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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Quick, easy, and rustic, this soup makes good use of seasonal tomatoes from the garden. (Blue Kitchen)

Summer bounty: Tomato fennel soup

By Blue Kitchen / 08.31.12

Every summer, it’s the same thing with our tomato plants. Nothing, nothing, nothing and then wham – tomatoes by the boatload. This summer, the timing coincided with having a leftover fennel bulb from last week’s caramelized fennel cooking adventures that wasn’t getting any younger.

Tomato Fennel Soup seemed like the obvious answer – except just about every version we found involved canned tomatoes; and most of them involved puréeing. I wanted something quick and easy, something a little on the rustic side. And I wanted to see the ingredients I was eating. So I improvised.

Not that I’m totally against puréed soups. More than a few have been featured on these pages, from Julia’s Potage Parmentier to Marion’s Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish and Strawberry Gazpacho and two different vichyssoises, one with watercress, the other with green garlic. But as I said, I wanted to see what I was eating this time.

And this was how the soup I saw in my head would come together: I would sauté the fennel bulb, an onion, some cherry tomatoes and garlic together, add some thyme, broth and water and a little salt and pepper, then throw in some broken spaghetti noodles. When it was done cooking and ladled out into bowls, I would top it with snipped fennel fronds.

As with many kitchen improvisations – at least mine – it sounded delicious on paper. It smelled aromatic and promising at first, as the fennel and onion cooked together. But as the soup progressed, I wasn’t sure if it was going to “be” anything, other than an acceptable lunch. As it simmered, I was already trying to think of something else to cook as a back-up post.

As it turned out, though, it was something, a delicate but flavorful soup, with everything in balance. During the sautéing and simmering, the tomatoes burst, releasing their juices into the broth and giving it a tomatoey tang without taking over. The tomatoes themselves were wonderful summery bites. The fennel bulb had a nice cooked celery crunch, and the fronds added a hint of anise. Even the broken spaghetti contributed, its starch slightly thickening the broth.

You can make this soup as is and you’ll be happy with it, I think. But I encourage you to improvise with your own leftovers and sudden bounty. Some roast chicken torn up and added might be nice. That zucchini threatening to go bad in the produce bin would be good. Even swapping the broth for some miso to make it vegetarian could be delicious. If you come up with something good, let us know.

Tomato Fennel Soup

Serves 2 to 3

1 whole fennel bulb (about 1 pound before trimming)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes – see Kitchen Notes)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
4 ounces dry uncooked spaghetti

Using a sharp knife, slice off the root end of the bulb and the stalks with the fronds. Reserve the stalks and fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut out the inner core and slice the bulb halves in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise.

Heat olive oil over medium flame in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven. Add fennel and onion, season lightly with salt, generously with pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If using whole cherry or grape tomatoes, add to pot and sauté, stirring frequently, until they begin to split open, about 3 minutes (if using chopped large tomatoes, don’t add them yet). Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds.

Add broth and water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. If using large chopped tomatoes, add now, along with their juices. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes. Break spaghetti noodles into fourths and add to pot. Cook until pasta is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle into individual soup bowls and using scissors, snip some of the reserved fennel fronds over each bowl. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

You say tomato, I say use what you have on hand. After years of doing battle with squirrels over our tomatoes, Marion has learned that they don’t seem to recognize small, yellowish Sun Gold Hybrid Cherry Tomatoes as something to eat. And fortunately for us, these little tomatoes are quite delicious. But use whatever tomatoes you can get – from your garden, from your farmers market, even the supermarket. Small ones are great because you can cook them whole, but big tomatoes chopped up and added to the simmering broth will work, too.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup

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These rich, moist brownies have a marbled swirl of cream cheese baked into the batter. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Caramel cream cheese swirl brownies

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 08.30.12

This is another brownie I made for my fellow Relay for Life walkers. This is from the oldest brownie book in my collection, going on 24 years or more. 

