Monday, March 31, 2008

Caramel Coffee Pecan Sea Salt Cookies



Caramel Coffee Pecan Sea Salt Cookies

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup cinnamon flavored butter spread (I used Shedd's Country Crock)
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup caramel bits

1/2 cup sugared or spiced pecans (I used Trader Joe's glazed pecans)
Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside. In another bowl, beat sugars and butters until creamy. Add coffee, eggs, and vanilla, and mix gently. Gradually add the egg mixture to the flour mixture to and mix until combined. Add caramel bits and fold in. Scoop by measured teaspoons onto the parchment lined sheet. These cookies spread quite a bit, so do not crowd. Bake for 5 minutes at 350, until they have melted and spread. At this time, I opened the door and pressed a pecan bit into each cookie, so that it would be joined to the dough, but, not absorbed by it. I also lightly sprinkled sea salt at this time, and baked another 10-12 minutes. Cooking time will depend on your oven -- and this was a hard one to judge. The cookies are thin and sticky, so the doughy factor was hard to gauge. The first batch wasn't done after 10 minutes, so I increased the second batch to 20, which a bid too long. Ultimately, the third batch took about 16-18 minutes for the crispy texture I like.

Taste: I can't really say for sure. I have a bad cold, but, they seem to be good. They smell good. Texture is nice -- crispy and chewy at the same time.

Repeat? Probably not. I just don't like making cookies, it bores me.

Skill: Too much effort for me. I'm not a cookie maker. Or maybe it's because I am sick and shouldn't be cooking (and spreading my cooties in the process).
Easy Variations: If you don't have a bag of caramel bits, you could cut up sea salt caramels by Trader Joe's, or use butterscotch chips. I used Country Crock Cinnamon Spread because I had a little tub languishing unused forever and wanted to use it up. You could substitute shortening. You could mix diced pecans right inside. You could sprinkle the coffee powder on top.
See you. I'm going back to bed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fries? We don't need no stinkin' fries

We've got SALT POTATOES instead. Or, Syracuse Style Salt Potatoes, if you're from New York environs.

I first saw a recipe for salt potatoes, a sort of Tapa, in an IKEA 365 cookbook, of all things, while shopping for a cast iron dutch oven, needed so I could make the much ballyhoo'd Bittman No Knead Bread. Which I never made, incidentally.

Anyway, they seemed simple enough, and how can one go wrong with salt, potatoes, and butter? One can't, I'll tell you what (that's said in my best Hank Hill voice).

After I first made them and posted about them on Flickr, a friend of mine from the East told me this is very common fair in New York and platters of them are sold at fairs and festivals, called Syracuse Salt Potatoes. Indeed, there is a Wiki page for it, so no further investigation is required.

Step 1:
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and I do mean heavily salted. This is about a 3 quart pan and I added at least 2 cups of Kosher Salt to it. Add small red potatoes which have been scrubbed, but not pierced or cut. After this stellar shot for those who do not know what boiling water looks like, I remembered I had a small bag of Russian Fingerlings going dodgy, so I added those as well and thew in more water and salt.


Step 2:
Boil those pupplies at a rapid boil for about 15 minutes. Resist the urge to pierce. You don't want them breaking or absorbing too much salt.

Step 3:
Boiling is done. Check for tenderness. They are done when the largest potato is fork tender. You'll have to eat that one for the good of the batch. Also, when the water level drops and the tops of some of the spuds peak out, you'll notice as soon as they hit the air, they begin to turn a little white. That's good. See how as soon as I take one out of the water, it turns white? That's the fine mist of salt clinging to it. That's good.

Step 4:
Drain the spuds thouroughly and allow to dry. The original recipe called for baking them at a high heat for another 10 minutes to throughly dry, and I did it the first time, but not thereafter. It's a non-essential step unless you want a crispier exterior. I think they are fine as is.

