Monday, December 28, 2015

Sweet Potato & White Bean Soup

A long time ago, I picked up a slow cooker with the intention of trying to utilize it and take advantage of the convenience. I made a pretty good bean stew and promised to try more. But I haven't really done that and whenever I look at slow cooker cookbooks I always notice how meat-heavy they are.

While walking through the cookbook section of my local library (which I do every time I visit it), a cookbook caught my attention: The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester. I checked it out of the library, brought it home, and proceeded to page through it reading through the recipes. There were easily a dozen recipes that I wanted to try. No more needing to skip through entire chunks of the book to avoid the meat recipes.

With the author being vegan, there are parts of the book dedicated to workarounds particular to vegans. And some of the recipes looked a little bland; written perhaps with the entire country in mind. Here in California, we have so many exotic ingredients available to us. So I immediately noticed places where I could add some changes and upgrades.

I decided to start with this recipe because we had multiple bags of sweet potatoes delivered that needed to be used up. I doctored up the recipe a bit.

On this particular December day, I was able to come home for lunch and get all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. I had an after-work holiday event to attend so I knew I wouldn't be home until a few hours later than usual. So I set this up to be our late dinner.

It was nice to walk through the door and pick up the scent of the simmering soup. This is a great weeknight meal for cooler fall and winter nights. Some good bread and olive oil goes along nicely.

Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup

  • Sweet potato - About 3 medium to small potatoes, peeled and chopped into mostly equal-sized chunks
  • Garlic - 3 cloves, minced
  • Celery - 3 stalks, cleaned and chopped
  • Diced tomatoes - 1 14 oz. can
  • White beans - 1 14 oz. can of beans, drained and rinsed
  • Veggie broth - 5 cups
  • Greens - 1 15 oz. bag of prepared greens. I used a bag of baby kale leaves.
  • Parsley - leaves of 2-3 sprigs, chopped
  • Bay leaf - 1-2 leaves
  • Parmesan cheese - grated
  • White pepper - 1/4 tsp or more to taste
  • Salt and papper - to taste
  • Flour - 4 tbsp

The night before:
  • Prepare the celery and sweet potatoes and store in air-tight container in the refrigerator.
The day of:
  • Add sweet potatoes, celery, herbs, beans, tomatoes, minced garlic, white pepper and broth to the slow cooker and heat on low for 6-8 hours until potatoes are softened. 
  • Remove bay leaf and parsley sprigs. 
  • Before serving put the flour in a bowl. Ladle some broth into the bowl. Whisk to dissolve the flour. Once it is fully dissolved add it all back to the slow cooker and stir to mix.
  • About 20 minutes before serving add in greens and let them cook down.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top with some cheese and garnish with chopped parsley leaves.
  • Serves 4.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

French Mushroom Soup

We recently attended another dinner party with our friends. The theme this time was French. We volunteered for the soup course. But I knew I did not want to make the obvious: French Onion Soup. I quickly discovered that it's hard to Google the terms "French soup" without getting overwhelmed with French Onion Soup recipes.

I decided not to go with a bouillabaisse since it seemed more of a spring or summer dish. Instead, I settled on this elegant mushroom soup, combining two recipes I found online.

The soup was a success. You don't need a big bowl since the flour, cream, and butter make it a filling soup. This is a good special occasion soup that can be part of a larger, multi-course dinner. Perfect for the holidays.

French Mushroom Soup


  • 1/2 medium onion - minced
  • Butter - 1/2 cup
  • Flour - 5-6 tablespoons
  • 12 cups broth
  • Parsley - a few sprig plus some leave chopped for garnish
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 lbs. mixed mushrooms - cremini, shiitake, oyster
  • 4 egg yolks
  • heavy cream - 1 cup
  • white wine - 1 cup
  • salt - 1 tsp. or to taste
  • white pepper - 1/2 - 1 tsp.
  • finishing salt and pepper

  • Prepare and cook onion in 4 tbsp. butter in a large stockpot over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the flour and stir for a few minutes. Do not let it brown. 
  • Pour in some of the stock and stir until flour is dissolved. Add the remaining stock.
  • Add the bay leaf and parsley sprigs and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture into another stockpot.
  • In a large skillet, heat the remaining butter over medium heat. 
  • Add the mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, white pepper and cook until they have softened and browned.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the cream together. While whisking, add a cup of the simmering soup to the bowl. Add to soup and keep the temperature low so the yolks don't curdle.
  • Let it simmer and season to taste.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the mushrooms to a bowl. 
  • Puree the soup with the remaining mushrooms with an immersion blender. Add back the reserved mushrooms and stir to mix.
  • Ladle soup into bowls, add a pinch of finishing salt, and garnish with chopped parsley.
  • Serves 12.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

We recently spent a getaway weekend with some good friends in Chicago. Our hosts nicely accommodated our pescetarian eating preferences. Because our days were full seeing the sights, we often made our lunches in the morning and enjoyed them later in the day picnic-style.

They had the fixings for these excellent smoked salmon sandwiches that we made each morning. One day, we enjoyed these sandwiches on the new 606 walkway; another day at Starved Rock State Park; and again on the shore of Lake Michigan. Since coming home, we have continued to make and enjoy these for those times you need a quick and easy dinner or a weekend lunch.

One of the key ingredients is the Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise. If you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby you can Google the term and find some workaround recipes that you can make at home. It is worth it to take the time to have this ingredient in the sandwich.

If you have Trader Joe's and a Costco nearby you are set.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

  • Slices of smoked salmon
  • Havarti cheese - sliced
  • Arugula (or spinach)
  • Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise
  • Pesto
  • Bread
One slice gets pesto. The other gets the wasabi mayonnaise. Add the smoked salmon to one side and top with cheese. Add a layer of arugula.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Fall into Winter. The CSA box is delivering lots of apples, baby bok choy, butternut squash, and leeks. So we are eating with the seasons.

In October,  I found some of this soup in our deep freezer. It was quite good. The different sweetnesses definitely marry over time. The coconut milk adds a nice silkiness.

Since I had the ingredients on hand, I decided to make the soup again tonight fresh. I might try to roast the butternut squash next time to see if that adds another layer of flavor.

It was still quite tasty. The butternut squash flavored is tempered with a little sweetness from the pears. The coconut milk adds its own dimension. A good one for cold fall and winter dinners.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup


  • Olive oil - 3 Tbsp.
  • Butternut squash - 1 medium or 2 small - peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1 inch blocks
  • Leeks - 1 large or 2 medium, white and tender green parts chopped
  • Bartlett pears - 2 or 3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch blocks
  • Broth - 5 cups
  • Coconut milk - 1 14 oz. can of light coconut milk
  • Garnish: Dried chives or roasted pumpkin seeds or be creative
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

  • Heat olive oil over medium low heat. Add chopped leeks and cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
  • Prepare butternut squash and pears and add to leeks. Saute for 5 minutes.
  • Add broth and bring to a boil.
  • Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until squash is fork tender (minimum 20 minutes).
  • Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree the soup.
  • Season with salt and white pepper.
  • Add coconut milk.
  • Cook down to desired consistency.
  • Garnish and plate.
Serve with some crusty, high quality bread with either butter or olive oil.

Original inspiration:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Black Pepper and Honey Marinated Cantaloupe with Basil

This is the second fruit dish that was served at a recent dinner party (see below). This particular dish got the highest praises. It seems an unlikely hit but people commented on how the fruit and pepper combination worked well together. A few days after the dinner party, comments came in saying that this was a particularly memorable dish. It's definitely a keeper.

