Roasted Root Vegetable and Cauliflower Soup

I love roasted veggies. I also love home made soup. So why not combine the two and get a heaping helping of vegetables in a thick and creamy soup? Usually a self-imposed kitchen challenge like this takes a while to get right, but this one was a win from the first ladle to the last. Why was it so good? Roasting vegetables brings out the natural sugars, and gives it a level of flavor you don’t get when boiling your veggies in a pot. Toasting the herbs and spices in the butter before making a roux also amps up the flavor. Add in some delicious half and half, and you’ve got yourself a winter soup winner.

Actually, I have to give my daughter-in-law to be, Ashley, credit for the idea. She had texted to ask me if I had a recipe for using up a pile of carrots (I think she’d gone hog wild on a Farmer’s Market run…), and I gave her a recipe I had for straight up carrot soup. But then she asked if she could throw in other veggies and cream, and I thought, hmmmmm, I should try something like that! So here it is, Ashley.

Next time I make it, I think I’ll cut the vegetables into ½-inch pieces before roasting, and then puree half of the mixture until really creamy, and stir that back into the chunkier vegetable mixture. I had only slightly pureed the whole batch, and I didn’t like the texture. The flavor more than made up for it, but as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I’ve got to make this JUST RIGHT next time I serve it to family and friends. 

Serves 8-10

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2-3 cups cubed red potatoes (skin on)
4-5 carrots, peeled and cubed
3 parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon dill weed
½ teaspoon caraway seed
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
4 cups water
4 teaspoons chicken soup base (or vegetable soup base, if you’d like to make this strictly vegetarian)*
2 cups half and half

Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare 2 baking sheets by rubbing 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on each pan. Toss cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, and parsnips onto pans, and roast in oven for 30-35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, and edges are slightly golden.

While vegetables are roasting, combine onion and butter in Dutch oven (or other large pot), and cook on medium-high until onion is translucent. Sprinkle flour, dill seed, dill weed, caraway seed, and dry mustard over the onion mixture, and stir to combine. Toast flour and herbs for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Gradually stir in water, and stir to combine so no lumps remain in flour mixture. Add soup base, and stir to combine again. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes until broth is slightly thickened.

Add in roasted vegetables and half and half. Return soup just to a boil, then reduce heat immediately to simmer so half and half doesn’t curdle. Simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors. Turn off heat and let mixture cool slightly. Transfer half of the soup, 2 cups at a time, to blender and puree until smooth. Stir pureed mixture back into the soup. Serve immediately, or store in container in frig.

*NOTE: My favorite soup “hack” is to use chicken soup base instead of bouillon or chicken stock, because it has more flavor and less salt. The brand I like is called “Better Than Bouillon” and they make a chicken, beef, and vegetable base. You can find it in the soup aisle at your grocery store. So just march on past those cans of Campbell’s, and pick up a jar so you TOO can make tasty, nutritious soup for you and the fam.

Super BLT with Pesto Aioli

FullSizeRender‘Tis tomato time, and if you’ve got them coming out of your ears like we do, this twist on the classic BLT sandwich will help you use up your ‘maters. The pesto aioli gives it extra zip, and adds another layer of flavor to the fresh tomato, smoky bacon, and crisp lettuce. So I used up my stash of tomatoes AND my fresh basil pesto that I just made again—a win-win. I also added sliced turkey, and white cheddar cheese to these sandwiches, because I feel like a sandwich with just bacon for meat isn’t really a sandwich. (My husband would disagree—he fried up half a pound of bacon for his two sandwiches the night we made these. When I questioned his quantity, he called me a Bacon Nazi. Ouch. First time I’ve heard those two words together in a sentence…how about you?)

I thought that this might be too simple of a “recipe” to post, but I actually get the most response from all of you when I post stuff I think is too easy to bother sharing (aka: “Judy easy,” in the scale used previously). I used pumpernickel bread for the sandwiches pictured here, but I also like Trader Joe’s 100% rye bread, which I’ve been told is gluten-free. Either of those options gives you more flavor in your bread than straight up white bread. Another bonus! 

Serves 2-3

For pesto aioli
¼ cup Hellmann’s real mayonnaise (or make your own, recipe below!)
1 tablespoon fresh basil pesto

For sandwiches
Deli turkey, sliced thin
White cheddar cheese, sliced
Romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried
Bacon strips, cooked (2 per sandwich, unless you’re Rich)
Sliced fresh tomatoes
Pumpernickel or rye bread, toasted

Slather toasted bread with generous amount of pesto aioli, then layer on turkey, cheese, lettuce, bacon, and tomatoes. Prepare to be amazed.

