Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Mom's Scones

Preheat oven to 450.

Pulse in Cuisinart until most butter pieces are smaller than a pine nut:
2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 stick butter, cut in small pieces (preferably very cold... frozen works well, but not required)
If using unsalted butter (which I do but my mom doesn't) add about 1/4 tsp salt

Combine the wet ingredients separately:
1/2 cup cream or milk (more fat will make them more tender, but you can use anything from skim to heavy cream)
1 egg
1+ tbsp scotch (or brandy or grand marnier or whatever)

At this point you can add a handful of dried or candied fruit (candied orange rind, currants, whatever you feel like). You could also add lemon or orange zest. You could even add fresh berries. I've also had some really good savory scones recently. I had some in Seattle from Macrina bakery that seemed to have grated cheddar (possibly though not necessarily replacing some of the butter) a small amount of sun-dried tomato and some dill. People also add bacon, herbs. If you wanted to do savory scones, you'd cut out the sugar and the alcohol, or make sure the alcohol flavor complemented your choice of ingredients.

Add all but a drizzle of the wet mixture to the dry mixture (save a tiny bit to pat on the top of the scones before baking). Mix just to combine. Turn out onto a surface (or I use a large, shallow mixing bowl) and sort of flatten it all out and then fold it over and flatten again. Do this maybe 5-10 times. This traps air and creates layers. (A pastry scraper makes this whole process easier.)

(UPDATE: This folding part seems to be the most difficult for people. Depending on how big your egg was, or how humid it is outside, your dough may be more or less wet. In general, just try to go with it. If you don't have a pastry scraper, you could use a spatula. But definitely use something to help you fold it over (and scrape the dough off your hands) without adding flour. If it's really outrageously wet, go ahead and sprinkle some extra flour. But you don't really want to end up with something resembling bread or cookie dough. Also, if you're having trouble adding the fruit or whatever, try sprinkling whatever you're adding before you fold. Do this enough times and it'll be well distributed through.)

When you're done folding, you can either flatten the dough till it's about 1/2 inch thick and cut with biscuit cutters or do what I did, which is divide the dough in 2, make each portion into a roughly round flat disc (again, about 1/2 inch thick) and then cut the disc in quarters. (If you use biscuit cutters, and you've folded correctly, you should hear a little hiss of air escaping as you press quickly down. This was one of my favorite sounds as a kid.)

Find the drizzle of wet ingredients you saved and brush the tops of the scones with it. The easiest way is just to use your fingers. If you feel like it, you can top with a sprinkling of sugar, cinnamon sugar, whatever you want. Or leave it off.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the scones are nicely browned.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Beware the Starbucks Bran Muffin

So, procrastination has its uses. Like, this morning as I was working myself up to getting down to work, I figured I'd check out the nutritional info on the bran muffin I'd just scarfed with my morning coffee. I actually like bran muffins. I'm not just eating them because they're supposed to be good for me. They're not too sweet, kinda nutty. You don't feel like you've just eaten dessert. On the other hand, you also don't feel like you've just eaten a McDonald's Quarter Pounder, either. So, I was surprised when I saw what was actually in my bran muffin. I mean, I'd seen the info on the Frappucino, and I can't say I was all that surprised to see that they're caloric and fatty. I knew my bran muffin wasn't health food, exactly. I expected some fat and a fair amount of sugar. Still and all...
Starbucks Bran MuffinQuarter Pounder
Serving Size (g)
Fat (g)2219
Sat Fat (g)
Trans Fat (g)01
Cholesterol (mg)9065
Dietary Fiber (g)53
Protein (g)824
Calcium (% RDA)2%4%
Iron (% RDA)15%20%

Does that mean that the bran muffin is just about as bad for you as the Quarter Pounder? Doesn't make sense, but it sure looks like it. The Quarter Pounder _did_ have 1g of Trans Fat that the bran muffin didn't have, and less dietary fiber. Perhaps the difference is in antioxidants or the polyphenols or some other new kind of nutrient I've never heard of or in the way it's metabolized or something.

I guess the moral of the story is buyer beware, especially when it comes to prepared food. I'm kind of afraid to think about the Whole Foods salad bar...

