Saturday, October 29, 2011

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup

I was starting to feel a little under the weather last weekend, so I decided to spend Saturday afternoon simmering up a restorative chicken broth. It turned out so rich and delicious that now I want to spend every Saturday making soup!

I started out by heating some olive oil in a large stockpot and searing a pound and a half of chicken backs. Once they were nice and golden brown, I added in two onions, cut in half, and half a head of celery and a large handful of carrots, roughly chopped, and let them brown up a little bit. Then I added enough water to cover everything, a couple of bay leaves and a small sprinkle of dried thyme, brought it to a boil and then turned it down to low and let it start simmering.

While the soup simmered, I roasted a whole 4 1/2 lb chicken in the oven for dinner. The other half of the celery and two more halved onions were tucked underneath the chicken. Once it was done, I removed the breasts for that night's dinner, picked the remaining meat off the carcass and set it aside, then added the chicken bones and roasted vegetables into the stock pot, adding more water to cover.

All in all, the chicken stock simmered for about six hours, until it was deeply brown and flavorful. I added a little bit of kosher salt to taste then strained the whole mess into a glass bowl, which went straight into the fridge. In the morning, I scraped the gloppy layer of fat from the top of the bowl and was left with about a gallon of lovely, rich chicken stock.

Some of it went right into this chicken and stars - and escarole! - soup. Oh man. If there's anything better than homemade chicken soup, I don't know what it is.

Once you have your homemade stock, this soup comes together super fast. Just heat up your broth and some of the reserved chicken, boil up a cup of tiny star-shaped pasta and then mix the cooked pasta into the broth. This week, we received a mystery green from the CSA - I originally thought it was lettuce and tried to make a salad out of it, then realized that it was way too thick and strongly flavored to be lettuce. Next guess? Escarole! Just the thing to shred into ribbons and mix into a boiling pot of soup for some extra flavor and nutrition. Yum!

After the soup was made, I took the rest of the chicken stock and froze it in ice cube trays, knowing how delicious it would make everything it touched. And I was right! It made this celeraic soup absolutely delightful.

This isn't just celeraic soup, actually. It's celeraic-apple-leek-potato soup, a delicious way to use up about half of this week's CSA share in one yummy, warming pureed soup. It's crazy easy, too - just peel and chop one large knob of celeraic, two apples, one potato, one clove of garlic and a bunch of leeks, saute them in a bit of oil to get some browning action going on, then cover them in chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Once everything is tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender - or in batches in a traditional blender - and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. You can also stir in a few pats of butter or a splash of cream if you're feeling indulgent, but it's really not required. I served this soup with a bit of paprika and black pepper on top, but croutons would be absolutely wonderful, if you have some around.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More often than not these days, I'm totally wiped out when I get home from work. The last thing I want to do most evenings is cook an elaborate, complicated dinner - I just want food, and I want it now! And I don't want it to come out of a box... especially not a pizza-sized box from the crappy pizzeria next door. So I've been experimenting with ways to get most of the work for dinner done ahead of time. A few weekends ago, I made a triple batch of meatballs, rolled them up and flash froze them in the raw and stacked them up in a freezer bag. It's easy as pie to come home, stick a couple of them in the oven for thirty minutes, boil up some spaghetti or slice open a hero roll and have dinner ready by the time the six o'clock news starts.

Ratatouille is another great make-ahead meal. It can safely stay in the fridge for a few days after it's prepared, and like most stews, it only gets better with age. I can also serve it in a few different, easy ways to mix things up a little bit - while I love a simple, warm bowl of ratatouille with some crusty bread for dipping, a dish of olives and a glass of wine, you could also plate it with rice, couscous or savory crepes for something different! And look how yummy it looks, all full of herbes de provence and soft, tender vegetables.

I'm going to tell you how to make my favorite version of ratatouille, but first I want to show you my inspiration for this dinner... the most beautiful bell pepper I've ever seen.

Seriously, though. Isn't that something? As soon as I saw those in our CSA selection this week, I was all, MINE! And then there were little purple eggplant in the next bucket, and I was like, HEY THESE MATCH!

And then I got them home and I was like, SO NOW WHAT? Eggplant... pepper... hey, and I have those oven-dried tomatoes still in the fridge, marinating in oil... oh! Ratatouille. Well, obviously.

For dessert, a gorgeous, perfect apple pie, made in penance for the one that I totally screwed up at my parents' house a few weekends ago. I got it right this time, starting with the Pillsbury pie crust fresh from my grocer's freezer. (I hate to admit it, but I think pie dough is one of those things that really isn't better homemade. Or at least not in my home.)

I'd intended to make Four and Twenty Blackbirds' amazing Salted Caramel Apple Pie, but when I picked up the sugar bowl to start making caramel, I realized that I was very low on sugar - and didn't want to risk the last scant cup of sugar in my house in a potentially dicey caramel-making endeavor. But I'd already sliced the apples - on a mandolin, no less - and time was running out. So I went where I always go when I need a recipe that I'm sure will be absolutely perfect: Smitten Kitchen. I used Deb's Apple Pie recipe with only a few slight changes - I added a teaspoon of vanilla and an extra tablespoon of flour and substituted a full teaspoon of fleur de sel for the quarter teaspoon of regular salt. (I also used a different kind of apple, though I've now forgotten which kind. I'm kicking myself, for real.)

