Soups

Farmin’ Ain’t Easy

If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram (and really, why haven’t you?), then you may not know that last week, my little 2002 Honda Civic (which I’ve started to lovingly refer to as “The Tardis” because I’ve managed to cram an impossible amount of stuff in there and still be able to lay my seat back to sleep) and I made our way back to Oregon for an almost month-long stay at Dunbar Farms, a small, family owned, organic farm in Medford. I found the opportunity through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, after a few phone calls, submitting my resume and waiting for references to be checked, I was invited to come out and get my hands in the dirt. And boy, have I.

I might not be a farmer, yet. In fact, I know I’m not. I get days off. I sometimes get to sleep in. If I don’t feel well, I can text my boss (the actual farmer) and let him know I’ll join the crew at 9am instead of 630am. An actual farmer gets to do none of those things. This farm is a living thing, and it doesn’t take, or give, a day off. Not really.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned. People don’t farm like this (organic, sustainable, in the rhythm that nature sets) because they want to become rich, or famous, or powerful. They do it because it’s in their DNA. I’ll tell you more about the folks who run Dunbar Farms in a future post, but suffice it to say, this beautiful spot in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a labor of love.

Mondays and Fridays here are harvest days, so they’re our busiest, longest days. We get to work harvesting at 630 in the morning. On Monday, we’re fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants and other commercial customers. On Friday, we handle CSA orders. On either, or both of those days, we’re also stocking the farm’s “honor barn.” They have a farm stand on the property, which carries everything from greens, to flours made from the farm’s wheat and corn, to dried beans and popcorn. It’s open 24/7, so locals can stop by at their convenience, grab what they need, and leave cash or a check in the cash box up front. On their honor. It’s amazing and kinda beautiful that it works out that way.

After we harvest, we bring everything back to the clean room to be washed, dried, bagged, weighed, and labeled. Commercial orders are delivered on Tuesdays. CSA orders are picked up Friday afternoon, and customers are encouraged to stay for a minute and enjoy a glass of wine, also made here at Dunbar under the Rocky Knoll label.

On the other days, we do things like thinning the carrot patch, which involves laying down at ground level so we can get up close and personal with the soil to thin out carrot starts and pull the tiniest of weeds before they have a chance to lay down a root system that could choke off the main crop; or pulling last year’s left over potato sprouts (and more weeds) out of this year’s onion fields.

It’s hard work, but not too hard, and quite honestly, pretty satisfying.

As I mentioned, Dunbar Farms grows beans, among other things, and one of the first things I got my hands on to cook was some of their black beans. I know black bean soup isn’t revolutionary, but I wanted to share the recipe I used to make the version that’s been serving as the main part of my dinner almost every night since I got here. It’s super easy, requires only a handful of budget friendly ingredients, and, paired with a pile of lightly dressed greens, serves as a pretty great post-harvest day supper. This recipe makes about four servings.

Equipment:
4 qt sauce pot
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Stick blender, stand blender, or hand masher, whichever is available
Spoon for stirring

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like, to taste

Cook the beans, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme with enough water to cover by about 2 inches at a low boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through. You may need to add a bit more water over the course of the cooking time to ensure the pot does not boil dry.

Pull out the thyme stems and discard. Reserve one cup of the cooked beans and veggies if you like to keep a little texture in your soup, like I do. If you’re using a stick blender, you can puree remaining beans and veg with the liquid right there in the pot. If you’re using a mixer, blend the remaining beans/veg/liquid in two batches until it reaches your desired consistency. If you’re using a masher, just mash away until, again, it reaches the consistency you like. You can add a little more water or some veggie stock as needed at any point to thin out the soup to your liking.

Add the reserved beans/veggies back into the pureed soup at this point, as well as the 1/4 cup of salsa, then season as you wish. We didn’t have much in the kitchen when I got here, but the tomatillo salsa I used provided a lot of great flavor so other than salt, mine didn’t need much. Cumin, chile powder, and/or fresh jalapeno would be nice additions, as well.

This soup holds well as leftovers, although it will thicken up in the fridge. At that point, you can pretend it’s bean hummus and eat it with pita or chips, or add more liquid to soup it up again.

Enjoy!

You’re Kale-ing Me!

The boyfriend and I are working on a few things when it comes to the food/eating situation in our house. First, we’re trying to cook together at least once a week, because it’s fun, and because I work most nights, so our time together is limited to a couple nights a week and the three or four hours I’m awake on the weekend days before I have to go back to work. Also, we’re trying to get our meals prepped ahead of time for at least a few days. He’s been better about that than I have because he’s got these slow cooker meals he throws together that have been providing him with lunches for the whole month. And finally, we’re trying to eat just a little healthier through the week, so we can still go have beers and nachos, wings, etc. on the weekend. Soup seems to be an easy “go to” for us at least a couple times a month.

