Thursday, January 31, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Our weather has been crazy lately. One day it is bitter cold. The next it is almost spring-like. Followed by temperatures that plunge back to freezing. It has rained. It has snowed. All in the past day or so. It is hard for the body to adjust to such fluctuations. 

Soup is great cold weather food.  It is just what is needed to comfort the body and soul during uncertain temperatures.

I love what roasting does to vegetables. It mellows their bite to sweetness while intensifying their flavors.  Feel free to be creative with your vegetable selections. If you have more or less of one ingredient it isn't a problem when making soup. After all cooking is an art. It is capable of many interpretations.

I used two red, one orange, and one yellow pepper. Use any combination you like, but I wouldn't use green peppers as they will make the soup bitter.

Carrots add a touch of sweet that off-set any bitter note the peppers might have.  Onions and garlic make everything taste better, especially when roasted.

Roast the garlic cloves in the peel.  Squeeze out the insides and discard the papery exterior before pureeing with the vegetables.

Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Running the soup through a sieve removes the pepper skins that can make for a bitter after taste. The result is a soup with a velvety, smooth texture.

Roasted Pepper Soup

4 large peppers - red, orange, or yellow, but not green
1 large onion
3 medium carrots
4 large cloves of garlic - leave in the skin
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper
4 cups (1 liter) chicken or vegetable stock - preferably homemade
1/2 teaspoon *smoked spanish paprika or regular paprika
*ground chipotle pepper to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400℉  (200℃). Wash vegetables and cut into pieces that are roughly the same size, so they roast at the same rate. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Lightly coat with olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetable are very soft 30-40 minutes. Reduce oven temperature if they char too fast.

Allow vegetables to cool a few minutes. Squeeze garlic cloves from their skins then process with vegetables in a food processor or blender until smooth. Run through a sieve and put in a medium saucepan. Add stock, paprika, and chipotle pepper if using, and simmer on low for ten minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste.  Garish with sour cream, greek yogurt or cream if desired.

*smoked spanish paprika and ground chipotle pepper can be found at Penzeys Spices.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Citrus Salad

I don’t know what it is about the winter months that makes me crave citrus so much, but I do.  I can’t seem to get enough of it.  I eat grapefruit, oranges, and clementines, and squeeze lemon on everything.  Maybe I have scurvy.  Luckily I don't seem to have any of the symptoms I read about online.  So I created this salad to give myself a serious dose of the sunshine fruits. 

I use spinach because it is more sturdy than the average green and the texture holds up nicely with the grapefruit and orange segments.  Arugula would be an interesting substitute.  Carrots add crunch and sweetness.  Avocado provides the rich, creamy element and toasted almonds complete the taste. Walnuts would also be a good choice.  Just about any green or nut could be used, the important ingredients are the citrus and the avocado.  A little Dijon mustard in the champagne vinaigrette adds a pungent foil to the sweet, tart citrus.  Now I can’t stop eating this salad.  Which is a good thing after the over-indulgent holidays.

Toss the greens, carrots, and vinaigrette in a bowl to lightly coat.  Add any juice from the sectioned fruit and toss with the greens to add a bright note and a touch of sweetness.  Put dressed greens on plates and arrange orange, grapefruit, and avocado on top.   Sprinkle with toasted almonds.  (The almonds can be toasted in a 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned.  It really brings out the flavor of the nuts.)

The easiest way to make a vinaigrette is put all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal tightly with the lid and shake vigorously. The vinaigrette emulsifies perfectly in a few seconds and your arms gets a mini work-out as a bonus.  

I love fresh cracked pepper, but I like to add it to the dressing instead of on top of the salad.  I can't tell you the number of times I have been in a restaurant and the waiter has artfully cracked pepper on my salad only for me to be choking moments later on the pepper. Nothing stops the conversation quicker than a coughing fit from pepper stuck in the throat. Adding the pepper to the salad dressing seems to eliminate the problem. Or maybe I should talk less during the salad course.

Store any unused vinaigrette in the refrigerator.  The vinaigrette recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  

Citrus Salad

3-4 cups spinach
1 carrot
1 grapefruit
1 orange
1 avocado
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons (1 oz/30 ml) champagne or white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz/45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste

Wash and dry spinach.  Peel and cut carrot into rounds.  Mix together ingredients for vinaigrette in a glass jar.  Seal tightly and shake until emulsified.  Section grapefruit and oranges.  Slice avocado.  Toss spinach and carrots with vinaigrette and put on plates.  Arrange citrus and avocado on top.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Makes two generous salads. The recipe easily doubles. 

Citrus update

In my continued obsession with this salad I swapped the spinach and almonds for arugula and pistachios.  I left the carrots out because I was too eager to eat the salad.  The combination is fabulous. The peppery arugula and nutty pistachios create a perfect harmony.  Now I can't decide which combination I like the best.  You be the judge.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Still Life

Cake plate still life

As much as I enjoy the holidays, the beauty of Christmas, spending time with family and friends, and all the festivities, I secretly look forward to January when life is still.  There is time to reflect on the past year and dream about the year to come.  In a four season climate, winter is the restful period when life slows down a bit.  Or at least that is what I long for after the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the last of the decorations have been put away.  Funny, as my children become young adults my life doesn't seem to slow down as I thought it would, but instead moves faster and faster.

I recently had the privilege of going skiing in Colorado with my parents, my sister, and Addison.  It was a peaceful break to start off the new year.  Unfortunately, Maddie couldn't join us because of school. Many thanks to my family who took care of her. Addison normally would be back in college by now, but he will be studying architecture in Poland this semester and hasn't left yet, so he was able to be with us.  It was special to spend this time with him since he will soon be very far away.  It was also great to be with my wonderful only sibling and my dear parents.  It was cold, clear, and calm at the top of the mountains.  It was its own kind of still life. 

