Avgolemeno (Lemon Orzo Soup) with Homemade Hummus

Avgolemeno (Lemon Orzo Soup)

Avgolemeno is a traditional Greek soup made with a few simple ingredients: chicken stock, lemon juice, egg, and orzo (a type of small pasta). The first time I tried it was at a Greek restaurant in Seattle that probably doesn’t exists any longer. It was a cool old place on Capital Hill, the kind of mom-and-pop joint with murals on the walls, surly waiters, and a popular cheese appetizer that they would set on fire and yell “Opa!” In the years that I visited, I don’t think I ever ordered an entrée – I went strictly for the soup and hummus. It was a light dinner that I could count on to fill me up without weighing me down, and just the kind of meal I’ve been craving now that Spring is upon us. Both the soup and the hummus are very easy to make, low in calories, and high in flavor.

Avgolemeno (Lemon Orzo Soup)

Serves 4

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup orzo
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, from about 2 lemons (see How To for the best juicing method)
  • 2 cups precooked chicken, shredded (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley (for serving)

In a large soup pan over medium heat, bring chicken stock to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add orzo to stock and allow to simmer until soft, about 18 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs and lemon juice until combined.

Once pasta has cooked, carefully ladle about ½ cup of soup into the egg mixture, while whisking constantly. (This is called tempering. Eggs harden when they cook, so you need to slowly increase the temperature of the egg to keep it from scrambling.) Repeat with a second ½ cup, whisking constantly.

Remove the soup from the heat and slowly pour in the tempered egg mixture, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes.

If you’re adding chicken, now is the time to do it. Stir until warmed through, about 2-3 minutes.

Ladle into preheated bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Homemade Hummus

Hummus is an excellent source of protein, and tastes great when spread on sandwiches, mixed into salads, or used as a dip for  veggies and pita bread. Sure, you can buy good hummus at the grocery store, but why would you when it takes 5 minutes and a food processor to whip some up at home?!

Hummus

  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, 2 Tbsp. canning liquid reserved
  • ¼ cup tahini (see Notes)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice (from about ½ a lemon)
  • 2-3 gloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika, plus more for serving
  • 1 tsp. fresh chopped parsley (for serving)
  • Assorted cut vegetables, Greek olives, and pita bread for serving

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except parsley. Blend until smooth and creamy and no chunks remain, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with paprika and parsley. Serve with cut vegetables, Greek olives, and sliced pita bread.

Notes: Tahini is a sesame seed paste that can be found in most grocery stores, either with the peanut butter, or sometime in the ethnic food section.

How To:

Juice a Lemon

Hand squeezing citrus (lemons, oranges, and especially limes) can be a frustrating ordeal. Up until a few years ago I was cutting the fruit in half, then using a spoon to basically mash the pulp into submission, with varying success. It wasn’t until I attended a cooking demonstration at a wine festival (of all places) that I learned this fool-proof method.

1) Cut one end off of the fruit, about ¼-inch thick:

2) Cut 3 sides off the lemon, creating a triangle:

3) Set a strainer over a small bowl and squeeze lemon, end piece, and 3 side pieces until there is no more juice left in the fruit. Brilliant, right?!

Sidekick: With this light meal a dry white wine would work best, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio.

 

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Pesto Pastina Soup with Sourdough Grilled Cheese

I was watching the Weather Channel the other day (because that’s what plays in the locker room at my gym), and I noticed how divided the country is in terms of temperatures this month. The East Coast is still getting slammed with snow, yet the South is enjoying digits in the mid-80’s. The rest of us are somewhere in between; warm, sunny days immediately followed by cold, sleety days. So how, then, does a food blogger go about preparing a soup to satisfy our bipolar March climate? Well, it has to be versatile, that’s how. It needs to be a soup that’s substantial enough to take the chill off the brave souls on the Eastern Seaboard, yet one light enough for those of you already squeezing into bikinis (darn you!). I started rummaging through my dusty mental card catalogue of soup recipes, when suddenly it hit me: Ah ha! Pesto Pastina! Pastina, (literally meaning “tiny dough”) is any variation of small pasta. Pretty much any shape will work in this recipe, and I found some fun ones while perusing the pasta aisle at the grocery store (stars, the alphabet, little squiggly guys). The pastina adds a little bit of starch without making the soup too heavy, and the pesto adds a low-calorie punch of flavor. (Also, this soup can also be adapted for vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the recipe.) { Arancini di pepe pastina, or “little peppercorns” } Pesto Pastina Soup Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • ⅓ cup dry pastina, any shape
  • 2 cups pre-cooked chicken (either reserved from chicken stock recipe or store bought)
  • 3 Tbsp. pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
  • Fresh grated Parmesan for serving
  • 4-6 lemon wedges for serving

