Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring English Pea Soup with Tarragon. Oh, that hits the spot!

Hello, my dear friends and readers!  I've missed not having any time to visit food blogs.  I've definitely been busy in the kitchen, but all my photos and recipes have been waiting for me to carve out some time to sit down and work on posts.  I decided to share this delectable soup that I created, first.  This soup is based on a "food memory" that dates back to a time when I was in my early 20's.  I can clearly remember the Carmel restaurant (thought it's now closed), the texture, the flavor and the chef who created one of the best soups I've ever had.  What made this soup so memorable was the creamy texture, with just the right amount of whole fresh peas-- that added a nice crunchy texture with each bite.  I remember that the chef was a friend of my dinner partner. When he sent the soup from his kitchen, he had the server present a plate of lemon slices along side it.  I was encouraged  to squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the soup.  I loved it! (From that day, forward, I cannot enjoy any kind of cream soup without fresh lemon juice).   Almost thirty years later, I've never seen a soup like that on any restaurant menu.

Last week, I spotted a bag of shelled English peas at my local Costco.   The mere thought of not having to shell peas was a surprise bonus. The memory of that soup is what really compelled me to buy these  I wanted to see if I could recreate the recipe, from long ago.   I got a little inspiration on where to start,  from a favorite recipe  for Creamy Asparagus Soup, that I've made several times.

Peas and Mint are a popular combination, in soup.  But, you see, my husband cringes at the mere mention of mint in any kind of savory dish.  In our herb garden, we have lots of French tarragon growing.  Fortunately, we both love the slice licorice taste of tarragon.

I decided to use a finely chopped shallot, because they have a milder flavor than traditional onion...

...and I chopped about two Tablespoons of tarragon...

If you can't find freshly shelled English peas, you'll have to invest a little time into doing that yourself.  I used about 5 cups of peas. Can you use regular frozen peas?  Sure.  But English peas are extra special! In a Dutch Oven, I heated some olive oil and butter, until melted. Next, I added the shallots and cooked them until tender, 2-3 minutes; the tarragon was added (or choice of fresh herbs). I used white pepper, for seasoning.

Add 4 cups of the peas, reserving 1 cup, and enough chicken (or vegetable) stock to just cover them. Cover the pot, and cook for about 12 minutes, over medium heat.

The peas should feel tender, but not mushy. If you have an immersion blender, you can puree the peas right in the pot! Otherwise, carefully pure the soup in small batches in a blender.

I added about 1 Tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese and about 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the soup. (The Parmesan cheese added a perfect balance to the flavor of the peas, and a little bit of saltiness to the soup.  Give the soup a final taste, and adjust the seasonings to your palate.

I added a cup of peas into the creamy soup, and cooked it on low for about 5 minutes.  The soup was a little on the thin side. No worries...

Because I enjoy making homemade soups and stews, I keep a box of potato starch flour on hand.  In a small bowl, I use about 1 heaping Tablespoon of the starch, and I whisk in a ladle of the soup, until thoroughly combined-- hence, I don't create lumpy soup. Then, I add it back into my soup. 

There's the texture I want-- creamy, slightly thick with some whole peas.  Last...

... I add some fresh lemon juice-- about 1 Tablespoon.  Add a little at a time, to your liking. The soup took about 30 minutes to make.

TASTING NOTES:  My son isn't a fan of frozen peas, on his dinner plate.  He loved this soup! As for me, I do believe that I recreated one of the best things I ever ate! (Isn't that a Food Network show?)  My family enjoyed the creaminess of the soup, the mild flavor of the tarragon worked really well with the brightness from the lemon juice.  You can't really taste the Parmesan cheese, as it adds the perfect balance of nuttiness and saltiness.  I quickly wrote down how I made this, but I didn't really measure at the time I was inventing.  I think this soup has room for improvising measurements.  There is a printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

What makes me happy, is that I don't have to wait 25 more years to try this again.  I'd happily serve this as a first course at a dinner party. Sooner, than later!

I'm off to visit food blogs. I'm looking forward to catching up on what y'all have been making!


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Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Tribute to Strawberries

Oh, Happy Day!  My local farm stand opened yesterday.  I made a bee-line to snatch up the first pickings of their sweet, juicy and organically grown strawberries.  The woman in front of me bought the last flat of berries, but I managed to score three of the last containers.  How I wish each of you could taste these berries. They are nothing like the ones you find at your local supermarket.   When you bite into them, the first thing you notice is that they aren't white in the middle. They are a beautiful, deep red color.  They are sweet-- no added sugar necessary.  Other than our homegrown tomatoes, it is the arrival of strawberries that transforms my winter-clock into thinking of warmer weather, grilling and delectable recipes made with strawberries.

Today, I'd like to share with you past recipes that my family looks forward to enjoying until the first frosts of Fall weather returns.  Just click on the recipe name to view the recipe/tutorial. Beginning with Breakfast/Brunch:

 For a savory twist, strawberries and spinach are a terrific pairing.  The poppy seed dressing is of our very favorite recipes makes a beautiful presentation for a Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing. 

Now, for the grand Finale....Desserts!  We love Strawberry Desserts!  

Our #1, Favorite Strawberry Dessert...

This cake is making an encore, this weekend.  The sponge cake is easy and delicious and the frosting is so good. The tutorial is worth checking out.  

Today is a gorgeous Spring Day, and I'm off to enjoy it!

