Spicy Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup

Ever have those days where you look in the refrigerator and try to figure out what to make for dinner? You rustle through the veggie drawer. . . oh look, some limp carrots! And over on the counter is a slightly wrinkly sweet potato, not past its prime but well on the way!  This is what I call a soup day. Soup is a wonderful way to use up ingredients that are not at their freshest, but not ready to be composted either.

In a perfect world I would always have a kitchen stocked with fresh meat, cheese, fish, fruits and vegetables, all ready to be consumed at the peak of freshness! I don’t live in a perfect world, and some days I am damn glad to even have a frozen pizza to fling into the oven.

But this soup is easy and makes use of a few vegetables you have laying around. I started out with 6 carrots, but the kid came along and absconded with one. But that is the beauty of this soup. Nothing needs to be exact. So I use on less carrot. . . it still tasted fantastic.

The only prep you have to do is peel and cut the veggies. Then you throw everything into the pot and let it cook until tender.

Once the veggies are tender, puree them until smooth. I like to use an immersion blender so I don’t have to make more dirty dishes, such as if I use a food processor. Your puree with be thick so use milk, half and half or cream to thin it to your desired consistency. I actually used 2% milk, and it was delicious. If you want it richer, use whole milk. If you want it decadent, use half and half or cream!

Just to be kind of fancy I put a dollop of fat free Greek yogurt on top. Sour cream or crema would also be very tasty.

If you would like try variations of this soup using parsnips, butternut or acorn squash, or kabocha squash.

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Spicy Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup
Warming spices cinnamon and chile are pureed with beta-carotene filled carrots and sweet potatoes, making a richly satisfying appetizer soup or main dish meal.
Ingredients
  • 1 medium or 1 1/2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 small or 5 ounces carrots, peeled and sliced into large chunks
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups milk, half and half or cream
Instructions
Place the sweet potatoes, carrots, broth and spices into a medium pot. Stir to mix the ingredients together.
Bring the pot to a a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
With an inversion blender puree the soup in the pot. If you do not have an inversion blender, carefully ladle the soup into a food processor or blender, then puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot.
Add your choice of dairy product to thin the soup to the desired consistency. Taste the soup, then adjust the salt if needed.
Details

Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 30 mins Total time: 45 mins Yield: 6 servings

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista

Indian Spiced Chicken

Garam Masala, Red Pepper Flakes, Potatoes, Shallot and Coconut Milk

Using a variety of herbs and spices in your cooking is an excellent way to bring new flavors and textures to your food.  Once upon a time, the most exotic thing you could find in your supermarket spice aisle was tarragon or maybe herbes de provence.  Spice companies are now marketing an incredible variety of spice blends, whole and ground spices and herbs.  Even if you live in an area where the selection is limited, as long as you have an internet connection, you can place an order from a good online spice retailer.  Penzeys , Vanns Spices, The Spice House and Kalustyans all offer a wide array of herbs and spices.  You can also find recipes using the spices on these websites, in case you are not familiar with what to do with the spices.  I have found what stops most people from trying a new herb or spice, is that they just don’t know what to make with it.

A favorite spice of mine is the garam masala, a blend of seasonings commonly used in Indian cooking.  There is really no set recipe for garam masala, as it will differ in each region of India and in each household in India.  You can make your own, or find a good quality one you like.

Indian Spiced Chicken

Indian Spiced Chicken

2 TB vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breast, cut into large chunks

1 tsp sea salt, divided

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 shallots, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 TB + 1 tsp garam masala powder

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 (14 ounce) can light or regular coconut milk

1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes

In a large skillet on medium high, heat the oil.  Add the chicken, 1/2 tsp of salt and red pepper flakes, cook 4 – 5 minutes, until chicken is browned.  Remove the chicken to a plate, and reserve.

Lower the heat slightly, then add the shallot, garlic, garam masala, ginger and cumin to the pan.  Stirring frequently so the spices do not burn, cook 3 – 5 minutes until the shallot has softened and the spices are fragrant.

