Monday, April 29

Roasted Beet and Apple Soup

Few simple pleasures compare to sitting by the window during a spring rainstorm with a bowl of steaming soup and perhaps a chunk of crusty bread for dipping.  Here in Colorado, however, most of our "rain" this time of year is white and fluffy.  Still, I'm drawn to the window, and I love to indulge in soup while I'm watching the snow fall.  Last week we had several days of wet, snowy spring weather and I couldn't help but satiate my craving for soup. 

I'd picked up some fresh, ruby beets from the market a few days earlier, and they seem to be just waiting to be roasted and turned into a warm and aromatic soup.  So, after a harrowing drive on icy roads that morning to drop my son off at school, there was nothing more soothing than roasting beets in the oven until sweet and fragrant.  Then I simmered them with apples and puréed it into a comforting Roasted Beet and Apple Soup, topped with a rich dollop of crème fraîche.  A sure cure for my frayed nerves.

Most recipes call for roasting the beets in their skins.  I, however, find it much easier (and cleaner) to peel the beets with a vegetable peeler before cooking.  By roasting them first, until the sugars begin to caramelize, you add a dimension of flavor that you just can't get by simply boiling them with the apples.  Of course, if you're in a hurry you could certainly skip this step, but the flavor just won't be the same.  To complement the sweetness in this soup I add one whole star anise, which I remove just before blending.  It adds a hint of spicy warmth that pairs so very well with the beets and apples.

The snow began to melt early that afternoon, and by evening the sun was peaking out from behind the clouds.  A warm breeze was blowing and the air smelled fresh, moist and clean.  A typical spring day here in the mountains of Colorado.  Snow is in the forecast again for Wednesday, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to making this soup once more.  I hope it brings as much warmth to your rainy (or snowy) spring days as it does to mine.

Friday, April 26

Date Night with Chicken & Figs

The kids were out, the house was quiet, and I was planning a romantic night at home with my husband.  Something elegant, but not over the top.  A simple, delicious meal with a good glass of wine: Carmel Road chardonnay - a favourite from a long time ago.  In the slow cooker, the chicken simmered in wine and herbs all afternoon, enticing us with tempting aromas that filled the house, a tantalizing hint of what was to come. . .

I'm sharing some of our favourite date night recipes at  Homegrown & Healthy today.   Click here to see them and to read the post.  Wondering what to do with the leftover figs?  My husband likes to dip them in chocolate for dessert.  Or how about baking this chocolate & fig cake?  A sinfully sweet ending to a lovely meal.

Sunday, April 21

Sea Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips

In an attempt to add more dark, leafy greens into my family's diet, I've been experimenting with kale.  Since kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around (with anti-inflammatory benefits, antioxidants, known cancer-preventive nutrients, detoxifying abilities, and compounds to enhance eye and lung health - to name a few), and since my family has been battling illness for over a week now, this nutrient-dense food was exactly what we needed.  The deep green kale in my market was absolutely fresh and beautiful last week, and I couldn't resist buying a large bunch with the intention of making Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish of potatoes and kale mashed with heavy cream (my go-to kale recipe).  However, when I got home I was inspired to do something quite different.

I keep asking myself, Why has it taken you so long to discover these?!  Kale chips have been making their way around the blogosphere for some time now, but only recently have I begun to cook it this way.  Something almost magical happens when kale is roasted in the oven.  The bitter flavour is tamed and becomes rich, hearty and organic.  The tough, woody leaves become light and feathery.  I'm serious; these nearly melt in your mouth. 

Kale chip recipes abound in heaps and droves on the internet, and perhaps it's a recipe that's been "overdone," but I was so happy with how these turned out that I just had to share.  I hope you don't mind.  I wanted to keep my chips simple, while enhancing the earthy flavour of the kale in a subtle and sophisticated way.  Malt vinegar was the natural choice.  Additionally, I infused the olive oil with garlic over very low heat and used the finest French gray salt I could find.  That's it!  A few simple but extraordinary ingredients, half and hour in the oven and you have a fabulous homemade snack with a list of nutritional benefits too long to name.  If you've never made kale chips before, I highly suggest that you do!

"These are sooo good!" my son exclaimed as he sat down for his afternoon snack.  Needless to say the entire bunch of kale was gone in a few minutes.  I call that a success.

Sunday, April 7

Santa Fe Green Chile Stew

We spent the week before Easter exploring Santa Fe - a town that is at once both comfortably familiar and mysteriously foreign.  A town so full of contradictions, as is all of The Land of Enchantment, that I find it impossible to wrap my head around.  Yet,  I spent my childhood summers playing in the mountains outside of town and it always feels like home.

The sidewalk in front of the Palace of the Governors (the oldest building in the United States, by the way) is covered in brightly woven blankets, each adorned with an assortment of handmade, Native American goods - rose gold necklaces, turquoise bracelets set in bright silver, soft leather pouches of all sorts and sizes,  wooden drums, cork guns, and trinkets for the children, and Eve's favourite - pretty dolls with long, black hair, their dresses the brightest rainbow of colours.  The local peddlers sit behind each blanket, nestled into the warm, adobe wall.  Bundled tightly in blankets and hoods, their friendly, weather-beaten faces are creased with smile lines and their eyes glow warmly despite the cold wind that blows in fierce gusts down the street.  The sound of laughter floats our way from the plaza nearby.  A hundred local children are chasing the pigeons from benches and fences and watching them fly to the safety of the eves on the palace roof, squawking their disapproval.  And, though it's Monday afternoon, a street band plays festive music in front of the obelisk in the centre of the plaza.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is an imposing building just up the street.  The doors remind me of those at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy.  Inside, the building opens up like some of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe.  The walls are lined with stained glass images of the saints, and incense and candle wax perfume the air.  We watch quietly as a family lights a candle for a loved one, and I think how could anyone not feel at peace in a place like this? 

I don't want to leave, but it's late, and I know my parking meter is running low.  The wind catches our hair as we push the majestic doors back open and we're reminded, once again, just how cold the wind can be here in early spring.

We decided to get a late lunch at the Blue Corn Cafe (133 Water St.) before heading out.  A place that's renown for the spice of their green chile.  I was so impressed by the care with which they handled Eve's allergies, and though they don't have an allergen menu, I felt sure that Eve's food would be safe.  I had the Green Chile Stew, which was a tantelizing mix of all my favourite New Mexican flavours - hominy, pork, potatoes, and of course green chiles.  It was served with a thick, homemade flour tortilla and a fresh sopaipilla.  After one bite it was clear why this place is famous for their spice.  My tongue was on fire!  But it was delicious, none the less, and I knew that I must recreate this dish at home.  Ideas began swirling in my head.  I'd tone down the spices just a bit and freshen it up with cilantro and lime. 

So here it is: my version of Santa Fe Green Chile Stew minus the extreme heat. I served mine with homemade, baked tortilla chip seasoned with a bit of lime and salt.  As I ate it, my heart was back in Santa Fe - a memory brought to life again through food.  I hope you will enjoy it, too.