Sunday, February 27, 2011

potato leek soup

Some days are better than others. I came to this conclusion recently when, around 4pm, I realized that the day I was currently in was not so great and had little chance of being salvaged. And yet I also realized that I can't have great days (days of bright sparkling fireworks of beauty, love, grace and butter) without crummy days thrown in along the way. Some how this knowledge helps me release the crummy days a bit more easily.
I also thought of this poem by Longfellow:

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark and dreary; 
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering past, 
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

For me, potatoes are my comfort food. Mashed, roasted, baked, fried- I will take it all. This soup is simple to put together and the reward for minimal effort is velvety smooth and savory. Interestingly enough, unlike so many potato soups, there is no cream. I promise you will not miss it.

Note: aside from being great comfort food, this is also great party food. We had a Halloween party one year and I served little tea cups of this soup on the buffet. I loved the moment when I turned to see a couple of gentlemen guests carrying tea cups back into the kitchen for refills (several times.)

The recipe is from The Joy of Cooking.

potato leek soup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 large leeks (white part only), cleaned thoroughly and chopped
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
5 cups chicken stock

1) Melt the butter in a soup pot over low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned. This will take about 20 minutes.

2) Stir in the potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.

3) Puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If feeling fancy, garnish with chives.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

chocolate covered strawberry cake

This is not a humble shy kind of a cake. It is not a quiet restrained kind of a cake. It is a show stopping ta-da! kind of a cake. I like to think that if this cake could talk it would greet me with a "why hello sugar" and a sassy wink. This is not the kind of treat to serve to someone that you are just okay about. This cake a declaration of love, true friendship, and genuine affection.

I think it would be a very appropriate over the top gesture to make this for someone for Valentine's day. See if you get a little "hello sugar" yourself.

chocolate covered strawberry cake
The cake is three main components: north douglas chocolate cake, strawberry buttercream, and chocolate ganache. The creamy light strawberry buttercream frosting is sandwiched between two layers of moist chocolate cake. Then a good dosing of chocolate ganache is poured over all. Each component on it's own is pretty easily done. It is the combination of them together that creates this magical experience.

North Douglas chocolate cake
(link) Follow the recipe for the cake portion only of the North Douglas chocolate cake.

strawberry buttercream frosting
(this recipe is from Martha Stewart)
So, this recipe is a bit fiddly. I will admit to that. It is not particularly tricky or difficult, but it does require some patience to stand in front of a mixer and drop in each little piece of butter and allow it to fully incorporate. But, wow oh wow is it worth it. Friends flip out over this frosting. It is like strawberry cloud heavenly light.

4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, pureed (blitz the strawberries in a food processor)

1) Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

2) Remove from heat, and attach bowl to a mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition.

3) Switch to a paddle attachment. With mixer on low, add strawberry puree, and beat until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Use immediately, or cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

chocolate ganache
(this recipe is from the genius Ina Garten)

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz good semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1) Cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.

2) When smooth, remove from heat and set aside. Let it cool slightly.

cake assembly
1 pint of strawberries

1) Once the cake has cooled completely, take one of the layers and place it top side down on the serving dish.

2) Pile 3 cups of the strawberry buttercream frosting onto this layer and smooth out to the sides. Be a bit gentle with the buttercream because we did spend some time getting it nice and fluffy. It would sad to lose that to spatula smashing.

3) Place the second cake layer on top of the buttercream frosting, top side up. Take the remaining 2 cups of buttercream frosting and fill in the side space between the chocolate cake layers. (Note: do not put any of the buttercream on the top of the final cake layer. This layer will be covered with ganache).

 4) Pour the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake. Gravity will probably pull the gorgeous chocolatey-ness down the edges of the cake, but if not a gentle nudging from a spatula will do the trick. 

5) Wash and cut the tops off the pint of strawberries. Blot the cut top of the strawberry on a paper towel and then arrange cut side down on the chocolate ganache cake.

6) Step back and marvel at the general gorgeous splendor. Share with someone you love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

weeknight chicken noodle soup

During the work week, my husband and I kind of have an unspoken check in around 4:30pm every day. It's that chance for us to say hello and talk about the evening- confirm late meetings, dinner plans, etc. Sometimes that phone call or email is also the first notification that one of us is not feeling well and that what started out as a sore throat in the morning, has now hideously morphed into a sore throat- smashed sinus- throbbing head cold.
Sickness rarely schedules itself at a good time and getting sick in the midst of the midweek whirl of work, activities, and commitments is always lame. When I am sick (or taking care of someone sick), I want to provide comforting soothing things, like soup.  But the time crunch between the end of the work day and the beginning of the dinner hour does not allow a lot of time for homemade soup making. Enter weeknight chicken noodle soup. I make this for those nights (and really anytime) that I crave homemade soup but do not have the time to poach my own chicken or make my own stock. This is not a magic recipe (it still takes some time, I'd say about 45 minutes) but it is made far less laborious by relying on a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and pre-made stock.
Is stock made from scratch the best? Absolutely, no dispute there. However, it is also time consuming. For years, I had read in so many cookbooks that the only real way to make soup was to make one's own stock and I must admit I was so completely intimidated that I did not make soup for a long time. Then I realized that we have to keep living and more often than not this means I use store bought chicken stock in my cooking. I take enormous comfort in knowing that Nigella Lawson uses bouillon cubes or concentrated stock pretty regularly in her recipes.
I hope this soup will nourish you and those you love on busy nights. 

weeknight chicken noodle soup

1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped (I like to cut them on the bias to make them look pretty)
3 carrots, chopped
1 rotisserie chicken
(3) 32 oz. containers of chicken stock
1 16oz. package of egg noodles (I use about 3/4 of the package)
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch Italian parsley

1) Chop the veggies and cook on medium heat in a large pot with a good glug of olive oil (about 1 tablespoon.) Cook until the onions are translucent. (A fun fact: onions, carrots, and celery all cut up together are referred to in French as a mirepoix and are the starting base for many soups and sauces. I've noticed some grocery stores now carry little tubs of pre-cut mirepoix in the produce department.)
2) Pour in the chicken stock and raise the heat to medium high. While the veggies soften up, shred the rotisserie chicken (discard any skin and bones) and add to the pot.

3) Once the stock is simmering, add the noodles and cook until tender (about 11 minutes). This is a good point to taste the broth for flavor. I prefer a good bit of black pepper in my chicken soup (like grandma makes it) and if the broth feels a bit thin, a couple of teaspoons of chicken bouillon can help.

4) Once the noodles are cooked through I like to stir in a large handful of rough-chopped Italian parsley leaves.

5) Serve a large steaming bowl to someone in need of comfort or cheering up.