Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thanks Mom

I should preface this by saying that I personally did not make this soup. My mother did. It was delicious nonetheless. It's from Ina Garten's show The Barefoot Contessa, which always features simple recipes that I want to make the second I see them.

I usually prefer really smooth tomato soups, but the flavor of this soup is so deep from roasting the tomatoes that I made an exception. The texture enhances the combination of tomato and basil, and works beautifully with the barely-there punch from the red pepper.

Again, you have my mom to thank for this one.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
From Ina Garten

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Muffin Top

There's a reason that I've had this song stuck in my head for two days: I made muffins. (Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of Jenna actually singing the'll just have to imagine.)

I'm not usually a muffin person. They're fine, I suppose, but not something I ever crave. Usually they're too dry, and the truth is, I don't really like blueberry muffins, which seems to cut out ninety percent of my options. The other night, though, I happened to be in possession of just one orange, and a desperate desire not to begin writing my senior thesis. I wanted to make scones, but since my copy of Baking doesn't include a recipe for orange scones, I decided that muffins would have to do.

I'm so glad that I did. These muffins are wonderful. And hopefully that means a lot coming from someone who isn't easily impressed by a muffin. They're moist from the honey and have just enough orange flavor that it's noticeable without being overpowering. They don't crumble when you slice them, and with a little butter, they're beautiful for breakfast. I modified the recipe some, since it originally called for blueberries. I think mini chocolate chips made an excellent substitution.

These are best the day they're made, and perhaps the next morning. However, they'll keep for 2-3 days and still be delicious.

Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from Baking, by Dorie Greenspan

Grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
About 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Decorating sugar, for topping (optional; I forgot to do this)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey and melted butter.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough - the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. If you want to top the muffins with decorating sugar, sprinkle on the sugar after the muffins have baked for 10 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


How do you feel about vinegar? Particularly balsamic vinegar? Because I love it, but it's a recent development for me. Up until last year, I was actually a bit afraid of balsamic vinegar, at least as it relates to desserts. But that was then.

One late summer afternoon, my uncle had a bottle of really nice balsamic vinegar. The kind that comes with a rating system for quality. You know, the fancy stuff. Having spent the afternoon experimenting with putting Tabasco sauce on fruit, (it's excellent with watermelon and mango,) my uncle suggested that I try balsamic vinegar with my strawberries. I resisted at first. It seemed so strange. (Not like Tabasco!) But one berry and I was sold. The sweetness and acidity of the vinegar blended so well with the taste of the strawberry that I had to restrain myself from eating the whole basket. And, my uncle informed me, it also went great with ice cream.

I forgot about that advice until about a month ago, when we had vanilla ice cream and an unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar in my apartment. My last few caramel-making venture had ended in disaster--the lights in my kitchen are so bad that I have a hard time seeing the sugar as it melts, and then it burns--and I wasn't up for wasting another cup of cream. Balsamic vinegar to the rescue.

The taste is undeniably unexpected. The contrast is much more marked than it is with the strawberries; the smoothness of the ice cream seems almost jarring against the sharp vinegar. But after your first bite, it's addictive. Soon, though, it wasn't enough to just pour it over my storebought vanilla ice cream. Naturally, the next step was homemade balsamic vinegar ice cream.

The combination as an ice cream is much less shocking in your mouth than its predecessor's individual parts. It has a tangy, light taste, almost like yogurt. The smooth texture does wonders for the flavors, eradicating the strong taste of straight vinegar that comes with using it as a topping. I love this recipe. I absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly love it. But to do so, you have to absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly love balsamic vinegar. If you have your doubts, if you're on the fence, this might not be the recipe for you. (For example, my mother thinks that this ice cream is "interesting.") But if you're like me, you won't be able to stop eating it. Or thinking about it. Or wanting to make another batch. I don't blame you.

Balsamic Vinegar Ice Cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tablespoons regular balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
A pinch of kosher salt

In a medium bowl combine egg yolks, salt and sugar and whisk until pale in color. In a large pot or saucepan bring cream, milk, and vanilla extract to a boil. Slowly add the hot milk and cream to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add balsamic vinegar and chill for at least 2 hours. Once mixture is cold, run in ice cream machine in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and return to freezer for as long as possible (preferably 4-6 hours) before serving.