Cook the Books Friday: Green-as-Spring Soup

I have been eating this soup for days now: with chicken, straight from a mug over a good book, with salty Italian cheese, and as a dip for leftover roast turkey.  Any way you scoop it, it’s amazing.

Dish Count: 7

It’s creamy without cream. And it’s fresh even after nearly 14 days in my refrigerator (don’t judge). Continue reading Cook the Books Friday: Green-as-Spring Soup

TWD: Sweet Potato Biscuits

I am proud to report that this week I followed as few of Dorie’s instructions as possible and I STILL came up with a product that made me eat an otherwise undesirable vegetable. I feel like I am making progress.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Contrary to what the cookbook said I put the sweet potatoes and room temperature butter in the food processor and then mixed the puree with he dry ingredients, including pumpkin pie spice from one of my favorite stores. I then dropped the dough onto a cookie sheet in heaping tablespoons, smoothed the shape with my finger and baked them.

The resulting biscuit probably isn’t as light and flaky as Dorie would like, and it certainly wasn’t as well shaped, but they are as delicious with pot roast as they are with apple cider or my morning coffee, and I am darn proud of my low maintenance technique.

I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes, you see, and I know they are good for me when prepared appropriately. Here’s why, according to the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission:

  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked the sweet potato at 184 in nutritional value, more than 100 points ahead of the baked Idaho potato, spinach or broccoli.
  • Sweet potatoes provide twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A
  • Sweet potatoes provide more than one-third of the daily requirements of vitamin C.
  • Sweet potatoes are an important source of beta-carotene, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and fiber.
  • Studies have consistently shown that a high intake of beta carotene-rich vegetables and fruits, like sweet potatoes, can significantly reduce the risks for certain types of cancer.
  • Sweet potatoes contain virtually no fat or sodium.

I imagine, however, that this is all negated by the butter in these biscuits or by the deep fryer in the case of sweet potato fries. DRAT.

Can it Really be August?

Every news outlet we have in Chicago reported that July 2009 was the coolest July in 85 years: the average temperature was 70 degrees (five below the normal average) and some parts of the state didn’t have any days above 90 yet this year (Thanks, WBBMRadio).

My vegetables are not happy.

veggies in July

Sure, they are lush and green. But where is the fruit? My cherry red tomatoes? The Giant green peppers I long to stuff with meat and potatoes? The onions I should be using to top burgers fresh from the grill.  I got nuthin’.

My herbs, on the other hand, are thrilled to no end.


Anyone have any idea of what I can do with all that parsley?  I’ve been trimming it and throwing it in the compost pile just to keep the sage and chives happy.   The sage is nice on grilled cheese with apples or pears and fontina, and my chives are screaming for pan roasted red potatoes.  But parsley?  I’m at a loss.

man vs. ape

The New York Times recently previewed a book, due out later this month, in which an anthropologist proposes that cooking is what separates man from ape. Tool-making and meat-eating are all well and good, this Harvard professor suggests, but it’s cooking foods over a fire that enabled higher development.

“Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” explains that cooking made foods richer and healthier as long ago as 1.8 million years. Foods became softer, safer and more nutritious. Though no evidence of fire dates that far back, Dr. Ricahrd Wrangham says biology suggests cooking is just that old – that’s when man’s body type changed from apelike proportions with a big gut to upright bodies topped by larger brains. Teeth got smaller, too, suggesting that they weren’t as needed for chewing because foods were softer – because they were cooked.

I’m not sure how I feel about his theory (keep in mind that the doctor has also lived like a chimp, eating only what he found, while he studied the animals – this included eating raw monkey that the other chimps had cast off – eewww), but I like the idea of cooking as an social tradition that has always shaped our development; it continues to shape families and dictate traditions today. I think about this when I consider the Tuesdays with Dorie experiment, and how 200+ young cooks in various corners of the world are all learning to bake because one woman wrote one book.  Dorie’s labor of love will no doubt become the center of family traditions. It’s exciting to think that this little blog is part of that grand idea.

