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Mystery Food Week 8: Summer Ragout edition

22 Jul

Before we get down to the joy of Mystery Food, I want to express my joy and thanks to all of the family and friends-that-are-like-family in Pittsburgh who made the July Birthday Extravaganza so wonderful. I enjoyed it this much:

(Special thanks to Rendezvous for letting me make a guest appearance!)

Onto the tasty things…Mystery Food week 8 was summer in a box. It was perfect: 

I received yellow peaches, doughnut peaches, apples, summer squash, zucchini, apricots, sweet corn, and a basil plant.

Between all of the squash, fresh herbs popping up in my garden, and a can of amazing San Marzano tomatoes (thanks dad!) I started thinking, “Ragout, ragout, ragouuuuuut.”

Let’s talk about stew/ragout/ragu. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Stew? Neen, really? It’s been in the 90s in Arlington for the last few weeks and you’re thinking about warm, fuzzy-sweater-cozy stew?” And while I’ll confess that what I’m about to present is a hot meal, I’ll argue to the end of the world that there is no better time to have it than in summer. The squash is perfectly sweet and tender, complemented by warm notes from bacon and cayenne pepper, all brought together in a sea of tomato-basil goodness. All it requires is some chopping and one pot. So without further ado, here’s…

Neen’s Summer Ragout

-One summer squash, diced.
-One zucchini, diced.
-6 or 7 Roma tomatoes, chopped or one can of San Marzano tomatoes.
-2 ears worth of sweet corn kernels.
-2 spring onions (or one medium white/yellow onion).
-3 small cloves garlic, minced.
-1 slice thick-cut bacon.
-1-2tbsp. grape seed or olive oil.
-A few splashes of white wine (optional).
-A few strips of dried cayenne pepper, diced (or cayenne powder to taste).
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-5 or 6 sprigs of lemon thyme leaves.
-Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
-Grated parmesan cheese, to garnish.

-Place the slice of bacon in the pot over medium heat until it is cooked through and the fat has rendered out.
-Remove the bacon and dice it.
-Add the onions and garlic to the pot, add a little bit of oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low.
-Cook until the aromatics are golden-brown. Add the diced bacon.
-Move the pot off of the heat and add a few splashes of wine, then return the pan to the heat and turn it up to medium.
-Add the zucchini and summer squash and sauté gently for about 7-8 minutes.
-Add the tomatoes, corn, cayenne, herbs, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
-Put the lid on the pot, reduce the heat so that the ragout is simmering gently. Cook for 1 hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so, and cook until the squash is soft, but not mushy. Remember to taste and adjust your  seasonings along the way!
-Garnish with a bit more basil and some parmesan cheese if you like. Voila!

I ate mine as it was, but ragout certainly goes well over pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. Ground turkey breast, browned and put into the pot when the tomatoes are added is another nice way to make a heartier meal. It also freezes/reheats nicely—always a bonus.

Finally, remember that watermelon plant that I mentioned was taking over my garden like a kudzu vine? It’s been covered in little yellow flowers with no signs of fruit. This morning, I found this:

Cutest. Watermelon. Ever.

There are four of them, each about the size of a kidney bean at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get one or two that ripen fully.

Ciao for now!


Warm and Wonderful

25 Sep

Fall is in the air! I actually needed a sweater yesterday and this morning. My office is always a little icy, so I keep a cardigan there, but today called for one right out of the door. I’m certainly not complaining. The days are pleasant here and I’m looking forward to a temperate autumn.

The crisp air did, however inspire me to make a very cozy Roasted Cauliflower, Leek, and Garlic Soup that came out rich, creamy, and at a mere 70 calories per cup. Read on…

Cast of Characters

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 head of garlic, cut so that the cloves are exposed
3 leeks, (white/light green part only) sliced thick
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
3 bay leaves
A few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh parsley, basil, or basil puree for garnishing

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place a baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil if you have it) on the middle rack.

While the oven/baking sheet are heating up, toss the cauliflower, leeks, and garlic with the oil, salt, and pepper. Once the oven is preheated, spread the mixture onto the baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and set the garlic aside. Pour the other vegetables into a large saucepan (this is where that aluminum foil comes in handy!) and add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, (about 5 minutes) squeeze the garlic out of its paper and add it to the soup. Discard the paper. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the leeks and cauliflower are very tender.

The next step has several options. You can use either an immersion blender, countertop blender, or a food processor to puree the soup. I used my countertop blender and did it in two batches. Once pureed smooth, return the soup to the saucepan and stir in the milk. Taste and add seasoning if necessary.

Serve warm with a basil or parsley garnish. I can’t emphasize enough how much more flavor those vegetables have just from the roasting. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month. My batch is frozen into 5 small containers for afternoon snacks or as a side dish alongside roast chicken breast or pork chops.

What popped into my head upon tasting this was that you could make this a healthier substitute for mashed potatoes by using a lot less liquid, (say 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup milk) and then processing to your personal desired consistency.

This recipe was adapted from Clean Eating Magazine’s most recent edition. Since they only publish 6 times a year, it included a special section on how to make a clean, healthy Thanksgiving meal. I was a bit doubtful at first, but after tasting that soup I can honestly say it would compliment a roast turkey excellently. Maybe I’ll bring some to Thanksgiving dinner this year…

I’ve been making so much soup lately that my freezer is absolutely packed to the brim. Consequently, I’ve been eyeing pressure canners on Amazon and waiting for a good sale. I have a hot water canner (great for tomatoes and fruits), but without pressure the water can’t get hot enough ensure the destruction of scary bacteria that could spoil low-acidic foods. I have nearly two cases of mason jars waiting to be filled and it would be a shame if they were left so lonely.

Plus, who doesn’t want a cupboard full of homemade soup? Living in Boston made me realize the importance of having a well-stocked pantry. I don’t know about you, but going to the store when the temperature is in the negatives isn’t my idea of a fun time. I think I’d rather curl up on the couch with some warm soup/stew, Joe, and Dioji. That sounds much better.

Okay, enough out of me for today. I hope everyone is having a great week—it’s almost the weekend! Joe and I have errands to run on Saturday (and I have schoolwork), but Sunday will hopefully be full of football and relaxation. Hooray!

Ciao for now, friends!

A Bowl of Goodness and a Great Team

29 Aug

Howdy folks! It’s been a very busy week here with school starting, but I’ve still had some time to play in the test kitchen as well as draft another great (in my humble opinion) fantasy football team.

If you liked my Chicken, Greens, and Beans Soup, you’ll probably really like this one too. I really needed to clean out my fridge, so I just used what was hanging around. To be honest, that’s one of the best ways to make a great soup. Leftovers can become something awesome. Without further ado, here’s Shrimp Veggie Bean Soup for your enjoyment.

Cast of Characters

16 oz. peeled, deveined raw shrimp

3 cups baby spinach

8 oz. diced mushrooms

3 slices pre-cooked bacon

1 head of broccoli, chopped

3 green onions, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 cups of vegetable broth

16 oz. canned diced tomatoes

16 oz. can of navy beans

16 oz. can of great northern beans

Begin by heating 1-2tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat and sautéing the mushrooms and garlic. When the mushrooms have given up some juices, add the green onion, bacon, and broccoli. Sautee everything over medium-high heat until the vegetables are just tender.

Add the vegetable broth, beans, and diced tomatoes and allow the soup to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add the spinach one cup at a time, allowing each addition to wilt slightly before adding the next. Allow the soup to simmer for 2-3 minutes and then finally add the shrimp. Once the shrimp turn opaque (2-3 minutes) the soup is done! Serve alongside warm bread or parmesan crackers (for you carb watchers).

The recipe makes nine 1 cup serving with each one containing 133 calories, 2 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of protein. Mangia, mangia!

It’s been a very soup-y week. Between the chicken soup, shrimp soup, and a batch of turkey chili, I’ve been eating comfort food for nearly every meal (not that I’m complaining). It’s really helped to have those dishes frozen and ready to go anytime.

It’s going to sound weird, but I really like to have the chicken soup for breakfast. I really can’t pass up a day-starting meal with so much protein. It energizes me and allows me to work more effectively and efficiently. Sometimes, I stop at a café near my work for a bottle of water in the morning and it can be really hard to ignore all of their delicious looking pastries. It’s less hard when I know I have something that’s tastier to look forward to enjoying.

So other than being a soup-making machine this week, I’ve spent most of my time getting a feel for my classes. Monday night however, we finally got to have our fantasy football draft and I think it went really well. Judge for yourself:


QB: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia

WR: Marques Colston, New Orleans

WR: Calvin Johnson, Detroit

WR: Hines Ward, Pittsburgh (I know, a total homer pick.)

RB: Steven Jackson, St. Louis

RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville

TE: Chris Cooley, Washington

K: Nate Kaeding, San Diego

D: Chicago

On the bench:

QB: Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay

WR: Patrick Crayton, Dallas

RB: Selvin Young, Denver

TE: Alge Crumpler, Tennessee

K: Phil Dawson, Cleveland (EW. Cleveland.)

D: Tennessee

I was much more vigilant about watching bye weeks this time around. I won’t have such a huge hole in this league’s team during one week. It looks like it’s going to be a really competitive one this year—everyone seemed really pumped up during the draft. The season opens next Thursday, so it’s about time to get excited!

Alright, well I’m off to watch some preseason football and maybe catch a bit of Sen. Obama’s speech at the DNC later (if our antennae can pick up the local station carrying it). I took tomorrow off, so I’m getting my holiday started early. I hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day weekend! I look forward to sharing any delicious creations or fun stories that come out of mine.

Ciao for now, friends!