Step 5:
Melt some butter for dipping. The sprinkled thyme is my idea (those are the little dark clumps which have already sunk to the bottom of the butter). I love thyme on just about everything and I grow it in abundance, so in it goes. Dip the hot, salty potatoes in the melted butter. Comfort food at its finest, and, no deep fat frying required. Of course you ARE eating melted butter, so it's not exactly low cal, but just few will sate you.

How salty are they? No more salty than your standard order of french fries. By not piercing the skins, only the exterior is coated in salt water, and the white film is thin, thin thin. You're not going to get salt on your hands or anything. In fact, I think a slice of bacon is saltier than these potatoes. Your pan, stove, and lid WILL be white with salt, however. It gets everywhere.

Enjoy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Potato, Sausage and Spinach Soup

I love stumbling on blogs with witty names by witty people. I found a soup recipe which appealed to me, from someone in the health care industry who shared my confusion: Why are so many hospital workplace cafeterias devoid of healthy food?

The subject was blogged by Glenna at "A Fridge Full of Food and Nothing to Eat" (Hah! Isn't that witty? I identify with this because I'm a grocery whore) over a year ago. She vowed to start brown-bagging it to assure she had better food choices during the day (I wonder how she's doing with that). I've been a master of the bento lunch, myself, for nearly two years now, and my love of home cooked and packed lunches has not decreased. If anything, I love it even more. I'm healthier, spend less (when I reigned in the bento lunch box purchase mania, that is), and, when I *do* dine out at noon, it's a infrequent treat rather than a chore.

Enter Glenna's recipe for Red Potato, Sausage and Kale soup. I recognized that I had most of the ingredients on hand, I love soup for lunch, and it was healthy. I adapted it to suit the ingredients I had on hand, and a few preferences, and it's a winner -- both versions, I'm sure.

Let's get to boiling some soup...

First, I sauteed about 1/3 of a ring of low fat Turkey Keilbasa in a deep stock pan, with a bit of olive oil, and a thinly shaved red onion. I know the sausage is fully cooked, but I need some brown bits and edges to convince myself it's worthy of eating.


Now we've got a nice browned bottom and the sausage is crispy on some pieces. Perfect. I tossed in a few diced garlic cloves, and some celery and celery leaves.

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due. Before I came to loathe Rachael Ray, I saw an episode of her loathesome show where she was making one of her 30 minute recipes with an annoying hybrid name: "Stoop" or some bullshit like that. She caught my attention when she said "Don't toss out your celery greens, they have loads of flavor so keep 'em in." This is hardly unique to RR (or any good cook, even), but she was the first of the chefs I saw performing this trick, and mentioning it, and I've done it ever since. That ends any props I give to She Who Has Millions But Apparently Cannot Find or Afford a Decent Bra for Crap's Sake.


Next, I added 2 quarts of low sodium chicken broth and brought that up to a rapid boil. I added quite a few (measure? I dunno. More than a few but not a whole bunch -- perhaps 2 cpus) rough chunked small red potatoes, and additional herbs. I love thyme and it grows with abundance in my garden, so I added fresh thyme and rosemary. The aroma began to waft, the stock was a deep brown (all that browned sausage no doubt) and it was already tasting pretty good.

After the potatoes were cooked most of the way, but were still firm to the tooth, I added one cup of fat-free half and half. I know, I know ... "There is no such thing as fat-free cream." I know. But I must admit, I'm consistently surprised with how "okay" fat free half and half is. You know why? Because they got the texture right. It doesn't taste fake to me, doesn't have a weird gelatinous texture like some fat free dairy products have, and tastes pretty okay when it isn't consumed by itself, or as a primary ingredient. I wouldn't, for example, pour it over berries, but a few tablespoons is just fine for pan drippings, soup, a protein shake, and similar recipes. In goes a cup of fat free half and half, with a quick stir.

After that simmered for approximately 30 minutes to further soften the potatoes. I began to deviate from Glenna's recipe pretty substantially here ... because I love mushrooms in my soup. I added an 8oz container of button mushrooms, cut in half, and, more thyme and a few hard shakes of Penzey's Salt Free Mural of Flavor. I'm a recent convert to Penzey's Spice Blends. Boy that stuff is good, isn't it?