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (coarse grind better)
  • 1 cantaloupe, slightly underripe
  • 3 tbsp. basil, very thinly sliced
  • Flaky sea salt, Maldon preferred
  • Bring 1 cup of water to a boil
  • Peel, seed, and slice cantaloupe into thin slices
  • Whisk honey into boiling water and add black pepper then allow to cool
  • Place cantaloupe slices in a 9x13 baking dish
  • Add honey/water mixture and stir to coat
  • Cover with plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight
  • Drain and discard excess syrup from the mixture
  • Sprinkle with basil and sea salt
  • Garnish with a basil sprig
Link to the original recipe is here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Feta Stuffed Watermelon Blocks

I recently had to bring the makings for a cheese/fruit course for a dinner party. It was a very hot day and the entree was going to include cheese, so I went with a cheese/fruit course that was lighter on the cheese and more fruit forward. Rather than just put out a traditional assortment of fruit, I decided to make two different fruit "recipes" to accompany the two cheeses we did put out: A Gorgonzola and an Italian Fontina. This is one of the two fruit dishes we served to accompany the cheeses. The second, even more popular, recipe will follow.

This is a great and easy to make summertime appetizer. It is best for a hot day when watermelon can be so refreshing and invigorating. The sweet fruit along with the salty feta topped with the herbaceous basil makes for an interesting mix of flavors. It's also a unique presentation.

Pairing the appetizer with a wine can be a little challenging dealing with all of the different flavors. A Vouvray, Verdelho, or a Rose would all be good choices.

Feta Stuffed Watermelon Blocks


  • 1 3-4 lb. watermelon
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Basil leaves, very thinly sliced
  • Cut the watermelon in half and then slice 1 - 1 1/2 slices from the center.
  • Cut off the rind and cut  1 - 1 1/2 inch blocks of watermelon.
  • Using a melon baller, scoop out the top of each watermelon block.
  • Divide the feta among the melon hollows. 
  • Top each block with thinly sliced basil
Link to original recipe is here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Braised Belgian Endives

Endive (ON-deev), not to be confused with curly EN-dive, is something that doesn't really exist in out in nature. The white to yellowish (sometimes slightly red) torpedo-shaped vegetable often has the word Belgian in front of it because it was discovered or created accidentally in Belgium around 1830. Seems a Belgian farmer forgot about his chicory roots that he left in his cool, dark, humid cellar. In the springtime he found these shoots growing from the chicory roots. They tasted pretty good and could be eaten raw.

Today, it is grown all over and California produces most of the nation's supply. It's a versatile vegetable that is too often overlooked. Individual leaves can be a healthy substitute for crackers. You can also arrange the leaves on a platter and add a spoonful of your favorite dip on each leaf (as I did a few years ago).

This recipe is adapted from endive grower, Rick Collins, who grows most of the endive we find in stores in Rio Vista. He offers this cooking tip:
"You want to braise these endives beyond al dente. I've seen them served still kind of crisp, but you want these to be really limp. They won't fall apart because of all the fiber in them, and you'll still have to cut them with a knife."

Braised Belgian Endives

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 Belgian endives, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cups of broth
Heat oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron works real well for this). Add endives cut side down and sear for a few minutes. Press down with a spatula. When there is some visible browning, flip endives over and add stock. Reduce to a simmer and braise uncovered until the stock reduces and the endives are soft and carmelized.

Remove endives from the pan and serve hot, drizzled with reduced sauce. 

Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish.

Endive links with more information and recipe ideas:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche

I was recently tasked with bringing a soup to a recent dinner party that had a spring theme. I started with a recipe I received from Joanne Weir but I added to it. This can be a main course with the addition of bread or a crostini. Smaller portions can be part of a larger dinner.

Asparagus is widely available but seasonally they represent spring. This is a good choice for an early spring dinner. The delicate bits of asparagus tips offer a bit of a crunch to this soup. The lemony creme fraiche pairs well and adds a refreshing dimension to the soup.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche


  • 3 lbs. asparagus
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 6 cups stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Aleppo pepper (optional)

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Finely chop the flowery tips off of each asparagus and reserve in a bowl. Slice the rest of the asparagus into 3/4 inch pieces. 

