25 February 2011

Cabbage Soup and Equipment Review - Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife


Cabbage soup has been touted as modern weight-loss magic as well as a cure for the common cold. Even if you don't need a trendy diet or an age-old folk remedy, you can appreciate a steaming bowl of cabbage soup on a cold winter's evening. I was craving it, so I would have made it anyway, even if I hadn't been looking for excuses to use my new chef's knife.

A good chef's knife is the most important knife in any collection. That, a paring knife and a bread knife. Three good ones are better than a whole drawer (or block) full of cheap knives. I had been intending to buy an 8-inch chef's knife for some time, when the Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook's Knife 4582 was sent to me for review. This knife is the perfect size for me--large enough for any task, but not so large as to be hard to handle.

The high-carbon stainless steel blade is very sharp and cuts everything with ease. Perhaps even more important, to me anyway, than the business end of a knife is the handle. I love the way the Wusthof Classic handle feels in my hand, whether I'm using the all-fingers-on-the-handle grip or the thumb-and-index-finger-on-the-blade grip.

It's supposed to be dishwasher safe, but I am in the habit of hand washing and drying my knives immediately after use. 'Sides, we've only had a dishwasher for a couple years and my husband assures me things aren't being whirled around in there, but I don't really believe him!

I hope you'll get out your favorite knife, cut up some stuff and make this soup, then tell me all about it.


Cabbage Soup

(Makes about ten 1.5-cup servings)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped
4 medium carrots (about 8 ounces), thinly sliced
1 quart chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 quart water
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (Muir Glen organic fire roasted)
1 small cabbage (about 1.25 pounds), quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 pound zucchini (3 or 4 medium), sliced

1 In 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven (I use Le Creuset Round French Oven), heat olive oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in the carrots and continue cooking for 5 minutes.

2 Add broth, water, tomatoes, cabbage and seasonings. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

3 Add zucchini. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.


22 February 2011

Life Lesson in a Flame-Colored Pot - Le Creuset



Last year Le Creuset held an essay contest in honor of their 85th anniver- sary. Runners-up received a Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven in the color of their choice. I chose the Black Onyx, but I rather wish I had chosen the Flame (for sentimental reasons). Here is my runner-up winning submission.

Life Lesson in a Flame-Colored Pot


My mother was a world-class cook, turning out fabulous meals for a family of six in the humble kitchen of my early childhood. And there were always extra people at our table. My parents didn't have a lot of money in those days, but they spent a disproportionate amount of the budget on food. My father, having grown up on a rather monotonous diet during the Great Depression, spared no expense when it came to food. It was important to him that his children have a varied and abundant diet.

This extended to anyone, children in particular, with whom he came in contact. Though my mother had never experienced the privations my father had, she was a very compassionate person as well. Needless to say, then, we often had twice our number for dinner.

My mother had acquired her flame-colored Le Creuset Round French Oven
(not sure whether it was the 4.5- or the 5.5-quart) second-hand. With so many to cook for, family and guests, that gorgeous pan never had time to cool off.

One Saturday when my father was out pruning the trees and hedges, a man stopped to ask him if he could help. He was a migrant worker looking for some work in the off-season. My dad wasn't in the habit of hiring anyone to do work that he could do himself, but he wanted to help the man. So he hired him to take over the pruning. He was with us for a few days, during which time he was welcomed to our table.

The man did a beautiful job with the pruning (definitely an art) and also had talents in the kitchen. He loved food and insisted on helping, so my mother put him to work. On his last day she was going to be making a beef stew, and he took it over completely and added his own ethnic touches. He was delighted to be cooking in such a fine pot as the Le Creuset, and the stew was delicious.

A day or two later, I noticed the flame-colored pot was nowhere to be seen. I asked my mother where it was. Turns out, it had given the man such pleasure to use it that it gave my mother even more pleasure to give it to him when he left. She never got another.

18 February 2011

Macaroni and Cheese - A Comfort Food Classic



Macaroni and cheese - or macaroni cheese, as it's called in England - may not be gourmet fare, but it is one of the most popular comfort foods ever. The dish has been on American menus since the early 1800's, and the packaged version was introduced in 1937. Homemade is no more bother than packaged if you do what I do--divide the recipe between two smaller baking dishes and freeze one for another day.

Some people like stovetop macaroni and cheese, but I've always preferred the baked. It can be jazzed up in all sorts of ways, but this is my basic nothing-in-it-kids-can-object-to Baked Macaroni and Cheese. Sharp white cheddar tastes great. Sometimes I use three or four different cheeses. This week I used a 1-pound block of Tillamook medium cheddar because that's what I had on hand. (Tastes great and has no hormones.) Whatever you use, shred it yourself. The pre-shredded kind is coated with something to keep it from sticking together, and that surely has some effect on the finished dish. (If you know precisely what, do tell me. I like to know these things!)

You can put some breadcrumbs on top before baking, but I don't bother because I'll be getting enough bread in the bread I'll be eating with it. I've always enjoyed macaroni and cheese as a main dish, but in my travels in the South I noticed it was never missing from a long list of "sides." Trouble is, when macaroni and cheese is on the menu, that's all I want. Well, that and a biscuit! Maybe a glass of iced tea, but not "sweet tea."

Tell me how you feel about macaroni and cheese and, if you're from the South, whether you're a fan of sweet tea. And tell me if you have experienced graininess* in your macaroni and cheese and what you did about it.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

(Makes 6 to 8 main dish servings, 12 side servings)

1 1-pound package elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon salt
1 quart milk (will add 1/2 cup heavy cream next time)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 pound medium cheddar, shredded

1 In 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven (I use Le Creuset Round French Oven
), bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add macaroni and salt; cook for the time specified on the package, or until tender. In heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, heat milk to a simmer; do not boil. Drain pasta in colander and set aside. (It will clump together as it cools, but not to worry, the clumps will separate when you stir the pasta into the sauce. Or you can drizzle on a couple teaspoons of olive oil or melted butter and give it a toss right in the colander.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter 13x9x2-inch baking dish (or two smaller, shallow baking dishes).

2 In same Dutch oven, heat butter until foaming but not browning. Add flour, salt, dry mustard, pepper and cayenne; whisk for about a minute. Gradually whisk in hot milk, whisking constantly until mixture slowly comes to a full boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, for about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in cheese. When cheese is fully melted, stir in the cooked macaroni.

3 Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

* I must admit this batch of macaroni and cheese was not perfect. It was just a little bit grainy, a common problem with macaroni and real cheese.
I'm told using whole milk (I only had 2%) will help prevent graininess. Maybe adding about a half a cup of heavy cream would help. Also, replacing 1/4 of the cheddar with processed cheese is recommended for that reason. I'm sorry, but I can't bring myself to eat processed "cheese;" would rather have a little graininess! But next time I'll try using 1/4 Monterey Jack cheese. Since it is a very smooth, melty cheese, maybe it will have the same smoothing effect as the processed cheese without the ick factor!


07 February 2011

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting











Carrot cupcakes came to mind when I was thinking of two upcoming special occasions. Number One - drum roll, please - this week is my first blogiversary! It was one year ago yesterday that I started Delightful Repast. It's been quite a year! You can help me celebrate by following Delightful Repast and telling your friends about it!

What is the other occasion? If you’re looking for an excuse to have one last winter party, the 83rd annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 27. If you want to get at all fancy about it, mail invitations right away asking guests to RSVP by February 18.

You can work the Oscar theme, if you like, but the main thing is the food. Start with a variety of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, allowing 6 pieces per person. Some ideas: Boursin cheese-stuffed snow peas, curried chicken salad in phyllo cups, pâte à choux cheese puffs, phyllo-wrapped asparagus rolls. Or just set out some pâté and dips, like hummus or baba ghanoush.

Have one buffet of nibbles to be replenished throughout the evening and another of “real” food to be set out from 6 to 8 o’clock. Make it “lap food” that requires nothing more than a fork. Display desserts from 7 o’clock to the end of the party. In honor of my Oscar picks, I might make my individual trifles, which are quite elegant. Going along with the idea of individual desserts, maybe I'll make some cupcakes as well. Carrot, I think.

