome to a chronicle of culinary adventure...from a geeky perspective! I've decided to make a "blog" (lord, how I hate that word) of my calamaties and victories in the food world. There will be thoughts, musings, tutorials, epic battles, moral quandries and...if I could cook with a lightsaber, I WOULD!

I will endeavor to share my knowledge and impart my lack thereof.