Monday, November 29, 2010

Red Pepper Soup & Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese

A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon in Central Park. We wandered through the park, marveled at the beautiful scenery and the (still) falling leaves. We ended up at the Alice and Wonderland sculpture near 74th street, where I used to hang out when I was in high school.
The Alice in Wonderland sculpture always reminds me of a painting my father made for me the year I was born. He is a mathematician so the painting has a geometric angle. The piece has an incredible yellow and black tile floor, doors of all shapes and sizes, plastic keys, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself. I really love this painting.
Anyway, the sculpture and painting got me thinking about childhood and this post is dedicated to Childhood Classics.  (For another Childhood Classics click this previous post).
Nothing say "childhood classic" like tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Well, this recipe is a twist on that classic-- Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese on Sourdough Bread.  The recipe was featured on Top Chef, Season 2, when contestants were challenged with "updating a childhood classic for T.G.I. Fridays."  This was the winning entry.  I did not adapt the soup at all - it follows the Top Chef cookbook verbatim. I very, very loosely followed the  recipe for the grilled cheese sandwich.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup (Courtesy of Top Chef: The Cookbook)
3 medium red bell peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 large red onion, diced
Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Roast the red peppers and coarsely chop.  For suggestions on how to roast peppers, click here.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion. Cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the peppers, tomatoes, basil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down, 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to blender, in batches, and blend until smooth.  I use an immersion blender which simplifies this step significantly.
Return the mixture of the pot (if you used a blender), add cream, and stir until combined.  Serve, garnished with basil. 

Portobello Mushrooms Grilled Cheese
2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly group pepper
1-2 tablespoon of unsalted butter
3 fresh sprig of thyme
1 loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
1 cup grated provolone cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a medium skillet, combine extra-virgin olive oil and red onion.  Cook until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add thinly sliced portobello mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften.  Add balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, butter and sprigs of thyme.  Cook on medium-low flame for at least 15 minutes, mixing occasionally.  
Remove the thyme sprigs and turn off the flame.
Cut sourdough bread into 8 slices (or more/less, depending on how thin/thick you like your grilled cheese).  Add some cheese and mushrooms to each sandwich.  Lightly butter a griddle or skillet and cook each sandwich until golden brown and cheese has melted.  You can also use a panini press to get the job done. 
Serves 4.
Now dunk your sandwich in the soup and enjoy memories of childhood!
I added a little bit of mustard when I made left-overs...but not recommended if you serve with the soup.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie

Oh lord, this sweet potato pie is fantastic. It's an absolute winner! It's sweet, quintessential southern cooking that just screams "Thanksgiving" and "The Holidays." One piece of pie is like tasting a little slice of heaven. Should I go on?
I used three sweet potatoes, which I picked up at farmers market yesterday afternoon- the day before Thanksgiving. In order to cook 2 cups of sweet potatoes, I peeled them and cut them into rounds and then quartered each round. I put a very small pat of butter in a sauce pan and then added the sweet potatoes. I added 1/2 cup of water to the pot and then covered it. I repeated this step as necessary, basically each time the water evaporated or was absorbed. The steam and water cooked them perfectly...within about 15 minutes they were ready for mashing. For other suggestions on how to cook sweet potato- click here
Once the pie was half way done baking in the oven, I started working on the meringue. It was a cinch to whip up. I topped the pie with little peaks of meringue and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.   
When I took the pie out of the oven the whole house smelled sweet and wonderful. It's one gorgeous looking pie, if I do say so myself! I served it for dessert and while there were only three of us, there was almost nothing left in the pie pan by the time we were done.  
Enjoy and happy holidays!

Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie (Courtesy of Paula Deen)
  • 2 cups peeled, cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup milk
  • 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 3 egg whites


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the filling, using an electric hand mixer, combine the potatoes, 1 cup of the sugar, the butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, and spices. Mix thoroughly. Add the milk and continue to mix. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean - the original recipe says it takes 35-45 minutes, but my not-so-great oven took about 1 1/4 hours). Place the pie on a rack and cool to room temperature before covering with meringue.

