Sunday, December 25, 2005

Soup's On

Ah, soup, how I love thee.

I must be fairly vocal about my love of soup, since I received two different soup cookbooks from two separate people as Christmas gifts today: Total Publishing's 4-Step Soup Recipes, and The Cook's Encylopedia of Soup by Debra Mayhew. No complaints here; I love me some cookbooks. I also received other sweet kitchen-y gifts, including a Joyce Chen bamboo steamer, an Amco Lemon Squeezer, and a Bodum Assam teapot. Lovely! I'm all set to make lemon broccoli with a cup of tea. Ah yes, and my sister also got me some Mario Batali Measuring Prep Bowls. I'm always coveting the cookware and gadgets that FoodNetwork chefs use.

But back to the soup. My sister and I once again made the ever-so-delicious Ginger Carrot Soup that has captured my heart. It's so simple, so quick, and so delicious. I originally found the recipe at, and after making it once, I was hooked! It only takes about 45 minutes total to make, and it's filling enough to make a meal out of (as long as you don't need to chew to feel satiated...). My sister and I offered it as the first-course of our Christmas meal...not that we really had formal courses, but you have to eat the soup while it's hot, right? It was a hit with everyone except my 2-year-old nephew, who refused to touch it ("No soup!"). Oh can't please everyone.

Each time I make the soup, I try a little bit of a variation to see if certain aspects of this simple recipe make a big difference in the flavor. So far, I've deduced that:
1) using chicken broth rather than chicken stock or vegetable broth is preferable. The stock adds a stronger, meaty flavor that overpowers the carrots and ginger, while the vegetable broth leaves some flavor to be desired.
2) white onions complement the sweetness of the carrots more nicely than yellow onions. I'd like to try shallots, since a milder onion might allow the ginger to peek out from the carrots' sweet flavor even more.
3) adding a heavier pinch of salt when sweating the onions, as well as an additional pinch once the broth is added, really makes a difference in the flavor (for the better).
4) two medium-sized white onions are preferable to two large onions. Too much onion upsets the balance of the soup. I think, if you want to measure the onions, 2 or 2 1/2 cups is about right. Any more than that is too much.

I've been thoroughly enjoying my relatively new soup-related toy, which I bought as a self-gift for my birthday back in October: a Hamilton Beach immersion blender. You just can't be a serious soupmaker and not have one! I mean, unless you're into pureeing hot soups in a blender, but honestly, that's a bit messy, not to mention hazardous. My Hamilton Beach blender gets the job done. It has two speeds, but I've only had to use Low so far. It came with a handy storage case that neatly compartmentalizes the three attachments (drink mixer, blender, and wisk), so I'm not digging around in a drawer looking for parts. The only complaint I have is that the blender attachment is a trifle difficult to clean. However, it was a bargain: $20 at Wal*mart (I know, I'm sorry!). It's worth the extra cleaning time when you consider that a KitchenAid blender with similar attachments runs about $80.
My sister and brother both vied for the job of pureeing the soup with the immersion blender. Everyone likes kitchen toys!

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas. Eat something delicious!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies: the reason I come home for Christmas. I travel miles and miles, hour after hour, from Greenville, SC and my cozy Furman University apartment, to Pittsburgh, PA, following the aromas wafting from my mother's kitchen.

And every year, she ferrets away the goodies, saving them for Christmas day. *sigh*

Cookies were made to be eaten. Cookies taste best fresh. So why on earth would you bake cookies and immediately pack them into a not-so-airtight container doomed to be shoved into a dark corner of the pantry? Or even worse, the freezer?!

My sister and I decided to bake tonight, luckily. We're not so stingy with our cookies. We baked Oatmeal Cookies with raisins and a batch of Russian Teacakes. I'm posting as the Russian Teacakes cool, awaiting their second dusting of powdered sugar.

My dad enjoyed about six oatmeal cookies with his nightly mug of tea, and my brother and his wife nibbled at another two. It makes me feel happy to have spent time with my sister baking, as well as to have shared a little bit of tasty pleasure with my family. Nothing beats a warm cookie on a cold winter's night, especially during the Christmas season.

Sandi's Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup quick oats
1 cup dried coconut flakes
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325° F. Mix oil, sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla until combined (about 20 strokes). Add flour, baking soda, salt, and oats. Mix until all ingredients are combined. Do not overmix. Add coconut flakes and/or raisins if desired.
Spray cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of cookie batter onto cookie sheets, with 2 inches between them. Flatten each cookie a little with back of the spoon before putting into the oven.
Bake 12-15 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and center of cookies look baked through. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on flat surface. Serve warm if possible! Store in airtight containers.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Russian Teacakes

1 cup softened margarine (two sticks)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Cream together margarine and confectioner's sugar. Add vanilla, flour, salt, nuts. Mix until dough forms, being careful not to overmix. Chill dough (in plastic wrap) at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll dough into slightly-larger-than-walnut-sized balls, and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom edges of the cookie begin to darken a little. Do not let the cookies get brown!
Allow to cool 5-10 minutes, then roll cookies in confectioner's sugar while still warm. Cool completely, 30 minutes to 1 hour, then roll in confectioner's sugar again. Store in airtight container.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies