Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall is the perfect time for satisfying soup

Fall is here! Despite the recent 90 degree temps we've had in the DC area, I'm definitely in the mood for fall and the cooler days ahead.  That's partly because I love fall food -- apple pies, apple cider, pumpkin bread, spice cakes...I could go on and on.  And I will.  There's much to share on this blog!

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the fall weather is by making homemade soup.  My Aunt Nancy recently gave me some leeks from her garden.  I don't use leeks very often so I had to search for a good recipe in which to use them.  I came across the Leek and Potato Soup recipe below from Epicurious.com and was intrigued because it only used 5 ingredients.  Well, this recipe is a keeper.  It's very flavorful -- and I only had to add a few pinches of salt to get the taste just right.  I'll definitely be coming back to this recipe again.  Hope you enjoy it too!

A note about leeks: a good way to clean these onions is to dice them and put them in water for a few minutes.  Any dirt will sink to the bottom and then you can scoop up the leeks for use.

Leek and Potato Soup
(Courtesy of Bon App├ętit, May 1996)

3 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 4 1/2 cups)
2 large russet potatoes (about 18 ounces total), peeled, diced
4 1/2 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat with butter. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in processor until smooth. (I used an immersion blender which did the same thing and it was much easier to do.) Return to saucepan. Thin with additional stock if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Now for some real fruit bars

I'm back to blogging about sweets, but with good reason.  This Apricot Oat Bar recipe from Giada De Laurentiis is fantastic!  I recently saw it on her Food Network program, "Giada at Home," and thought it looked good.  But I know enough about TV production to know that looks aren't always what they seem.  However, I'm happy to report these bars are the real deal.  I'm typically not impressed with homemade fruit bar recipes since many turn out to be dry.  Not these.  They are moist and chewy, thanks in part to the apricot preserves (and probably the butter).  Word of caution: they're highly addictive.

On a separate note, my baby is 3 months old today and my blog is now officially 1 year old (as of the 18th)!  It's going to be a fun second year of blogging, especially when Claire gets to start eating baby food!  You can be sure I'll blog all about that experience.

Apricot Oat Bars
(Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis)
Link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/apricot-oat-bars-recipe/index.html

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (13-ounce) jar apricot jam or preserves (about 1 1/4 cups)
8 dried apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/3 cup)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (regular salt works just fine here)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13 by 2-inch metal baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil cooking spray and set aside.

Filling: In a small bowl, mix together the jam and the apricots. Set aside.

Crust: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Stir in the oats and walnuts. Add the butter, egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Using a fork or clean fingers, lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, spread the filling over the crust leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the pan. Cover the filling with the remaining crust mixture and gently press to flatten. Bake until light golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The finished product: Apricot Oat Bars

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal: Salmon with Sweet-N-Hot Mustard Glaze

One of my favorite weeknight meals is salmon since it's usually a quick dish to prepare and it's healthy and delicious.  I'm always on the lookout for good ways to prepare it -- often I'll just bake it with some salt, pepper, and olive oil and then top it with pesto after it comes out of the oven.  This makes for an elegant dish that's very suitable for company, by the way.  (My favorite store-bought pesto is Bear Pond Farm, found at Whole Foods in the refrigerated section.  It's really fresh and delicious.)  Sometimes I'll top salmon with a nice chili rub.  But I think I've found my favorite salmon dish yet -- a sweet and hot mustard glazed salmon.  I love the mustard taste that blends so well with honey and a touch of heat.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Roasted Salmon with Sweet-N-Hot Mustard Glaze
(Courtesy of Robin Miller, "Quick Fix Meals")

Note: Since I usually make dinner for two adults, I cut this recipe in half and used one decent-sized salmon fillet.

3 1/2 lb. salmon fillets, skin on and pinbones removed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
2 T. water
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. hot mustard powder (I substituted 1 tsp. of hot sauce for this ingredient and added 1 tsp. of regular mustard powder and it was delicious.)
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 T. chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Either coat a baking dish with cooking spray or cover a broiling pan with aluminum foil and lightly coat it with cooking spray.  Place salmon on the dish or the pan and lightly season the fillet with salt and pepper.

Stir together the Dijon mustard, honey, water, lemon juice, hot mustard powder, and garlic powder.  Reserve half of this sauce for later.  Take the other half and spread on the salmon.

Bake the salmon for 15-20 minutes.

Stir the fresh dill into the reserved sauce.  When the salmon is done baking, top the salmon with the remaining sauce.

As you can see from the picture above, I added two side dishes -- stir-fried zucchini and garlic-butter noodles, both of which were delicious with the salmon.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Exciting Food News for Clarendon

There are two very exciting pieces of news for the Clarendon neighborhood today.

First of all, Trader Joe's might become my new neighbor!  Yep, there's a really good chance that this fantastic food retailer will move in across the street very soon.  Arlington Now has the story:

The next piece of good news is that Bakeshop (http://www.bakeshopva.com/) will now open at 8:00 am to serve coffee and cupcakes, along with other treats such as croissants, pound cake, and bagels.  This definitely spells trouble for my diet but it's totally worth it.  Here's my previous review of Bakeshop, as if you need any more convincing to pay a visit soon: http://cookinginclarendon.blogspot.com/2010/02/fabulous-food-friday-bakeshop.html.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some Like it Hot

If you read my blog, you'll notice that many of my posts are for sweets.  That's a "problem" that just cannot be helped.  But since I'm trying to be more health-conscious in my own eating life, I've found some wonderful recipes over the last few months that I need to share here that will hopefully inspire your eating life as well.  Another recent "problem" is that these delicious meals have made it on and off my dinner table so fast that it's hard to capture a photo.  After all, when you've got a baby, you learn to eat quickly.  Here's one of my favorite recipes (sans photo) that is delicious, simple to make, creates a beautiful presentation, and adds a nice spicy kick to your meal.  Hope you enjoy!

Belize Beef on Spiced Potatoes
(Courtesy of the National Beef Cook-Off® 2001)

1 lb. ground beef
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained - divided
1 1/2 tsp. jarred minced garlic
1 tsp. Caribbean jerk seasoning
2 large unpeeled baking potatoes, such as russets (8 to 10 ounces each)
Salt, pepper and Caribbean jerk seasoning

1/2 cup plain yogurt
3/4 tsp. jarred minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Caribbean jerk seasoning
1 T. diced tomatoes (from the main jar listed above)

Brown ground beef in large nonstick skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is not pink, breaking up into small crumbles. Pour off drippings. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the tomatoes. Add remaining tomatoes, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic and 1 teaspoon jerk seasoning to beef; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover skillet; continue simmering 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile cut potatoes lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices; pierce in several places with a fork. Dip in cold water; sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and jerk seasoning. Place in single layer on nonstick baking pan. Broil 3 to 6 inches from heat 10 to 12 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, turning once.

Combine topping ingredients and reserved 1 tablespoon tomatoes in small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Spoon beef mixture over potatoes. Serve with topping.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Healthy Chocolate Fix

Cherry-Almond-Chocolate Clusters
Photo credit: Chris Oliver

One can never say enough good things about chocolate...better yet, one can never eat enough chocolate.  But with most chocolate comes lots of fat and calories from other sugar-infused ingredients like ice cream, toffee, or caramel.  When I stumbled onto this recipe from Ellie Krieger, I knew I had found something that could give me a chocolate fix without being too unhealthy.  Of course, healthy and chocolate are two words that I usually don't put together.  Thankfully, these clusters withstood my taste-testing and I'm happy to report that these were definitely satisfying.

Another good discovery about these chocolates: they travel well.  I made a batch for my brother on his birthday and these chocolates made it all the way from Virginia to California without melting (via overnight shipping).  Now you can make your friends and family some yummy treats for the upcoming holidays if they can last long enough!

Cherry-Almond-Chocolate Clusters
(Courtesy of Ellie Krieger, "So Easy")


1 cup whole roasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cherries
6 oz. dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips so I didn't have to chop them.)


Chop both the almonds and cherries coarsely, put them into a bowl and toss together.  Set aside.

Cover a baking sheet with wax paper.  You'll need this later.

Now for the good part.  Melt half of the chocolate (3 oz.) in the top of a double broiler over water that is only slightly simmering and over the lowest possible heat.  Stir your chocolate frequently.  Don't let the water touch the top pan.  If you're like me and don't have a double broiler, you can put some water in the bottom of any pot and the set a glass dish over the simmering water to melt the chocolate.  It works well.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove the double broiler (or pot) from the heat and then stir in the rest of the chocolate (3 oz.) until it is all melted together.  Take off the top pan with the chocolate in it and set it aside.  Replace the simmering water in the bottom pan with warm tap water so that the chocolate remains at the correct temperature while you make the clusters.  Put the pan with the chocolate back on top.

Now, stir the almonds and cherries into the chocolate, making sure everything gets covered by that wonderful chocolate.  Grab your wax paper lined baking sheet.  You're going to make tablespoon-sized clusters and put them onto the baking sheet at least 1 inch apart.  Once you're done, put them into your refrigerator for about 20 minutes so they can cool and set.  (Here's where cleaning up your kitchen becomes rather fun.  After all, who wants any chocolate on your spoon to go to waste?)

After that, they are ready to enjoy!  You can store and serve them at room temperature.  I found that mine needed to set for a few hours more, but they can still be enjoyed after being refrigerated.