I think my love of soup is pretty well established, right? I’ve seen several versions of a Kale and Sausage soup on Pinterest, other blogs, and various other websites. For some reason, I’d never actually made one, and I thought it was about time. This one is packed with flavor, a little smoky, and requires no additional salt. The recipe is bulked out a bit for guaranteed leftovers, but only takes about 45 minutes (including non-active cooking time) to come together.

Equipment:
Your favorite large soup pot
Spoon for stirring
Can opener
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cup and spoons

Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 14 oz smoked turkey sausage, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 can diced tomatoes (I used the Italian ones with oregano and basil because they were on sale, but use whatever you like)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained but not rinsed
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 bunches kale, cut into 1-1.5 inch strips (I used the curly kale that might also be called Scots kale because I feel like it holds up better in soup. Use whatever’s available, though.)

In the bottom of the soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until it just starts to give off some fragrance–less than 30 seconds, probably. Then add the onions and stir. Saute until the onions are soft. Add the smoked paprika and sausage. Stir well and cook for about 2 minutes. The sausage doesn’t have to brown. You’re just giving each ingredient time to make friends with the others to build layers of flavor.

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Add the can of tomatoes, stir, and let everything cook together for another couple minutes. Then, repeat with the two cans of beans.

Stir in the chicken broth, bring it to a boil, and add the kale. It’s probably going to look like way too much for the pot at first, but just push it down into the soup until you can get a lid on the pot. Turn the heat down to medium and let it bubble away for about 5-7 minutes. This will help the kale wilt down. Uncover, give the whole thing another stir, and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Give it a taste to see if you think it needs any additional seasoning. I felt like it didn’t need any additional salt, but your palate might be different.

Happy Soup-ing!

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Well, that’s just souper!

First of all, Happy New Year! I hope everyone’s 2016 is starting off well. I know we all have resolutions or intentions or maybe just things we’re NOT going to do this year, and I wish you the best possible outcome for all of that. I’ve got some goals for this year, for sure. One of the biggest, most important ones is to REALLY focus on this blog, and my social media presence, and connecting with all my readers, other bloggers, and other food industry folks. The boyfriend and I are in the process of clearing out some space for me to create a little home office, so I can do this whole thing in some sort of organized, professional manner. Even though I have lots of past content here, I’m looking at it as a brand new project, and that means approaching it in a brand new way.

*Forrest Gump voice* And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. For now.

Let’s get down to business, and my love of soup. I adore soup. It seems like the perfect vehicle for experimentation with (usually) a minimum of fuss. Of course, this time of year in our part of the world it’s pretty cold, so soup also has the added benefit of being warm, hearty, and satisfying without being too heavy. This Latin American inspired Turkey Meatball Soup is no exception. It’s colorful, flavorful, and filling without landing with a thud in your guts. It also comes together pretty quickly, making it great for a weeknight, and, depending on how many you’re feeding, has the potential for leftovers later in the week.

FYI: You can totally leave out the meatballs and replace the chicken stock with veggie stock and this would be vegan and vegetarian.

Equipment

Your favorite large soup pot
A spoon suitable for turning the meatballs and stirring the soup
Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Paper towel lined plate for holding the browned meatballs while you assemble the rest of the soup

Ingredients
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground lean turkey
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the soup:
1 small yellow onion, medium dice
1 Pasilla pepper, seeded, medium dice
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained but NOT rinsed
2 cans diced tomatoes
15 ounce can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, and Mexican oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the spices, salt, and pepper into the ground turkey and form it into walnut sized balls. Heat your soup pot over medium high heat, add the canola oil, and brown but do NOT cook through the meatballs. They’ll finish cooking through in the soup. You’ll probably want to do them in two batches to avoid crowding the pot.

Hold the meatballs on the paper towel lined plate while you put together the rest of the soup.

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Add the diced onion and pepper to whatever fat is left behind in the pot. Saute until the peppers are softened slightly and the onions are translucent. Lower the heat to medium, then add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Let all that hang out for 2-3 minutes while you open and drain all your cans. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, and the spices. You can also add black pepper if you want, but don’t add salt until the very end because the soup will reduce a bit and you don’t want it to get too salty.

Give all that another big stir, and let it simmer together for about 5 minutes. Then, add the stock and the browned meatballs, knock the heat down to low, cover and let it simmer away for about 30 minutes.