Anyway. Make of it what you will.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Everyone's Favorite Salad Dressing

I am salad dressing-impaired. I don't know why. I have no trouble with things that notoriously give people fits. World-class hollandaise? Pie crust? No problem. But for some reason I can't make a simple vinaigrette that doesn't taste like I just shouldn't have bothered.

In this I am the shame of my family. My father makes outstanding salad dressing. And his father is the acknowledged salad master of our entire extended family. But my grandfather has a secret... an old and treasured copy of "Salads for the Gourmet" circa the Eisenhower administration. What's more, my grandfather is a recipe-follower. We're talking about a man who once scaled a marinade recipe by 7/8 because the leg of lamb he was going to marinate in it was 7/8 the weight called for in the recipe, bless his obsessive-compulsive heart.

So, though I wasn't going to hunt down a copy of my grandfather's salad bible, I figured I could still find some salad dressing recipes (I know, I know... a strange concept) and actually follow them. And now I can eat salad.

This recipe seems to be everyone's particular favorite, since it has been demanded after the first bite each time I've served it. I found it on epicurious.com, from Gourmet, May 2003.

It's creamy and well-balanced. It's actually a good substitute for mayo in things like potato salad and sandwiches (though it does have a looser consistency).

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (I think lowfat Greek yogurt or regular lowfat yogurt strained to remove excess liquid would also work)
1+ tbsp olive oil
1+ tbsp lemon juice
1+ tbsp minced shallot
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped tarragon (optional)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Pommery mustard (This actually might be the secret... if you don't have it, you can substitute regular whole grain mustard, but really, even though you'll pay $20 for a crock of it, you won't regret having some of this in your fridge. You'll find it becomes your secret ingredient in just about everything. Don't forget to lick the spoon.)

I put everything in a jar with a tightly-fitting lid and shake.

The salad recipe it came with includes a lot of herbs, including a goodly amount of fresh flat-leaf parsley and some sorrel. I like parsley in salads, so you may want to try that, though I found that the sorrel got a little overwhelmed (which is sort of strange considering it has such a nice lemony-tart flavor by itself).

In my search for good salad dressing recipes, I also came across these in last month's issue of Food and Wine. The Dijon vinaigrette is especially good, though I haven't tried the other two yet.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Corn & Tomato Chowder

This was a fridge clearout soup, but it just happened that I had the makings for something fairly coherent in there. It's hard to go wrong with cream _and_ creme fraiche. So I was thinking about something kinda creamy, with some fresh tomatoes (I really had that slightly pink tomato creaminess thing on my brain) and corn, and I found this recipe (Corn and Tomato Bisque from Food and Wine) and then just changed it so that it more closely conformed to what I was craving. I finally got around to making some chicken leftovers into broth today (one of the many advantages of working at home) added some veggies from the farmer's market (though obviously the corn isn't quite in season here yet). It totally hit the spot.

2 tbsp butter
2 shallots, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 cups raw corn (about 3 ears)
3 cups chicken stock
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, cut in small dice
4 small (3-4 in) summer squash, cut in 1/4 in coins
3 tbsp creme fraiche
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
about 1/2 tbsp finely chopped chives or to taste

Saute the shallots in the butter until translucent but not brown. Add the minced garlic and saute barely 1 minute longer. Add the sherry vinegar and the corn, and saute for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the stock and the potatoes simmer until the potatoes are almost tender. Taste for salt and salt and pepper to taste. If you have an immersion blender, stir it around a little, but make sure a majority of the corn and potatoes remain unblended. The original recipe recommends taking some out of the pot and blending it, but I think this is unnecessarily labor intensive (though if you feel like it, it will make things a little creamier).

Add the squash, creme fraiche and tomatoes, and simmer about 3-4 minutes longer.

Finish with the heavy cream and the chives and serve.

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Yet another backlog... And this doesn't even begin to cover my recent adventures in sourdough baking. But it's a start.

(June Supper Club: fruit and chocolate)

This was pretty close to what I had in my mind's palate, so I'm pretty happy with it. I combined approaches in a couple of different recipes I found online, one the Ancho and Chipotle Mole from Food and Wine, the other a "Oaxacan Black Mole" from fiery-foods.com. This wasn't overwhelmingly spicy, since I took out all of the chile seeds. If you like it hotter, you could reserve some of the seeds and toast/grind them in the manner of the dried spices, and adjust the heat to taste that way.

3 large dried Ancho chiles
1 large and 3-4 small dried Chipotle chiles

2 large fresh Pasilla (or Poblano) peppers... the large, shiny, dark green ones
2 red bell peppers

1 cinnamon stick (if you can get Mexican cinnamon, that's ideal... I just used what I had)
4-5 whole cloves
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 whole peppercorns

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion
1 small can tomato paste
8-10 smallish tomatillos
1 small ripe banana or plantain
10 garlic cloves
2 discs Ibarra Mexican chocolate
1 heaping tbsp cocoa

salt to taste

1. Preheat a gas broiler and broiler pan (or a gas grill).

2. Soak the dried chiles in about 2 cups of boiling water for about 30 mins. You may need to weight them down a bit so they don't just float to the top. (Save the soaking water in case you need to adjust the consistency of the mole.)

3. Remove the seeds and cores from the fresh peppers and cut into pieces that lay flat. Put them on the preheated broiler pan (or grill) skin side toward the flame. Broil or grill for 10 minutes, until the skin is charred. Remove the skin (this should be easy) and put them in a covered bowl to steam for a few minutes.

4. Toast the spices (cinnamon, cloves, cumin, sesame seeds and peppercorns) in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden brown. Be careful not to burn them... watch carefully and shake the pan. Grind in batches in a mortar or spice grinder.

5. Remove the tomatillo husks and puree the tomatillos, garlic and banana in a food processor. (You could also mince the garlic and add it to the onion once the onion starts to get translucent. Either way.)

6. Saute the onion and ground spices in the oil on medium-high heat until the onion is just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and saute another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatillo puree and cook until slightly reduced, about 5-10 minutes, stirring periodically. Remove from heat and add Ibarra chocolate discs and stir until melted.

7. Remove the stems and seeds from the soaking dried peppers, puree with the fresh peppers, and add to the pot.

8. Blend the mole in a blender (or with a hand blender) until smooth. (The food processor doesn't quite get it smooth enough.)

9. Add salt to taste (about a tsp). If it's not chocolatey enough, you can add some of the cocoa.

Slather on the sauce vector of your choice. This stuff should keep in the fridge for a few weeks at least.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


(May Supper Club: Cinco de Mayo)
Yes, I know Cinco de Mayo is a _Mexican_ holiday celebrating a victory over the French. Yes, I know Mojitos are Cuban. I even (aak!) used a Mojito recipe from the very French (or, actually, Alsatian) Jean-Georges Vongerichten. People liked them anyway.

The definite favorite were the grapefruit Mojitos. These were pretty damn tasty.

For pitcher-quantities, here's my adaptation:
5 cups fresh squeezed grapefruit juice from Whole Foods
1 1/2 cups golden rum
1 1/2 cups club soda
a bunch of mint leaves, chopped (I'd guess about 2/3- 3/4 cup)
about a cup of mango-tangerine sorbet (cause that's what I had in the freezer)

Put everything except the sorbet together and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Run it through a strainer to remove the mint pieces. Add the sorbet and dissolve. Add ice, and, if you like, serve with a garnish of mint leaves and lime wedges.

Regular Mojitos:
5 cups limeade (in the juice aisle at Whole Foods)
1 1/2 cups golden rum
1 1/2 cups club soda
mint leaves

Same deal as above, though you don't need the sorbet.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vegetable Crepes

(April Supper Club: Tapas)
Adapted from Penelope Casas's "Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain." The secret weapon is the (almost classically French) reduction cream sauce in which the crepes get bathed. The leafy greens and carrots balance out the richness really well.

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter

Melt the butter in the pan you'll use to make the crepes. The crepes should be about 5 in round, so ideally you want a small, non-stick pan. Combine all the ingredients and the melted butter from the pan in a blender. Re-heat the pan to medium high. Use only enough batter for each crepe to coat the pan. Each crepe should take less than 30 seconds a side. Pile each crepe on a plate as you finish. They shouldn't stick together.

Vegetable mixture:
1 large bunch dark leafy greens like collards or chard
4-5 medium carrots, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp parsley, minced
1/4 tsp thyme

In a pan large enough to accommodate the carrots and the greens, saute the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until just golden brown. Add the minced garlic and saute a minute or so more. Add the diced carrots and cover the pan. Cook until the carrots are just tender, stirring often enough to prevent over-browning (adjust heat if necessary). If things are getting too brown you can add a little bit of water.

Chiffonade and wash the greens. (Chiffonade: Stack the leaves, and then roll them into a long roll. Cut 1/4 inch slices off of the roll.) Add the greens to the pan, and cook until wilted. You may need a little more water. Add the parsley and thyme and remove from heat. Add the whole thing to the food processor and process until it seems like a good texture for crepe filling. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white wine (original recipe calls for dry, but I think I used a Riesling that wasn't quite as dry as I would have liked for drinking purposes, and it was pretty good)
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp whole grain mustard, preferably Pommery
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the wine, broth, and mustard and boil down to reduce by half. Salt and pepper to taste. (Be sure to salt and pepper _after_ you reduce, since all flavors will become more concentrated in the process.) Stir in the cream and simmer until the sauce thickens noticeably.

Mix 1/2 cup of the sauce with the vegetable filling. Fill crepes (a couple of spoonfuls of filling per crepe) and lay them seam side down in a greased baking dish. Cover with the remaining sauce and bake at 350 for just about 5 minutes to heat through.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Spinach Tart

Kinda made this one up as I went along.

1. Make the tart crust (or get one at the store... I like the cornmeal crusts they have at Whole Paycheck). This is one I like from Nick Malgieri's How To Bake (another terrific reference). In Cuisinart, pulse the following until combined:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter

When combined (and resembling a coarse meal) add 1 egg and pulse until it forms a ball. Press the dough evently into a 10-inch tart pan. Chill in the fridge while making the spinach mixture. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Make a veloute in which to coat the spinach... Saute a large shallot in a couple tbsp butter until just translucent. Add a couple tbsp flour to make a roux. (If there's still butter unabsorbed, add more flour, but it shouldn't be so thick it can't "bubble.") Cook until light brown. Gradually add a cup or so of very hot chicken or veg stock while constantly stirring. If you need to whisk to get out the lumps, go ahead. Salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind you'll be adding olives later). If you felt like adding an egg, you could. (In a separate bowl, beat the egg, beat in a little bit of veloute, and then, off the heat, add the whole mix to the pan of veloute and combine well.)

3. Add a package of fresh or frozen baby spinach and stir to combine. Add feta crumbles to taste (maybe half a package?).

4. Put spinach into tart pan. Add kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, toasted pecans or walnuts, and anything else that strikes your fancy.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Creamed Hedgehog Mushrooms on Toast

Adapted from Food and Wine, Nov 1999

I made this all (or mostly) with stuff I found at the Dupont farmer's market one Sunday, and it was damn tasty. Makes 2 servings.

1 little bag of hedgehog mushrooms (the amount they sell you at the farmer's market... 1+ cups?) Hedgehog mushrooms are a lot like chanterelles.
1 tbsp butter
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp cognac
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Saute the shallot in the butter until softened. Add the garlic and saute just 1-2 mins. Add salt and pepper, and then the brandy, and reduce until syrupy (won't take long with this much). Add the cream and simmer until thickened.

So here's what I discovered about real cream at this point... the stuff from the farmer's market... the non homogenized, minimally processed stuff with no additional ingredients (no carageenan or whatever like you get in even organic cream from Whole Foods)... It's freakin' indestructable! No worries about breaking this sauce. Better even than creme fraiche. Wow. (Panna cotta would be no problem... you can boil it to your heart's content.) I also discovered (later) that it whips if you just ask it nicely. Don't take anything motorized to this stuff. You'll get butter.

2. At the same time as step 1, in a separate pan, saute the mushrooms in a little bit of butter.

3. Combine. Spoon onto toast. Eat.


Beef Braised with Onions

From Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, which has become my favorite cook book of all time. The one cookbook I would take with me to a desert island. If I thought the island would have a reasonably good grocery store. This is super yummy, and great for leftovers.

1/4 lb pancetta
2 lbs boneless beef roast (ideally brisket or similar)
5 cloves
4 medium onions

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Find a heavy-bottomed pot that will go in the oven, has a tight cover and is big enough for the roast (but not too much bigger than the roast). I used an oval Le Creuset Dutch oven and it worked great. Slice (into slices, not dice) the onions very, very thin. Spread the onions on the bottom of the pot.

3 . Cut the pancetta into matchsticks. Distribute half of the pancetta over the onions in the pot. Then Marcella says to use a larding needle, or, failing that, a sturdy Chinese chopstick (not the pointed Japanese kind) to "lard" the meat with half of the pancetta. That is, stick the pancetta into the meat at various intervals. I guess I don't have any chopsticks, or a larding needle, and had some trouble finding an implement that would make this work as described. I finally ended up just making little incisions with a knife and sticking the pancetta in that way.

4. Insert the cloves in 5 of the "larding" holes. You might want to note where these are and remove them before serving.

5. Put the meat in the pot on top of the onions and pancetta. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover the pot (if it doesn't cover securly enough, cover the pot with foil first, and then put the cover on top) and put in the uppermost rack of the preheated oven.

6. Turn the meat every 30 minutes or so. Marcella says to cook it for 3 1/2 hours, and it needs the whole time. I tasted after about 2 because I was hungry and hadn't planned very well. It was good, but nothing like the delicious caramelized stuff in the pot after 3 1/2 hours. So be patient.

Pretty Amazin Sticky Buns

These are from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, my go-to bread book, and a must-have if you're at all interested in bread making. The recipes are as dead-on reliable as Marcella Hazan's. (Though I haven't succeeded in making sourdough starter yet, but I think that's more to do with whatever local yeasts may or may not be living in my apartment...)

A favorite for weekend morning quartet rehearsals.

Peter Reinhart notes in the intro that the dough itself isn't really that rich, which is true (one egg, and just over half a stick of butter). But once you add in the sticky stuff, it's pretty decadent. The alternative would be to drizzle a glaze over the top, which would add plenty of sugar, but at least no more fat (and would still be pretty yummy). Both recipes are here.

6 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (or shortening)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla (orig calls for lemon extract or grated lemon zest... that'd be good, too)
16 oz (3 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/8-1/4 cups milk (orig recipe says whole or buttermilk, but I've always used skim or 1%)
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tbsp sugar plus 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon)

The butter, egg and milk should all be at room temperature or the yeast won't perform as well. If you haven't had a chance to leave things out, you should definitely heat at least the milk in the microwave until it's no longer cold to the touch (but not more than about 110 degrees). Depending on your microwave, it might take 30-45 seconds. You could also take the chill off the butter in the microwave. If you want to warm the egg, you could stick it in some warm water for 10 minutes or so.

If you don't have a scale, note that for 3 1/2 cups of flour to be equivalent to 16 oz (or roughly 4.5 oz per cup) you need to use the "sprinkle" method of flour measuring (use a second cup measure to lightly sprinkle the flour into your main cup measure and don't pack it in or tap the cup). If you just scoop the the flour into the cup measure, you'll end up with roughly a 5-5.5 oz cup of flour.

I always use the mixer to make this, because it makes the whole process pretty trivial. But you could always do it the old fashioned way if you felt like it or wanted the kneading workout. Or if you wanted more time playing with the dough. This dough is beautiful dough to work with... just enough fat to make it smooth and silky and not at all sticky, but not so much that it's greasy.

1. Mixing: 20 mins Start with the paddle attachment in the mixer. Cream together the sugar, salt and butter. Add the egg and vanilla and whip until smooth. Add the flour, yeast and milk. Mix on low speed until combined. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium. You'll be mixing for about 10 minutes. The dough should come together in a ball more or less right away. If not, you may need to add more flour. After a minute or two, dough should have cleaned the sides of the bowl, and be sticking only slightly at the bottom of the bowl, if at all. If not, gradually add more flour. I've never seen it be too dry, so I don't know what that would look like, but you could add more water or milk.

You know you're done mixing (or kneading) when the dough passes the "windowpane test." Grab a hunk about the size of an egg, and see if you can stretch it so that it's translucent without any rippage (not even a little bit). The best way to figure out what I'm talking about is to try the test at various points in the mixing. You'll see how it rips early on, and gradually gets closer to the goal of a nice thin membrane. Don't worry about over mixing. Nothing really terrible happens if you mix for 12 minutes instead of 10. But if your dough doesn't pass the windowpane test, it means the gluten isn't fully developed, and your bread won't have the right texture. You can actually use this test in most bread recipes.

At this point, if you're not giddy about how beautiful and fantastic this dough feels, you've either done something wrong or I'm a little weird about these things.

2. First rise (ferment): 1-2 hours Cover the mixing bowl lightly and wait until the dough doubles in size. I don't bother oiling the bowl... the dough isn't going to stick. Depending on whether your ingredients were at room temp, and the temperature in the room, and the potency of your yeast, this could take anywhere from 1-2 hours. I've never had it take longer than that, but if you need to wait longer, maybe your kitchen is just cold.

3. Shape the buns: 10 mins I use a 9 x 9 brownie-type pan, but sometimes when the dough is really active, that seems a bit small. I may look for a slightly larger pan. Butter or oil the pan, even if it's non-stick. If you're making sticky buns, take the sticky bun carmel yumminess (recipe below) and spread it about 1/4 inch thick on the bottom of the pan. Put the dough on a clean surface. You shouldn't need flour... it won't stick. Flatten it out into a rectangle about 18 inches wide and a half inch thick. (I just use my hands, but you could use a rolling pin.) Spread the cinnamon sugar over the dough (at this point you could also add a judicious sprinkling of raisins, nuts, dried fruit, whatever) and then roll the dough up away from you into a log. I usually make 9 rolls, so cut the log into 9 roughly equal pieces (about 2 inches thick) and arrange them in the pan. If you're not going the caramel yumminess route, you can also just plop them on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

4. Proof: 75-90 mins at room temp, or overnight in the fridge If you're proofing at room temp, just be sure they've doubled in size again. Otherwise, you can keep them in the fridge (which slows the final proofing) for up to 2 days. If you go this route, they need to sit at room temp for 3-4 hours before baking, first to come up to room temp, and then to finally get a chance to proof.

5. Bake at 350: 30-40 mins Be sure to preheat the oven. I've just noticed that the recipe says to put the sticky buns in the lowest oven rack. I generally put them in the middle. NOTE: If you're going the non-caramel/baking sheet route, bake them for 20-30 mins, and in the middle of the oven.

Be sure the middle one(s) are really done before you take them out of the oven. The outer ones tend to brown before the middle ones, so don't be tempted to take them out too early.

6. If you can possibly stand it, let them sit at least 20 minutes before serving. If you didn't use the caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan, now would be the time to drizzle them with glaze.

Caramel Yumminess
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla or lemon extract
1/2 cup corn syrup, Lyles Golden Syrup, honey... whatever

Cream the sugars, salt and butter for a minute or 2. Add the syrup and extract and beat until fluffy.

This makes a little more than you need, but keeps well in the fridge or freezer.

2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup warm milk
1 tsp (or to taste) vanilla, lemon extract, rum, grand marnier, whatever

Mix it all up.


Adapted from Rogers/Gray Italian Country Cookbook.

This is basically vegetable soup with bread. It's hearty and yummy... good winter comfort food. I first had it when I was visiting my sister in Florence. Since the version in Rogers/Gray is vegan, I traditionally make it for my vegan friends, but I know the stuff I had in Florence had meat. If you're serving omnivores, you could definitely start this off with some pancetta, and then add maybe some ham or sausage.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
most of a bunch of celery (orig recipe calls for 2 whole bunches... this seemed... excessive)
1 lb carrots, chopped
2 medium red onions, chopped (orig recipe calls for 4)
olive oil
1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes, juices drained
couple of big bunches of dinosaur kale (the really dark green kind) and/or Swiss chard and/or finely chopped Savoy cabbage (orig recipe calls for 4 1/2 lbs, so kale/chard/cabbage should weigh about that, total)
3 cans of cannelini or borlotti beans, maybe some chick peas (orig recipe says cook your own, which you should feel free to do if that floats your boat)
1-2 loaves of day-old ciabatta
salt and pepper

This is a big soup, the orig recipe says for about 10 people. You'll need a BIG pot. My 13 quart stock pot is generous, but not overly so. So you may want to cut it back a bit.

1. Saute parsley, garlic, celery, carrots and onions in olive oil for a good 30 mins. Add the tomatoes (break them up into small pieces) and cook another 30 mins. Add the kale/chard/cabbage and 2 of the cans of beans and simmer another 30 mins.

2. Puree the last can of beans and add to the soup. Cover all with hot water. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper. You can make up to this point ahead.

3. To serve, add ripped up pieces of bread and simmer until the bread is soft and the soup is thick. Serve with good olive oil drizzled on top.