Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cream Cheese and Herb Soup

Dear readers, I am sharing with you right now my secret weapon--the dish I make when I want to give myself some gratification at the end of a long day, and especially when I want to wow my boyfriend or anyone else cooking dinner. If I had to pick one dish I've learned to cook as my absolute favorite, it may just be cream cheese and herb soup, which I found in The Cook's Library Vegetarian. (Does it surprise readers that my favorite dish doesn't contain chocolate? It does me.)

First and foremost, do not cheat and used a premade vegetable broth. This cookbook offers you an extremely awesome vegetable bullion--make that before you make the soup. You'll savor every drop of effort with each bite of this amazing, tasteful soup. Another tip: the recipe recommends whisking the cream cheese after blending the soup in a food processor. If the whisking isn't working, don't feel guilty about combing the cream cheese with the rest of the soup in a food processor. This recipe makes four servings; consider how minimal that really is. With all the work involved in making this soup, you may want to increase portions of each ingredient so you'll be able to enjoy leftovers (and this does reheat well, trust me). I recommend serving it with fresh vegetables and saltines, as pictured above.

I love cooking this as a precursor to a romantic entree for dinners with my boyfriend, but I also prepare it for myself often when I crave fine cooking, because this is excellent cuisine. Imagine hearty, warmed milk and cornstarch, with the tang of cream cheese, shrouded perfectly in an array of parsley, thyme, basil, and oregano, topped with zesty chives. Finely flavorful, this soup belongs in a five-star restaurant--or in front of your most hard-to-impress dinner guests.

Vegetable Couscous

What is it Seth Rogen says in Pineapple Express..."couscous, the food's so nice they named it twice," right? Couscous and its complementary spices and ingredients are very commonly found in Indian food aisles of grocery stores, but, fun fact: it actual origins are North Africa. Wherever it comes from, or whatever style of food you decide to cook with couscous, one thing is for sure, it's a welcome deviation from usual rice dishes. Couscous even has a different texture than rice; it's "fluffy" and soft. Additionally, some health-oriented websites posit that couscous dishes are usually lower in calories than rice dishes.

The recipe I used is from The Cook's Library Vegetarian, also known as my own personal Bible. Seriously, this cookbook, given to me by my mother, is the only reason I know my you-know-what from a whole in the ground in the kitchen. Not to say that it's elementary, because there are some extremely challenging recipes in there, and a multitude of ingredients that I had never even heard of before reading about them in this book.

With the exception of not including turmeric or turnips, I stayed very true to the recipe. Usually, I take the time to make my own fresh vegetable bullion, as the book suggests, but, admittedly, I cheated and used a pre-made vegetable broth from the store. This was actually my first experience cooking couscous. The book rates this recipe as "moderately difficult," but I think anyone but a complete novice would be able to handle this. My boyfriend, who at first turned his nose up to the idea of another vegetarian dinner, saw me helping myself to seconds and gave in. He loved it. I used slightly more of each ingredient than the recipe asked for so I had leftovers to take with me to work the next day--a welcomed change from my usual packed lunches of crackers and apples.

The casual cook may not find this recipe to be something you can just make yourself for lunch. The book indicates that it takes twenty minutes to prepare and forty minutes to cook, but keep in mind that even if you decide not to make fresh bullion, you still must finely chop many vegetables (a time-consuming process) and continuously monitor and stir the ingredients in stovetop pans to prevent overcooking or burning. This recipe, which has zucchini, carrots, onion, green beans, and red bell peppers, would be a perfect dinner for two, or, increase the portions and make enough for a family dinner or dinner party with friends. I guarantee you that you'll want to share this zesty little spice-filled meal--vegetable couscous is, in a nutshell, scrumptious.

Stuffed Celery

"Delicious" is not an adequate enough word for these delectable little snacks. I have made these at home just for a daytime treat and an accompaniment to dinner, and I've even whipped up a batch and taken them to work to give my happy hour customers.

I found the recipe for stuffed celery at AllRecipes. The main change I made was using feta-stuffed green olives instead of pimento-stuffed olives, which I have to recommend any readers do as well. It gives the stuffing a saltier, warmer taste that contrasts well against chilled, crisp, and fresh celery. For the garlic, I used a hearty amount (about two and a half tablespoons) of Spice World Minced Garlic. I increased the seasoning, using black pepper, basil, and parsley. The next time I make stuffed celery, I plan on adorning it with chives.

This is probably the best-tasting and most creative way to eat "boring" celery, so it's great to make for party guests, children, or people who are struggling to eat lighter, healthier meals but find regular salads undesirable. Because the recipe on AllRecipes is so barren, it leaves a great deal of room for you to experiment and adjust this to your taste. Just imagine how tasty it'd be with cilantro stirred into the stuffing.

Vegetarian Reuben

Having never tasted an actual reuben, I had long wondered what was the appeal of this sandwich. At a restaurant where I used to bartend, the reuben was among the most requested dishes, and at my current pub job, people always ask why we don't serve reubens. So when I saw this recipe on AllRecipes, I decided to give it a shot.

A few warning signs should indicate that I wouldn't like this recipe. One? I don't like rye bread. Two? Thousand Island is probably my least favorite dressing. Three? I'm not the biggest sauerkraut fan. But this was more an experiment in taste. And no, it wasn't awful, but it did confirm why I veer away from sauerkraut.

For those of you who crave a creamy, tangy, this recipe is one of the easiest and quickest I've ever shared in this blog. Any meat-eaters trying to cross into vegetarianism will appreciate this, too, as it may be a good substitute to a meat-packed reuben. I'd really like some feedback on this recipe from readers, particularly those who have had actual meat-containing reubens before. What do you all think about this recipe?