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Remove the lid, and let it continue to simmer for another 10-15 minutes, then give it a little taste to see how much salt, if any, you want to add. There’s so much flavor in there already, I only added maybe an 1/8th of a teaspoon.

You can garnish this with pretty much anything you think works. We used diced avocado and a lime wedge, because a little squeeze of lime juice at the end brings another layer of flavor to the party. You could also use tortilla chips or strips, shredded cheese, sour cream or Mexican crema, sliced olives, or some rough chopped cilantro. Of course, a bottle of hot sauce might come in handy, too, if some of you want to kick up the heat in there.

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I hope you’ll give this one a try. If you do, let me know how it works out for ya. Enjoy!

Simple, Soulful Soup

I don’t know about you, but this time of year for me just screams for soup. All kinds. Veggie, chicken, beef… Asian, Irish, or Latin. I’m not picky. I just want a big bowl of something hot and flavorful.

This soup definitely fits the bill, in my opinion. It’s not your standard soup, though. I learned how to make it last quarter in school when we were studying the cuisine of China. It’s called Spinach Velvet Soup, and when made correctly, it really lives up to its name. If you like egg drop soup, and you like spinach, this will be right up your alley. It has ginger, which to me always says “restorative,” since it’s good for all sorts of things, from nausea to inflammation, and you can certainly add more ginger than the recipe calls for if you really want to give it a boost. You could also add diced Asian chilies as a garnish if you wanted to amp up the cold and inflammation fighting power of this soup.

Just a note… this soup comes together really fast, so I recommend having all your prep done and liquids measured out ahead of time so you don’t get stuck on a step (especially the last few) and risk having the soup get too thick.

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Equipment
:

Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Large measuring cup plus a 1/4 cup measuring cup
Small mixing bowl
Grater or ginger board
Small pot for blanching the spinach
at least a 3 quart pot for cooking the soup
Whisk
Cloth kitchen towel for squeezing the water out of the spinach

Ingredients:

3 cups fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 egg whites
2 quarts plus 1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 large knob of fresh ginger from which you will extract 1 tablespoon ginger juice (this can be retrieved by grating the ginger and then squeezing it in a coffee filter to retain the juice)
2 tablespoons diced ham, 1/4″ dice (optional if you want to make this soup vegetarian)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and (white, if you have it) pepper, to taste

Remove the stems from the spinach (or just use baby spinach, because those stems are tender enough to keep), rinse and drain. Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the sugar and the spinach, stirring until the water comes back up to a boil. Immediately drain the spinach and run cold water over it to stop the cooking.

Squeeze the spinach through the kitchen towel to get out as much of the liquid as you can. Finely julienne the spinach. Do not use a blender.

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Beat the egg whites with 1 tablespoon water until smooth but not foamy.

Mix the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the stock.

Heat the rest of the stock over high heat until it boils, then reduce the heat to medium. Add half the ham (if you’re using it) and the ginger juice and cook it for about 4 minutes. Turn the heat back up to high and add the spinach, stirring until the stock comes back up to a boil.

Season the soup to taste, then add the cornstarch/stock mixture and stir until the soup is creamy and slightly thickened.

Take the pot off the heat and slowly swirl in your egg whites. DO NOT STIR for about 30 seconds to allow the whites to set, then stir gently to mix them into the soup. Add the sesame and vegetable oil.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To serve, garnish with the remaining ham if you like, or some diced chilies or whatever you think looks pretty on top.

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This soup doesn’t really freeze well, so just make enough to serve right away. The good news is that there’s not a ton of prep, and, as I mentioned,  it comes together really fast so making it isn’t such a pain that doing it to order is a big deal.

Enjoy!

Don’t forget, I’m doing the drawing for the Crisp™ paring knife on Wednesday. Check out this post for details on how to enter.

Food, Food, Food, Food, Food

I literally could not think of a better title for this blog post. It might be a long one, because I have tons to tell you about.

I hope all of you had an amazing 4th of July weekend! Mine was pretty incredible. I had some amazing company, great food, and an incredible opportunity to work alongside a Denver area chef I really admire. As holiday weekends go, this one is going to be hard to beat. This was pretty much me, all weekend.

Let’s start off with Thursday night. A new place opened near my ‘hood about a month ago– Argyll Whiskey Beer. I’ve been wanting to go check it out, but I really prefer to wait a few weeks after a new restaurant opens to let them get their sea legs, so to speak. I’ve been hearing good things right from opening day, so my expectations for our dinner were pretty high. We were not disappointed.