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and onion starts to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add pastina, partially cover, then continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add chicken and pesto and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into pre-heated bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing. VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS:

  • Replace chicken stock with vegetable broth (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • Replace chicken with a 15-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained

Pesto Homemade pesto is delicious and easy to make. This recipe yields a little more than you need for the soup, but that’s okay, because you can use the extra to add flavor to other dishes: spoon a tablespoon or two into cooked pasta, or smother some on chicken for a quick and tasty meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper.  *Tip: To freeze, line individual compartments of an ice cube tray with small pieces of plastic wrap  (allow a little extra to hang out the top). Fill compartments with 1 Tbsp. of pesto, and place in the freezer until solid. To release, pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, and peel it from the pesto cube. Place cubes in a freezer bag and freeze for 3-5 months. When ready to use, drop 1-2 pesto cubes into hot pasta and stir until dissolved, or thaw and spread over grilled meat or bread.

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Grilled cheese is an awesome partner to soup, but why settle for the plain old white-bread-American-cheese version when you can easily prepare something more interesting. Switch up the bread to sourdough, and use a few different cheeses. Follow the directions below for ooey-gooey greatness! 

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 slices Colby Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Gouda cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese, divided
  • 4-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each piece of bread. Working in 2-3 batches, place bread on hot pan, and grill until golden brown. Flip one piece of bread and place a slice of each kind of cheese on top. Take a second piece of bread and place it grilled side down on the cheese, creating a sandwich. Repeat with other pieces of bread. Grill until golden brown, then flip and grill the second side of the sandwich until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Repeat with all sandwiches. Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a Gewürztraminer.

Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and Potato Soup

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Here it is, folks, the last of the last of the St. Patty’s Day meals. Although I’ve enjoyed the Irish recipes that we’ve dished up this month, I’m ready to retire my potato peeler for a while – and so is my waistline. This soup is a lighter version of the standard “potato leek” but it’s heavier on the leek than it is the potato, offering more flavor for less calories – and no cream added! If you like your soup super creamy (is that homophone getting old yet?) you can blend it to be smooth (like in the photo above), or leave bits of potato, leek, and celery. Regardless of how you dish it up, I think you’ll enjoy this tasty Irish soup. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ♣

Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tbsp. oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 celery stalks, with leaves included, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks), depending on preference of thickness
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream thinned with milk for serving (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped, for serving (optional)

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(I decided to add the garlic and bay leaf at the last minute so they didn’t make the family photo, sorry.)

Leeks: I always leave a hint (just a hint) of dark green parts on my leeks because it makes the soup greener (is that right?) Greener? More green? Anyway, you should use about this much leek…

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Leeks can hide dirt in their super thin layers, so after you slice them, it’s a good idea to swish them around in water to release any grim hanging on, like so…

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Celery: Nothing special about these guys, just chop them and include the leaves.

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Potatoes: Peel them, then cut them into ¼-inch slices. Cut the slices again into ¼-inch sticks, and finally cut the sticks into cubes. (I do the potatoes last so that they don’t turn that weird pinkish color as the sugars oxidize.) The progression of the potato…

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And the gang’s all here!

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Add butter and oil to a large soup pot set over medium-high heat, and cook until butter has melted. Add the vegetables and the crushed bay leaf, and sauté until soft, but not brown, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add 3 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork.

Purée soup with an immersion hand-blender right in the pot; or in two batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender until you’ve reached the desired consistency, either smooth or chunky. This is chunky…

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Return to pot and taste for seasoning. Thin with more stock if needed.

