Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Mushroom Soup with Cream

I was looking forward to making this month's Barefoot Bloggers selection. It's Ina Garten's Cream of Mushroom Soup, selected by Chelle of Brown Eyed Baker.

I'm a big fan of most anything with mushrooms -- except thick, cloying, canned cream of mushroom soup. I confess I've used a can or two in my time, to thicken a post-Thanksgiving Turkey and Stuffing Casserole, but to eat as a soup? Pass.

This was my first time actually making mushroom soup, and at a glance, I knew I'd scale back on the diary (copious amounts of heavy cream and half and half) for the obvious reason -- to reduce the fat -- and for another reason. My boyfriend loves anything with mushrooms, but nothing creamy or fatty. He's forever lamenting how few restaurants make a broth based mushroom soup.

I am a well-known soup alchemist -- I add dibs and dabs of lots of things until it's just right (the result of which is that I seldom duplicate a pot of soup). Still, I followed the recipe fairly closely, with the following exceptions:

In Step One, making the mushroom broth, I used half water, and half homemade chicken stock. I just felt it needed more flavor than plain water and mushrooms. Once the veggies (mushroom cap stems, carrots, and shallots) were fully cooked, I did strain the broth, but I pureed the veggies with the broth in blender cup, until it was a thick applesauce consistency, and very golden in color from the carrots. This went back into the soup.

In Step Two, sauteing the mushrooms with butter, flour, white wine and leeks -- I was out of leeks and used shallots.

In Step Three, simmering the soup and adding the dairy, I thickened with the pureed vegetables as described above, and added probably 1/3 cup of heavy cream, at best. Nothing more was needed, and it was still very rich, buttery, and creamy. I used the thyme, but skipped the parsley.

Finally, as far as seasonings, mushrooms are just notorious for soaking up spices and needing extra seasoning and salt. I kept salting and peppering this soup but didn't hit that "note" it needed until I switched to liberal shakes of my house-made Schezwan Pepper Salt. That was the ticket!

This was a very delicious soup!

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taste of Home Bonanza!

Earlier this summer, a "Taste of Home" swap was set up by Megan at Megan's Cooking, and I was paired with the best partner, Leslie of Mit, Mitter, Mittany (I don't know what that means... I keep forgetting to ask) of North Carolina.

The idea was to swap foods from our home towns or regions that the other may not have access to. The deadline to swap was wayyyy back in July, and when I say I had the best partner, I mean it. I think we were on the same schedule all summer. She was gone, then I was gone, then we gave ourselves an extension, and finally this past week, we swapped our packages.

I was SO delighted because due to the passage of the summer and a hectic schedule, I'd forgotten some of the things I mentioned to her, that "spoke of Southern Soul Food" to me. For that reason, some of my goodies were just a complete surprise, and most appreciated.

At the top of that list is White Lily Flour from soft winter wheat. SCORE!!! I recall reading a Gourmet magazine a few months back and the topic was biscuits. How to make them. How not to make them. The fact that White Lily Flour makes the only "true Southern biscuit." Almost a "don't bother if you don't have this flour" kind of throw-down. I even considered ordering the flour via mail order, but should I be that crazy? I do love a good bread, biscuit, waffle, and pancake ... and then life took over, I bought a hundred new cookbooks, and forgot about the flour.

And then the heavens opened -- Mit sent me the flour. There was much rejoicing in the household.

Not only did I receive the flour, I received ...

A copy of Culinary Kudzu, with a handwritten inscription from the author, Keetha DePriest Reed.
A jar of Kudzu blossom jam.
A tin of Old Bay Seasoning (I've actually never had any of this classic spice! Terrific!)
A bag of cornmeal -- water ground style (very important to Southerners)
A bag of cornmeal -- buttermilk style (ditto above)
A bag of Sweet Heat Pecans.

My friends, very soon you will have blog posts of the following ...

A cake made with White Lily flour and cornstarch, from my Southern Baking cookbook;
Biscuits, and then, some more biscuits. With butter. On the biscuits. With Kudzu Jam.
Cornbread (I want to try a yeast raised cornbread now)
Cornmeal Sweet Heat Pecan Waffles. With butter. and Kudzu Jam.
More biscuits.
More butter.
More jam.
And biscuits. With butter.

Thanks, Mit!

Can someone explain this?

Why is there such an idiotic obsession with being "first" in a comment field on any blog?
First! Yay!

First! Whoo hooo!

I'm talking news or "waste the day filler" blogs and such -- not necessarily food blogs where honestly, I've never seen this problem crop up. Who gives a flying donut about First Comments? Is life so meaningless for these people that typing "FIRST! WooT!" on a post asking whether we are shocked that Clay Aiken is homosexual, is cause for celebration? Invariably these people say nothing else. Have they nothing to contribute to society?

I read a "blog rule" on another site which made me nod in approval:

"On many sites, such as [omitted], it is a tradition for the first commenter on a new thread to post a message of 'First' or similar. That tradition is not followed on [omitted]. Posting a 'First' message here is likely to get your comment hidden (see Rating Comments below) and/or yelled at."
Good! By the way, the humor of anyone typing "FIRST" on this post wouldn't escape me, so I beat you to it. Stay tuned ... tonight is Cream of Mushroom Soup for the Barefoot Bloggers Group!

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Flight Snacks Available for Purchase

I put my mother on a plane today, after a lovely layover of a few days during her journey from her home in Hawaii, to see her sister in Baltimore, Maryland.

She's flying United for the entire trip, and for the first time in her many decades of flying, she's learned that everything is now alacarte -- from luggage to peanuts. She paid for every piece of luggage checked ($25.00 per bag), and, her ticket prominently stated "in flight snack available for purchase." The in flight snack typically consists of a miserable turkey sandwich, bag of chips, and commercial granola bar or cookie, and roughtly costs betwen $5.00 and $7.50 depending on which airline you're on -- some of the better United flights do offer a boxed kit with a bit more substantial and varied fare, including applesauce cups and more.

I've followed Biggie's blog for years, and recall her packing delightful bentos for her family to take on flights. She has some terrific tips for packing your own carry-on food. Even so, I hadn't thought of packing a bento for my mother, until she remarked how sweet and handy it had been, for the first leg of her flight from Hawaii to California, that my younger brother packed her a lunch bag. It was if the child was sending the parent off on a school bus, and as he took her to her plane, gave her a bag with cheese, crackers, and a steak sandwich.

For my mother's flight today, I said a silent thank you to my brother for packing her a lunch and reminding me that even though I can't send her on her way with a juice box or even a bottle of water, I CAN send her with a nice packed lunch that meets airline standards.

She wasn't in the mood for much protein -- but said she'd enjoy some sweet and savorable nibbles. Pity I didn't have time for a photograph, but in my mother's plastic disposable bento box, which I tied close with a nice raffia string, I packed:

2 slices of dark brown bread and butter
(chewy, dense squaw bread thickly buttered with unsalted butter and cut into strips)
Extra Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (sliced into small strips)
Sesame Seed Crackers
Salted, cured olives (2 cracked green olives and 2 kalamata olives)
A handful of walnut halves
A baby Fuji apple (cored and sliced, and sprayed with lemon juice)
A condiment packet of peanut butter
A bar of dark chocolate

I tried to assemble an interesting array -- a bit of cheese, olives, and crackers, a bit of bread of butter, a bit of fruit and nuts, and a piece of good, dark chocolate for dessert. I hope she enjoys it. Safe travels, Mom.

How are you packing for travel these days? Buying on board, buying at the gate, or packing snacks?
(Photo by USAToday)

Sponsor Special Feature: Canyon Ranch Strawberry Chicken Panzenella

Appetite for Health, Episode Two (6:31): Canyon Ranch Spa Chef Scott clarifies the meaning of "organic," then makes an organic Strawberry Chicken Panzanella Salad. After this episode, you'll know how organics can help change your diet to a healthier and cleaner eating plan!

Scott Uehlein is consistently recognized for his creativity and expertise in the development and preparation of healthy cuisine. Under Chef Scott's direction, Canyon Ranch has received top honors from Travel + Leisure (Top Spa for Food in the U.S.), and rated Best Spa with excellence in the food category by Gourmet and Conde Nast Traveler magazines.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Grown Up Mac and Cheese

I thought to myself, today, that it's a good thing I belong to Barefoot Bloggers because were it not for the twice monthly challenge I've signed up to be a part of, I might not have blogged much at all this summer.
I've really been "off my feed" lately as the farmers would say. I've been so tired, for weeks, and have just had craptastic summer. I won't bore anyone with details, because who among us hasn't been worn to the bone at some point, with the stress of career, relationships, domestic projects, art projects, family pressures, dying relatives, blog responsibilities, and such?

Instead of sexual fantasies, I write my resume in my head daily, and pretend to give my boss notice of my imminent departure. It's much more satisfying. I can't say more than that or I'd be typing all night and you'd be saying "What a whiner."

In addition to just being too stressed to cook and bake and snap photos, I've been on a "Use It Up" kick for a few months, to try and curb my addiction to bringing home tasty groceries too frequently. Seriously, my pantry would make a genuinely hungry person on a limited income weep with joy. That's embarrassing to me.

You'd think, with all the stress going on and the kick of clearing out my pantry, that I would have loads of dishes to photograph and upload. Not so. The battery in my camera wasn't charged, and for about 3-4 weeks, I was too tired to find it and plug it in.

So ... this month's Barefoot Blogger recipes are upon us, and Heather Randomosity and the Girl chose Ina Garten's "Grown Up Mac and Cheese" which sounded both really comforting, and, really sophisticated. I had most of the necessary ingredients, and it didn't seem like a chore at all. Maybe this was just the kick in the ass I needed: pasta with Gruyere, bleu cheese and bacon in it? That's medicine right there, folks.

Ahhh, but, I had some frozen macaroni and cheese I wanted to use up -- shoot. I don't necessarily want to buy and make the same dish I swore I'd use up out of my freezer this week. I know, I know ... make your own, it's better, etc etc etc. But sometimes a single, working girl needs a bright orange box, a microwave, and a too-long cooking time to assure a blackened crusty top. Doesn't she?

Enter stage right ... Hacking Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese. Not to be confused with Semi Homemade Ina Garten. PLEASE. Please don't compare me to that color-coordinated creature -- I'd never make a Kwanzaa Cake with corn nuts (brilliantly described by one blogger as an edible hate crime). Ever.

Ina's recipe is basically a roux to which she adds three kinds of cheese (cheddar, Gruyere and bleu), pasta, bacon, and then tops with bread crumbs. Well, my frozen entree took care of the cheddar, most of the pasta, and the roux. All I needed to do was build on it with the remaining cheeses, a bit more pasta, and the toppings.

My solution to blend what I already had on hand, with Ina's recipe with unique flavors, resulted in the best tasting macaroni and cheese I've ever had to date. I say "to date" because surely I'll make this recipe again, this time from scratch, when I don't have freezer staples to use up.


1 box of frozen Macaroni and Cheese
1 box of "cheap stuff" Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box
4 oz of Gruyere, shredded
2 oz of Gorgonzola Soft Spreadable Cheese or Dip
1 oz of half and half
2 slices bacon
2 slices prosciutto
Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper
1 handful of breadcrumbs

Soften the frozen mac and cheese until it can be removed from its container and stirred, cold, into a casserole dish. Open a box of cheap-stuff pantry-stable macaroni and cheese, and discard the sauce packet. Boil that pasta in salted water. Stir into the defrosted mac and cheese, to both increase the pasta, and, vary the types of pasta (some a bit soft, some a bit firm).

Shred 4 oz of Gruyere cheese, and stir into the pasta. Scoop out 2 oz (half of the container) of a soft, spreadable Gorgonzola or Bleu Cheese dip (I used Connoisseur brand Gorgonzola Spread, which is very pungent) and add to pasta, stirring to melt the soft cheeses. Stir in a bit of half and half as needed, to remain creamy -- I didn't need much at all. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg (I skimp on a lot, but not on spices).

Meanwhile, in a pan, brown 2 slices of bacon, and 2 slices of prosciutto until crisp. When cool enough to handle, snip into small pieces, adding most to the pasta, and reserving some for garnish.

Meanwhile, in a bullet blender cup, add approximately 1 handful or cup of croutons, toasted bread or crumbs, with basil or other herbs, to make bread crumbs. I happened to have seasoned cornbread stuffing, and I added fresh basil and and pulsed that into breadcrumbs. I wouldn't do that again because it was too "fake tasting." Plain breadcrumbs would have sufficed.

When the pasta, bacon and prosciutto and cheeses are thoroughly stirred and blended, top with the crumbs, and bake for 40 minutes until bubbling. Top with reserved bacon and serve.

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!