Rediscovering Soups

I've never been a fan of soups. When I was little I hated all the soups my mom made except for borscht (it will be my next soup-making project for sure!) Lately I fell in love with Thai soups such as Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup) and Tom Yum. Chinese hot and sour soup is also my favorite. So I surprised myself one day when thinking what to make for dinner. All of a sudden I decided I felt like making a soup. Mind you, it was cold and nasty outside (a typical February day) and I felt like cooking something nice and comforting. So I browsed through Fresh & Healthy Cooking For Two (an amazing recipe book that one of our friends gave us as an engagement gift a couple of months ago) and stumbled upon a recipe for a mushroom soup. It sounded great and the accompanying picture looked delicious! My mom and grandma used to make wild mushroom soup when I was a kid. It was my brother's favorite and my most hated. I had to leave the kitchen when they were making it -  I couldn't stand the smell. Since then I always thought I hated mushroom soups. Weird, since I LOVE mushrooms. So coming upon the recipe in the book I decided to take a chance and give it a try. The recipe called for white wine. That was the selling point for me of course.

Mixed Mushroom Soup with Fresh Thyme and Leeks
adapted from Fresh & Healthy Cooking For Two by Ellie Topp and Marilyn Booth

Makes 2 servings (1 1/2 cups each)

2 tsp olive or canola oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced leek (white and pale green parts)
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cups sliced dark brown mushrooms (I used crimini and shiitake but you can also add portabella or oyster)
2 cups beef or vegetable broth
3 tbsp white wine (I'll be honest I used at least 4)
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
Salt and ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes or until vegetables are slightly soft.
Add broth, wine, and thyme. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and boil gently for 40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Jay and I both love this soup. In fact, we like it so much I'm making it again as I'm writing this (for the second time this week.)
Dear Soup, I'm glad and excited to welcome you back into my previously mostly soup-less life!


Aloo Baingan

This past week has been really grey, cold and rainy so I decided to spice things up a little. Lats night I lit Nag Champa incense and flooded the entire floor of our building with the smell of Indian goodness. Cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander... All the amazing spices starting with a "c". Oh and chili, of course. I don't cook anything that doesn't involve chili peppers. Ever. Maybe that's why I don't bake. I love Indian food for its blend of flavors (not as much as I love Thai food, of course). It's a combination of all my favorite spices and herbs. It's like a crazy keg party for my taste buds.

I've made Kashmiri Dum Aloo  (baby potatoes in a spicy yogurt gravy) and Gobi Masala (cauliflower curry) before and they turned out great. I love how Indian recipes turn boring vegetables into something so excitingly flavorful. So when I came across the recipe for Aloo Baingan (aloo - potatoes, baingan - eggplant) I thought that I definitely had to give it a try. I am the greatest carnivore there is, however, so I added a couple of chicken thighs that I had left over. Tasted great. We ate it on its own since we're sort of light eaters (or trying to be) but it can be served with rice or naan. 

Aloo Baingan in a Tomato Yogurt Gravy

recipe adapted from kirantarun

Ingredients :
3 medium potatoes, cubed bite size
6-7 small eggplants, cubed bite size
4 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp crushed cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp minced ginger 
1/2 tsp garlic paste
2 heaping tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
4-5 heaping tbsp non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup of water
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Spice mix:

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp ground fennel
Or if you are feeling lazy you can just use garam masala mix available at any grocery store. It has all the same ingredients except for fennel, and instead of red chili powder uses black pepper. 

  1. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium high. Add 2 tbsp cooking oil, fry potatoes and eggplants for some color. This should take no more than 5 minutes.
  2. Remove potatoes and eggplant from the skillet.
  3. Add remaining cooking oil to the skillet and sprinkle in some crushed cumin seeds. Fry for a few seconds.
  4. Throw in chopped onions, ginger and garlic paste. Fry till fragrant. This should take about 10 minutes.
  5. Add tomato paste and spice mix. Stir to combine and continue to cook for a few minutes.
  6. Return potatoes and eggplant into the skillet.
  7. Once oil begins separating to the sides, add non-fat yogurt, bay leaves, water and salt to taste.
  8. Cover skillet and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes until vegetables are fully cooked and tender.
  9. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves & serve hot with steamed rice or naan.


Hungry for The Hunger Games

A couple of weeks ago I started reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. From the first few pages the book sucked me in so much that I had to make Jay read it too so that I would have a couple of guaranteed reading hours a day. The book is so well-written, fast-paced, and vivid that it feels like you are watching a movie while reading it. No wonder The Hunger Games movie is coming out in March 2012 (can't wait!). 
I'm on the third book now, and while I devoured the first and second, I have a hard time getting through Mockingjay. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I sort of got desensitized to the whole story after reading all three books back-to-back or that the last book is much slower than the first two with a lot less action and a lot more depiction of Katniss's thoughts and inner sufferings. While Collins is great at making my heart race with her action-packed scenes, somehow her description of Katniss's inner conflicts does not buy me. I don't recommend books very often but I think everyone should give The Hunger Games a try. The first two books definitely make up for the last one. 

