The Random Vegetable Soup

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What is not in this soup? Meat. But, it pretty much has everything else. Root veggies, greens, beans, herbs -- whatever I happened to have around, ended up in the pot.

I am mostly a great planner. I think ahead, do my shopping, maximize the use of my ingredients. But sometimes, I don't care. My not caring, coupled with hunger can lead to some interesting dishes, including this soup. I had done my shopping the day before, so the fridge was well stocked with a nice variety of vegetables. And I'm pretty sure I used every vegetables on-hand for this soup, and even opened a few cans of beans to add to the mix. There was really no measuring involved. I chopped everything into bite-size pieces of similar size, and threw them into the pot. The only thought I put into the dish was the herb bouquet, which had rosemary, marjoram, thyme and a bay leaf.

So here's what ended up in the pot -- carrots, celery, onion (the triple threat that is usually a base for many of my soups), garlic, turnips, fava beans, potatoes, kale and spinach. From the pantry I added garbanzo and red kidney beans, vegetable stock and tomato paste. I first sauteed the veggies, besides the beans and greens, then added the tomato paste, herbs and stock. After bringing the soup to a boil, I added my beans, then during the last 10 minutes I threw in the kale and spinach. Total cooking time about 40 minutes. If you're a quick chopper, you can get this soup on the table in under an hour.

Although this soup had a lot going on, all the flavors merged well, and I enjoyed the various textures. I especially liked the fava beans and leaf greens. Also, I'm pretty sure this soup has like 20 servings of vegetables. So you can feel real good about eating it.

Split Pea & Ham Soup, On the Fly

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I've been cooking and documenting, but not posting. So hold on, there's going to be a flurry of quick posts, and not only because I've been lazy and am now making up for it (although that is partly true), but also because I've been making quick and easy meals, after intense cycling classes at the gym.

I hate working out for too many reasons to list here, but lately, I've been hating it because it leaves me little time to cook. Instead, I get home late, and am too sweaty and tired to pour myself a glass of wine, much less prepare a fancy meal. Oh, I have been missing those fancy meals.

This soup, not fancy. It is good, and comforting. It requires little of your attention, and tastes better the next day, so make a big batch. The ham is obviously optional, if meat is not your thing, but it sure adds a nice salty flavor. I made this with whatever I had on-hand, without following any recipe, so the below measurements are rough, but, you get the idea.
Split Pea and Ham Soup

1 large carrot, chopped 
2 stalks of celery, chopped
black forest ham, I used about a cup, chopped
yellow peas, about 1 lb, rinsed and picked over
chicken or vegetable stock, 4-5 cups
bay leaf
salt and pepper
olive oil

1) Heat your oil and add carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add celery and ham. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
2) Add your peas, stock, bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper, cover and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes. You might need to add more stock, or water.
3) Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve with some crusty bread. 

This is one of the few soups I enjoy chunky. It's especially good on a chilly night, in front of the TV. 


Sweet Peppers Stuffed with Feta

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I have been neglecting my blogging duties because several weeks ago, I discovered Sons of Anarchy. But 50 episodes later, I am all caught up, and must wait to find out what happens to my beloved bikers. And I can finally blog again.

I made these peppers months ago, but never got around to posting. When I recently saw the pictures from that meal, I recalled how quick and delicious these peppers were, making them a great appetizer.
I hollowed out the peppers, removing all the seeds.
The mini peppers were then stuffed with a mixture of feta and cream cheese, fresh basil and a bit of pepper paste.
I baked the peppers for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, turning them halfway. In the end, the peppers themselves still had some crunch, but the cheese stuffing was hot and gooey. If you're looking for the peppers to be cooked all the way through, I suggest steaming them first. But, I liked the bit of crispness left in them.

Now that was fast. 


Cucumber, Feta and Olive Salad

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Sometimes you get tired of the lettuce salads. And sometimes you buy a lot of cucumbers for a good deal and need to use them. This salad is a combination of both. It's super easy to make, and involves a nice blend of salty and refreshing flavors. It's one of those great salads that just makes you feel good about eating a salad.

The ingredients used all happened to be in my fridge or garden, so feel free to change things up based on your tastes and availability. Along with Persian cucumbers, I added kalamata olives, creamy Bulgarian feta, shallots and tarragon. But, you can use any olive of your choice, parsley or even mint, and red onion as substitutions. Although I have to say, the tarragon was absolutely delicious here, adding a unique and subtle licorice aroma.

I dressed the salad simply with good olive oil and a bit of lemon juice. And that's it! This would make a great accompaniment to any type of grilled meat, such as juicy lamb chops.


Brats & Stuff

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I'm not the biggest fan of brats. To me, they lack a certain excitement. They are usually mild in flavor, and if I'm going to have sausage, I want lots of flavor - either spicy, or fennely, or something!

So this year, I was not really excited to make 25 lbs of bratwurst for the brother-in-laws Oktoberfest party. First, 25lbs is a lot of sausage. Second, if I'm going to spend all day making sausage, I'd rather make chorizo or something a bit more exotic. But, I was present solely as a laborer, specializing in the spices, and not a decision maker. I labored away, and in the end, we had a lot of sausage.

The sausages were a hit at the party, I'm sure partly due to my spices. I added more of everything the recipe called for. And this time around, we used more fat, which also added flavor. The husband and I, kept a couple of brats for ourselves, and before the party, tested them out. Along with the sausage, I made cabbage, potatoes and carrots. And by made, I mean I placed my vegetables, beer and seasoning in the slow cooker in the morning, and headed to work.

When I got home, my vegetables were cooked. I transferred the beer juices to a pan, and steamed my brats in them for about 15 minutes. Once the brats were nice and plump, I pan fried them. You can also use the grill at this point. Either way works.

The brats, although subtle, were delicious and juicy. The stewed vegetables made a nice accompaniment. Overall, a nice comforting meal, requiring little work, perfect for a weeknight.


Pumpkin Carving and Chili Night 2011

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Traditions are great. Especially when you create them yourself. Several years ago, we decided to start hosting a pumpkin carving night for Halloween. The event evolved, but it stuck. Year after year, friends look forward to outdoing each other with their carving skills, and eating my delicious chili.

This October, due to our travels, we were going to skip this tradition. But, there was an uproar. To calm the masses, we opted for a tamer, quieter evening. We flew in that morning, and hours later were hosting, in pajamas, but still hosting.

I cooked the chili before our trip and froze it.  That evening, all I had to do was warm it up and serve it. The friends brought their pumpkins, carving tools, and lots of beer. As always, I used my impeccable judgment skills to declare the 2011 Pumpkin Carving Champ.
The reigning champ from years past and his adorable baby. One lesson we learned this year -- fatherhood equals second place. Ouch! Apparently, there are other benefits. 
First place pumpkin in its initial stages. I was skeptical.
The "other" pumpkins. 
Baby lounging time.
Chili goodness. It gave me strength and clarity to judge the pumpkins.
NASA inspired Rocket Launch takes first place. Creepy Stalker Clown (with flashing nose) came in a close second. 
The Dark Owl and a pumpkin whose title I would rather not mention here. Good luck figuring that one out.
And another close up of the winner! Check out 2009 (with chili recipe) and 2010 posts for comparisons.


New England - Food & Drink

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Most of our recent travels have revolved around food and/or beverages. This trip was no different. Sure I tell people we went to see the fall colors, but we really went to drink New England craft beers and eat fresh seafood and good cheese. I am happy to report we accomplished all of the above, colors included. 

Besides a couple of not-so-good, but completely amusing meals, we ate and drank extremely well. Sometimes too well, squeezing in two dinners a night. I think our friend was horrified by the husband's appetite and unnatural ability to eat immense amounts of food, for days on end and look the way he does. I guess I often forget this superpower of his, because he tones it down at home.

What we liked about the food we ate, was that it was local, simply prepared and tasted amazing and fresh. And it was affordable. The husband described it best, "I like that they tell you where the food comes from, but don't charge you extra for doing so." California needs to catch up. Here, if you know what farm something on your menu came from, get ready to pay extra for that bit info. 

Along with tasty food, we had great beers, stopping at a brewery, or two, almost daily. Wine on the other hand, skip it. We stopped at a winery in Vermont, and it was interesting. And by that, I mean bad. California has good wine, and having experienced many years of wine tasting locally, we were embarrassed for the winery as we tasted their "light bodied" offerings (because really, I'm not sure I can rightfully call what we drank wine). Sorry New England, you can't have it all.

Below is a small sampling of our delicious meals, and pictures of friends and nature, because we did go to see fall colors after all.
Oysters and clam bake (below) at the Summer Shack in Boston. We sampled 3 varieties of delicious eastern oysters, and managed to put away a meaty lobster, mussels, and clams. 
Covered bridge. My new favorite saying -- put a roof on it!
Apple cider donut. Surprisingly light and just sweet enough. 
The perfect lunch spot.
The husband loves his beer samplers. This was the largest selection by far -- 10 beers!
Amazing clam chowder, so creamy and dreamy.
Cheers! More beer.
Rainy afternoon.
Portland, Maine. Pretty scenery, and a pretty amazing meal at Fore Street (below).
Mead tasting at Maine Mead Works. Absolutely, and surprisingly delicious. My friend and I have had and hated mead. With our minds made up, the only reason we participated in the tasting was because it was cold outside and there was no shopping nearby. So glad. Because this place changed our minds. Their well-balanced and mouth-watering brews were incredible. Lesson learned? Homemade mead, or mead in decorative bottles from Scandinavian countries, is gross. Leave it to the professionals. 
In conclusion, we loved New England, at least the four states we visited. Although we only kind of liked New Hampshire.