Sunday, July 20, 2008

Finally, a savory post

I'm making good on my promise to post about something other than a dessert. Voila, Rice and Spinach Soup, which I found in one of my favorite cookbooks, From Biba's Italian Kitchen. The ingredients are few, fresh and uncomplicated, but the resulting soup is rich and satisfying, without being heavy. I have a feeling I'll be making this soup a lot this winter. The only departure I made from the methods in the original recipe is that I tempered the egg mixture with some of the hot broth, so that the eggs wouldn't curdle when I added them back into the main soup pot. I recommend you go buy this book, because every recipe I've made from it has turned out wonderfully. Without further blather, here is the recipe:

Rice and Spinach Soup
(minestrina di riso e spinaci)

1 lb fresh spinach, stems and bruised leaves discarded
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 quarts chicken broth
3/4 cup rice (arborio preferred)
3 large eggs
salt to taste
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Wash the spinach thoroughly under cold running water. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil over medium heat. Add pinch of salt and the spinach and cook, uncovered, until tender, 5-6 minutes. Stir a few times during cooking. Drain the spinach and squeeze out any excess water. Chop the spinach with a large knife or in a food processor pulsing the machine on and off. Do not puree the spinach.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the spinach and mix quickly. Place spinach in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the rice and cook until tender but firm to the bite, about 15 minutes.

Beat the eggs in a medium-sized bowl. Season with salt and nutmeg, and add the cheese, blending thoroughly. Stir the egg mixture into the spinach. To temper the eggs, slowly add 2-3 ladles full of hot broth to the egg-spinach mixture, pouring in a thin stream and whisking quickly. Add the tempered egg-spinach mixture to the soup pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring. Taste and adjust seasoning, and serve hot.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More bakery blather

I've made my second batch of chocolate chip cookies using roasted pistachios instead of walnuts. This may seem like a small thing. It's not. These cookies kick major ass. Another chocolate chip cookie variation: use milk chocolate chips and chopped crystalized ginger. You can add nuts to this, too (pistachios work, as well as pecans--toasting makes all the difference). 

A tip from my random kitchen experimenting: when you use vanilla beans in your cooking, don't discard the pods after you've scraped out the seeds. Instead, cut the pods into 1- or 1.5-inch pieces and drop them into a small, covered jar that holds about a cup of vodka. Keep the jar in the pantry where you'd normally keep your vanilla. Shake it gently every other day or so, and in 2 months or so you'll have a nice jar of homemade vanilla extract. As you use your vanilla, just keep dropping in more scraped pods and adding dashes of vodka. If you want, you can just split a pod, chop it without scraping the seeds, and add that as well. That'll power-pack your extract. You'll never need to buy vanilla extract again. If you want to give it for a gift, just strain it through a super-fine sieve or some cheesecloth into a small, decorative jar.

Monday, June 30, 2008

As promised, my failure at mint ice cream

A while back I got a head of steam up to make fresh mint ice cream with chocolate chips. I'd had great success making coffee ice cream by steeping whole coffee beans in a milk-and-cream mixture, then proceeding to the custard-making stage, and finally to freezing, adding a bit of powder-ground espresso just before it was done. Heaven in a bowl! My attempt at mint chocolate chip brought me and the hunky scientist (who's the world's foremost ice cream addict) right back down to earth. I followed essentially the same steps: Combine milk and cream, heat until just before the boiling point, add fresh mint leaves and leave to steep. This yielded a lovely green-colored ice cream base. I made a custard out of it, then cooled it and gave it a sip. It did taste of mint--but it also had a vegetal overtone that was really disconcerting, and none of the zippy tang of good mint ice cream. I scrounged in the spice cabinet for some peppermint oil and added a few drops of that to the mix. That punched up the zip factor, but didn't diminish that bothersome vegetal taste that was muddying the works. I cooled and froze it anyway, adding shaved chocolate at the end. Verdict? OK. Definitely not a success. I won't bother posting photos. In my next attempt at this flavor of ice cream, I'll just go with high-quality mint essence for flavoring, leave the ice cream white, and add a bit more chocolate--more finely shaved this time--and forego the custard step. The warm richness of the custard base interferes with the clean coolness of mint I'm going for. 

On a completely unrelated food topic: I am having a strong craving for my dear friend Jim's anchovy-stuffed olives. They are the smoothest, most wonderful appetizer olives I've ever had (and that's saying a lot, considering I'm half-Greek). I believe they are from Spain; Jim gets them from a cooking-supply site online, and whenever I  stop to visit he puts some on a plate and serves them with crackers or bread and cheese and always a glass of wine. Recalling this makes me miss Jim a hell of a lot more than I miss his olives. 

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mother's sugar cookies

Because I have been having fond memories of home lately, plus severe cravings for baked items redolent of vanilla, I decided to dig out my New England Yankee Cookbook. This treasure, published in 1938, is a collection of recipes collected by Imogene Wolcott, others contributed from her fellow New Englanders, and reprints of articles about New England life from Yankee magazine. My favorite among the recipes is one called Mother's Sugar Cookies. It was contributed by Mrs. Jennie Duke, then of 53 Ferry St. in Everett, Mass. (Each contributor's street address was listed along with her or his recipe.)

I used to make these cookies when I was in high school and take them to track workouts. I always had to make a double batch, because they disappeared almost as quickly as I could get them out of the oven. These are plain, cakey vanilla cookies, with no dusting of sugar over the top. I've modified it in a few of ways: I use butter instead of shortening; I use vanilla-infused sugar to intensify the wonderful taste and aroma of this classic flavoring; and now I use a KitchenAid instead of killing my arms with all the creaming of the butter. Last thing about vanilla: in this recipe I used vanilla I'd made myself by soaking vanilla-bean pods in pure vodka for a couple of months.

Tonight this recipe had the same effect it always has: The Hunky Scientist and I polished off eight of them right when they came out of the oven. I've baked two double-pan batches, and I've got two more to go.

Mother's Sugar Cookies
(I've added notes in parentheses.)
1 cup shortening (I use butter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon soda
2 cups sugar
1 egg, well beaten
5 cups flour, sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk

Combine shortening, salt, vanilla and soda. Add sugar gradually and cream well. Add beaten egg and mix thoroughly. Sift flour with baking powder. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, mixing well. Drop from teaspoon onto baking sheet (I lined mine with parchment). Let stand a few minutes, then flatten cookies (I use a spoon dipped in water to do this). Bake in a moderately hot oven (375 degrees F.) for 12 to 15 minutes (I make large cookies, so it takes 16 minutes to bake mine). Makes about 8 dozen cookies.

Next up: My first attempt at mint chocolate-chip ice cream.