Saturday, April 26, 2014

Chorizo, Broccoli + Chèvre Chowder

After 4 1/2 years of living in the Bay Area, I've learned that traditional weather patterns and seasons mean absolutely nothing here. Having moved up from LA, where really only summer and fall exist, I was excited to have months upon months of cold and foggy mornings that led into rainy and stormy afternoons. This year however, winter seemed to skip Northern California entirely. As the rest of the country suffered through the polar vortex, we were spending our days in short-sleeved shirts, dying for even just a few droplets of precipitation. By February, my skin was so scaly that I was sure I had morphed into a reptile. We waited and waited, and tried to stay optimistic, but nothing came. When the asparagus and strawberries started popping up at markets months before they were due, my heart sank for my beloved home state. 

And then somehwere in the middle of March, the rain finally came. For two weeks it felt as if buckets were being poured from the sky. We spent most of those days inside, gazing out our windows in amazement. It wasn't enough to repair the damage that had already been done, but it was something and it felt like not all hope had been lost. It rained again a teensy bit earlier in the week, and not knowing if this could possibly be the last of it, I figured I'd make some chowder before summer's official arrival. Chowder and rain are as good a match as peanut butter and jelly; it really doesn't get much better.

Maybe it's because I grew up eating the stuff, but man do I have a special place in my heart (or, stomach) for Mexican chorizo. Before this post a few years back, the purist in me had never even thought to use it in anything other than refried beans or scrambled eggs. That one little mistake opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities. Mexican chorizo is great for so much more than just beans and eggs! If you live in Oakland and you've been here, then you know that the stuff was practically MADE for a big old pot of mac n' cheese. I've been on a mission to incorporate it in a variety of recipes ever since. And in this batch of chowder, it most definitely did not disappoint. 

Chorizo, Broccoli + Chèvre Chowder

1/2 lb. of quality ground Mexican Chorizo
1 large shallot, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
6 broccolini stalks, chopped (you can use regular broccoli, this is just what I had on hand)
2 large red potatoes, chopped
4 c. of chicken stock
1/2 c. of heavy cream
2-3 tbsp. of crumbled Chèvre (depending on how goat-y you want it, you can always add more)
2 tbsp. of chopped Italian parsley
Olive Oil 
Salt + Pepper

Brown your chorizo in a small amount of Olive Oil (chorizo is quite fatty, so you don't need to add too much oil). Once it's cooked, remove the meat from the pot, reserving the oil. Sauté your shallot, garlic and broccolini in the reserved oil on medium-low heat until the veg starts to caramelize a bit. Add your stock and potatoes, and simmer until both the potatoes and broccolini are fork tender. Make sure not to take this step too far because overcooked broccoli is disgusting. Take half of your soup and puree it in a food processor. Add the pureed half back to your pot and mix both batches together. Of course, if you like a smoother chowder, you can puree all of the soup. Add the chorizo back to the pot, along with the chopped parsley and heavy cream. Finish it off with your chèvre, giving it a slight stir. Season to taste.

Quick note: Traditionally, a roux is used to thicken chowders. That could certainly be done with this soup and would in no way impair it, but I find that potatoes are starchy enough to do the trick. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Speaking of grilling...

Joe and I are happy to throw almost anything on the grill just to see what happens. Somehow, cooking food over an open flame always ends up magical, and that certainly was the case when we decided to grill some cauliflower steaks a couple weekends ago. One can only eat so much roasted cauliflower, so this was a nice spin with similar results. We ended up with the caramelization and crispy edges, yet it didn't at all turn to mush the way it typically does when cooked in an oven. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if I managed to eat the entire head of cauliflower myself in one sitting. 

And the absolute best part? It was virtually effortless to do. I sliced one head into about 1 in. slices (I ended up with 5 total). They were brushed with a little bit of olive oil and seasoned, then simply thrown on the grill. Once they had deep grill marks on each side, they were done and ready to be served. Do this, and do it soon. I guarantee you will be one happy customer. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Buttermilk Lamb Chops

We're not what I would consider to be big on Easter in this house. Cheech and I usually celebrate with my family in LA the day before. And by celebrate, I mean we have an egg hunt and a piñata for the kids, and we BBQ. More than anything, it's a time for my mom's side of the family to get together to share food and to drink. It's typically an exhausting day filled with lots of catching up, so by the time we get home to Oakland the next morning, I'm really not up for doing much. And in true Easter fashion, that's exactly how yesterday went down. Joe finished up some work on our bathroom renovation while I cleaned up around our place a little. 

