Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Search of Comfort
What’s cooking? Semolina Budino with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

You know how, when you were growing up, some people’s moms were always making bread pudding, while others’ moms made gumbo all the time, but never a lick of bread pudding? Well, I was in the gumbo group.

At my friend Margie’s house, they always had what I called Zebra Cake, that dessert made from Famous Chocolate Wafers and whipped cream. I yearned for that to show up in my house, but can’t remember a single instance when it appeared. And at my friend Sydney’s house, there was a huge glass cookie jar in the kitchen, forever filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I won’t say my mom never made chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn’t high on her list. In fact, desserts in general weren’t high on her list. We ate lots of gumbo. And chili. And barbecued chicken. And really excellent stews. But no bread pudding.

When winter hit here in Austin last week – freezing cold, wet, and windy – I started thinking about the kinds of foods that make your insides feel like they’ve been wrapped in a soft, fuzzy blanket. My book group, which operates on a pot-luck format, was meeting, and for reasons I can only imagine, I decided I wanted to take a warm and mushy dessert. Bread pudding kept coming to mind, mostly because it sounds like a great comfort food. But I’ve never had bread pudding, so I didn’t know what a good one would look like or taste like or how to judge one recipe for it over another. I tried rice pudding once – another dessert in that same warm/mushy category – but (can you guess?) my childhood also suffered from a lack of rice pudding, and the one I made got a less than hearty review. I was really stuck for an idea.

Then I saw this recipe for budino. That’s Italian for pudding. Now pudding is something I understand, though, frankly, the pudding in my childhood was of the Jell-O brand. This particular pudding is made with semolina flour, which is “finely ground endosperm of durum wheat.” Huh? Anyway, it’s used in pasta and Italian-style breads. And, according to Wikipedia, semolina when boiled turns into porridge, like Cream of Wheat. So when you mix it with some whole milk and honey and boil it, then add eggs, you get a sweetish dish – not Swedish – with the same texture as that Southern classic: spoon bread. I didn’t have spoon bread either, until college, but that sounded like just what I wanted.

The recipe – which was misleading in the extreme, so you will find that the Kitchen Goddess has cleaned it up and straightened it out – said to serve with roasted pears and sweetened mascarpone. You’ll have to try the mascarpone on your own. It didn’t fit the feeling I wanted. But on my second try, I worked out a really nice way to handle the pears that I think you’ll like. I served it first to the book group, who said things like “This is soooo gooood.” Ah, the response I hoped for. I refined the pears and served it again this weekend and got lots of “yums” around the table.

The only thing you may object to is the 18-20 minutes of stirring, but the results are so worth it. Get a glass of wine and turn on some television re-runs. I watched NCIS – as usual – and the time flew by.

The recipe said it serves 12. I think more like 10. Serve it in custard cups or ¾-cup ramekins or a single, large 2-quart casserole dish. But it keeps well in the fridge and is easily reheated in the microwave. It tastes best warm; the pears need to be warm, but are also easy to reheat. You’ll be really glad for the leftovers.

Semolina Budino

Mise en place -- it's a big help on this recipe.
Adapted from pastry chef Lisa Donovan in Food & Wine magazine, January 2015

4 tablespoons unsalted butter,
    melted; plus more for greasing
5 cups whole milk
¾ cup (6 ounces) honey (the KG
    prefers the delicate flavor of
    acacia honey)
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semolina flour (the same
    stuff used to make pasta;
    semolina meal is more coarsely
    ground and might work to make
    budino but the result would not
    be as smooth)
3 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites

Garnish with Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup (see below).

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter the sides and bottoms of 10-12 custard cups or ramekins, or a 2-quart gratin/casserole dish.

In a large (approx. 4-quart) saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, the honey, and the salt, stirring just until the honey dissolves. Raise the heat to medium/medium-high and add the semolina in a slow stream, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Continue whisking continuously for 18-20 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the 4 tablespoons of melted butter.

In a large, heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth, then slowly pour in about a cup of the hot semolina mixture, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs. Continue adding the semolina in 3-4 batches until it is all incorporated. Set aside.

Folding in the whipped egg whites.
In a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the egg/semolina mixture until completely incorporated. Pour into the prepared ramekins or casserole dish.

