Archived entries for winter

Baby, it’s cold outside: French Onion Soup

So, after merely toying with us for weeks, throwing in the odd tease of a cold day here and there, Mother Nature has decided to lower the boom: it’s flippin’ COLD outside in New York. It’s clear and sunny and bright, but cold. Of course, it’s December, so it’s to be expected (honestly–the tree at Rock Center goes up, the temperature goes down), but it seems a bit sudden. I was caught not unawares, but certainly unprepared.

onionsoup

Note: I am always caught unprepared by winter, as my frozen toes, chapped lips, and frizzy hair will always attest. Also my sunny disposition.

onionsoup2

Fortunately for the aforementioned body parts and the population of the greater metropolitan area, with the cold winter comes a hero: soup. Delicious, hot soup of the sort that stitches body and soul together after a particularly unpleasant altercation with a biting wind. The sort of soup that I put together the other evening, in a fit of pique and fury at the frigid, mocking air. A soup that looks at winter with a knowing, Errol Flynn laugh; a soup that would probably make your stomach churn if the weather WEREN’T so cold. A perfect, sweet, French Onion soup.

It’s easier than you think! It’s also sweet, complex, and a wonderful way to spend a cold, cold afternoon. So the next time Mother Nature decides to get cranky, I highly recommend that you grab a chair and a good book, set up camp at your stove, and whip up a pot of this stuff–between the cozy afternoon and the bellyful of goodness, even a temper tantrum from Mother Nature won’t be able to get you down.

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Lady Marmalade: Blood Orange Marmalade

marmalade

So, you know how I’ve been going on and on about winter citrus and its restorative effects on the dying winter soul? Well, let me tell you. I have not been returning the favor–I’ve had a whole pile of Meyer lemons and blood oranges languishing in my refrigerator for weeks, barely hanging on to this mortal coil. It got to the point where my guilt was so significant that I embarked upon the unthinkable: I decided to make marmalade.

This was An Event for two major reasons:

  1. I’ve never made jam of any sort
  2. Despite being half English, I’ve never really had much of a taste for the stuff.

However! When one is talking wasted citrus, one must rise to the unexpected challenge! Or attempt to, anyway. I’ll admit it: it took me a few tries to get this one right. I didn’t have a real recipe to work with, and I’d never worked with pectin; I also failed to properly measure the amount of fruit I was using, so I ended up with marmalade soup at the end of the first cooking. Cooking it twice, while probably not ideal, didn’t seem to hurt the concoction too much. If anything, I think it may have intensified the citrus flavor.

Things I learned:

  • Using only the zest of the orange (discarding the pith and most of the rind) cut the bitterness factor significantly while still allowing the extreme…well…citrusness of the fruit to really shine.
  • Marmalade is far more delicious than I’d given it credit for (though, admittedly, my marmalade may not be…well…traditional.)
  • Many marmalade recipes call for a metric shedload of sugar. I believe that if you boil longer, you can get a similar effect without as much. I mean, 7 cups? Really?
  • Canning and jarring and jamming is nowhere near as daunting as I’d once thought. All you need are a big pot, a pair of tongs, a spatula (for getting the filled jars in and out) and a good book to read while you stir the pot.

oranges

Blood orange marmalade

8 Whole blood oranges.
3 Meyer lemons, sliced thinly
4c sugar
Pectin (I used one pouch of Certo brand liquid pectin, by Sure-jell)

  1. Remove the outer layer of zest from the orange (if you want the marmalade texture, do this with a vegetable peeler; if you’re lazy like me, you can use your microplane), taking care not to get too much of the bitter white layer beneath. Set the zest aside.
  2. Peel the oranges and then slice them thinly and chop them roughly. remove any tough pith or seeds that you encounter, but save as much of the juice as you can!
  3. Put the oranges and lemons in a deep saucepan; add the pectin and let sit for a moment.
  4. Add the zest.
  5. Add the sugar and then bring the contents of the pan up to a boil. Boil, boil, boil away (stirring as much as you can reasonably bear) merrily until it’s thick, syrupy, and passes the spoon test.

To preserve your marmalade:

  1. Get a bunch of canning jars.
  2. Wash them in hot, soapy water
  3. Boil them mercilessly for about 15 minutes, then remove them from the pot.
  4. Ladle your marmalade into your clean, sterilized jars. Gently seal the tops and boil them at a rollicking, high temperature (with at least 1 inch of water covering them) for 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars in there until the water is lukewarm (I tend to leave the jars in the waterbath overnight). This should activate the vacuum seal on the jar, characterized by the sort of dip in the middle. If you don’t have a vacuum seal by the time the water cools, remove the jar and try again with a new lid.

