When I’m home in CT visiting my parents, my favorite pastime is poking around the two basement refrigerators, the home of all sorts of treats my mother has been preparing — soups, spanakopita, Grand Marnier chocolate truffles — and stocking up on — smoked mussels, white anchovies, enough cheeses to feed the neighborhood — for weeks. It’s a little gourmet paradise inside those boxes, and it’s impossible not to sneak a peak (and a truffle) with every trip down to the basement.
The only hard part about being home for the holidays is refraining from eating all day long. From the first bite of homemade cinnamon oatmeal bread in the morning to the last bite of flourless chocolate-almond torte in the evening, my stomach barely gets a rest. There is goodness at every turn, and none so much (if you ask me) as at lunch, which hasn’t changed (during the holidays at least) in about a decade: a bowl of soup, a square of spanakopita and a slice or two of homemade bread. On this most recent visit, we feasted on Vermont cheddar cheese soup — my favorite — and rosemary butternut squash bisque with slices of toasted buttered rye bread on the side. It was heaven.
Five days of this soup-and-bread routine made me miss it dearly upon returning home to my all-but-bare refrigerator. But when a large head of cabbage and a few carrots sitting in my vegetable drawer caught my eye, my spirits lifted. With the exception of fresh dill, I had everything on hand to make another favorite soup of my mother’s, one she has been making since the early 80′s: Paul Steindler’s cabbage soup with caraway seeds, a recipe Craig Claiborne wrote about many years ago in The New York Times Magazine and eventually published in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Loaded with vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage — a little bacon and a touch of cream, this is definitely a hearty soup, best served on a cold winter day with crusty bread and nothing more. For me, it’s the dill and caraway seeds that make it unlike any other I have tasted, the caraway seeds in particular imparting a lovely yet subtle flavor. Read More
Cauliflower eluded my kitchen for far too long. I discovered it only about a year ago, in roasted form at high heat tossed with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt, a method which produces perfectly charred salty florets, addictive bites that lead me to eat heads of cauliflower in single sittings.
Today, while those crispy bits have lost none of their allure, I find myself most enjoying cauliflower in the form of a velvety smooth puréed soup. This recipe calls for simmering cauliflower in milk with an apple and a few strands of pasta, the milk and apple included to temper the cauliflower’s intensity, the pasta to provide just enough starch to ensure a creamy texture when the mixture is puréed. Interesting, right? Once again, I have Sally Schneider to thank for this recipe, which really is more of a method than anything, one that could be applied to a countless number of vegetables — turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celery root, to name a few.
This recipe begins as a purée — the cauliflower and apple are strained from the cooking liquid and blended until smooth — which is delicious on its own and would be a nice accompaniment to duck or roast chicken or any meat really. To make the soup, the reserved cooking liquid is simply whisked into the purée, heated, and garnished. Both the purée and the soup are silky smooth in texture, and for containing just a few teaspoons of butter, taste incredibly creamy.
While this recipe does call for milk, apparently, I am learning, the milk is optional. After reading Food52′s post about Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup, made with nothing but a head of cauliflower, an onion and water, I questioned the necessity of milk. My friend Darcy, too, confirmed that a creamy texture can indeed be achieved with no cream at all. But I couldn’t resist. I almost felt guilty pouring that quart of milk into the pot, PB’s recipe flashing into my mind, but I rationalized that a little 1% milk never hurt anybody and that I likely could use the calcium. That said, next up on my to-make list is PB’s soup, and for those of you looking for a vegan option for creamy cauliflower soup, know that it’s out there.
For fun, I topped the soup with some olive oil-fried bread cubes, one of Schneider’s many suggested garnishes. I took her up on another as well: a light drizzling of truffle oil. I know the economy is in the dumps, so please don’t feel this ingredient is a must, but if you happen to have a bottle on hand, perhaps on lockdown for a special occasion, maybe consider breaking it out. There’s never been a better time to open it.
For the Purée:
1 medium cauliflower (1.75 lbs – 2 lbs) (Mine actually was only 1.25 lbs and it worked just fine)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 quart 2% or whole milk (I used 1%)
1/2 oz. angel hair pasta (about 40 strands), broken into 2-inch pieces*
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional — I forgot to add this)
freshly ground white pepper (I never have white pepper on hand, and black pepper works just fine, though I didn’t add any pepper at all)
* I used spaghetti, not angel hair. Schneider notes that any other dry eggless pasta, broken into pieces if necessary, will work.
Make the purée:
1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and roughly chop. You should have 7 to 8 cups. (I didn’t measure and I didn’t even chop up the florets.)
2. Transfer the cauliflower to a medium saucepan and add the apple and milk. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is purée-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the solids to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth, at least one minute, adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. (Alternatively, return the solids to the pan and purée them with an immersion blender.) Let the motor run for a minute or two, scraping down the sides several times until you have a fine purée. Add the butter and crème fraîche and season with a bit more salt if necessary, white pepper (optional) and another pinch of sugar (optional). Save the remaining cooking liquid for the soup (recipe below).
Note: You can prepare the purée several hours ahead of time and reheat it (or keep it warm for a shorter time), stirring occasionally, in a double boiler.
Cauliflower Soup with Many Garnishes
Schneider’s Notes: This soup lends itself to an endless number of garnishes such as crisp slivered or finely diced pancetta; diced olive oil-fried bread; a dusting of fennel pollen; crispy shallots; snipped fresh chives, chervil or flat-leafed parsley; a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil. White truffle oil, used sparingly, adds an astonishing flavor note.
1. Place cauliflower and apple purée in a medium saucepan, whisk in an equal amount of the reserved cooking liquid or chicken broth (Note: I made the soup one day with chicken stock and another with the reserved cooking liquid. Both ways are good, but I prefer the reserved cooking liquid.), and stir in a little cream. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and adjust the seasoning. Add any of the garnishes mentioned above to each serving.
I’ve blogged about this soup once before, but when I did, it was summer, and I doubt I inspired any of you to run off and buy lentils. But this is a soup I really want you all to make, and I’m hoping with the holidays in the past, a winter chill finally in the air, and the spirit of detox ever present, you’ll feel more inspired.
It’s a good one. I promise. For me, it’s the bite of the sherry vinegar that makes this soup, but the virtues of it are truly countless: It is completely vegetarian, vegan in fact. It cooks in one hour and takes only as long to prepare as it does to chop up some carrots, celery and onions. No vegetables are sautéed; no stock is simmered. It costs next to nothing to make and couldn’t be more healthy — lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories. This soup is complete goodness.
Have I sold you? I hope so. Lentil soup, homemade bread, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.
1 1/4 cups French green lentils (If you can’t find French — I couldn’t — regular lentils work just as well)
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce (12 oz total, about a scant 1 1/2 cups)*
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar**
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced (about a heaping cup)
3 celery stalks, diced (about a cup)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
*I like Pomi brand for tomato sauce, but if you can’t find Pomi, Hunt’s is also good. Don’t buy a tomato sauce that has any sort of flavorings — not even a basil leaf.
** Don’t use a fancy bottle of vinegar here — for one, it’s unnecessary, and two, it might create a vinegar taste that is overpowering. Also, you might want to start with 1/4 cup on vinegar or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and then add more to taste. Some people have found the 1/2 cup of vinegar to be too overpowering.
1. Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total) and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread.
Note: On day two, much of the liquid will have been absorbed buy the lentils and veggies. Just add a little more water to the pot as you reheat and adjust the seasoning as necessary — a pinch more salt usually does the trick.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to report back on this bread recipe. These mini loaves were delectable and sort of a happy accident, a combination of recipes that yielded a very wet dough, one that needed the support of ramekins during the baking process. I don’t have a precise recipe at the moment, but just know that any simple bread recipe — this one contained just water, yeast, flour, sugar and salt — will likely bake off nicely in ramekins.
I should just rename my blog “Liza’s Daughter’s Blog.” These days, it seems, I only make dishes that my mother has fed me or told me about. When I was home in CT for my sister’s wedding last month, I was welcomed with a steaming bowl of this Vermont cheddar cheese soup, a slice of spanakopita, warm homemade bread, and yogurt cake for dessert. I devoured every morsel then fell into a several-hour-long food coma. It was heaven.
