Tis the Season for Light Eating: Chicken and Rice Soup with Lemon and Ginger

Good Wednesday morning! How did you fare over the holiday? Were you hit by the snowstorm? It arrived for us mid-day Wednesday, but cleared out by Thursday morning. For the first time in many years, I think I can say my big dinner went off without a hitch—and I didn’t even draw up a timeline! Granted, the turkey was done about 45 minutes than I planned and I left the rolls in too long, but everything was delicious with leftovers kept at a minimum. And I’ve boiled up the turkey carcass for some soup later on this winter!

So now that our bellies are filled to the rim and it’s December, which means lots of sweets and out of the ordinary eating, I try as much as I can to have light meals throughout the day. Sugar and sweets are terrible for my waistline as well as my psyche, so I try to make healthy and delicious meals that aren’t fussy. This soup, which I made for lunches, was perfect. With accents of lemon and ginger, to me, this was a souped up (pardon the pun!) version of miso soup you get in Japanese restaurants.  While it is light yet filling, you don’t go away feeling like you ate a heavy meal.

For substitutions, I poached a chicken breast instead of using the rotisserie chicken and I cooked up the brown rice instead of the instant and made a pilaf of the leftovers. But their suggestions are excellent quick replacements if time is lacking. This was so delicious, it has become my new favorite soup! And for those gluten-intolerant, just use tamari instead of soy sauce!

unnamed
Chicken and Rice Soup with Lemon and Ginger

This recipe originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Serves 6 (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon white miso
1 (8-ounce) package presliced cremini mushrooms
4 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 1/2 cups shredded skinless rotisserie chicken breast
3 cups chopped bok choy
1 (8.5-ounce) pouch precooked brown rice
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, ginger, and miso; sauté 4 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté 2 minutes. Add stock, chicken, and bok choy; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes.

While soup simmers, prepare rice according to package directions. Stir rice, soy sauce, salt, and pepper into soup; cook 4 minutes or until bok choy is tender. Remove from heat; stir in lemon rind and juice.

england's flagMVK Eats London!

Hopefully no one noticed I was gone for a few weeks as The Eater of the House and I took the trip of a lifetime to London! Our good friends, Jen and Bill, had given an open invitation to visit them for two years and we finally took them up on their offer! November is always dark, overcast, and cold in Vermont, so it was a great time to travel, plus the weather was perfect, upper 50s, and I definitely didn’t need the winter coat I chose to bring!

Look at those doughnuts! Despite all my walking, I resisted!

Look at those doughnuts! Despite all my walking, I resisted!

London is a city for walkers, so you don’t need to worry about calories and how much you’re eating, as I averaged about ten miles every day! Our first real walk took us to Portobello Road and Notting Hill, where we walked along, checking out the stands and looking at all the food. Vegetables, bread, jams, doughnuts, you name it, they had it!

Gorgeous vegetables.

Gorgeous vegetables. I wish I could have taken some of those parsnips home with me!

All that walking made us hungry and instead of choosing to wait close to an hour at an Italian restaurant we selected, we instead walked across the street to the Spanish tapas restaurant Galicia. At first, we weren’t sure if they were open, the lights in the upstairs dining room were off and there was only a smattering of men at the downstairs bar. But they took us up, turned on the lights, and we had the most incredible lunch I think I’ve ever eaten. We selected nine dishes to share, and there almost wasn’t enough room on the table for the food and our plates. Mussels, sausages, jambon, meatballs, octopus, chicken, shrimp, avocado, everything was cooked to perfection and was so delicious with no room for dessert. Before lunch, Jen took me to the bookstore, Books for Cooks, which was an entire bookstore devoted to cookbooks and books about cooking! My kind of heaven!

Tapas lunch!

Tapas lunch!

 

 

london5

From the top of Primrose Hill.

Since Jen and Bill have lived in England for two years, I’ve heard about Sunday roast. I always do some sort of roast in my house on Sundays, albeit for dinner not lunch, but this was an authentic meal I wanted to experience. After a long walk from home to Abbey Road then Primrose Hill (where you can get the most gorgeous view of the city as you can see above), we took a short cab ride to Hampstead. This was a favorite part of the city for me that I would love to revisit. A small town, at the top of a windy and hilly neighborhood street was The Holly Bush, which is about as traditional an English restaurant as you can find. As luck would have it, they were able to seat our party immediately as we were all famished from all the walking.

london4If there is roast chicken on a menu, you can guarantee I will order it, but when in England, I was going to eat like the natives, so I selected the beef with Yorkshire pudding. I like my beef really rare and the piece I was given was perfection and just the right size. Small potatoes accompanied along with a big puffy Yorkshire pudding, which for those who don’t know what it is, is a popover, not what we know as “pudding.” And speaking of pudding, since we weren’t stuffed following dinner, we ordered traditional Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. Again, not what we know as “pudding” in our country, I would say this was similar to steamed bread, topped with a little bit of ice cream. And it truly was delicious! (We also discovered that the British word for rutabaga is “swede” and that the actor, Timothy Dalton (aka James Bond), was sitting behind us during our meal!)

london6Of all the meals I ate in London, if I were to recreate one at home, this would be it. Potatoes aren’t my usual favorite, but these seemed to be boiled then roasted; so the outside was crunchy but the inside perfectly creamy. The meat, which I think was grass-fed and probably local, was perfectly cooked to my preference, spices just right, with a little bit of horseradish and gravy on the side. The veg, served family style in a bowl, was a combination of root vegetables, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, all my favorites. I left that meal incredibly happy and perfectly satisfied.

Next week, I’ll bring you two or three more memorable London meals!

london7

Advertisements

Recipe Redux: Chris’s Chi Chi Beans

This past weekend, I got out of the kitchen and and into the car for a quick trip to Maine. After I announced last week that November was going to be a clean eating month, that was thrown out the window on the Piscataqua Bridge linking New Hampshire to Maine, and it became a bit of an overindulgent weekend of food and drink. I, thankfully, walked most of it off, but came home to a renewed promise to eat better this month!

Since I did no real cooking this past week, I thought I’d bring you an oldie but a goodie recipe I posted a couple of years ago. This is my go-to recipe when I am feeling poor in the pocket and in spirit. Vegan and gluten-free, it is healthy, quick to make, and easy on your wallet!

You can view the original post here.

DSCN0392
Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans
I usually serve this on its own, but if you want a little something extra, it is great served over whole wheat couscous to soak up the juice. And for a little bit more protein, serve it with either tofu or chicken.

• 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic (or more if you prefer), minced
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
• One 14.5 oz. can (or roughly 2 cups) chi-chi (garbanzo, chickpeas), rinsed
• One 14.5 oz. can stewed tomatoes

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent. Add the carrots and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the can of beans and stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook until the carrots are soft, about 10-12 minutes. If you find the liquid is evaporating, you can add a little bit of water or white wine.

Cook’s Notes:
When I went to pick out a can of stewed tomatoes, I didn’t realize there are many different varieties these days! I like the “original” flavor, one that has onion, celery, and bell peppers.     

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

Each summer, the farmers  always are dependent on the weather for good crops. Our cold, wet rainy early summer which turned into a weeks-long heat wave gave us poor strawberries and late green beans. But one fruit, blueberries, seem to be thriving from the heat. I started seeing local ones in the middle of July, which I think is earlier than normal. And they are fabulous this year. So fabulous, that I was craving blueberry muffins one day.

I like blueberry muffins that are extra moist and filled with little bursts of fruit. One Friday morning on my way to work, I decided to treat myself for a work week well done and stopped by a high-end bakery with hopes they would have some muffins. They did, flavored with honeysuckle. And they were $3 each. Against my better judgment, I decided to splurge, but honestly, it was terrible; dry, hardly any berries, and the top was crumbly with no moistness whatsoever. I knew I could make better and less expensive muffins at home. So I went to my trusty copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book and knew Amanda Hesser would have the answer.

Jordan Marsh was a famous department store in the Boston area until  it was taken over by Macy’s in the 1990s. I lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts, for a couple of summer months in the late 1980s, and on one of my rare afternoons off from work, I took the train into the city and just walked around the makeup counter of Jordan Marsh. We didn’t have department stores like that in Vermont, and I loved the bright lights and big city. It’s a wonderful memory. And this muffin recipe was exactly what I was looking for; an extra moist muffin bursting with fresh blueberries. Adding the crushed berries really ups the fruit flavor

Helpful Kitchen Hint: When I make muffins, I usually use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients. But because of creaming the butter and sugar, I pulled out my hand mixer. It made things go quickly!

With a cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning, I couldn’t resist so I had one right out of the oven. With just one bite, my craving was gone and I was in heaven.

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn't resist!

Yes, you are correct. One muffin is missing! I couldn’t resist!

Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
2 cups blueberries, rinsed and picked over

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 large muffin cups. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. Cream the butter and 1 ¼ cups sugar in a large bowl until light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add to the flour mixture alternating with the milk, beating just until smooth.

3. Crush ½ cup blueberries with a fork, and mix into the batter. Fold in the remaining whole berries.

4. Fill the muffin cups with batter. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the tops of the muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

5. Store, uncovered, or the muffins will be too moist the second day—if they last that long.

Cook’s Notes:
I completely forgot about topping the muffins with the extra sugar, so if you forget, they are still delicious. And Hesser is right about being moist the next day; I layered them in a container and they were so moist they stuck to each other. But, of course, that didn’t matter, they were still delicious!  

