inspiration from the kitchen in boulder: parsnip soup puree with mushrooms

I'm a winter baby, born in the middle of January, right on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius. My special day also falls on (or very close to) our country's inauguration day. So in 1981, I wrote to President-Elect Ronald Reagan and asked to be invited to the big party. You know, because I was a birthday girl and all. The letter went something like: 

Dear President-Elect Ronald Reagan,
I turn 5 years old the very same day you will become the President of the United States. Can I come to your inauguration party and stay with you and Nancy at the White House?
Batya S.
Bronx, New York

Then there was radio silence. Nary a peep from the soon-to-be-commander-in-chief. The man-in-charge left me hanging. But a few months later, some time in the spring, a large envelope arrived at our doorstep and it had my name on it. I opened up the package and there it autographed photo of President Ronald Reagan. He looked very official and my initial impression was, "Wow, he's got great head of hair." I also thought he was very generous to send along a glossy photo book, which had lots of pictures of The White House's interior decor. 
I asked my dad for a thumbtack and up the photo went- it hung right over my bed for about a year. It's funny to think of it now since my own political inclinations are far to the left. But at the time I was just a kid and I really liked that picture. 
I toyed with the idea of writing to President Obama and asking him for inauguration day tickets (or at least entrance to a party). But in the end I never got around to it. Instead we did what we always do when birthdays arrive...we celebrated with lots of good food. 

This year I had my birthday dinner at The Kitchen in Boulder. I can't say enough good things about that place. I didn't know what to expect since The Kitchen seems to pride itself on its close relationship with local food growers and it emphasizes seasonal produce. I mean it is the dead of winter, after all. Root cellar vegetables-- that's pretty much what comes to mind when I think of the winter. But my birthday dinner, that meal, was absolutely impeccable and extremely delicious...the chefs did an impressive job with the less than glorious bounty of mid-January. 
I've been trying to recreate the meal at home. So this is my attempt to figure out the starter soup: parsnip soup puree with sauteed mushrooms. I think it comes close enough...

There are so many good recipes out there. Some are basic, some are thick, some are complicated and have lots of ingredients and some use walnut pesto. In the end, I went with something fairly straightforward and simple. The result was a very satisfying rich soup, which I topped with sauteed shiitake mushrooms. Enjoy!
Parsnip Soup Puree with Sauteed Mushrooms
Inspired by the Kitchen Community (The Kitchen, Boulder) 
Heavily influenced by Orangette and Edible Brooklyn through this post
Yields 2-4 servings
Adjust the thickness of the soup by adding stock/water. Also season well with salt.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3/4 cup vegetable stock
3/4 cup water (with more for thinning out the soup)
salt, to taste
1/2 cup of heavy cream

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 large handful of shitake mushrooms
salt, to taste
large pinch of dried thyme or 2-3 fresh sprigs
1/2 cup of stock or water
Poached egg (optional)

Preparation: Soup
Peel the parsnips, trim and discard the ends, and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Put 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter in a large pot, over low-medium heat. Add the parsnips and carrots. Heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, mixing every few minutes. Add the vegetable stock and the water. Bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the parsnips (and carrots) can easily be pierced with a fork, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or use an immersion blender. If you think the consistency is too thick, you can add additional water or stock. Pour the pureed soup back into the pot and stir in the cream.  
Taste for salt, and serve hot. Top with sauteed mushrooms and/or a poached egg. 

Preparation: Mushrooms
Sauté mushrooms in butter over medium-high heat until mushrooms start to brown and soften, about 4 minutes. Add salt. Add stock and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces to a glossy, stew-like consistency, about 4 more minutes. Remove thyme sprigs (if using fresh). Spoon mushrooms on top of parsnip soup puree. 

an almost-winter hike (chautauqua) + an almost-winter soup (mushroom barley)

I suspect that anyone listening to the news these days has felt a deep sorrow that seems hard to shake. We aren't the parents of the slain children, or the siblings who have lost so much, or even the community members who have to pull together and pick up the pieces. We are simply people who feel a connection with the grieving community of Newtown because we are human. 
Ever since the tragedy, I've been hugging my boys a little bit tighter, reading to them a little bit longer and telling them how much I love them a bit more often (if that is even possible).
A few months ago my friend suffered several personal losses in a row. When I asked her how she was doing she wrote: "I'm up in the mountains; the mountains are good for the soul."
Monday felt like the right time to go to the mountains. It was warmer than it should have been and the sun was shining brightly. So we drove to Boulder and hiked a small trail near Chautauqua. It was beautiful. 
We got some fresh air, got lost in our own thoughts and spent good, quality time with each other...the whole family. 
When we got off the trail, I turned to my boys and asked them, "Do you know how much I love you?" 
"So much," Otis replied with his arms fully extended.
"Yah," said Theo.
I ask them that each and every day...
This hike will probably be one of the last ones we do this calendar year. Temperatures are taking a plunge and a big snow storm is supposed to move in tonight.
I'm well into soup season and this one, from Mark Bittman, is really good. It will be a heavy-hitter in my soup rotation this winter. Enjoy it with your close friends and family.

Mushroom-Barley Soup (Adapted Slightly from Mark Bittman, Recipe of the Day)
The soup becomes a light meal with bread or, even better, croutons -- just brown slices of good bread on both sides in as much olive oil as you need. 
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 pound shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1. Soak porcini in 3 cups very hot water. Put olive oil in a medium saucepan and turn heat to high. Add shiitakes and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Add barley, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Remove the porcini from their soaking liquid, and reserve liquid. Sort through porcini and discard any hard bits.
  • 2. Add porcini to pot and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add bay leaf, mushroom soaking water and 3 cups additional water (or stock, if you prefer). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer; cook until barley is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes. {I had to cook the barley a bit longer-- and I added a few tablespoons of water every few minutes until I thought the consistency was right.} Add soy sauce, and taste. Add salt if necessary and plenty of pepper. Serve hot.

Back in the Kitchen: Mushroom and Brown Rice Burgers (with Lemon and Herb Hummus)

the sprouted kitchen: a tastier take on whole foods is a  recently published cookbook and it's my new go-to. Sara and Hugh Forte, the husband-and-wife team behind the very popular Sprouted Kitchen, have put together one of the most beautiful collections of recipes I've seen since Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty hit the scene. The photographs are gorgeous and the food tastes delicious. Some day, one day, I hope that I can improve upon my food photography. If and when that (ever) happens, I hope my pictures will look something like Hugh's. I wouldn't mind having Sara's taste instincts either…and this is one cookbook you should own.

