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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Bowl Full of Autumn: Spicy Sausage, Wild Rice, and Butternut Squash Soup

It's absolutely dumping rain here today, and on top of that it's windy. Not that it's too surprising... we do live in Washington State. But I can no longer deny that summer is over and fall has arrived. On the bright side, a day like today is perfect for making soup! Additionally, it's exactly the right kind of day to make soup with full-on fall flavors. Sausage, butternut squash, wild rice, and kale all simmered together into a bowl of Autumn.

I love this soup because it was the very first time I made something without a recipe. Until this point I had been notorious (as most people who spend a lot of time in the kitchen are) for using a recipe as a guideline and tweaking it to adjust to my own taste. After a couple months of making a variety of soups from different cookbooks,  I decided one day that I would try and make "Cause it Sounds Good Soup." Which is to say that I simply looked around the fridge and pantry, gathered what sounded delicious, and went for it. Stone Soup, so to speak.

The end result turned out to be one of my favorites. Unfortunately, my husband also loves it, so there is often a bit of treachery involved on my part to get my fair share. I'm not above hiding my 1/2 cup containers in the back of the freezer. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Spicy Sausage, Wild Rice, and Butternut Squash Soup
makes 9 cups

16 oz. hot Italian ground sausage (not links)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cups. diced yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. dried oregano
2 carrots, diced small
2 stalks celery, diced small
1 c. wild rice blend (I used Lundberg Wild Blend, a mix of wild & whole grain brown rice)
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced butternut squash (I'm sometimes lazy and buy this already diced for me)
2 cups chopped kale, center ribs removed

Heat heavy-bottomed soup pot with 1 T. olive oil. Add sausage and cook until it is all the way cooked through, breaking up with a spoon as you go. Remove sausage from pan with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

Add onion to pot and sautee until soft, but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add in garlic and sautee additional 30 seconds. Stir in red pepper flakes, thyme, and oregano and sautee another 30 seconds. Add rice, carrots, and celery and sautee around 4 more minutes, or until carrots and celery soften slighty. Add back in the sausage and the chicken broth.

Cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer covered, stirring occassionally, for approximately 30 minutes, or until rice is al dente. Add kale and butternut squash and simmer (still covered) another 5 minutes, or until squash is just tender and kale is cooked down. Serve with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese on top.

This soup thickens quite a bit upon standing. When you reheat it, you can add additional broth to thin it a bit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Edamame... a Souper Food: Creamy Edamame, Lime, and Coconut Soup

For my birthday in June I got an immersion blender from my in-laws. Because they are foodies themselves, they bought a really nice and powerful one... it's like zooming an outboard motor around inside a soup pot! Which is good when you're trying to blend an edamame soup. Edamame (or soy beans, but ed-uh-mah-may is soooo much more fun to say!) might be a serious super food -packed with protein, high in fiber, and sporting a delicious mild, nutty flavor- but the skins won't blend without a fight. If you don't have a good immersion blender, a regular blender will do the job nicely... or a food processor if you are good at that sort of thing. I've never successfully blended soup in my processor without getting it all over the kitchen. Literally. (Hence the request for the immersion blender for my birthday.)

I've had some requests to post a soup that is puréed, so it can be eaten early on in the recovery stage from surgery. Before I started making my own soups, I ate a lot of cream of chicken soup during this phase. The kind that comes in a red & white can. It tastes really good the first time you have it, because all you've tasted recently is liquids. But very shortly you really can't stand the thought of another meal of cream of chicken soup. No lie.

Today's Creamy Edamame, Lime, and Coconut Soup will wake up your taste buds with its fresh Thai-inspired flavors. The different ingredients balance perfectly against each other, and it has just the right amount of heat from the red pepper and ginger, tang from the lime, and creamy luciousness from the coconut milk. I know this is one I will be making over and over again.

Creamy Edamame, Lime, and Coconut Soup
makes 6 cups

1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. diced yellow onion (about 1/2 a large onion)
1 large clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 T. grated fresh ginger
4 c. frozen shelled edamame (no need to thaw first)
4 c. chicken broth
zest from 1 lime
3 T. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 c. canned coconut milk, shaken well before opening  (not the sweetened stuff you put in cocktails!)

Heat olive oil in heavy-bottomed soup pot until hot but not smoking. Add in onions, and sautee over medium heat until they are very tender, but not browned, around 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and fresh ginger and sautee an additional 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add in edamame and sautee together for 2 or 3 minutes, or until they are all coated together.

Add in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice, lime zest, and coconut milk. Let cool slightly and then puree it all together. (In the pot if you are using an immersion blender, or in batches if you are using a blender.)

Serve with a drizzle of sour cream if you like, and an additional sprinkling of lime zest.

**Reheat gently as coconut milk can be kind of a sensitive ingredient, and won't appreciate a full boil.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Behind Every Great Meal There's a Great Soup:Kung Pao Chicken Soup

A year down the road from surgery and I find I can eat pretty much anything I want. I've been lucky not to have too many problems with "regular" food. Well, except pancakes. I had kind of an ugly break up with pancakes. (It was me, not them.)

What do I really want now that I can eat whatever? Still soup! I love the way soup makes me feel: it's comforting, feels good on my stomach, and since I usually eat it out of a coffee mug, warms up my perpetually cold hands. 

But just because I crave soup all the time doesn't mean that I want to forget about everything else. BBQ chicken is still awfully tasty, you know. So here's the thing... I don't see why I can't take some of those traditional foods and turn them into soup. I want to have my cake and eat it too! Metaphorically, at least.... Cake Soup doesn't actually sound very yummy.

Today's soup came from a recent trip to the grocery store. There's a Chinese Food Buffet right in the front of the store and it usually smells great. Granted, it's a grocery store, so it doesn't always taste great, but the smell will suck you in every time. I had this thought, "We haven't had Chinese food in a really long time." Which was immediately followed by this thought, "Ooooh, I bet I could make a SOUP outta that!"

Obsession is perhaps too mild a word...

Gather the ingredients... Kung Pao Chicken Soup!

Sauteeing the garlic and red pepper flakes... sticking your nose over
the pot at this stage and sniffing appreciatively will cause
you to cough. A lot. Don't ask how I know that.

A note about broccoli slaw... I LOVE this stuff! I always
hated the crumbly texture of the heads of broccoli. Blech! With the slaw
I get the flavor, a satisfying crunch, and all the prep work is done for me. Score!

It turned out great! But it won't work in one of those little take-out containers very well...

I found this to have a pleasant, but not searing, heat. If you like your kung pao chicken to pack more of a punch simply increase the amount of red pepper flakes or even stir a bit of sriracha into the soup at the end. Also, I did not add salt to the soup at any point. Between the broth, soy sauce, and the peanuts, there's plenty of built-in seasoning!

Kung Pao Chicken Soup
makes 7 cups

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 16 oz.)
1 T. rice wine
1 T. plus 1/4 c. soy sauce - divided
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t. red pepper flakes
12 oz. bag of broccoli slaw
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. chopped green onions
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. dry-roasted peanuts plus additional for garnish
1 T. rice vinegar

Marinate the chicken thigh pieces in the refrigerator with 1 T. rice wine and 1 T. soy sauce for about 20 minutes.

Put 1 cup of dry-roasted peanuts into food processor and blend together until it forms a thick paste. Set aside.

Heat vegetable oil and sesame oil in soup pot until hot, but not smoking. Stir in garlic and sautee briefly, just until fragrant. Add in red pepper flakes and sautee 30 seconds longer. Add in the broccoli slaw and sautee together until broccoli has softened slightly, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in ginger and green onions and sautee 1 minute more.

Add chicken broth, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and the peanut paste to the pot, stirring frequently to break up the paste. Bring to a simmer. Drain chicken, and add to pot, simmering gently for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through. Stir in 1 T. rice vinegar.

Serve with additional chopped peanuts sprinkled on top.

Now, did someone mention BBQ Chicken?

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Lie

How sad is this? I'm only on my second post, and I've already broken a promise. I know I said I was going to make Sausage and Wild Rice Soup and post it, and I had such good intentions. But it's nice and warm out, the sun is shining (and if you live anywhere near the Pacific Northwest you know how rare that has been this year!) and it just didn't feel like a sausage and wild rice kind of day. That's a soup that fully embraces fall, and I'm not feeling the love for autumn yet.

But it did absolutely feel like the kind of day where the bright taste of lemon would be perfect. So I decided to make a version of Greek Egg and Lemon Soup (Avgolemono). And to be honest, part of my decision was fueled by the fact that I had a rotisserie chicken chilled in the fridge and needed to use it.

Now, before you look at my recipe and go all Greek-Grandma-Ninja on me, I will fully admit that I have never had this soup before and am not sure at all what an authentic version would taste like. I do know, however, that whatever you want to call this, I am seriously grooving on it.

