Is bread pudding really a salad? Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding

By Michael Elmore

Sadly, the answer is no. At least, not a healthy salad. But fear not, methods abound to lighten up this Southern classical dessert and spruce it up for summer as well. As strawberry season nears its end here in Virginia, what better way to pair up the classic combination of strawberry and rhubarb than a bread pudding?

While not healthy, this dish makes some critical substitutions from most recipes. First, you’ll notice there’s not as much sugar. We are going to rely on some overripe strawberries rather than sugar to make up the difference. You’ll also note that we don’t use whole milk or heavy cream – both of which would make this dish richer, more decadent, and delicious, but we sacraficed some of this to make the dish lighter.

Also, we didn’t have ice cream, but certainly feel free to make any of these substitutions back (the cook’s note beneath the recipe will list how to make the heavier version substitutes).

So let’s grab some strawberries, and make this (non-)salad!

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • 3 stalks rhubarb (warning: discard any leaves and the ends – the leaves are toxic)
  • 6 cups of day old bread of preference, cubed or torn into thick chunks
  • 1 ½ cups 1% milk
  • 1 ½ cups half and half
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Slice the rhubarb into small pieces, add to the strawberries, and toss with the two tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla. Set aside in the fridge, covered.
  2. Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and set aside. In a small cooking pot, add the milk and half and half, along with the pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, being careful not to scald the mixture. While waiting for the mixture to heat in another large bowl, add the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Beat together until light and fluffy. Once the mixture is simmering (but not scalded), turn off heat. One ladle at a time, whisk the hot mixture into the eggs while whisking to temper the eggs. Repeat until 1/3 of the mixture has been added to the eggs in this fashion, continuing to whisk the entire time to avoid the eggs scrambling. (Tip: if your eggs do scramble at any point, use a fine mesh sieve to retain as much of the custard mixture as you can). Slowly add the remaining mixture to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the mixture back to the sauce pot and put heat back to medium high. Stir frequently until the mixture thickens and holds on a spoon (approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Pour the mixture over the bread. Let soak at least 15 minutes up to an hour (if waiting more than 15 minutes, put in the fridge after it cools).
  5. Add the strawberry and rhubarb mixture to the bread mixture and gently toss to incorporate thoroughly. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray and then add the mixture evenly to the dish. Let sit in the fridge at least one hour, covered, up to overnight.
  6. When ready to back, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes – 55 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Cook’s Notes:

If you want to use the more decadent recipe for a special occasion, bump up the sugar in the egg mixture to 1 cup, and replace the milk and half and half with whole milk and heavy cream, respectively. The custard mixture will be thicker at this point because of the increased fat content, just keep stirring so the eggs do not scramble!

Taking out the Take Out: Zucchini Lo Mein

By Michael Elmore

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It’s Monday evening. A long day of work finished, and the project of dinner
looms like a towering obstacle. Ordering take out may be your go to option in this weekday struggle, as it often was mine. Before my diagnosis of diabetes, I ate take out at least a couple of days a week. With the demands of long workdays and household tasks to also accomplish, it was an all too easy solution.

With this recipe, the preparation is done ahead of time on the weekend so
the entire meal on the weekday takes a mere 15 minutes to cook. A perk? It’s delicious – with some key, light substitutions, you can have a far healthier version of one of my favorites – chicken lo mein. Here, we replace the pasta with zucchini noodles and the hoisin sauce with a lighter mixture. An optional sprinkle of everything seasoning adds another twist.

We hope this recipe inspires you to take on take out and eases the weeknight
struggles!

Ingredients:

  • 6 zucchinis, ends removed
  • 6 carrots, peeled and stemmed
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 4 green scallions
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp siracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp everything seasoning

Directions:

  1. The day before cooking, use a spiralizer to make the zucchini into thin strips like noodles (you can also buy them already like this at the grocery store.
  2. Grate the carrots. Slice the scallions into ¼ inch pieces, omitting the white ends, and slice the red onions into thin half-moons.
  3. Cut the chicken breast in half and then into strips. Season with the vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, tossing well. Marinate overnight. Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, sriracha and broth, and put in the fridge in a separate container.
  4. The next day take all ingredients out of the fridge and get your mis-en-place ready (everything ready beside you).
  5. Heat a wok with 2 tbsp of sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir often but not too frequently until the chicken is mostly cooked. This will not take long. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and put in a clean bowl (do not use the same container you had the raw chicken in).
  6. Add the garlic and ginger. Sautée until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  7. Add the vegetables with a pinch of salt. Cook down, stirring frequently. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and mix to incorporate. Add the soy sauce mixture to de-glaze the pan, scrapping any brown bits.
  8. Add the zucchini, tossing well to incorporate. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until softened. If desired, add the everything seasoning, and toss to incorporate again.
  9. Plate and serve.