Mountain still life

Ski still life

Addison and my sister

My parents

The last run

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Meringue Mushrooms

I am a little late to the ball with this recipe.  I had planned to post it before the holidays.  I seem to always be chasing time, but even more so this holiday season.  I just can’t seem to catch up.  Still, this is a fun recipe to play with and maybe even more so during the quieter times of the year.  Young and old everyone seems to love these sweet treats.
When I worked for the bakery in Palo Alto in the early 1990s, Alice Medrich, the chocolate dessert guru, opened a dessert boutique at Stanford Shopping Center.  While we had fabulous products at our bakery, we were in awe of the chocolate cakes and truffles at her pretty, little boutique.  They were understated and elegant, but more importantly, they were a chocolate explosion in the mouth.  

We were even more thrilled when Alice published her first cookbook, Cocolat Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts.  The owner of our bakery secured advanced, signed, copies for us.  I read that cookbook from cover to cover, more than once.  It was brimming with useful information and all her wonderful recipes for her elegant desserts.  Over the years I have made just about everything in her book, but one of my favorites is her recipe for meringue mushrooms.  Troupe l’oeil, they are a whimsical addition to a cookie plate or a yule log.  But, they are also great when you need a sugar burst in the afternoon.  My children love to help make them.  They are a good way to practice piping skills.  If you enjoy chocolate and baking, I highly recommend Alice Medrich’s book.  It is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. 

Meringue Mushrooms
Adapted from Cocolat Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts, by Alice Medrich

4 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter or a pinch of salt
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
2 ounces (58 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate  

Preheat oven to 200℉ (93℃).  Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Beat the egg whites and cream of tarter or salt on medium speed in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar.  Beat on high speed until very stiff about 5-8 minutes.  

Put mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) tip.  Pipe a tray of stems and then a tray of caps.  I like to vary the size a bit to give some variety.  Put cocoa in a fine strainer and dust the caps and stems.  Fan or blow the cocoa to give a more realistic look to the mushrooms.

Bake for an hour, then switch the trays in the oven and bake until completely dry and crisp, up to two hours.   (I bake my meringues for two hours then turn the oven off and leave them in the oven until it is completely cool.  If I make them in the evening I leave them overnight.  I find they are perfectly dry when done this way.)

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water or in a microwave on 50% power.  Trim the point off the stems with a sharp knife.  Using a small offset spatula spread a little melted chocolate on the flat part of a cap and attach a stem.  Allow to set up before storing in a tin. 

Use a little meringue as glue to keep the parchment paper in place.

Pipe the stems first while the meringue is the most stiff, so they maintain their shape.

Don't worry if they aren't perfectly shaped.  They look more authentic that way.

Fan or blow the cocoa to blur it.  It will make the mushrooms look more realistic.

The baked meringues should be dry and crisp and will remove easily from the parchment.

Use a small, sharp knife to trim the point off of the stems.

Join the caps and stems with melted chocolate.  Store mushrooms in a tin.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Let It Go, Let It Flow

"Keep Calm and Carry On" was our motto for the kitchen remodel.  "Let It Go, Let It Flow" is our motto for the New Year.  Let 2012 go and let 2013 flow.  We didn't have a bad year, in fact, it was pretty good, but as we look forward it is time to let go and let things happen in the coming year. May we all have a happy, healthy, prosperous 2013.

If, however, life gives you lemons, which sometimes it does - make Lemon Bites.  I call them bites because that is what they are, just a bite or two, when cut into small squares or rectangles. When we lived in California, we had a huge, Meyer, lemon shrub outside our bedroom window.  No matter how much we pruned it back each year it grew and grew and was covered in deep, yellow lemons.  We cooked with them, we decorated with them, we gave them away.  Our supply was over-abundant. We often wondered what was buried underneath because it was so prolific.  Oh, how I wish I had that shrub today.

When my niece was about 18 months old she came to visit with her mother.  She liked to play hide and seek with the Meyer lemons in my kitchen cabinets. She would move the lemons back and forth between my yellow cabinets filling one cabinet then moving them to another.  Each time slamming the door before opening the next with surprise when she found the ones she had hidden.  It was a good game that kept her occupied for a long time.  Unfortunately, it was very early in the morning because she had come from a different time zone.  No matter, I can still see her beaming little face as she toddled back and forth discovering hidden lemons in her footed pajamas.

Meyer lemons are a cross between an orange and a lemon.  Their skin is thin.  They are juicy and not as tart as a regular lemon.  If you can't find Meyer lemons, regular lemons work just fine. Since I no longer live in California and have to buy my lemons I could only find a few Meyer lemons.  I made the lemon bites using half Meyer lemons and half regular.  No matter what you use, you won't mind being given lemons if you make lemon bites.

Lemon Bites
Adapted from Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1/2 cup (70 g) powdered sugar
3/4 cups (6 ounces/170 g) unsalted butter, cold
6 eggs
3 cups (600 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup (70 g) flour
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C).  Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.  Combine flour and powdered sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment.  Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour and sugar.  Mix on low speed until mixture resembles small peas.  Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees F (149 degrees C).  Whisk eggs and granulated sugar together, add lemon juice and flour.  Pour mixture on top of the crust.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until the lemon filling is set.  Allow to cool, then dust with powdered sugar.

Flour, powdered sugar, and butter.
Lemon bites before powdered sugar

 Happy New Year!