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pioneer Woman's Perfect Potatoes au Gratin

Spud Lovers Unite, I say!  I love potatoes.  I could eat them every day, and never tire of them. That's why I can't live a carb-free life.  I suppose I could give up bread, if I had to. But give up potatoes? Never!  What I don't eat very often are potatoes with melted cheese and heavy cream.  They're naughty. They're rich. They're mind-numbing delicious.  I made this dish well over a year ago.  I completely forgot about photos (taken from my old point-and-shoot camera), until I started to reorganize photos.  I have not forgotten how good these were.

Usually anything that I've made from The Pioneer Woman's Blog is good. I love Ree.  She epitomizes comfort food at it's best.  I can't make her recipes too often, though. Otherwise, I'd gain back the 20 plus pounds I lost, and have managed to keep off.  However, with  Easter Sunday menus being planned-- and I know that ham plays a major role for lots of folks--I think that this could be a perfect potato side dish for such an occasion.  I feel it is my duty to share this recipe with the rest of you, Dear Readers. If you're dieting, then just remember...  looking at photos are non-caloric.  Tempting, yes, but worth looking at. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!  Here we go:

The beauty of this potato "casserole" is that you use Russet potatoes.  They're inexpensive, and they're most likely on sale this time of year.  Just wash them, leave the peel on and cut them into even sized quarter-pieces. You also use lots of freshly minced garlic. Does it get any better than this?

In a separate bowl, whisk together heavy cream, milk, flour, minced garlic, salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  Yes, it does get even better...

After generously buttering a casserole dish, add a layer of the potatoes, add the cream mixture...

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fluffy, FLUFFY, Pancakes! Yes, Indeed.

Sunday Pancakes.  How traditional is that?  Pancakes and oven-cooked bacon... it's what makes the men in my life very happy.  I can't recall the last time I used boxed mixes to make pancakes.  Homemade/scratch pancakes are really quite easy to make.  I've posted a few pancakes recipes, in the last two years-- Buttermilk pancakes, German pancakes, Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes and Peach & Walnut Oatmeal Pancakes.  They're all great recipes!  Still, my son kept telling me how someone he knows makes "the fluffiest pancakes ever".  Them's fightin' words, for a momma who wants to please her grown son!

I recently renewed my membership to the Cooking Club of America. I'm not getting paid to promote them, but I have to say that the $15.00 a year price is worth the magazine.  They have improved their website, and their recipes are really great!  I actually got to test a couple of products* (which I'll blog about soon), so you might want to go ahead and try joining them.  *A few years ago, when I first became a member, I didn't get products to test, so don't join expecting that. I was pleasantly surprised. It's the magazine that interested me, and I think you'd like it.  --End of unpaid testimonial--

Back to pancakes-- what made me decide to make this particular recipe is that it uses both buttermilk and whipped egg whites.  Okay, I was game.  It only took about 15 minutes for me to make the batter. Of course, having a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer on my counter makes it easier. Otherwise, I'd add an extra five or ten minutes, if you have to dig out the hand mixer.

The dry ingredients are pretty standard-- flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk them together and set aside.

...separate three eggs.  Add 1/4 cup sugar to the egg yolks and whisk. Next, add 2 cups buttermilk, and 6 Tablespoons melted and cooled butter. 

Mix together until combined. Some lumps are okay. Don't over-mix the batter!  Beat egg whites in small bowl at medium speed 1 to 1½ minutes or until soft peaks form.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lemon Chicken Breasts. "How Easy is That?"

Springtime and Lemons.  Works for me!   Thanks to my husband's efforts to nurture and take care of our Eureka and Meyer lemon trees, I can enjoy one of my favorite citrus flavors.  I've been enjoying this season's shows on Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa" because she is featuring recipes from her recently released cookbook "How Easy Is That?" 

This particular cookbook become one of my favorite choices when I am searching for inspiration for quick and flavorful meals.  As Ina promised, this is a very easy recipe to make, and my whole family loved it.

We have an herb garden, and our thyme is thriving.  you also need fresh garlic-- like 9 cloves!

Begin by zesting 2 lemons, and finely chopping the garlic.  Next, squeeze 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and set that aside. You need 1/4 cup of olive oil. Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute but don’t allow the garlic to turn brown.

 Off the heat, add 1/3 cup dry white wine, lemon zest, dried oregano*, thyme, and 1 teaspoon sal. *Ina says that fresh oregano would be too overpowering.

...add the lemon juice.

Here is where I took a small detour from the recipe.  I used chicken breasts, bone-in, instead of Ina's suggested boneless chicken breasts.  Why?  I was being cheap thrifty, and decided that I didn't want to pay for boneless chicken.  After seasoning the chicken, I quickly seared them, because I wanted to be sure to have a nice brown color.

Otherwise, skip this step and pour the sauce into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish.

Then, pat the chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.

Cut the lemon in 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned.

 The aroma will make your family run to the dinner table.  Note: If the chicken isn’t browned enough, put it under the broiler for 2 minutes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices.

 I served this with brown basmatti rice and steamed broccoli.  Delicious!

TASTING NOTES:  Next time, I'll pay extra and use boneless chicken breasts. De-boning and slicing the chicken was a bit of a hassle for me!  Plus, the presentation is much prettier with boneless chicken breasts.  I also realized that this recipe reminded of another Ina Garten recipe I've made before-- Baked Scampi!

This is a great weeknight family dinner, or can be fancy enough for a dinner party.  How easy is that?

A printable recipe is at the very  bottom of this page.

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