Souperbowl

I like football. This is surprising because I generally hate watching sports on teevee. I don’t know if its the tight-ends or the hairless arms, but football is a-okay in my books. Every Sunday, we dress baby Otis in his football onesie and have football family time. My friends love a good ol’ fashioned food competition, so I thought, why not host a soup competition for superbowl. Get it, Soup-erbowl. Turns out I’m not that genius and grantland hosted the king of all head-to-head souperbowl competitions online days after I had sent out my invite.

Superbowl custom dictates chili eating, so I decided to forgo the opportunity for soup supremacy and take myself out of the running by making a venison chili with skillet cornbread. I used up some of my black beans (thus continuing to fulfill my new years resolution) and used some fantastic Deer Valley venison from the Brickworks market. I wanted to be on theme, so I made Brooklyn based Baked’s tomato soup cupcakes with mascarpone icing. The batter was a horrifying shade of orange from two whole cans of tomato soup,  the finished cupcakes were…Mmmm wow…unexpected…moist, spicy, tomatoey – genius!

Our friends are so impressive – almost everyone brought soup, with garnishes! Fancypantses. There was a creamy cold “tailgate” vichyssoise with croutons and a perfectly soft boiled egg from Ferran Adria’s new home-cooking book, a parsnip soup with toasted mustard seeds and parsnip chips, and a 101 cookbooks cheddar broccoli soup with crispy croutons.  We each tried the soups and had a secret ballot drawing at half-time – the winner by a landslide was the “tailgate” vichyssoise, oh and that creepy slackline dancer.

Skillet Cornbread (makes one skillet)

1 cup All-Purpose flour
1 cup old cheddar
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1) Preheat oven to 400F. Grease seasoned cast-iron with shortening.
2) Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, cheddar and salt in a bowl.
3)Combine wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients until just combined.
4) Place empty cast-iron pan in heated oven for 5 minutes.
5) Remove and pour batter into pan.
6) Bake for 25 minutes, let stand 15 minutes before serving.

*I like to top cornbread when it comes out of the oven with a maple syrup butter  sometimes. You know, to gild the lily.

a little help from the little guy

chiesa firenze

The Pulse of Firenze

These are my pulses, my legumes, my dried old beans, my sad, lonely, lentils. I compulsively buy legumes from bulk stores, put them in pretty jars and rarely use them. I own an entire book on heirloom beans, pages tagged at deliciously pulse-ridden recipes that I have never made.  Having an influx of legumes has caused me to create a singular New Year’s resolution – to cook my way through the stockpile. Big goals, big dreams – that’s me.

I take great satisfaction from using things up that may otherwise go to waste.  At the market, I have grand illusions that I will be able to cook more than I have the time for, and now, with a newborn, this situation is only compounded. So, I cooked up a big pot of soup to use some of the beans and the veggies that were sadly deteriorating in my icebox.

Ribollita is one of my favourite soups; it reminds me of a lunch I enjoyed in Firenze with two of my dear friends. We had just climbed above the city to San Miniato al Monte, heard Gregorian chanting monks and explored the gothic graveyard while a black cat followed us. We descended back down into the Oltrarno, soaked and hungry, we saw Osteria Antica Mescita – a picturesque osteria that happened to have the slow food symbol on its door. Perfecto! I ordered ribollita, my friends ordered zuppa di ceci con farro e porcini– the meal lasted hours, living up to its “slow” distinction – thankfully the deliciousness made up for the service.

Ribollita & Zuppa di ceci con farro e porcini

Ribollita (with very little bread for my Paleo-caveman husband)


Ribollita
Recipe adapted from epicurious and my mind.

Beans:
1 1/4 cups dried canellini or white kidney beans
6 fresh sage leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, fresh
5 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt
¼ cup pancetta, cubed

Soup:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 leeks, sliced thin
5 leaves sage, fresh
5 sprigs thyme, fresh
1 bay leaves, fresh
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 large unpeeled Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered through core, sliced crosswise
1 small bunch black lacinato kale, cut into ribbons (about 6 cups)
1 small bunch green chard (about 4 large leaves), center stem removed, cut crosswise into ribbons (about 6 cups)
4 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage
5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 2-inch square Parmesan cheese rind
1 ham hock, smoked, whole
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
10 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lemon, juiced
Parsley, fresh, for garnish
6 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty white bread, torn into croutons

Beans
1)    Combine 8 cups water, beans, sage, thyme, bay, pancetta, and garlic in large saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover, simmer until beans are tender, adding more water to keep beans submerged, about 1 ½ hours.
2)   Add 1-teaspoon sea salt; simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cool beans in liquid.

Soup
1)    Heat 3 tablespoons oil in cast-iron pot over medium heat. Add onion and leek; sprinkle with sea salt. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
2)    Add chopped garlic, safe, thyme and bay; stir 2 minutes.
3)    Add celery, carrot, potato, squash, and fennel; cook until vegetables are tender and begin to caramelize in spots, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes.
4)    Add kale, chard, cabbage, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, whole ham hock. Cover with chicken stock, and add 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
5)    Add beans with cooking liquid and crushed red pepper. Add 2 cups broth.
6)    Remove ham hock – let cool and remove meat from bone. Add back into soup.
7)    Season with salt and generous amount of pepper.
8)    Add bread to soup and simmer, stirring often to break up bread into smaller pieces and adding more broth if needed to thin, if desired.
9)    Season with sea salt and pepper, and squeeze juice of lemon into soup.
10)  Divide ribollita among bowls, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and parsley.

Sugar-bomb-cookie-love.

Sugar-bomb-cookie-love.

Cookies are a brilliant form of snacking – fun to make, fun to eat, fun to dip, fun to sandwich. Paula Deen was surely channeled when this cookie was first baked and posted on the interweb by way of the Picky Palate blog. Part insanity and part genius, this delectable treat is two cookies in one – a double-stuff oreo crammed in the middle of a gigantic super sweet ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie. My blood sugar is rising just describing them. Unfortunately, I can’t eat them until after I give birth, but I can serve them to a few of my friends at our last baby-less Friday games night (with insulin at the ready!).


Double stuff oreos are the only way to go! 
Ready for assembly.  
One ice cream scoop per side and an oreo in the middle. 
After baking – the largest cookies I have ever baked. 
Voila! The finished product.

*Please excuse the poor photo quality  – my good camera is packed away in my hospital bag! 

To make these sugar-love-bombs in your kitchen, the recipe can be found here.
The Miracle of Lists

The Miracle of Lists

Did I give up going to markets, pasta making, dreaming of Italy and trying new restaurants? Does food not inspire me anymore? Or, has a life-sucking force invaded my body – rendering me relatively listless, nauseous and scatterbrained? Let’s go with the latter – the miracle of birth is just 10 days away for this waylaid blogger.

My mind is a sieve. Thoughts flutter in and out on a whim.To ease this horrible forgetfulness, I make lists – lists of items to pack forthe hospital, freezable meals to make, thank-you’s to send, baby gadgets to investigate, questions for my dozen doctors.

So here, my friends, is another list…

Post-Pregnancy Foods I Can’t Wait to Stuff in my Gullet

Rare meat
The embarrassment of ordering a house-ground burger in a great restaurant cooked well-done is soon over!  I will no longer cut into a steak and be saddened by its grayish tinge – soon I will be greated with a glistening flush of crimson. Oh joy of joys – meat cooked properly!
Steak Tasting at Terrior 2011 – Pre-pregnancy

Champagne (who are we kidding, Prosecco)

It has been far too long since the Champagne fairy has visited me.  She’s usually that pesky imp that keeps filling up my wine glass at a party, making sure I am lubricated with just enough bubbly to keep my head in a perfect equilibrium of fizzy sparkling happy.  We will meet again, and when we do, I will toast to my darling sweet baby.
Not drinking champagne, but my happiest toasting photo. Siena, November 2009.

Pasta

The food gods must be laughing when the pasta-maker ends up having gestational diabetes and can no longer eat carbs. My seriously carb-restricted diet has no room for pasta, no matter if I hand craft it lovingly or it is made with whole grains. Tiny violins play softly for me as I read through my two new pasta-based cookbooks and weep.
Polenta and truffle mezzalune. La Palta, Italy, 2009.
Cured Meat
The threat of listeriosis and toxoplasmosis has taken my beloved prosciutto di parma, coppa and lardo away from my nitrate loving mouth. An entire 9 months without a prosciutto panini dripping in Ligurian olive oil makes me a sad gal.
Massimo Spigaroli’s culatello caves. Antica Corte Pallavicina, Parma, Italy. 2009.
Arugula
Pregnant ladies are allowed to eat arugula. Arugula is healthy, fresh, peppery and delicious, in theory. Since I have become pregnant,the idea of eating arugula, or any sort of soft mixed greens repulses me. The chewing and gnawing on a mouthful of greens makes me sick. Crunchy lettuces are acceptable. Soft lettuces are not. Hopefully this clears up; I love arugula with lemon, olive oil and parmigiano.

The dreaded soft leafy greens of my garden harvest.

And the award goes to…Caramel Bacon Popcorn!


Cerebral dramas with a strong female lead

Controversial political dramas

Visually striking dark British movies

Critically acclaimed cerebral romantic movies

Netflix quite specifically believes I enjoy these genres of movies. Netflix is often wrong, and while I appreciate the effort, Netflix does not realize that often movies are just a vehicle for popcorn consumption.

Popcorn is perhaps the best snack ever. I don’t have a microwave (gasp!) or an air popper (sigh!) so I pop it the old fashioned way, in a pot on the stove.  This method only takes 5 minutes and saves me from the dreaded ‘popcorn lung’.  In my work, I inhale enough flour to contract the fictitious ‘pasta lung’ – one less ‘lung’ to catch the better.  The buttery flavour in microwave popcorn – that’s the culprit  – a chemical diacetyl was used as a flavour enhancer. Luckily, after many lawsuits almost all major brands of microwave popcorn do not contain diacetyl anymore, so we can all breathe a little easier.  In spite of this, I’ll stick to making my own popcorn and knowing all the ingredients, thank-you-very-much.