Valentine’s day massacre: Four cheese macaroni

mac

If you heard a large clanging noise this past Sunday night, it was probably the sound of my arteries slamming shut. I took a page from Maggie’s book and decided to make mac and cheese as a post-Valentine’s Day-Valentine meal; I knew full well that it was going to be a cholesterol nightmare, but I threw caution to the wind and went for it anyway. If you are looking for a lighter or lower fat mac and cheese, this is not the recipe for you. Consider yourself warned.

So! What made this macaroni so crazy? Well, let’s start with a solid pound of grated cheese (four kinds). And then move on to the quarter pound of prosciutto. And from there, to the caramelized shallots and two heads of roasted garlic.

Hungry yet?

cheese

Just devising this recipe made me drool like some prehistoric beast; I certainly growled like one once or twice as I assembled it–I lost some quality acreage on my knuckles while grating the cheese. I based the recipe on one that I found in Bon Appetit last month; I was intrigued by their tip to use eggs instead of bechamel for the custard. Though it took some care to achieve (you have to be very careful when mixing the eggs and the cheese sauce if you want to avoid scrambled eggs), it was worth it–the casserole was cheesy, gooey, creamy deliciousness from top to tail, without the trauma of whisking hot milk into flour (though the addition of some tangy buttermilk to the cheesy custard certainly didn’t hurt the cause, either).

The topping might have been my favorite part, though–breadcrumbs with parmesan, garlic, and a hint of nutmeg, just to keep things interesting. It’s a flavor that most will find hard to place, but it adds a lovely complexity.

Basically, this is a panful of cardiac arrest–and worth every single bite. Make it for someone you love (especially if that someone is yourself) today.

Death mac: Four cheese mac and cheese

1/4 stick butter
6-8 medium sized shallots, sliced thinly
1/4c all purpose flour
1 1/2 c buttermilk
2 c milk
1 lb shredded cheese (a good mix: parmesan, gruyere, manchego, cheddar)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
6 oz pancetta or prosciutto, diced
2 large eggs
2 heads roasted garlic, pureed

1 lb shell pasta (I used whole wheat in an attempt to be…um. Healthy. Yeah.)

Topping
1/2 c breadcrumbs
1/2 c parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt

  1. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and saute until caramelized.
  2. Add prosciutto/pancetta; saute for 3-4 minutes more
  3. Add flour, cook for 2 more minutes
  4. Add milk; bring to a simmer
  5. Add cheese, mustard, and garlic puree. Continue to simmer until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt
  6. Whisk eggs into medium bowl; gradually whisk in 1 c cheese sauce. GRADUALLY is key–you don’t want the eggs to curdle
  7. Add egg mixture back into cheese sauce
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 and cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions.
  9. Prepare topping: breadcrumbs, parmesan, onion and garlic powders, salt.
  10. Add cooked pasta to sauce; turn out into buttered casserole dish.
  11. Top with breadcrumb topping.
  12. Bake 25 min or so, until everything is bubbly and brown and irresistible.

Less tang, more character: Mushroom risotto

risssssssotto

When I was but a wee whippersnapper and newbie to the world of cooking, the first “complex” dish I undertook was risotto. This was right after Jamie Oliver’s first cookbook came out, and people were starting to figure out that you could actually make this crazy stuff at home! Of course, with that knowledge came plenty of grousing, largely about how tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime consuming it was, how teeeeeeemperameeeeeeeeental it was. You know the drill. Naturally, this wave of petulance and frustration attracted me to the dish like nothing else (you may have noticed a behavioral pattern here): it was hard, which meant I had to master it! Of course.

The part that confused me: it wasn’t that hard at all. It wasn’t that persnickety. Yes, it was time consuming, yes it required a certain amount of my attention. But as I discovered (to my extreme surprise), risotto is ultimately a pretty simple basic formula (rice, liquid, patience), which you can then dress up any way you like. The first risotto I made featured goat’s cheese and dried cranberries; since then, I’ve come up with several lovely variations that I pull out on various occasions, including the mushroom variety I whipped out the other day at dinner for our lovely friend Claire.

onthestove

I’m particularly fond of this risotto because it is so light–the original recipe doesn’t even call for any cheese (though, really. Like I’m going to skip the cheese. Come on. But it can be done!)–but so incredibly flavorful that it feels terribly indulgent. I am inclined to credit the inclusion of the liquid trifecta (a combination of marsala or madeira, white wine, and stock) that is used to pull out the creamy starch in the rice; it’s unexpected and subtle, but adds a certain sweetness (as do the peas) that complements the meatiness of the mushrooms.

