Monday, September 19, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Autumn Spices

I first published this recipe on Blogcritics as Roasted Butternut Squash with Autumn Spices.

For me, fresh butternut squash and apples at the Farmers Market signal the arrival of fall.  The days are getting slightly shorter, the evenings getting cooler, and I’m ready for some soup.  Specifically, roasted butternut squash and apple soup with an array of spices; its like Autumn in a bowl.  It’s such warm, yummy comfort food and very healthy and easy to pull off too! Honestly, the hardest part of this preparation is peeling, de-seeding, and cubing the squash.  Many markets now offer this already prepped and cut into small pieces, so feel free to take advantage of that and cut your prep time in half!  I like to roast the vegetables first to deepen their flavor and get a little caramelization going.  Trust me, it’s wroth the extra step!  I’ve used low salt chicken broth in this version, but you can absolutely sub in vegetable broth for non-meat eaters!  This soup is a wonderful first course for a special event, a great lunchtime treat, or a filling casual supper when paired with a salad of mixed greens, sliced Asian pears, walnuts and goat cheese.  Enjoy!  

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed into 1” cubes
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
1 gala apple, peeled, cored and cut into a large dice
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 Tbsp Olive oil
Fresh Thyme sprigs
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp Curry powder
1 Tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp butter
32 oz. reduced sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider
Salt & pepper to taste
Plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.  Toss the cut up squash and carrots with the olive oil, salt and pepper and some of the fresh thyme leaves removed from the stems.  Place on foil in a single layer and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and add in the apples and onions.  Spray the top with cooking spray and sprinkle all the spices over the top.  Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.  Remove roasted vegetables from the oven and set aside.  In a large stockpot, melt (but do not brown) butter over medium high heat and add in some additional fresh thyme leaves.  Pick up the foil from the baking sheet and use it to get all the roasted vegetables and pan juices into the buttered stockpot.  Saute for a few minutes and add 2 cups of the broth and 1 cup of the cider.  Bring to a light boil, cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer, covered for 10 minutes or so.  Add in the cider vinegar.  Next you’ll puree the soup.  A standing, or immersion blender, is the easiest way to do this.  If you don’t have one, it’s easily worth the $20 investment.  If not, process the soup in batches in a standing blender.  Be careful not to add too much soup at once as the heat will cause it to expand while blending.  You’ll now want to thin the soup to your desired consistency using the additional broth.  Now, taste the soup and season as desired with additional spices, salt and pepper.  Just before serving, stir about 1 Tbsp of plain yogurt into each bowl and enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lemon Coconut Pie

I first published this article on Blogcritics at Old-fashioned Lemon Coconut Pie.

OK, I’ll admit, there is NOTHING light or healthy about this pie.  I’m not even going to try to spin this one, but it is absolutely delicious, tart-sweet with a nostalgic taste that will take you back to grandma’s house.  It comes together in a snap with ingredients you probably already have on hand.  It is very very rich, so you’ll only want a small piece, but it’s a perfect ending to a Sunday supper and the tangy lemon helps to cut the sweetness and richness of the dessert.  This is a family favorite at our house and I hope you love it too!

1 pie crust (either your own recipe or refrigerated dough)
¾ stick butter
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 ½ cups shredded coconut
zest of one lemon
¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Roll out the piecrust and place it in a 9 inch pie plate. If you’re using a pre-formed, refrigerated dough, allow it to come to room temperature for 15 minutes before using.  Prick the crust with a fork and weight it with some dried beans or rice.  Pre-bake in the oven for 9 minutes.  Remove and cool.

Decrease oven temperature to 350.  While crust is cooling, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add sugar and continue stirring until all is smooth and melted, but not browned or caramelized at all.  Remove from heat.  In a large bowl, beat the 3 eggs with the vanilla.  Add in the butter and sugar mixture, whisking until fluffy.  Add the lemon juice and zest and the coconut and continue stirring/whisking until well blended.  Pour into the pre-baked crust and return to the 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.  Check the pie at about 25 minutes and if the outer edges of the crust are getting too brown, cover them lightly with strips of aluminum foil.  Cool completely before serving.  This pie is great at room temperature but should be chilled if storing overnight.  It is very good chilled as well.  I like to serve it with some fresh berries and whipped cream; perfect with a cup of strong coffee!  Enjoy!

