Sunday, September 27, 2015

Olivia's Tomato Soup with Rice & Pesto

My daughter is absolutely in love with tomato soup. It's her new obsession and after many, and I do mean many, trips to Panera (where she enjoys it in a bread bowl like the carb queen she is) I finally planned to make some at home. While looking through recipes I found this one that my sweet friend Deb made awhile back, Tomato Soup with Rice. Since I'm not a fan of crafting a bread bowl I figured the rice was a suitable carb replacement. My daughter agreed. All was set to get cooking, until I managed to blow out both of my 40 year-old knees jazzercising. 

Luckily, the recipe was very simple and my daughter was willing to make it for me while I supervised in a nearby chair. She didn't like chopping the onion because it made her cry, but she enjoyed prepping the rest. She seemed to take great enjoyment in stirring the pot and adding the rice (like she is in the picture below). She was really interested in how much liquid the rice absorbed and how thick the soup became.  It was a tasty lesson for her and one that the rest of the family enjoyed.

We served Olivia's Tomato and Rice Soup with a dollop of pesto and Parmesan cheese. On the side, some fresh toasted bread with a Parmesan Pesto butter. It was a delicious reminder that teenagers can indeed be sweet from time to time.

Tomato Soup with Rice & Pesto
Recipe adapted from Deb @ Kahakai Kitchen
Originally from Recipes and Dreams From An Italian Life
by Tessa Kiros
Serves 5-6

  5 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1-3/4 lbs very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
12-15 basil leaves or pesto
5 cups hot water
1 scant cup short-grain white rice
Parmesan cheese for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion until nicely golden and a bit sticky. Add the garlic and when it smells great, add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Tear in about seven of the basil leaves and simmer for about 5 minutes or so, squashing down most of the tomato lumps with a potato masher. Add the hot water and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Add the rice and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, putting the lid on at the end to prevent too much liquid from evaporating. It should be quite thick, but if it seems too thick just add a little hot water. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serve in wide bowls. Tear a couple of basil leaves in half, or top with swirls of pesto, and add to each bowl. Scatter a heaping tablespoon or so of Parmesan over each and drizzle with a little olive oil. Grind a little black pepper over the top and serve.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Tarte Tatin

When I began cooking the recipes of Jacques Pépin almost six months ago I made a goal. The goal was to make lots of classical French dishes. The journey started with the most flavorful Coquilles St. Jacques, a beautiful dish of scallops with a savory mushroom base and luscious mornay sauce topping. Next I tried my hand at Creme Brulee. Along the way I made lots of gratins: a phenomenal Gratin Parmentier with beef, pasta gratins, and some remarkable egg gratins. I made quiche with bacon and learned that Gruyere was very favorite cheese in the history of cheese! I made the most dream-worthy chocolate mousse and I made crepes that reminded me of wonderful childhood memories.

There were many weeks I wanted to change my dish and take the easy route, but I stuck with it. Along the way we not only fell in love with Pepin's recipes, but also with French food. There were several techniques I learned along the way.  Some I mastered. Some I did not. This Tarte Tatin, which will be one of my last French recipes for awhile, falls somewhere in between. It requires making a caramel, which has never gone well for me.  This time around my caramel was successful. I was so elated.

The trouble with this tart for me was twofold. The directions say to let all the liquid/caramel evaporate while cooking the apples. I knew I didn't want to do that so I left some liquid/caramel in the pan before I laid on the dough. When I pulled the tart out of the oven it was rather dry. Next time, I will leave even more of the juices and I think it would fix the problem. The other issue was placing my chilled dough over a hot skillet. I had the prettiest dough, but it was not so pretty when the heat started to melt the dough. Next time I would simply remove the chilled dough from the wrappings before I got anywhere near the hot skillet. With these two changes I think this would be a total success! As it was, it was still delicious, especially when paired with vanilla ice cream.
Oh, and worth mentioning...I am a lazy cook. I know the Tarte Tatin is supposed to be flipped over and served with the pastry on the bottom,but I couldn't be bothered to do that! We just scooped it out with a spoon.

Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 6

1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pear or apple cider

3 large Golden Delicious apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup apple cider

 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons milk
*Optional: Cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on top

For The Caramel: Combine the sugar and cider in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a light caramel. Remove from the heat and swirl the caramel in the skillet to cool and harden it. (If the caramel starts to darken too much as it continues to cook in the pan's residual heat; plunge the base of the skillet in cool water to stop the cooking.)

For The Filling: Peel the apples, cut them lengthwise in half, and core them. Cut them into slices. Arrange the apple slices cut side up in the caramel-lined pan so that what would have been the stem ends meet in the center.

Add the butter and cider and bring to a boil (the caramel will melt). Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and keep cooking, checking occasionally, until all the water has evaporated and the mixture in the pan has caramelized again, about 10 minutes longer, and the apples are tender.

For The Dough:  Process the flour,butter, and confectioner's sugar in a food processor for about 10 seconds. Add the milk and process for another 10 seconds.

Transfer the mixture to a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough and roll it between the plastic into a 10-inch circle. Refrigerate the dough (still encased in plastic) to firm it slightly.

Preheat the oven to 400F, with a rack in the center.

After the apples have cooked for about 20 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator, peel of the top sheet of plastic wrap, and invert the dough onto the apples. (This step was a bit tricky for me because the heat of the apples in the pan caused my dough to stick to the plastic wrap- so I would remove the plastic wrap from both sides before going anywhere near the hot pan next time).  Peel off the remaining plastic. (Drizzle dough with cinnamon/sugar mixture if desired) Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. The dough should be nicely browned on top and, when you tilt the pan, there should be a rich layer of caramel in the bottom. Let cool to lukewarm or room temperature.

