Thursday, January 24, 2008

perfect for winter soup

This past Saturday was a fun filled one. I volunteered at a local center in the morning. I am happy to say it was my kind of volunteering; it was a cooking class for patients, recovering patients and/or families of patients that want to learn new recipes and ideas to healthful cooking and eating. I volunteered to help the chef/teacher prepare, cook and serve the food. While I got started, the teacher talked about the benefits of each fruit, vegetable, herb and spice we were using. Words can’t describe how much fun I had.

She had planned to make lots of things. Given that we had 2 hours for the class we narrowed it down to about 6 dishes. They were:

Green salad with Peanut dressing
Another salad with kale pesto dressing
Curried Cauliflower
Red Bean Vegetarian Chili with Hominy
Leek, Apple and Walnut sauté
Squash and Kale with northern bean soup

I dived right into making the peanut dressing as she started her talk, then made the chili and curried cauliflower. I had excellent students sitting across from the stove that were interested in the spices for chili and cauliflower than a lesson on good eating habits. I loved talking to them and answering their questions. I heart cooking.

All in all, it was a good day, volunteering.

We usually have lots of vegetables and fruits left over from cooking class, and instead of wasting, I brought home 2 lbs of kale and Swiss chard.

My thought process: “It’s perfect weather for soup, kale is in season, and I’ve got a bunch that needs to be used, why not try it?” I saw some recipes for white bean and potato soup, one with arugula that I used as a guide.

That evening I made a Kale, Northern Bean and Potato soup.

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed with the pan of a knife
1 cup dried northern beans, any white beans will do*
2 medium Idaho potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and roughly chopped**
1 teaspoon dried Rosemary
1 teaspoon dried Thyme
1/8 teaspoon of jalapeño chili pepper, optional (I like it for a slight kick)
1lb Kale, washed, drained and chopped
3 cups vegetable stock, low or no sodium
1/2 cup milk
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Shaved Parmesan cheese

*Note: I prefer to use dried beans (this includes cannelini, kidney, garbanzo, black eyed peas- not really beans but you get the point) because dried beans retain their flavor and, in my opinion, are much fresher than canned. If you prefer using canned, use those. (side note: The husband and family think I only enjoy food that’s labor intensive. Not true but I’ll let them have it.)
If using dried beans, soak beans in water for couple hours, overnight is preferable.

Pressure cooking beans and long cooking starches such as potatoes and root vegetables speeds up their cooking process. If you don't have a pressure cooker, follow the recipe starting with olive oil in a sauce pan.

**Note: Scrub, half and cook potatoes with beans in a pressure cooker.

If using pressure cooker: rinse soaked beans with water, add to the pressure cooker with halved potatoes and salt. Add enough water to cover both beans and potatoes. Follow the instructions to your pressure cooker for heat and cooking times. After 5-6 whistles, turn off heat and cool before opening. (Opening a hot pressure cooker immediately after turning off heat can mean disaster so allow it to cool, until the steam escapes from the cooker.)

If not using the pressure cooker, in a tall pot, bring the dried beans, salt and water to boil. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally so the beans do not stick to the pot.

Tip for dried beans, they are done when they smash smoothly between thumb and index finger.

If using canned beans, skip the above steps. Scrub, peel and roughly chop potatoes, onions, garlic, green chili pepper, if using (for jalapeño (or any hot) pepper, use gloves or wash hands immediately).

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium flame. Add onions and garlic; there should be a sizzle when adding these, if not then the pan isn’t hot enough. When onions are translucent, add pressure cooked potatoes, beans, ground pepper, rosemary, thyme, jalapeño pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add roughly chopped kale, enough stock to cover, milk, salt and black pepper. Stir and cook until kale wilts. Using a stick blender, blend the ingredient in the pan or transfer to manual blender and blend the soup into preferred consistency. The husband likes a pureed soup and I like it with pieces of potatoes and kale so I blend until it is 75% pureed.

If using canned beans and raw potatoes.
Add raw cubed potatoes and salt to translucent onions and cook for 10 minutes covered. When potatoes are almost done, add simmered or canned beans, ground pepper, rosemary, thyme, jalapeño pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes. Follow the steps for kale and rest of the ingredients.

Add shaved parmesan cheese to the soup and serve hot on winter nights.

Damn that was a long post.... And you read all of it? Thank you, you should be awarded. If you try this recipe, leave me comments, and suggestions.

Picture to come…

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eating at our Indonesian restaurant is an experience!

This is really sad for me to admit but, last weekend was my first time trying Indonesian food. I thought I had tried it when I lived on the East Coast but clearly it wasn’t Indonesian, maybe Malaysian. That was really good. Anyhow, Gajah Wong is a wonderful place here in the area that we tried last week. It was me, the husband and a very close friend celebrating her birthday. The restaurant is located off of a main street in a fun and diverse neighborhood.

The restaurant’s décor is contemporary and tropical. When I stepped inside, I felt as if I was stepping into a big Asian furniture boutique with wall art and masks. The tables and chairs are made of rattan. The walls are covered with mirrors and wall-hangings on every last inch of the space. It’s busy for the eyes but very beautiful. When we entered, we were greeted immediately and seated in the main room. We began with a round of drinks. The birthday girl ordered a Gajah Wong, I ordered Love Potion, and the husband ordered beer. He was driving…. My drink was tropically and tasty. Apparently it tasted a lot like Mai Tai, or so I was told… (I haven’t had one of those before, sad but true.) As soon as our drinks were set, my eyes were on the Gajah Wong. I was impressed with her drink more than mine. Guess what I ordered the second round? Our friend jokingly said, “their dinner menu is sparse and they have quiet a spread on the drink menu” which is very true. As we were browsing for appetizers and dinner options, we found the menu to be limited compared to their drink choices which seemed endless.

For appetizers, my companions shared a Shrimp Indo Garden Roll which looked a lot like the Vietnamese Vegetable Roll in rice paper while I ordered a cup of Soto Ayam and rice soup. This soup was marvelous and made to perfection. Both the turmeric and lime leaves were added precisely, not overpowering the soup. It also had a generous amount of vermicelli noodles, vegetables, and chicken to balance the thin broth. As I enjoyed my soup, they inhaled their rolls, which is usually a good sign.

For main entrée I ordered Chicken Kare, a mix of exotic spices, chilies, and nuts cooked in a coconut milk mixture. I enjoyed this dish but not as much as I was hoping to. It lacked a little in the spicy department. I was expecting my taste buds to do a number in my mouth after the first bite and the Kare didn’t do it for me. It was a good dish, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t a 10. The drink, Gajah Wong, definitely was…… My dish could have had extra chilies, spices and nuts to enhance the flavor. The husband ordered a Shrimp Adhun and our friend had Chicken Adhun. They both enjoyed their entrees. Maybe next time I will order an Adhun. That sounds so exciting… A-dhoooonn.

And if our grand dinner wasn’t enough, we ordered a Kahlua cake. I know there is nothing Indonesian about Kahlua but we wanted chocolate. It was delicious and a great ending to a wonderful dinner. It tasted like drunken cake, “would you like some cake with your Kahlua?” And none of us were complaining.

Overall we had a good experience at the restaurant. They had a great staff that took care of us and an exceptional bartender that made great drinks. Sometimes that’s all it takes…. Though I wasn’t pleased with my main entrée, I was delighted with the soup, drinks and service. All of those are good reasons for me to visit Gajah Wong again when I am in the mood to be transported to tropical land.