"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Soup of the Week: Curried Cauliflower

I like to make a big batch of soup on the weekend, and then have it in the fridge to take it to work for lunch or an easy weeknight dinner. (Hence, soup of the week.) I earmarked this recipe from eGullet ages ago. On the Sunday evening when I finally got around to making it, we each had a bowl for dinner. The spices gave the soup a pleasant warmth, but didn't overpower the mild taste of the cauliflower. The coriander chutney provides a delightful contrast, rounding out the flavors in the soup with a bright note. I might not make it if I were in a hurry or short ingredients, but it certainly makes a lovely addition.

It was so tasty (and guiltless to boot!) that I helped myself to another serving as we watched a movie. Before I knew it, the pot was nearly empty. Luckily, I had bought a monster of a cauliflower to make this soup, so I had plenty left over to make another batch!

Thanks to Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies for sharing this recipe, and writing an inspriational blog with such beautiful photos! (I can only aspire to her presentation skills!)

The basic method is similar to the way I like to make squash soup this time of year. In fact, it's a great and simple way to make a flavorful soup. It would also work well with any root vegetable, or combination thereof. Apples or pears contribute a nice sweetness. You can also vary the seasonings.

Roast vegetables tossed in with several cloves of garlic and seasonings until soft and golden. Allow to simmer until the vegetables are soft.

Puree with a stick blender to desired consistency. You can leave some chunky, or add milk for a creamier soup. (It depends on my mood.) Ladle into a bowl and garnish. Enjoy! 


    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Apple Gingerbread Cobbler

    Apple season has inspired me to bake, but I don't have huge amounts of time on my hands. I wanted something fairly simple to throw together, and I also kept thinking about that cobbler that I had at the Red Newt. The gingerbread topping would work well with apples too. A search through cookbooks, magazines and internet yielded this recipe for Apple-Gingerbread Cobbler. A historic recipe that has stood the test of time, I will definitely make this cobbler again. Next time I will pump up all the spices, just because we prefer more gingery bread. 
         This cobbler is simple enough to make as the finish for a weeknight meal. Once the apples have been prepared, toss with lemon and sugar, place into baking dish and put in a hot oven (450) to bake while you are making the topping (about 15 minutes). The topping comes together like a cake, with dry ingredients sifted together, then mixed into the wet ones. Pull the apples out of the oven (turn it down to 350) and pour the batter over the top. Then return the baking dish to the oven for 40-50 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

        The gingerbread topping is moist and spongy and the apples are a lovely complement, almost coming as a surprise as you dig in. (Next time, I might also increase the amount of apples to batter, but the gingerbread is so good that it can work either way.) This was a delicious treat for my co-workers at the winery after a busy October Saturday, our busiest time of year.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Soup of the Week: French Onion

          When I lived in Manhattan, I often ordered French onion soup as a late night snack at a diner or bistro and justified paying five or six dollars for it by telling myself it wasn't the type of thing you could make at home. In Paris, I ordered it everywhere I ate, savoring each variation. It is a perfect light meal during the week, especially when rounded out by a nice salad and a glass of red wine. We recently enjoyed this soup with this delightful Bordeaux blend (pictured at right). The French are great at making easy drinking table wines, and this one is a prime example, dry and subtle, and a bargain at $14 per magnum.
         Last winter I started a project to demystifying French Onion soup, so I could make it for myself (and maybe a lucky friend or two) just how I wanted, whenever I wanted. I bought myself some oven proof crocks and read up on all the different recipes out there. The soup that I make right now is based on Anthony Bourdain's recipe from Les Halles.
         Not a lot of fancy ingredients are required to make French onion soup. That is one of the things I love about it: onions, stock, bread, cheese and seasonings. Blissfully simple!
    I usually splurge on a nice cheese, since you don't use a whole lot of it and I feel that it makes a big difference. Gruyere is my favorite so far, but you can really use whichever cheese (or blend of cheeses) you like, or have in the fridge. Swiss, provolone, mozzarella, gouda...the sky's the limit!
    This dish does require patience. I've broken it down in my head to several steps, which gives me more flexibility and allows me to make this wonderful soup more often:

    Caramelized onions. Our friend, Frankie, gave us some of his country bacon. I couldn't bring myself to waste the bacon grease that was left over after cooking it, so I sliced up some onions and let them cook in the grease at a low heat. This is the first place patience comes in. It can take some time for onions to get as rich, brown and melty as you want them. Watch them carefully because you don't want the onions to burn. The process is very satisfying, and smells just wonderful, but I don't always have the time to do it.
         Luckily, I have learned that you can caramelize onions in a crock pot. It usually takes 10-12 onions, sliced, to fill my crockpot, which I then drizzle generously with olive oil (sometimes I use a knob of butter as well, or instead) and sprinkle the top with dried thyme and maybe throw in a bay leaf. This doesn't achieve exactly the same result as caramelizing in a pan, but it saves a lot of time. The caramelized onions keep well in the fridge. I've also read that you can freeze them, but I haven't tried that yet (ie I always eat them all before they get to the freezer.) There are lots of other excellent uses for caramelized onions, such as a topping for a burger or steak or in an omelette.

         Once the onions are caramelized (or onions that you've pre-caramelized are warmed though), you can add a splash of port, sherry, balsamic vinegar, red wine, white wine, or any combination thereof. (Maybe a some of what you're planning to serve with the soup, or some of what you've been drinking while you caramelize the onions.) Recipes vary here, so it's up to you. For me, it depends on my mood and the levels of the bottles in my cupboard.
    Stock. Next, add the stock to the pan with the onions. Simmer the stock with the onions to allow the flavors to concentrate, tasting as you go. Ladle soup into oven proof crocks. Put a slice of toasted bread and some cheese at the bottom of the the bowl before adding the soup for a great extra surprise.
    Both beef and chicken stock (or a combination of the two) work well in this soup. Stock does merit (and will get) its own post(s), but long story short: the better the stock, the better the soup. This rule especially applies with French Onion. Making stock also takes patience, but there really is no substitute. You can make your stock ahead of time and keep it in the fridge, or freeze it, so it's ready when you want to make the soup.  Your crockpot can also come in handy preparing the stock.

    Assembling the soup. First, preheat your broiler. Slice up a baguette or whatever bread you'd like, toast one slice per serving and float on the soup in the crock. This is an excellent use for day old bread. I had great success once using a leftover olive roll. Grate the cheese, and generously top the crouton with this. Make sure to sprinkle some over the edge. It will form a tasty crust on the crock. The crouton and cheese make this soup. I can't think of another dish where the garnish is so important, but I do know that melted cheese makes anything taste better.

    Place the crocks on a baking sheet and broil on high for a 5-7 minutes, keeping a close eye. By this time, your house will smell delicious and you'll be getting your spoon ready to dig in.
    Allow to cool before devouring.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    The Red Newt Bistro

    The first time I tasted Red Newt's 2005 Cab Franc was about a year ago. There were undeniable notes of chocolate on the nose, and upon tasting the wine, said chocolate just washed over you. I ordered it eagerly when we went to dinner at The Red Newt Bistro. It was pleasant enough, but not the ecstasy I remembered. I'm afraid this wine has come and gone, which particularly disappoints me because I have two bottles at home. Such is the game we play when we save wine, hoping it will improve. This didn't spoil our dining experience.
    It was a Thursday night (Half Price Wine!), and we sat at the bar. (I apologize for the poor quality of the photos in this post. The lighting was low, and I was trying to be subtle.) The server was warm and knowledgeable. The roll they brought us (baked in-house, I'm sure) to munch on while looking at the menu, with some olive oil for dipping, was a nice touch. I chose the White Lasagna for which Chef Deb Whiting is locally renowned. The menu describes it as "layers of seasonal vegetables, organic spinach, ricotta cheese, roasted garlic cream sauce." It was a delicious, creamy dish that epitomized comfort food. 

    Pat had the Beef Tenderloin Tips, which came with woodland mushrooms, onions, bordelaise sauce served over basmati rice. This was a beautifully seasoned, simple dish that we'd both recommend.

    Dinner was flavorful enough to entice us into ordering dessert to share. There were lots of good choices, but the plum cobbler stood out. It's interesting that, despite my sincere love of all things chocolate, at restaurants most of the time I will choose fruit-based desserts.
    This was obviously the right choice. The gingerbread that topped this cobbler was an inspried complement to the plums, and a lovely end to a lovely meal. The Red Newt has a reputation around here as being snooty and expensive. Our experience there was anything but. The meal was a good value for well thought out dishes made with quality, local ingredients. We'll go back, and I look forward to a special occasion when I can splurge on the Chef's Menu with the wine pairings.

    Yes, I CAN!

         At the peak of tomato season, I made some roasted tomato salsa that came out with a little too much of a kick for general consumption. I could have roasted some more tomatoes, or added some fresh tomatoes to the mix, but decided on peaches instead. Their sweetness turned out to be just the thing to balance the smoky heat from the chipotles in adobo. The combination is moreish, and I'd love to be able to eat it all year long.

    I'd been reading up on home food preservation, and picking the brains of my friends-who-can for advice. With windowsills full of tomatoes and 12 plants still producing, this was a perfect opportunity to give it a shot. I carefully followed the steps laid out in the Ball Complete Guide to Home Preserving, constantly cross-referencing the manual to my pressure cooker. Canning can go very wrong, and one doesn't want to risk any contamination.

    Once the jars and lids were prepared, I set up a one person assembly line prepping the ingredients. An assortment of Romas, Early Girls and Cherry Tomatoes from my garden were cored and quartered, then roasted with red onion and garlic. A peck of peaches  (from Indian Creek Farms in Ithaca) were blanched, peeled and cut into chunks. A big bunch of cilantro was roughly chopped. A chipotle pepper was taken out of it's tin, deseeded and pureed with a cup or so worth of the roasted tomato mixture. If you're sensitive to the pepper heat, start with half a chipotle and go from there. I like to add a spoonful or so of the adobo sauce for extra smokiness. The remaining roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic are cut into pieces and added to the puree, along with the peach chunks and cilantro. Tortilla chips were handy for tasting all along. Once the proper balance was achieved, the salsa then went into the jars.
    I bought my pressure cooker for fifty cents from a neighbor that Pat's known for ages who was moving, complete with the weight and owner's manual. This method of canning feels safer, because of the high temperatures reached while processing. Using it for the first time was a little scary.

    Luckily, Patrick's mother (also know as Cook Cook) canned all the time when he was growing up, so he was able to reassure me that all those noises were normal.

    I haven't opened any of the jars yet, but there they are in my pantry, vacuums holding tight, promising to bring a little summer warmth to the central New York winter.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Soup of the Week: Lentil with Swiss Chard

         In order to properly celebrate soup season, I bought myself a new stockpot. It's stainless steel with a "good mild-steel sandwich on the bottom," as specified by Barbara Kafka in her Soup, a way of life. What better to way to christen my new toy than to experiment with a new recipe from the soup maven: chard and lentil soup.
          I was inspired by a particularly beautiful bunch of ruby chard at Countryside Produce, a wonderful local Amish shop where I get lots of great ingredients. (I'd share their website, but...)

           The seasonings harmonized well, none belting out above the choir  (even the often overpowering cilantro and cumin.) This is a wonderful, hearty soup to stock in the freezer or take to the office for lunch. The consistency was so thick, in fact, that I added water when I heated up individual servings. It also worked nicely as a bed for the other two smoked pork chops that Frankie gave us.

    Lentil is a staple in my soup rotation, and I was very much looking forward to the first batch of the season. It's always fun to find variations on a much loved theme, and this wholesome soup has earned a place in my heart.

    Thank you, Ms. Kafka, my sister in soup, for another wonderful recipe!

    Friday, October 09, 2009

    Littletree Orchards

    A sunny day was forecast amid the rain, so we took advantage of it by going apple picking. The rolling hills south of Ithaca were bright with color. We haven't seen as much change in the leaves in Lodi yet but, as Pat pointed out, we are closer to the lake. (This is an interesting illustration of the microclimate created by Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.)

         I liked the laid back atmosphere at Littletree Orchards right away. There were fresh cider donuts and apple cider, hot or cold, available self-serve in the barn. We had a look at the map of the orchard and headed out with a couple 1/2 bushel bags in hand.

         The brisk day was perfect for a walk amongst the apple trees. The first tree we reached was a McIntosh. I picked one to munch along the way. Lovely sweet flavor with plenty of crunch.

    Check out the nest (above) I spotted in one of the trees. Those smart birds must be living like kings!

    It was interesting to see the so many varieties of apples available. It seemed that we had arrived a little late in the season, but I also overheard that this year's crop was a fairly small one. I didn't end up pick a whole lot, but it sure put me the mood to bake. You'll be sure to be reading about it soon.


    Northern Spys (below) are said to be great for making hard cider.

    The Asian pears (below) were crisp and juicy, but on the small side.

    This is a great field trip for children of all ages!

    Smoked Pork Chops with Fresh Peach Chutney

          Pat and I celebrated the change of seasons with this meal, a serendipitous combination of summer and fall ingredients. Harvest is upon us. The Finger Lakes grapes are being picked and crushed. Our friend, Frankie, had his pig slaughtered, and he shared a couple smoked pork chops and some country bacon with us. I was eager to taste them.

         Despite the change of weather and appetites, my garden is still producing tomatoes, and even provided a couple nasturtiums to brighten the plate. A quick Google gave me ideas on putting together a chutney to smother the chops with, using up the last of the summer's peaches. In a small saucepan on low to medium heat, I melted brown sugar in apple cider vinegar. Then, I added grated ginger and carefully minced hot pepper (courtesy of our friend Fred's garden), tasting all the while to test for balance of flavors. Next, I tossed in half a handful of raisins, which soon plumped up. Lastly, I stirred in chunks of peeled peaches. The chutney was then simmered until it reached the desired consistency, and allowed to cool to room temperature before spooning over the meat.

          Frankie's instructions regarding the pork chops were: put these in a pan with some water and a little butter. They are already cooked (via smoking) so they just have to be warmed through. The truly wonderful thing about this pork is that has no water added. This provides a superior texture and flavor to the meat. It also doesn't hurt to know that the pig was raised down the road, fattened on kitchen scraps and garden refuse.

    We paired the meal with one of my favorite wines of the summer, Lamoreaux Landing's 2008 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling. All the grapes in this wine come from a four acre vineyard in southern Seneca County. The vines in this parcel are very young and 2008 was the first harvest from the Red Oak Vineyard. The result was an off dry riesling, which is incredibly fragrant on the nose with nice orchard fruit and honeysuckle notes. (Yes, I have my tasting room speech down. What can I say? I work at Lamoreaux because I love the wine.)
        We are squeezing the last drops out of summer, but welcome the coziness and spice that fall promises.


    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Soup of the week: Fish Chowder

    The first day of Autumn was chilly. I knew I was coming down with something because all I could think about all day was soup. Luckily, I had the rest of the haddock in the fridge that needed to be used. This chowder hit the spot. Jasper White calls this recipe the most authentic in his book 50 Chowders: One-Pot Meals -- Clam, Corn & Beyond. It tasted just like I wanted a New England Fish Chowdah to taste, and was even better the next day. Salt pork can easily replaced with bacon. I used whole milk instead of cream for a lighter soup and was pleased with the results.

       The recipe suggested garnishing with fresh snipped chives. I wanted to add a little kick to the mild, smooth soup and complement the fish, so I sprinkled mine with Old Bay. You can take the girl out of Maryland....