Thai Carrot Soup with Tahini Swirl

pureed carrot soup with Thai flavors and a swirl of tahini, ginger and lemon dressing

An abundance of grated carrots in my freezer and a craving for sweet, spicy, sour and earthy flavors led me down the path to this recipe. Pureed carrots thickened with rice and seasoned with a hint of fish sauce, warm spices: ginger, cumin and nutmeg and sour notes of lime. To finish it off, I riffed on one of my favorite salad dressings borrowed from Modern Potluck by Kristin Donnelly from her recipe for “Chinese Chicken Salad with Sesame -Ginger Dressing”. (You will not regret purchasing this book as all of the recipes are delicious, easy and useful. So, as soon as you are finished reading this, order your copy!) And yes, I realize that her salad is described as “Chinese” and I am calling my soup, “Thai”. To be honest, in this area, I may not be accurate but I do know what I like. And this carrot soup with Tahini Swirl drizzled on top is a winner.

Thai Carrot Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 inch piece of ginger, chopped fine

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup white rice

8 large carrots, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 can coconut milk

juice from 1 lime

1 tablespoon gluten free soy sauce

2 teaspoons fish sauce

For garnish: fresh cilantro, Sriracha sauce, Thahini sauce (see following recipe)

Add olive oil to a large stock pot and heat on medium high. Add onion, garlic, ginger, salt and chili paste. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and rice. Bring to a boil.

Add the carrots, cumin and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, until carrots and rice are soft. Add the coconut milk. Remove from heat and puree soup with an immersion blender or allow to cool before blending in a regular blender being careful to release the steam. Add the soup back to the pot and add lime juice, soy sauce and fish sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference by adding more salt, lime juice or sambal oelek (chili paste).

Serve with Tahini dressing, Sriracha and cilantro leaves.

Tahini Dressing

(adapted from Modern Potluck by Kristin Donnelly)

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons tahini

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste or sambel oelek

3 tablespoons of grapeseed or canola oil

 

Using a whisk, blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve with meats, vegetables or soup. If you would like to use this as a salad dressing, reduce the amount of tahini to 2 teaspoons and increase the oil to 1/2 cup.

 

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Lasagna Soup with Fresh Ricotta

creamy tomato soup with lasagana noodles and italian chicken sausage and dollops of ricotta cheese

Who doesn’t love a big hunk of lasagna with melty cheese oozing from its soft pasta layers?  Little chunks of sausage and meatballs hidden among the ricotta and mozzerella waiting to be discovered and dug out like tiny treasures in a red sauce filled landscape flavored by oregano and garlic?

Sadly, devouring all that lasagna goodness requires unbuttoning one’s pants and taking a long winter nap followed by a guilt filled morning and a long, joyless trip to the gym.  Is it really worth it?

My longing for all that is craveworthy about lasagna and my desire not to feel guilty or gluttonous about consuming such a rich meal has led me to search out viable alternatives.  I  will be honest.  I was skeptical at first about this soup recipe that I was finally able to find on the food network website.  How could one recreate the flavors, decadent feeling and tastes in a soup that is far less caloric than its inspiration?  I decided it was worth a try.

As you have probably already suspected, this soup recipe delivers on all counts: melty cheese from the fresh ricotta dollops, creamy and tomatoey sauce, chunky noodles and bits of Italian spiced meat.  If you are feeling extra hungry, make some garlic bread to dip in your bowl.  This soup makes a comforting and somewhat guilt free meal.

I changed up some parts of the recipe but included the link to the original if you want to check it out.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/lasagna-soup-2268968. The recipe for the Ricotta cheese is a combination of a few from my research mixed up with my memory of a recipe that I once had from a friend of mine.  Unfortunately, I cannot find my original copy but I think I came pretty close in recreating it.  Make the Ricotta a day or a few hours in advance.

