Friday, October 29, 2010

Celery Root Soup

This is a recipe I've had bookmarked for a year. A whole year. And I finally got around to making it this week. It's a nice, cozy, thick autumn soup made that's perfect for the chilly weather that swooped in this week (it's 31 degrees right now! yikes!). And this soup marks not one, but two firsts for me - cooking with celery root, and knowingly making a vegan recipe. Yes of course I've made plenty of all-veggie dishes, but this one calls for cashew cream instead of regular cream. One little warning - the cashew cream needs to be started a day in advance. I'll explain later.

First, a small lesson. Celery root (also known as celeriac) is a root vegetable, and a type of celery. It's not, as I thought, some underground part of regular celery. It was strange to cut into a brown root vegetable and smell celery. But don't be intimidated by these brown lumpy vegetables! Buy one at your farmers market and make this soup!

Here's what it looks like when you peel and chop it. I used a knife instead of a vegetable peeler, but the skin wasn't too thick so I think either would be fine.

Sea salt
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium celery roots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 quarts faux chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup thick Cashew Cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 unpeeled Granny Smith apple, very finely diced
Chive oil

Place a large stockpot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a nonstick effect.

Add the celery root, celery, and onion and sauté for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until soft but not brown.

Add the stock and bay leaf, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the Cashew Cream and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender, cover the lid with a towel (the hot liquid tends to erupt), and blend on high. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls. Place a spoonful of the diced apple in the center of each serving, drizzle the Chive Oil around the apple, and serve.

Here are the directions for cashew cream and chive oil:

Cashew Cream

1 cup whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed very well under cold water

Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place in a blender with enough fresh cold water to just cover them. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you're not using a professional high-speed blender, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)

Chive oil

1 small bunch chives
1/2 cup canola oil
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Blanch the chives for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and chill in an ice bath. Drain, wrap the chives in a towel, and squeeze the moisture out. Place in a blender with the remaining ingredients and blend for 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Put the chive oil in a plastic squeeze bottle with a small opening or use a spoon for drizzling it on the soup.

Here's the original recipe by Tal Ronnen if you want to see it. I didn't change anything except the measurements for cashew cream, and some of the directions, because for this soup that's all you'll need. Actually, it will probably give you a little extra. And I skipped the chive oil and just added some fresh chives instead. This soup was easy to make, had a really nice taste and consistency, and I loved the addition of the Granny Smith apples. A great autumn soup.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Icebox Cake

I love the simplicity of icebox cake. Chocolate cookies and whipped cream. Remember those commercials for Cool Whip, where they would make the chocolate chip cookie sandwiches with Cool Whip in the middle, sink their teeth in, and the Cool Whip would NEVER squeeze out the other side? Those made me so mad. Because seriously - we all know it would never work that way in real life.

Icebox cake became my treat of choice at Magnolia, and I don't think I've had it since I moved to Chicago. Not that I thought it was too complicated to make, because really - it's just cookies and whipped cream, but I guess I had been keeping it in the "treats best enjoyed when made by a professional baker" department in my brain. Where macarons and Napoleons currently reside. Here's some pictures of me with my good friend icebox cake circa 2008 (blonde hair, weird) at my friend Amy's apartment moments after Peter and I got engaged. Does life get any better?

So what triggered my decision to make icebox cake now was seeing Ina Garten on the Today Show a couple days ago making a chocolate chip cookie and mocha whipped cream version. It looked amazing, but I wanted the classic version. I hoped Smitten Kitchen would have a recipe for the perfect thin chocolate cookie that's needed for this cake, and of course she did.

1 1/2 cups (6.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2.4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into about 12 chunks and add them to the bowl. Pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to process until the mixture clumps around the blade or the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a large bowl or a cutting board and knead a few times to make sure it is evenly blended.

Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in wax paper or foil and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour, or until needed.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices 1/4-inch thick (thinner if you can without the dough crumbling, closer to 1/8 of inch).

Place them one inch apart on the lined sheets. Bake, rotating the baking sheet from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through baking, for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies will puff up and deflate; they are done about 1 1/2 minutes after they deflate.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks, or slide the parchment onto racks to cool completely. They should crisp as they cool, if they stay very soft they need to be cooked a bit longer. These cookies may be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks or be frozen for up to two months.

Whipped cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
about 1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Put a metal bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer at least a half hour before you make the whipped cream. Beat the cream with a mixer on high speed for several minutes, until it reaches the right consistency. Add vanilla and confectioners sugar and mix on high speed just for a few seconds. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary.

And now...time to make the cake. I actually cut the cookie recipe in half, and made half as much whipped cream, so I could get a mini cake. Lay the cookies out to form a rough circle on a plate of cake tray. I broke mine in half to get a small circle.

Spread an even layer of whipped cream on top with a rubber spatula or knife, and keep building with layers of cookies and whipped cream.

Keep building until you're out of cookies and whipped cream. I had a little extra whipped cream so I spread it around the sides of the cake. Totally optional. Crumble an extra cookie over the top, or use some chocolate shavings. Mine's a little lopsided...

Store in the refrigerator overnight to give cookies enough time to get soft and cake-like.

And that's it! The taste was pretty much identical to the icebox cake at Magnolia. That's all due to the cookie recipe. The cookies are really good on their own, great for making little sandwich cookies with some icing. But in my opinion, they're best in icebox cake.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mushroom Stock

Why do you need to know how to make mushroom stock? Well, you don't. Chicken stock is just fine, unless you're a vegetarian, and I usually end up using store-bought chicken stock because homemade needs to sit overnight. However...any kind of homemade stock is better than store-bought, and mushroom stock is really quick - only about an hour. Plus, I had the biggest mushroom I've ever seen and I needed to do something with it.

That thing was about 7 or 8 inches wide. I got it at the farmers market from Nichols when I got the Hen of the Woods. The guy told me what it was called, but all I caught was "druid" and my internet searches for "druid mushroom" just turned up a lot of weird video game stuff. I asked when I went back to the market the next week and they said it was a saddle mushroom. Ohhhh. So - I can now officially tell you it's a Dryad's Saddle mushroom. Not a druid mushroom.

Here's the recipe for mushroom stock, exactly as it appears on Dryad's Saddle mushrooms are a bit hard to come by, but if you have one chop it into pieces and replace both the shiitake and white mushrooms with it.

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 leek top, chopped and washed
4 garlic cloves, in their skin, crushed with the side of a knife blade
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced
2 small carrots, chopped
6 parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs
2 fresh sage leaves
2 bay leaves
9 cups cold water

Pour just enough water into the stockpot to start the onions cooking. Add the onion, leek top, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and salt.

Give the vegetables a stir, then cover the pot and cook gently over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cover with 9 cups cold water.

Bring the stock to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Pour the stock through a strainer, pressing as much liquid as you can from the vegetables, then discard them.

I ended up using it to make a mushroom risotto, but of course it would be good for soup or pretty much any recipe that calls for chicken stock.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friseé aux Lardons (and how to poach an egg)

Oh, pardon moi. This is a fancy French salad. Très fancy. The cooking class I recently attended at The Chopping Block simply called it "bistro salad with homemade croutons". But when I arrived at the class and saw the ingredients - hello, old friend! It's one of my favorite salads from a restaurant in New York that closed (Le Gamin). Frisée lettuce, lardons (bacon pieces), vinaigrette, and a poached egg on top. Peter reminded me that their version had some sort of blue cheese crumbles (I think Roquefort), but this version has croutons which I think I prefer. So I'm going to call it "frisée aux lardons" because when this salad and I first met, it was at Le Gamin and that's what they called it. Seriously...does it get any better than a salad with bacon and a poached egg?

That's one head of frisée lettuce. It doesn't look very big when it's tied up in a tight little bundle at the store, but one is plenty for two people. Breaking news. I have just learned, via the internet, that frisée is baby curly endive. And the recipe from cooking class calls for curly endive. So I think you would be ok using either.