At this point, I was readying my greens (in this case, baby spinach) to add, and started thinking about bacon going so well with spinach. Hmmm, don't I have two cold pieces of ready-cooked bacon in the fridge, taking up space? Yes, I do. So, I quickly decided to snip two pieces of cooked bacon into the brew.


After that addition, I knew I'd be adding SuperFood spinach, so I decided to add another SuperFood to the brew. I read some articles recently about Dr. Pratt's 17 super foods, and a recommendation to try and eat at least 10 of those per day. There were a few articles posted by nutritionists who decried Dr. Pratt's SuperFoods Rx plan, one going so far as to say "There is so much wrong with his plan I don't know where to begin." Hmm. Isn't that your job, to know where to begin? Ms. Nutritionist? How can you argue with yogurt, salmon, yams, blueberries? He isn't saying to eat nothing but 17 foods. He's saying to try and enrich your diet with these 17 SuperFoods. So I'm going to give it a try, starting with adding a big hunk of yam, sliced thinly so that it could quickly cook with the rest of the soup, because I added it far too late in the game to otherwise catch up with the big chunks of red potato.

Next I tossed in the contents of an 8oz bag of SuperFood baby spinach. Glenna calls for Kale, which is also a SuperFood, but I had baby spinach on hand, which I purchased to try and get in the habit of using it in place of lettuce in salads and on sandwiches. Ordinarily, I'm an iceberg lettuce girl through and through. What my dad liked, we ate.

That wilts down fairly quickly, obviously, so once the spinach is soft and tender, your soup is ready.

Mmmm. Delicious!

Red Potato, Spinach, and Sausage Soup

  • 1 link of turkey keilbasa, sliced
  • 1 small to medium onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 stalk of celery and leaves
  • 2 cups of rough chopped red potatoes
  • 1/2 of a medium yam, chopped
  • Seasonings to your taste
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 cup fat-free half and half
  • 8 oz mushrooms
  • 8 oz spinach leaves

Saute keilbasa and onion until well browned. Add garlic clove, celery and leaves, and seasonings to your taste, just until combined and aromatic. Pour in 2 quarts of chicken broth and bring to a boil, and add yam and potatoes. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Stir in half and half, and simmer for another 20-30 minutes, until somewhat thickened and reduced. Adjust seasonings as you go, to your taste. Near serving time, add mushrooms and spinach leaves. When wilted and cooked, serve.

Verdict: Fantastic

Skill: Moderate

Repeat: Most definately

Shout Out: To my beloved, for getting me a proper digital camera. I love you dearly for tolerating this silly hobby of mine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Maraschino Cherry Muffins




Maraschino Cherry Muffins

1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup white sugar (Splenda used here)
1/2 cup brown sugar (Splenda used here)
2 eggs
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Maraschino Cherries

Seperate the eggs and set yolks and whites aside. Cream butter and both sugars, and two well beaten egg yolks. Mix thoroughly. Slowly beat in flour, baking powder, cherry juice, and vanilla extract. Beat egg whites until white and frothy, and fold in gently to batter. Spray a small muffin tin (I sprayed an Ableskiver pan, here). Add a dollop of batter to each well, and top with one cherry. Cover with another dollop of batter, and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Dust with powdered sugar. Variations: Add a pecan half or almond to the bottom of each well, first, so that they are "topped" with a nut, for Cherry Nut. Add almond extract to batter, if desired.

Verdict:
Tasty, but batter was not very cherry tasting. Tasted exactly like a chocolate chip cookie batter, only lighter and frothier.
Skill: Not Much
Repeat:
Hmmmm. They were sweet and tasty, but probably not without tweaking to add almonds or more intense flavor. I would prefer a lighter, whiter batter, so perhaps I'd leave out the brown sugar. And I'd use less sugar -- these were a little too sweet for me. They DID, however, taste better the next day, after sitting overnight, which isn't usually the case with muffins.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Psssst. Lady. Tamales.