 

Lasagana Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

2 sweet Italian sausages, casings removed

2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups chicken broth

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped basil

1 Parmesan rind or /13 cup grated parmesan cheese

8 oz. lasagna noodles, broken into pieces (about 10 noodles)

1/4 cup whole milk

Ricotta cheese (see following recipe)

optional: red pepper flakes and extra basil for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring until onions soften, about 4 minutes.  Add the sausage, garlic and oregano.  Cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a spoon until the sausage is browned and cooked through.  Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring until darkened, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, Parmesan rind ( wait to add the cheese, if using grated) and 1 cup water, cover and bring to a simmer.  Uncover and cook until slightly reduced , about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot and add the lasagna noodles.  Cook according to package directions.  Drain and add to soup.  Add milk, parmesan (if using grated) and basil.  Simmer for about 1 minute.  Divide the soup among bowls and top with small dollops of Ricotta cheese.

ricotta cheese curds

 

Ricotta Cheese

8 cups whole milk ( I use Garelick brand)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

 

Line a large strainer with 4 layers of cheese cloth being sure that it hangs over the sides about an inch or two.  Place the strainer over a large bowl.

In a large, heavy pot slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil.  Stir it occasionally to prevent scorching.  Add the lemon juice, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring continuously, until the mixture curdles.  This takes about 2 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds and place them in the strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Let the cheese drain for at least and hour.  Use the cheese immediately or place it in a covered container in the refrigerator.  It will keep for about 2 days.  

*You can use the liquid from the cheese, called whey in all types of ways.  It’s protein rich.  Use it in smoothies and bread recipes instead of milk or water.

**This cheese tastes delicious when served with salty crackers and topped with honey.

Meringues

recipe for chocolate meringues

I often search for gluten free dessert options with my sister, Karyn in mind.  Whenever there is a gathering, I would rather make a dessert that is naturally gluten free so that she can enjoy it, too.  Although she insists that she doesn’t want anyone to go to any trouble, it is troublesome to me that someone may have to skip dessert because of an allergy or intolerance of some kind.

On one occasion, it was a birthday party, if I recall correctly, I was making my mother’s favorite dessert, a specific, gluten filled cake that would not work with my sister’s dietery restrictions.  But happily, I came across this recipe for Chocolate Chip Espresso Meringues that sounded absolutely delicious.  I knew that she would love the flavors and the fact that there would be no need to make any special substitutions that may or may not work out as intended, was icing on the cake.  So I made these confections just for her and packaged the rest up for her take home and enjoy later.

When Karyn arrived early to help with my mother’s birthday dinner, I happily informed her that I made something special, just for her.

“I made you some chocolate espresso meringues!!” I blurted out.  Eager to have her try one.

“I hate meringues!” she said with such emphasis, that I dared not mention them again.

But as the evening went on and everyone sang happy birthday, I got madder and madder about her comment.  I knew she would like them and how rude was her response to a gift that I made for her?  I was determined that she would at least try them. she didn’t even know what she was missing, damn it!

While everyone else was enjoying cake, I pulled Karyn into my office where I was keeping her special stash of Chocolate Meringues.
“Get in here and try these, they are really good.” I said as I pulled her arm.

Karyn looked at the meringues and decided that they were worth at least a bite.  Well, her face told me the rest.  Then she devoured three more in quick succession before heading back into the kitchen to join everyone else.

Later that night, after everyone when home and all the dishes were done, I got a text from her:

“I just ate the last meringue.  They are so good.  Will you make me some more?”

Aaah! Sisters.

meringues made with chocolate chips and espresso

Chocolate Chip Espresso Meringues

(Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, March 2016)

(Makes about 24 small ones)

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

2  oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

a pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

2 teaspoons instant coffee

 

    Preheat oven to 225 degrees.  Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

   Place egg whites in a medium bowl with cream of tartar.  Mix with a hand mixer on low speed until mixture becomes frothy.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and begin adding sugar one tablespoon at a time.  Beat until the whites are stiff , about one minute.  Fold in chopped chocolate and salt.  Sprinkle cocoa and instant coffee on top of egg white mixture.  Fold together 2-3 times to lightly incorporate.

Spoon about 24 dollops of meringue onto prepared baking sheet.  (About one heaping tablespoon each)  Using the back of a spoon, gently flatten the tops of the meringues.  Place in oven and bake for one hour until the meringues are firm on the outside and still chewy on the inside.  Let cool completely.

Can be stored in an airtight container for one week, if they last that long!

Chicken and White Bean Chili with Green Onion and Parmesan Crostini

White bean chili with chicken sausage and parmesan crostini

If you are looking for a hearty soup that is not too heavy, this one is the perfect solution to your problem.  Browned ground chicken and onions with all the spices you love in a good, stick to your ribs chili.  Cannellini beans and Swiss chard give this soup and Italian twist.  Top it off with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  An untraditional crostini with green onions, chive, cream cheese and more Parmesan bring it all together into a satisfying meal.

