Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Soup of Desperaux

"The world is dark, and light is precious.  Come closer, dear reader.  You must trust me.  I am telling you a story."  So begins the epic tale of Desperaux Tilling, an extraordinary mouse with an extraordinary story.  The book, written by Kate DiCamillo (of Because of Winn-Dixie fame), is titled in full: The Tale of Desperaux, being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.

The story will sound a little confusing when I try to explain it, but bear with me here, it's worth it.  First, we meet Desperaux, a young mouse with huge ears and big dreams, who is much more interested in reading books than eating them - a desire that sets him even farther apart from his peers than his physical differences.  He lives in a castle, in the walls with the other mice; Princess Pea and her father live in the main part of the building.  After reading stories about knights and chivalry, Desperaux decides he needs to meet the princess - and the two worlds collide.

In the course of the story, we also meet Miggery Sow, a servant girl who wishes she was a princess; Roscuro, a rat with a broken heart; and Cook, a cook who would love nothing more than to be making soup again, but for the fact that it has been outlawed.  I'm not going to give away too much of the story, because in order to explain it, would have to give away the whole plot, but I will say that soup, in the end, is once again legal and enjoyed; and most of the characters, if not all, live happily ever after.

I fear that I am not doing this book credit by my description, but hopefully my Desperaux-inspired meal will do it some justice.  Because soup is a prominent part of the story, and because our hero is a mouse, I have decided to make a cheddar and broccoli soup for you today.

The Soup of Desperaux
5 tbsp. butter
1/2 an onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
16 oz. bag of frozen chopped broccoli
2 14.5-oz. cans chicken broth
1/2 lb. processed cheese, like Velveeta, cubed
1 cup milk
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup corn starch
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

1. In a stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook until softened, which will take about 5 minutes.
2. Add the broccoli and the chicken broth, and over medium-low heat until the broccoli is cooked, which will take about 15 minutes.
3. Add the cheese cubes, stirring until they are all melted into the mixture.  Stir in the milk and the garlic powder.
4. In a small bowl, mix the water with the corn starch; add this mixture to the soup and stir until thickened, and serve in a bowl, topped with cheddar cheese if desired.  It is especially good with some crusty bread on the side.

This recipe is adapted only very slightly from the Broccoli Cheese Soup recipe found on the All Recipes website.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Betsy Who Cried Wolf: Shepherd's Pie

As a special treat, I am posting this for you from my vacation retreat in Florida! Hooray!

I really need to stop apologizing for everything, but I really am not meaning to go so far between postings.  It's a New Year's Resolution that I will get more posts up than I have been.  Let's see how that goes.

Gail Carson Levine, author of such awesome books as Ella Enchanted, came out with her first picture book in 2002, and I - being behind the times - just discovered it.  It's called Betsy Who Cried Wolf, and it's all kinds of awesome.  In this variation of the classic folktale, 8-year-old Betsy has just graduated from Shepherding School, and she has taken the Shepherd's Oath.  "She was going to be the best shepherd in Bray Valley history," we are told.  "And any wolf who tried to eat her sheep had better watch out!"

There was only one wolf left on the mountain at this point, and he - Zimmo - knew that the odds were against him, and he had to be smart.  He had to use his sneaky wolf brain.  So what he did was (and this is really very clever), he showed himself, and let Betsy blow her whistle - but he was hidden by the time the townspeople came up to help.  Betsy got a lecture.  Later that day, he came out and Besty blew her whistle - but again, Zimmo was hidden when the townspeople came to help.  The townspeople thought that maybe Betsy wasn't ready to be a shepherd after all, and they made her go take a refresher course at the Shepherd School.

When Zimmo again comes out, and Betsy blows her whistle, nobody comes to help! - but she is determined to show that she can take care of her sheep.  But when she gets up to throw her dinner (shepherd's pie) at him, she realizes how skinny he is, and gives him the pie to eat instead.  Then later, when she needs help with her sheep, Zimmo helps her out, and they become friends.  Eventually, he takes the shepherd's oath, too, and gives up his wolfy ways.

Shepherd's pie is not a pie in the way that most people think of it - that is, there is no bottom crust, and the top crust is mashed potatoes, and I usually make it in a square casserole dish.  But it is very tasty, not too hard to make, and doesn't even cost that much in ingredients.  Of course, the variations you can make with this are endless.  Many people make their's with a tomato base, but mine - at least this time - doesn't have that.

Betsy The Shepherd's Pie
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tbsp. butter
splash of milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion
1 lb. ground beef
3/4 cup beef broth
2 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups frozen veggies - I used peas here, but carrots and corn are also good

1. Boil salted water and add the potatoes; cook for 15 minutes or until fork tender.  Drain, add the butter and milk, and mash, adding salt and pepper to taste. Alternately, use leftover or otherwise pre-made mashed potatoes.  Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large skillet, heat the oil.  Dice the onion and add that to the pan, cooking over medium heat until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). 
3. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook until brown.  Drain the fat, and add the beef stock, flour, and vegetables, stirring until the flour is dissolved.  Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Fill a 2-quart casserole with the beef mixture, then layer with mashed potatoes, being careful to get all the way to the edge of the pan with the potatoes.  Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

Because the pie is covered in potatoey goodness, it will look like this when you take it out:

And then the slices... well, they're hard to get to look nice.  My best piece looked like this:

which is not the most appetizing-looking meal on the planet, but once you taste it, you won't care.

Fun side note: if you use lamb instead of beef, this dish is called Cottage Pie.  If I spent my days taking care of sheep, though, I'd probably prefer the beef for dinner.