Monday, August 29, 2011

Soup for Sick People

I'm a freak. I mean, you probably already knew that, but really, I am. Whenever I get sick, I get a rash. It's mainly on my neck and torso but depending on how sick I am it can spread to my arms, face, legs. It often completely stresses out doctors when they see it for the first time. They always think I have scarlet fever, or fifth disease or something else dire. But over the years I've grown used to it. Sometimes it shows up before I even feel sick, like a bad omen. When it happens like this, I lay in supplies and prepare to take off work. Sometimes it shows up in the middle, a little, Hey! Guess what? You know how crappy you feel? It's because you're SICK, IDIOT! And sometimes, it waits until I am mostly recovered and throws me a Gotcha! And you thought that was allergies FOOL! Which is exactly what happened last week. After tossing back allergy pills, sniffing prescription steroid nasal sprays and working my way through the better part of a tissue box, I found out that really, I'd just been sick after all. Oh well. At least the treatment was the same. A big bowl of homemade sausage and rice soup. And trust me this was easy to make. I made it when I was sick, after all.

adapted from Mario Batali

1/2 C onion chopped
2-3 T duck fat (butter will do if you don't keep duck fat in your freezer!)
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage - casings removed (I used turkey sausage as usual - if you want gluten-free, check your sausage labeling to confirm)
2 quarts chicken stock (that's 8 C)
1-2 rinds of parmiggiano-reggiano (if you don't have these, just add a bit more parm at the end. I save my rinds in the freezer to use in soup, it adds a lot of depth of flavor with almost no effort on your part)
1 C rice
a few cups of spinach, washed and stems removed, rough chopped if it's not baby spinach.
2-3 carrots cut into coins
1/4 C grated parm (double this if you are rindless)


Let's talk about the rice before we even start. It is well documented that I can't cook rice. This extends to soup situations. Therefore, I put 1 C rice plus 2 C water in my rice cooker and made the rice that way. I then added it to the soup at the proper time. Mario advocates tossing the rice into boiling soup and giving it 15 minutes to cook. What you decide is your business.

Okay. In a large pot, over medium heat, add your duck fat (or butter) and your onion and sausage. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, breaking the sausage down with your spoon until it is browned and in nice little nibbly pieces. Add your stock (and your rinds if you have them) and bring it to a boil. If you have raw rice toss it in now and wait 15 minutes for it to cook. If you have cooked rice, toss it in now and keep going. Add the carrots and spinach and grated parm. Cook for about 5 more minutes (I have no idea what this would do to the raw rice?). Taste the soup. Mine required absolutely no seasoning, between the salty parm and the spicy sausage it was perfect just the way it was, but please add salt and pepper if needed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

By Popular Demand - Lemon Ricotta Cake

Dairy products and I have a love-hate relationship. Milk, for example, is the nectar of the devil. It tastes awful and it makes me sick to my stomach. I need it on occasion to bake, but that is it. Consequently, it is really hard for me to tell if milk has spoiled. I have to rely entirely on how it smells, because it always tastes off to me. Cheese on the other hand, I adore. Hard cheeses, soft cheeses, stinky blue, creamy brie, nutty gruyere. So deliciously happy-making. However, in between these lie a sort of dairy limbo that includes yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta. On any given day I can enjoy one of these thoroughly, or take against it. The latter is particularly true when freshness is in question. No amount of rational thought can ease my worries. I simply can't. Just can't. Hate. And this exact thing happened when I went to use up the ricotta from the tomato crostini. It had only been open a few days. The expiration date swore it was fine. But that nagging little dairy fairy on my shoulder was saying "ew" really loudly. And I decided the only way to deal with it was to make sure the ricotta was baked. Because somehow, that would make it okay. (Which is ridiculous, because of course it was okay, I swear I'm not baking with nasty ricotta here). Lucky for me, using up dairy that irrationally scares me can result in a completely heavenly dessert. Like little clouds of lemony cakey goodness. And the pendulum swings back to love.