The first time I made this was in 2012 when I saw an episode of Giada De Laurentiiis’ cooking show on the Food Network at that time.  She also served it with a crostini but I cannot seem to find that recipe, so I had to riff on it, instead.  Everytime I make this easy to put together soup and bread combination, I get rave reviews.  I should take this one out more often!

Chicken and White Bean Chili

(serves about 6)

(adapted from White Bean and Chicken Chili by Giada De Laurentiis, 2012)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 pounds ground chicken or turkey or a combination

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3 teaspoons chili powder

3 tablepsoons flour

2 (15 oz. cans) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 bunch (about 1 pound) swiss chard, stems removed, chopped to 1 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

black pepper

Parmesan cheese

chopped parsley

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.  Add the ground meat, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, oregano, and chili powder.  Cook, stirring frequently until the meat is browned and cooked through about 8-10 minutes.  Stir the flour into the meat mixture.  Add the beans, Swiss chard, corn and chicken stock.  Bring mixture to a simmer, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Simmer for about 50-60 minutes until liquid reduces and the chili is thickened.  Add the red pepper flakes, taste for seasoning and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Green Onion and Parmesan Crostini

1 (8 oz block) cream cheese, softened

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

4 green onions, diced

2 tablespoons chopped chives

12 slices baguette, on the diagonal for more surface area

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat boiler in oven.  In a small bowl, mix cream cheese, salt, pepper, green onions and chives.  Spread mixture on one side of each slice of bread.  Place bread on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle each slice with Parmesan cheese, making sure it adheres to cream cheese mixture.  Broil bread slices for 2-4 minutes until cheese melts and turns brown on edges.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Chicken Italian Sausage and Zucchini Soup

soup with chicken Italian sausage and zucchini

Last week, a high fever ran rampant through our house.  It threatened to derail all holiday tasks and planning.  Thankfully, I had already made this soup.  The tender chunks of zucchini, zesty tomato base and filling chicken sausage made it the perfect antidote to my sickeness.  My eleven year old preferred gingerale and nutella on crackers to combat his cold.  That’s o.k.  I was so sick, I didn’t even get mad at him for refusing to even try it.  I ‘m glad to have had plenty of this soup to heat up and eat in my bathrobe while I wished my cold away.

All I could think about was how much I still had left to do: the holiday baking, shopping, wrapping and don’t forget all the driving.  It seems my kids are doing just about everything possible at this point in their lives.  It’s good that they are busy and happy to participate in all manner of activities from tap dancing to travel basketball.  But all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch Iron Chef.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I am on the mend now and able to document the recipe that brought me back to the living.  The original source is from and incredible cookbook called, Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst.  I changed up a few things.  Mainly the sausage: I used chicken and could not find hot Italian chicken sausage at my local market.  Instead, I used some Italian chicken and cheese sausage and chicken and kale sausage.  It worked.  I also added a parmesan rind to the soup as it simmered to add some richness to the broth.  Fresh basil at this time of year is pretty rough, if you can find it at all in a New England supermarket, so I opted to leave it out.  Here is my version of “Hope’s Italian Sausage-Zucchini Soup”.  I hope you make it in good health.

Chicken Italian Sausage and Zucchini Soup

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

total 16 oz. chicken sausage: Italian, Cheese, or any type you like, casings removed

1 small onion, diced

2 large garlic cloves minced

sea salt

black pepper2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

2 lbs. zucchini, diced

3 large celery stalks, diced

1 large yellow or orange pepper, diced

2-4 cups chicken stock

pinch of red chili flakes

parmesan rind

garnish: parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high.  remove the casings from sausage and add to warm oil.  Cook sausage, breaking up pieces as it browns.  Once the sausage is cooked through, add the onion and garlic.  Turn heat to medium low and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary.  Add the tomatoes, parsley and sugar.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the zucchini, celery, yellow/orange pepper, chicken stock, chili flakes and parmesan rind.  Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

To serve: ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.

