February 2011 archive

Tuscan Chickpea Soup for Soup-a-Palooza

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When I heard that Cheryl from Tidymom and Kristen from Dine & Dish were doing Soup-a-Palooza, I knew I had to participate.  Kristen and Cheryl are two of the nicest, most genuine people I know and when I saw they were heading this project up, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.  Also – soup is made of awesome sauce.  I think there are few things that can turn around a bad day like soup.  It’s the ultimate comfort food.

Marcus and I have been making this soup for years.  It’s very quick to make and we almost always have all the ingredients on hand. It also is not only vegetarian but it’s South Beach Diet friendly.  It also freezes like a dream and holds well for several days in the fridge.  In fact, while it’s delicious freshly made, I like to try to make it a day before because it’s even better after it’s had a day to sit.

I made a few, small changes to the original recipe.  The original recipe calls for blending only 4 cups of soup.  I like it with a little more of the soup blended so we blend 6 cups.  The original recipe also calls for finely chopping the onion.  I think that’s a bit fussy since most of the soup gets blended up so we just chop the onion up instead.  Make sure to add the balsamic vinegar – it really punches up the flavor.

Tuscan Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light
6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water
1 teaspoon minced rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 (15.5 oz) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese (this is about 1.5 ounces)

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in water, rosemary, salt, pepper, chickpeas and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Take soup off heat.  Place 3 cups of soup in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Place pureed soup into bowl.  Blend another 3 cups of soup and return all pureed soup to pan.  Stir in balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil.  Place soup in bowls and garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese.

Please click here for a printable recipe!

Come join Soup-a-Palooza with TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by Bush’s BeansHip HostessPillsbury andWestminster Crackers

Tidy Mom

Filet Mignon with a Shiitake, Red Wine & Shallot Sauce and Me in a Towel

We’re not big Valentine’s Day celebrators in our house.  It’s not that we don’t celebrate it but Marcus and I don’t usually make a big deal out of it.  A lot of that is intentional – I’m not really fond of the crass commercialism that fuels this holiday.  We usually get one another cards and sometimes we exchange small gifts.  One memorable Valentine’s Day I decorated his car is a most embarrassing manner.  (Hint – it involved giant granny panties.) Sometimes I went the DIY route.


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Needless to say, Marcus has held on to this for a while.  I also wanted to note the disclaimer that this coupon could only be redeemed at the store of Kristina)

But big presents, flowers and expensive chocolates?  That’s not us even if we had the money.  Which we don’t because we spent it on Valentine’s Night dinner.

The Valentine’s day feasts that Marcus and I make usually involve at least a bottle of wine.  A fresh loaf of bread, preferably homemade is always in attendance and usually the entire thing is eaten over the course of the evening.  Dinner tends to be a bacchanalian affair, involving large quantities of cheese and at least one kind of cured meat.  Good olives are a must and if we have any left, we always eat my marinated sun-dried tomatoes.  If there’s arugula in the garden, I make a simple vinaigrette and serve it as a bruschetta topping.  By this point, we’ve usually finished the bottle of wine and the preparation of dinner flies by in an alcohol-infused haze involving half the dishes in our kitchen.  It always is the best meal we’ve ever made that can never possibly be replicated again.  Dessert is usually more wine along with the chocolate bars I bought as an ingredient for a luxurious chocolate dessert that requires too much fine motor control to attempt.  Sometime we whip the heavy cream and dip the chocolate into that.  If it seems like it might be too dangerous to involve power tools in this process, we just dip them in peanut butter.  Then we act out the “You put peanut butter on my chocolate/You put chocolate in my peanut butter skit”.  Then we drink more wine.

For breakfast the next morning, we have hangovers and Advil.  Seriously – you can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day better than this.

Except for the fact that I’m getting old as dirt.  And drinking copious amounts of wine doesn’t make me feel any younger.  In fact, the older I get, the worse I feel after a night of even moderate drinking which is depressing as hell.

My pants also don’t fit which is wholly unrelated to the amounts of bread and wine I consume, I’m sure.  It’s really hard to bring the sexy back when you’re lying on your bed, sucking your gut in so that you can zip your pants shut.  It’s also hard to be sexy when you can’t breathe wearing said pants.  Of course my husband’s suggestion is to just quit wearing pants but every time I do this the FedEx and UPS guys that come to the door look at me weird.  My neighbors are used to this sort of behavior from me but I’m getting tired of being known as the crazy woman on our block.

Marcus and I are dieting right now because I want to fit in my pants again.  For us, the easiest way to do this by following the South Beach Diet which greatly restricts the amount of carbs you can eat during the first two weeks.  It’s not Atkins strict but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t cut someone for a slice of bread.  In order to keep myself from assaulting random bread-carrying strangers, it’s important that we make delicious South Beach Friendly food.  You can’t go wrong with a good steak and shiitake mushrooms – it doesn’t seem like diet food and it always feels like celebratory food to me.

For the record, filets aren’t necessary for this dish – any good steak will do.  You also don’t have to use shiitakes.  If money is tight, do what we do which is to combine button mushrooms with a few shiitakes.  Make sure to drink this with wine.  Followed by lots of water and an Advil chaser.

Filet Mignon with a Shiitake, Red Wine & Shallot Sauce
Feeds 2 crazy kids in love

2 4-ounce filet mignons (1 1/2-inch thick)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 shallot, minced
1/2 pound shittake mushrooms, remove stems & slice
1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Put a 10-inch heavy bottomed pan over medium to medium high heat (We set our temperature right in the middle of those two settings).  Add 1/2 tablespoon butter.  When butter is bubbly, add shallot to pan.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, until shallots soften.  Add shiitake mushrooms to pan.  Cook for 6-8 minutes until the edges of the shallots and mushrooms start to turn brown.  Add broth, wine and soy sauce to pan.  Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about ten minutes.  Remove this mixture from pan and set aside.  Wipe pan out with a paper towel.

