wild rice soup

One of the great things about February is that it’s still prime soup season, which I enjoy more now that my boys are discovering that some of those soups I’ve been offering them all along actually taste good. Like wild rice soup. At some point during this winter it has become a family favorite. Everyone eats it. I mean the whole bowl of soup, not just a token spoonful.

I developed this recipe because I didn’t want to make a soup by opening several cans of pre-made soup. Still, it comes together quickly once you’ve cooked the wild rice. You can prepare that a day or two in advance to get a meal on the table faster. And an immersion blender comes in handy for pureeing the cooked potatoes, which thicken the soup and make it seem creamy even before you add any dairy product.

Here’s how we make wild rice soup:

1 cup wild rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 stalks of celery

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium carrot, diced

3 medium russet potatoes, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 cup half and half or evaporated milk

1 1/2 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

Cook wild rice according to package directions. Drain, if necessary, and set aside. Saute celery, onion, garlic and carrot in a stock pot for about 5 minutes. Add three cups of water, salt and the sliced potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are quite tender. Remove the pot from the heat and blend with an immersion blender until creamy. Return the soup to the burner and add the chicken, cooked wild rice and half and half. Heat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: Add a bit more water or milk for a thinner soup.

The chicken or turkey is optional, and you’ll hardly miss it if you leave it out. I’ve also swapped in a half pound of browned ground beef for the poultry and no one seemed to notice.

kid-friendly pickle making

My boys are getting to the age where they are starting to be helpful in the kitchen. Well, almost. But the optimist in me is thinking that starting early means we get to reap the rewards sooner. And my goal is that by the time they are eight years old they’ll be cooking dinner once a week. (I’m not joking. Kids rise to the occasion. I wouldn’t want to set the expectations too low.)  So for our first son, I’ve just got a little over two years to work up to it. This is the reason pickle-making became a recent group project. One reason – the other reason had to do with the large stack of cucumbers on the counter.

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s quick and there’s no sweating over a hot water bath in a steamy kitchen. You just slice and slice and slice then heat up a brine to pour over all those sliced cucumbers. Where does the teaching come in? We reviewed the sizes of measuring cups and spoons as we prepared the brine. And I reminded them about level full spoons and cups as they helped measure.

Here’s what we did.

Put these three ingredients in a five-quart container (such as an ice cream bucket) in the order listed:
1 onion, sliced
4 heads of dill
Enough pickle slices or spears to fill the container

Measure the following brine ingredients in a saucepan and heat to boiling:

1 quart water

1 ¾ cups vinegar

1/3 cup canning salt

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 bulb garlic, each clove halved

1 teaspoon mustard seed

½ teaspoon alum

Pour the brine over the prepared cucumbers. Cool slightly, cover and store in the refrigerator.

We tried them after a couple of days, and both boys liked them. But these pickles tend to get better with age. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for that. With the amount we made, we’re expecting to have homemade pickles till Thanksgiving.

here we go round the mulberry tree

The cemetery that I walk past daily has a tree on its fence line with lots of mulberries falling off of it. I had read a few years ago about how much the fruit stains if it falls on your car, for example, and how people find these trees to be more of a nuisance than a blessing. But there it stands, a whole tree of fruit that is just dropping to the ground and getting driven or trampled upon. Feeding the birds too. But they are not keeping up.

I called Elmhurst Cemetery yesterday and spoke to a nice lady who said she didn’t know about the mulberry tree. I asked her if I could pick the berries, “I don’t see why not,” she said. “If you don’t, the deer will.”

So we had permission before we set out foraging. After the rain stopped this morning we walked to the mulberry tree. Some of the branches were even low enough for our littlest to help. The berries were good enough to eat, both boys discovered. My husband accompanied us because he thought we were going to our community garden plot. Once he found out we were going to stand by the side of the road and pick fruit off a tree that didn’t belong to us, he was not amused. But he was a good sport.

In his mind, foraging is something for the down-and-outers or immigrants who don’t know better. But foraging has grown in popularity, becoming somewhat of a trendy thing to do even in urban areas. Foraging finds friends among members of Slow Food International and its regional affiliates in their effort to promote access to fresh food that is good for the planet. There’s even a site called Falling Fruit dedicated to helping people find places to forage. Created by two avid foragers, the interactive map at fallingfruit.org identifies locations around the world where fruits, vegetables and other edibles are free for the taking. Who knew?

2013-07-13 10.12.45

In about 30 minutes we picked what we thought would be enough mulberries for a pie and some jam. We brought them home, washed them, and measured nine cups. Then came the real time consuming part: sniping off the little green stems. My boys helped a bit but quickly grew disinterested.

Now the tips of my fingers have deep purple stains, but the jam cooling on the counter looks like it’s worth it. The pie berries await baking, after the heat of the day passes.

how to make sweet potatoes disappear

This sweet potato biscuit recipe from my sister-in-law is a seasonal favorite in our home. If I’m baking sweet potatoes, I try to bake extra so I can mix up a half a batch of these the following day. With the fall spices, even the smell of them baking is a treat.

Here’s what you’ll need to make sweet potato biscuits:

2 cups baked, pureed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup melted butter

2 3/4 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the butter and stir in the sweet potato puree and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients until the mixture forms into dough. Roll out the dough to about half an inch thick. Pull out the cookie cutters and ask your kids to help cut the biscuits into fun shapes. Place them on a nonstick cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes. Serve warm. (With butter.)

simple cauliflower soup

I don’t have much sympathy for picky eaters. My theory is that children acquire such habits from their parents. My husband and I are not picky. So I was not sure how it came about some months ago that my boys seemed to turn their noses up at just about everything I cooked. I did little to cater to their finicky habits and usually just let them choose from the options on the table, though there were times when I offered a piece of toast (without jam). Mostly I just let them decide how much to eat, and kept desserts off the menu. I’m glad that we’ve made it past that phase, though I suppose it could reappear at any time without warning.

With the cooler weather, their appetites have also improved. That makes it easier to try new things, like this cauliflower soup recipe. I offered a small bowl of it to three kids recently. My four-year-old ate it, though it was not his favorite. Our three-year-old lunch guest liked it well enough to take seconds. My younger boy only took one spoonful. Maybe next time. At age two, a child’s tastes practically change from day to day so we keep offering whatever is on the table.

Anyway, I was pleased both with the simplicity and the taste of this soup. So much so I’m considering the purchase of an immersion blender to make it easier and quicker to blend this tasty snow-white puree (as well as another favorite pureed soup.)

1½ tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

½ head of fresh cauliflower, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the onion in the 1½ tablespoons of olive oil until tender. Add chopped cauliflower and ½ cup of water. Simmer the cauliflower until it is tender. Add 2¼ cups of water, bring it back to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered. Puree the soup in batches. Reheat the soup, adding a bit more water if needed.

This slightly modified recipe is from Food 52.

sweet potato "fries"

Although sweet potato fries have been trendy for a while, I’ve only today got around to making them. They’re worth a try. As I mentioned a few months back, sweet potatoes get high marks in terms of nutritional value.

Here’s how to make them:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch strips. Toss them in a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, cumin, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Place them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for about ten minutes. Stir and bake about 10 minutes more or until slightly browned and crispy.

My husband likes sweet potatoes in all forms with a squeeze of fresh lime juice on top. Yum.

Related post: sweet potatoes

fun, novel snack

When we stayed over at my sister’s house earlier this week we all piled in her car and took a drive to Browerville to visit Cherry Grove Market. It’s a quaint hometown grocery store with a decent selection of baked goods, bulk foods and deli items.

We bought some okra chips, which we first learned of from my brother Tim. He gave us a bag of them he couldn’t finish himself. Perhaps an acquired taste, okra chips have a mild flavor but none of the texture you typically associate with okra, thanks to drying. They are lightly salted, but the term “chip” is misleading because they are essentially whole dried okra, bearing little resemblance to a standard chip.

slow cooker tapioca pudding

This recipe for tapioca pudding is an adaptation of one I found in Diane Phillips’
Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever with More Than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes. The book provides inspiration for expanding the use of one’s slow cooker beyond the traditional soups and stews. And when I came upon the recipe using tapioca, I knew I had to try it.

The large pearl tapioca I purchased recommended soaking the hard beads overnight before cooking. That resulted in a couple of benefits: faster cooking and a slightly softer tapioca beads in the final product. My kids really liked it, though the smaller one wasn’t sure about the “lumps” at first.

1/2 cup pearl tapioca
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
grated zest of one orange
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Soak tapioca overnight. Drain. Place it in the slow cooker with the milk and sugar. Stir well. Cover and cook for two hours on low. Mix the orange zest, vanilla and eggs together. Add a little of the hot mixture to the egg mixture. Mix it well and pour it into the slow cooker. Cover and cook the pudding for 20 to 30 minutes more. Remove the cover and allow the pudding to cool slightly before serving. It tastes great warm, but you can also serve it chilled.