Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Dinner (aka Jason's Favorite Cream of Mushroom Soup)

As the resident cook in the family, I make dinners most nights. I say most nights because Jason and I have a deal where I cook 4-5 nights a week (usually Sunday-Thursday) and we go out to eat the other two nights (usually Friday and Saturday)... because even someone who likes to cook as much as I do needs a break! During the week, I try to stick to relatively simple meals (e.g., those that are not too time consuming or that require a hundred different ingredients) since, no commute aside, I do work a 40+ hour week too.  This means that Sundays usually are my days to try out more complicated recipes or things that just require more time to prepare.

Ina Garten’s cream of wild mushroom soup is a prime example of a Sunday meal around here and it just so happens to be one of Jason’s all time favorites. I decided to make it today since he spent a good portion of the day working on our taxes (he is the finance whiz in the family).  You start out by making a mushroom stock that is used in making the actual soup (hence why it is a bit more time consuming than my average weekday meals).

Then you sauté some leeks and a whole lot of mushrooms, add some white wine, and simmer with the stock for a bit. Stir in some half-and-half and heavy cream and you’ve got yourself some soup! Yum.

The key to making the most flavorful soup is the stock and I have identified a pretty good way to ensure maximum flavor---adding a little Better than Bouillon once the stock has come to a boil. I found this out by accident, actually. The first time I made the soup, I found it a little bland (to my dismay) although Jason loved it. I chalked it up to not having seasoned it properly and vowed to try again. The next time I realized that I had discarded the mushroom stems too soon and was not going to be able to use them for the stock. After a moment of panic, I realized that I had some Mushroom Better than Bouillon in the fridge (leftover from another recipe) and threw some in. The resulting stock (and therefore soup) was far more flavorful and delicious than before.

Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten

15 ounces of mushrooms (this time I used maitake, portabella, and cremini but you can use any kind as long as they are not white/button mushrooms)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon of dried thyme, herbs de provence, or something similar
1-2 Tablespoons Mushroom Better than Bouillon (depending on how mushroom-y you like things)
2 chopped leeks (white and light green parts)
¼ cup flour
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half and half (all the grocery store had today was fat free so I used it and it worked just fine)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper

1.  Make the stock: Separate the mushroom caps from the stems and coarsely chop them. Set aside. Slice the mushroom caps into bite size pieces. Heat the olive oil and 1 Tbl of the butter in a large pot. Add mushroom stems, onion, carrot, and ¼ tsp of the dried herbs, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat from 10-15 minutes until everything is soft. Add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, and add the Better than Bouillon. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid.
2. After the stock has simmered for 10 minutes or so, heat the remaining butter in a large pot and add the leeks. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes until the leeks begin to brown. Add the mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes or until browned and tender.
3. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir for another minute, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the mushroom stock, remaining dried herbs, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the half-and-half and cream, heat through but do not boil. Check for seasoning and serve.

Tonight I served the soup with some yeast rolls that I “made” from frozen dough.

You just let the dough rise (in a warm oven) for an hour and then bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

They are so good. Sometimes I brush a little melted butter and add some herbs to the top before baking. Awesome!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Being Settled/Weeknight Routines

One of things I have enjoyed most about being a newlywed is that general feeling of calm and contentment that comes from being settled. To me this is most evident in our weeknights. Jason and I did not live together until we got married and our pre-wedding weeknights were full of uncertainty—who’s apartment we were going to hang out at, whether we were going to eat dinner together or meet up afterwards (and if we were going to eat dinner—what/where?), etc.  Even when we planned these things out ahead of time, things never felt truly comfortable (or dare I say…settled). It got old.

Once we got married we quickly settled into a weeknight routine, and the effortlessness of it all was one of the first things I think we both equally appreciated about being married. So what does our routine look like? Since I work from home and have no commute, I generally try to have dinner on the table when Jason gets home from work around 6:30-7 (and by that time we are both pretty much starving anyway).  Jason usually does the dishes (much to my relief since cleaning is one of the things I hate most in the world) and we settle in to watch the news (if it is still on) or (my personal favorite) Jeopardy. 