I decided to dress it up a bit and in addition to the cream cheese swirl, I marbled in salted caramel on top of the cream cheese mixture. This didn't have the dark chocolate flavor you'd get from using unsweetened chocolate or cocoa so it's more of a semisweet brownie sweetened further with the cream cheese and caramel. 

It was moist, both due to underbaking (must always underbake brownies) and the caramel. I always forget though that the Trader Joe's salted caramel has a tendency to incorporate itself into the brownie batter so rather than distinct ribbons of caramel running through the cream cheese and fudge brownie, it bakes into the brownie itself so it's somewhat indistinct. Still good though, but rich so you might want to cut these into small pieces.

3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate or 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup caramel, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square pan.

2. Melt together 3 tablespoons butter and chocolate over low heat; set aside to cool. Using electric mixer, cream 2 tablespoons soft butter with cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. In a separate bowl, with wire whisk, beat 2 eggs until foamy. Add 3/4 cup sugar, beating until well-blended. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Blend in melted chocolate mixture, vanilla, chopped almonds and almond extract. Spread 1/2 of chocolate batter evenly in pan. Spread cream cheese mixture over top. Drizzle caramel over cream cheese, if using. Drop spoonfuls of remaining chocolate batter on top of cheese layer, swirling top layers gently with a knife to marbleize.

3. Bake about 45 minutes, or until top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

 4. Cool completely in pan before cutting into bars. Store in refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from The Brownie Experience by Lisa Tanner.

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You’ve had pimento cheese on a cracker, now you can have pimento cheese in your cracker. Crumbly and cheesy, with the tang of pimentos and the crunch of pecans, these are the perfect nibble with tall glass of ice tea. (The Runaway Spoon)

A new baking trend: The savory cookie

By Contributor / 08.29.12

Can't decide if you're craving something salty or sweet? These seven cookie recipes will satisfy all your taste buds with their unique flavor combinations.

The Food Channel reports that savory cookie crackers are a new emerging food trend. While they may never catch on the way food trucks, cupcakes, or "froyo" (frozen yogurt) have, who could complain about ham and Gruyère or potato chips baked into a cookie? 

1. Ham and Gruyère thumbprints from Martha Stewart
Though the recipe is a bit complicated (it requires a pastry bag) these cookies will be worth the trouble. Finely shredded ham and cheese are mixed into the dough, and a bonus cube of cheese is melted right on top.

2. Apricot, cornmeal, and sage cookies from Epicurious
Sage may not be your usual go-to cookie ingredient, but the combination of savory and sweet gives these crowd-pleasing cookies an amazing and unique flavor.

3. Olive oil cookies from The New York Times
Olive oil cookies have a cakey interior and a crispy surface. Olive oil has a powerful flavor when baked.

4. Italian cheese cookies from Kayotic Kitchen
Made with the simplest of ingredients, Parmesan, rosemary, sundried tomatoes, and a dash of cayenne pepper, this is a unique example of ingenious Italian cooking.

5. Seaweed cookies from David Lebovitz
Seaweed might sound a little weird...OK really weird, but the "seaweed" aspect of the recipe is actually seaweed salt (and regular sea salt can be substituted). Add a handful of finely chopped olives or nuts to the dough for a terrific pre-dinner bite.

6. Potato chip cookies from Smitten Kitchen
These cookies have to be good; they have potato chip right in the name. With a crisp texture and buttery flavor full of vanilla, pecan, and salt, there’s nothing like them.

7. Pimento Cheese Crisps from Stir It Up! contributor The Runaway Spoon

"You’ve had pimento cheese on a cracker, now you can have pimento cheese in your cracker. In my on-going quest to eat as much pimento cheese as possible, I arrive at these little gems. They are a hybrid of two Southern party classics – pimento cheese, the pate of the South, and the classic cheese straw. Crumbly and cheesy, with the tang of pimentos and the crunch of pecans, these are the perfect nibble with tall glass of ice tea. They are wonderful packed up in your heirloom Tupperware for a weekend at the lake or displayed on your heirloom silver for shower or a cocktail party. They are a marvelous standby, as you can keep the rolls in the freezer for emergencies and they make a lovely gift, wrapped up with a ribbon.