*NOTE: Aioli has come to be the name given to any flavored mayonnaise. Traditionally, it’s been an emulsified oil combined with fresh garlic. At least that’s the Spanish version. The French version of aioli has an egg added into the emulsifying process, which makes it more similar to mayonnaise than the Spanish recipe. Use the word “aioli” when you want to impress your dinner guests with your mad kitchen prowess.

To make your own mayonnaise (recipe courtesy of Whole30):
1¼ cups olive oil (not extra virgin), divided
1 egg
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

In food processor or blender, combine ¼ cup olive oil, egg, dried mustard, and salt. Blend until combined. Very, very slowly, drizzle in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil with motor running, and process until oil is emulsified (thickened to mayo consistency). Add juice of lemon and pulse until combined. Refrigerate for up to one week, but no longer.

Pesto Chips

IMG_1718Bunches of fresh basil and some other kitchen staples are all you need to make these incredibly fragrant and savory appetizers. These are pretty easy to whip up, yet your kitchen will smell like you’re a seasoned gourmet who’s been slaving at the stove all day. I’ve been making these for years to serve either as appetizers, or as a side to a meal of grilled meat, veggies, and some fruit. When tomatoes aren’t in season, these are great with just the tortillas, pesto, and grated cheese. I often made these sans tomatoes for an after-school snack for my boys. (Hmmmmm. Maybe that’s why they developed rather sophisticated food palettes. They did occasionally get Rice Krispy bars or other more kid-friendly fare…occasionally.)

Farmer’s markets are teaming with fresh basil, parsley, and tomatoes this time of year. I got the most delicious Roma tomatoes this weekend from a little Saturday morning Farmer’s market in West St. Paul (Icy Cup parking lot, 63 George Street, corner of George and Stryker. For more info, visit growingwestside.com/farmers-market/). My friend Sue’s daughter, Nellie (and her new husband Stephen), have a booth there selling organic produce from their farm, Whistling Thistle. The Roma’s I got from them were perfect for these, as they were meaty and had a lower moisture content than standard grocery store ‘maters. That’s essential to keep the chips crispy once baked.

Makes 8 ounces pesto

For pesto:
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or ¼ cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

For chips:
Corn or flour tortillas
Shredded aged mozzarella, or cubed fresh mozzarella
Roma tomatoes, diced

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

Spread a few tablespoons of pesto over one of the tortillas, and put it on a baking sheet. (Flour tortillas are tastier, but I’ve used corn tortillas to make these gluten free.) Sprinkle cheese of choice on top, then repeat process for desired number of tortillas. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until edges are crispy and slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve as is, or sprinkle with the diced tomatoes, then cut and serve.

NOTE: If not using the pesto immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

For another tasty way to use your basil pesto, Check out a previous post with directions for a basil pasta that’s a fabulous meal on it’s own.

Chocolate Brownie Bars

FullSizeRenderA combo of Hershey’s cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate chips give these bars a rich, chocolatey appeal, and are pretty quick to throw together. I clipped the original recipe from a magazine ad for Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk (the same one where I got the delicious Squirrel Bars recipe previously posted), and they were called Triple Layer Chocolate Bars. Now, I’m no Einstein when numbers are involved, but I couldn’t come up with three distinct layers in these. My co-workers called these “brownie bars” when I brought them in to work, so let’s go with that. (My husband was kinda “meh” about this particular recipe, and I could see he wasn’t going to finish off the pan, so that’s why my colleagues were summoned for a second opinion. People, I’ve created a monster! His standards for baked-goods has risen significantly since I first met him, scarfing down a sleeve of Oreos after his Arby’s roast beef sandwich.)

These aren’t super sugary sweet, and hold together fairly well because of the sweetened condensed milk in the middle. They’re an easy picnic or potluck take-along, so give them a whirl and see what you think. Just don’t offer any to my husband Rich. I’m sure you can find a more appreciative audience.