Moist and Tasty Greek-style Marinated Chicken Breasts

I first published this recipe on Blogcritics as Greek-Style Marinated Chicken Breasts/.
I read recently that Tom Colicchio, the famed Chef of Craft and Gramercy Tavern, as well as Top Chef Fame, believes that butter and fresh thyme enhance ANY protein.  I couldn’t agree more, but I’m trying to stay away from using butter except for splurges, so I wanted to impart that same richness into my potentially dry boneless chicken breasts in a healthier way, by adding bright flavors and a bit of healthy fat.  The tangy yogurt and lemon impart great flavor but also further break down and tenderize the chicken and help to create a wonderful caramelization on the meat when it is cooked.  The bright herbs are a nice counterpoint to all the garlic and the onions add a nice subtle flavor in the background.  The herbs that I used here impart a decidedly Mediterranean flavor profile, but you can use whatever you have on hand and like best.  We enjoyed this scrumptious chicken with some fresh-made Romesco Sauce, roasted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes with parmesan, and a radicchio and romaine salad (check out my blog or past Blogcritics articles for those recipes too!).  A gorgeous, simple and healthful dinner, perfect for even the novice cook, but impressive enough for guests.  Enjoy!

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain yogurt (greek-style is best)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Zest of one lemon
Juice of 3 lemons
½ onion, chopped into large pieces (red or sweet variety is fine)
Fresh thyme leaves
Fresh chopped rosemary
Fresh chopped mint leaves
Fresh chopped parsley

First, take your boneless breasts and lay them between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them out to about 1 /12 times their original size using a mallet or small saucepan.  This will break down the protein strands in the chicken, tenderizing it, and also makes for a thinner piece of meat, which will cook more evenly and not dry out as quickly.  Now, you’re going to be left with huge chicken breast, so cut each one into 2 or three pieces.  Place chicken pieces into a large Ziploc bag.  Now, in a medium bowl, blend the yogurt, lemon juice and olive oil until smooth with a whisk.  Add in the herbs, salt & pepper, garlic, onions, and lemon juice/zest, and stir until well mixed. Pour the mixture into the bag with the chicken, seal well and shake to mix thoroughly.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Remove bag from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature for about 20 minutes while you prepare your grill, broiler or grill pan.  Remove the chicken from the bag and lightly pat it dry, discarding any remaining marinade in the bag.  Cook the chicken over high heat until outside is slightly blistered and inside is cooked through.  Serve immediately and enjoy!        

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Creamy, Dreamy, Steamy (and Even Healthy!) Tomato Basil Bisque

I first published this recipe on Blogcritics as Creamy, Dreamy...and Even Healthy Tomato Basil Soup .

Is there any food more comforting on a rainy day than creamy, rich, bright tomato soup?  Oh wait, there is!  It’s creamy, rich, bright tomato soup….with a grilled cheese sandwich!  Unfortunately, many of the steaming bowls of yumminess that I crave have loads of cream, butter and, often, lots of bread in them for thickening.  While I love those decadent versions of this soup you often get at restaurants, I wanted to use some of my luscious farmer’s market tomatoes to make a healthier version at home, but with all the thick and satisfying goodness of those restaurant concoctions.   Here’s how I made it; to rave reviews from my family, I might add!  There are still some heavier ingredients in there, but in much lower quantities than you’d expect and they really do lend great flavor to the soup, so they’re worth the splurge!  I used a mix of canned and fresh tomatoes, because I only had so many from the market and fresh ones can be pricey.  Also, the canned tomatoes are very high in lycopene, an anticarcinogen.  If you make this in winter and good market tomatoes are not available, you’d be best served using nearly all high quality canned tomatoes and maybe a few deep red romas too.  Mushy, pale, flavorless tomatoes will not make this soup do its best work.  We paired this an ooey gooey grilled Fontina Panini – divine!

1 sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 lbs. market tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup of chopped basil, divided in half
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
2 cups low salt chicken broth (or vegetable broth or tomato juice)
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup fat free half and half
Salt & Pepper to taste
Zest of one lemon

First, remove the skins from the tomatoes.  This is much easier than it sounds!  Just use your knife to cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato and then submerge them in boiling water for 15-20 seconds.  Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and you’ll see that the peels slide right off.  Done!  Now remove the tops of the tomatoes and rough chop the rest, setting aside in a bowl.  Heat the oil and butter together in a large heavy stockpot and add the chopped carrots and onions.  Saute over medium high heat until tender, about 8 minutes.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper and add in the fresh chopped tomatoes and ½ cup of the basil.  Continue to simmer stirring occasionally for another 10 minutes.  Now add the canned tomatoes, bread crumbs, sugar, and broth or juice, reduce heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, allowing the soup to reduce slightly.  At this point, you want to puree the soup, using an immersion/stick blender, or by processing it in batches in a standing blender.    Then, stir in the lemon zest, remaining half cup of chopped basil, cream and half and half and season to taste with more salt and pepper. Garnish the soup with some small whole basil leaves and croutons if desired.  Serve immediately, and by all means, enjoy it with your favorite grilled cheese sandwich!