Monday, January 28, 2013

Lemon Artichoke Soup

A couple of years ago when our Social Work program was going through our accreditation reaffirmation we had a dinner with our site visitor.   My colleagues, the site visitor, and I met on a rainy weekend evening at Midtown Cafe.  I had never been there but had heard it was the "it" place for prestigious locals to dine.   It is lovely, dimly lit, quiet, and understated.  I was told that the house soup, Lemon Artichoke, is a must-order.  So, of course, I ordered it.

We were having a nice time, visiting with each other, talking about family, books, and travel.   I recall that we all ordered some type of seafood entree and we each ordered a cup of soup. The soup was delicious. It was complex, smooth and memorable. However,  I found myself in a bind. I was analyzing the soup in my head, and really wanting to analyze the soup with my fellow tasters.  I wanted to ask everyone's ideas on what was in the soup, pull out my note pad and brainstorm the ingredients, and ask the server for some inside information on the recipe, so I could recreate this at home.  The problem was, it was not the time or place.  I'm sure I couldn't resist commenting on the flavors or soliciting the input of my companions, but I tried to keep it tame.  If the site visitor hadn't been there, my colleagues would have fully expected me to snap a photo, scratch down some notes, analyze it, and ask their input.   They have learned this about me and have accepted this quirk about me. (Thank you, team).

I remember thinking: butter, wine, garlic, onion, lemon juice, something with kick...cayenne I bet, artichokes, salt...

Once home, I started looking in cookbooks and searching online for soup recipes with these ingredients.  I found one and played around with it and I think it is really good.  I wish I could go to the Midtown Cafe and try their soup again, for comparison sake.  But I can't afford to go there when it's not a business dinner.

My friends who have tried this soup really like it and Dave is a fan, though, it's not the most popular with the kids, (and when I told my mom what I was writing about this week, she was not so enthusiastic).  She said it goes in the Sushi post category...interesting, but I doubt if I will try it.

If you like creamy, lemony, artichoky dishes and a little'll love it.  It's quick to put together and I think it's nice to have a different soup up your sleeve.  You can add couscous or orzo if you wanted it to have more of a starchy soup.  (Though I usually lean on the crusty bread served with it to be my starchy addition).

It would be a lovely soup for the first course of a dinner, or great with a yummy sandwich like this one (turkey, apple, spinach, co-jack, craisins, honey mustard on Ciabatta).  It is great to a enjoy as leftovers for lunch or an easy second-day dinner.

Lemon Artichoke Soup

1/4 cup butter
1 cup onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup or more)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk (2% or whole milk- depending on how heavy you want it to be)
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
dashes of cayenne pepper

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add minced onion and garlic; cook until clear.  Add chicken broth, artichoke hearts, and olive oil.  Bring to a boil.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice and cornstarch.  Stir into the boiling liquid and continue boiling for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in milk and heat through.  Season with salt, pepper and cayenne.  I like to sprinkle a little on top for added color and kick.

One of my favorite things about winter is soup-making and eating.  

It is comfort in a bowl. This one is a bright mix of tangy, creamy, and kicky that makes it nice any season.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guideposts for Life- applied to Coconut Chocolate Pie

My whole life my mom has reminded me of the golden rule – Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Did you grow up with this as a mantra in your life?  When I had girl drama with school friends as a teenager, I would be reminded to treat others in a way that I would want to be treated.  When there was any kind of conflict or dilemma, this was a guiding principle in our home. 

In adulthood: as a friend, as a sibling, employee, teacher, neighbor, – keeping in mind this simple guidepost is transformational.  Many times a week I ask myself, “How would I want to be treated?” This changes things.  When I want to put someone in their place because I am irritated, when I want to give up on someone who is flaky, when I want to elevate myself, in those moments, if I ask myself “How would I want to be treated?”, it usually alters my response.  I turn towards a response of mercy, compassion, gentleness, and generosity.  After all, that’s the treatment I long to be given!
So the other day, friends came for dinner, and I broke a different principle of my mom’s by trying a new recipe when company is coming. Because it was “low pressure” company – a couple from our small group at church, they love us/we love them, I thought it was worth the risk.  I recently reorganized my cookbooks in the kitchen, and with the new arrangement, I am trying to use them more, now that they are more accessible.  A Martha Stewart Pies & Tarts Cookbook is one that I had wanted to use but hadn’t had a chance to.  I flipped through the pages the other day and marked recipes that looked especially yummy (and/or doable).  I found a recipe for a Coconut Chocolate Pie and it looked amazing.  I remembered that this couple we were hosting likes coconut, so it would be fun to make it for them.  I followed the simple recipe and made the pie.  And it bombed!  The chocolate filling didn’t set up at all.  I was so disappointed.  After a couple of hours, I moved it to the freezer, instead of the fridge, hoping it would firm up. I kept checking it, and finally gave up.  Our friends were kind and gracious.  I was irritated. 

