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.

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Start your week with simple, flavorful salmon

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Most weeknights I turn to easy-to-make meals because, by the time I get home, I’m already hungry and don’t want to wait for something more elaborate.

On a recent trip to Raley’s, I picked up a copy of the store’s free “something extra” magazine for fall 2013. It contains a bunch of recipes, one of which was Maple Balsamic Baked Salmon.

While the original recipe used parchment bags, I just made my own. To do so, take a large piece of parchment paper and fold the longer sides toward the middle. Fold the other ends about an inch toward the center, so the flaps are on top. Fold each flap over once more.

I first thought the recipe might be too sweet, but it was just right. I added pieces of fresh basil on top, which nicely complemented the flavor of the fish. The best part is that the whole thing took less than 20 minutes. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Ingredients
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

Season salmon with salt and pepper to taste. Place skin side down in parchment bag and place on a baking sheet. Stir together vinegar, syrup and garlic and pour over salmon in bag. Fold over to enclose. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Top with snipped fresh basil.

Giving cauliflower a second chance

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Cauliflower has never been at the top of my list of preferred vegetables. I’ve always seen it as a bland version of broccoli, probably because I never knew what to do with it.

This recipe in Bon Appetít made me want to give it another chance. Cheese makes a lot of things taste better, and this recipe is no exception. While the original recipe didn’t specify what kind of Parmesan to use, choose a harder Parmesan, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, for the best result. Soft Parmesans will just turn gummy, but harder versions will become slightly crispy during the baking process.

There’s a lot to like about this side dish. Roasting the cauliflower brings out the vegetable’s flavor, while the Parmesan adds a little salty, crispy kick to each bite. The roasted garlic is mellow enough to eat with the cauliflower without overpowering the other flavors.

Next time I head to the grocery store, I’ll think twice about passing up the cauliflower.

Ingredientscauliflower2
1 head cauliflower
1 sliced medium onion
4 thyme sprigs
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
White or black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut cauliflower into florets; toss on a large rimmed baking sheet with onion, thyme, garlic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender, 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Toss to combine. Roast until cauliflower is tender, 10-12 minutes longer.

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.