Monday, January 24, 2011

Parsnip Soup (for a Soup Swap!)

Sunday was so much fun!! I was inspired by my sister's story on NPR and decided to host a soup swap here where nearly 100 quarts of soup were on hand to be shared and traded. In a nutshell, a soup swap is when everyone makes a big pot of soup, freezes it into one quart portions, then meets up to tell stories and take turns selecting different soups to bring home. Knowing our freezers would soon be filled with yummy homemade soups, we also pulled some canned good out of our pantries and collectively filled three boxes which are being donated to a local food pantry.
I spent some time thinking about what I would bring to the party, and ultimately decided to make parsnip soup because it is a favorite of mine and the kids, and I like telling the story of the first time I tried it.
The story: Five years ago Jim and I escaped (without toddler Spencer) to Vegas for a few days in December. We were having dinner at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in the Venetian, and shortly after we were seated, the table next to us received their food which included a bowl of delicious-looking soup. My mind was decided in that instant I wanted a bowl of soup too. I scanned the menu for their different soups, and noticed there was exactly one listed: parsnip soup. Parsnip soup? I had never had parsnip soup before. Actually, I had never even eaten parsnips before. I went back and forth in my head for a bit - really wanting a bowl of soup, and being wholly unsure of parnsips. Ultimately, I decided that this was a great restaurant and I trusted that they would be serving me a great bowl of (parsnip!) soup.
Guess what - the soup totally rocked! After returning home, I wanted to make it myself and couldn't find the recipe online. Luckily, the nice folks at replied to my email and sent it to me.
So, my hope is that making this soup for the swap and sharing this story might help someone else discover the awesomeness of parsnip soup!

Parnsip Soup
from Wolfgang Puck's Postrio Restaurant

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and rough diced (or one large onion)
2 stalks celery, cut to 1” lengths
6 cups parsnips, peeled and cut to 1” cubes (will be rough)
1 ea potato, peeled and cut into four quarters
1 ½ ea granny smith apples, peeled and diced to 1” (rough)
8-12 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups heavy cream
12 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together tightly with string
2 tsp lemon juice
white pepper

- In a medium sized soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, season well with salt, and sweat on medium heat until translucent (about 5 minutes). Do not brown the onion. Add the celery and cook for 3 more minutes.

- In a separate pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil and reduce heat to just a high simmer.

- Add the parsnips to the onions and stir well. Continue to cook for two minutes. Add enough hot chicken stock to cover the vegetables. Add the potato, apples, and thyme.

- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low boil, and cook uncovered until vegetables are very soft, about 50 minutes. You may need to add stock during the cooking time, but do so just that the vegetables are covered. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

- Add the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the thyme. Puree the soup in batches in a blender. ALWAYS BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL WHEN PUREEING HOT LIQUIDS. Use the lid on the blender. When pureeing, fill the blender cup only 2/3 full, as the soup will be thick and you will need room to add more stock. If the soup is very thick in the blender, turn it off, add a little hot stock, cover and puree.

- Position a strainer over a clean soup pot and pour directly from the blender into the strainer. Push the soup through the strainer with a ladle.

- Place soup back over very low heat on the stove. Adjust consistency of the soup with chicken stock. Add the lemon juice and season finally to taste with salt and pepper. The soup is ready to serve, or can be chilled in an icebath and kept for up to 3 days.

- Serve soup in warm bowls. Drizzle lightly with lemon thyme oil, and sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Lemon-Thyme Oil
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
zest of half a lemon
12 sprigs fresh thyme
- Combine ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat to just hot to the touch (DO NOT BOIL), remove from heat and allow to steep for 1 hour. Strain and reserve oil. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Butter Tarts

Last night was a bit unbelievable. But, the story starts at the beginning of the week. Knowing we had this party to attend on Saturday evening, I started thinking of what food I might make to bring. I was watching a(nother) recorded episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" which showed chefs making their very favorite item for the holidays. One chef was making butter tarts, which I had never heard of before, but how could something called a butter tart be anything but great, right? I watched him make dough with lots of butter, and a filling of brown sugar, raisins and more butter. Sold!

Immediately I thought "I need to make these!" and then quickly remembered the upcoming party. Perfect! Because any recipe that uses nearly a pound of butter should definitely be shared with friends, and preferably brought to someone else's house to avoid eating all the leftovers!
We arrived at the party on Saturday evening with an over-sized platter of warm tarts. As I found a place to set the tray down, I explained that these were call butter tarts and that I learned about them from watching a tv show earlier in the week.