And yes, to answer the obvious question, I would serve pimento cheese crisps and pimento cheese sandwiches at the same time."

1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos
8 ounces sharp cheddar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper
A generous pinch of salt
A few grinds black pepper
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Rinse and drain the pimentos and place them on paper towels. Pat them dry and then leave them for 10 – 15 minutes to air dry.

Grate the cheese and the cold butter together in a food processor. Switch from the grating blade to the metal blade, then add the flour, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne salt and pepper. Process until the dough just begins to come together and looks moist and grainy. Add the pecans and process until the dough begins to pull away from the sides and form a ball. Add the pimentos and pulse a few times until the dough is a ball.

Dump the dough onto a piece of waxed paper, scrapping out all the pimento pieces. Knead the dough a few times just to incorporate and distribute the pimento pieces. Cut two more lengths of waxed paper, divide the dough into two portions and place each portion on one waxed paper length.  Form each onto a log and roll tightly, pressing in to form a nice solid log. Twist the ends like a candy wrapper. Refrigerate the logs for at least an hour before baking, but you can refrigerate them for two days or freeze them for 3 months.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the rolls from the fridge and slice into medium-thick wafers, about 1/4 inch each.  Place on the baking sheet with a little room to spread and bake until golden around the edges and firm on the top, about 10 – 12 minutes.  Cool on the pans for a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool.

(Makes about 3 dozen)

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Pimento Cheese Stuffed Eggs

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A vegan man from New Jersey debated the price of his pasta after ordering a custom dish at a restaurant. This simple, tomato brie and herb pata is vegetarian. (The Runaway Spoon)

Summer joy: Tomato, brie, and herb pasta

By The Runaway Spoon / 08.28.12

I’ve been making this dish for years, decades if I’m honest. I really thought it was my own unique creation, and I patted myself on the back for its genius every time I made it. It’s been my date night dinner, my decadent solo treat and my impressive meal for friends. I made it in my first apartment kitchen and shared it with my first house roommate.

It dates, for me, to a time when anything with brie seemed sophisticated and gourmet, before I had stretched my culinary wings too far. But I just realized, when developing it and photographing it for The Spoon, that it’s not my recipe. It’s from the classic "Silver Palate Cookbook," which I have had for years. My favorite recipes in the book are marked and stained – but oddly not this one. Oh, I’ve changed it up a little to suit my tastes, but it is definitely from the cookbook.

Recipes do that, they travel and share and move and become part of a family or a personal legend. I love looking through community cookbooks from different eras and different regions and finding the same basic recipe, maybe with a different name or spelling. That’s one of the many magical aspects of cooking and feeding friends and family, the community built around good food. And by the way, I also recently realized that I’ve been taking credit for Nigella Lawson’s lemon linguine for some time now, too.

This really is the joy of summer in a delicious, creamy pasta dish. And it’s quick to put together – just a bit of chopping. Sweet cherry tomatoes really shine in this dish, with the nice firm bite preserved. The simple sauce smells wonderfully summery and the brie melts and coats the pasta, making a rich and decadent cream sauce without the work and kitchen heat.

Tomato, Brie and Herb Pasta
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, loosely packed
2 cloves garlic
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 pound Brie
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound linguine or spaghetti

Finely chop the basil and oregano and place in a large bowl that will hold all the cooked pasta. Put the garlic through a press, or finely chop it, sprinkling a little salt over it during the process.This helps mellow the garlic, you don’t want big chunks.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters, or chop them smaller if you’d like, and add to the bowl. Scrape the rind off the cheese – you don’t have to be too precise about this, just do your best. A serrated knife and cold cheese helps. Cut the brie into small pieces, or pull it apart with your fingers, and add to the bowl. Pour in the olive oil, add few good pinches of salt and grind in some fresh pepper. Stir everything together, cover the bowl and leave at room temperature for a least an hour, but several hours is fine. The tomatoes will release their juices and the cheese will become meltingly soft.