Chicken Taco Salad

By Michael Elmore

Hi, everyone! I know it’s been a long time since my last post. In October, I was diagnoised with diabetes. As a result, in the last few months, I had to focus on my health. I appreciate everyone’s support during this time, and while I am not entirely out of the woods, I am on the path next to the exit after losing 40 pounds from changing my food intake.

To that end, we’ve developed our new direction. We will journey into the depths of the deepest caverns of how to maintain the flavors that we love in comfort foods, while also making the dishes a bit lighter and healthier to enjoy!

We hope you’ll stick with us in this new direction and join us on this adventure! Today, as our launch post, we’ve developed a lighter take on a taco salad, and we are introducing our first video! So grab your spatula, and join us in our new beginnings!

Chicken Taco Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • ½ small red onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 scallions, sliced, omitting white parts
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine the vegetable oil, cumin, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt into a small bowl and mix into a paste. Coat the chicken with the paste and let marinate while the oven is heating or up to overnight (in the fridge if not making right away).
  3. Bake in the oven until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Use a thermometer to verify internal temperature.
  4. Take the cooked chicken out of the oven and let rest on a cutting board. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all the vegetables and toss to incorporate them well. In a mason jar, combine the lime juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste, and the extra virgin olive oil. Cover the jar and shake well until the vinaigrette has come together.
  5. Slice the chicken and add to the salad bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing – leftover dressing may be stored in the fridge. Serve and enjoy!

A Salut! to Salads

Salads. Let’s be honest, most of us avoid them at all costs. It’s hard to imagine a salad as comfort food, and without bacon, can feel like a throw away at the dinner table. Most salads tend to have the same old ingredients of Romaine lettuce (let’s not even get started on iceberg lettuce), tomatoes and maybe some onions.

Yet, despite this, salads may be one of the most underrated dishes on our tables. With the right ingredients and proper treatment of those ingredients, the boring salad may just become the star of the show, or at least a great supporting role for an entree.

One overlooked trick to salads is roasting the vegetables ahead of time. Here, we are sharing two salads that are great for any occasion. First up, an arugula and fennel salad that can complement great seafood. We served this with our Lobster Boil to great success.

The second salad features roasted beets and watermelon radishes. The roasting of these vegetables provides a depth of flavor that is lacking in their raw or pickled forms, providing for a sweet, earthy taste that can ground any salad. For this salad, we used a simple lemon vinaigrette.

Roasted Fennel & Arugula Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese (optional)
  • Shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is preheating, cut off the top of the fennel bulb and remove any tough outer layers (you can reserve the tops and use them to make an amazing stock).
  2. Slice the fennel in half, lengthwise and then slice half moons out of the two fennel halves.
  3. Place on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  4. Place in the oven for 55-60 minutes, or until fennel is tender with no resistance and fragrant.
  5. Take the roasted fennel out of the oven and allow to cool. These steps can be done a day or two ahead of time.
  6. In a large bowl, add the arugula, tomato, roasted fennel and goat cheese. Toss together gently to incorporate well.
  7. Take the dressing and with a spoon, pour some along the edge of the bowl all the way around. This will allow the dressing to also seep into the bottom to lead to a better dressed salad. Add another teaspoon or two over the center of the salad.
  8. Toss gently to dress the salad. Serve immediately.

Shallot Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • One small shallot, diced
  • 2 tbsp vinegar of your choice (we used a citrus champagne vinegar)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 6 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place the shallots and vinegar in a small bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify the mixture.
  3. Dress your salad or save for later in the fridge.

Beet & Watermelon Radish Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium beets
  • 1 large watermelon radish, sliced into half-moons.
  • 3 cups arugula
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • Lemon vinaigrette

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, place the beats onto a foil packet and lightly coat with olive oil. Close the packet up tightly. On a sheet tray, place the watermelon radish slices and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place both the beets and radishes into the oven (they can be on the same sheet tray), and roast for 55-60 minutes. Cook until the beets and radishes have no resistance when tested with a knife. The radishes may be done after 45 minutes depending on how large the slices are and varying oven temperatures.
  3. Once cooked, take out of the oven and allow the vegetables to cool. Once the beets are cool to the touch, peel them. The outer layer should come out easily now. Once peeled, slice the beets into half-moons. Steps 1 through 3 may be done a day or two ahead of time.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the beets, radishes, arugula and parsley. Toss gently. Add the lemon vinaigrette and toss gently again until well incorporated. Serve immediately.