Ladle into preheated bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped chives and a drizzle of sour cream (or a sour cream shamrock – see How To below). Serve with dark Irish soda bread, or another hearty bread.

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How To: 

Making a sour cream shamrock is easier than it looks, here’s how you do it.

1) Thin sour cream with a little milk and stir until smooth.

2) With a small spoon, place 4 dots of sour cream in the middle of the bowl.

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3) Using a toothpick or bamboo skewer, drag one of the dots into the middle of the circle.

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4) Follow suit with the other 4 dots, dragging them to the center of the circle, forming the body of the shamrock.

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5) Continue to pull the sour cream downward, creating the stem of the shamrock.

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And violà!

Cheddar Ale Soup with Dark Irish Soda Bread and Mixed Green Salad

The Luck O’ the Irish to You! 

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March is here and that brings us one day closer to Spring (March 20th for those of you keeping track)! I’m sure everyone’s heard the old adage, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” which means we still have a few more weeks of crumy weather and comfort food to get through before the big (read sunny) payoff. So before you put away your crockpot and comfy pants and start pulling out your capris and old issues of Cooking Light magazine, we must first pay homage to St. Patty’s Day and all of the savory starches that hail from the great green country of Ireland.

Cheddar Ale Soup

This entire meal was incredibly quick and easy to whip up. I’m not exaggerating here; from the moment I started sautéing the veggies to when I had dinner on the table took less time than it did for my toddler to watch Toy Story 3 — her new favorite movie. (Time-Saving Tip: Make the bread first, then start the soup while the loaf is in the oven baking.) This soup can be easily adapted for vegetarians by following the “Vegetarian Modifications” at the end of the recipe.

Serves 6-8

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • ¼ cup butter (½ stick)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalks celery, diced, tops and leaves included
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1½ Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 12 oz. bottle lager-style beer
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipes in Homemade Stocks)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sauce (such as Louisiana or Tabasco)
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ tsp. baking soda

In a large Dutch oven or wide-bottom soup pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, let cool. Dice and set aside for garnish.

Add butter to pot with bacon grease and melt over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add flour and cornstarch to pot and stir until both have dissolved. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the flour/butter mixture begins to brown and bubble (this is called a roux). Add beer and stir to combine. Continue cooking until half of the liquid has reduced, about 3-4 minutes.

Add stock, milk, Worcestershire, hot sauce, chili powder, and salt & pepper. Stir to combine and reduce heat to medium-low. Bring soup to a simmer and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until starting to thicken. (Time-Saving Tip: While the soup is simmering, prepare the salad and make the dressing.)

With an immersion hand blender, purée soup directly in pot until smooth. Or alternatively, working in 2-3 batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot.

Add cheese and baking soda to soup and whisk until cheese has melted. The baking soda may cause the soup to foam for a few minutes, but it will return to normal once the cheese has melted. (Time-Saving Tip: If you have a smarty-pants husband like I do, don’t make the mistake of asking what causes baking soda to foam, otherwise you’re in for a 20-minute super boring explanation behind the science of sodium hydrogen carbonate, otherwise known as NaHCO3.) Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle soup into preheated bowls and top with a salty mound of diced bacon. (This last part is optional, but really, why would you omit the bacon?! Unless, of course, you’re a vegetarian, in which case you can skip ahead to the Vegetarian Modifications just below the delicious photo of bacon… right here )

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VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS 

Omit the bacon and replace with:

  1. 1 Tbsp. olive oil when sautéing the vegetables
  2. ½ tsp. smoked paprika with the stock, milk, Worcestershire, etc.

Sidekicks:

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  • This is kind of a no-brainer, but pair with a thick and creamy Guinness — or if you can find it, an equally creamy but not-so-dark Caffrey’s Irish Ale.
  • Nothing compliments cheese better than bread and apples. Serve this rich soup with dark Irish soda bread and a mixed green salad topped with crispy apple slices and creamy herb dressing.

Dark Irish Soda Bread 

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Irish soda bread is a dense bread that’s slightly sweet — making it perfect to sop up the remaining drops of Cheddar Ale Soup clinging to the sides of your bowl. (Recipe form cookbook author Elinor Klivans.) 