When you are ready to eat, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain quickly, then pour the hot pasta over the sauce in the bowl. Leave to sit for a few minutes to melt the cheese and heat the tomatoes through. Toss the pasta and the sauce together until the pasta and tomatoes are well coated. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Pasta Butter Balls 

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Marinaded mushrooms topped with cheese, lettuce or arugula, and tomatoes make a nice alternative to a traditional burger. (The Garden of Eating)

Meatless Monday: Grilled portobello burgers

By The Garden of Eating / 08.27.12

We're pretty religious about attending our little farmer's market every Wednesday afternoon -- for a family with a toddler who likes to cook and values delicious, locally-grown food, there's really nothing better. The downside of our regular attendance is that I've gotten tired of most of the (very tasty) dinner options available. But I had yet to try Marilyn's grilled portobello burgers so I bellied up (literally, I'm now two weeks away from my due date) to her station and placed my order. After a bit of a wait, I forked over my money and headed back to our blanket on the grass with my mushroom "burger" in hand.

I was pretty hungry (another by-product of pregnancy) so I tore into it. Mmmmmm... juicy, meaty, flavorful, and hearty. By the end I was a mess (they're not so easy to eat neatly - probably a bad idea for a first date...) but I sure was happy. The next week I went back and ordered another one. And the following week, I started buying portobello mushrooms to make these for myself at home. I've since made them three times and see no reason to stop.

The preparation is extremely simple (basically a requirement for me to even consider a recipe right now as extended standing at sink or stove makes my back ache) and the results are always spot on.

The marinade is up to you but I have been liking using a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary, oregano and some balsamic glaze or vinegar for sweetness and depth. If you're in a rush, you could even (gasp!) use some prepared salad dressing and I'm sure the results would be good.

Let the 'shrooms soak in all that goodness for a while (a few hours is great). Then fire up your grill and get going. They do take a little longer to grill than a meat-based burger would.

Top with cheese (and let it melt on the grill), sliced fresh tomato and lettuce or whatever seems appealing. Although I topped this batch with goat cheese (and arugula and tomatoes from our garden), I have to admit that I have been even happier with less sophisticated cheeses like cheddar, swiss or provolone - the goat cheese is nice but ends up competing with the mushroom a little too much for my taste.

Toast your bun and try to get one that is a bit bigger than the mushroom as they are still very juicy after grilling and it's helpful to have a little bit of extra buffer between your hands and all that goodness.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Serves 2 (double or triple as needed)

Ingredients

2 large Portobello mushrooms, cleaned, with stems removed

For the marinade

1 sprig fresh rosemary or other fresh herb (oregano, basil, etc.,)
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
Big splash of balsamic glaze (or vinegar)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For serving

2 round, crusty rolls or ciabatta buns, cut in half 
Sliced tomato
Sliced cheddar, provolone, Swiss or American cheese
Lettuce or arugula, washed and dried
Ketchup or tomato jam 
Mustard 

Directions

1. Make the marinade and place the mushrooms in it (you can either use a ziplock bag to ensure even coating or just put them in a bowl or shallow baking dish and remember to turn them a few times.) Let soak for at least half an hour and up to four hours.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Place the mushrooms on the grill, gill-side down and cover. Cook until the mushrooms begin to soften, roughly five minutes, then flip them over and grill for another seven or so minutes until soft and juicy when poked with a fork.

3. Top each mushroom with sliced cheese. Toss the buns onto the grill cut-side down. Close the grill and cook for roughly one minute. Open the grill up, turn it off, put your mushrooms on your buns, top with tomato, lettuce, or whatever you see fit and enjoy. Don't forget napkins!

