Saturday, January 29, 2011
I got this picture from my friend Leslie in Massachusetts yesterday. It's a color photo, but the snow has transformed the world there into a vision in black and white. I suspect it’s a lot like the way my old home in New Jersey looks about now, and for reasons I will explain, it reminds me of soup.
For at least the last 15 years of our life in New Jersey, we taunted winter with a soup party in January. The tradition started small, with three or four other couples invited for dinner in the post-holiday malaise. But it was such fun that every year, I expanded the list; by the time we left the state, it had reached 50 people.
I’ve always suffered a bit in the cold and gray of January, coming down from the colorful excitement of December. So it was a great time for a party. Although the Christmas tree was down, I insisted that the outdoor lights remain until January 31, and the planning and cooking kept cabin fever at bay. By the end of the month, almost everyone was looking for a respite, so the opportunity to gather over good food and wine enticed even the most curmudgeonly of our friends.
These days, even though I’m not in New Jersey – or anywhere else where there’s snow – I still find myself in January wanting to make soup. Cream soups, stewy soups, bean soups, brothy soups. I realized how deeply entrenched these feelings are as I checked out at the grocery store the other day and noticed that I had gathered the makings of FOUR different kinds of soup.
One item I bought was a lovely box of crimini mushrooms – the ones that look like a toasty brown cousin to your standard white button mushrooms. I’ve always preferred them to the white ones because the taste is a little woodsy without being as intense – or as expensive – as wild mushrooms. I’ve now done a bit of research, and at least according to one website (www.whfoods.com), it turns out that all mushrooms (crimini and button mushrooms included) are a great source of iron and cancer-fighting (especially breast cancer) selenium. Criminis also deliver significant amounts of B2 (riboflavin), copper, and B3 (niacin).
So I cobbled together the following from what seemed like the best parts of a Culinary Institute recipe and a Silver Palate recipe. It's easy, and even with the chopping, takes only an hour and a half. On a gray, rainy, cold January day (yes, even in Texas), I loved the earthy flavor and the warm, creamy texture – like wrapping my insides in a soft, cashmere blanket.
Crimini Mushroom Soup
1½ lb crimini mushrooms, quartered, stems cut even with the base of the cap
1 oz dried assorted wild mushrooms
½ c Madeira wine
6 Tbl butter
1 Tbl olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 2/3 c)
2 leeks (white part only), diced (about 2 c)
1 celery stalk, diced (about ½ c)
3 Tbl flour
3 c chicken broth
2 c beef broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
½ tsp salt, ½ tsp white pepper (black is fine if you don’t have white)
¾ c heavy cream
Set aside ½ lb of the quartered mushrooms for garnish.
In a small saucepan, bring to a boil ½ c of the chicken broth and the Madeira, along with the dried wild mushrooms. Turn off the heat, put a lid on the saucepan, and let the mushrooms sit for 30 mins.
Meanwhile, melt 4 Tbl of the butter in a large heavy pot, add the onion, leeks, and celery, and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are wilted, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and continue to cook the vegetables, stirring constantly for another 5 mins. Add the remaining 2½ c chicken broth, the beef broth, the pound of quartered mushrooms, the thyme and salt/pepper. Add the wild mushrooms and the broth/Madeira mix. Bring the soup to a low boil and simmer uncovered 30 mins.
Turn off the heat and remove the thyme stems. Using a food processor or a blender, purée the soup in batches and return it to the pot. Heat the cream (do not boil) and add it to the soup. Reheat the soup (no boiling!) and serve with a garnish of sautéed mushroom pieces.
The garnish: Heat the remaining 2 Tbl butter and 1 Tbl olive oil on medium-high until very hot. (See note below.) Add the mushroom pieces and stir or shake the pan for about 4 mins, until the mushrooms take on a golden color. Remove them from the heat and serve immediately.
Kitchen Goddess note: There are three tricks to well-sautéed mushrooms. First, the mushrooms need to be dry. Second, the oil has to be very hot. When the butter foam subsides, that’s the signal that it’s hot enough. And third, don’t crowd the mushrooms. If you crowd them, they’ll just steam instead of frying, and lose their juices. For this recipe, depending on the size of your skillet, you’ll need to sautée the mushroom pieces in one or two batches. I use an 8-inch skillet, and need two batches. If you are cooking them in two batches, use half the butter/oil for each batch. The mushrooms will absorb all of the oil/butter in the process.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I never took chemistry – in high school or college. I thought it would be too hard, so I took physics instead. Which just goes to show how ridiculous are the thoughts that wander around in a teenager’s head.
So I’ve always wondered if I’d have done well in chemistry. My friends who took it tell me that, as a math major, I would probably have really enjoyed it. And I’m starting to think they are right.
My new favorite hors d’oeuvre strikes me as something of a chemistry experiment. If you think about it, of course, most cooking resembles chemistry. You combine two or more substances that are known to react in certain ways. You add or subtract heat. And then you sit back and hope that the same thing that happened last time – or that is known to have happened before – will happen again. And you hope you don’t blow up the house in the process.
So here it is – ridiculously simple, and completely delicious. And if you are thinking about skipping this because you can so easily buy ricotta at the grocery store, you should try a bit harder at talking yourself into it. Because this ricotta is so much creamier and richer feeling in your mouth that you will truly want to call me and say, “You must really be the Kitchen Goddess, because this is food for the gods.” So there.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
As of this day, I’ve been a mother for exactly 30 years. Three decades of alternately worrying, cheering, prodding, encouraging, admonishing, and marveling. Caring more than I would have thought was possible.
The pregnancy was something of a lark, without the morning sickness or other complications I’d heard about. I knew life would change, but without a clear understanding of how. Twenty-two hours of labor and a C-section still didn’t make me feel different as a person. And even when I held him in my hospital bed, his warm little head tucked up under my chin, we were both being cared for, both special, both on the receiving end of visits and attention from loving friends and family.
Then it was time to go home. I got dressed and packed my bag. My husband arrived with the baby’s clothes as the nurse brought our son down to us in a rolling bassinet. She left the room, and only seconds after the door closed, the baby started to cry. Maybe he knew what neophytes we were. I looked at my husband. He looked at me. Two pairs of eyes wide with the same panic and dawning reality, each of us hoping the other would know what to do. It was my first hint of understanding what Motherhood would mean.
Only 10,967 days later, that baby has turned out amazingly well. Which just goes to show that we all get better with experience, and that children will survive whatever mistakes you may make if you love them enough. I must have gotten that part right.
* * *
One of my first born’s favorite meals is grilled tuna steaks, and the very best preparation I know for these came from a now-defunct restaurant in a ramshackle fishing village named Port Aransas, on the Texas coast. It wasn’t even summertime when I called the place and cajoled the chef into divulging the recipe. I guess he hadn’t gotten many calls from New Jersey.
Bacon-wrapped Tuna Steaks with Beulah’s Special Sauce
4 6-oz tuna steaks
4 slices bacon
For the sauce:
¼ c sesame seeds
1 c balsamic vinegar
½ c soy sauce
½ c honey
2-3 oz. veal demiglace [Kitchen Goddess note #1: if demiglace is not available, or I’m just not feeling like another trip to the store, I use one can salt-free beef broth, simmered until it is reduced to ¼ c.]
¼ lb (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into eighths (one stick = 8 Tbl)
Place sesame seeds in a dry skillet or sauce pan and toast briefly until browned. Add remaining liquid ingredients – vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and demiglace – and simmer until it is reduced by one-half. Reduce heat to very low, or remove from heat until ready to serve.
In the meantime, wrap individual tuna steaks (best is about 1" thick) in bacon (secure with toothpicks), and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Grill steaks for 5-7 minutes/side or until medium/medium-rare.
When steaks are ready to serve, reheat sauce on medium-low and whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time, being careful not to allow the mixture to boil. Pour sauce over steaks and serve extra sauce on the side.
[Kitchen Goddess note #2: Leftover sauce – the recipe makes a lot – can be saved in the frig and reheated – carefully – in a microwave. Although I could devour it all by itself.]
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I can’t resist the desire to have a posting for 1/1/11, so this won’t be long. But I do have a nice breakfast recipe for you, so stick with me. (Ok, I know, I’ve now missed it. But here I am, so I'll finish the thought.)
I also noticed today that for this year only, we’ll actually have three occurrences of those fun dates that have only one digit in them – there’s also 1/11/11, and the most fun of all which is 11/11/11. That confluence of dates isn’t available for the other digits, so this must indeed be a special year.
We’ve had houseguests this week, and while we’ve mostly eaten out, I did make an effort to have fun breakfasts. Yesterday, I made scones, and tomorrow I’ll be cooking a frittata, but this morning I went for something different but very easy. And it was a really fun way to start the day, as it reminded me of many breakfasts I had growing up.
In the South, there’s nothing better for breakfast than grits. But our guests are from Boston, and I wasn’t sure how much they’d warm to grits. So I was paging through my Williams-Sonoma Breakfast cookbook, and found a delightful twist on grits by making polenta, only with milk instead of chicken broth or water. When it’s done, you drizzle on a dab of melted butter, top it with maple syrup and a few slices of banana, and you have a really nice breakfast dish.
I added bacon to this menu (which was a super combination of flavors), to give it some protein, but mostly because I am right now very long on bacon. You see, a couple of months ago, I was reading in the NY Times about this fabulous bacon edged with herbes de Provence. I’ve always been a sucker for bacon, and this bacon sounded so good. I googled it, and found it at Earthy Delights, where it was only $6.50 per pound. Great, I thought, until I noticed that the shipping – which must be overnight – was $10. Yikes. But then I thought, maybe it’s the same shipping for two pounds. Yes, it was. And then I thought, what’s the shipping for three pounds? Turns out it was still $10. And finally, I checked on four pounds, and – you guessed it – $10. So I ordered FOUR pounds of the stuff, figuring I’d find friends or family I could give it to. I did actually find homes for two of the pounds, but I kept two and have been using it in as many ways as I could, and I must tell you it’s DELICIOUS. The combination of herbs and that smoky sweet taste of good bacon makes over-the-top BLTs, and it added a most wonderful flavor to my split pea soup. So I’ll be ordering it again, but will probably look around for someone to share the shipment.
Polentina with Bananas and Maple Syrup (from Williams-Sonoma Breakfasts)
1 ⅔ c water
1 ⅔ c whole milk
1 ½ Tbl sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
¾ c polenta or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
melted or softened unsalted butter
warm maple syrup
2 firm ripe bananas, sliced in ¼-inch rounds
In a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water, milk, sugar, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and when the liquid is barely simmering, pour in the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly until all the grains have been absorbed and the mix is smooth. Keep the heat low enough that the mixture barely simmers, and cook about 15 mins, stirring with a wooden spoon every 1-2 minutes until the polenta is creamy. Add more water or milk if it gets too stiff.
Ladle the polenta into individual bowls, top with a bit of butter and the sliced bananas, and drizzle warm maple syrup over the top. Makes 4 servings.