Sunday, August 28, 2011

Recipe - Broccoli Cheddar Soup

The weather around here has been massively weird to say the least. Here the whole summer as pretty much passed with little rain and like 1 thunderstorm, then come this last week. We've had so much rain in so little time that the sewers couldn't keep up, there was flooding all over the place... some places even had SO much rain in such a little time that there was water up the the first mail slot of some apartment buildings. I'm happy to say that I live outside the hardest hit areas but you can see some of the damage in the videos below.

As you watch the video below, notice how nice the weather was in the beginning of the day. This storm that hit went out as fast as they came in and left such destruction in it's path. It left a few dead and almost 100 injured. It hit with such force that it closed the feast down entirely for the remainder of it.

With those storms came for what is for Belgium a hot front... 80+ for a few days in a row (hence the storms) and in the last week even out where I live we even had an entire night that had lightening and storms going on all throughout the night and even saw my husband off to work after one. Then fast forward about a week, some more rain and another storm or 2 and we have a high today of according to my current weather report, 60F (15.5C). And to top it all off we're looking at only highs for the 10day forecast of between 60F (15.5C) and 70F (21C). I mean geees.... can the weather get any more weird? Last week I was making creamy potato salad, cutting seedless watermelon and having an at home BBQ with my folks because it was so warm and only yesterday I was making a big pot of soup!

SOUP! Oh god how I love soup and any excuse to make it! This time I decided to go about making a wonderfully thick and creamy broccoli cheddar soup that is still on the light side... well at least I cut the fat/calories where I could and I'm sure many of my American GF comrades can make it even less in fat because of the abundance of fat-free items such as cheeses. Anyhow, I made it, I liked it, I added home-made meatballs to it and then we ate it.... big 4-5quart soup pot filled to the top and now all that is left is a couple of bowls, enough for hubby to warm in the microwave and have dinner from.... mind you we've already been into it heavy today for lunch because we both went to bed late last night and for a change slept in... perfect 'wake up at lunch time' meal! First though.... TIP TIME and right off the top you will need a large 5 quart soup pot for this recipe before we even get started.

Tip #1 - Use a sharp cheddar for this recipe and don't skimp on this fact. You will need the sharpness of it to cut through all the butter, stock and cream that is in this dish.

Tip #2 - All the veggies in this recipe with exception of the 'reserved broccoli' will end up being pureed in the end so just cut them up enough to be able to cook the onions, garlic and leek til tender. There is no needed measurements on what size to cut things just as long as you remember to make it smallish and not stew style chunky. The garlic I even cheated on and used a pure garlic puree.

Tip #3 - Do NOT add more salt to this... wait until the complete pot is done and I mean done as in you are ready to stick you ladle in it and dish it up before adding any of the seasonings I've recommended or any more salt. Remember there is a lot of salt in the stock and in the cheese already.

Tip #4 - I cheat, I can't stand cutting broccoli or cauliflower... something about the little bits that get all over my kitchen annoys me so if I don't have to cut these, I simply don't. In this case, frozen broccoli works just as well. I tend to buy a large kilo bag or 2 (2.2 to 5.4pounds) of what ever store brand broccoli that has stems and all plus 1 smaller bag of more expensive name brand florets. Since the bigger bags are going to be cooked, boiled to death and then pureed any how, these are of no worry, they are for flavour not looks. The florets though are the finishing touch so to speak and should be of good quality since they will be added right at the last 10 minutes or so and left whole.

Tip #5 - If you are looking to make this a 'light' version then instead of the full litre of heavy cream that the original recipes I found call for then either use a reduced or fat free version of cream or if you want to also reduce the lactose in it, use a product by Alpro that is a 5% fat variation of cream but made entirely of soya. I'm also a bit lactose intolerant on top of all of this so I love these little cup size containers for my soups and sauces.

P.S. Quarts and litres when it comes to making soup are pretty much equal so no need to go converting the 2 when it comes to the stock!

 4 to 6 tbs olive oil
2 to 3 tbs minced garlic
1 medium Spanish onion (about 1 1/2 cups), diced
 1 cup leek, cut 1/2inch or so thick
 6 to 8 cups broccoli pieces + 2 cups broccoli florets  (see tip #4)
 3 to 4 quarts chicken or veggie stock
 1 to 2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
 2 to 3 cups reduced fat cream (see tip #5)
 1 cup GF flour
 1/2 cup butter (1 stick/125grams)
 suggested seasonings of worchestire sauce, tabasco and nutmeg

In a large 5 quart soup pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add onions, leek and garlic. Saute until tender and starting to turn see-through. Add the 6 to 8 cups broccoli but do not add the broccoli florets as these are reserved for the end of the dish. Just cook a few more minutes until the broccoli takes on a bit of warmth.

Add 3 to 4 quarts chicken or veggie stock (I personally used chicken) and bring to a slow boil and let it boil until the broccoli is basically falling apart even as you just look at it. There is no 'over cooking' this part of the soup as right after, you're going to puree it any how.

While I was waiting for this part of my soup to run it's course, it started to rain again. Typical for this week and made it even more perfect for making soup but I noticed that one side of the window it was raining while the other was VERY sunny so while I had my camera out any how, I managed to catch the picture below too while I was cooking this. I mean the weather couldn't be more perfect for soup this weekend. 

Once broccoli is cooked, remove from heat but leave the heat on and then, yep you guessed it, grab your stick blender, stand blender, food processor or what ever else you might use in order to make something into a puree, for me it's a stick blender attachment to my hand mixer. Puree and be patient... you want to make sure there are no thick pieces left and you have a smoothness going on.

Before discarding the blender, grab your cream or cream substitute, add it to the blended soup and give it a few more pulses. If your using a stand blender then simply do this step by hand in the soup pot with a wooden spoon before placing back on the stove.

Before placing soup back on the heat, make a large variation of roux (creamy thickening agent basically... see roux cooking tip in my blog, use the 5 quart liquid version).

Place soup back on the heat and let come back to a slow boil. Add the entire recipe of roux and stir it in carefully but thoroughly because this is your thickening agent. I used a whisk for this part just to ensure it was mixed well. Once mixed well, add 1 to 2 cups sharp cheddar and mix again well until cheese is melted and you no longer see the orange colour streaking throughout but that the dish has turned slightly more orange coloured then before. Return to using a wooden spoon after this step.

Once every thing is mixed well and you are happy with the results, taste it. Be careful as it'll be REALLY hot now. This is now the time to judge if you want to add any of the seasonings to it at all. If you do, I suggest about 1/2tsp ground nutmeg (if using any of the suggested seasonings, this is the one to use), a splash or 2 of the worchestire sauce and a few shakes of the tabasco sauce. This part of the soup is very much personal preference so season a bit, taste, adjust seasonings if wanted. I found the above just right for me.

Now by request of the dear husband, I also made some little meat balls and added them to it also.

I have now decided that it really is not needed and personally think the 'meat' flavour in the dish puts it a bit over board so next time that is the only thing I'll adjust, leaving it totally a veggie soup. Add some bread, garlic cheese bread or sandwich with and this becomes a very filling meal.

Life In General

It has been a crazy ride here the last like 2 months now. So like in about a month and a half we saw my mother-in-law go from being very alert and 'with it' mind/body lets say into a down hill spiral. So bad of a spiral that in the end she ended up passing out due to lack of liquids, food and taking her medications too much/too soon after each other. So to not repeat most of this, take a look at 'pre-made/processed gluten free foods' post.

Now fast forward from that post on July 17th, 2011 until today August 28th. Mother-in-law took the first week of being in the hospital to start to come to her senses. She slept most of it, didn't eat, wouldn't drink or the like. After a bit of time, hospital/doctor help and what not she started to come around... taking meds, eating a bit and with time she has re-gained at least a sparkle of something in her eyes as well as looking 'with it' so much more then I've seen her in months.

This however is not all roses as it seems. My husband and I believe she may have had a 2nd stroke that started this again and where only a few months ago we could have most likely scaled her from 1-30 on a dementia scaling of like 20 or more, when we could finally do something to help her, her top score in this test is now 5. She can remember my name for what ever reason but can't remember her own son even this last Friday.

