Spicy Mushroom Soup

It’s been some winter so far. Not content to bury us under successive blankets of snow, the heavens punished us yesterday for some undisclosed sin we’ve collectively committed by raining shards of ice on our heads. Knowing icy vengeance was coming our way, I made a pot of, well, I’m still not sure what to call this soup. It’s very, very loosely based on yuk gae jang, a mind-blowingly spicy Korean beef soup. It was a favorite of mine in my 20s, but the beef was always just a little too chewy for my taste, so I started tinkering with meatless versions sometime in my 30s and landed on this one in my 40s.

So you could say it’s been a long time coming. I’m not done with it yet, but it’s a dish that obviously can handle a fair amount of tweaking.

The secret ingredient in this bowl of bliss is gochujang, a fermented condiment heavy on the red pepper. Looking for an expiration date on the jar that’s been in my refrigerator for a couple of years (at least), I noticed a prominent ingredient was wheat, which I’m really avoiding in earnest these days. So I did what I always do — looked online for a gluten-free recipe, and found one right away. The ingredients were few, the time commitment was minimal and the rewards were great (it’s possibly more delicious than commercial-grade). I really can’t complain. Even though my Korean chili pepper was a little out of date and the gochujang wasn’t Insanity Pepper-hot, it still lit up the pot of soup like a torch.

As insurance against the weather, I added a hefty dash of chili flakes to the pot. You can see them swimming alone around the edges of the bowl, as if the vegetables were crowding together in the center for protection.

recipe after the jump

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Holiday Treats, Part II

…and a side of insulin.

I’ll continue to post about pralines every year because they really are one of my favorite things of the season. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I have my first bite. After my 20th bite, it just feels like I need a nap.

Creamy Pralines

After making several batches of these in one weekend, I have a few tips to ensure success. First, spray the waxed paper very well; these are sticky suckers that need the lubrication. Second, don’t bother with the candy thermometer until about 5 minutes after you’ve added the pecans; it really just gets in the way and the mixture won’t come up to temperature before that. Third, after you’ve added the vanilla extract, beat the praline batter vigorously until it really begins to thicken and your arm is getting tired. If you spoon them out too soon, they’ll spread too much, which leads to thin pralines that take up far too much counter space.

2 cups white sugar
1 stick butter
16 large marshmallows
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
finishing salt

Cook sugar, butter, marshmallows, and milk over medium heat, stirring constantly until all ingredients are melted, then add pecans. Cook, stirring constantly, to soft ball stage, 235-240 degrees F. (I always go to 240 degrees. The end result is much better at the higher end of the range.) Remove from burner. Add vanilla and beat until mixture thickens. Drop by tablespoon or two onto greased waxed paper. While still hot, sprinkle with finishing salt.

Yield: 48 small pralines or 15 large.

Italian Sunday

Update (1/22/11): This short rib ragu won Food52‘s contest for Your Best Short Ribs, and will be included in their next cookbook, out later this year!

Maybe it’s the tomato tooth I was born with instead of a sweet tooth, maybe it’s the towering heels I rock when my old bones let me, or maybe it’s only that Marcello Mastroianni was perfection on two legs, but I’ve always wanted to be Italian, just a little bit.


Exhibit A: Photographic evidence of alleged perfection, minus corroborating proof of two legs.

It isn’t that I don’t love a good bowl of shrimp & grits or that I don’t get a nostalgic glow from a breakfast of couche-couche and cane syrup, but polenta has been my go-to corn base of late. And after a long work week, what could be a more welcome sight or more soul-satisfying over cheesy, buttery polenta than a ragu of braised short ribs, I ask you?

It’s a dish that’s nearly impossible to mess up, which I think we all can appreciate in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. With so much else on the mind, it’s nice to throw something into the oven for a few hours and get on with other things. Of course, the initial prep work takes some time — chopping the vegetables, trimming and searing the beef, getting all of the elements in balance before the extended stay in the oven — but your time and patience will be well-rewarded by the outcome.

If you can manage not to devour it right away, let the ribs sit overnight in the refrigerator. This serves two purposes: as we all know, this type of dish is always better on the second day, and you’ll be able to remove some of the ungodly amount of fat the ribs throw off so much easier than if you only skimmed the surface while it was still hot. Of course, chilling the ragu overnight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little quality control while it’s still hot, just to put your mind at ease that you have, in fact, made something that will be worth the wait.

Too bad I didn't make more.

But woman cannot live by polenta and short ribs alone. As a nod to the tables of so many of my fellow North Jerseyans, I made a Sunday gravy recently. It’s not something I tackle more than once a year because of the sheer effort and number of calories involved, but man, this makes for a pleasant food coma. I make no claims to authenticity, but I’m not sure too many others can either; it’s one of those dishes that seems to have as many variations as people who make it. The recipes may disagree on specifics, but all are unified in the insistence on Meat And Lots Of It. Me? I only used a paltry four types — pepperoni (not too much of it), sweet Italian sausage, pork butt and beef & pork meatballs. I browned everything but the pepperoni, then simmered it all for hours in tomatoes swimming with garlic until we were going mad (in the best possible way) from the smell.

not perfected yet

My gluten-free adaptation of this polenta cake didn’t quite pass muster, but with a little creme fraiche, it was still a nice way to end the meal. I’ll keep working on it and report back when I’ve found success.

recipe after the jump

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Pizza, My Endless Love

smoked trout & roasted garlic vs. pepperoni & roasted red peppers

Most days, I’ll hit the gym at lunch if I have the time to spare at work. With my commute, it’s the only chance I ever have for a real workout and I always feel better when I manage to do it. But Friday, I just wasn’t feeling it, so I hiked over to Chelsea Market instead. I’ve read great things about the gluten-free offerings at Friedman’s Lunch and wanted to try out one of their sandwiches after picking up some pantry staples at Buon Italia. The reuben from Friedman’s came back to work with me, and it was really, truly delicious, so much so that I didn’t miss the “real” bread one bit. Of course, I was ready to nap within 15 minutes of finishing it, but what a happy food coma it was.

My heavenly sandwich notwithstanding, the best part of my shopping expedition was scoring The Last Package of sheep’s milk ricotta at Buon Italia. They were out the last few times I’ve been, so my search started to feel a little like Woody Harrelson’s eternal quest for Twinkies in Zombieland. But then that lone package appeared before me, like a cream-covered grail.

Ummm yeah, you could say I love the stuff.

Anyway, the wheels started spinning even before I left the building . . . pasta would be good, maybe with some butternut squash. My old standby — ravioli stuffed with ricotta and an egg yolk — wasn’t something I wanted to waste this precious bundle on during my first attempt at making a fresh gluten-free pasta, so that was out. But how about pizza? Gluten-Free Girl‘s pizza crust was just featured on Michael Ruhlman’s blog, so I could share the recipe. And from there, I was off, doing taste tests in my imagination, adding/rejecting toppings based on how they’d play with the ricotta. I finally settled upon a recipe that, while simple, worked perfectly, with roasted garlic, smoked trout, a touch of parmesan and baby arugula. The ingredients married well, without any one component overshadowing the others.

I went with bolder toppings for the second pizza, adding muenster cheese (we had no mozzarella), plum tomatoes, sliced pepperoni, roasted red peppers, more ricotta, parmesan, red pepper flakes and the few remaining leaves of basil from my plant on the deck. Neither Gil nor I could decide which pizza we liked more, even after taste testing until we nearly burst. The only thing I’d change for next time would be to roll out the crust as thin as possible, till it’s almost crackly, but that’s just a personal preference.

So remember, kids:
1. Friedman’s Lunch = awesome, but plan for a nap.
2. Try to take my sheep’s milk ricotta and you’ll lose a hand.

recipes after the jump

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They call me “Tater Soup”

Potage Parmentier

I found myself at home mid-week trying to sleep off a sinus infection, but got bored with all of that lying about after a while. (This development is disturbing to me, since I used to be quite happy lazing the day away, watching trashy TV and napping. When did I turn into my dad, needing a project to keep me happy and productive?!) So I did what I always do; I escaped to the kitchen. Still groggy and hungover-ish from Nyquil, I wasn’t up for a full-blown meal, but a simple soup was something I could handle and Potage Parmentier fit the bill perfectly. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make and any additions to the potato and leek base amount to a “why not?” soup.

Should I add celery root? Why not?
How about some apple? Why not?
Maybe a whole head of roasted garlic? Hell, yeah! I mean…why not?

potato & leek soup with celery root, apple & roasted garlic

The soup left me with a small batch of potato and apple peels, which I hated to see go to waste, so I munched on the apple peels while the soup simmered, and turned the potato peels into a nutrient-filled version of fries…simply stir fried in a little bit of olive oil until golden brown, then tossed with salt & pepper.