inspired by Giada De Laurentiis

1 1/2 C flour (all-purpose will do)
2 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 C salted butter (this is 1 1/2 sticks) plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C ricotta cheese (I used part skim and it worked fine).
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest from 1-2 lemons
powdered sugar for dusting
optional: 1/4 to 1/2 C lemon curd

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar (about 3 minutes). Add the ricotta and mix until incorporated. One at a time add the eggs, mixing between each. Then add your vanilla, lemon juice and zest. In a bowl,combine the flour and baking powder. Add your dry ingredients and give it a final mix. My batter was lumpy and also all the zest attached itself to the paddle. I fixed the zest problem by tossing it back into the batter and quickly mixing with a spatula before pouring it in to the cake pan. The lumps baked themselves away. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It is done when a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Optional section: If you like, slice the cake in half so it has two layers (Doesn't that sound easy? It was my first attempt at something like that and those were not so even. Oh well.) Then spread lemon curd on the bottom layer. I used a quarter cup because I wanted it to be subtle, but it may have been almost too subtle so I might move up to a half cup next time. Or maybe I'll just be lazy and not do it at all. Either way.

Serve with powdered sugar on top (you do this by holding a fine mesh strainer over the cake, pouring in a bit of sugar and then tapping the side of the strainer gently so the powder comes down). If you are serving the whole cake at party powder it all at once, if you're eating the slices for dessert each night powder a slice at a time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cook a Book

I have a particular weakness for books that involve cooking. Not just cookbooks mind you, but any books that have lots of cooking in them. My latest read that sent me running to the kitchen was a teen book called Flavor of the Week. Not the best thing I've ever read, but I've held it out of the library for about two weeks after finishing it because it has recipes. Mouth watering recipes. Recipes like this one for kitchen sink cookies. Who can resist something that is not only delicious but allows you to clean out your cabinets! Do you have any favorite foodie books that we should read?

from Flavor of the Week

1 3/4 C flour
1 t baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened (remember, I usually bake with salted butter, so if you use unsalted, throw in a pinch of salt).
1 1/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 t milk
3 t vanilla extract
2 C uncooked old fashioned rolled oats (I just bought quaker, regular not instant)
1 C chocolate chips (the recipe calls for semisweet, I only had bittersweet, still delicious)
1-2 C other stuff, like nuts, or coconut flakes, or whatever. I used 1 package of mini m&ms, about a cup of chopped pecans and a half cup of mini marshmallows.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda and salt (if you need salt). Mix well. In your stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar. Mix until creamy. Add the eggs and mix again. Add the nutmeg, milk and vanilla. Mix again. Add the flour mixture (guess what?), mix again. Remove your mixing bowl from the stand mixer, because you're finishing up by hand. Add the oats and mix by hand. The add your mix-ins. When everything is combined, drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto your lined cookie sheets (I used silpat, use parchment if you don't have silpat). Bake for 9-10 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minute on sheet before removing to a wire rack.

PS: David Lebovitz has his own version in case you're interested. He'll even let you use up bugles, or pretzels or chocolate covered marshmallow bears (I want one!).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Little Bites of Heaven

Now that I live country-adjacent (the directions to get to my apartment include the words: turn at the corn) and am no longer a city mouse, I have to say that my access to ridiculously amazing produce has increased. Just the other day I stopped by a farm stand and picked up a pair of beautiful heirloom tomatoes. Best thing ever? The stand had a tray of tasting bites each labeled with the tomato name. I picked out a Purple Cherokee and a Persimmon. Really, my restraint is admirable, because I did not just eat them in the car on the way home. While you can dress up tomatoes any which way, heirlooms deserve better. They should not be buried in a sandwich or blended into gazpacho. They should be the star. Ryan complained that I even did anything to these, but I think they were delicious with the trimmings, and so easy to make!