ATM she still sits in hospital and through out the time that I had posted the link above we have been searching, calling, visiting, hounding and what ever we could do including basically someone every day visiting her (even though she can't remember it most of the time) to get her into a nursing home. She is not mentally able to take care of herself any more and I can not and forgive me world, will not be a 24/7 nurse to someone who is not even my own blood family. This last month has been horrible stress wise and I can only imagine what would happen if she was allowed to return home.

With that all said and done... I, for 99% of the work, have found her a nursing home! Hours of  phone calls, 10x's more hours spent arranging meetings, visiting a number of homes, getting on waiting lists and miles of walking/riding buses, *I* found her a home that is so new, that it still is almost wet. When I found it, it was open *1 week*. By the time she will arrive there it will be a month but instead of waiting perhaps 5months or more to get into a place, I was able to find and arrange a place for her in about 3weeks. Due to all of this though I am just completely and utter worn out. Mentally and physically. The week after I got the news that this place had an opening and would start the ball rolling, I spent pretty much most of the weekend in bed actually sleeping. No tv, no music, no noise. I'd get up at a semi normal time but then a couple hours later feel I needed more sleep and spend another 4 or 5 hours sleeping and STILL go to bed for the night.

But I'm a fighter, a weekend of extra sleep and I'm back on my game and rest assured, that the month has not gone by without food being made, recipes being tried, new recipes being found and photos to post here being taken. Just haven't had the time to actually come and post any thing. I now have just a day over a week until the big day that we move my mother-in-law from the hospital to the new nursing home as she is allowed to come in at 2pm Wednesday September 5th, 2011. I am preparing to make her room there cozy for her, getting new sheets and a new blanket for her bed, a small table to place a small fridge on that they will supply for her and some other minor things like having my own mother knit a small baby blanket sized blanket to place over the large chair there for her just to make the room feel a little less cold and even buying a couple table clothes for the eating table... I might buy some more comfy pillows as well.

This coming Wednesday (the 31st of August, 2011) my husband, my brother-in-law and I go to finally let THEM see the home and to fill out/sign the paper work that is needed for MIL to move in. I can't wait for this to happen. I am going to see if I'd be allowed to come in the day before moving her so I can have 20mins or so to decorate her room. I hope life goes back to normal or at least back into a routine.

But now you all know why I've been MIA for the past month. I will post again with a new recipe before the day is out how ever. I made the best soup for the first time yesterday and just MUST write about it while it's all still fresh in my mind!

Cooking Tip - Making Roux

Making this could not be any more simple but will make the difference between having a slightly thick and lumpy sauce/soup/stew or having a velvety smooth thickness to it. Sometimes you can make this right in the pan you are making your recipe but sometimes it's best to make it in a separate pan and add it to later down the road. It really depends on the recipe in question. Such as I've made a soup that required whole veggies to boil in the broth but then needed to be thickened after being pureed but then had made a wonderful cheese sauce that just needs to be thickened right away and then have cheese added after.

What ever reason that you need a roux, it's really 5mins work. Be it from 2tbs to 1 cup, it all takes the same time. I've given both the amounts below for a large soup pot full or for just a couple of cups of liquid.

5quarts/litres liquid
 1/2 cup butter (1stick)
 1 cup flour flour

2-4 cups (1litre) liquid
 2tbs butter
 ♥ 2tbs GF flour

In a small sauce pan, slowly melt butter on a low to medium heat, don't let it boil or melt too quickly as it will burn and you don't want that to happen.

Once butter is completely melted, pour in all of the flour and whisk quickly. Combine it and leave it on the heat but keep whisking and moving the mixture around to ensure that it doesn't burn. Cook while whisking 1-2 minutes. You want to cook the raw flour taste out of the mixture. As you do this you will find the mixture will 'loosen' up a bit and become a bit more liquid then when you first started, this is the stage where you officially have a roux. Remove from heat completely.

You can leave this mixture sitting for a bit but I wouldn't leave it more then an hour and no it doesn't really last over night or so in the fridge. In fact if you have soup/sauce left over the next day even, you'll find it will need liquid added to it because it will become much thicker once cooled.