Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupOne of my favorite activities is lying in bed at night and dreaming up new recipes with Bear. Usually, one of us will be looking at Pinterest or working on devouring a new novel when the other will exclaim out of nowhere, “You know what would be great to make for the blog?” What follows usually varies in both its appeal and possibility. Some ideas dissipate as quickly as they formed, while others make it onto a running list in my phone only to stay there for months without barely a second thought. Better suggestions make it to the trial stage, but fail miserably and on really good days, I’m able to take an idea and turn it into something absolutely delicious that we wind up having twice in one week because it’s that darn good. Such is the case here with this Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup!

The truth is, this recipe started off as an idea to make a “loaded” cauliflower soup like one would if making a rift on a loaded baked potato. I still think this is a tasty idea (thanks, boo!) and, truly, who doesn’t want to top a thick cauliflower soup with bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and other favorite toppings? I’ll come back to this idea, I know it, but before I could get there a few weeks ago, I spied a round of Boursin shallot & chive herbed cheese in the back of my dairy drawer and instantly knew this would be a pairing for the ages. A quick search will tell you that there’s no shortage of cauliflower and cheese soup recipes out there, but from what I found, no one had thought to pair this creamy, savory cheese with cauliflower just yet – at least as far as Google is concerned. It was all the motivation I needed to put this new plan into action – roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup was born!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupIn this recipe, I start by roasting the cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic until it is medium brown and nutty so that the flavor of our shining star is concentrated and ever-present through each spoonful. I know when the cauliflower is done both by the buttery, toasted aroma it gives off and when the edges of smaller pieces start to become crisp. Seriously, I could stop right here and eat the entire tray as is, but then a) there’d be no soup and b) I’d be in terrible gastrointestinal distress for the following 6-8 hours.

Paired with some golden, sautéed onions, fresh thyme, and chicken or vegetable broth, the soup is bulked up by the addition of two medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes that add to its silkiness once pureed and makes the soup hearty and warming – or, exactly what we all need to get through the remains of winter. With the herbed cheese melted in at the final moment, the soup becomes creamy with both the flavor and mouth-feel (don’t hate me for using that word) of fresh cream and the added deliciousness of shallot and chives. Top your bowls with homemade croutons, a sprinkle of fresh parsley, some crispy bacon, or all of the above for a soup that will quickly become your new favorite. Roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup: make it tonight!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of milk or cream
3 ounces of herbed cheese, such as Boursin, Alouette, or Rondelé, crumbled
Croutons, crispy bacon pieces, or chopped fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast until medium brown, about 20-30 minutes. While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the broth and add the roasted cauliflower. Bring soup to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce to simmer, allowing the soup to cook for about 20 minutes. Potatoes should be tender before removing pot from heat.

Once the soup has finished cooking and you have turned off the flame, use an immersion blender and puree the soup until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add milk or cream and the crumbled cheese, stirring to incorporate. Cover pot and allow cheese to melt and integrate into the soup. Stir well and check the soup for salt & pepper; season if necessary. Add homemade croutons, crisp bacon, or a chiffonade of fresh herbs to the top of each bowl for garnish.

Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupHappy New Year, my lovelies! Here’s hoping the first few days of 2015 are treating you very well indeed. I had so many plans for holiday posts – a cute jewelry DIY, a recipe or three – and I got to none of them! Zut alors! While this makes my overachieving brain feel a touch guilty for being neglectful of this space, I also realized that in not doing these things, I spent a lot more time being present with friends and family and just enjoying the season. While this may not bring me blogging fame any time soon, it did lend itself to a restful time, which I was sorely in need of after my teaching wrapped up. At any rate, I return to you with this absolutely delicious curried carrot and sweet potato soup that I hope you’ll love as much as I do!

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupThe time I spent visiting my family this holiday season was such fun and omg-so-decadent. As Italians generally do, we stuffed our faces with some absolutely delicious grub. There were homemade rice balls, giant antipastos, surf & turf, cookies, cakes, an unforgettable banana cream pie. We visited family in southern Jersey and had mozzarella so fresh it was still warm when it hit our tongues! We traveled to see friends in New York and were treated to homemade gyoza that were simultaneously tender and crisp – not to mention porky & gingery! There were cheese balls, charcuterie, towers of pastries, piles of candies! Guys, in the words of Rayanne Graff, “it was a time!”