Who you gonna call? Pan-Seared Cauliflower

By Michael Araj

Comfort food can encompass all measures of ideas and concepts. Of course, most of us gravitate to the usual stars of the show. Macaroni and cheese. Pot roast dinners. Steak and potatoes. These are, of course, all great items full of memories from childhood of home cooked meals, but not always attainable in our adult lives for various reasons.

I recently got some bad medical news requiring me to change my diet, and while it is certainly disappointing that steak and potato dinners will be greatly reduced in my near future, there are other ways to get those same feelings of nostalgia and comfort. Enter: pan seared cauliflower. With its steak-like shape, beautifully colored florets, and tender texture, one can still be satisfied with a great meal.

First, we trimmed the head to make a steak. One head can usually produce two steaks, but as we were in experiment stage, we only made one steak so as to use the rest of the cauliflower for other dishes.

Next, we seasoned the cauliflower before we pan-seared it.

After we pan seared it on both sides (we used a cast iron to give it more of a grilled feel and because the heat is evenly distributed), we drizzled some vinaigrette on with it. We also served it with some roasted watermelon radishes (coming soon!) and a lemon slice.

This recipe is quick, easy, and great for weeknight cooking. Plus side, it’s extremely healthy so you won’t have to feel guilty for going back for seconds!

Pan Seared Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower (white, purple, or other color)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • Parsley (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Cut the cauliflower to make two “steaks” out of the head (see picture), and trim off any greens.
  2. Coat each side of the cauliflower using one tbsp of the olive oil in total, and season with salt, pepper, and paprika (we went heavy handed on paprika because we love it so much)
  3. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high heat with the remaining olive oil. Once the pan is hot, sear the steaks on each side for approximately 4-5 minutes or until a knife pierces through easily with no resistance. Work in batches if needed.
  4. While the cauliflower rests, make the lemon vinaigrette.
  5. Plate the cauliflower, drizzle the vinaigrette on top and garnish with chopped parsley and a lemon wedge if desired. Serve immediately.

Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • Juice of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Place the lemon juice in a small bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil so as to emulsify the mixture.
  3. Once emulsified and incorporated, the dressing is ready to use. You can add shallots, or lemon zest in the first step to vamp up some new flavors. If the vinaigrette is too bitter for your liking, try adding a teaspoon of honey with the lemon juice.

Jambalaya Jams

Jambalaya. You can reserve the lobster heads from the seafood boil, clean them out and use them for garnish.

By Michael Araj

We had a lot of leftover Lobster Boil. With fall being the season of transformation, we deiced to transform the boil as well. I had also been craving food from my adventures in New Orleans after coming across some Beignet mix from Cafe du Monde. Few dishes symbolize the festive city as much as jambalaya with its unique cajun flavors, smoked Andouille sausage, and fresh sea food. Here, we play off those key characteristics to transform one great dish into another.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long grained rice
  • Leftover lobster boil, particularly sausage links
  • 8 cups of seafood stock (if you have leftover broth from the boil, you can use this)
  • 1 small can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Cajun Spice (we make our own with cayenne, dried basil, salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and dried thyme)
  • Cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • Lime wedges, for garnish

Directions:

  1. For preparation, take the leftover seafood boil and separate the seafood out into a bowl. Take the mussels out of their shells, take the tails off the shrimp, shell any remaining lobster.
  2. Take the corn on the cobs and cut the corn off the cobs and add the corn to the seafood bowl.
  3. Take the sausage links that are left over and cut them into slices and put them in a separate bowl. If there are leftover onions or garlic, you can add these to this bowl also.
  4. In a large pot, sauté the onions, sausage and garlic in heated olive oil over medium high heat.
  5. Once the sausages are caramelized after approximately five minutes, add the rice.
  6. Stir well and toast the rice for approximately two minutes.
  7. Add all the remaining ingredients except the seafood and bring the stock up to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
  8. Once simmering, cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes. Test the rice. It should be tender yet with a bit. Cook longer if needed.
  9. Add the seafood, stirring it in gently. Cover off heat for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.
  10. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Serve immediately.