Where I live in Northern California, we have a .98 Only store. I always go there to load up on garbanzo beans and black beans ... huge cans for under a buck, can't beat it.

Our store, in California, is largely shopped by our Hispanic community. The staff is primarily Hispanic, and, a good portion of the brands on the shelves are Hispanic. Plus, every time I've visited, there has been a Hispanic man in a sedan parked somewhat toward the back of the lot, and I always see other shoppers hurrying over and buying something from deep inside the trunk of his car. I never was that interested to find out what it was. Looked shady to me, because he always shut the trunk and wandered away when he didn't have a customer.

This week, I had to park by him. When I came out of the store and put my bags in my car, it went something like this:

"Psst. Miss? miss?"
"Mm hm?"
"Like tamales? Homemade."
"I do. Is that what you're selling?"
"Tamales. Pork. Chicken. Cheese. Want to buy?"
"Hmm. I'm not sure I should buy food from the trunk of a car."
"Come see."
::opens trunk, opens a hot case and steam pours out. The most heavenly smell EVER comes wafting out::
"Wow, those smell great. How much?"
"$1.00 each. How many?"
"I'll take two." ::I hold out two $1.00 bills::
"Are you sure? I recommend the six pack for value."
"How much is a six pack?"
"$6.00."
"How is that a better value?!" (I'm laughing)
"I sell tamales to make money! It's a better value for me!" (He laughs).
"I'll take two, to try them. If they are good, I'll be back. Besides, I'm fat enough already. I don't need six."
"You'll like them. You'll be back. And you look real good."

I took them home and they were EXCELLENT. Just excellent. So I bought hot food from the trunk of a car in a .98 cent store parking lot. I figure, that's California's answer to New York City Food Cart Vendors. I'd be using those for sure, so I consider this the same thing. And I will definitely go back.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Simple Suppers: Eggs in a Frame

Tired Dinner for One
My firm is relocating to a new office building in a week, and we're packing up boxes and files and archives ... blech. So tired, working 7 days a week to get projects done and get boxes packed for the big move ... over Easter Weekend.

All I have the appetite and stamina for, is a simple supper.

1 slice of (homemade) semolina bread
1 egg

Butter both sides of the bread, use a cookie cutter to remove center (or tear it out). Place in a hot skillet, and add egg to the center. Cook until the egg appears white, and then flip. cook other side briefly, flip onto plate. Sprinkle with seasonings (salt, pepper, and chives here). Serve.

When I was growing up, this was called "Eggs in a Frame" according to my much loved Betty Crocker for Boys and Girls Cookbook*, but I've also seen them more recently called Toad in the Hole. Now, Toad in the Hole, I thought, was sausages cooked in an egg custard (like quiche).
What do I know. What do you call this?

(And yeah, yet another craptastic cell phone photo [I truly don't know why I bother and torture you fine folks with this stuff] because my brand new digi camera is already requiring a recharge. Boy, do you have to leave those things in the charger all the time? I've only used it once!)

*I still remember that spiral bound book of recipes and illlustration of boys and girls neatly groomed, gathering around a campfire to make fired biscuits on sticks, and, the neat-o way to garnish your beverages: Roll a marshmallow in colored sprinkles, and shove it down over a straw. How about the little tips from the kids, typed at the bottom of the recipe! Tad says "Being able to bake cookies with my sister makes me want to finish my homework so much faster!" or some bullshit like that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Prosciutto Spiral Focaccia

What I've made is a simple spiral focaccia to serve in place of sandiwch, along side soup. It's more than bread, less than a sandwich, although you'll find it rich enough to get by with one piece.

It doesn't escape my attention that this "cheater's focaccia" is something the love-to-hate Sandra Lee would make, but I rest more easily knowing she'd probably use Carl Buddig ham or bologna, and dried herbs from the .98 cent store, instead of proscuitto and fresh herbs.