This year, I decided to at the very least start making some sort of traditional and festive dinner so that we could sit and have just a small celebration at home as a family. More than anything, Easter has always felt like the true arrival of Spring to me. Extra sun and longer days are things that are nice to recognize, especially considering the warmer weather always inspires us to grill. 

Knowing that I'd want to take it easy, roasting a ham was out of the question. I'm not a stickler when it comes to long-established customs (note: Christmas Burgers), so I was more than happy to stray from the norm.  Lamb felt like the next best option, and there are few things that are more effortless and quicker than lamb chops.  The recipe below is a slight alteration on traditional yogurt-marinated lamb. I had almost a quart of buttermilk in my fridge, and I figured it would be a perfectly fine replacement for yogurt. The result was quite enjoyable, and I'm tempted to marinate everything in buttermilk now. 

Buttermilk Lamb Chops

5-6 single cut lamb rib chops
3/4 c. of buttermilk
1 tbsp. of chopped rosemary
1 tbsp. of chopped oregano
1 tbsp. of chopped thyme
1 tsp. of ground cumin
1 tsp. of lemon zest
1 large, or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
salt +pepper

Line a baking dish with your lamb chops and add all of your remaining ingredients on top. Don't be afraid to season your marinade liberally. Use your hands to toss the chops in the marinade, making sure that each inch gets covered. Chill the lamb in the marinade for a minimum of two hours (overnight is best). Once your grill is ready, remove the excess marinade from the chops with your fingers and pat them dry. This will ensure that your lamb actually chars. For medium chops, which is how I like them, grill on each side for three minutes. 

Five chops were plenty for a family of three, but this recipe can very easily be doubled if you are cooking for a larger group.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saffron Farro + Lentil Stew with Creme Fraîche and Toasted Almonds

In my quest to fill our pantry with an endless array of gluten-free options, I stupidly brought home a pound of farro last week. I've been a fan of farro for years, so I felt like a total ass when I realized that I knew very little about it. I do know that at some point in time I heard someone mention "farro" and "gluten-free" in the same sentence, and I just went with it. I figured if buckwheat was safe (which, I've just learned isn't actually a wheat), then why couldn't emmer wheat apply to the same principles? I swear I'm not an idiot, guys, but I am still very new to this. When you go from a life of zero dietary restrictions to all of a sudden having one very big and significant dietary restriction, well, it's really not as simple as one would think. 

It was all good and fine, though. Like I mentioned, Cheech and I are still consumers of gluten. I had bought the farro specifically to use for soups, and she and I are the bigger soup-eaters in the house anyway. If you do happen to be gluten-free, this soup would be just as delightful if you substituted any type of rice, or even skipped out on the grain and doubled up on the lentils.

Many chefs believe that if you can taste saffron in a dish, then too much saffron was used. Although I wholeheartedly understand their angle, I do think that that's taking the idea a little too far. You need very little saffron to get your point across, but if I'm going to be using the most expensive ingredient on the market, you better believe I want to taste it. There's a fine line, however. Too much of a good thing is never good, and too much saffron can lead to a very medicinal flavor in your food. The golden rule in cooking (and in life, I suppose) is that you can always add more, but you can never take away. Start with the tiniest amount, and slowly build up. For this recipe, I used half of what is pictured in the photo above, so about 10 strands. 

Saffron Farro + Lentil Stew with Creme Fraîche and Toasted Almonds

1 large shallot, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 large clove of garlic, diced
1/2 c. of lentils
1/2 c. of farro
1/2 c. of white wine
1/2 c. of tomato sauce
4 1/2 c. of stock (chicken or veggie)
creme fraîche
handful of almonds, toasted and chopped
olive oil
salt + pepper

Sauté your shallots and carrots in some oil until the shallots start to become translucent. Add your garlic and sauté for a minute or two more. Add the wine and let all of the liquid cook out. Pour in your tomato sauce and your broth, along with your lentils. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook with a lid partially covering your pot for 20 minutes. Add the farro and saffron. Replace the lid as it was, and cook for another 20 minutes. If your liquid levels are looking very low, feel free to add a little more stock. Season to taste and ladle into bowls, topping each with a spoonful of creme fraîche, a few toasted almonds, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tapenade Quinoa Bowl with a Fried Egg