Related post on The Garden of Eating: Grilled pork chops with balsamic-glazed peaches 

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of food bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by The Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own and they are responsible for the content of their blogs and their recipes. All readers are free to make ingredient substitutions to satisfy their dietary preferences, including not using wine (or substituting cooking wine) when a recipe calls for it. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

Make banana ice cream using just one ingredient: bananas! (The Gourmand Mom)

Praline banana splits

By The Gourmand Mom / 08.26.12

Here is something delicious. Mouth-watering inspiration came to me in the form of National Banana Split Day, which will take place on August 25. My twist on a banana split includes one-ingredient banana “ice cream,” caramelized banana halves, and a decadent pecan praline sauce. Yeah…bananas and praline. Yum. 

You may have run across fancy banana ice cream makers out there, but no specialized tool is required to make this perfectly creamy banana confection. A regular food processor or a good blender will do the trick! And since our “ice cream” is made with pure naturally sweetened, naturally fat-free banana, you can afford to have a little more fun with the toppings, like this pecan praline sauce. Once you try this sauce, you’re going to want to pour it over everything. In fact, I plan to make a second batch to drizzle over my husband’s birthday cheesecake. Best yet, made with fat-free milk, it’s a lighter version than many cream-laden praline sauce recipes, with no sacrifice to the crave-worthy end result.

Praline Banana Splits

Ingredients

For the Praline Sauce*

 1 teaspoon butter
1/6 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup milk (fat-free works well)
1-1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch of salt

For the Caramelized Bananas

 1 banana, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar

For the Banana “Ice Cream”

 3 medium or 4 small bananas, sliced and well-frozen.

For the Praline Sauce: Stir the cornstarch and salt into the milk. Set aside. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the pecans and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the brown sugar, until it begins to soften and melt. Whisk the milk mixture into the pecan mixture. Raise the heat back to medium. Continue whisking until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

For the Caramelized Bananas: Combine the butter and brown sugar in a pan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, place the banana halves in the pan, cut-side down. Gently move the bananas in the pan so that the cut-side becomes coated with the butter and sugar. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until the cut-side develops a golden brown crust. Remove from the pan and cool slightly. Cut each banana half into half crosswise.

For the Banana Ice Cream: Place the frozen bananas pieces into a food processor or blender. Begin by pulsing the slices until they are mostly broken up. Then, continue blending the mixture until it’s smooth and creamy like ice cream.

To Assemble the Banana Splits: Place a large scoop of the banana ice cream in each bowl. Arrange two of the bananas pieces on the sides. Top with a tablespoon or two of the warm praline sauce. Garnish with additional pecans, if desired.

Makes 2 generous banana split sundaes

*Recipe for the Praline Sauce adapted from the EatingWell recipe

Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Strawberry Banana Bread

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August 24 is National Waffle Day. Savory waffles, flavored with fresh thyme and buckwheat flour, are topped with a mushroom and braised veal sauce. (Blue Kitchen)

National Waffle Day: Savory waffles with mushrooms and braised veal

By Blue Kitchen / 08.24.12

Lots of people love eating breakfast for dinner. To me, though, it’s often been more of a meal of last resort. What you eat when you haven’t gotten to the store for more serious groceries, but hey, you’ve got eggs, and the bread is fresh enough if you toast it.

But recently, I stumbled across the idea of savory waffles – can’t remember where now – and breakfast for dinner suddenly became more interesting. For starters, you’ve got waffles, elegant city cousins of the country pancake. They even require their own machine to make – no mere cast iron skillet will do. Whenever my mom hauled out the waffle iron (always on a weekend morning, and certainly never for dinner), breakfast just felt fancier, more fun. 

Then there’s the savory part. Taking something generally meant to be dressed with syrup or jam (or somewhat disturbingly – at least to me – with sugary fruit and whipped cream) and topping it instead with something salty, even meaty, and definitely dinnerish.

Savory waffles is a bit of a misnomer. They’re not overly salty and don’t contain chicken stock or any other umami flavor. They’re just less sweet, a little saltier and more open to pairing with a savory topping. Fresh herbs give them an extra layer of interesting. Some recipes call for using corn meal along with flour, but I feel this takes you down a cornbread path that I didn’t want. Instead, I took a page from the French crêpes notebook. The difference between sweet and savory crêpes is that the latter includes buckwheat flour in the mix; it adds a similarly rustic note without going all cornbread.