It’s Not So Much What it Looks Like, it’s How it Tastes

DSCN3809Tis the season for al fresco brunches, or even indoor brunches! The weather is gorgeous, so it’s nice to laze around on a Sunday, take a long walk, and eat a delicious springtime meal mid-day. And a special coffee cake is perfect to round out the dishes and is relatively easy to make.

As you may have figured out by now, I don’t bake that much, too much precision, with measuring cups and spoons. But I found this coffee cake recipe in my copy of The Essential New York Times Cook Book, and being relatively easy, I decided to make this for brunch one weekend. (As an aside, if you ever want to get a comprehensive cook book for someone, this is it. Time-tested recipes and menus for every meal imaginable, I have yet to make something that isn’t five stars, and each recipe is easily and clearly written for even a novice cook.)

This is a case of “do as I guide, not as I do.” The recipe calls for a 9-inch square pan. After measuring my own square pan and realizing it was too small, I went with a 9-inch pie plate. Which I thought would have worked, but space-wise it didn’t. It spilled up the sides and wasn’t the neat and tidy cake it looked like as it went into the oven.

Also, when you are baking anything, don’t decide to cut corners like I did and bake other things at the same time. Since the oven was on, I decided to poach some chicken and roast some sweet potatoes, leading to a longer cooking time for all.

But in the end, the coffee cake really was delicious; moist with a perfect hint of cinnamon, albeit a bit on the homely side. And regardless, it’s spring, the sun has been out for days, and as Lady Bird Johnson said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Even in the kitchen.

IMG_0271Dorothy Jewiss’s Coffee Cake

From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by Amanda Hesser. Originally published November 24, 1968: “To Grandmother’s House,” by Jean Hewitt, recipe adapted from Dorothy Jewiss, a home cook in Winchester Center, Connecticut.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Great a 9-inch square baking pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Using a mixer or beating by hand, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Stir the flour mixture into the batter until it is smooth.

3. Spoon half the batter into the pan. Combine the remaining ½ cup sugar, the pecans,  and cinnamon and sprinkle two-thirds of it over the batter. Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle with the remaining pecan mixture.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean, 40-50 minutes. Serve warm.

Hesser’s Cooking Note:
In Step 3, use a spoon dipped in water to spread the top layer of batter, or it will be impossible to nudge the batter to the edges of the pan.

Chris’s Cooking Note:
I concur! I used a frosting spatula, dipped in water, worked like a charm!

Spicy and Creamy Pasta

As you probably would expect, I love to thumb through cooking magazines and food blogs and read the recipes. One game I play with myself is think about how I would make a dish based on its title. One food blog I read is Iowagirleats.com. She has a different take on cooking than I do, and while I enjoy reading it, I don’t tend make her recipes. But a few weeks ago, she had a recipe that sounded great, “Spicy Sausage Pasta Skillet” that I kept it in my inbox. One Friday night, with all the ingredients at home, I decided to make my own version, cooked in a skillet with spicy sausage.

DSCN0118

Rombi!

For this dish, I decided to pull out the rombi pasta I had in the cupboard. It was an impulse buy; it was on sale at the coop and I thought it looked interesting. And interesting it is; it’s more like lasagna pieces, and being a small pasta, it allowed the sausage and vegetables to shine.

I had some leftover sausage in the freezer that I left out to thaw that morning from the time I made the Baked Ziti. I decided to add a rather sad-looking zucchini that had been forgotten in the vegetable bin to offset the meat, so I was getting at least some veggies into this dish. I made this again a few weeks later with even more forgotten veggies and it was great. I think you could add just about any kind of vegetable to the meat, sauce, and pasta and it would be good, especially if you use a water-filled veggie like spinach and squash, which enhances and thins the sauce. And of course, vegetarians can just leave out the sausage and up the veggies.

When the eater of the house asks if I’m done eating, and then proceeds to scoop the rest of the pasta into his bowl, you KNOW it was good!

DSCN0120

Spicy and Creamy Pasta
Adapted from Iowagirl.com

4 spicy sausage links
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped shallots or red onion
1 zucchini, diced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup half and half
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 ½ cups pasta (penne, rombi, or other pasta)
2-3 handfuls baby spinach
Grated cheese for topping (optional)

  1. Take a large skillet, warm over medium heat, and add the sausage. Cook until done. Remove from pan, drain on a plate covered with paper towels, and wipe the pan clean and place back on the burner.
  2. Warm the olive oil and add the garlic and shallots. Cook a few minutes until soft. Add the zucchini, and cook this for few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes to the pan, mix in the tomato paste and the half and half. Stir. Add the pasta, crushed red pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Partially cover pan and cook about 7 minutes or so or until pasta is al dente. If the sauce starts getting a little too thick, add a bit of water or broth. When the pasta is done cooking, add the baby spinach, stir, and serve! Top with grated cheese if desired.

Cooking for a Crowd

DSCN0099

As you can see, I’m a bit rusty shopping for more than two people, I doubled everything!

I recently offered to make dinner for the eater of the house’s book club. Here’s the lowdown: up to nine people, it had to be dairy-free, and since I was making it the night before, it had to be something that would still taste delicious the next day. I was up to the challenge!

A baked pasta dish was mentioned, but I thought about it and took it one step further, baked ziti with lots of veggies. The perfect recipe, with the cheese served on the side! I took five minutes and thought about what I like to put in my lasagna and baked pasta dishes. I frequently make dishes vegetarian, but since this was a meat-eating crowd, I decided to tame them by  adding some spicy sausage.

From beginning to end this took about an hour to put everything together. I worried it would be dry the next day, but the wine and water (as well as the water-filled mushrooms and zucchini) were a good addition to keep it moist as was the remaining sauce; a nice, new layer of sauce was added before it was baked. I refilled the sauce jar and had almost a full jar. You can do that or warm it to top your serving.

The report back was “dinner was a hit” and some went back for seconds. Phew! And leftovers the following night were delicious!

Bove's is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Bove’s is a Vermont spaghetti sauce and is the only jarred sauce I buy. Their roasted garlic is what I usually get, but decided to go with their basic marinara for this dish.

Baked Ziti
This made enough for nine people plus leftovers. And of course, for a vegetarian version, just leave out the sausage and up the veggies!

1 pound hot (or sweet) sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, chopped
2 zucchini, diced
10 ounce mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used baby bella mushrooms)
1 6 oz can large black olives, halved
1 jar spaghetti sauce
¾ cup white wine, optional (if not using, substitute water)
1 cup water
1 pound box of ziti, penne, or mostaccioli

1. Cook pasta according to directions.

2. Warm a tiny bit of oil in a medium saucepan. Add the sausage and cook until it is done. With a slotted spoon, place on a plate lined with paper towels. Rinse the pan.

3. With the same skillet, warm about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and green peppers and cook until just soft. Add the zucchini, stir, and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the veggies are soft but not mushy.

4. To the pan of veggies, add the jar of sauce, wine, and water. Stir and cook for about 10-15 minutes to incorporate the flavors. Add the black olive and remove pan from burner.

5. In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta, about three-fourths of the  sauce, and mix until incorporated. Add mixture to a large baking dish.

For baking the next day:
• Cover and place pan in fridge.
• Remove pan from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking.
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add the additional sauce (or warm it in a saucepan to serve on the side) and put foil over pan.
• Bake at 325 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.

For baking that night:
• Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until bubbly.
• Serve with the additional sauce and cheese.
DSCN0102

That’s Amore!

CookingVintageValentineI have never been one to go out for a big high falootin dinner on Valentine’s Day evening. The restaurants are packed and the prices raised just for this one meal. Home cooking is always healthier, and less expensive, and in some (many?) cases, just better tasting.

If you are thinking of making dinner tomorrow night, I thought I would give you a dinner menu that is special enough for the holiday, but also easy enough so it can be put together on a work night.

Depending on how fancy the dinner is, how about starting with some appetizers? The stuffed mushroom recipe I make is easy, and you can make these the night before and just pop them in the oven when you get home. If you have extra time, this recipe for gougères is to die for, and are best right out of the oven–just don’t burn your tongue!

Soup or salad? I will always go for salad whenever given the choice. You could make a simple salad of  greens but include something special like my favorite, Hearts of Palms. These run about $3 a can, so I buy them only on rare occasions. Maybe a few grape tomatoes, a quick vinaigrette, and you’re set!

I always think seafood always makes for a special meal. You could make this scallop recipe (and forego the aforementioned salad), or linguini with clam sauce, which is quick and easy. Or what about this salmon recipe? Just pop the fish in the oven and make the quick sauce on the stove.

Dessert anyone? That is, if you haven’t given up sweets for Lent! If you want something chocolaty, you could make these brownies the night before and serve warmed with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. Or what about gingerbread? This is warm and cozy and another recipe you can make in advance. Of course, one of the most special recipes of all is chocolate mousse, and this must be made in advance, so you can focus on the rest of the meal.

So open up a bottle of your favorite wine, turn on Dean Martin, and just relax and cook for the ones you love.