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).

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

Kale & Brussels Sprout SaladIt’s probably of little surprise, but thanks to me, our DVR is completely overrun with cooking shows. I will watch almost anything on The Cooking Channel, PBS, and Food Network, save for those ridiculous grocery game shows and anything starring Alton Brown. Alton Brown is seriously the worst. Did you see him on that Thanksgiving Live special where he was hella obnoxious and a misogynistic ass to Giada? Girl…

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I caught the end of one of Food Network’s new shows, Farmhouse Rules, where host Nancy Fuller (who I can only assume is the network’s replacement for Paula Deen, given her aesthetic and cooking style) was preparing a kale salad. As far as I’m concerned, kale salad can do no wrong. I have about four I can make right now that are knock-out good. Trendy super food, whatever, kale is just tasty. Mixed with some kind of vinaigrette, maybe a little something sweet like golden raisins or apple, salty cheese, or smoky spices? Unbelievably good! 

But with this particular kale salad, this new, modern Paula was adding raw brussels sprouts into the same bowl and, admittedly, that gave me a bit of pause. Listen, I will eat brussels sprouts five times a week if you give them to me roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. They get all browned, sweet and nutty, and before I know it, I’ve eaten what’s leftover on the baking sheet while cleaning up the kitchen. I love brussels sprouts, but I’d never eaten them raw and along with an already fairly tough raw green, such as kale, I was skeptical.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

But it turns out, Miss New Paula was on to something and together, the kale and brussels sprouts made a delicious, quite fancy looking salad that even my vegetable-phobic beau ate with great zeal. This one is a total keeper and brings me up to five kale salads I can make with ease and from memory. Am I catch or what?

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad
Yields 4-6 servings; Adapted from here.

Ingredients:
1lb. of brussels sprouts
1 bunch of kale
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of diced red onion
1 cup of pecorino romano, grated
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons of dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon of orange juice
1/2 teaspoon of honey
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 pistachios, toasted and chopped
Salt & pepper

Directions:
In a medium sized bowl, grate garlic and add dijon mustard, honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, salt & pepper. Mix until combined and then drizzle in olive oil while whisking. When all is incorporated, taste for seasoning and then set aside. In a large bowl, shred 1lb of brussels sprouts on a box grater. De-vein kale leaves. Stack kale leaves on top of one another, several at a time, and roll into a tight cigar before slicing into thin ribbons. Add kale to bowl with brussels sprouts and follow with thinly sliced red onion. Add dressing to the vegetables and add cheese. Toss to combine. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes so that kale and brussels sprouts lose some of their toughness and flavors meld. Add in pistachios and toss once more before serving. Delicious cold or at room temperature.

Jalapeño Creamed Spinach

When I was growing up, vegetables were three things: plentiful, cheap, and usually canned. So, on the occasional night when my mom could be seen defrosting a tiny square box in the microwave and wringing it’s contents out over the sink, it meant creamed spinach was on the menu and that felt fancy. Despite it’s name, though, the closest my mother’s version came to any kind of dairy was a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. That’s it. Just those two ingredients. Still, we all happily ate it and will do the same until our dying days. That’s family.

I first had a version of jalapeño creamed spinach a few years ago at Brasa, a rotisserie restaurant in Minneapolis that serves Creole-inspired comfort food. Everything I’ve ever eaten at Brasa has been delicious and tends to be the place we hit up for dinner as soon as the weather starts to turns warm and the patio opens. Their variety of braised and pulled meats is small – two chicken options, a pork, and a beef – but they’re done so exquisitely with mouthwatering rubs like garlic and lime. Their sides hold their own, too, and rival the meats for greatness, but if you’re asking me, nothing touches their creamed spinach with jalapeño. It is absurdly good.

After the first time I had it, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home (like a creamy-spinach-fueled lunatic) to pick up the ingredients I thought would help me to recreate it the following night. That first time, I came close, but it took some tweaking and then some cues from Laurie Colwin’s version in Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen before the recipe developed to where it is now, which is at tasty. Yet, somehow, with all of my trial and error (and we happily ate every single “error”), it fell out of my rotation. That was until I saw Andrew Zimmern mention Brasa on Twitter this week and I was swiftly transported back to the night I made this final version and Bear finished the leftovers before they had even cooled enough to be refrigerated. (Side note: The photo above is actually from that very night, before we dug in! I discovered it in my online recipe file when I went to find the recipe today. Vintage Femme Fraîche, right there!)

This is creamed spinach the way it should be made; with milk, cheese, and butter. It’s rich, but the jalapeños cut through the heaviness of it in such a way that I can’t imagine them not being there. That vinegary, spicy bite aside the soft bitterness of the spinach, and the lusciousness of the creamy cheese sauce, is comfort food done right. If you’re looking for traditional, delicate creamed spinach, this is not that recipe. This is the side dish that threatens to outdo the whole meal, dessert included.

Jalapeño Creamed Spinach
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:
2 – 10oz. packages of chopped, frozen spinach, squeezed dry (reserve at least 1 cup of spinach liquid)
1/4 cup of yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic diced finely or put through a garlic press
1 stick of butter, divided in half
2 Tablespoonx of olive oil
2 Tablespoons of flour
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
3/4 teaspoon of celery salt
6oz. monterey jack cheese, cubed
1 – 4oz. can of diced jalapeños, drained (substitute canned green chiles for less spice)
1 1/2 cups of panko bread crumbs
4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350°. Defrost the spinach and drain in a collander over a bowl, squeezing it into a tight ball until barely any liquid remains. In a medium-sized pot, melt 1/2 the stick of butter and add the flour, stirring constantly over medium heat until combined, forming a roux. Allow to cook for a solid minute in order to remove the raw flour flavor. Remove the roux from the pan and set aside. Add the olive oil to the pot and follow with the onions and garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Allow the onions and the garlic to sweat and soften before adding the roux back in and allowing to combine for a minute or so. Next, add the spinach liquid and evaporated milk, slowly, whisking constantly until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens. Add the monterey jack cheese, the black pepper, and celery salt, and allow to combine until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Once the sauce has thickened, add the diced jalapeños and the spinach. The mixture should, at this point, be the consistency of a thick cheese sauce, like a spinach artichoke dip, and your spoon should follow it around the pot with little resistance. If it seems too thick, add another tablespoon or two of the remaining spinach liquid or evaporated milk.

Pour the spinach into a greased baking dish and set aside. In a small bowl, microwave the remaining 4T of butter until melted. Add a dash or two of black pepper, and the garlic powder; combine. Pour in the panko crumbs and the parmesan cheese and toss together, allowing the bread crumbs to absorb the butter mixture. Top the spinach with the bread crumbs and place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the spinach is hot and the top has browned slightly. Check the dish occasionally to make sure the crumbs are not browning too quickly and if so, cover with foil until the dish is heated through and is slightly bubbly at the edges. When finished, remove the spinach from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.