If you are using ramekins, do not fill them more than ¾ full, as the mixture will rise during the baking. Ramekins should be baked in a bain-marie (hot water bath): Place the cups, evenly spaced, into a large roasting pan and pour very hot water around the dishes, to a level about halfway up the sides. Take care in loading the pan into the oven, so that water doesn’t slosh into the puddings.

Bake the puddings at 350º until the tops are golden and set. Let cool slightly (5 minutes) on wire racks before serving topped with roasted pears. Serve warm.

And now for the pears in syrup...

Kitchen Goddess note about the Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup: Giada’s recipe called for apple juice and no alcohol. (Yawn.) The Kitchen Goddess wanted something a bit jazzier, so she substituted pomegranate juice, and added a glug of French ginger liqueur. You can try your own mix –  use another non-citrus juice, or try my other favorite liqueur, St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Or use apple juice and add dry sherry or Calvados. Go crazy!

Roasted Pears in Ginger-Pomegranate Syrup

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis for

Serves 10-12.

3 large, firm Bosc pears (about 2 pounds)
⅓ cup pomegranate juice
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons French ginger liqueur (Domain de Canton)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
 Preheat the oven to 400º.

Before cutting up the pears, set out a large bowl about half full of water, and squeeze a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice into it. Then, as you peel and core the pears, keep them submerged in the lemon water to avoid having them turn brown. Dice the pears into ½-¾-inch cubes, and keep the cubes in the lemon water while you prepare the sauce.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, whisk together the pomegranate juice and the brown sugar, and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Add the ginger liqueur and stir to combine, then allow the mixture to simmer 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens just slightly. Whisk in the butter.

Drain the pears well and put them into an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over them and stir well. Bake 35-40 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the pears.

Allow the pears to cool (5 minutes) before spooning them over the budino. You can also spoon the pears onto a plate or shallow bowl, top them with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle the syrup on top.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Beginnings
What’s cooking? Vegetable Stock and Mushroom Barley Soup

Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of great beginnings, here are a few of my favorites:

“If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the crossroads.” (Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers)
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” (A River Runs through It, Norman McLean)
“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.” (Stiff, Mary Roach)

Here’s another of my favorite beginnings: broth.

Just so you know, the Kitchen Goddess does not consider herself a trendsetter. On the other hand, she loves gossip, and sees it as her responsibility to pass along whatever food world news and trends come to her attention. It turns out that one of the latest trends is... broth.

In the cooking world, great beginnings often have something to do with stock or broth. Whatever the cuisine, there’s a broth in there somewhere. Think about the simplest dishes: egg drop soup (Chinese), stracciatella (Italian), and avgolemono (Greek) – all basically the same dish tweaked with flavor variations and/or some type of added grain. So whatever you’re cooking, unless you’re throwing a piece of meat on the fire, the chances are good that you’ll make use of a broth.

Since late fall, I’ve seen broth-based articles about ramen shops, how-to pieces on making your own broths, and a story about a meat company in Northern California that sells cups of house-made “bone broth” at its butcher shops. Not to be outdone by the West Coast, a New York restaurateur, Marco Canora, has opened a walk-up window called Brodo, attached to his larger restaurant, Hearth, where customers can walk up and buy (in three sizes, from $4.50-$8.50), one of three different broths; various flavorings can be added in at just 75 cents apiece. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

What’s the difference between broth and stock? After extensive research, I can safely say: not much, and who cares. According to the Culinary Institute, stock is for soups and broth is for drinking. But they’ve got an entire book on soups, with no mention at all of stocks – only broths. So go figure.

Vegetable Stock, a.k.a. Vegetable Broth
Both start with cold water, bones, meat, mirepoix (sautéed onion, carrot, celery), and a small bundle of herbs. Bring them slowly to a simmer, frequently skimming off any scum, and continue simmering for up to 2 hours, depending on the type of stock/broth you’re making. Strain out the solids, and skim off any fat. Et voilà – stock. Add some seasoning and you have broth. For extra flavor, you can roast your ingredients before adding them to the water.

So for at least a couple of months, the Kitchen Goddess has been carefully saving veggie scraps – those bulky, dark green ends of leeks, the thick inedible stems from collards or kale, and the stems and fronds from fennel bulbs – with the goal of bravely venturing into the world of stocks. Throw them into zip-lock bags and stash them in your freezer. It’s easy, and once you have 2-3 pounds of scraps, you have the basis for what turns out to be a really great stock. And among the stocks, veggie stock is by far the easiest and fastest to make.

