Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Braised Carrot Soup

After my success with cream of broccoli soup I’ve been on the lookout for other soup recipes to get my little girl to eat those pesky veggies. Hannaford’s free monthly in-store magazine recently featured an interesting looking braised carrot soup recipe that met my requirements for cooking: short ingredient list and few steps. Carrots are another one of those veggies that Little Missy used to eat at the puree stage but has refused since then, no matter what form they took. Given that I had everything needed already in my pantry, this recipe was definitely worth a try. The recipe originally appeared in This Crazy Vegan Life by Christina Pirello and all ingredients are organic or natural, though I used regular stuff (perhaps I will write a post about the whole organic debate some day).

Braised Carrot Soup (serves 4, 25 minutes prep time)

4tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 tbs balsamic vinegar (can be pricey but I buy the cheapest stuff I can find at the grocery store)

1 ½ tsp sea salt, plus additional to taste, divided (I just used regular old table salt)

6-8 carrots, cut into small chunks

½ yellow onion, diced

2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (I used the red skinned potatoes already in my fridge)

Scant pinch of ground nutmeg

4 cups water

2 sprigs finely shredded fresh mint, leaves removed (the one item I do not stock, so I left this out, I substituted a shake of dried parsley)

· Process:
Place 2 teaspoons of oil, vinegar, and ½ teaspoon salt in large, flat bottomed skillet set over medium heat. Arrange carrots in oil mixture, avoiding as much overlap as possible.

· Cover skillet and listen closely for strong sizzle sound. When you hear this, reduce heat to low and cook until carrots are tender and liquid has become a thick syrup. 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size of carrots). I have to say here that there wasn’t much liquid to form a syrup. While the carrots were braising I peeled and diced the onion and potatoes.

· In large saucepan, place remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and diced onion over medium heat. When onion sizzles, add a pinch of salt. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add potatoes, nutmeg, braised carrots, and water. (I sautéed the potatoes for a few minutes before adding the carrots and water to allow carrots to cook completely and to develop some flavor in the potatoes. I also added a few shakes of curry powder to the potato onion mixture at this stage since I think carrots and curry make a wonderful flavor combination. Because the braising did not produce much liquid but definitely left lots of flavor on the bottom of pan carrot, I transferred the sautéed potatoes and onion into the carrot braising pan to make the most of those flavors. After adding the water, I added a tablespoon of no sodium chicken bouillon powder and a shake of dried parsley for even more flavor.)

· Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 5 minutes more.

· With ladle, transfer soup o food processor and puree until smooth. Return to pot and warm through. Serve garnished with mint.

This recipe produced a wonderfully flavorful, thick, deep orange soup. I would recommend serving it as a side with any meat dish. It can even make a nice complement to a sandwich or salad for lunch. The curry I added did not feature very prominently in the final product so in the future I’ll add even more, or even add some garam masala powder for a little more kick. Hubby’s one comment, which was preceded by, “well, you know I don’t eat soup,” was that it could use pepper. I added some freshly ground black pepper to my bowl, but left it out of the pot since I was making it for Little Missy and didn’t want to overwhelm her with the pepper.

Little Missy enjoyed the soup very much, and we even have a new word: soup! I think this soup could be replicated with a host of fall veggies like pumpkin or butternut squash and made more complex with the addition of other root veggies like parsnip and turnip and perhaps even some sugar free apple sauce or some diced apple at the sauté stage. One thing I loved about the recipe is that it does not call for cream or milk but still produced a nice thick soup thanks to the potatoes. I apologize for not having a photo to share. I certainly should have taken a picture of the carrots as they were braising as they developed a beautiful deep brown color from the balsamic vinegar. If you’re nervous about the vinegar, it is barely noticeable as a separate flavor but definitely adds some depth to the soup overall. If you’re adventurous you could try garnishing the soup with a drizzle of some good balsamic or olive oil. You could even add a dollop of sour cream if you wanted to make it richer, though it certainly is not lacking as it is. A final note about the prep time: the recipe says prep time is 25 minutes, but cooking time is around 45 minutes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Baked Tilapia Two Ways (Hint: There’s Gold Fish in this one)

My cooking has been sidelined lately after a gestational diabetes diagnosis, which requires a strict low carbohydrate, no sugar diet. I’ve never been one to read labels or think too much about portion sizes, so getting used to this new way of eating has been difficult to say the least. I can’t imagine subjecting my family to the same dietary restrictions as I have, so I am still trying to figure out how to cook for myself and the fam without going absolutely stir crazy. One thing I will say is this new diet has been a huge eye opener in terms of portion sizes and how much sugar is in everything. Apparently a serving of ice cream is just half a cup, basically what you get on one scoop! In the first weekend on this diet, I actually managed to lose a little over 2 pounds, mainly because I was so freaked out about the carbs that I wasn’t paying attention to getting enough calories. That is not the best thing for a pregnant lady! This meal of baked tilapia represents my first attempt at cooking for all of us and actually making real food for myself, as opposed to cottage cheese and vegetable sticks! As with many of my other meals, I relied on the contents of my pantry and freezer for this one. I’ve tried making baked breaded fish before and the breading has always tended to slip off the fish in a mushy mess. On a whim a while back I decided to try ground up Gold Fish Crackers instead of bread crumbs, and voila! The breading stayed on and actually tasted good too!

Baked Tilapia

Frozen tilapia loins

Extra virgin olive oil, approx 1 tbs

Ground up Gold Fish Crackers, cheddar flavor. Approx 1-2 tbs per tilapia loin.

Pepper to taste

1-2 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place frozen tilapia loins in baking or lasagna pan

Brush lightly with EVOO

Sprinkle ground up Gold Fish crackers on each tilapia loin

Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper on each loin (there is no need for salt as the crackers are salted)

Place little nubs of butter on each tilapia loin (you can leave this out if you wish. I have made the dish with and without the butter)

For extra flavor, you can sprinkle other spices or herbs of your choice on the fish

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the fish is tender and flaky

Since I’m not allowed to eat the breading, I covered my tilapia with lemon slices. This is a very nice alternative to the breading. The lemon kept the fish moist and delivered a nice fresh flavor to the fish.

I served the tilapia with baked butternut squash lightly sprinkled with brown sugar and pepper, quinoa cooked in chicken broth with peas, and roasted broccoli sprinkled with grated parmesan. The fish was well received by my daughter, and why not? She LOVES Gold Fish (she calls them Nemo). She wasn’t so keen on the quinoa and butternut squash though. I was not so surprised about the quinoa but she’s devoured the butternut squash before. Maybe I didn’t put enough brown sugar on it this time…I didn’t even try to give her the broccoli, which I made mainly for myself since the butternut squash would have been a no no with the sugar. I had never actually tried to roast broccoli before and I was pleasantly surprised by its nutty flavor compared to the typical steamed broccoli flavor. I prepared it by lightly brushing frozen broccoli florets with EVOO and sprinkling some black pepper on them. I added the grated parmesan when the broccoli came out of the oven.