Makes 20 bars

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (1 package, plus 2-3 more crackers)*
½ cup cocoa, divided into ¼ cup and ¼ cup
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), melted
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips, or 1½ cups of same

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup of the cocoa, sugar, and melted butter in medium bowl. Stir until butter is thoroughly incorporated. Press into bottom of 13″x9″ baking dish. In medium bowl attached to electric mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk, flour, egg, vanilla, and baking powder. Stir in nuts and pour mixture on top of graham cracker crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake 25 minutes or until set. Cool before cutting. Store tightly covered.

*NOTE: Use gluten-free graham crackers to make these if you’re GF.

Also, I wondered if maybe a step was missing in this recipe. Usually a graham cracker crust recipe has you baking the graham crackers for 10 minutes or so before adding other layers. That would make these have more distinct layers, and would make for a crispier crust. I might try that next time, and will update the process here if I do.

Wild Rice Soup

FullSizeRenderMinnesotans love their rich and creamy wild rice soup, something unique to the Midwest. So whenever we have out-of-state or overseas visitors, we send them home with a bag of wild rice…and this recipe for making a slightly healthier version of the old standby. I got a recipe similar to this years ago from Lund’s and Byerly’s. The high-end grocery store serves this soup in their deli, and they were handing out the secret recipe in response to frequent requests from patrons. But lately I’ve been adding in a chopped red pepper (which is chock full of vitamin C), and some celery and carrots. I also use only a portion of Half and Half, and then milk to finish it up. It’s still not a low-fat meal, mind you, just a little more substantive. (And I defy you to find another food blog that offers great vocab like “substantive” along with delicious food…)

1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minded dry onion
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet red pepper, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and grated
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup Half and Half
2 cups skim milk
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken or 1 cup diced ham, optional

Combine wild rice, water, and bouillon cube in large sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until majority of kernels are split. Rinse under cold water to shock rice, and halt the cooking process. Set aside.

In large Dutch oven, melt butter. Add dry minced onion and cook until golden. Add chopped onion and cook until onion is translucent. Add pepper, carrots, and celery and cook 5-10 minutes more. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to coat, and then cook a minute more. Gradually pour in chicken broth and stir until no lumps of flour remain. Stir in cooked rice, Half and Half, and 1 cup milk. Add in chicken or ham, if you’d like. Add additional cup of milk if needed to thin soup. Serve.

NOTE: Cream-based soups do not freeze well. Refrigerate your leftovers of this soup.

New England Clam Chowder

FullSizeRenderThis creamy dairy-based clam chowder warms you to the core when there’s a chill in the air. It can be a starter to your meal, or a whole meal in itself. This used to be a staple at our Christmas Eve dinner, but some how it fell off the menu over the last several years. So this year I resurrected the recipe, found in one of my Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, and our family was glad I did! We’d forgotten what a treat this soup is, with the mild seafood flavor, and bits of hearty potatoes, clams, and bacon. I’ve altered some ingredient amounts from the BH&G recipe, adding more minced clams, bacon, and Worcestershire for fuller flavor.

And does anyone else besides me get confused about the different kinds of clam chowder? When we’re at a restaurant, I have to always remind myself that New England is the more popular cream-based soup, and Manhattan clam chowder is the tomato-based version, so I’m not disappointed when the food arrives. Or at least the New England style is more popular with our family… Give this recipe a try, and see where it ranks in popularity in your home.

Serves 6-8

3 (6.5 ounce) cans minced clams
4-6 slices of bacon
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2½ cups milk, divided
1 cup Half & Half light cream
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ teaspoon salt
Dash coarse ground black pepper

Drain the canned clams, reserving all liquid. You should have close to 2 cups clam juice. Add water if necessary, to get 2 cups liquid. Set aside. In large Dutch oven, fry bacon until crisp. Drain cooked strips of bacon on paper towels. Once cool, crumble bacon, and set aside for a topping. Add onions to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until translucent. Add the 2 cups reserved liquid and chopped potatoes, and bring liquid to a boil. Cover, reduce to simmer, and let potatoes cook about 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Stir in clams, 2 cups of the milk, and the Half & Half. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ½ cup milk with the flour until no lumps remain. Stir into chowder. Increase heat until mixture begins to boil, and immediately reduce to low again. Cook and stir until bubbly. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.

Chicken Enchiladas

FullSizeRender-1Fresh cilantro and parsley take these easy enchiladas up a notch in flavor, so much so, that no one will know the main ingredients are store-bought salsa and tortillas. They’re a great make-ahead meal you can refrigerate, then pop in the oven for a simple weeknight dinner. Or dress them up with a side of fresh guacamole and corn chips, plus a green salad, and you’ve got a company meal that wasn’t a ton of work. I got this recipe years ago from a friend who said it came from a low-cal cookbook, but I’ve always used real cheese (not the recommended reduced-fat stuff), and upped the cheese amounts, so I make no claim that this is still a diet dinner.

FullSizeRender-2IMG_1055Make it even easier by grabbing a already-roasted rotisserie chicken, or grill your own chicken breasts or tenderloins for the meat. If neither of those options work for you, fry up your chicken in a pan. Fresh herbs too pricey? You can use dried herbs, but you’ll take a bit of a hit in end-product taste. Fortunately, the lime and garlic will still bring the zip to the recipe, so you’re safe. A blender or food processor is your secret weapon, making short work of the salsa sauce that is the base of this dish.

Not only is this a quick family dinner, it’s a perfect recipe to have in your arsenal for bringing to friends who need a meal post-baby or due to family crisis. Kids will eat it cause the “green stuff” is pulverized into the sauce and won’t offend their picky little eyeballs, and adults love it because it’s not lasagna or spaghetti, the usual drop-off meals. I’ve not yet tried it using corn tortillas instead of flour, but I’m thinking that would sub in nicely for a gluten-free alternative.

2 cups mild salsa (Pace thick and chunky salsa or picante is just fine!)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
½-1 clove garlic, quartered
4 cooked chicken breasts, cubed, or 8 cooked chicken tenderloins, cubed, or 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 cup shredded mozzarella or monterey jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

8 flour tortillas or 12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine salsa, cilantro, parsley, lime juice and zest, and garlic in blender or food processor, and pulse until sauce is smooth. Mix half of salsa sauce with cut-up, cooked chicken, ½ cup mozzarella, and ½ cup cheddar cheeses in large bowl, and toss to combine. Place about ¼ cup of meat mixture down center of tortilla, roll up, and place seam side down in a 9″x13″ baking dish. Continue with remaining tortillas. Pour remaining salsa mixture over the tortillas in pan, and top with remaining grated cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes uncovered. (Can also cover with foil and refrigerate for 1-2 days before baking.)

Basil Pesto

FullSizeRenderBasil is bountiful at farmer’s markets this time of year, so what can you do with this most fragrant of herbs? Pesto is a versatile sauce, and making it yourself fills your kitchen to the brim with fresh summertime smells. We love this recipe (from an older Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) stirred up over a a pound of prepared pasta, with cubes of grilled chicken, and cherry tomatoes. Delish!!! I love wide, flat noodles with pesto. Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle pasta works really well (pictured here), but you can use anything your little heart desires—penne, spaghetti, linguini, farfella (aka: bow tie pasta) or those little cup shaped ones I can’t remember the name of. I draw the line at lasagna noodles, though. That would just be silly, people.

This is also great slathered on a tortilla and sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then baked in a 375° oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until edges or tortillas are crisp. Cut like a pizza and serve with your meal. (If you use corn tortillas, this could be a gluten-free snack.) Or spread on think chunks of sourdough bread and top with fresh mozz and a slice of tomato, then broil in the oven for a few minutes. These make fabulous appetizers. 

I’ve also done a mixture of half real mayonnaise, and half prepared pesto for a sandwich spread. You want to wake up your boring old lunch, this will do it! So is that enough ideas to get you going?

IMG_1038I’m super excited because my basil is actually doing great in my mini herb garden this year. In the past, it’s grown rather sparse in my pots, but my plant is going gang-busters right now—it’s yielded enough to make 3 jars already! But when I’ve not had basil right out my back door, I’ve bought bunches from the farmer’s market, and spent a morning making multiple recipes of pesto, putting each batch in an 8-ounce container (pint jars work great). Then I use one batch fresh for dinner or appetizers, and freeze the others for use all year long. There is nothing like a batch of pesto over pasta in the dead of winter—it’s a reminder that spring will come again.

Makes 8 ounces

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or 1/4 cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds*
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

If not using immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

*NOTE: I used to make this with pine nuts—the traditional nut for this recipe—but they are crazy bonkers expensive, so I use almonds now and they work just as well. Pine nuts also have a tendency to go rancid if not refrigerated, and I’ve wasted those little gold nuggets unintentionally. So I quit buying them and stick with almonds.