I won’t lie: you do need to be kind of vigilant. To get the right consistency, you will need to stand at your stovetop for 40 minutes or so, gently massaging the starch out of the rice (emphasis on gently) and plying it with liquid. But, it’s not a complicated endeavor–you can quite merrily drink wine and chat with guests while you do it, as it won’t really require a great deal of concentrated focus. Your guests, however, will not need to know that. I encourage you heartily to let them think that you are, in fact, the most brilliant multitasking chef-host-genius ever to walk the earth. No one will dare question your bold statement once they taste this stuff.

Mushroom Risotto

1c arborio rice
2 large portobello caps, cut into pieces 1/2″x1/2″
6oz shiitake mushrooms (stems removed and reserved), coarsely chopped
6oz white button mushrooms (stems removed and reserved), finely chopped
2 shallots, chopped fine
1c frozen peas
1 head garlic (roasted and pureed)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2c grated parmesan cheese

1c marsala wine
1c white wine
2-3c stock (ideally, a combination of mushroom–which you can make by simmering the stems you reserved above in some water–and chicken)

  1. Saute the mushrooms in 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp butter on medium-low heat until reduced in size by approx 2/3. Deglaze pan with slug of marsala wine, set liquid aside.
  2. Saute the shallot in remaining butter and oil (and some salt) until shallots are golden
  3. Add rice, stir until coated with oil and translucent (about 1 min)
  4. Turn up heat to medium, add 1c of the stock and stir until all absorbed.
  5. Add the cooked mushrooms and garlic puree.
  6. Add the remaining stock and wine, 1 cup at a time, until the rice is soft and creamy.
  7. Add peas and cheese. Cover and set aside for 10 mins or so. Serve with a shaving of parmesan on top.

Sunshine in a bowl: Triple garlic chickpea soup

soup

In my neverending quest to poke Winter in the eye, I have three stalwart friends: sharp cheese, sunny citrus, bright garlic. The holy trinity of deep winter, if you will. Rare, however, is the occasion where I manage to give them all equal prominence; usually one will take the wheel while the other two bicker in the backseat. So, I’m sure you can imagine my thrill when I devised a recipe that allowed all of them to shine equally.

I was inspired by Orangette’s chickpea salad, a quick recipe that, in its simplicity, transforms the humble ingredients to something ethereal in its deliciousness. It being Winter, I decided to transform it from a salad to a soup; being me, I also opted to chuck in plenty of garlic, done up three ways: roasted, sauteed, and raw (I know, I know–raw garlic sounds kind of scary; but I promise you, it just adds a wonderful sharpness to the flavors).

chickchickchick

The triple garlic action gave the soup a wonderfully heady, complex flavor (at once mellow and sharp), while the parmesan imbued a creamy saltiness that balanced it perfectly. The lemons sang without screaming. All the flavors were present and accounted for, clear without being overwhelming.

Next time, I think I might add a bit of sauteed pancetta–I think the salty chewiness of it would accent the rest of the flavors beautifully–but I would not go so far as to say that this tangy bowl of sunshine NEEDS such an accent; I’m just a little greedy that way.

Triple garlic chickpea soup

3×15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 heads garlic (1 roasted, one separated into cloves, peeled and sliced)
1/2c shredded parmesan cheese
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1-2 medium sized onions, peeled and diced
2 quarts water or stock

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.
  2. Slice the top off one of the heads of garlic; drizzle it with olive oil and wrap loosely in foil. Meanwhile, rinse and drain one of the cans of chickpeas; toss with some olive oil and salt and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the garlic is soft (about 1 hour) and the chickpeas are golden but not burnt (about 20 minutes)
  3. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; saute the onions until translucent and then add half the sliced garlic. Sautee for another minute or two, until everything is extremely aromatic.
  4. Add the remaining two cans of chickpeas to the saucepan and let cook for a moment with the onions.
  5. Add the water (or stock); bring to a boil then reduce heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add lemon juice, parmesan cheese, roasted garlic, and the remaining garlic.
  7. Using a hand blender, puree the soup until a nice smooth consistency, adding more water/stock if it seems too thick
  8. Add roasted chickpeas
  9. Serve with a garnish of lemon zest and parmesan cheese.


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