Gingerbread Men

cookies made out of gingerbread

Aaah, holiday treats!  Candy canes, chocolate Santas and all manner of inventions to be found on Pinterest!  But truly, nothing says Christmas time more to me than the flavor  and scent of gingerbread cookies.  Especially these gingerbread men cookies: my mother Val’s recipe found in her Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.  She accumulated each volume by collecting stamps at the supermarket.  Those books served her cooking repertoire well, long before the internet came along.

I can understand now that I have two kids of my own going here and there, them needing rides and chaperoning in every waking moment of the day that Val had to delegate the cookie making to us kids considering she had three children’s activities schedules to juggle.  Sometimes the cookies came out well but many of them were often burnt on the edges or undercooked and the decorating….let’s just say that after the one time my younger brother was allowed to help, his presence was no longer requested in the kitchen.  Gingerbread men covered in red gel frosting for blood and green gel camo outfits were not what my mother had in mind to hand out to her friends as holiday gifts.  We ate a lot of gingerbread men at home that year.

Whatever your decorating style, I am sure that you will find these cookies to be tasty.  They hit all the right notes in flavor and aroma from the molasses and ginger.  Perhaps you will be brave enough to employ some child labor of your own in the decorating.  Or you can drop the kids off to their scheduled activities and keep the fun of adding frosting and sprinkles to yourself.

 

Gingerbread Men

(makes about 3 dozen)

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

2 3/4 cup flour, plus more for rolling out dough

2 teaspoons dried, ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk (regular will do, in a pinch)

frosting, sprinkles, candy decorations

Mix molasses, sugar and butter, well.  In another bowl, mix together flour, ginger, salt and baking soda.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, stirring well until smooth.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  (Overnight is best as this step is CRITICAL.  You will literally pull your hair out if you try to roll out the dough before it is chilled.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove about 1/2 cup of dough from the refrigerator (keep the rest chilled while you are working).  Roll out dough on a well floured board to 1/8″-1/4″ thick.  Cut with floured cutters and place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets.  ( I use Silpat liners or parchment paper would work well, too.)  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until just before cookies brown on edges.  Remove from oven and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely before decorating.

If planning to hang cookies on tree, make a hole about double the size you want the end result to be in the cookie BEFORE baking.

 

 

Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle

soup with carrots, chicken, noodles and Asian flavors

I’ve made a version of this soup before.  This Asian Chicken Noodle has a little more kick and depth of flavor from cooking the chicken in the pot first.  But like most soups, anyone can adapt it to whatever their personal tastes are or what needs to be used up in the pantry.  It’s a good soup to make when you are feeling a little down from holiday stresses.  Right now, everyone, it seems has a cold.  I had a lingering sore throat for weeks.  Hoarse every night after projecting my voice in the school lunchroom ( read: shouting).  It wasn’t until after I took the advice from a colleague to employ the old school treatment of gargling multiple times a day with warm salt water that I was finally cured.  Of course, the soup helped by soothing my throat and warming up my aching bones with its spicy notes of ginger, Sriracha and Thai red curry.  Whatever your December malaise or Holiday woe, this zippy soup will be sure to pick you up so that you can keep going.

 

Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon canola oil

water

1 red pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

8 cups chicken broth

1 chunk of fresh ginger (about 2 inches)

4 teaspoons Sriracha

1/4  cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1 lime)

4 teaspoons red curry paste

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

3 oz. uncooked wide rice noodles (flat)

garnishes: grated fresh carrot, cilantro, lime wedges, Sriracha, green onions

Season chicken on both sides with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  Heat a large soup pot on medium high.  Add the oil.  Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken.  Allow to sear on one side until the chicken releases from the pan.  Flip the chicken and sear for another 4-5 minutes until the second side releases from the pan.  Add 3 tablespoons-1/3 cup water to the bottom of the pan to loosen chicken bits and juices.  Turn heat to simmer, cover and cook chicken for 10 minutes, until just cooked through.  Remove chicken and juices to a dish and cover with tin foil.  

Add peppers to soup pot.  Turn heat back to medium high.  Saute peppers until they begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add chicken broth and all seasonings through cider vinegar.  Shred chicken and add back to pot along with any accumulated juices.  Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add 6 cups of water to a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Add rice noodles.  Cook 3 minutes, then drain.  Place about 1/4 cup-1/2 cup of rice noodles in each serving bowl.

Taste soup and adjust seasonings.  Ladle soup over each noodle serving.  Serve with garnishes on side.