Heat butter in a large pot. Coarsely chop the onion. Add minced garlic, onion, salt and pepper to pot and stir occasionally until soft, about 7 minutes. Add 3/4" pieces of asparagus and stock. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Add white pepper. Let soup simmer for 12-15 minutes. If it is too watery, simmer with the lid off to concentrate the soup. Let soup cool for 15 minutes and puree with an immersion blender or food processor. Add 1 tbsp. lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, mix together creme fraiche, lemon zest, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Add water to this thin slightly to make it more pourable over the finished soup.

Reheat soup over medium adding in the asparagus tips. 

To serve, place soup in bowls and drizzle some of the lemon creme fraiche on top. Garnish with Aleppo pepper flakes.

Serves 6.

Asparagus is tough to pair with wines. There are ingredients in asparagus that make wine taste metallic and harsh. Stay away from Chardonnays and go for herbal, floral wines. This article offers advice on selecting a good wine to pair with this soup. Sunset Magazine recommends Pinot Grigio.

We brought a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for that New Zealand style wine and a Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc. Some preferred the softer Matanzas Creek while others preferred the brighter, steelier New Zealand as the better pairing. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Glazed Turnips

Another rarity arrived in our CSA box: turnips. Not just turnips, but "Tokyo turnips."  Here's how they are described by my CSA:

Tokyo Turnips are a mild, juicy variety of turnip. We eat the tender roots of this plant, which grows in cool weather fall through late spring. Tokyo Turnips are tender, slightly spicy and taste like a cross between a radish and a turnip.

Tokyo turnips are smaller than your typical turnip. They are mostly white but they may have some brown tones on the skin. They lack the purplish hue you see in the typical turnips. Their stems and leaves are also smaller.

Right around the time they arrived in the box, the local SF newspaper had a short article on turnips.

There are various ways to enjoy turnips. They can be eaten raw just like you might eat raw radishes. They can be cooked whole either steamed or roasted. Add them as a side to a BBQ-based dinner. Rub whole or halved turnips with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill until lightly charred and slightly soft (15-20 mins.).

For my venture run, I decided to follow the SF Chronicle's suggestion and go the with glazed turnips recipe which is very similar to the Alice's carrots recipe that has become a staple in the house.

Glazed Turnips

  • Butter - 1 generous pat
  • 6 Tokyo turnips - cleaned, trimmed, and quartered
  • salt - dash
  • sugar - dash
  • pepper - freshly cracked black pepper
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. When it foams, add the quartered turnips and shake pan to coat butter. Add pepper, salt, and sugar. Cook for 5 minutes until a golden fringes appear on the edges. Add enough water to come up about just less than 1/3 of the height of the turnip. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower hear and simmer for about 10 minutes until tender. Garnish with herb of choice.

The turnip flavor is very interesting and complex. You get the vegetable blandness of cauliflower but then a bit of mild heat like mustard comes in. A mix of potato flavors and then radish flavors. Looking forward to more opportunities to explore turnips.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Smoked Trout Salad with Arugula and Grapefruit

Smoked trout is increasingly available in supermarkets along side the ever-present smoked salmon. If you eat seafood, it should be added to your repertoire. It's saltier and meatier than smoked salmon and it works well in pastas and salads as well as a pizza topping.

We recently needed to bring a salad to a Mediterranean-themed dinner. I immediately turned to a cookbook I should be getting royalties for. I have given the cookbook as a Christmas gift more than once and when I have brought dishes made from it, I've had people say that they are going home and buying it.

Olives and Oranges, written by Sarah Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is definitely a cookbook I need to mine for more recipes. Jenkins was the daughter of a foreign correspondent and grew up in Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and France absorbing the local cuisine along the way.

This salad was a hit at the dinner and I've made it as a fairly quick weeknight dinner salad.