Savory Waffles with Mushrooms and Braised Veal
Serves 4

For the mushrooms and braised veal:
1-1/2 pounds veal, cut into bite-sized pieces (see Kitchen Notes)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour
olive oil
3 small shallots, chopped and divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock, even better)
1 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh parsley
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used crimini mushrooms – see Kitchen Notes)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup Marsala wine (or Madeira or dry sherry) [editor's note: substitute same amount with cooking wine or beef broth]
fresh sage leaves for garnish, optional

For the savory waffles:
1 cup unbleached general purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour (or another cup of general purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 eggs
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Prepare the mushrooms and braised veal. Season the veal chunks with salt and pepper. In a plastic bag, toss the veal with 1 tablespoon of flour; this will give it a very light coating of flour to help it brown and lightly thicken the sauce. Heat a large, lidded nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the veal. If you have veal bones (I cut up a bone-in arm steak for my veal – see Kitchen Notes), add those to the pan too. Brown the veal lightly on all sides, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Turn the bones a time or two as you stir. Transfer veal and bones to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat slightly and sweat about half of the chopped shallots for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, drizzling in a little more oil, if needed. Take care that they don’t burn or overly brown. Add garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Pour in chicken broth and then wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Return veal (plus bones, if you have them) and any accumulated juices to the pan. Tuck in the bay leaves, lay the parsley sprigs across the top of the veal, cover the pan and reduce the flame to very low.

Braise the veal until very tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure your liquid doesn’t cook down too much; add a little water, if needed. You probably won’t need to.

As the veal is nearing doneness, cook the mushrooms. In a separate large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame and swirl in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the mushrooms until they give up their moisture and it evaporates, about 5 minutes or so. Stir in the remaining shallots and sage, drizzling in more oil, if needed (mushrooms love to soak up butter and oil). Cook until shallots are just tender, 3 or so minutes. Turn off flame and add Marsala. Stir for a few moments, then turn on the flame again. Cook mushrooms until Marsala is almost completely evaporated.

Remove parsley and bones from the veal mixture and add mushrooms. Stir to combine completely. Sauce will probably be pretty thin; if so, make a beurre manié (French for kneaded butter). Cut up 1 tablespoon of butter into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and, using your fingers, work flour into the butter.

Push mushroom/veal mixture to the sides of the pan and whisk bits of the beurre manié into the sauce until sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency; I used about half of it. Cover the mushroom/veal mixture and keep warm if waffles aren’t ready.

Make waffles. Preheat your waffle iron according to manufacturer instructions. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and melted butter. Stir in thyme. Stir wet ingredients into dry and mix until thoroughly combined; don’t overwork. Let batter rest for at least 5 minutes before cooking according to waffle iron instructions. Cook them on the crisp side.

Keep waffles warm in a preheated oven, but don’t stack—they’ll steam each other and lose their crispness.

Assemble plates. Arrange waffles on individual plates. Spoon mushroom/veal mixture over waffles. Garnish with sage leaves.

Kitchen Notes

Veal – and other options. You can sometimes find veal stew meat. If not, look for a veal arm steak. Cut the meat from the bones and keep the bones to help flavor the sauce. If you can’t find veal or want other choices, you can substitute steak or pork or chicken. The taste will be different, but still delicious. You can also substitute the chicken and mushrooms filling from this crêpes recipe.

Picking mushrooms. I used crimini or baby bella mushrooms. Feel free to use any mushrooms you like, including button mushrooms.

Too many waffles. The batter will make 7 or 8 8-inch waffles. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to halve the 3 eggs called for. Besides, in my experience, the first waffle or two ends up not working out anyway and has to be tossed. If you have leftover waffles, some recipes suggest refrigerating or freezing them and reheating them in a toaster. You could also reheat them on a baking sheet in the oven. I wouldn’t use a microwave – that will make them soggy.

