Sunday, January 30, 2011

Andouille and Red Wine Soup

We've all had those small moments in our lives when we are so proud of ourselves that we can't help but jump up and down and give ourselves a high five. And when these priceless moments happen to us, all we really want to do is share that joy, that pride, that excitement with someone...anyone who will listen.

My moment came last Thursday evening when I decided that I wanted soup for dinner. I didn't have any sort of plan or recipe, I just knew I wanted soup.


When I found one, lonely, red potato, I decided to put him out of his misery and chop him up in little pieces and saute' him in a puddle of olive oil. Then I chopped up 4 stalks of celery, smashed 4 cloves of garlic, and threw them in the puddle as well. I placed a lid on top and let them mingle.

When I opened my fridge again, I noticed a big ol' Granny Smith apple staring me in the face. My first thought was..."Nobody puts apples in soup....that's weird." But before I knew it, I was cutting the apple and adding her to the pot as well. "Weird is good." I thought to myself.

"What do I do for protein? I could use beans, but I don't like beans....unless they're the green, string bean variety." And then I remembered that I had just purchased Cajun Style Andouille Smoked Sausage links, so beans were out and meat was in. Protein....CHECK!

Drinking red wine while cooking is always recommended, and since I already had a bottle in my hand........OOPS......a half a cup of it fell into the pot. I didn't want to use the whole bottle in the soup, so I poured in some beef broth.

I added some thyme for additional flavor, some diced tomatoes for color, and in a moment of mature, grown-up behavior I opened a can of White Northern beans and allowed a few fifty beans to drop into the soup. It felt good and bad all at the same time. It was hard to do, but I've got to learn to like beans....I've GOT TO!

When I couldn't find or think of anything else to add to my "souped up" soup, I placed the lid on top, turned the heat to low, and walked away for a couple of hours.


I returned to the kitchen at 8:53 PM wearing a proud smile on my face as the delightful aroma tickled my nose. I had a good feeling about this! I removed the lid, stirred the pot, grabbed a ladle, scooped it up, filled my bowl, found a spoon, loaded it up, took a whiff, took a taste, and....


MY moment.

.....that tiny little moment of accomplishment, of a job WELL done, of beautiful magic performed.

It. Was. Amazing! And even though no one was there to high-five me, I did a little dance, sang a little song, and laughed to myself over my apparent brilliantness. (Yes, it's a word)

Now, as we all know, most soups taste better the second day, but what I'll tell you about this little number is that on the night of it's conception, there were so many flavors bouncing around on the palate that it was like happy food fireworks. I could taste the wine, I could taste the apple, I could taste the Andouille, and I could even taste the beans - the wine-soaked beans, that is. Turns out, I kind of like drunken beans. Who knew?

The next morning, I decided to relive the experience of the night before and heat up the soup for breakfast. Only now, the soup had a different flavor. It was still very good, but as with most soups, all the flavors merged into one and the "wild party" from the evening before had simmered, the pandemonium had subsided, and even though I was enjoying the same flavors, somewhere in the magic of the overnight hours, they had become one brand new flavor.

I recommend eating the soup the night you make it and eating it again the next day and have yourself two different won't be disappointed!

(Thanks for letting me share this moment with you!)

Andouille and Red Wine Soup

6 Ounces Cajun Style Andouille Smoked Sausage
Olive Oil
One Medium Red Potato, finely chopped
4 Stalk Celery, finely chopped
4 Large Garlic Cloves, smashed
One Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped
14 Ounces Diced Tomatoes
7.5 Ounces White Northern Beans
One Teaspoon Thyme
1/2 Cup Red Wine ( not dry )
2 Cups Beef Broth

In a good size skillet or pot, saute' potato, celery, garlic, and apple. Add thyme, sausage, tomatoes, and red wine. Cook for a little while longer. Then add broth and beans. Let simmer on stovetop for at least 2 hours.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Savory Chicken Soup

Who doesn't think of soup when it's 3 degrees outside?

In my world, traditional chicken soup means carrots, celery, noodles, and of course, chicken. But I didn't want Grandma's chicken soup. (Love ya, Grandma.. ;) I wanted something unique, pasta-free, and pleasantly piquant.

I stumbled upon this recipe and liked it, but it called for fresh ginger root, a touch of turmeric, and bean thread noodles. I had none of these in my kitchen, it was 3 degrees outside, and I wasn't leaving my house, so a little bit of improvisation was now on the menu.

I also noticed that the recipe failed to mention zucchini - clearly an oversight - zucchini goes in everything....duh-uh!

So, as my onions and garlic were bathing, blending, and softening, I peeked into my rack of tantalizing spices and chose some personal favorites.....garam masala, smoked paprika, and powdered ginger. I didn't measure anything....I just sprinkled each flavor until I stopped. How's that for precise?!

I added the zucchini and all the other good stuff and then mixed it in with the chicken and broth and let everyone get to know each other.

When I returned an hour later, I poured myself a bowl, dropped a little cloud of Greek yogurt on top, and indulged in the goodness.