Getting Curried Away: Thai Lobster Curry

By Michael Araj

When we made our Lobster Boil, we had Loki the Lobster Queen leftover who was simply too big to fit into the pots with the remaining lobsters. As a result, we experimented with making a Thai inspired curry. Fragrant aromas of garlic, chili and coconut will make your kitchen transform into the coast of Thailand. Sweet, spicy and acidic, the sauce compliments the subtle sweetness of the lobster without overwhelming it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, stems cut off
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 3-5 mussels
  • 1 lobster, approximately 2 lbs
  • 1 cup water
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a mortar and pestle, ground the garlic and peppers to make a paste. To help with friction, add a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add the shallots. After they soften, add the paste. Once fragrant after approximately 30-60 seconds, add the coconut cream and stir.
  3. Once simmering, add the lobster and cover. Steam the lobster for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Add the water to the mortar and stir to get the excess oils.
  5. Uncover the pot and add the mortar water. Flip the lobster, cover again for approximately another 10-15 minutes until the lobster is red and mostly cooked. Add the mussels, and baste the lobster with the sauce from the bottom of the pan, approximately another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the lobsters and mussels to another plate. Put the sauce into your serving platter, then put the lobster and mussels on the platter.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

Under the Sea: The Grand Birthday Lobster Boil

By Michael Araj

It was my birthday last week, and my parents surprised me with a cooler of live lobsters. Those who know me know that I try to cook with new ingredients often (read: at least weekly) so I can learn about new ingredients and methods of cooking (and just in case I ever make it onto Chopped on Food Network). Despite this, I had difficulty a month back finding anywhere in my vicinity that sold live lobsters, but my parents came to the rescue in a big way.

I opted to make a Lobster Boil as I had been informed we would be having company over, and the recipe below follows. Few meals are as inclusive as a seafood boil – friends and family huddled over a mass of shared, delicious food can be the ultimate comfort food experience.

I then used the shells to make a lobster stock for Jambalaya, and that recipe will be posted later on separately. I did also take one Lobster and make a Lobster Curry, and I’ll share that recipe as well. I also apologize for the lack of photos – this was not originally intended to be on the blog, but enough people have expressed interest in how to do it that thought I would share!

Before we get started though, I want to say hello and thank you to our new followers. We’re happy to have you here!

So here where the lobsters that starred in the show:

Pictured here: Loki, Thor, Paul, and Dean, chilling on some ice and getting some rest.

Later on, we grabbed the pot and started pouring the liquids and first ingredients:

Add the onions, garlic, potatoes and the rest of the ingredients from Step 1 to the pot.

Next came the corn:

Due to the unseasonably hot weather here, we still have corn available!

Then, it was time for the seafood:

The heat started to open the mussels fairly quickly.

Let the feasting begin!

LOBSTER BOIL

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic – all cloves peeled and crushed (not chopped)
  • 8 Yukon Gold Potatoes, halved
  • 3 Thai chilis, sliced
  • 3 Mexican Style Beers of your choice (If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute seafood stock).
  • 2 links of Turkey Sausage (We had some dietary restrictions with our company, but you could easily substitute Andouille or Kielbasa sausages, and if you eat pork, would recommend doing so). Cut these into about 1.5 inch pieces.
  • 4 ears of corn, husked and cut into 3 pieces of each for a total of 12 small cobs.
  • 5 live medium lobsters (about 1-1.5 pounds each)
  • 4 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 pounds of shrimp, under 16, cleaned and deveined (alternatively, use frozen but make sure that they are cleaned and deveined as well)
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • Limes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, potatoes, chili peppers, and sausages in a large pot. Place 4 cups of water and both beers on top.
  2. Place pot on medium high heat to bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the corn. Cover pot and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together. You may want to make a double batch so you can sprinkle the mixture on top of the boil later.
  4. After 15 minutes has elapsed, add half the spice mixture over the ingredients already in the pot, then add the lobsters. Cooking time for lobsters will vary. We followed these guidelines to make sure that we treated the lobsters humanely before putting them in the pot: https://www.thespruceeats.com/ways-to-kill-a-lobster-1808804.
  5. After you add the lobsters, cover the pot. For the lobsters, you will need about 20 minutes for the first pound, and about 7 minutes per pound after. So after 20 minutes, add the mussels and shrimp and cover the pot again. Add the rest of the spice mixture. The liquid should be simmering and steaming during all of this.
  6. Cook for about 7-10 more minutes depending on size of lobsters and check on pot. Mussels should be open at this point (discard and do not eat any unopened mussels) and shrimp should be pink and opaque.
  7. Strain the pot and make sure to reserve the broth. Lay out the seafood wonders onto prepared newspaper or parchment paper. Garnish with chopped cilantro, more of the spice mixture, and lime wedges. Serve immediately.

Falling into Autumn: Butternut Squash Stew

By Michael Araj

Despite the hot heat, fall has arrived with its abundance of autumn squashes and warm flavors, not to mention the colors. This warming stew keeps quite a while and increases in flavor the longer it melds. While it’s not a quick meal to cook during the week, it’s a great Sunday prep meal, freezes well, and can be eaten throughout the week.

