Flavors of Fall ~ Creamy Carrot Soup

This morning on my back porch it was only 40 degrees. Fall just began a couple of days ago and it is already crisp and cool here in the Catskills. Barry and I went for a drive this weekend and found that the leaves are already changing along the southern tier. We even stopped at a roadside farm stand and bought our first pumpkins.

We stopped for dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant in Mt. Upton, NY (http://www.oldmill-mtupton.com/). This lovely eatery has old world charm, comfort food, the kindest wait staff, and a lovely view. I ordered my meal and chose the soup of the day, creamy carrot soup with dill, as my appetizer. I took one taste and I was sold. I have to tell you that impressing me with anything carrot is a big deal, so this was a wonderful find.

The server was amused when I put down my spoon and asked him immediately if I could have it to go. I told him it was so good, that if I ate it, I wouldn’t be able to eat my meal. I wanted to take it home and savor it, and then figure out how to duplicate it. He not only packed it up to go, he added more! YUM!

And so it begins…the soups of fall. I have been salivating at the thought of butternut squash bisque (Tammy’s boyfriend makes the most divine butternut squash bisque. I have been known to be greedy and to refuse to share.) but this new option really got me started. Mmm … butternut squash is for another day. Today, explore my super simple creamy carrot soup. You will need:

  • one pound of carrots ~ cut in ½ inch slices
  • one white onion ~ diced
  • olive oil
  • salt ~ about 1 tsp
  • pepper ~ about ½ tsp
  • nutmeg ~ a couple of grates or shakes if you are using ground
  • water ~ about 1 cup
  • chicken broth ~ about 1-1/2 cup ~ you can use garden vegetable broth if desired
  • heavy cream ~ just about 3 tablespoons

Now this already looks easy, right? It is. Here is the preparation:

Heat the oil (two turns of the pot should do) in a large soup pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add onion and carrots to the pan and sprinkle them with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Now I can tell you approximate measurements, but remember … add a little, taste a little, add a little more … Cook them for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the water and broth to the pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add the cream and stir. At this point you can add more liquid of you like a thinner soup, or leave as is for thick and creamy.

Take an immersion blender and blend until it is a consistency that appeals to you. You can also put it in a food processor, but if you do so it is important that you cool it first and do it in batches. Make sure to take a final taste and add any extra salt, pepper, or other flavors you love.

Sprinkle the top with dill (or other fresh garnish you love) and serve. Now when you taste and love this, play with adding other flavors that you love. Put in one potato (chopped up small to have even cook time with the carrots) to give the consistency a more robust feel. Try different fresh herbs, whatever is in your garden or you found at the market. Add a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream on top. Toast some ciabatta bread for dipping.

If you have not made soups before, this one is a no muss, no fuss, perfect-for-the-beginner option. There are more to come, but in the meantime, go to the market and get some carrots. Enjoy the flavors of fall!

Flavors of Fall ~ Chili ~ Part two

So let’s make chili!

For the list of ingredients, visit this morning’s post (Part 1) at https://neatnosh.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/flavors-of-fall-chili-part-1/.

I start the chili with the meat. In the pot the ground beef goes. Now in spite of the fact that I buy it only 80% lean to keep some of that fat, I add just a tablespoon or so of olive oil to get the process started. Add salt and pepper to begin the seasoning. break up the meat and tend to it carefully so you have lovely crumbles and none of them burn.

Time to turn up the flavor. Add the flavor four to the meat: oregano, basil, parsley and dill. I don’t measure, but I also don’t use them evenly. A palmful of oregano and parsley, a healthy palmful of dill, and just a few shakes of basil will flavor the meat beautifully. Continue to cook your meat until you have beautiful brown crumbles. Now that they are done, give them a taste.

Next add the onions. They will slowly mix with the meat and the flavors. Salt again, but carefully. You can always add salt, but you can’t take it away. The onions need some salt to break down and join the flavor party. Gently tend these until the onions are softened.

Add the tomatoes, juice and all, and your peppers.Today I used a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a can of organic fire roasted diced tomatoes. Use what you have and start to make it a practice in these cooler months to stock up when they are on sale. These were in my pantry so I didn’t have to buy.

Mix well and give them a few minutes to join with the flavors of the meat and onions. Take a taste and see if you need salt. It seems like you are adding a lot of salt, but if you add seasoning layer by layer, you won’t need a salt shaker at the table. It will be perfect. And remember I am not telling you how much. Your palate should decide. So taste a little and add a little if you need to. Add the chili seasoning, mix, cover, and let simmer. This lets the flavors get cozy in the ‘hot tub’ and softens the peppers. Chili flavors include anything hot and spicy you like. In a packet of chili seasoning you will generally find:

  • chili powder
  • ground cumin
  • paprika
  • dried oregano
  • ground coriander
  • cayenne
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • crushed red pepper
  • celery salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Don’t hesitate as a beginner to buy a packet but again….ADD A LITTLE AND TASTE, THEN ADD A LITTLE MORE. You may very well find you only use a portion of the packet. Throw it in a zipper bag to keep it fresh to make chili again soon! You may find you never care to explore making your own, and that is ok. There are a lot of flavors there and if you want to simplify find a brand you like, and buy that on sale. Stock up because the expiration dates are often a year or two!

After allowing this delicious mixture to simmer for a good half hour (at least) or more (maybe an hour?) remove the lid, add the broth, and give it a good stir. Cover and simmer again. This time at least 20 minutes but more if you like. I have time today so this simmer will be a good hour or so. Be sure to pay some attention to your dinner. Go give it a stir every 5-10 minutes.

Finally you add the beans. Don’t make the first timer mistake I did once of opening the can and dumping them in your pot. Make sure you rinse them off well. Today I will be adding three cans of beans: one dark red, one light red, and one cannellini. You should add what you like. And two cans is enough if you are not the HUGE BEAN LOVER my husband is.

Add the beans, allow them to simmer awhile and let all of the flavors blend. Now it is really up to you to give it one good last taste. And by the way … IT IS REALLY HOT! Be careful! {A little hint if you think the flavors are too hot for you. Put a little sugar – or clear agave syrup – in the pot. A little sugar will cut the ‘too much spice’ thing you have going.}

Now, when you are serving this delicious chili, consider toppings. My husband is a purist. But I think a sprinkle of grated or shredded cheddar is lovely. And I like sour cream, just a dollop please. Add some toasty bread, or pita chips and dinner is served! Enjoy!

Flavors of Fall ~ Chili ~ Part 1

Chili is a great go to meal for us. It is one of Barry’s favorites and always a pleaser. With just the two of us home now, I can make a pot and it is dinner for a few nights! Fall brings cooler temperatures quickly in the Catskills. Today I woke up to 40 degrees on the back porch so I was extra happy that I had been to the market yesterday and picked up the ingredients for my chili. And tonight’s pot of chili will feed friend, neighbor, and supporter, Mark, as well. If you are thinking of making chili here is what you need:

  • 1 lb. ground beef ~ Buy the 80 percent….you want a little fat for flavor.
  • 3 or 4 peppers ~ Green peppers are on sale right now but I did buy one red for color.
  • one large or two small onions ~ The color is your choice. I tend to use reds, but I bought Vidalias on sale!
  • tomatoes ~ Depending on how diehard you are, you can use fresh, but I use large cans of San Marzano tomatoes (2 cans will do). I sometimes use one of the fire roasted for extra zip.
  • kidney beans ~ Again, you have a choice of colors. These things can only be decided by you. What do you like best? What I know in my home is that there should be A LOT of beans. I mix dark red, light red, and cannellini beans.
  • one small can beef broth ~ I had seen one of the Food Network Stars do this and said it added a ‘depth of flavor.” Imagine my surprise when my husband (AKA critic) said, what did you do differently? This is the best chili you have ever made!
  • optional toppings ~ sour cream and shredded cheddar are my favorites!
  • seasonings~
    • salt & pepper
    • the flavor four ~ parsley, dill, oregano, & basil
    • chili spices ~ you can buy a packet of ‘chili seasoning’ at first, but learn the flavors so you can tailor this to your own taste.

**Please note: For my vegetarian friends, you can substitute faux ground beef ~ soy ‘crumbles’ ~ and veggie broth. I have not tried mushroom stock yet, but network foodies are starting to use it and say it is great too. In fact, Rachael Ray said it adds the same depth as beef broth. Part Two will be the “how to”! So easy….and delicious.

Go shopping. See you back here later!

Flavors of Fall ~ Momma’s Chicken Noodle Soup

My husband, Barry, loves my homemade chicken noodle soup. I started making it a couple of years ago when we were snowed in during a major snowstorm. There was no better lunch to serve him after digging out a foot of snow than a hot bowl of soup. I have made it many times over the years, but I started making it with rotisserie chicken I would buy at the grocery store, and that became expensive.

I have made chicken every-which-way you can imagine and had not found an easy and sure-fired way until recently. Barry was in the hospital this summer and Courtney came home to offer help and support. She decided to make some chicken for me (my vegetarian!) and found a recipe for a simple chicken piccata. She started with a Giada recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/chicken-piccata-recipe2/index.html, but being her mother’s daughter, she changed it immediately. Leaving out the flour and the capers, and adding a little dill and a splash of white wine, I had a delicious lemon chicken dinner. After being at the hospital all day, it was perfect, and I even had leftovers to make dinner again.

I played with the simple idea of the pan saute preparation and now I make consistently delicious chicken in no time at all. Since the chicken for soup should not be the hard part, it is good to have a quick fix that makes the whole process simple and the outcome tasty. I made the soup the other day and here is a step-by-step easy to prepare suggestion:

Start with boneless chicken breast. I watch for these on sale and buy up. I use some and freeze the rest for another day. If the chicken breasts are thick, I butterfly them; I cut them lengthwise in half to make 2 thin breasts from each one.

Here goes: Turn on your pan on high heat. When it is sizzling, add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and lower right away to medium. On a washable board, season your chicken breasts. I use salt, pepper, and oregano when the chicken is for soup. You must season both sides, which you can do right on the board. I season the first side on the board, put the chicken in the pan seasoned-side down and season the flip side right in the pan.

The first side should be ready in about 6 minutes. Watch for the underside to seem to start creeping up the sides, turning pink to white. Resist the urge to poke, prod, or move them, please! They are cooking and when ready will release to let you flip them. Check the underside and flip the meat. I have read recipes that say another 6 minutes but have honestly found that 4 or 5 more is sufficient. I wish I could promise you could turn on a timer and  it would always be perfect, there are variables: stovetop variances and the thickness of the meat. Watch for doneness.

Take the chicken off the burner, place it on a board or plate, and let the meat rest before you cut it. Cutting the chicken, or any meat, right away will releases the juices on the board or plate. Let it rest. It will be more delicious. If you stop here, you can use this delicious chicken for a number of wonderful recipes. I took this meat and made my chicken noodle soup.

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Momma’s Chicken Noodle Soup

You will need:

olive oil ~ a healthy drizzle for the pot
celery – 2 stalks, cut thin on an angle
carrot – just one, also cut thin and on an angle
chicken – one breast, diced
chicken stock or broth ~ 2 boxes = 8 or 9 cups
oregano
onion powder
½ cup pasta ~ I use ditalini

Put a healthy drizzle of olive oil in the bottom of the soup pot. Add chopped vegetables, salt them, and saute until they are soft and the carrots begin to caramelize. Add the broth, ½ teaspoon of onion powder and a healthy palmful of oregano and give a few gentle stirs. Cover and simmer on a low setting for at least 30 minutes; I go an hour.

In an hour, your kitchen will begin to smell great and let me say again, the nose knows, so pay attention to it. At this point add your chopped chicken, cover it again, and simmer for another 30 minutes. The time you give the soup to simmer allows the flavors to come together and makes the soup better. Remember you seasoned the chicken when you cooked it, so these flavors will be added to the soup even as the chicken drinks in the broth and oregano.

When you are ready to add the pasta, please remember this: less is more. And it is enough. It is hard to only put a little pasta in the pot, because you think you need more. Remember that pasta will double in size. Then, as it simmers, and when you reheat it, the pasta will absorb more broth and get even bigger. Too much pasta will actually soak up your broth and you won’t have good soup.

So, when you are ready to add the pasta, turn up the heat and bring the soup back to a boil, and add the pasta. Immediately turn the heat back down to medium and allow to cook 10 more minutes until the pasta is done. If you plan to let it simmer longer, turn the heat down to a low simmer.

Today is a perfect chilly, rainy, soup day! Enjoy!