Dark Irish Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter, plus 1 Tbsp. softened butter for greasing the baking sheet
  • 1½ whole-wheat flour, plus more for the baking sheet
  • ¾ cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1 Tbsp. dark or light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 375°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with softened butter, then sprinkle lightly with whole-wheat flour; tap to discard any excess flour.

Combine both flours, brown sugar, caraway seeds, baking soda, and salt in the large bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Mix to combine on low speed; add the melted butter.

Combine the molasses and the buttermilk; then add to the mixer bowl, on low speed; beat for a minute or two, until a soft dough forms. Gather the dough into a ball and roll it around in the palms of your hands to smooth it; the dough will not be perfectly smooth. Form into a 6-inch circle OR an 8-inch long oval and place on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smooth-edge knife to cut an X in top of dough, 1 inch deep (for round loaf), OR a 5-inch long, 1-inch deep slash along the length of the oval loaf.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the bread feels firm and crisp and you can see that the bottom has browned when you lift it carefully. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Serve with a big hunk of softened butter and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Yum!

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Mixed Green Salad with Apples and Creamy Herb Dressing 

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This simple, flavorful salad of mixed greens and crisp apples is a perfect palate cleanser between spoonfuls of rich, cheesy soup.

Mixed Green Salad with Apples and Creamy Herb Dressing

Serves 4

For Salad:

  • 4-6 cups mixed salad greens
  • ½ apple (preferably Pink Lady, Fuji, or Honeycrisp), cored and sliced paper-thin with a mandolin

For dressing:

  • ½ cup Half & Half
  • 2 Tbsp. vinegar (preferably sherry or red wine vinegar)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 green onion, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh Tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Agave syrup or honey
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Divide salad greens evenly among 4 plates and top with apple slices.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together until combined. Pour over salads.

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Beef Phở

Beef Phở

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Beef phở (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup (typically made with beef although chicken and vegetable versions are also available), wide rice noodles, and served with a variety of garnishes. To me, there is nothing more comforting on a blustery winter day than sitting down to a steaming bowl of phở, slurping noodles off a pair of chopsticks, and feeling its warming effects spread to the ends of my fingers and the tips of my toes. The broth, steeped with spices and charred onions, is slightly sweet, highly flavorful, and wonderfully aromatic, which sets this soup apart from other “noodley” soups, as my toddler likes to call them. (If you don’t have time to make this somewhat labor intensive stock by hand, see the Shortcut at the end of the recipe for tips on how to quickly enhance store-bought stock.) Oh, and I promise next week’s soup will be an easy one. No really — chop a few ingredients, throw everything into a crockpot, then put your feet up and wait for the payoff! 

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(Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what phở is made of.)

Serves 6

 For the Stock:

  • 2 white or yellow onions
  • 1 hand of ginger root, about 6-inches long
  • 3 lbs. marrow bones
  • 2 lbs. oxtail
  • 1 lb. chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole star of anise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 oz. yellow rock sugar (see Notes) or 2 Tbsp. Sugar in the Raw (or granulated sugar)
  • ¼ – ½ cup fish sauce, depending upon taste
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

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(Pictured from top: beef bones, oxtail, chuck roast)

 For the Soup:

  • 1 lb. rib eye, skirt, or flank steak, thinly sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 cups oyster mushrooms
  • 1 lb. Phở noodles (see Notes)

Garnishes for Serving:

  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 3 cups bean sprouts
  • 1-2 cups fresh basil
  • 1-2 cups fresh cilantro
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Thai chilies (Very HOT!), serrano peppers (HOT!), or Jalapeños (kinda hot), thinly sliced
  • Chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Fish sauce and/or hosin sauce

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(A few phở garnishes.)

Directions:

Char Onions and Ginger

Charring the skins of the onions and ginger gives the broth an appealingly smoky quality that’s quintessential to phở. Follow one of these three charring methods:

  1. On an outdoor grill: Place onions and ginger over direct heat on high. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Over an indoor gas burner: Turn on exhaust fan. With a pair of kitchen tongs and working one at a time, hold onions and ginger over open flame until skins have blackened, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, 5-8 minutes. (If your kitchen tongs are metal, you may want to wear an oven mitt — trust me!)
  3. In an electric oven (pictured below): Turn oven on to broil. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined roasting pan and place on an oven rack set 3-4 inches below the broiler element. Allow the skins to become black, then turn, continuing to char on all sides, about 20-25 minutes.

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The onions and ginger should be very dark and burned on the outside, yet soft and slightly cooked on the inside. (I swear the photo below isn’t one of my kitchen catastrophes – I meant to do this!)

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Peel onions and ginger, rinsing off any blackened bits. Cut into quarters and set aside.

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Make Stock

Add beef and bones to a large stock pot. Cover with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Dump water, beef, and bones into a colander set in the sink, allow to cool slightly. Rinse stockpot clean of any residue. Run cold water over beef & bones, and gently scrub any scum from the surface. This will eliminate cloudiness, leaving you with a crystal-clear broth. Beautiful!

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Return beef & bones to stockpot and cover with 5-6 quarts water (20-24 cups). Add onions, ginger, spices, sugar, ¼ cup fish sauce, and 1 Tbsp. salt and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for at least 5 hours, and up to all day, skimming any fat that rises to the surface. (Do not allow to boil otherwise your stock may become bitter.)

Once stock is done simmering, remove onions, ginger, and spices and discard. Gently scoop beef & bones from stock and set aside. Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large storage container. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.

Carefully remove any meat and connective tissue from the bones and oxtail and place in a storage container, cover. Slice brisket and place in a separate storage container, cover. In a third storage container, add the beef chuck. Cover, and refrigerate all three. Discard bones.

After the stock has cooled overnight, use a slotted spoon to gently remove the layer of fat that has risen to the top, discard.

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You may end up with more stock and beef than you need for 6 servings. Both stock and beef can be refrigerated separately for up to three days, or frozen for 4-5 months (see tips on freezing stock in Homemade Stocks).

Make the Soup

Evenly divide garnishes (bean sprouts, lime wedges, fresh herbs, green onions, and chiles) among 6 small plates.

Microwave reserved beef until warm, and place in three separate serving bowls.

In a large stock pot, bring stock to a simmer. Test for seasoning and add more fish sauce and salt & pepper if needed.

Add mushrooms to stock and continue to simmer until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add thinly sliced beef (rib eye, skirt, or flank steak) to stock and cook for 1 minute, until rare.

Cook phở noodles per package instructions, strain and divide among 6 bowls.

Ladle stock, thinly sliced beef, and mushrooms into bowls over top of phở noodles.

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Place serving bowls of reserved beef on the table, allowing guest to add what they like. Serve with Sriracha, fish and/or hosin sauce, and a plate of garnish for each guest.

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Notes:

  • Yellow rock sugar can be found in many Asian markets or online, however, you can always substitute Sugar in the Raw or regular granulated sugar.
  • Phở noodles can also be found in many Asian markets, however, if they’re unavailable in your area, look for another style of Asian noodle (see examples pictured below). And if you’re really in a pinch, you can always use instant ramen noodles.

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Shortcut: In leu of making your own stock, add 12-16 cups of store-bought stock (about 2 cups per person) to a large stockpot. Add 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole star anise, 2-inches peeled and sliced ginger root, 6 whole cloves, 2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1-2 tsp. sugar, 2-3 Tbsp. fish sauce (plus more for seasoning later) and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Scoop out spices and discard. Continue with directions: Make the Soup.

Sidekick: The choice beverage selection with this slightly sweet, somewhat spicy dish is a Vietnamese beer (which can be hard to find), so try looking for other more commonly found Asian beers such as Sapporo. For wine drinkers, a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer or Riesling would also pair well.

Your best bet for finding a Vietnamese beer is at a local Asian Market or World Market.

Lobster Bisque for Valentine’s Day!

Lobster Bisque for Valentine’s Day!