Side Note: When I eat my minestrone soup that has a little kick to it, I like to add a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. It gently diffuses some of the heat and adds another dimension of flavor.

When I had it for lunch the next day, the flavor was much more complex and the heat index had risen a twinkle or two. Even though I feel that I have already achieved perfection with this little medley, next time I'll probably sprinkle even more of the garam, paprika, and ginger and BAM...kick it up a notch!

Savory Chicken Soup

1/2 Medium Onion, chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Sprinkle or two of Ginger Powder
Sprinkle or two of Garam Masala
Sprinkle or two of Smoked Paprika
10-12 Twists of the Black Pepper grinder
One Tablespoon of Soy Sauce
One Quart of Chicken Broth
8-10 Ounces of Cooked Chicken Pieces
One Medium Zucchini, petitely chopped

Drizzle some olive oil in a hot skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute' until softened. Add chopped zucchini, soy sauce, ginger, garam masala, paprika, and black pepper. Saute' a few minutes more. In a separate pan pour in chicken broth and chicken. Add skillet ingredients to the broth and chicken and let simmer on stove for at least an hour.

As with most soups, this tastes best on the second day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's a Chocolate Tasting!!!

How does that picture grab you? The official winner of our Chocolate Tasting Party....Mr. Lake Champlain, Dark Chocolate, Rum Caramel. Can't you just taste it?!? It was the third chocolate to touch our lips and it was love at first bite. I knew from the reaction of the ladies that we already had our winner.

The chocolate was 54% cocoa - so not super sweet, and the rum caramel was delicate but utterly divine. The best part was when you took a bite and the caramel filling spilled into your mouth while thin whispers of luscious lava drizzled down your chin.....ahhhh..... let's say it all together now.... "whispers of luscious lava drizzling down your chin...." (insert happy face)

Are you there with me in that happy place?

Okay...before I lose you for good here, let's back up for a second to the actual beginning of the party, where Teri made her grand entrance holding not bottles of wine, but a pot of chicken bathing in a savory Mole' sauce.

What's Mole'?

Mole' is a Mexican sauce that may contain up to twenty ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate, which works to tame the heat of the chili peppers. It is not a chocolate sauce per se' as it is just one of the many ingredients and does not dominate.

For us, it was a wonderful way to stabilize our blood sugar with some protein - chicken style - and integrate the chocolate as well. The sauce was hearty, earthy, spicy, deep, complex, robust, and savory. Oh, and did I mention PHENOMENAL, because it was?! Carrie licked her plate clean and asked for seconds....need I say more?!

This sauce would be a wonderful way to serve leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. Had I posted this right after the party actually happened (early November) you could have used it in 2010, but alas I did not, so 2011 it is!

Once the "meal" portion of our party was complete, the chocolate tasting began. Let me just say that through my many hours of research on this subject, the three "rules" of throwing a chocolate tasting party that surfaced time and time again were:

1. Only taste 6 chocolates at a party.
2. Only serve water with the chocolates.
3. Serve bland bread as your palate cleanser.

I respectfully chose to break all three of these rules and I'll tell you why.

1. If six is great then twelve is perfect.
2. We drink wine at these parties, people!
3. Bland bread is for Lenten season and we hadn't even celebrated Thanksgiving yet, so Easter was clearly a long way away. THIS was a party......about I was serving food.

Also, you may notice that many of the chocolates were wrapped in artfully designed paper, which inspired me to remove each of the covers and paste them to a chocolate colored stock paper and have them laminated as place mats. Brilliant, eh? Came up with THAT idea 14 hours before the party.......crazzzzzzzzy, but super cool!

Ok...Ok....Ok.....Let's talk chocolate!

Speaking of creative wrapping, check out Theo's Spicy Chili Dark Chocolate. Jen and I chose this one mostly because it's cover was "coooool" and the idea of chocolate and chili together just sounded like a party. This little delicacy was fun because upon first bite, you notice a hint of orange flavor and you smile. And then, ever so slowly there's this warmth that arises seemingly out of nowhere. You're not even sure if it's real.....maybe it's all in your head, but as it quickly intensifies there's no denying there's a fire blazing in your mouth, rising from the "ashes" of the creamy chocolate. Once the wonderfully wicked flame dies down, your smile returns...."yum....that was FUN... can we do it again?"

So, if you like a little face flush with your chocolate, Theo's got the bar for you.

The next chocolate was chosen because of it's blissful blue, oceanic vibe and our affection towards blueberries. We found the chocolate to be smooth and tasty and the perpetual stumble into blueberry fields most pleasing to our palates. Most everyone was a fan of Mr. Endangered Species. Of course, it must be noted that he was the first chocolate tasted and as with most of our parties, first "bites" are frequently met with great enthusiasm and high praise, mostly due to the sheer excitement of just being at the party, so......

This next guy made the menu because amidst all the long, arduous hours of research I did for this party, the idea of chocolate dipped bacon surfaced quite often and earned rave reviews across the board. I seriously considered making it "from scratch" until Vosges here told me I didn't have was already done.