You'll soon realize that I put eggs on just about everything. They're an excellent source of protein, and I never tire of them. With the price of meat being astronomically high (especially grass-fed, pastured, organic meat), I probably only buy and cook it at home about three times a week. Eggs are an easy and affordable substitute. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this dish overall. We were low on food but too lazy to buy groceries, so I made do as best I could. Usually that plan works out quite well, though I do get the occasional dud. With a couple easy adjustments, however, I think this recipe can be turned into a winner. For one, I'd use white quinoa, which is what I typically buy. I noticed that the red quinoa at our market was about a dollar cheaper per pound in the bulk aisle, so I thought I'd give it a shot. We don't eat a ton of quinoa, and this was my first time preparing the red variety. In flavor, I thought it was excellent, but the texture killed it. Don't misunderstand me; I appreciate the natural bite that quinoa has to it, and in no way do I want it to be mushy, but this straight up felt like I was chomping down on thousands of tiny rubber bands. Maybe I did something wrong? I assumed that the cooking method would be the same, and from the Googling I've done, that does seem to be the case. Or, maybe I just bought shitty red quinoa and that was the reason for its low price point . 

The second mistake I made was adding too much tapenade. Tapenade, which is basically a combination of olives, herbs, garlic, anchovies (which I don't always use), and olive oil, is, as you can imagine, a condiment that packs a lot of punch. It's not the kind of thing you can just make a little of, so it's easiest to make a large batch, use what you need, and store the rest in the fridge. I got a little too ambitious when I added my tapenade to my quinoa, and probably put in double what I really should have. What resulted was a pot of terribly salty quinoa, so terribly salty tiny rubber bands. Had I enjoyed the red quinoa on its own, I would have saved it by quickly cooking and adding another batch to even out the flavor, but it simply wasn't worth it to me at that point. 

The recipe I have below was written with these revisions in mind. Also note, Joe claims he liked the tiny red rubber bands, so it may just be a personal issue. 

Tapenade Quinoa Bowl with a Fried Egg

1/2 c. of dry white quinoa (or red, if you like that sort of thing)
1 c. of cauliflower florets 
3 medium carrots, chopped into sticks
1 tbsp. of tapenade (recipe below)
2 eggs
olive oil
salt + pepper


1 1/2 c. of pitted mixed olives
1 small clove of garlic
2 stems of fresh oregano, leaves removed and stems discarded 
1 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. of olive oil

Traditionally, tapenade is ground into a smooth paste which can easily be done by throwing all of the above ingredients into a food processor. I do also like a coarser-style tapenade, so I am happy to just throw the first three ingredients onto a butcher block and roughly chop away. Once I'm satisfied with the texture (see photo above), I toss my mixture with the lemon juice and olive oil. Tapenade will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, especially if topped with extra olive oil. 

Toss the cauliflower and carrots with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 400º until they turn to a deep golden hue, roughly 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook your quinoa according to the directions on the package. Once the quinoa is done, toss in the tapenade while it is still hot to fully incorporate the flavors. Divide your quinoa and veggies into two bowls, and top each with a fried or over easy egg.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Roasted Whole Grain Mustard Potato Salad

I'm rolling my eyes at myself as I type this, but we've become a [mostly] gluten-free household. Joe and I have both suspected for a while that he might have some sort of gluten intolerance, so he decided to bite the bullet and give it up completely a couple weeks ago. The difference has been so astonishing, that even I noticed it in him the very next day. He's clear headed, bursting with energy, and his mood has improved drastically. Obviously, as a result, mine has improved drastically as well. This has not been an easy transition seeing as we ate more pizza than any family I've ever known, but the pros are far outweighing the cons, so it would be worth our while to stick this one out. And if I'm being completely candid here, Cheech and I will occasionally sneak a morning bun into our day while he's at work so as not to torture his poor bread-less heart. 

Needless to say, our diet has been turned inside out and upside down. We did a market run the day after he made the switch while Cheech was at school, and it was nice to really pay attention to what we were buying without having a toddler screaming at us for more blackberries. This is a whole new way of cooking for me, which I'm taking on as a welcome challenge (please, I'd love to hear any and all suggestions/ideas/links/blogs/etc). Like I mentioned, the kid and I are still on the gluten train, so this is NOT a gluten-free blog. But, there will be lots of gluten-free business going on for sure. 

Cooking gluten-free food for a man who is not fond of rice, polenta, and most legumes has been a touch daunting. I still make those things from time to time in hopes that he'll come around, and also because I refuse to become a short order cook in this house. As far as I'm concerned, my family has three options when it comes to our meals: 1. They eat the dish I've prepared for them. 2. They make their own food. 3. They don't eat at all. Still, I do make more of an effort to make meals that I'm fairly confident we'll all enjoy. And man, if you don't enjoy potatoes, there's something seriously wrong with you. 