With this version, I've used prosciutto and herbs, however, it's very easy to customize this recipe. Olives and Parmesan would be wonderful, herbs and cheese would be wonderful. I've even seen it with bacon and cheddar cheese (too fatty for my tastes), and pepperoni for a "pizza spiral."

Let's assemble the ingredients. Chopped fresh herbs of your choice (here I have diced thyme, scallion, sage, and parsley), an egg, a bit of butter, several slices of prosciutto, and a tube of ready-to-bake dough breadsticks. I've used Pillsbury Low Fat (don't worry, we'll fix that) Breadsticks.



Seperate the breadsticks and flatten each one slightly, so that you may spread ingredients on each piece. It isn't necessary to saute the herbs, but that is my preference. You could just sprinkle the herbs on the dough, but I melted a small amount (perhaps a tablespoon) of butter and quickly heated the herbs to release their flavors. I spread the herb butter on each breadstick.


Seperate the thin layers of prosciutto and tear into long shreds, laying a narrow piece on each breadstick. Complete coverage isn't necessary -- it's salty and flavorful, so a little goes a long way.


Coil up one breadstick, and place it in the center of a lightly buttered pie tin. Leave the tail of that piece exposed slightly, as you'll be continuing the coil. Take the second piece, and press the end very firmly into the first end of the coil, and begin to wrap that piece, as well.


As you coil each piece, it will begin to look like a large rose. It's important to make sure the ends are pinched together tightly as you affix each new piece, but, do not wrap them tightly. You want them to expand and cook fully throughout.

When the spiral is complete, use the rest of any herb butter, and brush over the top. Now, beat the egg and brush beaten egg over the top, as well. Be generous with the egg, you want it to dribble into any nooks and crannies to help seal the spiral.

Bake the spiral at 375 for approximately 20-25 minutes, until well-browned. Let cool a bit before slicing into wedges, and serve. Be sure to expand this last photo ... it's really sexy up close.


You know what I'm thinking? You could make one mondo cinnamon roll with this. Make your favorite filling, roll it up, glaze it with cream cheese frosting, and serve this extra large roll at the table. For bakers who are yeast whisperers and not afraid of making their own dough, you could also make your dough and roll it spiral style, for homemade focaccia in a new style. Hmmmm. The variations are endless.


P.S. Guess who's boyfriend bought her a new digital camera? He's such a keeper. No more cell phone blogging!

Simple Suppers: One Egg Crepe and Roasted Vegetables



I really dislike thick omelettes. Restaurant menus everywhere boast our "thick and fluffy 4 egg omelettes." Who eats 4 eggs at a sitting, before the fillings have even been added? Blechh. Ideally, I like ONE egg, thin and fine, like a crepe. At most, two eggs.
I made a loaf of focaccia tonight (recipe and pics to follow) and used 1 egg to brush the top of the loaf. With the remaining egg, I spread it quite thinly in a pan which had a moment prior, been used to saute fresh herbs, and cooked the ideal omelette in the remaining butter and herb residue. Very thin and herb-y.

Served with roasted veggies (clearing out the bin -- they were about to give over to mush any day) and fresh herbs from my garden, and few drops of basil infused oil to be all artsy fartsy and such.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Collard Green and Turkey Soup

Collard Green and Turkey Soup

Another adaptation of one my favorites. I can make it from memory, anymore. Very adaptable to your favorite protein. I've often wondered how it would taste with grilled shrimp.

SMOKEY COLLARD GREEN SOUP

1 large bag of cut and cleaned mixed greens(1)
1 large carton or can of low sodium chicken broth (at least one quart)
1 large bottle of Ale or Beer(2)
1 onion
3 slices of bacon
garlic
olive oil
vinegar(3)
sea salt
cayenne pepper or similar seasonings(4)
Fully cooked rotisserie turkey breast or chicken, quantity to your taste

Notes:

(1) I typically use one large bag of Trader Joe's Southern Blend, but for this recipe, I used Cut N Clean Country Greens (collard, mustard, turnip) from a grocery store. You could use all of one kind if you like, but I like a blend.
(2) I used a large 550 ml bottle of Samuel Smith Lager Beer from Trader Joe's
(3) I used Trader Joe's White Balsamic, but any vinegar will work.
(4) I ordinarily use cayenne pepper, but today I used Penzey's Northern Blend, which was so good, I may use it from now on.