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupI bet for many of you, though, there is a glaring absence here of fruit and vegetables and while I didn’t at first care too much about this – vegetables with spinach dip count, right? – by my final days, I was a bit alarmed at how meat-cheese-and-sweets-heavy our diets had become. Understandably, my body felt cranky and tired, so when I returned to Minneapolis my first stop was the grocery store where I loaded up on all the produce I could carry. Seriously, the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator is stuffed full with vegetables and fruit – a sight for the sore eyes of Bear, too, who had eaten a criminal amount of Tostino’s pizza rolls in my absence.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupAs I stared at my bounty that first night trying to figure out what it was I wanted to eat, I realized that not only did I want something nutritious, I also wanted something well spiced and flavored; something different and brighter than the heavy foods I’d been enjoying the past few weeks. I spied the 5lbs of carrots awaiting me and suddenly was off on a monochromatic dash through the kitchen that found me grabbing sweet potatoes, curry paste, and an orange in tandem with the usual hosts of any savory meal – onions, garlic, and olive oil, among others.

Thirty minutes later, I had this hearty, delicious soup promising to bring me back from the brink of what I can only assume was nearly scurvy and oh goodness, was it just the ticket! Try this curried carrot and sweet potato soup with a drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream and a garnish of fresh cilantro. It’s a sure pick-me-up and a great, flavorful start to the new year. It got me back on track and welcoming the next 360 days or so and all the splendor they’ll surely bring.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup
Yields approximately 4-6 servings

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes
2lbs of carrots
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 Tablespoons of curry paste (or 1 Tablespoons of curry powder)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 an orange, juiced (approximately 3 Tablespoons)
8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, separated
1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt (I prefer Chobani) or sour cream, plus more for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Peel and roughly chop sweet potatoes and carrots into chunks; try to cut them a similar size to one another so that they cook evenly. In a soup pot, add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they’ve begun to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Sautée for about 5 minutes and then add carrots. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the curry & the cayenne pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, raise the temperature to medium high and bring to a boil. Give the soup a good stir, add the orange juice, lower the heat to medium low and simmer the soup for approximately 25 minutes. At this point, check the vegetables. If they are soft, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If they still have some resistance to them, cook until done. You want them to be really soft so that they blend up easily.

Remove the soup from the flame and prepare to purée the soup. You can do this a number of ways. I use an immersion blender, but you could also process this in batches in a blender or a food processor. For each, fill your vessel only half full and give it a few pulses before really letting it whirl. Hot liquid expands quickly when agitated and if you don’t use caution, you could burn yourself. If you don’t have any of these appliances, you could also remove all the vegetables from the pot and mash them with a potato masher or use a ricer. When finished, return them to the pot with the liquid and stir until combined. Your soup won’t be as smooth as if you’d used a blender of sorts, but don’t fear – it will still be very delicious!

Once your soup is puréed, check it for salt & add any if necessary. Additionally, consider its thickness. If it’s too much like a purée for your tastes, add the remaining 1 cup of stock in increments until the soup reaches the desired consistency. Next, stir in the yogurt or sour cream and watch your soup take on a new level of velvety. Yum!

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of yogurt or sour cream and a bit of cilantro. Gobble up.

*Note: This is easily made vegetarian (use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock) & vegan (use vegetable stock, replace butter with oil, and sour cream/yogurt with a dairy-free, soy yogurt).

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla SoupLately, I’ve been making these super organized, really thought out grocery lists to try and maximize our meals. For me, this means two main things: 1) Focusing on fresh ingredients that really get me excited about cooking and 2) Making sure I develop meals around our schedules so that it’s not as appealing to just order take-out several nights a week. As a result, I’ve been gathering easy ingredients to always have on-hand for quick, satisfying meals – hey there, easy breakfast-for-dinner nights! – and making sure I have a veggie & noodle salad of some kind, or an easy soup, in the fridge and ready to go when hunger pangs come calling.

This chicken tortilla soup is one of my absolute favorite soups, first and foremost, because it is just so tasty. Every time I make it, I exclaim that we should eat it once a week and that is so not an exaggeration – it’s really that good. Plus, it fits my new maximization mantra of having fresh ingredients and flavors, while being a fairly adaptable meal for different schedules and levels of attention. While the recipe first came into my life as an option for the slow cooker, I found myself this week with all the makings, but without having had the forethought to put it together in the morning. Fail face.