Now, here's where things took a turn for the unbelievable. The guys at the party knew what they were! See, the party was full of hockey friends, many of whom are Canadian. And, apparently butter tarts are traditional Canadian treat!! Crazy. What are the odds of randomly picking a brand new recipe to try out for a party, and it turns out to be a favorite of the host and their guests?

Butter Tarts
Inspired by Beau MacMillan's Carmelized Butter Tarts

Chez Pim's perfect pie dough
Since I can't do a better job of blogging the 'how to' than Pim already has, use her site for a perfect pie crust tutorial to see how simple ingredients with a straightforward technique can yield an unbelievable crust.

1/3 Cup butter
1 Cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla

Divide dough into 18 pieces and press into tart pans. Put pans with dough in the fridge until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cover raisins with hot water and let stand. Melt the butter, brown sugar and milk in saucepan and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool. Add vanilla, whisk in the egg and (drained) raisins.

Divide the filling among the tarts and bake until bubbly, about 25 minutes.

*Some notes- I used muffin pans, doubled the filling recipe above, and divided the dough into 24 pieces. I also par-baked the crust, which I would not do again, as some of the filling seeped out and practically cemented itself to the bake sheet. With that thought, I checked other recipes and discovered that some cream the butter & brown sugar instead of melting it on the stovetop, so that might help keep things in place next time. And there *will* be a next time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Green Tomato Pickles

I haven't eaten a pickled green tomato in at least 20 years. Growing up, I separated the delicatessens into two categories - ones that offered killer kosher pickles while you waited for your food, and ones that offered killer kosher pickles AND tomato pickles. Sadly, down here in TX, the only time I've seen a green tomato in a restaurant was a fried offering on a menu. (A confession: I thought Fried Green Tomatoes was something created for the movie.)
Last month our CSA delivered green tomatoes and I gave our share to a friend who was excited to fry them up. The following week more tomatoes came, and another friend wanted to make fried green tomatoes. (Another confession: I have actually tried fried green tomatoes and they are pretty tasty!) The CSA kept sending more green tomatoes each week, and I suddenly remembered I could make pickles out of them! That week I called dibs.
I went to my recipe I use for pickling daikon (one of Charlotte's absolute favorite things - "more pickled radish please!") which uses apple cider vinegar and a mix of pickling spices. But, after running out of vinegar and breaking a jar while processing the first batch, I went to the store to load up on plain old white vinegar and dill seed so I could follow Marisa's pickled tomato advice. Ironically, she published a post about breaking jars about 5 minutes after I had blown the bottom out of mine. Side note: I've never bought dill seed before but I *must* find something else to make with them - they smell fantastic! Side note #2: I don't actually know Marisa, but my sister does so I'm taking that license to use her first name in my post.
And, I can't believe I haven't eaten a green tomato pickle in 20 years. Yes, that is present tense. Because they guys were just jarred yesterday, so I've got to wait at least a week before breaking the seal. Just to tease me, the recorded show I chose to watch off the DVR this evening was an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. And as I watched Michael Psilakis talk about his favorite garlicky sandwich from Katz's Deli, I paused the screen as he was about to take a bite and sure enough there were pickles AND pickled tomatoes sitting on his plate.

Green Tomato Pickles
Adapted from Food in Jars

3 lbs green tomatoes
2 C white vinegar
2 C water
2 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon dill seed
10 whole garlic cloves

5 pint mason jars
canning supplies

1. Make brine of vinegar, water & salt. Heat to simmer and salt dissolves.
2. Wash green tomatoes and cut in wedges.
3. Sterilize jars and in each hot jar use clean hands to carefully place tomato wedges, two garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dill seed. (Marisa added whole peppercorns and bay leaves - I intentionally omitted the bay, but complete forgot about peppercorn.)
4. Simmer lids, pour hot brine on top of tomatoes, apply warmed lids and screw on bands.
5. Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
6. Remove and place on a dish towel or cooling rack. Let cool completely and ensure jars have sealed before storing in the pantry. If one doesn't seal, put it in the fridge instead.
7. Wait at least a week, or up to a year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Strozzapreti (Ricotta dumplings)

My sister and I live nearly 2000 miles apart. We usually only see each other once or twice a year, and in the weeks leading up to these visits there is a flurry of email to discuss food. We like to eat out for a couple of meals, and I introduce her to something new (or new to me) in Houston's awesome restaurant scene. And we make sure to visit a local favorite. But, most of the email discussion centers around what we will cook together in the kitchen. We scour our lists of receipes we want to try that are labor-intensive (note to self to update this with a link when I finally get around to blogging more cooking from our visit) or ones that are simply more fun with another pair of hands in the kitchen. Or, something eye-catching that we decide to try together.