My friend Ken Patchen recently wrote a guest column for the Illinois Agri-News, recalling the various vegetable gardens that have shaped his life: A gradeschool friend’s mom’s where the boys picked grapes and made jelly, his mother-in-law’s carrot patch where fruit stayed in the ground well into December, Ken’s garden that enabled them to continuation her family’s canning tradition, the plot his daughter used to explore her taste for obscure vegetables (and to test her father’s patience, no doubt),  and now the container garden that Ken’s daughter is sharing with his granddaughter in an urban setting.

“Growing a garden is an inter-generational act of faith, reflects a sense of hope, offers exercise, creates memories and puts food and great taste on the table in hard times,” Ken explained as he commended the White House for planting its table garden this spring.  The First Garden likely won’t make a dent in the national deficit, but it will undoubtedly remind parents and grandparents of how they spent their summer days and prompt them to reconsider what their children will remember about this summer.

I guess in a way that’s how I think about cooking, and I thank Ken for helping me to understand that.  I’m still planning my summer garden; I’ve yet to really identify what I’ll have and what kind of containers I’ll use. But my house on McCraren Road always had a garden when I was young (actually, it still does), and I wouldn’t know what else to do with the space now that I have a home of my own.

It would have been prettier if I had found the orzo

Like my TWD colleague over at EzraPoundCake, I too have let several bags of spinach die in my refrigerator.  But she’s inspired me to change my ways, and so I tried her spinach and feta orzo salad.

Orzo to clean out the crisper

But I couldn’t find orzo in my local grocery store, so I used salad macaroni. I poured myself a glass of malbec and added too much red onion, a small can of sliced sliced olives and a scoop of leftover pesto sauce for fun, and it was fabulous – if not the most attractive dish out there, I certainly enjoyed eating it. I bet it would be good with chicken straight from the grill, too.  Hhhmmmm…

Super Foods

This article in the New York Times Web site lists the 11 best (and most reasonable) foods that we all should be eating:

  1. Beets: a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
  2. Cabbage: loaded with sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
  3. Swiss chard: packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
  4. Cinnamon: May control blood sugar and cholesterol.
  5. Pomegranate juice: loaded with antioxidants and may lower blood pressure.
  6. Dried plums: packed with antioxidants.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: packed with magnesium, which is associated with lower risk for early death.
  8. Sardines: high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
  9. Turmeric: anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
  10. Frozen blueberries: associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.

Now, nevermind how many of these foods are currently in my pantry, nor those which might have made an appearance on my grocery bills over the last 6 months.  Let’s focus on the positive: I had two meals (plus leftovers) with cabbage this week, and I liked them both!

I rediscovered cabbage a year or so ago when my mother-in-law cleaned out her refrigerator prior to extended travel (that means she sent a bag of leftover groceries to my house) and I was determined to find uses for the items that I would NEVER have purchased for myself (except for the Greek yogurt; that I threw straight down the garbage disposal). The Canadian bacon made a fine breakfast strata, but the cabbage sent me to the bookshelf.

In The Best Vegetable Recipe cookbook (put out by the fine folks at Cooks Illustrated), I found two recipes that I’ll use again and again, I’m sure.  Braising cabbage with green apple and apple juice pairs well with pot stickers from the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s, and then this weekend I braised the cabbage with beer and brown mustard in which I had previously cooked pork brats.  Yum.

That’s probably not the way the New York Times wants me to eat cabbage. But such is life.

The most comforting chicken and dumplings

The weather in Chicago continues to be garbage, and we’re all doing the best we can.  It was Sunny Sunday and as warm as 20 degrees – and people flocked to the outdoor mall in droves to enjoy the warm spell and boost their moods a little in the sunshine. Today, however, it’s snowing again, and not quite as warm as the sun made it Sunday.

So I’ve got that, there are still more hours of darkness than daylight every day, and work is heating up in advance of the Big Meeting my office will host at the local convention center next month. At home, I’m searching for comfort food.