I've made a bunch of Sara's dishes, including her recipe for Lentil "Meatballs" with Lemon Pesto, and it has become one of my favorites.
It's been a few weeks since I've been in the kitchen. And I've missed it.
We managed to move (without incident) from the northwestern section of Denver, all the way over to the eastern side of the city. I'm not really sure what section of town we are in-- some people call it Hilltop, some refer to it as Crestmoor, and Lowry gets thrown in there too. We've signed a short 6 month lease, so maybe I'll figure it out before we move (again)...hopefully to a place of our own... 
Anyway, take-out dinners were the norm the week before we moved. The packing seemed endless and, having two boys under the age of 3 to care for, just added to the juggling act. I managed to eek out a Tomato Tart and Fresh Tomato Cream Soup, but that was pretty much it.
Unfortunately, two days after we moved, a devastating family emergency brought me back to NYC. I'm reluctant to write more about the seriousness of what happened, mostly because my writing can not possible convey the ordeal our family faced over the past few weeks. While the events that transpired aren't a secret, I have to respect that fact that my parents and brother might prefer a bit of privacy, not wishing to broadcast every detail on a public forum such as a blog. As of now though, things are much better than they were two weeks ago. For that we are thankful. And we continue to maintain a positive outlook. We truly appreciate all the good thoughts and prayers that have been said on our behalf. 
That said, it has been a crazy few weeks. There has been very little time to cook and not much time to eat a real meal.
This is pretty much marks my foray back in to the kitchen after almost a month away.
This mushroom and brown rice burger, while a bit time consuming to put together, hits the spot. It's really fantastic. I topped it with sauteed shallots and a lemon and herb hummus. The dip is positively delicious. Since I had a bit of avocado salsa already made, I added that to the burger too. But feel free to experiment; you can really add whatever condiments and toppings you like or have at your disposal. 
A note on the ingredients: I am sensitive to the fact that purchasing certain ingredients can get expensive. But I think that the taste that comes from these specialty flours, herbs or seeds, enhance the dish exponentially. They are well worth it, in most cases. 
It took me quite a bit of time to build up my pantry (with things like flax meal, for example). But now I seem to have most of the ingredients I need on hand. Unless you want to go all-out and buy everything at once (which can be pricey), build up your pantry by prioritizing what you will use the most and what tastes you favor. This requires a bit of patience, but it beats boring, bland, unhealthy food, right?! 
Hope you enjoy this vegetarian burger and the first few days of fall! 
Happy cooking...
Mushroom and Brown Rice Veggie Burgers (Courtesy of Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods, Sara and Hugh Forte)
Serves 6 (I halved the recipe and it made 4 burgers)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups stemmed and finely chopped cremini mushrooms (about 1 pound). (I used baby bella mushrooms, which work, because...)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (flax meal)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained well (I used organic canned)
3 Medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 egg
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 cups coked and cooled brown rice (Generally speaking, I use a ratio of 1:2-- rice to water. I then add more water as needed, usually ending up with closer to 3 cups, but that might be because I cook at altitude. I add a splash (or two) of veggie stock for more flavor.)
1 to 2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats, as needed (I didn't need them.)
4 large shallots, sliced thin
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive-oil or coconut oil
6 whole grain English muffins
3/4 cup hummus (recipe below)
2 avocados, peeled and sliced (I used avocado salsa, recipe below)
2 cups arugula
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and sauté until the mushrooms are softened and the excess water has cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
Combine the ground flaxseed, Parmesan, chickpeas, dates, parsley, egg, fennel seeds, tahini, tamari, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper in a food processor. Give the mixture a few pulses to combine well and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Once the mushrooms are at room temperature, add them, along with any juices in the pan, to the bowl along with the rice and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. At this point the mixture should be pretty moist, but if it seems too wet to form into a patty, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of oats to soak up some of the moisture. The recipe can be prepared to this point up to a day in advance.
Arrange a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. 
Form the mixture into 6 patties, each about 1 inch thick. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat and arrange the patties on the baking sheet with space in between. Bake them in the oven until toasted on top, 14 to 18 minutes. 
While the burgers cook, prepare the shallots. Warm the oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and sauté until the edges begin to brown, 5 o 7 minutes. Set aside for assembly.
After removing the patties from the oven, toast the English muffins while the burgers rest for a moment. Put a swipe of hummus on each muffin half and assemble the burgers by layering the patty, avocado slices, arugula and sauteed shallots. Serve immediately.
 * * *
Lemon and Herb Hummus (Courtesy of Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods)
Serves 6-8
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2 15-ounce cans)
1 roasted shallot (To roast the shallot, peel it and cut into quarters. Rub a bit of olive oil on the surface and roast in the oven or a toaster oven at 400F for about 20 minutes.)
3 tablespoons tahini
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I omitted the dill because I didn't want to shlep back to the supermarket.)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
Optional Garnish (Not for the burger)
1/2 English cucumber, sliced paper-thin
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, roasted shallot, tahini, lemon zest and juice, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the red pepper flakes and pulse to combine. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. Stop the food processor when the hummus reaches the desired smoothness. (I thinned mine out with a few tablespoons of water at this point.)
Add the herbs to the hummus, and pulse a few times until combined.
Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you'd like. Pulse the processor while adding 1 to 3 tablespoons of water to thin out the hummus, as needed, remembering that it will firm up in the fridge.
To make the optional garnish, toss the cucumber with the parsley and vinegar. To serve, put the hummus on a serving plate, top with the cucumber mixture and feta, and garnish with fresh chopped parsley and fill. 
* * *
I never did get around to posting Ezra Pound Cake's Summer Corn Cakes (above), but here is a slightly modified version of her recipe for Tomato and Avocado Salsa (seen in the blue bowl above). I dolloped it on top of the mushroom and brown rice burgers, but please note that I added this particular topping because I already had it in my refrigerator. Sara, (of Sprouted Kitchen) adds sliced avocado to her burger, so feel free to do that if you are: a) short on time or b) don't really feel like adding a step to this meal.
Avocado Salsa, adapted by Ezra Pound Cake from Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen
Makes about 2 cups
1 scallion, trimmed and minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
Place all of the ingredients (except the avocado) in a bowl, and stir to mix. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve, for up to 2 days.
Just before serving, add the avocado, and mix gently. Adjust salt. Serve! 

Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms (To Go!)

I grew up in New York City, which is an incredibly diverse place. Yet surprisingly, and somehow, Cinco de Mayo flew under my radar. There's a Mexican neighborhood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, but it's nothing compared to the size of the Mexican communities in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or California.
Anyway, I first heard of the holiday the year after I graduated from college and moved to San Francisco. An office mate invited me to what would be my first Cinco de Mayo party. "Cinco de what?" I replied, as I opened my day planner. Then I said something like, "Sure, I'd love to come to the party! What's that date again?" There were blank stares. And a few eye rolls.
Many years later, I've got dozens of Cinco de Mayo parties under my belt. And here in Colorado there are tons of festivities around town and a two-day celebration is held at Civic Center Park. We decided to go to a friend's house to celebrate on the 5th and went downtown on the 6th. For the occasion I made these Tomatillo-Sauced Spinach & Mushroom Enchiladas. They were delicious. I ate so many that I felt like a piñata about to burst. In a good way, sort of. 
I adjusted the heat of the tomatillo salsa a bit, but you can tweak it to your suit your taste preference. I thought the dish was a really nice twist on a casual, yet traditional, Mexican entree.
I had some tomatillo salsa (salsa verde) to spare, so the next morning I put it on top of  some baked eggs with Gruyere, which was also very delicious!
Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms (Adapted from Rick Bayless, via Cookstr)
Yield : Serves 4
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium-sized (2 1/2 inches) jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and quartered (if you want it hotter, leave the seeds in-- I've made it both ways)
1 ½ pounds (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
¾ cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil, plus some for the tortillas
2 cups vegetable broth, plus water as needed
8 ounces mushrooms (I used button, but you can use oyster or  shiitake too), stemmed and sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
10 ounces (about 10 cups) spinach, stems removed
12 corn tortillas, preferably store-bought
5 tablespoons Mexican cream, sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraiche

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Mexican queso fresco

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic and chiles one piece at a time, letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the tomatillos and cilantro; process until smooth.

Heat 1 ½ tablespoons of the oil in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the puree and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the mixture has reduced to the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 7 minutes. (The more you cook down this base, the richer and sweeter the tomatillo sauce will be.) Add the broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors. (If the heat is a bit too much, you can mellow it a bit by adding some water.)
While the sauce is simmering, heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for a couple of minutes, until they begin to brown. Add about three-quarters of the onion (reserve the rest for garnish) and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for another minute or two, until the onion looks translucent. Add the spinach and optional chicken or ham and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so, until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon. Cover to keep warm.

Lay out the tortillas on a baking sheet and spray or brush lightly on both sides with oil or bacon drippings, then stack them in twos. Slide the tortillas into the oven and bake just long enough to make them soft and pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and stack them in a single pile; cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm. (This step is necessary. If you skip it, and try filling the tortillas without baking or frying them, they will fall apart when you start to roll them up.)
Stir the cream (or its stand-in) into the sauce. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon (add the sugar if the sauce seems quite tart to you). Holding a tortilla by one edge, dip most of it into the sauce, then lay it on a plate. Spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons filling down the center, roll up and lay seam side down in a dinner plate. Repeat with 2 more tortillas, arranging them on the same dinner plate. Douse the enchiladas with about ¼ cup of the warm sauce, sprinkle with a quarter of the crumbled cheese and garnish with some of the reserved onion and cilantro sprigs. 
Assemble the rest of the servings, and carry to the table without hesitation.
The day after Cinco de Mayo we decided to head down to the Civic Center to check out the scene and eat some food. (The temperature had also dropped about 20 degrees, so it was a much better day for walking around.) The park was seemingly less crowded than it had been the day before, but there were still lots of people, great food stalls and live music...and a lot of Tecate. My favorite snack of the day were the elotes, ears of corn smothered in mayonnaise, chili powder and cotija cheese. Mmm, yum. 
We topped things off with a funnel cake, which is decidedly un-Mexican, but very much a part of fair/street food. Deep fried batter sprinkled with powdered sugar?! Yes, please! 
On the way back to the car we passed the Denver Art Museum (YSL is still going on), the main library, some great public art, and the Clyfford Still Museum (still one of my favorites, pardon the pun).

All in all, we had a great time celebrating Cinco de Mayo and I'm looking forward to celebrating again next year, on the 5th of May! 

Mushroom Risotto (from the Gorgeously Green Diet)

Risotto. It's earned the reputation of being difficult to make and, truth be told, I've mucked-it up more times than I care to mention. Before trying this recipe, my little arborio rice dish never came out right. It was always far from the creamy dish it should have been. Without fail, it would come out pasty and goopy, and quite frankly, not very edible. The outcome was always the same: hot mess.
But my dear friend Charlotta put me onto this recipe, one that she said was fool-proof. And indeed it is. It comes from The Gorgeously Green Diet and I've made it three times...successfully! Whooo-wee. The white wine and the dried mushrooms give the dish so much flavor-- and I just top it off with a little olive oil, shaved parmesan and lemon juice.
Like many risotto dishes, this recipe uses dried mushrooms instead of fresh ones. That's because the water used to rehydrate (reconstitute) the dried mushrooms adds so much flavor to the dish (I added the mushroom-infused water toward the end of the cooking process). I used porcini, portobello, hen of woods and "forest blend" so far, but next time I think I'll add some fresh chantarelles as well. 
You can make this risotto with confidence and without fear that your culinary efforts will result in a mushy mess. Then pour yourself a nice glass of chilled white wine and enjoy. 
Bon Appetito.

Mushroom Risotto (Courtesy of The Gorgeously Green Diet)
Serves 4-6
1-ounce package mixed dried mushrooms
About 1 quart vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups risotto rice 
2 wineglasses (dry) white wine 
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grade Parmesan cheese

Put the mushrooms in a measuring cup and cover with 2 cups of hot water. Set aside.
Pour stock into a medium saucepan and heat gently. Keep warm over low heat. 
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the rice, turn up the heat, and stir until the rice looks translucent (mine never got completely translucent--but close). Add the wine and stir until almost evaporated.
Now you are ready to add your first ladle of stock (you never leave a risotto- it needs to be nursed!). Keep stirring as you add more and more stock, waiting until each addition is absorbed until you add the next ladle. After 15 minutes, taste to see if the rice is cooked; if it needs more time (and mine did), add a ladleful of the water that the mushrooms have been soaking in. The risotto is cooked when the rice is slighly al dente. Take it off the heat and stir in the mushrooms and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste, spoon into bowls, and top with a generous dusting of cheese (I added a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of lemon juice too). Enjoy!