This was the first time I'd ever actually followed a recipe for apple pie, and boy, was it worth it. Look at this thing!

Look at it! All browned and sugary and flaky and delicious... and look at the inside, too! LOOK!

Oh man, perfectly tender, compact layers of apple filling and thickened juices just gooey enough, scented with just enough cinnamon and vanilla... this is quite possibly the best apple pie I have ever made. I cannot stop eating it. Honestly, if there's a better apple pie in the world, I don't want to know about it. Oh, and it makes your house smell kind of amazing while it's baking, too. So... you should definitely make one. Today.

And one final dish: My lovely and talented friend Emily and I have recently announced our newest culinary venture - the Whiskey & Salt Supper Club! If my ideas are intriguing to you and you wish to subscribe to my newsletter... or if you just want to eat some delicious food, with a menu prepared and executed by Emily and I, drink some fabulous cocktails and meet some fun folks around the dinner table, head over to and sign up for our email list! We'll keep you posted on how you can attend our first event, currently scheduled for December 3rd.

the way I've always made it - three to four servings

one small-to-medium eggplant
one medium-to-large zucchini
one bell pepper (I generally use red, but obviously substituted purple here)
(optional - three oven-dried plum tomato halves)
one clove of garlic
one 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes
olive oil
herbes de provence, either a commercial mixture or a homemade one including rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano and fennel seed

Cut eggplant and zucchini into medium dice. Cut bell pepper into short, thin strips. Mince garlic. Heat a generous amount of olive oil (three to four tablespoons) in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and saute eggplant four to five minutes, until golden and tender. Remove eggplant to a bowl and add zucchini, bell pepper and garlic to the remaining oil in the pan. (Add more olive oil if necessary.) Sprinkle lavishly with herbes de provence and cook until zucchini is tender. Add eggplant back to the pot, along with crushed tomato (and dried tomato, if using). Reduce heat to a simmer, add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Cover and simmer for an hour or more, stirring occasionally and adding a small amount of water if the stew becomes too thick.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My gentleman friend and I went upstate this weekend to visit my family - including my Uncle Richard, who was in town for the weekend. Spending time with my folks is always fun, but this time, I had an ulterior motive - I wanted to get some apple picking done!

My plans were almost foiled, however, when we woke up on Saturday morning to a steady drizzle and an even more depressing forecast - rain, rain, rain! Luckily, us farm folk (and the one Brooklyn boy among us) are made of hearty stock... so we put on some sneakers and headed out to the orchard.

At Stone Ridge Orchards, the trees were bursting with fruit and the place was practically deserted. (Thanks, rain!) Ed and I picked a full bushel, pausing every now and then to munch on a crisp, sweet Empire apple, and then we headed back into Kingston for groceries - and hot apple cider doughnuts, fresh out of the fryer and thickly coated in cinnamon sugar - at Adam's.

Once home, the whole family pitched in to turn our bounty of apples into delicious treats - a thick, cinnamon-laden applesauce; an even thicker and richer slow-cooker apple butter; and an apple pie with a sadly tough and flavorless crust. (Cook's Illustrated, how could you fail me so?! Vodka pie dough sounded like such a brilliant idea, but wound up just being a waste of my mom's fancy vodka.)

But at least the first two projects turned out flawlessly! I am really loving this applesauce, which Ed and I ate for dinner tonight on top of potato pancakes (made with CSA potaters!) with a big dollop of sour cream. The apple butter is also super duper good, and crazy easy to make. You just peel and core about 20 - 25 apples and put them in a slow cooker with about two cups of sugar and any spices you're into (my mom added cinnamon, but I like my apple butter sans additional spice). Put the slow cooker on high for about an hour to break everything down, then turn it down to low and ride it out, stirring every now and then. Proper apple-butter-ization happens somewhere between the 12th and 24th hour. (If yours is particularly watery after around the 8th hour, you can balance the lid half-on, half-off the crock to allow some moisture to evaporate.)

Not all of the apples went into the sauce and butter though - I knew I wanted to bring some home for caramel apples! I'd never successfully made caramel before, though, and I knew it would be a tall order. And a tall order it was, indeed. At first, my caramel looked and smelled delicious, but wound up setting way too thick and hard. (Uh, that's what she said?) It was tooth cracking hard. Almost Werther's caramel candy hard. My apples were ruined! My beautiful apples!

Determined to make it work, I peeled the too-hard caramel coating off the dipped apples and melted it down in the microwave with a little more heavy cream. With a lot of patience and a lot of stirring, I wound up with this:

A slightly-too-sticky and loose but beautifully flavored caramel clinging to a gorgeous, fresh apple. In case you're curious, I used this caramel apple recipe from Martha Stewart Weddings. I'm not really sure exactly where I went wrong, but I suspect that the fault lies with my candy thermometer - I think it tends to read cooler than the actual mixture is. (Boring side note: when I was boiling sugar for the French buttercream in the last entry, my sugar was actually reaching the hard crack stage when the thermometer said it was in the soft ball stage. Clearly, I need a new candy thermometer.)

Finally, a kiss goodbye to tomato season. Red and yellow plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme:

And roasted at 400 degrees for 45 minutes:

I haven't figured out what to do with these yet, but I have a feeling they go pretty well with just about everything.