Gooseberry Patch

 I went to Gooseberry Patch – specifically, the 2009  calendar I received as a holiday gift.  Gooseberry Patch has a whole line of cookbooks that I go to when I’m looking to make some kind of tried-and-true dish without putting a whole lot of effort into it. Think: crockpot dishes, baked casseroles that have cream soup bases, and anything that involves ground beef.  The good thing is that they’re all good and use a lot of pantry staples. The bad part is that theat sometimes involved “shortening” on the list of ingredients.  Just something to be aware of.

The calendar’s recipe for January was for chicken with dumplings – which was, as expected, cheap and easy: 1 can of cream of chicken soup, 4 cans of chicken broth, chicken, 2 cans of vegetables, and two tubes of refrigerated biscuits.

The recipes in Gooseberry Patch are all like that – folksy foods that can be prepared quickly and inexpensively to feed a crowd: Fruit salad dressed with a mixture of honey, lemon juice and pineapple juice;  a recipe for cheesy herbed biscuits ingredients that you layer in a canning jar to give as a gift; fudge made with shortening; popcorn balls for Halloween.

Regardless, the chicken and dumplings I made last week was perfect for the modd I was in, and the refrigerated biscuits made great dumplings.  I dropped the raw dough in the top of the boiling soup and covered the pot. The dough sort of sat on top of the soup for a combination of boiling/steaming/braising, and absorbed all of the flavors of the soup base.

I made the chicken version of the recipe for myself, and a vegetable version for friends who needed a comforting meal. I thought both were good.  I even slipped a few peas in – which I hate! – but I got them down without hesitating.

CEiMB: Curried Squash Soup

I’ve never been a fan of squash (I’m not sure exactly what it tastes like, but I’ve never found it enjoyable, however it’s been disguised) but I had high hopes for this soup. I thought the combination of curry and honey would help me choke it down.

Now, I recognize that I had the same high hopes for the squash mac ‘n cheese that Ellie gave us a few weeks ago, and I was sadly disappointed, but I’m trying to eat more vegetables of different colors, and so I tried the soup.


Meet me in the Kitchen made this week’s selection, and you can find the recipe at her blog.  Some of the comments suggested that the curry made the soup too spicy or that the honey made it too sweet, but I don’t necessarily agree with either reaction.

I added apple chicken sausage and oyster crackers to disguise the  stuff, and still it was squash soup.  I liked it, but I’ll never crave it. I might make it again when I am swept by a wave of health consciousness, but I’m not gonna hold my breath for that day to come.

It looked nice in the bowl, though, don’t you think?  And the Other Eater in my Household enjoyed it very much.

I think next week may be the final test for Ellie’s book. None of the recipes have really bowled me over so far, and I’m beginning to lose interest in the book.  We’ll see how the cookies recipes stand up.

CEiMB: Cornmeal-Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart

I appreciate Ellie’s efforts, but I still don’t like eggplant.

This week the bloggers who crave Ellie in their Bellies worked on a roasted vegetable tart, built in a cornmeal and wheat flour crust. You’ll find the recipe here.  The combination of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, all roasted before being slathered with cheese and herbs and baked, really appealed to me. But the execution fell short. It’s still a bunch of winter vegetables that I really don’t care for. (But I ate it with a glass of this Michigan wine, which makes everything go down more smoothly.)

All I tasted was eggplant

I shopped for this kind of on the spur of the moment – thus, without a list – and did pretty well. But I was baking in my pajamas early Sunday morning when I realized that I had forgotten the mozzarella.  I had two choices: get dressed and run to the store, or punt.

Refusing the change out of my pajamas that early in the day, I rescued some leftover ricotta from the back of my fridge. It worked like a charm!  It won’t melt and spread, though, so use your finger and a spoon to make tiny little drops of choose to dot each layer of the tart.  It’s super creamy when you bite into it, like lasagna, and makes the tart’s texture great.

I would be proud to carry this dish into someone else’s home, but I fear that the leftovers will sit in the back of my fridge for a while before we throw it down the garbage disposal.