Cooking the shallots, garlic and spices

Add the chicken broth to the pan, scraping the bottom with the spoon to release all the caramelized flavors into the broth.   Add the reserved chicken, coconut milk, potatoes and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt to the pan.

Simmering the Indian Spiced Chicken

Bring the chicken to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover the pan and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

This dish has a bit of heat from the red pepper flakes.  If you prefer a milder dish add less, and if you like it hot, add more.  Serve this with a nice cold beer or a chilled Riesling to temper that heat.

Indian Spiced Chicken

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista

Sweet ‘n’ Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Juicy, Tender and Sweetly Sticky Ribs

Baby back ribs are one of those foods that everyone loves.  Except, of course, those who do not eat pork, but I do not associate with those kinds of people.  All kidding aside, a well cooked rib is a thing of beauty.  They should be juicy and tender, yet chewy and meaty at the same time.  And to achieve that in a rib, you have to be patient.

Ribs cannot be cooked quickly, or you will end up with a dry, tough, impossible to eat piece of meat.  Something you won’t even want to give to your dog.  But cook that same rib slowly, either in a low oven or on a grill over indirect heat, and you will have such a sweet and tender morsel it can make you cry.  OK, maybe I’m the only one who cries over really good ribs…

I developed the rub specifically for pork, but I have used it on chicken, turkey, grilled vegetables and pork roasts.  It is a good all purpose BBQ rub.

Sweet ‘n’ Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Sweet ‘n’ Sticky Baby Back Ribs

2 racks baby back ribs

Smoky BBQ rub (recipe below)

The day before you plan on grilling, sprinkle the ribs with a thick coating of the rub, making sure that all surfaces are covered.  You want a nice coating of rub, as this will crisp up and form a flavorful crust.

Thick Coating of Rub on the Baby Back Ribs

Cover and refrigerate the ribs overnight so the spices can really penetrate and flavor the meat.

Grill Method

Prepare your grill for low, indirect heat.  Place the ribs on the grill, cover and cook them until tender, about 2 hours.  Check them occasionally to make sure there are no hot spots on your grill, and move them around if needed.

Oven Method

Heat your oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil, to make cleanup easier.  Slow roast the ribs for 2 hours, or until tender and the meat has pulled back from the bone.

Tender Ribs Ready to be Slathered with Sauce

Once the ribs have become tender it is time to put the sauce on.  Some have a favorite bottled sauce they use, and some insist on making their own sauce.  I do both, depending on how much time I have and/or how much energy I have.  These ribs were sauced using  a good bottled BBQ sauce, but I added 2 tablespoons of rib rub to 1 cup of bottled BBQ sauce.

Lots of Sauce on the Ribs to Make Them Sticky

Let the ribs cook for 20 – 30 minutes more, so the sauce can caramelize and thicken.  This is where the sticky comes in.

Slice the ribs and serve them with your favorite BBQ side dishes.  Do not be ashamed when you find yourself licking your fingers, and possibly the fingers of those you are dining with…

Sweet ‘n’ Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Smoky BBQ Rub


Smoky BBQ Rub

 

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

6 TB smoked paprika

2 TB chili powder

4 tsp  granulated garlic

4 tsp  granulated onion

4 tsp  dry mustard

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp ground black pepper

In a small bowl mix all the spices together.  This makes over a cup of rub, so you can use some now and save some for later.  Store the rub in an airtight container, such as a jar or resealable bag.

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista

Mexican Spiced Oxtails

The Superbowl is just around the corner, and recipes are starting to appear everywhere.  I am in the Featured Publisher program at Foodbuzz, and the “flavor” of the month is Superbowl, sponsored by Pace Picante Sauce.  My family are big Pace Picante fans, so much so that I buy the industrial size vat from Costco.  So when Foodbuzz asked if I was interested in receiving a free sample of product from Pace as part of the Tastemaker program, I jumped on it.