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Lobster, with it’s high price tag, short refrigerator life, and fatty sidekick (butter!), tends to be a financial and dietary indulgent for many of us. Valentine’s Day is one of the handfuls of times that people are willing to spend the big bucks on this saltwater splurge (not to mention take the time to separate the delicate meat from it’s hardy shell). This year, why not try a more elegant approach to lobster and turn it into a rich, velvety soup. It’s decadent and creamy, and the best part is, you do all the cracking and cleaning in the kitchen, saving yourself messy hands, piles of shells, and swearing (in my husband’s case) at your nicely set dinner table.

Lobster Bisque

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There aren’t many recipes that I follow to a tee; I usually end up changing ingredients, altering amounts, and differing cooking methods, but this recipe is SPOT ON! No modifications necessary, unless, of course, you can’t muster the courage to handle a live lobster. In that case, substitute 2 uncooked lobster tails for the real deal. Note: Live lobsters can survive in the refrigerator for up to 24-hours, either in a plastic bag, or in a bowl of fresh water. Before cooking, place the lobster in the freezer for 30 minutes. This puts them in a hibernated state, making them easier to handle, and less intimidating to you. And, if it makes you feel any better, the first time I cooked a live lobster I wore workmen’s gloves and noise canceling headphones because I was sure I’d be able to hear it scream — it didn’t, and I looked ridiculous. (Recipe from Fine Cooking.)

For the broth:
  • 1 1-1/2- to 1-3/4-lb. live lobster, rinsed
  • 1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
For the bisque:
  • 2-1/2 oz. (5 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-1/8 oz. (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. cream sherry
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the broth:

In an 8- to 10-quart stockpot, bring 1-1/2 inches of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tsp. salt and the lobster, cover, and steam until bright red and one of the smaller legs twists off easily, about 18 minutes. Remove the lobster with tongs and reserve the steaming liquid.

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When the lobster is cool enough to handle, twist off the claws and the tail. Using a nutcracker, crack the knuckles and claws and push out the meat with your little finger or a pick. Set the tail on a hard surface and use your hand to press down and crack the shell; push out the meat. Slice the tail meat in half lengthwise and remove the black intestinal vein. Dice the meat from one claw and half of the tail and set aside for garnish. Coarsely chop the remaining meat. Reserve the shells.

Rinse out the tomalley (green matter) from the upper body. Split the body lengthwise and use your fingers to remove the innards. (If the lobster is female, you’ll see bright-red roe; leave it in the body for additional color and flavor.)

Use kitchen shears or a chef’s knife to break the body and reserved shells into 1- to 2-inch pieces and then use a meat mallet or a small pot to flatten them.

Measure the steaming liquid and add water to total 6 cups of liquid. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flattened shells and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to blister and their color intensifies, about 5 minutes. Add the liquid and 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.

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Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large liquid measuring cup. You should have 4 cups—if there’s more, boil until reduced to 4 cups; if there’s less, add water.

Make the bisque:

Clean and dry the saucepan and melt the butter in the pan over low heat. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, until golden and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Add the wine, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf; bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add the lobster broth and cook uncovered over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped lobster meat and simmer for 2 minutes to heat. Remove the bay leaf.

In a blender, purée the mixture in batches until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve back into the pot, pushing on the solids with a wooden spoon.

Stir in the cream and sherry, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook the bisque over low heat until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Serve the bisque garnished with the diced lobster meat.

Make Ahead Tips

The bisque and lobster garnish can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day. Reheat over medium-low heat before serving.

Sidekick: Both Valentine’s Day and lobster bisque call for uncorking a bottle of bubbly. My favorite is Veuve Clicquot Rosé, but if you’re not one for champagne, try a big, buttery Chardonnay instead.

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

Plan Ahead for Valentine’s Day

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Ah, Valentine’s Day; a day of love and romance, of cupids and hearts, of chocolates and roses. It’s also a day of frantically searching your closet for something red to wear, of purchasing last minute cards and gifts, and stressing about restaurant reservations that are almost impossible to snag unless you’ve planned 6 months in advance. So why not forget about all that craziness and enjoy a romantic evening at home with the one you love. Set the table, light some candles, and serve up a delicious, heart-warming meal.

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

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You don’t have to like beets to appreciate this soup. No really. My husband isn’t a fan of beets, and he loved it! So did my toddler, in fact, her comments were, “It’s pink! And pretty! And sweet!” This colorful soup is bound to get your heart-beet going! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) 

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

  •  2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium sized beets
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (red or white wine vinegar would work, too)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4-6 Tbsp, sour cream for serving (optional)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scrub beets clean, then wrap in tin foil. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut into ¼-inch cubes. Set aside. (See Tips*)

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, carrots, and celery until soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger root and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.

Add stock, beets, allspice, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and continue simmering for 30 minutes. Vegetables should be very soft. Add vinegar and salt & pepper and cook for another few minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Purée soup with an immersion hand-blender right in the pot; or in two batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return soup to pot.

Add heavy cream and heat, stirring until soup is creamy. Ladle into pre-warmed bowls, and top with a dollop of sour cream. Serve hot. (See How To* for instructions on making sour cream hearts.)

*Tips: Beets can stain hands, clothing, cutting boards, and light-colored sinks and countertops. To avoid turning everything in your kitchen red, wear kitchen gloves while handling beets, and peel over an open plastic bag set in the sink.

*How To: To make sour cream hearts, whisk sour cream in a small bowl until runny (you may need to thin with a drop or two of water). Gently place a drop of sour cream on the surface of the soup, either in the middle or in a series of small drops along the edge. Starting about a ¼-inch above the drop, slowly drag a bamboo skewer or toothpick through the center of the drop, swooping away, creating a tail.

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Sidekicks:

  • Serve this elegant and slightly sweet soup with a glass of sparkling Rosé; my favorite is Veuve Clicquot Rosé (pictured below).
  • A spinach salad with strawberries, almonds, and pomegranate vinaigrette not only looks stunning next to this soup, but the bitter greens and tangy dressing also offset the sweetness of the beets (recipe follows).

IMG_1834 Vueve Clicquot Rosé

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

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To make strawberry hearts, use a sharp knife or strawberry huller to carefully remove stem and hull from strawberry. Cut strawberry lengthwise in ¼-inch slices, then use knife to round tops, creating a heart.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad:

  • 8 cups spinach
  • 2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries, about 6-8 strawberries
  • ½ cup slivered almonds

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. agave syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice (preferably Pom Wonderful)
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4

Wash spinach and pat dry, and place in a large salad bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified.

Dress spinach with vinaigrette and divide evenly onto serving plates. Place strawberries on each salad, then top with slivered almonds (dividing evenly).

Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction, Fried Sage; Open-Face Tuna Melt

Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction and Fried Sage Leaf
Served with Tuna Melt Toast and Arugula Salad

Zesty Tomato Soup with Balsamic Reduction and Fried Sage

This is one of my all-time favorite soup recipes. My mom used to serve a version of this every Christmas, and after a while, the family started referring to it as, “Christmas Soup.” The recipe has evolved over the years with the addition of orange zest and balsamic vinegar, and is now no longer relegated to being served exclusively on December 25th. (Note: the recipe can easily be adapted to suit a vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken stock.)

Serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
3 fresh sage leaves finely chopped
28 oz. can peeled whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 ½ tsp. freshly grated orange zest (about 1 large orange)
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
6 oz. can tomato paste
8 whole cloves
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 ¼ cup whole milk
2 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°. In a large glass baking dish, combine onion, celery, carrots, garlic, orange zest, chopped sage leaves, bay leaves, drained tomatoes, and olive oil. Season with 1 tsp. salt and dot the top with butter cubes (Figure 1). Bake for 75 minutes, stirring half way through.

Figure 1 – Slow roasting tomatoes and vegetables

Slow roasted tomatoes

Remove baking dish from oven and let cool slightly. Find bay leaves and set aside. Pour tomato/vegetable mixture into a soup pot with ¼ cup reserved tomato juice, and using a hand blender, purée until smooth (or working in two batches, purée tomato/vegetable mixture and ¼ cup reserved tomato juice in a blender or food processor until smooth, then pour into soup pot). Use more tomato juice to thin if necessary.