I LOVE Jeopardy. I pretty much kick its butt most nights too. I recently took the online test but I think I got too nervous (it was my first time) and choked. I am hoping one day I can go on and win us some money.
That, however, is where our common routine usually ends. We definitely have different “styles” when it comes to weeknights, and that has taken some getting used to.  Because I work from home and don’t interact with actual people on a regular basis (my interactions are limited to phone and email most of the time), I am usually really excited to have someone home to talk to or even just to physically be around. Jason, on the other hand, is usually ready for some “alone time” and wants to do his own thing. At first I took this personally, but now don’t really mind it (most of the time).

Unless there is something on the TV that we are both interested in (e.g., How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, or 30 Rock), Jason usually heads to either 1) our bedroom (where his desk is also located) or 2) his green chair.  Jason did not bring much in the way of furniture to our relationship (thankfully—I already had plenty given that I’d lived alone for 4.5 years before we got married) but he did have a green chair and ottoman that we put into a corner of the living room that we turned into a reading nook.

Our reading nook and Jason's green chair

So while Jason is either reading or messing around on one of his computers, I usually spend the evening watching TV.  It’s bad I know, but I like to relax during the week and relaxing for me is doing something that doesn’t really require much in the way of brain power (Jeopardy aside). I like to read but that is something I usually do in the 30-40 minutes before I go to bed or on the weekend. 

Having a routine has its downfall though—it is easy to get in a rut. Things like Book Club help. As does making plans to meet up with friends for the occasional happy hour or dinner during the week. But more often than not, when Jason and I feel like our weeknights are hitting a rut we spice it up with….a game of Scrabble. That’s right, Scrabble. We are officially old, married, and boring. But at least we are settled!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Confession: Book Club Edition

I’ve been part of a book club for almost 3 years now (no, that’s not the confession…I’ll get to that in a minute).  I realize that being in a book club sounds a wee bit middle-aged….but it is actually really fun. We meet once a month at someone’s house (we take turns hosting) and whoever hosts makes the entrée with the other members bringing appetizers, sides, and desserts. We hang out, drink wine, catch up/gossip, and yes, discuss the book selection for that month.

Book club meets tonight.

My confession is this….. I didn’t read this month’s book.

I didn’t even buy it. I am a bad book clubber.

Now, I don’t usually do this. But I was really busy this month and time just slipped me by. By the time I remembered, I knew it was no use (and to be honest, I wasn’t feeling the selection anyway….)

But I did a bake a (hopefully) yummy treat to contribute to the book club feast….a variation of Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake (by way of one of my favorite food bloggers—smitten kitchen).

Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, is one of my personal heroes. She is smart (she was at one point a nuclear energy analyst for the White House Office of Management and Budget!), seemingly down to earth, and an awesome home cook (e.g., not a trained chef). I am obsessed with her show on Food Network and have THREE of her cookbooks (one of which my wonderful mother got signed for me when she was on a book tour a few years ago). Her recipes almost always turn out amazingly. I want her to take me under her wing and teach me everything she knows. Love. Her. (Plus her house is swwweeeeetttt!)

I decided to go with smitten kitchen’s variation because I love the blueberry-lemon combination. You can find the details of how to make it here.  I ended up using greek style yogurt instead of the regular variety because the grocery store was out of the latter when I went to get the supplies yesterday. Hopefully this does not adversely affect the moistness of the cake..…I’ll let you know.

Update: The cake was a hit at book club. Everyone commented on the "light and moist"-ness of the cake. I do think it was probably a tad bit dryer than if I had been able to use the regular yogurt so next time I will definitely try to go that route. I think next time I might also make more of  a glaze for the top per Ina's original recipe (rather than the lemon syrup that smitten kitchen used). All in all, I'd recommend!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Experiment in Cheesemaking

First--I know I have been posting pretty sporadically so far….I am going to try and post more regularly going forward (more for myself than for my currently non-existent readers :P ). The other day I mentioned a blog post I came across this week detailing how to make homemade goat cheese. Jason and I tried our hand at this fun project this afternoon to great success!