This potato salad is a slightly altered version of a French-style potato salad I used to make when I ran my own mini catering business out of my tiny apartment in LA (remember those days, K?). With the old version, I would simply boil the potatoes. I discovered though, that roasting them and throwing in some caramelized onions and garlic is such a lovely compliment to a good mustard's bite. I'm pretty sure I'll be making this version from here on out.

Roasted Whole Grain Mustard Potato Salad

2 lb. of fingerling potatoes (use any variety you'd like), chopped into 1/4 in. thick rounds
1 large shallot, sliced
1 large garlic clove, sliced
olive oil
1 tbsp. of good quality whole grain mustard (more if you really like mustard)
2 tbsp. of fresh chopped herbs (use whatever you have available/I used oregano, rosemary, and chives)
salt + pepper

Season your potato rounds and roast them until they turn golden and their skins become crispy. I put mine in the oven at 400º for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slowly caramelize your sliced shallot and garlic in a little bit of oil on medium-low heat. Once the potatoes and shallot mixture are done, toss them together with the mustard, half of the chopped herbs, and salt & pepper to taste. Garnish with remaining chopped herbs and serve warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Asparagus + Pesto Minestrone with a Poached Egg

Here's the truth: I've been staring at my screen for approximately 20 minutes with a hundred thoughts running through my head. It seems as if I've forgotten how to do this. How peculiar, considering I did it for years and it's been not even 5 months since I did it last. If you're coming from here, then you should know first and foremost that this blog has very little to do with that blog. That blog broke. It broke a very long time ago, but I was too proud?, embarrassed?, confused? to admit it to everyone, but mostly myself. It felt so incredibly good when I finally did. It was not unlike parting ways with a boyfriend or girlfriend that you should have parted ways with long, long ago. It's not easy coming to terms with the fact that you're beginning to head in different directions. But in the end, once you've ripped the bandaid off, it's nice to look back fondly on the good times and look ahead, unattached, on what could possibly be better times.

So, yes, I was over my boyfriend. Turns out though, that there's a lot I've missed. I've missed writing. I've missed the community and my friends. I've missed the discipline and forcing my brain to work (when you're the parent of a toddler, your brain literally comes to a complete halt). Truth be told, I have toyed with the idea of starting a food blog for a few years… but who needs another fucking food blog, amiright? So I bounced a few food blog-type ideas back and forth in my head for a while, and always came back to Soup Club. Of all the things I missed, for whatever reason, I REALLY missed Soup Club. And that's the story of how I ended up here. It might take some time to get my sea legs, so just bear with me. 

Let's do this! I'll be posting more than just soup here, but considering the name of the blog, not going with soup for my first post seemed plain stupid. I'm quite fond of minestrone because it seems that there is not one, single way to make it. I wouldn't be surprised if "minestrone" was Italian for "throw a whole bunch of shit in a pot". The sky truly is the limit here, so I'll always be happy making a new variation of this classic. I had some asparagus that needed to be used sooner than later, and seeing as those green spears aren't exactly cheap, I figured I'd make them stretch by adding them to a giant pot of soup. The result was a light and earthy minestrone that was perfect for a semi-warm Spring day.

Asparagus + Pesto Minestrone with a Poached Egg

1 large shallot, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 c. of white wine
3 c. of chicken stock
1 c. of cannellini beans, cooked and drained
1 c. of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
5-6 asparagus spears, chopped into rounds
4 eggs, poached (do this at the very last minute)
olive oil
salt + pepper

Saute your chopped shallot and carrots in some olive oil on medium heat until the shallots start to become translucent. Add your garlic and sauté for a minute or two more. Pour in your white wine and let it simmer until all the liquid has evaporated (see image below). Add your stock and cooked beans, and bring to a simmer. Next, throw in your halved tomatoes and chopped asparagus. Simmer until the asparagus is fork tender, but still has a bite to it. If your liquid level appears to be low, feel free to add a little more stock. Season to your liking.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with one poached egg each, and a spoonful of pesto.

*A quick note on pesto: Giving you a recipe for pesto feels a little too amateur hour for me, so I made the executive decision to skip it. At this point, even if you've never made pesto, I think it's pretty clear to most people (especially those who are reading food blogs) that pesto is comprised of basil, parmesan, garlic, either pine nuts or walnuts, and some olive oil. Maybe it makes me a jerk, but writing a pesto recipe is just too much like writing an avocado toast recipe. All I'm saying is, I know you guys are better than that.