Pace Picante Sauce

I am not a big sports fan, so to be honest Superbowl Sunday is just another day.  Now, my late father was such a huge sports fan he would have the picture in picture watching two games on the TV, and then have another on the radio at the same time!  And he would be reading the sports page too!  So this recipe is for him…and all the other football loving fans in the world.

I wanted to make something a bit different, but that would fit on a Superbowl Party spread.  Pizza, potato skins, tacos, chicken wings and chips and guacamole are all commonly found at Superbowl parties across the USA.  As opposed to carne asada or carnitas, I decided to make a Mexican spiced braised oxtail, which could then be de-boned and shredded, and the succulent meat used for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos or whatever you want. If you would like an oxtail recipe using more traditional spices, see my previous post for Braised Oxtails.

Shredded Oxtail Meat, Corn Tortillas and Avocado

Mexican Spiced Oxtails

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp dark chili powder

1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground chipotle chile powder

2 1/2 lbs oxtails

1 TB olive oil

1 cup mild Pace Picante Sauce

3 cups low sodium chicken broth

Spices for Chipotle Spiced Oxtails

In a small bowl combine all the spices. Rub the oxtails with the spice mixture, and let them marinate for at least six hours.  I did mine overnight to really let the flavor penetrate.

Marinating the Oxtails in Spice Rub

In a large, heavy pan heat the olive oil.  Brown the oxtails well on all sides, including the fat. Oxtails have a generous fat cap on them. I do not remove it as the fat adds flavor to the broth.  The fat can be skimmed after cooking.

Browning the Oxtails

Be sure not to crowd the pan, so the oxtails get good caramelization, which you want for flavor, along with the fat.  Once all sides are browned, remove the oxtails from the pan.  Add the Pace Picante Sauce and the chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the caramelized bits off the bottom.  Return the oxtails to the pan, bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer.

Leave the oxtails alone and go do something else. Really.  No peeking, no prodding, so stirring!  Do not lift that lid for at least one hour, then turn the oxtails over and leave them alone again.  After the second hour, test the tenderness of the oxtails with a fork, and see if the meat has begun to pull away from the bone.  It will take between 2 – 3 1/2 hours for the oxtails to become tender and succulent.  The picture below shows how much the meat shrinks from the bone when the oxtails are done.

Finished Oxtails in Pan

Remove the oxtails for the pan and let them cool.  When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bone and shred it.  The bones can be wrapped and frozen to make stock, or given to a happy puppy like our neighbor’s rottweiler Alice.

At this point you can use the meat as a filling for any number of dishes.  Serve it at your Superbowl party with warmed tortillas, grated cheese, avocado slices, guacamole, diced red onion, shredded lettuce, lime wedges and Pace Picante Sauce, of course!

Shredded Oxtail Meat, Corn Tortillas and Avocado

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista

The Secret to A Moist and Flavorful Turkey

How many of you have stuffed and roasted a big, beautiful turkey only to have it come out dry and tasteless?  You know…when you ask how it is and everyone just smiles and nods while chewing as hard as they can.  You see them try and swallow that big lump of dry poultry, hoping they don’t choke and you have to give them the Heimlich.  Yeah, been there…

So what’s the big secret?  Butter. And to make it really special, a compound or seasoned butter.  What is a compound butter, you say?  A compound butter is a butter that is seasoned with herbs and spices.  You can use fresh or dried herbs, citrus zest, aromatic vegetables such as onion and garlic and your favorite spices.  The great thing about a compound butter is that you can add any flavor profile you want.

Seasoned butters are easy to make, and add so much flavor to any number of dishes.  I usually make a large amount and freeze it, then slice off what I need as I need it.  This recipe makes a pound of seasoned butter, but smaller amounts are just as easy to make. I used a food processor for this, but only because I was using a lot of fresh herbs, was in a lazy mood and did not feel like chopping the herbs by hand.  If you are doing a butter with just dried herbs or spices, its easy to make it by hand.