Serves 6
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups French bread (about 1/2 baguette), day old, cubed into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place oil in a large mixing bowl. Add bread and toss thoroughly with oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place bread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. (It's ok if your bread isn't a day old, it's going to get just as crispy in the oven).

salad and dressing:
4 bacon slices, cut into lardons
1 shallot, finely chopped
2-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
6 eggs
1 head curly endive (or 2-3 heads frisée), cleaned and cut into big pieces
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Heat a grill pan or saute pan over medium heat with a little grapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil. Add the frisée and wilt just a bit on all sides to soften the lettuce; it should only cook for about a minute total. Cut into smaller pieces.

Place bacon in a cold skillet and heat over medium heat until just crisp. Add shallots and gently sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and scrape pan bottom to loosen the browned bacon bits. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more vinegar if necessary, or a little olive oil if it's too tart.

To poach the eggs: fill a large, shallow pan with water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low to drop water to poaching temperature (barely simmering - almost no movement but steam rising). Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to water. Crack each egg into a small bowl and right before you pour it into the hot water, stir the water so it's gently swirling around the pan. Cook the egg until whites turn white and yolks just begin to cook, about 4-6 minutes. Yolks should still be soft. Keep the water gently moving throughout the cooking time. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon to drain excess water.

While the eggs are poaching toss frisée and croutons in a large bowl. Add the warm vinaigrette and toss thoroughly.

Taste and season further as needed. Portion servings into individual plates or bowls and serve immediately topped with an egg.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop the presses. Do you SEE that poached egg? I did that. Me. A big girl poached egg all by myself. Poaching an egg was what I was looking forward to the most in the class. I had tried before, and actually think I was doing it right but it just seemed wrong. In those pictures above, especially the first one, it looks like the whites are spreading all over the place. That's normal. I guess I expected it to look like a perfect poached egg while it was still in the water, but it really doesn't look like that until you take it out. One tip is to use the freshest possible eggs. Don't use eggs that have been in your fridge for a couple weeks, apparently the whites thin out too much.

I have to admit, I didn't give this salad 100%. I was making two other things at the same time, one of which was a first-time recipe. I forgot all about the croutons until it was way too late, and I should have grilled the frisée a little longer than I did, but all in all I was happy with the vinaigrette, the poached eggs, and the salad as a whole. I cut the recipe in half and it was just fine. It is a pretty easy salad though, everything can be done in advance (not way in advance, but before you cook the rest of your dinner) except mixing the dressing into the frisée and poaching the eggs.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Dog Parade

I know, I know. Another non-food related post. I'm sorry, but this one is just to good to sit on any longer. If there's one thing I love more than cooking, it's animals...and animals in cute costumes. This morning was the Halloween parade for Tails in the City, a cute little dog store right on my block. Last year I stumbled upon it (how could I not, it's literally right outside my front door), but this year I knew it was coming and brought my camera.

There were the usual spooky costumes: a devil and a bat. And of course pumpkins.

Sniff party!

A shark, some flowers, a princess (?), and some Bears fans.

A ballerina dog...I don't know how she felt about that leotard.

Food dogs! Hot dogs, an ear of corn, a bunch of grapes...and a farmers market.

This guy kept trying to shake his cape off.

PUPPIES! A ladybug bulldog, and a Robin Hood yellow lab.

Plain pug.

And, in my opinion, the three most creative costumes. A jockey:

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in a little jail suit with a tiny wig, and a "For Sale: Senate Seat" sign.

And...Lady Gaga.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Images of Fall

It's Friday! And I've got some fantastic photos of fall, foliage, and farmers market. That's an alliteration. See, I do remember things I learned in high school!

No recipes today. I did make a mushroom stock last night that I'll share with you next week, but for now I just want to share these photos.

I actually had time to spend at the market this week, inside of my usual quick break from work to grab things for dinner. It was so nice to wander around and really take everything in.

Only one more week of markets left this year. Sniffle.

I really don't get tired of fall. Winter - I'm over it after New Years. Summer - I'm always sad to see it go, but tired of the hot weather. Fall could stick around forever and it would be fine with me.