And popcorn I make – truffle salt popcorn, caramel corn with nuts, olive oil and pepper popcorn and the Pièce de résistance – caramel bacon popcorn. Salty, sweet, gooey and crunchy, delicious.




Caramel Coated Popcorn with Pecans, Almonds and Bacon!
adapted from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver
yield 12-14 cups

10 cups popped organic corn
¾ cup toasted pecans
¾ cup toaster almonds
¾ cup bacon or pancetta, cubed and cooked

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
½ cup corn syrup
1 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla

kosher salt for sprinkling

1 
      1)  Butter 2 large baking sheets.
2)
  Combine popcorn, bacon and nuts in a large bowl.
3)
  At medium heat, bring sugar, corn syrup and butter to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir
      occasionally for 10-15 minutes until dark golden.
4)
  Add vanilla carefully, it will sputter.
5)
  Spray a spatula with non-stick cooking spray. Remove mixture from heat and pour into
      large bowl over the popcorn. Using the spatula, work quickly to coat the popcorn with the
      molten hot sugar.
6)
  Spread mixture onto baking trays. Sprinkle with kosher salt. The sugar will harden
      quickly. Allow cool and break into pieces.
7)
  Store in sealed container for up to 2 weeks – but it won’t last that long, I promise! 

****feel free to leave out the bacon – keep the recipe the same or add 3/4 cup of something else,  toasted coconut, dried cranberries – go wild! 

Preserving Tradition: Homemade Eggnog

Guar gum, carrageenan, and natural flavour? Is this what you want in your holiday eggnog? Drinking my first eggnog of the holiday season, I wondered – what is eggnog and how can I make it at home without strange additives and preservatives?
On all matters culinary, the wise cook consults Larousse Gastronomique, a culinary encyclopedia bar none. Eggnog is described in Larousse as a ‘nourishing drink served either hot or cold’. Larousse is not very helpful this time. The drink, in its non-carton state, is simple enough to make: egg yolks beaten with sugar are incorporated into hot milk. As a seasonal nog drinker, I am concerned with its delicious properties, not so much its nourishing qualities. The debate about uncooked egg yolks leads me to believe that many people don’t consider fresh eggnog nourishing, and instead see it as a ticking time bomb of unpasteurized bacteria. Fear of uncooked yolks will not deny me the supreme pleasure of making my first homemade eggnog.
Eggnog lore suggests well-heeled Brits were the first to drink eggnog with brandy or sherry during the holiday season to toast good health. Its name literally, is egg in a small cup (or nog). North Americans adopted eggnog easily, and having more access to land, cattle, and thus, milk and eggs – were larger consumers of the drink than its originators. Variations include the New Orleans syllabub, eggnog of milk, sugar and wine and the Puerto Rican coquito with coconut and condensed milk, spices and rum.   Larousse shockingly alerts me to the possible addition of beer, a German soup-like eggnog specialty called Biersuppe. 
I want a choir of angels to sing when I taste my first fresh eggnog; Larousse’s recipe is far too simple to summon angels. A more contemporary source might do the trick, an arbiter of style – the New York Times food and drink section, is the source for me.  Eggnog’s creamy base begs for the addition of holiday flavours – cinnamon and nutmeg – or a tipple of spiced rum, but what about scotch?  A clever New York Times columnist, Melissa Clark, raved about the Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog with smoky scotch and brown sugar. This may be the eggnog for me.
Whipping the eggs, adding the brown sugar, salt, and homemade vanilla, I knew deliciousness beyond any carton was about to occur. Hark! Rich, creamy, smoky and sweet, the angels and my palate were singing and I knew this was a holiday tradition in the making – preservative free. 

Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog


Eggnog with Beer (Biersuppe)
from Larousse Gastronomique

9 cups pale ale
2 ¼ cups sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp lemon zest, grated
¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
8 egg yolks
1 tbsp milk, cold
2/3 cup raisins & currants, soaked in warm water
1 cup whole wheat croutons

1.  Boil pale ale with sugar, salt, lemon zest and cinnamon.
2.  Add egg yolks with cold milk to ale mixture.
3.  Strain eggnog and let cool.
4.  Add currants and raisins to eggnog.
5.  Add croutons and serve.

Yield: 6 servings.

Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog
from the New York Times, December 3, 2010

12 large eggs, separated
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus pinch
2 cups whole milk
1 cup smoky Scotch whisky
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Grated nutmeg
1. In a large bowl, combine the yolks, brown sugar, vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using an electric mixer beat on medium-high speed until thick and dark golden, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly drizzle in the milk, Scotch and brandy. Transfer to the freezer to chill while preparing the rest of the eggnog. (Or refrigerate for at least 2 hours before completing.)
2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Set aside. In another medium bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites and pinch of salt on medium-high speed, adding the sugar by tablespoons until soft peaks form.
3. When ready to serve, pour the yolk mixture into a large punchbowl. Fold in a small amount of whipped cream to lighten it, then fold in the remaining cream. Fold in the egg whites. Generously dust the top with nutmeg; serve immediately.
Yield: 12 servings.