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Cooking Ripe! 2012 Review and 2013 Preview

What to do with all of those little yummies?Cooking Ripe! has moved to: CookingRipe.com – please join us on the new site!

Cooking Ripe! was launched in late August of 2012 and has had just under 3000 views so far. It’s been very exciting to get to share my garden-to-table recipes with so many people in such a short time. I’ve been learning a lot about this whole food blogging business and I am ready to take things to next level!

Coming in 2013: Cooking Ripe! will be moving to a new hosting site where we’ll have our very own domain name: CookingRipe.com. YAY! Our very own dot com address. Legit, right? With this change, you’ll notice that the blog will undergo some spiffing up and will get a new overall look. I hope to make it a little more user friendly by adding some slick tools that will make things like recipe printing and pinning a little easier. We’ll likely have a little downtime while we complete the migration process, but don’t worry – I’ll give you plenty of warning when it’s time. Stay tuned for more details on the New & Improved Cooking Ripe!

Tops in 2012: In our few short months online, I’ve had great traffic and feedback on the blog posts. Below is a list of the five most viewed posts on Cooking Ripe! in 2012. Have you tried all of these yet? If not, you better get cookin!

1. The number 1 most viewed post on the blog is Homemade Pumpkin Puree. I had a whole crop of volunteer pie pumpkins in the garden this year, so I had to learn to make my own puree. I’ll never go back to canned! It tastes so fresh and it’s so versatile. Try the many other Cooking Ripe! pumpkin recipes, too.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

2. The runner-up as the most viewed post is the Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup. I LOVE soup and LOVE orange food, and apparently my readers share my love of soup and orange since it was the second most popular post. This is a simple and creamy cold weather soup with a little ginger kick. Check out the other Cooking Ripe! soup lover recipes.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

3. Number 3 is my personal favorite, as you can tell by its title: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta – the BEST pasta you’ll ever eat! Really. You have to try this recipe if you haven’t yet. I got an eggplant in my Bountiful Basket last time and I am thrilled to get to make this recipe again this week. The Hubs doesn’t even mind repeats of this one!

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

4. One would assume this next post would have been number 1 since it includes BACON! and everything is better with bacon, right? Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with BACON! I try not to cook or eat it very often, but once in awhile you gotta live, right? Brussels sprout lovers and haters can unite to love this recipe, I promise!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

5. Last, but certainly not least in the round-up of most viewed posts is the Southwestern Green Chile and Corn Potato Chowder. Yes, another soup made the list! This one is creamy and spicy without any heavy cream at all. This is a great recipe to use up your preserved roasted green chiles and warm up on a cool night.

Hatch Green Chile and Potato Corn Chowder

Remember, you can go to Cooking Ripe’s Recipe Index for a complete list of all of the recipes. Also, if you haven’t joined me on Pinterest yet, it’s high time! And, finally – like Cooking Ripe! on Facebook to stay up to date on all blog updates and other tasty tidbits. Stay tuned for a great new year of growing and cooking!

Thank you all for your support. Cheers to a delectable 2013!


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Homemade Fresh Italian Salad Dressing

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Tis the season for over indulgence so it’s really hard to remember to eat some healthy food occasionally. It’s also really tough to slow down long enough to make a balanced meal. But, with a little planning and some simple recipes, we can maintain some semblance of a healthy diet through the holiday season. Really! Here’s an easy dressing recipe to make and use all week long.

I always thought there was some sort of secret voodoo involved in making fresh salad dressing. I don’t know why I thought it was difficult, but it seemed like something that was unnecessarily complicated when there’s an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to the bottled stuff – and a lot of healthy bottled varieties at that. My opinion on those bottled dressings totally changed this summer when I started trying some homemade dressings.

I had such a bumper crop of fresh lettuce I HAD to get creative with it. I figured I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of different dressings to top our plethora of greens, so I better learn to make some homemade versions. I also had some fresh herbs from the garden and also from my Bountiful Baskets, so I decided to dive in and give it a spin. I’ll never go back. Well, I tried when I was too lazy to make some dressing for a salad one night. YUCK. It just is not the same. All those…extra preservatives really do change the flavor of the whole salad.

One of my favorites this Martha Stewart recipe for Fresh Italian Dressing. I keep the basic recipe, but fiddle with the herbs and the amounts a little. The trick is in the preparation, which isn’t hard, but just something you may not know if you haven’t made your own dressing before.