1 (or more) heirloom tomatoes
ricotta cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Slice your tomato into thinnish pieces, don't make them too thin, but don't do huge chunks either. Then cut the largest pieces in half. Count how many you have. Then slice a corresponding number of rounds from your baguette. Make these pretty thin, because you don't want the bread to overpower the tomato. Toast them lightly (I do mine in the toaster oven, but you'd be better off with a real oven than with a toaster-toaster). Smear a bit of ricotta (maybe a tablespoon) on each toast. Gently place a tomato slice on top. Continue until all bites are constructed. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Salvage Mission

Sometimes, I hate technology. The other day I spent over two hours on the phone with Comcast, LG, SMC and Netflix trying to figure out why my movies would no longer stream. Everyone did an amazing job of coming up with an explanation why it was someone else's fault and why they could not possibly help me. All except SMC. They just never called back. When he got home, Ryan tried his best to rescue me from the drudgery by providing one store bought rotisserie chicken for our dinner. I was so relieved I didn't even care that the chicken tasted largely of cardboard and was about as moist. It didn't matter. At that point, the day was utter crap anyway. The only problem was the next day we were left with half of a really dry chicken. And our Netflix still wouldn't work.

Fortunately, the Netflix issue randomly resolved itself. And the chicken? I could fix that easily, and so can you!! Whether you've brought home a dud from the supermarket, or you are personally responsible for the dry bird (I won't judge), with just a little kitchen magic, it can be one of the most delicious, luscious dinners you've eaten - Chicken Pot Pie Turnovers. And if you're certain you'll never need to save yourself from overcooked poultry, just tuck this away until Thanksgiving. You can use it to save yourself from another day of turkey with stuffing as well. The flaky puff pastry crust will melt in your mouth. The cream and vermouth make a rich sauce, and the duck bacon? Oh lordy, the duck bacon.

Inspired by some Food Network show, although I couldn't find the recipe or the show when I went back to make it again. Sorry!

4 oz duck bacon (you can use regular bacon or pancetta)
1 T flour
1/2 medium onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 C carrot, chopped
1/2 C peas
3-4 stems fresh thyme
1/2 C vermouth
1 C milk
1 t dijon mustard
1 1/2 - 2 C leftover chicken (or turkey), shredded
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted (save the other, or make Apple Turnovers,
Alsatian Onion Tart or Palmiers (scroll down).)
optional: 1 egg to make an egg wash for the turnovers so they will be glossy and beautiful.

Preheat your oven to 400F. Get a large skillet, put it over medium heat. Chop your bacon product into small pieces. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until cooked through, but not overly crispy, don't blacken. Especially if you use duck bacon or pancetta this will result in a lot of delicious fat being released into the pan. Don't pour it off, but remove your bacon from the pan and set aside. To the delicious fat, add your onions and garlic, lower the heat if necessary. Cook for 3-5 minutes until softened and the onions are translucent. Add 1 T of flour and mix in. It should coat the onions and garlic and collect all that fat so that it will thicken your sauce. Then add the carrots and peas. Let it cook for just a minute or two.Then add your thyme (maybe 3-4 springs of fresh, stems removed). Increase the heat slightly and add the vermouth. Let it cook off (reduce the liquid by at least half), then reduce the heat to low and add your milk and your mustard. Mix it all in and cook until it's thickened a bit, just a few minutes. Add in your cooked chicken and your bacon. When it's time to roll the puff pastry, act fast and with cold hands. Using a bit of flour, roll out your sheet of puff pastry. Be gentle and be particularly careful with the seams, you may need to sort of press your thumb or fingers on them to keep them from separating. Use a knife to cut into four equal pieces, I think mine were about 4-5" square. Transfer these squares to your baking sheet. I lined mine with a silpat mat. Evenly divide your filling between the four squares. Fold them in half to form triangles and pinch and fold the edge closed. Cut a small slit in the top. If you want, take one egg, whisk it and the paint the top of each with egg, it will make it pretty, but won't alter the taste. I am too stingy and lazy. I used a milk wash (just brush the top with milk) instead. If you don't act fast with the pastry stage, your filling will break through the bottom, which is why I advise adding the filling once the pastry is already on the baking sheet. Pop them in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden brown and tasty looking. Be incredibly grateful that your leftovers will be far superior to the initial dinner.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Baked a Cake!

During the summer I don't always get a lot done during the day. But every day Ryan asks what I did. I tend to mumble out of embarrassment due to my utter lack of productivity. "I read. I watched TV. I took a nap. I tickled the dog". But Wednesday I had something to report. I practiced saying it. Excited: "I baked a cake today!" Casual: "Oh, you know, I just baked a cake." I even debated the basic grunt and point "Urg. Cake." Because come on, isn't that cake pretty enough to do the talking for itself? Two moist chocolatey layers, light and fluffy frosting of whipped cream and cream cheese, sweet sweet strawberries. It's so good. You know you want to be able to brag about it too!

A million thanks to Debbie for the basis of the cake recipe and guiding me through the round pan thingy. Go Debbie!! Also, Debbie now has a cookbook. You really might need it. Lookie here.
Please note, all the things I have done to this cake firmly negate any low calorie/weight-watchery virtues she may have mentioned.

1 1/2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt (if you use salted butter, please only use a pinch, if that. This measurement is for unsalted butter users)
1 C dutch-process cocoa (admission, I used Hershey's because it's what was in the cabinet. It sufficed).
10 T butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla
2 large eggs
1 C plain nonfat yogurt

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Debbie suggests greasing and flouring your pans. I found this insufficient and would put parchment down in the bottom of each round if doing it again, this was a nasty little beast to remove from the pans.

In a medium bowl combine your flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt (if using). Set aside.

Cream your butter and sugar until thoroughly mixed and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and then mix again until combined. Alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients about a third at a time. After each addition, mix. This is a thick batter, so don't overmix it.

Evenly divide it between your pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan (try a half hour) and then run your knife carefully around the edge to separate it further. Very, very carefully turn it out and cool completely, on a rack if you can manage it, but one of mine was so fiddly it needed to cool on a plate. Be careful.

adapted from here
8 oz cream cheese
2 C heavy cream
1/4 C sugar

Whip together the cream cheese and sugar. Then add the heavy cream and keep whipping until the cream can hold a stiff peak. Feel free to mess with the ration of cream cheese to whipping cream, just keeping in mind that the more whipped cream vs. cream cheese you use, the less stable it is, and it will need to be eaten sooner. But you may like the fluffier consistency if the cake will be eaten same day.

NB: Due to a slacker shopping job, I made/used a half recipe of this frosting. As you can see, it made do just fine. I'm giving you the whole recipe because I felt a bit stingy. You may want to feel extravagant or have the option of frosting the sides or you know, just stick your face in it. I don't judge.

Rinse, dry and slice up most of a 16oz package of strawberries.

On a pretty serving plate, lay down one of the chocolate layers. Smooth on a suitable amount of the frosting. Artfully arrange the strawberries. (I'm a freak, the inside layer looks pretty much like the top, minus the one central berry). Carefully lower on the second chocolate layer. Top with more whipped cream frosting deliciousness. Artfully arrange more berries. Admire. Announce to anyone who will listen that you baked a cake.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another Year, Another Birthday

I'm a couple of weeks late with this one, but Ryan's birthday was this month and as per tradition, I did not make him a cake. He doesn't like cake remember? Or chocolate? Or ice cream? Lucky for me, he does like fruit tart, and this couldn't get any simpler. I used different fruit this year, cherries and peaches instead of berries and it turned out just as delicious.

Just a new spin on an old favorite - berry tart

Make the crust and filling as directed in the berry tart. Peel and slice a peach - I needed a little more than 1 peach, so buy two and snack on whatever remains of the second. Pit some cherries, this used less than a bag of the prepacked kind, it seems like maybe a cup or two. Slice your cherries in half. Arrange artistically. This time I painted the glaze using warmed up ginger preserves, but it didn't taste particularly gingery. I'd use apricot if I were to do it again, no use in wasting the ginger. Just use a pale color so the peaches don't get painted red or something. Stick it in the fridge. Serve.


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