Chicken Tortilla SoupSure, I could have waited for the next day, but this soup is so good that it possesses my brain every time I get ready to make it so that there’s this constant thought loop of “Is it chicken tortilla soup time yet?” After a bit of adaptation and messing about, it was chicken tortilla soup time and only within about 75 minutes for prep & cooking combined! Which means that this delicious, satisfying, feel-so-good soup is now even easier and faster to get from fridge, to pot, to bowl, to face. And that’s something I fully support.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yields 4-6 servings; adapted from here.

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil
3-4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
Salt & pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 15oz can of petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 10oz can enchilada sauce
1 4oz can chopped green chile peppers
1 14.5oz of chicken stock
2 cups of corn (fresh, frozen, or canned will do)
1/2 cup of red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 large flour tortillas cut into 1/4-inch strips (crushed tortilla chips are also acceptable)
1 lime cut into wedges

Directions:
In a heavy-bottom pot, drizzle in enough vegetable oil to cover the surface and apply medium-high heat. Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. When the oil begins to ripple, add the chicken breasts to the pot skin-side down. Allow to cook for 5 minutes or until they have developed a brown crust. Flip chicken breasts and cook on other side for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic, sauteeing for 4-5 minutes until the onions begin to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper and add bay leaf, cumin, and chili powder. Stir to combine and allow spices to toast for 3 minutes with the onions and garlic. Turn heat back up to medium high and slowly stir in the chicken stock, releasing any brown bits from the bottom of the pot with your spoon as you pour. Add the tomatoes, green chile peppers, and enchilada sauce and stir together. Add chicken breasts to pot and any juices that have collected while it was resting. Cover pot allowing only a tiny vent for steam and bring to a low boil. Adjust temperature accordingly and allow to simmer like this for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, approximately 15 minutes more. Remove soup lid and add corn. When chicken is done, remove from pot and rest until it is cool enough to handle. Allow the soup to continue cooking, uncovered, on medium heat so that it reduces some.

In the meantime, you can prep the red onion, cilantro, limes, and tortilla strips for the garnish. In a small-to-medium deep pot, pour in about 1-inch of vegetable oil and apply medium-high heat. In the meantime, slice your flour tortillas in half and then slice them across into a series of 1/4-inch, thin strips. Test the oil by putting the end of one of the tortillas into the oil and see if it sizzles. If so, drop one in and test it. You want it to achieve golden brownness in about 15 seconds. If it doesn’t get there, discard strip and let oil heat up a bit more. If it gets dark much faster, lower the temperature of the oil accordingly. When ready, add a small handful of the strips at a time and, watching them carefully, gently move them around the hot oil with tongs as they turn golden and crisp up. As you remove the strips from the oil, drain them on paper towels and salt them lightly while they’re still hot and fresh. Finish the remaining strips and set aside.

Pull the chicken off the bones and discard them along with the skin. Shred the chicken meat and add back to soup. Allow to warm and re-incorporate for about 5-7 minutes. Turn soup off and cover until ready to serve. When ready to eat, ladle soup into bowls and top with diced red onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and fresh tortilla strips.

Spicy Sausage & Kale Tortellini Soup

Lucky for you if Spring has sprung in your neck of the woods. In Minneapolis, the snow is still coming down in some accumulation every other day, the wind that blows is still icy rather than cool, and the back parking lot of our apartment building has a covering of ice so thick, you could preserve a dinosaur in it. Please, goddess of all things blogging, let it be our last winter here.

While Minneapolis is a great city and saw me through my grad program with no shortage of laughter or love, the winters are killer and in a way that no New England winter ever was. I will take a Nor’easter over an Alberta Clipper any day. Oh, how I rue the day I was forced to finally learn the meaning of that phrase!

If I thought it’d ever see the light of day when posted on Pinterest, I might even consider naming this recipe Alberta Clipper soup, as it saw us through the tail end of one a week or so ago. With temperatures hovering around -15°F, it was clearly soup weather, but what kind? I wanted something that felt a little exciting, that brought some heat even if just on the palate, something different than the creamy soups of early winter and the clear, chicken-broth based, lighter ones that welcomed in the new year.

When I pulled Italian sausage from the freezer, I nearly ditched soup altogether and made sausage and peppers, but started thinking about roasted red peppers in the jar, how they make such a deep, creamy soup base if you treat them real nice. I remembered I had kale par-boiled and weatherproofed in the freezer just waiting for me to plunge it into something hot – you can certainly use fresh, though, and just plan on cooking it a bit longer until it is wilted. The rest of the soup came together easily: a heavy dose of red pepper flakes to warm the throat and nose, Worcestershire sauce for beefiness, and plump little cheese tortellini simply because they’re delicious.