Given that all the details on how to make the yummy, creamy, cheesy goodness can be found on the Serious Eats website, I won’t go into that here (because as Jason said earlier tonight, doing so would be a little like “a snake eating its tail”). But I did take a few pictures of the process which can be found below.


We added grated garlic, dill, and parsley to our goat cheese



Verdict? A very mild but still tasty goat cheese with an amazing texture—soft and creamy almost like a spread. This would be great on a sandwich (maybe this one??) but equally good on crackers. Next time I make it, I might add more garlic, more dill, and some lemon zest. You could really get creative with this!

Oh, and the goat’s milk was not that hard to find…Jason swung by our local Whole Foods to pick some up while I was out performing my first act as Matron of Honor for my friend Lauren’s wedding (i.e. looking at wedding and bridesmaid dresses).  Unfortunately, all they had available was the ultra pasteurized version (which the recipe specifically said to avoid if possible) but I still think it turned out well.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Year of the Soup

It is interesting to me how people can be so affected by the weather and the change in seasons. This is certainly true for me—the cloudy, cold days of winter often lead to general feelings of malaise and lethargy if I don’t actively try to combat them.  Not surprisingly my food cravings also change with the seasons; in summer I love nothing more than big salads and seafood but winter leaves me wanting hearty comfort foods like pot roast and meatloaf.  And soup. This winter I have been all about the soup, especially pureed soups. Curried squash and carrot soup and sweet potato and chipotle soup have already made multiple appearances so far this winter. I like soups because they are pretty easy and make for hearty, tasty, and pretty healthy meals perfect for a cold winter’s night (or weekend if you happen to have been hit as hard by the snow as we have this year).  They also tend to make a lot which means we’ve got lunches and/or dinners covered for a good portion of the week.

After being snowed in for much of last week, I decided it would be nice to try the roasted fennel and potato soup I found in a cookbook my aunt gave me for Christmas.

The ingredients are things pretty much universally liked in this house: garlic, fennel, potatoes, chicken broth, heavy cream, onion, and leeks.

The recipe is pretty simple—roast chopped fennel and onion while sautéing the leek and garlic. Add the potatoes, roasted fennel and onion mixture, and chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add in some heavy cream and then….(my favorite part) blend it all up until smooth and velvety.  Voila—soup!
 The verdict?  While the curried squash and carrot soup I mentioned above remains the favorite, this is a nice change of pace. The potatoes give it really good body and the cream adds some added richness which is nice to partake of from time to time. That being said, next time I might cut back on the cream (to make it a bit healthier) and try roasting the garlic for additional sweetness/depth of flavor.

Roasted Fennel and Potato Soup
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 small onion, coarsely chopped (I used white but you could probably use a Spanish or yellow onion as well)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped*
6 cups chicken stock (I recommend using low-sodium)
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks**
1 cup heavy cream (or less---I used the full cup this time but in the future I might consider reducing the amount as I am not sure that much is necessary)
Salt and pepper to taste
Some fresh chives chopped (for garnish)

1.Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss fennel and onions with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper on a heavy baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
2.Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in a large heavy saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the leeks and sauté for 5 minutes or until they have softened slightly (did not take the full 5 minutes on my gas range). Add the stock, potatoes, and roasted fennel mixture and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender. Remove the soup from the heat and let cool slightly.
3.I used an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. However, if you do not have an immersion blender you can puree the soup (in batches) in a blender or food processor until smooth.  If you do this you will need to add the soup back into the pot when you are done (the recipe says to strain the soup into a clean large saucepan---you are welcome to try this but it seemed like a waste of a clean pot to me so I left it all in my original dutch oven.)
4.Add the cream to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with chives and serve.

