Saturday, July 28, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup

A little bit of everything on the spoon: mini meatball, tomato, carrot, orzo and spinach in a savory broth.

Don't ask me why, because I don't know the answer, but I have always been just the littlest bit nervous about Italian Wedding soup.  Maybe it is the fear of OPM or other people's meatballs.  I am super picky about my meatballs, and meatballs play an integral part of this soup.  Whatever the reason, I had never really been a fan.  My talented mother-in-law makes a soup with a beef-based broth and meatballs (and her meatballs are delicious) that is similar but not really Italian Wedding.

While planning for this past week of camp I knew I wanted to do food from Italy.  For the main recipe we made lemony white bean bruschetta.  It was a hit with most campers and gave an idea of the different tastes of Italian food other than pasta and tomato sauce.  As usual, for my oldest campers who chose to come 3 times a week I had to pick 2 additional recipes.  We made cauliflower and broccoli fritters, which I thought were more than a little blah.  And as you may have guessed by now, for the last day we made soup.

The recipe itself is rather simple, the meatballs being the most involved part about it.  Most of the recipes I found called for cooking the meatballs, and the orzo for that matter, within the broth.  Because I was doing this at camp during a 30-40 minute time frame I opted to cook the meatballs and orzo separately and add them into the hot broth as we dished it out.  I also used my own meatball recipe, mostly because I think they are delicious.  Why mess with a good thing? 

The campers loved the soup.  They were asking for seconds, then thirds and some to take home.  When that happens, my heart swells a bit.  I am so thrilled that these children are learning about how to prepare food that is healthy and delicious and at the same time, expanding their food boundaries.  I unfortunately forgot my camera this week so I have no pictures of the wonderfulness of this soup in the making.

The broth did not have that much time to fully develop before they had to eat it, but it was still very tasty.  I took the leftover soup home since I did not want to waste it.  (Most of the time I bring the leftovers to the office for the staff directors to enjoy but soup is a little awkward to share around an office!)  I immediately put it in my stock pot and let it simmer with the meatballs and the little bit of orzo that remained.  The flavors came together so nicely that I was almost a little surprised.  I dare say it was one of the best soups I have tasted.  Vinnie and I had it for dinner tonight topped with grated parmesan and fresh cracked pepper.  I think we both agree that this soup is going to be made again and again!

The smell was so enticing that we started eating it before I remembered to  take a picture.

Italian Wedding Soup (recipe from the Whole Foods website with my added notes)
There are endless variations on this soup, but the main elements are meatballs and greens. While the name indicates that the soup might be served at an Italian wedding, it is actually a mistranslation of minestra maritata, which refers to the "marriage" of greens and meat in the soup.

1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
As I mentioned above, I made my own meatball recipe, but this one looks good, too.  I omitted pork because many people do not eat pork.  I will probably cook them in the broth next time I make this.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter I used olive oil
3/4 cup chopped white onions
3/4 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and halved
1 cup uncooked orzo 
2 cups shredded kale (I used fresh baby spinach)

For the meatballs, put beef, pork, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, egg, nutmeg, and paprika into a large bowl and use your hands to mix well. Use a teaspoon to measure out meat for even sized meatballs. With damp hands, shape them into 1-inch balls and transfer them to a large plate. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Due to time constraints and food safety concerns for a camp, I baked them in the oven an hour before I needed them.  They had cooled to just about room temperature by the time we needed them and we added them to the cooked broth.

For the soup, melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes, and 2 cups water. Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat or until soup comes to a boil.

Add meatballs and orzo to the boiling soup and stir to make sure they are fully submerged. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes over medium heat. Stir in kale. Test a meatball and a piece of orzo to ensure that they are fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.  Top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.  

I made this soup last night, cooking both the meatballs and the orzo in the broth, as called for.  Epic Failure.  The orzo kept expanding and soaking up all the broth.  Plus I realized that I really like browned meatballs.  Next time I will cook both separately, as I did at camp, and then add it to the cooked broth.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jersey Fresh Week

New Jersey blueberries
These shrunk a little after sitting in the fridge for a week.
I was eating my cereal 2 weeks ago and I was inspired by the fat, juicy blueberries which topped it.  New Jersey is 3rd on the list of top blueberry growers and they are something special.  Not only are they delicious, but they are good for you.

How tasty does this look?
Let me get back to what I was inspired to do.  I decided that instead of cooking something from another country at camp the next week (last week) I was going to use Jersey Fresh as my theme.  For my main recipe I chose Barefoot Contessa's Peach Blueberry Crumble.  A-MA-ZING!  I made it in pie pans because I was not about to make 20 individual servings.  Almost without fail it was loved by all the campers.  We even had plate licking.

I made one on the Saturday before so that there would be one for my first period campers.  Of course I had to make individual ramekin servings for Vin and I.  I can attest to the fact that this is most delicious served warm with good vanilla ice cream.

One of my little friends.
With my oldest campers, who see me 3 times a week, I chose to make a fresh corn salad and zucchini bread. Can you believe I had never even had zucchini bread before?  I loved it!  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the corn salad and the zucchini bread.  But I did take some pictures of the peach blueberry crumble, the all peach crumble and my favorite - the all blueberry crumble.  Oh, and I took a picture of one of my little friends who came to visit me.
Peach-only crumble cooling on my railing                         

Peach Blueberry Crumble

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How easy was that?!

This week in camp I decided we were "traveling" to Greece.  I love tzatziki, to the point of ordering extra when I get a chicken souvlaki at the diner.  Whenever I have tried to buy it from the grocery store, however, I found that it just did not taste that good.  I became content with having it only when at the diner. And then....and then I decided to make it 27 times this past week with the campers.

