Friday, January 29, 2010

Hearty Winter-Vegetable Soup with Popovers

Last week I made a delicious soup perfect for this cold weather, hence the name Hearty Winter-Vegetable Soup from Martha Stewart's January 2010 issue. The soup takes a lot of prep work, but once you get though all the chopping, you are on your way. It makes great leftovers, in fact I liked it better the second day because the flavors had melded together and the escarole had softened even more.

Here are the ingredients for Martha Stewart's Hearty Winter-Vegetable Soup (serves 10-12):
-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-4 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut into 1-inch pieces, and washed well
-3 celery stalks, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
-3 medium carrots, cut into cubes
-2 garlic cloves, crushed
-2 pinches of red-pepper flakes
-Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
-5 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock (I used vegetable stock)
-1 1/2 cups water
-1 small (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
-2 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 12 ounces), cut into cubes
-1 head escarole, cut into 1-inch-thick ribbons
-1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
-2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
-2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh dill

To begin, chop leeks, celery, carrots and peel garlic.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, red-pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until leeks are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add stock and water, and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, peel and cut squash and cut potatoes. Add squash and potatoes to the soup and return to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Stir in escarole and chickpeas, and return to a boil.
Stir in lemon juice and herbs.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy with a popover.
Ingredients for Popovers from Martha Stewart's January 2010 issue (makes 1 dozen*):
-2 1/2 cups whole milk
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon coarse salt
-6 large eggs
-Unsalted butter, softened for pans

*Note: Using a standard muffin tin, the recipe made 2 dozen popovers.

Before I begin with the directions let me compare a popover tin to a muffin tin. In my experience, the muffin tin only affected how the popovers turned out visually, but taste-wise the muffin tin popovers were still very delicious.

Cooks Illustrated explains the importance of the popover tin's design, "Only tangentially related to muffin tins, popover pans are composed of heavyweight steel cups affixed to one another with thick steel wire; they typically have six cups. The open design maximizes heat transfer, which is crucial to high-rising popovers and babas au rhum."

Because my muffin tin could not achieve the heat level needed, all my popovers collapsed except for one miraculously. I made two attempts, I used Martha's oven temperature for the first round, and then I increased the temperature to 450 degrees for the first 15 minutes, and reduced it to 425 for the second half of baking. The second attempt had better results, but still far from perfect.

This is a Chicago Metallic Gourmetware Nonstick 6-Cup Popover Pan which can be purchased here.
To begin, heat oven to 425 degrees F. Meanwhile whisk together milk, flour, and salt.

Add eggs and whisk together until combined. Mixture might be lumpy.
Place popover or muffin tin in oven to heat up for 5 minutes. Quickly remove the tin and generously coat each cup with softened butter. Fill each cup a little more than halfway with batter. Place back in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Do NOT open the oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for about 25 minutes.
First attempt.
Second Attempt at higher temperature.
Let stand for 5 minutes and then turn popovers out and serve warm. If not using all the popovers, poke a small hole to release steam. Reheat when ready to eat.
My one perfect popover.
For original Popover recipe, click here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Satisfied diners - Matt and Chef Josh
So a couple weeks ago, some friends of mine got together for an Italian feast. Josh was kind enough to prepare a vegetarian dish for me - The Joy of Cooking's Roasted Vegetable Lasagna. Although Josh and I don't have the same version of The Joy of Cooking (I have the 75th Anniversary Edition and Josh has one that is much more bougie), the recipe is pretty close. I know that he actually roasted the tomatoes with the rest of the vegetables, while my version just calls for tomato sauce.

Here are the ingredients for The Joy of Cooking's Roasted Vegetable Lasagna (8-12 main course servings):

For the layers:
-3 cups tomato sauce
-4 cups shredded mozzarella (1 pound)
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)
-2 eggplants (about 3 pounds), quartered lengthwise, sliced in half inches
-6 medium zucchini (about 2 pounds), sliced in half inches
-1/2 cup of olive oil
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-1 pound of lasagne

For cheese filling:
-15 ounces ricotta
-2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
-1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
Grated or ground nutmeg to taste

To begin, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 13x9x2 inch baking or lasagne pan.
Slice vegetables in half inch pieces. Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Divide the vegetables between two roasting pans or baking sheets, spreading them in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes, then toss the vegetables and continue to roast until well browned and soft, about 20 minutes more. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
*Note: you can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

While your vegetables are roasting, cook the lasagne noodles in a large pot of boiling water until barely tender. Drain the pasta and place it in a bowl of ice water to cool. Separate the pasta and blot it dry.

In a medium bowl, make the cheese filling, by combining the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then stir until well combined.

Now it is time to assemble the dish. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with a layer of pasta, slightly overlapping. Spread with one-third of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle with one-quarter of the mozzarella and grated Parmesan over the ricotta. Spoon one-third of the roasted vegetables on top and then 1/2 cup of sauce. Add another layer of pasta and then continue layering the lasagne until you have 4 layers of pasta and three layers of filling. Spread the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

Josh layering and peppering the lasagne.
Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes more. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Overall dinner was absolutely delicious. I think one of the most important details to point out is that Josh cooked the pasta to the perfect tenderness - not too tender. The noodles were still firm enough after the lasagne baked, that each layer was distinguishable in your mouth. Also, roasting the vegetables gives the dish an added richness overall, and although I didn't notice it, everyone said that you could really taste the nutmeg.