*Be sure to clean your leek thoroughly as they tend to be pretty sandy. Here is a trick I learned from Rachel Ray (of all places)—chop up your leeks and then place them in a bowl of cool water for 2-3 minutes. The leeks will float while the sand and grit sinks to the bottom. Scoop out the clean leeks and use!

** Has anyone noticed that grocery stores don’t seem to have as many scales in the produce department anymore? I decided I wanted to make sure I got just a pound of potatoes and walked all over the place before finally finding a small scale hiding in the corner of the produce department.

Fun Weekend Project Idea

Serious Eats (one of my favorite food blogs) just posted a recipe for making your own goat cheese at home:

Jason and I LOOOVE goat cheese--this would be a fun weekend project. Where does one buy goat milk??

A Matter of Taste

Anyone who knows Jason knows that he can be very opinionated. And he’s not afraid to voice his opinions on a given topic….sometimes at great length. Recently, he’s been opining on the evils of high fructose corn syrup. He’s concerned about its health effects of course but also has a strong dislike for the corn lobby as a whole. After listening to him go on and on about his concerns for the umpteenth time one morning over breakfast, I finally told him to put up or shut up. You see Jason is the resident pancake-maker in our little family (generally making them for us to eat one breakfast a week) and loves nothing more than dousing his hot-off-the-griddle pancakes with good ol’ Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup. Let’s take a look at the ingredients, shall we?

 As you probably could have guessed the stuff is pretty much entirely high-fructose corn syrup!  No maple syrup (or even maple flavoring for that matter) in sight….no wonder they have to sell it as “pancake syrup.”  Which is why I told him that if he really thought HFCS was evil then maybe he should stop his blatant consumption of it. To show my support, I even bought him his very own bottle of pure Vermont maple syrup for Valentine’s Day (so romantic, I know).

Well apparently he actually listened and now he’s on a roll, determined to rid his life of as much high-fructose corn syrup as is possible. Next on his hit list---ginger ale.  We generally limit our soda intake to the occasional restaurant, but Jason likes to stock our fridge with those mini cans of ginger ale (a work week treat when water for dinner just won’t do). Of course as with most sodas, the typical ginger ale is chock full of the dreaded HFCS. However, a number of companies are starting to make sodas with cane sugar as well and Jason decided to make it his mission to find an “all natural” ginger ale. After a quick trip to the local Whole Foods (our usual grocery store left us empty-handed), we came home with a six-pack of their 365 ginger ale and the idea to do our own version of the Pepsi Challenge: a blind taste test pitting the traditional HFCS ginger ale (In this case Seagram’s Ginger Ale) versus a cane sugar version.

The verdict? We could definitely tell the difference between the two. Not so much on a sweetness level (we both thought they were equally sweet), but more on a ginger-flavored level. The Seagram’s brand was a bit “softer” (for lack of a better description) than the 365 brand which had a bit more zing. And while we may prefer that softer bite now, it’s probably because that is what we are used to tasting.  Honestly, we drink the stuff so infrequently that the hardest thing about making the switch will likely be saying goodbye to the mini cans (we're partial to the portion control). Now if I could just find an all natural, zero calorie drink (other than water, of course)....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meet the Newlyweds

 (taken on our September 2009 honeymoon in Kauai)

Lindsay:  Health policy wonk currently working from home. Enjoys cooking, pop culture, reading, trying to make the world a better place, watching Food Network and browsing real estate (most of which she can’t afford).

Jason: Software engineer/ “privatized government stooge.” (His words not mine.)  Enjoys technology, investing, reading (especially about technology and investing), outdoor activities, and being a crank (some of the time).

Introducing Eat, Think, and Be Married

Welcome friends and family (and any strangers who may have accidentally found their way here)! An avid reader of a variety of blogs, I've decided the time has finally come for me to try and give back to the blogosphere that has given me so much over the years. Eat, Think, and Be Married is meant to provide a brief glimpse into the lives of two (late) twenty-something newlyweds as we navigate the ins and outs of building a new life together from the confines of a one-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia.