Cheese Broccoli Soup

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Cheese Broccoli Soup

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

2/3 cup thinly sliced carrot

2/3 cup thinly sliced celery

2/3 cup chopped fresh broccoli

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 quart chicken broth

1 quart milk

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preparation
Sauté onion, carrot, broccoli and celery in butter in a large Dutch oven over low heat 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Combine flour and cornstarch. Add to vegetables; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until bubbly. Combine broth and milk; gradually add to vegetable mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add cheese, soda, salt, and pepper, stirring until cheese melts. Ladle soup into individual bowls, and serve immediately.

Basic Broccoli

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I learned a few years ago that broccoli is one of the winter garden vegetables that does not mind cold temperatures, snow, or ice in our area of South Texas.  When everything in the garden seems to be brown, gray, and soggy, it is fun to go out and cut as much as we need for a side dish or stir fry.  And the taste is so bright and fresh that only a sprinkle of salt and squeeze of fresh lemon is enough.  But there are so many ways to use broccoli and many ways to season or top it, that it really can be a go to choice to make a meal special.

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The biggest thing to remember is to never overcook broccoli. It is very tasty raw, added to green salad, mixed with cauliflower and dressed with lemon vinaigrette, or served with other crunchy veggies along with hummus or dip. When you do cook it, it can be roasted, steamed, grilled, or sauteed – just aim at undercooking!

My favorite way to cook broccoli on the stove top is to add 1/2 to 1 inch of water to a skillet, sprinkle with salt and lay the broccoli stalks flat in the skillet.  Bring water to a boil and let simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, then cover and steam to desired tenderness. This lets the broccoli turn bright green before steaming, and it will keep its color.

You can also steam broccoli by filling a pot with a few inches of water and inserting a steamer basket . Be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli florets and stems and cover. Steam for 4-5 minutes, until tender.

Broccoli can also be sautéed. Make sure the broccoli is as dry as possible. Add only enough oil to coat a skillet, and set over medium-high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat with oil. Add the sliced stems 1 minute later. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and tender.

Roasting broccoli is another great way to use the vegetable, and is very easy.  Heat the oven to 425°F. Toss broccoli florets and stems with a few teaspoons of oil and a half teaspoon of salt. Spread the broccoli on a foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the broccoli is crunchy with caramelized brown spots. Serve immediately.

Any of these methods of preparing broccoli can be used to make a side dish, cold or warm salads,add to a frittata, Quiche, or pizza. And as if that weren’t enough options, you can always dress things up a little by adding cheese or cream sauces.

Winter Green

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The green things that grow in my Winter garden are stars in my kitchen as well as popping in the browns of the outside landscape. Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli grow so well through the ups an downs in our South Texas “cold” season that it is well worth planting only a few of each just to watch them thrive. These are one of the few vegetables which intensify in color as you cook them (when done properly) and some of the best nutrition we can put on our tables.  The simplest cooking techniques produce flavor and color on the plate.  Above, small broccoli bunches broken into flowerets and sautéed with garlic in olive oil taste best when cooked only until stalks are tender crisp. I finished this skillet of broccoli with the last of our Meyer lemons. A squeeze of fresh orange is delicious, too.

IMG_0045Swiss Chard is one of my favorite leafy greens, although it vies with kale for first place.  It is a garden champion for persistence  I have cut leaves from this large plant over and over, and it responds with new ones quickly.  It is immensely satisfying to just go out and get the amount I need for a quick side or ingredient.  I rinse it, pat it dry, remove the tougher part of the stem end, then either rough chop or roll up the leaves and slice them into strips.

IMG_0046Then I swirl a bit of olive oil into my big copper bottom pan, sizzle 4 or 5 garlic pods briefly, and add the chard. All this uncooked chard barely fits into the big pan, but after sautéing with the garlic, it really is dinner portions for two people.

IMG_0049Drizzle some balsamic or sherry vinegar over the top, and it is ready to serve. Mustard greens, kale, and spinach can be prepared in exactly the same way, although I like to toast a few whole mustard seeds to add to mustard greens

Leftover bits of greens are a great addition to omelets or as a bed for fish or chicken.  Last night I used sautéed chard to make some stuffed pasta shells in a recipe which called for spinach.  Hardy in the garden, hearty on the table – Winter Greens are lovely.