My friend Holland has a wonderful herb garden and she was cutting the last of her summer herbs.  I got a huge variety of herbs; lemon basil, thyme, rosemary, two types of oregano, savory, sweet basil and lemon thyme.  My car smelled so good when I drove home!  She lives close to me, so I almost took a detour just so I could keep that incredible fragrance in my car!

Assorted fresh herbs
Assorted fresh herbs

With the holidays right around the corner I knew those herbs would make some great compound butter.

The key to a compound butter is to make sure your butter is softened.  Not melted, just softened.  You want all the ingredients you are using to be evenly distributed in the butter.  Be flexible with your ingredients, and don’t worry about exact measuring.  Add a little of this, a little of that and TASTE! Then adjust your ingredients as needed. I have included approximate measurements so you have a basic idea of the amounts needed to make a good seasoned butter.

Fresh Herb Compound Butter

About 1 cup fresh herbs of your choice, such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil

1 lb butter, softened

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Strip the leaves of your herbs from the stem, and place them into the bowl of a food processor.  The thyme I used was so tender and fresh the stems were not woody, so I didn’t worry if I got a bit of stem in the processor.  But if the stem is woody, be sure to strip the leaves off.  You can keep the stems for seasoning stocks if you wish.  Just wrap them tightly and throw them in the freezer.

Fresh herbs in processor
Fresh herbs in processor

Chop the herbs roughly in the processor.  Add the butter and process until smooth.  You will have to stop the processor a few times, and scrape down the sides.

Roughly chopped herbs and butter in processor
Roughly chopped herbs and butter in processor

The butter will be soft and smooth when done.

Finished butter in processor
Finished butter in processor

Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat surface. If you don’t have parchment, use wax paper.  Scrape the butter out of the bowl, and put it in the bottom 1/3 of your parchment.  I used a rolled parchment, so I needed to weight it down to stop it from rolling back up on me.  That is why you see my pepper grinder in the picture.

Finished butter ready to be rolled in parchment paper
Finished butter ready to be rolled in parchment paper

Fold the short end of the parchment over the butter tightly, and begin smoothing the butter out while shaping it into a log.  Press firmly but gently on the parchment so any air bubbles are smoothed out.  Pull back on the parchment that is folded over the butter to tighten and compress the butter.

Shaping butter into a roll in parchment paper
Shaping butter into a roll in parchment paper

Roll the butter up completely in the parchment paper, and fold the ends to close it.  If it’s not perfectly round, don’t worry!  It will still taste good, and that’s whats important.  The cylindrical shape just makes it easier to cut when it is frozen.  Kind of like a tube of cookie dough.

Butter rolled up in parchment paper
Butter rolled up in parchment paper

Place the roll in the refrigerator to firm the butter up, and it is ready to use.  If you wish to freeze it, wrap it in a couple layers of plastic wrap. When you want to use it, just unwrap the frozen butter, and cut off slices with a sharp knife.  Then re-wrap and put it back in the freezer.

To make your Thanksgiving turkey moist and flavorful, rub your compound butter all over your turkey.  Lift the skin of the turkey and rub some butter directly on the meat, especially the breast area.  I even rub the inside of my turkey before I place my aromatic vegetables in the cavity. Then roast your turkey slowly in a 200 – 250 degree oven, basting often with the drippings.

You can use the butter for flavoring other dishes too.

  • Melt the butter over pasta, add some grated parmesan cheese and toss
  • Place a teaspoon or so of butter on top of baked or grilled chicken breast or salmon
  • Place a tablespoon or so on a grilled or broiled steak
  • Melt some butter on your steamed or sauteed vegetables for extra flavor
  • Use a seasoned butter to make garlic bread

Whatever you make with your butter, enjoy it and be sure to experiment with different flavors.

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista