Tuesday, November 25, 2014

FFwD: Butternut Squash and Chestnut Soup

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Beatrix's Red Kuri Soup. I had to google red kuri squash, because I had no idea what it was. After seeing pictures of it, I knew I was going to have to come up with an alternate plan, because I'd never seen that squash here in Napoli. They have other squashes, but nothing that looks like red kuri.

Fortunately, Dorie provides a bonne idee in the sidebar that butternut squash and chestnuts can mimic the flavor of red kuri. Weird. Weird, and convenient. I already had a butternut squash in the house, and I currently own more roasted, peeled chestnuts than I will ever know what to do with. I still have to catch up on the Pear and Chestnut Soup, so I ordered the vacuum-sealed chestnuts on amazon. I could only get a 4-pack, and I didn't realize that 20 oz bags are huge.

This would be a good spot for me to request all of your favorite chestnut recipes. Really. What am I going to do with all of these???

Unfortunately, my digital scale ran out of batteries. I eyeballed what I thought 7 ounces might be. I think I added way too many chestnuts.
No, grazie.
I wanted to like this soup, so that I could use up the rest of my chestnut supply on it, but I really don't. There's no strong flavor, apart from the sort of muddy taste of the chestnuts. If you blindfolded me, I'd never guess there was butternut squash in there.

Not much else to say. It's better with the chopped apples that she suggests as a topping, but that's only because the apples provide a bit of texture and much-needed flavor.

I'm not a fan.

I'm posting this early, because we're heading to Vienna on Thursday. Yahooo! 

Baking, Chez Moi: Cranberry Crackle Tart

Keeping Thanksgiving timeliness in mind, the Tuesdays with Dorie crew selected Cranberry Crackle Tart (pg 135, Baking, Chez Moi) for this week's recipe.

I was excited when I read through the recipe, because it sounded like a version of a pavlova. I have a friend from New Zealand who makes me "a pav" every few years when I manage to swing a visit , because I love it so. Tart cranberries mixed into what looks like a pav-ish meringue topping? Yes, please!

The Sweet Tart Dough was easy to handle. I love Dorie's suggestion to roll out pie dough while it's still soft, and then refrigerate or freeze it. I used this method on her galette dough recipe for my Thanksgiving pies (we celebrated last weekend), and it worked beautifully. Unfortunately, I didn't love the actual flavor of the crust as much as my standard pie dough, which comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. His dough is a BEAST to work with, and absolutely was too crumbly to cooperate with Dorie's rolling-while-soft technique. We preferred the flavor and texture of the crust of the one pie that got the Bittman treatment, which made me sad, because I'd make pies a lot more often if a recipe that's as easy to use as Dorie's galette recipe produced my perfect crust. I've wandered off on a tangent. Where was I? Oh yeah...

Pre-baked sweet tart dough crust, then a layer of strawberry jam, topped with the cranberry-jeweled meringue. I was afraid that my meringue wasn't going to cover the surface area, but it turned out to be the exact right amount. Bake it for an hour until it's peaks turn beautifully golden, and voila! Fairly easy for an impressive looking dessert.
I brought this tart to a friend's house, and we inhaled it. Everyone was impressed that the meringue was sweet enough to keep the cranberries from being unpleasantly tart, but not so sweet that it tasted like candy. The overall effect was of a really light dessert that you could easily eat multiple slices of without wanting to explode.

I loved it. This one has definitely earned a spot in our Fall/Winter holiday repertoire.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Baking Chez Moi: Palets de Dames, Lilles Style, Take 2

I am super duper excited that Dorie's new book, Baking Chez Moi, has finally been published, and I'm thrilled to bake through it from the start with the Tuesdays with Dorie group. One of these days, I'll even get to hold the book in my hands and look at it. It is currently sitting in the military mail system.

What was a little less exciting to me was that the very first recipe chosen was for Palets de Dames, Lilles Style, which I baked two weeks ago when the French Fridays with Dorie gang celebrated Dorie's birthday. I understand and appreciate that TWD chose a recipe that was available online so that people who don't have a book yet (ahem, me) could bake along, but it did make my first foray into the book a bit less exciting.

It's week 1 of the new group! First recipe from the book! There's no way I was going to sit this one out, just because I posted about these so recently.
Last time, I stuck to the recipe. This time, I decided to play with flavor a bit. I replaced the vanilla in the batter with almond extract, and replaced the icing's lemon juice with orange zest and juice. Charlie had just as much fun decorating on Round 2 as he did the first time.
The cookie and the icing were separately delicious, but the flavors competed when eaten together. Don't get me wrong, they're not bad. Next time--and these are so easy to make that there will be a next time--I'll either do a vanilla cookie with the orange icing, or an almond cookie with a vanilla icing. I'm pretty sure I'll work my way through all my extracts on these cookies. Hmmm...peppermint icing for the holidays? Yes, please.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Broccoli-Cheese Soup

This is going to be a quick one. My friend from home is currently sitting on a runway in Paris, and I have to leave in a while to pick her up from the airport here in Napoli. HOORAY! In the two + years that I've lived here, this is only my second visitor who is not directly responsible for birthing either me or my husband. My friends are slackers.

So, I'm busting out this little post, because I'll forget about it in the next week, otherwise.

Pioneer Woman's Broccoli-Cheese Soup tastes exactly as broccoli cheese soup should. I replaced her 2 cups of half-and-half with 2 additional cups of milk (plus the 4 that's already called for), and didn't miss it for one second.
I did wish that I'd served this in a bread bowl, as she instructs, or at least had some bread with it, because I was very hungry by the time I went to bed. Like I said, though, the flavor and texture were perfect.

Charlie took his one taste and acted like I'd made him eat a spoonful of liquid waste. Very dramatic. Silly doesn't know what he's missing.

Conclusion: Loved it.

And so, I will now move on from the Halloween section. (This soup is suggested as pre-trick-or-treat fuel.)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Popcorn Balls

I don't know what it is about Ree Drummond's presentation, but I want to make everything in this book. Everything. Even things that I'm pretty sure I'd pass right over in a different cookbook, like Popcorn Balls (pg 232), which are in the Halloween section, but, like the pancakes, could easily be tweaked for any holiday, season, or mood. They look so damn festive and kid-friendly, dyed yellow, with cheerful nubbins of candy corn and peanuts jutting out, that I couldn't resist.

I'd originally planned to make these for Halloween, because we were having pre-trick-or-treat dinner with friends and their two kids, and I felt strongly that the kids  needed to have Popcorn Balls in their lives.

I didn't get my act together in time to make them, even though they aren't complicated. You basically give popcorn the Rice Krispie Treat treatment, by coating them in melted buttery marshmallow. Can't be bad.
I thought the same kids would be at my friend's housewarming party this afternoon, so I brought the treats there, instead. Unfortunately for the young'uns, they were sick and stayed home. Fortunately for my group of pretending-to-be-adult friends, that meant more for us. Charlie, for some reason, was uninterested. I don't know how a kid can look at these festive balls of glory and say, "Nah," but that is what he did.

Like I said. More for us.

Everyone really, really liked them. There was some raving going on. I was absolutely  not expecting these to be such a hit with the grown-ups. It either proves that we're young at heart, or that we like big balls. Take your pick.

I have one complaint with the process. First you mix the popcorn into the melted marshmallow, and then you stir the candy in. This is harder than it sounds. Because the pot is still hot, the candy sinks to the bottom and then melts/adheres to the pot, and does not incorporate into the popcorn easily. Even though it would create another dish, I think there needs to be a step where you dump the marshmallowed popcorn into a cool bowl, and carry on from there.

Conclusion: Liked it. It was a surprise hit among the big kids.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

FFwD: Osso Buco a la Arman

Finally! A French Fridays with Dorie recipe that gives me a sourcing edge over people who don't have access to an Italian supermarket. Ipercoop may not have duck or brown sugar or affordable avocado, but veal? They're up to their eyeballs in veal (which is kind of weird, because the adult beef offerings are poor.) Odds are good that veal is available in the already-cut meat section, any way you want it cut. As soon as I read Dorie's description of the veal shanks ("cut crosswise from a veal shank, thick slices of osso buco are round, with meaty nuggets surrounding a central hole, which is filled with marrow"), I thought, "Yep, I've definitely seen that at Ipercoop." Score: 1 for Italy. Or should I say, "GOOOOOOOAL!"
One of three. 3 euro a piece. Not too shabby.
On a side note, I'd like to mention how very, very grateful I am that I didn't have to walk up to a butcher with my google translation of "veal shank." I can never be sure that the words coming out of my mouth are appropriate. For example, when we first arrived here, I looked up the word "pecorino," because I love cheese and wanted to know what the word meant. Google informed me that it meant "doggy style." In disbelief, I contacted my Italian friend and interrogated her. Apparently, pecorinA means doggy style. PecorinO means cheese from a goat. Google has since corrected its mistake. I'm certain that it also makes errors when translating from English to Italian, so who knows what I'm actually saying to people. Always an adventure. I digress.