To finish the dish, we enjoyed a mediocre pint of chocolate gelato, and tasty box of Amaretti di Saronno cookies. The cookies are wrapped in pairs with tissue paper, making them feel like you are unwrapping a gift every time you have one. They are a real treat, but kind of pricy.
On a side note: Josh's sister gave him an electric pepper grinder. When you turn it upside down the grinder turns on and pepper comes out. Click to watch the video below.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prometheus Springs Elixirs

On Friday, I hopped over to Whole Foods to pick up some goodies for work and I was lucky enough to get a couple of samples of Prometheus Springs elixir. Now I don't know if this "elixir" is really a cure-all, but to me that doesn't matter much because the flavors are so delicious. Prometheus Springs comes in three flavors: Pomegranate Black Pepper, Lychee Wasabi, and Lemon Ginger. All of them have spice in common, but I especially loved the Pomegranate Black Pepper and bought myself a bottle to share with friends. Prometheus Springs states they are "the world's first capsaicin spiced elixir." What is capsaicin you may ask? Pronounced (cap-say-sin), it is an active ingredient in chili peppers, which creates the heat in these drinks. At the beginning of your sip, you taste the sweetness of the pomegranate, but by the time you swallow, you feel the heat of the pepper in the back of your throat. Prometheus Springs describes the health benefits of their beverages better than I can, so click here if you want to read up on it. They recommend drinking one of their elixirs to kick your cold or flu, but I think you shouldn't wait to be sick, and just drink it as a special treat or mix it with your favorite spirit for a fancy cocktail. Here are some suggestions here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mexican Everyday Salsa

For Christmas, my sister gave me Rick Bayless' cookbook called Mexican Everyday.  After paging through it that morning, we were both inspired to make a couple salsas while we were staying at our parents' house.  I watched Rick Bayless on Top Chef Masters, and instantly liked him and then really loved him once he won the title of Top Chef Master.  It was refreshing to see a chef just be so nice, down to earth, and humble while at the same time making delicious food.  His cookbook gives off a similar vibe as his persona on television.  It is easy, unpretentious, and everything sounds mouth-watering.  What I particularly like, is each recipe concludes with a few "riffs" on the recipe - such as how to make the chicken tortilla soup vegetarian, or what spices can be substituted, etc.  He also does a mix of fresh ingredients with canned goods, and encourages you to replace with fresh produce when seasonally possible.  My sister and I made Rustic Roasted Tomato Salsa and Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos.  Both were good and very different from one another.  The roasted tomato salsa is nice and fresh and like a roasted pico de gallo, and was great for dipping a chip into.  Next time I will use a hotter chile to make it spicier, but start off with a jalapeno if you are worried about the heat level.  I think the chipotle salsa could have been better, but only because my sister and I didn't know which brand of canned chipotle chiles en adobo were the best, and also I wasn't for sure on the amount.  I felt like the adobo sauce tasted too much like barbecue sauce.  After reading through Mexican Everyday again, Rick Bayless suggests using the San Marcos brand.  Next time I will try his recommendation.

Here are the ingredients for Rustic Roasted Tomato Salsa by Rick Bayless from Mexican Everyday (makes 2 cups): 
-2 fresh jalapeno chiles (or 4 serranos, 1 or 2 habaneros or practically any fresh chiles), I used jalapenos
-3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
-1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
-One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
-1/3 cup (loosely packed) cilantro, roughly chopped
-A teaspoon or so of fresh lime juice or cider vinegar (optional)
-Salt to taste

To begin, lay the chiles and garlic in a small skillet over medium heat.  Dry-roast until soft and blotchy black in spots, about 10 minutes for the chiles and about 15 minutes for the garlic.
While the chiles and garlic are roasting, chop the onion and rinse in a strainer under cold water.  Shake off the excess water and place in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
Once chiles and garlic are roasted, pull off the chiles' stems and peel the papery skins off the garlic.  Place them in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.  Add the tomatoes with their juice, and pulse a few more times, until the mixture is as coarse or as smooth as you like.
Pour the tomato mixture into the medium bowl with the onion.  Add the cilantro and stir thoroughly.  Thin with a little water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency.  Taste and season with the lime juice or vinegar, if using, and salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon.  
If not using with in an hour or two, cover and refrigerate.

Note: If you're not planning to use the salsa within a few hours, wait until you're ready to serve to add the onions and cilantro.

Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos by Rick Bayless from Mexican Everyday (makes about 1 1/4 cups):
-3 garlic cloves, peeled
-4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half
-2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo (or more, if you like really spicy salsa)
-Salt to taste

To begin, prepare tomatillos and slice in half.  Place garlic and tomatillos in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side.  The tomatillos should be completely soft.
Place the garlic and tomatillos into a blender or food processor, along with the chiles and 1/4 cup of water.  Process to a coarse puree.  Pour into a salsa dish and cool.
Thin with a little additional water if necessary.  Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon.