Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stracciatella | Egg Drop Soup, Italian-Style



Don't you just love the way Italians name things? Especially pasta? There's orecchiete, for "little ears." Or campanelle, for "little bells" and farffale for "butterflies" -- or what we call bowties.

Or is it just that everything sounds so pretty in Italian? My bucket list includes "Learn Italian" -- but I better get a move on!

Stracciatella is a beautiful Italian word. It comes from the Italian stracciato or "torn apart." I always though that stracciatella was the name for this classic egg drop soup.  But I learned that it's not a noun but an adjective that describes the "little shreds" in not just this soup, but ice cream and cheese!

I love Italian food and Italian culture and have learned a lot from sites like Proud Italian Cook, Ciao Chow Linda, and La Bella Vita Cucina.  A site I recently found, Guido Garrubbo, is dedicated to "the art and science of Italian cooking" -- chockful of helpful information.

This is a very simple soup, but made from scratch, with fresh ingredients, it's more than satisfying. It's nourishing and filling, without overdoing. Just the ticket when you're feeling under the weather -- or the weather is keeping you in.

I made this stracciatella soup with duck eggs, which made it especially rich.  If you've never tried duck eggs, you must.  They're like farm fresh chicken eggs on steroids.  The egg itself is larger than chicken eggs and the yolk is larger, too.    Each duck egg also has about twice the calories of a chicken egg -- 130 versus 70. Their shells are thicker, making them a bit harder to crack, but that also seems to extend their refrigerator life.

                                Eggs, Green, Shells, Duck Eggs, Easter

Some other ducky facts:

  • Duck eggs stay fresher longer, due to their thicker shell.
  • Duck eggs are richer, with more albumen, which makes cakes and other pastries fluffier.
  • Duck eggs have more Omega-3 fatty acids.
And they're just darn tasty! 

I've been lucky enough to have a steady supply of fresh eggs, both chicken and duck.  My neighbor, Dude, raises chickens and daughter Renae raises ducks.  With fresh eggs in the fridge, a simple meal easy to put together anytime, whether it's an egg sandwich (one of Mr. Rosemary's favorites) or a frittata (one of mine) or this soup -- could be a new fave!




Stracciatella
guided by Simply Recipes
4 cups chicken stock
1 large egg
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon seasoned bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, cut into 1/4 inch ribbons

Place stock in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer.
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and black pepper.
Once the stock is simmering, stir in the sliced spinach.
Pour/scrape the cheese egg mixture into the simmering stock but do not stir right away. After a few seconds, stir the egg mixture into the soup and watch them shred!   Cook at a gentle simmer for another minute.

P.S.  I know I had a couple cultures colliding when I took this picture of my lunch.  Off to the side of the soup bowl are tortilla chips topped with my "from scratch" roasted red pepper hummus.  I'm half-Italian American/half Irish American, too!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Praline Pie | A Baker Is Born




I'm no spring chicken . . . . it's taken me the best part of my cooking life to finally make a great pie, repeatedly.

This is despite the fact that my mother had a reputation as one great pie baker.  This is despite the fact that I (I think I) paid attention at her elbow. And despite the fact that I have tried many recipes, many times, and end up wanting to throw the rolling pin through the kitchen window.

It was last fall when I felt I'd mastered the pie crust I always wanted to make, thanks to this recipe. This is the vodka recipe, developed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director at Serious Eats. He developed the technique while working at America's Test Kitchen, though, so Chris Kimball gets all the credit :(

Still it's a great recipe ~ and it's even better when it envelops this pie.

My sister-in-law Liz gave me this recipe and she got it from a friend's mother.  No credit on the recipe card, but the closest thing I found to it on the Internet is this.

What I found different about this recipe -- and utterly delectable -- is the fact the it's a double-crusted pie, with the the praline topping on top of the second crust. Talk about gilding the lily!

So, if you have no fear of making your own pie crust, give this apple pie a try.  You can also use Pillsbury's crusts.  The friend's mother who shared this recipe quietly confessed that she used refrigerated crusts.  "Didn't used to," she says, "but they've gotten so much better and they're just as good."  Good in a pinch, but not when I can ~ now, anyhow ~ pack a couple disks of this dough in the freezer!

And if you want to learn more about picking just the right kind of apples, read my piece on the Kitchen Journals, a beautiful and informative website.



Praline Apple Pie
For the pie:
Pastry for two crust pie -- your favorite or mine
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (I used Northern Spy)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 reaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Prepare your pie crust. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl gently toss the apples with the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Spoon into pastry lined pan. Dot with small pieces of the butter. Top with second crust, and cut several slits for venting. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or more, until the apples are tender and crust is golden.  Cover the edges of the crust if it starts to brown too much.  (My SIL advised me that her pie took at least an hour, maybe more. She warned me to "wait til it's bubbling through the slits some." Good advice.)

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 cup chopped pecans*

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sir in the brown sugar and half and half. Slowly bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in pecans. Spread over the top of the baked pie. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any spills. Return the pie to the oven and bake 5 minutes more or until topping bubbles. Cool at least an hour before serving.

* Although I used pecans the first couple times I made this pie, you'll see walnuts in these pictures. Just a little cheating!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is It Vichyssoise or Potato Leek Soup?




Mr. Rosemary strolled through the kitchen, spied the leeks on the counter and asked, "Whatcha makin'?"

"Potato and leek soup for lunch," I said.

"You mean Vichyssoise?"

The man surprises me all the time. How could someone who confuses broccoli and cauliflower ("What's the white one?") know that potatoes + leeks = Vichyssoise?

Technically, I don't like Vichyssoise because -- technically --Vichyssoise is served cold, and, although I like to drink a cold smoothie, I want to eat my warm soup with a spoon.

I should like Vichyssoise because, according to Mr. Rosemary, if it has any semblance of something "foreign," I'm gonna love it. But Vichyssoise isn't really French; Potage Parmentier is.  Read on.


Vichyssoise was created by a French chef, Louis Diat, while he was working at the Ritz Carlton in New York in the early 20th century.

Apparently, in the days before air conditioning, the Ritz had a Japanese roof garden and Diat was searching for a something that would cool his customers in the blistering summer heat. He remembered the peasant dish, a potato soup, his mother had made when he was a boy. He and his familywould cool the soup by adding milk to it.  So he prepared this same cold soup and called it "creme vichyssoise" after a famous spa near his boyhood home. A welcome treat by his summer patrons, by popular demand he placed it on the menu full-time in 1923.



Although you won't find Vichyssoisse on a French menu, Potage Parmentier, Vichysoisse's cousin, is definitely French, and was popularized in America thanks to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

This soup is deceptively hearty. And it's definitely adaptable: You can use your immersion blender and make it smooth, even more so, if you strain it. Or you can add cooked bacon or ham to it to satisfy any carnivore predilections.

But I like it a little chunky with the bits of lumps in it, mashing the potatoes a bit.


There's only one problem with this soup and that's working with the leeks. First of all, they're inconvenient. They take up a lot of space and they're pretty dirty. No quick rinse will do -- they need a thorough washing to make sure you get all the bits of sandy dirt from between the layers.

But that bit of effort is worth it. Mais oui?


Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from several sources: 
Once Upon A Chef, The Splendid Table,  Serious Eats
Makes about 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 thyme sprigs
3 whole bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so as not to brown.
Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.
Fish out the thyme sprig and bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth. Or, you can just slightly mash, as I did, with the back of a wooden spoon or a hand-held masher) Add the half and half and bring to a simmer. Taste and add sal t and pepper to your liking. Garnish with some chopped herbs, just to make it pretty.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Pillsbury Bake-Off Mystery Pie :: De-Mystified


I made this mysterious pecan and cream cheese layered pie last week and I can tell you -- unequivocally -- that it's the best dessert I've ever made. No mystery at all.

I really don't have that much of a sweet tooth; it's cheesy, salty things I go for. (And pasta.) 

And, anyhow, I don't bake sweet things at home all that often, because Mr. Rosemary and I try to guard our waistlines. If I make a whole cake or pie, we'll either waste it or eat more than we want should. 

And while I'm a I'm a big fan of cheesecake (just about any cheesecake), and my chocolate chip pie, even my "TV pie" and the "no bake" chocolate chip cookie dough bars, I can easily turn down a dessert, especially while eating out. 

This one, however, I found irresistible.

Especially irresistible to me is the fact that I've finally made the kind of pie crust I've always wanted to -- flaky, tender, as good as the filling itself. For this, I have to thank J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Serious Eats

Making a good crust has always eluded me. I've only made passable pie crusts, usually depending on graham cracker crusts or Pillsbury. But after studying -- and practicing a bit -- I finally have a good crust down.

My thanks goes, too, to MaryMcClain, who won the 1964 Pillsbury Bake Off with this recipe in 1964. Fifty years later, still absolutely a winner.

              

Bake-Off® Contest 16, 1964
Mary McClain
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Pastry for one crust pie
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
cup corn syrup
teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

Place pie crust in 9-inch glass pie pan as directed on box for One-Crust Filled Pie.

Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl with electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 of the eggs on low speed until smooth and well blended; set aside.

In another small bowl with electric mixer, beat remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, the corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Spread cream cheese mixture in bottom of crust-lined pan. Sprinkle with pecans. Gently pour corn syrup mixture over pecans.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until center is set. After 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars | Say YES! to a No-No


It's embarrassing to admit that at my age, I still prefer eating the raw cookie dough to eating even  warm just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Isn't that really pretty childish?

I'm supposed to know better! I know that eating stuff with raw eggs in it is just plain bad. You'll end up with a sick tummy. That's what I tell the grandkids!

Still . . . . I just can't resist!

So when I found a "safe" cookie dough recipe, I believed it was made for me. A cookie dough cupcake with cookie dough frosting was the first things I ever made with my young cooking student, 9 year-old Wyatt. (He still talks about it; thinks we should do it again.)

These cookie bars have been quite a hit at my house these past few months. Mr. Rosemary tells me these are his new favorite.  So I guess it's going to be repeated some more.

There's only one problem with these cookies, so minor I shouldn't even mention it, but they do have to be refrigerated.  They can get pretty gooey at a summer picnic. But I think I'll suffer through.

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars
From The View From Great Island

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce bag (about 2 cups) mini chocolate chips
frosting
1 12-ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar and salt together until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and mix in.
Beat in the condensed milk and the flour, alternately, mixing after each addition.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Spray a 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper with long ends so you can lift out the bars for easy cutting later. t
Turn the dough out into the pan and pat down evenly with your hands. (You may want to flour your hands -- the dough is pretty sticky.) Smooth it out evenly.
Cover and refrigerate until firm, (about 4 hours) or even overnight if you like. The texture will be fudge-like.
To make the chocolate topping, put the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup and microwave for one minute. Stir, and then return to the microwave for short bursts of 15 seconds until the chocolate is totally smooth and melted. Don't over heat.
Let the chocolate cool for about 5 minutes, and then pour onto the dough. Spread out evenly. Return to the refrigerator until the topping is firm. Cut into 16 squares.
Keep the bars in the refrigerator until ready to eat.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Last Fresh Taste of Summer | Tomato and Corn Pie

Thyme

I'm well aware that fall is fast approaching -- it's my favorite time of year! I get to celebrate my wedding anniversary and (a milder celebration!) for my birthday.

Still, it's hard to let go of summer, knowing that this beautiful fall season is short-lived and it's a harbinger of five months of snow on the ground in Pennsylvania!

I want to savor these precious waning days of summer. A tomato and corn pie has long been on my list of "things I gotta make." And finally I did it and it was worth the wait.

It's a perfect farewell to summer freshness, celebrating two of my favorite foods. Although corn and tomatoes can be found year-round, they are at their freshest best in summer.

They pair together exceptionally well. Mr. Rosemary tells me that as a child, his family would make meals out of just corn and tomatoes, although then, as now, he shies away from the fresh tomatoes.

When I first explored which recipe I was going to try, I was sorely tempted to make one from Smitten Kitchen. Double-crusted, with plenty of cheese, and a bit of mayonnaise, this pie was a favorite of James Beard and Laurie Colwin. How could you go wrong with endorsements like that?

Still, I'm standing guard over my waistline and feeling a need for moderation. So I turned to this lighter version from Eating Well.  It was very satisfying despite being scaled down some. I changed the recipe only slightly, upping the cheese (I'm no saint!) and using basil instead of time. The original recipe also includes a whole wheat pie crust, but I opted for convenience and used store bought pastry.

I ended up eating this myself, over several days, mind you. But I wonder, if I added bacon or sausage, would Mr. Rosemary go for it? A question that will likely never be answered.

Tomato-Corn Pie
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes 8 servings
Pastry for one crust pie, your own or store-bought
3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably deep-dish, and press into the bottom and up the sides. Trim any overhanging crust. Line the dough with a piece of foil or parchment paper large enough to lift out easily; fill evenly with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil or paper and weights. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour.
To prepare the filling: Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust, then layer half the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle with corn, basil, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and the remaining  cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour the egg mixture over the top.
Bake the pie until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Full Irish Breakfast | The Best I Ever Had


I absolutely love breakfast. But I love eating breakfast out infinitely better than cooking at home. There's so much juggling! Frying the bacon! Toasting the bread! Sauteing the potatoes! Chopping the onions before sauteing the potatoes! Baking the muffins! Dishing out the fruit! Pouring the juice! Cooking the eggs to individual tastes! And all that clean up!

How much better to go to a homey diner and be served! My standard order for my "big breakfast" out is two eggs over easy, sausage (patties, please,) hash brown potatoes, and rye toast. I'm often tempted by my all-time favorite breakfast -- Eggs Benedict -- but usually let my diet conscience persuade me to save that for a feeling skinny day.

Nowhere have I ever had better breakfasts than when I was lucky enough to visit Ireland this past spring! At every inn we stayed, we were offered wonderful cooked-to-order breakfasts, bearing no resemblance to all the breakfast buffets available at our American chain motels.

And although every place had a different menu, every one had some version of the full Irish breakfast, my standard "big breakfast" on steroids!

A typical full Irish breakfast usually includes fried eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, maybe mushrooms, maybe beans, black or white pudding, and plenty of hearty brown bread. And juice or fruit. And coffee or tea. Pretty substantial, wouldn't you say? Enough food to last a 250 pound Irish laborer the whole day. And certainly more than enough for a woman half that size ready for a day of shopping and sightseeing!

But I wasn't about to argue with such a lovely tradition, although I did order a half-Irish breakfast one day.

My favorite full Irish breakfast was at Number 31, a classic Georgian inn in Dublin. It's classic on the outside, with modern interior design.


I neglected to take a picture of our room but it was also lovely.


Breakfast was served in a second floor dining room with an enclosed porch. If you were seated in the porch room, you could enjoy watching the inn's breakfast chef perform, deftly juggling all those wonderful fresh ingredients.  We stayed at this inn two nights -- one morning I had to have the full Irish, but my second breakfast was Eggs Benedict, but it was hard to pass up scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

One of the Inn's specialties is this cranberry nut loaf.  I can attest that it is wonderful -- moist, flavorful, just the right balance of sweet and tart -- although I've yet to make it at home.

I'll be sharing more of my Ireland trip. I put to bed any notion that the Irish don't eat well.

Cranberry Nut Loaf
Courtesy of Number 31, Dublin Ireland

4 ounces fresh cranberries
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon salt
2 ounces butter
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup walnuts pieces, chopped
Finely grated rind of 2 oranges
1/2 cup orange juice

Chop cranberries and set aside.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the peel, juice and egg. Mix well. . Lightly add to the dry ingredients. Add cranberries and nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3). Bake 350 degrees F for 75 minutes. Cool 15 minutes and remove from pan. Cool and cover.