Here’s how:

Gather your ingredients, so they’re all handy to make the process super quick. Start by chopping your garlic and fresh herbs. The original recipe calls for basil, oregano and marjoram. I never have fresh marjoram, so I use thyme instead. I would imagine that any kitchen herb, except maybe mint or cilantro, would work with this dressing, so don’t worry if you don’t have exactly these herbs. Can you use dry herbs instead of fresh? Sure, but use one teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs and know that it may not end up with the amazingly fresh taste that the fresh herbs create. Still, it will be better than the bottled stuff, so go for it. As always, I’m not that precise in my measurements with the herbs and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Left to right: thyme, garlic, oregano, basil

Next, whisk the vinegar with the garlic, sugar, mustard, pepper flakes and salt & pepper. Let’s pause and talk about the whisk itself. I bought this cool springy whisk at a yard sale recently and it’s quickly become one of my favorite kitchen tools. It is the perfect thing to get a great emulsification going with a salad dressing.

In a separate bowl, whisk the two oils together. I always feel like it’s more oil than I need, so I have cut down on both by equal amounts and it’s worked out fine, also.

Vinegar mixture on left; oil mixture on right

Ok, here’s the part you want to pay attention to because it’s the one critical step! Emulsification. Martha explains that’s when you suspend the oil in the vinegar. This happens when you slowly add the oil into the vinegar while you whisk away. If you just dump, it won’t do that suspension thing, so take a minute and slowly pour and whisk and then BAM! Emulsification happens!

Finally, whisk in the herbs and viola, it’s dressing! I like to let it sit for a few hours, if possible, before serving because it allows the flavors to develop more completely.

I make dressing so often now that I invested in this little cruet that I found on Ebay to store it. Isn’t it cute?

Homemade Fresh Italian Dressing

Yield: about 1 1/3 cup

Ingredients (directly from original recipe):

  • Two small garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh marjoram (I used thyme), finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

  1. Chop fresh herbs and mince garlic.
  2. in a small, but deep bowl, combine and whisk together vinegar with mustard, red pepper flakes, sugar, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and garlic.
  3. In another small bowl, whisk together the two oils.
  4. Slowly drizzle the oil into the vinegar mixture, whisking continuously until all ingredients are well combined.
  5. Whisk in the herbs.

Serve immediately, or let sit for a few hours while flavors marry. Refrigerate for up to one 1 week (I have gone longer, but that’s Martha’s suggested shelf life). Be sure to give it a vigorous shake before serving.

Notes for next time:

As I mentioned above, I use less oil than called for and it works out fine. If you don’t think you’ll use up the dressing within a week, try halving the recipe. I have also added a little lemon juice to brighten it up a bit. I think I tried balsamic vinegar once and it was also very good. Otherwise, I really like this dressing as is.

The fresh herbs with the oil and vinegar really are so spectacular. You won’t believe how much tastier your salad is with a fresh dressing on top. I also like to use Italian dressing when cooking veggies. Instead of just drizzling in some olive oil when sauteing or roasting, drizzle on this dressing for more flavor. Imagine tossing some fresh tomatoes in this dressing and then roasting it in the oven. Oh my!

See my Dips, Dressings and Sauces board on Pinterest for more fresh dressings.

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Roasted Shrimp and Vegetables – Simple elegance

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When I go out to dinner, I ALWAYS order seafood – usually shrimp. When I was a picky-eater kid I drove my parents bananas when we went to a restaurant because I didn’t like any of the “grown-up” food. Like all bad normal parents, they would sometimes default to ordering me a plate of french fries for dinner. But somewhere along the way, mom or dad had a brainstorm and ordered some fried shrimp for me to try. Turns out, fried shrimp was not so far from french fries and I liked it! Ah… parental bliss. The kid can eat shrimp everywhere we go now – and I did! And I still do, only now I don’t order the battered and fried stuff (ok, maybe once in a great while when I’m really hungry and there’s no other seafood option). I love it prepared pretty much any which way: baked, broiled, grilled, raw, boiled, sauteed, stuffed, and I like it over pasta, in salad, barbecued, with rice, in tacos, in soup, with steak, with cocktail sauce – or any sauce! So, I kinda adore shrimp.

It’s also pretty easy to cook – and not horrendously expensive if you buy the frozen kind which works fine for most recipes. I know, fresh is better, but here in my land-locked state of Colorado, out in the middle of nowhere, fresh is just not happening.

BUT (there’s always a but, right?), the Hubs doesn’t adore shrimp like I do. Something about it can’t be touching any other ingredients or food because he says it makes everything else taste fishy. What? *rolls eyes* He will eat shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi (no noodles, just shrimp and a gallon of butter) and the deep fried variety of my childhood. This causes me heartburn because I could eat it daily, but that would mean I would need to prepare two dishes – or two versions of the same dish, which I do occasionally.

