Turn broccoli and cheese into a healthy soup

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After all those holiday sweets, I’ve been craving vegetable-loaded meals that are good for me. Broccoli is one of my go-to vegetables, but I usually just roast it or steam it. This time around, I was craving soup and decided to try my hand at broccoli-and-cheese soup.

One of my friends recommended the broccoli-and-cheese soup recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. I trust that publication, so I searched for the recipe and found the recipe from the March/April 2011 edition on another blogger’s site.

The baking soda in this recipe might seem unusual, but it speeds up the release of the broccoli’s sulfurous compounds, according to America’s Test Kitchen. Adding the cheese a bit at a time keeps it from becoming a gloppy mass in the soup. The spinach brightens the green color of the soup, too.

Overall, this recipe only took about 40 minutes from start to finish. It was a vegetable soup, but with a bit of saltiness and a slightly cheesy flavor. It was like an adult version of broccoli with cheese sauce that my mom used to serve. It was delicious.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces; stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-in thick slices
1 medium onion, rough chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups baby spinach
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3/4 Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Ground black pepper

Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 6 minutes.

Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.

Add broth and 2 cups water; increase heat to medium-high. When mixture begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute (the spinach will give the soup a bright green color).

Add cheese a handful at a time, allowing each handful to melt before adding more.

Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can also process in a food processor or a blender.

Return soup to Dutch oven, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with up to 1 cup water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Who knew applesauce could be so good?

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Until recently, I had never made applesauce. My only experience with it was the kind spooned from the Mott’s jar with a yellow lid. I never found it impressive. It was something I might eat with pork chops, but not much else. That is, until I made my own.

While figuring out what to make next, I remembered I had bookmarked Ina Garten’s recipe for applesauce. Then I saw that it was baked in a Dutch oven, which is perfect since I’ve been using mine nonstop since I received it.

The recipe is straightforward, which is what I’ve come to expect from the Barefoot Contessa. That she keeps things simple is what I most like about her attitude toward cooking. Her recipe for applesauce is no exception. I had no idea applesauce could be so good until I made her flavor-packed version. applesauce2After baking the ingredients, her recipe calls for whisking them together. I left small chunks of apple in mine instead of making it the same consistency as the store-bought stuff.

Over the course of a week, I devoured the pot. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or as a dessert — and healthier than many alternatives. This applesauce may become a regular item in my refrigerator. I doubt I’ll ever purchase a jar of applesauce from the store again.

Ingredients
Zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6-8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh or Winesap (6-8 apples)applesauce3
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and allspice and cover the pot. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The easiest loaf of bread you’ll ever make

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I tend to shy away from making bread at home. Sure, I’ll make sweet breads such as Oatmeal-strawberry bread or Pumpkin-chocolate chip bread, but a real, hearty bread? I haven’t had much luck with those, and the added challenges that come with being at high altitude tend to make such recipes discouraging. Until I stumbled upon this little gem.

I found it hard to believe that such a delicious-looking loaf of bread Asiagobread2could be made so easily. I had my doubts, but the recipe didn’t require kneading or multiple rounds of rising, so I could try it without being too disappointed if it didn’t work out. That turned out to be a good life decision because, instead of tossing out a failed attempt at bread, I got to devour a successful one.

The first time I made it, I added a chopped head of roasted garlic and some minced rosemary right before shaping it into a ball. I didn’t chop the rosemary finely enough, a mistake I won’t repeat. The flavor was good, but not quite what I wanted. The second time I made this bread, I decided to throw in some cheese. Asiago is my favorite cheese for breads because it holds together well. I prefer the Asiago version, but I noticed the blogger of the recipe also has a cranberry-orange version that I may have to test in the near future.

For those of you who worry your home may be too cold for the dough to properly rise, try this little trick, which was shared with me by a former coworker: turn your oven to the warm setting. Once your oven has warmed and you’ve mixed the dough, turn the oven off and put the plastic wrap-covered bowl of dough in the oven. It works like a charm and gives bread dough a better chance of reacting as expected.

Many Dutch oven instructions advise against heating the pot while empty. Mine carries a similar warning, but it has been OK both times I’ve done it. I put my pot in when I turn the oven on to preheat so it gradually warms with the oven, and I take it out as soon as the oven has preheated. I’ve never done the full 30 minutes, just as a precaution.