For the meringue, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is glossy and stiff, but not dry. With a rubber spatula, spoon the meringue onto the pie, forming peaks. Make sure the meringue touches the crust all around. Sprinkle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until delicately browned. Cool and serve.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hipstamatic Wave Hill and My World's Famous Pesto Minestrone

This past week I took Otis up to see my parents, his grandparents. Since they live in Riverdale that meant I had to make a little pilgrimage to my favorite NYC destination -- Wave Hill(featured in this previous post). It was windy and a bit chilly, but the leaves were still magnificent-- tons of golden and red hues. Though some of the trees were already bare, there were enough that still had turning leaves. And the views across the Hudson River were breathtaking. I picked up an absolutely delicious salad at the cafe-- a spinach, pumpkin and blue cheese salad-- but I wished that I had packed up some of my pesto minestrone soup and made a picnic with some French bread. But alas, my soup was all sealed up in a Ball jar and sitting in Brooklyn...
This pesto minestrone is my "go-to" winter soup.  If I hear that a Nor-easter is heading my way and expected to dump many inches of snow, I get this going on the burner.  It's perfect sit-on-the-couch-wrapped-in-a-great-big-blanket (snuggie!) soup.  Okay, I know there are still 4 weeks till it's officially winter and it's another month-and-a-half before the big storms hit, but when the temperatures go below the freezing point it's time to make this amazingly flavorful, hearty soup.   
This adaptation is based on a recipe I found in "Vegetarian Cooking" -- a tome/bible I picked up about 12 years ago when I moved to New Orleans.  I've tweaked this recipe a smidge by adding my own pesto and adjusting a few proportions.  I think this is the gold standard of minestrones!  I like to use fresh pesto if I have it, but you can easily use store bought pesto.  I like to make this in the early evening so that the whole house smells incredible.  You can eat it immediately, but I like to let the finished product cool in a dutch oven and then put it in the fridge for one day before serving--  all the herbs, vegetables, legumes and broth meld together after 24 hours. Delish!  
If the soup becomes too thick, you can use some stock or water to thin it out a bit.  Then remember to season accordingly.  Enjoy this soup-- it will instantly become one of your classic "go to" mains.  I hope you like this minestrone as much as we do...
Carrots from our penultimate CSA pick-up. They got thrown right into the minestrone!
My World's Famous Pesto Minestrone 
(Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking by Linda Fraser)
Serves 6-8
Minestrone is a thick mixed vegetable soup that usually has short cut pasta or rice added to it.  This one includes a home-made pesto sauce.  
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced 
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into small uniform dice, about 1/4 of an inch
6 cups of vegetable sock (you can use water, but stock gives the soup more flavor)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
3/4 - 1 cup of tubetini, small shells or elbow noodles
3/4 of a cup of frozen peas
2 zucchini, finely chopped
15 ounce can of white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern Beans (For this recipe I use BPA-free canned beans. You can also use dry beans-- soaked overnight and cooked.)
1/2 tablespoon of salt (more to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons of pesto (I like to use fresh, but you can use store bought as well.) Recipe follows.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Stir in the onions and leeks and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and garlic,and cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes more.  
Pour in the stock and stir well. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper.  Add small pasta. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 10-12 minutes.
Stir in the peas, if fresh, and the zucchini. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the frozen peas, if using. Cover the pot and simmer for 1o minutes.
Stir in beans (without liquid if using canned) and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the pesto sauce. Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat. Enjoy!  
This minestrone tastes even better the next day so you can make it in advance. Garnish with fresh grated parmesan. 

Basic Pesto Sauce  (An amalgamation from a bunch of different sources)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic-- more if you like it garlicky. 
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Clean basil in water and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner.
Place the walnuts, pignoli, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Caring for Pesto: Air is the enemy of pesto. Pack it with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out.
Yield: 4 cups
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swedish Chokladbollar (Chocolate Balls)

Swedish Chocolate Balls are the perfect bite-size treat. They are a mix of rolled oats, ground coffee, cocoa, sugar and butter.  All the ingredients are combined and then refrigerated for about an hour. Then, once the mixture is firm, it's formed into smalls balls and then rolled in shredded coconut. Chocolate Balls (Chokladbollar) are also called Coconut Balls (Kokosbollar) in the areas near Gothenberg. They are popular Swedish sweets that are simple to make and usually served with tea or coffee. 
My friend Charlotta, who is from a small town in southern Sweden, brought home made Chokladbollar on one of our weekly outings.  
Charlotta and I first met at a playground in Prospect Park, and since we both have kids the same age (they are 22 hours apart), we chatted about motherhood, funny mishaps and sleep deprivation. But what's really nice about our friendship is that we have more in common than motherhood alone. We both share a fondness for travel, cooking, restaurants, and documentary films. There's a good deal of laughing during our weekly meet ups. I'm so glad to have met her...and to have gotten her recipe! 
Chokladbollar are often the first sweets Swedish children make in the kitchen. They are perfect for a St. Lucia Day party, maybe served alongside some traditional saffron buns and Gløgg.
Alright, happy mixing. I'm off to figure out Lingonberry Jam.
Here is Charlotta's recipe.

Swedish Chocolate Balls(Chokladbollar or Coconut Balls) 
2 cups regular rolled oats
1/2 cup white sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 stick of butter, softened
3-4 tablespoons strong coffee, pref espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 1/4 cup heavy cream, to fine tune consistency
1/3 cup coconut flakes
Topping: coconut flakes
Put all of the ingredients except for the cream and coconut in a food processer. Pulse until everything is mixed well (about 30 sec). Add the cream a little at a time and keep pulsing. Add more cream if it seems too dry (I added an additional 1/8-1/4 cup). You want a fairly sticky dough. Better too wet than too dry. Before rolling into small balls, refrigerate the dough for about an hour, as it will become firmer and be easier to roll. Roll the balls in coconut flakes. Balls are ready to be eaten, or refrigerate again for later enjoyment.

"When I run out of Chokladballs, I share leaves!"
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Shalom/Salaam: It's Street Eats (Revisited) and Shakshuka

Navigating the streets with a little help from Saveur magazine
Jerusalem is an unbelievable city. Yes, sadly, it has known war and conflict for thousands of years. But it is also where kings built temples and religions were born (which is interesting to me, though I'm an agnostic). There are mosques, churches and synagogues. There are the market stalls of Machane Yehuda and the Arab souk. There is loud music and the calls to prayer emanating from the minarets. There are the sounds of people rushing to worship at the Wailing Wall and cab drivers who honk their horns incessantly. There is commotion and noise. But you can find pockets of silence in the city's old quarters too. And the food is some of the tastiest in the world. 
Palestinians and Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds-- German, Polish and Hungarian Jews, Armenians, Ethiopians, Copts, Russians, Moroccans, Greek Orthodox, Yemenis and Iraqis-- call this city home. All those diverse backgrounds give Jerusalem a wonderful culinary scene. It's where I've had some of  the best food I've ever eaten. Hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, labneh and fatoosh salad are some of my regional favorites. There are pillars of halvah, barrels of olives, eggplants, dates, pomegranates, pine nuts, pistachios, spices and the freshest, most amazing pita on almost every corner. There are also incredible sweets (kanafeh is my favorite, rugelach is up there too) and challah bread that is so good you could eat two loaves of in just one sitting. 
Many thanks to Saveur Magazine for directing my inner foodie on the streets of the Jerusalem, in a little place called the Middle East.
The best falafel in the New City
Palestinian Bread Vendor, Jaffa Gate

Dome of the Rock Zaatar Spice, Arab Quarter, Old City
Levy Brother's Falafel, New City 
Iraqi dish (I forgot the name), Azura, New City
My favorite breakfast on our trip was the eponymous dish at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, on the Mediterranean coast. Shakshuka, also spelled Shakshouka, consists of poached eggs, tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices. It probably originated in Tunisia (though some say Libya) and was made popular in Israel by Tunisian immigrants in the 1940's and 50's.  Where ever it comes from, you'll be hard pressed to have any of it left over on your plate.
I made my own Shakshuka when I got home, using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen (adapted from Saveur) which I adjusted only slightly:
Shakshuka [Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce]
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Anaheim chiles or 3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt.
Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
We had amazing Shakshuka the day we set-off for our day trip to Petra, Jordan.
All this food is making me think it is time to take a trip back to Tanoreen in Bay Ridge, for amazing Middle-Eastern food (though shakshuka is not on the menu).   
If anyone is able to get me Rawia's recipes, I will pay top dollar!
Shalom and Salaam!
شهية طيبة, Bi'Tayavon and Bon Appetite!
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