At serving time, if the Tarte Tatin has cooled beyond lukewarm, rewarm over medium heat until the caramel dissolves (the apple mixture in the pan will move when you shake it). To unmold the tart, invert a serving plate on top of the dough and turn the tart out onto the plate.

Slice the tart into portions and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Theme: Seasonal Specialties!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Apple, Blue Cheese, and Hazelnut Salad

I live in small town in Kentucky so anytime something new opens it's a big deal. When we got the news that Panera was coming to town everyone was beyond excited. I think I've been to Panera at least three times a week since they've opened.  My new favorite is their Ancient Grain, Arugula & Chicken Salad. The salad is sweet and savory, full of texture, reminiscent of autumn, and is tossed in the most delicious white balsamic apple vinaigrette. I have daily cravings for this salad.

Over at I Heart Cooking Clubs it's Mystery Box Madness week and our ten mystery ingredients are: salmon, green peas, hazelnuts, eggplant, Parmesan cheese, kale, apples, blue cheese, rosemary and bread rolls/buns. I had NO IDEA what to make but then my friend Joyce of Kitchen Flavours posted a gorgeous Blue Cheese, Hazelnut, and Apple Salad courtesy of Jamie Oliver. Since I've been craving autumnal apple salads I decided to take Joyce's recipe and add some pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. I also decided to look for a copycat recipe for Panera's white balsamic apple vinaigrette.  I found a wonderful copycat recipe, which I will share below, and the salad was a total success! It was a wonderful light dinner on a beautiful fall day and I will certainly be enjoying it again.

Apple, Cheese, & Nut Salad
Adapted from Jamie's 15 Minute Meals
by Jamie Oliver 

  1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 cups baby spinach or romaine
1 apple, cut and sliced into thin slivers
   1/2 cup blue cheese in big crumbles
1/4 cup Parmesan 

Wash and dry the lettuce and/or spinach and place in a salad bowl. Cut and slice the apple into thin slivers. Place the apple in a medium bowl, toss in the nuts and seeds and mix thoroughly.  Arrange the apples, nuts and seeds on top of the lettuce. Arrange the blue cheese and Parmesan cheese on top of the apple mixture. Make the Fuji Apple Dressing (shared below) and drizzle on top of salad.  Serve immediately.

Fuji Apple Dressing
recipe found on The Lazy Mom's Blog
Makes 1 cup
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons apple juice concentrate
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey

Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake.
Theme: September 2015 MBM

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Gratin Parmentier

 My daughter walked in and said, "Wow, that's like something you made for us back when you didn't work."  I had to laugh because she was right. Years ago, when I stayed at home, I spent most of my days in the kitchen.  Now that I work, and both kids are so busy with activities, a meal like this is a real treat. It makes me realize how much I miss those days of kitchen therapy.

Gratin Parmentier is pure comfort food. Tender chunks of pot roast in a delectable gravy with a very light mashed potato topping and a crispy layer of Gruyere cheese.

You need about one a half pounds of cooked pot roast in order to make this dish. There is no such thing as leftover pot roast in my house, so I started from scratch with a 3 pound pot roast. I sliced one onion into thin slices and browned the onion with a little oil in my Dutch oven. I added a touch more oil, put the roast in the Dutch oven, and browned the roast on all sides. Once the roast was browned, I removed it and set it aside. Next I deglazed the pan, with the onions still in it, with about 1 cup of beef stock.  I had one ripe and gorgeous homegrown tomato on the counter so I deseeded it and cut it into chunks. I threw the tomato in the Dutch oven with the onions, added some beef stock and a peeled garlic clove, and watched as it come to a boil. I added the roast back in (making sure the beef stock reached the middle of the roast, but did not cover it) put the lid on, and roasted it at 300F for about 3 hours. It was tender and perfect. The tomato was a lovely addition. In fact, I will be sure to add a tomato to my recipe from now on.

Once the pot roast is finished reserve the one and a half pounds needed for this recipe and set the rest aside for another recipe. You can also reserve the juices from the pot roast. The juices from your pot roast will be much more flavorful than any beef stock you can buy. You'll need 2 cups of beef stock or pan juices for this recipe. I had one cup from the roast and used another cup of store-bought beef stock.

After making the roast everything comes together pretty easily. You make a quick gravy with the reserved juices and allow the roast to simmer in the gravy while you make the potatoes. The potatoes get passed through a potato ricer and then half and half and eggs are added to make a very light and fluffy potato topping. Sprinkle the topping with cheese and place in the oven. You will be so pleased when you peek in and see all the bubbly browned goodness in the oven.  This meal is a total treat!

Gratin Parmentier
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 cups very thinly sliced onions
2 teaspoons very finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups homemade beef stock or pot roast juices
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/4 pounds leftover pot roast
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups half and half
3 lage eggs
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
For the Beef: Heat the oil and butter in a large pot until hot. Add the onions and saute over high heat for 5 minutes, or until a bit transparent and lightly browned. Add the garlic and flour and mix well. Add the stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Add the meat and bring to a boil again, then cover, lower the heat, and simmer very slowly for 20 minutes for boiled or braised meat; increase the cooking time if you use meat from a roast that was cooked medium or rare. Stir in the parsley.

The stew could be served alone at this point. For the gratin, put in a buttered 3-quart flamefproof gratin dish and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the Potatoes: Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil gently for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the point of a knife. Drain and push through a food mill or ricer into a bowl. (If you don't have a food mill, use a fork or potato masher; don't use a food processor.)

Add the half-and-half and mix well with a whisk until smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste, then add the eggs one after the other and mix well.

Pour the potato mixture on top of the meat (or put it into a buttered flameproof gratin dish if making it to be served on its own) and spread it gently with a spatula. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes. Place under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes to brown the top. Serve.

Theme: Le Plat du Jour