I started by looking at a couple of different recipes. The New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation's Best Purveyor of Fine Soup used a great technique for creating egg "ribbons" which I liked. But their soup only used one cup of cooked chicken for 10 cups of broth, and I wanted a lot more protein. Also, they used spinach, and I'm more of a kale girl myself. (I suspect at some point in the future I will wax enthusiastically on and on about kale, so you might want to mentally prepare yourself for that.) The cookbook Soup for Every Body: Low-Carb, High-Protein, Vegetarian, and More included onions, carrots, and celery, which added color and another flavor base. Now I had a good starting point!

First things first... dice and chop and prep.

Then begin! Sautee a cup of diced onions in 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a soup pot until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add one clove of pressed garlic, and sautee another 30 seconds. Then add 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, one peeled and diced carrot, and one diced stalk of celery. Sautee for 2-3 more minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften.

Smells like the start of soup!

Add 6 cups of chicken stock. No, I didn't make my own. Yes, I'm okay with that. Bring to a boil, and when it's boiling, add 1/2 cup of orzo. Simmer for 5 minutes until the orzo is almost cooked, but not quite al dente yet.

Now comes the fun part... egg ribbons! Whisk 3 large eggs in a small bowl, and drizzle into the simmering soup, stirring the whole time. Lovely shreds of eggs will form in the soup. It looks like a lot, I know, but when you add the remaining ingredients it will all blend nicely.

Once the egg ribbons are formed you add the rest of your soup ingredients. 6 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons of grated lemon zest, 4 cups chopped cooked chicken (which coincidentally is exactly what I got from my Costco rotisserie chicken... imagine that!), and 2 cups packed chopped kale. Continue to gently simmer until the kale is wilted, chicken is cooked through, and the orzo is tender. Taste, and adjust your seasonings. I like things pretty darn lemony, so I snuck in another tablespoon of lemon juice, but most people don't like things as tangy as I do. 

Waiting for the kale to cook down... kind of impatiently.

The best part about this is how terrifically high in protein it is. I ran the numbers and a one-cup serving has nearly 30 grams of protein (I got 29.8) which means that my half-cup portion is good for about 15 grams of protein served up in lemony deliciousness.

Yes, please!

Greek-Style Egg, Lemon, and Chicken Soup with Orzo and Kale
Adapted from New England Factory Cookbook and Soup for Every Body
Makes 10 cups

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 c. diced onion
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/4 t. dried thyme
6 c. chicken stock (I prefer Swanson's Natural Goodness)  
1/2 c. orzo
3 eggs, whisked together in a small bowl
6 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T. grated lemon zest (from about 2 large, or 3 smaller lemons)
4 c. chopped cooked chicken
2 c. packed chopped kale, ribs removed

Heat olive oil in soup pot until hot, but not smoking. Add onions and sautee until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and sautee 30 seconds longer. Add thyme, carrots, and celery, and continue to sautee until vegetables are almost softened, about 3-5 minutes longer.

Add chicken broth to pot and bring to a boil. When boiling, add orzo and simmer for 5 minutes.

Gently pour whisked eggs in a slow stream into simmering soup, stirring constantly to create egg ribbons. Once ribbons have formed, add lemon juice, zest, chicken and kale, and continue to simmer until kale is cooked, chicken is heated through, and orzo is tender, about 5 minutes.

Taste, and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Year of Soup

On October 7th, it will have been one year since I made one of the biggest leaps of faith and came to one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. After years of battling my weight I had gastric sleeve surgery, and life forever altered for me. I have watched in disbelief over this past year as weight melted off of me of its own volition. I swear, it was like an out-of-body experience.

Before the surgery I was trying to stay active and enjoy the things I like most in life. Travel, hiking, my family. It just kept getting harder and harder as the weight strained my body past its limits. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I was pre-diabetic, had high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I was a poster-child for morbid obesity.

After my surgery, I began a love-affair with soup. I had always liked soup anyway, but for some reason, my new-shaped stomach really really REALLY loved it! It loved soup on a direct proportion to how much it HATED the protein shakes. I have much hatred for protein shakes, let me tell you.

At first I tried canned soups, but they were mushy, and salty, and just plain blechy. That was a definite no-go. So I started making my own. It was good, and full of protein (so THERE, you stupid shakes!), and comforting too. So I made more, and then more, and even more. Okay, to be honest, I became soup-obsessed. At times our freezer was stocked completely full of little 1/2 cup containers of frozen soup. Ham and Lima, Corn and Bacon Chowder, Sausage and Wild Rice, Butternut Squash and Cannellini. Little containers of soup gold in their very own freezer mine.

I started this blog because I'd like to share my soupy success with others. You don't have to have had weight-loss surgery to enjoy these soups. The rest of my family likes them really well too... when I share. Next time I post, I'll put up one of our all-time favorites... Sausage and Wild Rice Soup.

Soup: Good for the mind, soul, and body.