Wednesday, September 16, 2015

¡Viva México!
What’s cooking? Albóndigas Soup

Speaking of celebrations – I was just speaking of celebrations, wasn’t I? – today is a most important day to remember our neighbors to the South. That would be in Mexico, where today is the official Día de Independencia. (And for those of you who are noting that you’re reading this on September 17th, I want it also noted that I actually hit the Publish button before midnight. Enough with the smart remarks. Just make the soup.)

A Historical Note (I know, I can’t help myself): Mexico’s War of Independence began in the tiny town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, on September 16, 1810. Spanish colonial officials had uncovered a plot to overthrow their government; and when the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who had been part of the plot, learned the news, he had to act quickly. He ran to the center of Dolores, rang the church bell, and delivered an electrifying speech calling for everyone to take up arms against the Spanish Crown. The large and disparate mob that assembled marched with Hidalgo toward Mexico City, sparking an uprising against Spanish rule that finally achieved victory 11 years later.

As with its U.S. counterpart, the day is now most often referred to by its date (Dieciseis de Septiembre) rather than its name (Día de Independencia). According to the International Times, the celebration actually begins at 11p.m. on the evening of September 15, with the President of Mexico reenacting the “Grito de Dolores” (the Cry of Dolores). He rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City, then repeats a patriotic cry and shouts, “¡Viva México!” three times, before waving the flag of Mexico.

* * *

For the Kitchen Goddess, the Dieciseis de Septiembre is a great excuse to make one of her favorite soups: Albondigas Soup. Not because it’s an elegant gourmet dish – it’s not. In fact, it’s a delightfully mundane sort of dish – not unlike the hodgepodge of rebels that initiated the revolution. It’s a dish filled with the bright primary colors of Latino celebrations, a dish that’s fun to make and stars the basic elements of good, earthy Mexican cuisine. Also a great excuse to buy a bag of tortilla chips.

So without further ado, here it is. Albondigas – which means “meatballs” in Spanish – is a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy (not hot) meatballs, swimming in a flavorful stew of fresh vegetables and herbs. It’s good the first day, and good the second day if you can make it last that long. I first saw this version in a skinny book of soups from Williams-Sonoma, back in the days when you could buy something from W-S for less than $20. I’ve loved it from the beginning. You can make it with pork or turkey if you want an alternative to beef.

Albóndigas Soup

Adapted from Soups, in the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library.

Serves 8-10.

For the meatballs:
1 pound lean ground beef
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
¾ cup crushed tortilla chips
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the soup:
7 cups beef stock (low fat if possible), or chicken stock
1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup carrots, in ½-inch dice
¾ cup celery, in ½-inch dice
1 cup onion (1 medium onion), in ½-inch dice
1 bay leaf

To make the meatballs: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Cover the bowl with cellophane wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Form the meat mixture into small balls about 1 inch to 1½ inches in diameter.

Kitchen Goddess note: The process of forming all those little balls is a lot easier if you set out a bowl of water to moisten your hands while you work. When your hands are wet, the meat won’t stick to them. Also, it’s helpful to have a spoon to use for keeping the size of the meatballs consistent; the KG uses a teaspoon to gauge the amount of meat mixture for each ball.

Set the finished meatballs on a plate or plates while you work your way through the mixture. Refrigerate the finished meatballs while you ready the soup.

In a large soup pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), combine the stock and tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes or a knife to cut them into coarse pieces. Stir in the sugar and Aleppo pepper (or pepper flakes), then add the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the temperature to a simmer.

Remove the meatballs from the fridge and gently roll them into the simmering stock. Once all the meatballs are in the soup, return the stock to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer the soup gently for 20-25 minutes, until the meatballs and vegetables are cooked through.

To serve, remove and discard the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with chips or warm tortillas and a salad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

For Your Post-Labor Day Celebrations
What’s cooking? Summer Fruit Rosé Sangria

The Kitchen Goddess has worked herself into what in the South we call a “tizzy” over this post. It was supposed to be short and easy – a simple sangria for the Labor Day celebration. And now of course, Labor Day is over, but do not tell me you can’t find a way to celebrate something. The weekend? The still-warm weather? The start of football season?

Back to the sangria, the KG found herself overwhelmed with choices. For starters, which wine? Red felt too hot. White? Well, the KG had already posted her favorite white sangria, which you’ll find here. That left rosé. Over the years, rosé has unfairly gotten a reputation for being a sweet wine, but there are literally hundreds of really nice, dry rosé wines, and many are very nicely priced for this purpose. So that’s what we’re going to use today.

