Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Foodie Facebook Friends

Lately I have been on a real Facebook kick. I had a MySpace page long ago (my little cousin encouraged me to make one so that we could more readily correspond), but I barely ever check it. Then my (college) students hipped me to the fact that it was ALL about Facebook. So I signed up last summer, was immediately deluged by everyone I've ever known in my life back to elementary school, got overwhelmed, and abandoned it when school started back in the fall. True to form, over winter break when I had the luxury of time, I returned to Facebook and made a valiant effort to catch up with everyone who had sent correspondence, and now I just love it! It so cool to reconnect with long-lost friends, to have real-time chats even, or at least to get a composite picture of their daily lives now via their Twitter-like "status updates." And I must say, since I've been living by myself this year, Facebook has helped stave away the lonely-heart blues on more than one occasion. (Sure, the dogs are good company, but they aren't very articulate when it comes to, say, deconstructing the latest episode of "Lost!")

Yes, yes, Gina, but what does all this have to do with food and the recipes of the day? Well...one of the people that Facebook brought me back in touch with was my sweet friend, Natalie, from high school. Natalie was actually a year behind us, but she ended up graduating with us (the little smarty-pants)! Not only was Natalie among the brightest friends I had, she was extra-special because she also shared my deep, passionate love for John Taylor and the rest of the crew from Duran Duran. Oh, how we loved our MTV back in those days! Tee hee. In any case, last weekend, my totally awesome friend, Natalie, sent me a FABULOUS Valentine's Day care package from my homeland in Oregon, including two cookbooks (one was desserts of the Northwest and the other was all about soup), a local (Portland) foodie magazine called Mix, plus a box of Moonstruck Chocolates! Did I not say she was AWESOME?!

I haven't tried anything from the desserts cookbook yet, but I did crack into the soup book last night. I made something called "Spicy Parsnip Soup," though it certainly was not spicy...until I took it upon myself to add some cayenne, that is! The "spice" that the recipe refers to is curry powder. So I might be inclined to change the name of the soup to Curried Cream of Parsnip and Leek Soup, but that's just me. Whatever you call it, the recipe was easy and yielded some delicious eats. The parsnip is an underutilized root vegetable, in my humble opinion, though like it's smaller cousin, the carrot, it makes a most excellent soup! I will be bringing the leftovers to share with my lucky co-workers tomorrow, but if you'd like to make this for yourself, the recipe follows. I'm sorry that I didn't take a picture, but it's not much to look at...sort of beige-y with a greenish tint from the vegetable stock, green onions (subbed in for leeks), and cilantro. Despite its humble appearance, it tastes wonderful--so comforting with a bit of a kick to warm you up on these still frigid days.

Curried Cream of Parsnip and Leek Soup (aka "Spicy Parsnip Soup")
(Source: Soups by Jane Price)
Serves 6

5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons butter (I used 1 T butter + 1 T olive oil)
1 onion, quartered, then finely sliced
1 leek, white part only, finely sliced (I swapped out 8 green onions)
1 lb. 2 oz. parsnips, peeled and finely sliced (if I were you, I'd buy the one pound package of parsnips and then throw in a couple of carrots rather than having to buy two whole packages of parsnips!)
1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably, Madras brand)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
1 1/4 cups whipping cream (I used evaporated milk because I had some open)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Bring the broth to a boil in a sauce pan then reduce to a simmer.

Melt the butter in a small stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, and parsnips and cook, covered, for five minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, and cayenne, and cook for another minute. Stir in the hot broth and cook, covered, over medium heat for 10-15 minutes (until parsnips are completely tender).

Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend in batches until smooth (better yet, use an immersion/stick blender right in the pot!). Return soup to the stock pot (if not using an immersion blender), stir in the cream, and warm through over low heat. Season to taste, and stir in the cilantro right before serving.

I haven't yet tried the undoubtedly marvelous chocolates that Natalie sent. I'm saving them until I finish the half-batch of brownies from King Arthur that I baked over the weekend. And I must tell you, even though I screwed them up (I didn't melt the butter and sugar long enough to get the much-desired shiny top and accidentally over-baked them by SIX minutes!), they were still the BEST brownies I've ever made! They are rich and decadent (due to a very small amount of flour in the recipe), and the flavor is deep, complex and bittersweet. This, friends, may be the only brownie recipe you'll ever need. Once again, I didn't photograph them because I was annoyed at not achieving the shiny top that I was hoping for, but here's what they look like when done properly. My next batch will look like this, I swear it, and there WILL be a next batch...oh yes, there surely will!

King Arthur's Fudge Brownies
King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.*
2) In a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl, or in a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat (or microwave) briefly, just until it's hot (about 110°F to 120°F), but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.
3) While the sugar heats a second time, crack the 4 eggs into a bowl, and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla till smooth.
4) Add the hot butter/sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.
5) Add the flour and chips (and nuts, if using), again stirring until smooth. Note: If you want the chips to remain intact in the baked brownies, rather than melting in, let the batter cool in the bowl for about 20 minutes before stirring in the chips.
6) Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan.
7) Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack before cutting and serving.

*This recipe can easily be divided in half and baked in an 8x8 pan.

Since I have no food pictures to include with this post, I will close with a picture of my friend, Natalie. Isn't she purty? And don't you wish she was YOUR friend that sent YOU fun foodie care packages? You have every right to be jealous. THANKS, Nat! :-)

1 comment:

Natalie said...

I just read this blog and am blushing as I am neither a smarty smart pants or so purty as you so nicely described me! I do however have fantastic taste in friends, which is why I am so glad to have reconnected with you!
Let me tell all you readers out there about our dear Gina. In highschool, she was the SMARTEST of the smarty pants (as the doctorate degree attests too), she was wildy talented in all she did (singing, theater, etc) and one of the most popular seniors of our graduating class. Apparently now she can add super fantastic cook/baker to that long list!!
P.S. we bonded over Duran/Mtv and AP English in the 80's