Waste not, want not.

They’re really amazing drizzled with truffle oil, or better yet, melted truffle butter. But this time I just ate them plain, with a glass of iced tea. Perfection.

Potato peel fries, close-up

The boys were very supportive of my earlier decision to nap extensively, but couldn’t agree to end the day in a productive manner.

Rufus & Otis, doing what they do best.

My First Faux-caccia

You know, this whole gluten-free thing hasn’t been quite the pain in the ass I expected at first, and not just because I’m lucky enough only to get joint pain when I eat gluten (meaning I can cheat without major repercussions from time to time). I work in New York, so GF lunches are fairly easy to find, and once I got over my egg sandwich craving for breakfast it was pretty smooth sailing. The difficulties I’m having are in finding acceptable pre-packaged bread and pasta. I’ve turned out a few decent loaves of bread on my own in the past few months, but dried pasta offerings have been uniformly disappointing so far. If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears!

One of these surprisingly good homemade bread experiments was a gluten-free redo of a Concord grape focaccia I first tried last year. It took a couple of weeks to get to the point of baking that bread, just because focaccia is a favorite of mine and I knew no wheatless version could compare to the real thing… but then I sucked it up, put on my big girl pants and got to work.

And you know what? The weeks of anxiety were just a silly way to spend my time — it turned out great! Gil and I ate about half of it that first day, so I’d consider it a success. Also? It’s much, much easier than baking honest-to-goodness bread — no kneading involved and no overnight rest in the fridge, so the time between craving and craving fulfillment is much abridged.

I just received my copy of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, which has another version of focaccia that I’m dying to try. Let’s hope those Concord grapes hold out one more week!

recipe after the jump

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Sweet potato chips

These sweet potato chips came about simply because I wanted to enter the photo contest at Leite’s Culinaria. The rules were simple: Contestants could choose any recipe on the site to cook as written, then photograph the dish in any manner of their choosing. No crazy digital shenanigans beyond tweaking white balance and exposure were allowed.

As it turned out, I had a couple of problems with this:

  1. For about a month, I literally could not decide on a recipe to cook. Everything sounded delicious, but no one recipe jumped out at me visually.
  2. When I finally decided on this recipe (mainly because I had all of the ingredients in the house and the day was drawing to a close), cooked it and took my pictures, the images didn’t seem contest-appropriate.

So… I didn’t enter. /facepalm

But these chips were absolutely delicious, and you deserve to know about them. Sea Salt and Rosemary Sweet Potato Chips. Try them now. Don’t let my neuroses stop you!

From the Market: Weeks 9 & 10

peach ice cream

The word of the week was peaches. They’re my favorite fruit-as-fruit (with tomatoes as my favorite fruit-as-vegetable), so I’ve been heading to the farmers’ market even more eagerly on Saturday mornings than usual. The peaches have been spilling over, so apart from being eaten out of hand, mixed with yogurt for breakfast, atop salads and in salsas, they made a command performance in the quintessential summer dessert — peach ice cream (using my Aunt’s recipe for the custard base).

And because I love nothing more than gilding the lily, raspberry-blueberry coulis really set this off, providing a tart counterpoint to the smooth sweetness of the ice cream. It’s really simple to make, too. Just throw 2-3 handfuls of berries into a small saucepan, add a little sugar (I used about a tablespoon of vanilla sugar) and some lemon juice. Cook it over medium heat until the berries break down and the sauce starts to thicken. Cool, and use it to top whatever comes to mind.

Peaches from Treelicious Orchards and Orchards of Conklin and berries from the latter.

We’ve been eating out a bit lately, discovering new dishes and supporting new restaurants, which resulted in haunted dreams of Picnic‘s truffled corn chowder and the urge to create my own summer dish. Since buying a truffle is hard to justify as part of an experimental dish for only Gil and myself, I went in a completely different (read: cheaper) direction while still keeping it in the chowder family. What I came up with was nothing like Picnic’s masterpiece, but it was a worthy addition to my repertoire. Here’s what I did to make Smoked Corn Chowder.

It started with meat, as you probably knew it would. I scored the skin of two duck breast halves, gave them a good all-over coating of my beef rub, then left them uncovered in the fridge for a few hours before firing up the smoker. To keep the corn from overcooking (and to take advantage of the delicious duck fat that would be rendering from the breasts), I placed two shucked ears of corn on the lower level of my Weber Smokey Mountain (just above the water pan) and the duck breasts in the center of the top rack.

Before I go any farther, you should know that Gil takes whatever’s put in front of him with equanimity, typically. He keeps his head down and eats whatever I make without much censure or praise, no matter the how I feel about what’s on the plate. But these duck breasts earned the title The Best Thing Ever from him. (Take that as you will.) And they were awfully good, even if the skin didn’t get entirely crispy, which turned out to be a good thing for the chowder.

To take advantage of that extra fat on the smoked breasts, I devised a workable solution: I’d chop the seasoned fat from 1/2 of a duck breast and render it in place of bacon in the chowder. When the skin had crisped and given up as much fat as possible, I set it aside to use as garnish for the finished soup. The rest of the chowder was a pretty standard affair, but the smoked corn and slight hint of duck really added something special to it.

with crispy duck skin

I liked the proportion of smoked corn to fresh — the smoke wasn’t overwhelming, but gave the silky chowder a depth it doesn’t usually have. Feel free to play with amounts for more or less of the smoky goodness.

I assume Gil agreed, because we ate it all in one sitting. Nom, indeed.

recipe after the jump

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From the Market: Week 8

Or, corn week

And we’re back with another weekend of cooking, fresh from the Ringwood Farmers’ Market. Despite temperatures that reached the triple digits a couple of weeks ago, it didn’t really feel like summer to me until this weekend, when I first spied corn at several booths at the market. And because corn heralds the arrival of tomatoes (thus my favorite food weeks of the year), I’m a happy, happy girl.

So with a full bag of corn and some adorable baby eggplants, I set my sights on grilling this weekend. The only question was what slant to give the meal, and after some consideration (Mexican — lime & cotija? Italian — balsamic vinaigrette? Cajun — loads of paprika, oregano & pepper?), I decided to go for Middle Eastern with a harissa rub/dressing since the cumin, coriander and paprika would play so well with the flavors of the grill.

There are lots of ways to grill corn and I’ve tried most of them. Rolling the shucked ears in foil with a little butter and spice is where I started years ago, but that only takes advantage of the grill’s heat and doesn’t capture its essence. Grilling already-shucked ears bare on the grate is a little more satisfying, but the kernels tend to dry out and turn rubbery, no matter how attentive you are. So I’ve turned into an unshucked griller. I remove some of the outer husks, peel back the rest and keep them attached at the base, then strip the silk from the cob. At that point, it’s really simple to season the corn however you like, re-cover the ear with the husks and tie them at the top with one of the detached husks. Some people like to soak the cobs, but I prefer not to so the outer husks burn and char, and infuse the kernels with the smokiness of the grill.

For this weekend’s meal, I brushed the kernels with olive oil, then sprinkled them with dry harissa. I like to keep the dry rub around because I’m never quite sure how long the paste will keep with fresh garlic in it. Using powdered garlic and leaving out the water solves that problem, and it’s easy enough to turn it into a paste later. The corn roasted over a hot fire for about 20 minutes while I turned the ears frequently. The outer husks charred to black and began to crumble away after a time, but we were left with smoky, tender corn cooked through perfectly. Just before we dug in, I drizzled it with some harissa sauce (more on which later):

SUMMER'S HERE!

Although I’d be perfectly happy making an entire meal of grilled corn, Gil probably wouldn’t be, so I threw together a quick salad as well. While the corn was grilling, I placed the baby eggplants in the in-between spaces and let them cook until they were charred and had just enough form to escape going all Bruce Davison in X-Men. Once off the grill, I sliced them in half lengthwise, slathered them in harissa sauce mixed with lemon juice and honey and let them marinate till they’d cooled down and were shot through with spicy-sweet-tart flavor. They were perfect over a simple salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette, and damn if this isn’t going to be a go-to recipe for me this summer. The flavors just marry so well.

a fine side dish

Last weekend, I was fooling around with some basil and decided to use it in a green apple sorbet, but never got around to posting it here because the recipe isn’t quite where I want it to be yet. It’s awfully refreshing on a hot summer day, but is just a little too reminiscent of frozen applesauce for my liking. Once I find the appropriate level of tartness I’ll share, but for now, here’s a picture to serve as a placeholder.

refreshing!

Hope you all had a great weekend and managed to stay somewhat cool.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “From the Market: Week 8”