Add tomato paste, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, 1 tsp. salt, fresh cracked pepper, whole cloves, and reserved bay leaves to tomato/vegetable purée. Simmer for 1 hour partially covered, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens. Add milk and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove bay leaves and whole cloves, discard. Season with more salt and pepper if desired.

When ready to serve, ladle soup into pre-warmed bowls, drizzle with balsamic reduction and top with a fried sage leaf.

Balsamic Reduction:

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 sage leaf
2 whole cloves

In a heavy sauce pan, bring all ingredients to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer, watching closely, until liquid is reduced to ¼ cup, about 30-40 minutes. Pour reduction through a fine-mesh sieve and allow to cool before using.

Fried Sage Leaves:

Fried Sage Leaves

6-8 fresh sage leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Gently place sage leaves in oil and fry until leaves stop bubbling and are crispy but not burned, about 8-10 seconds. Transfer leaves to a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.

Sidekicks: 

  • Consider serving a cup of Zesty Tomato Soup with an Open-Face Tuna Melt: Slice French bread on the diagonal. Drain a 12 oz. can of tunafish and combine in a bowl with ¼ cup mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce, and 1 finely chopped shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Spread a heaping spoonful of tuna mixture on the bread, and cover with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. Place slices on a cookie sheet and broil until cheese has melted and is bubbly at the edges. Top with a handful of arugula dressed with equal parts olive oil and white wine vinegar, season with salt and pepper and enjoy!
  • This soup pairs well with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Shortcuts:

  • Substitute store-bought stock for homemade stock.
  • Instead of roasting tomatoes and vegetables in the oven, replace 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes with a 28 oz. can of fire roasted whole peeled tomatoes. Start by sautéing the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in butter and oil directly in your soup pot. Once vegetables are soft and starting to brown, about 10-15 minutes, add the drained tomatoes, orange zest, and herbs. Cook for 15 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before following the instructions on puréeing.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

This is the time of year when many of us fall ill with the flu, so this season, instead of downing a bottle of NyQuil ®, why not treat your symptoms the way our grandmothers did – with chicken soup!

Serves 6-8

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, diced (about 1 small onion)
2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds (about 4 carrots)
1 ¼ cup celery, sliced (about 4 celery stalks)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. Kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
2 tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. celery salt
1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc
8 cups homemade chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh oregano, plus 2 Tbsp. chopped oregano leaves for serving
2 cups reserved chicken from chicken stock recipe, chopped, mix of white and dark meat
2 cups dry egg noodles
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until butter has melted. Add onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until veggies have softened and onions become translucent but not brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add dry mustard, celery salt, 1 tsp. Kosher salt, and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 2-4 minutes.

With a 4″ piece of cotton kitchen twine, create an herb sachet (sachet d’ épices) by tying together bay leaf, and sprigs of parsley, thyme, and oregano (Figure 1). Add chicken stock and sachet to soup pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered.

Figure 1 – sachet d’ épices

Sachet

In a separate pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil with 1 tsp. salt. Once boiling, add egg noodles and continue to cook until noodles are al dente, about 5-8 minutes. Pour noodles into a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

After the 30-minute simmer is completed, add chicken and noodles to soup pot and continue to simmer for an additional 20-30 minutes. Remove herb sachet from pot and season with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, ladle soup into pre-warmed bowls and top with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh chopped oregano.

Soup can be stored in refrigerator for 3-5 days and frozen for up to 3 months.

Note: After refrigeration, the soup may accumulate a layer of fat on the top, remove with a slotted spoon and discard before reheating.

Sidekicks: 

  • There’s probably not a person in the world who would argue that the best accompaniment to chicken noodle soup is a good old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich – my recommendation is using a couple pieces of sourdough bread, unsalted butter, and a slice each of sharp cheddar and Muenster cheese.
  • Serve with a glass of Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a meal to beat any ailment!

Shortcuts:

  • Replace homemade chicken stock with store-bought stock.
  • Instead of using reserved chicken from stock recipe, buy a pre-roasted whole chicken (found in the deli department of most grocery stores), cut meat away from bone and dice. Use 2 cups for soup, then reserve remaining chicken for another use.