Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winter Dinner Party pt. 1 of 3: Butternut Squash Bisque

The best part about cooking is sharing. As lucky as I am to have a resident taste-tester who is always willing to give me feedback (as long as there's no broccoli involved), I most enjoy cooking when there is a promise of a potluck, dinner party, or guests in town. Eating food is such a communal activity. So many social gatherings are centered around eating together. It is perhaps one of our oldest traditions as humans: gathering around the fire, cooking and eating. So, to celebrate the end of the holidays and Javi's visit to Baltimore, we built ourselves a fire, and gathered around to eat.


Spinach Maple Salad
Fresh Sourdough Baguettes and Soup Sticks
Butternut Squash Bisque
Torta Salata (Mike Ciancio's "Salty Cake")

I have been dying to make this soup since I got the October issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Thanks to my new was a success.

Butternut Squash Bisque
from BHG October 2009

2 1/2-3 lb. butternut squash
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large Braeburn or Gala apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 48 oz. box of reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup apple cider
2 canned chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream,
3 oz. smoked Gouda, finely shredded
Crumbled cooked bacon and shaved Gouda

Peel, seed, and cube butternut squash. In a large heavy pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Add fresh squash, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add apples, broth, cider, and chipotle peppers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until vegetables and apples are tender. Remove from heat, and cool.

When slightly cooled, puree in batches using a blender. Return to saucepan. Stir in sour cream. Heat through. Remove from heat and stir in shredded Gouda until melted. top with bacon and cheese.

Soundtrack: Ella!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Healthier Muffins and a Wannabe Latte

My 4 year old computer is back from its vacation at the mac spa where it got a much needed makeover...but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! A lot of the usual actually: soup, bread, more soup. However, I'll change things up a bit with this healthy muffin recipe. I have been experimenting with healthier baked goods. I am always on the lookout for good vegan recipes which eliminate the delicious yet fattening butter, cream, and eggs.

Though not vegan, this recipe is adaptable. You can sub in flavors or healthier alternatives as you see fit. I'll list the original recipe and then what I changed about it in parentheses.

Healthier Muffins
preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1 cup flour (I used 2/3 all-purpose + 1/3 whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup milk (I used plain unsweetened soy)
1/4 cup heavy cream (I used apple cider)
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used almond extract)
1 egg
1/4 cup of oil
pinch of salt
3 Tbs sugar (or honey)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup whole flax seed
1/2 granny smith apple, peeled, cubed into 1/2" pieces

Combine dry ingredients in medium mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients then add to the dry.
Add nuts, flax, and fruit and stir with fork until just combined.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins. Top with nuts or flax seeds.
Bake for 13-15 min or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
(If using mini-muffin tin, check them after 10 minutes).

Some flavor combos to try
-coconut mango
-banana chocolate chip
-orange ginger
-pumpkin spice
-lemon poppyseed
-peaches and cream
-pina colada
-berry nut
-carrot raisin

Since we saved a few calories with the muffins, why not indulge on a homemade coffee treat? I learned everything I know about coffee from living in Portland Oregon for 14 months. Don't laugh, but I moved there still mistaking espresso for "expresso". At that point I had probably only been to a handful of coffee shops that didn't have a "Starbucks" sign out front. I don't think I had ever tried a cappuccino, latte, or straight espresso before my first week in Portland when I promptly experimented with all three. Now, I am a bit of a coffee snob, and proud of it. Recently, I have stopped drinking coffee on weekdays, which has made the weekend cups a genuine luxury rather than an everyday addiction.

A real cafe latte is an espresso, made with steamed milk, and milk foam on top. Since I don't happen to have an espresso machine or milk steamer at home, I came up with a shortcut that produces a similar effect on a lazy saturday morning. (Apparently this is on the menu at some coffee shops as Caffe con Panna).

Wannabe Latte

Make a strong pot of coffee in a french press. Pour about a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and a tsp of powdered sugar in a cold metal mixing bowl. Use a whisk to whip the cream until it is just thickened, before any peaks form. Stir a dollop into your fresh hot cup of coffee. I suggest you pull out the fanciest cup and saucer you have, this is the perfect excuse to dust it off.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Zucchini Corn Soup & Mama's Corn Bread

Ok, ok, I know I just posted a soup recipe, but i can't help it, this is what we've been eating. Earlier this week we went to a friend's house for dinner and she made a delicious soup with zucchini, corn, dill, and some vegetable bullion. Last night, I tried to use similar ingredients for a similar result. Apparently it's the starch in the corn that gives it the creamy texture. In the world of soups, it was a really nice change of pace from the brothy types we usually make. (Plus, I was dying to play with my new food processor.)

Ideally, I would have had some fresh yeasted bread to accompany the soup, but without prior preparation, I thought it would be a good time to try my mother's cornbread in one of our "new" iron skillets. I suppose the word "corn" can be the tie that binds between these two? Mostly, this meal was about celebrating the end of a cold, snowy work week, with something warm and comforting. Success!

Zucchini Corn Soup
interpreted from Alia's soup dish on Monday night

-1 small onion
-1 large shallot
-4 cloves of garlic (note: these first three ingredients are the best way to start anything)
-4 small (out of season) zucchinis
-1 large carrot
-1 large celery stalk
-3/4 of a 1lb bag of frozen corn
-1 1/2 boxes of chicken broth or vegetable broth (I like reduced sodium so I can be in charge of my own salt)
-1 Tbs dill weed
-salt and pepper to taste
-olive oil for pot

Roughly chop all the vegetables but the corn, (the soup will be pureed later).

In a large pot, heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil (I would have started with some bacon or ham if I'd had any). Sautee the garlic, onion, shallot, and some salt until browned and fragrant, keep stirring to prevent burning. Stir in the chopped zucchini, carrot, and celery until coated with oil. Sautee for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get up all those bits of flavorful caramelized onion. Cover lightly and bring to a boil. Add frozen corn and simmer for 15 minutes or until flavorful. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

In small batches, transfer the cooled soup to a blender to puree. Return to heat to warm up. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mama's Skillet Cornbread
ever so slightly adapted from Cathy's Cookbook

Preheat oven 400 degrees F

1 cup stone ground cornmeal
1 cup self rising flour (lots of my mother's recipes call for this, so I finally went ahead and bought a bag of it. It is just all-purpose flour with salt and leaveners already in it)
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (you can substitute regular milk with a tsp of vinegar in it)
2 beaten eggs

Combine dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, and eggs.
Stir wet ingredients into the dry with a wooden spoon until combined.
Bake for 20 minutes (or until browned on the top) in a well-greased iron skillet (size 8).

(This makes quite a bit of corn bread, this morning on the phone, mama said you could reduce the recipe by a third and use a size 6 skillet for less servings.)

Soundtrack: Ella Fitzgerald, A-Tisket A-Tasket

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Challah Bread

Since I've started making bread, I've rarely used the same recipe twice. This means I have mastered no particular bread, but have a little experience with lots of different bread recipes. Even the few loaves that failed to rise made the house smell wonderful and tasted just fine, despite the dense texture. For the most part, the recipes I've tried yield results that taste pretty much the same. As my dad might say, "bread is bread". This Challah recipe however, sets itself apart. It is light, fluffy, a little sweet, and completely luxurious after many whole wheat rustic loaves. Challah is a traditional Jewish Sabbath bread blessed and served before Friday night dinner. According to Joy of Cooking, it is also "particularly good at breakfast time".

from The Joy of Cooking

Combine in a large mixing bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved (about 5 min):
-1 package of active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 cup warm (105-115 degrees) water

-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-2 large eggs, lightly beaten
-2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
-3 Tbs vegetable oil
-3 Tbs sugar
-1 1/4 tsp salt

Mix by hand or on low speed until thoroughly blended. Gradually stir in:
-2 1/2 cups bread flour

Knead for about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands or the bowl. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1/12 hours. Punch the dough down, knead briefly, and refrigerate covered until it has again nearly doubled in volume, 4-12 hours. (I figured my kitchen was cold enough to practically be a refrigerator).

Divide the dough equally into three parts. On an un-floured work surface, roll into balls and let rest for 10 minutes. Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle with corn meal. Roll each ball into a 13-inch to 14-inch long rope, about 1 1/2-inch thick. Dust the 3 ropes with rye or whole wheat flour for more definition. Place the three strands next to each-other and pinch the top ends together. Braid the dough ropes and pinch the bottom ends together. Tuck the ends under and place on baking sheet. Brush the top of the loaf with an egg wash, and cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until not quite doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaf again with egg and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the bottom of the load sounds hollow when tapped, 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

There are also 4-strand braided loafs and 6-strand loafs

Soundtrack: Chet Baker, Tenderly

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Guest Blogger: Mike DiMotta on Spicy Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

Ever since I met Mike about seven years ago, I have enjoyed his multiple soup variations and seen the Master at work: changing ingredients, trying new spices, combining recipes to create these big comforting pots of soup at the perfect soup-appropriate times. He can feed multitudes which is why we often use him and his soups when we have a house full of hungry friends. Mike and I shared a tiny apartment in Portland, Oregon for about two months, and we must have had soup at least twice a week. It is what my body and soul crave on these gray, snowy, rainy days. He was visiting over New Year's, and we made sure our kitchen was stocked with the ingredients he'd need. With two inches of snow on the ground, we spent New Year's Eve day working on our various projects with soup bowls in hand, coffee in the pot, and every once in a while, a comment on the year.

So here in his own words, is Mike's favorite soup recipe.

Thank you Mae lo for that wonderful glowing charismatic introduction!

Today we are going to discuss Soup! My favorite spicy Italian sausage tortellini soup to be specific. It's the perfect comfort food on a rainy, snowy, cold day, and only takes about 30 minutes to make.

A recipe that evolved over time, the current ingredients are:

- 1 lb Spicy Italian sausage (squeezed out of the casing.. gross)
- one bag of chopped fresh spinach
- one can of diced tomatoes
- a couple of cloves of garlic minced
- one vadalia onion, chopped
- one family sized package of your favorite cheese tortellini
- 2 boxes of chicken broth.
- grated parmesan cheese
- crushed black pepper
-(optional one bag of broad soup egg noodles)

One large pot to cook everything in!

First we cook the spicy sausage (out of casing), onions, and garlic, in a drizzle of Olive oil until the sausage has been ground up and browned.

(you can drain the sausage fat if you like.. but I leave it for spicy flavor)

Then add the the can of diced tomato to the sausage mixture and let that cook for a bit.

Pour in about a box and a half of the chicken stock into the pot and bring to a boil.
(This is usually when I chop the spinach.. )

Once we get a good boil going, pour in your tortellini (I also sometimes add a couple handfuls of broad soup noodles to help absorb some of the broth).

Once the tortellini and noodles seem cooked, I'll add a little bit more broth if it needs it (depending on how soupy you want it). Dump the fresh spinach on top of the soup and cover.

Leave until the spinach is wilted, and then mix it in!

Let cool for a couple minutes and ladle into your favorite soup bowl (if you don't have one, you should get one) and add a pinch of parmesan cheese and black pepper on top!

It could feed about 5 or 6 people and it's super yummy. ENJOY!

Mike's soup makin' soundtrack: Timothy Seth Avett, Rain on My Tin Roof

John and Robert enjoying their soup