Mo's Dark Bacon Bar is the perfect chocolate for your next party - a perfect conversation piece!
Teri was not a fan. She likes her chocolate and her bacon but rejects the merging of the two, and we respect her opinion. The rest of us found it very interesting. It took the idea of chocolate covered pretzels or peanuts to a whole new level. It's chocolate covered salt, people and those two things do go together. Chocolate + Salt + Fat = Flavor. If you do the math, you'll all adds up!

I thought it was delicious and fascinating! Check it out at your local World Market.

You see the tiny bits of bacon in there?

Then there's Lindt. Lindt's Intense Orange lived up to it's name. I like intense, so when I bit into this bar of Lindt Excellence and got rocked in the mouth by an explosion of orange flavor, I was not prepared, but I was pleased. I'm not sure he's a chocolate you would overindulge in, but he's a wonderful pick-me-up of chocolate citrus flavor that just may soothe that sweet-tooth craving IF you're one of those people who can eat your single serving size of chocolate and walk away satisfied. I believe I speak for Jen when I say that we have never understood or mastered that theory of single serving satisfaction.

Lindt's 85% Cocoa Chocolate is no joke.....IT IS 85% cocoa, and in our humble opinion, should only be consumed when melted down and fused with sugar. WOW! Speaking of that though....I did use this chocolate bar to make tiny flourless chocolate cakes that were so divine it wouldn't surprise me if they served them in heaven.....probably even for breakfast. Pictures and recipes are for another day..........waaaaait for it!

TCHO was a little pricey and we all agreed he wasn't quite worth his flavor in gold. The description on the inside flap boasted a citrus and sour cream experience and it was there, but oh-so mild. It didn't rock any of our boats and it's $7.00 price tag pretty much sank it. However, it did remind me of a chocolate dip I made once that consisted of sour cream, cocoa, and honey. It was a sinfully smooth, mousse-like dip that balanced the depth of the cocoa and the twang of the sour cream was good. This bar reminded me of that dip.....and that dip was cheaper to make.

Chocolove was a disappointment as well, but for different reasons. Cherries & Almond in Dark Chocolate....sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

The question of the moment was, "Where's the cherries....where's the flavor?" This was a chocolate bar with no personality. Forgettable and regrettable.

Look Mr. Chocolove, we don't eat chocolate for our health - as much as we want to believe it is good for us on some level - we eat chocolate, despite it's sugar and despite it's calories because we love, love, love the flavor on our tongues, the smell under our noses, the joy in our hearts, and the bliss in our souls. We consume chocolate purely for the heavenly taste of it, so when you sell us your "Choco-LOVE" you waste our time, our calories, and precious moments of our lives we'll never get back......moments that could have been spent with better chocolate.

Shame on you, Chocolove.

I threw in some Milk Chocolate from Newman's Own and the World Market brand and all the ladies turned up their noses at them. Well that may be girls, but sometimes you need to taste them all side by side - ugly next to next to poor...dirty next to clean - simply to remind yourself how good good can be.

I also brought two white chocolates to the table, much to the ladies chagrin. "White chocolate is NOT chocolate!" they all protested. I made them taste it anyway - see paragraph above. Turns out Michelle and Anne discovered that they sort of liked it. I presented them with Lindt's version of white chocolate and Green and Black's version. Hands down, Green and Black was the favorite. Lindt's was intensely sweet and crushingly sugary, but the Green and Black had a nice, clean, vanilla flavor that came from Madagascar vanilla beans. I really liked the Green and Black, myself.

So, my greatest concern/challenge with throwing this party was striking a balance between tasting twelve different chocolates and not having anyone leave my house feeling sick, guilty, or overindulged. I needed a plan......

Research showed that Gruyere cheese is a wonderful compliment to chocolate, so I bought me a slab of that and then Jen found the perfect missing piece to the puzzle....goat cheese with a cocoa rind, otherwise known as Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona. How cool is that?! It was $23 a pound, but we weren't buying a whole pound, so it really wasn't $23 at all. ;)

Both cheeses were amazing, delicious, and worth every single penny. I served them alongside my interpretation of "bland bread"....gluten-free crackers and water crackers.

Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona
worth every penny...

I didn't stop with cheese and crackers. There was that balance thing that needed to be achieved, remember? We needed more palate cleansers, so I served Asian pears, celery, Granny Smith apples, and toasted pecans and toasted walnuts.

You guessed it...they picked it all clean!

I even served up some frozen applesauce at the halfway mark. (A childhood favorite of mine)

And then there was wine. Carrie brought her personal favorite...Ecco Domani, and we toasted to chocolate and friends with the Gnarly Head.

Another successful and fabulous party if I do say so myself. I wish you all could have been there, but we encourage you to have a little chocolate tasting of your that you know how to do it. Oh, and it was Patty's birthday too! Not a bad way to spend your BIG day, eh?

Explore the wonderful and magical world of chocolate!!