On a side note, The Hunger Games reminded me a lot of Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson in how they both instantly became best-sellers and so many were reading them that I would be able to recognize their book covers even if I were colorblind, could not read, and was missing an eye. I only managed to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and even that was not easy. I guess I'm not a big fan of crime fiction. I haven't seen the movie either. Although I kind of want to since I keep getting people tell me that I look like Lisbeth Salander. After I heard it a few times I just had to look her up:

Yeah, ok, maybe a little. I'm still not reading the other two books in the series. Even if I were threatened to lose my one-remaining eye. 


Thai Basil Chicken

I've warned you that I have a weak spot for Thai food. I don't ever try to make Thai curries though. Ever. Curries are Jay's thing and he mastered them to perfection. Maybe one day I will make him write down a recipe for me and I will share it here. But there are a lot of amazing Thai dishes besides curry so I try and learn new recipes once in awhile (about once a week or so, I like Thai food that much). 
Last night I made Thai Basil Chicken. I've made it before using a slightly different recipe but I liked this one better. It calls for coconut milk which adds extra flavor and richness to the dish. Oh, and did I mention that basil is one of my favorite herbs? Yes. Coconut milk, basil, lime, chili paste -what more can one ask for?

Thai Basil Chicken

Serves 4

6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-size chunks or strips
1/2 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced (any other mushrooms, like cremini, work too)
1 red pepper, sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2-4 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 tbsp minced ginger
3 minced garlic cloves
1 1/2 cup of basil (thai basil or any other) plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1/2 cup fresh mint
1 can coconut milk
4 tbsp light soy sauce
6 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp chile garlic sauce or more to taste
Lime juice
1/2 package rice stick noodles
lime for garnish

1. Soak noodles in warm water for about 10 minutes or until soft. Drain water.
2. Bring 2 tbsp of oil to medium heat in a wok and sauté onion, garlic, and ginger for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add red pepper and saute for another 8 -10 minutes. Remove from wok. 
3. Add 2 tbsp of oil to wok and brown chicken for 6-8 minutes until cooked through. 
4. Combine coconut milk, soy sauce, rice or white wine vinegar, fish sauce and chile sauce in a medium-sized bowl. 
5. When chicken is cooked through, add onion and red pepper mixture to wok. Add coconut milk mixture.
6. Add  1 1/2 cup basil and 1/4 cup mint and simmer until reduced by 1/3.
7. Combine noodles with chicken mixture. Add a dash of lime juice and cook for one minute. Serve with additional basil for garnish and lime wedges.


Red and green and yellow

Last weekend Jay and I went out color-hunting. Trees were exploding with color and the weather was amazingly warm. We got chased by bees (in October??) and got a few nice shots. Jay has a nice DSLR camera  and I try to keep up with my point-and-shoot one. Here's what i got:


Cooking in style

How cute are these?? I really want at least one (can't decide which one I like the best though) but then I will need a pair of cooking heels because you can't wear these aprons without your stilettos on.

Found on anthropologie

Salads galore

I love salads. All kinds of them. They are quick and easy to make, healthy (well, if you don't put a cup of dressing in them like I tend to do), and look pretty. Before Jay moved in I used to have a green salad for dinner every night, seven days a week. I would add protein by using eggs or chicken in them. Salads were so easy to make and I just didn't feel like making fancy meals just for myself. Now that I cook for the two of us I experiment a lot with recipes but I still try to make a salad for dinner once in a while just to lighten things up a bit.

I discovered this recipe a few months ago and have made this salad at least five times since (which is a lot for me). It was a great meal to have on hot summer nights as it's light and you eat it cold. I've made it for friends and everyone loved it and asked for the recipe. So here you go. You're welcome.

Curried Wild Rice and Chickpea Salad

picture and recipe adapted from La Kocinera

1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice (I use the mix of wild and brown rice since they don't carry pure wild rice at my grocery store)
2 1/2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound smoked ham (I love smoked duck so I use it instead. You can skip the meat altogether), diced
8 small green onions, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
hot sauce—such as Tabasco—to taste

1. Cook the wild rice according to package instructions.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add olive oil, whisking until combined.
3. Add the chickpeas, ham, green onions, and wild rice, tossing to coat with dressing.
4. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce, to taste, again stirring to combine.
Serve at room temperature.