Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clean-Out-Your-Garden Soup

I'm not sure how things are where you live, but fall seems to have come early here in the Northeast. It is downright nippy, and we have started making a fire in the woodstove in the evenings. Consequently, this is PERFECT soup weather, and I have discovered the best recipe for this time of year when the backyard gardens and farmer's markets are replete with bountiful harvests.

It did take 2 1/2 hours of cutting and chopping and cooking, but I made this AWESOME Italian soup from Ina Garten called ribollita. It has a little pancetta and every veggie on the planet in it (plus, I added zucchini that wasn't even called for). And at the very end, you throw in chunks of bread that become like little dumplings floating in there, and serve it topped with shredded parmesan. So rib-stickingly comforting and flavorful! It's a great weekend project (as it is time-consuming to make), but it will feed a crowd AND give everyone lunches for the following week, or you could freeze the leftovers for an easy warm-up in the coming chilly weeks. (Conversely, you could halve this recipe and make a more reasonable portion.)

Photo Credit: Food Network

Ina Garten, Food Network)

1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini (screw that...use canned beans, make your life easier!)
kosher salt
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots--I used 4)
1 cup chopped celery (3 stalks)
*I added one small zucchini, cut in eight pieces, then sliced thinly
3 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped (I used two cans, and I just crushed them with my hands)
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage, optional (I used Napa cabbage because it's milder, removing the hard spines)
4 cups coarsely chopped kale (I removed the stems)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed (I used ciabatta)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, for serving

In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by one iinch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add one teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.

(Or ignore all of the above and use three cans of cannellini beans!)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, zucchini (if using), garlic, one tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree, the cabbage, if using**, the kale, and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to 10 minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid (or one can with its liquid). Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with parmesan and drizzled with olive oil (I omitted the olive oil here).

**I am generally anti-cabbage myself, but I recommend you use it in this soup. It adds another layer of flavor that is very nice, and it does not overpower anything else if you use Napa cabbage (just the soft, mild leaves, not the spines). Savoy cabbage would be nice, too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Before you put that grill away....

WAIT, WAIT! Before you roll the grill into the shed for the winter, before the last ear of corn disappears, and while there are still a few herbs growing in your garden, I have a delightful menu for you: jalapeno beer-brined pork chops, oven roasted new potatoes with garlic and rosemary, corn on the cob...and if that weren't enough, homemade chocolate peanut butter cake for dessert! Doesn't that sound fab? I won't bother to share detailed recipes for the potatoes (washed, chunked, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, minced garlic and herbs, and roasted at 400 degrees until tender) or the corn (shucked, boiled for ten minutes, buttered and seasoned), but I will tell you about the pork chops and the cake.

Some months ago, I bought a whole bunch of really cheap pork chops, and I guess you get what you pay for, because they always come out tough and dry, even if you don't overcook them. So I really needed a way to tenderize them, and I remembered something my friend, Chris, told me about a beer brine. I couldn't find the specific recipe that he gave me, but I found the following, which was very flavorful and gave the pork chops a nice kick. I didn't have any fresh ginger on hand, so I threw in some sliced onions instead. Yummy! (Sorry, no pictures.)

Jalapeño-Beer Brined Pork Chops
Cooks' Recipes)
Makes 4 servings

2 1/2 cups water
1 (12-ounce) can beer (I used a dark beer and the flavor was very pronounced--next time, I might use a lager, as I am not a beer drinker)
1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapeños
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher (coarse) salt
6 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic, crushed
4 center or rib-cut pork chops, 1-inch thick

Combine water, beer, jalapeños, sugar, salt, ginger and garlic in medium bowl. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add pork chops; cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning pork chops occasionally.

Heat grill to medium-high or preheat broiler. Remove pork chops from brine and rinse with cold water; discard brine. Pat pork chops dry. Sprinkle with ground black pepper.

Grill pork chops for 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink, turning two to three times during grilling.