Smoked Trout Salad with Arugula and Grapefruit


  • Dijon mustard - 1 tablespoon
  • red wine vinegar - 1 tablespoon
  • lemon juice - juice from one lemon
  • shallot - 1 large, thinly sliced
  • garlic - 1 clove, minced
  • grapefruit - 1 large pink grapefruit
  • olive oil - 1/3 cup
  • smoked trout - 8 oz. package
  • red onion - 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • arugula - 5 - 8 oz.
  • salt
  • coarsely ground black pepper

In a bowl, mix together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the top and bottom off of the grapefruit exposing the fruit. Set grapefruit upright and carefully cut peel and white pith from the fruit flesh. On subsequent cuts, follow along the pith line from the previous cut. Continue until done and cut away any remaining pith. Now that the outside skin is gone you need to remove the side skins to get to the fruit. Segment the fruit and remove the slices from the side skins.

Thinly slice red onion and set aside.

Remove the skin off the trout and flake the meat into a small bowl. Watch for and remove small bones.

Add olive oil to mustard and vinegar dressing. Whisk into a mixture.

Combine trout flakes, grapefruit, and onions in a large bowl. Stir to mix (looking for more bones).

Add arugula and mix.

Add dressing and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately. The acids in the fruit, vinegar, and mustard break down the arugula very quickly. This cannot be made ahead of time.

Season (optional) with salt and pepper and serve.

Because of the high acid in the grapefruit, pair this with a high acid wine like Verdejo, Sancerre, Vouvray, or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

How to get skinless grapefruit segments:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cream of Sunchoke Soup

We recently got a pound of sunchokes in our CSA box. They used to be called Jerusalem artichokes but they are not from Jerusalem nor are they related to artichokes. From what I read, Jerusalem artichoke is the outgoing name and sunchoke is becoming the preferred name.

It looks like ginger root but it is a tuber. I went with Mark Bittman's advice to not peel them but I just scrubbed them well.

I had received some advice and tips from friends. One said they make great chips. One was about try this recipe. Another warned me of their nickname: fartichokes. I was paging through a recent Bon Appetit and found another option. But after the sunchokes arrived, we had a getaway to Healdsburg and had a great dinner at Chalkboard. They served an excellent Cream of Sunchoke Soup with Dungeness Crab with apple and celery. I adapted it and went with this recipe when I got home. The recipe below can also be adapted for a number of other ingredients. Instead of sunchokes, you can use broccoli, potato, cauliflower, etc.

Cream of Sunchoke Soup (with caramelized shallot and mushroom)

Garnish: Caramelized shallots and mushroom
  • 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 -3 mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced (including stalk)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Salt, to taste 
  • White pepper, to taste
  • balsamic vinegar (optional), a dash
Prior to getting started on the soup, prep all of the garnish ingredients. Heat a small skillet and melt the butter. Add the shallots. After about 5 minutes, as shallots begin to soften, add the mushrooms. Cook over medium heat, stirring on occasion, for 20-25 minutes until the mixture is browned with crispy edges. Transfer to a small bowl. 

Cream of Sunchoke Soup
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. sunchokes, scrubbed well, skin on, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp. brandy
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 3 cups broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until foamy. Add the onions and sunchokes and stir to mix. Saute covered for 10 minutes, stirring one or two times. Uncover and cook for an additional 8 minutes, until vegetables are soft, stirring often so they don't stick. Add in 1 tbsp. flour and 1 tbsp. of brandy. Stir and cook for 1 minute. 

Gradually add 2 cups of broth and stir to mix. Simmer for 5 minutes or longer until vegetables soften. 

Transfer to a food processor (or use an immersion blender) adding up to a cup of stock to desired consistency. 

Return soup to skillet, add half and half and season generously with salt and pepper. Add last tablespoon of brandy and white wine.

Cook until mixed. Serve in bowls and mound the shallot garnish in the center. 

Serve with some toasted, buttered slices of ciabatta or other good quality bread.