The moist inside and beautiful crust have made this my new favorite bread recipe. What type of variations will you come up with? Post yours in the comments.

IngredientsAsiagobread3
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup asiago cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast. Add water and stir until a shaggy mixture forms (mixture will be loose and sticky; this is what you want). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12-18 hours (up to 24).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the dough. Meanwhile, pour the risen dough onto a heavily floured surface (mixture will be sticky) and lightly shape into a round loaf.

Remove hot pot from the oven and carefully set in the dough. Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove bread from oven and from pot and place on a cooling rack.

Macaroni and cheese that’s worth your time

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When I went to check my mailbox a couple weeks ago, I had a surprise waiting for me: a copy of bon appétit magazine. It turns out one of my friends got me a subscription for Christmas, but I didn’t know it until the first issue arrived.

The most recent edition is all about learning. They call it “The Cooking School Issue,” and I can see why. It’s full of handy tips that can help you get the most flavor out of your food, as well as some time-saving tips for weeknight meals. For example, have you ever tried to make homemade macaroni and cheese without boiling the pasta beforehand? I hadn’t, and it’s quite a time-saver, not to mention that it tastes much better than any kind from a box.

The magazine’s recipe for No-Boil Mac and Cheese called for making a thinner béchamel sauce as the base for the cheese sauce. Though the pasta cooked perfectly, I felt the cheese flavor was muted. I used Tillamook’s Mac & Cheese blend, which is a combination of shredded sharp cheddar, vintage white medium cheddar and medium cheddar. Next time, I’ll likely choose just sharp cheeses or add goat cheese or gruyere for more prominent flavor.

The recipe said to use a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan, but I opted to use my Dutch oven, which turned out to be a suitable choice. The depth of the pan didn’t seem to matter as much as the amount of liquid. For my own changes, I used regular breadcrumbs because the store didn’t have panko. If you can get your hands on panko, the crunch would provide nice texture. I also added cubed black forest ham I had left from the previous night’s dinner.

This was one of the least labor-intensive versions of macaroni and cheese I’ve ever made. I’ll be hanging on to this recipe.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups ham, cubed (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13-inch-by-9-inch-by-2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Dutch oven delights turn into cold weather classics

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My best friend gave me a Dutch oven for Christmas. I’ve seen dozens of recipes I’d like to try and have pinned on Pinterest, but now I can actually try them. Since I’ve already used it for a few different recipes, I’ve decided that January will be Dutch oven month on my blog.

The temperature in Tahoe has been dropping to a single digit on a regular basis during the past month or two, which has put me in the mood for hot, healthy food. While this first recipe doesn’t require the use of a Dutch oven, I wanted to test its stovetop capability. The instructions for mine say it shouldn’t be put on high heat, so I wanted to see whether I could get anything to boil on a lower setting.

About six years ago, I clipped this recipe for White Bean and Rosemary Soup from O magazine. It has since become one of my favorite go-to recipes when I want to make soup. One tip I’d like to offer is to chop the rosemary as small as possible. Getting a larger piece in the middle of the soup is annoying. The croutons are good, too, but when I’m only cooking for myself, I opt for a piece of toast instead.

I recently attended an outdoor concert in the area and was an icicle when I returned home. It was so nice to have a pot of soup ready to heat up to help me defrost. It was just what I wanted.

Croutons
2 whole heads garlic
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt , plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 loaf unsliced whole wheat bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice off tops of garlic heads so the cloves are just exposed. Rub each head with 1 teaspoon olive oil; wrap loosely in foil. Roast 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven (but leave oven on); let garlic cool until comfortable to touch. Squeeze cloves from the heads into a small bowl; mash with a fork; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine half the roasted garlic with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Add bread and toss until well coated. Place bread on a baking sheet and bake 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside. soup3

Soup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch coins
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) white beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

To make soup: In a large saucepan, heat butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth and remaining half of garlic and bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook 20 minutes, until carrots are very tender. Add drained beans and rosemary; cook 10 more minutes. With an immersion blender or in a food processor fitted with knife blade, puree half the soup until smooth. Stir to combine. Serve in bowls topped with croutons and drizzled with remaining olive oil.