I wish I could give proper credit for this tasty, homey dessert. It comes from my cousin Mandi's blog, and she got it out of one of her wife's grandmother's cookbooks, but I don't know which one. I can tell you that it is quite delicious, though the cake was a bit thick for my tastes. I might scale down the batter a bit next time to make a better cake-to-frosting ratio, but it's a recipe well worth revisiting! (Photo credit also goes to Mandi...pictured is the cake that she made. I forgot to take any of mine!)

Peanut Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Mandi Munches)

Peanut Butter Cake:
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (I prefer crunchy!)
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup milk

Combine butter and peanut butter in large mixing bowl and cream well. Add sugar and beat well. Add vanilla and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.

Sift together flour and baking powder, gradually adding to creamed mixture, alternately with milk, beating well.

Spoon into greased 9x13 pan. Bake for 45-50 min at 350 or until cake tests done.

Chocolate Frosting:
6 oz. semisweet chocolate morsels
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Combine chocolate and milk in medium saucepan, place over low heat, stirring until melted. Stir in sugar. Beat until smooth.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Post-Surgical Culinary Therapy

Yes, I am still playing catch-up on blogging (and will be for quite some time), but this is worth sharing. When I was about two weeks out of major abdominal surgery and could sit comfortably and stand for small stretches at a time, my dear friend, June, invited me over to help her bake a special dessert. She professed to need my help, but I think she knew I just needed to get out of the small, dark room that I was convalescing in at home and enjoy a change of scenery. Then again, she did choose one of the most involved cakes that I have ever made--the opera cake. You see, she had had it before several times at various restaurants and wasn't very impressed, but then she tried it again when she toured Paris this past May and fell in love. So she decided the only way to get a decent one at home was to make it herself. But she asked me along for moral support. Don't let anyone tell you different--opera cake is kind of a B*TCH to make (and we made TWO because June had guests coming)! However, the end result may be well worth it...especially for the mocha fiends out there!

For those of you unfamiliar with L'Opera, it's comprised of layers of almond sponge cake (jaconde) soaked in an espresso syrup and held together with ganache and coffee buttercream then covered with a bittersweet chocolate glaze. Finally, you slice off all of the edges to show the lovely layers. DELICIOUS stuff, but certainly time-consuming. I will simply reprint Dorie's recipe below, but offer some tips first:

1) We used almond flour in the cake instead of ground blanched almonds, and that worked fine.
2) When making the almond cake, make sure to spread the rather thick batter evenly in the pan to get a more level cake.
3) The cake batter would be helped by a good pinch of salt.
4) Instant espresso is preferable to instant coffee (bolder flavor), and use ALL the liquid to soak the cake. It won't be overkill, I promise.
5) It was quite hot the day we made this cake, and I think our butter for the buttercream got too warm. It would not whip up as it should. So to rescue it, we popped the mixing bowl full of frosting back in the fridge until it firmed up again, then rewhipped it, and it was perfect. Indeed, the buttercream is the best thing about this cake--I'm going to have to make it for other uses, like as the frosting for a rich, chocolate cake. YUM!
6) When layering on the ganache, keep the layer very, very thin or else it will overpower other flavors in the cake (you don't need to use ALL the ganache).
7) It does add time to your project, but freezing the cake for ten minutes or so between each step really helps it all hold together while you're spreading on the next layer. And freeze it for about a half hour before attempting the final glaze. You'll be glad you did.
8) If I made this again, I would do as Dorie sometimes does and add sliced almonds on top of both the buttercream and the ganache, to add some crunch.
9) Have courage--YOU CAN DO THIS! (But inviting a friend over to help, like June did, is a fine idea!)

