Friday, February 20, 2009

You say tomato, I say.....let's make soup!

I'm a huge fan of those gorgeous, bright red stem tomatoes that are on sale this week. I'm a fan mostly I think, because of my love for all things red, and those little suckers grab me every time. They're so darned pretty, it's almost like they're calling me: "You know you want must buy us! You need to find a use for us!" I think it's kind of funny that they would speak to me that way, because I don't actually like to eat tomatoes. I just think they're pretty. I'm weird that way.

But, I do love to pick up a stemmed cluster of four or five tomatoes and have a long whiff -- even in February, they're pure summer. I'm reminded of my dad, a weekend warrior who used to spend hours in his Minnesota garden, yanking tons of weeds. When he was through, he'd stretch his aching back, plunk himself down in the dirt, and munch tomatoes off the vine just like they were apples.

Still, even with the childhood nostalgia, I don't really care for tomatoes in their raw form. It's only been in recent years that I've come around to appreciating their cooked version. However, this simple, savory Roasted Tomato Soup is something I can't get enough of. Slow roasting tomatoes and garlic together brings out the most delicious sweetness, which is balanced by onions, oregano, sea salt and the tiniest splash of cream.

Now, on to a different subject: on sale in the Bakery this week are loaves of Sendik's Artisan French Bread with Rosemary. I see these specialty breads all the time and always wonder what to do with them. Today, I've cubed a few individual slices, tossed them in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil, and voila: rosemary croutons! They add a happy little crunch to the creamy soup. And I have to confess: I eat them like popcorn when no one is won't tell, will you?

Serve this to your crew for a weekend lunch, or as a light dinner next week. Use the rest of the Rosemary Bread for sandwiches; I might toast a few slices myself, and pair them with roasted turkey, lettuce, and mayo.....hold the raw tomato, of course!
Sale ingredients are in Bold Green!

Roasted Tomato Soup with Rosemary Croutons
Serves: 6
Source: Based on this recipe from

4 lb. stemmed tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom; core removed
6 cloves garlic, skins left on
3 T. olive oil
salt & black pepper
1 large onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Rosemary Croutons, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 425. Line two cookie sheets with foil for easier cleanup (I'm all about easy cleanup!). Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the cookie sheets along with the garlic. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for one hour. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Slip the garlic out of the skins.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion, oregano, and sugar. Saute until the onion is tender, about five minutes. Slide the tomatoes, the garlic, and any accumulated juices into the onion mixture. Add the chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes.

Transfer half of soup contents to a blender, and carefully (and I mean carefully, unless you enjoy cleaning tomato soup off of your ceiling. Start out slowly, holding a dish towel loosely over the lid.) puree the soup until smooth. Repeat with the other half. Alternately, you can use a stick blender, as I did. This works great too.

Add the cream to the pan, and heat the soup gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Rosemary Croutons.

Rosemary Croutons
4-5 slices Sendiks Artisan French Bread with Rosemary, diced
2-3 T. olive oil

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When it's hot, add the diced bread. Toss with the oil to coat, and saute until cubes are toasty on all sides, five minutes or so. Season with salt to taste; serve with the soup.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beef Soft Tacos

As I write this, the flurries are flying and the wind is whipping around outside -- it's a bonechilling, gray, and dreary day. Typical for Wisconsin in February, I know. I'm not complaining; I've got a toasty fire going and the makings for beef soft tacos simmering away on the stove -- I've gone far away to sunny Mexico, if only inside my head!

I had to get in at least one more pot of this fabulous stew before spring arrives. After all, while stew meat is a bargain shopper's friend, it's not exactly swimsuit friendly, right? As far as I'm concerned, February is still open season on comfort food - and since beef stew meat is on special this week for $3.49 a pound, I'll serve up these tacos once again this winter. Besides, I've got on a big sweater today, not a bikini.

A few words about the star of this dish: the stew meat. As I'm sure you already know, stew meat is not the cut of beef you can have on the table in 15 minutes - unless of course, you enjoy gnawing through tough and chewy chunks. It's usually cut from a chuck roast, which is a part of the animal that gets worked out a lot, so chuck is a little on the tough side. But, when it's braised nice and slow with a little TLC, stew meat can become incredibly tender and flavorful. Having enough time to pull off the tough-to-tender transformation is key.

You'll need a couple of hours to make this dish, I'm not gonna lie. (Just keepin' it real, as my kids say.) The good news: the time you invest in this dish will not be wasted. You will love it. I promise. Let your diners assemble their own soft tacos: set out some guacamole and pico de gallo from the Produce Department, a big bowl of the sale Sargento Shredded Cheddar, and the sale La Perfidia Flour Tortillas. Sit back and accept their praise, and dream of your own favorite warm and sunny spot!
Here's the recipe! SALE INGREDIENTS are marked in bold green print. Enjoy!

Beef Soft Tacos
Serves: 6

1 T. vegetable oil
2 lbs. beef stew meat, patted dry
1 jar Salpica Salsa
1 c. chicken or beef broth
2 T. minced garlic
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. soy sauce

1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
hefty squeeze fresh lime juice

Flour Tortillas, Shredded Cheese, Extra Salsa for serving
Optional: Fresh Guacamole & Pico de Gallo from the Produce Department

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Saute beef in batches being careful not to crowd the pieces, for about four minutes per batch. Transfer beef to a bowl as each batch is done. Return all beef to the pot. Add salsa, broth, garlic, brown sugar, and soy sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, stirring often, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Uncover pot and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes longer. Mix in cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap your tortillas in a clean dish towel and microwave for a minute or two, or until hot. Serve the stew with the tortillas and accompaniments, allowing diners to assemble their own tacos.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Three Great Uses for Sale Asparagus

Well, in case you didn't hear it already, the groundhog gave us some bad news this week. Six more weeks of winter are yet to come, and as my good friend Lori would say, "What a BUST!" It's getting old, don't yah' think? The bundling up, the salty streets, dirty cars, and filthy snow are here to stay - at least temporarily, that is. BAH!

Today I'm thumbing my nose at winter with three great recipes for asparagus, a favorite vegetable of mine, as well as a harbinger of spring and the warm weather that (someday) will arrive. And besides the fact that it's on special this week for $1.49 a pound, what better reason do you need?
The first two recipes are simple sides that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. Both are great for those nights that you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table, and either would be terrific served with most anything....a rotisserie chicken from the deli, for instance, or alongside a prepared meatloaf (on special this week) from the meat department.

The third recipe, and more of a main dish, is for a Simple Strata with Asparagus & Cream Cheese. Rich with creamy, melty cheese and crispy bread on top....mercy, it's good. This strata would be equally great for either dinner (with a green salad and some rolls) or Sunday brunch (with a fresh fruit salad and some muffins from the bakery).

It goes without saying, because by now you should know -- these recipes of course incorporate several items that are featured in the Sale Ad this week. You'll just have to suffer through reading all the way down to find out what they are. I know, the suspense is killing you, right?(Hint: all sale items are highlighted in GREEN.)
#1) (and the utmost in simplicity; I'm almost embarrassed to call this a 'recipe'):
Simple Roasted Asparagus
Serves: 4
1-2 pounds of asparagus, trimmed
1-2 T. good olive oil (please use good olive oil. please.)
coarse salt and black pepper to taste

Fire up the oven to 475. Line a cookie sheet (with sides) with foil. Place the asparagus on the cookie sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season liberally with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 8-12 minutes, or until the spears can be pierced with gentle pressure from a fork. Transfer to a platter and serve.
#2) Roasted Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes and Asparagus with Parmesan
Serves: 4
Source: Epicurious

1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" piece
1 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes (this is about 5-7 larger babies)
3 T. good olive oil (I already asked nicely)
1/3 c. grated Sendik's Brand Grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450. Toss together the asparagus, potatoes, oil, salt and pepper in a large, shallow baking pan, spreading evenly.

(I'm going to pause here to tell you that spacing is important, because if your veggies are crowded, they will steam and not roast. Give them their space, for goodness sakes!)

Roast for 20 minutes; stir them around, and continue to roast for another 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a pretty bowl (if that's your thing) and serve!

