Andalusian Gazpacho with Grilled Corn

Today’s post is about more than good food. It’s also about some good news, and giving you a little preview into what you can expect from The Stout Sprout in the coming year… and it’s a big year! This fall our Stout Sprouts are entering Pre-K and 1st grade, respectively, and I’m now working in a new position that has me commuting in to Manhattan regularly.

Kitchen time and writing time is now more limited than it has been in prior months, but we’ve been making the most of the time we do have together, visiting farmer’s markets, playing at the Jersey shore, and eking as much time out of our weekends together as we possibly can. Our crunched schedule also means that in addition to focusing on seasonal, kid-friendly dishes, we’re also focusing on convenient meals. Things we can make together and enjoy together without a crazy investment of time or ingredients.

Fresh Jersey corn - nothing better

Fresh Jersey corn – nothing better

What this also means is that we have a backlog of easy weekend and weeknight recipes that make excellent use of the riot of fresh produce that summer has delivered. And while the farms and gardens are churning out juicy, ripe tomatoes, sweet summer corn, crisp bell peppers and cooling cucumbers, we’re busy putting it all to good use.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite summer suppers: gazpacho.

This creamy gazpacho with grilled corn is amazing

This creamy gazpacho with grilled corn is amazing

Gazpacho is the kind of dish that uses all that market bounty. Refreshing and cooling, it’s vegetarian and vegan and, when served with a slice of hearty grilled bread, is still as satisfying as any protein-packed main dish. It comes together quickly and can be made hours in advance of mealtime. There is little real cooking required – just a bunch of chopping and a little blending (and in our case, a little bit of grilling).

Click here for my favorite summer recipe – Aldalusian Gazpacho!

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Beef, Bacon And Chocolate Chili

I had begun mourning the absence of chili in our household. Sure, my husband and I would occasionally make a batch, but it had become a strictly grown-up indulgence relegated to a cold fall or winter weekend when the kids were invited out to a birthday party or had other away-from-home plans. Chili — our chili, at least — was always “too hot” or “too spicy” or “too…beany” for them.

If we were lucky — and the pot of chili was a particularly mild one — we could convince them to have a little over nachos as long as we also loaded them up with cheese and sour cream. But I puzzled a bit over this considering that black beans cowboy style got a green light, and chili wasn’t much of a departure from that familiar dish.

But with Father’s Day coming up we took on the challenge of retooling our chili to make it both flavorful and kid-friendly. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts show a growing interest in helping in the kitchen — that made this experiment a little easier since they got to measure, stir, cook and eat. And, did I mention the chocolate? And the bacon? Yea…pretty much a winner out of the gate.

This Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili is great with sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges and...of course...tortilla chips

This Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili is great with sour cream, cilantro, lime wedges and…of course…tortilla chips

It’s a special treat for any deserving dad on Father’s Day or any day – get our Beef, Bacon and Chocolate Chili recipe here!

Quick Tortilla Soup

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone. We’ve made it to Ocho de Mayo — a date that is arguably more significant to Mexican-American relations than the margarita-fest that May 5th has become. May 8th is the day in 1846 on which the Battle of Palo Alto — the first battle in the Mexican-American War — was fought outside of what is now Brownsville, TX.

The Battle of Palo Alto is a more somber — and potentially more divisive — battle than that of the Mexican army defeating French forces in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican-American War that it precipitated still strikes a raw nerve in Mexico and the southwestern United States alike. Indeed, the losses suffered by Mexico following the two-year-long war eventually led the Mexican president to suspend debt payments to other countries for a period of two years, during which time the French, among other countries, sent forces to Mexico to demand that existing debts be paid…leading, eventually, to the Battle of Puebla.

That it took this political turmoil — both in 1846, and in 1862 — to set culinary wheels in motion is somewhat ironic. Mexico ceded over half of its national territory to the United States in the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War, but that territory — land now located in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California — retained and evolved its Mexican culinary origins. These are the places that gave rise to such dishes at nachos, chimichangas, chili, and the modern burrito — none of which are native to Mexico, but which have evolved in the United Sates from Mexican origins.

If all this is a little much to wrap your head around on a food blog, I suggest pondering it over a bowl of what is, actually, a true Mexican dish, but which has itself evolved once north of the border: Tortilla soup.

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup -- don't forget the avocados

Simple ingredients result in a spectacular tortilla soup — don’t forget the avocados

In addition to being a microcosm of Mexican cooking in a bowl, Tortilla soup is a great dish to put on the menu following Cinco de Mayo because it helps any thrifty chef use ingredients left on hand. It’s easy to prepare (this version, at least), packed with flavor and complexity, and a crowd-pleaser. Definitionally, this may be a “Leftover Soup,” but it’s another one that disguises itself as a “Showstopper Soup.” (See our post on Split Pea Soup for an explanation on what we mean by that!)

The Mexican ingredients in Tortilla Soup come together quickly in this satisfying meal. Keep reading for our recipe and more.

Split Pea Soup With Ham

Soup is not a four letter word. I mean, sure, it is, but for those of you who consider soup a meal of last resort, the Stout Sprouts and I are here to try and change your mind.

It’s hard to hate soup, but those of you who do have probably had a bad soup experience at some point in your life. That’s because there are — in my opinion — only two major categories of soup:

  1. Showstopper Soups (aka, soups requiring a guest list and grocery run in order to make), and
  2. Stretch-the-Budget Soups (aka, soups made from leftovers, normally reserved for immediate family)

One of these can quickly lead you down the path of culinary disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize which one it is.

Maybe someone close to you tried just a little too hard to eek one more meal out of the previous night’s dinner. For me, that experience came, of all places, at a corporate cafeteria where chicken chow mein was on the menu one day and then later that week — and without much additional culinary creativity — chicken chow mein soup suddenly appeared. Leftovers can be great, but in my mind’s eye I envisioned the whole chafing dish of day-old chicken chow mein sliding into a simmering stock pot in preparation for the next day’s soup station. I couldn’t bring myself to give it a try.

Despite this experience, I still think you can make a great stretch-the-budget soup that you won’t be embarrassed to serve to anyone. Take, for instance, split pea soup with ham.

Keep reading to see our recipe for Split Pea Soup with Ham.

Super Simple Vegetable Soup

We are in love with the carrots from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington, NJ. I’ve mentioned them in our posts before but think I’m becoming a bit of a junkie. We give them a starring role in many of our recipes and I start getting nervous when our supply runs low. Raw, they are like candy. Cooked, they are sweet and rich and so much more “carroty” than our regular grocery store carrots. I’m not sure how farmer Jess Niederer does it, but these truly are the best carrots ever.

One Thursday in mid March I happily stumbled on the winter Princeton Farmer’s Market that occurs once a month during the colder months at the Princeton Public Library. Of all the wonderful winter produce set up on the Chickadee Creek table — and, with several varieties of greens, heads of garlic, daikon radishes and more there was a surprising amount of it! — I made a beeline for the carrots. The supply in our crisper drawer was nearly depleted and I giddily jumped at the chance to replenish our stock.

Carrots are the star in this simple vegetable soup – get the recipe here.

Leek and Potato Soup with Kale

It seems the whole world has gone corned beef crazy leading up to St. Patrick’s day. Not that I have anything against corned beef. Or cabbage. But what I do have something against is green beer. Or any food, really, that is dyed green despite the natural order of things.

When St. Paddy’s comes around this year, why not indulge in something that is just as authentic but much healthier than either corned beef or green beer: we’re talking leek and potato soup. The Stout Sprouts and I made a version recently with some kale that pureed down to a lovely spring green. And this is the perfect seasonal soup, making good use of the last of winter’s russet potatoes, cooked down with tender leeks, onions, and a handful of that antioxidant-packed kale. It is hearty yet delicate, warming your insides while crossing over the seasons with the promise of sunnier days.

Bring on the sun, and the leek and potato soup with kale. Get the recipe here.

Pork and Shrimp Wontons with Leeks and Carrots

What is it about the humble little wonton that is so darn irresistible? Whether boiled and served in a broth, steamed and accompanied by chili sauce, or deep fried and loaded on a dim sum cart, this dumpling really knows how to get around.

Even in China, where the wonton originated, each region has a different take on this traditional food. In Guangdong, from where Cantonese food hails, wontons are most often served in a soup with noodles. Their name — wàhn tān — literally translates as “swallowing clouds.” In the Sichuan province, spicy red oil wontons make the most of the regions’ little chāo shǒu — or crossed hands — dumplings. In Shanghai, the size of the wonton is especially important, with larger wontons served for main meals and smaller wontons served at breakfast or as a light lunch.

Find out how to make pork and shrimp wontons with leeks and carrots.