Dorie Greenspan's Opera Cake
The Splendid Table)
Makes about 20 servings

The cake:
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
2 1/4 cups (225 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly

The coffee syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (7 grams) instant espresso or coffee

The coffee buttercream:
2 tablespoons (10 grams) instant espresso or coffee
2 tablespoons (15 grams) boiling water
1 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) water
Pulp of 1/4 vanilla bean
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate ganache:
8 ounces (240 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 grams) whole milk
1/4 cup (30 grams) heavy cream
4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate glaze:
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter

1. To make the cake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line two 12 1/2-x15 1/2-inch (31-x-39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. (This is in addition to the quantity in the ingredient list.)

2. Working in a clean dry mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the whites into another bowl.

3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almonds, confectioners' sugar and whole eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and beat on low speed only until it disappears. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture, then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

4. Bake the cakes for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. Put the pans on a heatproof counter, cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the cakes over and unmold. Carefully peel away the parchment, turn the parchment over and use it to cover the exposed sides of the cakes. Let the cakes come to room temperature between the parchment or wax paper sheets. (The cakes can be made up to 1 day ahead, wrapped and kept at room temperature.)

5. To make the syrup: Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool. (The syrup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

6. To make the buttercream: Make a coffee extract by dissolving the instant espresso in the boiling water; set aside.

7. Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in a small saucepan; stir just until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 255 degrees F (124 degrees C), as measured on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Pull the pan from the heat.

8. While the sugar is heating, put the egg and the yolk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until the eggs are pale and foamy. When the sugar is at temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the syrup. Inevitably, some syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl - don't try to stir the spatters into the eggs. Raise the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the eggs are thick, satiny and room temperature, about 5 minutes.

9. Working with a rubber spatula, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy but not oily. With the mixer on medium speed, steadily add the butter in 2-tablespoon (30-gram) chunks. When all the butter has been added, raise the speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thickened and satiny. Beat in the coffee extract. Chill the buttercream, stirring frequently, until it is firm enough to be spread and stay where it is spread when topped with a layer of cake, about 20 minutes. (The buttercream can be packed airtight and refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 1 month; before using, bring it to room temperature, then beat to smooth it.)

10. To make the ganache: Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and keep it close at hand. Bring the milk and cream to a full boil, pour it over the chocolate, wait 1 minute, then stir gently until the ganache is smooth and glossy.

11. Beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then stir it into the ganache in 2 to 3 additions. Refrigerate the ganache, stirring every 5 minutes, until it thickens and is spreadable, about 20 minutes. (The ganache can be packed airtight and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month; bring to room temperature before using.)

12. To assemble the cake: Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, trim the cake so that you have two pieces: one 10-x-10-inches (25-x-25-cm) square and one 10-x-5-inches (25-x-12.5-cm) rectangle. Place one square of cake on the parchment and moisten the layer with coffee syrup. Spread about three-quarters of the coffee buttercream evenly over the cake. (If the buttercream is soft, put the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding.) Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square; moisten with syrup. Spread the ganache over the surface, top with the last cake layer, moisten, then chill the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Cover the top of the cake with a thin layer of coffee buttercream. (This is to smooth the top and ready it for the glaze - so go easy.) Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour or for up to 6 hours; it should be cold when you pour over the glaze. If you're in a hurry, pop the cake into the freezer for about 20 minutes, then continue.

13. To glaze the cake: Bring the butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and clarify the butter by spooning off the top foam and pouring the clear yellow butter into a small bowl; discard the milky residue. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over—not touching—simmering water, then stir in the clarified butter. Lift the chilled cake off the parchment-lined pan and place it on a rack. Put the rack over the parchment-lined pan and pour over the glaze, using a long offset spatula to help smooth it evenly across the top. Slide the cake into the refrigerator to set the glaze and chill the cake, which should be served slightly chilled. At serving time, use a long thin knife, dipped in hot water and wiped dry, to carefully trim the sides of the cake so that the drips of glaze are removed and the layers revealed.

Keeping: Each element of the cake can be made ahead, as can the assembled cake. The cake can be kept in the refrigerator, away from foods with strong odors, for 1 day, or you can freeze the cake, wrap it airtight once it is frozen, and keep it frozen for 1 month; defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.