When the soup is nearly finished (before adding the sausage back in to simmer for a bit, before the tortellini join the party), I took some broth and the veggies that came with it to a separate bowl and gave it all a thorough pureeing with the immersion blender, though you could of course use a blender or food processor too. This resulted in about 2 cups of a thick (think chunky applesauce consistency) broth that when added back to the soup made the body of it all velvety. Our bowls were warm and ample.

This soup goes perfectly with good conversation, a sip or two of dry red wine, and a fireplace. Or, if you’re us, a DVR cached showing of the yule log. On mute.

Spicy Sausage & Kale Tortellini Soup
Yields 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
1lb of sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and broken into 1-inch chunks (you can also roll them like meatballs)
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced very finely
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste
4 cups of beef broth
4 cups of chicken broth
2 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 cups of fresh kale
2 cups of cheese tortellini, cooked separately*

Directions:
In an 8-quart stock pot, add 1 Tablespoon of oil and cook chunks of sausage over medium high until they are cooked through. Remove from the pot and set aside. Assess the bottom of the pot and add another tablespoon of oil if needed in order to sautee onion over medium heat until translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, dried basil, bay leaf, and salt & pepper to the onion mixture and allow to continue cooking for another minute or two being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the 8 cups of broth, the Worcestershire sauce, and put on a lid leaving it slightly ajar. Cook until the soup comes to a low boil. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Next, add the cooked sausage and cook an additional 5 minutes on medium-low. At this point, you can add the cooked tortellini to the soup and serve the whole pot as a meal or add the tortellini to individual bowls and ladle the hot soup on top. As per usual with soup, this is even better the next day!

*Note: I choose to cook my tortellini separately and add it to individual bowls rather than cooking it in the soup or adding it after it’s been cooked and storing it combined because I find pasta loses any texture when kept in the broth in the fridge. If this doesn’t bother you or you prefer your pasta soft, feel free to add it earlier or cook it in the broth.

Italian Wedding Soup

There is something so comforting and yet energizing about Italian Wedding Soup. It’s warm and hearty, but not weighed down with creams and cheeses. Not that there is anything wrong with cream and cheese, of course. This is the kind of food, though, that you feel strengthened by. Dark, leafy spinach – so rich in vitamins – layered throughout clean, flavorful chicken stock. Carrots cut into little jewels, nestled around light, bite-sized pork meatballs. Simple. Bright. Nourishing. Nothing, in fact, like an Italian wedding!* It’s all the things a good end-of-winter soup should be.

I make these little pork meatballs the same way I would meatballs for spaghetti with the exception being that these are made exclusively of ground pork, as opposed to pork and beef, and are studded with fresh tarragon. The latter of which, with parsley too, makes the soup lightly herby in flavor and so aromatic. Usually, I’d suggest cooking the noodles separately and adding them on a bowl-by-bowl basis in order to not have them lose any and all texture as the soup sits, but because I lessen the amount of noodles called for in this recipe and, coupled with the small size of the pasta, this extra step is unnecessary. I promised simple, didn’t I?

*I say this about Italian weddings as a born-and-raised Italian-American femme from New Jersey. My Super Sweet Sixteen happened for all of my cousins out on Long Island and then happened again when they all got married. As a result, you could say I know my way around smoke machines, stretch Humvees, and Venetian tables.


Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Italian Wedding Soup; Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the meatballs
1lb ground pork (feel free to sub ground chicken, turkey, or even beef)
2/3 cup dried Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3 Tablespoons milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper

For the soup
2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup carrots, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
10 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup small pasta such as rings, tubetini or stars
12 ounces baby spinach
Lemon zest for serving, if desired

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.

For the meatballs, place the ground pork, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, tarragon, parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with your clean hands – this is the best method! Taking a teaspoon of the mixture at a time, form 1 to 1-1/4 inch meatballs and drop onto a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment. You should have about 40 meatballs when you’ve finished. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through. If you’d like, you can stop here and finish the soup within 3 days or go on to making it immediately.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large stock pot. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook until they’ve softened, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, add the chicken stock and wine, bringing the mixture to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook until the pasta is tender. Add the meatballs to the soup and stir in the spinach, allowing the soup to cook for another 2 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted. Check the taste for salt and pepper.

When soup is finished, ladle into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, some additional parmesan, and a light sprinkle of lemon zest. Serve with warm, crusty bread, if desired. As with all soups, this is great on day one and amazing a day or two later, reheated.