It’s hard to find fault in lots of extra sharp cheddar cheese, tons of fresh thyme, and vegetables sautéed in rendered pancetta fat, but several unexpected ingredients — beer, mustard, worcestershire and Tabasco — make this soup truly special. Oh, it is just wonderful!
I find the method for making this soup interesting. Now, I have never made a cheesy soup before, so perhaps this method is standard, but in this recipe, the grated cheese is tossed with flour before being stirred into the hot milk. This mixture thickens in its own pot before being added to the pot of sautéed vegetables, beer, stock and sauces. And while I wouldn’t think to err from my mother’s detailed instructions, my auntie Marcy reported that this step cannot be omitted — if the cheese and milk (with or without the four) are added directly to the vegetable stock pot, the soup will never come together — it will just curdle and separate into a mess. So, be warned.
And while any bread would go well with this soup, I have been enjoying beer bread with it for the past week. I used to make beer bread all the time. Not sure why I stopped because it is the SIMPLEST bread to prepare. No kneading or rising is required. If ever you want homemade bread with dinner and fear you have no time, consider this recipe — it literally takes five minutes to assemble and 40 minutes to bake. Simps.
For a light but comforting meal, serve this soup with bread (perhaps beer bread) and a wintery salad of arugula, candied pecans, diced pear and blue cheese. Yum yum.
Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup
Source: Mother Liza and Auntie Marcy
Yield= a ton (about 14 cups)
½ cup small-diced pancetta (about 4 oz.)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (to yield about a cup)
2 ribs celery, diced (to yield about a cup)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 T. fresh thyme
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade*
12 oz. beer such as Otter Creek Copper Ale or Nut Brown Ale (I used an Amber ale)
3½ cups whole milk
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire
2 dashes (or more) hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
freshly ground pepper
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about a pound)
2/3 cup flour
fresh Italian parsley, optional
*only homemade if you ask Liza and Marcy
1. In a large soup pot, sauté pancetta in olive oil until crisp and brown. (Alternatively, place the pancetta in the pan without any oil, cover the pan, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes. This should render out some of the fat . Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp.) Remove pancetta with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. In the rendered fat, sweat the onions, carrots, celery and pepper over medium heat for 15 minutes until soft.
3. Add thyme, potato and chicken broth and simmer until potato is soft, about 10 minutes. Add beer.
4. Heat the milk in a separate pot until it just barely boils. Meanwhile, grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a grater and place it in a large Ziploc bag. Shake with the 2/3 cup flour. Add this cheese-flour mixture to the hot milk and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly.
5. Add the milk mixture to the pot with veggies and stock. Add mustard, sauces and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk for a few minutes to avoid curdling.
6. When serving, sprinkle some reserved pancetta in each bowl. Add more hot sauce to taste. Serve with bread.
Note:Soup is even better the next day.
Yield = 1 standard loaf pan or 3 mini pans
butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beer, I like Magic Hat #9 or any amber ale or Bass or whatever
4 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
2. Grease a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan (a standard loaf pan) with softened butter.
3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add beer, stir until combined and place in prepared pan.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 30 minutes longer (or less) or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack. Let bread sit in pan.
5. Meanwhile, melt butter. Pour the butter over bread. Let sit for five minutes then turn bread out onto a cutting board and serve immediately with more softened butter.
Last week I found a stockpile of carrots in the bottom left-hand drawer of my fridge. So, I set to work slicing and dicing, staining my cutting board, dulling my knife, tearing up my uncalloused little hands. Sike. I did nothing of the sort. I for once used my little brain and pulled out an attachment to my Cuisinart I have yet to use. Magic. In about 30 seconds, this gadget had transformed my pound of carrots into perfect little shreds. I didn’t even peel these guys. Just gave them a good scrub, and sent them down the shoot.
With prep work done, I set to work on a carrot cake recipe I have had saved for years. It appeared in Fine Cooking magazine in 2004 in an article called “Carrot Cake, Perfected.” Why I have waited five years to give the recipe a go is beyond me, but I am so happy I finally have. This recipe is a winner.
With the rest of my carrots, I made a yummy gingered-carrot soup roughly based off The New Moosewood Cookbook’s recipe. And I promise to supply this recipe once I actually make it properly. For whatever reason, I left out about five ingredients, substituted five others, and produced something resembling nothing close to what Mollie Katzen had prescribed. Fortunately, I have another bundle of carrots to play with this week.
With the above-pictured carrots, I made cake.
With the below-pictured carrots, I made soup. Some were a tad wrinkly, sure. Not to worry, once puréed, no one would suspect a thing.
Below: Carrot-ginger soup served with Bäco flatbreads. These deserve their own post. Soon, I hope.
Mini spring-form pans filled with batter (at left) and baked (at right).
I made several mini cakes with this batter as well as some patriotic cupcakes for the Fouth of July. While the cupcakes were a hit, this batter definitely bakes more evenly and better in cake pans. Stick to cakes with this recipe. It is a yummy yummy recipe.
The pizza guys at Izza, a new San Clemente pizza joint.
I’m not sure why I’m trying to squeeze so much into this post, but I just want to tell you one more thing. This past Wednesday, the love of my life and I celebrated our four-year anniversary by eating our favorite food on the planet … pizza pizza. Izza, a thin-crust, wood-fired, Neopolitan-style pizza place opened its doors just in time for us to celebrate our happy day. The pizza was fabulous, our server was adorable, and the vanilla gelato was heavenly. We couldn’t be happier with this addition to the San Clemente restaurant scene. Well, if they added a white clam pizza to their menu, I might be slightly happier, but maybe in time that will come.
And last but not least, check out this old photo I found. It was taken way back in middle school when Ben and I met on a field trip in Thessaloniki. I’m just kidding, you know, but seriously, I would have guessed ages 15 and 12 respectively. Yikes.
The Ultimate Carrot Cake
Source: Fine Cooking Magazine
Article: “Carrot Cake, Perfected” by Gregory Case
Note: I have made some modifications to the original recipe. To read the original, click here.
For the cake:
Softened butter and flour for the pan
1 lb. carrots
10 oz. (2-1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
For the frosting:
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and completely softened at room temperature
1 lb. cream cheese, cut into pieces and completely softened at room temperature
4-1/4 oz. (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
Make the cake:
1. Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch heavy-duty metal cake pan.
2. In a food processor, using the shredder attachment, shred the carrots. Transfer to a small bowl and rinse the food processor bowl (you’ll need it again).
3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
4. In the food processor (again use the steel blade), mix the eggs and sugars until blended. With the machine running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until combined. Scrape this mixture into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine. Add the carrots; stir to combine.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack to room temperature before inverting the pan to remove the cake. Let cool completely before frosting.
Make the frosting:
Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (a hand mixer works, too). Beat the butter on medium speed until it’s quite light, fluffy, and resembles whipped cream, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese one piece at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the cream cheese is incorporated, reduce the speed to medium low and gradually add the sugar and vanilla, stopping the mixer each time you add the sugar. Mix just enough to remove any lumps; scrape the bowl as needed. If the frosting seems a bit loose, refrigerate it for a few minutes until it seems spreadable.
Frost the cake:
Scrape about two-thirds of the frosting onto the center of the cake. With a narrow metal offset spatula, push the frosting from the center out to and just over the cake’s edges. Spread with as few strokes as possible to prevent crumbs from catching in the frosting. Cover the top of the cake first then use the remaining frosting along with what’s creeping over the edges of the cake to cover the sides.
At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt.
The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.
Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.
Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.
Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.
Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts
tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray 1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks 1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks 1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled a few carrots, peeled and cubed olive oil kosher salt fresh cracked pepper
3-4 slices bread (French or Italian) about 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety 1 bunch fresh basil crushed red pepper flakes Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional
Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.
1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.
2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.
3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.
Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.
I know this isn’t the most summery of soups. Even us Southern Californians are experiencing a bit of a heat wave. So, why would anyone make lentil soup in the summer? It’s sort of a hard sell, I’ll admit, but I’m going to give it a go.
The 12oz. bag of lentils I purchased cost $3.23. I used about 9 oz. (1½ C.) or $2.42 worth of lentils in this recipe. (As far as lentils go, $3.23 for 12oz. is rather steep. You’ll likely pay much less.) Now, I don’t have all of my receipts to give an accurate estimate of what this soup costs to prepare, but the remaining ingredients, a mixture of pantry items (vinegar, bay leaf, olive oil, tomato sauce and salt) and vegetables (carrots, celery, onions and garlic) cost next to nothing, even given the crazy-high food prices we are currently facing at the market.
This soup is one of the most economical dishes you could ever prepare. It yields three quarts or eight generous servings. Even if the cost of ingredients totaled $10, which is very unlikely, the cost per serving is only $1.25. Serve it with a loaf of bread and you have a complete meal. Lentil soup and bread for dinner might seem a little Spartan, but the addition of a salad with this meal in a way would be superfluous — this soup is filled with vegetables for one, and lentils themselves are nutritional powerhouses: These little legumes are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Also, according to the Web site, The World’s Healthiest Foods, one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories.
Have I sold anyone?
I should note that this soup takes little time to prepare — you basically throw all of the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer for an hour — and that it is delicious. This is one of my mother’s favorite recipes, passed down, I believe, from her mother, and maybe even from her mother’s mother. Am I making this up, mom?
Lastly, the publisher of Edible San Diego, a wonderful magazine “celebrating local food, from coast to crest, season by season” recently informed me about Farm Aid’s Family Disaster Fund. Severe flooding in Iowa and Wisconsin is threatening the lives of family farmers and Farm Aid is providing serious help to the region. Click here to read more about Farm Aid or to help the farmers in these states.
A bowl of French green lentils. I have yet to find a source of local lentils, but I can’t say I have looked terribly hard. In Philadelphia, one of the vendors at the Sunday Headhouse market sold lentils and they were delicious. I purchased these at a shop in Philadelphia nearly a year ago and they traveled with me across country. Unless you have a local source for lentils, I highly recommend the D’Allasandro French Green Lentils. Simple Lentil Soup
Yield=3 quarts or 8 generous servings
1½ C. French green lentils
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce, such as Pomi brand
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ C. red wine vinegar
½ C. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, peeled and diced
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total). Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread. Tastes even better on day two. Keeps for over a week in the refrigerator. Freezes well, too.
I caved. I couldn’t hold out any longer. Over the weekend, I went to the store and bought my first bag of flour, can of baking powder, box of baking soda and bottle of vegetable oil since arriving on the West Coast. I still don’t have any cooking equipment, so I bought a muffin tin and a 9-inch cake pan, too. I had been wanting to make these cranberry-orange pecan muffins I had spotted in this cookbook I recently acquired, The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook, and I had been enlisted to make dessert for Easter dinner. (FYI, I made Balzano apple cake … so good … a must-try recipe )
Baking is so fun! I’ve forgotten, and I feel like I might go on a little whole-grain muffin bender. But not till I finish the half-dozen muffins that are left in my freezer. I made this batch on Saturday, ate a few after they came out of the oven, then wrapped each one individually in foil and threw them in the freezer. Every morning now, I heat one in the oven at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. It’s such a treat to split one of these open, spread it with a little butter and tuck in.
Now, I must confess, I returned from the store without having purchased all the ingredients I needed to make these muffins. I couldn’t find barley flour, I forgot to purchase orange juice and I opted to buy dried cranberries instead of frozen.The muffins still came out well — I used milk instead of OJ and 1½ cups whole-wheat flour instead of the barley flour — but I think freshly squeezed orange juice, as the recipe suggests, will make them even better.
I plan on remaking these cranberry-orange muffins once I find barley flour, but in the meantime I have a growing stack of whole-grain muffin recipes I am anxious to try. I just took a look at my Martha Stewart (the April issue) and found three: blueberry-banana cornmeal, oat bran-applesauce, and carrot-zucchini yogurt. Yum. Well, we’ll see. The last one is sounding awfully similar to those zucchini-blueberry muffins I adore (and Ben hates) from Captain Mauri’s.
Now, eating things like muffins, I know, is probably not the best way for us to get our fill of whole grains. (Particularly if they resemble anything like the ones from Captain Mauri’s. Each one weighs like five pounds.) A better way to get a serving of whole grains is to eat a bowl of soup like the one featured below, also a recipe from this new cookbook.
Which brings me to the real reason why I am talking about whole grains in the first place. In the introduction to this cookbook, the author, Judith Finlayson, talks about all the health benefits of eating whole grains but also touches on an idea scientists are just beginning to explore: food synergy. Finlayson notes that emerging research suggests “the phytonutrients found in plant foods fight disease more effectively when they work together, rather than as supplements on their own.”
Michael Pollan, too, in his latest book, In Defense of Food, discusses this same idea, pointing to a study conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Minnesota. These doctors found that a diet rich in whole grains reduced mortality from all causes. But even after they adjusted for levels of dietary fiber, vitamin E, folic acid, phytic acid, iron, zinc, magnesium and manganese — all nutrients found in whole grains — the scientists discovered “an additional health benefit to eating whole grains that none of the nutrients alone could explain.” The subjects who received the same amount of nutrients from other sources were not as healthy as those eating whole grains, suggesting “that something else in the whole grain protects against death,” and that “the various grains and their parts act synergistically.”
Pollan concludes: “A whole food might be more than the sum of its nutrient parts.” I think he might be on to something.
Also, just a note, this whole grains cookbook got sent to The Bulletin’s office in Philadelphia before I left for CA. I only recently got around to looking at it, and I think it is in an excellent resource. If you are looking to introduce whole grains into your diet more regularly, this book might be a nice addition to your cookbook library. Order a copy from Amazon here: The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook
Note: I’ve printed this recipe just as it appears in the book, though I did not follow the recipe exactly. I used chicken stock, more than suggested. I used barley. I added salt until it tasted good. Next time, I might omit the puréeing-of-the-beans step and either cook dried beans from scratch or add the beans at the end, so they don’t get mushy. I loved the recipe, however, and now have lots on hand in the freezer.
Wheat Berry Minestrone with Leafy Greens Adapted from the Complete Whole Grains Cookbook (Robert Rose, 2008) Serves 6
2 cups white kidney beans or 1 14-oz. can beans, drained and rinsed 4 cups homemade vegetable stock or reduced-sodium chicken stock, divided 1 T. olive oil 2 onions, chopped 4 stalks celery, diced 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper 1 cup wheat, spelt or Kamut berries rinsed and drained (barley works well too) 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes with juice (salt-free) 2 cups water (or chicken stock) 8 cups coarsely chopped, trimmed kale or Swiss chard (or mustard greens) salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (optional) extra virgin olive oil warm baguette (optional)
1. In a food processor, combine beans with one cup of the stock and purée until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring until celery is softened, about five minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning and cayenne and cook, stirring for one minute. Add wheat berries, tomatoes with juice, water, reserved bean mixture and remaining three cups of the stock and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until wheat berries are almost tender, about one hour. Stir in the kale. Cover and cook until kale and wheat berries are tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
4. When ready to serve, ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle liberally with Parmigiano, if using, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with warm bread.
Rinds of Parmigiano Reggiano added to cooking soup impart a wonderful flavor: Cranberry-Orange Pecan Muffins Adapted from the Complete Whole Grains Cookbook (Robert Rose, 2008) Yield = 12
1 cup whole wheat flour ½ cup whole barley flour (I couldn’t find barley flour and so used 1½ cups whole wheat flour) ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour ¾ cup sugar ¾ cup chopped pecans 2 tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. salt ¼ tsp. baking soda 1 egg ½ cup sour cream 2 tsp. finely grated orange zest ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice ¼ cup vegetable oil 1½ cups cranberries (fresh or frozen*), coarsely chopped (I used dried and didn’t chop them)
1. In a large bowl, combine whole wheat, barley and all-purpose flours, sugar, pecans, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Mix well and make a well in the center.
2. In a separate bowl, beat egg. Add sour cream, zest, juice and oil and beat well. Pour into the well and mix with dry ingredients, just until blended. Fold in cranberries. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven until the top springs back when lightly touched when lightly touched, about 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for five minutes before removing from pan.
* Notes: You can make the batter ahead of time and refrigerate overnight. If you’re making the batter ahead, don’t add the cranberries until you’re ready to bake. You can chop them, cover and refrigerate overnight. The batter will keep for two nights, so if you’re baking half, chop half the cranberries and do the remainder the following night. If using frozen cranberries, partially thaw them and blot in paper towel before adding to the batter.
So, I’ve found something else I’m going to miss about Philadelphia. On Monday, my sister and I met for lunch at Rouge where we enjoyed the crusty rolls served with sea salt-speckled butter and the French onion soup topped with Gruyère and provolone. These cheeses blister over garlic croutons insulating the delectable onion broth below. And the crusty bits clinging to all sides of the goblet-like bowls are irresistible.
While I can’t say I’m a French onion soup connoisseur, I have ordered my fair share of this bistro classic, including five bowls this week alone, a spree that began last Saturday up in NYC. A.O.C., the adorable Greenwich Village restaurant where I sat with two friends for a few hours, set the standard, one so high I feared no place in Philly could equal. And for the most part, the soups I sampled confirmed my worries. At both Brasserie Perrier and Caribou Café, the soup had not been thoroughly heated before being topped with the crouton and cheese and thrown under the broiler. Both should have been sent back to the kitchen.
My weeklong onion-soup bender also inspired me to make my own batch, which to my surprise and delight was very simple. I opened Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud Cookbook, a book I have not used once, but has now piqued my interest. The success of French onion soup, says Mr. Boulud in his notes preceding the recipe, depends on cooking plenty of onions “very, very slowly until they are soft, sweet and caramel colored,” and deglazing with white wine, which adds the necessary “touch of acidity.”
My onions cooked for about an hour and I used a mix of Sherry and Madeira because I didn’t have any white wine. I also used homemade chicken stock, which Mr. Boulud describes as “rarely the star player,” but whose “supporting role can elevate just about anything.” I would agree that a homemade chicken (or beef) stock makes all the difference in this soup.
While any ovenproof bowls will work, it’s fun to eat this soup out of the traditional crocks. I found mine at Kitchen Kapers for $7.99 each. Fante’s and the Philadelphia Bar & Restaurant supply shop at 5th and Bainbridge also sell these vessels.
French Onion Soup Serves 6
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 pounds yellow or Spanish onions, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly 1 clove garlic, minced kosher salt freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 1 cup dry white wine or Madeira or Sherry Herb sachet: (2 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 8 peppercorns and 1 bay leaf, tied together in a cheesecloth) 2 quarts homemade chicken stock 1 mini French baguette 2 cups Gruyère or Swiss cheese, coarsely grated 4 to 6 sprigs parsley, leaves finely chopped
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook stirring regularly, until the onions are a deep caramel color, about 30 minutes to an hour.
Dust the onions with the flour and cook, stirring for about five minutes to toast the flour and rid it of its raw taste. Add the white wine and cook, stirring until the wine almost evaporates completely. This happens almost instantly.
Add the herb sachet, the stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer 40 to 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Slice the baguette into one-inch thick rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and let cool.
Preheat the broiler. Taste the soup. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the sachet and discard. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof serving bowls. Cover each with two baguette rounds. Top each generously with the grated cheese. Top each with a pinch of chopped parsley. Place bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler. Broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.
Homemade Chicken Stock Yield = 1 gallon
4 lbs. of chicken legs 2 carrots, peeled, cut into large chunks 2 ribs celery, trimmed, cut into large chunks 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered 1 leek, trimmed, split lengthwise, and washed 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon peppercorns 1 bunch Italian parsley
Place the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover with 2½ quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off scum that rises to the top. Simmer 10 minutes, skimming regularly.
Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer gently for three hours, skimming as necessary. Drain the stock into a colander set over a bowl. Allow the solids to drain before discarding them. Strain stock again through a fine-mesh strainer. Transfer to storage containers and chill in the refrigerator over night.
The next day, scrape off any fat solidified at the top of the stock. Freeze stock indefinitely or keep in the refrigerator for four days.