In a large stock pot, make a swirl over most of the bottom with extra virgin olive oil. Heat and add one finely diced or shredded onion, several garlic cloves, a dash of sea salt, 3 slices of bacon, cut up, and your choice of spice seasonings. Saute until beginning to brown, and add sliced, fully cooked chicken or turkey. Continue to saute until all the ingredients are soft, browned, and aromatic. To the pot, add one full can or carton (1 quart at least) of chicken broth, and 1 bottle of ale or beer, and bring to a boil. When at a rolling boil, add one bag of cleaned and cut up country greens. Press greens into boiling mixture and dunk until they wilt and are covered with liquid. Put a lid on it, reduce heat, and let simmer for one hour or more, until greens are fully tender. Splash with vinegar to bring out the balance of the dish (not much is required and you won't taste it). You may want to adjust by adding more water or broth to keep the liquid level up, but I like the condensed, reduced version for flavor.

Slurp it up with a spoon, being sure to have soft bread or cornbread to sop up my favorite part -- the pot likker.

Verdict: Always delicious. My sister calls it my signature dish.
Skill: Not much, really. I don't even cut up my own greens.
Repeat: It's frequently on the menu in my house.

Friday, March 7, 2008

No Apologies. I made a loaf of bread from cake mix.

No Apologies:  Bread Cake

The quest for a nice white bread from a bread machine continues. I wanted to find a recipe for automatic bread which doesn't have a hard, thick crust. Here we have Round Two. This, too, turned out nicely, with a thin, tender crust, and a firm texture which was easy to slice.

Pros: Firm but tender texture, easy to slice, no thick crust, and look at that dome! It rose up with pride in spite of me and the wetness of the batter. I was nervous about this one.

Cons: A little too crumbly; the crust fell off the bread on the sides, when sliced; might be too sweet for some.

I didn't think this bread was that sweet -- it's comparable to Hawaii'an Sweet Bread I suppose, but honestly, I think most white sandwich breads are a tad sweet already.

BASIC WHITE BREAD FROM A CAKE MIX

1.25 cups of warm water
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup of yellow cake mix
2.5 cups of bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast

What you see above are the ingredients called for. However, I adapted it slightly. I had such a tender crust from the lecithin I added to the last loaf, I decided to also add 1 tablespoon of lecithin to THIS bread. In addition, I found that this batter was much more wet than others -- it clung to the sides and bottom and was slow to get to the "ball of dough" stage. So, I added a teaspoon of Trader Joe's almond meal, at a time, until it bulked up a little. Probably added 3 teaspoons total, and a few teaspoons of flour as well, until it was a firmer wad of dough. The almond meal may have contributed to the crumbly texture, but perhaps not. The flecks were visible throughout (especially on the dome) and perhaps toned down some of the sweetness you might think would result from cake mix.

Baked on "light crust" for the 1.5 loaf cycle. Total time: 3:05.

Of the two loaves I've made his week, I prefer the Copycat Wonder Bread. It made the best sandwich and toast.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Simply Toast and Jam

Toast and Jam

I finally found a perfect Basic White Bread Machine Recipe which turns out a soft, thin, tender crust. Yeasty and mild tasting at the same time. Sliced thin, firm, and held up to light toasting without drying out. No more hard, inch-thick crusts! Perfect!

What surprises me is that my online research led me to believe milk was required in a bread recipe, to assure a soft crust. This doesn't have milk. Other research said that lecithin helps to assure a soft crust.

I chose this recipe not because I had a jones on to make Wonder Bread; but, because it was simple, made a small loaf for testing, and contained lecithin. Who knows why it worked so well, but it did. It was called "Counterfeit Wonder Bread" in the original recipe. I've adapted it slightly.