A tiny tidbit of trivia: According to Wikipedia, rosé may actually be the oldest type of wine. Evidence of winemaking goes back as far as 8000 years ago, in ancient Georgia (the country, not the state, though my friends in the state may claim to have been drinking that long). As I understand it, the earliest methods left the skins in contact with the juice for up to 3 days. And that, my friends, is how you make rosé.

So you have the wine, and now you have to add something. Again, too many choices. Your basic sangria contains wine, fruit, and some type of liqueur (most often Triple Sec or Cointreau). Beyond those, I found any number of other liquids in what the authors called “sangria”: rum, gin, port, brandy, various fruit juices, and simple syrup. Some also threw in cinnamon sticks, mint, or citrus rinds to enhance the flavor. Finally, some recipes added sparkling water at the end. The mind reeled...

I did find an interesting recipe – which I’ll share here – but once I made it, my hubby pronounced it “too alcoholic.” Hrmph. Probably because of the gin. I’ve tasted it today – after giving it a night in the fridge – and it’s really quite good; but there is the gin. Even after adding a bit of sparkling water, the Kitchen Goddess noticed a kick. So if you think you’d prefer a version that won’t have your friends falling asleep on your couch, I’ve come up with another, simpler concoction with more fruit and no gin.

First, the recipe with gin. I’ve already modified it because it called for Campari, which I don’t like. And the mixologist serves it with fruit juice ice cubes, which I found to be a little too precious – also too much work.

Kitchen Goddess note: Both of these recipes call for simple syrup. In fact, many cocktails and most sangrias call for simple syrup. It’s so simple, you should just keep some in your fridge. It’s also useful for sweetening iced tea or lemonade – no need for extended stirring to get the sugar to dissolve. To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar with cold water (measuring by volume, which is reasonably accurate, you want ½ cup sugar to ½ cup water, or 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, etc.) in a small saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and stir just until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture reaches a simmer, turn off the heat and set the pan aside. Pour the mixture into a sterile jar and it will keep in the fridge for at least a month. (Remember, sugar is used as a preservative, so if your jar is clean, it should keep indefinitely.)

Rosé Sangria

Adapted from Troy Sidle, a bartender and bar designer based in New York City, as seen on the food site,

Serves 6.

½ cup gin
3 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur (or Campari, if you prefer)
8 slices of peel from a grapefruit, 1 inch wide and 2-3 inches long (use a vegetable peeler)
8 slices of peel from a lemon, same as above
½ cup raspberries
1½ cups strawberries, hulled – ½ cup quartered and 1 cup sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 bottle dry rosé wine (750 ml)
1 nectarine, thinly sliced
Sparkling water
Garnish: mint sprigs

In a small bowl, stir the raspberries, the quartered strawberries and the citrus peels into the gin and the St. Germain. Muddle (crush) the berries to add their juices into the other liquid. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Once the fruit-infused gin mixture has had time to mellow, strain out the berries and peels and add the remaining liquid to a large pitcher along with the 2 tablespoons of simple syrup and the wine. Cover with cellophane wrap and allow the ingredients to get to know each other overnight in the fridge. Stir in the sliced strawberries and the nectarine. Serve over ice with a splash of sparkling water.

Kitchen Goddess note: The above mixture is relatively high in alcoholic content, so you may want to suggest that your guests treat it as a cocktail instead of a wine punch, drinking sparingly. Alternatively, you can go with the following, which is fruity and refreshing, yet lower in alcohol.

Summer Fruit Rosé Sangria

Serves 6.

1 ripe peach, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon juice and 8 slices of peel (about 1 inch wide, 2-3 inches long) from 1 Meyer lemon
2 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 bottle dry rosé wine (750 ml)
1 sliced nectarine
½ cup sliced strawberries (hull removed)
Garnish: mint sprigs

In a small bowl, muddle together the peach, the lemon juice and the peel with the St. Germain liqueur, and set aside for 2-3 hours.

Separate the lemon peels and reserve, then strain the muddled peach from the liqueur. (There’s no further use for the peach, but I’m sure you can find something to do with it. It’s quite yummy.)  In a large pitcher, stir together the simple syrup, the wine, and the peach-infused liqueur. Add the peels to the wine mixture, along with the nectarine slices and the strawberries. Refrigerate 2-3 hours and serve over ice with mint garnish.

The Wines

I used two wines for these concoctions, one from Italy and one from France. The first was a rosato from Tuscany, Salcheto’s 2014 Obvius.

 The second was a 2014 Cœur Estérelle Côtes de Provence rosé. Both were dry and somewhat fruity; both cost less than $14.

And now the KG is off to enjoy the fruits – and spirits – of her labors. Happy Wednesday, all!