#3) Simple Strata with Asparagus & Cream Cheese
Adapted from this recipe
Serves: 4

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
6 eggs
1 1/4 c. milk
4 T. butter
1 small onion, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 slices Sendiks Brand Artisan Filone Bread, cubed
8 t. (or so, you can adjust this to taste) Whipped Chive Cream Cheese

You'll need an oven-safe non-stick skillet for this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400. Place the asparagus in a microwave safe bowl. Add a tablespoon of water and cover tightly. Microwave for a minute or until bright green. Drain well. Whisk the eggs, milk, and salt and pepper in a bowl, set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Swirl the butter to coat the pan; add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bread and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread and onion are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; top with asparagus and pour egg mixture over. Drop the cream cheese onto the egg mixture in generous dollops. Bake until the bread on top begins to crisp, the top is puffed, and center is set, about 20 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.
I'll leave you with this:

I love this picture!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Superbowl Food Hangover....and Fresh & Frugal Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Did I hear chatter about some big football game on Sunday night? And buzz over some hilarious commercials and a bigshot musician who played at half time?

Don't look at me....I wouldn't know. I wasn't paying attention....mostly because (and I'm not exactly proud of it) I was face down in this:

....totally addicting Layered Chipotle Taco Dip. Oh mama. I'll get to the soup in a minute but first things first.

This is a different and slightly grown up version of the taco dip we've all seen at the grocery store and scarfed down at parties. This recipe is made a bit more sophisticated with the addition of a smoky chipotle salsa and a slightly tart cilantro lime cream layer....mmm. See how easy it would be to get a little bit distracted?

I made it with several sale items, including two products I'd never tried before -- Amy's Spicy Refried Beans, and Amy's Chipotle Salsa, both outstanding products that I will definitely buy again (when they're on sale though; Amy's products are great, but they're not a regular purchase for a frugal gal like me). But I don't even want to talk about it right was so good -- too good. Maybe I'll share the recipe with you when I feel that I've purged myself from junk food for a few days. Ever have that feeling? Ugh. A junk food hangover is no good.

So I was craving a lighter dinner for Monday night -- something fresh, green, and healthy to counteract the feeding frenzy of the evening before. I found a wonderful recipe for Broccoli Soup with Cheddar, which hit the spot in two ways: it fullfilled the fresh and green requirement, and it was made with three sale items: broccoli crowns, baby vidalia onions, and aged sharp cheddar.
I loved this recipe for several reasons: first, it made great use of both the florets and the stems, with very little waste; and second, because the recipe doesn't call for pulverizing the soup to oblivion in the blender, you could actually tell that there was broccoli in the soup! The florets and the stems are added separately so that the stems will cook until tender, and the florets won't over cook, but maintain their bright, beautiful shade of green.

I served this soup with a big green salad and the sale demi baguettes from the bakery.... I'm feeling healthier already!

Broccoli Soup with Sharp Cheddar
Serves: 6

6 T. butter, divided; room temperature
2 pounds of fresh broccoli florets, stems and florets separated and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch of baby vidalia onions, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 dried tarragon
6 c. chicken broth
1 c. half and half

3 T. butter

2 c. grated sharp cheddar (about a half pound block)

Melt 3 T. butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add broccoli stems and onions, saute for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and the tarragon, saute 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Transfer contents of the soup to a blender, being careful not to fill it all the way (unless you enjoy scraping soup off of your ceiling). Place the lid on the blender, removing the center plastic piece so that the steam can vent. Using a clean kitchen towel, gently hold the lid in place and start the blender on LOW. Wait a few seconds and then up the speed to medium, and blend until smooth.

Tranfer soup back to pot. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3 T. butter and the flour with a fork to make a paste. ** Whisk the paste into the soup. Add the broccoli florets. Simmer until the soup thickens and the florets are tender, about 5 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Place 6 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Divide soup among the bowls. Sprinkly 1/3 c. cheese over each. Broil until cheese melts and bubbles around the edges, about 4 minutes.

** Since I'm sure you want your money's worth for the time you spent reading this entry, I will tell you something you might not already know: the fancy French term for this mixture is 'beurre manie' (pronounced 'burr mon yay'), which translates into "kneaded butter". This is an easy technique you can use to thicken soups, sauces, and gravies.

Time well spent reading this blog today, right? At least you can walk away with some useful knowledge!

And if you must have the Chipotle Taco Dip recipe, I'll be posting that in the sidebar as well.
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