Armed with my shanks, at the last minute, I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. It felt like a meal that needed to be shared. Much to my delight, two of our favorite families came on short notice, and we had a wonderful, relaxed evening. "Sunday dinner" with the extended family (closest friends, in the military) is one of the many ways that Italy has steeped into my blood. It's one of my favorite customs, and one that I hope to bring home with me.

This was a perfect recipe to cook for company because all the cooking is done ahead of time. There aren't any last-minute steps. Take it out of the oven, break the meat apart so it looks like a stew, and bring it to the table. Dorie said to skim fat off the top, but mine somehow didn't look greasy enough to bother. The meat was so tender. I didn't even care when I had a mouthful of fat, because it literally dissolved. Dorie's Orange Rice Pilaf paired perfectly with the stew. Three shanks fed six adults. The only problem was that there were no leftovers. At all.

Last night, I caught up on Rice Pudding and Caramel Apples. I love rice pudding. It's one of those desserts that takes me right back to my Mom's kitchen. She always put raisins and a bit of cinnamon in hers, and I have to say, I missed them in this.

I compulsively made the pudding, because it struck me as a decent way to keep myself busy, and hopefully distract myself from stressing about the fact that everyone else we know who is Matt's rank and scheduled to move next summer heard from the detailer last week, receiving their next assignment. We haven't heard a peep. We're exhausted from the stress of waiting. So, rice pudding.

As I stirred, the phrase, "The solace of stirring," popped into my head. For a few seconds, I marveled at how perfect that phrase felt right at that moment, and that clearly I'd missed my calling as a poet. Then I remembered that that is a section title in Nigella Kitchen. My bad. Nigella, you were spot-on with that description. There is much solace to be found in stirring.
Due to my anxiety level, I had zero interest in making caramel and cooked apples. At first, I planned to put a layer of applesauce on my pudding, and then drizzle with caramel I bought in Brittany. I forgot about the applesauce, and just went with the caramel. It was good, but I didn't drizzle any on my second bowl of pudding, and missed the raisins and cinnamon the whole time I ate it. Sometimes, you just want Mom's recipe. This was delicious, and it was exactly the type of nursery food that I needed yesterday. Unfortunately, I ate so much of it yesterday that there's only a little bit left to see me through today's stressful wait. GRRR!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes

I find the Halloween section in The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays to be especially adorable. First recipe up on my mental agenda was Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes (pg 223). There was just one hitch. The Commissary had no canned pumpkin. At all. For weeks. American women are crazy for Autumn pumpkin products, and they cleaned the shelves in a frenzy that the re-stock couldn't keep up with, I guess. The hoarding is contagious. When I finally found pallets of pumpkin stacked in the produce section, I grabbed eight cans. EIGHT CANS. I am not going to use eight cans of pumpkin this Autumn. Better start baking pie. Mmmm...piiiiie.

Once I snagged my pumpkin puree, these pancakes jumped to the top of the dinner menu, much to Matt's horror. He scoffs at the thought of "breakfast food" for dinner. He refused to eat these pancakes, and opted for leftovers instead. More for me.

The thing that makes these pancakes so cute is that a bit of the batter is pulled out, then flavored with molasses and dyed brown with food dye. Ree says to use a spoon or a plastic squirt bottle to make faces/words/anything you can think of with the brown batter, let the design set on the hot griddle for a few seconds, then pour a normal pancake on top.

I'm here to tell you, don't use a spoon unless you want to scream at your griddle in frustration. It's possible this fun holiday treat was accompanied by a good bit of not-so-restrained cursing.
Methinks my griddle was too hot--just one of a number of problems.
Once I remembered that I had a medicine syringe thing laying around somewhere, and I got the griddle temperature down from molten hot, the experience improved dramatically.
SO CUTE, and Charlie loved them.

My one complaint is that, because of the sugar in the molasses, the brown parts tasted kind of burnt and unpleasant. Pour enough syrup on anything and it'll taste good, but next time, I'd omit the molasses and just use food dye. The design is there to look fun, not to add a layer of flavor.

Conclusion: Liked them. Charlie is so delighted with his Halloween pancakes that I expect to make them next year, too. And so tradition is born. I now house a gallon bag full of them in the freezer. I need to remember in the future that Pioneer Woman is trying to feed an army. I also did some with letters and hearts and other designs, so they don't have to be Halloween themed.