So one day last week I was surveying the options in the freezer and spied a bag of shrimp that had been there for over a month. Hmm…I thought, I bet if I just prepared it right, he’d like it and then we could move on and have shrimp everyday. I decided to go for it. Since he likes scampi, I thought maybe I’d try something along those lines. I had a beautiful picture of a shrimp dish on my seafood Pinterest board that I took for my inspiration. The recipe, Roasted Tomatoes with Shrimp and Feta from Real Simple is actually really simple and the picture made me want to lick the computer screen. He HAD to love it, right?

Here’s what I did:

Clean, de-vein and remove the tails of 1 pound of shrimp. Mine were the 51-60 size, but use any size you like. Chop up about half an onion, about 1/2 a bell pepper and about 5 small tomatoes (mine are plum size).  Chop up some marinated artichokes, also. Toss the veggies, along with a few cloves of garlic, in a few healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil and spread out in a glass baking pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the veggies are nearly finished, then stir in the shrimp, another healthy squeeze of lemon, the parsley and feta. Cook another 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and firm.

I simply served it over some leafy green lettuce with some warm crusty bread. DONE! So simple and yet so amazingly delicious. I really thought is was restaurant-worthy, and remember, I’m an expert. It’s rich and filling, while being a light dish. I was stuffed when I finished my plate. So, I know you are dying to know if I was able to lure the Hubs over to team shrimp-lover. Well…mission not quite accomplished. He was dismayed when he saw the mixture of shrimp and other ingredients all together on the same bed of lettuce. To his credit, he ended up eating most of the shrimp, but wasn’t able to eat the veggies or lettuce – because it might have tasted “shrimpy.” You can’t win ’em all. I didn’t take it personally since I knew going in he was shrimp-phobic. I tried.

However, I LOVED it and I’m sure the daughter, a fellow shrimp freak, will love it, so I’ll make it for her sometime when we have a girls’ night. If you love shrimp, this recipe is for you and it is fit to serve to company as either a main or side dish. It goes together super fast and there’s plenty of room for versatility and creativity.

Roasted Shrimp and Vegetables

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

(This is not a fussy recipe; use ingredients you have and enjoy)

  • 1 lb raw fresh or frozen shrimp (I used 31-60 frozen)
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 small tomatoes, quartered (or 2-3 larger tomatoes)
  • 3 cloves garlic (I roasted them whole, then sliced after roasting)
  • 3-4 marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • Juice of a half a lemon
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley (basil would also work)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional: pinch red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice onion, chop bell pepper. Chop artichoke hearts. Place veggies in a rectangular baking pan with whole garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Toss mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place baking pan in oven. Cook for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are nearly done – a little less than fork-tender.
  4. While veggies roast, clean and prepare shrimp.
  5. Add shrimp, lemon, chopped parsley and feta to veggie mixture, stir, and return to oven. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until shrimp is pink, firm (not hard) and cooked through.
  6. Remove garlic cloves from mixture and mash/mince and stir back into mixture.
  7. Spoon shrimp mixture over a bed of greens. Serve immediately.

Notes for next time:

This is another very versatile dish. You could really use whatever veggies you have on hand – broccoli, Brussels, squash, etc. It would be super pretty to use multiple bell pepper colors. You can also play with the spices – the addition of more Italian flavors seems logical – and some pesto would also be nice. I didn’t spice it up much, since I was trying to convince the Hubs to like it and I sometimes overheat things for him. That said, for me, I would add the red pepper, or maybe some chili powder. This could also go more Mexican flavor with some green chiles and cumin with some chili powder.  Or, go Asian with some Chinese five-spice, ginger, green onions and bok choy (YUM – going to try that). Instead of serving over lettuce, it would also be super spectacular over pasta or rice. It makes its own sauce, so it’s ready to add to anything, really.

Leave a comment letting me know how you liked it and how you tweaked it!

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Pumpkin, Rice and Bean Burritos

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The ghosts and goblins have retired for another year, but I bet you still have some sweet pumpkins hanging around the house or you have some frozen or canned pumpkin puree. If you’ve got some puree on hand, this is a super fast, super easy, and super flavorful meal the whole family will adore. You can make it as spicy as you like – or not – and you can get it on the table in a flash! Oh, and the nutritional content is simply amazing: all sorts of fiber from beans and pumpkin, lots of vitamins and it’s very low carb and low fat!

I promise (fingers crossed behind my back) this will be the last pumpkin recipe I’ll share – for a little while, anyway. I have almost used up all of my pumpkin from my little patch, so I actually bought four more little sweet pumpkins during the after-Halloween sale because I just can’t get enough! The Hubs rolled his eyes when we saw the new ones arrive from the store. “Oh… more pumpkin,” he said less-than-gleefully. Whatever. I love the stuff, so I’m going to keep roasting, pureeing and putting it in anything and everything. Hands up if you’re with me!

You might think that a pumpkin burrito would be sweet – which it could be if you made it that way – but these burritos are savory and spicy and definitely not reminiscent of pumpkin pie. I got the idea when I had a pumpkin burrito at a local hole-in-the-wall Mexican kitchen in Durango where the daughter now lives. It was pretty simple: pumpkin and green chile, so I thought I’d whip up my own version of it at home.

Here’s how:

It’s really simple if you have some puree and some rice ready. I swear it was ready in about 15 minutes. I use a rice cooker, so I made some short grain brown rice earlier in the day. Then, simply saute the onions until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Finally, add the rest of the ingredients to the skillet and cook over medium-low heat until hot throughout. If you let it sit a little while, the flavors will improve, but if you need to get the troops fed, just move it along. I decided to crisp the burritos in a little canola oil – not a total deep fry – to add a little crunch, but you could serve the burritos soft or you could pour some red or green chile enchilada sauce over the top for an “enchilada style” burrito.

Pumpkin, Rice and Bean Burritos

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients: (don’t be fussy about the ingredients; play around with the flavors to suit your tastes)

  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup cooked rice (I used short grain brown rice)
  • 1 can pinto (or whatever beans you prefer) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-2 tsp chopped green chiles (I used some of my frozen Hatch chiles)
  • 1 tsp chipotle in adobo (I keep leftovers frozen in ice cube trays)
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (I used one of my frozen discs from this recipe) – skip if you are cilantro averse. Parsley’s always a good substitute.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 12″ flour or whole wheat tortillas
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola oil (optional)
  • Garnish options: shredded cheese, avocado/guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, raw onion, chopped tomatoes
  • Optional: red or green enchilada sauce for “enchilada style” version

Directions:

  1. Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat. Saute onions until translucent, then add garlic and cook one more minute.
  2. Lower heat to medium-low, then add pumpkin, beans, rice, green chile, spices, and cilantro. Simmer and stir until the mixture is hot throughout. Keep the heat fairly low so it doesn’t scorch or dry out.
  3. Spoon two large scoops of pumpkin mixture into center of a tortilla and fold ends towards center, then roll up from one side.
  4. If you want to make crispy burritos, heat up about another skillet with about 1/2″ of canola oil over medium-high heat. Place burrito in pan, cook for a couple of minutes until golden, then flip over and cook the other side until golden. (Note that mine got a little overdone when I became distracted feeding the hounds – oops). Drain on paper towels.
  5. If you want enchilada style, spoon sauce over burritos, then warm in oven or microwave.
  6. Garnish and serve.

These are pretty spicy, so dial back the chipotle and green chiles if you’re not a heat freak like me – or if you’re serving small children. The Hubs said they were a little too spicy for him, but it was just right for me. He would have enjoyed some meat, like ground beef, in his but overall gave the meal a thumbs up. He was surprised to learn that one of the main ingredients was pumpkin since it just takes on the flavors of the other ingredients.

Notes for next time: this recipe is so versatile that the possibilities are endless – really. You could add some cooked meat, as the Hubs suggested: beef, pork or chicken would work. You could also use a simple taco seasoning combo instead of the spices listed above. Of course, you could use other types of beans – or a combo of more than one type. I might add some enchilada sauce inside the burrito, too. To increase the veg content, I might add some corn or spinach. Basically, anything you’d do to any other burrito, you could do here. I also think the mixture would be awesome as a tostada topper, too! PS: this stuff is even better the next day for a leftover lunch. Mhmm.

I’d love to hear your variations on this simple recipe. Leave a comment!

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Southwestern Green Chile and Corn Potato Chowder

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I took a break from my pumpkin recipes long enough to cook up a new harvest meal. I’ve been thinking about a green chile soup since we roasted our Hatch green chiles last month (how to roast and preserve Hatch chiles), but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Then today I was thinking about an easy meal I could prepare early in the day so the daughter could take some home and then we could reheat later for dinner. The daughter loves potato soup and since I got several ginormous potatoes in my Bountiful Basket yesterday, so I decided it was time to make a green chile and potato soup – or chowder.

What exactly is the difference between a soup and a chowder? I didn’t know either, so I did a little research via Google. I learned that while the traditional definition of chowder is a thick seafood soup (ie. clam chowder), the modern definition seems to be a chunky soup thickened by potatoes, onions, milk or cream (ie. corn chowder). So, because I’m using potatoes to as a thickener I’ve decided to call this recipe a chowder instead of a soup (mostly because I’ve posted two soup recipes recently and I’m proving that I’m not in a rut).

This is an easy, free-form recipe (like the rest of my recipes, right?). It came together pretty quickly and would make an easy weeknight meal. It’s also pretty healthified as we only used a tablespoon or two of butter and no cream, flour or milk – and honestly, I think you could skip the butter and it would be just as good! The daughter took home a container for her dinner and the Hubs and I finished the rest ourselves. The Hubs loved the soup, I mean chowder. He liked the heat and creaminess, but lamented that the addition of bacon or ham would have made it that much better. I rolled my eyes, but feel free to take his advice and add some cooked bacon or ham to make a heartier soup chowder.

Dice onions, garlic, green chiles and potatoes to start chowder

Simmer potatoes with the rest of the ingredients

My frozen disc of cilantro sauce – I use this stuff in EVERYTHING

Hatch Green Chile and Potato Corn Chowder

Southwestern Green Chile & Corn Potato Chowder

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

(Don’t be fussy about measuring anything and add more or less spices or ingredients to taste)

  • 3-6 russet potatoes, peeled and diced (I used three HUGE potatoes)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 Hatch green chiles, roasted, peeled and seeded (sub Anaheim or poblano chiles if you don’t have Hatch chiles)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth (I used my homemade veg stock)
  • 2-3 cups water, reserved from boiling potatoes
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2-4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (I used some of my frozen cilantro sauce that I learned to make from this genius post) – optional if you aren’t a cilantro-lover
  • 1 can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 glug of Worcestershire sauce (optional, but I think it adds richness)
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add potatoes and boil until fork tender. Drain, reserving 2-3 cups of the water.
  2. While potatoes drain in a colander, cover the bottom of the pan with with EVOO and warm over medium heat. Add onion and cook until they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the vegetable stock or chicken broth to the pan, and bring to a soft boil. Stir in the green chiles, salt, cumin and coriander. Reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. Return potatoes to the pot and stir. Add reserved potato water, 1 cup at a time until potatoes are covered. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, cilantro and pepper and simmer another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Remove pot from heat. Add butter, if using. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to desired consistency (or pulse in batches in a blender). Our family likes a few chunks, so I don’t blend it very long.
  6. Stir in the corn and lime juice and let simmer for a few minutes to heat the corn.

Serve with some crusty bread or warmed tortillas. Garnish with some parsley or cilantro.

Great soup chowder the next day, but you may need to add more stock or water to thin a bit as the potatoes continue to soak up the liquid. If you want a little more creaminess, you could add more butter or even some milk and blend into the mixture.

Notes for next time:

When the soup chowder was almost finished, I realized I should have included some little diced carrots, which would have added some nice color, but also even more texture and flavor. I think I might also play around with adding other peppers – a jalapeno, maybe, or a sweet red bell pepper. Also, I might play with the spices by adding some chile powder or a smidge of chipotle in adobo. Another twist might be to throw in some diced tomatoes, but that might change the chowder back to soup.

Leave a comment and let me know how your soup chowder turns out.

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Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – orange you ready for some soup??

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I love orange veggies! Pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet orange peppers, butternut squash….mmmhhhmmm. They all inspire images of cozy Fall evenings by a fireplace. Comfort. Fall is in the air here in SW Colorado. The nights are cooling off enough to force us to close some windows at bedtime and when we drove up to Telluride this weekend, we saw that the leaves are turning crispy golden colors already.

Another sign that Fall is upon us is that the Hubs has a cold. That’s the downside of the season change, right? I’m fending it off, so far, but I feel some sniffles coming on, too. So Fall is arriving and we’re a little sickly, so that means it’s soup season! I adore making soup. There is something so wholesome and satisfying about mixing up a batch of comforting soup and letting it simmer quietly on the stove. I think one of the first real scratch cooking recipes I made was soup – Tuscan bean soup, I believe, and I was amazed how simple it was to make and how yum-o it was to eat.

The Hubs requested chicken soup over the weekend and we finished it last night, so I wanted another soup recipe for tonight. My kitchen is overflowing with veggies from the garden and from my most recent Bountiful Baskets haul, so I assessed what I had and started my daily trolling of Pinterest for  ideas. I found it: carrot soup! I have tons of my own garden carrots and also two packages from Bountiful Baskets. I’ve never made carrot soup, but I have made pumpkin soup and it sounded similar – and it’s orange! YAY! My inspiration recipes are from Basket 411 (which I’m glad I found because it’s all about using Bountiful Basket produce) and from Food 52. I stole borrowed a few ideas from both and made my own version tonight.

It turns out that I got to combine the carrots with another orange veg: sweet potato (or yam)! Orange squared!

Secret ingredient: sweet potato!

So here’s what you do:

Start by peeling and chopping up about 6-10 carrots into bite-sized pieces. Personally, I only peel my carrots if I can’t get all of the dirt out of the nooks and crannies because you lose a lot of nutrients by peeling. You need to wind up with about four cups of chopped carrots. I have some very large, odd looking carrots from my garden, so my quantity of carrots to start was only about 4, plus a couple of normal carrots.

This is what happens when your carrots get “uneven watering” and you don’t thin them enough – freaky carrots!

Chop up carrots into bite-sized pieces measuring about 4 cups

Next, peel and dice one sweet potato (or yam) and toss into a bowl with the chopped carrots. Peel a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over the mixture and gently toss to coat all veggies in the EVOO.

Combine carrots, sweet potato, garlic and EVOO

If this process sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s basically the same process described in my post about roasting cherry tomatoes. Yep, we’re going to roast these veggies before we throw them in the soup. Roasting brings out all kinds of flavorful yum in veggies and since it’s cooling off, we don’t mind having the oven on for awhile.

Dump the mixture onto a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking pan) and spread veggies into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. If they begin to scorch, move to lower rack or reduce heat to about 400. Each oven is different, so adjust accordingly.

Dump veggies onto baking sheet and spread into a single layer

Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. Be sure to taste test to be sure.

While the orange veggies are roasting in the oven, caramelize an onion in your soup pot. The roasting and caramelizing both take about 20-30 minutes, so do other kitchen chores while they’re working.

Caramelize an onion while the orange veggies roast

When the orange veggies are roasted, pour in some vegetable stock to deglaze the soup pot before adding veggies.

Sidebar: speaking of veggie stock, you should make your own! Really! It’s super simple and it’s healthier than the commercially processed kind. Plus, you’ll always have some on hand when you need it. See my method for Easy Vegetable Stock here.

Freeze veg stock in muffin tins then store in big baggies for easy use

I used about 2.5 cups of stock, but I like a thicker, heartier soup. If you like a thinner soup, use more stock. You can also add more after you puree it to get the desired texture. Bring stock and onions to a medium boil.

Dump the roasted veggies in the pot and add the ginger and thyme, with a little more salt and pepper. I decided we needed a little acid to counteract the sweetness of the roasted veggies and caramelized onions, so I added about two or three heaping spoons of my roasted tomato mixture from the fridge. If you don’t have roasted tomatoes, just chop up a couple of tomatoes and throw them in the pot. You cold also use about half a can of diced tomatoes, drained.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and let simmer on low for at least 10 minute or longer

Next, add the other secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce. I know: weird, right? I don’t even know what’s in the stuff (no, I don’t  want to know), but I swear by it in soups and stews. Adding it increases the richness of the soup exponentially. I only use a quick glug or two, but it makes all the difference. Trust me.

Finally, chop the parsley and add to the pot. Once all of the ingredients are in, simmer covered on low for at least 10 minutes to allow all of the flavors to get happy and dancing together. I believe soup must simmer and you must be able to smell from outside your front door before it’s “done.”

To finish, you need to puree it. You can use a blender or food processor, but you’ll need to cool it to warm before doing so or it blows the lid off. Also, don’t overload the container; process in batches. I am lucky enough to own an immersion blender (and I highly recommend you invest in one, too), so I just buzz it around the pot until I get the right texture. The Hubs  and I like some chunkiness to out soup, so I leave it pretty thick and don’t blend down all of the pieces (though I do try to get the garlic pieces all pureed in). Add water or more stock if you want a thinner consistency.

Puree the soup to the desired texture, adding water or stock to thin if needed

Return pot to stove and reheat until hot. Simmer a little longer, or serve immediately.

Simmer pureed soup on low or serve immediately

Garnish with whatever you like and have on hand. Some toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds would be lovely. Or, some cilantro or green onions would be good. I meant to add green onions, but the Hubs arrived and I got distracted and forgot. Crusty bread or toast makes a great dipping tool (too bad we finished the baguette with the chicken soup). Cuddle up under a flannel blankie by the fire and enjoy your orange soup!

Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped carrots (about 6-10 carrots)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (canola would also work)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, sliced (preferably yellow)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock (could sub chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger (fresh is best, but I only had some in a jar)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2-3 heaping Tbsp roasted tomato mixture (or 2 chopped tomatoes, or 1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Garnish (optional): nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine diced carrots, sweet potato and garlic in a medium bowl. Toss withe EVOO to coat all veggies.
  3. Dump mixture on a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast in over for 20-30 minutes until the largest pieces are very tender.
  5. Meanwhile, caramelize the sliced onions in a large soup pot (see caramelizing instructions here).
  6. Deglaze the soup pot with a little veggie stock, then add another 2 cups of stock. Reserve the remaining stock to add as needed during the puree process.
  7. Bring soup to a medium boil, and add ginger and thyme and a little more salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add remaining ingredients.
  9. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  10. Puree in blender or food processor (cool to warm, then puree in batches) or using an immersion blender. Blend to desired consistency, adding stock if needed.
  11. Return to stove and reheat until hot.
  12. Garnish with nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro.

Notes for next time:

I like spicy food, but since the Hubs has a sore throat, I didn’t spice this recipe with anything other than the garlic and onions. Next time  I would add some red pepper flakes or a little curry powder or paste to heat it up. I also might try using basil rather than parsley and I might add a little red wine to the soup. Another thought is to toss  a little balsamic vinegar with the veggies before roasting. I also thought out adding some roasted corn after pureeing the rest of the soup. The Hubs liked his soup, but required a grilled cheese sandwich on the side to feel satisfied after a long day of working while sick 🙂 I was full after my bowl.

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Simple Savories

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UPDATED: See bottom of post.

This year I planted tomatoes for the first time. I had planned to only have three plants because I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy growing them – or be successful. Since I didn’t know a lot about the many plant choices, I ordered a variety pack from Burpees. One of those was called the Super Sweet 100 Hybrid, described as a high-producing sweet cherry variety. Then a friend gave me a couple of additional plants, which turned out to be cherry varieties, as well. So, out of five plants, I have three that are cherry! Know what that means? I have MILLIONS of itty bitties, and I wasn’t prepared for the influx of the little sweeties.

Cherry tomato plants produce MILLIONS of sweet little tomatoes!

I started exploring other food blogs to figure out how to preserve the giant harvest of mini tomatoes and learned that while it is possible to can them, most people don’t because most people don’t like to leave the skin on canned tomatoes and most people refuse to peel 1000 cherry tomatoes in order to get a couple of pints of canned tomatoes. Personally, I’m not terribly averse to skins and I do throw some cherry maters in my salsa, but decided I wanted to do something else with the little guys since I’m canning the big ‘uns.

What to do with all of those little yummies?

I learned a simple, fast and super yummy trick for roasting and then preserving cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen several versions of this technique, so I am by no means claiming to have thought of it myself! As always, I try to put a little of my own spin on it and show you how easy this savory delight is to make and how versatile the finished product can be.

Roasted cherry tomatoes are simple and versatile

I started with about a pound of cherry tomatoes, which fits in one jelly roll pan and makes about one half pint of the mixture. I only have one jelly roll pan so that’s all I make at a time – you could make more if you have multiple pans.

Preheat the oven to about 425 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes by slicing each of them in half. TEDIOUS! I hate tedious! Let’s make this faster. I wish I remember where I saw this trick (somewhere on Pinterest, I’m sure), but the person who invented it is a genius. Here’s what you do: find two plastic lids of the same size. I use the kind from the big Greek yogurt containers (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.). Set one lid, label side down and fill the lid with tomatoes. I find it works best if you use similar sized tomatoes in each batch.

Fill the first lid with the tomatoes

Fit them in as snugly as you can, then place the other lid, label side facing up on top of the tomatoes, making a little tomato sandwich.

Place the second lid on top of the tomatoes

Now, press down on the sandwich firmly and begin slicing into the tomatoes with an very sharp knife. If you don’t keep the pressure firm, the tomatoes will escape out the backside of the sandwich. Sometimes I do rotate it a bit, but do not pull out the knife, which would make it messy.

Press firmly on the top while slicing through the tomatoes

Viola! Quick work made of slicing up a handful of cherry tomatoes! I told you it was genius!

Like magic, they’re all sliced in one move!