Add 1/4 tablespoon butter to pan.  Allow it to become bubbly and add filets to pan.  Cook for four minutes – once the filets are in the pan, don’t touch them.  Flip steaks and cook for four minutes.  Remove steaks from pan and keep warm.  Add the mushroom sauce mixture back to pan and bring this mixture to a low boil.  Stir in the remaining 1/4 tablespoon of butter.  Turn heat down to low so that mixture is simmering.  Add filets back to pan and cook for 3 minutes (This will give you a filet that is rare to medium-rare.  If you want your steak more well done, cook longer.  If your filet is not as think, reduce cooking time.)

Please click here for a printable recipe!

I am a writer

I am a writer.

As silly as it may sound, that was a really hard sentence for me to type.  Like excruciatingly, maddeningly, I-had-to-force-myself-to-type-it-one-letter-at-a-time hard.  Why?  Why is that something I love to do, something that feels so right – how can that be so damn difficult for me and so damn difficult to own for myself?

When I was 14, I fancied myself a writer.  I had always loved writing and making up stories as a child but I thought of myself as more of a reader than a writer.  And one day that changed.  My freshman english teacher gave us a story that ended halfway through the story.  We had to write an ending to it.  And boy did I – I wrote the shit out of that ending.  My ending was BRILLIANT if I do say so myself.  It was inventive and had a cool twist and I just knew it was made of awesome.  And that felt so good.  To see it all there on paper and know that I HAD WRITTEN THAT!  It felt even better the next day when my teacher read my ending out loud to the whole class and said “You see that people – that’s what I want you to do – that’s how I want you to write”.  I was so proud that my heart nearly burst.

My reading and my writing saved me in high school.  When my non-existent study habits and my undiagnosed learning disability threatened to land me up Shit Creek, I grabbed on to my pen and wrote my way out of it.  I once won an award at a state Academic Decathlon competition in the essay division on a subject I knew almost nothing about – to this day I’m both so proud and so ashamed of that.  Writing was the log that I grabbed onto in the river of uncertainty that I swam in.  Going back through my journals from that time is painful but also heart-warming.  I was miserable but I also had a certainty and a sureness that I feel like I lack now – a sureness that I was made for something better and that I had something to offer the world.

So what happened? I got to college and sank – weighed down by my own insecurities.  Frustrated by the way I constantly set myself up for failure.  Caught up in the way other people defined me.  You know – the usual.

Later on, I worked with people who thought of themselves as writers and listened to them when they told me that they would stick to their strengths and I should stick to mine – whatever they were.  I let those people grab the mantle of “Writer” and I never grabbed it for myself.

Where did the feeling of pride that I felt as a 14 year old go?  Where did that confidence go?  What stops me now?

Part of it is the fact that in my mind it seemed egotistical to think of myself as writer because the writers I admire are so talented.  How dare I think of myself in the same category as them?  Part of it is that as long as I don’t write, I don’t have to face the fact that I might not be able to do this, that it might be a dream I have to give up.  As long as my thoughts aren’t down on paper, what I have to write is still good in my head.

A huge part of what stops me is that because of my job, I’ve been eviscerated on the internet several times over the last ten years and it’s not something I want to open myself up to again.  It’s a horrible thing to live through – to be lied about and be the target of mean girl games played out in a public sphere.  I don’t have a thick skin and I don’t want to have a thick skin – being sensitive is a big part of what makes me, me.  But I have to find a way to protect myself because I’ve let that burn me out in so many facets of my life.  I’ve let that silence my voice.  I’ve stayed safe.  The most rewarding things in my life have been when I’ve jumped off that cliff.  I built a business off a cliff jump.  Some of my best friends are from jumping off that cliff.  I met the love of my life by doing a big, old belly flop off that cliff and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I’m sick of standing on that cliff wondering what could happen.  I’m sick of not jumping into life with a whole heart.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to share every private detail of my life.  It does mean that I’m going to quit playing it safe all the time.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that a lot of the times, I feel like I’m not talented enough to do this.  And you know what?  Right now, I’m not talented enough but I never will be talented enough unless I force myself to write.  To quote Anne Lamott, I have a lot of shitty first drafts in me and I need to get them out.  Because it’s only writing those shitty first drafts that are going to lead me to anything else – whatever that might be.

Part of the reason I changed my blog name from TNLocavore.com to MouthFromTheSouth.com is that I wanted to write about more than just food.  I love food blogging, I really do.  But doing a recipe post takes a lot of time, between testing different recipes, taking pictures, tweaking those pictures and writing it all up.  I don’t post a recipe if I don’t LOVE it and there are times when I just don’t have the time to keep trying recipe after recipe, looking for the one I want to share.  I also feel like there’s so much more going on in my life than just food.  I love to cook but I don’t live to cook.  There’s so much more to me.  I want to share stories about the house we’re renovating.  I want to share stories about my life and the craziness that seems to often be a part of it.  I want to make you vomit because I’m sharing yet another dumb story about our cats.  I want to bore you all with talk about my incendiary love affair with heirloom tomatoes.  I want to ask for advice and hear your stories.  I want to share and hear all of this stuff even if it doesn’t have anything to do with food.  Don’t get me wrong – I have a passion for food so I’ll still be writing about it regularly.  But I want to share my other passions with you as well and hear about yours.

In the end, it really comes down to one thing, writers write.  And I’m writing. So I am a writer.