Our evening started with a delicious gin based drink called The Stuff for me, and a glass of some fancy Scotch I didn’t catch the name of for my dinner companion. It’s been awhile since I’ve had gin due to a weird reaction I had the last time I drank it, but this beverage sounded so yummy I couldn’t resist.  It’s made with Bombay Dry Gin, pimms, lavender, lemon, and saison. Deeelishuzz.

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I’ve been kind of… not homesick exactly.  (I dunno, what do you call it when you’re really missing a place that isn’t your home? Vacation-sick? That doesn’t sound right.) I’ve just really been missing Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. The rest of the meal reminded me so much of some of the dinners I had while on vacation last year that I almost felt like I was back there for a minute or two.

There was the Scotch egg… with a decadently runny yolk that we absolutely loved, a complimentary basket of house made potato chips, silky smooth duck liver mousse and a slice of brawn (headcheese) that were perfectly complemented by little pots of yummy condiments and fresh bread, and a perfect portion of fish and chips with a cute little quenelle of  minted mushy peas.

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Friday, the fourth, we took it very easy for a large portion of the day. However, I’d gotten a cute little jar of white truffle mayonnaise from Empire Mayonnaise in my June Hatchery box, and a grilled burger with that mayo on it was literally all I could think about all week. The burger was seasoned with another Hatchery box goodie, beef spice rub from Stuart & Co., and topped off with a fried egg (i managed to kick out some perfectly runny egg yolks, which seemed to be a theme through the whole weekend). We also made some baked sweet potato fries seasoned with, you guessed it, another Hatchery box find– Paella spice mix from Whole Spice. It kinda feels like I go a couple months brainstorming what to do with the stuff in my Hatchery box, only to have a bunch of them come together for one meal.  If you haven’t tried out Hatchery yet, I really do recommend it. It’s $20 a month, free shipping, and you get five little presents to open every month, plus culinary inspiration for days. Totally worth it!

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Fast forward to Sunday, the last day of a local arts festival in the Cherry Creek area of Denver. I’ve volunteered at this event for the past two years, working at the culinary demo stage, and I was definitely excited to do it again. Not only do I get to spend the whole day geeking out while some of the area’s best chefs demo some of their best dishes, but I also get to try all of them, and learn a ton in the process.

This year, Chef Jensen Cummings, a local chef and restaurateur, was running the show. Not only is he really well respected around Denver for his food, but he’s also doing something I truly admire– focusing his passion to helping others. He’s started an organization called Heroes Like Us, which he describes as, “a nonprofit culinary coalition that works with health- and hunger-based organizations to put on charity events.”  Right up my alley.

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He actually let me help plate food for most of the day, which was really an amazing opportunity to just get in there with people who have a TON more experience than me and work our butts off. SO much fun. I’m hoping I’ll get to help out with a few more events, including two in August.

The morning started off with a demo from Jonathan Mendoza from Bad Apple, a pop up restaurant in the area. He made a hay smoked egg yolk with sherry cream and bourbon maple syrup. You guys… no kidding, this was the highlight of the day for me. The presentation was gorgeous. The yolk was smoked with hay and then cooked sous vide until it reached this luscious custard-like texture. Topped with the sherry cream and just a hint of sweet from the maple syrup, it was probably the most luxurious breakfast I’ve ever had.

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Next up, just in time for lunch, was Kyle Marley from Earl’s Kitchen + Bar. White Cheddar Chipotle Nachos. They were topped with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and avocado, and I will definitely be making these at home. I mean, really. Look at these!

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After lunch, one of the chefs from my school, The Art Institute of Colorado (a long time supporter of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival), stopped by to make Somen. Chef Scott Maxwell was my instructor for American Regional Cuisine last quarter. It was fun to be able to help him out without my grade being on the line!  Somen is a cold noodle dish with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, bonito flakes, kombu (seaweed), and mirin. I’m so glad all the chefs who cooked on Sunday kept it pretty light, because it was stupid hot outside. This noodle bowl is surprisingly easy and quick to put together, and you can customize it with any variety of condiments and fresh veggies.

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The last chef to present was Robin Baron from Silvi’s Kitchen (right down the street from my apartment, aren’t I lucky?) and Etai’s. She made a light, flavorful gazpacho with an  heirloom tomato salad. The Baron Group is known for its artisanal breads, and she brought a giant loaf of Rustico with her to cook with and to share.

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Her secret for adding a little extra flavor to your gazpacho? Toast the bread before you add it to the soup. It not only adds flavor, but the extra body the soup needs to go from side dish or starter to the main course.

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Yum, right? Of course, the whole point of demoing recipes at an event like this is to show how easily they can be adapted to a home kitchen. If you’re interested in trying out any of these dishes, you can find these recipes, plus all the others from every demo last weekend, right here.