Thursday, January 31, 2013

new england clam chowder

this is it!  the last thursday soup post!  i'll continue to post recipes as i try new things, but this is my last recipe in queue.  thank you for reading, and for your comments as you tried them!

mike and i have had a bumpy road of communication within the cooking realm.  when we were first married, he never wanted to give me any negative feedback on my cooking.  later, we had to work on our communication - i always asked him to rate the dishes we ate on a scale of 1-10, but that wasn't the easiest way for him to tell me his thoughts on them.  we're continuing to learn how to talk to each other about cooking........i've learned better questions to ask, and mike is proactive now in giving feedback that i can assimilate.

which leads me to this chowder!  during one of my "i'm tired of cooking the same-old, same-old!" bursts, i asked mike to flip through my cookbook with me, and give me unfiltered thoughts on the soup recipes.  it helped me to learn my husband better!  i would not have guessed the recipes that he would be most excited about.  the leader of these is this recipe.  i made it first, because he was so anxious to try it.  it's lovely cooking for a man who is excited to eat what you're making!!  :-)

overall, we really enjoy this soup.  mike really likes it!!  i enjoy that it is not very fatty, and thick enough to be a filling lunch.  i would be more enthusiastic in my praise, but i want to be real!  i think that the zuppa toscana and chili are still our faves, and the chicken noodle is so healthy that i can hardly beat it.  but this is a fun one to toss into the mix, and is very tasty.  and what an easy way to do seafood!  ;-)

note 1: i use russet potatoes for this chowder; because i blend the majority of it, it has some similarity to mashed potatoes.  don't take that analogy too far, but russet potatoes lend themselves better to the texture i want.

note 2: i received an immersion blender for christmas, and it works like a DREAM with this chowder.  i made a fresh batch monday night, and with mike's help chopping the potatoes, it took less than 30 minutes, start to finish.  however!  if you don't have an immersion blender, you can easily get by without - just use a fork to mash the potatoes against the side of the pot.

note 3: i added 50% more clams than the original recipe called for.  also, my recipe below is double the original - feel free to halve!!

new england clam chowder

6 russet potatoes, cut into 1/2" - 1" cubes (if you have an immersion blender, you do not need to peel)
6 cans oysters (6.25 oz each)
1 large onion, diced, or 2 T onion powder
2 cups half-and-half
4 cups milk
1 T worcestershire sauce
2 t black pepper
1 T crushed thyme
2 T flour

1.  drain oysters, preserving the claim juice.  in total, you should have more than 3 cups liquid.  set clams aside.
2.  add potatoes, onion (or onion powder), claim juice, worcestershire sauce, pepper, and thyme to a large pot.  bring to a boil.  decrease heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, ~15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
3.  while the potatoes are cooking, combine milk, half-and-half, and flour in a large, microwave-safe bowl.  heat on low power (i used defrost) until the milk mixture is warm.  this step is not necessary, but will speed up step #5.
4.  once the potatoes are soft, blend the mixture in the pot with an immersion blender to desired consistency (if you would like no lumps in your chowder, blend entirely.  if you would like potato chunks, then blend 1/2 or 2/3 of total mixture).
5.  add milk mixture to the pot; bring to a low boil.
6.  add clams, and decrease heat to medium-low.  continue stirring for 1-2 minutes, until clams are heated through.

enjoy!  this recipe allows for half to be frozen; it freezes very well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

mom's chili

when mike and i were dating and engaged, i spent a lot of time at his parents' house - mom and pop were always welcoming.  so this story won't make sense unless you view it through the lens of a girl newly dating this great guy, with all the silly insecurities that can come with a new relationship.

i remember one evening i was hanging out in the basement with mike while he finished his stat homework.  when we came upstairs for dinner, the entire floor smelled fabulous!!!  mom had made chili.  not just any chili - HER chili.  and the reason i remember all of this so particularly was because it was the first time that i was "brave" enough to go for seconds......for some reason, i felt comfortable to bring my slippers over and wear sweats - but somewhere in my brain, going for seconds at dinner was intimate enough to be taboo.

not that night.  the chili was tooooo good.  i think my only concern was that andrew would finish off the pot before i could finish my first bowl and dash across the kitchen for more!

naturally, i begged mom decarlo for the recipe, and it has been my "safe" meal ever since.  you know, when you need to make something for company that you don't want to take any risk on??  that's this for me....especially since it lends itself easily to making large batches.  i now make this annually for dinner the night before thanksgiving for the black family, because they're as in love with it as i am.

note 1: the first time i made this recipe myself, i made a weeeeeee little mistake.  i swapped cayenne pepper in for chili powder.  fortunately, i halved the amount i added because it was becoming so much spicier than i'd remembered.  i've experimented a little bit since then, and the recipe below is as i make it now.  however, because mom's original version is golden, i wanted you to have the opportunity to make it purely based on that - to do so, swap out the cayenne pepper below for 6 t chili powder.

note 2: this chili is sweet and tangy; if you prefer your chili to just be beefy, this probably won't work for you!  it has a slightly sweet taste on the front end, with the spice heating you about a second after.  depending on how much cayenne pepper you use, it can be a powerful blaze!  ;-)  when serving to my family, i have my brother bring some of his favorite hot sauces so that everyone can "heat" it to their preference.

mom's chili

1 medium onion, minced
2 lbs ground beef
2/3 c ketchup
1/2 c water
2 T lemon juice
1 T sugar
1 1/2 t worchestershire
1 1/2 t salt
1 t apple cider vinegar
1/4 t dry mustard
45 oz. kidney beans (drained)
3 c tomato juice
2 t cayenne pepper

1.  in large pot, saute onion until it is clear.
2.  add the ground beef to the pot, and cook fully.
3.  add all other ingredients.  adjust heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.

this soup freezes well - i can't remember the last time that i didn't double or triple this recipe.  enjoy!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

winter life

i realized yesterday afternoon, mike and i haven't had a "just us" evening since january 1st.  glorious, friends/family filled month that it's been!!  but there is something about having time with just my mike; no rush, no schedule, no to-do......the most restful time i spend.  he's my best friend, you see.

consider this post an overarching update on our winter.  the big items are our travels - we've been to williamsburg multiple times, did a speed trip to boston, had our annual beach trip with the blacks over thanksgiving, and went to colorado with andrew and suzanna.  we are capitalizing on our "pre kids" stage of life!

our home nights are comprised of reading, drinking tea (after judging tea-drinkers for most of my life, i've joined their ranks - please post all jokes re: eating-your-words in the comments section below), playing games (we have quite the collection now!), and experimenting with stove-top and air-popped popcorn.  mmmm....i want to head home, just thinking about it!

battleship - do you remember playing this as a kid???

lessons learned this winter....
- we both CAN change, even when it seems to the other spouse that we never will.
- praying during a disagreement "magically" brings a solution closer - no, really!!  try it.  God is amazing, and so very kind.
- contrary to what we expect again and again, the recycling bin does not empty itself daily.
- mike loves me, and has my back.  i love mike, and have his back.  so simple, but difficult to believe sometimes.

happy winter from the decarlos!  thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

zuppa toscana

at my last job, we had a group that regularly went to lunch together.  through this group, i tried my first sushi, tested new burger places, and took advantage of lunch specials near and far.  during this enjoyable feasting season, we would often go to olive garden and devour their soup, salad, and bread-sticks deal.  i discovered zuppa toscana for the first time, and fell in love!

when i pinned this recipe, i did so because it reminded me of that soup.  i pinned several others, but this one is the base of my own soup.  i didn't make this soup for our soup tasting night, but it was so yummy, i thought you'd forgive me doing it out of order.  ;-)

note 1: the original recipe calls for this to be made in the crockpot - how lovely!!!  as you'll see, i didn't take advantage of this own crockpot was busy all weekend with other tasks!  i have added a crockpot adaption of my recipe below; please note, i have not tried this specifically.

note 2: this soup is rich.  the cream shines through in its luxurious glory!  at some point, i may play with using some half-and-half or milk in place of the cream - this soup seems as though it could safely lose a little bit of that milk fat without suffering.

note 3: we LOVE this soup.  i went back for seconds even though i was full.  (shame on me!)  when asked, mike gave it a 9 or 10 out of 10.  his previous favorite, chili, came in second to this one!!!  i'll chalk some of that up to novelty, but still claim this one as a winner for us.

note 4: we used yukon gold potatoes, and i highly recommend using these for soups.  they are a very creamy potato, and do better in a broth than baked.  i also noticed that they cooked faster than the baking potatoes i've used.

zuppa toscana

1 1/4 lb spicy italian sausage
4 large or 6 medium yukon gold potatoes (so creamy!)
1 large or 2 medium onions, minced
1 1/2 T minced garlic
2 c frozen kale, chopped
4 c chicken stock
2 c water
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 T salt (optional)

1.  slice potatoes in half, then in 1/4 inch slices.  the potatoes are so soft, it won't matter that the pieces are a little bit large.
2.  brown sausage in large pot.  our sausage was in links; i sliced these open, and crumbled the meat before beginning to brown it.  cook fully.
3.  add onions to sausage; saute until clear or mostly clear.
4.  pour chicken stock and water into pot.  add garlic and potatoes.  bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  continue to simmer until the potatoes are fully cooked, ~10 minutes.  my potatoes did not take long to cook!
5.  use immersion blender to blend soup to desired creaminess - be careful not to lose all of your potato chunks.  alternatively, blend ~1/4 soup in blender, then stir back into the pot.
6.  add heavy whipping cream and kale.  turn up heat to medium high, stirring almost constantly.
7.  taste, and salt if necessary.  my stock has very little salt, so i almost always need to add a little bit.

crockpot aternative

1.  slice potatoes in half, then in 1/4 inch slices.
2.  brown sausage in large pot.  our sausage was in links; i sliced these open, and crumbled the meat before beginning to brown it.  cook fully.
3.  put sausage, chicken stock, water, garlic, potatoes, and onion into your crockpot.  cook on low for 6 hours.
4.  use immersion blender (or traditional blender) to blend a portion of the soup into desired creaminess.
5.  add kale and recover crockpot for 5 minutes.
6.  stir in whipping cream; taste; salt; serve!

let me know how you like this recipe!  also, if you have any tips for where to buy italian sausage that isn't already in link form, please leave me a comment!  i would love to skip the step of cutting open the sausage skins.  :-)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Soup" post - from Vail!

We are in CO this week, so I don't have a recipe for you today. But, I will share a pic from earlier this week - I cannot get over the beauty of this state!!

I'll bring another recipe next week!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

curried sweet potato chowder

remember when i said that not all of the recipes i made were home runs?  time to present you with the big flop - sweet potato chowder!  i so wanted this recipe to work, because mike really likes sweet potatoes, cigar, kids.  it's another one from better homes and gardens cookbook, that unfortunately i played with.  but enough of the chagrin - let's get to the notes!

note 1: the recipe reminded me so much of a potato chowder i made last winter, that i added a step that the recipe did not detail.  i scooped out about 1/4 of the soup into my blender, in hopes of having something like a sweet potato chowder.  the result was something akin to baby food.  oh, how far from my intentions!  should you try this recipe, skip step 5 below.  this recipe should have stayed a soup rather than becoming a chowder.

note 2: i am posting the recipe i made, in part because none of the "fixes" i've since tried worked out perfectly.  i made a large batch, so each time i take some out of the freezer, i try different things to improve it.  adding more milk has been the biggest improvement (which has solidified my thought that i shouldn't have blended to begin with); i've also added more curry and cayenne pepper to help with the bland flavor.  mike often thinks that i overdo the cayenne pepper, but in the case of this soup, he said that the spicy was a good contrast to the sweet potato flavor.

(this soup made me so sad that i wasn't even motivated to take a flattering picture of it! *sad*)

curried sweet potato chowder

6 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, diced
4 c milk
3 t curry powder
1 t cayenne pepper

1.  boil sweet potatoes in a large pot until mostly tender - be careful not to over cook.  drain the water, and set aside.
2.  saute onion in a large pot until clear; drop heat to low.
3.  gently fold sweet potatoes into sauteed onions, then add the milk.
4.  turn heat up to medium, and stir vigilantly.  i found that this mixture was prone to burning, so be careful to scrape your spoon against the entire bottom of the pot.  bring to a boil, then drop heat to medium-low.
5.  scoop 1/4 of soup into a blend; blend until smooth and add back to pot.
6.  add curry and cayenne pepper.

this soup freezes very well, and smells good.  ;-)  i'm sorry to give it such a rough rating here - if you have tried something similar and it worked for you, please leave a comment with your tips!!