"Way Better Than But As Soft As" Wonder Bread

1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter or margerine
1 tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons salt
2.5 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon lecithin
1.5 teaspoons yeast

Assemble in bread machine according to your type, and make on "light" basic cycle.
Total time until I took it out: 2:40

Verdict: Finally! Tasty machine bread
Skill: Moderate in terms of assembly and watching it closely
Repeat? Oh yes. Will hold up well to additions.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blarney Stone Creamy Potato Soup

I make a pot of soup, homemade from start to finish, more frequently than any other thing in the kitchen -- so often, I have repeats and won't bother boring everyone with my various soup nights. I bookmark soup recipes often. I collect soup cookbooks (and every other kind).

One thing I've learned over the years: There are very, VERY few canned soups or soup mixes worth eating. For those rare occasions when I do buy ready made soup, it's so easy to doctor up with fresh herbs, added chicken broth, some fried sage. Not that it's much of a concern: Homemade soup is so easy.

It was surprising, then, as I was trolling the aisles of my natural foods co-op, looking for something simple and fast, that I glanced at a package of soup and thought: That sounds and looks good. I'm buying it.

It was a package of Fantastic World Foods New Simmer Soups, in Blarney Stone Creamy Potato flavor. I had a vision of sitting down to a bowl of simmered potato soup, just like my mother used to make, with a slice of warm bread and butter ready to sop (just in case the potato soup wasn't carby enough). Potato soup, done right, is one of the few soups I don't make because a) I don't have the confidence mine will be as good as hers and b) the time and labor in peeling all those potatoes. No thanks (do I need potato peeling mitts? Hmm).

As it cooked, I quickly sauteed a bit of sage and pancetta, to top the potato soup. ::Ding:: It's ready! Doctor it with the sage mixture (which was already smelling heavenly), and dig in.

Why did I think this package of soup could compare to Mom's Potato Soup?

Because I'm an idiot.

This stuff was awful. Plain and simple. Starchy and false tasting. Riddled with too many herbs (if that's possible) which were false tasting. Tiny bits of potatoes which, after reconstituting, were no bigger than dried onion flakes (despite the large hunks of potatoes in the photograph). A waste of my time and good milk.

Fortunately, my ONLY smart move with this purchase, was that as I began to make the soup, I saw that it required 7-1/2 cups of milk, whisked into the mix. Wha--?! How much?! No way, not on a trial soup. I measured out 1/2 of the package and mixed in 3 cups of milk, instead.

Good thing. I wasted 3 cups of milk. Sorry about that, milk.

Verdict: This stuff went right down the drain.
Skill: None, including purchase decision making
Repeat: Not even for money

Monday, March 3, 2008

Copycat: Urban Fries

One of the popular side items at Jack's Urban Eats in Sacramento, California, are "Urban Fries." Essentially, they are nothing more than Buffalo Fries, with fries standing in for the missing chicken wings. They are insanely good -- and I don't like Buffalo Wings in any way, shape or form.

I made lunch for the BF this weekend and he wanted some crispy fries. The urban fries are not terribly complex and I had all the ingredients on hand, so I whipped up a copycat batch. Frankly, I think mine are better. First, because I've recently become addicted to Penzey's spice blends and I added a bit to the dish, and second, because I served the sauce on the SIDE, whereas, Jack's serves it doused over the fries. They get soft and cold very quickly that way. Mine stayed hot and crisp.

Fries to make Dottie Jealous

Method:

Bake a batch of your favorite crispy french fries. Shake a modest amount of Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle (it's basically garlic and herb salt) over them, and sprinkle with parsley. On the side (or over the top if you prefer), serve a dish of bleu cheese dressing which has been sprinkled with hot wing sauce and hot chili oil.

Verdict: Tasty as all get-out
Skill: None, but I should get credit for always having fresh parsley on hand
Repeat: You betcha, but I'll crumble some bleu cheese over it next time, because this isn't nearly calorie-dense as it should be.