Step one?  Drain the yogurt.  Cheesecloth would be the traditional way to do this, but I used paper towels.  I was a yogurt draining fool!  I should have taken pictures of the inside of the fridge.  I did take some of the yogurt draining.

Isn't that beautiful?  That was after about 24 hours.
This was the coconut yogurt draining.  This was also after about 24 hours.

As you can see from the pictures, the coconut yogurt did not get as thick.  The soy yogurt did get to be the same consistency as the dairy yogurt.  I was reading that you can let the yogurt drain for even longer and it ends up having an almost cheesy consistency.  Then add whatever you choose!  Yum.

The other cool thing was that I found out what whey looks like!  Apparently you can use it for many things but I haven't quite figured out what.  Anyone?  I have lots and lots of whey from above mentioned 27 groups of drained yogurt.

Okay, so for the actual making of the tzatziki, it was so easy.  Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh dill and garlic to a bowl and whisk together.

Add the yogurt and mix until well combined.

Add the chopped and seeded cucumbers.  Mix again.  It tastes best when you refrigerate for a few hours for all the flavors to meld together.  Voila!  We served it with carrot sticks and pieces of pita or tortilla chips for my gluten free campers.  I could just imagine it on my grilled chicken or steak, though, and cannot wait to make some for that purpose!  

Tzatziki Dip

Substitutions: dairy free yogurt as needed.  
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 cups greek yogurt, strained
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

Strain the yogurt by placing cheesecloth or a papertowel in a sieve or colander with small holes. Add the yogurt and place the sieve over a bowl to collect the whey.  Strain for at least 12 hours.  Dairy-free yogurts took longer to strain. Measure olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Add the olive oil mixture to the yogurt and mix well. Finally, add the cucumber and chopped fresh dill. Serve with pita pieces or carrot sticks.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fresh Tomato Salsa, Guacamole and oh yeah, Guava Cheese Empanadas

Week 2 was HOT, so it is a good thing we were making salsa and guacamole!  For the campers I kept it pretty simple and not overly spicy.  Truth be told, I like my guac simple because I love the taste of avocados so I want that to come through.
Fresh Tomato Salsa

3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 small cloves garlic, minced
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed, chopped (We didn't peel them.)
2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped (I used less for the younger campers.)
2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons lime juice
salt and pepper

Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups boiling water over them then let drain thoroughly. Discard water. Cool. (I actually didn't do this step with the campers because of time constraints.)
Combine onions and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours to blend flavors.  (Each group ate their own right away but it still tasted delicious.)
Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

2 avocados
½ lime
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Immediately add the lime juice, salt, and pepper and toss well. Mash the avocados to desired texture.   Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve with chips.

I like to put this on my cheeseburger.  yummmm.  Sometimes I mix the salsa and the guac together.  nom nom nom.

The older campers made empanadas with guava and cheese.  I wanted to see if I could bake them instead of fry them, so I tried them at home with Lilly the day before.  She was really good at closing the edges with the fork so I knew the older campers would be fine.

Aren't they pretty?  I think so.  So in the baked versus fried contest the fried won.  They actually tasted heavier when they were baked because the dough is meant to be fried.  When baked they puffed up and did not really get crispy.  They just tasted...doughy.  I brushed them with an egg wash to get the nice golden color.

I think that if I was making these for my family on a regular basis I would figure out what to do so that I could bake them and get a nice light taste.  I had never made them before, but I would make these again.  They were easy to make and delicious!  But they are most definitely a treat, and as such, I will probably just fry them.  See how flaky they got?  Deliciously so! 
Guava Empanadas 
Recipe courtesy Food Network Magazine
makes 10 pastries
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
3/4 cup guava paste
1 14-ounce package frozen empanada wrappers, thawed
Vegetable oil, for frying 
Pulse the cream cheese, egg, sugar, lime zest and lime juice in a food processor until smooth.
Put 1 tablespoon guava paste in the center of each empanada wrapper, then top with 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture. Fold the dough over the filling and press the edges with a fork to seal.
(Heat about 11/2 inches vegetable oil in a wide saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the empanadas until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Return the oil to 350 degrees F between batches.) Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.) Dust with confectioners' sugar. 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Girls might be able to grill, but sometimes...

....a certain girl forgets to defrost the chicken all the way!  Ugh.  Dinner tonight was ruined because of my assumption that the chicken I took out of the freezer and put into a resealable bag with marinade would be thawed in time.  Lesson learned: check on it halfway through the day, or at least more than 5 minutes before you turn on the grill.  Luckily my hubby was able to run down to Whole Foods to grab some meat to grill burgers.

The good news?  I made some amazing potato salad.

Measurements are approximate because I did not measure anything.

2.5 pounds red skin potatoes (1/2 the 5 pound bag)
1 cup mayo
2 TBSP white vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard ( I used Grey Poupon)
1/2 tsp dry ground mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 stalks celery
1/2 sweet white onion (I used Vidalia...yum!  But sometimes I am not in an onion mood so I omit it)

I washed the potatoes and cut them into quarters (or more to make them even-sized.)  Put them into a large pot of salted water which I had started, but was not boiling yet.  I boiled the potatoes until they were fork tender.  Drained them and rinsed with cool water to remove extra starch.  While they were still warm I was able to rub the skins off and cut the potatoes into smaller pieces.

Mix the mayo, vinegar, mustard and spices until smooth.  I like to whisk it.  I always taste it here to see if it needs more of anything.  Some people add 1 tsp of sugar to cut the acid.  I didn't think it needed it today, but sometimes I do.  Add the celery and onion and mix again.  Add the potatoes and fold the mixture over so as not to damage the potatoes but also to mix it all evenly.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

I actually like it best right at this point, when the potatoes are still slightly warm.  It is so fresh and tasty.