Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Roasted parsnip soup with pear

I think that parsnips are my favorite underappreciated vegetable. They look like mutant carrots. They're a little sweet, like carrots, but they have an interesting, sort of herbal flavor.

I was going to make something with parsnips for Thanksgiving, but at the last minute I changed my mind and ended up with a couple of pounds of parsnips that I had no idea how to use. A certain amount of googling gave me the idea of parsnip and pear soup, like this simple one or this curried one. I thought it would be more interesting to leave the pear raw, instead of cooking it with the parsnips. I mixed the chunks of pear with lime juice to keep them from turning brown, and to add some acidity to the soup (since everything else is slightly sweet). I pureed the soup, but reserved some of the roasted parsnips to give the soup more texture. And I added smoked paprika for a little more complexity.

My cooking experiments definitely don't always work out (e.g., I tried making braised rice cakes from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but overcooked it and got warm sesame-flavored glue), but this one did.

(I'm learning that it's challenging to take appetizing photos of soup.)

Two other notes on this recipe: 1) You can substitute an apple for the pear, which will give it more textural contrast. I liked it both ways. 2) The chipotle in this soup doesn't make it fiery, just noticeably spicy. Adjust the amount if it makes you happy.

Roasted parsnip soup with pear
makes about 4 bowls of soup
takes about an hour to cook

olive oil
6 medium-sized parsnips (about 1.5 pounds)
2 carrots
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 ripe Bartlett pear
1 lime

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. While it's heating, wash the parsnips and carrots (and peel them if you like), then cut them into roughly equal-sized pieces. Halve and core the parsnips (you can skip this for the smaller ones). Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper, spread out the parsnip and carrot pieces on the sheet, and drizzle them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a little bit of salt. Mix them around with a spoon so that everything is coated with oil. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with a knife.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes. The onions are ready when they are starting to turn brown, which will probably take about the same amount of time as it takes to roast the vegetables. If the onions finish first, turn down the heat until the parsnips and carrots are ready.

3. When the parsnips and carrots are done, add the smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and salt to the onions. Add the water, all of the carrots, and half of the parsnips to the pot. Raise the heat so that the water comes to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the soup until it's smooth, adding more water if necessary. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Chop the reserved parsnips into 1/2-inch chunks, add them to the soup, and simmer the soup again so that everything is warmed through.

5. To make the pear topping, cut the pear into small chunks and squeeze the lime over it. Serve the soup topped with the pear mixture.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

err on the side of chocolate

(This post has nothing to do with vegetables. I'm getting there!)

When I was figuring out which kinds of cookies I should make for my relatives for Christmas, my mom said, "Err on the side of chocolate." And I did. In fact, I think that's generally a good principle to follow in life.

These are the recipes that I used this year.

Chocolate truffle cookies. I use a recipe from Gourmet magazine that I can't find online. The one I linked above is essentially the same recipe, but the cookies look better if you roll the dough balls with dampened hands when you're putting them on the baking sheets. It's kind of a pain (I'm a fan of drop cookies where you really just drop the dough on the cookie sheets), but absolutely worth it.

Double ginger crackles. These are really good, but next time I'm going to try adding grated fresh ginger.

Mexican chocolate cookies. I used chipotle powder instead of cayenne. These are spicy in a sneaky way: the first bite just tastes like chocolate, but later you can definitely taste the pepper. (I didn't give them away. Some people are really into the chocolate-plus-pepper thing, others not so much, and I was concerned about making my relatives hate me. It had nothing to do with wanting to eat them myself. ahem.) I was going to do the variation with dulce de leche, but then I decided that I liked them the way they were. They were my favorites this year.

Chocolate-almond buttercrunch toffee (one batch with almonds and one with walnuts). I used to be awesome at toffee, but this year one batch came out too hard and one came out too soft. sigh. It still tasted good, though.

Florentines. When I was in high school, I used a Fine Cooking recipe for florentines that had about fifty steps. Since they were really good and they looked impressive (you can see a picture here), I kept making them for a long time. But it was a big time commitment and occasionally I'd burn the topping and it was tragic, so I decided I should try something new. This recipe is a) ten times easier, b) healthier, and c) I like it better. I used untoasted almonds; toasted almonds would've made the cookies crunchier. (The egg cooks before the almonds toast, so only the edges of mine got crisp. I think it's okay for them to be chewy, but it would have been nice to have something crunchy in my cookie tins.)

Brown butter cookies (original from Gourmet here; adaptation here). I kept reading about how awesome brown butter was, so I finally had to try it. The first time I made them, it was late at night and I misunderstood the step where you cool the butter. I'm pretty sure it's still supposed to be liquid, but I stuck it in the freezer until it was solid. Did the dough stick together? No, it really did not. So I added two tablespoons of melted butter (plain, not browned), and the dough came together beautifully. I did the same thing this time, but next time I'll do it the way I'm supposed to. Another thing: I had to add salt because I was using unsalted butter. 1 teaspoon of salt was too much and 1/2 teaspoon was too little. Next time, 3/4 teaspoon. For SCIENCE.

Coconut-cranberry chews. Actually, I made my mom make these.

Flaky black sesame cookies. The recipe calls for equal amounts of butter and shortening. I had a vague recollection of reading that shortening will give you arteriosclerosis and steal your socks (and the shortening at the grocery store was full of trans fats in any case), so I used the Smart Balance stuff that is half butter and half margarine. Also, I used my hands (instead of a food processor) to mix the dough, because it sounded like pie crust and that's how I do pie crust. So it's probably not the recipe's fault that the dough gave me all kinds of problems: I froze it, and it broke into pieces when I tried to roll it out; I let it soften, and it got sticky. When my cookies were baked, they definitely didn't look as pretty as the ones on that page. So this was another batch of cookies that I didn't give away. In spite of all of that, they were really tasty. So I have to try it again.

Anise-scented fig and date swirls. These cookies involve making a giant mess in the kitchen, but they are lovely.

Leckerli, Swiss spice cookies. One of my uncles is Swiss, and he gave us a box of Basler leckerli last year. They were cut in precise rectangles and they had a thin white glaze on top. I thought they tasted like something that Tolkien's Elves would make, like holiday lembas. (I am a nerd, yes.) So this year I tried it out. I followed the recipe linked above, but I had no kirsch. Instead, I soaked dried tart cherries in hot water for a while and used the water. I'm sure it wasn't the same, but it was darn tasty. Also, I used chopped almonds instead of sliced almonds, because that's what was in the version that I tried before.

A gingerbread house! (Not part of my cookie tins, obviously.) This recipe looked really weird to me, but it worked.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the one where i decide the internet needs another food blog

In the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years of college, I went to Utah and became a vegetarian. I'd sort of been thinking about it for a while, but there were a couple of factors that finally made it happen: 1) neither of my roommates ate meat (one was vegetarian and one was vegan), and 2) within a few weeks of getting there, I gave myself food poisoning by eating leftover chicken. The only problem was that I knew about three vegetarian recipes, so I spent the summer eating oatmeal, quesadillas, black bean chili, and rice.

I'm no food expert, but I've learned a lot since then. Most importantly, I've learned that vegetarian food can be awesome, and that I really like to cook it. So, here I am, starting a food blog. Hi.

When I say that I'm vegetarian, some people get defensive or decide that they need to tell me why they still eat meat (I could never be a vegetarian because I love fried chicken/tofu makes me barf/I hate cows!). I always want to say, Okay. More vegetables for me!