Friends, I would make this stuff again just for the smell wafting through the house from the vegetables roasting. Oh, my. I also am swayed by the extra richness and flavor I get from roasting the veggies, but you can get perfectly good stock without roasting, so I’ve given you the recipe below to allow both options. I can even imagine certain uses for the stock that would be better from unroasted veggies.

And then you can use the stock to try a wonderful Mushroom Barley Soup. Of course, you can also use a good store-bought stock to make the soup – it’s a great weapon against the cold and rainy weather we’ve been having. But in this new year, I say you should try something new. Branch out. Be brave. Make stock – you will not regret it.

Vegetable Broth

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Makes about 2 quarts.

2 tablespoons olive or corn oil, separated
3½-4 pounds vegetables, to include:
  1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced in 1-inch lengths
2 stalks celery, sliced in 1-inch lengths
1 parsnip, sliced in ½-inch lengths
1 leek, well rinsed, trimmed and sliced in 1-inch lengths (white, light green, and dark green parts)
Assorted other non-starchy vegetables or vegetable scraps (such as broccoli, fennel, or turnips),
     Kitchen Goddess note:
chopped into pieces 1-2 inches long – enough to reach 4 pounds total.
      Avoid beets and beet greens, as they’ll turn the whole thing red. 
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 quarts cool water
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
4-5 whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole juniper berries
1 large bay leaf
large sprig fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley

If you’ll be roasting your vegetables:
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place the sliced vegetables into a large bowl and toss well with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Spread the vegetables out onto a large sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they start to brown. (Don’t overcook them.)

These are the same veggies as below, after roasting. Notice that the collard/kale stems got quite dark in only a half hour.

2. In the meantime, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

3. Once the vegetables have begun to brown, remove them from the oven and add them to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients. Deglaze the roasting pan: pour about a cup of the water into the pan and stir it around to release any of the cooked bits of vegetable and juices (the “fond”) that have remained there. Add that flavored water to the soup pot. Go to Step 3 below.

If you are not roasting your vegetables:
1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are translucent, 3-4 minutes.

These are the same vegetables as above, before roasting.

2. Add the vegetables to the soup pot, along with the water and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring the mixture slowly to a simmer, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth has a good flavor, about an hour.

4. Strain the broth through a sieve. Allow the broth to come to room temperature before storing in the fridge or the freezer. Be sure to label and date batches of broth in the freezer. Some cooks recommend freezing the broth in ice cube trays, then transferring the cubes of broth to plastic freezer bags for easy measurement.

* * *

And now you’re ready for the star of today’s show. I have specified crimini mushrooms here, because they’re firmer in texture and contribute an earthier flavor than white button mushrooms. Also I like the color. But you should feel free to use either. If you prepare this soup a day in advance, you’ll find that the flavor deepens and the soup itself gets thicker. Correct the thickness by adding a little broth or water as you reheat.

Kitchen Goddess note: The Kitchen Goddess does not always remember to heat her bowls before serving a nice warm dish like this soup. But you can do better. Especially in cold weather, when your dishes are likely to feel a bit frosty, let the bowls sit with a little hot water in them for a few minutes before serving.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Adapted from the CIA Book of Soups.

Serves 6-8.

1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, in ¼-inch dice (about 1¼ cups)
1 carrot, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
1 celery stalk, in ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
1 parsnip, in ¼-inch dice (about ⅓ cup)
3 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (about 10 ounces), or white button mushrooms if you prefer
2 quarts well-seasoned vegetable broth or chicken broth
¾ cup pearl barley
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

About 30 minutes in advance, put the dried wild mushrooms in a small bowl and add the sherry and the boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. (I use my Le Creuset 5.5-quart Dutch oven.) Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns golden, about 13 minutes.

Stir in the diced carrot, celery, and parsnip, and the sliced creminis, until they are all well combined with the onion. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 3-4 minutes.

Remove the cover. Add the broth, the barley, and the wild mushrooms with their soaking liquid. Raise the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve. If you are making the soup to serve the next day, save the parsley and add it when you’re getting ready to serve.