My first reaction was to be mad at Martha Stewart and to mark this recipe off as a dud.  I was tempted to dismiss the entire cookbook.  “If this one was touted as one of the simple ones, and I couldn’t accomplish it, then surely I couldn’t succeed at the others!”, I thought to myself. Then the golden rule popped in my mind.  What would I want someone to do with my recipe? What if someone came to my blog, tried a recipe that I claimed was simple and when they tried it, it didn’t work, and so they dismissed the recipe (that I found to be a treasure)?  What if they just rejected the whole blog? I would be disappointed.  I would want to say, “Oh, no! Let’s trouble-shoot; tell me what you did. What went wrong? Try this, do this, let me know how it goes.”  

So, I decided to try again: to give the recipe the benefit of the doubt, to own the possibility that I could have done something wrong.  This time I looked on-line to see if anyone had made it and had tips.  I found a couple of blogs where they had tweaked things a little.  I re-read the simple recipe from the cookbook and evaluated my ingredients.  I realized that while the recipe calls for “bittersweet chocolate - preferably 61% cacao”, I had used semi-sweet chocolate chips because that’s what I had on hand.  I thought it would be fine.  But then I realized that the less pure, less dark chocolate probably was to blame for the pie not setting up.  The filling is made with just two ingredients: heavy cream and dark chocolate.  Therefore, each ingredient really needs to be correct.

We bought 60% cacao chocolate bars from Trader Joes and finely chopped it, as was instructed in the recipe.  And low and behold, it worked beautifully.  So, really it wasn’t the recipe at all, it was my using the wrong ingredients.   Which leads to another guiding principle of my life – taking personal responsibility for my part of a problem.  I find that our culture is especially prone to blame-shifting. We would rather point a finger at others than to self-reflect and own our part of the problem.  When we can “own our junk”, take responsibility, and admit our faults, it can make a huge difference in our lives (and in the lives of others around us)!

I have a feeling the pie mess-up was a divine gift.  It was a humble reminder to extend grace, give it another chance, own my part of the problem and enjoy the delicious rewards of trying again.

(I know these are deep thoughts regarding pie.  I guess this is what happens when a social work professor is also a baker.  Thanks for going there with me.)

Coconut Chocolate Pie
(borrowed from Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts)
For the Crust:
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
11 oz. sweetened shredded coconut

For the Ganache Filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
(preferably 61% cacao) finely chopped

Make the crust:  Preheat oven to 350 ˚. In a food processor, process butter and 1/3 of coconut until mixture forms a ball, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Sprinkle remaining 2/3 coconut over mixture, and combine with your fingers. (which I love to do)

Place a 9 inch pie plate on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Lightly spray pie plate with cooking spray.  Press coconut mixture into the bottom and up the sides of pan to form crust, leaving top edges loose and fluffy.  Place foil around edge to prevent burning. Bake until center begins to brown, 10 to 15 minutes; remove foil, and bake 4 to 6 minutes more.  Transfer crust to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling:  Bring cream just to boil in a small saucepan; pour over chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.  Let sit 10 minutes, then stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is combined.  Pour into coconut crust.  Refrigerate until filling is set, 1 hour or up to 1 day.

(The cookbook noted that this pie is gluten-free, with the crust made out of coconut).

It really is easy and lovely.  Next time I would like to top it with toasted almond slices.  Mmmm.  I have always wished that Almond Joys and Mounds candy bars could flip-flop, because I like the dark chocolate with the almonds.

(we served it with a dollop of whipped cream and we decided it didn't add much
to the flavor but added a nice texture)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A New Year: Goal Setting & Sushi-Making

As I have said before, I love a new year, a new calendar, a clean slate.  I love to assess, reflect and goal set.  So, the end of December/ beginning of January is a time I do some personal reflecting on the year past and the year ahead.  I try to evaluate various parts of my life: spiritual, physical, relational, mental, work, parenting, and consider what I want to work on in the future year.  I try not to set “resolutions” necessarily- where I will myself to do grandiose things and it’s up to my discipline to do so.  The goals I set are typically more like baby steps towards change, or attitude shifts.

Our family has recently needed to bring back our Rules of the House list to post on our refrigerator. It’s helping with issues that we are having in our home (issues of kindness, obedience, sharing, respect…you know, ALL of our house rules)! Dave and I decided that we might should set some rules for ourselves as parents as well. These include: Do not yell. Do not shame. Do not argue. (The kids requested this one.  We didn't realize we needed this rule, but we trust that if they feel like we are arguing, we must be.  So to the list it went).  We are trying to uphold these and model for the kids working on self-improvement, self-control and leaning into God in our weakness.

We thought it would be fun/beneficial to try to set some family goals for the new year.  

We decided to each have a stack of index cards of a certain color on which to write our individual goals and then a "family color" for our family goals.  We each set some goals, wrote (and decorated) them,  and attached them together with twine. We hung it on the laundry room door so we can see it often as a reminder.

Some of the goals were comical, some far-fetched, some right on target.  Our family goals ended up including: clean up after yourself and play more games together.
My son has one about working on his portion control.  He has another one about trying to not fix his thoughts on technology but on other things as well. My 8 year old's cards included cleaning room and keeping up with her stuff.  My 4 year old decided "be kind" and "stay in my room until the sun comes up" would be her goals. 
I am seeking to be steadfast in life.  That's the big, overarching goal of mine. And to read, and to go to bed on time so that I can wake early each morning and have quiet time.

There is something powerful about putting things in print and as well as speaking things aloud to another person.  There is accountability in both.  So, we are going to tell each other our goals. I will tell a friend or two my goals, so that I have some adult accountability and support and we will attempt to work towards these goals…becoming the better versions of ourselves.

When thinking of a New Year’s recipe to post about, I thought about Sushi-making.  It seems fitting because it is a way to save money (it is MUCH cheaper to make than buy), it is healthy– though carb-filled, and is a new adventure, at least it was for us this year. These seem to fit into many people’s new year’s resolution categories.

I don’t know what you think about Sushi.  Some people adore it, some are grossed out by it. I learned to enjoy sushi when my co-workers at the stationery store - my job during graduate school- would go to the Sushi restaurant across the street for lunch.  It took getting used to, but I quickly loved it.  (Albeit the “whimpy kind”.  I don’t like the flesh strip across the top of my sushi – thank you very much).  I like California Rolls, crunchy shrimp, Philadelphia, and the like – the low risk kinds.  Dave loves it and in the past few years my kids have grown to love it.  So much so, that it is hard for us to afford going out for sushi.  Sushi isn’t expensive when you want the simple kinds and you are buying for one, maybe two.  However, Sushi for 5 is not cheap! We struggle with this.  We had been talking about making our own and figured it must be fairly simple and pretty cheap when you think about the ingredients.  So, last summer, Dave did it.  He watched a couple of You Tube videos and successfully made Sushi.  It was simple, he said, and it’s really great. I thought you would need to buy a bunch of supplies but all you really need is a bamboo mat, which we bought at World Market for a couple of dollars, and some simple ingredients. Most everything ingredient-wise is available at the grocery in the International Section.

Here's his recipe:

Ingredients: Sushi rice (prepared as directed on package).
Shrimp, crabmeat (fully cooked), or Surimi- imitation crab meat
Seaweed paper
(Cream cheese, cucumber, sesame seeds, roe, mayo etc. are some optional ingredients as well...amongst two thousand others.)

Step One: Cover mat with plastic wrap while cooking Sushi rice and prepping ingredients (slicing, cooking, peeling, etc.)
Step Two: Place seaweed on the mat and cover with a thin layer of cooked rice.  Use wet hands to move and spread across the seaweed. Then gently flip the seaweed over. 

Step Three: Place sliced and prepped veggies and meat/shrimp on top of seaweed. Roll up around it.

Step Four: squeeze the mat around the roll to make it uniform and smooth.

Step Five: Cut with a good, sharp knife into 1 inch pieces

Step Six: Serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger slices.

Some tips from Dave are:

·     Sushi rice is shorter and stickier than standard long-grain rice.  The instructions will likely tell you to soak it. This is important.

·      You need a mat, and using plastic wrap on top of the mat makes it much easier to roll the sticky rice.

·      Rinsing your hands (in a bowl of water with a little vinegar) throughout helps to keep your hands from sticking to the rice, and it also keeps them clean for the rolling.

·      You use a lot of rice but little bits of the other ingredients: seafood, avocado, etc.

Happy New Year!
Here's to a clean slate, 
a new beginning, 
a chance to improve on some things, 
let go of others, 
and try something new!