The inspiration for this was something I saw while watching Iron Chef America. Though their uber-creative offerings are usually not for the home cook, I was captivated by a ricotta dumpling that was presented as part of one of the courses. A ravioli filling without dough - how perfect! But first, we had to find a recipe and turned to the web. We discovered that not only have plenty of other people made ricotta dumplings out there, but it even has a name - strozzapreti - which litterally means 'priest choker.' Thank goodness for a wikipedia entry and all of the bizarre content it contains. Some recipes referred to these as gnudi. Many contained chopped cooked spinach, but I was set on re-creating some fluffy, white clouds.
We made the ricotta (check out pics from this ziti casserole with fresh ricotta!) and an amazing tomato-onion-butter sauce to nestle them in (do click this link, you won't be sorry!) Who know blending those three simple ingredients could be so awesome? The sauce recipe calls for removing the onion at the end of the cooking process and after putting them aside on a plate, they wound up getting eaten with our fingers before ever reaching the table. I honestly can't remember the exact recipe we used (this is when being a lazy blogger comes back to bite me) so feel free to change things up.

Adapted from Food52

2 cups fresh ricotta (or fresh ricotta made from 1 gallon of milk)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
2 eggs
5 tablespoons flour sifted
black pepper

If using purchased ricotta, drain for 1/2 hour so it looses the excess water.

Lightly beat the 2 eggs. In a bowl add the ricotta, eggs, sifted flour, 2 tablespoons of parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg freshly grated and use a fork to fold the ingredients gently. Taste for seasoning.

Line a tray with parchment paper.

Lightly dust your hands with flour and make little balls 1 inch diameter, using a teaspoon to help measuring the strozzapreti. Put the strozzapreti on the parchment paper as you go along leaving some space in between each. At this point you can refrigerate them until it's time to cook them (or even freeze them.)

In a large pot, bring water with a little salt to a boil and as soon as it reaches boiling point drop a few dumplings at a time. As soon as they float up remove them with a strainer and put in the serving plate where you have put half the hot melted butter. Finish cooking all the dumplings, serve with Hazan's tomato sauce and emaining parmesan cheese.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

This is, hands-down, the perfect quick summer meal. Spencer's been asking for pesto pasta for several days, and was all smiles last night upon discovering it had made on our dinner menu. I made an impulse purchase at the store and picked up a pint of the most beautiful assortment of adorable organic heirloom tomatoes. Do other people make impulse buys like this??
I do not have a green thumb. This is the second year in a row I purchased a few basic vegetables and herbs for our garden, and have very little to show for it. Last year we watched peppers form and grow, and then get eaten by birds and critters. We're watching a repeat performance this year as tomatoes change from green to orange to red, and then discover a big hole eaten into the backside. Very, very discouraging. But, luckily, there is one exception.
Basil. Ah basil. It seems that each year the basil plant is something that can't help but thrive. And, it (almost) makes up for the lack of productivity of the other plants. Because nothing more delicious, and easy, than freshly-made pesto. I am told that it freezes excellently, but I can't seem to keep from eating it all up during the summertime.
A couple tips about making pesto that I have learned from mistakes. Make sure you have LOTS of basil. Pesto is about basil flavor. I have screwed up in the past by adding too many nuts. It should be mostly basil, a bunch of cheese, a sprinkling of nuts, garlic to taste, and oil to your desired consistency. And, to prevent it from oxidizing and discoloring in the fridge if you're not using it all right away, float a small quantity of olive oil over the top.

Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes

1/2 lb pasta
1 pint small tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 - 3/4 Cup, or more, pesto
  - fresh basil
  - grated parmesan cheese
  - pine nuts
  - fresh garlic
  - olive oil
  - salt & pepper

  1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for pasta, and cook according to directions. Reserve 1/2 Cup pasta water.
  2. Fill food processor with washed & dried basil leaves. Add a generous amount of cheese, some pine nuts, a few fresh garlic cloves, salt & pepper and some olive oil. Pulse a few times, then add additional olive oil as needed for desired consistency. If not using right away, leave it a bit on the thick side. Scoop pesto into a dish, smooth out the surface, and pour some olive oil evenly over the top.
  3. Toss hot pasta with pesto to coat, thinning with reserved pasta water if desired. Gently mix in tomatoes. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Happy Summer Solstice! While the (ridiculously) warm weather has been upon us for a while now, summer is officially here! In the cooler months I like to make sure the kids have a hot breakfast before heading off to school, but that doesn't sound as appealing when the temps are over 80°F before 8:00 am. Like today. Seriously. Fortunately, the kids are in agreement with me that cool yogurt is the perfect way to start these steamy days, and home-made granola is the perfect mix in. And, if you haven't used up all your home-made jam on some pannukakku, definitely add some of that in too.
My hero Alton Brown shared his favorite recipe for granola, which quickly became our favorite recipe around here. Prepackaged granola is pricey, but organic rolled oats from the bulk bin are decidedly inexpensive. And, the part of me which needs to be in control (um, which admittedly is all of me) likes knowing (controlling) exactly what goes into the food which goes into our bodies.
I recently watched an episode of Diners, Drive Ins & Dives that featured granola pancakes, with the granola mixed into the batter! Looked delish. Anyone have a good recipe to convert this tasty home-made granola into a pancake??

Adapated from Alton Brown


3 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced or slivered almonds
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans, lined with silpat. Cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or longer, rotating pans and stirring every 20 minutes to achieve an even color.
  4. Remove from oven, allow to cool thoroughly and transfer to an airtight container for storage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

First, an admission that I don't like zucchini. I'm friendly with most vegetables out there, but not the summer squashes. I recall the first time I had zucchini bread as a child. I wasn't told what it was beforehand, and found it to be delicious! I especially enjoyed the long strings of what I thought were pieces of shredded coconut scattered throughout. Upon finishing, I was told what was really in it, but honestly I didn't believe that to be the truth. I did not like zucchini, but I definitely enjoyed that dessert.
Now that our family has joined a CSA, we get local veggies delivered each week. And with the summer season upon us, that means the omnipresent zucchini have arrived. I politely decline my portion of the share for this vegetable week after week. But last time I decided to take a single (albeit giant) zucchini from among the plethora of cucurbits in our haul.
I thought I'd make zucchini bread, and quickly found what is by far & away the most highly rated recipe for zucchini bread on But it has three cups of sugar (ack!) and two cups of zucchini. My single zucchini would yield far more than that, and I did not want any leftover. I mentioned this situation to my sister who wisely suggested "you should totally make the chocolate zucchini cake from The Baker's Cafe Cookbook." Most folks have had zucchini bread at some point, but how about a chocolate zucchini cake? Here's the kicker - it has less sugar (two cups) and more zucchini (three cups.) I'm guessing because of the chocolate it doesn't need to be so sweet? I dunno, I'm just making things up here. But what I do know is that it is awesome. And so are the rest of the recipes in this cookbook. I routinely make The Baker's Cafe's Oatmeal Cake for dessert when bringing a meal for friends who just had a baby. That recipe alone (conveniently located on the opposing page to the Chocolate Zucchini Cake) is totally worth the price of buying this cookbook.
So, when you see your local farmers markets teeming with fresh zucchini this summer, remember this cake. And that it freezes well too.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
As printed in The Baker's Cafe Cookbook

4 eggs
2 Cups sugar
1 1/4 Cups (canola) oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 Cups flour
1/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa (good quality, such as Droste)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 Cups grated fresh zucchini (let drain for an hour, I have increased this quantity up to four cups, or whatever one shredded zucchini yields.)
1 Cup of chopped walnuts (or more if you like nuts)

Use mixer to combine eggs, sugar and oil. Blend in vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and blend. Fold in zucchini. Do not over mix. Stir in nuts.

Pour batter into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean (this was 60 minutes for me.)

Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert on a plate.

Frost cooled cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: (This makes a lot, I reduce the amounts by 1/4)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar, sifted

Use mixer to blend cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and sugar and beat until very smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. Optional: garnish with additional chopped walnuts.