As always, the first step is to get all your ingredients in place, or mise en place. This helps prevent me from looking like a chicken with its head cut off in the middle of my cooking since everything is ready to use.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Let’s heat up some oil and start cooking down the jalepenos, garlic and peppers!

Now time for the squash – the ultimate feel of fall. When you add the spices, after a few minutes, your kitchen should smell like a combination of all the flavors.

Time for the tomatoes and to cook down the squash since it will take less time than the beans to cook.

After the squash is mostly cooked, we add the beans, finish cooking the squash and then reduce the liquid.

Now we can enjoy our finished stew and celebrate the colors outside with those inside our bowls!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp jalapenos, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately another 30 seconds.
  2. Add bell peppers and stir well – this will prevent the garlic and jalapenos from burning. Cook approximately 4-5 minutes until peppers are softened slightly.
  3. Add the squash and stir gently to incorporate. Add the spices and stir again. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on medium heat to bloom the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to incorporate well – there should be a fair amount of liquid from the can which should also be incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Check on the squash – it should be softened but still not fully cooked with some resistance. Once at this point, add the beans. Cook another 15-20 minutes, covered.
  6. Check the stew and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed and desired. Cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered, so that the stew thickens.
  7. Serve immediately or let cool then store – the flavors will meld the longer they are together. Serve heated, garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge if desired. In the alternative, top with chopped parsley and finishing salt.

A Leeked Secret: Potato and Leek Soup

By Michael Araj

Sometimes a soul just needs a hearty soup to make it warmed. While better served in the winter, this soup can also be served chilled, and, because of the lack of cream, tends to be lighter than a typical potato soup would be. The leeks provide a subtle garlic-like note that plays well with the starchiness of the potatoes. Quick, easy to make, and delicious – there’s no bad time to sit down to a bowl of this.

We started out going through what we had on hand – some fingerling potatoes, a leek, freshly made vegetable stock, and thus the soup was born. We used fingerlings because that’s what we had, but we would have used Yukon golds had they been on hand instead. You can substitute the 20 fingerling potatoes for 2-3 large Yukon Golds.

Always get together your ingredients beforehand. The fancy term for this is mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), but it is useful to cook without scrambling for your ingredients while cooking.

We grabbed our Dutch oven because it makes for more even cooking, and I find soups work out better in here. Then cause those leeks to jump (i.e. sautee) before adding the garlic until fragrant. Yes, that’s a lot of garlic. We love garlic, call it an occupational hazard of having Middle Eastern parents. Then add the potatoes.

This will help bring out some of the natural flavors of all the ingredients and give them some dimension before we blend them into the soup.

Next, add the vegetable stock. Ours was homemade with mushroom stems and the tops of the leeks, but you can use whatever stock you prefer. If going with a store bought stock, just try to make sure it is as low in sodium as possible so that you have maximized control over the saltiness of the dish.

Simmer, but do not boil so that flavors develop and nothing overcooks.

Bring the stock to a simmer before reducing it to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Then, using an immersion blender, blend all of the ingredients – the thin skins of the potatoes will help thicken the soup. Simmer the blended ingredients for 5-10 more minutes and adjust seasonings to taste.

All that’s left now is to pour some in a bowl, top with some chives for garnish and flavor, and sit down to a hearty meal. This goes well with a light salad or some bread to use as sop (I’m a Southerner through and through).

Leek and Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 20 fingerling potatoes, diced (or 2-3 large Yukon gold potatoes, diced)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced into half moons (keep the tops of the leek for stock)
  • 1 quart stock of choice (we used homemade vegetable – recipe follows)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions, sweating them by stirring constantly so they do not caramelize. Add a pinch of salt – this will help draw out the moisture to soften the onions. Approximately 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, cooking another 30-60 seconds until fragrant.
  3. Add the potatoes, getting a sear on them. Continue to cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. Add a pinch of pepper.
  4. Add the stock, then bring it to a boil before reducing to a simmer. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients directly in the pot. If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, but work in batches, then return the soup to the pot after completely blended.
  6. Continue to cook the blended soup for 5-10 more minutes, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve immediately with garnished chives on top (optional).

Vegetable Stock

  1. Mix in 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the stems from a pound of mushrooms and the tops of any of the leeks. You can add any vegetable scraps that you have on hand (such as the bottoms of asparagus). This will add a subtle dimension of flavor to your soups. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer until mixture reduces to approximately 1 quart.