Chocolate was my favorite flavor of cake until the day I had carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was a teenager, and it was love at first bite. My mother and I couldn't find a recipe for it anywhere, so we made one up. And here it is, with a few minor changes for cupcakes. For cupcakes, I use more finely shredded carrots, more finely chopped nuts, and tiny Zante currants instead of raisins. This is quite a light textured carrot cake, not at all heavy and dense as so many are.

Do leave a comment. It's easy to do. Then, if you make the recipe, be sure to come back and leave another comment. I'd love to hear how they turned out.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

(Makes 24)

The Cupcakes

1 3/4 packed cups (8.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup organic canola oil
10 ounces (approximately 1 3/4 cups) finely shredded carrots
3/4 cup Zante currants (tiny raisins)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

The Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound powdered sugar, unsifted
1 or 2 tablespoons milk


1
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 2½-inch paper bake cups in two standard muffin tins. In small bowl, whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon and salt. In another small bowl, stir a tablespoon of flour mixture into chopped nuts and currants to coat and separate.


2 In large bowl, beat eggs; beat in sugar, then oil. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in carrots, raisins and nuts.

3 Using a 1/4-cup measure, fill the bake cups with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 24 minutes or until they are golden and test done with a toothpick.


4
Immediately remove from pans and cool on wire rack for an hour. They must be thoroughly cool before frosting.


5 In bowl of stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract and salt. Gradually add powdered sugar (no need to sift) and mix until thoroughly combined, adding milk at the end. With a pastry bag fitted with a 2D (sometimes I use a 1M) tip, pipe frosting on cupcakes in a classic swirl.


04 February 2011

Mexican Rice - Sopa de Arroz






Mexican rice was a mystery to me until I had a lesson from my friend Julia, who came by her technique honestly. Julia claims to be not much of a cook, but I've had some mighty tasty things out of her kitchen! And until I had my rice lesson from her years ago, my so-called Mexican rice was awful, very wet and tomato-y, definitely not authentic. I've made a few changes over the years, but the technique remains the same. I leave out the garlic these days, but you don't have to. Just throw the whole cloves in the pan with the rice and oil, and remove them later after they've worked their magic.

Where a lot of people go wrong (IMHO) with Mexican rice is in the seasoning. They think any food called Mexican needs to be full of spices. But that is, according to Julia, "totally unnecessary!" Think about it. You need some variety on your plate, something mild to balance out the heat and spice of everything else.

I've found the only way to get consistent results with any rice recipe is to use the same rice and the same pan each time--especially when making a large quantity. I perfected my recipe using Lundberg organic long-grain white rice and a 5 1/2-quart Le Creuset Round French Oven. So once the recipe comes out to your liking, always use the same rice and the same pan.This amount of rice will feed a crowd, but I make this amount every time. Just refrigerate or freeze the leftovers, and reheat in the microwave.

Mexican Rice - Sopa de Arroz

(Makes 20 servings)

7 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth or water, if you're vegetarian)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 2-pound bag medium- or long-grain white rice (I use Lundberg organic long grain)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen organic; it is THE best!)

1 In 3-quart saucepan, bring broth and salt to a simmer while browning the rice. The amount of liquid called for varies between brands. My preferred brand calls for a ratio of 1 1/2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice, and I think that ratio would be best with any brand.

2 In 5 1/2-quart pot, heat olive oil and stir in rice (straight from the package--do not rinse). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rice is lightly browned. This may take 20 to 30 minutes. Throw in a few whole cloves of garlic at some point, if you like. They can be removed before the next step or before serving.

3 Gradually stir tomato sauce into rice and cook for a minute or two, then add broth to rice. Bring to a full boil and stir just once. Put the lid on tightly, reduce heat to the very lowest setting and leave undisturbed for the length of time specified on your rice bag, usually about 20 minutes.

4 If this is your first time making this, take a really quick peek to see if liquid has evaporated and rice is done. Cover and let stand, off heat, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Garnish, if you like, and serve.
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