December 28, 2010

Closing the Door

We are almost done.

The year is nearly at a close and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is breathing its last breath as we get ready to ring in the new year.

It's not that 2010 has been a particularly bad year, it's just that I'm ready for a new start.  It's this way every December, as January creeps closer, I realize how ready I am for something new and fresh.  A new year with new promises and a clean slate, 2011, I have big plans for you.  I know the resolutions we make and swear by in the first new days of the year get left by the wayside as life takes over, but this year, let's be practical.  Let's resolve for happiness and health and to being better people.

This December brought flooded roads, malls, parking lots, stadiums, houses.  Mudslides.  Super saturated soil and downed trees.  I kid you not when I say it took me 3 hours to get out of a small parking lot the other day in the middle of my traditional last minute shopping.  But there was also family and friends and the reminder of how truly blessed I really am to have what I do and the people who surround me every day.  It's been swell, 2010 but it's time to move on.

I know this soup doesn't look like much - muddy shades of green and chock full of vegetables - but it's the perfect bowl for chilly evenings and recovering from plates full of rich, celebratory food.  The paste of parsley, basil, garlic and onions that you saute at the very beginning will fill your house with such delicious aromas it'll be tempting to climb right into the pot.  Luckily it's a quick soup to make and you'll be eating in no time.  Toast a hunk of crusty bread, swipe it through the soup, clean the bowl and I'm pretty sure you won't be missing those piles of cookies any more.

Cheers, everyone and see you in the new year!

Umbrian Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Saveur, Issue #130

Just a small tweak here and there.  I didn't have the called for frisee so I used escarole in it's place, this mildly bitter green was a good substitute even if it did contribute to the dull green hue.  I also tossed in a small rind of parmesan with the water for a little extra flavor boost.  This soup freezes and thaws beautifully, which is nice if you're just a few people and you don't want the same dinner several nights in a row.

4 servings

1⁄2 cup packed basil leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 
4 cloves garlic
1⁄2 medium onion, cut into chunks
8 oz. red new potatoes, cut into 1⁄2" cubes
3 stalks celery, minced
2 medium carrots, minced
2 plum tomatoes, cored and minced
4 cups water
Kosher salt, to taste
1 small rind of Parmesan or Romano
1 14oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1⁄2 head escarole, leaves cut into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
salt and pepper
Freshly grated parmesan for serving

Place half the basil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, parsley, garlic, and onions in the bowl of a food processor and process until slightly chunky. Heat remaining oil in an 3-qt. pot over medium-high heat and add herb–garlic mixture. Cook, stirring often, until no liquid remains, about 5 minutes.

Add potatoes, celery, carrots, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add salt and 4 cups water and cheese rind and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in beans, peas, and escarole and cook until greens are wilted and just tender, about 10 minutes; season with salt and pepper and stir in remaining basil. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with parmesan.

December 13, 2010


Evergreen Wreath - Maldonado Flowers

Rainbow Carrots, Suzie's Farm - because they're pretty.
red kabocha squash, Suzie's Farm - still deciding on the fate of this one.
Spicy Sprouts & Pea Sprouts, Suzie's Farm - an indispensable part of salads in this house.
Caramelized Onion Loaf, Bread & Cie - I'm thinking fancy grilled cheese.
Fuyu Persimmions, Terra Bella Ranch - hands down the tastiest ones at the market.
Golden Raspberries, Pudwill - because it's December and I can still get berries.
Pineapple Guavas, Polito Family Farms - they taste like sour straws, no joke, nature's sweet and tart candy.

December 7, 2010

Sweet Return

You deserve a cake.  For sticking around, for checking this little space while I was away, you most certainly deserve a cake.  It's not a fancy towering cake or a show-off, just a homey square cake with a little frosting that's been pushed around to cover the top, but I think it's the proper sentiment.  We're not having a celebration here, just saying thank you.

This pear spice cake will fill your kitchen with the warming scent of cinnamon and spice while it bakes and does its magic in the oven.  And should you choose to make the pear sauce yourself - which I highly recommend - you can mingle for a bit with the sweet smell of pears as they simmer away on your stove top.  Not that I make a habit of questioning such beloved magazines as Gourmet who routinely turn[ed] out fantastic recipes, but I think replacing the applesauce with pears here was a total win.  For one, pear seems less expected than apple.  It doesn't have to be fussy, however we're making a cake here, not applesauce quick bread so I'd rather not recreate too similar of a product.  Also, go make the pear sauce yourself for this recipe and tell me you don't feel all industrious.

You'll be proud to plunk this down in front of dinner guests and equally happy to just have it with a cup of tea.  I'm sorry I can't hand deliver each of you a piece, because I really would like to, but I think you'll be happier to have your own. 

Pear Spice Cake
Adapted from and Smitten Kitchen

You really should make the pear sauce yourself.  Aside from it taking 30 minutes to simmer on the stove it couldn't be more simple or quick.  The brilliant addition of balsamic vinegar is undetectable in the end, perhaps just giving the sauce a fuller, rounder flavor profile.  I should also note that I made this cake with Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese (accident!) and it worked just fine, I mean who needs the extra fat in their cakes anyway! 

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pear sauce (recipe below)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pear Sauce
1 pound of pears
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water

Peel, quarter, core and de-stem pears.  Place in a medium saucepan with the balsamic and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer; cook with the lid on for 30 minutes, or until the pears are very tender. Let cool in their cooking liquid.  Puree everything in a food processor or blender to desired consistency.  This should make about 1 1/2 cups.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter an 8x8 square baking pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in pear sauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated.  Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.