After the tomatoes are halved, place them in a medium sized bowl. Peel, but do not chop a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl of tomatoes. Remember that garlic mellows out when roasted, so feel free to add more!

Add some garlic cloves to the bowl of tomatoes

Add about a 1/4 cup of EVOO to the bowl and gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic cloves. Dump the contents of the bowl onto the pan and spread the tomatoes and garlic out into a single layer. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes sit cut side up or down.

Spread the garlic and tomatoes into a single layer on the pan

Sprinkle the spices and salt and pepper over the mixture and place in the oven. Roast for about 20-30 minutes. I like a little charring on the edges, so I wait until I see that before I pull them out. Be careful, though, because you can go from a little char to a major scorch in a matter of a minutes. My pan below may have gone a little too long.

Roast until you see a little charring on the edges of the tomatoes

Let the mixture cool on the pan. The second they are cool enough to eat, taste them! (Caution: I have burned my tongue more than once by diving in too soon!). Amazingness, right? Super savory flavors that make you want to lap it up off the pan. Depending on how much you eat off the pan, you now have a nice little batch of roasted yummies to add to tonight’s dinner, or save in a jar for a future recipe.

Cool then taste!

If I want to save them for another day, I scoop the mixture into a half pint (jelly size) jar. Be sure to get all of the drippings and the garlic (you can smash or chop the garlic to make for easier use later). Smoosh the mixture firmly into the jar and top with a splash of EVOO. Fill to nearly the top, but f you’re going to freeze it, leave about 1/2″ headroom. I have kept the mixture in the fridge for up to a week, but if I don’t think I’m going to use it quickly enough, I just pop it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight when ready to use.

Pour the mixture in a small jar for fridge or freezer

The mixture makes a perfect pasta topping, as is. Just prepare some pasta, warm the tomato mixture in a saute pan (add some pesto and/or a little tomato paste for more body) and then combine the pasta and tomato mixture for a super easy, but very savory supper. I will share my FAVORITE pasta dish with you in a future post soon, and we’ll use this recipe as our basic sauce starter.

Besides pasta, you could use this as a topping or stir it into many other dishes since it’s just a tomato and garlic combo. Think: stews and soups, stir into meatloaf or burgers, cassaroles, bruschetta, pizza, eggs, rice, veggie stir-fries, shrimp or fish topping, bean or green salads, etc. It also occurs to me that it could be pureed to create a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. Oooo…gotta try that!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Serving size: makes about 1/2 pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 whole, peeled garlic cloves (more, if you like)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning (or any combo of basil, oregano, thyme, etc. You could also use fresh chopped herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp each: salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice tomatoes in half, place in medium-sized bowl.
  3. Peel garlic, add to bowl with tomatoes.
  4. Add EVOO to bowl, gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture onto jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet), spreading mixture into single layer.
  6. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until edges of tomatoes are slightly charred. Remove from oven.
  7. Cool completely on the pan.
  8. Use immediately, or scoop mixture into small jar, packing tightly and topping with EVOO. Leave 1/2″ head space if you plan to freeze.

Notes for next time:

I think it would be fun to try a Mexican spin on the mixture by using Mexican spices instead of Italian and adding some green chiles or jalapenos to the roasting pan. This version could be used as a stir-in to taco filling and other Mexican dishes. Another nice addition to either version would be thick slices of onions and/or green peppers which also roast so nicely and pair well with tomatoes.

Leave a comment with your roasted tomato recipe ideas. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

When I wrote this post, I noted that maybe the roasted tomato mixture could be pureed into a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. I also thought it would be fun to add some onions and bell peppers to the roasting pan to include even more savory flavor. Well! Last night I tried both and it turned out to be simply delicious and got rave reviews from the Hubs. He isn’t quite as enamored with the texture of the plain roasted tomato mixture as I am, so the smoother version works great for him. I just had to share!

Here’s how:

Prepare cherry tomatoes and garlic as above, but add chopped pieces of bell pepper and onions. I had some pearl onions (over-grown green onions) from the garden, so I used those. You can just chunk up about half an onion. Toss with olive oil, as described above and roast the same way.

Next, dump the mixture into a bowl and use the immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency (or cool then use a food processor or blender).

Blend with food processor, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency

I added a dollop of my basil pesto, a little salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp of sugar, but mostly because I was experimenting with the flavors. It was great, as is, before adding ingredients. Just tweak to your own tastes and you end up with great marinara sauce. I served mine over open-faced (chicken) meatball sandwiches and the Hubs asked for seconds. Enjoy!

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