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This tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. (The Gourmand Mom)

Creamy tomato chipotle soup

By The Gourmand Mom / 08.23.12

We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my TV. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well … I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately …the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this … but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degrees F. oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

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Soup isn’t just for cold winter days. This light soup makes excellent use of summer’s bounty of greens and corn. It is particularly good with sturdy, slightly bitter greens, which are balanced by the sweetness of the corn. (The Rowdy Chowgirl)

Summer soup with fresh corn

By The Rowdy Chowgirl / 08.23.12

The windows looked out on rows of corn, following the contours of the valley until meeting low, tree-covered hills in the hazy distance. On summer mornings I lay quiet in bed for a moment after waking, listening to the breeze rustling the cornstalks. They say you can hear it growing at night. My sissy and I played at the edge of the lawn, where grass and field met. The feed corn was tall – much higher than my head, even taller than my Grandpa. The corn was always there, growing tall and strong, in my memories of summer visits to my grandparents’ dairy farm.

They say that corn crops are failing this summer in the Midwest due to drought. I can’t imagine a summer without corn. Boiled or grilled, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, it is the very essence of deep fertile earth, gentle rain and sunshine, distilled into a delightfully messy, handheld summer food.

Have you been eating your share of corn on the cob lately? I hope so. Why not cook an extra ear or two and cut the fresh kernels from the cob to use later in the week? Maybe even save your cobs, silks and husks and try making a batch of corn broth.

This light soup makes excellent use of summer’s bounty of greens and corn. It is particularly good with sturdy, slightly bitter greens, which are balanced by the sweetness of the corn. This version is vegetarian, but if you prefer you can use chicken stock, and if you have leftover chicken in the refrigerator by all means cube it up and use it in place of tofu. Be creative – it is a good opportunity to use up a few odds and ends in from the fridge.

The recipe only makes two generous servings – just enough for one dinner for two, or dinner and then lunch the next day for one, and it’s gone – but can be scaled up to serve a crowd as well.

Summer Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cups diced greens such as kale or mustard greens, about 1/2 bunch
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon white miso paste
2 cups corn broth (or water or chicken or vegetable stock)
1/2 cup leftover cooked rice
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
4 ounces of firm tofu, cubed, about ½ cup (or use leftover chicken)
squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about 1 tablespoon
salt to taste

Place large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and diced onions. Cook slowly until onions are soft and transparent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, dice greens: roll several leaves into a tight cylinder, then slice into narrow strips. Dice the pile of strips, then repeat process with remaining greens.

Add greens and garlic to saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, or until greens have darkened and softened.

Stir in miso paste, then add broth. Raise heat and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add rice, tofu, corn, and lemon juice.  Continue cooking until heated through.Taste and add salt if needed.

Makes two servings.

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Peeling and removing the seeds from tomatoes is an easy seven-step process. (The Gourmand Mom)

How to peel and seed tomatoes

By The Gourmand Mom / 08.22.12

Using fresh tomatoes in homemade sauces and soups often requires starting with peeled tomatoes with their seeds removed. Fortunately, peeling tomatoes is easier than you may expect. Just let a bit of boiling water do all of the work! Here are a few simple steps for easily peeling tomatoes.

Step 1: Start with beautifully ripe, seasonal tomatoes.

Step 2: Cut a small ‘X’ into the non-stem end of the tomato.

Note: It’s a good idea to use a paring knife to cut out the tough green stem end at this point. It will help the skin to slip off easier and will save you from removing it later. 

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.

Step 4: Insert the tomatoes into the water for about 1 minute.

Step 5: Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. The skin should be practically falling off on its own.

Step 6: Use your fingers to slide the skin from the tomato. If necessary, use a paring knife to remove any remaining peel.

Note: Use the paring knife to cut out the green stem end, if you haven’t already.

Step 7: Cut the tomatoes in half. Gently squeeze the tomatoes to remove the seeds. Use your clean fingers to remove the seeds from any small pockets.

For a pictorial step-by-step guide, go to The Gourmand Mom

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